Neelum Saran Gour


The Times of India , September 19, 1993

Right As Rain

By Indu Saraiya Grey Pigeon And Other Stories

By Neelum Saran Gour

Published By Penguin Books India


"See how a light story has turned into a serious one", exclaims a young girl - storyteller in one of these stories, and that is also how these 19 autonomous, yet jointly cellulating stories accumulate their power. Entering through the simplest of situations - a New Year's Eve Party, a pen - friendship, a laboratory experiment, a homoeopathic consultation, a dying pet - dog, a golden jubilee, an academic's field research - Gour conjures within seconds a criss - crossing, vertically multiplying story, a sudden gestalt. Yet the momentum is threaded through with inconclusive questions that hang on the air.



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Indian Review of Books,  January 16, 1996


A Delightful Way With Words


Speaking Of '62
By Neelum Saran Gour
Published By Penguin Books India


This is All India Radio. The news read by Lotika Ratnam. Prime Minister Nehru declared in a joint press conference in New Delhi today that India does not want and dislikes very much a war with China. But that he asserted, is not within India's control... Chinese Premier Chou En - Lai endorsed that the Chinese acceptance of Indian command of NEFA would accompany Nehru's consent to Peking's control of Aksai Chin... ' What's Aksai Chin...'? whispered Lichi loudly, 'Shhhh!' cried five annoyed grown - up voices. 'But what IS it'? shrieked Lichi, petulant. Her gentle, instructive father switches off the new radio set around which eager, expectant neighbours have gathered, and squatting on the broken floor of the room builds up, for his six children, with matchsticks and chalk, the setting of the war of ' 62. It will be sometime, however, before the war actually affects the lives of this happy, ordinary family of eight. For the moment, China means smooth voices announcing exotic names on radio, and lessons from an exceptionally patient father on 'forward polcy' and 'Aksai Chin'.




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The Financial Express, October 3, 1997


Who Wants to Die?

Winter Companions And Other Stories

Neelum Saran Gour,

Published By Penguin Books India


WRITING a short story can be more challenging than writing a novel. Within a limited space, the writer has to weave a plot, devise characters who appear complex, fill up the details with deft pen strokes and give it a dramatic, or anti - climactical end that lingers in the reader's mind long after he has finished reading the story. Neelum Saran Gour's collection of stories, titled Winter Companions and Other Stories, does all that and more. Gour's eye for detail, a delicate imagination that has an element of fantasy and easy conversational style, make the stories an interesting read. Most of the stories explore the darker side of life, war, old age, relationships that have soured and so on. Yet the writer's view of life is not a pessimistic one, it transcends the anger / gloom and indicates that there is more to life than merely negative emotions.





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The Book Review, April 2002


The Comedy of Life

Virtual Realities

By Neelum Saran Gour
Published by Penguin Books India


This book is to a large extent what the blurb promises it to be, a hilarious story about two compulsive storytellers. No, that is not strictly the case, because the book is about more than two storytellers - it includes in its gaze any number of writers and narrators, and is much more than a story, even if the hilarious bit is true. But don't let the "hilarious" tag fool you into not expecting serious intent; most comic creativity addresses the most serious of issues in life. I shouldn't have to say "Chaplin" to make anyone see that.





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The Week,  June 19, 2005

Charming Stuff
MESSRS DICKENS, DOYLE AND WODEHOUSE PVT LTD
By Neelum Saran Gour
Published by Halcyon Books


In the introduction to his novel The Gift, Vladimir Nabokov wrote: "Its heroine is not Zina [the main female character) but Russian literature". So too the hero of Neelum Saran Gour's latest work is not any of the characters that flit across its pages, but English literature itself.


Gour, an Allahabad resident, has submerged herself in the heady fictional worlds of Charles Dickens, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and P. G. Wodehouse, and mixed and matched to produce an utterly charming mosaic.

Here is David Copperfield speaking: "I walked the grey London streets by the mile, 'mid fog and drizzle, 'mid the din of the City and its diverse concourse  of chaise, landau, hansom, brougham, hackney-coach, cabriolet, curricle and char-a-banc, ''mid the stamp and clatter of steaming horses... caught in the unabating swell of grief that knew no personal cause".


Yet, the book is not only homage; it is also parody. Who, while duly admiring the awesome analytical powers of Sherlock Holmes, has not sometimes wished, that once in a while the smug, patronising detective would fail? Or that Jeeves, despite his razor-sharp intellect, might once make a fool of himself? Here they do, and more than once.


David Copperfield, Estella of Great Expectations, Nicholas Nickleby and Oliver Twist all arrive in turn at 221 B. Baker Street - Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson's legendary address - seeking professional help. Jeeves is the resident butler, temporarily estranged from Bertram Wooster. Whether they gain from Holmes's interventions is a moot question.


There remains only one quibble: does Jeeves really fit in? The story is set in the 19th Century, in a fog-bound London of gas lamps and horse-drawn carriages, while Jeeves belongs indubitably to the early 20th, with its electric lights and motor cars. But that apart, this is an ingenious idea, a marvellous concoction.

By Debashish Mukherji


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Outlook, October 10, 2005


...And the Holy Gosht

SIKANDAR CHOWK PARK

By Neelum Saran Gour

Published by Penguin



Despite producing fiction of a high order for over a decade, Neelum Saran Gour has not been in the spotlight, for some unaccountable reason. She has two solid short story volumes and this is her third novel. Surprising, this lack of critical acclaim. Sikandar Chowk Park starts with a bang - a bomb goes off in a park, killing 57 people. A journalist, Siddhanta, tracks down 11 of the dead. He pieces together the detritus of their lives and 11 stories unravel across this fine novel. It needs considerable expertise to hold a dozen reins in your hands and still canter on without a falter. A rare sensibility is at work here - each character is delicately drawn, and they go about their humdrum lives in a way that is never tiresome. The events are plausible; there is no stereotyping, no sensationalism. And there's an abundance of humour. Among the characters are Vakil Mahendra Chandra and his neighbour Osman Bhai, good friends going back to the Partition days. In a fascinating passage, Prof Mathur explains to his landlady Thomas Hardy's poem The Darkling Thrush. What follows is a splendid dialogue across cultures. Music teacher Hargopal Misra gets killed, but the Stradivarius in his hand escapes unscathed in the blast. Lynette Shepherd comes face - to - face with her husband's infidelity with Marcia Gosse (now paralysed). So does (Parul Chopra, who can't believe that her husband could molest someone at the workplace. Swati's Dalit ex - husband throws acid on her face precisely because her lover is a Brahmin. There are passages in the novel which glow with her luminous prose. Sample this: "It had rained all night. Not thick strands of monsoon rain but a ragged drumming in the antechamber of one's sleep..." There could have been something more on the terrorist and his fake novel. Sometimes she overreaches - like a Jain presenting meat and calling it 'Holy gosht'. And Rushdiefication is not her strong suit always.

By Keki N. Daruwala


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INDIA TODAY, OCTOBER 3, 2005
Breaking the Silence
A bomb blast rips through  Allahabad   and a search for secular truth begins

SIKANDAR CHOWK PARK

By Neelum Saran Gour


In 1993, Neelum Saran Gour lost out on a fellowship at Kent as she could not find a machine in Allahabad to fax her acceptance. This small-town cameo so redolent of her own stories sums up her identity. Our professor, despite her spirit of academic enquiry, has the soul of a bhasha writer. She is rooted in a real India that startles alike in its familiarity and freshness. Her vernacular aesthetic doesn't always translate well. I start the book with big-city-slick snobbery towards her desi ‘vapourings of butter-silk speech’. I end the book marvelling at her depth and craft. I am told at the start that her 11 characters will die in the Sikandar Chowk bomb blast. Where her more famous peers would turn this into a contrived ploy to grandstand themes, Gour doesn't compromise on her artistic integrity.


Each ordinary life carries us along on its comically painful experiments with truth. A man who sells his blood and a woman who poses as a parent of a problem child dodge poverty but can't duck her ex or newspaper statistics ("Dalit woman and Brahmin lover caught in acid attack"). We get the cliched Anglo-Indian widow haggling over tomatoes, but we also get Billy Reuben, a jaundice case so called for the bilirubin tests he needs every day. It isn't just infidelity, unemployment or prejudice they battle, but history's lessons too often repeated, never learnt. When Professor Mathur reasons with his communalized students, Sakina Bibi tells him, "Hope lies in being careful and silent." But Gour (whose stories break that very silence around senseless deaths) is on Mathur's side. These unrelated stories deserve to be related, for they are our only answer to terror. Our reading of her provincial voice is perhaps our only way to understand universal truths. These unlikely allies, Hindu and Muslim, are the real minorities.


I wonder where Gour’s life ends and her art begins. For instance, Masterji, the book's music teacher who refuses to go abroad because he won't leave his strays behind, could equally be her husband Sudhanshu (who turned Gour’s home into a "dog hospital") or her classical musician father.


The latter—‘Hindu in persuasion and Islamic in culture’—is certainly an influence in the Osman Bhai-Vakilji scenes. If there is a secular agenda here, it is unsentimental and very closely argued.

By Nandini Lal


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The Week, January 29, 2006
Anonymous Faces of History

SIKANDAR CHOWK PARK

Published By Neelum Saran Gour



Fact or fiction? The query is constantly on your mind as you thumb through Neelum Saran Gour's newest literary outpouring, Sikandar Chowk Park .Sikandar Chowk Park , situated in Gour's beloved Allahabad , is ripped apart by a bomb blast that claims 57 lives. Later, a journalist, seeking a 'different' story, tries to piece together the lives of 11 of the dead. While probing their lives, he tries to place history in perspective through the life of the individual. Gour's characterisation is detailed and impeccable; the reader is drawn into the lives of the victims. She offers more than a passing glance into the mind of the Islamic fundamentalist who places the bomb. The bomber is put up at an old Muslim woman's home; curiously, her other paying guest is a liberal English professor- Professor Mathur, who is a Hindu, with whom she converses in literary allusions. Mathur is killed in the blast, as is Vakil Mahendra Chandra, a jolly fellow whose best friend is his neighbour Osman Bhai. These are the only obvious references to the Hindu-Muslim link. One of the best scenes in the book depicts a visit of Osman Bhai's Pakistani friends and relatives to Chandra's home: the pursuit of 'safe' conversational topics (the safest being food) and the shattering of cultural stereotypes during the visit are excellently rendered by Gour. She infuses a touch of the extraordinary in the everyday lives of the victims. There's the polished Anglo-Indian stenographer who caters to every whim of her husband (who is near-paralysed by withdrawal symptoms) despite her absolute repugnance at his alcohol addiction; the pathos of her life is vividly tinged by her hopes for the future and memories of the past. The book is populated with characters who may quiver during a crisis but are never overwhelmed by it. Like Swati, a married Dalit woman who takes a lover. The Brahmin lover, a self-confessed brilliant man who cannot find a decent job, thanks to the quota system, has her prepare for the IAS exams considering her only 'advantage' over him. Swati's estranged husband throws acid on her face to teach her a lesson for being adulterous, that too with a Brahmin! These subtle inter-character equations make the book a highly interesting read. Pick it up if you are interested in the anonymous faces that are accidental participants in the making of history.


By Sumi Thomas​


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The Telegraph,  August 5, 2011


Song Without End and Other Stories (Penguin, Rs 299) by Neelum Saran Gour is a precious book to own. Indian writing in English is given a new edge by this author. Her prose shows a profound knowledge of the language and an even deeper understanding of the nuances of Indian society, culture and psyche. She plays with words and imagery easily, and also experiments with the structures of the short stories in this collection without ever losing control. Especially interesting is the first story, “Play”, where she lets several layers of reality clash and converge. The other intriguing ones are “Connectivity” and “Through the Looking Glass” — one searching the dark depths of a remorseful mind and the other venturing into a surreal world where books come alive, quite literally. “A Lane in Lucknow” is another mesmerising tale: it treats nostalgia in an unusual manner to create a new perspective. Some of the stories are too long to be called a ‘short story’, but that does not make them boring in any way.



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Allahabad Where The Rivers Meet


Edited by Neelum Saran Gour

Published By Marg

Allahabad, situated at the confluence of the rivers Ganga and Yamuna, possesses a unique cultural character among Indian cities. For centuries a spiritual metropolis for devout Hindus, it became a strategically positioned bastion of Mughal power and acquired a fine Islamic presence, overlaid by an equally elegant European profile as capital of the North-West Provinces of British India . A centre of high learning, Allahabad University produced generations of scholars, politicians, scientists, creative writers, bureaucrats, and jurists whose names belong to the roll-call of modern Indian history. Allahabad High Court was all too often the stage for the play of personalities and events of national resonance. Both during the Freedom Movement and the decades following Independence, the city proved a significant energy centre for political action, producing five Prime Ministers and several political and cultural icons. Enlivened with many interesting and lesser-known details, the essays in this volume cover a comprehensive range of subjects.NEELUM SARAN GOUR is Professor of English at the University of Allahabad, and the author of many works of fiction. She was writer-in-residence at the Universities of Kent and Stirling, UK, and a U.G.C.Fellow at the Jawaharlal Nehru University, and also at the Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi.


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Baasath Ki Baatein


By Neelum Saran Gour
Published  By  Penguin-Yatra Books


Baasath Ki Baatein is Neelum Saran Gour’s latest release. A translation into Hindustani of her second novel ‘Speaking of 62’ done by the author, it proves to be a whole new book in terms of freshness and variety. The flavours of Hindi and Urdu meet in an exciting combination and the comedy and poetry achieve a whole new twist. The war between India and China in 1962 is addressed  afresh but this Hindi-Urdu version, to those who are sensitive to these beautiful languages, is not an alternative to the original but a complement.




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The Statesman ,  September 24, 2015


Three Rivers And A Tree
By Neelum Saran Gour

Published  By  Rupa Publications


Fiction flows effortlessly when coupled with real life memories and words penned under a nostalgic spell of memories (both sweet and bitter) turn out to be the masterpiece that most writers dream of. Allahabad has been a point of regular correspondence in Hindi and Urdu literature for a long time but not so much in English. It was therefore a surprise when two titles, Three Rivers and a Tree and Allahabad Aria from Rupa Publications landed one after the other, within a very short span of time. Interestingly, both these titles have been penned by a single well known author, Neelam Saran Gour, a professor of English literature at Allahabad University. She has authored eight works of fiction and a pictorial volume on the history and culture of Allahabad.The first book, Three Rivers and a Tree is the story of the fourth oldest university in India, an institution that has produced innumerable political figures, jurists, bureaucrats, writers and men of letters. The Allahabad University, whose history resounds with famous names and its inspiring and entertaining campus lore has been passed down for decades. The story of the university has been enriched by the many constituent stories of the personalities therein, European and Indian. It counts, among its luminaries, Motilal Nehru, Madan Mohan Malaviya, Dr Meghnad Saha, Harivansh Rai Bachchan, Firaq Gorakhpuri, Dharamvir Bharti and many more. Not to forget, vice chancellors like Sir Sunder Lal, Ganganatha Jha and Amarnatha Jha, who were legends in themselves. The author fondly recalls the many stories and anecdotes associated with the University to put together a comprehensive history of this iconic institution. Starting from the inception of the college at what was then Lowther Castle, to its present day status, she traces its long journey of almost 128 years, analyzing the history of the University against the backdrop of the emergence of the Indian nation. Along the way she also reflects on some of the unforgettable personalities that peopled the campus.

Gour writes, “A centre of high learning, a political hub during the national movement and a celebrated literary nucleus, the story of Allahabad University is one that deserves to be told…” And having been told with such brilliance, this title must be on your reading list.




Allahabad Aria

By Neelum Saran Gour
Published  By  Rupa Publications



The second book, Allahabad Aria is a work of fiction a collection of eight unarguably brilliant short stories. Neelam Saran Gour steps into the shoes of a mischievous diarist and records the crazy escapades of bureaucrats, diplomats, jurists and captains of industry during their student days in Allahabad. These are all simple stories and yet within their simplicity they profoundly exhibit an essence of Prayaga through the setting and the characters in these stories. A Mughal princess and a betel selling woman collaborate to protect Jehangir's eldest son, Prince Khusrau. A modest jeweller experiences the warmth of family bonding in a serendipitous group of allies at the Kumbha mela. The last telegram of Allahabad becomes the last testament of love from a man, who has lost his speech, and a young man relives the tortured love that he shared with his long dead alcoholic father. What simpler way to tell the story of a city as old as time than through these creative stories that seem to travel time and generations? Neelum Saran Gour does a brilliant job in these two books, which go a long way in reminding us the necessity to immortalise the many towns and cities in our country that are as old as time but whose history, cultures and stories are on the verge of being forgotten.

By Saket Suman


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The Telegraph,  November 29, 2015


By Neelum Saran Gour
Published  By  Harper Collins


Invisible Ink by Neelum Saran Gour is a delightful tale of two friends, Amina and Suvarnarekha. The two meet after several years to renew their friendship, only to realize that the ease which once characterized their relationship has been replaced with religious prejudices. Gour writes about the city of Allahabad in two different time periods, and draws contrasts between them. The Allahabad of Amina's and Suvarnarekha's childhood was marked by communal harmony, while in the Allahabad of the present, Amina finds it difficult to buy a house. It is later revealed that both women lost loved ones in communal violence; these events changed their lives irrevocably.

Both Amina and Suvarnarekha are representative of ordinary people who wish to lead their lives in harmony, free of religious fanaticism. Gour, however, skilfully reveals the extent to which political events affect people in the most

personal, intimate spheres of their lives.