Friday, February 22, 2013

Book Review : The Feast of Roses

Title : The Feast of Roses
Author : Indu Sundaresan
Publisher : Harper Collins
ISBN : 9789350292099

After reading 'The Twentieth Wife'(reviewed here), I did not want the wonderful reading experience to end there so had to read the sequel of that book immediately.  My Smart Price was kind enough to fulfill my desire soon. The first book ended when Mehrunnisa became Jahangir's twentieth and last wife. This was one betrothal based entirely on love between two individuals and not for any political favours. Overwhelmed with happiness emperor Jahangir bestows the title of Nur Jahan upon his new wife Mehrunnisa.

An intelligent, clever, well-read and politically aware woman as Mehrunnisa was, she knew she would have to face her rival in the imperial Harem in the form of the then Padshah Begum Jagat Gosini but her calculated moves made her the new owner of the prestigious title Padshah Begum pretty soon. Nur Jahan knew how to turn Jahangir's unflinching adoration towards herself to gain many favours, including - positioning of trustworthy people around her, transfer of royal seal under her command, accompanying emperor to give audience to commoners and tactically banishing many others who could pose a threat to her commanding position. Her clever machinations very understandably antagonized many people in and outside the palace grounds.
She became the powerful woman who challenged the dynamics of how male dominated royalty functioned. Nothing could restrain her within the walls of the emperial harem. Though veiled, she made sure that her voice reached far and wide. She monitored, molded, maneuvered and manipulated Emperor Jahangir's royal farmans and decisions and Jahangir became the required cloak for her feminine voice.

Between the two books, my recommendation would be for 'The Twentieth Wife' as I always maintain that the 'first' books enjoy many privileges which sequels can never get. In spite of this fact, Indu Sundaresan has managed to maintain the same charm and fascination in her second book that she so beautifully created in her first. Her works are testimony to the amount of research she must have done while penning these books down but what stands out the most and must not remain unacknowledged is her treatment of the characters. Their sensitivities, vulnerabilities, dependencies are brought out beautifully by the author.
Through her portrayal, Mehrunnisa stands tall eclipsing the rest in her passion to put her signature on the annals of history for posterity to remember. Ironically because of the epitome of love - the Taj Mahal that Khurram (Shah Jahan) built in the memory of his beloved wife Mumtaz Mahal, rose another Mughal Empress whose fame and popularity eventually surpassed that of Nur Jahan.

Indu's writing has the power to give wings of imagination to the readers and this makes the saga rise much higher than the one that is simply narrated rather it becomes the rare one which is felt and experienced. So a big thumbs up to the books written by Indu Sundaresan.  

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Book Review : Luka and the Fire of Life

Title : Luka and the Fire of Life
Author : Salman Rushdie
Publisher : Random House
ISBN : 978-0-224-06162-9

Salman Rushdie known for weaving enchanting imagination and for witty play of words  is indeed one of the great story tellers of our time. As 'Haroun and the Sea of Stories' was Rushdie's gift to his first son, 'Luka and the Fire of Life' - the story of Haroun's younger brother is the author's gift for his second son on his twelfth birthday.  In Salman Rushdie's words, Luka and the Fire of Life is not a sequel to Haroun and the Sea of Stories, but a companion to it.

In the land of Alifbay and in the city of Kahani, Luka finds himself in a very precarious situation when he is the one who has to bring his father - the famous storyteller, back from a deep sleep, a sleep from which nobody could arouse him back but the Fire of Life. Luka must set out in search of the fire of life through the magic world accompanied by some interesting characters like his two pets - a bear named Dog and a dog named Bear. The journey is full of adventures, obstacles, strange incidents and unusual kinships and the experience is quite like a real life video game where one after another higher levels are reached, difficult levels keep increasing and the progress can be saved at certain junctures. Hard pressed with time and unsure of his progress, Luka travels along the River of Time, towards the Lake of Wisdom and the Mountain of Knowledge. The Insultana of Ott, Elephant ducks with remarkable memory, Respecto-Rats and many ancient Gods and Goddesses of great civilizations make the story an interesting read.  The story has all the marks of a great fable or a fairy tale. The contemporary twist has been provided in the narrative by borrowing the terminology from the contemporary gaming world and some popular movies.

Rushdie has nicely peppered the tale with clever puns and puzzles in the narrative. The story is a tribute to the special bond between a father and a son but there are many other things which run understated in the story though not trivial at all - mortality of everything that exists in the world and significance of good deeds. The story is a delectable treat for all fantasy lovers - children and adults alike. However, at times the proceedings seem to lose the freshness and fail to maintain the magic at the same level with which the story began with.  But there is no way the brilliance of Rushdie's language could go unnoticed and unappreciated. It duly deserves a respectable mention once again.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Book Review : Stupendous Timetelling Superdog

Title : Stupendous Timetelling Superdog
Author : Himanjali Sankar
Publisher : Duckbill

Rousseau is a superdog in Mrs. Ghosh's household with a unique ability to tell time through his barks, raising of his forelimbs  and thumping of tail. Mrs Ghosh and her two daughters - Aanya and Kaayva dote on their pet dog and have gotten used to the fact that their dog is capable of doing much more than what a regular canine does.

There are these Orange Marmaladies from the Black Hole of Time who were the original timekeepers of the universe and who used to enjoy the company of humans very much before humans became self sufficient in terms of tracking time.  Now Marmaladies feel ignored and uncared for and worst of all, humans do not seem to notice them at all, they have become invisible in human world. To get their visibility and friendship with humans back they think of a drastic plan. They stop all the time showing devices in the human world but unfortunately contrary to their beliefs,  nothing changed. The humans still can not see the Marmaladies. However, a few things happen in the human world - they realize how utterly dependent all of them have become on time and without time their whole world becomes chaotic.

Now there is only one creature who can actually bring some semblance in the timeless world even without the assistance of  any clocks or watches - its Rousseau and thanks to the dog, Ghosh's household is still running smoothly. The dog becomes the subject of study for many around the world and the superdog becomes a superhero. But are the humans able to see and acknowledge Marmaladies again? Will the Marmaladies get back their long lost togetherness with humans? Will the time telling devices start working again?

Besides being a fun packed story full of madness for children it has another introspective angle to it too. I feel Orange Marmaladies are much more than strange creatures from outer world. These are our own and other's feelings which we have stopped responding to because of our always running to meet the deadlines routine. A smile here, a little nod there, an acknowledgment of some feeling, listening to somebody, sharing somebody's sorrows - anything could be one of the Marmaladies and the same are becoming 'invisible' in the self-centered culture.

So 'The Stupendous Timetelling Superdog' is indeed a thought provoking tale and this aspect of Marmaladies should be discussed with the young readers after they are done reading the story once. I am sure it would enhance the pleasure of reading this tale much more as they start to appreciate the idea of layered characterization and the importance of human values which conveniently get sacrificed at the altar of paucity of time.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Book Review : The Twentieth Wife

Title : The Twentieth Wife
Author : Indu Sundaresan
Publisher : Harper Collins

The great Mughal empire with all its expansiveness, grandeur, opulence and flamboyance has always mesmerized and intrigued historians, storywriters and commoners alike. Mughals (the word which is actually derived from Mongols) came from middle Asia towards India and reigned over most of the Indian subcontinent in the period 1526 to 1757. Though the royal emperors like Akbar, Jahangir, Shah Jahan, Aurangzeb have long been resting in the annals of India, yet their styles, their polished faculties for art and culture, their elaborate mannerism, their harems, their foods still hold the unabated charm to enthrall many.

Indu Sundaresan brings back a slice of that era spanning from Akbar's reign to that of Jahangir's focusing more on their counterparts - the Mughal women and especially Mehrunnisa - a lady ,who, true to her name was like a Sun among women.  She grew up fantasizing about being Salim's wife some day but her dreams were brutally shattered when emperor Akbar commanded her father to marry her off to a valiant soldier of Persia - Ali Quli. Salim, who got enamoured by Mehrunnisa's beauty at a couple of chance meetings could not do anything to change Akbar's words. Being in a loveless marriage, enduring the stigma of being a barren lady for a long time after marriage, Mehrunnisa never got over her first love and nor did Salim. As fate would have it, they both met again and the dormant love between them got a chance to rekindle again.  After long torturous years of waiting, Salim (now emperor Jahangir) got to make his own choice, entirely devoid of any political aspiration - to marry his love of life Mehrunnisa who was given the name Noor Jahan by him. The controversial empress, the twentieth and last wife of Jahangir, went on to become a very powerful entity in Mughal lineage.

The author very meticulously talks about the veiled women wielding strong influence over the emperors, the political games played on either side of the curtains, supremacy and code of conduct in harems, open revolts of sons against their respective fathers for the prized crown, marriages for political gains or supremacy and much more.

I think I am a little biased towards the stories with strong female protagonists who let their grace, wisdom and strength of character introduce their identities to the world. In 'The Twentieth Wife'  Mehrunnisa is undoubtedly an epitome of poise, intelligence and patience. The beautifully written tale is based in parts on historical facts, gossips of bazars during that time and traveller's accounts with gaps filled with fictional spice and the result is a wonderfully weaved world full of flavour and fragrance. The amount of research that the author must have done for this piece of writing is evident from every detail that has been given due regard throughout the narrative. All the characters, their strengths and vulnerabilities are understandable and relatable. Indeed a very fast paced story with no dull moment in the whole of 376 pages long book rather every page teases you more and more for the events that are waiting to unfold in the subsequent pages. It is a sheer pleasure to read this story so must not be missed.

This book was sent to me by MySmartPrice

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