September 21 2018

OUT OF INDIA: SELECTED STORIES by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala

The 15 stories in “Out of India,” culled from Jhabvala’s four previous collections, feature a rich array of characters, Indian and European, Hindu and Muslim, rich and poor, male and female. Many of the stories are told from particular viewpoints, in memorably individualised voices. Irony is the keynote, as we listen and watch in fascination how, through passion, vanity, indolence, ignorance, or a lethally limited amount of knowledge, so many are undone by their own volition. Making no attempt at softening what she perceives, she describes the poverty, the squalor, the disturbing mixture of savagery and sanctity, and the unendurable oppressiveness of the summer heat. How, then, does an “irritable” European with “weak” nerves, sitting in her air-conditioned room with blinds drawn, survive amid conditions she deplores? How does someone “not interested in India” draw upon these alien, yet familiarised surroundings as material for her fiction? By recording her impressions in the clear light of her prose. Alienation is a secret wellspring of art.

As gripping as any of the stories, yet even more relentless in its candour, is the author’s introduction, “Myself in India,” which first appeared in London Magazine. Speaking for herself, in her own voice, Jhabvala baldly declares: “I have lived in India for most of my adult life. My husband is Indian and so are my children. I am not, and less so every year. . . . I must admit I am no longer interested in India. . . . If I hadn’t married an Indian, I don’t think I would ever have come here, for I am not attracted–or used not to be attracted–to the things that usually bring people to India.”

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September 20 2018

Wise and otherwise  by Sudha Murthy

It is a collection of fifty vignettes of the real-life incidents of Murthy, which left a profound impression on her, both in good and bad ways. These incidents, although not uncommon, is interpreted by the author in refreshingly creative manner, which would never fail to impress the reader.

The book would be an easy and fast read considering the writing style, which is very direct, but still elegant. Brevity and clarity are perhaps the trademarks of Sudha Murthy’s writing.

After reading this book, the readers will find a new way to look at life and people. This book will make them realize how small incidents can be a window of opportunity to understand myriad nature of human beings along with their virtues and vices. At the same time, a reader can realize how each moment and the small incidents in our life can be so inspiring and enriching if we give them our attention and thought just like the writer did.

You need not be rich to donate. You need not be famous to help. You need not be successful to leave an impact. If you want the world to be a better place, start with little acts of kindness. You won’t even realize how quickly this will spread.

I’d really recommend this book to people of all generations. Each one of us can relate to many of its stories. And it’s okay if some of them make you shed tears, that’s the way Sudha Murthy writes – with emotions.

Do read who wants to know more about the real state of India. Sudha Murthy has left it to the readers to decide what’s good and what’s bad.

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September 19 2018

All murky over the clouds

So brilliant over the tomb

You poke invisible flames about the sky

Heavy! The thought never ends

So heavy near the sea

I excrete bright thoughts among the tomb

Be wary! The birth is no more

All murky over the clouds

You dispel invisible tentacles over the fire

Be luminous. The life has come

trusting awake

blurring at the edges

nothing to lose

From what country

the witness

seek shelter

not knowing why

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September 18 2018

Green below the dreamscape

Quite lustful in the tomb

We prod black bones beside the sea

Damn! The King felt good

So transparent within the flowers

You divine violet disasters beneath the slime

Whoa! The twilight has fled

So green below the dreamscape

You seduce dazzling faces in the dream

Be watchful. The end has fled

greying awake

lost in broad daylight

a ticking clock

With what regrets

my father

chase his dream

and miss his turning

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September 14 2018

Custody – by Manju Kapur

In ‘Custody’ Manju Kapur has tried to explore the finer nuances of a divorce – both pre and post. Not only are we taken through the journey of what leads up to one, but also the repercussions of this as well. The story takes us through the life of Raman, who works for ‘The Brand’, a leading soft drinks manufacturing company. He has this respectable job, gets paid handsomely, and leads a decently content life with his gorgeous wife Shagun, his smart teenager son Arjun and his adorable three year old daughter, Roohi. Parallelly, there is Ishita, who although not strikingly beautiful, is wise, kind and generous. Ishita gets married and leads a happy life, adapting to her new family, being everybody’s favourite.

Each character has a mind set, unique in its own way, reflecting the modern virtues that we have been adapting. The author manages to create a sublime atmosphere that reveals the various tragedies that a family can go through. The future of the children are at stake. There is screaming, yelling, and all the possible melodrama.

Manju Kapur delves deeper to give us an insight in to the mindsets of the children. How a teenager boy misses his father while he applies for admission in a new school, a school where his new step-father has been a legend. How a shy and clingy girl of three is coerced into believing that her birth mother loves her no more. How a brother is turned against his sister. Her description of the upper and middle class lives in Delhi in the 90s is spot on, and you can imagine it going on right in front of your eyes – the nosy neighbors, the jealousy between families, the swish set planning holidays abroad, and of course ‘the Brand’, where Raman and Ashok work. But all said and done, ‘Custody’ is not a patch on Kapur’s earlier work – ‘Difficult Daughers’ and ‘Home’.

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September 13 2018

Masooma by Ismat Chughtai

Masooma,for this book was not written for the faint hearted. Its writer, Ismat Chughtai, never one to pull her punches, is out to draw blood. The wit and gentle humour of earlier stories, the ones based on her experiences in Aligarh and the smaller provincial towns of Upper India, is entirely missing here. A gritty anger and a biting realism combine with a keen eye for detail to depict not merely the dark underbelly of Bombay (as it was then called) but also scratch the mask of sharif culture and expose its desperate poverty. We see evidence of this in almost her writings; in Masooma too we see Ismat depicting the effects of a world cleft by social and economic injustices upon the life of a young girl. The trade of women and the commodification of a woman’s body, she seems to be saying here, is a direct consequence of human frailty and lust but also of poverty and inequality.

The story of Masooma, a girl from a wealthy and respectable family from the erstwhile state of Hyderabad, takes centre stage. Also, in the telling of this story of a girl’s descent into prostitution, how innocent Masooma is sold by her aristocratic mother to keep the home fires burning and how this girl from a decent family turns into Nilofer, a mistress who changes hands till she becomes no better (or worse) than a common prostitute, and her mother too is transformed from a haughty begum to a seasoned madam, Ismat sheds her coyness and her tendency to use allusion rather overt descriptions.

While Ismat had always written bold stories that challenged traditional morality and worn-out notions of a woman’s ‘place’ in society, till Masooma she had not written anything that can be described as overly ‘sexual’ – not even in Lihaaf. Given her interest in sexual matters, and the fact that both she and the original bête noir of Urdu – Manto – had been hauled up by a Court in Lahore on charges of obscenity, comparisons between the two have always been inevitable.

Ismat’s language is different too in this novel. Here, she uses biting satire as a tool to sharpen her depiction of social realities. In her hands, Urdu had acquired a new zest, a special zing that made it more readable than ever before; in Masooma she shows how it is also better equipped to reflect new concerns, concerns that had been hitherto considered beyond the pale of literature.

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