By Kulpreet Yadav
Granta 130 is all but forgettable, few writings are better than the others though.
‘Breach Candy’ by Samanth Subramanian, easily one of the best pieces, presents a journalist’s investigation on how the Breach Candy club at Mumbai, reserved until 1959 only for the whites, before a two-tier membership allowed the Indians to become ordinary members in the mid-sixties—while the Europeans stayed as trust members—is the center of a legal battle between two groups of its members. While the narrative records only one side of the argument, as those who now steer the club’s functioning didn’t meet him despite his best efforts, the murky nature of the struggle has a distinct foreground—the club sits atop prime land, which, in a congested island city like Mumbai, is too delicious a fact to be ignored.
Inventive and intense, Upamanyu Chatterjee’s ‘Othello Sucks’ is a cataclysmic tale of an Indian family in Delhi, which is coming to terms with the growing-out of the Shakespearean stranglehold of yesteryear. Even though this is fiction and we know it all too well, it’s funny, and the starkness to experiment is all too bone-dry, and yet it is filled with an inner core of unaccustomed marginality that many middle class homes, like mine, fail to notice.
‘Pyre’ by Amitava Kumar is the journey of grief recounted from New York, where the narrator resides, to Patna, where his mother has died, through a narrative that is characteristically unembellished. The narrator’s unfamiliarity to the ceremonies mandated by the Hindu tradition turns the economics and emotions of losing a loved one into a touching and candid inquiry.
The train of logic that divides the two communities of Hindus and Muslims in the state of Uttar Pradesh in the engrossing narrative that makes up ‘Love Jihad’ by Aman Sethi, finds a hard-hitting end, when, Ramakant Chauhan, a Hindu activist in Saharanpur, one of the supporters of the love-jihad movement, declares with a flourish that Indira Gandhi was the first victim of Love Jihad. To the writer’s protests that he was a Parsi, says Ramakant, ‘Everyone know Feroze Gandhi Khan was a Muslim. It’s all over the internet.’ The question remains: The ease with which we communicate on WhatsApp and other social media now, will it bind the two communities or move them further apart? This piece has that journalistic argument, and I hope it makes the readers think, discuss probably, and move on.
Hari Kunzru’s ‘Drone’ is set in an Indian future where Seth, the rich man who controls most of the nation, wants nothing but the best: house, wives, even children. Perfection is not unmanageable in his world. In the second part of this piece, a young and well-built labourer called Jai, in order to make ends meet, gets an extra arm attached to find a balance between his basic needs to survive and the quantum of work he has to do in a dusty mine owned by Seth, but ends up contracting a virus, the cost of taming which he can’t afford. That the world has been unfair to some and will remain so is the focus here, which clichéd as it may sound, is treated with fairness by use of sharp prose, which some of you, like me, would have to read twice if you want to do more than just scrape at the surface.
‘Shoes’ by Anjali Joseph remained remote, wriggling along the periphery of my reading conscious, stagnating, lifting sometimes, but crashing downhill in the end. Stories don’t have reasons, and rightly so, but Sometimes reasons become stories, which this first person story couldn’t demonstrate, though I liked the part when the narrator is having a forced break with two others, drinking local liquor and telling stories about ghosts.
The unfilled gaps of Gandhi’s days in London, where he arrived to study law in 1888 onboard SS Clyde, which didn’t find elaborate mention by Gandhi in his autobiography, and which, according to Sam Miller in ‘Gandhi the Londoner’, are important to understand the Mahatma, are part of this rather interesting essay. Sam travels to England in the present time and visits the places where the Mahatma stayed as a student in London.
Amit Chaudhury’s ‘English Summer’ is set in London where an aspiring Indian poet called Ananda lives on Warren Street, lonely, and with weird notions about a foreign land he has deep prejudices against. Nothing really enchanting or depressing in his life, he is consumed by the ordinariness of his own thoughts. The choice of naming him Ananda, showed, to my mind, a lack of basic care, as I read Ananda as Amanda in the first half of the story, until I had my eureka moment. But by then a lot had slipped through the cracks and a lack of spark stopped me from going all over again.
Deepti Kapoor’s ‘A Double-Income Family’ I thought rambled in the beginning. There wasn’t enough to pull me in, but as I laboured through, I got the drift. An old Punjabi widow buys a flat in the suburbs of Delhi. The world revolves around her domestic help, who gets married soon and brings his wife from the village after which all hell breaks loose and even the orange and gin cocktail that Mrs Mehta is used to drinking fails to dissolve her sorrows. The story ends on a rather unexpected note, thereby, lifting this clichéd plot a notch higher.
An abridged version of this review first appeared in DNA (Mumbai) here.