Picador India Posts

Tabish Khair’s “Night of Happiness”

I was trying to hide behind stories, to construct fictions, instead of facing facts. I asked myself: how are facts faced? I knew the answer: facts are faced with evidence, with data, with numbers. Fiction cannot be outnumbered; it cannot be proved. But facts, yes, I have known all my working life, I have built my business on it — facts can be proved. 

Tabish Khair’s Night of Happiness is about Anil Mehrotra, a businessman, and his right hand man, Ahmed. Anil Mehrotra relies completely on Ahmed irrespective of whether it was day or night or a holiday. The added advantage for Anil was that Ahmed was a polyglot and the astute businessman Anil knew “People are generous when you speak to them in their language. They are nicer, happier; ‘Their hearts unlock a room for you in their distant homes.’ ” This was an asset in the import/export business.

Night of Happiness is about Anil trying to find out more about Ahmed’s past life particularly after one stormy night of working late in the office Anil had offered to drop Ahmed home. Ahmed invites Anil to have tea and maida ka halwa ( a sweet dish made out of flour and sugar), a special dish made on Shaab-e-baraat or “Night of Happiness”– a day when the departed souls are remembered by Muslims, much like other faiths too set aside a similar period of time to honour their dead such as All Souls Day for the Christians or the period of Shraadh for the Hindus or Dia de los Muertos ( Day of the Dead) as is observed in Mexico. Anil has an unnerving experience at Ahmed’s home and decides to investigate further. He hires a private detective to dig up facts about Ahmed’s past. During the course of investigation a string of details emerge that Ahmed had never hinted at in all the years he worked with Anil Mehrotra.

The story itself is crafted in a manner that distances the author from the sentiments being expressed in the story as the narrator says he found the manuscript in a hotel drawer and proceeds to read it. Be that as it may the first person narrative of the makes the plot very powerful and the pace sharp. Ostensibly it is a story about Anil trying to ferret out facts about his trusted colleague and yet it is thinly veiled fiction about a dialogue between Hindus and Muslims calling out the popular held myths about a Muslim. It rings so true because it can very well be a real conversation. Both the Hindu narrator of the manuscript, Anil Mehrotra, and Ahmed, a Muslim, are portrayed sensitively. While  the investigator works like the chorus of a Sophoclean drama supplying the necessary information to the main action while gently rebutting Mehrotra’s assumptions of Ahmed’s life.

When Ahmed served Anil at his home, he insisted he had offered halwa prepared lovingly by his wife, Roshni, who never makes an appearance. Anil is perplexed since there is no halwa on the plate and Ahmed seems to be relishing an imaginary dish. Tabish Khair neatly introduces the element of madness in the novella with this simple act. Witnessing Ahmed’s odd behaviour at home prompts Anil to hire the private investigator. It is then the personal history of Ahmed comes tumbling out—the time he spent as a guide of Buddhist monuments in Bihar to earn a little extra income to support his widowed mother and himself, meeting his wife Roshni, their shift to Surat, the Gujarat riots of 2002, and his final move to Mumbai.   So Ahmed’s mental turmoil viewed as madness by his employer or the mental agitation of Anil himself may be interpreted in many ways. It can be very real while being a comment on the horrifically disturbing times we live in leading one to ask existential questions like “Who is actually mad? What is madness?”

The further distancing of the authorial voice by presenting facts from the investigator’s report further lulls the reader into accepting the “make-believe world” of the “literary thriller”. Whereas Night of Happiness is much more than that! For one it is using fiction to remind people of the pogrom orchestrated in living memory and how its long shadow is still cast upon modern India.  It’s within this century and less than a generation old but sufficiently long for many people, particularly the young and the diaspora,  to have conveniently forgotten about it. More likely been brought up in an ahistorical environment  so these dastardly facts have no impact.

Tabish Khair is a well-known novelist but is also increasingly known for his opinion pieces published regularly in the Indian newspaper Hindu. These are well-argued, thoroughly researched, thought-provoking commentaries on socio-political events playing out in different parts of the world. It is quite possible that much of the preliminary work involved for these articles laid the bedrock of Night of Happiness. Certainly the publication of Night of Happiness close on the heels of the widely acclaimed novel by Mohsin Hamid Exit West raises the bar of literary fiction by many notches as both novels are able to focus on the horrific sectarian violence sweeping through the world. It is as if lessons from history were never learned. Both the authors, Tabish Khair and Mohsin Hamid, are writers of subcontinent origin who are also widely respected on the global literary stage. So when such powerful literary icons raise disturbing questions of a socio-political nature through their art, they must be heard.

Tabish Khair’s Night of Happiness begs the question if it is really “Art for Art’s Sake”? Whatever the reasons for the existence of Night of Happiness, it is unputdownable.

Read it. Share it.

Tabish Khair Night of Happiness Picador India, Delhi, 2018. Hb. pp. Rs. 450 

18 April 2018 

Press Release: V.S. Naipaul’s THE INDIAN TRILOGY (with an Introduction by Paul Theroux)

THIS OCTOBER

picador-india

PICADOR    INDIA

 publishes

V.S. Naipaul’s

 THE INDIAN TRILOGY 

 (with an Introduction by Paul Theroux)

 

v-s-naipaulIMPRINT: PICADOR INDIA

ISBN: 9789382616900

MRP: INR 799

 

 

 

 

 

About the Trilogy

Naipaul’s iconic India books in one volume for the very first time 

AN AREA OF DARKNESS

‘Brilliant … tender, lyrical, explosive’ Observer

V.S. Naipaul was twenty-nine when he first visited India. This is his semi-autobiographical account—at once painful and hilarious, but always thoughtful and considered—a revelation both of the country and of himself.

INDIA: A WOUNDED CIVILIZATION

‘A devastating work, but proof that a novelist of Naipaul’s stature can often define problems quicker and more effectively than a team of economists and other experts’ The Times

Prompted by the Emergency of 1975, Naipaul casts a more analytical eye, convinced that India, wounded by a thousand years of foreign rule, has not yet found an ideology of regeneration.

INDIA: A MILLION MUTINIES NOW

‘Indispensable for anyone who wants seriously to come to grips with the experience of India’ New York Times

It is twenty-six years since Naipaul’s first trip to India. Taking an anti-clockwise journey around the metropolises—including Bombay, Madras, Calcutta and Delhi—he focuses on the country’s development since Independence. The author recedes, allowing Indians to tell the stories, and a dynamic oral history of the country emerges.

About the Author

  1. S. Naipaul was born in Trinidad in 1932. He went to England on a scholarship in 1950. After four years at University College, Oxford, he began to write, and since then has followed no other profession. He has published more than twenty books of fiction and non-fiction, including Half a Life, A House for Mr BiswasA Bend in the River and, most recently, a collection of correspondence, Letters Between a Father and Son, and The Masque of Africa. In 2001, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature.

 

Please write to Peter Modoli, Publicity Manager for advance copies, reviews and excerpts.

 

Pan Macmillan India

#707, 7th Floor,

Kailash Building, Kasturba Gandhi Marg,

New Delhi 110001

 

peter.modoli@macmillan.co.in

www.panmacmillan.co.in

 

Books in Indian advertisements

Breaking-the-Bow-finalTwo advertisements that have been shown on television recently have shown the women models reading two splendid books.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6YBUMkQDadg

This is an advertisement for a property portal, 99acres.com and it shows the model reading Breaking the Bow. It is a fabulous anthology of short stories edited by Anil Menon and Vandana Singh. This is speculative fiction inspired by the Ramayana, published by Zubaan. ( http://zubaanbooks.com/shop/breaking-the-bow-speculative-fiction-inspired-by-the-ramayana/ )

The TITAN Raga watch ad has been garnering a number of rave reviews for its representation of a modernAleksander Hemon Indian woman. But I like it too for the impeccable good taste the woman shows in the book she is reading — Aleksander Hemon’s The Book of My Lives, published by Picador. It is a collection of essays he has previously published and updated. These are accounts of his life in Bosnia, before and during the war, leaving for USA for a scholarship and unable to return, his new life in Chicago and the heart wrenching essay about his nine-month-old falling ill.

The first time I saw these advertisements I was delighted. For once the women models were shown reading…and reading books– two books that I liked very much!

1 Jan 2014

Gulabi Gang

Gulabi Gang

Pink Sari revolution, Amana Fontanella-KhanFreedom is when I have my own money, but how do I do that?’ she wondered. 

( p.84 Pink Sari Revolution, Amana Fontanella-Khan)

When the Pink Gang hosts a ceremony for a love marriage, the women sometimes erect a wedding tent on an empty strip of land on the outskirts of town. On other occasions they simply organize the festivities at an accommodating temple. Sampat calls the local district commander of the area and gathers a hundred of her Pink Gang members for the occasion, which invariably attracts the local media.  She uses these weddings to deliver speeches on the ills of the caste and dowry systems and to demand why, in this day and age, young people do not have the right to choose their spouse…At these happy-go-lucky weddings, Babuji has the duty of chanting the wedding shlokas from the Bhagvad Gita, and Sampat presents the bride and groom with large garlands strung with marigold, jasmine and gerbera daisies to place around each other’s neck as a sign of respect. Once the rituals are completed, the Pink Gang hands the couple whatever the women have been able to pool together to help the newly-weds, who are often only eighteen or nineteen years old, pay their first few months of rent. 

( p.126-7, Pink Sari Revolution, Amana Fontanella-Khan)

Gulabi Gang or the Pink Gang  have  been creating a buzz in India for sometime now. It is a 20,000 strong, all-women vigilante group operating from Bundelkhand, Uttar Pradesh under the able leadership of Sampat Lal. Gulabi Gang fights injustice against women. It began with Sampat Lal bringing together women to fight on behalf of domestic violence victims, but slowly the movement has grown to respond to other forms of violence against women. Warrior in a pink sari, Zubaan

Some of the prominent films made on Gulabi Gang are Kim Longinotto’s Pink SarisNishtha Jain’s documentary Gulabi Gang; and the forthcoming Bollywood film starring Madhuri Dixit-Nene and Juhi Chawla Gulaab Gang ( trailer https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xAcN8RR3Ry4 ). According to the director, the latter is a fictional account that has been inspired by and is not based upon the life of Sampat Lal.  Some of the recent reviews and blog posts are by Suparna Sharma, Asian Age, reviews Gulabi Gang http://www.asianage.com/movie-reviews/pink-revolution-123 and Jai Arjun Singh blogs about two films on Sampat Lal and her gang http://jaiarjun.blogspot.in/2014/02/pink-saris-and-gulabi-gang-two-films.html . NDTV did a fascinating interview ( 30 March 2010)  http://www.ndtv.com/video/player/the-unstoppable-indians/the-gulabi-gang/135096. The two books that are regularly discussed since they are authentic accounts– by Anne Berthod and Amana Fontanella-Khan. Anne Berthod wrote Sampat Lal’s biography after extensive conversations with her whereas Amana Fontanella-Khan spent time in Bundelkhand, living and documenting Gulabi Gang, its members and of course, speaking to Sampat Lal. The official website of Sampat Lal, Gulabi Gang http://www.gulabigang.in/ .

The gang has caught the imagination of people across the world, not just for the manner in which they work, their uniform of pink saris make them stand out; obviously there battles seem to resonate with women across the world, across socio-economic classes. They have received positive media attention, with documentaries, films and books being created about them. Sampat Lal, the founder, has written an autobiography as told to Anne Berthod, plus she has had no qualms participating in Indian television reality shows like Big Boss.

Sampat Pal, Warrior in a Pink Sari: The Inside Story of the Gulabi Gang as Told to Anne Berthod Zubaan, Delhi, 2013. Pb. ( Autobiography of Sampat Lal as told to Anne Berthod and published in France, 2008)

Amana Fontanella-Khan Pink Sari Revolution: A tale of self-reliance and female grassroots activism Picador India, New Delhi, 2013. Hb. pp.300. Rs. 599

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