Tag Archives: Indian Writing in English

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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Pyjamas are Forgiving by Twinkle Khanna

Pyjamas are Forgiving Title: Pyjamas are Forgiving
Author: Twinkle Khanna
Publisher: Juggernaut Books
ISBN: 978-9386228970
Genre: Fiction, Humour
Pages: 256
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 stars

I normally do not read “celebrity books”. However, this isn’t the first time Twinkle Khanna has written a book, so to me she is just a regular author than a celebrity author and thank God for that! She has the craft, she knows how to tell a story, and be funny at that – not the laugh-out-loud kind of funny, but sure the chuckle kind of funny, the funny that leaves this smile on your face – also the one that you will not forget anytime soon.

I will also literally kill the next person who asks me what the title means. Read the book if you’d like to know that. The book takes place in the sanctuary of an Ayurvedic retreat in Kerala. Anshu tries to heal herself in the wake of a divorce and believes that things will become alright once the doshas are fixed, so to say. But of course, there is more to this than meets the eye. There is love that is clearly not quite lost, once her ex-husband Jay arrives at the same retreat with his younger, trophy wife, Shalini in tow. To add to this, there are other characters that enter the plot and those only make it richer, funnier, and quite a rollicking read.

Pyjamas are Forgiving is the kind of book you take to the beach, to the pool, or lay in bed all day and finish it with your favourite reading snacks. It is the right dose of funny and some contemplation on what relationships really are. What I love about this book is that it doesn’t take itself too seriously, just like life must not be for most part. Twinkle’s characters are expressive, they say what they must, they are most human, and stumble and fall like any of us.

Anshu is the kind of person who seems all so powerful and could also be putty in Jay’s hands. She is the kind of woman who knows what is her worth and will also doubt her capabilities most of the time. Then there is the gay couple, Javed and Anil that I loved. What I think resonated right till the end of the book is that they didn’t seem out of place in the narrative, which usually happens when LGBTQIA characters aren’t protagonists. This to me is a great start when it comes to Indian Writing in English, in the popular segment (so to say, hate saying that). Javed and Ali aren’t caricaturesque and that to me was simply great.

Twinkle Khanna never loses sight of the Shanthamaaya spa (this is but obviously a major character) and the oddballs who work there – the Ayurvedic doctors, the ghee routines that make you vomit, the hilarious situations (when Anshu realizes in one chapter that men in the adjoining spa therapy room can see her in the buff), the forbidden foods and of course the strict no-no when it comes to sex, everything comes together very neatly. Also, a little later in the review, however, I absolutely loved Anshu’s Mummy and her sister, Mandira.

There are range of emotions in the book, sometimes as sudden as one sentence to another and somehow as a reader, I did not have a problem with this kind of writing at all. If anything, I thought it was cleverly done. Twinkle Khanna makes no bones about writing the way she does – it is intelligent, funny, and even warm and quite emotional in some places. I loved how there is no redemption or the “perfect end” that ties the novel without any hiccups. Like I said earlier,  these are regular people with regular problems and problems don’t just vanish in thin air at the end of the novel. Pyjamas are Forgiving is witty, sometimes poignant even, and just the kind of book that Ayurvedic doctor recommended.

The Legend of Lakshmi Prasad by Twinkle Khanna

the-legend-of-lakshmi-prasad-by-twinkle-khanna Title: The Legend of Lakshmi Prasad
Author: Twinkle Khanna
Publisher: Juggernaut Books
ISBN: 978-9386228055
Genre: Short Stories, Novella
Pages: 256
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

I remember reading “Mrs Funnybones” last year and loving it to bits. I was floored by Twinkle Khanna’s writing and just couldn’t stop turning the pages. In fact, I finished the book in a couple of hours and the same happened while I was reading her second book “The Legend of Lakshmi Prasad” – a collection of three stories and a novella. It is fiction – some of it is inspired by real life as well, but the gravitas in these short stories is something else. They are not screaming for attention from the rooftop. They are subtle and graceful and extremely affable.

This collection of stories could take place anywhere. You could meet their characters while walking on the road. They are common people and some extraordinary things happen to them. This is one of the reasons I love fiction. Big things happen to so-called small people and Twinkle does a fantastic job of bringing it to life in the pages of her book. At the same time, before picking up this book, I was very skeptical of how she would be at writing fiction and lo behold, she surprised me. I was wrong to even be a bit cynical. The book is fantastic and I am not just saying this because I have loved “Mrs Funnybones” or because I think she is extremely hilarious.

My favourite story in the book of course is the one modelled after the sanitary man Arunachalam Muruganantham- the man who was solely driven to not only generating awareness about menstruation in rural India but also ensuring that the women there use sanitary pads that are hygienic and low-cost as well. I am stunned by what he has done, by what people like him do. I didn’t know of him earlier, I shall admit but after reading the short story I had to know more about him. He is a Padma Shri award winner for spreading awareness against traditional myths and practices around menstruation. Now this is the kind of action we need in the country.

At the same time, while reading this story, I firmly believe that all of us must talk of issues that people shirk from – in this case menstruation. Why don’t we talk of women’s health more often? Why don’t we have conversations around it? Feminism is not just meant for online discussions, I suppose and a lot of ground has to be covered and from that perspective, this collection sure does bring to light strong women, their way of life and the issues surrounding them.

While I absolutely loved, “The Sanitary Man from a Sacred Land” (which might I add was written with a very irreverent and at the same time controlled tone), I absolutely loved the story of the two sisters – Noni Appa and Binni. It is about finding love at any time and at any age. It is simple, sweet and will leave you with a wonderful aftertaste of belonging to someone. The fact that you are the master of your own life and can make choices, despite initial hiccups, being a woman in her late 60s amazed me. I felt for Noni Appa and I wish my mother would have remarried when she had the chance. We all need companions and nothing is truer than that.

I also enjoyed the other two in this collection. The titular tale is of a girl almost saving girls of a village and in the process saving a village and ends up a hero of her own life. Twinkle Khanna’s writing is breezy, profound and most interesting. This book is full of impact, grace, tenderness and relevant issues of our times. I would highly recommend it to one and all. Do go out there, read The Legend of Lakshmi Prasad, talk about it, and gift it to people you know and love.

The Girl who chose – A new way of narrating the Ramayana by Devdutt Pattanaik

The Girl who Chose - A new way of narrating the Ramayana by Devdutt Pattanaik Title: The Girl who chose: A new way of narrating the Ramayana
Author: Devdutt Pattanaik
Publisher: Penguin Books, Puffin
ISBN: 9780143334637
Genre: Mythology, Children’s Fiction
Pages: 112
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 Stars

So I was a fan of Devdutt Pattanaik’s books when I first read “The Pregnant King”. It was in 2007 or 2008 I think. I remember calling him and chatting with him for hours about it. Maybe that is also one of the reasons why we turned out to be good friends. But that has got nothing to do with the review of his latest book “The Girl who chose – A new way of narrating the Ramayana”. I was waiting for this book since forever. Why? Because I think if you are going to tell a mythological tale for children in a different manner, then I sure would like to know about it.

“The Girl who chose” is about Sita and her five choices and how they impact Ramayana and everyone else in the story. This isn’t Devdutt’s spin or take. It is just an interpretation given what happens in Ramayana. It is about sometimes things being planned out even before you can think about them or about the choices actually that you make and its consequences.

This book is about Sita for sure, but it is also about the other central and not-so-central characters of the Ramayana. The illustrations by the author himself make the book something else. Devdutt’s illustrations are simple. They are easy to comprehend and perhaps one doesn’t even need text while deciphering them. The illustrations speak a language of their own.

I also would like to add here that there is no feminist angle in this book, so don’t be fooled by the title. It is a given that like any other human being, Sita had the power to choose and she made the choices that she did. For a children’s book it perhaps may not come across so clearly, but the understated meaning can be inferred. The tale of the Ramayana always depends on Sita – on what she does, because it is ultimately she who leads the story. No one else has that kind of power in this Indian epic.

Devdutt Pattanaik does it again – simply and with a lot of brevity. He takes on portions of the Ramayana and serves it to you in bite-sized nuggets. The footnotes with additional information only enhance the reading experience. This is a great start for children to know and understand Indian mythology. I think it is the perfect book to gift a child to expand his or her horizons about Ramayana which has been passed down from generation to generation.

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Book Review: What the Body Remembers by Shauna Singh Baldwin

Title: What the Body Remembers
Author: Shauna Singh Baldwin
ISBN: 9788129117472
Genre: Fiction
Publisher: Rupa and Co. 
PP: 626 pages
Price: Rs. 395
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

The book tells a story which resonates deeply with my own views; being a middle-ground-sort of person in a world that forces people to take sides is tough, especially if you were a woman, and were not afraid to speak out.

Ms. Baldwin’s writing is beautiful; sometimes I paused and re-read a paragraph or a sentence just to admire how she describes things and tells her story. Sentences like, “Afterwards, she can return to her room, moon-shadow crawling like a lowly untouchable along his bungalow walls,” immersed me in the irony of Roop’s situation as the second wife; she was needed and wanted, but received only a “look from the corner of her husband’s eyes,” in return.

The character Sardarji came to me as patriarchy personified. Kind and generous, but for all his education, could never truly understand his wives. His adherence to British education and standards, which caused him to forget the “music of the dilruba” and resulted in his refusal to listen to Satya’s views, was also reminiscent of the rigidity of the patriarchal society.

For most of the book, my favorite character was Satya. She was so strong and fearless. I love how she questioned the gap between the intention of Sikhs to treat women as equals and the reality of women not being valued or treated the same as men. The following passage is such a good example of how Satya’s wishes express the struggle between the reality and her wishes for it:

Surely, there will come a time when just being can bring izzat in return, when a woman will be allowed to choose her owner, when a woman will not be owned, when love will be enough payment for marriage, children or no children, just because her shakti takes shape and walks the world again. What she wants is really that simple.

Towards the end of the book, all of the characters worlds are rocked by the religious divisions between Hindus, Sikhs, and Muslims which intensify as the departing British prepare to divide the land into India and Pakistan.

During this period, I especially appreciated the growth in Roop. She goes from being timid to finally finding her voice and having the courage to stand alone. Throughout the book, I really HATED Sardarji. On some level, I could sympathize with is struggle to rise in the British government that was in India. However, I felt so angry with him for how he treated Satya and I did not fully understand or appreciate his need to take a second wife. Towards the end of the book, there is a powerful scene at a train station in which the iciness in my heart for Sardarji began to defrost

Closing the back cover, I cannot help but ponder about the ending. Even though this novel is set in 1937 India, the story rings true with religious disputes everywhere, forcing moderate people to take sides. Watching extreme religious groups enforcing their prejudices and judgments with violence makes me wonder, what would stop the tragedy in this book from happening in my country?