Book Review by Gargi Vachaknavi

Dara Shukoh

 

Title: Dara Shukoh, The Man Who Would Be King

Author: Avik Chanda

Publisher: Harper Collins, 2019

 Dara Shukoh (1615-1659), the beloved and righteous son of Shah Jahan — is he indeed shown to be what Arun Shourie said of the book: “The Book we need — about the man we need” on the front cover?

Despite wading through more than three hundred pages of the book, Arun Shourie’s statement seemed unfounded! Author Avik Chanda shows otherwise in this historic narrative. And why would he do that? Because, he says he is tired of stereotypes, he has tried to unveil ‘the truth’.

IMG_0805 2.jpgAvik Chanda dons multiple hats. He is a consultant who has two collections of poetry in Bengali, a novel, Anchor (Harper Collins, 2015) and his acclaimed business book, From Command To Empathy: Using EQ in the Age of Disruption (Harper Collins, 2017), co-authored with Suman Ghose and featured in 2018 in Amazon India’s Best Reads, under ‘Business, Strategy and Management’. This year Dara Shukoh, The Man Who would Be King has also made it to second position in the Asian Age’s non-fiction bestseller list.

This book is different. The narrative weaves minutely through history in detail. Except at the end, the sources are not discussed. Though it is evident that a lot of research has gone into the narrative, only the author’s voice is heard. However, Chanda does bring in voices of writers from the Mughal era. For instance, Chanda gives two renditions of Dara Shukoh’s final words.

Novels and reportages are vivid with details that can paint an informed picture about a country or a society. Arvind Subramanian, chief economic advisor, was first struck by this after writing a paper on Mauritius. Joseph Conrad, Mark Twain and V S Naipaul have all written about the place. Both Twain and Nobel-winner Le Clezio describe the hurricanes that used to ravage the island in the 1800s. “I learnt a much better sense of vulnerability of the place after reading them,” said Subramanian.

If one holds the theory that geography determines the fate of nations, literature is aplenty on it, whether it is ‘The Leopard’ by Giuseppe Di Lampedusa or ‘Guns, Germs and Steel’ by Jared Diamond, said Subramanian.

By Desmond Kon Zhicheng-Mingdé

Forfatteren Tabish Khair bor i Danmark og underviser pΠAarhus Universitet
Forfatteren Tabish Khair bor i Danmark og underviser pΠAarhus Universitet

 

Let’s get down to brass tacks. Why do you write?

Good question! I wish I knew. It is either like a person breathing or an alcoholic drinking, depending on the day.

Tell us about your most recent book or writing project. What were you trying to say or achieve with it?

I have just finished a study of xenophobia. And I am finishing a novel on a very topical issue: the current rhetoric of jihad etc. The only way to find out what I had in mind while writing them would be to read them. Preferably, after buying a copy of each. Preferably, after buying two copies of each – one for your friend, one for yourself.

Describe your writing aesthetic.

Is there one? Apart from good coffee?

Many of our most famous authors wrote their masterpieces in a second language. Vladimir Nabokov penned his first nine novels in Russian, but wrote “Lolita” in English.

Joseph Conrad was born Jozef Teodor Konrad Korzeniowski, and although he chose to write in English he identified as a Pole. Irish novelist and playwright Samuel Beckett lived in Paris for much of his adult life and was an accomplished writer in both English and French.

AP Writers is organizing a literary walk in Singapore on 19 July.

“Follow in the footsteps of Joseph Conrad as we explore the Singapore of days-gone-by that inspired stories and novels such as The End of the Tether and Lord Jim. Along the way we view locations described in the writings of Noel Coward, Somerset Maugham, Paul Theroux and many local Singaporean writers. Places visited include Empress Place, Cavenagh Bridge, Conrad’s Memorial, the Esplanade and the Padang, then we return to The Arts House. Old photographs will help recall the scenes described in novels, short stories and poems. The pace of this tour is a slow meander.

Joseph-Conrad
From the shores of Haldia the Tilkhurst could have looked like anything, with lanterns perched at various heights conveying only a meagre outline. But there was no one to see it from the shore. Inside the ship, in a dank cabin beneath the deck, there was a sailor’s feast in progress.

Both the party and the ship’s overnight anchoring off Haldia had been Captain Edwin John Blake’s orders. He believed it better to spend another night at sea before taking the river towards Calcutta. Right now, he was addressing an audience of sailors seated on the floor. Few in the audience were paying heed to the captain’s words about Calcutta and its culture, and those few were amazed in witnessing a complete reversal in their captain’s usually calm demeanour. Józef, the only Pole on the ship, was in this lot, and although he could not entirely comprehend what the captain said in his perfect English, he was nevertheless fascinated, possibly because of the liquor he had had, by the way this complex language, this English, always seemed to open the world—unpacked it, so to say. To Józef, who aspired to one day be called a writer, the choice between English and French was becoming somewhat clearer in the head, though only part of it was due to the unpacking quality of English. He could not really hope to write as well as the Frenchmen did, competition in French would be way tougher, already he knew that Flaubert was inimitable, and so on. To write in Polish was unthinkable anyway. Who wanted to read Polish other than a few Poles?