Tag Archives: penguin india

A State of Freedom by Neel Mukherjee

Title: A State of Freedom
Author: Neel Mukherjee
Publisher: Hamish Hamilton, Penguin India
ISBN: 9780670090150
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 275
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

Neel Mukherjee’s “A State of Freedom” begins with a father who has come to India with his six-year old son from the States (where he now works). He wants his son to see the Taj Mahal and the nearby monuments at Fatehpur Sikri. The son is intimidated by the landscape – he doesn’t belong to this country and the father feels that even he is a “tourist in his own country”. This sense of alienation and weirdness furthers on into the first chapter, only to leave the reader gasping for more and turning the pages.

The start is powerful, albeit not very clear, but powerful nonetheless. It will leave the reader with two choices (as most starts do) – to either abandon the book or to carry on with it. I recommend that you edge on and you will be in for a surprise. Mukherjee’s characters are closely interlinked with the plot – though the plot is finely segregated into five segments (that is only too deceptive by the way), you see how characters appear time and again from one plot to another – it is as though they have decided to colour outside the lines and they very well will do so.

A construction worker falls to his death in the first section of the immigrant young father and his son and how his story is tackled later. At the same time, let’s not forget the core of the story (to me at least) of a passing poverty-struck man with his dancing bear (the cover is thus inspired) – each trying to find a way out – one of poverty and one of captivity – a “state of freedom” is being tried to achieve. The themes of alienation, identity and longing are further explored in the section of a young man who lives in London and visits Bombay time and again to meet his parents. In the course of the visits, he is taken in by the life of their cook Renu and another servant, Milly – so much so that he is encouraged by Renu to visit her village and stay with her brothers and their families – only to reach an understanding that he never can and never will be able to imagine the lives of others and how they live – his capacity for that is too diminished.

For me, while reading this book, there was the sound of loneliness that rang in almost every page – thus leading to the sound of grief, of belonging and to find salvation in one’s circumstances. I did read The Lives of Others last year, but this book has had an altogether different impact. I think what worked for me while reading this book is the association of daily life that Mukherjee doesn’t throw in your face but doesn’t hesitate to make you see what you normally would’ve shirked away from – the class, the racism, the feeling of not crossing lines because it gets uncomfortable after a point is so stark and raw that it will leave you with a lump in your throat.

For instance, the angle of Lakshman and the bear. There is so much going on in this part of the book that you would have to stop, take a breath and then continue – from the way Lakshman trains the bear (or so he thinks he has) to the drudgery of day to day living – to finding food for himself and the beast, Mukherjee’s prose shines on every single page. The peripheral layers to every section may seem ordinary, till they surface in another section and realism merges with the philosophical.

As a reader what also took me away was the different forms or narratives in which each section is written – the first section is in third person, the second in the first person, and how with each section the story only becomes even more complex and yet so simple. The fourth section is that of Milly and her friend Soni and how these two girls born and brought up in poverty, set out to want better lives and what the outcome of that is. The meaning of dislocation is the strongest in this portion of the book, thereby tying all loose ends.

The last section of the book is the one that is an unpunctuated chapter – told in first-person. It definitely gives the book the much required closure but it is also the chapter that I cannot talk about. “A State of Freedom” is one of those rare books that take you in slowly, capture you by the throat, overwhelm you time and again, make you see broken, fractured lives and at some point also make the attempt to make you whole again from that experience. It is one of those books that you would have to read, no matter what. I cannot stop talking about it.

The Book of Destruction by Anand

Title: The Book of Destruction
Author: Anand
Translated from the Malayalam by Chetana Sachidanandan
Publisher: Penguin India
ISBN: 978-0143068464
Genre: Literary fiction, Translated fiction
Pages: 242
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

“The Book of Destruction” by Anand isn’t an easy book to read. I am forewarning you because it is the truth. At the same time, you must read this book according to me, even if it means slaving through the first couple of pages (actually it is a slave-through after the first couple of pages) but do persist and then you will know why you will fall in love with this piece of work.

Anand’s book is about thugs and hashashins (assassins as called in Persian), it is about destruction and murder – right from the medieval times to the world we live in. The book is a three-story episodic narrative – all of them centered on one narrator and a man named Seshadri, with whom it all begins. In one, the narrator knows of the book of destruction and also the fact that he has been selected to kill – in the second a discotheque is bombed and in the third there is a staged orgy to which the narrator is led.

“The Book of Destruction” is essentially on the nature of murder and what drives a human being to kill (very little as a matter of fact). At the same time, I also thought the book was rambling endlessly and out of hand at sometimes, which could’ve easily been cut out. Having said that, Anand’s research is point on and only makes you want to know more about people who exist in the shadows.

Chetana’s translation is spot on and makes you wonder what the original would have read like. I think it happened to me more in case of this book because of its density and detailing. I absolutely enjoyed “The Book of Destruction” and if you are remotely interested in violence in literature, then this is the book for you.

The Day Grandfather Tickled a Tiger by Ruskin Bond

the-day-grandfather-tickled-a-tiger-by-ruskin-bond Title: The Day Grandfather Tickled a Tiger
Author: Ruskin Bond
Publisher: Puffin Books
ISBN: 978-0143428732
Genre: Children’s Books
Pages: 64
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 Stars

This is another title in the same Bond series – chapter books that is. The first one that I reviewed was “The Tree Lover”. This one as the title suggests is more on the funny side and was again, a breeze to read. Just that for this one, there were no watercolour illustrations so that was kind of disappointing. At the same time, the story is delightful (I had read it earlier) and this time it had me wondering if it actually happened or not.

“The Day Grandfather tickled a Tiger” is obviously again about Rusty’s grandfather – this time involving a tiger. I enjoyed this story a lot and also recalled that I had read it earlier but the illustrations by Viplov Singh helped enhance it. This one is a little longer than “The Tree Lover” so perhaps the older kids would enjoy it more, plus it is funny.

Ruskin Bond as I have said before has this uncanny ability to appeal to all age-groups. It doesn’t matter if you are his target audience, so to speak or not – I think he writes for everyone and that is the beauty of his writing. This is most certainly a solid reason to read him.

Landour Days: A Writer’s Journal by Ruskin Bond

landour-days-a-writers-journal-by-ruskin-bond Title: Landour Days: A Writer’s Journal
Author: Ruskin Bond
Publisher: Penguin India
ISBN: 978-0141005942
Genre: Non-Fiction, Journal
Pages: 160
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5 Stars

Hands down, “Landour Days: A Writer’s Journal” by Ruskin Bond is my favourite book of all that he has written. The book was first published in 2002 and I read it last week, 15 years later. It was republished by Penguin India in 2005 and now again in 2016 on their 30th anniversary. I picked this up at the Jaipur Literature Festival this year and something just made me read it right-away and loved it to the bone.

The book is based on notes and journal entries of Ruskin Bond from his private collection – describing people, nature and what he observes around Landour, Mussoorie. It is divided into four seasons of a year, and every season has its own unique entries – with humour, wit and profoundness. Mr. Bond knows how to write a book. It is simply told and there are no frills. I think I like reading him because of that – it is the primary reason and the plot or content follows close. All in all “Landour Days” is the kind of book that needs to be read slowly and savoured over time. It shouldn’t be about the length of the book as much the content. Do read it.

365 Stories: Day 4: Jelly by Sadat Hasan Manto

bitter-fruit-by-sadat-hasan-manto Today’s story, the 4th of January 2017 that is, was “Jelly” by Manto. No short story challenge or reading project will be complete without Manto and that’s the truth. Every short story of Manto makes you see a new facet of his personality and how his stories defined an entire generation and continue to do so. His stories perhaps will always be relevant, given the times we live in.

“Jelly” is about an ice-cream man and what happens to him when he is attacked and what happens after. It is a very short story but very fulfilling and vintage Manto is there on every word and sentence. I think the sense of loss and yet told with such candour is what makes his stories so different and readable. Read Manto now if you’ve never read him.