Monthly Archives: November 2010

Girl Plus One by Rhea Saran

Two best friends, living in with a boy who is protective, a job to die for and bosses who can’t take their eyes off her; this is Laila’s life. Sexy, hot and suave Laila has a job that suits her extroverted personality. After finishing her schooling in Manhattan, Laila takes up a job at a magazine Guyzone and dons the role of a sex expert for her new column. Wherever she is, she always manages to attract men and may be not the right kind at all times.

Buy Girl Plus One, Rhea Saran, 8184001231

After breaking up with her boyfriend who has been cheating on her, she decides to stay away from relationships. Her roommate is a freelance photographer, and he soon becomes a part of the Guyzone anniversary edition. Laila knows her strengths and weaknesses and soon becomes the centre of attraction even at her workplace. Frequent meetings with her friends serve as breathers in her hectic life as they fill in the role of advisors and ego boosters. Laila’s life is a roller-coaster ride and very soon she gets caught in a web she needs to extricate herself from.

Laila is in love with Sameer; her ex- boyfriend Rahul still likes her; Karam whom she had dumped is now dating her best friend and, to make matters worse, her flatmate is in love with her. Laila is torn between love, lust, passion and emotions. And she needs to decide…alone.

The book has well essayed characters as they are fleshed out neatly. Rhea Saran made sure that their traits match the characters thereby making them people we can relate to. The conversations, meeting joints, Laila’s trip to France, and the restaurants are so vivid that you can see yourself as a bystander right there!

 Girl Plus One; Saran, Rhea; Random House India; Rs. 199

The Man With Enormous Wings by Esther David

“The Man with Enormous Wings” looks like an easy read. It isn’t. I read it in one sitting and to a very large extent it disturbed me. Esther David’s new book revisits Gujarat violence, however in a new form. It speaks of the wounds inflicted, the ones that may have healed and the ones whose scars remain – as fresh and raw as ever. And amidst all this is the man with the enormous wings – overlooking, flying over his city, the one that he thought would be non-violent, from the state where he created Salt, and now salt is only there as a means of rubbing it on wounds.

Where does Violence stem from? No one can answer this one – from time immemorial violence has shaped the world – not for the better for sure. From World Wars to communal violence, shattering the peace of a neighborhood, things that were once intact are now broken, children grow up too quickly and the common man wonders about his fate and destiny. The only terms that then come to mind are those and one cannot do much but wonder.

This book does not preach – Esther just tries to put things in order for us to see. To see and may be realize what violence does to a part of the nation. I have often realized that when something in one part of the nation, the rest of the nation somehow doesn’t seem to care, as long as it doesn’t affect them directly. This kind of apathy needs to change.

Back to the book, Esther in the first part of the book takes us through a tour of the city – Ahemdabad that is – right from The Walking Dargah to the Shaking Minarets to the Divine Laughing Club (which existed centuries ago) and many more that make you want to visit the city, and at the end of every vignette there is a loneliness and void – the kind of emptiness that comes from losing something precious.

The second part of the book is vivid in its imagery – starting from and not mincing words about the Train that arrived and the storm it brought in its wake. The vignettes then are stark and disturbing with the Man with the Enormous Wings providing shelter in his wings to those who are lost and injured. He is the conscience of the city who no one wants to listen to. The voice that is buried with the rubble and torn down structures.

In summation, read the book for what it wants to communicate – for what Esther wants to. It will make you think and most of all may be make you want to add to changing things.

The Man with Enormous Wings; David, Esther; Penguin India; Rs. 199

An Interview with Priscila Uppal

So I had just finished posting my review of “To Whom it May Concern” a couple of days ago and voila! Here’s an interview with the writer Priscila Uppal. I also requested her to let us know her Top 10 favourite books and she did. So here goes…

When do poetry and prose truly merge in writing? Do they ever? “To Whom it May Concern” has a vast range of poetic imagery. Was it intentional?

I am a poet and a fiction writer (as well as an essayist and non-fiction writer), and since both genres utilize language, I think it’s only natural that my prose frequently displays conventionally poetic stylistics and my poetry displays conventionally prosaic stylistics. I think is metaphors, and to me that means that I am frequently trying to make viable and provocative connections between disparate elements, objects, ideas, worlds. Metaphors help ground the abstract, complex connections.

 What is your idea of family and its eccentricities?

Family is an essential construct, but it can be duplicated easily involving people who are not your blood relatives. When a family construct is beneficial, it offers support, resources, stability, and the freedom to experiment and to express. When it is destructive, it is suffocating, limiting, and cruel.

Your Heroes in fiction are…

Don Quixote, Pip from Great Expectations, King Lear, Aurora Leigh, Christa Wolf’s Medea.

Priscila the writer….likes to write on trains and airplanes, read poetry in translation, obsessively underline books.

Priscila the person…likes to nap with her cats, lounge on Barbados beaches, and drink champagne cocktails.

 Displacement is a common theme running through the book at a subtle level. Where did that come from?

I think that many people feel displaced in their communities when people are not recognized for who they are, in all their complexity. Empathy comes from understanding, and understanding comes from the imagination, which is why the novel also highlights the creative aspects of the imagination as a solution to displacement, alienation, and despair.

 The need of Hardev to keep the family together is intense. What role does family play in your life?

As stated, for me family is a construct meant to cultivate support and freedom and help people realize their dreams. I consider my friends, my colleagues, my students, as part of my family.

Your favourite prose authors…

Miguel de Cervantes. Charles Dickens. Laurence Sterne. Christa Wolf. Virginia Woolf.

Your favourite poets…

John Donne. Gwendolyn MacEwen. Leonard Cohen. Yehuda Amichai. Anna Swir. Christian Bök. Christopher Doda.

 If not a writer, then?

A social worker.  A nun. A veterinarian. A B & B owner. A lounge singer.

 The book has been compared to King Lear. Was that in mind while writing the book?

I was about half-way through the first draft of the book when it struck me that To Whom was my contemporary version of King Lear. I know that some reviewers are a bit baffled by this assertion, since the plot does not follow the tradition tale of greed and betrayal on the surface of the original; however, in terms of the actual language of Lear and its metaphysical concerns, for me each line of my book is in dialogue with that play. But then again I think all stories originate from earlier stories. We just shift and adapt them to speak to our own historical and cultural place.

 My ten favourite books:

 1. Don Quixote (the ultimate dreamer, the battered and failed dreamer, pulls at my heart)

2. King Lear (old broken men pull at my heart)

3. Seeing Voices (this is my favourite Oliver Sacks book, his study of deaf culture—it’s a fascinating exploration of language)

4. Almost anything by Freud (even though I don’t necessarily agree with all his theories, I think he’s a brilliant prose stylist and one of the most imaginative thinkers in history).

5. Aurora Leigh (I love this long poem portrait of the artist as a young woman)

6. Medea (I think this is one of the best novels of the last 25 years—it encapsulates the horrors of 20th century political systems)

7. Yehuda Amichai poems (one of the great wisdom poets of the 20th century)

8. Czeslaw Milosz (another one of the great wisdom poets of the 20th century)

9. Great Expectations (this book, read for the first time in grade 8, made me want to be a writer; I wrote a play about Miss Havisham as my book report for the novel)

10. George F. Walker plays (he’s my favourite Canadian playwright and frequently pits characters who ascribe to different systems of thought against each other, each trying to establish their own rules of conduct and morality)

Beautiful Thing : Inside the Secret World of Bombay’s Dance Bars by Sonia Faleiro

Long after you have finished reading, “Beautiful Thing” by Sonia Faleiro, you are left with a lot of questions: What is the future of Leela now? What happened to her? How is she doing? And if an author through a work of non-fiction (so dark and real) can manage to evoke those questions, then I will say Kudos to her and the book.

So various authors have used the so-called Interviewing Technique and written books about them – Suketu Mehta did that with Maximum City – and somewhere in the book he too mentioned the dancers of the city, to Truman Capote while he went half-crazy writing In Cold Blood and almost fell in love, to John Berendt while writing Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. They were all trying to understand the business of life and managed brilliantly in chronicling the same.

Sonia Faleiro immersed five years of her life in Mira Road (which is on the outskirts of Mumbai City), shadowing the life of Leela – a bar dancer. She got a firsthand visibility of conversations between their pimps and them, their lives, how they entered the profession, their small joys and the trials and tribulations.

The start of the book is enough to keep you sustained and glued throughout, with Leela’s line:

My story is the best you will ever hear. The best, understand? Now come closer. Closer! Okay, ready?”

And thus starts the book – carefully written, not mincing words at any given point (not even with the expletives), and writing exactly the way she has seen things – raw, stark and bitter. So here is Leela, the bar dancer Sonia familiarized herself with. Leela is young, not so nubile and at the top of her profession when the story opens. There is a complex hierarchy system when it comes to professions such as these and the reader is made aware of them, right at the onset.

There are the destitute prostitutes who come right at the bottom of the pile, to the brothel girls – a notch above, the call girls and the massage parlour girls; and of course right at the top of the booty are the bar dancers in their glittering world.  

Faleiro then moves on to picking up places and people in Leela’s life – from her best friend Priya – another bar dancer – who is as nonchalant as they come and that is also because she is so “bootiful” and has many “kushtomers” to Masti the stunning and confident Hijra to the parents of the bar girls who sometimes also watch their own daughters getting de-virginized so to say. And then to take a detached view and talk about how the Bombay government closed down the dance bars, condemning most of these women to indignities, dangers and insecurities of “dhanda”. Her perspective, always respectful to the subjects of her story, allows this to be a story of and about Bombay’s women—a massive, and refreshing, change from the masculine world of the gangs we’ve been offered by previous Bombay chroniclers.

I have often wondered how was she able to write without getting emotionally involved with them – I was incorrect. The story is sensitive – there had to be an emotional connect. Faleiro tells a story that is beguiling, warm, funny, tender and absolutely heart-breaking in parts. It makes you wonder about the lives that we chose to ignore and pretend they don’t exist, because they are not a part of our social framework. Come closer and see – view things differently. Open the doors of perception and you will be surprised as to what lurks beneath.

This is an honest book and that’s why it reaches out. Beautiful Thing is one of the best books I have read this year and would highly recommend it to one and all.

Beautiful Thing: Inside the Secret World of Bombay’s Dance Bars; Faleiro, Sonia; Penguin/Hamish Hamilton; Rs. 450; 216 Pages;

Turbulence by Samit Basu

There aren’t too many Indian authors who have written about Super Heroes. In fact as of now I cannot think of a single one who has. So one does tend to get a little sceptical when embarking to read an author who has written about Super Heroes in the Indian context. I love the heroes with super powers – the power to change the world and end all misery and that is why Heroes is one of my favourite shows on television. Having said that, for a book to become something more than just words and action sequences about how heroes use their powers, it needs to cross the boundary from being a binding of just words to something special. Turbulence by Samit Basu has crossed the boundary for me.

Turbulence as the cover is all shiny and new. It is about a plane crash, about a flight from London to Mumbai that leaves all its survivors with superpowers and it seems that someone is out to kill these novice super humans. Enter Aman Sen, an internet hacker who has made it his responsibility to save these heroes.

So while I thought the plot was great and the storyline had me captivated from the word, “Go” – there were times while reading the novel when I was bored and that happened only during the fight scenes. That could have been done away with to some extent with some more editing.

There would have to be favourites in this kind of a book and that is a given – from a kid who turns to a Ninja nightmare to Vir Singh who can now fly like a bird (he was a flight lieutenant) to Tia a housewife from Assam who can split into innumerable selves to my personal favourite Uzma Khan (read the book and you will know why is she my favourite).

All of us want to be super heroes. It has been everyone’s fantasy for sure and I am willing to put my money on that one. We all dream of wanting to be famous through our super powers though we do not want to admit it and that is also one of the subtexts of the novel.

The novel does not contain any jargon (thank god for that!!) and makes the storytelling simple. Anyone can read it. You can almost visualise what is happening in your head – it is almost like watching a film. The prose is racy and yes for the lack of a better word, I will say unputdownable. Basu is brilliant with this one. Please go ahead and read it. You will want more… (not saying it for the sake of saying it)…

Turbulence; Basu, Samit; Hachette India; Rs. 250