Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Book Review: Paper Towns (by John Green)

What am I doing reading a book that is targeted at youngsters ? Well, this piece of literature by John Green, who is more popularly known for penning books like 'Alaska' and 'The Fault in Our Stars', made me feel like a teenager again. I picked it up in a Sale and just as I skimmed through the first few pages, I became hooked.

The action takes place in a high school and involves a bunch of teenagers, mostly prominent among them being 'Margo', the female protagonist of this story. She is one super cool teenager with a super hot boyfriend and moves around in a hallowed gang which consists of the hottest chicks. But one night of revenge inspired adventure wherein she chooses Quentin, an average guy, instead of one among her gang-mates reveals that all is not well in her paradise.

Then she suddenly disappears, a few days before prom night (can I call it an American fascination that refuses to die?), and her parents quickly disown her. We get to know that this has been a regular habit of hers. But the way her gang reacts to her disappearance tells us a lot about their individual misgivings and failings. One realizes the amount of stress and jealousy one must handle in order to come across as a super cool teenager. However, it is Quentin and his honest love for her that makes his embark on an eventful journey that will finally lead him to her.

Margo's and Quentin's friends make for a strange and almost crazy mix. One of the kids has parents who are obsessed with black Santa's to such a dubious extent that they hold a record for it. Then there is the nerd who has come up with something called the Omnictionary, an online reference manual, and his whole life is devoted towards it. Maybe it is Green's way of trying to portray folks as flawed or highly skewed individuals instead of prefect caricatures. I mean that is how most of us are when we are not wearing a mask.

While the plot may not be much (and hence I am quite reluctant of  revealing a little of something that is already little), this book raises a lot of questions that we are afraid of asking. If you know anyone who is about to step into his/her teenage years, please gift them a copy (that is if they are the bookish types coz a lot of kids these days are more addicted to games).

[ Note - There is some locker room talk that might not be suitable for younger kids but at the same time it is nothing that they have not been exposed to....Thanks to television and internet]

Thursday, September 24, 2015


The words seemed to jump at him. Startled, he looked around himself.

Everything in the room had suddenly assumed gargantuan proportions and the eerie moonlight only seemed to add a sinister edge to the settings. The life sized portraits loomed large above him and gave the impression of having their stares fixed on him. The fluttering curtains had assumed a life of their own and their menacing shadows danced willfully on the walls.

His eyes fell on the tribal mask and the play of light around it . It appeared distorted beyond imagination and a loud scream escaped his mouth.

Running feet. The door being slammed open. And finally, a reassuring click.

"Piku !! How many times have I told you to switch on the lights before it is dark. And please stop fiddling with the magnifying glass."

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Book Review: All the Light We Cannot See (by Anthony Doerr)

"Books are a uniquely portable magic." - Stephen King

And I could not agree more after reading this one. Of course, there are good books and then there are superlative ones. But a very few have that magical quality of touching one's soul and that feeling gets etched forever in memory even though some of the words get blurred with the passage of time.

A blind girl in Paris whose father works at the museum. A boy raised in a orphanage in a nondescript mining town in Germany. Why would their paths ever cross ? Had it not been for a curse, a mindless senseless war (arn't they all ?) and of course a few fleeting moments of love. Love that is pure. Selfless. Unblemished. But that is not all. These two seemingly ordinary people possess something more, something quite extraordinary in common.

The story begins in 1944, travels backs in time to 1934 and then inches back to 1944. There it lingers and blossoms for a while and then abruptly transports one to 2014. And leaves one wondering whether "All the light" actually refer to the sightless but extremely brave and gifted girl Marie-Laure or those blinded by their greed and desire for power. The mindless killings, the wake of broken families and millions of ordinary people plucked out of their cities/towns/villages, this and everything else that wars are all about. "Can they not see ?"

While the entire story is enthralling and holds one's attention, it does have some sections that are relatively more endearing. The efforts of the father to make his blind girl self-sufficient, his patience and ingenuity of building miniature models of the city to make her learn every single road, alley or building is something magnificent. And so is the girl's quest for soaking up knowledge.

In contrast, Werner's childhood is starkly deprived. But the boy's self-taught expertise ( or shall we call it gifted ?) with the radio and his desire to do something different rather than working in the mine, "Life: it;s happening beyond the mill, beyond the gates." he tells us, take him into another world. A world that is not perfect and not certainly not what he expected.

And then, the fleeting and haphazardly scattered mention about the snails. I especially liked the one in Saint Malo where Marie discovers a entire wall studded with thousands of them. At first, these bits seems like beautiful flowery prose that serve a purely literary purpose and do not contribute to the narration in any way. It is only towards the end that the author reveals their significance and leaves one amazed. Yet again.

If you love books, then this is a real gem. A bit pricey (Rs 899) but worth every rupee.

Monday, September 14, 2015

The Voice

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Everyone laments the Death,
the voice of reason is forever silenced.
No country for free thinkers they say !!

It dies a hundred silent deaths everyday,
the lone voice of reason in my head.
No home for a free woman I say !!

Monday, September 7, 2015


"Boki". The load rebuke sent tiny fissures of fear slithering down the new recruit's spine. And she almost dropped the large basket she was holding in her hands into the humongous wok as a cloud of steam erupted from it and threatened to engulf her. Lost in her daydream, she had carelessly tipped the freshly rinsed vegetables into the smoking hot oil without keeping a safe distance.

Kaki walked up to her and inspected the scene of the crime. But not before asking the young woman if she was alright. A few more words of warning were issued and then she walked back to her own cauldron. The lunch had to be ready on time and non of it could be wasted in bickering when the hundreds of hungry laborers would march in any moment now.

Kaki. That was what everyone fondly called her. A septuagenarian who walked around with a twinkle in her eyes and a spring in her gait, she had no family left of her own. Her husband had died more that a decade ago. They had moved into the industrial tiny town of Rourkela and set up a hole-in-the-wall eatery almost fifty years back. This place had kept the fires burning in the bellies of the numerous workers who in turn shoveled the coal the fed the insatiable appetites of the blast furnaces.

The years spent in the kitchen had sharpened her senses. Her ears were fine-tuned to pick up the slightest noise, with every hiss, splutter, crackle or splutter conveying a different message. And she possessed a sense of smell that could shame a grey hound. Whether it be spices roasted for a few seconds more than necessary or a few grains of rice catching at the bottom of the huge cauldron, she could pick it's scent much before anyone else could.

But she was no longer sure about her eyesight which had started failing her. And hence she was in a hurry to look for a recruit who could manage the kitchen that she had run single-handedly for so long. She cast a glance at Rupa, a hard working assistant. but one who had a lot to learn. "Will she pass the test tommorow?", she posed a rhetorical question to herself. She had trained and then tried atleast a dozen of them but none had proved themselves worthy enough to take over the reins.

Morning dawned, its brightness turned down a few notches by the coal and iron dust in the air. After cleaning the floor, the two of them sat on the floor chopping vegetables for lunch. Rupa was halfway through her pile of greens when she sensed that some of them had insect eggs and larvae clinging to them. She shook them vigorously and even beat them on the floor to dislodge the pests. She then proceeded to chop them and add them to the basket containing the chopped greens. Kaki kept watching her from the corner of her eye as she finished the chopping and proceeded to wash all the vegetables rather carelessly.

"I think the oil will be not sufficient to cook today's meal. Go and buy another can from the Old market. Get it from Babu's shop and ask him to put it on my monthly account. Hurry up. I will start the fire in the chullah's", Kaki instructed her assistant. Once she was out of the door, Kaki did not waste time any before picking the offending basket of chopped greens and threw it out of the backside window. She quickly locked the shop and went out to buy another bunch. Thankfully the vegetable market was in the next lane and she was back with a fresh bunch within a few minutes. Even though she had asked the vendor, an old tribal lady from whom she regularly purchased vegetables, to check it for insects, she strained her old eyes double checking the luxuriant bunch that had clearly been drawing nourishment from the soil a few hours ago. She then chopped and rinsed it properly and kept the basket in its original place.

Rupa returned from the errand and went about her chores as usual. The lunch was ready and bubbling in the huge pots even before the bull-horn announced the lunch break and the gates of the plant opened to let loose a sea of humanity wearing the trademark pale yellow helmets.

More than cooking the humongous quantities of food, it was tough to manage the crowd. Everyone was eager to get back to their stations after a quick meal. The duo continued to dish out the food in a frenzied manner for the next two hours. Only after the last of the customers had paid for his meal and left, the two ladies sat down to take their meal.

As they laid out the plates and helped themselves to the simple fare, Kaki noticed that Rupa had abstained from serving the stir-fried greens on the plates. They continued eating in silence except for a few occasional comments made by the older woman. Once they finished and had washed their hands, Kaki reached for a small bundle that she kept hidden inside her blouse. The small bundle turned out to be a red handkerchief that held a few rolled up notes. She counted two hundred rupees and handed it to Rupa. "You need not come to work tomorrow".

Rupa stared at the old woman and then blinked a few times. Tears threatened to flow down her face. She mustered all her courage and uttered a single word. "Why?"

"The greens. Why did you feed them to the workers ?"

A blank stare followed. Then she blinked again as realization dawned upon her. "They could never have seen the insects."

"But you could. And you still fed it to them."

Another one had failed the litmus test of character.

Thursday, September 3, 2015


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He felt the lone figure walk past his cubicle and stop at the coffee machine. The gush of water as the cup was rinsed, the clang it made when positioned below the spout,the beep of the coffee machine and finally the 'zoop' made by the hot liquid filling into the cup, everything amplified by the stillness of the floor during the graveyard shift.

It took all of his reserve of strength to resist the urge to stand up and steal a look at the lone figure who loitered near the coffee machine. Perhaps checking mails on the iphone.

Five minutes passed. Then another five. With each moment, his heart started to race more. Was it perhaps a subtle hint to join in for coffee ? Was it possible that the trainee had read his thoughts ? And had stayed back to confirm it. Or worse, was it all part of a plan hatched by his nosy colleagues ?

"No. Do not give in.", he admonished himself mentally. Just then, the footsteps started again. Moving closer by the second.

"Hi", said Ivan as he extended his hand. "Hi", Dave replied as he took in the beautifully manicured hand in his own.

Ivan's hand lingered for a few moments longer than necessary. And Dave experienced the stirrings of passion that began to rise within him. A passion that he could see reflected in Ivan's eyes. Passion that is raw. Primal. Unfulfilled. But most importantly, unfeigned. 

Choice ( 5 word fiction )

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Choice matters.

I choose life .