Paperback Pickings

Weird times in strange lands

By The Telegraph Online
  • Published 19.12.08

Weird times in strange lands

The Woman Who Thought She Was A Planet And other Stories (Penguin, Rs 275) by Vandana Singh brings together tales that are as beautiful as they are weird. The author writes in A Speculative Manifesto that “Speculative fiction is our chance to...step out of the claustrophobia of the exclusively human and discover joy, terror, wonder, and meaning, in the greater universe”. The protagonists of these stories, most of whom are women, leave behind their predictable lives once they hear the siren call of the unknown. The crisis of the story that gives the collection its name takes place when Kamala Mishra, “the dutiful Indian wife” of a retired bureaucrat, suddenly develops a habit of discarding her clothes in public. The woman who had once nurtured life in her womb is convinced in her old age that she is a planet with life teeming inside her. The story ends with Kamala gravitating upwards into space, her pieces of clothing dropping off one by one, while her husband watches from below in consternation and disgust. The delightful madness in the tales, combined with a deep humanity, makes the collection fascinating.

Nine By Nine (HarperCollins, Rs 250) by Daman Singh is a smartly written novel about three class-bunking, rum-drinking, cloth-bag-totting college students, Anjali, Tara and Paro. The free-spirited Tara is the rebel of the group, while Paro is the conformist whose highest ambition in life is to get married. Anjali fights for space with a domineering mother and secretly sends applications to universities abroad in a bid to escape her destiny. But there is more to the novel than just these stereotypes. It is also about loss, and about friendship that survives the turbulence in the girls’ lives.

Tomorrow’s Promise (Penguin, Rs 199) by Bubbles Sabharwal comes recommended by Shobhaa Dé. And that, of course, places the book in a particular genre, one that is synonymous with the good life and those who get to live it. Sabharwal’s heroine, as the women in the sister-novels of the genre, is appropriately un-carried-away by the goodness life showers on her. She is the one who can look into the heart of hollowness while everyone else eats, drinks and makes merry inside the bubble. As if to prove that too much of the good life is bad, her drinking-smoking-loving husband has a stroke, while the other man she is drawn to dies inexplicably in an accident. The loving daughter, too, becomes estranged, though there’s a reconciliation of sorts at the end. Peace and fulfilment are finally located in NGO work and the chanting of Buddhist hymns. You can expect to see this book in high-end beauty salons.

No Man’s Land: A Survival Manual for Growing Midsize Companies (Portfolio, £10) by Doug Tatum is an interesting book that offers several case studies, diagrams, charts and words of wisdom. Given that its focus is quite specific — the “pivotal stage in a business’s life cycle, the adolescent stage in which a rapidly growing firm is too big to be small, but too small to be big” — the analyses and smart solutions offered by Tatum actually sound as if they would work.

Breaking Free of Nehru: Let’s Unleash India! (Anthem, Rs 495) by Sanjeev Sabhlok is written by somebody who has had an interesting career. He quit the IAS 18 years into it, went off to do a PhD in economics in the US, and has since worked in the Australian public sector. In all this, however, his gaze never shifted from Evolving India. The book is a result of years of observation leading up to ideas and opinions, told in the compulsive style of the blogger that he is. Above all, Sabhlok does not feel that “writing a book will solve India’s problems”.