29 Years
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Monday, December 30, 2013
By Robin Shukla

This week we bring you the best in Indian writing, eight books that won the Crossword Book Awards 2013 in the Fiction, Non-Fiction, Children, Translation, and Popular categories. The first three categories had two authors tied for the awards, resulting in joint declarations.

When the pills don’t work
EM and the big Hoom by Jerry Pinto is a compassionate book about a son coming to grips with his mother’s mental illness, even as he watches the rest of the world, including his family, deal with it in their own way. There is very endearing insight into the Catholic mindset, most interestingly from the mother Em’s perspective which, thanks to her bipolar disorder, swings from amiable to downright nasty. It is moving to see family members take it all in their stride, overlooking without neglecting. The writer may not have realized, but his book provides inputs of how to best tackle life when all is not normal. Those therefore confronted with such situation personally may know what to expect from their own family member or friend who is similarly afflicted. 
EM and the big Hoom by Jerry Pinto
Aleph Book Company

From behind the mists of the North East
Boats on Land by Janice Pariat is an intriguing collection of short stories, which, while they delve into the ancient lore of the mysterious north eastern part of the country, recount its recent history, from the days of the British Raj and the subsequent World Wars, the advent of Christianity through its missionaries. There are very vivid descriptions of the terrains of Assam, Cherrapunji and Shillong, along with their peoples. There are scary recountings of Khasi youth chasing Suleiman, an outsider, of unrest in the hills, and the questionable role of the CRPF on the slopes, the patter of running feet in the darkness and the sound of stones pelted on roofs. Amidst the harshness, there is the charm and beauty of a land and its beliefs, myths and legends. The author has an excellent way with her prose, that is almost poetic.
Boats on Land by Janice Pariat
Random House India

The pillars are ancient and strong
Righteous Republic (The Political Foundations of Modern India) by Ananya Vajpeyi looks at five founding figures in the history of India’s freedom struggle, and how each of them turned to classical texts in order to fashion an original sense of nationhood. The book offers the revered company of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, Rabindranath Tagore, Abanindranath Tagore, Jawaharlal Nehru, and B.R. Ambedkar.There is therefore wisdom they gleaned from the sages and thinkers of ancient times, like the Bhagavad Gita, Buddhist literature, the edicts of Emperor Ashoka, Sanskrit poetry, the artistic and architectural achievements of the Mughal Empire. They were able to ensure that what emerged was a great modern India, a republic that would embody India’s struggle for sovereignty as well as its quest for the self. 
Righteous Republic by Ananya Vajpeyi
Harvard University Press

To understand where we are today, and why
From the Ruins of Empire (The Revolt Against the West and the Remaking of Asia) by Pankaj Mishra is a very intellectual look at Asian history in the 19th century with some brief biographies of people who who resented British dominance of this region, as they responded to the encroachment of the West, physical and intellectual, on their societies and cultures. These were Asians who understood their history and abhorred the white barbarians. Two thinkers are written at length about in this interesting book; Jamal al Din al-Afghani (1838-1897), a Persian-born Shia Muslim who often tried to pass self off as a Sunni from Afghanistan, and Liang Qichao (1873-1929), one of China’s foremost modern intellectuals who was present as his China crashed and re-emerged as a power to contend with. A must read.
From the Ruins of Empire by Pankaj Mishra
Penguin Books India

Beautiful run of the imagination
Wisha Wozzariter by Payal Kapadia is an amusing story of a 10-year-old wanting to become a writer. She is already a voracious reader and is with her books all the time. The fun is she is always improvising on what she has read with the thought that she can do a better job of it.   In her vivid imagination she meets Bookworm and they embark on the Thought Express to the Market Place of ideas. The tale has a Grand idea auction, a Superhero salon and Bargain Bazar, that stimulates the mind of the reader. The illustrations by Roger Dahl are another wonderful bonus in this very interesting, which we suspect, may have quite a few satisfied adult readers. Both the books that have won the Children’s category are about kids who are carzy about books and about reading.                     
Wisha Wozzariter by Payal Kapadia                             
Puffin (Penguin Books India)

When books influence young minds
Book Uncle and Me by Uma Krishnaswami is a touching little story about a nine-year-old girl, Yasmin, and her bonding with a retired teacher who she refers to as Book Uncle. The gentleman has found a unique way to transform his retirement into a fruitful phase of life with a barrow full of books. This is a lending library that is absolutely free of cost for everyone. Yasmin had decided to read one book a day, and thanks to Book Uncle, has read more than four hundred of them in about a year’s time. But, as with every good and selfless endeavour, disaster strikes in the form of city authorities, who are seeking a fairly large sum as licence fee, something Book Uncle cannot afford. Yasmin takes up the challenge to get this tragedy or travesty reversed. Very highly recommended for all age categories. 
Book Uncle and Me by Uma Krishnaswami
Scholastic India

There is the body to think of along with the mind
A Life in Words (Memoirs) by Ismat Chughtai (1911-1991), translated from Urdu by M. Asaduddin almost reads like a book of fiction, ever more so because it is a true-life account of a fascinating woman who was far ahead of her time. It reveals the mind and (susceptible) heart of a feisty young girl, who stood up against the feudalistic thought process and the culture of the subcontinent, undivided as it then was, and life in an upper-class Muslim family of ten or eleven children, and a mingling of relatives and friends.Ismat scorned the purdah system and the segregation of women, and stubbornly began to write stories that stoked anger and outrage, and even provoked a summons from a Lahore court. She was one of the leading lights in the Progressive Writers’ Movement. This is an account of her life as she experienced it in various cities – Jodhpur, Agra, Bareilly, Lucknow, Mumbai.
A Life in Words (Memoirs) by Ismat Chughtai
Penguin Books

Buying or selling the country short
The Bankster by Ravi Subramanian is yet another potboiler from an author who has stuck to a particular genre of writing – financial thrillers. So there is banking, and all that can go wrong when crooks use the loopholes in the system to further their sinister plans. Two different situations run parallel and also interweave in this tale, a movement against a nuclear power plant in Devkikulam in Kerala spinning out of control, and a fraud being perpetrated via the multinational Greater Boston Global Bank, located at Bandra! Shady diamond deals in Europe and Africa see us trudging dangerously in Angola at one time, and Kerala at another. Suffice it to say, the nation itself is at risk. Come in, Karan Panjabi, ex-bank officer, and now the story’s super-sleuth, who discovers that he is dealing with no ordinary fraud. Several twists and turns make for an interesting read.
The Bankster by Ravi Subramanian
Rupa Publications

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