Daisy Hasan’s The To-Let House opens with a twin invocation — of Shillong, and of memory. Framed as a coming-of-age story pitched against ethnic tensions in Shillong, the novel, at its core, is built around recollection and remembrance of the city, the ‘to-let house’ and the ‘mansion’ to which it is attached. Launched at India’s Jaipur Literary Festival, To-Let House is Hasan’s first novel (which, as a front cover inscription helpfully reminds readers, was long-listed for the 2008 Man Asia Literary Prize) and traces two pairs of siblings — Di and Addy, Kulay and Clemmie — over three sections covering 1979, 1984-88 and, briefly, 1997.
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.
Dispatches from Delhi, Vol. 1
Apurva, Manju and Sumita sit in animated conversation at a popular Delhi café chain. The decor is an antiseptic orange, the staff haggard and weedy, the coffee a creamy mulch. The women are twenty-something professionals – two advertising wonks and a recent university grad interning at a middle-rung fashion firm. Manju and Apurva have been best friends since their boarding days at a hillside convent; Sumita fell in with the pair through a mutual friend at the PR agency she and Manju used to work at. Coffees downed, they step out into the market, where Apurva lights a cigarette, ignoring the predictable barrage of stares from doormen and scandalized old women. It’s Friday afternoon and the trio are making plans for the evening’s entertainment, deciding on a nightclub over a house party. They’ll swig cocktails, dance and grind, swig some more, and wake up the next morning to the visage of a make-up doppelganger imprinted on their pillows. Continue reading