Saturday, December 28, 2013

Book Review : Tuki's Grand Salon Chase

Title : Tuki's Grand Salon Chase
Author : Parul Sharma
Publisher : Westland
ISBN : 978-93-83260-59-1

Parul Sharma, impressed many and made many followers (including me) with her first two books - 'Bringing Up Vasu' and 'By the Water Cooler'. So I was waiting for her next piece of writing all this while. Finally her 'Tuki's Grand Salon Chase' reached  me and I did not lose any time starting to read it.

After having read the book, I can safely say that Parul has managed to continue her winning streak this time as well. As the name suggests this is a story of a young ambitious girl Tulika (Tuki) who dedicatedly works towards achieving the goal, carefully following her well thought out plan A. She successfully graduates from a murky looking Lovely Beauty Parlour to the elite Nancy's Factory graced by Bollywood beauties. But she is neither complacent nor contented with what she has achieved. She has a clear vision of owning a state-of-the-art salon in front of her.

The readers are thrown into the daily humdrum of a typical high-class salon right from page one and as the scene unfolds so are the characters of the story - the clients and the employees. Tuki, with - a sparkle in her eyes, her perseverant efforts and a heart of gold assumes the role of a perfect heroine of the story. With this, from first chapter itself, the stage is beautifully set for an adventure full story.

As Tuki precariously carves her road to reach her dream, her desire takes her to various diverse places including Mumbai, Goa and  London. Love and career seem to play hide and seek with her all through the narrative. One moment she sees everything all clear in front of her and the next moment, the whole thing disappears in thin air. Though all sorted out in her own mind regarding her future and career, she ends up getting entangled in a lot of cobwebs - sometimes of others and sometimes of her own making.  As she tries to make sense of her life where  she had not accounted for any plan B, she finds herself never erring on being there for others. 'She was her Baba's daughter, through and through. She would always find it easier to say yes than no.'

Many other supporting characters nicely complement and complete the story - her endearing always-experimenting Baba, besotted tattooist Faraaz, always-there Arvind, bizarre yet brilliant writer Bijoy Dutta, Nancy and her twins and of course Kaloo - a pig in a dog's hide.

When one picks up Parul's book to read, one expects a fast paced, fun-filled, light-read  book just as she had delivered in her previous books. But this time something lacked on all the above mentioned fronts. There is witticism, there is humour, there is fun, but not sufficient to keep the readers happily engaged and not tempted to skip some parts here and there. While reading her earlier two books, it was hard to find places in the story to keep the book down. However, this time the narrative suffered from some lows at various places.

She is one of those Indian authors who write good and interesting language, however, there is one thing which needs a mention here in this department too. In the first couple of chapters, it feels as if the author is rather in love with the word 'rather'. The word makes its appearance a little sparingly after that but then it surfaces again towards the end with much more enthusiasm. To make long story short, a tighter editing would have done the needful.  

Place an order :

Monday, December 23, 2013

Book Review : Brahma Dreaming

Title : Brahma Dreaming
Author : John Jackson
Illustrator : Daniela Jaglenka Terrazzini
Publisher : JJ Books
ISBN : 978-0-9569212-8-4

"Through the ages of this world the minds of Brahma the Creator, Vishnu the Preserver and Shiva the Destroyer think and dream. And from their dreams come all the things that are, and all the things that happen, in the heavens and in the world and in the underworld. From these dreams come all these stories and all the stories that have ever been, and all the stories that are not yet told. "

Brahma Dreaming is an anthology of tales taken from Hindu Mythology categorized under three broad sections - 'Tales of Creation', 'Tales of Destruction' and 'Tales of Preservation'. It is believed that Brahma, Vishnu and Mahesh(Shiva) form the holy trinity and hence are the forces to create, nurture and demolish. It is marvelous how the author has done the arduous task of picking up some tales from grand Indian mythological ocean. The stories that are under Destruction and Preservation sections are primarily stories of Shiva ad Vishnu respectively but those in Creation part are not all Brahma stories. The beginning is beautiful which sets the stage for more interesting and adventurous stories full of flying demons, battles, kings and warriors and much more.

Though every religion has its own set of mythological stories, there is an underlying common thread that connects all of them together. All such legends have high amount of melodramatic content and comprise of ingredients of immortal themes like - love, affection, respect, hatred, deceit, revenge, sorrow and greed. As one reads the story, it becomes clear that even Gods experience similar sensitivities, vulnerabilities and challenges like any human does. This subtle reassurance makes the tales relatable and a great medium to learn life lessons.

All the stories are exciting and thrilling God stories, perfect - to be read to small children, for young readers as well as for grown ups. However, the stories are exciting as they are, there is not much of a value addition by the author in narrating the same. They are just re-told and that too in a very simplistic style, not attempting to go beyond what has already been told in so many ways by multitude of story tellers already.

'Brahma Dreaming' is a large book with gorgeous page-length illustrations. Daniela Terrazzini's black and white illustrations with a hint of red here and there, work as perfect accompaniment to the allegorical text. Having said that, illustrations are quite misleading in the sense that they do not bring in the essence of the culture to which these stories belong. The pictures do not have signatory Indian soul in them which is sorely missed while one proceeds through the book.
The paper and production quality of the book is supreme. It is pleasure to read such an exquisitely created book.  

Friday, December 20, 2013

Christmas Time Fun on Zealot Readers

 Come Join For a Little Fun this Christmas!!!

Make Christmas More Starry and Bright

Details here..

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Book Review : Sita

Title : Sita
Author : Devdutt Pattanaik
Publisher : Penguin India
ISBN : 978-0-143-06432-9

"You judge him but I love him Lakshman. You see your brother as an ideal and are angry because he has not lived up to your expectations. I see my husband for what he is, and understand his motivations; at every moment he strives to be what he thinks is best. I will not burden him with expectations. That is how I make him feel loved. And he sees me, knows that I will support him no matter what, even when he resorts to such devious route like an errant child."

Sita watched Lakshman's nostrils flare. She felt his embarrassment and his rage. She wanted to reach out and reassure him, but she restrained herself.
'You feel your Ram has abandoned his Sita, don't you?', she asked gently.
'But he has not. He cannot.
He is God - he abandons no one.
And I am Goddess - I cannot be abandoned by anyone.'
A mystified Lakshman returned to Ayodhya, while Sita smiled in the forest and unbound her hair.

Ramayana is an age old saga that has been passed on from generation to generation through two primary means of communication - maukhik (orally) and likhit (written). Another medium got added to the list much later - that of moving pictures, and this has been utilized multitude of times in narrating the epic tale. But perhaps Devdutt Pattanaik's Sita, is the one, which has touched me in a way no other could. Unlike Mahabharata, Ramayana is considered to be a much simpler tale with lesser diversions and sub-tales, but here in Sita, you get all that there is to read and understand about the story of Ram - the seventh incarnate of Lord Vishnu. The supporting tales mentioned here, do not hinder the flow of the narrative, rather they are brought out at the most logical junctures where they actually belong. Quite like what was done in Jaya, the author tries to bring many sub-stories, regional twists and beliefs into the fold of the main legend. The action of Ravana is compared and contrasted with some Greek and Roman mythological figures as well.  Furthermore, there is perfect dose of analysis and commentary part in the narrative which makes 'Sita' an introspective piece of writing.

In order to stay true to the title 'Sita', the author has attempted to bring a woman's perspective in the proceedings, which has otherwise been left unregistered by the earlier story tellers. It begins with Sita's early years in her maternal house. We have been generously introduced to the childhood period of Rama and his three bothers, however, there is not much that has been written about Sita as a child. The things that interested her, her pastimes, her relationship with her parents, sisters and others in the kingdom - do not find much of a mention in many writings. Here, she is portrayed as a well-read, wise, strong and confident character. It is amazing how filling colours in a pencil sketch takes the whole creation to a completely different level and that is what happens to the character of Sita. Pattanaik also highlights the relationship that Sita shared with other women characters - the queens of Ayodhya, Anusuya, Mandodari and Trijata. Their conversations make it easy for the readers to understand the personalities and thought process of various actors. 
The unmentioned and unacknowledged trivia may seem insignificant from the perspective of moving the story forward, nevertheless, they do wonders in giving a substantial identity to each character.

Though a religious epic, Ramayana is a story which leaves many wondering and questioning about the fairness and rightfulness of the decision taken by Ram in banishing his pregnant wife. In Sita, Devdutt Pattanaik has tried to address this sensitive issue by highlighting the divine connection that Sita had with Ram, and vice-versa. Sita tried to pacify the embarrassment of Lakshman thus - 'Ram is dependable, hence God. I am independent, hence Goddess. He needs to do his duty, follow rules, and safeguard reputation. I am under no such obligation. I am free to do as I please: love him when I am separated from him, love him when I am rescued by  him, love him when he clings to me, love him even when he lets me go.' This makes Sita a highly magnanimous person and one worthy of everyone's admiration and adulation.

Devdutt Pattanaik has the acumen to bring out the untapped wisdom that is lying deep in the mythological stories of yore. After having read Jaya and Sita, one wonders, how much there is to learn from such epic tales, if one could just acquire perception like that of Pattanaik.

I cannot put a final full stop to this review before I quote a few nuggets of intellect that would make one introspect and contemplate over and over again. 

  • Kanyaa-daan - I give you Lakshmi - wealth, who will bring you pleasure and prosperity. Grant me Saraswati, wisdom. Let me learn the joy of letting go. In daan only wisdom is asked in exchange, unlike dakshina - where wealth is asked in exchange and bhiksha, where power is asked in exchange.

  • Before your wife came into your life, you were a student, with no claim on property. After your wife leaves your life, you must become a hermit, with no claim over property. Only as long as she is by your side do you have claims over wealth. Without her, you cannot perform yagna, you must  only perform tapasya.

  • From desire come all problems and all desires come from fear.

  • What we possess is temporary but what we become is permanent.

  • Most people seek to be the sun around which the world revolves. Very few are willing to be the moon, allowing others to be the sun, despite having full knowledge that they can outshine everyone else. Ram's brothers served him to upholds the integrity of the royal clan. Sita was bound by wifely obligations but only Hanuman did so out of pure love. That is why Ram held him closest.

Here is an interview with him, that was done for the newspaper - The Tribune

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Reviving Mystique of the Mughals

We now see a spate of fiction on the Mughal period, one of the most fascinating eras in medieval history. What is it that makes this era click with both readers & writers.

Read the complete article on fresh writings devoted to Mughal period here.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Book Review : Only One Life to Give

Title : Only One Life to Give
Author : Arun Kaul
Publisher : Frog Books
ISBN : 978-93-82473-76-3

I picked up this book to read just before turning in at night after an activity-full day. I was sure I would not be able to keep my eyes open beyond a couple of pages. But I was so wrong. Once you start a story, it is hard to leave it in the middle.

Arun Kaul opens a window and invites readers to peak into the life that he lived, through a set of short stories. The stories are wisely categorized under four sections. While 'Touching the Sky' has anecdotes from his professional life, some personal experiences are being shared in 'Within the Family'. The other two sections : 'Strangers in the Fold' and 'Women - What it Takes' bring to us some memoirs from the lives of other individuals. Same strings hold all these tales together - the strings of life values, inspiration, dedication, emotion, compassion, sincerity and empathy. Readers get an interesting opportunity to meet - philanthropy personified, a free spirit defying every shackle thrown her way, an individual embracing extreme atonement for his sin, a great administrator-facilitator-patriot, enormity of a mother's sacrifice, uprightness of a villager; and many more. 

We all create and become a part of many stories as we live our lives and when we look back these accounts appear prominently on the screen of our memories. Arun Kaul has collected these images from his memory screen and weaved them beautifully into a series of tales in 'Only One Life to Give'. 

Personally I liked the first section of the book the most. Although the personal section 'Within the Family' should have touched the heart strings the most, it falls short of doing so. Chronology of some events are described repetitively at various places which pushes the narrative to the drab side. Moreover, the abruptness of the personal story of mistrust and betrayal is sure to leave readers with bad taste
in the mouth.  Barring these two downers, the rest of the stories are a delight to read.

A post-graduate in Literature and Management, Arun Kaul made a career in Indian Air Force, followed by working in private sector in various capacities. More on him here.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

The Tribune : Influence of Mediamorphosis (Book Review - Interactive Communication through News-sites)

Sheetal Thapar, an Associate Professor of Journalism in Punjab Agricultural University, Ludhiana, writes about the term "mediamorphosis," which has been greatly influential in bringing about metamorphosis in economy, society, governance and technology at a much larger scale.

Read the complete review here.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Book Review : Interactive Communication through News-Sites

Title : Interactive Communication through News-sites
Author : Sheetal Thapar
Publisher : Unistar Books
ISBN : 978-93-5113-185-4

Sheetal Thapar, an Associate Professor of Journalism in Punjab Agricultural University, Ludhiana writes about the term 'mediamorphosis' which has been greatly influential in bringing about metamorphosis in economy, society, governance and technology at a much larger scale.
The book talks extensively on interactivity in online journalism and how various news-sites are managing to tap the potential that interactivity brings in this field.

Riding on the advancements in the field of Information and Technology, the communication in all forms has witnessed a big shift and so has journalism. Journalism of current times is quite different from its ancestors of yesteryears when the only option possible was one way information dissemination. Times changed and technology advanced at a much accelerated pace over these years. Interactivity in journalism began to assume more and more prominence. A single term interactivity can take many connotations ranging from gathering opinions, inviting feedback to understanding preferences of news readers. Hence, the news media which once epitomized the concept of 'massification' is working towards becoming more 'individuation' to suit various requirements. The individuation brings in the customization and personalization of news-sites. Sheetal talks about the two terms - customization and personalization which are often interchangeably used. 'With customization, the user is active, choosing the content, features and functionality he or she wants from a website ( With personalization, the user is passive. The provider infers or asks broadly what each user wants and chooses each user's content, features and functionality accordingly. '

Multiple feedback channels are now on offer so that the news providers are better equipped to guage the response and evaluation by the news-consumers. This is a significant step to ensure healthy interactivity. Email, live chat, internet forums, online polls, surveys, blogs, news ticker, guestbook, hyperlinks, search tools, video facility, audio facility, RSS feed, E-paper, Wireless paper are some of the umpteen options of interactivity that are put forth by the news sites for the users to choose from.

The comparison between traditional media to digital media is talked about by highlighting the effectiveness of hypertextuality vs earlier linear narration of news. The new age mediamorphosis has made online journalism a very effective form of interactive journalism thereby empowering the news-consumers to contribute as creators of content as well. Online journalism has made participatory journalism a practical reality and Sheetal rightly points out - 'With respect to the mounting need for democratizarion, the internet promises a great potential especially for the developing world. Interactive online journalism can provide citizens with opportunities to have a voice in the fortification of a democracy.'

A comparative study on US and Indian news sites is the topic of one of the chapters. Supported by detailed research and data, this chapter brings home the point that Indian news-sites are still in their evolutionary state in allowing aurdience participation in comparison to the level of participatory communication that US news sites support. A good number of sample news-sites are enlisted and are commented upon, including some Indian and some non-Indian news sites. 

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Monday, November 11, 2013

Book Review : Dare to Run

Title : Dare to Run
Author : Amit Sheth
Publisher : Sanjay Publisher
ISBN : 9789380392127

Amit and Neepa Sheth, the husband-wife duo took up running in their later 30s. In 'Dare to Run', Amit takes us through his journey from being a typical couch-potato to the one who made it to the finish line of the Ultimate Human Race - the 89 km Comrades Ultra Marathon in South Africa. It is a story of dreaming big and making those dreams a reality by sheer determination and perseverance. With that kind of focus and hard work, nothing seems impossible and Amit's life is a live example of the same.

In his own words, 'I loved all sports as long as I was watching them on television with a glass of beer in my hand!' While watching 2005 Standard Chartered Mumbai Marathon sitting cozily on his favourite couch, the festivities of the occasion enticed him to make a resolution that he would be a part of this festive atmosphere the following year. But the resolution slipped out of his mind almost the same day, to be revived after over six months and that was the time when he openly confessed his desire to his family. 

The first 200 m jog on the beach in Mumbai gave him a fair idea of the arduous task that he had committed himself to. But he followed the path that he had chosen and did it relentlessly. Dare to Run chronicles five years of the incredible journey that Amit undertook passionately and which eventually turned out to be a sojourn of tenacity, courage, discipline, self-belief and self realization. As one reads through the book, one realises how a strong drive to achieve something makes everything else fall in place and brings perspective in life. Once having made a beginning Amit kept on running to cover many milestones and conquer many finishing lines, however, this turns out to be a journey within himself. He had the privilege of having a great partner as Neepa Sheth in life and in running and throughout the narrative he talks about her strong, positive and encouraging presence by his side always. Amit brings in his poetic and philosophical flare of writing as he talks about time management, training regimen, injuries, failures and successes.

Dare to Run is much more than a book dedicated to running. Whether one is a beginner or a seasoned player in any discipline or field, Dare to Run is a great inspirational book to read. It motivates you to push the limits and watch the bigger and wider vistas opening in front of you.


I have been a completely non-runner and a non-sports person all my life and in fact, I had reached a point where I used to revel in the glory of being a non-physical person. I remember getting a stray mail in my inbox sometime in Feb last year(2012)  about a marathon that is going to happen in the city two months (14th April) from then. I don't know what, but something clicked inside me that day which motivated me to register for that marathon though the shortest version(5k) of the same. I started my training from 14th Feb. Initially I could barely walk 2 km which I gradually increased but I had to test myself on running. I started with 200m run but my legs, especially the knees did not take it too well. The excruciating pain kept getting worse every time I ran or even walked. But I had committed already and I was not ready to give up. I kept working on physical as well as mental training for two months and sure enough I was there at the starting line on 14th April and I completed the 5k distance in 36 min with 70% running and 30% walking.

I must extend my thanks to a co-blogger Abhinav Bachcha who is a player, a runner, a reader, a reviewer, and a great motivator. He helped me chalk out a training regimen for those two months. I read many books by great runners during that time including - Dare to Run and What I Talk About When I Talk About Running. I strongly believe that these books do help in giving a fillip to one's efforts especially when not everything is going great guns. 

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Friday, October 18, 2013

...more painting

...on a T

...a vine around the neck

...and some warli fun

and some more...

Monday, October 14, 2013

embellishing a kurta...

hand-painted at the back of the kurta

used wooden blocks here

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Interview : Indu Sundaresan

Born and brought up in India, Indu Sundaresan grew up on the stories of his avid storyteller father - a fighter pilot. She went to US for her higher studies and added two degrees to her academic qualifications - M.S. in operations research and an M.A. in economics. But the storytelling gene in her was too strong to get subdued by any distraction and she began writing soon after graduate school.

The Twentieth Wife, based on the life of Mehrunnisa, Empress Nur Jahan, is the tale of one of India's most powerful Mughal women. This is her first published which earned her many accolades.
She is the author of five books so far. The Twentieth Wife (2002); The Feast of Roses (2003); The Splendor of Silence (2006); In the Convent of Little Flowers (2008) and Shadow Princess (2010).

How did the idea of the Taj Trilogy get conceived?

When I was in graduate school at the University of Delaware, I was homesick one winter evening.  So, I took the bus to the library, typed in ‘India’ in the subject keyword, and went to the section that housed books on India—memoirs, travelogues, non-fiction books.  I came home with a lot of books, one of which was on the Mughal harems and Mehrunnisa who was Empress Nur Jahan.

I read all those books over the ensuing weeks, but that particular one on the Mughal harems stayed with me after I’d finished my M.S. in operations research and my M.A. in economics.  When I decided to write a novel, I began, actually with two books set in India in the late 1500s, entirely fictional…and since they were early books, not well written at all!  But, they got me practicing the craft, taught me how to write an entire book—beginnings, middles and ends.

After I’d finished these two novels, and decided that they were no good, I began casting around for another topic to write on, and remembered that book, went back to the library to research on Mehrunnisa’s life, and wrote then, my first published novel, The Twentieth Wife, which is the first novel of the Taj trilogy.

What are the things in the Mughal dynasty that fascinate you the most?

You know, there’s little about the Mughals that’s not fascinating.  They lived larger-than-life lives—they loved passionately; they built palaces, forts, monuments fervently; they came to India to conquer and stayed on to leave an indelible mark on India’s history.  The Mughal kings also kept reams of documentation on their lives, their loves, their buildings, their conquests, their fights and quarrels—a lot of these have not survived through the ages, but there’s enough to get a fair idea.

The novels of the Taj trilogy, told mostly from the viewpoint of the women of the Mughal harems, are about as accurate in factual content as I could make them, and I had plenty of material to work with!

You have written on strong Mughal women characters who otherwise get overshadowed by the Royal kings in history books. What was the motivation behind this?

Most women in history are overshadowed by the men of their times and their lives—in Mughal India, it probably was due to the fact that the women lived in cloistered zenanas, were not seen by the men at court, and rarely revealed their faces (or their thoughts) to the outside world.

And yet, in many instances, they were the power to reckon with behind that veil they wore.  Mehrunnisa, Empress Nur Jahan, was one such authority in the Mughal Empire.  She signed on imperial documents with her own seal; had coins minted in her name; and sat at the jharoka balcony when she gave audience to petitioners.  All of these were the prerogative of the ruling king of the empire, not of his wife, especially not a twentieth wife, so low in the harem’s hierarchy.

The first two novels of the trilogy, The Twentieth Wife and The Feast of Roses, are about Mehrunnisa.  For the third novel of the trilogy, Shadow Princess, I skipped a generation and went on to detail the life of Princess Jahanara.

She was Shah Jahan’s and Mumtaz Mahal’s oldest surviving child, and after her mother’s death, she acquired the place of the Padshah Begam in the zenana—an unusual role even for a Mughal woman to play, because she was a daughter, not a wife, supreme in her father’s harem.  That position gave her power, plenty of money, and the authority to try and manipulate the succession politics.  She didn’t succeed, as we know, since the brother she favored, Dara Shikoh, did not ascend the throne; another brother did, Emperor Aurangzeb.

Out of all the books that you have authored, which is that one book that you are really proud of? Why?

This is a tough question; one I try not to answer.  It’s true that for authors, our books are akin to our children, so I try not to play favorites.  Usually, I’m most attached to the book I’m currently working on, for obvious reasons—my attention is most focused on that ‘child’ at that moment!

You have written an anthology too. How different are the two styles of story telling - novel vs short story?

My one anthology, In the Convent of Little Flowers, is a collection of stories set in modern India.  This was a tough collection to write, mostly because the topics covered are deeply emotional, sometimes things about our lives we don’t question, try to ignore.

I write short stories when I’m in a lull between novels, or even when I’m immersed in a novel and find that it’s going nowhere fast enough for me.  Then, I take a break, think about something else, work on something short.

The short story can be satisfying to write when your main focus is novels—simply put, you construct a narrative, take one moment in a person’s life, build a story around it, and end it in about 25 pages.  There’s no downtime in my short stories, they gallop, and are meant to leave the reader breathless at the end.  Any reflection upon what happened?  That comes later.

 Which is your upcoming book, what is it about?

The Mountain of Light will be published by Harper Collins in India in October, 2013.  The title of the novel comes from the Persian translation of the word Kohinoor—as in the diamond.  The novel deals with the last fifty odd years of the diamond’s existence in India—when it is owned by the rulers of the Punjab Empire, the Maharajahs Ranjit and Dalip Singh.  British officials come to the Punjab court, asking for Ranjit Singh’s help in the war in Afghanistan, and when he dies, his lands are annexed to British lands in India.

Dalip is only six years old when he becomes king of the Punjab, but it’s a shaky throne, and he’s escorted from his lands under the guardianship of the British and taught to become a perfect English gentleman.  The Kohinoor is sent in great secrecy to England and to Queen Victoria.  In 1854, Maharajah Dalip Singh follows his diamond to England; there he’s feted and petted by the queen.  As he grows up, he realizes that nothing can replace the loss of his Punjab, the enormous wealth of his Toshakhana, and his Kohinoor diamond.

Indian readers read a lot of foreign literature. How are Indian books received by foreign readers ? Is the scene changing in any way?

This is true, I never looked at the flip side—Indian readers do read a lot of foreign literature.  There is, recently, a huge market of Indian-authored books—I think we’re coming into our own now, and telling our own stories.  Frankly, nothing but good can come out of this, because we each bring our own perspectives to our histories and our stories.

How is marketing and promotion of a book changing its readership? What are the best ways to ensure wider reach of a book?

When I first published The Twentieth Wife in 2002, the internet was still a murky world.  Now, things are much clearer—readers are online, authors should be also, there are just so many opportunities.

Many foreign authors have been writing on India as per their understanding of this diverse nation. What are your views on the different perceptions captured from foreign lens?

To me, different perspectives on India, from non-Indians, are always interesting.  Sometimes they’re not so accurate, and sometimes they tell us things about ourselves that we might not otherwise notice.

How would you compare publishing industry in India with its counterpart in other countries? Which are the areas that can be improved upon in Indian publishing field?

The Indian publishing industry in English—just as Indian authors—is also coming into its own.  My mother translated the novels of my Taj trilogy into Tamil, and we’re published in Chennai by one of the premier historical fiction publishing houses, Vanathi Pathipakkam.  It’s in dealing with Vanathi that I’ve realized that the local language market is long established, and extremely vibrant.

The English language market publishers are likewise brilliant in India, especially in acquiring Indian authors from within the country—the range of Indian writing now, both in India and abroad is quite astounding.

Which are your favourite authors - Indian or foreign? Which is your all time favourite book?

I grew up reading a lot of fiction from England, the classics—and in many ways, since they’re favorites from childhood, they are books I return to over and over again.  From the sheer number of times I’ve read Pride and Prejudice and all of Austen, it’s probably my favorite book.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Book Review : Oleander Girl

Title : Oleander Girl
Author : Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni
Publisher : Penguin Books India
ISBN : 978-0-670-08673-3
No. of Pages : 288

Korobi (named after a beautiful but deadly flower) is brought up by her grandparents in Kolkata, after her parents expired in a car crash. Though very strict and righteous old man, her grandfather Bimal Roy showers love and affection on Korobi. Grandmother Sarojini is warmth, gentleness and wisdom personified. The story begins on the day when Roy household is buzzing  with joyous activities as Korobi is getting engaged to Rajat Bose, the only son of a high profile business family of the city.

On the engagement party night, Korobi's grandfather dies of a sudden heart attack. Sarojini understandably feels a big jolt post the disappearance of that strong anchor - Bimal Roy, from her life. But readers are subtly introduced to the underlying liberating feeling that she experiences for the first time then. She clearly wants to atone for the sin that Bimal Roy had committed by creating big secrecy surrounding Korobi's birth. Exemplifying an individual with mind of her own, she feels it to be Korobi's right to know about her parentage.

When Korobi comes to know about some part of the truth, she decides that she needs to find her true identity first before building a new life with Rajat. For that she needs to embark on a journey out of her sheltered life of Kolkata, to a new world - the United States of America, where her mother had spent some years as a student. The combination of - ticking away of the limited time lease that she had committed for, the threadbare budget and the burning desire to find her identity - keeps the readers glued to the narrative. As she progresses in her pursuit, her sincerity, commitment, conscientiousness and her experiences mature her into a confident individual who does not want to shy away from the truth of her parents.

Though the plot is not entirely unique yet the sensitive handling, which is distinctly Chitra's style, makes it a great read. The way she portrays the poise, grace, vulnerability and strength in a woman, be it in Korobi, Sarojini or Rajat's mother - is commendable. 'The Palace of Illusions' penned by her was a masterstroke and the glimpses of the same excellence are visible in her other writings too, including Oleander Girl.  She painstakingly etches each character beautifully which makes the narration a little slow in the beginning but then the pleasure of reading a well thought through tale increases manifolds.

The story is narrated from the viewpoints of various characters throughout - Korobi, her prospective mother-in-law, her grandmother, the Muslim driver and some others, bringing in extra layers to the proceedings. Chitra Banerjee yet again enchants the readers into a story brimming with mystery, intrigue, heritage, romance, familial ties, revenge, forgiveness, emotions and much more. In the end, Korobi's character rises above, triumphant over all obstacles.

MySmartPrice, thanks for sending me a copy to review.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Friday, August 23, 2013

Book Review : The City of Ember

Title : The City of Ember
Author : Jeanne Duprau
Publisher : Random House

Another gem of a book introduced to us by my sister and her children. 

There is something strange about the city of Ember. It is night everywhere but no twinkling stars and no moon in the sky. There are no plants and animals except for bugs and insects. It is dark all the time except for the yellow lights that flicker from the lamps in the houses and on the streets. Since there is no notion of day or night, the activities happen as per the specific timings. The lights are put out at certain hour every day indicating bed time and the lights are turned on after specific passage of time every day. Everywhere everything seems to be bathed in an ominous yellow glow but still the brightness is missing. Beyond the area that is lit by these floodlamps there is a black scary world that no one has dared venture into. In fact, some people did try exploring that part of the city but were not successful in finding anything after just a few steps in the pitch dark unknown world. The life has been going on in the city as a rhythm, or is it so? Though people have been living here for more than 240 years, it is becoming more and more noticeable that the storerooms are running out of supplies, things are getting scarcer by every day and the city is plunging into blackouts more often now, bringing everything to standstill. In short, uncertainty is looming large over the future of the city and its inhabitants. This underlying fear is getting reflected in the gloominess that is writ large on the faces of citizens of Ember.

One more school term is over and twelve-year-old Doon Harrow and Lina Mayfleet have been assigned their life jobs - Lina as a messenger, and Doon as Pipeworker. The lifeline of the city - the pipeworks are underground where a river roars and a generator works untiringly, illuminating the whole city. Doon believes that he would find something there among the pipes which could possibly change the doomed future of the city. Lina happens to find an old document titled - 'Instructions for Egress', (Egress means exit) in a torn state and along with Doon she decides to solve the puzzle to find the new world. These happen to be the instructions that were written by the builders of the city some 241 years ago to lead the people out at the right time. But clearly something went wrong in the way it was supposed to get passed on from one generation to another.

While on their mission to find directions out of the city, they stumble upon some unflattering secrets about the mayor of the city and his guards. Doon and Lina now face a prison sentence for spreading false rumours. Time is ticking, the guards are looking for them, Doon and Lina have to decide fast and act fast. They have to decipher the mysterious instructions and the task becomes even more difficult when they do not even know what do things like matchsticks, candle and boat mean. Will they every see any light at the other end of the tunnel?

'The City of Ember' is full of fear, mystery, adventure, and desire and determination of two pre-teens to save the people of their city. The narration is engaging and it is interesting how the strangeness of the city is unraveled slowly chapter after chapter. While smoothly weaving the flow of the story, the author very subtly talks about the 'want' in a person which often plagues any logic or reason that comes in its way. Lina experiences this feeling once when on seeing the colour pencils in the store which she so desperately desired, she finds the 'need' of a coat for her grandmother fading away. It was perhaps the same 'want' which had cast its spell on the mayor and his trusted people too, including one of Lina's friends. 

If you want to know what happened to the people of Ember, you need to read the sequel of this book - The People of Sparks. 

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Some Quilling and Warli art

and here are a couple of book themed bookmarks...

Monday, August 12, 2013

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

India Decoded Through Foreign Writings

If there is one place on the face of earth where all dreams of living men have found home from the very earliest days when man began the dream of existence, it is India – Romain Rolland

India is not, as people keep calling it, an underdeveloped country, but rather, in the context of its history and cultural heritage, a highly developed one in an advanced state of decay – Shashi Tharoor

Reviewed five books which capture the diversity and chaos that is inherent to India here at Spark

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Book Review : Our Moon Has Blood Clots

Title : Our Moon Has Blood Clots
Author : Rahul Pandita
Publisher : Random House India
ISBN : 978-8-18400-087-0

Rahul Pandita brings the ugly yet true story of Kashmiri Pandits who endured the torture from time to time since 1947 because of their faith in one way of reaching the almighty. In an ideal world, this reason for such brutal behaviour sounds so senseless and shallow but oft man has managed to put even animals to shame by his lowly actions.

Rahul was 14 years old in 1990 when his family was forced to exit their home in Srinagar during ethnic cleaning by Islamic militant. This was the time when the threatening calls for 'Azadi' from India by Kashmiri Muslims were getting louder, aggressive and violent against the minority population of Kashmiri Pandits. People were tortured and killed and were forced to leave their homes and spend the rest of their lives in exile in their own country.

As the author reminisces his personal story full of incidents of torture, violence, looting, exodus and unhealed scars, many policies and politicians stand disrobed in front of truth and revelation. While narrating his personal experience as well as those of others in the similar situation, he talks about the fictional mask that has conveniently been given to the facts to suit the needs. The narrative reflects the pain and suffering of the author - who witnessed everything first hand at a very tender age, who saw his parents mourning the loss of their loved ones, who saw a big part of their being dying when they became refugees in their own country, who still yearns to go back to his roots someday. This heart wrenching tale brings in front the ignored plight of a big section of Kashmiri land.

'For me, exile is permanent. Homelessness is permanent. I am uprooted in my mind. There is nothing I can do about it. My idea of home is too perfect. And home and love are two intertwined.  I am like my grandfather, who never left his village his whole life. It was deeply embedded in his matrix, too perfect to be replicated elsewhere.' There is yearning, there is hope and there is pain when Rahul says, 'We will return permanently'.

'Our Moon has Blood Clots'  is a sad yet compelling story about the open wounds of numerous families which became homeless and refugees in a matter of hours and days because of some mad fundamentalist  fervor. Rahul Pandita has taken it upon himself to bring the names and numbers of every person who bore the brunt of this brutality. "I have made it my mission to talk about the 'other story' of Kashmir. I have reduced my life to names and numbers, I have memorised the names of every Pandit killed during those dark days, and the circumstances in which he or she was killed. I have memorised the number of people killed in each district. I have memorised how many of us were registered as refugees in Jammu and elsewhere." This is his way of making people aware of the forgotten chapter in the history of Kashmir.

It is heartening to read that in spite of such extremely harsh circumstances, the humane traits can thrive if one so desires and Rahul Pandita owes his thinking to his upbringing when he could confront an army chief by saying, "I have lost my home, not my humanity".
A great book to understand the real blood-stained history of the 'Paradise on Earth'.
A brief timeline at the end summarises the events in chronological order for reference.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Book Review : A Short Walk In The Hindu Kush

Title : A Short Walk in the Hindukush
Author : Eric Newby
Publisher : Picador India
ISBN : 978-0-330-46267-9

Travel writings are slowly climbing their way up in my preference list these days. Perhaps they have discovered the fact that I will never venture into some of the places that are being written about - the wilderness of Alaska, remote places in Afghanistan, scaling Mount Everest and the likes. So they entice me even more and to their delight I am letting them to.  In keeping with the urge to read more of these, I requested MySmartPrice for 'A Short Walk in the Hindukush' by Eric Newby. It was a good choice.

In his frank and humorous way, Eric Newby has managed to compile a writing piece guiding potential climbers on what not to do in order to be a successful mountaineer. A wonderful and exciting book, interestingly written, 'A Short Walk in the Hindukush' is also recommended by Lonely Planet.

Giving in to his discontent while being in high-profile haute-couture industry, Eric Newby embarks on an amusing journey to one of the remotest places on Earth. He has his old friend, Hugh Carless, as a companion on this expedition. Though completely inexperienced and ill prepared, they both are brave and determined enough. They decide to set out to climb Mir Samir in the Nuristan Mountains of Afghanistan. In 1956, they decided to begin their trip with a crash course in basic climbing at Snowdonia in Wales so as to get a feel of the rigours that await them ahead.

They trekked through Nuristan, a region in the North-East of Afghanistan and then 'almost climbed' the challenging Mir Samir(6,059 m). They had to turn back just 700 feet from the summit because of their continual dysentery and altitude sickness. However, three years later in 1959, Mir Samir was successfully scaled by a German mountaineering team.

As expected in such wanderings, Eric Newby and Carless had a brush with wide range of adventures and experiences which range from nerve-wrecking, bone-chilling to thrilling. They passed through various big and small villages, met many people, peeked into the lives of some locals, came to know about peculiar lifestyles of many and had many (un)pleasant encounters. Along with reporting about these things, the author has beautifully sprinkled his narrative with light humour and wit. As they progress on their expedition, we also get to read a lot more about their loose stomachs and about the hostile natives of those regions. The overall picture that gets created after reading about his sojourn in the most beautiful wilderness on Earth does not speak very high about the locals. The description of natives often slips into being derogatory and author's conceitedness comes through in the open. To be fair to the author, this could also be just his honest portrayal of what he felt and experienced. And we must not forget that this book was written in 1958, when how the book would be received was less of author's worry. So I feel what he felt is what he has reported without trying to smooth-en the edginess of his comments. 

Towards the end of their trek, the author writes, "I had the sensation of emerging from a country that would continue to exist more or less unchanged whatever disasters overtook the rest of mankind." I wonder what the author would have said about the country now. 
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