Monday, February 29, 2016

Sumer Singh Matharu - A collection of Sumer's Art

Front Cover
Back Cover
It is a matter of great honor to me to be asked to write a little about this collection of Sumer Singh Matharu's art.

As a child I often saw 'Sumer Uncle' climb up the stairs of the house we lived in with a pack of books in a jhola. He would drop in to meet my father, Dr. Surindar Singh Suri. They were great pals, being like-minded people. They were both deep into intellectual pursuits. My father read and wrote extensively on Political Science. Sumer Uncle was a dedicated artist.

They would spend hours talking together, completely unmindful of time. They forgot all about eating or drinking and had to be prodded to pick up their cups of tea. I attribute my love for books to people like my father and Sumer Uncle who always treated pursuit of knowledge with utmost reverence.

Sumer Uncle carried volumes of his books and I leafed through them. The interpretations were beyond me. I was too young to understand what the drawings denoted. But even then, I was amazed by the intricate pen work that covered pages upon pages of the book.

Even now, I am amazed at the detailed, precise and complicated line drawings that form the wealth of this collection. The topics are highly philosophical in their content. The drawings are titled Value and Meaning, Beauty, Man of Future, Hunger for light, Adornment, etc.

Sumer Singhji wrote 8 books, replete with pen drawings and his interpretations of them which are portrayed in this volume. There is a chapter that is dedicated to the awards and honors bestowed upon him. Some of his designs, portraits and sketches are also reproduced here. His amazingly beautiful calligraphy also gets showcased here. There is a chapter dedicated to his Gurbani posters as well, as he gave deep thought to Guru Granth Sahib.

Such a strong drawing! Man of Future

There is a chapter dedicated to the men who inspired him, Abdul Rehman Chugtai, Mirza Ghalib and Mohammed Iqbal. There is an invaluable character study of Sumer Singhji by Fakir Chand Tuli.

All in all the book is a beautiful tribute to a rare man. In these times when art is nothing but a means to commerce, people like Sumer Singh are a beacon for Art for Art's sake. These are the people who had nothing but passion for Art. They were untouched by any mercenary reasons. We need to remember and celebrate such men.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Daphne Du Maurier - Jamaica Inn

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+Little, Brown and Company

Most of Daphne Du Maurier's books are set in a grand house which is beautifully described at the outset.  Jamaica Inn is also about the eponymous inn that stands forlorn and ramshackle, close to Launceston in Cornwall.

There is no detailed description of the Inn, however, when the heroine, Mary Yellan, reaches it.  There is a sense of an evil of which Mary gets enough evidence when she tries to get to the inn. Coachmen don't want to stop there and people seem to recoil when she mentions her destination.

Newly orphaned Mary Yellan has been asked, by her mother just before she died. to go and live with her Aunt Prudence whose husband runs an Inn some 40 miles away from Helston.  On reaching Jamaica Inn, Mary finds that her Aunt is a shadow of her former self.  She is frightened and cowed by her rough husband, Joss Merlyn.

Mary resolves to stay at Jamaica Inn and get to the bottom of the mystery that surrounds the doings of her Uncle Joss.  She wants to take her aunt away to a safe place.  She runs into Jem Merlyn, Joss's kid brother.  He is up to no good either, just like the rest of the Merlyns.  He is a horse thief.  However, he is full of charm and seems easy to talk to.  Mary is charmed by him despite her best efforts to the contrary.

She also befriends the vicar of Alternun, Francis Davey.  She finds it easy to confide in him and tells him freely about all that worries her about her uncle.  She finds she will soon need the help of all her friends if she is to survive the terrible happenings at Jamaica Inn.

Daphne Du Maurier's Rebecca was supposed to be based on Jane Eyre.  This book is so like Wuthering Heights.  If Catherine Earnshaw had married Heathcliff they could have turned into Prudence and Joss Merlyn.  Catherine had exclaimed at one point, "If I marry Heathcliff he will drag me down."  This is borne out in Jamaica Inn.  Prudence is shattered and wrecked for having married a brutal man who has no scruples.

Like Wuthering Heights, Jamaica Inn is also built in the moors of Bodmin.  The wild weather of the place adds to the misery of the inhabitants of the Inn.

The younger couple (Mary and Jem) could well be Catherine Linton and Hareton.

Just like Wuthering Heights, this is a book about love that can wither a person.  It is a gothic tale with a lot of drama.  We never did learn how Heathcliff made his money, here we get some kind of an inkling about the dark deeds he could have done to earn the trappings of a well-heeled gentleman.

This is a little less like other books by Du Maurier.  Here she is not writing about upper-class landowners, but about peasants and common workers.

The novel contains a surprising passage which is a severe indictment of love and marriage.  Du Maurier writes about Mary being aware that romance soon sours when the sheen wears off and the lady is left holding babies while the man is bored of the whining and just wants to be looked after.  The only happily married couple in the book, the Squire and his lady, are terrible bores.

The book is full of strong descriptions of the goings-on, even when they are extremely unsavory.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Kiran Manral - The Face At The Window

+Kiran Manral

Julia McNally is an old woman now.  She watches her body degenerating slowly.  It is gradually becoming harder for her to go about her daily routine. Her joints are creaking and she is besieged by ill-health.

She is a retired schoolteacher and lives in a cottage on a remote hill-station along with her faithful retainers who take good care of her.  There are caring neighbors that she can depend on.  Her beloved granddaughter, Nina, studies in a boarding school close by and visits her whenever she can.

Despite all appearances, Mrs. McNally is not at peace.  She is beleaguered by her past.  There are secrets she has that she has not shared with those closest to her, her daughter Millie and her granddaughter Nina. Surely they need to be told things from her past that affect them as well.  While she is mulling over these thoughts, she finds ghosts from her past reach out to her.

The Face At The Window is beautifully written.  It takes some time for the reader to sink into the story, as most things are referenced to, but not explained.  Once you get the drift, the story sails along smoothly.  A lot happens which keeps you glued to the book.

I grew fond of all the characters in the book.  Mrs. McNally is the narrator and she grips our attention and our heart.  Nina is a young teenager who is trying to learn about life.  She is a happy go lucky child and does not have the angst that her mother and her grandmother suffered from.  Dr. Sanyal who takes care of Mrs. McNally's health, Sumit the author, who lives close-by and is writing a book, Bimla and her husband who are Mrs. McNally's retainers, Col. Dayal, a neighbor that Mrs.McNally depends on, all these character flesh out the book nicely.

Not all of us are destined to a clear identity.  Right from the birth of a child, the parents are around, the family is at hand to provide a child with an unambiguous legacy.  What of the orphans?  The little babies who are discarded at birth to be brought up in orphanages?  What goes on in their minds?  Don't they ever long to learn about their natural parents?  What of the people who die in disgrace and are buried hurriedly, do they return as ghosts?

Kiran Manral has written books that cover all sorts of genres.  All Aboard was a light romance as was Once Upon a Crush.  The Reluctant Detective was a delightful book about a housewife who is drawn into solving a mystery.  The Karmic Kids is about parenting.

It is heartening to see a young author experimenting with so many genres and coming up with this lovely tale where the main protagonist is a 75-year-old woman who has an unusual story to tell us.  The ending will blow you away.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Vish Dhamija - Bhendi Bazaar

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+Vish Dhamija
+Rumour Books India

DCP Rita Ferreira is roused untimely from her sleep to investigate a murder.  The murder is unusual.  The body has been ripped with a knife and shot through the head, yet the man has a beatific smile on his face.  Another murder follows soon on its heels and Rita knows she has a serial killer on her hands.

There are hardly any clues despite hard work by her team to discover some link.  All they know is that the dead people called up some number asking for a call girl.  Is the perpetrator of the crimes a man, or a woman?  There are mixed clues regarding this as well.

Rita assembles a team of able officers and is helped by her boss Joint Commissioner of Police, Vinay Joshi.  The Commissioner, Sanjay Saxena aka Sexy, is more fond of projecting himself as the dashing policeman and will not be happy if his team does not solve these murders soon.

Rita keeps running into blank walls, as the killer is adept at covering his tracks.  The only clue she has is that the murdered men are fond of call girls.  On top of that the press, or rather, one particular journalist is promising to be a real pain in the neck for her.  Anita Raizada from NEWS of the DAY pesters her with questions and even tries to get pally with her junior Jatin Singh.

Joshi ropes in Dr. Ash Mattel from London, who is a crime psychologist who is willing to help with the profiling of the criminal which can help the police in tracking him.  Ash is also of the opinion that Rita has a serial killer on her hands, and gives her tips on where to look for him.

The book is racy like a crime thriller should be.  It exposes the dirty underbelly of Mumbai.  The book also details the tedious research that the police have to do to solve a crime. It also looks into the mind of the criminal and examines the factors that make him a criminal.  Some wrong turns taken by people in their lives turn them or their progeny into hardened criminals.

The language of the book is rather colloquial.  But I expect a thriller cannot be written like a literary masterpiece and also resonate with the masses.

There were times when the pace flags a bit when the police seem to be running in circles and coming up against blank walls.  But then things happen and the pace picks up again.  I had kind of figured out whodunit, and I must say it was very clever.

This book makes a perfect airport read. 

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Radhika Nathan - The Mute Anklet

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@Westland publishers

The Mute Anklet is a book of historical romance. 1790s in the southern part of India form a  backdrop for the romance between Captain Trevelyan and Uma Brooke.  Some events are concocted and some are true.

We read about a curious anklet being fashioned out of silver.  It is not a thing of beauty, its value is functional.  It has some bells attached to it as anklets are wont to have.  But in case of this anklet, the bells are muted and despite its nominal value, it seems to be highly sought after.

Many years later, we find Captain Trevelyan leading a battle against the Maharajah of Madurai.  He finds a beautiful Englishwoman being waylaid by some Indians and rescues her.  He gets a nasty shock when he finds himself being taken captive in turn.  However, things are not really bad for him, as he soon discovers.

The beautiful girl he had tried to save is the ward of the Maharajah of Madurai.  She is Uma Brooke, the daughter of a maverick Englishman who loved the natives and tried to blend in.  The Maharajah is looking for a suitable groom for his orphaned ward, preferably among her own kind.  He has admired the battle strategies of Trevelyan and is in a mood to do a deal with him.

Uma and Trevelyan find themselves married to each other despite there being no love lost between them. Uma may be an Englishwoman but she was born and bred among Indians and refuses to bend to the will of Trevelyan.  He has many things on his mind and an intractable wife just adds to his worries.

There is a thread of narrative from the past that gradually unveils the mystery of the mute anklet.  The past segues into the present and we see how it affects the lives of Uma and Trevelyan.

The historical background adds spice to this tantalizing love story that takes us from Madurai to Madras to London.  Uma is on a quest of her own here, she wants to find out more about her father. There are sundry robberies and attacks on them that seem random, but may be connected.

Will Uma and Trevelyan ever unite or are they doomed to living lives apart from each other?  Will Trevelyan survive the battle against Tipu Sultan?  Will Uma ever learn more about her father.

All these questions keep you turning the pages to this well written fast paced historical romance.   A very satisfying read indeed.

Monday, February 01, 2016

Jane Austen - Northanger Abbey

+Project Gutenberg

This was the last Jane Austen book of the lot that I read. I have not read the books later plucked from her manuscripts like Lady Susan and The Watsons.  My friends have assured me that they are is good, but I cannot somehow think of them as genuine Austens.

I was completely bowled over by Northanger Abbey when I read it first.  I loved Catherine Morland and I loved Henry Tilney. Catherine is an ordinary young girl, and Henry Tilney is nowhere as haughty and moneyed as other Austen heroes.

The plot of this book is simple and uncomplicated.  Catherine Morland is the daughter of a clergyman.  She is invited by her neighbours, the Allens, to accompany them to Bath for a visit.  She is sucked into a world of glamour, new dresses, dances and theatre.  She makes friends with two families, the Tilneys and the Thorpes.  She enjoys the company of Eleanor Tilney and falls for her brother, Henry Tilney.  She is pursued by John Thorpe whom she does not like much. She is very friendly with his sister, Isabella Thorpe.  Catherine's brother, James, arrives in Bath as well and seems to be sweet on Isabella.

In this pretty little scene comes General Tilney, the father of Eleanor and Henry.  He gives a lot of attention to Catherine and seems very keen to please her.  Will he approve of a match between Henry and Catherine?  Will Isabella and James unite?  

A Jane Austen book can never be written off as a mere romance, written to please the reader for a short while, to pass the time as they wait at Airports.  Her books are a mirror of her times.  She creates a charming picture of her society and their manners.  Her observances are full of wit and intelligence.

In Northanger Abbey, Austen chooses to remark upon the propensity of the young towards Gothic novels.  Catherine likes reading Ann Radcliff books.  It colors the way she sees the world, she is forever looking for dark secrets where none exist.  She needs Henry Tilney to show her that there are no deep secrets lurking in the locked up rooms of Northanger Abbey.  She also learns not to take people at face value.  A lot of people hide their true intentions under false words.

Henry Tilney is her teacher here.  He is a sensible young man.  He loves Catherine for her frankness and naivety, and also her unabashed love for him.   He is quite unlike Darcy or Knightley.  For one thing, he does not have the same kind of money or grandeur.  Despite that, or because of that, he is very likeable.  He is my new favorite. 

I recommend you read Northanger Abbey right away if you have not done so already.  If you have read it, re-read it as often as you can.  It is a delightful little gem which will keep throwing new things you missed noticing in previous readings.

I was drawn back to this book after I saw the 2007 ITV adaptation of the novel of the same name.  I was charmed by it.  Adaptations are not always very faithful and it is fun to go back to the novel to compare where they differ.   I have heard that the 1985 BBC adaptation is better.  I need to look it up sometime to discover that for myself.

Maybe I need to bring myself to read Lady Susan at last.

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