Neelum Saran Gour

Sitting at Dickens's famous table at which he wrote 'Great Expectations'. November, 1994.

    'Indian writer whose fiction embodies a humane vision that encompasses the absurdities as well as tragedies of life. She remarks that her mixed parentage of Bengali mother and Hindiphone father had a crucial impact on her upbringing. Further, her father, a great influence in her life, was 'Hindu in persuasion and Islamic in culture' and a classical musician, philosopher, and mathematician. This eclectic heritage was broadened by the education that Gour received in a Catholic school run by German nuns. Gour is an academic and teaches at Allahabad University. Her doctoral thesis was on another Indian English writer, Raja Rao.


Gour's fiction draws upon her multiple heritages. She attempts to capture the rhythms of Indian languages in her English and delineates the lives, loves, and other occupations of small town India. Her work should be seen in the broad spectrum of Indian fiction, going beyond the confines of metropolitan Indian English writing. Her writings depict provincial bazaars, villages, various small towns, and depict the lives of ordinary people from varied walks of life. Perhaps, Gour's writing should be seen as a signal contribution to a nascent regional fiction in English, to 'mofussil' or provincial literature. Her writings thus bridge the divide between Indian English and 'Bhasa' (Indian language) literatures. Her Indian language happens to be English.


Gour records the residual spark of human feeling that survives even the ravages of wars and riots. Her works are finely nuanced and try to enunciate the patterns that inform and give significance to all events. Gour's vision of life is essentially comic, and humour plays a major role in her writing even when the intent is patently serious. Gour's writing gains from both her location in provincial India and her training and profession as an academic. She displays a sure sense of the past as well as the present. While she may be at the moment a one - woman force, she could be usefully read along with a writer like Shashi Deshpande who too can capture the rhythms of life of small town Indian even if without the same sense of the comic.' 

GJV Prasad

Extract from The Cambridge Guide to Women's Writing in English (edited by Lorna Sage, Germaine Greer and Elaine Showalter)



Gour does succeed in conjuring a certain magic... tempering rhetoric with humour and nostalgia.

New Delhi (Nov 1993)






  'Neelum Saran Gour is a writer of astonishing talent and maturity. Her clear and steady gaze alights on life's derelicts, the flotsam and jetsam of whimsical and arbitrary circumstance, only to sympathetically, almost lovingly, retrieve them from their solitariness, and the silence of oblivion... . Each story in this collection illuminates a particular universe, completely authentic in texture and detail, giving us writing that is not only pleasurable, but finely - crafted as well.'

Ritu Menon in The Indian Review of Books,

(Oct 1993, about "Grey Pigeon and other Stories")


 

' It is such a relief to read the simple, yet elegant turns of phrase, the singular twists given to seemingly conventional stories, and the tenderness evoked in stories that do not have a beginning or an end. Nowhere do the words jar or the prose become stilted, and this perhaps is the most remarkable feature of the work. As one goes through the nineteen short stories that comprise the present volume, what strikes one most is the atmosphere Gour has so successfully evoked in each tale, and the sympathy she shows for her characters. Gour neither ridicules nor rebukes human foibles and frailties, she understands them... . All in all, Gour is a talented writer and her future works will be well worth watching.'

Sandhya Jain in Sunday Mail, 

(Aug 1993, on "Grey Pigeon and other Stories")






 'Neelum Saran Gour's first novel, Speaking of '62 emerges almost like a phoenix from the morass of English writing splattered all over the country today... . This novel establishes her as a gifted author with a warm 'feel' for the language... which is both evocative and vivid in detail.'

Kanika Luthra in The Pioneer,

(Nov 1995 about "Speaking of '62")







'Her writing has some great strengths and her imagination is both inventive and realistic...  Her ideas are often well thought out and original. Her sense of place is firmly based on observation and her characters are presented through the humorous eyes of a true raconteur.'

Subhadra Sen Gupta in Biblio, 

(Sep - Oct 1997, on "Winter Companions")







 'Neelum Saran Gour is undeservedly unsung, her previous collection of short stories and her novel... showcased a sensitive writer with a light touch. With Virtual Realities she's attempted to strike out in a completely different direction.'

Nilanjana S. Roy in Man's World,

​(Feb 2002, Virtual Realities)


'A wry and readable novel.'

The Telegraph,

(Jan 2002 about "Virtual Realities")





 'Sikandar Chowk Park is an engrossing novel. The narrative structure is an intrinsically compelling one. Inevitably, some of the stories are more interesting than others. There are, possibly, a couple of characters too many, and it’s difficult to do them all justice in the space allowed by a 280 page book. But in a sense that’s the point too – these lives, and the lives they affect, are destined to be unresolved...and Gour spaces them out as adeptly as can be expected. The technique of speeding  the narrative up as the climax nears (the equivalent of reducing the duration of each successive shot in a film) is effective too.'

Jai Arjun Singh in Hindustan Times, 

(October 2005, Sikandar Chowk Park)



'Neelum Saran Gour weaves a tapestry of lives and eras in her new anthology, “Song Without End”. Fifteen stories – of faded grandeur, unexpected bonds, the disillusionment of old age and the accompanying loneliness, of deepening celestial bonds and weakening earthly ones, often narrated with self-deprecatory humour – run across the pages, many with the recurrent theme of nostalgia. Set in places like Calcutta, Kanpur and Lucknow, these are stories that operate out of very specific local references rather than general vacuum.'

 Shalini Shah in The Hindu,New Delhi ( December 2011)



'This novel is a sprightly jeu d’esprit by an Indian writer very evidently in love with the intensely English fictional tradition epitomised by the writers in her title. She herself joins this trio in what she calls a ‘voice-quartet’ (she is the invisible Indian), and works some entertaining and acute ventriloquism to bring Holmes, Jeeves, Mantalini, an aged David Copperfield and many others back to life in the twenty-first century. The coinage ‘Messres’ in the title is a deliberate grafting of the French form of address and the verb ‘to mess (around); and that is just what is happening to produce this playful mosaic of homages.'

The Dickensian. Published by The Dickens Fellowship. (Winter 2006, No. 470 Vol. 102 Part 3 ISSN 0012-2440)







This is a book as haunting as it is itself haunted by the real ‘ghosts’ of a century and a quarter old Allahabad University. It is ably written and saturated with irrefutable facts about the university’s long journey from its colonial past to its present day digital ethos. Gaur traces the origin and phenomenal development of the university with exemplary thoroughness and accuracy. Advances made in disciplines as far apart as theoretical physics and English literature, or entomology and computer science, are recounted with equal aplomb and intimacy. The grand narrative is refreshingly enlivened by anecdotes and tales about legendary teachers like Meghnad Saha, Ishwari Prasad, Firaq Gorakhpuri et al. Subtitled ‘The Story of Allahabad University’, it is nevertheless a definitive history of a tragically beleaguered institution..... I close this unputdownable book completely enthralled and haunted by its imaginative recreation of a vanished glory and its tenacious engagement with the meanness of this age. It is a tour de force.​
Noorul Hasan in the Outlook

(September 21, 2015, Three Rivers And A Tree)





This book is for the most part as deeply absorbing as only good fiction can be, but it is also unmistakably a factual history of the first 125 years of Allahabad University. It is imaginative and stylish in its telling but the tale it tells remains grounded in the gritty realities of the evolution of higher education in our country. Virginia Woolf once suggested that a good biography should combine “granite-like solidity” with “rainbow     like intangibility” and Gour’s narrative of her alma mater too seeks to combine both these elements....Probably one of the most archivally rich, acutely engaged and delightfully narrated histories of any educational institution in India to have been published so far.
Harish Trivedi in Biblio: A Review Of Books

(September - November, 2015, Three Rivers And A Tree)





This is a heroic, even Proustian achievement — in which remembrance becomes the dominant mode of experience, recollection in willed tranquillity. It must be said that the Allahabad University could not have found a nicer person to write this history. Gour brings to the task an established reputation as a novelist and chronicler of smalltown life, and a durable commitment to the institution she serves with such distinction as the institution allows.
 Alok Rai in the Indian Express

(1st August, 2015, Three Rivers And A Tree)





The evocative title of this book resonates the romance that the author seeks to imbue in this chronicle. The ‘three rivers’ symbolise the meeting ground of the Ganga, India’s “river of destiny”, and Yamuna, “the river of romance” — together representing Allahabad’s ‘GangaJamuni’ union of Indic and Islamic cultural traditions — with the Saraswati, a third stream reflecting knowledge, and also ideas and cultural traditions of another race and continent. The ‘tree’ signifies the hoary banyan standing at the confluence — the indestructible ‘Akshayavat’ of legend — aptly portrayed in Allahabad University’s logo with the motto “As many branches, as many trees.” Those who associate the University primarily with the illrepute of the recent past will be pleased to learn that for the larger part of its existence ‘three rivers and a tree’ represented an apposite depiction of Allahabad University’s overarching ethos.
Govindan Nair in the Hindu Literary Review

(November 2015, Three Rivers And A Tree)





Packed to the gills with anecdotes, Three Rivers And A Tree is a lively chronicle of Allahabad University. ‘It is the collective memories of several generations,’ Gour says with a smile.
Mandira Nayar in the Week
(22nd November, 2015, Three Rivers And A Tree)





As a record of the progressive failure of India’s institutes of higher education, this well-researched, though on occasion, sprawling history, should be interesting even for those who (unlike the writer and this reviewer) have neither studied nor taught there.
Mrinal Pande in Education Review

(November 2015, Three rivers And A Tree)





Here the Allahabad University becomes a sort of a microcosm of the macrocosm. In its rise and gradual fall we come face to face with various socio-political changes that have rocked the nation and changed the face of governance. And how the Lohiyaite and JP Movements, the Mandal and Kamandal doctrines steadily created communal caste divisions that went on to wreck the campuses, ruin the space for carrying out painstaking academic activity and research in the last four decades. This has resulted in inevitable and gradual exodus of writers, philosophers, scientists, historians, and scholars from the faculty. Even the new communication  technology and renewed funding that has helped the University access it, have thereafter failed to open new gates  to real growth and genuine intellectual activity.
Mrinal Pande in The Book Review

(September 2015, Three Rivers And And Tree)




 A journey of two friends amidst familial, social, and religious vicissitudes is the focus of Neelum Saran Gour’s latest book, Invisible Ink. Set in Gour’s favourite location, Allahabad, the novel courses through the lives of two friends, Rekha and Amina. Living in Bulbul Kothi, the girls not only share their  childhood days of playing with dolls, but also the bitter-sweet pangs of adolescence and growing up as adults. 

Narrated by Rekha, the story begins in the present at a time when both friends meet after ages. Gour’s tale intertwines the past and the present, bringingforth remembrance of the earlier days when things were simpler and untouched by contemporary social and religious complexities. Relying heavily on the bygone  days, the book captures the narrator’s journey of life as the daughter of a single mother, deserted by her husband for another woman. 

The story continuously moves from the present to the past as Rekha recollects her childhood days, her mother, the traditional way of her upbringing, and her  brief love affair with Danish-bhai which ended in much humiliation, bitterness, and heartbreak. Each character in the book comes alive with Rekha’s interpretation and commentary of their lifestyle, bringing out the traditional Lucknowi culture. Rekha’s initiation into puberty is equally appalling for  her, with no prior knowledge and guidance on the same. 


With a great sense of humour, Gour deals with the girl’s confusion of menstrual blood with pregnancy and childbirth, revealing the Indian scenario even in contemporary times when many parents are still not comfortable in educating their children on the process of physical changes in puberty and sexual reproduction. Rekha’s mother too concludes her maternal duties just by reprimanding the girl’s sudden bodily changes and administering decency by introducing an appropriate undergarment to make her “these things” look modest. 


Gour’s book relies heavily on human equations, and the narrator with her connection to the other characters provides the readers with glimpses of the traditional set-up of life in Bulbul Kothi. Growing up as teenage girls, they are secluded from the modern world to such an extent that a visit to a beauty parlour causes tremendous upheaval in both the  families. Interweaved with Rekha’s narration of her childhood days and her relationship with Amina, Danish-bhai, and Mehru Apa, is the heightened religious tension in the city. Whereas Rekha’s narrative of the past is untouched by such feud, the present offers hardly a similar utopian environment. Living next to each other, Rekha and Amina had never felt the shackles of religious differences dawning on them. When Rekha’s budding relationship with Danish-bhai, Amina’s cousin, is revealed in an embarrassing situation and tackled in a severe way by both the families, it is because of the breach of traditional moral codes of conduct and not merely due to religious differences. Gour has beautifully juxtaposed communal tension  and terrorism in the book.


If the past was untouched by various barriers, the present definitely offers no such respite. The concluding part of the book brings out the religious intolerance which has seeped into the society. Amina is not accepted anymore as a part of the locality and her wish to buy a property in the area remains unfulfilled. Gour includes a passing reference on issues related to terrorism too towards the end of Amina’s story and highlights how, with the passage of  time, individuals and relationships have altered irrevocably. Invisible Ink, with its subtle humour, contemporary issues, and interesting narration, goes well with the readers and may trigger in some the interest to look up Gour's other books.

Payel Dutta Chowdhury in Deccan Herald

(February 2016,  Invisible Ink)