Amrita Sher-Gil's Village-Scene-1938

Khadija Mastur’s The Women’s Courtyard 

The Women’s Courtyard, by Khadija Mastur, translated into English from Urdu, by Daisy Rockwell, begins with the protagonist, Aliya, having a sleepless night at her Uncle’s place, recalling and pondering on how her life will be from now onwards. In the next few chapters, she recalls how she as a child, had shifted to a newer place that was bereft of any life, community or togetherness and how her previous home was filled with love, friends, and endless entertaining stories that her Khansaman Bua used to regale her with.

The book then jumps into the present and narrative speaks of the events that lead up to that point where Aliya is now restless and pondering over an uncertain future in her Uncle’s house.


Titled,
Aangan, in the original Urdu, the novel is set in pre-Independence India (somewhere in North India) and narrates how the Independence movement affects the men and women of the house. It is the women who are the main characters and the house or the courtyard (angan in Hindi/Urdu) is their stage.

The story is told from the perspective of Aliya, focusing also on other female members of the house such as Aliya’s mother, her elder sister, Tehmina, her friend Chammi and Kusum. The Independence movement takes place in the background for the women yet the male members’ intense involvement and particularly the rivalry of Jameel (Aliya’s cousin) and her Uncle rip the household. Jameel supports the Muslim League whereas his own father is a staunch Congress supporter. Their bitter rivalry tears them apart so much so that they do not speak to each other. Aliya’s own father’s involvement in the movement is what forces her and her mother to shift into her Uncle’s house which is where the novel begins.  (caution: one cannot simply base their assumptions about the Independence movement through a reading of this novel and dismiss the contribution of women to the movement).

The Women’s Courtyard does proffer a varying perspective on how deeply it affected women of the time and how it makes them adjust and compromise on every level as well. The novel is not a critique of the movement but rather of the patriarchy that is embedded in society and even in the movement. While it is important to fight for one’s country which the men in the Aliya’s family do, they themselves are caught between their roles of being breadwinners and freedom fighters which shows the pressures that they themselves faced from their family and society. On the other hand, the stage of the house in the novel and the Aangan makes the reader view a traditionally female occupied space and how their world is confined to that. While the men are out there fighting for freedom and having discussions about that in the drawing rooms, the women are never privy to that world. The female gaze does not trespass that territory even though it affects them in various other ways such as emotional and financial. Aliya is the only one who is shown reading and learning about the movement from her Uncle and his encouragement to read his books. The novel portrays several gender expectations imposed at that time which are applicable even today where women are not allowed to be part of certain decision making processes in several areas and cultures of the subcontinent.

 

Through her college, her reading and her exposure to her immediate world, Aliya, is the diplomatic yet empathetic voice in the story who is able to recognize the unfairness in the way in which society treats people, especially women. Her understanding and ability to interpret and reason make her absolutely logical with a touch of empathy for everyone around her. For example, her notions around love and marriage is shaped by how her friend, Kusum, was treated unfairly by gossip mongers for eloping and how Tehmina lost her senses because of falling in love. She is cautious herself about falling in love and stays away from something that she considers quite irrational. It is not merely the idea of love she detests but the manner in which it is ingrained into women. Thus she severely critiques this wrong notion of how women are expected to behave when in love which is quite relevant even today.

The Women’s Courtyard, is a thoroughly engaging read that unsparingly critiques all facets of patriarchy from Aliya’s mother’s entrenched beliefs regarding women and need for punishment for transgressive women or her aunt’s own pride in her Master’s degree and her condescending attitude toward one and all. It is a beautifully translated novel that captures the tense atmosphere both at Aliya’s home and outside. The one aspect that would have added to the novel’s charm would have been to include certain phrases and lines in the original Urdu, even if romanized.

Doris Lessing’s Fifth Child

Doris Lessing’s Fifth Child has been under the knife enough to not need any more dissections but speculations sometimes seem to make sense or worse no sense of the book. Fifth Child is the story of a young couple, Harriet and David who found another, just like them. They knew they meant it, and that they had to have a big family. A big family with a mansion outside town, full of guests who stayed even after the holidays and children through its halls filling everyone’s hearts with joy. The fifth child changed everything for the couple, their family cracked, the house was empty and deserted.

“It’s either him or us,” David said. Harriet had her life going the way she’d hoped even when they found it difficult to make ends meet. Harriet got pregnant too quickly and after the fourth, the doctor had advised her to rest before she planned on having another child. And then she was pregnant again with their fifth child, Ben. Harriet grew suspicious about the foetus and was sure something was wrong with it, “She imagined pathetic botched creatures, horribly real to her, the products of a Great Dane or a borzoi with a little spaniel; a lion and a dog; a great cart house and a little donkey; a tiger and a goat”.

“I don’t want to kill the nasty little brute,” Harriet said to Dr Brett after telling how Ben was suffering from a milk infection and needed something for the diarrhoea. It surprised Dr Brett that Harriet was not breastfeeding her child. She showed him her bruised nipples, and he went silent only to say, “Naughty baby” that made Harriot laugh in astonishment. Lessing offers us an alternative perspective of what if Harriot is imagining her struggles? What if Ben isn’t a troll or a goblin but just an ugly baby? Dr Brett tells her it’s not abnormal to dislike the child, and he says that he sees it too often. In the binary of a good and bad mother, Lessing lets the reader decide if Harriet is a good or bad mother. Her four children were perfect, and the house was bustling with joy and happiness till Ben was born and she gave it all up to be Ben’s mother.

David and Harriet had given Ben up to an institute where he would have been cared for and they wouldn’t have to worry. Harriet found Ben in a straitjacket locked in a room, wearing soiled clothes and any longer there, he would have died. Harriet had the choice of saving Ben or letting him die and giving her family back the normalcy they’d lost. Harriet brought Ben back and dealt with his antics and ways, trained him to get by in the real world and successfully arrive into adulthood. Harriet’s struggle with Ben took most of her time and she slowly disappeared from the lives of all her other children. All the children ended up leaving home to stay with other relatives to get some distance from Ben. David had moved out of their room the night she brought him back. Something broke in their relationship that day.

We could classify fifth Child as horror fiction, a gothic novella and a newer classification, more popular among films “Gynaecological Gothic”. An experiential account of gestation, the horror of carrying an alien or goblin or monster as a child. A dark and grim experience of violence experienced by the mother, a victim and the world’s denial to see Ben for what he truly is in Harriet’s eyes, an ugly troll that she couldn’t have birthed. The popular short story The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman can arguably be a Gynaecological gothic.

Lessing is the oldest recipient of the Nobel Prize for literature and Margaret Atwood in her tribute writes “If there were a Mount Rushmore of 20th-century authors, Doris Lessing would most certainly be carved upon it.” Lessing left two children behind in the care of their father, her husband in Zimbabwe and moved to London to chase her literary prospects. Harriet’s experience with Ben and bringing him back from the institute seems to lie deeper in Lessing abandoning her children but these speculations have no footing. “It was an upsetting thing to write, it goes very deep into me somewhere,” said Lessing when talking about writing the Fifth Child.

 

About the Author: Vinay Kumar is a a freelance photographer & writer who drinks too much coffee.

Book Review – A Strangeness in my Mind by Orhan Pamuk

Reminiscent of other novels by Orhan Pamuk and their lovely rendering of Istanbul, A Strangeness in my Mind, also pays homage to the city.

Seen mainly through the eyes of the character, Mevlut, who comes to Istanbul in 1969 at the age of 12, to live with his father, who sells yoghurt during the day and boza (a fermented drink) at night. He and his father are among the hundreds of villagers who migrated from remote villages to Istanbul in search of a better income and life.

Mevlut thoroughly enjoys it as a child there, looking wondrously into the city’s intricate streets and its inhabitants while accompanying his father on his rounds; picking up the nitty gritties of the job: the way to behave, the way to entice a customer to buy, the manner in which to extol your yoghurt or boza. Being in school presents a completely different set of challenges especially due to the class divide and him having to work after his school. Nonetheless, his time with his cousins and their mother, is something he looks forward to, particularly with Suleyman, who is always ready to give Mevlut the benefit of the doubt.

The novel weaves its way through the various main events that occur in Mevlut’s life such as him dropping out of school, or his marriage to Rayiha with its own twist, or his being robbed during one of his rounds selling boza among many others or his time selling ice cream or being a waiter.

A Strangeness in my Mind is a peculiar bildungsroman or a coming of age novel that traces Mevlut’s growth. Yet Pamuk plays with the narrative’s style deftly such that it is not a mere chronicler of life from birth to death.

Firstly, the narrative is not a straightforward first person narrative that Mevlut narrates rather different point of views of various colourful characters are interspersed together, giving the reader multiple perspectives.

Curiously, the novel does begin by typically noting Mevlut’s birth but then it jumps right into the middle by narrating the story of Mevlut’s tense elopement. It immediately puts the reader into the thick of things. And then once that is done, Pamuk slows it down and brings you to the present, describing Mevlut’s daily round of selling boza and how he is now a historic curiosity from the past. Then, the narrative whizzes back to his childhood and where his journey to Istanbul all started!

A Strangeness in my Mind is as much about Mevlut as it is about Istanbul. Through Mevlut, we view the city, how it was to his childlike eyes, and how he views it later, when it has mushroomed further into the hills, as more and more people swarm the city. Through his rounds while selling his yoghurt and boza and later only boza, we see the different sections of the city, its past and how people from different nationalities and sects live there or used to live there, now taken over by others. Particularly, the reader sees the magic and menace of Istanbul at night when the ‘strangeness’ in Mevlut’s mind is heightened, allowing him to indulge in his musings and letting his thoughts ramble unbridled. Perhaps this is the reason why he does not give up this fast fading and hence, quaint profession, refusing to (yet at times being attracted to) partake in the wealth and business that his cousins, Suleyman and Korkut, were able to accumulate; but that which always eluded him. Yet, Mevlut is content, happy to live among his own thoughts, with his beautiful Rahiya, his daughters and his beloved city.

The tone of the novel is tinged with unmistakable nostalgia for the days gone by, for the brisk business yoghurt and boza sellers could sustain in the city before the dairy and raki companies gained foothold, and for the city’s beauty itself.

Yet the story is not melancholic or wistful in its nostalgia. The narrative never condemns the city’s growth but merely states it as things that are inevitable since most cities have chosen a very capitalistic, vertical and the suspicious “development” route for their growth.

A Strangeness in my Mind thus captures the ephemerality of the idea of Istanbul and of human stability. The ending itself is a beautiful gift that Mevlut bestows onto the city that has nurtured him.

That being said, I couldn’t help but wonder if the story was told through a female perspective, how drastically different would it be? For one, the reader would not be able to see Istanbul’s public side and definitely not its streets at night since Istanbul’s norms would not allow girls to be in the boza selling profession or go out at “odd” hours. Though Mevlut’s eyes provide a subaltern glimpse into the city, which is vastly different to the more elite narrative of one of Pamuk’s other novels, The Museum of Innocence, the story still speaks from a privileged male perspective. We do see a different side of the city but that is very much based on gender and profession; unique as that may be, it makes for an interesting and creative topic of discussion among fellow readers.

Joe Sacco's Palestine Cover Image

Palestine by Joe Sacco

For years cartoonist Joe Sacco had been watching and reading the news of the Palestinian uprising. Are all Palestinians terrorists or victims? He would ask himself as he saw the news flashing across his TV screen. What about the average guy with routine concerns like food on the table for his family and getting to work on time. Where was that guy? Dissatisfied with the media’s portrayal of the Israeli-Palestinian situation, Joe decided that he needed to see it for himself, from ground zero.

 

In the winter of 1991-1992, he made his way to the region and parked himself in Jerusalem. For two months, he crisscrossed across the borders between West Bank, Israel, and the Gaza Strip. He met labourers, refugees, ex-prisoners, soldiers, volunteers…all the different people who were a part of the fabric of this troubled region. He met children who had not seen any other way of life and geriatrics who had lived in peaceful times much before the 1948 Palestine War. His companion on this travel was his trusty notebook for his doodles, cartoons, and observations.

 

This notebook would later take the shape of Joe Sacco’s graphic memoir – Palestine.

 

The novel, both written and illustrated by Sacco, is divided into nine issues, each one divided into multiple chapters. The story is built through anecdotes that he gathers as he travels across the region. In towns like Nablus, Ramallah and Hebron in the West Bank, he visits market places, hospitals, schools and local homes. He meets Palestinians who have spent multiple terms in Ansar III, the largest detention centre in the world. He travels to the extreme west to the Gaza Strip where he spends a week in the Jabalia refugee camp and witnesses first-hand the living conditions.

 

While his witty remarks often elicit laughter, the underlying tone of empathy for the helpless situation is starkly evident. For instance, his visit to Nablus, where a milkman he encounters in the market insists on playing tour guide. He drags Joe to the local hospital and tows him from bed-to-bed, introducing him to the casualties and listing the details of their injuries. The patients are not all rebels. Many, including children, are wounded by army bullets that zipped into their homes or school compounds. The situation is grim, but the writer’s presentation of the hospital as a tourist spot and himself as a tourist makes one laugh out loud.

 

The author’s intent is not to trivialize the Palestinian situation. Sacco’s use of humour manages to evoke discomfort in the reader, engrossed in the story from the warmth and safety of her home.

A chapter on Sacco’s interaction with the detainees from Ansar III highlights the fact that incarceration was an accepted fate by Palestinian men at the time. The story of the prisoners brings out nuances of life inside a detention camp, many of which are astonishing. For instance, the formation of committees among the prisoners to oversee seemingly mundane tasks like the equitable distribution of tea. And, the organization of lectures by the prisoners on topics like Einstein, philosophy and split-up of the Soviet Union. As also, their strategies based on the careful study of the soldiers’ routines, such as planning contentious activities just before the weekend, when the officers are looking forward to heading home.

 

At the end of the two months, Sacco visits Tel Aviv, the capital of Israel, on the insistence of two tourists he meets in Jerusalem. They want him to see ‘their side of things’. During those few hours in Tel Aviv, the writer sees a different side of the region, meets people who remind him of people he meets in America and Europe. He concedes that yes there is an Israeli side of the story which he has neglected in this novel, but that calls for another trip. This trip was an exercise to uncover the Palestinian perspective, largely disregarded by popular media.

 

Sacco alternates between playing narrator and protagonist. As the narrator, he shares with the reader his reflections on the people, their situation and the policies that govern this region. He also includes nuggets from history to help understand how events have evolved to reach the current status quo. With regards to the other characters, he is matter-of-fact, presenting them without over-dramatization and allowing the reader to draw conclusions.

 

The illustrations are monochromatic, and Sacco strikes a balance between vacuity and busyness in every box. Some bits are filled with fine lines, squiggles and other patterns, which enhance the starkness to the blank bits in the box. His drawings acquaint the reader with a close-up view of a land that has primarily been seen only through the long-focus lenses of reporters.

 

‘Palestine’ drives home the power of stories – they engage and thus, affect. And they stay with the reader, much after the news has been relegated to the archives.

Image – Joe Sacco’s Palestine

Train to Pakistan by Khushwant Singh

Good books often give wings to the imagination of young writers, thus helping them to transport their readers to a world very different from the real, brutal world we live in. But sometimes, some stories, some real stories are pushed beneath the facts and informative pages of a history book—lost and hidden from the generations to come. Though we learn about these events and score good marks in a history paper, we fail to delve into the depths of the pages and dig out the dust-ridden, true stories still haunting the past of many such families who fell victim to those massacres.

 

Khushwant Singh was one such survivor of the horrendous Partition of India, 1947, born in Hadali, now in Pakistan. Not only an author, he was a lawyer, a diplomat, a journalist as well as a member of Parliament from 1980 to 1986. He was awarded the Padma Bhushan in 1974, which he returned as a sign of protest against the siege of Golden Temple by the Indian Army. He was awarded the Padma Vibhushan in 2007. Singh died in 2014 at the age of ninety-nine years.

 

In his book “Train to Pakistan”, he weaves his own experience beautifully, into a story set in Mano Majra, a fictional village on the border of India and Pakistan, harbouring both Sikhs & Muslims peacefully for hundreds of generations. Then, with the murder of the local Hindu moneylender and the arrival of a train from Pakistan carrying the dead bodies of Sikhs, years and years of brotherhood falls apart and hostility brews between the Hindus and Muslims; forcing the latter to leave their lands, homes, cattle, and everything else behind and board a train to Pakistan.

 

Singh builds up all his characters with finesse and perfect detailing, sometimes using ordinary events of day-to-day lives to reflect the inner conflicts of his characters’ minds. For example, when the District Magistrate Hukum Chand notices two geckos fighting each other and falling on the bed, metaphorically representing the Hindus and Muslims at loggerheads, he jumps out of bed in fear and disgust; thus reflecting his guilt and moral conflict of not taking a stand for the good of the people even with so much power in hand. On the other hand, while the well-educated, social worker Iqbal Singh keeps on pondering whether to lay down his life for the greater good, the uneducated, rogue, gangster Juggut Singh, who has fallen in love with Nooran, a local Muslim girl, tries to redeem himself for all his past actions by sacrificing his own life and saving his fellow Muslim villagers from dreadful deaths; thus exposing another moral paradox of our society— Are learned men truly educated or do they always fall short of action in times of need?
Singh refuses to take any political side and instead, presents us the stark reality of the horrors of partition from a humane point of view. As we flip page after page, we realise that neither Sikhs nor Muslims were innocent! Men were killed on both sides, women were raped on both sides and children were orphaned on both sides. From the many gruesome & explicit accounts of murder, death, rape and torture, we, as readers realise with a heavy heart that it has always been the common people who have suffered and paid the price for the actions and decisions of those in power.

 

Train to Pakistan is a historical book which does not fail to impress the readers with its detailed and beautiful illustration of a dark age in our Indian History, while at the same time questions our religious bigotry, our society as well as the principles and morals of the decision-makers of our country.

 

Resonance of Literature – Seasons of the Palm

One often finds it intriguing how a flattened piece of wood with few inks splattered in patterns can make a person cry. For words have the power to move mountains and shake hearts so why does one delve deep into the vast expanse of this subject called Literature. It is because it speaks those truths which the mouth shies away from uttering. It explains details which the ordinary life can entail and yet be unknown about it.

I write this from a small and remote tribal village in Chhattisgarh with no proper connectivity to the mainstream. I feel this tributary is snaking its way around from the lived realities around me to this amazing phenomenon called book which I illustrated in my introduction. I just finished reading Perumal Murugan’s Seasons of the Palm. There is a concept of performativity in Social Science, where a victim or an oppressed has to ‘perform’ her oppression every time for her to assert her rights. A very simple example would be how a tribal has to prove her backwardness to the authorities to claim their entitled rights. In terms of literature, a women writer has to perform her feminism every time she writes, for there are questions too often which asks her about the ‘women’s perspective’ in her writing. The reason I bring this concept is to introduce you to Perumal Murugan.

Perumal Murugan is a Dalit writer from Tamil Nadu and his works have been translated from Tamil into many other languages including English. Seasons of the Palm is also a translated text from Koolla Madari. This book has tried to break the notion of performing the Dalit identity in very many ways. This is not to say that he has not at all touched the subject, rather he has put it into a context where the picture is not black and white where the oppressor is not the evilest creature on earth and our protagonist Shorty, the oppressed, not the naïve innocent child who obeys his parents faithfully.

This novel is built with a complex set of emotions just like any other literary work based on real life. I often find this sentence ‘based upon real life’ amusing. Can there be any word of writing in this world which has not been born out of real life? Everything has some or the other resonance with the life around. It is not possible to ride on the pillions of poesy to fly high if there was no ground to fly from, in the first place. Every piece of literature has been born out of its times and the author must have seen and observed her mettle to write it down in a piece of paper. However, my occasional detour was to back Murugan and second his thought that his fictional work doesn’t and cannot come out of blue. It is lived realities and experiences of many people which find words in his novel. Seasons of the Palm is about a young Dalit boy Shorty whose work is to herd sheep and do other jobs in his Master’s house to pay off the debt his father owes the Master. This debt seems to never end as his father keeps taking more money and the interest piles on. But in the introduction itself, Shorty clarifies that he doesn’t engage himself in this complex math, unlike Belly, another sheepherder and makes sure she gets a fair share of her work. This story has many other characters like Tallfellow, Stonedeaf, Stumpleg, and Selvan who is the son of Shorty ’s master.

The book is a very detailed account of the activities these young lads are engaged in when they are herding sheep or protecting them in the night or escaping out of this constant slavery. Murugan very beautifully details those moments of joy which these children steal out of their slaved lives like catching fishes, stealing palm fruits, stealthily going for a cinema and many more like it. These moments are precious also because Murugan describes nature with it. He somehow hints at the fact that although people are discriminatory and often involve themselves in drudgery, nature has always been kind and compassionate. This is done so lucidly in the book that I resonate with it in my village right now. Although there are no sheep here, I see similar actions by the goats or Poochi, the dog in my compound. The way the valley, the well has been described, it is as if one is also diving deep with each breath Shorty takes in it.

The social conditions of this village are not unusual. During the temple festival, these untouchable boys have to stand outside. Murugan also gives an account of how they come to this temple during the rest of the year when no one is around and play with the idols freely. There is a progress which Shorty makes as the story moves forward, he is described as this young boy who is fearful and sensitive in the initial chapters but in the end, he has become unwary of his surroundings. Murugan describes this as :

His (Shorty’s)ears appeared to have shut themselves off from the world.
Just as how his body had drawn itself into a tight knot, waiting to be kicked at anytime.

These lines come in the final chapters when Shorty starts asking questions about this atrocity to his father and starts calculating the money he earns and owes the Master. His beatings made him reason out a phenomenon which earlier he took for granted. As mentioned earlier, Murugan doesn’t put them in the strict categories of Oppressor and Oppressed. Shorty does run away for a few days and his Master accepts it as fate. In the same way, his Master leaves his sheep and cow free on the Harvest day and exclaim them as poor beings who work throughout the year. This care and compassion for the animals show a more skewed picture of caste discrimination. Casteism is so rampant and obvious that even a caring heart practices it without actually being so ruthless. If a reader needs one reason to pick this book it should be for its detailed accounts of the village life along with its half-hidden flaws, for everything needs to be taken with a pinch of salt.

About the Author: Kalpita is a Bachelor in English Literature. Her ultimate goal is to fulfill the romantic notion of changing the world for better and she is pursuing MA in Development from Azim Premji University, Bangalore.

Andrew Sean Greer’s Less

Where do I begin? If I only I could give form to the feeling that has been gushing within me, you would know how overwhelming an experience it was. But as usual, I didn’t know where to begin and I kept waiting for the words to find their way out of the whirlpool of emotions.  A month has gone by since then. So, maybe I should just begin by telling you how I never have had a great run with award-winning books. Continue reading “Andrew Sean Greer’s Less”

The Reading Life

In a video that I watched yesterday, a bear cub made several attempts to climb up to his mother waiting on the top of a mountain that was hiding under the snow. The cub climbed a few scratches higher every time he tried but skidded down the slope on each of those spirited attempts. His failure didn’t bother him. He grew up again, gathered a lungful, and scaled a greater altitude than the previous time. He tried straight up, he slithered, and he traced his mother’s paw-marks, all to end up at mark zero. It was a devastating sight. A fall further from his start and death would have engulfed him with love much before his due time. He was beginning to look like a play-ball trying to get back to the shore riding on current knowing well that it had no utility in the ocean and in any case, the child at the shore expected the ball to rebound when he threw it away into the waters! So, the ball keeps riding the waves one after the other till it reaches close enough to be pulled up but the child falters, the ball gets withdrawn again before finally getting thrown outside on the sand with a splash on the child’s face. The cub likewise, kept on rising and falling till he finally conquered the peak and joined his mother. As I write this, my mind also wanders to Christopher Nolan’s treatment of the Batman in his third installment in the series. Bane puts Bruce Wayne in ‘the pit’ and we are treated to, artistically speaking, one of the most breathtaking sequences we will die having seen when Bruce attempts to escape the pit and after many failed leaps, conquers his fear of failure.

I watched this cub video more than once and kept thinking about what I saw. I gave my mind some time, an optimal pace to play and replay the cub’s conquest in slow motion in my head, and kept thinking about the myriad other ways it could have unfolded in. What if the mother bear had come down to rescue the cub? What if the cub had given up and stayed at one point without making any further attempts? What if the cub had continued falling never to reach the summit? What if the cub had renounced his yearning to reach the top?

The last bit lingered over me for some more time. I wondered about the possibility of the cub developing a taste, a fondness for the struggle itself. If the cub kept floating high and below over the snow, if Bruce found a liking for the hymns and cheers of other members of the pit, would we stop longing for the end of the conquest? What if the end of our struggles also means the end of our purpose? I read Annie Dillard’s ‘The Writing Life’ yesterday. She constructed a snow laden mountain for me to climb. She threw me into the pit of death so that I could come out alive. I kept at my futile attempts to reach the top. I studied the contusions on my knees, the concussions to my head in that one moment when you reach the zero velocity just before falling back from no matter how high. I held the doorknobs of time in that instant and stretched the doors to as far I could between my arms and looked carefully into myself – the reader; and just before I could let myself fly down to the boundless abyss, Annie held me by my neck and pulled me up. The reader they say, must behave himself.

Source for the image.

A Pitch for Love by Kartik Kompella

It’s been a while since I read a light-hearted fiction. My bookshelf is laden heavily with serious subjects that I used to feel embarrassed when someone wanted to borrow a lighter read. So, when I picked ‘A Pitch for Love’, it was a welcome change, especially after letting myself drown in Franz Kafka for a week. Just as I began to read, I knew I should thank the author for two things. One, the book wasn’t Mahabharata retold from Adhiratha’s point of view or Ramayana rewritten in Sumitra’s perspective. Two, the language, which used to be one of the important reasons I prefer not to read the so-called best-selling contemporary Indian authors.

Karthik Kompella has been a successful non-fiction author and editor with five books to his credits. ‘A Pitch for Love’ is his seventh book and debut in fiction. The book is a tale of office romance but Kartik’s female protagonist, Prachi, is no ‘damsel in distress’. She is the kind of career woman every girl aspires to be. She is smart, independent, and wildly successful. She reigns as the advertising queen. Drona, the male protagonist, on the other hand, reminded me of Vijay Devarakonda, the new prince of romance. On one hand, Drona is reckless and carefree and on another, he is sensitive and responsible. Either way, Kartik makes him look adorable.

Drona and Prachi, literally meet by an accident and, Drona gets employed by Prachi. The rest of the story is about whether these two found their way to each other’s heart. Before they get there, they had to deal with a lot of rivalries, office politics, and setbacks. And then there are Janaki, Ganapathi, Hizmout and others who remind you of the different kind of people you meet at any workplace. Since the story unfolds in the unconventional world of advertising, you get a sneak peek into how pitches are conceived and won amidst cutthroat competition. The chapters where Drona and Prachi work to win a tough client or deal with an extraordinary situation are quite creative and exciting. The book is also full of wittiness in conversations making it a ‘peppy’ read.

The author is also founder of a Brand consulting agency and that should explain the frequent mentions of brand names like Verna, Enfield, Jimmy Choos, Diesel Jeans etc. in the first few chapters. It was indeed distracting, but this problem seemed to have fixed itself in the later chapters and Kartik lets you ease into the story. One other thing, which I could have preferred otherwise, is the too much detailing of how a character looks, especially the female ones. While it might build the interest initially, it also becomes a drag after a while. Irrespective of all that, the book is a page-turner and the author successfully will convince you of Drona’s charm that you almost forgive him for all his amorous conquests.  Although a good part of the story happens inside the office premises, the events that happen beyond the office are the truly romantic ones. Prachi unwinding with her friend from past, Prachi’s dates with David, Drona’s adventure with Parvathi, Janaki’s time with Drona etc., and last but not the least, the Guy Fawkes day celebration etc. make a delightful read. So, if you are looking for an unconventional read in romance, ‘A Pitch for Love’ is a good choice.

From Ideas to Iconic Brands – Giles Lury

Giles says at the end of his book -“… This book was never meant to complete with them or play that role; rather I wanted to tell stories. I wanted to complement those other books….”

Giles claims to have written a storybook and not a textbook, he succeeds in that attempt and makes you go through the stories of 101 brands in the most lucid manner. With the brands that have been successful, he has also added stories of brands who got it wrong and sunk into oblivion, and this has, to the benefit of the author, imparted contrasting hues to his work.

I liked reading these stories and I would certainly recommend it to people around me instead of letting them dig the entire web without direction. However, I see a particular pattern emerging out that worries me as a writer as well as a reader. As with the startup scene, are we seeing an aggregation age in book publishing too where a collection of x items is turned into a book without caring for an often cited term ‘creativity’, of the author’s mind? I hope that the publishers recognize the sincere from the lazy and do not overdo the business part in this complex Creativity-Business equation. Most of all, I hope this book doesn’t fall on the shelf that is meant to mint money at the expense of originality.

Giles Lury has written a book From Ideas to Iconic Brands. He is the Executive Chairman of The Value Engineers, a leading marketing and advertising agency. The book is published by Jaico. Giles Lury has an affable way of writing and keeps you with him from first page to the last. Push in one addendum that most of the brand stories in the book can be found on the web, his work gains a more difficult skin – what difference has he made to the stories already out there while bringing them down in his book?

I would add two more things to Giles’ note at the end of the book about his purpose – Context and Objective. The writer tacitly adds a context to each of the story he tells and has an objective, a motivation in his head to tell a story when he tells it. This makes it easier for the readers to take what they would usually take from the book and also receive an extra message on writer’s own conclusions to the stories. By the time I reached the other end of his book, I felt I had more wherewithal with me to use at work and life as compared to when I started reading it.