On my bedside table

They call them Metro Reads. And they’re supposed to be fast paced and simple and just right for readers who have a frenetic metro lifestyle. I picked up two to check them out.  Losing My Virginity and Other Dumb Ideas by Madhuri Banerjee and Love on the Rocks by Ismita Dhanker Tandon.

Losing my Virginity was fairly straight forward – Girl never meets boys. Girl wants to meet boys. Girl meets bad boy. Girl realises her mistake. Girl rectifies her mistakes. I found Losing my Virginity an easy read. But we’ve read this before in a more compelling form via Anita Jain’s Marrying Anita and a dozen other books before. Very forgettable and very insipid.

Love on the Rocks is a bit of a mystery story and that gave me hope. Sancha marries a merchant navy officer, a shippie and sails with him. Within days she finds out that the head cook was found dead in the meat locker. The plot thickens, so to speak and she gets drawn into it.  But oh the horror of it – in the last chapter (spoiler alert!)  a character’s “applets” are pulled off his uniform. Applets? Applets? Applets? Ye Gods and little fishes. That is not a typo. She really thought they were applets as opposed to epaulettes. And it went through how many rounds of editing and didn’t get picked up? I think I wrote her off thanks to that one error, because it was quite unforgivable coming from a published author. I have loads of published friends and I would hate it if reviewers or readers were brutal, but this one time I can’t help it.

Though the books were light, breezy and the kind of thing you’d kill time on a train journey with I was a little disappointed with the language. It felt stilted. Indian writing in English is never easy but so many people have pulled it off with great success. I didn’t get that sense of confidence with either of these two books. The last 5 years have seen a surge in light Indian writing in English and I can’t say I appreciate it. The plots are not compelling, the settings are the usual offices and malls, and the language isn’t particularly elegant or eloquent. They’re popping up all over the place and the truth is there is an audience for them. I may not be that audience, but it’s interesting to see that they get read. For all that we snigger at Chetan Bhagat, he sells. I happened to catch a show called Love 2 Hate U (ugh, must they spell it that way?) and the girl who told him off, spoke my mind. He is killing literature with his pedestrian language and stale plots. But then I guess for every Vikram Seth we must pay the price with a Chetan Bhagat. He justified his existence saying he knows a driver who painstakingly reads one page a day, learning English. Good for him if that is the reader he is writing for and much joy to the driver. That said, I wish the focus would be on reading a good book and not on reading an English book. I’d find it a lot more praiseworthy if that driver picked up Premchand or Harivansh Rai Bachchan or a good writer in whatever his mother tongue is and read that. Why read substandard books (I refuse to call it literature) in a language you are struggling with? Whatever…!

There are those who use the whole English as a Second Language thing to their advantage, like Melvin Durai’s Bala Takes the Plunge. Balasubramaniam Balasubramaniam is a sweet NRI boy who has more hair on his chest than his head and needs a wife. Humourous, the book hits the nail on the head in so many different ways. It is totally not my style and I ended up enjoying it inspite of myself. It’s got a very Kolaveri feel to it, if you know what I mean. Very clearly laughing at itself, taking itself lightly. My only issue – boring cover image.

I also had the pleasure of reading Indu Sundaresan’s The Twentieth Wife and The Shadow Princess (I checked for The Feast of Roses on Flipkart and it was Rs 632 – bloody expensive!). Her writing is so lucid. I’ve always had a fascination with the Mughal Period and after you all recommended her on my last book post I’ve been buying up all her work on Flipkart.

I know better than to take historical fiction as God’s own word but the fine detail draws you away from your life and into the intrigues and politics of that period. It’s probably why I don’t enjoy contemporary work anymore. As it is we’re exposed to an excess of everybody’s lives and news on a variety of media. But the past is such a mystery. Be it the way they chewed paan for sensual, red lips or the descriptions of court, I’m like a 5 year old watching Cartoon Network. Her The Splendor of Silence was also a good read. I love a good romance and this one plays out pre-Independence. It’s interesting to see how an American soldier fits into the Indo-Brit social setup. The story begins with his daughter getting a box full of letters that tell her of her parents’ ill fated affair. For me the biggest surprise was realising who wrote the letters to her. Sundaresan creates characters who are easy to empathise with and feel deeply for, each one nuanced and complete. You can feel the hot North Indian loo blow through their lives, sucking the beauty out of it. I read through the night and fell asleep sobbing raggedly into my hotel pillow (this was during the Punjab trip). Not the best way to recommend something I know, but trust me on this one, will you?

In between all this I made the mistake of picking up Phiroz Madon’s The Third Prince. I was on my Mughal times rampage and buying up everything I laid eyes on. *shudder* Where do I begin with all that was wrong with it? Let me pick a single flaw. The language. He describes a sadhu’s hair as dreadlocked. Yes, technically he was right but the anachronism irked. I couldn’t really settle into the plot and dig my teeth in because the writing was jerky. The rest of the language, the dialogues were all written in too contemporary a style for him to capture the period he was writing about, even though he got the setting bang on.

I loved Jawahara’s The Burden of Foreknowledge (again, a mystery set in Emperor Akbar’s times) and can’t understand how anyone would pick CB over any of these. Why aren’t these flying off our store shelves or even *gasp* pirated? Is it that we’re getting the next generation used to a standard of books that is like processed food? Books that don’t require you to pay attention or even pick up a dictionary for the odd word that you don’t understand? Dumbing down doesn’t quite describe it.

I wondered, and so asked Jawahara since she is one of the few fantastic writers I have the privilege of knowing, why is it that so few Indian writers based in India write well? I see a pattern – almost all the best writers have studied abroad or now live there. I know it’s our second language, but I didn’t realise that the difference would play out so significantly. Also, why is it that most of the historical fiction set in India is by authors living abroad? I’d love to write historical fiction if I ever write at all, but I feel intensely nervous at the thought of such an undertaking. I have neither the vision nor the grasp of the language required to do something that I’d consider worthy of reading. As Poppy says, maybe I set very high standards, while another friend astutely points out – You’re too proud to write rubbish! But that is my excuse – I want to know why others aren’t. Others who have more faith in themselves. We have a wealth of history and romance just waiting to be written about. One point Jawahara made was that libraries abroad are better organised and well stocked. Considering I haven’t walked into an Indian library in some years, I can’t comment on that. The last few I saw had crabby librarians who knew nothing and said even less. Clearly there is no hope for us.

Edited to add: Read this to see the same point I am making, made in a far better way! http://www.dnaindia.com/bangalore/report_commercial-success-a-diving-force-for-writers-today_1625722


148 thoughts on “On my bedside table

  1. I guess that is the reason I keep coming back to read what you write MM. Your language shines and you have that talent to draw me into your narrative and keep me hooked till the very last line.

    The same for books as well right? Different people have different tastes. Some people read for the language as much as the story. To others, the story matters and the language is just a means to the end.

    That’s just my opinion of course. 🙂

    • *blush* you’re pulling my leg, aren’t you? I agree with your opinion, but in the case of many of these books, as I said, even the story is nothing new. How do the publishers pick these authors? On what basis? Neither the writing nor the story are exceptional…I can’t see how much money the’re expecting to make off them.

      • Hmm! If we could answer that, that would explain all the insipid songs that make the billboard and all the people who succeed that we can’t for the life of us figure out how/why they did. 🙂

        My honest take is that something/someone succeeds because they are smart about figuring out what the market can consume and meets that demand. Same thing for those who climb the career ladders too. They actively plan and manage their careers as they do their life.

        I have digressed enough. It was fun reading the comments.

  2. Thanks for sharing this. I have read all Indu sundaresan’s books. Have to lay my hands on jawahara’s book. J is write, the libraries are very well stocked and catalogued here in US. Which is why, it is a pleasure to embark on research projects. Please continue to share info on some “hard to put down” books as well :).

    • I will do some hard to put down books. The thing is that I don’t really review as you can see, so much as just chat about the books as I would to a friend. And when a book overwhelms me, I find it difficult to write about it. I don’t feel up to the task of being able to express half of what I feel about it.

  3. “But then I guess for every Vikram Seth we must pay the price with a Chetan Bhagat”- This. Yes. Vikram Seth, Amitava Ghosh, Jhumpa Lahiri, M.J Akbar, and even some of Chitra B. Divakaruni- thankfully we have them to take the edge of an “Of course I love you….till I find someone better” (and this is a real book!).
    Once your kids grow a little older, I’d suggest “Haroun and the Sea of Stories”-which I’m sure you know about, and “The Broken Flute” by Sharada Dwivedi. Favourites, both.
    And libraries abroad are the shit 🙂 ‘Tis one of the few things I prefer in Canada as compared to India.

  4. MM…have you read Those Days by Sunil Gangopadhyay? It is a translation from Bengali. Since you love historical fiction, I think you will like this one. I just loved it!

  5. We live in the age of kids who cannot spell ‘don’t’, they cannot distinguish between ‘their’ and ‘there’ and such, is it really a wonder why CB sells more than Anita Desai? I have little bitty cousins who have not touched any other book, fiction or not, other than CB’s.

    • It’s a scary thought isn’t it? And when I put pressure on my own cousins to spell straight, they look at me like I’m nuts. That said, schools no longer have spelling tests and don’t cut marks for spl mistakes. What this is going to lead to…

      • my little one a voracious reader is not a great speller, i think. she does the they’re/their goof up (we were not forgiven for such!!!) He reached national level marrs spell bee! we have concluded that the organisers are out to make money (else the stds are low/kids are terrible) and the eliminations are lenient till the finals…we pay 1500-2000 at ea level.

        i sound like i am taking away from my child’s achievements, that is what i was told when i refused to go to kerala for the nationals this oct. i had been to an earlier national and was aghast at the carnival! we spend on 2 flight tkts, a hotel and a car to and fro from venue (it was in the boonies), thinking its a big deal, nationals. but when you see 100s of kids, you wonder how many they did eliminate…

        sorry to take off, and hijack the post…but what do you think, this bee sounds legit? or am i a mean mom! ;-P …..did i do ok if i judged my child’s talent, or should i spend, so that he feels good about himself?
        on another note, you see spelling/grammatical howlers in TOI and we read this paper to increase vocab/improve wrting. i grew up reading its editorial..loved the middles…by jug suraiya and bachi karkaria!

        • For once, I am at an absolute loss. Whaddya think of that? You’ve left me without an opinion. Honestly, I didn’t know they had spelling bees in India and I have no idea what sort of standards are needed. Lets wait and see – am sure someone will have an answer.

          • that must be a first…(smiling, ear to ear)! mm-no opinion! *ducks the glare*
            when brat and bean get older you will find there are “institutions” and organizations” that conduct exams that will ‘evaluate’ your child, of course for a price. and then parents scramble. when we relocated i had my son do 5 such exams in a year. not that they have extra to study. then i was like wth! now unless kids have a request i dont pursue these! big business education is! i wish there were more workshops that helped kids develop different innate skills. taught them problem solving. sigghhh! theres none such in mumbai atleast. genuine ones i mean!

            • pbffft – yes, I can be mature like that.
              And I might be wrong, but don’t you think school is enough without workshops? Or am I just too plain lazy to be true?

  6. Spot on reviews, MM! Lovely! Agree re Chetan Bhagat and sub-standard work. Absolutely spot-on with dumbed down literature in the fast-food lane for the younger generation. After all, if these are readers whose staple reading in childhood probably was the likes of Tinkle and Archie. Sorry if I’m ruffling any feathers here, but that is my opinion of those!

    My take- first is, as your friend said, libraries are certainly better stocked there. I also think it has much to do with the actual work that is done post writing the draft. Certainly the editing will be tighter, and any gaffes ironed out.

    Also, I think authors writing in a period setting probably worry about being targeted by interfering so-and-sos about how they perceive the history is potrayed. If they can interfere with history taught in schools and colleges, what stops them from targeting a hapless writer? How they love to censor/ban anything that does not quite ‘measure up’?!

    • Ooh. Good point. That could be a very real fear. On the other hand, I do know an author who is currently working on a book on Razia Sultan and she’s come to India to research and write it. I felt so happy to hear that!

  7. There has been a distinction between literature and popular fiction since the late 18th C. Both, I think, have their place and popular fiction has always been reviled by the intellectuals but still remains popular just as in the film medium there’s a distinction between art and maintstream cinema.

    That said, there is no reasons for typos, grammatical errors etc. to be excused or desirable in popular fiction. Even Mills and Boons were grammatically correct and generally well proof-read. Hinglish is fine for conveying atmosphere but the English parts of the writing should be in English, methinks. I think The Zoya Factor was a good example of using colloquial language and still getting the English right. At the literary end, Salman Rushdie is famed for his chutneyfication of English but again, nothing in the writing makes one cringe. So Chetan Bhaghat’s arguments don’t fly – you don’t have to write complex or high-brow English, you can use Indianisms galore and still get the English sentences right.

    Thanks for the reviews. I’m always on the lookout for exactly these kinds of light reads but apart from Anuja Chauhan’s stuff can’t find anything by Indian writers that fits the bill and doesn’t make me cringe.

    • Yes, now there’s a book that I enjoyed, the Zoya Factor. Her Battle for Bittora was a good read too. Anuja is a lovely person in real life and speaks beautifully. Her relationship with English is solid and it comes across in her writing.

      • Thanks for all the recommendations, generally like the books you recommend. I wonder if you have read the book The Enchantress of Florence by Salman Rushdie which is also connected to the Mughal period. Just curious to know what your reactions were, it was one of those books that gave me an intense headache..
        On another note, how are you doing? And all well with the Brat, Bean and OA?

        • No I haven’t read it. Clearly you are not recommending it :p
          Kids are good. Flourishing with me being full time home with them. Can’t say the same for the knee – the pain is getting worse. Most days I limp around. Looking for a new doctor. The OA continues to jet set. I meet him at airports to show him how much his kids have grown :p Okay am kidding, but seriously, is there no job that does not require travel these days?

          • Salman Rushdie is my favourite author. However, Enchantress of Florence was really a stretch to get through. Not his finest moment by far. The other Salman Rushdie one should avoid is Fury.

          • I wish I could say something regarding the knees MM, but the only thing I can offer are prayers. Hope everything works out well! I am sure the kids are doing great 🙂 I doubt my childhood would have been as good if my mom hadnt been at home. This season around I am missing the snow flakes and pics of ur winter garden 🙂 Take care..

  8. I read Losing my virginity on a journey too, and I feel the same way. I think Indian metro reads are becoming really insipid, dull, predictable and boring. I’m so bored of hearing the same old-NRI-boy-looking for wife or boisterous-Indian-girl-goes-around-doing-“naughty”-things or the godawful Indian-girl-marries-an-NRI-and-moves-to-America-and-her-life-falls-apart kind of plots. What makes it worse is the glib writing styles that almost borders on lazy writing. Ive stopped picking them up even for the odd journey here and there, unless someone specially recommends them.

  9. Coincidentally, the exat topic of discussion this morning in the car, me and husband. He is so unspoiled. Hasn’t read Chetan Bhagat or any of the other trash that gets churned out lately in the name of Indian writing in English. I have theories on it – mainly it hinges on the fact that we are just not trying hard enough. I make the Kolaveri analogy – despite my pseudo-intellectualness cringing at the very idea of that song… That kid is proudly proclaiming that he set the music to it in – what – 5 minutes? I know this is the SMS or twitter or whatever generation – but is this something to be proud of? I am not sure! Shouldn’t you soak in it, mull on it, edit it, re-org it, and FINALLY..FINALLY.. voila! here is the final product for the world to see? Maybe I am too traditional (or just plain old), but I feel very uncomfortable with this quick and dirty art. Be it books or music. And yes, my maximum irritation is with the editing. I feel its unpardonable to have even a SINGLE typo or mis-spelling in a published book… I like your friend’s theory on libraries! Its a thought, for sure!

    • I read two CBs. One night at the Call Centre and Five point whatever the hell. Five point I could deal with because I was younger and more forgiving. The Call centre one I read on a long trip when I’d run out of the books and I borrowed it off someone in a moment of desperation. I wish I’d just slept! And yes, maybe we’re old now because I honestly think I’m wasting precious breaths while reading stuff like CB. Which is fine, all I have to do is not read it. But then I accidentally pick up something like the metro reads in a weak moment and realise that the book stores are spilling over with crap. Have you read The other hand? Brilliant. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Other_Hand
      And oh – no, this is nothing to be proud of. This whole, I wrote this in ten minutes flat kind of thinking. But at this point, someone or the other is going to say – ” oh why are you judging? are you resenting their fame and opportunities? what is the harm if they write and it sells? if someone wants to read, that is their choice.” ugh.

      • Umm. I work for a big publishing house and dissect (read edit, reorganize, tear out my hair in frustration, etc.) books for a living. It is actually impossible to ensure that a published book has NO errors whatsoever. No matter how hard you try, there is at least that one lone unnecessary comma, that one extra space, that one en dash that should have been hyphen. Just saying! 😦

        • Oh I’m sure of that – I work in the media and screw up all too often. I cringe at poor editing but I don’t judge the author over that. My point is, how can someone who can’t tell the diff between an applet and an epaulette, get a book deal? the mind boggles.

        • Hey thats totally fair enough. I do find mistakes in my own published stuff (its in some obscure technical journals), and understand how things can slip through. But some of these are very glaring. I read fast, and don’t really comb through and try to find mistakes, so when I do, it feels as if the authors and the rest of the team were just rushing through and not paying attention. I didn’t mean to sound like all uppity like I did there! Oops… (not to mention the irony of saying exat when I meant exact in my comment up there.. Oops again! :-()

          • See its not about typos. We all make them and its easy to miss them even if its your job to catch them. I am horrified by her writing applets when she meant epaulettes. I’ve heard people pronouncing it wrong and then going on to spell it wrong too. So if she’s an applet pronouncer and speller, then I want to know who commissioned her book!

      • I loved “The Other Hand”! Read it in pretty much one sitting a couple of years ago. Letting a story unfold in reverse is a pretty old gimmick but Chris Cleave elevated it with his simple telling of a a powerful story.
        Have you read any of the regional literature translations? There are a few really good Malayalam ones. Shameless plug coming up – My aunt, Prema Jayakumar, is a translator of many such treasures. “Yakshi”, “The Unspoken Curse”, “God’s Mischief”… I also enjoyed reading the early Katha short story collections.
        Can we start a petition to get Kiran Nagarkar to write more?

        • Yes, start signing up here. And no I haven’t read much regional literature. I have always felt that a lot is lost in translation. Case in point, the millenium trilogy. Everyone was raving about it and I was just blinking in confusion – were we talking about the same book?! The plot was okay, but the writing was just so pedestrian. 😦

          • I loved ‘The hour past midnight’ – someone I know who’d read the books in both Tamil and English said the translation was very good!

          • I meant to say that the translation stuck to the original text and retained the essence of the original.
            Five hours of sleep plus 3 cups of black coffee = a very mad- hattered me!

            • Yes, yes we got it 🙂 Could you please sleep a little more? I know you’re young and all that, but do you want to be old and sickly like me?

  10. This was a good read and thanks for the excellent reviews. Months ago I picked up “I too have a love story” and was very disappointed with it. The story is nothing new and the language mediocre. After that book I have stayed away from these young writers who write “contemporary” books. Will pick up Indu Sundaresan though.

    • Maybe you should try Durjoy Dutta’s collection if you’re looking for contemporary reading. I’ll not insult him by comparing him to CB, but his writing is fresh and cheerful. And very interesting titles too. 🙂

  11. I need to get off my fantasy reading butt and start reading something else now. Maybe I’ll start with Indu Sundaresan. Thanks for the pointers. Till a few years ago I used to read every type of fiction. Since I started reading fantasy, everything else seems a waste of time. My husband teases me every time we go to the library, because I always end up in the young adults or teens section. Time to grow up maybe. Sigh.

    • Not at all. There is some fantastic YA fiction available too. I have friends on Saffron Tree (the kiddy book blog we work on) who mostly read YA fiction etc and I admire that. As long as its good writing, I don’t care which language or which age it is aimed at.

      • talking of YA :’ wrinkle in time’ is beautiful! i had a wrinkled (!) copy i picked at a library sale. but its available here now. i know it wasnt when we were growing up, and it is an old book!
        i read a lot of YA, as i keep picking books for my kids….some of it is great..

  12. I was just about to recommend ‘Prothom Alo’ by Sunil Ganguly, when I saw that someone had already mentioned it before me. But just to repeat it, PLEASE read the book. The translation, “Those Days”, is not nearly as nice as the original Bengali novel, but it is a brilliant read nonetheless. Especially if you are familiar with the landscape of late 19th century Bengal. I used to look up the characters on the internet as I read, and the sheer research that has gone into the novel blew my mind away. “Sei Somoy” also has two sequels but I’m afraid those haven’t been translated into English as yet.

    There’s also another brilliant Bengali author called Sharadindu Bandopadhyay, who wrote some of my most favourite histrical novels ever. I’ll hunt around and let you know if I come across any good translations of him.

    Also, personally, I have certain problems with Chitra Banerjee’s books, but I cannot WAIT to get my hands on ‘A Suitable Girl’ or ‘An Unsuitable Boy’ – whichever Vikram Seth writes first.

    Ah, it feels good to gush about books on your blog again. Welcome back. 🙂

    p.s. What IS it with metro passengers and their intense need to read Chetan Bhagat? The number of times I’ve seen women reading “Revolution 2020” while being squashed from all sides in a particularly crowded metro compartment is astonishing. Such dedication, my God!

    • Tell me your probs with Chitra Banerjee’s books. I’d love to know. I enjoyed only the palace of illusions. Read Mistress of Spices and she lost me mid-plot. It’s just not my scene.

  13. @MM,

    I would like to recommend Ashok Banker’s Ramayana series. Personally I love his writing style and his take on the whole story. Something I liked even more was the Author’s note. I’ve not read too many Indian authors but thanks for the reviews, I ll start with these books 🙂

      • I got Mr. Banker’s ramayan series but never went beyond the first book. Also got a few of the “metro reads” specially with a tamilian background but was disappointed with the plots. It took a lot of patience to just finish reading the books :(.
        I agree with you about the epaulet/applet problem. Thanks for the book recommendations. I can look them up on flipkart.
        Hope knee problems get better soon.

        • I am always a little nervous about series. The pressure to read and buy all is high. Glad you got what I meant by the applet thing. I am horrified that a published author could make such a basic mistake. It just leaves you disillusioned about the type of people who get published these days.

  14. 1. Proud Tinkle reader as a child. I am not sure how that equates to being a reader of the trash which comes out in the name of pacy, racy fiction, as one of the commenters above insinuated.

    2. I am confused on this topic. The last I read in this genre was Thank You Ma’am, a fifth-rate book, back in 2007. But then I wonder am I not being a hypocrite when I diss this but watch the movies which seem to have the same faltu plots. Or even the likes of Sidney sheldons which I am ashamed of, but still secretly enjoy!

    3. Till we have a CB or an SS, we may not be able to appreciate the Harper Lees of the world.

    4. Most important, try and see Dr Surya Bhan, at Primus (Chanakya puri), arguably the best orthopedic in NCR.

    • 1. No offence on the Tinkle front I am sure. I read them too. I think she means you’ve got to read more than just comics. I agree that one should expose kids to fiction in more than just easy to digest forms such as comics although those are fun too. Either way, that is her opinion.
      2. I have no idea about the book you mention, but tell me, did you enjoy it? If you did, then there’s no confusion. If you didn’t, then I guess we ask for less from our movies than we do from our books, don’t we? I don’t mind putting my work aside and watching some rubbish movie like Dabangg for 3 hours. They say when you watch TV/movies, your brain goes into sleep mode. It doesn’t think. I’d argue that the exact opposite happens with a book. You’re forced to move your eyes from word to word, to imagine, to think. So you CAN have fantastic art house cinema, but you’re okay with watching some 2-3 nonsense too. The equivalent there would be magazines for me. I flip through them brainlessly. But I invest a lot of time and emotion into my books and I expect a lot more from them.
      3. Good point.
      4. Thank you for the recco. Will try and get an appt with him.

      • On point 2. yes I see your point. Thanks for making me feel better about enjoying the trashy movies while not enjoying the stupid books.

        And please do see the Doc soon.

  15. Totally agree with the CB fact. Its like he writes keeping the screenplay of a movie on mind. I’m still cursing myself for wasting my time on it. The writing these days has become so monotonous. IIT-IIM grad-love-problems-happy ending. I prefer reading Durjoy Dutta these days.

    I really did not like Losing My Virginity. Light read and all alrite, but I felt the way it potrays the woman is kinda dumb. Plus the language,as you pointed out. I’ve been reading a lot of dumb books these days. Needed a good recommendation. I’ll pick up the Melvin Durai book. Thank u. 🙂

    We’ve been wondering what the kids have been upto. Think you can take some time out to tell us about their latest antics?

    • Well I don’t really recco Melvin unless you’re looking for a light read. In which case he is good fun. Will blog about the kids soon. Just not been feeling quite in the mood 😦

    • I totally agree with the “he writes keeping the screenplay of a movie on mind” bit. I read one night first and did not feel it then, i then read 3 mistakes and it was like he was writing a movie script complete with exotic locales…
      That said, I do feel that these days a lot of “western” novels also read like screenplays, take Dan Brown for instance..I have read only one(Angels and Demons) and decided to skip all the rest (including the Da Vinci code)

  16. I need a recco for a good English version of the Mahabharata. Anyone?
    And why so down and out? I’ve been on a super Christmas high (I am not even sure why) ever since December dawned. I am like a 5 year old on a double- sugar high (which doesn’t bode well for people around me, but really, who cares? :D).
    I know a good Orthopaedic doc in Vellore, but I doubt that helps your cause. Are you headed here for Christmas or is it with the Button at Nani- G’pa’s place?

    • I am too tired to be high on anything other than the 14th floor. Am off home soon and I plan to sleep the sleep of the just. And no, not heading your way this year. This year its a big family Xmas with button and his two add-ons :p

    • I decided to make a project of reading the Mahabharata sometime last year – I called in for recommendations and finally chose Ramesh Menon’s version. It’s pretty good I think – a good mix of preserving the ancient feel but not overly antiquated language. My friend chose Kamala Subramaniam but is now switching to Menon too. I also read RK Narayan’s but it’s very truncated, I was done with it in a day. Also, a blogger called Prem Panicker did a very well-written blog series of the Mahabharata from Bhim’s perspective that might be fun to read alongside or after. Hope that helps.

  17. Kiran Nagarkar’s Cuckold. What an amazing book. I am not sure if he also has phoren background. But he is one of the most underrated Indian authors writing in English (he is actually bilingual–writes in Marathi too!)

  18. If you are looking for simple, light reads, try out Elizabeth Noble’s books. Especially Things I Want My Daughters To Know and The Girl Next Door. Lovely, non-dramatic, realistic reads, without being too stressful on the brains.

    Also, book lovers would LOVE The Guernsey Literary And Potato Peel Pie Society and 84, Charing Cross Road.

    • I read Guernsey and was shocked at how much I enjoyed it and how well known it was. Picked it up off the roadside at a second hand sale and wondered why I was drawn to it. Then began to spread the word judiciously because I wasn’t sure if it was everybody’s err.. slice of pie. Shall look for the books you mentioned. Am even steeling myself to buy in Kindle *shudder* if I must. I’m running out of storage space and most books are not available in India 😦

      • you haven’t read Charing Cross? Then RUN to the nearest store. Hanff’s other books are very good as well. Get if at all available.

  19. I gave up on Indian metro reads after CB and a few others that I have forgotten now! Now I’m back to fantasy. Diana Wynne Jones, David Eddings, even Rick Riordan. They’re good, so I don’t feel the need to grow up 🙂

  20. Ah ! so I will be waiting for the free copy of yours when you publish ( this is not the career change you were talking about ?) . Hmpf, guess I’ll just wait till we’re old – but won’t promise I can come over and conk you out with “I said so”.

  21. Isnt it interesting that most good Indian writers live abroad? Basically proves how important it is to have access to a well stocked library,especially if you are writing a period piece.
    I have avoided CB thus far but now I am tempted to read him, just to experience his writing.
    ‘Twentieth Wife’ was the first book I read of Sunderasen’s. And I was hooked. Her style is striking. One can tell her research is solid.
    Have you read Thrity Umrigar? Another Indian author living in the US. I read “Space Between Us” and I was floored by her command and story telling. She reminded me of Rohinton Mistry.
    Access to Indian authors is limited here in the US. Amazon has a collection but its not that vast.
    Btw, am reading “what the body remembers”. Thanks for your recco. Another Indian, settled in Canada!

    • No no Suk, I love you too much to let you pick up a CB. I beg of you – don’t defile your library. And yes I’ve read Thrity – years ago someone recommended her on my old blog on a book post. Picked it up after that and loved the book.
      I have the opposite problem here – am trying hard to get some good foreign authors for my kids and each book is flippin’ Rs 700 or more. What the hell!

      • My next trip to India will be in June, hopefully. and I always go via Delhi. If you want me to get some books for the kids, let me know…Id be happy to bring some in.

      • um..that’s actually about the price they are here as well. It looks like the old Indian price which used to be about 50% cheap is gone? I noticed this past summer, but British publications that are unavailable here were still bargain. They re definitely priced below the GBP price. So which books are you looking for?

  22. Phewwww… I feel like a “thaen kudicha nuree” (literally in Tamil “fox that’s drunk on honey”) just thinking of all the books by Indian authors listed here that I havent read and that I’m going to hunt down one way or the other! I’m always looking to add to my book list (pls note: The Guardian book lists as compiled by famous authors are BRILLIANT), and I tend to note ’em down as I find ’em. And MM – teen fiction is SO fabulous nowadays. If you havent read “The Hunger Games” trilogy by Suzanne Collins, put them books at the top of your reading list RIGHTAWAY. I kid you not, they’re absolutely riveting!

  23. I think the only thing going for CB is the price of his books. People do not actually want to read substandard language but a light/ easy read at an affordable price is attractive. Also there are some Indian authors in English who are so verbose, using so many words to convey an ambience or emotion that I am not surprised it scares away new readers. See this for instance – http://jaiarjun.blogspot.com/2011/11/savio-de-souzas-last-song.html
    But this is happening everywhere isn’t it? Paisa vasool movies with no story to speak of, item songs instead of music, stars instead of actors, reality tv instead of programs, celebrity spotting instead of news….I could go on but it’s depressing…sigh.
    Anyway why I started typing was this – Please please read The Book Thief. Please.

  24. and with your knees… and the pain they are giving you, you SO should be reading this one…

    “the eternal quest” by paramahansa yogananda — there’s a lot of things about healing and health for you, here.

    (the first book that you should read by P.Y. is ‘the autobiography of a yogi’: there’s v. little about religion and so much about spirituality.)

  25. So nice to see a book post MM. The metro read i picked up at an airport once was called “Dreams in Prussian Blue” and it wasnt half bad.glad you liked the Indu Sunderesan books, I really enjoy them. Feast of Roses was my first one and i’m sure you’ll like that one too.
    Thanks to all those commenting with recommendations, am adding some to my holiday reading. Somehow I always am drawn to Indian fic, even though I’ve put down a book more than once because its unreadable, I keep hoping to discover some new interesting Indian writing I can relate to. (when are you writing a book MM?)

  26. Thanfs for the reco MM. I stay in Singapore and the libraries here are really good, there is so much choice that I find it difficult to pick a book. In India, we don’t have the concept of public libraries, even if we have there are very few.

    I like reading science fiction. I usually read Robin Cook for this and I also like Jeffrey Archer.

  27. Thanks for recco’s MM. Missed you and glad to have you back 🙂 Checked my library and they have 4 books from Indu Sundaresan and have ordered all four. The best thing I love about the US are the free libraries 🙂

  28. Very well written post.

    I think the only metro read i have ever read is Chetan Bhagat’s Five Point Someone. Ever since, they lose me with the blurb. The plot is so ‘yawn’. When there is such little time to read good books how can one read not so good books.

    That said, I remember sort of enjoying CB’s firstbook back then. I think never before had any one attempted to encash on contemporary student angst. Back then was a whole generation that was pushed to take up engineering or medicine regardless of what their hearts said. He found a pulse there. Also, I feel in a strange sort of way it would encourage people to write – “if CB can write, so can I” kind of thinking. Hopefully, not for publishing. Writing is therapeutic. And if average people are not hindered by debilitating benchmarks, they can write for their own selves.

    There is an interesting article. You might like reading it – http://www.firstpost.com/living/why-naipaul-and-the-literary-establishment-are-so-so-wrong-22221.html

    Also, you know because of the severe shoulder and neck pain, i am not allowed to read for long hours. Please tell me – which of the three books by Sunderesan should I pick up? And between The Zoya Factor and Battle for Bittoria, which one?

    And please look after your knee!

    • Zoya and Bittora are good. I have both. Borrow them they next time you are in town. Also Indu. I know you’re not allowed to hunch over a book for a long time, so start Indu’s trilogy and read slowly. You can’t pick and choose because its a series and you’d be denying yourself by not reading the rest. Trying to rest the knee – hopefully the new house will help!

  29. MM, this post and the comments make want to go comment on tiny thread of discussion that is on and the recos! But yes, it makes my heart break when I see CB and the MBa yuppy likes getting publishing contracts, sufficient limelight from Landmark (for which I have started losing all respect) and other bookshops and get stocked along with all “real” Indian fiction authors. I love hoarding good books and in fact used to judge people by what they read for a long time. But, one night at call centre was such a disaster, I just wanted it out of my place.
    Btw, while we don’t have great free libraries, there are these slightly expensive but reasonably well stocked private ones mushrooming all over the place like librarywala, just books and all. Some of them do a home delivery as well and let you devour as many books as you’d like in a year :).

    • I have to confess I’m a hoarder. I want to OWN my books. Does that make me a bad person? :-/ I can’t help it – its my one weakness. I keep them beautifully, I hate them being dog eared, I like to go back and run my finger over them like people do their dogs and cats and jewellery. *groan* I need therapy. And yes, I ABSOLUTELY judge people by what they read. Also judge people who don’t read. I can’t get over that. I think I need to grow up a bit more.

      • hahaha! i cured myself! partly coz i have moved countries and partly coz my family was puzzled as to why i wd be hoarding toddler books when my younger one was reading YA! yup same reasons as you do….i love them…i re-read my enid blytons with my kids and the YA now…and i am discovering more good kid llit that was not available (or affordable) when i was growing up. but recently i let go of a huge section of seuss and toddler books to my niece (that one is after my own heart. she reads at 6,…a lot!.. and also a step ahead, makes up her own stories for grand-dad (my dad is her slave of course! ). so am happy they are in good hands!

      • You do not need therapy MM. Book-lovers ordinarily want to keep and treasure their books like its their khaandani virasat. Atleast I do. I cant see my books being dog-eared! I’ve stopped lending my books to anyone because of that reason. And also because I’ve lost my books since people borrow them and disappear. *sniff sniff*

      • Oh, no, not at all.. I am so possessive about my books, I rarely leave them outside for random people to look and borrow (the types who wake up and decide to read a book a year cos of a resolution). Or.. I leave highly esoteric non fiction books which will appeal only to those who care for maintaining them 😀

  30. Awesome post! You are excused from writing a book on one condition – you HAVE to post on your blog at least once in 3 days, okay?

    Will come back to this post after I grow up. Right now books are crawling out of every crevice in this house – and they are all my kids’. Highly reco Diana Wynne Jones and Cornelia Funke – good to get onboard the fantasy train.

  31. Wow.. logged in after 5 days and am delighted to read so many posts from you. Please do keep writing.
    On CB and his many brethren writing “books” well here is what I find wrong with them:
    1. The language is appalling, condoning what they write as a reflection of “spoken” English today is no reason, increasingly people do not know any language properly be it English or their mother tongue and that cannot be anything to be proud of.
    2. The stories: I for once want to read about something new, books have always taken me to faraway lands and have allowed me to time travel or at least give me a peak at the exotic that is camouflaged in the mundane I see everyday. Why on earth would I want to read a little more about the office I despise or the mall that I studiously avoid?.
    3. Insight: In marketing we learn everyday to distinguish insight from observation and that is what is missing from the CBs and other such metro reads (have read 2 of cb, zoya factor which I liked, almost single which i despised and a few more….). There are observations which are trying desperately to be funny but no insight and for me that is plain boring and yes dumbing things down.

    Sorry for the long comment, but would love to read your book, specially if it is historical fiction. I am sure yours would be a delight to read.

    • 🙂 This coming from a booklover, is a huge compliment. And to quote Javed Jaffrey, EGG-JACKLY! I want my book to transport me to another time and place. I find a lot of books today fail to do that. The stories are not compelling, there is no desire to delve deeper and know more. I am sick of seeing rows and rows of books on weight management. Hell, why is this so popular? Eat less, exercise more. End of matter. Which is not to say that I am very slender, but to say we all know the answer to that one, we just don’t care enough to do much about it. Those who do, do something about it. Emma Donoghue’s Room, The Other Hand, The Disappeared – these are books I’ve had to hunt down. What happens to those of us who don’t want to read CB and Co.?
      And oh so right about observations that are not insightful. Funny how we’ve all loved Anuja Chauhan. She’s a great writer. And I think we need more of her ilk.

      • Will definitely get my hands on the books you have recommended nothing like expanding your reading list! Though the only thing I frantically flip through these days is What to Expect The First Year as I save my other books from being literally devoured (he wants to eat everything) by my 6 month old!

  32. Some of the books I see in stores nowadays makes me want to barf. Shoddy spelling, serious lapses in grammar, no plot, no effort put into it at all. And these people get published! I’d rather reread my Amitav Ghosh and Shashi Deshpande than buy that tripe.
    I just got a new library membership done. Wheee, lots of reading material for the next few months! (thanks to you and the people who comment, some excellent suggestions there)

  33. That was such a good read! Absolutely loved it, everything about it. Know I’m gushing!
    Was thinking, we are so used to you almost ‘prattle’ sorts about the Brat, the Bean and the OA, and we are so enamoured by the ‘subjects’, that the language and flow somehow takes a backseat, in the sense to the reader. We fail to notice and relish it, atleast not as much as I did in this post, and the few recent ones.
    And book reviews well written are such a treat, coz we get a free ride sorts while we experience a feeling of having read the books (which we may or may not lay hands on), and go through similar thought processes too. And now I have this small cry inside for ‘historical novels’ which was non-existent all these years! 🙂 Thanks to you! And its lovely and comforting to know, that you have pulled in so many lovers of literature or ‘real’ writing! 🙂

  34. I’ve been spending time with a visiting friend lately so I just read this. First of all, thanks for mentioning my book again. I just wanted to add that it’s not just the libraries. Being away, looking from a distance gives a fresher, clearer perspective. Sometimes you need to gain distance to look at something in its entirety and understand it in a way that is not possible when you are immersed in the place you come from. I think that’s how it was for me anyway. Great post as always!

  35. Really…time for us to stop being oh-so-correct-and-inclusive and say ‘all kinds of writing must co-exist’ and shout out once in a while, THE EMPEROR HAS NO CLOTHES…or better still, for Indian verbiage: THE EMPEROR IS WEARING JUST TOO MANY CLOTHES!

  36. Anyone read this book?….ws recommended recently. an excerpt hits home..:
    “My default answer to everything is no. As soon as I hear the inflection of inquiry in your voice, the word no forms in my mind, sometimes accompanies by a reason, often not. Can I open the mail? No. Can I wear your necklace? No. When is dinner? No. What you probably wouldn’t believe is how much I want to say yes. Yes, you can take two dozen books home from the library. Yes, you can eat the whole roll of SweeTarts. Yes, you can camp out on the deck. But the books will get lost, and SweeTarts will eventually make your tongue bleed, and if you sleep on the deck, the neighborhood racoons will nibble on you. I often wish I could come back to life as your uncle, so I could give you more. But, when you’re the mom, your whole life is holding the rope against those wily secret agents who never, ever stop trying to get you to drop your end.”
    ― Kelly Corrigan, Lift

  37. The “Twentieth Wife” was a disappointment wrt to the research . I may be wrong but i do not think paper was mass produced at the time so that street vendors had access to it albeit in a recycled form to use to sell snacks in . The same with respect to tea , afternoon evening tea was not an established ritual , there are some others too. I do understand that it is a historical novel but there is only so much you can mess with historical facts . So while I agree that this genre of writing may not be God’s own word , I find it jars in an otherwise wonderful writing . Chetan Bhagat , Oh dear God !!! Apart form the mediocre writing what was he talking about in the Two States ” ? The same old stereotypes , some racy bits and it sold so well. Yes they are even begging the writer of an infamous letter in a blog to write a book and comparing her vitriolic drivel to Cahetan Bhagat’s writing as a compliment . The mind boggles , yes but at least they put both in the same bin. A couple of my short stories ( nothing particularly eloquent ) have been published exactly two to be precise, But to write a novel, as you said what is that you want to tell , how are you going to tell it , what command do you have over the language , what about research , I do not think I can do it . Your point about why pass up excellent literature in another language for substandard stuff in English . I do not agree that writers abroad are doing a better job with Indian English literature . My 15 year old son is an avid reader and he loves historical novels . He picked up the ghastliest Novels , a Trilogy on the Mughals . I would not want to burn though , recycle it perhaps . Applet , seriously , can we not write to the publishers ?

  38. Pingback: Reviews of “Bala Takes the Plunge” – FunnyColumns

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