Posts Tagged With: Book

Back in Time by Andaleeb Wajid

Back in TimeTitle: Back in Time
Author: Andaleeb Wajid
Publisher: Bloomsbury India
Pages: 168
ISBN: 9789384052935
Genre: Fiction, Young Adult, Romance
Rating: 4/5

Author Andaleeb Wajid is a consummate writer and she has time and again proven her knack in etching characters that have strong convictions, be it women who are tormented by inner conflicts, those who are not afraid of love or those who will go to any lengths to right a wrong. They are always charming, intelligent and resourceful. The book, Back in Time, the second in the Tamanna trilogy after No time for goodbyes, is no different. By telling the story of a strong female time-travelling protagonist, Wajid subtly touches upon human emotions like love, longing, belonging, anger by carefully weaving a delicate and pristine love story. The book is also a portrait of Bangalore of a long time ago, which earned the first book much critical acclaim.

Tamanna, who once again finds herself in the past, is now torn between her love for Manoj, a younger Suma’s neighbour, and her yearning to be back in the present, where her parents are going crazy with her state of unconsciousness. And to make matters worse, the camera, which would transport her back to the present, is stolen and hence, she is trapped indefinitely in the 80s. What happens during her stay in the 80s, how she comes back to the present and what happens to her love life — this forms the crux of the story.

I picked this book up at random; as I was awaiting a package of new books to arrive that evening, I wanted to read a book that would fill the gap in between. This book is a refreshingly fast read (I finished it in four hours with breaks) with a simple yet tightly-woven narrative. Though a Young Adult fiction, with time-travel at the core, it is a pleasant romance, which will leave you chuffed to bits, no matter how old you are.

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Categories: Bloomsbury Publishing, Books, Fiction, Young Adult | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Great Asian Game Changers

Title: Makers of Modern Asia
Author: Edited by Ramachandra Guha
Publisher: Harvard University Press
ISBN: 978-0674365414
Genre: Non-Fiction, Biographies & Autobiographies, History and Politics, Geography
Published: August 2014
Pages: 400

The economic progress that Asia has witnessed in the last few decades has made the Western world sit up and take notice. The 21st century belongs to Asia and especially to India and China, which are seeing an increased prominence in world affairs. In fact, this century has been dubbed the Asian century just like the 19th century belonged to Europe. However, according to historian and eminent thinker Ramchandra Guha, it is limiting to see this development in solely economic terms and assess it in terms of the gross national product, per capita income and global trade alone. His idea is to broaden this understanding of development by focusing on the political game changers who have charted the path to growth and progress. His latest work is a testament to this fact.

Makers of Modern Asia 

Makers of Modern Asia (Harvard University Press) edited by Ramchandra Guha is a collection of 11 essays that aims to provide a socio-historical context to Asia’s economic advancement. “The essential thesis of the book is that in this fascination, obsession and enchantment with the economic growth of specific Asian countries, we have forgotten the political preconditions of that economic growth,” says Guha.

Through each of its essays, the volume draws a portrait of nationalists who helped craft their respective political systems, which in turn provided a fillip to their economic struggle. Listed in the book are outstanding exemplars of 19th and 20th century political change in Asia.

The book includes Chinese stalwarts like Mao Zedong, leader of the Communist Revolution, Zhou Enlai, his close ally and confidant, Deng Xiaoping, who was purged by Mao and went on to reshape Chinese economic history with his revisionist policies and Chiang Kai-shek, whose Kuomintang party formed the basis of modern Taiwan. Other portraits come from India and cover Mohandas Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, and Indira Gandhi, all of whom played crucial roles in guiding India toward independence. Then there are essays about Vietnam nationalist Ho Chi Minh, Indonesia’s Sukarno, Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew and Pakistan’s Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto.

The book opens with an excerpt from the work, The Problem of China, which was written by philosopher Bertrand Russell in 1922 after spending about six months teaching philosophy in China. Russell had declared, “All the world will be vitally affected by the development of Chinese affairs, which may well prove a decisive factor, for good or evil, during the next two centuries.” At a time when China was desperately fragmented and fraught with conflict-ridden relations with European powers and Japan, this seemed quite far-fetched. He ended the book by outlining three reforms — the establishment of an orderly government, industrial development under Chinese control and the spread of education. And true to the precocious prediction, a few years later, China was on the way to dominance after the nationalist movement started by Sun Yat-sen and Chiang Kai-shek and continued by Mao Zedong’s communists culminated with the unifying of China.

And this is equally relevant for other countries as well. Guha adds, “Younger Indians think that the Indian story began in 1991 with Narasimha Rao and Manmohan Singh. But what these visionaries did was open up the economy. The benefits of opening up the economy would never have been possible if India was not a unified nation and did not have a democratic political system.”

The territorial unification of India in a democratic template with religious and cultural pluralism was the work of the leaders, without whom none of the economic growth of the last 20 years would have happened. The same is the case with Vietnam, Indonesia and other erstwhile colonies who had to recover their sovereignty before they could even think of meeting the social and economical challenges of the modern world. Of crucial importance is the inter-Asian understanding espoused by many of the leaders that is brought to the fore in the book. This idea has significant urgency in the current times. “There was a constant exchange of ideas by leaders visiting different nations. Nowadays, we hesitate to look to our Asian counterparts. Instead, we rely on the west. I hope that this book leads to some reflection on inter-Asian understanding in each of the countries. As we move forward, I believe that it is very important that there is increased intellectual and cultural exchange between different Asian countries and I hope this edited volume makes a small contribution on this front.”

Unlike Guha’s earlier work, Makers of Modern India which was an anthology of original writing, the current book is a compilation of biographies put together by Pakistani, Australian, British and Norwegian historians who are experts in their fields. He adds, “I also chose to go with biographies because it a massively under-appreciated genre in the country.”

When he edited Makers of Modern India, Guha had faced a barrage of questions regarding the selection. He recalls, “The leftists were very angry that I hadn’t included any Marxists. A friend told me that when I visited Bengal next, I would have to wear a helmet because there was no mention of Subhash Chandra Bose as one of the architects of modern India. And although there were as many as six Maharashtrians in the book, they were not satisfied. Because Agarkar and Savarkar had been excluded from the treatise. This, I think, is an occupational hazard while creating an anthology.”

Armed with this experience, Guha knows that questions will be raised this time around too. And he is prepared for the inevitable. “For instance, I know people will ask me why I haven’t included Tagore. Well, it is because he did not run a state despite having a great intellectual impact and shaping the ideas of Gandhi and Tagore. People will also wonder why there is no mention of Jinnah. It was essentially because he died very soon after independence. The Pakistan of today is very far from the Pakistan Jinnah envisaged.” In the same breath Guha also mentions that although the India of today has directly diverged from what Gandhi hoped, in some recognizable features, Gandhi would perhaps have been glad to be a part of India today — he would have given his stamp of approval to the rise of the Dalit movement and freedom of the press among other things. “But in the case of Pakistan it is different. It is much better shaped by people like Bhutto,” he adds.

Then Indira Gandhi is the only woman profiled although he had considered including an essay on Aung San Suu Kyi. “However, the last chapter of her career is not yet written. Again, the only person profiled in this book who is alive is Lee Kuan Yew,” Guha opines.

Another controversial point, he notes, is that there is no Japanese leader, though Japan is colossally important to the continent. “There is no Japanese leader because the politics of Japan post World War II is massively dominated by America. Their political system, their constitution was written by the Americans and there has been no Japanese politician who has stamped his authority on the nation in the way Nehru, Sukarno or Bhutto did and including a pre-war fascist did not seem appealing.”

The book in its entirety helps the reader understand the rise of Asia by offering an insight into its history and political lives — the anti-colonial revolutions, the process of consolidation, the sustainable political systems envisaged, their economic strategies and the attitude of the post-colonial state and its leaders to traditional beliefs which provided a backdrop to the economic growth we have seen over the last 30 or 40 years.

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First published in The New Indian Express on September 2, 2014

Categories: Articles- New Indian Express, Books, Culture, Interviews | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Smoke is Rising From a Lost City

Smoke is RisingTitle: The Smoke is Rising
Author: Mahesh Rao
Publisher: Daunt Books
ISBN: 978-1907970313
Genre: Fiction,
Published: March 2014
Pages: 288

Among the many literary greats that South India has ever produced, it was the essence of author R K Narayan that was etched in author Mahesh Rao’s mind. He was fascinated by Narayan’s fictional city Malgudi and he began to wonder what Malgudi would look like if it were to appear in a novel today. That was how the idea of the book, ‘The Smoke is Rising,’ a book about a smaller Indian city very much like Malgudi first came to life. Then as the novel took shape, it became an expansive portrait of Mysore with stories of three women at its heart.

The author, lawyer and academic researcher, Mahesh was recently at Atta Galatta for a book reading event and in an interview he talks about the book and his journey as a writer.

Mahesh RaoThe premise of ‘The Smoke is Rising’

At the centre of the book is HeritageLand, Asia’s largest theme park. This park is set to make its foray into Mysore but most of its residents have strong opinions on what this will mean for them. So it’s a story about the imminent transformation of the city and about who wins and who loses as a result of this process. Mahesh adds, “These struggles become a sort of white noise to many of us who live in India’s growing cities — we are vaguely conscious of them and there is little engagement beyond that. I wanted to show that in the novel by foregrounding the personal stories of the three main characters — Susheela, Uma and Mala, while the clamour in the background increases.”

The creative process

Having lived in Mysore, he didn’t have to do much active research for this book. He states, “I just had to walk around looking and listening. It’s the story of a city and so the realities of Mysore offered me the broad canvas that I required. I hope the different strands in the book show both the energy and the stasis of its setting.”

Unlike most writers, for Mahesh the challenges came only after he had written the book. He opines, “I think you really have to be prepared for what a long and uncompromising process submitting your work to agents and publishers can be. And the process is never complete for as long as you wish to write. There’s always anxieties about the next book and the next and the one after that.”

After he completed his book, Mahesh I began to write short stories as he waited to hear the fate of the novel. These stories, he says, have been very challenging to write — that strong focus on shape and brevity. He adds, “But I do think they can make you a better writer of novels too. The discipline of moving from sentence to sentence, justifying each one, focusing on a compressed structure — it changes how you view the chapters in a novel. There is less of a risk of being ill-disciplined with form and flow.”

Who are his literary influences?

He answers, “There are dozens and dozens. So I’ll just name a few whose work I’ve revisited in the last few months: Vladimir Nabokov, Muriel Spark, Junichiro Tanizaki, William Trevor, Graham Greene, Lydia Davis, SH Manto and Nadine Gordimer.”

What’s his advice for aspiring writers?

“Do it because it gives you a warm feeling, and you would feel lost and wretched without it, not because of any perceived rewards. It sounds harsh but it needs to be said: those rewards may never come or they may stop coming, no matter how deserving the writing. So you need to remind yourself every day of the real reason why you’re doing it,” he concludes.

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First published in The New Indian Express

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