Category Archives: Nonfiction

Read 213 of 2021. Intimate City by Manjima Bhattacharjya

Intimate City by Manjima Bhattacharjya

Title: Intimate City
Author: Manjima Bhattacharjya Publisher: Zubaan Books
ISBN: 978-9390514311
Genre: Non-Fiction, Social Welfare, Feminist Writing
Pages: 240
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 stars

This is a book that should be read by everyone. It is not only about sexual choices and rights exercised by women, but also about how technology enables that or sometimes not. Intimate City is a fascinating read about the business of pleasure and how that is coupled with the autonomy of the body, in relation to how the Internet has redeveloped intimacies in the times we live.

Intimate City looks at feminism and its understanding in the space of sex work, choice, and agency, all of this playing out in the city of Mumbai. I think Mumbai and its nuances plays out beautifully as another character altogether in this very reflective and profound non-fiction narrative of how sexual commerce comes full circle (well, almost does).

Manjima through her incisive and very detailed writing also looks at patriarchy and the role it plays throughout in the lives of not only sex workers, but also bar dancers, massage boys, and escort girls as service providers. It was for me very interesting as a queer man to see sex politics play out in this industry – with reference to how sexual commerce is viewed by the world at large, about whether it can ever be seen as a “regular” job, and how it all operates offline vs. online.

Intimate City, for some may not be revealing or earth-shattering in a sense. We think we might know it all, till we read something like this, and that’s all it takes perhaps to demolish our preconceived notions about who is paying for sex, and who is getting paid. I repeat, it is definitely a book that is a must-read for all.

Enter Stage Right: The Alkazi/Padamsee Family Memoir by Feisal Alkazi

Enter Stage Right by Feisal Alkazi

Title: Enter Stage Right: The Alkazi/Padamsee Memoir
Author: Feisal Alkazi
Publisher: Speaking Tiger Books
ISBN: 978-9390477029
Genre: Memoir, Biographies and Autobiographies, Nonfiction
Pages: 256
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

My introduction to theatre was at the age of sixteen when I first watched “Tumhari Amrita” and since then I haven’t looked back. Theatre as an art form has always captivated me. The idea of performing live in front of an audience, to get the reaction as you go along, and then to also perhaps improvise quite at that time has fascinated me as time has passed, and as I have watched more plays. So much so, that I did get a chance to work with Alyque Padamsee as a writer for one of the playlets in P. Dialogues, which will always remain a very fond chapter of my life.

“Enter Stage Right” is a very arresting memoir of two theatre families – the Alkazis and the Padamsees, who were first glued to each other by the love of theatre and then a bond formed out of marriage. In all of this Feisal Alkazi (the son of Ebrahim and Roshen Alkazi and nephew of Alyque Padamsee) speaks of his heritage of theatre – of the arts, of Bombay in the 40s, and how the theatre company formed by Sultan Padamsee grew, paving way to one of the biggest alliances in the world of theatre and art in independent India – that of the Alkazis and the Padamsees.

The memoir is not just about the families, the lives lived, the family tree, the anecdotes, etc., but is also about the city, the transformation of art in Bombay, and how the city grew from brick to brick and sometimes its decline as well.

The writing took me back in time and it was worth every turn of the page. It made me see my city differently, and also its art scene. Alkazi talks of how Art Heritage opened in Delhi, about Pearl Padamsee and her contribution to the arts, ultimately rounding it off with what’s the current scenario. Enter Stage Right is a delightful read. I cannot wait to go back to the world of theatre and watch those performances.

The Good Girls – An Ordinary Killing by Sonia Faleiro

The Good Girls - An Ordinary Killing by Sonia Faleiro

Title: The Good Girls: An Ordinary Killing
Author: Sonia Faleiro
Publisher: Penguin Hamish Hamilton, Penguin India
ISBN: 978-0670088829
Genre: Non-fiction, Gender Studies, True Accounts
Pages: 352
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

Faleiro had heard about the Badaun killings on Twitter, in the year 2014, as did most of us. It shook her to this extent that she decided to go the village of Katra in the Badaun district in Uttar Pradesh where the death of two teenage girls, who were also cousins, took place. The picture that circulated on social media was that of them hanging from a mango tree, whose memory is etched in so many minds and hearts. Though momentarily forgotten perhaps, it can be conjured in an instant. Between 2014 and 2019, Faleiro interviewed everyone connected with the deaths to produce a story in which there are different perspectives – each struggling to make themselves heard, each hustling for credibility.

Whether it is a cousin who claimed to have seen the girls getting kidnapped by Pappu Yadav, a 19-year old from the neighbouring village. Or whether it was someone else who had claimed to have spotted Pappu with the girls (who are known as Padma and Lalli in the book). Or whether it was the parents and relatives of these girls who didn’t act soon enough, scared that their honour will be at stake. Well, at the end of the day, the truth is that the girls were dead.

The Good Girls: An Ordinary Killing by Sonia Faleiro is not just an investigative book or a “non-fiction novel” as some would seem it to be. It is a chronicle of what women go through in the country on a daily basis, and this isn’t just restricted to one region or is a function of being educated or not. The brutal rape and murder of Jyoti Singh in 2012 is a testament of that fact. The Good Girls is a book that holds no judgement. It is about the facts, and yet Faleiro’s writing is so strong and insightful that you cannot help but feel overwhelmed in most places while reading. The idea that two teenage girls – children really, died before their time. The idea that they could not lead full lives. The idea that we give so much importance to factors such as caste, honour, about how a girl should be and should not be, that we forget to consider life – the very basic essence of life and living.

Sonia Faleiro’s book is about the India that is still struggling with so much – patriarchy, lack of education for women and girls, poverty being the biggest issue (which most , maybe even all politicians turn a blind eye to or very conveniently use it to their advantage), about lack of faith not only in the judiciary system but also in the workings of the police and safety that cannot be trusted, and about the way we treat our women and men at the same time.

The Good Girls: An Ordinary Killing – just the very title says so much. Something that is so chilling, and yet only so ordinary that it could take place on an almost daily basis (and maybe does) and yet apathy is supreme. Sonia Faleiro also without taking any side goes to the heart of that apathy and indifference through this work that chronicles the brutality, that takes place more on a mental and emotional level. Faleiro’s writing is to the point. All facts and suppositions (that sprung from various narratives) are laid out for the reader. Everything is in plain sight. The Good Girls: An Ordinary Killing never lets us forget that at the heart of it – of all that occurred, two teenage girls, two children really, with so much life, and possibility and a future, lost their lives to patriarchy and its machinations.

The Night in Gethsemane: On Solitude and Betrayal by Massimo Recalcati. Translated from the Italian by Ann Goldstein

The Night in Gethsemane - On Solitude and Betrayal by Massimo Recalcati

Title: The Night in Gethsemane: On Solitude and Betrayal
Author: Massimo Recalcati
Translated from the Italian by Ann Goldstein
Publisher: Europa Editions, Europa Compass
ISBN: 978-1787702592
Genre: Non-fiction, Essay
Pages: 96
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

Betrayal. The word conjures so many emotions in us. Anger, melancholy, a sense of loss, of love lost, and even pity. Massimo Recalcati’s brilliant short book, “The Night in Gethsemane” is a book about Jesus’s betrayal by Judas and Peter. Of how Judas arrives with armed men in the olive grove, abandoning Jesus with a kiss. It is the time of being forsaken not only by the ones dearest to him, but also by his father, his God. This is what this short gem is about.

At the same time, it will also make you see and realize and think upon your betrayals – the ones you’ve been guilty of, and the ones done to you. But it is also about suffering, and who is there when we hurt the most. Who is there in our most painful moments? Who was there for Jesus, son of God? How did he fall and more than anything else how did he survive the fall?

While Recalcati looks at Jesus as son of God, of someone Divine, he also looks at him as human. All his emotions are analysed. The prophecy of Jesus being betrayed – when he said that someone close to him will betray him at the last supper. That’s when it happened, right after. Of the different natures of betrayal of Judas and Peter. In all of this we as readers are exposed to the loneliness of the human experience. When one is betrayed, how does one feel? It is as though the person enters an abyss of loneliness that is difficult to get rid of. Ann Goldstein’s translation from the Italian is as always to the point, exercising great brevity, and nuance. The Night in Gethsemane is all about questions of the ordinary, brought to light through the extraordinary. A great feat.

Navigate Your Stars by Jesmyn Ward. Illustrations by Gina Triplett.

Navigate Your Stars by Jesmyn Ward

Title: Navigate Your Stars
Author: Jesmyn Ward
Illustrations by Gina Triplett
Publisher: Bloomsbury
ISBN: 978-1526620347
Genre: Speeches, Non-Fiction
Pages: 64
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5 stars

This year hasn’t been easy on any of us. We have all tried to fight a lot – anxiety, confusion, lethargy, to just be able to function on a daily basis, and sometimes even to give up and restart the next day. This year hasn’t been easy. I chanced upon Jesmyn Ward’s slim book “Navigate your Stars” – a book that is now a constant reminder of value of hard work and hope for a better tomorrow.

Ward just reflects on her experiences as a Southern Black Woman addressing all the themes of grit, the problems she and her family faced, and above all the importance of also learning together as a unit – sometimes not even the same lessons.

This book is a result of Ward’s commencement address at Tulane University, where she teaches creative writing (I think she still does). Navigate Your Stars is also about the people in her family who weren’t that fortunate to get the chances and opportunities that Ward did, and yet did what they could to better their lives – or make their successors’ lives better.

There is so much wisdom and inspiration in this sixty-four page very short book that sometimes big tomes fail to contain. Also, not to forget the beautiful illustrations by Gina Triplett that shine on every page. Navigate Your Stars is a book to read when you are down in the dumps, when you are happy, when you feel all of it, and just want to feel hopeful all over again.