Saturday, November 12, 2011

Amish Tripathi - The Immortals of Meluha

Amish has come out with a trilogy (the third one, The Oath of the Vayuputras is still pending publication) that retells the story of Shiva.

All Gods were men once, we assume.  They did extraordinary things which caused them to be worshiped like Gods. In India these myths are still alive.  These stories are integrated into religious tracts and listened to with devotion and complete faith.  In such a scenario, it is difficult to fictionalize mythology further.  The initial mythology is so oft repeated and believed that it is taken as a fact.  If you mess with that, it can be viewed as blasphemy.  A while ago I had read The Pregnant King by Devdutt Pattnaik which was peripheral mythological story expanded into a beautiful novel.  Would the retelling of Shiva's story succeed?  Can Shiva be depicted as an extraordinary man who was later idolized as a God?

The Immortals of Meluha:

The story begins with Shiva fending off yet another attack on his tribe high on the mountains of Kailasa.  He is visited by Nandi with an offer to join his brethren in Meluha where they can live a civilized life.  He is reminded of his uncle who had prophesied that his destiny lay far beyond the mountains of Kailasa.  He decides to accompany Nandi.  On his arrival at one of the border towns of Meluha in Kashmir, his tribe is quarantined and given medicine to cleanse them.  The medicine has a strange effect on Shiva, it gives him a blue throat, a Neelkanth.  He is thence catapulated into centre-stage of Meluhan aristocracy where things are expected of him, where he finds love, but also many barriers.  He has to fight wars for a cause that is rapidly becoming his own.

The Secret of the Nagas:

Shiva finds himself undertaking a journey across India to uncover truths.  Nothing seems to be as he had first perceived it.  The Chandravanshi's are not the murderous terrorists they had been portrayed as.  The Brangas have a genuine reason for being hand in glove with the Nagas, now seen as the enemy No.1 of India.  But are they?  They have a secret too.  Shiva finds he cannot rest until he knows the absolute truth.  His quest is for the evil that he is supposed to destroy.  But where is this evil?  Who are the Vasudevs?  Are they misleading him?

The pace of the books is breathtaking, they are quite a page-turners.  The conceptualization of the story is simply fabulous.  As Shiva is himself learning about the Meluhan and later, many other Indian civilization, we get to learn many 'facts'.  The world of the time, 4000 years BC is well mapped.  The fictional world is drawn with accuracy and confidence.  The author is extremely surefooted about his subject.

The only point where the book falters is the conversation.  It can get a wee bit irritating to read 'You are extremely intelligent My Lord' for the umpteenth time.  At times the intelligence of the reader is insulted when the proceedings are explained painstakingly.  A little more skill in writing could have come in very very handy.  Especially as the subject is so overpoweringly strong.  Despite this, the books are a must read.
They are as heady as Shiva's chillum.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

A J Cronin - Three Loves

The Citadel and The Judas Tree are the magnificent novels that introduced me to AJ Cronin.   A J Cronin was a doctor till an illness required him to be idle for six months at a farm, taking complete rest.  During this time, he wrote a novel which as an immediate success.  This set him on to writing as a career, abandoning his medical practice.

Three Loves, his novel about Lucy Moore, charts the life of the lady from her happy married life to her sad end.  At the begining of the novel, Lucy Moore is a young married woman, devoted to her husband, home and child.  She is imperious, and often tries to influence her husband Frank, unduly.  However Frank is happy to be tethered to Lucy until his cousin arrives on the scene and suggests that Lucy is bossy.  Anna has been invited by Lucy to spend a few days with them.  But she turns out to be a colourful woman, Lucy on learning this, begins to beset by doubts of relations between Anna and Frank.  It upsets her happy existence and culminates in her husband's death.  From here on, her life goes into a downward spiral and her only hope and happiness lies in the hands of her son, Peter.  After Peter she latches on to her love of God for succour.

The novel charts all that is pitiful in the life of a woman who is dependent on others for happiness.  All is good for the woman who is safe within her chosen sphere, as long as she chooses to be subordinate to the man, even if she rules from beneath.  Eva is happy as long as her husband Richard - Lucy's brother - is around to provide for her. Polly has accepted her brother's charity and is happily overfed. It is when Lucy is forced by circumstances to be independent, that she faces hardships.  Her brother and brothers-in-law abandon her to her own devices, being too selfish to help her.  She is forced to take up a menial job and pinch pennies mercilessly in order to put her son through a good school and a college.  At the end of her labour, she finds no solace.

Though the men in her life often try to put her down and make her feel that it was her own poor judgement that caused her downfall, it is evident to the reader that all these people who never lifted a finger to help poor Lucy had no right to judge her.  The world is quite like this, there are very few people out there who will help you, there are many who are ready to stand by and judge.

There are many shades of his own life in the novel.  His father, a travelling salesman, had died early from tuberculosis.  His mother also worked, like Lucy Moore, unlike the other women of her times. Lucy Moore put her son through medical college, Cronin also was a doctor. How autobiographical this novel is, however, it is hard to tell.  But it is clear that AJ Cronin had an intimate knowledge of the mind of men and was privy to how it is that our failings and strengths make us what we are - human.

The book is hardly a barrel of laughs, the subject makes it a grim study, as poor Lucy finds hardly any reprieve in life. It is magnificently written and very incisive, sharp as a surgeon's knife. I have resolved to find as many of Mr. Cronin's books as I can find, and read them all.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Sagarika Ghosh - The Gin Drinkers and my Library Loot

I went to the Library on 14.08.2011 and picked up these books after much delibration.

1. Blind Willow Sleeping Woman - Haruki Murakami
2. Night Train to Lisbon - Pascal Mercier
3. Blandings Castle - P G Wodehouse.

I looked high and low for Silmarillion by JRR Tolkein, but could not find it.  I also looked for Tristam Shandy, again, nah.

I am reading The Gin Drinkers by Sagarika Ghose at the moment.  It was pretty engrossing at the the middle it has palled a bit.  It is a story of a bunch of privileged class youngsters.  Sons and Daughters of IAS bigwigs, who are educated in Oxford and are expected to settle abroad and do something wonderful and lucrative.  Like any youngsters at their age, they are a confused lot.  To spice things up, there is a mysterious gang of kitab chors running around, picking up priceless books from private libraries at homes.  There have been a couple of tantalizing clues about the thieves, so far.

Sagarika Ghose writes fiction with a practised hand, to the manner born.  You can't say the same about many other journalists who venture into book writing.  There will be more on the book once I finish it.  But at the moment, despite the sagging middle, it looks like a very good read.  I love it when books are based in Delhi.  I love the city, its my second most favorite city in the world.  That is from my slim repertoire of course, once I have globe trotted my preferences may change.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Puneetinder Kaur Sidhu - Adrift A Junket Junkie in Europe

It was a discarded ticket by a 'gainfully employed' sibling that set Puneet off on a trip to Europe.  It helped that she had a string of relatives and friends scattered across Europe, willing to put up with her.  At times even inviting her.  That's an offer not many of us would refuse.

She starts at London, moving on to Germany,  Sweden, Denmark, Netherlands, Hungary, Austria and France.  She discovers mitfahr, a sort of a carpooling between countries, very soothing to the pocket of a person who is a junket junkie, not a millionaire tossing away some black money casually while 'doing' the world.

Here is a first person account of an unusual trip.  We get to know these countries as a person sees them, not as some travel brochure describes them.  Hence it is easy to feel her passion when she talks about the most romantic city in the world - Vienna.

What I liked best about the book was the insouciance of the author.  It is so typically Punjabi.  I am a fan of the author's blog as well.Cutting Loose  Her writing is simple, yet pithy and fetching.  I have met her briefly once, and she is as large hearted and friendly as any Punjabi can be.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Ruskin Bond - Susannah's Seven Husbands

I am a fan of Ruskin Bond, have been so ever since I read his little articles in The Tribune.  I discovered his short stories and anthologies later, when I read some of them in my daughter's prescribed English textbooks.  Till date I love Rusty best, and his wastral of an uncle who tried his hand at many things.

His books have been made into movies before, Junoon was based on A Flight of Pigeons, both great in their own way.  The Blue Umbrella was made into a fabulous movie by Vishal Bhardwaj.  Needless to say the promos of 7 Khoon Maaf had me hooked and I was double hooked when I learnt that it was based on a short story by Ruskin Bond, Susannah's Seven Husbands.  

I hied off to see 7 Khoon Maaf last Sunday and came back a wee bit disappointed.  Not that it wasn't good, it just wasn't brilliant.  I expected more out of the Bond-Bhardwaj combo.  The first couple of husbands were good, but after that the story seemed to falter, bolstered a bit by the Keemat Lal episode and  then, alas faltering again.  

But yet, such is my mania for Bond, that I ordered the book containing - hold your breath - the original short story, the novella that Bond expanded it into and the screenplay of the movie.  Just this morning I finished reading the story and the novella, in that order.

Bond's original short story is exactly what you expect of him.  It is short, intriguing, contains all his masterstrokes, it leaves you feeling mystified and satiated.  This Susannah was born long back, was tremendously rich, and was supposed to have a cellar full of treasures with snakes guarding it.  She was seen riding around the town in a buggy, rich and beautiful, admired and feared by all.  She had several husbands that she was rumored to have sent to their early graves.  Her ghost was said to have haunted the house and the surrounding areas, waylaying good looking men as she was said to be looking for a ideal mate.

The novella lists her husbands, expanding the story.  It introduces the character of Arun, Susannah's neighbour who was too young to be a lover, but was old enough to be her friend.  He is in love with her and talks to her and her gardner often, and is privy to the goings-on in the house.  In his characteristic style, Bond leaves an element of mystery about the husbands' death.  So we are not sure if these deaths were brought on or an accident.  An excellent ruse, I think.  

It makes for a fairly good read.  Bond has this admirable quality of saying just enough, not more nor less.  It stands him in good stead and as long as the husband is interesting, it carries you along.  It is not his best offering though.  It lacks the brilliance of many of his stories and novellas.  The packaging does not help either, with the poster of 7 Khoon Maaf on the cover.  Ruskin Bond does not need cheap tricks to sell his books. In my opinion he is a living legend.  His books and stories are going to live forever and we are watching history in making, he is going to be a classic.

Saturday, February 05, 2011

Tarun Tejpal - The Alchemy of Desire

I have a bit of a connect with Tarun Tejpal.  He worked once at the same newspaper as I do now, both he and his wife.  I have just one memory of him talking to our garrulous telephone operator and laughing.  Much later, after he left Chandigarh, I read some of his articles here and there and liked them.  It was even later, after Tehelka, that he became a household name. Gosh, I thought, its that same thin fellow who used to work in my office.  I knew he had written a book called The Alchemy of Desire.  I read the blurbs, but not the book.  A couple of weeks back, I picked up the book in the library, egged on by a positive recco from a friend.

His book seemed to be autobiographical and began with his Chandigarh phase.  So far so good.  I love Chandigarh and love reading about it.  The mid eighties were a wonderful time, journalistically speaking.  A lot was happening, militancy was on the rise, assassinations and emergencies, and journalism had not yet plumbed the depths it has.  It was fun (ooops, I hope there is no  'g**d phat ke haath me aajati' type around to chastise me).  I mean 'fun' in the adrenaline pumping way, there was so much happening, there was excitement in the air.  However, though Tejpal does include the political happenings of those times, his concern lies elsewhere: his relationship with his wife.  He tells us how crazy he was about her, but alas, he takes a long time telling us this, again and again.  His interest in his wife is deeply carnal, so we are given descriptions of his sex life.  He avoids (prudishly?) the use of names for sexual body parts.  "Engorged, Tumescence, Wetness, Inside" are used liberally in his frequent listings of his legal sexcapades.  It makes for a tedious reading at times, not titillation. I skipped and jumped through these bits and wondered if anything was going to happen at all, or was he going to harp on and on about how he loved sex with his woman.

I nearly gave up reading further.  But then, I stuck with it.  Suddenly things took a turn.  Tejpal finally came to the crux of the matter.  Somewhere along in the story, the young couple came into some money that Tejpal's grandmother left for him.  With this money the happy young couple buys a house high in the hills.  The cottage had been built by an American woman who had married a Nawab during the British Raj.  During renovations to this cottage, they chance upon a locked chest which is filled with diaries written by the woman.  It is while pursuing these detailed diaries that Tejpal finds himself hallucinating about the descriptions of the sex life of the lady, and finds himself unable to 'come up' for his wife.

The story of Catherine is told with the pithiness that all journalists are required to have.  From then on, it turns almost into a thriller, as Tejpal is obssessed with finding out more and more about Catherine and what happened to her.  It makes for a compelling read.  After he attains closure with the Catherine story, he is able to return to his feelings for his wife.  In the last chapter, he goes back to the story of how he met this girl that he loved to distraction all his life, his first and his only love.  Now, without the cumbersome need to list his sexual encounters with his wife, he is much much much better.  The final two chapters of the book are the best that I have read in recent times.  It was worth wading through the first few tedious chapters.

Of course, I loved the references to two of my favorite places in the world, Kasauli and Chandigarh.  Like many Chandigarhians, Tejpal too goes often to Kasauli.  He does make them come alive with his accurate descriptions of the place and people.  Curiously, despite his attempt to write up his wife, she seems like a very flat character, he is to be unable to bring her alive.  It is only in the final chapter that he succeeds in fleshing her out.  

Better scores have to be given to his attempts to write a book.  One of the themes of the book is also how Tejpal tries to write a novel often and fails.  His wrestling with his creative side is also very real.  Also, of course, the political scenario that he has to grapple with.  No marks for this one, because it is something all journalists do.

It could have been a great book, had he edited it a bit better.  The first few chapters could have done with some chopping.  Who should have known this better than a guy who is an editor?