Monday, July 07, 2008

Sacred Games by Vikram Chandra: Impressions


What more appropriately titled book could there be for me to be writing about this morning? Vik Chandra's (that's what I've decided to call him) Sacred Games kept me up reading late into the night till I finished the last of its nine hundred pages. Yet I was up with the first sounds this morning and have been awake ever since. Like Vir aptly put in his 'Good Morning' message : Sleep does not come to the anxious.
But it's more anger than anxiety that's been keeping me awake - or perhaps both. The anger is about an 'ongoing' wound - one that I can't dress, only scathe with. The anxiety is about not feeling anything in particular. Today is my last day as a Miss anyone. Tomorrow I shall have to cross the threshold to become a 'Mrs.' and stick to it for the rest of my days. Perhaps it is a big deal or perhaps it is just another day. I can't decide what to feel. Pretty much like the protagonists of Chandra's epic novel; pretty much like the humanness of Ganesh Gaitonde and Sartaj Singh.
In the backdrop of the city of Mumbai - the city that is a representation of all possibilities of the human situation - the novel ebbs and flows and with it, so do the descriptions of lives - each big and small in its own right. This is the city of filth and squalor, hopes and dreams and of course - a million sacred games.
A racy crime thriller with the usual mix of emotions thrown in, in the right places for the right effects, it keeps you hooked and wanting. Through violence, sex, murder, mayhem, and love, betrayal, friendships and estrangements, profound truths about life, Vik Chandra keeps his promise of sacred games.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini: Impressions


That I've summoned my pen for the third consecutive review of a read book bears testimony enough to the greatness of Khaled Hosseini's work of art. It also pleases me that I'm keeping to my resolve to never let another book be lost to time or memory.
The first day of reading the book was a 'weighing down' experience. Literally so. The pages drained me - the emotions asphyxiating me so much that even a small band-aid strip on my finger felt like it was choking me. So I shut the book, took a walk and came back with such defences that the rest of the book couldn't reach my heart. I quickly donned the - as I call it - 'scientist' mantle. Took to the objective standpoint and locked up the 'artist' in the farthest corner of my mind where Amir and Hassan couldn't wreak havoc on my heart.
But even with my defence of distance, the Kite Runner will be an unforgettable book for me, as it is for a countless others.
Hosseini's story-telling is masterful (a word I've picked up from one of the critics' acclamations on the book cover) but there wasn't much meat in it for me to identify with. Neither are my relationships with my parents so spun with tragedy nor have I had anyone I can truly call a best friend. The other relationships remain on the periphery and hence tug no strings.
But what endears the book to me is the style of writing. Oh, I relate so much with the author's cut-the-crap-and-talk-business style of writing. Kudos to a writer from another one (at least a wannabe). Hosseini's descriptions of the setting blend in so fast and so seamlessly with the plot that one has no time to start wondering when the colour of the sky and the bottle in the trashcan will be gotten over with. The language is refreshingly light, the sentences thankfully short (a skill I woefully acquire). And hats off to the way the book sucks the reader right in, whichever page you are on after a break. I also admire the way meanings of the Afghan (Pashtu?) words have been placed. Simply. Unapologetically. For this lovely read, Tashakor Mr. Hosseini. Thank you.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

An Equal Music by Vikram Seth: Impressions

Today there are no more pages of Vikram Seth’s An Equal Music to curl up in bed with. So, as one clutches at the last straw, I write about the book to savour my last bit of association with the book. And it amuses me to no end, as it doubtlessly will others, how I chose my favourite Parker fountain pen to write about it (yea, yea, before I typed it here). I think it really is a reflection of the high regard I now have for the book.
Seth’s An Equal Music can be summed in a no less a word than ‘delectable’. I don’t know how this word occurs to me as the most appropriate adjective; but I suppose it has to do with the way I have savoured every nuance of the book, found every bit of the experience delicious. The delightfully sensuous feel of the story may very well have been the inspiration. Odd, though, that Seth’s offering of auditory delights should translate into a distinctively gustatory one for me.
Every day I would look forward most eagerly to my time with the book. As one would save his favourite piece on the plate for the best aftertaste, I saved pages of the book. I didn’t read for more than an hour a day for fear that it would get over. But like all good things, the book came to an end yesterday and it has left one of the most lasting impressions ever. Yessir! This one’s going into my ‘favourite books’ list.
Vikram Seth’s rendition of the story in the first person narrative as the protagonist Michael is mind-blowing. Never has a fictional character appeared to me as so ‘real’. After a long, long time, I cried when the hero did and laughed loudly at his wisecracks. Michaels’s relationships with his quartet friends - Piers, Billy and Helen, with his Tononi violin, with Julia - the love of his life, as even with himself is so brutally honest in it portrayal. Through pages and pages that spoke about B majors and F minors - musical jargon that I have NO clue about - Seth kept me rooted firmly. Not once did I wish to cheat, skim or skip thought the pages. I was a compelled partaker in the world of Michael and his friends even as they discussed Western Classical music!
Another fascinating world that Seth so confidently led me into was the world of the deaf. The pathos of Julia’s condition is truly soul touching, yet one may not feel sympathy for her. So wonderful is the author’s exposition of ‘to each his own’, that one only emerges with a solemn respect from situations even whence the characters have suffered their worst defeats. Though vastly different from Ayn Rand’s style, like her, Seth’s book reminded me the undying spirit of the human who likes to love and who likes to live.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

The Impressionist by Hari Kunzru: Impressions

"The Impressionist in a good book with a bad ending."
If I had like, really less time and lesser still space to comment about the book, that is probably how I’d have summed it. But Hari Kunzru’s 300-something page novel deserves more reflection.
For one, this book - after at least the last three - had me coming back to it, and fast. That implies that the story is racy, the writing ‘light enough’ and the font size big enough!! Kidding...but seriously, I hate reading books where the whole bloody page is in fineprint. But, beyond font sizes, the style of the book is ‘if-you-know-what-I-mean-by-my-style-of-writing’.
From Pran to Ruksana to Robert/Chandra to Pretty Bobby to the various versions of Jonathan, the protagonist’s story souns quite real - quite ‘happenable’. But all the while I kept thinking what Kunzru’s reason might have been to have chosen such a string of impersonations. I believe that everything a writer touches carries forth a serious piece of him in the written word. Wonder if Kunzru’s ‘mixed’ upbringing with Indian-English parentage and an identity crisis that often is a problem with children as these, is partly the basis for the plot.
Kunzru’s rendition of Indore, Fatehpur and Mumbai in India and of all the said places in the UK are great, but Africa didn’t go down with me at all. It was probably my zilch knowledge about the continent or my non-interest in it. But isn’t an author supposed to convince you of his version, draw you in? Fotseland remained as foreign to me at the end of the novel as it did when the name was first used. But what completely grossed me out was the cannibal ending. The jump from believable to bizzare is so abrupt, it completely cuts off your relationship wid the book. Perhaps it is a little too extreme on my part, but the conclusion left me feeling sick in the stomach, with a bad taste in my mouth. If all Kunzru wanted to do is push the protagonist into a life of oblivion at the end of the world, I’m sure there could have been other ways to do it.
So there, what Kunzru had built up through his masterful use of language and storytelling was brutally cut off in the end. I love him and hate him.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Jesus Lived In India by Holger Kersten: Impressions

This one I couldn’t finish in decent time either and I took the usual solace in the usual ‘busy schedule’ bahana. But the thought provoking ideas of Holger Kersten were worthy of every stretched minute.

The bold note which the book begins with is nothing like it when it ends. The end result was that I couldn't care less if Kersten’s hypothesis seems to me proven or not. But what the book did for me was an entirely different deal. What was in it for me was this wonderful way in which parallels were drawn between the major religions of the world. Also the painstaking research that has been put in by the author to trace the common etymological origins of similar religious terminology is a treat.

For a religion and language buff like me, the delight at each discovery was twice as much. Reading the book opened up the grand vista to the evolution of world religions as it did to the minds of men who wield religion for power; a topic that has always fascinated me. My intellectual interests apart, the book transfused in me a lasting sense of unity on a ‘personal’ front. The challenges of an inter-religion marriage are many and minute. Its difficult to say which grazes what and from where stems trouble. For a Hindu woman with a Catholic husband, the idea of the possibility of a culmination of the two religions is ‘relieving’, albeit a far-fetched idea.
I’ve experienced smug seconds though when I almost believed that Christ was ‘inspired’ (Bollywood music director-style) by Buddhism via Hinduism; felt that undeserving sense of superiority over the other- like the naive ‘My God is greater than yours’ kind of a thing. But the bottom line was this pervading sense of unity, knowing that he and I are fundamentally the same, no matter how different our religious garbs look. Not that I hadn’t known it all along, but to see it reiterated in print seemed to bolster my conviction.

All in all, I’m too bothered with my relationship to be bothered with who lived where.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

New Beginnings...yay...WTF!?

God knows (and I do now) that new beginnings are overrated. I hate new beginnings. The warming up period, almost always, exceeds my limit of enduring idleness. I reiterate. I hate it. Since I last posted on this blog, there's been as many new things in my life as a person can be excited about. And with my 'non-enthusiasm' for the new, little wonder that I've not written anything about it. The 'New' list goes like this...
a. I got married
b. I got my dream job
YAY!! yea..yea.. that's what I'm supposed to do. I mean, hey, its nice and everything, but the acclimatisation takes soooooooooooooooooo-freaaaaaaaaking-loooooooooong!!! And I write today, not out of excitement, but because I am bored out of my wits.
When the 'fun' part of the wedding propah was over with, my self-imposed work exile needed me to spend hours and hours alone at home doing this glorified deed of waiting for my husband...sheesh!! Three weeks of 'housewivery!?' and I was dead-bored or rather bored-dead...and I grabbed the first job that came my way (needless to say, I wasn't really keen about it). So, the first week of that job was all about sitting around and waiting to get grafted in. So I warmed the chair eight hours a day surfing the net, staring out of the window, smoking, surfing the net and surfing the net some more, while my New colleagues walked past with surreptitious looks (being the only woman at work isn't half as much fun as I thought it would be).
Another week passed and I went about with my fake smile plastered all over my face trying to be one of them. Each time I was bored and tempted to never come back, I reminded myself that being an idle employed being was better than being an idle housewifey thing. The end of the second week got me an offer from this 'dream job' I mentioned earlier. I'm at the desk (or on the bench as the IT guys refer it to) of this dream job - my third day - and I'm (no prizes for guessing) warming up all over again. Aaaargh!!
So I sit here all day...tada....warming the chair eight hours a day, blah, blah, blah, blah...
And oh... I finally gave up on The Lord of the Rings yesterday after the first two books.. Why?...of's BORING!!!

Saturday, January 19, 2008

The Last Mughal by William Dalrymple: Impressions


After months of grappling with William Dalrymple's THE LAST MUGHAL, I finally put to rest the life and times of Bahadur Shah Zafar in my head and the near 500-'strong' page book.

Nearly four months ago, the book was bought by me to combat boredom at the airport due to an obviously delayed flight; and was largely a result of forgetfulness. The White Mughals by the same author was what I had been intending to buy for a while. But in the airport chaos, what remained with me was 'something' Mughal and instead of a fair maiden on the cover, the old frail Mughal of an emperor came home with me.

Since then, evening after evening- preceded by long days at office - I took one tired step after another through the palaces and bylanes of the Delhi of 1857 as Mr. Dalrymple guided me slowly, throwing often unnecessary references along the way. The learning and earnestness of research of the author though, is commendable.

With my patience, or rather lack of it, the journey seemed quite cumbersome more often than not, as the narrative moved back and forth from the confines of Zafar's palace to the cubicles of the different British officials' offices. Shattering the heroic credits attributed singularly to the 'Pandy' Mangal Pandey for the 1857 Uprising, Dalrymple etches with clarity, the confusion and the causes of the rebellion. But the pace of the book was like the slow sizzle of moist firewood - never warm enough for comfort, never cold enough for frustration. The book neither allows you to abandon it nor read it on with full gusto.

I often contemplated putting away the book for good and very often used irritating excuses of lack of time and tiredness...the bottom line being - I WAS BORED! But as I said, the book never let off the gnawing and I kept returning to it to find out the grim details of the falling someone's fortune.

In the last one week, since I came home, I took to the book and the book took to me too - especially the poor dear, Zafar. One cannot help but feel pity for the eighty-two year old man who is as helpless against his falling teeth as he is against his falling dynasty. Stuck between being the symbol of power for the rebel armies of Hindoostan and a dependent-on-British-pension; between the royal habits of luxury and the glaring reality of poverty; between his favourite queen - the manipulative Zinal Mahal & her son Mirza Jawan Bakht and his eldest children, Zafar is ground into pathetic grain throughout.

Dalrymple successfully makes one oscillate between feeling joy when the rebels have an upper hand and victory seems close and agony when the Brits bounce back and drive 'us' out. The narrative tugs at the most sensitive humanitarian strings and one cringes with equal disgust as the Pandies ravage the properties and modesties of the British and later the British inflict with twice the vengeance the same wounds. The brutal murders, cuttings, hackings, shootings and hangings make your stomach churn even as the stink of heaped and rotting corpses waft up to evoke nauseous feelings. The tales of courage on the one hand and murder and treachery on the other makes one love and hate humans at the same time.

Dalrymple beautifully sums up the book pointing to and co-relating the fundamental problems of the Hindu-Muslim divide and the Islamic fundamentalist-Western imperialist strife, making clear in the simplest way the most complicated situations of contemporary world politics...

Definitely worth the effort!