Watch out: Spoilers Ahead:
Set amidst the Naxalite movement during the Emergency in the 1980s’ in Kerala, The Gospel of Yudas by K.R. Meera is a story that revolves around the two lovelorn protagonists, Yudas who is lost in love in the past and Prema who is deeply affected by the Naxalite ideology and falls head over heels in love with Yudas, whom she in her youthfulness dreams of as an ideal Naxalite who will save her.
Yudas’ past looms large in his psyche, affects his movements and his mindset. To try and run away from his past, he moves from place to place and dredges corpses drowned in different water bodies close by to eke out a living. He lives frugally and through his nomadic life attempts to wander away from his past – a past that is marred by betrayal, vicious torture and loss of his beloved. Yudas was tortured for participating in the Naxal movement and his betrayal haunts him much like his Christian namesake, Judas. It is this betrayal that does not allow him to accept Prema’s infatuation. He runs away from her while she keeps searching for him far and wide, trying to uncover the secret that lurks in his eyes and shapes his rejections.
Translated into English from Malayalam by Rajesh Rajamohan, The Gospel of Yudas is a short and quick read that is flush with depth and metaphors.
Wait..Hold up…Spoilers ahead.
The Forty Rules of Love by Elif Shafak got rave reviews which made me pick it up. However, it has now become one of those books for me that everyone likes but I mildly dislike.
The story is about a woman named Ella Rubinstein living in Northampton, Massachusetts in the USA. She seems to have it all: a loving husband, three loving children and a good house. Yet she is at the brink where she is rethinking about her life. There seems to be some undercurrent of monotony and dislike in her marriage with her husband, David. Ella seems to be questioning her life choices and going through a mid life crisis at she turns the dreaded age of forty. This constant doubting on their marriage and her life led her to seek jobs and she landed with one in a literary agency which had assigned her to read and do a report on an obscure book, Sweet Blasphemy by an even obscure author, A.Z. Zahara.
As the story foreshadows,
“Little did she know that this was going to be not just any book, but the book that changed her life. In the time she was reading it, her life would be rewritten.”
So The Forty Rules of Love begins with a prologue about Ella and then has another one which is that of the novel, Sweet Blasphemy.
So what is Sweet Blasphemy about that it changed her life?
Sexing the Cherry by Jeannette Winterson is out there to thwart all our perceptions about reality be it the concept of time, or stories or strands of history or even how we may be connected to our ancestors.
What is the book about?
Bordering on the fabulist, Sexing the Cherry, is seemingly about a large woman named Dog Woman because of her fierce love for her dogs and her adopted son, Jordan. Set in London in the 1640s’ with the upheaval of Cromwell’s clash with the Royalists in the background, the story talks about these two protagonists’ views of each other. Jordan develops a love for sailing and travels the world to witness the quirks of the world and the Dog Woman worries about how Jordan cannot save his broken heart.
Interspersed within is a beautiful tale of twelve dancing princesses whom Jordan meets and who each retell their stories and subvert the very idea of the portrayal of a damsel in distress in a fairy tale.
Who doesn’t love folktales?
They are simple, easy, quick to tell us so much about our worlds and how people used to be versus how we are now, how much we have progressed or deteriorated.
Last year, in the Zubaan Books online sale, I got my hands on First There was Woman: Folk Tales of Dungri Garasiya Bhils compiled by Marija Sres. I have little or no knowledge about the tribal diversity of India and this book therefore caught my eye.
Dungri Garasiya Bhils as the book informed me are part of the larger Bhil tribe. They live in “north Gujarat and southern Rajasthan. In Gujarat, they largely live in Sabarkantha district.”
And it is there that Marija Sres, a Slovenian women, settled after having learnt Gujarati Literature from Ahmedabad University way back in the 1970s’.
She worked for about thirty years with the Dungri Garasiya Bhils and was involved in various projects that were implemented for their welfare. She also took to writing and has been lauded for her achievements to Gujarati Literature.
The book, First There was Woman: Folk Tales of Dungri Garasiya Bhils begins with a long autobiographical essay, The Story Behind My Stories, in which she traces her journey to Gujarat, India. So now, I won’t bore you further with these details. I think you will find those details there and online pretty easily.
First There was Woman: Folk Tales of Dungri Garasiya Bhils presents a good collection of folktales. It begins with a typical creation myth. It is a type of creation myth in which the supreme beings create the world. The story talks of how Kudrat created Earth from darkness and how he created the first woman. From there comes also the title of the book! Title fetishes strikes finally in 2019! 😛
As temperatures dip, grab a cuppa and enjoy the soothing, balmy poems of Meena Alexander.
Here are my top 5 picks of her poems:
Terrace deep as the sky.
Stone bench where I sit and read,
I wandered by myself
Into the heart of the mountains of Yoshino.
In one hand a book, in the other, a bag made of newsprint—
No weather-beaten bones here
Just lychees bought in the market,
Thirty rupees per kilogram.
Stalks mottled red tied up with string,
Flesh the color of pigeon wings—
Sunlight bruises air
Pine trees blacken.
Where shall I go?
The Dhauladhar peaks
Are covered in snow.
I watch your hands at the keyboard
Making music, one hand with a tiny jot,
A birthmark I think where finger bone
Joins palm, mark of the fish,
Living thing in search of a watering
Hole set in a walled garden,
Or in a field with all the fences torn:
Where I hear your father cry into the wind
That beats against stones in a small town
Where you were born; its cornfields
Skyward pointing, never sown, never
To be reaped, flagrant, immortal.
So I began the new year, 2019 with Tiger Hills by Sarita Mandanna! This was a book I knew about a long time ago and only recently was I able to get my hands on it.
And what a perfectly divine choice! The novel whisks you back in time and takes you on a flavourful albeit bitter journey across Coorg in the Indian state of Karnataka!
Replete with rich symbolism such as herons, and once in a blue moon blooming bamboo flowers, Tiger Hills, begins in 1878, when Mutthava reminisces about the birth of her daughter, Devi, in Coorg.
Devi is the only daughter of Mutthava and Nachimanda Thimmaya. She is pampered by all, including her parents and her grandmother, Tayi. She becomes bold and feisty and soon her life is intertwined with the orphaned son, Devanna. They become the best of childhood friends. The story then turns to how Devanna is lauded for his intelligence by Reverend Gundert, who was in charge of the mission there. He develops a fondness for the boy and wants to cultivate in him a deep well of learning. Devanna grows to love this attention. The Reverend also slowly cultivates Devanna’s love for botany and education. Simultaneously, Devanna falls in love with Devi. But he aspires to become a doctor and then confess his love for her when he completes his studies. Devi, however, gets smitten by the famous tiger killer, Machu and has eyes only for him.
And alas, like all love stories, tragedy befalls on Devanna and due to that on Devi as well.
The novel, however, does not simply capture the love that Devanna has for Devi because it is so much more. Sarita Mandanna’s writing is quick yet descriptive and gives a sweeping view of so many aspects of the various events that were occurring alongside the main story. She richly etches out the beauty of Coorg of those days, takes in the historical events that intertwined with the main plot as well such as the British Afghan War and the two World Wars etc.
The Maharaja’s Household: A Daughter’s Memories of her Father is a unique memoir told from a daughter’s perspective. This non fictional account is about Maharaja Churachand, the erstwhile ruler of the current Indian state of Manipur, told from the perspective of his youngest daughter, Princess Wangol or as she is more widely known, Binodini. It is an informal account, based on her own memories of how she saw her father and also based on stories she heard from people that surrounded the Maharaja.
Binodini is a humble narrator who admits that the book is not a historical account. The key word to remember is also memoir. She admits often that some stories might not even be accurate and that they are based on stories she has heard from other sources or from her own memories. Continue reading