February 6, 2007

India Literature - Books

I wanted to see the movie Parzania when I was in India last week after hearing/some really good things about it... no melodrama... no taking sides... just the narrating of one family's tale of grief and horror during the infamous Gujarat riots. Instead, I chose to go for the typical Bollywood melodrama of Guru...(ok.. ok..a Mani Ratnam movie is not typical Bollywood fare but the movie still was disappointing due to its over-stated melodrama.) More about Guru some other time.. but the reason I have chosen to come out of blog-hibernation is to write about a few recent books by Indian authors.

First up is a novel,
Fireproof, by Raj Kamal Jha, who apparently is a mechanical engineer from IIT, who went on to do his Master's in journalism from USC and then worked for Indian Express in India. The book deals with the Gujrarat riots of 2002 and has been reviewed by somone I consider to be one of India's up-and-coming journalists, Chandrahas Choudhury. Chandrahas, who blogs at Middle Stage, has reviewed the book for The Observer. He had also blogged about the book earlier. Go read the post - some amazing stuff and insights abound!

In my opinion, Chandrahas and Jai Arjun are well-read and know quality reading when they see it. So..if Chandrahas says this is good stuff ... it must be good. So, here are two more recommendation gleaned from posts at the Middle Stage.

The first comes via an interview he conducted with Samrat Upadhyay, whose book of short stories The Royal Ghosts reviewed by Chandrahas for the Los Angeles Times and which Chandrahas wrote is was "among the two or three best books I’ve read in 2006."

And the second recommendation from Chandrahas is:

Christopher Kremmer's Inhaling the Mahatma, published last month by Harper-Collins, is a very rich, pleasurable account of India in the tumultous nineties. The title refers to the immersion of some of Mahatma Gandhi's ashes in the Ganga in 1997, nearly half a century after his death. Much of the book is about the reverberations of 6 December, 1992 in India, but Kremmer's is not a narrowly political account: returning on more than one occasion to Ayodhya in the decade after the desecration of the Babri Masjid, he also searches for the heterodox, liberal Hinduism obscured by the politics of Hindutva. Reportage is often not too interesting stylistically, but I found Kremmer's book, on a purely sentence-by-sentence level, to be a thing of "beauty and pleasure". Kremmer kindly agreed to answer some questions on his book and on the craft of nonfiction.


I hold Jai Arjun in even great esteem for his amazing book and movie reviews - there are many other gems at his blog that I could point you to... but considering I myself have not read them, I'll just point you to his blog ... and merely highlight two interviews he recently conducted with Kiran Desai, recent Booker winner for Inheritance of Loss.


Another interesting out-of-the-box concept in literature for Indian writers.. the graphic novel*.

Sarnath Banerjee came out a few years ago with what is deemed India's first graphic novel - Corridor. He is now back with another graphic novel - The Barn Owl's Wondrous Capers, which blends the satirical sketches of the 19th century Bengali writer Kaliprassana Singha with the story of the Wandering Jew, brought up to date in 21st century Calcutta. (found this via Kitabkhana, a great blog by a couple of Indian journalists / writers / literature-enthusiasts)

Another interesting book in the same genre is..

... the short novella, Doppler Effect by Rohit Gupta (also an engineer (chemical) from IIT!), which has been rendered into a comic by Gabriel Greenberg. Earlier, Rohit's Towers of Silence, was also featured in Mid-Day (page seems to be down) as a special comic series.

In Rohit's own words, The Doppler Effect, deals impassionately with the Hindu-Muslim riots of Godhra (Gujarat) and Towers of Silence with the decline of Parsi population in India.

Wow....what imagination! A penchant for toying with words notwithstanding, I surely cannot ever hope to be a (good) writer.... I lack the creative instinct and cannot really tell a good tale either!


Another book I saw in India that should make an interesting read (I later caught the end of an interview with the author on TV and rued not picking up the book at the store!) is Mira Kamdar's
Planet India: How the Fastest Growing Democracy Is Transforming America and the World, which "tells the dramatic story of a nation in the midst of redefining itself and our world."

Kamdar has previously authored the book, Motiba's Tattoos: A Granddaughter's Journey into her Indian Family's Past, where she traced a memoir of her "family's odyssey from her grandmother's 1908 birth in rural India through her own 1960s childhood in the boomtowns of the American West Coast"

And last but not least... something interesting that is not related to Indian literature but is still a very interesting development that I just learned about...

In the past, I have read about a blog called Baghdad Burning which became famous on the internet and won quite a few Blog awards in the last few years. The blog is written by a 25-year-old Iraqi woman who is known by the name, Riverbend, and provides a day-by-day account of the American siege on Baghdad

Well... little wonder that publishers have jumped in and have published her blog as books - 2 so far! This is the first time I am hearing about entries at a blog being published in book-form.

Baghdad Burning: Girl Blog from Iraq
Baghdad Burning II: More Girl Blog from Iraq

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