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Tag Archives: Indian Novel

Ghachar Ghochar – Vivek Shanbhag

Ghachar GhocharThis novel by Vivek Shanbhag originally written in Kannada has created quite few ripples in literary circles and now with the translation into English, this one is surely slated to win more acclaim and awards.

For me coming on the back of a re-reading of Haruki Murakami’s ‘The Wind-up Bird Chronicle’ this was as antipodal as you can get. Right from the size, to Murakami’s intricate imagery, complex symbolism, intimate characterization and surrealism this one was just the opposite. It is just 115 pages long, a deceptively simple novel with what feels like very superficial character delineation, a simple plot, none of the usual ingredients of a modern day novel. And yet, it had me finishing it in one sitting and left me thinking about it over and over.

Set in modern day Bangalore, the novel is about a typical middle class family that lives ‘a hand to mouth existence’. The description of the locality is very real and palpable, it is like any lower middle class area in Bangalore with ‘small houses packed together’. The other locale that plays a critical role in the story is the Coffee House, it is modelled after the famous India Coffee House outlets that was an important part of cities across India. The description of the waiter’s uniforms, décor and its windows facing the road where one could sit and watch the world go by while sipping on a coffee is very reminiscent of the India Coffee House on MG Road in Bangalore.

The narrative is plain and straightforward. The family survives on the meagre salary of Appa, who is a salesman in a company dealing with tea leaves. They live a contented life despite the difficult finances till their fortunes change with the loss of Appa’s job and the start of a family business. The lack of money that actually kept them together becomes a divisive factor and pulls them in different directions. With wealth their simplistic morals and outlook gradually change into avarice and the overarching need to protect their wealth even if it means resorting to extreme diabolical methods. The reader is forced to reread the part where the family is having tea together after a long time, the conversation is a regular family interaction but you realize in the end that exchange is loaded with inner meanings.

The characters are normal everyday people that you bump into on the roads. There is Appa who is upright, his only fault is that he is garrulous. Chikkappa, the man who controls everything and everyone has shades of grey to black. The author has done a brilliant job with this character, he is simple and straightforward but as the story develops the reader is given very subtle hints about his dark side. Amma, the quintessential middle class matron trying her best to manage her household with the limited income. Malathi, the daughter, given to haughtiness and arrogance. Anita, the protagonist’s wife, a woman of ethics and a sharp view of right and wrong. The three women are strong and form the core of the novel. The protagonist himself, is a weak and lazy man who likes living of wealth that he doesn’t work for. The most interesting character is Vincent, the waiter at Coffee House, who is a sounding board, counsellor, agony aunt without meaning to be any of these.

The ants are symbolic in many ways, they are an intrinsic part of the family’s life just like their poverty, it just can’t be wished away how much ever they try to rid themselves of the pests. And the reference to it in the final pages should give the reader some idea of what happens in the end.

Vivek is a master of subtlety and that will leave you reflecting on the storyline over and over. Mention must be made of Srinath Perur who has done a commendable job on the translation into English.

This is a must read. My rating – 3.5 on 5.

 

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Posted by on February 22, 2016 in Highly recommended

 

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Overwinter – Ratika Kapur

It took a book like Overwinter for me to breathe life back into my long neglected blog. That in itself is an indication of the impact of the book. Provoking, nuanced and unforgettable is how I would describe Ratika Kapur’s novel. ‘There are some things about your family that you know in your bones; you come to life with the information, and from your first breath your understanding of the world is shaped by it’. This excerpt for me is the essence of the book.

Overwinter is set in New Delhi and centres around artist Ketaki, her aunt Neera and her uncle Deepak who is in a coma. It’s a novel that centres around a family secret that is hanging in the background while the characters go around with their lives trying to deal with it. The secret means different things to each one and effects their lives depending on each one’s approach to it – one forgives, one tries to forget and one keeps the secret alive.

Ratika has amazing mastery in characterisation. I loved the way she has built her characters over the course of the novel. Of course being the centre of the novel Ketaki is well drawn out as strong-willed, unpredictable and an in-your-face kind of person. However, despite her showy bravado she is unsure, emotional and highly dependent. Neera is the mysterious one, she never really reveals what is going through her mind and that is what keeps the plot alive. One is kept waiting till the last paragraph to get a glimpse of the real Neera. Her friends Krishan and Adil stand out in this largely female dominated cast. Of these Krishan is an intriguing conundrum, who doesn’t mind hitting the sack as long as it is justified in his uncomplicated ‘traditional’ sense of right and wrong. Adil is the actual pivot in her life, having been through similar tragedies he is her support. Probably a reason for her dependence on him is that Adil doesn’t get carried away by her pushy and unpredictable streaks, he plays out at his own pace and by his own rules.

The person that engulfs the novel from start to finish is Deepak. Ratika has scored with this character. For a large part of the novel he is in a coma and doesn’t utter a single word, but his persona is created by references to him, discussions about him, memories of him that the others reveal. And yet he is one of the most fully developed characters in the novel – smart, fun, intelligent, loving, manipulating, bold and insensitive too.

My reservations? It may not go down well with the squeamish, the sex scenes are one too many and feels a bit overdone. Cut down on those between the sheet sessions and you still have a winner.

My rating 3.5 on 5. Go buy the book and read, you will take few breaks.

(Published by Hachette India)

 
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Posted by on June 30, 2012 in Recommended

 

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The River Has No Camera – Anjali Chandran

If one went by the title or the packaging, one could have easily missed this book. If you took a little trouble and pulled it off the shelf and read the blurb, you may take a chance. That’s what I did.  Anjali Chandran launched this book in 2001 and I dont remember reading about it, must have slipped under the radar. It should have received better treatment, since it is not a bad effort at all.

Anagha moves to Kerala to escape her past. She comes to the Alanthur to get away from a life that borders on debauchery  – including extra marital relationships, abortions, drinks, drugs, origies. Rebuilding and reclaiming the Alanthur mansion is a stop gap pretext for her to recoup and decide on life ahead. But Alanthur has dark secrets that tumble out much to her surprise and alarm. Just like the mansion that has hidden rooms and spaces Anagha looks inward and discovers things about herself as she goes about rebuilding Alanthur. While on the exterior she tries to adapt to the village living among them, making friends – Solomon, her emotional support; Nandu and Shailaja, who give her shelter; Lakshmi and Devi, her domestic help whom she rescues from poverty. And in the process of living and discovering, her life is altered in several ways – there is loss  – Solomon, there is reconciliation – with her mother and there is the promise of a new life.

The symbol of rebuilding of the mansion plays out at two levels – rebuilding the past fame of the Alanthur family, Anagha’s coming to grips with herself and gaining self esteem which was thoroughly stamped out in Mumbai. The characterisation is weak except for the protagonist. In this one Anjali has excelled, Anagha is alarmingly direct, unafraid to take on adversaries and challenges, while at the same time she is endowed with a sense of humour. And these make her realistic and likeable. The others are bit players with not much to stand out.  Her narrative has an edgy quality to it and is pretty interesting. However, when she gets into a descriptive mode – for instance on the of marumakkathayam or the references to religion; she gets boring and the narrative loses sheen. Also the ‘suspense’ is no suspense at all, one can figure it out pretty early in the story.

One the biggest issues with the book is to do with editing, there are errors on almost every second page. The other flaw is of course her use of Malayalam intended to give the narrative a local flavour.  However, this falls flat as she makes glaring errors with her use of malayalam phrases.

The ‘return of the native’ kind of plot has been overdone, especially when it comes to Kerala. Anjali also falls into the same pitfalls whether it is to do with her snobbish commentary on life in Kerala, overdose of intellectual posturing or even the way she has used the language.

However, I will still say it is worth a read.

(Publisher – Srishti Publishers & Distributors)

 
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Posted by on June 16, 2009 in Uncategorized

 

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Escape – Manjula Padmanabhan

Two budding flowers and few drops of blood, the cover says it all. It took me a while to make the connection. Deep, I must add.

Actually the only new IWE book the Bangalore Airport had was this one. Only later did I hear that most critics had trashed this one anescape-manjula-padmanabhand not without some reason.

Escape is the story of teenager Meiji who is the only surviving female in a country that has wiped out the fairer sex. The land is ruled by a general and marshalled by his marauding Boyz.  Meiji has been kept hidden in an estate and reared by her three Uncles – Uncle Zero, Uncle One and Uncle Two. When keeping her hidden further gets tougher by the day, the Uncles decide to move her to freedom. Uncle Two, the youngest is entrusted with the task of taking her to her freedom. The entire plot is built around this journey. Fairly decent plot at that, has several layers of symbolic meaning – Meiji’s the journey to womanhood and maturity, Youngest’s struggle with his carnal feelings and propreity, etc.

The characterisation is decent too. Meiji, as the confused girl suddenly having to accept bitter truths while at the same time handling her bodily and emotional changes is the pivot. In her mood swings, a petulant child one minute and a high strung woman the next, Manjula has made this character authentitic and realistic. Youngest plays his role well too, the older uncles dont occupy too much of stage time. The narrative tends to drag sometimes. I must point out a totally superflous tactic she has used – the story is interspersed with parts of an interview with the General. It has absoluetly no connection with the story and could have been left out, she may have had a tighter story. The end is a let down after all the build up.

So what is the problem, you ask? The setting dear Watson, the setting. Manjula has taken a potential winner story and messed it up with the setting. My view is that Indian Writers appear uncomfortable with the Sci Fi genre and they should stay away. She has over-reached and tried to be creative but is found wanting. There are several instances where she appears confused about her view on a futuristic world and her attempts to keep it real. For example at several times during the journey, the duo have nutrition or food pills and the next meal they have to heat and eat paratas. Youngest wears high tech clothes and at home wears kurtas. There are several such instances. This plot would have worked better in any other setting, it could have been an Arabic country in contemporary times  and it would have still worked.

A big let down.

 
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Posted by on May 21, 2009 in Disappointing

 

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Afterwards – Jaishree Misra

Disappointing, was my thought as I turned the last page. Another Indian author that I had not tried for a long time despite several people urging me. The fact that she is related to Thakazhi Sivasankara Pillai as stated by Wikipedia  was certainly one reason to try this one out. May be this is not her best book, however isn’t consistency the halmark of a good writer? Look at Rohinton Mistry or Anita Nair they manage to keep at it book after book. Her other books like Ancient Promises, Accidents Like Love and Marriage seem to have done much better.

With a threadbare plot, Afterwards is a weak novel with nothing that really stands out. It is the story of Maya – her oppressive married life, her brief dalliance with freedom and finally her demise. Abused by her suspicious husband in Kerala, Maya strikes up a friendship with Rahul Tiwari an NRI who hires out the house next door. Rahul is her ticket to freedom and she cajoles him into taking her and her daughter Anjali with him to the UK. After a short but happy life in England with Rahul, she dies in an accident. Pretty simple? While I do prefer simple plots, this one is too simple even for my liking.

In terms of characters Maya is the obvious central pivot. She is the only saving grace in another wise pretty ordinary set of actors. What makes her interesting are the grey shades that Jaishree has painted her with. She is not all love, grace and longsuffering as seen on the surface, she is conniving and scheming at some level especially in the way she impresses on Rahul to help her. Rahul, though the narrator of the story, is not as clearly drawn out. The others like Govind, Maya’s husband;  Kevin, Rahul’s English friend and Rahul’s parents are the others that do not make much of an impact. Rukmani, Maya’s mother is the only other character that has a decent role to play.

Jaishree seems to try a little too hard to make her descriptions of the mileau be it Kerala or London realistic. However, she is no match to Anita Nair or Arundhati Roy in the way they paint Kerala in their writings. She also goes overboard with the phase where Rahul is mourning Maya, a real tear jerker. I had to skip pages to escape repitition and boredom.  

Even the back of book comments are for her other books like Ancient Promises and Accidents Like Love and Marriage. I will definitely be more careful before I pick up another book of Jaishree.

 
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Posted by on April 25, 2009 in Uncategorized

 

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The Village Before Time – Madhavan Kutty

I do regret missing out on the works of Thakazhi, O V Vijayan, M Mukundan, M T Vasudevan Nair and Vaikom Basheer in their original forms. I believe that at times the texture is lost in translations. However, Gita Krishnankutty who translated this book by Madhavan Kutty has done an excellent job. People who can understand Malayalam can comprehend the retention of the original nuances and the essence of the experience. There definitely is an art in translating and ‘The Village Before Time’ is a good illustration of that.

“Whether this book is fiction or memory is besides the point. There is an incredible abundance of characters and situations. This sheer exuberance leave us with a deep fictional experience”, says O V Vijayan. This is an apt summing up of the book, though I disagree on the exuberance part. The book is definitely not sprightly or joyful, it is realistic and simple. This is an autobiographical book narrated from the view of a young boy. It is a child’s perspective, and the child does not read into people or situations deeper than what is visible. It is for the reader to do that. The characters are people you meet in any village in Kerala, the events are not really unique and can happen in any family. There is this poignant part about Kuttimalu, his grand aunt. Her beauty is her curse like Midas’ touch. It really is heart wrenching despite the fact that it narrated with no artifice. The uncle Kittunni Nair, his friend Gopalan, the Post Master Abraham are delightfully Pickwickian. Paruthipally is strongly remniscent of R K Narayan’s Malgudi – the distinct characters, the buildings, the roads, the post office. The reader is also taken through Nair customs, beliefs and traditions including marumakkathayam (the matriarchal set up), and untouchability.   

One enduring aspect of the book is that Madhavan Kutty takes no stance, makes no judgement and peddles no philosophy.There is no plot, there is no deep delineation in terms of characterisation, no effort in symbolism or imagery and yet it keeps you hooked. One issue I have with the book is that there are so many characters that sometimes you have to flip back to place him or her. A family tree would have worked well.

Three and a half stars on five is my verdict

 
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Posted by on July 14, 2008 in Recommended

 

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Maya – George Thundiparampil

Of late I have been focusing on English Writers of Keralite origins and that was the only reason for me to pick up this book that I have never heard of – Maya by George Thundiparampil. “The turbulent past amid the clamour of contemporary Kerala” begins the back of book write up and also says it is centred around Fort Kochi. The author’s note promised a lot of history that kind of got me making up my mind.

The story is about Kaappiri, a ‘homogenous being’ who is waiting for moksha. He can attain redemption only if he can narrate the story of his existence of 336 years to a predestined apsara, the nymph from the kingdom of gods as predicted by his guru. In Maya, a young sensual collegian, he meets his deliverer who is the only person who can see him. He becomes an integral part of her life and they finally fall in love, a highly risky develpment for Kaappiri. Their intimate ‘The Entity’ like encounter shakes his focus on his eternal mission. Will it mean that he will have to wait another millenium for freedom? Will his ‘human weaknesses’, like love, loyalty and honesty finally prove to be his undoing? That is the crux of the story.

Mr. Thundiparampil has used a unique plot for the structure of the novel. The novel takes the reader through time – the Portugese foray into India, the Dutch in India, the spread of Christianity. Kaappiri’s atman manifests itself across these historical events as Lam, the African slave warrior, his son Kannan and as Ajay a slave in Goa. Each of these characters also interact with famous historical personalities like Vasco da Gama, the general Duarte Pacheco Pereira, the evangelist Francis Xavier and the poet Luis de Camoes. There is also the strong element of Hindu philosophy including occultism, tantric rites and the central theme of birth and rebirth. The story is interesting, the mileu is compelling and it is spaced out well. We also get an insight into the atrocities perpetrated by the Portugese and the Dutch particularly in Kerala, a change from our obsession on the crimes of the English.

The fact that the author has done vast research and analysis is evident throughout the book. However, that exactly is the biggest failing of the book. The details are at times excruciating and I was almost at the point of giving it up especially at the chapter on Lam. I did skip 40 – 50 pages. The story-teller in Mr. Thundiparampil is overcome by the inherent historian for a major part of the book, which is when the narrative becomes almost unbearable. There are instances when the author takes liberties with his own interpretations of history especially his dismissal of the visit of the apostle Thomas to India as a myth.

A decent attempt. Try it if you can drum up patience.

 
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Posted by on July 7, 2008 in Recommended

 

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