Thursday, October 25, 2012
Thursday, October 18, 2012
Wednesday, October 17, 2012
I'm tired. I've obviously read too many mediocre Indian English authors lately, and when Once upon the tracks of Mumbai came my way for a review, I was prepared to not like it. And the book cover didn't make any good first impressions. But once I started reading it, I warmed up to it, and was soon immersed.
Rishi Vohra's unlikely protagonist, Babloo (or Balwant Srivastava, as I learnt in the last chapter) soon draws the reader into his joyless existence. Ignored by his family, unemployed and unsuccessful, Babloo lives the typical life of a lower middle class youth by the noisy tracks of Mumbai's local trains. But the greater bane of his life is his mental condition. Babloo is afflicted by a combination of mental disorders, that include Autism and what looks like borderline Schizophrenia. And this is where author, Rishi Vohra does a fabulous job. As a trained mental health professional, I would have found any 'fictionalising' of mental health conditions, unacceptable. But Vohra's novel is well-researched and it does not for once feel like he is trivializing or making fun of the protagonist's condition.
The narrative is mostly a first person account by Babloo, and the reader is witness to the kind of challenges even everyday living pose for the mentally ill. Vohra very realistically sprinkles the 'blank uncomprehending stares' and 'monosyllabic answers' Babloo gives people and the internal dialogues he has throughout the novel. The limited nature of his relationships with people in and outside his family are kept wonderfully consistent through the book.
The only exception is the character of Vandana, who Babloo loves and dreams of being with. Vandana is a sensible yet romantic girl. She is the only one who treats Babloo with some empathy, but cannot see his love. She falls for and is almost raped by the neighbourhood loafer, and much to her chagrin, is engaged to Babloo’s younger wimpier brother, Raghu. But an unexpected turn of events leads to Vandana's alliance breaking up, and Babloo finding a new identity. Does Babloo win over Vandana? Does his illness come in the way of him finding love and glory? With gossiping neighbours, a courtroom drama, love, heartbreak, villain-bashing, Mumbai's endless train tracks, media frenzy and even a 'superhero', the author keeps the reader hooked.
For his debut novel, Vohra has done a neat job with nicely fleshed out characters. The plot is inventive and the language, effortless. It is not difficult to empathise with Babloo, despise Raghu, hate Sikander, like Vandana, and generally admire the novel's easy style. The book is perfect for light reading and will appeal to people who appreciate this new crop of young, Indian authors. My only advice to Vohra is to find a different book cover designer when he writes his second book, and oh, think of a shorter title maybe.
Tuesday, October 09, 2012
Sunday, October 07, 2012
Thursday, October 04, 2012
Powder Room made me wait. Powder Room made me read (and review) many other books. I wanted to lay my hands on it the moment I saw it in the list of books Random House India wanted me to review. It came to me after a while, and was worth the wait. Shefalee Vasudev's debut book held this special attraction for me because I am closely allied to the industry and wish to crossover sometime in the near future. The glamour of this world, as Vasudev testifies, is undeniable, and I am drawn to it like thousands in this country.
Powder Room, however, makes people like me think twice about charting this murky territory, and therefore succeeds as a book. It means to tell the inside story of the glittery, dog-eat-dog world of fashion, and it does so without mincing words. Although non-fiction, the book reads like a story, with a generous sprinkling of anecdotes that render the near-legendary fashion personalities, real. She also, often, speaks of her own experiences as the 'misfitting' fashion journalist, offering the reader fairly intimate views of what goes on in the wings.
The book is divided into 10 chapters, each offering insights into different aspects of the fashion industry. Fashion, explains Vasudev, has many faces: a sales girl at a luxury brand's kiosk in a city mall, struggling female and male models by the dozen, powerful and experienced models, rich industrialist wives, young designers, old designers, fashion journalists, luxury brands, tailors and masterjis, retail chains, fashion weeks, Page 3, Bollywood, fashion magazines and artisans to name a few pegs in this complex tapestry. The author tells the story and struggle of each of these players to help the reader understand the rather large, and often ugly, underbelly of this industry.
As the ex-editor of Marie Claire, Vasudev has an insider's perspective on fashion. That she has written this book after leaving the fashion world has served her well, and helped keep the book objective. When she narrates the life stories of, say, Nagma - the B grade model, or Rohit Bal - the King of Indian fashion, Imcha Imchen - the young and depressed designer, or the Salvis of Patan - the last standing family of Patola weavers, it is all believable. The author claims to have interviewed about 300 people as part of her research for the book, and it shows in the extensiveness and conviction with which she writes about fashion. Whether it is the politics of the designer lobby, the marketing tactics of international brands, the poor conditions of weavers, the lack of a code of ethics, the gigantic egos of designers, she knows what she is talking about.
The book concludes with the author's disenchantment with the world of fashion and her eventual exit from it. Fashion journalism, Vasudev states, is really a sham in this country, where brands with clout and money run the real show. Powder Room shows how in this world of excesses, any person with half a conscience soon begins to squirm with discomfort. Yet the lure of its arclights is so powerful that it draws people like moths. Those equipped with the author's clinical detachment, swim, and those without, sink.
Read this book for many such truths.
Tuesday, October 02, 2012
Monday, October 01, 2012
(Image source: studiojuliakay.com)
I dream severe dreams
That brand me with fire
Dreams of willful fingers (yours)
Inking me with desire.
Your touch, it causes
ripples upon my skin
You’re smiling at the pattern
(for it spells S-I-N)
I am rooted, as the fingers move
stirring up a storm,
they tease, then please,
find their way across my form.
Dreams of lips follow
[I can feel my body jerk]
My throat parches, my toes curl,
My breasts swell, perk.
Your masterful tongue
Comes next, to speak and seek
My heart roars, my breath heats,
(I’m crumbling), my knees go weak.
I dream severe dreams
That brand me with fire
I am afraid to wake up
So fraught with desire.