Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Book Review : Into The Wild

Title : Into The Wild

Author : Jon KraKauer

Publisher : Macmillan and Co

Sometimes after finishing a particular book, I find myself at loss of words to write its review. And for such books it takes a long time to compose the review. Somehow 'Into the Wild' belongs to that category. Its been almost two months since I finished reading this book and had jotted down the points that I wanted to include in the review but was not able to actually write it down. Christopher McCandless and his story never went out of my mind over the period of these two months and I guess the best way to vacate that portion of my mind is to write about him and his adventure.

By the very definition, humans are described as social creatures but does this inherent need to be social becomes too much of a burden for some people sometimes? This was the main thought which kept ringing in my mind while I was reading through this book. I read 'Into Thin Air' by the same author a while ago and some of the very fine co-bloggers and book reviewers highly recommended this book to me.

'Into the Wild' is a story of a young man, Chistopher McCandless who, unlike the people of his age renounced almost everything by giving away all the money that was reserved for his higher education to charity, abandoned his beloved car and other belongings, burnt his wallet money and severed the ties with his family. He reinvented himself as Alexander Supertramp and ventured into the wilderness of Alaska but unfortunately could not find his way out of it. His decomposed body was found in a deserted bus four months later. In 'Into The Wild', the author Jon KraKauer tries to retrace the path taken by Chris in an attempt to unravel the mystery and intrigue that wilderness creates in some and what are the temptations of this unknown world which some find hard to resist.

I must say that Jon has done a commendable job in trying to delve deep into the character of Chris, his inner urge to find himself and to be at peace with himself and what all contributed in making him the person he was. His research is impeccable as he goes on to interview almost all the people with whom Chris's paths crossed even though for a very short period. In one of the chapters, Jon goes into introspection and writes about his personal need for adventure and his trysts with nature through some of his own expeditions. He tries to draw parallel between his own self and that of Chris and comes to the conclusion that 'we had a similar intensity, a similar heedlessness, a similar agitation of soul' but none of them were suicidal. Some people may find this chapter out of place in the normal flow of the story but I found it quite relevant because being in almost the similar kind of frame of mind at some point in his life, author could relate to Chris so much better and perhaps it was just ill luck that Chris could not survive the ordeal(?) or his chosen path to self realization.

A very poignant and sensitive story of a young boy, especially the part where Chris's sister reminisces about their together time and the tearful adieu of the whole family as they see his last abode - the bus in the wilderness. It surely is one of the most haunting reads for me in recent past. This will leave the readers with a feeling of sadness and pity for the youth who found solace being closer to nature, was full of dreams but unfortunately did not get the time to give shape to his life during a very short stint in this world.

I really liked these passages from the book which sum up the author's best efforts to understand what went wrong in the case of McCandless.

"It would be easy to stereotype Christopher McCandless as another boy who felt too much, a loopy young man who read too many books and lacked even a modicum of common sense. But the stereotype isn't a good fit. McCandless wasn’t some reckless slacker, adrift and confused, racked by existential despair. To the contrary, His life hummed with meaning and purpose. But the meaning he wrested from existence lay beyond the comfortable path : McCandless distrusted the value of things that came easily. He demanded much of himself - more, in the end, than he could deliver."

"In the end, it looked like he was ready, perhaps to shed a little of the armor he wore around his heart, that upon returning to civilization, he intended to abandon the life of a solitary vagabond, stop running so hard from intimacy and become a member of the human community. But no body will ever come to know about what actually happened. His solitary thoughts ended with him."

Friday, February 24, 2012

App Review : If I Ran The Zoo

App Title : If I Ran The Zoo - Dr. Seuss

Publisher : Oceanhouse Media Inc.

Avaliable in : Android Market, Apple Store

I got this Mobile Application to review on any of the Apple Devices and I ran it on iPad. But this application is available for Android devices too.

The application opens with the main page offering three options - Read to Me (page turn requires user's swipe), Read it Myself (no voice), Auto Play (automated page turns)

Tap option on the images speaks out the name of the things or the characters that are tapped on. Two tap options are available for the text part : Tapping anywhere on the text repeats the sentence and tapping and holding the text repeats the whole paragraph once again.

"If I Ran the Zoo" is the story of a little boy - Gerald McGrew who is on a visit to a zoo but he is not excited to see the same old-fashioned lions and tigers there and he decides to bring some changes in the zoo if he gets to run the zoo.

To start with he would let the animals out of their confinements and then he would begin his search for some rare and unusual animals from different parts of the world. Perhaps a ten-footed lion, hens roosting on the topknots of other hens, strange bugs who would have propeller for rising high, an Elephant cat or weirdest animal families would be some as part of his new Zoo - the McGrew Zoo.

To catch such distinct animals, he would travel to those nooks and corners on the Earth which are not even in the geography books, he would even build a machine 'Bad-Animal-Catching-Machine' to catch ugly and vicious animals, he would arrange for special treats for his animals and his zoo would keep growing and growing. This zoo - McGrew Zoo would be one of its kind, really a Wonder, even better than Noah's Ark.

Dr. Seuss in his inimitable style lends his signature wackiness to the story through his made-up words, non-existent creatures and whimsical illustrations. I really liked the no-bars imagination of the central character McGrew and through this the subtle message of Dr. Seuss that thinking big and thinking large have no price tags on them.

A very interesting and funny book for young readers and I must compliment the Oceanhouse Media for extending the reach of Dr. Seuss's books to even wider audience.

However, I found a very small thing amiss in the application. While reading the book through 'Auto Play' option, I did not find any tab which could lead me to the main page again. I had to use the button of the device for the same.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Remembering Tagore

Rabindranath Tagore(1861-1941) - 'Gurudev' of the whole India, who bestowed the title of 'Mahatma' on the father of our nation, who gifted us our identity and whose verses are sung every day at every nook and corner of our country in the form of our National Anthem - is not called the 'Complete Institute of Literature' for nothing.

I know my words will miserably fall short of the kind of paeans the person of his stature deserve. However, I am feeling extremely glad to be reviewing a few of his works here.

Title : The Little Big Man

Publisher : Katha

Age : 3-5 years

I think every kid grows up hearing this - you are in the best phase of your life - Childhood and you are not realizing it. I did, when I was in my childhood years and now being a mother of two, I find myself telling the same to my kids. But then I realize perhaps that is the best part of this phase - kids do not consciously live or not live a day and their small world and its issues are big enough for them.

In fact, when the kids watch adults getting to exercise so much control over all the significant issues, decisions and also on them, they can't wait to grow up.

This is the essence of 'The Little Big Man' who wants to be as old as his father because then nobody would tell him to learn his lessons, he could leave his books, he would go wherever he likes, he would buy his own clothes when he likes and he would give money to whoever he wishes to. Through 'The Little Big Man' Tagore peeks into the mind of a little boy who is looking forward to growing up and to assume adult responsibilities.

The art work by Rajiv Eipe perfectly compliments the text. The little boy with front tooth missing looks absolutely endearing in his expression of - all grown up and responsible.

Rajiv is involved in doing animation and graphics for Television.

Title : Clouds and Waves

Publisher : Katha

Age : 3-5 years

A charming tale of a little girl who is tempted time and again by the clouds and the waves to join them in the games that they play in their magical world. The world where they play with silver moon and golden dawn. For a child this surely is an irresistible temptation but she simply declines their invite every time because what she likes the most is to be with her mother. She does not need to go to any enchanting world when she has nicer and better games that she can play with her favourite playmate. A sweet little tale conveying the tender love between a mother and her little one.

The illustrations that spread across both the pages are beautiful art work. The inquisitiveness of the little girl, her full-of-life twinkling eyes and the tender affectionate bond that she shares with her mother are brilliantly captured by the illustrator Sunaina Coelho.

Title : The Land of Cards

Publisher : Puffin Classics

Age : 10+

'The Land of Cards' is a potpourri of some of Tagore's best works - poems, short stories and plays, translated from Bengali to English by Radha Chakravarty. A wonderful assortment to give children a little glimpse of the beautiful world created by Tagore's pen.

Poems - which offer different flavors in each piece - ranging from hilarious odd rhymes like the one in which a cat is trying to convince the fish to be its meal, to the ones which are brimming with sensitive emotions. The entertaining 'The Invention of Shoes' tells the story of the birth of shoes while the 'Hero' reveals the inner desire of a son to be by her mother's side and to protect her always. Through the poems like 'Two Bighas of Land', Rabindranath Tagore took up the social issues which were suffocating our country in ancient times.

The title play 'The Land of Cards' brings out the conventional restrictions of the society and in another play 'The Post Office', a boy being restrained to closed confines tries to live his life through the people who are busy in seemingly mundane activities in the free outside world and unknowingly teaches them the lesson to take pleasure in whatever they are doing.

'Kabuliwala' - a simple story bringing out the yearning of a father for his daughter, is one of the great classics which are lustrous ageless gems. I remember having enjoyed reading this story as part of course book during school years. Such are the pieces of writings which defy all barriers of age and time.

'The Land of Cards' is a book which can be read, enjoyed and appreciated by children and adults alike, offering them a peep into the world of literary genius.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Book Review : Elliot Stone and the Mystery of the Summer Vacation Sea Monster

Title : Elliot Stone and the Mystery of the Summer Vacation Sea Monster

Author : LP Chase

Illustrated By : Carl Di Rocco

Publisher : Blue Marlin Publications

ISBN : 978-0-9792918-7-6

Elliot Stone has just completed his fourth grade and apparently his summer vacation is ruined because his family is going to be spending the entire month in Vermont Cabin on Lake Bomoseen. This means he would be missing the company of his two best friends - Jake and Cassie and the worst of all, he would be missing Cassie's graduation party which is supposed to be a very high profile party. These are good enough reasons for Elliot to be in a foul mood and to be disliking the vacation destination.

But this does not last long and his mood perks up considerably when his father shares with him the legend of Lock Ness Monster. Now Elliot has something to look forward to, perhaps seeing or meeting a monster in the Lake Bomoseen itself. Incidentally, soon after reaching the lake he does spot something strange in the lake or is it just his imagination? The story after this is full of adventure, suspense, making new friends, learning new lessons and much more. There are some more interesting surprises awaiting him in the place which is going to be their home for the next month or so.

LP Chase has masterly weaved mystery and intrigue in the plot which makes it an entertaining read. What is commendable about the book is how the thoughts and voices of children belonging to that age group are so authentically captured in the narrative. The story has an added twist when the young minds get to brainstorm in order to find a solution to a problem that their parents are facing. The thought process of children and their spirit to solve the problem lend a very positive angle to the whole story. The story also conveys a very subtle message that big or small, each one can contribute towards leading the family out of any sort of crisis.

Overall, 'Elliot Stone and the Mystery of the Summer Vacation Sea Monster' is an engaging fun-filled book which young readers would surely like and relate to.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Interview with Nilanjan P. Choudhury

Nilanjan, congratulations on your first book 'Bali and the Ocean of Milk' and on such encouraging response from the readers.

  1. What all research went in creating 'Bali and the Ocean of the Milk' and what has been the most interesting phase of this whole process starting from conception of the idea to having the first copy of your book in your hands?

This is not a research heavy book. It is essentially a work of imagination, not a retelling or strictly speaking not even a re-imagination but a new story altogether. Apart from drawing from the very well known myth of the churning of the ocean, the rest of it is pure fiction and the characters and situations are of my making. Although it would appear that the book is about mythology, it is used only as one would use a vase of flowers in a room - for fragrance and colour - the heart of the book lies in its human characters and political satire.

  1. What made you pick the names Samba, Viru and Jai for the holy trinity? Why did you not make Gabbar the Creator?

Those are the names of the Holy Trinity referred to in the Hurrian myth, on which the story of Bali is based. As the preface to the novel says, the actual Hurrian names are Sam Bah, Vee Lu and Jeh, which have been Indianized to Sambha, Viru and Jai in this version. It is mere coincidence that they are also names of characters from a film called Sholay.

Why not Gabbar? Probably because the Hurrians didn’t think that it was a very god-like name…but then that is mere conjecture….

  1. Do you plan to write a sequel of this book too ? Would you like to share your ideas for the next book with the readers?

I don’t know yet. I have been toying with the idea of doing something based on Greek mythology but it’s just a twinkle in the eye right now. I might also want to get my teeth into something completely contemporary.

  1. In your opinion, why more and more writers are digging the mythology to pick ideas from? Is it a quest to find answers to current age doubts or is it an attempt to redefine the age old belief system to check its relevance in current times?

Superman meets Satyajit Ray, escapism with an anchor – to my mind that is the USP of high quality mythological fiction. Magic, fantasy, mythology all offer an escape from reality and ooze the colours, sights, smells and textures that contemporary literary fiction often lacks. However since the cornerstone of most mythology is often a strong narrative with fascinating characters, dilemmas and situations, good myth inspired tales have an core human appeal that stays after you strip away all the special effects.

I also think that both writers and readers find it interesting to explore old characters in new contexts. There are close parallels between the ancient and the modern, suggestive of the fact that humans haven’t really changed much over the ages. That is perhaps another source of amusement.

  1. There is a new trend in the literary arena, more and more professionals are taking up writing . What do you think is the reason for that? Are IIT, IIM tags becoming qualification criteria to be writers, or are the professional courses honing the writing skills more than what they are meant to do?

In general, I am quite sure that the IIT/IIM tag has nothing to do with good writing. The only connection I can think of is that people graduating from such places often get stuck in well paying but mundane jobs and they may take to writing and so on as a release. In any case, the number of “writers” compared to number of people graduating every year from IIT/ IIM is miniscule. Having being asked similar questions earlier as well, I sometimes wonder whether they would have been raised, if say, a St. Stephen’s or a Presidency College were to produce a flurry of authors…

Coming to my personal reasons for writing this novel – like in the murder mysteries, the answer has three parts - motive, opportunity and means.

Motive - I wanted to write a black comedy, let’s say the literary equivalent of Dr. Strangelove, Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron etc. which I thought wasn’t really available in Indian literature. Tall order you might say – but that was the starting point.

Opportunity - time on my hands during the recession a couple of years ago.

Means - long commutes in Bangalore with a laptop, a driver and the backseat of a car.

  1. It is a popular belief that getting published in India is no longer a daunting task but a majority of what is being written is more or less clones of Chetan Bhagatism or such. What is your opinion about the literary scene in India?

Yes there has been an explosion of genres, voices, writers and publishers - mostly for the good I think. Today’s writing also caters to wider segments of society - not just the literary types and we should welcome the phenomenon of Indians writing for Indians rather than for western markets or the diaspora. However while publishing may just have got easier, standing out of the clutter has become a good deal more difficult. In all probability, we will soon have many writers who will become famous for 5 minutes, rather than the more respectable 15.

Without reference to any particular writer or his/her clones, I would add though, that a lot of the stuff that comes out today is pretty sad in terms of quality – and by quality I mean the flesh and blood of fiction writing i.e. characters, motivation, conflict and so on rather than poor language, style etc which are important but secondary.

  1. I see two very diverse camps of authors in India. One category comprising of - Chetan Bhagat, Parul Sharma, etc. and the other comprising of the likes of Vikram Seth, Gurcharan Das etc. These camps are almost like popular choice and critics choice. Which camp do you want to belong to?

It would be nice to belong to both. But like all good clubs (especially those of British vintage) both camps have their own sets of unwritten laws, snobberies and prejudices. The sales of many bestsellers would probably have halved for every favourable review published in a “reputed” publication, scaring the lay reader into thinking that “it’s too hi- fi for me.” Similarly, influential critics look askance at anything that seems to be enjoyable and easy to read, as if they were on a diet that prevents them from appreciating anything that is easily digestible.

But to draw a parallel from cinema, surely modern Indian writing needs the literary equivalents of a Hrishikesh Mukherjee – neither David Dhawan nor Ritwik Ghatak. I think that good writing that is also accessible to the lay reader is the missing link today.

The in-built snobbery of the snooty critic and the irrational apprehensions of the “I toh only read Filmfare, baba !!” reader shouldn’t prevent the rise of high quality, “middle-brow” writing.

  1. Which books make to your reading list ? What is your opinion on writings of Gurcharan Das, Devdutt Pattanaik, Ashok K. Banker, Amish Tripathi, Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni - the writers who are writing on mythology with modern and unique perspectives?

A large number and a wide range of books fill my shelves. But apart from Amish, whose Meluha book I read about a month ago (to avoid any influence) I haven’t read any of the others that you mention. A brutally shortened favourites list include Vikram Seth, R K Narayan, Hemingway, Jhumpa Lahiri, Steinbeck, John Mortimer, J K Rowling, Tolkien, Doyle etc etc.

  1. On your facebook page many people have commented that you are finally doing what you always wanted to do? Since when did you know that you would want to write a story?

It wasn’t as if I suffering from deep agonies along the lines of “I must write or I will die” – I began writing as a lark and found myself enjoying the process. Like Picasso said, “Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life” and a deep interest in literature, theatre, music and film has long been a part of me. I guess it just took a long time for the interest to change from passive to active.

  1. Some people have natural flare for writing. In your opinion how much of this skill is innate and how much of it can be acquired? What do you think is true about yourself?

In my case it is certainly acquired. I also think that many people can become decent writers with generous helpings of hard work, humility, self-belief and a wide range quality reading. Of course, there are the geniuses with god given gifts who defy all such analyses.

  1. You are into dramatics too, would you like to share some interesting things about yourself and some of the other things that keep you occupied?

Yes, theatre has been an important part of my life for several years now and has in many ways influenced and helped my writing.

Thank you Nilanjan! It was interesting knowing your views on varied topics.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Book Review : Living Fully - Finding Joy in Every Breath

Title : Living Fully - Finding Joy in Every Breath

Author : Shyalpa Tenzin Ripoche

Publisher : New World Library

ISBN : 978-1-60868-075-7

Shyalpa Tenzin Rinpoche was born in Himalayas and was trained as a Lama from the age of four. Rinpoche received transmissions from all the major schools of Tibetan Buddhism and he is a lineage holder of the Great Perfection (Dzogchen) tradition. Dzogchen is an ancient spiritual teaching developed in Tibet within Tibetan Buddhist tradition. The word 'Dzogchen' means 'total perfection' which refers to the true inherent nature of all beings. It is the knowledge that Tibetan masters have transmitted without being limited by sectarianism.

He begins by narrating a wonderful analogy of human life with that of one day stay in a hotel room where we go to relax but instead of relaxing for even a single moment, we start finding faults in that single room and spend those limited hours of the day in fixing up the things which bother us. I found this analogy very apt and clever.

He goes on to explain it as "Our most pressing challenge is to live fully. Our deepest aspiration is to experience the richness and fullness of our being in every moment. Fulfillment of worldly pleasures bring momentary feeling of euphoria and the lonely and empty feeling returns soon. We do not experience the pure fulfillment inherent in every moment and therefore, we tend to use sense pleasures as a temporary slave".

All the accumulated timeless wisdom shared by Shyalapa is very practical. He talks on many subjects - take the first steps by making the heart pure, approach every single thing sincerely, the indispensable human qualities that are absolutely required for a positive living, importance of consciously being in the moment, challenge of liberation from self, the law of Karma - creating action and facing the reaction, meditation, ocean of wisdom - our mind and then he wraps his teachings by highlighting the importance of having a master whose presence itself makes all sorts of confusions fade away from our lives. Very rightly he lays a lot of stress on the fact that knowing these teachings is just half the work done, what is absolutely necessary is to put them to practice and start experiencing the results. If the teachings fail to transition from theoretical plane to execution level no change will happen.

"In closing, I strongly urge you to practice. These teachings must be applied to your daily life - they must be put into practice - in order to have an effect and lead to true realization".

Shyalapa Ripoche's writing is simple and easy to follow but the only point at which many of the self-help books falter is the way the teachings are presented ,which seems like a list of do's and don'ts and unfortunately 'Living Fully' falls in the same category. There are not many anecdotes or incidents to explain the points or elaborate upon them. With all human challenges and character frailties, I would have preferred him to be discussing those and how an individual can surmount the hurdles through practically feasible diversion of thoughts or some such methods. But I guess for this kind of guidance Shyalapa recommends all to have a spiritual guide or guru in the life so that the journey of life becomes a guided tour rather than a directionless event.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Book Review : Indian English

Title : Indian English

Author : Jillian Haslam

Publisher : New Generation Publishing

ISBN : 978-1-908775-00-9

After having read 'The City of Djinns' I got keenly interested in finding more about how the post-independence era in India treated the people who were not considered Indians yet were no less Indians. I look to read more on the White Mughals, Indian English and about people who just chose or were forced to stay back in India after the British rule ended and this book fell into that category.

Indian English is a memoir of Jillian Haslam who shares her experiences of growing up in the period of post-colonialism in India and what it took from her and from her family for being different in a country who was going through its own infancy period. She recalls her journey of life which began from damp, dingy and narrow by-lanes of Calcutta where she saw misery very closely in the form of poverty, hunger, racism, abuse, death and hopelessness. But despite all these odds against the family, she managed to carve her way out of that misery and gradually brought her immediate family out of it too. She does mention that for every wrongdoing towards them, she did experience some kindness somewhere even though of lesser magnitude or seemingly insignificant which kept her faith alive all through the troubled years.

Now having her past behind her, she is instrumental in helping many individuals stuck in desperate situations, through her foundation. She has become an epitome of inspiration, grit and determination for many.

Though it is a memoir yet I found the natural sensitivity lacking which memoirs usually bring for the readers. I found the writer repeating herself many times throughout the narrative which makes the whole reading experience a little drab. I do not want to sound heartless when I say this that there are a lot of factors which contribute to the success or failure of any thing and in my humble opinion, the author has ignored evaluating the whole situation radically, including, commenting on the personal choices being made by the parents or siblings or the family as a whole.

I felt really bad that somewhere somebody had to undergo this much pain but I would blame it on not so good narration and editing, that the book failed to evoke the emotions which such books usually do.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

For the lovers of good fiction...

Re-imagining Indian mythology: IBNLive Chat with Nilanjan P Choudhury at 5 PM, 8th Feb, Wednesday

Nilanjan in his book 'Bali and the Ocean of Milk' reimagines the eternal conflict between the gods and the asuras in a whacky thriller littered with bad jokes and corpses. Join him in a webchat on how and what inspired him to write the book. You can read an extract from his book here.

About the Book

Something is rotten in the state of Amravati…

A mysterious ailment afflicts Indrah, reducing the omnipotent king of the gods to, well, not quite the man he used to be. To add to his woes, the Holy Trinity threaten to fire him for dereliction of duty. But Indrah’s troubles wilt in comparison to those of his asura counterpart, Bali, ruler of Tripura. Even as Indrah sits fretting over his delicate health, an assassination attempt on Bali leaves the asura on the brink of death.

There is only one thing that can save both these men from certain doom: amrit, the mythical nectar. But to secure it, the gods and the asuras will have to cooperate and churn the Ocean of Milk together… Will Indrah and Bali be able to set aside their ancient enmity, or will old rivalries keep them from pulling off this epic feat?

Bali and the Ocean of Milk re-imagines the eternal conflict between the gods and the asuras in a wacky thriller littered with bad jokes and corpses.

Praise for the Book

‘A grand and frothy manthan of myth, magic, palace intrigue, Wodehouse-ian humour and more! Nilanjan Choudhury uses the entire palette of good story-telling – humour, conflict, sex, dramatic reversals and action sequences that should have Hollywood pounding at Choudhury’s door. A modern day Aristophanes!’ – Mahesh Dattani, Sahitya Akademi Award-winning playwright and film-maker

‘A tongue-in-cheek story that spans time, mythology and politics. Quite a cocktail.’ – Abhijit Bhaduri, bestselling novelist

‘Mythology with a modern political twist, subversive and side-splittingly funny’ – C.K. Meena, author and columnist

About the Author

Nilanjan P. Choudhury
spent several years peddling highly overrated software to gullible corporates, until a mid-life crisis saw him joining an NGO that works in education. He studied at IIM Ahmedabad and IIT Kanpur and often wonders why he went through all that jazz. He lives in Bangalore with his wife, a daughter and a home loan.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Book Review : Hot Tea Across India

Title : Hot Tea Across India

Author : Rishad Saam Mehta

Publisher : Tranquebar

ISBN : 978-93-81626-10-8

If you are looking for a quick read, a light entertainment, no serious story and do not want your brain to work too much, this book fits the bill perfectly.

Rishad Saam Mehta is a travel writer and has embarked on many journeys across the length and breadth of India from Leh to Munnar and from Rann of Kutch to Khajuraho. He begins narrating his experiences by a very interesting comment on Indian roads - ' If there is one certainty about roads in India, it is that - no matter where you are or what the hour is - if you want a cup of tea, you'll find a chai ka dukaan within a few kilometers' . Rishad shares the experiences of some of his adventurous trips in this book, bringing to readers a slice of Indian-ness on the highways and roads. He is an enthusiast traveler and took up a job with Autocar Indian that had him going on a driving holiday to exotic locations in India every month for eight years.

After having shared many cups of tea in different parts of India, in different situations, hosted by diverse people ranging from dacoits to sadhus, at various altitudes and in multifarious mental states, his belief gets reinforced that tea is one beverage which brings the security of known in unknown and a bit of solace amidst commotion.

The book is full of adventure and the narrative is hilarious and breezy. The author has succeeded in weaving beautifully the vivid description of various characters and places which make the scenes come to life in front of the eyes. I really enjoyed the bus ride experience in Himalayas from Haridwar to Manali with all sorts of co-passengers including a herd of bleating goats.

It is a travelogue but not a travel guide though it motivates the readers to visit some of the exotic places that he describes in his book.

But I feel the author takes pleasure in cracking jokes on anything related to the daily ablution routine and such jokes crop up quite frequently though out the book. At some points it felt like the author is trying too hard to make the narrative witty and hilarious but such instances were rare and far between so can be ignored easily.

Book Review : Delhi - 14 Historic Walks

Title : Delhi 14 Historic Walks

Author : Swapna Liddle

Publisher : Westland

ISBN : 978-93-81626-24-5

Delhi just completed its centenary year as capital of India in 2011. But Delhi's history goes back much beyond these 100 years. As I wrote in the review of 'City of Djinns' - Delhi is the city which bore testimony to the zenith and nadir of great dynasties and empires and it continues to mesmerize many people by being culturally and historically rich city while at the same time adapting with the changing periods. It has innumerable stories hidden beneath its surface which enthrall historians and followers of history.

Swapna Liddle has compiled a wonderful guide book to 14 walking routes in Delhi which includes some signature tourist attractions like - Qutub Minar, Lodi Gardens, Red Fort and Humayun's Tomb - some of these have been identified as World's Heritage Sites. However, this list includes some lesser known sites too, for instance - Satpula and Khirki.

There is a detailed map with each of the sites which marks the 'not to be missed' places. A few pages are dedicated to giving a glimpse of historical background behind the buildings, monuments or ruins, some architectural details, concepts and techniques adopted in building them while some interesting anecdotes and legends keep the narrative interesting.

I specifically liked the parts where she has brought the attention of the tourists and readers to the subtleties of architectural details. I must quote a small excerpt from the book here - 'The pillars in the Quwwat-u-Islam Masjid in Qutb Minar complex, are elaborately carved and on close inspection one can see many human, animal and divine figures. Such sculptures seem out of place within a mosque, since depiction of human or animal figures is unacceptable to orthodox Islam as being akin to idolatry. The answer to this mystery lies in the fact that these are reused materials from twenty-seven Hindu and Jain temples that had stood in the vicinity and were mostly destroyed by the invading Turks as an act of war."

I wish I had this book with me while I visited the major heritage sites in Delhi last year. If you are visiting Delhi, you must take this book along so as to take a guided tour of the interesting places in the city. This book is educational, informative and readable much more than regular tourist guides. It can work as a nice supplement to the history books in grade classes too. The author Swapna Liddle is a historian who completed his PhD thesis on cultural history of 19th Century Delhi. She has been conducting historical walks in Delhi for over a decade and has been actively involved in heritage protection and public awareness programmes. So she writes on Delhi with authority and it is interesting to read the facts behind these significant monuments.

She goes on to enlist some very practical information about these sites too - nearest Metro station, price of tickets, parking availability and amenities available in the vicinity, which is absolutely required before heading towards any destination.

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