Thursday, March 7, 2013

A True Gem: literary jukebox

This is a true gem! We are so happy to have chanced upon this - literary jukebox 

Daily quote from a favorite book, thematically matched with a song. A side project by Maria Popova. Click and enjoy :D

Friday, November 30, 2012

A Purrfect Story - The Wildings by Nilanjana Roy, A book review

Title: The Wildings
Author: Nilanjana Roy
Publisher: Aleph Books
ISBN: 978-81-923280-9-6
Genre: Fiction
Pages: 311
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

There are perfect stories and there are purrfect stories. The Wildings by Nilanjana Roy falls is the latter and how!  Peppered with beautiful illustrations by Prabha Mallya, The Wildings is a modern-day fable where the good triumphs the evil in the end with some cat-networking and a savage twist.

If at first glance you think this is a book meant only for kids, think again! If you let it pass by then you would be missing out on a fantastic novel, rare gem in our times. Think again, Harry Potter was meant for kids too, but you believed in it and so will you in The Wildings!

Roy takes us on a fantastic journey through the lives of a cat-clan living in Delhi’s oldest locality’s Nizamuddin, giving us glimpses of their lives through many whiskers-twitching, stretching & snarling, and more. They live in perfect harmony, moving quietly through the back-alleys of the locality, away from the eyes of stray dogs and shielded from the preying eyes of the cheels. These cats live a so-called content life what with an abundance of rats and bandicoots for them to dig their paws into and relish. There is the beautiful, ever-graceful yet ferocious Beraal, a proud young queen, Katar the clan leader, Hulo the scar faced tom, Miao the blue-eyed Siamese cat who is the eldest of the clan and almost Oracle-like, Qawwali, the quintessential cat living around the Nizamuddin durgha

However, their sanctuary is under threat or so they think when a sender makes an appearance. Now cats have always been the mysterious beings. They have their way with the world, trotting on soft yet swift paws, living life to the fullest and never having to wag their tales at someone just like their canine counterparts swear by. So when Roy introduces the concept of a social network amongst cats and a powerful one at that, you won’t know what hit you. Yup, the idea is so fantastic that it comes as no surprise the billis of Nizamuddin are left in a tizzy!  A sender amongst cats is someone who can travel miles and miles telepathically, without actually having to step out of their dwelling space. They can tune-in and tune-out of other’s (animals only) conversations as well as thoughts too.

Beraal is the first one to sense a sender amongst them. She, along with other members of clan, thinks it’s best to silence the sender forever. But her hunt for the sender brings her face-to-face with a tiny orange fur ball kitten who is unaware of her powers as a sender. While the older feline pities the little one, she knows she must make the kill. However, when Mara spots Beraal she is delighted much to the discomfiture of the older feline who was assigned to kill the kitten.

Unlike the Wildings, Mara loves being inside; orphaned when her eyes were barely opened, she misses her mother’s warmth but feels secure in the bigfeet’s home who have adopted her as their pet.  Having adapted comfortably, Mara lives to gorge on fresh milk in her bowl, fish and other goodies served by her owner. While she has toys to play with, she misses being around other cats. Unknown to her, it is her fate that brings the little kitten to Nizamuddin as a sender and powerful one at that, when the Wildings really need one!

Ozy and Mara
Eventually, Beraal befriends Mara and promises to teach Mara the delicate nuances of controlling her ‘sending’ without disturbing the neighbourhood. Her teachings help Mara travel far and wide into the cage of a might royal Bengal tiger – Ozymandious. She soon forges friendship with the tiger family.

While Mara’s story is fascinating, there is a lot more going on around Nizamuddin, especially within the dark confines of the shuttered house. The shuttered house is off limits for Wildings venturing out on their own. 

The house reeks of death. There is a peculiar feeling about the house which sucks the very life out of the cats and this only means one thing – grave danger. While the Wildings try hard and steer clear from this feral place, they can sense there is a war brewing.

Life is different inside the shuttered house. The dilapidated house, owned by an ailing old man shelters cats who have never seen the light of day. Some of them were born inside while came seeking shelter, never ventured into the outside world. So while they are cats just like the Wildings, something within them twisted to the dark side a long time ago.

Here is where one can see the difference between cute-cuddly furry cats and the ones whose only aim is to kill. It is the strong animal instinct that comes into play here - The Wildings vs. the Ferals (cats from the shuttered house). While one may question that every animal has an instinct to kill, there is a difference. With the Wildings, they kill when required else they maintain a truce amongst other creatures they live with. On the other hand, the Ferals have never lived amongst other creatures and think of everything alive as ‘meat’. Hence, they kill because they can.

Ozy roaring...
Finally, a war breaks loose with Datura leading the Ferals and Katar and Beraal leading the Wildings. Miao, Dastaan, and Hulo everyone plays their part. Unfortunately many lives are lost and the Wildings have almost given up but the little orange kitten saves the day when she manages to get Ozymandious – the great royal Bengal tiger to Nizamuddin.

P.S: there is more to Mara in the book than I have revealed here. I don’t want to ruin the delicious morsels so that you can read and relish them at leisure. It is definitely a book you can curl up or snuggle with, under your blanket in this chilly yet romantic climate!

And of course, I am in love with Beraal. Beautiful name for a beautiful cat!

Bookworm’s rating: 5/5 bookworms

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Book Review - Boats on Land by Janice Pariat

There are some books you read, just like that and books that you cherish and never go back to reading. However, Janice Pariat’s Boats on Land is a book that belongs to a different league. Once you are done reading the stories will continue to play in your head, unraveling just like a film.

A beautiful collection of 15 unique short stories, Pariat gives us tales from a land whose stories are much like ours yet forgotten or lost in transition – Northeast India. Through these short stories, she takes us into a world which is at once living in its past, present and dreaming of a better ‘future’.

The very first story, A Waterfall of Horses, sets the mood for an enchanting read. Taking one back to the 1850s, this is a story of the tussle between the ‘bilati people’ aka the British and the villagers in Pomreng. Pomreng as the narrator describes is a smudge on the map of the world and hardly visible to the outside world – a tiny spec of a Microcosm in the Macrocosm. Peppered with myths and old world ideologies, the lives of locals are suddenly disrupted by the ways of the outside world. Narrated through a small boy, the story tells how the villagers use magic to rid the village of the foreigners and in return have to flee as well because magic so strong, used for good or bad, does leave a trace.

Dream of the Golden Mahaseer is a story of two aging brothers and how the World Wars changed their lives forever. Fighting inner demons, one takes to drinking while the other dreams of the Golden Mahaseers. Here, Pariat introduces us to a variety of superstitions and beliefs followed by the locals – planting a broom outside one’s room so that water fairies or ‘puris’ as they are called, do not seduce one away.

Sky Graves is packed with land legends where shape-shifting is common or people taking the form of animals to safeguard their own is called for. The Keeper of Souls is another beautiful story that tells us many believe how spirits of our loved ones live in the forests to watch over their living kin and if the trees are felled these souls will have nowhere to go. The Discovery of flight is a melancholy tale of losing a loved one to the mysterious beings of the land.

To the outsider, the Northeast is made up of one sect. We are unaware of their struggles, their lives and their beliefs. To us, they are all north east Indians, period. But like us Indians, each of them too has a different sense of identity. Invisible political borders and ideologies have turned friends into foes and for Northeast India, it is no different.

19/87 brings out the differences between the ‘Khasis’ and the ‘dkhars’ – one is the so-called insider and the other, the outsider. Kite flying is used as a metaphor here to depict a sense of freedom and dominance. Earning his daily bread as a tailor, Suleiman who has lived for three decades here, is now being called as a dkhar. He is pronounced as an outsider while he has lived here longer than the ‘new’ insiders. His home is here and the very thought of leaving frightens him as he has never known what lies outside and has nowhere to go.

My favourite story of the lot is Pilgrimage. It talks about how life has drastically changed for people who have left their North Eastern home towns for a better future and when they do come back, it is either for a short holiday or treated as a retirement. While the protagonist in the story wants to trace back her good old days, she is firmly told that one should not be a pilgrim to the past. Aren’t we all ‘pilgrims’ to our past?

Has Shillong moved on with the world or has the world got onto Shillong?’ This is a feeling many of Pariat’s protagonists voice in the novel.

The Secret Corridor and Boats on Land talk of self-realization and acceptance. The first one takes us into the adolescent world of Natalie who is trying hard to fit in with the ‘cooler’ ones, forgoing notions of right and wrong. It gives us an insight into the mind of a young girl who is struggling to come to terms with her choice of sexual orientation, not chastising herself for it but is in search of expressions. 

The latter, Boats on Land, is beautifully narrated in first person. It is almost poetry as the lyrical quality of the depiction of the North East India country side is just brilliant. It makes you want to be there. Here again, the story takes us through two lives. One who has a normal childhood, blossoming into a lovely teenager with set ambitions, guided by her parents, the other is dwelling in sadness. This is story is at once full of facts as well philosophical in nature with initiations of superstitions, myths and old world land legends.

In short, Boats on Land is a refreshing read, offering us a wider horizon to explore. I would highly recommend it to everyone. 

Bookworm rating: 3.9/5 bookworms

Monday, October 29, 2012

Discussing the family tree with Sheila Kumar

While she writes anything and everything that interests her, Sheila Kumar’s, Kith and Kin – Chronicles of a Clan, pretty much wrote itself! The author, a non-resident ‘Mallu’, writing as an insider yet never giving herself up just like her novel’s protagonist Ammini Amma, weaving emotions of love, hatred, resentment and treachery in one big web of a family, successfully sketches each of 19 characters! 

Sheila Kumar ex-adwoman, journalist, travel writer, book editor, lives in Bangalore and writes about anything and everything that interests her. She has had her short stories published in three anthologies.

Here’s a getting to know how author Sheila Kumar  went about bringing her book to life.

(Interviewed by Nikita Banerjee Bhagat, iSahitya)

Q. When you first decided to pen your book, why did you choose to write the story of a clan?
Sheila Kumar  : From the beginning I wanted, to borrow from JRR Tolkien, one ring to bind all my stories together. That one ring became a clan which I named the Melekat clan. So while the stories are all standalone, after a bit, the reader starts to recognise the characters that come and go.

Q. Sketching so many fictional characters and bringing them to life, what was your biggest challenge when it came to forming them?

Sheila Kumar: Keeping all the different skeins attached to one hook, one clan. There had to be physical and emotional common threads, threads the reader can easily ascertain, running through the generations.

Q. You narrate this story as an outsider, watching each character closely, yet there is no judgement passed by you. How did you manage to do away with the biases, if you felt any?

Sheila Kumar: These are people rather past their glory days and fighting that fact, at least the older lot. Here, character traits determine each character’s trajectory. I merely relate, I do not pass judgment.

Q. Every author has a favourite character. Of the many in your book, you'd say your favourite is? Why?

Sheila Kumar: I’d say Ammu from the story `Passing Through. ` She’s a funny girl, with the incipient eccentricities of the Melekats already showing. She spends a harrowing night at Rome’s Fiumicino airport but emerges unscathed, in a manner her clanswoman Ammini amma would have approved of.

Q. Kith and Kin take the reader across different states and countries. Yet each character is rooted and somewhere relates to Ammini Amma & Mon Repos. Was it difficult to draw such connections?

Sheila Kumar: Kith And Kin tell slice-of-life stories about a set of people who just happen to be linked to each other. And in most families, there is always one overarching figure in whose shadow the others nestle happily or with resentment.  In this book, it is the matriarch Ammini amma. As for the family house, most of the older Melekats have strong memories of Mon Repos; the younger lot have heard about it.

Q.Well, each one of 19 characters has had something to say except for Ammini Amma. Why is there no story from her perspective?

Sheila Kumar: That is deliberate. Ammini amma’s presence runs through every story like a ticker tape. But I wanted the lady revealed through the perspective of her family. The reader gets to know enough about this formidable woman through her siblings, her offspring, and their offspring. I just didn't feel the need to give her a direct voice.

Q.Colours and the Bench. I loved both these stories and found them to be very different from the rest. While with ‘the bench' one can understand the nostalgia but Colours was a complete surprise. How did it come to be?

Sheila Kumar: My generation of `good Mallu girls` were inevitably put through the `boy/girl-seeing` drama. If they were lucky, it was lucky- first- time. `Colours ` are a humorous collation of many such `seeing` sessions. Do note that Beena is not in the least traumatized by the fact that she is shown to many `boys!`

Q. Ants is another story I loved reading. Why is it called so?

Sheila Kumar: If you recall, the young girl Omana wakes up to see a line of ants on the bedroom wall, industriously plying whatever their trade is. Omana is visiting her elderly aunts who are as industrious and disciplined as the ants in their house. As set in their ways, too. She has news for them but isn’t too sure that  people who wake up and do the same thing every day, will be receptive to the slightest ripple in the smooth fabric they have made of their lives.

Q. What was your biggest challenge when it came to writing this book?

Sheila Kumar: Staying true to the authentic Malayali flavour; I am a non-resident Keralite so it didn’t come too easy.

Q. The book begins with Suvarna and Sumant and ends with them too. Not with an ending one was expecting! Was this deliberate? Or was there an alternate ending?

Sheila Kumar: You know, Kith and Kin pretty much wrote itself!  The characters all seemed to know just where they were headed. So no, there was no alternative ending. Suvarna and Sumant, these were two people who appear forever trapped in the `might-be. ` And then suddenly, there is no more might-be. Sad but that’s life...

Q, At Last , Some quick questions : -) 

Sheila Kumar :  Sure  :-) 

1. Your favourite authors – PG Wodehouse. Shakespeare.
2. Literary Influences – None really
3. Kerala –A sense of roots.
4. Writing –Always and forever a pleasure.

Thanks Sheila!

This interview originally appeared on iSahitya - Binding Slices of Life 

Read Kith and Kin - Chronicles of a Clan review

The book received 2.5 bookworm rating

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Family Matters... "Kith and Kin – Chronicles of a Clan" – A book review

If a novel is about one’s family, it can be an interesting one to write about. Semi-autobiographical, yes, but painting pictures with words that are almost true to life can be tedious still what with each family member’s character traits, quirks and the likes.  But what if you were writing about a fictional family, across three generations, living far and wide, yet each one somehow remains true to their roots? Tedious, yes, but doesn’t feel so when they get onto reading Sheila Kumar’s Kith and Kin – Chronicles of a Clan!

The book begins with the author introducing the large Melekat family – describing every one of the 19 characters! It is like tracing back a large family tree, more of a navigating tool to help you through the book and avoid confusion.

The elegant white rose of the town, Ammini Amma – standing tall and stoic, never letting anyone know who she really is or what she really feels is the family matriarch of the Melekat clan and runs her huge house ‘Mon Repose’ proudly. However, her children are different. While Ammini Amma remains unreadable, the author continues to spin her web of tales from the lives of her offspring’s.

The descendants of Amma, aka current Nair family, are oscillating between what they feel, what they really want and how their life really is! They struggle to keep up with the charming and elegant life their mother led. Far from perfect, their stories are marred by failed marriages, unhappy relationships, commitment phobias, treachery, loneliness, jealousy and insecurity, even bordering on dementia. On the other hand, the younger generation, i.e. the children of her children, look up to her for solace and peace whenever they find themselves in a soup. Unlike their own parents who fail to get going with the fast-changing times, the younger ones feel that their grandmother would have understood.

Having left their home town of South Malabar, the Melekats have settled across Mumbai, Bangalore and the US. However, what bind them together apart from their similar aquiline features, bouts of tantrums and their arrogant nature is their mother and their home, Mon Repos. Amma and their childhood family home are recurring themes through the book.

What really intrigues one is that there is not one chapter from the matriarch’s perspective. Everyone seems to be talking about her, cursing her maybe, but she is not the one to talk! Very deliberate, I’d say as the author stays true to Amma’s character – never a word out of line and never the one to clarify.
Some stories have unexpected endings, taking you by surprise. While stories like Ants, Colours and Passing Through, the author adapts different forms of narratives, establishing at once establishing the very trait and essence of these characters.

With Ants, she writes through the perspective of a young niece who has come visiting her aging aunts who tend to the huge house, running it smoothly, devoting their entire lives to the structure. Long widowed, they continue to live is a microcosm which seems like a tiny spec, hardly relatable or of any importance. Through Colours, the author explains that we still live in a world where superstitions hold a majority. They can decide one’s life’s path!

In Passing Through, while stranded at an alien airport, the protagonist battles her inner demons of insecurities. I think this one came the closest to grand dame Ammini Amma! And the end will surprise everyone. While I do not want to divulge much and ruin the fun, I will only say it ends at Mon Repose – French for my place of rest.

In short, the book is thoroughly enjoyable. Every story adds to the reader's experience, leaving one with an ache to know more about the Melekats. 

Bookworm Ratings: 2.5/5 booksworms

Book Review - An Equal Music by Vikram Seth

(Image for representation purposes only. Copyrights lie with the true artist)

A highly recommended book for people who love literature. A completely delicious book!

The world of music has eluded me for a very long time. I hardly have any idea of sur, taal or rhythm for that matter. I do enjoy music but am ignorant when it comes to forms of music. Therefore, when I took up reading this book, I was sort of apprehensive. 

Apprehensive because I might not understand the essence, i.e. the passion for music, that drives the book forward or because it would get too complicated for me to go along further and so I would quit. 

However, nothing of that sort happened with Vikram Seth's An Equal Music. I was pulled into the narrative as soon as I hit page 2 and soon, I could read notes, mentally of course (i.e. again my knowledge is stunted) in my head. I had visions of Vienna - how Michael and Julia made music together, how they roamed the streets, hand-in-hand, enjoyed their food at the Mnozil and how they slept in each other’s arms every night.

The words are beautifully etched, in a manner in which, it makes you feel every emotion, the frenzy, the despair, the tears, the joy and of course, the music. A brilliant yet simple narrative takes you through the world of Chopin, Bach, Schubert, Handel etc. One is compelled to feel the desperation in Michael’s search for his lost love of nine years; Julia. He wants to reconnect, to feel the old love again. He knows his music is connected to her. 

Yet, his chance spotting of her in a bustling double-decker in London, while is he is so sure that it was her, he has missed her again. While Michael has remained true to both his loves; Music and Julia, Julia has moved on. Nine years later, she is married with a seven year old son who happens to hate music classes. However, there is more to her. She is going deaf slowly yet definitely just like Beethoven did. The challenge in playing with others when she can hardly make out what is being played is deeply felt. Miserable, distressed, happy, difficult, guilty etc. all of these are felt when one is reading about Julia.

When fate brings these two lovers together (not ex, mind you as they still love each other), they can hardly contain their love and passion for one and another. Back in Vienna with Michael’s quartet, Maggiore, they feel the same. Fate leads them to Venice where they live each day walking, talking, waking and sleeping together. Their love is like never before. However, reality comes knocking their doors soon. Julia leaves Michael. She must come to a balance in her life what with her increasing deafness and her family. Therefore, she has to let go of Michael.

Michael is a mixed bag. At times you find him endearing, sometimes annoying, you may think of him as a wimp, selfish, strong or weak or everything at the same time. While Julia is someone many of us can relate to easily, her falling into Michael’s arms so easily earned her much flak. One can say that as the book progresses, following the music gets tougher. However, it is the single most important factor that binds all the characters in the book seamlessly.

Tragedy follows. Michael leaves the Maggiore. Word goes round that Julia will only play solo. All is lost to Michael.  Mrs. Fromby, Michael’s oldest friend and benefactor (she left him her Tontoni), dies. Threats from old Fromby’s nephew to acquire the family heirloom (Tontoni) follow. He cannot meet Julia. He is listless, restless and his world is closing in on him. However, Julia’s recital where she is playing the Art of Fugue (piano) sums it all up for him. Michael does not wait for the entire recital as he has learnt, heard and felt what he had to. Such beautiful music, an equal music! A beautiful ending full of hope…

"For music is equal for all – to the deaf and to the hearing. All one needs to do is, to play from the heart…" - NB.

This article was originally published here - A Equal Music

Bookworm rating: 4.5/5 bookworms

Book Review - The Story of My Assassins by Tarun Tejpal

Sometimes one is turned off by the sheer size of the book. What I mean is the number of pages a book has. The Story of My Assassins by Tarun Tejpal has 522 pages. Phew. I had been reading it for the past two weeks but the last Saturday proved to be a boon. The rains causing a mini storm outside, no internet and no dish TV, I had no option but to sit and read the entire book. Which, mind you I haven't done in a while. Must say, It was worth it.

Tejpal's The Alchemy of Desire had me salivating for more. I am glad that I discovered the book. The language was lucid and the book, brilliantly written. Therefore, as his next book released I made sure I bought the hardcover copy.

The very beginning of the book is promising. Tejpal is a master with his words as he mellifluously paints images of 21st century India only to sardonically comment on them as we proceed. One can describe the book as a multiple layered story that works its way through the Indian sub-continent, its double-faced spirituality and hypocrisy in the garb of religion and the very visible and yet, undoable the divide of language, wealth and class.

But there is a glitch. If I compare this book to his first, which I do inadvertently, I am a little disappointed with the flow of the story. It has left me confused in bits and pieces like when Sara decides to find out about the so-called-assassins. The story goes off in some different tangent altogether. I do not understand that why he have to go into flashbacks so many times. The description of the Muslim bastiwala pondering upon whether they would go to Pakistan or stay back in India, reminded me of Khushwant Singh's A Train to Pakistan. Reading this bit, I completely forget the beginning of the book.  

It is all of course very well written. But I find it useless as even though Tejpal writes beautifully, he sometimes goes overboard with the descriptions to create an impact. It gets too much to digest. Some characters like Sara, Guruji, Hathoda Tyagi and Dubeyji, are well rounded characters. You can visualize them vividly. But characters like Ghulam, Kabir's gentle Muslim father, who alienates himself and his son from their religion and any other kind of politics, Kabir who is reduced to sculpting chuzas out of wood, seem to have more scope but left in the middle.

Overall, I would say, the book is brillantly written but does not and cannot compare itself to Tejpal's first. The fast few lines however,

"Small minds: discuss people. Average minds: discuss events. Big minds: discuss ideas. Great minds: work in silence," are brilliant.

This article originally featured here The Story of My Assassins

Bookworm Rating: 3/5 bookworms