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New books: read all about it

Love, films, sports, cartoons. Four Delhi writers tell us what's between the covers of their intriguing new books.

brunch Updated: Jan 26, 2013 20:19 IST

The Brunch office is bursting at the seams with books and magazines. They're piled on shelves, stuffed in bags and haphazardly downloaded on Kindles. Whenever we meet anyone, the big question always is, "Can you recommend something you recently read?" We always have a reading list in our heads (and sometimes on the Breakfast of Champions page). We're itching to recommend. So don't mind if we do.

These are four books we recently read and thought interesting. It's a mixed bag, really. There's one about every single film released in the National Capital Region in a period of one year (121 films in all); another tries to find common ground between sports and academics; the third is a hilarious bildungsroman graphic novel; and there's chick lit.

Even more intriguing than the books are the writers. There's a journalist, a professor, a cartoonist and a former management professional. We bring you Anna Vetticad, Pramesh Ratnakar, Sumit Kumar, Yashodhara Lal and their new books.

Book: Centurion - The Father, the Son and the Spirit of Cricket (HarperCollins)

Author: Pramesh Ratnakar, professor of English

Gist: 'If cricket is life, Sachin is God.' Lovers of the gentleman's game routinely display piety for Indian cricket's resident deity after the retirement of Sourav Ganguly and Rahul Dravid - the other two in the triumvirate.

This novel takes a fan's reverence further with an irreverent twist: the reader takes up the guise of Tendulkar and is assigned the task of overseeing the interview of a candidate for the post of principal at the same college where Sachin's father Professor Ramesh Tendulkar taught. Two of India's brightest icons (the other is Amitabh Bachchan) had fathers who were poets, scholars and teachers. The author discovers linkages between academics, cricket and philosophy with the flair of the Master Blaster.

Tailor-made for: Sports fanatics and anyone who thinks academia is for pretentious dullards.

When you should read this: When you feel you are about to lose faith in the magic of cricket.

Bookmarked: When Ramesh Tendulkar compares Sachin's cricket with lyrics, dedicating a poem to him. Perhaps, maybe because of you, but cricket to me, dear Sachin, is no more a game, but a poem, a lyrical poem!

Very Short Interview:

How much does the novel draw from your own life?

Well, I used to teach at Delhi University. The name of the professor being interviewed is inspired by my name. As I've said in the book, any passing resemblance to anyone living or dead is purely intentional.

What is the 'idea of Sachin' that you've based your book upon?

I see Sachin as a person who has approached sports in a way that combines mind and body to deliver certain results. When he was lofting those fearsome Pakistani bowlers as a 17-year-old, he was relating to the skies and beyond. The bigger picture is what the poets and authors try to create.

Is it a coincidence that Amitabh and Sachin, two of our greatest icons, have poets, writers and teachers as fathers?

Sachin is a great player because his dad was a great father and similarly, Mr Bachchan is a great performer. Fathers need to reconcile life's dilemmas in a creative manner for the child to aim for excellence.

Do you see this book as a bridge between sports and academics?

Sports versus academics is just an arbitrary division; the actual divide is between mind and body. The central idea of the book is to try and bridge it. If a person can't do it, he or she will always be impaired on one side or the other.

(By Aasheesh Sharma)

From management to marriage

Book: Just Married, Please Excuse (HarperCollins)

Author: Yashodhara Lal, marketing professional on sabbatical

Gist: Girl meets boy. They fall in love and get married. Yashodhara is a fiercely independent, highbrow Delhi girl. Vijay is a sweet fellow from Jaipur, and seven years older. This is a light-hearted take on marriage and all that follows - the ups, the downs and a baby. The demanding Yashodhara learns that she can't forever be the centre of Vijay's attention. The communication-challenged Vijay realises he must allow his wife to be herself (and eat non-vegetarian food at home and drink, despite his ultra-conservative Brahmin parents). It's a beacon to all couples contemplating marriage: things aren't always rosy, but it is fun and it works out if you try your best.

Tailor-made for: Those who just got hitched, or think getting hitched isn't for them.

When you should read this: When you've had the most boring day ever.

Bookmarked: Vijay's jokes. He's funny because he's not!

Very Short Interview:

Did your blog lead to the book?

Yes, I had wanted to write for a long time. However, with my corporate career I couldn't really manage it. I began blogging in 2006, and was glad to find that readers found it amusing. Vijay (my husband) was a popular character! Also, they enjoyed what I wrote on marriage. But that response wasn't really what led me to write my book. It was a near-death experience, due to unexpected complications during my second pregnancy, that made me realise the need to pen down everything. I realised that life is short, and while I was bedridden and nursing the twins, I decided to begin with Just Married, Please Excuse.

How autobiographical is the book?

Unabashedly autobiographical! It's largely about my family, with 80 per cent reality, perhaps 15 per cent exaggeration and the rest fiction.

Does Vijay continue to crack silly jokes? What does he think of your book?

Oh yes! Just yesterday, he cracked this really silly one: "I feel sorry for Ratan Tata. Nobody really talks to him. You see, everyone greets him saying, 'Hello Tata!'" He hadn't really read my book. It was only after HarperCollins agreed to publish it, did he sit up till 2am to read it!

(By Shreya Sethuraman)

Warning: Dirty Book

The Itch You Can't Scratch (Pop Culture Publishing)

Author: Sumit Kumar, cartoonist

Gist: This is another story about a boy in an engineering college who wants to do something different. Except, it's so much more. Kumar's autobiographical graphic novel will tickle every funny bone in your body. Sumit Kumar is a regular square-faced, middle-class north Indian bloke. He's studying engineering but what he really wants to do is draw cartoons. And get laid. He thinks a lot. He makes fun of the education system, girls and Sarnath Banerjee, among other things. It is a story you've all heard, read, and maybe even lived. But it is this familiarity that works to its advantage. Written in a mixture of Hindi and English, it is loud, it's crass and brutally honest. Whenever the text falters in humour, the illustrations compensate. But Kumar hasn't written this to make you laugh. He puts out a disclaimer in the beginning: "Main tumhaare baap ka naukar nahin hoon".

Tailor-made for: Anybody except the super-sensitive and the activists. Particularly for people who've grown up in north India.

When you should read this: When you have 45 minutes to spare - that's all you need.

Bookmarked: "Girls are like icebergs. There is a small harmless visible top, but there's this huge chunk of ice beneath that harmless top."

Very Short Interview:

How autobiographical is this?

Completely. I've only changed some names.

How did your parents react?

Initially, they were shocked. But they're used to it - they've been getting shocks progressively throughout my life. They've read the book; they're happy but we don't discuss it.

You used to write for Savita Bhabhi [the pornographic cartoonstrip]! What was it like?

I just wrote three stories for them. I couldn't even write porn. I wrote everything except the sex portion. Sex, I thought, is only, "oooh" and "aaah". I mean, I had done it but I couldn't write it! I wrote the plot and they made the sex part more poetic.

What sort of a plot?

There was one called Ashok at Home. Savita Bhabhi's husband is at home, she is not. The cablewala comes in, fixes the cable but refuses to take any money. In flashback, he remembers a sex episode with Savita Bhabhi. Then the laundrywala... Basically, a series of people come in, refuse payment and the porn is in flashbacks. When she gets back home, her husband is very happy and says to her, "You handle home so nicely."

(By Saudamini Jain)

She watched every single film

The Adventures of an Intrepid Film Critic (Om Books International)

Author: Anna MM Vetticad, journalist and film critic

Gist: Imagine seeing just about every film released in one calendar year! That's right, every last movie, including things called Angel and Ye Stupid Pyaar, films we are not even aware of (and do not want to be aware of). But Vetticad waded determinedly into this daunting project and survived to tell the tale in an entertaining, readable book. Not only did she see all the films, she also tracked down the filmmakers and actors to get a sharper insight into the films.

Tailor-made for: People who like movies. Make that people who have an ongoing love affair (and it looks like it's going to last this lifetime at least) with movies.

When you should read this: Anytime. Whenever. Wherever.

Bookmarked: Discover names like Sohail Lakhani and Taher Sutterwala. Who? Read the book.

Very Short Interview:

Why did you decide to write a book about every film released in a year?

I've always seen these films in the listings, films no one went to see or review. And I wondered, if I saw all of them, what would I discover about the film industry that I didn't know? And I discovered so much - like the crazy things director Rohit Shetty had to say about film critics. [He really hates them]. When the year was over, I ended up with an overview of the Hindi film industry and thereby an overview of India. Because the film industry is but a reflection of our society.

Did you enjoy seeing all these obscure films?

I thoroughly enjoyed it. Of course I was exhausted and sleep-deprived, but it was the most enjoyable sleep deprivation I've ever experienced in my life. That's why I've called myself a masochist in the book - because this is a project that involved self-inflicted pain from which I derived great pleasure. And after it was over, I started getting withdrawal symptoms!

What's next?

There is a work of fiction I'd done some years ago and I needed a few months of my life to just look at it in peace. But I had a TV job, so it wasn't possible. Now I will. There are also a couple of non-fiction ideas in my head. But at the moment, I am enjoying being an author and going to literary festivals. It's not something I've done before, it's a whole new experience for me.

(By Poonam Saxena)

From HT Brunch, January 27

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