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‘The Awasthis of Aamnagri’, IAS Officer Shubha Sarma’s Second Literary Work Launched

Bhubaneswar: Shubha Sarma, civil servant and author, is back with her second literary work – “The Awasthis of Aamnagri.” The Book was launched in a virtual ceremony graced by the likes of Jnanpeeth laureate Padmashri Pratibha Ray, eminent bilingual author Debasis Panigrahi and Executive Director of Sambad group, Tanaya Patnaik. The event was also streamed live over several channels and social media platforms of Bakul Library and Niyogi Books.

They had the following to say about the book:

Pratibha Ray: Good News in bad times, a silver lime in dark cloud is always welcome with praise and pleasure. A book is born in times of corona and that too a novel with  labour of love and passion is happily welcome.

Heartiest congratulations to the author Shubha Sarma on the release of her novel “The Awasthis of Aamnagari”. The title of the book speaks a lot and attracts the readers to go through the pages. From the page I have gone through, appears to be an engrossing tale of the journey of a family through lives, to find  its own purpose. Family is a central concern of writing from the subcontinent and its diaspora. Home is the home of all great literatures. The world’s two great epics, Ramayana and Mahabharat are family dramas. Pearl.S.Buck’s “Good Earth” and Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s “One Hundred Years of Solitude” are tales of families. Both are Nobel Prize winning novels.

Shubha’s absorbing tale unfolds the saga of a family holding on to its customs value, from sarees and sequins to conflicts and tensions, and a sense of displacement. The free flowing, spontaneous narrative style is appealing and thought provoking, which disarms the reader.

Novel writing is not a pass time hobby, a fashion, or a profession, it’s a passion –but not an easy task. It’s a continuous thought process not a day dreaming but dreaming day and night.

I appreciate your work and admire your focus at finding time in crafting this novel, creating the tapestry of words despite your professional commitments. There are many IAS poets but very few novelists. May this novel lead to many more and continue your journey of telling tale. Congratulations once again,best wishes and admirations.

Debasis Panigrahi: Shubha is a gifted writer and has a wonderful command over the language, often laced with lyrical grace.Deeply observant and perceptive,She is a fine story teller. The Awasthis of Aamnagri has all the ingredients of a best seller.

Tanaya Patnaik: “There is something about families, especially the Indian joint family, that can capture the imagination of even the most blasé being. Shubha Sarma’s narrative of the Awasthis is fun, engaging, effortless and most importantly nostalgic of a time that has been lived and lost”.

Published by Niyogi Books, “The Awasthis of Aamnagri” is a novella set in the Hindi heartland that also takes Sarma back to her roots in Lucknow. The book traces life of the middle class family – as the name would suggest – in a setting of the 70s and 80s.

It begins with the Awasthis embarking on the quest for a bunglow and what follows in their individual lives as well as the joint-family system is told by Sarma with subtle humour and satire, often harking back longingly to the slow-paced life in her growing-up days.

An Odisha cadre IAS officer, Sarma’s debut book “Fly on the Wall & Other Stories,” an anthology of 13 short stories, was released in 2013 to critical acclaim.

In “The Fly on the Wall & Other Stories”, Sarma looked at varied subjects – from up-market, urban settings to the depths of rural Orissa and areas of civil strife and deep social unrest, stringing together anxious house-wives, over-imaginative teenagers and men and women in the sunset of their lives.

In “The Awasthis of Aamnagar”, she captures a different world in a different mood. “Aamnagri” where the plot is set refers to “Aam” or mango which Sarma uses as a metaphor for the sweet-sour-messy middle class life in an emerging urban landscape.

Author Quotes: “In today’s fast paced routines, a strong thread of nostalgia runs through our lives, especially in those above the age of thirty-five. It emerges in the most unlikely places and at the most unlikely times: whatsapp forwards that reminisce about the good old days, twitter trends and handles that specifically speak about growing up in the 1970s, 1980s or even 1990s, an old ad jingle or a brand, anything that triggers fond memories. I wanted to capture that period in our lives when summer vacations were long, languorous and full of a game of cards, when the greatest worry was not losing all your contacts stored on your smart phone.”

Sarma, now Commisioner-cum-Secretary, Handloom, Textiles and Handicrafts Department with Government of Odisha, looks at two target groups for her new book: the 35-plus readers fondly looking back at the past and trying to ensure that his/her children read it to understand how they grew up as well. She also has on mind the young reader who enjoys going into the past to explore a different time.

“Just as for every Simba, there is a Kalank, there are readers who enjoy an old-fashioned setting. Though the book is primarily set in the Hindi heartland, the structure of Indian families and the tussles within the family are fairly universal, from Punjab (if not Kashmir) to Kanyakumari,” she sets the context.

She deliberately chose English to reach out to a wider audience but says she intends to translate it into other languages subsequently.

Below is the link to the Book launch event (Courtesy: Bakul Foundation):

https://www.facebook.com/BakulFoundation/videos/371663660731170/

Author’s Bio: Born and brought up in Lucknow, Shubha Sarma is an alumnus of Lady Shri Ram College and Jawaharlal Nehru University and a member of the Indian Administrative Service. A Yoga practitioner, she enjoys travelling, swimming and tending to her bonsai collection. She currently lives in Bhubaneswar with her husband, two sons and four dogs.

Her debut book, Fly on the Wall & Other Stories was launched in 2013 and was translated into Hindi and Italian. It received rave reviews from readers and critics alike. Her body of work displays strong characters and reflects the changing times that confront us. This is her second novel.

Previous Works: My debut book “Fly on the Wall & Other Stories” was an anthology of thirteen short stories that was released in 2013 by Dr.Shashi Tharoor, then Minister of State for HRD. It was originally published in English though subsequently it was translated into Hindi, Italian and some other languages.

In her debut book “The Fly on the Wall & Other Stories”, author and civil servant, Shubha Sarma examines different facets of life’s narrative with detachment, precision and compassion. The subjects range from up-market, urban settings to the depths of rural Orissa and areas of civil strife and deep social unrest. The narrative strings together anxious house-wives, over-imaginative teenagers and men and women in the sunset of their lives. There is Dipankar, yearning for Assam and returning to discover that he is a stranger and the beautiful Uma, mysteriously killed and awaiting justice. They are people one encounters everyday on the bus, the metro and the mirror. Each story is different, yet each has characters etched lucidly as on ivory, situations that look so real in their contexts and strategies that enhance the fascination of the unfolding narratives. The author’s subtle ways of critiquing the society’s cant, the hidden greed and violence in human beings, the nuanced condemnation of patriarchy in its various crippling incarnations, has created a publication crafted with an ingenuous sense of structural balance. As a whole, this assortment of tales with a twist brings to life the realities and contradiction of India and makes it an enchanting collection of highly readable short stories.

Some Reviews:

  1. SHASHI THAROOR-“A compelling read, overflowing with acutely-observed, cleverly-plotted, artlessly-told stories that hold your attention from the first to the last, Fly on the Wall marks a remarkable debut by a gifted storyteller of undoubted promise. I look forward to more from her pen.”
  2. NAMITA GOKHALE– “This intriguing debut collection of short stories displays craft, discipline and narrative strength”.
  3. SATCHIDANANDAN- Characters etched lucidly as on ivory, situations that look so real in their contexts, strategies that enhance the fascination of the unfolding narratives, subtle ways of critiquing the society’s cant and the hidden greed and violence in human beings, the nuanced condemnation of patriarchy in its various crippling incarnations, styles and modes that perfectly suit the stories being told: all these make this an enchanting collection of highly readable short stories.
  4. Srinivas Rao, Secretary of the Sahitya Akademi– “I urge readers to read The Fly on the Wall & Other Stories for obtaining a glimpse into the many Indias that exist- from the rolling tea gardens of Assam to the dense forests of Odisha to the hustle and bustle of metropolitan cities such as Delhi and Lucknow.”
  5. The Pioneer (IKNOOR KAUR): “Shubha Sarma’s collection of short stories is an enthralling mix of emotions, situations and cultures.”
  6. India Today Woman carries a snippet on the author of Fly on the Wall & Other Stories
  7. The Hindu: “A pleasant potpourri! Shubha Sarma’s “Fly On The Wall” impresses with its diverse shades.”

Why the Awasthis of Aamnagri?

In today’s fast paced routines, a strong thread of nostalgia runs through our lives, especially in those above the age of thirty-five. It emerges in the most unlikely places and at the most unlikely times: whatsapp forwards that reminisce about the good old days, twitter trends and handles that specifically speak about growing up in the 1970s, 1980s or even 1990s, an old ad jingle or a brand, anything that triggers fond memories. I wanted to capture that period in our lives when summer vacations were long, languorous and full of a game of cards, when the greatest worry was not losing all your contacts stored on your smart phone. At the same time, I did not want to turn the book into an Ekta Kapoor serial or ‘Buniyaad’ with evil mothers-in-laws and conniving sisters-in-laws. Though a reader might see some common elements, what sets it apart is the subtle humour and satire. The attached chapter would make this difference evident.

Hence, there are two target groups for this book: the 35+ reader who looks to it to relive his/her past and tries to ensure that his/her children read it to understand how he/she grew up; the young reader who enjoys going into the past to explore a different time. Just as for every Simba, there is a Kalank, there are readers who enjoy an old-fashioned setting. Though the book is primarily set in the Hindi heartland, the structure of Indian families and the tussles within the family are fairly universal, from Punjab (if not Kashmir) to Kanyakumari.

I have deliberately chosen English to reach out to a wider audience, especially since it would have universal appeal. However, I intend to translate it into other languages subsequently.

Synopsis: The Awasthis of Aamnagri are in many ways the quintessential middle class family from the Hindi heartland. The story begins with Pandit Dinanath Awasthi scouting for a bungalow for his family along with his assistant, Munshi Shyamlal. They stumble upon Bangala Number Unnees which appears perfectly suited to their requirement and budget. Except for one problem¾ it is in a ramshackle condition. With great adroitness, Munshi convinces Panditji to invest in the property and the Awasthis move into their new house.

Slowly, the reader is introduced to the different characters in the book: Panditji’s four sons, their wives and children. The pivotal character is Panditji’s wife, Shakuntala, who goes by the moniker Mataji. She is the archetypical mother-in-law, ruling over the household with an iron hand and imposing her will upon family members and household help alike. However, on a number of occasions, she finds herself holding the short end of the stick, as things do not go the way she plans.

Another central figure is Indu, one of the Awasthi bahus. She serves as a perfect foil to Mataji and the reader discovers the foibles in the other characters especially her sisters-in-law, Chhaya, Madhu and Varsha¾through their interactions with Indu.

As the story unfolds languorously, we learn that beneath the stern persona, Mataji is a lonely figure, who is deeply attached to her family. Her fondness for them, and especially her younger brother, Chote Bhaiyya, is matched by her inability to change with time.

The other characters fill in the gaps. The scheming and wily sisters-in-law who have a humane side that comes out most unexpectedly; the Awasthi brothers, who bond and band together during difficult times; and the younger generation who teaches the older one that life must be based upon truth and compassion.

The close-knit family finds itself in one escapade after another. There is an astrologer who successfully convinces Mataji that she must fast and donate a golden goat to save Chote Bhaiyya’s life. To her dismay and Panditji’s amusement the man turns out to be a fraud.

In another episode, when Panditji’s bosom friend Rameshwar Babu comes to stay with them, there are mysterious occurrences in the mansion. Mataji suspects it to be the handiwork of an evil spirit. The mystery is solved months later, much to the embarrassment of the family.

When there are women involved, sarees and pieces of jewellery can hardly be far behind. Through these much-loved heirlooms, relationships and family hierarchies are on full display in the Awasthi household.

However, in the end, life is about relationships and whether we value them enough. Will Panditji’s brood come back together some day? Or will the Awasthi family lie scatter under the pressures of modern day living?

Blurb: Families are like the sweet mangoes of Aamnagri—messy, filled with juicy secrets and sticking together through the good and bad times.

The Awasthis of Aamnagri are the quintessential Indian family, for whom the outer world of legalese and court room battles often boils down to almost a daily parody of chucklesome encounters— who bumble through their lives encountering missing jewels and stolen eggs, deaths foretold and averted and a suspected suicide with no body.

The advent of God-men, genuine and fake, the arrival of videshi guests, a grand marriage—all of it is a source of both relief and embarrassment for them. Yet, with charming agility, the Awasthis sidestep these puddles and sail through life and its quirks.  But not the Lady of the Mansion—Mataji. She stumbles over the uneven path, the sutradhar who strings this tale of silk sarees and talking parrots together, who handles bedridden bahus and in-danger bhaiyyas with equal ease, who is at once tyrannical and vulnerable. And through whom the Awasthi family discovers that happy endings come for a price—of truth and love.

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