The Ustad Truck Decorators of Sirhind

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Photos by Ozzie Hoppe. Truck cabins have an underlying exoskeleton made of sal wood, which is why one can often see them crushed beyond recognition in grisly accidents.

Photos by Ozzie Hoppe. Truck cabins have an underlying exoskeleton made of sal wood, which is why one can often see them crushed beyond recognition in grisly accidents.

Barring an inconspicuous rectangular piece of metal engraved with ‘Mewa Singh & Co’ nailed to the side of the cabin door, in no way does Jorawar Singh’s truck betray the fact that it has been fashioned entirely by the human hand in a cacophonous karkhana and not assembled en masse out of a sterile company facility. Nor could anybody gather the truck body is wooden in its basic composition. To the lay eye, the truck body appears to be but a mere extension of the engine — a forbidding mass of metal you wouldn’t want to overtake on the wrong side of the highway. The reality, however, is much more fascinating. Continue reading

Book Review: India After Gandhi by Ramachandra Guha

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India After Gandhi: The History of the World's Largest DemocracyIndia After Gandhi: The History of the World’s Largest Democracy by Ramachandra Guha
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Lest we begin taking the existence of India for granted. In this book, Ramachandra Guha takes on the difficult job of instilling a reasonable degree of patriotism in your average armchair skeptic without resorting to India-Pakistan jingoism or sanctimoniously reminding us of our glorious ancient history. He succeeds magnificently by furnishing an insightful post-independence (albeit Nehruvian) narrative history of India that sheds light on the unprecedented miracle that is the nation-state of India. This book is essential reading for every Indian who’s interested in understanding how we’ve come to be the way we are and where we might be going. After all, why must history end where India’s tryst with destiny begins?

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Book Review: A Bad Character by Deepti Kapoor

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A Bad CharacterA Bad Character by Deepti Kapoor

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Breathlessly narrated memoir posing as fiction. Has superb impressionistic prose with some of the best descriptions of Delhi I’ve read (and I’m counting City of Djinns and Capital here). Female sexual awakening & the perils of living in Delhi are the central themes of A Bad Character; how a 20-year-old college girl discovers life beyond classes and staid middle-class existence, aided by an ‘ugly’, dark, animal-like man (who looks like a servant, if not for his New York accent) whom she picks up at a cafe in Khan Market, because it turns her on, him being ugly and her being beautiful. He takes her to places in the city she would have never known, woos her vigorously and with considerable charm, before both of them latch on to the customary fate of rich, entitled Delhi boys who don’t need to work a day in their lives: the high road of alcohol, drugs, sex and ennui. Yes, the risque Indian novel is finally here. Continue reading

Book Review: Serious Men by Manu Joseph

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Serious MenSerious Men by Manu Joseph
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

If cynicism is what passes for wisdom among the mediocre, Manu Joseph is terrific at being mediocre. India has found its Tom Wolfe in him. Joseph is a contemporary master of satire who writes eminently readable novels about losers who make bitingly funny observations about an inquitous world built and inherited by the accidental victors of history. He is unsparing and delightful in his politically incorrect barbs and no one escapes his scrutiny, not even the poor, whom Indian writers usually describe with a touch of obligatory compassion. His humour derives its force from a strange truth. That everything becomes absurd if observed closely enough, like a word loses its meaning if you stare at it long and hard, and breaks down into the assemblage of letters it is. Basically, if there’s one Indian writer whom I’d gladly have a drink with, it’s Manu Joseph.

Serious Men covers diverse ground in its 300-odd pages: caste in urban India, the scientific pursuit of truth, politics in academia, the exhilaration of illicit love, and of course, the bloodless war of the Brahmins. I won’t spoil it any further. You must discover it for yourself.

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Movie Review: Sicario (2015) by Dennis Villenueve

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Sicario

Sicario is a thriller about the hunt for a cartel boss set in the badlands of the US-Mexico border area

Sicario: an atmospheric thriller with great performances & a hawkish political message

In the absence of a credible Islamic threat to America after 9/11, Latin American drug cartels have become Hollywood’s bogeyman of choice. A veritable cottage industry has spawned around this theme, producing top-notch movies, TV shows, and documentaries like End of Watch, Narcos, and Cartel Land, respectively. Sicario follows in this tradition, and holds its own admirably. Continue reading

Movie Review: Fandry (2014) by Nagraj Manjule

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Fandry

Fandry (2014) is the sensitive portrayal of a 13-year-old Dalit boy infatuated with an upper-caste girl

Fandry: a searing indictment of caste in modern India

In a society obsessed with notions of purity and pollution, pigs occupy a special position of filth. Deriving its name from this creature at the very bottom of the animal hierarchy, Fandry (slur for wild pig), a Marathi drama, is a scorching critique of the casual casteism that pervades post-modern India, discrimination that’s often hidden in plain sight. Continue reading

Writer’s Plea

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I stand at your altar,
Ready to sacrifice a few words,
These outpourings of my heart
On mildewed paper

I only ask for a little

Give me strength to gaze inward
At the concentrated source
Of my ferment,
To stare down my faceless fears

Give me courage to look out the window
At this grey maddening world
And transform indifference into beauty
With the flourish of an alchemist

Give me determination
To finish what I start,
And the readiness to discard
What can’t be redeemed

Only to start anew,
A fresh page every day
A blank sheet of white hot fear,

No, it won’t get to me
I know it won’t

If you let fickleness desert me
Like a gold digger on a rainy day
And let me harvest
That subdued wellspring
Of fertile ideas

Book Review: A Writer’s People by V.S.Naipaul

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A Writer's People: Ways Of Looking And FeelingA Writer’s People: Ways Of Looking And Feeling by V.S. Naipaul
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Insightful, but a little too disjointed and self-indulgent, not to mention grumpy. Naipaul’s famous scorn for other writers’ work is on full display here, to the extent that one performs a double take upon seeing a stray word of praise [he heartily approves of Madame Bovary though, thankfully, but takes down Flaubert’s historical novel Salambbo]. His uncharitable views on Anthony Powell, a renowned novelist and Naipaul’s mentor and friend in England, for instance, are really quite vicious. In addition, if you’ve already read Naipaul’s India trilogy, especially ‘An Area of Darkness’ and ‘India: A Wounded Civilization’, the chapters about India and Gandhi will seem severely repetitive. The editor shouldn’t have let such sloppiness pass. Overall, this one seems like a filler book Naipaul wrote to pass his time, reminiscing about days past, playing his inevitable role as the lion in winter.

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Book Review: The Worldly Philosophers by Robert Heilbroner

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The Worldly PhilosophersThe Worldly Philosophers by Robert L. Heilbroner

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In this excellent summary of the evolution of economic thought over the last two centuries, Professor Robert Heilbroner delves into not just the philosophies, but also the lives and the backgrounds of various economic thinkers and tries to find common ground between how they experienced their lives and what they wrote in their books. Continue reading

The Fragile Art of Existence: Our First Real Encounter With Truck Drivers

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Words by: Rajat Ubhaykar & Photos by: Ozzie Hoppe

AS A PART OF OUR preliminary research, we visited truck terminals in and around Mumbai and had a great time hanging out with these warm, gutsy individuals who welcomed us into their lives without a flicker of hesitation. Continue reading