Monthly Archives: August 2018

Monsoon Feelings: A History of Emotions in the Rain. Edited by Imke Rajamani, Margrit Pernau, and Katherine Butler Schofield

Monsoon Feelings Title: Monsoon Feelings: A History of Emotions in the Rain
Edited by Imke Rajamani, Margrit Pernau, and Katherine Butler Schofield
Publisher: Niyogi Books
ISBN: 978-9386906472
Genre: Essays, Anthology
Pages: 480
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 stars

What a book to read! What a book to have read! A book not only about the rains and what we call monsoon, but also the varied emotions you go through in this season. From happiness to joy to deep melancholy to what is known as “birah” – the emotion of separation and longing, and so many more that rains seem to conjure in all of us, out of nowhere. “Monsoon Feelings” is about those emotions and some more – right from the twelfth century till present day in South Asia. Rarely have I enjoyed a book of non-fiction – a collection of essays at that – about a season than I have enjoyed this one. “Monsoon Feelings” made me look at not only the season, but also everything associated with it, with a fresh pair of eyes and sight.

“Monsoon Feelings” is a collection of essays that will leave you wanting more. At least, that’s what happened to me. What I am surprised about is that no one yet thought about merging rains and emotions in a book. This book does a fantastic job of it – and might I add- interspersed with beautiful art. This book is extensive – every essays explores a variety of emotions and mind you – chronicling all of this from hundreds of years ago the relevance of monsoon in our day to day culture – from movies to our very homes isn’t easy at all. Also, might I add that a book of this nature needs to be savoured – essay by essay, day by day. You cannot rush through it and you shouldn’t.

My favourite essay is “Clouds, Cuckoos and an Empty Bed: Emotions in Hindi-Urdu Barahmasas” by Francesca Orsini. A very evocative essay on the nature of love, longing, cuckoos and clouds and what really is the shared language of the monsoons. This essays so lovingly depicts the impact of emotions on the body, that at times I could do nothing but submit to the beautiful prose and forget everything else.

Also the essay by Imke Rajmani, “Hindi Cinema’s Rainmaking Formula: Thoda sa Roomani Ho Jaayen and Lagaan” struck a chord as she very cleverly shows the importance of rain in both these movies, also linking it to political implications.

“Monsoon Feelings” is all about the season and its interpretation right from the years. It is detailed and long and referenced extremely well, though a bit bulky, so you cannot really travel with it. The book covers every aspect related to the season – from poetry to sitting outdoors to even getting wet in the rain, lovers bereft, to social and political change across borders, language, religion and arts – with one thing being common all-throughout: Monsoon.

 

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Open Me by Lisa Locascio

Open MeTitle: Open Me
Author: Lisa Locascio
Publisher: Grove Press
ISBN: 978-0802128072
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 288
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 Stars

“Open Me” may seem like a strange book till it doesn’t and then you actually start enjoying it. “Open Me” is electrifying in so many ways – physical, emotional, spiritual, political and most of all when there are differences in relationships and how it impacts us at the core of who we are. It is a tale of sexual awakening from the outside and yes maybe that’s a part of what it is, because there is so much more in this book. It doesn’t stand on just being another “erotic” novel. There are layers, sublayers, a lot of agency, tone and detail in its pages which should not be missed.

Roxana has just graduated from high-school and is raring to go get an “experience”. To live the way she would like to. She dreams of visiting Paris with her childhood best friend, Sylvie, and as she makes her way to Paris, she realizes that the tour group has rerouted her to Denmark (fascinating and dark at the same time, isn’t it?). I must stop the review here and tell you how much I loved this and how scared I was about this happening to me at the same time. Also, Roxana resolves to go, despite her reservations and doesn’t tell her parents about this. She arrives in Copenhagen, and meets a blue-eyed Dane named Søren Holmsgaard. He is a grad student writing his dissertation on American literature and before she knows it Roxana is head over heels for him. Their affair begins early on till Roxana abandons a planned trip to Farsø with Søren so he can work on his dissertation, and while he takes off, she meets Zlata, a Bosnian refugee and she starts dating him as well.

Let me tell you that if you think this book is anything typical or cliché or ridden with stereotypes, you should stop thinking that right now. It isn’t any of that and I am only too glad for that. The relationship dynamics between the three of them and how the boys vie for Roxana’s attention is worth reading and exploring. Roxana’s coming-of-age in a way and at the same time exploring her sexual awakening without any apprehension or doubt is refreshing for a reader and to then mingle politics with it, takes the read to another level.

“Open Me” is frank, outspoken and says what it has to without any fuss. Locascio tells the story the way it should be told – with no frills. The emotional and physical aspects of the novel are rich and are definitely not dumbing it down for the reader. “Open Me” is interesting, captivating and quite an emotional rollercoaster of a ride.

Missing, Presumed Dead by Kiran Manral

Missing, Presumed Dead

Title: Missing, Presumed Dead
Author: Kiran Manral
Publisher: Amaryllis
ISBN: 978-9387383685
Genre: Crime, Thriller, Mystery/Family
Pages: 268
Source: Author
Rating: 4 Stars

I do not read thrillers. I normally stay away from them. From most of them at least. But, “Missing, Presumed Dead” is not just another thriller or not just a thriller at all for that matter. It is so much more and thank god for that! I read one of Kiran’s books before picking up this one and thoroughly enjoyed it. That one was eerie, with some suspense and kept me on the edge. This one on the other hand is more contemplative, it has its elements of thrill but what pulled me toward it was the language (simple and effective), characterisation and pacing. At no point did I feel the book go flat or not living up to my expectations.

As the synopsis will tell you, “Missing, Presumed Dead” is a story of a dysfunctional marriage, about half-sisters Aisha and Heer, and Aisha’s husband Prithvi with his own agenda (or so it seems). What the synopsis doesn’t tell you is how the story is beautifully woven and that too set on the outskirts of a town in the hills of North India. Manral creates magic where scene is concerned. And it is as though her characters and the story just blends right in, effortlessly – it inches from page to page and as a reader, you are sucked into her world.

Every scene, every dialogue between characters or for that matter even what they are thinking is clear, inviting and makes you want to know more. What happened to Aisha? What happened to Heer right after? Why is Prithvi the way he is? And the children at the centre of all this drama. What I admired the most about the book is that Kiran does not dumb it down for the readers, nor does she play safe. She enters a territory that is dangerous, dark and in my opinion not many Indian writers have managed to explore mental health the way she has in this book.

At the same time, the story is completely readable and racy (for lack of a better word, my apologies). Manral explores a different genre, gets out of her comfort zone and manages to do all of this with a lot of substance in plot and the narrative. “Missing, Presumed Dead” is the kind of book that you’d want to finish in a day (that’s exactly what I did). So keep a day ready for it.

 

The Unsafe Asylum: Stories of Partition and Madness by Anirudh Kala

The Unsafe AsylumTitle: The Unsafe Asylum: Stories of Partition and Madness
Author: Anirudh Kala
Publisher: Speaking Tiger Publishing Private Ltd.
ISBN: 978-9387693258
Genre: Short Stories, Literary Fiction
Pages: 256
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 Stars

Stories of the Partition of India always leave you heavy. There is a knot in the chest that refuses to leave. Even though you haven’t witnessed any of it, yet the stories have passed from one generation to another. The generation that witnessed and the generations that had to keep the memory alive, even though these memories are perhaps worth not bringing to the fore.And yet there is the question of never forgetting – memory that should remain rock solid when it comes to tragedy and pain and displacement. Homes were lost. Relationships broken. I cannot imagine what it must be like to witness what our ancestors did during that time and yet they did – they survived broken, fractured and somehow still hopeful.

“The Unsafe Asylum” is a collection of stories (interlinked) of partition and literally the madness surrounding it. Yes, you will be reminded of Manto but Anirudh Kala has a distinct voice that will make you think and leave you with a lot of emotion. I think this collection also adds a lot of weight only because Anirudh is a psychiatrist and has been studying the long-lasting effects of Partition in both India and Pakistan. This collection starts when the Partition is over, blood has been spilled and people displaced. Even the patients in Mental Hospitals. India got its share of Hindu and Sikh patients and Pakistan, the Muslim ones. This book is about the stories of these patients, their lives before and after the Partition and the long-lasting impact of the catastrophe.

At the core of these interconnected stories is Prakash, an Indian psychiatry student who learns of the stories of these patients through one of them, Rulda who was discharged from Lahore’s Mental Hospital. At the same time, Prakash also learns of how he came to be born in 1947, when he visits Lahore. From there, starts another story of the lives of the patients, their stories and how Partition still lingers on, not only in their memory but in everything they do, the way they think and the way they feel.

Kala builds characters that stay. Whether it is a young man who believes that Benazir Bhutto loves him to a woman who passes on her delusions of being chased by a mob to her children, or even if it is a doomed love story – all of these are fixed in your head long after you are done with the book. If anything, also beware that the book will play with your head to a large extent. And yet, the experience of reading this book is excellent. Yes, the topic is not palatable. Yes, it will not be easy. But I strongly believe that literature only builds empathy in people. And for that read it all. Read books that make you laugh. The ones that make you cry. The ones that make you smile. The ones that make you uncomfortable and think of what is going on in the world – past, present and what may come in the future.

Ponti by Sharlene Teo

PontiTitle: Ponti
Author: Sharlene Teo
Publisher: Picador
ISBN: 978-1509855322
Genre: Teenagers, Friendship, Literary Fiction
Pages: 304
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

You read books that have similar plots. You also read books that surprise and stun you. Those books are rare and far and few in between. “Ponti” for sure is one of them! At the same time, it is a weird book in the sense of time and its shift – the constant back and forth, which only lends itself beautifully to the novel. “Ponti” also masterfully moves away from being just a “perspectives” novel to include landscape, culture, and ethos of not only a city but also friendship and matters of the heart.

“Ponti” is a story that centres mainly on two years – 2003 and 2020. Place: Singapore. Sixteen year-old Szu lives in the shadow of her mother Amisa, who was once an actress and now is just a hack medium performing séances with her sister in an almost dilapidated house. Szu then happens to meet Circe – who is not only quite expressive to the point of being offensive but also privileged. Their friendship is the start of something, offering Szu an easy escape. Things happen, life changes and seventeen years later – life is off to another start, with a project and secrets that decide to not remain secrets anymore.

Might I add here that after reading this book, all you’d want to do is visit Singapore. Teo makes the city come alive like no other writer and just for that (if I had to pick one element of the book that is) I would highly recommend this book. The writing is edgy and full of wonders – good and bad. Yes, I would believe there could be bad wonders – or would that just be shocking so to say.

Teo’s writing is so powerful – at times I thought the wind had been knocked off me. I loved the pace and the style. The characters face loneliness, angst, and confusion like no other – this causes them things to do which perhaps they wouldn’t and that’s where most of the story stems from. “Ponti” also needs patience in the first couple of pages, after which for me it was a smooth ride. A read that is fascinating, worrying and also insightful in so many ways.