Tag Archives: midnight’s children

Tharun James Jimani’s Favourite Bombay Books

I love asking authors such questions or wanting them to write about their favourite books so that their readers and fans can read a lot more than just being stuck to the said author’s works. I honestly believe that authors must constantly recommend books that they have enjoyed and loved reading. That way readers get to explore so many books.

tharun-james-jimani

Here are Tharun James Jimani’s (author of the newly released Mornings After and Cough Syrup Surrealism, both of which are must reads in my opinion) favourite 5 books on city by the sea and I love how he has put his emotions in words. A little about Mornings After though: It is the kinda book that is perfect for our times, it is about gender roles and how the line is so blurred when it comes to identity and what it means to be urban. I loved every bit of it. A longer review a little later.

mornings-after

Tharun’s 5 favourite Bombay books:

This is kind of an awkward question to answer because it implies some deeper understanding and/or experience of the city because of my having read –and, I suppose, written- stories set in Bombay. And even more difficultly, of being able to rate the Bombay-ishness of said novels by authenticity; to distinguish “first copies” from the real thing. The problem is you and I could spend a hundred years in the same city and experience entirely different Bombays depending on who we are and what we’re drawn to.

Whereas as I’ve grown older –and perhaps because of all the many ways cities have become more and more like each other in the last couple of decades in which I did all my growing up- I find it increasingly difficult to buy into the city-as-character trope, especially in literature. (The visual medium is a different story.) Could some stories have only happened in certain places? Maybe. Could the same story have happened to another group of people in the same city? I’m not so sure. So maybe it’s just the characters after all?

This is also the sentiment I set out to express with Mornings After: “Bombay will hug to her bosom, take to her grave, tales of love and despair, of life and longing, because cities are really just the secrets they keep. And because cities—and Bombay—are not dreams or abstractions or joy or melancholy, the easiest way to put yourself in a city’s shoes may just be to put yourself in the shoes of its residents.”

Either way, a beautifully written vignette of city life is a joy to read, and the books I’ve listed below contain some of my favourite stories set in Bombay.

The Moor’s Last Sigh – Salman Rushdie

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This book is especially dear to me as it was the first I’d read anything like it- my first Rushdie. And to make things even more interesting, it was set in two cities – Bombay (which I had never visited at the time) and Cochin, Queen of the Arabian Sea! As a fifteen year old living in Trivandrum, it was almost a privilege to read (parts of) a story set in a city you knew inside out. I’d read The God of Small Things before this, but Roy’s Kerala was one I was familiar with. Rushdie’s Jewish Cochin of generations ago, not so much. Add to the mix the dark, dark genius of Aurora- the Moor’s talented, conflicted mother- and the alternative universe of her art that she prefers to validate her offspring through, and you’ve got one of those “What were you doing when..?” reading experiences few books can boast of. Coming back to Bombay, it’s Rushdie’s descriptions of the Ganesha festival (and Aurora’s annual dance against the Gods as the procession passes by their house) that linger in memory, but it was the interweaving of the very real terror the city was reeling from and the obvious references to Shiv Sena and Bal Thackeray that titillated at the time. I’ve always been fond of real life signposting in my own fiction, and looking back it’s not hard to imagine the Moor played his part in shaping that sensibility.

Midnight’s Children – Salman Rushdie

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A group of kids born at the stroke of Indian independence or within the next hour, all with different super powers? The narrator as telepathic moderator of their “midnight parliament” to find out what it all means? Rushdie was doing the Wachowskis before the Wachowskis knew it was a thing! Before this descends into total fanboy fare, Midnight’s Children was more accessibly Bombay than The Moor’s Last Sigh for me, perhaps because it was also a story of growing up – both of the narrator and his country. Pop culture references and geographical quirks aside, who hasn’t visited South Bombay and wished for a funtabulous falooda or at least bhel puri served up Bombay style?


Serious Men – Manu Joseph

serious-men

We need to talk about caste, guys. A theme that could have easily petered out into Good vs. Evil blooms instead into a sublime –if ridiculous- battle of wits in this hilarious Bombay novel that pits an astute Brahman scientist against his Dalit assistant. I read somewhere that the author himself was resident in a poorer part of Mumbai as a young journalist, and it shows in his descriptions of Worli’s chawls. No clichés or poverty porn; just one man’s very understandable itch to get out of his damn cage. Teach a man to fish, right? Well, Manu Joseph gave his Dalit protagonist agency. Score.

Em and the Big Hoom – Jerry Pinto

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How I Met Your Mother, but in the form of a series of conversations between a suicidal matriarch and her two kids in the psychiatric ward of a Bombay hospital. In a wonderfully concise, beautifully illustrated novel (no prolonged eight seasons of shoddy story-telling here). Em and the Big Hoom’s courtship is glorious in its details, and Em’s madness is the incessant black drip that holds together and drives this family nuts at the same time. But what stood out for me was the cultural context: the characters’ Goan-Catholic heritage (Maka Paao, as they’re referred to in some parts of Bombay) and the sheer delight in picturing the characters utter the very relatable turns of phrase ( I took to using “this-thing” in conversation for a good couple of months) Pinto puts in their mouths.

Family Matters – Rohinton Mistry

family-matters

Like with Pinto’s novel and its Goan heritage, what screamed out at me from the pages of Family Matters was the cultural setting – Bombay’s Parsi community and their fears, inhibitions and humanity. But equally telling is the novel’s exploration of that most middle class of maladies – the economic and social burden of caring for one’s parents in their old age in a community that puts family above all else. The elderly, Parkinsons-afflicted patriarch flailing about in the tiny flat his daughter shares with her equally well-intentioned husband and kids pictures the claustrophobia of Bombay’s tiny middle class abodes in a way that moves and makes you want to move at the same time.

Thank you Tharun for doing this. I know it must not have been easy for you but thank you so much for this.

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An Interview with Shehryar Fazli

When I first read Invitation, I was mindblown by the writing. I got in touch with the publicity representative and she in turn got me in touch with the author and here is the interview for you readers. Hope you enjoy it. You can read the review of the book here

1. Could you tell me a little more about the inception of the title for the book?

 

The novel went through several working titles, but none of them actually worked. It was quite tedious. But ‘Invitation’ was the title of one of the sections, and when it came time to decide on a final title when the manuscript was going out, I thought about ‘Invitation’ and asked myself if this title captured some essence of the book. I decided that it did.

2. Invitation is a book with many layers. Did you start off by ideating so many layers for the book?

You know, in fact, the challenge throughout was actually getting rid of several layers. This may be something that first-time novelists are especially vulnerable to – the urge to fill the book with everything, as if this is the only chance you have. Throughout, I realized that I was writing many parallel stories that may have worked individually, but not within the architecture of this novel – there were some major characters, who I loved, who I eventually had to give the boot. Hopefully I can resurrect them in later work. There was also a lot more about Shahbaz’s past in Paris. Now you see his past selectively, through a filter, and I think that works much better in this case since this is not your big bildungsroman. So, yes, I was always writing a big book, because it’s big books that have influenced me. It remains, as you say, multi-layered, but I actually see it as far tighter than it was in earlier drafts.

Buy Invitation

3. With so many Pakistani writers in the limelight, how difficult or easy was it for you to make your presence felt or your voice heard?

On the one hand, Pakistani writers are getting unprecedented attention, which of course is productive and allows someone like me to reach a large audience. On the other hand, it’s a little awkward as well. I have a few friends from the U.S. and elsewhere trying to get their work published, and they often tease me and say, “You’re lucky you’re a Pakistani writer.” The suggestion is that you owe your success as much to this interest in the phenomenon of ‘Pakistani writing’ as to individual talent. This sounds unfair, and yet there may be some truth to it. A mild concern I have is that the attention sometimes shifts from a discussion of the individual book, towards this phenomenon of ‘Pakistani writing’ so that we’re talking about a historical or cultural event rather than the novels themselves. But, ultimately, if your book is strong, it will be the story, the characters, and the language that people will remember long after their interest in this little ‘boom’ subsides.

4. Why is this presumption that Pakistani writers will churn out “a certain kind of story, “the certain kind of novel”? When do you think this will stop?

Well, the most welcome aspect of this whole Pakistani boom or renaissance, or whatever you want to call it, is that the work is so different. Kamila Shamsie’s work is very different to Daniyal Mueenuddin’s, which is very different to Nadeem Aslam’s, which is very different to Mohammad Hanif’s, which is very different to H.M. Naqvi’s… I could keep going. I think you’re right in that there seems to be an expectation that a Pakistani writer will address the major concerns like terrorism, gender inequality, tradition and custom, but I think there are similar expectations for writers everywhere. If you’re writing about New York, for example, you’d have to make a very conscious decision not to address the events of 9/11. If you were a German writer writing after World War II, you couldn’t not address the Nazi experience in some way. So, yes, people will expect to see this theme or that theme in the literature coming out of a particular time or place, but it’s important for writers not to bother about that, not to service those expectations. So far, it’s refreshing to see such varied work out of the Pakistani experience.

5. What role does “the sexual” play in your book considering that it is out there and for all to read and imagine?

A basic fact about the sex in this novel is that it’s certainly not good sex. On the contrary, it’s seedy and demeaning – and by that, I mean demeaning for Shahbaz. It’s not there to titillate and it’s not gratuitous, but reveals much more about Shahbaz, a guy who hasn’t figured out how to engage with women, or how to express masculinity. You have this character who is, throughout, unable to take action, who keeps everything bottled up, who remains silent when he should speak up, who’d prefer not to know and not to reveal too much. But where he is completely naked, figuratively and often literally, is in his dealings with women, whether it’s Malika the dancer, or the many prostitutes he pays for. For him, sex provides solace, in some cases a sense of power… but above all I think the scenes reveal his contempt towards himself and his own situation.

6. How does the cover capture the essence of your book? This was one thing I was struggling to understand…

I wanted something to capture the cabaret, one of the central venues in the story. We toyed with a couple of options, all very striking, but this one also conveyed a sense of mystery, of the hidden or not-quite-revealed, that I thought was apt.

7. Shehryar’s Top 10 All-time favourite books

How about 5 (after that it gets a little tough)?

  1. Herzog (Bellow); 2. Waiting for the Barbarians (Coetzee); 3. Midnight’s Children (Rushdie); 4. Remains of the Day (Ishiguro); 5. In a Free State (Naipaul)

8. So how did it feel when you finally finished writing the book?

I forget who originally said it, but he’s quoted in John Banville’s The Sea: a work of art is never finished, only abandoned. It was a great feeling to get the first draft done, in that the story now had a beginning and end. But what happens in between was always shifting, being reworked, and I don’t know how many ‘final’ drafts there were. I have to confess that I still think of it as an evolving thing, that in subsequent editions, this or that may be tweaked. I don’t know if I actually will, but the mere possibility keeps the book alive in my head. Also, even when you’ve finished work on the text, the project is still unfinished, in that now the book’s got to get out there, be read, be talked about. I go through spells of excitement and of vulnerability, because it remains a very personal work, a big part of me, that is now public property in a sense. But, overall, it’s a great feeling for the story to be a thing in the world — and an addictive one, which may be why I’m going through the torture all over again in writing a second novel.  

9. Why did you pick the 70’s as the backdrop for your book?

Originally, and for some time, this story didn’t have a specific setting, even a time period, but it did involve the narrator’s return from West to East, and about his very idiosyncratic pursuit of a sense of citizenship. At the same time – and this was when I was still in college – I was learning more about this very fascinating period in Pakistan’s history when popular protests in the late 60s were in large part responsible for the end of a military regime and the country’s first democratic transition. In a moment like that, people end up questioning the basics – what it means to be a citizen, what it means to be a nation, what one’s responsibilities are to the state and to fellow citizens, and what the state’s responsibilities are to the citizen. This was the perfect backdrop to Shahbaz’s story, and once I put him in that clutter, I decided I liked the results.  Also, I’ve always been a close reader of the State-of-the-Nation novel, and have always wanted to take on big public events in a literary way. In Pakistan, two of those events, the lessons of which still haunt us, are the country’s breakup in 1971 because of a failure to honor diversity and democracy, and the hanging of the country’s first elected prime minister, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, in 1979. In retrospect, I think it was inevitable that I would use them in my first novel.

10. Your advice to both writers and readers…

To both: keep reading. Read enormous amounts. If a book is not working for you, don’t feel obliged to finish because there are too many great books to read and there’s no time to waste on a book you’re not enjoying. But, at the risk of contradicting myself, read challenging stuff. Read books that expand your vocabulary (literal and figurative), your way of examining human life, your appetite for life, books that show you what all is possible in literature. I have similarly simple advice just for writers: write! Get the words on the page, treat it like something mechanical rather than something mystical – don’t wait for that state of grace, that inspiring moment when the words just gush. There’s no such thing. Give yourself a daily word target, and then treat it like a job, don’t get up until it’s done. Even if what comes out if drivel that you’ll later discard, the point is to enter a regular rhythm, get pages piled up, and worry about making it good later.

 You can also purchase the book here

An Interview with Ashwin Sanghi

Ok. So I was a little blown away after reading Chanakya’s Chant. I mean, the plot intrigued me for sure but it was also the writing, which was hands down taut and had so much to say. And that is when I decided that Sanghi’s interview had to be a part of my blog and here it is…Hope you enjoy it. The review will soon follow…

Why historical fiction?

I grew up reading Amar Chitra Katha. In school, my favourite subject was history. Sure, I hated the boredom of memorization but I loved reading about wars, kings, revolutions and spiritual movements. I was transported into a mysterious and magical world of the past. I see India’s present (and our future) deeply rooted in the past. No matter how big a banyan grows, it has to depend on its roots for stability and strength. As economic growth happens, the new emerging generations of Indians will need to fall back upon their history, culture and mythology to keep themselves rooted.

Wasn’t it difficult to run parallels in the book, one historical and the other modern?

Not really. I usually spend around six months researching a subject before I get down to writing the story. By the time that I start
writing, I have before me a road map that plots every twist and turn in the plot. In the present instance, I had two independent plots
before me, one ancient and one modern. I simply needed to analyze the points of commonality and ensure that they meshed at the right places… a little bit like coordinating the arrivals and departures of two trains via the same platform.


A thriller and a semi-literary novel. How did you manage the writing for this one?

I don’t know which one of my books you’ve christened “semi-literary” because I’m not part of that exalted circle! I’m simply a commercial paperback writer who enjoys spinning good old-fashioned yarns. My primary objective is to entertain my audience. If you’re looking for allegory, intricately woven descriptive passages, hidden meanings or award-winning literary prose, I’m not your guy!

Ashwin, the writer…

During the release of Chanakya’s Chant, Dr Shashi Tharoor said that writers like me are writing for Indian audiences almost exclusively. In his view, my breed represents a new generation of Indian writers who don’t really care whether western audiences will appreciate us. Dr. Tharoor called it “the smuggling of Indianness past the immigration inspectors of English literature”. Thus, Ashwin the writer is also a smuggler!

Ashwin, the reader…

My grandfather used to give me a new book every week provided that I wrote a review about the one that I had read the previous week. This tradition started when I was ten and went on until I was twenty-two. I owe my love of reading to him and to my mother who would make reading more palatable by smuggling in a few more interesting paperbacks. Thus, Ashwin the reader was also created via smuggling!

From Jesus to Chanakya, what is the next on the table?

History gets my creative juices flowing, so it would have to be historical fiction… that’s more or less the DNA of my genre. Beyond
that, I can share that the story draws from from an event that happened in the 7th century AD. For the rest, you’ll have to read the
book when it’s complete!

How does it feel to know that Chanakya’s Chant was touted above Salman Rushdie’s books?

It wasn’t really. What Shashi Tharoor said was that Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children opened the door for Indian writers like me who are writing with an Indian sensibility for an Indian audience and that we have taken the process to its logical conclusion.

Why wasn’t there more detailing in the mind of Chanakya in the book?

The one single element that I cannot and will not compromise on is pace. Character development, building the scene, background
information and discussions of protagonist’s motivations… they all take away from pace. I use them sparingly, possibly to the chagrin of some readers, because I would not want my reader to have to consciously think about whether they need to turn the page.

Your top 10 all-time favourite books…

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle; War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy; Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie; Not a Penny More, Not a Penny Less by Jeffrey Archer; Messiah by Ian Rankin; All the King’s Men by Robert Penn Warren; The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam; Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov; Roots by Alex Hailey; The Almighty by Irving Wallace.

Chanakya’s Chant by Ashwin Sanghi is available at all leading bookstores.

Top 10 Fussed-Over Books

I have never understood why some people (critics and the common people) fuss over some books. I have tried reading them and failed miserably. May be I just haven’t been made to read them. Sigh. I feel bad that I have not read these great ones, but they just could not get my attention. Hopefully they will in the future. Here are my top 10 of those:

1. Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie: Yes I tried and tried and tried again. I reached page 110 and gave it up. His writing was slow and did not captivate me at all. The book is the booker of the bookers and yet I failed to go through it. Was there something really wrong with the book or was it just me?

2. Ulysses by James Joyce: Now I have severe issues with this one. Confusing sentences, droning pace, existentialism (hardly) and an author whose only work that I have loved is his short story, “The Dead”. Sorry Mr. Joyce you just don’t do it for me. May your soul rest in peace.

3. The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien: The movie was better. The movie was fantastic. The plot is too intertwined. The book is boring. Elves and Hobbits and Hobbits and Elves. Description of a tree moving from one side to the other takes a page. Just not my thing.

4. The Alchemy Of Desire by Tarun J. Tejpal: My sister loved it. Again, it was a torturous read for me. Just could not get into the book and it was supposed to be all about love and all that. Mr. Tejpal knows how to edit a magazine. A book, I am not sure.

5. Books by Paulo Coelho: Yes it is kind of bullcrap riding on people’s sentimentality and actually minting money out of  it. All the stories (so-called), all the unintelligent lines that people fawn over, this writer knows his job. Sadly for him, I know my job too. Do not read his books.

6. A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth: Heralded a classic, a work of great genius and all of that and it was too long for its own good. I use it as a paper-weight now. Mr. Seth is cute and I agree, his book is another story. An Equal Music though is 10 notches above.

7. 2666 by Roberto Bolano: Kill me for not liking this book. Burn me at the stake. This book – the less said the better.

8. Middlemarch by George Eliot: I prefer The Mill On the Floss anyday. Maggie Tulliver rules the roost, unlike this one. Bring in the yawns and the sleep right back in my eyes.

9. Breaking Dawn by Stephenie Meyers: I will get shot for this or something or a vampire hidden in the night will kill me, however I could not make it after 100 pages. Sorry Bella and Edward. I like you. I do. Not that much though.

10. The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari by Robin Show: Apparently he did and from the sales of this self-help thingy, bought another one  for himself. Kidding! Just could not read it.

So that does it. My Dis List!! And no apologies.