On not being able to love- a review of Nabarun Bhattacharya’s “Auto”


Auto was first published, in Bengali, in the 2003 annual issue of “Aajkal” . Then in 2007, it was published as a book along with another novella called Bhogi.

Auto is a story of an auto-driver who wanted to be a footballer. He liked to play in the striker but at times, whenever required he came up and defended his team. His father died suddenly and he had to look for jobs – football could not feed him. First he did stray jobs like working in a garage, driving rickshaw-van, carrying sand sacks. But later he engaged in driving business; the owner of the auto really loved him. Things were looking up for him but his mother too died untimely. Throughout the novella, the protagonist, that is, Chandan kept talking about his mother, accusing her of leaving him so early in his life to struggle in this cruel world, accusing himself that he should have taken more care of her.

But this is not a novella about nostalgic remembrance of the past, rather the immediate cruelty of the present. In the underbelly of Kolkata, the illegal business of country liquor is rather murky. In this business, we meet people who were always scared because no one knew when someone would be miffed and someone would die. While the writer creates these stereotyped images of the dark side of the city, the central event of the story is quite the opposite. A few robbers had attempted to rob a jewellery shop but couldn’t escape after the robbery. The crowd caught and started beating them up. After one point, they die of the beating and yet they kept beating. One of them, who might be working in some garage and missed all the fun, had just joined. He picked an iron rod and brought it down, full force, in between the legs of one of the…

Chandan witnessed all these and fell down on the street.  After that incident he became impotent in the bed. His wife, whom he loved the most after the death of his mother, left him and eloped with a young boy. While such an incident certainly evokes pity in the reader, the bigger picture evokes fear. The impatience, the rage that people of this time are harbouring can cripple a society. And this general theme always flows inside this obviously one-man story.

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What was more shocking is the final act of cruelty of the protagonist that not only saved him from continuous humiliation but also pushed him to a life of a bottomless void.

In the introduction of the novel, Bhattacharya said,

“Knowing the trap of death is inevitable in this life, humans come to this living world and survive by enlisting their names in the tragedy of killing and getting killed. This is happening because some wishes never get fulfilled. And it worries me all the time. He knows that he is not getting freedom in any way. But he is reluctant to accept this.”

In an interview, Bhattacharya once said he had become a writer because he couldn’t become a footballer. Somewhere in the frustration of Chandan’s not being able to be a footballer, we see glimpses of him too. This novella is essentially a personal cry to find the voice of the modern time. And it has successfully achieved so.

Of all the novels of Nabarun Bhattacharya, this novella will come third in my list of favourites by him after Herbart and Toy City.   

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Review: Neon Noon


Lately, I have not been able to read as much as I was reading earlier this year. Among the two books I read in last four weeks, this one is something that I’d read again. I have been following Tanuj Solanki’s stories online at many places and going by the quality of those, I had a high expectation from his debut. And this book delivered.

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As a writer, or better say as an aspiring writer ‘who knows he can’t write but still writes’ this book has resonated with me on many levels. So after reading it the first time, I went on to read it the second time.

This is a book about the making of a writer, his struggle to express what he feels, his attempts to come to terms with love and literature.

The book starts with a short story (a brilliant one at that) by another budding writer sent to the protagonist of the novel for beta-reading. The protagonist is introduced in his intermediate stage of being in a relation and going to PATTAYA (the place where most of the events happen) in this short story. In the book it is said somewhere that the beginning of a work should not be The Beginning or The End, but something that says nothing yet says a lot. This story acts as a perfect introduction to the novel. It is kind of stylish. I have not seen such introduction of characters. You may read ‘The Other Room’ online. I think it was published independently as a story.

Next, the book goes back to the love life of the protagonist. It is told in flashbacks. And it is done marvelously. The author never tries to draw an elaborate picture, but rather provides small details in fragments. This is how a person remembers his past; in fragments. His lover is from France. He tries to learn French so that the barrier of language can’t be there between them anymore. And in trying to learn it, we see the writer in him is slowly developing. The parallel description of past and artistic development is done so fluently that I wonder at the apparent lucidity of the book.

But this is a very complex book, written word by word, carefully.

After this comes part 2 of the book, titled as ‘The Bachelor’. This is my favourite part. This has small segments that step by step show the post-breakup emotional blockage and the Bachelor’s tryst to create literature. His attempt to find a way by which he can transform his pain into literature. He finally writes something near the end, a thought, a bitter truth. A realization. And he cries after writing that down. I’ll quote those lines:

“Interred deep within the labyrinth of my inner life is a masterpiece, though I shall require a talent as good as an oil rig to make it gush forth, and even then my broken imagination may prove to be that faulty little part, that worn-out-safety-valve, that allows everything to spill and burn, and then all we would have would be the silent ashes of my masterpiece, though that shouldn’t bother me much, for floating ashes are what all masterpieces end up as.”


At the end, the Bachelor writer says, “I’m such a compulsive archivist of myself.” I think it is said to show the pride and contentment of a young writer who realizes something important and ready to go forth writing, no matter how difficult it is.

The pivotal part of this novel is the 3rd chapter, Neon Noon. The protagonist goes to Pattaya, mainly in search of sex. By then, he has an idea of a novel where the protagonist would be a half-Indian half-French, his son, and a great poet. He will be caught up in finding his true identity, where he belongs, and will therefore shuttle from one continent to another. The son can be interpreted in many ways. One of them is that the son is actually the fruit of the protagonist’s artistic imagination, a work that would provide him all the answers he has been searching. The part about meeting Orhan in Pattaya confirms this. When he says, “In this city of pleasure, pain has suffered genocide”, it has a deep impact on the writer/protagonist. It reminded him that, just searching for sex or solace or pleasure would not provide him what he wants. It is the girl Noon who shows him that even after a heart-break one has the capability to love again. Note that the emphasis is on capability. This is an important point and builds the culmination point of the novel. Meeting Noon, and then realizing he has the ability to fall in love with her, and after falling for her, being able to come to terms with yet another heartbreak make him realise the difference between being in love and being able to love. The book ends with him tearing the photo of his ex-girlfriend and wanting Noon to see that. This shows that he has finally moved on, after accepting his version of life, literature and love.

Solanki’s style is new, but not showy. It has a certain air of confidence and you’d never feel the story is written by a debutante. I look forward to his future work with an ardent interest.

I would recommend this book for readers with an affinity to subtle and intelligent literature.

P.S. I have bought the hardcover version of the book and this is an unbiased review.

On Beloved


A year ago, I tried to read this book, and left it. I was not familiar with magical realism and modernist writing. It was too difficult for me. Even now, the essence of such writing eludes me. But from whatever knowledge I gained from reading a lot for a year, I can now appreciate the importance of this book.

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Beloved is probably the most complex novel by Morrison. The plot, the characters, the setting, the language—everything is very complex.

Right from the beginning it is obvious how ambitious Morrison is with this book. She set out to write a masterpiece, a novel so important and horrifying and beautiful that it gained her the recognition of a great writer. And undoubtedly she is.

To give an idea about how meticulously Morrison drew the book, (yes, she drew, not wrote), let’s discuss the significance of a simple thing: the number ‘124’, the identification of the haunted house. Quoting Morrison:

It was important to name this house, but not the way “Sweet Home” or other plantations were named. There would be no adjectives suggesting coziness or grandeur or the laying claim to an instant, aristocratic past. Only numbers here to identify the house while simultaneously separating it from a street or city—marking its difference from the houses of other blacks in the neighborhood; allowing it a hint of the superiority, the pride, former slaves would take in having an address of their own. Yet a house that has, literally, a personality—which we call “haunted” when that personality is blatant.


On one symbolic level, the numbers 1 + 2 + 4 add up to 7, the number of letters on Beloved’s [B-E-L-O-V-E-D : 7] headstone. In Christian lore, the number 7 represents charity, grace, and the Holy Spirit, as well as completion and perfection. As we will see later in the novel, Beloved’s death signified the end of all of these elements in both Sethe’s life and the life of her family. The family became incomplete and imperfect. The number 124 emphasizes this incompleteness when examined sequentially. The number 3 is missing from the sequence, just as Sethe’s third child (Beloved) is missing from the family. A more complicated arithmetic equation denotes Sethe’s arrival at Sweet Home and her selection of Halle as her husband, an act that leads to four children, doubling of one into two and two into four.
[Courtesy: Cliff-notes]

 

Then comes Water: something that recurs repetitively throughout the novel. Denver was born in Water, Beloved comes out of the Water and when returns to Sethe, drinks four cups of water. Water is sometimes seen as a veil between this world and the other world. Water simultaneously symbolizes life and death. That line I’ll never forget: “A fully dressed woman walked out of the water.” Wow!

Feet are also significant in portraying freedom and love and sanity. Paul D reminds how many feet Sethe had: two, not four. Indicating what she did was animallike. Beloved’s baby-steps were marked portraying freedom. Sixo’s feet were cooked first; signifying death of another slave.

This book is full of such things (colors, manhood and more). I can go on for pages after pages showing how brilliantly she manages to do so much within mere 320 pages.

The following is not only a description of corn:

The jealous admiration of the watching men melted with the feast of new corn they allowed themselves that night. Plucked from the broken stalks that Mr. Garner could not doubt was the fault of the raccoon. Paul F wanted his roasted; Paul A wanted his boiled and now Paul D couldn’t remember how finally they’d cooked those ears too young to eat. What he did remember was parting the hair to get to the tip, the edge of his fingernail just under, so as not to graze a single kernel.
The pulling down of the tight sheath, the ripping sound always convinced her it hurt.
As soon as one strip of husk was down, the rest obeyed and the ear yielded up to him its shy rows, exposed at last. How loose the silk. How quick the jailed-up flavor ran free.
No matter what all your teeth and wet fingers anticipated, there was no accounting for the way that simple joy could shake you.
How loose the silk. How fine and loose and free.

The narration is stunning and beautiful. Innovative. Sublime, too. I learned a lot about language and how to handle it from this book.

Saying all this, I’ll say this is not the best work of Morrison in terms of language. This is the most important book, no doubt, but in a few scenes when emotionally disturbing events come into play, I felt she overdid with poeticism (only a few times, though), trying too hard to make the reader feel things, which is, well, not an example of great art to me. I’d say, in terms of language and narration, Love is a better book.

Till now I have read some five books by Morrison and this one will remain one of the most memorable books I have ever read.

A.S. Byatt rightly said: “A magnificent achievement.”

Magnificent, indeed.

Even the trailer of the movie gives me chills.

 

On James Joyce


Whenever people ask me who my favourite writer is, I blurt, without even letting them complete the question, “Joyce, Joyce, it can’t be anyone else.” And the reactions I normally receive are mixtures of surprise and doubt.

A writer who have not read even one Austen or Bronte novel, says his favourite writer is Joyce. It surely would stir doubt about the honesty of the statement. Even it can reflect pompousness, pretentiousness or boastfulness of an aspiring writer who wants to let people know that he knows things.

I don’t want to defend myself, I don’t need to. And I am not bound to explain myself either, because I really don’t care.

This post is my dedication to the writer for whom I have the purest, the most childish love possible between a writer and a reader.

(Before starting, I confess: I have not read “Ulysses” and “Finnegans Wake” yet.)

 

I never knew I want to be a writer. I am good with mathematics and science has always been my easy choice. Still, when time or mood permitted, I picked a random book and read. My childhood books consisted of the Bengali translation of “Tintin” and Bengali comics like “Nonte-Fonte”, “Batul the Great”. I never needed to seek stories in English language. Feluda and Byomkesh gave me all the Sherlock Holmes I wanted to read and “Chader Pahar” (The Mountain of Moon) gave me all the adventures I aspired to have. When I needed some serious stuff, I had our good old Tagore.

During my college days, I didn’t regularly read books. My selection was so random that I read one book by Bhagat, then next by Robin Cook, then Hosseini or Ken Follett or Coelho. I never wrote much either. One or two scattered Bengali poems max.

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James Joyce


So 19 years of my life had passed and I had read only some 20+ books. After graduating in engineering with rather good marks, I had too much free time. I watched all the movies I got from hostel and had all the boozing I could indulge myself in while staying in home.

I could do nothing but read books. I read “The Idiot” by “Dostoevsky” next. Strange, isn’t it? I just randomly picked it from my ebook collection I got from my hostel friends (reading or not you got to have collections to show off). It was long but I liked it. It was good time-pass for me. I read “1984”, “A Passage to India” after that, which I got from our town library. I attempted to read “Beloved” and “Midnight’s Children” back then but couldn’t understand it.

One day, I happened to come across a book titled, “A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.” By then, I started to doubt whether I’d remain an engineer and go for research in control and automation.

The title and the content of the book had a kind of ironical justification to my mental condition back then.

There were few thoughts, emotions I used to have when I was child and I thought only I thought that, and they were my secrets, my very own little but extremely personal ones. No one knew it. But here was this book where I was seeing Stephen doing things, thinking things that shook me at the most vulnerable corners of my mind. For example when I read:

But he was not sick there. He thought that he was sick in his heart if you could be sick in that place. Fleming was very decent to ask him. He wanted to cry. He leaned his elbows on the table and shut and opened the flaps of his ears. Then he heard the noise of the refectory every time he opened the flaps of his ears. It made a roar like a train at night. And when he closed the flaps the roar was shut off like a train going into a tunnel. That night at Dalkey the train had roared like that and then, when it went into the tunnel, the roar stopped. He closed his eyes and the train went on, roaring and then stopping; roaring again, stopping. It was nice to hear it roar and stop and then roar out of the tunnel again and then stop.


I literally used to do that. During the boring lectures in the programs at my missionary school, I used to do that (opening and closing ear-flaps) and entertained myself. I thought I knew a trick that no one knew. It was mine. Mine. But this strange author came and took that away. For the first time, I realized what words could do to a person. I read that part again and again. After that, I came across this paragraph,

He turned to the flyleaf of the geography and read what he had written there: himself, his name and where he was.

Stephen Dedalus

Class of Elements

Clongowes Wood College

Sallins

County Kildare

Ireland

Europe

The World

The Universe


I wrote that in my school copies. (Anirban Nanda, Class 4, Section A, Saradamoni Sisu Niketan, Haldia, West Bengal, India, Asia, World, Universe.) How the hell Joyce knew that?

Though winter is short in my country, I cherished those nights inside quilt as described below.

First came the vacation and then the next term and then vacation again and then again another term and then again the vacation. It was like a train going in and out of tunnels and that was like the noise of the boys eating in the refectory when you opened and closed the flaps of the ears. Term, vacation; tunnel, out; noise, stop. How far away it was! It was better to go to bed to sleep. Only prayers in the chapel and then bed. He shivered and yawned. It would be lovely in bed after the sheets got a bit hot. First they were so cold to get into. He shivered to think how cold they were first. But then they got hot and then he could sleep. It was lovely to be tired. He yawned again. Night prayers and then bed: he shivered and wanted to yawn. It would be lovely in a few minutes. He felt a warm glow creeping up from the cold shivering sheets, warmer and warmer till he felt warm all over, ever so warm and yet he shivered a little and still wanted to yawn.


In short, I felt Joyce wrote this book for me to read. It was meant for me. The struggle of Stephen to find his vocation in later chapters resonated with me. Though the prose was becoming denser with each chapter, I read the book line by line. Read each sentence again and again until I understood it. I read it three times in a row. I almost ruined the library copy.

There are many more deeper secrets that I share with this book and for this reason, whenever I feel down, I read it; whenever I feel a block, I read it.

I read Dubliners after that and with each story —I must emphasize on ‘each’— I learned unexplored sides of human emotions. So, yes, even if Joyce had never written (thank God he did) “Ulysses” or “Finnegans Wake”, I’d worship him all the same.

Joyce is not just another writer for me; he is my tuning point, my Literary Guru.

A Forgotten Indian Masterpiece: All About H. Hatterr by G.V. Desani


It is matter of utter despair that a book like this, of such caliber and quality, is long forgotten. This is the first major attempt to break the pure English and mix it with oriental colloquial. Desani did something for Indian literature as Joyce did for Irish literature. Though Desani never wrote another novel, and though he published few short stories and a poem (Hali) apart from this, he was immediately recognized by the likes of T.S. Eliot and Saul Bellow.

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This novel is essentially a polyglot one, but it goes on to break the general assumption that anything polyglot is bound to be difficult (the major reason of this, obviously, none other than Finnegans Wake). I have never read a funnier book than this. Desani’s innovative play with words makes you read a page again and again and chuckle each time.

The reviewer at the Los Angeles Times rightly says,

“”I write rigmarole English,” Desani taunts, “staining your goodly, godly tongue.” Bless him, he does mash it up, bending orthography, stretching syntax, mixing in shards of Hindi, Hungarian, Spanish, Italian, Japanese, German and a goodly dose of balderdash, whilst tossing in references to Whitman, Shakespeare, Socrates, Freud and appeals to Kama and Laxmi as well as to Allah and Christ. Only a quasi-outsider (an Irishman, say) could have such an irreverent ear for the Anglo-Saxon tongue. But “Hatterr” is more readable by miles than “Finnegans Wake,” and a lot more fun.

 

To introduce to the style of this novel, let me quote H. Hatterr (Desani) himself in chapter III, page 120.

(…Wherefore, pious brethren, by confessing I lie, yoiks! I tell the truth, sort of topholy trumpeting-it, by the Pharisee G.V. Desani: see the feller’s tract All About …, publisher, the same publishing company): a language deliberately designed to mystify the majority, tempt ‘em to start guessing, and interpreting our real drift, and allegory, what the hell we mean: pursue our meaning on their sthula (gross), the sukshana (subtle) and para (supreme) planes, and levels, and still miss the issue and dash their heads against the crazy-paved rock of confusion.

We are getting the drift. Though the book seems pointless rambling (allusion to one of the characters in the book Y. Rambeli .. Why rambling?) of a person who loses in every adventure he goes to, the book is intricately structured. To quote from the paper: Chaudhury, Sarbani. “All About H. Hatterr – Desani’s ‘Novel Gesture’.” Glocal Colloquies 1.1 (2015): 38-53 .

The subterranean method in madness, mentioned earlier, becomes more pronounced as we encounter the making of fiction. Despite his numerous disclaimers, Desani’s novel-gesture (as I shall persist in calling it) has a rigorous structure: the two epigraphs labelled “Warning!”, and the production account followed by a “Mutual Introduction” of the inscribed author (Hatterr), serve as a kind of combined prologue for the seven chapters recounting Hatterr’s encounter with the seven sages. The rear is brought up by an epilogue labelled “An Afterthought” supposedly penned by another fictional character in the work, a lawyer who, as mentioned previously, prefixes the pompous title of “504 SrimanVairagi, Paribrajaka, Vanaprasthi, Acharya” to his more simple but nevertheless comic name “YatiRambeli” (giganticbelly) to suit the lofty task of providing a worthy defence for the hapless Hatterr. Apart from undermining the very defence it intends to uphold, the ‘naming ceremony’ is a dig at the aristocrats’ and god-men’s tendency to legitimise and iterate their political/ religious status by claiming a long line of descent from royal/ holy forbears.

Seven chapters form the main stay of the book where Hatterr, seeking lucre, lust and illumination, encounters seven sages across India who take on increasingly presumptuous names as the work progresses – sages of Calcutta, Rangoon (now resident in India), Madras, Bombay, “right Honourable sage of Delhi,” “wholly worshipful of Mogalsarai-Varanasi” and “naked Holiness number One, the Sage of All India himself!” – matching the ludicrousness of the ‘life experience’ encountered and the lesson learned thereof. Save for one, where Hatterr gains a princely sum of Rs 1000/- (Chapter IV), all the escapades conclude in inevitable disaster with Hatterr, very much the modern prototype of the ‘gull’ in classical drama, barely escaping by the skin of his teeth.

Each of the seven chapters is given an intriguing and often half-finished title – Chapter I. “The Sage, He Spake…,” Chapter II. “…Versus the Impressario,” Chapter III. “Archbishop Walrus versus Neophyte the Bitter-One,” Chapter IV.“Apropos Supernatural Agent…,” Chapter V. “Assault below the Belt,” Chapter VI. “…Salute the ‘Kismet’” and, Chapter VII. “Punchum and Another, with Contempt” – that literalise the ensuing content. For instance, Chapter V. “Assault below the Belt,” is literally an assault on Hatterr’s loincloth by a demented Naga sanyasi to relieve Hatter of his hidden stash of money so as to release him from the clutches of “Evil-Triumphant” green monster (223)!

To show you some example of ultra-creativity of Desani, few small excerpts are presented below.

Excerpt 1:

” The name is H. Hatterr, and I am continuing… 

Biologically, I am fifty-fifty of the species. 

One of my parents was a European,

Christian-by-faith merchant merman (seaman). From which part of the Continent? Wish I could tell you. The other was an Oriental, a Malay Peninsula-resident lady, a steady non-voyaging, non-Christian human (no mermaid). From which part of the Peninsula? Couldn’t tell you either.

Barely a year after my baptism (in white, pure and holy), I was taken from Penang (Malay P.) to India (East). It was there that my old man kicked the bucket in a hurry. The via media? Chronic malaria and pneumonia-plus.

Whereupon, a local litigation for my possession ensued.

The odds were all in favour of the India-resident Dundee-born Scot, who was trading in jute.

He believed himself a good European, and a pious Kirk o’ Scotland parishioner, whose right-divine Scotch blud mission it was to rescue the baptised mite me from any illiterate non-pi heathen influence. She didn’t have a chance, my poor old ma, and the court gave him the possession award.

I don’t know what happened to her. Maybe, she lives. Who cares?

Rejoicing at the just conclusion of the dictate of his conscience, and armed with the legal interpretation of the testament left by my post-mortem seaman parent, willing I be brought up Christian, and the court custody award, the jute factor had me adopted by an English Missionary Society, as one of their many Oriental and mixed-Oriental orphan-wards. And, thus it was that I became a sahib by adoption, the Christian lingo (English) being my second vernacular from the orphan-adoption age onwards.

The E.M. Society looked after me till the age of fourteen or thereabouts.

It was then that I found the constant childhood preoccupation with the whereabouts of my mother unbearable, the religious routine unsuited to my temperament, the evangelical stuff beyond my ken, and Rev. the Head (of the Society’s school), M.A., D.Litt., D.D., also C.B.E., ex-Eton and Cantab. (Moths, Grates, and Home Civ), Protor par excellence, Feller of the Royal Geographical, Astronomical and Asiastic Societies (and a writer!), too much of a stimulus for my particular orphan constitution. (The sort of loco parentis who’d shower on you a penny, and warn you not to squander it on woman, and wine, and
song!)

“Help others! Help others!” he used to say. Knowing that the most deserving party needing help was self, I decided to chuck the school, get out into the open spaces of India, seek my lebansraum, and win my bread and curry all on my own.

And one warm Indian autumn night, I bolted as planned, having pinched, for voluntary study, an English dictionary, the Rev. the Head’s own-authored ‘Latin Self-Taught’ and ‘French Self-Taught’, the Missionary Society’s school stereoscope complete with slides (my second love after my mother) and sufficient Missionary funds lifted from the Head’s pocket to see me through life.

From that day onwards, my education became free and my own business. I fought off the hard-clinging feelings of my motherlessness. I studied the daily press, picked up tips from the stray Indian street-dog as well as the finest Preceptor-Sage available in the land. I assumed the style-name H. Hatterr (‘H’ for the nom de plume ‘Hindustaaniwalla’, and ‘Hatterr’, the nom de guerre inspired by Rev. the Head’s too-large-for-him-hat), and, by and by (autobiographical I, which see), I went completely Indian to an extent few pure non-Indian blood sahib fellers have done.

I have learnt from the school of Life; all the lessons, the sweet, the bitter, and the middling messy. I am debtor both to the Greeks and the Barbarians. And, pardon, figuratively speaking, I have had higher education too. I have been the personal disciple of the illustrious grey-beards, the Sages of Calcutta, Rangoon (now resident in India), Madras, Bombay, and the right Honourable the Sage of Delhi, the wholly Worshipful of Mogalsarai-Varanasi, and his naked Holiness Number One, the Sage of All India himself!’ (pg. 31-33).

 

Excerpt 2:

PRESUMPTION: ‘Kismet’, i.e., fate — if at all anything, and as potent as suspected for centuries — is a dam’ baffling thing!
It defies a feller’s rational: his entire conception as to his soma, pneuma, and psyche!
Why did a feller like me commit matrimony with a femme fatale like Mrs H. Hatterr (née Rialto), the waxed Kiss-curl?
A personal query, but I don’t mind answering…
If only I could!
All I know is that I wanted to raise a family: add to the world’s vital statistics and legitimate: have a niche in the community, for my own kid, to hand out the wager till the end. And since you can’t achieve this without a wife — the neighbours wouldn’t let you! the police wouldn’t let you! — I equipped myself with the blarney-phrases, convinced this female that she was real jam, had me led to the middle aisle and gave the ready ‘I do’ to the amenwallah her brother had hired for the occasion.
This I did, knowing, hell, that between us was all the temperamental difference in the world!
Till death us do part! this museum-piece and I! And that promise — what a stingo! — after a conflict dating back to the donkey’s Sundays!
The female — contrast? — was poles apart: though, between the cur Jenkins, me and the Duke Humphrey, it did seem once that she was going to win my regards for good, by delivering me an heir-presumptive — my own piccolo le fils — to survive me (and be added to the looney-bin). But despite days and days of biological observation and anticipation — the wasted reference to the obstetric table and pre-occupation with the signs of labour — it didn’t come off. (Backed the wrong filly, or, maybe, something the matter with me as create-or!).

 

After writing this novel, Desani got deeply involved with spirituality and Buddhism and didn’t publish another book. He nonetheless inspired Rushdie to take the lead and expound upon the newly invented babu-vernacular and write another Indian masterpiece, Midnight’s Children (Rushdie’s essay “Damme, This Is the Oriental Scene for You!” is based upon this very novel).

I wanted to type and present few more wonderful excerpts but what can I do? Every single page of this book is shouting brilliance and I can’t choose! Desani was so sure about the importance and genius of this work that he had the following conversation with Khushwant Singh:

“Can you recommend me for the Nobel Prize?”

Khushwant was dumb struck: “But you’ve only written that one book!”

“So?” countered Desani softly, “Eliot’s written very little also!”

“Only Nobel winners can recommend others,” Khushwant protested weakly, taken aback by Desani’s total lack of modesty.

“No, even the Government can”, insisted Desani steadfastly.

Worn down by his persistence and ingenuous self-belief, Khushwant meekly signed the forms. Nothing came of it of course. The Nobel Committee checked with Dr.Radhakrishnan, Ambassador to Sweden and a nominee for the Nobel at the time. Totally unamused, he ticked Khushwant off roundly and Desani continued to live with his inconvenient loo across the courtyard until he took off for the Orient.

(source: http://www.dooyoo.co.uk/user/319051.html)

I’ll end my discussion about the book with the praises about it by the greats:

Anthony Burgess: “…it is the language that makes the book. . . . It is not pure English; it is like Shakespeare, Joyce, and Kipling, gloriously impure.”

T.S. Eliot: “… Certainly a remarkable book. In all my experience, I have not met anything quite like it. It is amazing that anyone should be able to sustain a piece of work in this style and tempo at such length.”

C.E.M. Joad : “… an original and remarkable book. It starts well and continues at the same level … to my surprise … the gusto, tempo and style all being maintained until the end.”

Edmund Blunden : “… Something remarkable here by this most curious and resourceful among writers. I can’t think anybody who pays attention will miss that.”

Saul Bellow : “I didn’t read many books while writing Augie. One I did read and love was All About H. Hatterr…. So, what about All About? I hate to be siding with T.S. Eliot… but what can you do?”

Salman Rushdie: “This is the ‘babu English,’ the semi-literate, half-learned English of the bazaars, transmuted by erudition, highbrow monkeying around, and the impish magic of Desani’s unique phrasing and rhythm into an entirely new kind of literary voice.”

Damme, buy the book!

 

 

Review: Spy from Unaula by Alok Kumar


Introduction:

The story is set in pre-independent India spanning over a life time of a character. The story follows Ram, who born in a remote village Unaula and his adventures as he frees himself from the bondage of social prejudices and backwardness of the uneducated society there. He is inspired and supported by his brother Bhagwati right from the beginning.

What I like about the story:

The content of the story is very unique, fresh and something we don’t see in present piles of romance, mythology and crime-thriller novels. The characters are normal, real-life people and events are told in good detail (the war with Japanese, the process of selection, the atmosphere of death). Especially I like the sketched images which frequently try to bring out the scenes going on in the book. It has social messages, about how a little person from some remote village can become big.

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Critical Comments:

The narration puts me off, to be honest. It is top to bottom telling in dull way. The story here is huge and if it is written with more patience it could become a 400+ pages epic, whereas solely due to the school text-book style telling, the book is merely 210 pages long. For example, it is not enough if one tells me that Ram is courageous and nervous at the same time. One can show that simply by his actions (like he elopes from his house just before 2 days of his forced-marriage but at the same times, trembles, cries sobs, wanting for water etc. when he is walking away from his home.) Or if one really wants to stick to telling, he should use similes, allegories to evoke cruelty, humor in the tone. For example, let see if the same situation can be written like : Fifty kilos of weight, he felt such pride and determination that he could alone conquer even Achilles if he tried to force him to marry that unknown girl, who definitely was not a decedent of Helen. By the way, when Bhagwati fights against Japanese in army of British, I have expected the mention of Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose, who was using the Japanese force to create the menace British felt.

To be Specific:

Plot:

The plot is has potential, as I have mentioned before. You’d agree with me after completing the journey of the characters in this book.

Dialogue:

It is natural and okay, but the amount of dialogue is very less in this book which is not compensated by good narration.

Characterisation:

It is good but could become livelier with more developed style of presentation. I wanted to feel the same disappointment was Ram was prevented from going to school, I wanted to feel the tension Ram felt when he was leaving his home forever.

Pacing:

Unnecessarily fast which neither creates the thrill it intends to create, nor allows the reader to feel for the characters.

Narrative:

It is mentioned in critical comments section.

Editing:

Not many typographical and grammatical errors. It’s neat.

Resolution:

Satisfying but could have been of more impact.

Overall impression:

A good read for readers searching for something new based on Indian setting which could become a far better piece of novel.

3 out of 5.

Amazon Link.

View my other reviews.

How to write a friendly and honest review.


Reviewing a book is a tricky job because

  1. The writer is eagerly waiting for the review you’ll be writing. This is true for every newbie writer. If you write a beaming review praising it, the writer will read it again and again and will feel a sheer joy. I have felt it.
  2. The reader i.e. the reviewer also has invested some emotion into the book and it’d bound to reflect on the review.

The reason this is a very tricky job is that a pretty well amount of emotions is connected to it, and a review is absolutely, completely and definitely a professional business. You may have reviewed a work written by your friend and given a corny, lovely review of that. That’s okay. But once you become a well-know reviewer, you should become more professional.

So, let’s get started, shall we? It’ll be short, I promise.

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Reviewing means ‘a critical appraisal of a book, play, or other work’ (ref. concise oxford dictionary) which, upon expanding tells: you read a book and you give honest opinion based on your experience of reading books and the opinion would be such that it’ll help the writer/artist ‘appraise’ his/her work.

In straight words, from your review both the writer and readers must get something of value.

Now, if the book is good, the work becomes pretty easy and everyone feels very happy. What happens if the book is not so good? Read on.

Basically, you have two options here:

  1. You praise the work anyway and the author gets happy. But after reading your review when a reader buys it and gets disappointed; believe me, he’ll never ever going to read your review.
  2. You point out the issues point-blankly. That’ll hurt the author brutally. He/She has spent hours creating the book and getting such a review will hurt. When other writers will read your review, many may get scared of your review and will not prefer to get their book reviewed by you. Because your review do affect the sales.

Here is what you should do:

  1. Point out the good things first. And don’t forget to justify that with required quotes as it’ll increase the credibility of your review(without spoiling major plot-points). Don’t spoil a book in your review.
  2. Point out what you think of it in context of the current society. It’ll help the reader understand if he really needs to read the book. (for example when I wrote the review of ‘Voices of the silent creek’; I started it like this: The book ‘Voices of the Silent Creek’ tries to bring out raw truth about women hidden behind the curtains of big houses and how knowing their situation, people choose to keep their mouth shut. The hypocrisy of people calling themselves supporter of women empowerment will strike you fiercely in this novel. A very different attempt for a debut novel and definitely deserves a round of applause.  Read the full review.)
  3. While handling critical points, do it honestly but candidly. Never ever underestimate or insult the ability of the writer. That’s the greatest insult a writer can have. For example, if you see the dialogues are not good, instead of writing “The dialogues are very badly written and doesn’t interest me at all”, write, “I believe if the dialogues are constructed tautly, the effect of the story would become more lasting.” Basically, you did the same thing, but the later is more candid.

With that I am listing few quick points that may be of your help in any other review:

  1. Don’t write summary and spoil the entire story.
  2. Show proofs of your opinions and justify that.
  3. More detailed the review, more spoilery it may become. Try to write a review that doesn’t spoil the story but gives enough glimpse into the story to justify your point.
  4. Personally, I don’t like to rate books, but it’s not a sin to rate a book either. Everyone assesses everything in this world by some certain scale.
  5. Don’t add blurb in your review. It makes it look less professional.
  6. Try to learn something from the book because your love for books is the whole point of becoming a reviewer or a writer.
  7. Don’t promise to review more books than you can read properly. This is very important. Try to review as much as possible by you, not more than that.
  8. It’s preferable to restrict yourself to your favorite genres. But if you are an avid reader who eats everything that come in his way, then you go for all the genres.

So, that’s it, I suppose. Lately, I was not much active here, but now on, you’ll see regular blog posts. Thank you for reading. Do leave your comments.