Tag Archives: India

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.

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Mohanaswamy by Vasudhendra

mohanaswamy-by-vasudhendra Title: Mohanaswamy
Author: Vasundhendra
Translated by: Rashmi Terdal
Publisher: Harper Perennial
ISBN: 978-9352641260
Genre: Literary Fiction, LGBTQ Literature, Translations
Pages: 280
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

Reading “Mohanaswamy” struck a chord. It had to. I knew it would. It is a book about a gay man and his life and how he combats every situation and is forever finding love. The resemblance was clear. I was almost terrified when I started this book. I thought I would break down and I did in most places, but I was prepared for it at some sub-conscious level. Books which are so rooted in real-life take you to another level – of deep pain, melancholy and also sometimes of laughter (which also happened by the way). “Mohanaswamy” is a book which I would love everyone to read and hopefully the read would make them more empathetic.

“Mohanaswamy” is the book which will resonate with anyone who has felt left out in the world. It is the story of the protagonist – of his journey – from discovery his orientation to heartbreak (I loved those stories or incidents because those were the ones I could relate the most) to the societal changes (or not) and how it views gay men. Also, the fact that it is set in Bangalore and goes back and forth between Mohanaswamy’s village and the city – one thing doesn’t change though – the hypocrisy of people surrounding him, even the ones he loves. It is everything that I felt as a gay man and still do. It is not a book really – but life, Vasundhendra’s life (I am inclined to believe that it is semi-autobiographical in nature) and that’s what makes it so heartwrenching.

The translation by Rashmi Terdal is fantastic – I don’t know Kannada, but I am sure the translation captures the entire essence of the book beautifully. Growing up gay and then living a life or preparing to live a life of loneliness isn’t easy. “Mohanaswamy” gets under your skin and makes you realize and face those issues. At least, it did that for me. It almost showed me the mirror and it wasn’t easy. We need more writers like Vasundhendra, who will write such books that reflect the times we live in. Vasundhendra’s writing is razor sharp, delicate, emotional and utterly honest. I think that is what connects with a reader and stays. Like I said earlier, I would recommend everyone to read this book. You might just understand some aspect of the gay life.

There’s something about you by Yashodhara Lal

Cover Artwork Title: There’s Something About You
Author: Yashodhara Lal
Publisher: Harper Collins
ISBN: 9789351771999
Genre: Romance, Fiction
Pages: 268
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

Fiction is definitely more interesting when you have someone to relate to in the book. Reading Yashodhara Lal’s “There’s something about you” reminded me of the fact that I could still relate to some characters while reading a book. In this case, it was the protagonist Trish, though my life is not as bad, but most aspects I could get. I will get to the story later, but don’t you think of characters time and again after you are done with a book? Don’t they stay with you? When that happens I feel so weird and yet it feels like I have reached home. Now to the book.

“There’s something about you” by Yashodhara Lal is about Trish. She is a twenty-eight year old woman. She is overweight, snarky and single. She is also now jobless. Sahil on the other hand is your almost perfect, thirty-five year old geek who wants her. Trish does not want anyone in her life. Sahil will not give up that easy. That’s when the fun begins and the rollercoaster ride called life has just begun for Trish. Okay so this is the story. It may seem this simple, however it is not. Also, let me add at this point that I enjoyed this book a lot.

The book is a light read. At the same time it speaks of modern relationships and love so accurately that you can almost read your life as you turn the pages or at least some incidents from it. The story is fast-paced and what I liked is that the secondary characters have as much a big role to play as Trish and Sahil.

I normally do not read breezy or so called chick-lit fiction but trust me this book is not that. If anything, then to me it falls in the genre of literary romance and that is a great relief from what gets churned out these days. I would recommend this book to you for a lazy monsoon read and before you know it you would be done with the read and a very satisfying one at that.

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Granta 130: India: Edited by Ian Jack

Granta 130 - India Title: Granta 130 : India: Another Way of Seeing
Author: Various; Edited by Ian Jack
Publisher: Granta
ISBN: 9781905881857
Genre: Anthology
Pages: 288
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

Granta magazine has always known how to bring great stories – fiction and non-fiction, the one told through pictures and the ones told through poetry to life to its readers. They constantly strive to bring new writing to the reader and this is what keeps me going to read issue after issue of Granta. I distinctly remember when the Granta Pakistan issue came out and I was absolutely taken in by what it had to offer. There was also another Granta on India and now in January 2015, they came out with Granta 130: India – Another Way of Seeing, edited by Ian Jack.

I am absolutely floored by the pieces in this Granta. This issue takes on India in the new role that she is playing for the world to see, and at the same time quite ironically tackles matters that have been at the core to the country – poverty, homelessness, socio-economic divide, etc. The magazine has some fantastic and quite interesting pieces – right from Deepti Kapoor (author of A Bad Character) to Raghu Karnad, whose debut book will be out this year to Aman Sethi’s work, “Love Jihad” – the concept that was highly popularized in 2012 (one of my favourite pieces) to Katharine Boo’s pictures with Vijay Gadge, Devo Kadam, Sudip Sengupta and Unnati Tripathi, titled, “Annawadi” – a glimpse of what it took for her to write “Behind the Beautiful Forevers”.

Granta 130 has all in all, 20 pieces for this edition and for me each one was better than the other. I loved the way the pieces are also set together. The writing depicts India like never before and also trying to break free from the perception that people have had of it for a very long time – the serpent rope dance impression is quite fading and very soon at that, which is much needed.

My favourite pieces from this collection are: Drone by Hari Kunzru, Pyre by Amitava Kumar, The Ghost in the Kimono by Raghu Karnad (my most favourite piece), Breach Candy by Samanth Subramanian (maybe because I am from Bombay and it just felt like home was so close, though I am in Bangalore as of now), and Sticky Fingers by Arun Kolatkar.

Granta 130 – India is an issue not to be missed out on. It will in all probability open your mind to the country that maybe we see with different lens and eyes.

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Steps in Darkness by Krishna Baldev Vaid

Steps in Darkness by Krishna Baldev Vaid Title: Steps in Darkness
Author: Krishna Baldev Vaid
Publisher: Penguin Modern Classics
ISBN: 9780143419792
Genre: Translation, Literary Fiction, Indian Fiction
Pages: 170
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

This is another one of those books I would have never thought of reading and it just happened to me. It is fun when these things happen. The monotony of life gets broken. There is something new to look forward to. Even if it means that it is just about turning pages of a new book. “Steps in Darkness” is one of those books which I had not heard or, neither did I want to read it. It came to me and I read it. I was pleasantly surprised. I started enjoying the nuances brought out by the writer and what I liked the most was that the book has been translated from Hindi by the author himself, so there is a lot of originality which is intact and left sacrosanct.

“Steps in Darkness” is about an Indian family, living in pre-partition times. It is a family living in poverty and each member is struggling with his or her own insecurities and fear. Vaidji has written the book with utmost clarity and fierce honesty. Beero, but a boy, lives through the day to day events, as his family cannot make sense of themselves. His father is a gambler and wife beater. His mother blames him for everything and yet loves him the most or so it seems to him at times. His sister Devi does not know what to do. She is flirting with men all the time. His grandmother is nothing but a nuisance for his mother.

All of this plays out in extreme poverty and sadness of life. All of this is witnessed by a boy on the brink of manhood and yet who cannot understand why things happen the way they do. All Beero wants are snatches of joy and kindness, which he tries very hard to come across at and outside of his home.

Baldev Vaidji’s writing shines in so many places. I could almost imagine and hear the voices as they were written in Hindi. There are a lot of dialogues and inner dialogues as well, which according to me is the highlight of this book.

“Steps in Darkness” is in some way coming of age, but it is also about what it takes to perhaps be human and patient, no matter what life dishes out to you. I also think that there were times when I could not stand to read the book, because of the stark nature of poverty depicted, but I had to, because the book did not leave me with any other option.

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