My Country is Literature, Chandrahas Choudhury, Simon and Schuster, ₹699
Chandrahas Choudhury, author of three novels, and once a book critic at this publication, has come out with a book of essays. Called My Country is Literature, the hardbound offers a smart smart selection from his oeuvre as a literary critic over the last decade and over. He opens with an introduction that skilfully tells the story of his own journey in creating a niche for himself as a book reviewer, touching also upon his relationship with his father, a big influence in his life as a writer and reader. In the chapter, ‘The Books of My Twenties or, How I Became A Literary Critic’, it’s easy to fall in love with the life he shows us, despite its initial choppy nature and the fact that one might need a certain privilege in having the choice to have “never submitted my CV anywhere”, because “the cost would be too great” to take up “jobs available in journalism”, and that “there were few other prospects for a satisfying life in literature other than the path I had taken.”This does not take away from the fact that Choudhry wields a facile pen. It is a pleasure to read his sentences and have his love for the novel shine through. And to reminisce about books and writers as diverse as Orhan Pamuk and VS Naipaul, Perumal Murugan and Mukul Kesavan, or Sadat Hasan Manto and EE Cummings, — most paired with detailed sketched portraits of the authors by the painter and architect Golak Khandual — can be nothing short of a treat for the end-of-year holidays.
Dava Shastri’s Last Day, Keerthana Ramisetti, Hachette, Rs. 699
If you thought that’s an illustrated version of actor Rekha on the cover, you’re not the only one. This debut novel, by Keerthana Ramisetti, is set in 2044 New York, and is about a strong-willed Indian-American woman billionaire who has spent years being unapologetic about pursuing success. Extremely rich, but also terminally sick, Dava leaks the news of her own death so that she can see what the reactions might be. This backfires — secrets she long buried come back to focus. Stuck with her now grown-up children and their partners whom she invites for Christmas break to her private island (there is now a storm that keeps them there), everyone is forced to confront the consequences of the planted news of Dava’s death. Ramisetti’s characters and their relationships are nuanced, even if there are too many to follow with ease. The novel builds itself through multiple points of view and is well-paced to make it a quick and entertaining holiday read — especially since it has been optioned by Veritas Entertainment group, to be made into a TV show, quite like Succession, about a super rich Indian-American family.
Run for the Shadows, Sridala Swami, Context, Westland, Rs. 499
The poems in Run for the Shadows traverse love, loss, caregiving; there are thoughts about age catching up with one’s body, and life catching up with one’s relationships. If all of this sounds sad and not cheerful enough for the festivities and gatherings that the year will end with, think again. At a time when there’s a surfeit of poets but little poetry, Swami’s command of her craft in this 72-page volume is a cause for celebration; her words will be a source of warmth for a quiet night in of reading this winter. This is measured, beautiful poetry, meticulously thought through and extremely distilled. The sparseness of its words and economy of any overt emotions belies the intense churn that would’ve led to the masterful verses. Almost every poem and prose-poem is immensely shareable, and especially ought to be sent to anyone only reading quick, lazy, knee-jerk poetry catered to a ‘double-tap-and-move-on’ audience.
The Birthday Menu, Meenu Thomas and illustrated by Aakanksha Mittra, Storyweaver.org.in/Pratham, free to read
This book from Pratham voices the frustrations of many a child (and grown up too, perhaps!) who went through birthdays during the pandemic, especially during the more strict lockdown months. Little Kanchi’s parents promised to take her out to a restaurant for her birthday. But now, Mummy and Papa aren’t following through. It still isn’t safe, they tell her. They’ll cook for her, they say. But who wants the same old baingan bharta again? Kanchi is very, very upset. She cries streams of tears. She wants her favourite street food. She craves variety, of course. When Kanchi’s neighbours hear how sad she is — her wailing is enough to alert them — they step up with dishes from their own home. One neighbourhood aunty even offers to cook baingan, but differently and have Kanchi sample some. How neighbours from different states of India come together to celebrate Kanchi’s birthday and her love for food from different corners of the country makes for a heartwarming read in these times of isolation. Aakanksha’s Mittra’s illustrations add an air of magic to the festivity that comes together, and her map of the foods is a smart, educative, yet cute illustrative element in this online book that can be read for free on Storyweaver.
Where The Gods Dwell, Westland, ₹499
With 13 essays by writers and historians like Manu S. Pillai, Trisha Gupa, Shrenik Rao and Siddhartha Giggoo, Where the Gods Dwell brings together the stories, histories, and legends behind the origin and construction of 13 architectural marvels across India and beyond. Pillai’s essay, ‘The God who Ate from a Coconut Shell', for example, is about the Padmanabhaswami temple in Thiruvananthapuram, and the role that the king Martanda Varma who reigned between 1729-1758, figures in how the temple stands today. The essay on the Brihadisvara Temple in Thanjavur by Indira Vishwanathan Peterson gets into the nuances of temple architecture, and is littered with nuggets of information, like the fact that the temple was first photographed in 1858 by a British photographer named Linnaeus Tripe three years after the British government declared the Tanjore Kingdom ‘extinct’, even as she captures the temple’s current feel, as a place where art, history and faith all intermingle. The three ‘international’ temples featured are Pashupatinath in Nepal, written by Amish Raj Mulmi; the Katas Raj temple in Pakistan by Haroon Khalid, and the Nallur Kandaswamy temple in Sri Lanka, written by Thulasi Muttulingam.