Monthly Archives: March 2010

An Interview with Paritosh Uttam

After reading, “Dreams in Prussian Blue”, I had to interview the writer, Paritosh Uttam…So here is my interview with him, and Paritosh it is a fantastic book. All the best!

Why “Dreams in Prussian Blue”? Why not Bloody Red or Sunkissed Orange?  

Yes, in theory it could have been any colour. But I wanted a colour that gave off a dark, brooding impression, rather than a bright, cheery one. I just liked the name ‘Prussian blue’, when I first heard of it as a child, so perhaps that influenced my choice subconsciously.  

While reading the book, I had this weird sense that Michael was based on Howard Roark? Was he? And if he has been based on someone , then who is it?  

No, I didn’t consciously base Michael on Howard Roark. I only made the association when you first mentioned Roark in your review. I suppose they are similar in the sense of their obsession for architecture or painting. Roark is almost a mythical, exalted character with no faults; Michael has his large share of faults, and in that sense, more human. Michael is purely a fictitious character. Many great artists are known to have been extremely self-centered or tyrannical in their personal lives. You could say I based Michael on this generic fact, rather than any particular person. 

From an engineer to a writer, how does it feel? Its almost like you were meant to write. Do you feel that writing is your true calling?  

I wouldn’t say I have turned into a writer from an engineer. I am both of them, and I think it will stay that way for a long time. I was pretty good at acads all through school and college, been to IIT and all that. However, reading and writing was always a part of me, but I took it more as a hobby, or something to do at my leisure. It’s only in the last 7-8 years, that I grew serious about it. I agree writing is my true calling, because the urge, the pull, and the satisfaction I experience doing it doesn’t come when I am involved with other work. But again, I have been a techie for so long, that I don’t think I can shed that skin forever. 

Which authors have influenced your writing?  

I wouldn’t want my writing to be imitative or derivative because then I would lose my style. I admire many authors for their works, for different reasons, but I would not try to write like them. There may be some characteristics that I have subconsciously imbibed from different reasons, but I wouldn’t be aware of them. If you want specific names, I like V. S. Naipaul’s style, his wonderful usage of dashes and semi-colons to punctuate his sentences and to avoid verbiage. 

We all have wonderful memories of books and reading. Which ones have been yours?  

I have been an avid reader since childhood, when I used to take out books from the school library. I could get more than my permitted share because my mother was a teacher. I can divide my reading life into stages as my tastes evolved. Started with all Enid Blytons—Secret Sevens, Famous Fives, and the like; then the adventures and mysteries of the Hardy Boys, The Three Investigators, Nancy Drew; then dozens and dozens of P. G. Wodehouse; followed by thrillers and bestsellers—Forsyth, MacLean, Follett, Archer, Hailey. Only after exhausting them, did I get the sense to move on to real literature. Just too many to list here. I have a penchant for books that deal with different timelines; set in the present, but unraveling the past.  

I am a great list-man. I kept careful records of all the books I have read, and I have put those up on my website. It’s a great way of looking back at how my tastes evolved over time. Now I go based on reading lists and guides and recommendations and prize winners to decide what to read next.  

What are you currently reading? 

Currently I am reading Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel, last year’s Booker winner. 

One book you wish you had written and why? 

I admire these authors: Naipaul for his non-fiction; Nabokov for his great style and variety; Dostoyevsky for getting inside the head of a mad character; Tolstoy for his sense of the epic, how his characters age before your eyes. But those wouldn’t be the kind of books I would write. 

One book I did wish I had written is Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. A different kind of love story, jumping back and forth in time and realizing the futility of wasted time at the end, and then the great ending. That would be the kind of book I would have liked to write. 

How important are colours to your life? Did you try and paint while writing the book?  

In actuality, you could say I am almost tone-deaf and colour-blind! I know what I am good at, and what I should leave alone. I didn’t try to paint, but I did research a lot on colour theory and oil painting. I was writing about painting which I didn’t know much about, from the point of view of a 20-year old woman, so I tried to be extra careful not to make any glaring errors. I certainly didn’t want to write about life at IIT or an engineer, so I chose something far removed from my actual life and experience. I hope I have not done too bad a job.

You can read more about Paritosh on: www.paritoshuttam.com

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Way To Go by Upamanyu Chatterjee

I did not like Upamanyu Chatterjee’s, “English, August”. I did not like it one bit and I had good enough reasons for not liking that book, when my friends and family loved it and raved about it endlessly. When for instance, the movie released and there was Rahul Bose grinning at me from the cover of the book, or rather it was a sullen face I think he was trying to make, sitting comfortably on the shelves of Crossword, waiting to be picked by an eager reader. Sadly that book did not do it for me.

Having said that, I loved reading Way to Go. It is nothing like his earlier books, yet there are some characters who come back from The Last Burden – Shyamanand, Burfi and Jamun, Joyce, Kasturi, Pista and Doom – the entire clan is back in this one. But let me not get carried away – the review is about Way to Go and not The Last Burden.

The novel opens with a very strong sentence, “For not having loved one’s dead father enough, could one make amends by loving one’s child more?” – that being the essential crux somewhere down the line of the book as well. Jamun, the protagonist is now in his mid-40’s, his father who is the 85-year old, half-paralysed Shyamanand has now disappeared. His long-time solitary friend, Dr. Mukherjee has committed suicide and Jamun is trying very hard to grapple with the situation.

To add to this, his long estranged brother, Burfi returns home and they try to build from where they left off. There is the unscruplous builder Monga whose sole aim is to demolish their home and build something new (preferably a mall, I think) in its place. They say demons of the past do not let you rest, and it could not be more true for Jamun: His former lover Kasturi, who is now a hot-shot TV Producer is back with his son, and is only trying to use him for a forthcoming lacking lustre soap-opera. And the reader is left with Jamun’s perspectives – his thoughts, his inannity, his conciousness in the narrative – of what he could have done with the ghosts of the past, that now seem fidgety and will not let him rest.

The book, like all Mr. Chatterjee’s books is filled with biting sarcasm and dark humour. It is hilarious in places and in the others it just gives you nothing to chew on. There are uncalled for dashes and punctuation marks that leave the reader totally exasperated at times. And then the metaphors and on-goings of everyday life are described with such stark reality, that I could not help but love the writing (though I must add, that it screeched of verbosity in certain places).

At many levels, the book is intertwined with sub-plots. It is what makes the story a story after all. The dead and the ones who are missing are constantly featured – the book is about them. About the feeble attempt at what we call living, almost a farce. A must read and sometimes the only reason why one should recommend a book is because it is well-written and this one sure is.

Dreams in Prussian Blue by Paritosh Uttam

Penguin India has very recently published a new series called, “Metro Reads” – which promises to be quick reads while on the go, or could be interpreted as being set in Metros (which 2 out of 3 are) and representing the hectic lives we lead, which ultimately go nowhere.

Let me admit right at the onset: I was sceptical about reading this one. I have always had my reservations about reading a new Indian writers’ work, primarily because these days there are dime a dozen and one honestly wishes that one can read them all, unfortunately time is at a premium, and that is when books like this one come as a breath of fresh air.

I did not love “Dreams in Prussian Blue”, but I liked it a lot. The plot is simple: Naina, a first-year fine art student is smitten by Michael Angelo (thought the play of words to be quite funny) – who is her senior. He is drawn very similarly to Howard Roark, or at least that’s the impression I got while reading the book. He lives to paint and paints to live.

The couple move in together, and Naina has to quit college and work to support the house while Michael paints, besides providing for his artistic supplies. Ruchi and Abhi are their college friends, who represent the mundanity of everyday living. Naina is helpless and tired of being the provider – she wants Michael to take up some kind of job to be able to share the expenses, and then an accident occurs which leads to Michael’s blindness, and this is where the story begins.

Part mystery, part love affair, Dreams in Prussian Blue is like I said different. The tag line reads, “When Love Kills”, and you will never know why till the end of the book. By the end of it, I wish there was more to it. I wish I would know more about Naina and Michael. Paritosh certainly knows how to get you to keep the pages turning, and one of the highpoints of the book, as mentioned before, is that it is short and does not tax the brains.