Category Archives: Westland Books

Read 7 of 2022. Qabar by K.R. Meera. Translated from the Malayalam by Nisha Susan.

Qabar by K.R. Meera

Title: Qabar
Author: K.R. Meera
Translated from the Malayalam by Nisha Susan
Publisher: Eka Books, Westland
ISBN: 9789391234515
Genre: Novella, Literary Fiction, Translated Fiction
Pages: 111
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

Reading K.R. Meera’s writing is to let go of the thin line between reality and the imaginary, and to submit oneself to the power of her words. K.R. Meera’s writing isn’t easy. There are layers and multi-folds of emotions attached to it, each tying it all together, each capable of destroying the very tapestry she creates for the reader.

There were times while reading Qabar I was terrified, I was immersed in what she wanted me to see, and often found myself taking the place of the protagonist, Bhavana. I do not know how to talk about the plot of this book, but I shall try. Qabar is about a disputed piece of land, and in this dispute Bhavana, the judge of the case gets caught unknowingly. It is about her ancestor as well, who in some way or the other is related to the events that unfold. Qabar is about Bhavana’s child Advaith, who has ADHD and is trying to cope, after his father deserted them. Qabar is about Bhavana’s buried emotions, till she meets a petitioner and her life takes an unexpected turn – for the better or worse she doesn’t know yet. It is also about religion and the fences we create in its name.

K.R. Meera’s writing is nothing like I have read before. She surprises me by the power of her craft through every new book published. Her writing is bold, nonchalant, full of desire, and undertones of race, class, and provides no solutions. Her writing is empathetic and yet extremely visceral in nature. It is all over the place, and yet seems so grounded – it has the power to make you imagine – transport yourself to the world she creates and makes you stay there till you are done with it. Nisha Susan’s translation does more than enough justice to the plot – it did not read like a translation to begin with and when it did, I didn’t feel anything was missed out.

Qabar is a short novel, almost a novella, and yet says so much. The layers are umpteen and complex. From love to envy, to insecurities of a single mother, to understanding the nature of magic, it is a topsy-turvy ride of a read. A read  I so wish just didn’t stop. Qabar’s magic realism – its tone of all things that lay in suspension of belief is not only charming but fearsome and thrilling. K.R. Meera explores desire and the pangs of longing like no other contemporary Indian writer I can think of.  Qabar is a read that will have you gripped till you are done with it.

In Search of Heer by Manjul Bajaj

In Search of Heer isn’t a love story. Well, it is, but it isn’t a typical love story. It may have been inspired by an old-fashioned one, but Bajaj’s Heer and her Ranjha and everyone else in their lives, are her own people. Yes, the story’s skeletal frame has been maintained. That Bajaj hasn’t strayed away from. What she has done is to hit the reader at every turn of the page, with some thought-provoking, profound, and most intense prose.

In Search of Heer is aptly titled. It is about Heer. All about her. Everything, and rightly so. It is about Ranjha. Yes, without a shadow of doubt. It is about their love and everything else that follows, but it is mainly about Heer and the women who possess the narrative. Bajaj does a fantastic job of not only excellent storytelling, but also of being able to turn the narrative on its head. She gives us perspectives of a crow, of pigeons, and of a lamb when it comes to the story and does it very convincingly.

The book is about so many things. There are so many layers to it. I am stumped what to say and what not to say, but I shall try. Feminism is at the center and heart of this novel. From Heer to her mother to Heer’s friends, Sehti (a very pivotal character according to me), and others who come and go are so strong, sometimes weak, but rooted in a sense of independence – even though not fully realised at times. Heer’s feminism as portrayed by Bajaj is just natural – that’s the way she was raised by her father Mir Chuchak – to be whatever she wants to be, and live life on her terms. At the same time, through another lens, Bajaj takes us to a place where feminism doesn’t exist, and is brutally trampled on in the name of religion, and ironically women’s safety. This happens through the villainous uncle of Heer, Kaido Langda.

Longing is another recurring theme, expressed without any drama or theatrics. There is one section in the book when Heer speaks of months as they pass, as she waits for Ranjha and that to me is the highlight of the book. Longing also expressed through people’s inability to get out of circumstances – Sehti’s love for Murad, Seida’s love that is not acceptable, and the longing of so many to just live and let live.

Manjul Bajaj’s In Search of Heer is a modern retelling in the sense that it breaks all barriers of telling the original story. It also sticks to the skeletal system, but creates her own flesh as she moves along. There is so much that will strike home – everything that fits in the world we live in, we are a part of, the magic realism, the surreal, the impossibility of love, the love that doesn’t give up, and love that ensures people are free rather than bound to each other.

Exquisite Cadavers by Meena Kandasamy

Exquisite Cadavers by Meena Kandasamy Title: Exquisite Cadavers
Author: Meena Kandasamy
Publisher: Context, Westland
ISBN: 9789388754842
Genre: Literary Fiction, Novella
Pages: 112
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

I do not know where to begin talking about this book. There is so much going on in this book – love, hate, fights, religion, a book about a young couple navigating love and hate in London, about migration, and how we are in the modern world. Or rather how we perceive love, and its failings (if any).

Exquisite Cadavers is about a young couple, Karim and Maya. Karim is a filmmaker who has left his house in Tunis, and made his house in London with Maya, an English woman, who is battling her demons of an almost absent father, fighting with giving up cigarettes, and is confronted by a pregnancy she isn’t quite sure of.

The book is very cleverly divided into the actual novella and in the margins the thoughts of Meena as she was writing the actual book. Sometimes it just feels that the novel is meta and the thin line between reality and fiction is blurred to the point of it not being recognised. Pieces are stitched – revealing one layer after another. While one column speaks of Karim and Maya, the other speaks of the author’s creative process, her life, and the horrors occurring in India (yes, she speaks of the current ruling party and what followed).

Meena’s life on the left – from seeing her friends killed and arrested to becoming an activist herself is a stream of consciousness that shouldn’t be missed. The rage and anger is perhaps what we need in large doses, given the times we live in. At the same time, the domestic tale of Karim and Maya is extremely engaging, till the two very cleverly meet at the end of the book.

Exquisite Cadavers is a book that needs time to brew and seep, till you pick it up and look at it by taking sides. You need to take a side, and stay there. This book demands that when it comes to marginalia – you cannot sit on the fence. It is an experimental novella unlike any other that I have come across and it will make you question, ponder, mull, and understand where you come from.

 

Love Without A Story: Poems by Arundhathi Subramaniam

Love Without A Story Title: Love Without A Story: Poems
Author: Arundhathi Subramaniam
Publisher: Context, Westland
ISBN: 978-9388689458
Genre: Poetry
Pages: 128
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 stars

I am very particular about what poetry I read. After all, poetry is acquired taste. It needs that breathing time. Time to mull over and make sense of what is going on and how it has managed to leave you breathless in its wake. How a poet has that power over you, and you just cannot seem to decipher that. You just let it be and accept that as your fate or whatever you believe in. Arundhathi Subramaniam’s collection of poems “Love Without A Story” is a book of poems that just is. I don’t think it is trying to make a point or say anything that you haven’t already heard in various forms – it just is though, in all its beauty, subtlety, and grace.

The poems jump at you, almost ambush you. But isn’t that what good poetry should be all about? The ambushing. The cornering. The making-you-sit-down-and-listen kind of poetry. From making you think of old friends, to getting down to the business of love – sometimes said out loud and sometimes hidden for reasons only known to the beloved, Subramaniam’s poetry cannot be placed on any understanding or technique and quite frankly, doesn’t even need to. As long as the reader feels what she is trying to say is more than enough. Isn’t it?

“It gets easier, friend,
With age,
To delete, plan breakfast,
Turn the page.

It would have been easier still
If you hadn’t deleted the sun”

The above lines are from a poem called “Deleting the Picture”. This one hit home the hardest – the one that made me weep a little and mourn the loss of a friendship. This is what poetry is supposed to do, right? Good poetry at least – to seize you, jolt you out of your existence, and make you see what was always visible.

Arundhathi’s writing isn’t difficult to read at all. If anything, it is so simple, that you connect with it instantly. Her poems are of longing, friendship, of boundaries we are willing to cross, of relationships that break and don’t return, of people who break them and survive. It is almost like every poem is a universe of its own – so vast and detailed, even if it seems contained in the pages of the book.

When parents die,
You hunt for clues
In strips of Sorbitrate,
Immaculate handwriting,
Unopened cologne
And in evening air,
Traces of baritone.

Finding Dad is another of my favourites. Once again, this made me weep. Made me think of things that I did not say to my father while he was alive, and now I search for him in objects, in his favourite songs and movies, and sometimes I think I am reminded of his voice.

Love is a strange territory to navigate. Poetry most certainly helps us. Good poetry makes it even better and tolerable. It makes us see the people we were and what we have become. Arundhathi’s poetry does just that. It has the sense of abandon that poetry demands from its creators. It has the sense of fulfilment and yet keeps you on the edge, wanting more, and not giving it. You have to make do with what you have. That’s the first rule of poetry according to me. You soak in its brilliance and dare not ask more, till it is given on its own. Every poem of Love Without A Story leaves you with something – big or small doesn’t matter. The emotion is there, the feeling of empowerment and helplessness, and above all of love and its various forms. I leave you with this one.

For lovers flatten
Into photographs,

Photographs
Into reminiscence,

Reminiscence
Into quiet,

And then what’s left?

Perhaps just the oldest thing in the world,
Love without a story.

The Sialkot Saga by Ashwin Sanghi

The Sialkot Saga by Ashwin Sanghi Title: The Sialkot Saga
Author: Ashwin Sanghi
Publisher: Westland Books
ISBN: 978-9385724060
Genre: Thriller, Indian Fiction
Pages: 588
Source: From the Author
Rating: 4 Stars

I remember reading “Chanakya’s Chant” a couple of years ago and being completely taken in by the book. There was nothing that I did not like about it. I mean here was an Indian Historic thriller that finally did justice to the genre. I could not stop reading the book and finished it in a day. The same happened (well more or less, given the size of this one) while reading ‘The Sialkot Saga’.

‘The Sialkot Saga’ has one of my favourite Indian authors back in the game (I was not a fan of The Krishna Key and some others written by him, to be honest) and how! The book spreads across decades and centuries, till it reaches present day India and will sure have both historic and thriller readers in for a treat.

What is the book about you might ask?

Well, the book is about power – the race to it and it involves two people – Arvind and Arbaaz, both raised in the wake of partition of India and how their lives merge, collide and intertwine at every given step – whether they like it or not, both personally and professionally. They are adversaries – so there is a lot of blood, moments of corporate politics, of anger and in all of this there are moments of humanity, grace and kindness, which take you not by surprise but more like you expected them at some point or the other. Arvind and Arbaaz are characters that won’t easily let go of you and when the book is over, there is this lingering sense of sadness that stays with you and you cannot help but think about the people whose lives you have been a part of as you read through this magnificent thriller.

The historic angle of the book starts from Emperor Ashoka’s reign and ends in today’s time. The book is a tome but you never think of it that way. The pages turn rapidly, all thanks to Ashwin’s seamless and racy plot. Calcutta and Bombay (as known in those times) are vividly described, so much so that I felt I was taking in the Bombay, Delhi and Calcutta of the times before the 80s when I was born.

Sanghi’s writing is crystal clear. Of course he shows but there is also a good mix of showing and telling which I think works wondrously for this book. At no point, did I want to close this. At no point, I felt that there needed to be heavy-duty editing done. It was fine. It is fine the way it is. I would strongly recommend it.