The book Love and Life in Lucknow: An Imaginary Biography of A City, is a work of fiction, narrated in the first person by the author. Every nook and corner of the city has a story to tell. It comprises twenty stories, each forming a different chapter. Some stories have been told and retold since times immemorial. The author was born and brought up in Lucknow and many generations of her family have lived in the city. Hence, she has grown up with her own experiences and those recounted by friends and family.
Playwright par excellence, literary critic, artist, activist, and teacher, CJ Thomas’s work is credited with breaking traditional thought patterns and exposing society’s hypocrisy and superficiality. He is considered to have ushered in modern Malayalam theatre. Revolutionary film director Adoor Gopalakrishnan said of CJ, ‘He excelled in his field of screenplay writing…’ Mr. Gopalakrishnan believed that CJ has been an inspiration for many.
There lies tucked in the pages of this novel a moving love story. Nah, not the kind that Hollywood or Bollywood or Tollywood comes up with. On the contrary, this love story is ever so gentle and moving that you simply flow along with words tucked in the emails exchanged between the two: Kevin, a vicar devoted to the political struggle for Scottish independence and Maya, a well-known Hindi author. The two had known and loved each other ever so passionately in the New Delhi of the late 70s, and then parted, re-establishing contact after a gap of almost forty years via emails.
Conceived as a short story like Ulysses and penned as one, unlike Ulysses, and having the same gestation period—8 years—as Ulysses, Clouds is Chandrahas Choudhury’s second novel. The parallel may even extend a little further. Writing in the second decade of the twenty-first century and writing in English in India, Choudhury may be said to have faced the same problem that James Joyce did, crafting his modernist fiction almost a hundred years ago. The problem is this: how to fashion a prosaic world into an aesthetic form that can nevertheless double as an alluring commodity—in a word, fiction.
The genre of the pastoral has a distinguished ancestry, emerging recognizably in ancient Greece in the form of Theocritus’s Idylls, and in Roman times with Virgil’s Eclogues. These poems about bucolic shepherds lamenting the refusal of their ladyloves (for the most part, city-based) to heed their protestations of love had a country setting, and formed a lasting tradition that continues to this day, with varied re-inflections. We could trace parallel traditions in literatures across the world, where the idealization of country folk and their environs is marked, though in some of the most interesting pastoral poetry, a darker tone may prevail, as the countryside is itself revealed to have a canker eating at its soul.
Fifteen stories, all about women and girls, mostly in ordinary, everyday situations. What are their experiences? How do they react? How do they cope? What effect do these events have on the characters? These, in main, form the thrust of most of the stories, though there are interesting variations throughout. The topic of the tales range from nostalgia, to illegitimacy, to anger and defiance, to sadomasochism, to name a few. Add a dash of magic and whimsy to some stories and you have an interesting read.
The second wave of feminism threw open a basic proposition—the personal is political. Structures of power have historically determined individual agency, so much so that ‘choice’ may not be as autonomous as we would like to believe. The Elephant in the Room is a phenomenological attempt at conceptualizing the ways in which gender is experienced by women. The diversity of the narratives of the book captures the nuances, and provides various pieces of a jigsaw puzzle that aims to answer that critical question: what does it mean to be a woman?
It stands to reason that Manoranjan Byapari, who was launched into his unusual literary career by no less than Mahasweta Devi, should express not just irreverence but a no-holds-barred anger against the feudal lord turned poet Rabindranath Tagore for his humanistic ideology and his ethical values that do not take into account the grim, stark realities in the lives of people living in the margins. Tagore advocates honesty as his creed, says Byapari, but how can those who do not know where their next meal is coming from get by with such idealism? In fact, they can hardly survive without lying, cheating, thieving, taking recourse to violence or even killing.
Democracy is not merely a form of Government. It is primarily a mode of associated living of con-
joint communicated experience. It is essentially an attitude of respect and reverence towards fellow men’ (p. l). This quote by Dr. BR Ambedkar is testimony to his ideals of equality and the conception of inclusion of people from all groups in society, with a special emphasis on the depressed classes and the minority groups. His articulation also reflects that notional democracy has to come clean of the procedural cobwebs to attain its substantive goals.
India’s success in remaining a democracy despite considerable odds is viewed and judged primarily in its minimalist/procedural form, encompassing little apart from a multiparty system, regularly held free and fair elections, peaceful and regular transfer of political power on a periodic basis through the electoral route. India stands out among the ‘new’ democracies for having an uninterrupted history of holding of free elections over such a long period of time (even national emergency imposed in the mid-seventies did not disturb this, only delayed it).
A boy struggles to complete high school and he is the first person in his village to do so. A year later, when he cannot find employment, he ends up digging for sand on a dry riverbed. A dairy farmer breaks her hip while milking a cow, and is forced to sell her silver anklets to pay for substandard but expensive medical care. These are some of the heartbreaking, harrowing stories of India’s one billion plus that we encounter in Anirudh Krishna’s book.
Multiculturalism as a political idea has gained significance with the encounter of Islam and liberalism in the West. Although the idea is not limited to Islam and Muslims in the so-called liberal societies, the debates surrounding it in the United Kingdom has taken on this unique dimension. Liberalism as an offshoot of Enlightenment has always had a troublesome relation with Islam and its advocates. Attempts have been made to reconcile the two, but with disapproval from certain quarters amongst Muslim intelligentsia and western liberals. Islam’s relation with western modernity and enlightenment, as argued by many, is espoused to be contributory and complementary.