If you are an avid reader of fiction chances are you have heard about The Girl, Opal and Kirin. Ok so maybe hardly anyone has read about the The Girl, some know about Kirin and everyone knows about Opal. These are the literary offspring of Sonia Faleiro, Kavya Vishwanathan and Samit Basu. They are on my list together just to present the different faces of contemporary fiction by young Indians, I don’t intend to compare them with one another.
Sonia Faleiro’s book, The Girl, was the slimmest and the most difficult to read. The fault could be mine. She has been published by Penguin and quite likely has a niche readership for fiction of her kind. It is a soulful, dark, existential kind of literature. Not my cup of anything. The plot is slimmer than the book There is this girl (always referred to as the Girl in a very Rebecca-ish way) who is coping with loss in a small village in Goa called Azul. Her mother and grandma just died. Her uncle decamped with the all that was worth owning in their house, sold the house, dumped the grandfather in an old age home and abandoned the Girl to her devices. Cruel ! The Girl's mom left her a house in Azul so that’s where she lands up. She is kind of passing time, in a haze of depression from the recent events, when a foreign tourist, Luke, enters her life. After a while, maybe bored or restless, he leaves. The girl finds herself pregnant, and unable to cope with the rejection and a baby on the way, she commits suicide. But don’t expect the story to told to you in a straightforward manner. Most time the novel meanders around some small details. The young (and pretty) author does not flesh out her characters and they float through her narrative like ghosts. I found the novel quite tedious to read and the story hard to extract. There are some loose ends, what did happen to the priest who disappeared? Was Luke just lurking around somewhere? Why does he return to Azul after the girl dies? Simon is supposed to love the girl, but he is just on the border of the story, hanging around.
Kavya has been written about extensively, thanks to the passages worked into two books simultaneously by the creative agency that helped both the authors write the books. Okay, that is a categorical statement, but that is what I have deduced as the truth behind the whole scam. Poor Kavya fell between two stools of trying to fulfill her own creativity and trying to live up to the expectations of her publishers. Moral of the story is, write only to fulfill your creativity. How Opal Mehta … has been classified as Chick Lit for young women. The writing is perky, full of interesting incidents that carry the story forward. The plot is simple: Opal is asked what she likes to do for fun during her admission interview for Harvard. All she has to say is that she likes to solve an unproven physics theory for fun. But she is a child of rote education. Her parents have taken over her brain and think for her. Hence she is freaked out by this question she has not prepared for and thinks (a wish that lies latent in her heart?) that she needs to get a life. Get a life means getting drunk, kissing boys, getting into trouble etc. Her parents are determined to make her succeed and lay plans for her get a life. This is how a studious, plain Opal is transformed into a teenager who drops famous brands from the tips of her eyelashes (MAC) to her Jimmy Choos (good thing her parents were loaded). She takes further wrong steps and lands into a mess. Until she realizes that she has to think for herself, and tell her parents, please people, stay out of my life. She does get into Harvard, but only when she lets out accidentally, (she never does understand his question) to her interviewer that she solved the unproven physics theory for fun.
Samit Basu writes a comic SFF. In India we are inundated with fantasy fiction. We have jataka tales, fables, epics, folklore, ghost stories strewn around us. On top of that if you are an avid reader of comic books starring some kind of a superhero, and SFF fiction of all kinds and varieties, you have a merry grist for your mill. But still, you need a rare kind of a talent to spin a yarn. Samit Basu, thankfully for us, has that talent. So far he has unleashed two books upon us, Simoqin Prophecies and The Manticore’s Secret. He brings out this unique story of an alternate world (the center of which is KOL -Calcutta?). It is a story of demons and superheroes, bad and good people, secret agents and assassins, dwarves, magical devices, magic people. He uses all the cliches of the super-world and then turns them on their heads. His James Bond is an ugly dwarf who happens to be a natty dresser. His heroine keeps a Bridget Jones like diary, his hero is a villain, and you aren’t sure whether he intends to destroy or save the world. He manages to weave the story skillfully, keep our interest alive and by golly, we are salivating for the third and conclusive book! (Replace we with I in case you don’t like this genre)
1. The Radiance of Ashes by Cyrus Mistry
2. Maximum City by Suketu Mehta
3. Sacred Games by Vikram Chandra
The prime sensibility here is Mumbai. All the books are set in Mumbai. I have yet to read the 3rd, am waiting eagerly to do so.
1. Whattabook! the least hyped of the three. not the best book ever, but certainly top of the line. a flawed hero copes with life in Mumbai. the author tells his story simply, then whammy! there is a gorgeous paragraph or a line that leaves you gasping. It was born of an award winning short story that begged to be extended. and Cyrus does that with aplom, fleshing out some good characters. I get the impression that it was written by a shy bespectacled retiring kind of a fellow. someone who would withdraw possessively if you tried to discuss the book with him.
"Twenty five stories below, the city looked different. Almost beautiful."
For years to come, some avid lover of books is going pick this book out of the shelf of a library or bookstore, leaf thru a few pages and pick it up for reading. In doing so the reader will be charmed anew by his lovely prose and a delicate story.
2. Suketu Mehta is the richest author of the three. His book was commissioned and he had good money to write too. Not to detract from the book, of course. He is more than capable of the charge. Although the book is a documentary, it reads like a novel. He called himself 'bi-textual' a cross between a fiction writer and a reporter. His book takes you thru a roller coaster ride of Mumbai's various features, underworld, bomb blasts, politics, topography, food, bar girls, movies, police and even a description of the Jain diksha ceremony. His 'bi-textual' facility guides you easily through the book. the real characters with fictionalised names are garnered with spice. the famous names are left bare for all to see.
Just when i was admiring the fact that he seemed so non-judgemental while describing killers, Suketu kind of spoiled things for me by being judgemental. but i suppose he couldn't help it, maybe he was overcome by disgust. Anyhow, he does not pull punches (if he does, he masks it too well for me to notice). The book punches you in the solar plexus (to borrow a word I read a lot in the James Hadley Chase novels) knocks the wind out of you and shakes you up.
3.. Wait guys, I have yet to read the book
The book bestows a charmed status on that dirty ungainly crowded traffic infested monstrosity that is Mumbai. The people who love it love it a lot, I know not why.
Published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux Borrowed @ Browser, Sector 9, Chandigarh
Well, Bunker 13 went a little haywire in the end, though the reading was fun. It was a guy kind of book, all about guns and mayhem. Most times I felt as it was written for the glorification of the main protagonist, Minty Mehta, a Defence Correspondant. Wink Wink, if you get my meaning.
So dears pick it up at your peril. if you are in defence.. please do