Thursday, 20 July 2017

Fiction Reads: Train to Pakistan by Khushwant Singh

In the summer of 1947, a gruesome, violent bloodbath ensues from the India-Pakistan partition, killing millions in its wake. At the border village of Mano Majra, things go on as usual. The residents time their daily routine of chores, meals, work, prayers and sleep to the sound of trains arriving-departing at the railway station. This fragile peace is soon smashed to bits. The local moneylender's murder ruffles up the denizens first. Then, a train arrives at Mano Majra, ominously quiet, bearing ghostly tidings.

First published in 1956, Train to Pakistan is up there among Singh's best novels, notably Delhi (1990). Instead of the latter's epic sweep, Singh goes for the jugular here. He fleshes out life-mirroring characters, rough, raw and hapless to the circumstances. From the giant-like Sikh rogue Juggat Singh, the well-intending, yet conniving, district magistrate Hukum Chand, the city-dwelling Communist Iqbal, the Sikh priest Meet Singh to Nooran, the vulnerable Muslim girl, Singh is in his element here.

Trains running haywire and disrupting tranquil lives makes for strong symbolism here, as does the reading out of Guru Nanak's teachings, a downplayed, pivotal moment in the story.

As the Sutlej river swells with the monsoon's advent, dead bloated bodies come floating by. A madness slowly, surely grips the village. It only takes a young mob-rouser to light the flame and the stage is set for mayhem and murder. Singh masterfully dissects the times, emotions and short-sightedness of the general public. No individual, independent thoughts prevail here. In a snatch, a crowd transforms into a killing mob.

Nightmarish, brutal descriptions follow. Singh unsettling analogy to Nehru's Tryst with destiny speech is haunting. The abrupt climax winds up a powerful gritty tale. Unsentimental, effectively dry and humane, this is a surprisingly redeeming partition novel. A definitive classic, a necessary cautionary tale of our times. Sadly, still contemporary and immediate in the 70th year of India's independence.

(Article by Snehith Kumbla)    

A partition photograph by Margaret Bourke-White for LIFE magazine.

Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Fiction Reads: Turbulence by Samit Basu

All passengers on a London-Delhi flight mysteriously end up with superpowers. Soon, the new, uncertain beings take sides. The meek are done away with and only a few remain of the lot. A battle for survival and domination ensues. Meanwhile, film, comic book, music and other popular culture references populate the plot, keeping it light and downright silly.

A deliberate hyper-imaginative spoofy take on every other superhero story, Turbulence is Samit Basu at the height of his powers in mockery. Basu's humour is the stuff of parody films, bordering on the juvenile, but always entertaining.

Don't look for depth, truth and literature here. Latch on to vivid, comic-book, 'too much TV'-fueled imagery instead. From a flying man, a sleepwalking scientist, weather-maker, mind-bender, manga animation-transforming warrior, notorious strongman, body multiplier to the Internet manipulator, this is super-nerdy, teenage-dreamy stuff.

Turbulence cries out for a graphic novel version, it's superficial, damn funny, lampooned narrative is best suited for that format. A mad celebration of superhero plots and all things Marvel, DC and beyond, you have to be a comic book/manga/anime fan for this one. Roll it up like a 3D sandwich over multiple reading sessions and let your mind go low, groovy and loose in suspended disbelief.

(Article by Snehith Kumbla)

A collage of various Turbulence front covers.

Thursday, 13 October 2016

Author Quotes: Henning Mankell Quote on How Big is the World...

Sailing Boat, Mozambique

Henning Mankell (1948-2015), the Swedish crime writer, narrated this incident at a literary festival. I happen to have a documented, undated magazine cutting of the same, paraphrased below.  

Mankell was apparently interacting with an audience at Inhaca, Mozambique once. On an unexpected tangent, some curious teenagers, inadvertently infused a twist into the proceedings. It was an inquiry posed with utmost seriousness. Baffling as it may seem, the query was probably more surprising than all the ingenious plot deviations of  any crime thriller: When a boy and girl kiss each other, who is the one that must close their eyes? 

Sometimes a question can glint with a hundred radiant answers. Mankell discovered that kissing played no part in lovemaking on the island. They just didn't know it. All attempts at kissing were an imitation sourced from movies and magazines. There are people in the world that do not know what we do in our part of the world at all. Mankell ended his story with the following quote.   

"Many people say the world of today is so small. I say no.The world of today is really as big as it really is. If you are young today, go out in the world, and search to see how big is the world, not how small is the world. This story I give you as a present." 
-  Henning Mankell

(Article by Snehith Kumbla)

Henning Mankell