Saturday 18 February 2017

Anand's The Book of Destruction

A few thoughts on Anand’s The Book of Destruction, in no particular order:
  • Anand is the pen name of P. Sachidanandan, a modernist writer from Kerala. A previous book of his, “Govardhan’s Travels”, has also been translated a few years back. The Book Of Destruction - originally called Samharathinte Pusthakam - is a short book of less than 200 pages. The translation is published without long analyses, introductions, afterwords and so on - just the text, speaking to you the reader directly. Just the way I like it. 
  • Anand is well known for being crisp and to the point - and correspondingly, his books are dense and complex. You need to work at them. He’s also supposed to be an intellectual. All these things really show in this book. Doesn’t mean it’s any less interesting, though. 
  • The Book of Destruction is divided into three “stories”, although they’re really all interconnected, and have the same narrator. The first talks of the narrator’s encounter with a Thug (the semi-mythical murderous clan of yore), in which the thug explains why he is not repelled by the idea of murder, rather, that his faith helps him see the inevitability of it. The second story has the narrator hear from an Assassin (again, a murderous cult), who explain that murder is not just a secretive thing, but needs to be publicized. And the third story veers off into an even more unsettling direction, where normal people are turned into murderers of a sort. Explained this way, the stories seem nicely linked but it takes some thought to come to that conclusion.
  • What I absorbed (as a reader) from this book is Anand’s thesis about religion: that it is the uniform tendency of religion to justify its adherents’ every misdeed - indeed, to insist that these murders, rapes, alienations, and downright genocides in the name of its ideals are essential. Note the word Samhaar in the original title - it's so much more evocative and specific than just "destruction". There are several parallels with Christianity in the last section, and hints towards other religions scattered here and there. But Anand never quite comes out and says he’s talking about organized religion, so you’re free to take off in a different direction if you need to. 
  • DON’T read this book last thing in the night. It’s not comfortable bedside reading. And DON’T read it unless you’re willing to be disturbed and prodded into thinking for several days. But if you’re willing to put in that effort, The Book Of Destruction will meet you more than half way. 

Tuesday 7 February 2017

Sultan of Delhi, by Arnab Ray

A few thoughts on Arnab Ray’s “Sultan of Delhi”, in no particular order: 

  •  Sultan of Delhi is about Arjun Bhatia, a man who lost everything during the Partition, but who rose to become a political fixer and "behind-the-scenes" emperor of the Delhi scene. The writing is fast-paced, editing and vocabulary is good. You aren't "thrown out of the book" at any point by bad editing or weird writing. Considering Arnab Ray ( aka @greatbong) has been a popular blogger for decades and written books before, this is to be expected, but in the current scenario, it is a big relief.  
  • I am really happy to see that Ray shies away from cliches and similes that don’t fit the Indian context. This has been a grouse of mine for a long time (see, and though IWE has been growing spectacularly over the pasrt decade, I see few signs of the language being subverted to create something specific to the Indian style of speaking. But Sultan not only avoids the cliches, but also adds in Hindi phrases for colour. Thank you, Ray, for not using the British “arse” and sticking to gaand for your insults :).  
  • Plotwise, however, the storyline makes you lose interest about three-fourths of the way through. [SPOILERS FOLLOW FOR REST OF PARAGRAPH]. A character that the hero, Arjun, cares for, is introduced early on. He appears till about halfway through the book. Then he reappears 75% of the way through, as Arjun’s nemesis. Which immediately makes you think, was there a point to the bit in between, or was it inserted just so the first and last bits don’t touch each other? The bit in between is Arjun’s run-in with a powerful rival. It feel like filler in that there are no details of the juicy bits - just lots of “Arjun met every important person and bribed him to take his side.” A simple v-arc - straight down for half the plot and then straight upwards for the remaining.
  • The world created for the book - political fixers, corrupt cops, “bigade hue ladke” and so on, is excellent. I feel this is where Ray has done exceptionally well. Maybe it isn’t realistic, but it feels real and deep.

Summary: Excellent characters. Excellent writing. Plot wise, doesn’t feel like much new.