Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Review: Adultery and Other Stories

Farrukh Dhondy’s book caught my instant attention as soon as I read the title, which is Adultery and Other stories. I was keen to know what the book held in store for readers. So with this thought I delved right into the book.

So did the book live up to its title? Sadly, no. But the book did have some very interesting short stories which made me continue reading to know what comes next from the writer. The book was not more about adultery but about relationships and what makes people behave the way they do in trying situations.  Each story was interesting though Bollox, Emailwallahs and Jig Jigolo seemed to follow a pattern of mail exchanges between two parties but contexts were different but leading to almost the same conclusion. I enjoyed reading the first story Boogoo which had a very interesting twist in the tale, also liked Short Stem Judas. Say Cheese, was yet another story of deceit and cheating. Adultery is a good read too.

All in all a good read. Every story will keep you hooked to move on to the next. And like I had tweeted he didn’t really need a title like that to sell his books, the book is good with or without the title. Go for it!

More about the author here - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Farrukh_Dhondy

Review: Empire of the Moghul: Ruler of the World

Alex Rutherford’s third book was eagerly awaited as it was, after all, going to be about none other than one of the most revered king in history, Akbar. The last book on Humayun was a bit of a disappointment but honestly felt that it could be because of a very uninspiring leadership and reign. But this book on Akbar was also a huge let down.  Personally I felt that there is just so much more to write about Akbar to make it a very gripping and interesting read, sadly the book failed to deliver, in terms of content and quality of writing.

Only two Indian kings in history have been conferred the title of ‘the great’, Emperor Ashok and Emperor Akbar. Akbar though did not get a chance to study ,since at a young age he was crowned as the king after his father’s untimely death  but despite that he managed to bring in lots of changes in the way things were governed and was a far sighted king who did not give importance to religion. In fact he is credited with starting a new religious order Din-E-Ilahi which was borrowed heavily from various religions and which made him the head of the order. He was the first Muslim king who tried to bring harmony between the two religions Hindus and Muslims. The book instead of elaborating on these points speaks about his troubled relationship with his eldest son Salim as well as his immense faith in Abu Fazl. The book also fails to touch on the other great luminaries in his court, so there is absolutely nothing on Tansen, Birbal, Todarmal.

Salim his eldest son grows to manhood full of mistrust. He also makes the fatal mistake of falling for Akbar’s most voluptuous concubine, leading a rebellion, and realizing soon enough that Akbar neither forgets nor forgives easily. Salim finds himself in an unhappy and increasingly frustrating situation when Akbar shows his fondness for Salim’s son Khurram and making his intentions clear as to who he would rather see as the king after him.

The book though does justice by showing a side which is not spoken or written about much, of that, of his role as a father.  Akbar may have been a great king but he had his flaws too, this book manages to bring that out effectively.

So all in all of you are looking to read a book about Akbar as a great warrior or administrator this is definitely not the book you should pick up. Though book is fictional drawing inspiration from history yet the book fails to deliver. The book does seem inspired a lot by bollywood movies on the life and times of Akbar.

The book as a continuity to first two books is a good read but as a standalone book it is a letdown. 

PS: The book cover -as impressive as ever!

Friday, July 8, 2011

Review: Murder in the Ashram

Murder in the Ashram is Kathleen McCaul’s debut book , a murder mystery revolving around a yoga ashram in Delhi. The book’s synopsis had me hooked. Well anything to do with murder, mystery based in a yoga ashram sounds like fun read. But sadly I was quite disappointed with the book. The book started out as fun but just lost the plot mid way. I felt the book tried to hook in many reasons to show why Yoga ashrams will continue to be enigmatic, intriguing and mysterious forever.

The story goes thus. Ruby Jones moves to Delhi to pursue a career as an international journalist. When her closest friend and flat mate Stephen Newby’s body is pulled out from the Yamuna river she uses her investigative instincts to get to the bottom of who was responsible for her friend’s death. Was it a suicide or a murder? And ,if it was a murder who were the people responsible for it? All these questions keep leading her to Swami Shiva’s ashram where Stephen was a regular. What brings an intriguing angle to the murder is that just a day before his death Stephen writes to Ruby about having found the identity of his yet unknown to the world father.

As she explores deeper her questions take her deep into the world of Indian policing and into the heart of Swami Shiva’s yoga ashram. She realizes that everything is not as calm and peaceful in the ashram as it seems.

What I found was that the author followed a typical pattern of how to handle a book based on an ashram. Let me tell you that I am absolutely no fan of ashrams and yogis but it is a feeling I got while reading the book. To write a book checklist followed is this a) murder b) drugs c) sex D) money e) ashram at the crux of it all. Hence the predictability.

Review:Don't go Away. We will be right back: The Oops and Downs of Advertising

Don’t go Away. We’ll be right back. The Oops and Downs of Advertising is a book which everyone who has worked in advertising must read, also for those who aspire to be apart, and yes even those who want to know what makes the ad industry tick. A hilarious, fun and catty look at the world of Advertising.

The book takes you through the good and the bad of advertising. So we all know who a copywriter is but do you know what he dreads the most, the word ‘typo’. Like this one that crept into a hotel’s hoarding design: ‘Our restaurant has a bra attached’. You like? There are many such insights that the reader gets while reading this book.Then in her own fun way she goes on to describe Creative heads, account managers, about clients, awards…you name it the book has it.

The book will keep you laughing from beginning to the end. The illustrations in the book are also immensely good. It is a book that you are bound to read in one go.

Go for it. Yeh dil maange more from the author!

PS After reading books from advertising professional like Anuja Chauhan and now Indu I am convinced that the best writers come from this field too! Simply written books with loads of humour to keep the reader hooked!

Buy Don�t Go Away. We�ll Be Right Back: The Oops And Downs Of Advertising from Flipkart.com

Review: Chocolate Guitar Momos

I picked this book to read because I found the title of the book very interesting and the name of the author more so. The book is called Chocolate, Guitar Momos by Kenny Deori Basumatary. The book is a light, fun and breezy read.

The protagonist of the book is a young aspiring musician Joseph. The tragedy with Joseph is that he has been unsuccessful in relationships. After he is ditched by his third girlfriend he decided to track down a girl he believes might have been his soulmate- a girl who had smiled at himfrom a bus stop across the street 8 years ago. The only problem being in the search- he knows nothing of her what is worse is he doesn’t even recollect how she looks! Yet he believes she is the one for him since he clearly remembers what she was wearing! So he and his friends set out on a social experiment across internet to find her.

Does he end up finding the chosen one? This entire search for his soulmate leads to some funny awkward moments for Joseph but he is determined to get to her. What follows is a bittersweet story.

The book is light and frothy read with some fun moments. At places it does go a bit off track but keeps the reader interested till the end. It is a typical book for college going kids who will be able to relate with Joseph’s life. Not the best of book but a good read.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Review: Chowringhee

Reviewed by: Rituparna Ghosh
I’ve always been fascinated by prisons. What happens inside? One can imagine the kind of people who live behind the high prison walls…but what intrigues me the most is how their past affect their present. Does it really change them?
Mani Sankar Mukherjee’s epical Chowringhee does exactly that. Except that the setting is not that of a prison, but of a sprawling hotel. A hotel that is majestic, regal and oppulent in every description…Shahjahan as it is aptly named is like an unattainable luxury, an exotic haven, a citadel that intrigues every man who stands outside its facade. The descriptions of the carpets, the rooms, the banquet hall, the lounge and even the bar throw up images of a world that are unseen to many. Even though he wrote it in the 60′s, Sankar chose the 50′s as a period to set his novel in. A decision that I think worked the magic like no other. The fifties was historically close to many events that affected the novel and its characters. The hangover of the British regime, the memory of the English life and an innate desire and repulsion of their lifestyle is what makes much of the plot. The characters can be easily divided between the two categories…one that have aped the English to the hilt, and the others who are carrying the burden of the inherited past with no taste but sheer sake of duty and habit. The location of this hotel and the name of the novel is inspirational in itself. The jewel of the crown literally, Chowringhee is where every Calcuttan wishes to be. One of the poshest and unreachable destinations in the city. Even today, Chowringhee has retained its charm.
When I was taught to read prose and understand the nuances of a well defined character, I was told that a character is well-etched if there is a defined graph of its personality in the work of fiction. Each character in Chowringhee (and there are a host of colourful ones) charts a course of its own, a journey that makes the reader assume a certain notion about him/her and one that changes at the end of the novel. Some shock you, some don’t! Take Sankar for instance. As the author and the narrator of the novel he begins his life and narrative seeped in penury. Almost at the verge of starvation he holds on to the meager thread of hope that Byron (the private detective) gives him. Byron uses his own connections and gets Sankar a job at the Shahjahan. Sankar begins his life at the hotel like any other outsider. Full of awe and humility he knows this is a new beginning. His curiosity and naivete as he goes about his initial days at the hotel are heart warming. Perhaps that’s what makes Sata Bose take him on an as an apprentice! The characters in the novel crisscross Sankar’s life at Shahjahan and by and by as events and lives unfold before him he moves out of his naivete self. He changes in a very sublime way that seems most natural and obvious to the reader. And it is the same with almost every character in the novel. Take Byron for instance, the passionate private sleuth who is instrumental in Sankar reaching Shahjahan has a story of his own. His friendship with the hotel manager Marco Polo has a story of its own. In fact Marco Polo himself has skeletons in the closet. As each character is introduced, his story is told in parts. Marco, a Greek orphan reared by Italian priests, studied in hotel management finds his place in Calcutta. It is here he falls in love with the enchanting Susan Munroe who has her own ambition in place. Marco Polo and his troubled marriage to Susan is what haunts him. To find her he needs a friend, a place that Byron takes effortlessly. The manager’s secretary Rosie, an African-American slave whose lot has toiled hard to find its own roots in  Calcutta has a story of her own. Her feisty exterior is like a kernel…hard and impervious! By the end of the novel, as she is left alone you melt at her fate. Nityahari, the high-class Brahmin who plays the ‘lenin’ (linen) man in Shahjahan believes that he is reduced to a launderer only because he has sinned. His fetish for cleanliness, not of the hotel and his laundry, but of himself is obsessive. As a reader it almost put me off…but the story of his past let me forgive him.
Sata Bose, the enigmatic receptionist at the Shahjahan is a character that I found myself attracted to the most. It’s another thing that Uttam Kumar played the character in the film based on the novel. Almost like a father figure to Sankar, Sata knows the hotel and its mechanics better than anyone else. He is the one everyone trusts…the manager Marco Polo,  offish guests like Phokla Chatterjee, the scandalous Mrs Pakrashi and the lovable air hostess Sujata Mitra. When I started the novel and was a few pages down, my mother asked me if Sata Bose had arrived. I didn’t understand what she meant then. But as I devoured  the pages of Chowinghee I realised why. I couldn’t imagine Shahjahan without Satyasundar Bose! He was like the sprawling gateway through which countless guests walked into the hotel, the mirror that they checked themselves in, the hospitality that they savoured and the hearty feeling that they went back with! Sankar’s Bose-da knew no other existence than the one he lived inside the walls of Shahjahan…that of the receptionist. Sata Bose never said so, but if I had met him I would have asked if he ever felt like the furniture in the hotel? I somehow believe he would have answered in the affirmative. Sata’s life is nothing less than the tragic hero. A man who lives for his post and the ship that he mans, is reduced to a pitiful state when he walks out of the hotel.
The guests have remarkable stories to tell as well. The affluent business class that walks into Shahjahan as it is their own have their personal suites. Karabi Guha is hostess to Suite No 2, witness to several business meetings, a facilitator and it doesn’t take too long for the reader to know that she is indeed used as a ploy to ensure that the meetings bend in her employer’s way. A sophisticated, educated Bengali woman who meets her employer’s and his guests’ expectations to the hilt makes one mistake…she falls in love with the son of another rich businessman! Karabi’s story did not surprise me…in fact I expected it to end the way it did. But that didn’t take away the pain I felt for her. The Agarwallas, the Pakrashis, Phokla Chatterjee…all end of being characters that twirl the lives of the principle cast on their fingers. The privileged lot, the people for who Shahjahan is run…patrons to have to be pleased at any cost! I didn’t feel an iota of emotion for any of them. Written with a stereotypical hand these characters run amok in hotels like Shahjahan. With their faces painted in civility they hide the beasts inside. Let’s say, they are the pretty villains in Chowinghee who create the drama and action!   On the other hand is a Sutherland…the WHO doctor who is in Shahjahan for another reason. The story that he trails…the story of a barmaid in the hotel took me to another lifetime. By the time it came back to the present I had my hair ruffled! Connie the woman, the cabaret girl who Sankar befriends has another sparkling story to tell…her midget brother and her tussle with her own fate left me thinking! Sujata Mitra came into the story like a breath of fresh air. The one woman character who seemed a lot like me and gave me hope for Sata Bose. And like a typical matriarch hoped that Sankar too would find a match for himself…Karabi had given me a glimmer of hope, but her life was headed elsewhere!
The characters in Chowinghee will haunt me for a while…it is not everyday that I finish a book that I am sad it came to an end.
(Rituparna works with a media company and she blogs at (http://rituparnaghosh.wordpress.com/ )