Monday, January 18, 2016

Book Review : The Japanese Wife ( Kunal Basu )

A clash of cultures ? Or an amalgamation to cater to the preferences of an increasingly globalized audience ? Maybe a bit of both I would say. Kunal Basu quite manages to author a clutch of short stories that manages to make one sit up and take notice. While each story is cleverly composed and clearly not on the repetitive side, some of them are definitely more entertaining and heart-warming than the rest.

The first and most important one is 'The Japanese Wife'. Subtle, emotional and providing a view into a strangely knotted web of human relationships, this one beautiful and stands for love of a platonic kind. Nothing that we commonly witness in this age but nevertheless it exists and thrives in some corner. The relationship between a school teacher and his Japanese penfriend turned wife is extremely moving. And more so at the climax when she arrives to mourn the death of a relationship that has never been consummated.

Another one among my favorites is on a slightly more cheerful note. 'Grateful Ganges' is about an american who arrives in India to immerse her husband's ashes. Her stay in a Punjabi household is remarkable and filled with remarkable moments. But the author cleverly saves the best for the last. The climax which has her reuniting with her soul-mate is a moment beautifully etched in ink.

'The accountant' on the other hand is one strange yet exceptional story. The transgression into the past life of a boring middle aged accountant is clearly a refreshingly new plot. Though I wished the ending to have been different, this remains among my choice picks.

'Tiger! Tiger!' and 'Snakecharmer' are the other two stories that had me hooked till the end. Though very different from each other, both deal with death. And the void that is created when a loved one leaves the mortal world.

Unfortunately, the remaining stories ( 7 of them to be precise ) were just plain average if not extremely boring ( I did not finish 2 of them) . But that is purely my opinion. Some folks may enjoy the lang drawn philosophical bits in these stories even if I found it tough to relate to these bits.

Still, I would recommend this book to folks who enjoy short stories ( and the sheer freedom that short reading sessions provide ) !!

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Book Review : The Girl On The Train ( Paula Hawkins )

It is one of the best books of 2015. A thriller that kind of gets into your mind. Just like an innocent bystander who gets drawn into an surprising powerful vortex while trying to establish a passing connection with some stranger.

The story is about a girl who sees a blissful couple on her way to work everyday. It's just a glimpse that she catches from the train but proceeds to build up a fairy-tale around it. Just a recreation of everything that her life was or what it could still have been had not it been for a failed marriage and her drinking problems. But there are no real life fairy-tales and this one ends rather abruptly when the woman goes missing. Invariably, she finds herself mixed in the events leading to the disappearance . Only she cannot remember what it is due to a mental disorder.

To be honest, I found some parts of this book to be quite depressing. The lead character is quite sad, forlorn and there is too much focus on her drinking problem. While I have to say that Paula Hawkins has explained it very well but it kind of gets revolting and even repetitive at times. As far as thrillers go, this one seems to be more on the depressing side. In fact, all the characters are painted with grey, each one with failings of his/her own. Yeah, it is one of those books without any heroes. Only complicated and twisted characters who do not seem to be thinking straight.

The going back and forth between the dates is also kind of confusing at times. I had to look back a couple of times to make sure that I had the things in right chronological order. But the author makes up for every flaw with a climax that is as convincing as it can be.

A must read if you can handle a bit of depressing stuff. 

Monday, January 11, 2016

Book Review : Ramayana - The Game Of Life - Stolen Hope (book 3) ( Shubha Vilas )

This post was originally posted in my other blog Oriyarasoi. Click here to visit.

Have you grown up reading Amar Chitra Katha, the beautifully illustrated series that depicts the tales of various Hindu God, demigods, sages (rishis) and demons (rakshas ) ? Well, I have been lucky enough to have access to the series during my childhood days and the first half of this book felt like I was revisiting those memories. The glorious tales of the numerous combats between good (Gods/sages) and evil (rakshas) are described in such vivid manner that I did not even miss the wonderful illustrations that made Amar Chitra Katha so unforgettable. As with his earlier books, the author has put up very useful footnotes on each page which helps the reader to understand the finer nuances of the story.

The story of King Nahusha is one such story that I read a long time back. The pious human king got a chance to ascend the throne in Heaven when Indra lost out due to a sin committed by him. But the corrupting thing that power is, it gets the better out of everyone except for the best. Getting drunk on power, Nahusha soon starts coveting Indra's wife who reaches out to Brihaspati, the Guru of the Demigods. The Guru devises a scheme which entails that Nahusha would have to reach the queen's Palace by riding on a palanquin carried by most exalted sages. The Guru cleverly ropes in sage Agastya who is famous for his legendary temper. Goaded by the lust filled Nahusha for moving faster, the fearsome sage lost his temper and threw back the words that the king had uttered in haste. While 'Sarpa' is usually taken to mean snake, it also means 'faster' in Sanskrit. An engrossing tale indeed ! And this book is just replete with such examples.

This book describes the journey of Lord Rama, Sita and Lakshmana though the Dandakaranya forests where they meet many of the sages who pour out their sufferings to them. They move from one ashram to another, gathering the blessings of many and at times releasing others from a spell or curse. Settling in picturesque and apparently peaceful Panchavati, they come across the demoness Supanakha ( the one with broad long nails ) who fancies Lord Rama. Given his cool demeanor, the Lord initially indulges her but when her obsession takes a violent turn, he asks Lakshmana to stall her advances. This triggers a major war with a huge army of the demons descending on the trio.  A bloody war is fought and Lord Rama emerges victorious.

This sets off a chain of events which lead to the kidnapping of Sita. The manipulative Supanakha seduces Ravana's line of rational thinking by waxing eloquent about Sita's unmatched beauty. The demon king beseeches his uncle Maricha to help create a web of deceit to kidnap the hapless Sita, more to satiate his lust rather than to avenge his sister's insult. The elderly demon tries his best to dissuade Ravan from advancing towards his impending doom but fails to do so.

Most of us would be very well acquainted with the next episode that follows. 'Sitaharan' or the kidnapping of Sita is one of the most well known parts of the epic and one has much to learn from it. Succumbing to material desires and doubting a genuine well-wisher are some of those. The kidnapping is followed by the fight with the valiant Jatayu who loses his life while trying to rescue Sita from the clutches of Ravana. One is also introduced to the Vanaras for the first time at this stage. Shubha Vilas has done a fabulous job in detailing even the minutest of events that occur during Ravana's flight to Lanka and I learnt quite a few details that I was not aware of.

Lord Rama is distraught once he discovers that Sita is gone. Searching for her, he meets the old and frail Shabari who leads him to Sugriva.

[ To be continued in the next book .... ]

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Thursday, January 7, 2016

Book Review : Karna's Wife - The Outcast's Queen ( Kavita Kane )

(Groan). Yet another Mahabharata !! Yep it is, but can it ever go out of relevance ? For the tussle between good and evil, not just the ones in the absolute sense but the ones that co-exist within each one of us. is a never-ending one. (Yet another groan). But for now, you can just put the groanfest on hold. A refreshingly new take on the epic by one of the lesser known characters, this one is sure to hold you spellbound. As I have always maintained, there can be as many versions to this epic as there were characters in what is considered as one of the holiest books of Hindu mythology. A different perspective for each character.

Coming back to the book that I am about to review, I very much thank Kavita Kane for this delightful read. The way she has portrayed Uruvi is commendable. There could have been many shades to this character like Uruvi the daughter, Uruvi the princess and Uruvi the mother . But her sole focus is on Uruvi the wife. And every chapter beautifully captures or reveals emotions that can only be witnessed by a wife/lover. Love, jealousy, hatred, insecurity and so on. The author has left no stone unturned as she explores the gamut of emotions that any wife is capable of.

Relinquishing her Kshatriya status, Uruvi follows the footsteps of the man that she has so helplessly fallen in love with. Her sense of righteousness compels her to choose him over Arjuna at the Swayamvar, a step that only serves to earns her the scorn of the people that she grew up with. As the 'Pariah's wife',she discovers a 'cruelly superficial' world that she had not been able to recognize earlier. But to her credit, she takes everything in stride and finds succor with the man she loves. Till, the disgrace of Draupadi in the royal court of Hastinapur. That moment changes her life for ever.

Apart from her regular banterings with Karna, there are two chapters on the book that I thoroughly enjoyed. One is when Uruvi seeks forgiveness from Draupadi. And the other one is a discussion between herself and Bhanumati (Duryodhan's wife). Ofcourse, there is the monologue where she vents her frustrations at Kunti. 

The battle of Kurukshetra is well depicted with the inclusion of minute details and thankfully without indulging in too much gore. However, if I had to pick a single flaw in this narration, it would be the continued maligning of Draupadi's character. Is it not bad enough that the poor female was tricked into marrying five men by a mother-in-law that she continues to be dangled as a piece of meat in front of Karna ? The insinuation of being the 'ultimate temptation' sounds rather crass when hurled at this wretched woman blessed with five spineless husbands and who ultimately loses her five children in he war. The germ of  an idea, that of Draupadi's infatuation/love with Karna, was sown by Prativa Ray in 'Yagnaseni' and I am appalled that author after author continues to nurture it. At this rate I won't be surprised if at some point in the future, an enterprising new author would come up with the idea that the battle of Kurukhetra was fought to win back Draupadi who had chosen to elope with Karna ( something on the lines of the Trojan war ). 

Friday, January 1, 2016

Book Review : Kafka On The Shore (Haruki Murakami)

Murukami is a master story teller and in an exclusive league of his own. He manages to weave a tantalizing tale, draws a reader into its web and then forces him/her to the limits of one's imagination . Divorce any thoughts of a comfort zone and be ready to adapt to a style of writing / cultural shift which one seldom encounters. Infact the last time I experienced anything like this was when I picked up 'Dead souls' by Nikolay Gogol. And I am no conservative reader by any stretch of imagination.

The story begins with a teenager leaving the comforts of his home to escape a damning prophecy made by his own father. He sets off on a journey that takes him to a library where he befriends a young man. There he meets a mysterious women and discovers a strange connection with her. But even more strange is the mentally impaired old man who has an ability to communicate with cats. A series of unrelated events take place that seem irrelevant to the plot at first. But after a while, one realizes that they do propel the narration in a direction that can best be described as winding for a considerable duration before that sudden burst of clarity dawns upon the reader.

Such is the story telling prowess of the author that one is unable to read this book at one's own pace. Murukami sets the pace and often forces one to stop and mull over the happenings instead of ploughing through the pages. Kafka or the lead character is forced to encounter a world that is as vast and mysterious as the sea. The titles of this book evokes the analogy of a man standing on the shore while trying to comprehend the vastness of what lies in front. Everything seems so surreal that one still feels the chills ( or aftereffects if you may please ) for days after finishing this masterpiece.

Twisted is how I would put it. While I did try to make a few theories of my own and draw some conclusions to understand this book, there are endless ways in which it can be interpreted. And I somehow get the feeling that I will come up with new theories/analogies when I read it again ( which will be pretty soon ). Even if the climax is something of a let down, it is a case of the journey being more exciting than the destination.

This is one plot that unravels in layers, often transcending the dimension of time and space. Be prepared to cast aside your prejudices and inhibitions before taking up this wonderful read that will forever change the way you look at fiction. One has not experienced the apex of fiction writing unless one has explored Murukami's works.

This is a 'MUST' read unless you want something exclusively light hearted !!