Review: Mango Cheeks, Metal Teeth by Aruna Nambiar

For me, 2014 has been a year of reading new Indian writers. I bought many books out of pure curiosity, without waiting for reviews or recommendations. Many of the books left me unsatisfied. They certainly didn’t seem like books that I would want to recommend to any one else, or even pick up again.

And then I bought Aruna Nambiar’s “Mango Cheeks, Metal Teeth”. I had met Aruna through mutual friends and the excerpt on Facebook got me curious. But let me be honest. I thought this would be one of those books that got by on pure nostalgia. (That’s always an easy sell.) The blurb and cover picture certainly promised this.

I was in for a pleasant surprise. The book does indeed bring back quintessential Indian memories. The story centers around little Geetha, who is at her grandparents’ house in the village for the yearly summer vacation with cousins. But Aruna refuses to succumb to simple nostalgia in telling Geetha’s story. She paints a fascinating and complex tableau of life in a small and conservative village, and turns her lens on things that are seldom talked about in such books: infatuation, greed, jealousy, and, yes, sex.

Aruna has a wicked sense of humour and her observant eye misses nothing. I was delighted by the tongue-in-cheek descriptions of the characters and their compulsions. The biggest surprise for me in this book was how beautifully Aruna captures the struggles of growing up. As adults, we tend to trivialise the concerns of children, but if we cast our minds back, we’d remember how serious the world seemed to us. Little Geetha is forced to confront many things that summer, not the least of which is the fact that she no longer fits in with her group of cousins. I enjoyed the peek into her mind as she wanders around the house trying to amuse herself and also show her cousins up.

“Mango Cheeks, Metal Teeth” was a completely satisfying read for me. This is a classic, timeless book that illuminates and entertains by turn. The writing is nuanced and distraction-free, and the story pulled me in from the very beginning. If I have one criticism, it is that the ending is rather abrupt for a book that otherwise chugs along so smoothly. I would have liked it to have stretched out a bit more, and it could have done without the sudden shift in narrative tone.

But this is a minor quibble. Like the judges on Masterchef Australia, I asked myself, “In the end, did I enjoy it?”, and the answer is a resounding “Yes”. I want to add that I’m also very grateful to have my faith in new Indian fiction restored. I hope to read more of Aruna Nambiar’s writing and perhaps discover more delightful writers like her.


Ri – Homeland of uncertainty : Book Review

The Blurb

Ri- Homeland of Uncertainty is adapted from the National Award Winning Khasi film by the same name. Trapped in the limbo between ideology and conscience, Manbha finds him himself part of a terror outfit. An unexpected opportunity, anger, squalor and disillusionment – followed by and armed combat and injury lead to the soul- searching that form the substance of this moving tale.

My Review:

  The story opens with the police inspector addressing the press about the recent encounter with the terrorists. As it is the norm, the media does not buy the statement given by the police.Familiar isn’t it?

There are three main voices in this story – the one of the law enforcement, second, that of the terrorists and last, the voice of the people. Like any other region rife with violence and terror activities, Meghalaya was also one such state that was filled with uncertainty between the years 2000 – 2004. Ri, documents one such story…from the perspective of all the three voices. The people are terrorized, the businessmen and merchants were subject to extortion and murder. Curfews, bundhs and living in fear had become a way of life for the people.

The law enforcement agencies were trying their best to stop and eliminate terrorism while trying to protect the people, which was a very idealistic thought but not impossible.

The terrorists’ filled with misplaced ideology that they were freedom fighters is pitiable highlighting that the youth can be brainwashed so easily to commit crime for the vested interests of some.

The story moves quickly and is gripping that it is difficult to put the book down. The character of Kyndiah, Manbha and Emika is well described. Kyndiah comes across as a dedicated and disciplined police officer who has no personal life to speak of. Manbha, the youth with an ideology of being a freedom fighter and not a terrorist. Emika the journalist turned teacher, who is a victim of terror, who believes in the rehabilitation of the young terrorists.

What I did not like:

The story becomes preachy towards the end. I would have loved to read more about the actual fears and insecurities of the people. And Emika not afraid of a gun toting terrorist seems a bit far fetched. The conflict could have been pronounced.

My question to the author:

Ri is a fictitious depiction of various mindsets of people of Meghalaya. Yet, some amount of research must have gone into writing the script which must have been drawn from the real life incidents. Can you tell us the research that went into the writing of Ri? How did you come about writing the script of Ri?

Paulami: At the scripting level there was a lot of research for every scene. Case studies and news paper clips had helped me to make the story closer to reality. I have also referred to a lot of geography texts to stay closer to the feel of the region. A lot of it is also first person account. Since we were dealing with a very sensitive subject, I had to be double sure before putting down a scene.  Manbha or SP Kyndiah are maybe people I have seen around me in Shillong. These are just names that I have given to add flesh to my story. Ri talks about a treacherous phase of Meghalaya, and through different layers and emotions I have just tried to tell that story. Sometime when I read it, I almost feel I am reading nonfiction. The killing of Agarwal, or the shootout that kills Emika’s father has all happened and had left bloody spots on the hilly abode. Cinema in India has talked about Kashmir and Naxalites.   Ri was our opportunity to reach out to India with our story. Thus research was the backbone of the script.


~ Janaki Nagaraj.

Originally posted at Literati

I stopped at Pinkerton

to write this post 😛 on collective Memory … about collective memory while reading books or texts of any kind or while in a conversation…. especially books located in other countries away from ours….

I think Indian Writing in English is easier to read and understand without an encyclopaedia near at hand or open in a browser because many of the references are part of our collective memory 😀

For instance, for most of the Indians, Independence Day is August 15 every year. With it as we are a part of a more or less, a similar school curriculum, many details rush in beginning with this date, the month and the year 1947, the 12 o’ clock speech, Nehru, Gandhij, Satyagraha, Partition, Pakistan, Cricket, the Subcontinent, British, Colonial, Commonwealth…. may not be in this order, it could be any… the point is all this information can be encapsulated with that one date.

Let’s take the Taj, it may refer to the one at Agra, or the tea company, the group of hotels spread all over India, the stories as to why it was established in the first place,  after 26/11 we have some painful new memories, Kasab’s face looms (may be/may be not)… TATA can refer to a variety of products…to Titan to steel.. to Nano..

Delhi, is always the Capital with a ‘C’ and some may also remember its architect, Luyten, a mention of Ayodhya or Ram or Babri Masjid can bring to mind so much reality and myth, the boat races or the durga pooja fills us with everything from the huge sets, to art directors to processions to sweets, energy, relatives, food, lights… same with sabarmati, golconda… rasgullas… Marine Drive…modak 🙂 🙂

A passing reference without an explanation about any of these will immediately open a truckload of associated memories or instances. They could be at the level of the personal, private, secretive, familial…….public, cultural, collective …….

Or sometimes a joke we shared at school… Q: Why did Rajiv Gandhi marry Sonia Gandhi? A: Because… all Indians are my (his) brothers and sisters 😛

So, Pinkerton!! that’s where I stopped reading…They come upon me all silent and menacing like Pinkerton Detectives (eat pray love)…

The very first image that came to my mind were those of the twin detectives in Tintin… but their names aren’t Pinkerton, they are Thomson & Thompson 😛 I don’t know why Pickwick Papers came to mind almost immediately, may be it starts with the same letter P… and then I was clueless because nothing else came to mind and… I had to look up and……… a whole history related to a country and why Pinkerton and not Holmes or the Ladies Detective Agency in that line…

Collective memory …

Writers are a lucky lot because they do not have to explain in a lot of words about a whole lot of things because  collective memory bridges the unsaid, the unexplained, the paragraph breaks, the ellipses ….

An old post this one, seemed to attract a lot of traffic on my blog today, thought I’ll post it here as well under pleasures of reading. Here you go for the original

The Mystery of Edwin Drood remains a mystery

The Mystery of Edwin Drood is Dickens’ last novel | unfinished |

To spice it up, it is a murder mystery which Dickens left unfinished when he died! It almost seems as if, Dickens timed his death or timed the writing of this novel in such a way that it will be talked about forever.

So we have an incomplete mystery; it falls under the detective genre and makes life more interesting for the readers can speculate the course of events and debate on it 🙂  Too much to do from a book over 140 years old, some would feel; many writers on their own or commissioned by societies have read and re-read the available parts of the novel to make conclusions unofficially. The book is in news as an official end is being written which will be dramatized and screened on BBC.

The Plot: Set in Cloisterham | peopled by John Jasper, Rosa Bud,Neville and his sister Helena Landless, Rev. Mr. Crisparkle,  Mr Grewgious, Durdles, Mr Datchery and Edwin Drood| It starts off in an opium den| a murder plot, some scheming, a disappearance, accusation followed by an enquiry, formal and informal| and the mystery of the novel begins as Dickens died

This novel remained unfinished as it was serialized. It was written in installments and sent to the publishers for weekly/monthly publications. The Victorian years (1837-1901) were known for its serialized fictions in literary magazines, and Dickens was a champion writer.

Each part would end in suspense to create an interest in the readers to look forth for the next issue. The next issue would invariably have a summary of the previous parts so that even a new reader can continue reading from the latest part. The course of the story changed according to its reception.

Interestingly, these novels were accompanied by illustrations or a single illustration at the beginning of the first installment with potential clues to the entire story. Many Drood fans have re-read and carefully analysed the illustration/cover page to speculate what Dickens had in mind as an end. Have fun following their path, the illustration to the left was illustrated by Charles Allston Collins

Verdict: I’m a die-hard fan of some of Dickens’ work. At the same time, I do not like dark stories. This is not one of my favourite from him. Additionally, I read it as part of coursework this semester, a course titled, “Reading Fiction,” so you release how much I love this book by now 😛 Not a leisure read at all, take out some time for it.

Happy Reading 🙂

Cross posted at pins & ashes

‘Lady Chatterley’s Lover’ by D. H. Lawrence

(posted on behalf of Pooja – A die hard dreamer who fell in love with literature and poetry after being introduced to the enchanting world of Kubla Khan around 5 years ago, she claims to be drop dead envious of every person who, with a light touch can make the 26 alphabets of the English language hum and throb with passion and life. That magic hidden in the written word is what makes her tick. After 3 years as a literature student she joined up for MCJ out of the laziness to study any heavy subjects and so as to escape the confines of home. Fresh from college, she is now on her first job at a small firm in Trivandrum, Kerala.)

A Book I Read for Christmas

poojaAn obscene book banned from society! The most controversial book of his times!

Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D. H. Lawrence always had a way with piquing up my curiosity during my degree days as a student of Literature. It was this Christmas, 4 years later that I could lay my hands on it.

“Ours is essentially a tragic age, so we refuse to take it tragically. The cataclysm has happened, we are among the ruins, we start to build up new little habitats, to have new little hopes. It is rather hard work: there is now no smooth road into the future: but we go round, or scramble over the obstacles. We’ve got to live, no matter how many skies have fallen.

This was more or less Constance Chatterley’s position. The war had brought the roof down over her head. And she had realized that one must live and learn.

She married Clifford Chatterley in 1917, when he was home for a month on leave. They had a month’s honeymoon. Then he went back to Flanders: to be shipped over to England again six months later, more or less in bits. Constance, his wife, was then twenty-three years old, and he was twenty-nine.”

Frank & straightforward, the opening paragraphs of the novel plunges right into the heart of things. It puts the characters, their mindsets and the times in perspective.

Books are to me, like the people I meet in life.

There are those whom I don’t even try to make friends with (aka. those with an overdose of science, math etc.) Then there are others whose looks I don’t like but then, often owing to a complete lack of options, I give them a try anyway. And some of them come recommended via acquaintances. But some of them are rare treasures. They are much like those outgoing, jolly people you meet in life. The ones who make friends easily and put you at ease the moment you start a conversation.

Lady Chatterley’s Lover was to me, one from the last category. It put me at ease immediately.

There is immense depth and innumerous layers to this book.

It throws light on the social conditions and mindsets of the post WW1 times, gives an insight into the psyche of each of the characters it portrays and ofcourse, there is an in depth study of sex- how relevant it is, the different phases of passion and so on.

I will here touch upon aspects of the book that I am sure will remain with me for a very long time to come.

The outline is, thus- Lady Chatterley is married to Sir Clifford who returns home from the war in a battered state. Treatment doesn’t help and he is paralysed from the waist below.  They come down to Wrangby to settle down to the life they are destined to. The development of an illicit affair between the Lady and their gamekeeper forms the rest of the story.

The first of the many aspects that touched me is the insight into the mind and thinking of the Lady. 23 years old, in the prime of her life, stuck with a husband who is half paralysed, she does her best to be the dutiful wife. In fact, she is a dutiful wife and takes good care of him. But then enters the issue of her needs and requirements as an individual.

I loved the way the writer took me into her heart and showed me in person every one of the battles that raged there!

I have often heard and read about those soldiers who have had to return home wounded. But reading this book showed me how the psychological fears, sense of insecurity, the agony of shame, the craving for life and well being, all play out.

The relationship between the lady and her lover, the gamekeeper, Parkin seems purely physical but at times I felt there was more to it. Maybe it is the feeling of being wanted that made both the Lady and her lover stick together.

The burning passion in the detailed descriptions of the love sequences showed me why exactly the book created such controversies in his times!

A thought in the mind of the Lady about love and passion having different phases intrigued me.

But the pivotal point in the novel that struck me was this question posed to the Lady by a member of the working class…

 “Do you think it is possible for people in a very different walk of life to be friends-really friends? What I want to know is it possible that there could be a real friendly feeling between the working class and the upper class?”

This seems to me a central point that runs throughout the novel. This battle of the classes seeps in into the passionate relationship between the Lady and her lover as well.

There are many more aspects to this novel that needs to be looked into but I’d like to end on this note.

Even when we argue that all are equal, even when we are nice to those “below” us, even when we boast that we are good, kind and benevolent even to the domestic help at home, isn’t there a tinge of class thinking lurking in our “benevolence” and “kindness”?

What do you think?

The Illustrated Man|Ray Bradbury

Since I’m in a trance, it looks to me impossible to resist the urge …”It was a warm afternoon in early September when I first met the Illustrated Man. Walking along an asphalt road, I was or the final leg of a two weeks’ walking tour of Wisconsin. Late in the afternoon I stopped, ate some pork, beans, and a doughnut, and was preparing to stretch out and read when the Illustrated Man walked over the hill and stood for a moment against the sky..

Vaayadi Pennu

I would say, the preface/prologue/introduction piece of Ray Bradbury’sThe Illustrated Man (1951) is one beautiful piece of writing.

It could be that love is too generic a term to describe the fascination and attraction to something of this kind; add in the factors of transience, add in the fact that love is with the words on the page. But these strings of words create an urge and manipulates (there, it is ironical to use in this instance, but think positive manipulation, then it turns oxymoronic :P) the senses of a feel of what it describes… I could see his plate, while reading about it.

It was love alright last night. And you have seen me post these bits on FB… Some of you have even started on the same path I’ve walked through since last night ….

Since I’m in a trance, it looks to me impossible to resist the urge …”It was…

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