Thursday, January 26, 2012

Book Review : Bali and the Ocean of Milk

Title : Bali and the Ocean of Milk

Author : Nilanjan P. Choudhury

Publisher : Harper Collins

ISBN : 978-93-5029-125-2

A fiction (The Immortals of Meluha) blew me off completely last year by the sheer magic of its originality of the plot and it did leave a lasting impression on me. I am glad I picked 'Bali and the Ocean of Milk' up, which made me relive some of that wonderful experience once again.

Indrah is gripped in the fearsome fangs of ageing and he seeks the help of the holy trinity to attain back his youthfulness and his omnipotence. His Asura counterpart Bali has his own set of issues too. Many threats are looming large on Bali - from some disgruntled powers within his own territory as well as from the all time enemies, Gods. And a very cleverly planned assassination attempt on him brings to fore the failure of his invincible protective cordon. But there is only one elixir which is the answer to all problems that Bali and Indrah face and that is the Nectar. To extract the same, Ocean of Milk has to be churned by two opposite powers - Devas and Asuras with the assistance of tortoise incarnation of Viru and under the supervision of Jai. The narrative vacillates between Indrah's empire - Amravati and Bali's dominion - Tripura.

The story has everything - treachery, vengeance, tables turning, switching sides, power lust and much more. The intelligence of such authors is evident from the way they create a fictional background yet integrate the same so seamlessly with the well known facts and beliefs such as the Big Bang in this case. The author has clothed the story of manthan in a completely new avatar with contemporary touch by - incorporating political references, astutely naming the churning process - Operation Ocean's Twelve and including the lingo of prevailing times in the narrative - facebook, mobile phone cameras, animal rights violation, low-fat milk and most interesting of all, Indrah having to use hair colour - Molten Midnight by So'Real.

First 2/3rd of the book is a treat to read through - the setting of scenes, the building of characters, the amalgamation of modern age vocabulary with mythology, the witticism, the wackiness, the humour, everything is just perfect.

The initial setting is exceptionally impressive to such an extent that the expectations of readers soar too high for the climax and conclusion but I found the latter part not living upto the expectations. Not that there is any flaw in that part of the story, its just that the remaining 1/3rd fades a little in comparison to the initial section of the book which raises the bar too high. Another grouse that I have against the author or the story is - a very fleeting description of The Destroyer of the famous holy trinity - christened as Jai here. (I think the author is one of the strong patrons of 'Sholay' movie !?) The other being Sambha - the creator (I wonder why he did not pick Gabbar as the creator) and Viru - the preserver.

There are not many occasions when we get to read good English written by an Indian author and I was mightily impressed by the selection of words, phrases and overall expression of Nilanjan. The editor has done a remarkable job too and not a single sentence seems redundant in the whole narration. A true page turner. My compliments to a new rising star in the Indian literary firmament. I surely will look forward to reading more written by NPC.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

2011 : The year that was...

I remember the sole reason that inspired me to enter the blogging world (in 2009) was to chronicle my reading jaunts. I wanted to record the unique ideas that each book offer and the impression that each one of them leaves on me and I wanted the same to be accessible within a few clicks and blogging gave me the perfect way to achieve all that and in fact, much more. As I progressed on this sojourn many new dimensions kept getting appended to this endeavour of mine including getting acquainted to some wonderful co-bloggers who inspired me in many ways. Today after more than two years since I began this journey, I can happily say that this has been a very satisfying experience so far and I hope to continue on this path for many more years to come.

So in order to celebrate the body of work that I have been accumulating over these years, I have decided to enlist the 'must read' titles by the end of each year (or beginning of every new year :))
Here is the list of books that I read in 2011, which truly enriched me in many ways.

  1. Non-Fiction

  1. Mythology

  1. Fun/chick-lit

By The Water Cooler - Parul Sharma

  1. Fiction

  1. Travelogue

  1. Kidlit

Monday, January 16, 2012

Book Review : Melancholy of Innocence

Title : Melancholy of Innocence

Author : Raj Doctor

Publisher : Frog Books

ISBN : 978-93-81115-05-3

Melancholy of Innocence by Raj Doctor is a passionate love story of Umit who barely made his presence felt in the teen years and a beautiful girl Masum who happens to be eight years elder to Umit. The story is told in a flashback set in late 1920s in Istanbul against the backdrop of post political revolution that led to Turkish independence.

Umit finds a connection of 'Ruh' with Masum and obsessively follows his soul's inner voice. He does find a way to be with Masum and to show his pure feelings to her. Gradually their love blossoms and they decide to seal it with signature of permanence. But are they able to successfully do it and where does Umit find himself thirty years from the time he first set his eyes on Masum? And why is there melancholiness in this love saga?

A couple of sub stories are also added to the narrative, for instance that of Masum's brother and his relationship with his friend but these subplots neither help the main plot move forward nor bring in any freshness to it, hence are complete waste.

The story began quite promisingly and I liked the introspective philosophy sections that appeared in bits and pieces in between the narrative but then the mundane day to day activities were dealt in such elaborate details that it started becoming very drab and a mere chore to read through. I did read through the whole book because I was expecting a great climax at the end when Umit returns to the present time but then the climax and the conclusion were very weak and very naively handled.

The narration is beautifully peppered with philosophy and poetry, a unique style adopted by the author. The poetry is worth reading and pondering upon. However, as the story progresses, the philosophy part lingers on a little too longer than can be easily savored.

There are plenty of editing errors that the whole story suffers from. I always maintain that a tight editing is a must to have a presentable piece of writing and if a book falters on that account, it becomes a big put off.

However, the book is still not a complete wash out as the commentary on human moralities and human frailties, is interesting to read but the absence of a strong plot is sorely felt all through the story.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Book Review : Into Thin Air

Title : Into Thin Air

Author : Jon Krakauer

Publisher : PAN Books

ISBN : 978-0-330-35397-7

This book has been very high on my TBR list ever since I read Abinav's review at Zealot Readers. I enjoy reading travelogues and adventure books.

Since the time the first person set foot on the roof of the Earth - the Sagarmath (the mother Goddess), the Mount Everest - the lofty peak has beckoned many people over these years. This book is a first person account of Jon Krakauer who was part of the Mt. Everest expedition of 1996. He was in a team led by well-seasoned climber Rob Hall heading the Adventure Consultants. Another group also planned to reach the top at the same time led by Scott Fischer running Mountain Madness company.

Despite being well equipped with all required paraphernalia, expert guidance, meticulously planned program, well researched tracks, deftly organized trainings camps and human assistance in the form of Nepali Sherpas, these two expeditions mentored by two well known organizers completely fell apart. Everest killed 12 men and women in the spring of 1996, the worst single-season death toll since climbers first set foot on the peak seventy five years ago.

Jon introduces the readers to the main characters who were part of these expeditions which began in the spring of 1996, each one of them having different reasons to 'just to get to the top' where the frailty of human body is evident at every step of the trek and the hurdles of unthinkable magnitude stare mockingly at the human faces - freezing, injuries, blindness, breathlessness due to depletion of oxygen in the air, and dying team mates on the way.

In Jon's words - "With so many marginally qualified climbers flocking to Everest these days, a lot of people believe that a tragedy of this magnitude was over-due. But nobody imagined that an expedition led by Rob Hall would be at the center of it. Hall ran the tightest, safest operation on the mountain, bar none. A compulsively methodical man, he had elaborate systems in place that were supposed to prevent such a catastrophe. So what happened? How can it be explained?"

Who was responsible - wrong judgment of even the so called champions of climbing, ill luck, sudden change of weather, rivalry between two businessmen Fisher and Hall, Everest's vengeance, Nature's fury or its way of displaying its supremacy? These are the unanswered questions which do not fade away easily from the minds of the ones who survived the fate. As Jon reminisces, "As I write these words, half a year has passed since I returned from Nepal, and on any given day during those six months, no more than two or three hours have gone by in which Everest hasn't monopolized my thoughts. Not even in sleep is there respite; imagery from the climb and its aftermath continues to permeate my dreams. "

I really appreciated the way Jon has recounted and almost relived the moments while writing this book, that he spent during those couple of months chasing his childhood dream on the terrain which can be as treacherous and killer as it could get. In the preface, he mentions that through this book he wanted to get the expedition and the guilt feeling of 'what if' out of his system. I do not know whether he accomplished this objective or not but the way he has reported almost moment to moment details of those crucial days, it sounds very honest, authentic and unbiased reporting and he truly deserves compliments for the same.

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