Saturday, January 19, 2008


Spots of Time: A Novel
Published by Graphit India, Chandigarh

When Priyadarshini Pannu, erstwhile editor and creative writer, decides to settle down in the outskirts of Chandigarh, she anticipates a quiet life with little excitement. This is the place where she hopes to resume her creative writing and produce another bestseller. However, as she works in a study overlooking a busy residential colony, she is inadvertently sucked into the lives of the people surrounding her. In particular, she finds herself drawn to Anamika Mehra who lives in Twitter House just across the road.
Spots of Time, interspersed with a sprinkling of verse, traces the interweaving stories of these two women, moving back and forth in time, progressing through flashbacks and reminiscences. Tangential characters emerge from the margins, come to the foreground with their own stories, and then recede. As the story unfolds, the various pieces of the collage are linked together by the narratorial consciousness that observes, assimilates and records a myriad different experiences, ranging from professional hazards in an academic environment to more agonizing issues of parenting a special child while coping with personal aspirations and ambitions.
The narratology is metafictional; the master narrative holds together several embedded little stories and yet is a coherent whole, inlaid with literary allusions, traversing an extensive terrain, from a tiny colony of the City Beautiful nestling in the Shivalik foothills to far-off places across vast oceanic distances.

Critical Opinions:
Spots of Time captures a writer's life of long, quiet struggles and turning points, a dance of familiar continuity and surprise. The characters in the novel are as close and real as neighbors towards whom the reader feels affection and curiosity. It is wonderful to see a Fulbright alumna who has varied academic interests contribute her own novel to the genre of Indian Writing in English.
(Jane E. Schukoske, Executive Director, U.S. Educational Foundation in India)

Spots of Time is about a small world with a big heart. It is a story which has been told with spontaneous eloquence. It stirs and moves as the main characters encounter life-altering situations, and shakes the reader as they find solutions that are at once mature, stoic and brave. The author’s world, in fact, is akin to R.K. Narayan’s Malgudi with its own ambience, wit, compassion, location details, charming touches and human concerns that are easy to identify with. The book leaves the reader in a state of delightful contemplative silence; a silence which reverts again and again to the nuances that colour the spots of time on human lives.
(Ashwini Bhatnagar, author and journalist, former Books Editor, The Tribune group of newspapers)

This new novel by Manju Jaidka is complex, nuanced, and sensitively written, with a great attention to the awkward details of everyday life. The revealing image of contemporary India it presents will not only add an important dimension to new fiction appearing from the subcontinent, it may help to problematise and deepen the very precepts underlying these fictions. Straddling the territory between fictional fantasy and factual document, it makes for intriguing, and often unsettling, reading.
(Jeffrey Geiger, Director of American Studies, University of Essex, Colchester, UK)

The Seduction and Betrayal of Cat Whiskers: An Academic Satire
Published by Graphit India, Chandigarh

Literary history tells of genial satires that aimed at laughing away the imperfections of the world. Cervantes, for instance, with his Don Quixote, is said to have smiled away the follies of Spain. Going back further in time, we know of Horace and Juvenal who used the satiric vein to critique the ills of their times, the former in harsh, biting attacks, and the latter using a mild, genial satire. The object was the same – to present a dystopia in order to explore the possibilities of an alternative.
The Seduction and Betrayal of Cat Whiskers, winding in and out through the corridors of an institution of higher learning, uses the comic lens to look at some of the flaws in the academia. What happens, for instance, behind the scenes in a major university? Who are the power brokers? What are the politics that operate in the system and at what different levels? How are appointments and promotions made? Is there any fair-play or justice? These are some of the questions raised in this play. It would not be an exaggeration to say that the problems highlighted here are found on almost all campuses, in India and abroad.
The aim is not to target all academics, universities and colleges as corrupt but to take a peek at their not-so-pleasant side which, with a little effort and commitment, may be cured if we have the will to do so.
Critical Opinion:
"Manju Jaidka's The Seduction and Betrayal of Cat Whiskers captures the essence of contemporary academic life, exposing what goes on behind the scenes. Good comedy crosses borders; hers travels well. It will delight audiences in Chandigarh, Chicago, New York, New Delhi, and elsewhere."
Howard R. Wolf
Emeritus Professor and Senior Fellow
Department of English
The State University of New York at Buffalo (SUNYAB)
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