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Archive for the ‘Memoir’ Category


The Last Love Letter
Minty Tejpal | Hachette| Rs 395

“Somewhere, the fairytale romance of marriage wore off and the female character wanted her own identity. Female empowerment is good, but it has its issues,” says Tejpal of his debut book, The Last Love Letter. He’s not fibbing. He is in every page of the book, his own man. Written in a first person narrative, the thinly veiled autobiography, takes the reader through his two divorces and the twists his career took. Women in the book are an addiction and a necessity. But rarely equal. In the end, Tejpal comes across as a man who wanted things on his terms. When that did not happen, things fell apart.

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Once Upon A Hill
Kalpish Ratna | Harper Collins | Rs 499

The story of Andheri’s Gilbert Hill is somewhat akin to the story of Delhi’s Aravali Range. Where there were hills once, we have modern townships and garbage. In Kalpish Ratna, Mumbai’s geological feature – a stand-alone hill once part of a range that stretched from Andheri to Versova – get’s a voice. In a topography that has been completely erased by relentless quarrying, the consequences are there for everyone to experience. Change in rainfall patterns and flooding, is just one part of the story. “Gilbert Hill is the still point in the flux of opportunism and greed,” says Kalpana Swaminathan and Ishrat Sayed aka  Kalpish Ratna. We agree.

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The Fix
Damian Thompson | Collins | Rs 399

In The Fix, Thompson looks at the modern world through the prism of Aldous Huxley’s ‘negative utopia’ – where everyone takes a state produced drug called ‘soma’ that produces intervals of perfect spiritual pleasure. Rest of the time they’re mostly shopping or having recreational sex. “The awkward truth is that acceleration of technological progress can’t be divorced from the fast production of addictive substances and experiences,” says Thompson, arguing that it is not the experience of pleasure, but experience of desire that continues to tantalize us. In other words, there is an addict in each one of us.  What’s your fix? Food, binge drinking or sugar?

(The above reviews appeared in Sunday edition of the Mail Today, New Delhi, dated 16 September 2012)

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A Mysterious Death at Sainik Farms
Rukmani Anandani | Rupa | Rs 195

“Ugrasen couldn’t sleep… He tried to puzzle it out” – is how Rukmani starts off her story. Like Chetan Bhagat, the author does not shed any sweat over the language. But she does weave a challenging and chilling mystery. And in detective fiction this is what matters. Rukmani’s detective, a Tam-Bram named Ganpati Iyer with “a typical south Indian moustache” and a love for quoting couplets from Kural sets out to solve the murder of a rich Punjabi businessman living in Sainik Farms. The story holds together well, and the end, includes a surprise.

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October Coup
Mohammad Hyder | Roli Books | Rs 295

Hyder’s account of the last days of the Hyderabad State before its annexation to the Indian Union proves that that truth has many faces. In February 1948 Hyder was appointed as Collector of Osmanabad district. As a civil servant of the Hyderabad State it was his responsibility to maintain law and order in the district. In this memoir he recounts the border incursions and campaign of violent raids by armed militia manned by the then Congress party workers. He also recounts his encounters with the Arabs and Pathans and most importantly the dreaded leader of the Razakars, Qasim Razvi. Fascinating account.

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Treasures of the Thunder Dragon
Adhi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuck | Penguin | Rs 499

Between 1999 and 2006 Adhi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuk, the Queen Mother of Bhutan, made several journeys to different parts of her beautiful country. On her journeys, she says, she experienced, “enthralling landscapes, breathless climbs and knee-crunching descents. But nothing was more rewarding than the encounters with the people…and the generosity with which they shared their lives and homes.” Bhutan or the Land of Thunder Dragon (Druk Yul) as it’s also known, is often described as the last Shangri La. In Wangchuk’s account it emerges as a land deeply steeped in Buddhism and in love with nature and its animals.

(An edited version of the above reviews appeared in the Sunday edition of the Mail Today, New Delhi, dated 24 June 2012)

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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.

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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.

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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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Life in a Rectangle
Sujit Sanyal| Finger Print| Rs 395

In this delightful pocketbook memoir on advertising business in Kolkata between 1970-90s, ad guru Sujit Sanyal, recalls the advertising agencies, the ideas and the people that shaped the industry in its incumbency. He talks extensively of Clarion (Satyajit Ray started his career at the agency, the communist student leader Prasanta Sanyal was its managing director) as well as its campaigns (the agency designed the first ever campaign for a political party in 1977 – ‘You vote for yourself when you vote for Congress’). But not only. Other agencies also get a mention, as do the people that headed them. An absorbing read, whether you are an ad man or a lay reader.

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Mahabharata
Shiv K Kumar| Harper Collins|Rs 399

“One wonders,” says Prof Kumar, “why most versions of the Mahabharata do not visualise its potential as a story rich in poetic beauty and aroma.” While this may hold true, it cannot be denied, that the epic has been translated into many languages and in many imaginative ways at different points of time as well. The Mughals did it, so did the Brits. Like AK Ramanujan’s collection and retelling of Three Hundred Ramayanas, there is no reason why there should not be many retellings of Mahabharata. Each age and each writer brings his or her sensibility to the mega tale. Prof Kumar’s version is a welcome addition to the lot.

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Embassytown
China Mieville| Pan Books| £ 7.99

In this skillfully crafted science fiction tale, Mieville, looks at problems of communication and the potency of language. Action takes place in the future – in a universe formed of “homo-diaspora” where humans engage in barter economy around living biotechnology – a world where hosts speak only truth and aliens, lies; where subjugation and propaganda are complicit in the language. Could it be possible that language is not just a tool of oppression, but that it could be the instrument of resistance? Mieville says he deals with “monsters”. His imaging of the future of language, its role and power, is his battle with one.

(An edited version of the above reviews appeared in the Sunday edition of the Mail Today, New Delhi, dated 25 March 2012)

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The World In Our Time: A Memoir
Tapan Raychaudhuri| Harper Collins| Rs 399

One could view Prof Raychaudhuri’s memoir – parts of which have been serialised as ‘Bengal-nama’ in the literary journal, Desh – as a retelling of the modern Indian history. He offers enough anecdotes to relive it, yet what sets this memoir apart is the writer’s commitment to historical accuracy. The horrific mass killings on August 16, 1946 in Calcutta – that led to death of some 50,000 people – says the historian, could well have been orchestrated by the British administration in cohort with provincial government. For the first three days of rioting the police and army stayed away. Sounds chillingly familiar in the context of 1984 and 2002. If only the government would throw open the archives. But would it?

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Pilgrim’s India
Ed by Arundhati Subramaniam| Penguin Ananda|Rs 399

About a decade ago, says the writer of this charming anthology, she felt a need to travel to sacred destinations around the country. The journey, she says, was a shape-shifting experience till she found her guru. But the experience led her to seek answers in the scholarly and the mystical narratives of other travellers – a glimpse of which she offers us in this collection of poems and writings by ancient, medieval and modern wanderers and witnesses. To sum up, the hazards of a voyage are acceptable to some of us more than collective notions of fixity and life insurance. The enduring answers, after all, are perhaps found in the jugular?

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India After The Global Crisis
Shankar Acharya| Orient Black Swan| Rs 399

Written between January 2009 and September 2011, this collection of essays culled from articles written for Business Standard by Acharya, elucidates the Indian government’s stand on the economic crisis facing the country. The writer, former Chief Economic Advisor to the Government of India (1993-2001) was ‘deeply involved’ by his own admission, in the economic reforms of the 1990s. His diagnosis? The world crisis did not destroy us because our banks and PSUs were not unfettered like in the West. But we are making a mistake in rolling out social entitlements and bowing down to environmental lobby. All this is detrimental to investment and growth.

(An edited version of the above reviews appeared in the Sunday edition of the Mail Today, New Delhi, dated 19 February 2012)

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