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Book Nook - 11-06-2018

Monday, June 11, 2018
By Deepa Gahlot

There are Lit Fests taking place all over the country, but the community of readers is dwindling. Still, passionate book lovers would like to know what others like themselves are reading. This Book Nook suggests some books, but would also like to connect with serious readers, or even casual airport book browsers. Do write in about books you have loved or hated and why. The best entries will be shared on this page. Please send your recommendations to [email protected]

Lonely People, Desolate Lives
That Mohan Rakesh’s influence on Indian theatre and literature has been strong is proved by that fact that old and new productions of his famous plays like ‘Aadhe Adhure’ and ‘Ashadh Ka Ek Din’ are being performed somewhere or the other in the country.

His short stories are not that well known, especially to younger readers, and Rakesh was one of the heralds of the ‘Nai Kahani’ movement in Hindi literature.  ‘Another Life’, a new book of translations of thirteen of his stories and his masterpiece, ‘Aadhe Adhure’ has been published by HarperCollins; it not just gives an introduction to his writings, but a lengthy, and rather candid, interview with him at the end of the book offers glimpses of his thought process. He died aged just forty-seven, or his body of works would have been more extensive.

The stories, all set in middle-class India, capture a country changing from feudal, joint-family agrarian, to middle-class, nuclear family urban. Relationships are shredding, the mood is bleak; the women, in particular, are adrift in a haze between traditional and modern. Though, Rakesh’s idea of modernity is women drinking and having affairs (the story ‘Safety Pin’). Men are trying to find their place in the workplace and family, with no new role models to fall back –in ‘The Sky Of Steel’ a man encourages the liaison of his wife with her past lover, who is now a powerful man.

The characters have complex inner lives, but the stories meandering through extensive descriptions of landscapes, tend towards the simple, and today may seem even simplistic. It could be because the passage of time renders certain people and social phenomena extinct, or because translations are never perfect.

The stories are bleak and, but for one, ‘Savourless Sins’, about a man trying to jolt his complacent wife, entirely lacking in humour, as if the lonely people that inhabit Rakesh’s world have forgotten how to laugh.  Like Manorama in ‘Married Women’, who judges her maid, Kashi, for putting up with an unfaithful, abusive husband, while her own has abandoned her, so that she can work and provide for his family; her yearning for companionship and a child are not important.

In ‘Glass Tank’, which seems to have echoes of ‘Aadhe Adhure’, an unhappy woman and her daughter are attracted to the same man, whose exact place in the family remains undefined, but his arrivals and departures cause much emotional upheaval.

‘Another Life’, is a strange story about Prakash, who has split from his first wife, so overbearing that she makes her son lisp, and married to a mentally retarded woman. After an encounter with his son and divorced wife, Prakash is left even more lonely and desolate.

The stories have to be read keeping the period and context in mind, or they lose their impact. Most of them also remain strangely incomplete, leaving the reader to imagine what must have gone before and what might happen after.  However, as a reflection of the time when Mohan Rakesh was writing, they are sharp, poignant and with the mildly caustic tone of the disappointed or disoriented.

Another Life: Thirteen Stories And a Play
By Mohan Rakesh (Translated by various)
Edited by Carlo Cappola
Publisher: Harper Perennial
Pages: 408

Excerpt Of Another Life:
When someone approached the counter and told Sardar Sundar Singh that the police wagon carrying Sundari and her sister was making the rounds of the Civil Lines, his face flushed and the pencil dropped from his trembling hands.

Since that morning the news had been circulating that Sundari had given the addresses of all those to whom she and her sister Shammi had been brought. Some prominent victims had already been arrested, among whom were a police inspector and the brother of a magistrate. Nonetheless, Sardar Sundar Singh’s heart had assured him that his arrest was not possible. The moments he had spent with Sundari had been the most pleasant of his life. And life would not deal so unjustly with him as to snatch those moments and leave him bankrupt. With this one exception, he had never been licentious, for he was fundamentally a good and virtuous man. It was inconceivable to handcuff such a man as he is, his heart told him. And he was sure his heart would not lie.

Some years before when he had loaded his goods of tea and sherbet into the cart and made his rounds, his heart had testified that he would one day open his own enormous restaurant with numerous waiters and cooks working under him. And it had all come about even more quickly than he had hoped. In just five to six years he had gone from tattered pajamas and kurtas to bush shirts of sharkskin, from two rupees a day to thirty or forty. And the freedom of his conversation and movements had so altered that even those who knew him could not say that this was the same Sundar Singh who once plied his trade with a cart. He himself felt that not only these external things, but something within him had also completely altered. Only one thing had not changed – his wife, whose very face he loathed. His highest aspirations froze when he was with her, since in the past fifteen years the Supreme Guru had presented him with no children. But his heart assured him that his whole life would not pass like this. Someday, he, Sardar Sundar Singh Talwar, would fulfil all of his cravings.


Short Takes
Talented debut author Laura Sebastian’s ‘Ash Princess’ is an epic new fantasy about a throne cruelly stolen and a girl who must fight to take it back for her people.
“Theodosia was six when her country was invaded and her mother, the Fire Queen, was murdered before her eyes. On that day, the Kaiser took Theodosia’s family, her land, and her name. Theo was crowned Ash Princess — a title of shame to bear in her new life as a prisoner.

“For ten years Theo has been a captive in her own palace. She’s endured the relentless abuse and ridicule of the Kaiser and his court. She is powerless, surviving in her new world only by burying the girl she was deep inside.

“Then, one night, the Kaiser forces her to do the unthinkable. With blood on her hands and all hope of reclaiming her throne lost, she realizes that surviving is no longer enough. But she does have a weapon: her mind is sharper than any sword. And power isn’t always won on the battlefield.“For ten years, the Ash Princess has seen her land pillaged and her people enslaved. That all ends here.”

Ash Princess
By Laura Sebastian
Publisher: Pan Macmillan
Pages: 423


The blurb of bestselling author Sudeep Nagarkar’s new book, ‘She Friend-Zoned My Love’, reads, “Should I smile because we are friends or cry because we are just friends? Blessed with the gift of the gab, Apurv manages to charm everyone in his company. In another part of town, beautiful and popular Amyra leads a flawless life. All the boys desire her and all the girls want to be her best friend. A chance encounter with Amyra in the college canteen makes Apurv fall head over heels for her. But it isn't long before he realizes that she is not interested in him, at least not in the way he wants her to be. Can Apurv get Amyra to change her mind before it's too late, or will he be friend-zoned forever?”
She Friend-Zoned My Love
By Sudeep Nagarkar
Publisher: India Penguin Metro Reads
Pages: 240


‘To Bombay... Backwards: A journey of a soul from denims to bell-bottoms’ by Penny, has two sections, “The first section represents the recollections and memories of my possible previous birth and the second section is a thorough amalgamation of research on re-incarnation. The sections have been named Soul Sentiments and Soul Sense respectively.

“The first part of the book is written in a story/ narrative format. The tone which has been used is conversational and thus the reader feels that the book is ‘chatting’ with him/her! This section also has a whole lot of my present day experiences which had in turn made my recollections stronger and almost precise! The readers are sure to draw similarities and use my experiences as a tool to reflect on their previous incarnations.

“This part of the book makes the reader travel with me from present day, backwards to the early 1970s- a number of times and thus unravelling what may have been my life as a Christian girl growing up in a loving family of a father and two brothers. My past life experiences with religion, romance and death make this section a gripping one.

“The second part of the book is a well-researched write up about the concept discussed in the first half. Astounding validations have been included in this section which may prove that I was indeed a middle class girl, living in Bombay during the early 70s!  Here, case studies of people who have memories of their previous incarnation have also been included along with understanding illnesses and their connection with past births.”

To Bombay…Backwards: A journey of a soul from denims to bell-bottoms
By Penny
Publisher: Leadstart
Pages: 290


According to the summary of Jahnvi Lakhota Nandan’s fascinating book, ‘Pukka Indian: 100 Objects That Define India’, “In India, to understand objects in terms of design one has to re-imagine design itself. Design in India is not entirely determined by the aesthetic appeal of the object, but by the significance of the object in everyday life, and is often influenced by its users. In some instances, the age-old practices established by ancient Indian wisdom determine the design of an object, such as the datun (neem tree twig) recommended for oral care or agarbatti (incense) used to heal and protect. On the other hand, the lota (a kind of metal pot) has been a part of everyday Indianlife for centuries and its design remains unchanged even today.

“Pukka Indian or Purely Indian brings together hundred objects that are the most coveted symbols representing Indian culture and design. This illustrated book celebrates the diversity, versatility, vibrancy, and colours of design icons — ranging from kulhad to the kolhapuri chappal, Nano to the Nehru jacket, and auto-rickshaw meter to the Ambassador — that set them apart in a country as multifarious as India. Each of these hundred profiles compliments the intrinsically Indian nature of every object, and how they have impacted design, culture and, in turn, every Indian.”

Pukka Indian: 100 Objects That Define India
By Jahnvi Lakhota Nandan
Publisher: Roli
Pages: 224

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