Friday, 2 February 2018

Book Review: Clouds, by Chandrahas Choudhury

Chandrahas Choudhury has come out with his second novel Clouds. His first novel Arzee the Dwarf had come out in 2009 and a number of people, including yours truly, have been waiting for Choudhury to repeat his magic.

Clouds is set almost entirely in Mumbai, a light, airy and fluffy Mumbai which is never depressing, though it could easily have been. This is as much a result of the quality of Choudhury’s prose as it is a result of Choudhury’s outlook on life, as superimposed on his characters. Old man Eeja has come to Mumbai, all the way from Odisha, for his medical treatment. He stays in a new and cheap flat on the outskirts of Borivali, with his wife Ooi and Rabi, their Man Friday, a tribal from Cloud Mountain. Eeja and Ooi’s son Bhagaban has gone back to Bhubaneswar, for he has more pressing matters to attend to there, but his spirit is nevertheless a constant among Eeja, Ooi and Rabi. As for Farhad and Zahra, they never meet Eeja or his clan, and they lead a much different lifestyle, with values so much more at place in San Francisco than in Mumbai, but they too are enriched by the clouds around them.

From the outset, the two sets of characters move towards their targets. Farhard towards an exit from Mumbai for San Francisco and Bhagaban towards the climax of his struggle against the Company which wants to takeover Cloud Mountain and extract all its valuable ore, at the cost of possibly ruining it. However, Choudhury’s world is one of grey and things are not always what they seem, though Choudhury makes all effort to appear to be an innocent jholawala.

Farhad is all sorted until his world comes crashing down on him, the result of Zahra’s genuine outburst one night in Udvada, a few hours after they had listened to a Narendra Modi speech, that he be a true man and fuck the brains out of her instead of being a politically correct goody, goody, sweet and tender, wafer biscuit. Can the progressive and post-modern Farhad put himself together and get on with Zahra and her yoga classes in SFO after such a downpour? Do please read Clouds to find out for yourself!

The South Indian and feminist Hemlata is the pole opposite of Zahra and at first Farhad finds her amusing. Towards the end, he is still exploring Hemlata and if there is any attraction between them, it is strictly the reader’s imagination, stoked by an anonymous cloud.

As for Bhagaban, he does win an election and become an MLA, but does he actually get to do all that he wants to for the Cloud People from Cloud Mountain? Or will they let him do what’s good for them? Do they want him to? I mean, if you are a tribal, what are the chances of you accepting the Company’s offer to give up your ancestral land and all that you know, uproot yourself, go elsewhere far away, eat better, work less, explore new worlds and possibly lead a more comfortable life? Choudhury tells us that the tribals seemed to like the idea of engineers settling amongst them and speaking in Hindi, though none of them condescended to talk to the Cloud People.

Choudhury’s world is a sensitive but cloudy one, filled with interesting people, who discover more and more about themselves as they get on with life, making up stuff as they move on, possibly not much different from Choudhury’s journey as a blogger, a journalist and novelist and an explorer. The lyrical prose interspersed with references to Mumbai suburbs, good whiskeys and other useful stuff, gives one the feeling that the story is moving rather slowly, when one suddenly realises with a start that one has travelled further and faster than one wanted to. I can't guarantee that Clouds will win the Booker Prize this year, but I seriously recommend that you read it nevertheless.

In the past, I have reviewed Arzee the Dwarf and A Travellers' Literary Companion, a compilation of translated stories from all over India edited by Choudhury.

Sunday, 3 December 2017

Let’s Not Demonise Talaq Beyond A Point

I’m all for banning Triple Talaq. Don’t let the post headline mislead you. No, I am not for a moment saying that Triple Talaq shouldn’t be banned. Far from it. The Triple Talaq practised in India is not Quranic law, just an extreme interpretation of it.

However, let’s for a moment look at how different Islam’s approach to marriage and divorce is from other religions.

Amongst orthodox Jews, the wife may initiate the divorce, the rabbinical courts may order the husband to grant the divorce, but the husband has to actually issue a document called ‘get’, before the divorce can take effect. Since the husband may choose to not issue a ‘get’ even when ordered to do so, a woman may be denied a divorce even if the courts have ruled in her favour.

For traditional Christians, marriage is a sacrament, not a contract and divorce is an abomination. The protestant reformation legalized divorce, but getting a divorce did not become easy.

In England and Wales, the Matrimonial Clauses Act of 1857 moved divorces away from the canon law of the Church of England. This Act rendered Christian marriages contractual and allowed legal separation by either husband or wife on grounds of adultery, cruelty, or desertion. However, men and women were not treated alike by the new law. The Act explicitly made divorce easier for men than for women: a husband could petition for divorce on the sole grounds that his wife had committed adultery, whereas a wife could only hope for a divorce based on adultery combined with other offenses such as incest, cruelty, bigamy, desertion, etc., or based on cruelty alone. The Crown expanded this new law to its colonies such as Canada and India. India got the Indian Divorce Act of 1869, which was on the same lines as the English law.

In 2001, the Indian Divorce Act was amended and adultery, desertion and cruelty were made independent grounds for divorce. Divorce by mutual consent was also introduced.

For Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs and Jains, divorce is governed by the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955. A couple may divorce by mutual consent or a spouse may sue for divorce citing cruelty or adultery or a number of other grounds. In other words, a contested divorce. An unilateral divorce isn’t provided for.

In my view, marriage should be treated strictly as a contract and it should be possible for one party to walk away at any point. There needn’t be mutual consent or the need to prove to a court that the other party is at fault.

Currently, the only religion which permits an unilateral divorce – one spouse getting a divorce without having to prove that the other spouse is at fault – is Islam, but only for men. In Islam, a woman may initial divorce, through a process known as Khul, but the husband needs to agree.

I think the Islamic Talaq is the most sensible form of divorce and should be rolled out to all religions, genders. One party declares a divorce, there’s a reasonable cooling period during which there could be a change of heart, after which the divorce becomes irrevocable.

I look forward to the day when India has a Uniform Civil Code, which applies to all Indians, irrespective of religion. And hopefully such Code will also provide for painless, unilateral divorce on the lines of the Islamic Talaq.

Sunday, 12 November 2017

Book Review: The Girl Who Couldn’t Love, by Shinie Antony

With a title like that and because the blurb talked about Rudrakshi’s (Roo) relationship with a much younger mysterious man, I ought to have expected a romantic tale. But because I have read a lot of Shinie Antony, I knew in my gut that an Antony novel would be anything but a simple romance between an older woman and a younger man. Recently I was on a roller coaster ride at Universal Studios in Singapore. Titled the Mummy Returns, we riders knew that at some point the tame ride would ‘descend’ into danger and darkness. Though we were prepared for it, when the sudden descend began, many shrieked. No, I didn’t shriek in Singapore and I didn’t shriek when The Girl Who Couldn’t Love slipped into chaos, but on both occasions, I almost did.

As I’ve said in one of my earlier reviews, Antony‘s style is unique. Her English is simple and sparse, yet alternately acerbic and incisive. Her observations are sharp and at times witty and over the top (actually, they are out of the world), even when narrating a sad tale.

The Girl Who Couldn’t Love is written in the first person, as narrated by Roo, a spinster who teaches English at an international school in Mangalore. Initially, Roo seems to be a simple soul, one who merely corrects the spelling when she intercepts a vulgar note (making fun of her singleness) passed between her pupils. Her aunt EeeDee seems to be as simple a soul as Roo. Roo’s mother, a nearly blind old woman who continually praises her late husband, also seems to be standard issue. As for Roo’s suitor D. Kumar, he could have come out of any Mills and Boon paperback.

The clues are there from the beginning, but the reader cannot fail to miss them. When one finishes the novel, one will end up re-reading it to figure out why one ended up being taken for such a ride, albeit an enjoyable one, in a masochistic sort of way. I’m not going to say more and give away the plot and spoil this for you. Do read this novel, I highly recommend it.

I have previously reviewed Antnony’s Séance on a Sunday Afternoon, When Mira Went Forth And Multiplied and The Orphanage for Words.

Thursday, 28 September 2017

If Prince Harry were to marry Meghan Markle

I’m no big Royalty watcher (but I do keep an eye on them folks) and no keen advocate for keeping the Royals on the throne, and in comfort, but there’s something nice about Prince Harry and Meghan Markle as a couple. I’d like to see them make it permanent. However, I don’t think such a move would go down so well with the hardcore Royalty supporters and their support is crucial if the UK is to not become a Republic, something I wouldn’t mind either.

Just thinking, if Prince Harry and Meghan Markle make it permanent, it would set the Royalty on the long road towards redundancy.

On the other hand, there are lots of people, especially the Royal household, who number in the thousands, who rely on the Royalty for their livelihood. These people will do everything possible to make Harry break up with Meghan. I hope they fail.

Wednesday, 6 September 2017

Trump Ends DACA, But Congress Has A Window To Save It

On 5th September, 2017, the Trump administration formally announced the end of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program put in place by Barack Obama. So far, DACA has protected nearly 800,000 young undocumented immigrants brought to the US as children from deportation.

After announcing the rescission, Trump went on to blame former President Barack Obama for creating the program through executive authority and urged Congress to come up with a solution.

Apparently 10 conservative state attorneys general were planning to challenge the program in court and Attorney General Jeff Sessions Sessions was of the opinion that DACA was likely to be struck down.