The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
Email This Page
Paperback Pickings

I am alone and find my way

desirable daughters (Rupa, Rs 195) by Bharati Mukherjee is a novel intriguingly dedicated to “Clark-babu”. Its epigraph — a piece of Sanskrit verse adapted by Octavio Paz and translated by Eliot Weinberger — provides a beautiful point of entry into its mongrel universe: “No one behind, no one ahead./ The path the ancients cleared has closed. And the other path, everyone’s path,/ Easy and wide, goes nowhere./ I am alone and find my way.” Mukherjee writes a richly textured novel which moves between a traditional Bengali Brahmin family and contemporary America, mediated by the subjectivity of her protagonist, Tara, and the contrary pulls that complicate her existence. There are also her ex-husband, teenage son, and Hungarian-Buddhist lover. The opening showcases Mukherjee’s virtuosic prose: “In the mind’s eye, a one-way procession of flickering oil-lamps sways along the muddy shanko between rice paddies and flooded ponds, and finally disappears into a distant wall of impenetrable jungle. Banks of fog rise from warmer waters, mingle with smoke from the cooking fires, and press in a dense sooty collar, a permeable gray wall that parts, then seals, igniting a winter chorus of retching coughs and loud spitting. Tuberculosis is everywhere.”

flavours of delhi: a food lover’s guide (Penguin, Rs 295) by Charmaine O’Brien is an attractively designed, eccentrically researched and creatively presented book on the culinary history of Delhi. It juxtaposes recipes with eating and food-shopping guides organized around the unfolding of Delhi’s history — from ancient through the Mughal and colonial periods, to the Partition, and then right up to the present. An original, sensible and readable book.

the deathtrap (Rupa, Rs 95) by Sunil Gangopadhyay is Kurchi Dasgupta’s rather undistinguished translation of a reasonably well-known Bengali thriller in the Kakababu-Shantu series.It is not easy to translate contemporary colloquial Bengali into English without taking away the natural cadences of everday speech. Ray’s Feluda stories do not work in English for this reason. This book too sounds bland, and the bits of folk-poetry at the end sound stilted and unharmonized with the surrounding talk. Moreover, there are printing errors. If the point of these translations isto woo non-Bengali readers into reading Bengali fiction, then Rupa will have to do a better job. There are more readable thrillers in the English language — slicker, more tightly plotted and more racily written. And Kakababu-veterans will prefer reading him in the original.

Email This Page