Tag Archives: Aleph Book Company

Read 206 of 2021. A for Prayagraj: A Short Biography of Allahabad by Udbhav Agarwal

A for Prayagraj - A Short Biography of Allahabad by Udbhav Agarwal

Title: A for Prayagraj: A Short Biography of Allahabad
Author: Udbhav Agarwal
Publisher: Aleph Book Company
ISBN: 9789390652723
Genre: Non-Fiction, Commentary
Pages: 120 
Source: Publisher 
Rating: 4/5 

Udbhav Agarwal’s writing is precise, and he knows how to cut to the chase. Udbhav’s Allahabad is of the past (of course), but it belongs to the present in so many ways, and not just as a means of nostalgia but so much more. And then there is the modern-day Prayagraj that one sees and yet doesn’t (thankfully). Who is to say that Allahabad doesn’t exist? Who is to say that people there do not address it yet as Allahabad and not Prayagraj? That’s hardly the point though.

A for Prayagraj brings forth the city through memory, through what is, what was, and its people who leave and return. The book opens with the prologue aptly titled, “Yogi ki Prayagshala” (a pun on Prayogshala) – where Agarwal returns to the city that is now a stranger in so many ways and yet familiar. The name change hasn’t changed the soul of the city. “That, in one of the oldest living cities in the world, things have come, and things have gone. Things have fallen apart. And yet, the city endures.” he writes with emotion that rings throughout the read.

Whether Agarwal is speaking of Holy Waters touring company owned and run by a practical Neelesh Narayan or when he is documenting his search for Upendranath Ashk’s autobiography “Chehre Anek”, or even as he speaks of the parkour boys, who just want a way out, Agarwal brings to fore the Allahabad – the one that is scrambling to accommodate all spaces – the past, the present, and perhaps even an uncertain future.

My most favourite section of the book has to be “F for Fyaar, F se Firaq” – a love story (lust story?) of sorts – somewhere between Grindr and poetry, there is love, with Firaq paving the way, and yet as it happens with most such encounters, it is in vain.

A for Prayagraj is a memoir of growing up in spaces that no longer exist, or some remnants do. It is a travelogue even, one that made me Google all the places Agarwal mentions in the book. It is about the good old days and how they have disappeared or so it seems. Udbhav’s writing makes you think, and feel, and leaves you wondering – it tells you that the personal and the political are the same, it shows you how a city can become a world.

Padmavati the Harlot and Other Stories by Kamala Das

Padmavati the Harlot and Other Stories by Kamala Das

Title: Padmavati the Harlot and Other Stories
Author: Kamala Das
Publisher: Aleph Book Company
ISBN: 978-9389836165
Genre: Short Stories, Literary Fiction Pages: 108
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

Don’t get taken in by the title of the collection and the begin to read it. Actually, you know what, get taken in by the title, buy it because of it, read it, and understand the brilliance of Kamala Das’s writing that is often layered, always real and grounded, criticising the world and its limitations when it comes to women – in the way they are treated, and sometimes also how they take charge of their lives.

Kamala Das’s women are fierce, bold, courageous, even shy, but do not mistake them to be fearful. They may seem like that at beginning of some stories, but they do not end with that character trait for sure. Her women battle. Her women speak their mind, and mostly don’t. The women in her stories are her. The women in her stories are perhaps all of us – the ones who have been denied a voice and do what it takes to assert themselves.

Her writing is about losses and perhaps some wins along the way. It is about abandoned wives, and women who step out and live the way they want to. Leaving men, leaving lovers, and leaving parts of themselves as well. Whether it is Padmavati the Harlot who just wants to redeem herself in front of her God (while clearly shown as being abused by the priest), or a housewife whose husband loves another woman and all she wants is a little kitten and what happens thereafter, to the protagonist of The Sea Lounge who is at the mercy of her lover, each women is a world in herself, and Das doesn’t shy away from telling it as it is. She speaks of empowerment in her own way – of small choices made by her characters, and then it all overwhelms the reader, raining down like an avalanche of emotions.

A Ballad of Remittent Fever by Ashoke Mukhopadhyay. Translated from the Bengali by Arunava Sinha.

A Ballad of Remittent Fever

Title: A Ballad of Remittent Fever Author: Ashoke Mukhopadhyay Translated from the Bengali by Arunava Sinha
Publisher: Aleph Book Company
ISBN: 978-9389836028
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 304
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

I was very skeptical when I started reading, “A Ballad of Remittent Fever”. I was scared that medical terminology would be thrown my way and I would be totally lost trying to figure it out. Yes, the terminology did come my way. Yes, I did feel lost a couple of times. But I started enjoying the read. I was in a way enthralled by the extraordinary lives and loves of the members of the Ghoshal Family. The writing converted me.

I think one must also read the book, keeping aside our current situation, if possible. The book is full of references to epidemics, pandemics, and vaccines. That might be hard to do, but I was more involved in the daily affairs of every family member, across time and the non-linear narrative.

The book spans over a hundred years, from 1867 to 1967 – through two World Wars, major diseases, and the forces that propel this family of doctors to ravage and fight those diseases, sometimes also being not-so-aware of the Superman complex some of them have, to wanting to live full lives – professional and personal.

The protagonist (can be called that in a way) Dwarikanath Ghoshal is a man who is at the pinnacle of this unit, with a fierce desire to vanquish diseases that seem incurable. And from there on four generations of the family – in their own way – through Allopathy or Ayurveda try to battle diseases, with the sole intention of making people live.

And then there is the constant push and pull between superstition and medicine, faith in the supernatural and believe in medicine, and alongside all of this – the changes in medicinal science that lends beautifully to the progression of this novel.

The translation by Arunava Sinha is spot on. He wonderfully makes you see Calcutta of the times gone by and how perhaps nothing has changed. Through Arunava’s translation, the book gets another layer of nuance in my opinion.

A Ballad of Remittent Fever must be read for its prose, for the fine intertwining of medicine with life, for the personal battles people fight while trying to combat the professional ones, and what does it take to be a saviour, sometimes referred to as God, and to bear the burden of such responsibility.

 

Prelude to a Riot by Annie Zaidi

Prelude to a Riot by Annie Zaidi

Title: Prelude to a Riot
Author: Annie Zaidi
Publisher: Aleph Book Company
ISBN: 978-9388292818
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 192
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 stars

“Prelude to a Riot” by Annie Zaidi is a book that needs to be read and reread. It is a book of our times, for our times, and while you are reading it, there is melancholy, a rush of sadness – because we are all trying to hold on to something, a sense of secularism, of brotherhood, of living that isn’t dictated by what you eat or how you pray.

The book is in the form of soliloquies, newspaper columns, letters to the editor, and what goes on in Garuda teacher’s classroom – in a town in South of India – an unnamed town – that is the center of what’s to come, a town that is at the cusp of tension, the rage that is silently brewing – a riot about to happen.

Prelude to a Riot is about the silent emotional riots that take place. Instances of a Muslim girl being forced to eat pork by her Hindu friends, of friends divided and a bright student who fears his family’s safety and just wants them to leave. There is no other side. I tried very hard to gauge if there was the other side to things – but there isn’t. When there is a riot, one community, one religion, one side – always suffers the most, and that sadly is the one of the minority, the outnumbered, the ones whose agency has been taken away from them.

This book is about the current socio-political climate – of the not-so-secular-environment we are living in – of Hindus being pitted against Muslims – this book is about what happens before it all explodes. Of how we pick sides, of how we behave, of how all our relationships are tethered to which side the wind blows, and what comes of it.

Zaidi’s writing hits the bone. It cuts through, and it hurts. That’s the intent. And yet there are moments of empathy, of kindness – far and few in between, but never veering from what she wants us to read and feel. The soliloquies give us some insight to the mind and hearts of characters – and yet it is only one-sided, there is no dialogue, or room for conversation with anyone else – no one to tell what you are going through, and all sentiments are simmering under – way under, till they find a way through tools of anger and resentment.

February 2020 Reading Wrap-Up

February 2020 Wrap-Up

 

Wanted to read more than I read in January 2020. Ended up reading one book less. So, February ended with 12 books read. 10 seen here as two are lent to other people.
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Here’s hoping March 2020 will be kinder and more will be read, thanks to the International Booker 2020 shadow panel and the Women’s Prize for Fiction Longlist 2020. February was great with a book about love, of Delhi and its poems, of Allende and the Spanish Civil War, of a graphic novel about the Khmer Rouge, of Offill’s take on climate change with a story seeped in domesticity of life, of love and loss in Dear Edward and more. .
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Here is the list read with my ratings:

1. Amour by Stefania Rousselle (5)
2. A long petal of the sea by Isabel Allende. Translated from the Spanish by Nick Caistor and Amanda Hopkinson (5)
3. Year of the Rabbit by Tian Veasna. Translated from the French by Helge Dascher (5)
4. Like Blood on the Bitten Tongue by Akhil Katyal. Illustrations by Vishwajyoti Ghosh.
5. Chhotu by Varud Gupta and Ayushi Rastogi. (3)
6. The book of Indian kings (4)
7. Weather by Jenny Offill (5)
8. How we fight for our lives by Saeed Jones (5)
9. Snow, Dog, Foot by Claudio Morandini. Translated from the Italian by J. Ockenden (4)
10. Dear Edward by Ann Napolitano (5)
11. Letters of Note: Love. Compiled by Shaun Usher (4)
12. Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine (5) .
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So, this is my list of February 2020 reads. What about yours?