Tag Archives: city

The Epic City: The World on the Streets of Calcutta by Kushanava Choudhury

The Epic City Title: The Epic City: The World on the Streets of Calcutta
Author: Kushanava Choudhury
Publisher: Bloomsbury
ISBN: 978-9386432575
Genre: Non-Fiction
Pages: 272
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 Stars

I have always been fascinated by Calcutta – right to its portrayal in movies to books to even theatre and sometimes even TV shows that are genuinely set there. Something about that city – it has managed to mingle the traditional and the modern so well, that it makes me more curious about the thing they do, how they do it and why – the culture of Calcutta cannot be spread across one book or one review (most certainly not), however “The Epic City” by Kushanava Choudhury is indeed one of its kind books on the city.

I remember my first visit to Calcutta. It was 2011 and I had gone there to prepare for a course, which meant Calcutta was home for about forty-five days. The city was hesitant to be my friend initially and as I learned its ways and sought it out, it almost became a second home. Everything about it seemed better and yet there were times that nothing about it made sense to me. Sometimes I would find the people cold and distant and at others extremely affectionate. The polarity of the people lends itself to the city or is it the other way around?

So as I read “The Epic City” by Kushanava Choudhury, I would often find myself nodding my head and agreeing or disagreeing with what he was saying about the city. Kushanava arrived in New Jersey at the age of twelve – migrated from Calcutta with his parents. After graduating from Princeton, he decided to move back home – Calcutta that is and this book is a medley of experiences of that movement. As I mentioned earlier, you cannot encapsulate Calcutta in a book, but people must and need to so readers can know about this soulful city.

The book traverses through the city and Choudhury introduces to places and people off the streets. He makes us acquaintances of jobless men, of looming buildings, of a city abandoned and people who are there and yet only in a limbo. Calcutta belongs to a different era perhaps. Or it did. Yet, it struggles so hard to keep up with the rest of the country. Choudhury at the same time in his writing is hopeful of what the future holds.

“The Epic City” is written from inside out and also to a large extent from outside in. There is a quality of frankness and melancholy in Choudhury’s way of describing the city that almost breaks your heart. You want to know more about the place and yet you want to resist, because Calcutta then seems like an aged queen whose grandeur is not lost, yet she is.

Hyderabad: A Graphic Novel by Jai Undurti and Harsho Mohan Chattoraj

Hyderabad by Jai Undurti and Harsho Mohan Chattoraj Title: Hyderabad: A Graphic Novel
Author/Illustrator: Jai Undurti and Harsho Mohan Chattoraj
Publisher: Syenagiri
ISBN: 978-8192920016
Genre: Graphic Novel
Pages: 88
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 2/5

I thought this would be a graphic novel which would be worth my time. The premise seemed fantastic, though the execution fell short on so many levels that I do not know where to begin. I mean the book had so much potential and it is now all laid to waste. Sure the graphics are nice but when the story goes nowhere, it doesn’t add up to much.

“Hyderabad” is not a graphic novel about the city. Sure, it does dwell on some aspects but that is about it. There is nothing more to it. I did not understand where the novel was heading and if at all it made any point. When that happens to me (which happens very rarely by the way), then I know for a fact that it was just a colossal waste of time. I do not even want to get to the writing because there was really no plot – there was an honest attempt yes, but it didn’t work out the way it should have.

Just for the illustrations I gave it two stars. I would advise you to probably borrow it from someone but don’t make the mistake of buying it like I did.

Book Review: Calcutta: Two Years in the City by Amit Chaudhuri

Calcutta - Two Years in the City by Amit Chaudhuri Title: Calcutta: Two Years in the City
Author: Amit Chaudhuri
Publisher: Hamish Hamilton, Penguin India
ISBN: 9780670086221
Genre: Non-Fiction
Pages: 320
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

It is not easy to write about a city. Any city for that matter. More so, the city you were born in and then left and then came back again to visit a couple of times, and then left behind almost permanently and then returned. For Amit Chaudhuri, I would like to believe that Calcutta has always been a part of his life (or so it seems from the books that he writes). Everything that he has to say has to revolve around the city or make an appearance some way or the other in his fiction. This time though, he has taken a step further and written a book completely on the city of his birth, vacations, dreams and of a city that is home: Calcutta.

Reading “Calcutta: Two Years in the City” by Amit Chaudhuri is like taking a roller-coaster ride. I was born and brought up in Bombay and somehow after reading this book, I yearn to visit Calcutta. I had visited it in 2011 to study there for a while, and after that I did not go back there. Maybe I will someday. For now, here is what I read and my thoughts on the book.

Amit Chaudhuri’s book is an account of two years (2009-2011) spent by him in the great metropolis. Amit’s Calcutta almost seems very different from the city that exists. He writes about the Calcutta of the nineteenth century and then compares it (almost) to the Calcutta of the twentieth century and how much has changed and what has remained. To me that was the most fascinating aspect of the book. I have always wondered the same about my city and tried putting things in perspective, however never been able to do so. While reading this book, I could try a little.

“Calcutta: Two Years in the City” is a book that almost takes your breath away, because it has been written from the heart and less using the mind. The characters that Mr. Chaudhuri encounters, their lives, the dichotomy that plays itself out on a daily basis in metros, the political agendas, the stench of the city that gets under your skin and its people and the warmth sometimes is all there in this book. The bygone era of the city has been beautifully described by Mr. Chaudhuri, this includes the language, the names, the visits that he made to the city and its exploration through them, and the yearning for the city for not there and the need to get away when there is what everyone feels when returning to a city.

For me this book was something quite special. It is nothing out of the ordinary. Everyone writes about cities they belong to and what has been their relationship with them. Having said that, the way this book is written is what took me by the horns. The simplicity of language, the socio-political angles described without taking sides, without the emotions getting complex or convoluted is superbly expressed in the book. Amit Chaudhuri captures the essence of the city so well that sometimes I forgot that the Calcutta I visited was very different from the way (or not) the writer writes about it. I feel that non-fiction has to have the extra something about it to engage you completely in it, almost to drag you in the content and “Calcutta: Two Years in the City” manages to do that. I highly recommend this jewel of a book. It will amaze you and make you see the city differently. I sure do want to visit it again and relive the moments.

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Book Review: Jerusalem: The Biography by Simon Sebag Montefiore

Title: Jerusalem: The Biography
Author: Simon Sebag Montefiore
Publisher: Weidenfeld And Nicholson, Orion Books, Hachette Book Group
ISBN: 978-0297866923
Genre: Non-Fiction
Pages: 696
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

Jerusalem: The Biography is one of the great reads of the year for me and you should not miss out on reading this one. I have always loved reading anything by Simon Sebag Montefiore. He writes with honesty and passion that is hard to miss. Whether it is about Stalin as a boy and adolescent to Monsters and Heroes, Montefiore does a remarkable job of it.

Jerusalem is a true masterpiece – a biography of a city and yet so much more. It is not easy to write about a city – and also considering that the city is so old and ravaged by the brutalities of time. The thing about the book is that the reader feels as though he is stepping back in time and experiencing the history of Jerusalem first hand.
Jerusalem the book has been written in a very colourful manner – full of anecdotes, how the city came to be what it is today, the rulers, the ones who squandered and looted its riches, the ones who hold it in high regard – its Kings and its Prophets. Montefiore does not leave any stone unturned.

Having said that, there were times I would tend to disagree with the author and yet could not put the book down. There is not much in terms of guidance or analysis by the writer, and yet the book shines. What got me started was the role Jerusalem plays in the apocalyptic vision of fundamentalist Christians and Muslims, and how that has been brought to light in this book. The other aspect that got me going was the deep-rooted connection between Christians and Muslims is made so evident and clear throughout the book and the way it is done is marvellous.

Sparkling and profound, the book is written keeping in mind the most terrible things that have happened behind her walls and also the richness of its land. The book does not take sides. It is an unbiased book and at the same time lays the facts as they are which should be the case while writing about a city. My favourite chapter in the book is, “Sunset of the Byzantines” which truly captures the essence of the book – its timeline and charisma in drawing historical references.

To review a book of Jerusalem’s stature would definitely require a research paper. It is that intense and deep. What I can say is that this is not one of your airport reads. It requires the time and attention that a book of this kind deserves. It however makes you turn the page and wonder at the scale and scope of Jerusalem’s place in history.

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Mango Mood by Sharmila Kamat

The great French dramatist, Pierre Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais once wrote, I hasten to laugh at everything, for fear of being obliged to weep. On going through the book, Mango Mood, one gets the impression that the author, Sharmila Kamat, too, subscribes to the same philosophy.

Indeed, Sharmila Kamat has an inborn flair for light satire. She has wielded her pen with ease to depict the foibles and weaknesses of human nature without hurting the feelings of the subjects of her pieces. From her writings, one gets the impression that she would like to see a change for the better from those entrusted with the destinies of the common man.

Her pieces on our society are lighthearted on the surface but, on closer observation, serve as pertinent comments on the way of life in our country. Besides making us chuckle, they arouse our conscience and set us thinking about what we would have dismissed as everyday realities.

From her articles, one concludes that human behaviour is the same everywhere. The vagaries of human nature are, and will continue to be, a fertile ground for humorous pieces by persons like Sharmila Kamat who possess an observant eye and a witty turn of phrase.

Today’s world is full of turmoil and tensions. A casual glance at a newspaper makes us realise that murder and mayhem reigns supreme across the globe. Internecine conflicts, regional tensions and the threat of terrorism have combined to make world peace a distant dream. We are fortunate, therefore, to have writers like Sharmila Kamat who, through their witty writings, make us laugh despite all these depressing realities.

Jean de la Bruyere, a seventeeenth century French essayist and moralist, once wrote, One must laugh before one is happy, or one may die without ever laughing at all.

Those who will read Sharmila’s pieces need not have this fear. It gives me great pleasure to recommend MANGO MOOD to the reading public.

Mango Mood; Kamat, Sharmila; Rupa and Co; Rs. 195