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Paperback Pickings

Picturing the enemy

Dateline Islamabad (Penguin, Rs 295) by Amit Baruah is a chronicle of this Indian journalist’s brief stay in Islamabad. During his stay, Baruah discovered aspects that both confirmed as well as debunked the popular Indian perception of Pakistan being a “hostile nation”. There were problems aplenty — Baruah and his family were closely watched by intelligence officers and, on some occasions, he was also kept from reporting freely on tumultuous events such as the Kandahar hijack crisis that took place in neighbouring Afghanistan. But there were moments of pure joy as well — he met ordinary people who were hospitable and generous to this outsider. Crisply written, with a keen eye for detail, Baruah provides a fascinating journalistic account of his time in a country, which, to an Indian reporter, is always the “biggest story”.

The Dark Side (Anthem, Rs 195) by Sathya Saran brings together a collection of short stories, which, the author writes, could be taken “on a train journey” or read during “a rainy day”. Saran’s tales straddle two worlds, one surreal, the other, real. Thus, we have a train encounter between a woman and a “beautiful and mad” Transylvanian whose great-grandfather was a wolf. For those who are inclined to a taste of the real, Saran has thrown in tales about love and understanding. This dreary book is perfect to spoil a journey by train.

A Golden Age (John Murray, £10.99) by Tahmima Anam offers a glimpse of ordinary people living in extraordinary times. Set against the backdrop of the Bangladeshi war of independence, the novel depicts the hardship, despair, passion and hope of a people who were witnessing the birth of a new era. Rehana Haque, the protagonist, suddenly discovers that her quiet life is destined to change for- ever, even as her country lurches through a great historical event. And, like the rest, she too finds herself staring at a difficult choice, one that must be made for her family to survive. Anam’s prose is at once beautiful and sad — “A man lived in our house for ninety-six days…In the midst of all the madness I found the world seemed right for the first time in a very long time…And yes, I loved him. For the small- est fraction of those ninety-six days, I loved him.” This is a promising debut by a gifted novelist.


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