Tag Archives: Bombay

Murder in Mahim by Jerry Pinto

murder-in-mahim-by-jerry-pinto Title: Murder in Mahim
Author: Jerry Pinto
Publisher: Speaking Tiger
ISBN: 978-9385755293
Genre: Literary Fiction, Indian fiction, Crime fiction
Pages: 224
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 Stars

Before I begin this review let me tell you that this book is very different from ‘Em and the Big Hoom’ by the same author. If you are going to pick up ‘Murder in Mahim’ thinking it will be like his earlier novel, then don’t. It is different and refreshingly so. I would also like to add that it moves beyond just being a murder mystery (in the loose sense of the word) and goes to explore other themes, which I thought was very-well managed and achieved.

Being a Bombay (Yes, to me it will always be that) boy, I could identify to most of what is there in the book, in fact, even all of it – from the glitzy and glamorous to the dark underbelly, nothing was new and everything was a reminiscence of a time gone-by. This is precisely what I love about Jerry Pinto’s books – the description, the eye for detail, the nuances of not only the characters, but also the city (which also happened in Em and the Big Hoom in large doses) and that to me is some superlative craft.

I didn’t think much of the story in this one, but the only reason I kept turning the pages is because I cared for some characters and the language which is par excellence. Jerry Pinto’s writing embroils you in it, it makes you think, and before you know it you are also a part of its world.

So what is the plot of this book? A young man is found dead in the toilet of Matunga road station, with his stomach ripped open. Peter D’Souza, a retired journalist becomes a part of this investigation with his friend Inspector Jende and that’s when the story begins. It is also a book about unspoken love, about Peter’s fear that his son might be involved in the killings (yes, there are more than one) and it is about the city that never sleeps – the one that comforts and the one that can also be mercilessly cruel.

This is all I have to say about the plot. Now to the writing – I was taken in like I have mentioned earlier, by the raw energy of the city pulsating throughout the book. The nuances are meticulously and most certainly effortlessly thrown in – from the Barista at Shivaji Park, to the beaches, to the stench of urine and sweat at railway station platforms, and Marine Drive included. Mumbai (I have to call it that now) has come alive in this book.

Jerry’s writing is peppered with humour, sorrow and lots of ironic moments in the book which make you guffaw a lot. There is this straight-forwardness to his prose and yet the characters are more complex than ever. From Peter’s wife Millie who plays a minor role and yet shines with her complexities to Leslie (my personal favourite character) and the various shades there are to him, each character is crafted with a lot of deftness and logic. At one point, I felt as though I was in Bombay of my college years – there is no timeline as such in the book which works very well to its advantage. ‘Murder in Mahim’ is relevant, topical, fast-paced, and a book that will grab you by your throat.

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Tharun James Jimani’s Favourite Bombay Books

I love asking authors such questions or wanting them to write about their favourite books so that their readers and fans can read a lot more than just being stuck to the said author’s works. I honestly believe that authors must constantly recommend books that they have enjoyed and loved reading. That way readers get to explore so many books.

tharun-james-jimani

Here are Tharun James Jimani’s (author of the newly released Mornings After and Cough Syrup Surrealism, both of which are must reads in my opinion) favourite 5 books on city by the sea and I love how he has put his emotions in words. A little about Mornings After though: It is the kinda book that is perfect for our times, it is about gender roles and how the line is so blurred when it comes to identity and what it means to be urban. I loved every bit of it. A longer review a little later.

mornings-after

Tharun’s 5 favourite Bombay books:

This is kind of an awkward question to answer because it implies some deeper understanding and/or experience of the city because of my having read –and, I suppose, written- stories set in Bombay. And even more difficultly, of being able to rate the Bombay-ishness of said novels by authenticity; to distinguish “first copies” from the real thing. The problem is you and I could spend a hundred years in the same city and experience entirely different Bombays depending on who we are and what we’re drawn to.

Whereas as I’ve grown older –and perhaps because of all the many ways cities have become more and more like each other in the last couple of decades in which I did all my growing up- I find it increasingly difficult to buy into the city-as-character trope, especially in literature. (The visual medium is a different story.) Could some stories have only happened in certain places? Maybe. Could the same story have happened to another group of people in the same city? I’m not so sure. So maybe it’s just the characters after all?

This is also the sentiment I set out to express with Mornings After: “Bombay will hug to her bosom, take to her grave, tales of love and despair, of life and longing, because cities are really just the secrets they keep. And because cities—and Bombay—are not dreams or abstractions or joy or melancholy, the easiest way to put yourself in a city’s shoes may just be to put yourself in the shoes of its residents.”

Either way, a beautifully written vignette of city life is a joy to read, and the books I’ve listed below contain some of my favourite stories set in Bombay.

The Moor’s Last Sigh – Salman Rushdie

the-moors-last-sigh

This book is especially dear to me as it was the first I’d read anything like it- my first Rushdie. And to make things even more interesting, it was set in two cities – Bombay (which I had never visited at the time) and Cochin, Queen of the Arabian Sea! As a fifteen year old living in Trivandrum, it was almost a privilege to read (parts of) a story set in a city you knew inside out. I’d read The God of Small Things before this, but Roy’s Kerala was one I was familiar with. Rushdie’s Jewish Cochin of generations ago, not so much. Add to the mix the dark, dark genius of Aurora- the Moor’s talented, conflicted mother- and the alternative universe of her art that she prefers to validate her offspring through, and you’ve got one of those “What were you doing when..?” reading experiences few books can boast of. Coming back to Bombay, it’s Rushdie’s descriptions of the Ganesha festival (and Aurora’s annual dance against the Gods as the procession passes by their house) that linger in memory, but it was the interweaving of the very real terror the city was reeling from and the obvious references to Shiv Sena and Bal Thackeray that titillated at the time. I’ve always been fond of real life signposting in my own fiction, and looking back it’s not hard to imagine the Moor played his part in shaping that sensibility.

Midnight’s Children – Salman Rushdie

midnights-children

A group of kids born at the stroke of Indian independence or within the next hour, all with different super powers? The narrator as telepathic moderator of their “midnight parliament” to find out what it all means? Rushdie was doing the Wachowskis before the Wachowskis knew it was a thing! Before this descends into total fanboy fare, Midnight’s Children was more accessibly Bombay than The Moor’s Last Sigh for me, perhaps because it was also a story of growing up – both of the narrator and his country. Pop culture references and geographical quirks aside, who hasn’t visited South Bombay and wished for a funtabulous falooda or at least bhel puri served up Bombay style?


Serious Men – Manu Joseph

serious-men

We need to talk about caste, guys. A theme that could have easily petered out into Good vs. Evil blooms instead into a sublime –if ridiculous- battle of wits in this hilarious Bombay novel that pits an astute Brahman scientist against his Dalit assistant. I read somewhere that the author himself was resident in a poorer part of Mumbai as a young journalist, and it shows in his descriptions of Worli’s chawls. No clichés or poverty porn; just one man’s very understandable itch to get out of his damn cage. Teach a man to fish, right? Well, Manu Joseph gave his Dalit protagonist agency. Score.

Em and the Big Hoom – Jerry Pinto

em-and-the-big-hoom

How I Met Your Mother, but in the form of a series of conversations between a suicidal matriarch and her two kids in the psychiatric ward of a Bombay hospital. In a wonderfully concise, beautifully illustrated novel (no prolonged eight seasons of shoddy story-telling here). Em and the Big Hoom’s courtship is glorious in its details, and Em’s madness is the incessant black drip that holds together and drives this family nuts at the same time. But what stood out for me was the cultural context: the characters’ Goan-Catholic heritage (Maka Paao, as they’re referred to in some parts of Bombay) and the sheer delight in picturing the characters utter the very relatable turns of phrase ( I took to using “this-thing” in conversation for a good couple of months) Pinto puts in their mouths.

Family Matters – Rohinton Mistry

family-matters

Like with Pinto’s novel and its Goan heritage, what screamed out at me from the pages of Family Matters was the cultural setting – Bombay’s Parsi community and their fears, inhibitions and humanity. But equally telling is the novel’s exploration of that most middle class of maladies – the economic and social burden of caring for one’s parents in their old age in a community that puts family above all else. The elderly, Parkinsons-afflicted patriarch flailing about in the tiny flat his daughter shares with her equally well-intentioned husband and kids pictures the claustrophobia of Bombay’s tiny middle class abodes in a way that moves and makes you want to move at the same time.

Thank you Tharun for doing this. I know it must not have been easy for you but thank you so much for this.

Bloodline Bandra by Godfrey Joseph Pereira

Bloodline Bandra by Godfrey Joseph Pereira Title: Bloodline Bandra
Author: Godfrey Joseph Pereira
Publisher: Harper Collins India
ISBN: 9789351364429
Genre: Fiction
Pages: 264
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

Being a Bombay boy, I could not help but read, “Bloodline Bandra”. I had to read it for the nuances, for the smells, the language, the food, the culture of a subset and to relive Bandra, as it is already dead from what I knew of it, a couple of years ago. “Bloodline Bandra” made it come alive for me in more than one way. Maybe that is why it is so close to me. Maybe that is why every Bombay book is close to me. I do not know about the Mumbai books though. I never bothered reading them anyway, except for Mumbai Fables, which is simply spectacular.

“Bloodline Bandra” is about an entire culture that disappeared somewhere or it was made to disappear given the conditions of the world we live in. Godfrey’s Bandra is a Bandra that exists in most of the old-timers’ minds and hearts. It still breathes and is still there, but hidden. It is the invisible Bandra that we yearn for.

The book is about Catholics, it is about the “Maka-Paos” (as the local Bandra or Bombay colloquialism goes), it is about the Bandraites who left home and went away and are perhaps coming back and most of them do not even want to consider that. David Cabral is a journalist – an East Indian from Pali Village, which is a universe in its own. He wants to get out of this life. He does not want to be there. He is ambitious. He manages to leave Bandra and goes to New York, where he works like a slave for a newspaper, and falls in love with Hatsumi Nakamura, a Japanese cello student. David yearns for home and will never admit it. He wants to be there and yet soldiers on in an alien country.

“Bloodline Bandra” is about a dying community. It is about being hopeful amidst the craziness of every-day living. The book will speak to anyone and everyone who has felt at home the most and yet wants to run away. The writing sometimes can get a little tiresome, given the language but in a very strange way, that is what makes the reader turn the pages quite effortlessly. The characters are eccentric, real, and one can spot them all in Pali Village. All I can say is that you need to go to Bandra and then to Pali Village once you are done with the book. Breathe the place. Take all its sensations inside you and then go back and read this book all over again. It will make a whole lot of sense.

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387 Short Stories : Day 293 : New and Second-Hand by Altaf Tyrewala

Engglishhh by Altaf Tyrewala

Today started with missing home, which I do almost every single day. Not a day goes by when I don’t think of Bombay. Not a day goes by when I do think about the sea. And not to forget all the places where I shopped for books and soaked myself in those places.

Today’s story, “New and Second-Hand” by Altaf Tyrewala just brought back those memories – of school and college, when I would scrounge the streets for great literature and not to forget the very famous store, “New and Second-Hand Book Store” at Dhobi Talao (after which this story is named and dedicated to) which shut in 2011.

“New and Second-Hand” is a story of decline of a bookstore. It is the decline of literature and it is most vividly and bitingly told by Tyrewala. The language hits the spot. He speaks of a time gone by and that which is slowly declining. For me, growing up and being a Bombay boy meant to a large extent books being sold on pavements and those shops that one went to every weekend. The story is of a bookstore owner and how he knows that it is all going to end, given the times he lives in. He is bitter, lonely and loves books (contrary to what he says). He wants a companion and has given up on finding one. He lives in despair in Bombay, waiting for the bookstore to be sold.

The story is brilliantly told and I urge all of you to read it. It is a beautiful ode to the city and the times that were. I could not help but cry.

My favourite parts from the story:

“Reading used to be a step away from renunciation. Now it is another excuse to pick up unattractive lovers.”

“Such are the incidental joys of browsing. It takes a particular sort of personality to delight in the unexpected find, to take relish in stumbling upon something while seeking something else. I am sad to report that such a personality, receptive to serendipity, is now on the wane.”

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Book Review: The Cripple and his Talismans by Anosh Irani

The Cripple and his Talismans by Anosh Irani Title: The Cripple and his Talismans
Author: Anosh Irani
Publisher: 4th Estate, Harper Collins India
ISBN: 978-93-5029-603-5
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 232
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

“The Cripple and his Talismans” by Anosh Irani is a unique book. Of course I have read of books that have magic realism as the central theme and all of that, yet somehow this book seemed interesting and different from what I had read in the past. There was this urgency in the book that made me want to know what happens next and at the same time, a sense of stability that allowed me close the book after a couple of chapters and mull over what I had just read. It is almost confusingly therapeutic and disturbing when a book does that to you.

I had first heard of Anosh Irani when I encountered him in one of his sessions at the Jaipur Literature Festival 2013. Before that I am surprised that I hadn’t heard much about him. Maybe I was too busy exploring other writers. However, once I got to know about The Cripple and his Talismans, I had to read it. It seemed too intriguing and inviting. At the same time, it was first published in 2004 and only published in India now, in 2013 by Harper Collins. So that is in brief about what dragged me to reading this book.

“The Cripple and his Talismans” is like the title suggests, about a cripple. A man in search of his lost arm. He wakes up one day and his arm is missing. Along the way on his so-called conquest to find his arm, he meets a variety of people – a woman who sells rainbows to a coffin maker to a giant, to a homeless boy riding the trains, which all lead him to one person – an underworld don at that, and the only one who can tell him about the clues along the way and explain the dilemma he is in.

All the action takes place in Bombay and that to me was the crux of the story. The city, its smells, the places make for the crux of the tale. To a very large extent, while reading the book, I was wondering about how Anosh now lives in Canada and all his books are set in the city he was born and grew up. To me that says a lot about the writer. More so, this being Anosh’s first book, it is quite experimental and adventurous for a first book and the same time, it is very-well written.

The journey of the man in search of his missing arm is often hilarious, sad, and at the same time human and absurd. Anosh mentioned about this book that it came to him in a dream, almost a vision, where he saw a basement, and arms hanging from the ceiling and he knew that he had to write this book and he did.

“The Cripple and his Talismans” is not an easy read. It demands a lot from the reader. The writing is simple and yet the situations aren’t. The characters jump off from every page and take the reader unaware. The writing radiates, teeming with the city’s boisterousness and energy and its laziness sometimes on a Sunday afternoon. To read something like “The Cripple and his Talismans” and not get affected by it, by its sheer magnitude, insanity, and almost a shock-like quality is not a possible feat.

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