!!> Read ➳ We That Are Young ➶ Author Preti Taneja – Writerscompany.co.uk
The Story Of A Billionaire Family Dynasty, Led By A Gold Plated Madman, Stewed In Corruption, Mired In Violence, Riven By Infighting, Deception And Lies The Resonances Will Be There For Anyone Who Knows King Lear Not To Mention Anyone Struggling To Come To Terms With The New World Order From The Rise Of The Religious Right Wing In India To The Trump Dynasty In The United States This Is Not Just Shakespeare Repurposed For Our Times It S A Novel That Urgently Matters In 2017, And Which Will Resonate For Years To Come Jivan Singh, The Bastard Scion Of The Devraj Family, Returns To His Childhood Home After A Long Absence Only To Witness The Unexpected Resignation Of The Ageing Patriarch From The Vast Corporation He Founded, The Devraj Company On The Same Day, Sita, Devraj S Youngest Daughter, Absconds Refusing To Submit To The Marriage Her Father Wants For Her Meanwhile, Radha And Gargi, Sita S Older Sisters, Must Deal With The Fallout And So Begins A Brutal, Deathly Struggle For Power, Ranging Over The Luxury Hotels And Spas Of New Delhi And Amritsar, The Palaces And Slums Of Napurthala, To Srinagar, Kashmir Told In Astonishing Prose A Great Torrent Of Words And Imagery We That Are Young Is A Modern Day King Lear That Bursts With Energy And Fierce, Beautifully Measured Rage Set Against The Backdrop Of The Anti Corruption Protests In 2011 2012, It Provides Startling Insights Into Modern India, The Clash Of Youth And Age, The Hectic Pace Of Life In One Of The World S Fastest Growing Economies And The Ever Present Spectre Of Death More Than That, This Is A Novel About The Human Heart And Its Breaking Point. A great book can be great at different levels, but a bad one doesn t have that luxury Mislaid by all the hype and praise from western critics made me pick up this book Probably this is the worst book I read in a long time Pathetic plotting, miserable attempt at adapting King Lear in Indian context, lack of real knowledge on the subcontinent is so evident I got migraine by constant feel of something getting drilled into my brain I hardly write reviews, but this time thought that it was my responsibility to warn the readers so that they can spare themselves of this ordeal Now deservedly shortlisted for the Desmond Elliot Prize, alongside the outstanding shortlist for the 2017 Republic of Consciousness Prize for gorgeous prose and hardcore literary fiction from small, independent presses Edgar The weight of this sad time we must obey.Speak what we feel, not what we ought to say.The oldest hath borne most We that are youngShall never see so much, nor live so long King Lear, Act 5 Scene 3 Postscript to my review Disappointed this missed out on the Booker, particularly to Arundhati Roy s messy The Ministry of Utmost Happiness Taneja s novel refutes Roy s claim via one of her characters that it in Kashmir, there is too much blood for good literature However delighted to see the favourable coverage in the Sunday Times thetim.es 2waJwdF one of the year s most original novels, an exquisite retelling of King Lear set in modern New Delhi Revelatory urgent and irresistible Preti Taneja s We That Are Young is King Lear reinterpreted for the 21st Century and relocated to India It is published by the wonderful Galley Beggar Press, the press that published A Girl Is a Half formed Thing, who published the most strikingly original novel I read in 2016 Forbidden Line, and whose admirable, self declared, mission is to produce and support beautiful books and a vibrant, eclectic, risk taking range of literature , books that really are hardcore literary fiction and gorgeous prose.The last lines of King Lear, and the title of this novel, link with India, the world s largest democracy, also being cited as the world s youngest nation The ILO report that two thirds of the population are under the age of 35 Perhaps pertinently for the country s economic development, the Indian government s own projections have the country in 2020 with an average age of 29, and a demographic bulge of 64% of its population in the working age group of 15 59 Taneja s wonderful transposition of Lear not only pays tribute to, and increases our appreciation of, Shakespeare s original, but creates a memorable and revealing portrait of this modern India She also manages beautifully the difficult task of largely following a well known and pre established plot and cast of characters, but at the same time creating an intriguing, complex but highly absorbing story of her own King Lear becomes Devraj Bapuji, billionaire owner of the Devraj Company, a ubiquitous conglomerate.As the novel opens his youngest and favourite daughter Sita the Cordelia character has just returned to India, having graduated from Cambridge.Devraj announces his desire to split his 60% shareholding in the Company between Sita and her two older sisters Gargu Goneril , married to the rather passive Surenda Albany and Radha Regan , married to the much ambituous Bubu Cornwall.But asked to express their gratitude for Devraj s gift, Sita, as Cordelia, declines to join in her sisters flattery Papaji mujhe kuch nahi bolna hai, she says she holds up her empty hands there is nothing but air in between Father respectfully I don t want to say anything. Cordelia Nothing, my Lord.King Lear, Act 1, Scene 1 At the same time Jivan Edmund , the illegitimate son of Devraj s right hand man Ranjit Singh Gloucester has returned from the United States after his s mother death Jivan was Ranjit s favourite and a playchild of Devraj s daughters, but was sent, almost exiled, with his mother, 15 years ago to America when his illegitimacy became an embarrassment Jivan s initial impressions of a Dehli he has not seen for 15 years an India that has become younger as he has become older set the scene for the novel s early acts He can make out flyovers strewn like necklaces across the city, jewelled with billboards promising reincarnation in this life, and ways to afford it, because it must be achieved There will be ads for new cars, mobiles, modified milk for bachchas bone strength and protein powder for abs ads for Company hotels full of romance, for new detergents and washing machines For flour to make perfect chapattis pictures of fat young execs and good Indian girls promising hot married sex with their homemade bread Now they are cruising over acres of flat white rooftops dotted with satellite dishes, hundreds of ears all listening for his arrival The movement of the Bentley its preserved hush As if Jivan is back in the crematorium, watching the coffin glide towards the incinerator He has to have a short, brutal battle with the lump in his throat The cold air makes him sniff Only girls get sick sickThe last thing Ranjit said to him before he was put in the car and sent to America Jivan sniffs again His father and Kritik Sahib do not look at him The sounds from the road are muted, the car windows frame and colour everything sepia Scenes from old India reel out before him, comforting after the airport A sabzji wala shambles down the lane, his cart loaded with wrinkled root vegetables dug up from centuries ago, whole families stacked onto mopeds, eight legs dangling over the sides There are women balancing bricks and bundles, walking barefoot on the broken sidewalks Half naked children grin to each other as they clean their teeth with dirty fingers, their hair in helmets of crazy around their heads All of it seen as if from far, far away, punctuated by Mercedes and 4x4s, Toyota, Honda, all the big boys Jivan takes in these shining beasts as visions from a future possible at the same time, he wants to shout freeze frameHe s thinking, How long has the party been going on Why didn t you invite meThere are even new buses with doors that fully close But the trucks still say Horn Pleasein fading yellows and pinks, and everyone still drives as if they don t need sight There are still a few white cows standing dumb as temple paintings, white against red walls this, at least, has not changed Jivan immediately sets out to undermine the relationship between Ranjit and his one legitimate son, Jeet Edgar , a homosexual in a country where this has only just been legalised and was soon to be criminalised once again Jeet flees his privileged life and reinvents himself as Rudra Poor Tom , a Naph seer, living in a slum set around a large rubbish dump in the shadow to one of the Company s luxury hotels Other key characters include Devraj s Hundred Lear s hundred servants a cadre of selected young high fliers from the Company, but whose riotous behaviour displeases Gargu and Radha the sinister and violent Uppal Oswald , Gargu s chief of staff Kritik Singh Kent the Company s Head of Security, second only to Ranjit in influence, but who is rapidly dismissed by Devraj when he argues against his decision to disinherit Sita Kritik s own 2nd in command, Kashyap, who fills the Caius role, Taneja eschewing Shakespeare s rather implausible device of having Kent simply reappear in disguise.Indeed via Jivan s musing on Indian TV serials, the author gets in what is hard not to see as a cheeky dig at Shakespeare s plots Jivan used to watch these hokey Indian serials on Star Plus TV, sitting with Ma in the afternoons when he got in from school She loved them all the family dramas with cardboard villains and handsome heroes, non stop cases of mistaken identity, masters for servants, good girls for bad Brothers disguised as each other, lovingly beating sisters, wives and mothers in law fighting over sons In the end the good would get rich and the bad were punished The lovers would be united with parental blessing, kneeling for hands to be raised over their heads in benediction, the parents would kneel and beg their children to bless them right back It was always happily ever after the end But Lear and this novel certainly don t have happily ever after ending Indeed We That Are Young is full of the brutal realities of 21st Century life the massive gap between the rich and poor, the depths of poverty, corruption, drug abuse, sexism, homophobia, religious and ethnic tensions, and the tensions in Kashmir The role of the Fool is played by Devraj s elderly mother, a Kashmiri Pandit, whose mental health has never really recovered from the events of January 1990, when her husband and Devraj s wife were both killed in their home town of Srinigar in Kashmir.As Sita, in his view, betrays him and his other two daughters move to seize control of the company, Devraj starts to lose his own sanity Uppal reports to Gargi It is your father, Gargi Ma am Oh God What nowHe went to the studio He ordered the women to stop packing Ten of the Hundred came with him, and they took Sita Ma am wedding ladoos For cricket.She lets out a bark of shocked laughter Drips of Coke spill and settle on her hands like Bapuji s liver spots She licks them What Why are you not making sure he s not doing any nautanki Gargi Ma am this is not masti There are ladoo all over the lawn, all over the jubilee garden Stuck on the rose bushes also You know this time I think he has truly gone mad Radha installs herself in Devraj s place and his office, replacing his own photos of himself meeting various world leaders Nehru, Thatcher, Bush, Mrs Ghandi with one of the real world artist Dayanita Singh s Dream Villa photographs of a cityscape Devraj undergoes a Damascene conversion to the cause of the very workers on whose labour and sacrifices he has built his empire, and as the battle for control of the empire rages the scene moves from Dehli to Ranjit s luxury hotel Gloucester s castle in Amritsar, and then the action converges back to Srinigar, where the Company, in violation of rules forbidding outsiders from owning property in Kashmir, are building the ultimate luxury hotel initially inspired by Devraj wishing to reclaim his heritage.The part of Dover cliffs is played by Amarnath Peak The novel is narrated in the third person but the perspective and focus shifts between the five main young characters, from Jivan to Gargi, Radha, Jeet and Sita, with interspersed first person rambling thoughts from the highly confused Devraj as he lies in the ruins of his former family home in Srinigar, where the plot reaches its tragic denouement The device effectively combines a linear plotline with a circular narrative, allowing us to appreciate rather than in the original each character s motivations.And Jivan echoes Edgar s closing speech with one of his own We that believe in India shining We that are the youngest, the fastest, the democracy, the economy, the global Super Power coming soon to a cinema near you, we, hum panch, that are the five cousins of the five great rivers, everybody our brother sister lover, we that our divine the echo of the ancient heroes of the old time, we that fight, we that are hungry, so, so hungry, we that are young We that our jigging on the brink of ruin we that are washed in the filth of corruption, chaal, so what Aise hi Hota hai we that are a force all that is natural slow death to Muslims, gays, chi chi women in their skin tights, hai We that sit picnicking on the edge of our crumbling civilisation, we that party with shots and shots, shots as the world burns beneath us, as the dog barks, as the cockroaches crow, as the old eat their young and the young whip their elders all wearing the birth marks of respect, we that present only the shadow of ourselves behind our painted smiles, we that protest for the right to drink whisky sours served to our beds at noon, we that eat our beef with chopsticks, we that twist tongues to suit our dear selves, we that worship the ancient religion of Lakshmi, of Shiva, of wealth creation and ultimate destruction, we that will be born strong in the next life and in a party that never ends, we that are the future of this planet, we that begin with this beloved India, will endure, yes it all belongs to us, and we will eat it all All of it is ours, we that our India and no longer slaves We that are young Highly recommended.Thanks to Galley Beggar for the ARC. Update 21 6 18 Now the well deserved winner of the Desmond Elliott Prize 2018 Congratulations to Preti Taneja and all at Galley Beggar This vibrant, epic, ambitious transplantation of King Lear to modern India is by far the longest book on the Republic of Consciousness Prize shortlist, and looks a potential winner Taneja keeps the essential elements of the familiar Shakespeare version of the story in place, but allows herself plenty of scope to explore the issues, extremes of wealth and poverty, corruption and factionalism of modern India.It is probably easiest to list the main players with their Shakespeare equivalents Devraj Bapuji Lear a super rich magnate and owner of one of India s biggest companies, his daughters Gargi Goneril , Radha Regan and Sita Cordelia , his henchmen Ranjit Gloucester and Kritik Kent , Ranjit s sons Jeet Edgar and the illegitimate Jivan Edmund Albany and Cornwall become Surendra and Bubu.The story is told in six parts The first five are told from the perspectives of the younger protagonists, and at the end of each chapter Bapuji gets to speak for himself, getting increasingly incoherent as the story proceeds This structure breaks up the linear narrative, and in some cases leads to events being described than once, from different viewpoints The last part is shorter and ties up the loose ends.In the first and longest part Jivan returns from America, where he has been living with his now dead mother for 15 years, and arrives on Bapuji s farm near Delhi every lavish excess is described, and this allows Taneja to introduce the rest of the cast and the nature of the family business, and to describe background events and his childhood memories Bapuji is the son of a Maharaja from Kashmir who has lost his land, and his mother Nanu who is still alive at 90 he has built up the family firm from almost nothing, initially by exploiting the skills of Kashmiri craftsmen One of Bapuji s pet projects is to build a luxury hotel in Srinagar, the Kashmiri capital Over the course of Jivan s first day there, Bapuji announces his retirement plans to the family over lunch, and puts his daughters to the test, and by the end of the day both Sita and Jeet have disappeared, and Kritik has been dismissed for defending Sita In Sita s case this is because she does not want to be married off, but wishes to pursue her own career as an environmental campaigner Jeet has been living a double life, acquiring ancient artefacts for the company while maintaining a secret gay relationship, he goes into hiding because he believes this is about to be exposed.The second part revolves around Gargi, who is initially presented as a conscientious daughter and worthy heir to the business, frustrated by India s archaic and sexist property laws She resolves to rid the business of corruption, and modernise it she wants to maintain the unity of the company and refuses to sign the papers that legitimise Bapuji s plans to split the business The disappointments of her marriage to the impotent and largely useless Surendra are also described In this part Gargi argues with Bapuji and refuses to accommodate the regular parties of his 100 henchmen.The third part is about Radha, who is vain and hedonistic She has been partying in Goa, but she and Bubu head for Srinagar when they hear that Bapuji and Nanu are heading there, having started to amass popular support by denouncing the company s activities and blaming his daughters Radha starts an affair with Jivan, who is now employed as a company security man Bubu is a corrupt playboy who has been allowed to control Radha s share of the business Bapuji arrives to find that one of Kritik s deputies has been beaten left chained in the sun, quarrels with Radha and walks away from the hotel The section ends with the blinding of Ranjit and the murder of Bubu no attempt has been made to spare any of the brutality of the original.In the fourth part we meet Jeet in his guise of Rudra the Naph He has also journeyed to Srinagar, living among the untouchables on the rubbish dump and surviving as a holy man and storyteller This is perhaps the most interesting part of the story, in that it is almost the only part in which the action moves away from the elite owning class He encounters Bapuji in the storm the heath becomes the dump , and is entrusted with looking after his father, and instead of leading him to Amarnath Dover Cliffs he takes him back to Delhi and the farm.The fifth part returns to Sita, who is the least realised of the main characters Her escape to Sri Lanka is barely described, and by the time we meet her she is in a safe house in Kashmir with Kritik and the increasingly feeble Bapuji Unlike Cordelia, she defends her unmarried status The remainder of the book plays out the rest of Shakespeare s denouement.The language of the book is interesting the dialogue includes a lot of Hindi, much of it untranslated, which can be a little frustrating for the untrained reader, though there is never much doubt about the important events.I was a little disappointed by the number of typographical errors, mostly incorrect homophones, but overall I can t find a strong reason not to award this book the full five stars and encourage others to read it. NOW DESERVEDLY THE WINNER OF THE DESMOND ELLIOTT PRIZE TO FOLLOW ITS SHORTLISING FOR THE REPUBLIC OF CONSCIOUSNESS PRIZE for which I was a judge Galley Beggar Press is a small publisher responsible which aims to produce and support beautiful books and a vibrant, eclectic, risk taking range of literature and which declares an aim to publish books that are hardcore literary fiction and gorgeous prose a description which has been taken as the criteria for the Republic Of Consciousness prize.Its most striking success to date has been in being prepared to publish Eimear McBride s A Girl Is a Half formed Thing which had taken 9 years to find a publisher and of course went on to win the Bailey s Prize We That Are Young is a debut novel by Preti Taneja a human rights advocate and literary academic Between 2014 16 she held a Post Doc position at Queen Mary, University of London and Warwick University, working on Shakespeare performances in relation to human rights abuses and in humanitarian situationsThis novel flows directly from her joint interests and is explicitly a re telling of King Lear set in India in the early 2010 s against a background of the 2011 12 anti corruption protests which form very much of the foreground in Arundhati Roy s The Ministry of Utmost Happiness.Galley Beggar Press s co founder has commented much like our author Eimear McBride when Preti s novel was first submitted to us, it came with a history of ecstatic rejections from editors, who almost universally felt that her writing was extraordinary but too tricksy to be a commercial success.The book s title is taken from the closing speech in King Lear attributed to Albany or to Edgar in the two key versions of the play The weight of this sad time we must obey Speak what we feel, not what we ought to say.The oldest hath borne most We that are youngShall never see so much, nor live so long. In the author s words While writing We That Are Young I worked in New Delhi and Kashmir, and spoke to many people from different castes, class backgrounds and religions about the feverish times they felt they were living in The title of my book comes from the end of Shakespeare s play, and evokes the power of the fact that India is the world s youngest and fastest growing democracyThe key protagonists in the book and their King Lear counterparts are Devraj Bapuji King Lear , billionaire owner of the eponymous Devraj Conglomerate and his daughters the eldest Gargu Goneril married to the stolid Surenda Albany the flighty and fashionable Radha Regan married to the ambituous Bubu Cornwall the youngest Sita Cordelia an environmentally aware Cambridge student.Devraj s right hand man Ranjit Singh Gloucester , his gay heir Jeet Edgar and his illegitimate son Jivan Edmund The book opens with Jivan returning from imposed exile in America after the death of his mother Devraj s singer mistress and reacquainting himself with his childhood friends Gargu and Radha, at the same time as a returning party arranged for Sita at her graduation At a lunch on the Day of Jivan s return, Devraj announces he is splitting the company between his daughters, only for Sita s refusal to pay homege to him leading to him renouncing her inheritance Jivan meanwhile sows seeds of mistrust between his father and brother all of this of course a character by character re enactment of the basic plot of King Lear and which is also followed by King Lear echoing discord between Devraj and his Head of Security Kritik Kent and then a wedge between Devraj and his daughters due to the behaviour of Devraj s hundreds Lear s retinue of a hundred servants a hand selected cadre of high fliers.The book is written in five lengthy, third party point of view sections concentrating in turn on the viewpoints of Jivan, Gargi, Radha, Jeet and Sita The length of these sections and the use of a continuous present tense as well as the liberal interspersing of only partially translated Hindi in the book can at times make this an exhausting as well as an exhilarating read I was at times reminded of the assault on the senses that many Westerners use to describe their first visit to India One of the interesting choices in the novel is to open with sympathetic accounts of the actions and motivations of those Jivan, Gargi and Radha whose King Lear equivalents Edmund, Goneril and Regan are effectively unambiguously villians The effect of this as others have pointed out in their reviews, is to give a novel which while clearly borrowing heavily from King Lear, also gives back some added perspective to that play, particularly around the motivations of the full group of protagonists.The sections are intercut with some first party ramblings from Devraj who early on speculates Now the most winning stories always have the same cast of characters in one form or another There is a set of twins, or double beings, a trainee architect, a father, an uncle, a brother, a desirable sister with no self control, and of course incestuous love There is always a narrator an old man in a pickle factory, sitting on his chutpoy reading Dickens in the English language, framed by a picture of the Taj Mahal The settings are new worlds, the language tricksy Pah Making up words and full of doubt What is the value of such stories Expensive papers and lies My story is a simple one, come closer if you can The language you understand it in is not the one I am speaking It contains elements of truth, the genius of ancients, and some modern influences It is priceless and therefore free for all The references to most winning stories seems to directly reference the writing of Salman Rushdie and Arundhati Roy both of whom feature pickle factories in their most famous novels while also implicitly acknowledging the way in which much of modern Indian literary writing draws heavily both on the style of Dickens and implicitly on the implausible plots of Shakespeare and the same could be said to be true for Indian TVJivan used to watch these hokey Indian serials on Star Plus TV, sitting with Ma in the afternoons when he got in from school She loved them all the family dramas with cardboard villains and handsome heroes, non stop cases of mistaken identity, masters for servants, good girls for bad Brothers disguised as each other, lovingly beating sisters, wives and mothers in law fighting over sons In the end the good would get rich and the bad were punished The lovers would be united with parental blessing, kneeling for hands to be raised over their heads in benediction, the parents would kneel and beg their children to bless them right back It was always happily ever after the endThere are two very distinct literary choices that the author makes in this book both of which struck me as slightly false on a first read, but as thoroughly justified on a second The first is referenced above the frequent use of many half translated or untranslated not just Hindi words, but full sentences Initially this is to convey the explicit disorientation that the Americanised Devraj first experiences on his return to His homeland, as he struggles to recall his childhood Hindi, but it is continued throughout the book I understand from interviews with the author that her aim was to convey something of the reality of the world for her and many of her friends living in Hindi speaking households in English speaking countries, and therefore simultaneously inhabiting both linguistic worlds Even further than this though is an acknowledgment of the way in which both languages have inspired and fed the other over time As Devraj notes when addressing the readerMy story is a simple one the language you understand it is not the one I am speaking It contains elements of truth, the genius of ancients, and some modern influences It is priceless and therefore free for allThe second was the choice to follow not just the main plot, but often the dialogue of King Lear, and specifically to choose to convey some of the dramatic parts of the original plot the putting in the stocks of Lear s messenger, the apocalyptic storm and those that are just odd the gouging of Gloucester s eyes, the Dover cliffs bluffed suicide scene literally and not in a imaginative and figurative sense However again I now appreciate that this choice is in many ways fundamental to the author s very conception of this novel her realisation that concepts and events which render King Lear strange to a modern Western reader the extreme patriarchy the use of Lear s fortune as what is effectively dowry the fundamental conflict of ambition, family and state unchecked state violence and civil conflict extremes of class caste the abuse of domestic servants can be understood in a modern context when transplanted across the world Just as King Lear examines the violence that flowed from Lear s partriarchy and his forced and ill thought through division of his Kingdom between his two daughters, so We That Are Young could be said to examine the effects of British colonialism and the long lasting impacts of the violence and division that flowed from Partition.Overall a vibrant and wonderful novel.My thanks to Galley Beggar Press for the ARC.