Not your usual best read list, but memorable 2016 reads
I’ve read less books this year. But those that I did held me in good stead. Some were gifts, some books I bought, and because libraries are not to be neglected, I even borrowed. This is not a list of 2016’s “best reads”, but these are my very good reads. And of all genres, for me poetry was definitely the best read.
My Sunset Marriage by Hoshang Merchant: A collection of 101 scintillating poems, Merchants voice in this beautifully designed book teases, tests, touches and then suddenly soars beyond the mundane understanding of emotions or losses. If the gay voice is crisp and clear, so is his universalism. Read this book to have a unique insight into the range of Merchant’s versatile voice where he writes of spiritualism. death, lovers and whores with equal passion.
The Missing Rib by K Satchidanandan: This book is a humongous but stunning collection of poems that combine the lyrical, surreal and the political with deft hands from one of India’s best known living poets. His poems are all universes in themselves, loaded with questioning and replete with prophetic reflections.
Blood on My Hands by Kishalay Bhattacharjee: For journalism buffs, conflict writing researchers, and those that care to know about the northeastern part of India, this should be one of the best nonfiction books around. My own interest in the Northeast and it’s sociopolitical milestones kept me returning to read the book bit by bit (didn’t read at one go, but picked on chapters selectively). Insurgency, secret killings, AFSPA, counter-terrorism, and the like, are illustrated in direct “confessions” of those in charge of governance and military interventions.
Jihadi Jane by Tabish Khair: This fiction book is a quick read. Having read Khair’s other books, I wasn’t expecting this novel to be too breezy (if one may say so about a Dystopian novel), but given there are tons of mushy trashy books in the market from even reputed publishers that had completely turned me off of a lot of fiction reading, I enjoyed the smooth narrative. Khair sweeps one into the world of blood-chilling Islamic State regime with skillful storytelling. Thankfully, there’s a woman protagonist with her own agency, adding to the humane angle of the novel.
Felanee by Arupa Patangia Kalita: When no one borrows library copies, I sometimes want to steal. But as my own copy is getting delivered, I’ve happily finished reading this insightful work. Translated into English as well, the Assamese novel takes the reader on a journey into the life or Felanee (the discarded one), a migrant settler woman in Assam. As violent ethnic conflict rocks the state, Felanee’s identity undergoes ‘changes’ along with her struggles. Not a page-turner by any means — the narrative often maintains a plaintive tone — the novel is a fictional documentation of a real life story.
Personal Effects by Manohar Shetty: I’d written in Scroll not too long ago that reading Shetty is like “knowing the earth all over again”. The poet cannot be read in only one collection. Several of his shorter collections will tell one how curious is the landscape he inhabits and describes. The symbolisms and metaphors are not a hark back to the pristine and natural. Rather, they conjure a solid mysterious universe that regale the scientist and the philosopher alike. Morning Light and Creatures Great and Small must be read alongside.
Hatred in the Belly: Politics behind the Appropriation of Dr. Ambedkar’s Writings by Shared Mirror Collective (Eds: Anu Ramdas and Naren Bedide): The book is a result of a hearty polemic from significant Dalit-Bahujan sections that challenge the appropriation of the caste narrative by savarna and Brahminical writers, especially, B R Ambedkar’s The Annihilation of Caste. The collection of essays and interviews are all well conceived and precise. An independent production, the book has raised questions very specifically from Dalit-Bahujan-Adivasi-minorities perspective. A much required read.
All One’s Blue by Kazim Ali: The poetry of Kazim Ali here steers itself from stark realism to the metaphysical and back. He’s a Sufi who effortlessly glides between emotions such as love, longing, prayer and elation. This handsome little blue-cover paperback is treat for poetry lovers. From continent to continent, city to city, Ali’s verses fly about in a speed as ethereal as seduction and as hard as any well-cut diamond.
Several other memorable books are, The Greatest Bengali Stories Ever Told (translation) by Arunava Sinha, Where Even the Present is Ancient: Benaras (poetry) by Maitreyee B Chowdhury, Zorami (novel) by Malsawmi Jacob, etc. — all pertinent to my own areas of interest. I regret not mentioning very many wonderful poets and writers for want of time and space.
2016 was also a year of fabulous new poetry from select young writers under 40, and many among them that do not have a book yet. I take personal pride in co-editing an anthology of these poems.