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Crisp, clear and courageous is one way to describe Ismat Chughtai’s writing. Penguin Evergreens have brought out a collection of short stories by her in a slim volume titled: The Quilt: Stories by Ismat Chughtai. A member of the Progressive Writers’ Movement, Ismat was a bold Urdu writer whose stories were often a frank examination of women’s issues along with many several other topics such as Partition and the fight for independence. This collection includes a good range of her stories showing her deft writing skills and her eye for emotional detail. Much can be lost in translation but that will not deprive the reader from enjoying these short stories. The title story very cleverly implies and hints at homo eroticism. Quit India is surprisingly not the run of the mill story about freedom struggle but quite a sensitive portrayal of an Englishman in India and how he finally quits India. Here she uses that very slogan quite wittily to show the English soldier in a different light. The Mole and The Homemaker explore female sexuality. Mother-in-law shows the much stereotypes saas with all her whims and fancies sans the evil tag. Roots deals with the sad ache of Partition and how it tore apart communities.
With a collection of 10 interesting stories, this book is quite a good way to get a quick introduction to Chughtai’s work and gauge the vast range of the topics she dealt with. Its a quick and thoughtful read; one that will take you on a ride from the nightmarish fright of a child under the quilt to the frustrated and deranged painterly efforts of Choudhry; from the bylanes of the then Bombay to all across the seas to England. While on that journey, you can if you pay enough attention, just get a subtle glimpse of the orthodoxies that run women’s lives, of the pain, struggle and love of ordinary people.
To explore further,click here to check this useful website dedicated to her works.
Ever wondered how a child reacts to violence? What are the effects of cruelty, brutality on a child’s mind? His/her psyche? How it scars them? What they think of it ? How they interpret it? Ok..now you must be wondering why I am babbling child psychology cum emotional talk in a book review blog. But don’t worry I intend to write a book review only which will partially answer a few of those above seemingly unrelated questions. So what’s the book? Is it a psychology book? Or a EQ book?
Definitely NOT! Its a fictional novel produced by an astonishingly talented writer. The book’s name is ‘Ice-Candy Man‘ or ‘Cracking India’ written by Bapsi Sidhwa.
Partition was a big blot on Indian history. A lot of books were written during that time that were devoted to the sentiments, pain and grief of the common people. While most Partition literature prominently deals with adult perspectives, ‘Ice Candy Man‘ provides a rare child’s perspective of the Partition. Of course, this perspective is more or less colored by Sidhwa’s adult perspectives and ruminations too but nevertheless the book is essentially from a child’s point of view.
In a nutshell, ‘Ice Candy Man‘ is narrated by a Parsi girl, Lenny Sethi, living in Lahore. She has polio and an Ayah-Shanti-looks after her. Shanti is an attractive female constantly surrounded by a medley of male admirers who are mostly employed in Lenny’s house. Lenny learns about the news of the division, the spread of hatred as they unfold through the events she herself witnesses or hears from adults. But mostly Partition is represented or personified with Ayah’s life. How Partition, how one person’s love for her ruins her life to a large extent is a metaphor for how things turned from bad to worse, how religion got entangled with love during the Partition. Sidhwa has cleverly represented Ayah as the complex inter-cultural and inter religious background of Lahore in the pre-Partition days. Lenny’s thoughts not only reflect her childlike, sometimes confused, innocent perceptions but also depict Partition in a different light. Its gruesomeness is heightened when a child describes it. It seems even more mindless, awful and unnecessary.
Sidhwa’s style of writing can be difficult to digest as it seems desultory, jumping from one topic to another, one time frame to another in a flash. It can appear unconnected and difficult to keep track of but perhaps through this style, she is trying to portray a child’s mind and how rapidly it jumps from one interesting aspect to another. The randomness of children and their short attention span is marvelously portrayed in their writing style.
‘Ice Candy Man‘ is worth reading. it may be hard to find as it was first published in 1988. But one can easily get it online and if one searches diligently, one is bound to find one copy in some well managed library.
‘Their Eyes Were Watching God‘ by Zora Neale Hurston is undoubtedly her best known novel. Published in 1937, it is a singular story of a black woman protagonist, Janie Crawford and the significant changes in her life. To write a women centric novel in that era is an achievement worth being entitled to.
The novel starts with Janie returning to her second husband’s town, Eatonville, after having runaway with Tea Cake, a man who was younger to her. The townspeople start gossiping and advise Pheoby Watson, Janie’s close friend, to find out what has happened to Janie. Then Janie begins telling her story to Pheoby: Janie was married at the age of 16 to Logan Killicks by her grandmother, Nanny, so that Janie could have the security of a home . However, Janie never fell in love with him and ran away with another fellow named Joe Starks. Joe was an ambitious man who made Janie move to a new town called Eatonville where he did all he could to make the town prominent. He brought land, opened a store there and became the mayor. He ordered Janie to take care of the store but Janie was quite unhappy with that job. After Joe’s death, Janie fell head over heels in love with Tea Cake who was younger to her. They both loved each another immensely and moved to the Everglades in Florida. After Tea Cake’s death, Janie returned to Eatonville.
The story goes in good flow. The most positive aspect of the book is Janie’s strong willed characterization. She is not portrayed as a damsel in distress but rather as an intelligent, well minded personality. It is a feminist book that highlights a woman’s thoughts, ideas and feelings as well as emotions and problems. Another plus point of ‘Their Eyes Were Watching God‘ is the usage of a dialect. Zora Hurston has not used the language which you and I use but the dialect in which the southern blacks spoke. This lends to authenticity to the story(However some readers who are not able to read the dialect may find the story irritating and incomprehensible).
Nonetheless, ‘Their Eyes Were Watching God’ is an excellent book, and provides insightful perspective.
It is difficult to describe in words what I exactly felt and thought about ‘A THOUSAND SPLENDID SUNS‘ by Khaled Hosseini because it was so unique and personal. I will still attempt to write a review on the book. Hopefully it will be useful.
It is one of those rare gem of a book that elicits a thousand emotions-from deep despair to breathtaking bliss to anguish and anger to innocent happiness. This book is simply-and there is no other word for it-REAL.It is not based on a true story but the incidents could and have happened to millions of people in Afghanistan. I really loved this book simply because it is deeply moving and touching and in a sense it is not just a book but a reality-a harsh one- that Afghans faced and continue to face after the Russian invasion in 1979.
The story is about two girls-Mariam and Laila and how their lives intertwined as a result of circumstances. Mariam is a bastard. Her father, Jalil Khan, is a rich businessman in Herat(Mariam’s birthplace) who got his housekeeper(Mariam’s mom, Nana) pregnant. Mariam is conveniently married off in Kabul to a tyrant, Rasheed, at a tender age of fifteen. Laila, by a brutal turn of circumstances, ends up in Rasheed’s house. Initially hostility reigns between Mariam and Laila but gradually, they become close and a marvelous friendship amidst utter breakdown and destruction develops. The end of the story is hopeful, a poignant display of love and survival.
One of the misunderstandings about the books is that it is entirely set during the Taliban’s rule. However, in fact, only a part of the book is set during that time period. The story spans from 1960s’ to the early 200s’. The story, thus provides a brief history lesson of Afghanistan.
For me, ‘A Thousand Splendid Suns‘ was absolutely flawless. The narrative was beautiful. It essentially deals with the brutality that women face in Afghanistan due to harsh patriarchy. These themes can be relevant among indian readers as even in India, women are still suppressed and denied freedom(although perhaps not at such an extreme level as in Afghanistan).
For many people, ‘A Thousand Splendid Suns‘ was depressing because of the sad events. It was painful, yes, and it did leave me shocked at some passages but I did not find it depressing. To only read happy books with cliched and predictable endings is stupid for me because then you are not being aware of the problems around the world. I agree that is is highly emotional, very sad but then it is reality. Countless women have faced and still face such horrors and discrimination in their lives. I was crying throughout the book and I do not think there is anyone who wouldn’t be moved by this singular story.
It is definitely a must read and if you can’t even read it, just think about those for whom it was not just a book they could ignore but life that they faced every single day.