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)


This is about a get-together we had on 18 Jan 2008. A bunch of us got together at the Students Centre in Panjab University. What we had in common was a shared 2-year period, 1972 to 1974, in the English Dept of PU. Altogether we were 14 who met over a cup of coffee. Pinka could not join us as he was tied up at the last minute. The rest are mentioned in the poem given below.

A shared time
In a shared space
Nudging and jostling
Side by side or face to face

We walked in step through two brief miles
Before we went our ways
To the North, to the South
Or East or west.

The sandstone buildings stood where they were
The sky was blue
The palm trees swished silently
The Gandhi Bhavan
The Students Centre stood firm
Nothing changed.
They all waited for those who had left.
For them to take
A backward look.

The Sukhna dried up
And filled and dried
Many a time – year after year.
The Madhya Marg aged too,
Grew wider, more crowded and noisy.
Sector 17 got focused around a Pedestrian Plaza
The triumvirate – Jagat, Kiran, Neelam – added to their tribe
And spread to the suburbs a Fun Republic.

Typewriters gave way
To computers
Photocopiers to internet
Love-letters and roses
To emails and s-m-s-es.
The palm trees stood mute
Witnessed it all – and waited.
For one day they would come back.
They all do, sooner or later.

A decade passed
And it was the Blue Star in Orwell's year.
Another decade, and another.
Time rolled by.
1974 became history,
Hazy and misty, a fading memory.

So the batch of 74 –
Some stayed put
And some went away
Only to return.

One of them trained in Pinkerton's Academy and came back as the Big Boss, flourishing a feathery cane.
Another gentle one went West but, bored with the Longhorns, came back like the tide, again and again, when the seasons changed.
One went down under, teaching literature to the Joeys, but got back again, for an annual pilgrimage home,
Mandy the Boy settled in the "Paris of India" where no one needlessly would remind him of his gender.
Sudhir, our Pataudi, gave up cricket and retired to his counting house dreaming of England all the while.
Dewey took on the role of Santa and resolved to spread the word of Love in the City Beautiful.
Some, like the two sisters, withdrew to the margins and began new lives.
Meera buried her nose deep in correspondence, Ranjana in books.
Sanjiv stayed put, bowing and smiling, honing his public relations.
Time rolled by.

Then, one day,
One cold, misty morning
One hazy, drizzly Spot of Time
They all awoke
Rubbed their eyes and looked up ---

The sky was a dull grey
The palm trees swished silently
The Stu C stood waiting
With the circular ramp snaking its midriff.

Nothing had changed.

The Coffee House was dingy
Its plastic chairs grimy
BUT the coffee smelt good
When raised in a toast
To the times that were

A sip, my friends, for the good times.
Another, and yet another.
For we have walked a while together
We will walk awhile together.

Let us walk another mile together.

Saturday, January 5, 2008



On the 20th of October 2007 I launched two books that I had written some years ago. One of them is a novel entitled Spots of Time. This book took almost a decade to write. It underwent many changes, many lives. kabhi toda gaya, kabhi moda gaya, sau baar isse yoon joda gaya. Finally it saw the light of the day on Oct 20, 2007.
The other book is a play in two acts. Entitled The Seduction and Betrayal of Cat Whiskers, it is a comic satire that talks about what ails an institution of higher learning. The script was written about four years ago but, like Spots of Time, it was gathering dust ever since.

The books have been published by Graphit India, Chandigarh.
Ph: 91-172-3244117

The books were launched by the VC of Panjab Univesity, Prof RC Sobti, in the presence of my long-time friend and now the Chief Advisor to the UT Admistrator -- Pinka Mehra, one of the nicest guys I know.

This is me with Pinka! He has changed somewhat since I first knew hm -- almost four decades ago. Time flies, doesn't it?

Chairing the Book launch was Meera Malik, my friend and colleague in PU. Meera and I (along with Pinka) were class-mates at the Master's level (in PU). So it was a reunion of sorts. Also present were some other old class-mates. Diwakar, for instance, who owns Dewsun, the gift shop in Sector 11. Kitty and Baby Grewal, the two sisters, Mandy the Boy (thus called because there was a Mandy the Girl in our class, too) came with his wife, Kiran.

My colleagues from MCMDAVC were there, so were several friends and senior faculty from PU. It was an excellent gathering held at the Central State Library. Praveen Khurana, the Library In-charge took a personal interest in the even and made it a success.

The book-reading went off well, the highlight of the event being that when I finished reading, Prof Sobti himself decided to read a few pages, appreciating and commenting on what he read.

My only regret was that my Dad could not make it to the bok launch. He was too ill. Chi, my sister from Delhi, stayed home with him. Soni and family had come down from Delhi, so had Bulbul. It was Nani's birthday, too, that day and she was indeed dressed like a birthday girl! Vicky sat next to Nani. It was houseful, not even standing space. Bulbul and Kokil took a lot of pictures.

That was one memorable spot of time.


This is me with Raju.

My life, I would say, revolves around him, hovering around him, sometimes by his bedside, sometimes away from him, miles away but actually not so far. Sometimes in my dreams, and nightmares sometimes .

In this wide wide world there are people and people. Some you meet briefly, some for longer spells, some you walk awhile with you then part company, leave you stranded, musing and alone.

But some stay with you forever.

Raju is what gives my life its special-ness. Defines my existence, shapes my destiny. I did not seek him, I did not ask for him. He came to me and now he is mine. The king of my world!