Mr Iyer Goes To War is the first novel written by Ryan Lobo, who is essentially a photographer and film maker. His films have been shown on channels like Animal Planet, National Geographic amongst others. His writings have been carried by Boston Review, The Wall Street Journal, Caravan and others.
In his novel Ryan Lobo writes about the escapades of an individual who has a vision of what he was in one of his previous incarnations and decides to take up the task of completing, in this life, what remained incomplete in his previous one.
Bhagawandass Morwal has carved a niche for himself in the domain of contemporary Hindi literature. His memoir is a captivating creation because of its novelty of theme, deft narrative stroke, element of storytelling, a transparent world-view, elegant point of view, a tendency to give importance to ‘mirror-narratives’ in opposition to ‘grand narrative’, a unique blending of different perspectives of a life lived. With the onslaught of postmodernism in literature there came to the forefront a tendency to distrust ‘meta-narratives’—what Lyotard calls ‘incredulity towards meta-narratives’.
In 2013 the Aleph publishing house brought out a wonderfully put together book, A Pleasant Kind of Heavy and Other Erotic Stories was a collection of tales about Indian women and sexual desire. The book was written by ‘Aranyani’—a nom de plume as at the time the author chose anonymity (for review see The Book Review January 2015).
Rakesh Satyal’s No One Can Pronounce My Name is a positivetale of transition and discovery which the negation in the title does not really disclose. When one starts reading, one expects another anxiety-ridden tale of culture conflict and identity issues of Indian immigrants. Satyal’s book is all these but significantly much more.
The novel set in Cleveland, Ohio is a complex weave of stories of disparate individuals caught at a time when they are struggling to make meaning of their existence. Ranjana, a middle-aged receptionist at a doctor’s clinic and an aspiring writer, suspects her husband of having an affair with a white woman. As such there seems not much left in the relationship. Her husband, Mohan, seems to be content with his chemistry lessons in college and tennis sessions in the evenings. Their marriage has gone through the predictable phases of honeymoon, child rearing and the drudgery of parenthood. Now that their son Prashant is at Princeton, despite the usual social gatherings and temple visits Ranjana’s life is steeped in ennui. Her only real relief in life seems to be her pursuit of romantic supernatural stories. Ranjana’s character is etched with a lot of interest by the author. She holds in her a child-like openness to wonderment.
No city reveals itself easily; Delhi even less so. For, as Mir has said: it is not just any other city, it is Delhi (Pagdi apni sambhaliyega ‘Mir’/Aur basti nahin ye Dilli hai). Even those who ambled in its nooks and crannies and became its cobblestones—how much did Delhi show itself to them? So begins Intizar Husain’s Dilli Tha Jiska Naam (Once There Was A City Named Dilli), a cultural biography of Delhi. In posing that question, and in making it clear that he is not one of the cobblestones of Delhi, Intizar Husain is absolving himself of knowing Delhi intimately. Although, remarkably, very few other books on the city reveals to us the cultural and folk milieu of Jahanabad (or Shahjahanabad), as this one does.
No city reveals itself easily; Delhi even less so. For, as Mir has said: it is not just any other city, it is Delhi (Pagdi apni sambhaliyega ‘Mir’/Aur basti nahin ye Dilli hai). Even those who ambled in its nooks and crannies and became its cobblestones—how much did Delhi show itself to them? So begins Intizar Husain’s Dilli Tha Jiska Naam (Once There Was A City Named Dilli), a cultural biography of Delhi. In posing that question, and in making it clear that he is not one of the cobblestones of Delhi, Intizar Husain is absolving himself of knowing Delhi intimately.
In the third chapter of Abigail Williams’s wonderful book, we encounter an extract from soldier and journalist Alexander Somerville: ‘My father and mother had a window (the house had none) consisting of one small pane of glass, and when they moved from one house to another…they carried the window with them and had it fixed in each hovel into which they went as tenants.’ That portable window was the only means by which the Somerville family could afford the luxury of reading indoors.
The history of circulation in Europe of tales purportedly comprising the Arabian Nights (as the commonest moniker for the collection goes, though literally it should be ‘thousand nights and a night’, if translated ad verbatim from the Arabic title alf layla wa layla) has frequently been read as but a symptom—a symptom of how the Orient was textually constructed for consumption in the West, and how the East often strove hard to cast its imagining of itself in that reflected light. This symptomatic reading so suits the current academic commonsense, aided by an uncritical acceptance as axiomatic of Said’s originally contingently radical view of Orientalism, that this simplistic formulation has percolated most of our understanding of European exercises in translating Eastern texts as attempts in stereotyping the Orient in pejorative, and civilizable, governable terms.
Chandrashekhar Kambar’s novel Karimayi dwells on the shifting borders of myth and history, a fashionable location in current ideological debates, but written many years ago by a seasoned novelist with a fine eye for cultural details. Thanks to a commendable new translation by Krishna Manavalli, global access to this iconic Kannada novel has become possible. In the ‘Introduction’, Rajeev Taranath praises Manavalli’s negotiation between folk idiom in Kannada and its English equivalent without her resorting to ‘glib exoticism’ (p. xiii). I too was struck by the fluidity of the text while the cultural counters of orality are preserved.
This is a great book, even a magnificent one, that chronicles the story (I’m not using the term ‘history’ deliberately because history of literature has now become a sophisticated genre by itself, generating a plethora of theoretically informed materials around it that deal with different aspects of the genre, addressing the primary question of how much of ‘history’ and how much of ‘literature’ will make the correct combination) of the development of Pakistani writing in English.
Autobiographies are always a great source of learning and inspiration. In reading about someone else, the reader gets a perspective about things that are often missed in one’s own life. Writing about oneself is cathartic as much for the writer as it is for the reader, as both can connect in disjointed, but similar life experiences. Autobiographies of the great leaders of the world, such as Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, and Maya Angelou, among others, serve important inspirational purposes by bringing to the fore the low points in their lives, as much as highlight the high points. However, it is not just international celebrities whose autobiographies can be motivational. Stories of learning to live a fulfilling life can be found in autobiographies of people who might otherwise remain in obscurity. Works of Anne Frank and Baby Halder are two such examples.
Ethnography is the study of social interactions and behaviour that occur within communities or organizations. Specifically, school ethnographies can capture a spectrum of experiences that characterize life at school such as play, curiosity, appreciation, joy, love and admiration for people and happenings; more importantly, they can capture the broader social, economic and political aspects of schools. They can also spark off deeper and more instinctual auto ethnographic perspectives.