The much-defeated citadel of Delhi was little more than desolation. The Persian ruler Nadir Shah had bled the city. And what remained had been plundered by the rapacious hordes led by the Afghan, Ahmad Shah Durrani. Delhi could barely sustain a population much less afford the patronage of the arts. By the end of the eighteenth century Delhi was no more.
In The Man Who Saved India Hindol Sengupta brings together the political history of early twentieth century India, and biographical details of Sardar Vallabhbhai Jhaverbhai Patel’s life to show the integral role of political icons in the functioning of the social, economic, and political life of the newly formed nation-state of India. The display of political icons through the construction of statues, naming of roads, or of celebration of specific dates is more than ritualistic remembering.
Daughters of the Sun chronicles the lives of Mughal women—unmarried daughters, sisters, powerful, dynamic wives, anagas or milk mothers or foster mothers—who contributed to the building of the Mughal Empire. These women often worked from within the zenana or the women quarters; several of these women, however, accompanied the Emperor to the battlefield, engaged in diplomacy…
No matter how old you are, if you are from India, you can probably recall the first time you heard the story of Rama. The memory could be your grandmother’s voice in a room lit only by a lamp, or a book such as Rajagopalachari’s rendition or the pictures in the Amar Chitra Katha or the televised version. Every Indian household has children who have grown up on the telling of the Ramayana.
At the end of the book, Iyengar singles out one person from among the publishing staff for special thanks for having encouraged him to switch from ‘myth-fiction’ to historical fiction. All those who read this novel and are familiar with Iyengar’s earlier work will want to do that after reading this book. Without going into details, this switch has made the book easier to read, less laboured than his earlier work.
Anjum Hasan is exceptional. The imagery in her stories comes at you so fast that you gasp as you try to absorb it all—and every image is familiar—but in her stories they become poetry: ‘The phrase that comes to mind is–bursting into life. But spring is a gradual unfolding: day-by-day colour seeps back into the land, expressed in crocuses of lilac and gold. The oaks will fatten with leaves by slow degrees. Will they burst into life? Will the buds on the apple trees?’
Somewhere hidden in the labyrinth of memory you can hear the lonely whistle of a train crossing the dark expanse of the Indian subcontinent. It is often reminiscent of the cry of those djinns that you have been warned will suddenly appear on your doorstep. They chitter and grind their teeth with rage as the train rocks uneasily along a steel bridge over a swollen river.
This is a very unusual book. But then, a novel written by a poet needs to be so. At one level, it is undoubtedly ‘Letters to Mama’… as the title says. The voice is that of Seema Thakur Singh, a journalist and an idealist speaking through a series of letters to her much loved but long-lost mother about the travails of living through the Emergency and the dismay of her bureaucrat husband.
Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936) remains the enfant terrible of English literature if not an outright villain, for he is routinely castigated for his blatant championing of British imperialism. He remains phenomenally popular as a writer, his sheer political incorrectness notwithstanding. His poem ‘If –’, which is stoical rather than jingoistic, regularly comes out tops in opinion polls conducted in Britain to decide the most popular poem in the language.
Now that we have celebrated the 73rd Independence Day, let us remember that 2019 is also the 140th birth anniversary year of Sarojini Naidu. Amidst the political turmoil and clampdown in Kashmir, there is a need to revisit our political legacies and the right to dissent. Naidu’s political poetry invites us to reconsider if the personal is synonymous with the political.
Reading Indian cricket history, especially when the clamour around the game is at its peak—during the four-yearly World Cup (luckily not during the Indian Premier League, at least not yet)—has its charms. For starters, the historic perspective it provides could be fascinating, riveting and perplexing as well.
The voices so near and yet so far consume a poet’s mind and oeuvre. Sometimes you are a dreamer and sometimes you look to depict reality. The characters and images run in and out of Arundhathi Subramaniam’s poems as you soak in oneness with the plots and sub plots within the lines. For instance, in the poem ‘In short’, she says, ‘and one day you realize you’re pane too, freckled by your own rigmaroles of vapours’.
This is a slim book, choosing to focus on only one film: Aandhi. Made by Gulzar, it was released in 1975, a momentously significant year for India and for the Hindi film industry which sent to the theatres, one after another, movies such as Deewar, Sholay, Aandhi and Mausam, even as Emergency was declared during the month of June.
An award-winning novel raises multiple expectations, not only on its substance and style but on its linguistic strength in connecting the reader with the imagined world of possible realities. At the end, what count are the lingering thoughts the prose leaves the readers to continue to grapple with in solitude. Celestial Bodies, the first Omani novel to win the coveted Man Booker prize, ticks all the boxes on being imaginative, alluring and irresistible at the same time.
Kavitha Yaga Buggana hears the ‘call of adventure’ and books a trekking trip to Kailash, in Walking In Clouds. There is a journey slumbering in each of us, waiting for the call to come. When it does, there is nothing to do but buckle one’s shoes and go. Life at home is comfortable if a little tame with ‘pink oleander and red hibiscus’ in the garden. Mt. Kailash beckons enticingly, and Kavi and cousin Pallu had dreamed of it since girlhood days. What she does not know yet is that sometimes it is the journey taking the person, not the person the journey.
There couldn’t have been a more appropriate title for Sangeetha Sreenivasan’s tale of lesbian love, and the demons it unleashes—in the mind, and within that tenuous network of bloodlines called family. Acid is the euphoria of lovers in an embrace; it is the psychedelia of fragile relationships; Acid is the agony of separation, and the paradoxical ecstasy of unravelling, of wasting away, of turning into a shadow.
The echoes of the above sentence reverberate throughout the book. For what is chaos? That which resides inside one’s head and reaches the heart slowly but is supposed to remain hidden: not shown or shared. The short stories in this book are not supposed to jolt you out of your quiet existence nor will they attempt to. But by giving a glimpse into lives it sends across a powerful message of the various forms of ‘waiting’ that one has to live with.
The fascination with our Indian inherited legends and myths had led Malashri Lal and Namita Gokhale to edit a book a few years ago called In Search of Sita: Revisiting Mythology wherein they collected different accounts of Sita that coexist in myth, literature and folktale. Sita is one of the defining figures of Indian womanhood, yet there is no single version of her story.
Uzma Jalaluddin’s Ayesha at Last is an interesting novel about the way Muslim social life is lived in Canada. The language used by Jalaluddin, though crisp and current is also loaded with an English literary sensibility. Shakespeare is quoted eleven times from the plays and twice from the sonnets. The blurb on the book describes it as a ‘modern day Muslim Pride and Prejudice’ nudging the reader softly to accord the novel a recognizable space in the ever expanding universe of English fiction being written across diverse cultures.
Amitav Ghosh seems to have reached a new point of eminence in his creative journey with Gun Island. In 2016, he published The Great Derangement—a book that deliberates on climate change and examines how collective denial of it is obfuscating our desire to address questions related to drastic fluctuations in the weather pattern. He emphatically concludes that art and literature of our age function in ‘modes of concealment’ and occlude everyone from ‘recognising the realities of their plight’.