Sunday, March 15, 2015

Syed Agha Hasan Amanat Lakhnavi - Inder Sabha

Inder SabhaInder Sabha by Syed Agha Hasan 'Amanat"
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

"Koi pyar ki dekhe jadugari, Gulfam ko mil gayi Sabz Pari", I was listening to this song for the umpteenth time a year or two ago when I found myself wondering about Gulfam and Sabz Pari. I had never heard about this romantic couple ever, were they some kind of legendary lovers? Like Laila and Majnu, Shirin and Farhad, Heer and Ranjha? On an impulse I googled them, thinking I would be led to some story about star crossed lovers. I was instead directed to a play called Indra Sabha often performed in the court of Wajid Ali Shah. I got a bit jumbled up at this point. I got the impression that the play was written by the erstwhile Nawab of Oudh. With this faulty information, it was no surprise that my attempts to look up any more information about this play failed.

Two months ago, on Twitter, I read a tweet about a play by Amanat Lakhnavi called Inder Sabha that set my antenna abuzz. This was just what I had been chasing, and I lost no time in asking the tweeter if the book was available anywhere. I got a reply that it was possible as it had been performed on stage in German language. This time round, armed with the name of the author and the modified spelling of his work, I was able to locate the book easily. To my joy, it was available in Hindi script for a mere Rs.90/- at A quick order followed, and in a few days time, the book was in my hands.

This is how information spreads. A popular work of art (literature, poetry or painting) remains in the mind of another artist and gets a mention in his work. This is how esoteric works of poets like Rumi, Bulle Shah, Waris Shah, Amir Khusro and Amanat Lakhnavi have been handed down the generations. Sahir Ludhianvi and Gulzar have famously borrowed poetry from Ghalib and Khusro. The use of the names of Gulfam and Sabz Pari by Shakeel Badayuni in 1960 led me to this gem of a book in 2015. I hope my poor attempt at describing Inder Sabha will lead discerning readers to this book.

It is a slim book of 74 pages, 13 of which are reserved for the introduction, index and such. The drama itself is spread out in 60 pages. The story is about the grand court of Raja Inder in Heaven where lovely fairies dance and sing. No mortal is allowed to enjoy the beauties of this festival.

There are four celestial Apsaras who perform at the gathering - Sabha - of Raja Inder. They are Pukhraj Pari, Neelam Pari, Lal Pari and Sabz Pari. Each Pari is introduced to the assembly by a verse. She is attired according to her name, and is, of course, very beautiful. She sings a ghazal, a holi a chhand, a thumri and several songs. We presume she dances as well.

Sabz Pari is the last of the Apsaras to come on the stage, and the prettiest. She happens to see a mortal prince called Gulfam. She is smitten instantly by his beauty and has him abducted to her palace. Gulfam is initially confused by the goings on, but when he learns she is a Pari, begs her to be allowed to watch the festivities. A member of the court complains to Raja Inder about the mortal intruder, and Sabz Pari's hand in it. For her transgression, Sabz Pari is banished and Gulfam is thrown in jail. Can Sabz Pari save Gulfam? Will she be accepted back and allowed to consort with a mortal? How can she put her case forward to the king when she cannot appear before him?

As for the content of the musical, between them, the four Paris sing 31 ghazals, 9 thumris, 4 holis, 2 chaubolas, 5 chhands and 15 songs. It is a musical opus, no less. The poetry is not always top class but it is always charming. The language is Hindi-Urdu, hence it is not difficult for a person with a little knowledge of Urdu to understand most of it. Some of the Urdu words are translated at the end of the page for our ready reference. At some point of time, in my opinion, the author got a little carried away by the task at hand and failed to provide meanings to the difficult Urdu words. These can be checked online easily, thanks to the plethora of Urdu dictionaries on the Internet.

Amanat Lakhnavi was a contemporary of Wajid Ali Shah. He started writing poetry at the age of nine years. When he was young, an illness took away his ability to speak. He regained his speech much later during a visit to Iraq, but he was plagued with a stutter. His speech impediment turned him into a recluse. A friend of his, Haji Mirza Abid Ali 'Ibadat', was "आशिके कलामे अमानत" (lover of Amanat's poetry). He advised Amanat to get out of his depression by composing a musical which would be a source of joy to the viewers. This set Amanat on to creating Inder Sabha. It was performed first in 1853 in the court of Wajid Ali Shah. Thenceforth, it was performed annually in his court. Later, it was performed for common people as well and became so popular that several theater groups performed it in various places. After his untimely death, his son compiled his works into a book called 'Amanat'.

I am led to believe that the grand movie Indrasabha (1932) - which holds the record for highest number of songs ever (69) - was also based on this book. The print of the movie is perhaps destroyed. It is not available either on dvd or youtube. A sad loss.

This book has been edited by Dr. Krishan Dev Jhari. He has also written a very entertaining and an informative foreword to it. We have to thank him for bringing a treasure like this to our notice. Drama was a vocal tradition in the days of yore. We are very fortunate that it has survived the vagaries of time and appeared in print. Dr. Jhari has edited several books in Hindi, but there is no further information available about him.

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Thursday, March 12, 2015

Rupa Gulab - Simi's Mum's Diary : The Daughter of all battles

Simi's Mum's Diary: The Daughter of all battlesSimi's Mum's Diary: The Daughter of all battles by Rupa Gulab
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Parenting is not always fun. There are times when you want to wring the neck of your offspring. Luckily such impulses play out more in the heads of irate parents, else we would be known as a nation of child-killers as well.

Children are supposed to be at their intractable worse when they are in their teens. Simi is 20 when the book opens but it's obvious she is still very difficult. She is a snarly, selfish brat who loves to put down her Mum at every opportunity she gets.

Simi is in the final year of college and sweet on an insufferable twerp. Simi's Mum and Dad try to adjust with the boyfriend, but find it very hard to put up with his airs and culinary demands. They are relived when the pair breaks up, but soon are rocked by another crisis when Simi is found chanting Buddhist mantras.

The book is a mild satire on the current political situation in our country and in the publishing industry. Volunteer work done by cap wearing enthusiasts, and a publisher desperate to publish a badly written book about a young man's angst in hopes of landing the next best seller, are situations that sound very familiar to us.

The book is primarily about how Simi finds her feet after landing in one mess after the other, or so her parents think.

The book keeps its tone light and is very funny. It could have fallen into the trap of being episodic, but avoids that as it is knit together well. There are very few main characters (which is a good thing) and they are well fleshed. The anxious mother aka Simi's Mum, Rohit aka Simi's Dad, Philo their cook, The Gigglies - Simi's besties are all charming characters.

I do wish Simi had been a bit less snarly. She does settle down in the end, but during the book - oh! I wanted to shake her at times.

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Saturday, February 28, 2015

Pamela Aidan - An Assembly Such as this

An Assembly Such as This  (Fitzwilliam Darcy, Gentleman #1)An Assembly Such as This by Pamela Aidan
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I wonder if Jane Austen has the honor of having spawned more fan fiction than any other author. It seems to me. I have read several derivatives of her novels. I have liked some, not all.

I had read a lot of serious stuff lately, poetry and classical fiction and needed some light reading, hence I clicked on this book.

This novel is a retelling of Pride and Prejudice from the point of view of Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy. The events of the novel are gone over once again from his perspective. It is an interesting idea, and it makes for an interesting reading.

The problem with it was when the writer spent a lot of time describing the inner turmoil of Darcy every time he spots Elizabeth. According to Ms. Aiden, Darcy tries to impress Elizabeth, but he is brought up short by her wit. He is portrayed as a person who is not too good in female company and does not know how to negotiate himself around a self-assured person such as Elizabeth.

We are treated to page after page of poor Darcy trying to get up close and personal with Elizbeth with her rebuffing him unfailingly. The story adds events that Jane Austen forgot to record, for instance, Jane and Elizbeth going to church with the Bingleys and Darcy after Jane recovers from her illness.

After the Netherfield ball, Darcy and Bingley leave for London. The story takes and interesting turn there. But I found, to my dismay that the story ended rather abruptly. Ms. Aidan has chopped Mr. Darcy's tale into several parts.

The story is good, no doubt about that, but it does ramble on. There is too much focus on Darcy's clothes and how he dresses. His valet is a bit like Jeeves, manipulating his master into wearing certain clothes and getting into certain situations!

At the end of part I, I did not feel like going straight to amazon and ordering the part II. Simply because the tale is taking too long to finish, and I have run out of patience.

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Tuesday, February 10, 2015

P.G. Bhaskar - Mad in Heaven

Mad in HeavenMad in Heaven by P G Bhaskar
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Prakash and Pushpa live in a vast penthouse atop Rishwath Towers in Chennai. They have two lovely and smart daughters. It is high time they get their older daughter, Priyanka, married. The younger, Palak, is also in line. A match may be made in heaven, but the parents on earth are going mad.

They look for several good groom that Priyanka shoots down on flimsy grounds. If this goes on, will she ever get married?

Palak has a string of boyfriends standing in line for her favor. Will she go and give her heart to some utter fool?

All these questions are turning their mother, Pushpa Prakash frantic with worry.

This novel is a hilarious ride. There is one crazy character after another, one crazy situation after another.

On the flip side, there are some unnecessary characters who clutter the story. There are too many side plots that confuse the reader. Also, some of the chapters are very short and the story moves away to another side plot just when you are getting your teeth into one.

It is a well written novel and makes you chuckle in many places. It is no surprise that the author has dedicated the novel to P.G.Wodehouse, the author he admires and shares initials with.

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Sunday, February 08, 2015

Summerita Rhayne - Hidden Passion

Hidden PassionHidden Passion by Summerita Rhayne
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I picked the book up for its attractive cover and the promise it had made of being an out and out romance of the Mills and Boon kind. I was NOT disappointed in my surmise.

The book jumps into the thick of the things from the word go. Right from the start, we see Princess Rukmini eyeing the handsome Samrat Deveshvarya. Rukmini is visiting Minali, the grand capital of Campavati, with her parents and family. They are the guests of Samrat Deveshvarya. Rukmini is instantly attracted to the rugged handsomeness of Devesh. She contrives to get close to him, but he treats her like a little girl who should be put back in her place.

As it happens, Devesh is not immune to the charms of Rukmini. He is quite taken by the hot headed, impulsive Princess. He is not really a king by lineage, and his low birth would never be accepted by the parents of Rukmini. Devesh wants no bad blood among the kings of his kingdoms. He is being sensible and trying to keep away from Rukmini.

He has a lot to learn about Rukmini, she is not just a spoilt princess. She is a determined young woman, and can take charge of her destiny. He finds he cannot ignore her, and she will find a way into his heart by hook or by crook.

The book is a romance, and it never strays from its path. There are all sorts of intrigues to keep the story interesting, but it never wanders far from the doings of Devesh and Rukmini. There is a lot of passion in the tale. I often find romance books by Indian authors a wee bit insipid. Not this book! The tale is told with a lot of zeal and gusto.

There is plenty of naughty stuff going on too. I had to fan myself frequently to cool off a bit. Whew!

The language could have been better here and there. Maybe a few simpler words in place of grand ones. The story focuses on just the two people and others seem to make guest appearances in their story.

It serves to keep the tale uncluttered, as it is a romance and the story keeps firmly on its track, the passionate tale of Devesh and Rukmini.

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Wednesday, February 04, 2015

Hugh Laurie - The Gun Seller

The Gun SellerThe Gun Seller by Hugh Laurie
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Hugh Laurie is a successful actor. Following his twitter account, I came to know that he is a musician as well. He loves motorcycles. One chance post by his fan club introduced me to the book he had written.

Now this is quite an accomplishment. How does he find time from his acting/singing/motorcycling to write a book as well? Perhaps he was filling time between assignments.

I had to read this, I am a huge fan of Hugh. A quick visit to kindle, and he book was in my hands. I love the instantaneous delivery of a kindle purchase. No waiting for the courier to land up at my door in a week's time.

Thomas Lang is a sort of a secret agent. He seems to be highly undercover, or is out of work at the moment. He has received an offer of good amount money to kill a rich American businessman called Woolf. He turns the offer down and goes to warn Woolf of the danger to his life. This little visit triggers a series of events which land our Lang in a lot of hot soup.

This is not merely a thriller. This is a funny thriller which makes you conjure up someone like Rowan Atkinson playing Lang. The book makes you laugh out loud at times. It is fast paced enough to keep you pressing the page flip button. I managed to read it in two or three days time, which is quite a feat for me.

Every funny book is compared to P.G. Wodehouse, and despite the connection between Laurie and Wodehouse, I will not do it. No one can be like P.G. Wodehouse. Hugh Laurie is funny writer, and he has written an engaging book.

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