Tag Archives: Panmacmillan india

The Legacy of Nothing by Manoj Pandey. Illustrations by Yuko Shimizu

The Legacy of Nothing by Manoj Pandey Title: The Legacy of Nothing
Author: Manoj Pandey
Publisher: Pan Macmillan India
ISBN: 978-9386215628
Genre: Short Stories
Pages: 126
Source: Publisher
Rating: 2 stars

There are times you are reading a book and really hope and pray that you like it, that it doesn’t disappoint you, till it does, and honestly you then do not know what to do. Should one continue reading it? Endure it so to say, for some time only, like a bad relationship is endured? Should one drop it? I read it. It had a lot of promise, if only the stories were longer and better structured.

The Legacy of Nothing by Manoj Pandey is a collection of ten byte-sized (forgive me for using this phrase) stories. I don’t know if the stories are poems or the poems are stories, either way, it didn’t work for me. The landscape of Manoj’s stories is beguiling. You want to be sucked into it. You want more and end up receiving nothing.

His stories are of migrants, of people who just want to make a living with dreams and hopes of their own, of people who are treated callously in their own country, feeling dejected and alienated. This is precisely why I wanted to love this collection, to soak into their lives, but maybe the form of writing isn’t for me.

The collection starts with how we project ourselves on social media and the lengths we will go to achieve that. The first story “Decay” hits you hard when the protagonist, a struggling musician will go to any lengths to stir a sensation online – even take advantage of a story of rape. Or the one titled “Inadequacy” which is about new age role-plays and how it fits into our current social conditioning (which by the way doesn’t come through at all). “Pretty as Fuck” is about Facebook friends who chat, interact, get to know each other, and then what happens when they meet. There are seven other stories – of a Maoist who finds solace in sips of Coca-Cola (the only one I could feel toward), of a man who changes his sex (The longest story in the collection. I wish there was some empathy while writing this), and more in the same vein.

So, here’s the thing: The stories aren’t empathetic enough toward its characters, or perhaps they don’t want to project that to the reader. Maybe that’s how it is when it comes to these stories and its fine, but as a reader I felt nothing for the characters.

The writing seems rushed and not involving. Everything is just on the surface. The format is new and works initially, only to become jaded and leave you wanting more. The Legacy of Nothing sadly leaves you with nothing at the end of the book.

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Interview with Chhimi Tenduf-La: Author of “Loyal Stalkers”.

So I had just finished reading “Loyal Stalkers” and had a few questions in my mind for the author. I was lucky enough to have been in touch with him on mail, so I could conduct this interview through the web. Chhimi Tenduf-La is a world citizen in the true sense. His stories are of ordinary people and yet seem so extraordinary that they cut across territories of geography, mind and emotions. A collection that I loved reading and truly cherished.

final cover

Here is a short interview:

What made you write a collection of short-stories, after two novels?

I started a couple of stories in Loyal Stalkers as novels, but I felt they were better left with some things unsaid, whereas if I fleshed them out they would have lost their subtlety. When I found I could connect them I knew I could advance an over-riding story through a number of different characters and plots. This was enormously enjoyable and allowed for much more freedom. When writing a novel I may think of a character I want to write about but cannot fit him into the plot. With a collection I could just write a new story for him.

Your characters aren’t redeemed easily. Why so? Why is there a constancy in not letting them see the light of day?

I guess I had not thought about this much, until you asked this excellent question, but one of my pet hates is people acting with impunity because they know they will not be punished whatever they do. Here in Sri Lanka money and connections can get you off most things and that annoys me. As you point out, all my characters, although they have redeeming features, pay for the crimes they commit.

Chhimi book 3

I am intrigued by the title. How did you choose that for the story (a little obvious, yes) but then why stick to this for the entire collection?

I feel this whole book could have been written by a nosey aunty obsessed with what her neighbours are doing. I think it is indicative of society here that people are more concerned with other people’s lives than their own. Most of the stories have some stalking theme; the maid obsessed with her boss, the abusive relationship, the loyal dog following his special needs friend. I wanted the title to be creepy, but also reflect Colombo society in some ways; everyone is invested in each other’s lives, they can be a little annoying, but yet there is that closeness and that feeling that there is always someone nearby to help you when in need.

You’ve been a citizen of the world and yet this collection restricts itself to Sri Lanka. Why so? Why not give the characters space to see the world?

As I found my feet as an author I felt safest writing about what I know best. I have been here so long I have forgotten what it is like to live elsewhere. Yet now you have said it I do want to explore what some of my characters would be like living in another country. How much would it change them? Thanks for the idea!

Your top 5 favourite books and why?

I have limited this to books I have read recently.

The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared 
by Jonas Jonasson 

Comedy in literature is hard to balance. Endearingly silly, or annoyingly farcical. Jonasson gets it just right in this inspiring tale about Allan Karlson who goes on the run to avoid celebrating his 100th birthday. As he does so, we travel back through a hilarious twentieth century history lesson, in which Karlson mingles with great leaders and tyrants; at one point he convinces Stalin to shave off his moustache, and he regularly has a young Kim Jong Il sitting on his lap. Genius.

Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk

Great movie, greater book. The prose, slick and punchy, suck you in, slap you back and forth and churn you out. With great twists, cool dialog, and an abundance of quotable lines, Palahniuk tells an extraordinarily original story with awesome ease.

Chinaman by Shehan Karunatilika

It is more than a novel about cricket; it is Sri Lankan modern history through the eyes of an alcoholic. It is recognition of the tragedies, often self-inflicted, that tore at Sri Lanka’s core. It is a detective story, a mystery, a thriller, the search for a genius Tamil cricketer whose name and records have all but been wiped out of Sri Lankan history.

The Seasons of Trouble: Life Amid the Ruins of Sri Lanka’s Civil War 
by Rohini Mohan

A 368 page lesson about Sri Lanka’s civil war. In fact, this is the definitive lesson about any war; about child soldiers, mistrust, disappearances and lies. This book reads like a novel, whereas it is fact. Rohini Mohan messes with your emotions; she humanises people we thought were monsters. She makes you root for them, understand them, believe them.

What Lies Between Us by Nayomi Munaweera

I had to pluck up the courage to read this a second time because it is an incredibly disturbing book for a parent to read – but it was all worth it. Munaweera’s writing is brilliantly fluid, emotive and captivating and personally I felt this was an even better book that her prize-winning Island of a Thousand Mirrors.

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Was writing “Loyal Stalkers” a cathartic experience? Did you live some of these stories yourself or through someone else?

I find all writing to be cathartic and relaxing. But yes, Loyal Stalkers touched on a number of issues that all of us in Sri Lanka should be more aware of. Since writing it I have become more sensitive to others affected by these issues, be it a friend battling homophobia or a maid not getting enough credit for the work she does.

Chhimi as a writer…

I write purely for enjoyment at the moment. I have never felt pressured into it or had writer’s block; maybe I require both to improve as a writer. I have a fairly wild imagination so this is an outlet for it. I write two hours a day, but nothing on weekends and I read back my work hundreds of times to try to see if it flows. Once it is printed I hate looking at my writing because it is too late to change anything I don’t like. I try to be snappy, hip, humorous and sensitive as a writer but probably fail in all regards. My story-telling is more inspired by movies than by books, for some reason, maybe because I don’t want to write like anyone else (not that I could).

How important do you think it is for the short-story form to be recognized in India and why do people prefer the novel over the story?

I was told by a UK based publisher that the issue they have with short story collections is that it is very hard to get the leading lit critics to review them, unless the writer is very well known. If a book does not get reviewed, book shops are reluctant to sell it. Maybe the problem with short stories is that readers may love one, but lose momentum if they don’t quite dig the next one. It is a lot of stopping and starting I guess, whereas with a novel you have invested in the characters already and so each time you pick up the book you’re not taking a blind leap of faith. This is why I have tried to link the stories in Loyal Stalkers, and have the characters popping in and out of each other’s lives. I love reading short stories myself because they are standalones; I can read one each night and if I don’t like one I have not wasted too much time on it. In some ways short stories are more accessible to people who aren’t necessarily bookworms and thus they are important to India if they can get more people to read. They can also get more people to write; almost anyone can sit down and write a short story, whereas a novel requires a different level of commitment and craft. With such rich culture and tradition, as well as the complexities of class I am sure there are hundreds of thousands of people in India who could write an important short story.

Chhimi 4

Your 5 favourite short-story writers

I’m inspired by R K Nayaran,  Alejandro Zambra and Raymond Carver. To understand how to appeal to a large audience, Jeffrey Archer. Of current South Asian writers Prajwal Parajuly, Sandip Roy and Ashok Ferrey. (I know this is 8 and not 5, sorry).

What are you working on next?

I have taken a break because I am not entirely sure in what direction I want to go. A novel, a collection, a movie? Maybe I will focus on writing more articles for a while. I have had many false starts with writing because I jump into new projects too fast, so now I am trying to be patient and I hope a killer idea for a novel will start growing on me.

Interview with Aroon Raman

I loved The Shadow Throne by Aroon Raman. And right after reading it, I had to interview the writer. So we spoke and spoke some more and here is an interview with him. I loved the book and here is my review of it.

1. What prompted you to write The Shadow Throne? How did the story idea germinate?

In the months post May 2011, post the bin-Laden assassination, I could see seismic shifts happening both within Pakistan and relations between Pakistan and the West. The country’s self-image was, of course, the first casualty; but equally important was that the carefully cultivated image of the ISI and the military as frontline guardians of the country’s security was also shattered. External relations with NATO, and especially with America, hit a nadir from which even today they have not recovered.

India too was in its own – self-generated – crisis: a crisis of governance and political will, that continues unabated. A government tarnished by a series of scandals, each bigger than the other; reports of bureaucratic dysfunction have abounded, and some stories – such as the bugging of the telephones of extremely senior government officials – have created an unprecedented sense of crisis. The military and intelligence arms of the government have been inevitably drawn into this mess: witness the recent fracas over the Army Chief’s run-in with military intelligence.

So we had a situation that to me seemed ripe with many possibilities; Pakistan with its back to the wall, India in its own crises of governance. The idea of TST germinated against this backdrop. The intent all along was to maintain an authentic feel to the plot: keep it chilling but believable.

2. Not many Indian writers have explored the thriller genre successfully. What made you? Weren’t you apprehensive to begin with?

A writer has to write about what excites him or her; in other words I must play to my metier. While I read non-fiction extensively, and literary fiction as well, I have been drawn to yarns of adventure and the thriller as a genre from an early age. Rather than being a hindrance, it has actually helped that the well-written Indian thriller is still relatively rare – at least in English. It seemed to me that it was therefore easier to make a mark with a fast-paced, well researched thriller than in literary fiction – where plenty of talent already abounds!

3. Like I said earlier, I felt that Meenakshi’s character had not been given her so-called, “due”. You think more could have been done to extend her part in the book? Does she progress to become essential in another Chandra thriller?

Though she does not appear as much in the book as Chandra and Hassan, I’d like to think that Meenakshi punches above her weight—so to speak. She is critical to the book; she is responsible for all the major breaks in the case: the early fix on the Kushans, the cracking of the code that leads Chandra and Hassan to Bamiyan and suggesting that the final rescue of Hassan is effected by Gul Mohammed. She is important enough that the bad guys move to eliminate her: an attempt she defeats with real courage. I also needed her in Delhi to provide the foil for the action in Afghanistan so that the plot switches back and forth between the two countries. This switching of locale is always something that adds to the plot and is very useful in a thriller.

That said, TST is well set up for a sequel, one where Meenakshi might well become central in a big way!

4. Your literary inspirations…

I cannot do better than quote Tolkien in his preface to The Lord of the Rings where he said, “The prime motive was the desire of a tale-teller to try his hand at a really long story that would hold the attention of readers, amuse them, delight them, and at times maybe excite them or deeply move them.” The relative strengths of these emotions may vary depending on the type of book, but my deepest desire (as I believe that of any writer) will be to ‘grip’ the reader powerfully, take them out of themselves and hold them in the book’s embrace till it is done.
There are several writers who are my icons and inspiration. Conan Doyle has to have pole position ( he created not just Sherlock Holmes, but a large body of thriller and historical fiction), closely followed by Tolkien, Rider Haggard, Peter O’ Donnel (creator of the Modesty Blaise series). Modern writers: Frederick Forsyth, Ken Follet, Caleb Carr, Stephen Hunter…these are just a few in a list that is very long!

5. Aroon the writer…

Believes there is a story within us all. Even in the most mundane of lives, there is the dramatic, the unusual. As a writer, I’d like just to be awake to what life offers us each day – little vignettes that can be the stuff of big stories! Another thing: one writes for ‘the market’, but one also writes for oneself. The key to success is to bring about a happy accord between the two. That is exactly what I strive to do as a writer.

6. Aroon the person…

Is a jack of several trades, trying to balance it all. Roughly 50 per cent of my time goes to running my R&D business and the rest to a mix of writing, trekking, travel and working with NGOs. There is so much to do, and so little time to do it!

7. There are so many books flooding the Indian market. By this I mean the local home-bred writers. What do you think of this mass production? You think there is a demand for every kind of book that is being published?

The mortality rate of new books is extremely high in India. We have to remember that Indian writing in English has exploded recently – in the last decade or so and the market is still developing. New writers are flooding the scene and there is necessarily a slew of books in practically every genre. Is this too much? It’s hard to say. India is also a big, complex reading market. I recently visited several book distributors across the country and was amazed at the numbers and varieties of books that sell – including local language translations of Western authors. So while there may not be a demand for every book that is published, there is certainly a demand for a huge number and variety of them. I believe that as with any market, this too will settle over time. In final reckoning the reader is the king…or queen!

8. What will the next book be like? Another thriller?

My next book is an adventure story set in Mughal India at the time of Akbar. It is also fast-paced, filled with action, and with an authentic feel of the period. A small band of animals led by a young boy make a hazardous journey through Hindustan to warn the Mughal Emperor of an impending threat to his Empire—from the fabulous treasure of Malik Kafur, long thought lost. The book is completed and will be published sometime next year by Pan Macmillan.

9. How has the book fared? It has been successful for sure. What do you think of yourself as a writer basis that? Has that changed anything? Do you expect more from yourself now?

The Shadow Throne has hit No. 8 in the bestseller list (HT Nielsen BookScan)in the very first week (ending September 15th) of its release. In that week, not all stores still had the book displayed, and so to get to this level of sales so early has been great for me as a debut writer. I’m waiting to see how it will do in the weeks and months ahead.

The early feedback from several readers and sales figures themselves validate the one most important expectation I have as a writer: that I’ve hopefully been able to establish a strong ‘connect’ with the reader. My plot, pace, characters and writing style have resonated with my target audience. This is a huge boost to my confidence as a debut author, and that in a less-populated genre. The experience of being published has also matured me as a writer; the feedback from people, even my own editing team have all deepened my perspectives of what works.

Obviously, we are still in the early stages of the introduction of TST and time will tell how well it will succeed. Still, expectations of myself for my further work have become more ambitious consequent to the early successes we have seen thus far. Building on a broad-based reader feedback is as a good a spur any for improving as a writer.

10. Your biggest reader compliment…

Kris Gopalakrishnan, the Vice Chairman of Infosys wrote in to say he felt compelled to finish the book in almost one go. This in fact has been the reaction of practically every reader of The Shadow Throne so far and the biggest compliment that a thriller writer can expect!

Book Review: Sold by Patricia McCormick

Title: Sold
Author: Patricia McCormick
Publisher: Pan India
ISBN: 978-1406334050
Genre: Fiction
Pages: 263
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

Sold is an account of a young Nepalese girl, Lakshmi who is sold into the sex trade in India by her family for the sole reason – Money. Patricia McCormick writes the book with great sensitivity and at the same does not let go of the bigger picture. The book is told through the eyes of Lakshmi – a thirteen year old, her beliefs (if any), her thoughts and her emotional sense of being, on understanding what she has been sold into.

Sold is written in free verse form and that is what makes it even more heartbreaking, because it is the sad poetry of life that comes through the pages. I had thought I had read enough already about the sex trade in India; however I was proved wrong after reading Sold.

The horrors of the flesh trade come alive in this book and that is most disturbing. As humans, we think we can handle almost everything, well certainly not a thirteen year old talking about how she was drugged and made to sleep with strangers.

I don’t know if this book can be recommended for young adults, and at the same time considering what they watch and see anyway, I guess they can read this book. McCormick’s writing is stark and raw. She doesn’t mince her words and one is not expected to while writing about a topic this sensitive. The story is heartbreaking and yet sometimes uplifting as Lakshmi shows courage to maintain her identity and survive her ordeal.

Such stories stay on and linger with you, even if you cannot do anything about the situation. We will never know what it is to live like Lakshmi did. The empathy will never be lost, hopefully. The book definitely widens the scope of what we know and what we chose to ignore and for that reason alone, I urge you to read this book.

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