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Wednesday, 28 December 2016

Colorful Notions - Book Review

Colorful notions is a road trip novel. Three friends, one girl and two boys go on a road trip. When so is the case, a love triangle is inevitable. Did I forget to mention that they are making a video of their trip as well. May be because the writer too forgets it most of the times. Soon a TV producer takes the project under its wings. Our trippers have their past too. Ab is distanced from his mother or has his mother distanced herself from him. The dying Nani has left him a sealed message. Then comes a Buddhist monk or lama who distributes pearls of wisdom to our troubled friends. Needless to say this drama set on roads has a happy ending where not only the lovers but also the mother-son are reunited.

The first three fourth of the book tries to step into too many territories and fails. You are confused as to what you are reading. Is it a travelogue? Is it a love story? Is it a family drama. The road trip takes us to Jim Corbett park, Ladakh, Wagah, Bhangarh, Goa, Hyderabad, Sunderbans. I guess the author hasn’t visited all of these places. The same is evident from his writing. It appears patched and borrowed.

In the final quarter the plot becomes clearer and hence interesting. It is here that all the drama unfolds. I liked the writer showing a whoring mother. This is something new and hence bold. It shows that even mothers are prone to commit mistakes sometimes. It is only for this character of an erring mother, I recommend reading Colorful Notions. 
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Friday, 23 December 2016

7 Secrets of Vishnu - Book Review

Devdutt Pattanaik tries to decode the Hindu mythology by offering plausible explanations. In the 7 Secrets of Vishnu he tells us that the stories of Vishnu rose to prominence after the rise of Buddhism.

The opening chapter tells us about the use of gender in Hindu philosophy to explain the metaphysical concepts of Hinduism. Here we meet the famous Mohini.

In the second chapter titled Matsya's Secret the author distinguishes between the difference between humans and the beast. It is only the humans who can empathise and it is only the humans who can exploit.

In the following chapters titled Kurma's Secret and Trivikrama's Secret, the author makes a startling revelation by stating that both the Devas and Asuras are unhappy. While Devas are gripped with insecurity, over-ambition is the cause of Asuras grief. Devdutt's books add to our knowledge. I came to know for the first time that the Devas and Asuras are born of the same fathers. That makes them step brothers. According to the author the word evil used to describe Asuras has no place in Hinduism. For in Hinduism the whole world is manifestation of the divine.

Ram and Krishna come in the fifth and sixth chapters. The future avtara Kalki is included in the final chapter.

The author says that he ancient texts are not embarrassed by sensual pleasures. They appreciate their value but also warn of the dangers of overindulgence. Speaking of Vishnu's consort he says Lakshmi is typically drawn towards places where Saraswati resides. That is why prosperity always follows peace. However when Lakshmi comes attention shifts from Saraswati to Lakshmi. Enraged Saraswati leaves.

By reading the book I came to know that the notorious demon Narakasura is Vishnu's son. Even Asuras obtain liberation using reverse devotion. In this method in hating God, one remembers God all the time and thereby earn God's affection. The author tells us how Krishna earned the epithet of Ran-chor-rai. Further he says that Krishna cannot hate anyone. His love makes room for the weakest, the cruelest, the most imperfect. This is Dharma.

The book contains beautiful pictures of various paintings, sculptures and even calendar arts. Some of them are captioned vaguely as a South Indian wall carving. I wish the location and the name of the temple had been mentioned. That would have made this otherwise good book even better.
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Tuesday, 20 December 2016

Heart of the Matter now into a book

Heart of the Matter now available on amazon

Happiness is all around you. You just need to open your eyes, and tune your mind to perceive it. This collection of short stories demonstrates how a random stranger, a grumpy boss and even a stray beggar can make you happy. One thing is assured, after reading these stories there will be a smile on your face, warmth in your heart and your will feel good 
Click here to read the book

Sunday, 18 December 2016

Knitted Tales - Book Review

Rubina Ramesh’s debut book is a collection of short stories. Secret in the closet is about reincarnation of the servant girl Chunni who accidentally dies only to be reborn as the daughter of the woman who had killed her. This story is has a dramatic end, in which the woman is found dead exactly in the same circumstances as the girl did. I liked the end but the doctor directly suggesting past life regression in the first meeting itself does not sound credible.

Betrayal is a story from the dead man’s point of view. This story is about how a wife kills her abusive husband and tragically joins him in his death too. I liked the narrative from the dead man’s point of view. I also liked the end.

Chicklets is about racism and inherent good nature of humans, including the children. Set in the US, this story is realistic. I could identify with the girl who doesn’t fit in a given culture and ironically how her differentness turns to be an asset to forge a new friendship.

Lolita again focuses upon the dark secrets behind the glamour world. 

Rubina deals with incestuous relationships in No Regrets. This is a bold story which daringly ventures into an unforgotten romance between cousins.

SuvarnaRekha deals withhonour killing. The little Godmother is about sibling rivarly and how the older sibling has a change of heart. Though the subject is interesting, the opening where Arunee hurls unladylike curses creates confusion. At this point of time she is unaware of the new member in her family. She doesn’t even know that her mother is pregnant. It would have been better if this change in behaviour was reflected post the second child’s birth.

The Missing Staircase is about how a granddaughter meets her dead grandfather on her own death. The Other Woman is about a female activist who helps the wives who have been deserted by their husbands for another woman. In reality she herself is the other woman in someone’s husband’s life. Daddy Hear Me Out articulates the emotions of a young girl who is compelled to study a course which she doesn’t like. Cliff notes is a nice story. The narrator here is the Himalaya. I liked this story for the voice which the author uses.

Though death, afterlife is  a predominant theme of this collection, the author deals with a number of other sensitive topics as well. I give her full marks for the variety of topics she weaves her story around. I also liked the way she experiments with her style of narration. Yes, at places the narrative does sound insipid and amateurish, but read this book to understand how the same story can be told from different perspectives. It will be a learning experience. 

Heart of the Matter now available on amazon 

Friday, 9 December 2016

The Flaky Mummy - Book review

I have a new born at my house. That was the reason why I picked up Madhuri Banerjee and Rohini Tiwari’s The Flaky Mummy – A quirky guide to surviving motherhood. As I read the book with all the dedication, devotion and sincerity, I thanked all the Gods in the heavens for I did not lay my hands on this book during pregnancy. Otherwise the newborn would have been still born or would have suffered from chronic lunacy. Such are the tips in this book meant to be a guide for surviving motherhood.

Having said that let me tell you I haven’t read anything as humorous as this book in my life. This book gave me a good belly laughter on almost every page that I turned.

This book offers funny and obviously insane tips on child rearing. There are five case studies in hand. A Punjabi mother who comes with all the craziness and colourfulness that surround a Punjabi family in the media, whether print or electronic. A tiger mother who wants to be the perfect mother. No wonder she plans her conception according to the Chinese calendar. A fad loving disaster mother who wants to try all the child raising strategies and whose quest for knowledge is unquenchable. An American mother returned to India, a page three socialite who marries a small time prince and manipulates everything in her life including her pregnancy to fit into the ideal pictures in the newspapers and in the words of the authors a menopausal woman hitting jackpot with her last egg, add to the madness that pervades throughout this book. Read the following lines from this insane journal of motherhood.

A fact that most diaper-using parents miss out is that as soon as the baby has had a bath and worn fresh clothes, she will soil herself once again. As I carry Priya, every time she relieves herself, I too, am relieved of the clothes I am wearing. Within a day I am ready to exchange all my wedding jewellery for a large packet of Pampers, all without the blink of an eye.

The nanny says, “ Now if you have one child, I can work for you. But two children! Are baba! Itna kaam! I am no Durga! Two hands can only hold one child. If you somehow had only one, then I would’ve work for you.”

She was the quintessential domestic maid who came with the whole baggage of alcoholic husband, three school-going children and various other problems.

At my last count, each of the three maids- including Meenu three who was not yet married – must have, between them, lost some twenty-two aunts and eight sets of parents-in-law. As for the two Chottus, they managed to produce six children between them, in about three years, without visiting their wives in the villages.

The author duo creates a number of caricatures including the protagonists in each of the chapters. Interestingly they stretch real life traits to the optimum and hence their humour appealed to me. This is a book not to be missed. This is undoubtedly one of the best books that I have ever read. I would love to read the next one in the series, if the authors plan to have one no matter - planned or accidental.

Thursday, 8 December 2016

The Peshwa - Book Review

My first impression of Ram Sivasankaran’s the Peshwa was that this book attempts to cash on the popularity of the film Bajirao-Mastani. I thought this was a film made into a book. But thankfully the book proved my preconceived notions wrong. This book is about Bajirao and not about Mastani.

This book traces the journey of Bajirao to the seat of Peshwa. When the novel opens we meet a young Bajirao who accompanies his aging father on his expeditions. His father’s ill-health makes Bajirao a chief contender to be the next Peshwa. But Peshwa’s post was never hereditary. This leads to a power struggle between Bajirao and Sardar Dabhade. Eventually it is Bajirao who becomes the Peshwa.

If Bajirao is the protagonist of this book, then Nizam-ul-mulk is its antagonist. This book is as much about the Nizam as it about Bajirao.

The author does a wonderful job in articulating the dynamics of human relationships. Be it power struggle between Bajirao and Dabhade or Nizam’s relationship with his adopted son, he gets it right. He brings human greed, ambitions, insecurities to the fore. The sect of Scorpions adds intrigue to this fast paced narrative. He does reasonable justice to Bajirao’s wife Kashi as well. The parallel tracks of Dabhade-Bajirao, Bajirao-Kashi, Nizam-Syed-Emperor and Nizam-Rahim make this novel multi-layered, colourful and damn interesting.

What I disliked about the book is that ends abruptly with Mastani’s entry. Perhaps the writer makes way for the next part in the series. However he should have made it explicit.

While the writer gets Maharashtrian Brahmin culture correct at some places, at some places he goes terribly wrong. Maharashtrians do not come dressed in all white for funeral. The same goes true with the names Kashmira and Jamnaben. Kashibai combs her hair in the midnight. Maharashtrian women look down upon combing the hair in the evening or night. For it is only the streetwalkers who get dressed up at those hours. The writer also depicts Maharashtrian wedding incorrectly. I wish he had researched a little more about these aspects.

Yet, I liked the Peshwa. If you are a lover of historical fiction, you will like it too.

Wednesday, 7 December 2016

7 Secrets of Shiva - Book Review

The first chapter of Devdutt Pattanaik’s 7 Secrets of Shiva focuses on the meaning of the Shiva-linga, a meaning which is deeper than the titillation offered by a phallic symbol. The author says that the Western preference for form over thought stems from their cultural preference over the subjective. Hindus, on the other hand, are very comfortable with the subjective, hence can easily overlook form and focus on thought. The second chapter looks on Shiva’s violent contempt of territorial behaviour amongst humans. The third and fourth chapters of the book look at how the Goddess gets Shiva to engage with the world out of compassion. The next two chapters deal with Shiva’s two sons Ganesha and Murugan, through whom he connects with the world. Shiva is the only God who is worshipped along with his entire family viz. wife and children. The final chapter revolves around Shiva’s role as a wise teacher who expresses wisdom through his dance.

The author says when the perception is incomplete and inaccurate, God is not worshipped as in the case of Brahma. When perception is complete and accurate, God is worshipped as in the case of Shiva and Vishnu. He further says that Shiva is a God who breaks free from all forms, having found all of them limited, hence he is the destroyer who is worshipped as linga.

According to the author, Dutta is the gentler form of Bhairava. Speaking of Yagna he says that it is all about controlling the wild nature and domesticating it so that it comes under human control, becomes manageable, predictable and hence less frightening. He say the rice balls offered during funeral ceremony represent the human body because ultimately food forms the building block of the flesh. I liked this logic offered by the author.

He says if Lakshmi brings wealth, then Sarawati brings peace. Only Ganesha is able to bring them together. He removes the obstacles to wisdom. He narrates the various versions of how Ganesha got his elephant head. But I have one query, why didn’t the all powerful Shiva not fix the boy’s head back on his body. Why did he require the head of another animal? Unfortunately this query is not answered in the book.

Yet with its simple narrative, interesting anecdotes, 7 Secrets of Shiva is worth reading.

Monday, 5 December 2016

7 Secrets of the Goddess

Hindu mythology is an esoteric secret. Devdutt Pattanaik is one of those persons who has tried to interpret the underlaying meanings behind Hindu mythology and of course the Gods and Goddesses therein. Reading his books is sheer delight and 7 Secrets of the Goddess is no exception to it.

In the opening chapter Gaia’s Secret the author narrates how female form have been reverred through all times and cultures, chiefly because of her ability to give birth to a new life. He says that earlier virgin woman, meant a woman who was ready to bear a child. Every woman then was a virgin between the menstruations at the time of ovulation. This virginity is restored after childbirth. He then tells us how the sense of ownership and the dominance of the males degraded the status of the women and gave them a secondary status in the society.

Kali is undoubtedly most interesting and most scary form of the Hindu Goddesses. The author makes a very bold and perhaps far stretched conclusion that Radha has all the characteristics of Kali not in form but in thought. He refers to the unabashed love of the married Radha towards Krishna. Speaking of Kali, he further says that it is the Kali-side of Draupadi that makes her take the vow that she will wash her hair with the blood of the men who abused her. In fact, in these traditions, the story goes that Vishnu takes his various avatars such as Parshuram, Ram and Krishna only to satisfy the bloodlust of Kali, who wants to drink the blood of men who treat her with disrespect.

According to the author the head is the home of the Saraswati and perhaps that is the reason why Hindus paint their forehead with sacred marks. A dot, or the bindu, in the centre of the forehead is an indicator of human potential.

Speaking of Laxmi he says she is the daughter of Puloman, who rules the land below the earth and does not release Laxmi easily. Humanity has to invent complex agricultural and mining processes to procure wealth from the earth. Laxmi is attracted to men of actions that demonstrate strength and smartness. If you display strength and shrewdness, she will come to you. If you fail to do that, she will not stay with you for long.

The author adds to our knowledge by sharing with us that in the yagna-way there is no clear concept of God. There are only gods or devas. In the puja way gods/devas are replaced by God/Mahadeva, the tone is more emotional than technical.

There are interesting tales of Gauri, Durga, the more benign form of Kali and Vithhai in the book. In the latter case he elaborates the Purusha and Prakriti, and the traditions of seeing the female form in the male form.

This book is damn interesting. You will not put it down until you have reached the last page. All of us are accustomed to the authors illustrations. But over a period of time they had become repetitive. In this book we have rare pictures on every page on the left. The captions associated with them are prosaic. Better particulars of those images would have definitely helped an inquisitive reader to quench his thirst for knowledge.

Saturday, 3 December 2016

My father is a hero

My father is a Hero by Nishant Kaushik is about a single father Vaibhav and his daughter Nisha. Nisha is in her school. On one of her birthdays she discovers that she was an unwanted child for her mother and that was the reason why she deserted her father. Since that day Nisha remains withdrawn. It affects her performance at school too. She is a great fan of a pop star called Rihana. Finally after many dramatic incidents she meets her icon and the novel ends.

A single father and his daughter’s relationship was an interesting premise. Unfortunately the plot falls flat. Thanks to the equally flat characters which have no skin, flesh and voice of their own. The novel consumes too much time in Vaibhav’s love-hate relationship with his boss. Sub-characters like Nisha’s teacher who has hots for Vaibhav distract the novel.

But the novel shines towards the end, especially when the father-daughter duo goes to Australia to meet Rihana. Here the novel gathers the much needed pace and linearity. The tension, the disappointments come out very well in this part, which forms only the last few pages of the book. I liked the line, ‘He always knew he would never be able to show her the world. But he did hope he could make those three days mean the world to her.’

The author commits mistakes like describing Vaibhav Kulkarni wearing a veil of flowers in his marriage. Maharashtrian weddings do not have this custom. Such mistakes, though minor, make the story unreal.

So read this book at your own risk

Friday, 2 December 2016

The Laughing Skull - Book Review

Hill stations are all about the soothing weather, susurrating woods, singing birds, lonely houses standing near the cliffs and ghosts residing in it. No wonders paranormal finds a mention in India’s most celebrated writer of the hills Ruskin Bond. The Laughing Skull claims to contain stories of ghosts and spirits, prets and jinns. But let me warn you these are no ghost stories the way we are conditioned to perceive. These are typical Ruskin Bond stories in which the ghost is just an another character.

The opening story the Laughing Skull is about the author’s love and hate relationship with a skull which his medical student nephew brings along with him. Susanna’s Seven Husbands made famous by Vishal Bharadwaj in Saat Khoon Maaf also is a part of this collection. The only ghost here is Susanna, who is seen driving into her buggy many years after her death. This ghost of course is just a passing reference and is not an integral part of her story.

The Overcoat and On Fairy Hill are about the seductive encounters of the author with beautiful young nymphs. Bhoot Aunty which is an extract from Mr. Oliver’s diary comes here too. This story reminds me of O Henry’s writings. A Face in the Dark which has been published in earlier collections of Mr. Bond is a part of this collection too. The Chakrata Cat is about a cat with a human head. From the Primaeval Past is the story of a man-eater lake. Some Hill Stations Ghosts is a random collection of ghosts of various hills.

Pret in the House which is the author’s favourite story is my favourite too. This story is about a ghost which decides to move to a new house along with the family. A Traveller’s Tale is again about a colonial ghost, who is an obedient servant. A Dreadful Gurgle is set amidst the dormitory of brats. He Who Rides Tiger is about a Muslim fakir named Mobrah Gazi.

The Wind on the Haunted Hill is about three children who mistake each other to be the infamous ghosts. He said it with Arsenic is about the author’s uncle Jones, a male nurse who uses his access to medicines to kill his and his paramour’s spouse, and in the old age decides to use the dose on the author. A job well done, with no ghosts, no spirits, is about how the author’s step father was buried alive into a well. In a Face Under the Pillow the author tells us why he carries his own pillow wherever he goes. A Demon For Work is the story which is part of the folklore. It is about the demon who cannot sit idle. The Happy Herdsman and the Tiger King’s Gift are fairy tales and not a ghost stories for sure. The Wicked Guru too has no any trace of any paranormal element. The Ghost and the Idiot is about a ghost which is terrified of the idiot's belligerent wife.

Eyes of the Cat is a story about a poor girl who is insulted by her teacher. Ruskin Bond builds the intrigue very well in this story and we are left with enough material to surmise that it is the girl who turns into leopard in the night. The White Pigeon is a story about promises kept after the death.

Ruskin Bond is ever green. He entertains through his stories which are of course not scary. But the book is ridden with punctuation errors. I wish these were avoided.