The week in reading 14/15

Inga  was a well received debut novel by Poile Sengupta, a well established writer of plays and children’s fiction. It is a wonderful book, for many reasons – a poignant story, wonderful characters, good writing and the very innovative use of multiple formats. The protagonist, Rapa, studies in an English medium Delhi Convent school and loves reading, absorbing as many books as she can lay her hands on. The author has used her as a medium to introduce poetry and short stories, that she writes as a young girl with an ambition to become a writer. Some of these are spoofy takes on the English classics are really interesting. The weak link is the marriage, although the husband is a believable character, there is something there that does not all fall into pace! Finally, the personal part -Rapa could be me!! Same age, same Tambram/Kerala origins, same type of schooling and same obsession with the English classics. Many incidents in Inga’s Delhi life could have been extracted from my memory bank, like the visit to Republic Day Parade with Pandit Nehru walking and chatting with the kids sitting on the carpets. And of course, familiar with that time, I could also catch the factual errors _ Panditji died in May of 1964 and not before the Board exams!! Of course, I did not have a family remotely like Rapa’s, for which I’m grateful. The traditions and every day rituals of her family, is much as I remember my own grandmother’s house – and she has captured the nuances of those times and that life really well. And of course, while the nostalgia is there, I am glad that life is no longer like that.

And I’m almost through Richard Flanagan’s ‘The narrow road to the deep South’ which was the Booker winner of 2014. I am enjoying it very much – its almost as good as Julian Barne’s ‘Sense of an ending’ which has been my favorite winner over the last few years. Like some other books I have read recently, (I made a point that it some times confusing)  it moves back and forth between pre-mobilization days in Sydney, the war and POW camp in Burma, post-was Japan and post-war and present Australia. It does not have a story as such but  is a tale of human survival and the prize of that survival – of a great love, memories and the the failure to remember. It is so well written, that you feel the rain when the monsoons in the rain forest are being described. The protagonist is a doctor and the scene when he is doing a third amputation near the hip, in an infected leg with a ladle pressed over the abdomen to stop the aortic flow of blood was was so captivating. It lays bare the realities of war – of the so called winners and losers and the human element for each one of whom it is all so futile.

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