Baaz- Anuja Chauhan

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Strange how this is my first Anuja Chauhan book. I have all her books, but for some reason, I have never got down to reading them. So I started reading this book without any pre-concieved opinions or expectations. But then, reading about an airforce officer fresh after Mani Ratnam’s Kaatru Veliyidai did help me picture Ishaan the way I wanted to. And I subconsciously somehow drew similarities between the two. Anyway. That’s not what this is about.

A village boy who got his adrenaline rush baiting trains as a child baits bigger things as an adult, things that give him a rush from higher up, starting from the diving board and then literally reaching for the skies. And then the war breaks out and love happens. After Kartography, this is the next fiction set during the Bangladesh war that I’m reading. I have strong opinions on war myself, and so I was able to relate quite easily with Tehimina and the conflicts in their relationship. Makes me wonder if it is actually ever possible for two people with ideologies at two extremes to ever make a relationship work.

The book is extremely well researched, but the armed forces is somehow not my thing (sorry, I’m on *that* side) and I must admit that I skimmed a lot through the war details. But the romance and the undeniable filmy aspects made the book an enjoyable read. But then again, being a, well, you know, the hinglish got on my nerves. But hey, this isn’t a work of literature, so if it works for some people, who am I to complain.

There’s something in this book for everyone, (let me stereotype here and say romance for the ladies, war for the boys) but I wonder if this book will actually make it out of the chicklit genre into the regular world.

Having expected it to be classic chicklit and then mistaking the picture on the cover to have been a female IAF pilot and expecting it to be about a badass woman pilot and then actually reading the book for what it was, I must say that it was a bit of a letdown. But then again, this is my first Anuja Chauhan book and I would recommend that any newbie wanting to start reading her, start with this one.

As an aside, as a note to myself, I should pick up The Blood Telegram and finish it from where I left off. I need a dose of the real Bangladesh war stuff after this.

And oh, the next best thing about this is that when you hear the word Baaz, you would automatically think of this book and not the Salman Khan movie.

You can get your copy of this book from here 

 

(The book was sent to me as part of a book review program)

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Kerala’s Naxalbari

Anger

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‘What is a Naxalite pa?’ ‘They are people who don’t like rich people. They cut off the heads of rich men at night and leave them on their doorsteps the next morning’
What on earth were my parents thinking when they explained Naxalism to child this way?!

I was grounded enough to know that we were not rich, but I still remember being terrified for my neighbour uncle, whom I considered to be a richman,and having nightmares of his beheaded head on his doorstep. This was in the early 80s and Naxalism and Ajitha were still part of newspaper articles that my dad used to read out loud from the Malayala Manorama. This is my first memory of the name Ajitha, the Naxalite. It was several years later, I heard her name again when we were trying to get help for a friend in an abusive marriage and she was asked to contact Anweshi. Anweshi? Yeah, run by ex-Naxalite Ajitha, they said. Ah.

I’m not that child anymore. And I know who Naxalites really are.

The problem with reading on the Kindle is that you don’t give too much importance to the book covers. So when the incident related to the photograph on the book’s cover happens, it punched me in the gut like nothing else. It unleashed a wave of anger in me, and I realized that it is such anger that creates people like her. I hope she has never, ever forgiven the police and the system for this.

The book is a translation and as most translations go, it drones on and on, painfully. But if you look beyond the language and the style of narration, you will read about a fiery young girl who became the face of the Naxal movement in Kerala. The way she continues to loom large as ‘Naxalite Ajitha’ one would think that she participated in several attacks and was some kind of fearsome terrorist. But no, she was just an idealistic young girl who went on one, just one, mission. A mission that failed. Not yet an adult, she went as the only woman in a group of men, with the blessings of her parents.  Admirable. Though in her later interviews she does talk about the sexual harassment she faced within the group while in the forests. I still don’t understand the splits, the ideology of each faction, the internal politics, the Soviet-China divide or anything. The book mentions a lot of ‘betrayals’, but I have no clue what they are.

Reading this book in 2017, after several trips to ‘communist’ China, I am not able to relate to how Mao inspired and kicked off such a violent revolution in India in the 60s. Or how books of translated Mao quotes sold like hot cakes. The only Mao quote that I am familiar with are the ones from the souvenirs about him being a ‘Very Gelievable’. Or how they sought validation from Peking. While I am on their side to a large extent, I am extremely uncomfortable about the fact that they chose a foreign country and the leader of a foreign country over their own.

Makes me sad that some of those heroes (yeah) from the movement have changed, changed to the extent of having a godman’s picture on his table :/ Anyway.

She

The emotions had been building up for the past three months. Nothing was the same since she had come into his team. He stayed back in the conference rooms long after she left, just breathing in her perfume. He stole secret glances over his laptop to grab a glimpse of her. He caressed her chair with secret longing each evening after she tossed her handbag on her shoulder and walked out of the office. It was an emotion beyond his control. It was pure lust at times, and sometimes he wondered if it could even be love.

She knew. She caught him staring at her often. She could feel his deep breaths taking in her scent as she passed his seat.  She woke up each morning, excited at the thought of being in the same room as him in a few hours. That thing he was feeling, it was contagious.

Hormones went berserk in that little office every day. She teased him with her seductive clothes and heady perfume. He drew her closer to him with his power and position. It was a game they were playing without saying a word to each other, a secret game that everyone else in the office was oblivious to. Or were they?

******

She held out the box of chocolates in front of him and he picked one, hands shaking, he looked into her eyes and smiled. She looked extra beautiful that day. His throat fel dry, he couldn’t even utter the words ‘Happy Birthday’ to her. All that came out of him was a mumble.

An email popped up in his inbox. ‘Can you come to my house tonight for my birthday party’? He replied immediately. ’ Yes’. They didn’t say another word to each other for the rest of the day.

*****

There was no party.

The bedroom was where they wanted to go, and that was where they went.  Those lust filled moments  in parking lots, lifts, conference rooms and glass cabins sought nirvana in that bedroom. Three months of terror unleashed by raging pheromones and frenzied emotions were about to get closure. And continuity? They fell on the cool sheets, greedy and ready to be consumed by whatever monster it was that had taken over their senses all these days.

As he rolled over, his arm hit the nightstand and his cellphone that was carelessly placed on the edge fell down. His heart skipped a beat and he reached down to pick it up. The display had lit up, spreading a soft white glow all over the darkened room. He breathed a sigh of relief as he saw the screen, it was undamaged. And then his heart skipped a beat again. His wife was smiling up at him from his wallpaper.

He looked at the woman on the bed. He looked at the woman in his phone.

He picked up his clothes and walked out of the bedroom without looking back.

This too was a prompt based story. Why is it that almost every single story that I wrote back then had this kind of theme?  No, I’m not looking for that answer.

Platform

All those months of hard work were finally going to pay off.

He got off from the train into the crowded platform. It was nine o’clock in the morning. He moved the laptop bag from his right shoulder to the left.  I should have put it into a backpack, he thought to himself. He swung his right arm and rotated it to ease the pain off his shoulder, almost striking a woman hurrying past. ‘Sorry ma’am’, he muttered. The woman gave him a nasty look and rushed toward the oncoming train.

The trains came and went almost at the speed of light in that station. Where are all these people coming from and where are they going, he wondered. He had to walk a while before he found a place to rest.  He bought a cup of coffee and sat down and rested the bag against the paan stained legs of the stone bench. His phone rang.  Startled, he spilled a little coffee on his shirt. He placed the cup on the bench and fumbled into his shirt pocket to retrieve the phone.

‘Haan, tell me’, he barked , his voice tinged  with irritation, one hand rubbing the coffee stain on his shirt, trying to get it off with a handkerchief.

The voice on the other side asked him if all was ok.

‘If it is not ok, I’ll call you. Now please stop calling me’, he replied angrily and hung up.

One more train stopped, loaded and unloaded its passengers and left the station.

He looked at his watch. It was almost nine twenty now. He crushed his coffee cup and threw it on the platform aimlessly. The train was approaching. He got up and walked towards it. The crowds thronged towards the door. He quickened his pace and rushed in, grabbing the rod. The coffee stain was bugging him. He needed to get some some water at when he got off to see if he could wash it before the stain set. The train started moving and he glanced towards the bench where he had been sitting. Between the sea of legs he could see the laptop bag still leaning against the dirty stone legs of the bench.

**

He got down at the next stop. Everything had gone as planned. All he had to do was to make one phone call. A cellphone was placed inside the laptop bag. He would call that phone and it would ring. Once. Twice. Thrice.  The device would get activated.  The rest, his employers had told him, would be reported in the news.

The platform he stood on was no different from the previous one. The same thronging crowds. Husbands who had said goodbye to their wives and rushing off to work. Fathers who had dropped off their children in schools and now hurrying to offices on the other side of the city. Wives who had risen at dawn to finish off their household chores and now going to their offices to work . Laughing college students with their dreams ahead of them. Lovers who had exactly five minutes to stop and exchange glimpses between trains.

He stood there and looked at the sea of humanity before him. A sudden wave of remorse swept through his senses. Should he? Shouldn’t he? Should he?

He reached into his pocket and took out his phone. He dialed a number.

He threw the mobile phone on the tracks under the wheels of the train hurtling towards the platform and walked away.

*****

An anonymous tip off, the TV channels said when they hysterically reported how a bomb in a laptop bag was defused that morning. He would be traced soon, he knew it. But he didn’t care anymore.
Yes, done-to-death theme. Maybe there are a million stories with the exact same thing. But hey, recycling posts from years ago. Let me. 

Pillars of the Earth – Ken Follet

So much homework

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When I finished reading the Century Trilogy, it took me back to those school days and the 20 marks questions we had to mug up for on the ‘Causes, Course and Results’ of the World Wars. As much as a bore it was back then, the world wars never cease to fascinate me now. I enjoyed the Wikiclicking that I did after I finished those books.

The Pillars of the Earth again took me back to Sister Leema’s history classes where we had to mug up pages of Kings and their tiffs with The Papacy (Oh, how I loved the word papacy). And Charlemagne who’s name she pronounced exactly as it was written and we snobs laughed. And these lines from Ms Judy’s English classes, something that stayed with me all these years. (Yes, Wolf Hall is still in my half-read list, I know)

Had I but served my God with half the zeal
I served my king, he would not in mine age
Have left me naked to mine enemies

While the book isn’t exactly about any of these, it just made me Wikiclick through pages and pages of history from the twelfth century, learning about the hierarchy in the church, the dirty politics among the men of god and their overbearing, stifling presence over the State. Interesting how history seems to have now come full circle after all these centuries and the line between the governments and religion is slowly blurring again, but in a part of the world far, far away from England.

Little does Aleina know, that when she rejects her oaf of a suitor William Hameleigh, she has set off a chain of events that will affect the lives of thousands of people across the country, even across the continent, over the next several decades.

Tom the builder’s dream of building a cathedral someday becomes reality when he meets an idealistic monk , Prior Philip of Kingsbridge  who shares the same dream. Over the next several years, this dream cathedral will rise and fall and then rise again, fighting against all odds, battling enemies both known and unknown.

There is a saying that if there’s a devil residing in the roof of a house, there is a devil residing in each tile of a monastery. The politics between the men of God is fascinating. The very human emotions that they force themselves to control, surface over and over again, showing its ugly head in shocking ways. The book is full of strong women, be it Aliena who carries her entitled brother on her shoulders throughout her life or Ellen the ex-novice from a convent, the woman who lived in sin, the witch who’s curses come true. Or even the Regan Hameleigh, the grotesque, who is the real force behind her villainous son William.

Tom the Builder is boringly uncharacteristic and Prior Philip is frustratingly good. Father Sam in Kadal had shades of him. Jack is that hero who is a tad bit too heroic, his travels across Europe and his encounters with the exotic middle eastern  family seemed a bit too contrived. And then there are wimpy men like Richard who lives off his sister all his life while waiting for his earldom to be restored to him. Even the king is a weak man, fickle and clueless. The strongest male character was Waleran, the ambitious bishop, the man of god who thinks he can control the little universe under him like he is god himself.

Spoiler, but I would have preferred it if the book ended with the cathedral being finally built and everyone being happyhappy at last. But it had to drag on so that there could be more bloodshed and mess in an attempt to plug in another real historical character right at the very end of the book. That’s where I began to skim through the book. Mercifully, it ended in the next ten or so pages.

My biggest mistake while reading the book was to attempt to watch the series in parallel. Big, big mistake. The very first episode gave away the suspense that was created in the very first pages of the book, something that was revealed in the book only several hundreds of pages later. I attempted to watch the series again after finishing the book, but the differences between the two were too many. I preferred the version that ran in my head while reading and so I stopped.

While I actively sought out and read the two sequels after reading The Fall of Giants, I am not too keen on reading The World Without End right now. I got all the closure I needed with all the characters in this book, so I’ll give the sequel a wait. Maybe I’ll pick it up in another few months.

The Lovely Bones- Alice Sebold

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I have this habit of Googling ‘similar to’ books whenever I finish reading a book that I like. When I did it after The Virgin Suicides, The Lovely Bones was listed on some forum. So I checked it out on Amazon a few months back and let it be, it didn’t seem too inviting. But last month when this terrible crime happened, I don’t know if it was a coincidence or just creepy internet algorithms being creepy, but this book popped up again on my Recommended Suggestions. Maybe if it hadn’t popped up when it did, it wouldn’t have hit me so hard.

Spoilers ahead.

A fourteen year old girl Susie watches from heaven, helplessly, as her family crumbles apart, unable to come to terms with her death. Her killer, the quiet neighbour who raped and murdered her is still at large, teasing her father into frustration because he is not able to find enough evidence against him. Unable to handle his obsession with finding the truth, her mother drifts apart and finally leaves the family. Her sister joins hands with her father to nail the killer, driving him away from the town to somewhere else where he continues his killing spree. Her baby brother grows up not quite knowing what happened, but well aware of the larger-than-life presence of his dead sister all around the house. Her almost-boyfriend who was initially the key suspect in her murder gets drawn closer to the weird girl in school whom Susie’s spirit touched as she was leaving the earth.
Years roll by and life goes on, and she continues to watch and watch. And the sinkhole in which her body was thrown into continues to fill up, burying the evidence deeper and deeper.The whole story leaves you with a dull ache as you begin to imagine the what-could-have-been versus the what-is.

And then out of nowhere, but quite expectedly, it takes a twist that made me almost throw the book in disgust. I was fine with the narrator being in heaven and even ok with her touching someone as her spirit left earth. But when she comes back after all those years to ‘enter’ that body and tie up all the loose ends, I got annoyed. It undid all the poignant moments and went all stupid and weird. If you could have done this earlier, Susie, the whole book needn’to have even happened :/

Then suddenly it switches back into normal mode with a hurried ending where the killer dies an anonymous death. The icicle killing him was supposed to have some kind of reference to the ‘perfect murder’ setting from a high school camp several years ago, but it felt totally out of place and just left me more frustrated with how everything was wrapped up. I feel the book would have been much better if there was no closure, with the killer still at large somewhere and life continuing to go on as it is supposed to.

Once done with the book, I tried to watch the movie, but it was too meh. The book had dragged on for a tad bit too long and I had no patience left in me to watch the movie too. But maybe this is one of those books where the movie was better? I wouldn’t know now.

And then this. I’m always cynical about ‘missing children’ who pop up on social media and never share those pictures. But then several people asked me to share this saying that the child was someone they knew either directly or indirectly. So I shared the tweets  and was gearing up to tweet to everyone the next day  asking them to delete the pictures once the girl was found. I was sure she would be found. I was hoping for a story the next day with the picture of the smiling child with a couple of police constables. It was such a terrible shock when the worst was confirmed.

There’s nothing that is more terrible than a world where a little child is not safe. Not safe from her neighbour, her teacher, her priest, or even her own father. Her. His. Little boys are as much at risk. This was a very sad and disturbing illustration that I saw today , but it is a reflection of the reality that is hitting us in our faces in a news article every other day.

And then this, my post from long ago about a story I wrote long ago. Still relevant.