Daily Archives: February 19, 2012

Interview with Madhulika Liddle

Madhulika Liddle is a very talented writer. I have reviewed two of her books earlier and can say that she is very good. Here’s a short interview with her.

1. Why not a second novel? Why a collection of short stories?

That’s mainly because I love writing short stories – in fact, of the ten stories in The Eighth Guest & Other Muzaffar Jang Mysteries, seven had already been written before The Englishman’s Cameo was published. I’d discussed this with my publishers, and we’d toyed with the idea of publishing a collection of Muzaffar Jang short stories first. Eventually, the decision we took was to begin the series with a novel – it helps establish a character better.

2. While reading the book, I felt Muzaffar Jang and his mysteries were taking a different turn altogether. Was this intentional?

If you’re referring to the fact that more of Muzaffar’s personal life is revealed – yes, that’s intentional. And it was done because a number of readers had asked me, “Why doesn’t Muzaffar have a love life?!” (If you’d meant something else by that question, do let me know)

3. Your favourite short story writers….

O Henry, Saki (H H Munro), Roald Dahl, Ruskin Bond, Arthur Conan Doyle (and not just the Sherlock Holmes series, but also his boxing stories and horror stories).

4. I have always believed that it is very difficult to write a short story than it is to write a novel. Did that happen to you as well?

No; quite the opposite. I am primarily a short story writer; I don’t like writing novels – keeping track of characters (and ensuring they don’t run away with me), and keeping the plot in place is too much of a pain. For me, short stories are much more fun. They are challenging, especially if you’re trying to write a detective story, because you have to think up a plot, figure out clues and red herrings, and have your detective make sense of it all, in a few thousand words – but the challenge is what I enjoy.

5. Was Muzaffar Jang based on any person? If not, then the process of creating a character from scratch and to fit him in 17th century Delhi would have been quite a mind-numbing task, wasn’t it?

No, Muzaffar isn’t based on any person (though he does share some of my traits – his love for coffee and his interest in birds, for instance!). He is, actually, an oddity – his outlook is more 21st century than 17th century. For instance, even though he’s a nobleman, some of his closest friends (like Salim and Faisal) are from social classes that would’ve been considered taboo for an amir to associate with back in those days.Mostly, Muzaffar is a rather contemporary figure written into a backdrop that’s historical – intentionally, because I thought that would help modern readers identify more closely with him.

6. Favourite story/stories from the collection and why?

Though I like all the stories, two are particularly close to my heart: The Bequeathed Garden and The Woman Who Vanished. The Bequeathed Garden, because even though it’s not a crime story, I enjoyed putting that puzzle together (and read Golestan in the process) – plus, I liked the way it finally came together; I thought it a good example of poetic (literally) justice. I like The Woman Who Vanished because I thought it showed, very precisely, how Muzaffar goes about unravelling the clues. I took a long time to sort out that plot, and I was pleased with the end result.

7. If there was a movie to be made on the collection, who do you think would play Muzaffar and why?

Hrithik Roshan. I thought his portrayal of Akbar in Jodhaa-Akbar was exactly as I’d pictured Muzaffar: the same imposing, yet approachable, character. And, he carries off the Mughal look very well!

You can read my review of the book here: The Eighth Guest and Other Muzaffar Jang Mysteries

Book Review: Artist, Undone by V. Sanjay Kumar

Title: Artist, Undone
Author: V. Sanjay Kumar
Publisher: Hachette India
ISBN: 978-9350092569
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 240
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

Art imitates life and vice-versa they say. This could not be more true in the case of Hachette India’s new release, “Artist, Undone” by V. Sanjay Kumar. I have never been able to understand art. I appreciate it a lot though. I can also distinguish between an M.F. Husain and a Bhupen Khakhar which I cannot say for most people, who claim to love art. Nonetheless, since this is a review, I shall talk about the book.

Artist, Undone chronicles the life of Harsh Sinha – who sees a likeness of himself (Fat, Forty and Fucked) in a painting and purchases it on an impulse. He decides to take a year-long sabbatical from his advertising job in Mumbai to return to his family in Chennai, to be able to spend time with his wife and daughter. Sadly, for him his wife doesn’t want him anymore. Ironically, she is interested in the artist next door – Newton Kumaraswamy. Harsh is perplexed. His life has crumbled right before his eyes and he has nothing but a painting to account for. He then goes back to Mumbai and gets involved in the world of art and artists.

Harsh Sinha is your ordinary person wanting to live an ordinary life and not getting very far with that. His aspirations are not those many and yet what he searches for is self-fulfillment (quite ironic in its own way). One can relate to the protagonist and what he goes through throughout the book. The range of emotions are consistent and do not change that frequently. That could also be attributed to the fact that may be because it is written by a man, so the treatment is rather different.

What struck me the most is the juxtaposition of what Harsh feels throughout alongside works of famous artists (the list is provided at the end). The writing is refreshing – almost like cool mineral spa water like feel to it. The book makes the reader aware about art and sometimes its implications. What it means to own a painting and how that sometimes unintentionally takes over a part of your life and remains attached to it. Artist, Undone is a great debut to be read. It might prove to be a slow read for some; however I can assure you that it will be a worth read.

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Book Review: Smut: Stories by Alan Bennett

Title: Smut: Stories
Author: Alan Bennett
Publisher: Picador USA
ISBN: 978-1250003164
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 152
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

I must admit that while I had known of Alan Bennett (and owned a copy of, “The Uncommon Reader); I hadn’t read anything by him prior to reading, “Smut”, a collection of two short stories. The stories are definitely a tease, but not smutty at all, as the title claims them to be, at least not in this time and age.

Smut consists of two stories, “The Greening of Mrs. Donaldson” and, “The Shielding of Mrs. Forbes”. Both are centered on one theme: Being smutty and being candid, or the lack of it sometimes. Smut, as I mentioned earlier, sometimes tries too hard to scandalize but it cannot, not the modern reader, who I would assume has read about these themes earlier.

The Greening of Mrs. Donaldson centers on a 55-year old widow, trying to make a living of being a “part-time demonstrator” for the medical school – in essence, playing the part of a person with an illness, so the students can correctly diagnose. At the same time she is taken in by a couple from the medical school, who are her lodgers and watches them have sex in exchange of rent. Initially I did take some time to get used to the twist the story took, however it wasn’t that embarrassing. The story however does end on a very surprising note and makes the reader think, just that little bit.

The second story, “The Shielding of Mrs. Forbes” is about an over-possessive mother, her recently married son and her henpecked husband. The story unfolds when a well-kept secret of the son, Graham is about to be exposed. Again, being gay in the story is hardly smutty. It is the way of life. Having said that, it is still Bennett’s writing that takes you by the horns and makes you read what he has written.

Alan Bennett has the verve in his writing. The candour and the beauty of words hit straight through without any intensity or depth. The simplicity of his words, take the reader to the edge and then he reveals the twist in the tale quite nonchalantly. Bennett’s writing has to be experienced. The writing is sharp and makes no bones about the fact that the British like to have sex and indulge. The decadence is at the highest level and does not beat around the bush as well. I will read more by him for sure.

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