Thursday, November 3, 2016

Fodder for the Season

Reading a book is related to how fresh one arrives at it. At the same time, if it is put aside for far too long, say a decade or so, it again becomes appealing. It is only the interlude, the time between it being too fresh and too old that it can hardly be picked. Book, in this sense are synonymous with our relationships with people.

Reading requires solace, both within and from the outside.

Some books I got from a bookstore, after years of buying them online. Finding
"River of Fire" and "The Tibetan Book of  Living and Dying" in paperbacks was the reward.

'Bara' by U R Ananthmurthy

I am finally picking up a work of one of the doyens of Indian(south) literature, U R Ananthmurthy. Picked up,almost instinctively, from Bahrisons in Delhi, I didn't intend to read any of his works this soon as I wanted to slowly build up my way to reach to his other major works, but nevertheless did. The book has touched many themes, including right wing activism, environmentalism, cow protection and the practice of political patronage.

Bara, means drought. 

Its a story of an IAS officer, who chose to be one because of his idealism to serve the underprivileged, chose a rural posting with open arms, for the challenge of living among the destitute. His idealism is reflected in the fact that he sends his son to a local government school instead of a boarding. 
With the central character of Satisha, the story builds around a drought affected town which is under severe water crises. Also showcased is the irony, that people rather than fighting the system, instead end up quarreling among each other, which towards the end turns communal. How the local politician would leave no stone unturned in practicing corruption, hoarding, nepotism and hooliganism has been briefly talked about as well. It is written in the 70s, with emergency as a backdrop. However, the story doesn't stay within the confines of the that era. Its almost equally valid for the present times. 

Thanks to Chandan Gowda for translating an important work for non-Kannada readers and writing an excellent afterword, which gave new dimensions to the various themes which the book owing to its fictional nature had limitations to be build into any serious analysis or arguments within the framework of a novel. 

With having picked up a work of UR, I can now safely build up to Samkara and Bharathipura

Notable excerpts, 

"The drought in the region could be merely news for someone relaxing inside an office with a ceiling fan."
"Its only because I'm not in the line that I'm able to see all the rows." 
"A student of history, she appreciated relics."
"He was content that his son had a stake in the process of traditional society becoming modern."
"Let me be honest with you. Are your a bureaucrat or a revolutionary? You delude yourself that you can be both." 

Rating: 7/10

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

'The Collector's Wife' by Mitra Phukan

I suppose it is a dream of any writer to weave a story with three key ingredients, first, the relationship between the protagonist and his/her family, second, the political scenario prevalent in the geography(which can be a city, region or a country) and lastly, to leave behind with the help of events, transformations(of characters and situations) a message for the common man, something which s/he can incorporate as a life lesson. If there be, any such trioka for the success of a novel, I think Mitra Phukan has surely made it to the list. If Upamanyu Chatterjee made public how it pans out being an IAS officer, Mitra Phukan has perhaps carried forward the similar sphere of lower Indian bureaucracy by mirroring it with the life of an IAS's spouse.
A great attempt at storifying
Insurgency, Administration
through a Woman's Eyes.

The novel which got better as it moved and specially towards the end, culminated into a great work by any standards. It explores the world of Rukmini and her husband Siddharth, posted in a (fictional) town of Parbatpuri in Assam in 70s and 80s. Various other characters were given ample space in terms of what work they did and how their life interspersed with the couple. In fact, I noticed that any character, if, was given a special mention in initial parts of the book, there was going to be a good reason for it, to be told later. As an author it is easier to create characters but very difficult to give them meaning in the story while not letting the protagonist lose prominence. With the creation of Bangladesh, the slew of illegal migrants poured from the border towards Assam. This was to create tensions between the locals who were finding it tough to keep a grip on their resources, primarily Land and Forests. This slowly took the shape of protests, movements and finally Insurgency. However, it also costed the entire region with a permanent presence of Indian Army. The economy of the region shattered. Another thing which the novel highlighted is the plight of regional or local media of towns and cities. How there is no accountability to what they print and whom they find as victim or culprit. Administration is resource-stricken, over-burdened and highly-backward to deal with the problems of our cities in any substantial manner. Sometimes which appears from outside just as an Administrative Problem is actually a result of decades of inequalities, which the society itself has created and foments but in the world of quick fixes it becomes easier to blame the Administration for any lapses. 

Above all it explores the world of a woman and a woman teacher. How difficult it is to confide your true feelings into someone, sometimes even with your spouse. How difficult it is to transform students in towns(as against cities) of India. How difficult is Development in smaller towns of India. 

I kept thinking of the movie, Hazaaron Khwaishein Aisi, with its similar portrayal of the India of 70s, Emergency, Naxalism with a bunch of Educated protagonists as the center. I hope and wish this book could be converted into a movie(Sudhir Mishra you listening?) as it promises to give a historical plot and luckily with an Indian charisma of being centered around a couple.

Rating: 8/10

A word on Zubaan Books:
Zubaan, which is a boutique publishing house based at Delhi, focuses on Women writings from India. Its difficult to get this book on Amazon/Flipkart, so one can directly order from their website,

Saturday, January 2, 2016

'We weren't lovers like that' by Navtej Sarna

Good writing is one which touches the heart, that is the one which will stay. 

There is cliched quote by Toni Morrison which says, “If there's a book that you want to read, but it hasn't been written yet, then you must write it”, which I believe is a fitting tribute to this book and its author Navtej Sarna. Give me one reason I could rate it anything below 5, a full five! There was no line which I found misplaced, each thought made perfect sense, each character so thoroughly pictured and there was so much I could relate to on a personal level. When did I ever read a novel which described the A H Wheeler Book Shop of Haridwar station, took me on a ride to Dehradun, its roads and shops with the parallel build up of treasured storyline? When was the last time I read a novel which celebrated nostalgia as much I do? This novel I believe is a gift to my habit of constantly trying to find gold in a husk pile(usually on my own). In its themes and instances it was so rich, that only upon its completion I understood why Navtej Sarna remarked in one of his interviews that its never difficult to write a first novel as one always know what to write, out of catharsis. It is the second novel where one constructs the subjects and the line.
Navtej Sarna creates the story of a Man's lifetime.

The book which is touted (and debated) to be a semi autobiography which explores the life of its narrator, Aftab, who happens to work in some Delhi media firm, based out of Connaught Place. Its written in form of a train journey from Delhi to Dehradun with 5 chapters, each on the intervening stations. Delhi, Saharanpur, Roorkee, Haridwar and Dehradun. The author goes back and forth in revealing his life(and thoughts) from his own childhood to his 10 year son and the novel which began as love story snowballs into an existential masterpiece (yes). The world he recreates, about his childhood and how many of the things which he does as a 40 year old have a connection to his past, a past which he has preserved within him, which people around him hardly know about. He laments and then cherishes his opportunity costs, in health, his lost love, the places chose to reside, career etc. Mina, his wife and who keeps her own wishes above their marriage divorces him for another man, taking with her their son. Rohini, who happened to be his first love(and a true love) gets lost midway and then almost forever, only to return back as a ray of hope when he treks his way back to his hometown, Dehradun. It is a yearning of man's pasts with his future who is somehow carrying the fragments of his broken present. It explores a thoughtful man's mid-life crises. One of remarkable aspects I liked about the book is its rich and vivid description of two things, thoughts and places. The way he describes each city (the novel has touched upon) esp Mumbai and Dehradun and paints each character, with meaning and relevance really makes this novel a complete story in itself. This book will be delight for anyone from any of the cities which were mentioned, especially someone who yearns for mountains in his daily life(wherever one resides). A big thank you to Navtej Sarna for penning this beautiful book and inviting a lot of the readers into a good(if not perfect) world of your story.

Rating: 8.5/10

Navtej Sarna is a Diplomat, an IFS Officer of 1980 batch.