the mutt

Can Rakesh fire a Walther PPK?

Posted in indian writing in english by grx20 on December 10, 2008

It’s something that has been bothering me a lot.

I’ve spent countless hours brooding over it, ranted to my friends, wife and troubled myself with it no end.

The problem, in one word, is authenticity. As a reader of Indian writing in English I do not find Rakesh wielding a PPK or Inspector Siva whipping out a SR 75 believable. But in the hands of say, Baldaccci’s Web London, the SR 75 fits like a glove. Rakesh is a far cry from Jack Bauer and somehow I cannot see him do the things Agent Bauer would.

Why is it hard for us believe it? Is it because we have grown up (or old, as you please), watching Die Hard and reading Clancy, and therefore that sounds perfectly normal to us?

By that same token, we cannot deal with little Harish disappearing suddenly on Platform 3 at Madras Central Station and magically appear on the other side – in a world of wizards. And of course it is out of the question for a girl from Kolkata to fall in love with her classmate – who incidentally is a vampire from Trichur. As for Guhan being the sole survivor in a haunted space station, forget it.

These things that I mention, it’s not in our culture, one of my friends told me. (Right! It is all there in Western culture!) That’s an answer that throws up more questions in the process of answering one.

I could go on and on about this, but I neither want to abuse my freedom of speech nor your patience with it. I just wanted to throw this question up and invite thoughts from my readers.


Hotter than idlis

Posted in General, indian writing in english by grx20 on October 20, 2008

The White Tiger

As we all know, Aravind Adiga has won this year’s Booker for his debut novel, The White Tiger. Naturally, the book has been flying off the shelves.

Cut to Sunday, Bangalore, India, one of the most well known bookshops. I asked for The White Tiger and was informed that it’s not in stock. ‘Sold out, sir.’

And as if that wasn’t enough – he goes on to add – ‘It’s easier to get Adiga’s idlis, sir.’
(Adigas is a famous fast-food joint, whose idlis are legendary. )
Everyone is claiming Aravind Adiga as their own boy, from Mangalore to Chennai. Will Adigas follow suit and introduce, Fluffy White (Tiger) Idlis?

Three posts about one author? I have to tell you why!

Posted in indian writing in english, Writing by grx20 on October 11, 2008

Over the last month, and more so over the last week, my two posts on Navtej Sarna have attracted a lot of attention. And WP Stats – which is quite awesome – tells me people are searching for information about him and his new book – and are being directed to my blog. That’s nice. Not because it drives traffic to my blog, because one of India’s least spoken about writers is well, being spoken about.

In my first post, I deliberately stopped short of reviewing his book – and directed readers to links that did so. I touched upon his style (albeit very cursorily) and in my second post, I merely announced the impending launch of his second book.

Judging by the interest it has raked up, perhaps it is time to have a more detailed post about his writing style and his first novel, We Weren’t Lovers Like That. (No spoilers).

The word ‘lyrical’ crops up in almost every review of Navtej Sarna’s ‘Lovers’. When I read it, I didn’t quite know how to describe it, I didn’t know ‘lyrical’ was the word. But the prose has an effect of carrying you forward, effortlessly. It’s fluid, easy, and takes you along in an easy flow. Throughout the book, small gems are tucked away, and flash when you find them, and then dim away, yielding to the next one. The point is – it doesn’t dominate the overall ambience of the story. It’s not his verbal brilliance that’s on show here. It’s the mood he creates.

For instance – the way he introduces the title of the book:
She did not say anything and our deal became clear to me. We were to care and not to show. We were to wrap up our love in banter and funny stories and if we hurt each other, it was not meant to matter. Enough people loved seriously, soberly. We weren’t going to be lovers like that.

‘Lovers’ is a love story in flashback. Aftab is running away from an imperfect past, a life of failures. He has failed his father, his wife has left him and he does the one thing he feels he can do best – run away. Aftab embarks on a journey to find the love he once ‘gave up on’. The scene when Aftab gives up on ‘Ro’ is described in a haunting way – and the last line has stuck in my head since I read it. Her eyes seemed to stare through me at some distant purple hills. I felt like I had been caught laughing in a room where somebody had just died. Behind her the sea was brutally blue in the sun, and the ships were still.

There is a sense of melancholy in the book – understandable – there is a lot of nostalgia of places taken away by time, innocence lost, simple joys of childhood giving way to new fangled ones and a past, that was so full of promise, betrayed. Given that, plus the premise of lost love, some might find the book sad – Aftab’s incessant wallowing can put off readers. It is, however, also a story of hope and faith and starting afresh.

The strength of the book, I feel, lies not so much in the story, as it does in Sarna’s language. While Rohinton Mistry gives me the impression of being a careful writer who deliberates and ponders over the choice of every word, Sarna’s writing has an easy feel to it. As if you and I could easily write the way he does. When asked in an interview how long it took him to write the book, Sarna replied, three years and another ten to get there.

Another key strength of Sarna’s novel, is that it doesn’t fall into some of the typical traps Indian Writing In English (IWIE) tends to – the diaspora drama, the partition saga, glorification of regional idiosyncrasies to make them appealing to a Western audience or family saga/family tragedy. It’s one of the few books that doesn’t labour under any heavy baggage – there is neither any intention or pretension of capturing the Indian psyche, the ethos of India … or any such jazz that IWIE sometimes gets caught up with.

It’s just a poignant story. One told very very well.

Who is Navtej Sarna?

Posted in indian writing in english, Writing by grx20 on August 14, 2008

In my first post, I’d like to introduce you a wonderful writer, who very few (lucky few I might add) have heard of – Navtej Sarna.

He’s the former official spokesman for India’s Ministry of External Affairs. Recently, he’s been appointed the Indian Ambassador to Israel. I won’t be surprised if you’ve never heard of him. It’s a little difficult to find any information. Even his own website, sheds little light. This article from The Hindu here, give a little more.

We Weren’t Lovers Like That

I found his first novel, ‘We Weren’t Lovers Like That’ purely by accident. I was browsing through the Indian Writing section trying to find an author I had never heard of. I found this thin book wedged between two other fat books, almost invisible, and it seemed obscure enough to bother reading the blurb.

From the very beginning, it is evident Sarna is a tuly gifted and talented writer. His word choice is amazing – you feel, no other word could have worked. There are many brilliant parts in the book, and it’s a sheer delight to stumble upon them. The writing is beautiful and the story flows effortlessly. I particularly like the way he introduces the title.

I don’t want to get in to an in-depth review of the book – perhaps another time – but I would highly recommend it. (If you do want reviews, you will find enough in the very first page of a google search).

Interview snippet

From an interview with the magazine Outlook

Q. How long did you take to finish We Weren’t Lovers…?
A. Three years and another ten to get to the point where I could do it in three.


Full interview here.

Second Thoughts

Navtej Sarna’s column, Second Thoughts, appears on some Sundays in The Hindu’s supplement, Literary Review. And thankfully, it gives us his email id. His website is so outdated, most of the links don’t work, like  his email id. I know. I wrote him, but didn’t get a reply! Some of the articles are available online – most are scattered. I might put together a collection of links. The website of the Hindu (Literary Review section), has archives. But you have to plod through each Sunday to find his article. One of my favourites – The allure of Cote d’Azur. I love the way he ends it – Such a small town, with such long shadows. Full article here.


He’s got two short stories. Each in a different collection. I’ve read one and it’s just as good. In fact I bought that book, only for that story.

Navtej Sarna is one of the finest Indian writers writing in English. In fact, I would put him on the top rung of writers, period. Sadly unknown, his book is very very hard to find. But if you find it, keep it.