Monday, 30th October 2017

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Paperback Pickings

Borders and fantasy

By The Telegraph Online
  • Published 29.03.13

Borders and fantasy

Clifton Bridge: Stories of innocence and experience from Pakistan (HarperCollins, Rs 250) by Irshad AbdulKadir is a collection of 10 short stories from across the border. AbdulKadir’s debut collection offers a rare insight into Pakistan and serves as an interesting commentary on the social dynamics of the country. He weaves together several narratives of ambition, love, longing and loss in a simple yet poetic manner. The plots are mostly ingenious. In the first story, “All in the family”, the two wives of a businessman who are initially rivals unite for a common cause. They want to prevent their husband from marrying again and together they come up with a wicked plan that has far-reaching ramifications. The story, “Diva”, portrays the life of Sultana, whose family life is hit by a sudden wave of turbulence when she decides to give in completely to the call of music. “Queen’s garden” is likely to appeal to readers instantly. It highlights the triumph of love over religious fundamentalism — a mujhahideen’s child with his Christian lover ultimately finds ‘home’ with a Hindu vegetable vendor.

Hotel Calcutta (Niyogi, Rs 350) by Rajat Chaudhuri is a tale of a century-old hotel in the “sleeping metropolis” of Calcutta that acts as a refuge to the lonely and the friendless. The account is reminiscent of the city’s old world charm and its love affair with some things British. Chaudhuri’s prose mesmerizes readers with its lyrical quality and the dreamlike setting instantly draws one into its vortex. This “grand old place” is under threat from a real estate giant known as the Beacon Group that leaves no stone unturned in its attempt to bring the hotel down. The situation becomes even more grave when goons attack the place — it is then that a messiah, in the guise of a monk, steps in with a unique plan to save the hotel. He suggests that a “wall of stories” be built, as that will “strengthen the hotel’s foundation of memories”, thereby ensuring that the place cannot be harmed. The process starts working when a painter with “steel-rimmed glasses” and a “fancy accent” gets the ball rolling. The ancient structure is eventually saved, but what remains with the reader is the sheer power of Chaudhuri’s storytelling.

Heirs of Catriona (Rupa, Rs 195) by Anusha Subramanian is a tale of fantasy and adventure that revolves around two teenagers, Sara and Crystal, whose lives suddenly fall into a state of absolute disarray when they discover that they are the princesses of the magical realm of Catriona. Subramanian, one of India’s youngest published authors, draws inspiration from popular works of fantasy like those of J.K. Rowling and Rick Riordian. Her debut work chronicles the trials and the tribulations of the two adolescents who embark on an adventure to a parallel universe to save their mothers, Anastasia and Olivia, who have been held captive by the wicked queen, Merissa. The girls have to brave innumerable odds and fight several deadly magicians and scheming gods.

Ektara: Strains of a lonesome string (Supernova, Rs 299) by Tilottoma Majumder is the story of a woman’s solitary struggle to overcome an unhappy childhood, the agony of her first heartbreak, an unfulfilled marriage and the grief of child loss. The book has been translated from the Bengali by Soma Das. This poignant bildungsroman chronicles the trials of Debarati, who comes from a small town to the big city to carve out a niche for herself. She battles various parochial norms as well as severe loneliness. Despite all odds, she defies her mother’s ideals of embracing sacrifice, breaks free from her dysfunctional marriage, struggles to eke out a living for herself and ultimately finds peace in writing.