Interviews, Reviews and Essays
A selection of book reviews, interviews with authors and literary essays.
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Lost and Found: The Forest Diaries of Bibhutibhushan Bandyopadhyay
One morning, he is up very early. The dial of the wristwatch next to his bed says 4.30 a.m. Restless, he steps outside the bungalow for some fresh air. All around him, the land is still, covered in moonlight.
Why Hermann Hesse's Siddhartha appeals even 100 years later
In 1922, as Europe and America were picking themselves up from the rubble of the Great War, the literary muses decided to bestow their bounty on a generation of readers living during the high noon of modernism.
Upamanyu Chatterjee's Villainy is the right blend of masala
On the jacket of the hardcover edition of Upamanyu Chatterjee’s new novel, his publisher describes the book as “a meticulously crafted literary thriller”. That sounds right if you go by the plot summary. But once you have read a couple of pages, this phrase begins to feel rather limited, barely conveying a whiff of the uproariously kinky energy with which Villainy bristles.
Why ‘Behind The Beautiful Forevers’ still resonates
On a freezing January morning in 2012, as a handful of publishers, journalists, writers and bibliophiles headed for the annual Jaipur Literature Festival on the early morning Shatabdi Express from Delhi, the buzz around the compartment was about one book alone: the American journalist Katherine Boo’s Behind The Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, And Hope In A Mumbai Undercity, which was hot off the press and had created a major stir, especially in India.
Suniti Namjoshi: In the wonderland of history, fiction and myth
Few contemporary writers own the epithet of a “fabulist” with as much sass as 81-year-old Suniti Namjoshi. The word, deriving from the Latin fabula (“story”), refers to a storyteller. But it could equally mean a liar, a compulsive teller of tales. The best fabulists are masters of the art of fibbing. They inhabit a morally dubious, if exciting, universe, where conventional beliefs about life and art, gender and sexuality, right and wrong, turn topsy-turvy.
The natural world of Mary Oliver
In 1972, the year when the UN designated 5 June as World Environment Day at the Stockholm Conference on the Human Environment, a quiet revolution was taking place in another corner of the world. The American poet and essayist Mary Oliver had just published her second book, The River Styx, Ohio And Other Poems. At 37, she was moderately well-known, but only three books away from winning the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1984.
The God Of Small Things is still relevant after 25 years
In 1997, when The God Of Small Things was published, I was in high school. I had a passing familiarity with the Booker Prize but the dailies in Kolkata, where I lived then, made sure that all and sundry appreciated the enormity of Arundhati Roy’s win. After all, she was one of “us”, born to a Bengali father and Syrian Christian mother, even though she had grown up mostly in Kerala and lived in Delhi. Roy’s smiling face, framed by her then curly mane of hair, appeared in newspapers and magazines.
Why Bangladeshi writer Shahidul Zahir's voice is a rare gift
Life And Political Reality, the best-known novella by the Bangladeshi writer Shahidul Zahir (1953-2008), begins with a moment of rupture: “One day in 1985, the sandal on the foot of Abdul Mojid, a young man from Lakshmi Bazar’s Shyama Prosad Chowdhury Lane, lost conformity with circumstances and went phot and snapped.”
On mortality and the art of losing
In Montage On Love, a poem gently undulating with emotions, from her new collection, Run For The Shadows, Sridala Swami chronicles the see-saw of a romantic relationship in which passion and intensity are unequally matched.
Buried secrets, suspense and suffering in KR Meera's novella
K R. Meera’s new novella, Qabar, translated from Malayalam into English by Nisha Susan, packs an arsenal of meanings into the title. The decision to leave the title untranslated is inspired—“grave” barely conveys the aura of doom associated with the original, Qabar. The word is like a bell that tolls the reader into the folds of a sinister tale.
When fiction collides with fake news
Amitava Kumar’s new book, A Time Outside This Time (Aleph Book Company, 699), is a shape-shifting entity. Quick-witted and nimble, this odd literary beast has its ears to the ground. It slips into modes of narration that may appear radically opposed to one another but are, in fact, two sides of the same coin. Interspersed with scraps of news reports, photographs and drawings, it signals its affinity with the uncategorisable genre practised, most notably, by the German writer W.G. Sebald.
'Growing up in Kashmir, we were scared of the light'
A tall and robust woman with strong opinions (especially about giving career advice to her beloved younger granddaughter), Bobeh started to shrivel and become withdrawn, a mere shadow of her former self, as she aged. Forced to stay indoors, with all the windows shut tight (for fear of a stray bullet flying in—it did, in fact, kill a family relation when she left a pane ajar to let in some fresh air), with her asthma aggravated by the noxious fumes of tear gas used by the army to disperse protest.
Glimpses of Satyajit Ray's unique inheritance
In an essay on Upendrakishore Ray Chowdhury published in 1963, Satyajit Ray lavished fulsome praise on his grandfather’s unique genius. “The magic of Upendrakishore’s writings is the ease with which it stimulates and rouses the innocence of a child’s mind,” he wrote. “For how many writers of children’s literature can you say the same?”
The many voices of TM Krishna
Another essay that interests me is the one on the figure of Rama in Tyagaraja’s songs. How does your persona of a socially alert musician intersect with the social aspect of the lyrics and the music, especially since you said you are not a religious person? How do you interpret music that is steeped in spirituality and religious fervour?
Those miserable Goan Catholics of Mumbai's Orlem
In the last few years, readers of literary fiction in India have witnessed the flowering of a curious sub-genre in English language publishing—the hyperlocal Mumbai novel. The trend, if it is one, began with Jerry Pinto’s (2013), a harrowing story of mental trauma and healing, set in Mahim. More recently, Amrita Mahale’s accomplished debut, (2018), explored life among the insular Goud Saraswat Brahmins of Matunga.
Photo Essay | The rediscovery of India in 100 objects
British art historian Neil MacGregor’s iconic A History Of The World In 100 Objects set off a flurry of similarly inspired titles but not many have come close to the depth, erudition and amplitude of Vidya Dehejia’s attempt to tell the story of India in 100 objects. This is not to say that the book, gorgeously produced, ticks every box or is going to please everyone.
A ‘Shaheen Bagh’ state of being
Ita Mehrotra was familiar with Delhi’s Jamia Nagar neighbourhood but not much beyond the confines of the Jamia Millia Islamia campus. Then, the Shaheen Bagh protests erupted in 2019 and, like thousands of Delhiites, she became privy to the throbbing pulse of the area. “The movement helped us, especially women, to own public space like never before,” Mehrotra says. “It offered us a new experience of the geography of Delhi.”
Can independent publishing survive the virus?
A little over a year ago, acclaimed author and feminist publisher Ritu Menon started keeping a journal as she retreated into her home in Delhi during the nationwide lockdown to curb the spread of covid-19. Recently published as Address Book: A Publishing Memoir in the time of COVID by Women Unlimited, the imprint Menon founded, the arc of her narrative spans far beyond the pandemic. It opens with a haunting photograph of deserted Park Avenue in New York City on a March morning that Menon sees i
Avasthe by UR Ananthamurthy: a jigsaw puzzle called life
In an astute Afterword to the late U.R. Ananthamurthy’s novel Avasthe, writer Prayaag Akbar sums up the theme of the book in a powerful phrase. First published in Kannada in 1978 and translated into English by Narayan Hegde recently, Avasthe, like its predecessor Samskara (1965), is about “the hypocrisy of great men”, Akbar writes. One is tempted to add that it is also about the impossibility of having a morally upright career in politics.
Your weekend fix: Lounge recommends 'Padmavati the Harlot & Other Stories' by Kamala Das
The name of Kamala Das (1934-2009) usually tends to evoke memories of her unabashed prose and fiery poetry, exploring women’s lives and sexualities in often disturbingly vivid details. Her life was dramatic, even mythical, depicted with great panache by herself in My Story (1976). A difficult marriage that didn’t work out pushed her to confront the truth of her desires through writing. And an array of women in her books shared the burden of her sinewy feelings. These characters rattled fusty old patriarchal mindsets with their bold clarity, they provoked waves of outrage and scandal by their actions, and did not care for society’s scorn or pity.
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