Saturday, December 15, 2007

Holy Cow – Sarah Macdonald

Author: Sarah Macdonald
Publisher: Bantam
Pages: 304 pages
Price: INR 259

I did not expect a William Dalyrmply research writing stuff about India when I picked up Sarah’s Holy Cow from the shelves of library at work. That’s exactly what I got out of that book. Funny in parts and sarcastic mostly, Sarah’s honest impressions about India during her period of stay promise enough and more amusement.

Backpacking from Australia to India right after her studies – perhaps after being lured by the tales of adventure India promises or being told to promise – Sarah’s experiences were less than pleasing. Soon after and before even ending the backpacking journey, she decided to ‘give the country the finger’ and took off to Australia not giving a damn to the palmist who predicted that she would be back in India soon for the love of her life.

Back she did and exactly for the love of her life quitting her job in Australia. After landing in India and starting her life with her boyfriend who has a job that had him away from her almost all the time, Sarah started exploring India mostly to beat the boredom. In the process, she encountered the mysticism and vibrancy of Hinduism, Islam, Zoroastrianism, Jainism, Buddhism, and even Christianity – the religion that has adapted quite a many rituals from Hinduism while being practiced in India.

Sarah’s writing is simple and the impression that leaves is more than just candor. However, she did not get the facts right in few places – especially when she writes that Hindu temples are open to people of all caste and creed, after being denied entry into a Parsi festival. There are temples, especially in South India, that deny entry to non-hindus and put up a glaring signboard stating ‘no admission for non-hindus’. And it’s not easy to forget the controversy that swept the country when the then President Abdul Kalaam was denied entry into the Guruvayur temple, in Kerala.

Although Sarah’s book displays her fondness towards the country, it’s bitchy in most parts. India is dirty - well mostly - the roads are bad and potholed, bureaucrats who run the system are corrupt, summers are extreme, beggars swarm every tourist attraction, and the spiritual system is driven by sanyasis and sanyasins – holy men. Well yes, there’s no denial to these facts even though it sounds bitchy.

Know what Sarah? India is developing. It has been, it is, and sadly it will always be – no matter how many decades pass by. Now that’s the saddest reality of all.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

The Reluctant Fundamentalist - Mohsin Hamid

"The janissaries were always taken in childhood. It would have been far more difficult to devote themselves to their adopted empire, you see, if they had memories they could not forget."

Author: Mohsin Hamid
Publisher: Penguin/Viking
Pages: 184
Price: INR 295

No matter how much I rake my brain for stuff to write about The Reluctant Fundamentalist, I fail in my process. For the book is pretty thin and is a recount of experiences of a Pakistani national (I presume they are partly his own) in the US post 9/11 era.

Told in a simple narrative, the book opens up in a restaurant in Lahore with Changez (the narrator) holding a conversation with an American tourist on his experiences in the US. Sarcastic in places and critical about America’s stand in various issues the book travels in a fast pace providing a glimpse of Changez’s private life also.

The only few moments I felt drawn towards the book was when the narrative traveled through the emotions of Changez after he was devastated with the political developments happening back home in Pakistan – and America’s double stand in not supporting Pakistan when a war prone situation arises following the terror attack at the Indian Parliament. Being an Indian, I obviously felt annoyed on negative remarks about India.

However, not to mention, Hamid’s style is scathing, witty, lucid and bold.

Bottom Line: A definite read (only) if you want to read all the Booker nominees

Thursday, October 4, 2007

I give up.....

I sincerely think I'v gotten over my fondness for thriller/crime fiction. Else how would I describe my disinterest towards what is touted to be a thriller classic of all times ('Godfather'). Despite my strong will to finish the book, I couldn't get myself anywhere even halfway at the task. On the contrary, I remember those late teen days when I loved reading those Sidney Sheldon page turners. Had I laid hands on this Mario Puzzo creation then, I would probably have loved it .

But now, sorry, I give up.....

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Afterwards - Jaishree Misra

There is always, if not exactly a ‘happily ever after’, at least an ‘afterwards’ to every story…

Author: Jaishree Misra
Publisher: Penguin
Pages: 276
Price: INR 250

Jaishree Misra’s book takes one through the emotional turmoil and mental agony of a young man who loses the love of his life to fate’s vindictive hands. More than half of the book is consumed by the anguish Rahul undergoes after he loses Maya to a terrible car accident and eventually Maya’s little daughter Anjali to her biological father.

Maya, a married woman with a child, suffers from a loveless marriage, or so it seems to her. She finds solace in the friendship of her next-door neighbor Rahul, a tourist and an NRI from England who comes to Kerala to spend his vacation and take up Mrudangam classes whilst on the job. Rahul, smitten by her looks although she is married with a child, decides to help her get out of the troubled wedlock and takes her along with him to Delhi and eventually to London from there.

The book is told from Rahul’s perspective and, as stated earlier, focuses mostly on his distress after Maya’s death, who he loses to a car accident after spending 3 years with him in London.

Strangely, Jaishree’s book fails to evoke any sense of sympathy or compassion towards the characters, although it elucidates the pain and suffering of loss of human life. Her writing is, however, captivating in most parts. Besides, her technique of beginning and ending the book on a same note is definitely poignant – if not in the beginning, certainly in the end.

Rahul’s journey to India to meet Maya’s parents for performing her death rites remains the highlight of the book.

Bottom Line: Fast Read

Monday, September 24, 2007

Book Blues...

For some strange reason Mario Puzzo's Godfather seems to be dragging, so is Jaishree Misra's Afterwards... May be they are good books, may be i still haven't gotten enough into it.... in usual cases all it takes to me is a weekend to finish a book... strangely in this case it is not so... may be i'm just a l'l lazy :-)

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

In Xanadu - William Dalrymple

“There are moments in all long journeys when the whole business of traveling seems utterly futile. One feels homesick, tired and above all bored. Nothing pleases. Everything palls. For me that moment came in Tashkurgan.”

Author: William Dalrymple
Publisher: Flamingo
Pages: 320
Price: INR 295

In Xanadu is William Dalrymple’s first book that marked a glorious beginning of his career in travel writing. The book follows William’s attempt to cover the route Marco Polo took. As a final year Cambridge student, William backpacks his way through Turkey and into Iran finally reaching China to end the journey in the Inner Mongols in Xanadu where Marco Polo ended his historic voyage. William dutifully wants to stick to the route Marco Polo took during his voyage; however, the prevailing volatile political conditions in Iran prove otherwise. Sometimes as nomads and sometimes as illegal occupants William and his travel companion Laura (and Louise who joins in the latter leg of the journey from Lahore after Laura leaves to India) explores the passage.

William’s writing is a blend of history with present day events and his insight on every place he visits makes the book effortlessly interesting. Besides, his honest impression of places – often strewn with cynical undertones – makes the reading experience a pleasure.

The bumpy trial that proves nothing lesser than an ordeal does not end with William merely following the track. He explores the sights Marco Polo mentions in his ‘Travels’ and quite often has only the 13th century book as his travel guide. And when William succeeds in finding the monuments mentioned in the book, it substantiates his conviction and the whole meaning of the travel.

The book showcases William’s outstanding style of writing that is equally amusing and hard-hitting.
William often takes pride in boasting to be the first European to visit the unexplored places only after Alexander and Marco polo. The book is no less of a treat and William makes sure that the sense of fulfillment when he completes his travel in Xanadu is equally shared by the reader.

Bottom Line: You will love it if you enjoy the travel-writing genre

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

To Kill a Mocking Bird

‘Shoot all the Bluejays you want, if you can hit ‘em, but remember it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird’

Author: Harper Lee
Publishers: Arrow Books
Pages: 309
Price: INR 250

Harper Lee’s book about growing up during the 1930s in the US is amazingly engaging. The book’s mammoth success is not so difficult to make out given the fact that Lee chooses to throw light at the major issues during the times of the Great Depression in the US through her characters rather cynically.

Besides, Lee’s smooth and effortless narrative travels seamlessly throughout the book absorbing the reader into a whirlpool of events. Although the narrative is that of Scout, Lee chooses to interrupt the narrative every now and then providing her insights.

Wikipedia states: “The mockingbird is used as a recurring motif to symbolize the innocence of various victims of injustice throughout the novel.”

Various victims of injustice being mainly the black people who are afflicted to color prejudice. The story, narrated by Scout Finch, follows the school going days of Scout, her brother Jem, and their friend Dill. Their inquisitive attempts to enter into the house of the neighborhood recluse Boo Radley, their struggle to cope up with their strict cook and caretaker Cal, wisdom endowment of their noble father Atticus, and the dirty trial of the rape of Mayella by the black man Tom whom Atticus is defending are the incidents that by and large form the story.

The book is semi-autobiographical and Lee won Pulitzer Prize for the book including many other awards. Easy to say why. And, To Kill a Mocking Bird remains her major work till date. She was to remain a one-book wonder exhausting her entire imagination on ‘To Kill a Mocking Bird’.

Bottom Line: A definite read