Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Ruskin Bond - A Flight of Pigeons

It was a chance meeting. Smita was passing through Chandigarh enroute Mumbai and the train was stopping for 20 mins here. We met on the railway platform and chatted like old friends, turning our virtual friendship into a real one so easily, you would have thought we knew each other forever. 20 mins was too less, but we have to be thankful for such chances to meet. There was an exchange of books between two book-lovers before the train pulled out. Smita, it was awesome to meet you and your hair really looks good with the red glints.

A Flight of Pigeons is a book set in the times of the Sepoy Mutiny of 1857. A pathan Javed Khan is struck by the fresh beauty of a very young Anglo-Indian girl Ruth Labrador. A few days later, the mutineers strike Shahjehanbad where Ruth lives with her parents. Her father is struck dead and Ruth is taken in by a kind Indian acquaintance, Lala Amarnath along with her cousins, aunt, granny and mother. Javed Khan is hunting for Ruth, and manages to track her down. He takes Ruth and her mother to his home and declares his intention of marrying the girl. Ruth is terrified of being wooed so roughly by this savage. She is lucky to have her mother protecting her. Miriam Labrador is the daughter of an Indian Muslim and a British man. She is well versed in urdu and the muslim ways, thanks to her mother. She is extremely resourceful and well spoken. She is able to act tough and speak softly as the occasion demands. She is hard pressed to preserve her daughter against the decent but unwelcome attentions of Javed Khan.

Miriam uses the uncertain temperory victory of the mutineers as a reason for not agreeing to Javed Khan's proposal. If Delhi Falls, she will be yours, she says. Luckily for Ruth, Delhi does not fall. Her mother's sagacity saves the girl from a certain ruin.

Like most Novellas of Ruskin Bond, this book is slim. Like most books by Ruskin Bond, it is powerpacked with a terrific story, amazing style and language. The backdrop of Sepoy Mutiny, with its merciless killings, mercenary nawabs and caught-on-the-wrong-foot English rulers is brought out just perfect. The impatience, impudence and imprudence of Javed Khan; the wise old Kothiwali and her gaggle of womenfolk who love to bond over festivals; the savvy Miriam who is able to turn a bad situation into a tolerable one, these characters stay with you long after the book has been closed.

I loved this peek into history. It reminds me that pre-independence India was really a conglomerate of various provinces misruled by lazy, greedy nawabs and the subjects quite oppressed. The mutiny was an additional reason for these nawabs to kill and plunder in an attempt to fatten their own treasuries. The British used underhand methods to wrest power from the provincial rulers, but they did give India some form of formal governance.

This super book is a classic and was turned into a wonderful movie called Junoon starring Shashi Kapoor as the tempestuous Javed Khan, Jennifer Kapoor as Miriam and Nafisa Ali as Ruth. Ruth has little to do in the book but look good and be scared. But in the movie, Nafisa quite stole the show with her lovely schoolgirl looks. The movie is as good as the book. Both are not to be missed.

I read the book in one go on Sunday, it is simply unputdownable. Thanks ! Smita.. and the title refers to you ;)

27 comments:

Smita said...

Lovely review :-) am now getting this for myself as well. As far as Ruskin Bond is concerned, you already know my views :-)

And trust me it was a pleasure meeting you and lol at the title for me (vaise I used to dhmkaao my bro with the very same line ;-))

Thanks for the sweet words am truly touched :)

Oxy said...

Smita and Ava, the two darn book-lovers meet for 20 minutes, gift each other books and freaking they both finish their respective books in freaking 2 days to write reviews on it on freaking same day. Siamese Twins gets a whole new meaning here...

Rusking I guess have been the penultimate (ultimate kabhi koi ho hi nahi sakta) love of all book-lovers ... Isn't it?

misruled by lazy, greedy nawabs.... that's all? Weren't they despos? horny all the time? drunkards?

Aaila, so this is what Junoon is all about.. I have yet to see/read them.. guess these stories have become kinda obvious for me.

avdi said...

Smita, the pleasure is mine.

Dragonboy - aisa bhi hota hai. As a movie/book lover you should miss neither Junoon nor FOP.

Shayari said...

New here Avdi:) Though have been following the blog since your last post.A horde of good books recommended in the blog..will chronologically try that;)

Wah!looks like the book lovers had fun time:)

couchpapaya said...

wow, great that u guys cld meet! as for book, full curious now. will look for it ... loved the tidbit abt the movie, avdi, tho i cannot say i will watch it !!

avdi said...

Lovely Name Shayari... Thanks !

cp - i feel you will love both the book n the movie.. apne type ki hai.

Capt. Anup Murthy said...

Nice review. Thanks for stopping by my blog and for the nice comment there. I am an avid book reader too. At the moment I am working through William Dalrymple's "White Moghuls" and just finished "From Jhelum to Tana" written by Neera Kapur Dromson, an Indian origin Kenyan who writes about her family history/biography of sorts and I found that very interesting. All the best with all your blogs and writing. Cheers.

avdi said...

Anup :) Thanks ! I enjoy going thru your blog.

I havent been able to get thru any of William Dalrymple's books.

I could try the other book you mentioned. Is it any good?

honey said...

oooh...title is kewl... :) :)
kudos to ur frnd too!!

Capt. Anup Murthy said...

I'm glad you liked my ramblings, been doing that for a little over 2 years. The book is good (From Jhelum to Tana), if you like reading biography. It's not great literature but written in an easy style and one can easily empathize with the characters portrayed in this real story of one woman's ancestors who migrated to Kenya. My favorite is Amitav Ghosh, got all his works. Loved The Glass Palace and Sea of Poppies, can't wait for the second book in the trilogy. Sorry for hogging so much comment space!

WhatsInAName said...

So nice to read your review. And I am happy Smita could meet you :) A little jealous too, yeah :)
Seems like you guys exchanged lovely books. One bookworm feeding the other! The book seems a lovely one. Will chk out for sure

samir said...

Ava :
Just read on Smita's bolg that the two of you met, must have been fun.
Liked this review as usual, I shall try and see Junoon, have been meaning to see it for a long time.
Samir

avdi said...

Anup - I will pick up glass palace. I fell headlong for Amitav after I read the Sea of Poppies. Tho am struggling a bit with The Hungry Tide.

Oh I like Bio's, history based novels, most genres actually. I will see if I can find this, am looking out for some good books to read.

Oh, Comeon, writers thrive on comments !

avdi said...

Honey, Thank you honey ! :)

avdi said...

WIAN, the first thing Smita did was to pass on your Hello. I wish you had been there too. :) Maybe ! Lets keep hoping.

Samir, Where were you, I had given you up for lost.. Wake up man, we miss you.

avdi said...

And Samir, Junoon wont disappoint you a bit. There are some lovely songs in there too. There is one old folksong there, by Amir Khusrau I think, I cant think of it right now, but it was a lovely one about rains.

Angel's Flight said...

Wow...u guys met...how cool is that! Lovely review.....!

Capt. Anup Murthy said...

Avdi, I liked "From Jhelum..." and I think it was a good effort at piecing together events from an earlier generation. In the book, I also found reference to the story of the two man-eating lions that terrorized Africa when the British were laying railway lines from Mombasa to Nairobi and beyond in the 19th Century and this true story was turned into a Hollywood movie called "The Ghost and the Darkness". The author's ancestor encountered these lions and lived to tell the tale. I had seen this movie a few years ago and while reading this book, I was able to visualize the event, a hair raising one at that. I hope you saw the movie, I absolutely loved that one.

avdi said...

Anup, Thanks. Now I will try to pick up the movie and the book ! It does sound chilling. And when you know its real, it adds to the wow factor.

Angel - Yep we did. Poor me, living in far away chandigarh, dont get to meet the bangalore and mumbai friends.

Capt. Anup Murthy said...

Actually the movie was based on another book that was a story only about these two Lions. What was interesting for me was that a real character in another book (From Jhelum..) was there at the same time when the Lions struck (killing more than 100 people it seems) over a period of time at the worker's camps. Neera's ancestor experienced the terror from very close quarters and she wrote about it in her book.

Michael Douglas and Val Kilmer makes up the front cast and Om Puri is in it too, as - what else - an Indian labour leader. Be prepared for some gory Lion attacks! Actually this one is best watched on big screen with big sound effects!

I have not read the book that the film was based on. That book, I believe, was titled "The Man Eaters of Tsavo" by John Patterson.

avdi said...

Oh Well.. If Lions are around there has to be some blood and gore. Micheal Douglas and Val Kilmer sound fine.. Hollywood can make good movies on themes like this.

verbivorehere said...

so finally im able to comment ;P. Great review..me too started an attempt n book review bt pathetically slow in tht blog!

avdi said...

verbi. i get blocked all the time, neglect some blogs for ages. then pick them up. its ok.. take your own time

Poonam said...

I never knew Ruskin Bond has a written a book like that. I have read most of Ruskin Bond's works. Also, I didnt know Junoon was based on this book.

Thanks for the recommendation, I will read the book and also watch the movie. :)

Poonam said...

I never knew Ruskin Bond has a written a book like that. I have read most of Ruskin Bond's works. Also, I didnt know Junoon was based on this book.

Thanks for the recommendation, I will read the book and also watch the movie. :)

Yword said...

hey ava :)
goodto hear of your bookathon :)- you guys make the word voracious seem like an understatment. Isaw the film long back- wouldlove to see it again. as for the book - dont thinkso. btw i got the metamorphosis but havent read it yet - you had recommended it on ms.
monica (laikar from MS ?)

avdi said...

Poonam, thanks !

Mon - Great to hear from you again :)

The movie/book are both precious. What you up to, do you blog too?

 
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