Archive | July 2015

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.

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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.