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     Volume 4 Issue 8 | August 13, 2004 |

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Indian Postcolonial Writers

Sanyat Sattar

In Custody
Anita Desai
Penguin USA; March 1994

Touching and wonderfully funny, In Custody is woven around the yearnings and calamities of a small town scholar in the north of India. An impoverished college lecturer, Deven, sees a way to escape from the meanness of his daily life when he is asked to interview India's greatest Urdu poet, Nur--a project that can only end in disaster.

The Tree Bride
Bharati Mukherjee
Hyperion; August 2003

Tara Lata became known as "the Tree Bride" because after her child groom died, her quick-thinking Hindu father married her to a tree to spare her the misery of lifelong widowhood. Mukherjee introduced the Tree Bride in her last spellbinding novel, Desirable Daughters (2002), along with Tara Lata's descendent, Tara Chatterjee, who left Calcutta for San Francisco, where her husband became a world-famous cyber-communications magnate. Tara was researching the Tree Bride's life when a bomb blast threw her own life into turmoil. Now, as Mukherjee picks up the pieces, as it were, Tara, scarred and pregnant, seeks an Indian woman doctor, but, fooled by a name, ends up with a white woman whose British family history also connects her to the Tree Bride. So begins the unfurling of an endlessly intriguing web of unforeseen connections and coincidences as smart and resilient Tara continues her revelatory investigation, and Mukherjee imagines the warped psychology of colonial India with both pathos and wicked humour.

The Painter of Signs
R. K. Narayan
Penguin Books; May 1993(Reprint edition)

This bittersweet novel is as fresh and charming today as it was when originally published in 1976. Telling the story of Raman, a conscientious sign-painter, who is trying to lead a rational life, the novel is filled with busy neighbourhood life and gossip, the alternating rhythms and sounds of the city from morning till night, and the pungent smells and tantalising flavours of home cooking, as Narayan portrays everyday life in Malgudi. The city is growing and changing, as its inhabitants try to carve out some individual successes within the juggernaut of "progress". Raman, a college graduate, brings a sense of professionalism to his sign-painting, taking pride in his calligraphy and trying to create exactly the right sign, artistically, for each client. Living with his aged aunt, a devout, traditional woman whose days are spent running the house and tending to her nephew's needs and whose evenings are spent at the temple listening to the old stories and praying, Raman prefers a rational approach to life. Though he is presented as a unique, individualised character, Raman, the painter of signs, is, in a sense, Everyman, facing his coming-of-age as all men before him have done in cultures around the world. Only the details (and the sights, and sounds, and smells) are different.










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