Friday, August 30, 2013

Wise Enough To Be Foolish by Gauri Jayaram

Title :Wise Enough to be Foolish
Author: Gauri Jayaram
Publisher : Jaico Publishing House
Genre: Fictionalised Memoir

It’s a candid story. Direct and simple, a tale almost any middle class girl who has gone against the tide of family customs and marriage and lived her life on her own terms, making mistakes and learning from them; sometimes not learning and making them again.

We are introduced to Gauri when her marriage is on the rocks, a marriage we learn of her own choice maybe more out of convenience, ease and friendship than love and inter-religious to the boot. What brings her to this stage, her struggle (if you may call it, considering she had lead a comfortable middle class life) , her journey from growing up as an armed forces child to becoming a true Mumbai girl forms the first half of the story. It is interesting, anecdotal and very realistic. Readers, especially women, can identify with it as the stories are very similar to their own.

 A girl trying to reason against gender discrimination and stereotyping in her own family, she grows into a rebel. Her coming of age along with the crushes and disappointments are typical of teenagers. Her strength is her intellect, the rare trait of foresight as well as a reasoning mind. She has amazingly clear insight as well as foresight. She then moves on to Mumbai as a college girl and we get a glimpse of her hostel life and work. This part has nothing new but refreshingly told and very entertaining. Her travails and travels and new people that she meets and befriends are interesting.
Again we come to the beginning of the tale and see her through the process of a divorce; which she handles with characteristic calm and intelligence. She continues her turbulent journey of self discovery and of finding true love and her own happiness and we are thoroughly entertained.

It’s a tale you can identify with. Many incidents and lines make you reminisce about your own life. Women can easily identify the gender bias, the stereotyping and the family pressure and the stress that a dominating relationship gives you. But what is most heartening is her determination to overcome everything and live her life on her own terms. The writing style is simple and flowing. The dialogues are crisp and the characterisation apt. Some characters though could have been more fleshed out. Also the men are given too much word-space, a little less about them and a little more about the other women and her work would have been welcome.


All in all a simple but refreshing tale which will make you introspect and feel good. A book that will surely tell you that pursuing your own happiness is not after all a crime. A good entertaining read.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

The City of Ember by Jeanne Duprau

Title : The City of Ember
Author : Jeanne Duprau
Publisher : Random House

There is something strange about the city of Ember. It is night everywhere but no twinkling stars and no moon in the sky. There are no plants and animals except for bugs and insects. It is dark all the time except for the yellow lights that flicker from the lamps in the houses and on the streets. Since there is no notion of day or night, the activities happen as per the specific timings. The lights are put out at certain hour every day indicating bed time and the lights are turned on after specific passage of time every day. Everywhere everything seems to be bathed in an ominous yellow glow but still the brightness is missing. Beyond the area that is lit by these floodlamps there is a black scary world that no one has dared venture into. In fact, some people did try exploring that part of the city but were not successful in finding anything after just a few steps in the pitch dark unknown world. The life has been going on in the city as a rhythm, or is it so? Though people have been living here for more than 240 years, it is becoming more and more noticeable that the storerooms are running out of supplies, things are getting scarcer by every day and the city is plunging into blackouts more often now, bringing everything to standstill. In short, uncertainty is looming large over the future of the city and its inhabitants. This underlying fear is getting reflected in the gloominess that is writ large on the faces of citizens of Ember.

One more school term is over and twelve-year-old Doon Harrow and Lina Mayfleet have been assigned their life jobs - Lina as a messenger, and Doon as Pipeworker. The lifeline of the city - the pipeworks are underground where a river roars and a generator works untiringly, illuminating the whole city. Doon believes that he would find something there among the pipes which could possibly change the doomed future of the city. Lina happens to find an old document titled - 'Instructions for Egress', (Egress means exit) in a torn state and along with Doon she decides to solve the puzzle to find the new world. These happen to be the instructions that were written by the builders of the city some 241 years ago to lead the people out at the right time. But clearly something went wrong in the way it was supposed to get passed on from one generation to another.

While on their mission to find directions out of the city, they stumble upon some unflattering secrets about the mayor of the city and his guards. Doon and Lina now face a prison sentence for spreading false rumours. Time is ticking, the guards are looking for them, Doon and Lina have to decide fast and act fast. They have to decipher the mysterious instructions and the task becomes even more difficult when they do not even know what do things like matchsticks, candle and boat mean. Will they every see any light at the other end of the tunnel?


'The City of Ember' is full of fear, mystery, adventure, and desire and determination of two pre-teens to save the people of their city. The narration is engaging and it is interesting how the strangeness of the city is unraveled slowly chapter after chapter. While smoothly weaving the flow of the story, the author very subtly talks about the 'want' in a person which often plagues any logic or reason that comes in its way. Lina experiences this feeling once when on seeing the colour pencils in the store which she so desperately desired, she finds the 'need' of a coat for her grandmother fading away. It was perhaps the same 'want' which had cast its spell on the mayor and his trusted people too, including one of Lina's friends. 

If you want to know what happened to the people of Ember, you need to read the sequel of this book - The People of Sparks. 

Monday, August 12, 2013

THE WORDKEEPERS by JASH SEN

Author: Jash Sen
Publication: Duckbill
ISBN: 978-93-82618-16-4
Price: INR 225

The book begins with an account of some war. This is followed by a letter from Vibhishan, the immortal king of Lanka and the brother of Ravana, of the time of Lord Rama.

A normal life of a regular busy teenager of the year 2028 is thrown topsy turvy when she receives strange messages from her mother and notices that her father's body casts no shadow in the mirror. A very strange sequence of events make her realize that she is no ordinary human, but the child of a 'wordkeeper' and is expected to live up to and act as per a prophecy. And she must rescue her mother.

Through the journey, she meets many people, who have, in their existing forms or their earlier incarnations, been characters from the great Mahabharata or the Ramayana. She discovers that she herself had been one.

Meanwhile, in the other world, in the world of the the nemesis of these wordkeepers, a handsome plan is being hatched to ensure that relevant information is collected and a trap is being laid upon the wordkeepers. This world is headed by God 'Kali'(not Goddess Kaali), the forth yug of the Hindu mithology. He has in his control, all the vices, the personifications of foul acts and all the existing demons and aims to become the sole God of the humanity.

A string of trustworthy friendships, bitter betrayals, family union, happy and sad phases, lead the teen-aged girl to discover something more about herself and take her a little further on the journey prescribed for her. And eventually, what has to happen, happens!!

An enormous eye keeps a track of all of her activities, until just before the end. 

It is interesting how the story, a very very common story of a child suddenly discovering his/her special powers (much like the characters of Harry Potter, Lexi , Henrietta and so many more in the contemporary fiction arena) is mixed with the complex story of the Hindu mythology, with a twist that incorporates all the other religions. (Kaalki, the last avatar of Lord Vishnu, is depicted through a Muslim boy here). Though the concept is brilliant and the author has done her homework really well, the final outcome falls short of the expectation that such a storyline would ideally demand. The theory of the child discovering gifted abilities has become too commonplace and childish to carry the heavy wight of the mythological tales. Though a racy narration, it becomes hard to convince oneself to read on and it gets too complex and ambiguous at places. 

A point I liked about the book is how the people, especially those of the other world, the Vishasha have been named. Dambha, Mrityu, Bhay, Vyadhi, Jara, Trishna, Shoke, Krodhe and so many more are basically the personified versions of the vices and problems we all face. For someone with a decent base of mythological knowledge, all this seems good, for others, it would have been better had a detailed glossary been give at the end.

A first of the trilogy, I think it is a fairly decent job. I hope the other two books are nice and make up for the loopholes in this one.

THE DEADLY ROYAL RECIPE by RANJIT LAL

Author: Ranjit Lal
Publisher: Duckbill
Price: INR 225
ISBN: 978 93 81626 94 8

Everyone is living a perfectly normal and happy life. Everything is going as it normally must for three friends, a little boy and a little girl. Only so long as the little girl, a princess of one of the still surviving royal families in India, decides to join a school, where she meets the three friends and the little boy. And from there on their lives go an a roller coaster ride. Only, not in an actual roller coaster, but on some of the most exquisite, expensive yet rashly driven cars.

These five kids decide to go on a tour along with the princess' uncle. There they are kidnapped and their attempt to run away from captivity only leads them into further danger. The only thing that can save them is the kids' quick wit and the princess' excellent culinary skills, which she has inherited.

The parts of the story are linked to one another so beautifully and the story literally keeps you at the edge of you seat. It is not so easy a task to put it down once you begin reading. There are times when all seems perfect and peace seems close, and... it is only the beginning of what would eventually turn out to be a real crazy sequence of events. 

From underage driving to dishes called 'sharabi suar ka bachcha' and 'angoothe ke beech ka murabba' to the most mouth watering aromas to the murky rivalry between the blue blooded families to the most dangerous car rides to sweet poisons to kind beasts and beast faced madmen to horse racing to a heartwarming homecoming, this book gives you an experience of everything. And this 'everything' revolves around a book. A single book. Well!

It isn't the regular kind of book you would like to read, review and put away. It is the kind you would want to read as fast as possible, finish up all your nails in the process, wonder, smile, close your eyes, imagine the scenes, smile again and go to a happy sleep.

Go ahead and read it if you are not afraid of scary adventures and scary captors. Not to mention that this book will be a very special delight for the foodies and those who generally believe in eating for a happy life.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Our Moon Has Blood Clots by Rahul Pandita

Title : Our Moon Has Blood Clots
Author : Rahul Pandita
Publisher : Random House India
ISBN : 978-8-18400-087-0

Rahul Pandita brings the ugly yet true story of Kashmiri Pandits who endured the torture from time to time since 1947 because of their faith in one way of reaching the almighty. In an ideal world, this reason for such brutal behaviour sounds so senseless and shallow but oft man has managed to put even animals to shame by his lowly actions.

Rahul was 14 years old in 1990 when his family was forced to exit their home in Srinagar during ethnic cleaning by Islamic militant. This was the time when the threatening calls for 'Azadi' from India by Kashmiri Muslims were getting louder, aggressive and violent against the minority population of Kashmiri Pandits. People were tortured and killed and were forced to leave their homes and spend the rest of their lives in exile in their own country.

As the author reminisces his personal story full of incidents of torture, violence, looting, exodus and unhealed scars, many policies and politicians stand disrobed in front of truth and revelation. While narrating his personal experience as well as those of others in the similar situation, he talks about the fictional mask that has conveniently been given to the facts to suit the needs. The narrative reflects the pain and suffering of the author - who witnessed everything first hand at a very tender age, who saw his parents mourning the loss of their loved ones, who saw a big part of their being dying when they became refugees in their own country, who still yearns to go back to his roots someday. This heart wrenching tale brings in front the ignored plight of a big section of Kashmiri land.

'For me, exile is permanent. Homelessness is permanent. I am uprooted in my mind. There is nothing I can do about it. My idea of home is too perfect. And home and love are two intertwined.  I am like my grandfather, who never left his village his whole life. It was deeply embedded in his matrix, too perfect to be replicated elsewhere.' There is yearning, there is hope and there is pain when Rahul says, 'We will return permanently'.

'Our Moon has Blood Clots'  is a sad yet compelling story about the open wounds of numerous families which became homeless and refugees in a matter of hours and days because of some mad fundamentalist  fervor. Rahul Pandita has taken it upon himself to bring the names and numbers of every person who bore the brunt of this brutality. "I have made it my mission to talk about the 'other story' of Kashmir. I have reduced my life to names and numbers, I have memorised the names of every Pandit killed during those dark days, and the circumstances in which he or she was killed. I have memorised the number of people killed in each district. I have memorised how many of us were registered as refugees in Jammu and elsewhere." This is his way of making people aware of the forgotten chapter in the history of Kashmir.

It is heartening to read that in spite of such extremely harsh circumstances, the humane traits can thrive if one so desires and Rahul Pandita owes his thinking to his upbringing when he could confront an army chief by saying, "I have lost my home, not my humanity".
A great book to understand the real blood-stained history of the 'Paradise on Earth'.
A brief timeline at the end summarises the events in chronological order for reference.