Monthly Archives: September 2010

An Interview with Abhijit Bhattacharya

So this is my 100th post and I am super excited!! A century and my blog feels proud. Way to go hungryreader!! And so while I ranted and raved about “Some of the Whole”, here is a quick interview with the author himself!!

Why song titles for the stories? I know you have been asked this several times, however why the songs?

To me, music is unarguably the most universal constituent in our lives. Thus, if there is anything that can bind various elements together, it is music. And hence, music was always going to be the best fit to connect some of the stories to make it into a whole.

 Abhijit as a person…

is extremely lost, lethargic and loud. And yes, did I mention that he loves picking his nose when he is hungry, has sex with his alter ego and proclaims himself to be the last standing monarch of Machu Pichu (guffaws).

 Who have been your literary influences?

Emily Bronte, O’Henry and Paulo Coelho. 

Your favourite short story in the entire book? I know they are all close to your heart, but I am sure there is one favourite as well.

You are asking me to choose between my son and my daughter. That is unfair. But since you insist, I would rate Papa Don’t Preach and What Goes Around, Comes Around.

 Currently reading….

Some of the Whole (with a serious deadpan face).

The writer and the person are not very different and yet a balance needs to be maintained. How do you achieve that?

I honestly believe that the writer and the person SHOULD not be different. If they are, then one is not doing true justice to the stories that is being written. So, if your read Some of the Whole, you will know the real me.

What environment does Abhijit need to write? I remember reading that Raymond Carver used to go to his cabin and shut himself from the world. Does that happen to you as well?

(Laughs). I remember I wrote a few stories while my wife was screaming at me; I wrote some by the sea at Bandstand (Mumbai) and I wrote one while on my flight back from Kolkata, with a baby wailing right next to me. So, probably, I am one who can create life in mayhem.

Love Stories or Satire? Which one would Abhijit as a person choose?

Abhijit the person and the writer would choose a satirical love story, with an element of twist somewhere hidden in it.

Most writers immerse themselves in music. Any favourites?

The Man Who Sold The World (Nirvana) – there is a fleeting reference of the same in one of the stories. And yes, I also love Losing My Religion. As a genre, I like soft rock.

The voices in the stories are distant and yet ring true and one can relate to them. How did you achieve that?

I am a very keen observer. I love noticing things. In a party, you would always find me in a corner observing people; their emotions. I do that everywhere. At home; on the road; at office. That is me. And that has helped me in bringing about the rawness in my characters and stories. That explains, does it?

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An Interview with Maha Khan Phillips

Alright, not many of you must be aware of a great book waiting to be picked up from the shelves of any bookstore and it is called “Beautiful from this Angle” by Maha Khan Phillips published by Penguin. I read the book in almost one sitting (review to follow later) and as usual wanted to know more from the author. So here goes another interview:

 

What prompted you to write this book? What brought about the choosing of the title?

I wrote Beautiful from this Angle as part of an MA degree in novel writing that I took at City University in London. You had to complete a novel in order to graduate. This novel took shape slowly. When I started out, I only knew that I wanted to look at some of the issues around the media and its portrayal of Pakistan, and of Islam, in a post 9/11 world. I realised also that I was tired of this perception that women in Islamic countries are either all victims, or powerless in some way. So I thought it would be fun to turn the idea of exploitation on its head, and have female characters that were adept at exploiting other women, as well as a gullible media.

I wish I could say some great decision-making went into the title, but it didn’t. It was a line from the book that was picked out in haste when I did a reading while still a student. I never expected it to stick, but I like it!

There are a lot of issues you touch on in the book. How come this melting pot of issues?

I really don’t know, except to say when you start writing about Pakistan, the issues just come out! It is such a complex place, with so many challenges to deal with on so many levels. And still, despite it all, a really beautiful and extraordinary place. I guess I must have been thinking about that as I wrote the book, but it wasn’t a conscious decision to bring together a melting pot of issues.

From a children’s book to a satire on Pakistani culture, how did the change come about?

And next, I hope to write a thriller! The children’s book was just something I did for fun, for my family (the characters in the book are my nephews) which then got picked up. But I really like the idea of writing across genres and trying new things out.

Is there any other children’s book in the pipeline?

I hope so, although as I said, I’m sort of working on a thriller right now. I don’t know what will come out of it – its early days. But let’s see.

Authors who have inspired you along the way?

I read everything, from pure trash to pure genius. I love David Mitchell, and I always wanted to be Margaret Atwood when I grew up! But my favourite book is Jane Austen’s Emma – now there’s a delusional and hilarious character. At the moment though, I have to say I am finding Pakistani writing to be really inspirational. I thought Mohammad Hanif’s A Case of Exploding Mangoes was beyond brilliant, and extremely funny. Nadeem Aslam’s writing is so accomplished and really impressive, and Kamila Shamsie’s Burnt Shadows… well, that is really in a league of its own. Burnt Shadows continued to upset me long after I’d finished reading it, and I think if a book can have that kind of power, then the author has really achieved something.

Maha as a person is…..

Someone who appears to be having trouble defining herself. Has anyone ever answered this question seriously?

Maha’s pet peeves….

At the moment, it has to be the Tea Party Movement in the US. It’s difficult to believe these people really exist outside of literature.

The major misconception that the book sets to break right at the beginning is women’s oppression in Islamic countries, which is not the case. Your sense of belief on this please.

This touches on your first question. I haven’t had experience of all Islamic countries, of course, but in Pakistan, I feel that violence against women is institutionalised, and religion is a convenient tool to keep it that way. Unless Pakistan can deal with the problem of structural violence, we will struggle to move forward. Because often, women are the perpetuators of this violence as well, not only the victims. We need strong, independent institutions and a civil society and a judiciary that works. We need education. Let’s not blame religion entirely when the whole system is failing.

And also, I’m very cynical about how these stories about women’s oppression are being marketed, as you can probably tell from the novel!

What role does religion play in your life?

An important, and personal one.

Current Reads?

I just finished The Slap, by Christos Tsiolkas. It really made me think, particularly as the mother of a young boy…

Maha as a writer…

Is having lots of fun!

Oprah’s Book Club

So while a majority of the world’s readers criticise Oprah’s Book Club, I am all for it. I really am and there are times I love keeping track of what she picks and what is in store for me to read. I started watching Oprah only because of the Book Club and I am quite proud to say that. People may dis her and the club all the time, however I remember at one point she used to distribute the book chosen as the Club book to everyone in the studio audience, and that is a lot. To give people a chance to read.

Not that only that, she and her team have also distributed books to schools and children alike. I will always support someone who wants to instill the habit of reading in others. It is beyond a noble act and she must be commended for that.

Coming to her picks, while I agree that initially her books were all fluffy and made no sense, yet people read and that is what matters at the end of the day. So this post is dedicated to what Oprah (according to me) does best…Makes people read…Thanks Oprah!

The Masque of Africa: Glimpses of African Belief by V.S. Naipaul

V.S. Naipaul has never captivated me as a reader. He may be a great writer and all of that; however there have been times when he just has not done it for me. I am all for travel writers and what they want to achieve by writing about a particular country and this one is no different.

It almost reminded me of “Heart of Darkness” by Joseph Conrad and honestly one must get away from using that as an analogy and yet I cannot help it. The Masque of Africa struck a chord with me in some places and some places, it just didn’t manage to. The outside perspective has been handled well though in certain places.

Naipaul’s journey across the Dark Continent started from Uganda where he lived for a short while in the 60’s, then to Nigeria to Gabon via the Ivory Coast and then to Ghana, and finally to South Africa. He has met people along the way – doctors, lawyers, teachers, queens, chiefs and friends of friends. The idea of course is to get a glimpse into the African belief and he does.

The complexities and conflicts of their own culture are touched on well, though at times the pondering is far stretched. The sensitivity is commendable though. Africans negotiating their cultural worlds within the modern realm of things and how certain rules can be broken and some cannot.

V.S. Naipaul as one can see during his journeys is dry, irked by the way they behave at times and also sometimes enraged at their humour and yet somewhere down the line he knows them like no one else does.

My favourite part is how people speak so candidly about what they go through and their beliefs. About how a particular race forces their beliefs on them without giving much scope to what they follow and believe.

Naipaul has paid a lot of attention to details right from Uganda to South Africa and how people behave, what they eat, how they see the world, their perceptions and what they decide to adopt and what they wish to leave behind.

This book is a must for people who probably will never visit Africa and see it for what it is. It certainly did inspire me at some level to pay a visit to this country and realize how unseen it is.

The Masque of Africa, Naipaul, V.S, Picador India, Rs. 595

Some of the Whole by Abhijit Bhattacharya

Buy Some Of The Whole, Abhijit Bhattacharya, 8122311482Ok here is the deal: I think a lot of people are  writing these days (including me). There are writers more than you can remember or name at any given point of time. To a certain extent it is largely ostentatious, how everyone is on the bandwagon of writing. There are times I also eat my words and this is one of those. A friend of mine casually called me one day and asked if I would like to review a new writers’ work. I jumped at the opportunity of reading and reviewing (I always do).

I received a call later from the author and we discussed books, his book, Raymond Carver and Haruki Murakami (I think.). I received the book in my email account and read it. “Some of the Whole” is real. It is at times raw and at times fantastical. The stories do not bore you (New writers tend to do that. I mean we have read it all right?). It is a collection of 10 stories based across Mumbai, Kolkata and Delhi. They all have the element of loneliness in a big city and sometimes the hope that lies only to be found.

The stories are to the point. There is no beating around the bush, and yet the element of surprise will not fail you. Almost like  when you bite into a lemon and know that the feeling of sourness will flood your mouth and yet it shocks or surprises you nonetheless. My favourite story in the whole lot has to be “Where is the Love” for its sheer brilliance in writing. Here is a sample:

Love becomes a habit after some time. It becomes mechanical. Like smoking. You start smoking because you get a high out of it. But, after a few months, or years it becomes a routine. One does not enjoy it; neither do they get a kick out of it. It becomes a pure custom.

It is because of such simple prose that I enjoyed the book. Every title is taken from a song, and that according to me is quite unique (even if done earlier, it does not matter). The sum of this whole and its parts  is a treasure to read. Do not miss it.

Some of the Whole, Bhattacharya, Abhijit, Cedar Books, Rs. 199, Available at all book stores.