Category Archives: Penguin Hamish Hamilton

Read 6 of 2022. The Odd Book of Baby Names by Anees Salim

The Odd Book of Baby Names by Anees Salim

Title: The Odd Book of Baby Names
Author: Anees Salim
Publisher: Penguin Hamish Hamilton
ISBN: 978-0670095971
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 288
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

So, here’s the deal: Once you start reading this book you will be entranced by the simplicity of prose, the flair with which the narrative moves (which it does quite swiftly), and how Anees Salim is meticulous and to the point – at the same time making us imagine so much, from one page to the other. This is what happens right through The Odd Book of Baby Names.

The Odd Book of Baby Names is about eight characters that take centre stage – eight progenies of a king who is dying. Eight unique voices, each with their story to tell about their King, their father, and the circumstances surrounding them. And these are just eight that are known to the reader, perhaps among 100 that the King had sired. The book of baby names is the book in which the King notes the names of the babies (as he has given it to them) along with the meaning.

The book is so layered, way beyond what meets the eye. Of course there is the angle of the dying King and a kingdom that is no longer his. The kingdom in question is hinted at Hyderabad, and the period in which the book is set alludes to the 60s and the 70s. The women that the King was intimate with have no history or agency. One must also look at the time period in which this book is set. The traditions, the advantages taken by royalty, the utter nonchalance of not knowing the future of your children, and more than anything else the mental health issues of these eight people that shows itself to the reader page by page.

Anees Salim’s writing cannot be boxed into any genre. I think there is a unique style, that didn’t remind of me any other writer. The sentences sometimes are long and in detail as needed, some sections are to the point and precise, The book is unique – it is simple in its approach and complex at the same time. There is a lot of difference in all of the 8 voices and to make each of the distinct is true craft.

The Odd Book of Baby Names was a sure hit of a read for me. It was paced just right, the words and expressions used were a delight, and the reader in me couldn’t wait to get back to it till it was done. Please read it.

Books and Authors mentioned in The Odd Book of Baby Names: 

  • Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare
  • Ghalib
  • Khusrow
  • Zafar

Read 216 of 2021. Actually…I Met Them: A Memoir by Gulzar

Actually...I Met Them by Gulzar

Title: Actually…I Met Them: A Memoir Author: Gulzar
Publisher: Penguin Hamish Hamilton ISBN: 978-0670096077
Genre: Memoir
Pages: 176
Source: Publisher
Rating: 3/5

I was eagerly looking forward to Gulzar saab’s memoir since its announcement. I was expecting a tome of memories, songs, and relationships to come my way. I was but of course disappointed to then see that it was a memoir of only 176 pages and that too character sketches of people Gulzar saab was close to.

People also for a very large part make up a memoir. The people one interacts with shapes the trajectory of life. So, in that case sure they are a part of a memoir, but can a book of character sketches based on experiences with those people alone be called a memoir is something I am still pondering about. Maybe, yes. Actually, yes.  

I wanted to love this book, but I only liked it, and that too in bits and pieces. Most of the stories and anecdotes can be found by Googling. Yes, it is different when Gulzar saab writes about it, but after a point it just didn’t work for me.

He speaks fondly about people who shaped his life and his craft – the ones who inspired me, the ones he was in awe of, and the ones he misses and loved the most. From R.D. Burman to Kishore Kumar to Satyajit Ray and Suchitra Sen, not to forget Sanjeev Kumar and Sharmila Tagore, Gulzar saab speaks of them all – how it was to work with them to how he addressed them, their eccentricities, how they made the films they did, and what these people meant to him. There are twenty-one or more people mentioned in the book, and how his life was lived to some extent with them acting as enablers.

Actually…I Met Them is written is true Gulzar saab manner – candid, emotional, and funny. Like I said, I was expecting a lot more, but didn’t get that. I will listen to his songs now and hope there are more memoirs in store for us.

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.