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The Unfathomable Toilet Etiquette of The West

If you are faint of heart or squeamish or having your dinner, you may want to skip this post.

The unfathomable toilet etiquette of the Westerners has had many points of argument with those of the East, especially since cable and satellite television brought those differences through Western dramas and movies into our drawing rooms. We have accepted and assimilated the Western-style toilets in our daily lives – whether they are as healthy as our Eastern toilets is a question we no longer bicker about – but that is about it. Drinking water from the bathroom faucets was one of the first things to scandalize the populace back home, until we were told that Westerners received ‘filtered’ water in all their taps – then we were just sad. Then, of course, there is the eternal paper versus water debate. We know that paper is just never going to get in those hard-to-reach places unlike water that trickles its way into all dark crevasses with ease. We are pretty smug about that one and magnanimously allow the Westerners their paper eccentricity and just shake our heads at their sometimes utterly silly ideas. But some things just move beyond head-shaking and better science.

East versus West

East versus West

‘Two and a half men’ has been a favourite sitcom of both hubby and me for quite sometime now, although we stick to the reruns where Jake was cute, Charlie is still alive and more than kicking, and Alan is being his miserly, defeated self. Every few episodes though we are presented with the image of one family member or other hugging the toilet bowl after a bout of heavy drinking. For some reason, this bothers me more than the double innuendo’s and the sexist theme of the show. They even fall asleep with their heads on the toilet or on the floor beside it.

Jake Harper from 'Two and a Half Men' hugging the bowl

Jake Harper from ‘Two and a Half Men’ hugging the bowl

And its not just this show. This is an oft-repeated theme for anyone who is suffering a tummy upset courtesy of too much drinking, emotional trauma or just bad food in American/Western movies and shows, and it manages to gross me out every single time. I mean, do they clean their bathrooms and toilet bowls with Hydrochloric Acid every single day for it to be clean enough to sleep there? I still remember this National Geographic documentary – remember the ones where they would film stuff in hyper-magnification and extreme slow-motion – where they showed how when you flush your toilets, tiny droplets mushroom out of the toilet bowl and settle on everything around like on the floor, the sink, the toothbrush on the sink and, of course, the toilet bowl itself. Granted, the human body is smart enough to fight off the minute amount of bacteria that it comes in contact with in this manner, but still it makes you think twice about bedding down in the loo.

Hugging it out !

Hugging it out !

Also, not everyone is a strict adherent of the ‘ Do not sprinkle, when you tinkle’ idiom. I am sure men talk on the phone, lean over to pick up something from the sink, dance to the violent songs playing in their headphones, rush out to answer the door bell halfway-through/while attending to the business of ‘tinkling’, which invariably must lead to ‘sprinkling’. Is it therefore smart to put your cheek on a rim which may be adorned by invisible droplets of liquid gold?

And what of the days when you have eaten that spicy Indian curry? Or, what about the times you catch a water-bug from contaminated pani-puri? Or, you drink milk past its expiry date? Your stomach churns and gurgles and rebels against such harsh punishment. The result is usually a case of what is known as the ‘runs’. They are also, more often than not, explosive. And explosions have been known to cause ‘splatters’ that have a far and wide reach. ‘Splatters’ stick on surfaces, dry and stay there waiting for a scrub off with the strongest acid on a longest-handled toilet brush or with conveniently moist cheeks or arms.

Still, if you are doing your hugging at your home, at least you know its all your own stuff. But what about the scenes on American television where people carry out their drink/trauma/drug-induced toilet hugging in ‘public’ toilets. (Pause for shudder).  Do they not think of all the people who have walked into those un-hallow portals before them, dropped their pants, placed their naked flesh on that toilet seat and let go of their unnecessary baggage? Do they wonder how many times a week a cleaner walks through there with a mop and how much do they really try to get it clean? Do they wonder how many unwanted fragments of someone else’s most private lives they are carrying home smeared on their knees, their arms, their foreheads and their cheeks?

There must be a reason why the westerners do not squirm when they hug their toilet seats, given their penchant for cleanliness, and yet, try as I might and as much as I love my American sitcoms and movies, I will never reconcile myself to this aspect of their culture. Will they ever grow out of it or will it be a practice that will eventually be adopted all over the world?

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Bangalore Literature Festival 2014

260920141265The Bangalore Lit Fest is really shining this year with a panel of guest speakers on topics ranging from horror to politics to Bollywood to music. It is definitely a more eclectic viewing this year than the one before. The venue is the same as last year, the grounds of the Crowne Plaza, and is beautiful and serene. The landscaped gardens with the small, artificial stream bubbling through and bottle brush trees dotted here and there is a perfect setting for discussing books and authors. The mike systems, like those everywhere, keep either screeching or shutting down completely at regular intervals. Thankfully, there are also a lot of young college volunteers who are quick to make amends and ensure the smooth running of the sessions. There is also an ongoing contemporary art and sculpture exhibition on the grounds for all to enjoy. The food stands were a little sad-looking on the first day maybe because the crowd was a little thin – it being a working day. I still remember the gorgeous food we sampled here last year and am looking forward to more of the same.

Two or three sessions are usually arranged at the same time and sometimes it becomes difficult to pick one over the other. The seating under canopied tents is comfortable enough.

Chetan Bhagat’s session was the one I wanted to catch first, since my brother is a huge fan and he wanted to be in the presence of celebrity by proxy. I was standing just at the entrance of the gardens under the shade of a tree waiting for Hubby to pay the cab and turned around to come face-to-face with the author himself. He was being escorted by three svelte girls in hep clothes and 6-inch heels. The pathway was completely empty but for the four of us, but since the svelte ladies totally ignored my presence I will do so too and say it was just the two of us. It was a perfect opportunity to get his autograph or even a selfie and I even made eye-contact with him and received a smile but I was so frozen by the ‘be polite’ and ‘don’t accost strangers’ etiquette drummed into me by my parents that I could only stare at him with a goofy smile as he sailed past. I think the goofy smile scared him a bit because he immediately asked the nymphs to ‘surround’ him in order to ‘protect him’ in a loud and clear voice. Really! Look what being polite gets you. People actually begin categorizing you as a maniac. His session was fun since he obviously is a good speaker with a lot of charm and wit. And I never did get his autograph afterwards – there was a huge crowd and it was really hot and I am too short (easily trampled).

We then wandered over to a discussion on the state of minorities in India and got ourselves well and truly riled up. The panel was composed of a set of individuals who were so far left that they had almost come full circle to the right. To hear them speak one would think India had declared itself a Hindu state and was systematically culling the Muslims in our country. Asma Jahanagir talked about Pakistan’s problems with their minorities and made some pretty valid points but according to her the great difference between our two countries is that ‘Pakistan recognizes that there is a problem whereas India does not’. I certainly admire her for her courage to raise questions in a country (Pakistan) that pretty much has a gag order on everything and everyone but this was a bit much to swallow. Nirupama Dutt was absolutely virulent in her aversion to the ruling party every time she was given a chance. According to her it would be so much more peaceful if Hindus and Muslims would inter-marry as the Hindus and Sikhs did in Punjab to counter terrorism and hate. Also, she pointed out that the present HRD minister was a woman from a Saas-Bahu serial in which she portrayed one Hindu festival after another. How that was relevant to the topic completely flew over my head! A member of the audience from Bihar made a much better and succinct point when he said that a riot starts between two communities and then becomes a riot between the minority community and the administration. He also asked why it was that after every incident of violence all the Hindu liberals flocked to the channels to denounce the violence and the members who took part in it and non of the Muslim liberals ever did. Not surprisingly, he never received an answer for that. There should have been a speaker with another view also on the panel so that it didn’t feel so much of a India-bashing bunch. I agree that the Hindus have suppressed the lower castes for hundreds of years and it is something which calls for recompense but it is absolutely fallacious to say we should be guilty of doing the same to Muslims.

The next session we attended was about the mindset of getting a job done in India and whether it will ever change. It was an interesting panel with both for and against speakers about the ‘Jugaad’ culture in India, a practice that can be taken as both a positive quality of getting a job done no matter the circumstances and a negative one that bypasses perfection by throwing things together in a haphazard manner. It seemed much more fun but I wanted to see Rani Mukherjee and dragged my hubby away before he could hear the whole of it.

Rani Mukherjee in a pink kurta and casual jeans looked more like a journalist than a movie star and I am not sure if I was disappointed by that. The session was overflowing with her fans and seemed like a lot of fun. She talked about her latest movie and the work she put into it and the people that she met during that time. She really comes across as the quiet girl next door.

The most harrowing part of the day was trying to get a taxi back from electronic city. Our mistake was not pre-booking one in the morning. For our sins we had to take an auto drive with Kannada Michael Schumacher cum angry Salman Khan. He just couldn’t tolerate anything in front of him and so would overtake from any side. And then he decided that these two boys on a bike were deliberately mocking him and started yelling at them which made them begin mocking him for real. in retaliation he started following them and whacking the guy on the back with stinging slaps on his back – all while driving at full speed and leaning his torso completely out of the vehicle. I think I might have exploded an artery but for his auto breaking down halfway home. Yes, there is a God.

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Bombay Stories – Saadat Hasan Manto

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This book was sent to me by Penguin Random House India in exchange of an honest review

Saadat Hasan Manto was a short story and script writer as well as a novelist and a journalist. He is best known for his short stories, including the famous ‘Toba Tek Singh’. He spent many years in Bombay before he migrated to Lahore after partition, and most of the stories in this collection were written then lending them a patina of nostalgia.

The cover of this book showcases the photograph of a group of young women and little children standing in a darkened doorway looking out at the photographer with varying degrees of delight on their faces. And yet, it appears almost as if they are held back by an invisible barricade from stepping over the doorstep and out into the world. It has a bittersweet quality to it, which keeps becoming compounded as you begin to read the stories in this anthology.

Bombay stories is essentially a collection of stories about the lives of prostitutes in Bombay before partition, and most probably as they are even today. Each story deals with prostitutes, either as the main protagonists or as the objects of desire for his main protagonists. A majority of the stories were written by him after his migration to Lahore and as most of these stories are anecdotal they give the impression of being journal entries. The ones in which Manto himself does not appear gave me the impression of being about him nonetheless, which may not be true at all. All the characters in his stories are more or less settled in their ways of life, which happens to most people when life has beaten them down sufficiently. There is no struggle by his characters to better themselves or look for some utopia that exists only in their minds. All their actions are restricted to the spheres in which they move – so his prostitutes are not looking for a ‘way out’, his pimps are happy plying their trade, and his friends who talk high and long are human enough to feel no qualms about sleeping with women for money. At times it becomes a little overwhelming – this moving through the red-light districts of Bombay with Manto and the dramas of life that play out there and one wonders why he couldn’t just have written about the lives of school teachers or vegetable vendors. But, like a friend of mine pointed out, the life of a prostitute is already mired in a certain pathos by virtue of her trade, which in our puritanical society is considered to be the last resort for survival open to a woman and thus provides an easy canvas for an artist to create his works. It seems callous when one puts it that bluntly but it also has a ring of truth to it.

I had heard such praises about Manto’s writings from so many different people that I was really looking forward to reading his works. However, this collection was somewhat of a letdown after all that I had built him up to be. His most famous short stories are not included in this anthology and, like I said earlier, the stories here read like journal entries to me. His genius lies in the descriptions of the city and the people which are succinct and capture a complete picture in two or three sentences. His sense of humour that springs up here and there is innocent and honest. His relationship with his ‘capitalist-minded’ wife as portrayed in the stories seems one based on love and trust carefully tucked under the blanket of the usual nitty-gritty of matrimonial life. His political views and his secularism come to the fore again and again in his works. In today’s politically correct world, he would probably be considered a racist for his descriptions of people – but when reading his stories you realize immediately what he wants to convey when he mentions these cliches and you can’t really blame him. His cliches are in no way derogatory, they are just the way he perceives people belonging to a particular place, sect or religion, and since he is surrounded by so many cultures and communities in Bombay he uses them again and again to characterize them clearly in his mind. As I am sure most of us do to this day.

But if you are picking up Manto for the first time, I would suggest you look for collections containing his more famous works before this one. Bombay stories is in no way a bad or boring book, but it fails to convey the true genius of a man who was unique in his view of life, looking at it through naked eyes with not many embellishments but for those he decided to bestow on it in his role as a ‘short-story writer’.

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More Book Reviews

I haven’t only been reading my free books over the past few weeks. It is never that simple with me. So just a quick recap of what else I have read apart from the books I have mentioned already.

1.) The Stranger You Seek – Amanda Kyle Williams

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Meet Keye Street, the latest private investigator on the roll, a recovering alcoholic, ex-FBI profiler, divorced and good at her job. I liked the girl. She has just enough hang-ups to make her seem human and just enough brains to qualify as an extraordinary detective. She calls herself self-absorbed and selfish, but then who isn’t? In this book she must find a serial killer who not only kills his victims brutally but also enjoys staging situations in a way that would traumatize the family members in a much more twisted was than usual as well. It was a particularly mean and terrifying villain that the author dreamed up here and I was suitably horrified by his nerve and his invisibility.

2.) The Kingdom of Bones – Stephen Gallagher

I didn’t really like this book as much as I should have, considering that it ticked almost all the boxes of my favourite genres, from historical to crime to mystery to magic. But like most books set in England and with a hopeless love plot woven in, this one just became too dark and melancholy for my tastes.

3.) Playing Dead – Julia Heaberlin

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I liked this book. Its about a girl grieving for her father and with a mother in the throes of dementia, who receives a letter from a woman who tells her that she is her real mother. It was fast paced and full of completely unexpected twists and turns. The descriptions of the landscape were spot on and the author’s portrayal of a woman who loves the land and her home is absolutely believable. The relationships of the girl with her parents and her sister are lovingly scripted and make one root for the character all the way through.

4.) The Wicked Girls – Alex Marwood

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The wicked girls was at once chilling and frustratingly empathy provoking. Its the story of two girls who manage to kill a little girl in their care through a series of unfortunate events. But, its not a story only about that. Its a story of their lives when they collide again 25 years later. Its a story of a past that completely overwhelms every living moment of the two women. Its evokes pity in your hearts but you also understand the extreme bitterness in the heart of the woman who lost her little sister, her insatiable desire to get even. The last few pages were perfectly terrifying and absolutely believable.

5.) Defending Jacob – William Landay

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Another book about children and terrible deeds. Here, young Jacob is the son of a district attorney and is accused of a heinous crime. Its the story of the family’s ordeal as they deal not only with the allegations but also with the changing behaviour of their neighbours and friends during and after the trial. Most crime fiction deals only with the perpetrator and leaves out the long-term effects of his/her crime on his/her own family, apart from that of the victim’s. Again, one begins to empathize with their situation and to wonder how one would respond if it happened to one of their own neighbours. Real life so often gets in the way of the idealistic ways we imagine ourselves to be capable of.

6.) Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter – Tom Franklin

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When it rains it pours. Another book about the childhood indiscretions that haunt the present. This is also about the unlikely freindship of two boys of opposite race and the same father. You figure that one out pretty early in the book, so I am not really giving anything away. It is another well written work with extremely well-etched characters. I liked them all and will be looking for other works by the author. A must read.

7.) Island of Lost Girls – Jennifer McMohan

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Another book on kids and their secrets! I don’t know how it happens but every time I pick up a particular theme, it seems to resonate in all books that I may have picked up completely at random. I think it is my super-power!

Anyway, this book was disturbing and complex – I mean the moment you read about a man in a bunny costume kidnapping  a little girl all the hair on your nape take an uncomfortable standing ovation. Rhonda is just a sad person, stuck on one guy she fell in love with all those many years ago, even though he is now fat and married to a woman who takes naked plunges in community jacuzzi’s. Apart from that, I thought she was smart enough, working her way through all the mysteries and secrets around her.

There are many more where these came from… but they must wait for another day fueled by a burst of energy like today.

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The summer in the house on the hill

This is a story of the summer of 1991 when I was about 11 years old and was visiting Nani and Nanu at their then home. To understand the story it is important to understand the layout of the place and listen to Elvis Presley.

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The house was on a plateau on a hill that was surrounded by tall majestic mountains covered with pine forests. The moment you crested the hill you were met with this huge flat plain, with an ancient banyan tree and the village common playing field on the right-hand side and a lightening-struck old banyan tree and the road towards Nani’s place on the left. The plateau fell away beyond the playing field and started descending on the road towards the village, so that you pretty much felt on top of the world. Nani’s house faced their landlord’s bigger home across a courtyard that had a traditional Tulsi plant in the centre of it. The landlords were an old couple who had married sons and lots of grandchildren, all of whom visited them every summer. The path that led to Nani’s place passed on by the side of the house through a forest of these huge hydrangea bushes and crossed a stream on stepping stones to move across the fields and towards the village. The stream flowed right behind my grandparent’s home and was covered by a natural tunnel made up of the overhanging and interlaced canopies of some wild shrubs that grew on both banks. The tunnel was illuminated with filtered sunlight falling into the stream and the many boulders that peppered it. The woods around the house were filled with white long-tailed fly-catchers that just zoomed around all day long. The woods completely enclosed the two houses giving them a feeling of being cut-off from the outside world.

In the field, just beyond the eastern boundary of the property, was an old banyan tree that had been struck by lightening many years ago. According to the landlord’s youngest grandson, who was 14 and did not appreciate little pudgy girls following him all around, it had been full of a dizzying variety of snakes and weird insects when it ruptured, which in turn fueled my 11-year-old imagination with all kinds of stories related to portals to another world and curses and lost princesses. The landlord also had a 10-feet-long king cobra skin adorning his drawing room that had been found on the playing field on the village common a long time ago. This was the source of another set of folklore, also told to me by my reluctant playmate, about a pair of king cobras that had lived in the village for centuries together. I was of course not so stupid as to believe that it was the same pair throughout the centuries but I did corroborate the story of their present existence from the man who delivered the milk in the village and found it to be true. My 11-year-old Bollywood-aided imagination then furiously wove a tale of real-life itchadhari Naag and Nagin in my own backyard. It was all very exciting. There was also a huge Gaddi dog that roamed around the village and was said to tear apart anyone who came across his path. And there was a family of long, black geckos that lived on the footbridge at the bottom of the hill that I just found creepy and nobody else minded.

One mid-morning, I was tooling around the stream where the grandson was working on a kite and trying his best to ignore my annoying presence while all the adults had filtered off to town or the village for some work or other. It was eerily quiet and strangely peaceful. The grandson finally decided that kite-making was not his forte and got up to walk back for a mid-morning siesta and, of course, I also got out of the stream to follow him. And then we both froze. In the small gap between the hydrangea bushes and the side of the house stood this huge 10-feet-tall hairy, black, Gaddi dog. Okay, I exaggerate, not 10 feet but it was definitely bigger than an average-sized dog and I was puny. And it had a reputation to live up to. It stood and stared at us. It didn’t growl – it didn’t need to. We were in its path. My hero seemed just as stricken as I was. Then he took a step back. So did I. The dog just looked at us. We stepped into the stream. I assumed we would make a break for the house on the other side of the stream, although we didn’t know them. Instead, genius pushed me into the tunnel into ankle-length water and we started walking backwards through the stream. ‘Why are we wading in the stream?’, I whispered. ‘He can’t smell us in the water and so he can’t follow us!’ came the stern reply. Anyway, when boy-wonder decided we were far enough away, which was about 10 feet from the mouth of the tunnel, we sat down on a boulder in the middle of the stream – in full view of the stepping stones across the stream. . I told you I was never that stupid. The dog had seen us disappear into the tunnel and I didn’t think he would need to sniff us out. In other circumstances, I guess this would have been a terribly romantic scenario – but I was too young and too scared of being eaten alive and I guess so was he. A few moments later, we heard movement on the path and then the werewolf – sorry, huge dog – stepped into the stream to jump across. We watched with bated breath as he moved along the stones with his slow majestic gait. And then he stopped – right in the middle of the stream. With all four feet balanced perfectly on the stones, he turned his head and looked straight at us! I think our bated breath became choke-holds across our throats. For a few moments, all the werewolf-attack illustrations I had seen in the fantasy horror books I had ever read flashed across my mind. And then that noble animal turned and loped away.

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After that afternoon, I stopped following the grandson around. He wasn’t so much of a hero anymore. He was just a boy. I still loved the summer. I scared myself with stories about the burnt tree and the pair of snakes and the gecko family and thought I was in an Enid Blyton novel when I sat and stared at the white birds diving for the dragonflies or waded in the tunnel in the stream.

The blue-pink hydrangea bush always reminds me of that house with the tunnel and the incident with the dog and that warm beautiful summer.

 The bird of paradise picture is from http://flyingbeautieshimachal.blogspot.in/ and the canopy is from Pinterest.

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Invisible – James Patterson

This book was sent to me by Random House India in exchange for an honest review

This was the second book by James Patterson that I have read in the past few months and, contrary to my first brush with his work, this one really lived up to its claims of being a ‘thrilling fast-paced’ read.

The book cover remains true to the theme of the book, depicting a woman obscured by smoke and shadows on a background of red. Its simple and sends a clear message to the reader about what they might expect to find in the book, which is what a good book cover must do. It was way better than the book cover on his last book that I read with a photograph of a hunky agent complete with shades superimposed on a collage of a city by night with choppers in the air.

The story revolves around an FBI agent, Emmy Dockery, who lost her sister to a terrible accident a few months ago and in the process of investigating her death uncovered the carefully concealed footprints of a serial killer. Nobody believes her, thinking her to be a simply grieving sister, and she is being pushed out of her job in a polite and very bureaucratic way. To top it all, she has a sleazy boss who deserves a nice kick to his nether regions and also holds the key to her entry back into the FBI and getting an investigation started, the story of so many working women in the world. She turns towards her old flame for help, whose heart she broke and who has the ear of the director of the FBI. Once she has the attention of the top brass she must then prove to them that the completed unrelated and ‘accidental’ deaths occurring all over the country are actually related and must be investigated.

I  liked the story. I started flipping through it and then couldn’t put it down until I had finished it. The story begins its fast-paced track right from the first chapter and you are hooked. The main protagonist is persistent and not very screwed-up, which make her an almost likable character. Her research and her obsession make sense and the follow-through is perfect. Several chapters written from the killer’s perspective are suitably chilling and blend seamlessly into the narrative.

Her love life though is absolutely irritating. The typical girl meets boy, falls in love, boys proposes, girl says no due to her commitment issues, break-up happens, after a few months/years, girl comes to boy for help, boy agrees because he still holds a candle for her, sparks-sparks, girl again withdraws, boy becomes grumpy, boy leaves, girl in life-threatening situation, boy makes last-minute entry, girl realises the value of love, all is well. Phew! Why? This ‘I love you but I am damaged and thus I must leave you until you come to me on your knees and take all my bullshit and I finally give in’ formula followed by the movies and modern romances just chips away my good humour. Thankfully, the love affair does not overwhelm the story which makes it all better.

Must read for all thriller fans.

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In Custody – Anita Desai

Reading morose Indian fiction is extremely trying on my nerves. It pulls me down and keeps me there for weeks after I go through any such stories. I don’t mean to say that human frailty and failings do not deserve an airing now and then. Its just that I have found that Indian authors have a knack for bringing out a deep well of hopelessness in their writings that are devoid of any stray ray of laughter or happiness to alleviate the sheer darkness of despair in the lives of their main protagonists. It is certainly a gift and definitely a souvenir of the society we grow up in but takes a strong stomach to digest when presented in all its naked, terrifying glory.

This is the story of Deven, a professor of Hindi in a private college in Mirpore, deeply dissatisfied by the ‘stagnant backwaters’ of his life and a devotee of the works of the Urdu poet Nur. Deven is the eternal victim of life’s unfair vagaries from his viewpoint, is constantly cowed down by all and sundry and is in turn a tyrant towards the few people in his life who are under his thumb, namely his wife and son. He is a pessimist and overtly sensitive to all sorts of imagined and real slights coming his way and, yet, incapable of standing up for himself except in a whining and wheedling tone that seems to get on everybody’s nerves. Deven is not a likable person. At no point in the book did I feel sorry for him or want to know him better. His obsequious hero-worship of the once demigod Nur, who has now dissolved into a shadow of his former life, and his quite unnecessary anger on his spoilt hero’s behalf were a constant rub on my already frayed nerves (have I mentioned my nerves enough already?). The glowing foreword by one of the greatest writers of our times, Salman Rushdie, states that this is ‘not at all a bitter book’ but I most humbly disagree. It is bitter and sad and with the word ‘despair’ used repeatedly to describe Deven’s state of mind, the condition of his life and that of Nur it just makes for an altogether deeply gloomy read.

It is also a story of the decline of a language whose beauty and lyrical prose seemed to elevate the most mundane of topics to mystical heights. I remember my Nanaji reading poems and novels in Urdu and having a love of that language that he never quite got over. Various members of my family still hum ghazals by famous Urdu poets and reminisce endlessly about the beauty of the language. Nur, the poet, is a metaphor for the dying language in his decrepit home and ungainly body, but his passion for the language, which he constantly harangues Deven about, seems to take a backseat to others things in his life, namely, his ego and his desire to be the centre for attention.

All in all, I was not a fan of the story at all. I see that the book was short-listed for the Man Booker Prize and I feel extremely guilty that I am unable to appreciate the gems hidden in the prose but also feel that I must be honest in putting down my views however simple-minded they may seem to a more discerning audience.