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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.

*

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.

*
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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United Breaks Guitars
Dave Carrol | Hay House | Rs 299

It’s every travelling musician’s worst nightmare. How to make sure airline staff does not damage his/her expensive music instrument. In March 2008, Dave Carrol faced just that, while travelling from Canada to US on a music tour. The United Airlines ground staff mishandled his guitar case causing irreparable damage to his guitar. Of course, they refused to compensate. So Carrol did what no one had done before, he used the social media to bring the corporation to its knees. He did this by posting a video ‘United Breaks Guitars’ on youtube and proved, that at least in America, customer is always king.

*

The Governor’s Wife
Mark Gimenez | Sphere | Rs 350

Gimenz opens his tale with a quote from Edna Faber’s book Giant that hits close to home. “We really stole Texas, didn’t we? I mean. Away from Mexico” she wrote. Gimez follows in the footsteps of the quote and creates a chilling politico-legal thriller in which a wife of Texas governor takes on her husband and the political establishment in an attempt to save a life of a young Mexican criminal caught in a no man’s land between Rio Grande and the US. Gimenez’s ability to replicate the vernacular idiom and slang has many readers hooked. Question now is will Gimenez upstage John Grisham? He just may.

*

Wings of Silence
Shriram Iyer | Westland | Rs 199

What strikes one about this debut novel, is not the story or its terrible prose, but the depiction of a parent – in particular an authoritarian father figure who treats his grown up children as minions. Sadly, the author’s focus is on telling a story about two aspiring sportsmen. One wants to make it to Olympics, the other to the Wimbledon. What to say? Indians generally speaking, like to dream big, even if they don’t have it in them to make it to the top. Much like the author of this book who aspires to be a writer without even attempting to deliver a grammatically correct sentence.

(The above reviews appeared in the Sunday edition of the Mail Today, dated 12 August 2012)

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The Lives We Have Lost: Essays & Opinion
By Manjushree Thapa, Penguin India, Rs 350

The cover of Manjushree Thapa’s book The Lives We Have Lost, fronts a man, camouflaged by spirals of smoke, head bent in prayer in front of lit votive lamps. He wears a cap. Is it a figure of a nameless Nepali Maoist? Could be. But maybe it is not. The visual illusion, whether contrived or accidental, captures the uncertainty that dogs Nepal’s transition from a monarchy to an ultra left dominated democracy.

To Thapa, who takes a Kathmandu view of the events that led to the overthrow of King Gyanendra Shah and election of the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoists) as the largest party to the Constituent Assembly, the political old guard is ineffectual and Maoists a “shrewd” political entity whose greatest advantage is that they have a standing army.

In her first draft of Nepal’s bloody decade, sourced from the articles and personal accounts written by the author between 2002-2009, there is little that would throw light on the aspirations of the rural and dispossessed Nepal that spearheaded the people’s movement. She does, however, assiduously trace the timeline of changes that led to the overthrow of the monarchy and formation of the Constituent Assembly.

In many ways the book presents a one sided view of the events. In analyzing the decade of bloody insurgency and counter insurgency, she blames Nepal’s traditional parties for failing to rise to the occasion. “The eternal dilemma of Nepal is that it has to wait for the political parties to show some integrity,” she writes.

This integrity was never really displayed. Yet, as the author notes Nepal society underwent tremendous change. “There is a new lack of servitude, now, in the way Nepalis relate to one another. There is greater social equality than before, and some changed attitudes. There is new understanding of exploitation and a sense of being vested with rights.”

Thapa credits civil rights, human rights and political rights movements for this change. If it weren’t for them the country would have seen no progress. It was the civil society intellectuals that brought the term ‘loktantra’ (people’s rule) to replace the 1990s call for ‘prajatantra’ (rule of subjects), she says.

The high caste, feudal lord dominated old political guard that led the previous movements for democracy, most notably in 1960s and 1990s, though part of this change, didn’t exactly spearhead it. Through the worst years of the decade, the political parties – the Nepali Congress and the Communist Party of Nepal (Marxist-Leninist) – linked their survival to the throne, the Royal Nepal Army and India. “Only a handful of capital’s liberal human rights activists, journalists and editors spoke about systemic abuse by the state,” she bemoans.

Yet India, she feels, could have helped as it did in 2005 when it brokered peace between Maoists and the Seven Party Alliance. But it didn’t. Its covert support of the Madhesi parties – in an attempt to upstage the Maoists in the run up to the Constituent Assembly – backfired. The problem according to the author, is that more than the Indian foreign policy, it is the Indian Ministry of Defence that has been extremely influential in shaping policy in Nepal and in many ways responsible for what is happening currently. “A closer look at the Maoist victory makes it clear that Indian policy has harmed the very force it sought to promote in Nepal – in particular the Nepali Congress – and with it, Nepal’s peace process.”

Be that as it may, people’s movement for democracy in Nepal, has led to the formation of a new republic. It may not answer the author’s preference for a ‘European liberalism’ but it does echo the call of the people. And that in itself is worth celebrating.

(An edited version of this review appeared in the Sunday edition of the Mail Today issue dated 8 January 2012)

 

 

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Festive rearrangement


I have rearranged the content, removed some posts and cleaned up the mess. Here is hoping 2009 will have me writing more regularly on these pages. Have shifted poetry section to a new blog.  You’ll find its link on the right hand side. Bottom-most. It’s now called LIFE OF ME. The blog AGAINST THE TIDE has also acquired a new feature, a separate page called FRONT PAGE.  A collection of quotes from the Indian press – whenever, wherever I manage to key it in. This feature is located above the title of the blog, top-left. Enjoy!

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