There’s an overwhelming sense of the familiar about Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand that Indian readers will find comfortable and immediately agreeable — likely borne of a conditioned predisposition towards Wodehousian comedies set in little English villages. Indeed, first-time author Simonson’s literary inflections and mannerisms often resemble a close-study of the English humourist’s style (ie, “her eye beady as a gull eyeing a bag of garbage”) and technique (the characters’ choreographed banter is strongly reminiscent of Wodehouse). But her delightful debut is elevated beyond mere homage in how it reorients farce and absurdity towards a sincere and surprising tenderness — packaged, of course, in airtight comedy: in one particularly memorable exchange, the titular Major Pettigrew discusses burglars nipping off with his mother’s prized clematis in the 1970s and says, “Part of a larger crisis in the culture, of course. My mother blamed it on decimalisation.”
TV PRESENTER Tripathi revisits a hoary literary chestnut: ‘write what you know’. And so, her sassy, slightly world-weary, news anchor heroine faces down newsroom politics and a fraught personal life before finally snapping. If her disenchantment with TV news was any more palpable, it would physically smack readers.
John Heilemann and Mark Halperin
An insider account charting Barack Obama’s journey from unlikely presidential hopeful to unstoppable political force and co-authored by a pair of media veterans, the book reveals the depth of dysfunction in Hillary Clinton’s Democratic party nomination bid and the troubled John McCain-Sarah Palin campaign. At one point, McCain staffers openly question Palin’s mental stability — reacting to Palin’s debate prep, Republican strategist Mark McKinnon is aghast: “Oh. My. God.”
Outsider Films on India: 1950-1990
Shanay Jhaveri (Ed)
At times, the eye-popping visuals and stills that accompany this collection of 11 essays on outsider films on India threaten to distract readers from the substance of the texts themselves. This may not be an altogether bad thing. Occasionally lurching into overcooked academia, the essays take stock of outsider perspectives on India as expressed through cinema. Films discussed include French director Louis Malle’s Phantom India, Swiss filmmaker Alain Tanner’s Une Ville à Chandigarh, and American James Ivory’s Shakespeare Wallah.
Come, Before Evening Falls
Billed as “probably the first” Indian love story set against Khap Panchayat politics, Come, Before Evening Falls is a mixed affair. On one hand, the star-crossed lovers, honour, family and politics trope has been worn to a literary nub. On the other, the frank pro-woman message emerging from the jumble of Jat patriarchy is satisfying.
To simply describe 69-year old Samik Bandyopadhyay’s books as a ‘collection’ is an understatement. The Kolkata-based scholar, theatre critic and Seagull Foundation trustee has amassed over 30,000 volumes in English and Bengali – roughly three-bedrooms’ worth, with many more stacked in piles on the floor. His interest in books and reading, he says, began at a young age with authors like Mark Twain: “Literature is something that takes you out of your immediate situation and allows you access to other social situations and minds. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, I thought, was an emancipatory trip.” 30,000 books’ worth of emancipation, however, does present a unique set of challenges.
French writer and illustrator Nicholas Wild’s graphic novel Kabul Disco relates his experiences over a five-month trip to Afghanistan in 2005, working for an NGO and then on a recruitment campaign for the Afghan army. Decidedly funny and entertaining, the book wisely avoids getting bogged down in the politics of the situation and instead opts for an honest and humane treatment of Afghanistan and its people. His style is vaguely reminiscent of Hergé’s ligne-claire technique and very easy on the eye.
Translated from Urdu by Musharraf Ali Farooqi, Syed Muhammad Ashraf’s The Beast (Numberdar ka Neela) disarms readers with its sarcastic humour and portrayal of rural India. Framed as a fable-cum-whodunnit aspiring to Animal Farm, the story follows complications arising from a rich village Thakur’s decision to employ a fierce blue bull to guard his wealth. Though the bull terrorises village residents, and rages further out of control amidst a backdrop of murder, the Thakur attempts to deflect blame from the beast onto the villagers until he is finally forced to tip his hand. Unfortunately, there is a tendency among certain critics to automatically elevate an OK book to good/great territory out of what I can only assume is cultural guilt — charm and authenticity are, unfortunately, not substitutes for originality and creativity. Still, enjoyable.
Veteran journalist Amit Sengupta’s Colour of Gratitude is Green collects a large variety of articles, interviews and columns from his work for the Hindustan Times, Hardnews and Tehelka, among others, between 2000 and 2009. His selection of material — which ranges from a report on Phoolan Devi’s 2001 murder to a 2009 column on the arrest of Dr Binayak Sen — reflects the many preoccupations of responsible ‘public-service’ journalism, including an emphasis on outsider narratives, social justice and exposing institutional hypocrisy.