7 September 2017

Tsundoku: Faujis, The Iranian Elections and Mysterious Benefactors

(The first of the book recommendation columns I started doing for Hindu BLink back in May.)


Is your TBR pile multiplying overnight? Are you faced with dusty reproachful spines? Do you wonder when you're ever going to catch up with the most prolific bookstagrammers and shoot pretty pictures of a cover, some flowers and a hardwood table? Or perhaps you're overwhelmed by how many new books there are and how you'll never have time to read them all. Help is on hand. 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. (“Tsundoku” a word borrowed from Japan means basically buying new books only to leave them in a pile next to the other books you bought and haven't gotten around to reading.)


Water Cooler: Anuja Chauhan's books are always fun, because she takes commercial fiction and wraps it up in a big Bollywood style extravaganza. Each of her books are pacey, full of action and the kind of dialogues you might use amongst yourselves—liberal lashings of Hinglish and long odes to men's bottoms. Her latest, Baaz, just came out to the delighted squeals of women aged anywhere from 19 to 40. Each of Chauhan's books have a main central theme: her first The Zoya Factor was about cricket, followed by books about politics, Delhi in the '70s and Doordarshan, and family disputes over property. Baaz is the Air Force book, peppered with fauji language and in an interesting departure for Chauhan—deals more with the India-Pakistan war in the '70s than the romance. Which is not to say the romance isn't heady and exciting, but Baaz marks Chauhan as a skilled writer of action as well as relationships, as well as being the first time she writes a male protagonist, the dashing Ishaan Faujdaar, nicknamed Baaz. Ishaan is a small-town boy turned sophisticated army officer, with “kota grey” eyes and a sense of chivalry and patriotism that bowls over photographer Tehmina Dadyseth, herself an army daughter, who has many reasons to hate all that life represents. Read for the loving descriptions of army life in India, and touching bromances, but perhaps ignore the superhero ending. Baaz byAnuja Chauhan, Harper Collins, Rs 399


Watchlist: The first Iran elections since the nuclear agreement of 2015 happened this week, with voting underway as I write this. A great way to understand Tehran and the people who live there is by reading Ramita Navai's award winning book of essays City Of Lies: Love, Sex, Death And The Search For Truth In Tehran. All the eight essays are about controversial people in the current regime—a sex worker, a trans woman, a thug, just to give a few examples, and are spun out of several interviews Navai did while she was living in Tehran as a journalist. Written almost as short stories, Navai goes deep into the psyche of each subject—what was their family life like? What did they eat or drink? What did they wear?---and makes you feel as though you've travelled to the city itself and spoken to the people. My particular favourite was the essay about Someyeh, a traditional religious girl who marries her dashing first cousin, only to realise that marriage is not all it's cracked up to be. Bonus: you'll be reminded very much of India as you read, especially the descriptions of the traffic and the heavy pollution. City Of Lies: Love, Sex, Death And The SearchFor Truth In Tehran byRamita Navai, Hachette, Rs 399.

Way back: If you're looking for something light after all that heavy, consider the cupcake of a book that is Daddy-Long-Legs by Jean Webster. An epistolary novel, with little illustrations, it's sweet, funny and (well deservedly) a classic. Published in 1912, the book is letters from orphan Jerusha “Judy” Abbott to a mysterious benefactor she calls Daddy-Long-Legs, as part of a deal he strikes up with her—he'll send her to college if she writes him a weekly letter telling him how she's faring. Along the way, Judy transforms from a little orphan girl to a popular college student and makes many friends, but also the mysterious “Daddy” changes from a detached anonymous trust fund, to someone who begins to support her through her four years in college. Premise sound familiar? The book was the inspiration for the 1984 Malayalam movie Kanamarayathu, which then had a Hindi remake in 1986 called Anokha Rishta. Daddy-Long-Legs by Jean Webster, free online on Project Gutenberg, Scholastic(paperback), Rs 105.






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