|THE RED CARPET |
By Lavanya Sankaran
Headline Book Publishing
Price: Rs 295 Pages: 215
Show me a collection of linked short stories and nine times out of ten I will show you a failed novel with a tenuous theme holding together characters in the same apartment block or city. The tenth time it is a collection like Lavanya Sankaran's The Red Carpet, easily one of the most unselfconscious and engaging debuts of the year.
The eight stories of The Red Carpet are set in Bangalore, a city hymned about more often in the pink papers than in contemporary fiction. Sankaran writes about it with a rare fluency and intimacy. She knows every corner and nuance of this world of laidback software millionaires and young affluent couples, Enid Blyton-worshipping schoolgirls and reluctant marriageable postgraduates, and she writes about it with contagious affection. She could be the poster-girl for the emerging generation of writers who are replacing angst, guilt and confusion with curiosity, confidence and an easy familiarity with the many places they can call home.
Sankaran maps the stories of her characters in the same way we map our lives. Half-forgotten figures emerge full-blown from memory, classmates or colleagues go in different directions and bump into each other years later; some encounters change our lives, some leave our lives untouched. In stories like "Two Four Six Eight" and "Mysore Coffee", where Sankaran explores dark memories-a young girl at the mercy of a scheming aayah, a woman struggling to make sense of her father's suicide-her deft touch allied with a strong plot creates brilliant fiction. Other stories verge on slightness; "Closed Curtains" and "Bombay This" survive on wry, pithy observations, but they remain muffled, as though someone pressed the mute button on Sankaran's prose.
Ramu's bride-hunting travails are the burden of the first story, "Bombay This"; when he pops up as a minor character in "Mysore Coffee", we recognise his ruthless charm immediately. Tara Srinivasan is a passing shadow in one story, a better cameo in another, and finally she gets her own space in "Birdie Num-Num". It can be tricky, bringing it about without forcing the reader to construct elaborate maps in order to figure out who appeared where and why, but for the most part, Sankaran pulls it off.
More than the clash between tradition and modernity, Sankaran is fascinated by nuances and contrasts, the different degrees of tension that keep the wires humming in a city like Bangalore. Her India, as Swamy in "Apple Pie, One by Two" puts it, is the land of "opportunity and hassle in equal measure". But Swamy also knows that "the land of dreams" is "always reconfiguring into the one left behind, tinged with regret and wistful desire". Priya's parents, in "Alphabet Soup", looked back at India even as they escaped it; Priya looks to India as she tries to escape the land of "Money and McNuggets"-the backward glance is always slightly blurred.
Who is this book written for? For the mothers who extend a grudging acceptance towards their rebellious daughters, for the daughters who shuttle between tank tops and saris with wry exasperation, the boys who grew up in India listening to Jimi Hendrix and the ones who came back from "phoren" to find untraditional brides. It is for those whose software dollars built the new, crowded Bangalore and those who chauffeur them around, for the ones who have always lived in the city and the ones who are trying to make a new life there. It is for anyone who has lived at home and contemplated the world abroad, and all those who have lived elsewhere and contemplated the land they left behind. In short, it is for the reader. Any reader, anywhere.
|MESSRES DICKENS, DOYLE & WODEHOUSE PVT LTD |
By Neelum Saran Gour
Price: Rs 220 Pages: 215
Three writers with diverse oeuvres-Charles Dickens, Arthur Conan Doyle and P.G. Wodehouse-come alive as Gour's imagination takes wing and creates an outrageous tale of adventure and fun.
|NIRVANA: BUDDHIST PILGRIMAGES IN INDIA |
By Subhadra Sen Gupta
Price: Rs 295 Pages: 161
An enlightening journey down the millennia, the book spans the life and teachings of Gautam Buddha. Also thrown in is an itinerary of places associated with Buddha like Bodh Gaya, Sarnath and Sanchi.
|SECRET HISTORIES |
By Emma Larkin
Price: £ 7.99
The author is on a mission to trace the basis of George Orwell's chilling divinations. In modern-day Burma, throttled by a cruel dictatorship, Larkin comes across terrifying parallels of the prophesied inequities.