Posts Tagged ‘books etc.’


image: penguin india

I’m more familiar with literary movements that swept the US and Europe than the ones closer home. The first that I heard of the Hungry generation was in this book (they figure in Jeet Thayil’s The Book of Chocolate Saints too). The Hungryalists, as they were known, were a revolutionary band of poets who originated in West Bengal. They questioned the rigidity of form and exclusivity imposed by upper-class poets, the bourgeoisie. They rubbed shoulders with Allen Ginsberg when he visited India. In fact, shocked by the legal action slapped on the Hungryalists for obscenity by a few righteous literary leaders of that time, he did his best to help the Hungryalists by writing to various people in positions of power that he knew in India. The poets received recognition and support from the international community while back home, they faced harsh and unforgiving judgments.

Much of the poets’ work was destroyed. However, Chowdhury has featured what could be found through her research and interviews in the book. She has interspersed the account of the literary movement with copies of translated poems and reproduced letters exchanged between the poets and others. Their passion and urgency are still intact in these letters. Even at the worst of times, despite the persecution, their love for poetry held them strong. Chowdhury has written an engaging narrative with prose that ebbs and flows, rich in lyricism, apt for the subject.

Title: The Hungryalists
Author: Maitreyee Bhattacharjee Chowdhury
Genre: Non-Fiction
Publisher: Penguin Random House India, 2018
ISBN: 9780670090853, 0670090859

© Anuradha Prasad 2019

It is good to get back to reading. To fall in love with words once again, so much so that they give me goose bumps. To become so immersed in the characters that I am a part of them, feel their exhilaration, pain, love and experience every facet of human nature.

I am currently reading Isabel Allende’s The House of the Spirits and aching to get back to it. Just a few days ago, I finished Of Love and Shadows and am already a fan of Allende. Maybe I will pick up Eva Luna tomorrow – the blurb sounds promising.

Of Love and Shadows (De amor y de sombre) was about well, love in the shadow of military rule in a Latin American country.

Penelope Lively’s Moon Tiger (which won the Booker) is about a historian Claudia, who is dying of cancer and plots a book on nothing less than the history of the world woven with the story of her life and the love she finds and loses in the desert during the war.

Both writers, Allende and Lively, bring in elements from their own lives into their books. Lively was born in Egypt and in Moon Tiger, Claudia recalls her days in Egypt. It is interesting to read how history is remembered.

Penelope Lively

Allende was a journo and is related to the Chilean president Salvador Allende who was overthrown in a coup, after which she was in exile. In Of Love and Shadows Irene is a journo and the love story is set against the political upheaval in the country. Irene eventually flees the country to save her life with Francisco, carrying in her heart the hope to return.

Isabel Allende

There are many ways to return and to remember one’s history, I suppose.

Been reading some non-fiction lately. Just finished David Ogilvy’s The Confessions of An Advertising Man. It was a small book but packed with some great advice for those interested in getting into advertising. It is a professional autobiography.

Currently, right in the middle of Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary.

Had been to La Terrazza over the weekend. It is done up in the Mediterranean Style and is quite lovely. Like an oasis, a reprieve from the busy sameness of the streets outside. The prices were steep, considering the food was not unique or out of the world, and the portions were small. The Chicken Barbeque was delicious. The Tiramisu, on the other hand, was quite disappointing. Little Italy serves the best Tiramisu i’ve tasted so far.

Tried my hand at making Paneer Butter Masala yesterday. While it tasted good, the gravy didn’t come out smooth. You can find the recipe here.

Jean Webster’s Daddy Long Legs was one of those stories-hard times and voila a miracle. It is about a young orphan, Jerusha ‘Judy’ Abbot, and a stroke of luck that takes her to college. This stroke of luck is an anonymous trustee of her orphanage, John Grier Home. He agrees to send her to college as he feels she has the potential to be a writer, on the condition that she write a letter to him each month keeping him updated on the progress she is making in college. But he won’t respond to any letter or meet her and she’ll never know his real identity.

She calls him Daddy Long Legs as she catches a glimpse of him and he is tall and long legged.

The book is a collection of these letters. It begins with girlish observations, her regret at having grown up in an orphanage and missing out on normal family life (finally making peace with it) and gathers depth as it goes on. It is humorous and peppered by childish line drawings.

Webster supported women’s right to vote and education, and institutional reform and you find her throwing her voice out through Jerusha.

“We must take care, he says, not to develop our intellects at the expense of our emotional nature….Why on earth don’t they go to men’s colleges and urge the students not to allow their manly natures to be crushed out by too much mental application?”


“Humility or resignation or whatever you choose to call it, is simply impotent inertia.”


“Duty was the one quality that was encouraged. I don’t think children ought to know the meaning of the word; it’s odious, detestable. They ought to do everything from love.”


At times I thought Jerusha was a little slow on the uptake and the last letter was too blah and too gushy mushy.

The book may have resonated more strongly at the time it was published than it does now. College life and the place of a woman in society have changed so much since then. But not so much so that it is entirely irrelevant. Still, it is a charming book and an easy read.

I find it hard to forgive stories that begin with a woman who battles all kinds of adversities only to have a happy ending. A happy ending that makes it necessary that she falls in love with a man. I would love to rewrite this story’s ending.

That was one reason why i liked Zoya Akhtar’s Luck By Chance. It didn’t end on such a predictable note.

I spent most of the month reading Toni Morrison’s Beloved. I couldn’t take it all in one read. The book dealt with racism and slavery. This was the most obvious layer in the story. It also explored the relationship between a mother and her children. The same force that creates, destroys. Out of love. Can it be forgiven? Even after one has risen above the trauma, can anyone fully recover? Can one completely make peace with the race that tortured them?

Sethe escapes slavery and runs away from Sweet Home and the Schoolteacher. She can’t find her husband and her three children would’ve left before her to her mother-in-law Baby Sugg’s home. A pregnant Sethe manages to reach Baby Sugg’s, delivering Denver en route with the help of a white girl. For 28 days Sethe lives a free woman. Until Schoolteacher arrives looking for her. She tries to kill her children so that they don’t experience what she has experienced. The baby girl dies. Beloved. She returns in flesh many years later and unleashes her anger on Sethe who is still fraught with guilt and will do anything to make up to Beloved. Denver then takes it upon herself to look out for her mother.

Morrison’s knack of pulling you into the story, drowning you in a story is disturbing. And beautiful. How can one turn pain, loss and humiliation into something so utterly divine?


I saw Max Fischer’s The Fire Raisers and I would like to say I enjoyed it but I didn’t. The props crowded the stage.


Two movies I saw were Salt and Inception. Both were brilliant for different reasons.

Angelina Jolie was fantastic in Salt. Spies, action, suspense. It would’ve been old news if it weren’t for a woman playing the lead role. Her beauty is so brutal and raw. No matter what character she plays, she carries another story inside her that powers her. The President of America was a cartoon. I’m not sure if it was intentional.

Inception was mind blowing. The idea is simple enough but executing it on a  scale like that is brilliant. The sub-conscious designed and delivered so perfectly definitely deserves to go home with awards. I believe planting ideas in people’s head is possible even when they are awake. The lower the person’s defences and self-esteem the better.  Books on metaphysics and occult talk about how we can connect sub-consciously with others and communicate with them, so the story was entirely plausible.

And I must add a line or two about Leonardo Di Caprio. I didn’t think much of him in Titanic and Romeo & Juliet. Who can go wrong in Titanic after all? It was a big movie. He was just so pretty. But now I am a fan. Blood Diamond, The Departed and now Inception. He is not just a pretty face, is he?

I am really aching to start writing about my most recent reads and movies and plays as they are fresh in my memory and what I have to say about them will probably be more substantial than trying hard to catch impressions framed by cobwebs and coming away only with sticky bits.  But I must finish this first. This is the last of the lot.

I think Anais Nin’s Delta of Venus was the first time I read erotica and was disappointed. I’m not sure what I had expected and I had read beforehand how she came to write it but I left most of the book unread.  Heard that Little Birds is supposed to be better.


I re-read JD Salinger Catcher in the Rye soon after Salinger passed on and wished I had understood the story better when I read it the first time, when I was Holden’s age.


Paulo Coelho’s Veronika Decides to Die, The Pilgrim, and Warrior of Light were sprinkled with insights and wisdom. I prefer his recent books like Brida and The Witch of Portobello.


Steve Berry The Paris Vendetta kept me engrossed to the end. This was another novel where I just couldn’t connect to the main character, Cotton Malone.


Anne Patchet’s Bel Canto which was based on a real life hostage situation (in Lima, I think) was sensitive and beautiful. The book was more about the people, peeling away the layers to reveal aspects which are usually overlooked.


I was sorry I picked up Sophie Kinsella’s Domestic Goddess. There was nothing remarkable about either the plot or the heroine.


Alexander Dumas’ Count of Monte Cristo was wonderful while I read it but didn’t leave a piece of it behind once the last page was turned.


Siddharth Dhanvant Singh’s The Last Song of Dusk was a rather tragic and beautiful story, woven with great care. It was lyrical and covered with imagery. But I kept catching glimpses of other authors like Arundathi Roy, Salman Rushdie and Toni Morrison.


Hundred Years of Solitude left me so depressed that I didn’t want to read Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s Love in the Time of Cholera. The title put me off but it turned out to be one of the greatest love stories I ever read.


I was not at all shocked by Oscar Wilde’s Picture of Dorian Gray, so full of aphorisms. Different times.


Sidin Vadukut’s Dork was funny in parts. We all know dorks and we all occasionally behave like dorks. Mostly the ‘funniness’ was stretched so much that I couldn’t believe I actually read it through.

I had trouble reading Umberto Eco’s Name of the Rose because it was so full of philosophy and religion which I am not familiar with. However after I finished reading the book, I went through a couple of websites and I think I understand it better. Aristotle (?) wrote Poetics and he was supposed to have written a sequel to it which is lost. In the climax of this story, we see how it was lost.


Margaret Atwood’s Robber Bride was about three women whose men have been stolen by Zenia. The book was not on par with Alias Grace and The Blind Assassin but I know women like Zenia so the story made sense to me.


Continuing with the books…

Anjum Hassan’s Neti Neti was about Sophie, who I thought was a pretty passive character, who moves to Bangalore from Shillong to find a job and answers.  It covered stuff like her lukewarm relationship with her boyfriend and her longing for a man back in Shillong, her family that is falling apart, her friends, lack of passion for her work, her landlord, and other ‘bangalore’ things like BPOs, murders of passion and the get-quick-rich youth. It was a good read though I felt mostly negative aspects of life in Bangalore were highlighted maybe because it was seen from the eyes of a migrant.

In the Imperial Woman, Pearl S Buck has tried to paint the (fictional) life of the formidable Manchu empress Ci-Xi, who is constantly trying to outsmart her adversaries, escaping death and throwing her wrath on everyone who gets in her way to be the Imperial Woman.

A young man, Larry, throws away his future to understand life.  The people around him think he is a fool for throwing away the ‘regular’ life to roam the world in W. Somerset Maugham’s The Razor’s Edge.

Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eyes was a disturbing yet beautiful story.  It is narrated by a young girl about another girl Pecola and the complexities that arise due to her dark ‘ugly’ skin. A girl of her age and family background is hardly in a place where she can understand or battle it. She wishes to be like the white girls with blue eyes as she thinks it is the answer to all her problems as they are always shown as the happy and loved ones. She eventually begins to think she really has blue eyes and it shields her from the insults and later the brutal rape she is subjected to.

Another disturbing story was William Myrone’s Sophie’s Choice about a Polish woman Sophie who survives Auschwitz and comes to America only to fall in love with a brilliant schizophrenic.  They cross paths with Stingo, a Southerner, and as she tells him her story racked with guilt, it shows how the horror that she experienced is a bruise that never heals but keeps rotting and spreading.

Tarun Tejpal’s Alchemy of Desire on the other hand was a love story that starts with desire and ends with love. There was a story within the story which I didn’t care for much. It was the writer’s relationship with his wife Fizz that was so delightful. The book begins as their relationship starts to fall apart and goes backwards to how they met.  There were so many observations by the protagonist about education, politics, office politics that resonated with my own beliefs.

Meenakshi Madhavan’s You are Here is supposed to be something like Plath’s The Bell Jar but it wasn’t that intense. It was good for a one time read. Kinda like a movie that is good but there is no need to watch it in a theater as soon as it opens. Can wait for the DVD.

Read somewhere that it apparently took Vikram Seth nearly 7 years to complete Sacred Games. It took me a month to finish reading it. While there is no doubt that is a good story that keeps you hooked it was way too Bollywood. Partition, underworld, showbiz, nukes….Surprised that it has not been made into a movie yet.

Tracy Chevalier’s Girl with a Pearl Earring was inspired by a painting by Dutch artist Johannes Vermeer. It is known as the Dutch Mona Lisa. The author tries to build a fictional story about the girl. The imagery used is exquisite.  It is not a book I would read again but it is a charming story.

I am not a big fan of short stories. Mridula Koshy’s If it is Sweet was a collection of short stories. I didn’t read them all. I didn’t ‘get’ some stories at all. Romancing the Khoodawala was touching and a collection of stories where Jeans was a common theme were interesting.

Kazuo Ishiguro’s Nocturnes was again a collection of short stories. It was unexpected and full of quirky characters and plots and music. Nocturnes and Come Rain or Come Shine were my favourites.

Richard Bach’s The Bridge across Forever bored me.

I expected John Steinback’s Grapes of Wrath to depress me but the story was moving and powerful. What’s more it is supposed to have thrown light on the plight of the displaced people and actually helped them to some extent.

Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar was a wonderful book about a young woman who is supposed to have figured it all out until she starts questioning her identity and her desires, falls into depression and struggles to find her way back.

First Bite

Posted: July 31, 2010 in books etc., books etc., Uncategorized


I wanted to read Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita and Daddy Long Legs for the longest time and am pretty thrilled to have added both the books to my ‘collection’. I liked the way the book starts out. But once Humbert made off with Lolita, I lost interest. His desire for Lolita when she was out of his reach was more exciting than the rest of the story.

Right now Haruki Murakami is the only author whose books I’m reading over and over again. So far I’ve read Kafka on the Shore, Norwegian Wood, The Wild Sheep Chase, and Dance, Dance, Dance. I feel what you could call a ‘soul-connect’ whenever I read his books. I started with Norwegian Wood. So far, my favourite is Dance, Dance, Dance. This is actually a sequel to The Wild Sheep Chase but can be read as a stand alone. He deals with morbid issues like suicide with such a light hand. The element of supernatural and the depressive and destructive themes does not overwhelm me but lifts me up. I’ve always had a fascination for Japanese culture-geishas, tea ceremonies, ikebana etc. And Murakami’s style is so perfectly Japanese. Simple yet profound.

I hate it when this happens but while reading Milan Kundera’s Unbearable Lightness of Being I remember thinking ‘oh wow’ but apart from the ‘oh wow’ and a moth on a lamp, I just can’t recollect anything else from this novel. I have the novel. But I can’t bring myself to reach out and pick it up and read it again and find out what made me go ‘oh wow’.

Picked up Jack Kerouac’s On the Road when I was reading about Spontaneous Prose. Also, I came across some quotes taken from this book that were so brilliant. As it turned out, those two quotes were pretty much the only lines in the book I loved. There was also the Beat philosophy attached to it but I won’t go into it now.

Here they are –

“The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn, like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes “Awww!”

“I like too many things and get all confused and hung-up running from one falling star to another till i drop. This is the night, what it does to you. I had nothing to offer anybody except my own confusion.”

I liked watching the movie better than reading Che Guevara’s Motorcycle Diaries. It was more alive. Usually it is the other way around.

Amitav Ghosh’s Sea of Poppies is supposed to be the first of a trilogy. The other two books are yet to be written. It felt like Bollywood. Something about this novel kept bring to mind Lagaan. Maybe it was the slavery, British India aspects of the book. It was like Lagaan meets part of Pirates of the Caribbean. It didn’t ignite my mind so much so that I am waiting impatiently for the next book.

I was, however, impatient to read the entire Steig Larrson’s Millenium Trilogy. It was the first time I picked up novels by a Swedish author. Pity he died. Heroines like Lisbeth Salander are a whiff of clove flavoured smoky air in a world that slavers over protagonists with blond hair, mesmerizing blue eyes, slender and full figured, but also intelligent. I’ll take Lisbeth over Barbie anyday. I also forgive Lisbeth for being a mathematical genius. All three books dealt with violence against women.

Picked up Fredrick Forsyth’s the Jackal, the Afghan and the Fourth Protocol to give me a break from the literary stuff. They were all page turners.

In Ernest Hemingway’s a Farewell to Arms, I just couldn’t begin to like Catharine Barkley. From the moment her character was introduced, I hoped fervently that she was not the woman Henry would fall in love with. I had a similar response to the chief characters-Katharine Hilbery and Ralph Denham-in Virginia Woolf’s Night and Day. Particularly, Ralph Denham.

I had watched the movie In Love and War which was based on this novel. I remember the details vaguely but in the movie Catharine played by Sandra Bullock leaves Henry (Chris O’Donnell) for another man and Henry turns into an alcoholic.  Doesn’t matter how the story goes, I am still not fond of Catharine Barkley.

There are more. I really should get into the habit of making notes right after I read a book or watch a movie.