Underworld, Tagore and charity on book shelf

New Delhi: The book cart this weekend is a reflection of the diversity of new Indian writing.

1. `Narcopolis`; Written by Jeet Thayil; Published by Faber& Faber/Penguin India; Priced at Rs.499

This book is a portrait of the beautiful and damned residents of an opium den and brothel in the underworld of Mumbai. It is a book about drugs, sex, death, perversion, addiction, love, and God, and has more in common in its subject matter with the work of William S. Burroughs or Baudelaire than with the subcontinent`s familiar literary lights.

`Narcopolis` opens in Bombay in the late 1970s, as its narrator first arrives from New York to find himself entranced with the city`s underworld, in particular an opium den and attached brothel. A cast of unforgettably degenerate and magnetic characters works and patronizes the venue, including Dimple, the eunuch who makes pipes in the den; Rumi, the salaryman and husband whose addiction is violence; Newton Xavier, the celebrated painter who both rejects and craves adulation; Mr. Lee, the Chinese refugee and businessman; and a cast of poets, prostitutes, pimps, and gangsters.

Decades pass to reveal a changing Bombay, where opium has given way to heroin from Pakistan and the city`s underbelly has become ever more raw. After a long absence, the narrator returns to find a very different Bombay in 2004.

2. `Giving Back`; Written and edited by Meera Gandhi; Published by McCarthy Books; Priced at $58

New York socialite and philanthropist Meera Gandhi`s new coffee table book highlights 53 charities that have inspired her and The Giving Back Foundation, of which she is founder and CEO. Cherie Blair, wife of former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, has written the foreword to the book.

Among those featured in the book with their personal stories of "giving back" are Kerry Kennedy and her brother Robert F. Kennedy, Jr, TV personalities Alisyn Camerato and Deborah Norville, Loomba founder Sir Raj Loomba, Mother Teresa`s Asha Dan, singer Bono, Centrepoint, The American Friends of the Foundation of Prince William and Prince Harry, Steven Rockefeller, Olympic gold medallist Kristi Yamaguchi, and such diverse and worthy charities as The Royal National Institute of The Deaf, Same Sky, I Create, Thorntree in Africa, St. Michael`s Hostel for Girls in New Delhi, Wayuu Taya in Venezuela, Our Lady`s Hospital for Sick Children in Ireland, and many more.

3. `Can Love Happen Twice`; Written by Ravinder Singh; Published by Penguin India; Priced at Rs.125

On Valentine`s Day, a radio station in Chandigarh hosts a very special romantic chat show. Ravin and his three best friends are invited as guests to talk about Ravin`s love story. Everyone else apart from Ravin turns up. As the show goes live, there is only one question on every listener`s mind -- what has happened to Ravin?

To answer the question, the three friends begin to read from a handwritten copy of Ravin`s incomplete second book - the entire city listens breathlessly unable to believe the revelations to follow.

4. `Rabindranath Tagore: An Interpretation`; Written by Sabyasachi Bhattacharya; Published by Penguin India; Priced at Rs.499

This intellectual biography of Tagore, perhaps the first of its kind, portrays him as a man who was deeply skeptical, self-critical, tormented by conflicts in his `inner life`, aware of the historical significance of his times and continually interacted with adversaries and friends across the world; someone who built on the heritage of the 19th century renaissance in India and became one of the makers of the modern Indian mind.

Young Rabi rebelled against `Western` schooling, suffered from chronic loneliness in childhood and after, and imbibed the cultural and literary climate in his privileged family; he also engaged as a cultural leader with the Swadeshi movement on Bengal`s partition in 1905, founded the school in Santiniketan and renounced his knighthood after Jallianwala Bagh.

Through his eighty-one years, Tagore swung between public life and seclusion of a poet. Coinciding with his 150th birth anniversary, the book illuminates Tagore`s extraordinary contributions: as a poet and writer, nationalist and ideologue, educationist and philosopher,composer and painter.

5.`Family Fables and Hidden Heresies: A Memoir of Mothers and More`; Written by Vrinda Nabar; Published by Harper-Collins India; Priced at Rs.299

The death of the writer`s maternal grandfather in World War I has a complex and abiding effect on his spirited widow and two young children. More than forty years later, in 1961, some of the trauma following his death resurfaces during her mother`s unexpected breakdown as uncomfortable question marks hover over issues like marriage, motherhood, and a woman`s right to a life of her own.

Are such issues dated, or do they still impact women`s lives?



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