After Bloodline Bandra (2014), Godfrey Joseph Pereira returns to Bombay in this provocatively titled historical fiction, to document the story of Charlie Strongbow, Cross Island and the erstwhile ‘urbs prima in Indis’, Bombay, in the 1940s and 1950s. The brick red, orange and blue cover with the silhouette of a boat, and a bird aggressively pushing through a torn page, arouses curiosity and promises a story that is full of surprises.
If one could travel as easily as the mind tours the world in a matter of seconds, where would one go? Would one go to a place from memory or a to a place one hasn’t ever ventured to even in one’s wildest dreams? Who would a traveller such as this meet and what would be the stories one would inadvertently become a part of?
In October of 2017 California’s raging wildfires burnt down Sophia Naz’s home, taking everything, heirlooms, paintings, signed books, inter alia treasures, carelessly strewn around homes that bear witness to living—family photographs, handwritten journals, ‘the material history of a lifetime’. Her 2021 collection of poems, Open Zero is less a math of that uncountable loss, or its archiving—for its calculus, as the obliquely eponymous poem ‘After, math’, muses, ‘must be left at memory’s table’. The poems here map the fire’s aftermaths—of all that follows the event of loss.
With the arrival of his new collection, Anthropocene, a multi-genre book of poetry, literary prose and photography—Sudeep Sen takes a vertical plunge into deep history. From being a poet of Distracted Geographies, he now ventures to be a poet of distracted geologies and its sedimented pasts. If in his earlier major collection Fractals, he could be seen traversing across ravaged war zones from Kargil to Gaza to trace remnants of life—in this latest book, the entire planet with its disoriented seas, skies, seasons and sites, becomes his theatre of concern.
Ranu Uniyal, a teacher of English, is here with her latest anthology of poems, in Hindi. Her poems, which she dismissively says are ‘just things I wrote’, are something of a portfolio of a traditional artist, shy and mild mannered, but with the promise of high artistry and an unfaltering grasp on her material and tools.There are poems about the different stages of womanhood, life in the streets (and within the mind), passing seasons, and of course the landscape of the heart. In her wide sweep of ideas, she reminds one of the nineteenth century Urdu/Rekhta masters who left us literal biographies of their towns—local and universal at the same time.
Devrani Jethani ki Kahani, first published in 1870, is often hailed as the first novel in Hindi, and this critical edition, with the first-ever translation into English as A Story of Two Sisters-in-Law, takes full cognizance of the book’s historical significance to bring it to a contemporary reader in all its layered complexity. The family saga marks a tryst with modernity against the backdrop of the colonial encounter, while offering a realist/reformist representation of the textures of Agarwal-Baniya community life around the Meerut region in the 1860s.
Keeping in Touch by award-winning novelist Anjali Joseph is a love story centering Keteki Sharma and Ved Ved, two thirty-something individuals more or less settled in their hectic, jet-set lives. Though it is love at first sight for Ved, when he sees Keteki at Heathrow Airport in casual jeans and shirt, Keteki revels in her relationship with her new lover but takes her time making up her mind about settling down with him. Thus begins a dance of a relationship between two individuals entirely unknown to each other.
Arzu is essentially a coming-of-age story but the beauty of the book lies in the fact that it is able to beautifully capture the process of growth, change and hard work, which can be tremendously difficult to write about in an interesting way. Arzu’s efforts to develop herself and find her place in the world are inspiring, especially for young readers who are trying to figure themselves out.
This historical fiction tells the stories of a ten-year boy, Madhav, and the family of Sridhar Sahu and Ratna. Their stories, spread across two invasions of Delhi—of Muhammed of Ghur in 1192 CE and Taimur in 1398 CE, tells another very important tale—the way the ‘medieval past’ seems to haunt the present. Madhulika Liddle writes in the mode of scholars who focus on Delhi, such as Sunil Kumar (The Present in Delhi’s Pasts), Percival Spear (Delhi, Its Monuments and History), RE Frykenburg (Ed. Delhi through the Ages), Narayani Gupta (Delhi between Two Empires 1803-1931) and Upinder Singh (Ancient Delhi).
The major difference one draws upon when discussing history and fiction is that while history is based on facts, fiction is based on imagination. Given this context how would one describe a historical novel, which is a blend of history and fiction? One of the normative responses would be that a historical novel is set in a period of history and conveys the social and cultural oeuvre of that period. This statement has undergone a sea change as the concept of history has altered in contemporary times.
Farrukh Dhondy has worn several hats as a writer, journalist, activist, screenwriter, broadcaster and is something of a literary celebrity. His is therefore the kind of autobiography one expects to be peppered with fascinating anecdotes and lurid confessions. But, perhaps as the title Fragments Against My Ruin—taken from The Waste Land—suggests, one has to be content with fragments and fleeting glimpses of the world around its author instead of a comprehensive account.
The Owl Delivered the Good News all Night Long is a mammoth compilation of folk tales from all the States in the Indian Union. With 108 tales from 57 languages and dialects across India, it is a stupendous effort to keep alive the spirit of these regions through words and stories that emanate from and are deeply inscribed in their lived realities. The book has an interesting organizational structure.
The Greatest Tamil Stories Ever Told, an eclectic collection of 30 stories, features eminent writers who are common household names and current favourites, dating from the 1930s to today. The editor Sujatha Vijayaraghavan’s unhurried indulgence in short stories by Thamizh writers and an earlier venture of reading more than 800 stories in three months’ time for her dance project came to fruition in compiling this edition, we infer from the foreword.
This book, contrary to what the title suggests, is not a crime thriller. It is, instead, a bit of obscure 19th century English social history in which an Indian, who was also a Parsi—and vicar to boot—faced what might have been deep racial discrimination. His name was George Edalji.He was accused of mutilating a horse and threatening to kill a policeman. The natives were outraged, had him arrested, tried and convicted him.
Kynpham Sing Nongkynrih’s Funeral Nights points out, among a whole lot of other things, that language is one of the fundamental tools to recover, rehabilitate and moor a community’s identity. However, the Khasi language has not yet been made an official language under the Eighth Schedule of the Constitution of India despite demands for its inclusion. The twenty-two official languages of India (which include Assamese, Manipuri and Bodo from Northeast India) carry both immense prestige and other benefits, including membership of the Official Language Commission itself. The pedagogic implications, employment opportunities, cultural and translation benefits and so on for an official language are centrally connected to the identity and sustenance of a community.
This is a comprehensive, well-structured book. The five sections of the book are titled ‘General Overviews’, ‘Pilgrimages’, ‘Travelling within the Country’, ‘Travelling Abroad’ and ‘Miscellaneous’. This is apart from the Introduction by the editor of the volume. The first section has essays on the historical and cultural matrices of early travel writings from Bengal (Jayati Gupta), secular travel culture as obtained in Bengal during the colonial period (Simonti Sen), and the generic shifts that occured in women’s travel writing in Bengal during the 19th and early 20th century (Shrutakirti Dutta).
Ananda Lal’s edited volume, Indian Drama in English: The Beginnings, is a significant milestone in the genre. A researcher’s delight, the book has immense value for its reconstruction of text and authorship to fill the ellipses in the history of Indian English Drama. It comprises three nineteenth century plays—Krishna Mohan Banerjea’s The Persecuted (1831), Michael Madhusudan Dutt’s Rizia (1849) and Kaminee (1874) by an anonymous author. Lal’s introduction to each of the plays makes it a substantial and insightful read.
To the adage ‘journalism is literature in a hurry’ Oscar Wilde added that ‘the difference between literature and journalism is that journalism is unreadable and literature is not read.’ Amitava Kumar’s short novel A Time Outside This Time, all of two hundred odd pages, explores the space between fiction and journalism, trying to turn journalism into literature and making it readable too. Playing on Ezra Pound’s definition of literature as news that stays news, the novelist narrator of A Time Outside This Time conjectures if ‘by bringing news into literature we make sure that daily news doesn’t die a daily death?’ Kumar’s turning the news into literature in the novel has a serious purpose.
Pachpan Khambe Laal Deewarein’s poignant profile of a professional woman chafing against her suffocating context continues to resonate in its recent English translation, long after its first publication in 1961. The Hindi novel had acquired a cult status, birthing a television series and generations of loyal readers to whom the protagonist Sushma Sharma’s travails spoke viscerally. Lecturer in Hindi (or History, as the novel suggests variously) and warden of a hostel at a women’s college in Delhi some time in the late 50s, Sushma seeks to separate her professional and personal lives and assert her hard-earned financial independence.
Atamjit. Translated from the original Urdu by Ameena Z. Cheema, Rana Nayar, Swaraj Raj and Vivek Sachdeva
Independent India, as a secular nation, was born in Partition. The legacy of this fracture continues to implode and explode the very idea and ideals of post-Independent India. Indian creative imagination has continuously engaged with the ever-changing trajectories of this fracture, especially communalism. Since Partition these creative responses, in fact, have evolved as a distinct sub-genre within Indian literature. While the initial creative responses to Partition were underlined by an emotive surcharge that oscillated between memory and forgetting, the lived and the thought, or the exigencies of traumatic immediacy and the demands of nation building, the later ‘re-visits’ have tended to be more ideological and analytical in their thrust and have increasingly focused on the protean character of the phenomenon.