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Since 1st March, 1999
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Paperback Pickings

Why does the sky smell sour'

The Tenth Rasa (Penguin, Rs 295) edited by Michael Heyman, Sumanyu Satpathy and Anushka Ravishankar is “an anthology of Indian nonsense”, where each editor contributes a section of the introduction. The ‘untranslatability’ of nonsense is, as the editors admit at the outset, one of the biggest challenges facing such a project as theirs. Satyajit Ray is one of the few who managed to translate the register of Lear’s “Jumblies” in his “Papangul”, or of Carroll’s “Jabberwocky” in his “Joborkhaki”. Unfortunately, these do not find a mention in the otherwise comprehensive and enriching introduction, which only has references to Ray’s introduction to The Select Nonsense of Sukumar Ray. Sampurna Chatterjee’s translations of Sukumar Ray’s nonsense verse and stories are quite well-known (although some of Sukanta Chaudhuri’s translations could also have been included, if only to let the readers compare). Shanta Shelke’s “Once...” — which goes “Once, flowers became children/ And children became flowers!/ The children sat in the garden,/ And the flowers went to class...” — seems to have retained its original Marathi flavour through Anita Vachharajani’s English rendering. The Oriya limericks translated by Sumanyu Satpathy are enjoyable too, as is the innovative section on “Nonsense in Hindi film” (which, of course, has the unforgettable Anthony Gonzalves speech from Amar Akbar Anthony). Perhaps the strikingly similar thoughts shared by the Tamil folk nonsense poem, “Grandpa’s beard”, with Lear’s limerick about an old man and his beard prove the universal brotherhood of nonsense poets.

Iraq, Inc.: A Profitable Occupation (Earthcare, Rs 195) by Pratap Chatterjee is another book which provides ‘the real story’ of the Iraq war — and that is, obviously, miles away from the version handed out by the occupation forces. But again, the stakes of Halliburton, Bechtel and their likes in the ‘destruction-followed-by-reconstruction’ of Iraq are quite well-known by now. Chatterjee, an investigative journalist, unveils one racket after another, and at the end, it is possible to see a sinister design emerging.

The cricinfo guide to international cricket 2007 (Penguin, Rs 295) edited by Steven Lynch is a ready reckoner for today’s cricket lover and sports journalist, just ahead of the World Cup. The profiles of individual cricketers are truly well-written. Not many handbooks will tell you that Mohammad Yousuf “is particularly strong driving through the covers and flicking wristily off his legs, and has a backlift as decadent and delicious as any, although a tendency to overbalance when playing across his front leg can get him into trouble”. The guidelines for using “Statsguru” are most helpful.

The Life and Times of the Nawabs of Lucknow (Rupa, Rs 295) by Ravi Bhatt has a wealth of historical research behind it, but it does not intimidate the reader, nor is it dry and pedantic. For one, the chapters are short, although brought together under four broad sections: “Palace politics”, “Art and culture”, “Begums” and “Life and living in Lucknow”. For another, the language employed is closer to that of the storyteller than the historian. Sample this account of the eccentric classical singer, Haider Khan’s (popularly known as Sidi Haidary) encounter with Nawab Ghazi-ud-din: “Once at the palace, the genius started singing his melodious compositions so well that the Nawab almost went into a trance. But then, Haidary suddenly stopped singing. When the Nawab requested that he continue, Haidary asked, “The tobacco that you are smoking in your hookah is very good. From which shop did you buy it'”

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