BOOKS TO LOOK OUT FOR THIS WEEK, Best Books to Read this Week - The Daily Guardian
Connect with us

Book Beat

BOOKS TO LOOK OUT FOR THIS WEEK

Published

on

Indian Economy’s Greatest Crisis: Impact of Coronavirus and the Road Ahead

Arun Kumar

Penguin India

This book highlights the enormity of the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on India. It critically examines the government’s efforts to control the disease and mitigate its adverse effects on the Indian economy and society. Making a compelling argument that an economy is not like a rubber ball, which, if dropped on a hard surface, will bounce back to its original position, the author provides incisive reasons to why economic recovery will be slow and not ‘V-shaped’. He, however, cogently suggests that good governance, a robust public health system, and clean and representative politics are key to bringing India’s economy back on track.

Untamed Origins

Sunit Gajbhiye

Vishwakarma publications

‘Untamed Origins’ narrates a mysterious journey of two friends and their efforts to survive as they get caught amidst a ghost-village Vaghan, controlled by mortal Gods. People worshipped the leaders and followed them till the end of the world but a series of unknown and ghastly ghost-murders have caused them to lose faith in people and their gods alike. The two boys are dragged into a tussle they never should have been a part of. Will they survive this twisted escapade? As they struggle to find their way out, they discover a secret deep within themselves, although, is it enough to help them survive this ordeal.

Written on the Wind

Anuradha Kumar-Jain

Rupa publications

Set in pre-Partition Lahore, this is the story of two women, both strong and willing to challenge the limits of the acceptable. Harjeet is married to Gautam. Deeply dissatisfied with her life, she enters into a passionate affair with Haider, a Muslim. It explores their relationship against the backdrop of the growing Hindu-Muslim divide, and the politically turbulent times. Amiya was married at 19 to Ishwar Chand. The narrative follows her troubled marriage, and struggle to become financially independent, her coming of age as a writer, and the unlikely friendship she develops with Gautam. It chronicles the choices she must make, and the secret she must live with.

The Coolie’s Great War

Radhika Singha

Though largely invisible in histories of World War I, over 5,50,000 men in the ranks of the Indian army were non-combatants. From the porters, stevedores and construction workers in the Coolie Corps to those who maintained supply lines and removed the wounded from the battlefield, the author recovers the story of this unacknowledged service. The labour regimes built on the backs of these ‘coolies’ sustained the military infrastructure of empire; their deployment in interregional arenas bent to the demands of global war. Viewed as racially subordinate and subject to ‘non-martial’ caste designations, they fought back using the warring powers’ need for manpower to challenge traditional service hierarchies and wage differentials.

The Daily Guardian is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel (@thedailyguardian) and stay updated with the latest headlines.

For the latest news Download The Daily Guardian App.

Book Beat

‘Maverick Commissioner: The IPL-Lalit Modi Saga’ launched in Kolkata

Published

on

Simon and Schuster, Fanatic Sports and JustMyRoots, on 16 June 2022 launched Boria Majumdar’s latest work Maverick Commissioner: The IPL-Lalit Modi Saga at the ITC Sonar. The event featured two stellar panel discussions on ‘What Makes a Good Sports Film’ and ‘The Business of the IPL’. Present on the occasion were actor Prosenjit Chatterjee; film producer Boney Kapoor; Harshavardhan Neotia, President of the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce & Industry; Utsav Parekh, singers Anupam Roy and Anindya Chattopadhyay, film producer Vishnu Vardhan Induri, writer, historian Sharmistha Gooptu, political scientist, journalist, author Nalin Mehta, Ashok Namboodiri, Chief Business Officer – Zee Entertainment; Jaidip Mukerjea, Dinesh Chopra and author Boria Majumdar. The Bengali translation of ‘Maverick Commissioner’ was also released alongside the English edition.

Speaking on the occasion, Prosenjit Chatterjee said that he is extremely delighted that more and more sports books are being made into movies and that he is super excited to have found the story of the ‘Maverick Commissioner’. Movies and books are very close partners. Both domains will benefit from the collaboration of these two popular cultures. He is planning a sport film on swimming in near future.

Filmmaker Boney Kapoor said that he is currently working on a sports film on football with actor Ajay Devgn. The movie is called ‘Maidan’ and due for a release shortly. He confident that the film will become one for the most loved and watched sports film ever. He eagerly waits to pay another visit to Kolkata, to see the reaction of his viewers, after the film is released.

Harshavardhan Neotia spoke about the recent IPL media right auction. He said that he was expecting this kind of evaluation but will like to see if the buyers can make this cost viable.

In continuation to the thoughts shared by Harshvardhan Neotia, Utsav Parekh too spoke about the viability of the numbers, the whooping sum of INR 49,000 Crore.

Leading singers Anupam Roy and Anindya Chattopadhyay, spoke about the uniqueness of the sports films genre and how the sports is an avenue of mass connect with the viewers. They both sang on the occasion with a mention that they often make such songs part of their concerts, as they are on high demand by their followers.

Vishnu Induri shared that the win of ‘83’ was a big thing in India and it deserved to be made into a movie. The next big thing happened after the win of first cricket World Cup, was the formation of the IPL (Indian Premier League) and he jumped on the opportunity when ‘Maverick Commissioner’ was presented to him for a movie right.

Continue Reading

Book Beat

INTERROGATION, CONFESSION AND TRUTH

Published

on

‘So, we meet again,’ Mihir says cheerily, ‘What have you been up to, these days? What’s the next city you’re looking to bomb?’

Mihir has one eye on the road, and another on the rear-view mirror. He wants to pay close attention to her reactions.

‘I don’t know what you’re talking about, sir. I’m done with all of that.’

‘Come on, don’t lie to me. I know how addictive violence can be for people of your kind. You can’t just be done with it,’ Mihir prods on.

Spa Maid grows distraught.

‘I swear, sir. I was dragged into it once upon a time through sheer blackmail. But you rescued me, and I will always be grateful for that. But please believe me, I’ve moved on from all of that. Why would I have continued in the same job, knowing that you’d know where to find me, if I were still involved in that stuff?’

Her confidence intrigues Mihir.

‘Okay. Let’s just assume for a moment that you are telling the truth. But don’t tell me that they’ve let you get away and haven’t made any attempt to contact you. If I could find you, surely, they too would be able to find you.’

She shifts uneasily in her seat. Mihir knows he’s onto something here.

‘To tell you the truth, they did try, sir. And what I said to you over the phone, about me trying to contact you, is true as well. I can prove it to you.’

Spa Maid pulls out her phone and scrolls through her SMS outbox.

Much to Mihir’s surprise, there indeed is a message sent to the discarded number he had used under cover as Rajinder Talreja. The message read: ‘Sir, pls help. They r contacting me. I dntknwwt 2 do.’

From the distress apparent on her face, in addition to the SMS, Mihir realizes that she is indeed telling the truth. For a moment, he even feels bad. Bad for her, bad about himself. Here is a vulnerable woman who had reached out to him in her hour of distress, and he had been unable to help. He wants to apologize, but holds back, reminding himself that he cannot do or say anything that might upset the dynamics of their relationship. He has the upper hand, and it must be that way always.

Trying hard to keep a straight face, he finally responds, ‘Okay. So how have they tried contacting you? And how many times?’

‘All by email . . . I can show you.’ ‘Where’s your laptop?’

‘Uhh . . . I don’t have one. I just use the desktop at the hotel.’

‘You can use mine,’ Mihir tells her, pulling up to the side, before retrieving his laptop from the back seat.

She signs into her email ID and moves closer to him, softly brushing against his shoulder. She explains, as she scrolls through the emails, ‘They keep reminding me of all the photos and videos they have, and how they can destroy me, unless I choose to help. Then there are these invitations to adult chat forums, all kinds of strange things. I’m too scared to click. What if I get pulled in again? It is divine providence that you’ve come looking for me. Please, you must help me get away from this once and for all. I’ll do anything for you. I want to get away from all of this. I’m sick of this existence, sick of being scared all that time.’

Mihir stares at her in silence. At first, he’s just processing all the information he’s just had to take in. But after a few moments, his attention wanders towards the diamond stud that complements her finely shaped nose, the strangely endearing mole on her cheek, and the single strand of hair curled up over her forehead.

Spa Maid can tell that he’s checking her out. She’s happy to let him.

Mihir realizes what he’s doing, and quickly snaps back into focus. ‘I’m so sorry, I just haven’t slept all night. Anyway, yes, I can help you. But I’ll need you to respond to those emails, get in touch with them, and become part of the group once again. What you will say, what you will do, everything will be decided by me. And don’t worry, no harm will come to you. I won’t abandon you this time.’

She nods in agreement.

After a few moments of awkward silence, he asks, ‘One more thing. I realized that I don’t even know your name.’

‘Rukmini. Rukmini Jaiswal, sir. A-and yours?’ ‘You know, already. It’s Rajinder Talreja.’

She smiles. A warm smile that fills him with an inexplicable sense of joy.

The excerpt is from ‘Operation Sudarshan Chakra’ (published by Penguin Random House India).

Continue Reading

Book Beat

‘Death Script’: A complete view of the Naxal insurgency in India

Through the prism of the Maoist insurgency, the author meditates on the larger questions of violence and betrayal, sin and redemption, and what it means to live through and write about such experiences.

Published

on

The book ‘Death Script’ by Ashutosh Bhardwaj is a creative biography of Dandakaranya that combines the rigor of journalism, the intimacy of a diary, the musings of a travelogue, and the craft of a novel. Through the prism of Maoist insurgency, the book also looks at larger questions of violence and betrayal, and love and obsession.

Bhardwaj is one of those rare journalists who are courageous enough to plunge down to ground-level reality and bring us an honest account of what is happening in that part of India which we have comfortably failed to notice. 

The Maoist insurgency is now in its sixth decade and is one of the biggest challenges before Indian democracy. A vastly uninformed and misinformed discourse has ensured that it has not received the critical and public attention it deserves.

As per the title, this book also sounds philosophical at some points. ‘The Death Script’ is perhaps a book well beyond the conjectures that death is scripted with; incorporating the causes, prejudices, and repercussions that violence gets credited with. Every word in every sentence of this book speaks volumes about the hard work and perseverance put in by the author to ensure that nothing in this book is less than extraordinary.

This book gives a complete view of the Naxal insurgency in India. Though India is highly regarded as the world’s largest democracy, the presence of a prolonged Naxal-Maoist insurgency for more than five decades loudly tells us that there is something seriously wrong with our constitutional organisations.

Why does the Naxal-Maoist march toward the state and the government?

And what are the long-term consequences it would have on the red corridors?

If a common man can get justice through our law and order and justice systems, they will never knock on the doors of corrupted politicians and their well-breaded gangsters. Similarly, when a tribal’s basic life resources are gulped by greedy capitalists and supportive politicians in the name of development, then it is obvious that he will approach a Naxal Maoist rather than the police.

The author explained the perils of handling this insurgency in military retaliation through various real-life characters representing Adivasi, Police, CRPF, Maoist, Surrendered Naxal, Salwa Judum, etc. The sensitivity and thoughtfulness that the writer has displayed while describing every story is incredible.

In ‘The Death Script’, Bhardwaj writes of his time in that region and of the various men and women he meets from both sides of the conflict, bringing home with astonishing power the human cost of such a battle. “In Bastar, I witnessed death closely for the first time in my life. The experience was overpowering, unsettling, as well as humbling. I met many people in the jungle who challenged my beliefs and perceptions. Their dreams and sorrows introduced me to a world I had not known about,” he mentioned in his book. A very insightful description of a glimpse into our exploitative genes through the lens of journalism.

It’s important for readers to understand the blurring lines of the popular narrative of left, right, and centre in such affected areas. Dandakaranya is possibly the biggest graveyard in independent India. This book yearns to record their seemingly quotidian yet epic lives. The author has not censored any brutality and portrayed the correct picture in front of the readers. Moreover, the author has used his journalistic skills quite well in describing the events, which makes the book very interesting and indulging. The book is full of emotions, and as a reader, you can feel the pain and the terror the people go through every day of their lives.

Bhardwaj has been both empathetic in his approach and meticulous while documenting. It has the conflicts, stories, insights, and footnotes, and apart from all that, the best part of the book is that it nowhere leads the reader to any conclusion or there is any judgment or inclination in favour of anyone, but rather it is a work of hard evidence and personal experience.

Bhardwaj sees images and hears whispers he perhaps is not entitled to, and he is made to be part of concealments not so pleasant. He views whatever comes his way in a very objective manner, without censoring the brutality and dimensionality that it brings. The concrete evidence cited by him, along with his plethora of vivid perceptions of the news coverage, makes the book a hard and steady commemoration of empathy and universalism.

In this book, you will hear the voices of forests that grow gradually and creep into your mind, and then lead you into inter-disciplinary arguments—of incidents that will churn up fear, betrayal, and the inevitability of death.

Through the prism of the Maoist insurgency, Bhardwaj meditates on larger questions of violence and betrayal, sin and redemption, and what it means to live through and write about such experiences—making ‘The Death Script’ one of the most significant works of non-fiction to be published in recent times. Bhardwaj has done a great job of blending non-fiction with a fiction type of storytelling.  

The book provides some very interesting facts and stories about the deep jungles of Dandakaranya and the Naxalites which we have never heard or read before and will help you rethink and reassess the entire situation with a new perception. It is also an excellent introduction to the Maoist viewpoint and operational strategies too. A well-written book on the causes of the Maoist movement in India.

The author keeps you hooked by writing from a journalist’s viewpoint as well as from the viewpoint of a person whose diaries and musings reflect on his troubled mind with all the deaths around him.

This book is an authentic and detailed introduction to the Maoist movement, brought to you through some brave investigative journalism.

Bhardwaj goes into the history of the movement, how it began, the factors which have led to its widespread and virulent distribution, the nature of the violence, their core beliefs, and their goals. The book also explores the ideology and development of the Naxalite movement in the Dandakaranya region and beyond.

The very existence of the Maoist movement is a present and clear signal that there is a void, created by a government that opted to withdraw and leave the people to their own devices. of a government that left class and caste oppression festering for so long that the tribals and villagers found it safer to opt for violent revolution over the democratic option.

The Naxalites are only filling the void created by the government. But one can believe that, in spite of this, the movement, at a fundamental level, is still misguided, at least in terms of ideology and methods, if not in sentiment. 

To understand the Maoist viewpoint is important for the furtherance of dialogue. That is an important goal toward which this book is aimed. Understanding the lives of the people under the Maoists’ way is also important, to give moral force and direction to the dialogue, to ensure that it is no longer conducted through spitting gunfire.

At the same time, while one can believe that the Naxal leaders are misguided, the way they have achieved legitimacy is nothing short of miraculous. Running a quasi-government for so many years is no mean achievement.

Which again points us to the crying need for proper government in the area?

The author captivatingly winds his story around the exploitation, neglect, suffering, and heart-wrenching misery that the tribal and rural landless peasants face. The abysmal wages paid to the workers and the amount of exploitation inflicted even in today’s time make you question your own situation in society. This book beautifully deals with the Maoists, violence, sin, betrayal, and redemption.

The book charts the lives and fates of some of the biggest names and personalities of the movement, the difference in their approaches to the problems, their propensity towards violent means; and their eventual fate.

The cases of rampant human rights abuses, sexual exploitation, encounter killings, and executions of innocents and accused alike do not make things any easier. The author also tries to link castes together with the peasantry, which makes sense in a lot of scenarios.  

Many lives are lost across various walks of society. Our democratic institutions need to be introspective in determining how effective they are in creating a “Ramarajya” where everyone is equal. This is a piece of prose that speaks of the “dreams and delusions in Naxal country”, and essentially highlights a facet of Maoist and Naxalite rebellions that only a few might be familiar with.

Through death and demise, and thorough reporting and citation, Bhardwaj has written a book that seems too colourful to be true, yet too monochrome to be celebrated.

Ashutosh Kumar Thakur is a Bangalore-based Management Professional, Literary Critic, and Codirector with Kalinga Literary Festival. He can be reached at ashutoshbthakur@gmail.com

Continue Reading

Book Beat

Vigyan Yoga launches ‘Decoding the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali’

Published

on

Co-authored by Acharya Kaushal Kumar, a globally acclaimed voice on yoga, and industrialist Jai Singhania, the book, written in a free-flowing style, is an easy read interpretation of the Yoga Sutras.

Kaushal KumarJai Singhania

A beginner’s guide to the ultimate truth of Yoga Sutra, ‘Decoding the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali’, was unveiled today at a well-attended launch ceremony held at Teen Murti Bhavan, New Delhi. A book that connects the ancient science of yoga to the idea of the ephemeral, modern times, it was unveiled by the Chief Guest, Dr Karan Singh and Guest of honor, Dr Naresh Trehan.  The book is the first in a series of self-help books by Vigyan Yoga, a platform that focuses on science, logic and the ultimate truth. The launch also saw stalwarts like C.K. Birla, Padmaja Ruparel, Arvind Singhania, and Y.K. Modi in attendance amongst other leading luminaries. Also, William Bissell, MD and chairman of Fab India spoke on the occasion.

Co-authored by Acharya Kaushal Kumar, a globally acclaimed voice on yoga and thought leader and industrialist, Jai Singhania, the book written in a free-flowing style is an easy read interpretation of the Yoga Sutras by Patanjali. Compiled in the early century by Sage Patanjali, Yoga Sutra was the most translated scripture in the medieval era. At its core it is a collection of Sanskrit sutras, based on the theory and practice of yoga, but in essence its well explained sutras capture both the fate of the body and the mind. The latter being the ultimate benefactor from its practice.

“The main intent of the Yoga Sutras is to control and regulate our mind. Our consciousness, also known as the soul, is different from our mind. But, we think that they are the same due to ignorance. The book decodes this myth,” said Acharya Kaushal Kumar, speaking at the launch. Jai Singhania explained further, “The book offers solutions to eliminate ignorance. It shares the deep secrets about the mind as well as methods to eliminate miseries stored in them. Mastering the mind, as we know, results in a more efficient and centered human being.”

 Penned beautifully, the book invites you to learn how to stop the many thoughts that rush through your mind. It explains that there are two stages of enlightenment. First is when we stop the hyperactive and idle thoughts and only the righteous thoughts remain. This is the state of wisdom that leads us to the highest state of enlightenment. The final stage is when even the righteous thoughts are stopped. This is when we go beyond wisdom and, through yoga, actually master the art of going inwards to find the soul.

Yoga Sutra believes that our thoughts are the reason that we are entangled with the material world which we believe is our only source of happiness. But, when we stop our thoughts with practice, then that connection with the material world is broken and we get established in our own self. Through a series of well-written chapters, the book elucidates upon the world’s miseries and the way to elevate you from it with the help of Yoga Sutra. Explained in a simple parlance are the eight limbs of Yoga or Ashtanga Yoga. This describes one’s conduct, discipline, meditation postures, breathing techniques and withdrawal of the senses.

The authors also explain the way to elevate your mind from focus and concentration to meditation. Concentration, meditation and samadhi, together are called sanyama. The book discusses many superpowers achieved with the practice of Sanyama. “In our interpretation of the book, we have called out the unrealistic nature of these superpowers, which many books have established as fact. We discuss every claim with logic and science,” concludes Jai, the seeker of inner silence.

Priced at Rs 399, the book will be available for purchase in leading book stores including Om Books, Oxford Bookstore and Bahri Books. It is also available at www.amazon.in

Continue Reading

Book Beat

Father’s Day gift guide for book-lover dads

Published

on

Picking out a gift for your dad, especially on Father’s Day, can be slightly tricky. All these years, you’ve showered him with essentials like mobiles, grooming sets, shirts etc. but this year gift him something he cherishes, not just needs. When you are confused while searching for the perfect gift for your father, Amazon Kindle comes to your rescue as it has a plethora of awesome books self-published by authors with Kindle Direct Publishing that he can read online. Give your father a gift he deserves this Father’s Day.

KALAM: KUCH ULTE PANNE

BY J. ALCHEM

The book is a must-read for every person who seeks positivity and serenity. This is a compilation of two stories that are beautifully interlinked while the ending of both the stories contrasts with each other, one moving forward and the other backward. The language is easy to understand and beautifully written, conveying the emotions as per the situation. The book is very deep rendering and gives a whole new insight to the reader.

J. Alchem is critically acclaimed and a self-published author with Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP). He is the winner of several Awards and Accolades including Amazon KDP’s Pen to Publish contest 2017 and The Best Author of the Year 2017-18. The author has written in several magazines and newspapers and received appreciation for the same.

A ROAD NOT TRAVELED

BY J. ALCHEM

This is a story of a motivational speaker Niogast Stinvins and his unbelievable journey on the path that people least expect anyone to travel. This book is an adventurous, inspirational, and interesting book with suspense and has all the ingredients needed to make a book an interesting read for fathers.

J. Alchem is critically acclaimed and a self-published author with Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP). He is the winner of several Awards and Accolades including Amazon KDP’s Pen to Publish contest 2017 and The Best Author of the Year 2017-18. The author has written in several magazines and newspapers and received appreciation for the same.

NEELI

BY NANDINI KUMAR

Neeli is not just the story of a girl, but the story of every person who has at least once in his lifetime questioned himself, “Who am I? And what is the purpose of my life?” Some people found this answer easily, but others had to travel long distances to find it just like the protagonist of the story Neeli, making this a must-read for your fathers if they are still in the quest to find the answers to these questions.

Nandini Kumar is a English-turned-Hindi self-published writer with Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP). She has been penning her thoughts and stories from the age of 16. Her work revolves around women-centric issues, to be the voice of a gender long silence by society. A strong force in the Hindi writing community, she aims to change the notion people have towards non-English writers.

BLIND TURNS: SHORT STORIES WITH TWIST

BY MANSI DADHICH MAHUR

If your father is a fan of short stories then this book is the perfect read for him, as this book talks about life and its nature of unpredictable events. The universe has a nature to smile and say, “love my uncertainty”. There is always a twist in the tale in our lives, in fact, several times a day, whether we recognize it or not. When we resist such twists, we become miserable. When we accept the twists, enjoy the ride and go with the flow, we usually have a safe landing. This collection of short stories is a celebration of such twists.

Mansi is a self-published author with Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP), who started her writing journey as writing a diary to her mother when she was 9 years old. She was always encouraged by her father to write poetry and read them in public gatherings. Her first poetry which got acknowledgment at the global level was in 1999 by poetry.com. In 2019 she published her first book collection of Hindi poetry written in 2018-2019.

VICHAARON KI PAGADANDIYAAN

BY MANSI DADHICH MAHUR

If your father likes poetry, then pick this book without giving this a second thought. This book is collection of beautifully written poetries that will instantly connect with reader’s mind.

Mansi is a self-published authored with Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing(KDP), who started her writing journey as writing a diary to her mother when she was 9 years old. She was always encouraged by her father to write poetry and read them in public gatherings. Her first poetry which got acknowledgment at the global level was in 1999 by poetry.com. In 2019 she published her first book collection of Hindi poetry written in 2018-2019.

Continue Reading

Book Beat

The music of timeless misery

Published

on

Tarun J. Tejpal’s sprawling new novel about crime and punishment, men’s laws and god’s laws, inside and outside of the iron bars, is a modern masterpiece.

Horace, in his Odes writes: “We believe that Jove is in Heaven because we hear his thunders peal”, an obvious inference being that “certainties” of power begin in fear, and this terror becomes justification for the world as it is. Assertion of power–individual or institutional–when coupled with the threat of violence, is single-mindedly directed to force compliance, rather than generate trust or respect. And against those who have fallen through the cracks of society, those who must be punished for their misdemeanours, imagined or real, it becomes the whip-hand. It is on this discomfiting premise that Tarun J. Tejpal magnificently amplifies in his recently released The Line of Mercy. Tracking the lives of inmates in a district jail, he is able to deliver a searing critique on the power-fear equation on which entire governmental and administration systems continue to be based. Characters that inhabit this space can expect no mercy, and must be made to pay, and to remember, that they are the lowest of the low, as the opening chapter of the book reminds us, “insects inside the shit of other insects”. The reduction of an individual to something less than human, so superbly presented in The Line of Mercy, is particularly reminiscent of Shalamov (Kolyma Stories) documenting not the scale of the gulag (as does Solzhenitsyn), but the existential insignificance of the inmate, made manifest in an enforced journey into debasement. Even as the metal doors of The Line of Mercy clang behind the “condemned”, the wheels of justice start to turn. And here wheels of justice mean just one thing variously interpreted at all levels – punishment. From the intimidation of baton-wielding cops to violent bullies from within the inmates (Peter the Fist), each passing judgment and chastisement, as per their whims – for, barring brute intimidation so customarily practised by officialdom, they have no other reference point. (“As outside the iron bars the poor and the ill-connected resigned themselves to dealing with the government’s lack of imagination….”).

Without stating it overtly even once – and the book abounds in these artfully concealed themes – it is this attribute that Tejpal deems central to the mastering of wretchedness: the individual imagination. In tracing story after story he identifies the imagination as the most important tool in the survival kit of the doomed. Those who possess it, survive, thrive, reimagine the meaning and metaphors of their life. Those who lack it, spend their time hunting to purloin some from those who have it – Mustafa always has an audience, Babu acolytes, Bobo grand designs, Peter followers, Sparkplug lovers….And those who fail at this primal ask, become wretches, benumbed, barely able to crawl forth from day to day. For them now remains only how to survive the system. And to wait for the miracle of a hearing, in which they may be heard. The use of a prison as a setting is perhaps most important in that while it is real, it is also symbolic. Pushed to an extreme, the power relations are more naked, the violence more open, the hand of fate more visible – providing a dramatic window to explore suppressed and twisted parts of our culture.

As his compelling narrative unfolds, Tejpal, more Dostoevsky (re: Notes from a Dead House) than Dickens, more Stendhal than Flaubert, more Fellini than Rossellini, goes on to peel layers revealing that while society inside the prison is crazy and oppressive, the society outside the prison is not very different. In a novel in which many characters are trapped in a literal prison, it is a neat twist that there is no one who is truly free. Those who are not confined by the law are trapped by their own personal guilts, prejudices, or inflexible belief systems.

Everyone—oppressor and oppressed, witness and actor—desperately needs someone to reach out to them across the line of mercy. Here, in another unstated, skilfully braided theme, the author suggests that whilst justice is masculine – hard, cold, even when it runs true; mercy is feminine, soft, absorptive – embracing, even if it runs flabby. Of the two, both elusive, one perhaps counts for more. As in Shalamov, those interned are dropped into the “dungeon of despair”: “Flies all green and buzzin’/In this dungeon of despair/Prisoners grumblin’/…Fifty ugly soldier men/Holdin’ spears by the iron door/…And the torture never stops/The torture never stops/…In dungeon of despair/Who are’ll those people/That is shut away down there/Are they crazy/Are they sainted/Are they heroes someone painted/Someone painted….” (Frank Zappa, The Torture Never Stops).

While the “dungeon of despair” in The Line of Mercy is no medieval torture chamber, it is something equally gothic – as place, and in the manner of dispensing justice. And who are these people in this dungeon of despair? “Are they heroes someone painted”?

They range from petty pilferers to kidnappers, murderers and framed innocents, each carrying his own baggage and burden. So many stories. The story of love-maddened Asambhav, of the abandoned boy Godwin, of the plumber Andha Kanoon, the circus performers Jogen Jabda and Atoum Bumb, Damodar Desai alias Dr Hagg, the multi-murderer Bichhhoo, the pimp Barretto, the catamite Aslam, mad-beautiful Mustafa…. And with electric detail and rare empathy, the author tracks their various paths as they become irreplaceable threads in this crowded-crazed tapestry.

Few writers of fiction from India – or elsewhere – have created more memorable, rich, varied and well-defined characters as Tejpal in The Line of Mercy. In so fecund a book, there is the one, outnumbered, only too human “Instrument of God”: the Judge, who opted for “wealthless honour”, who “believed her country was falling apart … and her duty was to be a stapler … to somehow hold the splintering pieces together…”. The space allocated to this character, the textual placement, in so vast a work, is a master-stroke. Her almost parenthetical (in the context) appearance serves to highlight even more that aching sense of the remoteness of justice.

Indeed, so well is the narrative charted, so well does one character meld into another, so intuitive is the author’s feel for language, detail, and local idiom, for that scorching insight, that Mercy pulls of the illusion of all great art—a timeless quality, a universal resonance. As the actors wait, prisoners all even if not behind any iron bars; wait hopefully, hopelessly, for some sort of deliverance. For all the complexity and seriousness of the issues the The Line of Mercy deals with, it is a very wry wit—ironic, acerbic, often laugh-out-loud—so necessary to the survival of the meanest and the most wretched, that holds the master plot together.

(The reviewer is a Toronto-based novelist and critic. Contact: sidhu_amarjit@hotmail.com)

Continue Reading

Trending