CHENNAI: Reading many books together — or, more clearly, picking up a second book before the first is complete, and a third before the first and the second are finished, and so on and on—is perhaps not the best reading strategy. I know many who stick to one book till they have read it cover to cover, as a matter of principle. But reading many books together is what I find myself doing at all times now. Books are so many, life is so short, and what does one do with the insatiable desire to read more. Well, one picks up another book and reads a couple of chapters.
On my ‘currently reading’ list, there is Karan Mahajan’s novel The Association of Small Bombs. The novel traces the life of the victims and the terrorists around a bomb explosion in Delhi in the summer of 1996. Thirteen people die in that bomb blast, and since the number pales in comparison to some of the larger terrorist attacks, Mahajan cleverly proposes it as ‘a small bomb’. I’ve read about one-fifth of the novel till now, and it is already shaping up as one of my favourites this year. The writing is emotionally exact, and pacy, which is something that is said more for thrillers than for literary fiction. I’m reading about the bomb-making terrorist, Shaukat ‘Shockie’ Guru, having to steal a Maruti 800 to plant the bomb in. Mahajan pens Shaukat with guile, not lending him to the natural hatred of the reader. He’s a strong, brooding character, but there is none of that animalistic rage that we have come to attach to the figure of the terrorist.
Another novel I’m reading is Anuradha Roy’s Sleeping on Jupiter. I’m roughly one-fifth done in this one too. Till now, Roy has carefully built a mysterious haze around the plot. A lyrical, dream-like voice opens the first chapter, narrating the great strife of a girl-child in the times of war/political conflict. The second, in totally different circumstances, is the coming together of four women inside a train compartment.
Three of them are old women traveling together, the fourth, the young one, is traveling alone—and they are all going to a town named Jarmuli, where I suspect the rest of the action will take place. Roy writes very well in the train chapter, setting the oddities of the old women against the ear-phone-plugged opacity of the young woman. My guess is that the mysteries of the novel will focalise around this young woman who, it seems, has been left behind by the train after she got off at a station.
Among the many other books that I’m reading, there is also I Am Zlatan, the autobiography of the footballer Zlatan Ibrahimovic as told to David Lagercrantz. In the first chapter, Ibrahimovic describes the increasing tensions between him and Pep Guardiola, his coach at Barcelona. It is definitely interesting for a football fan like me..
(The writer will publish his first novel, Neon Noon, in July 2016)