Delhi is not far: Review

Book Review
Delhi is not far by Ruskin Bond
A novella
Published by Penguin India
Rs 150
Momentous things happen elsewhere, in the big cities of Nehru‘s India. In dull and dusty Pipalnagar, each day is like another, and ‘there is not exactly despair, but resignation’. Even the dreams here are small: if he ever makes it to Delhi, Deep Chand, the barber, will open a more up-to-date salon where he might, perhaps, give the Prime Minister a haircut; Pitamber will trade his cycle-rickshaw for the less demanding scooter-rickshaw; Aziz will be happy with a junk-shop in Chandni Chowk. None, of course, will make that journey to Delhi.
Adrift among them, the narrator, Arun, a struggling writer of detective novels in Urdu, waits for inspiration to write a blockbuster. One day he will pack his meagre belongings and take the express train out of Pipalnagar. Meanwhile, he seeks reassurance in love, and finds it in unusual places: with the young prostitute Kamla, wise beyond her years; and the orphan Suraj, homeless and an epileptic, yet surprisingly optimistic about the future.
This little gem is a departure from the affable Mr. Bond’s usual writings. Its not a ghost story and it isn’t set in the hills of Mussoorie or the plains of Dehradun. Instead, this one begins and ends in little Pipalnagar. A place where people wait, in most cases for a lifetime, to move on to a better life. Ruskin Bond paints a vivid and nostalgic picture of small town life in Nehru’s India, the little lanes, the barbershop in town, the customs one followed, the small talk between town-folk who all happen to know each other. It transports you to a time and age in India’s history where people had simple aspirations of a better life, and underlying that, a sense of contentment in their lives. Their lives were limited not just by the size of the town but also their mindset as most didn’t know about what lay for them outside the dusty lanes of Pipalnagar.
The treatment is contemplative and brooding. Perhaps it was written at a time when Ruskin Bond was struggling to sell his stories and make a living. He has a keen sense of place and time, and the characters from Kamla, Arun and Suraj to Aziz, Deep Chand, Ramu

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and Pitambar, have been well fleshed out through their mannerisms and reflections on life. A beautiful piece in Indian literature about life in the forgotten towns. One that can be put away after reading and can be revisited on a rainy day.

The Fakir by Sunil Gangopadhayay

A Review (First Published on Helter Skelter)

 

The Fakir is a fictionalised biography of Lalan Fakir, the great mystic poet from Bengal. The famed novel, written by popular novelist Sunil Gangopadhyay, was recently translated into English by Monabi Mitra. The story takes us back to 19th century Bengal, a land that was once feudal and oppressive.

A young man accused of stealing Kabirajmoshai’s horse, is brought to the landowner after being caught untying the horse. It turns out that the man borrowed the horse from time to time and returned him after a ride. Kabirajmoshai, a zamindar and a man of prominence, gets him to carry out a difficult task of chopping wood from a jarultree, which he carries out till late in the night. Kabirajmoshai also finds out that this young man, Lalu, is known to sing very well and has performed in a number of local plays. Winning the heart of the zamindar through his honesty and simple nature, Lalu becomes a part of his coterie. He accompanies thezamindar, at his request, to a pilgrimage to Behrampore, to take a dip in the holy water of the Ganges.

However, on the way to Behrampore, he is afflicted with smallpox and is understood to have died, when, in fact, he is only unconscious. Members of the pilgrimage party float his body in the river, before continuing on their journey. He is then rescued by an old woman, a Muslim, and is nursed back to health, thanks to her selfless care. Given his memory loss due to the illness, he stays on with the woman, who adopts him as a son. One day, he is recognised by a group of people from his village and is coaxed to come back home, where he has a mother and a young wife. On returning, he is cast out by his community and is socially ostracised. Kabirajmoshi refuses to believe that he is alive having declared him dead, and his mother refuses to let him enter the house, as having lived with a Muslim woman he has defiled his faith. His wife supports the mother and refuses to side with a distraught Lalu.

 

Read the rest of the review on Helter Skelter – http://helterskelter.in/2011/03/book-review-the-fakir/

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Room by Emma Donoghue

A review (First published on Helter Skelter)

 

As you go through the pages of this book, you are introduced to a world called ‘Room’. A 11′ by 11′ hole where Jack lives with his Ma, who is unnamed throughout the novel. You are hooked on immediately as you wonder why they are living there, and why the plucky five-year-old speaks about objects and things around him in the way that he does.

Room is a first-person narrative by Jack. He orients us into his world, where he and his Ma have a busy routine with exercises, reading, and singing. He counts each of his cornflakes, and talks to the Bed, Room, Wall and others that he perceives as real. He has only five books, including Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland that are treasured and read again and again. They also have a T.V. set that has characters from other worlds, such as the lovable cartoon character, SpongeBob SquarePants. To Jack, this is his world because his Ma told him so. The Room is their world and everything and everyone else is on another planet.

Their only connection to humanity is Old Nick, a man who visits them every week, bringing groceries, necessities, and occasional treats. Whenever he visits, Jack is made to sleep in the wardrobe, while his Ma and Old Nick make the bed go thump–thump. After his fifth birthday, his Ma reveals to Jack the truth of the world outside their room. The Room is a prison; a sound-proofed, fenced, and leaded shed with a skylight, where his mother has been held in captivity for seven years after being kidnapped when she was a 19-year-old student.

Read the rest of it on Helter Skelter – http://helterskelter.in/2011/03/book-review-room/

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The Middleman by Sankar

A review

Translated by Arunava Sinha, this is one of Sankar‘s most popular novels and a follow up to his successful Chowringhee, this is set in Calcutta in 1970’s where educated youth were frustrated due to the lack of employment opportunities.

The Middleman

The city is teeming with thousands of young men in search of work. Somnath Banerjee spends his days queuing up at the employment exchange. Unable to find a job despite his qualifications, Somnath decides to go into order – supply business as a middleman. His ambition drives him to prostitute an innocent girl for a contract that will secure the future of Somnath Enterprises. As Somnath grows from an idealistic young man into a corrupt business man, the novel becomes a terrifying portrait of the price the city extracts from its youth.

The author depicts a moving, compelling tale of life in Kolkata for the young generation, one with education degrees but no jobs in sight. It brings out the frustration and helplessness of people like Somnath, who finds it difficult to face his fathers and brothers who live in the same home. His futile attempts to land a respectable job go unrewarded, and he is forced to go down a different path. One where the same values that he’s been brought up with, are to be compromised. Sankar brings out the sleaze in the society, and paints a vivid landscape of great hope and morbid reality. It’s a wonderful character study, portraying stark reality in thehelplessness, shame and frustration of Somnath, the protagonist, the peek into the equations within the family and his rise and fall as a human being.

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

A review

F. Scott Fitzgerald‘s most famous work, this book continues to be talked about today as one of the finest American novels of the 20th century. Set in the ’20’s, in New York, Fitzgerald paints a vivid picture of the high life. The protagonist here is Jay Gatsby, a man who has everything that one could dream of. A mysterious character, he is known for hosting lavish parties and inviting the swish set in New York. Everybody who is anybody is seen at his parties. Day and night his Long Island mansion buzzes with young people drinking, dancing and debating his mysterious ways. For Gatsby – young, handsome, fabulously rich – always seems alone in a crowd, watching and waiting, although nobody knows what his intent is. Beneath the shimmering surface of his life he is hiding a secret: a silent longing which can never be fulfilled. The desire to be with Daisy, the love of his life, and now a much married woman.

The novel has a first person narrative – Nick Caraway, a young man who befriends Jay Gatsby, and is Daisy’s second cousin. He ends up serving as a go between on many occasions and has a peak into their affair, and the affair that Tom, Daisy’s husband, is having on the side. Fitzgerald depicts the shallowness of the American Dream and the greed and disillusionment that comes with it. People being attracted to wealth and opulence, marriages that exist only for the sake of making appearances, and love that requires the false display of wealth and status, and is thus flawed. The story is full of symbolism and provoking questions about America’s shallow culture back then and the trappings of fame. This short masterpiece is pitch perfect in its treatment, young and vibrant, tragic and is a fast paced, gripping read. The most important bits are the ones that the author leaves unsaid, but which are nevertheless come through, which says a lot about his remarkable foresight. Although published in 1925 during the boom phase, he is skeptical about the lust for greed and power, and quite significantly not much ends up coming form this. The Great Depression after 1929 is ample proof of this.