Have you heard of absurd literature? No? Yes? Or are you waiting for Godot to tell you about it?

But Beckett isn’t the only author writer of absurd literature. The best representative of course, but there is always room for more, room to explore right? You don’t wanna be homogeneous right?

And so in comes the play, “Who’s afraid of Virginia Woolf?” written by the American author Edward Albee. The plot is nothing complicated: it is simply a story about two couples: Martha and George, the older couple,who invite Nick and Honey (the younger couple) for a late night drink after a party. The play is divided into 3 acts each with their telling titles.

But in the fairly uncomplicated plot, lies a whole new insight into the trying, absurd, fragile and strained relation of Martha and George. During the course of the party, emotional games are played, secrets are revealed through the complex layering of the plot. It is clear right in the first part that their marriage is a complete breakdown and in order to sustain it, they have to play psychological games and try to beat the other down through humiliation and fear tactics. In order to sustain the normative marriage they have to take on absurd tactics and at the heart of this is the constant mention of their son who never appears in the play but is talked about throughout.

The play then is trying to critique the pressures put on every individual to fit into roles the society prescribes without giving alternatives and how utterly disastrous these pressures can be if and when such normative modes of living don’t work out. What do you do if your marriage does not work, when your dreams of professional greatness do not go according to plan? Compounding this problem is also the gender roles enmeshed within these prescriptive notions: the binary of production and reproduction that binds a woman and man not allowing them to explore other possibilities and compelling to view their inability to fit into the gender roles as a failure for themselves. So for example, if a man is not able to get a good job and sustain his family, he is viewed as a failure because of the pressure on him to be the breadwinner of the family. He is not allowed to think that there can be a possibility for allowing the women in his life to share the responsibility of earning. Marriage and career and having a family are projected as the ideal modes of living in a human society and so there are no other possibilities provided for other modes or alternatives. Anything less than the ideal is unacceptable and worse, a failure. This can lead to utter breakdown of your identity and selves as every individual is conditioned for long about these ideas and how they are the measures of success and when don’t work, your very idea of what a life should be is dismantled and therefore living becomes absurd and meaningless.

The play is also a lot about the typical modernist ideas of how language is inadequate to express the breakdown of lives in the 2oth century.

In the hazy daze of alcohol that the couple immerse themselves into, the reader will be pressed to figure out reality from illusion but that is the charm and bitterness of the play. You have to keep constructing the truth, taking cues from their wild language, and wilder games of psychological torture, construct the world that they have constructed for themselves and shatter that illusion and then get to know the truth of their lives. But it isn’t like a mere detective novel where you solve the puzzle with the one sole truth you can divine from the plot. It constantly keeps you in a flux and you can probably get the truth but perhaps not be able to anything with it because though the play tries to sort out its loose ends end finish with a proper closing, the reader is left to ponder on what will happen to the marriages of both the couples as the breakdown of the the older couple seems complete although they are now trying to get back on a stable & non illusory path. However, Nick and Honey see in the older couple their own expectations of a marriage and a family and if these expectations are not fulfilled, then will they also fall apart at the seams like Martha and George?

No one can really tell but what we can do is perhaps not put the weight of all our expectations on one person and one institution?  What do you think? Leave a comment.

Books can have many different functions. They can moralise, instruct, take you to places and enable you to engage in vicarious travelling. But there are some books and stories that can just put smile on your face and simply please you for a long long time. Ruskin Bond books are something like that. They aren’t great works of literature (not were they written to be) but just the ordinariness of it can be (to use a oft used cliche) extraordinary! Plus they help in vicarious travelling. That, friends, can be the best book ever no?

So it is time to go pick up a Bond book incase you missed out on your yearly dose of travel this year!

Need help to choose?

Here is one with 21 short stories called: Time Stops at Shamli. It is a quick read, the kind that you can read on a realllly long train journey or if you simply want to get away from the mundane life as you trudge your way back from office to home everyday.

All the stories are imbued with the everyday stories of everyday, ordinary people that could be you or me which is why anyone can connect with them easily. In their quotidian existence, several facets and truisms of life are revealed. But no, Bond does not moralise but merely shape the stories and it is for us, the readers, to take away from it, gems embedded in them.

For instance, stories like “The Room of Many Colours” or “Most Beautiful,” talk about celebrating difference in a subtle manner almost imperceptible and who hasn’t known the pain yet beauty and courage of going/being against the norm and experiencing the different worlds.

It is nigh impossible to write a summary of each short story here without making the review look like a grocery list. But suffice to say that each story has its own charm, ingenuity, shrewdness and the hallmark of Bond: an omnipresent simplicity. So there’s a spooky ghost story to scare the daylights out of you, a story told from the perspective of the crows, about the poisonous schemes of relatives, about the importance of trees (told indirectly), about the ordeal of the migrants and the sense of loss and belonging (but narrated in less sentimentally than I have put it), a mystical transfiguration story with the perfect setting of the moon and the mountains and several more. The eponymous story again highlights the urge, temptation to do something against the grain, to go somewhere not known, to take a path less traveled (literally; you will see what I mean when you read it!).

So dig in into the many worlds of each story, relax and let a smile linger on.

For more Ruskin Bond reviews on this blog, click here.

Victorian Age, that supposedly dark age of medieval thought, is known for its strict morals and orthodoxy and perhaps a few would associate it with Dickens too. It was those double standard morals that shaped every bit of society from the clothing to the stories in the magazines to the way women and men should behave and carry on relations.

Tess of D’Urbervilles is very much a product of its time. But wait, there’s a twist. And you would have to wait a bit longer to know that or perhaps when you read the book, eh?

Moving on, the novel by Thomas Hardy is singular in that it features a woman protagonist: Tess as the heroine. And like all heroines she too faces her own set of trials and tribulations in love and money matters among other things. And typical of Hardy, the novel is set in the country side-a place he never tires singing praises of as the sylvan beauty as against the raging industrialisation that was changing the British landscape.

The novel begins with Tess’ father finding out from Parson Tringham that he in fact belongs to an old lineage, an ancient line of family who were once rich and owned boundless land. This sets him on the path to use this info to his advantage and therefore sets out his eldest daughter, Tess, to be engaged to work with a rich relative (who are actually upstarts who have merely borrowed the last name!) close by. It is there she meets the brash son of the old lady she has to work for, Alec D’Urberville. And his constant pursuit of her despite Tess’s dislike for him, changes Tess’ life for the worse until she decides to take matter into her own hands and find another occupation in Mr. Crick’s dairy instead of sitting idle crying over her fate. Over there her life unfolds without much ado as she likes it and she falls in love with one of the dairy hands, Angel Clare, who had interestingly even seen her before at a countryside May dance and danced in that very group too. What then happens is a series of romantic trysts along with a bit of tragedy and the book ends on a bittersweet note that will linger for sometime.

So that seems plain enough right? Girl loves the boy and they have ups and downs and somehow then its smooth sailing? So where’s the twist?

But no Tess of D’Urbervilles is more complicated than that. Hardy has nuanced the story well so that it does not read like just another moral story about love, relations and women. It is layered story which at every turn of the page forces you to think beyond the status quo, beyond the rigid morals and social norms and archetypes especially that of the fallen woman and woman as a temptress. He thought way ahead of his time! For one, Tess is not the typical damsel in distress who believes her world has ended if no man loves her or rejects her. She picks up the pieces and gets on with her life and tries to order her life with her own choices. She is the agency for her own life and that is something commendable to see in a Victorian Era book (Indian soaps should learn something from Hardy!). The ending jars with the whole plot and may have been put perhaps to please the moralistic Victorian readers of the time. Who knows?

Hardy himself does fall prey to certain set ways of depicting the woman such as Tess as a divine ethereal being, the portrayal of her physique to emphasise her beauty and put her in the stock character of the temptress, thus exempting the man from any blame.

Yet, the novel is peppered with several gems like his beautiful descriptions of the setting-Blackmoor Vale and others that are too exhaustive to list here. But one I cannot help listing is Tess utterance when she is leaving Alec and her work to go back home in the 2nd part of the novel: ” If I did love you I may have the best o’ causes for letting you know it. But I don’t.” It is a succinct take on the much abused “no” of a woman to her so called admirer, pursuer who expects that he alone can somehow convert that no into a yes. It is clearly stating that a no means a no and if i did love you I would let you know it. Are the Bollywood filmmakers listening??

For the review of Thomas Hardy’s Return of the Native, another marvelous and beautifully written novel, click here.

Most Indians today associate Hindi literature with Premchand and with more of the urban youth reading the crass commodified young urban romance novellas, it is perhaps only Premchand who holds the beacon of Hindi literature high.

But if you dig deeper, find out more,get your curiosity running, you will find out so much many more Hindi authors of tremendous fame.

I am not a fan of Hindi literature per se. And whatever little I have read in Hindi is limited to children’s comics or stray stories here and there. Or I have read translations.

Recently, happened to read one. And eventually found out the popularity of the author and that work.

No work in Indian English can perhaps compare with that novel in terms of the sheer accuracy of depicting the post-Independence Indian scenario with a brutal honesty.

Still can’t guess the novel right?

Its titled, Raag Darbari and the novel got me hooked from the first page itself.

The first lines go:
And there, on the edge of the town, stood a truck. As soon as you saw it you could tell that the sole purpose of its creation has been to rape the roads of India.

Such direct, forceful, unique and compelling descriptions pepper the whole novel.

Raag Darbari written by Srilal Shukla is a wonderful satiric account that essentially shows what went wrong with the post-Independent India. Set in the fictional town of Shivpalganj somewhere in Uttar Pradesh, politics and government with all its negative sides are intrinsically described in the book.

The town of Shivpalganj is just any village/town in North India run by not a system of bureaucrats but one single person Vaidyaji who controls everything in the town from education to politics to the police. Helping him out in his politics of power and supremacy is his son Ruppan babu who holds his own in the school from where he never passes. Stuck between the morass is Vaidyaji’s nephew, Rangnath, a research student come to stay in Shivpalganj for improving his health. The novel is narrated from his point of view.

The forte of Srilal Shukla has always been satire and Raag Darbari has humour on every page: whether satire, biting sarcasm or caricature, slapstick or dark humour.He spares no one in his sweeping satire from the most powerful to the most commonest of men (Langad). Srilal Shukla has satirised every character, every point of view to bring to light the utter breakdown of bureaucracy and the rampant corruption that festers within. No point of view is privileged even the narrator’s-Rangnath for all his education and research is satirised for his condescension of the village politics while also tacitly being a part of it. The novel as a whole is episodic and though it has a skim plot running through, it is a bunch of humourous tales satirising the corrupt politics.

Raag Darbari is a gem to be read for its satire and the detailed descriptions of several commonplace, taken for granted things that are a part and parcel of an Indian village and it is this attention to detail that makes Shivpalganj come alive. What makes the novel enduring is its relevance even in today’s India. Certain episodes of red tape, of indifference of the bureaucracy, of the traps that a common man is endlessly placed in to get benefits from the government will all find resonance with any Indian reader today as well. It is this very relevance today  that is a grim reminder of sorry state of Indian politics and bureaucracy today.

The monsoon has made a comeback with a bang and rain can be so inspiring for writers and to pen down immortal verses of love. To get you into the romantic mode for the season, the post has a selection of 8 love poems to get you to open up your heart to that special someone. Don’t expect to find in the list the oft repeated ‘Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?’ (which though beautiful is too often listed in almost all collections and one should give other poems a chance as well, don’t you think so?) or  ‘How do I love thee? Let me count the ways,” (Again, the same argument).

The list will obviously be woefully incomplete. You can comment your favourite lines or favourite poems and add to the list. Feel free to share!

1) Love’s Philosophy

The fountains mingle with the river
   And the rivers with the ocean,
The winds of heaven mix for ever
   With a sweet emotion;
Nothing in the world is single;
   All things by a law divine
In one spirit meet and mingle.
   Why not I with thine?—
See the mountains kiss high heaven
   And the waves clasp one another;
No sister-flower would be forgiven
   If it disdained its brother;
And the sunlight clasps the earth
   And the moonbeams kiss the sea:
What is all this sweet work worth
   If thou kiss not me?

-P.B. Shelley

This is a short and succinct and clever poem arguing for the meeting of two loves.

2) Valentine

My heart has made its mind up

And I’m afraid it’s you.

Whatever you’ve got lined up,

My heart has made its mind up

And if you can’t be signed up

This year, next year will do.

heart has made its mind up

And I’m afraid it’s you.

-Wendy Cope

From her collection,Two Cures For Love:Selected Poems, it is one of the many poems is deals with love in her best comic way possible. Try and read her other comic, sarcastic takes on love as well.

3) The Ecstasy

Where, like a pillow on a bed
         A pregnant bank swell’d up to rest
The violet’s reclining head,
         Sat we two, one another’s best.
Our hands were firmly cemented
         With a fast balm, which thence did spring;
Our eye-beams twisted, and did thread
         Our eyes upon one double string;
So to’intergraft our hands, as yet
         Was all the means to make us one,
And pictures in our eyes to get
         Was all our propagation.
As ‘twixt two equal armies fate
         Suspends uncertain victory,
Our souls (which to advance their state
         Were gone out) hung ‘twixt her and me.
And whilst our souls negotiate there,
         We like sepulchral statues lay;
All day, the same our postures were,
         And we said nothing, all the day.
If any, so by love refin’d
         That he soul’s language understood,
And by good love were grown all mind,
         Within convenient distance stood,
He (though he knew not which soul spake,
         Because both meant, both spake the same)
Might thence a new concoction take
         And part far purer than he came.
This ecstasy doth unperplex,
         We said, and tell us what we love;
We see by this it was not sex,
         We see we saw not what did move;
But as all several souls contain
         Mixture of things, they know not what,
Love these mix’d souls doth mix again
         And makes both one, each this and that.
A single violet transplant,
         The strength, the colour, and the size,
(All which before was poor and scant)
         Redoubles still, and multiplies.
When love with one another so
         Interinanimates two souls,
That abler soul, which thence doth flow,
         Defects of loneliness controls.
We then, who are this new soul, know
         Of what we are compos’d and made,
For th’ atomies of which we grow
         Are souls, whom no change can invade.
But oh alas, so long, so far,
         Our bodies why do we forbear?
They’are ours, though they’are not we; we are
         The intelligences, they the spheres.
We owe them thanks, because they thus
         Did us, to us, at first convey,
Yielded their senses’ force to us,
         Nor are dross to us, but allay.
On man heaven’s influence works not so,
         But that it first imprints the air;
So soul into the soul may flow,
            Though it to body first repair.
As our blood labors to beget
         Spirits, as like souls as it can,
Because such fingers need to knit
         That subtle knot which makes us man,
So must pure lovers’ souls descend
         T’ affections, and to faculties,
Which sense may reach and apprehend,
         Else a great prince in prison lies.
To’our bodies turn we then, that so
         Weak men on love reveal’d may look;
Love’s mysteries in souls do grow,
         But yet the body is his book.
And if some lover, such as we,
         Have heard this dialogue of one,
Let him still mark us, he shall see
         Small change, when we’are to bodies gone.
-John Donne

No one can argue as well as Donne about the importance of spiritual and physical love between a pair of lovers. More of our contemporary Indian religious folks would do good if they thought like this as well. Suffused with sensual imagery, its one of my favourite poems

4)Love

Until I found you,

I wrote verse, drew pictures,

And, went out with friends

For walks…

Now that I love you,

Curled like an old mongrel

My life lies, content, In you….

-Kamala Das

Mostly known for writing about the hollowness of relationships between man and woman, this one is a gem: sweet, simple, and content.

5) As A Perfume

As a perfume doth remain

In the folds where it hath lain,

So the thought of you, remaining

Deeply folded in my brain,

Will not leave me: all things leave me:

You remain.

Other thoughts may come and go,

Other moments I may know

That shall waft me, in their going,

As a breath blown to and fro,

Fragrant memories: fragrant memories

Come and go.

Only thoughts of you remain

In my heart where they have lain,

Perfumed thoughts of you, remaining,

A hid sweetness, in my brain.

Others leave me: all things leave me:

You remain.

– Arthur Symons

Influences by the Symbolism movement in France and the Decadence Era of the 1890s, Symons in this poem has also vividly used the effect of senses-memories, smell etc to say how his love will always remain.

6)Marriages Are Made

My cousin Elena is to be married

The formalities have been completed:

her family history examined for T.B.

and madness her father declared solvent

her eyes examined for squints her teeth for cavities

her stools for the possible

non-Brahmin worm.

She’s not quite tall enough

and not quite full enough

(children will take care of that)

Her complexion it was decided would compensate,

being just about the right shade

of rightness to do justice

to Francisco X. Noronha Prabhu

good son of Mother Church.

Eunice de Souza

 And this is sadly how love is usually accepted in India: through the anachronistic mechanism of arranged marriage and as the poem rightly shows it is a system that treats the girl as nothing but a product having certain materialistic characteristics. Eunice de Souza is the one writer in India who like, Wendy Cope, uses sarcasm and dark humour to showcase the irony of things we often take for granted.

7) A Statue of Eros (Zenodotus)

Who carved Love
and placed him
by this fountain,
thinking he could control
such fire with water?
-(translated from Greek byPeter Jay) 
A concise, precise sharp poem.
8)Bedtime
We are a meadow where the bees hum,
mind and body are almost one
as the fire snaps in the stove
and our eyes close,
and mouth to mouth,
the covers pulled over our shoulders,
we drowse as horses drowse afield, in accord;
though the fall cold surrounds our warm bed,
and though by day we are singular and often lonely.

– Denise Levertov

Not many know about this writer but she has some of the empathetic, sensitive poems that deal with a range of topics from love, marriage, Vietnam war etc. I love this poem as it closely marks the intimacy of lovers at night, in bed.

Well if this is not enough, then here are some other poems you can take a look at:

1) Resignation by Nikki Giovanni (it is an unabashed declaration of love)

2) The Clod and the Pebble by William Blake (Again, a succinct and precise argument in favour of love)

3) Delight in Disorder by Robbert Herrick (depicts the physical passion of love) (The cavalier poets are a delight to read because of their open way of dealing with love with none of the shyness of the previous poets)

4)Lover’s Infiniteness by John Donne

5)You by Carol Ann Duffy

6) Pablo Neruda poems

7) Shakespeare sonnets

8)Unclaimed by Vikram Seth

This list can go on and on and on…so add some more poems you like/love/detest. Comment away and make the list even longer. Hope you enjoyed this post!

All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.     

The opening lines of the enormous Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy would draw in any reader despite the sheer size of the book. I mean who wouldn’t want to derive voyeuristic pleasures from the sorrows of others and feel good about yourselves right? And get some masala/drama in your life right? Isn’t that the principle which the Indian soaps thrive on? Who wouldn’t want to get away from their drab mundane lives to gorge greedily on the much more exciting conflicts of others?

But comparing an Indian soap to one of Tolstoy’s masterpieces is a grave sin in the world of literary canon hegemony but an analogy never harmed anyone now, did it?

Saying that, I will confess that Anna Karenina is a splendid look at the Russian upper class society through the microcosm of a few representative individuals. It really can never be compared to a soap because it has none of its crass vulgarisation of emotions and conflict and societal ills.

For those of you who don’t know, Leo Tolstoy is a Russian author, born in the 1800s into a upper class estate owning family much like the ones depicted in the novel. He is known for this novel and another huge book, War and Peace. Despite the size that can put off many novella, quick read obsessed readers of today, Anna Karenina is a brilliant, beautiful novel that is gripping and engaging as it ploughs it way through a range of characters and stories and covers within its range a sweeping yet scathing look at the hollowness of upper class Russian society. For more on the writer and his works..well don’t click anywhere, go find out on your own!

Now to the plot:

WARNING: Spoilers ahead:

Anna Karenina is told from the viewpoint of an omniscient narrator. The narrator shifts the attention to several characters and namely the stories of Anna and Levin are often paralleled with the other characters’ mixed in.

The eponymous heroine, Anna, is apparently happily married to a well off bureaucrat,Alexei Karenin, but on the railway station(not sure but I think it was in Saint Petersburg), where she decides to take a train to see her brother-Oblonsky (Stiva) to save his marriage after his affair has created fissures between him and Dolly(Stiva’s wife), she stumbles upon Vronksy and she immediately has seeds of something uneasy moving in her which later blooms into a full blown love affair with the man.

Meanwhile, Levin, Stiva’s friend from the country, has come to propose to Dolly’s young sister, Kitty, on her debutante. However, it seems like she is smitten by this Vronksy fellow as well. Things don’t exactly go as planned for any of them at the debutante. Both Kitty and Levin have their hearts broken as one they love is in love with someone else.

Tolstoy quickly in the first part introduces you to all the characters and sets all the plot lines in action for the story to move forward and we get slowly enmeshed in their troubled, unhappy lives. Anna and Vronksy carry on their affair discreetly at first and then too much in love they decide to defy everyone and live off on their own while Karenin files for divorce. Levin on the other hand gradually recovers from his heart break through work on his farm/estate where he is continually trying to better the farm yields and the lives of his tenant farmers. The clandestine affair quickly spirals downwards as both face the bitter consequences of society’s disapproval (which for Anna is more pronounced than for Vronksy because well since Russian society like most patriarchal societies is quick to blame the woman rather than see it as an affair involving two people).

The novel proffers multiple viewpoints and at first there is no character that is given the privilege of being the right one. Yet somewhere, Levin and his lifestyle and his eventual settling into happiness through a family of his own seems to suggest that he was the author’s voice. In fact, many critics have speculated that Levin is a semi-autobiographical character. Tolstoy’s own wife, Sophia, after reading the first part of the novel commented, “Levin is you, minus the talent.” There are undoubtedly similarities between the two and by the end of the novel, we can be sure that it is Levin and all that he stands for that Tolstoy privileges from among the plethora of his characters.

The book has been called flawless by several modern authors such as Dostoyevsky and Nabakov. What however, I personally feel that Tolstoy falls short of is that he left his defiance incomplete. It was quite uncommon to write about women having affairs and that too so blatantly in his time and in the initial parts he succeeds, through his careful underlining of Anna’s marriage breaking up or being just another societal charade and his skill in outlining the confining conventions of society that reek of hypocrisy, to present a balanced, if not glorified, picture of a woman who is trying to break away from constraints of being a woman. Tolstoy in the end makes her nothing more than a Hardyesque tragic herione who was bound to fall given the sin she committed. This in my opinion just basically goes to show how he left his great defiant novel to be nothing more than a comfortable cosying into the norms and conventions.

To read the novel, click here.

Paradoxes and contradictions are a part and parcel of this ever-on-the-move,pseudo-dreamlike city called Bombay rechristened to Mumbai. And one of the large and growing paradoxes of the city is the way in which the woman of the middle class comes into close contact with the woman of the low class vis-a-vis the great necessity of the elite/middle class called the servant. This necessity though great is hardly ever really talked about except in slandering the people who fulfil that necessity or when they put forward their demands regularly which are dismissed on an equally regular basis.

The Space Between Us by Thrity Umrigar explores this very paradox which is ubiquitous but never acknowledged. Quite a paradox within a paradox, eh? So what exactly is this paradox? To state it clearly, the rising middle class or those well established ones always hire a maid/servant (full time or part-time) to do the many chores while they are busy hurrying to offices or catching up on other important tasks like catching up on the latest conniving traps of the new saas (mother-in-law) on the block or going golfing/kitty parties and other some such silly stuff. So while the middle class will never otherwise really come in contact with the low class thanks to the rise of gated communities which makes sure that the ugly side of any place let alone a city is never revealed and is conveniently obliterated in the mind, they come in contact with them through the maids who become (usually of the women thanks to the never changing stereotypes of the roles of men and women!) great companions and friends sharing their lives and worlds which in any other situation would be unthinkable.

The novel elaborates quite evocatively on such a scenario with a touching prologue that captures so vividly the mental state of any city dweller at some point or the other: the need to just run away from all your problems, hoping that the city disappears and while you sit at the sea, hoping it will wash away your sorrows/frustrations etc. The story charts out the individual lives of two women who are world apart: Sera, a rich Parsi women who has had her own share of unhappiness in her married life and Bhima, the maid who works in her house and whose world is falling apart constantly even as she perpetually struggles hard to keep it all together. The story opens with Bhima’s granddaughter, Maya, getting pregnant- from a man whose identity is revealed at the end-which again though temporarily shatters Bhima’s world and all her hopes for Maya and her education which she thought of as her ticket out of the vicious hell of being a maid. Sera and Bhima share a fragile, precarious camaraderie which cuts across class and the usual stereotypes about how a relationship should be between a master and servant. Both have been there for each other in times of need-Bhima when Sera had to heal from her husband’s abuses and Sera when Bhima needed her while her husband was in hospital and other cases. Though they share a a good womanly friendship which is also seen in Sera’s daughter-Dinaz’s fondness for Bhima, the relationship is fraught with the several hesitations and doubts and stereotypes too.

The story weaves its way through Maya’s pregnancy while constantly going into flashbacks into Sera’s and Bhima’s life which work as good reminisces and a way to show how their lives merged and then into the present which stands like it always does with a lot of uncertainty while also being happy in its own small ways and then into the end which reveals the father quite un-dramatically like one of those mundane things you suddenly become aware of like how to chip vegetables or what exactly does a Bachelor’s degree mean or some such dross things that makes up what is called life. And then comes…oh wait…u need to find this on your own so go read it..

It is definitely worth a read as it is a poignant story because of its subject and the jarring clash of two worlds which brings fore jarringly the worlds we conveniently ignore-the struggles Bhima goes through just about everyday for basic necessities is something that would make us the people sitting cushioned in their AC rooms faint. The novel can be bogged down with over use of metaphors and similes but on the whole it is quite an engaging read.

The title, The Space Between Us, is quite appropriate as it questions the space that divide across class, shows how it can be reconciled or perhaps not. It challenges, questions, experiments with it, putting more questions forward but never answering any of them. That is for us to do.

“…our life is not our life, merely the story we have told about our life. Told to others, but-mainly-to ourselves-” Julian Barnes, The Sense of an Ending. 

So says the protagonist, Tony Webster,of the Man Booker Prize winning novel, The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes. In a nutshell, the novel is precisely just that-A man in his 60s looking back, retelling and re-examining his life’s story and certain events in them.  However, it isn’t a Charles Dickenish kind of a novel where Copperfield will look at each and every event of his life and bore us to death. The story of his life that Tony tells us and perhaps to himself too is quite a succinct, precise one with frequent ramblings on the importance and unreliability of memory and passing of time and life in general. And that is how Barnes’ prose also works: clean and full of precision-a kind of no nonsense, no frills, not too overtly nostalgic look at one’s life.

The novel is divided into two parts. The first part is a quick look at the Tony’s life in school with his group of friends and how they meet the intellectual and seemingly serious Adrian Finn. He talks of his college life, his girlfriend Veronica and how things get complicated in that relationship. With a witty and engaging narration, Tony gives in a good, tongue-in-cheek manner all that there is to school and teenage life-friends, love, college, partying, being together and promising a sincere lifelong contact and a kind of innocent idealism about everything. But this not in a cliched style that will make you retch and cringe with the nostalgia usually associated with those times but will make you say, “yes even I had those very same thoughts when I was a kid.” In the second part, Tony looks at back at some of those events and when unexpectedly a will bequeaths Adrian’s diary to him, he is forced to look at his break up with Veronica and his relationship with Adrian in a fresh light and come to turns with what had happened then despite his memory’s unwillingness to do so. This quest turns the story into a quasi-suspense novel without letting go of its quasi-philosophical ramblings about re looking at life.

The narration is very conversational and Tony tells his story as if he were orally narrating it to some listeners which is exactly what makes the text engaging. The reader is constantly acknowledged and addresses to and thus we feel drawn into the story and relate to it easily-who doesn’t nostalgically look back at their good times in life, who doesn’t invent memories, who doesn’t read into the past and reasons it out-aren’t we all guilty of that, of pruning the bad parts and remembering only the good aspects, of inventing our life’s story for ourselves? There is therefore a kind of universalism in his pondering about life but without making it stereotypical and without imposing it on the reader.

With many quotable quotes and witty phrases and one liners that may or may not hit you with a profound realisation, The Sense of an Ending is a brisk, powerful and moving tale of the uncertainties of life.  The end is completely surprising and revelation of a bitter truth does somehow communicate ‘the sense of an ending’ in a way. Cannot reveal more, would be quite a spoiler and would simply ruin the fun of finding out on your own. All I can say is highly recommended. But do not read it just because it won some fancy prize but because it can say a lot about the vagaries of life-more than those silly philosophical books anyhow and more importantly read it because well what could be more joyful than picking up a book and immersing yourself in it and falling in love with another author’s works?

Crisp, clear and courageous is one way to describe Ismat Chughtai’s writing. Penguin Evergreens have brought out a collection of short stories by her in a slim volume titled: The Quilt: Stories by Ismat Chughtai. A member of the Progressive Writers’ Movement, Ismat was a bold Urdu writer whose stories were often a frank examination of women’s issues along with many several other topics such as Partition and the fight for independence. This collection includes a good range of her stories showing her deft writing skills and her eye for emotional detail. Much can be lost in translation but that will not deprive the reader from enjoying these short stories. The title story very cleverly implies and hints at homo eroticism. Quit India is surprisingly not the run of the mill story about freedom struggle but quite a sensitive portrayal of an Englishman in India and how he finally quits India. Here she uses that very slogan quite wittily to show the English soldier in a different light. The Mole and The Homemaker explore female sexuality. Mother-in-law shows the much stereotypes saas with all her whims and fancies sans the evil tag. Roots deals with the sad ache of Partition and how it tore apart communities.

With a collection of 10 interesting stories, this book is quite a good way to get a quick introduction to Chughtai’s work and gauge the vast range of the topics she dealt with. Its a quick and thoughtful read; one that will take you on a ride from the nightmarish fright of a child under the quilt to the frustrated and deranged painterly efforts of Choudhry; from the bylanes of the then Bombay to all across the seas to England. While on that journey, you can if you pay enough attention, just get a subtle glimpse of the orthodoxies that run women’s lives, of the pain, struggle and love of ordinary people.

To explore further,click here to check this useful website dedicated to her works.

Half Of A Yellow Sun is a brave book; brave because of its heartfelt, honest writing; brave because it highlights truthfully the colossal loss of everyday life during war; brave because it is clear in the political points it wants to make.

The novel written by Chimamanda Adichie is a story of three individuals-Ugwu, Olanna and Richard- caught in the three year Biafran war in the 1960s.  But you may ask what is new

about novels written about war-there are gazillion of them out there and this is just one needle in a large haystack? True though that is, Adichie’s novel is not the average run of the mill book about the war because what stands out in the story is her heartbreaking, close portrayal of the all the main characters so that you are immersed in their lives and war’s turmoil as they are thrown into it and face it everyday. She gives a remarkable, intimate portrait of them and of other marginal characters too who provide multiple viewpoints of the ravages and the sufferings of war. And that’s the power of this story-to make the reader feel the suffering, sense the shattering of relationships and the immense tests they go through. And isn’t that in a more broader perspective-the power of literature? To proffer a humane perspective to any crisis, to portray the human element of it and not just as a drab and dry report. In a way it is similar to what Manto did for the Partition of India-his stories depicted its horrifying consequences on the individuals and did not treat them as merely a statistic. To read my review on Manto’s stories, click here.  Every individual has a story to tell and Adichie’s novel shines through with the ordinariness of her characters and how they deal with that falling apart during the Biafran war. She doesn’t make the story into a sob story to garner attention but emphasises on the everyday emotions and how they go on despite the crisis raging on.

Ugwu is a poor village boy who is brought by his aunt to Nsukka to work as a houseboy in her master, Odenigbo’s house. Olanna, a smart intelligent woman, has had a life of privilege in Lagos but still sets to live with her lover, Odenigbo who is a professor in Nsukka University. Richard is the Englishman staying in Nigeria and slowly as he gets caught up in his love for Kainene and the war, he drifts apart from the stereotypical, white colonial view of Nigeria and comes to love the country. Their lives intersect as tensions simmers between the Hausa and Igbo tribes. The story is very well structured with each chapter focusing on one of the three character’s point of views. Each chapter plunges us thoroughly into their lives as we are allowed to take a peak into their thoughts and apprehensions and feelings. Adichie doesn’t use the omnipresent narrator and leaves a lot for the reader to interpret. We therefore see a bunch of characters with all their imperfections and doubts and emotions as most human beings actually are. We see them as introspecting themselves; searching for who they are; negotiating their selves, their identity, their relationships to other people and the world and the war. The story is also open ended with a hopeful ending but that which is tainted by heartache and hurt along with a tragedy and loss that comes in the wake of any war.

Half Of A Yellow Sun has an interesting feature-Adichie has incorporated snippets of book written by one of the characters and the revelation of who that character actually is makes quite a strong and brave point as to who should actually be writings stories about Africa and that brings into consideration the whole idea of a white, colonial, racist appropriation of history. In writing Half Of A Yellow Sun Adichie takes a bold step of depicting the Biafran war through the eyes of the people actually being affected by it. In using the feature of a book within a book she subtly makes a scathing comment on the Western idea of war, of Africa and its people and how they created and used the tensions among the tribes for their own vested interest.

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