The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Paperback Pickings

Manhattan banker swings both ways

The Three of Us (Penguin, Rs 250) by Abha Dawesar is about a dishy young Manhattan banker going to bed with both men and women, and eventually preferring the former to the latter. There is a lot of sex and some rudimentary emotional complication involving human mortality and babies. This is, after all, promiscuity in the age of AIDS. There is an attempt at adding value to the slick-minimalist mindlessness of the writing by making the protagonist watch Buñuel and Bergman and listen to Mozart and Ravel between (and during) bouts of poly-sexual humping. Dawesar is a Harvard graduate, evidently knows her Jules et Jim and can strike a note of jaded sophistication by using the word “sick” in a vaguely postmodern way: “A little bit of me felt sick at the thought of the overlapping conjugation: Nathan-Sybil, Nathan-Martha, Nathan-Me.” “Overlapping conjugation” is not a bad phrase, but one has to wade through a lot of uninspiring sex-writing to come to it. Male gay erotica by a south Asian woman is an interesting concept.

Yadav: A Roadside Love Story (Penguin, Rs 250) by Jill Lowe is an extraordinary romance which needed a more ruthless editor. Once one gets used to Lowe’s gush, her openness to new people in unfamiliar worlds and the disarming honesty with which she writes about her personal needs become engrossing in themselves. This is the story of an upper-class Londoner who loses everything in her early fifties after an unfortunate marriage, comes to travel in India, falls in love with her Haryanvi taxi-driver, marries him and makes a wonderfully muddled life with him. If Indian readers catch themselves making snide remarks about the affair, it is because of their entrenched attitudes to social class and sexuality, and to the idea of the not-so-obviously-young falling romantically in love with each other. It is worth trying to read this book for its disarming candour and for its ability to startle the reader out of his conventional assumptions.

The River and Life: People’s Struggle in the Narmada Valley (Earthcare, Rs 180) by Sanjay Sangvai provides a brief outline of the history, agenda and formation of the Narmada Bachao Andolan against the Sardar Sarovar Project as a “non-violent people’s movement”. It not only questions the paradigm of modern “development”, but also charts out an alternative path of humane, just and sustainable development rooted in a truly democratic polity. There is a detailed chronology of the movement, and other useful documents are reproduced in a number of appendices.

Translating Desire: The Politics of Gender and Culture in India (Katha, Rs 295) edited by Brinda Bose is a handsomely designed anthology of cutting-edge essays which try to sound the “conspiracy of silence regarding sexuality in India”. The spaces in which these sexualities are expressed (repress-ed') or represented are historical, political, social and cultural. “What constitutes these spaces'” asks Bose in her introduction, “Where do they hide, and when do they become visible' Who inhabits them, and who receives them' How do they translate into meaning in our everyday — as well as extraordinary — lives, and once translated, how do they read'” There are essays on Eurasians, witches, mainstream Bombay cinema, Hindutva, Sananda (a Bengali women’s magazine), Malayalam literature, food and women’s bodies, female homoeroticism in India, Deepa Mehta’s Fire, Shekhar Kapoor’s Bandit Queen, Indian rape laws, and feminist translation theory (and practice). There is a short story, “Bangalore”, by Sherry Simon. This is an important book for students and academics, bringing together the work of teachers and research scholars from India, Canada and America.

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