Perhaps, one of the best Indian contemporary fiction I read in recent days. And the author's narration pulls a taut which would keep the reader hookedPerhaps, one of the best Indian contemporary fiction I read in recent days. And the author's narration pulls a taut which would keep the reader hooked till the end. Give it a try, if you find time.
The British had only built a new capital outside the city walls. The present rulers have removed the last vestige on which the old culture could have
The British had only built a new capital outside the city walls. The present rulers have removed the last vestige on which the old culture could have taken its stand and are moving it farther away towards Indraprastha, affirming the prophecy of the book: Seven Delhis have fallen, and the eighth has gone the way of its predecessors, yet to be demolished and built again. Life, like the phoenix, must collect the spices of its nest and set fire to it, and arise resurrected out of the flames.
To me, personally, Delhi is a rogue city. It is that city which has the smell of power in the air, the high-handedness of the money and corruption, the lofty words with hollowed purposes, promises unkept; the city which rapes its women and colors them in its own shade of darkness; the city which has miseries and mysteries around the next corner; the city which had glory and poverty stark clear; the city which brings awe and disgust. I have been to it only twice, and both the times as a visitor. My loathe towards Delhi could be best explained with the fact that I never tried for a job there until this day, although I do actively look for the best opportunities in other Metropolitan cities of India. And, I should add, I am wrong in my judgment.
My shroud of wrong impressions got pierced and tore by William Dalrymple's The City Of Djinns. Yet, for all its beauty, it didn't make me fall in love with Delhi although it greatly helped me to understand it. Lo and behold, came Ahmed Ali with this book, who resurrected this city with all the emotions and liveliness vividly that one's heart goes to Delhi, to look at the city differently once done with reading.
More than the city, the novel evokes the lifestyle of Delhites of early 1900's - the year when King George was coronated and the British brought the city under its command fully. It looks at the history through the eyes of an old man, Mir Nihal, who was much alive during the 1857 Mutiny and during the 1911 coronation of the King and continues to live until the dreaded year of 1919, when the Jallianwallah Bagh Massacre took place. Much like himself and his family, the city slowly weans away, until the power of Lord (be it the God, or the King, and that depends upon the reader) and he stands as a hapless witness to the slow degradation of a country and a civilization.
Unless someone has come to Twilight in Delhi through Dalrymple, I don't think one would understand the very importance of this book. It portrays the life and lifestyle of a lost civilization which was erased by the imperialism of the British. Bahadur Shah, the last of the Mughals, continues to be told as 'Their King, even after his death, by the then people of Delhi. The poems of Mir, Ghalib, Zauq fills the air and it continues to be breath of every living soul of the city.
The best part of the book is when Mir Nihal reluctantly attends the coronation of King George from Jamia Masjid amidst a jubilant crowd welcoming the King, the very place where he saw his own men butchered to death during the 1857 Mutiny to protect the city. The city has transmogrified, the crowd has forgotten, but Mir Nihal's pride and identity is much evoked by the sadness which engulfs him and his voicelessness to say the truth to the now forgotten people.
The tone of the author is nostalgic and his unbridled admiration for the glory of the lost culture has the whimsical nature of a lover which longs for his lost love. And, this almost came as a surprise when one learns that it was Ahmed Ali's anger which drove him to write this work. And, for all his lament for losing a culture to the imperialists from the west, it is quite ironical that he chose to bring attention to the destruction of his city by writing this work in the language of the enemies, English. It worked. This book was praised high during its period, and that it is another an important reason why it came back in circulation.
But, the old Delhi is not all poetry, romance and art. There are other glaring truth - unintended ones by the author - which comes to the knowledge of the 21st reader. Men, even those married ones, invariably have a mistress, women are pushed to household work and strict purdah, and a young girl as much as fourteen years old gets married to a sixty year old man only to die in the next six months. There are palanquin bearers whose story and life we never know, and the tales prostitutes who serves their masters are never told. There is also a subtle communal tone lacing the narration. Mughals and Mussalmans are portrayed as more patriotic of Hindustan than Hindus, and the author does make sly comments muffled under the grandeur voice and style. Sister of Ashwaq could remarry under the code of Quran but abstains from doing it because the Hindu morals and social code prevent it. Every muslim warns of how the coronation is bad omen, yet Siddiq the 'fat bania*' stands with the farangis, the British. Perhaps, the 21st century me is overlooking the nuances. Even the Arthasastra calls 'Banias*' to be men whom one has to see with suspect, and the Hindu-Muslim divide was more pronounced then, under a homogenised culture. Yet, I believe, the liberal tradition and mindset of today India was brought and assimilated into our culture, thanks only to the same British Imperialists. The nostalgia for a lost tradition and the anger at the imperialistic destruction is justifiable although, I am afraid, if not warned, there is a danger that one would linger on to the glories of the past and forget the gifts of the present.
Yet. I wish, an Ahmed Ali had lived in every city in India to raise a voice and record how the imperialism, war, oppression changed the city and the country; and to make us remember what we once possessed and what we lost. As the story went, Mir Nihal was crippled and pushed to see the gradual demise and deterioration of his own sons and daughters while he continued to be alive remaining hapless and useless. Perhaps, that is how Delhi (or India) was crippled by the British - slow and steady - to remain yet without complete destruction when all her sons and daughters died until saved by a man in loain clothes and spectacles. But, that is another story. Another, history.
*Banias - The merchant caste who are allowed and largely responsible for trading and other related activities in pre-Independence India.
Note: To have a better understanding of the background of this work, try to read the 'Introduction' in William Dalrymple's The Last Mughal
Brilliantly argued and most incisive analysis presented on the polity of India. There are a plenty of places where the author's arguments leave you af Brilliantly argued and most incisive analysis presented on the polity of India. There are a plenty of places where the author's arguments leave you affected with patriotism and goosebumps. Next to Ramachandra Guha's 'India after Gandhi', Sunil Khilnani's 'Idea of India', this is the best book to understand and appreciate the evolution of India as a democracy.
In 13,000 words this book should be considered a novella more than a novel. Yet, its theme and outlook might have brought it within the tag - novel. T In 13,000 words this book should be considered a novella more than a novel. Yet, its theme and outlook might have brought it within the tag - novel. The story moves along a dysfunctional family which still holds together because for the sake of money. Each family member is afraid of the other and no one ever voice their inner thoughts for the fear of losing the balance of survival and continuity, a shaky precipice on which the tomb of the family is built. Any long conversation is more prone to bring the deep scum out and hence it is avoided. Each marriage - the husband and wife; the daughter and her husband; the son and his wife - fails, and none of them ever makes an effort to make the things straight. And all the evil flows from the primary sin, the sudden inflow of money from the newly floated company - Sona Masala.
Vivek Shanbhag is able to bring the memories of a reader, if she ever had lived a middle-class lifestyle. Every penny spent is accounted; Outings are restricted; the unassuming mothers and fathers who are happy to give away their pleasures for the sake of their children; a small, compact house, and a petty lifestyle. The author invokes such memories vividly to prove that life is much better as a 'middle class' than a life where each person of a family gets a room for oneself. The culprit, money, intervenes to disrupt the peacefulness of a home and wrecks the relationship amongst its members.
I thought that this story would leave a kafkaesque terribleness towards the end but it just left me with a prick of a sharp needle. The style is infelicitous and runs dry yet there are moments of genuine joy portrayed such as the day when the whole family wakes up to have an account balanced or the Sundays when they go out for the masala dosa and a cup of coffee shared. But, for all the reviews this book fetched, I expected much more to come.
Somewhere in the middle, I was left with a Deja Vu of watching an 80's Tamil move (especially that of Visu's movie), for the moral undertone of the evilness of money is sensed throughout and every failure of the characters is connected with it.
Srinath Perur, as a translator, has done an excellent job, and he has even left the familiarity of a South Indian cultural mark in his English. And, the cover should be praised for its beauty, melancholy, and inventiveness.
This is a book which I wished to like. And, that wish has remained a wish in the end....more
Ordinary moments make the life. This was what she knew to be trustworthy, and this was what I learned, eventually, from those years we spent together
Ordinary moments make the life. This was what she knew to be trustworthy, and this was what I learned, eventually, from those years we spent together. No leaps or falls. I inhale the little drizzly details of the past, and know who I am. What I failed to know before is clearer now, filtered up through time, an experience belonging to no one else, not remotely, no one, anyone, ever. I watch her use the roller to remove lint from her cloth coat. Define “lint,” I tell myself. Define “time,” define “space.”
Lovely little story. The style of the author brought immediate intimacy and kept me hooked with a serene melancholy and longing.
Define 'melancholy'. Define 'Defining'.
And, I judged this book by its cover (it is minimalistic and impactful). Have I sinned?
A splendid collection of essays written by Ms.Roy over the span of her career. The profile of each author is neither exhaustive nor based on a pattern A splendid collection of essays written by Ms.Roy over the span of her career. The profile of each author is neither exhaustive nor based on a pattern. Each essay is the author's interaction with the writer either on their newly released book or their opinions on specific issue. Some came totally as a personal musing and reminiscences of the author on a writer. Yet, this is a delectable collection which could act as a primer for someone who wants to get into the thoughts of the leading contemporary Indian writers. Came across as a light read and an interesting one. The book could effortlessly turn into a book reader's chum.
My favorite essays: Arundhati Roy, Pico Iyer, Rohinton Mistry, Booklove: The Pavement Booksellers, and Hold Your Tongue. ...more
I have a long relationship with the magazine Outlook, only next to the daily The Hindu without which - as the cliche goes, quite rightly - that no mid I have a long relationship with the magazine Outlook, only next to the daily The Hindu without which - as the cliche goes, quite rightly - that no middle class educated Tamilian begin his day. I was introduced to the magazine by a friend from my school when I wanted to know updates on the recently published books (he guaranteed that the reviews in Outlook were nothing short of 'fantastic'). Also, he told me that it is the best magazine to carry the most eye-catchy photographs, which we can use in our school projects (so simple were our needs, then). This was in the year 2004, I remember.
Fast forward to 2016, I still read Outlook, not on every week but quite regularly. In my school days, I read the magazine with awe ('they use a lot of new words, you know', I remember telling my friend). I still read them, but not with the awe. If I have to name Indian magazines which I now enjoy reading much, Outlook may not be in the top five slots (I like Caravan, Fountain INk more). Yet, what hooks me to this weekly magazine is the bewitching Letters To The Editor Column. Perhaps, this is the only Indian Magazine where the letters published are not stale, dodgy, full of heavy praise, and appears like a letter written by the editor to himself. All the letters published by Outlook are irreverent, succinct, AK47 compressed in words, direct, pointed, hurting, multidimensional, and most of the times, close to the truth. Yours Truly has herself got published with seven letters in Outlook, and in none of it I praised the magazine or its editor or the reporter. Herein comes the role of Vinod Mehta, Editor of Outlook.
To me Vinod Mehta belonged to few of the dying clan of Journalists and Editors who do not toe the lines made by those in power. He respected each of his reader more than those who paid his salary. He even answered some of the letters of the readers, although not directly, but in his regular column titled 'Delhi Diary'. When he died last year, I really felt heavy at heart.
This autobiography of Vinod Mehta confirms the image I had of him, only with much greater details and a roaring humour sense. Like he always remained, the book flows with mischief, irreverence, equal-opportunity offence thrown at each and everyone, and complete honesty. His sketch of the years he spent in his hometown, Lucknow, is so vivid that any Indian reader would definitely grow a wanderlust to visit the city at least once. More, it makes one realize that the multiculturalism and Secularism is a part of all Indian towns and cities which cannot be stripped or isolated away. His days spent in Britain and how it affected his growth is effortlessly rendered with brutal honesty, and it reiterates the importance of self-education. I never know before that he edited the nude magazine Debanoir, although it didn't come so much as a shock given his natural dispositions and character. The days of Pioneer were the only pages where I felt that Mehta got little emotional but understandable given the tough days he met with the owner and the eventual unemployment (He resigned from four publications in one-decade time span).
The book grows with lively anecdotes and even lovely portrayal of the much unknown sides of politicians, writers, bureaucrats, editors, ambassadors, and almost everyone (Mehta spares no one). He offends equally the writers William Dalrymple and Ramachandra Guha; Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Samir Jain; Amitabh Bhachan and Shobha De. In Mehta's books, any near perfect man is a myth, which if insisted to be true would propel him to search for a gun. Yet, there is one person who would remain as his Achilles heal, the Congress party leader, Sonia Gandhi. It was Outlook, perhaps the only magazine in 2014, to run two cover stories on Rahul Gandhi, Congress Party's Prime Ministerial Candidate, praising his achievements and his nature (During the general elections 2014, I came across a website which said that it enlists all of Rahul Gandhi achievements reached by him, until then. When I clicked it open, it went blank). To call Vinod Mehta as Congress Chamcha would be an understatement. The man who broke all idols revered Sonia Gandhi and his family (he even have a separate chapter for Sonia in this book too. No prize for guesses on what he would have written there).
Ideally, appraising the book for a review and for our coveted stars in Goodreads, it should fetch not more than four stars. Yet, I have added another one because of the following reasons:
1. George Orwell: For a book which ends with the word 'Editor', it begins with a quote by Orwell. And, throughout the book, Mehta talks about Orwell as if he is talking about a lover (Orwell is my favorite writers. Touche).
2. For The chapter titled 'Sweeper's Wisdom': What are those ideas Mehta offer to a budding Journo? What should a Journalist prepare himself for a fulfilling career? Is this devil's trade all worth the risk and struggle? What makes a Journo great? Can a Journo be a friend with politicans? Should they carry a resignation letter always in their pockets? Mehta has beautiful, realistic and caring answers for each of the question. He is kind enough to add this separate chapter in his autobio.
3. His dog 'Editor'
Vinod Mehta belongs to that category of Indians (the increasingly becoming a minority category) who came up to the top all by their sheer effort and by choosing a path where their heart lies. He was one of those great men who was motivated not by awards, fame, or money but by the boistorous joy and adventure a job would throw. Men like Mehta are not-so-easily-spotted, and relatively less celebrated. As a reader one can call Vinod Mehta as anything they want; a chumcha, pseudo secular, biased etc (many of which he did gladly publish in his 'Letters' columns). But, he was one of those men who kept up their charm till the end; wrote their own retirement with grace; was brave and bold enough to stand to his convictions; and most importantly never lived as a hypocrite (at least in their profession). Such humans, my dear, are rare, few and worth remembering....more
Perhaps, this is the most readable and accessible language guide available today. The authors are succinct in their explanation of each topic, there i Perhaps, this is the most readable and accessible language guide available today. The authors are succinct in their explanation of each topic, there is a lace of humor flowing through the whole writing, and the examples are adequate enough to remember.
There are too many references and praises for this book - quite rightly- by too many English authors (notables like Stephen King and Kurt Vonnegut are included). Yet, there are some critics who seems to be disappointed with this work. Maybe, they misconstrued that any work of greatness should run for a multitude of pages or any great work could never ever be so much easy and understandable. This is not a proper grammar book, but as the title goes it is a style 'guide'. Once again, the instructions here are general and the style of the author which she one wants to develop could only be perfected with time and practice.
The instructions and lessons cannot be inculcated immediately by any student or writer yet the instructions are worth following. They are aimed at making the writing of an author much simple, direct, vigorous and lovable.
A much interesting place to begin the lessons on writing. And a book that has too much to learn from, throughout one's life. ...more
This paperback Penguin series is my new pick-it-when-you-want-light-read books. They have a great many men covered up and I am glad that I began with This paperback Penguin series is my new pick-it-when-you-want-light-read books. They have a great many men covered up and I am glad that I began with Ambedkar.
The speeches included in this book cannot be said to be the 'best' of Ambedkar. Yet, one can assuredly say that they are the essential ones to understand the mind of this great man. And I do not recommend it for a beginner who is curious to learn about this genius. Rather, I would suggest this as a supplement to a reader who is quite known to author's radical ideas.
For me, personally, the speech that actually made me to give this little treasure of a book five stars is the one titled, 'Communal Question and the Framing of the Indian Constitution'. Surprising as it may appear, Ambedkar was initially reluctant and was opposed to forming a Constitutent Assembly (oh! the Irony of history). More, he considered that such an attempt at forming a Constitutent Assembly is futile for many of the provisions were already incorporated under the Government of India Act, 1935. Yet, he says that such an assembly, if formed, should consider the problems of minority and should protect them against the oppression of majority (Note: Oppression by majority is something he feared more than the oppression of the State).
It is often said that the Congress was great enough to invite Ambedkar to preside the Constituent Assembly. However, this speech shows how much Ambedkar was prepared with his ideas of what should go into the Indian Constitution, the provisions regarding the Communal disputes, the status of untouchables and Adivasis, and his question to the majority Hindus. He has prepared the nuances and the varied provisions that should make the future Consitution without any request from outside and in hindsight his ideas were the only democratic and hopeful ones, then. Our Constitution and country deserves a man like Ambedkar, and it is not usually the other way around.
Another speech which is an excerpt from his work 'Untouchable or the Children of India's Ghetto' shows his clear opinion on how village remained as the din of casteism (it still does in many parts of India).
Ambedkar has always remained a champion of individual rights in all spheres of life - social, political and economical. And, the four speeches in this little book are chosen to provide a scope and proper understanding of that. Go for it, if you are looking for something to read light, quick and great.
Every single time I take up and read Ambedkar, there is something within me which gets altered for good, to remain forever. His words brim with zeal, Every single time I take up and read Ambedkar, there is something within me which gets altered for good, to remain forever. His words brim with zeal, power and depth of the subject at hand. He leaves no stone unturned; ventures into every idea, even those that make an ordinary gentleman uncomfortable; and, never has any strings attached. Of all the qualities, the one that astounds me is his clarity. It is his clarity of thoughts and arguments which wake the morbid hearts and persuades them to accept his point of view, even grudgingly. This little speech is no different from the above-stated qualities. But, in its subject, it stands remarkably different and urgently worth reading.
Ranade, Gandhi and Jinnah was addressed by Ambedkar before the Deccan Sabha of Poona on the 101 birthday of the late Justice Mahadev Govind Ranade (if you, reader, happen not to know him, have no woe. For we Indians, are mostly brainwashed with a petty history, that we almost don't know about many of our own great men and women. Ranade is one such man). Although the title has the names of Gandhi and Jinnah in it, this speech does not concentrate much on them, except few criticisms on them which are quintessentially Ambedkar. The whole speech throws light on Ambedkar's opinion on Ranade (from a third person point of view, which he insists to be made clear), his opinion on caste system in India, his ideas of what constitutes a great man, the urgent need for social reform and the areas where it must be brought in, and the decline of Liberal Party in India.
Ranade, Ambedkar makes it clear that he doesn't know him personally and all his knowledge on him is only hearsay and through his writings, was a great social reformer of the 19th century India. He has greatly written and advocated against the caste system, the need to increase the marriage age for women, the necessity to break free of old taboos and from the clutches of outdated practices in the Hinduism. Ambedkar himself quotes Ranade, which I found to be extraordinary in its vision.
"You canned be liberal by halves. You cannot be liberal in politics and conservative in religion. The heart and the head must go together. You cannot cultivate your intellect, enrich your mind, enlarge the sphere of your political rights and privileges, and at the same time keep your hearts closed and cramped. It is an idle dream to expect men to remain enchained and enshackled in their own superstition and social evils, while they are struggling hard to win rights and privileges from their rulers. Before long these vain dreamers will find their dreams lost."
It is only through this speech I came to know about a particular issue which had been discussed widely then, during Ranade's lifetime. The marriage age of a girl was 10 years then in India. One such girl who happened to have got married to a 35 yr old man was repeatedly raped (raped after marriage) and she died. Subsequent to this particular incident, the British Government proposed and which Ranade supported to increase the age of marriage for girls from 10 to 12 yrs. And, this had been vehemently opposed by the Hindu conservative groups then, for the reason that it might destruct the sancramental Hindu marriage institution ( sounds like arguments heard very often in India today, eh?!).
Ambedkar also defends Ranade's opinion that the British Empire provided a chance for India to relook herself and to have a new birth on her own. Ambedkar goes on to say that the British Government played as a shelter in the smooth working out of social, economic and political conflicts which are inevitable in every society which desires to advance. He gives adequate reason for this opinion and goes on to say that any freedom brought without solving the various internal conflicts would result only in the disintegration of a nation.
The whole speech gave me a feeling that Ambedkar has just worded for our own times. Many of his scathing opinions sounds so true and real as if that they were written just today. Consider this:
Journalism in India was once a profession. It has now become a trade. It has no more moral function than the manufacture of soap. It does not regard itself as the responsible adviser of the Public. To give the news uncoloured by any motive, to present a certain view of public policy which it believes to be for the good of the community, to correct and chastise without fear all those, no matter how high, who have chosen a wrong or a barren path, is not regarded by journalism in India its first or foremost duty. To accept a hero and worship him has become its principal duty. Under it, news gives place to sensation, reasoned opinion to unreasoning passion, appeal to the minds of responsible people to appeal to the emotions of the irresponsible.
Indian journalism is all that plus something more. It is written by drum-boys to glorify their heroes. Never has the interest of country been sacrificed so senselessly for the propagation of hero-worship. Never has hero-worship become so blind as we see it in India today. There are, I am glad to say, honourable exceptions. But they are too few, and their voice is never heard.
Towards the end of this speech, Ambedkar provides a necessity to have a multi-party functioning in a democracy and elucidates the necessity to have a vibrant opposition. Reading it now, when India has a strong centre under BJP and a Congress which is quite in a shoddy condition, it sounds like a warning:
It is undeniable that a Party is an essential adjunct to Popular Government. But it is equally undeniable that the rule of a single party is fatal to Popular Government. In fact it is a negation of Popular Government. The case of Germany and Italy furnish the most cogent evidence on this point. Instead of taking a warning from the totalitarian States, we are taking them as models to copy. The one-party system is being hailed in this country in the name of national solidarity. Those who are doing so are failing to take note of the possibilities of tyranny, as well as the possibilities of misdirection of public affairs, which is [=are] inherent in the one-party Government.
To make it subject to election is no guarantee against despotism. The real guarantee against despotism is to confront it with the possibility of its dethronement, of its being laid low, of its being superseded by a rival party.
It is the white-hot passion and near precision of thoughts which adds power to the words of Ambedar. The more I read him, he not only sounds true but also too cool for his time. I have often wondered that in our times when all our politicians act as a trifle where would a youngster could turn for inspiration and guidance, and reading Ambedkar makes me convinced that looking up to this man is a great place to begin. He is a treasure trove of wisdom which our own land has generously gifted us, as a light to spark in all the ages to come.