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Since 1st March, 1999
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Paperback Pickings

Sai Baba, Bugs Bunny and confusion

In which annie gives it those ones: the original screenplay (Penguin, Rs 295) by Arundhati Roy dredges up from oblivion a little-known period piece, made for Doordarshan in the late Eighties, about a bunch of Indian architecture students in the “dope-smoking, bellbottom-wearing” mid-Seventies. Roy plays Radha (“I look like the anorexic progeny of an unholy union between Sai Baba and Bugs Bunny”) and a “jejune” Shah Rukh Khan is the gay college gossip. The film would now need subtitles, since Roy had set out to capture the English spoken by Delhi University students in the mid-Seventies, a “fabulously un-slick era” whose “innocence” Roy “aches for”. Annie had got the prize for Best Film in Languages Other Than Those Specified in Schedule VIII of the Indian Constitution. But the idea of “lunatic fringe cinema, fully financed by Doordarshan” gives Roy a special kick. There is much self-congratulatory nostalgia in her foreword: “I had almost forgotten that Annie contains the rough, jagged nuggets of the incipient political process — all those questions, all that youthful confusion.”

Nneem dreams (Rupa, Rs 295) by Inez Baranay is a feat of bad writing, originally part of an Australian creative writing doctorate. England, Australia and India, and eco- science, rural development and cosmetics are churned together in an energetically overwritten and breathless prose to produce a richly unreadable novel. The opening sentence reads, “It is the best tree in the world. It is the miracle tree, it is the tree of blessings, it is the FREE tree.”

Orienting India (Three Essays, Rs 100) by Vasudha Dalmia is subtitled “European knowledge formation in the 18th and 19th centuries”. It collects three short essays on the ways in which Europeans appropriated Indian history, scholarship and ritual to assert their own relationship with India. The essays study Max Mueller on the Vedic past, the Benares Sanskrit College in the late 19th century and the 1820s parliamentary papers on sati.

Away: the indian writer as an expatriate (Penguin, Rs 395) edited by Amitava Kumar is “a record of Indian voices away from India”. It collects a wide range of Indian writers reflecting on India or the West, from a more or less expatriate position. Kumar describes the book as a “homage to the ordinary experience of migration which can be at once modest and magnificent”. Tagore, Rushdie, Gandhi, Ramanujan, Kureishi, Ghosh and the Chaudhuris, Nirad C. and Amit, are among those anthologized.

Bombay, meri jaan: writings on mumbai (Penguin, Rs 395) edited by Jerry Pinto and Naresh Fernandes is a wonderful collection of writing — poetry, fiction, theatre, social history, memoirs, journalism — on India’s most cosmopolitan city. There are Duke Ellington, Kipling, Huxley, Theroux and Malraux among the foreigners, together with Indian writers like Kushwant Singh, Gavaskar, Salim Ali, Rushdie and Ezekiel, among others. There is a good translation of Arun Kolatkar’s poem, “Fire”, a beautiful photo-feature on the waterfront and a fine piece on the “encounter cops” of the Mumbai police.

India and the wto (Oxford and the World Bank, price not mentioned) edited by Aaditya Mattoo and Robert M. Stern regards India as a developing economy of key importance in the WTO, playing a pivotal role in the negotiation and design of the Doha development agenda. The chapters in this volume provide new information and analysis to policymakers and other stakeholders in India, and seek to assist them in articulating their interests and in developing negotiating strategies.

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