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November 21, 2014 in Anglo Indian Literature, Indian fiction | Tags: Anglo Indian, Bond, book review, Indian author, Indian writing, Moutains, Ruskin Bond, short stories, Time Stops at Shamli and other stories | 2 comments
Books can have many different functions. They can moralise, instruct, take you to places and enable you to engage in vicarious travelling. But there are some books and stories that can just put smile on your face and simply please you for a long long time. Ruskin Bond books are something like that. They aren’t great works of literature (not were they written to be) but just the ordinariness of it can be (to use a oft used cliche) extraordinary! Plus they help in vicarious travelling. That, friends, can be the best book ever no?
So it is time to go pick up a Bond book incase you missed out on your yearly dose of travel this year!
Need help to choose?
Here is one with 21 short stories called: Time Stops at Shamli. It is a quick read, the kind that you can read on a realllly long train journey or if you simply want to get away from the mundane life as you trudge your way back from office to home everyday.
All the stories are imbued with the everyday stories of everyday, ordinary people that could be you or me which is why anyone can connect with them easily. In their quotidian existence, several facets and truisms of life are revealed. But no, Bond does not moralise but merely shape the stories and it is for us, the readers, to take away from it, gems embedded in them.
For instance, stories like “The Room of Many Colours” or “Most Beautiful,” talk about celebrating difference in a subtle manner almost imperceptible and who hasn’t known the pain yet beauty and courage of going/being against the norm and experiencing the different worlds.
It is nigh impossible to write a summary of each short story here without making the review look like a grocery list. But suffice to say that each story has its own charm, ingenuity, shrewdness and the hallmark of Bond: an omnipresent simplicity. So there’s a spooky ghost story to scare the daylights out of you, a story told from the perspective of the crows, about the poisonous schemes of relatives, about the importance of trees (told indirectly), about the ordeal of the migrants and the sense of loss and belonging (but narrated in less sentimentally than I have put it), a mystical transfiguration story with the perfect setting of the moon and the mountains and several more. The eponymous story again highlights the urge, temptation to do something against the grain, to go somewhere not known, to take a path less traveled (literally; you will see what I mean when you read it!).
So dig in into the many worlds of each story, relax and let a smile linger on.
For more Ruskin Bond reviews on this blog, click here.
April 3, 2012 in Indian fiction, Short Stories | Tags: book reivew, Daruwalla, India, Indian author, indian fiction, Indian people, Indian writer, Keki N. Daruwalla, literature, Love Across the Salt Desert, rann of kutch, recommended, review, salt desert, short stories | 2 comments
Wistful, melancholic, historical and isolated stories that cherish hope at times or relinquish it completely is what characterizes the 20 selected short stories of Keki Daruwalla’s magnificent new book titled, ‘Love Across The Salt Desert.’ These 20 short stories have no thematic similarities as they portray a wide range of characters and surroundings from a disconcerted British officer during Quit India movement to the religious, intellectual and insightful Parsee father, from a sensationalist journalist to a deceitful doctor, from a loving granddaughter to a jilted yet content wife etc and from Rann of Kutch to the lofty, ethereal mountains of Niti valley, from the cultured pre-independence to the sleepy Gorakhpur, from the ancient India of Porous to the ancient Aegean regions etc.
Yet despite this disparity, each story has a perfect Aristotelian beginning, middle and end. Each story has ordinary humans (and even animals at times) at its core, dealing with their worries, hopes and problems, which may seem purely mundane but Daruwalla imbues than with a soft magnitude that touches the chord of every reader’s heart. This makes the insignificant details of daily life come alive and when told while focusing on only one issue, one hope, one worry, they achieve an importance that everyone can identify with. Thus we see in ‘the jahangir syndrome’, Kunwar Tejbhan Singh moving out of Lucknow and reflecting on the feudal system, the irony of a granddaughter not being there when her grandmother passes away in the story, ‘going’, the tender relationship between a mute and a cook who finds the former’s mimes fascinating in the ‘retired panther’, the warm, delicate, young love of Fatima and Najab across the bristling desert of the Kutch in the title story and many such more stories that delight the readers with its lucidity and clarity of places, insights, people and emotions.
From one story to another, the reader is treated to new images of India whether of the present, the recent past or its ancient past. The stories’ charm lies in the characterization of Indians( although there are exceptions) across all age groups, historical times, class and gender that underline their idiosyncrasies that proffer more information on Indian people than any erudite book could ever do.
‘Love Across The Salt Desert’ is a captivating and engaging collection of short stories that asserts Daruwalla’s status as a compelling short story writer. It is a book highly recommended that won’t be a waste of time or money but rather a journey all across India and its many moods and the world.
January 12, 2012 in Indian fiction | Tags: 2nd book in the Ibis trilogy, Amitav Ghosh, Anahita, Bahram Modi, Bombay merchant, book review of 'River Of Smoke', boon reviews, British trading opium, Canton, China, Chinese, Chinese crackdown, Chinese emperor, Ghosh, Hong Kong, Ibis, Indian author, Indian Literature, Indian writing, Macau, opium, opium trade, opium wars, Parsi, River Of Smoke, Sea Of Poppies, trader | 2 comments
While ‘Sea Of Poppies’ focused on the opium trade, with Ghosh sailing the story across so many myriad, interesting characters brought together by that one single drug; ‘River Of Smoke’, the second book in the Ibis trilogy, zeros in on the merchants directly involved with the opium trade in China and how the Chinese Emperor’s strict rules to completely ban its trade affected them.
So, ‘Sea Of Poppies’ ended with the Ibis’ course upset by a storm which allows a few men-including two prisoners- to escape.
The ‘River Of Smoke‘ starts, like the first one, with Deeti in a very distant future(the exact date is not mentioned) in her shrine of images. Deeti reminisces about the images and how each one was drawn by many different people she had known aboard the Ibis. She remembers how Neel had drawn the picture of Ah-Fatt’s father with his ship,Anahita, behind. Ah-Fatt was one of the prisoner on the Ibis and his father was an immensely rich, Bombay Parsi merchant- Bahram Modi.Then the novel goes into flashback tracing Neel’s life after the Ibis. He ended up in Macao and then was able to procure a job as a munshi with Bahram Modi. So he sailed away to Canton where all the opium merchants had their quarters in.
From here on, ‘River Of Smoke‘ mainly focuses on the story of Bahram Modi-his predicament of not being able to sell his latest opium goods because of the tightening Chinese rules against its trade, his manners, his lifestyle, his position in a white dominated world, his desire to be independent economically from his rich in-laws,his love for a Chinese boat woman etc. The characters of the previous book make fleeting appearances such as Zachary Reid and Baboo Nob Kissin. Others characters’ stories like Paulette’s runs parallel to Bahram’s story. An equally more number of characters are introduced in the novel. The most vivid are the the numerous British merchants that are blinded by their contorted ideas of free trade and spend countless evenings arguing about the need for opium’s trade. The other memorable ones include-Vico who is Bahram’s purser, Fitcher Penrose-a botanist in search of the elusive Golden Camelia with Paulette on his ship, Redruth,Charles King-a British who opposes the opium trade vehemently and Robert Chinnery,a famous artist’s son whose letters to Paulette light up the narration every now and then.
Unlike, ‘Sea Of Poppies’, this novel does not meander a lot to other characters’ situations and circumstances but Ghosh weaves them together with Bahram’s problems and the Chinese crackdown on opium’s trade. However, like the last one, ‘River Of Smoke‘ is suffused with ample of details that are a testament to Ghosh’s love for research in his novels. Canton, particularly the fanqui town, which is the center for the foreign traders but is outside the city limits of Canton itself, is vividly described. Nonetheless, the fanqui town is an animated enclave with all sorts of services available for everyone. It is a self-sufficient enclave. The reader will be left mesmerized by the variety of people, food, clothes etc. They will be caught up in the frenzy pace of its lifestyle and overwhelmed by such a unique, vibrant amalmagation.
‘River of Smoke‘ ends with the Chinese authorities being able to force the Canton traders to surrender their opium goods which are then burnt by the former. However, the British would not, owing to their colonial superiority, accept such humiliation. Thus the novel ends at a juncture when it is is poised for the opium wars. Infact, after the burning incident, the narration jumps back to Neel in Deeti’s shrine talking about how Kalua and Jodu fought in those very wars. This foreshadows what will perhaps be the focus of the third book in this trilogy.
‘River Of Smoke‘ is a a beautiful novel which brings together a history of the forgotten, of those who are on the fringes, who were despite their marginalized status affected by the opium trade. The trilogy effortlessly moves from the country of its production to the centre of its trade in China illuminating along the way the hundreds of lives it changed and tied together in a familial sort of manner.
January 5, 2012 in Indian fiction | Tags: 1st book in the Ibis trilogy, Amitav Ghosh, Bengal, Bihar, Black Water, book review, British, British India, British rule in India, Calcutta, China, colonial India, East India Company, Ganga, Ghosh, Glass Palace, Ibis, Ibis trilogy, India, Indian author, indian fiction, Indian Literature, Indian novel, Indian Ocean, Indian writing, opium, opium addicts, opium farming, opium ship, opium trade, poppies, poppy farms, Raja Neel Ratan, schooner, sea, Sea Of Poppies, seas, ships | 2 comments
Deeti had never been anywhere near the sea. She lived all her live in Bihar, near to the holy river, Ganga. Yet not once did she doubt the cause of her strange vision of a ship-that it heralded a new, lucky destiny for her.
Zachary Reid had worked in a shipyard in Baltimore but had never thought that he would one day be voyaging to different parts of the world in ironically a slave ship, Ibis, that was to be refitted in Calcutta, India.
Raja Neel Rattan, zemindar of Raskhali, knew he was deep in debt but could have never dreamed it would result in his most humiliating downfall.
Paulette had not known any other religion apart from the natural world she was surrounded by.
Kalua, a Chamar, in Deeti’s village could not have foreseen how his life would forever change in one single, impetuous moment and get permanently entwined with Deeti’s.
Babu Nobokrishna Panda was a gomusta, someone who was in charge of transporting indentured migrants. No one could have guessed that he had a deep spiritual side to him as well and that he dreamed of building a temple for Ma Taramony, his spritual guide. He hoped one day she would manifest herself to him and in cherishing these two hopes he managed to secure a seat on the Ibis.
And Benjamin Burham, a self made man, owned the schooner, Ibis.
So what do the above and other many different characters from such a wide range of spectrum have in common? It is the rampant trade in opium during the British rule in India that ties the fates of so many characters together in the widely acclaimed book, ‘Sea Of Poppies‘ by Amitav Ghosh.
Ibis, the schooner mentioned earlier is to be refit for that exclusive purpose-to be able to transport opium from India to China-particularly Canton. It is this very ship whose vision erupted in Deeti’s head. It is this very ship through which all the characters in the novel are fated to meet, mingle and be irrevocably connected to each other.The ship, thus, too becomes a character in the book as important in its role as the opium which it has to carry.
The novel is divided into three parts: Land, River and Sea. In the first part, Ghosh establishes most of the characters’ lives and situations prior to their voyage on the Ibis, with the exception of Zachary who is from the start tied to the Ibis. Thus we come to know of Deeti having the vision of the Ibis(she doesn’t know then that it is that particular ship) while bathing in the River Ganga. Deeti herself has a farm in which she is forcibly made to cultivate opium by the British. She has a daughter, Kabutri and a husband who is an opium addict and cannot do much work in the farm because of an injury he sustained as a solider. Similarly all the other characters’ backgrounds are quickly summarized along with the action of the plot. The second part follows Ibis’ journey from Ganga to the Black Water. While in the third part, Ibis is on the Black Water smoothly making its voyage across the ocean. There are not many hitches except for occasional rifts between Zachary and the first mate, the discomfort of the indentured labourers and not to mention the fierce storm that lashes the ship in the end. While on the ship, several more characters are introduced particularly the indentured labourers and the numerous sailors and captains as well as a curiously monosyllabic prisoner addict. This division of the plot clearly shows the importance of the Ibis and fits in with the idea of it being a character in itself.
Going into detail about each and every character will be exhausting and tedious and will suck out the fun of exploring each character while reading the novel. It is suffice to say that ‘Sea Of Poppies‘ delves into the massive reach of the opium trade and how it brought together people that otherwise would have shunned each other because of caste, class, gender, religion and race. This opium is an indelible part of India’s history that ruined many farmers(just like indigo), trapped individuals in its addiction and obviously showered riches on all those who traded and invested in it. It is not different from today’s widespread trickling of drugs to all parts of society that creates drug lords. However, this aspect of our history is ignored and Ghosh does a good job of bringing it back from oblivion by weaving a story around it.
Like ‘Glass Palace,’ ‘Sea Of Poppies‘ too is a pretty much straightforward story with plenty of vibrant, quirky characters from all over the world. It is a compelling story,rich in detail and history, sequential in narration, building up various different situations that culminate on the Ibis. Ghosh’s research shines through in the novel. He enlightens the reader of the lifestyle of 19th century people. However, his tendency to deviate into lengthy unnecessary descriptions plagues this novel too. Apart from that, there are no cons to the story. He does a brilliant job of creating a colonial world obsessed with opium. One critic has even praised Ghosh for his sea/ship descriptions that according to the critic are on par with Melville’s. The profusion of characters does not mar the pace of the book but adds to its vibrancy.
Altogether, ‘Sea Of Poppies‘ is an awe-inspiring novel that throws light on how opium affected a large number of people either positively or negatively. It is massive in size and more so in its stellar story that is bound to enthrall all readers.
Note-‘Sea Of Poppies‘ is the first in the ‘Ibis Trilogy.’ The second book, ‘River Of Smoke’ was released in 2011. Its review is coming up next.
December 16, 2011 in Indian fiction | Tags: Attia Hosain, book review, feudal family, feudalism, Hindu Muslim unity., India, Indian author, indian fiction, Indian Independence, Indian writing, Muslim family, Partition, Pre-Independence era, Sunlight On A Broken Column | Leave a comment
Try and remember the feeling you get when you touch or see a family heirloom,smile at at old,mildewed photos of one’s ancestors,open an antique cupboard stocked with old, hardbound books or turn the fragile yellowing pages of those books. These actions unleash a sense of a bygone era,preserved so remarkably that you can feel it coursing through your very veins by the most mundane of actions like brushing your fingers through your great grandmother’s necklace or running your fingers on the spine of an old book of poetry. For many people, the past is living with them through people or through certain artifacts. For others, it is completely dead and thus doesn’t matter. It represents different things for different people:pleasure, nostalgia,joy, passion,charm,love,heartache,anger,resentment,hatred…the list is exhaustive.
For Attia Hosain,it was meant to be remembered and written about. Her only novel, ‘Sunlight On A Broken Column‘ celebrates the past-a harmonious life in an undivided India. The novel elaborately describes a past which Attia has lived in and talks about the changes that her particular lifestyle experienced. The story reveals the ways of a bygone world which she lived in and through the written word, Attia has managed to preserve it and let the future generation know about it.
The story of ‘Sunlight On A broken Column‘ is set in Lucknow of the pre-independence era. Laila is the protagonist and the reader sees everything through her eyes. Laila belongs to a taluqdar family which is steeped in tradition,customs and religion. Since they belong to the feudal system, her family is undoubtedly rich and is rooted in Indian culture and strives to preserve it. The story begins with Laila’s grandfather, Baba Jan’s death and how it brings about certain changes in their family.
There is a prominent clash among the older and younger generation. The former gives utmost priority to duty to family,respect for elders, honour etc.. Whereas the latter, influenced by the independence movement as well as liberal education always question it. This clash is at its height when close to the independence, their feudal system, the very tradition and culture they rigidly followed for generations and for centuries was threatened.
There is not much of a plot but simply a chronicle of the lifestyle of the feudal system and the general atmosphere of those times. This chronicle is refelcted through Laila’s perception. The reader sees the world then as she saw it-when she was a pre-teen, a teenager, and later on as a wife and a mother.
Hence the mood of the novel is very nostalgic. It tries to resurrect the charm of those good old, undivided days when everything was in its proper place. It can even be called an intricate study in nostalgia. Attia Hossain’s writing is also marvelous. It is utterly delicate,sensitive and very descriptive. The reader also meets myriad,interesting characters from all walks of life.
Since, ‘Sunlight On A Broken Column‘ is very much descriptive, the pace is very slow and the story seems to be going nowhere. Attia Hossain tries to condense all aspects of those times in 300 odd pages which raises the question whether the story or the rambling descriptions take the plot forward.
Despite this, it is quite fascinating to read about life when feudalism existed,when respect and honour were obeyed to death, when Hindus and Muslims lived united and peacefully, when society depended upon a master/taluqdar and laborer/peasant relationship to survive, when women lived in one part of the house and when traditions and rituals were religiously followed.
Attia Hossain brings to life all these and several more aspects of feudalism. This is perhaps the reason why her novel is titled so. She is trying to put light on a section or column of history that is not only forgotten but also broken.
November 13, 2011 in Indian fiction | Tags: book review of 'An Equal Music', classical music, Indian author, Indian Literature, love story, love story of two musicians, music, musical, novel, quartet, romance, Vikram Seth | 2 comments
Though, ‘An Equal Music‘ is a masterful book,the plot is quite conventional. A violinist in his 30s named Michael is part of a string quartet, Maggiore Quartet. He lives in London and one day he accidentally sees Julie,the girl he loved 10 years ago and whom he left back in the days when they were music students in Vienna. This coincidence raises Michael’s hopes for reigniting their love and a string of events-Julie coming to meet Michael after one of his concert performances,she dropping in his apartment, their walks in the park-do just that(much to Michael’s pleasure). However, ten years is too big a gap to fill out by mere walking in the park.There are several changes in their lives that constantly keep altering the love affair they both find themselves in. These anecdotes of love are suffused with fine touches of soft musical notes,fugues and pieces of great musicians like Mozart, Schubert,Bach etc. that defines and even takes their fragile love forward. Apart from this love story, the plot revolves around the music of Maggiore Quartet-their trials and tribulations as well as the lives and relations of its musicians.
June 16, 2011 in best sellers, Crime, Detective, Indian fiction, Thriller | Tags: 'Six Suspects', book review, book review of 'Six Suspects', corrupt, corruption, crime, crime fiction, Delhi, detective fiction, detective novel, guns, India, Indian author, Indian crime fiction, indian diplomart, indian fiction, Indian writer, murder, politicians, politics, Q and A, Slumdog Millionaire, Swarup, thriller, Uttar Pradesh, Vicky Rai, Vikas Swarup | Leave a comment
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.
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.
May 11, 2011 in Children books, Indian fiction | Tags: ' Indian stories, book, book review, book review of 'One Hundred and One Folktales From India, children, children's book, children's books, collection of folktales, Eunice De Souza, folktales, illustrations, India, Indian author, Indian book, indian fiction, Indian folktales, Indian writing, kids, Sujata Singh | 4 comments
This one book is a definite must for all parents who want their kids to read Indian stories rather than just Harry Potter, Nancy Drew, Enid Blyton, Hardy Boys or God forbid, Twilight series!!!!!
Its called, ‘One Hundred and One Folktales From India‘ written by Eunice De Souza. The book, as is self explanatory, is a collection of folktales from all across India-from Kashmir, to Nagaland, to Assam, to Konkan, to Kerala etc. Some tales are new, never before chronicled, or rarely narrated in such collections. While some are very popular, well known stories.The book is divided into 6 parts, each having a separate theme. There are stories about magical beings, about kings and queens, heroes, Gods, clever men and women, saints and sadhus, of famous personlaities like Akbar Birbal, Tansen, Tenali Raman, of beasts and birds and several more!
The language is simple, clear cut, easy for the youngest children to grasp and coupled with superb black and white illustrations done by Sujata Singh, these tales are sure to entice kids. The stories can also be enjoyed by adults who have little time to read and want short, simple, witty stories. Its a great book to read if one is travelling short distances. One can easily read five to six stories in about 15 minutes since most stories are one or two pages only. Its a good way to revisit one’s childhood when such stories were popular to read or get in touch with Indian folktales.
Despite its collection and marvellous illustrations, many parents would prefer buying some other folktales books like the Amar Chitra Katha or Aesop fables books. The former is in general very popular and its colourful illustrations along with the comic book style format will surely catch the eye of any young kid more than Eunice De Souza’s ‘One Hundred and One Folktales From India.’ That’s one and the only disadvantage of the book. There are just so many better, more vibrant, colourful books about India’s rich folktales and mythology that both parents and kids might prefer that. They may view De Souza’s book as just another big, fat, long, textbook type book that completely discourages them from buying it. Of course, a parent can definitely influence a kid’s choice!
Apart from that, ‘One Hundred and One Folktales From India‘ is a brilliant collection of stories, fables and folktales that allows any reader, with its simple language, to get a glimpse of India’s rich stories!
May 4, 2011 in best sellers, Indian fiction | Tags: abuse, baby, book review, book review of 'The Blue Bedspread', brother, Calcutta, dark secrets, debut novel, family, family relationships, family violence, girl child, India, Indian author, indian fiction, Indian Literature, Indian writer, Indian writing in English, Jha, Kolkata, love, Raj Kamal Jha, sister, sparse writing style, stories, The Blue Bedspread, vignettes, violence | 4 comments
We all have read stories of abusive families, violent relationships and we are bombarded with it even by the television media. We are exposed to it to such an extent that it gets morbid. Now suppose there was a book that looked at these aspects from a different view, a subtle view;wouldn’t that make the novel with a used storyline, well, quite, ‘novel’? But well, you’ll ask, is there such a book?? But of course there is…there are always all kinds of books to be read!
And this one is called, ‘The Blue Bedspread‘, a debut novel of Raj Kamal Jha which chronicles a tale of a abusive family history and incestuous relationships. And it is quite a quick, interesting read that still manages to evoke a spectrum of touching, depressing, momentous, happy emotions!
The story starts with an unnamed narrator who hears of his sister’s death during childbirth. His sister gave birth to a baby girl who he takes home for the night. Fearing that some other people might want to adopt the girl, he begins writing his family’s story so that the baby knows of its background, knows more about her mother and the family she came from. As he begins to write, the stories initially revolve around innocuous, childlike tales but gradually they begin to reveal the rot that festered in his family. The narrator opens a can of worms and the reader finds out about certain dark secrets of the abusive father, of the bold, defiant sister, of his mother, of the narrator himself. He talks of a blue bedspread that symbolizes the intimate relationship between his sister and him. That blue bedspread comes to symbolize a different world, away from the trauma of a dysfunctional family. In the end, the reader sees the shocking, exact nature of that relationship.
Raj Kamal Jha in ‘The Blue Bedspread‘ has skillfully written vignettes about the narrator’s family. It comes across as a jigsaw puzzle that the reader has to solve to view the complete picture. Each vignette has its own mood, emotion, feel and yet each is interconnected with a thin strand of the narrator’s memory and facts. The novel could have worked well as a collection of short stories as well because of this aspect. The writing style is sparse, straightforward, precise and to the point. It does not mimic other more famed Indian writers like perhaps Salman Rushdie or Siddharth Dhanwant Shanghvi who use either countless descriptions or a flowery prose. Yet, the book seems, at least to me, very similar in terms of structure to Arundhati Roy’s ‘The God of Small Things.’ It might be written by an Indian author but the subject of the book is universal and though it is set in Kolkata, the narrator’s abusive family could be from any part of the world-be it Delhi, Mumbai, Shanghai, Nairobi, Milan, or any other corner. ‘The Blue Bedspread‘ has a non linear narration, no fixed time line as it moves from one time span to another.
Unfortunately, this jumbled up narration can get confusing, jarring and even nonsensical. Certain vignettes also seem very inappropriate as they do not help the story to move forward nor are they very cohesive. The lack of a cohesive narration and structure of vignettes mars the effect of the story.
Its a great book to read, with Jha giving soft touches to a melancholic scenario, giving it a fresh look, yet gently showcasing the immense, long lasting impact of such family violence. But be wary of its narration and structure.
April 15, 2011 in best sellers, Children books, Indian fiction | Tags: allegory, book, book review, book review of 'Haroun and the Sea of Stories', children's book, fairy tales, fantasy, father and son relationship, first book after'Satanic Verses', freedom of speech, Haroun, Haroun and the Sea of Stories, India, Indian author, indian fiction, postcolonial book, postmodern book, postmodern fairy tale, Rahsid, Rushdie, Salman, Salman Rushdie, Shah of Blah, speech, storyteller | Leave a comment
‘Haroun and the Sea of Stories’ is a fabulous book written by Salman Rushdie that can be interpreted at varying levels by the reader. It can be viewed simply as a creative fairy tale written by a father(Salman Rushdie) for his son(Zafar) or can be seen as a commentary supporting free speech or as a postmodern fairy tale or a criticism of the postmodern novels or whichever way one wants to see it. The book will nonetheless not fail to enthrall the reader as Rushdie takes you into the realms of an exuberant, richly created magic world.
The story has two protagonists-Rashid and Haroun. Rashid has a gift of telling stories upon stories to anyone who would request him one. This talent earned him the sobriquet, Shah of Blah. However, one day, his wife,Soraya, leaves him for a better life with a Mr Sengupta who was their neighbour. As a result of this tragedy, Rashid loses his ability to tell stories. He just simply runs out of them and cannot summon the magic with which he used to narrate his never ending stories! His only son, Haroun, therefore sets out to restore his father’s talent. However, Haroun soon realises that this task is far from easy. His father’s stories come from a subscription to the water supply to the Gup City in Kahani. This subscription has been canceled and now Haroun must go to Kahani, to the Gup city to renew it which will renew his father’s story telling gift as well. While over there, Haroun finds himself embroiled in another adventure. The princess of Gup city is kidnapped by Chup city who forbid people from speaking and where it is always dark. He and Rashid discover these two cities while saving the princess and helping Rashid to once again become the Shah of Blah.
‘Haroun and the Sea of Stories’ is an upbeat, imaginative, buoyant fairy tale that works as an allegory along with drawing parallels between Rushdie’s and Rashid’s life. Rushdie has used references from several past books as well like ‘Alice in Wonderland’, Wizard of Oz,’ ‘One Thousand and One Arabian Nights’ etc. Rushdie’s brilliant writing, lucid style and imagination and copious humor will appeal to all readers-from young to old, to literature students and scholars. There are so many layers to the story and can be seen from so many numerous perspectives that one can can get lost in the depths of the story. Each character has a parallel in real life and the some of the places mentioned in the book are obviously inspired from real life places.
It is a wonderful book to peruse, a delight for all bookworms the world over.
Go grab it and fly along with Haroun to the Gup and Chup city!