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Posts Tagged ‘Pakistan’


Mumbai Noir
Ed. by Altaf Tyrewala| Harper Collins | Rs 350

As in the first book, Delhi Noir edited by Hirsh Sawhney that took Delhi under its microscope, Mumbai Noir tells the story of the underbelly of Maximum City. The book is divided by places, events and notions that have shaped its hidden yet, palpable neurosis. Employing the devices of crime fiction and film noir, the stories in the book are divided into three sections: ‘Bomb-ay’, which looks at impact of bomb blasts and crime that scars its body politic; ‘Dangerous Liaisons’, that charts the relationship between the living dead and the newly arrived; and, ‘An Island Unto Itself’ that unspools the dream city. Incisive, heart-wrenching and dark.

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In the Orchard of Swallows
Peter Hobbs | Faber and Faber |Rs 450

Hobbs is a gifted storyteller. In this slim novel, his third after The Short Day Dying and I Could Ride All Day in My Cold Blue Train, he sets a story of love and power in the modern day Swat Valley in Pakistan. The tale is brutal, yet timeless and as beautiful as the garden of life that it seeks to inhabit. A young boy, merely 14 falls in love with a daughter of a local politician. The boy ends up in prison to emerge 15 years later. Life beats to a different drum now, except for the swallows that fly – like dreams – unfettered.

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Two Pronouns and a Verb
Kiran Khalap | Amaryllis| Rs 295

Khalap is a brand consultant who by his own admission enjoys ‘writing, rock climbing and spiritual evolution’. His first novel was Halfway Up the Mountain. This is his second. In it he spins a yarn around three protagonists, Arjun a poet and photographer, Dhruv a social activist working among tribals and an Osho Ashram visitor, a German girl, Eva. The story is set in a Pune wada but moves effortlessly at one point to Goa at another to Mumbai and yet another, tribal hamlet of Nagpur. The three places provide the backdrop to a rather mundane, insipid and uninspiring love-triangle.

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

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Making News, Breaking News, Her Own Way
Ed. by Latika Padgaonkar & Shubha Singh | Tranquebar |Rs 250

In the 1980s, “Newspaper owners, all male, hired editors, all male, who in turn hired other males to cover politics, the economy and foreign affairs,” writes Shahnaz Anklesaria Aiyar in this collection of essays that highlights the lonely road women reporters took to break the mould. Men those days “… hustled in and out of power structures like the North and South Block, defence and foreign affairs ministries …leaving vast areas affecting human condition to be covered by women.” It’s been four decades since and some things still remain the same. But there has been change too, as the essays in this book attest.

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Delhi OMG
Vinod Nair | Om Books International | Rs 195

Over the last decade there has been a perceptible change in the way Indian writers are looking at India and her mores. Interestingly, many of them do so after a brief stint in the West. Suddenly, all that they grew up with becomes offensive and worthy of disdain. Nair, who trains his guns at Delhi, is one of them. The city of Delhi, he informs us, has pavements that are used by hawkers not people; has women journalists that are no better than prostitutes of GB road; and, has cinema halls that screen blue films in the morning shows. Need one say, anything more?

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Over the Rainbow
Paul Pickering | Simon & Schuster| Rs 450

Over the Rainbow is an unusual story about love and conflict that takes a leaf from the famous medieval tales of Amir Hamza. On the face of it, the story of love is told through its two protagonists, an Irish American pilot, Malone and a female Pakistani ISI agent, Fatima Hamza and the conflict is served up by war-ravaged Afghanistan, yet beyond it is a tale that’s much older, more poignant than anything that the West has known. In its pages you’ll encounter the Taliban, the American and German soldiers, war and brutality, as well as poppy farmers, Djins, devas and yes, good and bad witches.

(An edited version of the above reviews appeared in the Sunday edition of the Mail Today, New Delhi, dated 29 April 2012)

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The Coalition of Competitors
Kiran Karnik| Collins Business| Rs 399

If it hadn’t been for Nehru and Vikram Sarabhai, India may not have been the IT major it is today, says Karnik, in this highly readable take on the IT industry. Of course others also contributed, like Sam Pitroda, who is supposed to have told General Electric that if they wanted to sell aircraft engines to us, they would have to throw in USD 10 million IT software work into India. GE did. Karnik assembles this and other nuggets to describe the birth of IT industry and Nasscom. The book flap tells us Nasscom is upheld as a model. That’s a bit over the top praise for an association floated by private software firms.

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The Child Inside
Suzanne Bugler| Pan| Rs 325

The Child Inside tells the well-worn story of marital betrayal and its aftermath. A married woman delivers a stillborn child, turns away from her husband to rekindle an affair with an old flame. Only, it does not work. “Do you know how lonely I have been,” wife tells husband when confronted, “I feel like I am trapped in emotional graveyard.” But we are ‘a family’, responds the husband. Not exactly a cheerful plot, you have to admit. It does not help that the prose is gloomier than the tale and narration is as lifeless as the depressed heroine of the novel. The novel is billed as a ‘psychological drama’ by the publisher.

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The Flying Man
Roopa Farooki| Hachette India| Rs 499

This novel tells the story of a shady entrepreneur, gambler, businessman, political activist, journalist, fornicator, thief, dilettante, doodler and sometime playwright. He is born in Pakistan. But he could well have been from India or any other neighbouring Asian country. The novel penned by Farooki, her fifth, invents a memorable come-of-age immigrant. A man whose life moves as fluidly between London, Egypt, Madrid and Hong Kong as it does through his three marriages, shady businesses, invented personas and several incarcerations in jail. Sometimes, Farooki seems to say, to go “anywhere “ can lead one nowhere.

(An edited version of the above reviews appeared in the Sunday edition of the Mail Today, New Delhi, dated 18 March 2012)

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Re-Imaging the Indus
Samir Saran & Hans Rasmussen Theting| KW Publishers| Rs 495

This monograph, prepared by a Delhi-based research foundation in collaboration with the Lahore University of Management Sciences, looks at how Indus Water Treaty (IWT) is viewed by India and Pakistan, in each other’s media. To understand the discourse the researchers zeroed on media coverage of the issue during 2010. The study is based on news reports and features published in major English dailies on both sides of the border. The finding?  For Pakistan, the Indus river is synonymous with rural needs. For India, water is an urban infrastructure issue. Both countries are guilty of looking for engineering solution to water management, ignoring the organic nature and its symbiotic relationship with the people.

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In The Shadow of The Buddha
Matteo Pistono| Hay House| Rs 299

Tibet has enchanted western scholars for a long time now. Pistono follows a familiar terrain. His journey into Tibet and India is more about his own self realisation than reconstruction of the life and times of the 19th century mystic, Tertin Sogyal – whose story he ostensibly sets out to tell. Sogyal was the spiritual and political mentor to the previous Dalai Lama. Along the way, we are privy to the author’s self-congratulatory escapades – where he claims to have photo-documented the infamous demolition of Larung camp that hit the international headlines in 2001. We only have his word on this. The book offers us no facsimile documents or pictures to collaborate his claim.

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Opening Night
Diksha Basu| Harper Collins| Rs 250

“India is no longer what it was,” exclaims the writer of this debut novel set in modern-day Mumbai. The middle class Maharashtrians, Punjabis, Tamilians, Gujaratis and Biharis living around Dadar are nice but “they aren’t particularly interesting”. The place to be is Bandra, where there is a “high concentration of good looking people” and where instead of silk saris “middle aged Indian ladies in short skirts and tank tops mingle with hipsters”. There is more: odd plus handsome equals charming, she says, while odd and ugly is creepy. It’s heartening that the writer is pursuing a course in creative writing – who knows, her next offering may be more worth our while.

(An edited version of the above reviews was published in the Sunday edition of the Mail Today, New Delhi, dated 5 February 2012)

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Two Fates: The Story of My Divorce
Judy Balan| Westland| 199 pp, Rs 150

Two Fates is a puerile romp that’s as breezy, infantile and forgettable as a Bollywood teenage flick. The writing as imaginative as the aspirations of the pushy writer, “Judy is a single mother who has no real achievements to her credit…Two Fates is her first book through which she hopes to become famous, sell movie rights and fight with Amir Khan.” And yes, she has website and claims to write ‘other stuff’ like reviews, interviews and stories, no not for boring newspapers or magazines, but (how cute!) for her five year old girl. What she would really like is for the world to get over Carrie Bradshaw and give her a column. Any takers?

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Indian Defence: Crises & Challenges
Dr NC Asthana & Dr Anjali Nirmal| Pointer Publishers| pp 356, Rs 2400

In this book on comparative strength and weaknesses of Indian, Pakistani and Chinese military might, an IPS officer tells us that the whole world is impotent in front of US might. The Chinese are ruthless and Pakistan is desperate. And we, we lack a national character and are easily waylaid by media and politicians who at a drop of a hat turn peaceniks. Asthana received the President’s Police Medal for Distinguished Service in 2011, has served as IG CRPF Kashmir and IGP CoBRA. He describes himself as the last polymath, hates sports, which he considers juvenile but practices kickboxing and enjoys doing bench presses. Together with his wife they have authored 16 books.

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The Perfect World
Priya Kumar| Embassy Books| 319 pp, Rs 275

The incredible changes that have taken place across the world can be disturbing, elating and confusing all at the same time. The uncertainty of where we may be heading as people, society and individuals can be unsettling. Inter-personal relations come under stress, as does our approach to the work we chose to do. Increasingly we are confronted with a neurosis that can be destructive and self-defeating. In India the tradition has been to seek out gurus to pull us out of life’s spiral. The west falls back on what it calls self-help books and ‘motivational speakers’. Priya the darling of Punjabi NRIs is one of them.

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War of the Worldviews
Deepak Chopra & Leaonard Mlodinow| Rider Books| 315 pp, Price not mentioned

Which worldview is right? Does science describe the universe or do ancient practices like meditation unravel mysteries that are beyond the worldview of science? Deepak Chopra the most famous student of Guru Maharishi Yogi and Leonard Mlodinov, professor at the Caltech take diverse positions on the evolution of the universe, quantum physics and neuroscience. This book has evoked intense reactions. There are those who see Chopra as a man who has repackaged Jiddu Krishnamurthy’s philosophy and mixed it with psedo science and pop psychology, and those who revere him as a new age guru. Mlodinov, a famous physicist and writer who has co-authored book with Stephen Hawkins – besides scripting the cult Star Trek: The Next Generation – allege some, has been duped by marketing agents into co-authoring this book.

(An edited version of the above reviews appeared in the Sunday edition of the Mail Today, New Delhi, dated 18 December 2011)

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“How can you talk of tourism in Kashmir?” asked my Kashmiri friend, incredulity writ large into the question.

I am aboard the Kingfisher flight. Outside the cabin window sheathed in snow, the Pir Panjal range rumbles past. It’s a 45 minute hop across these mountains from New Delhi to Srinagar. A hop from the land of the free, to the land of not so free. I am on one of the most challenging assignments of my career. Could this be the beginning of War Tourism?

“We are looking to explore the spaces of the mind and its relation to travel,” said my editor. I suggested skiing in war torn Kashmir. It’s an “extreme” sport in “extreme” environment, I offered. Two weeks later I am aboard the King of Good Times, keeping my finger crossed that the few clumsy ski rides I had as a teenager are going to keep me in good stead. That my knees don’t buckle and I don’t get snow blind or shot in some sudden crossfire.

This is my second time in Srinagar. I have been here in 2000, when the Indian Government announced its grand plans of launching the Kashir channel to counter the Pakistan propaganda from across the border. The city looks war worn, tired. I find the army bunkers almost at the same place I saw them last, only it seems there are more of them. There is an armed man standing at every 50m distance. Each one armed and dressed in bulky jackets and huge white snow boots.

My friend in Srinagar, a journalist with a Delhi paper treats me to a cup of Mocha in down-town Srinagar’s Broadway Café Bar. Outside the café, men in uniform take turns to peak into the cafe’s wood paneled interiors.

Soon I am in Gulmarg, among the tall ones and a posse of army men guarding the venue of forthcoming 5th Winter Games. Gulmarg is barely an hour’s drive from Srinagar. The National Highway cutting through the countryside, reveals a sad picture.

Abandoned houses, burnt homesteads, dilapidated shops, army jeep junkyards and logged forests. The army is everywhere. On the doorstep. On the streets. On the field. On top of houses. People under siege. In last ten years 8,000 people from villages have disappeared, every Kashmiri is psychologically scarred by blood and gore. The poets are wailing. A unique civilization is being driven into graves…graves with no names. Just numbers.

Next day dawns bright and sunny inviting me to take wings. After negotiating a few wired fields, I hop over to Yaseen’s to equip myself in ski gear. Then we hit the slopes.

I slide, hang loose and let myself glide effortlessly through mountain walls dressed in fine powder snow. “Ski to hell,” say the ski-bums. I push myself harder catch speed, zipping through the trees…fear comes as I slide to a close, a few feet away from a barbed wire cutting through the clump of trees.

Kosovo has declared independence. “After Kosowo, Kashmir” someone whispers hopefully. I flip through the local English daily from Srinagar, Greater Kashmir. The AP picture printed on the first fold of the newspaper shows Kosovars celebrating independence as they wave Kosovian and American flags. I am surprised at the presence of the stripes and joy with which they are being unfurled. Kosovo is important to America for its recently established military base in the eastern Mediterranean, should Muslim Greece or Turkey prove unreliable allies in the future. But who is thinking of tomorrow, if today is getting unfurled on short-term happiness?

Since 1947 Kashmir has been asking for people’s referendum to decide its choice of rule It has looked to Pakistan and through it at the United Nations and America, to help its journey to self determination.

“After Kosovo, Kashmir?” Who knows? In the vastness of nature and the richness of its bounty, the cities have no borders and nations have no name. There is nothing to stop your roaming heart from dropping 10 feet to arch a snow line. Here war minds appear small and horizon, endless.

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