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Must read JCB Prize for Literature Longlist 

The JCB Prize for Literature has just unveiled its 2022 Longlist and we have three books in the run. Shortlist to be announced on 7th October 2022. Stay Tuned! 

 

 

Tomb of Sand by Geetanjali Shree, Daisy Rockwell

Tomb of sand JCB Prize for Literature Longlist 
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JCB Prize for Literature Longlist 

In northern India, an eighty-year-old woman slips into a deep depression after the death of her husband, and then resurfaces to gain a new lease on life. Her determination to fly in the face of convention – including striking up a friendship with a transgender person – confuses her bohemian daughter, who is used to thinking of herself as the more ‘modern’ of the two.

To her family’s consternation, Ma insists on travelling to Pakistan, simultaneously confronting the unresolved trauma of her teenage experiences of Partition, and re-evaluating what it means to be a mother, a daughter, a woman, a feminist.

Rather than respond to tragedy with seriousness, Geetanjali Shree’s playful tone and exuberant wordplay results in a book that is engaging, funny, and utterly original, at the same time as being an urgent and timely protest against the destructive impact of borders and boundaries, whether between religions, countries, or genders.

 

 

 

The Odd Book of Baby Names by Anees Salim

The odd book of baby names JCB Prize for Literature Longlist 
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JCB Prize for Literature Longlist 

Can a life be like a jigsaw puzzle, pieces waiting to be conjoined? Like a game of hide-and-seek? Like playing statues? Can memories have colour? Can the sins of the father survive his descendants?
In a family – is it a family if they don’t know it? – that does not rely on the weakness of memory runs a strange register of names. The odd book of baby names has been custom-made on palace stationery for the patriarch, an eccentric king, one of the last kings of India, who dutifully records in it the name of his every offspring. As he bitterly draws his final breaths, eight of his one hundred rumoured children trace the savage lies of their father and reckon with the burdens of their lineage.
Layered with multiple perspectives and cadences, each tale recounted in sharp, tantalizing vignettes, this is a rich tapestry of narratives and a kaleidoscopic journey into the dysfunctional heart of the Indian family. Written with the lightness of comedy and the seriousness of tragedy, the playfulness of an inventive riddle and the intellectual heft of a philosophical undertaking, The Odd Book of Baby Names is Salim’s most ambitious novel yet.

 

Rohzin by Rahman Abbas

Rohzin
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JCB Prize for Literature Longlist 

Mumbai was almost submerged on the fatal noon of 26 July 2005, when the merciless downpour and cloudburst had spread utter darkness and horror in the heart of the city. River Mithi was inundated, and the sea was furious. At this hour of torturous gloom, Rohzin begins declaring in the first line that it was the last day in the life of two lovers, Asrar and Hina.

The arc of the novel studies various aspects of human emotions, especially love, longing and sexuality as sublime expressions. The emotions are examined, so is love as well as the absence of it, through a gamut of characters and their interrelated lives: Asrar’s relationship with his teacher, Ms Jamila, a prostitute named Shanti and, later, with Hina; Hina’s classmate Vidhi’s relations with her lover and others; Hina’s father Yusuf’s love for Aymal; Vanu’s indulgence in prostitutes.

Rohzin dwells on the plane of an imagination that takes readers on a unique journey across the city of Mumbai, a highly intriguing character in its own right.

Our all time favourites for World Book Day!

Classics are timeless reads that bring you comfort, nostalgia, and warmth to invigorate and inspire you from time to time. This World Book Day, we’re bringing you our favourite books that will stay with you for a lifetime!

 

Navarasa by A.N.D. Haksar 

Navarasa
Navarasa || A.N.D. Haksar

 

According to Indian aesthetics, “rasa” is the sap or juice that permeates our culture, art, and helps to direct our basic human feelings. The Natya Shastra, an ancient Hindu text, first made reference to the Navarasas; our art, dance, theatre, and literature are all founded on these nine human emotions. For the first time, 99 verse translations of the nine rasas of old Hindu history are presented in Navarasa: The Nine Flavors of Sanskrit Poetry, coming soon.

 

The Monkey’s Wounds by Hajra Musroor

The Monkey’s Wound and Other Stories
The Monkey’s Wounds || Hajra Musroor

A compilation of sixteen short tales by Hajra Masroor called The Monkey’s Wound and Other Stories serves as an example of her unyielding voice, her piercing depictions of the bitter realities of life, and the wounds and traumas of women’s inner lives. The tales are taken from her renowned compilation of tales, Sab Afsanay Meray, and are translated from the original Urdu. They are tales that showcase Masroor at her finest.

 

The Sacred Wordsmith by Raja Rao

The Sacred Wordsmith
The Sacred Wordsmith || Raja Rao

 

Raja Rao’s best works, including his autobiographical Prefaces and Introductions, are collected in The Sacred Wordsmith. The book includes a number of his well-known acceptance speeches, such as those for the Sahitya Akademi Award and Neustadt International Prize, as well as other well-known writings, including “The World is Sound,” “The Word,” “Why Do You Write?” “The West Discovers Sanskrit,” “The English Language and Us,” and “The Story Round, Around Kanthapura,” a fascinating, unpublished account of the creation of his well-known first novel.

 

The Postmaster by Rabindranath Tagore

The Postmaster by Rabindranath Tagore
The Postmaster||Rabindranath Tagore

 

Poet, novelist, painter and musician Rabindranath Tagore created the modern short story in India. Written in the 1890s, during a period of relative isolation, his best stories—included in this selection—recreate vivid images of life and landscapes. They depict the human condition in its many forms: innocence and childhood; love and loss; the city and the village; the natural and the supernatural. Tagore is India’s great Romantic. These stories reflect his profoundly modern, original vision. Translated and introduced by William Radice, this edition includes selected letters, bibliographical notes and a glossary.

 

Selected Stories by Saadat Hasan Manto

Manto's Selected Stories
Selected Stories|| Saadat Hasan Manto

 

The gentle dhobi who transforms into a killer, a prostitute who is more child than woman, the cocky, young coachman who falls in love at first sight, a father convinced that his son will die before his first birthday. Saadat Hasan Manto’s stories are vivid, dangerous and troubling and they slice into the everyday world to reveal its sombre, dark heart. These stories were written from the mid 30s on, many under the shadow of Partition. No Indian writer since has quite managed to capture the underbelly of Indian life with as much sympathy and colour. In a new translation that for the first time captures the richness of Manto’s prose and its combination of high emotion and taut narrative, this is a classic collection from the master of the Indian short story.

 

Lifting the Veil by Ismat Chughati

Ismat Chughtai
Lifting The Veil||Ismat Chughtai

 

At a time when writing by and about women was rare and tentative, Ismat Chughtai explored female sexuality with unparalleled frankness and examined the political and social mores of her time.
She wrote about the world that she knew, bringing the idiom of the middle class to Urdu prose, and totally transformed the complexion of Urdu fiction.
Lifting the Veil brings together Ismat Chughtai’s fiction and non-fiction writing. The twenty-one pieces in this selection are Chughtai at her best, marked by her brilliant turn of phrase, scintillating dialogue and wry humour, her characteristic irreverence, wit and eye for detail.

One Part Woman by Perumal Murugan

Perumal Murugan
One Part Woman||Perumal Murugan

 

All of Kali and Ponna’s efforts to conceive a child-from prayers topenance, potions to pilgrimages-have been in vain. Despite being in aloving and sexually satisfying relationship, they are relentlessly houndedby the taunts and insinuations of the people around them.Ultimately, all their hopes and apprehensions come to converge on thechariot festival in the temple of the half-female god Ardhanareeswaraand the revelry surrounding it. Everything hinges on the one night whenrules are relaxed and consensual union between any man and woman issanctioned. This night could end the couple’s suffering and humiliation.

But it will also put their marriage to the ultimate test.Acutely observed, One Part Woman lays bare with unsparing clarity arelationship caught between the dictates of social convention and the tugof personal anxieties, vividly conjuring an intimate and unsettling portraitof marriage, love and sex.

 

Loom of Time by Kalidasa

Loom of Time by Kalidasa
Loom Of Time||Kalidasa

 

Kalidasa is the greatest poet and playwright in classical Sanskrit literature and one of the greatest in world literature. Kalidasa is said to have lived and composed his work at the close of the first millennium BC though his dates have not been conclusively established. In all, seven of his works have survived: three plays, three long poems and an incomplete epic. Of these, this volume offers, in a brilliant new translation, his two most famous works, the play Sakuntala, a beautiful blend of romance and fairy tale with elements of comedy; and Meghadutam (The Cloud Messenger), the many-layered poem of longing and separation.

Also included is Rtusamharam (The Gathering of the Seasons), a much-neglected poem that celebrates the fulfillment of love and deserves to be known better. Taken together, these works provide a window to the remarkable world and work of a poet of whom it was said: Once, when poets were counted, Kalidasa occupied the little finger; the ring finger remains unnamed true to its name; for his second has not been found.

 

Loved these recommendations?

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Best of Bond: 5 books you must read

What is nostalgia, after all, but an attempt to preserve that which was good in the past?
― Ruskin Bond, Roads to Mussoorie

 

It’s rare that an author’s writings pull the heartstrings of adults and young alike and Ruskin Bond is one such author. His writer’s pen flings fairy dust on our childhood memories, brings back our fond experiences with friends, family, and nature, and offers solace while transporting us to a new world. Bond, despite his slowed-down gait, has kept his childlike wonder alive and sprinkles it in his short stories every now and then. The characters in his books, mostly culled from the real world, are fresh, diverse, and relatable. The recollection of his indelible memories make his readers nostalgic about their own past and leave an everlasting impact on their lives.

Like us, if it’s impossible for you also to read only one book by Ruskin Bond, then scroll through this list with some of our favourites by him.

*

Writing for My Life
Writing for My Life
Writing for My Life || Ruskin Bond

If only the world had no boundaries and we could move about without having to produce passports and documents everywhere, it really would be ‘a great wide beautiful, wonderful world’, says Ruskin Bond.

From his most loved stories to poems, memoirs and essays, Writing for My Life opens a window to the myriad worlds of Ruskin Bond, India’s most loved author. Capturing dreams of childhood, anecdotes of Rusty and his friends, the Ripley-Bean mysteries, accounts of his life with his father and his adventures in Jersey and London among others, this book is full of beauty and joy-two things Ruskin’s writing is mostly known for.

With a comprehensive introduction, this is the perfect gift to all the ardent readers and lovers of Ruskin’s effervescent writing. A wide collection of carefully curated and beautifully designed stories, this book is a collector’s edition.

Words From My Window
Words From My Window
Words From My Window || Ruskin Bond

I need a window to look at the world without; for only then can I look at the world within. A room without a window is rather like a prison cell, and the soul is inclined to shrivel up in a confined space. … Car horns, children calling to each other as they return from school, a boy selling candyfloss, several crows chasing a hawk! Never a dull moment. And the magic mountain looks on, absorbing everything.

 

A Handful Of Nuts
A Handful Of Nuts
A Handful Of Nuts || Ruskin Bond

This collection of six novels sparkles with the quiet charm and humanity that are the hallmarks of Ruskin Bond’s writing. Evoking nostalgia for a time gone by; these poignant chronicles of life in India’s hills and small towns describe the hopes and passions that capture young minds and hearts; highlighting the uneasy reconciliation of dreams and destiny.

The six novels included in the collection are:

  • The Room on the Roof
  • Vagrants in the Valley
  • Delhi Is Not Far
  • A Flight of Pigeons
  • The Sensualist
  • A Handful of Nuts
A Little Book of India
A Little Book of India
A Little Book of India || Ruskin Bond

As India completes 75 years of independence, we bring to you a slice of our beloved country in the words of our favourite author, Ruskin Bond. Drawing on his own memories and impressions of this unique land, he pays homage to the country that has been his home for 84 years. Bond talks fondly about the diverse elements that make up this beautiful land-its rivers and forests, literature and culture, sights, sounds and colours. A Little Book of India is an amalgamation of the physical and spiritual attributes of our homeland, and takes you on a journey filled with nostalgia and devotion.

The Little Book of Comfort
The Little Book of Comfort
The Little Book of Comfort || Ruskin Bond

So, do you wish to go out into the night, walke up the hill, discover new things about the night and yourself, and come home refreshed? For just as the night has the moon and the stars, so the darkness of the soul can be lit up by small fireflies – such as these calm and comforting thoughts that Ruskin Bond has jotted down for you in The Little Book of Comfort. This book will give you an opportunity to discover yourself in this post-pandemic world to become more thoughtful and to discover the art of slowing down.

Leaders and Legacies: Understanding the connect with Leadership To Last

Have you ever wondered what inspires the most iconic leaders you know today to build empires and legacies that last for decades?

Leadership To Last
Leadership To Last||Geoffrey Jones, Tarun Khanna

Leadership is multifaceted and multi-dimensional. It is not a linear function: it exists and thrives in every aspect of a leaders’ life, be it personal or professional. In Leadership to Last by Tarun Khanna and Geoffrey Jones, the lasting aspect of wonderful leaderships that ultimately turn into legacies is highlighted. Through several interviews with leaders, entrepreneurs, and successful visionaries which include the likes of Ratan Tata, Adi Godrej, Shabana Azmi, Ela Bhatt, Seema Aziz, Narayana Murthy, and many more!

What sets Leadership To Last apart from other books that talk about leadership is its diversity in setting and a unique interview-like approach. Through these interviews, you are transported to a completely different world, and it’s almost as if you’re in the same room as the leader you’re reading about!

Emphasizing what makes this a riveting read for people from all walks of life, the co-authors also highlight how the focus of the book is on the long durée. By selecting cases that have led to lasting institutional changes, triggered by individuals over multiple decades, the book brings out what truly helps successful leaderships become long-lasting legacies!

Divided into 7 sections that talk about different factors that help create iconic legacies, Leadership to Last also helps you understand the importance of aspects such as managing families, committing to values, innovating for impact, contesting corruption, challenging gender stereotypes, promoting inclusion, and creating value responsibly.

Finally, the learnings from comprehensive interviews of different leaders are summarized to help you understand their experiences better, while also creating a lasting impact through a skillful writing style.

Learn how great leaders leave legacies behind, and everything in between with Leadership to Last!

Exploring the fascinating world of Abrahamic Lores with Eden

Mythology is often regarded as the sacred history of humankind, with elements of mystery, human nature, and supernatural elements rolled into enrapturing tales and stories. Myths are intrinsic to every culture’s existence and being, and often become bedtime stories that are passed down from generation to generation to keep that culture alive and roaring. Devdutt Pattanaik is no stranger to myths, and with Eden, he has explored the vast world of Abrahamic lores and myths uniquely through an Indian prism.

 

What are Abrahamic Lores?

Eden cover
Eden||Devdutt Pattanaik

 

Abrahamic lores, derived from the word ‘Abraham’, consist of monotheistic religions that strictly worship one God. These include three of the biggest religions in the world: Judaism, Islam, and Christianity. There are mentions of ‘Abraham’, the one true God, in scriptures of these religions throughout history, be it in the Torah, the Bible, or the Quran. Abrahamic lores remarkably bring together these three contrasting religious beliefs with a series of common and entrancing elements. These include believing in a paternal, judging, and completely external God, to which humans and living beings are subordinate. Another common theme that is consistent throughout these religious texts is the longing for salvation or transcendence which can only be achieved by pleasing God. Abrahamic lores often have prophets, beginning with God creating the world, and ending with the resurrection of the dead and a final judgement.

 

 

Eden: Retelling Monotheism through an Indian Prism

 

Eden spotlights how the same lores have different retellings in three of the world’s most dominant faiths in the modern era. The similarities between the scriptures of these three religions and the obsession with ‘one truth’ have, in fact, created inter-religious rivalries, instead of unification. These lores also reflect the plethora of insecurities we have as human beings and instigate a much-needed sense of empathy to heal the wounds we earn while constantly fighting these battles.

 

“In the beginning, there was nothing but God.

God has no form or name.

But God existed-conscious and sentient.

Humans refer to God in the masculine,

but that reveals the inadequacy of the human language.

God is neither male nor female, neither human nor animal,

neither plant nor mineral, neither wave nor particle.

God is beyond it all, an entity uncontained

by measurement or word

Before creating the world,

God gave seven things:

God’s law, God’s throne, Heaven to the right,

Hell to the left, God’s sanctuary, an altar with

the name of the first and final prophet who

would tell all about God and God’s law,

and a voice that kept chanting,

“Come back, children of humans.”

 

Written by veteran mythologist Devdutt Pattanaik, Eden introduces readers to the many captivating tales of angels, demons, prophets, patriarchs, judges and kings. It also retells stories from Mesopotamian, Egyptian and Zoroastrian mythologies that influenced Abrahamic monotheism over time.

Get your copy and delve into the fascinating and captivating world of Abrahamic lores today!

Leadership or Management? Both. Transform explains why!

Leadership and Management. What comes to your mind when you think about these concepts?

We often read about being successful, but how often do we really think about making the people around us successful? That is exactly what Transform, Chandramouli Venkatesan’s latest and final book talks. It also aims at helping people navigate people management and how intricately it’s connected to being successful professionally, as well as flourishing socially.

The word ‘management’ often has a one-dimensional approach for a majority of people However, Chandramouli explains how it’s irrevocably connected with another aspect of success: good leadership. They are both different sides of the same coin. Managing is the art of impacting people while being involved directly, and leading is the art of impacting people without being directly involved. They are mutually inclusive and even though they can be executed independently, the best results can only be achieved when they are practiced simultaneously.

Catalyst by Chandramouli Venkatesan
Catalyst||Chandramouli Venkatesan

In Catalyst, Chandramouli’s first novel, there was a great emphasis on career management and life management. It had crucial insights about the important strategies and decisions people take to move forward in their respective careers. Catalyst focused on helping people win where it matters- the second half of their careers. Moreover, it also took into account life management, and how success is not limited to professional boundaries. Excelling both personally and professionally is possible.

 

 

 

front cover Get Better at Getting Better
Get Better at Getting Better|| Chandramouli Venkatesan

Get Better at Getting better was the sequel and the second guide in this series, and eloquently talked about improving consistently. While it’s great to be good, you can always be better, and even hack the process of getting better. With a heavy emphasis on improving one’s skills, capabilities, judgements, communication, and decision-making abilities effectively, it talked about how to grow rapidly as a professional and remain relevant.

Getting Better Continuously, Career Management, and Life Management are three out of the four of the author’s pillars when it comes to effective management. They focus on bettering themselves to excel and have an inward approach. However, management and leadership are functions that involve people. Hence these three pillars and their success depend on the fourth and final concept: People Management.

 

Transform book cover
Transform||Chandramouli Venkatesan

Transform, the ultimate guide to lead and manage, is an insightful and interactive read for anyone struggling or striving to be better at being a good leader and manager. By keeping leading and managing as pre-conditions instead of mutually exclusive alternatives, Transform puts into perspective the importance of being good at both. With revelations and key learnings in all four sections, it helps managers who aren’t leaders and leaders who are struggling to be good managers understand how the two are connected through their own experiences.

Transform stands out from the long list of books on people management by facilitating two-way communication instead of a jargon-rich monologue. With exercises to improve self-awareness and steps to create practical action plans, it also takes into account that different things can work for different people. People management is the pillar that supports the other three, and according to Chandramouli, “It is not important whether you are a leader or a manager, what is important is whether you are leading and managing.”

Renew the way you approach success at the workplace and in life and evolve into a more self-aware professional with Transform!

The Lawyer and the Lizard by Vivaan Shah

All of us have had awkward and uncanny encounters that almost always amount to nothing or make up for lukewarm, ‘only to be told at a party’ stories. Here’s something out of the ordinary, penned down by Vivaan Shah, the author of Living Hell and Midnight Freeway, that is definitely a treat for mystery lovers!

***

I flipped my phone around to five missed calls from the office once I got off the Sea Link. A high-alert police check-post was set up on the Worli sea-face, which I thought irregular given their general preference of time and place. Whether they were wrapping up for the night or starting the day I couldn’t rightly tell. Two armored cars stood tilted diagonally to the barricade, a squad of four RTO cops and two khaki-uniformed 2-star officers inspecting every vehicle that passed by, peering into the passenger seats and checking every number plate.

A navy blue police van, with its caged backdoor open, stood parked behind a hauled up-tempo and a scooterist without a helmet humoring one of the junior constables. From ahead, I saw this creature walk out of a bright red Honda city—thin, furtive, practically bent double with the way he was arching his shoulders. He sashayed right past the police ‘Dabba’ towards the barricade, his arms dangling from the pectoral girdle like strings of wire attached to an electricity pole—his head leftwards and right as he expanded his chest before the senior-most constable, clicking open his jeep door with one hand, and gently holding it out with the other.

He whistled out to a passing havaldar, one of those squeaky mawaali catcalls you’d hear out on Band Stand or in the Complex. He caught my eye not because he was particularly distinctive looking, but because he was the only one who stood a chance of distracting the officers while I crossed the check-post.

As I attempted delicately to steer on past the zig-zagging yellow barriers, one of the cops caught hold of my open window and stalled me before I could get the gear back into third. He had a sling-on sten gun hanging from his right shoulder, and a slight slouch defeating an otherwise pretty stiff posture. He looked first at my number plate and then at my fingers spread out over the wheel.

‘License and identification please!’ he asked, from behind a pair of the darkest aviators on the force. I keenly obliged, handing him the necessary particulars.

‘So…Pranav…?’ he asked, reading from my license. ‘What do you do?’

‘Lawyer.’ I said.

Tallying the information on my PAN card with my license, he leaned forward on the half-open window and lowered his aviators to initiate eye contact. I looked away as his elbows squeaked on the polish.

‘Come here.’ he wagged one of his index fingers at me.

‘What happened?’

‘Come here! What’s that smell?’

‘What smell?’

‘You been uhh….doing a bit of eh-eh?’ he clenched his fingers into a fist and stuck his thumb out to demonstrate the neck of a bottle. ‘Huh?’ he inquired, shaking his fist to elaborate on his half-hearted pantomime.

‘Ohh no-no! No! I don’t drink sir!’ I promised him.

He semi-circled the bonnet and got into the front seat displacing my briefcase to the back.

‘Excuse me, sir!’ I coughed.

He mumbled something out in Marathi on his walkie-talkie and placed his sub-machine gun under the seat by his feet.

‘You know what the penalty for drinking and driving is?’ he asked, turning towards me.

‘As a matter of fact, I do.’

‘Five to ten years!’ he spat.

‘For drinking? Since when?’ I laughed.

‘Yup! Those are regulations!’

Just then, a vague tapping at his window dulled his enthusiasm. It was the same creature from before beckoning assistance. The cop slouched in his seat on noticing him, raising up his collar to cover his face.

‘Get in the back!’ He swung his thumb around demandingly at him.

‘Who is this guy?’ I asked as the wastrel reached for the door just behind the cop.

‘No one. He’s a lizard.’

‘A what?’

I slowly started the car, it seemed I was taking them both for a little spin.

‘Pranav Paleja!’ I tipped a half-hearted salute at him from the rearview mirror. ‘Pleased to meet you.’

He nodded, looked aside and then out the window, neglecting to give me his name.

‘That’s Nadeem.’ The cop took the trouble to introduce us.

The guy in the backseat still didn’t acknowledge the name was his.

‘Take a U-turn.’ the cop instructed me. I did so at the approaching roundabout, without as much as flinching from the order.

‘Okay, let’s make this quick, how much we got?’

‘I’m sorry sir?’

‘How much cash you got?’

‘Well, actually sir…’ I said. ‘Absolutely nothing! At present, I’m broke! I spent all my money on the petrol!’

‘Hmmm…petrol huh?’ he murmured, putting on the A.C and rotating its knob till he was satisfied.

‘Sir…..’ I mumbled. ‘I’m sorry but I don’t usually use that!

‘Aaaaahhh!’ he exhaled, enjoying the soft fragrant breeze of the A.C.

‘Sirr….’

‘Let’s go for a ride!’ he barked, turning the A.C all the way up.

We skimmed past a redlight without him as much as noticing.

‘Take a left.’ he asked me to pull into a one-way.

‘It’s a no-entry.’

‘Doesn’t matter.’

The tyres squealed when I turned left and nearly grazed a stationery vehicle at the curve whose driver was mercifully missing. Two ATMs stood facing each other in the empty lane, one an Axis Bank Branch and the other an outlet of HDFC.

‘What about you Chipkali?’ he asked the guy seated at the back.

The guy just nodded his head. ‘I told you, I’m out!’

Turns out I had to pay his fine too, he had not a rupee to his name, not even the most rudimentary debit card of any sort. He promised he’d pay me back, but I had nothing more than his phone number to go on. I’d had only two pegs from the night before that were probably still swimming about in my system, but this Nadeem Chipkali had been on an all-night bender, emerging periodically out of every late-night dive this side of the Sea Link. We had to roam around Worli with the cop for around half an hour before we could collectively get him to settle on five thousand between us plus breakfast.

Once we paid him off, he took a ride with a passing patrol bike outside City Bakery, and that was the last we ever saw of him. Nadeem and I  just stared at each other from the rear view mirror.

I pushed the front seat back to broaden leg space for him, but he didn’t budge from the backseat, half-expecting me perhaps to play driver to his esteemed rear-end. As I let go of the lever, something pointy and metallic cooled my hand from below the seat—a jagged touch of something entirely alien to my possessions—then came the ruffled cloth of a strap, and soon the rusty perforations constellated over a barrel.

Just as Nadeem finally creaked open the passenger seat door, which I in this revelation had disregarded to reach for, the muzzle of the stun gun stared me back in the face from below the folds of the floor mat.

We both looked at each other, our mouths agape, and our eyes bulging wide. I immediately reversed back to the signal and spun the steering wheel around furiously to cut across the three or four cars that swept by. From afar on Worli sea-face I could faintly perceive, some of the junior constables beginning to pick up the traffic cones and wheel out the metallic Mumbai Police barriers toward the pavement.

Scarcely had we made it to the second red light when, from a clearing in the traffic, we caught the remains of the barricade being speedily disbanded. By the time we were crossing the same spot we had been pulled over at, there wasn’t a cop in sight. We were stuck with the policeman’s submachine gun, which he had irretrievably forgotten, and had no means by which to return it, without of course being thought of as perhaps dangerously insane.

Written by Vivaan Shah

Midnight Freeway Cover
Midnight Freeway by Vivaan Shah
Living Hell Cover
Living Hell by Vivaan Shah

On inspiration and art: Author and illustrator of Topi Rockets from Thumba

Menaka Raman’s fascinating book about the launch of India’s first ever rocket, Topi Rockets From Thumba, has charmingly beautiful illustrations made by Annada Menon.

In a delightful chat, the duo shared about their ideas, inspirations, and experiences of writing and illustrating the book.

 

Questions for Menaka Raman, Author

 

What inspired you choose this theme and instance from history?

The iconic photograph of the two scientists pushing the nose cone of the rocket on the back of a bicycle the starting point of this book for me. I just found something so moving about the image and when I started reading the story behind it I was hooked. I had to no more!

Topi Rockets from Thumba
Topi Rockets from Thumba || Menaka Raman, Annada Menon, Illustrator

What research went into writing this book?

So much research! This was my first attempt at creative nonfiction and I was so nervous. I wanted to make sure I got all the facts straight and the timelines right. Plus, the more I read about Dr. Sarabhai and the amazing team of scientists behind this historic moment, the greater a sense of responsibility I felt I wanted to convey what Dr Sarabhai was like, why people were so drawn to him and of course his infectious enthusiasm. My starting point was Amrita Shah’s biography of Dr Sarabhai and then I went on to read Lavanya Karthik and Shamim Padamsee’s children’s biography of Dr APJ Kalam, ISRO A Personal History by R.Aravamudan and From Fishing Hamlet to Red Planet by Dr. UR Manoranjan Rao. Articles, papers and interviews with people who worked at ISRO were all key to my research. I also wanted to get things like the names of the characters right, so I reached out to friends for help and advice on that!

Of course at the end of it all I had so much research notes that I had to decide what to keep in the story! That was hard!

How did you decide to compare the ‘nose cone’ of rocket with ‘topi dosa’?

When I first saw the photograph of the nose cone on the cycle, it really struck me ‘Wow! This looks like a topi doas!’ I must have been hungry at the time!

Are you planning to write another book on similar theme?

I would absolutely love to! Now that I’ve had a taste of it, my antennae are up for other great stories like this!

 

Questions for Annada Menon, Illustrator

 

What intrigued you about the story of Topi Rockets from Thumba at first? What made you illustrate it?

When I was offered to illustrate for the book I already was in the zone of being intrigued by the topic of outer space. I follow and have also read a book by the astronaut Chris Hadfield. He increased my curiosity of space and to this day does. Though I was aware of Dr. Sarabhai , I didn’t know details of his endeavours. His story and drawing it from the perspective of Mary, the charatcer in the book, was a lovely way to celebrate his work. I guess apart from that the idea of drawing rockets excited me. It poked the child in me to have fun on the journey of illustrating the book.

How did you finalise the style of art for this book? What other styles were your options?

This was actually finalised with the help of my art director, Antra. We actually wanted to go for a very textured yet slightly detailed approach to the illustrations. I like that the book has 2 spreads that are based on Mary’s imagination. The pages consist of what a rocket would like according to Mary to how a rocket is fighting a storm. I had to make sure these pages stood out from the raw look of the other pages to show the simplistic environment of Thumba. I actually didn’t ponder over too many style options. From the author to the editor, they wanted some of my existing approaches if drawing to flow into it. Hence I just went with my gut to execute it.

How different or similar was the first draft to the final version?

Well, the ideas from 90% of the sketch / draft stage were carried forward to the final stage. I think anything that changed while illustrating are mostly the technical aspects of the book. Since it is a STEM book we had to make sure scientific elements were accurate . I also had to make sure that the people of Thumba and the place itself looked close to what it may have been during the 1960s . There aren’t too many image references to these from the mentioned time. The tricky part is most of these images are black and white so representing or reimagining them in color was a fun experience.

What do you think is special about the illustrations in this book?

I actually don’t know if this a ‘blow one’s own trumpet’ kind of question (chuckles). Well, I guess what I can say about the illustration that it has been drawn with a lot of innocence and curiosity. The book is meant to subtly introduce a child to the beauty of space and a brief introduction to Dr. Sarabhai’s contribution to India’s space program. Since it is a light read the illustrations are meant to compliment the same. Also, in a subtle way the illustrations are an ode to nature’s elements water, earth , wind and fire (3 elements depicting Thumba and 1 depicting a rocket). I guess for me these little things make it special.

Freedom to live life on our own terms

How many times have you stopped at a traffic signal and turned your face away from the hijra who stood outside your car window asking for money? Wasn’t it pure loathing that you felt? Wasn’t it worse than what you normally feel when a beggar woman with a child does the same? Why? I’ll tell you why. You abhorred the eunuch because you couldn’t identify with her sex. You thought of her as a strange, detestable creature, perhaps a criminal and definitely sub-human.

I am one of them. All my life people have called me hijra, brihannala, napungshak, khoja, launda . . . and I have lived these years knowing that I am an outcast. Did it pain me? It maimed me. But time, to use a cliché, is the biggest healer. The adage worked a little differently in my case. The pain remains but the ache has dulled with time. It visits me in my loneliest hours, when I come face to face with the question of my existential reality. Who am I and why was I born a woman trapped in a man’s body? What is my destiny?

Beneath my colourful exterior lies a curled up, bruised individual that yearns for freedom—freedom to live life on her own terms and freedom to come across as the person she is. Acceptance is what I seek. My tough exterior and nonchalance is an armour that I have learnt to wear to protect my vulnerability. Today, through my good fate, I have achieved a rare success that is generally not destined to my lot. But what if my trajectory had been different? I keep telling myself that this is my time under the sun, my time to feel happy, but something deep inside warns me. My inner voice tells me that the fame and celebration that I see all around is maya (illusion) and I should accept all this adulation with the detachment of a sanyasi (hermit).

The first ever transgender to become a college principal is a rare feat, the media has proclaimed. My phones have not stopped ringing since, and invitations to felicitations have not ceased to pile up on my desk. I would love to believe that those who fete me also accept me as I am, but how can I ignore the sniggers, the sneers and the smirks that they try to hide but fail? For them I am just another excuse to watch a tamasha (spectacle), and who doesn’t want some free fun at someone else’s expense?
Hurt and anger are two emotions that I have learnt to suppress and let go. It is part of the immunity package that I am insured under. I have finally accepted the fact that my achievements have no bearing on the people around me. They still think I am sexless between my legs and that is my only identity. That I also have a right to have emotions is an idea that is still completely foreign to most. I don’t blame them. I blame myself for not being able to ignore such pain. I should have long stopped bothering about them.

It is not that I have not had my share of love in all my fifty-one years of life. They were good while they lasted. I have had major heartbreaks too, but each time I learnt a new lesson. I have loved well and deeply, and I hope my partners, wherever they are now, would silently remember that bit about me. It’s another matter that relationships don’t seem to work for me. Those who have loved me have always left me, and each time I have lost a piece of me to them.
Memories rush back as I sit down to write my story. I write with the belief that it would help society understand people like me better. We are slightly different outwardly, but we are humans just as you are and have the same needs—physical and emotional—just as you have.

———

 

A diving holiday, disturbing discovery, and kidnapping

Far out in the Arabian Sea, where the waters plunge many thousands of metres to the ocean floor, lies a chain of bewitching coral atolls – the Lakshadweep Islands. Vikram and Aditya dive into lagoons with crystal-clear water and reefs that are deep and shrouded in mystery. But when they stumble upon a devious kidnapping plot, their idyllic holiday turns into a desperate struggle for survival.

Here is an excerpt from Deepak Dalal’s new book, Lakshadweep Adventure where Faisal – the boy who’s care Vikram and Aditya are left in – makes a disturbing discovery.

Front Cover A Vikram–Aditya Story: Lakshadweep Adventure
A Vikram–Aditya Story: Lakshadweep Adventure

Faisal was in a bad mood. His uncle’s impending arrival hovered like a dark cloud above him. And his friends’ decision to abandon him for the day only made things worse.

Faisal had noticed the wind the moment he had strolled out on to the beach, and his mood had soured even further when he saw his friends enjoying themselves. He wished he had accepted Aditya’s offer as he watched them speed their boards across the lagoon. But it was too late now. His uncle would be arriving shortly.

Faisal sat under a palm tree. He passed time drawing figures in the sand. Above him, palm fronds shook and fluttered as the wind whistled through them. The sun shone brightly. The sand intensified its glare, forcing Faisal to shut his eyes. It was pleasant under the tree and the wind was crisp and enjoyable. The rustling of the palms overhead soothed him and he soon fell asleep.

The tide slowly crept up the beach and finally washed over Faisal’s feet, waking him with a start. He looked at his watch, muttering softly to himself. It was past midday.

Basheer uncle would have arrived by now. He dusted sand from his clothes and rose hurriedly to his feet.

Faisal heard raised voices from the living room window when he entered the yard. He crept forward till he was below the window and peeped in.

His uncle was standing in the centre of the room, facing a group of men.

Basheer Koya was a copy of Faisal’s father, except that he was fatter and there was hardly any hair on his head. But unlike his brother, whose manner was calm and collected, Basheer Koya’s face was contorted with rage. His cheeks were dark and red and he was shouting like a man possessed.

‘Fools!’ thundered Basheer Koya in Malayalam. ‘Monkeys have more brains than you lot. Idiots. I thought you had ears. But obviously you don’t. You weren’t to set foot in Kalpeni. How many times did I tell you not to come here? Yet, not only do you come to the island, but even more brainlessly, you visit my home.’

A bearded man with big, wide shoulders spoke. ‘Sir,’ he began. ‘Sir—’

Basheer Koya ranted on, cutting off the man. ‘I travelled all the way to Kochi to make certain that no suspicion fell on me and I returned only after the operation was over. And you? I come home and see you fools sitting in my house. I take all these precautions and now everyone on this island can link me to you and from there to the operation.’

‘But, sir—’

‘You were under orders to head to Tinakara Island. What are you doing here?’

‘Sir. I was trying to explain just that, sir. We were headed for Tinakara. But we had engine trouble, sir. A terrible rattling noise came from the engine and we were forced to head for the nearest island. You can speak to the mechanic, sir. He looked at our boat and said we were lucky to make it here to Kalpeni.’

The explanation diminished Basheer Koya’s rage, yet he continued to glare at the bearded man. ‘Kumar. Where is Kumar?’ he barked.

‘Kumar is safely on board, sir. There’s no need to worry about him. He is in the lower cabin and one of our men is with him all the time. He can’t make a sound or do anything. He won’t be able to alert the mechanics.’

Faisal froze. This was not for his ears. It was wrong of him to eavesdrop. He wondered if he should leave, but who was Kumar and what was his uncle up to?

‘No one is to know that we have a prisoner on board,’ growled Basheer Koya. ‘Even Allah will not be able to help you if he is discovered. I make no allowances for mistakes.’ Basheer Koya stared at his men, shifting his gaze from one to the other. ‘Do you understand?’

There was silence in the room.

Faisal understood full well what his uncle meant. He shuddered.

***

Journey through these breath-taking islands with a tale of scuba diving and sabotage, set in one of India’s most splendid destinations.

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