Dispatches from Kriti: What to Read

Here I am in the desilicious town of Chicago, which today is so rainy it’s practically imitating Seattle. I’m here to attend the third Kriti festival… a celebration of South Asian authors and writing organized by Mary Anne Mohanraj and Desilit.

This morning’s keynote panel, “What’s Not to Like?” featured Romesh Gunesekera, Amitava Kumar, and Bapsi Sidhwa. The three of them read from the work of writers they particularly admire. Romesh Gunesekera read from Chowringhee, by Sankar. He began by telling us that he never reviews books… but this one was the exception. Here’s his take on why you should read it.

Hotel Calcutta: A classic Bengali novel, published in Britain for the first time, delights Romesh Gunesekera

Bapsi Sidhwa read from Sara Suleri Goodyear‘s book Meatless Days, which, she said, got under your skin. She also read some Urdu poetry in translation, which I think was from this book (am I right? anyone?).

Amitava Kumar wouldn’t tell us what he was reading from until he had finished reading, despite Bapsi’s question. We need suspense, he said firmly, and read from The Immortals by Amit Chaudhuri. There are two South Asian writers one can tell by voice alone, he added: one being Rushdie and the other being Chaudhuri. Kumar said Rushdie’s writing drops periods and punctuation; he has many imitators. Chaudhuri, on the other hand, is a careful user of commas; this is more difficult and so he has no imitators. Kumar noted that Chaudhuri is also a musician.

Perhaps more Kriti updates here… Internet permitting. Happy Saturday, all… more reading recs welcome. I haven’t read these, so I’ve got homework to do!

16 thoughts on “Dispatches from Kriti: What to Read

  1. I tried saying hi to you in person but didn’t get a chance as I was shuttling between a couple of the readings and the blues music festival across the street. I attended your and MaryAnne’s readings. I was the guy in the last row with wisps of hairs under the lower lip. Anyway, saying “hi” online here :-) .

    I wish the festival got more publicity. I knew about it only on Friday and didn’t get a chance to let more of my friends know in time. There were a lot of good writers in attendance. And I follow this website pretty regularly. May be somebody should have posted about this here?.. -Ram.

  2. Kumar said Rushdie’s writing drops periods and punctuation; he has many imitators. Chaudhuri, on the other hand, is a careful user of commas; this is more difficult and so he has no imitators.

    It’s amusing to see that Kumar doesn’t miss an opportunity to take a snide dig at Rushdie :)

  3. @rob Yes, to Mr. Freeman. That’s not her maiden name. (No, I’m not just guessing, but it’s fairly easy to infer)

  4. Thanks for the post, Sugi. You know, I’d have happily recommended your book as something that I enjoyed reading. I found Love Marriage lyrical and moving. I think folks like Amardeep have been right to point out, on this site and elsewhere, that Rushdie’s work is too rich to be reduced to any one narrow statement about it. Just the other day, I was looking at The Ground Beneath Her Feet; it’s not a book I liked very much, and its form is a bit shapeless for me; however, I was struck, once again, how sharp his writing was on the subject of photography, for instance. He’s a polyglot, and a stylist of the first rank. The point of the panel that you’ve blogged about was to furnish a brief reading list. You’ve made that clear in your post. I’m looking forward to checking out this summer several new books by desi writers: Mridula Koshy’s If It Is Sweet, Hirsh Sawhney’s edited collection Delhi Noir, Chandrahas Choudhury’s Arzee the Dwarf, and, because I had enjoyed very much his stories in the New Yorker, Daniyal Mueenuddin’s In Other Rooms, Other Wonders. Thanks for reading this.

  5. Shankar’s Chowrungee is really popular in hindi as well: most people who read hindi would have read it. Before Chowrungee, Shankar wrote another novel with the same protagonist, called Kato Ajanare (kitne anjaane in hindi) which I believe was made into a movie by Ritwik Ghatak.

  6. Interesting. I’m also planning to check out Delhi Noir and the Mueenuddin. Sakshi, any sense of how good the translation of Chowrungee is? Do any of you read a lot in translation?

  7. Hi Sugi, nice post. I restrained myself at the buying table and came away with two books I’m looking forward to reading: Romesh Gunesekera’s futuristic Heaven’s Edge, and Shilpa Agarwal’s Haunting Bombay. Was great to see you and everyone.

  8. In Other Rooms, Other Wonders is a great collection. Daniyal was nice enough to do a short podcast for us of an excerpt from Nawabdin Electrician here. You can also check out a Youtube bit on the page. For those interested in contributing to short story writing in Pakistan, you may find http://www.lifestooshort.pk interesting.

  9. “Sakshi, any sense of how good the translation of Chowrungee is?”

    I read the hindi translation. I don’t remember feeling cheated, though it was more than a decade ago, so I don’t remember much. Translations to hindi from other Indian languages are usually good. English is a whole other matter, with some exceptions. There is a publishing house called Katha that does a good job of translations to english. I read their edition of some works of the Tamil writer Ambai, and the translation was excellent. Penguin did a few translations too, eg, Sarat’s Srikanta and Gangopadhyay’s Those Days.

  10. Sugi – I didn’t put together the Sepia Mutiny connection with you. :-)

    Reg the poetry that Bapsi Sidwa read, I belive it was Ghalib (I have some cryptic notes that I scrawled).

  11. Is this all in English..or are any of these writings in an actual Indian language?