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Archive for August, 2012


English Poetry
Ed by Sudeep Sen | Harper Collins | Rs 599

This 550 page compendium of modern Indian English poetry is an attempt by poet and literary editor, Sudeep Sen, to put together a collection of poems that “one would think of as a body of contemporary works that reflects a movement in new English poetry by Indians.” What that movement is he does not say. He does not also explain the reason for choosing one poet and ignoring the other. You will not find Arvind Krishna Mehrotra here or the brilliant Manohar Shetty, for instance. What he does however, provide us with, is a doorstopper of poems, some middling, some brilliant.

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With My Body
Nikki Gemmell | Fourth Estate | Rs 399

Gemmel’s first book The Bride Stripped Bare created ripples when it came out in 2003. Though written anonymously, the author was quickly identified. Reviewers variously tagged it as ‘literary porn’ and ‘outrageously, brutally honest book’. In the first book, says the author, “the plan was to examine sex within marriage.” In her second book, With My Body, she turns her gaze on sex in an extra marital affair. The prose, starched and stiff, is not easy to read. Gemmel, though, claims that the book is “in similar vein to Fifty Shades of Grey”. It isn’t. But it does come with a disclaimer that says ‘Adult Material’ on the cover.

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Meet Me At The Border
Inder Raj Ahluwalia | OM Books | Rs 295

One of India’s most prolific travel writers, Inder Raj Ahluwalia, has been writing on travel and aviation for past 30 years. In this book he presents various vignettes from his travel to far away lands. “There is a huge, wide world waiting out there,” he says, “It shows many faces and many images that range from ‘subtle’ to ‘stark’. Though I have tried to understand them all, it is the starkness that has floored me.” The 32 stories contained in this collection will take you from French Riviera to Polar Arctic, from Istanbul to Tokyo and beyond – on a journey of man who discovers others and sometimes, himself too.

(The above reviews first appeared in the Sunday edition of the Mail Today, New Delhi, dated 4 August 2012)

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Pantheon
Sam Bourne | Harper | Rs 325

It may make you shudder or may not. It is no secret for e.g., that India’s caste and jati system is geared towards perpetuating ‘pure races’. In 1940s Europe and America, the idea found its support not only among Nazis who spoke of the Aryan race but also among the progressive intellectual elite that included George Bernard Shaw, HG Wells, John Maynard Keynes and Virginia Woolf. As Shaw wrote, “the only fundamental and possible socialism is the socialisation of the selective breeding of man.” Bourne takes this fact and spins a propelling thriller that questions the moral decrepitude of one of the “greatest secrets of Anglo-American elite.”

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Kitnay Admi Thay?
Diptakirti Chaudhuri | Westland | Rs 275

Billed as “Completely useless Bollywood Trivia”, this book offers an interesting compendium of anecdotes and trivial facts sourced from books, film magazines and news media about India’s national obsession – Bollywood and its superstars. Presented as lists – e.g., 10 Songs That Became Movies; 10 Films Within Films or 10 Trains You Should Not Miss – the books includes answers to questions such as: Can you name the films or dialogues that made it to Amul’s billboard ads? Can you identify the two diseases that exist only in Bollywood films? Aishwarya Rai has acted as a sister to two superstars, who are they?

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That’s the Way We Met
Sudeep Nagarkar | Random House | Rs 125

Nagarkar’s present novel – a story about a man who seeks to reclaim his love by writing a book that he hopes his estranged girlfriend will one day read – is as banal as it is intriguing. Interestingly, this book is a sequel to his debut novel, Few Things Left Unsaid, which according to sale figures on flipkart, India’s book delivery portal, was a ‘bestseller’. It is likely that its readership resides in the small towns, where the young try to imagine how it is to live in metro cities like Delhi or Mumbai. But who knows? It could be the ‘masses of India’ as the author says in acknowledgements.

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March of the Aryans
Bhagwan S Gidwani | Penguin | Rs 599

“A civilization is kept alive only when it’s past values and traditions are recreated in men’s minds,” says Gidwani in the preface to the novel – an adaptation of his earlier book called Return of the Aryans. According to the author, the Aryans originated from India, traveled the world and returned home. He proposes that Aryans existed prior to the dawn of Harappan Civilization (3300-1300 BCE) in the age of Sanatana Dharma i.e., sometime between 8000-4000 BCE. That would place it in Stone Age, a period when man lived caves. But this does not seem to ruffle Gidwani, who also glibly admits that the book is “a work of fiction”.

(The above reviews appeared in the Sunday edition of the Mail Today, New Delhi, dated 29 July)

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Olympics: The India Story
Boria Majumdar & Nalin Mehta | Harper Sport | Rs 499

“If India fails to take advantage of the fertile condition created by Beijing and its aftermath, its lasting legacy will have been confined to sports history books by the end of London 2012,” say the authors in this revised and updated paperback edition on India’s historical tryst with Olympics. This warning may sound ominous, but don’t lose heart, in a chapter especially added for 2012 London Games titled “Will the turnaround finally happen?” the authors also predict that India can for the first time realistically expect 7 medals at the Games. This book was first published in 2008 in the run up to Beijing Games.

(The above review appeared in the Saturday edition of the Mail Today, New Delhi dated 28 July 2012)

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The Man Who Tried to Remember
Markand Sathe | Penguin | Rs 399

The book starts with the protagonist, an economist of repute, Achyut Athavale finding himself in an institution – ‘manorangashram’ – that’s neither a prison nor a mental asylum. Athavale doesn’t like it. He wants to return to his prison cell. But his jailors and the society that wishes to protect him won’t let him. The story unveils through Athavale’s ruminations as he navigates his way through labyrinth of human memory, thought and action, “What is cognizance?” he asks at one point. If reality is constructed by collective beliefs and ritualistic practices, how does one accommodate individual memory? Isn’t your memory different from mine? Beautifully written. Wise.

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Sweet Sixteen
Vibha Batra | Penguin Young Adult | Rs 199

It won’t be an exaggeration to admit, that Indian English teenage fiction promoted by Indian publishers differs little from what is being dished out by writers in England or the US. The only difference is probably the setting and of course, the characters. In Sweet Sixteen, Batra tells the story of 16-year-old Rinki Tripathi who finds herself separated from her best friends, uprooted from Delhi and shifted to not New York or London, but Chennai. Fortunately, nothing is a tragedy for long. And nothing can stop Rinki from falling in love with a new place either.

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The Shrink and the Sage
Julian Baggini & Antonia Macaro | Icon Books | Rs 399

In this unusual self-help book, philosopher Julian Baggini and therapist Antonia Macaro encourage readers to scrutinize 20 potentially tricky spheres of life such as happiness, goals, emotions, self-love, status and regret. They do this with the help of Aristotle. “His work is a rare find when it comes to questions of how to live,” say the authors in the introduction to this cerebral book adding that “Although he wrote two thousand years ago…his understanding of being human is more insightful and relevant than many modern theories.” The book is written in two voices, that of a philosopher and a shrink.

(An edited version of the above reviews appeared in the Sunday edition of the Mail Today, New Delhi, dated 22 July 2012)

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