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Read 5 of 2022. Legal Fiction by Chandan Pandey. Translated from the Hindi by Bharatbhooshan Tiwari.

Legal Fiction by Chandan Pandey

Title: Legal Fiction
Author: Chandan Pandey
Translated from the Hindi by Bharatbhooshan Tiwari
Publisher: HarperCollins India
ISBN: 978-9354227509
Genre: Translated Fiction, Literary Fiction Pages: 168
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

Legal Fiction was one of the best reads for me last year. I reread it again this month because I was in conversation with Chandan and Bharatbhooshan and enjoyed every minute of it.

Legal Fiction is unlike anything I read and kept thinking about it a lot. The themes of disappearance of a Muslim man, love jihad – a term coined by the right wing of the country to bring to task Muslim men who love Hindu women, the struggle of people in a small town who are constantly under surveillance whether they like it or not (in one way or the other), the idea of democracy just being on paper, and ultimately that of rule of land being followed over rule of law.

Silences play a major role. Silences that force people to look within, to understand their spaces, look at the role of caste and religion that draw invisible boundaries, silences that reflect lack of agency of women, and how vocabulary defeats what we feel most of the time.

Legal Fiction put simply is about the disappearance of a man – a man who lives in a small town with his wife and is from a minority religion in Modi’s India. It is about the agency of an urban middle-class man, Arjun, who travels to Noma – the fictional village – to locate the man, Rafique. It is about what Arjun unearths in Noma, and what goes on behind closed doors, and sometimes right in the open, only because it can.

Chandan Pandey makes no bones about what he has to say. The writing is sparse, calls out the hypocrisy of the system, where things have gone wrong and continue to do so, and above all packs in a punch and more on almost every single page.

Bharatbhooshan’s translation reads like the original (I also read the book in Hindi). It is fast-paced, reads like a thriller but is so much more, mesmerizing, like a sort of fever dream, and above anything else a mirror for us to see ourselves in and understand what we have become vis-à-vis what we were.

The Emperor Who Never Was: Dara Shukoh in Mughal India by Supriya Gandhi

The Emperor Who Never Was - Dara Shukoh in Mughal India by Supriya Gandhi Title: The Emperor Who Never Was: Dara Shukoh in Mughal India
Author: Supriya Gandhi
Publisher: Harvard University Press
ISBN: 978-0674245969
Genre: Biographies and Autobiographies
Pages: 304
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

 

I have been afraid of history books. Reads that somehow seem to take a lot of time to process and take a lot from me as a reader. That’s the perception I had for the longest time of history books. Till I read Dalrymple, Thapar, Manu S. Pillai, and now a recent addition, Supriya Gandhi’s, “The Emperor Who Never Was: Dara Shukoh in Mughal India”.

This is a fascinating read. It reads like a novel. It reads easy. It speaks of Shukoh, of whom less is written, much less spoken of. A fascinating look of a family, the succession to the throne, and the politics that happened in its wake. Dara died at the hands of his younger brother Aurangzeb, and that forever changed the course of South Asian History. Let me speak more about the book.

Shukoh was the eldest son of Shah Jahan, the fifth Mughal emperor. The Mughals did not practice the concept of primogeniture (the right of succession passed to the firstborn). How did Aurangzeb ascend to the throne and what happened to Dara, and Shahjahan’s other children is what the book is about.

I was enthralled by the writing. Like I said, Gandhi’s writing is very accessible and doesn’t seem heavy at all. There was not a single place in the book that seemed forced or unwanted. Every detail of the family, to what the siblings felt, to Dara’s sense of being, and Aurangzeb’s personality (sometimes misunderstood as well) was perfectly laid out.

Supriya Gandhi almost gets into the skin of Shukoh – the man he was, how he embraced Sufism, and yet he wasn’t without his own flaws. She transports the reader to a land of constant conflict and gives us a biography that is balanced – there is no bias of any kind and she doesn’t take sides. She presents history the way it happened.

We live in times when politicians in India (some of them) are out to erase the history of this nation. The Emperor Who Never Was by Supriya Gandhi reclaims history and gives us a complex, nuanced biography of a man who was not known at all, and also of a family that was different and always at loggerheads with each other. Read the book to know more. Read the book and educate yourself. We live in times, where a good open perspective is always needed.

Bedtime Story and Black Tulip by Kiran Nagarkar

Bedtime Story and Black Tulip by Kiran Nagarkar Title: Bedtime Story and Black Tulip
Author: Kiran Nagarkar
Publisher: Harper Collins India
ISBN: 9789351369998
Genre: Drama
Pages: 304
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

From the time I have started reading Kiran Nagarkar’s books, I have wanted to read the banned play, “Bedtime Story”. The play was banned when it first released in 1978 by the Shiv Sena and other fundamentalist parties. It has now been republished by Harper Collins India. For me the motive behind reading this book was only “Bedtime Story”. The screenplay “Black Tulip” did not hold much interest and yet when I started on that one as well, I was completely taken in by both – the difference in both is of another extreme but both are highly satisfying on different levels.

“Bedtime Story” is based on the Mahabharata. It also has a modern angle to it which is riveting, real and quite thought-provoking. The premise of course will not change. However, Nagarkar manages to add elements which are so real even today, after thirty-seven years – the issue of caste, women’s rights, the political warfare, the debate of what’s right and what’s wrong, all of it has not changed at all. This just goes to show the society in which we live. We are a regressive lot and the sooner we admit to that, the better it is for all of us. There is then scope for change, I think. Nagarkar’s writing of “Bedtime Story” is so brutal and real that sometimes I just wanted to shy away from it. The truth, when stabbed always hurts a lot more than it normally would.

“Bedtime Story” is delicious. It is snarky, holds a mirror to all hypocrisy and at the same time communicates what it wants to, without being modest or sugar-coating anything. On the other hand “Black Tulip” – a screenplay, starts off a little bland and then picks up pace. A woman renegade, her boyfriend and a cop in her top form battle against terrorism. The action takes place in the city of Bombay, bringing the screenplay to a brilliant end – with two probable endings actually.

I would highly recommend this book to people who want to read something different – something real and also something imaginary. “Bedtime Story and Black Tulip” together are plays of endurance, of class, society, change and battle in one’s mind, heart and soul. A terrific read.

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Epic Retold: #Mahabharata #TwitterFiction #Bhima #140Characters by Chindu Sreedharan

Epic Retold by Chindu Sreedharan Title:Epic Retold: #Mahabharata #TwitterFiction #Bhima #140Characters
Author: Chindu Sreedharan
Publisher: Harper Collins India
ISBN: 9350293951
Genre: Mythology, Fiction
Pages: 288
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

There are now perspectives in mythology. This one’s perspective and that one’s. Maybe as readers we are just too used to such perspectives out in the form of books and what each one has to say about the epics and the lesser-known characters or the more well-known ones. There are different ways and means also to project this – sometimes with illustrations and sometimes through other unique ways of writing. Off late, it is the 140-character stories or through flash-fiction. While I do not read books in the so-called “new formats”, this time around, “Epic Retold: #Mahabharata #TwitterFiction #Bhima #140Characters” by Chindu Sreedharan managed to hold my attention, right from the start to the end.

Initially, the book was difficult to get into. For the life of me, I could not get myself to read a book in the form of tweets with hashtags. It just seemed inappropriate to me. And then as I started turning the pages, I was intrigued and sucked in so to say in the story. The difference in this format is that you as a reader feel that all the action is happening live, in front of you, when of course you know that it has been thousands of years since those events occurred.

Bhima has to me always been a fascinating character. He is strong. He is abled. He is also quite a mush-pot, from what mythology has to depict. At the same time, he is also the one who can snap the neck of an opponent in less than a minute. There is a lot going on with this character from the Mahabharata and yet the only brothers we ever know or speak of are Yudhistar or Arjuna. The other three are almost forgotten, which is not the case when it comes to this book.

Chindu Sreedharan tells the Mahabharata from Bhima’s perspective and through tweets. The book is written in an easy-to-read manner and does not just skim through the details. It might seem that way because of the format, but the format also works for the book because it is not lengthy, nor does it put too much pressure on the reader.

“Epic Retold” may just be one of its kind of book in a format that will work for more books to come. I enjoyed it a lot and if you are looking for a book that is mythological in nature, but with a different spin to it, then I recommend this one. A short read but highly satisfying.

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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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