Tag Archives: friendship

Interview with Siddharth Dhanvant Shanghvi

Last year I read a book called The Rabbit and the Squirrel by Siddharth Dhanvant Shanghvi and was deeply touched and moved by it, as most readers who read it were. It is a short book about love, friendship, and loss, told with great brevity, given it is only about sixty pages long.  I wish it were longer. I wish we had more illustrations by Stina Wirsén, as the book moved along and became larger than what it is. But, I am glad it is out there in the world for all to read, love, and appreciate. Siddharth is a friend and I am only extremely happy to have this short interview published on my blog. I wish him more such books, for readers such as I. Thank you, Siddharth.

SDS

Why the long hiatus between The Lost Flamingoes of Bombay and The Rabbit and the Squirrel? 

I don’t think of myself as a professional writer. I make things – photographs, drawings, books. So I don’t measure a gap between books but try and look at what I had done with my time. Between the book, there were photographs, shows I curated, houses I designed – it was all a way of being. But I am also very interested by nonsense things, such as swimming at sea, and I can spend hours, even days looking at cat videos and drinking Goa’s Greater Than gin.

Rabbit

The theme of The Rabbit and the Squirrel to my mind is more than friendship. There are so many emotions that take over this small book, almost everything packed into one. What was the writing experience like? How was it collaborating with the illustrator, Stina?

You know, I have almost no recollection of writing this little fable. I’d made it for someone I cared for deeply; I see now that tenderness for my friend eclipses all recollection of the writing process. Perhaps the story had always been there, a memento of shared, private time. The process of bringing the fable to book form was urged on by my astonishing publisher, Hemali Sodhi; and it was edited with such grace by Niyati Dhuldhoya that it became something else – a rarer, leaner thing – under her attentions.

Stina, the book’s illustrator, is also its co-parent – her sublime, frisky, careful illustrations give this book soul and energy. She is a close personal friend, and instinctively suggested to me to publish this fable – the book exists not only because of her sterling drawings but quite simply because she had been the one to suggest that I publish it.

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How important is the writer’s role in the scheme of things today? When the world is literally falling to pieces, what part do writers play in providing some semblance of hope? I say this because The Rabbit and the Squirrel is full of hope, even though fleetingly. 

Writing, and language, holds steady all that is intangible in our lives. In the articulation of our existence – the articulation of prejudice or heartbreak, of dissent, of rage – we are also able to repair. Language is both a measure as well as the meaning of our time. The writer’s job is to hover a lamp over what is, with language, she must illuminate, show and reveal. Reading is a form of civilising the most private self. It is a way of recognising that a part of this world is falling apart – and then of marshalling language to undo this damage.

Do you ever think one can write without reading? 

No, firmly, absolutely no: you cannot write without reading widely, promiscuously. Your writing will only be as good as your reading.

Your favourite books?

Beloved – Toni Morrison.
Light Years – James Salter.
The English Patient – Michael Ondaatje

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Is there another book that we could look forward to? A novel, perhaps? 

I would be so lucky to serve another book. (And thank you for your support over the years, Vivek).

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The Rabbit and the Squirrel moved me to tears. I know several people who have had the same emotions evoked while or after reading the book. What was your intent when you started writing this universal tale? 

I had no intention except to make a gift for a friend. That is what I think of it, still and always, a private little thing made for, and with, love. But yes, I know what you mean – other friends have said that, which has always reminded me that all of us going about our lives with so many broken pieces in our pockets. All of us are suffering. All of us are enduring.

You can buy the book here

Please do buy the book. Please do read it. Please weep and laugh as you read it. Please repeat the process all over again. Gift the books to loved ones. You will be gifting them joy.

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Ponti by Sharlene Teo

PontiTitle: Ponti
Author: Sharlene Teo
Publisher: Picador
ISBN: 978-1509855322
Genre: Teenagers, Friendship, Literary Fiction
Pages: 304
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

You read books that have similar plots. You also read books that surprise and stun you. Those books are rare and far and few in between. “Ponti” for sure is one of them! At the same time, it is a weird book in the sense of time and its shift – the constant back and forth, which only lends itself beautifully to the novel. “Ponti” also masterfully moves away from being just a “perspectives” novel to include landscape, culture, and ethos of not only a city but also friendship and matters of the heart.

“Ponti” is a story that centres mainly on two years – 2003 and 2020. Place: Singapore. Sixteen year-old Szu lives in the shadow of her mother Amisa, who was once an actress and now is just a hack medium performing séances with her sister in an almost dilapidated house. Szu then happens to meet Circe – who is not only quite expressive to the point of being offensive but also privileged. Their friendship is the start of something, offering Szu an easy escape. Things happen, life changes and seventeen years later – life is off to another start, with a project and secrets that decide to not remain secrets anymore.

Might I add here that after reading this book, all you’d want to do is visit Singapore. Teo makes the city come alive like no other writer and just for that (if I had to pick one element of the book that is) I would highly recommend this book. The writing is edgy and full of wonders – good and bad. Yes, I would believe there could be bad wonders – or would that just be shocking so to say.

Teo’s writing is so powerful – at times I thought the wind had been knocked off me. I loved the pace and the style. The characters face loneliness, angst, and confusion like no other – this causes them things to do which perhaps they wouldn’t and that’s where most of the story stems from. “Ponti” also needs patience in the first couple of pages, after which for me it was a smooth ride. A read that is fascinating, worrying and also insightful in so many ways.

Kevin by Rob Biddulph

Kevin Title: Kevin
Author: Rob Biddulph
Publisher: HarperCollins Children’s Books
ISBN: 9780008207410
Genre: Picture Book, Children’s Books
Pages: 32
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

“Kevin” is a book for children written by a child at heart. Did I tell you that I absolutely love and adore picture books or board books? In my opinion, they are some of the most profound books you will ever read. That’s true at least in my experience of reading them all these years. Children’s books are also very soothing. They help lift the weight of the world off your shoulders and live a little. To see the world afresh with a new pair of eyes and that’s what is needed these days, given the times we live in.

Sid Gibbons is in trouble yet again. He is always making a mess and his mum is always losing her patience with him. So this time when he makes a mess of the house and things (yet again) he blames it on Kevin, his big furry, vanilla and pink friend. And while he thinks all is well, he is in for a surprise as Kevin just might not be an imaginary friend after all.

I absolutely loved this picture book. It is extremely beautifully illustrated by Rob and the words are just as impactful. The book is joyful and uplifting. In a world surrounded by hate and misery, we need more books such as these to make us understand and realize that perhaps all is not lost. Most adults I know think children’s books aren’t meant for them but that’s just an adult who refuses to pander to the child within. Don’t be that person. Read widely. Read diversely. Read picture books as well – all the time.

The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas by John Boyne

the-boy-in-the-striped-pyjamas-by-john-boyne Title: The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas
Author: John Boyne
Publisher: Vintage, Penguin Random House
ISBN: 978-0099572862
Genre: Children’s Fiction
Pages: 256
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5 Stars

This was the second book I read as a part of ‘The Story Cure’ reading project. Also, it is holocaust literature, so it comes with the territory of tears, anger, and loneliness. There is nothing you can do about it when you start reading it. To top that, there is a movie based on this book, which I don’t think I will ever watch.

“The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas” is a book that will not leave you – perhaps because you already know how it will end, but also because of the writing. Boyne is simple, direct and quite powerful at his craft. The book is by no means a difficult read – it is just the emotions that need to be dealt with after that is tough.

Bruno, a nine-year old boy lives with his parents and older sister Gretel in Berlin. The year is 1942. One fine day as he comes back from school, he is told that they are moving to a place called Out-With (Auschwitz or so he pronounces or understands it throughout the book). His father has received a promotion. He doesn’t have any friends in the new place. But it is the Fury’s order who father works under (the Führer – of course we all know it is Hitler. Again Bruno cannot pronounce it so he calls him Fury throughout the book) and they have to go to Out-With.

There is a tall fence there that separates him from some strange place – all wearing the same clothes – all dressed in striped Pyjamas. This is where Bruno meets Shmuel – a skinny, gray looking boy and their worlds will never be the same.

Boyne’s characterization skills are superb. The characters – including the parents, Lieutenant Kotler and the servants are gripping. Their sub-plots convey so much throughout the book and yet it doesn’t stop being a young adult book. It continues to maintain its innocence and has so much to say. The writing is funny also at times, mostly it is heartbreaking though. I don’t think I can bear to watch this movie. The reason it was a part of “The Story Cure” is as it answers the question “What it’s all about?” – it will cure you of it – all the angst (some of it) and perfect for teenagers to know what happened and how did the Holocaust play out for most. I almost didn’t want to read the book – but I am glad I did. Read it, but do keep the box of tissues handy.

Daytripper by Fábio Moon and Gabriel Bá

daytripper-by-fabio-moon-and-gabriel-ba Title: Daytripper
Author: Fábio Moon and Gabriel Bá
Publisher: Vertigo
ISBN: 978-1401229696
Genre: Graphic Novels
Pages: 256
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5/5

There are graphic novels that are those which you read and forget after a couple of months, till you go back to them. Then there are those which you read and you don’t need going back to them – because they never left you. “Daytripper” by Fábio Moon and Gabriel Bá is one such graphic novel. I could go on, and praise it eloquent but that’s not the point of this review (well it is to some extent). The point is that very few novels or graphic novels change you or move you and this is one of them.

“Daytripper” is one of those graphic novels that could have gotten preachy but did not. It could have also gotten sentimental and quite overwhelming but it does not. It is tender and brutal at the same time – and doesn’t lose the overall plot. Maybe because it hits home so bad and so hard that you also want to just take off – for a month or two and ask yourself this one basic, simple and haunting question: How do you plan to spend the rest of your days?

This question is the essence of this book – well at least, according to me. The book tells the story of Brás de Oliva Domingos and does so in a fractured, disjointed fashion. Time bends, narratives are scattered, nothing is what it seems and we meet Brás at various major events of his life – we meet him first when he is thirty-two and going to see his father, a famous novelist receive a lifetime achievement award. We then meet him when he is twenty-one and seeking the world. We encounter him when he is eleven and then at forty something and then at seventy six – you get the drift I suppose. I must also add here that the protagonist is an obituary writer. The obits, his life, and different times that the reader is exposed to or given a peek into are brilliantly conjured and written.

What is this book about you might ask? It is a book of missed opportunities, of second chances, of life taking its own course and you having no control over it – that’s what it is about. The Brazilian twins have done a fantastic job of storytelling and pushing the story forward, and connecting all pieces, which is imperative in a graphic novel of such magnitude. I love this book beyond love I think. It encompasses every emotion – love, friendship, envy, gratitude, heartbreak, loss and above all to look inside you and actually figure out what is it all about after all.

“Daytripper” is one of those graphic novels that make you sit back and question all of it – at least in my case and that is what a good book should do. I would strongly urge everyone to go out there, pick up this brilliant graphic novel, read it, be immersed, be overwhelmed and feel the irresistible need to go and discuss it with anyone else who has read it.

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