Tag Archives: Reading Women

Read 3 of 2023. Age of Vice by Deepti Kapoor

Age of Vice by Deepti Kapoor

Title: Age of Vice
Author: Deepti Kapoor
Publisher: Juggernaut Books
ISBN: 978-9393986481
Genre: Thriller, Contemporary Fiction, Literary Fiction
Pages: 560
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

Age of Vice is a book that doesn’t cut corners. It doesn’t hold back from saying what it wants to about the vast difference between the haves and the have-nots in the Indian society, and what happens because of that. At the same time, it is heartfelt in the way the story unfolds sometimes. Mind you, those times are very rare in the book, so when you find them, you are overwhelmed, broken, and realise your failings as a person, in comparison to that of the well-nuanced, messy, struggling-with-life, and fractured characters that inhabit these five-hundred-and-forty pages.

Age of Vice is set in Delhi – the book opens with a crime – and Kapoor doesn’t shy from showing us how it was done – getting into the gory details, and the intended result of that crime that takes place in 2004, but the story begins in 1991 with Ajay – a boy of eight – a boy from a lower caste – a Dalit, and what happens to him till and after he starts working for Sunny Wadia, the heir to the Wadia empire and its nefarious dealings. Basically, a crime syndicate, and how inextricably the stories of Ajay and Sunny will be linked for years to come. And in all of this, there is Neda, the headstrong journalist, whose gumption is tested to the point of it not being there, whose moral compass is uprooted, and how she becomes a part of the world inhabited by Sunny.

There is opulence, decadence, wealth that one cannot imagine – brands being dropped constantly on every other page, and while initially I thought what was happening, I realised very soon that it was much-needed. To show the farmhouse culture of Delhi, to understand the poor, we must understand the wealthy. Kapoor has this insider-outsider perspective – there is biting satire that unravels itself slowly and quite deliciously. As a reader, you must wait, you must go through the finer details of living – and losing, and the sheer heartbreak of the story – of Sunny and Neda’s love, of how as humans we will go to any stretch sometimes to ensure we have the one elusive characteristic that places us on the top of it all – POWER.

Power to claim people, to make them see where they belong in the larger scheme of things, to rule them all (Bunty Wadia and his brother, Vicky Wadia’s constant pursuit), to understand who must be manipulated and controlled to what extent, the plot of Age of Vice races on full-throttle mode. Incidents happen swiftly – people die at the drop of a hat, injustices take place and no one dare utter a word because of the “crime family” at the helm, and Kapoor’s Delhi seethes, and spectates, and we move from place to place with guilt, the idea of freedom in the minds of the characters, never letting go of privilege, of understanding its worth, of being punched in the face with self-awareness, and to then bear the burden of living.

Deepti Kapoor takes us through Goa, the hills of Himachal, Nepal, back to Delhi, to Italy even, to the center of it all – Uttar Pradesh, and all the places to make us understand the futility of living – there is no higher purpose anyway. There are truths and lies, and in-between the ones – the living who tell them daily, to live after all.

Age of Vice is about decaying – the rotting that takes place spectacularly, on such a grand level that the ones involved, the ones watching from the sidelines, and the ones encouraging it also perhaps – know it all – they are aware of what is going on and yet cannot take their gaze away, they cannot walk away – they must endure. Deepti’s writing is sharp, incisive, and makes no bones about how it is. “It is what it is” – this phrase came to my mind so many times as I turned the pages, and it sticks – the indifference of the phrase lingers throughout the book, and in this indifference stems the need to seek validation, to make something of your life, to make it worth it, to make it count – whether for Ajay it is the idea of family, or for Sunny it is about validation – the strong sense of urgency to do good or the idea of it, and ultimately for Neda – to try so hard to be right and yet constantly failing to her own lofty ideas about living.

The back and forth between the sacred, the profane, the good, the bad, the moralistic, the amoral makes Age of Vice what it is – a reflection of our times, of the Kalyug that Deepti mentions at the beginning of the book, the dark times, of the doomsday cometh, of pain and pleasure – both unbearable – the complexity of living, and the simple ways of death – Kapoor’s writing astounded me, made me want to get up and slap a few characters, to show them the way, to play God even, only to quickly realize that as a reader I had been given no power at all – so I enjoyed the read, lapped it all up, thought about the book for days to come, and cannot wait for the next two instalments of this fantastic trilogy.

Read 113 of 2022: Be My Guest by Priya Basil

Be My Guest by Priya Basil

Title: Be My Guest
Author: Priya Basil
Publisher: Canongate Books
ISBN: 978-1786898494
Genre: Nonfiction, Food writing
Pages: 128
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

Basil in this slim book of food and hospitality speaks of what it is like to host people – to bond through food, the emotions that are deep-rooted in the act of cooking and feeding, and eating, and how do we connect through food. “Be My Guest” is a fascinating brief account of food beyond communities, of food within communities and its importance, of how Basil looks at food from every angle – that of domesticity, immigration, climate change, religion, food waste, and even Brexit.

Basil’s writing may seem concentrated, but it is widespread and expansive in the sense of it looking at the self with the world at large through food. What I loved is how she weaves in the concept of how hospitality can change the world – through empathy, kindness, and how it all begins at one’s kitchen table, and how it all must be unconditional at the end of the day.

She also speaks of alienation through food, of not feeling wanted, of what it takes to be inclusive and in turn lets the reader gaze into her personal life – that of her grandparents and how their lives were so integral to food and feeding.

The larger meanings of food, the rituals around it (unique to each household and individual), the refugee crisis going on in the world at large, and how food unites is all as strangers is at the heart of Be My Guest. Basil invites you to open your heart through food, through serving, by understanding the meaning of hosting, of eating together, of letting people know that there will always be a seat for them at your table, and how it is in the devotion of serving, you take the idea of grace, hospitality, and warmth from paper to the table, right down to not only filling one’s stomach but heart and soul as well.

Read 112 of 2022. Pure Colour by Sheila Heti

Pure Colour by Sheila Heti

Title: Pure Colour
Author: Sheila Heti
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
ISBN: 978-0374603946
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 224
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

I have found my second best book of the year (the first one being After Sappho),  and I say this with most confidence, happiness, joy, and sheer pleasure, that it is, Pure Colour by Sheila Heti.

Pure Colour by Sheila Heti is the kind of book that has no start, perhaps no middle, and maybe no apparent end as well, but oh God does it hurt when you are done reading the book. It shines brightly, it is therapeutic, it heals, makes you cry, speaks of the world, and makes you believe (and is the truth) that it is your story unfolding, with art and books at the center of it, and the way we live today.

Love is at the core of this book. Whether it is between Mira and Annie, or Mira and her father, or between people who haven’t met each other yet, or people who have been living with each other for decades, Heti speaks of love most delicately. She also brings to fore with her writing love of different kinds, of different textures that might hurt, of love that transcends time, and bodies, and might compel you to follow the one you love in the body of a leaf. Sheila is a stupendous, unafraid, and a writer that must be read at any cost.

Pure Colour is about the state of civilisation, it is about a woman joining her dead father on another plane of being and existence, it is about art and its critics, about what we hold close and what we are willing to let go of – perhaps it is also earnest at times, but it worked for me, because I was willing to overlook that aspect of the novel.

Sheila Heti’s writing reminds me of Murdoch – of her kind of philosophy that always took the worldwide look – the angle of being and existing together – when she speaks of nostalgia, and how it was before the Internet, you cannot put the book down. When she constructs sentences like “there were so many ways of being hated, and one could be hated by so many people”, you nod, because we have all witnessed that – this kind of writing makes you want to read this book cover to cover and gift it to a friend or a couple of friends and beg them to devour it.

Pure Colour is a mad book. It is a book of our times. It is a book that is crazy, original, empathetic, unafraid, bold, and above all is mindful of the fact that we are all humans, and maybe we all hurt the same.

Read 107 of 2022. After Sappho by Selby Wynn Schwartz

After Sappho

Title: After Sappho
Author: Selby Wynn Schwartz
Publisher: Galley Beggar Press
ISBN: 978-1913111243
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 288
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

After Sappho is a song that must be heard by all. It is a paean that generations of people must pay attention to. Of the struggles, the triumphs, the failures, & then of winning and the struggle to keep all of it sustained – Schwartz takes us through fragments of the lives of historical women, transporting us across time – from 1880s Italy to 1920s Paris and London. There are so many women we meet along the way, many kindred souls, many whose loves and lives we relate with, their broken dreams, hearts full of love, aspirations, yearning for independence, to be seen, to transform to Sappho.
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As a queer person, this book spoke like no other title on the Longlist. With every reread my heart has been fuller, my mind freer, and my thoughts wilder. After Sappho is about women reading books in trees, of Virginia Woolf falling in love with Vita Sackville-West, it is about liberation, need to express oneself, about how Henrik Ibsen took a woman’s story and made it his, about men who do that on a daily basis, about spaces that are waiting to be reclaimed by women, about stories that end in the year 1928 in the book, but are still going on and on and on, encompassing the lives and loves of women.
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The prose is not only compelling but gloriously touching. After Sappho is a story of collective voices, of individual laments, of voices that will not be subdued, of voices that have been told to shut up constantly, and of voices that belong to bodies that do, think, and act as they please. Schwartz writes with humour, writes about pain, what it is to be a woman (something which I will never know, though I am constantly torn about who I am and what is my identity), she writes about everyone who is on the periphery of society. She speaks of the past, merging it with the present, predicting the future. It is about learnings – what we understand from our ancestors, women who go back and forth to learn, to understand themselves, the world at large where they are concerned.

After Sappho is a testimony to those on the margins, the outsiders; to those women who don’t fit in and don’t want to. It is about anyone who has fought, and continues to do so. As a gay man I found myself in its pages. I was another Sappho, too.

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.