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I Try to be so Buddhist - Robert Sugg

Oh God, My God - GB Prabhat

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(personal narrative)

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Island of a Thousand Mirrors - Nayomi Munaweera

My Hungry Workers - Sourabh Gupta
(personal narrative)

The Stone - Anupam Choudhary

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(Translated by Bina Biswas)

Dr Bhikbab Changes His World - Sheela Jaywant

The Pillar of Society - Manju Kak

Book Reviews

Distant Traveller - Attia Hosain
(Mita Bose)

London Company - Farrukh Dhondy
(Rakhshanda Jalil)

The Cripple and His Talismans - Anosh Irani
(Mariam Karim)

Their Language of Love - Bapsi Sidhwa
(Arjun Raj Gaind)

Silk Fish Opium - Jaina Sanga
(Suneetha Balakrishnan)

The Blind Man's Garden - Nadeem Aslam
(Mariam Karim)

The Almond Tree - Michelle Corasanti
(Bina Biswas)

Nobody Can Love You More - Mayank Austen Soofi
(KG Sreenivas)

Along the Red River - Sabita Goswami
(Abdullah Khan)

Tales of a Journalist, Bureaucrat, Spy - Som Nath Dhar
(KG Sreenivas)

Che in Paona Bazaar - Kishalay Bhattacharjee
(S Ramesh)

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Book Review

A Book about Manipur

Che in Paona Bazaar: Kishalay Bhattacharjee

– S Ramesh

Publisher: Pan Macmillan
Genre: Non-fiction
Extent: 248 pp
Price: Rs 399

This book by Kishalay Bhattacharjee is basically about Manipur, which is part of what is known as 'North East India', but there is much more to the North East than Manipur. Some parts of the area are more peaceful than the others, and culturally and otherwise, quite different .The types of insurgency, and the associated law and order problems, are also quite different. The current reviewer, who has seen parts of Manipur, Meghalaya, Nagaland and Assam some years ago, feels that some of the differences are quite striking. This book has to be seen and read as a collection of articles rather than as a cohesive narrative on the area that offers an overall picture.

The author has adopted the device of using a fictional character called Eshei to tell the various 'stories' in the book. The reasons for doing this are not entirely convincing. The problem with using a fictional Eshei is that it affects the credibility of the book, which basically purports to tell real-life stories of Manipur. At some point the reader may start wondering – how do we know that all the stories really happened?

Though various types of stories have been related in the book, there is quite a lot of emphasis on incidents of terrorism and crime. For instance, a diktat was passed in 2001 by a militant group, Kanglei Yawol Kanna Lup, enforcing a traditional women's dress called phanek on all women including school-girls. But the saving grace is that the actual enforcement of the diktat appears to have been quite mild, though the authorities probably imposed it on school girls. Theatres were shut down, so no Hindi films could be shown; Hindi entertainment channels were also banned at that time. Slowly and inevitably, things changed; I suppose different things were objected to at different times by different groups.

The author also mentions a Korean influence on the youth, which even includes a smattering of Korean words. He mentions the ubiquitous presence of Che Guevara's face on belts, caps, T-shirts, trousers, etcetera in the Manipur bazaars. The lack of development in Manipur is described in one place quite succinctly: 'All Manipur evenings are like candlelight vigils in a state where there is no power, no running water but plenty of energy.' He adds, 'it really doesn't matter as long as one is alive.' A cynic would say that the same statements can be made about some other states in India as well – not necessarily in the North East.

Bhattacharjee mentions that the army sells (illegally) fuel, liquor and even ammunition, but does not go into these allegations in detail. Some of his anecdotes give us interesting facts about the food of the area. Apparently, some of the world's hottest chillies are served here, especially the one known as bhoot jolokia (ghost chilli) in Assam and umorok in Manipur. The Meitei tribe consists of food fanatics. Several spicy rice dishes and other chutneys are also mentioned, and I wish he had offered some recipes!

There is an entire chapter entitled 'Eshei', where there are descriptions of her relationships which include lesbian ones. Since Eshei herself is a fictional character, what does one make of such stories, which one feels may have been inserted simply to add interest to the narrative? Similarly, there is a chapter devoted substantially to drug addiction. The author mentions (this happened a few years ago, but we do not know how prevalent it is now) that HIV has become 'a source of livelihood' for several people in Manipur, where international funding was channelled into the drug money nexus and a percentage of that went directly to militant outfits. Of course, the siphoning off of foreign as well as government funds to people other than the intended recipients is nothing new in the rest of India either!

The journalistic approach is evident in the unconnected stories in the middle of the book. For instance, there is a story in chapter five about a Meitei girl making love to an army officer – which appears literally from nowhere. I suspect it was put in for the sake of adding sex to interest some readers. In some other parts of the book, too, some such stories make an appearance.

In chapter fifteen, however, there is an interesting account of a 'lost tribe', The Bnei Menashe, a Jewish tribe found in Manipur and Mizoram, which has now been recognized even by the Chief Rabbi of the Shepardic Jews in Israel. This tribe largely follows Jewish customs and traditions, despite having lived here for centuries.

There are a couple of chapters where there is a discussion of Meghalaya and Assam, but, as mentioned at the beginning of this review, the book is mainly about Manipur State, and the anecdotal nature of the book reflects, time and again, the author's own journalistic background, and the fact that it is basically a collection of articles written over a period of some years.

Dr S Ramesh, educated at Madras, Delhi, and Harvard Universities, was in the Indian Administrative Service for more than twenty years. He also worked for some time at the Tata Energy Research Institute, and later headed the IFCI Venture Capital Ltd. He is the author of two books, Venture Capital in India (with AK Gupta, OUP, New Delhi) and Kumaon (with Brinda Ramesh, UBS, New Delhi). He now lives in Ranikhet in the Central Himalayas.