Category Archives: Nonfiction

Read 26 of 2022. The Trial of Lady Chatterley’s Lover by Sybille Bedford

The Trial of Lady Chatterley's Lover by Sybille Bedford

Title: The Trial of Lady Chatterley’s Lover Author: Sybille Bedford
Publisher: Daunt Books
ISBN: 9781907970979
Genre: Nonfiction
Pages: 80
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

I was fifteen or sixteen I think when I first heard of “Lady Chatterley’s Lover” from my mother. I think she read it and enjoyed it a lot. She even told me what it was about. It was her way of educating me about sex, I suppose. I went on to read it at the age of eighteen and while it didn’t change my life, it certainly had some impact.

Lady Chatterley’s Lover isn’t a book about sex, as much as it is about relationships and what binds people together or makes them search for love from other people. It is full of sex and words that we now so casually use like “fuck”. It was for this reason it was banned in the country to which the writer belonged. There was then the famous trial that took place in 1960, the trial of Penguin under the Obscene Publications Act 1959, which was a major event of its times.

This book is about that trial. Bedford was a first-hand witness to the trial. She saw it unravel and documented it. She speaks of the claustrophobia of Courtroom 1 at the Old Bailey. She presents everything that took place – word for word, play by play – from the prosecution’s objections of 13 sexual scenes to the listing of 66 instances of swear words to the testimony of dozens of witnesses including E.M. Forster.

The essay is honest and transparent. It doesn’t judge but just presents what happened and the outcome of it – of course the book won, and all those readers who were given the chance to read it.

The Trial of Lady Chatterley’s Lover should be read by all, to understand why books are banned, and shouldn’t be. It should be read to make sense of what is moral and immoral, and how fact and fiction merge together to create a space which should be devoid of judgement.

Read 20 of 2022. The Blue Book: A Writer’s Journal by Amitava Kumar.

The Blue Book by Amitava Kumar

Title: The Blue Book: A Writer’s Journal Author: Amitava Kumar
Publisher: HarperCollins India
ISBN: 978-9354893742
Genre: Nonfiction, Diaries and Journals Pages: 176
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

I will say this at the onset of this review: This book definitely makes it to one of my top reads of this year, and we are only in February. The Blue Book by Amitava Kumar is a whole lot of heart, meditations on loss and living, and above all on the resilience of the human spirit, in several circumstances, the pandemic being one of them.

The Blue Book is a journal of the pandemic, it is an ode to the ones who have left us, it is a memoir, it is a journal of the passing of time, and how in all of this literature saves us, most of the time. It is also a collection of paintings and drawings – of life observed as it came to a standstill, and somehow did not.

Amitava Kumar’s musings aren’t just that – you could even call them contemplations, or profound thoughts but to me they were nothing but deeply personal and emotional. He speaks of his parents, their mortality, his mother’s passing away, his children, his friends, and how it all comes together for him as a writer.

The Blue Book is a book that makes you see things around you, in a more calm and balanced manner. It did that for me at least. It made me slow down in a sense and appreciate what I had and also what I did not. Kumar’s paintings say so much – they represent life, death (since he also started painting over the obits from the pandemic in NY Times), and a sense of life coming full circle in a strange way. Art brings forth the grief – the unsaid, the understated, and perhaps how to let go.

Read 16 of 2022. The Law of Desire: Rulings on Sex and Sexuality in India by Madhavi Menon

The Law of Desire

Title: The Law of Desire: Rulings on Sex and Sexuality in India
Author: Madhavi Menon
Publisher: Speaking Tiger Books
ISBN: 9789354471155
Genre: Nonfiction
Pages: 150
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

Madhavi Menon breaks down sex and sexuality in relation to the law most succinctly in this pocket-sized book. This book also feels like an extension of her previous work, “Infinite Variety: A History of Desire in India”, which is a work that should be widely read.

The Law of Desire is a slim book of five sections – Preamble, Criminal, Immoral, Obscene, and Unnatural – each dealing with rulings about sex and sexuality and more so thoughts on way forward. The Preamble and Amendment act as Prologue and Epilogue in a traditional sense of a book.

I like how Menon presents facts and doesn’t let her opinions come in the way, though of course there are times that she does debate with the reader, which I found quite fruitful and invigorating. Menon makes connections of religion and fundamental rights to desire and how they have nothing to do with gender to begin with.

Madhavi’s writing is simple, to the point, and peppered with examples from various other rulings, though at times it does get a little overbearing to try and recall them.

One element that I loved a lot in the book is the way Menon uses pop-culture to the benefit of the book’s topic – from movie posters, to literature, to music – all of it ties in neatly with the rulings and the cases she brings up through the course of the book.

She also tries to take the conversation away from just the binary when it comes to sex and sexuality to include the non-binary, which of course is inclusive but are far and few and in-between.

The Law of Desire is a short and insightful read on desire and how sometimes the law doesn’t even know what to do with it. It is biting, precise, and on-point. For readers who want to know more about desire and the Indian courts’ rulings, this is a good book to start with.

Read 13 of 2022. Mobile Girls Koottam: Working Women Speak by Madhumita Dutta . Illustrated by Madhushree

Mobile Girls Koottam - Working Women Speak by Madhumita Dutta

Title: Mobile Girls Koottam: Working Women Speak
Author: Madhumita Dutta
Illustrated by Madhushree
Publisher: Zubaan Books
ISBN: 9789390514458
Genre: Non-Fiction
Pages: 284
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

Mobile Girls Koottam is a book I would recommend everyone in the country to read at least once before they start speaking of equity. It is a book that will perhaps make it clear of how young rural migrant women work vis-à-vis how we imagine the worlds of working-class women from a privileged vantage point.

How do these migrant women see themselves in the larger scheme of things as they work, day after day? What are their aspirations and how they navigate around them, sometimes negotiating their circumstances? This book was first a podcast, when Dutta, in 2013, a doctoral student went to do her research in Kancheepuram district in Tamil Nadu, encountering five women who worked inside an electronics factory. There she documented the lives of Abhinaya, Satya, Lakshmi, Pooja, and Kalpana – in a single rented room, over cups of tea – chatting and recording the podcast over a year, till the factory shut down in 2014. This book is a collection of those transcripts.

No topic was out of bounds when it came to these women. They spoke their hearts and minds – about reclaiming public spaces, the nature of factory work and how exploitative it is when it comes to women, the fear of losing a job, the differences that work creates between men and women, about economic independence and marriage. In fact, most of them were living alone for the first time – leaving their homes and stepping out to work.

The book also looks at economic policies made in favour of or not for the working class irrespective of gender. Madhumita speaks of labour and its relation to the society at large through these women – most of it was covered in the preface but I could also see glimpses of it in the conversations documented.

At this point, might I also mention the most fantastic illustrations by Madhushree interspersed quite intelligently, throughout the book to state points and to capture the experiences of these women with wit and candour.

Mobile Girls Koottam is a book that reveals a lot – about the nature of work, about the nature of work when it comes to genders and how it then shapes into something else by the end of it, and most importantly it speaks of having a room of your own to be able to think and speak freely.

Read 3 of 2022. In Praise of Shadows by Jun’ichirō Tanizaki. Translated from the Japanese by Thomas J. Harper and Edward G. Seidensticker

In Praise of Shadows by Jun'Ichirō Tanizaki

Title: In Praise of Shadows Author: Jun’ichirō Tanizaki
Translated from the Japanese by Thomas J. Harper and Edward G. Seidensticker Publisher: Vintage Classics
ISBN: 9781784875572
Genre: Nonfiction, Design
Pages: 128
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5/5

I have always wanted to read this book, and #JanuaryinJapan made me get to it sooner than later. I must say though that I loved it through and through, no matter how outdated some of the ideas may seem in today’s time and age.

Tanizaki’s book is about shadows and light when it comes to Japanese architecture or the layout of a home, but it is so much more than that as well. It is about how we approach darkness and the significance we give to light. Tanizaki appreciates shadows and the role they play not only in aesthetically but also in our lives and what they say about us as people.

It is about how shadows are all-pervasive in our ordinary lives and thereby then extending to the ordinariness of living and what encompasses it. When Tanizaki speaks of woodwork, sliding doors, walls and the projection of shadows on them, Japanese houses, the traditional restaurants, candle lights, and Japanese toilets, it all fits beautifully and merges with the reality of living, where harshness of light is preferred to the understated beauty of darkness.

Japanese aesthetic got me then thinking of how we also live our lives – more tuned to Western aesthetics than the Oriental and perhaps that leads to more restlessness and anxiety. Like I said, the book does seem outdated when it comes to some concepts of space and light and shadow but overall, it is a wonderful primer on not just design but also on how to live in the modern age.

Books and Authors mentioned in In Praise of Shadows: 

  • Natsume Sōseki
  • Saito Ryoku
  • Kôtei
  • Takebayashi Musôan
  • Pillow of Grass by Nastume Sōseki
  • Some Prefer Nettles
  • The Makioka Sisters
  • The Key
  • Diary of a Mad Old Man
  • The Mother of Captain Shigemoto
  • Seven Japanese Tales by Howard and Hibbett
  • The Tale of Genji
  • Susan Sontag