Book Review: People Called Ahmedabad by Nisha Nair-Gupta

Book: People Called Ahmedabad

Author: Nisha Nair-Gupta  

Publisher: Authors Upfront 

Genre: The non fiction lives of real people

In One Line: When ordinary people gives the city it’s extraordinary character and if I were to use a quote from the book to describe it in one line then this would be it – “I will be here tomorrow, the day after and for a long time. Just come find me at the same place.”

Characterisation: The book is all about different characters who gives Ahmedabad it’s identity. I would say they have been brought to life well enough since I spent quite a bit of time hunting up more about them on the internet. Would have liked it had their pictures been added to their stories.

Which ones did I like best? Surprisingly those who I could not find on the internet like Mithalal who performs the last rite of the unclaimed dead with utmost respect or Mukesh who lives in a dilapidated house above the Khodiyar Maata no Vaav and cleans up this steepwell which could well be a heritage site but the government is blind to this part of India’s history.

Language: Some commas missed out here and there but I’m not a Grammar Nazi. Overall, the language is lucid and smooth and can be read both by a tourist and a resident of the city since it’s an amalgamation of information and nostalgia.

Often when people or a place is spoken about, the prose can get journalistic, didactic, or monotonous. Here that’s avoided. In fact there is a poetic feel to some of the stories. What is also commendable is that even though the stories have been written by different people, the final product gives the feeling of a tale woven together well.

Another thumbs-up is the fact that there is a complete explanation of the words that have been written in the local lingo, at the end of the book.

Plot SettingWhile talking about people, the stories take us through roads and alleyways of the city. The visual appeal in some have been penned down well. I say so, because I found myself comparing the similarity of Ahmedabad with other cities in some of the tales. For example Hollywood Basti reminded me of Kumartuli in Kolkata; the Ganesha idols that the basti people are now making with PoP, for greater durability, reminded me of how Mandana painting in the villages of Rajasthan is also now being painted by using chemical colours, instead of the original chalk or rice power; and how Amdo’s Kitchen in the musty streets of Paldi Cross Road bears resemblance to Majnu ka Tila in Delhi. Is India then just one big whole? Added to this are the sketches that dot the book. Being a sketcher myself (albeit an amateur one), I liked the strokes and the ideas presented.

Book Cover Art: The collage of faces on black and white is again a straightforward cover. Its simplicity goes with the theme of the book – the city is about the ordinary people from all walks of life. But why Gandhi in the midst of all these faces? Just because he is a part of Gujarat’s history? The book is not about him. I would have liked that space filled with another face, or a red beating heart – the same red colour which acts as the backdrop of the title.

How’s the Title: I liked the title. It is direct and to-the-point. The reader is sure to know what he will be reading about even before he has opened the book. And what lies inside does not disappoint.

Is The Blurb Catchy: It did not have an official blurb. But rather three quotes which, when read together, amply tells the reader what the book is all about. I always love innovative thoughts in the way a book is presented. So, kudos for this innovative idea!

Learning From The Story: Oh the book is full of ‘did you knows’. Here are some of my favourite:

– Barahandi cooks different parts of a goat in twelve different pots, each with a different set of spices

– Teen Darwaza has a niche in the wall where a lamp is lit by a Muslim family for Goddess Saraswati

– The Wagh Bakri symbol was suggested by Gandhi to represent class and mass

– A must visit is Mohammadbhai’s bookstore at the Ravivari bazaar and a must eat is Das Surti’s khaman in Maninagar.

Areas Of Improvement: These are not AOIs but things that can be included when the next city is scouted for, for stories. (And I would love to be a part of Delhi and Kolkata)

– Picture of the person who is being spoken about in that chapter

– A quote from the person at the beginning of ‘his chapter’ about what he feels about the city

What Is ‘Said By Not Saying’: We all have a story that is worth listening to. Let us find time to hear them and especially those from the ageing generation – just so that these don’t get lost to time.

My Reaction When I Finally Closed The Book:   

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