Wednesday, January 23, 2019

‘So many books, so little time'

When it comes to reading, I don't make New Year's resolutions though I mentally resolve to buy fewer books so I can read the ones I already have and give them away or sell them at the old scrap and paper mart. Actually, the scrap dealer, or raddiwala as we call him, comes home with a ball of twine and a pair of scales and buys all our old newspapers, journals and books, and whatever else we intend to dispose of. He helps us to declutter. I have to get rid of my books this way because I can't think of anyone who'll want them, let alone read them, and besides we don't have any libraries in the suburb where I live.

Last year, I kept half my promise. I bought just about a dozen secondhand books and read so very few books there was no point in writing about it.

This year, surprisingly, it has been the other way around.

Less than two weeks into 2019, I added four "new" books to my TBR-stretched bookcases and, happily, also read an equal number. My plan is to read at least seven books and novellas every month, plus as many short stories and poetry as I can. With time not so much on my side, I will be reviewing only a few select books every month.

© Penguin
Of the four books I purchased at the Books by Weight exhibition, I'm eager to read my Penguin edition of The White Nile (1960) by Alan Moorehead, the Australian-born war correspondent and author of popular history books. 

I have been curious about this historically relevant book, which is about "the daring exploration of the Nile River in the second half of the nineteenth century, which was at that time the most mysterious and impenetrable region on earth" and is considered "a seminal work in tales of discovery and escapade, filled with incredible historical detail and compelling stories of heroism and drama."

The other books included two Black Horse Westerns—Madigan's Sidekick by Hank J. Kirby and The Dying Tree by Edward Thomson—and a Mickey Spillane, whose title eludes me as I write this from my office. Edward Thomson was one of many pseudonyms of the late Edwin Charles Tubb, a popular British writer of science fiction, fantasy and western novels.

© Prashant C. Trikannad
Separately, my wife bought three books—Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen (as a replacement), Father Brown by G.K. Chesterton and The Railway Children by Edith Nesbit. I hope to read the last two.

I also bought a few ebooks but that's a guilt-trip for another day.

In the picture, our pet Stubs is keeping an eye (or shut-eye) on my newly-acquired western hardbacks.

Saturday, January 05, 2019

On the Run with Fotikchand by Satyajit Ray, 1976

© The Estate of Satyajit Ray
“...And who is this young assistant you have got here?”

The question came so unexpectedly that Fotik’s heart nearly jumped into his mouth.

The two men were standing nearby. They had just emerged out of the dark. On Fotik’s right stood Shyamlal, his bow legs covered by long trousers. Out of the corner of his eye, Fotik saw the blade of a knife flash, go past his ear and stop somewhere between him and Harun.

On the Run with Fotikchand by Satyajit Ray—the renowned Indian filmmaker and cultural icon—is the delightful adventure of an 11-year old boy, Bablu, kidnapped by four goons and left for dead when their stolen car meets with an accident. While two of the abductors die on the spot, two others, including the beefy Shyamlal, escape. The injured boy regains consciousness but loses his memory.

Bablu, whose real name is Nikhil Sanyal, the son of a rich barrister, assumes the name of Fotikchand and wanders the streets of Calcutta. The penniless boy soon meets a poor but a kind and sympathetic juggler named Harun, who offers him food and shelter as well as a job in a friend’s tea shop. In the evenings, Bablu accompanies Harun to the local fair and assists him in his colourful shows, thrilled to learn the tricks of the trade and with his new way of life. But it’s not long before the two surviving goons discover the boy is alive, and come after him and Harun, their criminal minds once again picturing a hefty ransom. On the run with the juggler, Fotik suddenly regains his memory.

© The Estate of Satyajit Ray
Meanwhile, back home, his influential father badgers the local police to find his son and issues an advertisement in the newspapers with the promise of a princely reward of Rs.5,000.

On the Run with Fotikchand is not so much a tale of kidnapping as an endearing story of friendship between Fotik and Harun. The juggler’s hand-to-mouth existence does not come in the way of his kinship with, and generosity towards, the boy, the son of a rather selfish and calculated man. A not-so-subtle contrast between the arrogance of the privileged and the humility of the underclass.

The 94-page novella is mildly suspenseful and moves at a brisk pace. The simple and engaging narrative is a tribute to its translation, from the Bengali original, by Gopa Majumdar. She has translated several literary works of Satyajit Ray and others from Bengali to English. The book was made into a film, Phatik Chand, in 1983. I have not seen it. My Puffin Books edition (below) has black-and-white illustrations by Ray himself.

© Puffin Books
A word about the author.

Satyajit Ray (1921-1992) requires no introduction. Nonetheless, here's a bit about him. 

Ray was one of 20th century’s greatest filmmakers. He was also a screenwriter, author, graphic artist and music composer. Born in Calcutta, the capital of the east Indian state of West Bengal, Ray wrote film essays, long fiction, short novels and short stories that were published as collections. His two most popular fictional characters in Bengali literature were Feluda, a detective series, and Professor Shonku, a scientist. The Feluda stories, which I haven’t read yet, are narrated by the detective’s cousin, a loose version of Dr Watson. In 1992, he was honoured with the Bharat Ratna, India's highest civilian award, and an Honorary Oscar for Lifetime Achievement. In 2004, Ray was ranked No.13 in BBC's poll of the Greatest Bengali of all time.

You can read more about Satyajit Ray and his literary works here and here.