Welcome to the fifth Short Story of the Month!
It is first of April. It is April Fools Day! This time around very few people would be playing pranks on each other since most people’s reality today is having to keep social distance and being under lock down. I think we would all wish for all of this to be one big bad joke and go away. Yet, it is going to be our constant reality for the next fourteen days. And perhaps even more.
This time around though I am not just bringing to attention one story but a bunch of stories that are less than 100 words revolving around the theme of love. These flash fiction stories are published on New York Times and they chronicle our modern conceptions of love. Although, there are 5 in total on one page, I am going to focus on the first one, No More We, Just I by Jennifer Brule
What is the story about?
The story is about a woman chronicling her relationship with a man and captures its many transformations both material and emotional. The reason I chose this story in particular is because it shows a heartbreaking and ironic climax that happens on an April Fool’s Day.
The writer begins by talking about how she married her love, how they had kids and how it was not her but him who progressed on the professional front while she was left alone to tend to the children.
The writer has also brilliantly used the parenthesis to lay bare the false sense of union in a marriage. Although, society would say that the couple achieves and goes through trials and tribulations together, that is not always the case such as raising children or achieving professional goals.
The Unbearable Dreamworld of Champa The Driver by Chan Koonchung centres on the adventures of the taxi driver, Champa or Champie. He lives in Lhasa, Tibet but takes a thrilling step to go all the way to Beijing to make his dreams come true. The book has been translated from Chinese to English by Nicky Harman. The Unbearable Dreamworld of Champa The Driver is divided into three parts: Flesh, Straw Dogs and Alien Land.
The Unbearable Dreamworld of Champa The Driver is a quick read about Champa and his relationship with his boss, Plum who is a businesswoman. She deals with arts and artifacts. One Tara statue that she is trading particularly catches Champa’s interest. Champa is her driver. The book also captures the aftermath of the takeover of Tibet by China. It recalls in bits and pieces the brutality of that time and the subtle differences in the way Tibetans are treated. One of the most insightful incidents of the novel is from Chapter Three in part two, Straw Dogs. Champa had decided to go to Beijing to make it big there and he was in his car (Plum’s car actually) driving from Lhasa to Beijing. He first encounters a massive midge storm and its comical description is an absolute delight, such that it takes you some time to figure out what is being talked about:
That day, I must have taken thousands of lives in the space of less than twenty minutes. Along the highway, I drove smack into the middle of a midge storm.
In that same chapter, he also meets the most well sketched character of the novel, Nyima. Champa gives Nyima a lift and they hit off, immersed in deep conversations about Buddhism, Freudian psychology and Nyima’s death wish fantasies.
An enigmatic sarangiya player sweeps a district collector/officer off his feet with his magical tunes in a distant desert region of Rajasthan state in India.
Sarangiya – the person who plays the sarangi (a rectangular string instrument).
No, Daura by Anukriti Upadhay isn’t a romantic tale set in the twilight of the dusky dunes but the novel is steeped in different ideas of romance – romancing nature, the romance present in the state’s folktales and folk songs, romance of the music, and the most prevalent of all: the romance of the mysterious and the magical.
Daura is Anukriti Upadhay’s one of the first books in English. She also writes in Hindi. A District Collector or DC (a government officer who governs a division of the state called a district). He is unnamed and very enthusiastic about exploring the culture and tradition of the desert folks which is why he is often touring the district he governs (much to the dismay of his orderly, who is happy to be ensconced in his town life and engaging in urban activities rather than rural pastimes). The collector, on the other hand, shows kindness to their way of life, is happy to partake in it, and happier even to be regaled by their music and dance at the dak bangla (a bungalow) in the remote desert of the district.
This is a very very late post!
I usually upload The Reading Spree blog posts by end of the month. But I this time I forgot that it was February and it has fewer days! From then I just spiraled into procrastination and never got to writing this post!
So in February, I managed to armchair travel to different parts of India through books!
These are the four books I read in February:
- The Legends of Pensam by Mamang Dai: This is a short novel about folk tales and family stories mingling together and creating unique histories. The stories revolve around the erstwhile and modern day lives of the Adi tribe in Arunachal Pradesh
- Seahorse by Janice Pariat: This was by far the best novel of the last month. The soul stirring and palpable descriptions of the relationship between the protagonist, Nem and Nicholas. This book not only takes you through the university lanes of Delhi but also through the mysterious moors of England. It also takes you on a thoughtful literary and musical ride, leaving you with ideas of how both love and gender are fluid. The rich tapestry Pariat creates around two main relationships through motifs of water, seahorse and aquarium as well as through intricately interspersed music and literary inter textual references are bound to captivate you. It is especially delightful for lovers of literature and classical music. Continue reading
Welcome to the fifth Poem of the Month
This month we celebrate yet another birthday! Last month we celebrated Agha Shahid Ali’s birthday in the Poem of the Month series.
This month it is Bill Collins. He celebrates his birthday on 22nd March. He turns 78 this year.
March rings in the spring season. The budding of flowers. The slowly creeping warmth. In most parts of India, March is the one pleasant month before the onslaught of sunny summers begins. This onslaught is becoming increasingly severe with each passing year, thanks to global warming.
However, for today let us read a succinct poem that celebrates this changing of seasons:
Welcome to the fourth Short Story of the Month!
This is quite a late post! But, just in time to celebrate international women’s day. Me being my skeptical self am a little wary of celebrating such days where celebrating women is reduced to having ridiculous sales or discounts rather than having any constructive discussions on women empowerment or equality.
Leaving that aside, this short story of the month is all about smashing the male gaze. This month let us read, Rashid Jahan’s Dilli Ki Sair or A Trip to Delhi. It was written originally in Urdu around 1932.
What is the story about?
Dilli Ki Sair was published in the anthology, Angaarey. The story is about Malka Begum who had taken an adventurous trip from Faridabad to Delhi. In the story, she is recounting this adventure to her female friends.
Today, travelling from Faridabad to Delhi is a daily routine for lakhs of people, including women. But back then when the story was penned it was in all probably a rarity for a woman to travel. In the story, she does not travel alone. She had traveled to Delhi with her husband but was left alone with the luggage at the large Delhi Railway Station while her husband went to pay a visit to the station master. It is then that Malka Begum talks about what she has seen. She talks about how the men react to her, the woman sitting alone on the station. This is painfully real even today. A woman sitting alone on train stations will be seen suspiciously and she will be eyed by countless men.
We all know of Chimamanda Adichie. Many may have read her works, reveled in the feminism of her works and her depiction of Nigeria and its struggles, which are especially beautifully bought out in her two novels, Purple Hibiscus and Half of a Yellow Sun.
But Nigeria is also teeming with many other female writers writing in English. While Adichie’s writing is breathtaking, her works often overshadow the other writers.
So this International Women’s Day, The Book Cafe, brings to the limelight five female Nigerian authors that one must read:
1. Buchi Emecheta:
Chinua Achebe seems to embody African literature. English literature syllabus in universities that teach world literature or post colonial literature, undoubtedly include Things Fall Apart by Achebe.
But Buchi Emecheta is not as well known. She was born in Lagos but immigrated to London with her husband. Her works are prolific and portray the sexism of institutions such as marriage and motherhood as well as speak about her own experiences as an immigrant. If you loved Americanah by Adichie, you should give her books her read too! You can borrow her books at the Internet Archive.
2. Flora Nwapa:
Flora Nwapa is another pioneer of Nigerian writing. Her works also lay bare the inherent discrimination within Igbo society. She combines folktales and stories to present modern day narratives of female empowerment. Through her books, the reader gets to see a women’s perspective of Igbo culture which is vastly different from Achebe’a portrayal of the same culture as it shows a male perspective. You can borrow one of her novels, Women Are Different at the Internet Archive.
Google commemorated her 86th birthday in 2017 as well!
The Yacoubian Building by Alaa al Aswany was originally written in Arabic. The novel is translated from Arabic by Humphrey Davies. The Yacoubian Building centres on characters that live in the old and quaint Yacoubian Building. Their lives intersect and connect in so many different strands that are unknown even to them.
The many characters that weave in and out the narrative of The Yacoubian Building is the highlight of the novel. These characters show the city’s diversity, its class divisions and the problems the different classes face because of belonging to that particular class. Their narratives touch upon the history of the city, particularly its colonial past and how Cairo became a city that was open to several communities and people of different ethnicity. The building itself has a unique history of its own. It was constructed by an Armenian millionaire, Hagop Yacoubian, to mimic a kind of colonial European grandeur.
Among the colorful characters are Zaki Bey, who is the oldest resident of the building; Hatim Rasheed, a closet homosexual who is also the editor of a French language newspaper, Le Caire; Hagg Azam, Taha el Shazli, Busayna and many others.
Hagg Azam is a businessman who ventures into politics.
Taha el Shazli is a hardworking student who aspires to join the police but his aspiration is thwarted because of class: his father is a doorman which is unfairly used as a yardstick to judge Taha’s ability. Thwarted by an unfair system, Taha gets demoralised and influenced by extremist movements which leads to his bitter end. Taha’s story was a nuanced criticism of the failure of the systems that allows young ambitious individuals to perish by providing space to terrorist elements to mushroom.
The depiction of the homosexual relationship between Hatim and his partner along with showcasing the underground gay scene depicts Cairo in a different light: a city that is trying to free itself from the shackles of strict religious morality.
The opening of The Yacoubian Building reveals that Zaki Bey is the oldest resident of the building and speaks of him as a legendary figure. But by the third page, the novel depicting him as a womaniser was a complete let down of the cosmopolitan and nostalgic opening. This could be overlooked too as being only one character’s flaw. However, majority of the male characters are shown lusting over women (except the homosexual couple). The women also are shown as considering this male lust as a norm, accepting it as how things are between men and women. This deprives both male and female characters of any humanity or individuality.
It is February 22nd! Anddd today is National Cat Day in Japan.
Thus, we at The Book Cafe want to celebrate it by presenting the Top 5 books from Japanese Literature that feature none other than our favourite feline creatures, CATS!
Japan loves its cats. They feature in legends and folklore. There are even shrines dedicated to them such as Nekonomiya (Shrine of the Cat) in Yamagata Prefecture or the Nekojinja (Cat Shrine) on the island of Tashirojima in the Miyagi Prefecture. And of course the ubiquitous maneki neko (the beckoning cat) beckons through most shops and restaurants.
Unsurprisingly, Japanese literature also boasts of several books that centre on cats or have cats as prominent characters.
Let’s take a look at the Top 5 Japanese novels that are about cats:
Welcome to the fourth poem of the month!
This month we celebrate the birth anniversary of Kashmiri poet, Agha Shahid Ali. He was born on 4th February in 1949. He would have turned 71 this year.
In his poems, he gives voice to his sense of self exile and homelessness. Ali immigrated to the US for this studies and continued to stay there. His poetry also depicts his nostalgic view of his homeland, Kashmir. Later on his poems, particularly the one in his collection, The Country Without a Post Office, dealt with the growth of terrorism in the state and its effects on the communities of the region.
I picked the poem below because this was the first poem I had read written by him. I still vividly remember one of my English professors reciting the first stanza in class and how I was struck by the simplicity of the metaphor.
Postcard from Kashmir
Kashmir shrinks into my mailbox,
my home a neat four by six inches.
I always loved neatness. Now I hold
the half-inch Himalayas in my hand.
This is home. And this the closest
I’ll ever be to home. When I return,
the colors won’t be so brilliant,
the Jhelum’s waters so clean,
so ultramarine. My love
And my memory will be a little
out of focus, in it
a giant negative, black
and white, still undeveloped.
The opening couplet so succinctly and beautifully conveys different facets of nostalgia and memory. It portrays the idealistic image of Kashmir that a postcard would capture. The poem conveys Ali’s own distance from his homeland and how Kashmir’s depiction in a postcard mirrors his own nostalgic and rosy view of the valley.
Nostalgia is a cruel thing in a way. It forces you to ache for something that is not there anymore. A postcard captures exactly that: a place frozen in time, neatly ensconced within 4 x 6 inches.
Poesie: The Country Without A Post Office
Poem of the Month: Carol Ann Duffy
Do you have a favourite poem you absolutely love? Share them with The Book Cafe as part of the Poem of the Month! Click here to know more.
This post comes a tad bit late this time as I finished reading my last book from the month of January only on 1st February and then it has taken me some time to let go of that book, because it was so powerful and moving. Read on to see which book that was!
Though I had decided to read books from the Middle East since a long time, it felt strange to have started with reading two books from Iran itself when the tensions between US and Iran had flared up.
I ended up reading 5 books this time and felt proud that the first month was so successful. So here are the books that I ended up reading:
Welcome to the third Short Story of the Month!
The winters may be now saying their slow goodbye as they leave; leaving the air slightly chilly.
That kind of rosy, crisp coolness is what still makes you want to cosy up in a blanket or have a cuppa as you snuggle in your quilt.
Alice Walker’s short story, Everyday Use, would make for a beautiful read in this weather.
Yes, it is about quilts but that’s not that only thing that makes your heart feel warm.
What is the story about?
The story is about two sisters, Maggie and Dee, who are very different from each other in their thoughts and physique. Nonetheless, they both value their family heirlooms and heritage. However, they value the same things for entirely different reasons. Dee comes to visit her mother and sister, Maggie, with her husband. It is then that she asks to take certain things such as the dasher and the churn top. She even asks for the quilts that were stitched by hand out of old scraps of her grandmother’s dresses.
Dee’s mother however refuses to give her the quilts saying that she has promised them to Maggie.
Welcome to the third poem of the month.
1st January 2020 marks the beginning of a brand new decade and also heralds the coming of so much hope.
We all ring in the new year with promises and resolutions, leaving behind our losses and the things we didn’t do, promising that we will do better!
So this month, I chose a poem that expresses that hope and that promise so well.
Burning the Old Year
Naomi Shihab Nye
Letters swallow themselves in seconds.
Notes friends tied to the doorknob,
transparent scarlet paper,
sizzle like moth wings,
marry the air.
So much of any year is flammable,
lists of vegetables, partial poems.
Orange swirling flame of days,
so little is a stone.
Where there was something and suddenly isn’t,
an absence shouts, celebrates, leaves a space.
I begin again with the smallest numbers.
Quick dance, shuffle of losses and leaves,
only the things I didn’t do
crackle after the blazing dies.
The metaphor of burning suffuses the poem. Though ironically it is a literal burning that the persona is engaging in: burning the letters, notes, incomplete poems etc. The action is very tangible and one that immediately connects with leaving behind everything unfortunate and old and stepping into the new, starting afresh.
The title also references the tradition of burning the old man during new year. Burning effigies to signify the burning of the past and also of evil is a common motif across cultures, one that resonates with the people’s need to dissolve their bad deeds and usher in goodness in their lives. This poem, however, depicts a burning of a personal nature rather than a symbolic one. No effigy is being burnt here but actual personal things to bid goodbye to the losses.
What do you think about the poem? Please share in the comments below!
Do you have a favourite poem you absolutely love? Share them with The Book Cafe as part of the Poem of the Month! Click here to know more.
As I mentioned in last month’s The Reading Spree: Hindi Writing Post, January 2020 will be dedicated to reading books from the Middle East.
Strangely given the US-Iran tensions that erupted by the end of 2019 and going into 2020, it felt prophetic to be reading works from this region.
And the first two books I picked to read were coincidentally from Iran as well.
The first book for 2020 was the non fiction memoir, My Prison, My Home by Haleh Esfandiari. The work recounts her imprisonment in Evin Prison in Tehran, Iran on false charges of trying to destabalise the country. She is a scholar who works in US. She has also worked with the Woodrow Wilson Center’s Middle East Program and has taught at Princeton University.
I was proud to have picked this book as the first one for 2020 because I usually stay away from non fiction works but this was a moving tale and a story of strength in the face of solitary imprisonment.
The second book I picked was A Teaspoon of Earth and Sea by Dina Nayeri. This book is at once heartwarming but also melancholic as it narrates Saba, the protagonist’s search for her missing twin while growing up in a fictional village in north Iran, amidst Irani traditions and aftermath of the Revolution.
Will keep you posted about other books that I have read this month in the The Reading Spree post for January 2020.
2019 is well and truly done now. Post party blues are bound to set in. In a world where even the tiniest thing we do winds its way online and creates an online image, comparing ourselves to other people’s lives on social media platforms becomes second nature to all of us. Studies have shown a correlation between anxiety, self esteem, and social media.
As a whole, mental health issues are not very often talked about in India. Depression is simply shrugged off as a mood and not recognized as a prolonged state of mind that needs to be addressed. There are many ways in which anxiety and issues associated with depression can manifest themselves. Anxieties over festivities or self image issues due to long social media exposure are only two examples.
Seeking help should not be considered a taboo or looked down upon.
One more way to feel better is to engage yourself in reading relevant books; books that can motivate you and help you tackle your situation. The Book Cafe presents a list of eight such meaningful books that can help you get through the worst of times.
THE HEN WHO DREAMED SHE COULD FLY BY SUN MI-HANG
That’s all there is to it. We look different, so we don’t understand each other’s inner thoughts, but we cherish each other in our own way. I respect you.
This short South Korean novella possesses a beautiful fable like quality and narrates the gutsy story of a hen, Sprout, who refuses to do what she is forced to do – lay eggs for humans – and dares to set her own path. For once, she wants to be able to hatch the egg and not let it be snatched away. She decides to break free from her coop and face the world which is full of uncertainty. The novella cum fable deals with several relevant abstract issues of our times with the utmost simplicity. One important theme of the story is the need to be comfortable with your own identity and not try to fit in constantly with the majority. This is an important lesson in our world of idealized social media presence that we may or may not live up to.
Read my complete review here.
Welcome to the second Short Story of the Month!
It is a brand new year! 2020! Love the sound of it and it makes me think that something wonderful is going to happen to one and all this lovely year.
Since it is new year, the short story The Book Cafe is going to be reading is related to both Christmas and New Year. The short story is titled The New Year’s Tree by Mikhail Zoshchenko.
What is the short story about?
In The New Year’s Tree by Mikhail Zoshchenko, the protagonist, Minka, is recalling his first memory of the Christmas Tree or the New Year Tree (yolka) as it is known in the story. The story is set in the Soviet Union where it was forbidden to celebrate Christmas and hence this name was adopted. Minka speaks of a specific incident which had a long lasting impact on his behaviour.
He was five. He clearly remembers the New Year Tree and how it was then filled with presents and candies that Minka and his sister, Lyolya, were competing over. The presents and candies were meant to be given to other needy children as a gesture of kindness but childish quarreling of the siblings, children and the mothers led to the guests leaving until the father put an end to such ungracious behavior from his kids and decided to give the presents to the needy children as had been agreed upon before.
Since the story centres on a childhood memory, the tone has a touch of naivete and innocence while at the same time showing covetous behaviour among children. The sense of playfulness is clear in bickering over eating Christmas sweets between Minka and Lyolya. The story has a definite moral lesson about the benefits of being kind and sharing with others. Michka at the end states that it was because of that day 35 years ago that made him more considerate and selfless. He also attributes his happiness and good health to those characteristics as well. That lesson in itself is an important manifestation of the Christmas spirit and the joy of giving.
Where to read it?
The story is translated from Russian by Ross Ufberg and is part of the anthology, A Very Russian Christmas: The Greatest Russian Holiday Stories of All Time.
You can read the short story here. Read and enjoy! I promise it will not take more than 15 minutes to read and in that 15 minutes you can relive the warmth and joyousness associated with Christmas and New Year.
Let us know in the comments below what you thought about the short story!
This is part of the series called, Short Story of the Month. Click here to find out more!
Doesn’t 2020 sound exciting? Just the sense of symmetry and the roundness of the number makes me believe that it would be a great year! Pretty odd huh? Turns out I do show favouritism to even numbers!
Though of course Climate Change is truly upon us and we do stare at a bleak future, which many politicians refuse to see. The Oxford Word of the Year for 2019 was also Climate Emergency. I think I will also remember 2019 for its freak weather show, particularly rain and snow in India along with some strange, contradictory decisions I made.
Yet I do think we all can do out bits even though our politicians and policymakers let us down.
For starters, let us reduce our plastic usage and be conscientious about it. Why use something for just 15 minutes, that which is going to last on this planet for about 50 more years?
But there are many more things one can do as well!
But on to books for now!
So what was new on The Book Cafe in 2019?
Several new series!
- This included the very cool: The Good, The Bad and the Ugly which is a great way to clearly recommend books.
- The very cool The Reading Spree series where I showcase the books that I read in a particular month!
- Another nascent one was the Pick it Up, which I plan to do monthly on the books recommended by The Book Cafe!
- The blog also started two very ambitious series, Poem and Short Short Story of the Month. Poem of the Month is my way to share some of my favourite poems to increase a love for poetry. Short Story of the Month is for those hard pressed on time and money but still want to read. Short stories are here to rescue you. I will only pick those that one can read online. This way it helps you read without spending too much time and money. Hopefully can continue Short Story of the Month and Poem of the Month diligently.
Books I did read from 2018’s wish list:
- I did manage to read A Strangeness in My Mind from my wish list last year! It was biggest book I have read this year and after a long time had enough time on my hands to commit to a lengthy book! Yay to me!
- I also did strike off Touching Earth by Rani Manicka and The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter from my to read list that I made in December 2018. Though to be honest, I do need to reread The Bloody Chamber as I did not fully absorb it that well, except the hilariously retold, Puss in the Boots.
My Favourite Reads of 2019:
The Oscars 2019 for my Favourite Books go to:
The Best Character: Aliya in The Women’s Courtyard by Khadija Mastur.
The Best Setting: Tiger Hills by Sarita Mandanna. The novel is set in the beautiful Coorg. It was my first book of the year 2019!
The Best Book to Make you Emotional/Cry: Please Look After Mom by Kyung-Sook Shin.
The Best Parallel Time Lines: The Tiger’s Wife by Tea Obreht.
The Best Style: Daura by Anukriti Upadhyay concocts a mesmerising tale within the form of a utterly disparate and mundane government report.
The Best Poetry: It is a tie between The Bees by Carol Ann Duffy, The Narrow Road to the Interior by Basho and Selected Poems by Anna Akhmatova.
The Best YA novel: Talking of Muskaan by Himanjali Sankar.
The Best Bildungsroman: The Patiala Quartet by Neel Kamal Puri.
The Best Children’s Novel: It is again a tie between Roald Dahl’s James and the Giant Peach and Vinod Kumar Shukla’s fantastical, Hari Ghaas ki Chhappar Waali Jhopdi Aur Bona Pahad.
So this year I had set an ambitious goal of reading 50 books on Goodreads for the 2019 Reading Challenge.
Today on 31st December, I finished reading 51 books! YAY! Check out my year in books here at Goodreads.
In 2020, I think I will limit my reading to half of the 2019 ambitious goal: to read 25 books in 2020 because I think 2020 will not be as relaxed as 2019!
By the time December came, I was sure to complete my challenge and so I decided to read a few Hindi novels I have at home. I am not a fast reader of Hindi writing having lost touch with reading in Hindi after college. So I thought December would be a great time to read in Hindi as I can take it slow and steady.
Consequently, I read only 3 books this month but they were all amazing! I had wanted to read one more book, a poetry collection by Dushyant Kumar titled, Saaye Mein Dhoop, but I did not make time for that though I have read it before.
I had also planned to read Anukriti Upadhay’s short story, Cherry Blossom but was not able to do that either. It is available online as part of one of the issues of The Bombay Literary Magazine and hoping to read it soon!
These are the three novels I read:
Welcome to the second Poem of the Month!
This month, December 2019, we will look at Carol Ann Duffy!
Carol Ann Duffy’s birthday is on 23rd December! She was born in Glasgow, Scotland in 1955.
To celebrate her birthday, the second poem of the month will feature one of her poems.
Before that let us get to know her a little bit more, shall we?
Carol Ann Duffy is an acclaimed poet and playwright. She also writes picture books for children. She was the first female Poet Laureate of Great Britain. She held the position from 2009 to 2019! She has written several unique poetry collections such as Standing Female Nudes (1985), The World’s Wife (1999) and The Bees (2011). Check out my review of The Bees.
So now coming to the poem itself! My favourite collection by Duffy is The World’s Wife. It is a collection of poems that give voice to the female characters from historical, literary or mythical fields that have been overshadowed by their male counterparts. So the poems narrate the point of views of varying Western female figures from Mrs. Freud to Mrs. Faust, from Mrs Sisyphus to Demeter, from Mrs. Aesop to Little Red Hiding Hood and many many more. The poems, therefore, form part of a feminist revisionist mythology that is used here to reclaim female voices and experiences.
While it is extremely difficult to choose one from this collection because all of the them are so witty and so satirical! So here is one short, succinct one that will make you laugh!
7 April 1852
Went to the Zoo.
I said to Him—
Something about that Chimpanzee over there reminds me of you.
This poem is such a sing song one with simple rhymes of two, zoo and you.
The opening date is not significant but it is important to know that Darwin’s evolution theories were published in 1859. Perhaps, then, the poem is then trying to hint that it was Mrs. Darwin’s comparison that actually was behind Mr. Darwin’s ground breaking theories. In just four lines, Duffy has remarked upon the females behind scientific discoveries that are often ignored simply because of their gender!
The Hussain Alam House is about the changing life of Ayman’s (the narrator) house in the Hussaini Alam area of Hyderabad in Telangana.
Ayman speaks of each of the female relatives in her house who were dear to her and played a significant role in her life and her upbringing. These included her great grandmother, Qamar un Nissan or her Nanima; her grandmother, Meher un Nissan; her own mother, Naghma Soz; her sister, Mariam and her foster bua (which means a father’s sister, though in this case it was her grandfather’s adopted foster sister), Khudsia or Khalajaan.
A chapter is devoted to each of these members. By outlining their importance or her bond with them, Ayman also throws light on the house and the Nawabi culture they followed and on the festivals they celebrated. This also gives a small peek into Hyderabad’s old city and its lanes, buildings and bazaars.
The chapters speak of declining culture and fortune (and the decline in one is related to the decline in the other), of cheerful evenings of storytelling in the courtyard, of a mournful series of deaths, of arguments, secrets and the family drama within. The novel recreates a bygone era.