Back

So I finally found the energy and inclination to recover my password and peek back inside here. All is well. It is almost 2017 and according to my stats people are still hitting this blog almost every other day looking to download Sita’s Curse. (*rolls eyes*. Buy the damn book if you so badly want to read bad softpron). I’ve read around 20 books this year, but was in absolutely no mood to write about them so far. Other than that it has been life as usual.

The best book I read this year was Nayomi Munaweera’s What Lies Between Us, a #freephenyl that I should have reviewed on this blog but didn’t. I have C-Bag’s One Indian Girl and am planning to finish it by the end of this year so that it can be officially listed as the worst book of 2016. I tried a month of Kindle Unlimited and ended up losing the Rs.150 with 0/10 books that I borrowed being read. Bad idea. (Oh, I still have them on one device that has not been synced. So I can still cheat the system and get my money’s worth)

I also learned that someone I mentioned in this post has written a book. Well, not actually written a book, but he has translated a book to English. Good enough. So of course, I read that one. It was a pretty good translation and it made me read up a bit on the fascinating history of the Portuguese in Kerala. Another translation that I read was Goat Days, a very disturbing account of life of an unskilled worker in the Middle East.

For my dose of dark and twisty this year I had The Virgin Suicides and The Girl on the Train. I have a couple more of the same genre lined up for a gloomy weekend. A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara  has come highly recommended as ‘800+ pages of unadulterated depression’. What more can I ask for.

Started the year with Andaleeb Wajid’s soon to be published book and ended the year with her Will the Oven Explode. Another friend sent me his book, Shadows, but it was some deep stuff that went over my head. So now I’m waiting for the book he is currently writing where apparently his main protagonist is my namesake ( But not named after me).

Then there was this and that, unremarkable books where I just went through the motions.

The forced digital detox this week thanks to the cyclone Vardah made me sit through the day (and night) with my Kindle,sucked into World War I. Yes, the Big Bang Book of This Year has been Ken Follett’s Fall of Giants. What an amazing, amazing journey that was. I’ll write more on this book soon. I’m still reeling from all the information I wikiclicked my way through while reading up on all the historical references in the book.

Anyway. I’m back. And I hope to remain being back all next year.

Coraline- Neil Gaiman: 12/52 (Book a friend recommended )

In what twisted universe is this a ‘children’s book’?

Ok. Reading more about the book, it looks like the author started this off as a children’s book and then it turned out to be a children’s book for adults. And apparently, it scares the daylights out of only us adults, not children. And coming to think about it, all those Enid Blyton books where the toys in the nursery coming alive at midnight seemed so delightful at age seven, but the very concept does sound creepy now.

So. Coraline. The book that gives you disturbed sleep that’s filled with dreams of pale women coming at you with a needle and thread, trying to sew a button into your eye. Coraline is a strong, independent, inquisitive child. She doesn’t like it when people get her name wrong and she doesn’t like ‘recipes’. So on one bored rainy day, she explores her house and finds a door that opens into another world. A world where everything is the same, yet different. And different like you would never imagined.

In any situation, when you have two elderly spinsters living together, there is always a little room for crazy. The two ladies, the delightfully named Miss Forcible and Miss Spink who read Coraline’s tea leaves, give her a stone with a hole and later perform for dogs in the alternate universe, don’t disappoint you with the crazy. The mouse man, for some reason, I pictured as Mr.Heckles. But both him and talking cat I found to be a tad too predictable.

Towards the end, I felt sorry for the other mother though. All she wanted was a little girl of her own, one she could love, cook for and sew button eyes on. But I felt worse for the other father. Somehow, the father seemed to play the same role in both universes, a person just living life and going through the motions.

I don’t think I’ll be watching the movie, I liked they way I pictured things in my head while reading the book and I don’t want to spoil that. But I’ve finally discovered Neil Gaiman and the Ocean at the End of the Lane has come highly recommended as the next Gaiman that I should read. I’m not sure if I’m ready yet, but soon.

Growing up, I did live out my quota of Fantasy World. Like when I tried to stay up past midnight to see if the dolls come to life and such normal things. But this book reminded me of the creepiest thing I did as a kid. I beheaded a pretty little imported doll, a golden haired one named Bonnie that came with a tiny feeding bottle ( a gift from Mrs.Martin, a missionary, whom I remembered when reading about Miss Mitten in GOST) and buried the parts in a wooden chest while the road was being dug up and tarred. I don’t know why I did it, maybe I wanted the doll to go live in some alternate universe or maybe it was some repressed psycho killer tendencies that I was exhibiting. I should make that into a creepy little story like this someday.

PS: Thanks for the recco, The Visitor. I’m ticking this off my reading challenge now.

Aarushi-Avirook Sen: 11/52 ( Set in a place where I’ve lived)

Infuriating

Aarushi

First, repeat after me : My name is Reader and I am not a Judge. I am reading a book, not hearing evidence. I promise to read with an open mind, an open mind and nothing but an open mind so help me god. 

Ok. Yes, I’m a fan of American legal dramas and I wish that this book had been written by John Grisham or the case had been argued by Eugene Young, Plan B-ed and all. But then, who needs fiction when you have Life

This book reminded me again of why and how much I detest Noida, NCR and North India in general. Noida was still synonomous with the Nithari killings when I was planning to move there. A week after I moved, a former airhostess Sheeba Thomas was shot dead for, allegedly, her mobile phone. Two days later, there was a shootout in a society near my place. Less than a month later, Aarushi happened. And the nation still hasn’t recovered from that. I lived in Sector 25 for some time, and made sure I took only the bus to work. But then, that was when I believed that buses were safe and December 2012 hadn’t happened. Later, I moved just across the road from my office building, but I still can’t get over the fear and tension I felt just walking across the park back home on dark winter evenings, looking left and right for Pan Paraag haired men who might rob, rape and kill. Paranoid? Maybe. But NCR continues to haunt my nightmares even now

That day in May 2008 and what followed is still fresh in my memory. The murder, the shock, the pandemonium on TV that night and then the verdict by a rag (TOI or HT?) the very next day, complete with a graphic representation of how Hemraj murdered Aarushi. A few days later, the media verdict was re-verdicted, complete with a graphic representation of an Aarushi in a ‘compromising’ position with Hemraj and an enraged Rajesh Talwar killing them both. (Seven years later, still not having learnt to calm the fuck down, rags will continue such graphic representations; the latest being the Sunanda Pushkar case where we saw a reconstruction of the scene,compete with a floppy haired Shashi Tharoor graphical man). Then came Nupur Talwar’s interview on NDTV where she spoke, calm, collected and cold faced. Yes, I admit it; the fact that she didn’t break down weeping on national television did seem a little unnerving. We all commented on that. But then again, we are a generation so used to seeing public meltdowns on TV when a participant in a dance competition gets eliminated.

This book takes you back to that day in 2008 and tells you the story once more, but this time it tells you what the Talwars want you to hear. There is nothing new actually, most of this has already been reported in some website or the other. Ofcourse, it paints the picture of innocent Talwars. You have little pieces of information passing off as casual narration, but you will read later about how this ‘casual moment’ becomes crucial to the evidence. Like how Aarushi went to bed that night and undid the naada on her pajamas because ‘the elastic was enough, she thought’. An entire section later, you will learn that the undone naada would be invoked by a witness to imply that the pajamas were pulled up after the murder. Or how a golf club, one that would later become part of the actual murder weapons, was ‘casually found while clearing things out and replaced in the set’. Anyway, this book is from the Talwars point of view and this is what you should expect. (Repeating the first line again and moving on)

But it also opens the Pandora’s box of the ugliness of the entire legal system in India, right from the lowly policeman who photographs the evidence and dusts for fingerprints and then says ‘‘Dhyan nahin hai’ to all questions asked in court to the honourable (?) judge who writes about Hemraj’s ‘turgid willy’ and ‘swollen pecker’ in the judgement. Sweepers whose statements are taken as authority in postmortem reports, bloodstained pillow cover evidence that gets mixed up due to ‘typos’, mysterious women and a curious magistrate (who had no business to be there) doing casual disaster tourism to survey the crime scene, multiple lab reports with jarring contradictions, judgmental witnesses who talk about Nupur Talwar’s dressing sense and her ‘looking at herself in the mirror’ at the murder scene, sick mindgames like sending emails to Rajesh Talwar from an id ‘hemraj.jalvayuvihar@gmail.com’ … the list is endless. The casual way in which crucial evidence was mishandled makes me believe that since the police thought they had a clean cut case of Hemraj killing Aarushi, they took it too easy on Day One. And that initial inefficiency and bumbling had a domino effect that went all haywire and led to this. This being Nupur Talwar and Rajesh Talwar in jail, convicted and sentenced to life for honour killing their only daughter. Sounds heavy when you actually spell those words out.

Uglier, are the character assassinations. Building a character judgement based on a teenager’s Orkut communication, getting cheap thrills at the thought a wife swapping group, and using a confession about an extra marital affair during a narco test to blackmail are just the tip of the ugly iceberg. But here again, the author casually drops in bits of information about the caste of the investigating officer to emphasise the point that he takes honour killings for granted.

Did Rajesh and Nupur Talwar do it? I don’t know. Did Krishna and Rajkumar do it? I don’t know. I may never know what happened, but I also don’t know what to believe. There is evidence, lack of evidence, planted evidence, missing evidence, destroyed evidence and then, the truth.

I have grown up, so I am not going to play judge, jury, executioner and gossip columnist. But one thing that this book has proved beyond all doubt is this: The justice system in India is fucked up beyond redemption. And there is no hope.

The Dove’s Lament- Kirthi Jayakumar :10/52 (Book by a female author)

Painful. Reality.

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When I was asked to review this book, I groaned. Yet another chicklit, I thought to myself and rolled my eyes. But a quick search told me that this wasn’t chicklit. It wasn’t even fiction.  It is a book about something so real, something so horrifying, something so sad. And something that we think is so far away, but it is something that is actually knocking at our doors.

Each story begins in a place that need to be magnified on the world map, places that most of us can’t identify offhand. Can you point out to Israel on the world map? Wait. Palestine. Wait. Umm…that area. Maybe. Rwanda? Somewhere in Africa. Bosnia? Is that still even a place? And that country in South America? No idea; I can only identify Brazil in that entire continent. So there you go. Lesson One: Geography. But that’s not what this book is about. It is about history. And current events that will someday be buried in the dusty archives of history.

And it is not just history. Or other people’s conflicts. Or war. Last year’s headlines, the Peshawar massacre is retold through the eyes of siblings who have just discovered each other. You take a diversion from the more known horrors of a Taliban-suppressed Afghanistan and are shown the ugly world of Bachha Baazi, a market where young boys are sold to be dancing ‘girls’ for the rich and perverted. And closer home, the horrifying reality of the Balika Badhus whose stories aren’t as lovable as Anandi’s. There is the never ending saga of the Israel-Palestine conflict; one story, For the Love of a Motherland, shows the irony of how one man’s oppressed is another man’s oppressor. And of course, a book about horrifying conflicts won’t be complete without Kashmir and Srilanka.

The format of this book is interesting, a short-story set in the backdrop of a shameful era of human history like the Srebrenica Massacre ( Go Google it) or the Rwandan Genocide which is then followed by a write up about the the actual conflict. And given the nature of these shameful eras in history, most of these short-stories may not even be fiction.

I remember the 90s when every single day the news reader used to talk about a bombing in Bosnia, a headline that I had no idea about. Fire in a Ring of Ice throws light on an issue that has been so vague to me for the past two decades. A friend’s grandmother used to watch Ulaga Seidhigal for news about Kashmir where her grandson was posted; she thought Kashmir wasn’t a part of India. Is it? I still don’t know. Even in this book, Kashmir has a sad story of its own. With a separate map.

The writing is very good, but I found that the parallel tracks of narration in every story were a bit repetitive and somehow predictable. That style works better for novels; in short stories, there isn’t enough time and space to bring out the depth of each character this way. Though they are all independent short stories, they are gripping enough to keep you going from one to the other without a pause. Makes you  want to know if the next horror is more horrifying than the horror you just read about, and so you keep reading till the very end.

What bugged me? The the urls as footnotes in the print version of the book. It made no sense. Like hashtags on paper or carbon copies in emails. Also, I didn’t understand the cover. Maybe I am not arty enough for it, but I would have preferred a more jarring cover, one that reflects the sadness and pain of the tales inside and stands out so that you take notice of the book in crowded stands.

It is a small book but it covers the entire world. Fly with that dove in search of a safe place to perch, find none, and lament. No, I won’t say that there is hope. I don’t believe in blue skies and rainbows.  I’m a pessimist, so I’lI say that this book has scope to become a trilogy.

You can buy the book here.

Cricket and Me

I have some fond memories of a cricketing era gone by. And era when all cricketers were gentlemen and all uniforms were white (Sorry Manu Joseph). My earliest memory of the game is the shopkeeper ettas shushing me as they held their breath and  listened to the Hindi radio commentator’s excited voice describing the ball going all the way char run ke liye. Then came the era of grainy television sets and someone turning the antennas outside until a voice from the living room told them to stop because they could finally distinguish between the cricket ball and the fuzzy grains on the Dayanora TV.

It was the Reliance Cup semifinals that finally sealed my love for the game. I got to watch the match on a colour TV at a relative’s house. While the women gossiped in the kitchen, I sat with the men in that typical 80s afternoon and watched the game with absolutely no clue about what was happening. But the next day, I very knowledgeably analysed the match in school by repeating what I heard the uncles say ‘Kapil Dev should have batted first. He won the toss and took the wrong decision. The team ate a heavy lunch and slept through the afternoon instead of playing’. (The next time I repeated after an adult was when MGR died. ‘ That fellow went and died and now they won’t show the cricket match on TV’, I parroted after my Anglo Indian neighbour. I got a slap from my mother. A DMK supporter’s scooter was burning in the street below as I was mouthing those blasphemous words) The only redeeming factor of that World Cup was that Pakistan also lost the semis.I remember feeling sad for England, the seed of hatred for the Australian team was somewhow subconsciously planted early in my mind. Alamboder was the man of the season, but my heart was with Mike Gatting. I was officially cricket obsessed.

It was that time of the century when the internet was unheard of and having only a grainy TV, Malayalam newspaper at home and a father least interested in cricket frustrated the cricket thirsty me. I snuck into my cousin’s forbidden pile of Sportstars and read all the captions on the photos, too bored to read the actual articles. I had a crossword book, an imported one that had simple crosswords on various subjects. I did the cricket crossword in reverse from the answers and sat with a dictionary checking the meaning of each cricketing term. And I made notes in my book. Googly, yorker, off-side, slip, mid-on. In a week I had the halo of cricket around me. In theory, I was a cricket expert. I collected BigFun bubblegum cards that said Dilip Vengsarkar: Get 4 runs and Maninder Singh : Get 1 wicket and exchanged them for a fielding position poster.

The next phase was the tomboy phase where I went around ‘bowling’ balls of crushed paper into wastepaper baskets and tying up wooden rulers and inviting classmates to a game of cricket during lunch break. Thankfully, I did have a few equally cricket crazy friends. A classmate messaged me on Facebook some time ago asking me if I was still cricket crazy. I cringed at the memory of those days and said a loud NO. I hounded friends’ brothers for whatever cricket trivia I could get from them. It was Manoj who told me about a tenth standard boy named Sachin. Soon enough a picture of the Boy Named Sachin was inside the plastic cover of my school calendar only to be pulled out and torn up by Miss Cecily.

Years rolled by and I unpatrioticaly cheered when Imran Khan lifted that cup, admiring him for his cancer hospital plans. I rooted for the South Africans named after kitchen stuff, Wessles, Rice and Cooker. I cried with the long earringed Kambli and grudged Jayasurya’s Audi.

And then the worms crawled out. Manoj Prabhakar happened. Azharuddin ( what a letdown :/) happened. Hansie Cronje happened. And I started distancing myself from the game. The last nail in the coffin, Lalit Modi’s baby then happened and I am now officially a cricket hater, detester, abhorer and everything else. If there is one thing I could ban, it would be cricket.

But let’s see if this new UC Browser will change things for me. They claim that it will revolutionize the cricketing experience.

You can check it out here

http://www.ucweb.com/

The UC cricket part of it can be found here for download

http://www.ucweb.com/English/UCbrowser/cricket.html

Salvation of a Saint-Keigo Higashino: 9/52 ( Finished in a day)

The whole state is abuzz with Papanasam this week. Papanasam is a remake of Drishyam which was allegedly an unofficial lift of a book by a Japanese author. So to keep up with the theme of the season, I thought I’d read the book. But then I got confused about which book it was lifted from and started reading the wrong one. But this is a book that once started, will not allow the reader to put it down. So I felt that Devotion of Suspect X can wait and it was Salvation of a Saint Sunday for me.

Warning: Possible spoilers

Coffee. The real protagonist of the story is coffee. How did the arsenous acid get into the coffee? You know who put it in, you even know why she put it in. The mystery is how she did it. And whether she will get away with it. A wronged wife, a pregnant lover, detectives with ego issues, an eccentric scientist a dead man and a coffee cup. The formula for a thriller. There are no twists and turns here, just gentle curves that take you till the last few chapters where everything slowly falls into place. It did get a bit tedious with all those trips to the kitchen and repetitive analysis of the coffee, the water and the filters. A few kitchen trips could have been cut out of the narration. But then as the mystery unfolds, you realise why there was emphasis on some really mundane stuff throughout the book. Like the wall of mineral water bottles in the fridge and the flowers in the balcony.

I would have liked a little back story about why Kusanagi and Utsumi have ego issues. Also, the physicist seemed a bit boring. Though he was the one who finally solved the mystery, he was not a likeable character at all. To be honest, I found it a bit difficult to accept the final explanation. It did seem farfetched. I also felt that the connection between the two deaths was a bit anticlimactic. I would have loved it if Ayane was the one responsible for the other death too. But then,yes, that would have been cliched.

Going by all the other reviews, it looks like this book hasn’t lived up to the expectations created by the previous one. So it is a good thing that I read this first.

I won’t be reading The Devotion of Suspect X next. The taste of the movies may need to fade away first before I can actually enjoy the book.

Toxic People

Sometimes you have to be brutal and take some time to revise the ratings on all your relationships. When BFFs get downgraded to Friends and Friends get downgraded to Acquaintances. And Acquaintances leave the system and become just People.This is something that is absolutely necessary, something that you should do from time to time for the sake of your own mental health. Your ‘enemies’ aren’t the ones who are dragging you down. Your toxic friends are.

All of us have a dash of these toxins in us, that is natural, normal and that is what makes us human. But there are some people in my life whose toxicity is beyond the permissible limits. And it is time to do a Maggi on them.

The Thundercloud:

Actually, she is the one who finds the tarnish in the silver linings of each thundercloud. The one who blames the cruel hand of destiny when her maid doesn’t turn up. Or blames her wretched, meaningless existence for the TataSky outage. She will rue the day she was born when she can’t get her winged eyeliner straight. She will text you from the immigration queue at the airport when she’s just back from her third foreign holiday this year to complain about the monotony of her life. She can send you on a guilt trip if you  by telling you about the time her second standard teacher didn’t respond to a question she asked, and how that is the way things have always been with her in her invisible, insignificant life if you don’t reply to her text messages within ten seconds. Victim Olympics? Always wins gold. She is the one who makes you ask yourself the existential question: ‘Do I hate myself enough?’

a song of ice and fire first world problems gif

The Self Centered Diva 

She’s the one who is oblivious to the fact that you haven’t ‘had a birthday’ for the past six years that you’ve been friends. To quote Gabby Solis, she is so self-centered that she doesn’t realize how self-centered you are. She’ll stop you in the middle of a sentence with a wave of her French manicured hand when you’re telling her about how worried you are about the IT industry these days with an ‘Ok. Whatever. Now listen’ and then go on to tell you about the awesome pongal she had for breakfast two days ago. She is the one who gets passive aggressive and deletes a comment she made on your picture when you don’t Like her latest picture on Facebook. That high maintenance diva with whom you can never catch up. Ever. But if you stick on a bit longer, you’ll find yourself getting depressed because you are not her.

God’s salespeople: 

These are the ones who have a god or a godman for every situation in life. Job hunt not working out? They will tell you about a temple that will get you a job in Google. In America. Hung up on your ex? There’s this swami who can get him back for you with a gold amulet on your bicep. Piles? Forty days of lighting candles in this church can make your bowel movements feel like trips to a spa. Trust me, these people aren’t evil Vatican agents or Mullahs or RSSwallahs trying to ‘convert’ you. They are actually harmless wellwishers who actually believe in these things. But give them a bit of space in your life and before you know it you’ll be sitting in a day-long clapfest listening to people talk in tongues,putting locks on trees to shut your enemies up or hanging a five rupee coin wrapped in a green cloth on your doorway. Religion should be like your sexual preferences. Whatever works for you, fine. I’m happy for you,but I don’t want to know.

The Saviour:

Oh, these are the ones who cannot bear to see you happy. They are the opposite of fair-weather friends. They thrive on your misery . They have some kind of radar that picks up even the smallest drop in your happiness chart and will be at your side to console you even before you realise that you’re supposed to be unhappy. And if you’re not unhappy, they will make sure you get there by digging up a dark moment from a decade ago and reminding you about it. They know what your buttons are, where they are and how exactly to push them. And then, they think they know how to make you better. You’ll want to reach out to them every time something good happens in your life, to let them know that you’re happy and to try to erase that opinion they have of you: A sad miserable wretch. But don’t. Because to them, you’ll always be that sad miserable wretch. Even if you go to them riding on your pet unicorn through a rainbow cloud.

Unfiltered Sunshine:

She is the one who is always obscenely happy. She puts glitter in the imaginary word bubbles when she speaks to you. She looks at a wooden bench with faded paint in a busstop and can Instagram the ‘rustic beauty’ of it. With thirty five hashtags. She gets multiple orgasms over a piece of cheesecake. Nothing is not Awesome to her. Actually, she could add more synonyms for Awesome in her vocabulary. Sunshine is good, but there’s a reason why we don’t get it 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

Let the culling begin!

Uh oh. I’ve become Buzzfeed. I’ve actually included gifs in this post