The Lowland : Book Experience

Lowland was not the unputdownable book for me. I had to put it down, after few pages. To take a deep sigh and look into the blank. To rehearse the characters and conversations in mind. To feel a little more connected with them. To hold their virtual hands and talk like real people do.

 Ms. Lahiri sketched her 4 main characters at ease. She must have felt the same how God felt after creating the 4 primary colors to paint the universe. Each having a presence independent of other, but they bring out a different shade when blend with the other. Each shade had the freedom to stand out yet mingled. You left craving to experiment. Wonder how it would be to have more of Gauri to Udayan, less of Subash to Gauri, have broad strokes of Bela, leave bold outlines of Gauri.

 Like colors, you may like or dislike, though cannot judge. They stand far away from the rightness or wrongness. Ms. Lahiri herself summarizes her novel as “Two brothers bound by tragedy, A fiercely brilliant woman haunted by her past. A country torn by revolution. A love that lasts long past death.”

 Final Lowland cover.indd

The book is about two brother, their deeds, the consequences of the choice and the life thereafter. The woman Gauri, wife to both. The girl Bela, daughter to both.

 The book has all the extreme combinations. It has politics and history, Calcutta and Rhode Island, Naxalism and consumerism, dream and death. And the magic lies in the smooth transition between all these, sometimes with in a single paragraph.

 Ms. Lahiri explains situations like they are characters and let character unfolds themself as they are situation. Here a quick peek-a-boo :

 “She was used to the noise as she studied, as she slept; it was the ongoing accompaniment to her life, her thoughts, and the constant din more soothing that silence would have been.”

 .. or this,

 “Did you forget to shut it off? (While leaving) he asked her, as she turned down the radio’s volume.

I kept it on. I hate coming back to a quite house.”

 Lahiri’s language that add poise to every movement or her bold characters who push you to pull you or her objective take on the political movement that forms the impetus for every plot; there will be something to take care for every craving soul. You just have let yourself lost to find your own reason.

The Museum of Innocence : Book Experience

There are books which you are not sure of comprehending, let alone describing. It gives emotion in abundance, makes you restless, trickles your nerves and flirts with your senses. It takes you on a journey that writer took years to imagine and characters took a life to live. It might have germinated out of an idea or a concept, but by the time it took shape of a novel, it becomes guiding companion of yours.

Orhan Pamuk’s The Museum of Innocence is that book for me.

The bulky, voluminous book stayed in my handbag for a month, allowing me relish few pages during my journey from work to home. I loved holding it. I can sense its weight and in true sense of world, my hands were full.

TheMOI

It has everything to grip you tightly. Love, separation, anxiety and death. It has words that weave wisdom, sentences that keep wrinkle straight and pages that give pangs.

The book is an account of love between a wealthy businessman Kemal and a poorer distant relation Füsun during the period 1975 to 1984 in Istanbul. Kemal was in a stable relation, when Fusun entered with an intimacy into his life. The predictable relation got fade and the intimate relation became Kemal’s life.

Kemal loved, the way love is. Kemal lost, the way love is. He denied, his own love to himself. He lied, his physical encounter to his love. Finally, he surrendered, to love.

In all he taught how to love. He treasured the love, its moments and objects. The collection of objects were symbolic of his love, resulting in Museum of Innocence. He kept collecting the trivial objects that witnessed or were part of his love, to create the museum that will be collectible representation of his love saga.

The book itself is a meseum, of wit, wary and wisdom. After all, as Orhan himself said “Real museums are places where Time is transformed into Space.”. It did that with my time, every-time I picked it.

The Help – Book Experience

When a woman writes book on women, the streak of honesty prevails. Compassion followed and bitter-sweet truths are revealed. The Help is that book. It handles the sensitive issue of racism with a fine balance, supported conveniently by the fictional accounts. It talks of discrimination, audacity and indifference of white community towards the African-American maids. The story never get lost in the intellectual take of racism, rather it focuses on the grass root challenges supported strongly by nuanced portrait of individual characters.

What makes it even more interesting is the parallel narratives by three woman of heterogeneous background, profession and personality. Their unique perception of the overlapping sub plots gives reader the craving.

Kathryn Stockett authored The Help in 2009. The story revolves around African-American maids working in white households in Jackson, Mississippi, during the early 1960s. The story starts with everyday account of lives in Jackson. Stockett writes about the struggles the women face as they chafe against the written and unwritten rules that limit their lives. Honest account of emotions and nuanced characterizations helped avoiding the cliché.

Writer chose three characters Aibileen Clark, Minny Jackson, and Skeeter Phelan to tell these stories. These three woman are stranger yet acquainted at different levels. They belonged to different communities. Had diverse life style. Varied temperaments and unique challenges. Aibileen was a maid, lost her only son, sensible, pray every day, courageous and could write. Minny wore her temperament on her sleeves, friend with Aibileen, worked as maid, had lousy husband and bunch full kids. Skeeter had white skin, belonged to the upper class, friends with the ladies who hired Minny and Aibileen as help. A subtle twist backed with sensitivity of Skeeter and courage of Aibileen, brought all of them together. They started their hide outs to document their stories. Stories of racism, their everyday struggle, their guts to challenge the unwritten rules and obey the obvious.

As the novel comes to closure. They all became liberated in their own way. Their struggles finds the day light. They moved towards sunshine. They lost few battles, won few. Together, they all devised independent ways to be happy. Isn’t that life is all about?

The Krishna Key – Book Experience

Ashwin Sangi‘s The Krishna Key, again proved his deep inclination towards mythological fiction, this time it is far fetched to allow us to mistake it for obsession.

The Krishna Key is said to be inspired by the Mahabharata and is an attempt to provide a historical aspect to the mythological figure of Krishna by presenting him in a modern avtaar. The story begins with murder of Anil Varshney, who happened to had the answer to the greatest mystery of mythology and history , A four piece puzzle, the Krishna key. He left a part of the puzzle to his four closest aide. How a serial killer sets up a journey to figure all the pieces and how the search ends with the answer to Philosopher’s stone, makes up this fictional piece.

While Ashwin Sangi attempts to put a historical context to the mythological figure, he kept two parallel track throughout the novel. One is narration from Mahabharata and other where the characters kept their struggle alive to search the Philosopher’s stone.

The Krishna Key is visibly a child of extensive research and hard labor. It takes a deep dig into Mahabharata, Puraan, Shashtra, Veds and probably in-numerous research papers and other published materials. The vedic, mathematical and logical derivations often added the required high to the already fast paced thriller. The pace has been maintained throughout the book. So once you embark the journey to solve the Krishna key, you are rest assured of thrill and adventure.

The book is successful in wrapping you in mythological and historical era, but overdoes it. The author attempts to re-invent Krishna while using the pretext of Mahabharata narratives, makes the reading sloppy. There have been frequent instances of using same deductions. For instance, “Shiv and Vish are same side of two coins” has been told not less that four times. With repetitiveness, comes distraction.

Character weaving , story plotting and sub plot execution also lacks at many levels. Tarak Vakil – the framed Krishna’s avtaar of Kalyug, who actually is a serial killer is the most interesting character. Though as we approach the end, the character has been omitted as if it never existed. Priya is an interesting character and layered beautifully. Saini is that old professor who always need a student to flaunt his knowledge, his character lacked edge. Varshney’s other friends Dr. Bhojaraj, Kurkude and Chhedi has interesting shades but from a story treatment perspective, they are all being treated equally.

For a thriller of this magnitude, the end is expected to take the novel to a different level. While with the Krishna Key, Ashwin left us immensely disappointed, serving a very compromising end. That too the end has already been discussed few pages before the climax, within a subplot.

Small editing slippages like spelling mistakes can well pass through the scanner but over-inducing mythological inputs , sloppy characters and compromising end doesn’t go well with a best seller.

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The Taj Conspiracy : Book Experience

The Taj conspiracy – Manreet Sodhi Someshwar’s third book and first in the Mehrunisa Trilogy.
I had to pick it up, for it was from the same author who gave us a book we cherished as a family – The Long Walk Home.My father migrated from Bangladesh and my husband’s grand parents migrated from Pakistan. We are a blend of Bengali and Sindhi. We both grew up listening tales of partition, witnessing the losses our fore fathers incurred. Strange expressions our parents carried whenever partition was been talked about. It was a topic we never discussed much, but share as a commonality. The Long walk home gave us a reason to again speak about that. It was raw, honest and hence we all were connected to that.

With Taj Conspiracy, naturally I had my expectations. It was though traversing a different genre. It has all ingredients chosen smartly.
Taj, Mystery, Conspiracy, Mughal History, Communal Politics .. the combination of all that can rarely go wrong.

“The Taj Conspiracy” is a tale of young Mughal scholar Mehrunisa Khosa who discovers the murder of Taj supervisor and eventually stumbles on the conspiracy to destroy the Taj Mahal. What follows is a thrilling adventure questioning the history of Taj, traversing through Chattisgarh to Kashmir while involving key groups like Mujahiddin from Kashmir and right wing Hindu party in Agra.

We needed this book. As a nation. For someone to tell a tale with backdrop of the monument which we are proud of, but have every channelized knowledge about it. We know Taj what our text books taught us. We know the architecture what the tourist guide told us in our last summer vacation to Agra.
Manreet, did a splendid job while describing the architecture which we mostly were unaware of.

Though a work of fiction, “The Taj Conspiracy” highlighted many unknown aspects, un-traversed pages from history.. As Manreet herself says : “History, after all, was written by victors.. a re-write was long overdue.

The conspiracy been laid thoughtfully. Sub-plot were captivating in individuality and intriguing in totality. There are many sub plots. It helps to create interest, but half way through the book a impatient reader may feel lost. Thats a flip. Though by next half they started converging and you again get the flow to swim across the novel.

Characters have been placed like well thought out moves of chess. They appear when they are needed. Speak only as much they are required. Behave the way they make sense together with other characters for the novel to culminate the way it should.

Mehrunisa is every writer’s dream character. A mughal scholar, linguist, born to a Persian mother and Sikh father. She had all essential qualities for her to enter and explore the conspiracy that surrounds her. She is strong yet vulnerable. She has capability to move and sensibility to stop.
Professor Kaul is yet another charming character. Godfather to Mehrunisa. Their relationship has been dealt sensibly.
Manreet has used her characters to bring the subtle humor in mid of conspiracy, murder and mysteries. That sudden taste of mellow down humor tastes like a pickle in full course Indian meal. Remember when Professor Kaul jokes Mehrunisa that “Don’t eye me like that – someone might mistake it for love.
Some essentials characters are placed well in the premise. Like Hindutva revivalist party head Shri Kripalani, cop who has fought battles in Chattisgarh forest, SSP Raghav, ASI director Raj Bhushan, Pamposh. They help to add thrill and maintain pace.

This book is having universal feel to it, not reserving its language and extra detailing to cater NRI segment. The nuances of Urdu, Muslim heritage, Qur’an calligraphy, political turbulence, terrorist threat all portraying a vivid and crude picture of today’s India.

The Taj Conspiracy is a well thought out , methodically plotted and well documented novel. Its polished. Structured. You can sense the research and effort went into the creation. Its a labor of love.

The book left me with a strong urge to visit Taj all over again with a copy of “The Hunt For Kohinoor(Second in the trilogy)” as my travel mate. Amen!

From – "Of love and other demons"

Reading Gabriel García Márquez for me is close to hovering over a seven course Italian cuisine. Its exquisite, needs a manner to get through, takes time for one to develop a taste and once developed you crave for more. Quite like you first glass of wine.”One hundred years of solitude” was my Márquez’s first. I couldn’t traverse the whole of “Macondo” at first go. I needed break. I came back and enjoyed it even more. “Ursula” still comes in our conversation when me and him start listing our powerful women characters.

With “Love in the Time of Cholera”, I met Fermina. I often seek for her when I think of my old age. I disagreed with Márquez of his representation of love, but his narratives were compelling enough for me to enjoy a contra view much like we all enjoy our bad habits.

Márquez uses his character like an instrument. His characters symbolizes generation, invoke thoughts, share ideas. His novel has many protagonists, and every protagonists have many dreams. Dream symbolizes the era and history. His colors have meanings. Dreams have narratives. Every present have past.

Few days back I started flipping pages from “Of love and other demons” and surprisingly I enjoyed it even more than “Macondo’s tour or Fermina’s tale. For it having all of Márquez’s essentials and much more. Life’s philosophy been summarized in many one liners and spread across the pages.
This blog is to document and share some of them :

The more transparent the writing, the more visible the poetry.
Dominga de Adviento became a Catholic without renouncing her Yoruban beliefs, and she practiced both religions at the same time, and at random. Her soul was healthy and at peace, she said, because what she did not find in one faith was there in the other.
No Medicine cures what happiness can’t.
The sincerity of his poverty was evident at a first glance.
Ideas do not belong to anyone, he said. With his index finger he sketched a series of continuous circles in the air and concluded, ‘They fly around up there like the angles’.
Sometimes we attribute certain things we do not understand to the Demon, not thinking they may be things of God that we do not understand.
Sex is a talent, and I do not have it.
Disbelief is more resistant than faith because it is sustained by the senses.
Do not allow me to forget you.
One never quite stops believing, some doubt remains forever.
The human body is not made to endure all the years that one may live.
Lying was an attribute of the arts.
Age was the least pernicious of the differences.
God is great, even the animals feel it.
The Enemy makes better use of our intelligence than our errors.

and finally….

It is love, the most terrible demon of all.

Mafia Queens Of Mumbai – Book Experience

It is unusual for me to write about a book that too with a crime backdrop, primarily for two reasons..Firstly, I never had the time or luxury to express what I felt about a certain book.. if at all I manage to have sometime .. I generally pick another book from my long pending list.

Secondly, I’m a dream person.. I live in fiction. I’m an Alice in my own wonderland. I love talking about rain drops that stayed back from the last night’s rain. I imagine painting a house at the end of a rainbow. I love when life whispers in my ear while I’m busy with my chores.
Crime has never been my genre. Bloodshed, bombing, don , mafia , drugs.. I always try maintaining a safe distance from these words.

I can’t enjoy Sin City.
I like Tarantino’s work minus brutal scenes of Inglourious Basterds
If you ask me what is that red in color and runs in human body, I may reply you “communism”..The B word may not strike me.
Okay, I let you judge me.

“Mafia Queen” by S. Husain Zaidi(With Jane Borges) is one such book that helped me overcome both my excuses. As soon as i finished reading it, I had a strong urge to pen the strangled thoughts clogging my head. I didn’t want to pick any other book for sometime, so that I can enjoy the aftertaste this book had left in me.

With “Mafia Queen”, Zaidi sahab picked handful of Women Mafias and wove magical tales around their life. Though non-fictional in nature , this book is the ideal case of being stranger than fiction.

They were the women who lived the life on edges. They took feminism by their stride and ruled the dark world more like king than queen. Destiny landed them in filth but they fought the battle .. won some , lost many .. but all were still the winner, because they took charge of their life.

The saga of their life is disturbing and intriguing in equal measures.

The last time I was so deeply moved by any female character was “Laila”. The female protagonist in Khaled Hosseini’s “A thousand Splendid Suns”. The character etched so deeply in me that I almost decided to rename my daughter “Laila”.
With Mafia Queen.. I met 13 Lailas. All unique.

Foreword by Vishal Bharadwaj comes as a bonus.
“Crime is juicier than spirituality. Guns are more attractive than roses. And thus- at least to me- the stories about lives of gangsters are much more attractive than roses”, he says.

S. Hussain zaidi an acclaimed crime reporter, who made Vishal Bharadwaj change his newspaper every time he switches his job is unbiased yet every elaborate in his narrations. As he himself said , this book is not to glorify them(women Mafias). This book is an genuine attempt to understand the complex minds and the psyche of women criminal.

Gangs of Men are full of clones. Women are all unique. Same in life. Same in underworld.

Decoding Dawood gives you much insight how Chota Shakeel would probably think, but bootlegger Jenabai Daaruwali is remarkably disassociated with brothel Madam Gangubai Kathiawadi.

This uniqueness is what makes this book even more interesting. Each story is a puzzle unfolding in its own space.

This book is hard labor of extensive researches, interviews, document compilations, cop historians , reliable journalist and published news. The fictional touch to the narratives intrigues you through each stories. With journalism ethics of the author in place, he never sits on the judgement, but raises questions.

I cherished it so much, that I didn’t even mind reading line by line of 8 pages long acknowledgements. 🙂
I patiently heard Zaidi sahab thanking everyone.
“Thanks” I said to the author silently while I closed the last page.