Glimpsing Mumbai

Short stories are usually good,easy read proffering an anecdote,a glimpse into someone’s life, drawing you in that story and leaving you satisfied of having dabbled in their life. ‘Window Seat‘ by Janhavi Acharekar is a collection of short stories that have the same effect on the reader. There are 30 short stories-each revealing a different side of human nature, emotions, of India, of Mumbai and each is well crafted, well written and always ending with a concrete resolution-absent in many other short stories that often mar the story’s charm. But not Acharekar-she is one brilliant writer, way better than the popular Chetan Bhagat or any other IIT/IIM students turned writers we see today in India.

Taken from amazon.com

Each of her short story explores a new idea, divulges the good, the bad and the ugly of Mumbai city. And none are cliched. They are simple, realistic, displaying the daily lives of many common folks of the city-their struggles, their fights, their dreams, their feelings, their worries, their happiness-almost everything under the sun. It is this portrayal of the daily, everyday, mundane aspect of people’s lives polished with Acharekar’s fine, creative imagination, that makes each story is distinctive and unique. The readers will connect to atleast one short story because Janhavi Acharekar covers everything-from the slum life, to the middle class worries to the high class celebrity to the party life-everything that together comprises the reader’s perception of Mumbai.

The stories have varied themes, ranging from a couple searching for the perfect flat/home in Mumbai, a freedom fighter’s popularity in his Girgaum neighbourhood, a unique event at Mumbai Central Station, the cause of a riot, a teacher’s wistful memories of her old school days, a cyberspace love relationship, an art preview, four women’s lives in Mumbai’s lifeline-the local train and so many more.  Giving a full detailed description of each story would kill the joy of reading it on one’s own.

Now you might ask, why would one want to read about the daily life of Mumbaikars? Simply because, one can connect with them and also because, the writer plainly, economically, straightforwardly puts her story across, accessing our hearts and moving us too!

The book, ‘Window Seat‘  is divided into 2 parts. While the first part has unconnected stories, the second part is further subdivided into 3 parts and the stories in each of the 3 parts are connected to each other in terms of their setting and characters and not necessarily continuity.

There are a few disheartening aspects of the book as well. Firstly, some stories go back in time, see Mumbai nostalgically and not con temporarily which is good in a few stories but not always. Also, some stories are not even set in the 21st century. They have an old world charm to it which again is not necessarily a bad thing but a more contemporary setting would do better with many newcomers to the city and other too. Besides there are far too many Mumbai novels that nostalgically always stay in a bygone Mumbai that will definitely never come back again. So why bother writing pages and pages if so much has already been written about it? Secondly, some stories tilt only towards South Mumbai not bothering to explore North and Navi Mumbai. Thirdly,the title, ‘Window Seat‘ is also misleading suggesting that the book has stories set in the Mumbai locals, when in fact there are myriad settings to each story.

Besides those few points, ‘Window Seat‘ is a marvellous novel the keeps you wanting for more. Acharekar’s lucid writing, her non-romanticized notions of Mumbai and her brilliant story telling ability make the book worth reading it. Wish she writes more such books and hopes she becomes more popular and widely read because a good writer like her definitely deserves it!

Here’s a toast to good contemporary Indian English writing!

The Last Song Of Dusk

‘The Last Song Of Dusk’ written by Siddharth Dhanvant Sanghvi is a beautifully conjured novel, a moving tale of singular people and their extraordinary lives.

Taken from scholarswithoutborders.in

The novel begins in the early 1900s’ with Anuradha’s story. She is going from her hometown Udaipur to Mumbai to meet Vardhaman Gandharva, a potential marriage partner. Just when it seems that things may not work out, Vardhaman openly admits his love for her and they predictably get married. Their love blossoms splendidly like a lovely flower. However, later, an unforeseen tragedy strikes them both tearing them asunder and changing Vardhaman irrevocably. Anuradha goes back to Udaipur where she dabbles and masters over the music and the wondrous songs that are an integral part of her soul. In the course of this stay, she meets other extraordinary people like Nandini who is an unusual artist and an even unusual woman having her own tragic tale. Will Anuradha and Vardhaman overcome the tragedy that ripped them apart? Will their love blossom fruitfully once again or will it be lost forever?

‘The Last Song of Dusk’ abounds with comparisons which increases the depth of the emotions, thoughts, situation etc., helps in understanding it better. The novel is replete with romanticized descriptions. Sanghvi has a very flowery style of writing. He infuses great grandeur and oodles of opulence not only in the story’s setting but also in the copious descriptions. Everything in the novel is exquisite. There is great abundance whether it is the character’s emotions, the royal settings of Udaipur or British city of Bombay or just the  physical beauty of a human. Everything is made out to be insanely beautiful and he uses exquisite words and expressions to convey that beauty to the reader. For eg, pashmina of exquisite remembrances. (pg. 80). There are instances of magic realism suffused in the story. Sanghvi has also made music an important part of the story. It is manifested literally in the many songs, symphonies and musical instruments that are described. There is also a certain kind of vibrant and even melancholic musicality in Sanghvi’s writing that is hard to miss or dislike.

There are certain sexist stereotypes that the books has-like Anuradha’a need for marriage, the tiffs between her and her mother-in-law etc.  Granted that the book is set in the 1900s’ where woman were treated inferior but if Anuradha can be bold enough to leave her husband’s house, Sanghvi should have been bold enough to write something more than the overemphasized importance of marriage in a woman’s life.

Leaving that one negative point aside, ‘The Last Song Of Dusk’ is undoubtedly a marvelous debut that spins together a lavish, grand love story that is bound to charm any reader. It is not the usual tale of love and sorrow, of man and a woman being in love, being happy, having troubles and reconciling them. It is much more as it infuses a portrayal of different sides and aspects of that one ubiquitous emotion called love. The novel reflects and gradually reveals layers and layers of that emotion between Anuradha and Vardhaman and other characters too like their son-Shloka or Nandini’s  idea of love and safety etc. The reader, if attentive enough, can easily pick on these ideas, learn that love can have two sides just like anything else and know that it can teach us all one lesson or two.

Its a poignant love story that depends on the stark emotions for its narration; its beauty, its invulnerability, its vulnerability, its magic, its pain and countless other things. It is  painfully beautiful, musical and aptly touches the right chord in the reader’s heart. ‘The Last Song Of Dusk’ is one story that will be in the reader’s heart long after its been perused.

 

The Glass Palace

Taken from 43things.com

‘The Glass Palace’ written by Amitav Ghosh is a massive account of the lives of several unique, interesting people over the span of a century from about the late 1800s’ to the 1990s’.

The book’s size maybe daunting for many novella addicted readers but it is surely worth perusing. The book’s size should not be a deterrent for reading it because believe me it is one heck of an interesting read!

The story starts with an Indian, Rajkumar, who works in a food shop in Burma and parallel to this story runs the story of the King and Queen-Thebaw and Supalayat- of Burma and the latter’s maids, specifically Dolly. Rajkumar later on goes into the timber business along with Saya John, a close friend of sorts. Rajkumar tracks down Dolly, who had gone to British India with the exiled royal family of Burma. Rajkumar predictably finds her and they predictably get married. The story then superbly weaves itself around their lives as well as their children and other significant people of their lives like Uma Dey, who Dolly had met during her stay in India, Saya John’s son, Matthew; Uma’s sister’s kids-Arjun and Manju and Bela and many more myriad characters. Ghosh closely follows each person’s story but at no point does it get drab or boring. Ghosh takes us into the hearts and souls of each character, giving us intricate details of several emotions, several nuances and much more. The novel also deftly manifests how world events or incidents beyond one’s control affect individuals in a way that they can’t even imagine.

Ghosh uses simple short sentences and keeps it brief yet conveys the intensity of the  situation or the emotions quite marvelously. However at times he tends to run away with unnecessary descriptions that veers off from the actual story.

The best part of the book is that it is soaking, literally dripping with history/past. It brings alive an era gone by, how lives were interconnected even then, how even then the world was globalized! It is extraordinary to see the Burmese and Indian interrelations that operated at that time and how porous those borders were until the British took over.

‘The Glass Palace’ is a multicultural and family saga that stands out because of its beautiful depiction of human lives-their vulnerability, invulnerability, their courage, their emotions, their thoughts, their culture-with so much depth and sensitivity that is hardly seen in many books today. It draws the reader into the story, makes them feel like they are part of that era, that family, that life and culture.