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Paperback Pickings

History gets in the way of memory

Noor (Penguin, Rs 250) by Sorayya Khan is a quiet, moving, occasionally mystical novel, written with restraint and care. The epigraph is a line from Aga Shahid Ali’s poetry: “Your history gets in the way of memory.” The saga of the strange child, Noor, and her compulsive crayon sketches, begins in 1971, in East Pakistan. Two catastrophes frame her life — a cyclone which hit East Pakistan in 1970, killing a million people, and the Bangladesh War. Noor’s mother, Sajida, was found wandering on the pavement as a child, and was picked up and brought home by a Pakistani soldier, where she grew up in the care of his mother, Nanijaan. She marries her college sweetheart, Hussein, and Noor is their third, mentally disabled child. Noor starts sketching with the crayons given her by Nanijaan, and a bizarre world of memories returns through her drawings, which implicates her entire family in their reckonings with the past.

The Birth Of The Maitreya (Stree, Rs 300) by Bani Basu is Sipra Bhattacharya’s translation of Maitreya Jataka (1996). Basu explains that it is not a biography of the Buddha nor a historical romance, but a jataka reconstruction of an era. Her special endeavour has been “to place the Buddha’s spiritualism as the backdrop of his personality, and then to observe him as an extremely important being in the eyes of his own age and in the judgments of modern times”.

Turtle nest (Penguin, Rs 275) by Chandani Lokugé is a rather too exotic novel about the troubled Aruni, of Sri Lankan origin but now living in Melbourne. She returns to Sri Lanka, where she divides her time among enjoying the company of the beach boys, an Australian married man and finding out about her mother — with tragic consequences.

On communalism and globalization: offensives of the far right (Three Essays Collective, Rs 150) by Aijaz Ahmad is a collection of essays first sent to press in June 2002, “in a moment of foreboding, in the aftermath of the Gujarat pogrom”. They discuss the progress of neo-imperialism and the influence of fascism in the third world. “Never on history has the far right come to power on its own; it initially comes to power on its own, rather, when the left gets isolated and the liberal centre collapses, parts of it submitting itself to the dominance of the far right and other parts rendering themselves ineffectual through internecine quarrels and a politics of opportunism and incoherent tactics without any overall strategy of frontal confrontation.” (What is frontal confrontation')


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