Category Archives: Harper Collins India

The Emperor Who Never Was: Dara Shukoh in Mughal India by Supriya Gandhi

The Emperor Who Never Was - Dara Shukoh in Mughal India by Supriya Gandhi Title: The Emperor Who Never Was: Dara Shukoh in Mughal India
Author: Supriya Gandhi
Publisher: Harvard University Press
ISBN: 978-0674245969
Genre: Biographies and Autobiographies
Pages: 304
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

 

I have been afraid of history books. Reads that somehow seem to take a lot of time to process and take a lot from me as a reader. That’s the perception I had for the longest time of history books. Till I read Dalrymple, Thapar, Manu S. Pillai, and now a recent addition, Supriya Gandhi’s, “The Emperor Who Never Was: Dara Shukoh in Mughal India”.

This is a fascinating read. It reads like a novel. It reads easy. It speaks of Shukoh, of whom less is written, much less spoken of. A fascinating look of a family, the succession to the throne, and the politics that happened in its wake. Dara died at the hands of his younger brother Aurangzeb, and that forever changed the course of South Asian History. Let me speak more about the book.

Shukoh was the eldest son of Shah Jahan, the fifth Mughal emperor. The Mughals did not practice the concept of primogeniture (the right of succession passed to the firstborn). How did Aurangzeb ascend to the throne and what happened to Dara, and Shahjahan’s other children is what the book is about.

I was enthralled by the writing. Like I said, Gandhi’s writing is very accessible and doesn’t seem heavy at all. There was not a single place in the book that seemed forced or unwanted. Every detail of the family, to what the siblings felt, to Dara’s sense of being, and Aurangzeb’s personality (sometimes misunderstood as well) was perfectly laid out.

Supriya Gandhi almost gets into the skin of Shukoh – the man he was, how he embraced Sufism, and yet he wasn’t without his own flaws. She transports the reader to a land of constant conflict and gives us a biography that is balanced – there is no bias of any kind and she doesn’t take sides. She presents history the way it happened.

We live in times when politicians in India (some of them) are out to erase the history of this nation. The Emperor Who Never Was by Supriya Gandhi reclaims history and gives us a complex, nuanced biography of a man who was not known at all, and also of a family that was different and always at loggerheads with each other. Read the book to know more. Read the book and educate yourself. We live in times, where a good open perspective is always needed.

Inferior: How Science Got Women Wrong-and the New Research That’s Rewriting the Story by Angela Saini

Title: Inferior: How Science Got Women Wrong-and the New Research That’s Rewriting the Story
Author: Angela Saini
Publisher: FourthEstate, HarperCollins
ISBN: 978-0008172022
Genre: Non-Fiction, Science
Pages: 288
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

The title of this book tells you exactly what the book is about and I urge you to read the book if you are a sexist or not. You must. Everyone must. I am recommending it of course because I loved reading this book, but more so because of the times we live in, such books and more of this nature will sadly continue to be relevant till a change is seen on the horizon. Until then, the least we can do is keep ourselves adequately informed about women who make a difference in every sphere of life and are not given credit, in this case, science.

“Inferior” is one of those books that defies all that you might have known about science and women (which is very few and far in between) and rightly so. I don’t think defying would be the right term, but more so challenges premises and with accurate data, research and insight. You think there is equality of sexes but you don’t know zilch about it till you live it – either through experiencing it yourself or reading about other people’s experiences.

“Inferior” by Angela Saini is about science and women. It seems so simple when I put it this way, but it isn’t. Saini sheds light on gender wars in biology, psychology and anthropology and how women and their role to science in these streams need to be rediscovered. The book is about all the experiments and research covered by Saini to prove one simple fact: Women’s research and discoveries were completely either ignored and that’s when she shows us how white men feel that the old science is still what holds true and the new science is rubbish.

Might I also add here that just because this book is about science doesn’t make it a tough read. It is a very easy read with terms that easy to comprehend and at no point did I get lost and I am one of those people who cannot read books on science. Angela adopts a conversational tone to the book which does wonders – every story, anecdote and bits of research lend in seamlessly to the book. There is intelligence and a whole lot of emotion – not the kind that gets you a lump in the throat but the kind that can make you empathetic and that is what is needed the most, in my opinion.

“Inferior” rediscovers women and makes them look as individuals contributing to society than just being sidetracked with no mind of their own. There is a lot of history and politics as well which again ties up very well with what the author wants to objectively put forth. This book will debunk so many myths surrounding men and how they stereotype women’s brains and bodies and do not give them a chance to show their true mettle. All said and done, “Inferior” is one of the most important books of our times and like I said before, every single person must read this.

Mohanaswamy by Vasudhendra

mohanaswamy-by-vasudhendra Title: Mohanaswamy
Author: Vasundhendra
Translated by: Rashmi Terdal
Publisher: Harper Perennial
ISBN: 978-9352641260
Genre: Literary Fiction, LGBTQ Literature, Translations
Pages: 280
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

Reading “Mohanaswamy” struck a chord. It had to. I knew it would. It is a book about a gay man and his life and how he combats every situation and is forever finding love. The resemblance was clear. I was almost terrified when I started this book. I thought I would break down and I did in most places, but I was prepared for it at some sub-conscious level. Books which are so rooted in real-life take you to another level – of deep pain, melancholy and also sometimes of laughter (which also happened by the way). “Mohanaswamy” is a book which I would love everyone to read and hopefully the read would make them more empathetic.

“Mohanaswamy” is the book which will resonate with anyone who has felt left out in the world. It is the story of the protagonist – of his journey – from discovery his orientation to heartbreak (I loved those stories or incidents because those were the ones I could relate the most) to the societal changes (or not) and how it views gay men. Also, the fact that it is set in Bangalore and goes back and forth between Mohanaswamy’s village and the city – one thing doesn’t change though – the hypocrisy of people surrounding him, even the ones he loves. It is everything that I felt as a gay man and still do. It is not a book really – but life, Vasundhendra’s life (I am inclined to believe that it is semi-autobiographical in nature) and that’s what makes it so heartwrenching.

The translation by Rashmi Terdal is fantastic – I don’t know Kannada, but I am sure the translation captures the entire essence of the book beautifully. Growing up gay and then living a life or preparing to live a life of loneliness isn’t easy. “Mohanaswamy” gets under your skin and makes you realize and face those issues. At least, it did that for me. It almost showed me the mirror and it wasn’t easy. We need more writers like Vasundhendra, who will write such books that reflect the times we live in. Vasundhendra’s writing is razor sharp, delicate, emotional and utterly honest. I think that is what connects with a reader and stays. Like I said earlier, I would recommend everyone to read this book. You might just understand some aspect of the gay life.

365 Short Stories: Day 3: Boyfriend like a Banyan Tree by Sharanya Manivannan

the-high-priestess-never-marries-by-sharanya-manivannan

The story I read yesterday, the 3rd of January 2017 was a story which just flowed. To some extent, I couldn’t understand what it was about but then I reread it and reread it because I loved it. The story, “Boyfriend like a Banyan Tree” is a story of desire, of wanting what you do as a woman and not be ashamed of it.

The story is of a woman who wants a boyfriend like a banyan tree and she tells us why. It could also be a metaphor. It could also be highly erotic (which it is by the way and sensuous like no other story in the book, according to me). It could be interpreted anyway and I loved that about Sharanya’s writing. I have read four stories from this collection and I can tell you that you have to pick this one up.

Interview with Karan Mahajan

Few books enter your soul and manage to shake and stir it. Those books remain with you, no matter what. “The Association of Small Bombs” by Karan Mahajan has been one such book for me this year. I am dazzled by it and will remain so for a long time to come.

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I was excited to get a chance to be able to interview Karan and here is the interview. The review to the book is here. Please do read the book. It is beyond super.

Keeping in mind the title of your book, why are small attacks not remembered? Why do you think they erase themselves so quickly from memory? What are in fact, small attacks through small bombs?

They’re not remembered because we have a limited bandwidth for tragedies that involve others. Modern India is a feast of tragedies. It’s not surprising that the smaller bombings are covered for a couple of days and than overridden by larger fires, train collisions, scandals, terrorist attacks.

The book is all about people who are affected by a small attack or lead to a small attack’s occurrence. How did the story come about? I know it is a rather cliché question, but we sure would like to know.

All good novels come from a mysterious emotional source. I must have felt, at the time when I started writing the book, all the way back in 2009, that my personal experience resonated with the pain felt by the parents, the Khuranas, in the opening of the book. I remembered the Lajpat Nagar bomb vaguely from my childhood but it came rushing back to me with a great violence soon after the 26/11 attacks. In a way, it was a sort of gift—a negative gift. Suddenly I had this thing—this world at my disposal. I spent the next five years figuring out what it was trying to say to me.

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You bring out the real and human and very insipid daily acts of terrorists in the book. Why did you do that? Did you want to show them as more human than they really are? Do we in our need to objectify confuse humaneness with just being a human being?

I like the word “insipid” in this context! Basically, I wished to erode the negative glamor around terrorism. I wanted to say: these are the banal steps that lead to a bombing. Don’t be in the thrall of these figures: they are often bumbling, sad, confused. That said, I don’t downplay the evil of terrorists. Their actions are inexcusable. But it’s possible to be evil and petty at once, or to be evil and stupid. It’s our collective imagination that transforms terrorists into these god-like masterminds.

I was most taken in by the family that disintegrates because of the terror attack. Were they always dysfunctional? Were the cracks always there but never seen?

Yes, the family was always dysfunctional, in my mind. Vikas Khurana has never resigned himself to the bourgeois trappings of his life—his extended family, his kids, his wife—though that is his life. He sees himself as an artist primarily, but the lie of that premise is already showing through when the novel starts. The bomb widens that gap. Deepa and the kids live in a stalemate alongside Vikas’s brooding. We tend to believe that the best parts of people can emerge during a tragedy but I wanted to show how the worst parts can come out too.


What were your favourite books growing up? Did they have any impact on “The Association of Small Bombs”?

I’m sure they did have an impact. “Growing up” isn’t quite the right place to look—I’m sure reading PG Wodehouse and Agatha Christie affected my prose style, but I don’t think they’ve had a bearing on other aspects of my sensibility. I think Naipaul, Narayan, Hemingway, Bellow, Conrad, Ozick, some of (Arundhati) Roy, Philip Roth, Yashpal, Rushdie—these have loomed larger as influences. I tend to find Naipaul a bit chilly for my tastes, but I love the speed of “Half A Life.” It’s a book with an actual narrative—which a book like “A Bend In The River” lacks (with every year it seems more like an academic text than a novel to me). I connect with RK Narayan’s humanistic humor—particularly in books like “The Vendor of Sweets” and “The Painter of Signs.” Conrad’s “The Secret Agent” is brilliant, but again, quite sluggish to read. I took some of his world-weariness but threw away the odd sensation that the narrative isn’t moving forward. I aspire to the loose, conversational style of Bellow. I don’t like it when writers lyrically sermonize from a mount. The key is to be intelligent, direct, musical, conversational—and to appear to do so without effort.

There are a lot of observations throughout the novel – either first person or third person based. Sometimes from a vantage point and others in close quarters. How do you bring that in your writing?

Instinctively. There are some moments that require a zoom lens and others that require an aerial view. Let’s take grief. We can obviously empathize with a couple that has lost two kids in an attack. So there’s no need to remain yoked to their perspective the entire time. It might be more interesting to view the social context around their grief or even the strange ways in which their moods shift. I guess POV is a way of deciding what’s interesting in a moment and going boldly toward it.

Male friendships are a major part of the book. Why do you think they needed to be there? Any specific reason?

Terrorist groups, religious groups—these tend to be crowded with men and divided by sex. Religious individuals are often uncomfortable with people of the opposite sex—it’s the job of religion to divide the sexes. So showing male friendships in all their complexities was necessary.

How is your writing schedule like?

I write best in the mornings and I tend to research or write non-fiction in the afternoons.


How is Karan the reader and the writer? Do you get critical when reading?

Being a writer has ruined reading fiction for me. I can only focus on fiction when it seems it might feed my work, which is unfortunate: a lot of great books have fallen by the wayside. But I find it easy to get lost in non-fiction and films: these are the two mediums I enjoy the most. And yes: I hate the critical part of my brain when I read. To open my own novels is to experience tremendous pain. I know exactly how I would have rewritten or improved every sentence. I have no choice but to close my eyes and live with a million imperfections.

So this was the very erudite Karan Mahajan on his book “The Association of Small Bombs”. It is definitely the read of the year.