She – Ekla Cholo Re

First a due apology: I’m extremely sorry to the author for taking too long to read the book. Due to some personal reasons, I was unable to read the book and review it; I seek your forgiveness for that.
————————
she
The Book
Set in 90’s Calcutta, Raj meets Kusum(the protagonist) on a highway and gives her lift. On the way, Kusum pours her heart out to reveal that she is a transgender. The story then turns out a conversation between Raj & Kusum, where Kusum reveals her struggle to find her identity in a society which considers there are only two genders: male and female.

Writing Style
Most of the book happens in conversation, so the writing style is conversational and lucid. It is also the shortest book I’ve read till date: it is total fifty-eight pages and if you exclude the introduction & author’s profiles, the book is merely forty pages long; but that doesn’t mean one would want to skip the introductions about the authors.

An unconventional but important storyline is the strongest point of the book, but on the last page I sincerely felt that the book could have been made longer and better by delving more into the protagonist’s life. The short length of the book makes it like a sneak peek through a hole into a forbidden room.

Whereas the book scores high in the story and the ease of read, I felt that the book requires more proofreading. Few things I found distracting were: improper tenses, its vs it’s error, dead words, and not maintaining parallel structure.

So, for me She – Ekla Cholo Re was an interesting, unconventional, and a heart-touching read. The topic the author has picked is worth applauding. I recommend the book to everyone; because it’ll make you ponder over the stereotypes of the society which somehow inflict our own brains, too. So go ahead and fetch yourself a copy to adorn your bookshelf. But be warned, this book will make you think!

My rating: ★★☆☆☆

Eighteen: The End of Innocence by Sudham

Eighteen the end of innocenceWe’ve all been through it, and we remember it as one of the most cherished part of our life – the time when our teenage gives way to adulthood, the time when we try to live out our whimsies. This is a phase out of which none of us comes out clean. But then, as adults, we all term it as ‘experiences.’

It is 1990 and Raghu & Aadi, both teenagers, are high on life. One day Raghu starts getting mysterious blank calls, an ordeal of which brings him in touch with Shalini – a girl from his coaching who has also been getting similar calls. Before they could find out the culprit, they find themselves deep in love. And then the story takes you through the fun and anxiety of being a teenager.

Eighteen the end of innocence is a story of each one of us.

Eighteen the end of innocence is a story of each one of us. I’m sure there is some part of you in there. I found mine in Raghu & Aadi.
For me, the book was intriguing and a page turner. Keeping in view his audience, the author has intelligently kept the language simple and sentences short. One can easily finish it in a single sitting.
Sudham
My only grouse with the book is proofreading. Between the pages, I felt that the book requires more editing. I found problems with the language like exclamation marks not doing their job, dead adjectives, and sometimes the punctuation was not right. I feel better editing could have led the book to another league.

I highly recommend the book to the lovers of YA Fiction. I think they would not want to miss this compelling read.

My rating: ★★☆☆☆

Book Review: The Withering Banyan by Hyma Goparaju

Book CoverOur bookstores are garlanded with lots of ‘PS: I’ll slit my throat for you’, ‘My wife, too, had a love story’ and such stuff which surprisingly sells like hot cakes and makes to the bestseller list.

It is good, rather great, that people are getting more and more into reading, but in this hoopla created by cleaver marketing, the real gems often go unnoticed.

When Hyma Goparaju contacted me about her book, the first thing that caught my attention was the title: The withering banyan. I read its blurb on Goodreads, and agreed to read the book.

Somehow, Hyma had a great difficulty in making the book reach me, and I’m sincerely thankful for her patience and generosity.

Now moving over to the book, The withering banyan is a tale of rise of one Marri family to affluence and its gradual fall due to Schizophrenia – a brain disorder genetically passed along its four generations, which the members ignorantly interpret as madness, till Natya, the granddaughter of the Marri family, comes to the rescue of the family.

The tone of the prose is biographical. And the precise, elegant, and graceful writing of the author has nicely managed to convey the story. Also the author’s love for the language is clearly evident on the paper. In fact, I found the language as one of the greatest strength of the book.
Hyma Goparaju
However, at times the author has gone out of the way to describe things in detail, which derails the momentum of the central theme. Also too many adverbs and adjectives have been used to describe the dialogue of the characters, where even if you pick only the dialogue and discard its description, you don’t lose the meaning of the story.

But I highly liked the way the author has narrated the story, where alternate chapters have been dedicated to carry forward two stories – one of the past, and other of the present – to finally converge at the end to complete the story.

It was an interesting read. The story was good. The language was excellent. But I feel that the same could have been said in fewer pages.

So I would give two stars to the book (for the language and the story), and hold three for the length of the book and the adverbs and adjectives.

I recommend it to anyone who doesn’t read for a mere timepass, and also has love for the language.

My rating: ★★☆☆☆

Why do Bestsellers Disappoint?

Books

What differentiates humans from animals, apart from the tail, is that humans love stories. We love to hear stories and we love to share them. Say, you are late from the office and your wife starts hurtling carrots at you, what do you do? You quickly weave a story to escape the wrath.
Your mother finds a pack of cigarettes in your jeans, what do you do? You again make up a story. In fact, all our talks and gossips are stories. And this is why humans devised writing and books: to make their stories travel far.
We even have mastered the art of limiting them to 140 characters (on twitter).

So what makes a book work?
Sometimes I’ve picked a bestseller only to discard it within first few pages, because the story didn’t click me. The book wasn’t inherently bad, it simply didn’t work for me. If you go through the list of the best books of all time on Goodreads, you’ll find that each book has some one-star reviews. So for every book ever published, there are people who’ve hated it.
But the taste for books is subjective, isn’t it?

If a book has all the nuances of the language but a weak story, it fails for me. And if it has a story but the author’s inability with the words is clearly evident on the paper, then too the book fails to interest me. One thing I’ve realized over time is that the bestsellers generally don’t go well with me; and i’ve read many of them in the past. Now the ‘Bestseller’ tag is insignificant for me, and so are the star ratings. However, sometimes the books that have not the greatest ratings on the planet have worked well for me. Like Animal farm and The catcher in the rye.

So what exactly makes a book work?bookwork
Some books grow onto you slowly over time. Like, in my case, Animal farm. The more I’ve faced the politics of life, the more I’ve grasped the meaning of Animal farm. And each time I marvel at George Orwell’s capability of having conveyed so much in so less (The Animal farm is just 128 pages).
When I read Lord of the flies, I absolutely hated it; but slowly I’ve come to understand its meaning. I don’t have to re-read it. The book simply comes to me when I’m faced with tough situations of life, like a betrayal by a colleague, and it makes me realize that humans aren’t bad, it’s our instinct for survival that makes us do evil things.
I like such impact of books upon me.

So for me a book either must have a good story, like The Hobbit; or it should grow upon me, like Animal farm and Lord of the flies. Fancy imaginings like Twilight never work for me.
However, reading something is better than not reading at all. So tell me, do you read the bestsellers? Or what kind of books do you prefer? And how do you select your next read?

Book Review: Godhuli – Memoirs of a Zamindar’s Son

Godhuli

Isn’t it fascinating how you and me – a complete strangers separated by miles – are able to share a brief moment through these words? This is also how I got to know Mr. Harihar Panda, the author of Godhuli about which I’m about to share with you.

In 2013 Mr. Harihar Panda contacted me via this blog and shared that he was in process of writing a memoir and would like to share a draft with me for my opinion. At that time he was concerned if his labour of love would find a publisher or not, as most publishers were (still are) interested in bestsellers and not memoirs. I read the draft and I liked it, and I wished him that he would definitely fetch some worthy publisher.
Now fast-forward to 2015, I received a hardbound copy of the book. Worthy things somehow find a way…

I’m not a history buff. I slept through most of our history classes and in the final examinations I wrote the story instead of the facts. And this is how I read Godhuli too: ignored the facts, consumed the story.

The book begins with author’s birth into an affluent zamindar’s (landlord’s) family in a village in Odisha, and then the subsequent chapters move on to recount the lives of his family members. But along with personal details, the repressive zamindari system and its fall carry forward as the main theme of the book.

Godhuli is not only a memoir but a glimpse of an significant era. It is a personal narrative with a glint of history, and I found the writing to be emphatic and articulate. My only reservation with the book is that at times the details appear undirected, and even if you skip few lines or a paragraph, you don’t lose track of the main theme. Also rather than dedicating a chapter to each character, I would have preferred the story to carry forward in one continuous flow.

As it is a first-hand narrative of history, I recommend it to anyone who is curious about how India shaped itself after independence, how it emerged through the long oppressive slavery and reinvented itself. If you’ve penchant for history, this could be a good start for you.

My Rating: ★★☆☆☆

Bloodline Bandra – Book Review

Bloodline Bandra
I opened the postal envelope and felt the book in my right hand. A shabby cottage with hogs and crows idling in the front yard, a giant eagle about to perch on the roof, and Bloodline Bandra inscribed in blood-red on the top – the front cover captivated me. I discarded the other book I was reading and straightaway plunged in.

On the very first chapter, Godfrey Joseph Pereira – the author of the book, takes you on a journey around Pali – a rustic Catholic (Cat-Lick as they call it) village lost in the dust of time, a village which has its own taboos, a village where being black-skinned imply that you are the last fish in the basket to be sold. Around the corner you witness Bosco Big Stomach, Salt Peter, and Freddy Fakir taking an outsider to task by yelling at him, ‘Ah-ray baster, wot you mean men? Who bleddy told you dat; your stoo-pid fadder told you dat? Ah-ray, we are sons of da bleddy soil. We are da original pee-pils of Bombay.’

Soon you find yourself transforming into a ‘bleedy bugger’ of the Pali village. And as you meet the notables of the village – Lorna Leg Spread, Small Tree Big Fruit, and Carla Four Eyes you watch the village unfold itself and you realize that Pali is not a ‘yet another Indian village’ but a world on its own.

Then you meet the protagonist, David Francis Cabral, a journalist prodded by the success of his childhood friends who have made it big abroad, forsakes Pali for New York to live his American Dream. There he finds himself entrapped as a legal slave: not paid enough to return to India, neither able to quit his job. He is exploited by his own people – the people from his own country, India. Dejected and depressed, love comes to his rescue through Hatsumi Nakamura – a Japanese cello student who had come to New York just like David Cabral. But then destiny had something else in mind. David soon finds himself back home.

***

Bloodline Bandra is a man’s journey into a mirage and back. It uncovers the darker side of the glitter – the truth below the obvious. It is about love rescuing you from the torments of life. It is about hope as your last resort.

Beside the gripping tale of a man in search of identity, Godfrey allows you to sneak into the life and culture of the little known East Indians. And the characters are as interesting as their names.
Godfrey’s writing is fresh, evocative, and humours. And the tension and gravity of the story keeps you turning the pages. For me, the book is a clear winner. And I would recommend Bloodline Bandra to everyone, because it is unique, gripping, and an excellent read. Go ahead, grab yourself a copy from Flipkart or Amazon. And don’t forget to thank me because you’ll love it for sure.

My Rating: ★★★★☆

Our Moon has Blood Clots: The Exodus of the Kashmiri Pandits

The Exodus of Kashmiri Pandita
My father served in the Indian Army, and being in the Jammu & Kashmir rifles, he spent most of his life in the Kashmir valley. Whenever he came home on a casual leave, we the children of the house would eagerly wait for him to open his huge army rucksack. Then out of the rucksack would emerge souvenirs of Kashmir: almonds, walnuts, apple chips, basmati rice, and wrapped in a tight clean little box like a precious gold ornament, the Saffron of the valley.

One day when my father took me on his lap, I asked him: ‘How is Kashmir, daddy?’
“It is Jannat (Heavenly)!” he replied with a sparkle in his eyes.
“But the man on the radio says there are militants there…” I asked again.
“It is because everyone wants to grab the Jannat from India,” he replied giving a pat on my right cheek.

Fast forward twenty-five years to 2014 and Kashmir is in the news again, this time not for the militancy but for the resettlement of the Kashmiri Pandits – which our Prime Minister Mr. Narendra Modi has promised – in the valley.

I’ve never been good at history. And waking from the slumber of ignorance, I was searching Goodreads for an authentic book on the history of India post Independence when I stumbled upon Our Moon has Blood Clots: The Exodus of the Kashmiri Pandits by Rahul Pandita.

* * *

In January, 1990, hatred fueled by extremists and separatists made the Muslims of the Kashmir throng on to the streets demanding ‘Azadi’ (freedom) from India. Backed by Islamist terrorists, it out-turned into torture and brutal killing of thousands of Kashmiri Pandits. As a result, 350,000 Pandits were forced into exile to many parts of India.

Rahul Pandita, the author of the book, was fourteen when he was forced to leave his home in Kashmir along with his family. So what we have here is a heart-wrenching, first-hand account of the exodus of the Kashmiri Pandits. It is like reliving history through the eyes of a person who has gone through all.

Written in a simple matter-of-fact style, the story made me uncomfortable, at times angry, and between the pages I often asked myself: what impels a man to kill another man? – Ignorance, fear, or hatred?
Would you hate anyone who doesn’t dress up like you, who doesn’t speak your language, who doesn’t follow your beliefs? I still have no answer.

It shattered my heart to acknowledge that such heinous atrocities took place at a place most of us could only dream of, and more than that the indifference of our society towards the suffering of the Kashmiri Pandits appalled me – no media coverage, no NGO participation, and total ignorance on the part of the Indian government.

Vidhu Vinod Chopra
Vidhu Vinod Chopra (L) to make movie on Rahul Pandita’s (C) book.

The thing we are seeking here is not a literary masterpiece but the truth, and the book is written with outright honesty. The only thing where it lacks is the narrative – the narrative is not cohesive, i.e., the flow of the thoughts is not linear, rather at times it feels as if random pieces of information have been stitched together to tell a story. Therefore, I deduct one star on account of this, else everything is perfect.

I would recommend the book to anyone who desires to understand the history of Kashmir. Anyone who, like me, has been ignorant towards the history of our country but now, rather than following the standard textbooks, would like to discover the truth on his/her own.

My rating: ★★★★☆

An Unexpected Journey of the Hobbit

hobbit

I don’t like to read fiction fantasies. For it’s hard to imagine the unworldly characters, and you keep looking back at the perplexing relationship-map to recall who is who. Now, if you are a fantasy fanatic, you might be grinding your teeth. But I believed all this before I read The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien.

I tried my hand at the young-adult stuff, but half way through The Book Thief, I realized it was not my cup of tea. Out of frustration, and for a change, I picked up The Hobbit.
Boy, what an excellent read it was!

First thing you notice as you start the book is Tolkien’s ‘involving’ writing style – you don’t feel like you are reading a book, rather you feel like you are the Hobbit.

I’m a nature lover, and Bilbo Baggins’s (the hobbit’s) adventure through the mountain passes, over the brooks and streams, and through the thick forests left me with an awe. Many a times I even had dreams about all these.

Throughout the book, I desperately longed to be in the Hobbit’s shoes: ride the ponies through the journey, fight the evil, and in the end do the right thing and return as a winner. But then, isn’t life similar to the Hobbit’s journey? – The good, the evil, and the triumph of the good over the evil?
The Hobbit for me is a symbol of courage. And Bilbo Baggins reinstated my belief that it is the journey that matters the most. The end is just an end – it doesn’t has the thrill of the journey.

So, even if you are not an habitual reader, you should read The Hobbit at least once. Give it a try, and I’m sure you’ll thank me for it.
For me, I’m eagerly waiting for the pack of The Lord of the Rings to arrive.

My Rating: ★★★★★