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Monsoon Flippers
Text by Supriya Nair
Published: Volume 17, Issue 8, August, 2009

SUPRIYA NAIR flips through the pages of some of the monsoon’s big releases

The Wish MakerThe Wish Maker
Ali Sethi
(Penguin)

Début novelist Ali Sethi creates a dizzying context to growing up in ’90s Pakistan. It is packed with cultural markers and the intensely personalised subcontinental English that we’ve come to recognise as our own. Of definite interest to lovers of Pakistani writing in English, family sagas and some excellent drama.

If it is Sweet
Mridula Koshy
(Tranquebar)

Short stories ‘lovely dark and deep,’ as the book’s jacket cheekily announces. Sharp and sustained wry humour and a fantastic ear for dialogue set Koshy’s writing apart. To be savoured a little at a time, exploring all that is bitter and sweet and complicated.

BLOGGER’S PARK

Two fine début novels which made their appearance this summer have one thing in common – both Chandrahas Choudhury, author of Arzee the Dwarf (Penguin), and Amit Varma, who came out with My Friend Sancho (Hachette), are not only newspapermen but also two of India’s most widely-read and respected bloggers. Their respective styles and areas of concern carry through in each of their works. Choudhury, whose exceptionally fine literary criticism makes up a large part of his repository at his blog, The Middle Stage, writes a nuanced and atmospheric work, in which his central character Arzee – who is, as you might guess from the title, a dwarf – scavenges through Mumbai’s demi-monde, and the layers above it, daring the city to make good on its famous promises of acceptance and opportunity. Choudhury pulls off both grit and comedy, sometimes both at once, but his real triumph is in pulling off the meditative quality of the narrative, a monologic tone that too many literary novelists have tried for and failed at.

Varma’s story reverses the narrative engine in a manner of speaking: his Mumbai, reflected through the eyes of suburban immigrant Abir Ganguly, is all action, told with generous helpings of laddish humour and the self-conscious awareness that looking sideways at other people in the city is a slippery slope on which most people, even his crime journalist protagonist, cannot afford to step. Ganguly’s prickly conscience and his burgeoning affection for a woman whose father was killed in a fake encounter lurch through the vagaries of shopping malls, newspaper deadlines, and corrupt yet deeply human cops, hoping for the best. It’s a clever little book, which, like Varma’s blog, India Uncut, resists easy categorisation.

A. R. Rahman: The Musical Storm
Kamini Mathai
(Penguin)

Biography, does what it says on the tin. A breezy piece that reads like an extended magazine cover story. Don’t go into it looking for intense musicological insight.

The Toss of a Lemon
Padma Viswanathan
(Tranquebar)

Ploughing the deeply-furrowed ground of the struggle of the individual in the superstitious past of rural South India, this story sows a myriad strands of narrative and orientalist explanations of India to the world. Sadly, as is so often the case with such literary exercises, it comes up with lemons.

The Rapids of a Great River
ed. Lakshmi Holmstrom and Subhashree Krishnaswamy
(Penguin)

From the earliest-surviving Sangam poetry to the haunting new voices emerging from the badlands of modern caste and territorial violence, this new anthology of fluently-translated Tamil poetry is an emblem of the long and triumphant tradition of an ancient but still vibrant literary culture.

RAIN RECALL

Six of the choicest rainy moments in literature – that come back to haunt us every time dark clouds gather

Leave It To Psmith by PG Wodehouse Psmith steals a comrade’s umbrella to help out the beauteous Eve. One of English literature’s most romantic scenes in one of its most hilarious novels.
Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë The howling winds and the branches dripping against the casement pane, horribly reminiscent of the destructive love of Cathy and Heathcliff. Brrr.
Dubliners by James Joyce The famously gloomy weather of modern English literature’s first city is a character of its own in Joyce’s immortal short stories.
The Tempest by William Shakespeare A furious storm, banished sorcerer Prospero, Ariel and Caliban all come together on an island in a moment of magic to punish and forgive.
Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw Opening with the genteel taking shelter from the rain and an altercation between the protagonists Eliza Doolittle, Henry Higgins and Colonel Pickering, it is undoubtedly the most memorable socio-economic play of the time.
The Guide by RK Narayan A story of the power of belief that culminates with the fake god-man actually bringing in the rains to a drought-ridden village.

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