Category Archives: hachette india

Read 33 of 2022. Sin: Stories by Wajida Tabassum. Translated from the Urdu by Reema Abbasi

Sin by Wajida Tabassum

Title: Sin: Stories
Author: Wajida Tabassum
Translated from the Urdu by Reema Abbasi
Publisher: Hachette India
ISBN: 9789391028886
Genre: Short Stories, Women in Translation
Pages: 220
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

Wajida Tabassum wrote at a time about women and their lives, when it was practically unheard of. That too of Muslim women and their lives – hidden behind veils or traditions – the lives that no one knew about or did but didn’t speak of it – she chronicled all of it in her short stories that bridge the gap between ignorance and truth.

Tabassum came from a family that had seen immense amount of wealth but by the time she turned nine, it was all squandered and both her parents were dead. Her maternal grandmother took care of her and her siblings, selling her jewelry to provide for their education and daily living. They had to go through immense hardships that she then wrote about in a short narrative titled “Meri Kahaani” (My Story).

Wajida started writing short stories at an early age. She wrote about the world she knew and did it with humour, bite, and the desperation of women in it who want a way out but do not get that exit. The book is about the spaces they inhabit and how men are all-pervasive, extremely territorial and want more and more – Tabassum covers four aspects of “sin” – lust, pride, greed, and envy. There are 18 stories in all – dissecting, humanizing, dehumanizing, rarely empowering, and mostly placing the woman at the center of dilemmas, confusion, weakness, and sacrifices.

There are also times when female agency kicks in very strong. For instance, the first story Chhinaal (Fallen Venus) is about a courtesan Gauhar Jaan and her marriage to one of her patrons, how she is treated in the family, and what happens when she decides to take some matters in her hand. There is sadness and a lingering feeling of helplessness, yet you know that Gauhar did what she wanted to, on her terms. Or even Talaq, Talaq, Talaq (Separation) where Mehru takes matters in her own hand when Nawab Sarkar forces her husband to divorce her.

Tabassum’s women are creatures of circumstance and the time they lived in. Her stories are set in Hyderabad, right after the partition, and some before. The exact timeline is not known but you get an idea as you go along reading them. Her women are full of desire, longing, craving, and also ambition – mostly these do not see the light of the day, but when they do you want to cheer out loud as a reader.

In Lungi Kurta (The Exchange), a wife gives a befitting response to a husband’s infidelity and wayward ways. Zakat (The Alms of Death) exposes the hypocrisy of nawabs (as do the other stories in the book), and how Ujala a young girl manages to do that.

Wajida Tabassum’s stories are steeped in honesty. They reflect the times she witnessed – the dynamics between the women and men across class, caste, and what society expects of them. Reema Abbasi’s translation does not make you want more as a reader. It is perfect, bringing to fore the worlds, the language (without footnotes or glossary, which is a huge relief), the nuances of living in a world full of custom and rituals, and above all doing most justice to the original.

Wajida Tabassum is a treat for readers who love the short-story form and want to experiment with new writers, thereby expanding their horizon and clearing biases, page after page.

This is Water: Some Thoughts, Delivered on a Significant Occasion, about Living a Compassionate Life by David Foster Wallace

This Is Water by David Foster Wallace Title: This is Water: Some Thoughts, Delivered on a Significant Occasion, about Living a Compassionate Life
Author: David Foster Wallace
Publisher: Little, Brown
ISBN: 978-0316068222
Genre: Non-Fiction, Speech
Pages: 144
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 stars

I have read quite a few commencement speeches by authors. Authors who celebrate creativity (Rowling), some who talk about making art great again or creating good art (Gaiman) and some others who speak of the future and what it has in store (Saunders). And then there is someone like Foster Wallace who gives it to you the way it is – the real world, with no sugar-coating whatsoever.

I knew that would be the case once I received this backlist title from the good folks at Hachette India. David Foster Wallace has left behind a legacy. A cannon of work that I at least read in bits and pieces because sometimes what he says is too much to bear.

This is Water is a speech given by Foster Wallace to the graduating class at Kenyon College in 2005. He starts with a little parable – the one that seems like one, and quickly goes on to break that mode of starting a commencement speech. David’s speech is a trove of wisdom and compassion, thought provoking, and what it means to live in the 21st century.

I think the thing about such books that there is no single universal message. There is something that relates with everyone. The message of giving up on the rat-race (is that even possible?), the one that speaks about awareness, self-consciousness before saying or doing what we say or do (this one hit home real hard), or just the one to understand what it means to give and sometimes sacrifice a little bit, if you have to.

David Foster Wallace doesn’t speak of glory in the most basic terms. There is glory in empathy. There is glory in understanding. There is glory in small efforts as he rightly puts it. This is Water is the kind of book that is needed at every stage of life. The speech will resonate throughout.

I will leave you with this thought that is my favourite from this read:

“The really important kind of freedom involves attention and awareness and discipline, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them over and over in myriad petty, unsexy ways every day.”

 

 

Magical Women. Stories edited by Sukanya Venkatraghavan

Magical Women Title: Magical Women
Stories edited by Sukanya Venkatraghavan
Publisher: Hachette India
ISBN: 978-9388322027
Genre: Fantasy, Magic
Pages: 232
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 stars

An anthology isn’t easy to edit. There are varied voices – each with their own agenda, writing style, and each writer that adds wonderfully to the collection. Sukanya Venkatraghavan, author of Magical Women has done a wonderful job of the anthology of 14 Indian women writers writing fantasy and all things magical in the aptly titled, “Magical Women”.

All these stories may seem similar at some level, and probably they are – most of them reflect on Indian magical creatures and stick to making them relevant for our time and age. What is also wonderful is how the “feminist angle” is subtle, but strong. It doesn’t shout out from the rooftop, but it is there – in your face, making you aware of how you read some narratives or stories.

The collection starts off with “Gul” by Shreya Ila Anasuya – a story of love, a story of freedom, a story of longing and nostalgia that was rounded beautifully. A read that I still think of once in a while.

There are also the obvious stories of goddesses in the modern context and they work superbly as well. The one that stood out for me was Nikita Deshpande’s “The Girl who Haunted Death” – a story of Savitri and her love for her husband. But this one of course is with a twist that I would not want to reveal. The prose and the context of this story astounded me – almost made me think of various conclusions and interpretations, and that’s what a good story is supposed to do.

All these stories infuse new life to the form of storytelling – they don’t follow a linear plot and even if it seems that they do, it is usual very deceptive. Kiran Manral’s story, “Stone Cold” for instance is dystopian in nature and deeply rooted in ancient myths and culture. The merging of the two makes it unique, but not only that – the brevity of the story makes it even more interesting.

We live in times when patience runs thin. People need to consume content at a fast pace, and something that is also very relevant and thought-provoking, and above all entertaining. Sukanya Venkatraghavan has done a fantastic job of merging these elements when it comes to setting up this anthology. More than anything else, the writers have individually contributed to the whole idea beautifully.

Yes, like any other anthology, you don’t expect to love them all. I have my favourites and then there are the ones that aren’t favourites. However, every story will find its reader. The one who will love that story more than the others.

Whether it is “Gandaberunda” by S.V. Sujatha, a tale of a sinister tattoo, or “Apocalyptica” by Krishna Udayasankar which will take you by surprise, even though you think you have an idea of what it is going by the title, every story says something unique.

I loved the overtones of feminism and also its undertones, depending on the writer. Neither the writers of these stories, nor the stories themselves fit in a box. I think for the sake of convenience we shall catalog them in a genre. After all, “Magical Women” aren’t meant to be handled by all. Definitely not mere mortals. Read the book though. It is all worth it.

Dark Things by Sukanya Venkatraghavan

dark-things-by-sukanya-venkatraghavan Title: Dark Things
Author: Sukanya Venkatraghavan
Publisher: Hachette India
ISBN: 978-9350099223
Genre: Fantasy Fiction
Pages: 360
Source: Author
Rating: 4 Stars

Not a lot of people write fantasy fiction in the country and that to me was perplexing at one point, till it became clear. A lot of readers don’t read homegrown fantasy fiction. It could work either way, but the point being – there have to be more authors and readers of the so-called Indian fantasy fiction genre only because there is so much to explore, given our rich mythology and stories we have been hearing from our grandmothers on a cold winter’s night. With this thought in mind, I am glad that I got the opportunity to read ‘Dark Things’ by Sukanya Venkatraghavan and also interview her at the Halloween event organized by Books on Toast.

It would be quite safe to say that you wouldn’t have read anything like “Dark Things”. I would also be very candid and say that initially I thought I would not be taken in by a book like this, about Indian demons and monsters, but all it took me was two chapters to be hooked in to the world of Atala, the lives (I think I can say that) of Ardra, Hera and Dwai. Also, at this point, might I add that the book’s plot is inspired by a Keralan temple legend (which again to my mind is innovative and draws from its roots and should be done more often) and also manages to merge with modern times in a rather kick-ass manner.

Now to the plot of the book – Dwai survives a supernatural attack on Earth by Ardra. Ardra’s world is literally thrown into a series of questions and confusion at this incident. I was more clued in to the character of Hera – she is evil and that kinda made me want to know more about her and where she comes from. Everyone loves the hero so to say, but I was more piqued about this anti-hero. She is brazen, wild and doesn’t let emotions get better of her. This is the world of Gandharvas, Apsaras and Yakshis and you need patience to get into it.

I think to a very large extent, the plot being so simple helps reading this book. That way what tends to happen is that you can focus on the characters and what’s going on with them – in the sense a true balance between plot and characterization is struck. There is also a lot of romance in this book but let me also tell you that this is far from the usual paranormal romance. There are more layers to it which only come to light once you are further in the book and have been able to connect one with the other. All said and done, should you read Dark Things? Of course, you should. Should you perhaps pester the writer for a sequel right after finishing it? You bet your ass you must!

Book Review: The Billionaire’s Apprentice by Anita Raghavan

The-Billionaires-Apprentice-The-Rise-of-the-Indian-American-Elite-and-the-Fall-of-the-Galleon-Hedge-Fund Title: The Billionaire’s Apprentice: The Rise of the Indian-American and the Fall of the Galleon Hedge Fund
Author: Anita Raghavan
Publisher: Hachette India
ISBN: 9789350097366
Genre: Non-Fiction, Business
Pages: 512
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

“The Billionaire’s Apprentice: The Rise of the Indian-American Elite and the Fall of the Galleon Hedge Fund” by Anita Raghavan reads as good as any thriller, so much so, that it actually makes you forget that it is non-fiction and actually happened. The way the story turns out and how it reached its end, is very difficult to write without making it sound boring. Raghavan on the other hand, takes it and turns it to a page-turner. On another level, the story that was on almost everyone’s mouth – the McKinsey and the Galleon Fund connection needed that kind of a voice to tell it intriguingly and with all honesty.

The book isn’t just about the fall of the Galleon Hedge fund or only about Rajat Gupta or Raj Rajaratnam or the insider trading that took place. It is also about South Asians and their will to make it big in the country of dreams – The United States of America. The sub-texts in the book are plenty, and Raghavan sure knows how to string them all together, without letting the main plot fall apart.

Rajaratnam clearly had a lot of connections. It is the way he used them, is what is fascinatingly told through this book. Why did Gupta, who was so revered and well-known, fall into this? Why did his protégé Anil Kumar become a part of this?

Anita’s writing is direct and to the point. The chapters alternate giving a more humane angle to each of the parties involved. She doesn’t glorify them nor does she show them as villains. What she does is some brilliant documentation of events and what led to them being played out. There is no mincing of words or any attempt to hide facts, as the case should be in a book of this nature. Anita does not take sides and yet gives the reader a complete view of things. The cultural conditioning aspects of the scandal are also brought out quite well and with great understanding – maybe that’s why the background of each character had to be told at the beginning of the book in alternating chapters.

“The Billionaire’s Apprentice” brings to light one of the biggest stories of our times in a well-researched manner. Nothing is missed out on. Every significant detail is mentioned and more so what works for the book the most is the humane side of things. A must read even for those who aren’t interested in business and market politics.