Tag Archives: Penguin Random House India

A Life of Adventure and Delight by Akhil Sharma

Title: A Life of Adventure and Delight
Author: Akhil Sharma
Publisher: Hamish Hamilton, Penguin Random House India
ISBN: 978-0670089024
Genre: Short Stories, Literary Fiction
Pages: 208
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

Akhil Sharma is the kind of writer who gets under your skin, whether you like it or not. I was apprehensive of reading “An Obedient Father” a long time ago (and still haven’t by the way), but I did read “Family Life” in 2015 I think and it completely swept me by my knickers. The book was emotional and yet not sentimental, it was wry and not funny, it showed me facets to the human condition and made me see some people differently, which very few books manage to do. His third book and this time a collection of short stories titled, “A Life of Adventure and Delight” does just the some – maybe in a lot more measure but sure does hit the spot.

His writing is raw and quite grounded and maybe that is what attracts me to it. This is a collection of eight stories about Indians living abroad and at home. The stories range across various themes – love, the suddenness of it all, loneliness, grief – the stories are just a way of glancing in another’s life – to perhaps relate to it (most of us do and sometimes we don’t admit to it as well) and thus know the fragile ways in which we live.

The stories are diverse and yet there is a commonality to them all – the universe of human emotions is all but the same in these stories. Each one can stand alone and yet the binding factor of human loneliness, cruelty, baggage and how we just wait for another day of happiness is overwhelming, only sometimes to the point of being repulsive. Why repulsive? Because you so want these characters to stand up and take control and yet even though they want to do that, life doesn’t quite turn out that way.

Don’t be fooled by the title of the short-story collection. The lives of characters are neither adventurous nor delightful. So the play of title works only till the time you start the first story. His stories are about fragile relationships and all that goes with this territory. For instance, “If You Sing Like That for Me” is about grief – and how a song finds itself in it so beautifully that I could not stop thinking about. And the story is about love – the love a woman feels for her husband. Trust Mr. Sharma to turn this one on its head.

On the other hand there is the title story about relationships, to what extent we trust and what goes on when humans are just humans who are flawed. The writing doesn’t seem wasted at all. Every word is in place and every sentence and description deserves that attention. It is extremely well-crafted and exquisitely interwoven (not literally but from a broader theme perspective).

All said and done “A Life of Adventure and Delight” is a short-story collection where almost every character yearns to be happy and will go against every social grain or norm to find it, only to see and realize that life works very differently.

Advertisements

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 Clothing of Books by Jhumpa Lahiri

the-clothing-of-books-by-jhumpa-lahiri Title: The Clothing of Books
Author: Jhumpa Lahiri
Publisher: Hamish Hamilton, Penguin Random House India
ISBN: 978-0670089741
Genre: Non-Fiction, Books
Pages: 80
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

The Clothing of Books originally started off as a talk that Jhumpa Lahiri gave in Italian. It is now translated from Italian to English and is 80 pages long. The book is about book covers and what they mean to the reader, the writer and the relationship it shares and holds between the two. I was expecting a longer read (though I knew it was a short one but not this short) and that disappointed me a bit.

Having said that, Lahiri’s book is definitely not irrelevant to any reader. If anything, it will make you think about the cover as more than just an accessory to a book and what it means to you at a personal level as well. Lahiri touches on the history of book jackets (very briefly) and lets us know how they have now become just marketing vehicles that carry a lot of blurbs and nothing else. She also speaks of her book covers and how important it is for a writer to have his or her opinion about their book covers.

She further goes on to talk about how we judge books by their covers (literally so) and lends it to the metaphor of identity as she was growing-up (different in a foreign land). She doesn’t waste her words when it comes to explaining the concept of covers and how they have come to be – the dust jacket, the naked book (my favourite piece in the entire book) and the visual language it communicates through.

“The Clothing of Books” is an intimate essay of an author and book covers. It is about the experience it carries with itself. It is also about what covers do to books (playing a major role sometimes in the success of a book as well), the personal stories they carry and how art and reading intersect at a certain subliminal level.

Amir Khusrau: The Man in Riddles by Ankit Chadha

the-man-in-riddles Title: Amir Khusrau: The Man in Riddles
Author: Ankit Chadha
Publisher: Penguin Random House India
ISBN: 978-0143426486
Genre: Literary Fiction, Poetry
Pages: 96
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 Stars

I had heard of Ankit Chadha and his Dastangoi acts from a lot of friends. I am yet to witness the magic he creates though. After reading this short book by him on Khusrau’s riddles and some about his life, I will for sure watch Chadha spin his brilliant talent. I did then watch some episodes on YouTube but let me also tell you, I am sure that they do not hold a candle to the real thing.

Amir Khusrau’s life is revealed in this book “The Man in Riddles” cleverly and masterfully by Ankit Chadha. This book is also part-verse and part-mystery – a puzzle for the readers – something for them to engage in and at the same time, get to know Khusrau better. Khusrau was a poet, a strategist, a musician, a scholar, and more. His spiritual master was Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya and his tomb is next to his master’s in Delhi. It is fascinating just to trace his life on the Internet and know more about this man.

The illustrations are not mere pictures or fancy art – they go hand in hand with the story that Chadha has to tell. The book is exquisite, in the sense of what is communicated and how it is done – bilingually – with both Hindi//Urdu (though he mainly wrote a lot in Persian) on one side and English on the other side.

I think the only way to experience Khusrau now would be through Ankit’s Dastangoi. I hope that works out for me really soon. I cannot wait to live it in person. When that is done, a trip to Delhi must be made to know more, a lot more than I do now.