HT Picks: The most interesting books of the week
This week’s book picks include a novel about forbidden love, examinations of three classic Hindi films, and a look at what it means to be Indian in contemporary South AfricaUpdated: Feb 22, 2019 16:51 IST
THE SCENT OF GOD BY SAIKAT MAJUMDAR
In an elite all-boys’ boarding school run by a Hindu monastic order in late-twentieth century India, things aren’t what they look like on the surface…
Anirvan, a young student, is fascinated by the music and silence of spiritual life. He dreams of becoming a monk. But as he seeks his dream, he finds himself drawn to a fellow student, and they come together to form an intimate and unspeakable relationship.
The boys sweat at cricket and football, rack science and mathematics in pursuit of golden careers, and meditate to the aroma of incense and flowers. It’s a world of ruthless discipline shaped by monks in flowing saffron. A skeptical teacher mentors Anirvan and reveals his suspicion of this vigilant atmosphere. Does the beating of the boys reveal urges that cannot be named? What is the meaning of monastic celibacy? What, indeed, holds the brotherhood together?
Against himself, Anirvan gets sucked into a whirl of events outside the walls of the monastery, in the midst of prostitutes, scheming politicians and the impoverished Muslims of the villages surrounding the school. When the love of his life returns to him, the boys desire for each other push them towards a wild course of action. But will that give them a life together in a world that does not recognize their kind of love?
THREE CLASSIC FILMS BY GULZAR
GULZAR’S ANGOOR BY SATHYA SARAN
Angoor (1982) is among the best-loved comedies in Hindi cinema. It is also a perfect example of Gulzar’s genius as a writer, complete with his impish wordplay.
Through extensive interviews with some of the main actors from this movie (Deepti Naval and Moushumi Chatterjee) and its earlier version - both adaptations of Shakespeare’s Comedy of Errors – this book trace the evolution of a comic tale that continues to amuse audiences of all ages. It deftly peels the layers to explore how song, dialogue, silences and wordplay add to the actor’s arsenal in creating humour that can range from rib-tickling mirth to guffaws.
Sathya Saran’s book reveals what lies behind the evergreen appeal of Angoor, with memories and anecdotes shared by Gulzar himself.
GULZAR’s AANDHI BY SABA MAHMOOD BASHIR
At one level, Gulzar’s Aandhi (1975) is a story of estranged love between two headstrong and individualistic personalities; at another, it is a tongue-in cheek commentary on the political scenario of the country.
Through a close textual analysis of the film, this book examines in detail its stellar cast, the language and dialogues, and the evergreen songs which had a major role in making the film a commercial success.
Gulzar’s own insights into the making of Aandhi (from an interview) will further enhance the readers’ understanding of the film.
Saba Mahmood Bashir’s book will delight those wanting to savour the duality and drama that befit life, or shall we say, cinema.
GULZAR’s IJAAZAT BY MIRA HASHMI
By the time Gulzar made Ijaazat (1987), action –packed potboilers had replaced the genteel romanticism of yore, leaving few takers for a film about lost love and a broken marriage. And yet, three decades later, Ijaazat is a film that has endured. Gulzar’s interpretation of a love triangle in Ijaazat – an evocative exploration of the strength and fragility of human relationships – was years ahead of its time.
This book examines that interpretation to show how, thematically, the film was possibly Gulzar’s most daring. It highlights how his skill as a storyteller – at once romantic and realistic – is exemplified y his complex character. Contributing to that understanding is how the film’s power also derived hugely from its sublime musical score by RD Burman.
Drawing on Gulzar’s recollections of the making of the film, Mira Hashmi’s book embraces the memory of the ‘love’ that for the poet wasn’t always the answer, but part of the question.
WHAT GANDHI DIDN’T SEE; BEING INDIAN IN SOUTH AFRICA BY ZAINAB PRIYA DALA
From 1684, till the present, the Indian diaspora in South Africa has had a long history. But in the country of their origin, they remain synonymous with three points of identity: indenture, apartheid and Mahatma Gandhi.
In this series of essays, Zainab Priya Dala deftly lifts the veil on some of the many other facets of South African Indians, starting with the question: How relevant is Gandhi to them today? Even 125 years after his historic eviction from a train compartment in Pietermaritzburg, have his teachings reached the descendants of the labourers in the sugarcane fields, for whom he fought against the atrocities of indenture, or is he still a remote figure appropriated by the elite business class, with whom he spent much of this time in South Africa?
It is a question Dala answers with searing honesty, just as she tackles the questions of the ‘new racism’ – between Black Africans and Indians – and the ‘new apartheid’ money; the tussle between the ‘canefields’ where she grew up, and the ‘Casbah’, or the glittering town of Durban; and what the changing patterns in the names the Indian community chooses to adopt reflect.
In writing that is fluid, incisive and sensitive, she explores the new democratic South Africa that took birth long after Gandhi returned to the subcontinent, and the fight against apartheid was fought and won.
In this new ‘Rainbow Nation’, people of Indian origin are striving to keep their ties to Indian culture whilst building a stronger South African identity. Zainab Priya Dala describes some of the scenarios that result from this dichotomy.
First Published: Feb 22, 2019 16:50 IST