Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Thomas Hardy - The Mayor of Casterbridge

It was delightful to read an old master after a long time.

When I was in school, the fiction section in the library was well stocked with the likes of George Eliot and Thomas Hardy among others.  I can recall going through all his novels except Jude the Obscure and Well Beloved.

Almost 40 years have passed since that time.  I can be forgiven for forgetting the exact contents of the book I read so many years ago.  Yet, to my surprise, the story came back to me in snatches as I read on.

Thomas Hardy's plots are quite like hill roads, full of twists and turns.  I was surprised to find so much happening in the lives of the main characters.  It kept me glued to the book, I was loath to put it down.

The Plot : Micheal Henchard is on the road looking for work as a hay trusser with a young wife and a baby in tow.  He stops for supper in a furmity tent in a fair in a village they are passing through.  He opts for rum to go with his furmity and soon becomes intoxicated.  He auctions his wife off to a Sailor before passing out.  His wife, Susan, disgusted by his action, goes off with the Sailor in a huff.

Next morning, Henchard is overcome with remorse and swears not to drink for next 21 years.  He tries to track Susan and the Sailor down, but does not succeed.   His sobriety and hard work finds him, 18 years later, a prosperous man, and the Mayor of the town of Casterbridge.

It is at this time that Susan and Elizabeth Jane, a grown young woman now, reach Casterbridge.  The Sailor, Newson, is lost at sea, presumed dead. Susan wants to look for Henchard and see if she can find some support for her daughter.  Henchard is repentant of his previous misdeed, and wants to make amends.  Not wanting anyone to know of the circumstances which made them part, Henchard opts to pretend to woo the good widow and marry her.

About the same time, he hires a Scotsman, Donald Farfrae as his manager to look after his dealings in corn.  Farfrae is a very capable man and helps Henchard's business grow.  Henchard looks upon Donald as a close friend and associate and confides in him his past secret.  He tells Donald about Susan and also about another lady in Jersey.  He had happened to get intimate with her and promised marriage.  But with the appearance of Susan, he has to let the other lady go.

Henchard settles into domesticity with Susan and Elizabeth Jane.  But his life is not settled yet. Susan's death reveals a secret that throws him off his equilibrium and he finds himself sinking into a mire he cannot get out of.

The Characters:

Micheal Henchard, our principal character, is given to deep impulses.  He has sworn off drink, hoping it will make him more temperate, but his impetuousness makes him take rash decisions that sink him into a mire.

He hires Donald Farfrae as his manager, recognizing his talent and hard work.  His impulsiveness makes him confess to Donald all about his past.  He regards the younger man as his friend and confidante.  But at the first shade of doubt, he casts Donald out into the cold and turns a true friend into an enemy.

Similarly, he loses Susan because of a rash, alcohol driven impulse.  Yet, in a hurry to redress his wrong, he fails to try and understand the woman he abandoned so easily many years ago, and fails to benefit from her wisdom.  He fails to allow Susan to turn his later years blissful.  He foists his prosperity upon a simple woman looking for some security and a safe haven.

He treats his daughter Elizabeth Jane with the same wavering to the extremes.  He loves her deeply one day and the next he is gruff and distant.  Even though he has a good reason to be distant, he is too impulsive to allow reason to temper his actions.

Because of this, his admirers and friends, Susan, Donald and Elizabeth Jane find themselves perplexed and hurt and thwarted by him.  They are unable to reach out and be his friend and support him when he is in need.  His pride does not allow him to soften to them, and he finds himself a bitter and a lonely man.

He does meet his match in Lucette, the woman with whom he had an intimacy in Jersey.  When Lucette resettles in Casterbridge after Susan's death, his intention is to do the noble deed and offer to marry her to repair his past misdemeanor.  However, Lucette proves to be as fickle as he, and falls for another man.

Donald Farfrae is another Henchard in the making, but with a lot more temperance. He is swayed by the beauty of Lucette and forgets about Elizabeth Jane.  When faced with the prospect of becoming a Mayor, he is swayed by ambition and is in danger of becoming too drunk with power.  Like Henchard, he likes the good life and acquires Henchard's old house and fine furniture.  The people of Casterbridge, who loved the Scotsman ready to burst into a dance and a song, do not like his transformation into a powerful man and are ready with their criticism of him.

On the other hand, he is not as impulsive as Henchard and is able to make level headed decisions.  At the begining when Henchard seeks Farfrae's advice in his personal matters, we find Farfrae comes up with some sensible words.  He loses his head over Lucette, but returns to sanity when he regains the affection of Elizabeth Jane.

Lucette is the most intriguing character of the lot. She happened to nurse Henchard back to health when he fell sick on a visit to Jersey.  She became deeply attached to him and attained notoriety in Jersey because of her liaison with Henchard.  This prompted Henchard to offer to marry her, but just then, Susan and Elizabeth Jane came back into his life.

Impulsive Lucette kept firing piteous epistles to Henchard about her misery without him.  But things take a good turn for her when she comes into an inheritance when a rich aunt of her dies.  She moves to Casterbridge because she is still hurting over Henchard's rejection.  But the fickle girl is soon bewitched by the handsome and successful Donald Farfrae.

She does feel a measure of guilt about having married Donald despite being attached to Henchard.  She brings about her downfall when she tries to bury her secret and unwittingly reveals her previous dalliance.

Elizabeth Jane is the archetypal heroine of the Victorian era.  Beautiful but prim, intelligent but muted, loving but silent, always doing the right thing; she can be chided on only one account, being too strict.  She is the epitome of virtue, and to possess of the affection of Elizabeth Jane is to possess all that is good and correct in this world.  That is a heavy burden for any woman to bear.  But Elizabeth Jane rises to the occasion, as heroines must.

She puts up with the harshness of Henchard, just when she is beginning to accept him as a father, not knowing the reason why he is suddenly harsh.  Donald Farfrae smites her heart when he falls for the coquettish Lucette right under her nose. Yet she keeps her equanimity and is rewarded when Henchard warms to her finally.  Later, she finds Donald Farfrae returning her affection as well and her virtue is rewarded.

Susan appears in the book more as a catalyst, changing the course of the story by her presence or action.  She appears in Casterbridge and sets the story in motion.  She is anxious to provide a good life for her daughter Elizabeth Jane.  For herself, she does not set much store by her husband's riches and position.  Yet the secret behind the birth of Elizabeth Jane weighs heavily on her.  Her letter to Henchard about the truth, sets the story moving in another direction altogether.

These are the major characters whose doings shape the events of the novel, make it a compulsive read.  Thomas Hardy sets the novel in his beloved Wessex and the scent of the country pervades through the novel.; through the mentions of the Hay trussing, the corn sowing, the simple folk dancing and singing over ale.  Hardy's prose lacks the elegance of many of his colleagues.  But it is matter of fact, direct and befitting a folk who live close to the earth.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Graham Greene - The Human Factor

There was a time a month or two ago, when I yearned to read something by Graham Greene.  My pocket being on the slender side, my budget for books is not much.  Hence, such wishes are not followed necessarily by an order on Flipkart.

I can redress that by joining the State Library.  I am also lazy, and forget to just walk into the library and get myself a membership.

I did remember to walk into the sprawling second hand book market that we have in Chandigarh in Sector 15, right next to the Lajpat Rai Bhawan.  This time round I managed to find myself quite a treasure.  Among my second hand loot, was a book by Graham Greene, The Human Factor.

The books starts elegantly, languidly, describing a routine day in the life of Maurice Castle, a secret service employee.  Along with his colleague Arthur Davis, he mans the Africa desk at the embassy.  Their job is not glamorous or of any earth shaking importance.  Their mundane existence is shaken by a sudden scrutiny of their lives by a new security officer.  Being an old hand Castle knows exactly what that means.  There is a breach in the security and he is a suspect, along with Davis.

Castle has had an unblemished service.  He did have a spot of trouble with apartheid when he was posted in South Africa and fell in love with a black woman of the Bantu tribe, Sarah.  He managed to get her out of there and married her, and had a son.  Ever since he has settled in the suburbs, and lives a dull domesticated life.  His conduct is exemplary and he has nothing to fear.

On the other hand, Davis was caught taking official papers out with him.  He drinks too much, gambles and womanizes. The needle of suspicion is likely to point to him, but he is not guilty, Castle knows.

Colonel Daintry, Hargreaves and Doctor Percival are some of the people conducting the inquiry into the leak.  Despite their jolly and bluff manner, Hargreaves and Dr. Percival are not as harmless as they seem.  Despite his blustering ways, Colonel Daintry is not as threatening as he looks.  The secrets, once they start tumbling out the closet do not cease, until we learn the entire sad truth at the very end.

The book starts slow, the pace is unhurried, as I mentioned earlier, languid.  But readers of fiction of this sort know that the calm is merely that on the surface of the hill just before the volcano erupts.  The story picks up pace, and takes us through rapid climaxes to the end.

It is a story about love, and what people do for love.  It is also about politics of our world,  just what we expect a Graham Greene novel to be about.  It is as incisive as Graham Greene novels are, and we wind up feeling sad for the state our world is in, and the way it uses ordinary people as grist to its mill.

To quote a blurb at the back of the book:

"To the lonely, isolated, neurotic world of the Secret Service, Graham Greene brings his brilliance and perception, laying bare a machine that sometimes overlooks the subtle and secret motivations that impel us all."

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Anne Tyler - A Slipping-Down Life

I love Anne Tyler's books, and rarely let one go by unread.  Considering that, it is strange that I have written a review of only one book of hers, Breathing Lessons.  I found the book captivating.  It won the Pulitzer Prize for literature in 1989.  The first Anne Tyler book I read was Searching for Caleb.  I have been hooked to her ever since.

Coming back to A Slipping-Down Life, the novel opens with Evie Decker a fat, unpopular teenager in Pulqua, North Carolina. She has one friend in school, Violet.  At home-between the busy housekeeper Clotelia and her father Sam Decker, who keeps to himself-Evie finds herself lonesome.  She listens to the radio a lot.  That is how she learns about Bertram Drumsticks Casey, who is a rock and roll singer who plays at the local nightclub, Unicorn.

Fat and frumpy Evie has no chance of catching the attention of Casey.  On an impulse, after a performance of his, she cuts his name upon her forehead.  Casey's drummer and manager David thinks her little caper can win the fledgling band some publicity.  Things are looking up for all of them.  Evie is happy to be close to Casey, despite his discomfort at her presence.  David is happy things are working out for his band.  They soon get an offer to play in another fancy club a little way away.  Evie feels she should break with Casey now, as he refused to soften up to her.

Those were the only times they met face to face.  They were the only times Evie lost the feeling that she was tugging at Drum's sleeve while he stood with his back to her, gazing outwards toward something she couldn't see.
 Just when Evie wants to give up on Casey, he fails.  He is kicked out of the new nightclub because he flirted with the owner's daughter.  His father wants nothing to do with him, and his mother is also angry with him.  Evie finds him on her porch, beaten and tired with nowhere else to go.  She finds her heart melting for him once again.

...when he suddenly tightened his arms around her, pulling her close, it came as a surprise.
 "Don't fret, I'm here," he said.
 But such promises are rarely kept.  A slipping-down life takes a look at two teenagers, both losers in their own way, as they try to make a life together.

Another beautiful little novella by Anne Tyler, just 154 pages long, about life in a small town, with its limited choices, that makes its inhabitants behave in an odd fashion at times.  Anne Tyler has a knack of making commonplace look so attractive.  Her books are almost always winners, and so is this one.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Cooking pasta - the simple way

I am a huge fan of simple and quick cooking.  A working woman needs handy tools and quick results.

Take a packed of Delmonte pasta, some Delmonte corn and some Delmonte pasta sauce.  Chop up a large cup of vegetables like carrots, peas, cabbage.

On one burner, boil the pasta till it is just el dente, strain and keep aside.  On another burner, drizzle some Delmonte Olive oil in a pan and put in the vegetables.  Garnish with a little salt, pepper, oregano and chilli flakes. Cover the pan and let cook on low flame for a few minutes till the vegetables are almost done.  Add the cooked pasta to the vegetables and toss together with some Delmonte sauce.  Serve with some grated cheese.

Finger licking Good!

Saturday, August 25, 2012

P.G. Bhaskar - Jack Patel's Dubai Dreams


This was my reaction when I shut the book after reading it.  Of course I was captivated by the book right from the start, but I have often read books that are great in the first few chapters and then wimp out after the fourth of fifth.  That was not the case here, this book held my attention from the start to finish.

Jaikishen Patel's Dubai dreams start when he sends in his CV to a prestigious investment banking firm Myers York.  He is called in for an interview and learns that he will be required in the company's Dubai office to tap their Indian market.

Jai's father had been forced to leave Uganda after Idi Amin deported Indians.  He tried to settle down in Gujarat, but was not able to.  He moved to Chennai and found success in Garments business.  Jai refused to join the family business and followed his passion for finance by getting a degree in Business Management from IIM Bangalore.

This led him to Dubai, working for Myers York.  At his company the amount of business the Financial Advisors brought in was marked on a blackboard.  Jai, now renamed Jack Patel, wants to reach the top of the board! That is his Dubai dream.

We get to know, in a very entertaining manner, how Jack Patel brings in clients and how he deals with them.  His mentor, Mr. Kapoor, helps him nab a lot of clients.  He even goes over to Africa often to snag clients among rich Gujarati businessmen settled there who are looking to expanding their fortunes.

A whole array of lively characters pepper the book, from Jack's colleagues, Kitch (the vegetarian, straight laced Tamilian), his boss Peggy, Melissa, Rachel - who used to pole dance before she got into finance, Emma and Baby Jacob - the handyman who also made delicious ginger tea for them.  His client, Sunny Singh who had coined the phrase 'Singh is King' before Akshay took it for his movie.

He falls in love with Mina, the beautiful daughter of a client of his in Kenya.  At this stage in his life, everything seems to be going his way.  He has money and he has love.  Everything he touches turns to gold. Jack Patel's Dubai dream is realized finally,  he is the star achiever of his company, he is at the top of the blackboard finally!

All is fine until the crash of the banks in USA brings the financial world down with it.   So Jack Patel, who is at the top of his game, suddenly finds his fortunes plummeting fast.  His clients are losing money rapidly, and he is blamed roundly and abused. Mina's father also loses a good amount of money, and no longer wants Jack around his daughter.

How will Jack cope with the crisis?  Will he claw his way back out of this mess or will he go under?  This is what the book is about.

P G Bhaskar keeps the tone of the book light and funny.  At no time does the narrative lose its momentum.  There is always something going on, some tidbit of a funny happening that keeps you glued to the book.

This is another in the series of Metro Reads produced by Penguin books.  It is surely one of the best books in the category. 

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Bharat Wakhlu - Close call in Kashmir

This book by Bharat Wakhlu is another offering from Metro Reads by Penguin books.  It is intended to be a light read, something that will hold your attention during the boring metro journeys.

The author uses the backdrop of unrest in Kashmir to create a mystery thriller.  The militants are planning to kidnap an Indian Scientist so they may be able to secure the release of some of their mates in jail.  On the other hand, there is a group of highly placed people who want to make money by selling ancient artifacts of Kashmir.

Against this backdrop, the head priest of Aishmuqam shrine, Shamsuddin Bandey makes a trip to Delhi to visit an old friend Professor Noor.  What he has to tell is explosive, there is some treasure dated from Dara Shukoh's time that is in the safekeeping of the priests of Aishmuqam.  The secret passes from father to son and survived many generations.  Now Shamsuddin is not sure he can preserve the integrity of the amanat much longer.

Mike Zutshi gets a frantic call from India when his 'rakhi' sister is abducted by the militants.  He is also asked by the CBI to assist them in a mission to locate an international gang of artifact smuggler that are being aided and abetted by an Unknown Enemy in Srinagar.

The book has all the ingredients of a great mystery thriller.  There are credible characters like Namrata, Mike Zutshi, Minnie, Ashok, Shamsuddin Bandey, Professor Noor.  The backdrop of Srinagar, Kashmir is very attractive too.  The author knows his subject well, and is able to write about it with authority.  These are all the pluses of the book.  It is very well written and well edited too.

So what is the problem, you may ask.  The writer needs to bring some more excitement into his work, one needs to feel the emotions the characters are going through.  We need some more passion in the characters.
The scenes need to develop properly so we can really get involved in them. The chapters are so short that just as you have begum to grasp what is going on, the action moves to another scene.  Even though a lot of things are happening here, it does not really get you to the edge of the seat.

However, the author plans to write many more books.  I am hoping he sticks to Srinagar background, I loved it.  Maybe Mike Zutshi will return with another mystery to solve, and this time things will be more zingy.

Monday, August 06, 2012

Jhoomur Bose - Confessionally Yours - Recalcitrance - Anurag Mathur

A few months back while researching on the tale of Gulfam and Sabz pari, I found the story belonged to a ballet created during the time of Nawab Wajid Ali Shah.  He was a colourful character and surely worth reading up.  The wiki page linked a book called Recalcitrance which was supposed to be about Wajid Ali Shah.

I followed the link and was led to the twitter page of the author of the book, Anurag Kumar.  A bit of a dialogue (the book was not available online or in bookshops) led him into sending me a copy of his book.  It was extremely kind of him.  Thank you Anurag.

I am quoting from the blurbs here: "Anurag is a freelance journalist.  He belongs to a very old family of Lucknow which witnessed the events of 1857.  Ever since childhood he was fascinated by the Great Uprising"

1857 was indeed a very tumultuous time and there were surely some great stories that can be written on that period.  My favorite is Ruskin Bond's "A flight of pigeons".

Recalcitrance follows the lives of two friends Chote Bhaiyya and Narinderlal who happen to witness the events that take place in Lucknow at close quarters.  Chote Bhaiyya finds himself smitten by a muslim girl, but cannot find the courage to act in time to get close to her.

The problem with the book - despite a story that should practically tell itself, after all the events were happening so rapidly at the time - is that it gives out a very disjointed feel.  It proceeds from one event to another without any apparent link. There is no attempt to bring together the events at any later chapter either. Several characters are not named  but referred to ambiguously like, "a holy man", a "general" etc.  I got the feeling that the author is trying to point to some important historical figures of the time, but I failed to place them.

This incoherence spoils the story and I wish the author had worked harder on it, because it is apparent that the subject is very close to his heart.

Confessionally Yours by Jhoomar Bose is a fresh release and I was recommended it by Samit Basu via a tweet.  Not personally of course, it was a general tweet and I picked it up.  The book starts like a typical pulp fiction with a blogpost of a woman who recounts her first sexual experience.  From then on, the story moves to a very amusing account of a typical day in a newpaper office, starting with a staff meeting, with the editor, called Ed, swearing after every two words. Polly Sharma, our heroine, is a new recruit in this newspaper called, well, Tabloid.  Her boss, Leena, the features editor is not the easiest boss to work with.  Her penchant for being a grammar nazi has given her a nickname Comma.

As is the case, the tabloid (or Tabloid) is always on the lookout for racy stories to help the sales. Polly, who has been following the blog of a woman who has been very confessional about her sex life in her blog, wants to profile the blog.  Her boss agrees.

So far so good.

Then comes a peek into Polly's own life.  Her husband has been aloof for quite a while, and Polly has been excusing him for it, thinking he is busy with his office work and should be given space.  In the meantime, she has to adjust with her mother-in-law, aptly named Dragon, who pops in for visits ever so often.

Her maid Mini is facing domestic violence and Polly tries to help her out.  In the meantime, she learns that her husband had a torrid affair with a girl before he got married to her, and she finds herself trying to match up to the woman who was once the love of her husband's life.

The story starts on a simple note, with Polly trying to get a grip on her work.  Her early chapters are full of funny details about her work life.  But the humour peters out soon, and story takes a rather serious turn; serious and even sleazy at times.

I liked the early chapters a lot, and although its nice to read a book where a lot is happening, I wish SO much didn't happen.

The best part about the book is that it is very well written.  Indian fiction is not always well edited, but that is a fault this book does not, thank god, suffer from.

The book is classified as a 'Metro Read'. On a few trips on the metro in Delhi, I have seen girls reading books.   So I suppose, given the category, the book is pretty good.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Daphne Du Maurier - Rebecca

I got a parcel of 4 books from my mother when I turned 15.  Among them were two books by Daphne Du Maurier, Rebecca and House on the Strand.  I got through with these two books and Daphne Du Maurier shot up to the top of my favorite writers list.  I have devoured several of her books therafter and loved each one of them.
Daphne Du Maurier
"Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again."  This is the famous opening line of the novel.  The story is narrated by a nameless heroine, who then launches into a description of a lovely house and its garden that has now run to rack and ruin.  From there she goes into a flashback where she describes how she met Maximillian De Winter in Monte Carlo.  At the time our heroine was a companion to Mrs. Van Hopper who was holidaying there.  Mrs. Van Hopper happens to be a snob who loves to befriend important people and forces herself upon Maxim.  However, Mrs. Van Hopper is laid up in bed, sick, and the heroine has to spend time alone.  She finds herself in the company of Maxim who seems to enjoy taking her around.  When it is time for Mrs. Van Hopper to go away, the girl goes to Maxim to say goodbye.  To her utter surprise, Maxim proposes marriage to her.
Suddenly, the girl is plucked from a subservient position to become the wife of the rich and handsome Maxim De Winter, the master of the famous house Manderley.  Even though she loves Maxim and adores Manderley, she feels like a fish out of water in the fancy surroundings and feels intimidated by the the rituals of a big house, the servants and the social duties thrust upon her.  It is not just the sudden upgrade in her social standing that is unsettling to her; she has to cope with the ghost of Maxim's first wife Rebecca who had died in a boat accident.

Rebecca was beautiful, tall, well dressed, had impeccable taste and manners, threw grand parties and everyone loved her. Our heroine finds herself being compared to her constantly by everyone.  She finds Maxim acting distant and assumes that he too, like the others, finds her very unattractive and cannot get Rebecca out of his mind.  Until some old secrets come tumbling out of the closet and she finds out how wrong she was about things.

The novel is narrated in the first person, from the point of view of the heroine who is hesitant, unsure of herself and a very young girl.  Her own inadequacies colour her view of what is going on.  Her strength lies in the purity of her love and the very things that she felt were her drawbacks, i.e. her unworldliness, her simplicity and her lack of vanity.  These things come to the fore when she is tested and she comes out of her troubles with flying colours.

The style of the novel is perfect, simple and taut.  The romance, mystery and thrills keep you flipping pages till you reach the very end.  There are several unforgettable characters, Maxim De Winter, remote, aristocratic and so desirable; Mrs. Danvers who is always around to see to it that our heroine never forgets how inferior she is;  Frank Crawley, Maxim's friend and Manager, who is the only true friend she has;  Beatrice and Giles - Maxim's sister and brother-in-law - bumbling but affectionate;  Favell, Rebecca's brother who is always at hand to stir up trouble;  The eponymous character, Rebecca, Maxim's first wife who casts her shadow on everything that goes on, even though she is long dead.

This book is supposed to be based on Jane Eyre, a favorite of Daphne Du Maurier's.  This book lives up to its inspiration in every way.  It is a classic, that's for sure.

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Happy Birthday Charles Dickens

There is no dearth of material about the life and times of Charles Dickens, one of the most popular novelists of all times, one of my top favorites for a long long time.  He was a master storyteller and so dearly beloved that when my MA Lit. lecturer announced in a class that he had many flaws as a novelist, the whole class let out several exclamation of dissent.  Dickens wrote many iconic novels and has enjoyed a readership that even J.K. Rowling can envy.

To honor this unparallelled master Google depicted this picture on its site:

I have commenced reading The Pickwick Papers today after many years.  Here is a paragraph out of this highly amusing book.

“On his right hand, sat Mr. Tracy Tupman; the too susceptible Tupman, who to the wisdom and experience of maturer years superadded the enthusiasm and ardor of a boy, in the most interesting and pardonable of human weaknesses – love.  Time and feeding had expanded that once romantic form; the black silk waistcoat had become more and more developed; inch by inch had the gold watch chain beneath it disappeared from within the range of Tupman's vision; and gradually had the capacious chin encroached upon the borders of the white cravat, but the soul of Tupman had known no change – admiration of the fair sex was still its ruling passion.”

In a few skillful lines, he sketches the form and character of Mr. Tracy Tupman.  This was his most endearing quality.  It made his novels feel like a visual feast, it made imagining the characters easy, it made them vivid and it made them live in our memory forever.  Happy Birthday Charles Dickens, I am sure your novels will live forever.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Khushwant Singh - Sunset Club

About a week ago, I was loitering in Sector 17, whiling my time away, window shopping, waiting for a friend to arrive.  I usually stop by at the bookseller that spreads his 'wares' on the pavement just outside the Mochi showroom.  One time I was lucky to get a one volume, second hand, prime condition set of Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien for just Rs.125/-.  This time round my eye fell on Sunset Club, a book by Khushwant Singh.  I leafed through the book and liked what I saw, so I picked it up.

Khushwant Singh wrote this book about the events that took place in the year 2009, seen through the eyes of three old friends who make it a point to meet every evening in Lodhi Garden.  There is Pandit Preetam Sharma, an Oxford Graduate, retired from Civil Services, a bachelor who lives in Khan Market with his sister.  There is Nawab Barkatullah Baig Dehlavi an affluent businessman who lives in Nizamuddin with his devoted wife.  Last but not the least there is Sardar Boota Singh, a widower and a retired newspaperman (ahem!) who lives close to Sharma.  These three men like taking a walk in Lodhi Garden every evening and have taken to congregating on a bench right opposite the Bara Gumbad.  In their honor the bench has been renamed as 'Boodha Binch'.

There is one chapter for each month which recounts the political happenings, weather, and whatever going on in the lives of the three men.  The men talk, argue and reminiscence about their lives.  They talk about politics, love, women, nature and of course, their ailments.  The book starts on 26th January 2009 and ends, a bit sadly, on 26th January 2010.  (For this reason, it is fortuitous that I am writing this on 26th January as well.) There is not really much happening here, but the events are an interesting mishmash of the political scene and weather during the year 2009.  Khushwant Singh throws in a bit of religion, some lovely poetry and nice descriptions of trees and flowers.  In fact, the book is quite like his column.

I enjoyed his book Delhi very much which I reviewed on  I have pasted the writing onto my blog here.  This book is not a patch on Delhi, but yet, if you compare it with the kind of stuff being printed these days, it is miles ahead.  KS's language is pretty non-decorative, but has the advantage of being direct and functional.  The poetry he has picked to describe seasons is lovely.

The autumn comes, a maiden fair
In slenderness and grace,
With nodding rice stems in her hair,
And lilies in her face...

Saturday, January 07, 2012

More Reviews More Books

I have been lax in reading, lax-er in reviewing books.  I had picked up Dan Brown's Deception Point on my last foray into Browser, Sector 8. Chandigarh, a private library I am a member of.  Along with it, I took 'Yes Prime Minister' of the famous TV series and Sikhs a book by Khushwant Singh. I had enjoyed his book Delhi very much.  It was nice mish-mash of history with fiction thrown in about the unparalleled and grand city (previously, now it is a state) of Delhi.

The latter two books are still being read by me.  I raced through Deception Point.  It had a good start.  It is election time in US of A.  The contending candidate for presidency, Senator Sedgewick Sexton is a jerk, we realise as we get to know how his daughter views him.  Rachel Sexton is an intelligence analyst for NRO, who soon finds herself embroiled in a series of events that find her nearly freezing to death in the Arctic, and back to Washington DC, to find out who did it.

Nothing wrong with the pace of the thriller.  Its Dan Brown, he knows how to pump the adrenaline into inert bodies lying on the couch and flipping pages of his book.  Its just the premise, finding alien rock with evidence of life stamped all over it is surely a biggie.  But then, the claim fizzles out faster than fizz fizzles out of a coke bottle left open.  The mystery is, who is behind the killings and why.  The suspense ends in a supposed twist, but the twist is not too well qualified with good reasons.  That was the deception point for me.  I must say Dan Brown does better with his ecclesiastical mysteries and his symbologist Dr. Robert Langdon, even if he seems to skedaddle around the world a little to much.

My old old friend, (she is not old, its just that we go way back) Smita of Bookslifeandmore has picked up several formidable challenges for the year 2012.  I wish her all the best, and choose for myself, admittedly the wimpiest of the challenges that seems do-able to me.  Here goes - Amen.