Archive for the ‘Biography’ Category

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)

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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)

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Prince of Gujarat
Rajmohan Gandhi | Aleph | Rs 500

Screen Shot 2015-01-11 at 8.41.56 PM“It was not until 1980s, while I was working on my biography of Sardar Patel, that I discovered interesting facts about Darbar Gopaldas, and the part he played, despite being a prince, in the satyagrahas of 1920s,” writes Rajmohan Gandhi in the preface to the biography on Prince Gopaldas Desai. Darbar, as the prince was known, worked with Sardar Patel and the Congress but spurned high office choosing instead to mentor the next generation of politicians. Three of them became CMs of Gujarat, and one founded Amul, the famous milk cooperative. A fascinating read.


Teresa’s Man
Damodar Mauzo | Rupa | Rs 250

Screen Shot 2015-01-11 at 8.42.17 PMYou could view this is a collection of 14 short stories or a powerful commentary of the social life of Goans. Written originally in Konkani by novelist and literary critic, Damodar Mauzo, the stories build on various characteristics of human behaviour to tell timeless stories about the condition of man. Sensitively translated by Xavier Cota, these stories, also recall a life, language and social customs that are fast receding from our collective memory – of evening games of ‘tablam-khel’, local taverns, snakes and lakes, Europe bound families and sand castles on the beach. Arresting.


Daniel J Siegel | Hachette | Rs 399

Screen Shot 2015-01-11 at 8.42.42 PMLos Angeles-based behavioral scientist, Daniel J Siegel, cautions parents against treating adolescence as a ‘time of immaturity’ or as something to be endured. Adolescence, the period between 15-24, is a time we move from ‘me’ to ‘we’. When we realize that we are dependent on others and interdependent as a group. At the same time it is also a period during which we engage in intense emotional and social relationships and everything is new, exciting and worth exploring. Siegel calls it MWe and prescribes it for adults as well.

(The above reviews appeared in Sunday edition of the Mail Today, New Delhi, dated 21 December 2014.)

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Tales From The Secret Annexe
Anne Frank | Hatchette India | Rs 350

“I can’t imagine having to live like…all the woman who go about their work and are then forgotten. I need to have something besides a husband and children to devote myself to! I don’t want to have lived in vain like most people,” wrote Anne Frank on the margins of her diary. The teenager’s angst now finds a new outlet in a collection of short stories, fables, reminisces and an unfinished novel, “Cady’s Life” – that were not included in the original dairy that was first published in 1947. In these writings, Anne emerges as a perceptive, often edgy, witty and compassionate writer.


Flame: The Story of My Mother Shahnaz Husain
Nelofar Currimbhoy | Hatchette India | Rs 295

In this hagiography to her mother, a daughter recounts the journey of Shahnaz Husain, the name synonymous today with the beauty saloon that she started in 1970s and the cosmetic company that she launched in early-1990s. When she started, “There was not a single product at the time in the Indian market that was geared towards serious skin care,” complains Nelofar. Shahnaz would have to convince a generation of women to give up their fascination for foreign cosmetics and give Ayurvedic products a try. And for a while she succeeded, till a scandal that revealed that that her products were not purely Ayurvedic – took the sheen off.


The Terrorist
Juggi Bhasin | Penguin Metro Reads| Rs 250

“India may or may not be a land of a million mutinies but for a decade it has been pounded by a rash of insurgencies and terrorist acts, many rising from within and still more directed from outside its shores,” writes Bhasin.  This is his first thriller. In it, he explores the complex process of human emotions and individual or organisational training that goes into making of a terrorist and a commando. Both are trained to kill and both exude high motivation. The only thing that separates them is a ‘junoon’.  But what if that was not true? Bhasin gives us a bite.

(An edited version of the above reviews appeared in the Sunday edition of the Mail Today, New Delhi, dated 13 May 2012)

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Beautiful Country
Sayeda Hameed & Gunjan Veda| Harper Collins| Rs 399

“Sayeda has the ability to make things come alive in a way that government reports festooned with official statistics can never do,” writes deputy chairman of the Planning Commission, Dr Montek Singh Ahluwalia in the forward to the book. We agree. This beautifully written book tells the story of the country’s inability to deliver basic human rights and facilities, in a manner that makes you feel as if tremendous achievements have been made. That takes talent. And so we learn that MNREGA, despite its flaws, has provided assured livelihoods; Sarva Shikha Abhiyan, has increased school enrolment; and, the National Rural Health Mission, is reaching out to all. History of the rulers always rings sweet to establishment ears.


The Maharajas of Bikaner
Rajyashree Kumari Bikaner | Amaryllis| Rs 695

When members of a royal family write books about their kingdom they present their families in glorious aura. This book, written by daughter of Dr Karni Singh, is no different except for one detail, which runs into two chapters at the end of the book. These chapters deal with the drama of succession that rocked the Rathore clan in 2003, in which the royal faction insisted that history of Bikaner would be obliterated if a male successor was not chosen, the rest, including the female members of the royal family, opposed it. “Mercifully,” she writes, “the rights of women are enshrined in the Constitution of India” giving them the right to ancestral property and history. Clearly, it pays to be part of world’s largest democracy.


The Average Indian Male
Cyrus Broacha | Random House | Rs 199

There are two parts to this book. In author’s own write, “Book One contains letters from various anguished people thirsty for answers, which is interspersed with witty and profound observations from me. Book Two lists my experiences about being around.” In the first part, Cyrus explains why Indian men have thin legs (it’s because they are obsessed with feet and chest); are irritable (it’s all due to short height); and, smile stupidly (when you don’t understand you smile, even Obama does it). The latter half, he tells us why his father wears boxers and he underwear, and why meeting fellow Indians on the street is never a meeting of equals.

(An edited version of the above reviews appeared in the Sunday edition of the Mail Today, New Delhi, dated 15 April 2012)

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Little Princes
Conor Grennan| HarperCollins| 308 pp, Rs 399

One of the many untold stories of Nepal’s decade long civil war between 1996-2006 is the story of the stolen children. Unofficial estimates put the figure to several lakhs while official statistics are hard to come by. Grennan who spent three years in Nepal between 2004-2007 tells the story of the Humla children taken away by child traffickers to Kathmandu – children that were voluntarily given up by parents for fear of Maoists taking them away. The writer doesn’t interact with the Mao brigade but gives us a touching account of the tiny tots that he and his NGO was able to unite with their families. A work they continue to engage in and raise funds for.


Song Without End & Other Stories
Neelum Saran Gour| Penguin| 284 pp, Rs 299

Never mind the market, write for yourself – is a mantra that seems to sum up this collection of 15 short stories. The book jacket promises effortlessly written prose, trenchant wit and captivating tales. But it offers none of that. The prose is laboured, the wit missing and stories, pretentious. ‘If they’d only get along better, there could be such identity of attitudes between them’ goes one line in a story. This could well sum up Gour’s pen. There is no guarantee that when you dip into The Iliad or Tagore’s Geetanjali you’d come up with a ‘captivating’ tale. A story needs a life of its own. And borrowing doesn’t always work.


Balasarswati, Her Art & Life
Douglas M Knight Jr| Tranquebar| 325 pp, Rs 599

It is difficult to deny that Indian publishers and writers are singularly disinterested in bringing out biographies of classical musicians and dancers. After all who is interested in the classical arts? Tranquebar seeks to undo this lack of balance by brining out a scholarly dissertation on the life and times of one of India’s greatest dancers, Balasarswati. Bala, as she was affectionately called, grew up in the much maligned devdasi tradition and defied the moral injunctions of her peers to keep her craft alive. She danced, sang and emoted as no other, since. And we are richer for having her immortalised in this book.

(An edited version of the above reviews appeared in the Sunday edition of the Mail Today, New Delhi, dated 11 December 2011)

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Freddie Mercury
Lesley-Ann Jones| Hachette India| 374 pp, Rs 595

Born in Zanzibar, modern day Tanzania, to Bomi and Jer Bulsara on a Parsi New Year’s Day in 1946, Forrokh never considered himself to be an Indian. It could be because music fans of the 1970s were not ready for a rock star with African and Indian roots, says his biographer Lesley-Ann Jones. Queen’s Indian fans may feel let down. But it is obvious from Jones’ tactfully written biography that for Freddie, music and performance came first and that’s the way it stayed till his death from AIDS in 1991. As the front man of the hugely successful rock band, Queen, Freddie Mercury’s electrical performance at Wembley’s Live Aid concert 30 years ago is still remembered as one the greatest rock acts ever. Jones captures those heady days and paints a vulnerable picture of a deeply troubled artist. The book includes extensive bibliography, discography and some candid pictures. Pick it up.


Euphoria: The Story of Palash Sen
Ashish Kate| Harper| 249 pp, Rs 499

For some reason, artist biographies are given a short shrift in India. The publishers ignore the time and cost that research may entail and the writers fawn over their subjects rather than take trouble to mine for information and discover who they really are.  Euphoria – The Story of Palash Sen falls somewhere between the two stools. “It’s my tribute to some of the greatest rock books ever written – Dylan on Dylan for example, or Bono on Bono,” says Ashish Kate. Drawn from series of interviews the author had with the pop singer, the book is short on insights and effusive in praise. The book comes with the band’s latest album, Item, stuck clumsily on inside cover.


The Reverse Journey| Vivek Kumar Singh| Frog Books| 122 pp, Rs 95

If you are a Hindi speaker, hail from Bihar and end up at IIT you are a ‘desi’ and if you come from a metro you’re a dude. But it all evens out when you land in USA, where every Indian is a desi trying to achieve the American dream. “I never did want to settle down in USA though I had been part of its workforce for five long years,” says Singh who worked his way up from government school in Netarhat in Jharkhand to Patna, IIT Kanpur and finally, New York. In telling his story, Singh slips into laboured monologue skipping plot, context and characters. Which gets a tad tedious.  Had he followed his own advice on how “authors should engage in dialogue” we might have been spared the ennui.

(An edited version of the above reviews appeared in the Sunday edition of Mail Today, New Delhi, 6 November 2011)

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