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.

Pankaj Dubey’s Debut Novel ‘What a Loser!’ is the Story of Every Stereotyped Human Soul Around Us

The world around us is so full of stereotypes. Some claim to be good whereas most of them turn out to be disastrous. There is also an army of well-intentioned people who work to break these stereotypes. Yet it seems almost impossible to wipe out these stereotypes. The world likes to thrive in these patterns irrespective of whether you like it or not. So, what happens when one chooses to tell the stories of these stereotyped human souls around us? It turns out to be a laugh riot and that is what Pankaj Dubey’s debut novel What a Loser! is. The book is published by Penguin Random House India.

 

Being faithful to his roots, Pankaj picked a protagonist close to home. The interesting aspect of his protagonist is that he is strangely familiar and popular among the rest of the countrymen. But only Pankaj could bring out the finer aspects of this innocent yet dreamy PAKS. PAKS arrives in Mukherjee Nagar carrying some seemingly lofty goals and loads of Sattu and achaar from Begusarai. From the significance of the colour red, be it in the gamchha, the name embroidered in the pillow covers to the terracotta-coloured shirt pieces and the information on the ‘penties’, our author’s attention to details is just spot on. Even if you are not from Begusarai or the cow-belt, you still might relate to PAKS especially if you were raised in a village or small town and migrated to the cities to pursue some sort of a career. Feel free to blame the author if you become all nostalgic and secretly wish for PAKS to succeed in his journey. But he is not even my favourite character.

 

While the author was cheering for his protagonist, I was rooting for the self-proclaimed Badshah of 440, Mukherjee Nagar, New Delhi. Haven’t we all had such wonderful characters in our lives, who are so full of their insecurities, vulnerabilities, false pride and fear of failures? Putting up a brave, proud face even during unfortunate times while making life miserable for others the rest of the time, Subodh Singh only makes this comedy ride of the story more entertaining. His character touches the epitome when PAKS’s Babuji arrives in 440.

 

None of the characters seems fictional even if the author claims so. From the north-easterners Ronnie and Amilie to the Jats who form the opposite gang, each one looks handpicked from one or other’s real life. So are the events in the plot. The secrets of evening colleges, the university politics, the obsession with ‘cool’ English and British Council, the fascination for ‘milky white’ skin and the Punjaban girls are all inimitable truths of a small-town guy in Delhi. The book knits together these urban legends and takes you through a hilarious ‘Dilli Darshan’.

 

I find it hard to ignore that the author doesn’t have much kindness left for his female characters. They are either cold and vicious or come across as eye-candies. I wonder what grudge does the author have against the beautiful girls of Delhi.

 

Even as the book gives a comic touch to the many miseries of these super commoners, the author also manages to poke your eye occasionally while you are busy laughing. Some of us might not even notice the poke, for instance when Subodh Singh asserts his ‘caste superiority’, or when a shootout happens in a University classroom. You realize these are matters of greater concern, in retrospection. But to brood is against the spirit of the book. So pick this book, when you want to leave out your cares for a while and have a peal of hearty laughter.

You can buy the book here.

Creator's-Image-ShwethaHS

Creator’s Image by Shwetha H S Looks for the Interesting in the Mundanities of Life

The difference between a full-blown novel and a short story is perhaps similar to that of a long term relationship and a one-night stand. A reader reads a short story without the expectation of a long term commitment but this very aspect of a short story compounds the pressure on the writer. The margin for error is nil. The author cannot make mistakes in the first page to compensate for them in the subsequent pages. What comes about in those few thousand words lasts as the first and the final impression of the encounter on the reader’s mind.

Shwetha H S begins her short stories collection with the title-story Creator’s Image which is a deeply reflective metaphorical tale about the human civilization. With multi-layers of deliberation presented with intelligent twists and turns, this story holds the book together. There are ten other stories which tell us the tales of extraordinary moments of our ordinary lives. In fact, the selection of subjects and plot betray Shwetha’s love for the fleeting moments of life, her attempts to hold them for a little longer in her gaze and pluck a story out from those moments.

Most of the stories are relatable and you will find parts of yourself in one or the other tale. The stage is most often a snapshot of the routine life. Through the course of the story, her pen closes in on one character who can be considered the protagonist. She deals with the character in greater details and the suspense hangs around this character’s action or inaction. While this method works for a few of the stories, it also makes a few of them predictable. As a result, they end up short of making a lasting impact. The stories that hit the mark linger with you for sometime and keep you invested in the plot even after they have ended.

The book also deals with moments of dilemma humans face while making decisions in life, no matter how significant or insignificant. This pits the reader’s choices against those of the characters time and again and makes for a very fluid vantage point which does not distance itself too much away from the characters and the stories. You will find yourself in situations where your vantage point gets flooded away with helplessness and there remains hardly any difference between you as a reader and the characters sketched in the stories.

The language is lucid and mature. The author has constructed her stories with not a word extra or unnecessary. There is no needless rhetoric or the microscopic background details. She balances the ‘told’ and the ‘untold’ deftly in all her stories and the reader is neither dumbed down nor is left to stray too far in the dark at any point.

My favourite stories in the book are Tears of the Goddess, To Each His Own, and Creator’s Image. The book is available on Amazon Kindle and if you are looking for a quick-read without having to commit to the rigours of reading a big fat novel in the already ominous season of lockdowns and unlocks, Creator’s Image is the one night stand you are looking for.

You can buy the book here.

The Circle of Karma Is a Moving Depiction of Individuality and Self Reflection From Bhutan

Kunzang Choden’s The Circle of Karma was the first English novel to be published in Bhutan by a woman.

Set in approximately, 1950s and 1960s Bhutan, the novel is written in a chronological order and narrated from a third person point of view. The protagonist in The Circle of Karma is Tsomo. The novel portrays the various events and experiences that Tsomo goes through in her life right from being a child in Tang Valley in Bumthang District in Bhutan to her old age in Thimphu, Bhutan’s capital city. The central theme of Tsomo’s journey and her self-development shows the importance of individuality and self-reflection as a way to always improve oneself.

The novel moves from giving a general glimpse of Bhutan’s cultural and social aspects from a child’s (Tsomo’s) perspective at the beginning to the more specific events of Tsomo’s life and journey.

Through her family, Tsomo learns several gender roles (doing household chores, gardening, and weaving, to name a few) and gender myths namely that of female suffering and endurance. From her father, she learns the cruel truth that girls, because of their gender, are not supposed to get educated and learn to read and write.

Tsomo suffers a terrible loss during her childhood and consequently, she runs away from her home to free herself from the restrictions of belonging and relationships. Her bold decision is a major turning point of the novel. It puts her on a bumpy path of severe trials and tribulations. However, those very trials also give her the independence to grow and stand on her own two feet. To sustain herself during her days of struggle, Tsomo becomes a road construction worker. The reconstruction of the Thimphu Dzong and the construction of the roads provide a sense of the setting, which is around the time when Bhutan had chosen to modernize and open up to the world, slowly but surely.

Tsomo meets many women sharing the same dreams and struggles. She finds a new sister in another fellow worker, Dechen Choki. She also embarks on many pilgrimages which broaden her way of thinking by giving her exposure to several other cultures and peoples. At the same time, these travels also force her to face a pressing conflict that has consumed her since she ran away: whether to have a ‘normal’ life (with a husband and children) and be a good wife and a good woman as her parents had taught her or to pursue a life of religion.

The next set of events takes her away from her religious desires at the end of which she learns how the patriarchal society has taught women to always have hatred and suspicion towards each other and not to hold the men accountable. She realizes that she must relearn everything that society has taught her about gender roles. This is the other major turning point that portrays an epiphany and self-realization on Tsomo’s part.

By tracing Tsomo’s growth from childhood to adulthood and finally old age, The Circle of Karma, can be called a female bildungsroman as it depicts both Tsomo’s physical and psychological journey. The story highlights girls’ experiences of the world and how from an early age itself, both boys and girls internalize gender roles and expectations. In making Tsomo, someone who has chosen to not be defined by relationships that burden a women’s identity, the author has deftly questioned those gender roles. She has depicted the conflict that Tsomo faces in wanting to fit in to society’s expectations from a woman, yet at the same time trying to carve her own identity.

The novel showcases female friendships and solidarity and how women can support each other in times of need and deed which is the exact opposite of the internalization of the predominant idea about women being enemies to each other.  

The other important themes are religion and the idea of karma. The latter permeates the story and is reflected in the title of the novel. The idea of karma is present in everyone’s thoughts. This religious concept is used to rationalize one’s fortunes or misfortunes, but karma as a journey is what stands out as Tsomo’s life comes to full circle at the end of the novel.

The Circle of Karma employs several nuanced interpretations of travel as a motif – be it in Tsomo’s actual physical journey, or her spiritual and mental growth, or in the abstract concept of karma itself which travels and walks together with you in the present and in the afterlife.

You can buy the book here.

Abdullah Khan’s Debut Novel Patna Blues Is More Than Just a Political Statement

In India, we attach a plethora of stereotypes to one’s identity. Judging the person by his/her name, religion and home-state is a common practice. Some words like Bihari, Momdan, Chinky, Madrasi among others are used loosely and are often meant to be derogatory. Abdullah Khan in his debut novel Patna Blues traces the life of one such identity which is both a Bihari and a Muslim. The book talks about the desire, dreams, and destiny of a young boy Arif Khan based in Patna. Arif khan in his early 20s preparing to be an Indian Administration Officer, falls in love with a married Hindu woman much older than him. With so much to handle in a large family of three younger sisters and a brother, his miseries increase with this sweet distraction. He consistently finds himself at the crossroads- struggling to choose between his dreams and desire.

The book is a page turner with a lot of drama unfolding with each chapter, line by line. It is set up in early 80s spanning over 20 years against the backdrop of political events of the time. The political events are so intricately woven and meticulously placed in the story that for a moment you forget that it was a reality of a time- The times of VCR, PCOs, Mandal commission, fall of Babri Masjid, 1993 Mumbai attacks, Bihar’s Chara Ghotala, and many more.

The book does not sympathize with the struggles the identity brings him rather makes a strong point on what is and what ought to be. It smoothly ventures into the life of his family members and their aspirations. Many a time, it cuts open the wounds to show bare the prejudices of a majority of society towards a few. Arif’s father, a police officer in Patna is not handed over confidential documents just because of his religion despite his clean records. Younger brother, an aspiring actor faces mockery and rejection owing to his accent despite being talented. The family has to deal with the pressure of ill practices and beliefs of society like arranging dowry for his sisters. However, the author does not delve much into the lives of sisters and they are just to add more ‘blues’ to their life and story. Their portrayal is typical- with suppressed dreams and forced acceptance for their destiny- with everything culminating into marriage.

The book is not at all about making a political statement but shows the effort of a Muslim family to live a comfortable and respectful life despite all odds. Intermittently, the story line is showered with Urdu shayari and old Bollywood song lines which make it refreshing. The story written in simple words is entertaining. It also captures the popular places of Patna like Gandhi Maidan, Dak bunglow Square making it vivid and close to reality. This story of love, aspiration, failure, and grief travels places from Patna to the interiors of Bihar, to some of the metro cities and captures the sentiments of society about one’s identity.

Pick the book for a journey back in time, for a journey from expectations to reality, dreams to destiny, and above all from grief to hope. You can buy the book here.

சுரேஷ் பரதனின் ‘ஊர் நடுவே ஒரு வனதேவதை’ கவிதை தொகுப்பு – நூல் அறிமுகம்

நெடுஞ்சாலை எங்கும் நிறைந்திருக்கும் புங்கை மரம் போல்,  இந்த கவிதை தொகுப்பெங்கும் நிறைந்திருப்பது காதலே! நீங்கள் ஒரு நதிக்கரையினில் (ஒரு ஆறோடும் ஊரில்) வளர்ந்திருந்தாலோ  அல்லது ஒரு காதல் செய்திருந்தாலோ இந்த புத்தகம் ஒரு காலபுறாவாக மாறி உங்கள்  கடந்த காலத்தைப் பறித்து வந்து  உங்கள் உள்ளங்கையில் போட்டுவிட்டுப் போகும்.

மரவெட்டி ஒருவனைக் காதல் மணம்புரிந்து ஊருக்குள் குடியேறும் வனதேவதை ஒருத்தியின் காடு குறித்த நினைவுகளையும், அவள் காதல்கணவ‌னால் வெட்டப்படும் மரங்கள் நினைத்து அவள் கொள்ளும் பெருந்துயரத்தையும் ஒருங்கே பேசும் ஊர் ந‌டுவே ஒரு வனதேவதை‘ என்னும் கவிதை ந‌ம் சிந்தனைகளை அழப்படுத்தும். வாழ்வின் முரண்களுக்குள் சிக்குண்டு பரிதவிக்கும் உயிர்களின் மௌன கதறலை நம் செவி அடையச் செய்யும்.

பூவரச மரத்தோடு சேர்ந்தே வளரும் அவளுக்கும், அம்மரத்துக்கும் இடையிலான சிநேகம் பேசும் ‘அவளும் பூவரசும்‘ கவிதை, எனக்கு என் ஊஞ்சல் நாட்களை கண்முன் கொண்டு வந்தது.  ‘டெடி பியர்’ பொம்மை, ‘மைக்ரோ டிப்’ பென்சில் என எந்த பொருள் கேட்டு பிடிவாதம் பிடிப்பதானாலும் சரி ஊஞ்சலில் தான் படுத்துக்கொண்டு அழுவேன். ஊஞ்சல் மேல் ஏறி நின்று கொண்டு அதன் கம்பிகளை பிடித்தபடியே “தஞ்சாவூர்,  திருச்சி, மதுரை” என கூவியபடி, நான் நடத்துனராகும் போது அது பேருந்து ஆக உருமாறி எங்களோடு குதூகலிக்கும்.  துயில் நெருங்காத நீள் இரவுகளை நாங்கள் ஆடியே தீர்த்திருக்கிறோம். கம்பிகளிலிருந்து வரும் க்ரீச் ஒலியும், காற்றின் வேகமெழுப்பும்  ‘ஸ்’ ஒலியும் தான் எங்கள் பரிபாஷை. பலமுறை என் கண்ணீர் உலர்த்தி,  ஒரு தகப்பனை போல அயராது என்னை நெஞ்சில் சுமந்திருக்கிறது. திருமணத்திற்கு முந்திய ஒரு மழை நாளில் “சிநேகிதனே” பாடல் செவி நிரப்ப‌ அதி வேகமாக வெகு நேரம் ஆடிக்கொண்டிருந்தேன் அது தான் எங்கள் இருவருக்குமான கடைசி அன்பு பகிர்தல். அதன் பின் பல்வேறு காரணங்களுக்காகப் பரண் ஏற்றப்பட்ட ஊஞ்சல் இன்றுவரை  இறக்கப்படவில்லை.

ஒரே வெய்யில் தான், அது மனிதர்களுக்கு மனிதர், அவர்கள் செய்யும் பணிகளுக்கேற்ப, கையிருப்புக்கு தகுந்தாற் போல் எப்படி வண்ணமாகிறது என்பதை இயல் மனிதர்கள் மூலம் பேசும்  ‘வெய்யிலின் ருசி‘ என்னும் இக்கவிதை நடைமுறை தாகத்தைச் சொல்கிறது.

எனக்கு மிகப் பிடித்த கவிதைகளில் ஒன்று, ‘ஒரு பின் மதியத் தெரு‘. இந்த பின் மதியப்பொழுதுகள், வெயிலையும் நிசப்தங்களையும் கொண்டு தொடுக்கப்பட்டவை.  அதன் நிதானத்தை, சலனமற்ற மனங்களால் மின் விசிறியின் ஒலிக்கொண்டு அளக்க முடியும். அந்த மதிய பொழுதை யதார்த்தம் மாறாமல் கச்சிதமாய் கவிதைப்படுத்தியதோடு அதனுள்  சமூக சுரண்டலையும்  சேர்த்து முடித்தவிதம் அற்புதம்.

கிணறு இருந்திருந்த வீட்டில் வாழும் அல்லது வாழ்ந்த‌‌ மனிதர்களின் ஞாபகச்சாவி,  ‘தோட்டத்து கிணறு‘ என்னும் கவிதை. எங்கள் வீட்டின் பின்கட்டில் ஒரு கிணறு இருந்தது. ‘கிணற்றடி ஞாபகங்கள்’ என்று ஒரு கதையே எழுதும் அளவுக்கு அத்தனை நினைவுகள் உண்டு. சின்ன வயதில் கிணற்றுக்குள் எட்டிப் பார்த்து, தெரியும் முகங்களில் எது நம்முடையது என அசைந்து பார்த்து ஊர்ஜிதப்படுத்திக்கொள்வது எங்களுக்குப் பிடித்த விளையாட்டு. “நல்லா பாரு.. நீ அப்படியா இருக்க? அது உன் நிழல் இல்லை. பிசாசு. ராத்திரி தான் வெளிய வரும். ராத்திரி வெளியே வந்து கிணத்துமேட்டில் உட்கார்ந்துக்கும். இந்த பக்கம் யாராவது வந்தா பிடிச்சு தின்னுடும்”  என்று கதைகட்டிய லட்சுமி அக்காவின் குரல் இன்னும் காதுக்குள் ஒலிக்கிறது. அந்த கதையை நம்பி கிணற்றடியில் மறந்த‌, என் மரப்பாச்சியைத் திரும்ப எடுத்து வரப் பயந்துகொண்டு அப்படியே விட்டதோடு இல்லாமல் என் மரப்பாச்சியைப் பிசாசு தின்றுவிடும் என்று நினைத்து  இரவெல்லாம் அழுதிருக்கிறேன். நாம் இழந்த அற்புதமான விஷயங்களில் ஒன்று கிணறு. வீட்டில் மற்றுமொரு நபராய் இருந்த கிணற்றுக்கும் நமக்குமான நெருக்கத்தை, அதன் இழப்பை இதயம் கனக்கச் சொல்லிச் செல்கிறது இக்கவிதை.

என்றோ ஒரு நாள் நதிக்கரையில் தான் தொலைத்த‌ காதலை நினைத்து இன்றும் அந்நதியோடு மருகும்  மனதின் தேடல் சொல்லும் ‘நதிக் கரையில் தொலைத்த காதல்‘ என்னும் கவிதை காதலின் ஆழம் பேசும்.

ஓராயிரம் காலத்துத் தனிமை பெருந்துயரை, காதலின் சில நொடி மௌனம் உணர்த்திவிடும். அந்த மௌன பேரலையில் தத்தளிக்கும் மனப்படகின் கையறுநிலை சொல்கிறது ‘மௌனத்தின் இருண்மை‘ கவிதை.

காதல் தான் மையக்கரு என்றாலும் அதன் வெவ்வேறு வலிகளை, நெஞ்சில் நிரம்பி  வழியும் நினைவுகளை, நறுமணமாக மாற்றி நம் அறை நிரப்பும் அந்த யுக்தியில் உணரமுடியும் சுரேஷ் பரதனின் கவித்திறமையை.  யுகம்யுகமாய் சலனமற்று வீற்றிருக்கும் மலைகளைக் கூட ரசிக்கத் தூண்டும் வார்த்தை வல்லமை இவருடையது.

காதல் தாண்டி அரசியலை, பெண்களின் வலிகளை, சக மனிதர்களின் நிலையாமையைப் பேசும் யதார்த்த கவிதைகள், மகரந்தம் தேடும் வண்டு போல் நம் மனதோடு ரீங்காரமிடும். குறிப்பாக வாழ்வியல் நிதர்சனம் பேசும் ‘ப்ரைவசி‘ கவிதை நம் மனசாட்சியைப் பிரதிபலிக்கும். இந்த புத்தகத்தை நீங்கள் வாசிக்கும் போது இரண்டு விஷயம் நிச்சயம் நிகழும். ஒன்று, இந்த புத்தகத்தின், முதல் கவிதையின், இரண்டாவது வரியை வாசிக்கத் தொடங்கும் போதே, வாசிக்க உகந்த ஒரு இடம் தேடி உட்கார்ந்துகொள்வீர்கள். இரண்டு, இந்த புத்தகத்தை வாசித்து முடித்தவுடன் பெருமூச்சுடன் கூடிய ஓர் குறுநகை வந்து முகத்தோடு ஒட்டிக்கொள்ளும்.

 

நூல் மதிப்பீட்டாளர் பற்றிய குறிப்பு:

சத்யா, வார்த்தைகளினால் வலிகளை வழியனுப்பி வைக்கும் கூட்டுப் பறவை. எந்த உதடுகளாலும் மொழியப்படாத மனித உணர்வுகளை புத்தகங்களில் தேடுபவள். சங்கீத பிரியை. இயற்கையின் சங்கேத மொழி அறிய முயற்சிபவள்.

Hari Ghaas Ki Chappar Wali Jhopdi Aur Bauna Pahad – The Magic Realism of Vinod Kumar Shukla

We all have to face these uncertain times in differing degrees. Considering that the COVID-19 pandemic appears endless, we would all want to escape it at some point. Fantasy books are the surest way to escape the real and enter a completely new world. Magic realism is another genre that presents a unique blend where you are in the real world, yet experience the impossible or the magical.

To escape the uncertainty and anxiety, Vinod Kumar Shukla’s recent Hindi novel, Hari Ghaas Ki Chappar Wali Jhopdi Aur Bauna Pahad (published two years ago) is a must read. It takes the reader through a dreamlike ride of fun and adventure of the school children in a small village. Shukla weaves in fantasy to the realistic setting of a village in India, most possibly from his home state of Chhattisgarh.

This is why this novel can be considered as a shining example of fantasy and even magic realism.  The beginnings of magic realism are attributed to several Latin and South American writers such as Jorge Louis Borges, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Isabel Allende and Laura Esquival among others. It is a genre popular across the globe from Murakami to Toni Morrison. However, Indian writing has not fully embraced this genre with a few exceptions, notably that of Salman Rushdie.

Thus, when I bought this book because of its title and when I read it, I expected it to be a fun children’s novel. It was exactly that but the surprise was how subtly the author has mixed seemingly impossible things to the real life adventures of the three protagonists, Bolu, Bhaira, and Kuna. The school they go to is itself an example. It does not have the usual benches but instead the children sit on gunnysacks on the floor and the school’s thick walls have shelves or cubbyholes which are occupied by pigeons if not by the children’s bags and books. Eventually, even kids begin sitting in these shelves, first during their free time and later even during class. Imagine, trying to take your seat by climbing up ladders!

The titular green grass roofed hut is one of the centers of all their adventures. The hut’s origins itself seem mythic as no one has seen it being built and seems to have existed since times immemorial with an equally old couple inhabiting it. The moon rising behind it appears as if the hut itself births it, making the kids believe that from the top of the hut they could catch the moon and the rainbow. The titular mountain next to the hut is easy to climb and has a deep crater at the top, whose depths nobody can fathom.

The most impossible of all things is perhaps the teacher telling the students one fine day that the lesson of the day was no lesson and that to learn this lesson they have to spend a holiday! This is when the great adventure to find out the mysteries of the crater in the mountain begins. The kids plan to spend their holiday well by zipping down the large crater to explore it. This adventure also shows the quintessential childlike nature to get to the bottom of things (quite literally in this case) and their wonder about everything around them.

Enmeshed with this childlike wonder is the natural world from a variety of birds that even have the power to disappear to animals drinking from a pond near the temple. The adventures that the children have are linked to their natural surroundings. It creates a bond with the surrounding, evoking curiosity and excitement among the children of the story.

Shukla’s language is simple, yet creates beautiful vivid metaphors about the environment. The prose is mixed with poems and songs which again suffuse the story with feel of a bygone era. It is as if the entire novel was one big folktale. Shukla has created an outlandish world full of curiosities in this novel. It is a delight for both adults and children. Adults will be taken back to their childhood and perhaps be able to rekindle that same curiosity. Children will be taken away from their computer screens to the living, breathing, and the mesmerizing world of nature through this story.

If you loved Alice in Wonderland, then this novel is a must read. Shukla writes from his own deep connection to his surroundings and his strong belief that fantasy is a way of thinking common to all of us. If reading in Hindi is not your cup of tea, then the novel has also been translated in English by Satti Khanna. In English it is titled, Moonrise from the Green Grass Roof.

 

In Aparna Upadhyaya Sanyal’s Circus Folk and Village Freaks, Imperfection is the New Perfection

The idea of perfection or of being perfect engulfs us all in its suffocating grip. Our bodies, our work, our dress, our hair, and our everything must be somehow perfect in this deeply flawed society. Such are the contradictory expectations that society foists on us all, egged on particularly by the mass media and mass popular culture. Protagonists in movies, pop culture idols, and even politicians are projected as embodying the perfect. The ideal to achieve, then, is only perfection in all spheres of life.

Ancient Greek playwrights were perhaps one of the first to talk about characters with a deep flaw through the concept of hamartia which means ‘to err.’ Shakespeare’s tragic plays feature protagonists that are wholly defined by flaws such as Hamlet and his indecisiveness, Othello with his jealousy, or Macbeth and his greed. Even popular culture has slowly embraced imperfection, often treating its characters through a more nuanced lens rather than just the dichotomous notion of perfect versus imperfect.

Aparna Upadhyaya Sanyal in her prose poetry novel, Circus Folk and Village Freaks, wholly rejects these superficial notions of the perfect ideal and instead portrays 18 different tales of characters who are misunderstood and rejected by society as being out of the ordinary, who we would also label ignorantly as ‘freaks.’

When society rejects these freaks in the novel, they all find solace and space in a village circus, whose circus master is more than happy to accommodate and make a spectacle out of them.

From Siva, the Snake Man who finds an affinity to reptiles rather than humans, to Miss Rita with her chin full of hair because of hirsutism, from the Siamese twins, Sita and Gita to Miss Luxmi whose passion was throwing darts; all kinds of people could make it big and feel accepted among the peculiar circus folk.

These are the two threads that bind the story together. All of the characters are portrayed as being different from the so called normal. All face some kind of rejection from family and then society until they stumble upon the all embracing arms of the circus shows where their talents are showcased and appreciated.

Gabriel Garcia Marquez in his short story, A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings, depicted a man with wings who mysteriously dropped from the sky into the house of a couple. The couple uses this man to make more money by displaying him for the townsfolk to gleefully stare and poke at. Much like how we would behave unethically in a zoo. While Marquez clearly makes a comment on the spectators’ rude behavior, that is not the case in Sanyal’s tales. The spectator is missing. Only the spectacle is there. So we as readers are left to speculate on the former.

Do the characters become a mere curiosity when they perform in front of the spectators? Undoubtedly, the circus crowds cheer them, are thrilled by their acts but do they understand what the characters go through? Or is it merely something novel and delightful to their eyes for one night, only to be forgotten the next morning? How much agency does the circus actually give to these so called freaks?

Apart from these questions, Sanyal’s 18 tales also mirror the ills of our own society whether it is the complete hatred toward same sex love in our society as depicted in ‘The Sad Tale of Vishu, The Village Exterminatory,’ or the deep rooted patriarchal scorn for the girl child as shown in ‘The Tale of the Organ Sisters.’

Yet, ironically, it is this very flawed society that fails to accept people who are different and will leave no stone unturned to see that such ‘specials’ are objectified for entertainment. This contrast comes through in Sanyal’s verses as well which are written in a unique style of the rhyming couplet.

“In a country where a trunk is revered with a smile,
Lived a man with a trunk, universally reviled.”

Thus begins the tale of Jeeva, The Elephant Man who is born with an elephant’s head. Using the idea of how the majority worships the elephant, Sanyal juxtaposes the irony in Jeeva’s life. Despite the odds though, Jeeva manages to triumph and love himself in the face of society’s revulsion. His character shows the meaning of self-love.

All in all, Circus Folk and Village Freaks is an engaging, quick, and thoughtful read. It will make any reader retrospect on ideas of how we view difference and otherness in people through prejudiced eyes. All the tales also have a folksy quality to them which is heightened by the skillful use of rhymes. Reading each of the 18 tales feels like sitting for a story telling session, where a lively tale of human dreams and depravity is being animatedly narrated and sung.

You can buy the book here.

Agni Sreedhar’s The Gangster’s Gita Evokes a Whirlwind of Emotions


The first time I heard the name Agni Sreedhar I was sitting in one of the conference rooms of the Hotel Lalit Ashok, Bengaluru, editing a blog for the Bangalore Literature Festival. Mr. Sreedhar was one of the guest speakers for the festival and was in conversation with renowned Kannada writer Prathibha Nandakumar about his new book The Gangster’s Gita (published by Eka). Like many others before me, I too was intrigued reading about his life and one of our team members filled me in with more details about this so-called gangster turned writer, which only piqued me further. His story has been so unlike the usual that it wasn’t too difficult for me to register his name in the memory amidst the long list of speakers who came to the festival. From then till today, there had been many occasions when I had serendipitously crossed paths with Gangster’s Gita. As lame as it may sound, I have always believed that a good book will always find you when the time is just right.

 

Last night I was window shopping on Kindle and once again found The Gangster’s Gita sitting there asking to be read. I instinctively downloaded it but it was almost midnight. I told myself I will have a look at the ‘Translator’s Note’ and read the rest of the book the next morning. The translation is done by Prathibha Nandakumar and the original title in Kannada is Edegarike. In her note, she talks about the author and his love of literature. She also talks about how translating his book hasn’t been an easier task given Sreedhar’s distinct style of writing along with the need to retain the nuances of the original narration in Kannada. However, all the hard work and the multiple drafts of translation seems to have paid off, because I couldn’t just stop with the translator’s note. Before I knew it, I was already reading the last lines of the book and I must credit the translator as much as the author for the scintillating read. Personally for me, one of the best things that happened to the book is Prathibha’s translation along with her note.

 

The publisher’s note claims that this is a work of fiction and the usual that follows. However, the book begins with words of Erik Erikson – ‘A novel is not necessarily a work of fiction’. The narrator is our very Sreedhar Anna who entered the criminal world under the strangest of circumstances. However, the real protagonist of this stirring story seems to be Sona. Sona belonged with the mafia of the Mumbai underworld and was sent to Bangalore on an assignment that involved Sreedhar Anna and his boss. The sudden turn of events leads to Sreedhar Anna meeting Sona. The duo is then compelled by circumstances to leave Bangalore to Sakleshpur along with Sreedhar Anna’s boss and some of their boys. During their adventurous trip and their stay in Sakleshpur, Sreedhar Anna and Sona get acquainted with each other.

 

The book follows the life of Sona through conversations with Sreedhar Anna. Sona, who is barely thirty years old, intrigues Sreedhar Anna with his calm and poise. Their conversations and Sona’s demeanour unleash a storm within Sreedhar Anna and stirs up the readers too without fail. In her note earlier, Prathibha talked about how they arrived at the title of the book and it can’t be any more apt than this. The book stands on the shoulders of two men who have killed and questions the concepts of strength and weakness, heroism and cowardice. It wretches open the seemingly cold-hearts of these men and drench you in the blood of warmth that flows inside them. The choices that they made, the choices that are made for them, their regrets, their gracefulness demolishes all pre-established ideas of good- bad and right-wrong.

 

Orwell says “Good prose should be transparent, like a windowpane.”, and that is exactly how our author writes. He forgoes the decorative language and sticks with straight yet evocative narration. It is a thin book with only 103 pages yet with its powerful, thought-provoking narration it invoked a whirlwind of emotions within me that I could barely fall asleep. It has been one of the very fulfilling reads for this year and I am grateful for all the happenstances that led me to the discovery of this book.

 

What If Ram Were a Startup Founder? Prachi Garg’s Book Answers

Reinterpretation of mythology or mythological fiction isn’t my favourite genre. In my opinion, many of these are an attempt at fan fiction and most of them do fail terribly. I talked about it here. So, when I picked up Prachi Garg’s Startup Secrets from the Ramayana, I was reluctant. Nevertheless, I was intrigued because the blurb said it is the story of Ram’s struggle of setting up his business empire from scratch in fourteen years. Prachi, who is also the founder of ghoomophiro.com has authored a few books in the genre of business fiction including the ‘Super’ series. So obviously she seems to know her trade well enough to put my anxiety to ease from the beginning.

The tale opens with a scene of Ram standing at the brink of victory against Ravan and flashes back into his struggle of fourteen years. Prachi’s Ram doesn’t carry a quiver full of arrows but business strategies and solutions for any business-related problem. Yet, he loses his business empire and is forced to move out of Ayodhya to start fresh along with his closest aide Sita and loving brother Lakshman. So, the lessons start from there. As the tale progresses, you will also meet many characters from Ramayana, when the trio work hard to establish a collaborative business Platform, called Kutumb, In Chitrakoot, that functions as a co-working space for small and large scale entrepreneurs. Then arrives Shurpanakha, followed by Ravan and his company HeadHunters from Lanka who pursues an aggressive business strategy to establish a monopoly over the Indian market. So the tale goes.

For those readers, who are familiar with the tale of Ramayana, it will be interesting to note how Prachi has picked a handful of characters and events from this epic and has successfully woven into a business fiction. I understand it isn’t as simple as a mythological fiction, to tell a tale with the same sequence of events but in a business language. I for one was constantly curious to know how each character has been recreated and how Prachi fit them into a modern-day business world. I liked Prachi’s diligence on how she tried to bring some of the finest details of the epic like the golden deer that lures Sita, the Nine-Sister’s alliance, Hanuman bringing the entire tech-hub because he couldn’t find the correct router. While some of these reinterpretations might come-across like force-fit, a lot of them do bring a smile.

There are occasional slip-ups in the plot which is barely noticeable, thanks to Prachi’s skillful narration. The best part of the book for me is the end of every chapter, where Prachi summarizes the learning from those episodes. In only 126 pages, Prachi covers a lot of ground from ‘The Value of Disruption’ to ‘Financial Stability’. The choice of language is simple and spiced up in moderation with business jargon, which makes it an easy read even for beginners.

 

I must also warn the readers to not expect a thorough reinterpretation of Ramayana in Prachi’s book, especially those readers who have studied Ramayana extensively. I would say read this because it is a fun read with some insightful secrets for the startup-enthusiasts.