Monday 26 May 2014

Book Review – Pendulum by Sarang Kawade

Life is driven by a single principle – decadence, resembling a still pendulum,’ says Sarang Kawade’s introduction to his book ‘Pendulum’, a collection of 48 stories rendered as poems or short prose passages. 

Decadence – that moral and cultural decline characterized by hedonism, debauchery, corruption, intemperance, immorality and wantonness, is the context this book arises out of. The mood, like the ‘pendulum called life’, oscillates between smiles and sorrows, hope and despair, loneliness and company. The setting is the young, urban world of IT jobs and coffee shops, cellphones and busy hours, empty homes and unrequited love as well as fruit vendors and homelessness, prejudice and even sexual assault. Each story has its own narrator, a voice speaking either like an observer or one deeply involved in documenting, scene-to-scene, his/her surroundings. Which, when you read you realize, are yours and mine too. 

As Sarang moves from one story to the next, the narrative voice changes in tenor from angry and even caustic at times, to plain objective; from despairingly dejected to hopeful and often preachy – all this depending on how involved or distant he feels to a specific story. For someone who likes deconstructing books based on changing narrative voice, this will be fodder for study.  

What remains consistent and helps bring the 48 stories together under ‘Pendulum’ is the author’s thought-process and the technique he uses to translate it into words.

The Thoughts and thought-out Technique

Sarang is 22 and in the software industry. That is all I know. When I asked him for an author introduction, he said he will give none. The artist wanted the art to be received independently, sans any pre-conceived notions that come with social labels. 

That he is only 22 amazed me at various points of time while reading the book, for he has already managed to unravel lessons from his life which typically (perhaps mythically) take years of grey hair to realise. There is ripeness of thought, a looking within and turning to self, an honest acknowledgement of social wrongs, a beautiful acceptance of the importance of relationships over jobs, of love over money, care over success. While the poems and stories remain bold and honest, each comes wrapped in a kind of maturity of thought which makes you believe what you read. The secret wishes of his various narrators (the ‘Burqa Clad Butterfly’ penultimate wish is to ‘ride a bike and let my loose hair fly’) – so simple yet so impossible to achieve, leaves you with a melancholic taste in your mouth.   

The language Sarang uses to deliver his ideas befits the narrators of his stories – young and urban, or old and alone, and lost. Expect no lovely lyricism or similes drawn from bounteous nature. This book was written in dark alleys of fat wallets ridden with futility and frustration, or empty ones clinging on to flashes of hope. So, Sarang speaks to us through the speakers of his stories in a language that those people speak in real life, not just to make himself understood but also to bring in a believability to the stories. In poems where he himself seems to be the speaker, the language becomes more complex than otherwise, but we realize how he too belongs in exactly the world that he is trying to hold a mirror up to in ‘Pendulum’. He speaks standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the different and differing narrators of the 48 stories. 

Apart from the prose passages written such that you wonder if they too are poems of some sort, personification of emotions, analogies with colonies of ants or bubbles, creative titles which read like exam questions with marks in parenthesis, advert jingles, letters from daughters to fathers, coupled with jumbled syntax like ‘Endure I long walks’ are everywhere. As is use of slang words, which, for the first time, I did not cringe on encountering.  

Let me give you my favourites out of this collection.

In a poem satirizing the kind of societies we have built around ourselves, Sarang creates ‘your reasoning town called ‘Brainville’ (somewhat reminiscent of Yeats’s idea of an anti-Christ being born in ‘The Second Coming’) where:

Neurons work as conformists in the
industry to recycle dumped ingenuity
and create a swarm of material desires.
But Hope is the secret vigilante, willing
to even die protecting the Rebel square.
Traditions are enshrined in Stereotype Avenue
(but where)
Hope is not scared.
Hope will soon be blessed with a child
Residents of Rebel Square have a name for the
Child – Belief.

Love Conquers Gadgets Too’ connects existential alienation to the symbolic individualistic ‘I’s’ ‘being used by phone, laptop, tablet’, creating an (i)-me-myself world. An interestingly titled and creatively written ‘I care you. So take love’ begins with a question Care (personified) is asking about Love – ‘I feel jealous of her charm. Why is Love so popular and I am not?’  Care and Love write letters to each other to understand each other, to get married in the end. An idyllic situation but equally ironical when seen reflective of a society working on different principles. 

A brutal poem ‘Rapes, Cuts, Blood and Solace’ is a woman’s account of her many rapes, as nonchalantly as if she was talking about buying vegetables. At 16 – ‘I was raped yet again by a single guy. (Thank God)’ and the ( ) hurt. Raw anger in ‘Oh Thy Anger’ where ‘Be happy, act foolish, disguise fury, sounds so stupid your self-help shit’ speaks an angry voice yearning to break free from social givens. While passages like 'Game of Domestic Violence' stun you into silence, some others like 'Candy Floss Smile', and the final one in the book called ‘I love you father’ (I wonder if this lovely piece is autobiographical) come written straight from the heart, leaving you feeling warm. 

Most stories and poems have U-turns at the end, not a twist to shock or awe, but one to affirm a drop of hope where none seemed to exist a few lines before. Myriad moments of warmth exchanged and good deeds done delivered in such simple language, but never enough to make you forget the deprivation they are set in. 

An oscillating pendulum, but one which likes to remain steeped in sorrow! 

And then, the disappointments

1. While I have admired and enjoyed the thoughts behind the 48 stories and the oscillating sensitivity-brutality with which they have been expressed through the various narrators, not all poems or passages manage to maintain the power of expression consistently. ‘Stay Connected, Stay Insane’, ‘Ram Habib Daler Joseph’ and ‘I’m Sorry’ broke the effect either because the themes were repeated or they bordered on the typical. 

2. There is a self-contradiction in Sarang’s use of a ‘decadence’ (in a negative way) as the penultimate theme for his work. The very hedonism, intemperance and debauchery that characterizes decadence carries the idea of subversion too. Exactly the kind of subversion that Sarang actually celebrates/professes – artistic freedom, anti-establishment, quitting education, gay love, secularism, anti-rituals and prejudice, psychos with a heart, constructive anger. Decadence is not the word the author should have lamented about on the cover. Stagnation, materialism, alienation maybe. This being the only reason why I was wary of comparing some of his poems with Ginsberg’s ‘Beat Poetry’ like 'Howl' for instance – there is similar anger towards wrong, being sung to a rebellious beat, but not achieving the same level of clarity of purpose.

3. I would have liked a list of contents. Would have given some organization to the book. I am quite a Capricorn woman if you know what I mean!

Pendulum’ remains Sarang Kawade’s attempt to speak through men and women surviving different spheres and stages of life. The poetry is devoid of any ostentatious trappings and the short prose is simple and straight-forward, because he is letting his characters speak directly to you. Asking you to listen, understand and look around and within too. There is judgement in Sarang’s voice, against facets of society he doesn’t agree with and support for those suffering its idiosyncrasies. There is also a wish in Sarang’s heart, of personal freedom from all that binds artistic thought. This book, through its honesty and execution, succeeds in achieving this. 

I conclude with a few lines of a poem I have been re-reading ever since, ‘If I’m Weird, then who’s Normal?’ 

They call me weird, a social outlaw to be precise,
I take my stand; they’re the prisoners, the majority.

They say doubt wraps me, obscure is my speech,
I see clarity of thoughts erupting, bursting within me.

Their fundamental reaction is to concur, they usually comply,
I question back, I can’t walk around holding people’s beliefs.

They bully the fragile ones, beat them up to laud their insecurity,
I was beaten too but never defeated, they’re cowards, not me.

Title: Pendulum
Author: Sarang Kawade
Publisher: Partridge – A Penguin Random House Company

[The review was commissioned by the author. The thoughts are my own.]


  1. Hi Sakshi,

    I just completed reading it. And the review was deeply satisfying and resonating for me to read, for 'Pendulum' is an extremely difficult book to describe and break down.

    Pendulum has a plethora of themes for a single book and it boils down to one's personal opinions about life which decides what story/poem strikes a chord with their heart.

    As the author of Pendulum, the most difficult aspect for me was to come up with the synopsis of the book. How do you lay down words to justify the common thread that runs across stories dealing with homosexuality, religion, nature, technology, rapes, love, addiction, desires, art, was a persistent question for me.
    But then these stories / poems were always about the extremes of human nature, the bliss of a character in nature's shelter against the perplexed character torn between love and alcohol, and hence formed the title 'Pendulum' - it keeps oscillating, signifying our lives.

    The prominent features of the book have been aptly mentioned - creative titles, personification, persistent inversion, slangs (lot of them), myriad of narrators. Although, I'd have liked a word dropped in for the appreciation of the cover art employed in my book. It's stunning and rarely do such sketches adore books. These sketches have been rendered by two of my friends, not the publishers, so they're extra special for me.

    Thank you for providing your comments on the kind of language employed in the book. I desperately wanted a keen mind to explain that to me, since for many of the casual readers, language was way too complex and the inversion didn't help too. Using complex structures was to challenge myself as a writer, not to challenge the reader's intellect. Although I still maintain, I've tried using lucid language, keeping them straight-forward as mentioned by you.

    Regarding the disappointments, I was glad to read them too for I found a resonance of thoughts.

    1. Yes, I am aware of the fact that all 48 of them do not possess the inherent charm, raw emotions, simplicity and ingenuity.
    What I knew was, there was something for everyone in it. It depends on personal tastes.

    2. Regarding the theme of the book and its synopsis, I don't blame your second point. I didn't wish to have a synopsis, rather an Aristotle's quote on the back cover. But, I succumbed to suggestions and eventually wrote one. And though I do believe there is light waiting at the end of the dark tunnel, it's the dark tunnel that I am biased towards. I am earning my death, not living my life.

    3. Well, I'm a Virgo. :)
    I was told to include a table of content but I wanted no order inside. That's how you open it and stumble onto something you weren't expecting already.

    Anyway I'd like to thank you for the beautiful review. You work diligently on them and it shows in your words. I sincerely wish our nation observes you and a breed of honest reviewers crops up, I really do.

    This was the kind of review my book and I deserved. Thanks for giving it to me.

    Thank you.

    1. I really appreciate you leaving behind your feedback about the review, Sarang. Helps us reviewers to learn the ropes better for the future, even as you authors gain readers' insight into your works.

      Yes, this was one of the difficult books to review. That challenge made me like the book even more, apart from everything I mention. It is complex, indeed! But, I am glad the review resonated with you and that what I thought was "amiss" was something that you too identify as that.

      I am sure you deserve better. Capricorns stand no where in comparison to Virgos. :D

      Best always,

  2. Another great review and detailed appreciation of Pendulum. Love the novel way of putting quotes and poems which is a plus to the author.
    Hope u had a great Sunday with ur loved ones:)

    1. Thanks, Vishal. Always full of kind words, you! :)

  3. Good review...
    I have read another such book of short stories called as "Ripples". those too have some touching stories.

    1. Will look for "Ripples" too. Thank you for the suggestion, and many thanks for reading me. :)

  4. Good review..I have read a few stories and simply put. they are 'awsome'...keep up the good work :)

    1. Some of them indeed are. Thank you for reading my review of 'Pendulum'.

  5. I am definitely asking you to review my book .. for sure ...

    Good review :)

    PS.. dont worry it will probably in a ZILLION years that i write .. so you can say PHEWwwwwwwwwwwwwwwww ... a sight of relief for sure after the way i write my posts :)


    1. :) How do you write your posts? And how does it have a bearing on how you write your book, B?
      Okay, since you insist .. Phew! There. :)

  6. I was not aware that Sarang was just 22, but I feel that had he written the same thing, say, at 35, it would have come out a different shade. The review I think should have included this aspects: the book puts on display the mind of a guy, of a particular age with a particular set of assumptions.

    1. At 35, perhaps, the anger would be tamer and many views about aspects of life revisited - either through experience or through rejection of them.
      I wonder why you call them 'assumptions'? I thought they were his opinions - about institutions, social givens and relationships. And since, for the most part they seemed to match mine, I mentioned how at 22 he seems to have seen what I am still unravelling at 31.
      All books are a display of the author's mind.
      Thank you for reading this review, Dan.

  7. They say doubt wraps me, obscure is my speech,
    I see clarity of thoughts erupting, bursting within me.... beautiful, meaningful lines indeed

  8. It surely takes a rather blistering jibe at what we consider our urbane and structured societies. I always believe that we've made it our prime purpose to veil the maudlin reality in a facade of dazzle. How much we get things wrong and continue at the belief of our prudence.

    Tushar Kumar Singh
    Project Disavowed

    1. The structures are made such, concrete-ised and codified over years of white-washing, that any attempt to question them needs to be heard loud and clear, and over the herd. And every person who wants to re-think social norms finds his/her own style to do it.
      I like your comment, Tushar. Thank you for dropping by!

  9. 'If I’m Weird, then who’s Normal?’ a must read for those nonchalant but misunderstood as socially awkward people out there.

    You are a keen observer Sakshi. Great review. :)


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