Moni Mohsin's new book marks the return of a wiser Butterfly
This may not be the best of times to hold forth on Pakistani humour, as the country reels from devastating floods and political mismanagement. But it also feels oddly fitting to do so, since it’s Moni Mohsin we are talking about here. It’s hard to think of many writers of South Asian origin who have used humour as potently as her to portray the miserable realities of society, especially the bubble in which the top 1% live.
Making some noise about introverts
In 2012, the American writer Susan Cain published her best-selling book, Quiet: The Power Of Introverts In A World That Can’t Stop Talking. The debate over the relative merits and demerits of introverts and extroverts is hardly new. But in the last 10 years, it has taken on a whole new dimension and edge, especially since the pandemic struck us two years ago.
Sunil Khilnani’s ‘The Idea Of India’ hasn't aged gracefully
In 2006, as I returned to India after spending a couple of years studying abroad, a friend advised me to pick up Sunil Khilnani’s The Idea Of India. “It’s the best re-introduction to the country that will help you see everything from a fresh perspective,” he said. “Especially now that you have decided to become a journalist.”
ONE OF THE key virtues of a successful short story, as David Davidar argues in his erudite introduction to A Case of Indian Marvels, is its effortless readability. “Line after superb line creating a narrative so compelling that the reader wants to keep reading,” he writes, citing the authority of icons like Bill Buford (former fiction editor of the New Yorker), writer Ruskin Bond, and George Saunders, a contemporary American master of the form.
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.