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Arzee The Dwarf – Chandrahas Choudhury

Arzee The Dwarf

 

It is habitual for my speculative ponderings to move beyond the close quarters of a book, but seldom do these contemplations seek out characters beyond the fluttering scripted pages, prompting a vague attempt to affiliate the wonders of fiction to factual generalities. Life is betwixt and between the diametrical parallels of birth and death. The commonality of the ‘act of living’ is magnified through the eventful narratives of the people and by the people. The allegorical metaphors laced among the fabricated world of a novella resting on symbolic characterization similitude denoting that indeed living is the most laborious, a battle against myriad unforeseeable forces and yet it is promising, a hope lurking through the dream of a beautiful future. The nonsensical plan of seeking the presence of a silhouette amongst the animated mass of people came to a standstill when the disorderly traffic overwhelmed my irrationalities. Why was I keen on finding the presence of Arzee on the streets of Mumbai? The image of a man who walked through the lanes of Grant Road encumbered by the pessimism of his reality and the optimism of an impending future. A man who stood atop the Grant Road Bridge looking down as the Virar train came into the platform, the sea of little figurines alighting from its compartment , wondering if the morning buzz of the railway station was akin to a movie scene being played. For a couple of nights, at the slight echo of the radio humming , why did I ponder whether amidst the serpentine line of parked taxis, was there someone similar to Dashrath penning the dialogues for a Bhojpuri movie or scripting a poem underneath the flickering street light to the warm sips of a‘cutting’ chai? Dreams waft through the scalding roads of Mumbai , the rays of hope colliding with the sun, the broken dreams of the past soaring into the humid skies beckoning an allure of a bright future, while the man walks in the present in the sweltering heat.“What I’m thinking is, do we live the life that’s given to us, or,’ said Dashrath, lifting his saucer up into saucer-skies, ‘do we really live a kind of dream life? We are to be found in the present, yes – walking, sleeping, working. But all the while, aren’t we really living in the past and the future?…”

Ergo, do we truly dwell in the ‘dream life’ or the expectation of a ‘dream life’? The life bestowed to us either by birth or circumstances, may take root in its mediocrity but living is neither simple nor easy. We stand firm, dance through the processions of troubles, are at loggerheads with our own convictions and our own impediments. Imagining our own future victories, we industriously strive through the present trying to achieve lost dreams of the past and create even better ones in the future.

 

The forlorn heart embarks on a flight of fancy oblivious to the old fears dwelling within it, the chimerical world leisurely shaping up the mental imagery. The proverbial castles in the air may not find a standing beyond the realms of its momentary pledges, still, the resourcefulness of a fantasy breathes vivacity within a humdrum life even if sways on the slippery perils. The deserving belief leans upon obscure laurels of deciphered mystical signs, taking a last chance on hope. The dream of his daughter’s wedding gives an optimistic father the vigour to go on working into his twilight years. The vision of his daughter decked up in an elegant wedding trousseau makes him forget the wretchedness of his depleted two room home in the corridors of the dusty chawl housing. The singleness of its purpose keeps Phiroz K. imagining his own little victories in the thick of the stuffy projectionist room. The aspiring thought of an imminent work promotion motivates Arzee to diligently walk towards the grandeur of the Noor. To face his fragilities when school children cross his path and on those disturbing days when Arzee knows he is much closer to the earth, the stench of a tar road reaching towards him sooner than the person walking next to him. Imagination gifts a sense of hope to the hopeless. It unshackles an individual from the woes of gulping the bitter pill of reality. Notwithstanding the risk of seizing the freedom from concocted illusion, the adorned metaphorical rose-tinted glasses seduces the lucid intervals of a rational mind, the doleful heart sheltered in its rosy shed of comfort.

“That’s right. Man is in chains everywhere!’ ……….‘The only thing that keeps him alive is his imagination. His feet are always shackled to the earth, yet he flies on the wings of his imagination. He is convicted by reality, and pardoned by the imagination.”

Proficiently, Choudhury underlines the essence of ‘imagination’ coupled with its consequential conundrum, generating a chain reaction to the vacillating dispositional idiosyncrasies. Imagination, as Dashrath asserts, is indeed wonderful, possessing the might of an exhausting mind, the waves of glittering hope navigating an ocean of emptiness. Still and all, when the rosy lens refuses to let go of its alluring abode, it shackles it creator, caged away from the winds of change, a diabolical tormentor. And, when finally the fated chains come off, does it set a man free or misplaces the sanctity of his sanity? Imagination then becomes a wonderful deceiver. Amid a modifying present, when the past becomes more powerful than the future, Man and his thoughts are stuck in the prism of time. The charms of the new avenues nauseate those left behind by the changing world. Arzee solely cared for the Noor Cinema; he did not care if everything else around him altered as long as the fate of Noor remained unaltered. The majestic Noor, becomes the ultimate symbol and a victim of a changing world and its citizens.

“My secret life grows bigger by the day, like a shadow in which I lie concealed. Ah, Noor! It was a great wall protecting me from abjectness, indignity – from the scraps thrown by the rest of the world. Let this night not end – let the day never come! But I know it will.”

For Arzee, Noor Cinema was a world within a world. Noor with its Noorian quirks sheltered Arzee from all the worldly vulnerabilities, all his inbred bitterness towards life; the agony of a questionable love; it was a home away from home. In an enigmatic celluloid world of Noor auditorium, Arzee towered all mortals. It is here that Arzee looks down upon his audience with contentment. He no longer needs to stretch his neck to see another face in the crowd. The metaphorical world of Noor makes Arzee taller. It is here in the two weeks of Arzee’s journey, where I find my answer to my search of Arzee’s silhouette among the swarming morning Mumbai streets. Aren’t we all in search for a world of our own? A world where we won’t be subjected to the prejudicial reality; where our vulnerabilities won’t be our sole liabilities, don’t we yearn to take refuge in such figurative world, ephemerally? Dashrath found solace in his penned words, Phiroz and Arzee had Noor and as for me it is the world of books, the realms of literature.

 

Here and there, on a few odd occasions, a book from the domains of Indian literature grapple my reading faculties holding me under a spell of engrossing thoughts and indulging in cerebral speculations, making me a sitting duck to my own sensibilities. To say that Chandrahas Choudhury pens an edifying erudition of Arzee and the people around the said protagonist thriving amid unruly, undisciplined world of Mumbai, would be an understatement, indubitably. Choudhury ups the quotient of this novel by rewarding the unassuming commonplace life with the caricatures of audacious and promising characters with a touch of dark humour. .. He Saw this life was to be a journey and that there was no home for him anywhere except in the hut of his own crooked self”….. ‘Living’ as it is known, likely encounters the risk of an insipid journey steadily culminating into a null and void hollow journey. It is the people who make every effort betting upon the odds of a possible far-fetched dream and the probability of dreams crumbling into the vicissitudes of life; impart the momentous eminence to the magnitude of subsistence. The ambiguity of life edged on a fateful coin flip, a fair shake on one’s livelihood brimming with memories and taking fighting chances on facts of life being stripped of all illusions.

Of course, he was still small – that he could never do anything about. But…he wanted people to always find themselves up against that ‘but’ when they thought of him

Being small, a dwarf, was Arzee’s biggest burden. Its weighty multitudes surpassing Arzee’s three-foot-five humble stature. Arzee yearned to be bigger, taller, amassing odds and ends, paraphernalia of life emancipating him from the societal trappings. In a prejudicial world, Arzee longed for normalcy, a sense of self-confidence diminishing all the ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’ thrown in his way. In the quest of no more being labelled as an ‘outsider’, Arzee relentlessly explored ways and means to be like everyone else; to amalgamate into the gigantic sea of people. Along the periphery of a world where gradations of physical traits equates the measures of normalcy, the fractional chalk talk established on commonness uniformity, Arzee may be lone wolf. But when viewed beyond this myopic palpable flippancy, Arzee was no different from any man, any individual walking on the streets of Mumbai, who is convicted by reality and pardoned by imagination; desiring a paradise of a requited love. Arzee in some admirable way represented every man and yet, sadly, he was singular in his status quo.

4/5****

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Em and The Big Hoom – Jerry Pinto

Em and The Big Hoom
I’ve known her. Since the days when I was pudgy child panting from the summertime games, grabbing the large glass of cold crystalline water right off her benevolent hand. I’ve known her through those ritualistic morning temple walks with my grandmother buying radishes from her garden. When she birthed three lovely children gifting them with her naivety of grey irises, I’ve known her. But, she doesn’t know who I am, not anymore. Not even my mother, at times, who when heavily pregnant with me relied on this woman’s help. The peaches and cream complexion mislaid among the heavily sunburnt dermal cells, the hair haphazard in monochromatic shades demarcating the fading cheap black dye. Every alternate hour of the day, tucking her flimsy end of her sari in the folds of the wrinkled waist, she immaculately stands at the corner of the street fervently gesturing the obstinate transparency of the muggy air. Her incessant ramblings never cease to stop as she makes a detour to her house and then back again to the street corner shaking her head in dismay at the unsuccessful symphony of her hands and the invisibility of delusional opaqueness. She has her “good” days and “bad” days and then those daily loquacious outings reprimanding an unknown entity with the bus horn honking behind her. “Poor thing, she’s gone mad!”……….”Tsk, Tsk, what a shame… her brain is devoid of oxygen supply….”……” What can her family do? She’s a bit mental…”

The Indian Mental Health care system has three main terminologies in the layperson’s world, “Alcoholic”, “drug addict” and “mad/mental”. The third one is dismissed as a mere infliction, something that simply exists. The bulimic, anorexics are “mad” for not eating or puking, bi-polarity, schizophrenia is just some “madness”, post-partum…” the mother has gone “mad”…. The psychiatric ward at the J.J. Hospital or the infamous Thane hospital is dreaded more than submitting a blood sample for an HIV+ testing. Disregarding the essential need to categorise the mental illness treatments, majority of patients are shackled under a general psychiatric ward like cattle tied in overcrowding shed alongside alcoholics, drug addicts, for they are all “mad”. The Indian Mental Health Care system is in shambles with inadequate education imparted for the needy.

Mad is an everyday, ordinary word. It is compact. It fits into songs. As the old Hindi film song has it, M-A-D, mad mane paagal. It can become a phrase – ‘Maddaw-what?’ which began life as ‘Are you mad or what?’. It can be everything you choose it to be: a mad whirl, a mad idea, a mad March day, a mad heiress, a mad mad mad mad world, a mad passion, a mad hatter, a mad dog. But it is different when you have a mad mother. Then the word wakes up from time to time and blinks at you, eyes of fire. But only sometimes, for we used the word casually ourselves, children of a mad mother. There is no automatic gift that arises out of such a circumstance. If sensitivity or gentleness came with such a genetic load, there would be no old people in mental homes.

Unlike the vile stench of the Mahim creek spewing endless annoying grimace, I shall desist from the audacious display of my personal exasperation resisting the simmering urge to execute a meticulous anatomical bookish dissection. Abiding the serenity of the humble candlestick lit at the altar every Wednesday Novena at St. Michael Church and keeping my elitist biases at bay, my apprehensions over Pinto’s prose coagulate within the blurry stream of textual insipidness. Gratified as I am of Jerry Pinto for risking the unchartered waters of Indian Fiction dwelling on the neglected facets of mental health and suicide stemming in the narrow urban lanes of Indian diasporas humiliated by the medically privileged units and cementing the festering ignorance between the diversified therapeutic health care systems , nonetheless, somewhere among the crammed wordings of a lacklustre prose the quintessence of Imelda (Em) is misplaced , pick pocketed from a substantial subject matter that could have been safeguarded by a well-crafted assiduous manuscript. The journey of Augustine from Old Goa to a burgeoning Bombay, the vulnerability of a family in dealing with a system well-suited for the moneyed, fraudulent and mentally sound, languidly jogs around hoping to find a decent outlet through the cups of Nescafe and a faint whiff of a beedi.

Love is never enough. Madness is enough. It is complete, sufficient unto itself……… At times, when I was young, I wanted to be inside the dark tower so I could understand what it was like. But I knew, even then, that I did not want to be a permanent resident of the tower. I wanted to visit and even visiting meant nothing because you could always leave. You’re a tourist; she’s a resident..

All is not lost, yet. Only if Pinto had found a better editor, a smooth platform to run his thoughts and not jam-packed like a horde of sardines parallel to one bedroom claustrophobic continuation, this book would have been superior. The incessant human lines at Breach Candy hospital, needles piercing after numerous taps on swollen veins, the phenyl reeking white floors of J.J. Hospital, the calming doses of Lithium Carbonate and the schizophrenic subsistence of Em behind the flaky walls of a small flat repudiate to be empowered like the gallant Marine Drive breeze through this half-baked prose. A bottle of Old Monk and garlic chicken dry, however have a tale of their own. So does the archaic Indian Penal Code and the nauseating attitude of Indians towards patients of cerebral maladies.

2/5**

Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity – Katherine Boo

Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity

It’s been a distressful morning. The milkman won’t be delivering the daily liter of milk; his house was razed by the local municipality. The family of six has to do with a makeshift shanty to prevent them from drowning in the dense showers of late night rains. Futile visits to the local political corporator and pleading to a rigid money-lender for a loan is what his weekly schedule looks like. Troublesome as it is for a detour to the supermarket for packaged milk, my domestic help decided to call it a day as it is the last day to confirm her receipt for a governmental pension of her deceased alcoholic husband. For all those vicious thrashings and numerous marital abuses she stomached for a decade, she truly deserved the so-called posthumous alimony; although a pitiful sum. Oh! What a wretched day it is!! Not only do I have to check the availability of another maid, but go and pick my dry cleaning as the delivery boy was arrested for trying to sell vegetables on the street corner disregarding any philanthropic duties to the patrolling authorities. Dear Lord! Am I the only victim of such suffrage? Mercifully, my chauffeur seems to have escaped from any such problematic liabilities. His tardiness has got me a bit worried on missing my blow-dry appointment. However, I reckon shifting the spa-medic detoxification an hour later could comfortably ease the tea-garden brunch.

It’s still 9am and I’m halfway through my anti-bacterial wipes. I need to make quick stop at the local pharmacy for more supplies; but the snail speed of this wretched sedan is making me perspire through the cool air of the designed interiors, dreading the inevitable. A knock on the window and I’m in no mood of indulging an urchin while fretting over the scarcity of the anti-germ armament. Few more taps and he moves on to the next door amongst the sea of vehicles. Bombay traffic; oh so nauseating! Couple red lights and  I’m ready for a literary dialogue over freshly brewed oolong. As I alight from the car, a pair of white retinas stares at me with a half-broken smile. The offering of green pistachios macaroons seemed supplementary to the actual fancy; a few more arguments over the importance of food and then the ultimate dispensing of monetary funds. The cool sea breeze brushing my cheeks sarcastically mocks the cup of warm tea. I’m finally at peace. Argh! This unnerving stench rising from a nearby engulfment of reclaimed land festering with juxtaposed shoddy shanties ruins the temporary nirvana. Such a disgrace for a posh high-rise! I must take up this issue at the upcoming Housing meeting.

While meticulously placing their cups avoiding the untimely melody of their exquisite china, the urban snobs critique twirling their freshly sprayed coifs; applauded the heroic effort of a certain Katherine Boo for having the balls to submit herself to the putrid cocktail of sewage stench and decaying garbage for nearly four years. It is indeed a medal of honor; elsewhere the opinionated lecturer making a run out of the narrow congested lanes before the eau de cologne evaporates from their handkerchiefs. Katherine, in a news interview said that after her research on the inner-city housing in Oklahoma city, she was curious about the institution of poverty. What ways do the ‘poor’ people execute to get out their impoverish survival? How did they thrive in the existing circumstances? What would you want me to say? To pronounce, that poverty has become the selling point of Indian literary panorama? Does romanticizing poverty give a feel of diving into some kind of exotic uncharted waters? Or does it give one’s heart a philanthropic illusion? On an eventful itinerary to India pick out a slum and pen the daily events of a close knitted neighborhood huddled together in congested housing. If, appreciated by the designated literary elites, spare a thought towards the unfortunate over overtly publicized Literary fest and if Boyle &Co. decides to take another shot at the Oscars; Hallelujah!!! Stories are not only born in slums, allow the tales to pass through through many corners of the vast Indian landscapes. The residents of Annawadi are audacious, unafraid and above all optimistic dreamers. Poverty is the biggest crime. It is better to be a cold-blooded murderer, but it is a sin to be poor. To be poor is to be guilty of one or another thing. Commiserating Raja Kamble- the toilet cleaner; rag picker Sunil, one-legged Sita and the vulnerable Asha who dreams to be the first ever slumlord demeans their very existence. Applaud these residents of Annawadi through the lines of this text as they struggle through the dodgy circumstances with true grit; for if it was one of us we would sooner or later walk the path of death.

In a land where the supermarket does not boast ten different brands of toothpastes, give an Ayn Rand to a youth standing in the ration line and see a potent explosive rise. Crony capitalism, corruption, poverty and economic disparity are necessary evils in a country that is racing at an hare’s speed to meet the global finishing line. The sinister underbelly of Mumbai proliferates with every rise and fall in oil trade stocks. Does that give a leeway to the privileged to dig deep in the trenches and frolic in the slush? Stop romanticizing poverty!! Recognize the white elephant in the room and pen an epic of crony capitalism and its hoarders. Wouldn’t it then be fun to see a panel of illustrious erudite critique the printed words. Would they find it rewarding as the scriptures of impecunious nether world or dismiss it as an unpatriotic insanity like they do with most of Arundhati Roy’s books. There my dearies lay the valid underbelly of a blossoming India and not through impoverished assiduous lives.

I reckon the raspberry macaroons go very well with oolong and I might skip the Housing meeting . As for my concerned nirvana I’ll just spray some Comme des Garçons.

3/5***

A House for Mr. Biswas – V.S. Naipaul

A House for Mr. Biswas

There it is, a modest roofed structure in Sikkim Street standing tall amid the perfumed beds of anthurium lilies. New memories of wet earth after the rain, freshly painted picket fences, the sweet flowers of laburnum tree, mixed aromas flouncing through the warm rooms and wind whiffing through the trees telescoping the painful past. A sense of belonging cherished with merited identity-Mr. Mohun Biswas’s house.

I shy away from the postcolonial contemporary third world fiction. Most of them overwhelm me enlightening the crude aspects of economic claustrophobia which my snobbish approach thoughtlessly overlooks. Keeping in mind this criterion, I cautiously pick out the respected genre books anticipating a satisfying comprehension. Naipaul pens a coherent depiction of impoverished dwelling lost between self-identity and rigid ambitions. It is an exasperating yet rewarding life of a simple man who survives the nightmarish surrealism of being born at the devilish midnight hour. Meet Mohun Biswas, the youngest son of a pitiable sugar-cane labourer whose birth was cursed upon by superstitious omen and was destined to be a ruinous disappointment. Mohun’s life churns out be a metaphoric banner for destitution and misfortune. Blamed for his father’s death and the dissolution of the Biswas family, he struggles through every twisted fate of his life trying to find a speck of self-respect, contentment and independence. His marriage in the celebrated Tulsis family is burdensome and intoxicated with him being a mere accessory in his wife’s home. Dutifully carrying on with the mundane obligations, he berates his sympathetic existence. The only shining beacon of hope is a far-fetched dream of buying a house he can call his own. The notion of acquiring an abode becomes an eternal symbol of Mohun’s own existence as a journalist, a father, a husband and moreover a liberated individual.

Naipaul’s vastly elucidated and slow-paced prose underlines quite a few post- colonization inadequacies prevalent in several third world settings till date. Poverty, illiteracy birthing preposterous superstitious dogma, ethnic categorization of class superiority (restricted only to rural infrastructures) and tribulations of pecuniary discrepancies outwitting social hysteria.

Mohun’s tale is heroic in its own humble way. All the man wants in his life is a cozy dwelling without the fear of acerbic prejudices. Some would ridicule on this psychological aspect of obtaining a house. It’s a house, for crying out loud! Why make a big deal of it? For an individual who not only thrives in poverty but is tossed among bizarre quarters of underprivileged hardships; the belief of owning a house becomes deeply satisfying, somewhat a battle in itself. Hear, Hear! To Mohun for making peace with his maddening ordinary living.

4/5****

The Glass Palace – Amitav Ghosh

The Glass Palace

During my pre-vegetarian days, I used to find solace in a warm, juicy scrumptious steak n’ cheese sandwich washed down by a chilled Heineken. Especially, if the gooey cheese was a blend of Munster, Monterey jack and yellow cheddar; the bread not too soggy but aptly moisten by the beef gravy. It is pure bliss. On the other hand, a classier version for $150 is layered with buttered lobsters, black truffles and caviar. Now, why would someone mess up such a meticulous appetizing combination? Stop! Do not ruin the sandwich. Sometimes finding equilibrium with the culinary fest becomes essential to restrict the malfunction of the taste buds. What a fucking nincompoop you would say, comparing an internationally acclaimed novel to a mere sandwich. Hey! I am somehow craving for meat now and couldn’t find a better way to evaluate this book. I am not going to air kiss and bestow courteous admiring comments as to how the book merges a fascinating piece of history with a gratifying story. The cynical bitch that I am, I want to know if it was worth my money.

Encyclopedia! Encyclopedia! That is the golden word here. C’mon Ghosh, you know better that sometimes too much chronological information in a fiction novel can be irksome and skepticism may prevail over the respective purchase. There were times, many times throughout the narration, I wished to have simply bought a non-fiction Burmese history book and could have used the remaining to purchase some beer. Alcohol did prove to be a crucial company during some parts of my reading. One thing you should be sure of, Ghosh loves history and with his books one can gain knowledge of varied historical eras. For all the history buffs out there, it’s treat fellas!!! Just like his in depth elucidations on the opium wars in Sea of Poppies, Ghosh spans put this plot over a century ranging from the fall of Mandalay, the World wars(I&II), the Japanese invasion of Malay, the Indian independence and finally the modern times with a mention of Aung San Suu Kyi.Phew!!! It is not that bad. The transformation of landscapes and the changes in fortune and agricultural economies turn out to be quite mesmerizing. The exile of King Thibaw and the aftermath of his family life in the western coastal region of India was job well done.As for the creative writing part of it, the lives and families of Rajkumar and Dolly over three generations were loosely scripted and eventually got a bit unexciting. At times there is hurriedness in the author’s writing which can be evidently seen in the abrupt endings of some chapters. It seems like Ghosh, at some point must have been overwhelmed with his subjective research and could not find symmetry between reality and fantasy. Just like the fancy steak sandwich; all those flavors of buttered crustacean, meat, cheese, truffles and maybe salmon roe, it a medley of disaster. It is not worth to separate the ingredients and if eaten in it entirety one cannot taste a damn thing.

Lastly, I like to thank the makers of Heineken for not only making the vegetarians a happy bunch of people, but ,also for a superb fermentation process without which there would not be any chilled beer to be pleasured on a blistering day and help my reading. As for Ghosh, darling, it would be an immense delight to meet you in person; as far as the books goes I would delightfully adore them only through the display windows.

3/5***

Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found – Suketu Mehta

Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found

Circa 1992. It was a regular school day on a lovely December morning(winters are warm not cold in Bombay).With just an hour left to mid-morning recess, there was a sudden flurry of anxious announcements calling certain students to report immediately with their belongings at the Principal’s office. After being little nosy about the happenings I go back to my daydreaming. Suddenly, I see my mother hurriedly demanding that I go and collect my younger sister from her classroom. As I walk through the school compound frantic parents rush in and out of the school premises with their children. As we walk towards the car I see my father tensed and horrified to some extent. He had just escaped death(which we knew later that evening. Four men had hurled bombs in front of him at a nearby housing development while my father was driving through traffic). A riot had broken in the streets nearby as we frantically rushed home, I could see shutters closing at the speed of light, people scattering, some flinging acid bulbs and destruction of harmless developments. That was the day the Hindu-Muslim riots let a demon loose for which innocents had to pay with their humble lives in the coming horrendous months. I still remember those days vividly for I have been a front row spectator to the bloodshed occurred in the name of religion ignited by few political rivals. I lived among trepidations that lasted for years to come by. Lost people I knew and religion once again became a crucial factor in our mundane lives. The citizens of Bombay (I resist from calling it Mumbai, always) bravely faced those murky days, which I witnessed closely with resilience and banishing all prejudices imposed by political cults. Over decades the city has seen its share of political violence and inter-religion hatred, but its people have always made it through with smiling faces.

Thus, when an individual who summons his exploration of a nostalgic hometown proclaiming that he has seen enough murderers and questioned their virtues, it irks me.I am not denying factual comprehensions of this book, as it would be utterly preposterous to overlook the shame that Bombay once faced or has not being able to strike an equilibrium in honored survival, however I do question the validity of his sentiments to a place he calls “Maximum City” where he once unreservedly wandered as a kid. Mehta says he left the city in 1977 only to be back after 21years to find him in a state of utter shock. There is no falsehood, no dramatic sequences to define the underbelly of my home city, nevertheless I get annoyed each time I open the pages and read those words. Rarely a book touches me on a personal note, but these words dishearten me as they are negative of a place and its people who strive hard for a living. Fair enough, there are vast discrepancies in the standard of living. There are some who die homeless in scorching heat whereas others never travel without an air-conditioned comfort. There are some who demand beluga caviar on toast for tea –time and indulge in La Prairie Cellular serums while others barely make it through the day without a proper meal. It is extremely difficult to rationalize these disparities that hit you in the face in the most mysterious ways. But, these do not define all. Why wasn’t there a prose about people striving everyday braving obstacles with dignified audacity to make a better living. About individuals determined to make a dignified and prosperous future come what may. People amalgamating into one joyous mass rejoicing each cultural festival with the same magnanimous excitement banishing all ethnic prejudices.

The chapters on “Bollywood” signify braggart purposes. It is a film industry for crying out loud; an entertainment business where almost all actors are purely performers and not artistic geniuses that venerates the true meaning of art. Nothing can be gained from it rather that a minority percentage of artistes that depart frothy amusement to make assiduous lives cheerful. Most art films (movies depicting social causes and instabilities) do not fare well with common psyche. This very attitude shows the annoyance of a mind resisting it to shun “moralistic virtues” performed by artistes that have been rehearsed to achieve precision. Is it disheartening? Not really. When it comes to choosing authenticity over illusionary realism, the latter is always preferred.

One would refute my caustic words claiming that with my privileged lifestyle I must be the last person to comment on the imbalanced financial and educational status of this city. I have never lived without food, shelter or money. Then how would I know the depth of a suffering. One does not have to be poor to know what poverty is. One does not have to be fraudulent to know what corruption is. I was born in Bombay, schooled here and I presently live in this city all hale and hearty. Unlike the author, I have been away from Bombay for a span of 9 years, while I was studying in the US. But, that does not give me the right to condemn the city mechanics or garner negativity. As you cannot expect a child to stay a child forever, you cannot anticipate a burgeoning city to stay in its purest unscathed form. From what I observed, the author seems perplexed with his distinctiveness. He tried finding a sense of belonging in New York stressed through the binding stereotypes only to come back to the place of his origin and see it modified into a strange land that once again botched a sense of belonging.

Bombay will always be my home come what may. I have traveled around many superior worldly cities, yet the imminent landing announcement at the Bombay airport somehow makes me warmly smile every freaking time. The city is heavily crowded, poverty and richness juxtaposes every road that spirals into politically corrupt governing display of unreliable loyalties and prone to religious debates. But, this does not define its landscapes, its populace. It is a city where dreams are built; life is raw imparting valuable teachings of resilient determination, where people smile even in the most tedious times, ethnicities are celebrated with joyfulness and life is seen at it nastiest and its finest. It is a place where I grew up and took long walks with my grandfather relishing every aspect of this marvelous city. Bombay is not a place full of murderers or politically agitated goons, it is haven of magnificent, soulful people who fight all odds and nurture a ravishing tomorrow. Now, this is what I would term as “Maximum City”.

Lastly, one question that troubles me is why only those who bring together pessimistic opinions are the ones who have stayed away from the core of Bombay nudging stereotypes in a foreign land?

Why after such scathing opinion then would I bestow a 3-star rating on this book? Is this you being diplomatic or commiserating the author’s hard slog? Ah, I get it. This book makes you defensive about your home city and makes you affectionate for something you disregarded that this book interleaves in you.

3/5***

Tales from Firozsha Baag – Rohinton Mistry

Tales from Firozsha Baag

It is said that when the British left India, they gifted their mannerism to the Parsis. I do not know the authenticity of such whimsical statements, although I have never seen any community with such great degree of clear-cut decorum. Parsi is a Persian Zoroastrian ethnic community; a minority in the Indian sub-continent. In a religion conscious environment Parsis are the most –mild-mannered and according to my adolescent psyche aromatic individuals. As a child my pleasant memories of experiencing Parsi culture were those pleasant Sundays spent with an elderly neighbor. Dhun Aunty, as we would address her, would serve our hungry mouths with the most delectable savory dishes of meat and eggs. The spicy curries and rice with caramelized onions were devoured amid the lingering aroma of sandalwood and eau de cologne. Bowls of warm bread pudding with afternoon tea while laughing your guts outs to the antics of Laurel and Hardy would see an end to a wonderful soiree. It is where I learned to differentiate between Mozart’s Symphony. 40 and ‘The Blue Danube’ (although I’m still a novice to ‘C’ major or ‘G Minor identification) and browsed Wren & Martin before it became mandatory in school. Things have drastically changed now with increase in western urbanization and vast immigration to foreign lands, yet the authenticity of the culture can be experienced in certain residential colonies strictly built for the respected community.

Firoza Baag is one such residential colony adorned by a three apartment buildings and filled with the quirkiest and amusing occupants one can come across. The 11 short stories brim with incidents that flatter the humdrum lives of its occupants or events taking place at a lazy hour that either might be life-changing or may just fade away into a speck of wistfulness. The stories trickle from hilarity to seriousness of bigotry and communalism that become a major part of a sub-culture. Subtle racism, cultural labeling and the insecurities prevailing over other influential communities can be seen throughout the book. This is quite a norm here in India where preference for “fair” skin tones and understated prejudices seep into daily life. The multifarious patterns of Bombay and its people through the lives of one community are comparable to listening to ‘Moonlight Sonata’ at a crowded train station. The concluding story “Swimming Lessons” sums up the entirety of this book as it juxtaposes facts and fictions and illuminates the brilliance of a writer called Rohinton Mistry.

Words fail me when it comes to Mistry’s scintillating mosaic of inconsequential lives that seem to get lost in the crowd. He captures the nitty-gritty of one of the strictest religious community in Bombay through an array of lucid emotions and gentle compassion. Through his books I breathe the sweet air of my nostalgia and observe the frowning faces of strangers wondering the tale behind the wrinkle of their middling life. Rohinton Mistry, which is why I love your words so very much.

5/5*****