THE PRINCE AND THE STORYTELLERS

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THE PRINCE AND THE STORYTELLERS is an article by me about fairytales, written in the form of a fairytale. It’s just been published in PAPERCUTS, the bi-annual literary journal published by Desi Writers Lounge. Here are the opening paragraphs:

There was once a thoughtful and progressive Prince who craved good stories. He announced a competition: the first tale-spinner who could tell a complete story without needing to stop for explanations or revisions would be installed in the palace as Narrator Laureate.

Bards and fabulists soon began to stream in from across the land to entertain the Prince. They were subjected to various elimination rounds until ultimately a small group of finalists was brought before the Prince.

“All right,” said the first teller, “my story is called ‘Little Red Riding Hood’–”

“Sorry,” said the Prince, “I’ve heard that one before. It’s about a piece of clothing, isn’t it?”

“Well … no,” said the teller, “it’s the name of a little girl who wears a red cape that covers her head and shoulders–”

“Then why mention ‘Riding’?” asked the Prince. “Who was riding what? And why didn’t the girl have her own name?”

“Point taken, your Majesty,” said the man. “I’ll start afresh. My story is now called ‘Little Red Dupatta’. It’s about a girl called Manali who lives with her parents near a great forest. Her grandmother, however, lives alone deep within the forest–”

The Prince stopped him. “Right: She’s supposed to deliver food to her grandmother but meets a talking wolf along the way. The wolf runs ahead of her, swallows the grandmother whole and is about to eat the girl too but just then a friendly woodsman appears out of nowhere and kills the wolf–” He shakes his head. “In my view, it’s deeply implausible. I mean, the grandmother returns to life completely unharmed by gastric juices! What are we supposed to learn from this? That girls can behave irresponsibly and grandmothers can live alone in forests so long as there are Woodsmen who can be relied upon to pop up exactly when required!” He shook his head. “Sorry, doesn’t work for me. Next please!” … (to read the rest of it, please click HERE or go back to the top of this page and click on the title)

 

JELLYFISH

CapedLady

Relax. There are NO jellyfish floating about this blog.

Titles are not my strong suit. Sometimes I get good ones but more often I don’t get ANY. On one occasion, while writing an essay about films-and-why-I-like-’em (for THE POPCORN ESSAYISTS, edited by Jai Arjun Singh), I couldn’t think of an appropriate title. At all. I mean, for weeks. So in frustration I called it “JELLYFISH”. A little while later, when I submitted the essay to Jai Arjun Singh, he asked me why I’d given it that name. After all, there were no references to marine invertebrates in the essay. I agreed it would be a good idea to remove the title.

So of course it remained in place.

So it’s become my title for anything that I can’t find a title for.

For instance, I could call this second post “HOUSEKEEPING” because I want to make a couple of points about this site.

(1) there’s a phantom book in the line-up of WORK links — i.e. THIS IS SUKI! Though there’s a link in place, there’s no cover art and the links don’t lead to the book. Not surprising, since the book hasn’t been available for many years. Still, I didn’t want to leave that book out of my list because it was especially dear to me: a collection of SUKI cartoons from the PIONEER days. The collection was published under an imprint called “DUCKFOOT”. It was created for that book alone, by my friend, the exceptional and outstanding SUNITA PAUL, in the days when she was running her immaculately maintained press, Paul’s Press in New Delhi’s Okhla Industrial Estate, Phase II. This is a long and wonderful story, but I’ll leave it there, because the point is, only a thousand copies were printed and they soon vanished, one way or another.

(2) Everything at this site is squeaky-new and never-been-used. So if there are other links that go nowhere or unusually awful proofing errors … please tell me about it/them. I’ll fix what I can.

Meanwhile, to return to the subject of titles — yes, I COULD have called this post HOUSEKEEPING.

But I didn’t.

 

 

First Post

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This image is from the distant past. In fact if it is zoomed, it may just be possible to read the address of my barsati in Uday Park, New Delhi, framed, in the lower right-hand corner. It was my New Year’s greeting for … maybe 1990. Or 1991. I don’t remember. And since that was the pre-laptop era, I didn’t use graphics software. This was an ink drawing that I photocopied and sent around with my New Year greeting message in the speech bubble. Zoom in on the light bulb and it may be possible to see the very fine dots made by the crow-quill pen I used in those days!

So! Yes, this is my shiny new blog. I had my final briefing late last night, from EXTENTIA the Pune-based software development company that designed this website. It’s been a loooong journey. Not just the development of the site (that was pretty quick, really, if you consider that there was a long pause during which I traveled to India and released three books in July this year) but in deciding that I needed a Lit-specific site, dedicated to posting links to my books, to reviews (hollow laugh) and to interviews (even more hollow laugh). I have been using the Blogspot site YES (there’s a link to it here too) for many years now and I thought it was enough but … maybe not. It was (and is) too general. It’s where I post stuff that I’ve already posted on FB but isn’t accessible to the many friends/family who don’t use FB.

I needed something more focused and specific. And this is it. I feel like a new tenant in a sparkling clean, newly constructed modular living unit, stuffed full of exciting, innovative gadgets — widgets! — furniture and tools, most of which just happen to be invisible to me. I’ve only just moved in. I don’t know where the remote control is. I can’t find the door to the fridge. I hope there’s a bathroom …

But if you visit, I’ll write you a cup of tea.

 

FUTURE IMPERFECT

Who needs women when there’s genetic engineering?

“Interviewer: What term would you use for annihilating two-thirds of your population?
General: Drain-clearing. Our world was suffocating in its own excrement. No one could face the solution — and why? Because of a tired old myth called the ‘Sanctity of Life’!”
Manjula Padmanabhan’s Escape is set in a dystopian future, in a wasteland presided over by Generals who reject uniqueness and individuality as well as the natural processes of birth and death in favour of genetic engineering and cloning — or, as they call it, “regeneration” — and who, therefore, see no need for women (whom they call the “Vermin Tribe”) in this artificially controlled world. Even language has been stripped down and shaped to suit the requirements of this new world — the past is the “Time Before”, distortion is “sculpture”, and even proper names are strictly limited to an approved list………..

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VERVE’s REVIEW

Who needs women when there’s genetic engineering?

“Interviewer: What term would you use for annihilating two-thirds of your population?
General: Drain-clearing. Our world was suffocating in its own excrement. No one could face the solution — and why? Because of a tired old myth called the ‘Sanctity of Life’!”
Manjula Padmanabhan’s Escape is set in a dystopian future, in a wasteland presided over by Generals who reject uniqueness and individuality as well as the natural processes of birth and death in favour of genetic engineering and cloning — or, as they call it, “regeneration” — and who, therefore, see no need for women (whom they call the “Vermin Tribe”) in this artificially controlled world. Even language has been stripped down and shaped to suit the requirements of this new world — the past is the “Time Before”, distortion is “sculpture”, and even proper names are strictly limited to an approved list………..

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HINDU LITERARY REVIEW

Underlying Padmanabhan’s seeming preoccupation with the dystopian is a humanism that embraces all imperfections.

Escape, Manjula Padmanabhan, Picador India, p. 418, Rs. 295.

For a writer whose work is often associated with the word “dystopian”, Manjula Padmanabhan took a pro-life stand that would have surprised many earlier this year during the Niketa Mehta case. In an op-ed article in The Indian Express, she wrote of the overwhelming majority on a television SMS poll who felt that the Mehtas should be allowed to abort their child on account of its congenital heart defects: “Would they have held the same view if the word ‘murder’ had been used instead of abortion?”

“Surprised”, because Padmanabhan is one of the few Indian writers in English who has never bothered to toe conservative social lines on the sanctity of childhood (e.g., that shocking title story in her collection Kleptomania, 2004) or of the human body (the play “Harvest”, which won her the Onassis Prize in 1997). She revels in the macabre, pushes the envelope on the extreme. She’s as unselfconscious yoking together Gandhism with genetic cloning as she is unsentimental in examining sexuality.

Yet, Padmanabhan is also one of the few writers who needs to be read as much for what she leaves unsaid as for what she does say. Her stories and plays work so masterfully on so many levels — as twist-in-the-tale page-turners, as on-the-edge adventures, as miniature theatres of the absurd — that the reader’s imagination plays almost as singular a part in them as the writer’s.

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Outlook Review

Manjula Padmanabhan is a writer’s writer, a cult heroine for those who value the craft and beauty of literary endeavour. Her formidable and eclectic genius embraces theatre, illustrative art, journalism, and what has been described as ‘speculative fiction’ for children and adults. Wry, whimsical and unblinking, her writing has been labelled ‘dystopian’ and even ‘post-apocalyptic’. Nudging the reader out of habit and complacency, she is constantly testing the barriers of the possible and the probable.

Many years ago, I reviewed her collection of short stories, Cold Soup and Hot Death. Some of these resurface in the just released Three Virgins and Other Stories. I wrote then that “Padmanabhan’s world is determinedly surreal, and spans a range of situations from a would-be Sati to science fiction and metapsychosis. What strings this magical mystery tour together is the stern cerebration of Padmanabhan’s mind….” It was disconcerting to re-encounter the title story, the taut narrative even more unnerving with the dislocation of time. It was also reassuring to register that Manjula Padma­nabhan’s gift for strangeness, what she refers to in the introduction as her “som­ewhat freak-infested dimension”, continues to delight, entertain and educate.

On-the-surface straightforward stories like Khajuraho or Stains carry a procession of ideas and are masterly in their resolution. Feast, which looks at the sen­sory feast of India through the eyes of a jaded international vampire, could well be construed as a socio-economic parable. The Other Woman and Exile penetr­ate the timeless worlds of the immortals and rework myth to modern unreality. Both are situated in the Ramayana. Exile presents a cocky, gendered take on the theme of vanvas, evoking the past and fut­ure with equal unease. Full of laughter, but resonant with political nuance, Ravana’s queen Mandodari leaps to life out of the pages in The Other Woman.

The best things for the last. Three Virg­ins is an honest, moving story that leaves the reader aching with shared reminiscence. And the illustrations, those critters that look, as the author dec­­lares in her introduction, “like characters waiting for their stories to be told”. Indeed, there is no excellent beauty that hath not some strangeness in its proportion.

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Tehelka Review

Alas,” writes Manjula Padmanabhan in her introduction, “the ideas that arrive at my desktop are all rude, unsightly wretches who belch and pick their noses and expose themselves in public.” That’s something of an exaggeration, but Padmanabhan’s writing does have a refreshingly uninhibited quality. This mostly reprinted, some-new collection of short stories flexes her many writing muscles from straight-up realism to spoofy role reversal in speculative fiction to outright fantasy and sci-fi. If there is one common thread, it is the interesting women in all of them.

‘Teaser’ features a young man that women are all too familiar with: the innocuously- named ‘eve-teaser’, more accurately sexual harasser or assaulter. Climbing on to a bus this day, on the prowl for suitable targets in which to inspire reverence for his “incandescence”, he meets his match.

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The Hindu Literary Review

Manjula Padmanabhan is like an architect who constructs each story and character with a sense of both honesty and detachment. Three Virgins and Other Stories , the newest collection of short stories by Manjula Padmanabhan, dazzles and disturbs, amuses and amazes. Every story is, in a sense, a product of conscious construction. And together, they rise up like a skyscraper whose core is founded both on the principles of a good plot and are rooted in the idea of singularity; each apartment sparkles with its own aesthetic that lend it a unique and specific character!

‘Three Virgins’, the last story and written specifically for this anthology, is the story of three virgins, who go through the chore of losing their virginity in an almost surgical, synthetic manner.

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