Rakhi Dalal observes The Machine is Learning by Tanuj Solanki, which poses the question of human redundancy as AI/ML make headway in the techno savvy Capitalist world. (Published by MacMillan, 2020)

Tanuj Solanki’s first book Neon Noon was shortlisted for Tata Literature Live! First Book Award. For his second book Diwali in Muzaffarnagar, he was awarded the Sahitya Academy Yuva Puraskar in 2019. The Machine is Learning is Solanki’s third book. 

In the third chapter of the novel, the narrator recalls the famous game of Go, between Lee Sedol and Google Deepmind AI’s AlphaGo, where in the five match series AlphaGo had defeated Sedol, one of the best Go players of all time, by 4-1. He remembers how the IT buzzwords, Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) were began to be used aggressively by IT sellers and how Lee Sedol’s loss was employed by the so called thought leaders to create hype by declaring the advent of a final Industrial Revolution where machines would become so smart that they would replace humans. 

A glimpse of Malathi Ramachandran’s epic historical romance, Mandu- The Romance of Roopmati and Baz Bahadur (Published by Niyogi Books, 2020)

The evening gathering of music lovers – the mehfil – would begin after the day cooled and the sun sank, leaving the world poised and quivering with anticipation,  a cacophony of  bird calls filling the ears like clamouring silver bells,  The evening skies would scurry away to dress themselves up in honour of another bewitching night in Mandu. They would return when the lamps had been lit all over the city and the sounds of music and ghungroos rang in the air; and they would  glimmer gold in the waters of the lakes and fountains and flicker silver in the shadows of the forests. So enticing was the night life of the city, that they say even the creatures of the day, the peacock and the pigeon and the partridge, would hide behind pillars and in the crevices of rafters to catch a glimpse of the celebrations, night after night, in hall after hall.

The final act of Rajkumar’s life opened to neither cheers nor applause. 

He looked down at the gentle, placid Rapti flowing fifty feet below. It should have been a raging torrent at this time of year, but the river had no sense of occasion. He held the bridge’s railing tight with his left hand, the other inspecting the iron weight tied to his ankle. 

He had no choice. All his life, Rajkumar had only wanted to be a jadugar. Unfortunately, he was a very bad one. He could never distract an audience, so his illusions never worked. Tea sets shattered when he pulled tablecloths from under them. His white pigeons defecated liberally into his turban. The rabbits bit him. Card decks flew out of his hand, prrrrrrr-uh! and scattered on the stage. 

The incessant screams of the sparrows alighted on their coffer under my slanted roofing ceased my sleep. I lay awake watching the petite chicks persistently growling in hunger while their mother was  endearingly feeding them one by one with soggy stems, perforated leaves and slyly hoarded worms. How lucky these fledglings are to have a parent who wouldn’t probably abandon them before teaching them the necessary survival skills of foraging and feasting. I sprang out of my bed hastily hearing the whistle of the garbage collector and wormed my way through the living room with the overflowing dustbin on my left hand to find the main door with withering green paint and rusty knob, wide open, like every other morning. The waste picker rummaged through the discarded materials with bare hands and flung the scrap iron, half-broken toy pieces, segregated shards of glass into a plastic bag dangling from the handle of his van. Without exchanging a word I tossed the contents of my dustbin, littering the eco-warriors van, and stayed back for a few minutes to see him salvage through the newly gathered waste. The elements in the plastic bag were going to get a new lease of life, but unfortunately, not all frayed edges can be sewed.

I am waiting for my father. I glance at the clock. It is not yet time, and he never delays, but I am impatient. As I fidget with my things, I suddenly feel a chill enveloping me. Shivering involuntarily, I glance up sharply.  The study door is swinging on its hinges. Sure enough, Dad is ready.

“I’m sorry,” he says with an apologetic smile. “Is it very cold?”

I smile back. I am so glad to see him, I cannot complain. “No matter, Daddy,” I say as I cross over to shut the door still gently creaking in the wind from the open window beyond. 

I come back and look at him. He is wearing a faded shirt, and he looks frail and old, but his face shines. Is he in perfect health, or is he so glad to be with me?

The tall handsome man got down from the Jaguar convertible. His sunburnt face and bleached blond hair was as sleek and shining as the surface of the car he was driving. He bent his head to open the door on the passenger side of his car. His companion, a tall brunette with a mass of curly black hair, did not appear to think that a figure-hugging Dior dress teamed with blood-red stilettos was an incongruous selection of attire for the Australian outback.

The Jaguar, a flashy yellow, infused some color into the bleak vistas of land, which stretched to the horizon in all directions. Andrea, who had been busy feeding the horses, wiped her dirty hands on her jeans, smoothed her hair and started to contemplate how to get inside the farm without being seen.

Gone Away: An Indian Journal by Dom Moraes (with an introduction by Jerry Pinto)

Publisher: Speaking Tiger

Year of publication: 2020

Pages: 229

Price: INR 294 (E-book)

Book Blurb

One of the most unconventional travelogues ever written, Gone Away covers three months of Dom Moraes’ life spent in the subcontinent at the time of the Chinese incursions on the Tibetan border in 1959.  In that short time, a remarkable number of memorable things happened to him, some of them the sort of fantastic situations that could only enmesh a poet, perhaps only a young poet—a visit to a speak-easy in Bombay;  an interview with Nehru and an hour spent closeted with the Dalai Lama in Delhi; and a meeting with the great Nepalese poet, Devkota, whom he found already laid out to die by the side of the holy river Basumati. After a short stay in Calcutta, where he tried, with limited success, to investigate the lives of prostitutes, he went up to Sikkim, the north-eastern border state into which no visiting writer had been allowed for almost a year.

A glimpse from the ‘slice of life’ stories penned by Manjula Pal from her book Who wants to marry a mamma’s boy and other stories. (Published by Rupa Publications, 2019)

When Krishna Came to My House

Delhi experienced its first monsoon showers. It came as a big relief after days of sweltering heat.

It was evening. Streets that had been deserted were now abuzz with people coming out of their homes, seeking the fresh air, much relieved after their claustrophobic, air-conditioned confinement. The smoky smell of freshly picked soft corns roasting over charcoal and smeared with salt and lime, filled the air. Right from children to the adults, everyone was enjoying the roasted corn pods. The hawkers selling corns on pavements and on pulling carts were doing good business.

Vibrant and Dusty- A Book Review of Bhaunri: A Novel and Daura: Excerpts from the Confidential Report on the Collector of a district in Rajasthan by Pallavi Narayan

The covers of Bhaunri and Daura, with the silhouette of a tribal girl on the former and a tree with roots and flowering branches on the latter, are inviting. The earthy colours of claret and mustard on both bring to mind the rolling deserts of Rajasthan, which is where the narratives are based. Indeed, the descriptions of rural living are minute and bring the reader right into the homes of the characters in Bhaunri, and into the tehsildar’s bungalow in Daura. While the novels are not intertwined, they speak to each other, taking the reader through the timeless vistas of Rajasthan and then plunging into a roiling mass of emotions.

     Flashes of iridescent colour, the swish of lehengas, the sweat of day-to-day living, the thirst that the desert induces in the subconscious take due precedence in the rendering of the characters. The portrayal of the landscapes is bound into quiet, controlled prose. Mystical experiences are brought alive by a lone flute amongst the dunes swaying with camels in its sway; a smattering of kohl that transforms beckoning eyes into that of a jadugarni, a female magician. Seemingly everyday occurrences are granted significance in the wee hours between day and night. The fineness of the prose is undercut by the intensity that the female protagonists bring to the novels.