Thursday, December 15, 2011

Book List Oct-Dec 2011

I wanted to put up the list of books which I recently acquired in last 3 months. I have been caught up in the new responsibilities of taking care of a baby but that did not deter me from attending the Book Sale by Goa-Based Broadway Book Centre and the Landmark Book Sale, while also buying several books from Flipkart and Indiaplaza.

Here is the list:

From the Broadway Book Sale: Each one bought for Rs 50. The price was a major deciding factor. I would not have bought even single one of these, if it had been for anything more. I felt this Book Sale was more suited for the college crowd. There was nothing from Indian Publishers and nothing in Non Fiction.

1. Nanny Returns by Nicole Karus and Emma Mclaughlin: I had earlier bought ‘The Nanny Diaries’ from a similar Sale at Rs 50 (the hardbound edition), so when I saw this one, I got it. I am not too fond of such books but they are fine for general time pass reading, you know, immediately after you have read some heavy-duty stuff.  

I have read ‘Inconceivable’ by Ben Elton and it was quite funny, so I bought both the books listed below:

4. From Here to Maternity by Sinead Moriarty: Bought this one for the obvious reasons. I remember reading another book called ‘I don’t know how she does it’ and it was hilarious. Hope this one is on similar lines. Yet another general time pass stuff.

5. Monster by Allan Hall: I am sometimes drawn to real life crime stories. I have read ‘In Cold Blood’ by Truman Capote and look forward to reading more on true crime.

6. The Wasted Vigil by Nadeem Aslam: I have heard a lot about “Maps for Lost Lovers” and have it too. I have not read it yet. This one is also from the same author.

From Landmark Book Sale: The discounts at Book stores are not really great. Great discounts would only be on a handful books but that’s about it. So I looked for getting something on the “3 for 2” offer. And this offer also works for you only if all the books are of similar price. I usually end up buying several magazines on my visits, I prefer buying books online. Nevertheless, after a lot of research, I got the following books. First three are on the offer, rest as indicated.

I read these 2 books long back, and I wanted them for my collection:

9. The Pregnant King by Devdutt Pattnaik: It is related to Mahabharata and I had been thinking of getting this for quite sometime now.

11. Byline by M.J.Akbar (at 10% discount on the cover price)

I was heartbroken to see ‘First Day First Show’ for Rs 99. I recently bought it for Rs 374! But that is something which you cannot plan.

I bought the following from Flipkart and Indiaplaza:
12. Dr Spocks Baby And Child Care by Robert Needlman, Benjamin Spock: Smita told me it is a good reference book on Child Care. So how could I not have it J

13. Sita's Ramayana by Samhita Arni, Moyna Chitrakar: After collecting several perspectives on Mahabharata, I have started expanding my ‘Ramayana’ collection. It also happens to be my first Graphic Novel.

14. The Best Of Quest by Laeeq Futehally, Achal Prabhala, Arshia Sattar: I first read about the book in Pune Mirror. I have bought books on Eunice De Souza’s recommendation earlier also, like ‘the Locust and the Bird’. Later on, I read a lot about 'the Best of Quest' in many articles and magazines.

15. Lucknow Boy by Vinod Mehta: Since I follow Outlook and the book is a memoir of its editor, I kept finding more and more about the book through his column on the last page. I found it fascinating enough. Memoirs are interesting only when they are honest and provide new revelations. There’s nothing exciting about sugar candy talk and reading something which is already a public knowledge. This issue of Outlook even featured excerpts from the book. The book sounds salacious!

Following 2 had been recommended by a friend who has studied psychology. I was discussing about reading on child psychology.

18. Half The Sky - How To Change The World by Nicholas D. KristofSheryl Wudunn: I had my eyes on this one for a long time but only imported editions were available which were quite expensive. I recently bought it for a good price.

Some more additions for my ‘Ramayana’ collection. These have interesting perspectives on Sita and Ram, which reminds me of a superb animation film 'Sita Sings the Blues'.

Following are supposed to be from Ravana’s perspective.

24. We Need To Talk About Kevin by Lionel ShriverI discovered this book while reading an article on parenting. I found this highly recommended for all parents:

The above listed books have been bought only between October and December, and December is not over yet! One of these days, I would like to put up the list of my entire collection. I recently categorized and re-organized them.

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Friday, December 9, 2011

Mafia Queens of Mumbai : Stories of Women from the Ganglands by S. Hussain Zaidi with Jane Borges

Title: Mafia Queens of Mumbai: Stories of Women from the Gangland
Author: S.Hussain Zaidi (with Jane Borges)
Publisher: Tranquebar
Pages: 290
Genre: Non Fiction / Crime
Rating: 10 /10

Source: Review Copy (from BlogAdda)

Vishal Bhardwaj begins his foreword with “Crime is juicier than spirituality”. And isn’t it so? I read an article somewhere recently (as Bharadwaj also laments) about the dearth of literature on crime in India, something on the lines of ‘In Cold Blood’ by Truman Capote. Incidentally, I recently found a new book, which deals with the Neeraj Grover Murder case called ‘Death in Mumbai’ by Meenal Baghel.

To digress a little more from the book, I recently read an article here that says how unimaginative the word ‘Non Fiction’ is. It does total injustice to the talented lot of writers who do not dwell in fictitious stories and yet create nothing short of excellent pieces of literature. Why bunch them all together in a highly non-creative word called ‘Non Fiction’? It takes away from the whole effort.

Finally coming back to the book, it is an outstanding and fascinating book – in its unusual subject, extensive research, deft story-telling and engaging pace. The cover page is highly apt and sets the mood for the book. I finished it in 4.5 hours flat.

S. Hussain Zaidi (who has also written the exceptional ‘Black Friday’) alongwith Jane Borges, creates vivid imagery of 13 women who enjoyed a lot of clout in the Mumbai mafia.

Though little known to the general public, unlike their several infamous male counterparts, these women have been singled out for their close involvement with underworld or power enjoyed by them. From wives and girlfriends of Dons to a Bollywood starlet, from a much sought-after bar dancer to women fueled by their ambition – each story reads like a movie script. The fact that the stories of these women are not easy to piece together, since little has been known about them, it makes the authors’ efforts far more commendable.

Following are glimpses of 13 women featured in this book:

  • Jenabai –known for her closeness with the underworld dons Vardharajan, Karim Lala and Haji Mastan, and she was quite sought after for her advice.
  • Gangubai – a girl who ran away from her small village, goes on to become the much-respected matriarch of Kamathipura – the red light area of Mumbai
  • Ashraf or Sapna didi -  a wife who did not have any knowledge about her husband’s underworld connection till he gets killed in an encounter, trains herself with single-minded determination to take on the people responsible for his death
  • Jyoti Amma and Mahalaxmi Papamani – Poverty and responsibility of taking care of family lead them into drug peddling, and over time they became powerful
  • Monica Bedi – Her closeness with a Dubai business, who was actually Abu Salem, got her into the wrong side of the law, and she paid the price heavily
  • Asha Gawli, Neeta Naik, , Sujata Nikhalje, Padma Poojary – Wives of Hindu Dons who went on to handle the place of their husbands while they were absconding
  • Mrs Paul, Rubina Siraj Sayyed – Girlfriends and associates of Chhota Shakeel
  • Tarannum Khan – the most (in)famous bar dancer who minted a lot of money in cricket betting
  • Archana Sharma – a Ram Leela artiste from Ujjain becomes  a hardcore criminal, responsible for kidnapping, extortion and murder
It is definitely an interesting book, for who is not fascinated by the many stories of the underworld. Several movies have been scripted over the years, and it would continue to be portrayed on the celluloid with as much interest and drama.

It is definitely a must read for all book lovers, and I would go on to say that it would also appeal to people who like Fiction. After all, these are also stories, only real!

This review is a part of the Book Reviews Program at Participate now to get free books!

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Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The Muddy River by P.A.Krishnan

Title: The Muddy River
Author: P.A. Krishnan
Publisher: Tranquebar
Pages: 248
Genre: Political fiction
Rating: 9 out of 10
Source: Review Copy (from BlogAdda)

In contrast to the unassuming cover page, the book was quite impressive.
‘The Muddy River’ almost seems to be a real story - multi-layered, multi-dimensional and complex (which also reminded me of Shashi Deshpande’s books).

Ramesh Chandran is a Delhi-based bureaucrat, who is transferred to Assam when he starts asking for Contract files of his Corporation (Power Transmission Corporation) and has a few uncomfortable run-ins with senior people in his organisation. It is meant to be a punishment posting. Sukanya is Ramesh’ wife, and they are both trying to come to terms with the untimely death of their only child Priya in a freak incident. They love each other but the incidence has developed a strain in their relationship. (To digress a little, I read somewhere that the death of a child leads to a lot of divorces because husband and wife have different ways of dealing with the loss and many times they are not able to understand the other).

Ramesh is an upright person and while he thinks he is a Marxist, he is also majorly influenced by Gandhi (who keeps coming into the narrative every now and then).

In Assam, Ramesh is chosen to negotiate the release of one of his company’s senior managers, who gets kidnapped by a militant outfit for a ransom. In his pursuit of this case, Ramesh meets Anupama (his subordinate who has strong views about Assam’s fight for independence from the rest of the India), Bhuyan (the Deputy Inspector General who comes to like the sincerity of Ramesh), Bura (a practical Marwari Contrator who is chosen as a contact between the militants and Ramesh), Rajbankshi (the Gandhian) and Mrs Ghosh (the kidnapped Mr Ghosh’s unthankful and untrusting wife). The story dwells on two main issues –the release of Mr Ghosh is certainly the main issue but it also deals with the levels of corruption in a government organisation and the resistance one faces when he tries to take it on. Ramesh goes out of his way, sometimes even putting his life in danger, meeting a number of people who can be of even a little help in ensuring Ghosh’s release. Ramesh’s pursuit of unravelling corruption within his organisation gets him into trouble and he also gets suspended but he never bucks to the pressure.

The language is illustrative. I admit, I had to look up quite a few words, but it is always a pleasure to read such books which enrich your language, while at the same time narrating the story well! English is a beautiful language.

The story moves forward in the form of a main narrative, and the manuscript written by Ramesh for his book, but it never confuses you between the real and the fictional (in terms of the book). Sukanya sends the chapters from Ramesh’s manuscript to their friends Subir and Herbert for their comments. The interaction between Sukanya, Subir and Herbert is interesting and clarifies a few doubts which one may have about the story, as to why the author had written an incident in a certain way.

I was hooked to the story from the beginning and did not lose interest till the end. The book has as much pace as a thriller. It dwells on the corruption and bureaucracy in government organisations, empathizes with the voice of people of Assam and while doing so keeps coming back to the relevance of what Gandhi has said!

It is a well-written book, and I recommend it to anyone who is interested in a good story. There are a few technicalities related to workings of Power companies but if you don’t understand them, you can move one, and it is only for a short while. It certainly cannot be a reason to put you off because I can assure that atleast this book is not difficult to read. It is lucid in its narrative.

I just hold back one point for a little rushed and dramatic ending, but it might appeal to many.

I am impressed by the writer’s story telling and I look forward to reading his first book as well. I also could not stop myself from reading about Mr Sanjoy Ghose, to whom this book is dedicated.

This review is a part of the Book Reviews Program at Participate now to get free books!

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Monday, October 17, 2011

Interesting book on Censorship

As my husband pointed out the other day, I hoard books, and don't read as much as I buy them (an argument he brought up when I was nagging him to take me to the Book Sale). Well, book collection is certainly a bigger passion than book reading. Anyways, I am always on the look out for interesting books and new subjects to read. Over the years, I have discovered that Non-Fiction is several times more interesting than Fiction. Quite by chance, I read about this book called 'You can't please everyone' by Kobita Sarkar. But I have not been able to find it on any book shopping sites so far. If anybody finds it on any of the sites, please put in a word here. 

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Saturday, October 8, 2011

Books on Pregnancy

When I discovered that I was pregnant, I searched for best books to refer on Pregnancy. There are several books but after checking out reviews and getting references from people who had gone through this, I zeroed in on 3 books.

Image source: Flipkart
1. What to Expect When you're Expecting by Heidi Murkoff and Sharon Mazel
'What to Expect when you are expecting' is like a bible when you are expecting, and I think, even several non-readers have referred to it during pregnancy. I have found answers to every possible question that I had, in this book. 
From before you conceive to what to expect month-after-month (also week by week), and from special cases to post-partum weeks; you will find answer to all your questions in this 600-page book, in an easy question-answer format. 

Image source: Flipkart
2. Passport to a Healthy Pregnancy by Gita Arjun
I carried this one even when I was leaving for hospital, to read about post - delivery because, you see, I was 12 days early. I had not read everything.
Written by Dr. Gita Arjun - an eminent obstetrician and gynaecologist - this book is extremely reader friendly. It attempts to explain how pregnancy happens, foetal development, various tests in different stages of pregnancy, about the entire nine months and labour and delivery. I think the hindi / marathi version of this book is called "Garbha Sanskar". It is an excellent book to refer in Indian context.

Image source: Flipkart
3. PREGNANCY: What The Indian Woman Always Wanted To Know ButWas Afraid To Ask by Nutan Pandit
Nutan Pandit is not a doctor but she has immense knowledge and extensive experience related to child birth. You would say, why another book when the other two answers all the queries.
This book is a little different. It starts with dealing with a lot of myths around pregnancy. The book has several illustrations to facilitate understanding. Apart from usual discussions on conception, pregnancy, labour and delivery; the book takes a look at how labour has cme to be associated with 'pain', understanding the process of natural child birth, understanding and dealing with various problems or discomforts during pregnancy through home remedies, exercises, issues related to feeding, etc.
The language is lucid and illustrative, and everything has been discussed in an interesting way.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Why Men Can Only Do One Thing at a Time and Women Never Stop Talking

Title: Why Men Can Only Do One Thing at a Time and Women Never Stop Talking
Author: Allan + Barbara Pease
Publisher: Manjul India
Pages: 120
Genre: Non Fiction / Self Help
Rating: 9 out of 10

I happened to read a review of this book here, and it came across as a fun book. Since I have been in between books for a while now (owing to my other preoccupations), I wanted to pick up a quick-read to make myself feel better.

I have never read any of those “Man-Woman” books, say, “Men are from Mars and Women are from Venus”. But the tit-bits from the book were hilarious and I really wanted to give it a shot. Of course, such books tend to stereotype all men and women but broadly, even when you can relate to some parts of it, it is fun.

To begin with, I did not have a relationship issue to sort out or I did not, for that matter, needed a book to help me better understand my spouse. I have been in a relationship for too long now to figure that out myself. The experience of reading this book was akin to watching ‘Pyaar Ke Side Effects’ or the latest ‘Pyaar ka Punchnama’. The key to enjoying such books or movies is to be able to laugh out loud at the many gender oriented jokes or observations. Admit it, many are even true!

Apart from the fact that it is a very short book (I finished it in a couple of hours, in a single sitting), the best part of this book is that it is filled with interesting illustrations.

I have pulled out a few of my personal favourites from the book:
  • It reiterates the fact that women have a peripheral vision. In just one look they observe and note everything in the vicinity; while men have ‘tunnel vision’. That’s why they’re always so obvious when they look at other women. They have to turn their heads. See this ad and you would understand the point better.
  • The illustration of a woman’s brain and a man’s brain is simply hilarious. You have to see it yourself to appreciate it.
  • Women want to talk about issues in great detail, while men do not understand or appreciate this. No faults there, it is just how they are. I will relate from personal experience. If I talk to somebody on phone, I will be able to recount the entire conversation verbatim, while if I ask my husband to just tell me what conversation he had on phone (with whoever), he will be completely blank.
  • Then there is the perpetual argument about what women say and what they actually mean!
  • And my all time favourite about the depth of what women and men think. Here’s a joke to that effect, though not from the book, which I have often shared and it never fails to amuse:
Her Diary

Today night, I thought he was acting weird. We had made plans to meet at a cafe to have some coffee.

I was shopping with my friends all day long, so I thought he was upset at the fact that I was a bit late, but he made no comment. Conversation wasn't flowing so I suggested that we go somewhere quiet so we could talk, he agreed but he kept quiet and absent.

I asked him what was wrong - he said, "Nothing."

I asked him if it was my fault that he was upset. He said it had nothing to do with me and not to worry.

On the way home I told him that I loved him, he simply smiled and kept driving. I can't explain his behavior; I don't know why he didn't say, "I love u, too."

When we got home I felt as if I had lost him, as if he wanted nothing to do with me anymore. He just sat there and watched TV.; he seemed distant and absent.

Finally I decided to go to bed. About 10 minutes later he came to bed.I decided that I could not take it anymore, so I decided to confront him with the situation but he had fallen asleep. I started crying and cried until I too fell asleep.

I don't know what to do. I'm almost sure that his thoughts are with someone else.My life is a disaster.

His Diary

Today India lost the cricket match against Bangladesh. Damn it!


There are several such gems which I can go on and on about. So, without spilling anything further, I would recommend this book to every guy or girl who has been or is in a relationship. You would be able to relate to it better. But remember to have fun while you read it.

I have passed it on to my husband, who by the way has read about 2 books (non-academic) in life, and he is also enjoying it quite a lot.  

(Image source: Amazon)

Amazon's Free Super Saver Delivery to India

I was very excited to have chanced upon this. I have always wondered why Amazon is still not in India. In the last couple of years, the online sale of books has multiplied several times, and I am sure it is just a matter of time that India will be on Amazon's radar because I would love to be able to order from their wide range.  

Thursday, April 28, 2011

The Twentieth Wife by Indu Sundaresan

Title: The Twentieth Wife
Author: Indu Sundaresan
Publisher: Penguin 
Pages: 388
Genre: Historical fiction
Rating: 9.5 out of 10

‘The Twentieth Wife’ is the first one from Indu Sundaresan’s Taj trilogy, though I read it after reading ‘The feast of roses’ which is the second one. There are three books in this series about Mughal empire but each can be read independently. But be rest assured, if you have read any one of them, you would invariably end up reading all of them. (By the way, the third one is called 'Shadow Princess')

I have always felt that writing a historical fiction can be very difficult, since you are dealing with historical characters and facts. You can fictionalize the interactions but you need to stick to the facts. The research required is also immense.

What drew me to this series is the love story of Jahangir and Nur Jahan. We have all heard enough about Shahjahan and Mumtaz Mahal, but little is known about Mumtaz’s more ambitious and powerful aunt Nur Jahan who defies convention and prevailing status of women in the society, to rule the empire alongside her husband Jahangir, of course, from behind the veil.

‘The Twentieth Wife’ begins at the time when Mehrunnisa was about to be born. Her parents and siblings were fleeing from Persia to India. She takes birth during the journey. From that moment, the penniless family’s fate turns and Mehrunnisa’s father Ghias Beg lands up with a job in Emperor Akbar’s court.

Mehrunnisa first encounters prince Salim (later known as Jahangir) when she is all of eight, when she accompanies her mother for the prince’s first marriage. Overawed by the glory of the palace, the freedom enjoyed by women of emperor’s harem, and captivated by the prince himself, Mehrunnisa decides that one day she too would marry prince Salim.

The book is about this unconventional and extraordinary woman, Mehrunnisa, but the book goes beyond her quest to become an empress. It offers glimpses of Mughal dynasty and conflicts around the throne. Encouraged by his cohorts, prince Salim revolts against his father Akbar to claim his rights on the throne. Ironically, he also finds his son Khusrau in contention for the throne.

Due to the turn of fate, Mehrunnisa is married to Ali Quli, a soldier, despite the fact that Salim wanted to marry her. The story has its cinematic twists, with Mehrunnisa and Jahangir separating for several years, and then reuniting after death of her first husband. On one hand, Jahangir is besotted with her; while on the other, Ali Quli though initially impressed by her beauty, never thinks much of her. Being a soldier, he is usually absent for several days.

It is also interesting to note that an emperor used to have hundreds of wives and thousands of concubines and slave girls in his harem. The marriages were usually for political and strategic reasons. Mughal emperors had also married Hindu princesses. The zanana harems were in itself a fascinating place of power play amongst the incumbents. The emperors would have several children and many times they would not even get to know or see their children for a long time. Their inter-personal relationships are quite apparent in the conflicts for the empire, where father-son would consider each other as rivals.

The book also has a passing reference of Salim and Anarkali affair. Anarkali was supposedly a slave girl.

In a society, and in times, when women were lost into ignominy in a male-dominated society, Mehrunnisa enters Jahangir’s harem at an age of 34 years as his 20th and last wife. This ambitious lady grows in power and influences Jahangir’s rule significantly. Though in her determination to fulfill her dreams, she often comes across as haughty, manipulative and extremely ambitious.

Historical love stories are always alluring, and Indu Sundaresan’s deft handling of this little known love story makes it a very interesting read. The author succeeds in recreating the essence of Mughal era through her vivid description of prevailing culture, ambience, customs, food, etc.  

The book is interesting and will appeal to anybody who loves a good historical fiction, or even just a good book!

(Image source:

Monday, April 18, 2011

Braking News by Sunetra Choudhury

Title: Braking News
Author: Sunetra Choudhury
Publisher: Hachette India
Pages: 310
Genre: Non Fiction / Politics / Travel
Rating: 10 out of 10

I first read a review of this book in Outlook. I had recently discovered the world of travel writing and was completely charmed by this genre. I wanted to explore books on India, and then I came across this book. The introduction was quite interesting – 1 Bus, 2 Girls, 15 Thousand Kilometres, 715 Million Votes!!!

‘Braking News’ is a first person account by NDTV’s Sunetra Choudhury of her experience while touring across States during General Elections in 2009 with fellow NDTV reporter Naghma Sahar, cameramen, drivers and an engineer. They were on the road for 2 months with a luxury bus called ‘NDTV Election Bus’ covering places like Dausa, Agra, Gwalior to Shivpuri in MP, Jhansi in UP, Udaipur, Nashik, Daman, Baramati, Goa, Jamshedpur, Bhubaneshwar, to name a few. Their task was to get the pulse of the voters before Elections and transmit a half an hour show live everyday.

First of all, I loved the cover. It sets the mood for the book, which itself is thoroughly entertaining but equally capable in throwing insights into the minds of the voters across regions. Writing is breezy, candid and witty. Though a work of non-fiction, the book is absolutely unputdownable. I finished it in one day.

I have always been in awe of reporters and I have always wondered about the unusual lives that they choose for themselves. In crisis situations, when everyone runs out, they have to go in and report for the benefit of the masses. Add to that the challenges of bringing news that is of importance and interest to common people, and add to that the task of looking at the news and issues in a way that they offer new perspectives to the readers / viewers.

Prior to this, I had read ‘Butter Chicken in Ludhiana’ by Pankaj Mishra. It was all about small towns in India, its people, their idiosyncrasies and their lives in general. When I read about ‘Braking News’, what piqued my interest was that here was a lady journalist on a bus for 2 months, expected to cover the interiors of India. We all know what kind of adventure or misadventure such a journey has the potential to become. Hats off to the journalists who make this happen.

Quite frankly, I have not enjoyed any book so much lately. Though the aim of the bus was to get the pulse of people in places which were going to Elections (in 2009) yet the book does not dwell too much into offering political insights or highlight grassroot issues. This book is more like a diary of a woman who takes on the challenge of planning such a journey, her experiences along the way (some good, some bad), how she raises to the occasion with her team and how they all make it happen. Of course, we get enough glimpses of the ground level issues of Indian voters.

What I really liked is that despite the fact that largely the issues across India remain common like electricity, water, better opportunities and development; yet Sunetra brings out unique observations and perspectives from all these locations and people who she meets. For e.g., we get to know about this dam which keeps getting inaugurated but hasn’t been completed in 34 years, there is a boy in Jharkhand who can speak in 6 Indian languages but what he really wants is to be able to speak in English, a village which has no electricity but they have found innovative ways of watching TV, 11 year old boy in a village who speaks English, a village which is just 10 kms from th city and yet several years away from development, and then there are queens, filmstars and politicians. Everything is woven beautifully and presented in a sharp yet entertaining way.

I will recommend it to everyone. Election, Voters, Politics are the buzz words here, but trust me, it is anything but a serious book. The author shares a charming account of her life-changing journey, more at a personal level, without marginalizing the issues that she highlights along the way.  

(Image source: Amazon)

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Rich Like Us by Nayantara Sahgal

Title: Rich Like Us
Author: Nayantara Sahgal
Publisher: Harper Collins
Pages: 301
Genre: Political fiction
Rating: 7 out of 10

Set in New Delhi, ‘Rich Like Us’ by Nayantara Sahgal traces the story of 2 women – Sonali & Rose – against the backdrop of Emergency. The story also travels into past, briefly touching upon several issues like social injustice, after-effects of Partition, practice of Sati, plight of lower classes, etc.

Rose, a British national, finds herself in an affair with an Indian businessman Ram, who she later finds out, is married and had a toddler son. Nevertheless, she decides to follow him to India; and spend the rest of her life as his second wife sharing the household with his first wife Mona. Along the way, she gets close to Mona and also wins over Ram’s father Lalaji. Mona and Ram’s son is Dev. When Ram suffers a stroke and lies comatose on his bed, Rose realizes she does not have much right on his property in the absence of a Will. Dev siphons out money from Rose and Ram’s joint account by forging Ram’s signature. She turns to Sonali for help.

Dev, on the other hand, has been much spoilt by both his parents while growing up. He and his wife Nishi live in the same house as Rose and Ram. He is not interested in furthering his father’s business, and engages himself in finding favors from the Prime Minister’s son. Through him, the story dwells into corruption and nepotism that was so rampant during Emergency. We also get glimpses of how people were piled up inside jail for no apparent reason during that black period of Indian democracy.

Sonali is a highly educated civil servant, who faces sudden transfer and fall in ranks as a result of political upheaval. Sonali, a pride of her father, also a civil servant, falls in love with her childhood friend Ravi Kachru, when both were studying at Oxford. But due to differences in opinion and beliefs, they decide to go their separate ways. Both go on to become civil servants, but Sonali finds Ravi moving up the ladder by supporting the kind of autocracy, he so despised.

Politics is the central running theme in this novel. Though worked around an interesting premise, the story does not match upto its promise (atleast for me). The narrative jumps from one character to another, and from past to present in a manner, which is far from smooth.
This book touches upon many issues – the lives of upper class during British rule, the accumulation of wealth, injustice to the poor, the sufferings of lower class during Partition, the role of women over the years, political situation, Indian family values, patriarchal society, the injustice meted out to people during Emergency, and so many others.

I picked up this book anticipating a story woven around the period of Emergency, which our generation has only heard about. Well, it does; but in its attempt to accommodate much wider and complex issues, it keeps losing pace, and it becomes a struggle to establish connect in the proceeding storyline.

It is not a bad book but it lacks a pull in the story that draws readers into the storyline, which I think is expected from any good fiction. But one may explore this book to get a glimpse of that era and what issues enveloped the society during that time. 

(Image source: Wikipedia)

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Deaf Heaven by Pinki Virani

Title: Deaf Heaven
Author: Pinki Virani
Publisher: Harper Collins
Pages: 283
Genre: Fiction
Rating: 4 out of 10

After reading such remarkable non-fiction work by Pinki Virani - ‘Aruna’s story’ and ‘Bitter Chocolate’, her first attempt at fiction looked promising. Usually a 280-page novel is not a big deal for me, but completing this book was particularly taxing.

‘Deaf Heaven’ is a typical roman a clef where in a novel describes real life and real life instances, behind the guise of fiction. The book acts like an unorganized and a poor compilation of numerous unrelated characters and myriad issues together.

Saraswati, a librarian with cleft lip, is the narrator of this bizarre story where completely unconnected characters are brought together through her. She is lying dead in a library and till the time her body is discovered, her spirit is free to move around and eavesdrop into the lives of people. I could not find any relevance of Saraswati’s character to the story. All the pages which go on to build this character seem as irrelevant as the rest of the book. There are too many characters, their conversations banal and their stories commonplace. The book is just an anthology of everyday facts, popular newspaper stories which we already know. There is no new wisdom.

I also had a problem with the language. It has too much of colloquialism, under the pretext of keeping the essence alive. This is exactly the reason why I steer clear of dime-a-dozen novels in the market written by just about anybody. It is beyond my comprehension why spoken language, even what I call sms language with short-forms like ‘princi’ for principal and ‘hols’ for holiday, has come to be accepted in mainstream writing and publishing. For me, a book is worth my time only if it makes a difference, to my thought process, to my vocabulary or atleast inspires introspection. Literature is worthwhile when it makes you fall in love with the language and its expression.

I struggled with the book throughout, failing to understand the objective of this book. It just keeps jumping from one issue to another without structure or relevance. So from bollywood’s scoop section to 26th July Mumbai floods, from Bhopal gas tragedy to tribal conversions for political mileage, from ecological disturbances to Mumbai train blasts; it has every particular contemporary issue of today, juxtaposed to make no sense at all. Sometimes, the narration just runs into pages like a never-ending essay, and that too largely is opinion rather than any story-telling.  

My words of caution: please do yourself a favour – avoid it. 

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Friday, April 1, 2011

My Sister's Keeper by Jodi Picoult

Title: My Sister’s Keeper
Author: Jodi Picoult
Publisher: Hachette India
Pages: 407
Genre: Fiction
Rating: 8 out of 10

I saw the movie first. I loved it. And therefore, I decided that I had to read the book because a little surfing informed me that the book is slightly different from the movie, and the fact remains that a book is almost always better than the movie. A book is a written word, open to interpretations by the reader, while a movie is essentially an interpretation.

I had no trouble soaking in this 400-pages book, it was pretty unputdownable. I finished it in 3 days. The chapters have been segregated in the perspective of individual characters. The book is about a family of five – Brian (father), Sara (mother), Jesse (the eldest son), Kate (the daughter) and Anna (the youngest daughter). Brian is a fire-fighter and an amateur astronomer while his wife, Sara is a homemaker and an ex-lawyer. Jesse is the first born of the family but surprisingly the life of this family revolves around Kate, the middle one, who is diagnosed with leukemia when she is two (while Jesse is four). The youngest one, Anna was conceived with the help of a geneticist to be a perfect match as a donor for Kate.

My Sister’s Keeper is a sensitive story about
·         Anna: Who always knew the reason why she was born and every now and then she finds herself wondering about how different her life had been if she had born into a normal family! Anna acts as a donor again and again for Kate, since the time she takes birth, like when Kate needs leukocytes or stem cells or bone marrow, till the time it is required for her to donate one of her kidneys to Kate. Anna finds herself in this neverending loop, which has clawed into her life so much that she does not see herself ever being able to disentangle and move on. Anna sues her parents for medical emancipation with the help of lawyer Campbell Alexander, for the rights to her own body. She does not want to live a half life, wherein she would have to give up hockey, may have pregnancy related complications and may never be able to leave Kate’s sides, in the wake of when the latter might need her for something.
·         Sara: Who, you would almost feel, that along the way forgets being a mother to Anna and Jesse, as much as she is to Kate. You would sometimes find yourself accusing her for compromising the lives of her other 2 children in her quest to keep Kate alive, no matter what. As she explains towards the end of the book, her only motive has been to keep the family intact, because she was not looking at choosing one of her daughters to live but for both of them. Sara is completely convinced that Anna may not be able to appreciate it at present, but she would when she grows older.  
·         Brian: Who is not as assertive as his wife. He does not take sides – he understands where his wife is coming from and also respects Anna’s decision to assert her rights on her body.
·         Jesse: Who is a lost case for the family. The saddest part is that though the parents are aware about him getting into trouble, they have completely given up on him. They don’t even seem to try to get him back. It sometimes feel weird that Sara is so sucked into her zest to save Kate that she completely forgets about her first born. Aren’t the first borns, a little more special, because one experiences the joys of parenthood for the first time? In this case, it does not seem to be the case. Jesse does not seem particularly close to either of his parents.
·         Kate: Who fights for her life from leukemia since the tender age of two. She has never known a normal childhood, joking about her death every once in a while. Now at the age of sixteen, she again finds herself accosted by death, wherein even if Anna donates one kidney to her, it does not mean that she would live.

It is a captivating story. As you move along, you would tend to judge Sara and also Anna, but eventually, for the family who is in the crisis, there are no right answers. They just do what they find the best because nobody is wrong. I did find the ending a little surprising but even I don’t know what other ending I was expecting or would have been justified.

The language is mesmerizing and effortless. There are numerous moments which are truly heart-rendering, and ultimately, it is a fascinating story and very well-written. 

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