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Archive for the ‘Poetry’ Category


Arvind Krishna Mehrotra: Collected Poems
Introduction by Amit Chaudhuri | Penguin | Rs 350

Screen Shot 2015-01-11 at 8.29.21 PMIt’s a delight to see Penguin bring out a collection of poems by Arvind Krishna Mehrotra covering the period from 1960s to the present. It includes not only his own poems but also his translation of Prakrit love poetry, Kabir’s ‘dohas’ and string of Hindi, Bengali and Gujarati contemporary poets such as Nirala, Gajanan Madhav Muktibodh, Adil Mansuri and Shakti Chattopadhyay. Wish there was more – as Mehrotra invokes Kabir, “There is enough ink/To fill the seven seas,/Enough paper/To cover the hills,/It won’t even do/For the first verse, says Kabir.”

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When Google Met Wikileaks
Julian Assange | Navanya | Rs 295

Screen Shot 2015-01-11 at 8.28.49 PM“Nobody wants to acknowledge that Google has grown big and bad. But it has. The firm’s geopolitical aspirations are firmly enmeshed within the foreign policy agenda of the world’s largest superpower,” warns a blurb on the back flap. Julian Assange, the founder of Wikileaks, knows a thing or two about this having met Google’s chairman, Eric Schmidt while living under house arrest in London. He says people, “Don’t appreciate how much large technology firms can threaten the liberty of individuals” and they don’t really understand what Google can do, if it turns rogue. Frightening.

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Young Turks
Shareen Bhan & Syna Dehnugara | Random House | Rs 599

Screen Shot 2015-01-11 at 8.29.08 PMAnchor and series editor of ‘Young Turks’ on CNBC-TV18, Shareen Bhan, says that in the last 15 years she has met people who have the ‘courage and tenacity to think differently, think big, and challenge the status quo’. In this book she selects 13 such entrepreneurs. The list includes a mobile data base company, bus ticketing firm, online retailers, internet marriage bureau and digital asset managers. There is not a single woman entrepreneur among them. The tech industry in India, it seems , is driven by the same fund traditional businesses are. Men invest in men.

(The above reviews appeared in Sunday edition of the Mail Today, New Delhi, dated 14 December 2014.)

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Eating God
Ed. by Arundhathi Subramaniam | Penguin | Rs 599

Screen Shot 2015-01-11 at 7.48.47 PMThere is no better way to introduce this anthology of Bhakti poetry than to hear the editor, Arundhathi Subramaniam, brief us about it, “Bhakti poems offer sanctuary, companionship, illumination – signposts on what often is turbulent and uncertain journey. They are reminders of the human struggle to give utterance to that strange hunger for something that we seem perennially on the verge of apprehending – the mystery that…is totally foreign to us, but [with which] we are completely at home.” You’ll find many voices here – geographical, social, linguistic, psychological and historical. Each one sings a song.

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Sardarji & Other Stories
Khwaja Ahmad Abbas | Om Books | Rs 295

Screen Shot 2015-01-11 at 7.48.33 PM“The strength of your short stories my dear Abbas, lies in the fact that you have grasped the weakness of your characters amid their strengths,” wrote Mulk Raj Anand, the late doyen of Indian fiction in English, in the introduction to one of Abbas’ short story collections. Writer, journalist & screenwriter Khwaja Ahamd Abbas (1914-1987) is best remembered for his story, “Sardarji” and film scripts that include Naya Sansar, Jagte Raho, Neecha Nagar, Awara and Bobby to name a few. His short stories are being re-discovered now. This slim volume will entrance and move you.

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Powers of Two
Joshua Wolf Shenk | John Murray & Hachette India | Rs 499

Screen Shot 2015-01-11 at 7.48.18 PMJoshua Wolf Shenk, an essayist, author and curator based in Los Angeles, USA, makes a persuasive argument that most creative individuals work in pairs. The idea of solitary genius or locating creativity in networks, he says is only one part of the story. The other less discussed and accepted reality is that John Lennon and Paul McCartney, Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, Picasso and Matisse and many others worked or engaged as pairs to create the world most memorable, life altering and incredible things. There is power in collaborations. Time we acknowledged this.

(The above reviews appeared in Sunday edition of the Mail Today, New Delhi, dated 23 November 2014.)

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Fire Under Ash
Saskya Jain | Random House | Rs 499

Screen Shot 2014-12-28 at 6.34.45 PMIt’s “an audacious debut” says the PR blurb from the publishers. Is it? What’s audacious about this debut? Nothing, if you ask me. Just a PR word. Saskya Jain’s debut novel about Delhi’s rich meeting aspiring middle-class Bihar is a look at the class and regional divide that continues to scar our country. Caste makes no appearance here. Delhi, New York and Patna do. Jain’s clever use of advertorial hoardings to capture the signature tune of changing India is arresting. As is her ability to chain her characters to the architecture that surrounds them. As for the rest, she has a story and she tells it well.

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Skin Talks
Dr Jaishree Sharad | Random House | Rs 299

Screen Shot 2014-12-28 at 6.35.10 PM‘Skin Talks’ begins with several endorsements from the entertainment industry. The forward bears the signature of Amitabh Bachchan. The book takes you through the various regimens that help keep one’s skin healthy and beautiful. But the strongest pitch is made for Botox, fillers (hyaluronic acid) and derma lifts that are expensive and debatable. If you are the kind that relies more on skin doctors than home remedies, this book is for you. Whatever your age, skin type and characteristic, Dr Jaishree Sharad has an answer. Consult it, if you want. Risk, is yours.

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The Taste Of Words
Ed. & Transl. by Raza Mir | Penguin | Rs 399

Screen Shot 2014-12-28 at 6.35.21 PMIt’s a treat for poetry fans. Raza Mir, a management teacher at an American university, has put together an anthology of Urdu poems that he has translated into English. It’s a quirky collection that starts with Amir Khusro and ends with Gulzar. It includes many well-worn verses as well as some new sharp voices such as Ishrat Afreen’s:

Mera qad
Mere baap se ooncha nikla
Aur meri ma jeet gayi”

(I grew taller than my father/My mother had won.) Whether you know or don’t know Urdu, this ode to Urdu tehzeeb (culture) is going to charm you.

 

(The above reviews appeared in Sunday edition of the Mail Today, New Delhi, dated 2 November 2014.)

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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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Dom Moraes: Selected Poems
Ed. by Ranjit Hoskote | Penguin Modern ClassicsRs 499

In the introduction to the first-ever editorial selection of Dom Moraes poems, Ranjit Hoskote proposes a new reading of Moraes’ career as journalist, anthologist and editor, regarding him as an early but unrecognized trans-cultural artist. Hoskote emphasizes the less familiar Moraes, the non Romantic, who offered fierce testimony to the 20th century dramas of betrayal, slaughter and heroism as in this poem titled “Typed With One Finger”:

“Travel with me on the long road
into loneliness, where the hours
offer pardons to those still afraid.
Bursts of white and blue flowers
will surprise you in summer, with
denials of what is called death.”

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Bring Up The Bodies
Hilary Mantel | Fourth Estate | Rs 399

In her sequel to masterful Wolff Hall, for which she received the Man Booker Prize in 2009, Mantel takes a hard look at Thomas Cromwell, Secretary to King Henry VIII. In her telling Cromwell’s fortunes were closely tied with King’s second wife, Ann Boleyn, Queen of England (1533-36) who was subsequently beheaded. In Mantel’s controversial re-telling of the story, many of the events that led to English Reformation were instigated or manipulated by Cromwell. “I am not claiming authority for my version; I am making the reader a proposal, an offer,” says Mantel adding that Cromwell is “still in need of attention from biographers.”

(An edited version of the above reviews appeared on Saturday edition of the Mail Today, New Delhi, dated 7 & 14 July 2012)

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Sarojini Naidu: Her Way With Words
Ed. by Mushirul Hasan | Niyogi Books | Rs 395

In modern day slang, you could say Sarojini Naidu had the gift of gab. In the tumultuous years that she worked closely with Gopal Krishna Gokhale, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru (roughly from 1914-49) they called her “India’s Nightingale”. In this work, Prof Hasan takes a fresh look at Naidu by collating essays by PK Ghosh, Bina Roy and VV John, on her life as an orator and freedom fighter and a poet. The book also includes her essay on Gokhale and a selection of her poems introduced by the late British poet, critic and literary magazine editor, Arthur Symons.

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The Devil Colony
James Rollins | Orion | Rs 350

This sticky thriller on a tribe of Israelites cheated out of American future takes its cue from the author’s interest in the Mormon belief that that Native American clans originated from a fleeting lost tribes of Israelites. “While modern DNA emphatically disputes this, pointing to an Asiatic origin for early American natives,” he says there is no reason to disbelieve the Mormons, either. Many people would disagree with Rollins particularly since there was much friction between Mormon settlers and Native Americans in the mid-1800s, including massacres and wars. But for those who like to dwell on conspiracy theories, The Devil Colony is a thriller worth Delhi’s summer sweat.

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The Valmiki Syndrome
Ashok K Banker | Random House | Rs 250

In his introduction to the book, Ashok K Banker bemoans the fact that we seem to be neck deep in culture dedicated to the cult of self-help. “Dharma,” he says “was not a ‘concept’ created to teach the corporate executives the importance of business ethics. Yoga was not intended to be taught as an alternative to aerobics. Bhagwatgita is not a management textbook.” So what is The Valmiki Syndrome about? “It’s a set of stories. Call them parables,” says Banker. All of which answer one basic question: Is all life just about getting richer, sexier, leaner, fitter, faster, higher, stronger? Or is it something more?

(An edited version of the above reviews appeared in the Sunday edition of the Mail Today, New Delhi, dated 1 July 2012)

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RumiA New Translation
By Farrukh Dhondy |Harper Perennial | 165 pp, Rs 299

After Prof Arvind Krishna Mehtrotra’s seminal translation of Kabir’s poems and Ranjit Haskote’s mystical rendition of Lal Ded, comes Farrukh Dhondy with a clutch of Rumi verse. This small book apart from Jalaluddin Rumi’s couplets also packs an introduction to the Sufi saint’s life and work, a personal note from the translator and a Q&A. Dhondy says he was tempted to translate Rumi after reading a trashy translation on flight to Australia. “I looked for other versions. They all seemed to be written by new age spiritual freaks who took Rumi to be endorsing some mixed-metaphoric burden of wistful romance.” In Dhondy’s rendition, Rumi’s off the cuff ruminations are shaped as much by reason as by rhyme, word or meter. Each line, delightful and each couplet, telling.

He who spreads evil
 Is one who plants weeds
Don’t waste your words
Don’t sell him rose seeds.”
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Souls in Exile
The Return of Ravana Book 3

By David Hair |Penguin Young Adult| 309 pp, Rs 250

In Pyre of the Queens, the first in the Return of the Ravana series, Ravana named Ravindra Raj devised a secret ritual to acquire deadly mythical powers. In Swayamvara, the second volume, he chased Ram, who has been reborn as the great warrior, Prithviraj Chauhan. In the third volume, Souls in Exile, Abbaka Rani and Rani of Jhansi fight against Ravana to defend their kingdoms. Vikram (Ram), Rasika (Sita), Deepika and Amanjit are the super four that take on the evil demon. Everything is real yet unreal. The historical events are reproduced faithfully, as are major episodes from the epic, Ramayana. But the action takes place in modern day India – in Varanasi, Jhansi, Kannauj, Mumbai, Delhi. David Hair spins a yarn adding a twist here and there to accelerate the plot for the four super heroes. And creates a fantasy world that’s at once unbelievable and charming.

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Beijing Welcomes You
Unveiling the Capital City of the Future

by Tom Scocca| Riverhead Books| 367 pp, Rs 699

At the very onset, the writer notes that China has a lot of people. He then asks why did the International Olympic Committee grant Olympics to China? He assumes that it’s because the world wants China to join the ranks of leading nations. But isn’t it already a leader among nations? Scocca admits that as an American, he was in habit of viewing People’s Republic of China as a momentary aberration, “something that would go away if we refused to accept it.” Now, he knows better. Scocca spent four years in China, from 2004-2008 during which he wrote for Slate and the New York Observer. What he wrote finds its way into the book. As the book jacket honestly records – Beijing Welcomes You is “a broad yet close record of urban place we don’t yet fully comprehend”. In short, a bit of everything that a foreign reporter’s journal can hold.

(An edited version of the above reviews appeared in the Sunday edition of the Mail Today, New Delhi, 23 October 2011)

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