Latitudes of Longing by Shubhangi Swarup

Latitudes of Longing by Shubhangi Swarup

The best stories are the ones that are still to come… Close enough to hear, smell, and admire. Yet out of reach.

Latitudes of Longing is a saga-like gem of a book where lives of characters are intertwined in fate, love, generations, decades and geographies. This debut novel by Shubhangi Swarup, touches the intrinsic human emotions—of love; of desire; of loss; of chasing dreams; of liberation. Written in great lyrical intensity, Swarup’s style of writing is pure and rhythmic. She writes with such beauty and clarity that one feels soaked in with the characters’ dispositions.

Latitudes of Longing by Shubhangi Swarup

Islands are mindless chatter in a meditative ocean

Divided into four sections, Latitudes of Longing tells the tale of characters who are caught in between life and death; latitudes and longitudes; survival and existence. Yet all these characters’ lives are connected and transformed after certain periods of time. Set in the Andaman Islands, Myanmar, Nepal and the Antarctica, Swarup tells a captivating story of love, colonisation, relationship and loss.

What is the purpose of belief if even god can’t put the world back the way you worshipped it ?

The novel stems from the story of Girija Prasad and Chanda Devi who are posted because of work in the Andaman Islands. They nurtured desires, relationship, emotions and made the islands their true home. The arranged marriage of Girija and Chanda took them some time to open up. Girija is a dedicated scientist and Chanda is considered a clairvoyant who could talk to ghosts and trees. Their relationship builds up as the novel progresses. The novel is slow-paced as it progresses but the essence of narration and writing is never lost. Swarup’s expression of the geographical details, historical contexts and narration are commendable. Novice yet Swarup’s adroit narration is mesmerising!

Nostalgia, it seemed, was a being with short-term memory. It yearned for things that were quickly receding, but rarely for the distant past.

Pages- 344

Genre- Fiction

Publisher- Harper Collins India

Price:399

The Legends of Pensam by Mamang Dai

The Legends of Pensam

…beyond the mountains and down the river, that those left behind learned to live without them. Sometimes they were remembered in songs and stories, like the dead.

The Legends of Pensam is my first Mamang Dai and I absolutely love it. This book is a collection shorts stories spanned within three generations. Mamang Dai weaves the stories around lives of the Adi tribe of the Siang Valley of Arunachal Pradesh. As the author explains , Pensam means “middle ground or in-between”, Pensam, the village acts as a middle ground between the spirit world and the reality.

Life moved on quite normally, except that, they hid their pain, while the seasons turned.

Dai narrates with such ease and perfection that each stories comes alive like magic. The short stories are connected in a way which makes these short stories more like a novel. True to the sense of being a tribal, Mamang Dai exudes essences of tribal life and the tribal world through her writing. The forest spirits; the stories of old; the migluns (britishers) invading tribal areas; a romance that blossomed between a tribal girl and a British officer; the boy who is believed to fall from the sky; of strange creatures that roamed the ancestral land; of life that’s savage and traditional at the same time. Mamang Dai writes it all.

We descend from solitude and miracles.

It’s no surprise that when you read a book by tribals you get the feels, you get a sense of belongingness. Dai’s style of writing is charming and subtle. Hers words and narration are a perfect blend of creativity and curiosity. The Legends of Pensam is intriguing and ingenious. Mamang Dai asserts the tribal way in such vivid mode that one is transported to the village of the spirit world while reading this book.

No one dies of love. I loved him, and now I am enough on my own.

Pages: 192

Publisher: Penguin Books

Genre: Fiction (short stories)

Do Not Say We Have Nothing by Madeleine Thien

Do Not Say We Have Nothing by Madeleine Thien

Madeleine Thien’s Do Not Say We Have Nothing is a historical fiction that follows the story of a family affected by the anti-rightists movement of 1957,the Cultural Revolution of 1966, and the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989. These political upheavals shapes the lives of the people causing separation, deaths and condemnation.

The novel is narrated through a young girl named Marie, a Chinese Canadian national living in Canada during the 1990s. She dives into the story of her father’s death and the story of her lineage through a book of Records which was transported from Hong-Kong to Canada.

Ai-Ming, an older girl, a family friend’s daughter came to stay with Marie and her mother in Canada and the unfolding of the history begins. The mysterious book of Records is something which Marie’s father treasures and in turn Marie digs for life’s answers in the records.

The novel has characters lives in different years. Sparrow, a young man is a talented composer but since the school he teaches at closes down, he stopped music for more than twenty years. In another part, a young talented violinist who is also a cousin of Sparrow struggles with her musical career since the government refuses to support her musical grant.

In another world, Marie looks for Ai-Ming who left Canada and the history of her father’s life in Hong-Kong. Do Not Say We Have Nothing is poetical in a sense. Its artistic expressions of plots is commendable.

Sea of Poppies by Amitav Ghosh

Sea of Poppies by Amitav Ghosh

Ghosh’s Sea of Poppies is the first of the Ibis trilogy. The novel is intertwined with characters who are caught in the web of imperialism. Not the lightest of reads, but this book sure, will equip you with the historical settings in 1839 Calcutta (East India Company). The British became the greatest in opium trade exporting to China. Ibis, a slave ship sets sail from Baltimore crossing the Indian Ocean to reach Calcutta. The ship then changes into a transport ship on reaching Calcutta. Ibis is then set to transport indentured slaves to Mauritius and Opium to China. Ghosh give lucid details of varied characters in the novel who all seem to find themselves in the Ibis at the end of the novel.

It is through the characters like Chamar Kalua, mixed race Paulette and Mulatto Zachary Ried that Ghosh best describes the state of racism in the 19th century. The condition where the weak and the poor are exploited is made prominent in the scenes in the book. Ghosh addresses the evil of Sati system where the character Deeti escapes its clutches. The humongous gap between the rich and the poor, the zamindari and the untouchables, gender disparity, imperialism and colonialism, racism, freedom, relationship and identity are some of the themes in the novel.

This historical novel sweeps across vast adventures from Bihar’s poppy fields to the bustling port city of Calcutta to the journey into the Black Sea on the Ibis. The text is filled with Patois, sometimes incomprehensible but at all time intriguing. The book delves deep into the diaspora of the varied characters that all seem to have one purpose— to board the the Ibis.

The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga

The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga

This is such a riveting read! Enjoyed reading every bit of this book. Aravind Adiga’s take on the disparity between the rich and the poor is commendable. This book is a work of satire on the nuances of submission and power. Filled with dark humour, Adiga uses the first person narrator— Balram Halwai, who works as a chauffeur to a rich man. The book unfurls the events that follows when wealth continue exploiting poverty and its consequences.

Disgrace by JM Coetzee

Disgrace by JM Coetzee

This book has many feelings at one time. It’s dark, it’s disturbing yet it’s fast-paced. It’s amazing that a dark novel, such as this, is captivating and frightening at the same time. South African writer John Maxwell Coetzee, clearly knew what a country in transition would feel like when he wrote Disgrace in 1999. This novel is set against the backdrop of the post-apartheid period in Cape Town, South Africa. Our protagonist , professor David Lurie is neither the hero nor the game-changer. He teaches Romantic Literature at a technical university in Cape Town. His affluent teaching career crumbles when his risky sexual affair with one of his students come to light. To hide this disgrace, he moves to the countryside to stay with his lesbian daughter, Lucy. But life took a different turn when Lurie and his daughter are attacked by two man and a boy , ransacking their farmhouse and outrageous incident took place. Okay, SPOILER ALERT! Lurie is doused but lives and his daughter is raped. This is where more disgrace surfaces. Lucy refuses to cooperate with the investigation. She quotes the whole incident as “historical retribution”. Two whites living amongst blacks; apartheid , slavery, subjugation of blacks by the whites are over. It’s now a new Black world. The deed done to Lucy somehow surfaces as the blacks’ vengeance against the whites for all the evil things committed by the whites against the blacks—historical retribution! Lurie suspects the former caretaker now a farm partner of Lucy, Petrus as an accomplice of the attackers. It dawns later on both Lurie and Lucy that it must be Petrus’ doing; showing Lucy who the boss is. Apparently , a white woman living in South Africa owning a land is something which Petrus does not want to tolerate. Coetzee takes on the theme of masculinity , sexual relationship , violence , exploitive views of women, sense of superiority , vengeance and race. His style of writing is crisp and precise yet detailed. To contain so many feelings and emotions in a book which is just over 200 pages is commendable. This is one of the good novels ever written.

The Last Light of Glory Days by Avinuo Kire

The Last Light of Glory Days by Avinuo Kire

The storehouse of storytelling resources lies in the past. The cultures and the traditions that the forefathers hold dear somehow find their way back into the lives of their progeny. Avinuo Kire’s third book, The Last Light of Glory Days unfurls lucid stories of the past of Naga, the cultural practises of the Naga forefathers and stories of characters that are reminiscent of the past.

It was turbulent years for Naga after the end of the Second World War. The Naga declared its independence from the British to the world on 14th August 1947. But deviating from the usual norm, the Declaration of Independence and the departure of the British from the Naga soil heralded the beginning of The Disturbance. As soon as the British moved out the Indian troops had immediately moved in to occupy the hills.

Divided into two parts, Kire’s book of short stories touches on the stories of The Disturbance; of the spirits; of the supernatural and of the one that got away.

Neimeü is one such character through which the readers are acquainted with the experiences of The Disturbance and the life she had to live in loss. Sample this from Neimeü: “The Disturbance devastates my life but ironically , it saved me too. Because during war, there is no time to mourn, not time to grow wild with grief. Men wear and grow silent, women beat their chests and raged, but after that, they all pick themselves up and continue the business of surviving.”

And then there are stories of the forest spirit who is unhappy with the stone thief; an unrequited love that prompted one to use love herb; of the one that got away. Kire extracts the intricacy of the Naga culture by acquainting the readers with the story of inter-community marriage. For marrying outside of the Naga community was considered a taboo of sorts. Quoting one of the characters, “Grandmother Neimenuo stopped talking to me the day I married. You see, I had married an outsider from beyond our hills; worse, he was a tephremia.”

Kire addresses the issue of non-inclusivity that’s been the “talk” in all its subtleties. “Being outsiders, the tephremia classmates were always vulnerable targets for local bullies. I witnessed them harassing Sanjeev and Rajesh many times.”

Kire has undoubtedly mastered her unique technique of preserving the Naga history and culture in fiction. Kire’s writing style is commendable— a true story teller that exudes curiosity in the reader. It may not be the perfect analogy, but while The Last Light of Glory Days is a reminiscence of the glory days, it no less is a reminder of the present scenario of the Naga people. It bridges the past and the present.

Publisher- Speaking Tiger 

Pages – 183

Price- 350

Raw- perfectly flawed by Chirmi Shimray

Raw- perfectly flawed by Chirmi Shimray

She will love herself, Like no man ever did”, writes Chirmi Shimray in her new poetry book, Raw. Women, since time immemorial have been the subject of a lesser sex. Shimray’s poetry book defies this subjugation and rises like the Phoenix— where there’s renewal and rebirth.

Raw— perfectly flawed” by Chirmi Shimray is a collection of 117 poems divided into ten sections. Based on her personal experiences, Shimray penned down these poems relating to the general outbreaks that occur in the lives of women in particular. These poems are bold and fierce, bringing out the anguish in a repressed woman’s heart. But there’s more to this than the repressive soul! This once repressed soul now discovers self love and comes out indestructible. No adversity can raze her. No soul can demean her. She’s risen above adversity. Like performing an ablution, she is renewed and now lives life on her own terms. She is her own master.

These collected poems take the universal courses of outburst ranging from agony to hope.

The first section is titled, “The Black Sea”. This section speaks about a woman’s misery of being stuck in a toxic relationship.

“I was a fool to believe in his painted lies And fell for the traps set by the devil”

The second section titled, “The Healing” talks about a tattered soul who is getting the healing that’s required. The poems in this section celebrate being broken and empty. The soul searches for peace and healing, walking past all the brokenness and heartache.

“I wish I can tell you

That there are people like you out there, Who are broken and free – That we are alike and you are never alone;

I wish I can tell you

That it will break you and tear you apart But I know you’ll make it,

And darling, I wish I can tell you

That once you get the taste of it – It is empowering”

In the third section titled, “Bloom”, Shimray delves on the subject of forgiveness and loving the self. The fourth section titled, “Invincible Warriors” is an ode to the mothers. Here the poet speaks about the sacrifices made by mothers for the welfare of their children. She talks about the pain that mothers go through in trying to give the best to the future generation.

“The gods work hard But our mothers work harder lately.”

The fifth section, “Wildflowers” and the sixth, “Daughters” celebrates women. While sections  seventh and eighth talk about youth and frenemies based on the poet’s own experiences. The ninth section concentrates on giving birth. The last section of the collection is titled, “Leo” which is a special ode to the poet’s two-year old  son, Leo. Through this section, Shimray prepares her son to grow into a man that knows humanity.

“The only thing that kept me alive was the miracle kicking inside of me, Each kick reminding me that he wanted to live – That life was worth living.”

Chirmi Shimray’s Raw- perfectly flawed is a reminder that self love and speaking up for oneself is important. In this book Shimray explores themes like heartache, pain, regret, acceptance, women empowerment, self love, agony, rebirth and appreciation. This is a book that churns the soul in you into coming closer to empowerment and self love.

Pages- 158

Publisher – self-published 

Price- Rs.318

Waiting for the Dust to Settle by Veio Pou

Waiting for the Dust to Settle by Veio Pou

They called it ‘Operation Bluebird’. On the fateful day of 9th July, 1987, the Underground Naga army attacked and raided the Assam Rifles outpost at Oinam Hill Village, a Poumai Naga Village in Senapati District, Manipur. Nine Assam Rifles soldiers were killed and the Naga Underground escaped with their looted arms and ammunitions. In an attempt to recover the stolen arms, the Assam Rifles launched the infamous “Operation Bluebird” in Oinam Hill village and it’s surrounding thirty villages for three months — where intense search and combing action was operated.

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During Operation Bluebird the villagers were subjected to extreme torture. Innocent villagers were killed, women were raped, properties were damaged, two women were subjected to give birth in public in full view of the armies. In this span, the armed forces violated human rights like murder, arson, looting, desecration of church, sexual harassment, illegal evictions, arrests and forced labour. The peaceful village of Oinam Hill turned into a nightmare in a single day.

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12 years old Rokovei had come to the village from Senapati district for Laonüh. But little did he know that he’d witness “Operation Bluebird”. Rokovei, the protagonist of the story loves the olive green camouflage suits and wish to join the army someday. But his dream of joining the army begins to shatter one by one as he begin to witness the way the armed forces exercise their power.

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Through the voice of Rokovei, Veio Pou speaks for the underrepresented Naga community. The novels narrates the conflict between the armed forces and the Naga Underground; forming of Naga Underground factions; the intricacy of insurgency; the racism that people from the Northeast faces; Naga-Kuki conflict and living with insurgency as a whole.

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Waiting for the Dust to Settle is a political novel or more so an autobiographical account. Pou’s narration, although fiction , lies more so on the non-fiction narrative. Written in simple language , Pou’s debut novel, loaded with history of the tribal community, is a must read.

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