A Book A Week Challenge – Week 42

Asha Bandele’s “The Prisoner’s Wife” have two peculiar things – one, it is by far one of the few books that I have read that relies on “love’ in its true form- there is no thriller, there is no suspense, there is no sci-fi, Love is all that is there. Second, it is a memoir which makes it even difficult to put out in public about loving someone who is sentenced twenty years for a murder.

9780671021481_hr.jpgBook #: 42

Title: The Prisoner’s Wife” by Asha Bandele

Pages: 243

“The Prisoner’s Wife” is a memoir of a twenty-something girl who fell in love with a prisoner who is serving twenty years for a proved murder. It dwindles between despair and hope at a frequency that is way too lower than you would expect. We have heard stories about separation way before we read any of our modern day literature- our mythology cherishes and rides on this.

In Hindu mythology, every story is filled with it. We have heard stories of Seetha waiting for Rama to come escape her for the bonds of Ravana, in Savitri, we heard stories of a woman fighting with Lord Yama to earn back the life of her husband. In real life, majorly during the World War and even in the modern day scenarios of American attack on Afghanistan and Iraq; and Indian Army men guarding the fence with their praying every single day for their safety and return. But, in most of the scenarios, the husband/ lover is often regarded as a man of respect. He is set out there for a cause – protecting the national interests, or protecting the kingdoms in mythology.

Here is where “The Prisoner’s Wife” needed to put in that extra motivation into the narration that should clear away the notions of his crimes and focus on the affection and love that an educated female feels towards a criminal. Humans, as we are, doesn’t have ‘Love’ as their core emotion. It is generally referred from a POV of physical attraction or seeking to belong but not ever as an individual emotion. I am not sure if this had to be blamed on the research done post the societal existence- might that be a biased we never tried to account for in our analyses. But, nevertheless, “The Prisoner’s Wife” strikes that chord spot on.

The book never distracts from its core emotion- it talks about love and purely about the effects that it brings to one’s life. The most common challenge that the modern day love stories face in comparison to medieval/ ancient day times of mythology or Shakespearean ways is a common belief that it no longer exists. The stories are narrated with a sense that there is some catch within the love and pure love is an emotion that might never have existed.

What Asha’s book tries to tell you is- there is indeed a true love in its form that might be or might not be agreed upon by any of us but it doesn’t matter to the person who is experiencing it. The challenge with reading a book like this in the present day polluted circumstances is the influence of need for creating an eagerness rather than creating calmness. The Google Search of “The Prisoner’s Wife” will take result in many pages that are referenced to BBC’s television series titled “Prisoner’s Wives” with Guardian’s review starting with “Forget the title”.

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The best thing about this book is the closing letter that was titled “28 July”. You might find this more dramatic or cheesy to your liking but keep reading through it understanding the emotion that a person had to undergo waiting for the person she loved, it is one of the best love stories I have read in ages (even for my personal dislike of rom-com that now form substitute for love stories.)

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A Book A Week Challenge- Week 41

John Berger who is an Englishman lived down in France for almost 50 years of his life, cannot take away romanticism experienced in his life from his writings. His most famous work ‘Ways of Seeing’ presenting the view that an art critic had to take and ‘G.’, a novel set in the backdrop of pre-world war Europe along with many other books play a lot with the naming. You might have to list down the titles and end up with a beautiful story itself.

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Book #: 41

Title: Here is Where We Meet” by John Berger

Pages: 260

“Here is Where We Meet” is a recommendation I received from a source that I don’t know but I need to acknowledge the source of this. If not for this recommendation, that helped me keep this book on my Amazon ‘Watchlist’ for almost 2 months or more to finally read last week.

“Here is Where We Meet” is many more things beyond being a novel. It blends memories, experiences, and perceptions about death and life. As the title goes, it is about meeting people at difference places and at different time references but the consistent theme runs through the book is about relationships and the joy of holding them close to the chest.

The collection of stories goes by the location names where the meeting happens: ‘Lisboa’, ‘Geneve’, ‘Karkow’, ‘Some Fruit as Remembered by the Dead’, ‘Islington’, ‘Le Pont d’Arc’, ‘Madrid’ and The Szum and the Ching’ will close to a chapter titled ‘81/2’

It would not be an offense to say this title chapter ‘81/2’ which extends nothing beyond two paragraphs and four additional lines gives you a much holistic view of how to read your life and almost reflects my thoughts on reading books:

“I liked books which took me to another life. That’s why I read the books I like. Many. Each one was about real life, but not what was happening to me when I found my bookmark and went on reading. When I read, I lost all sense of time’

There is a piece of advice for emerging writers as well

‘I risk to write nonsense these days

Just write down what you find.

I’ll never know what I’ve found’

But, doesn’t leave us before bringing critic in him to the front:

‘All you have to know is whether you’re lying or whether you ‘re telling the truth, you cannot afford to make a mistake about that distinction any longer’

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This last sentence exactly refers to your opinion of reading this book. It takes you to the deep inside the narrator, the thoughts, and interactions he had – but gets absolutely difficult to separately identify the narrator to the author and it reflects in a similar way in your reading experience – are you talking about your own story as a narrator or are you a mere reader trying to read someone else’s life.

John Berger Image credit: Photograph by Jean Mohr for The Paris Review

A Book A Week Challenge – Week 40

Abdullah Hussain was one of the pioneers who narrated stories that were set in the backdrop of Indian Independence. His most critically acclaimed Udaas Naslein (1963), later translated as The Weary Generations, from Urdu to English by the author himself thirty years later in 1999.  The Urdu version of the book received Adamjee Award.

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Book #: 40

Title: The Weary Generations” by Abdullah Hussain

Pages: 427

Set in the backdrop of Indian Independence, the book actively tracks the lifetime of a young boy, Naim Beg. But, it takes no particular attention to realize what we are looking at what, not just random thoughts and emotions of a young boy but the transformation of a country going through its most critical phase of history from the POV of a young boy. The choice of a young boy at the helm of it had a lot to do with the ideology – what you sow is what you reap. What he is after many years is what he experienced and witnessed years earlier.

The book transitions itself into multiple phases but can be grouped together into three specific ones: the early days of undivided Punjab where the issues of caste and feudalistic society were dealt with – this is the probably the most realistic account of the society I have read so far. All the content I read about the feudalistic system puts the sufferings of lower section at its core, not a bad thing, but leaves out a holistic view of existing conditions during those times.

A man on horseback, holding aloft a leaking jar of honey in his hand, had staked a large tract of land and laid claim on it.

Even though, this is not a new thing in Indian culture and mythology, the acclaimed Ashwamedham, the famous yaga conducted by Indian kings was no different to this.

The World War had a huge role to play in Indian history, much more than it was often regarded to. During my early days of education, I saw no connection between the WWI and Indian Independence movement, maybe I was not as intelligent enough to draw the connections between the academic history curriculum, which never blended two major events for us. The Weary Generations takes a much closer look at how the WWI influenced the youth of India back in the day.

The hero is an idealist; he was often called upon by his inner sense of honor and duty. He was born in the system where class identities play a huge role in how they educated themselves, not academically but to morally. He wants to break the shackles that restricted him when he was merely a son of a lazy, good for nothing, relying on their reputation kind of father, whose major concern was never being humiliated by the lender or landlord. He was representative of a generation that accepted the class based system as its norm. But, the next generation, the self-motivated and exposed to the world events, would not hold back.

Despite this enthusiasm, idealism and high-spiritedness, Naim Beg never comes close to being a fulfilled hero. When he returns from the war, what he earns is not just a wooden hand after he lost it during it, but a man that was cleansed of his middle-class inhibitions. This time it is the family’s turn to set up the system in which they struggled for existence. Naim was offered land as an appreciation for his efforts in the war, but his father uses it to regain the lost reputation of the family as being landlords.

The third aspect is the beautiful love story between Naim and Azra. Its roots start even before they were born, with the friendship between Agha and Beg families. Though there was never any dialogue that represents that they want their kids to get married, but the very first meeting of Naim and Azra has a charm around it. The tension between them just starts and it doesn’t even feel awkward- here is where the genius of Abdullah’s book lies.

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The historical narration is a view that was told to us many times, in whatever form or accuracy that was exposed to us, but we have some view of it. But, the transformation of a young love story through the lives of two innocent children by the events that are way too bigger than them to even comprehend. The love and affection are true but the “marriage” is a completely different beast to control.

The young boy, an idealist, struggling to break the class struggles, not gets married to a landlord and his radicalism is transformed. He is now a part of a committee against Jalianwala Bagh massacre, he now makes speeches on public platforms and gets arrested. Here is where the book breaks from its basic genre of being a historical fiction to a psychological thriller. Naim experience tough times to mend his inner conflicts, often breaking down and starts to portray an alter ego in the form of Dr. Ansari. Then come the imminent partition and both the families agrees to move to the newly formed country. But, he stays back, letting his love to go and he himself joins the refugee camp.

Naim is very close and yet very distant from being an idealistic hero that we were waiting for all through the book but he never arrives. He is played around, first by the feudalistic system, then by the ruling government, then by the army, then by his love and finally by his own self.

Abdullah Hussain’s “The Weary Generations”, probably might not give historical references in the standard notation but delivers an emotional roller coaster ride of an individual fighting his own internal demons that felt monstrous than the external events that instilled fear in everyone.

Cover Image Source: Harper Collins India.