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Tuesday, June 21, 2005


Only my second Sri Lankan novel, after Ondaatje’s Anil’s Ghost. It spans the tempestuous spats between two antagonistic neighbouring business families, and those memories recounted by the author much much later when all the shenanigans are behind him, in London

The progonist, Chip remembers his friend Prins Ducals, and his escapades with fondness. He also muses ponderously over the past where Prins’ mother Pearl struggles to explain and understand the death of her husband Jason at the hands of their arch rivals-the avaricious Vatunas whose ambition is fuelled by an inherent vanity and a deceit that is blindingly simple. The author, Romesh Gunesekera longingly unsheathes the coils of memory through an abstract narrative and weaves intrigue, despair, pride and a gradual fading of identities into the bulwark of the plot.

Another non-linear author, a welcome departure from the staccato bursts of most other post-modern literary essays. The author keeps a studied distance from the political overtones that underpin most socio-economic upheavals and keeps an unwavering attention on characterization—hence eschews dramatic elements, ornate prose and metaphors in favour of a languid tale whose unexplained parts segue into one another unobtrusively.

A 7 on 10 !


I get the eerie feeling that I am revisiting many spurned authors in my dotage, V S Naipaul being one of them. This book has a natty feel about it, comprising two travelogues that read like the epilogue and prologue, two short stories and the eponymous long story. This book won the Booker in 1971.

One out of Many—is a short story of a penurious domestic helper, Santosh, who has made the journey from Bombay to Washington to accompany his employer, a reticent diplomat. He is allured yet untouched by the mysteries and inexplicable cadences of American life, and he continually marvels at his inability to relate to all that he sees around him. Wrought with self-pity, he runs away from his master to find a new restauranteur boss , on whose encouragement, he marries a hubshi black and lives on, glibly oblivious to his own family back home in India.

This story raises many disturbing issues—acclimatization and assimilation of an alien land, personal identity and beliefs and their transience, couched in the Native Speak to the domestic helper as he is cozened into accepting a world that he abhors.

Tell me who to kill is a lacerating tragedy and tells the tale of a West Indian who through squalor, indifference and bathos, moves to London with unhappy consequences. All the tantalizing facets of genteel poverty are agonizingly revealed, swept in the author’s self-conscious prose. The fatuous endeavours to keep a life afloat, fervidly meaning to keep a sibling on the straight and narrow, amidst colluding fortunes is narrated particularly well. The slow rise of an bitterness at one’s own lack of success, and an insistent urge to a brother imploring him to make something of his career.

In a Free State–the novella itself is a letdown, dealing with the capers of two Europeans as they move desultorily in a war-torn and politically instable African nation. Bobby and Linda, the protagonists indifferent to one another, yet alert and chary of the perils of the African bush, travel across the hinterland where they are stalked, shot at and threatened repeatedly. The prose is economical and sombre, minutely detailing the undercurrents of fear and despair in Uganda, and told with a somewhat Western sensibility .

I found the short stories superbly written, bathed in inviting wit and irony, by a man, who perhaps inculpably, has borne my ire many times. The travails of immigrants are captured realistically.Yet there is a decadence, a cocking a snook at India, which brings out the worst in me.

A 7.5 on 10 ! ( despite a wan central central story )

PS—I have not, have not , have not heard a worse troika of film scores than the recently released soundtracks of Kaal, Bunty aur Babli and Paineeta.
Kaal sounds like Salim-Sulaiman are hellbent on composing raunchy, inane and senseless numbers for the likes of the world famous Lara Dutta ( pun intended) .
Bunty aur Babli—Shankar EL & Gulzar came up with this –How ?
Parineeta—a pretentious apology of 60’s music , for an era that is aurally challenged.


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