From the reading diary

And here are a few reasons why the Babu unplugged for such a long time. This is a partial, random selection from a handful of the many, many books that made 2005 a great reading year for me. They were very effective distractions.

Siddharth Chowdhury on the (imaginary) Precious Ramotswe of India, from Patna Roughcut:

“Lawrence [went] to the wilds of Purulia where he set up home with a Santhal woman, ate begun-pora and drank mahua religiously each evening. There he wrote a pioneering series of detective novels about a blind Santhal medicine man named Milton Tudu and a young diku girl Melo that he had adopted. Mostly they would solve petty crimes in the community like fowl filching, cattle poisoning, stolen petromaxes and, increasingly as the series progressed, kidnapping and murder. The novels, picaresque in structure, were less crime procedurals and more of a cultural treatise on tribal values and the need to preserve them. There were five in the series…. The novels lovingly describe the topography of Purulia and neighbouring areas in Singhbhum like Chandil, Chaibasa, Jamshedpur and are today read more by anthropologists than mere readers of private-eye fiction.”

Samit Basu on why the gods use humans as counters in their board games, from The Manticore’s Secret:

“All thiss sstill does not answer My real quesstionss. Why humanss? Why nothing elsse?”

‘It is partly self-indulgence, I suppose, but not completely so. A lot of it is tradition. In the very first Game, that S/He started out of the first void, the humans were the first ones to write things down and try to understand them, the first ones even to suspect that S/He existed. Hence We give them the honour of entertaining Us in every world We create. Just as we honour the memory of the first Game-maker by being silent for a while every time S/He is mentioned.”

The gods are silent for a while.

‘Which is why We do not speak of Him/Her very often,’ says Stochastos.

The gods are silent for a while.

‘Because whenever We speak of…’

‘Stop it,’ snaps Petah-Petyi. Stochastos bows and grins.’

Ira Pande on writing about her mother, Shivani, the well-known Hindi writer–from Diddi:

‘As I translated one article after another, fascinated by the life that was unfolding in another language, I realized that there could be nothing modest about this book. Diddi had always commanded total attention and, even when she was alive, she had the capacity to use up all the oxygen in a room. Now, she leapt at me from every line that she had written. So many characters and events I encountered were familiar and everywhere, beneath the surface of the written word, I could see a history that was ours as much as it was hers. True, Diddi had made us into what we were but it was equally true that we had made her into what she was. Yet I constantly worried whether in writing of her I was getting distracted into writing about us, not her.’

Altaf Tyrewala on communal confusion, from No God In Sight.
[The Mahant has just arrived in Babua’s village and delivered the classic anti-Muslim harangue, without ever mentioning the religion explicitly—“Throw out the outsiders from your house, your village, your country. Hindustan for Hindus!” Babua is moved to direct action, but he hasn’t quite got the point:]

‘Yar. The Sikh got screwed.
When Babua dragged Zail Singh to the front, the Mahant took one look and hopped on his chair. ‘You eunuch! Donkey! Leave it! Leave his beard!’
Babua hung on in puzzlement. Zail Singh lifted his head with considerable effort and boxed Babua’s ear. Babua fell to the right; Zail Singh collapsed to the left, massaging his jaw and moaning in pain, ‘Maadar da phaataa, sala, todi ma di aankh!’
Perched on the chair, the Mahant began clapping like mad. ‘You eunuch! Sixer! Go attack real outsiders!’
Babua stood up, rubbing his head. He argued petulantly, ‘This Zail Singh is not from our village. He has beard. He is outsider. He is!’
The Mahant hollered, ‘Sixer! He is Sikh. Not outsider! Sikh is Hindu!’
Zail Singh heaved and got to his feet. ‘Oye, I’m not Hindu. I’m Sikh, not Hindu, and I’m going back to Karnala right now.’
He walked away, muttering, muttering.
Babua scanned the crowd with growing shame. He turned to the Mahant. ‘Tell me, Mahant, who you want me to throw out? Who is the outsider? You tell me, I will throw him out right now in front of you. I am not eunuch!’ Then he screamed desperately, ‘Hindustan for Hindus!’
The Mahant didn’t answer; he placed his hands on his head and looked down in resignation. Someone at the back started giggling. The laughter spread like plague. Villagers were falling over each other for support. Babua ran into his house, inflamed with hate for an outsider he didn’t even know.’

Vandana Singh on my city, and hers, from the short story ‘Delhi’:

‘The road before him can take him anywhere, to the faded colonnades and bright bustle of Connaught Place, to the hush of public parks, with their abandoned cricket balls and silent swings, to old government housing settlements where, amid sleeping bungalows, ancient trees hold court before somnolent congresses of cows. The dusty bylanes and broad avenues and crumbling monuments of Delhi lie before him, the noisy, lurid marketplaces, the high-tech glass towers, the glitzy enclaves with their citadels of the rich, the boot-boys and beggars at street corners… He has just to take a step and the city will swallow him up, receive him the way a river receives the dead. He is a corpuscle in its veins, blessed or cursed to live and die within it, seeing his purpose now and then, but never fully.’





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