Women Posts

Shandana Minhas’s “Rafina”

Shandana Minhas is a publisher and a writer. She established her independent publishing firm Mongrel Books recently. ( I interviewed her in 2017 for Bookwitty.) Rafina:A Novella published in 2018 but is one of her earliest books. It was written in 2004.

Rafina is about a young girl who is trying to supplement her newly widowed mother’s income by working in a beauty parlour. Rafina begins to learn the trade from her mother’s best friend Rosie khala who moonlights by attending to rich clients in the comfort of their own home. After a few months, suitably impressed with Rafina’s hard work, Rosie recommends her to the parlour she works in — Radiance. Ever since Rafina could recall she had dreamed of being a model as famous as the one on the hoarding visible outside their cramped government accommodation. Working at Radiance she firmly believed was the first step to earning that fame. Rafina is a lovely modern day version of Cinderella, the beautiful girl who against all odds rose to the top of society to be lauded by the very same people who had earlier ignored her.

Given that it was written in 2004 Rafina is a pleasant enough read with glimpses of the confident writer Shandana Minhas evolves into. I interviewed the author via email. Following are edited excerpts of the interview:

Why a modern day version of Cinderella? Are there not enough versions of the story? 

The older, darker versions of Cinderella, hopefully. Nearly every culture has a fable of a woman who uses her beauty as a weapon in class warfare, going back hundreds of years, featuring greed, violence, self mutilation, and lust more nakedly than Disney did. The details vary but the conflict and the endgame –upward mobility through some form of concubinage – remain the same. In the Brothers Grimm’s ‘Aschenputtel’, the dropped shoe is not dropped but stuck in pitch laid down by the king’s son to trap the object of his desire after she keeps running away from his advances. Pigeons fly down to peck out the eyes of the evil stepsisters as they escort the girl they persecuted in and out of the church when she eventually marries him. Rafina is set in a city though. In Karachi the pitch is invisible. And the pigeons would get fried on kundas.

Rafina is an unusual name. 

I chose it because I met a Pakistani girl called Rafina when I was young and it was such an unusual name it stayed with me.

Frankly I am super impressed that with your hands more than full with parenting, toddler, ageing  parents, new publishing house etc you found the time to see Rafina through publication.

Me too.

Even though you wrote it in 2004 was it your first completed piece of fiction? How is it the novella was not published then, why now? 

Rafina was created mid-2004. I was a mother to a toddler, and months away from having a second child; I was in the run up to writing my first novel, Tunnel Vision, a draft of which I completed during that pregnancy. I suspect a lot of young fiction writers feel they can’t really call themselves writers till they’ve had a first novel published, and that at that point in time, facing the idea of being completely subsumed by motherhood, I too was more interested in reaching that – as it turns out entirely illusory – benchmark.

Why Rafina is being published now is because my literary agent, Kanishka Gupta, was looking for a publisher for The Good Citizens, a collection of my shorter fiction; it included Rafina, and there was interest in it as a standalone.

Did you have to tweak it a bit given that it was being published 15 years after it was written? 

Apart from minor restructring for flow, and turning up the dial on certain elements (her sexuality, for instance, was subtextual in the first draft) and down on others, I stayed with the story I first told. Teesta Guha Sarkar’s astute editing sharpened Rafina at the level of the sentence and the word by highlighting repetitive words and phrases and expressions that really hadn’t aged well. Kanishka pointed out plot points that needed reinforcing. I also referred to feedback writer friends had offered over the years. I found I was seeing Rafina and the world she was moving through more clearly than I first had. It was an illuminating exercise, draping language onto a fuller-figured story, mouth full of pens instead of pins.

How did this story come about? 

The original Rafina was actually about 14,000 words longer than this. When I started writing it I thought it was a short story but it turned out to be a novella. And about six years ago, when The Good Citizens began to crystallise, I tried to condense the novella down to a long short story. And now I’m thinking this is actually the first in a series, a desi Claudine. Rafina continues to refuse to fit into a box just because somebody wants her to.

Tell me more about Rafina. Did she develop as a character as you had wished or is there more to her? 

I think she’s well developed for a 17-year-old Pakistani girl, in that there is more to her than the desire to please other people and she embraces that rather than stepping away from it. Setting your own market value rather than letting others set it for you, that’s journey enough for a slim volume, I think.

I like the way you get the crowd of people working furiously in the salon but with distinctive personalities. Are the characters inspired by real people? 

For a brief period in my early twenties I had some exposure to the inner workings of the local fashion and beauty industry; the voyeur in me took notes of course. I was always more interested in the people behind the scenes than the ones in the limelight. The ensemble cast of the styling world started as composites of people I came across, or heard about. During fashion or film or TV shoots, my hours with stylists and their assistants were spent haw-ing and hai-ing over their experiences, and gossip about various industry players. Hair-raising. Literally. I’d like to clarify though, in case the owner of the salon my loyalty currently lies with is reading this, that all female employers in the industry are not bad, in fact some treat their employees with the dignity they deserve, and respect their legal rights too. I think we can sense it when we walk into a salon, the happiness quotient of the people who work there. And they often have to do with the littlest things, like putting up a Christmas tree and lights when some of your staff is Christian.

If you had to write this story in 2018 would you change bits and pieces in it? Would you tackle it differently or let it remain? 

I’m so glad you asked about tackling it differently or letting it remain as it was. It was THE question, for me. The answer I eventually arrived at was, I could refine language, I could tweak plot, but I couldn’t touch character. Character was what was giving this book the heart people seemed to be responding to, and my cold authorial hands were better left tucked in my armpits.

As for whether I would tackle it differently now, Rafina is in a way a historical document too, as fiction is; it is set in the time right before social media exploded in Pakistan. This is a different world, there is more room for ambitious young women to attempt escape, and more consequences too. I would have no choice but to tackle it differently.

 What are you working on next? 

I am working on finding the time to write again.

Shandana Minhas Rafina: A Novella Picador India, an imprint of Pan Macmillan Publishing India, New Delhi, 2018. Hb. pp. 170. Rs. 450 

17 June 2018 

Jane Harris’s “Sugar Money”

‘All those slave, the friars bought with borrowed money.’

‘Who told you that?’

‘Father Prudence, years agone. They took a loan from the French government and another from another merchant in London. Being the case, the French authority might say those Fort Royal slaves and their descendants belong to them. The London merchant might say the same. Of course, the friars would argue otherwise but some would say they lost the right to the slave because of the debt and their misdoings.’

‘They might have repaid those loans since.’

‘No,’ Emile replied. ‘I asked around St. Pierre the other night. They never repaid one sou, to this day. Everybody knows they are in debt from Salines to St. Domingue. That’s why they want those slave back, to grow more cane. Cane is sugar, sugar is money. That’s all we are to them. But loan or no loan, the English will care not one farthing. Now they rule the land of Grenada, they must surely lay claim to the slaves at the hospital. And if we take Celeste and the rest without permission, those Goddams will say we stole them.’ 

Jane Harris’s third novel Sugar Money has been shortlisted for The Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction 2018. It is set in 1765 when two brothers Emile and Lucien are charged by their French master, Father Cleophas, to return to Grenada and smuggle home forty-two slaves claimed by English invaders ( commonly referred to as “Goddams”) and working at the hospital. It is a tricky mission as there is the constant danger of the two brothers being caught. Since the two brothers are slaves themselves they have no option but to obey. Emile is under no illusions about how dangerous the mission is but is tempted to return to Grenada for he can meet his sweetheart Celeste. The action-packed novel spread over a few days is narrated by the younger brother Lucien who was taught English by a Scotsman working at the Grenada hospital.  The French friars want “their” slaves  back as they need help to till their cane sugar plantations in Martinique.

In the Afterword Jane Harris elaborates  upon the true incident which inspired her story.

In 1738, the French Colonial Government in Grenada built a hospital overlooking the main town of Fort Royal (now known as St George’s). By 1742, the hospital had been handed over to the care of a band of mendicant monks or friars: the Brothers of Charity of the Order of St John the God — les Freres de la Charite — who had been running a hospital in the neighbouring island of Martinique for almost a hundred years. the friars looked after the sick but, in order to fund their charitable works, they also ran plantations alongside their hospitals — plantations which relied on the labour of enslaved people. The poverty-stricken friars took out loans in order to purchase these slaves, some of whom they trained as nurses to work alongside them in the hospital. the rest of the slaves were set to toil on the plantations, growing indigo and sugar cane. …the British invaded Grenada in 1763 and took over the hospital. 

She continues that in August 1765, one of the mendicant friars, Father Cleophas, travelled from Martinique to Grenada in an attempt to persuade the slaves to return with him. Unfortunately he was discovered by the English and asked to leave. After which he persuaded a “mulatto” slave to go on a mission for him. It was disastrous as the English once again discovered the plan and prevented most of the slaves to escape. Of the 11 who did to Martinique had to return to Grenada and they saved themselves by blaming the mulatto slave. As a result he was the only one made an example of and hanged.

Sugar Money is an absorbing read with some truly horrific descriptions of how the slaves were treated by their masters. The brutal violence is relentless with the slaves living in constant fear. It is a story that is truly horrifying for what happened in the past but also with the knowledge that such situations continue to exist in many parts of the world even now*. It may not always be the colonial master and slave relationship but many people are being exploited in a similar fashion for purely business gains.

In an interview Jane Harris clearly states what set her off on this quest to write this historical fiction. Also being acutely aware of her white privilege; a fact which is good to know particularly in an age where conversations about cultural appropriation are constantly being resurrected.

Of course, I was – and am – very aware of my white privilege and did ask various friends, writers of colour, if they thought I was crazy to tackle such a subject. They told me that yes, I probably was crazy – but as long as I did it well enough, it wouldn’t matter. So, that was the challenge; I knew I’d have to write a good book.

She adds:

Research is crucial. It begins when I have the idea for a novel and carries on all the way through to the final draft, even to proof-stage. I’m one of those writers who likes to be as historically accurate as possible, so the research never ends. However, I’m also a great believer in ‘hiding’ the research. Your research notes shouldn’t be visible to the reader. If a fact isn’t relevant to the story then, really, it shouldn’t be in the book.

Even though The Observations is entirely a work of imagination, not based on true events, the period detail still has to be accurate. Gillespie and I is also a work of imagination, set in the art world of Scotland in the late 1880s, at the time of the International Exhibition, and so I had to undertake a good deal of research to get the detail of Glasgow and the art world right.

When it came to Sugar Money, research had a hand in steering the plot. These were real people, enslaved people, and I felt I owed it to them to stick closely to the facts. Having said that, there are great gaps in what is known about the true story behind the novel, with the result that I had a lot of inventing to do. With some of the people involved, all I had to go on was a list of slave names and it was from those names that I built their characters. For instance, I just knew that someone called Angelique Le Vieux had to be a force of nature. At other times, in terms of narrative, I had to piece together the plot by looking at the motivation of a character and analyzing what actually happened in real life e.g.: X happened and then Y happened – so why did the person involved make the decision to do Y? That’s often how the narrative grew. So, the facts often drove the fiction.

Sugar Money is a gripping book waiting to be turned into a period film. The descriptions are so vivid that it seems the action is happening in front of one’s eyes.

Jane Harris Sugar Money Faber & Faber, London, 2017, rpt 2018. Pb. pp. 452 Rs 499 

*As I was writing this blog post news came in that US Attorney General Jeff Sessions cited Romans 13 from the Bible often used to defend slavery while defending his government’s policy of separating immigrant families.

15 June 2018 

 

Women’s Prize for Fiction 2018

The Women’s Prize for Fiction 2018 was founded in 1996, the Prize was set up for “excellence, originality and accessibility in writing by women in English from throughout the world”.  As always the prize celebrates and helps readers discover fantastic women writers. This year’s shortlist is formidable — a trademark of the Women’s Prize for Fiction even in its previous avatars as Orange Prize and Bailey’s Prize.

 

 

The shortlist consisted of: 

In a wonderful ceremony held in London, Kamila Shamsie won the Women’s Prize for Fiction 2018.

There was an enormous roar when Kamila Shamsie’s name was announced as the winner. This is what Kate Moss, founder of the prize, had to say:

Kamila Shamsie’s Home Fire explores the complicated relationship Isma has with her younger twin siblings, Aneeka and Parvaiz. It is also a modern retelling of Antigone in which Isma, whose mother has died, works hard to raise her brother and sister. When they reach adulthood, Isma leaves for the US to study at university while her brother, Parvaiz, who has unfortunately become radicalised in Britain, leaves to join ISIS, following in the footsteps of their jihadist father. Aneeka, meanwhile, is torn between her love for her older sister and her twin. The idea of two sisters where one is conventional, bordering on timid but keeps the home fire burning while the other leaves home and enters the world of men with far reaching consequences has been encapsulated in myths and legends. There is Antigone and her sister Ismene from the Greek myth, and Mary and Martha in the New Testament. The Sophoclean chorus giving a background and a perspective on the “tricky” position British Muslims occupy is provided by the character of a Muslim MP and Home Secretary, Karamat Lone, and his son, Eamonn. It’s a prescient novel for it is considered to have predicted the rise of British Pakistani Sajid Javid, current Home Secretary of Britain. In fact she wrote about it in the Guardian too.

Poet-cum-novelist Meena Kandawamy’s When I Hit Youabout her four months as a married woman. At one level it is an account of the horrific marriage she found herself in. She walked into it knowingly having met her husband online while involved in an activism campaign. Her parents and this man shared similar ideological positions which probably coloured her decision to marry. At another level it is as if Meena Kandaswamy puts herself under the scanner and analyses her life using all the feminist theory she has read and practised over the years. Putting the book at this curious intersection is incisive while making the acute conflict of the desi social expectations of a young girl to “settle down” and that of a professional writer/poet. In fact before her marriage Meena Kandaswamy was used to travelling whereever and whenever she desired. She terms herself as a “nomad” in the book. After marriage there was a gargantuan difference. She was suddenly confined to the small house in Mangalore. After walking out of her marriage Meena Kandawamy wrote an article in the first person for Outlook magazine. ( “I Singe the Body Electric”, 19 March 2012). It was the first time she spoke of the domestic violence. Interestingly she chose the first person mode to write of the traumatic experience.

Elif Batuman’s The Idiot is an astonishing bildungsroman for its incredible craftsmanship in telling the story of Turkish American student Selin who is enrolled at Harvard University for literature and linguistics. Set in the 1990s it seems like a different world altogether. From a bewildered young woman, exposed to the academic world where everyone seems to flaunt their “knowledge” who grows in to a sophisticated version of her younger self, of a young woman comfortable in her skin with who she is, her choices, her knowledge and the relationships she forges. It is not an easy book to read. It takes a little while to get into but once past the first hundred pages it is impossible to put down. Elif Batuman’s love affair with Russian literature continues in this novel too beginning with the title which echoes Dostoevsky’s The Idiot.

Jesmyn Ward’s Sing, Unburied, Sing is an extremely powerful story about a family of mixed race. The father, Michael, is in prison, but his wife, Leonie, lives with her two children and her parents. Michael is ostracized by his family for marrying a “nigger”. Leonie is a chemical addict who does not have much time for her children or parents yet she is insistent on making the long road trip to fetch Michael once he is released from prison. The narrative alternates between the thirteen-year-old son and Leonie. At times their stories overlap offering different perspectives about their family, their own histories and racism. The sensitive portrayal of the older brother with his baby sister is memorable. Jesmyn Ward is the Toni Morrison for a younger generation. She won the National Book Award 2017 for this novel.

Jessie Greengrass’s debut novel Sight is about an unnamed narrator wondering whether to have a child or not. Every meditative reflection is interspersed with a long interlude about a scientific discovery of the Victorian period.  The first section involves the Lumière brothers, Auguste and Louis, and Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen’s discovery of X-rays; the second section is about psycho analyst Sigmud Freud and the final section is about Scottish surgeon John Hunter who was exceptionally well known for his knowledge of the anatomy, both human and animal. In fact John Hunter’s fine collection of over 14,000 specimens was acquired by the British government and even today exists at the Hunterian Museum at the Royal College of Surgeons in London.  Sight is a literary example of psycho-geography — a combination of personal reminiscences and factual historical content. It is also an attempt to get at a further truth which is about how we see one another and we see ourselves especially the female experience which is most often taken away from human experience.  It is a constantly evolving process of the individual’s subjectivity vs objectivity. It was first discussed in a similar meditative fashion by the Romantic poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge in Biographia Literaria. It is unsurprising given that Coleridge too like Jessie Greengrass was inspired by John Hunter’s work and its focus on the distinctions between life and matter. As Jessie Greengrass remarks in an interview “having a subjective self is something which allows us privacy but also separates us even from the people we are closest to” and this is the angle she explores as a novelist in her powerful debut Sight.

The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock by debut novelist Imogen Hermes Gower is a rich historical fiction set in the Georgian period involving courtesans and mermaids. It is a lovely story, detailed about late 18C England and yet the strong women characters seem as if the 21C attitudes towards women have been supplanted back in time.

The novels shortlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction 2018* are riveting. Every single one of them is special for the tenor of writing, storytelling, and great diversity in style — memoir-like novels, retelling of myths, magic realism, and bildungsroman. These are books meant to be read as they are changing contemporary literary landscape and the authors will be considered literary giants in years to come.

*My article on Women’s Prize for Fiction 2017

7 June 2018 

 

Anuradha Roy’s “All The Lives We Have Never Lived”

I read award-winning writer Anuradha Roy‘s stunning new novel All The Lives We Have Never Lived which is set during the second world war in British India and Bali. The narrator is Abhay Chand or Myshkin Chand Rozario who many years later in 1992 recounts details of his childhood. His mother was a Bengali Hindu and his father part-Anglo Indian. When Myshkin was nine his mother left the Rozario family. Myshkin was left in the care of his grandfather, a doctor,  Bhavani Chand Rozario and his father, a college lecturer, Nek Chand. A couple of years after his wife’s departure Nek Chand left on a pilgrimage. He returned home with another wife, Lipi and a daughter, Ila.

Gayatri Sen left India for Bali with German artist Walter Spies and another friend of his Beryl. While in Bali, Gayatri would write letters to her son but particularly long and detailed ones to her best friend Lisa McNally. Myshkin receives his mother’s correspondence to Lisa from her children upon her death. 

After finishing the novel I wrote Anuradha Roy a long letter. Here are some excerpts. 

*********

Dear Anuradha,

Today I finished reading All the Lives We Never Lived. It is another one of your stories that will be with me for a long, long time to come.

I loved the dramatic opening sentence “In my childhood, I was known as the boy whose mother had run off with an Englishman.” It is similar to another novelist I thoroughly enjoy — Nell Zink. I like how you begin as from the present moment, with the boy, now an old man, reflecting back to his childhood. Obviously the opening sentence defined him for years as that is what is crystal clear. He echoes what society says about his mother. Although the rhythm and cadences of the text are so correctly measured with never a word out of place. It is a voice of experience speaking, yet one who is so terribly (and understandably) rattled by his mother’s letters towards the end that he walks through the local marketplace distractedly.

Your descriptions of the women writing letters to each other with every line scrawled upon, as well as in the margins and wherever they could find space transported me back immediately to my days of writing letters. When my friends left India, I would send them letters by snail mail. In those days’ international postage was so expensive for the heavy packets since the letters were long and used a lot of paper. So I devised a method of using an aerogramme and writing as tiny as I could and then writing across the margin and filling up whatever little space I could find on the page.

So you can imagine my delight to discover the letters between Gayatri and Lisa McNally in All the Lives We Never Lived. You had to my mind so effectively managed to make that leap of unearthing memories not only of the characters but also of the reader. So many times I found myself slowing down or grinding to a halt in your descriptions of the plants and trees. The descriptions of the gardener plucking the jasmine and collecting them in a basket of white cloud to later thread them as a gajra for Gayatri brought back a flood of memories. Every morning in the searing summer heat I would go to my grandmother’s garden in Meerut and pluck all the beautiful white blooms off the bushes. Later I would thread the flowers into gajras for the women in the family. It was a daily ritual over summer vacation I loved. The moment I read that passage in your book I got a strong whiff of the sweet fragrance of the flowers –perfect for summer as well as of the needle used to thread would be coated with sticky nectar.

The beauty of nature, the flowering trees whether in the scorching dry heat or in the tropics to the mountain vegetation. The burst of colour in your novel makes its presence felt but what is truly exhilarating is how Gayatri and later her son gets associated with the most vibrantly colourful passages describing nature in the book. The passage where you describe Myshkin filling up his long-unused sketchbooks with studies of trees and plants in the garden while remembering his mother are like the last movement of a symphony, where everything comes together as a whole. It is as if Myshkin is expressing his delight at discovering the joy of who his mother was and experiencing her life through his paintings.

Over the next weeks, my long-unused sketchbooks filled with studies of the trees and plants in the garden that I associated with my mother: the pearly carpet of parijat flowers, Nyctanthes arbortristis, that she loved walking on barefoot; the neem near the bench where she had sat with Beryl listening to the story of Aisha. I barely slept, I forgot meals, I drew and painted her garden as if possessed. I drew the Crepe myrtle and Queen of the Night, the common oleander and hibiscus; the young mangoes on the tree in June, as raw as they had been when Beryl de Zoete and Walter Spies first came to our house.

It took me five days to finish my studies of Queen of the Night and then I turned to the garnet blossoms of the Plumeria rubra, the champa. I painted the long, elliptic leaves, the swollen stem tips, the fleshy branches that go from grey to green and ooze milk if bruised or cut. I blended in the ochre at the edges of the petals with the deepening incandescence of the red in the depths of the flower.

Your descriptions of the gulmohar and amaltas trees (though you use the scientific names) are stupendous. One has to live in this ghastly dry heat of the north Indian plans to realise just how much the bright deep rich yellows and fiery reds actually seem pleasant on a hot summer day. Of course the entire sub-plot of the Sundar Nursery and the superintendent of horticulture, Alick Percy-Lancaster, is absolutely fascinating! Years ago I recall you had published the gardening journals of the nursery in a brown hardback with a dustjacket. It is still one of my prized possessions. So I absolutely understood your love for greenery and making a new city green, or the distress at the unnecessary felling of the neem trees in Calcutta and Myshkin’s grief for it was he who had planted the saplings as a young horticulturist.

The characters you create are always so memorable. In a very male household there are only two women – the ayah/cook Banno Didi and Gayatri—who “typically” do not have much of a say in what is happening but the authorial eye gives sufficient clues to the existence of the women and it is not just the tantrums they throw. Or even the religious leader Mukti Devi, head of the Muntazi Seva Gahar, Society for Indian Patriots, whose image in the reader’s mind is created by Nek Chand’s accounts of her. Later even Myshkin’s surprise and then cruel assertion with his stepmother to lord it over in the manner he has seen his father behave, brings into play the sense of patriarchal entitlement men seem to have – even the best of them.  This is exactly why I was so surprised to read the exchange of letters, of which only one set remain, but that is enough to give a great insight into the free spirit Gayatari was. There are so many women in this novel, some prominent (Gayatri, Lisa, Lipi, Banno, Beryl), some absolutely silent (Kadambri, Queen Fatima and Lucille) and others with walk-on parts (Ila’s daughter, Gayatri’s mum, Ni Wayan Arini and many of those in Indonesia). The little interlude with the story of Amrita from Maitreyi Devi’s novel is fantastic too.

The first half of the book is full of men but in the second half the women take over the narrative. You suddenly make visible that is mostly invisible to most eyes, especially male eyes, of the myriad ways in which women manage the daily rhythms of life. It is not just the concerns Gayatri has for her family and mentions it often to Lisa but also the management of it long distance by persuading Lisa to keep a kindly eye on the grandfather and Myshkin. And yet, it is very liberating to see how you make visible the thoughts of the women, their innermost thoughts, their experiences that are usually never made public. Lipi is the only one who upset at her husband’s high-handedness of sending her home instead of allowing her to sit through the musical concert because of her toddler Ila prompts Lipi to create a massive bonfire. She is very direct in her response; almost earthy.

You weave these intricate webs but ever so slightly shift perspectives too. Little Myshkin observes everything, perhaps not always quite understanding it, and yet he absorbs. It becomes a part of who he is and it is best expressed in his writing and later the paintings he draws as an old man. What I truly loved about the novel was how at the beginning the women and men were operating as expected in their socially defined gendered roles despite the magnificent opening line. The prose moves as one would want of a well-structured novel. It lulls one into expecting a good old fashioned story with a few unpredictable twists. Then come the disruptions not just to the domestic setup but also to the prose, the letters make their presence felt and force the reader to engage with the female mind set, even the “common or garden species of readers” is forced to be involved! You reserve many of the tiny details that really evoke the period in the women’s correspondence; later this fine eye for the “thingyness of things” is visible when old Myshkin begins to paint with as much care and attention to detail as his mother may have done.

At another level I felt that Gayatri was trapped yet the manner in which she comes free and you express it so well by changing the text form too. From the “rigidity” of long prose — since it does have a bunch of rules governing it — to the free flowing style of letters. It is not just the breaking of shackles of the form to express herself to Lisa but also the manner in which Gayatri writes. There is a sense of freedom. The correspondence is so much like the intimate conversations women have with each other, whether strangers or friends. They immediately lapse into it.

For someone so one with the elements as Gayatri seems to have been it is does not seem to be out of order to have her engulfed in so many charming stories beginning with Beryl’s own life or her narration of man-woman Aisha, or even Walter Spies himself. The freedom with which they lived; possibly Bohemian but undeniably a very talented group of individuals. Everyone had tremendous “backstories”, some dastardly, all possibly true, and yet their zest for life to explore more and more was so in keeping with character. Through these experiences she meets or hears about different forms of sexualities that exist; Gayatri accepts all these stories and never judges, instead wonders “There must have been a time when love did not have moral guardians saying you may do this but not that – this is how it is in Bali now & how it was in our country hundreds of years ago”.

The parallels that you draw tell another narrative too. For example, referring to Gayatri as “The Indian Painter” and recounting the Amrita story in Maitreyi Devi’s novel is so deftly done as if to silence critics who may be prompted to say that feisty, independent, strong-willed, headstrong women like Gayatri who is “glad to have time to work” could not possibly have existed in British India. The political-historical parallels are unmistakable as well with Arjun’s desire for the country to be governed by a “benign dictatorship” followed by Nek Chand sighing about his students who were locked up for sedition “We are fugitives in our own land.” Gayatri’s statement “I am finding out how limited my world was” seems to resonate at many levels for this story and modern India. Gayatri is ever so magical in the manner in which you create her. She comes across as a modern woman but caught in the wrong time. Sadly though how many women living today can still express themselves or be so confident as to take charge of their own lives as Gayatri did?

The title of the book + the epigraph taken from Tobias Wolff “This is a book of memory, and memory has its own story to tell”, only coalesce as significant once the book is finished. I loved the way in which you immerse the reader as if to exist within a Greek chorus, a multitude of voices, giving their often unasked-for opinions, and yet doing a fantastic job of recreating a moment or a “truth” within a community. The vagueness of the town adds to the blurriness of incidents happening in the past. I do not know how to explain it to say that the story exists in the past sufficiently and in the memory of Myshkin to be real and yet, a little hazy. Loss of the finer details are immaterial as long as the period is evoked; and even the importance of that fades away as the story progresses. And yet reading my response to your book I realise this story will trigger many memories for many readers for you tease out the floodgates of memory ever so gently and politely. It worked for me. It is a powerful book.

Yours,

JAYA

Anuradha Roy All The Lives We Never Lived Hachette India, Gurugram, India, 2018. Hb. pp. 334. Rs 599 

27 May 2018 

“Sexographies” by Gabriela Wiener

According to the  biography posted online renowned Peruvian journalist Gabriela Wiener (Lima, 1975) is author of the collections of crônicas Sexografías, Nueve Lunas, and Mozart, la iguana con priapismo y otras historias. Her work also includes the poetry collection Ejercicios para el endurecimiento del espíritu. Her latest book is Llamada perdida (2014). She writes regularly for the newspapers El Pais(Spain) and La República (Perú). She also writes for several magazines of America and Europe, such as Etiqueta Negra (Perú), Anfibia (Argentina), Il corriere della Sera (Italy), S. XXI (France), and Virginia Quarterly Review (United States). In Madrid, she worked as editor of the Spanish edition of Marie Claire. She left the magazine in 2014 to work on her first novel.

Restless Books will be publishing Sexographies in May 2018. It has been translated from the Spanish by Jennifer Adcock and Lucy Greaves. This is a form of reportage that is like none other. A collection of brutal essays written in the first person that are impossible to classify in any genre. The writing breaks all known norms. It is perhaps preferable to say that the focus of every essay determines the style of writing whether it is  “infiltrating the most dangerous Peruvian prison, participating in sexual exchanges in swingers clubs, traveling the dark paths of the Bois de Boulogne in Paris in the company of transvestites and prostitutes, undergoing a complicated process of egg donation in Spain, and participating in a ritual of ayahuasca ingestion in the Amazon jungle“. A truer book blurb was never written when Sexographies is described as “an eye-opening, kamikaze journey across the contours of the human body and mind”.

Included in Sexographies is Gabriela Wiener’s profile of Isabel Allende. It is a brilliantly illuminating conversation-cum-profile of an older woman writer. Isabel Allende is almost venerated by the younger one, Gabriela Wiener, and yet they are able to understand each other as individuals, women, and writers. They meet on International Women’s Day. Gabriela Wiener notes that “Bolano called her an escribidora — a prolific and bad writer. Making fun of Isabel Allende isn’t a sign of intelligence, it’s part of Latin American literary folklore.” She goes on to observe that “The novelist, after all, is a traditional woman who was brought up to be a good girl, and who worked to free herself through literature.” Meanwhile Isabel Allende acknowledges that she has a fair amount of criticism hurled at her but she takes it in her stride as she takes her success. She realises she is often under the critical scanner for the simple fact “I sell books.” Isabel Allende’s life’s philosophy is to strike a balance between frivolity and depth; she says “Since then I haven’t stopped being feminine, sexy, and a feminist. It can be done.”

Here is an excerpt from the essay “Isabel Allende Will Keep Writing from the Hereafter”published with the permission of Restless Books. ( Publication date: May 15, 2018. Contact Nathan Rostron, Editor and Marketing Director: nathan@restlessbooks.com )

*******

Allende is an easy target for the canonizers of novels. It’s possible that not many of her critics are willing to admit that the virulence of their attacks are based on prejudice: she’s an upper- class woman who used to write a feminist column for a fashion magazine in the 1970s. At the age of forty, without any academic training, she started publishing novels, made autobiographical fiction her signature, and her books started flying off supermarket shelves. In a world where the stupidest things tend to be the most popular, sales of fifty million copies can only arouse suspicion.

But put yourself in her shoes: try having the surname Allende in Chile, going into exile, getting divorced, bringing up children, dedicating yourself to journalism, and writing novels. She was part of a generation of Latin American women who juggled all these things at once, and yet managed to triumph under the long shadow of the Boom—a movement that didn’t really contain a single woman writer, only incredibly loving wives who kept everything nice and comfortable so that their husbands could finish their books and win that Nobel Prize.

Try writing from the bottom tip of the American continent about emotions and sex instead of tunnels and labyrinths. Now try to sustain a literary career over three decades with unwavering success. Try, moreover, to produce as many well-written novels as she has. Because Isabel Allende’s books are well-written: there is a voice and an imagination. Isabel Allende builds her stories around simplicity. She occasionally succumbs to cheapness, lace, and frills, but her expression is founded on the richness of family stories, everyday comedy and drama, and the intimate knowledge of a feminine universe, as in The House of the Spirits. In Eva Luna or The Infinite Plan, being colloquial and inventive makes her prose even more personal and confessional. Her books reveal history through memory and reclaim sex so that it belongs to the home and not to poets of the body. In Paula, perhaps the best of her books, she describes a man’s suffering in the presence of his comatose daughter’s body. In it, the consciousness of being human reaches levels that Allende’s language cannot match.

We know the outcome of Allende’s adventure: few have built such a solid relationship with their readers, a relationship based on something mysterious and addictive that they find in her pages and which defies any logic outside itself. Isabel Allende isn’t Virginia Woolf, she’s not Clarice Lispector, and she’s not Alice Munro; but neither is she a bestseller à la Dan Brown with his simple-minded esoteric vision of the crime novel. And yet he isn’t criticized half as often as she is.

What’s the sell-by date of a popular writer after the publication of their last hit? At this women-only conference I’ve heard names I hadn’t heard for years: Laura Esquivel and Ángeles Mastretta, for example. And the first thing I thought was “they’re still alive?” Yesterday I saw Mastretta, the author of commercial bombshells such as Tear This Heart Out and Lovesick, gliding down the corridors of the Palacio de Bellas Artes with her dramatic cheekbones, her carefully coiffed hair, and her fragile movements, and it was like stepping back into the eighties. On Wikipedia, I discover that she’s carried on publishing books. In the last two decades of the twentieth century, the books of these three women were labeled “women’s literature,” a kind of derivation of “true literature” with sugary, sentimental additives of which Allende is the highest-profile proponent. Following its initial golden years, “women’s literature” seems to have fallen out of favor, and Allende alone has remained a bestseller. After the success of Like Water for Chocolate, Esquivel took refuge in a mansion in the outskirts of Mexico City, tried out being a member of parliament, and now facilitates workshops and publishes books in the style of 12 Steps to Happiness. Years after that enormous cocoa feast, Allende wrote her own book about sex and cocaine: Aphrodite, a book where cooking recipes lead to love (also known as the kind of book that immediately banishes you from the annals of literature with a capital L).

Gabriela Wiener Sexographies ( translated by Lucy Greaves and Jennifer Adcock) Restless Books, Brooklyn, 2018. Pb. pp. 

2 May 2018 

 

 

“Sight” by Jessie Greengrass

…the framing of a  radical scientific discovery in ordinary language, the ability to impart understanding without first having to construct a language in which to do so. Rontgen’s description of his work comes like the unravelling of a magician’s illusion which, explained quickens rather than diminishing, the understanding of its working conferring the illusion of complicity …

Jessie Greengrass’s debut novel Sight is about an unnamed narrator pondering whether to have a child or not.

I wanted a child fiercely but couldn’t imagine myself pregnant, or a mother, seeing only how I was now or how I thought I was: singular, centreless, afraid. 

It is a long reflection by the narrator split into three parts like a play with a short interlude.  Every section itself is structured with the long self-reflecting passages about by the narrator interspersed with interludes with factual historical content. The first section involves the Lumière brothers, Auguste and Louis, and Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen’s discovery of X-rays; the second section is about psycho analyst Sigmud Freud and the final section is about Scottish surgeon John Hunter who was exceptionally well known for his knowledge of the anatomy, both human and animal. In fact John Hunter’s fine collection of over 14,000 specimens was acquired by the British government and even today exists at the Hunterian Museum at the Royal College of Surgeons in London. Interestingly every section while the narrator reflects it corresponds with a particular moment in her life. The first section while she tussles whether to get pregnant or not she also contemplates upon Röntgen’s discovery of X-rays whose experiments in the laboratory resulted in a big impact on medical science and society too. It was the intensely subjective moment that led to greater objectivity:

For seven weeks and three days Röntgen existed in a private world transformed for him and him alone, and perhaps this too was a part of his later bitterness: that despite this experience of revelation, the conferral on him of a scientific grace, afterward nothing was different at all, and although he had seen through metal and seen through flesh to what was hidden, and although he had known, or thought that he had known, its nature, what had been left afterwards was only so much quibbling on the bill. 

Similarly mothering her firstborn, remembering the death of her mother due to cancer while the narrator herself was in her early twenties leaving her an orphan,  sharing her fears with her partner Johannes whether to have the second baby or not, while wondering if she is capable of the responsibility — these are intensely personal experiences for any woman more so for the narrator. Pregnancy is a very female experience that is repeated number of times over with every mother-to-be and yet remains an intensely intimate and subjective experience. Towards the end of this section she realises she has “outdistanced her anxiety” and wants the second child.

In the second section the narrator introduces her grandmother, Doctor K, and Sigmund Freud — both psychoanalysts.  Her childhood memories of spending holidays with her grandmother who worked as a professional psychoanalyst while caring for her granddaughter and on those rare occasions for her own daughter. The narrator recalls her mother telling her how when she was a five year old girl her mother, Doctor K, would insist upon analyzing her dreams. Result was the little girl stopped dreaming! It is a jumble of memories shared by the narrator that are at once intimate and intertwined and yet involving distinct individuals and personalities, much as in the way the network of blood vessels connect the unborn baby in the womb to its mother. Similarly Sigmund Freud’s biography and analysis of his patients including daughter Anne are interspersed with that of the personal narrative.

…the past is as prosaic as the future and the facts about it only so much stuff. To pick through dusty boxes, to sift through memories which fray and tear like ageing paper in an effort to find out who we are, is to avoid the responsibility of choice, since when it comes to it we have only ourselves, now, and the ever-narrowing come of what we might enact. Growing up, I said, is a solitary process of disentanglement from those who made us and the reality of it cannot be avoided but only, perhaps, deferred … . 

Plate VI of “The Anatomy of the Human Gravid Uterus” (1774) by William Hunter, engraving by Jan van Rymsdyk.

In the third section the narrator is pregnant and waiting to give birth so a lot of time is spent in hospital waiting rooms awaiting tests. She intersperses her reflections with that of the eighteenth century Scottish surgeon John Hunter who was also known for his phenomenal collection of specimens. He was very keen to know about anatomies and would pay gravediggers to get him bodies from fresh graves so that he could dissect them and study the anatomy.  He worked closely with his brother William Hunter who had in fact introduced him to the medical sciences. The dissections were conducted in the basement of William Hunter’s Convent Garden house where the brothers were inevitably accompanied by the artist Jan van Rymsdyk who rapidly sketched as evident in the illustration on the right.

The Oxford English Dictionary definition of “Sight n. the faculty or power of seeing”. Jessie Greengrass studied philosophy in Cambridge and London. Her novel Sight is a literary example of psycho-geography — a combination of personal reminiscences and factual historical content. It is also an attempt to get at a further truth which is about how we see one another and we see ourselves especially the female experience which is most often taken away from human experience. ( Interview with BBC Radio 4, February 2018) It is a constantly evolving process of the individual’s subjectivity vs objectivity. It was first discussed in a similar meditative fashion by the Romantic poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge in Biographia Literaria. It is unsurprising given that Coleridge  too like Jessie Greengrass was inspired by John Hunter’s work and its focus on the distinctions between life and matter. As Jessie Greengrass remarks in her BBC interview “having a subjective self is something which allows us privacy but also separates us even from the people we are closest to” and this is the angle she explores as a novelist in her powerful debut Sight.

Sight has been shortlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction 2018 and the winner will be announced on 6 June 2018. This will be a close finish since the other contenders for the prize are equally strong and experienced women writers.
Jessie Greengrass Sight John Murray ( Publishers), an Hachette UK Company, Edinburgh, 2018. Pb. pp. 
30 April 2018 
* All pictures are off the Internet.

Lidia Yuknavitch “The Misfit’s Manifesto”

No one is perfect. No one got where they are without occasionally falling to pieces. Maybe it’s time we admit that we need all of us for any of us to make it. 

Lidia Yuknavitch is a successful author now. Well-respected in literary circles. But there was a time in her past when she was a misfit.

I’d say I’m a misfit partly because of the things that happened to me, and partly from things that come from the inside out.

Hardwiring, if you will. 

She had had a tough life. Stormy childhood with an abusive father and bickering parents. Two bad marriages of her own. My her own admission her life took a nosedive when her daughter was a stillborn. She began substance abuse. Rehab. Was arrested. Incarcerated. Slowly and steadily she put her life back together again.

Her dream of becoming a writer slowly began to come true when she was in her early thirties. Lidia sent a short story “The Chronology of Water” about how her daughter’s death nearly killed her and saving her father from drowning even though he had abused her sister and her. She sent the story for admission to an MFA course at Columbia University, to the hiring committee at a tenure-track teaching position in writing at San Diego State University; to Literary Arts in Oregon as a writing sample for a grant; and to Poets & Writers as a writing sample for the Maureen Egen Writers Exchange Award. Lidia struck gold. She won all four. She had to reject the MFA as a job is what she needed.

I swallowed the desire to name myself as a writer who would go to Columbia. Prestige was not my name. Get a job was my name. 

The Poets & Writers Award gave her the opportunity to go to NYC to meet editors and writers. Lidia chose to meet Carole Maso, Peggy Phelan, Lynne Tillman, and Eurydice.

These now over fifty-year-old women writers were so intelligent, so creative, so gorgeous and present in their own minds and bodies. …These women were so alive in their minds. Maybe it sounds weird but I’d never experienced that before. 

Since then she has gone on to win awards and publish many notable books of her own such as The Small Backs of Children and The Book of Joan. She returned to school and studied for her PhD. She began teaching once more. She also got married once more and has a son.

It was almost as if my life was moving to that foreign word, successful.

Lidia Yuknavitch gave a TED Talk in February 2016 on “The Beauty of Being a Misfit”. It was later converted into a book, published by Simon & Schuster — The Misfit’s Manifesto. It includes testimonies of other people whom society would consider as “misfits” but Lidia discovers live life on the edge but in their own wacky way are fulfilling and rewarding.

A conversation between Kit De Waal and Lidia Yuknavitch  would be promising. There are so many points of common interest apart from which they too come across as women who are “so alive in their minds”.

The Misfit’s Manifesto is an absorbing book, at times terrifying for the experiences Lidia Yuknavitch shares, while filled with hope and  optimism.

Lidia Yuknavitch The Misfit’s Manifesto  TEDBooks, Simon & Schuster UK, London, 2017. Hb. pp. 150 Rs 350 

29 April 2018 

 

 

 

Kit de Waal’s “The Trick to Time”

‘One day,’ he says, and his voice is kind so Mona knows she isn’t getting a telling-off, ‘one day, you will want these hours back, my girl. You will wonder how you lost them and you will want to get them back. There’s a trick to time.’

‘What’s the trick, Dadda?’

He likes to explain things so Mona expects a good long answer that might delay them getting back home.

‘You can make it expand or you can make it contract. Make it shorter or make it longer,’ he says. 

Kit de Waal’s second novel The Trick to Time is about a young Irish girl Desdemona usually called Mona who leaves Ireland to work in Birmingham. It is the 1970s. On her first night in the city she meets William, an Irish lad, and soon after a whirlwind romance they are married. She is not even twenty. Mona had left her father and the tiny Irish village she grew up in to get a job. While in Birmingham she enrolled herself in evening classes to be a seamstress. William and she are extraordinarily happy with each other till a terrible tragedy shatters their world. It is compounded by the fact that William is caught in the ghastly IRA bombings that happened in Birmingham on 21 November 1974.

When the novel opens Mona, now nearly sixty, is an established doll-maker, mostly heirloom pieces, an exquisite seamstress of dolls clothes and sells beautiful wooden dolls, some fitted out in vintage wear. Dresses she painstakingly puts together by scouring thrift shops and flea markets for fabric and pieces of clothing which if need be she carefully pulls apart to recreate the clothes for her dolls. She relies upon a carpenter to make her wooden dolls. Ever so often her door will ring and a lone woman will walk in with the words “Gayle sent me.” A very peaceful air envelops the two women, strangers, while they converse engulfing the “howling grief” of the customer but Mona with immense tenderness seeks the relevant information about weight and fixes the next appointment. It all happens civilly without adding to the trauma of the grieving mother.

The Trick to Time is an extraordinary novel suffused with extreme tenderness, gentleness, understanding and kindness even though there is pain and misery. Its focus is on living life joyfully, considering each moment as blessed,  without ignoring or forgetting that which hurts, is what comes through beautifully particularly in the poised manner in which Mona conducts herself. While being an efficient seamstress who sells exquisite dolls, she quietly helps keening mothers deal with the loss of their newborns, sometimes many years after the birth of the stillborn. Her healing sessions are unusual. She requests the carpenter to carve and polish a block of wood equal in weight to that of the grieving mother’s lost newborn. Then tucking the woman into a comfortable chair holding the piece of wood draped in a garment belonging to the beloved child, Mona weaves a magnificently hypnotic tale involving shared moments between mother and child through adulthood.  The pained grief the reader feels too in these private moments are movingly created by the writer and yet there is an abundance of kindness and sympathy present.

The Trick to Time is definitely literary fiction that is recognizably working class in its themes, language, characters and stories. For instance it is not only a history of the changes in maternal care and attitude towards stillborn from the gruesomely cold attitude of the 1970s nurses to a more caring and understanding attitude including of setting up support groups for mothers in today’s day and age. The novel is a sensitive study of not only how women are affected but also men as evident in William’s reaction to the loss of his daughter. Kit de Waal also talks about the working class thereby subverting that which is even today considered acceptable in contemporary literary fiction — this at a time when the conversations about inclusive or diversity in publishing are increasing rapidly. In a fabulous talk “Where are all the working class writers?” on BBC 4 Radio broadcast on 23 Nov 2017 she said  “The more we reinforce the stereotypes of who writes and who reads, the more the notion of exclusivity is reinforced. It takes balls to gatecrash a party.” She reiterates talking about class is still an awkward conversation to have. In an interview with Boundless she was asked about Lionel Shriver’s ( now infamous remark) about “cultural appropriation” and if a writer should only write from their point of view; to which Kit de Waal said she concurred with Lionel Shriver but added wisely: “I have written to some extent about certain experiences I have had or have been close to. I would certainly write about experiences I haven’t had – I probably will do in future novels – provided I was certain of three things – and this is especially true where the experience was a sensitive subject (as is race, racism, adoption, mental health and stillbirth, as in my first two novels) a) that I was going to say something new or different to what had already been said on the subject, b) that I had done as much research as I possibly could including talking to people who had had the experience or were from the community, reading, watching films and so forth until I was immersed in that experience, certain of my facts, had paid the subject sufficient attention and had taken no shortcuts, c) that if someone criticised me for writing about that subject or experience I would be able to take that criticism.All of this is a question of respect. Lionel Shriver is completely right that we can write about whatever we want. Whether or not we are entitled to write whatever we want is an entirely different matter. Entitlement is a dangerous attitude, bringing with it notions of privilege, possession and exclusion. We only own our story and then only from our point of view – which one of us agrees with our siblings about every detail of our childhood? Stray from our narrow experience and we trespass on someone else’s, potentially. Yes, write whatever you want but interrogate yourself as to what you bring that is different, that is new, that is unique and whether or not you are best placed to be the one to tell that story. And always guard against arrogance and disrespect.”

Although Kit de Waal reiterates in an essay in the Guardian “…without talking about the upper- or middle-class white men and women who wrote the classics and some of the masterpieces of literature. I love their writing, respect – no, envy – their skill and craft, and cherish those books that tell us so much about the world and what it is to be human. These are works that, as Italo Calvino says, haven’t finished saying what they have to say. This isn’t a plea to take them off the shelf. It isn’t a case of us or them; it’s a case of us and them. Shove all those other books up a bit and make room on the shelf for stories from all of the communities that make up the working class. We do literature and ourselves a disservice if we don’t.” ( “Kit de Waal: ‘Make room for working class writers’ ” 10 Feb 2018, The Guardian). In fact she crowdfunded Common People: An Anthology of Working Class Writers — a collection of essays, poems and pieces of personal memoir, bringing together sixteen well-known writers from working class backgrounds.

Kit de Waal has this incredible talent of making visible particularly that of female experience which is usually not seen in mainstream literary fiction especially when it comes to working class fiction. She is the 21C version of Charles Dickens. With her memorable and absolutely stupendous debut novel My Name is Leon she focused upon growing up as a child in early 1980s in a working class neighbourhood and related issues of fostering, childcare, angry children and looking out for one another. Kit de Waal has worked in family and criminal law for many years, has been a magistrate and written training manuals on fostering and adoption; she also grew up with a mother who fostered children. In The Trick to Time she makes visible tiny but crucial details such as Mona looking after the carpenter, her kindness extending itself to warmly embrace the grieving mothers without letting on that she herself would like to keen for her stillborn child, or simply the descriptions of her living alone at home peacefully and pottering. These tiny actions are liberating as most often than not women’s actions are either dictated or circumscribed by a man in their lives, who loves to colonise their time. This is evident in how the German Karl tries to woo Mona largely by disrupting her peaceful schedule. All these details that would otherwise be considered too pedantic for literary fiction are in an ever so gentle manner brought into focus.

With the generous publishing advance the author received for her first novel she set up the Kit de Waal Creative Writing Fellowship to help improve working-class representation in the arts. Launched in October 2016 at Birkbeck’s Department of English and Humanities, the scholarship provides a fully funded place for one student to study on the Birkbeck Creative Writing MA, and also includes a generous travel bursary to allow the student to travel into London for classes and Waterstones’ vouchers to allow the student to buy books on the reading list. The inaugural scholarship was awarded to former Birmingham poet laureate Stephen Morrison-Burke.

The Trick to Time was on the longlist of the Women’s Prize 2018 and it is a pity it never made it to the shortlist. Nevertheless it is a book meant to be read and shared. It will be a sleeper hit for it is bound to be read by book clubs worldwide as well has great potential of being adapted for cable television or cinemas. The Trick to Time is a book that will endear itself to many as it justifiably should!

Read it.

Kit de Waal The Trick To Time Viking, an imprint of Penguin Books, London, UK, 2018. Pb. pp.260 

27 April 2018 

 

 

 

 

Appointment of Judges to the Supreme Court of India: Transparency, Accountability, and Independence

On the day when there is furore in India about the appointment of Indu Malhotra to the Supreme Court of India and not issuing a similar warrant of appointment for Justice Joseph , Oxford University Press of India has released Appointment of Judges to the Supreme Court of India: Transparency, Accountability, and Independence ( Eds. Arghya Sengupta and Ritwika Sharma) .

According to the AIS circulated it says:

The National Judicial Appointments Commission (NJAC) judgment, on the appointment of judges to the Supreme Court, has been the subject of a deeply polarized debate in the public sphere and academia.

This volume analyses the NJAC judgment, and provides a rich context to it, in terms of philosophical, comparative, and constitutional issues that underpin it. The work traces the history of judicial appointments in India; examines the constitutional principles behind selecting judges and their application in the NJAC judgment; and comparatively looks at the judicial appointments process in six select countries—United Kingdom, South Africa, Canada, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and Nepal—enquiring into what makes a good judge and an effective appointments process.

With wide-ranging essays by leading lawyers, political scientists, and academics from India and abroad, the volume is a deep dive into the constitutional concepts of judicial independence and separation of powers as discussed in the NJAC judgment.

26 April 2018