21 September 2017

Tsundoku: Domestic Violence, Twitter Shaming And Alibaugh Memories

(This appeared as my book recommendation column in BLInk in June.)

Thinking about these great words by Nora Ephron (author of, among other things, Heartburn, a book that will make you hungry and make you want to read it all in one go, so read with a snack): “Reading is everything. Reading makes me feel like I’ve accomplished something, learned something, become a better person. Reading makes me smarter. Reading gives me something to talk about later on.” The complaint I hear most often is “I don't have time to read!” Which is not true, the correct statement is: “I don't make time to read.” You should. It'll fix (almost) anything. Welcome to Tsundoku, a weekly books recommendation column, where I break down books into the three parts that really matter: what everyone's talking about, what's happening in the world, and what old book you should read (or re-read) next.




Water cooler: Nope, not Arundhati Roy's Ministry Of Utmost Happiness because I presume by now you've read enough reviews of that to make up your own mind whether or not you're going to read it. I? I'm still on the fence. A quieter buzz this month formed around a surprising fictional memoir, Meena Kandasamy's When I Hit You: Or, A Portrait Of The Writer As A Young Wife. It's thinly veiled fiction, so thin, in fact, it was only later that I realised it was a novel. Kandasamy is a poet, so her prose sings in places where you'd expect a story like this to sag. The unnamed protagonist of Kandasamy's book takes a lot of abuse from her communist-leaning husband, he beats her with whatever he has on hand, he rapes her and refuses to let her moan or make any noises at all, but worst, he cuts her off from everyone she knows by forcing her to give up her phone, her social media and replying to all her email himself, signing it with both their names. I read the entire thing on my phone with one hand over my mouth, it's gripping, you can't look away and by the end of it, I was slightly breathless, as though I had escaped this man myself. What is compelling is how you feel the narrator grow slowly more and more isolated, her whole world is reduced to just her flat, just her husband, this juxtaposed with flashbacks to the life she used to lead, the lovers, the travel makes for a claustrophobic and terrifying read. When I Hit You: Or, A Portrait Of The Writer As A Young Wife by MeenaKandasamy, Juggernaut, Rs 499.

Watchlist: Speaking of Arundhati Roy, remember when Paresh Rawal suggested we tie her to a jeep so that people could throw stones at her? He then deeply regretted making that remark (one assumes) and tried to erase everyone's memory of it by deleting the same tweet. More recently pictures of the Spain-Morocco border passed off as India's by the Home Ministry had several people asking questions. The internet has a long memory as far as some things are concerned, and all of the above would know that too if they read British journalist and author Jon Ronson's book So You've Been Publicly Shamed. From the PR executive who tweeted “Going to Africa. Hope I don't get AIDS. Just kidding. I'm white!” before she got on a flight, only to get off at the other end with her name trending and her job gone, to the charity worker who mimed shouting and a middle finger in front of a sign saying “Silence and Respect” at a war cemetery, there are people out there who know what it's like to be on the other side of a baying Twitter mob. Ronson talks to the people behind the tweets, and tries to understand what made them say what they said. It's worth a read when there's a different thing to outrage about each day: pick your battles. SoYou've Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson, Pan Macmillan, Rs 140

Wayback: In keeping with the environmental theme of this week's paper, a story as relevant today as it was when it was first published in 1982, Anita Desai's Village By The Sea is the story of a little village in Alibaugh, due to get a new factory. Besides that, it's also the story of Hari and Lila, siblings and children to a drunk father and a sick mother. Hari goes off to Bombay to seek his fortune at twelve, Lila stays behind, and gets some help from a local naturalist who is bemoaning the loss of biodiversity that will inevitably happen when the factory goes up. But, we're made to understand that the factory also signifies hope and jobs, and while you're rooting for Hari and Lila and their family, you also feel a little sad for the world they will lose. Isn't that always the way? Village By The Sea by Anita Desai, Penguin, Rs 299.


(I've used affiliate links here so if you buy through the links above, I might get some money.)

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