Cut from the same cloth

Meenakshi Reddy Madhavan | Updated on February 08, 2019

Stitched together: In the three chosen books this month, Indianness is woven into their sentences, their characters, the scenes on the street   -  ISTOCK.COM

This month’s book recommendations are themed on the simple fact of being Indian — in the way only Indians can understand

But February made me shiver/with every paper I’d deliver/bad news on the doorstep/I couldn’t take one more step...”

The lyrics to Don McLean’s American Pie have been rattling through my head this month: It’s cold, it’s dismal, the planet is dying, no one cares, people are dying, no one cares. In response, I battened down the hatches, as it were, got into my very warm bathrobe and sat around reading in defiance. This month’s theme came together loosely — I couldn’t separate the authors I have chosen for this month from the fact that they are Indian; it’s woven into their sentences, their characters, the scenes on the street, the language they use. It makes you read each book with a dawning sense of familiarity. I know a few people who don’t read Indian writing at all, it’s just one of their rules. I feel a little sad for them because there’s never going to be the sense of complete belonging, of being like, “Oh, that’s a person I know walking down my street in my city!” It’s a joy when that happens, and you’ll find out, too, once you read these books.

Water cooler

Since I haven’t read any of Shashi Deshpande’s novels, I’ve already broken one of her rules for reviewers, namely that the critic should be familiar with a writer’s entire oeuvre before they review one of their books. But maybe Deshpande will forgive me, because I identified so closely with her as a writer throughout her memoir Listen to Me, even though our experiences could not have been more different.

Listen To Me Shashi Deshpande Westland/ Contxt Non-fiction ₹699


I underlined and marked “Me too!” in many parts. I too felt as angry as Deshpande did when my books were dismissed as women’s writing or women’s work. I too felt sidelined — actually, I don’t know a single author who doesn’t feel the same way. Deshpande’s memoir is very much a Writer’s Book, which is to say, you’ll definitely love it if you are a writer. Deshpande’s early struggles, trying to get foreign recognition and then wondering why it matters so much, balancing a house and kids and writing at the same time, going to lit fests and being patronised because she was wearing a sari, and the assumptions people make about women in saris. All this is told in a matter-of-fact tone; no prose is wasted on sentiment or sympathies. It’s definitely given me a reason to go back and explore her entire backlist — which, joy of joys, is extensive.


When a book is Literary and Winning Many Prizes, sometimes, gentle reader, sometimes you feel like not reading it because of all the drama around it. A Big Prize-Winning Book seems to hold echoes of that prize within itself, self-consciously. You read it, but you’re also reading The Prize Winning Book. However, most often, if the book is good, you find yourself falling for it in a true, pure fashion, which has nothing to do with prizes at all. I felt that way while reading No Presents Please, a collection of Mumbai stories by Kannada writer Jayant Kaikini, translated by Tejaswini Niranjana.

No Presents Please: Mumbai Stories Jayant Kaikini (translated by Tejaswini Niranjana) Harper Perennial Fiction ₹350


I picked it up because the first three or four stories began so charmingly. Take this, from the very first story: “Satyajit was still single”. How can you not want to know what happened next to Satyajit or Parul or Chandrahas or Mogri? Yes, it won a bunch of prizes at recent lit fests, but anyone with even a passing familiarity with Mumbai will recognise the people, the chawls, the taxi drivers. Kaikini examines life on a small scale, just one ordinary life with maybe one unusual incident, but that’s the genius of these stories — you’ll feel like you’ve crossed bridges with these people, through just one or two accurate sentences.

Way back

I remember when Lavanya Sankaran’s The Red Carpet came out in 2005. Apparently, it had got a ridiculously high advance after a thrilling auction, and everyone in the books world was buzzing about it. I’m happy to report that it still stands up.

The Red Carpet Lavanya Sankaran Headline Book Publishing Fiction ₹150


The Red Carpet is a collection of loosely interconnected stories set in Bengaluru. One next-door-neighbour uncle watching a pregnant woman and her friend might lead to the friend’s story, as she tries to be a good Indian girl for her parents. Is the girl who secretly masturbates (even though the nuns in her school tell her it’s evil) related to the man in the first story who decides he wants a posh, pretty, Bombay-returned socialite to be his wife? Having spent a little time in Bengaluru this winter, I was eager to read more about it. New cities can be hard to crack, and I find the best place to discover more is between the pages of a book. The Red Carpet is not set in a world I am familiar with — but I could see echoes of the Bengaluru I had visited within, a particular sort of world, particular sorts of neighbourhoods, particular sorts of people.

Meenakshi Reddy Madhavan   -  BLink


Meenakshi Reddy Madhavan is the author of seven books, the latest being The One Who Had Two Lives;  @reddymadhavan

Published on February 08, 2019

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