I finally finished reading Hari Kunzru’s "Transmission" a few weeks back. I was quite excited about the book, having heard so much about this new diasporic author, who had won accolades for his debut novel - and I was just as disappointed. The book has absolutely nothing remarkable - I went through it without experiencing a single moment of delight or fascination at anything he said or how he said it. As I said the other day, it is just another novel churned out by the current spate of diasporic authors. Novels such as these make me question the attention being given to post-colonial authors, irrespective of the content and style of the works. If it isn’t bad enough that they give you an absolutely stereotyped representation of their country of origin, the country they have nothing in common with anymore, except for some ancestry and some relations they would probably have nothing to do with any more, they are claimed as one of “our own” by the country in question– in this case Hari Kunzru is being touted as in Indian – and I fail to understand why. His attitude towards Indians is almost completely condescending and it is glaringly obvious through the narrative that he is in his element (what little there is of it!) while talking about U.S.A or U.K and not the least bit comfortable when talking about India! I definitely wouldn’t ask you to pick up the book – read it if you must, to know who’s who on the Literary Scene these days, but don’t expect much out of it!
Having finished that book I started devoting all my attention to Kavita Watsa’s “Brahmins and Bungalows – Travels through South Indian History” (2004). Now this is a remarkable book, if I may so. I have still not finished reading it, but I can already recommend it – to everyone, not just people interested in history or those who are from or now live in South India. The book is divided into several chapters each dealing with a separate region/city :- Srirangapattana, Mysore, Bangalore, Padamanabhapuram, Devbagh, Goa, Madras, Pondicherry, Tranquebar, Hampi, Mamallapuram, Thanjavur and Kodiakanal.
Off late I have been increasingly and uncomfortably aware of my relative ignorance of Indian history. I have a copy of Romila Thapar’s "Early India" which I intend to read soon, but the book requires a lot of concentration. So when I found this book, I was completely charmed and won over. Coming to you in the guise of a travelogue the book takes you along the history of South Indian cities, weaving personal experiences (from childhood to adulthood), accounts from other travelogues or journals of the colonizers along with historical facts. Kavita Watsa has narrated the history with panache, without giving it the feel of a lecture - rendering it personal and making it seem like your own discovery of the city. Her comments on the growth of the cities and what she feels about their current state are incredibly insightful and sensitive. Though the historical facts are selective, and are from the Anglo-Indian perspective, it is still an enlightening read!
Brahmins and Bungalows was all the more interesting for me, since I have visited Srirangapattana, Mysore, Bangalore and Goa – reading the accounts brought back memories of my trips, threw light over places I visited without knowing the complete history behind them and made me want to go back once more, with this book with me as my guide!
Most of the other placess she talks about were on my list, but one that has been added is Devbagh. A few months back I had had stated that it would be a dream come true to spend my honeymoon at Devigadh – I think I’ll change that statement of mine. Devbagh definitely would be more romantic – a small island inhabited only by a small fishing community, one has the option of staying in rustic cottages or tents at a jungle camp on the island. What could be more idyllic than spending your days on a pristine beach, that is yet untouched by commercialization – soak in the sun during the day, walk along the beach, letting the surf wash off your feet, relax on a hammock tied between palm trees,lulled to sleep by the gentle sea breeze, make love lying under the stars at night and fall asleep to the sound of the waves breaking on the shore not too far away? If you are adventurous enough, you can even persuade one of the fishermen to take you to a nearby island that is completely uninhabited – Devbagh, as Kavita Watsa says is “Beyond the realm of prose!”
A MUST READ!!!