Archive | June 2014

Asura-Anand Neelakandan : 36/52

The other side of The Story

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I’m always on the Other Side. I’ve never liked that goody two wooden slippers Rama, selfish guy. This book is from Ravana’s side. No, he doesn’t come out as the hero here, not even the anti-hero. He is still the bad guy. But when the sole purpose of someone’s birth was to make someone a god, there’s no winning anything.

As Ravana lies on the battlefield, dying,  jackals feasting on his intestines, he narrates his version of the story. Shunned by his father, insulted by his half brother, with the responsibility of taking care of his mother and three siblings, he vows to restore the Asura supremacy. A meeting with Mahabali proves to be the turning point in his life and he declares himself king, gathers his army to overthrow his half brother Kubera and become the king of Lanka. Ravana comes out as a well meaning but extremely impulsive and immature person, extremely insecure. He makes a deal with a captured pirate instead of executing him and he rushes forward to reward a spy from the enemy side, not realising that such spies should be killed. He follows the rules and ethics of war and judges Rama for the way he killed Vali.  He is several shades of black and white.

In this book, Sita is his daughter, the one destined to bring about his downfall. His object of lust is Vedavati, the brahmin widow whose spirit enters the abandoned baby Sita. Slight Greek tragedy effect here. Mandodhari is the strong woman, educated, mature and independent. Soorpanaka is the silly, pampered younger sister who gets what she wants, be it marrying the revolutionary Vidyutjiva or the revenge she seeks for her nose that was cut off.

There is a  parallel narration by Bhadra, a low asura farmer who has lost everything to the Deva atrocities and swears revenge. I won’t call him the catalyst, but he is the enthu cutlet who is the reason behind everything. He poisons the army and wins Lanka for Ravana, he betrays the revolutionary leader Vidyutjiva, he abandons Sita instead of killing her and so he indirectly becomes the reason behind The End. He immigrates to Ayodhya and becomes that dhobi who plants the seed of suspicion in Rama’s mind.

This was a real story, everything magical and mythical was humanised and explained logically, be it the ten heads or the flying machine or the golden deer or Hanuman burning the city. There are terrible typos and grammatical errors , each mistake was like biting into a stone while enjoying biriyani. The book could have been crisper, there is a lot of rambling in both the narratives.

Makes me want Ravana to be reborn and win the story atleast once.

 

 

 

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Black

The Darkness comes suddenly. It can hit me anytime. I could be having a quiet dinner or just be curled up on the couch with a book, after a long day at work. And suddenly, the world around me grows dark. A deathly silence engulfs me, swallows me and takes me to places I’ve never been to before. Sometimes it is not Darkness, just Silence. I would be sprawled on the floor, watching some mindless TV, the volume turned up to drown out the constant whirr of the neighbour’s mixer grinder or the FM station blaring from the tailor’s shop opposite my house. And suddenly, there would be silence. An eerie, deathly silence. These attacks come with a warning sometimes. I’d be having my morning coffee, turning the pages of the newspaper, and suddenly, I would know. A premonition. I would just know that it will attack me sometime that day.  Still, it makes no difference whether I am prepared or not. There is no escape. From both—the Darkness and the Silence.

The Darkness is the worst. It is like being trapped in a coffin. I never try to fight it because I know I will not win. I quietly go and lie down, trying to overcome the black with sleep. I toss and turn and try to shut my eyes tight to block out the Darkness. But it gets worse. The room starts growing hot and humid around me. It is like being trapped in a dark chamber with a constant flow of steam. No, not like a sauna. I can suddenly feel something chewing on my flesh, man-eating monsters. An ominous buzz begins and it gets louder and louder until there is nothing but that in my ears. I flay my hands wildly in the inky blackness around me. I don’t know what I am trying to chase away, the Darkness, the Silence, the buzzing or the flesh-eating beasts gnawing at me. I touch my hand and I find blood. I cannot scream. And then, without any warning, a wave of cool air wafts in from somewhere. I breathe. I calm down. And the coolness lulls me to sleep. They say prayer helps. And so, I pray. I pray to all the powers that be.

I pray that the power crisis in Tamil Nadu ends soon.

This was ‘published’ in Femina Fast Fiction http://www.feminafastfiction.com/story/black/361/ 

Americanah – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie : 35/52

Judgy. Preachy. Self Righteous. Borderline. But readable.

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I’m not a big fan of isms or anti isms. It makes people big bores. Like when I open Twitter at 6 am and I see a flood of 1/n feminist tweets going on and on about patriarchy- misogyny -blah. Or a conversation about communalism vs ‘sickularism’ with 234 replies that has been going on since 9 pm the previous night. Not denying that these are serious isms that need to be addressed, but as I said, it just makes people big bores. I digress. This is about Americanah and the ism that made this book a small bore: Racism.

It starts off on a interesting note. Ifemelu has decided to return to Nigeria after fifteen long years in the USA. The story unfolds as she sits in a hair salon, getting her hair braided, a six hour long process where she is forced to make conversation with the girl doing her hair. An immigrant from Senegal, the hair girl wants to marry any one of her boyfriends, both Igbos who refuse to marry her since she’s not an Igbo. (It is not just the Indian immigrants who stick to culture-caste-clan rules) Hair plays a very important role in the book. It is a symbol of individuality, conformity, rebellion, acceptance, submissiveness. Hair was what started off her Race blog, the one with a long name : ‘ Observations of an African Black on racism and African American blacks formerly known as negroes’ . Or something like that. That’s where the book got boring. She judges Americans, judges them for everything right from not scrubbing while showering to eating bread for lunch. It always angers me when racism and stereotyping is Racism and Stereotyping only when done to Them. It is perfectly fine when it is the other way round. ( Again, not denying the seriousness of anything, it all exists, but still.  And Them here can mean anyone who suffers any -ism. Ok. I’m not making sense )

Having read and watched a lot about Indian immigrants in the US; most of them ,barring the heavy Jumpa Lahri, being self deprecating comedies , this book gave a different and interesting perspective of immigrant life through the eyes of an African who enters the land of Whites, Hispanics, Asians and African Americans and suddenly discovers her blackness. A unique kind of identity crisis that she isn’t able to come to terms with till the very end. She develops and undevelops her American accent, relaxes and unrelaxes her hair. She gets into a serious relationship with a pale white man and later, with a serious intellectual African American. But there is something always missing in her life: Her life.

And on the other side, her America crazy boyfriend who is denied an American visa and lives through a more tangible kind of torturous life in London, cleaning toilets, working illegally and watching his friends slip into fake English lives until he gets deported minutes before his sham marriage takes place. He returns to Nigeria, gets rich and hires a white man as his general manager. But that’s not some kind of sweet victory. The white man is hired just to add ‘value’ to his business. Vicious circle.

Back to Nigeria, as an Americanah, Ifemelu again does a whole lot of judging the New Nigeria. Their wannabeness, their shift from fresh potatoes to frozen ones, their shallowness, their corruption, their morality. Two minutes towards the end of the book , when you’re waiting to know if they Did or Didn’t, there is a painfully long conversation between freshly introduced characters just to plug in thoughts about the current economic trends.

I would have liked more about Dike, the  African Born America Bred Confused Black American Teenager. His story wasn’t given closure. Similarly, Ifemelu’s relationship with her white employers started off on a promising note , there was scope to explore a different kind of friendship. But Kimberly and her family disappeared abruptly, again, no closure. Blaine, his sister and his friends were plain boring.

Another thing that stood out for me was the casual attitude towards infidelity. Now I’m not judging here, but there was something not quite right in the way she took it for granted about how she could pick up from where she left off with her now married ex. Or when she cheats on Curt with no solid ‘excuse’ or ‘reason’.  Yes, it was the fictional character doing it, but her lack of guilt and the confidence was mildly disturbing. And the trend of being an unapologetic mistress for material gains, right from Aunty Uju and The General to  Rainyundo and the Banker or Obinze’s offer to Ifemelu . Again, if it is a reflection of reality, it is disturbing.

If  I could give this book stars in parts, the first half would get four stars. And the second half , with the series of long conversations and blog posts, essays on racism masquerading as fiction, gets two stars.

Still a fan of Chimamanda Ngozie Adiche, but Purple Hibiscus will remain my favourite book.

How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia- Mohsin Hamid : 34/52

Written in typical Mohsin Hamid style: Totally different from the other two novels.

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It is a hot, humid weekend and you don’t feel like stepping out of the house. So you plan to stay indoors and read all weekend. You have in front of you, on your Kindle, a book written by an author whom you’ve read before. You’ve loved one of his books and liked the other. So you wonder what emotion this book will evoke. When you finally finish the twelve chapters, you will realise that what you feel for this book is something in between love and like.

You don’t understand the snark behind the way this book was written in the format of a self help book. But then, you have never read any self help books and so find it difficult to compare it with a real one and understand the sarcasm. You also don’t like the way the chapters are titled ‘ Don’t fall in Love’ ‘ Learn from a master’ ‘ Become a patron of the arts’ etc because there is not much relevance to  the actual content except for the first couple of paragraphs in each chapter.

But you are a fan of the author and you therefore expect to be a fan of the book. So you look beyond the small things that bug you and focus on the bigger picture : The Story. You find the story unremarkable, but narrated in a very remarkable way. A few pages into the book, you settle down comfortably into the second person style of narration and follow the rags to riches story of an unnamed boy and his unnamed family and friends in an unnamed city in an unnamed country. But since you know where this story is actually set, and you live in a country close to this unnamed country, in Rising Asia, you are able to relate.

You read about the poor boy from a village who moves to the city, gets an education, works in a shop that pirates DVDs, meets a pretty girl and does not fall in love with her. Then you read about how the boy  becomes a man, learns the tricks of the trade by first selling expired food products with new labels and then becomes his own boss, running a successful bottled water business with nothing but a stove and tap water. You then see him getting richer and richer right before your eyes, thanks to unscrupulous politicians, bureaucrats and the god-created economic and social imbalance in Rising Asia. You also follow the  progress of the pretty girl, the one he didn’t fall in love with, from being a beauty parlour assistant to a model to a TV cookery show host to an imported furniture dealer. You wish his wife, a  woman with a mind of her own, something you don’t expect from women in that unnamed country, could have gotten more black squiggly print in the book.

After the twelfth chapter, you close the book with the satisfaction of having read a satisfactory book. But it does nothing to evoke any strong emotions from you. None of the characters will linger in your mind nor will they fade away soon. You then update your blog and your Goodreads page with your thoughts about the book, try to be creative and attempt to write your blogpost in the same style the book was written in,  tick off one more book in your Reading Challenge for 2014, and move on to the next book.

 

 

 

Love Kills- Ismita Tandon : 33/52

A dead woman. A dead man. A bunch of suspects. A determined police officer. Same old?  Oh no. It is dark and twisty interesting.

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Not an edge of the seat whodunnit, but an engrossing read nevertheless.

Thy Will is a deaddiction center run by a psychiatrist Johnny Will who had a disturbed childhood. His ways of ensuring that his patients stay sober are unethical and questionable, they say. I found it a bit contrived. But between him, Sera his psychologist and Zac his half brother, they run a tight and successful ship, catering to The Rich and Famous addicts. Things seem all rosy in the quiet little hill station of Monele until Mira, Johnny’s fiance is found dead due to a morphine overdose.  And when  another gruesome murder happens a few days later, things heat up. Fifteen years ago Johnny’s father was found dead under mysterious circumstances and Officer Ray who had his hands tied wasn’t able to nail Johnny in the crime. But this time, he is not letting him off that easily.

The narration did seem a bit cluttered with each chapter being written from the perspective of each character. I would have preferred longer chapters and lesser characters in this format. But the book keeps you going till the end without breaking the pace, keeping you guessing till the very end. Everyone seems to have a motive and the means, Johnny, Sera, the cousin Azaan, Zac, the evil aunt Adele. At one point I even wondered if it was Marie, the housekeeper. And everyone tells their story, trying to convince the reader of their innocence until finally, one of them reveals the truth. But is it the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth? Ah.

Three things bugged me in the book. One was the fictitious town of Monele. But this has nothing to do with the actual book. Rather, it was the local in me who found it difficult to accept a picture perfect town full of rich party people and a hotel called Seven Seas an hour or so away from where I actually live. I just got a bit picky. Faraway imaginary Malgudi and Brahmpur were perfectly fine with me. But a Monele that claims to be next door? A Ketti Palada, maybe.

The other was the excessive use of Westernised names. Agreed, Ooty is full of Anglo Indians, maybe even people with wannabe western names. I won’t be surprised if there is a house actually named Thy Will, we have a The Tryst there. But this setting, totally removed from ‘Indianness’ and Ootyness did seem a bit odd to me. Not a deal breaker though. The actual plot was interesting and made up for this, so I let it pass.

And ouch, ‘The lesser known poet’ being plugged in obviously and less obviously in more than one place. That made me cringe. The author’s poetry blog should have stayed in the About page, not in Officer Ray’s narration or in sly plugs elsewhere.

I don’t usually like to use the genre/category ‘Indian author’, but it was such a nice change to read a gripping murder mystery by an ‘Indian author’ instead of the current trend of  ‘humour’ or chicklit. I read the reviews of the author’s previous book, Jacob Hills and will definitely pick it up.

This book has been reviewed as a part of GetPublished program by IndiBlogger

Ragtime- E L Doctorow :32/52

Is it history? Is it fiction? Is it historical fiction? Fictional history? Well, it is a little bit of everything. And then some.

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The twentieth century has just been born and current events are creating history. The New World is filling up with immigrants from across the world, immigrants pouring into the streets with their hopes and shattered dreams; the lucky ones sleeping in one room houses without heat, the unlucky ones dropping dead on the streets. Socialism and anarchism are trying hard to make their mark in America,  the champions of the causes are being silenced with quick efficiency. Freud visits America and hates it. A young father ties his daughter to his waist, terrified that he will lose her, as he cuts silhouettes and sells them in street corners. Evelyn Nesbit’s husband has just killed her lover. She entertains herself with acquired motherhood, and becomes obsessed with taking care of the little girl. Emma Goldman is making fiery speeches across the country and takes a heartbroken Evelyn Nesbit under her wing, trying to make an independent woman of her.

The moving assembly line has just been discovered and and  workers with unused brains are churning out cars by the dozen. The rich and famous are getting their dose of entertainment through disfigured human beings. Harry Houdini is at his peak, insecure and disillusioned that he is not actually doing something useful for society, mourning his dead mother like a madman. J P Morgan is convinced that Henry Ford is an Egyptian god reincarnated. And in this America, in a small town called New Rochelle there lives the family of Father, Mother, the boy, Mother’s Younger Brother and ailing Grandfather.

Father’s long absence during his North Pole expedition with Peary has tilted the equations and Mother develops a newfound confidence and a taste for Egyptian furnishings. Father is confused, angry but helpless against the circumstances. Mother’s Younger Brother, as directionless as a loose kite, looks for answers in Evelyn Nesbit’s bed at first and then he discovers his true calling in fighting someone else’s battles. A brown baby is dug up from the earth, alive. The baby’s mother comes looking for the baby and the baby’s father, Coalhouse Walker, comes looking for both of them.

You know that cliched saying about terrorists not being born, but being created by you and me? That. Coalhouse Walker is this negro who doesn’t realise that he should behave like one. So when some jealous white firemen bully him and vandalise his car, he does the right thing: he goes to the authorities. But the snowball becomes an avalanche and before you know it, he is bombing firehouses across the city to be heard, to have his only demand of getting his car fixed and the vandal arrested met. And finally, he takes us back to J P Morgan’s library; but this time, instead of Henry Ford for company, there is dynamite.

And back to current events of the day, Archduke Franz Ferdinand gets assassinated. The rest, as they say, is history.

A patchwork quilt. Loved it.

Thank you The Visitor for the recommendation.

 

 

 

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry- Rachel Joyce: 31/52

Life is all about putting one foot in front of the other

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Remember those National Award winning movies where people would just walk and walk and walk, talk two words and then walk some more?

Harold Fry is a quiet old man living his quiet old life.  He lives in that comfortable silence with his wife of several decades and  he spends his retired days like any other 65 year old man, pottering about the garden, taking out the garbage and trying to figure out which is jam and which is marmalade. Or so you would think.  One day out of the blue, he gets a letter from his old colleague Queenie Hennessy who is now in a hospice. Not knowing how to respond, he writes a very formal and awkward reply to her and goes out to post the letter. But something happens inside him and he keeps walking from postbox to postbox, not able to actually post the letter. Suddenly, he decides to walk, walk all across the country to see Queenie. And so he walks. A walk that he believes will save Queenie from the cancer that is killing her. It is not a walk of introspection or penance, just a walk of faith and a lot of thoughts.

As he walks across those 627 miles for 87 days, he thinks.  He trudges on, putting one foot in front of the other, meeting strangers, trusting them, living off their kindness and he reflects upon his life gone by. He thinks his thoughts. About his mother, his father , the numerous aunties. His son. His wife, their courtship, their marriage. His son. Queenie Hennessy. His job at the brewery, his boss. His son.

At one point, the story of his walk reaches the media and he suddenly finds himself under the glare of the limelight. This reminded me so much of the Anna movement. A single old man’s cause, suddenly hijacked by wellmeaning wellwishers and the media , reaching such a pinnacle and then taking a major diversion and whimpering off, leaving the old man back to where he started from. Here too, Harold suddenly finds himself a Pilgrim, wearing Pilgrim T Shirts, sipping juice from a sponsor’s bottle, surrounded by supporters who are prepared to walk the walk of faith with him to save Queenie. And just like Anna’s, The Pilgrim’s Walk gets hijacked by Rich, who then, cheered by the media, leads the group to Queenie, without Harold. And a Kate, who goes back to where she actually belongs.

And finally, alone, weary and ragged, he reaches the hospice. And at the gates, he hesitates. Should he go in or not? Does he? Does he save Queenie? And by that, does he save himself?

A quiet, lovely book that takes you across the wet English countryside, stopping over at abandoned farms, cathedrals and immigrants’ houses , drinking from streams, eating wild mushrooms and sleeping under the stars. A book of faith and trust. Determination. And hope.