Wednesday, March 29, 2017

They Don't Fit in the Pocket

I must have been in Class 7 when I read my first Hindi pulp fiction. It was a novel named Sile Huye Honth (Sewn Lips). The hero of the novel was Major Balwant who was a private detective and I had smuggled the thin book out of Dad's trunk of books. It was supposed to be out of my reach but I managed to get it out. So, I had to turn to a criminal to get to read my first Hindi detective novel. The name of the author was Colonel Ranjit but I didn't know that it was the pen name of Maqbool Jallandhry. I don't remember the names of the members of Balwant's team. But I remember that he had a dog whose name was Crocodile.
The other thing that I remember very well is the monthly newspaper bill. There was this bookstall near the bus stand from where I used to take a bus on my way back from school. Our household newspaper used to come from there. At the beginning of a month, Dad or Mom would settle the bill for the previous month - which would be roughly 100 to 120. But the next month, the monthly bill had increased by ₹400 or so. And I had to plead with Mom to pay off the bill without raising any alarms.
You must have already made a guess. So, it was still the days when a Hindi pulp novel was priced at most at ₹20. It was very rarely that one of those cost ₹25. And I had managed to raise a bill of ₹400.
Before talking about the Hindi pulp novels, there's one curious fact you should know. Though they are popularly known as pocketbooks, so much so that most publishers have Pocket Book in their name, apart from that first book I had never found any Hindi pulp novel that really fits into my pocket. Though the dimensions are almost pocket-sized, the thickness is out of pocket.
So, who were the authors whose novels were inflating the newspaper bill?
There was Ved Prakash Sharma. He had his Vijay-Vikaas series – which can be broadly called spy novels though there was some extra-terrestrial stuff now and then. Those were mostly patriotic works. See the names of some of the novels from this series: Maati Mere Desh Ki (Soil of My Country), Tiranga Jhukega Nahi (The Tricolor Will Never Bow). The best thing in the Vijay-Vikaas novels was the silly banter that Vijay indulges in to hide his real intentions. Those were some of the funniest monologues I have read. But his crime novels were something else altogether. Some of them have created records in Hindi pulp novel history. One of his crime novels Vardi Wala Gunda (Goons in Uniform) created sales history on the first day of release. If I remember correctly, his novel Wo Saala Khaddarwala (That Darn Politician) was priced at ₹50. It was the first Hindi pulp novel to be priced so high. As I said before, Ved Prakash Sharma had created lots of milestones in the pulp novel history. Those of you who are Bollywood fan may or may not know that the Akshay Kumar hit movie Sabse Bada Khiladi was based on Sharma’s novel Lallu. There were few other movies too that were either written by Sharma or based on his novels; the ones I can remember include the movie Bahu Maange Insaaf (based on the novel of the same name) and another Akshay Kumar movie International Khiladi. Some of his crime or thriller novels include Raam Baan, Kaarigaar, Qateel Ho To Aisa, Shaakahari Khanjaar. It is impossible for me to recall the names of all the thrillers, crime or spy novels written by Ved Prakash Sharma.
The next name I am going to mention is the most recognized name of all Hindi crime, thriller, detective novel writers: Surendra Mohan Pathak. His novels are getting translated into English. They are widely popular. Let me try to recall all the series Pathak writes: Vimal series, Jeet Singh series, Sunil series, Sudheer series. These are the ones I have read. But there are many more series he regularly writes. There are also non-series thrillers coming from his pen all the time. One of the things I remember is that he used to have very informative forewords for his novels: the forewords talked about detective literature from other corners of the world.
One thriller writer that keeps coming up in my mind is Tiger. I don’t remember many of his novels though I am sure I have read a lot. I remember only two of his novels. The first one is: Mujhe Janm Do (Give Me Birth). There are two reasons I remember this. First, the ways the different murders were executed. In one instance, a doctor in the operation theatre is forced to commit suicide. In another murder, the barrel of a pistol is manipulated to make a close shot look like a long-distance shot. But more strikingly, the thriller was based on illegal abortions of female fetuses. It was an issue that hit me hard. The other novel of Tiger that I remember is Teesri Kaun (Who is the Third One). Again, there are two reasons for remembering the novel. One is a scene towards the beginning of the novel – when few female friends meet at the home of a friend to celebrate the birthday of the latter. During the night, one of the friends gets killed. When the police come to investigate, in different rooms of the building they discover a horde of killing equipment – revolver, knife, poison, etc. It was like a get-together of killers trying to kill each other. It was a fantastic scene. Then, there was the killer – the third person of the title; she never lies but the police are unable to identify her till the very end. There was another novel by Tiger: 13 Saal Ki Budhiya (Old Woman of 13 years); it not just dealt with corruption in the country but also had a few horrific descriptions of child prostitution. I could never forget that horror. Tiger was also really adept at creating remarkable characters.  
Among the other Hindi thriller writers I was reading, I can only recall Raj, who was quite popular at that time. But I can’t remember much about his novels except the name of one thriller: Miss India Hatyakand (The Murders of Miss India).
Even though I was quite hung up on these pulp novels, I stopped reading one writer after another. The reason was quite simple. I started finding the blatant plagiarism in most of the novels I was reading. In the case of one writer, I found plots stolen from Hollywood movies including Minority Report, Paycheck, and so on. In the novels of another popular author, I saw plots lifted from Perry Mason novels and served with minor variations to Indianize it. The most famous novel series from the same author was about an antihero: a criminal who was betrayed by his life partner and a partner-in-crime and then he starts off on his journey of revenge. Remember Parker by Donald E. Westlake? It was almost the same plot with minimal changes to make it Indian. 

So, that was that. The end of my affair with Hindi pulp fiction. Maybe not all of their novels have stolen plots. But after finding these dark origins of the novels of some of the authors, I just lost interest in reading any of the authors any more.
Some years later I got lucky because some of the novels of Ibn-e-Safi were translated and published in Hindi, and I became a fan of this long-dead writer. His were very short books but they were great reads.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Gift from My Little Angel

                  Towards the last quarter of 2013, I had decided to quit my job to focus on my writing. I already had a plot of a novel in my mind. All I wanted to do is write it in peace, away from the grinds of daily routine.

                   I had started buying the books I thought I needed for researching the background of my story. And I found most of the books I was looking for.

                   At the office, I had put down my papers and had started serving out my notice period.

                   That Monday morning, I was just preparing the files that I need to share with the team for knowledge transfer that day. When I got a call from the Mailroom – which handles the deliveries of couriers inside the company campus – I was a little surprised. I have not ordered anything – which basically means books – in the last few days. And I did not remember anyone telling me of anything that they had couriered to me.

                    I went down to the Mailroom to collect it. After signing for it, when I saw the parcel, it was from my kid sister.

(I have not written about her before because she is so much a part of my life, that writing about her seems impossible; maybe because I still doubt that I am a good enough writer to describe what a great sister she is.
She is that most beautiful surprise that life offers you at the most unexpected moment, making you believe in an all merciful power looking over us, that most beautiful surprise that makes you forgive all the nasty stuff that life has pulled on you before and instead makes you feel kind and humane towards other beings.
She makes me humane and human, makes me feel kindness and empathy. She makes me believe, in myself. When a little angel accepts you as her brother, you realize that you are not as damned as you thought before, or as evil as you were accused by others. Her presence makes me believe in the power of love, and my ability to love someone. She broke the dark, cynical spectacles – through which I had been watching everything; and I could see the beauty of life.)

                  My kid has sent me a parcel. I was already smiling. I hurried to my desk to open it.

                  Once I opened it, what do I find? Lying inside, well wrapped is a book. No, not just any book. It was a book that I believed I needed to understand the geographical background of my novel. Unfortunately, the book had gone out of print. No amount of searching of book sellers – online, offline, secondhand – has brought me any luck.

                   I must have mentioned it to her, about my futile attempts, and also how important that book is for me. That was a month ago. In my hand was now the same book. She remembered it. But I knew that she was busy with her studies. And the book was not on the market.
She must have spent a lot of effort and time on tracking and then buying that book for me, not to mention the monetary cost. (Later, when I insisted, she only mentioned that she got it from abroad.) It was one of the best surprises I have ever received.

                    Even more than her efforts, it was her belief in my dream. Writing has been a lonely dream for me. But her trust in me, my writing – epitomised in her act - is an even more precious gift to me.

I am still working on my novel. But I also write the occasional short story and send it out to magazines. But no matter, what I am working on, I keep that book right in front of my eyes, on my writing table. And every time I get a rejection email – which is almost too often – I just pick up that book, hold it for sometime, maybe read couple pages, and I could feel that same surge of emotions I felt when I got it. I feel motivated, inspired and I start writing again.

                     Each gift from my kid sister is very precious, very special to me. But this is the best gift that my Little Angel has gifted me. Her trust that inspires me to pursue my dream.

Now, I believe, I should mention the name of this person. Her name is Priyanka Dey. She is already a renown blogger and poet and short story writer. And she is my Little Angel.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Kid, Love and Resurrection in a Bookstore : Reviewing The Collected Works of A. J. Fikry

Let me start with a confession. I stop to watch whenever I come across You've Got Mail running on any channel. And no, I'm not romantic enough for that movie. I just stop to watch the bookstore scenes.
There is something so cosy and reassuring about an old and small bookstore, where picking a book becomes a very private, a very intimate, a loving act. I feel like walking into such a store and spending half a day or more, just loitering through the well laden shelves, sitting down occasionally, flipping few pages now and then, finally walking out with a treasured bag of books. 

Mr. A. J. Fikry, the protagonist of The Collected Works of A. J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin, runs the small and only bookstore on Alice island. He is an eccentric with quite definite tastes in books. He knows his books and certainly not afraid to refuse any that doesn't comes upto his mark, even if they are the bestsellers of the time. The list of what he is not going to stock on his shelves is long. I mention only one gem out of that list. ( "I am repulsed by ghostwritten novels by reality television stars, celebrity picture books, sports memoirs, movie tie-in editions, novelty items, and - I imagine this goes without saying - vampires.") How can I not like such a bookseller? 

But he is also a lonely widower, who is going through the motions of living. And though he feels an occasional pang of guilt over hurting someone, he is not going to change his behaviour. He does not know how to. He does not know because he is cut off from humanity.
His loneliness is unbearable. (No, the real difficulty of living alone is that no one cares if you are upset. No one cares why a thirty-nine-year-old man has thrown a plastic tub of vindaloo across a room like a toddler.) His loneliness is insurmountable, not only because he does not have anyone who would go to the trouble of connecting and caring for a grieving loner who is in anger over his loss, but also because he is not able to feel the tinge of humanity or love or care for anyone.

But things take a turn when two year old Maya turns up at his store. He clumsily changes her diapers. (Babies move more than books and aren't as conveniently shaped.) He is not sure about what needs to be done to look after a baby, but he takes up to look after the baby for the weekend with the support of his sister-in-law and Google. Being a lonely person and never being around kids, Fikry is completely unsuitable for the role of caring for child. He is completely out of his depth. But within that two days, he starts growing this strange sense of responsibility for her. Towards the end of that weekend, Fikry gives Maya a bath. He gets ready for this task with quite a few Google searches. And the bath: it is one of the most beautiful passages I have read in a long time. He sings to her in the bath; she claps. I don't like to go emotional while reading. But that small passage made me. Giving a bath to your kid, that must be something awesome. (He lifts her out of the tub and then towels her off, wiping between each perfect toe.)

The book - and the life of the main characters - though based in a bookstore, is not about books alone. It is about the human bonds that makes our lives unique. How love for the baby Maya changes Fikry's life, how and what he learns about relationships, how his life changes because of Maya, how he finds love again because of Maya

More than books, more than humanity in general, this is a book about how a child changes or can change a person's life for good, making him a better human capable of understanding love. 
It takes a certain kind of courage to love a kid because you may not be able to express it in understandable ways and this non-understanding may make you doubt your own love. But you love your kid no matter what. You cannot, just cannot stop loving and caring for this big bundle of joy that is in your life and making it better with her presence. She teaches you the purest form of love. And her love makes you know and believe in the power of love and make you care for humanity in general. 
Yes, Dad. Dad is what I am. Dad is what I became... Dad. What a word. What a little big word. What a word and what a world! 

And looking after that kid, being her family, being her father trumps all books and a bookstore, and all other riches.

Author- Gabrielle Zevin
Price- Rs 350
Publisher- Hachette India

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Thrilling Salvation : Reviewing Salvation of a Saint by Keigo Higashino

What if all you have to do to commit a murder is to be absent from the place of murder? 
Just not be present at the scene of the murder at the time of the murder, and voila, the murder is performed by you. That's gonna be some murder, yes? Hell yes.

Keigo Higashino is the master of the impossible murders/crimes. In the Salvation of a Saint, the bestseller author of The Devotion of Suspect X offers the readers another impossible murder to fry their brains over. The Devotion of Suspect X has already been labelled the Japanese Thriller Phenomenon. I was lucky to do a review of the book for blogadda sometime back. You can glance at the review here

In his latest book, we have another impossible situation. The husband is killed. The wife is away at her parents home. The lady, with whom the husband is having an affair, has visited him the night before, but was not in the house at the time of the murder. The neighbors has not seen anyone going into the house. So, who murdered the husband? It is an ultimate locked room mystery

If the mystery was not potent enough, the main police detective on the case, our old friend Kusanagi seems to have developed some soft emotions for the wife of the deceased, one of the primary suspect. Will he be objective enough to see the proofs that  goes against the wife? Or maybe he is right? Someone else is behind it all. But it finally falls on the series hero, Yukawa - the Detective Galileo - to bare the impossible truth.

You really want to know what is the most maddening aspect of this crime? It won't help the police even if they know who murdered the person unless they know how he was murdered, but even knowing how he was murdered is not enough, because it is next to impossible to prove that that is how he was murdered. Can Detective Galileo do the impossible again? You must read it to know. And just to give you a heads up: the motive of the murder is not as simple as it appears at first. 

In both his books, Higashino has created victims that the reader does not really sympathize with. They were both people who deserved to be murdered. I, as a reader, was not running through the book looking for some justice to be served out. I was only driven by the desire to know how the impossible was pulled off. 

Higashino, unlike most thriller writers, creates strong, well-rounded characters that stays with the readers long after the last page is turned. Both the wife and the lover are unforgettable. You may even feel a strong bond with them, so much so that you start wishing they may not be found out as the killer in the end.

There cannot be two opinions that it is an awesome read and I loved reading it. Still, there is something that is below par. The language in some instances is not correct. For example, on Page 72, you come across this: Mr Mashiba didn't answer the phone, so you went to his house - any adjustments that need making there? There are few other instances. Maybe this is because of a literal translation of a Japanese book. I don't know. But it certainly creates an odd feeling in an otherwise delicious reading experience.

After reading the Salvation of a Saint, I ardently hope that the first two books of this series gets translated and published very soon.

I am sure the first time you will be reading the book in a breakneck speed. But the next time, if you read it, read it at leisure, it will definitely taste even better, just like slowly brewed coffee.

After reading the book, whenever you are in your kitchen, will you be watching your tap a little warily? Maybe.

Author- Keigo Higashino
Price- Rs 350/-
Publisher- Hachette India 

This review is a part of the biggest Book Review Program for Indian Bloggers. Participate now to get free books!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Mine or World's

"Maana ke dosto ko Nahi dosti ka lihaaj.
Ye Kya baat ki ghair ka ehsaan lijiye."
[Agreed that friends (dear ones) no longer held the relationship as sacrosanct.
That's no excuse to sought favours of strangers.]

At some point in time, some line, some couplet, some stanza of some song smacks you right in between the eyes.

I had never sought favours of strangers. Whenever one has de-sanctified the uniqueness of a relationship, I have installed loneliness in its place.

One day all the rooms of my building will be occupied by loneliness. That seems certain.

But after all I have done for the loneliness, living for it every moment, giving away my nights to it every night, maybe bleed for it. Maybe by then I will own the right to the loneliness. And call it my loneliness. And not share it with the world.

Yes, I wanted it to be in a relationship. But at least loneliness, my loneliness, just mine.

I want to be an antique,archaic, trifle, or trash, whatever but in a home. I never would be an exhibit in a line of curios in the most famous museum of all.

I'm just a homebody, looking to build a family. And families are not shared with the world.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Less A Key, More A Puzzle : Review of The Krishna Key

Keys open a door for us or it unlocks some treasure to us. Puzzles are an art unto itself. They are solved for the solving of it. It may or may not lead to anything further. 

The Krishna Key is abundant with puzzles to solve. But the key may not be a key per se. But it is certainly a thriller worth one read. 

Before starting to read the book, it will certainly do well to just forget the comparisons of Ashwin Sanghi, the author of three mythological thrillers including the latest The Krishna Key, with Dan Brown. Coming with this kind of notions overshadows the actual reading experience.

Being a thriller, the book is all about chasing and finding the criminal, whom we, as reader, already know. As it is a mythological thriller, there is also an ancient secret to be revealed. And again for the same reason, the hero of the thriller must be an academic, in this case an historian, who can share the ancient knowledge or the explanation thereof. 

Ravi Mohan Saini, the historian, is an expert in the area of Krishna research and is trying to establish Krishna as a historical existence. He has friends and acquaintances working in related scientific fields leading towards the same goal. He is accused of murdering one of these friends and he had to go on the run with one of his female students to find the truth of the murders and also the motive behind it. He is chased by the police all over the country as he go on exploring the religious sites of the country unearthing the secrets. On the other end, the preparator of the violence is one who believes himself to be an incarnation of God, trying to right the wrongs done against the religion. The preparator has being trained and is led by some sort of a Spiritual Guru, who in turn is working for an underworld Don. There are honest cops and crook ones too. We have everything to set up a thrilling thriller, sorry mythological thriller. 
The story starts with a brief narration from Krishna describing the beginning of the Kaurava dynasty. Each section of the present day story is preceded by a narration of Krishna's life story in his own voice. This I found quite engaging a way. Reading the divine narration right before today's version where someone is trying to establish the same Narrator as a historical presence is a great touch. And I was hoping that at some point both this tracks will merge into one, which sadly does not happen. 
The chase is thrilling, the puzzles are puzzling enough. Narration is sleek. There are few nice twists. But somewhere, something is greatly missing. I can put this disappointment under two heads.
First as a thriller, the story uses certain flimsy reasons and a downright implausible motive. Especially, the anagram plot points are just unbelievable by any stretch; little more thought behind them would have been much appreciated. Secondly, the motive of the Don behind looking for the "Krishna Key" is mentioned in the passing and seems almost like an after thought and also that not much thought has gone into it. This becomes even more jarring because the Don was one of the two characters in the novel who had a detailed back story. There was the space to integrate the motive into this back story rather than cursorily mentioning it. Certainly, the motive is not well founded.
Secondly, a mythological thriller comes with the promise that at the end of the chase, the reader will be party to a great secret, one that is hidden for centuries: whether it is Jesus' offspring (The Da Vinci Code) or Columbus being a Jew and bringing to and hiding the Temple Treasure in the New World (The Columbus Affair). The story fails us on this count. The arguments for Krishna being a historical presence is all very well. But the plot hinges on the existence of the Krishna Key and this is what everyone is racing after in this thriller. As a reader, I was waiting to know the truth of the Key. But with all the philosophizing at the end, I, with regret, find that the Key turns out as a MacGuffin. And though MacGuffin has proven quite effective in many a thrillers, but in a mythological thriller, the main mythological element being a MacGuffin was a big let down. 

Book Details
Book: The Krishna Key
Author: Ashwin Sanghi
Publisher: Westland
Price: Rs 250
Pages: 464

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Sunday, October 7, 2012

Punctured Story Telling : Review of Fractured Legend

In a crowd of books pedaling porn - of one sort or the other - and parading itself as the truth of relationships of our times, when I came across the following description 
“We are like the moths that follow invisible spiral loops to go round and round a flickering flame before jumping into the center leaving in their wake, a glowing red sore in the eye of the flame,” says the narrator, a temple slave. Priyambada makes up her mind to leave the temple where she melt into flesh at night and froze into statue by the morning. She renounces her immortal chalices, the temple facades, for a mortal life, for a life in flesh… But the tangles of life in flesh – marriage and bearing children – thrust her into a world of tribulations that cast her off into the past, sealed past, frozen past.
Nandhini, a professional assassin, is plagued by an assignment to retrieve a mysterious manuscript that is smeared with a rope of blood across its pages. She finds herself in the midst of a complex game of deceit and rivalry between two factions.
Pravalli is drafting a very long letter to her mother. She is grieving, glowering, repenting, atoning."

I was tempted to opt in to review the book. Fractured Legend promises so much with that plot description. When I received the book and opened it to find a short message from the author, it certainly added a glow of warmth to the start of the reading experience. But the whole experience fizzled out within the first couple of pages. Before going there, let me give the outline of the novel.

The book is divided into three parts, called Books, of three chapters each. 

The first Book is the narration of the temple slave who moves out of the temple and a life of rock to a human life and an existence in flesh. With the help of a magical ring, she becomes the young daughter of a family. When she grows old, she gets married and eventually becomes mother of a girl child, whom they name Pravalli. We leave her in her story in a happy state of being a mother of a 16 year old girl. 

In the next Book, we meet Nandhini, first as a doting mother of a 10 year old boy before we get to know that she is a professional assassin. She is sent by her boss to retrieve a manuscript which was last seen next to a murdered man. She finds the manuscript but is forced by circumstances to kill her boss, go on a run, and then start working for a rival boss. The manuscript crops up again in business, leading to a murder and also a revelation that Aardya, who happens to be another temple slave and a companion of the slave who ran away, is behind the murders; her motive being to hide the truth about the temple slaves. We leave Nandhini in a mall, thinking over her past.

The third Book - which also happens to be the most closely linked to the first Book - is a long letter, broken into three chapters, that Pravalli, the human daughter of that runaway temple slave is writing to her mother. We get to know that after learning the truth of her mother, she had run away and got married to one of her neighbours. She is so scarred by this whole truth that she never becomes a mother. Only when she goes to the temple where Aardya, her mother's companion, resides that she gets to know the whole truth about what happened to her mother and how Aardya destroyed her mother's magic and thus her human life. Both Nandhini the assassin and Pravalli is killed by the temple slaves to protect their secret. 

This is the story. In first glance, it seems a sort of story that grows into something magnificent, with the elements of magic realism deeply rooted in the basic premise, certain Gothic surprises offered by the old, ruins of temples and certainly entwined into a feminist tale of choices and consequences. Indeed, the author Kranthi Askani is mentioned on the back page of the book as having a fictional style that integrates magical realism with Gothic elements. Apart from the small part about the temple slave moving from rock to flesh, which is more like a shock element rather than magic realism, there is nothing that can even remotely be termed as magic realism. Magic realism is a style where the fantastical and the real exists side by side and the fantastical is accepted as a routine part of life. This is something sorely missing in the novel. And as for Gothic, Gothic pertains to the evoking of a particular atmosphere and a certain mood - that inter meshes horror and romance - most commonly through the description of a house or area; the mood and the emotions are evoked by the effect of the surroundings. This is certainly not the case in Fractured Legend. Though the descriptions of the dilapidated temple is given, the emotional effect is missing.

Coming to the language, the tiniest mercy is that the book does not employ indiscriminate use of Hinglish. But it is a limited consolation, as the book is a nightmare of spelling and grammatical errors. For example, vipers instead of wipers, reigns instead of reins (though reins are for horses, and for dogs, we use leash). The author has a habit of using difficult words, which I was too lazy to pick a dictionary to check up the meaning with.

Stylistically, the author uses first person voice for the three books. In employing this, the first book offers the richest possibilities. What will be a more richer narrative than the sense of awe felt by a rock being coming to a human society? But sadly, the author misses out on this. One of the most irritating device employed by the writer is the repetition of a prior mentioned fact as a question. For example in the first book, the narrator is in a library and finds that the newspapers and magazines are tied to certain table tops; that means the newspaper and magazine stand will be empty. But the author finds it necessary to repeat it.
"The magazine stand was empty, so was the newspaper stand. Why, they were all skewered to the wooden planks, weren't they."
This whole repetition through rhetorical questions is a high irritation that is used in all three books.

Also in places there are long drawn out metaphors which may make the reader lose sight of the original point. I did. 

The only positive thing about the writing is that here and there we get a nice bit such as these:
"Not a healthy thought, to be watched. When you are a woman, you are always watched. And this was like I had acquired a double or triple of myself. How do you expect one person to guard three of themselves?"

Or this surprising bit when the assassin Nandhini is quartered by a rival assassin because she carelessly left her bag with her gun on some sort of a sofa. Her first thoughts are a scold for herself and then this surprising twist:
"How idiotic of me to leave the handbag on the sofa. Ah! What do you call it? Sofa, water bed, chaise lounge...?

But these are very very few and far between. And these random lines do not save the book.

The binding, printing and overall presentation of the book is good. But at the same time, the book was deprived of the service of a good editor and a copy editor. 

Book Details:
Book: Fractured Legend
Author: Kranthi Askani
Publisher: APK Publishers
Price: Rs. 195
Pages: 190

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Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Respecting the Care

It would be the most abrupt post I have ever written. Or most abrupt anything I have ever written.

It's a funny thing actually. When people come and start talking to you sharing their lives; you start caring for them; you do; strange, still, you do, even if you don't know them for a long time. You care to an extent that you also get concerned for them. You do; foolish, yes; you still do.

Then one fine sunny day, when you are just inquiring about their well-being out of pure care, what do you get? A nice little message saying that you don't have a place in their heart; it is goddamn crowded with people already there; comic; as if you were looking for a seat there. Oh, that also means you were not to be concerned for them; you were not to ask anything; you were not to say anything; you are goddamn not supposed to care; comic?

I have pets, nice honest to heaven dogs. They belong to different breeds; but they have few similar characteristics: they are loyal, yes; they are trust-worthy, yes; they trust me, yes; they care, yes. It may sound strange, but I can feel these qualities of them always.

I have also a full heart, with people occupying their corners. But still I manage one small corner from where I respect their care and trust. I always do.

The funniest thing of all, I lived about with an illusion that human beings too can recognize a fellow being's care and at least respect it, not necessarily reciprocate it; reciprocity not being a requisite for care.

We care because we care. May be that's why we get silk-knifed on every street corner.

Monday, May 14, 2012

The Devotion of Suspect X

To start with a confession, this review is overdue. It is for the fact that I had had to read this novel cover to cover twice. Then only I could pick up my keyboard to type a review.

Now that I am starting the post, I am a bit apprehensive.

What do you write about a book of which 2 million copies have already sold, based on which there is already a cult movie in Japanese and whose author is hailed as the Japanese Stieg Larsson. What more is there to write then?

Let me start gently with the bare facts of the novel.
Yasuko is a divorced mother with a teenage daughter Misako and working in a small food shop. Not yet free from the shadows of her past, her ex-husband keeps on harassing her for money while she keeps on changing her job and household to escape him. But on his latest harass trip, Yasuko bravely stands up to him refusing to pay him any more. So, to further harass the mother and daughter, he turns up at her home. And in the ensuing struggle, he is killed by them.
All this happens in the first twenty six pages.

In a classical case of thriller, we now expect a cat and mouse game between the investigators and the criminals.

There is a game of cat and mouse but on an altogether different path.

At the very beginning of the novel, we had met a gentle mathematics teacher, Ishigami - a neighbour of Yasuko - who is given to quiet ruminations on human state; an almost detached observer of sorry human situation. The only spark we notice in him is when we see that he has some kind of interest in Yasuko.

Now at the crucial moment, right after the murder when Yasuko and Misato is debating whether Yasuko should turn herself to the police or not, Ishigami literally steps in through her door with the suggestion of protecting them from the consequences of this murder. And how he does it!

Though the police detective trying to crack the case is Kusanagi, the mathematical net of Ishigami is too thick for him to cut through. He founds himself in a different maze altogether. And the only person who threatens Ishigami's brilliant plan is his university friend, the brilliant Yukawa, a genius physicist who helps Detective Kusanagi with insights into seemingly dead-end cases. As fate may have it, Yukawa was only trying to rebuild his friendship with his long lost friend, but in the process, he unravels the whole maze that Ishigami has built till then. But would he give up his friend to the law? How far would Ishigami go to protect his focus of love? What's his motive in all this? Does Yasuko even understand the depth of his doings?

There are far more questions than in any regular thriller.

What are the brilliant scars that you carry from this novel? First is the sheer brilliance of the maths maze. Till the very last page, we are not sure what happened after the crime. How did the body got where it was discovered? Why didn't it was more properly disposed? What was Ishigami trying to do to protect Yasuko and Misato? In the process, we also feel unease when we have an inkling that even Ishigami may also try to run Yasuko's life according to his commands, but was it true? The brilliance of this novel is the use of the third person narration. Unless for specific passages, you are always unsure about the actor's motive. We keep on doubting whether Ishigami has turned into a monster too.

The two things I won't be able to shake off ever from this book. First is certainly the love of Ishigami. How far can love make you travel? Few can actually kill themselves for love, but who is the brave one willing to damn his soul for love? The selflessness of his love; he never once hints what exactly he is doing to protect her; how far down he has fallen for her. And the germ of this love. I have seldom read a subtler sprouting of love. You keep on wondering whether it is love or tenderness or a paternal caring for a family he never had. The second thing is the overwhelming sense of sadness. Thrillers are supposed to be about adrenaline, the chases, the perfect plans and their undoing, the moves-counter moves. All these you will find in various forms in the novel. But ultimately, it is a very sad book. You'll never shrug it off as a case closed. You'll always be with Ishigami, rather than with Kusanagi.

For me, it will always be as much a love story or more than it is a thriller.

List of Main Characters:
  • Yasuko Hanaoka: The criminal
  • Misato Hanaoka: The daughter who helped in the crime 
  • Shinji Togashi: The victim (?) 
  • Tetsuya Ishigami: The neighbor, who steps in to protect Yasuko.
  • Shunpei Kusanagi: The Detective
  • Manabu Yukawa: Ishigami's friend and the sharpest eyes in the story.
Book Details
Author - Keigo Higashino
Translator - Alexander O. Smith & Elye J. Alexander
First Published English Translation - 2011
Publisher in Indian Subcontinent - Abacus for Hachette India
Pages - 374
Genre - Crime/Thriller
Binding - Paperback

For all those thriller fans, a throwaway question. How do a criminal protects herself from a crime she has committed without lying to the detective even once? Ponder on.
Till you pick the book.

This review is a part of the Blogadda Book Reviews programme.
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Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The Journey for a Sister

I barely managed to grab the plane home. Home, the phrase sounded unsure in my mouth, as I turned it over on my tongue. I was basically running back to see my mom. Home was incidental.

I was born with wheels. My parents kept on moving around with their jobs. I saw quite a few homes, but never home. The only family I knew was my parents and my sister. There were uncles, aunts, cousins whom I met annually; they were festival persons, never family. 

But this time, Mom has returned to our home town, settled in the house we have built, a building I can dubiously call home. My uncle and aunt stays close by with their two children. I have been hearing how my uncle and aunt, and especially the daughter made sure my mom felt at home in home. Practically, she made home home for mom.

So, I was going home. But I knew I was going to my mom. I'll meet everyone. 

(Aside, even though I have never felt home, I have always been, ever since I was a kid, looking for the one person I can accept as my sister, my younger sister, the younger one I can take care of.)

I reached home a day earlier than I told mom, just to surprise her. I was spending couple of lazy days as the previous week was 12 hours-a-day and I was bone tired.

Every day I would be meeting my uncle, aunt and almost always the girl cousin. Every moment she was preparing something for me to eat, getting me something. She, a practicing lawyer, taking as much time out as is possible. I had never seen so much care from a younger one. To be honest, never have I been close to her. But this level of caring. Still, I am a hardened outsider, never easily felt anything.

One night, Mom & Me were invited over to my uncle's home for dinner. Just across the road from our home, we walked over. 

Being the family, we just sat down in the cooking area, chit chatting with aunt and my cousin. 

Just to stretch my legs, I got up and walked around a bit. Then is when I heard my cousin's shout. 
What happened to you?

I had a vague feeling that one of my foot was feeling sticky. But then I put it down to the rain. When I looked down on my foot, it was on the bloody red side. But as is my norm, I tried to shrug it off, when I got a stern look and a soft plea from her to sit down and let her have a look at my wound.

I had to bow before her wish. I had to put up my bloody foot on a stool. She got on her knees, trying to gauge my wound. But the blood flowing as well as that which has already dried, made it hard to point the wound. She hurriedly got some Dettol soaked cotton. I extended my hand to grab the cotton to clean off my foot. But she shook her head. 

She bent on her knees and gently started to clean off the blood from my foot. I felt bit embarrassed. I have never had anyone attend my wounds in a long, long time. And with my multitude of wounds, it was a high hope.

I noticed how much caring there was in every time she cleaned off my foot. My blood had never been in short supply. It kept on flowing. She gently kept on cleaning it. Finally my blood gave out before her persistence. 

For those who no longer remember, Dettol still burns like hell. I flinched once or twice. Then I just noticed the warmth of a sister's care. It no longer burnt.

She hurriedly applied some ointment on my wound. I am not sure it burnt or not.

She kept on inquiring whether my leg is alright, whether I can walk or not. I did actually limped a bit while walking down my dinner. She walked just at my right hand, in case I need any support.

After dinner, she actually walked along with me and mom to make sure I reached home without any further bloodshed.

This uninhibited care, the loudness & the softness of caring, never seen ever. 

I realized that this is the younger sister I was looking for. The one who cares so unconsciously, so completely. The one I can call my sister and care for and never again feel the sense of loss I have carried within me always. The same sense of loss which turns me careless at most moments in my life. From now on, I will always be thinking of this caring young sister and be a bit more careful.

I am a thick headed person. So, it took me so long to recognize the younger sister I have always looked for everywhere.

This was my pilgrimage, the one journey where I found the one being, one invaluable being I have seek like forever. I realized the truth of family and found my younger sister.

By the by, her pet name literally translates into younger sister.

This entry is a part of the contest at in association with

The contest came before me may be a day after this revelation for me. And I decided to break my rule of distancing an experience before writing about it. This is one journey I had to shout about from my roof top. The My Family Memory Contest was even better. I am writing this out of that pure sense of awe I felt when I found my dear young sister I had been blind for in so many years. To you, sister.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Love & Other Things

"And my conclusion was this: that as you go on living with someone, you slowly lose the power to make them happy, while your capacity to hurt them remains undiminished. And vice versa, of course." Mme Wyatt

How true it is ! Wait a minute. How true it is? Or, is it true? 

Is it just another way of saying familiarity breeds contempt? May be I am making it very simplistic. Simple is something that Talking It Over is not.

Though I picked the book looking for a light read after finishing Barbarians at the Gate. That is a different book, different post. But suffice to say that though a real engaging read, it is not an open-read-shut-over kind of book. You keep on mulling over it for sometime to come. So, right after finishing reading the book, and still reeling under the facts in it and trying to judge it maybe, I looked for something light to engage my eyes. And though much abused a genre, love stories still deliver on this, if you choose carefully enough. 

Julian Barnes managed to disabuse this illusion with the very first chapter of his book. Using multiple point of views to narrate the same incidents is not an unique style. But in a love story, it was the first time I was reading it. 

And more than a style device, the real intriguing part was how differently the three protagonists of the book view the same incident. How three people so closely linked can have so varied stances on each aspect of life! It does not really boggle the mind. We know that each person is unique. But when you read the first chapter, it certainly strikes you between the eyes. 

Strike the word read out. You are not reading the novel. The three persons are talking to you. And occasionally few other persons too. 

Listening to them talk, you jolt with a bewilderment on their having any kind of relationship. But there it is. Our two male protagonists Stuart and Oliver are friends from school. The solo female protagonist, Gillian is the wife of one and the ex-wife of the other, though you will come to know that later. 

I am not providing a summary here. But just few thoughts that popped up in my mind/heart while reading the book. Just to make the context, I will be using couple of quotations from the book.

Ok, spoiler alert. Oliver falls in love with Gillian on the day of her wedding to Stuart, though he knew her for sometime before that, but only as Stuart's girlfriend. Oliver, a philanderer, not a good character starts seeing his salvation in her face. 

"You know that story of the man who wakes up and finds he's turned into a beetle? I was the beetle who woke up and saw the possibility of being a man." Oliver

But why would Gillian love him? How would Stuart see this love? As a betrayal or inevitable?

Reading till now, you may have puzzled out that Oliver does become Gillian's second husband. But how? Or why Gillian makes this choice? Can we logicalize her choice? Can love be logically argued out?

But what about Stuart? How does he take it? Does he breaks down? No, he becomes all the more successful materially. How or Why? No logical answers. Only because he had nothing else to do? But would he be whole again? Would he love again?

"Love is only what people agree exists, what they agree to put a notional value on. Nowadays it's prized as a commodity by almost everyone. Only not by me. If you ask me, I think love is trading artificially high. One of these days the bottom is going to fall out of love." Stuart

Is this how he truly feels? Isn't anger & sadness just another expression of the love that have made him alive in all ways and which he have lost? And does he get over it?

"It's not over till it stops hurting. There's a long way to go." - Stuart

After sometime when Stuart visits the small French village where Oliver and Gillian has relocated after marriage, was he there seeking revenge? Or just looking for some sort of closure? It can't be revenge because never did he attempted anything. He just waited in the hotel and watched their daily happiness. Was he there just to make sure she is happy? Is that love? Or was it the sight of her baby that undoes all his revenge plans?
And the longing of his heart for that future which could have been his. Was it destined? Is that how love works?
But then does love really ends? If Gillian loves Oliver and has got over Stuart, why does she enact that play of domestic violence ending with a cut on her face, before Stuart's eyes? Why does she not hesitate to gamble away Oliver's respectable presence in the village, by making him out as a domestic violence type. What was she looking for? What she wanted to show Stuart and why? Maybe she desired to show Stuart that life is not all perfect for her too. Maybe she was trying to mitigate his hurt. But why? Was it simple pity? Or a deeper care? Or was it some form of love that withstood everything that happened? Or else why would she throw away her well settled domestic life to put up a show? But what sort of love is this?

Mid way in the novel, the three character asserts:
Whatever happens ... whatever happens, I'm the one that's going to get hurt.
I'm the one in the middle, the one that's being squeezed every day. I'm the one that's going to get hurt.
Bash, bash, bash. I'm the one who's going to get hurt.

Maybe love is not about oneself. Maybe it is more about the person whom we love.
Maybe that's why Gillian did what she did. Maybe she owed him this.

Maybe love never dies out totally. It remains in motley forms. It remains.

Mme Wyatt got it wrong, I believe. Because living with someone for years, a person won't just lose the power to make the other person happy, he will also gain the insights on how to hurt the person devastatingly. If even after so much power, things don't turn so dark, it is because of the love that remains. And in times, it will rise to the surface. Such as in Gillian's act. Stuart's hesitation against any revenge.

Was it a happy ending story? No
Was it a sad story? No
It is just a novel that shows the ambiguities of love. And how our lives shape up based on this one emotion and its entanglements.

They Don't Fit in the Pocket

I must have been in Class 7 when I read my first Hindi pulp fiction. It was a novel named  Sile Huye Honth  (Sewn Lips). The hero of the...