Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Review: Lost and Found

Lost and Found by CP Surendran is a kind of a book that can actually turn out to be bollywood blockbuster. It has all the right ingredients to make it an out and out masala movie. A struggling actor, a terrorist from Pakistan who is in Bombay to create havoc, a whacky lady out to seek revenge from a man who she believes raped her sixteen years back and the man himself meet one fateful night and what is revealed is something that no one is prepared for!

The story begins with Lakshmi who after a drunken night kidnaps Placid Hari, a journalist, who she believes is the man who raped her sixteen years back.  The morning after things start going awry as events unfold they find themselves taken hostage in a terrorist siege of Bombay. Along with them is a teenage fledgling actor Nirmal. The terrorist, Salim, who is trained in Pakistan to create havoc in the city, is prepared to kill and die for the cause he believes in.  What he is not prepared for is the story that unfolds and how the hostages are connected to him. He is deprived of the cause he came to lay down his life for. Nothing is what it seems not just for Salim but all the people involved in the hostage drama.   

 It does end up being a little confused when some characters are briefly brought into the plot.  At times during the story the sarcasm seemed a bit forced. 

The book is funny in parts, witty and sarcastic throughout.  Over the top characters, full on drama makes it interesting.

A good read.

About the Author:

C.P.Surendran is a poet and a novelist. His poetry collections include Gemini II, Posthumous Poems, Canaries on the Moon, and Portraits of the Space We Occupy. He is also the author of the novel, An Iron Harvest.

Surendran is a journalist and columnist as well. His popular columns include ‘Low Life’, ‘Bitch’, ‘Cat Scan’ and ‘Brief Grief’. Currently, he is a senior editor with The Times of India and is based in Delhi.

Review: Adrenaline

Adrenaline by Jeff Abbott is one of the most gripping and interesting thriller in recent times. It is a fast paced story; if you are a fan of Robert Ludlum you must definitely read this book. The story reminds one of vintage Ludlum books like The Bourne Identity while reading this. An espionage story well told.

The story is about Sam Capra who is a CIA operative in London. He is living the life of his dreams. He is an American living in London; he has a perfect flat, a perfect job and a perfect wife Lucy who is seven months pregnant with his first child.

But one sunny day, it all comes crashing down. Sam receives a call from his wife, who is also with the CIA, while he is at work. She asks him to leave the building immediately, which he does- just before it explodes, killing all those who were inside. Lucy vanishes after that call and Sam finds himself in a prison cell. Sam is now under suspicion of being a part of the blow up conspiracy and an enemy agent.

It is Sam’s fight to find out the perpetrators of this crime and to prove that he is innocent. It is also a race to find his wife Lucy and his child who he has not seen yet. The book will keep you hooked to the very end. A kind of a book which you have to read from start to finish in one go thanks to all its exciting twists and turns.

Immensely readable book by the bestselling author of Panic.

About the Author:

Jeff Abbott is the internationally bestselling author of eleven novels, which are published in twenty languages. He is a three-time nominee for the Edgar Award. He lives in Austin with his wife.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Review: The Very Thought of you

“Of all the people we meet in a lifetime, it is strange that so many of us find ourselves in thrall to one particular person.Once that face is seen ,an involuntary heartache sets in for which there is no cure.All the wonder of this world finds shape in that one person and thereafter there is no reprieve ,because this kind of love does not end,or not until death.

For the lucky ones,this love is reciprocated. But for so many others everywhere,anywhere,there follows an unending ache of longing without relief.Incurable love is a great leveler.Yet I believe that this bittersweet love is better by far than the despair which blights those with a dead heart.”

If you loved reading these lines, you’ll love Rosie Alison’s book, The very thought of you. I picked up this book from the library when I spotted a list of accolades and awards the books have been considered for. It’s been shortlisted for Amazon Rising Star award 2009, Long listed for RNA Romantic novel of the year 2010 and Le prince Maurice prize and for Literary short stories 2010.

It is 1939 and the world is at the brink of a war. Thousands of children are being evacuated from London to protect them from the bombings that everyone anticipates,with Hitler gaining momentum.Anna sands is an eight year old girl, who is displaced and is sent off to a school for evacuees along with 80 others to a large Yorkshire estate called Ashton Park.There she meets Mr Ashton, the owner of the estate,a cripple who teaches them Latin ; Elizabeth Ashton, a beautiful ice queen; Ruth Weir ,the plain-Jane teacher who has a lovely way with children among many others. Ashton park,a rambling house with gardens and sculptures and it’s secret nooks act as a brilliant tapestry for the undercurrents that run in the household. Anna is a quiet, introspective child,who prefers keeping her own company rather than playing with the other children.

The Ashtons are a childless couple and both pine for a child of their own. Their marriage is on the rocks with both of them having receded into their private shells. They really need a baby to revive the marriage.Elizabeth gets anxious and lives a bohemian double life which nobody knows about. It is her way of escaping her soul- less, passionless existence. Then there is Roberta, Anna’s mother who lives alone in London .With Anne away at Ashton park and her husband away in Egypt in the army, Roberta feels the need for male company and starts seeing a man. Meanwhile at Ashton park, romance is on the cards for Elizabeth as a new guest enters the household.

Suddenly, Anna becomes a witness to things a girl her age shouldn’t witness and in a strange way gets drawn to Thomas and her teacher, Ruth. Will Elizabeth fall in love again? Will she leave Thomas? Will Anna go back to her mother? Will Thomas find love of his own ? Well, for answers to these questions,you need to read the book.

What could have been a wonderful, flowing narrative from the word go, sags because of a lot of flashbacks The book is an essay in melancholy and flows slowly letting us delve more into every character. The 3rd person POV doesn’t work for this book and after a point gets choppy and repetitive as you have all the main characters talking about their loneliness and inadequacies.

However, the language is beautiful and serenades you, making you fall in love with it. With the war on, the need for comfort in another human being is so heightened that morality and the question of being right or wrong becomes secondary to the guiding emotion itself. The book makes you realize this at every juncture. A wife is not just a wife, but a woman with hot-blooded passions.A cripple is not just a cripple,but a wounded man who is grappling with questions about his self-worth.

Overall, a lilting book that left its haunting mark on me, despite some minor complaints.

3.5/5 for this lovely, brooding tale.

(This book has been reviewed by Bedazzled. She lives in Chennai with her husband,loves to travel and read. After spending many years in cubicles getting cross eyed, she took to writing. She blogs at )

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Review: By the Water Cooler

Recently got a chance to read an immensely enjoyable book , Parul Sharma's By the Water Cooler. Any management student or corporate types (slave/slave driver/ wannabe/guru/czar or whatever) will identify with the characters and laugh out loud while reading this book. By the Water cooler is a hilarious mix of office tales, management fundamentals, and workplace politics. Mini and her friends will be hard to forget long after the book is over.

The book is the story of Mini and Tanya who are the typical best friends forever who have studied together and are now working together. Both of them are restless and discontent with their jobs in an advertising agency, they soon quit their jobs and join JR Enterprises. They both have stars in their eyes and dreams of making it big in their new corporate career but their dreams are short lived. As soon as they join the company they realize things are not as easy as they looked. Right from the HR Manager who hired them gets fired on the first day of their joining to having a CEO who is a megalomaniac to the madhouse which is also known their office. The book will keep you laughing with Mini and Tanya’s tales.

The book is a crazy, whacky, and full on fun ride complete with office deadlines, dirty office politics and eccentric characters. Some of their types you would have encountered in your work place for sure.

This is Parul Sharma’s second book. Her first book was a hilarious account of a first time mother’s desperate attempt to be a super mum. Many would say her first was the book version of her popular mummy blog but with her second book she has convincingly proved herself to be a fine humour writer.

If you haven’t read the book yet go read it now believe me you won’t regret it!

Monday, December 6, 2010

The Book Lovers Book Club Meet

The Book Lovers Book Club December meeting details are as follows:

Date: 19th December
Time: 2.30 pm
Venue: Prithvi Cafe, Prithvi Theatre, Janki Kutir, Juhu,Mumbai-49
To attend and to join the group contact us at : bookwelove (at) gmail (dot) com 
Book discussion of the month : Ben Mezrich's The Accidental Billionaires

Book Summary: 
Eduardo Saverin and Mark Zuckerberg an awkward maths prodigy and a painfully shy computer genius were never going to fit in at elite, polished Harvard. Yet that all changed when master-hacker Mark crashed the university s entire computer system by creating a rateable database of female students. Narrowly escaping expulsion, the two misfits refocused the site into something less controversial The Facebook and watched as it spread like a wildfire across campuses around the country, along with their popularity.nnYet amidst the dizzying levels of cash and glamour, as silicon valley, venture capitalists and reams of girls beckoned, the first cracks in their friendship started to appear, and what began as a simple argument spiralled into an out-and-out war. The great irony is that Facebook succeeded by bringing people together but its very success tore two best friends apart.

About the Author

Ben Mezrich, a Harvard graduate, has published ten books, including the New York Times bestseller Bringing Down the House. He is a columnist for Boston Common and a contributor to Flush magazine.Ben lives in Boston with his wife, Tonya.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Review: City of Thieves

Cyrus Moore’s book ‘The City of Thieves’ shows the murky insider dealings of price fixing and how the big broking houses fix share prices for their own and their clients gain. The lengths that these broking houses can go to, to achieve their goals makes this book worth a read.

The story, set in London, is about Nic Lamparelli a journalist who is hired as a research analyst for a telecom practice. Nic soon becomes a sharp and insightful analyst whose views and analysis of companies can move the share prices of the companies. He rises through the ranks to reach the pinnacle of his profession, and soon he has a high flying career in the city, with a reputation as one of the bank’s star analysts. But things change for him soon enough when Nic is pressurized to raise his call on a particular share which his bosses are fixing with their clients to make a killing on the insider prices. Nic refuses to play along and soon whatever Nic has managed to build starts to crumble right in front of his eyes. But in the face of everything can he hold true to his principles?

A very interesting and novel concept which shows the Armani suited villains of the financial markets in their true light. The villains may not be larger than life like Gordon Gekko but stay true to his mantra of ‘Greed is good’

A controversial page-turning thriller set in the days leading up to the credit crunch, City of Thieves is the novel that lifts the lid on city life.

Good and fast paced read.

About the Author:

Cyrus Moore is the writing name for Cyrus Mewawalla, a leading City analyst. After twenty years’ experience in the City, Cyrus left corporate banking to set up independently. In 2006 Bloomberg ranked him the number one telecom analyst in the UK. He lives in London with his wife and two children.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Review: After Dark

I picked up After Dark after I finished The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle which was a truly intoxicating read. It took a few days for the after-effects of The Wind-Up Bird to wear off. While Wind-Up Bird came out in the 90s, After Dark is the most recent novel by Japanese author Haruki Murakami. Unlike The Wind-Up Bird which was a thick volume, After Dark is a slim one almost like a novella. The book is an easy and lucid read translated into English form the original Japanese. The language is poetic, the story is told in third person and the events happen in real-time. Each chapter displays the time elapsed since the story began (It reminds one of the popular TV series 24.) The third-person viewpoint might feel detached and indifferent but the characters are not and more than make up for it. As the title suggests, the story begins at night and ends when darkness slowly gives way to the break of the dawn.

Mari Asai is a 20-year-old girl and is sitting in a coffee shop, whiling away her time in downtown Tokyo, all by herself, trying to concentrate on a book. It’s close to midnight and she should be home but she doesn’t feel like going home for no particular reason. A young man named Takahashi comes in after a while and introduces himself to Mari. After little initial hiccups, the two get on talking. Meanwhile, Mari’s sister Eri Asai is lying asleep in a room, the location of the room unknown. Her sleep is abnormally deep and frighteningly perfect. We can’t tell if she’s alive if not for her pulse. We don’t know for how long she’s been sleeping and when she would wake up, if she would at all. As darkness takes the city in its grip, routine normalcy of the day gives way to the eerie and the ominous of the night. After Mari and Takahashi make some talk, Takahashi takes leave and Mari is again all by herself till she is called by a nearby hotel owner – a retired female wrestler – to help her out with a Chinese girl who’s been attacked by a stranger and who doesn’t know Japanese. There’s a third storyline involving seemingly the stranger who attacked the Chinese girl. His world is equally bizarre and he seems to be an embodiment of evil. The three different stories run parallel and converge in the end at the break of the dawn.

It feels strange thinking of the contrast between the night and the day, between the dark and the light; not just the absolute difference but also the foreboding, the ominous, the apprehension, the uncertainties they entail. Outside and inside of our psyche. The story tells of the modern-age decay, the alienation, the melancholy of loss, the evil and the bizarre. The ending is vague and it feels like the story was left in halfway but it’s a Murakami book and he never gives you the conclusion. May be there isn’t one or may be he wants to you to find it out by yourself. If you’ve read Murakami before or if you like the bizarre and the strange and can take in the surrealism, then this is a book for you. Others can read this for the lucidity of the language and some wonderful lines.

About the author:

Haruki Murakami is a popular Japanese writer. His books have been translated into more than 20 languages. His most famous works are The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, Kafka On the Shore, Norwegian Wood among others. His fascination with surrealism and looking for the ominous and unsettling in the seemingly mundane events is thrilling. His most recent work IQ84 would come out in English in 2011

(This book is reviewed by Ajay Kumar. Ajay, is pursuing engineering and is in the fourth year at IIT, Kharagpur .He blogs at

Monday, November 22, 2010

Review: The Delhi Walla series

Delhi, the capital of world’s largest democracy, is perceived differently by different people. You can hate it, love it but you cannot ignore it! The city has been the hot seat right from the times of the epic Mahabharat, legend has it that Indraprastha, the capital of Pandavas, was situated in the current metropolis.  Historically there have been seven cities of Delhi starting from Rai Pithora, capital of the Chauhan dynasty of Prithviraj Chauhan fame right up to the British and Independent India’s capital of Lutyens New Delhi.

This historical journey makes Delhi, the city, a rich mix of monuments, culture and cuisines.  Mayank Austen Soofi who blogs at, through his books in the Delhi walla series, takes the reader on an exciting journey of the capital city.

Mayank Austen Soofi’s books are a definite guide not just for visitors, tourists in the city but also for the residents of Delhi. His books bring out the known as well as the lesser known places in Delhi. If on one hand in his book  on Monuments you have the well known Lotus Temple on the other you could get to know more about Razia Sultan’s tomb, if you have the better known Qutub Minar you also have the lesser known Agrasen Baoli.

The Delhi walla book on various hangouts of Delhi is also works as a perfect guide to make the most out of the city. So if it is shopping you are looking to do in Delhi the Delhi walla will take you to the best shopping destinations in the city. In his hangout guide he also covers some interesting places like the Daryaganj book houses, Sufi spaces and Gay hangouts.

In his third book about food and drinks he takes the reader through the best eating places of Delhi. Which is the best place in Delhi that serves you Raj Kachori or Aloo tikki? Or if you are in Old Delhi which is the best food option you can choose from? This book will guide you through it all! If it is Gobi Manchurian you are craving for or steamed momos or the paranthe waali galli of Chandni Chowk he has it all covered in the book with his interesting views about each place!

The Delhiwallah books seem to be a work of passion and on reading which you can easily say that the author knows the city in and out.

Interesting and informative guides for anyone who wants to know the city better from a writer who knows the city best!

About the Author:

Mayank Austen Soofi is a writer, photographer and passionate bibliophile who spends his time in the city’s by-lanes and bookshops. Since 2007 he has written a blog called The Delhi Walla, in which he documents the minutiae of the city he loves. The books bring together the best of his writings and photographs, for the reader to get to know the city better.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Review: I Can See You

Karen Rose’s book I Can See You brings to the reader an intense and different plot. I have read many books in the popular fiction recently but this one is a definite page turner.

Eve Wilson as a young girl was raped and beaten by her friend’s father. Though the man is caught and imprisoned it leaves her badly scarred. To get over her trauma Eve moves to another city and tries to build her life anew. She pursues a course in psychology where she is involved in developing an online game which provides the player a secret identity and can have a social alternate life. Eve who has fully recovered from her past trauma with the help of the virtual world is trying to help others to kick-start their own recovery by using the virtual world.

But soon things start going horribly wrong when women users who have shared their fears, their dreams and vulnerabilities in this virtual world are getting killed one by one by an online predator. With Eve herself now a target it is a race against time to find a killer who can disappear with the strike of a key.

Detective Noah Webster who is investigating these murders along with Eve put in their all and very best to find this new age predator.

The book is a good read and has a nice, intriguing concept. A differently written serial killer story. With various twists and turns in the plot this book will keep the reader hooked till the very end.

About the Author:

Karen Rose was introduced to suspense and horror at the tender age of eight when she accidentally read Poe’s The Pit and The Pendulum and was afraid to go to sleep for years. She now enjoys writing books that make other people afraid to go to sleep.

Karen lives in Florida with her husband of twenty years and their children. When she’s not writing, she enjoys travelling, karate and, though not a popular Florida pastime, skiing.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Review: The Common Lawyer

Mark Gimenez's book The Common Lawyer is not a typical courtroom drama unlike his other books but nevertheless an interesting read. If you are a fan of John Grisham then you absolutely must add Mark Gimenez’s books to your must read list!

The protagonist of the book, Andy Prescott, is a 29 year old lawyer in the city of Austin, Texas. Andy is not the typical American lawyer living the American dream but is a gofer who makes a living specializing in getting his clients to evade traffic fines in the traffic court. Not particularly ambitious and happy with whatever he is earning he prefers to take it easy.

Andy’s life changes when billionaire Russell Reeves retains him to represent him in the redevelopment of economically backward areas of Austin. Russell pays Andy more money than he has ever earned or ever imagined in his lifetime. This turns out to be the turning point in Andy’s life and from here on the book becomes a roller coaster ride for the reader with its various twists and turns. Andy gets more than what he bargained for when he gets more involved in Russell’s life. Andy realizes nothing comes for free and that Russell is a desperate man whose sole aim is to save the life of his eight year old son, Zach who is suffering from a rare cancer disorder. He believes the cure to his son’s problem lies in his so called relationships from the past and sends Andy on a chase to trace them back.

The book is a good and fast paced read. An interesting book in the popular fiction genre. Makes for a good weekend read or airport read!

About the Author:

Born and educated in Texas, Mark Gimenez attended law school at Notre Dame, Indiana and practiced with a large Dallas law firm. He is married with two sons.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Review: Beautiful Thing Inside the Secret World of Bombay's Dance Bars

Bombay’s Dance bars have been much written, much spoken, much maligned, much debated but have continued to fascinate many.  Suketu Mehta in his book, The Maximum City had a chapter on the night life of Bombay which rightly said ‘Cities like Bombay live at night. The city unfurls itself, luxuriously, after the sun sets. ‘  If we keep the morality debate of the dance bars aside, these dance bars were a source of entertainment, source of livelihood for some and for many it was an escape from harsh reality. The dance bars were considered an integral part of Mumbai’s night life. So when a politician decided to ban these dance bars on moral grounds he managed to not just wipe out livelihood for many but also a part of Mumbai’s history.  

While the newspapers extensively covered the statistics involved of people who will lose their jobs if the ban was enforced not many attempted to find out what happened to these women, the bar owners, their families after the ban. This book manages to bridge that gap.  Brilliantly at that!

Sonia Faleiro’s book, Beautiful Thing Inside The Secret World of Bombay’s Dance Bars researched over a period of five years gives the reader an insightful and moving account of Leela, one of the many bar dancers.  The book will take you from the high points in Leela’s life as a bar dancer in part I to the low points that she went through after the dance bars were banned in Mumbai in part II of the book. Leela throughout comes across as an immensely positive and  fiercely independent person who even being at the bottom of the heap post the dance bar ban refuses to seek any financial assistance from anyone.  Leela’s journey from her hometown to the big bad world of Bombay, the fame and adulation as a bar dancer to her fall after the dance bar ban will move you, captivate you and keep you hooked till the end. The book is not just about Leela’s struggles but also that of her mother Apsara, her friend Priya and her ‘husband’ Purushottam Shetty.  How despite all odds they manage to find their peace in the city and in their lives.

The author manages to bring all the characters alive and through Leela’s story she manages to give the reader a peek into the lives of these women, their families, their friends. 

The book will keep the reader mesmerized and turning pages to know what ultimately happens to Leela.  The story is brilliantly narrated and turns out to be absolutely hard to put down.  

A riveting, gripping and moving read.

If you haven’t picked up the book yet, do it now!

About the Author:

Sonia Faleiro is an award-winning reporter and writer. She is the author of a book of fiction, The Girl, and a contributor to numerous anthologies including AIDS Sutra: Untold Stories from India. She has reported for publications including India Today and Tehelka, and is now a contributing editor with Vogue. Sonia was born in Goa, studied in Edinburgh and lives in San Francisco. She is working on her second book of non-fiction.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Literature Live!

Literature Live! is Mumbai's much needed and its very first open Literature festival! Rejoice Mumbaikars! 

We share with you the event invite and the event schedule!

"....It is in celebration of this passion and joy for literature, that we cordially invite you to Mumbai's very first literature festival,‘Literature Live’. Best described as an eclectic potpourri of literary genres, Literature Live will see the coming together of some of the greatest Indian and international literary minds. With a mélange of literati and common folk in attendance, Literature Live promises a great experience to all culturally inclined Mumbaikars.
Anchored by noted Indian columnist Mr. Anil Dharker, this initiative is supported by luminaries such as award-winning author and renowned columnist Bachi Karkaria, theatre personality Gerson Da Cunha, Publishing Director of India Book House Padmini Mirchandani and India’s best-selling contemporary author Chetan Bhagat amongst others.

We look forward to you joining us at this four-day literary extravaganza that will see celebrations spread across venues such as theTata Theatre, Experimental Theatre (NCPA) from November 12th to 14th, concluding with a grand finale at the picturesque lifestyle destination Lavasa on November 15th."

Event details

Monday, November 8, 2010

Review: By The Tungabhadra

By the Tungabhadra , originally published as Tungabhdrar Teere (Bengali) in 1965, is one of Saradindu Bandopadhyay’s five critically acclaimed historical novels. The book is superbly translated by Arunava Sinha. Saradindu Bandopadhyay is best known for his exquisitely crafted historical fiction and as the creator of the immortal detective Byomkesh Bakshi.

What is heartening to note is that publishing houses are coming forward to translate books written in regional languages. Thanks to this the readers get a chance to read some excellent literature written by lesser known regional writers.

The book is based in the historical city of Vijayanagar in 15th century South India. Vijayanagar was one of the last Hindu kingdoms in India and was a bulwark against the expansion of Bahamini Kingdom into the southern peninsula of India.

The story is about two step sisters Bidyunmala and Manikanakana both princesses of the kingdom of Kalinga, modern day Orissa. Princess Bidyunmala has been promised as a bride to Devaraya, the king of Vijayanagar, their marriage is that of political conevenience.  The wedding party undertakes a journey from Kalinga to Vijayanagar on three barges which sails down the Bay of Bengal and up the river Krishna to Tungabhadra on their way to Vijayanagar. En route they rescue a drowning man, Arjunvarma, who ends up joining the wedding party. Princess Bidyunmala who is not happy about the fact that she is going to be be Devaraya’s fourth wife finds herself getting attracted to Arjunvarma.

The book also takes the reader through the political intrigues of the Vijayanagar kingdom. Devaraya who is busy preparing for his marriage, is threatened by his own brother within and enemies preparing for a war without.

A very interesting and gripping narrative that manages to effortlessly blend romance, politics and palace intrigues.  Interesting read though at times not as engrossing.

Interesting read.

About the Author:

A writer of novels, short stories, plays and screenplays, Saradindu Bandopadhyay (1899-1970) is a best known as the creator of the immortal detective Byomkesh Bakshi. His work is widely acclaimed for its originality, lucidity, humour and some of the most brilliant insights into human nature. By the Tungabhadra, originally published as Tungabhdrar Teere in 1965, is one of his five critically acclaimed historical novels.

Arunava Sinha is an Internet professional by day a translator of classic and contemporary fiction by late night. His translations include Sankar’s Chowringhee and The Middleman, Buddhadeva Bose’s My Kind of Girl, Moti Nandy’s Striker Stopper and Banaphool’s What Really Happened and Other Stories. Born and educated in Kolkata, he now lives in Delhi.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Q&A with Sonia Faleiro, author of Beautiful Thing Inside the Secret World of Bombay's Dance Bars

Sonia Faleiro’s book Beautiful Thing: Inside the Secret World of Bombay’s Dance Bars was recently launched in Bombay.  The book is the story of Leela who was a well known bar dancer in Bombay. It takes the reader through the highs that she lived as a bar dancer and the lows she struggled with after the ban. A fascinating and insightful look into the underworld of Bombay’s dance bars.

We got a chance to meet Sonia Faleiro and ask her a few questions about the book. Here’s a short Q&A with Sonia

Q. The book is a deeply moving account of Leela, as a reader you get totally engrossed in Leela’s story, how did you manage to stay detached from the subject?

My relationship with Leela was that of a reporter and subject. And yet, it was difficult not to be moved by what I saw on a daily basis, not to, at times, feel both hopeless and helpless. I was also staggered by the risks Leela and Priya took. I wasn't detached, but neither could I be involved. I was there to write Leela's story after all, and Leela, as an adult, made her choices for better or worse. That said, readers will be aware of my attempts to help Leela following her  loss of employment after the ban.

Q. Did you at any point feel that Leela was unhappy with the way her life was going?

Leela was a very spunky girl with a zest for life. She was unique in that way. She had a sophisticated sense of who she was and who she wasn’t. While she knew that she was a star in the dance bar and her locality she also knew what her standing in the society was. But that never dampened her spirits, she was never resentful. I would say both she and her friend Priya never attempted to try and fit in. They knew who they were, what they were.
In fact, they always felt they were better than the rest and Priya never gave up a chance to mock me about my education, my income, how I dressed and how I looked! They were happy.

Q. How did you meet Leela?

I happened to watch a TV news report about dance bars, and was intrigued by the possibilites of a story. So I got in touch with one of my sources in the bar business and asked that he introduce me to some bar dancers. He did, in his bar in South Bombay, and one of the dancers was Leela.

Q.  Are you in touch with Leela?

No we lost touch after she moved to Dubai.

Q. Your book also gives us a brief glimpse of the Hijra community, another marginalized community in our society...

Yes, they're present in a couple of chapters in the book. The episode in the red light district of Kamathipura was perhaps one of the most disturbing for me. It was the birthday of a brothel madam. Although her hijras had dressed beautifully to honour her, in lehenga cholis and elaborate jewellery from Chor Bazaar, their marginalization was obvious: they smelt of food, and their food that day had been a boiled egg, and they smelt also of an embedded perspiration because she wouldn't allow them to bathe more than once every few days. The brothel itself was hot and musty, full of cobwebs, and without any furniture at all, not even a bed to sleep on. Despite their circumstances the brothel's hijras welcomed me with open arms, and treated me like a member of their extended family. It was a profoundly moving experience and a defining moment for me.

Q. What is more satisfying a book on fiction or a non-fiction as a writer?

Definitely non-fiction! Considering I have written both I do not think I will ever be able to write fiction again.  While researching for this book I realized that there were just so many untold stories, struggles of people which ought to be heard and I can only do it through what I know best, that is, write about them.

Q. Who are your favourite writers?

Indian writers I enjoy reading are Altaf Tyrewala, Kiran Desai, Anita Desai. They have a firm understanding of the country and its people. I also enjoy Rohinton Mistry and Kalpana Swanithan’s Lalli series!
Adrian Nicole Leblanc is a writer who has influenced my writing too. Her book Random Family: Love, Drugs, Trouble and Coming of Age in the Bronx took more than 10 years to research and write. An excellent piece of work. Philip Gourevitch is another author whose book on Rwanda moved me.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Review: The F-Word

In her book, The F-Word Mita Kapur takes the reader through an amazing culinary journey, which is a treat for any food lover! The book should be compulsory reading for all foodies worldwide.

This is the story of a woman who loves her food and who also loves to feed! The book is a madcap account of a working woman who spends all day -and sometimes, most of the night juggling family, friends and food. Along the way she introduces the reader to her family and friends and every recipe is preceded by an equally interesting episode. The book takes the reader on an exciting food trip from Lucknow to Thailand, from Rajasthan to Europe. It has an interesting mix of recipes, while some are her experimentations in the kitchen the rest are, from India and around the world. The F-Word is packed with some very interesting recipes to suit every taste, however conservative or weird.

The author’s narrative is so appealing that the reader can almost savour the taste of the food she is cooking up! So whether it is the kebabs & chats to her interesting soup & salad recipes or her awesome desserts they will all leave you hungering for more!

This book for sure comes from the author’s heart no wonder she has managed to do full justice to it! She makes the entire experience of cooking food so effortless and the experience of enjoying food delectable.

The F-word manages to take the reader into a lovely, fun, interesting world of food.

A book for people who live to eat and absolutely not for those who eat to live!

About the Author:

Mita Kapur runs Siyahi, a literary agency based in Jaipur, which also conceptualizes and directs literary events. She writes for various newspapers and magazines on subjects ranging from women’s rights to lifestyle and food.

Review: Inside Central Asia

Inside Central Asia is a political and cultural history of Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkey, and Iran. Besides maybe Turkey and Iran, the other countries have for years have been clubbed as one single entity in our psyche and not much has been written about them. Dilip Hiro through this book tries to bridge that gap.

These former Soviet republics of Central Asia comprise a sprawling, politically pivotal and richly cultured area. Yet they remain poorly represented in libraries and mainstream media. They have experienced tremendous socio-political change since their inception. But despite the growth of oil wealth, the arrival of western tourists, and the competition for influence by the US, China and Russia, the spirit of Central Asia has remained untouched at its core.
Not many have paid attention to the various ethnic groups that exist and who have now formed separate nation states post the collapse of the Soviet Empire. The author traces the history of these ethnic groups like the Kazakhs, Uzbeks, Kyrgyz and Turks etc over the past 2000 years. The link that Central Asian countries share with the Indian subcontinent goes back almost five centuries. The Mughal Empire was founded in India in 1526 by Zahir Uddin Mohammed Babur. He was born in Andijan (the 4th largest city in present day Uzbekistan), he then went on to become the ruler of Fergana, and seized and lost Samarkand twice. Samarkand is today a thriving Uzbek metropolis. The author explains how India, because of its shared history, is at an advantage vis-a-vis other countries to build strong, mutually beneficial trade and Industrial links with these countries.
The author traces the history of these countries in the last thirty years. He also analyses the present-day politics, economics and peoples of Central Asia and its neighbouring areas in an international context. In the 70 years of the Soviet rule atheism was the central philosophy but post Independence the people of these countries are re-discovering their religion. Most of these countries are Islamist and in the near past have been battling with the rise of Islamic fundamentalists in their country.
Considering that not many books on these countries have been attempted before this book makes for an insightful reading for someone who is interested in Central Asian history. The author through this book proves his in-depth knowledge and understanding of these Central Asian countries

About the Author:

Dilip Hiro is the author of more than thirty books, including Blood of the Earth and War without End. He contributes regularly to the New York Times, the Guardian, the Washington Post and the Observer, and is a commentator for the BBC and CNN.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Review: Beautiful From this Angle

We have read some interesting debut books written by authors from across the border. HT Brunch had a very interesting cover story about writers from Pakistan. Here’s the link . So Maha Khan Phillips’ debut book Beautiful from this Angle was in the must read list!

The basic premise of the book is of three school friends and BFF who are as different from each other as can be! Amynah Farooqui is a columnist who writes an anonymous gossip column about Karachi’s page 3 crowd and exposes the life of drugs, sex, alcohol, sleaze of these very people. Totally opposite to her are her two friends Mumtaz who is a drug baron’s daughter and Henna who is a leading politician’s daughter. Amynah herself is totally unapologetic about her own life of casual sex, booze and drugs. Maybe if the author would have concentrated on this angle this book would have been a super read. Honestly the book was unputdownable till the story was busy exposing the uncovered truths of Karachi.  But the story is not about the swish set there is more to come.

When Monty Mohsin, another page 3 regular starts raking in the moolah producing a reality TV show called Who Wants to be a terrorist? (An attempt at satire as to how the western media wants to portray a one-sided view of Pakistan) Mumtaz decides to cash in on the trend of Pakistan bashing by making a documentary on violence against women in Pakistan. She manages to pull in her other two reluctant friends too in the plan. Amynah manages to find in Nilofer (Henna’s childhood friend from the village) a perfect subject for the documentary. Things starts going haywire as soon as filming begins, it becomes obvious that each of them has their own agenda including Nilofer, who is not as helpless and innocent as she claims to be. The stress of the project, the pressure from Henna’s dad, draws the friends apart leading to a heartbreaking end.  

The book could have been a very interesting and compelling read only if the author would have stuck to one story rather than multiple sub plots. In the end the book comes across as a mish mash of Karachi’s swish set, fundamentalists and feudalists leaving the reader very confused, unfortunately.

The book, though, manages to successfully give us a peek into the contemporary Pakistan and also attempts to debunk a lot of media created myths about the country.

About the Author:

Maha Khan Phillips was born in Karachi in 1976, and attended Karachi American School. She moved to London in 1994 where she works as a financial journalist. She has a BA in politics and International Relations and an MA in International conflict analysis from the University of Kent at Canterbury. In 2006, she graduated with a first class degree from City University London’s inaugural MA in creative writing programme. T he novel was written on that course. Maha is married and has one son. She divides her time between London and Karachi, and is the author of The Mystery of the Aagnee Ruby.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Review: Forever Vigilant

I came across a book called Forever Vigilant (Manika Lal, Times Group Books) recently. It explores an interesting mode of story-telling which is to delve into many what-if scenarios. Meena is a character that we have all encountered in our own lives (at least a certain section of us have) or in this age of television soaps, on screen. A young woman in a small town where friends bide their time after finishing school to get married, making her something of a trendsetter even in going to college. An indulgent, loving father, a matriarch of a strong mother, a brother that she has practically brought up as her own baby. Small pleasures and great sacrifices. Marriage soon after to a man who is dry and boring, bright and successful. His rages and his fury. The shrinking of the violet some more. Years and years spent in this lifeless life till the man in question finally meets his maker. As some point the reader starts to feel that this may be getting a tad too regressive. This is where the author pulls her little trick. She starts to go back and forth in time looking at the different possibilities that her protagonist could have encountered. A job as a school-teacher for a couple of years before marriage. Better life-skills, equipping her to take on what life has to offer. An attempt to understand her husband, the family, her new house, the search for alibis in the household. Discussions with her family, their unequivocal support. Making friends with the spouse.  

The book has other stories to offer. There is Nita, trapped in the daily demands of domesticity till the vivacious Aditi comes along and teaches her to look for happier consequences in her life by taking control over it. Anu, the reincarnation of poor, young, lovely Bano, a servant-girl from the era of the Nawabs. The secret garden becomes a metaphor for 'the happy place' that psychiatrists often urge their patients to visit, a place where all is beautiful and a strong male figure is there to take over life's burdens from them. It struck me at the time that while the book may be based in an Indian setting, the desperation of these quiet women is what we see in Lynette, Bree, Susan and Gabrielle in Desperate Housewives or in the dutiful wife of the sixties in Mad Men. At the same time, there is a strong urge to change things, to fulfill one's destiny. 

And then there is Sankalp, a four year old who'd rather not go to school, thank you, causing quite a flurry in the household. His family has to jump through hoops before a solution presents itself. We also meet Suprabhata, the small girl, trapped between warring parents, a father's outdated ideals of what comprises a happy life and a mother's unfulfilled ambitions. Here the school teacher is the wise counsel even as she herself learns to look for her own place in the sun. 

The characters are all quite believable and the narrative interesting throughout. A good read.

(This book is reviewed by Parul Sharma. Parul is the author of Bringing Up Vasu: That First Year, her second book By the Water Cooler will be in stores soon! She blogs at