The Wait is and is Not
- Nitasha Kaul
You Don't Mess with Viru - Jayant Kripalani
The Last Journey Home - Siddhartha Gigoo
Family Trip - Mihir Vatsa
For the Longest Time - Mridula Koshy
The Tree's Passport - Sumana Roy
I Try to be so Buddhist - Robert Sugg
Oh God, My God - GB Prabhat
Stroke at Noon - KL Chowdhury
Unbroken Awareness - Tendair Mwanaka
Island of a Thousand Mirrors - Nayomi Munaweera
My Hungry Workers - Sourabh Gupta
The Stone - Anupam Choudhary
The Return - Shirani Rajapakse
The Unsent Email - Shyama Laxman
Poetry: Naseer Ahmed Nasir
(Translated by Bina Biswas)
Dr Bhikbab Changes His World - Sheela Jaywant
The Pillar of Society - Manju Kak
- Attia Hosain
London Company - Farrukh Dhondy
The Cripple and His Talismans - Anosh Irani
Their Language of Love - Bapsi Sidhwa
(Arjun Raj Gaind)
Silk Fish Opium - Jaina Sanga
The Blind Man's Garden - Nadeem Aslam
The Almond Tree - Michelle Corasanti
Nobody Can Love You More - Mayank Austen Soofi
Along the Red River - Sabita Goswami
Tales of a Journalist, Bureaucrat, Spy - Som Nath Dhar
Che in Paona Bazaar - Kishalay Bhattacharjee
A Black Magic Book About Bombay
The Cripple and His Talismans: Anosh Irani
– Mariam Karim
Publisher: HarperCollins India
Extent: 240 pp
Price: Rs 499
Ah, the promise of a colourful volume bound in hard cover ... with surreal imagery in an Indian archway. I sighed with pleasure and sat down to read it on my balcony in the warm welcome sunshine. The first chapter reminded me of Saint-Exupery's The Little Prince, and I sighed even more... 'In the beginning there was a little boy...' it went. 'He was alone in the universe and everything was dark and quiet.' When I read a little more, I was reminded of Thich Naht Hahn's The Stone Boy and its allegorical style. A little further, I found Naipual's House for Mr Biswas: 'Gura scratched a boil on his thigh. He picked out flakes from his scalp. He bared his teeth to the sun until they got hot.' Oh, dear, I thought. Here we go again. Shades of The White Tiger too. The crippled Circe in Serge and Anne Golon's Angélique series seems to be resurfacing as well ... a unique character, king of the underworld in the time of Louis XVI , the head of the beggars , thieves and lepers, yes lepers , and I do remember rotting parts that shed off....
Of course I could do a terribly serious review being a compulsively diachronic and comparative reader in perpetual dialogue with everything I have read and can remember. Then too there would be lots to say about the philosophical gems, the irony, the satire, the critique of our cruel hypocritical society and family life, the humour (sometimes wonderfully childish) and I could be awfully clichéd and OscarWildish (or is it OscarWildly?) and screech, 'Ooo, he is so delightfully irreverent my dears!'
Of course I could discuss the karmic symbolism, and that of black and white, and of to have and have not, of belonging and unbelonging, with the simple loss of an arm that the protagonist suffers ... and many other things that one does not understand fully in the first reading (like the brown and black cockroaches for example) .
But frankly, (my dears), I'd be barking up the wrong tree! As Anosh says in the book, in again a very Oscar Wildish manner, 'Things that make perfect sense are not to be trusted. You must be illogical to understand the world.' What really got me wasn't the content, really, nor the intent maybe ... it's that while reading along I suddenly realized that the curling lines of the map mentioned in the early parts of the book are the actual shape of the journey we are going down with the one-armed protagonist and his fluttering armless sleeve ... an allegorical journey full of unexpected non-sequiturs, in search of a lost arm, armed with the dead blackened finger of a leper ... eeeks!
So all of a sudden I am on this trip, this curly-whirly ride in the most impossibly digressive jalebi of a book one can ever read. Holy Smoke! (Thassajoke.) Anosh has written my book! I mean ... Anosh is writing and I am writing ... what he is writing ... and since an arch can be a rainbow, and must be one for the story to continue, and a room full of men can be all women, and chickens do black magic ... Who else could have meandered through such an absurdly insightful world ... Anosh of course!
So as I am writing his book (excuse me I am too!) the protagonist is floating inside me and I am he ... it's the style, my dears, the irrepressibly digressive style that is the real magic of this book ... the black magic of this book about Bombay!
Bombay, a city of absences, laid out for the reader in an imagery world that is both unusual and gripping, sometimes funny sometimes sad:
'A person travels in this city like a bad smell...'
'...it is so hot that one by one the birds will burn and fall to the ground.'
'The sky forgets that it is blue. It sees the dusty winding streets, the naked children, the withered dogs, the widows, the drug selling temples, and it turns sad. It takes away its own light in shame.'
'If we all stopped giving alms dead beggars would fall on streets like flies. It might help our government... I am listening (to the beggar child's plea) through the arm I do not have ... the woman in the taxi ... ignores the small boy's words... she shifts to the centre of her seat. She has two arms and that impairs hearing.'
Hilarious conversations pepper the first half of the book ... I roll on the floor laughing!
But by the time I reach page one hundred and seventy-four I am tired. Tired of meandering, of perpetually digressing, meeting new characters and collecting the occasional gem. (I lose all my lives playing Mario even before I reach the Bowzer.) I am panting. I want to be the detached diachronic critic once more, sit in my armchair and pass judgment. I can no longer write this book, if you know what I mean. I am angry. It's a dark book. It's cynical. No, I could never have written it. It's a boy's book. I am a middle-aged woman with a boy of my own. I like happy beautiful books. Why am I writing this boys' book? Indeed I am angry. With myself. With Anosh. I am going to tell Baba Rakhu to cut of Anosh's right arm for writing such a wicked book. (I hope Anosh isn't left-handed.)
I have reached two thirds of the book and I don't love anyone in it. I feel cheated. I am not used to such hatred. It disturbs my reality.
But suddenly I have my chance at revenge. I am plunged by the eunuch Horasi and the four-hundred-year-old coal in the hookah into Rushdie – magic realism – plunged into Haroun's Sea of Stories. I have found relief ... for I can vent my bitterness. I am up to here with magic realism, I can say. Akbar and Horasi's tale angers me. But I cannot let go. I must read on. To find out where the cripple's arm went. The book no longer makes me laugh. It's too dark. I long for the black magic chickens and 'Suicide Bomber' and 'Madam'! (Am glad to be rid of the leper's finger though.) But they will not come back!
The wicked thread of the winding narrative has intertwined itself with my blood stream, with my nervous system. I cannot get rid of it. Even when I've finished reading the book! Hey, leggo! There isn't a Mental Help Number for citizens, and Mr P is a coffin maker....
Baba Rakhu! Come quickly! Anosh needs his writing arm cut off! He makes me suffer!
Cannot miss it now, can you (my dears)?