Tag Archives: India

Bhaunri by Anukrti Upadhyay

Bhaunri by Anukrti Upadhyay Title: Bhaunri
Author: Anukrti Upadhyay
Publisher: Fourth Estate India, HarperCollins India
ISBN: 978-9353570033
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Pages: 148
Source: Publisher
Rating: 3 stars

Bhaunri is the book that should be read on a rainy day. It is short and can be finished in less than an hour and a half. It is atmospheric. It is everything that you want from a book not set in a milieu you are familiar with. The writing makes you turn the pages, and also because you want to know how to book ends.

This novella by Anukrti Upadhyay is set in a village in Rajasthan. The protagonist, Bhaunri is married, according to the customs of her nomadic tribe of blacksmiths at a very young child, till the time comes for her husband and his family to take her away. She is a young woman now and is aware of the ways of the world. Her parents have taught her well and at the same time given her the liberty to think for herself. There is another angle to it – her parents’ love story which I will not reveal.

Bhaunri finds herself drawn deeply to her husband Bheema. The love isn’t only physical but also all-consuming. Her mother-in-law and her marital life are also a very important part of the book. With the great atmospheric background of the desert and village life, the drama plays out, to reach the end that I didn’t have in mind.

I liked the book because like I said the setting had me gripped from the first time. The folklore, the myths, the superstition, and above all the food that was cooked all worked. Plus the way the author describes the house and what goes on in there – the shed, the workings of sleeping outside in winter, so on and so forth.

What didn’t work is that the pace seemed too rushed. I felt that there was a tearing hurry to just finish the book and not build on the emotions of other characters, except Bhaunri. Also, the second-half of the book (well not like a film), somehow just left me feeling that a lot could’ve gone down (with one character just being a prop and the other not being spoken about at all), yet I guess it is to the author’s discretion.

Having said this, Bhaunri is a book that is refreshing and full of female agency and must be read to explore new lands, thoughts, and ways of life. A book that will sure want me to read her other book Daura in due time.

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Tiffin: 500 Authentic Recipes Celebrating India’s Regional Cuisine by Sonal Ved

TiffinTitle: Tiffin: 500 Authentic Recipes Celebrating India’s Regional Cuisine
Author: Sonal Ved
Publisher: Roli Books
ISBN: 978-8193704967
Genre: Food Writing, Recipes
Pages: 496
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 stars

Okay, I have to say this right at the onset: This is book that should be owned by everyone who loves food – eating, cooking, or talking about it. Tiffin is the kind of book that may not seem unique at first glance. Sure, you have seen this format several times. Dishes from every part of India, and so on and so forth. Tiffin encompasses all states and union territories. Sonal’s research is spot-on and every recipe isn’t just a recipe, but a footnote of sorts to the world she opens up for the reader/chef/cook.

Tiffin 1

I have always wondered how does one review a book about food. Does one cook the recipes and talk about it? Does one just read and imagine the taste? Does one get it cooked through someone else and then talk about it, after tasting it of course? It could be done anyhow I suppose but taste you must and that’s what I did. I also then came to the conclusion that the styling of food in those pictures in books is way better than what you or I could at our homes. That being said, the taste is what matters. Isn’t it?

Tiffin 2

Tiffin ensures flavour in every bite. Sonal has chosen the recipes carefully – after having interacted with local cooks, chefs, and people who cook at home day in and day out. Of course the most obvious thing which I loved about the book is the depth of research done. The book of course speaks of the most obvious dishes – the butter chicken, the dhansak, dum aloo, etc, but what it also does most beautifully is go beyond all of this to truly discover Indian food across regions.

Tiffin 3

The book is divided into 6 sections – North India, Central India, West India, South India, East India, and Northeast India. Furthermore, it is then divided into these for every section: Appetizers, Poultry and Eggs, Meat and Pork, Fish and Seafood, Vegetarian, Rice and Breads, and Desserts. So the arrangement is very easy to follow and refer. Moreover, if you even go by index at the end of the book, that has its own charm – almost feels like jumping from one region to another.

Tiffin 4

Tiffin is also the kind of book that while it may seem that it caters more to an audience out of the country, that is not the case. I personally think that it in fact lends more to the people living in India and what we can learn from it – right from basic recipes (a wonderful section at the beginning of the book) to the intense heavy-duty cooking. Might I also add that Sonal is an accomplished food writer and food editor at Vogue India (something which I got to know only after I read this book). All in all, Tiffin is the kind of book that you must own – even if you don’t cook, especially if you don’t cook, so it can inspire you to step into the kitchen and cook something entirely different – from any part of the country.

The Unsafe Asylum: Stories of Partition and Madness by Anirudh Kala

The Unsafe AsylumTitle: The Unsafe Asylum: Stories of Partition and Madness
Author: Anirudh Kala
Publisher: Speaking Tiger Publishing Private Ltd.
ISBN: 978-9387693258
Genre: Short Stories, Literary Fiction
Pages: 256
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 Stars

Stories of the Partition of India always leave you heavy. There is a knot in the chest that refuses to leave. Even though you haven’t witnessed any of it, yet the stories have passed from one generation to another. The generation that witnessed and the generations that had to keep the memory alive, even though these memories are perhaps worth not bringing to the fore.And yet there is the question of never forgetting – memory that should remain rock solid when it comes to tragedy and pain and displacement. Homes were lost. Relationships broken. I cannot imagine what it must be like to witness what our ancestors did during that time and yet they did – they survived broken, fractured and somehow still hopeful.

“The Unsafe Asylum” is a collection of stories (interlinked) of partition and literally the madness surrounding it. Yes, you will be reminded of Manto but Anirudh Kala has a distinct voice that will make you think and leave you with a lot of emotion. I think this collection also adds a lot of weight only because Anirudh is a psychiatrist and has been studying the long-lasting effects of Partition in both India and Pakistan. This collection starts when the Partition is over, blood has been spilled and people displaced. Even the patients in Mental Hospitals. India got its share of Hindu and Sikh patients and Pakistan, the Muslim ones. This book is about the stories of these patients, their lives before and after the Partition and the long-lasting impact of the catastrophe.

At the core of these interconnected stories is Prakash, an Indian psychiatry student who learns of the stories of these patients through one of them, Rulda who was discharged from Lahore’s Mental Hospital. At the same time, Prakash also learns of how he came to be born in 1947, when he visits Lahore. From there, starts another story of the lives of the patients, their stories and how Partition still lingers on, not only in their memory but in everything they do, the way they think and the way they feel.

Kala builds characters that stay. Whether it is a young man who believes that Benazir Bhutto loves him to a woman who passes on her delusions of being chased by a mob to her children, or even if it is a doomed love story – all of these are fixed in your head long after you are done with the book. If anything, also beware that the book will play with your head to a large extent. And yet, the experience of reading this book is excellent. Yes, the topic is not palatable. Yes, it will not be easy. But I strongly believe that literature only builds empathy in people. And for that read it all. Read books that make you laugh. The ones that make you cry. The ones that make you smile. The ones that make you uncomfortable and think of what is going on in the world – past, present and what may come in the future.

Indira by Devapriya Roy and Priya Kuriyan

Indira by Devapriya Roy and Priya Kuriyan Title: Indira
Author: Devapriya Roy
Illustrator: Priya Kuriyan
Publisher: Context
ISBN: 978-9386850683
Genre: Graphic Novel
Pages: 144
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 Stars

I am not a fan of some ideologies of Mrs. Indira Gandhi and yet I find her life extremely intriguing and to a very large extent, am in awe of her for sure. I guess it has a lot to do with being told stories from her life as we were growing up. She was almost an idol then, till of course, we made our way into the world and got to know her political aspirations and the means she sometimes used to achieve them. However, that is not what I should be talking about right now.

Right now, I want to talk about the graphic novel (interspersed with a lot of text as well) “Indira”, beautifully illustrated by Priya Kuriyan and written just as well by Devapriya Roy. I remember discussing this book with its publisher at Jaipur Literature Festival this year and being very excited to read it. I finally did and I loved it for so many reasons.

At the same time, there were times I felt that this book felt short in terms of chronicling so much more. I guess they also had to stick to the story of the other Indira and her coming-of-age in contemporary India. Also, kudos to Devapriya for not idolizing Mrs. Gandhi but showing her just as she was – another human being with very strong talents.

Kuriyan’s illustrations are simple and yet breathtaking in so many ways. The detailing is strong and complements the writing tone. The writing is simple and at so many places I loved the meta angle to the book which totally works to its advantage (you will know when you pick it up and read it).

We need more books such as “Indira” to reclaim our past and history, given so much of it is at stake in current times. Lest it be forgotten. Books such as these will remain proof of what happened, why and how.

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.