Tag Archives: salman rushdie

Tharun James Jimani’s Favourite Bombay Books

I love asking authors such questions or wanting them to write about their favourite books so that their readers and fans can read a lot more than just being stuck to the said author’s works. I honestly believe that authors must constantly recommend books that they have enjoyed and loved reading. That way readers get to explore so many books.

tharun-james-jimani

Here are Tharun James Jimani’s (author of the newly released Mornings After and Cough Syrup Surrealism, both of which are must reads in my opinion) favourite 5 books on city by the sea and I love how he has put his emotions in words. A little about Mornings After though: It is the kinda book that is perfect for our times, it is about gender roles and how the line is so blurred when it comes to identity and what it means to be urban. I loved every bit of it. A longer review a little later.

mornings-after

Tharun’s 5 favourite Bombay books:

This is kind of an awkward question to answer because it implies some deeper understanding and/or experience of the city because of my having read –and, I suppose, written- stories set in Bombay. And even more difficultly, of being able to rate the Bombay-ishness of said novels by authenticity; to distinguish “first copies” from the real thing. The problem is you and I could spend a hundred years in the same city and experience entirely different Bombays depending on who we are and what we’re drawn to.

Whereas as I’ve grown older –and perhaps because of all the many ways cities have become more and more like each other in the last couple of decades in which I did all my growing up- I find it increasingly difficult to buy into the city-as-character trope, especially in literature. (The visual medium is a different story.) Could some stories have only happened in certain places? Maybe. Could the same story have happened to another group of people in the same city? I’m not so sure. So maybe it’s just the characters after all?

This is also the sentiment I set out to express with Mornings After: “Bombay will hug to her bosom, take to her grave, tales of love and despair, of life and longing, because cities are really just the secrets they keep. And because cities—and Bombay—are not dreams or abstractions or joy or melancholy, the easiest way to put yourself in a city’s shoes may just be to put yourself in the shoes of its residents.”

Either way, a beautifully written vignette of city life is a joy to read, and the books I’ve listed below contain some of my favourite stories set in Bombay.

The Moor’s Last Sigh – Salman Rushdie

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This book is especially dear to me as it was the first I’d read anything like it- my first Rushdie. And to make things even more interesting, it was set in two cities – Bombay (which I had never visited at the time) and Cochin, Queen of the Arabian Sea! As a fifteen year old living in Trivandrum, it was almost a privilege to read (parts of) a story set in a city you knew inside out. I’d read The God of Small Things before this, but Roy’s Kerala was one I was familiar with. Rushdie’s Jewish Cochin of generations ago, not so much. Add to the mix the dark, dark genius of Aurora- the Moor’s talented, conflicted mother- and the alternative universe of her art that she prefers to validate her offspring through, and you’ve got one of those “What were you doing when..?” reading experiences few books can boast of. Coming back to Bombay, it’s Rushdie’s descriptions of the Ganesha festival (and Aurora’s annual dance against the Gods as the procession passes by their house) that linger in memory, but it was the interweaving of the very real terror the city was reeling from and the obvious references to Shiv Sena and Bal Thackeray that titillated at the time. I’ve always been fond of real life signposting in my own fiction, and looking back it’s not hard to imagine the Moor played his part in shaping that sensibility.

Midnight’s Children – Salman Rushdie

midnights-children

A group of kids born at the stroke of Indian independence or within the next hour, all with different super powers? The narrator as telepathic moderator of their “midnight parliament” to find out what it all means? Rushdie was doing the Wachowskis before the Wachowskis knew it was a thing! Before this descends into total fanboy fare, Midnight’s Children was more accessibly Bombay than The Moor’s Last Sigh for me, perhaps because it was also a story of growing up – both of the narrator and his country. Pop culture references and geographical quirks aside, who hasn’t visited South Bombay and wished for a funtabulous falooda or at least bhel puri served up Bombay style?


Serious Men – Manu Joseph

serious-men

We need to talk about caste, guys. A theme that could have easily petered out into Good vs. Evil blooms instead into a sublime –if ridiculous- battle of wits in this hilarious Bombay novel that pits an astute Brahman scientist against his Dalit assistant. I read somewhere that the author himself was resident in a poorer part of Mumbai as a young journalist, and it shows in his descriptions of Worli’s chawls. No clichés or poverty porn; just one man’s very understandable itch to get out of his damn cage. Teach a man to fish, right? Well, Manu Joseph gave his Dalit protagonist agency. Score.

Em and the Big Hoom – Jerry Pinto

em-and-the-big-hoom

How I Met Your Mother, but in the form of a series of conversations between a suicidal matriarch and her two kids in the psychiatric ward of a Bombay hospital. In a wonderfully concise, beautifully illustrated novel (no prolonged eight seasons of shoddy story-telling here). Em and the Big Hoom’s courtship is glorious in its details, and Em’s madness is the incessant black drip that holds together and drives this family nuts at the same time. But what stood out for me was the cultural context: the characters’ Goan-Catholic heritage (Maka Paao, as they’re referred to in some parts of Bombay) and the sheer delight in picturing the characters utter the very relatable turns of phrase ( I took to using “this-thing” in conversation for a good couple of months) Pinto puts in their mouths.

Family Matters – Rohinton Mistry

family-matters

Like with Pinto’s novel and its Goan heritage, what screamed out at me from the pages of Family Matters was the cultural setting – Bombay’s Parsi community and their fears, inhibitions and humanity. But equally telling is the novel’s exploration of that most middle class of maladies – the economic and social burden of caring for one’s parents in their old age in a community that puts family above all else. The elderly, Parkinsons-afflicted patriarch flailing about in the tiny flat his daughter shares with her equally well-intentioned husband and kids pictures the claustrophobia of Bombay’s tiny middle class abodes in a way that moves and makes you want to move at the same time.

Thank you Tharun for doing this. I know it must not have been easy for you but thank you so much for this.

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Tales on Tweet: Edited and Curated by Manoj Pandey

Tales on Tweet - Edited and Curated by Manoj Pandey Title: Tales on Tweet
Edited and Curated by Manoj Pandey
Publisher: HarperCollins India
Genre: Short Stories, Tweets, Flash Fiction,
Pages: 116
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 Stars

Flash fiction on social media is not a thing of the past. It still exists. It has been existing since social media sites began and everyone suddenly had a story to tell. I also started something known as ’55 word story’ way back in 2012 in Twitter, which seemingly got a great response. Having said that, Manoj Pandey starting tweeting stories in 140 characters in 2011 and randomly started tagging authors whom he liked, the likes of Atwood, Rushdie, Teju Cole and more. To his surprise they started responding with their stories in 140 characters and the rest is history.

This book is edited and curated by Manoj Pandey – the best of the stories which he has received from people, celebrities and just someone who has a story to tell. The stories are often bizarre, some complete, some not, and some just left for interpretation by you.

My favourite tales are written by Prajwal Parajuly, Rushdie, Sandhya Menon, Carrie Dcker, Safwan Amir, Neha Malude, Ian Murphy, and Sarah C.S. Ashworth. What makes them even more worth it are the beautiful illustrations by Yuko Shimizu. Loved each and every illustration by her. One star to the rating only because of them.

These micro tales form worlds of their own – of loneliness, passion, deep-seated anger and of changes that come about in bursts and spurts – sometimes with unnerving consequences. “Tales on Tweet” is quite a breakthrough in presenting stories and I hope more people do that. A must read if you’re on Twitter or not.

Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights by Salman Rushdie

Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights by Salman Rushdie Title: Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights
Author: Salman Rushdie
Publisher: Hamish Hamilton
ISBN: 978-0670088485
Genre: Literary Fiction, Magic Realism
Pages: 304
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

Salman Rushdie is back after seven years to what he does best – tell a story. And not just tell a story but tell it across time, across eons perhaps, across everything and beyond your imagination. “Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights” – the word play on the title itself, adding to 1001 is in itself an indication of the master of words being back in his game. This book is different and yet so similar to his earlier books. Let’s look at what is similar and what is not, without giving away too much of the plot.

In context to his other books, here is what sets apart this one: The tone is way too mature and yet edged with wry humour, which was very evident in The Satanic Verses as well. At the same time, the feeling of alienation can be felt which was the case in “Fury”. The magnitude of “Midnight’s Children” is most certainly present, but what is lacking is more of magic realism. It is the trademark for sure, nonetheless more was expected.

The roller-coaster of a ride as the book zigzags from places, religion, fantasy, literature is something which has always been a part of his books – more so in this one and “The Moor’s Last Sigh”. In fact, at some point I thought that there was somewhere down the line a lot of recycling but with a lot of exuberance and verve. What isn’t there is the debate on religion which was a part of his earlier books mainly “Grimus” and “Shame”. What was also interesting was that at some point the innocence combined with a lot of angst that was a part of “Haroun and the Sea of Stories” could also be found as I turned the pages.

I also think that the book is heavily influenced by Marquez’s writings. The combination of magical and the realistic are interwoven beautifully in Rushdie’s latest work. At the same time, it does take some time to get into the book, however once the reader does, it is not easy to get out of the land created by Rushdie.

The book is a more matured version of Rushdie’s writings. There is a lot of profundity, with a balanced mix of magic-realism (the death of this word shall not come to be), mythology, history and of course not to forget love – at the core of the tale.

The usual elements are always there, lurking in the background, even Bombay snakes itself in in the first fifty pages with so much ease. There is also the magic realism, which is present throughout, but of course since the book is about a Jinni named Duniya and her love for a human being and how the connection of her children over time comes to be in the near future. There is an element of apocalypse with a storm striking New York skies and something called the “strangeness” which occurs in its aftermath, linking all of Duniya’s children across the world.

To me the story of “Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights” is simply breath-taking. I could not for tear myself away from the book. Where does the title come into play? The title is about the time spent by Dunia’s children fighting a war with each other as the days and nights unfold. The tales are nested, just like all his other books. There is no overtly political tone in the book, like was the case in his other works of fiction, which is very refreshing.

The story is satirical (making its jabs felt on almost every page), it is also a metaphysical fable, it is also wicked and wise at the same time. In short, it is perhaps nothing like what Rushdie has written before. The reference range in the book is also wide – given he talks of Aristotle, Mickey Mouse and Henry James as well (besides many others), so much so that your head will spin faster and faster, right when you reach mid-way.

Rushdie’s New York is another aspect about the book. He encapsulates the city like no one else ever has (I don’t only think that but also believe in it). The humour is absurdist in nature, reminding me of Gary Shteyngart.

The Arab mythology angle is dealt with in a racier manner and I could almost find myself not being able to wait for those parts to come through. There is always this sense of dread mingled with excitement while reading a Rushdie novel. This book proves to be more and beyond that. I also think that maybe the gestation helped him to create something like this.

All in all, I would say that “Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights” is the kind of book that comes along once in a while blending past, present, future, the mysticism and the real so innovatively that all you want to do then is reread it.
Here’s Salman Rushdie talking about his book:

Book Review: Joseph Anton: A Memoir by Salman Rushdie

Title: Joseph Anton: A Memoir
Author: Salman Rushdie
Publisher: Jonathan Cape, Random House
ISBN: 978-0-224-09397-2
Genre: Non-Fiction, Memoirs
Pages: 633
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

So I have a confession to make: I have not been able to complete a single Rushdie novel, except for Haroun and the Sea of Stories and I am not ashamed of it, only because I have tried reading his works time and again. I haven’t been able to cross the hundredth page. That is the relationship I share with Salman Rushdie’s books.

I started reading, “Joseph Anton”, his memoir about a week ago and I have read it twice since then. Strange, I thought, to myself: I cannot read the man’s fictional works but can breeze through this memoir and that too twice. What was different about it? Why did I read it twice and enjoy it more so the second time?

“Joseph Anton” is not just about a man who was in hiding from another man’s followers who were determined to hunt him down (as though he was an animal) and kill him, because of what he had written in his book (which the perpetrators hadn’t even read and never would). The fatwa on Salman Rushdie was issued on the 14th of February 1989 – Valentine’s Day (irony much) and since then he was forced underground – moving from house to house, with the presence of armed forces – they were his shadow.

An author who always believed in free speech and grew up with that philosophy in Bombay, with liberal parents (who later for some reason did not share liberal views), saw the world differently when the fatwa was issued. Things began to change. So did people – either for better or for worse, but they did.

The book, “Joseph Anton” is the most human that I have read this year. Salman Rushdie is angry and is hurt and hides no emotions. He is honest to the core – about his marriages, his children and his writing. The incidents and events that took place sometimes and were related to the book were horrifying – for instance, the Japanese translator of The Satanic Verses was murdered. The Norwegian publisher was shot. He could not attend his mother’s funeral. He wasn’t there with her when she passed on and that for me hit the chord somewhere. That is probably the worst that could happen to a person and Rushdie isn’t shy from talking about his deepest emotions. What ran through my mind though while reading the book was just this: Is there really a true freedom of speech and writing?

“Joseph Anton” asks a lot of questions. It makes the readers think and the best part according to me about the book was the way it was written in third person. It is almost like Rushdie is taking count of his life (which it is in a way) and not being subjective in his style.

The book clearly depicts the powerlessness of the heads of states of various countries and how often politics was above the written word or the author. Amidst all this, Rushdie tried very hard to have a normal life – marry, raise children and write some more. He could never stop doing that after all. I remember at one point, he mentions that for once he thought he would have been someone else but a writer and then banished the thought as soon as it entered his head.

There is nothing which I did not like about the book. Everything worked for me. From the way he writes about every book he has written and its structure and story to the moments of glory and the moments of anguish – they are visible through his brilliant writing.

The title of the book is taken from his name that he used when he was in hiding, so one could recognize him – a combination of two of his favourite writers Joseph Conrad and Anton Chekov – hence Joseph Anton.

For me, “Joseph Anton” is all about courage and resilience. It is about writing, the process, the wonder and the anguish it sometimes brings to the writer and his or her readers. It is clearly a fight – where more authors are being put to task for writing and viewing their feelings, their thoughts and emotions. The sad part being that no one can do anything about the consequences sometimes, though someone should. The writer’s voice is his only liberty – that is my sum of “Joseph Anton”. A riveting read for all. I cannot recommend it enough. All of its six hundred and thirty three pages.

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An Interview with Shehryar Fazli

When I first read Invitation, I was mindblown by the writing. I got in touch with the publicity representative and she in turn got me in touch with the author and here is the interview for you readers. Hope you enjoy it. You can read the review of the book here

1. Could you tell me a little more about the inception of the title for the book?

 

The novel went through several working titles, but none of them actually worked. It was quite tedious. But ‘Invitation’ was the title of one of the sections, and when it came time to decide on a final title when the manuscript was going out, I thought about ‘Invitation’ and asked myself if this title captured some essence of the book. I decided that it did.

2. Invitation is a book with many layers. Did you start off by ideating so many layers for the book?

You know, in fact, the challenge throughout was actually getting rid of several layers. This may be something that first-time novelists are especially vulnerable to – the urge to fill the book with everything, as if this is the only chance you have. Throughout, I realized that I was writing many parallel stories that may have worked individually, but not within the architecture of this novel – there were some major characters, who I loved, who I eventually had to give the boot. Hopefully I can resurrect them in later work. There was also a lot more about Shahbaz’s past in Paris. Now you see his past selectively, through a filter, and I think that works much better in this case since this is not your big bildungsroman. So, yes, I was always writing a big book, because it’s big books that have influenced me. It remains, as you say, multi-layered, but I actually see it as far tighter than it was in earlier drafts.

Buy Invitation

3. With so many Pakistani writers in the limelight, how difficult or easy was it for you to make your presence felt or your voice heard?

On the one hand, Pakistani writers are getting unprecedented attention, which of course is productive and allows someone like me to reach a large audience. On the other hand, it’s a little awkward as well. I have a few friends from the U.S. and elsewhere trying to get their work published, and they often tease me and say, “You’re lucky you’re a Pakistani writer.” The suggestion is that you owe your success as much to this interest in the phenomenon of ‘Pakistani writing’ as to individual talent. This sounds unfair, and yet there may be some truth to it. A mild concern I have is that the attention sometimes shifts from a discussion of the individual book, towards this phenomenon of ‘Pakistani writing’ so that we’re talking about a historical or cultural event rather than the novels themselves. But, ultimately, if your book is strong, it will be the story, the characters, and the language that people will remember long after their interest in this little ‘boom’ subsides.

4. Why is this presumption that Pakistani writers will churn out “a certain kind of story, “the certain kind of novel”? When do you think this will stop?

Well, the most welcome aspect of this whole Pakistani boom or renaissance, or whatever you want to call it, is that the work is so different. Kamila Shamsie’s work is very different to Daniyal Mueenuddin’s, which is very different to Nadeem Aslam’s, which is very different to Mohammad Hanif’s, which is very different to H.M. Naqvi’s… I could keep going. I think you’re right in that there seems to be an expectation that a Pakistani writer will address the major concerns like terrorism, gender inequality, tradition and custom, but I think there are similar expectations for writers everywhere. If you’re writing about New York, for example, you’d have to make a very conscious decision not to address the events of 9/11. If you were a German writer writing after World War II, you couldn’t not address the Nazi experience in some way. So, yes, people will expect to see this theme or that theme in the literature coming out of a particular time or place, but it’s important for writers not to bother about that, not to service those expectations. So far, it’s refreshing to see such varied work out of the Pakistani experience.

5. What role does “the sexual” play in your book considering that it is out there and for all to read and imagine?

A basic fact about the sex in this novel is that it’s certainly not good sex. On the contrary, it’s seedy and demeaning – and by that, I mean demeaning for Shahbaz. It’s not there to titillate and it’s not gratuitous, but reveals much more about Shahbaz, a guy who hasn’t figured out how to engage with women, or how to express masculinity. You have this character who is, throughout, unable to take action, who keeps everything bottled up, who remains silent when he should speak up, who’d prefer not to know and not to reveal too much. But where he is completely naked, figuratively and often literally, is in his dealings with women, whether it’s Malika the dancer, or the many prostitutes he pays for. For him, sex provides solace, in some cases a sense of power… but above all I think the scenes reveal his contempt towards himself and his own situation.

6. How does the cover capture the essence of your book? This was one thing I was struggling to understand…

I wanted something to capture the cabaret, one of the central venues in the story. We toyed with a couple of options, all very striking, but this one also conveyed a sense of mystery, of the hidden or not-quite-revealed, that I thought was apt.

7. Shehryar’s Top 10 All-time favourite books

How about 5 (after that it gets a little tough)?

  1. Herzog (Bellow); 2. Waiting for the Barbarians (Coetzee); 3. Midnight’s Children (Rushdie); 4. Remains of the Day (Ishiguro); 5. In a Free State (Naipaul)

8. So how did it feel when you finally finished writing the book?

I forget who originally said it, but he’s quoted in John Banville’s The Sea: a work of art is never finished, only abandoned. It was a great feeling to get the first draft done, in that the story now had a beginning and end. But what happens in between was always shifting, being reworked, and I don’t know how many ‘final’ drafts there were. I have to confess that I still think of it as an evolving thing, that in subsequent editions, this or that may be tweaked. I don’t know if I actually will, but the mere possibility keeps the book alive in my head. Also, even when you’ve finished work on the text, the project is still unfinished, in that now the book’s got to get out there, be read, be talked about. I go through spells of excitement and of vulnerability, because it remains a very personal work, a big part of me, that is now public property in a sense. But, overall, it’s a great feeling for the story to be a thing in the world — and an addictive one, which may be why I’m going through the torture all over again in writing a second novel.  

9. Why did you pick the 70’s as the backdrop for your book?

Originally, and for some time, this story didn’t have a specific setting, even a time period, but it did involve the narrator’s return from West to East, and about his very idiosyncratic pursuit of a sense of citizenship. At the same time – and this was when I was still in college – I was learning more about this very fascinating period in Pakistan’s history when popular protests in the late 60s were in large part responsible for the end of a military regime and the country’s first democratic transition. In a moment like that, people end up questioning the basics – what it means to be a citizen, what it means to be a nation, what one’s responsibilities are to the state and to fellow citizens, and what the state’s responsibilities are to the citizen. This was the perfect backdrop to Shahbaz’s story, and once I put him in that clutter, I decided I liked the results.  Also, I’ve always been a close reader of the State-of-the-Nation novel, and have always wanted to take on big public events in a literary way. In Pakistan, two of those events, the lessons of which still haunt us, are the country’s breakup in 1971 because of a failure to honor diversity and democracy, and the hanging of the country’s first elected prime minister, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, in 1979. In retrospect, I think it was inevitable that I would use them in my first novel.

10. Your advice to both writers and readers…

To both: keep reading. Read enormous amounts. If a book is not working for you, don’t feel obliged to finish because there are too many great books to read and there’s no time to waste on a book you’re not enjoying. But, at the risk of contradicting myself, read challenging stuff. Read books that expand your vocabulary (literal and figurative), your way of examining human life, your appetite for life, books that show you what all is possible in literature. I have similarly simple advice just for writers: write! Get the words on the page, treat it like something mechanical rather than something mystical – don’t wait for that state of grace, that inspiring moment when the words just gush. There’s no such thing. Give yourself a daily word target, and then treat it like a job, don’t get up until it’s done. Even if what comes out if drivel that you’ll later discard, the point is to enter a regular rhythm, get pages piled up, and worry about making it good later.

 You can also purchase the book here