June 13, 2021
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Close on the heels of a book fair, which also saw a book on Rajni, came the launch of several books in the city, including a frank and fearless account of the ordeal of "bride viewing" and a travelogue by a six-year-old...

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Chennai Corner

A Book Fest
Close on the heels of a book fair, came the launch of several books in the city. There was the debut novel of NRI Kausalya Saptarishi called TamBrahm Bride, a frank and fearless account of the ordeal of "bride viewing", another book through a woman's eyes also by an NRI, mathematician and Mumbai-born writer Manil Suri, called the The Age of Shiva (the second book of his trilogy that started with the The Death of Vishnu), a children's book That's how I see things by Sirish Rao and unbelievable-but-true, a travelogue by six-year-old Archana Sriramulu called My journey to Japan

Barbie Dolls With H1B Visas
Kausalya Saptarishi's novel is cathartic for her. Kausalya, who was "viewed" 35-40 times (mostly by a potential groom's parents) suffered from low self-esteem, had her ego battered and her sense of self taken away during her over two-year ordeal before she met Gaurav on a matrimonial site and is today the mother of one-year-old Antariksh. "I'm not at all a feminist but the unfairness of it all bothered me," she says on the eve of her departure to Michigan where she lives and works as a  freelance journalist.

Her book--published by Indian Writing, the English imprint of New Horizon Media-- is semi-autobiographical (her heroine Shalu finds the mother of a prospective groom telling her to use "fair and lovely, another advises some Shehnaz Hussain herbal product) but tinged with humour and is a racy read. It's easy to see that her inspiration for Shalu's parents came from her own supportive parents. She came on her annual three-week holiday with a half-done manuscript and ended up finishing it five months later with a lot of help from her parents.

"It may seem bitter but it happens to most girls although some are lucky and it's a piece of cake." She has seen her friends and  cousins go through "bride-viewing" and not much has changed for girls in all these years, she laments. But her book has a happy ending in a Mills & Boon kind of way. What's more, Raj (the man who gets the girl) even gets offered a plum job in India fulfilling Shalu's life-long dream to come home.

She says that although she lived in Delhi (her father was a secretary in the government), hers was a traditional household where poojas and rituals were commonplace. "We were not crazy about America (she still longs to come back and see her son grow up here) but most of our educated boys were in the US. We have no choice." H1B visa--in addition, of course,  to "fair, educated, talented" -- is what all NRI boys seem to want. 

All this brings to mind a scene from the blockbuster Sivaji: The Boss where Rajnikanth and a friend spot Shriya and follow her to her house disguised as civil servants from the Election department. They ask her a lot of questions, even check her out, ask her to sing and dance and she complies. Finally Rajni's friend queries, "Your size?" Shriya pipes up, "Seven". Both men look mystified when she supplies, "Sereppu" (meaning her slipper size is seven). But all prospective brides, like children, should be seen, never heard (unless they have the mellifluous voice of MS Subbulakshmi). So doing a Shriya is only for the movies. Most others "take it lightly", or "chide themselves later". Only Kausalya gets to write a book. "If my husband has a problem, too bad." After all, in her book she said it like it is!

That's How Kids See It
Writer Sirish Rao in an earlier book, The London Jungle Book,  had animals that were a blend of many. "We (he and Gond artist Bhajju Shyam who has done the illustrations) thought of telling stories with these strange animals, but we could not come up with any. So we decided to tell a story of ourselves," he says. And that's why you have Sienna Baba, an artist who sees things differently, and in fact looks different--with paintbrushes for hair, sunglasses perched on his nose and a ring in his ear. While the rest of us see a moon in the sky, Sienna Baba sees a hole in the sky. And with such a different world view, he sees animals differently too--a pig that has peacock feathers, a blue jay with a lion's head, a deer with the body of a tortoise and a snake with wings. "I just asked myself what I would like to read as a kid," says Sirish, who has written 16 books. And kids liked it going by the applause at the book reading organised by Tara Publishing in collaboration with Landmark. The book has been translated into six languages and has more translations in the pipeline.

Gudiya Japan Ki
Although just six, Archana Sriramulu shows off quite a repertoire--many poems, 40 short stories and now this book. She must be a prodigy because the average six-year-old is so snowed under with school, homework, sometimes tuitions, piano/keyboard, Carnatic/ Bharat Natyam/ painting classes that fitting in half an hour of Pogo that all kids seem to thrive on is a task.  But Archana's father Balaji, an IT professional, and mother Suhasini, a computer science teacher, reel off their child's achievements with pride. Suhasini loves to read so much that her parents have apparently spent a cool Rs three lakh buying her books.

This Class I student's book has its origin in her visit to Japan where her father was posted. Says Balaji, "On the way back, she described in detail every aspect of her trip and so I asked her to write it down. The end result was outstanding. After we showed it to the teachers at her school (Chettinad Vidyashram) and received positive feedback, we decided to make it into a book."  The school helped in designing the book's cover (which has a picture of a seated Buddha sculpture) and at first only 50 copies were printed, each priced at Rs 300. But after rave reviews, now the indulgent father plans to print 500-1000 copies and sell it at a lower price. Perhaps I need to check the Limca Book of World Records or some such to check if  Archana is India's youngest author. 

And a book on Rajni
In a land where many auto-rickshaw drivers say "Rajni enn ooyaru" (Rajni is my life), many mimic his style and mannerisms, marketing him is a piece of cake. The latest is a book titled Sivaji: Sindhanai Mudhal Celluloid Varai (Sivaji: From the idea to the Silver Screen) brought out by Kizhappu Pathipagam. The book, written by Rani Mainthan, and released recently by the superstar himself, is a compilation of the experiences of actors and technical experts. The book, which was launched at the recent book fair, also has an interview and several photographs of Rajni. .

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