Book Review: Fence

This book review is part of #TSBCReadsIndia, a reading challenge where one reads a book from each State and Union Territory of India. Presenting the fourth of the 36 books to be read — the book from Gujarat — in this literary journey across India.


Fence, Ila Arab Mehta, Rita Kothari,Fence by Ila Arab Mehta is the English translation of the Gujarati original, Vaad (2011) by Rita Kothari. Published by Zubaan Books in 2015, Fence (Paperback, 232 pages) was not my first choice for the book from Gujarat for the #TSBCReadsIndia challenge. But when I came across this review of Fence, it didn’t take me long to decide on this book as my read from Gujarat and order a copy for myself.

I started reading the book almost as soon as I got it, but found it very difficult go beyond the first 100 pages or so. I must have stopped and re-started reading the book at least 4-5 times over a two-month period before finally giving up and putting the book aside.

This was more than a year back, and in that period I read other books and periodically mulled over whether to continue reading Fence or give it up, whenever I saw it on my bookshelf. Last week, when I came across Fence once again, I decided to give it another, last, attempt at reading the book.

It took me three days to read Fence, cover to cover, but finish the book I did. And then immediately got down to writing its review.

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Cobalt Blue, Sachin Kundalkar, Translated Book, Marathi to English, Jerry Pinto, Hamish Hamilton, Novel, Fiction, #TSBCReadsIndia

Book Review: Cobalt Blue

This book review is part of #TSBCReadsIndia, a reading challenge wherein one reads a book from each State and Union Territory of India. Presenting the second of 36 books to be read — the book from Maharashtra — in this literary journey across India.


Cobalt Blue, Sachin Kundalkar, Translated Book, Marathi to English, Jerry Pinto, Hamish Hamilton, Novel, Fiction, #TSBCReadsIndiaCobalt Blue by Sachin Kundalkar (Hardback, 228 pages, 2013, Hamish Hamilton) is probably the only book I have ever bought without reading either the author or book blurb, or even a sample page or two.

I didn’t really need to after I saw who had translated this book from the original Marathi into English — Jerry Pinto. I was immediately intrigued as till then I had only read Pinto’s original writing in English and hadn’t known that he did translations !

And so a copy of Cobalt Blue was bought with the intention of reading it soon. But that didn’t happen and the book lay in my to-be-read-pile of books for nearly 2 years, and would probably still be there if not for #TSBCReadsIndia. While shortlisting the book for Maharashtra, I remembered Cobalt Blue and after a quick look at it found that it fit the two basic criteria that I had set for a book to qualify for this reading challenge — (i) it was a translation, and (ii) it was recent.

Perfect. I got down to reading it immediately. 🙂

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#TSBCReads India, Book pile, Books from India and on India, To be Read Books

Book Review: One Part Woman

This book review is part of #TSBCReadsIndia, a reading challenge wherein one reads a book from each State and Union Territory of India. Presenting the second of 36 books to be read — the book from Tamil Nadu — in this literary journey across India.


One Part Woman, Perumal Murugan, e-book, Kindle edition, Banned BookPrior to the controversy over the Tamil novel, Madhorubagan, I hadn’t heard of either the novel or its author, Perumal Murugan. Or about the English translation of this book, One Part Woman, by Aniruddhan Vasudevan.

I first heard of the controversy on Twitter. What started off as a few stray tweets in the morning, had turned into a full-blown outrage by the afternoon. Normally, I ignore twitter outrages as I find them tiresome, but this was different as it was about a book.

I followed the outrage that day on Twitter and then as Twitter predictably found something new to outrage about the next day, I moved to other sources of information. I also bought a Kindle version of the book with the intention of reading it at the earliest. Soon the controversy died down, the media moved to other stories, and the book remained unread.

Then #TSBCReadsIndia happened and I decided on Tamil Nadu as the first stop in my literary journey across India. That’s when I remembered One Part Woman, and realised that it was a book that fit all my criteria for the reading challenge — it was translated, it was recent, and the controversy surrounding the book was the bonus. 🙂

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The House of Fear by Ibn-e-Safi

The place: Allahabad. The year: 1948. Twenty-year old Abrar Narvi was a fairly well-known Urdu poet, a sometimes writer of short stories and satires, and with a wish to write in other genres as well. One day, someone told him that Urdu novels “would not sell without an element of sex in them”. When Narvi said that no one had ever tried, the same someone retorted that until this was tried no one would know, would they?

Narvi took this remark very seriously, changing the course of his life and that of a whole legion of his readers. In 1952, under the pseudonym of Ibn-e-Safi, he produced his first novel in Urdu without an element of sex and with an emphasis on originality and newness. This novel, in the crime fiction genre, was the first of a series that came to be known as “Jasoosi Duniya”. And in 1953, when Narvi migrated to Karachi in Pakistan, another series was created in the same genre that came to be known as the Imran Series.

Ibn-e-Safi was a prolific writer and wrote 3–4 novels a month at the peak of his productive period. When he passed away in 1980, he had written about 245 novels across both the series. Published simultaneously in India and Pakistan, his novels were hugely popular as they were the type that everyone in a family could read. In fact, Ibn-e-Safi’s publishers (on both sides of the border) claim that no writer of Urdu crime fiction has broken his sales record till date!

It is this popularity which prompted an attempt at translating Ibn-e-Safi’s novels into English to enable a larger number of readers to become acquainted with his works.

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Puranic tales for cynical people and humour for all

How often do you pick up a book on the basis of its title? I do that sometimes, often to be disappointed. But Puranic Tales for Cynical People (Indialog, 2005), written by Parashuram and translated from the original Bangla by Pradip Bhattacharya and Shekhar Sen, was an exception. I purchased this book in 2005, read it from start to finish, and loved it so much that I was all set to read it a second time. That never happened, and after a while it got shelved with my other books, hidden but not fully forgotten.

Until recently, that is. My brother unearthed it recently during a raid on my bookshelves in search of some reading material. Thanks to him, I was able to once again delight in the book’s sometimes light, sometimes acerbic, and sometimes irreverent humour.

Parashuram was the pen name of Rajsekhar Bose (or Basu, if you please) (1880-1960). Under this nom de plume, he wrote a 100 short stories, which were published in 9 collections. Twenty of these stories have been put together in this collection of Puranic Tales for Cynical People by the translators.

The basic premise of most of these stories revolves around the intriguing possibility of placing “well-known characters from the Puranas in situations that might have been”. In other words, they cater to the question of what happened next or a behind the scene narration of a famous story or incident. For example: what happened to Surpanakha after the Ramayana? Did the celibate Hanuman ever consider matrimony? Did Vishwamitra and Menaka always have a lovey-dovey relationship? Do apsaras always stay young?

In the process, Parashuram pokes fun at everybody—from the Creators (Hindu, Christian and Muslim) themselves, to venerable sages and other characters that any reader who is even reasonably acquainted with Hindu mythology will be able to identify and relate to.

Some of the lesser known characters that Parashuram breathes life into are Yayati (‘Yayati’s Senility’), Revati (‘Revati Gets a Husband’) and Maharishi Jabali (‘Jabali’). Two of the stories actually make caricatures of two of the crankiest,  hot-tempered and feared sages—Durvasa (‘Bharat’s Rattle’), and Vishwamitra (‘The Clay Girdle’).

Two stories explore the possibility of what happens when (i) the creators of the world’s 3 main religions meet (‘Three Creators’); and (ii) the 7 immortal men from the Puranas meet—Ashwatthama, Vyasa, Hanuman, Vibhishana, Kripacharya, Parashuram (the sage that is, not the author), and the Daitya king, Bali—at ‘The Gandhamadan Conclave’. Both these stories are absolutely delightful. While the former hits out at the claim of comparative superiority of one religion over others, the latter story emphasises the fact that all wars are essentially unfair.

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Full moon of the teacher

The Year: 1995
The Place: A leading publishing firm in Bombay

The copyeditor let out a sigh of frustration. She had been copyediting an English translation of an autobiography originally written in Marathi, for the past two weeks. Progress was slow, painfully slow, largely due to the poor translation, and the list of queries for the translator and/or author was growing by the hour.

“This is not translation, this is torture!” grumbled the copyeditor for what was probably the millionth time.

Then, the copyeditor came across a sentence that stumped her completely and she knew that she could go no further till this had been understood. The sentence in the manuscript read:

It was the full moon of the teacher.

“Full moon of the teacher? Full moon of the teacher? What on earth is that? asked the copy-editor aloud.

The copyeditor felt a headache coming on. She decided to walk around the office and see if her colleagues could help her figure out what “full moon of the teacher” was.

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