Saturday, January 02, 2010

The Bottleneck Syndrome

Sunil K Poolani

Circa 2009 was a period of more misses than hits. Yes, recession, you said it. So it was so natural that it affected the way we Indians published, wrote and read books, primarily in the English language.
So let’s look at what we read (and missed) and what we should not miss in the year to follow:

The year that went by:
Though the year started on a good note, the party was abruptly spoiled by scarcity of money and jobs; a disturbed mind due to that refused to read and concentrate on good writing. So it was a lacklustre year all out till the end of the year, when it started looking cheerful. But some good Indian books (here we are not talking about economic success, but quality literature) did come out and they are bound to stay in our conscience for the year(s) ahead. Some notable efforts in 2009:
• In the non-fiction category the most impressive volume turned out to be the irrepressible Meghnad Desai’s The Rediscovery of India, a well-researched erudition of the history of India throughout the years; it is a rare combination of lucid writing and scholarship.
• In the biographical segment there was this unavoidable effort by Nandita’s Puri take on her husband, Om: The Unlikely Hero. The book was in news for reasons (which annoyed Mr Puri) that were unwarranted: Om’s sexcapades. This genre is now called ‘spousography’.
• New Delhi: Making of a Capital by Malvika Singh (a known journalist-publisher) and Rudrangshu Mukherjee (a renowned historian and an eminent journalist) was a veritable visual celebration of and a treatise to a city most South Indians love to hate. The authors provided a ringside view of the city’s chequered past. Plus the visual research by the inevitable Pramod Kapoor.
• Occupying Silence by Devashish Makhija was a rich collection of full-colour plates of graphic-verse pieces, interspersed with miniature vignettes of a life of creative confusion. The works provided an insight into an observant mind, which skilfully dissected the experiences, laying bare the other side of real vision.
• The most outstanding fiction that one came across was by a totally unassuming author whose book is still to make waves: Arrack in the Afternoon by Mathew Vincent Menacherry. Peppered in dark humour, it talked about the story of an alcoholic Verghese Konnikkara who eventually ends up being a much-sought-after godman. Bombay’s murky underbelly provided an apt background.
• Another impressive debut fiction was by Priti Aisola: See Paris for Me. It was a deep exploration of a woman’s inner self in a touching narrative set in three distinguishable cities: Paris, Budapest and Hyderabad. A sensuous and finely-crafted effort.
• A Nice Quiet Holiday by Aditya Sudarshan talked about Anant’s holiday in the little Himalayan town of Bhairavgarh where stories of the supernatural lurk. A disturbing treat, it was a brilliant effort: face-paced and provocative reading.
• At an age when poetry is treated as dirt (primarily because there are hardly any good poets who write in English today), Aria, poetry translations by the marvellous Sudeep Sen came as a whiff of fresh air. Aria, which contained works by from Tagore to Gulzar, turned out to be an elegant, lyrical and ingenious volume that transcended continents, gender, languages and continents.

The year that would be:
Well, now, this is difficult task: to evaluate the works that are in the offing and, naturally, you have not read. But going by the writers’ respective track-records it should not be a very difficult effort. Here, let’s look at some of the most promising books that would make you sit up the whole night.
Kalpish Ratna, an indomitable duo, will come out with The Quarantine Papers, a story about two tragedies that struck Bombay: the 1993 riots and 1893 plague. Mystery and action abound.
In the fiction category there would be a Malayali quartet who will make a deep impact. Binoo John’s The Last Song of Savio De Souza will unravel the nuances of a Kerala’s multi-religious society. Manu Joseph’s Serious Men is a humorous debut about a Dalit slum-dweller and a Brahmin scientist in Bombay. Sajita Nair’s She’s a Jolly Good Fellow is another addition to the growing chic-lit genre, but in this case the backdrop is the Indian Army life. Bombay is also the theme in Anjali Joseph’s Saraswati Park, a dispassionate look at the burgeoning middle-class.
Upamanyu Chatterjee will be back with Way to Go, which again has characters from his The Last Burden: Shyamanand and his sons Jamun and Burfi. As usual it is scathing, dark and caustic — vintage Chatterjee.
In the non-fiction segment there is an interesting title lined up: The Ambanis and the Battle for India, by Paranjoy Guha Thakurta and Alam Srinivas. It assumes a challenging role in unravelling the dispute (if at all there is) between the powerful siblings.
And here are some of your old favourites who will entertain you 2010: A P J Abdul Kalam, Amitava Kumar, Palash Kumar Mehrotra, Salman Rushdie, K P Singh, Aniruddha Bahal, Anuja Chauhan, Aatish Taseer… The list is endless.
So folks, unfold the armchair, place that mug of beer on the side-table and start turning the pages.
— Sahara Time

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