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June 25, 2012 in Indian fiction | Tags: book review, diaspora, identity issues, Immigration, India, Indian authors, Indian diaspora, indian fiction, Indian immigration, Indian Literature, Indian non-fiction, Jhumpa Lahiri, Leaving India: My Family's Journey From Five Villages To Five Continents, Minal Hajratwala, non-fiction, The Namesake, Unaccustomed Earth | 5 comments
Despite the US and UK tightening their grip on immigration, the ‘foreign’ dream will perhaps never go out of fashion for the Indians. Immigration-whether forced or voluntary- explains the history of the Indian diaspora to a large extent. There is a reason embedded in history which explains why Indians are found in such a large number in South Africa or Fiji, where there has often been a lot of violence between the native Fijians and the Indians, and other places.
Literature, whether Indian or otherwise, has brilliantly captured (as it always does) the emotional, nostalgic and human elements involved in the process of immigration that goes beyond the numbers and figures that ministries and studies on this subject routinely throw at us.
Let’s take a quick look at two Indian authored books which provide varying perspectives about the idea of immigration and its implication on the people who embark on that journey:
1) Title: Leaving India: My Family’s Journey From Five Villages To Five Continents
Author: Minal Hajratwala
Thoughts: Though it a non-fiction book which chronicles precisely what the title says, Hajratwala has wonderfully spun this tale of her own family’s (both maternal and paternal) forays into the different countries such that the book appears like history book narrating not the stories of great kings and queens, but rather a fateful story of an ordinary Indian family whose destinies were shaped by forces beyond them (such as the emergence of the indentured labour system, the failing art and crafts market in British India, etc). Let not the ‘non-fiction’ tag deter you from immersing yourself into this mesmerizing story because it is skillfully written with a charm and passion that is hard to find in other non fiction books as they tend to be drab and factual. Along the way, you might learn just a little something about the Indian history such as the connections Gandhiji had with South Africa(apart from the fact that he was thrown out of the train) and some such other tidbits which never make into our history textbooks. Minal Hajratwala traces her family history by juxtaposing facts with anecdotes and the former always explain the reasons for her family’s movements and successes across the globe.This helps a lot in understanding as to why Indians in general and her family members in particular migrated when they did.
‘Leaving India: My Family’s Journey From Five Villages To Five Continents‘ is truly an engrossing read that will take you on an enchanting journey across half the world while still keeping you grounded in your Indian roots.
2) Title: The Namesake
Author: Jhumpa Lahiri
Thoughts: Jhumpa Lahiri hardly ever gets the fanfare she deserves. Actually, most deserving Indian authors are often lost behind the haze of cliched bestsellers. While we can argue this for an eternity, one thing is clear: that her second book, ‘The Namesake‘ is beauty personified. It is centered around the Gangulis, a Bengali family who move to the US for greener pastures. Ashoke Ganguli, the breadwinner, a student and later a professor and Ashima,(a very apt name for an immigrant as it means one without borders) his wife, have their first son whom they curiously name Gogol, after the not so famous celebrated Russian writer, Nikolai Gogol, which thus further adds to the child’s identity issues: he is caught between his Indian and American identities but his name reflect none of these two as it is of Russian origin. The story gradually progresses with Gogol’s growing up, dealing with identity issues and how his family members, particularly Ashima, deal with being away from home with hardly any relatives surrounding them. The story illuminates the life of the Gangulis as they make their way in an unknown country and gradually come to accept and even love.
‘The Namesake‘ is a poignant story that tackles issues of homelessness, assimilation, cultural and emotional identities, forging one’s own unique identity in a unique culture, displacement, diaspora, cultural and ideological conflicts, adjustments, generation gaps etc. But Jhumpa Lahiri explores all this with a quite emotional power that will hit you sensitively. There is a delicacy in her writing style that asserts the fragility of human relationships, asserts that they are precarious and can shatter anytime.
Jhumpa Lahiri’s ‘Unaccustomed Earth’ is a collection of short stories that also deals with similar issues in the same characteristic style which is sensitive and beautiful. Click here to check out my review for this book.
Do you know of any more books that deal with this issue of immigration? Please feel free to share!
May 7, 2012 in Anglo Indian Literature, best sellers, Children books, Indian fiction | Tags: 16 year old Rusty, adolescence, adolescence-growing- up book, Anglo Indian author, Anglo-Indian fiction, book review, childhood, children books, children fiction, hill station, India, Indian life, Indian Literature, nature, Ruskin Bond, The Room On The Roof, Won the John Llewellyn Rhys Memorial Prize | Leave a comment
This summer vacation visit your childhood days again. Simply delve into the worlds of Rusty and his gang of friends in the famous Rusty series penned by our very own, lovable-Ruskin Bond. The first in this series is ‘The Room On The Roof‘ which Bond himself wrote when he was only 17 years old. It was the story that got him fame and won him the John Llewellyn Rhys Memorial Prize. While the entire series is promoted as predominantly children fiction, anyone can read the books as they are simple and refreshing and not merely childish. They can take you back to your fun filled adolescence and leave you touched by its thoughtfulness.
‘The Room On The Roof‘ revolves around Rusty who at the start is a lonely boy of 16 who loves to take aimless walks in the forests of Dehradun. He is under the guardianship of Mr. John Harrison, a strict, intimidating British fellow who has only contempt for everything around him-Rusty, the Indian side of the town, nature, his wife even etc.. By coincidence he meets two very friendly and warm Indian kids -Somi and Ranbir- on one of his many walks. They quickly become friends and indulge in the ‘masti’ of childhood-from riding their cycles, to their daily visits to the popular chaat shops etc, to playing Holi etc. Tired of the restrictive atmosphere of his guardian’s home and the European side of the town, Rusty runs away in a moment of madness and fury to be with his Indian friends. He only later realises the gravity of his decision and what it means to be living on one’s own. The story then takes a turn from its playfulness to a more serious tone as Rusty grapples with his new situation with the help of Somi and Ranbir.
The best part of ‘The Room On The Roof‘ is that Bond very lovingly sketches the development of Rusty’s personality. Bond thus makes the story not simply about the unbridled, pure and innocent joys of adolescence but also about the certain issues that rack one’s mind at that age for eg, Rusty’s loneliness, his adolescent love, his insecurity etc.. The story is also meditative as Rusty ponders over his ‘insignificance’ and purpose of life. So dismissing the novel as simply a childish one would be wrong. It may not proffer profound truths about the world but it does provide an adolescence’s point of view of such abstract aspects which also attests to the fact that the adolescent stage is not only one of frivolous frolic and time pass. It is quite commendable that Bond wrote this when he himself was only 17. Such sort of maturity in writing is not seen today from teenage authors anymore. Many aspects of the novel are also Bond’s own and perhaps the reflective tone of the story stems from his know meditations at that time.
Another feature that stands out is the true, minute depictions of Indian life whether it is the European part of Dehra, the buzzing bazaar, the simple toys, the smoky chaat shop and its delicacies,the intoxicated playing of Holi, the myriad Indian railway, Dehra’s natural beauty and the characters connections with it, Rusty’s room on the roof etc. While many of them may seem cliched like the cows on the streets and the beggars, they are life like nonetheless and attest to a way of life that is fast disappearing. Even the characters whether it is Rusty’ friends, Mr. Harrison’s wife’s brief appearances, Meena Kapoor-Rusty’s employer, her husband-Mr. Kapoor etc are all complex and have a story to their lives that make them full, rounded people with personalities and not just one sided characters.
A story of growing up, friendship, love and responsibilities,’The Room On The Roof‘ is a charming little novel that will regale all children and even adults. It will make you slow down, think and appreciate the small things of life.
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.
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.
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.
March 16, 2011 in best sellers, Indian fiction | Tags: 1900s' India, Anuradha, book review of 'The Last Song of Dusk', books, British Bombay, debut, debut novel, exquisite writing, first novel, India, Indian author, Indian Literature, Indian writing, love, love story, magic realism, marriage, music, Siddharth Dhanvant Sanghvi, songs, The Last Song of Dusk, tragedy, Udaipur, unique story, unique writing style, Vardhaman | 8 comments
‘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.
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.
March 9, 2011 in Indian fiction | Tags: Amitav, Amitav Ghosh, anti colonial book, book review of Glass Palace, Britain, British, British India, Burma, colonial India, colonizers, colonozation, family saga, Ghosh, Glass Palace, Independence, India, indian fiction, Indian Literature, love, royal family, soldiers, war | Leave a comment
‘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.
October 27, 2010 in classics, Indian fiction | Tags: 3 solutions, Bakha, book review of untouchable, cleaning toilets, discrimination, E. M. Forster, Hindu caste system, Hindus, India, Indian author, Indian English Fiction, indian fiction, Indian Literature, Indian writing, Indian writing in English, injustice, Mulk Raj Anand, outcaste, outcaste colony, Pre-Independence era, untouchable, untouchable book review, untouchablity | Leave a comment
‘Untouchable’ is a marvel of Indian fiction. Written by Mulk Raj Anand, it is not the regular kind of a book but rather a classic with deals with one of the worst evils of Hindu caste system-untouchability. Its written so sensitively that the book captures the reader immediately into its raw depictions and narration.
The timeline of the story is only one single day. In that one single day, the novel follows the life of Bakha, a sweeper by birth and therefore an outcaste, an untouchable, who lives in an outcastes’ colony on the outskirts of the Bulandshahr. The discrimination he faces since the morning, the manner in which he deals with them and his reflections on many ordinary things are touchingly brought out by Mulk Raj Anand. In the morning, Bakha is abused by a priest who accuses Bakha of having touched him, later on Bakha is cast out of the temple, then he faces the wrath of a housewife because he sat on her porch. Later, a mother of an injured upper caste boy scolds Bakha for touching him and in the end, his own father’s reaction disgusts him. All these numerous forms of discrimination happen in only one day and are so intensely described that one thinks that 2 or 3 days have passed. I think that by using this technique, Anand wants to show the readers that just in one day Bakha has to bear so much injustice; so it is unthinkable how much endless discrimination he faces his whole life!
‘Untouchable’ doesn’t just simply question this problem of untouchability but also provides three solutions(which are mentioned in the preface) of which the last one is the most practical. This aspect is what makes the book stand out because it doesn’t merely represent a problem but aims to resolve it also.
The book definitely proffers an excellent look of an Indian society of pre-Independence era, how life functioned then. Its something we can’t imagine because our lives and our society is so vastly different from that. Its slightly slow paced as it gradually follows the events, thoughts meandering in Bakha through one single day.
Nevertheless, ‘Untouchable’ is hailed as a masterpiece and so it is. Its a great book and a must read for any one interested in Indian English Fiction or Literature.
August 17, 2010 in best sellers, Indian fiction | Tags: America, Bengal, Bengali, Bengali writing, book review, book review of Unaccustomed Earth, book review on unaccustomed earth, brother, immigrants, India, Indian author, Indian couples, indian fiction, Indian immigrants, Indian Literature, Indian writing, Indian writing in English, Jhumpa Lahiri, love, marriage, Namesake, short stories, sister, Unaccustomed Earth | 3 comments
For me, Indian Fiction is irresistible and Jhumpa Lahiri’s writing draws me, attracts me to read her novels. I had read ‘Namesake’ which was an excellent book with a rare story of Indian immigrants in America. ‘Unaccustomed Earth’ is pretty much written on the same lines with the only exception that it is not a novel but a collection of short stories. Its worth spending your time and money over and its a really wonderful read.
The book is divided into 2 parts with Part One having 5 short stories about Indian immigrants of different age, gender, generation and they are all set all over the U.S. While Part Two is a short immigrant love story of Hema and Kaushik.
In Part One, the first story ‘Unaccustomed Earth’ is about a husband and his daughter coping with the wife/mother’s death and how her death allows him to travel while the daughter worries about taking care of her father. In the second story, ‘Hell-Heaven’, a married woman falls in love with a younger man who does not reciprocate this love and instead marries an American. ‘A Choice Of Accommodation’, the third story narrates the loss of love between a married Indian-American couple and how they regain that love. The fourth one, ‘Only Goodness’ is a story of a sister trying to protect her brother from alcoholism yet shunning him away at the same time because of his addiction. It gives a curious look at brother-sister relationship. The last story,’Nobody’s Business’ is a singular story of an Indian woman living as a roommate with Americans who is in love with an Egyptian. Part Two has three chapters which narrate a singular love story that develops between Hema and Kaushik over the years yet ends in tragedy.
The first thing that hits the reader in the face is that these stories do not have a rosy picture. There is a fragmented despair and utter sadness and even isolation and depression that pervades each story. They do not have a single aspect of the American Dream. There is conflict in each story, a loss of identity, a strong sense of disillusionment or even anger. ‘Unaccustomed Earth’ provides harsh glimpses into the immigrant’s world which is unexpected as the majority of readers would expect a happy, better life in America than in India. Materially, the families are well off in each story but never emotionally or spiritually.
Although ‘Unaccustomed Earth’ is a collection of short stories, the characters really come alive in each of them. Jhumpa Lahiri’s fine writing brings out nuances, peculiar qualities, different characteristics that makes the reader easily form a good picture of the characters in their mind(just like in ‘Family Matters’ by Rohinton Mistry). Her writing is undoubtedly superb and elegant. It effortlessly captures the essence of Indian immigrant life in America (just like it did in the ‘Namesake’) Its a definite must read for all lovers of Indian fiction writing and for all those who love literature.
One warning for all who want to pick up the book to read: ‘Unaccustomed Earth’ requires a great deal of concentration and it is not our typical kind of ‘happy’ book, so for those who want to peruse only for fun and past time, please don’t bother to read ‘Unaccustomed Earth’. For others who would love to venture beyond the usual, stereotypical books, might find this book just right!