Links: Funny terror, art and homelands, The Reluctant Fundamentalist

Here beginneth Part Two of Updates.

1. Review of Anees Salim’s new novel,  Vanity Bagh

This book is a really wonderful read. It’s funny, it’s sad, it’s sharp and it will hold your attention till the very end.

Without getting on a soapbox, Salim observes how violence becomes normal and an accepted part of our street culture. The novel also looks at youth unemployment and the difficulty of finding your place within the adult world of jobs and expectations. All of these come together to create the world of Vanity Bagh, which is terrifying and yet hilarious because Salim doesn’t deliver any lectures and his narrator’s one aim in life is to keep himself amused.

You wouldn’t expect a novel about home-grown terror, in which a prisoner seems to be losing his hold on reality, to be fun, but Salim manages this feat because Imran is a delightful narrator.

Like many literary losers, he’s endearing and thanks to his descriptions, Vanity Bagh emerges as home to a set of delightful, oddball characters. If there is a weakness to Imran being the storyteller, then it is that everyone but Imran seems a little absurd because that’s how he sees the world around him. It may teeter towards uni-dimensional, but Imran’s worldview is just too much fun for this to be a serious complaint.

You really should get this book. The complete review is here.

2. Review of Homelands, a travelling art exhibition that is currently on display in Mumbai and will be moving to Bengaluru in June.

I wrote this when there was some angry chatter about the World Values Survey, which came to the conclusion that Indians are among the world’s most racist people. Because there’s really nothing like good art to offer a sense of perspective. Steven Soderbergh is so on the money when he says art is elegant problem solving.

Almost every work in Homelands makes the viewer think about what inspires a sense of belonging to a space, a set of rituals or even an idea. There is a drawing by Jimmie Durham that perhaps the economists of World Values Survey would find particularly interesting. It’s titled Our House and chances are, most 4-year-olds you know would do a neater job of drawing a house. But the point of Durham’s drawing isn’t to get a gold star from teacher. It’s a critique of urban life that Durham feels alienates and embeds distrust in citizens.

Our House shows a dark mess of black scribbles, a vertical line and a small, neat roofed building. Under the little building, it says “our house”. The vertical line has “high fence” written under it. Under the black mess, Durham has written “the neighbours”. Of course, this isn’t how anyone wants their street to look ideally. Durham’s scribbly drawing, in which “the neighbours” loom and “our house” is tiny, is a reminder of how alone so many of us feel, how threatened by nothing in particular and everything in general. No wonder then, that in an ideal world, a large percentage of the people who have a history (and a present) of being discriminated against, want less difference and more sameness in their neighbours.

Our House by Jimmie Durham

See the entire review here and if you can, do go see the show. It’s well worth a wander.

3. Review of The Reluctant Fundamentalist.

In a sentence: Riz Ahmed is excellent, but the film’s a drag. In more than one sentence:

Those who have read The Reluctant Fundamentalist may be wondering whether Nair read the same book they did. The novel is a conversation between Changez and a mysterious stranger who may be Changez’s enemy or protector. Presumably in an effort to be dramatic, when Hamid wrote the “screen story” with Ami Boghani, they decided to add elements like the kidnapping, a CIA surveillance unit and a hash-loving American reporter. Perhaps they felt that the meandering conversation that made the novel intriguing would seem too directionless in a film. It has an unfortunate side effect: whereas the novel was all about Changez’s perspective, the film is an American perspective – we’re shown Changez, Pakistan and all the events of the story from the American journalist’s point of view. You’ve got to wonder whether we needed a South Asian director to show us this worldview when Hollywood is out there.

Read the whole thing here.

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