Struggles and pledges
The Perfect Gentleman: A Muslim Boy meets the West (Center Street, Rs 550) by Imran Ahmad is an insightful and humorous memoir. The author handles issues such as racism in deft prose and with deadpan humour. The book traces the life of a Muslim boy who moves to London from Pakistan when he is just a year old. Ahmad paints a deeply emotional picture of a boy grappling with two different cultures and struggling to fit in.The reader can identify with the child’s experiences, laugh at his faux pas and marvel at his honesty. The strong afterword — which begins with a quote by St Paul, who, according to Ahmad, is the “architect of the theological rift between Islam and Christianity” — reflects the author’s irritation at the unfairness of the world he lives in. His emphasis on the belief that man is nothing without love is striking. Ahmad keeps his writing style deliberately simple, and the self-deprecating humour in the book makes it an entertaining read.
Che in Paona Bazaar: tales of Exile and Belonging from India’s North-east (Macmillan, Rs 399) by Kishalay Bhattacharjee is an account of the lives of people in a part of India that is often ignored by the rest of the nation. Bhattacharjee, a veteran journalist, tries to demystify the ‘imagined community’ of the Northeast that was once just a source of ‘news’ for him. The book winds through the shared personal anecdotes of several northeastern youngsters. A strife-torn Manipur is the playing field of Bhattacharjee’s book, though the seething politics in equally volatile states such as Nagaland, Meghalaya and Assam also feature in the account The author delves into public memory and tries to bring to life a people whose lives and struggles never made it to newspapers and television screens. The tales are a result of a long and unflinching look into Manipur’s past.The author’s depiction of reality is hard-hitting; he effectively portrays the truth about a troubled part of the country where the people grapple for a semblance of normalcy.
Panchali’s Pledge (Everyman, Rs 350) by Subramania Bharati is a translation of Panchali Sabadham, the Tamil poem which reimagines the pivotal game of dice in the Mahabharata in which Yudhishthir stakes and loses his kingdom,wealth, brothers and finally his wife, Draupadi. Enraged at being disrobed publicly and the indifference of the people who watched it happen, Draupadi — also known as Panchali — pledges to avenge her humiliation. Draupadi is referred to as Devi, making her a manifestation of Shakti, the Mother Goddess.The book is a political allegory for the freedom movement and affirms the strength of women. The poem is a rich and textured literary work. Divided into five cantos, it has the features of an epic — evocative language and a timeless theme. Usha Rajagopalan’s translation seeks to complement Bharati’s endeavour to create an epic using simple phrases and style. The former takes care not to stray from the essence of the original work.
The Unkindest Cut (Frog, Rs 250) by Sumit Mullick is the story of a police officer who is hunted and convicted for a crime he did not commit. He stands disgraced in the eyes of a deeply prejudiced society that thrives on stereotypes. The protagonist finds himself accused of having assaulted his wife; before long, self proclaimed crusaders join in the vicious battle against him.
Mullick tries very hard to keep his prose interesting, but the plot loses steam midway through the novel. The author’s style of writing is hackneyed, and he fails to deal in a sensitive manner with the serious issues in the book.