Archives

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.

25712108

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.

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.

Youth (Scenes from Provincial Life #2)- J.M. Coetzee : 8/52 ( Memoir)

A few years ago I went on a date with an aspiring writer. He was the stereotype. Tall, lanky, unshaven, badly dressed and smelling of stale cigarette smoke. He had that faraway look on his face while he spoke about the book he wanted to write. He then told me that he had just quit his job the previous day to focus on the book and was in no position to take what we had to more than just one date. I nodded. On the train back, I realized that if I had met him this way when I was 20,  I would have totally fallen for him. ‘Write me like one of your French girls’ I would have said to him. And he would have. And then dedicated the book to me. And thanked me in his Booker acceptance speech… I Google him once in a while to check whether he made it. He still hasn’t.

A few weeks ago another crush,again an aspiring writer who is going through the motions in a regular desk job, mentioned this book to me. ( Yeah. Looks I have a thing for aspiring writers. And not without good reason ) A book about a poet stuck in a dead end computer programming job at IBM and how he could totally relate to it. Though the crush itself didn’t last for more than a week, the book recommendation did.

A white confused South African who wants to escape his homeland,one he feels is not rightfully his, to become a poet in the land of the artists and writers. While he would love to go to France, he settles for England. And there, he is again forced to settle for less. He settles for a job that puts food on his table but eats away his creative soul. He settles for women who aren’t the muse he is desperately looking for. But that poet in him does not settle down. It flits from thought to thought, aimlessly drifting through the days and nights, summers and winters hoping that his dreams will somehow find him.

The prose is beautiful. It just moves from moment to moment, feeling to feeling in a rushed, haphazard way. It makes you feel helpless and while you keep hoping for something good to happen, you somehow know that nothing is going to happen.There are so many poets and authors referred to in the book, most of them whom I haven’t read or even heard of. Makes me want to try them, maybe I’ll start with Ezra Pound, our hero’s hero. While the political situation across the world in the early sixties isn’t the main backdrop, it is the undercurrent that drives the narration forward. I realized that  know so little about South Africa. There’s a touch of India too. Satyajit Ray makes an appearance and so does Indian curry. And it also appears that Indian computer programmers living abroad haven’t changed their habits over the decades.

‘”At 18 he might have been a poet. Now he is not a poet, not a writer, not an artist. He is a computer programmer, a 24year old computer programmer in a world where there are (yet) no 30 year old computer programmers. At 31 he is too old to be a programmer: one turns oneself into something else – some kind of businessman – or shoots oneself”

Words that hang heavy on me. Different contexts, same implication. Scary. Very scary.

Had this book not been labelled a ‘fictionalized memoir’, it would have made it to my dark and twisty shelves. But no. Our hero went on to win the Booker Prize and the Nobel Prize for literature. If Astrid or Caroline or Jacqueline Google him, they would know that he made it.

A Game of Thrones- George RR Martin :7/52 (Book made into TV Series)

Phew!

What a book to come out of your reader’s block with. I was so prejudiced against this genre all these days, I felt that fantasy was something childish and silly and so I stayed away from anything related to this series. But then Flipkart keeps making you these offers you can’t refuse. So I just went ahead and bought the whole bunch of books telling myself that since I spent so much money on them, I’ll force myself to read atleast one. Atleast one? Hah. I so surprised myself. Well, I still don’t consider it ‘fantasy’. I’m taking it as historical fiction or something like that. Even the Mahabarata, if it had been written today, would be considered ‘fantasy’. So with an open mind (something that is so difficult for me), I started reading. Chapter 1. Chapter 2. Chapter 3. Chapter 17. And before I knew it, I was in sucked deep into Jon and Catelyn and Bran’s lives, burning midnight oil, alternating between the fat physical book and my Kindle, getting all twitchy eyed. And since the TV series maniacs are throwing spoilers all over the place,I must hurry up and finish the rest of the books soon. And I’m trying not to start watching the TV series until I finish the books because I’m sure it will spoil the books for me. (Edit: Watched two episodes already while this post was in the drafts folder:/) ‘Summers span decades. Winter can last a lifetime.’ Just picturing a landscape so stark and cold and endless was overwhelming. Places and words that paint vivid pictures in your mind. ( Edit: And they were pictured as beautifully as I imagined them in the TV series). The Wall where the world ends and another dangerous world begins beyond, a place where men find honour when they have no other choice left in the real world. Kingsroad, maybe the national highways of Westeros. Sky cells, doorless prisons on mountains that overlook endlessness. Godswoods. Winterfell, Kings Landing and the Red Keep.  Direwolves. And on the other side, The Narrow Sea, girls with golden hair and silver horses, savages with braided hair. Dragons and dragon eggs. It was a magical book. I haven’t actually bonded with any of the characters yet. Ofcourse, I like The Imp because he is grey. And on a lower scale, Lord Varys and Littlefinger. They are the ones that I haven’t figured out yet. Eddard Stark was too righteous for me, and his wife Catelyn too wasn’t all that likable. Too good. Sansa, someone I’d love to slap to death along with Joffery.  Cersei and Jaime Lannister, so evil that I want to take their side.  If I had to choose a character to really like, I’d choose Jon Snow.

I’ve got a mountain ahead of me. But looks like it is going to be one epic climb.

Arundhati Roy

Arundhati Roy. A name that evokes extreme emotions. You either hate her or love her, there’s nothing in between. And you either hate the people who love her or love the people who hate her. Again, nothing in between. But my love for Arundhati Roy began long before she won the Booker (and the wrath of some people for ‘vulgarity’ in That Book), long before she called Maoists Gandhians with Guns, long before she said that Kashmir wasn’t an integral part of India, long before she wrote those pages and pages of essays about everything from dams to ‘alleged’ terrorists. My love for her began in a gentler time, simpler time. In one of those long lazy summer afternoons when I used sprawl out in the sunshine on the verandah and read Target, that magazine that shaped the childhoods of the 80s kids. (The silly puns we make on Twitter were made decades ago in the Ha Ha pages of Target.)

arundhati-roys-quotes-7

So one month, in an article which would now probably appear in some listicle as ’10 Multitasking Superheros who hold 5 jobs’  or something as lame, there was this feature about Arundhati Roy. She was an ‘Aerobics instructor who is also an actress, scriptwriter and something else that I don’t rememember clearly’.But she was four things in that feature. And in that black an white photograph that accompanied the writeup, she was the Rahel I would see many many years later. In that interview she spoke about how her mother Mary Roy fought for property rights of married Syrian Christian women. About how her mother started the Corpus Christi school and how since she was the first student of the school that followed no traditional syllabus, she had read Macbeth before she was 10 years old. Macbeth, which again, Rahel and Estha would quote in That Book. She spoke about her dog, Kuttapan Patti Swami Om Prakash. Google doesn’t throw up any results for that name, but I know that it isn’t a figment of my childhood imagination because I remember almost chanting the name because it had that zingy ring to it (Yawn, yes. Like Rahel and Estha chanted Nictating ictating tating ating ting, but inside my head.) That dog would become Khubchand. She was the dropout architect whom I would picture  Rahel as many years later. No, there was no Velutha or Baby Kochamma in that interview. And no, because That Book isn’t exactly autobiographical. She spoke about the script she wrote for In which Annie Gives It Those Ones and how Annie was actually a grubby guy named Anand. ( Since it is out here, I must watch this atleast now). And about her aerobics. And whatever other things that could be fit into that one page feature about her.

And that was when I fell in love with Arundhati Roy.

Arundhati Roy:  Aerobics Instructor, actress, scriptwriter, could-have-been-architect and Something-else-I-Can’t-Remember. Arundhati Roy: Soon to be Booker prize winning, Maoist sympathising, Gandhi-hating, dam-damning,terrorist-supporting, seditious anti-national.

Yes. I can say for sure that I had a girlcrush on her decades before girlcrush became an actual word. She is one of those people I never question. Maybe she has impractical dreams in this practical world. Maybe she only sees problems and doesn’t offer solutions. Maybe she dares to voice her support for people who shouldn’t be supported. Maybe. Maybe not. But I am an unashamed fan, follower, groupie, call-it-what-you want of hers. And yes, you can hate me for that.

Ok. Now why this post? I’ve been suffering from reader’s block for the past couple of months and even though I’ve started five books, I still haven’t been able to finish even one. Last week, a friend (finally) read The God of Small Things and wrote this two point review of the book that said it all. And so I picked up the book. Again. And I am rediscovering the book. Again. Woman, release your next work of fiction soon. We’re waiting.