Category Archives: penguin india

Read 11 of 2023. Terminal 3: A Graphic Novel about Kashmir by Debasmita Dasgupta

Terminal 3 by Debasmita Dasgupta

I thought I would enjoy this a little more than I did, but when I say enjoy for a book seeped in dreariness, darkness, but also in search of freedom and light, I mean it in the sense of what it has to offer, and where it stands on that scale. The idea of a graphic novel set in Kashmir is interesting – you know that the scars of trauma will have to come on the fore and will make you feel so much. But what if as a reader, the book doesn’t make you feel?

I will be honest. I tried liking this book, and I liked it. However, I also tried loving it, and it just wouldn’t happen. The story of Khwab living in the valley of fear and conflict, aspiring to be a sportsperson, aspiring to be so much more did strike a chord, but it did not manage to make me connect with any of the characters – her parents and their dilemma of letting their child go to a different land didn’t hit any nerve, her friend Noor and their bond to some extent did manage to elicit some emotion from me but that was that, and nothing before or after.

Khwab’s story is there but not detailed. Debasmita’s illustrations and the typography used are stunning, linear, and depict a lot of the inner turmoil that Khwab goes through. The suspense element with reference to her friend Noor stays and even got me intrigued. The friendship between Khwab and Noor is one of the things about this graphic novel that is most earnestly and beautifully portrayed.  The book gets its title from Khwab sitting at Terminal 3, waiting for her flight to the States, looking back on her life in Kashmir.

I understand this book was made for a younger audience, and it will serve the purpose of educating, making them aware of what’s going on in the Kashmir valley, and to empathize with a young person’s dreams amidst all of this quite well, however, objectively for me as a reader, this one didn’t work the way I thought it would.

Read 10 of 2023. Pyre by Perumal Murugan. Translated from the Tamil by Aniruddhan Vasudevan.



Pyre may seem so simply written on the surface. It may seem so not detailed in one sense, and yet as you turn the pages, and discover more, you see Mr. Murugan’s brilliance shine through the pages. From speaking about caste to patriarchy (because after all, it is all interlinked) to the micro-agressions that aren’t micro given the lay of the land, they are just aggressions, he takes the reader through a journey of strife, using themes such as love, religion, hatred, and the inequities that exist in every rung of societal hierarchy.

Pyre opens with Saroja and Kumaresen getting off a bus and entering Kumaresen’s village. They are in love. They harbour a secret: Of their marriage being inter-caste. Saroja hopes she will be accepted by her husband’s family and extended village people. The entire village and Kumaresen’s relatives cannot come to terms with what has happened. Saroja still believes that her faith and love will conquer it all.

Pyre simmers on every page. You can feel the heat, the hatred, the remoteness of the village, Saroja’s claustrophobia, Kumaresen’s helplessness, and his mother Marayi’s constant nagging, taunts, and temper. It is a book that is evocative, beguiling, and at the same time so raw in its approach – there are tender moments, far and few and in-between, but they exist nonetheless.

The characters are few, the book is a short one, the sentences are sparse and simple, and so much is playing out for the reader. Murugan doesn’t allow you to breathe sometimes – it feels that sticky, humid, a breath caught in your throat, stuck somewhere deep inside, because of what you have just read – the traditions, the beliefs, the culture of the land that cannot bring itself to view love of two people.

Aniruddhan Vasudevan’s translation is superbly succinct, and goes where the author takes him. Vasudevan brings his own touch to the cultural expressions that I am sure Murugan used very differently in the Tamil, and while reading it in the English you can see the effortless transition, or rather hear it in your head, as you go along. Pyre is tense and will always keep the reader on the edge. It is not an easy book to digest. It is also not easy to imagine what is happening, and what might. It is brutal, empathetic, nuanced, and tender – all at the same time.

Read 10 of 2022. Adam by S. Hareesh. Translated from the Malayalam by Jayasree Kalathil

Adam by S. Hareesh

Title: Adam
Author: S. Hareesh
Translated from the Malayalam by Jayasree Kalathil
Publisher: Penguin Vintage
ISBN: 978-0670094608
Genre: Short Stories, Translation,
Pages: 192
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

You just cannot predict what’s going to happen next in any of these stories, written by the very talented and imaginative S. Hareesh. Each story makes you question the world around you, sometimes quite minutely, and sometimes on a larger scale.

This was the first collection of short stories read this year, and I am so happy it started with this. S. Hareesh writes with abandon that is very hard to spot. His sentences are sparse but sometimes they extend to many, more so if there is a scene to be described. For instance in the title story, S. Hareesh takes liberty with the form by shifting narratives as he takes turn to describe the four children born of the same parent, and their eventual fate. The emotion in all of these stories is that of rawness, of masculinity that appears so strong on the surface, only to be eventually shattered.

S. Hareesh’s characters might come across as simple but they are constantly fighting with themselves or against the system. There is an internal war that rages, which is reflective in day-to-day living. Take for example, the story “Maoist” (on which the movie Jallikattu is based) – it is essentially about two bulls creating havoc in a small village but there is so much more to it. The class and caste politics play themselves out unknowingly, and is a constant pressure point till all hell breaks loose. The story then doesn’t just remain about the two animals but is so much more, given the metaphors and layers.

S. Hareesh builds his own worlds through his stories. We think we know the terrain, but he is constantly pushing the boundaries. Alone in that sense transforms itself to being a semi-supernatural story, where there are so many elements of fear and horror, that it could be set anywhere in the world. The appeal of universality is strong, and yet S. Hareesh reins himself in to talk of these stories in the milieu he knows best.

One cannot bracket S.Hareesh’s writing in one single genre. He constantly tries to offer more and more to readers with each story in this nine-story collection. The writing is simple, and so effective that you will not stop thinking about at least some stories when you are done with the collection. Jayasree’s translation is on point as it was in Moustache. You can hear the lilt of the source language (Malayalam) even though you are reading the text in English. Each and every word is needed and in place. There is nothing that seems wasted. Adam is a collection of short stories that is diverse, relatable to some extent, and very accessible to readers.

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.