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

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.

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Musically Yours: Music in Solitude

Aranya is chaotic.

Ishan systematic.

Ishan is a family person.

Aranya questions the idea of family.

Ishan is spiritual.

Aranya a feminist.

Now I know what you are thinking: that this is just going to be some modern run-of-the-mill opposites attract love story.

Fortunately not!

Because Music in Solitude by Krishna Sobti, translated from Hindi by Vasudha Dalmia, is not a love story, but rather a loving tale of two elderly individuals, Ishan and Aranya, who are in the autumn of their lives and yes you guessed it, are complete opposites. Yet it is their age and the life that that brings along in it’s wake, which helps them come together. Not to mention that they stay in the same building in Delhi!

Originally titled as Samay Sargam, the novel stitches together episodes from the two protagonists’ lives. Especially the time spent together discussing myriad topics over tea, lunches or dinners!

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The Reading Spree: Women in Translation Month 2019

And so the Women in Translation (WiT) month has ended. And oh what a beautiful reading spree it was!

As part of WiT, I read female writers that have been translated into English and I managed to read a humble total of six books!

Here is the list:

1. First on my list was When the Dives Disappeared by Sofi Oksanen, translated from Finnish by Lola M. Rogers. This novel is a story of two Estonian cousins and their very different reactions to first Soviet occupation, then Nazi German and then back to Soviet occupation. Told using two parallel timelines, this was my first book by an Estonian writer that also shed a lot of light on a little known aspect of world history: Estonia’s role and struggle for independence during dark periods of occupation. Read the complete Blurb Appreciation Review of this novel here

2. Next was The M usic of Solitude by Krishna Sobti, translated from Hindi by Vasudha Dalmia. This is a touching tale of two elderly people living in Delhi, Ishan and Aranya, who are diametrically opposite people yet are brought together by proximity and burdensome and very palpable questions of old age and death. Read my complete review here.

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Crime in Corrupt India

The dearth of Indian crime fiction has been partially saved by the novel ‘Six Suspects‘ written by Vikas Swarup, better known for his novel, ‘Q and A’ that was adapted into the Oscar winning film, ‘Slumdog Millionaire.’ While ‘Q and A’ was a rather amateurish, not at all researched book with bits of faulty writing, ‘Six Suspects‘ is a tad bit better. While it has its own flaws, it is nonetheless a pretty good detective/thriller story that exposes the corrupt India and has a story that will be lavished by detective fiction lovers/fans.

Taken from fantasticfiction.co.uk

The plot revolves around Vicky Rai’s (the son of the Home Minister of Uttar Pradesh) murder that took place while he was partying at his farmhouse in Delhi to celebrate his acquittal in a Jessica Lall style murder case(only in the book, the girl who was shot dead by Vicky was named Ruby Gill). There are essentially six suspects that are detained by the police as they were found carrying guns. Then, aptly, Swarup goes on and gives elaborate descriptions about all the six suspects and their motives to kill Vicky Rai. The six suspects are a motley crowd-including a sexy actress, an American,a mobile thief, Vicky’s own father, a tribal from Andaman and a former chief secretary of Uttar Pradesh. These stories are cleverly interconnected and intelligently converge at Vicky Rai’s farmhouse. In the end, an investigative journalist, Arun Advani, solves this murder mystery and the end is, I might say, quite unanticipated! The murderer is an unexpected one.

The story is well structured, with quite a few twists and turns that are definitely surprising.

Along with giving massive details about the life stories of all the six suspects, which by the way takes up a large chunk of the novel, Vikas Swarup also highlights the corruption rampant in India’s politics, displays the divide between the rich and poor and the different classes, the world of powerful contacts and influences and several more such instances that reveal the sleazy side of India.

Despite ‘Six Suspects‘ being a good detective read, it still has certain weak spots. Firstly, Vikas Swarup tries to put in a lot of information about India in the novel and most of it is sadly lifted from ‘breaking news’ sessions of the Indian tv channels that can get monotonous. This aspect makes it look like ‘Six Suspects was written for foreign audiences and Swarup was aiming for this book to be made into a film as well.  It seems there is a lack of originality. Secondly, certain ideas are rather stereotyped like the American’s view of India when he comes for the first time, the bit about Islamic fundamentalists is also very cliched(all Muslims are terrorists and all that crap). Although the story has an unpredictable end, there are times when the stories of the six suspects get predictable-for example, the tribal from Andaman has to be foolish and get duped by several people in India. Why can’t the tribals be intelligent for once?And there are several such examples.

There are certain creative bits as well like the English Literature professor ,which the former Chief Secretary met in jail, who expresses himself by uttering book titles only.

So the final verdict would be that ‘Six Suspects‘ is definitely worth a read, a good crime novel that unfortunately shows only a newspaper version of India and does not delve deeper into India’s chaotic soul. From the writing it becomes apparent that the India of ‘Six Suspects’ though very real still has a touch of being seen from a distant lens. The lack of research shows through. So if one knows nothing about India, one can probably grab this book to know about its underbelly and get some background on all the wrong things that happened in the country in the past decade or so.

2 States-The Story of My Marriage

Chetan Bhagat is quite a good and popular author in India. His books have been bestsellers and his latest book, ‘2 States-the story of my marriage’ followed suit. So even if I give a bad review, people will still buy and read the book and that is the power of Chetan Bhagat’s popularity. Well, thankfully, my review is a mixed one. I enjoyed ‘2 States’. It is a pleasurable read.

In a nutshell, ‘2 States’ is a love story that blooms in the IIM(Indian Institute of Management), Ahmedabad. Krish falls in love with Ananya Swaminathan who is ‘the best girl in the fresher batch.’ After a few conversations and good, humourous pick up lines, Ananya starts liking Krish. They want to get married but alas! marriage in India is not that simple. Love marriages are a big no-no. What’s more, Krish is a Punjabi and Ananya is a Tamil Brahmin. An inter regional love marriage? That’s an even bigger no-no. The two are caught between their love and their families. They are resolute to marry with their families’ blessing. So will they be able to convince their families to let them marry each other? That’s what the story is about.

‘2 States’ is a witty book, quite hilarious. It is light, fun novel and written in a contemporary style which any urban Indian will connect to. ‘2 States’ excites the reader with its romantic angle but it is only mediocre. Don’t get me wrong, the book is good but just not that good. For once, it is highly predictable and I don’t mean only in terms of predicting a happy ending but also in terms of  predicting how Krish and Ananya convince their parents to accept their love. At one point in the novel, the entire plot becomes clear. Secondly, it is replete with stereotypes about South Indians and Punjabis.

So, in all, ‘2 States’ is a good, mediocre, fun read but really nothing more than that. The hilarity and the wittiness saves the book from being a disastrous romance novel!