We were relieved that Abhaya’s list of books was a little shorter this time round. “You give us a complex with your long lists,” Jaya said.
Slender books,” he reminded us.
It all comes down to font size. After all you don’t count steps when you exercise, do you?” Pooja Saxena said. She’s a typeface designer who joined us for the book club this time.
The reason that Abhaya’s book list came down substantially was because of a book called Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys, written as a prequel to Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre . Abhaya found this Caribbean writer’s style to be inscrutable, as he had spent the whole of last year submerged in books by Indian women writers and also books written in his own mother tongue, Hindi. The dialogues were different and the writing very literary. “Towards the end, however, the writing began to flow and it was delicious,” he said.
I remember reading this book out of curiosity. It was proclaimed as one of the greatest novellas of the last century. It felt difficult but the language is inimitable; it’s a slender book but one filled with substance.
Another book that Abhaya read was a Hindi book called Aapka Bunti by Mannu Bhandari, acclaimed writer and wife of the famous Hindi writer Rajendra Yadav. The story is written from a child’s point of view and though the book is a tear jerker, the author wanted to portray a social problem more than evoke a dirge of tears. Abhaya highly recommends this book. Reminded me of Manju Kapoor’s Custody which also deals with the trauma that children face when their parents divorce.
“It would be fascinating to read the translation and the original back to back,” Pooja said. In fact, this is something she often did in school with Premchand’s novels. Abhaya often did this with Faiz’s poems—he recalled a translation of a post independence poem:
This was not the morning
We were waiting for.
“If this was so beautiful, imagine what the original must have been like,” he said.
The conversation moved toward a non-fiction translation of Shivani’s Apradhini: Women Without Men. “Her interviews of women who committed horrible crimes are fascinating,” Pooja said.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if the interviews were dramatized,” Jaya said, musing on the complicated tempestuous affairs that make up most of this Hindi romance writer’s fiction.
A good deal on Flipkart led Abhaya to buyThe King’s Harvest by Chethan Raj Shreshta. There are two novellas in the book, both set in Sikkim. In one, the wife kills her husband and cuts him into forty seven pieces. The case then unfolds.
The second novella tells the story of what happens to a man who is isolated from society. It is really the story of changing Sikkim during the late 60’s and 70’s.
What appealed to Abhaya about the book besides the stories themselves was the good quality of the book. Being in the book trade,quality matters. “I can’t bear to read a badly printed book,” he said.
Pooja was excited when she spoke about Leila Seth’s memoir On Balance, an Autobiography. She had missed Leila Seth’s panel at the Bangalore Lit Fest and so went on to re-read her memoir.
Pooja lived in Noida when she was young and so she often tried to get a glimpse of the illustrious Seth family who lived in her city. “Forget Vikram Seth. Leila Seth was the first woman to become Chief Justice of astate High Court in India.”
“Haven’t you read A Suitable Boy?” Pooja asked us. “Well then Savita in the novel is inspired by Leila Seth, a woman who moves to England, gives birth and then continues to strive with her education. The only reason Leila Seth took up law was because the course was flexible as opposed to the rigid timings of the Montessori course she originally intended to join.”
We thought about life and its ironies.
“She ended up being a gold medalist and this winning streak translated in her career when she became an eminent jurist. Her life story is remarkable as in the 60’s and 70’s in India, men did not travel along with their wives who were transferred for employment’s sake. This was just unthinkable.”
Leila Seth speaks about her children and the unique paths they drawn out for themselves- her first, the eminent Vikram Seth,a bisexual genius writer, her second son Shantum Seth a Buddhist teacher, her third child, Aradhana Seth, an art director married to an Australian diplomat.
Another book Pooja got was Eating Women, Telling tales by Bulbul Sharma. As the title suggests, the stories revolve around a group of women who tell stories over food. The sentence construction was problematic for Pooja.
“The sentences seem to be a direct translation of Hindi and for readers who know Hindi, this is jarring,” she said. She added as an after thought that it could sound romantic to a foreign reader.”
Abhaya agreed, “I felt this way about the Hindi poetry translations in Anita Desai’s book In Custody. The translations were not enamoring even if the writer said so.”
Looks like when Indian writers write in English, there is no need to sound Indian as that comes across as contrived.
We talked about food novels and the choicest way of killing husbands by greasing their palates with ghee and moved on to another gem Pooja read. Chasing the Monsoon by Alexander Frater is a story about determination. It is the story of a journalist who follows the monsoon from Trivandrum through Delhi, Calcutta and Bangladesh. He paid no heed to a doctor’s prophesy about the pitfalls that his spinal injury could wreak if he traveled; the need to follow the weather, walk in and out of Met offices in India, chase butterflies and clouds healed him.
“You don’t know what happens in your own country and that was what spurred me to buy Nehru to the nineties.” Pooja got the book at a British Council Library sale when she was in Mumbai. The book speaks about how each Prime Minister in the country engaged with the Legislature, Executive and Judiciary.She advised us to watch the Youtube debates called Samvidhan to understand a little more about the Indian Constitution :https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=atSSN6ZLzXQ.
More discussion in Part 2.