The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Paperback Pickings

Marooned in the middle of the bed

Video (Anchor, $ 12) by Meera Nair is subtitled, in Devnagari, “Kahaniyaan”, and each of these unpretentious pieces is a very gripping yarn, set in the daily lives of ordinary Indians, reminiscent of the stories of O.Henry and Grace Paley. The deadpan raciness of Nair’s storytelling affords fleeting glimpses of a sophisticated sense of the perverse, seldom overstated, but caught in a simple, taut prose style. Details light up, precisely depicted, yet opaque and intriguing. The opening story is about a lower-middle-class man whose conjugal life is thrown into disarray after he watches a porn video. Nair’s resolutions are unpredictable. The smoothness of her writing — she has studied creative writing at NYU — might pall a bit: “He looked at her now as she sat marooned in the middle of the bed. The light from the streetlamp filtered through the cotton curtains, turning her broad back pale blue. It was hot and still and Naseer shivered involuntarily as the sweat on his legs dried.”

Communal Politics: Facts versus Myths (Sage, Rs 295) by Ram Puniyani is an invaluable book of reference that systematically deconstructs the equally systematic perversion of history, knowledge and rationality at the heart of modern Hindutva. Puniyani is an IIT professor in biomedical engineering who has been associated with different secular initiatives for many years. This book makes an exhaustive inventory of the various lies, false beliefs, misinformation and more dangerous misconceptions in Hindu fundamentalism, in order to demolish them with rationally deployed historical information. There are detailed chapters on ancient India as Hindu Golden Age, the causes of the Partition, the Kashmir imbroglio, appeasement of the minorities, Babri Masjid, Christian conversions and the Gujarat genocide and its aftermath. This is a lucidly written and accessibly laid-out book which deserves to be widely circulated.

Rusty, the Boy from the Hills (Puffin, Rs 199) by Ruskin Bond is a set of beautiful stories for younger readers, featuring Rusty, a quiet and sensitive boy who lives with his grandparents in pre-Independence Dehra Dun. The oddest things happen to Rusty, like having to deal with his grandfather’s pet python which falls in love with its own image in the mirror and spends the rest of its days curled up in a narcissistic haze. Bond follows Rusty from his early childhood to his early teens, when Rusty has to leave his arcadia in the hills and everything becomes uncertain again.

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