What Happens in Jaipur, Doesn’t Stay in Jaipur

(Note: I know this blog has been barren and starved of attention for nearly two months now, but believe me, it was hardly my fault.  Also, this post is really, really long. I tried and tried to edit, but I couldn’t bring myself to commit any omissions.  So please be patient, and kind when you read this.)

Everyone has had their share of news to report, their accounts, and their observations and quickly arrived upon conclusions about the Jaipur Literature Festival 2011, so far called the biggest literary extravaganza happening this side of the hemisphere, and being compared to cult festivals like Woodstock. Given it’s been a good 5 days since the fest ended; I thought it’s time I put down my two cents worth of experience.

Once the festival kicked off and people got into the mood and started being prolific about their #JLF experience on social media channels, there seemed to develop a dichotomy between the avid followers of the event- those who loved everything about the fest and everyone who was there, and those who attacked almost everything said and done there as elitist, for being pseudo-intellectual and whatnot.  I’d say it had its own balance of the good, bad and ugly and it’s entirely upon the participant at the event to take the best of it.

There were more than 100 different sessions, over 200 authors present with varying degree of participation in the sessions, and around 50,000 or more, comprising students, media people, book lovers, and those who just came to sightsee, at the fest this year.  From this cacophonous mix, I’m going to try to enlist my top five seven events (in chronological order, if nothing else) from the fest. These aren’t the most enjoyable or thought-provoking ones necessarily, but these events are representative of the whole festival for me and will remain in my memory for long.

The Opening Ceremony and Sheldon Pollock

Sheldon Pollock
Sheldon Pollock

The inauguration of the fest took place on a quite grand note (for a literature event methinks) with Dr. Karan Singh as the guest of honour and politicos from Rajasthan present. Sheldon Pollock, who delivered the keynote address, in my eyes, set the tone for the fest with his lament on the state of classical languages, and literature written in those, in India. If there are Indian Institutes of Management and Indian Institutes of Technology, why can’t there be an Indian Institute of Classical Languages he asked. It was humbling to see an outsider remind us of our travesty, posing as a society that prides itself on a dying culture, not bothered enough to save the remnants. He spoke of the importance of poet who describes, but the necessity of the scholar to interpret and appreciate. The question he posed as a corollary is something that will be hard to forget. He asked, “Who do you think appreciates the beauty of the daughter, the father or the mother?”

Pamuk and the Art of the Novel

I think this was one of the most anticipated events of the fest and one that gave JLF the big kick-start that it needed to silence its detractors and validate its reputation as Asia-Pacific’s leading literature event. Orhan Pamuk, Nobel Laureate and author of novels My Name is Red, Snow and Istanbul was in conversation with Chandrahas Chowdhury. He spoke of his relationship with history, with painting and the subject of time (the darling subject of modernist writers  according to him) and how a novelist can draw personal inspiration out of these relationships to tell their story.

“I paint objects through stories, because I’m a failed painter”, he remarked before the Q&SA session with him was to begin. There were two instances in this Q&A session which made an impression on me. One involved this old gentleman who gushed on about Pamuk’s novel My Name is Red and wondered aloud about how good the translator was to have captured the essence and beauty of Pamuk’s storytelling. I’m not sure if the question was posed in the right way, but Pamuk’s dismissal of the point/question and person was a bit of a sad comment, more so after the topics that he spoke at length on and will do so in later events.  The second question came from another gentleman, slightly on the older side who asked “Which do you think is deeper of the two- philosophical love or physical love?” To this Pamuk joked, “I’d say that depends entirely on the penetration”. Amidst much appreciative laughter, Pamuk pointed out his urge to make that joke because the questioner has used the word “deep”.

A Eunuch’s Life

A. Revathi, author of The Truth About Me, was in conversation with Urvashi Butalia. Revathi, who was once a son of Armugam is now a member of the Hijra community. In her book, she has put down her journey, her trials and tribulations, and as far as I know, it is the first of its kind in English from a member of the Hijra community. There are three reasons why this event is on this list: A) This was a window to look at JLF’s aspiring culture to have an event where topics like this have been treated with such respect and maturity.  B) Despite the horrors that Ms. Revathi has gone through, what you see is not a defeated bitter person, but a brave, quite jovial person who makes no bones about her sexuality.  C) The lack of propagandist and sexist talk by the members of the audience.  Rest all was mere dressing for me.

A. Revathi
A. Revathi

Seated in the richly decorated Durbar Hall, dressed in a simple saree, Ms. Revathi fielded questions with a frankness that was quite endearing. When asked by an audience member why she chose not to write the book through a fictional narrative and thus avoid any probable stigma that might come with the event, Ms.Revathi did this enactment of how she would have to think and mull if she were to write it through fiction which had the audience in splits. She then went on to say that she didn’t have the time or knowledge to think of a fictional story and felt that it was important that people know her story the way it is, that she wasn’t ashamed to hide behind the cloak of anonymity, and that I think was what earned her the respect of every member in the audience.  In response to the abuses she had mentioned she had suffered, a member of the audience asked her opinions on perpetrators of abuse from the Hijra community. When asked this by Ms. Butalia, who also played interpreter, Ms. Revathi didn’t seem abashed at all. She answered quite honestly, with much humility, that there’s a case of bad apples in every basket. There are bad ones among men and women and the same holds true for the Hijra community. Someone posed the question of harassment women have to suffer and if this harassment made her doubt her choices and decisions to which she quipped, “India mein pathar ko bhi saari se lapetega toh aadmi haath lagaega.” (In India, a man would harass even a stone wrapped in a Sari.) For those who understood Hindi, her responses and animated delivery of those had the lot of us trying hard not to grin too widely.

A.Revathi was the Director of Sangama which is a non-governmental organization working for the rights of Sexuality Minorities namely, Hijras, Kothis, Bisexuals, Double Deckers, Lesbians, Gays and Transgenders. She is presently the advocacy co-ordinator at Sangama.

Out of West

This was a star-studded discussion to say the least. With a panel comprising Orhan Pamuk, Kiran Desai, Chimamanda Adichie, Leila Aboulela, and Nam Le, and moderated by Rana Dasgupta, what else could you begin with for a description?

Out of West
(L-R) Kiran Desai, Orhan Pamuk, Rana Dasgupta, Leila Aboulela, Nam Le, Chimamanda Adichie

Rana Dasgupta opened up the discussion with his interpretation of the topic, to be rudely woken up by Orhan Pamuk and receive an explanation of what the topic actually meant as envisaged by Pamuk when he suggested this topic to the organizers for a discussion.  Pamuk listed down lack of representation for non-English writers in the world, their marginalization, the provinciality to which their writing is subjected on basis of their nationality as some of the topics that should be covered by the panel.

Raising the issue of representation, Kiran Desai commented how writers are sometimes taken as diplomats of their respective nations and Chimamanda recounted how everything she writes is turned into a political allegory on account of her Nigerian nationality and the country’s political turmoil.  Pamuk touched upon provinciality and the subject of interpretation when he recounted how whenever he writes about love, international reviewers label him as someone who writes about “Turkish” love.  All the writers consented that they are all trying to write of human experience, not Nigerian, Turkish, Sudanese or Vietnamese human experience, irrespective of cultural, political and socio-economic influences and languages in which they write or think.

It would have been interesting if the panel had in fact debated upon the points raised by Orhan Pamuk, but it turned a bit farcical with the moderator claiming to make enemies out of all those present at the table with him. Pamuk clearly dominated the discussion, talking most of the time, talking a lot of sense but it didn’t seem like a discussion that you could take something from.  I think Nam Le’s comment towards the end of the session, “One good thing about the literary world is that you can always find some hurt feelings”, summed it all up.

Readings from Coetzee

J.M. Coetzee
J.M. Coetzee

Two times Booker Winner, Nobel Laureate, author of classics like The Life and Times of Michael K, Disgrace and Summertime, John Maxwell Coetzee was clearly The Man at the event (Though many I know would claim that title for Junot Diaz. Even I found Mr. Diaz quite entertaining, brilliant and full of acerbic humor, but there’s a reason why Mr. Coetzee is the clear winner here). Known for being extremely reclusive, it is a big deal in itself that he came down to a festival like JLF, teeming with thousands of people, eager fans waiting and milling around and wanting to “engage” with him.  In all other reading sessions, the authors read some pages, talk about the process and hidden nuances a bit, this and that, answer some questions thrown by the audience, but not so for Mr. Coetzee.  As Patrick French said in his introduction to the session, “Some writers perform, some write, John Coetzee will read.”  Thus, Mr. Coetzee read a short story called The Old Woman and Her Cats, the story of the character John’s visit to his mother’s place and his discovery that his mother is sheltering the local village exhibitionist along with many cats. Mr. Coetzee read out this story, without any break for forty-five minutes. For forty-five minutes, the audience was silent, of its own volition, rapt in attention, listening to a man delivering a “Lesson”. Some might not see why this would be exceptional, but again, Mr. French comes to our rescue by pointing out that Mr. Coetzee has performed a miracle of sorts by keeping an audience, that is largely made up of Indians, enthralled and quiet for a full three-quarters of an hour. That there is the reason for Mr. Coetzee to be crowned The Man at JLF.

The book signing line for Mr. Coetzee wasn’t as long and winding as the one for the trio of Pamuk, Desai and Dasgupta but the conditions set by the organizers while getting the book signed (it went from three books per person to two to one book quite soon) and the rate at which the festival book store ran out of stock for all of his books must give you some idea as to how big, important and essential Mr.Coetzee’s presence was at JLF 2011.

Veda: Ends of Knowledge

Roberto Calasso, author of books like The Marriage of Cadmus and Harmony and Ka was in conversation with Devdutt Pattanaik, author of Myth=Mithya, Jaya and other popular titles covering Indian mythos and their retelling in today’s times.

 

Roberto Calasso
Roberto Calasso

I’d never heard of Mr. Calasso nor read anything by him before. I had gone there to try to secure an interview with Mr. Pattanaik and because the title of the event had immense appeal for me.  Mr. Calasso began with, what I remember as a breaking of the myth of myth. He explained how our times do not have any myths, what we have mere urban legends, and what myth really is. He spoke of the consciousness imbibing what has been told to us countless times, of myths that have a power even today, millennia later.

It was clear to me from the first few minutes of the session that Mr. Calasso is an authority on this subject.  From Greek mythology to Mesopotamian civilization, from the Brahmanas to the Odyssey, he impressed us all with his deep knowledge and recounting of stories, anecdotes, explanations and questions that were aimed as much at the audience as to himself. The passion with which he spoke of the human mind and consciousness, of its link with the rise and fall of civilizations was captivating, to say the least. At one point, he raised the question of research being done into the human consciousness by neuroscientists by saying, “Neuroscientists, paleontologists are now busy solving workable issues. They are a long way from studying consciousness.”

As he quoted from one of his books, “These things never happened, but are always”, he moved from mythology to metaphysics with surprising ease and grace, which felt only natural given the topic of discussion.

If human evolution, the journey from caves to the cornucopia of our times, were taken as a big jigsaw, Mr. Calasso’s retelling of myths, exploration of ancient texts and his attempts at connecting the dots and clues left from one civilization to another, one history to another, seem like vital precursors to pieces that would complete the puzzle.

The Alchemy of Writing: Truth, Fiction & The Challenge of India

I’m sure this is not an unique observation by any measure, but the number of journalist-turned-authors, journalist-cum-authors, media person-cum-authors was quite high at JLF.  Given that, it was no surprise that this event with Tarun Tejpal, the man behind Tehelka who made “sting operations” a catchphrase and Manu Joseph, editor, Open

Tarun Tejpal
Tarun Tejpal

Magazine and the man behind the Radia Tapes, was going to be a major crowd-puller. Both of them have written novels that have received some acclaim and positive reviews, but everyone present knew it wasn’t going to be about that. The session was to hear the man speak and be charmed by him and it is a difficult feat to keep one from falling for the words that come out of Mr. Tejpal’s mouth.

Another non-unique observation was the politically charged atmosphere at JLF. It wasn’t entirely unpleasant, but one had to concede that if not here then where would such discussions happen? From the now regular India-Pak debate that seemed to follow author Kamila Shamsie, to any discussion that comprised more than one media person (natural connection?), politics was a very dominant topic at this Literature Fest. Given our current headlines are filled with words like “scam” “illegal” “chargesheet” and so on, it wasn’t surprising that the session was all about what media is doing, should be doing, and how it has come to place where what it does matters a lot more. It was clear that Mr.Tejpal had the crowd under his spell with his charming and inspiring tale of how he started Tehelka, his struggles, his daily fights with the Indian judicial system, the red tapism, the bureaucracy. He spoke of young journalists from Tehelka reporting from Chhatisgarh, of reporters breaking news that matter to the public, of being an activist and of taking up journalism to serve some purpose and not just sell sensational stories.

Amidst all this, it wasn’t too difficult to not detect the subtle brand promotion that was going on.  Much blame was laid on mainstream media and its indiscriminate ignorance of news stories that are relevant for the public, which led one frustrated member of the mainstream media to question: Who’s to be blamed for this- our editors who pick these stories or the consumer who crave for these? I think he gave a very well framed answer without mentioning the two most relevant letters of our times: PR.

At the end of the session, you were very inspired and very charged up but it was difficult for you to let go of one question “So, what was new?”

These were my favorite seven events. There were five-six other contenders to this list, but I think I’m quite content with this edition. Most of the discussions were a bit of a sham with topics being left alone in a corner, many quotable lines being delivered individually but quite unsatisfactory when seen as a whole. I think I’ll refrain from any social commentary concerning the fashion scene, the sightseer crowd and the occasional slip in organization that led to chaos, because it didn’t matter. None of that mattered when you came to look at it. What mattered and still does is that there’s a forum now. Readers and lovers of literature can come here and take their pick in listening to the heroes they have adored through pages and tomes. Book lovers can come here and enjoy a moment of unrivaled excitement and pure joy when the writers they have loved and worshiped scrawl their name on their book and exchange a word or a smile with them. I had my share of high and low, jubilation and disappointment, wonderment and disillusionment with JLF 2011, but come January 2012, I think I’ll be there, struggling between chairs and choices.

Psst.. This is a sort of proper and official account. I’ve got some other tales to tell and many books signed that need showing off . I’ll do that here as soon as I am done with some distractions. 🙂

Also, you can read other posts about the #JLF Experience here.

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On Record: Samit Basu

This is my second official interview as such. And this time the man is Samit Basu, novelist, screenwriter, writer of comics and local monster, talking about his latest book Turbulence and writing among other things.

Snippets of the interview:

Samit Basu
Samit Basu

You’ve been part of quite a number of anthologies and collaborations. Which one was the best experience?

Collaborations – I co-wrote a comic, or graphic novel if you prefer, with Mike Carey, who is a writer I’ve idolized since I first started reading comics. If you haven’t read his Lucifer comics or his Felix Castor books, do so at once. For someone at that level, he was both incredibly generous as a collaborator and surprisingly nice as a person. The comic is called Untouchable, it’s a turn-of-the-century romance/horror story about a young Anglo-Indian boy’s twisted relationship with a rakshasi. It’s set in India and England, and starts this doomed couple, both outcasts, one caught between the different worlds of his parents, another caught between different eras and worlds.

Anthology wise, Electric Feather, the anthology of erotic stories edited by Ruchir Joshi. I wrote a story about a bunch of twentysomethings going back to Cal for a wedding and getting it on afterwards. It was lovely, because I got to write a kind of story I wouldn’t have done otherwise, have a great deal of fun, and people responded strongly – most people absolutely loved it, and others were deeply offended, and both responses pleased me greatly.

If you could be one of your superheroes, which one would you be?

Tia. I love her power, the ability to duplicate yourself and therefore essentially never have to make a choice again, because now you can live several lives and experience so many more things.

One book that you’d bequeath to your favorite niece/nephew.

I’d be a fairly sad uncle if I gave my favourite niece/nephew only one book. Lots and lots and lots of really good books. Do I have to bequeath them? That seems to involve dying. Must I die now?

One writer that seriously scrambled your brains with his/her dangerous and exciting ideas.

China Mieville

 

You can read the full interview here.

You can also read my review of Turbulence here or there.

Review: Turbulence by Samit Basu

Turbulence- Samit Basu
Turbulence- Samit Basu

I’ve rarely been so excited about a book from an Indian author. And I started loving my job a bit more when BookChums got me this book to review. 😀

Turbulence is India’s first mainstream novel talking about superheroes, very Indian superheroes at that. By some freak accident everyone on the BA flight 142 gets powers that reflect their innermost desires and secret longings. Some of them are coming to terms with their newfound powers and some are hatching plans and plots to change the world with their powers while some are disappearing off the face of earth. Our protagonist Aman Sen is trying to piece together the puzzle, get the other heroes on his side and form his own Justice League to eradicate evil, corruption, poverty and all things bad from this world.

Aman, your average Joe, who always felt he wasn’t well-connected enough, gets gifted with the power to control anything that is in a network, yes, even the interwebz. Tia, a housewife from the North-east who wanted to be many things and be at many places becomes a very literal, but better, embodiment of MPD. Uzma Abidi (very very Katrina Kaif-ish), who is on her way from London to make a career in tinsel town starts oozing charm and charisma that can melt a T-Rex. There’s Vir, the noble and handsome IAF pilot who can fly now. Together with Tia, Uzma, Jai and a bunch of other mildly (and weirdly) powered heroes, Aman sets out on his journey to beat the bad guys amongst the superheroes. One of the bad guys here is superman-without-wings, Jai, whose grand plans of world domination don’t seem to go down too well with the other bunch of superheroes and a mysterious character with ability to provoke and control mob rage. With such an eclectic and eccentric cast, Basu weaves a story that is brimming with acerbic wit, zany humor and supercharged exchanges.

One of the things I liked best was the Indian-isms, those behavior patterns and habits that are so typical to us Indians. One of my favoritest parts is when Vir gets a call, while preparing to fly in to destroy enemy camp, apparently from a telecaller about getting a new credit card. Then there’s his brilliant posse of heroes, who are not completely superhero-material but aren’t mere humans either. His depiction of Aman and portrayal through the novel is bound to win over many hearts. And how can one ignore all those glorious superhero fiction references. There was a moment when I was dying to scream out “X-Men X-Men” at the pages before Aman came to my rescue and said it. I do wish the battles and the progression of important events in the book weren’t as chaotic, but perhaps it adds to the book’s unpredictability.

This is the fourth book I’m reading by Samit Basu, having read his Gameworld Trilogy couple of years back. I loved The Manticore’s Secret but didn’t get as swept away by The Unwaba Revelations as I expected to be. When I first heard about Turbulence, I was hoping very hard that this one would match up with my liking for Manticore’s Secret. And I think it has succeeded, well beyond my expectations. I cannot wait to watch its movie version, I cannot wait for its sequel and I cannot wait to get my hands on his other books.
For anyone who loves superheroes, Bollywood, nerd and geek culture stuff and dudes and dudettes who are a bit off their rocker will love this book. If you are someone with time on your hands, you would definitely devour this one in one day. If you are someone with not much time on your hands, best of luck while you attempt to do the cover-to-cover run in one go.

Dreams in Prussian Blue- Book Review

 

Dreams in Prussian Blue - Paritosh Uttam
Dreams in Prussian Blue - Paritosh Uttam

I have some bias against Indian writers and writing. It was with much reluctance that I agreed to read Dreams in Prussian Blue. I didn’t have much hope from it and struggled through first quarter of the book. And somehow against my will, I started relating with its characters. And even more unwillingly, I felt affected by the fate of its doomed protagonists.

The novel begins with a simple, and somewhat clichéd, premise- that of a young naïve girl falling in love with a mysterious, somewhat obsessed artist. Love blossoms, and the odd couple struggles to set up a happy life together. Naina, the young feisty art student shoulders responsibility far beyond her age and Michael, the brooding painter immerses himself in his art while leaving his partner to make ends meet. Fighting against the world at large, and with each other, the pair still learns to love and live. Then calamity strikes and their already wobbly world breaks and shatters.  Michael is robbed of his eyesight in an accident. An accident that might not have happened had Naina not given him an ultimatum.  Naina fights with the guilt, but little does she know of how many more burdens she will have to bear in the near future.

What is a painter without his eyes? What is a relationship without trust? Paritosh Uttam weaves a story of conflicts that will sadden and trouble you, make you wonder what you would have done in their stead.  I personally hated the character of Naina. I could relate to her, understand her, even empathize with her to some extent, but I still hated where and what she had led herself to become. On the other hand, I felt more deeply for Michael, in a distant detached way, mourned for him. But after all of this, I can’t deny I was shocked at the end. For a small breezy read, the ending sure doesn’t hold back any punches. It can knock the wind out of you and leave you wondering, with a small knot of unease inside.

The story could have been paced better and characters given more depth I feel. But, it makes for an engrossing read nevertheless, once you get beyond the first few chapters. The writing style gives the impression of a strong current being held with much restraint. There is a lot explored within few lines, one only needs to look at it in the right way. The book might appeal a lot more to women than men I think, but that again is a very personal assumption.

Dreams in Prussian Blue came out from Penguin’s offering of “Metro Reads”, pegged as fun, feisty and fast reads that will go down with the temperament and taste of the burgeoning Indian urban middle class readership (or as Penguin says, for “readers on the go”).  In that league, Dreams in Prussian Blue fits almost perfectly. Readers who have grown up to city clatter and noise, rocky relationships and issues, the passions and dreams fuelled by a city like Mumbai, will be able to relate to the match that is Michael and Naina. But I wouldn’t categorize this one as a ‘fun’ read, where I count fun as something that will make you laugh, rollick and giggle at each turn of page. I won’t mark it for those who are “on the go” either. This one is meant to be consumed on a warm lazy weekend.

So would I recommend the book? I think yes. I think some folks, who enjoy reading about shifting dynamics of relationships, will like this book. It will give them much satisfaction to mull over what happens when love kills.

 

Psssstt.. I also interviewed Paritosh Uttam for BookChums. My first proper “interview” as such. You can read the interview here.

The Manticore’s Secret- Book Review

 

The Manticore's Secret- Samit Basu
The Manticore's Secret- Samit Basu

This one is my favorite book in the Gameworld Trilogy. And I absolutely love it. If I could, I’d wrap up my review here-This book is brilliant, go read it. But no, professional obligations require me to wax eloquent for longer, and I must admit, I like the prospects.

The Manticore’s Secret begins with the hush-hush arrival of Ravians back into the world and our hero Kirin trying to do good as the new Dark Lord. There’s chaos and confusion in the world, each race trying to seize control and set their grand plans of world domination into action. Basu plays upon the various conflicts while keeping the reading thoroughly entertained with his eccentric and smart heroes and heroines. If earlier there was the love triangle of Maya, Asvin and Kirin, now it has expanded into a love parallelogram. And if you count the villains in each sub-love-story, oh boy, it is delicious drama.

Basu introduces more plotlines and subtexts into the second installment, the best of them being Maya meeting the unwaba, who tells her about the gods playing with this world. You know all those times when you’ve had the feeling that the gods above are playing with your lives and treating it as a sitcom that they can manipulate according to their various whims? Well, Basu proves that to be the case in his tale, with the many powerful deities creating this Gameworld and each one trying to win it, by hook or crook. That has to be one of the most entertaining and pun-ny concepts I’ve come across in a long long time.

If you were delighted by his characters last time, this time you’d be overjoyed when you meet some more creatures of Basu’s mind. One of the most interesting one is Red, the shapeshifter. The many small battles fought between her various alter-egos will trouble and amuse you throughout the book. Better even are the names Basu gives her and her alter-egos. They help you imagine her in all her fictional glory. I think that’s one of the strong points for his characterizations- they are enormously helpful for people who have this compulsive visual imagination. And while most series, begin to start doing the “for the greater good” rigmarole, SB strays from the normal path and lets his characters make decisions that will work out for their good, with the greater good being an accidental positive outcome. And that is what makes them so much more relatable and more importantly, likeable.

All in all, a fabulous read. Go pick it up now. And after you’re done send it over to me. I’d like to re-read it.

 

You can also read the review here.

The Simoqin Prophecies – Book Review

The Simoqin Prophecies - Samit Basu
The Simoqin Prophecies - Samit Basu

Imagine all of your favorite myths and legends, fantasy series, science fiction pulp and the mish mash of all that and more is The Simoquin Prophecies. And a ruddy brilliant mash-up it is, brimming with puns and references and an underlying subtle current of humor that restrains it from becoming an outrageous parody of all its constituents.

First in the GameWorld trilogy, the book begins in the year of rebirth of the greatest rakshas Danh-Gem and the revival of another hero who will bring his downfall. That is a quite standard premise for most tales of fantasy fiction, we agree, but Basu makes this a much more interesting plot with his unexpected twists and a host of magical creatures and eccentric characters. The book has all the magical creatures ever explored in Greek, Egyptian, Hindu mythology (some characters and sub-plots straight off from our beloved Ramayan), and some are his own inventions. There’s the ravian Kirin, the good-looking prince Asvin and Maya, our feisty and sharp heroine who’s the daughter of one of the most powerful spell-binders Mantric. While the Chief Civilian of Kol, the most powerful city in the world, worries about the rising amount of magic in the world and increasing number of rakshas sightings, Mantric is busy in Bolvudis (oh, don’t you love such wordplay?) setting up the world’s first magical movie studio.

Thus, Asvin, Maya, Kirin and Spikes (a pashan), the Dagger(under the name of Amloki), a centauress Red Pearl, and a vaman Gaam set off for Bolvudis to meet Mantric. Much adventure and drama happens on this eventful journey and they come to a parting of ways with Kirin.

Where does Kirin’s path lead him and what further adventures do Asvin and Maya tackle? What happens to the love triangle of Asvin, Maya and Kirin? Well, to know all of this and get some more entertainment, you must go read this book.

Basu pulls off an amazing and delightful debut, bringing a first off fantasy genre novel in India that would appeal to those brought up on Star Wars and Harry Potter and those who grew up listening to Indian folk tales and legends. Basu wrote The Simoquin Prophecies when he was 22 and got it published when he was 23, making him India’s youngest author at the time. A much laudable feat, especially when you compare it with the ambiguous rise of Indian writers in English. His work might not be the most original, but at least it doesn’t show any signs of colonial burdens and hang-ups or any of the quick chick-lit types coming out in the market. Instead he gives you a story made up with elements from your favorites, adds his own charm and creativity and dishes out a book that will have you wanting to read the second one very very eagerly.

You can also read other reviews here.

Book Review: Corridor- A Graphic Novel by Sarnath Banerjee

Corridor- Sarnath Banerjee
Corridor- Sarnath Banerjee

Touted as India’s first graphic novel, Banerjee’s Corridor is the portrayal of Indian Life in Lutyen’s Dehi, through four wacky characters. There’s Jehangir Rangoonwala- second hand book shop owner, a modern-day Socrates wannabe and also a chaiwallah for his rare and eccentric customers. He surveys his small kingdom with the eye of an hawk and panders to the wishes and worries of people queuing outside his doors.

One of the customers is Brighu, an old soul searching for rare items and for an even rarer love. There’s Digital Dutta, confused between desires and ambitions, lost in musings of Marx and H1-B visas. And last but not least is the newly married Shintu, in desperate search of an aphrodisiac to add zing and spice to his marriage. Banerjee’s characters delight us with their sanguinity, insanity and relentless pursuit of a better life. One of the most memorable and hilarious scene is of Shintu using a dubious oil given to him by his household maid to improve the “intimate relationship” with his wife.

Written and illustrated by Banerjee himself, the lines and graphics will regale you through the course of a hundred odd pages. I think that writers who illustrate their own work get add their own personal touch to the artwork which blends with the storyline seamlessly and looks and reads better in the bigger picture.

To refute the claim made in the beginning of the review, Corridor is definitely not India’s first graphic novel. But the claim worked wonders for the book’s success, and in a vague way the guys at Penguin India were right to make the claim. It was the first of its kind to make an appearance on the Indian graphic fiction scene, and gave much needed attention and impetus to the amateur comics scene in India.

To all of us who have grown up on Tinkle, Amar Chitra Katha and those of us who love graphic novels, this one is a must pick. And I’m sure all the fanboys in India already have their hands on this, and if you don’t, shame on you!

 

You can also read the review here.