Wednesday, June 04, 2003

from shiv market to more diasporic goodies

Finally (and I repeat, to the tumultous background of screeching violins and vigorous cellos, finally) I got to the last page of Vikram Seth's A Suitable Boy and got closure to a great reading experience. Seth's wry and affectionate exploration of the Mehras, the Tandons, the Khans and the Kapoors embellishes what is ultimately a story of love in post-independence India. His knack for rhyme and wit (previously evidenced at length in The Golden Gate) as well as his ability to translate texts makes Ghalib and Mir (and Mast) more approachable. The most interesting part of the book for me was how he presented conversations in English, but noted the humour and puns in the source language (Hindi, Urdu), without marring the narrative. People familiar with Indian (and especially North Indian) will have a lot more to relish in this book, but foreign readers need not fear: this is a very engrossing read. To describe it as a literary Indian soap is being a tad flippant.

And then of course, there's Vikram Seth's trademark cameo in anagrams: every novel of his, right up to An Equal Music (which would appeal to afficionados of chamber music more than a general reader), has an anagram of his name popping up as a character, or in the case of A Suitable Boy, a confection: Kim Tarvesh in The Golden Gate, Keith Varms in An Equal Music. Here's the relevant extract (with some font colouring so you don't miss the cameo) from A Suitable Boy:

Instead, she made sure that they had enough food for the journey; she had brought extra provisions, just in case they hadn't thought of it themselves including a large cardboard box marked Shiv Market: Superb Sweetmeats and a thermos flask filled with cold coffee.

To celebrate this reading conquest (the last book I read that had over a thousand pages was Stephen King's magnum opus It), I decided to traipse about AFPL (another way to combat the sudden turn of bad weather: bleak skies, rain, grey clouds, the works) and pick up some items on hold as well. Two of them were fuelled by Aditya's constant (and recent) plugs for them: Jumpa Lahiri's Interpreter of Maladies and Bharati Mukherjee's The Middleman and Other Stories. The rest included Salman Rushdie's début effort Grimus (how could I resist after a description that went: After drinking an elixir that bestows him with immortality, a young Indian named Flapping Eagle spends the next 700 years sailing the seas with the burden of living forever. Eventually he grows weary of the sameness of life and journeys to the mountainous Calf Island to regain his mortality. There he meets other immortals obsessed with their own stasis and he sets out to scale the island's peak, from which the mysterious and corrosive Grimus Effect emits. Through a series of thrilling quests and encounters, Flapping Eagle comes face to face with the island's creator and unwinds the mysteries of his own humanity), Ernest Tidyman's Shaft, and a long-awaited DVD of Foxy Brown ("Interesting taste you have there ... old school movies", said the librarian as she handed me my holds). Perhaps what set up the contrast the most was that the other item I had on hold was an introductory text on SAP R/3. Not a good time to mention that I already have Beja Morris' text Film and Literature to inaugurate.

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