Thursday, May 26, 2005

Meeting Chandrahas: of lit-blogging and clean-bowling Dravid

Met another Wisden luminary (actually, a soon to be former Wisden luminary) Chandrahas Choudhury yesterday over a buffet lunch at Q’BA, that incongruously plush lounge-restaurant in Connaught Place. Chandrahas has been co-blogging with Amit Varma at The Middle Stage and the Indian blogosphere has been richer for his incisive literary posts. It was one of these posts that got us started on a discussion about the merits of literary blogging.

In this piece on Monica Ali’s Brick Lane, Chandrahas had drawn attention to a passage where an ice-skating competition is described purely through the perspective of the protagonist, Nazneen, who has never seen such a thing before in her life. Chandrahas wrote: As readers, we may realise soon enough that Nazneen is looking at two ice-skaters, but that’s not the point of the passage – the point is to show us how this scene is understood by Nazneen, the cues from which she tries to decipher its significance. The satisfaction we feel at being allowed to experience Nazneen's misreading is the satisfaction of feeling in absolutely intimate contact with the worldview of another human being.

When I first read Chandrahas’s post, I realised that I had been struck by that passage in exactly the same way when I read the book a couple of years ago. Back then, I had reviewed Brick Lane for Business Standard. But the review had to be structured, all-encompassing; there was no way I could have taken out that one passage and written about it as particularly as Chandrahas did in his blog. At any rate, I couldn't have used up many words on it.

This is one of the areas where blogging can be so therapeutic. Quite often these days I don’t feel up to writing a comprehensive review of a book or a film; making definitive statements, describing the plot, supplying character capsules. I find it more rewarding to just home in on some passages/scenes that hold importance for me, mull over them, try to convey to others what I saw in them, perhaps use them to make larger points about the book or the writer’s style. It’s not easy to do something like this when you’re reviewing for mainstream publications, which require a holistic approach, but blogging does permit it, as readers of some of my posts on films and books will know. (Incidentally, I always get a bit defensive when people refer to my unstructured posts on movies/books as “reviews”.) Done well, I believe this approach has even greater potential for elucidating a book’s themes than conventional reviewing does.

(Even when you want to carry on with conventional reviewing, blogging helps. Often I’ve informally recorded my thoughts on a blog post, and then expanded/formalised that post into a review.)

Anyway, lest it be thought though that Chandrahas and I were just sitting there professorially and having a deeply intellectual literary conversation, we weren’t. We discussed other things that have also come up in my previous blogger meets: notably cricket. Chandrahas conducted a very interesting interview with Virender Sehwag on Tuesday. I don’t know if I should reveal details here, so it’s enough to say that the approach was very different to your standard Q&A session, and you can look out for it in the August issue of Wisden magazine.

Readers, I can now claim to have had lunch with two people who have clean bowled Rahul Dravid. Beaten the guy all ends up. Straight through the gate, as they say. Never saw the ball coming the Wall did, as Yoda would say. (Amit and Chandrahas’s moments of glory came in the hallowed Wisden office corridors a few months ago, when Dravid and Mohammad Kaif visited the office, and now it’s necessary for them to have children just so they can tell their grandkids about it sometime in the future.)

We also discussed: how nervous waiters tend to be at buffets. How Delhi and Mumbai are expanding. The proposed Noida Eye, which should provide tourists with lovely views of the bloated corpses in the Yamuna. Antique book shelves. And the many science-fiction books that Chandrahas wants to give away for some reason. I’m waiting with open arms.


  1. Boy, I'm so jealous. Now you must come to Mumbai soon, Jai, so we can all go and have some melting kababs together.

    And for the interest of posterity, it must be noted that I bowled RD twice, while Chandrahas got him just once!

    Your points about writing about books in a blog is spot on. It holds true not just for reviews, but for any journalistic writing. The medium gives a lot of freedom, but, sigh, no money. Maybe 10 years from now...

  2. Saar

    Am right behind you in the line for Moon-Smile's bounty. Does he have Terry Pratchett? Byrd? Philip Dick? Do tell ...

    (while I sidle off to post ingratiating comments on his blog/s)


  3. Thanks for pointing me to Chandrahas's review of Brick Lane, enjoyed reading it.

    Sukhdev Sandhu wrote a cussed and helpful take on the book for the LRB which is worth reading, rich in the historical and social context of the novel and its milieu of the Bangladeshi quarter of London:

  4. Coolie: Thanks, but aarrgh, that word "review" again. The whole point is that this kind of lit-blogging allows you a break from the mundaneness of conventional reviewing. You want a Brick Lane review, I'll send you the one I'd done 2 years ago. Promise your eyes will glaze over within seconds.

  5. re·view

    (1)To look over, study, or examine again.

    (2)To consider retrospectively; look back on.

    (3)To examine with an eye to criticism or correction: reviewed the research findings.

    (4)To write or give a critical report on (a new work or performance, for example)

    OK. I think it is a question of formal and informal. Even a brief consideration of a text for me becomes a review. If I ask someone what he thought of a book and he just tells me in a few sentences whether he liked it or not, and why, I still reckon it is a review. Although as a reviewing journalist you are sensitive to this demarcation. I have a scatter-brain mind and approach.

    I wont glaze over when I read your take on Brick Lane. The only thing that bores me is Pink Floyd :)

    I like your writing. Bring it on.