The Telegraph
Friday , September 5 , 2014
 
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Paperback Pickings

Gadgets and beer boys

Only Connect! (Rupa, Rs 195) edited by Meenakshi Bharat and Sharon Rundle is a collection of “short fiction about technology and us from the Indian Subcontinent and Australia”. It is pivoted around the impact of the internet on urban life and living. It also aims to explore cultural differences between two distant lands using technology as the common thread. Characters are seen to be ‘connecting, disconnecting, misconnecting and inter-connecting’ by means of technology. They range from an uber-savvy marketing head dealing in arms online to an Indian mother who clings to her old mixer-grinder as she does to her past, in the unfamiliar shores of Australia. Apart from the narratives of those who habitually “turn on, tune in and keep up”, the collection also makes room for the older generation’s skewed relationship with technology (illustrated by the likes of an Indian judge who is adept at booking flights online but does not trust scanned documents as substantial evidence). Love and relationships hold a prominent place in the heart of all this talk of technology. Devika Brendon’s comparison of unattainable love with “a woman all dressed up… sitting publicly alone, accompanied only by her phone” is only too apt in a world where relationships (genuine and fake) are sustained in cyberspace. While it is refreshing to see a manga-illustrated story towards the end of the book, it is equally disappointing to find that it has no more merit than a news report.

Steps in Darkness (Penguin, Rs 299) by Krishna Baldev Vaid is the author’s own translation of his earlier work in Hindi. Set in an India before Partition, the story follows a sensitive young boy, Beero, as he tries to make sense of the quotidian chaos of his family. His father is a gambling drunk, his mother is an irascible housewife, his sister is a woman of “shame” . A relentless wheel of violence and abuse spins throughout the spare, simple prose —the father beats the mother, the mother beats her son, the grandmother incites her daughter-in-law, and the sister hurls abuses at her parents. Oppressed by anger and resentment, Beero finds himself consumed by the same helpless rebellion that fills his house — the moment in which he calls his mother a slut after one of many fights is a sad reaffirmation of the inescapable circularity that Indian generations suffer from and find hard to break out of. The rare moments of tenderness with Paro, his sister’s friend, and Aslam, his classmate, provide some respite in a novel that can be a claustrophic read, especially because it lacks the expected expanse, rise and fall of a well-defined plot.

The Sad demise of Manpreet Singh (Hachette, Rs 399) by Patrick Bryson is an expat’s desi attempt at solving a murder case set in the grime and sweat of north India. The protagonist, Dominic Mcleod, is a tourist-turned-visa fraud investigator working at the Australian High Commission in Delhi. Manpreet, a junior colleague, is asked to collect information about a particular case of fake visas; he is found dead days later, in his village house in Punjab. In between wondering why the protagonist is called ‘Dom’ instead of the far more acoustic nickname, ‘Biscuit’, one also wonders how a foreigner does not ever suspect that what he is being told in translation may be a different version of the truth and is perhaps not reliable as hard evidence. The plot, however, moves swiftly across locations and characters that seem surprisingly believable, free (at most times) of those cliches that make up notions about the Indian subcontinent. However, Dom’s indiscriminate beer-guzzling does little to dispel cliches about Aussies themselves.