Category Archives: HarperCollins India

Read 5 of 2022. Legal Fiction by Chandan Pandey. Translated from the Hindi by Bharatbhooshan Tiwari.

Legal Fiction by Chandan Pandey

Title: Legal Fiction
Author: Chandan Pandey
Translated from the Hindi by Bharatbhooshan Tiwari
Publisher: HarperCollins India
ISBN: 978-9354227509
Genre: Translated Fiction, Literary Fiction Pages: 168
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

Legal Fiction was one of the best reads for me last year. I reread it again this month because I was in conversation with Chandan and Bharatbhooshan and enjoyed every minute of it.

Legal Fiction is unlike anything I read and kept thinking about it a lot. The themes of disappearance of a Muslim man, love jihad – a term coined by the right wing of the country to bring to task Muslim men who love Hindu women, the struggle of people in a small town who are constantly under surveillance whether they like it or not (in one way or the other), the idea of democracy just being on paper, and ultimately that of rule of land being followed over rule of law.

Silences play a major role. Silences that force people to look within, to understand their spaces, look at the role of caste and religion that draw invisible boundaries, silences that reflect lack of agency of women, and how vocabulary defeats what we feel most of the time.

Legal Fiction put simply is about the disappearance of a man – a man who lives in a small town with his wife and is from a minority religion in Modi’s India. It is about the agency of an urban middle-class man, Arjun, who travels to Noma – the fictional village – to locate the man, Rafique. It is about what Arjun unearths in Noma, and what goes on behind closed doors, and sometimes right in the open, only because it can.

Chandan Pandey makes no bones about what he has to say. The writing is sparse, calls out the hypocrisy of the system, where things have gone wrong and continue to do so, and above all packs in a punch and more on almost every single page.

Bharatbhooshan’s translation reads like the original (I also read the book in Hindi). It is fast-paced, reads like a thriller but is so much more, mesmerizing, like a sort of fever dream, and above anything else a mirror for us to see ourselves in and understand what we have become vis-à-vis what we were.

Ratno Dholi: The Best Stories of Dhumketu. Translated from the Gujarati by Jenny Bhatt.

Ratno Dholi

Title: Ratno Dholi
Author: Dhumketu
Translated from the Gujarati by Jenny Bhatt Publisher: HarperCollins India
ISBN: 978-9390327782
Genre: Short Stories, Translations, Gujarati Short Stories
Pages: 324
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

I am immensely grateful to Jenny Bhatt for having given us the translation of Dhumketu (Gaurishankar Govardhanram Joshi, 1892-1965) – in fact his best twenty-six stories (and she has selected from having 600+ of his stories), under the title, “Ratno Dholi”. If it weren’t for Jenny, I do not think we would’ve known or discovered the joy of Dhumketu’s stories.

I have gone through a range of emotions while reading this collection. From sheer joy, to pathos, to chuckling away to glory at some places, and nodding my head in agreement to whatever the author has to say. Dhumketu spoke of a time gone by and yet was so modernistic in his approach, in my opinion. Whether it was giving women agency (The Creator of Life’s Ruins), or even bringing the hypocrisy of society to fore (The Noble Daughters-in-Law), Dhumketu said what he had to, and in a manner only unique to him.

Dhumketu’s stories take their own time to unravel. The beauty of language is evident in this translation by Bhatt. She has taken care to not shake the core of his stories, and yet add her touch to them. The colloquialisms while being explained, are also given context to in the form of footnotes. The stories have a pace and life of their own. For instance, the passage of days in “Old Custom, New Approach” is looked at so casually, without losing the impact of time passed.

I think through these stories, readers are fortunate enough to get a glimpse of a different culture, shaping itself in different times, and at the same time being understanding of the socio-cultural norms of that day and age. We live in an age quick to judgement. But these stories shouldn’t be judged and looked at from broader contextual perspectives.

The thing with Ratno Dholi as a collection is that though these stories were written such a long time ago, I didn’t think they felt outdated in their form or texture. In fact, even the narrative has elements of form and structure that seem so contemporary. Kudos to Jenny Bhatt for this wonderful translation, and hope through her we get to read many more stories of Dhumketu.

Darkness by Ratnakar Matkari. Translated from the Marathi by Vikrant Pande.

Darkness by Ratnakar Matkari Title: Darkness
Author: Ratnakar Matkari
Translated from the Marathi by Vikrant Pande
Publisher: HarperCollins India
ISBN: 978-9353573331
Genre: Short Stories, Horror
Pages: 228
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 3/5

I love the horror genre – whether it is in movies or books. Something about consuming it, getting terribly scared, and then not being able to sleep for days. Yes, it does seem kind of sadistic, but I enjoy the “thrill” of that as well.

So, when I came across Darkness by Ratnakar Matkari – a collection of 18 horror and supernatural stories, translated from the Marathi by Vikrant Pande, I was whooping for joy. Finally, there was one collection of horror stories, in translation, from the sub-continent. I am sure there are more, but I don’t know of them for now.

The book starts off with great promise. The opening story “Birthday” is about a young boy who can predict death-days by knowing your date of birth. Honestly, I was spooked by it. I think I even got gooseflesh. The titular story “Darkness” is excellently written – pulpy, takes the reader to the edge, and leaves you wondering what actually took place. A story of doppelgängers? Time travel? What just happened? As I progressed, I was skeptical about the quality of stories but surprisingly the pace and fear factor were maintained. “By the Clock” seemed predictable but wasn’t. Most of Matkari’s stories seem predictable but they aren’t and that’s the beauty of evoking the chill in the reader, long after the story is over.

At the same time, some stories did not work for me and seemed rushed. “I See Vikram” was so-so – about an affluent kid who seems to have an imaginary friend from the slums did not do it for me when it came to the writing or ambience.

Most of his stories hint at other dimensions, other worlds, time-travel, and of what will come to be which is already known to the characters. “Monsoon Guest” is a great example of infusing mythology with horror – some way also reminded me of the movie Tumbbad – the eeriness, the ambience which becomes a character in itself, and the dialogue that takes over the story.

While reading this book, I also often wondered if the experience would be even more enriching reading it in the original Marathi, and the answer was a resounding YES. Couple of reasons for it: The terrain and locales in which these stories are set are so deep-rooted in Maharashtra that only reading them in Marathi would do complete justice to the writer’s vision and storytelling capabilities. The second reason being, nothing like reading anything pulpy in the original language only to truly feel the emotion the author intended you to.

“Darkness” for me worked on several plot points, stories, and gave me the much-needed spooks. At the same time, it also got repetitive in most part, and predictable. I would still recommend this collection of stories, wonderfully translated by Vikrant Pande – keeping the essence intact in most stories. It is the kind of collection that will jolt you and make you also look over your shoulder once in a while.

The Radiance of a Thousand Suns by Manreet Sodhi Someshwar

The Radiance of a Thousand Suns by Manreet Sodhi Someshwar Title: The Radiance of A Thousand Suns
Author: Manreet Sodhi Someshwar
Publisher: HarperCollins India
ISBN: 978-9353029654
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 352
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

As we live, and continue living, as days merge into months, and months into years, we realise that life perhaps is nothing but a collection of burdens. Of guilt we carry. Of so many lives lived in this one life, that every instance, every incident, every moment of joy seems like it happened in a different life, and tragedy always seems nearer – close at hand – to envelope us inside it, any given time.

The Radiance of a Thousand Suns by Manreet Sodhi Someshwar was read merely by chance. I hadn’t planned on reading it this month. It wasn’t on the list. But lists change, evolve, and you are only grateful that you read something so utterly heartbreaking, and a book that even manages to make you want to let go of all the weight you carry.

So, where do I start with talking about the plot? It is about the Partition of India, it is about the Anti-Sikh riots, it is about how we love and empathise, and how we lose the ones we love, and how they always remain, no matter what. What is it about? It is about Niki’s determination to complete her dead father’s unfinished book, taking her to Manhattan to uncover the story of an immigrant woman. It is about Dadima and her story. It is the story of Nooran and how she became an integral part of Niki’s life.

The blurb of this book also calls it a literary thriller, which to me is doing the book gross injustice. It is poetic and beautiful, and also brutal at times. Sodhi Someshwar doesn’t hesitate to talk about uncomfortable things – about people who lost their lives during the Partition and then the pogrom of 1984. She will rip the band-aid and not with remorse. The book is about the lives of women when pogroms such as these ruin everything in their wake. It is about generations of women that have had to suffer in silence because men decided that a pogrom or a partition would be a good idea to exact revenge.

The Radiance of a Thousand Suns is about stories we tell ourselves in order to go on from one day to the next. The book is about resilience and Manreet’s writing is wondrous – from page to page. The characters are people you know – or someone from your family would, if we dig deep. The book struck a chord because the pain could be felt right through the pages. I was constantly reminded of how easily we forget our painful pasts – whether it is the Partition or the ’84 pogrom, or Godhra, or Mumbai blasts – each incident forgotten in the name of carrying on. Sometimes, in fact, most of the time, we need to acknowledge what has happened, and not let anyone forget it, in order to truly move on.

What I loved was also the quite apparent interspersing of The Mahabharata as an epic – its flaws, its shortcomings, and to connect those incidents to the plot and move it forward.

The Radiance of a Thousand Suns does more than tug at the heartstrings. It constantly reminds you, with every turn of the page, what humans do to other humans, mainly in the name of land, religion, and a heightened false sense of laying claim to everything in sight.

The Far Field by Madhuri Vijay

The Far Field by Madhuri Vijay Title: The Far Field
Author: Madhuri Vijay
Publisher: Fourth Estate, HarperCollins
ISBN: 9789353570958
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 444
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 stars

I honestly do not know how to review The Far Field. It is one of those books that has so much to offer that one doesn’t know where to start talking about it. The varied themes, the writing, the plot, the characterization, or even the way it often makes you think about your relationship with people and the world at large. To me, The Far Field is one of the best books I’ve read this year and rightly so.

I started the book with great trepidation given the negative reviews I had read online, but all it took me was a couple of pages in to dismiss them. This is the kind of book that unknowingly creeps up on you and sticks. It stays. It makes you mull and wonder and often even makes you take sides.

You may think Shalini, the protagonist is selfish. You may think of her as inconsiderate in so many places and might even be enraged at her choices, but having said that all she does is travel from Bangalore to Kashmir in search of a man – a salesman by the name Bashir Ahmed to find answers, in the wake of her mother’s death. A mother who was as determined as she was sharp with her tongue and opinions. A mother who struck an unlikely friendship with Bashir. A mother who was also a bored housewife, an intelligent one at that, and someone who just wanted some attention and care.

The Far Field to me is not a political story just because it is set mostly in Kashmir. It is about people, it is about family, community, and the bonds we forge, rather unknowingly. The book is about what we hold on to and what we leave behind. It is about Shalini and what happens to her and the people she meets or wants to meet.

Madhuri Vijay writes brutally. She bares it all for the reader to see, to hurt with the characters, and feel this twinge of sadness as things do not turn out the way you wanted to. The reader is involved, and by that I refer to myself. I don’t want to give away too much about the story but be rest assured that you will find it very hard to put down this book once you’ve begun (or so I hope).

 The Far Field will have you question your ties with family. The things we choose to say with such ease and the things we do not. The ones we think we communicate about and the ones which we don’t are the most important. Something always gets lost. The book like I said is about family, the ties we forge along the way, and what comes of them in the end, if there is an end at all.