Category Archives: Speaking Tiger

Upcountry Tales: Once Upon a Time in the Heart of India by Mark Tully

Upcountry Tales Title: Upcountry Tales: Once Upon a Time in the Heart of India
Author: Mark Tully
Publisher: Speaking Tiger
ISBN: 978-9386582690
Genre: Short Stories
Pages: 288
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 Stars

I think writing short stories is the most difficult thing to do. To encapsulate everything, you have to say in a short story isn’t easy. And maybe that’s the reason I admire people who write short stories. Mark Tully returns to the terrain of fiction after a while with his short story collection “Upcountry Tales: Once Upon a Time in the Heart of India”. His last work of fiction, “The Heart of India” was published in 1995 and the only one at that So he has written fiction after 22 years and let me tell you, it doesn’t seem that way at all.

The stories in this collection are set in villages of eastern Uttar Pradesh during the second half of the 1980s (so you will not find technology intruding in any of them and thank God for that). These stories are of common people (a teacher in The Reluctant Lover)– some you might encounter but not give a second glance or time of day. At the same time, these very people come alive in Mr. Tully’s stories – they aren’t in the background – they come to the fore and that’s what I loved about these stories.

There are rebels, pragmatists, bumblers, quiet heroes as well – all finding a way to deal with social hierarchies and the government forces around them. You relate to so much as you read. Mark Tully’s India isn’t quite what you or I imagine to be – maybe because we don’t know the real India so to say, so sometimes the terrain is rather surprising (or should I say shocking) but having said that, you get used to its flora and fauna and above all, its people.

The book is of stories that are serious, that are light-hearted and are also tragic. You meet heroes and heroines who have battled in their ways and manner against corruption and red-tapeism. Mark Tully does a wonderful job of painting these stories against a canvas of a wide-range of topics – from class to race differences to the rules of a patriarchal society (The Ploughman’s Lament) and that to me was something else while reading this book. He also goes on to admit in the introduction that only two of the stories are based on real characters (which had to happen given his knowledge and experience on a first-hand basis with India), while the rest are fictional.

“Upcountry Tales” is a book full of warmth and of an India that we need to know. Time doesn’t matter then – whether the stories are set in the 80s or not (that’s barely anything to go by in my opinion), what matters is the people – people who when push comes to shove, will make their presence felt.

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Immoderate Men: Stories by Shikhandin

Immoderate Men Title: Immoderate Men: Stories
Author: Shikhandin
Publisher: Speaking Tiger
ISBN: 978-9385755965
Genre: Short Stories
Pages: 200
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 Stars

Short stories intrigue me. Something about them that leads me to them almost quite often, mostly between the novels that I read. After “Men without Women”, here is another collection on the lives of men titled “Immoderate Men” spanning across 1 1 stories – telling tales of various men and their lives which are sometimes made easy and sometimes not. These stories are about circumstances that surround us – ones that can be fought and changed and some that cannot. They are about the human mind and the human heart and the workings which are unknown to man, no matter how hard he tries to understand them.

The stories sometimes in this collection are wistful and sometimes profound, sometimes heartbreaking and sometimes just a matter of fact. In short, there is almost everything for everyone to put it quite loosely. The stories are heartwarming and also sometimes quite cruel. They question what society lays out for us and sometimes they are merely spectators. From a grandfather who sits on a park bench contemplating the beauty of his daughter-in-law and the son who abandoned them to Manish discovering something not so savory about his wife to six friends talking about everything in a café, till things take a turn of their own – these stories are visceral, vivid and completely unexpected.

Shikandin’s writing is taut and doesn’t waste any time with the scenery or the weather. There is however a lot of atmosphere that seeps in to the book without the reader knowing about it – sometimes took me by surprise as well. There is a structure to the stories and there are times when Shikhandin breaks it mercilessly, leaving the reader lost and confused. The stories take you back and forth – make you see lives differently, you will also find some similarities between these men’s lives and yours and sometimes you will be thankful that your lives are so different.

Lone Fox Dancing: My Autobiography by Ruskin Bond

71uPk+sgj5L Title: Lone Fox Dancing: My Autobiography
Author: Ruskin Bond
Publisher: Speaking Tiger
ISBN: 978-9386338907
Genre: Autobiography, Memoirs
Pages: 304
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

When you have grown up reading an author’s work, then to suddenly read his autobiography is a pretty gratifying experience. Ruskin Bond is an author who is at it – from novels to short stories to ghost stories to children’s books to novellas and now an autobiography wistfully titled “Lone Fox Dancing”. I was a little apprehensive initially as I picked this book, but it most certainly grows on you. The book is also magical in a way given the time and place Mr. Bond was born and grew up in. He has truly seen it all and I was most certainly envious of the life has led till now (and continues to) as I turned the pages.

Most autobiographies tend to be a little long-drawn and tedious. But while reading “Lone Fox Dancing”, I just wanted it to go on and on and on and never end. There is this sense of nostalgia (but obviously) that seeps deep into your bones as you read this book. Might I even call it magical to a large extent. Ruskin Bond makes his life seem very effortless and yet there yxzsis so much going on – from his birth in the 30s to his boarding school days in Shimla and the time spent in Dehradun, and of how he discovered some great books and the love of reading to finding his calling – writing.

I was most curious about his craft (he doesn’t speak of it in detail but does to some extent) and how he weaves dreams through his books. The part of how The Room on the Roof came to be is most interesting. The book traverses his entire journey to where he is now – Mussoorie and how content he is amidst the nature and the family he has made his own. With every page, you can feel the years passing and how each phase of life of Mr. Bond’s was different from the next. “Lone Fox Dancing” is full of anecdotes, and why shouldn’t it be, given the rich life he has led. I am sure half of them had to go in the edits.

To me what also was intriguing was the time period – by default the book takes you through the 40s, the 50s, the 60s, so on and so forth till present time. The book oozes with honesty and truth – it has the ring of the whimsical and stark realities of living at times. “Lone Fox Dancing” is the kind of book that deserves to be reread. Well I won’t get back to it immediately, but soon enough for sure.

On Art, Literature and History: Essays by Naguib Mahfouz; Translated by Aran Byrne

51s8qRJdoUL Title: On Art, Literature and History: Essays
Author: Naguib Mahfouz
Translated from the Arabic by Aran Byrne
Publisher: Speaking Tiger
ISBN: 978-9386050007
Genre: Essays
Pages: 172
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

It will take you some time to get into this book of essays by Naguib Mahfouz, one of the finest contemporary Arabic writers, however, once you do wade your way through and read a couple of essays, you are in for a rollercoaster ride. Mahfouz’s range is wide as the title suggests is diverse – right from art to history to literature, you can read his opinions (yeah it is that after all) and more than just opinions, you can feel what he tries to tell you because he does such a good job of using words to communicate, which to me most humans cannot.

Anyhow, back to the book. “On Art, Literature and History” is a collection of essays, most of which were penned in the 1930s, that bring to life not just Mahfouz’s views but also deal with the Arab world then and development of Islam. To me, it was a very interesting read, given how he blends philosophy and art with politics, without making it too boring or uninteresting for the reader. I think I was a fan anyway since the time I read his very popular Cairo trilogy and this one just pushed me over to becoming a major fan, I suppose.

This is the first volume that Speaking Tiger has come out with so I am expecting there to be more such volumes of his non-fiction writing spanning decades. A lot of people aren’t aware of his non-fiction pieces but I really hope that they go on and pick this collection and are more aware of what he could dabble in.

The writing is complex but only when it comes to language to some extent. The reading then becomes easy once you connect with the authors’ ideas and way of thinking. After all, essays aren’t easy to write. A balance between having to say so much and brevity must be maintained at all times. I most particularly enjoyed the literature section the most – as he spoke of Chekov to other Arabic authors as well. His sense of observation is superlative and that of course will be seen as you go along from essay to essay. At some points, I did feel the pace to be languid but that is I think true of most essay collections. Maybe some can read it in one gulp and some take their own time with it. Whichever way you’d like to read it, this one is one hell of a firecracker of a read.

And Gazelles Leaping by Sudhin N. Ghose

5184UiT-1TL Title: And Gazelles Leaping
Author: Sudhin N. Ghose
Publisher: Speaking Tiger
ISBN: 978-9386338228
Genre: Indian Literature, Literary Fiction
Pages: 216
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 Stars

And Gazelles Leaping is the kind of book that will take you some time to get into. It is not going to be an easy read but I strongly recommend that you continue reading it, because the experience will be worth it, every turn of the page.

I don’t know what I went through while reading this book – there is so much happening in it that you lose yourself in it. It is an immersive experience like no other. To cut the long story short, the quartet (of which And Gazelles Leaping is the first book) is about a young child who is full of awe and wonder growing up to be a disillusioned adult. But let me also tell you about this book.

“And Gazelles Leaping” is about childhood. It is about dreams that can be dreamed and there is no one telling you otherwise. The book is about an orphan and his pet, a Manipuri elephant who along with their friends (children and their pets) fight a corporation to save their school and the orphan friend of theirs.

I am perhaps not doing enough justice in telling you the story of this delightful book but what I can say for sure is that you must read it one of those lazy, rainy days when life almost seems idyllic. That to me is the best time to pick up this unknown work which thankfully Speaking Tiger has brought to front.

Sudhin N. Ghose’s writing is marvellous, charming and sometimes even witty – which I am sure was quite intentional. At the same time, the writing is only complex because of the number of characters but once you get a hang of them, you will be just fine. “And Gazelles Leaping” is the kind of book that will make you think and yearn for your childhood. So please, do read it.