Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Review: The Collaborator

Mirza Waheed’s book The Collaborator is a well written piece of work on Kashmir. This is a book I read from start to end in one go. Though very disturbing at times I still kept reading with tears in my eyes trying to grapple with the situation that the youth of Kashmir have grown up in. No the book does not at any point try to prove how people have suffered it just gives a matter of fact insight into the lives of Kashmiris since the 1990s. Part fiction, part fact it is a book which I would recommend all to read.

The book is set in the 1990s when the violence in Kashmir was at its peak. The story is narrated through the eyes of a 19 year old Kashmiri youth who is the son of the headman of the small village, Nowgam, not far from the Pakistani border.  It is his story of growing up in a hostile environment and seeing his friends leave the village one by one in hope of a better life while he has to continue living there because his father believes that peace will prevail in their village one day. Mirza manages to beautifully portray the teenager’s hopes, frustrations, hurt, hate and angst at the situation he finds himself in. Though he wishes to go in search of his friends and join their freedom movement, he is eventually coerced by a foul mouthed, heavy drinking army officer Kadian to join him and assist him to recover identity badges and arms from the corpses left unburied.  His utter frustration and unhappiness at being in such a place due to existing circumstances makes the story very heart wrenching.

Isn’t it amazing that though we have all grown up in the same country we have had it relatively easier as compared to others? Especially when he describes the valley where these unclaimed corpses lie, how he uses the dead corpses to learn how to aim and shoot from the gun, How he keeps hoping that he doesn’t find any of his missing friends amongst the dead corpses and when he sees his entire village pack up and leave while his father insists on staying on.

Whenever we talk of Kashmir or read about it there has always been either a Pakistani version or an Indian one. But it is finally good to read about Kashmir from a Kashmiri’s perspective.

A brilliant debut novel and should be in everyone’s must read list.

About the Author:

Mirza Waheed was born and brought up in Srinagar, Kashmir. He moved to Delhi when he was 18 to study English Literature at the University of Delhi and worked as a journalist and editor in the city for four years. He went to London in 2001 to join the BBC’s Urdu Service, where he now works as an editor.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Review: The Life's too short: Literary Review 01 New Writing from Pakistan

I recently read a very interesting book called ‘The Life’s Too Short Literary Review 01: New Writing from Pakistan’. It is an anthology of Pakistani writings which is very bold, entertaining and engaging. The book has some amazing stories which will keep you hooked to the very end.

I am a huge fan of Pakistani writing and have read most of the books coming from writers across the border. But what I particularly liked about the stories here was that they are not the usual stuff that one expects or for that matter of a Pakistan one usually watches on television. Except for maybe two stories Bilal Tanveer’s To Live- a brilliant read and Aziz A Sheikh’s Six Fingered Man.

The anthology hence makes for a very refreshing read. The book also contains some excerpts; I liked Husain Iqbal’s Challawa this excerpt features the amorous adventures of a lesbian lady detective, Sabiho Bano (translated from Urdu by Mohammed Hanif) and the other excerpt from a graphic novel Rabbit Rap which I found particularly vague. A photo essay and a non-fiction piece of work called The Last Moghul of Shalimar also find a place in this anthology. Yes unusual but appealing stories that a reader will enjoy.

The other stories worth a mention here would be The Wedding by Sarwat Yasmeen Azeem and Madiha Sattar’s Ruth and Richard.

All in all if you are a fan of Pakistani writers or you would want to read something out of the ordinary and refreshing pick this book up. You won’t regret it.

The book has been edited by Faiza S Khan:

Faiza S Khan is a Karachi-based columnist and book and film critic whose work has appeared in The Friday Times, Open magazine, The Caravan, The Times of India and the Express Tribune. She founded and co-administrates the Life’s Too Short Short Story Prize.

Review: Apradhini

Shivani was the pseudonym of writer Gaura Pant (1923-2003). Shivani attained cult status in the Hindi literary world in the 1960s and ‘70s and was awarded the Padma Shri in 1983. Her book Apradhini, written in Hindi and now translated by her daughter Ira Pande is a collection of stories of ordinary women with extraordinary pasts.

Apradhini carries stories of women Shivani had met on her visit to women’s prison. It is a story she heard from the inmates’ mouths and what drove them to the edge to take law in their own hands. The book is divided in three parts and every story is gut wrenching and heartwarming. Part 1 has stories of the inmates while part 2 and 3 has stories of women she met in the normal course of life. Each story is fascinating and is non judgmental.

The book will keep you hooked and at most times make you sympathise with the women and the situation they face. Some of my picks from the book would be Muggi, Chanuli, Pagaliya, A mother’s prayer, Dhuan, Ama and Naseem.

The stories have been sensitively written and are packed with emotions. Some stories brought tears to my eyes and made me want to stop reading but also at the same time wanted me to continue reading.

It is a pity that I wouldn’t have been able to read these stories or any of Shivani’s work if it wasn’t translated. Lots of great work written in regional languages definitely deserves a wider audience. Translation of such work should be actively encouraged and pursued.

The book is a very interesting read and I look forward to reading more of Shivani’s work.

About the Author:

Shivani’s other best known works include Chaudah Phere, Krishnakali, Smashan Champa, Rati Vilap and Vishkanya.

Translated by: Ira Pande:

Ira Pande has worked as a University teacher, writer, editor and in television. She is the editor of the IIC Quarterly and the author of critically acclaimed Diddi: My Mother’s Voice. She was awarded the 2008 Vodafone-Crossword Indian Language Fiction Prize for her translation of Manohar Shyam Joshi’s T’Ta Professor.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Review: All and Nothing

Five individuals brought together by a friend to spill their guts, bare their souls and in the process, to embark upon a journey of self-discovery and...and...what? Inner peace? Forgiveness? Redemption? Perhaps a melange of all the above...

This is the premise for Raksha Bharadia’s, “All and Nothing.” A successful author in the self-help genre (Me: A Handbook for Life; Roots and Wings), Raksha is also the first Indian editor of the Chicken Soup for the Indian Soul series, having edited close to a dozen best-selling titles. So the expectations from her first ever work of fiction were high.

And she has met those expectations with confidence and elan!

An engaging book, the characters introduced to us by Raksha have a disquieting sense of familiarity – maybe we can recognise qualities and traits of friends and family members in them; maybe we can even see bits of ourselves in them.

Beautiful, talented and sensitive, artist Tina believes she has found the perfect husband in Aditya. However, her seemingly made-in-heaven marriage turns awry as Tina unsuccessfully struggles to free Aditya from the shackles of his past – a past which he can’t seem to break free of, nor does he seem to want to. His betrayal almost pushes back...almost. Just as she’s about to teeter over the edge, she pulls back and realises there life is still worth living. One just needs to break free from one’s shackles of sadness and be brave enough to make a grab for that cloud of happiness. And it is this new-found realisation of hers that she wishes to share with her closest friends, all of whom she knows would benefit from it: celebrated fashion-designer Kriya who has a sordid secret; confident, beautiful socialite Poorvi whose sense of self-worth seems to hinge on the one thing that she does not have; Manas, suffering from a broken heart and bruised ego; and domestically-abused Upasana, an intelligent woman who should know better.

Raksha allows us to be a voyeur into the lives of all the characters and as we listen to them relive their lives and spill out their secrets, we can feel their pains, their dilemmas and the result is sometimes shock, sometimes judgemental – after all, we can’t help but be.

And it is this, my personal sense of judgement, of right and wrong, of punishment and redemption, that threw up a few dislikes, because I didn’t believe in the final resolutions of some of the characters. I think Aditya got off waaaaayyyyy too easy, Antara (Aditya’s ex-wife) deserved to face some sort of hell and Poorvi’s route to deliverance was a cop-out.

But then, that’s just me. I am not as forgiving of crimes and faults as others are. I have a harsher sense of fairness than others. But like I said, that’s just me. To others, probably everything falls into place perfectly and ties up tidily. And still, there may be others who might feel some of the characters suffered too much in their own personal purgatories and should have been let off more lightly.

However, that’s the delightful thing about reading isn’t it? The characters and experiences colour your world as much as you allow your world to colour your reading of that fictional world.

For a first book, Raksha has done a fine job! It makes us eagerly await her next one. After all, a good start only guarantees a great follow-up, right?

(This book is reviewed by Baisali Chatterjee Dutt. Baisali blogs athttp://mammamiameamamma@blogspot.com)

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Review: There's No Love on Wall Street

Meet Riya Jain, the protagonist of the book, There’s No Love On Wall Street, a smart, good looking girl totally enamored with the idea of becoming an investment banker. Though Riya has joined Wellesley College as a pre-med student she decides to become an investment banker as she is totally captivated with the glamour behind it all- handling multi-million dollar projects, enjoying long corporate lunches, and partying at the hottest nightclubs in NYC!

After securing her dream break with the firm Goldstein Smith she realizes that life is not as glamorous as 
she had imagined it to be. She gets a boss who is actually a devil in disguise and is determined to make her life hell. She works long and stressful hours as an intern in the office. Her image of I-bankers also comes crashing when she meets her colleagues…

Life gets more miserable for her when her ‘friend’  at work, Sachin, who had initially helped her securing the internship, starts asking her to repay him back by getting some crucial documents from the department she is in. She is in a spot that she cannot get out of.  She realizes that I-banking is just not what it seems and everyone in the system is extremely caught up in their own selfish world and everyone is busy manipulating each other in the race to reach the top. The only person who seems to be happy and content with life is actually a person who quit as an I-banker and is now a financial journalist, Gautam Pandey.

Riya has to now decide where she wants to go. Should she take up the offer that will eventually come to her from the company after her internship comes to an end or should she drop her plans of becoming an Investment banker? Something she has worked hard for till now.

The book is a fast paced, breezy read but gets very boring and whining at places. The humor also seems strained at times. By the by do read it to know that all that glitters is not always gold.  
While reading I got a very Sophie Kinsella-ish feel to the book. But sadly nowhere close to her kind of writing.

PS:  Chetan Bhagat would be launching this book on 15th April from 7pm onwards at Crossword, Kemps Corner, Mumbai. Do attend if interested!

About the Author:

Ira Trivedi is the author of the best-selling novels, What Would You Do to Save the World? Confessions of a Could-Have-Been Beauty Queen, and The Great Indian Love Story. She has an MBA from Columbia Business School and a BA in Economics from Wellesley College.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Review: India A Portrait

Patrick French has written a thoroughly insightful and engrossing account of India. It shows how some of the events have shaped the current socio-economic-political environment of India and what makes it tick.

Usually we end up reading only a historical perspective of the country, but in India: A Portrait, Patrick French has taken a different route. He gives us insights into the three fundamental walks of life- political, economic, social changes that have seen the country change. He creates an engrossing account of India and Indians such as Nehru, Ambedkar, Indira Gandhi who have shaped the country. The book is a must read for every Indian to understand the dynamics that govern our nation today. It is very well researched and the topics he writes on depict the various slices of life in India, and also of some people who have left a lasting impact on the landscape of India. French’s understanding of India, Indians and his keen sense of observation come across clearly while reading the book.

French, with his superb sense of history and political insight, and an eye for the extraordinary that is as keen as his understanding of the everyday, he builds a compelling narrative of the social and economic revolutions that are transforming India in fundamental ways. Focusing on the most recent changes, he shows how extreme hunger and destitution persist even as millions are pulling themselves free of poverty, how nepotism has triumphed in politics and how sudden societal changes allow the deeply traditional and the startlingly unconventional to coexist.

The book is a richly detailed, wide-ranging and hugely rewarding portrait of modern India. It is a winner hands down and should be in everyone’s reading list.

About the Author:

Patrick French is a writer and historian, born in England in 1966. He is the author of Younghusband: The Last Great Imperial Adventurer, which won the Somerset Maugham Award and the Royal Society of Literature W.H Heinemann Prize, Liberty or Death:  India’s Journey to Independence and Division, which won the Sunday Times Young Writer of The Year Award, Tibet, Tibet: A Personal History of a Lost Land and, most recently, The World Is What It Is: The Authorized Biography of V.S. Naipaul, which won the National Book Critics Circle Award and the Hawthornden Prize.

Review: The Bhutto Murder Trail from Waziristan to GHQ

Benazir Bhutto was as charismatic in life as in death. Benazir was a personality who was either loved in total or hated in total. There was no mid way. Like the Gandhis in India, the Bhuttos too have been revered, loved so much to have become the power centers, or hated so much that they lost their lives in the bargain. Love them or hate them you cannot take away their contribution to their respective nations.

Benazir had left Pakistan in 1998 along with her children to live in Dubai and London, two years after being deposed as Prime Minister. She continued living in exile even after the Nawaz Sharif government was toppled by Pervez Musharraf in a bloodless coup. When Musharraf , after almost a decade, of being in power declared elections Benazir returned back to Pakistan and was most certain to sweep the polls. However exactly seventy days after her return to Pakistan, and barely two weeks before the holding of the general elections, Benazir was assassinated. The mystery of her death still remains unsolved even though it has been more than three years since her death. The people continue being clueless about how it all went so wrong for her.

Amir Mir through this book attempts to understand what led to this horrendous act. Drawing on personal anecdotes, off the record meetings with Bhutto and emails exchanged just before her death Mir brings us a carefully documented reconstruction of the assassination that rocked the world, the events leading to it and the aftermath. The book is a chilling expose of the symbiotic relationship between Pak’s formidable military and intelligence agencies and the radical Islamic terrorist groups entrenched there.

The book carries some exclusive information that sheds fresh light on the various conspiracy theories, and will most certainly evoke controversy and debate.

Coming from Pakistan’s foremost investigative journalist, this is a book which you must read to gain more insights, understand the politics and dynamics of our neighboring country.

About the Author:

Amir Mir started his journalistic career in 1988 with The Frontier Post in Lahore, he has worked with several newspapers, news agencies and magazines in Pakistan and abroad. Amir Mir has authored three books on the subject of militant Islam and terrorism.

In 2006, Amir Mir won the prestigious All Pakistan Newspapers Society(APNS) Award for Best Investigative Journalist of the Year. However, he refused as a matter of principle to receive the award from the then President, General Pervez Musharraf, as he felt it went against the spirit of the award to receive it from the military dictator. He is currently affiliated with Pakistan’s leading English newspaper, The News International, Lahore as Deputy Editor.