Friday, April 25, 2014

V is for Vikram Seth

Born 1952

I begin this post with a confession - I don't quite know the entire works of this author other than the single one I enjoyed. Given that Vikram Seth's greatest love is poetry and I'm not much of a poetry person this post is destined to be lopsided. However I am hoping my love for his single epic work A Suitable Boy and for him as a person will offset my ignorance. Bear with me dear readers. And if the poets among you will comment upon his poetry, I will be truly grateful.

First, a bit about his life...

Vikram Seth was born in Kolkata and spent his childhood in Patna to a businessman father, Prem Seth and judge mother Leila Seth. He studied at St Xavier's, Patna, Welham's Boys' School and later at the famous Doon School of Dehradun, India.

A Suitable Boy

'I took seven years to write it and 3 to recover,' says Seth. The book is an epic novel of over 1400 pages and traverses the Indian cities of Brahmpur (imaginary), Calcutta, Delhi and Kanpur. Set in post partition India the books centres on a mother's search for a Suitable Boy for her 19 year old daughter Lata. Where there's a young girl looking for marriage, there has to be some kind of a love story, right? And so we watch as Lata makes up her mind between her three suitors.. The one she loves - Kabir, the practical choice - Haresh and the one most like her - Amit. Along the way we get an insight into the India of that time - the Hindu-Muslim strife, an inside view of a politician's life, the Zamindari system and much more. It is a simple story told simply with no pretensions of high flown language or over the top emotions. A Suitable Boy is a book not to be just read. It is meant to be befriended.

What impresses me about him as a person..

His knowledge

He knows French, German, Welsh and even Mandarin in addition to English, Hindi and Urdu. He has learnt Classical Chinese poetry. He also plays the flute and the cello. He has dabbled in Indian and Western classical music though he loves the latter more. He sings Leider (German love songs), specially Schubert. Oh and he has studied creative writing and also holds a graduate degree in Economics from Stanford University. He's a travel writer and a children's writer as well. Amazing, isn't it? 

His honesty

He has never made an attempt to hide his sexuality and is a self-confessed bisexual. Of course it can be largely credited to his family. His mother has written about his homosexuality too and of her coming to terms with it. Here's what he has to say about himself..
Some like Jack and some like Jill
I'm glad I like them both 
but still I wonder if this freewheeling really is an enlightened thing
Or is it's greater scope a sign of deviance from some party line
In the strict ranks of gay and straight
What is my status: Stray or great?

His bravery

I like the way he stands up to his beliefs. He openly opposed Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code that criminalises gay sex at a function in the presence of the Indian President. Although he's a very private peson he has been very vocal about the subject. Says he, "To not be able to love the one you love is to have your life wrenched away."

His quiet sef-deprecating wit

His is not the kind of wit that has you rolling with laughter. It's the kind that makes you smile and ensures the smile stays there for a long long time. Sample his quotes..

I often feel newspapers are just filling up space. Of course, I also know people who write really long books.

Basically my mother couldn't hold a tune and when I was a baby, a rather tactless baby, I would ask her not to sing... You can't get to sleep if someone is singing off key nearby.
(and now I'm wondering why my son specifically asks me not to sing each night!!)

If you're a fan like me, here's an interview you'll certainly like to read. Seth is a private person and this is the most forthright interview I've ever come across. http://www.outlookindia.com/article.aspx?232671

If Vikram Seth's wit was the quiet kind, tomorrow's author is one who'll have you laughing out loud. If you haven't guessed already, he has the honour of being knighted and goes by the nickname Plum. Easy peasy I know.

This post is part of the April A to Z Challenge, 2014 for the theme AMAZING AUTHORS.

Also linking to the Ultimate Blog Challenge.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

U is for Upamanyu Chatterjee

Born 1959

I’m not quite sure how to begin about Upamanyu Chatterjee since I’m a one-book fan. However there was something so authentic about that one book that I wanted to write about it's author. The book was - English August, published in 1988. It had to be born out of personal experience – just the way most wonderful books are born (Yeah well Harry Potter is one of the exceptions).

I read some of his other works too like The Last Burden, The Mammaries of the Welfare State but didn't enjoy them much. I found them rather cumbersome and much too long.

Chatterjee lived his novel

Born in Bihar he studied at St Xaviers and then at the prestigious St Stephens. He joined the Indian Administrative Service in 1983. That marked, not just the start of his administrative career but also his literary one. It was at his postings that he picked his characters and crafted his first book, English August, published in 1988.

English August...

… tells the story of a young boy Agastya Sen, August, Ogu or simply English, to his friends and relatives. He spends his early days in Delhi and Calcutta and then, like the author, becomes a Civil Servant following in his father’s footsteps. His first posting takes him to the tiny provincial town of Madna. Rural India is eons away from its urban counterpart and Agastya is completely culturally alienated.

Then follows a cynical yet witty account of Agastya’s life as he fights frogs in his bathroom and mosquitoes in his bedroom. There is absolutely nothing heroic about this protagonist. He hardly tries to fix the system as any self-respecting hero would. He chooses to go with the flow. Losing himself in a marijuana induced lethargy, lying on his bed he spends his days faking illness and staring at the ceiling. A more aimless confused protagonist you won’t find.

It is Chatterjee’s characters that hold you. Along with Agastya there is the pompous boss, his wife – who heads the cultural activities of the town, the America-influenced young man who roams around with a ‘walkman’ (where did they vanish?).. delightfully familiar, aren’t they?

To me..

... the book is special because I stumbled upon it some six years after its publication when I had just moved to Mumbai. Although there were absolutely no similarities between the protagonist and me or between the tiny town of Madna and mad mad Mumbai yet the newness of the place, the heat, the feeling of disconnect and of utter loneliness were all so real that the book will always remind of my early days there.

Sreeja you got it yet again and on a slim clue this time!

It's another Indian author tomorrow, one who is responsible for the cutting down of many many trees..and that's kind of a cryptic clue. Yeah well.. I'm just trying to spice things up a bit as we near the end. Come now do give it a shot. How many Indian authors are there beginning with the letter 'V'?
This post is part of the April A to Z Challenge, 2014, for the theme AMAZING AUTHORS.

Also linking to the Ultimate Blog Challenge

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

T is for Tahmima Anam

Born 1975

All of us Indians share this great curiosity for our Western neighbours, Pakistan. In quite a contrast, tucked away quietly in the Eastern corner, our other neighbour Bangladesh draws very little attention even though it shares as much of our history as does Pakistan. In many ways it is more similar to the Indian state of West Bengal than it is to Pakistan, of which it was once a part.

I wasn’t sure what I’d be served when I picked up A Good Muslim by a Bangladeshi author Tahmima Anam. However the novel affected me like few others have. I found myself thinking about the right and wrong of religion and of sibling relationships. It left me a bit confused too. And I found myself hunting for the other book, the one written before this A Golden Age. I wasn’t disappointed there either.

The beginning

Tahmima Anam was born in Bangladesh but grew up abroad. Her father is the editor and Publisher of the Daily Star, an English newspaper in Bangladesh, so writing would have come pretty naturally. She completed a PhD in Anthropology from the Harvard University, which was based on the 1971 Bangladeshi war of Independence. While researching for her PhD she travelled and met people who had been part of the war. That’s where the seeds of her stories were sown.

Her books

Tahmima weaves intense human relationships in the setting of war and post war turmoil of Bangladesh.

A Golden Age is the story of Rehana. When she is widowed her children were given away to be brought up by her brother-in-law in far away Pakistan.  Rehana manages to get them back but now, years later, as she watches them plunge headlong into the war, she fears losing them yet again and is ready to sacrifice everything for them. One part of her wants to let them follow their heart in supporting the country's struggle while another part wants to keep them safe.

The character of Rehana is loosely based on her own grandmother, also a widow. From a simple housewife she turned into a passionate nationalist during the war and much like Rehana she actively helped with the war effort and even harboured freedom fighters.

The Good Muslim talks about Rehana’s children Sohail and Maya in post-war Bangladesh. They are separated during the war. By the time they meet after a decade, the once close sister and brother, have grown far apart by the choices they have made. While Sohail embraces his faith becoming a charismatic Muslim leader Maya remains a revolutionary and cannot empathise with her brother’s choice. Caught in the tussle is Sohail's son who Sohail puts is a madarsa to Maya's distress. The book brings up issues of religion and how each one interprets it differently.

I had heard stories of the 1971 war between India and Pakistan that led to the creation of Bangladesh. However the book made it very real for me. This is truly the best way to learn about history.


Tomorrow we take a trip through India's babudom. Guesses?

This post is part of the April A to Z Challenge, 2014 for the theme AMAZING AUTHORS.

Also linking to the Ultimate Blog Challenge.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

S is for Sophie Kinsella

Born 1969

She was a financial journalist who didn’t much care for her job but since that was all she could do she slogged away at it, anyway. At least that's what she thought. Each day while on her way to work she’d read paperbacks. One day she thought, “I can write books like this.” And she did just that. At age 24 she was a published author. She went on to write six more books and all were a success. They were light fun reads you pick up on a holiday. Madeleine Wickham had arrived.

A few years down the line she felt confident enough to work on an idea that seemed ‘silly’. She went ahead because she wanted to try to write something funny and ridiculous. So she wrote a book about a girl who, like her, is a financial journalist yet is clueless about her own finances. Wickham was a tad embarrassed about her idea and was so unsure of how it would be received that she submitted it to the publishers under a different name – Sophie Kinsella – combining her middle name and her mum’s surname.

The book, Confessions of a Shopaholic, was a knockout success.
She went on to write five more books in the series while simultaneously working on stand-alone books too. Oh she’s prolific.

She’s hardly similar to her ditzy heroines. She studied at the University of Oxford where, after a year of studying music, she moved to Politics, Philosophy and Economics. That’s where she met her husband Henry Wickham.

About the Shopaholic Becky Bloomwood..

Kinsella's shopaholic heroine, Rebecca Bloomwood is a financial journalist yet her own finances are always in a mess. Even if she’s overshot her credit limit, or has loads of debt on her bank overdraft she finds herself in the poshest of stores buying things she might not even need. Yes she’s a Shopaholic.
I wouldn’t call Becky Bloomwood my favourite heroine. Each time I’d see her longing for that crazily expensive scarf or a madly out of reach dress I’d find myself saying….No no no.. stop stop… even knowing that she wouldn’t. And she never did.

Yet there’s something lovable and ‘nice’ about her that appeals even to a conservative Capricornian like me. Besides, she’s funny. Her adventures make for a delightful read. And so I remain a Kinsella fan.

PS: I’m thinking of writing a book because women authors these days are so darned pretty.

It's a relatively lesser known author tomorrow from a neighbouring country - Bangladesh - this time. She delves into issues of war and religion like few have ever done.
So any guesses?

This post is part of the April A to Z Challenge, 2014 for the theme AMAZING AUTHORS.

Also linking to the Ultimate Blog Challenge.


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