Tag Archives: nonfiction

Read 2 of 2023. Intimations: Six Essays by Zadie Smith

Intimations - Six Essays by Zadie SmithTitle: Intimations: Six Pieces
Author: Zadie Smith
Publisher: Penguin Books
ISBN: 978-0593297612
Genre: Nonfiction, Essays
Pages: 97
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 4/5

For the longest time, I avoided “pandemic” literature. I did not want to read about the lockdown, about the Corona virus, about Covid-19, about lack of vaccines, of how people had to migrate, what difficulties we faced as a community, and what did the pandemic signify for decades to come. I just did not want to read about it, till I did when I read some fantastic books last year such as “How High We Go in the Dark” and “Sea of Tranquility”, each of them just telling me more about the human connection, and how we can only survive through empathy.

Zadie Smith’s most profound and striking piece of writing is this collection of six essays about how we live – then and now, if we change as humans, if we have learned anything at all from the situation that was, and what it is now – only of course she speaks of 2020 through these essays that are about people she knows, people she doesn’t know all that much, of life as a writer before and during the pandemic, of how we all learned to live, and some had to learn to survive.

The art of the essay is a unique one – to separate the personal from the public and political, and to merge them when you want to suffuse intimacy with tenderness, which she does most marvellously through these short six pieces. My most favourite piece has to be, “Contempt as a Virus” where she speaks of race, of class, and how there is nothing different between it and the fast-spreading virus.

“Intimations” is a collection of non-combative, meditative, and hits you directly from the author’s subconscious and what we all experienced – that collective experience is not only recognisable or relatable, but also brings to fore a lot of empathy, as the pages turn.

Books and Authors mentioned in Intimations: 

Meditations by Marcus Aurelius
Ottessa Moshfegh
Kafka
Toni Cade Bambara
Yukio Mishima
Édouard Levé
Berger
Tanizaki
The Road
Fran Lebowitz
Sontag
James Baldwin
Lorraine Hansberry
Zora Neale Hurston
Virginia Woolf
Lives of the Artists by Vasari
Milton
Keats
Twelfth Night
Oscar Wilde
Vita Sackville-West
George Eliot

Read 65 of 2022. In the Language of Remembering: The Inheritance of Partition by Aanchal Malhotra

9789354898914

Title: In the Language of Remembering: The Inheritance of Partition
Author: Aanchal Malhotra
Publisher: HarperCollins India
ISBN: 9789354899140
Genre: Nonfiction, Partition Literature Pages: 756
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

I love Partition Literature – it tells me about my ancestors and their way of life, which I didn’t bother asking about when they were alive. Partition Literature is more than just novels or oral history. It goes beyond grief, loss, and belonging. I love Partition Literature because I was always so safe knowing who I was, not fearing about displacement, not knowing any better, till I did.

My grandparents – both maternal and paternal – migrated to India in July 1947, right towards the end, from Pakistan. I was all of eight years old when my paternal grandmother died and I wasn’t born when my paternal grandfather died. My parents don’t remember much about the Partition either. My mother never asked her parents about it. Neither did my aunts and uncles on both sides. That says a lot about trauma and grief, about what we remember and what we forget, and what we do not want to know about.

In the last couple of years, I have read Aanchal Malhotra’s Remnants of a Separation at least three times to make sense of where I come from – at least some of it. I believe art saves you, and it does, and it has, whenever I have turned to it. It is painful to read about the Partition but in a way it is also very cathartic. As a third-generation resident of independent India – who has only heard about the Partition in snatches of stray conversations – trying to make sense of pain and loss, reading about the events can be a means of providing closure, even if in the smallest of ways.

Aanchal Malhotra’s In the Language of Remembering is a book for me, for people who belong to my generation or after, for anyone who wants to understand the Partition from where we are now. It is a book about remembering – of conversations Malhotra had over the years with generations of Indians, Pakistanis, and Bangladeshis. She speaks to them about identity, about the relevance of the Partition today, whether we wish to talk about the Partition, and the need to preserve the painful past.

While growing up I used to think of the Partition as an event in my grandparents’ lives. It was cut off from my existence. I didn’t realise till much later that I too am a product of the painful past in one sense or the other – of two people whose parents had memories, who could never forget what they endured, about how they crossed the border, and how long it took them to build a new life.

In the Language of Remembering has been published at a time when the country is in the grips of a destructive chaos – when relationships have taken a back seat and religion is at the fore, when Muslims are being othered, and people are being categorised as “minority” and “majority”. The book has been published at a time when we need it the most – to understand where we have come from and how far we have come, and what it will take to be truly secular.

I never understood what the Partition meant to me, and how it perhaps even impacted me till I read about it. It all began with Kamleshwar’s Partitions in the year 2000, and after twenty-two years and having read about some forty-and-odd books on the subject, I feel we still don’t have enough Partition Literature. We constantly need to look and relook at it, to understand ourselves better, and perhaps generate some more empathy within us – to be kinder to each other and ourselves. I admit, it isn’t as simple as that. Sadly, we have a long way to go since maps and borders continue to be an integral part of our existence, whether we like it or not.

In the Language of Remembering makes us aware of what we carry within ourselves. Malhotra’s book is about regrets, losses, hopes, about what we gained, and what we were separated from. It is about the choices one made, about family, about generations, and how some incidents are not passed over, not told as stories, not revisited because of how painful they are and the need to talk about them – both in order to look ahead and constantly keep looking back so as not to lose a part of ourselves.

Read 26 of 2022. The Trial of Lady Chatterley’s Lover by Sybille Bedford

The Trial of Lady Chatterley's Lover by Sybille Bedford

Title: The Trial of Lady Chatterley’s Lover Author: Sybille Bedford
Publisher: Daunt Books
ISBN: 9781907970979
Genre: Nonfiction
Pages: 80
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

I was fifteen or sixteen I think when I first heard of “Lady Chatterley’s Lover” from my mother. I think she read it and enjoyed it a lot. She even told me what it was about. It was her way of educating me about sex, I suppose. I went on to read it at the age of eighteen and while it didn’t change my life, it certainly had some impact.

Lady Chatterley’s Lover isn’t a book about sex, as much as it is about relationships and what binds people together or makes them search for love from other people. It is full of sex and words that we now so casually use like “fuck”. It was for this reason it was banned in the country to which the writer belonged. There was then the famous trial that took place in 1960, the trial of Penguin under the Obscene Publications Act 1959, which was a major event of its times.

This book is about that trial. Bedford was a first-hand witness to the trial. She saw it unravel and documented it. She speaks of the claustrophobia of Courtroom 1 at the Old Bailey. She presents everything that took place – word for word, play by play – from the prosecution’s objections of 13 sexual scenes to the listing of 66 instances of swear words to the testimony of dozens of witnesses including E.M. Forster.

The essay is honest and transparent. It doesn’t judge but just presents what happened and the outcome of it – of course the book won, and all those readers who were given the chance to read it.

The Trial of Lady Chatterley’s Lover should be read by all, to understand why books are banned, and shouldn’t be. It should be read to make sense of what is moral and immoral, and how fact and fiction merge together to create a space which should be devoid of judgement.

Read 20 of 2022. The Blue Book: A Writer’s Journal by Amitava Kumar.

The Blue Book by Amitava Kumar

Title: The Blue Book: A Writer’s Journal Author: Amitava Kumar
Publisher: HarperCollins India
ISBN: 978-9354893742
Genre: Nonfiction, Diaries and Journals Pages: 176
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

I will say this at the onset of this review: This book definitely makes it to one of my top reads of this year, and we are only in February. The Blue Book by Amitava Kumar is a whole lot of heart, meditations on loss and living, and above all on the resilience of the human spirit, in several circumstances, the pandemic being one of them.

The Blue Book is a journal of the pandemic, it is an ode to the ones who have left us, it is a memoir, it is a journal of the passing of time, and how in all of this literature saves us, most of the time. It is also a collection of paintings and drawings – of life observed as it came to a standstill, and somehow did not.

Amitava Kumar’s musings aren’t just that – you could even call them contemplations, or profound thoughts but to me they were nothing but deeply personal and emotional. He speaks of his parents, their mortality, his mother’s passing away, his children, his friends, and how it all comes together for him as a writer.

The Blue Book is a book that makes you see things around you, in a more calm and balanced manner. It did that for me at least. It made me slow down in a sense and appreciate what I had and also what I did not. Kumar’s paintings say so much – they represent life, death (since he also started painting over the obits from the pandemic in NY Times), and a sense of life coming full circle in a strange way. Art brings forth the grief – the unsaid, the understated, and perhaps how to let go.

Read 16 of 2022. The Law of Desire: Rulings on Sex and Sexuality in India by Madhavi Menon

The Law of Desire

Title: The Law of Desire: Rulings on Sex and Sexuality in India
Author: Madhavi Menon
Publisher: Speaking Tiger Books
ISBN: 9789354471155
Genre: Nonfiction
Pages: 150
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

Madhavi Menon breaks down sex and sexuality in relation to the law most succinctly in this pocket-sized book. This book also feels like an extension of her previous work, “Infinite Variety: A History of Desire in India”, which is a work that should be widely read.

The Law of Desire is a slim book of five sections – Preamble, Criminal, Immoral, Obscene, and Unnatural – each dealing with rulings about sex and sexuality and more so thoughts on way forward. The Preamble and Amendment act as Prologue and Epilogue in a traditional sense of a book.

I like how Menon presents facts and doesn’t let her opinions come in the way, though of course there are times that she does debate with the reader, which I found quite fruitful and invigorating. Menon makes connections of religion and fundamental rights to desire and how they have nothing to do with gender to begin with.

Madhavi’s writing is simple, to the point, and peppered with examples from various other rulings, though at times it does get a little overbearing to try and recall them.

One element that I loved a lot in the book is the way Menon uses pop-culture to the benefit of the book’s topic – from movie posters, to literature, to music – all of it ties in neatly with the rulings and the cases she brings up through the course of the book.

She also tries to take the conversation away from just the binary when it comes to sex and sexuality to include the non-binary, which of course is inclusive but are far and few and in-between.

The Law of Desire is a short and insightful read on desire and how sometimes the law doesn’t even know what to do with it. It is biting, precise, and on-point. For readers who want to know more about desire and the Indian courts’ rulings, this is a good book to start with.