The Unbearable Dreamworld of Champa The Driver

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 Good

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.

IMG_20200310_200712002

Continue reading

Daura by Anukriti Upadhay

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.

IMG_20191026_165944399.jpg

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.

Continue reading

The Reading Spree: Vicarious Travels in India

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:

  1. 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
  2. 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

Poem of the Month: Bill Collins

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:

Today 
If ever there were a spring day so perfect,
so uplifted by a warm intermittent breeze
that it made you want to throw
open all the windows in the house
and unlatch the door to the canary’s cage,
indeed, rip the little door from its jamb,
a day when the cool brick paths
and the garden bursting with peonies
seemed so etched in sunlight
that you felt like taking
a hammer to the glass paperweight
on the living room end table,
releasing the inhabitants
from their snow-covered cottage
so they could walk out,
holding hands and squinting
into this larger dome of blue and white,
well, today is just that kind of day.

Continue reading

Short Story of the Month: Dilli Ki Sair by Rashid Jahan

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.

Analysis

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.

Continue reading

The Top 5: Nigerian Women Writers

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! 

Continue reading