Category Archives: penguin india

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.

Ib’s Endless Search for Satisfaction by Roshan Ali

ibs-endless-search-for-satisfaction-by-roshan-ali

I remember reading this book when it was first long listed for The JCB Prize for Literature last year. Given all that has happened since, it feels like another lifetime. Having said this, I reread it this month and in a very quiet, almost unassuming manner, this book touched me. I think I read it with a different point of view the first time around, or I do not know what was so special about it this time, or perhaps I had forgotten all about it, but that’s hardly the point. Ib’s Endless Search for Satisfaction in more than one way felt like my story. Or at least similar.

Ib is perhaps not a nice young man to know. He is self-absorbed, only worries about himself (sometimes not even that), is a wayward in more than one way, doesn’t know where life is to take him, and yet so endearing, real, and only too brutally honest. His father suffers from schizophrenia. His mother moves from one day to another – lost in her thoughts and the world of being a caregiver. His maternal grandfather, Ajju, is mean and loves that Ib’s family is dependent on him for almost everything. And in all of this, there is Ib – growing up – trying to grow up – trying very hard even not to, and sometimes just trying to make sense of the world he has been thrown into.

Ib doesn’t have friends. Ib prefers looking at everything in great detail. Ib knows what he wants and then doesn’t. Ib craves for human attention, company, the tenderness as he calls it at one point, and he wants it all on his terms. Ib’s journey is mundane, it is of the everyday living, it is of boredom at work, of not suffering the banal in college, it is of preferring one’s company to that of others, and living as honestly as possible.

Roshan Ali’s city – the one in which Ib lives and comes to inhabit closely could be any city – any at all, and yet it is only one. The one that Ib and the readers come to love. Roshan Ali’s writing is unapologetic – he speaks of things that are uncomfortable – of death, sex, his father’s condition, and in all of this the complexity of living.

Ib is not an easy person to understand or to write about is what I think. At the same time, what I loved about the book was the minor characters that aren’t minor – the mother, the friend Major, Annie, Maya, and even a sadhu thrown in for good measure. There is a lot taking place, and as a reader I revelled in all of it.

Nothing happens. Really. Almost nothing happens in Ib’s Endless Search for Satisfaction. There are revelations but nothing happens. Death happens, loss, grief, and yet nothing at all. In all of this everyday living, there are glimpses of hope in all of the melancholy, in all of the anguish – to be able to live and be.

Undertow by Jahnavi Barua

Estrangement. What an odd choice of word to define the not-so-closeness to a person who once was your world. Really an odd choice of word. There is loss, and yet it doesn’t feel like that. It sounds almost clinical, like a surgery has been performed on it, and the word that remained was this. Estrangement, in its various forms.

“Undertow” by Jahnavi Barua is about relationships that go sour, that are no longer what they used to be, that can be mended, relationships that can start over. Loya is twenty-five and has never met her maternal grandfather, Torun, who lives in Assam in a Yellow house all by himself. His wife Usha, the matriarch and an intimidating figure has long gone – it’s been four years. Loya’s mother Rukmini was banished from home, twenty-six years ago, in 1983, when she decided to marry Alex, the love of her life. Since then, a lot changed. Loya arrives at the Yellow House to meet her grandfather Torun and this is where the story begins.

Undertow is not just this though. It is so much more. Nature is described by Barua in a manner that is delicate, nurturing even, and personal. She speaks of clouds, of the sky, of a crow pheasant, of views, of walks, of how humans and nature can co-exist, and she also speaks of climate change most subtly. I loved Barua’s prose that is stable, though there are a lot of emotions simmering underneath, it is on the surface of it still as a lake during summer. No movement at all, and yet the story propels in the direction it has to. A voice of its own, almost.

Relationships aren’t perfect. Neither are people. Relationships are imperfect. They take a lot from you, but also somehow are fulfilling in their own dysfunctional manner. Undertow is all about such relationships – jagged, brittle in the mouth, and where snatches of happiness are far and few and in-between. Yet, there is much comfort in this short novel. Food being one of them. Barua writes about food with much affection. The fish and the fish seller, the five courses of Assamese food, the vegetables, and even a simple cup of tea evokes yearning for all the food. You just want to eat it all as you turn the page.

Feminism is also at the center of all of this – and yet it is not as palpable. Even then, it questions so many things along the course of the novel. Loya’s feminism vs. that of her mother’s. Usha’s brand of feminism and how it brought about emotional destruction in its wake, and even Sita the house help’s brand of feminism that is silent and speaks volume.

The secondary characters see the very same relationships so differently. From Romen, the cook to Biren, the handyman in a sense, to lives that converge and melt into the other lives, without realising that we are all perhaps just connected one way or the other.

“Undertow” shines on so many levels. Barua’s craft is surreal and yet it stings quite appropriately when it has to. Her writing is calm, restless, and disquiet – ample with love and loss, reminding us always that estrangement can be overcome. Over and over again.