The Wildings, Nilanjana Roy
Nilanjana Roy may just be South Asia’s answer to the likes of Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett. In her wildly amusing first book, The Wildings, she tells the magical tale of the cats of Nizamuddin, a neighbourhood in Delhi, who share a telepathic ‘network’ to connect and protect their turf from outsiders. They are jealous guardians of an old way of life that has helped them survive human intervention and change. The arrival of a stray kitten, that seems to have the most concentration of special abilities to rival even the most seasoned toms amongst them, starts a chain reaction that may lead to greater things that none of them had imagined before.
The book, shortlisted for the Commonwealth Prize, is for all ages and all seasons. And best of all, you don’t have to be a cat person to fall in love with it.
Wave, Sonali Deraniyagala
Natural disasters have become a part of our modern history. World over, we have seen cataclysmic events unfold that have changed our perception of what it means to be prepared for a catastrophe — physically, emotionally, financially and psychologically. All of this is tested in Sonali Deraniyagala’s unapologetically furious memoirs of the 2004 tsunami that she survived but her parents, her husband and her two young sons did not. One moment the author was vacationing at a resort in Sri Lanka with her family, and in the next, a dark wave washed away the very anchor of her entire existence. The book is an unsentimental look at the aftermath of a horrific disaster and how, sometimes, human intervention is the last thing someone needs to get over grief.
Read this to be reminded of the precarious fragility of life, and how, despite all odds, sometimes the only person who helps you out of the pit of despair is yourself.
Levels of Life, Julian Barnes
“You put together two things that have not been put together before. And the world is changed.” It’s simple, it’s honest and it’s devastatingly poignant in the context it is used. Julian Barnes’ grief over the passing of his beloved wife Pat Kavanagh paired with his ingenious writing prowess have proved that he is one of the most gifted authors writing today. Levels of Life is a slim volume that can neither be categorised as a history book (the first chapter discusses the golden era of ballooning and photography), fiction (English colonel Fred Burnaby and the French actor Sarah Bernhardt are imagined to be in a relationship) or a memoir (his retelling of the pain he suffered at the loss of his wife to a brain tumor). It can, however, be categorised as a genre-defying testament to the power of good writing.
Read this if you have loved and lost. And read it if you have loved and won as well.
Delhi by Heart: Impressions of a Pakistani Traveller, Raza Rumi
Memory is a tricky thing. It pads thin veneers of our senses and fills cracks and holes in nostalgia to comfort us, or to torture us. Thankfully, Raza Rumi’s travelogue plus memoirs of the great Indian city falls in the former category. With careful, delicate prose, the usually serious writer of grand political and policy based op-eds takes us on a journey through the city of mystics and poets of fallen kings and anarchic revolutionaries. There are numerous books written by Pakistani writers on Indian cities, but this one easily captures your attention with its heartfelt recollection of many key moments from the author’s life, tying him invariably to a country many still consider the enemy instead of the estranged parent that it truly is.
If you grew up listening to eighties post-punk indie music coming out of Britain, you might know of the grand sire of cynical abandonment — the lead singer of The Smiths, Morrissey. The eclectic singer is defined by his steady defiance of the mainstream media, the monarchy, capitalism and pretty much everything someone, somewhere holds dear. In his autobiography, Morrissey is at his finest with his acidic wit and insights into working class Britain — the racial and cultural upheaval that shaped his youth and the societal wrongs and ills that propelled him to be the singing sensation of a generation that was lost and confused under Margaret Thatcher’s iron rule and the Cold War.
Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, December 29th, 2013.