Wednesday, March 31, 2010

'Kalila and Dimna'

I got a chance to read this lovely book by Ramsay Wood.It is the Panchatantra retold in a very interesting way.All Indians have grown up listening to the stories of Panchatantra.What I particularly like about these simple and easy to understand stories are the lessons that you learn from them.Panchatantra has lessons/morals not just for kids but also the grown ups, there is a lot to learn from these ancient texts.

There are many versions as to how the Panchatantra came to be written ..the one this book follows is that of King Dabschelim who was a no good ruler who came across a wise and incorruptible sage named Bidpai.So Bidpai helps the king follow the right and judicious path by telling him these animal fables which are simple to understand and carry a lot of valuable learning for the king.

The other popular version is that Kalila and Dimna was originally written in Sanskrit,some time in the fourth century A.D. In Sanskrit it was called the Panchatantra, or "Five Discourses." It was written for three young princes who had driven their tutors to despair and their father to distraction. Afraid to entrust his kingdom to sons unable to master the most elementary lessons, the king turned over the problem to his wise wazir, and the wazir wrote the Panchatantra, which concealed great practical wisdom in the easily digestible form of animal fables. Six months later the princes were on the road to wisdom and later ruled judiciously.

The original Kalila and Dimna has 13 sections which are The Separation of Friends,The winning of friends,War and Peace,The Loss of One's Gains,The rewards of Impatience and so on so forth.What Ramsay Wood has managed to do is made the stories more contemporary,racy and full of zest.

The book successfully manages to introduce us to a global Indian classic through this illustrated book.

If you are a fan of Panchatantra you must read this book!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

My review :The Gamechangers

This lovely book has been written by The Fake IPL Player and revolves around his famous or rather infamous blog. For the uninitiated the Fake IPL Player was a blog that started on April 18, 2009, the same time as the 2009 season Indian Premier League matches. It was written by an anonymous blogger who claimed to be a member of the IPL team, Kolkata Knight Riders.The blog had become a huge hit on the internet with a fan following that is numbered in hundreds and thousands. The blog received media coverage across the cricketing world. Every newspaper and TV news channel in India covered the blog and its revelations in detail through out the duration of IPL.I am sure this blog gave a lot of sleepless nights to the people involved in IPL.

I am sure anyone who loves or hates IPL would have heard of the blog or read about it in the newspapers so when I saw his book I bought it as I was sure the identity of the blogger would be revealed.Was it revealed ...well lets not spoil the fun by revealing that.

 So you have Lalu Parekh the CEO of IBL (Indian Bollywood League) and his burning desire to rule the cricketing world with his IBL concept.If that takes using any means good or bad ,moral or immoral he is willing to do prizes for guessing who it is!You have characters such as Sigwald Raees Kahn,Raj Singhania teams like Calcutta Cavalry,Bangalore Bangers you get the drift?The Fake IBL player is managing to ruin the fun and big bucks involved so to catch him Lalu and Sigwald hire super sleuth Parminder Mahipal Singh (aka PMS) to get to the bottom of it and find out who the mole in the KKR...oops Calcutta Cavalry team is.What happens after that is a typical but interesting cat and mouse chase.

What does not work for the book is the 'holier than thou' captain of Bangalore Bangers Rocky and his love story which tends to drag by the end.Also the author has delved a lot into the semis and final match between the teams which could have been avoided.But that does not take anything away from the book!
A good book and a fun read.

What is interesting to see is how a lot of bloggers are now being taken seriously as writers and are finding ready publishers.I am now starting 'May I Hebb Your Attention Pliss' by Arnab Ray who is again a very famous blogger...will post review soon!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Kama Kahani :The Indian Romance Series

Many times when I used to read Mills and Boon as a teenager I could never relate with the protagonist and I wished that there would come a day when romance novels would get more local and desi .Mills and Boon, Harlequin was a part of growing up. I have devoured hundreds of M&B’s and whenever I got a chance would even re-read some of my favourites. But there was always the Indian tall dark and handsome I longed to read romancing an Indian woman.
Looks like years down the line my prayers have been answered! Random House India has published a series ‘Kama Kahani’ .The romance series are historical romances rather than contemporary love stories. So you have a rich backdrop of palaces, historical places and colorful characters such as Maharajas, Thakurs, Britishers. Think Heer-Ranjha, Soni-Mahiwal …the book tries to re-capture the essence of all these and more.
The books, however, don't score much on the authenticity of the period details. I also felt the writers have a severe M&B hangover. The plot is almost the same –
·        Boy meets girl
·        The girl hates him at first
·        Then a few chance encounters make her fall in love with the handsome man
·        She is unsure of his reciprocation
·        By the end they manage to clear the misunderstanding and live happily ever after!
Apart from a few drawbacks I feel it’s a good attempt by the publishing house to initiate an Indian Romance Series. India is the country of Kama Sutra and we very well deserve our very own desi romance!
What I’d really like to read though would be a few contemporary romance novels from them.
Some of the Titles available in the series:
Mistress to the Yuvraj –Sanyogita Rathore

Passion in the Punjab- Kiran Kohl

The Zamindar’s Forbidden Love-Jasmine Saigal

Ghazal in the Moonlight-Alessandra Shahbaz

The Thief of Poompuhar-Nila Iyer

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

My Feudal Lord





Thank you so much Smitha for your review of this book!

 My Feudal Lord
Tehmina Durrani
Publisher: Corgi Books

Reading an autobiographical account of a woman battered to pulp by her husband may become tiresome, but My Feudal Lord won’t bore you, as one can’t stop admiring the courage of the victim.
Tehmina Durrani, a Pakistani writer, in her autobiography My Feudal Lord describes her traumatic marital life with Gulam Mustafa Khar, an important politician in the Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto government, who later went on to become the Chief Minister of Punjab (in Pakistan). The book explores the dark shades of marital life in a chauvinistic male-dominated Pakistani society.
Tehmina born into an influential Pakistani family grows up to be an introvert child who is often chided for her dark looks by her mother. Fighting all parental oppositions she marries her sweetheart but soon falls for the charm of Mustafa Khar. Leaving beside her husband and daughter, Tehmina walks into Mustafa’s life as his fourth wife and thereby starts her journey of trials and tribulations. Mustafa, a charismatic champion of democracy, on the personal front turns out to be an inveterate wife abuser. In between of all the torture that Tehmina suffers, she learns about her husband’s extra-marital affair with her younger sister. Having zilch support from her mother or sister, Tehmina endures pain only to become stronger to deal with the misfortunes in her life.
My Feudal Lord is divided into three parts, aptly entitled, ‘Lion of Punjab’, ‘Law of Jungle’, and ‘Lioness’. Throughout these sections one can map the progress of Tehmina from a meek housewife to a fierce social crusader fighting for her husband’s release from prison and later for her own freedom from the clutches of her husband.
The book tends to get a bit sketchy in parts especially when it echoes endlessly the pathos of the protagonist. Though the book is no literary genius, yet it explores subtly the nuances of an ordinary elitist housewife walking out of a marriage to discover herself as an emancipated human being contesting for equal rights and women’s empowerment.
Books from women like Tehmina Durrani and Betty Mahmoody (Not Without My Daughter) may not be in any must read list, but they are to be read to get a clearer insight on the plight of educated elitist women. 

Guest Review :Smitha Verma


Sunday, March 14, 2010

My Review : A Case of Exploding Mangoes

This book by Mohammed Hanif was published last year, and was a bestseller.It’s just that I got a chance to read this book recently and I must say I was very impressed with his debut novel. What works for the book is Hanif’s sharp writing. The book is satirical, witty, gripping and unputdownable till the very end.

Mohammed Hanif was born in Pakistan and graduated from Pakistan Air Force as pilot officer but subsequently left to pursue a career in journalism. Currently he heads BBC’s   Urdu Service and is based in London.

A Case of Exploding Mangoes is the run up to General Zia-Ul-Haq’s death in 1988 in an air crash. The airplane was also carrying several of his generals, and the American ambassador. The conspiracy theories abound and his death is still a mystery unexplained.

In the book Mohammed Hanif takes a satirical approach to who might have been behind the assassination of General Zia. The protagonist of the novel and narrator is Ali Shigri, a Pakistan Air Force pilot who suspects that Zia had his father killed. He's constantly working on plans for revenge, bringing in and dropping conspirators and making changes as needed.

The book also gives glimpses of what General Zia-Ul-Haq was all about. While being a dictator he was also very religiously inclined .He would consider drinking, not reading namaaz 5 times in a day a sacrilege. He was also a highly insecure person and much loathed by the people he governed. Hanif covers the people’s loathing to his style of governance brilliantly in the chapter where Zia tries to go out disguised as a common man on the advice of Nicolae Ceausescu. He wants to know first hand what people think about him!

It is true. In the 11 years after Zia executed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, the dictator's superstitious paranoia became fully justified. To know him was to fear and hate him. There were many willing assassins.The book shows that Zia had a premonition of his death and in order to keep himself safe he increases security around Army House to Code Red, he cancels all public functions including the National Day Parade. The entire parade is stage managed to make him feel safe!

I would highly recommend this book! A must read.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Made in India by Biddu

A biography written by Biddu, I was told. Why would anyone want to read it, I wondered politely, and thankfully silently. The ‘Thankfully silently” part comes post my reading of the book. Or I would have been eating crow right now. Titled Made in India, the book talks of his journey from a boy in Bangalore obsessed with all things Western, including Western music, to a best selling music composer in the UK.

The book is written in a droll, languid tone, which when you meet Biddu, you realise is exactly the way he is. With sudden sharp stabs of humour which have you clutching your stomach and rolling on the ground. And it is an interesting story. That of a young Coorgi boy in Bangalore, who was obsessed with Western music and wanted to reach the Mecca of Music, the west aka UK in any which way he could. This resulted in two failed attempts to run away from home, and the third which succeeded saw him go off to perform in Hyderabad and never return. Along the way he formed a band, played in Kolkata, came to Mumbai, played with a band in the Ambassador and then played solo at The Astoria Hotel, under the moniker, The Lone Trojan. And one fine day, he got himself a passport and struck out for the land of the Beatles. Albeit on a cargo ship to Basra. He then hitchhiked his way from Basra to the UK. As fantastic as that sounds, he definitely had luck and youth on his side. “I dont think when one is young one thinks of discomforts or what ifs, one just gets things done.” His entire experience saw him spend no more than five days in the open, he sang his way to food and shelter and was lucky enough to get rides with kindly souls. Of course, that was a much more innocent age than today. “I was so different from everyone in the Middle East that people were curious about me and kind to me. And the thought that I would never make it to London never ever entered my mind.”

He reached London, with the help of kind souls along the way and friends, and got day jobs to keep body and soul together, and Lady Luck helped him by putting him in touch with promising musicians. Tina Charles for one. The music happened. Charles Douglas. Kung Fu Fighting. Aap Jaisa Koi. And of course, Made in India. Details of everything in the book. The name of the book does come from the best selling album he composed for Alisha Chinai, but he wanted to call it The Boy with Gold in his Hair, something an Eastern mystic had told him he had. But Made in India does come through in the last chapter where he talks about how, no matter where in the world he goes, he will always be Indian at heart, because he is, after all, Made in India.

His music making days are behind him now, he states. His passion now is writing. He spends time in Southern Spain where he now lives and writes for six to seven hours every single day. He has one book ready for release, and another that he is currently writing. “I’ve been a professional musician since I was 13. I thought it was high time I tried something else.” But he is here in India to do a series of performances after a long long while. “But,” he shrugs, “writing is where my heart is right now.”

(Reviewed by Kiran Manral. Cross posted at

Friday, March 5, 2010

My Review : A Fine Balance

There are very few books that move you, emotionally drain you and make you feel, rather selfishly, that thank god you were not in the same situation as the characters in the book. ’A Fine Balance’ makes you go through all these emotions and more. It is a very hard hitting novel, it is a book about the human spirit, I would rather say the oft repeated ‘Spirit of Mumbai’. I was born and raised in this city and have seen lots of things around me that are part of this book. I have seen the slums, I have heard of the tough struggles people have gone through to make it big in this city. I have travelled in the overcrowded local trains, I have seen the filth, the dirt, the stink but there’s just something so vibrant and energetic about this city that such things do not affect you after a point. You see the slums but you also see the positive attitude of the people living in these slums. Many a times I have been bombarded by questions such as ‘How can you live in this city? It stinks, it’s filthy, poor quality of living, traffic jams etc ’ I don’t have answers to these questions but all I know is that this city is an example of a human being’s indomitable spirit, a spirit to survive all odds , a positive energy that binds us all. It is a city of hope. It might be hard for people who are not from Mumbai to understand or comprehend this but this is an answer you will get from every Mumbaikar! 

The book is set in the mid-70 ‘s in the city of Bombay,India at a time when the Government has declared a state of Emergency. The book describes the circumstances that prevailed in the country and the civil liberties that the erstwhile government took during that period. It gives you a glimpse of a time when the country was in turmoil. After reading about the atrocities perpetuated in that period I only ended up saying a feeble prayer for the people who suffered. It is so unimaginable in today's day and age the press was gagged, the opponents were jailed, the voice of the poor suppressed. It also speaks about how the men in power used and abused their stature. Like I mentioned earlier this book drains you emotionally and makes you feel the pain the people suffered during that period.

It is the story of Dina Dalal , a widow  whose refusal to marry has left her struggling to earn a living as a seamstress; two tailors Om and Ishwar who are initially from a chamaar (untouchables) family but learn the tailoring trade to escape casteism in their village and a life of drudgery because of their untouchable status, who come to the city searching for employment and join Dina’s tailoring unit; and a student Maneck from a small hamlet in the Himalayan foothills, whose father has sent him to attend college and lives at Dina’s house as a PG. 

The story brings together these four unlikely people from different parts of the country to live in one house in Mumbai!How the characters move from distrust to friendship and from friendship to love, A Fine Balance creates an enduring panorama of the human spirit in an inhuman state.

A bit about the book :It has won the second annual Giller Prize in 1995, and in 1996, the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Fiction. It was selected for Oprah's Book Club in November 2001 and sold hundreds of thousands of additional copies throughout North America as a result. It won the 1996 Commonwealth Writers Prize and was shortlisted for the 1996 Booker prize

I highly recommend this book and it is a must read!

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Committed. A Skeptic makes peace with marriage

A Skeptic makes peace with marriage
By Elizabeth Gilbert

When an author has a previous best selling book like Eat. Love. Pray. which goes on to break best selling lists, and be made into a motion picture movie starring Julia Roberts in the lead role, which is based on the author herself, any book that follows up is bound to be under great pressure. Something that the author herself acknowleges right at the start of the novel.
And right off the bat, I would like to say, Elizabeth Gilbert would have been better off had she left it at Eat Pray Love. Committed is the kind of book that shows the effort put into it. At the best of times, it drags. Is patchy. Needed a good editor to go through it with a finetoothed comb to unravel the tangential skeins that the author seems to be weaving a tapestry of tales of marriage the institution across continents and cultures, as she and her Brazilian beau travel all over in their bid to be together. The narrative jumps between her efforts to stay in a relationship that is precious to her, while confronting the demon of marriage, which they must go through if they are to be together, because the US immigration views Felipe's constant trips to the US with suspicion.
What seemed like an ideal relationship with no marriage (both Elizabeth and Felipe being divorce survivors and therefore terrified of the institution of marriage) must now morph into marriage, and Committed, as the subtitle goes is all about Gilbert's attempts to examine the institution of marriage across eras and cultures. And a very patchy thesis does she do on it.
Sadly, the voice of Eat. Pray. Love., the quirky self deprecating, fun voice of a woman recovering from a painful divorce and her trip around the world to heal herself, ending with meeting Felipe in Bali, the voice that captivated every woman reader who saw herself in Gilbert is not the same in Committed. It is a different voice. But then, Gilbert is now a different person. And while it stays in the realm of charming, easy reading, it lacks the straight from the heart quality that set Eat Pray Love apart.
What does redeem Committed is that it does make a strong case for marriage, despite the author's own painful divorce and the statistics for divorce going around. And yes, she does have the wedding at the end of the book, a wedding, where aptly the groom spends most of his wedding day in the kitchen with the apron on, cooking for the guests. (I'd like one of these please!). After all, arent we all suckers for a happy ending.

Reviewed by Kiran Manral