Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Book Review : Cometh the Hour ( Jeffery Archer )

First the lament. My spirits soared at the sight of the beautiful sepia hued cover. It bears the illustration of the Gateway of India with a couple riding a scooter in the foreground. Yes, the action in 'The Clifton Chronicles' shifts to India. At least some part of it does. But does it turn out to be pivotal ? Sadly not . What could have been a meaningful subplot is cut short rather abruptly. Reason ? Honor killing. Accepted that the year is 1971 and we have come a long way ( really ?). But do we need to be reminded of our 'illustrious past' ? One more added to the list. Elephants, snake charmers, child prostitution ( dare you get me started on this ), honor killings, and it goes on and on. Yes, I am disappointed that Archer did not make much out of that 'India angle' except for imprinting the image of 'honor killings' in the minds of a global audience. So, remember never to judge a book by it's cover. Point made.

Moving on the job at hand ( mainly writing an unbiased review ), this is the 6th installment of the Clifton Chronicles . I have been following the series from the very first book and I find this one to be equally good though Archer's suspense bits are tending to get repetitive. It begins with the drama surrounding the Late Alex Fisher's letter. It's revelation paves the path for Emma's victory and the adversaries being routed .

The plot includes yet another takeover bid. This time it is Harry' publisher and a much bigger publishing house.There is a bit of small time drama in this section but nothing remarkable. The indisputable big stars in this plot are Lady Fenwick and Giles with Emma and Harry taking a step back from the limelight.

Giles ends up losing his political lead with the revelation of the letter. But that leads him to embark on a daring escapade to help Karin flee the oppressive regime in East Germany. This is one of the most engaging sections of the book and helps to further the plot. At least temporarily. One sees the two falling in love and then comes the revelation. Quite predictable and even I could see it coming.

But the most entertaining bits are provided by Lady Fenwick or more specifically, her shenanigans . One of the most scheming and plotting characters of this series, she manages to stay in limelight thanks to her despicable ( and also laughable ) antics. The way she takes Cyrus for a ride and still manages to extract her pound of flesh makes one squirm at her moral turpitude.

But the most heart breaking section is that of Sebastian.  The way he falls in love with another person, woos her, follows her halfway across the globe and then ends up losing her is quite saddening. Archer makes up for it towards the end of the book that sees him reuniting with Sam and Jessica. But not without the intervening drama that is Archers's hallmark.

A good read that promises more action with the last installment releasing in November 2016. Hope the final installment outshines the others and makes it worth the really long build up.

Note - Do not pick this up if you have not read the earlier installments . The plots for the Clifton Chronicles books are highly interlinked and one cannot really enjoy them standalone.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016


Image courtesy :

"I still happen to think that running away and getting married was the better option", SHE retorted to Leena aunty as the latter bombarded her with statistics about how much her own wedding had cost a few years ago. SHE had been on the edge ever since she arrived at her parent's home which had been bedecked lavishly for the wedding.

"The vivid blue skies of Goa. A white imposing church with a fleet of stairs leading to the top. Me in a LWD and sneakers. Rohan in blue jeans and a leather bomber jacket. A no-fuss ceremony. And finally riding into the sunset on a Harley Davidson. I had it all planned to the minutest detail. But that was before the elders had jumped in and turned it into a circus albeit with the clowns taking center-stage in designer wear", SHE added to nobody in particular before storming out of the room. The over the top decor and the ever preposterously dressed folks were making her irritable.

Everyone had been discussing the weddings in the family and how the imminent one (her own sister's) took the crown when it came to the exorbitant amount being spent . Everything just had to be 'The Best'. Even if it came with a ridiculous price tag. "Poor thing. She does realize that there are no free lunches. Or dinners for that matter. Even if it is one thrown by your own parents. It can always be leveraged as a bargaining chip on a later date", SHE pitied her sister as she looked around for some respite from the crowd.

Finally SHE found a tiny balcony connected to the store room on the first floor. It had the strategic advantage of being located right at the back of the imposing house. Nobody could see her lighting up in that forbidden nook. As SHE inhaled the acrid fumes, the cold breeze soothed her frayed nerves. SHE was the one used to analyzing people and not the other way around. But it was not something SHE could avoid at the family gatherings. SHE was relieved that this function was being held in her own family instead of being one in her in-laws family. The judging would be much less but nevertheless it would still be there. The nicotine rush braced her for the pain even as her thoughts threatened to travel back to her own wedding.

SHE had known it. The memories would be back with a vengeance. The atmosphere of the house would stir up her subconscious and not just for the fleeting seconds of a passing nightmare. That SHE could handle. As SHE had been doing for the last few years. But living it out 24 X 7 was going to be tough. Could SHE do it ?

SHE had noticed the little girl crying and had beckoned her. The kohl smeared around her round eyes and the striped frock hugging the tiny frame gave her the appearance of a frightened raccoon. It surprised her that nobody had noticed the kid's tears. SHE could not spot the mother anywhere nearby so she had taken it upon herself to soothe the kid assuming that the latter was feeling neglected. Something that could easily be rectified with a small bribe. And it had helped. The huge chocolate bar (sneaked into her room by Rohan's cousin at his behest) and a beaded hair-clip did calm down the child to some extent.

But then the little one had talked between sobs about the 'bad uncle' who had hurt her. It numbed her at first and SHE was almost tempted to brush it off as some kind of story concocted by a kid's fertile imagination. Then SHE saw the evidence. The kid had innocently exposed the bruises while demanding a Band-Aid from her. "Don't you have a Band-Aid aunty ? Mummy always keeps one with her", the words flooded her brain. SHE struggled with a reply. But somebody had suddenly barged into the room to check on the new bride and everything was forgotten. At least momentarily.

Sadness. Shock. Anger. Hatred. Disgust. A plethora of emotions rioted though her mind. But SHE kept her calm and decided to consult the parents before confronting the offender. Had it been another place another time, SHE would have been leading the mob. But today SHE was the bride. And weighed down by strict instructions from everyone in the family to confirm to the designated role-play.

The girl's parents had decided to keep mum about it. And it did not come entirely as a surprise. What shocked her more was Rohan's reaction. He had brushed it off casually. And it was his continued camaraderie with his cousin which made it all the more painful. Doubt had crept into her mind. "Had he been the right guy in the first place ?". SHE had put an abrupt end to that train of thought. It was just the second day of her 'blissfully wedded' life.

"Ohh". SHE dropped the cigarette as the embers almost brushed her fingers. SHE had been consumed by her own thoughts and had failed to take notice. Lighting up the second one, SHE allowed herself to think about the little girl for the first time in many years. SHE had come across the child, now a introvert pre-teen, on a few occasions after the wedding. But each meeting had been short and thankfully did not allow for much interaction. But the mother has passed on the disturbing information. A steady decline in academic performance, unexplained fits of anger, a growing fear strangers and retreating into a shell most of the times were some of her complaints. The classic symptoms were there for all to see. If only one had the guts to look at it for what it was.

The guilt was all too familiar and it almost choked her. "I have failed myself. For the second time", the words were an angry lament as she snuffed out the stub and sprayed on some mouth freshener before shutting out her thoughts. SHE was determined to survive the ordeal for the next few days. And the random psycho-analyzing could only harm her cause.

Note - 1 out of 3 girls and 1 out of 5 boys will be sexually abused before they reach age 18. And 90 percent of these offenders are someone known to the kid.  This is a sad reality that we need to accept. In schools, daycare centers, in school buses/vans (especially those without female minders), in play areas within posh gated communities and even in the sanctity of their own homes, kids are a vulnerable lot as they do not realize the enormity of the violence to which they are subjected. But while these places are the usual suspects, most kids are especially vulnerable during the big family functions when they are exposed to loads of relatives. Yes, there is an ugly side to the big fat Indian weddings which we are reluctant to talk about. And that has been the sole objective of writing this piece. 

Read HERE to learn more about the symptoms of child abuse and the long term trauma suffered by the victims.

Friday, March 11, 2016


Our paths crossed every morning. Well almost. I ensconced comfortably in my balcony with my morning cuppa watched him bounding down a well trodden path. Invariably our eyes would meet at times. Mine full of admiration for his lithe form and boundless energy. His filled with indifference at the bedraggled monster staring at him. I wondered what irked me more about him, his nonchalance or my own laziness.

This continued for a few weeks with none of our families being any wiser. Even as I watched and even awaited eagerly to catch a glimpse of his sprinting form, he would slow occasionally down for a fleeting second to give me a once over before continuing with his routine.

But every day is a new one. One hardly knows what surprises fate might spring up on a particular day. And so it happened today. Even as I eyed him surreptitiously , he came to a sudden halt right across my balcony. I regarded his sudden move with suspicion. But he looked on beseechingly at the cup in my hand. And then he shook his head as if trying to figure out what I was trying to hide with the other. Maybe he wanted me to invite him for some coffee. Or even more.

Now of all things in the whole wide world, I just happen to be vary particular about my early morning cuppa. It is a magic potion that miraculously transforms me from an over-worked and sleep deprived maniac to a well programmed robot who can accomplish a hundred tasks (and maybe a few more) for the next 18 hours. And hence, nothing can make me part with it. Strangers or no strangers.

I gave him a defiant stare. And much in the tradition of roadside romeos, he displayed a blatant disregard for my defiance. He stood his ground and continued staring at me with a beguiling expression. The exchange continued for a couple of minutes ( or was it just seconds that my caffeine deprived grey cells had stretched into minutes ). In the meanwhile, I spotted a few of his ilk hanging around clandestinely at what they had assumed to a safe distance. "Greedy fellas", I mouthed at him but it seemed like he had made up his mind to stalk me till doomsday.

Preseverence can be a very powerful tool when used sparingly. And in this case, he convinced me to change my mind. I put down the plate that I had been hiding all along on the balcony floor. And smiled my approval at him. He made a move towards the balcony. And then all hell broke loose.

"Wheeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee". The piercing screams of my neighbor's pressure cooker shattered the morning calm. The reverie had been broken. And even as I cast a baleful look towards the offender's balcony, he had taken off. Discreet as ever. I turned back quickly to salvage the moment. But he was gone. The squirrel had disappeared into the thick foliage of the tall trees that lined the society's compound wall.

Image courtesy

Note - Living in the glass and concrete jungle that is ideally referred to as a city, we hardly get a chance to come in contact with other animals. While it is good to have a dog or some exotic pet in your living space, it is always important to live in harmony with nature and the indigenous species that surround us. Spare a thought for the squirrels or the birds that live in the trees nearby. Make it a point to leave out some food in a plate and some water in a large dish on the balcony or terrace if you have one. It is all the more important during the summer months. 

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Book Review: My Husband & Other Animals (by Janaki Lenin)

"It makes reproductive sense to be hot whether it's a neem tree, magpie-robin or a crocodile.
Or humans. "

Ok. This one is a laugh riot. Just the name is enough to put a smile on one's face. And I guess that is what caught my attention. Another one of my online purchases from Amazon, I picked it up merely on the basis of its catchy title, the black and yellow cover design and one fleeting glance through the blurb. Thankfully I did not regret it.

Penned by Janaki Lenin, who is married to a herpetologist and wildlife conservationist, this consists of several short length essays dealing with the couple's own experiences with wildlife (mostly reptiles) and some really hilarious anecdotes. Honestly, I am quite terrified of reptiles but all thanks to the author for making them sound almost angelic.

I have quite a few favorites among the stories, especially the ones that involve frogs. Imagine living in a house that has been colonized by frogs !! I can almost feel the author's pain as I am going through a similar hellish situation. I am having such a tough time fighting off the cockroaches that have invaded and taking over what I call my home. At times, it almost feels like I am paying the rent and the bills even as they have a free run of the place. ( And no, the Housejoy pest control services did nothing to help the situation.) But coming back to the frogs, the 'Frognapped!' story is a clear winner.

Strangely, the snakes come a close second. Being as terrified of snakes as I am, I can clearly visualize why people seem to throw their common senses to the wind even as they get a glimpse of the creepy crawlies. But burning down one's one house ? Or getting shot in the head while trying to pin down a snake with a rifle ? Incredible but true.

The crocodile stories are also quite ground breaking. One hardly associates these creatures with any kind of intelligence sans the kind required to catch a prey. But imagine calling a crocodile doing tricks that could put your doggy to shame. One is sure to treat these animals with new found respect after going through this book.

A thoroughly enjoyable read, it kind of conveys the message that it is quite possible to coexist peacefully with nature and other species. If only, we learn to respect that thing 'deliciously tangible and intangible thing' called 'SPACE' .....