Tag Archives: Jerry Pinto

The Engaged Observer: The Selected Writings of Shanta Gokhale: Edited and with an Introduction by Jerry Pinto

SGTitle: The Engaged Observer: The Selected Writings of Shanta Gokhale: Edited and with an Introduction by Jerry Pinto
Author: Shanta Gokhale
Publisher: Speaking Tiger Publishing Private Limited
ISBN: 978-9388070492
Genre: Nonfiction, Anthology, Essays
Pages: 312
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 stars

You do not just read Shanta Gokhale. You literally take in everything she has to say, and mull over it for days, weeks, and sometimes even months. That to me is the power of prose, of words on paper, and most of all it is about the emotions she can evoke in you. You read Shanta Gokhale to take count of the world around you – to see its decline, the society we live in, its hypocrisy (laid out by her with immense logic and facts), and how at the end of it all, there might also be some hope and redemption.

I remember reading Crowfall way back when it released (in English though) and was moved deeply by it. There was nothing specific I could put a finger on, but what she wrote was enough. All of it. Every single word. What Jerry Pinto does through this anthology of her selective works is give you a fair enough glimpse into her mind and writing, so you can read more of her and I bet you will, once you are done with this one.

This book is varied – that because Shanta Gokhale is so prolific – having written so much – from theatre of Bombay to the theatre of Mumbai, the political scenario, on India, on Literature, the Marathi culture (that is trying very hard to revive itself), and everything else in between. I don’t think there is any topic that Shanta Gokhale hasn’t written on. But it isn’t just this, it is the way she writes – almost makes you feel that you are the only one reading her at that time.

The Engaged Observer (what an apt title) is about so many things and yet doesn’t feel overdone or trying too much to fit into one book. In fact, if anything, I wanted more. Shanta Gokhale writes with clarity. Every sentence is in place. My favourite section has to be the one on women – the patriarchy, feminism, and women defying the misogynistic constructs of society.

Shanta Gokhale’s writings are lucid, rich in facts, detailed, and doesn’t veer at any point into becoming something else. Points are made and then it is up to the reader to make their judgement or not. The writings are not biased. As the title aptly suggests, Gokhale observes intently, engages with the observation by making notes, writing about it, and leaving it to the readers to consume. Also, kudos to Jerry Pinto for carefully selecting the pieces he did to introduce us/enhance our understanding of the writer – and the neat sections that help the reader navigate.

There are a lot of reasons I would recommend this work. Some of them being: clarity and simplicity of language, the varied pieces – there is literally something for everyone, and to top it all her writing – the kind that cuts through without seeming that way, the kind that makes such a strong impact that you cannot help but want more, the kind of writing that shakes you up and makes you see the world differently. It is the kind of writing that only comes from an engaged observer – the one who constantly sees, relates or does not, but definitely engages – no matter where she is.

Half-Open Windows by Ganesh Matkari; Translated by Jerry Pinto

Title: Half-Open Windows
Author: Ganesh Matkari
Translated from the Marathi by: Jerry Pinto
Publisher: Speaking Tiger
ISBN: 978-9386338358
Genre: Literary Fiction, Translation
Pages: 208
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

There are very few contemporary novels out there that speak of the nature of the urban spaces we inhabit and how close is the relationship that we have with them. In my opinion, we need more books such as these that make us contemplate and look at our spaces differently. “Half-Open Windows” by Ganesh Matkari is one such book that reexamines the society we live in, through the characters that are constantly making an appearance and questioning our lives. The book was originally published in Marathi and now translated to English by Jerry Pinto. This edition is published by Speaking Tiger.

What is the book about?

Half-Open Windows is not an easy book to peg. Sometimes it is angsty and at others it is just a social commentary. All said and done, it is also about (and most majorly) the city of Mumbai – the treacherous and yet quite a seducer – Mumbai. The story is about people who are connected to SNA Architects – an upcoming firm in the premium area of Colaba. The characters are way too many for me to describe here – but what I can tell you is that from an attention seeking suicidal person to corrupt co-owners of the firm to a lonely widow going about her life, you will see many shades to Mumbai and perhaps even more.

I haven’t read the book in Marathi but Jerry Pinto does a fantastic job of retaining the flavour of the city and the phrases in the local language without which the book would have been incomplete. At the same time let’s not forget the city of Mumbai that is another character in this book for sure – witnessing it all and the force behind all the good and the bad. “Half-Open Windows” is just but a reflection of our selves. Do not miss out on this read.

Murder in Mahim by Jerry Pinto

murder-in-mahim-by-jerry-pinto Title: Murder in Mahim
Author: Jerry Pinto
Publisher: Speaking Tiger
ISBN: 978-9385755293
Genre: Literary Fiction, Indian fiction, Crime fiction
Pages: 224
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 Stars

Before I begin this review let me tell you that this book is very different from ‘Em and the Big Hoom’ by the same author. If you are going to pick up ‘Murder in Mahim’ thinking it will be like his earlier novel, then don’t. It is different and refreshingly so. I would also like to add that it moves beyond just being a murder mystery (in the loose sense of the word) and goes to explore other themes, which I thought was very-well managed and achieved.

Being a Bombay (Yes, to me it will always be that) boy, I could identify to most of what is there in the book, in fact, even all of it – from the glitzy and glamorous to the dark underbelly, nothing was new and everything was a reminiscence of a time gone-by. This is precisely what I love about Jerry Pinto’s books – the description, the eye for detail, the nuances of not only the characters, but also the city (which also happened in Em and the Big Hoom in large doses) and that to me is some superlative craft.

I didn’t think much of the story in this one, but the only reason I kept turning the pages is because I cared for some characters and the language which is par excellence. Jerry Pinto’s writing embroils you in it, it makes you think, and before you know it you are also a part of its world.

So what is the plot of this book? A young man is found dead in the toilet of Matunga road station, with his stomach ripped open. Peter D’Souza, a retired journalist becomes a part of this investigation with his friend Inspector Jende and that’s when the story begins. It is also a book about unspoken love, about Peter’s fear that his son might be involved in the killings (yes, there are more than one) and it is about the city that never sleeps – the one that comforts and the one that can also be mercilessly cruel.

This is all I have to say about the plot. Now to the writing – I was taken in like I have mentioned earlier, by the raw energy of the city pulsating throughout the book. The nuances are meticulously and most certainly effortlessly thrown in – from the Barista at Shivaji Park, to the beaches, to the stench of urine and sweat at railway station platforms, and Marine Drive included. Mumbai (I have to call it that now) has come alive in this book.

Jerry’s writing is peppered with humour, sorrow and lots of ironic moments in the book which make you guffaw a lot. There is this straight-forwardness to his prose and yet the characters are more complex than ever. From Peter’s wife Millie who plays a minor role and yet shines with her complexities to Leslie (my personal favourite character) and the various shades there are to him, each character is crafted with a lot of deftness and logic. At one point, I felt as though I was in Bombay of my college years – there is no timeline as such in the book which works very well to its advantage. ‘Murder in Mahim’ is relevant, topical, fast-paced, and a book that will grab you by your throat.

Book Review: Cobalt Blue by Sachin Kundalkar; Translated by Jerry Pinto

Cobalt Blue by Sachin Kundalkar Title: Cobalt Blue
Author: Sachin Kundalkar
Translator: Jerry Pinto
Publisher: Hamish Hamilton
Genre: Literary Fiction, Translation
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5/5

There are books that you read sometimes and do not know what to make of them. There are stories that are close to you and they emerge through the pages and the writer has just touched a nerve. You know it. Perhaps you do not even acknowledge it, but you do realize that the book has made an impact and there is nothing you can do about it. You let yourself go. You become one with the prose and then you just feel something so deep that you want to share the experience with the world.

My review of “Cobalt Blue” is an experience of reading, which I want to share. I never thought once before picking this book a long time ago. This time around it was a reread – a third time reread at that and I knew it would wrench the life out of me and it did and I loved every bit of it. There is no other way to read this book. It will overpower you at some point if you let it, that is.

I have the regret of not reading this book in Marathi – the language it was originally written in but I know for a fact that Jerry has kept the translation intact. You can feel the words and the senses merge and that is proof enough. I also remember hugging the commissioning editor of this book, for making this book happen in English, for making it available to thousands and millions of readers.

“Cobalt Blue” is about love. It is about strangers who break and heal hearts. It is about love and it’s longing. It is about the sensation of not getting what you want. Of getting it but not getting it completely. How do you then define those emotions? Do they have a voice at all? Tanay and Anuja are siblings. Both smitten by the tenant who comes to stay over. The tenant who is nameless throughout the book. He is the sort of person who will only break your heart. You are aware of it and yet you want to be loved by him, in whatever capacity. There is another brother in the family. There are parents. There are relatives and yet all attention is wanted only by that stranger.

The book had me from the first page. It is narrated by the siblings and the commonality they share. The dread, the eventuality, the similar feeling and yet they do not communicate with each other. Nothing is said. The pain is hidden or just invisible – it is not known to the reader. It is for the reader to decide.

The translation shines. Jerry’s prose mingling with Sachin’s emotions takes you on another journey. The effect is heady. I knew the book would not let me be. I also knew that I would end up crying all over again and yet I had to reread it. There was no other way. Jerry has tact – he says and translates and also lets the reader feel and of course it is true, that the text is doing most of the talking and that is Sachin’s magic. There are no hush tones to homosexual or heterosexual love. Love is love after all and that is the essence of the book. It seems that the book is the canvas and there are endless portraits, possibilities of colour, of tones, of palettes and of intermingling sensations. It is there. Raw and exposed and sometimes we all have to take our chances to see where we fit, where we belong and where we truly feel loved.

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An Interview with Jerry Pinto

I read “Em and the Big Hoom” and loved it. Loved it so much that I wanted to know more about the writer, Jerry Pinto. So I decided to conduct an E-Interview and here it is. Thanks a lot Jerry for taking the time out and answering my questions.

1. How much did the book take out of you on an emotional level? It must not have been easy writing it. Isn’t it?

I remember a friend once asking me on a lazy day in a chickoo orchard, “Do you ever worry that with all the writing you do, you might write yourself away?” I did not know how to answer that because at one level, it seemed to suggest tahtt here was a mechanistic equation to the whole process of writing. The writer gives, the reader takes. But it does seem as if we talk about giving and taking. If the book ‘takes it’ out of you, what is ‘it’? And where does it go? How does the self reformulate itself? Even if this is not physical, even if it is not mechanistic, it is a source of worry. Where do the words come from? They well up, I suppose, generated by experience, pushed out by the desire to express something, oneself, another self, whatever. They keep coming or at least they have kept coming so far. If I don’t write for a while, I can feel them rushing out when I start again. This is horrible to say, I feel an atavistic fear about saying it. It’s as if I might magick the wellspring away. So okay, let’s start again.

Every book has a cost. Some of the cost is emotional, some of it is physical, some of it is temporal. Every writer pays a cost and s/he must decide what she wants to do with it. I wrote hundreds of thousands of words. Why? I wonder now. I don’t know. I don’t think when I am writing I know whether it’s going to work or not. I know only that I am doing what I construe as my duty: I am putting the words down so that I will have something to work with. I am putting them down now, today, not tomorrow, not after I’ve had a cup of coffee and chatted to a friend, but now, because that’s who I am and what I do. I work with words. And when they have been written, then the sifting, the sorting, the pruning, the culling.

This much is true for all writers who take their metier seriously. We all do this. Some material is easy, some of it is adamantine. But once you’ve chosen your mountain, once you’ve said to yourself, there’s a temple inside this mountain and I will chip away ‘not-temple’ to release it, you cannot go on complaining about the size of the mountain or the refusal of the rats to leave their homes.

2. Jerry as a writer…

I don’t know. Tukaram has a lovely line in which he says that the candle never sees the light. How can it? ‘Tell me good Brutus, can you see your face?’ as Cassius asks and you know how that ended.

3. After close to 4 non-fiction books, how come the idea and inclination to write fictition?

My name appears on fifteen books. Em and the Big Hoom is the first novel. It was also the first book I ever started writing. I started with the desire to tell a story. I have always enjoyed that. I started also with the terrible feeling that I knew nothing about the world, about the machine called Bombay, about the way people did things. “How does one start writing a book?” I ask in a diary I kept at the age of eighteen. “How does one know if this is a book or a play or a poem or a short story?” That’s juvenile hubris. I should have written, “How does one know if this is a book or a play or a poem or a short story or a nothing?”

So here it is. After 20 years and 26 false starts…no…I think I should call them pit stops. You write, you roar along, it’s working well, the words are whistling in your ears. You wait and read and realise dismally, that you’re channelling a writer you love. You’re the clever schoolboy of your worst nightmares, the ones in which you play yourself and realise you are a grotesque synthesis of everything you ever wished to be, you’re a hand puppet, you’re a prosthetic device. But you salvage a scene here and a line there and with those you start again.

4. Jerry, the Bombay boy…

This is a city of small flats. It is a city of hasty decisions, “unsuitable for song as well as sense” as Nissim Ezekiel put it. It is a city of glitter and gloss and glamour and grazes. It is a city in which I have lived for 45 years without air-conditioning or a car. My home had five people in it. Now it has two. I was crowded then. I am crowded now. Javed Akhtar says somewhere that every house has one room less. Is he right? I don’t know, I’ve never had a room to myself. The city was outside, somewhere else; it was other people’s responsibility. Now it comes in and prowls around the room and peers over my shoulder and asks whether I am human enough to try and change it. Imtiaz Dharker has a great line in which she says she collides with the city every day. She’s right; we all do. We collide with the city and we bruise it infinitesimally and we are left wounded and out of our wounds do we build whatever it is we build: novels, homes for the aged, poems, charities, plays, industries, short stories, housing societies, flash fiction, call centres. This novel, the work on Helen, Leela Naidu’s autobiography that I wrote with her, the anthologies on Mumbai and Goa and love poetry written in English, they’re all ways of dealing with the city and they’re all autobiographical.

5. Your literary influences (if any)…

Of course, there are literary influences. Everyone has literary influences. Even if you don’t write, you have literary influences. When you quote the lines of a film song, you’re revealing a literary influence. When a bureaucrat writes “Kindly expedite” because he has seen it on a letter in a file, he is revealing a literary influence. I can’t enumerate my literary influences because I would have to name every single author, every single book, every magazine article, every facebook posting. They’re all there in my head, all fertiliser for what I harvest.

6. How easy or difficult was it to not make the writing too serious or to induce it with humour, as you have?

I don’t do it that way. I don’t think: Hmm, this is getting too deep, now’s the time for some fun. You write it and then you work it and you know when it works and you know when it doesn’t. For me, I believe it comes from the fact that I have been writing for the last 25 years.

7. The book made me stop and think at so many places, about what we perceive to be the ideal family, till the unexpected hits us out of the blue. Also there were times when certain tracks were left mid-way. Was it intentional in the writing process?

The Talmud says it beautifully: “One does not kill a man; one kills a universe”. And so to write about even one man is to leave some things unsaid, some moments unexplored. Those are the spaces that one leaves for the reader to inhabit.

8. Top 10 all-time favourite books…

I wish I could actually draw up a list but every inclusion will mean hundreds of exclusions. I could do a list of what I think are my top all-time favourite books for the person I am right now but the person I am when I read this will regret some and wonder how I could have neglected others. I cannot do this. I really cannot. I am sorry but I cannot.

You can read my review of “Em and The Big Hoom” here

Here is Jerry Pinto reading from the book: