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Short Reviews 177


Fire in The Unnameable Country
Ghalib Islam | Fourth Estate | Rs 499

Screen Shot 2015-02-22 at 12.55.09 PMThis debut is as exciting as it is befuddling. Ghalib Islam, born in Bangladesh and living in Canada since the age of seven has penned a novel that wraps around an unnamed country that to an Indian reader would appear to point to Bangladesh. But the country is not named. What is named is a colonial past, a terrorist infested present, a mind-reading government department, a man who speaks many languages, a flying carpet and a long birth. It’s ambitious, clever and dressed in magic realism. A reader’s puzzle.

*

Field Guide To Happiness
Linda Leaming | Hay House | Rs 299

Screen Shot 2015-02-22 at 12.54.45 PMLinda Leaming, originally from Nashville, Tennessee, US made her home in Bhutan sometime in the mid-90s. In between she taught English and wrote articles for women’s magazine, traveller guides and newspapers. “I have now lived in Bhutan all my adult life. My happiness comes because living in this ancient culture forces me to think differently – about time, work, money, nature, family, other people, life, death, tea, kindness, generosity, washing machines, waking up, and myself,” writes Leaming as she unveils her journey to self-discovery. The story comes packaged as a self-help manual.

*

Business Unusual
Sharmila Kantha | Rupa | Rs 295

Screen Shot 2015-02-22 at 12.54.58 PMIt’s a refreshing to read writers using India’s historical capital, Delhi as the backdrop for a thriller or detective genre books. In ‘Business Unusual’ former corporate functionary, Sharmila Kantha, situates a murder in an upper class businessman’s household that includes a calculating ‘Mataji’, warring sons, servants and hangers on and an unemotionally efficient detective, Ramji. There are also, of course, dead bodies that link the mystery together and a sultry seductress, Lata that enters Ramji’s life at the most confusing time. A fun detective adventure aimed at young adult reader.

(The above reviews appeared in the Sunday edition of Mail Today, New Delhi, dated 22 February 2015)

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Short Review 176


If Truth Be Told: A Monk Memoir
Om Swami | Harper Element | Rs 499

Screen Shot 2015-02-22 at 12.56.54 PMAmit Sharma grew up in Patiala and flew to Australia to study and eventually work in the IT software industry. Then one day, he decided to renounce his family, wealth (including a Porsche) and friends in Sydney to embark on a spiritual journey because he says, he “wanted to devote his life to the search of Truth”. He returned to India, sought out Kashi, gurus, tantric yoga and wisdom. He says he attained “enlightenment” in a forest and that ‘tantra’ is not about tantric sex but realizing the self. Today, he runs an ashram in Uttaranchal and seeks followers.

*

Item Girl
Richa Lakhera | Rupa| Rs 195

Screen Shot 2015-02-22 at 12.56.39 PMThe story hidden between the pages of this thriller – set in the underbelly of Bollywood studios – zeros on rape, blackmail and ‘ma-behen’ invectives to paint what the blurb at the back of the book announces as “the dark side of showbiz”. It’s a tedious read – the ramble, the hectoring, the sloth of thought and the language of tired clichés (the plants were rotting alive; feet sounding brittle and hard on scratchy shabby grass; her first film turned out to be a stellar hit). Rupa needs to tighten its editing skills and Lakhera her story telling abilities.

*

For Tibet, With Love
Isabel Losada | Bloomsbury | Rs 299

Screen Shot 2015-02-22 at 12.56.25 PMIsabel Losada, a journalist from Battersea, England, travels to China, India and London to decipher how Tibet can win autonomy from Chinese rule. Along the way, she learns that world can’t be changed by staging world concerts or by calling the Chinese evil. Aptly subtitled as a “beginners guide for changing the world”, Losada in this book finally reaches out to Dalai Lama asking him what she and others who felt like her could do? He tells her to continue writing, learn from Gandhi’s ‘constructive determination’ and accept the ‘humanism’ of the Tibetan culture. Wise.

(The above reviews appeared in the Sunday edition of Mail Today, New Delhi, dated 15 February 2015)

Short Reviews 175


Unthink
Chris Paley | Coronet | Rs 350

Screen Shot 2015-02-08 at 3.52.20 PM“Consciousness isn’t designed for understanding ourselves, its for understanding other people,” says behavioural scientist, Christ Paley, in this intriguing little book. This, he explains, is because we live complicated social lives in which we a) don’t do things for the reasons we expect; b) what we imagine we do consciously, is in fact, done by unconscious; c) we understand ourselves through others and lastly, d) we are always in conflict with what we want to do. In short, don’t trust your trickster mind. Trust your consciousness instead. You’ll be happier and more successful. Wise.

*

Karm
Aditya & Arnav Mukherjee | Rupa | Rs 195

Screen Shot 2015-02-08 at 3.52.54 PMThis thriller by Mukherjee brothers is fit for a ‘Don’ sequel starring a young handsome Bollywood hunk, a gutsy female TV news star and her secret admirer, a reporter. Instead of the big bad world, it situates all action in Amchi Mumbai like the first original Amitabh Bachchan ‘Don’ did. It imagines the city in 2019 where suburban trains have ACs, slum remain slums, high-rises pierce the city skies and the rich travel in UFO-like airships. Best part of the story is that it packs an uncomfortable truth – organised crime always wins. A chilling read.

*

Urnabhih
Sumedha V Ojha | Roli | Rs 350

Screen Shot 2015-02-08 at 3.52.41 PMWe live in an age of confusion. This may be one reason why historical fiction is gaining large number of readers. People are tired of facts and truths. They want to re-imagine their ‘realities’ and to find comfort in fantasy. Sumedha V Ojha gives us one such tale. Set in ancient Maurya empire, the novel ‘Urnabhih’ (lit., “cobweb”) traces the story of a dancing girl who gets sucked into a spy ring. Her ‘hero’ and companion in various adventures, Pushyamitra, is a hired assassin and leader of ‘Nagrik Suraksha Parishad’. Scary.

(The above reviews appeared in the Sunday edition of Mail Today, New Delhi, dated 8 February 2015)

 

Short Reviews 174


Nature Chronicles Of India
Ed. by Ananda Banerjee | Rupa | Rs 195

Screen Shot 2015-02-07 at 4.27.39 PMThis slim collection of essays on Indian wildlife has more on what the naturalists observed during the British Raj than what Indians or others may have in the last 60 years. Should one blame the editor of the compilation for this or the shrinking habitat? In this case, one fears, it’s the former. India has its share of wonderful writers on the subject but it needs a good editor to track them down and share their stories. Unfortunately, neither the publishers nor the editor seem to be too perturbed by their inabilities. Sad.

*

The Top Ten Things Dead People Want To Tell You
Mike Dooley | Hay House | Rs 299

Screen Shot 2015-02-07 at 4.27.53 PMThe most interesting thing about this ‘inspirational book’ is its writer. Why? Mike Dooley was an international tax consultant before he became an entrepreneur by kick-starting a philosophical adventure club. One is not sure what sort of club this is and what its adventures are. But if you read a passage, any passage in this book, you’ll learn that “to live is meaningful”. But didn’t we know that already? Honestly, maybe Dooley should read the Bhagwad Gita, who knows what the dead may convey to him and what we may learn from him. Seriously.

*

To D Or Not To D?
Vijay Nagaswami | Westland | Rs 395

Screen Shot 2015-02-07 at 4.28.06 PMIt’s very difficult to say what makes or breaks a relationship. The same is true of marriage. According to some studies in India, cruelty and desertion top the list of stated reasons for divorce. Other reasons that often feature in courts are adultery, sexual dissatisfaction and fraudulent or forced marriage. Whatever be the case, people do break up. In this book, written for Indians, the author discusses things that can help people put their relationship on track, and things that may help those who have had enough and want to divorce. It’s a wise book.

(The above reviews appeared in the Sunday edition of Mail Today, New Delhi, dated 1 February 2015)

Short Reviews 173


Grey Hornbills At Dusk
Bulbul Sharma | Aleph | Rs 295

Screen Shot 2015-02-07 at 4.14.21 PM“The Large Grey Babblers… are the only birds I know that can eat and argue at the same time,” notes Bulbul Sharma, a painter, birdwatcher and writer, best known for her books for young readers. Divided into – winter, spring, summer & monsoon – this book re-tracks the author’s rambles through parks and bird sanctuaries in and around Delhi. It also includes her charming sketches of our winged friends. Delhi is known for hosting as many as 450 species of birds, some of them from as far as Siberia. Get to know them, before they disappear.

*

The Lost Language of Cranes
David Leavitt | Bloomsbury | Rs 350

Screen Shot 2015-02-07 at 4.15.30 PMEight years ago, David Leavitt, wrote ‘The Indian Clerk’ a fictional biography of S. Ramanujan’s tryst with G.H. Hardy, the leading mathematician of the western world just before the outbreak of WWI. ‘The Lost Language of Cranes’, first published in 1986 now re-issued, tells the story of human relations and sexual confusion of a New York family – when a son’s confession of being a homosexual forces the father to confront his own demons. It’s a complex and a brave novel, one that is bound to find resonance among Indian readers.

*

Don’t Die With Your Music Still In You
Serena J. Dyer & Dr Wayne W. Dyer | Hay House | Rs 299

Screen Shot 2015-02-07 at 4.15.12 PMThis self-help book is a mish-mash of pop-psychology that prods the reader to listen to one’s own intuition – or song – in order to be happy and successful in life. Written by daughter-father duo it advises us to follow our dharma (interpreted here as passion or calling in life), to keep an open mind, to embrace silence, learn to solve problems, not be resentful and have courage to be what you want to be. It teaches by examples sourced from the writers’ own lives. Pick it up, if that’s what you need.

(The above reviews appeared in the Sunday edition of Mail Today, New Delhi, dated 25 January 2015)

Short Reviews 172


Start-Up City
Moloy K Bannerjee, Siddharth Bannerjee & P. Ranganath Sastry | Collins Business | Rs 450

Screen Shot 2015-01-18 at 11.49.35 AMIndia’s software technology sector came into existence sometime in mid-1980s. It picked up pace in 1990s and today, it is the most talked about aspect of foreign investment in the country. ‘Start-up City’ tries to capture how 10 Bangalore-based companies became part of this story. The writers provide some interesting insights – Indian entrepreneurs they aver know how to ‘adapt and adjust’. Many built their companies by selling computing and analytics software like, Tally or by providing technology solutions to government agencies or projects. They are mostly risk averse, preferring to ‘play safe’. Instructive.

*

Inside Chhattisgarh: A Political Memoir
Ilina Sen | Penguin | Rs 399

Screen Shot 2015-01-18 at 11.50.04 AMIn 1980s Dr Ilina Sen and her husband, Dr Binayak Sen joined the fiery political philosopher and trade union leader Shankar Guha Niyogi in coal mining district Dalli-Rajhara, Madhya Pradesh, as political activists. After spending seven years working here the couple shifted to Raipur in 1988. In Raipur, they moved away from political activism. They bought an acre of land, built a mud house, started the Rupantar Trust and got involved in health worker training in Bagrumnala village nearby. Then came Binayak’s arrest, the fight to free him and the couple’s exit from Chhattisgarh.

*

Kerrigan in Copenhagen
Thomas E. Kennedy | Bloomsbury | Rs 299

Screen Shot 2015-01-18 at 11.49.50 AMIf you’ve been to Denmark it’s likely you stopped by Copenhagen. Next time, take Kerrigan with you and read him in the city to top up on alcohol, history, literature, art and jazz. You guessed it right. This is a guidebook to city’s drinking joints. Kennedy has written three other novels on Copenhagen. This is his fourth. In this one the author tells the story of “the city of ever changing lights” by discussing with the reader beer, wine, Hans Christian Andersen and Goethe, sculptures of dead men in parks and women in bars. Hic!

(The above reviews appeared in the Sunday edition of Mail Today dated 18 January 2015)


One Part Woman
Perumal Murugan | Penguin | Rs 399

Screen Shot 2015-01-18 at 11.50.53 AMFirst published in Tamil as ‘Madhorubagan’ in 2010, this heart-stopping tale from Tamil Nadu follows a series of twists in a life of a couple as they seek to conceive a child. Kali is a farmer married to beautiful sensual Ponna. People envy their union. Is Kali impotent, they wonder or is  Ponna barren? The two, beseech gods, undertake pilgrimages and do every penance suggested. Then in the festival of ‘The Chariot’ the wheel of life tumbles forward. Myth and ritual propel Ponna towards a night with a stranger in a forest and a loss that can’t be undone.

(The above review appeared in the Mail Today dated 4 December 2013.)

NOTE: Critically acclaimed writer and thinker, Perumal Murugan made news last week when he declared in a post on Facebook that “Author Perumal Murugan is dead. He is no God. Hence, he will not resurrect. Hereafter, only P Murugan, a teacher will live.” He made this statement after facing a sustained and ugly backlash from his community in Thiruchengode, Tamil Nadu, India. At the heart of the controversy is the book mentioned above.

The story, set in Thiruchengode some 100 years ago, agonises over a love of a man for a woman, their desire for a child and their eventual participation in a socio-religious carnival that offers a possibility of impregnation. In 2005 Amol Palekar’s film – Paheli (‘A Riddle’) – raised a similar issue by imaging a Rajasthan folk lore that had a ghost character impregnate a lonely wife. It raised tempers but did not escalate to the level protests against Murugan have grown. 

Clearly, political muscle lent to anti-Madhorubagan protests accounts for the ugliness that the writer is facing now. Silencing and hounding a writer cannot stop memories embedded and encoded in folk tales, songs, poetry, architecture or mythology. Not in Tamil Nadu, not in Rajasthan. It can only highlight how irrational and small minded we can be. Don’t kill the author. Kill prejudice.