Malathi Ramachandran’s Mandu is a poetic justice to the love of Roopmati and Baz Bahadur

He was a poet, a musician and an artist before life adorned him with a blood-smeared crown. She was the purest of the souls that walked the earth. She breathed music and poetry with her very existence. He was looking for redemption, but he instead found love. Life gave him her and together they went on to live forever in the songs and folklores of Malwa. Malathi Ramachandran drew inspiration from these folklores for her new book ‘Mandu’, that speaks of the romance of Sultan Baz Bahadur and his love Roopmati.

My greatest fear while reading any historical fiction is that a writer’s poor imagination might destroy my fascination for the original story. However, with time, I have learnt to acknowledge that writing a historical novel isn’t as easy as it might seem.  One of the many challenges in writing historical fiction is that many a time the readers already are familiar with the plot and the climax. Especially for stories of the likes of Baz and Roopmati, it is more than challenging because of its popularity among the audience. Such books can be lost on the readers without an engaging narration and skilful story-telling. That way, Malathi needs to be lauded for her courage and conviction with the subject that she chose for this book.

In her prologue, Malathi offers to “whisk the readers away to another era and love other lives between the covers of a book” and I must say she did well on that offer of hers. Even before Baz and Roopmati fell in love with each other, I had fallen in love with Mandu and Malwa, thanks to Malathi. She paints beautiful imageries of the valleys, the plains, the city that it was and of course, the Holy Narmada, who is almost another character in the lives of the star-crossed lovers. Her splendid narration not only transports you to different lifetimes but also lets you bring back the fragrance of those bygone days into your current timeline, the sweetness of which lasts even after the book is done. I am now convinced that when I visit Mandu, I will see more than just the ruins.

I loved how Malathi doesn’t just rush through the romance. Instead, she lets you soak up even the finest details of loving, longing, enduring, embracing and eventually surrendering unto the bliss. She does rush through the conspiracy that changes the lives of our protagonist. Even the climax is rushed, but I am not complaining. Malathi gives you so much of Baz and Roopmati, which makes you feel like it’s a life well-lived and you are no longer afraid of the end. I also loved how the writer gave a life to Begum Hiba, instead of letting her rot in bitterness.

Baz and Roopmati hailed from different faiths and societal statures. So, the readers get a glimpse of these different cultures and how the lovers crossed over when some of them became hurdles. The book in strewn with phrases/words borrowed from Urdu, which only makes it more beautiful to read. The book also generously indulges the readers with some of the poems written by Baz and Roopmati.

The book is a poetic justice to the love of Baz and Roopmati.  I recommend it to lovers of historical fiction/romance genres. It’s a breezy read. Pick it on a rainy day. I promise you it will only make it more enjoyable.

Buy the book here.

Here is another historical fiction that we reviewed.

Love Curry Cover Image

Love Curry is the Perfect Antidote to Pain in this Perky Love Story by Pankaj Dubey

There are not many books that talk about the stories of Indians who leave motherland for various reasons and settle down in foreign countries. The stories of these individuals and their families are each potential best-sellers. There are so many suppressed emotions and buried plots waiting to be unearthed and unleashed to the world. That way, Pankaj Dubey’s ‘Love Curry‘ published by Penguin Random House India is a very interesting addition to this not so long list. It isn’t merely the story of an Indian, we also have a Pakistani and a Bangladeshi who bring in additional flavours to this book.

Away from homelands and out of their protective nets, you will always find the subcontinental borders melting away and a natural brotherhood flourishing amidst citizens of these sister nations. That is precisely the premise of this book, but then there is more. Loaded with their versions of pain, misery, aspiration, and compulsion, Rishi from India, Shehzad from Bangladesh and Ali from Pakistan land in London and end up being flatmates. But a new storm awaits them there in the form of Zeenat, who is very much the human version of Bollywood.

The book opens with a very passionate chapter that can slap you awake and drag you into the story. But don’t be surprised if you find yourself smiling or grinning or laughing out loud in the middle of a seemingly romantic chapter. That is thanks to Pankaj’s wit and humour that is strewn all over. And I assure you, that you will experience the same phenomenon throughout the book, even as the plot thickens and that makes the read quite enjoyable. Then comes the personal cross that each of our characters carries with them.

Not just the trio, but also the story of Zeenat and her father Mullah, are a short yet intriguing peek into the disturbing lives of the men and women who are constantly at war while trying to make a fresh start in a faraway land. It is very interesting to see the author use a thread from their pasts to establish their present-day existence. I especially loved the part where he explains how it was a natural evolution for Shehzad to become a tattoo artist and Mullah naming his daughter Zeenat. I couldn’t help but smile when I realized why the book was titled ‘Love Curry’ and how that is a thread that moves the second part of this tale.

An unfortunate catastrophe brings about a series of events some of which eventually take our characters to the home they dearly want and deserve. Before they get there, they must endure a few more seismic attacks including racial discrimination and wrongful detention. However, as always the sense of brotherhood prevails and help arrives just in time.

While the book is essentially a story of love and friendship, it is knit into an engaging tale by putting together the many elements that define the connections between the three countries that our Romeos hail from. I am no longer surprised how cricket is an indispensable character in all stories that involve these countries. So, I did manage to keep a straight face when Ali and Rishi fought over an Indo-Pakistan cricket match, however, the discussions that happened around the could-bes and would-bes if only our countries decide to tear down the differences and redraw the borderlines once and for all were quite exciting. As wishful as they might sound, the ray of hope that was glistening through those discussions is too hard to miss.

Finally comes the most important of our connections and the one that warms our heart to the greatest extent- our Curries. The mutual love that we share for the biryanis, kebabs, and the endless list of flavourful curries is that one weapon which can probably destroy the elements of hate and bring about harmony. Need I mention how it is only right that it be honoured with the place in the title of the book?

The perky narration and the lively dialogues, makes the book sound like a half-done Bollywood screenplay. Don’t tell us that we didn’t warn you, when Love Curry hits the big screen, especially because Pankaj is also a filmmaker. I have only one suggestion for whoever makes a movie out of this – please skip the political conversations that happen among the trio in the second part. It is a little too stretched and unbelievable that these misfits would discuss subcontinental politics with their head in the guillotine. Otherwise, I would say go for it. It is an easy and engaging read and just the right kind of book you need to calm those nerves during these times of uncertainty.

Agni Sreedhar’s The Gangster’s Gita Evokes a Whirlwind of Emotions


The first time I heard the name Agni Sreedhar I was sitting in one of the conference rooms of the Hotel Lalit Ashok, Bengaluru, editing a blog for the Bangalore Literature Festival. Mr. Sreedhar was one of the guest speakers for the festival and was in conversation with renowned Kannada writer Prathibha Nandakumar about his new book The Gangster’s Gita (published by Eka). Like many others before me, I too was intrigued reading about his life and one of our team members filled me in with more details about this so-called gangster turned writer, which only piqued me further. His story has been so unlike the usual that it wasn’t too difficult for me to register his name in the memory amidst the long list of speakers who came to the festival. From then till today, there had been many occasions when I had serendipitously crossed paths with Gangster’s Gita. As lame as it may sound, I have always believed that a good book will always find you when the time is just right.

 

Last night I was window shopping on Kindle and once again found The Gangster’s Gita sitting there asking to be read. I instinctively downloaded it but it was almost midnight. I told myself I will have a look at the ‘Translator’s Note’ and read the rest of the book the next morning. The translation is done by Prathibha Nandakumar and the original title in Kannada is Edegarike. In her note, she talks about the author and his love of literature. She also talks about how translating his book hasn’t been an easier task given Sreedhar’s distinct style of writing along with the need to retain the nuances of the original narration in Kannada. However, all the hard work and the multiple drafts of translation seems to have paid off, because I couldn’t just stop with the translator’s note. Before I knew it, I was already reading the last lines of the book and I must credit the translator as much as the author for the scintillating read. Personally for me, one of the best things that happened to the book is Prathibha’s translation along with her note.

 

The publisher’s note claims that this is a work of fiction and the usual that follows. However, the book begins with words of Erik Erikson – ‘A novel is not necessarily a work of fiction’. The narrator is our very Sreedhar Anna who entered the criminal world under the strangest of circumstances. However, the real protagonist of this stirring story seems to be Sona. Sona belonged with the mafia of the Mumbai underworld and was sent to Bangalore on an assignment that involved Sreedhar Anna and his boss. The sudden turn of events leads to Sreedhar Anna meeting Sona. The duo is then compelled by circumstances to leave Bangalore to Sakleshpur along with Sreedhar Anna’s boss and some of their boys. During their adventurous trip and their stay in Sakleshpur, Sreedhar Anna and Sona get acquainted with each other.

 

The book follows the life of Sona through conversations with Sreedhar Anna. Sona, who is barely thirty years old, intrigues Sreedhar Anna with his calm and poise. Their conversations and Sona’s demeanour unleash a storm within Sreedhar Anna and stirs up the readers too without fail. In her note earlier, Prathibha talked about how they arrived at the title of the book and it can’t be any more apt than this. The book stands on the shoulders of two men who have killed and questions the concepts of strength and weakness, heroism and cowardice. It wretches open the seemingly cold-hearts of these men and drench you in the blood of warmth that flows inside them. The choices that they made, the choices that are made for them, their regrets, their gracefulness demolishes all pre-established ideas of good- bad and right-wrong.

 

Orwell says “Good prose should be transparent, like a windowpane.”, and that is exactly how our author writes. He forgoes the decorative language and sticks with straight yet evocative narration. It is a thin book with only 103 pages yet with its powerful, thought-provoking narration it invoked a whirlwind of emotions within me that I could barely fall asleep. It has been one of the very fulfilling reads for this year and I am grateful for all the happenstances that led me to the discovery of this book.

 

Pankaj Dubey’s Trending in Love Picks Unconventional Protagonists


Of all forms of magic that exist on earth, I believe love is one magic that stands out. The power of love is so immense that it can bring together beings from worlds apart and bind them together in an unbelievable way. Almost every day you find stories that bear witness to this miraculous power of love. One such unsaid story of love that brings two people from seemingly different human worlds is Pankaj Dubey’s, Trending in Love (published by Penguin Metro Reads). With a plethora of love stories available in the world of books, Pankaj’s choice of IAS aspirants as his protagonists is quite unconventional yet clever.

 

Sanam hails from a privileged and protective household whereas Aamir grows up in an environment where life is challenging almost every day. The happenstances in their lives lead them towards a dream pursuit called IAS. Neither of them realize that this pursuit is going to open many pleasant and unpleasant pathways in their lives.

 

The first part of the book tells you about the individual struggle they encountered before emerging as rank holders. Their struggles are not the same. Despite the privileges that she enjoys, Sanam comes to face her share of battles against patriarchy and then she decides to conquer the dream single-handedly. Aamir, on the other hand, has an endless list of battles to fight, most important of them the battles that he fights within himself before his mentor-boss Major Kalra nudges him to the right path. Their struggles are indeed tales of inspiration as much the story of an IAS topper is. The second part of the book is about these two kindred souls finding their way towards each other amidst the hilly terrains of Lal Bahadur Shastri National Academy of Administration, Mussoorie.

 

While the book is primarily a story of love, the author does touch upon a variety of socio-political issues. The first chapter itself sets off a discussion on if a financially well endowed, privileged Dalit candidate must opt for her reservation or should she let it go for the sake of more deserving candidates. Then there is this long list of sensitive subjects of concerns when your other protagonist is a Kashmiri. So yes, we sit through discussions on excessive militancy, police abuses, internet outages and whatnot. Pankaj isn’t finished yet. He also talks through his characters about the good and bad of social media, homophobia and more.

 

On the other hand, he also drowns you in sweet pools of poetry, now and then. The beauty of Mussoorie and Kashmir come alive in his words and haunts you for not being there right now. The maggi outings, blueberry cheesecakes and the lovers’ sweet nothings keep you smiling.

 

My only disappointment was that the book had so much potential to be more than just the love of Sanam and Aamir. The stories of Aamir’s cousins Moeen and Sabah, Aamir’s Abbu, Ramya and the characters of Major Kalra and even Aamir’s roommate Badal had a very intense narrative in themselves. If knitted together, they could have given way to a more powerful tale while Sanam and Aamir could still have ended up in each other’s arms. But then, I am merely a reader and readers always want more. A little more drama and gentle heartbreak are all I ask for before the happy ending. Sigh! Pankaj seemed to have thought otherwise and just saved the readers from more tears. So, there it ends with a lot of love and hope.

I recommend this book for two reasons, one it is an absolute page-turner that makes your heart flutter. Second, it gives you a peek into the lives of UPSC aspirants, their unique life (that involves barely any living) and also what it takes to graduate from an Officer Trainee to a successful bureaucrat.

 

We Have No Time to Stand and Stare

It has been a month now since life started slowing down for me, thanks to the pandemic. With the numbers still spiking in my home state where my parents live, I wake up with anxiety and go to bed hoping for the pandemic to come to an end. However, on the other hand, despite all the extreme inconveniences, I am still grateful for things especially this standstill in our days. I now have time to sit outside my door and watch those squirrels playing around. The street dogs who happen to be my husband’s best friends tease me with their yoga stretches. I play cat and mouse with those evil cats in the neighbourhood. Every time I hear the sound of a truck, I go out without fail to check what they are selling. At times, I sit in peace watching the leaves sway, the butterflies flutter while not yielding to those big bees who try to perturb me. I soak in some sun and I keep wondering how this pandemic has taken me back by 25 years at least.

 

Growing up, we didn’t have a television at home. It was our parent’s decision that there won’t be a TV until we finished our education. In the current times, it might sound like a bigger sacrifice, except it wasn’t that big a deal when we grew up. Guests would ask why did we not buy a TV and then they would be impressed with my parents’ answer and that would be it. We did buy our first TV a few years back after me and my brother graduated. But, not having a TV at home meant that I wasn’t able to relate to Aladdin, Little Mermaid, Jungle Book or any such tele/cartoon series that my friends now feel nostalgic about. I did occasionally sneak out and catch a few episodes of Chandrakanta or Shaktimaan from my neighbour’s home, but those experiences barely make me nostalgic.

 

Instead, I followed ant trails trying to find their hidden treasure. Sometimes, I would place my little finger in the trail to see how the ants got back to their trail. Even before I learnt science, I was convinced that they left behind a secret scent for the rest of the group to follow. I would also try straightening our pet dog’s tail and see how it would stay straight before it curled back. I was also convinced that if I did it daily, it would become straight someday. In the evenings, when the koel started calling out, mimicking her used to be my favourite evening activity. But before she was koel, I knew her as “Akka Kuruvi”. Someone told me that the koel had lost her family tragically and she missed her sister dearly. Apparently, since that day she had been calling out to find her sister or Akka. That is how she came to be called the Akka kuruvi. I always responded to her hoping she will come to think of me as her Akka and be at peace someday. I was very convinced of my theory when one evening I found her outside my grandmother’s home where I was spending my summer vacation. But, now I can’t remember when the dear Akka Kuruvi went on to become koel. Anyway, coming back to my younger days, when I was done with the animals and birds, I sat outside our home and watched people who walked by but then, I grew up in a village, which meant most of the times the streets were quiet in the day time, just the way it is right now in the streets of Bangalore. So it’s no wonder that I feel like the world has gone back by 25 years.

 

That is not all. Those days without tv and with not too many friends to play with naturally led me to read. I read newspapers page to page, including the ads and obituaries. Sometimes much to my mother’s annoyance, I even read from bits of papers that came wrapped in groceries. I always finished reading my language textbooks in the first week. I read the Bible from Matthew to Revelation. And then I topped the scripture test in my school and I was given the Old testament. Again, I read from Genesis to the end. I began to borrow books from friends. I read the book their parents read, most of them, spiritual literature. When I discovered that my school had a library and they were ready to lend books to students, I was the happiest. Every Saturday post-lunch, I bugged Indrani Miss who was in charge of the library. I had a partner in crime, Tamilselvi. We always picked the biggest books in the library, two each. Those kept me going through the entire week. That’s how I ended up finishing War and Peace over a weekend in barely a day and a half. I wept through Uncle Tom’s Cabin but waited for the Saturdays to come. Saturdays became the favourite day of my weeks. Even after being introduced to TGIF, Saturdays continue to be my favourite day, and just like those days many years ago, the pandemic has blessed me with the privilege to sit down and drown myself in endless pages of words.

 

In the last few weeks, I caught myself exclaiming how there is so much peace around although my neighbourhood has always been peaceful, except for my husband’s four-legged friends. Now when I think about it, it wasn’t the peace outside. It was truly the peace from within, or should I say the meme-worthy ‘inner-peace’. Even as we continue to work from home, there is an undeniable sense of calm and quiet that has settled in these days. Even though workload continues to be the same and sometimes even worse, I must say there is less to be stressed about. I do miss the fun of being in office. I do miss going out. I do miss those movie halls I had given up on after the advent of Netflix. I do miss the chaos on the street. And there are times I am just too bored that I end up falling asleep. But despite all the inconvenience and anxieties that fill our days, there is an invisible bliss. I might sound insensitive but I am being honest that I have longed for all these running and chasing to stop for a while. I have wanted life to come to standstill and as always life has a weird way of granting your wishes. To call these days a blessing, I know is a privilege especially when the world is paying for it with thousands of lives every day. Nevertheless, I am not sorry for the strange sense of peace it brought to my doors. I shall go when my time comes just like the many others before me, but for today, I can finally “stand and stare” and for that I am grateful.

Poster of Amazon's Show Panchayat

Amazon Prime’s Latest ‘Panchayat’ Raises Important Questions Sans the Baggage of Clichéd Pessimism

When Amazon Prime’s new arrivals notified me of TVF’s new series Panchayat, for reasons that do not exist, I wasn’t very keen on watching. But, a couple of days later, my partner-in-crime suddenly discovered this new show in Prime and was too excited (again, I know not for what reason). I didn’t tell him about how I had noticed it and duly ignored it, but as always he was too excited to notice my disinterest. So, nonchalantly I started watching it with him. But Phulera’s new Panchayat secretary Abhishek Tripathi beat me in nonchalance and slowly I warmed up to the series.

 

Phulera is one of those many Indian villages where the Village Panchayat leadership posts are reserved for women, where these elected female representatives leave the administration in the able hands of their men and go back to their god-given duty of being the ‘caregiver’ at home. Our protagonist, Abhishek is your aspirational neighbour next door who chilled through his student days and is suddenly faced with the reality of his life in Phulera while his friends Instagram away from their uber-cool urban corporate lives.  So, he decides to bring his life around by preparing for the CAT entrance exam. Having been used to too many super-hero stories and feminist web series, I was predicting that the new Secretary’s young blood would boil and he would change the way things worked for these women representatives in Phulera. Unfortunately for me, he wasn’t Ayushmann Khuranna from Article 15 who wants to right the wrongs. He just turned out to be another half-hearted opportunist stuck up between good/bads and right/wrongs. However, now that you have started watching a series, it’s a crime to not finish it. Also, despite my disappointment in the protagonist being non-heroic and very practical, I came to like other people in Phulera who reminded me of many people I have come across. Some I remember warmly, but most I would rather stay away from.

 

I was in college when my Village Panchayat was first reserved for women. My hostel warden was surprised that I wanted to leave to go home to vote. It helped that she was a feminist or at least she thought herself as one. Off I went and elected the first woman President of my village. She was only a few years older than me and I knew her. She was smart, confident, outspoken, and very capable to be a leader. A year later, I was sitting face to face with my interviewer, and again I have no idea why he asked me this, but he asked me to comment on reservations for women. Hold that thought, I now remember why he asked me that. I think that was one of the many times when the 33 percent reservation for women in Parliament was in the news. I told him, ‘reservations for women’ makes no sense until the time their husbands, fathers, and brothers make decisions in their place. I believe my answer was more of a reflection of my disappointment of how my otherwise talented Panchayat leader was sidelined and how her father/brothers took over the reins of administration. I landed the job and moved to the city.

 

A decade has gone by and my village panchayat is still reserved for women, except there hasn’t been an election in the last five years all thanks to politicians and bureaucrats. These days however, I don’t get too disappointed. I feel like I am another Abhishek Tripathi, because how does it matter if it is a man or a woman.The next woman who won the election in my village was more corrupt than all her male predecessors put together, and all these years being grown up, I have seen more unkind, difficult women as well. So, my blood doesn’t boil and I don’t get goosebumps with seemingly empowering feminist or pseudo-feminist thoughts. Or should I say, it does at times, but not as much as it used to? I have come to believe in harmony, although I am not convinced it exists. Yet strangely, unlike the Women Reservation Bill that maintains status quo for many years even after change of regimes, I have changed my stance with respect to reservation for women. I believe reservation for women is essential despite the cultural baggage and excessive corruption that comes with the arrangement. I believe that is the only way to bring out those real leaders who probably are stuck with their heads in the kitchen fire. 

 

Sorry about that long nostalgic monologue, but coming back to Phulera, I was glad I watched it. It was a lesson and an inspiration in some ways. Revolution may not always be the way to go. Sometimes we have to be patient and give way to evolution. Maybe a little push here and there can expedite the process without really breaking down the good things of the past that we want to leave behind.  

 

Having said that, Pradhan Ji and her PradhanPati make a loving couple. Aarav’s Papa and Aatmaram’s Maa too were equally entertaining. But all hearts to Vikas and Deputy Pradhan Prahlad for filling my day with laughter. I hated Parmeshwar (only because he reminded me of many people I know) and Abhishek sir, kabhi kabhi thoda smile bhi kar lo.

 

“I think I’m reflected in bits in several characters” – Rehana Munir

Rehana Munir ran a bookshop in Bombay in the mid 2000s, a few years after graduating with top honours in English literature from St. Xavier’s College. An independent writer on culture and lifestyle, she has a weekly humour column in HT Brunch, and a cinema column in Arts Illustrated magazine. She is also an occasional copywriter. Rehana lives in Bombay among food-obsessed family and friends. She is a local expert on migraines, 1990s nostalgia and Old Monk. We wrote about her debut novel Paper Moon here and had a little chat over her book and writings.

 

What is the most satisfying part of writing ‘Paper Moon’ for you?

The sense of having translated an actual experience into a work of fiction. Of crafting Fiza’s coming-of-age story out of my memories, but more importantly, my imagination.

 

What does it feel like when you finally finish writing a book?

An overpowering urge to share it with the world! At least that was how it was with my debut novel.

 

How much of yourself is in the characters you write about?

From personality traits to philosophical leanings, I think I’m reflected in bits in several characters. But more than them being literary stand-ins for me, I think I’m in dialogue with them.

 

Did you read all the books and authors who find a mention in ‘Paper Moon’?

One of the pleasures of writing the book was to squeeze in my favourite authors and their works. But there are way too many references, and not all of them appeal to me. They were names that suited the narrative.

 

How much research and travel did Paper Moon take?

A lot of time travel, since the book takes place in the early 2000s. I did visit some of the haunts that the book mentions, but mostly to check up on a name or a detail. A few of the pillars of the book still hold up my life in Bombay. As for the bits in London and Edinburgh, they too were etched in my mind but needed some research for reasons of accuracy.

 

How does it feel to have gone from a reader to bookstore owner to an award-winning author? 

Very fortunate. (Though, unlike Fiza in the book, I ran a bookshop but did not own it. It belonged to a friend of my father’s.) There’s so much to learn. As a bookseller, I largely interacted with book distributors. As a writer, I’m learning about the publishing industry. Paper Moon seems like such a quaint world in the era of digital marketing.

 

Who is your first reader?

My two sisters, Kausar and Mariam.

 

Did you have a “When I become a writer, I will…” list?

Not really, but one thing comes to mind, now that you’ve asked the question: Not to write prescriptive lists for other writers.

 

Is there going to be a second part to ‘Paper Moon’?

I have been asked this question on a few occasions, which is very encouraging. It’s certainly an exciting idea, a sequel. Or maybe even a prequel.

 

What is the best criticism that you received for ‘Paper Moon’?

One reader likened my book to a jazz progression. I found that analogy to be very satisfying, especially since the book borrows its name from a jazz song.

 

Do you feel pressure that your next book must be better than ‘Paper Moon’, especially after all the love that it’s been receiving?

I’m currently savouring the appreciation from readers. If anything, it’s encouraging me while I work on my next.

 

What are you reading currently?

Shadow City: A Woman Walks Kabul by Taran Khan. I read it a couple of months ago but I’m already drawn back to it. It’s a deeply thoughtful exploration of a city’s troubled history, through a personal lens. Zadie Smith’s Swing Time is next on my list. I love the energy and optimism in her writing.

 

Thank You for the Paper Moon, Rehana


Dear Rehana

I must confess I have never done this earlier. I have been in love with many books and have let them wreak havoc within my little heart. I have written about those books or spoken about them endlessly with friends. I have even wished to hold those authors in a warm, grateful embrace. But, whatever I am about to do is something I have never done before.

Ever since Aakansha wrote about this dramatic reading of your book, Abhishek has been wanting us to meet with you and talk to you. But of course, we wanted to read the book before we could do that. Yet, somehow we kept delaying it, thanks to mundane life. This Sunday morning, I was still waking up, when Abhishek said he wanted to read out something to me. Usually, these requests to read out end up being the latest political controversies from the morning news or half-satirical half-witty statements from a hopeless twitter banter. I mumbled a half-hearted yes and to my surprise, he was reading something about a July afternoon, train, lending library, Kipling, Marlowe, missing a heartbeat and some more. That did wake me up and I was asked to guess the name of the book. Somehow, I knew it was Paper Moon. But everything he read out was just too dreamy and it felt right to listen to it with eyes closed. I guess I was getting myself ported to that monsoon day in Bombay but in reality, I had dozed off. When I woke up, my weekend chores were hanging above my head and Paper Moon had to wait for another day.

 

I didn’t let it wait for too long though. It sounded too good to be left alone. So, I picked it up on Monday after office and began once again from the same July afternoon. That’s when I realized you are this wicked magician who works marvellously with words. Sigh! Trust me when I say, the rest of my Monday evening in an already summer-like Bangalore was feeling like a monsoon night. I couldn’t tell if the breeze under my neck was for real or because of Paper Moon.

During the initial chapters, every time you mentioned an author or a book, or a bookish reference, I tried to keep a note. I tried to keep up with you completely unaware of what a laborious task that was going to be. I remember counting until fifteen such references just in the first chapter. While I was still trying to wrap my head around how you managed to do it, the next realization hit me. Not only did you do this with books, but you also did the same with art, music, food, drinks, eateries and even hangout spots. I could have forgiven you if you did this just with Bombay, but no, you had to talk about Goa, London and even Edinburgh.

 

The next time someone looks for a recommendation for a book, art, music, food, or drink, I’ll give them a copy of Paper Moon.

 

And what’s with the Khan obsession? Generally, I would have complained if the writer didn’t take enough effort to veil the real-life public figures because many times they disrupt the flow of the story. But, you made him blend so well into the narration that I was smiling every time he appeared. I loved almost all the characters you created for this story, even the Australian family and the fact that your characters, their relationships, their emotions- all of it felt very real. Nowhere did I sense a pretence irrespective of how dreamy the whole book was. My only problem with the book was that even though Fiza had her own set of troubles, somewhere it felt like the bookstore just happened too easily for her or even the launch of the new store for that matter. Nevertheless, take it with a pinch of salt, because I guess I might actually be jealous of Fiza Khalid.

After finishing the book, I logged into Goodreads to rate it. I just wanted to be sure if I was the only one who was swept off my feet or if there were others. So, I skimmed through the reviews and I was having a moment of truth. The reviews reminded me of the Tamil movie Vinnai Thaandi Varuvaaya (or in Telugu, Em Maaya Chesavae). For a long time, I hated the movie solely because every other person (be it a friend, family, or stranger) I met during the time, told me how it was exactly their own story. The reviews for Paper Moon looked the same and finally, I am making my peace with Vinnai Thaandi Varuvaya fanatics because I now know how it feels. I know it sounds silly, but I couldn’t hold my joy when I found out Fiza’s paper moon and I share the same birthday. It felt so personal. Also what bibliophile hasn’t dreamt of owning a bookstore/cafe someday or even experiencing a drool-worthy geeky-romance as Fiza? I so wanted the book to go on, but even when it ended, the excitement stayed. I hope someday you write a second part to Paper Moon. I am aching to know what happens to Fiza, Iqbal, and even Noor.

 

Thank you for the Paper Moon, Rehana. That was a brilliant brilliant debut. I can’t wait to read your next, but until then, I am going to reread Paper Moon, every time I need a refill of refreshment.

 

Love
Jeeva

 

 

What If Ram Were a Startup Founder? Prachi Garg’s Book Answers

Reinterpretation of mythology or mythological fiction isn’t my favourite genre. In my opinion, many of these are an attempt at fan fiction and most of them do fail terribly. I talked about it here. So, when I picked up Prachi Garg’s Startup Secrets from the Ramayana, I was reluctant. Nevertheless, I was intrigued because the blurb said it is the story of Ram’s struggle of setting up his business empire from scratch in fourteen years. Prachi, who is also the founder of ghoomophiro.com has authored a few books in the genre of business fiction including the ‘Super’ series. So obviously she seems to know her trade well enough to put my anxiety to ease from the beginning.

The tale opens with a scene of Ram standing at the brink of victory against Ravan and flashes back into his struggle of fourteen years. Prachi’s Ram doesn’t carry a quiver full of arrows but business strategies and solutions for any business-related problem. Yet, he loses his business empire and is forced to move out of Ayodhya to start fresh along with his closest aide Sita and loving brother Lakshman. So, the lessons start from there. As the tale progresses, you will also meet many characters from Ramayana, when the trio work hard to establish a collaborative business Platform, called Kutumb, In Chitrakoot, that functions as a co-working space for small and large scale entrepreneurs. Then arrives Shurpanakha, followed by Ravan and his company HeadHunters from Lanka who pursues an aggressive business strategy to establish a monopoly over the Indian market. So the tale goes.

For those readers, who are familiar with the tale of Ramayana, it will be interesting to note how Prachi has picked a handful of characters and events from this epic and has successfully woven into a business fiction. I understand it isn’t as simple as a mythological fiction, to tell a tale with the same sequence of events but in a business language. I for one was constantly curious to know how each character has been recreated and how Prachi fit them into a modern-day business world. I liked Prachi’s diligence on how she tried to bring some of the finest details of the epic like the golden deer that lures Sita, the Nine-Sister’s alliance, Hanuman bringing the entire tech-hub because he couldn’t find the correct router. While some of these reinterpretations might come-across like force-fit, a lot of them do bring a smile.

There are occasional slip-ups in the plot which is barely noticeable, thanks to Prachi’s skillful narration. The best part of the book for me is the end of every chapter, where Prachi summarizes the learning from those episodes. In only 126 pages, Prachi covers a lot of ground from ‘The Value of Disruption’ to ‘Financial Stability’. The choice of language is simple and spiced up in moderation with business jargon, which makes it an easy read even for beginners.

 

I must also warn the readers to not expect a thorough reinterpretation of Ramayana in Prachi’s book, especially those readers who have studied Ramayana extensively. I would say read this because it is a fun read with some insightful secrets for the startup-enthusiasts.

Book Review – Hansda Sowvendra Shekhar’s The Mysterious Ailment of Rupi Baskey

This happened in 2015. I had a bad day and I wanted to take my mind off things. So, I walked into a movie hall, looked at the list of movies displayed on the ticket counter, and picked the next show which was just about to begin. I had no clue about whose movie it was or how good the reviews were. I had only learned the name of the movie a few minutes back while paying for the ticket. When the lights went off and the first dialogue played, I was super joyed because the voice from the movie told me that my day was going to get better from there. It was Tom Hanks’ voice and the movie was Bridge of Spies. Such happenstances are a rarity but when they happen they wash off all the blues and fill your days with a refreshing air of goodness. Imagine chancing upon a book the same way.

 

I had no idea that The Mysterious ailment of Rupi Baskey was the debut novel of Hansda Sowvendra Shekhar who also authored the famous The Adivasi will not dance. I also did not know that Hansda won the Yuva Puraskar for the book. Strangely enough, I didn’t even remember adding the book to my library. I was travelling and I badly needed some sleep. As horrendous as it might sound, I had picked the book so I could fall asleep quickly. I know how unforgivable it is, but I have been using books as sleeping pills lately, except this book wouldn’t let me sleep. I was tired and my eyes were begging to be shut. Yet, I kept peeping through half-shut eyes and still read. When I dozed off due to exhaustion, I woke up and tried to stay alert to continue reading. That riveting was the tale of Rupi Baskey or should I say Kadamdihi.

 

The book possesses you right from the first line because Hansda didn’t bother to take his readers through a long winding road to introduce his protagonist. She is right there on the opening sentence, squatting in the middle of a rice field to deliver her first child. Rupi arrives in Kadamdihi, a Santhali Village as a new bride and her husband Sido is one of those educated Santhali men working as a teacher in Nitra. The book follows the life of Rupi Baskey from the time she arrives in Kadamdihi and also some of the others whose lives are intertwined with hers.

 

Hansda calls his protagonist the strongest woman in Kadamdihi but you will realize that all of Kadamdihi or at least the women whom Hansda speak of in the book are no less stronger. The characters of Putki, Della, Younger Somai-Budhi are representations of women who are indeed strong of their own accord. Even the ones who crossed over to the dark side, like Gurbari, Dulari, and Naikay’s wife, display indomitable strength and conviction. As for the men in Kadamdihi, while Somai and Khorda are likeable, most men in Kadamdihi seem powerless as a puppet, in front of the dahnis. That way the dahnis rule, both in Kadamdihi and in the book.

 

It’s interesting to note that Hansda is a medical officer by profession and his debut novel is woven over the fabric of dahni-bidya or black magic. The world that he paints through his descriptions of dahni-bidya, is scary and exciting at the same time. I wonder if he drew his inspiration from the many patients with mysterious ailments he might have met during his career as a medical doctor. But, on the other hand, he introduces you to a faith that is more intense, unpolished, and very real nevertheless. The rolling eyes, women bathing naked under the moonlight, the food enchantment etc. might remind you of similar faiths across India and will only add on to your curiosity. At one point in the story, Hansda through Dulari almost justifies black magic as a weapon that women use to protect themselves. She explains how she did not have a choice and how she had to do what she did to reclaim what was rightfully hers.

 

When Hansda is not enchanting with the story of the dahinis, he is busy enlightening his readers with tidbits of information about this wildly beautiful state of Jharkhand. He sings to you, songs about the kadam trees and stories of how various gushtis came into existence. He explains how the villages are named after trees that are found in abundance, how each paaris have their own story of how they came into being, how marriage within one’s village is looked down upon and more. He also talks about Sarna religion that the Santhals follow and the caste discrimination in these villages. Above all, he introduces his readers to the political affairs of Jharkhand from the time Jaipal Singh founded the Adivasi Mahasabha in 1938 which demanded a separate state for Adivasis in Chota Nagpur area to the times of All Jharkhand Student Union under Besra. Hansda like most of us sounds disappointed with the political leaders of the state and tell us how these political leaders rode on the sacrifices of many young Adivasis who were hoping for a homeland for themselves.

 

For a book with such a compelling story with a lot of intriguing information, there is one challenge in reading it. Although the book is written in English, Hansda didn’t shy away from using a lot of native tongue during his storytelling. He doesn’t use the English equivalents even when they are available and many a time doesn’t even bother to explain what the word means. He instead expects the reader to understand from the context which we do most of the time. I learnt dahni-bidya means dark magic, dhai-budhi means midwife and more. Having to assume the meanings of these words has its own shortcomings apart from the fact that it slows down the reader, but I wouldn’t hold it against him. If English can find its way into the conversations made in the native tongue and that too in a very generous proportion, why can’t we make do with native words in an English narration? I would say I am rather grateful to Hansda for having introduced me to this new language which only makes me more curious about it.  

 

So, if you are looking for an engaging read or wanting to get off a reading block, go find Rupi and read all about her mysterious ailment.

 

Andrew Sean Greer’s Less

Where do I begin? If I only I could give form to the feeling that has been gushing within me, you would know how overwhelming experience it was. But as usual, I didn’t know where to begin. I kept waiting for the words to find their way out of the whirlpool of emotions.  A month has gone by since then. So, maybe I should just begin by telling you how I never have had a great run with award-winning books. Continue reading “Andrew Sean Greer’s Less”

Chit-Chat on Bofors and Rafale

Ten years. That is how long Chitra Subramaniam worked on the Bofors scandal, from Geneva in Switzerland. She was 29 and pregnant when she began her investigation. She continued to follow the paper trail and money trail to their end, even after the Hindu fired her. Her husband sponsored her entire investigation and she did some ground-breaking work in bringing out all the dirt and setting some heightened standards for investigative journalism. The Bofors scandal led to the change of certain Swiss laws.

It wasn’t that there were no scandals before that, but Bofors came at a time when the country was looking up to Rajiv Gandhi with great hope after having lived through a cynical age during his mother’s government. Rajiv was portrayed as a clean person. So, when she held the papers that connected him to the scandal, Chitra said she was shaking. After her extended period of work, a box load of documents arrived in India for investigation. Although no one knows what happened of those documents, the Rafale deal has stirred up the public attention again. Everyone had almost forgotten about Bofors until somebody compared the Rafale deal to that of the Bofors.

According to Chitra, there is corruption in every deal including the Rafale. Yet she considers the Bofors and Rafale deal as chalk and cheese. In Bofors, for the first time, the prime minister of India was personally involved and stood accused of corruption. The Rafale, on the other hand, is not clear if politicians were involved. There sure are a lot of unanswered questions including the involvement of the Reliance group, but this story must be built piece by piece and not jumped to conclusions without following the conventional rules of journalism. She also insisted that the audience should read the works of Abhijit Iyer Mitra who probably knows the most about the Rafale scandal.

Chitra said the VP Singh government rode on the Bofors scandal but did nothing about it. And nothing is stopping the current government in doing anything about. However, the politicians are like ‘all scorpions stuck in a bottle’. They have together turned a lot of our institutions corrupt. They can’t moralize each other.

Chitra laughed when asked if the European countries are as clean as they are portrayed by the corruption index. She took the examples of Sweden, France and Italy to establish how the European countries are rather more corrupt.

Chidanand Rajghatta, the current Foreign Editor and U.S Bureau Chief of The Times of India, who was moderating the discussion with Chitra brought up an important point about how Indians are not ready to pay for news and expect it to be available for free. He thought that this hunt for free or cheaper news is causing financial constraints on the media houses which probably is the reason why they don’t dive deep to bring out the truth. But, Chitra said that the media houses have enough money when they want to have them and that cannot be the reason. She said people here indulge in a lot of gossips. Everyone thinks they know everything and everyone has an opinion about everything. People no longer follow the two-source theory of journalism. They write something because it all online now and can be edited later if needed. She also said that these media houses are constantly under pressure especially if the establishment is family-run. But they should be careful because social media has become the new watchdog. An eternal optimist that she is, Chitra reiterated that the media must continue to question and do their job.