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Paperback Pickings

Light through the veil

40 days and 1001 nights: One woman’s dance through life in the Islamic world (Jaico, Rs 295) by Tamalyn Dallal talks about a journey that may have been inspired by an Arabic proverb. “To understand a people”, the saying goes, “you must live among them for 40 days.” The author, enthused with this bit of ancient wisdom, travels across five points in the Islamic world — Indonesia, Egypt, Zanzibar, Jordan and Xinjiang, a Mulsim-dominated, autonomous region in China. Dallal is no tourist, though: she embarks on the trip to learn the truth about Islamic culture, and ends up making many other wonderful discoveries. In Banda Aceh, Indonesia, she stumbles on to one of the last surviving matriarchal cultures, while in Jordan, she delves into a traditional world, carefully hidden under a plush, modern exterior. Crucially, the journey also helps Dallal shed her apprehension about the Islamic world being intrinsically violent and intolerant. Dallal uses a lucid prose, free of the burden of politics or ideology which makes her work enjoyable. The dull images accompanying the text could have been improved upon.

Dissonance and other stories (Katha, Rs 250) by Jayakanthan collects some of the shorter masterpieces of the acclaimed genius of 20th century Tamil literature. Jayakanthan was the great stylist of Tamil, just as Sadat Hasan Manto was responsible for fashioning out of Urdu a strikingly modern idiom. Both the writers were also united in their shared interest in the low life, their disdain for the veneer of respectability surrounding the urban middle class, and in their taste for the macabre and the bizarrely erotic. K.S. Subramanian’s translation brings out the bristling irreverence of Jayakanthan’s prose, the pithy sentences, laconic, episodic sequences appear taut, full of suspense and secrecy. There are moments of sheer brilliance, as in the ironic reversal in “Cover”, where young Gopalan’s raging hormones dissolve into the pity of things as he rushes off to cover a madwoman, standing stark naked on the road.

YOU CAN SAVE THE PLANET: A DAY IN THE LIFE OF YOUR CARBON FOOTPRINT (A & C Black, Rs 395) by Rich Hough catalogues how we contribute to environmental pollution through our ostensibly harmless regular activities. It addresses school students. The problems and their solutions involve domestic as well as the larger social surroundings. The colourful paperback is a pleasant deviation from the worn-out environmental-studies jargon. However, it is not free from the monotony of didacticism, probably because its target readers are non-adults. The novel facts on environmental perils (“for every 10 grams of gold extracted...18 tonnes of waste ore are created”) are backed up by tips, such as moving furniture away from radiators to minimize energy consumption, reducing bathing time, not wearing synthetic clothes, using dishwashers, and so on. Many of these are not viable for all. The glossary and list of useful websites on environment are a bigger help.

Urban voice 3: Bombay (Frog, Rs 195) brings together “writings from and on Bombay”. There are short stories, poems and even the odd interview, but they have nothing new to offer, save clichéd themes depicting this bustling metropolis. Thus, we encounter (again!) tales about Bombay’s resilience after the bomb blasts, the warmth of its people, Bollywood, and so on. Vimla Patil’s “Magical memories”, surprisingly, touches a chord, with its earnest longing for a world made of tile-roofed houses, old temples and curative herbs that is now lost forever.


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