Of a Hangman and Hobbit @Talking Terrace Book Club – January 2015




“Vampires are more photogenic- maybe better on TV?” says Jaya who does not want to get started on her attempt to read Twilight. She wants to discuss more serious reading.

Tughlaq is a drama written by veteran Girish Karnad. You can watch the play here in case you are curious about why a best loved play is about a 14th century Sultan in the Delhi Sultanate: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pn_UsBd8JW0.











The Hangman’s Journal dominated the discussion. It’s a slender book written in mellifluous prose (a little too mellifluous?) by Shashi Warrier. The story about the hangman in the kingdom of Travancore and later on in post-independence India provides an interesting narrative. The author entrusts the hangman with a journal where he writes much more than about his life of hangings; he writes about the present as well. And as it is with writing, the hangman begins to look at his life differently once he has penned those words.

For the more morbid, there are some details of hanging that provide interesting fodder, such as the skill required for an expert hanging- a single mistake could lead to strangulation, which is far more painful.










The premise sounds very interesting though (no, not because I am morbid!) and I’m tempted to read this one.

Abhaya is still on his #ReadWomen2014 list though this year he hopes to read more about history and maybe something contemporary as well, in keeping with the India after independence theme. On his list were several books: River Sutra, Unsettled, Shakuntala, Sultana’s dream and Padmarag.

River Sutra by Gita Mehta is a series of stories with a single thread of the Narmada river binding them. It gives a reasonable portrait of India and throws in some folklore for good measure- apparently seeing the Narmada is good if you have any ideas of renunciating your sins. In spite of some lovely stories, somewhere for Abhaya the idea of a novel fails.











In Shakuntala: The Play of Memory by Namita Gokhale, the premise here is one woman and several lives. The historical backdrop in the story is a part fictional idea based in the 8th century. A woman is allowed to pursue a life of hedonism and Shakuntalas, not one but several, are stories in themselves.










Many women writers use narrative in interesting ways- “even in Unsettled:The Search for Love and Meaning you go back and forth in time,” Abhaya says. Unsettled is the first paranormal romance he’s read.










Sultana’s dream and Padmarag is a remarkable find. Rokeya Sakhawat Hussain was a famous Muslim feminist in her time and lived in what is now Bangladesh.  She was ahead of her time (she wrote in the early twentieth century) and wrote science fiction besides creating a female utopia where men were in purdah and women ruled the roost. Imagine that!











What was I reading? Good old The Hobbit!











I’ve always loved elves, trolls, gnomes, goblins, and now hobbits. Probably this is what made me want to write about female vampires like Yakshis in the first place. You might say, “but you haven’t read The Hobbit already? You’ve seen the movie then?” Not really. I wanted to read the book first. The premise works with me- what happens if all you like to do is be safe and then you are dragged along on a rollercoaster ride of an adventure? Moving out of one’s comfort zone may not suit many-particularly Bilbo Baggins. I like him for that—and for the fact that he finds the Ring that makes Tolkien go into creative overdrive.

What have you been reading? Tell us about it. You just may be reading something really bizarre and you might feel like over sharing it. All ears!



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