In keeping with the women writers theme, Abhaya read a list of books. We wondered how one can read so many books at all.
“They are slender books,” Jaya said.
Anyway after a year of reading women writers, Abhaya is tired of child marriage as a staple theme in Indian writing in English.
Ratanbai: A high-caste child-wife by Shevantibai M. Nikambe is a profile of a young Mahrashtrian Brahmin girl. She marries young, as young as maybe eight and in spite of many obstacles receives an education.
Before you wrinkle your brows about the horrendousness of child marriages in fiction, let’s remember what Eleanor Catton said in the panel ‘Beautiful Offspring: The Art of Historical Fiction’ at the Jaipur Lit fest. She advised writers not to be overly judgemental about the past as what happened in the past happened and even if it didn’t make sense, certain customs were the norm and the author of historical fiction represents it. Similar tolerance must be displayed by the reader as well.
“The book left me cheated though,” Abhaya said and as he is famous for not giving away any spoilers, we were left to wonder why a simple story like that could ring of the usual propaganda of religion being pitted against education.
Malati Rao’s heroine in Disorderly Women is supposed to be rebellious though there is no visible rebellion in this book. Abhaya observed how in some books set during the freedom struggle era, it played a very minor part. In some others, the idea of nationalism was tied up intrinsically with the fortunes of the woman protagonist.
That Long Silence by Shashi Deshpande is a difficult book to read at the beginning but sixty pages later, it’s enjoyable. “No one could have put it better than Shashi Deshpande,” Abhaya quoted from the book: “All this I’ve written – it’s like one of those multicoloured patchwork quilts the Kakis made for any new baby in the family. So many bits and pieces – a crazy conglomeration of shapes, sizes and colours put together.”
I think this is especially true of this particular book by Deshpande, the book that won her the Sahitya Akademi award.
Some other books Abhaya breezed through were Sojourn by Usha K. R and Fasting, feasting by Anita Desai. We all mused on the irony of Desai missing out on the Booker Prize while her daughter Kiran Desai won it in her first attempt.
The Washer of the dead by Venita Coelho was brilliant. “I haven’t read short stories in a long time and these feminist ghost stories were a treat. Did you know that Venita is probably one of the few speculative fiction writers in India?” That was news to us- not many writers of sci-fi, paranormal and magical realism in India.
I’m reading this book right now, and it is a remarkable find.
“Well after all that, I have just two, very thick books to talk about,” said Jaya. “Since I’m re-reading books this season, I’ll be talking about my favorite, Cuckold by Kiran Nagarkar. The other book is The Discovery of India by Jawaharlal Nehru.”
Jaya thought that a lot of Nehru’s views in the book could have been views that were more acceptable at that time. “For instance, his views on language would not have been acceptable today. For that matter, his view of the political invasions that characterized Indian history are quite interesting and in keeping with his political diplomacy.”
We all know that Jaya is a Nagarkar fan girl, so when she spoke about Mewar and the protagonist of the book, Maharaj Kumar, who is mostly known as Mirabai’s wife, she created excitement in the room as well. “The writer takes liberties with the time. There are multiple threads of Rajput valor, war strategies, devotion and a troubled marriage. He writes in a very modern style about the past.”
“Once we were at a talk and questions came up about the contemporary language Nagarkar used to write historical fiction,” Abhaya said. “That’s the whole point- people don’t read the preface. It was clearly stated there he used the language relevant to the time.”
And he’s done a good job of it too, considering that this book was a SahityaAkademi winning book
This is a book I need to read as well….now this is an impending problem with book clubs- the burgeoning list of to-read books!
“Unsettled is a nice read- really short,” Srishti said to me, as though expecting me to write a longer book the next time.
“Sita: An Illustrated Retelling of the Ramayana is a straightforward account of the Ramayana. I really enjoyed reading it and it’s made me more interested in the stories we listened to while growing up. It goes in sequence and after each tale, there is a logical explanation. Devadutt Patnaik knows how to write his mythology.”
This is not a very easy thing to do, we all admitted, as nowadays one has to be extremely careful when one picks mythological themes.
As for me, I was reading Writing down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg, which I loved for various reasons outlined here. I also started a book called If it’s Monday it must be Madurai by Srinath Perur. It was a book I came across during The Times lit fest in Bengaluru– an interesting journalistic sort of travelogue about the vagaries of the Great Indian (one can never seem to have enough of this phrase) conducted tour. Going solo is a different story altogether—with groups the narrative becomes so much more animated.
What are you reading? Tell us…