Nothing Behind Me, Everything Ahead of Me: Why ‘On the Road’ Is the Perfect Book for 2020!

To describe 2020 as difficult would be a gross understatement. It’s not just the constant struggle of having to unlearn and learn how to live our lives. The year has been plagued with infinite battles fought in our heads and hearts. A stifling stagnancy contaminates dreams and realities. Such tumultuous times call for a gust of crisp, fresh air. For me, it came as Jack Kerouac’s On the Road. That unforgettable piece of Beat Generation literature that redefined rebellion, inspired generations of youthful madness, changed Bob Dylan’s life and birthed a sparkling, anti-mainstream régime by stitching together ‘deviant’ subcultures.

Before delving into On the Road, it would be helpful to clarify that no Beat poet, writer or artist was perfect. Not by any stretch of the imagination. Stark-raving insanity was the alternative they concocted to challenge the American humdrum and this philosophy had hysterical manifestations. However, this isn’t about their controversial lifestyle. Everyone knows of the psychotic episodes, multiple addictions, use of chemical stimulants, rampant affairs, promiscuity and irreverence. Frequently and unfortunately, this becomes the start and the end of most conversations on this period. My current concern isn’t discussing Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, William Burroughs’ way of life. Nor is it sensationalising their excesses. It’s only to initiate a dialogue on a particular book that was the literary milestone of the 1950s and why it needs your attention in 2020 more than ever.

On the Road is the logical culmination of Jack Kerouac’s love for travelling. The story follows Sal Paradise (the author’s alter ego) and his journey across America through which he attempts to break through life’s inertia, discover the meaning of manana (an indefinite future) and experience love, freedom and self-assertion. With Sal, we travel to Chicago, Iowa, Denver, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Sabinal, New York and countless, nameless towns that dot the landscape. We are thrown into the arms of bustling cities, impoverished mining settlements, lively carnivals, snow-capped mountains, apple pie and ice-cream trucks and fields the colour of love and Spanish mysteries. It’s like the textual rendition of an exhilarating and intricate dream.

So, why do I speak highly of the book as an antidote to the emotional turbulence of 2020? Because seldom will you come across an experience that is soothing, immersive, contemplative and breathtaking at the same time. On the Road is about flawed individuals who are clawing to make ends meet, failing miserably, not being able to decide for themselves or decipher who they are. There is no privilege. The existential crisis is real. The fear of missing out on the best years is real. At a hard-hitting juncture, a depressed Sal is alone in Los Angeles. Surrounded by glitz and glamour, he uses his only dollar to buy a loaf of bread and laments spending his last night in the crazy gold-coast city making sandwiches in a parking lot. As a 23-year-old always distressed about not having achieved or experienced enough, this little paragraph deeply resonated with me, as it will with the countless others who grapple with the anxiety of their lives passing them by. We’ve all suffered moments where like Sal, we thought, “I had nothing to offer anybody, apart from my own confusion.”

Yet (and thankfully), On the Road is brimming with promise. Kerouac acknowledges the bubbling restlessness, disillusionment, and frustration. He shows you the way, describing the path through language that is unimaginably decadent. So, don’t be surprised when you find pages after pages talking about one night or a cobbled alley. But, here’s the catch. The writing is rich, picturesque, and easy-going. You’ll never realise the breakneck speed at which you’re living Sal’s life. Nor can you enumerate the sheer number of towns and freeways you’ve traversed with him. Kerouac’s writing is both transportive and transformative. The dense imagery is bewitching, flowing like intoxicated thoughts. The result is mesmerising, flashing before your eyes like postcards. Imagine a red rose floating down the Hudson River, burning Roman candles, cherry blossom mornings of springtime in the Rockies and purple dusks over tangerine groves. 

On the Road is equally harrowing. A feeling of breathlessness pervades the aesthetic. While reading long, winding paragraphs about waking up alone in a hotel room, it isn’t uncommon to experience dissociation and sadness. When Sal remarks, “Things are so hard to figure out when you live from day to day in this feverish, silly world”, you understand his dejection and naiveté. We all have a Sal within us- immature, compassionate, and clumsy.  

The book’s merit is the power it vests in the human capacity to sustain. No matter how cold it is or how penniless you are, there’s always a mason jar of hope. Sal has been heartbroken, confused, and stranded. His intense sorrow, set against the backdrop of rain in the mountains and lonely highways, is nerve-wracking. It reminds us of our hidden insecurities and the dread of being lost. But the despondency is never absolute. Sooner or later, a jalopy comes along and Sal is on the go again, ready for his next destination. There will be a kind soul who’ll share a smoke or pay for coffee. Or a good night’s sleep in a comfortable inn. To put it simply, Sal survives. His actions aren’t heroic. There are dark bends and slippery slopes and like anybody else, he improvises and finds joy in the nooks and crannies of life. Nonetheless, the adventures don’t cease. It assures his readers that they too will make it out of any mess.

Those familiar with On the Road can criticise my article on many accounts. I’ll list them. First, I haven’t commented on the Beat values, their post-war context or impact on literary traditions. Second, I haven’t detailed other characters and their bearing on Sal’s life. Finally, the most searing disapproval is, “Where the hell is Dean Moriarty?” Dean Moriarty, the speed-loving, selfish, indulgent and reckless man whose arrival set the entire book in motion. While I accept the shortcomings, my aim was to primarily talk about the philosophies in the book and how they can help overcome the 2020 blues. On the Road provides what has been hugely absent in our lives in the past months- a sense of movement. It does so in the most relatable manner possible, by telling us about clueless people who have their coming-of-age journeys. It takes time, tears, laughter and belief. The book is messy, beautiful, and too much about everything to be about anything in particular. Just like life.

Of Chocolates, Leg of Lambs and Giant Peaches: Remembering Roald Dahl

When Willy Wonka, Charlie, Grandpa Joe and the group of obnoxious children and their parents float down the Chocolate River whilst seated in a pink boat made of boiled sweets, they pass by a door labelled “STOREROOM NUMBER 71. WHIPS- ALL SHAPES AND SIZES.” Veruca Salt, described by the Oompa Loompas as a bratty child who is pampered and spoilt like a Siamese Cat, confronts the chocolatier, “What on earth do you use whips for?”. Willy Wonka answers with absurd confidence and sardonic wit that perfectly exemplifies his creator’s downright strange and incredible imagination. He says, “Whipped cream isn’t whipped cream at all if it hasn’t been whipped with whips, just like poached eggs isn’t poached eggs unless it’s been stolen in the dead of the night.”

That’s Roald Dahl. Eccentric, hilarious, magical and frightening! His could beautifully synthesize diverse sensibilities and conjure stories that shaped generations of children and adult consciousness. And as September celebrated his 104th birth anniversary, it’s time we reflect upon his works and discern what makes them distinct from his predecessors and contemporaries in fiction.

Dahl normalised the ridiculous, seamlessly imbibing magical fantasy into the humdrum of everyday life. His characters were odd, nasty and nice and he invented bizarre ways of dispensing justice. Recollect the Twits? Undoubtedly, the Twits are the most ludicrous married couple to exist in literature. Retired circus trainers, they spent their days plotting repulsive pranks. While Mrs. Twit lovingly fed her husband spaghetti with worms, Mr. Twit tied her to balloons, hoping she would fly away and never return. Together, they tortured the Muggle-Wump family of monkeys by training them to do everything while standing upside-down. Yes, they were foul. And they met with a ghastly end. The Muggle-Wumps, assisted by a group of birds which the duo had planned to trap and bake, glued all the furniture to the ceiling. Under the impression that they were upturned, the Twits stood on their heads and finally, vanished into a heap of clothes. Critics disapprove of the harsh treatment Dahl meted out to adults. To this accusation, the author said, “Beastly people must be punished.”

Dahl’s greatest strength was never infantilising his young readers. His sarcastic, anti-establishmentarian tone does not attempt to sugarcoat concepts of death, institutional violence and evils of character. He explicitly details Ms. Trunchbull’s barbaric methods to civilize students, how James’s parents are eaten alive by a rhinoceros and Augustus Gloop’s nauseating gluttony. Now, the question that arises is why kids devour his work despite the morbid inclinations? Simply, it’s because they adore Dahl’s unconditional support. He indulges their fantasies, penalises adults and allows the children to triumph. So, in the end, Charlie Bucket gets to live in Willy Wonka’s factory and the insufferable others return with permanent disfigurements. And James, who had an awful childhood with his abusive aunts, befriends the children of New York City while his guardians are squashed to death under the peach. Coming to Matilda and Miss Honey, they live happily while the school improves under a kind headmaster.

The complexity of Dahl’s writing reveals to kids a spectrum of sentiment. Suddenly, they could experience what adults are wary of them knowing. It mirrors their powerlessness when faced with authoritarian figures like parents and teachers. But simultaneously, children are told (and convinced) that it is perfectly possible to overcome odds, rebel against autocratic influences and be the master of their lives. At the core, is always a tale of fulfilling dreams. 

Dahl’s relationship with adults is just as intriguing. He once said, “Grown-ups are complicated creatures, full of quirks and secrets.” Funnily, this becomes the current permeating his short stories. He doesn’t shy from experimenting with gore and macabre deaths. Ordinary men and women perform haunting actions. The mundane is elevated to the horrific.

The protagonist of Lamb to the Slaughter, the pregnant Mary Maloney, clubs her disloyal husband to death using a leg of lamb and then cooks it. She hoodwinks the officers and as they enjoy that very lamb, the policemen discuss the possibility of the murder weapon being right under their nose. In the next room, Mary giggles and we are left unnerved. In Man from the South, an old man and young naval cadet participate in a preposterous bet. If the latter can ignite his lighter ten times in a row, he gets the former’s Cadillac. But if he fails, the man will chop his finger using a butcher’s knife. As the cadet prepares to test his lighter for the tenth time, a woman bursts into the room. To reveal what unfolded would be a sin. Dahl truly masters the art of building tension. He neatly arranges every element, constructing a house of cards balanced on intrigue, horror and humorous repartee. 

This discussion is incomplete without talking about the more controversial elements of his life and writing. Grown-ups don’t enjoy certain aspects of Dahl’s storytelling. He’s been accused of misogyny, teaching children all the wrong things and pandering to violent fantasies. His controversial personal life (his wife named him Roald the Rotten) and anti-Semitic views constantly come under the scanner. Interestingly, even his closest competitor in children’s fiction, Enid Blyton, has been often accused of racism and sexism.

However, to deny Dahl’s genius is criminal. Having never written a mega-series (like Blyton’s Secret Seven or C.S. Lewis’s Narnia), he continues to be the most widely-read children’s author across decades. The subversive and uncomfortable plotlines are a grave reminder for adults that all is not rosy in a child’s life. A little boy or girl’s reality is frequently plagued by shadows, a sense of powerlessness and fear. And for children, he fashioned unbelievable spaces that are the perfect balance of light and dark. Here, they weren’t looked down upon. Dahl wanted them to be playful, true to themselves and wild and save the day utilising such unruly qualities. Never before was disruption packaged so deliciously.

One may conclude that Roald Dahl is not everyone’s cup of tea. Particularly not his English teacher’s. When Dahl was 15, his report card read “A persistent muddler. Vocabulary negligible, sentences mal-constructed. He reminds me of a camel.” Now, that’s quite horrigust. What’s horrigust? That’s the word he invented for something that is both horrible and disgusting. But in the end, we must admit that a Roald Dahl book will never cease to be zozimus…the stuff that dreams are made of.

Cover Image: Rob Bogaerts / Anefo / CC0

Did Nehru Reject Permanent Membership of the UN Security Council? Rajiv Dogra’s India’s World Answers Many Such Questions

I had never read any of Rajiv Dogra’s works until last week, not even his critically acclaimed Durand’s Curse. However, a few days ago, when I began reading his latest book, India’s World, published by Rupa Publications. I only regret having not read him until then. My reasons are many. I will start with the thing that struck me first – the language. Even for non-fiction, the words are mellifluous. One might as well call the book a ‘poetic’ account of the foreign policy choices of India’s prime ministers. How can one ever put down something that is written so beautifully? I cannot wait to read his other books.

Coming back to ‘India’s World’, Rajiv Dogra talks about how eight out of the fourteen Indian Prime Ministers shaped the foreign policy of India. In the prologue of the book, Rajiv states that his book doesn’t intend “to airbrush the warts of these eight leaders or to exaggerate their abilities. It is to present the leaders as they were and to reflect on their policies as they affected the country.” That is precisely what he does in the chapters that follow. Starting from India’s first prime minister Nehru to the current Prime Minister Modi, he discusses the successes and failures of each of these leaders and their policies with much candour. He credits Nehru for his statesmanship that guided India towards a secular democratic set up, unlike Pakistan. However, he doesn’t mince his words when he explains how Nehru ignored the advice of Vallabhbhai Patel and Ambedkar to only complicate the Kashmir issue for decades to come.

Rajiv acknowledges that all these leaders were handed over a country that had a plethora of socio-economic problems. Add to it the unstable power dynamics across the various groups of countries and the mistakes of their predecessors. While some learnt from the mistakes of their predecessor and tried to fix it, they then made mistakes of their own. Each one had their distinguished style when it came to foreign policy. While Nehru was a man of ideals, Shashtri was a more practical leader. Indira was the Goddess and Modi, the Rule Maker. This also meant that India lacked a “well-drafted long term approach” towards foreign policy which leads to the next question. Did our leaders ever have a shared vision of India’s role in the world’s affairs?

Rajiv picks some of the most commonly debated decisions of these leaders and critiques them. This is not merely based on his rich experience and expert opinion, but is also supported with archival documents, quotes from direct sources, books, articles and more.

The book traces the foreign policy decisions of India from the time of Independence to date. That way the book is a good starter to anyone who wants to understand the history and evolution of some of the most significant topics like the Kashmir Issue, India’s relationship with the USA, China and Russia, Non-alignment movement, Bangladesh war, India’s relationship with South-East Asia and more.

The book ends with an unusual epilogue featuring Narendra Modi as its protagonist. The title of the epilogue says it all – The More it changes the more it remains the same. Rajiv warns us of the grim realities like the never-ending Pakistan troubles and the increasing Chinese aggression in our neighbourhood. He adds that India must set its internal affairs in order if it aspires to be a stabilising power in world affairs.

While the earlier chapters of the books are very exhaustive, I find the latter ones rushed and lacking specifics in comparison. Yet, the book answers many questions and busts many myths with factual evidence. The books also feature several interesting tidbits like how P.V. Narasimha Rao was packing for a life of retirement when he was called on to become the Prime Minister and why Atal Bihari Vajpayee called him the true father of Shakti Nuclear Test. So if you are wondering if India rejected a permanent seat in the UNSC, or why Indira did not attack West Pakistan while our troops were already winning, or if the many international trips that our current Prime Minister undertook strengthened India’s place in the world, pick this book up.  

More Than Just the Partition: Comprehending Manto in His Entirety

It is a pungent truth that the tremendous burden of the Partition was borne entirely by the unnamed men, women and children of the subcontinent. As they boarded overcrowded trains, watched relatives being slaughtered, fled from burning homes, and struggled to rebuild their lives with nothing but loss, they were pushed into oblivion by History. Fortunately, a handful of artists have documented the more mundane and animalistic side of human grief. Saadat Hasan Manto, who wondered in a self-written epitaph that who amongst God and himself was the better short-story writer, is a sparkling mind renowned for his audacious portrayal of trauma, displacement, sexuality and sorrow. 

While Manto is our most precious looking-glass into the widespread torment set free by the Partition, to generalise his works as revolving around a single element is a reductionist approach to his art. What must be celebrated is his powerful eye for human nature in its most unpolished manifestations. Plunging into the twisted corridors of the human psyche which till date remains the most ostracized victim of decolonization, Manto explores complex relationships, pathos, liberation, domination, murder, the struggle for survival and a romantic search for residual goodness. 

In 1934, Manto moved to Mumbai where he wrote scripts for Hindi cinema. And set in the bustling, gossip-loving milieu of film sets is My Name is Radha. The story follows three individuals: a famous actor called Raj Kishore known for his moral righteousness, Radha who is playing the vamp in his film and an observant narrator. Although Raj Kishore is adulated for his chivalry, Radha sees through his conceited frontier and recognizes a vain, controlling sadist. Through a journey riddled with sexual tension and redemption, Manto makes profound observations on voyeurism in filmmaking, the vilification of women and the all-encompassing subjugation threatening gendered minorities.

When Radha stops Raj Kishore from addressing her as Sister, everyone feels entitled to abuse her for this supposed display of arrogance and audacity. Even the owner of the tea stall calls her filthy names while admiring Raj Kishore’s gallantry. Finally, after they indulge in a violent sexual encounter, Radha is disgusted and seeks solace in the narrator. While consoling her, he mistakenly calls her Neelam (the screen-name she uses as she feels that Radha is too pure for the talkies). She interrupts him saying, “My name is Radha.” Her parting words tell us that she will always be a misfit. Simultaneously, it reinstates her virtue, bright intellect and inner strength. 

My Name is Radha bears striking resemblance to Alankrita Shrivastava’s Dolly Kitty Aur Woh Chamakte Sitare. Both are stories of women who don’t confer to standards. In the film, Kitty works as a companion on a romance app and Dolly routinely fudges office accounts to pay off loans.

However, underlying Radha, Dolly and Kitty’s questionable decisions are resolute individuals fighting for survival. They assume multiple identities, are prone to imperfections and errors but remain true to themselves. When Dolly chides Kitty for the nature of her job, the latter says that she is proud of making an honest living. It resonates deeply with one of Manto’s most famous sayings, “To those men who say that women from good families must come into the world of cinema, I have this question: What is it that you mean by “good?” A woman, who honestly puts her wares on display, and sells them without an intention to cheat, is such a woman not virtuous?”

Manto’s women are complicated people who delicately toe the line of imposed morality. But his strength lies in upholding their innate goodness and honest intentions. They are self-assured, well-meaning and flawed. Consider A Woman’s Life, a poignant tale of asserting of one’s identity. Saugandhi, a kind-hearted prostitute, is slighted by a rich merchant who mocks her appearance. Humiliated, she questions her worth. Reflecting upon her life, she realises that even her lover is a selfish, avaricious man. When he arrives asking for money, Saugandhi smashes his photograph and throws him out. Here, Manto doesn’t wish to discuss the poverty-stricken condition of marginalised women. Saugandhi’s story is about achieving dignity in despair. 

A similar spirit is seen in Mozel, about a brazen Jewish girl and her relationship with Tarlochan Singh, a devout Sikh. Despite her digs at his religion and multiple affairs, Tarlochan indulges Mozel and even shaves his hair and beard to please her. But after Mozel leaves, he falls in love with Kirpal. When rioters’ attack her neighbourhood, it is Mozel who convinces Tarlochan to overcome his fear and they set out to rescue her. Sadly, she is killed while attempting to save Kirpal. When Tarlochan rushes to cover her naked body with his turban, Mozel refuses. She is defiant even in death, rejecting both sympathy and the so-called sense of shame. These stories highlight the existentialist efforts at self-assertion by women across class, caste and religion. 

Frequently, Manto takes us into the dingy world of riots, mobs and refugee camps. The Assignment is a haunting account of the transactional nature of death. Sughra, a young girl is trapped in her house with her brother and bed-ridden father, Mian Abdul Hai. As the riots gain momentum, her neighbours relocate to Muslim-majority localities. One evening, a Sikh man whose father was greatly indebted to Mian Abdul Hai for saving him from legal trouble, visits them with sweets. As he returns, turbaned men carrying explosives corner him in the streets. They ask if he has fulfilled his assignment and if they were free to proceed with theirs. The man replies, “If you like” and walks away. Sweets, a symbol of warmth and hope, becomes a cold harbinger of doom.

A gruesome picture of brutality is found in The Return. Sirajuddin wakes up in a migrant camp, unable to find his daughter Sakina. He desperately searches for her, pleading to the officials and running from one site to another. Days later, she is brought to the camp infirmary on a stretcher. Cruelly assaulted, her only reaction is to loosen the strings of her salwar and pull down the garment. Sirajuddin is overjoyed at the sight of his daughter but the vicious violation she has endured makes the reader squirm. Such narratives strongly compete with the more diluted, mathematical version of the Partition recorded in official archives. Unnerving and nauseating, they create a space for public mourning. 

Above all, Manto is our guide through a labyrinthine society. He unearths realities of existence, identity, sexuality and suffering. Such themes counter the purist notion that postulates how he is solely interested in Partition and prostitutes. Breaking through such cursory reading of his texts, we understand that Manto is concerned with people; complex, careless, cruel, compassionate and capricious as they are. He is a storyteller and commentator in equal measure and boiling down his corpus to its overtly visible themes is akin to reading with blinkers. 

Falling in Love With a Young Adult Novel – Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell (2013)

Eleanor & Park was originally published in 2012 and has won over 20 literary awards including the Goodreads Choice Awards: Best Young Adult Fiction in 2013.

What you’re about to read is less of a review and more of a fangirl gush about falling in love with a book in all its entirety and feeling the emptiness of parting away when it’s all over.

Eleanor & Park is well, about Eleanor and Park- two intense and naive 16 year olds who end up falling for one another even though the association seems unlikely to both of them. Eleanor is the aloof new kid in the town of Omaha and Park is an existing resident. While facing all the strangeness that a new kid does, we are also taken through Eleanor’s unstable household situation, one she dreams of escaping. Park comes across as a reserved loner kid who belongs to a close knit half Korean-half white family. It seems completely justified that Eleanor and Park end up together as they are presented as misfits of sorts in the book, separated from the rest of the kids and their coming together seems organic.

For both these kids going through transformative periods in their lives, it all starts with exchanging comic books and playlists. It all leads to secret meetups and finding a home in one another in a world that might not always be kind to them. Rowell has a brilliant skill to use the simplest of language and yet keep the reader engaged thoroughly. In showing both Eleanor and Park as intense characters, it’s remarkable that the author didn’t forget that they are after all teenagers. She has also portrayed them as sexual creatures who are confused by all the newfound feelings of self discovery. If I am being very honest, I thought myself to be over and above the teenage puppy love that populates stupid Netflix movies and monotone romcoms but this one is completely different. Both Eleanor and Park are their own people as well. They have their insecurities and showcase fragility for falling in love for the first time which is bound to remind the reader of an age gone by. 

The romance genre definitely caters to a certain readership and I do not consider myself to be one of them. I am also aware that the heady nostalgia that romance novels usually provide to its reader isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. Having said that, Eleanor and Park isn’t just a romance novel, categorizing it as such would be a disservice to its characters who come alive through Rowell. This book showcases a love story of two young adults with a lot of nuance and sensitivity, cutting through all that would normally overshadow each character’s journey when they are in love. Eleanor and Park stands as a testament to the true potential that the young adult genre possesses for readers of all kinds. There is a certain raw emotion to the delicate characters that gripped me through the novel, I kid you not, I finished it in 3 hours. This was a first for me. 

The climax of the book took me by heartbreaking surprise. It even drove me a tiny bit mad for how Rowell decided to end things for both the characters. The conclusion of the book is not completely unforeseen as the reader senses the perilous situation in which Eleanor finds herself.

Apart from the end that might stand as an impediment, there is some racial tension in the book that seems out of place. Park is a mixed race kid whose race seems to have been characterised deliberately yet not treated nearly enough by the author. In the current context, it becomes difficult to not investigate race if it’s a part of anything related to pop culture. I would warn the readers to take this angle of the story with a pinch of salt. 

Eleanor and Park is your regular boy meets girl, meet-cute love story, but it will steal your heart and jolt it. If you’re not in full blown tears at the end of the book, I’d consider myself a pathetic softy. This book is a brilliant gateway into the young adult genre for anyone looking to explore. It is neither a long nor a very heavy read and can be your new relaxing weekend companion.

The Romance Novel in India and Those Pricey Thakur Girls

“That’s so filmi,” I’ve often remarked on being told about an especially thrilling romantic experience. In India, romance can feel synonymous with film. Much of our imagination and enactment of love comes from the movies. Mainstream Hindi cinema, in particular, strongly influences how we express love, construct fantasies, and our expectations from romantic trysts. This comes from no little effort on its part. A romantic plot feels requisite for most Hindi cinema: songs and subplots are shoehorned into all kinds of movies. And so a hero with outstretched arms, a woman bumping into a love interest and dropping a sheaf of papers that fly everywhere, or yearning eyes meeting across a crowded room, become visual shorthands for love itself.

This is why, when it comes to cultural depictions of romance in India, we rarely think of literature, specifically Indian writing in English. After all, no romantic story I’ve ever heard has elicited the response, “that’s so contemporary Indian novel in English!” Contradictory to global literary trends–Mills and Boons, Harlequin romances, Fifty Shades of Grey–romance novels in India are relatively unestablished, especially those written by women. This is a genre that tends to draw criticisms that are both gendered and elitist, perhaps dissuading female authors from pursuing it: postcolonial literary studies, for instance, has never quite known what to do with popular literature.

In this context, reading Anuja Chauhan’s Those Pricey Thakur Girls was a strong reminder of what the novel part of a romance novel can give us, especially when written by a woman. The novel has been a wildly successful genre for romance because of the interiority it affords its characters. Knowing what the characters are thinking and being told precisely what they are feeling is a powerful addition to a genre that thrives on appealing to imaginations. So when Dylan Singh Shekawat meets Debjani Thakur for the first time, the author is able to give us a sense of exactly how he is affected: “the last rays of the setting sun hit her face and he discovers that her thickly lashed eyes are the exact colour and shape as Pears soap.”  These glimpses into Dylan’s thoughts are powerful because they articulate how desire feels for him, and conversely, what it is to be desired by him.

As Emily Davis points out in Rethinking the Romance Genre, for critics, the genres of romance and political writing, the private and the public, have often been seen as mutually exclusive. This, of course, amounts to both a denial of female perspectives, and the tensions and structural fissures the process of love demonstrates. Also, yet romance is deeply contextual, both in terms of function and effect. Like many Indian women, I grew up on a diet of Pride and Prejudice and Wuthering Heights. These books continue to resonate emotionally, but romance provides a space–especially for women–to reimagine and consider dynamics of gender and sexuality, and there is something to be said for love rooted in our specific context, that Pemberley and Lockwood cannot provide.

Though romance is perceived as primarily character-driven, much of its strength comes from its focus on the atmosphere and setting. An Indian romance novel, therefore, doesn’t necessarily entail only a romance featuring Indian characters, and Those Pricey Thakur Girls delights in its own setting. One of the jokes running through the book is Justice Laxmi Narayan Thakur’s obsession with what alphabets portend. So when D-for-Debjani meets D-for-Dylan, readers know what to expect. However, this is a story in which the city is the protagonist, its people, trees, dogs, and localities meticulously sketched out. It’s hard to miss: D for Delhi.

Moreover, Delhi offers a lot. The Emergency looms over the story, set a year after the Anti-Sikh pogrom incited and enabled by a politician Dylan, a journalist, sets out to expose. The central ideological tension between Dylan and Debjani is their respective attitudes towards the role of media during times of political conflict. The resolution of the romantic plot entails a realisation on Debjani’s part about her own complicity in furthering proto-fake news as the anchor of a channel modelled on Doordarshan. Though the book features characters who are upper-caste and upper-class, Chauhan’s engagement with this context and its centrality to her plot shows that the romance–mostly associated with escapist pleasure and accused of enabling political apathy–can be a narrative vehicle for political expression.

Chauhan also mines hilarity from the lives of her characters, using an idiom of writing that is imbued in local contexts, drawing on movies, Hinglish, and popular culture. Dylan’s wooing is rudely interrupted by Debjani’s brother Gulgul, upset about being cheated of a belly-button viewing in a song and Debjani, “by the grace of god”, has a meeting with a self-obsessed prospective suitor. In one of my favourite lines, Debjani accuses Dylan of dipping his proboscis into multiple flowers: the characters Chauhan creates are clearly catering to a female perspective. While much has been made of Dylan Singh Shekhawat, now the gold standard for romantic heroes, Chauhan’s characterisation of Debjani is equally interesting. Her narrative arc depicts her struggles to differentiate herself from her sisters, build her own life, find a career that appeals to her, and come into her own, makes. Everything that makes Debjani attractive–her commitment to bravery and kindness, her affinity for those in hard luck, and her signature way of dressing–ignores the conventional male gaze.

In Those Pricey Thakur Girls, Chuhan creates a template for romantic imagination. The chaotic denouement, featuring the reunion of Dylan and Debjani, a family gathering, and a chachi possessed by the ghost of her mother-in-law, shows that love and reason might keep little company together nowadays, but love and community-building do.

Jihyun Yun’s ‘Some Are Always Hungry’ Cooks Multiple Paradoxical Flavours of Identity, Existence, and Civilization Through Poetry

As the title of Jihyun Yun’s poetry volume, Some Are Always Hungry suggests, the poems feature food and hunger in all its forms: the decadent, the delicious, the heartwarming, the sparse and the ravaged. Food is at the center of existence in this collection. Its role in shaping one’s identity, memories and family ties are subtly depicted through the majority of her poems.

Jihyun Yun being a second generation Korean American, the other themes of Some Are Always Hungry revolve around ideas of immigration, feminism, Korean history and her family’s own stories. However, all these themes, like planets, revolve around the sun, food.

The descriptions of food in the poems are always indulgent, even when she speaks of the unimaginable hunger the poems’ persona faced during the Korean War in the early 1950s. Yun brings out both the visceral as well as the subtleties of making and enjoying any meal. She minces no words when it comes to vividly describing the preparation of the meat for the meals. Yet, she can easily and gently introduce the delicateness of enjoying all the ingredients of any dish. For Yun, food was the one crucial link to her past and to her present immigrant identity. This is brought out right at the beginning of the second poem, My Grandmother Thinks of Love While Steeping Tea.

“Drink it all,
dredge the bottom for sunk honey
pull the thumb of ginger in to your mouth
and suck. I mean for you to taste
your inheritance. The gunpowder,
our soil.”

Food is political and not new to the idea of ‘othering.’ This is seen in India as well where food of certain states is considered strange or barbaric. Worldwide as well, the distaste for food consumed by East Asian people, especially China in the wake of COVID-19 pandemic, has increased. Although it is alright not to be used to a particular food or having only a set food as one’s comfort food, it is rather narrow-minded to mock cuisines of other countries or cultures merely because they are different from one’s own.

Perhaps as a result of such a constant othering of her own Korean cuisine, in the poem, Benediction as Disdained Cuisine, Yun reclaims all the food items the persona or the poet has forgone. What is powerful about the poem is how it reiterates the phrase, ‘give me’ before listing out the food item the poet has avoided for far too long. Two words repeated are all it takes in a way to make a culinary heritage worthy again. It shows an assertive persona, one who is unwilling to erase her identity.

Food is one sure way to remain true to one’s own culture and identity. This is even truer in Diaspora literature. For Jihyun and her family, food was a way to show affection to each other. This perhaps explains why food is central in her poems. Jihyun Yun explores all facets of food and how it can speak volumes about a person.

Jihyun Yun’s family history and memories are irreversibly linked with the home country, Korea. Her poems throw light on these three aspects through an interplay with food. The poems pull you in with all their tempting aromas, and then throw in the most painful remnants of her family’s history.

For example, the poem, Recipe, reads like a recipe. But Yun also narrates the disquieting experience of the Japanese occupation of Korea. Her grandmother prepares the dish and still confuses the Japanese and Korean words for the food items. Under the Japanese occupation of Korea, Koreans were not allowed to speak their language and were often forced to adopt Japanese names. The fact that the poet’s grandmother still confuses the words and “cannot discard Japanese” shows “a slim silhouette of occupation tethered to our language like a haunting.” Yun smoothly merges the act of cleaving the ingredients to the idea of a cleaved mother tongue or language.

Since preparation of the food is considered largely a womanly task, Yun also explores the notion of female labour and sacrifice. In the opening poem of Some Are Always Hungry, All Female, Yun describes the act of buying food from the market and her grandmother or halmeoni dismantling a crab for a meal. Through the metaphor of women being confined to cook even meat that is female, Yun hopes for freedom. It is a decidedly intrepid poem but one whose boldness and power sneak up on the reader slowly but surely.

Since this is the opening poem, the unexpected juxtaposition of the gendered food and gendered tasks immediately pulls you in and you know at once this book is going to be a remarkable read.

And oh what a treat it is to perceive and absorb all the paradoxical flavours of Yun’s poems in Some Are Always Hungry! From being no holds barred in their directness one moment to scaling back and bringing forth the most insidious of all metaphors in the very next, the poems in Some Are Always Hungry pack a powerful punch. They explore elements of hidden Korean history as well as the current realities of immigrants and assimilation. Yun also audaciously explores feminist topics such as in Menstruation Triptych, she speaks about three different perspectives to the monthly cycle. In Caught, Yun portrays the point of view of a rape victim questioning herself after the crime. It lays bare the constant victim shaming girls are subjected to. The Tale of Janghwa and Hongryeon is a retelling of the eponymous Korean folktale. It is a painful reminder of the many taboos that society still imposes on women.

All in all, Some Are Always Hungry includes a strikingly diverse collection of poems that captivate with both the personal and the historical.

*Disclaimer: A free PDF copy of the book was provided by NetGalley in exchange for an honest and unbiased review.

Home & Humanity in Mohsin Hamid’s Exit West

Published in 2017, Exit West contains themes of emigration and political refugees. This book was awarded the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Fiction in 2018 among the many other accolades that it has received.  

Saeed and Nadia are a young couple in a city bordering on conservativeness and modernity. They nurture a relationship on texting and largely avoid talking about their futures together. In their unnamed city, militants take over and residents are forced into curfew and locked down houses where death lurks at every corner.

Looking for a way out, the two tragedy-stricken individuals hear about (magical) doors that prove to be escape routes. With the foreseeable future being both uncertain and dangerous, Saeed and Nadia leave their city behind with a heavy heart that is felt to the reader as well in order to save their lives.

In this manner, they leave their homes, Saeed leaves his father and the city that will house his mother’s grave, Nadia leaves to dust her hard-earned freedom. Two people who never bargained for this destiny leave a territory that with its given unrest was once their safe abode.

We only realize the sweetness of safety when we are miles away from it. Safety shouldn’t be earned but should be everyone’s right. Unfortunately, in the world we live in, such is not the case. Through Exit West, Hamid with his eloquent words and the ability to weave unrelated stories together tells the reader that the human spirit may move through various territories in a given lifetime but the experience of being uprooted is destabilizing.

We don’t just read about Saeed and Nadia, we comes across many other parallel stories where we see stories of both forced and willed migration and a lifelong search for home. These stories lack closure and I was left wanting for more, which isn’t a bad thing. The book raises more questions about human survival in a state of refuge than it provides answers for. 

For Saeed and Nadia, there’s no such thing as finding a base or finding a cozy spot to create a home in. Their only motive is to move through various cities to survive better. Just as I felt that maybe the city they have now arrived in will serve them better, they find another door and don’t think twice before making the move.

Hamid’s decision to build up doors in various junctures of his story, these doors that appear overnight in people’s hallways and elsewhere make the story border on magical realism. These passages can be the cause of great discomfort or delight for the reader. I mean, who doesn’t like secret doorways that can transport you to new destinations within minutes?

Hamid’s decision to do away with a refugee’s actual journey from a volatile city to a relatively safe one by propping up these doors is rather questionable. I was left to wonder whether this decision was made solely to shorten the length of the story or to not let the plot slip away from exploring the experience of finding oneself in strange and often hostile geography.

Gender politics in the book is skillfully explored by Hamid who has reversed normative qualities in our main characters. Saeed is grounded by his morals, attached to his parents, devoted to their care and Nadia is more restrained in emotional expression and denies being shackled by domestic dullness. Despite his brilliant decision of characterizing Saeed and Nadia in this way, these two who hold the pillar of the story fell emotionally flat for me.

In certain points of the story, they become mere bodies moving through doors and I wouldn’t hold it as a hindrance as one understands that living for mere survival can do that to people. Saeed and Nadia go through an unimaginable set of difficulties throughout the book and the picture of their character development is blurry at best. They are not hard to empathise with yet much is left to read between the lines of the characters suffering.

A silence grows between Saeed and Nadia because of the broken world they find themselves in. We see them drifting apart even when we see them trying their best yet deciding that their happiness lies away from one another. It was heartbreaking to encounter this disconnect. I was then led to think that maybe for once, both Saeed and Nadia got to choose their paths and they didn’t even need a door for this.

Exit West is a short 130-page read that showcases Hamid’s skill as a storyteller and the universal experience of displacement. The politics of power that destroy homes creates situations where the common humanity of people is truly put to test. Driving one to ask that unsettling question – Is there even such a thing as common humanity when it comes to survival? Even though the book left me with a feeling equivalent to that of being parched, Hamid’s use of language requires as much appreciation as it can get.

This book is best suited for people who crave heavy reads and find it easy to navigate through the genre of literary fiction challenging the reader’s imagination.

Janice Pariat’s Seahorse Is a Literary Love Affair in Its Entirety

Seahorse by Janice Pariat is about the relationship and love that the alliterative protagonists, Nem and Nicholas shared. Rather the novel is about Nem’s memory of Nicholas and the void that Nicholas’ leaving created.

Nem’s aching for Nicholas is not one of bitterness or surfeit weeping but one of a thoughtful and sharp reverie.

Nem was a student of English Literature in Delhi University when he met Nicholas, who taught art history. He happened to drift into one of Nicholas’ classes and was immediately taken in by his suave mannerisms. What follows in the wake of this serendipitous meeting is a warm romance and a blossoming of a relationship; one in which not only love but also ideas about art, poetry and literature are mutually exchanged. That is, until Nicholas disappears, taking with him every trace of his existence.

The novel is suffused with an immeasurable ache and an indolent melancholy. This is brought out clearly through Nem, who carries his pain around. Yet, he still holds on to his love, a love that takes him all the way to London. He does not do it intentionally but only because subconsciously his search to fill this inexplicable absence becomes slowly a part of him, a part of whom he is.

Seahorse takes you, through Nim’s memories, to the physical spaces that the pair inhabited, shared and loved particularly the corridors of Delhi University and its surrounding areas. The leisurely walks and moments intermingled with the overpowering stench of decay in the neighbouring Hudson Lines described in the first part of the novel will evoke your own college days; especially for those who studied in Delhi University.

Reminiscent of the Greek myth of the love between Poseidon and Pelops, the narrative of Seahorse is abundantly dripping with the motif of water: the marine creature seahorse lends itself to endless interpretation and the existence of a curious aquarium heralds an infinite stock of memories and connections within Nem.

Seahorse brings out both the fragility and fluidity of love; of sexualities that stop, surrender, absorb and move on as well. The tenderness of Pariat’s writing is palpable: you feel and hear the protagonist so intensely as if nothing other than that exists. The literary references are etched out so beautifully that they linger on in your thoughts for long. They do not feel erudite or cumbersome. The novel is thus not only about the love affair of Nem and Nicholas but a literary love affair in its entirety.

You will fall in love with the writing, the atmosphere, and the pace of the story; slowly and surely.

It is as if the entire novel is one surreal and beautiful water colour, where lives, destinies, love, thoughts and literary metaphors fuse so seamlessly and smoothly into one another.

Themes of Love, Property, Identity and Class in Khadija Mastur’s Novel ‘A Promised Land’

A Promised Land by Khadija Mastur is translated from Urdu to English by Daisy Rockwell.

Srilal Shukla in his Hindi novel, Raag Darbari, satirically took on the might of the post-Independence Indian bureaucracy and its circular, never-ending red tape.  A Promised Land is not satirical but an incisive, feminist critique of Pakistan after Partition. The novel proffers a critical look at Pakistan post-Independence and how the hopeful visions for the country’s future and betterment crumbled. They were overshadowed by a corrupt bureaucracy.

It begins with the Partition’s aftermath, in the Walton Refugee Camp. This is where the novel, Aangan or The Women’s Courtyard ended with the protagonist Aliya working in the very same refugee camp. But this story is not about Aliya. It is about Sajidah. She lives in that camp with her father.

Like Aliya, Sajidah also believes in drawing her fate. In the earlier part of the novel, Sajidah remembers a folktale her mother used to narrate to her in which the youngest daughter of a king refuses to admit that the King decides her fate. She asserts that she is capable of making her fate. Sajidah identifies with this youngest daughter.

Although she wants to do just that, she is aware of the fate of single women in her society. Sajidah wants to break free from those constraints but she knows that for her survival, she needs to belong to a family; to a husband.

While at the refugee camp, Sajidah is tormented with the matter of abduction as an instrument of revenge. An old man in the camp wails out for his lost daughter whose fate was sealed the moment violence was unleashed upon the two nations. This is the only reference to inter-religious rape used by Khadija Mastur. The rest of the novel deals with intra-religious abduction and assault, which is not often touched upon in Partition novels.

When Sajidah is provided shelter by a family, it is done dishonestly, based on Nazim’s fancy. Nazim is a government worker with the Department of Rehabilitation. He met Sajidah and her father at the camp.

The novel portrays themes of love, property, identity and class in its story. Since a new country has been born, people erase their older identities and create an entirely false one to get grander compensations. People loot and break into abandoned homes and claim it their own. Despite the invigorating hopes that a new nation carries in its wake, the old ideas of class and privilege do not disappear. Sajidah’s adopted family treats Taji, their other ‘adopted’ refugee-like a slave, believing that she is not a refugee because she is poor. They believe that poor people will always move or migrate wherever they wish to and have no connection with the land.

Associating identity with the land is the predominant theme explored in the novel through the corollary of the formation of a new country. All the male characters in the story are driven by the idea of having land, of claiming a space of their own by hook or crook. They make false claims of having had abundant wealth on the other side of the border and thus need to be compensated on an equal footing. Fruit orchards are the most desirable for the cash the orchard’s cash crops can bring in. Mastur portrays how the men can assert their identity through the land; they can give up their previous selves easily. Yet, it is the women who struggle to shed the constraints and have no claims as such on land or rights even when a new utopian country is created.

Sajidah balances her desire to create her fate with her ideas about love and longing. She holds on to her dream of reuniting with her first love which enables her to go through the motions of everyday life. Sajidah trusts that the love between a man and the woman will carry an individual through any trials and tribulations. This is unlike Aliya, in The Women’s Courtyard, who wholly believed in education and a job as a means of freedom. Sajidah believes in all those things as well, but she also believes in love to sustain her.

Saleema, the daughter in Sajidah’s adopted family, is similar to Aliya in the way in which she completely rejects love and establishes her identity through her education and career. Her privilege and class also play a major role in allowing her to shun love, relationships or anything that ties her identity to a man.

By creating two divergent yet similar female characters in A Promised Land, Mastur comments on the various paths that women can take to forge ahead in a patriarchal society. Through this narrative strand, she also critiques the futility of the lofty ideals of nationality and ownership for women when they are denied a space in the society as individuals.  

Like Aliya, Sajidah also believes in drawing her fate. In the earlier part of the novel, Sajidah remembers a folktale her mother used to narrate to her in which the youngest daughter of a king refuses to admit that the King decides her fate. She asserts that she is capable of making her fate. Sajidah identifies with this youngest daughter.

Although she wants to do just that, she is aware of the fate of single women in her society. Sajidah wants to break free from those constraints but she knows that for her survival, she needs to belong to a family; to a husband.

While at the refugee camp, Sajidah is tormented with the matter of abduction as an instrument of revenge. An old man in the camp wails out for his lost daughter whose fate was sealed the moment violence was unleashed upon the two nations. This is the only reference to inter-religious rape used by Khadija Mastur. The rest of the novel deals with intra-religious abduction and assault, which is not often touched upon in Partition novels.

When Sajidah is provided shelter by a family, it is done dishonestly, based on Nazim’s fancy. Nazim is a government worker with the Department of Rehabilitation. He met Sajidah and her father at the camp.

The novel portrays themes of love, property, identity and class in its story. Since a new country has been born, people erase their older identities and create an entirely false one to get grander compensations. People loot and break into abandoned homes and claim it their own. Despite the invigorating hopes that a new nation carries in its wake, the old ideas of class and privilege do not disappear.  Sajidah’s adopted family treats Taji, their other ‘adopted’ refugee-like a slave, believing that she is not a refugee because she is poor. They believe that poor people will always move or migrate wherever they wish to and have no connection with the land.

Associating identity with the land is the predominant theme explored in the novel through the corollary of the formation of a new country.  All the male characters in the story are driven by the idea of having land, of claiming a space of their own by hook or crook. They make false claims of having had abundant wealth on the other side of the border and thus need to be compensated on an equal footing. Fruit orchards are the most desirable for the cash the orchard’s cash crops can bring in. Mastur portrays how the men can assert their identity through the land; they can give up their previous selves easily. Yet, it is the women who struggle to shed the constraints and have no claims as such on land or rights even when a new utopian country is created.

Sajidah balances her desire to create her fate with her ideas about love and longing. She holds on to her dream of reuniting with her first love which enables her to go through the motions of everyday life. Sajidah trusts that the love between a man and the woman will carry an individual through any trials and tribulations.  This is unlike Aliya, in The Women’s Courtyard, who wholly believed in education and a job as a means of freedom. Sajidah believes in all those things as well, but she also believes in love to sustain her.

Saleema, the daughter in Sajidah’s adopted family, is similar to Aliya in the way in which she completely rejects love and establishes her identity through her education and career. Her privilege and class also play a major role in allowing her to shun love, relationships or anything that ties her identity to a man.

By creating two divergent yet similar female characters in A Promised Land, Mastur comments on the various paths that women can take to forge ahead in a patriarchal society. Through this narrative strand, she also critiques the futility of the lofty ideals of nationality and ownership for women when they are denied a space in the society as individuals.

You can buy the book here.

‘Where the Wild Ladies Are’ by Matsudo Aoko Appropriates the Idea of ‘Wild’ on Its Own Feminist Terms| National Translation Month Special

September is National Translation Month! It is a great follow up to August which is celebrated as Women In Translation Month. So why not just continue August’s theme into September?

A great book to pick for this month is Where the Wild Ladies are by Matsudo Aoko. It is translated from Japanese to English by Polly Barton.

The book has a collection of 17 stories that reimagine famous Japanese ghost or yokai stories with a modern and feminist twist. Owing to that, all the stories possess a touch of the mystical and whimsical. Strange and surreal things are bound to happen. However, Matsudo recreates the ghosts, spirits and characters as modern-day Japanese individuals who are plagued by disillusion and sadness. However, unlike the female characters of the original stories, Matsudo’s versions do not wallow or weep endlessly. They display subtle courage that allows them to live by their own rules and challenge every form of sexism from the casual to the upfront.

For example, in the second story in this collection, Smartening Up, the protagonist repeats self-loving affirmations to herself like a mantra to heal after a bad breakup. She tries to up her ‘romantic potential’ by embracing movie and advert lifestyles. In doing so, she decides to dye her hair blond because as we know, all blondes in American movies meet their soul mates. Interestingly, her dead aunt visits as a ghost and gives her sane advice about letting the wildness of her hair remain intact. The story presents an unabashed glimpse into the perceptions around body hair and how women are shamed for it across the world. But thanks to her dead aunt’s ghost, the protagonist sheds her inhibitions and thankfully not her hair.

In Smartening Up, the ghost showcases will power and challenges romantic ideals women are expected to live by. In the other retellings, the ghosts from the original story are reincarnated in a modern avatar where they are freer and are not tied down by rigid patriarchal rules. One such beautiful story, The Missing One retells the tale of Okiku. She was a samurai’s servant, who was wrongly accused of losing one of the 10 precious plates in the samurai’s household. No matter how many times Okiku counted, she never found the 10th plate. The samurai decided to forgive her only if she became his mistress. Okiku refused and was consequently put to death. It is believed that Okiku’s ghost is never able to count to 10. A similar incident happens to Kikue, the protagonist in The Missing One. However, Kikue is not in a subservient position but a single woman and an owner of a shop: an unusual combination according to Japan’s standards. It is a heartwarming tale of Kikue navigating the mystery of the missing plate through her intelligence, despite the usual casual misogyny thrown at her for being a single woman running a shop.

No Japanese ghost stories or its retellings are complete without featuring the most famous of yokai: kitsune, or the fox spirit. In the story, A Fox’s Life, Kuzuha leads a free and emboldened life as a fox spirit which compared to her human life is far more empowering. As a human, she goes through the motions and does not even realise how she internalises all the prejudice about women and their capabilities.

That is one forte of Matsudo. She slips in the everyday discrimination in her prose be it Kikue’s internalized assumption that she will face flak for voicing her opinion or Kuzuha earning less than her male counterparts. Matsudo puts in these ideas so ironically and casually that they are best suited to reflect society’s equally casual attitude and acceptance of these discriminations. Through the premise of retelling folklore, Matsudo also portrays and questions the complicated layers of societal norms laid out for its inhabitants. 

The stories are connected by a thread that weaves its way through other mysterious characters and ghostly reincarnations as well as a dreamlike incense factory! The stories also depict the pressures and assumptions that men face in the modern Japanese capitalistic society particularly through the characters of the ghost aunt’s son and the incense factory owner. 

All the stories dabble in various narrative techniques and different points of view. This further shakes us out of our complacence, making us sit up and notice how abnormal the things we consider normal actually sound. It is interesting to note that it is ghosts and supernatural creatures, the ones considered abnormal, that lay bare this reality to the reader. 

All the stories contain a preface that informs the reader about which classic ghost story the author has retold. It helps give context, especially to those who are unfamiliar with Japanese myths and ghosts. A list of the inspiration behind each story is also given at the end of the book. 

Thus, Where the Wild Ladies Are appropriates the idea of wild’ on its own feminist terms and not on narrow-minded ideas that limit women’s existence and individuality. For those looking for a simple as well as engaging read to step into the world of Japanese literature, this is a brilliant collection of stories to start with! Murakami is great, but let’s go beyond one author as well! It is always fun to explore more writers. Where the Wild Ladies Are presents the perfect start to that exploration of Japanese writing. With that, the reader can also delve into the world of Japanese beliefs and perhaps get inspired to read the original stories too.

You can buy the book here.

Reading Divya Prakash Dubey and His Stories That Live Next-Door

Having studied in an English medium school and brought up in a household with Hindi as the native language, I have always been confused when to use one particular language, like I am right now, as I am writing this. Though I would be talking about a very well-known Hindi author who rekindled the Hindi fiction reading among the youth (yours truly falls in the same bracket), I am more comfortable in expressing my thoughts in English when it comes to a formal delivery like writing an article or a speech or even a facebook post. Why so?

Cut to eight years back, I was attending a Hindi lecture in my initial days of college. It was my first class in language for that semester. The teacher entered and said, “All this while you must be talking to each other in English- the introductions, the orientations, and even a friendly chit chat. What if your school friend who you have been knowing for so many years was a part of your batch in college? What language would you use?” The class unanimously answered their own native language which in my case was Hindi.

Talking in your mother tongue generates a sense of bonding while every other language remains a formal language – a language for work and career. Still when I ask a lot of my friends that while you would watch movies in Hindi and go crazy on the songs and slangs used, why don’t you read Hindi fiction then? Most of them answer, “Hindi upar se jaati hai!” (It’s a bit difficult to read Hindi!) The major reason behind their hesitation to pick up a Hindi novel is the stark difference between the Hindi they use to communicate in everyday life and the one used in literature.

Breaking this tradition, Divya Prakash Dubey ventured into the world of storytelling in the language of youth, a colloquial language that anybody could relate to; which he fondly calls ‘Nayi wali Hindi’.

His first two books namely Terms and conditions Apply and Masala Chai, a collection of short stories became instant hit and were bestsellers and still continue to be read widely. As he himself asserts in the introduction of the book Masala Chai, these stories are like talks on the tea table, easy to say and lovely to hear. The stories are from our own world, our next door. These tales range from college life to job scenarios, from small town to the hustle of metro cities, vividly bringing out the emotions of the characters.

Next was the most loved Musafir Cafe, his first novel catching up on modern day love and its conundrum. The main characters Sudha and Chandar find each other in the fast paced life of Mumbai and fall in love but there is more to add for a perfect life – their own wish list which will come at the cost of their love. Some of the lines will stay with you to keep reminding you to seek answers to the dilemma of your own life. DP has brought a fresh wave of Hindi fiction with contemporary stories having profound and palatable prose.

His second novel, October Junction is again about a young ambitious couple, a millionaire boy and a successful writer who in a race of fame and money find it difficult to converge their path of love but meet on 10th of October every year for 10 years in a hope to live a life they had planned when they were young.

DP is not just an author but also an on-stage storyteller with a knack for catching the audience’s attention with his presentation of plot. Recently, Audible has posted his story series Piya Milan Chowk where one can listen to the narration of the stories by the author himself.

“Hindi is cool, yaar!” is his style statement and he has delivered TEDx Talks in Hindi, paving way for many who wanted to talk in Hindi. He has been an eminent face at literature festivals reaching out to readers in person and inspiring many to read and write in Hindi. He has been generously sharing his journey about writing and publishing on his blog http://divyaprakash.in/ giving out useful insights into the writing world. Sunday Wali Chitthi is one of my favorite sections where he talks about life and living in general.

Ibnebatuti, fifth in the row is his latest book. It’s a story about a single mother hopping in her past to reinvent her future. A difficult to digest truth is presented with a fast moving flavored plot. It is a necessary story to be told where his readership is not just the city dwelling people but the youngsters residing in the hinterland trying to bring about a change around the perceived notion about a middle-aged single lady. This book starts a conversation around a much hushed topic through a lighter take. With a badge of ‘Lakhprati Lekhak‘ (sold over a lakh copies), DP has certainly been successful in bringing up a change in the readership for Hindi fiction.