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HT Picks: This week’s interesting reads

The reading list this time includes a collection of Indian erotica, a translation of an Urdu novel, and a book of essays

books Updated: Sep 09, 2017 11:57 IST
HT Team
This week’s book picks.
This week’s book picks.(HT Team)

Chandni Begum is Qurratulain Hyder’s last, most enigmatic and daring of her novels. It spans the period from the Partition to the time of the Mandir-Masjid dispute in Ayodhya in the early Nineties, consistently connecting the present to the past.

Centred around two prominent Lucknow families, the narrative closes in on the lives and struggles of Qambar, a romantic revolutionary and the three women drawn to him – Bela, the daughter of a mirasi-bhand couple, desperate to break away from her tainted ‘legacy’; Safia, the polio-stricken daughter of the Raja of Teen Katori, an independent ‘educationist ‘ dealing with the crushing rejection of her childhood betrothed and the demons that haunt her in its wake; and the eponymous heroine, Chandni Begum, destitute survivor of a once powerful landed family looking for a way to get by respectably.

Hyder returns to her favourite themes and spaces – Partition, women , entertainers, popular mysticism, the illustrious homes of Lucknow, the chawls of Bombay – to tell a riveting tale, liberally sprinkled with entertaining characters and biting political and social comment.*

My Daughter’s Mum – a first in a series of two books – plunges deep into essential subjects, from parenting and marriage, to faith and selfhood.

Knitting together a popular column in Mint Lounge, new writing, and priceless handcrafted dialogues, the author describes her journey as the mother of three young daughters; as the wife of a man from a religious background unlike her own; and as an individual with dreams detached from the roles of wife and mother – here’s a wanderer, a feminist, a workplace goer.

Yet beyond the searingly personal, this is a memoir that tells us about an India that is fast transforming, and where questions of identity and personal freedom are in dialogue with ideas of nationality. The candidness of the author’s voice, the gentle humour of fleeting narratives, and the fragility of diary entries, photographs, collages, and sketches will make My Daughter’s Mum resonate with every reader. *

The erotic tradition in India is thousands of years old. In The Parrots of Desire, the modern reader, to whom the anthology is dedicated, will find a wealth of Indian erotic writing – beyond the famously unbridled passages of the Kama Sutra and Koka Shastra. There is, for instance, the extract ‘Why does sex exist?’ recreated from the 3000 year old Rig Veda ; the world of the Tamil Sangam poets, whose contemporary finesse belies their antiquity; Bhakti poets Antal and Mahadeviakka, who describe women’s fantasies of men (whether human or godly); short stories by Kamala Das that have been out of print for decades; excerpts from the work of contemporary writers like Mridula Garg and Ginu Kamani , and much more.

Whether it is the trepidation of the first time, or the delirium and delicious rapture of subsequent ones, the anguish of being abandoned or the ennui of steadfast fidelity; passion, jealousy, suspicion, bitterness, or even regret – every aspect to the experience of erotic love, timeless and universal, is manifest in these pages. What emerges from the dozens of pieces in this volume can be called the ‘core’ of Indian erotica; the notion that the erotic, like the human imagination itself, is powerful, unquenchable, passionate and essential to the best life we should seek to make for ourselves.*

*All text from book flap