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Monday, March 30, 2015

Book Review : ‘Half Love Half Arranged ' by Itisha Peerbhoy

'Half Love Half Arranged' is a funny tale of sorts. Rhea Kanwar, who practically has everything going for her, from a ‘kewl’ career and a pretty nice family, is unfortunately 30 and unmarried. That bit, would be the problem.

So, let us begin. Rhea has a boy for a best friend and a set of girlfriends. She has two sisters, who names incidentally are Pia and Sia. Pia is married with a baby, and now it seems to be Rhea’s turn. So, Rhea has begun her part in the matchmaking process. 

She is introduced to four different guys, of all sorts by her mother. The divorced kind in Vyash and the so-called cool, Jay. Mazher, who is the traditional sort and Sid, who seemed to be perfect, but only from the outside. She does have the best friend, Arf, who likes her too.

But, you do have never married, Bubbles aunty and the always looking, Pammi aunty to bring the whole situation to its funny end. 

So, going back to Rhea. Rhea meets the guys, she thinks she likes them, so dates them, and inevitably gets dumped. Rhea, of course has her own sets of mistakes, embarrassments, and the tad bit of grief. She also has her little moments of happiness and joys.

Most of these characters are pretty funny and one can read them all with a little salt. The author does describe Rhea’s funny moments, with almost an expert hand. Of course, I did not understand why Rhea seemed kind of desperate in the process. She could have been so much more, considering that she was independent, to begin with.

Itisha Peerbhoy shows good writing, considering the patience with which, she describes her characters, from the ‘soapy’ mother through the confused sister. Through the desperate Jay and patient Arf. But, best of all is the comical Rhea and her amusing antics.

Read it to believe it. I will not tell you anymore…

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Book Review : ‘Autobiography of a Mad Nation ' by Sriram Karri

A little nervous, I was when I started to write this review. 'Autobiography of a Mad Nation', is a novel, which reminds the reader which country s/he is born, this book or rather this saga contains a nation with its up and down history, and its gigantic reasons, and stupendous explanations and probably the worst ever nightmares known to man.

It begins with how Dr M Vidyasagar, a retired CBI chief becomes involved in an investigation, which has been commissioned by the President of India, privately. Sagar gets to work and we are involved in the writing, which takes us across not just the young man, Vikrant Vaidya who has been sentenced to death for killing a neighbour. Involuntarily,  Vidyasagar is wrapped up in an intriguing plot, which rides through the history of India, starting with the Emergency and going till the Godhra riots.

We are put into the various situations of what happened, and the emotions felt by not just the people of this truly 'mad' nation, as we try and figure out what exact happenings are, in this tale, which spans across the Emergency, to the anti-Sikh riots leading to the Ram Janmabhoomi Rath Yatra, the Mandal Commission protests, right through the economic liberalisation, the Babri Masjid demolition and finally, the riots at Godhra.

With talk of cricket, Rushdie, Hyderabad, Dalits, controversies, books, the
Sriram Karri  - Photo by Ashwin Kireet
godmen,  et al with a good dose of religions and of course, the effervescent politics and its handlers. I refused to be confused with the ideals of all the ideologies, while I kept reading on. We go back and forth through the pages of this book and through this nation's history.

The brilliance rests in the fact that this author, Sriram Karri has managed to weave India into its own, rather largish web. It is naturally, not a story of emotions or even day to day activities. It was not a book that I loved, but definitely not a book, I could ignore. 

But, there is still only one emotion, which one holds on to. Exasperation, at the mad nation that India is, because nothing in this book was ever, too small to not be noticed.

How it finishes is probably the end, but this particular story could never really end...

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Literary Agent Interview: Kanishka Gupta, CEO & Founder, Writer's Side Literary Agency

Kanishka Gupta
This one sure, took quite a while. But it was all worth it, in the end. So, no words to waste. Because this particular interview, says it all. Kanishka Gupta is a literary agent and consultant. His first novel, 'History of Hate' was on the long list for the Man Asian Prize in 2009. 

But of meaning and importance here is the fact that he set up a manuscript assessment agency called 'Writer’s Side' and in 2010, he began to represent authors, as well.  He is the literary agent to reckon with. So, here goes...

What exactly does the job of a literary agent contain? Could you please explain in detail?

Publishers in the west focus on the different aspects of publishing. Looking for good writers is not one of them. That’s the agent’s job. 

Agents are kingmakers in the West because there is no concept of unsolicited manuscripts there. In India too, some publishers like Hachette have stopped accepting manuscripts from authors and while, a lot of publishers still commission directly, agents are fast gaining prominence.

It is our job to find good writers, work on their books and try getting them deals with publishers. But an agent’s job doesn’t end after the author’s book finds a home.

Often, they have to act as mediators between authors and publishers and sort out creative differences, misunderstandings, mismatched expectations. They are the authors’ advisors and their eyes and ears.

How do you spot new writers? Where does one usually find them?

I get most of my writers through referrals from existing clients, some common friends, or direct submissions through the website. If I feel strongly about a subject/theme, then I do sometimes approach a writer, who can do justice to it. 

I do work selectively on developing ideas and sharing them with the right author.

What are you looking for in a book, when it first comes to you?

I am probably the only agent who is open to all sorts of genres, including translations, children’s books and commercial fiction.

I always look for good writing and engaging storytelling in fiction and socially relevant/slightly contentious themes in non-fiction.

In fiction, credentials don't matter but in non-fiction, I am looking for people who are experts and are well-known in the field, that they write about.

What according to you, should the characteristics of a new writer be?

They should keep writing and not think about the end goal, that is publication, money, accolades. Writing requires a lot of discipline and passion. My advice to every new writer is to write only if you have the itch and if you feel passionate about it.

Don’t use it as a means to achieve an end. It just doesn’t work. Writers also need to have a lot of patience and understand some of the harsh realities of publishing such as the low percentage of success and poor remuneration.

Don't be too idealistic, leave everything, sit at home and write. Have a full
Amish Tripathi
time job unless you get 5 crores like Amish Tripathi or your book start having a first print run of 10 lakh copies.

How could a prospective author approach you?

Through my email address on my website.

What’s your advice to an aspiring author?

Patience, perseverance and passion. Otherwise, quit.

What are your top three favourite books? 

Zoe Heller
I really like the works of Austrian writer, Elfriede Jelinek. Bhisham Sahni’s ‘Tamas’ also deeply affected me as did Zoe Heller’s ‘Notes on a Scandal’.

What was the last book that you read?

Probably a manuscript that I have signed on.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Book Review : ‘The Lowland ' by Jhumpa Lahiri

This review has been due a long while. But, this was definitely worth the wait… at least for me. Jhumpa Lahiri’s ‘The Namesake  in 2003 was her first novel and this follows that one. ‘The Interpreter of Maladies’ her short fiction collection was her best work, according to me. Her first novel, ‘The Namesake’ did not impress me all that much, but ‘The Lowland’ definitely has her, in my good books all over again. You can Buy the Book, right here.

Not one to not explore her Bengali to America immigrant status, this book has that and more. The book was nominated for the Man Booker Prize. It starts off with two brothers, leading up to four different generations of families in India and Rhode Island, across almost 60 years, between all of them. 

So, let us begin. Udayan and Subhash, the quintessential brothers begin their life in period of Second World War coming to an end. India, who gained her independence, is busy developing itself in Calcutta, after the civil war. The separation of Bangladesh comes into play and gives the lowland a new life.

Both the children are highly educated and loved equally, yet the preference for Subhash is shown, and one can see how it manifests itself, as the story moves forward. Udayan, the younger of the two ends up with Naxalites, and even disappears for a few days with the disappearing for a few days on some secretive, cagey business. 

Subhash, on the other hand ends up going to the US, and finds his way into Rhode Island (where the author’s childhood was spent) for doing an oceanography course at a graduate school. Udayan, meanwhile brings home a dark-skinned philosophy student, Gauri whom he has married against his parents’ wishes. The two have a happy marriage, but it is cut short with his involvement with the Naxals. Subhash, who returns at this point, sees that his family is not the same, and marries the pregnant Gauri in order to save her from the life at home.

She, after giving birth to Bela, becomes more and more involved with philosophy, taking up classes at the university. She finally leaves the house, which never ended up being her home. She leaves behind Bela with Subhash, after the two return from India, on his father’s death. The mismatched pair of Gauri and Subhash comes to an end but not in divorce. 

She, encouraged by her professor, quickly ends up in another state, taking with her, knowledge and ends up teaching. Lahiri, I felt did not explore the non-motherhood angle too well. Of course, there are parts when you can see it, and even feel it, but you never do get the other side of the picture.
Jhumpa Lahiri

Bela the daughter, in the meanwhile grows into an awkward child, but she is not without determination and true understanding of her situation.

Subhash, who is suddenly left alone to deal with the daughter’s travails as she grows up, is suddenly shaken out of his semi-sleep state as he reveals the truth behind her parentage. The marriage of convenience has suddenly come to an end. 

One does not question why it all happened. One can see the upheaval of emotions, as Bela and her life comes into play. And Subhash’s too. 

The novel twists and turns with so much humility. There are parts, when one moves in one’s seats and in unsure for whom to move for. The beauty of this book is probably in understanding why a certain event took place and how the whole thing came to its awkward end.