Tag Archives: mumbai

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.

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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.

Mumbai Confidential by Saurav Mohapatra and Vivek Shinde

Mumbai Confidential by Saurav Mohapatra and Vivek Shinde Title: Mumbai Confidential
Author: Saurav Mohapatra and Vivek Shinde
Publisher: Inked, Penguin
ISBN: 9780143333357
Genre: Graphic Novel
Pages: 144
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

What better way to depict the dark and gory underworld and cop politics of Mumbai, than through a graphic novel? The underbelly is fantastically done with shades of brown, black and grey. Sometimes it also may happen that some graphic novels fail to convey what they want to, but that is not the case with “Mumbai Confidential” by Saurav Mohapatra and Vivek Shinde.

The book is set in Mumbai (but of course). It is the story of a cop, rather an ex-cop, Arjun Kadam who had it all going for him, till it all fell apart – both personally and professionally. He is no longer the man he used to be. He is addicted to heroin. He somehow has no will to live. There is the ACP who used to be his mentor and still considers him to be his protégé. Another cop is after his life. To top it all, there is a hit and run and Kadam survives, but a young urchin loses her life and Kadam will do all it takes to bring her justice.

There is everything in this graphic novel. It is fast-paced, riveting and has Bollywood with doses of underworld and suspense. However, the personal tragedy that occurs with Kadam should have been brought out well in my opinion. It was too rushed. The illustrations are terrific. They bind you and make you spend time on every page than just flip them soon enough.

The blocks and the blurbs are uniquely done. There is an effort put here to tell a story, to see it through from start to finish in a well-coordinated manner. The graphics depict the city’s dark side brilliantly. Vivek Shinde’s art and Mohapatra’s storytelling goes hand in hand quite well, providing the reader with a rollercoaster of a ride, laced with delusion, despair and some hope.

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Book Review: The City of Devi by Manil Suri

The City of Devi by Manil Suri Title: The City of Devi
Author: Manil Suri
Publisher: Bloomsbury India
ISBN: 978-93-82563-09-9
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 381
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

I started reviewing books when I first read, “The Death of Vishnu” by Manil Suri. In fact, that review is also one of the first on this blog. From there on I have read everything that he has written, not because of the fact stated above, but because I admire his writing and his thought process. Suri has the uncanny ability to make so much sense of ordinary situations. His characters aren’t larger than life, however the circumstances are and with good reason – to move the plot ahead, to make the reader see and above all, to make them feel.

It is no wonder that I absolutely loved reading his new book, “The City of Devi” (the last in the not so connected series). “The City of Devi” has been touted as a dystopian novel; however I did not think it had anything to do with it. The story as his other two books has been set in Mumbai. It is about Sarita, a thirty-three year old statistician (the math angle did not surprise me considering Manil is a mathematician) who can throughout only think of one thing: To be reunited with her physicist husband Karun, who has disappeared. The times are tough: Mumbai is emptying itself under the threat of a nuclear annihilation. There are not many people left. This has almost led to anarchy. The past can but only be remembered.

Amidst all this Sarita sets out to search for her husband, in-between the gang wars of Hindus and Muslims (this angle makes you also choke a little). With her is Jaz, a Muslim whose religion is only to have sex with other men. That is what he enjoys the most – sex and nothing else and at the same time he is looking for his own lover in the city. The third angle to the book is the Goddess Devi herself who has materialized on the beach to save her city. Sarita, Jaz and Devi play their roles in the book from there on. That in short, is the summary of the book.

The book is quite unusual. Something that probably has never been tried by an Indian writer. The book is easy to read and yet there were times, I had to stop and think more about the scene I had just read or turn back the pages and read some parts all over again. Devi and her role in the book is humongous (but of course), and yet it is so calming at times, that I almost wished that she would materialize in this time and age to save her city. On the other hand, I could most relate to Jaz and his dilemma – the way he is searching for answers and not finding any.

Manil’s writing is direct in most parts and yet the web he weaves of storytelling almost leaves the reader breathless. His descriptions of a dying city are breathtaking. You can relate and yet at times, you choose not to. The city comes alive with his words and that is the power of some great writing. The situations he creates aren’t easy, the answers provided are not black or white, and yet as you turn the pages of “The City of Devi” all you want is to feel the city and hope that the characters’ lives are sorted. A must read this season.

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Book Review: Arzee the Dwarf by Chandrahas Choudhury

Title: Arzee The Dwarf
Author: Chandrahas Choudhury
Publisher: Harper Collins India
ISBN: 978-93-5029-216-7
Genre: Fiction
Pages: 201
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

I had heard a lot about, “Arzee the Dwarf” by Chandrahas Choudhury. A lot of people had recommended it. Some suggested that I do not read it. I finally did and I found it to be quite alright. I liked the premise of the book for sure. There were some parts that I had trouble going through but that is for later.

“Arzee the Dwarf” as the title suggests is a slice of life of a dwarf’s life. Of course there is more to it, but that is putting it simply. Chandrahas writes about lost hopes, dreams, love and the times we live in quite eloquently. Let me now tell you something about the book and the plot.

“Arzee the Dwarf” is a metaphor, for the smallness and inadequacy that stays in all of us. Despite this though, life moves on and surprises us in ways unknown which at the core is what this book is all about.

Arzee searches for regularity in his life – a job, a wife, and the things that complete a man. He is always seeking these as consolation to his diminutive size. The novel opens to Arzee’s elation at assuming that he is going to be made the head projectionist at Noor Cinema, after his senior has resigned. He builds his dreams around this. That of keeping his family happy (his mother and brother), of getting married, and of rising up in the world (quite ironically so). But the cinema owners decide to shut the theatre, thereby crashing all hopes that Arzee has been harboring.

If this is not enough, he also owes money to cricket bookies who set loose a goon in the form of Deepak on him. The readers are exposed to power play in various forms – Of Deepak trying to exercise his strength (he is a huge man) and at times, pitying Arzee (but of course for the obvious reason) and letting him default with the payment, only to be back.

With such a host of different characters, Chandrahas takes us into a world, unknown to us, and yet connected to us in ways which we cannot imagine. The good thing about the book is the universal language that it speaks – that of loneliness and longing. Everyone can relate to it. Mumbai is seen differently in the book – it is comforting and at the same time looming large over Arzee and the life he aspires. Arzee represents all hopes of a world that come crashing down sooner than they are built.

There are times when the dwarf’s monologue is a little too much to handle, and of course then comes in the touch of self-pity, at almost every page. That is something I could not handle. I thought that could have been toned down a bit. The secondary characters were built on really well and sometimes not so. For instance, Deepak has had a strong characterization throughout the book, and on the other hand I wished to know more about Arzee’s mother and Monique, the hairdresser, but sadly could not.

The ending is vague but intended that way so maybe readers can draw their own conclusions. It does not spoon-feed the reader which is refreshing. Overall, Arzee the Dwarf stands as a testimony to the hopes we still hang to and the dreams we sometimes see even during the day.

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