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Paperback Pickings

Old wine and new women

Accidental India (Aleph, Rs 695) by Shankkar Aiyar is “a history of the nation’s passage through crisis and change”. The author reflects on why India “always seems to be teetering on the brink of disaster”. The reasons he provides are well known — missed opportunities, poor planning and shoddy execution, and only a few successful initiatives. The author argues that these few successes have either happened by accident or have been engineered by crisis. To prove his point, he sites seven turning points in the history of India — the liberalization of the economy, the green revolution, the nationalization of banks, the formation of the Amul model, the mid-day meal scheme, the software revolution and the Right to Information Act — none of which, he says, was the result of proper planning. While the depth of the author’s knowledge of the socio-political history of India is admirable, his theory might seem too simplistic and his approach too one-dimensional.

The Teller of Tales (Penguin, Rs 299) by Bhaskar Ghose presents an account that might seem warmly familiar to the middle-class working man anywhere in India. The main character, Arunava Varman, is a schoolteacher who was once a civil servant. He loves to tell stories after a couple of drinks, especially to his close friend, Tapan. These stories, often strange and exciting, lights up the dreary hours of Tapan’s otherwise boring life as a bureaucrat. But as Tapan spends more time with his friend and gets to know Arunava better, he discovers that his stories contain many ambiguities. The novel is about Tapan’s — and the reader’s — struggle with the facts and the fiction in the tales told by a seasoned storyteller. It is quite an enjoyable read.

Bonsai Kitten (Jufic, Rs 195) by Lakshmi Narayan is the same old wine presented in a spunky bottle. It is yet another story of an Indian wife cheated and mistreated by her husband, who decides to break the rules, turn the tables and get a new life when she has had enough. But Narayan’s presentation of this story — in the form of diary entries that often provide interesting diversions — manages to keep the reader interested only through the first few pages. As soon as one understands the predictable turn the plot is going to take, one is bound to feel disappointed.

Fosla: Frustrated One-sided Lovers’ Association (Rupa, Rs 175) by Pradeep Kapoor is, of course, about “loving and living in a medical college”. As the title clearly suggests, the “loving” bit overshadows the “living”. Male medicos trying to get lucky in love — and failing, and trying again — is what the 217 pages are all about. When the author realizes that he is being extremely repetitive and tedious, he throws in funny trivia about bullying professors and surgical mishaps at the dissection table. The language is so full of Indianisms that one is compelled to wonder why the author chose to write in English at all. Spending money on this book can be as futile as trying to study medicine while nursing a romantic hangover.

Warrior in a Pink Sari (Zubaan, Rs 325) by Sampat Pal is “the inside story of the Gulabi Gang as told to Anne Berthod”. Pal, the leader of the Gulabi Gang, hails from a village in Uttar Pradesh. She heads a vigilante women’s group, the members of which wear pink saris as uniform, visit police stations and the district magistrate’s office with sticks in their hands, and, in their own way, fight patriarchy, caste and corruption. This account can be quite inspiring, and not just for women.