Posts made in July, 2015

Chhimi Tenduf-La’s ‘Panther’ || Engaging Story, Intelligent Writing

How often do you come across a book that appeals to you at several levels? Not too often, I assume. When I picked up Panther by Chhimi Tenduf-La from Harper Collins’ office I definitely expected to read a good book, but not one that would leave me spellbound for days and one that I would think about over and over again. The book is set in a war-torn Srilanka, recovering from a long conflict between a Tamil terrorist group called the Panthers and the Sinhalese. It is a story about the challenges of rehabilitation, about postwar trauma, about the conflicts that exist even after the war has ended. Prabu, a young Tamil who has spent several years training at a Panther camp, is now trying to get his life back. Having lost his family, he seeks a sense of belonging with his friend Indika’s family. A gifted cricketer, Prabhu manages to find a place in one of the best schools possible. But has he really been accepted? By everyone? And has he really left his past behind? These questions will haunt you till the very end. And perhaps even beyond. Two separate narratives run in parallel in the book, and the author expertly uses different voices and different narrators to set the two narratives apart. While the story of Prabhu in the terrorist camp is told using a strong second person narrator, that of his attempts at reintegrating with the society is told using a guileless, naive third person limited narrator. And the fact that the author manages to give each character a unique voice speaks volumes about his skills. Consider the following dialogue, for example: Indika extended his arms out by his side. ‘How’d you know I’d be here?’ ‘You told.’ ‘Did I? Honestly can’t remember.’ ‘I think maybe you have been take the many alcohols. You told to me also and Gayan, Rajiv and Gish.’ ‘Yeah I told them, but…’ Indika closed his eyes. ‘Okay, okay, now you’re here, sit, sit.’ A girl with wet hair, tan highlighted by a white bikini top, skipped up to Indika. ‘Oh. My. God.’ She grabbed his wrists. ‘It’s been too long.’ Laughing, Indika pointed at Prabu. ‘Fiona, meet my new, what would I call him, friend?’ Prabu offered his hand. ‘Pleased to be meeting you.’ Resting her hands on Prabu’s shoulders, Fiona leaned forward to kiss him on either cheek. Prabu froze, feet stuck in the grass, jaw locked. He’d heard foreign girls were forward, but kissing him before she knew his name? Wow. He straightened his back, combed his hair down into a side parting, deepened his voice. ‘My name is called the Prabu.’ ‘Pleasure,’ she said. Even without the speech tags you can easily make out who is speaking what. With his wide-eyed observations of his new life, Prabu comes across as a very convincing unreliable narrator – we look at the world through his eyes and are able to make out that his friends are making fun of him, even though he himself remains blissfully unaware of it. The characters, with their positive traits and flaws, are delightfully round and realistic. For someone who teaches creative writing, this book is pure delight. The storyline is full of unexpected twists and turns and you can never be sure of what is going to happen next. At times you may feel that you have deciphered the book, but rest assured that you will be proven wrong. And in keeping with the plot, the storytelling itself is surprising – you will find humour where you least expect and profound wisdom when you are...

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Kiriti Sengupta’s “Healing Waters Floating Lamps” || Review by Ananya S Guha

Kiriti Sengupta’s poems are at once lonely, spiritual and a mystique of the open wide world punctuated with existential questions, In Healing Waters Floating Lamps the poet holds constant dialogue between what is signified — call it God, a moral question or retribution, or even a pantheistic credo. The persistent reference to water, the sea and the ethereal connote a world that is sacrosanct, such as the invocation of a holy city, or a Tagorean utterance of God and a hushed mystical world. Throughout the poems there is a defiance of the ordinary as the poems catapult into an emblazoned extraordinary world. Yet the poems are not reductionist, they are structures embedded in a philosophy of humanity which is God-centered. The cultural stance that the poet takes is culled from everyday situations such as the apparent ordinariness of a fish depicting a cultural symbol. The Tagorean impulse dominates some of the poems: “Have you seen the floating lamps in the river?” (“Evening Varanasi”) Or “My Master enjoys the stage” … (“Unravel”) While “Eyes Of A Yogi’’ ends with a crescendo “The mother changes to sky.” These poems are not arid intellectualism. They are poetry of the heart, the spirit. Yet they are complex interfaces of existence. They are not subject to one interpretation. Such interpretative dimension imbue these with fine, subtle qualities. Throughout the poems there are reverberations of the infinite pinned down by a finite well-ordered reality. But the subversive elements dominate the poems- this well ordered reality should be transcended into the metaphysics of life. It is a Meta world we live in. The poems reveal this intensity of grappling with prescient but not foreboding truths. Always there is light, not darkness: “I reach the sky While I draw a circle in the water Looking at the image I take a dip” (“Beyond The Eyes”) The poems militate against arid intellectualism. They open out the citadels of love, they are not susceptible to one interpretation, they are rather interpretative and multi-layered. They are irreducible statements not of the cerebral, but that of the spirit. This breaks new grounds in Indian English poetry. The power of Sengupta’s poetry lies within, not without. The images are retained inwardly and inner senses cry out for something, somewhere: “I have seen my mother Preparing Ghee out of milk- She never used butter To clarify it further…”  (Clarity) “Clarity” here assumes an ambiguous connotation. Do we have it in what we say and do? Sengupta’s poems rest continuously in such clever word making and imagery. Let us look at the images in his poems: eyes, water, tears, river, yogi are some of them. The sacred city of Varanasi is another one. The poet is subsumed by a quest for the ordinary transformed into extraordinary metabolic desires. This gives to his poetry a pugnacity, barring any raucousness. The voice is always quiet, meditative, it is never sentimental or maudlin. If there is a cry for God, then it is an act of surrender. In fact surrender is one of the dominant themes of these poems. But it precludes any kind of overt religiosity. Sengupta’s poems are no ontology, they are direct references to life, the rustic world and sometimes to relationships. They may be direct statements, but their innards are complex and philosophical. They maybe short poems, but they “say” much more than they state. A lot of Indian poetry in English today is pretentiously cerebral and exercises in word play which has become a fetish. Healing Waters Floating Lamps is a refreshing and daring breakaway from this slip shod tradition. Ananya S...

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Braving the rain for the 2nd meet of Writers’ Circle – Central Delhi Chapter

The 2nd meet of the Writers’ Circle – Central Delhi Chapter was scheduled for Saturday afternoon and it seemed that weather was determined to play spoilsport. It had been raining continuously since the morning, so I decided to start early for the event. I started at 12pm for the 2pm event. It was perhaps the most difficult drive. The rate at which the rain was falling was much higher than the rate at which my car’s windshield wipers were able to wipe off the water. And as a result, I could hardly see anything. It was such a blessing that I didn’t find any traffic jams en route. But I was worried for the participants and wondered whether they would take the pains to step out of their homes in such a weather. I could do nothing but wait and watch. But as the clock struck 2, people started pouring in, and in the end, we had 10 participants excluding me for the event, which wasn’t bad on such a day. I silently applauded the participants for their courage and determination. It was a fun mix once again. We had a tech entrepreneur who is also an artist, an artist who is also a columnist, a columnist who is also an author and businesswoman, a businessman who is also an aspiring writer, an aspiring writer who is also a blogger, a blogger who is also a Hindi poet, and some very talented college students. Each of them had their own unique styles and genres and personalities and that added variety to the readings. There wasn’t a second of boredom. In many ways, the group was very much like the Noida Chapter, especially where Chetan Bhagat is concerned. One mention of his name is enough to cause an uproar in the group and then you can rest assured that you will need to wait it out for at least 10 minutes before you can interrupt and bring the focus back to the readings. So I am planning to add another rule from the next time onwards. Words like “Chetan Bhagat” and “Amish Tripathi” and to some extent “Durjoy Dutta” and “Ravinder Singh” can only be uttered during the break or after the readings are over. They are too much of a distraction. 🙂 The next meet will be held in the first half of August and will be posted on our various platforms. If you want to be a part of this wonderful group, send an email to info@literaturestudio.in....

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Book Review: NK Sondhi’s “Cart Full of Husk” ||Partition and Beyond

The partition of India in 1947 did much more than just divide the country. It uprooted families, revealed a truly demonic side of humanity, and created a new section of Indian population, referred to as the “refugees”. Many of us weren’t born at the time of partition (and this includes the author who was born just one year after the event), but those whose parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents migrated from the other side have heard the heart-wrenching, fear-inducing stories of distrust, fear, torture, and poverty rampant during that time. And this is where the story central to this book stems from. The story starts in 1947 from the Village Basal, now in Pakistan, where the family of Mr. Karam Chand lives. A kind and generous man, Mr Karam Chand convinces his son Dr Dayal Chand to stay back in the village and provide free medical advice and treatment to the poor. Their family is respected far and wide and because of the fact that they have helped people of all religions and faith over the years, when the threat of partition looms, their employee Mohamad Ali, sacrifices his life to help them commence their journey towards the parts of the country that were most likely to be included in India. And from here starts the story of loss and, eventually, of survival. The first part of the story is told largely from the point of view of Dr. Dayal Chand. His eldest son Sunder takes on after the doctor falls seriously ill, and after him the baton is passed on to Narender, Sunder’s younger brother, who carries it till the end. One common thread that weaves through the narrative, from the beginning almost till the end, is Karma Wali, Dr Dayal Chand’s wife. We discover that after the partition, much after the bloodbath is over, tough times are just beginning for the “refugees”. Even as Delhi, and other cities, grudgingly make space for them, they are treated with distrust and disdain. They struggle to find work, to rent a house, and basic necessities like simple food and clothes are difficult to come by. Large families live in a one-room accomodation, without amneties like a kitchen and a toilet. It is only through stubborn perseverance and resilience that these families are able to survive years of poverty and deprivation. But some scars never heal and often members of the same family turn against one another in their race to stay afloat, while at the same time selfless friendships survive misunderstandings and tussles. While Cart Full of Husk is essentially the story of one family, experiences of other uprooted families are woven into the narrative. What I greatly admire about the story is that it doesn’t deliberately try to maintain a balanced facade to appear secular, neither does it dwell overly on the religious aspect of the event. And simply by not trying too hard, the author is able to keep the focus on how partition impacted humanity as a whole. The story telling is simple and linear and the author doesn’t try anything extraordinary with it, which isn’t necessarily a negative, as this makes it possible for the complicated story that spans across seven decades, to shine through. The book does need some tight editing though and some parts of it, especially the descriptive pieces about the various monuments of Mehrauli, distract from the narrative and could have been removed altogether. I found myself skipping through these to find out what happens next in the story. That said, this is a thick book and can appear overwhelming, but once I picked it up...

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