On Books & Reviews

The desert stories

IMG_20190620_152555_Bokeh__01__01__01Reviewing Anukrti Upadhyay’s twin novellas – Bhaunri & Daura

In June at my favourite bookstore, Nirav Mehta of Broke Bibliophile comes up to me and asks if I have read ‘her’ books? These are translations of Rajasthani folktales he said. My interest piqued, I took the books from his hand and started reading the back cover. After a few minutes, I went searching for him to tell him that these were definitely not translations but interesting nonetheless. Seeing the books in my hand, the bookstore staff also mentioned that she is a new author and a must-read. That kind of sealed the deal for me.

Touted as twin novellas – Bhaunri and Daura couldn’t be more different than each other in style and treatment. Reimagined tales of the desert is the only commonality between the two.

Bhaunri is a raw love story. Something you would expect coming from the Thar. A gypsy woman is married to an unfaithful husband. Despite trying to get him to care for, accept her and be monogamous he refuses to surrender. He falls for her charms and does accept her as his wife in all aspects but refuses to be monogamous. Will Bhaunri accept his behaviour? If not, till what lengths is she ready to go to make him comply. Find your answers in this short novella which will keep you gripped right till the last word.

Having read KR Meera’s Poison of Love just a few weeks before this, I can’t help but compare how the two women, when faced with similar situations, dealt with it so differently. One by afflicting pain on themselves the other by ensuring she got her way even if she had to destroy the one she loved. The last few lines of Bhaunri is extremely haunting, “Now he will stay at home always, now he belongs to me…”

Daura, on the other hand, is magical, mystical and carries secrets of the desert. Secrets which unravel themselves bit by bit as you read each narrator’s version and connect the dots. Daura is the journey of a District Collector who comes to survey his area and apparently has a bout of madness and then suddenly disappears. As the search continues and the stories are heard, you get transported from the real world into one where anything could be true if you had faith. There is no explanation for unwavering belief and Daura captures the sentiment gracefully.

If your roots are somewhere in the desert and you want to feel connected to it or want the Indian taste of magic realism, these two should be under your consideration list – more Daura than Bhaunri. I would certainly keep Anukrti Upadhyay on my watch list too and love to see what’s the next story she weaves. Interestingly, these two are not her first published work. She is a bilingual writer and her first book, Japani Sarai, is in Hindi. Do check that out as well.

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On Books & Reviews

The dignity of old age


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The Music of Solitude by Krishna Sobti

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

‘Much later she thought, I could have phoned and thanked him. No. Let this remain unsaid. I’m feeling special. I’ve just received the flowers of narcissus for a gift. These bloom on the mountains where silence swims in the air.’

Having sat on the review for almost a month and thinking and rethinking about the novel, I don’t find a more apt and lyrical paragraph in the entire book like the one above…

Translated by Vasudha Dalmia as The Music of Solitude, Krishna Sobti’s Samay Sargam is the story of Aranya and Ishan – neighbours in a Delhi complex but diametrically opposite to each other. Aranya is a feisty writer, living life on her own terms, vocal, impulsive and rebellious while Ishan is calm, disciplined, respect social norms and believes in the family institution despite having no one who calls on him.

The novel revolves around their daily lives and their little interactions. How each one is content in their own cocoon yet dependant on the other for emotional comfort. The beauty of the novel is that at no moment do you feel pity for these two for being alone or ‘deserted’. They are alone but they are definitely not lonely. They enjoy their space and solitude, they even need it to sail them through the last years of their lives.

To truly understand this, you need to see Aranya and Ishan in contrast to the elderly friends they visit regularly – the old widow, the former charismatic writer or the old man who was having an affair. Each saddened, bound by social norms and restricted by their children in contrast to these two highly functional emotional beings. It’s at that moment you decide how you want to grow old. Do you want to be like Aranya or Ishan, independent, happy or do you want to die worrying what the world thinks of you or what your family has reduced you to?

The sense of dignity in old age is what I admire about the novel and I believe that every young person who lives with or has ageing parents should read this once.

Get your copy on Amazon.in

 

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On Books & Reviews

A gourmand’s delight

Dodin-Bouffant : Gourmet ExtraordinaireDodin-Bouffant : Gourmet Extraordinaire by Mathieu Burniat

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I think this is the fastest I’ve read any book. Wafting through the pages, dipping in and out of the beautiful food descriptions and preparations with a neat little love story tied to it.

A graphic rendition to Marcel Rouff’s 1924 book called The Life and Passion of Dodin-Bouffant, Mathieu Burnait’s adaptation is heartening read which makes you worry, cry, squeal in delight, make your heart race and leaves you with an ooooooo in the end.

A must-read for anyone who enjoys food, loves reading about food or even holds French gastronomy in the slightest of regard. I can just think a list of people who would love to read it.

#DodinBouffantGourmetExtraordinaire #NetGalley

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There are always two sides to a story…

Wide Sargasso SeaWide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I started this book with zero expectations, got intrigued by the brilliant introduction by Francis Wyndham and was hooked till the last page. The blurb says the story is about the ‘mad’ woman in the attic from Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre, however, I felt its a narrative on the post-liberalisation White life in the West Indies. It’s about broken promises, zero compassion and heartache and love for the sake of money and love for the sake of liberation from one own’s lot.

The contrast between the beautiful, serene place and the conflicted, spiteful people just leaves you thinking how can somebody be so hateful and hurtful. Jean Rhys somewhere makes us understand that it’s not a single event that drives someone mad, it’s circumstances which continuously push her to lose her mind and finally all it takes is one trigger.

I now want to read Jane Eyre and see how Mr Rochester defends his actions. There are always two sides to a story, and I’m glad Jean Rhys wrote this side out.

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Some books you just have to review!

My Life with Bob: Flawed Heroine Keeps Book of Books, Plot EnsuesMy Life with Bob: Flawed Heroine Keeps Book of Books, Plot Ensues by Pamela Paul

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I started reading My Life with Bob last week on my flight back to Bombay. I didn’t know what it was about. I thought it was about a library or a girl searching for books. I hadn’t heard of Pamela Paul earlier (yes, shoot me!) and I didn’t know what I was in for. In the Introduction when Pamela introduces BoB and tells us about him I was thrilled. I went back to the first scribbled page and read it again and I was like wow! wish I had kept a book like that. I would know the name of that RL Stine book I read so many years ago whose story I remember so clearly but not the book. There was a phase post Roald Dahl Summer where I read every RL Stine book not Goosebumps but Fear Street and every Sweet Valley High the neighbourhood library had – Funspot. It had a collection of Nancy Drew’s and Hardy Boys as well but I couldn’t get myself to read any of those but I devoured one Fear Street after another and one Sweet Valley High after another. I now realise it was ok to have grown up not reading Enid Blyton. It doesn’t make you less of a reader.

Somehow the book validated me as a reader. Was I looking for validation or was looking to know that I was not alone. Pamela here tells us the story of her life until now through the books she has read, so is it an autobiography, yes it is. It a book about books, yes it is. Do you want to read this book to just note down the books she mentions to keep it for a rainy day when you feel exactly that miserable or that adventurous, hell yes!

I never highlight books and couldn’t stop noting paragraphs or just names of books in this one. I guess I’m just having a lucky year. This is literally the fourth book in the year which makes me want to feel so good about having read it. I just feel miserable that I hadn’t read it as soon as it was realised or knew about it before!

I’m currently in the phase where I would give up my flourishing enterprise easily if I knew there was someone out there who would pay me to read. Pamela tells me it’s possible to turn your passion into a reality. Yes, there is only one New York Times, and there is only one Pamela Paul, but she gave me hope and that’s why I would cling to this book for my life.

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A book worth experiencing…

Cobalt Blue Cobalt Blue by Sachin Kundalkar

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

If there is one English word to describe how you feel while reading this book it would be inexplicable.

Cobalt Blue needs to be experienced. It can’t be read, can’t be spoken about. The book blurb mentions that a paying guest becomes a part of the Joshi family and overturns the life of two siblings after he vanishes. It’s more. It takes you on the journey of how one copes with grief. What are the defence mechanisms one uses? How does someone recuperate or not? What pain is? What shock is? What does it feel to be deserted?

These inexplicable emotions that often goes unexpressed have been penned down with immense clarity by Sachin Kundalkar and have been translated with equal brilliance by Jerry Pinto. You feel like the writing has done justice to the emotions on display.

If you are going through a rough patch. Do pick up the book and give it a read. If nothing, it helps you reason with yourself and gives you the support that you are not alone.

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An army-style love story

Combat SkirtsCombat Skirts by Sahana Ahmed

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Being from Calcutta, this book brings a lot of familiar places to mind. A journey of a college student finding love and herself makes for a fun light read.

Saba is an army girl out to carve an identity for herself as she steps away from home to pursue law (or her dreams) in another city. It’s about her finding love and losing it and finding it again in other places. An average life of a college girl well-blended with the topography and history of that period (1998), this book is a good read if you are into romantic fiction.

Way better than what we have around, in either case, the book is a good read.

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