Thursday, January 19, 2012

Review: Rumi: A New Translation

Maybe I am not the right person to review this book, simply because I haven’t extensively read the works of Rumi, a great spiritual master and poet from the 11th century. But yet I found this book an excellent resource of his works. The book is translated by Farrukh Dhondy. He calls it a new translation  because he felt most of the translated works of Rumi do not do justice to his poetry and are more or less literal translations of what he has written in Urdu. And his contention being the meaning behind the verse and poetry are lost in translation. As per the author he has tried his best to give Rumi’s verses and poem a contemporary translation by trying to combine the intent of the original with an attempt at lyrical felicity.

Like I said earlier I haven’t extensively read Rumi but this book has managed to entice me to read more of his work. Yes I am absolutely embarrassed to admit that I haven’t read Rumi. So as per me if the book has managed to get me to read up more on Rumi and get me hooked to poetry means the translations have not been distorted much from the original and justice has been done to his works.

Do read this book if you are a fan of Sufi poetry and yes of Rumi.

Would just like to end it with one of the translated verses Today ‘Tomorrow is a hope- the dreamer’s way, the Sufi lives the moment, rejoices in today!’

Review: Death in Mumbai

Neeraj Grover has been one murder story which I have followed diligently all these years. The shock, the gruesomeness of the murder, the absolute calmness with which the murderers Maria Susairaj and her boyfriend Emile Jerome conducted themselves shocked me no end. Seeing Neeraj’s parents break down on every news channel broke my heart. When they managed to get bail it upset me and I tweeted about it continuously, but as if, that would help.

Now Neeraj Grover was one such guy you encounter everyday in Mumbai, almost like one of our own, struggling with Mumbai’s life, small town boy from Kanpur  trying to make it big in this city despite his parents not wanting him to go anywhere beyond Kanpur. His is a story you encounter every day, the fact that he worked close to where I work, got murdered just two suburbs away from where I stay and ended up dying such a horrific death was and still is very hard to digest.

But anyway this post is not about what I feel about the murder but a review of Meenal Baghel’s excellent and well researched book ‘Death in Mumbai’. Since this book was about the murder which I still track I started reading it instantly and was hooked. This book was not just about Neeraj’s death but it tried to show how aspirations, the pressures of the city can lead young professionals to a crime so heinous in proportion.

Who were the main characters in this entire episode? What made them do what they did? She tries to take us into their lives and you realize that they are perfectly normal people like you and me. What drove Emile Jerome an extremely bright student coming from a well off family and employed in the Naval services to commit a crime of such tragic proportions. Maria hailing from a wealthy background out to make it big in Bollywood, supposedly very shy and meek person manage to help cover up the murder? And did Neeraj Grover a man obsessed with making it big in the industry misuse his position to lure Maria into a relationship with him?

Lots of questions remain unanswered, lots of permutations and combinations derived to try and answer why the murderers did what they did. Did Neeraj deserve a death so gruesome? Meenal tactfully judges none but draws a riveting picture of a death whose mystery has not faded even though the killers may have been found.

Though at times and at places I found the book increasingly repetitive but it was a minor hiccup in trying to present all angles to the case.

A book I highly recommend all to read.

Review: Two Fates: The Story of my Divorce

I recently read a book called Two Fates, and if the title sounds similar to Chetan Bhagat’s Two Fates, let it be known it is intentional. Yes the book takes off from where probably Chetan Bhagat’s book ended , in which the North Indian boy marries his college sweetheart the South Indian girl. In all honesty I found 2 States a genuine fun book even though I am not a Chetan Bhagat fan.

So if Chetan Bhagat's book was two states: The Story of my Marriage we have Judy Balan's 2 Fates: The Story of my Divorce tries to present a story of how after 4 years of a similar Punjabi boy married to a Tamil girl scenario the two decide to divorce.But here’s the proverbial twist in the tail, getting a divorce is almost near impossible because by now the two families are very much in love with each other. If you thought that reading this would be fun, I am sorry to burst your bubble it is so not funny. I just find the entire deal of basing your book as a flipside to another already published book downright weird.

Moreover the story does nothing to convince you that the two have any valid reason to divorce, more like flirting with the idea. And basing an entire book on this idea is absolutely unconvincing and well not so hilarious as the author might have intended. Then making the characters forcibly sound cool and awesome is also a big turn off while reading the book.

Okay also a declaration- no I am not a Punjabi nor am I a Tamilian. No, just in case you were wondering. 

It is a book you can easily skip.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Guest Review: Dracula & Starwarped

Reviewed by : Priyanka Dalal

If you are in Mumbai and love books, one good place to find interesting, dirt cheap books are the second hand book stalls next to Cafe Mysore, Matunga. So after an Udipi breakfast of idlis, dosas and south indian kaafi I found two quite exciting books in the lot. Dracula by Bram Stoker and Starwarped!

Dracula - Bram Stoker
Being an avid fan of vampires from before the Twilight mania I felt I had to read the original 'Dracula' written way back in the 1800s. This is the beginning of all the vampire literature is what I thought and plunged into the book! The story starts off with an English gentleman Jonathan travelling to meet Count Dracula for work reasons. As he nears the castle his journey gets increasingly eerie. The villagers warn him to stay back but being the 'good guy' he favored his diligence and professional instincts and arrived at the assigned hour. At the castle, over many days he faces many horrors including having to live a nocturnal life, getting his blood sucked by vampire women and being locked up! The story also narrates the life of two women in England. One of them is Jonathans fiance. These chapters start out in a very 'emily bronte' fashion with dances, beaus and proposals! Later however events take a sinister turn.

The story follows Dracula's attempt to establish a base in England. A lot of myths about vampires are uncovered in the book, apart from the usual stories of garlic repulsion, bats, coffins, wooden stakes, this book uncovers other facts like vampires can't cross water unaided, they can't change shape during the day and more. The book has detailed out what a vampire is and how Dracula came to be, it tends to drag a bit since we are more used to vampire romance than drudegerous explanation of his habits but all in all its an interesting read!

Star Warped

This book is a real rolling-on-the-floor-laughing-my-ass-off book for all Star Wars fans out there. It is a written spoof on the entire movie. So it starts of with the A long time ago... text which is ofcourse changed into something quite funny, it then follows the entire movie only changing it to point out the gaffs and give it some really hilarious twists. Luke Skywalker's Tatooine nudist colony, yes you heard me right... Luke's colony happens to be well a colony people who prefer to stay naked. Obi Wan Kenobi is Old Ben Knobbli - a person who suffers from some disease which makes him bend double due to his knobbly, wobbly knees! Its quite amusing to read about Darth Vaders attempts to show his funny side, where he writes stand up comedy scripts around his habit of crushing the wind pipe of people who anger him! After a while though as all spoofs go it gets a bit much and I find I can keep the book down. It was definitely a very interesting and very different read from my usual stuff. 

(Priyanka Dalal is a social media marketeer from Mumbai. You can follow her work insights @ and find her on Twitter @priyankawriting.)

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Review: House of Silk

Reviewed by: Ananth

221B Baker Street. Dr Watson. Sherlock Holmes.
It is unquestionable that the above would bring to life a most vivid imagery for it is almost unimaginable for anyone to have not come across the Holmes'ian phenomena. Be it a text that has been forcibly thrust upon one during school or the sheer hunger that drives the avid detective fiction reader to devour every word written about Holmes, it is a given that each of us would have their own concoction of the Holmes image in our heads - for me though, throughout the House of Silk it was Robert Downey Jr who was invading my head!!

Amidst a plethora of stage and screen adaptations, there also exists quite a canon of derivative 'Holmes' in text - Laurie R King's Mary Russell series which I can quite recommend and Ben Kingsley's portrayal of Dr Watson in Without a Clue immediately spring to mind (a more extensive search is bound to produce a lot many results). January 2011 saw Anthony Horowitz being commissioned by the Conan Doyle estate to write a new novel featuring the genius and upon reading it I can safely say that it had been entrusted in the safest of hands. Well know for his Alex Rider novels and some acclaimed television work (Foyle's war), Horowitz has managed to produce a work that does complete justice to the original work while still being explorative enough to rein in the interest of the modern reader.

The House of Silk unfolds as one of the many unpublished case memoirs of Dr Watson that were safely stowed away in a safe-deposit box at Cox and Co. in Charring Cross Road (much like lost vault tapes, I suppose!). The specific events surrounding this account, as per explicit instructions, were to remain sealed for 100 years as Dr Watson believed that its full knowledge "would tear apart the very fabric of society" (as it existed circa 1890). The opening sees a rather dandified art dealer seeking Holmes' help sensing danger from a rather mysterious stalker wearing a flat cap. He relates to Holmes a fairly violent flashback set in America involving a train robbery and Irish gangsters, convinced that revenge was the motive of the stalker. Thus the ball is set in motion for an excellent mystery which takes on gigantic proportions as one ploughs through the pages - I would not be doing justice if I were to spell out events in their order as that is something to be experienced - how Horowitz manages to mesh these snowballing events expertly into a shuddering climax is the very hallmark of the House of Silk.

Horowitz manages to recreate the Victorian London and has remained true to the Doyle style in terms of the conversations that take place, Dr Watson's voice and other trifles as Holmes would say. However in between all this he manages to weave in the odd element here and there that would appeal to a wider and modern audience. Take for example the sentiments that Holmes expresses towards the Baker Street Irregulars - it manages to shade Holmes in a much warmer tone, something that is totally opposite to what Doyle used to portray him as - the single-minded harsh investigator whose sole aim rests with the resolution of a mystery.  As often echoed by Dr Watson in the book, there also seems to be a progressive and broader outlook towards societal scruples that is definitely new to a Holmes mystery and this eventually becomes critical to the untangling of events. The devout Holmes fan may not appreciate these detours (as with a couple of other minor items - you can solve the inconsistencies with the dates!!) but Horowitz manages to stray within limits. All the tropes associated with a Holmes'ian mystery are prevalent - Holmes pulling inferences out of thin air with subsequent explanations to Dr Watson, Homes retreating into a shell when challenged, and the inimitable Lestrade - the spirit of Doyle is alive and kicking without a doubt. I particularly enjoyed one interaction between Mycroft and Sherlock - it is probable a lesson on how great minds communicate whilst apparently saying very little (maybe akin to what might have ensued if Newton & Einstein were to have a dialogue!!).

I think it is needless to add here that I thoroughly enjoyed this book. While being true to the original canon, Horowitz has opened the doors for a modern rendition. Paced extremely well with a well constructed mystery (in fact three mysteries resolve themselves by the time we are done with this book!), the House of Silk is a Holmes'ian mystery that would either leave you wanting for more from Horowitz or will make you go back and re-devour the original canon of 56 short stories and 4 novels - either way it is a treat and indeed, the game's afoot

(Ananth is a software engineer from Chennai who loves reading but loves even more the dissecting that follows the read.)