Musungu Jim and the Great Chief Tuloko

Musungu Jim and the Great Chief Tuloko by Patrick Neate centres on the events of a fictional country, Zambawi, ruled by President Adini. He had declared himself as the President, after his own successful coup launched with his Commander, Indigo Bulimi.

Now another revolution is brewing and at its helm is the rebel Black Boot Gang, headed by Adini’s own bodyguard, Isaiah. Caught between all of the politics of the country are a great many characters from Musa, the witch doctor to Adini’s own son, Enoch; to Rujeko Tula, daughter of the exiled Presiden Tula of Zambawi’s neigbouring country, Mozola; and the titular Mr. Jim Tulloh who comes to teach in a school in Zambawi.

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The Good:

Musungu Jim and the Great Chief Tuloko‘s strongest point is its tongue in cheek and straightforward humour that clinically satirises the wrongs of the imaginary country. All is met with a questioning and humourous eye: be it Adini’s success and his continued President ship or the entitlement of the white people residing in Zambawi or worse, the blatant and biased involvement of the British forces in the country’s politics.

The imagination put into creating Zambawi’s history, language, flag, its culture (such as the flatulence inducing drug, gar!) and folklore is commendable.

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Quick Reviews: Bara

Bara by U.R. Anantmurthy can be read in one sitting. It is a short book with an intense depth.

What is the book about?

Bara is modeled on the author’s own experience of meeting a civil servant who was trying to resolve the drought prevalent in his district.

The novel is translated from Kannada by Chandan Gowda, who teaches at Azim Premji University in Bengaluru.

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The Reading Spree: October Yellow Cover Month!

I decided to pick a strange, albeit colour coordinated, theme for this month!

It was an impulse decision that came out of random coincidences converging to make my desk very yellow this month!

Thus, I embarked on reading books that had a yellow cover!

These are the books I managed to read in this very yellow month!

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  1. Musungu Jim and the Great Chief Tuloko by Patrick Neale: This humorous and satirical novel is based on a a fictional African country, Zambawi, that is riddled with dictatorship, revolutionaries and one lost musungu or white man, Jim, who has come there to teach. Check out my review!
  2. Bara by U.R. Ananthamurthy: This short novella reads almost like a short story. Set possibly in Bidar in Karnataka, it unravels the problems of that district which is facing severe drought and how one civil servant is trying to help but is caught between various conflicts. Read my review here.
  3. The Tiger’s Wife by Tea Obreht: This was my favourite novel from the list. Again this novel is set in a fictional place but one that closely resembles Eastern Europe or even possibly Yugoslavia. It narrates how parallel stories of a woman’s relationship with her grandfather and his stories particular the one about the titular tiger’s wife.
  4. James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl: This novel is quintessentially a Dahl story with it’s signature child hero, James, who has had a bad childhood and who, because of a strange turn of events, is able to meet the strangest of friends and go on a peculiar ride on the titular giant peach. Read my detailed review here.
  5. Children of the Revolution by Dinaw Mengestu: Told from the point of view of an Ethiopian immigrant, Seppha Stephanos, the novel traverses his present in which he is an owner of a crumbling grocery store, and his past in which he still owned his store but also had the company of Judith and her daughter, Naomi and they had fun reading sessions. Read the Guest Post review here!
  6. The Best of Laxman: The Common Man Watches Cricket: This is a fun, breezy delight through R.K. Laxman’s iconic cartoon series featuring his ubiquitous common man. Despite what the title says, it is not only about cricket but his satirical cartoons broach all kinds of subjects particularly politics. They leave no stone unturned to lay bare the hypocrisy and idiosyncrasies of our country and politicians. What is surprising is that several of the cartoons included in this collection are relevant even today which simply goes to show the vicious circle politics traps citizens in.

Stay tuned next month for the next Reading Spree List! In November, we will focus on Women Writing in India in English. Don’t forget to check out what titles we pick for next month!

Happy browsing!

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.

Animal Farm-Politics in a different way.

Animal Farm‘ was another book that I read as part of my English Literature class. Written by George Orwell, ‘Animal Farm‘ is an interesting read with animals as the main characters. I quite enjoyed the book mainly because of Orwell’s remarkable story and its relevance to politics of any country. Anybody who knows the dirtiness of politics will surely relate to this book. ‘Animal Farm‘ is a biting satire on politics and is based on the Russian Revolution and the events during Stalin era. There are several characters in the novel that represent real life characters prominent at that time.

The story is about animals on Manor Farm who lead a revolution to get rid of the torturous and oppressive Mr Jones, a human and how they overthrow him and take over the farm. The pigs are proclaimed as leaders. Although initially several steps are taken to better the animals’ conditions, gradually power corrupts the pigs and they begin neglecting the masses i.e. the animals. Sounds like politics played n India, doesn’t it?

The most remarkable feature of the book is the use of animals to represent a human tendency(I think it is human because I do not think it exists in animals)-  to play dirty politics. Orwell’s writing is simple, no flamboyant usage of language and his story is plain to understand as it does not have deep symbolism which one has to crack one’s brains over. Another plus point, despite it being written in 1945, is that it is still contemporary. Its themes of power, corruption , deceit  and the vicious cycle of politics are still relevant as even today politicians use tactics mentioned in the book. Not much seems to have changed in the political field. Anyone can, even today, draw parallels in our own society and among our politicians from several incidents in the book. Napoleon, the pig who usurps power in the book is a classic example of how power corrupts and his sidekick Squealer, is an excellent example of any political party’s spokesperson who will do practically anything-lie, cheat, kill, bribe-to uphold the leader’s greatness(even though he/she does the most gruesome and criminal of things).

As a conclusion,’Animal Farm‘ is a delightful read, an amazing satire that can make one think. It is good(but not necessary) to get some background information on the Russian Revolution and Stalin Era to comprehend the story thoroughly. Without that information too, the story will be meaningful. ‘Animal Farm‘ is well worth a read!