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Wednesday, December 02, 2020

Sunday Long Reads: Claims of women to public places, Maggie O’Farrell, Booker Prize winner Douglas Stuart and more

Here is your Sunday reading list

New Delhi | November 22, 2020 10:43:24 am
Our social lives have come to a halt. (Illustration: Suvajit Dey)

Public life, as we knew it, has come to an unprecedented standstill, and private life has been intensified to the point of tyranny, due to the current health emergency. Even the lines that radically divided unpaid domestic labour from “work for wages”, usually outside the home (though only for some classes), have been dramatically redrawn. What better moment to critically re-examine and reimagine private life and domesticity, and also reassert the claims of women to public space?

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Room for us all: Why a reimagination of cities requires collective involvement of people and should represent their needs

In July 2018, about 100 Delhi residents — children, shopkeepers, professionals, auto drivers, among them — stood on the Africa Avenue pavement every evening, protesting against the National Buildings Construction Corporation Ltd and Urban Ministry’s massive redevelopment project that would turn seven green, residential areas into high-rise apartment and commercial complexes. The project, spread over 570 acres, originally intended to raze all existing buildings and over 16,000 trees to the ground. One common concern was where do we take our grievances about what the city is becoming.

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With darkness brought by the pandemic, chasing light in the mountains

Nanda Devi at sunrise (Photo: Shyam Saran)

After months of being hunkered down in relative isolation to escape COVID-19 infection, there was an incipient stirring of life last month. I normally head to the mountains every autumn. So, the minute the trekking agency, whose services I often avail of, offered a brief trek in the Garhwal Himalayas, I grabbed at it. The trek, of course, had an impressive list of safeguards to protect against the virus. From temperature, pulse and oxygen saturation checks every morning and evening to daily sanitisation of trekking gear and a masked-and-gloved crew. Our group of three braved the early-November winter to head towards Matiya Bugyal in the north Tehri region.

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Dark or light, round or oval, how every bird egg serves a unique purpose

Eggsquisite: A decorated ostrich egg (Photo: Ranjit Lal)

While we’re all sourced from eggs, some moms in the animal kingdom prefer to keep their eggs outside their bodies. Which, I think, may be a really good idea. Think of the advantages: you can lay as many as you wish; if some get broken or are diseased, they can be replaced without affecting the mother’s health. Egg-laying moms have a range, too: from the bindaas moms (in the insect and piscine worlds) who lay thousands of eggs and forget about them, to birds who assiduously incubate their eggs, keeping them at exactly the right temperature until they hatch, and insect moms (wasps), who lay their eggs on anesthetised caterpillars or small arachnids so their babies have a stock of fresh meat to feed on after hatching.

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I was astounded by the length an actor goes to: Atanu Ghosh on Soumitra Chatterjee

(from left) Soumitra Chatterjee, director Atanu Ghosh and actor Prosenjit Chatterjee during the shoot of the National Award-winning film Mayurakshi (2017)

Cinema, theatre, television – in his entire life, Soumitra Chatterjee must have worked with thousands of directors. I am just one of them. But much before that, I am an eternally captivated fan, one among lakhs of his fans but still a little different, he would smile every time I told him that. While growing up, however, I was equally a diehard fan of Mahanayak (Uttam Kumar), and knew by heart the films featuring the two. Soumitra Kaku was one of the two legends I lived close to, the other was renowned filmmaker Mrinal Sen. Seeing them from up close would feel like having conquered the world.

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Break the Mould: Why, unlike in other megacities, one is a creature of habit and limited imagination in Delhi

Infinity in multitudes: Anti-CAA/NRC protest at Shaheen Bagh earlier this year. (Source: Express Archives)

Sometimes, I go cycling with a 13-year-old. The roads are uneven but empty these days, especially if we manage to get out early enough. Will the scent of the shaitaan bloom be able to pierce our masks? It’s coming to that time of the year. The trees are green and we are able to feel the gentle slide of the seasons. Our cycling path remains meandering as we have no special place to head towards. Delhi, unlike other cities, does not have a spot from which to soak in the plenitude of life — unlike Istanbul, Kolkata or London with a sea to look at or a bridge view to see a living river.

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I have long thought that grief is the other side of love: Maggie O’Farrell

Maggie O’Farrell won Women’s Prize this year

From her debut novel After You’d Gone (2009) to her memoir I Am, I Am, I Am (2017), the fragility of human lives have often shaped the narratives of British writer Maggie O’Farrell’s work with intuitive dexterity. In Hamnet, too, the historical novel that won her the prestigious Women’s Prize this year, O’Farrell reimagines the way the loss of the 11-year-old son of British playwright William Shakespeare cleaves those closest to him. In this interview, O’Farrell speaks of her fascination with Hamnet, finding the right words for her story and what happens when every parent’s worst nightmare comes to pass.

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Why Arun Shourie concludes that the ultimate preparation for death is simply love

This is a seeker’s book. It is in parts profound probing, honest but not dogmatic

Arun Shourie is an unflinching seeker. He has an exemplary ability to face the toughest questions. After a bracing meditation on the problem of suffering in Does He Know a Mother’s Heart (2011), Shourie now turns to Preparing for Death. There used to be a joke that the purpose of literature is to prepare you for the good life, while the purpose of philosophy is to prepare you for the good death. But it is hard to understand our own extinction. Broadly speaking, two diametrically opposite views are invoked to reconcile us to death.

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When Gayatri Devi’s mother turned down Prince Sawai Man Singh II for wanting to marry the 15-year-old

In the twilight years of the Raj, Jaipur was the country’s best known royal house, even if the maharaja was accorded fewer gun salutes than several other Indian princes. The kingdom’s fame was not just because of the fairy-tale pink city or the family’s claims to trace its ancestry back to Lord Rama through his son Kush. The colourful dynasty remained in the limelight because of its glamour, intrigue, romance, scandals and disputes.

The star of the family was undoubtedly Gayatri Devi, known to her friends as Ayesha, a pet name taken from Rider Haggard’s book, She. Ayesha’s beauty and elan were legendary. An international society magazine wrote that she made even Jacqueline Kennedy look frumpish.

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Shuggie Bainby, 2020 Booker winner Douglas Stuart’s autobiographical novel, was rejected by more than 30 editors

Douglas Stuart was the 2020 winner for the Booker Prize.

From a line-up that headlined diversity by featuring first novels, women writers and writers of colour, among others, Shuggie Bain by Scottish-American writer Douglas Stuart has won this year’s Booker Prize. Here’s a look at the book and its debutant author:

In the autobiographical novel set in Glasgow in the 1980s, Shuggie Bain follows the life of Shuggie, an impoverished boy struggling to look after his single mother, Agnes, an alcoholic, even as he grapples with his sexuality. Despite its grimness and squalor, the book — dedicated to Stuart’s mother, who died when he was 16 years old — brims with tenderness and filial affection.

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