February 2013 Posts

Extract from a letter I wrote to a friend about “Market Tales” by Jayant Kriplani

Extract from a letter I wrote to a friend about “Market Tales” by Jayant Kriplani

Feb 2013
Helloji,
I received a copy of Jayant Kriplani’s collection of short stories New Market Tales earlier this evening. I immediately picked it up to read and could not stop myself. ( I have a horrendous deadline looming large. But I kept saying one more story, one more story, till I reached the end!)
The stories are so unexpected. They are so in step with that twinkle in Jayant Kriplani the actor’s eyes. You can just imagine him watching and observing the world go by. I really liked the way he lapses into Bengali (without any apologies for doing so), reproduces the English pronounciations of the Bengalis and laughs at them but not in a cynical or mocking way, but like a happy delighted chuckle–as someone who completely understands where they are coming from, whether it is the bhadralok or the noveau riche trader or even the feisty activist daughter of the lingerie seller. (Gainjeewala sounds way better! ) Some of the stories are indescribably weird, for instance Harish or even Zack’s. I bet they will linger with me for a very long time to come. Even the curious wake that is held in anticipation of Mesho’s death kept me enthralled. These stories may be part truth, part fiction but they are powerful storytelling.
The cover illustration is so very reminiscent of Soviet-era publications. It is a crisp and smart cover, much in keeping with the tenor of the stories, but not really a lead in to the stories persay. The book trailer is lovely too. ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M6wbYdW3SyQ )
This is a gem of a book. A wonderful recount of Calcutta in the 1960s and 1970s, but also its connection with Partition and the variety of communities, ideologies, people that you encounter in the iconic New Market. What comes through very clearly in the book is the sense of belonging to one family — New Market– irrespective of religion, beliefs, or trade. I really hope that this book travels far, beyond India. It must. It should.
Affly,
JAYA

Publication details: Pan Macmillan India, Picador India, Feb 2013. Pgs. 206 Pb. Rs 299

Prasoon Joshi, “Sunshine Lanes”

Prasoon Joshi, “Sunshine Lanes”

The other day some friends of mine dipped into my copy of Prasoon Joshi’s Sunshine Lanes, a collection of his poetry/ lyrics written over the years. The poems are typeset in Hindi and English. It includes some his popular songs composed for music groups like Silk Route and Bollywood films like “Delhi 6”, “Taare Zameen Par”, and “Rang De Basanti”. My friends cannot stop raving about this book. They say it is such a pleasure to be able to dip into Prasoon Joshi’s poetry and discover the words of well-known songs, many of which one hums but rarely knows all the words. According to them this is a book waiting to happen, absolutely delighted that it has and is going to be a steady seller for a long, long time.

Publication details: Sunshine Lanes, published by Rupa Publications Pvt. Ltd., New Delhi, India, 2013. Hb. Rs. 495

On Reviewing in India, Amit Chaudhuri

On Reviewing in India, Amit Chaudhuri

“Reviewing is often a form of thuggery in Anglophone India, territorial, threatening, a way of roughing somebody up; and the Books pages are a bit like a lawless part of town, from which you have to be thankful to slip away with your writerly life – not to mention your dignity – intact.”
(p.147, Calcutta, 2013, Hamish Hamilton an imprint of Penguin Books)

Amit Chaudhuri, “Calcutta” (17 Feb 2013)

Amit Chaudhuri, “Calcutta” (17 Feb 2013)


Title: Calcutta: Two Years in the city
Author: Amit Chaudhuri
Publication details: Hamish Hamilton, an imprint of Penguin Books, New Delhi, 2013. Hb. Pp. 308 Rs. 599

It has been a while since I read a book focused on a city. (The last one that I truly enjoyed was Peter Ackroyd’s London, but that was a biography.) Amit Chaudhuri chose to write in “real time” (http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2013/feb/02/amit-chaudhuri-new-perspective-calcutta ) witnessing the ups and downs of the city. It is actually a riveting book. Calcutta is a city that can leave you exhausted with its hustle-bustle, filth and yet is unexpected with its richness.

I have just returned from a brief visit to the city. It was after a gap of seventeen years. Much has changed in the city and yet it seems as if it is in limbo. I noticed the disappearance of many old and beautiful buildings and the stark harsh and posh-looking apartments, check-by-jowl with malls set in cramped spaces—many of which were in ridiculous settings. Old buildings that have had their innards gouged out to be replaced with “modern” spaces and embellished with cheap façades so that as you turn the corner you see the older and decrepit building beneath. So Amit Chaudhuri is spot on when he says, “This city-Kolkata-is neither a shadow of Calcutta, nor a reinvention of it, nor even the same city. Nor does it bear anything more than an outward resemblance to its namesake, Kolkata: the city as it’s always been referred to in Bengali. I myself can’t stand calling it any other name but ‘Calcutta’ when speaking in English; just as I’ll always call it ‘Kolkata’ in Bengali conversation. Is this because we – cities and human being – have contradictory lives that flow in and out of each other? To take away one or the other name is to deprive the city of a dimension that’s coterminous with it, that grew and rose and fell with it, whose meaning, deep in your heart, you know exactly. (p.96)”

The author chose to write about the city at the behest of his agent who wanted a non-fiction book on Calcutta. Amit Chaudhuri did not want to imitate Suketu Mehta’s Maximum City but he wanted to do something original. He opted to write about two years of living in the city, a place he had returned to live after having lived most of his life in Bombay, England and in patches in Calcutta. So he says “Why, in 1999, did I move to it? Because I’d been rehearsing that journey for years; as a child, in trips from Bombay in the summer and the winter; and later—in my continual search for certain kind of a city—in my reading. …Even later, when I finally became a published writer, that city would be given back to me by my readers, from their strange identifications and instants of recognition.” And this is exactly the flavor, of wandering, discovering, analyzing–that comes through the text. It is about the city but also the “associations of ‘home’, ‘away’. ‘return’ [that] are quite hopelessly mixed up in my mind” (p.44). His anecdotes are as is—whether it is a description of the people living on the roadsides, or the Italian chefs or even a description of his family, he captures what happens in the space of those two years. No further information is provided to that which has already been given.

Like Raghubir Singh the photographer about whom he has a short piece Amit Chaudhuri too has become a chronicler of a new terrain, albeit through words. Calcutta is a book that will like Raghubir Singh’s Calcutta: The Home and the Street become a landmark book encapsulating a moment in time of a very historically and culturally rich city.

“Don’t buy this book now!”

“Don’t buy this book now!”

“Structured procrastination.” A delicious phrase coined by John Perry in Don’t But This Book Now! for merely faffing. Without really making you feel guilty he lists a number of reasons why structured procrastination is absolutely acceptable and an activity that should be indulged in as often as possible—It makes one a more productive and better human being. Having said that he explores the reasons for procrastination. One of the main reasons is to be a perfectionist but he puts it so nicely, “You have to get into the habit of forcing yourself to analyze, at the time you accept a task, the costs and benefits of doing a less-than perfect job.” He adds, “The system of breaking tasks down into small increments, and giving yourself a good pat on the back for achieving each of them, has solid credentials.” He offers some splendid advice on how to break the spell browsing incessantly on the internet or watching a mindless programme on the television. (Of the computer he says, “it is also a bane for the procrastinator, because it makes sinking time in utterly worthless pursuits tempting and easy. The big problems are coping with email and surfing the Web.”) The book is an expansion of an earlier essay called “Structured Procrastination” for which John Perry (who’s a Professor of Philosophy at Stanford) won the Ig Nobel Prize at Harvard University. Surprisingly the essays in this slim volume help in boosting one’s confidence. As one of the blurbs on the book cover says that you are tempted to follow the strategies (making lists) discussed to overcome procrastination. It is time well spent in reading Don’t Buy This Book Now!