Book Review : Newcomer by Keigo Higashino

Blurb View:

Detective Kyoichiro Kaga of the Tokyo Police Department has just been transferred to a new precinct in the Nihonbashi area of Tokyo. Newly arrived, but with a great deal of experience, Kaga is promptly assigned to the team investigating the murder of a woman. But the more he investigates, the greater number of potential suspects emerges. It isn’t long before it seems nearly all the people living and working in the business district of Nihonbashi have a motive for murder. To prevent the murderer from eluding justice, Kaga must unravel all the secrets surrounding a complicated life. Buried somewhere in the woman’s past, in her family history, and the last few days of her life is the clue that will lead to the murderer.

This is the second appearance in English of Police detective Kyochiro Kaga, the protagonist of the critically acclaimed Malice.

Review :

I have read three books written by Keigo Higashino now and I’ve mixed feelings about them. It’s bizarre that I’m not sure if I like them much and why not. For the records, I had loved reading The Devotion of Suspect X. Hadn’t liked Salvation of a Saint, and now, I kind of liked Newcomer. Weird, is it? This is one problem that I face while reading translated literature is that it is not consistent. The first two books of Higashino that I’d read were by a different translator than the one who did this latest book. It is futile to form an opinion about the literary aspects of a translated book as it is often said that the flavour of the original language evaporates in translation. While that is a much debatable topic, I’d focus on the other aspects that are more important in Higashino books.

What I like the most about his books are – they always begin with a murder. There’s no dilly-dallying on the fact that the books are murder mysteries, so the entree is served right at the beginning. All you can do is ruminate through the book and unravel the mystery layer by layer. It’s all about whodunit and whydunit more often than howdunit. If you start finding a pattern in a certain author’s style of writing and expect a similar one in their latest book, life gets easier. Newcomer begins with a murder too, as I had expected. But there were more surprises in the book.

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Sedlec Ossuary – The Bone Church

Europe is a treasure trove of a unique blend of history and art, which might be bizarre at times, but nonetheless interesting. There are hidden gems that haven’t yet received the attention that they deserve from the rest of the world. Few are easily found on the internet, if you’re looking at the right place, and others might appear in books. It’s true that fiction has a very important role in bringing out artworks and places of importance to the eyes of readers worldwide. A few years ago, we chanced upon a book called The Devil’s Prayer by an Indian writer, Luke Gracias. He had travelled widely across Europe and set unusual backdrops for his story. One of them was Sedlec Ossuary or The Bone Church, near to Prague. It made a special position in our wish list of unique things to see and finally we ticked it off in our trip to the Czech Republic.

In a nutshell

Sedlec Ossuary is one of a kind, a chapel decorated entirely with human bones and skulls. There are bones of an estimated 40000-60000 humans. To all those who have begun to cringe by now at this information – it is neither gruesome nor scary. People weren’t killed so that their bones would be used to decorate this church. When you actually visit the place, it is a calm and serene one, devoid of any horrors or macabre vibes. The sole reason being – this chapel is a memorial of lives lost, it does not celebrate their deaths. There is an enormous chandelier of bones, which is a must see.

Located in Kutna Hora, a suburb about 1 hour by train from Prague, the Sedlec Ossuary receives about 200,000 visitors per year.

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Book Review : India On My Platter

Blurb view: 

Backpacking through the country, young chef Saransh Goila sets off on a culinary trail through India, wherein he discovers the various nuances of local cuisine. From rural villages to barren deserts to freezing mountains, he unfolds the flavour of his destination by meeting local villagers or erstwhile royalty and picking up a tip or two to use in his kitchen. Wherever he goes, he makes sure to visit the famous eateries of that place. Through him, the reader can vividly smell the spices and taste the dishes that are described. The recipes given also present ways on using locally found ingredients. From having steaming Murthal ke paranthes to savouring tasty street food in hometown Delhi, from cooking on a boat in Varanasi to cooking dishes using a bamboo hollow in Assam, Goila does it all and presents his adventures in a lucid, flowing narrative peppered with humorous anecdotes.

Review: 

India On My Platter is the account of a chef’s endearing journey across the vastness called India and picking up bits of food and culture from various states. Coincidentally, I had first glimpsed at chef Saransh Goila at the 2014 show Roti, Rasta aur India, where he traverses through the country in 100 days and explores the variety of food. I liked Roti, Rasta aur India as it was a simple and honest show where a rookie chef’s exuberance was so palpable and enjoyable. Saransh Goila had won a culinary competition and the show was his first as a television chef. There was some naivety and over simplifying stuff, but it was still a good show for such a young chef, a protege of Sanjeev Kapoor.

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5 Must See Statues in Prague

Growing up in India, statues or sculptures always meant commemorating historical stalwarts and landmarks that we can add later to our postal addresses. In all seriousness, I had never heard of modern art/installations in public places in India while I was young. For us Calcuttans, the biggest statue is the Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose one at a five point crossing in Shyambazar. I even doubt if it was installed for the sole purpose of creating a landmark for the important crossing of five roads. Much later while I lived in Pune, I’ve often heard people doling out directions like – “Turn left at the Shivaji ka putla.” It took me a while to figure out that the mentioned ‘putla’ is a bronze statue, installed at the corner of a bridge, while wondering if it was a shop selling Shivaji inspired figurines.

Europe, on the other hand, has been much experimental with statues/sculptures/fountains and I have been fortunate enough to be able to visit and admire a few of them in awe. Surprisingly, Prague turned out to be a haven of sculptures, even while it is called the city of a thousand spires. The main reason behind this revolution is sculptor David Cerny. Frankly, I learned about him only recently, after having seen photos and videos from people visiting Prague. There is no disagreement on the fact that Indian visitors to Europe were sparse before the EU and Schengen visa for 28 countries happened. And now there’s a boom! So, here we go, my pick of the five must-see statues in Prague.

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Sacred Games

Sacred Games is the first Netflix India original series. It is in vogue now, so you couldn’t have missed hearing about it. I recall purchasing the book many years ago for my birthday. It had almost become a tradition to gift myself these voluminous books – from Sacred Games to A Suitable Boy, and borrowing Shantaram from a friend, around my birthday too. While Shantaram was an elaborate but great read, Sacred Games wasn’t in the beginning. Having grown up in Calcutta, I was pretty used to and I used (not prettily) Bangla curses. But when it came to the Hindi ones, I winced a bit. There resided, probably a little Sanskaari me within, who felt uncomfortable. Years pass by and I laugh at my hypocrisy now. It feels like those memes – “If you can’t take me at my Hindi C word, you don’t deserve me at my Bangla B word.” True.

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Hallerbos – The Valley of Bluebells

Spring. Just the mere mention of it invokes a riot of colours in blooms and a clean slate of a sky to rejuvenate the year. It’s the season of rainbows and unicorns, daffodils and fresh blooms. What if there is a blue forest somewhere? Imagine walking past a valley in a forest lined with a carpet of blue and not the usual green. Imagine the entire expanse of your sight awash with blue and purple, slightly swaying in the spring breeze, the bells of the flowers making a silent noise. Well, if you are in Western Europe, do not waste time on imagination and head straight to Hallerbos forest in Belgium which turns blue every Spring.

How blue is my valley?

I haven’t been to many forests, but this one tends to welcome you with its open arms of beeches and sequoia, their young tender leaves imparting a serene hue of green all around. The leaves have just sprung up at the advent of spring, their colour and density changing by the day. Their transparent leaves filter the sunlight and spread their warmth upon the bluebells.

Bluebells/Blue Hyacinten

The blue in Hallerbos hits you right at the start of the trail. There’s a simple theory – the bluebells start blooming somewhere from April and last till mid-May, depending on the weather. The large beeches also begin their sprouting season almost simultaneously. Their young green leaves filter the sunlight that reaches the bluebells on the ground and determines the growth and shade of the flowers. For instance, we were in Hallerbos in the third week of April and the sunlight was fairly abundant, helping the bluebells bloom and retain their bright blue hue. In the subsequent weeks, the beech leaves have increased in density, filtering very less sunlight, resulting the bluebells to turn into a greyer shade of purple and start wilting.

Beeches

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Savaari – Addressing the Aggregator Problem Through a Customer-Centric Value Offering

Disclaimer: This article was first published here

In the wake of strong dissent expressed by Indian Taxi drivers, it is worth asking whether the aggregator model is one which can keep both the customer as well as the supplier (the taxi driver, in this case) happy? As we speak, numerous taxi unions are on an indefinite strike in major cities like Bangalore, Mumbai and Delhi with an overarching complaint- India’s two most popular on-demand cab companies are not helping drivers earn enough; in fact the daily earn for some cab drivers has plummeted by 80% over the last 6 months.

The Customer vs. Supplier Conundrum

With the intense competition in the on-demand taxi aggregation space, the two key actors in the eco-system viz. the driver as well as the customer are often left dissatisfied due to diverging demands – one party is simply not earning enough while the other party is asked to pay an exorbitant amount for a ride. Given that on-demand ride hailing has become a habit, customers are forced to accept the fares displayed on their screens under the guise of the ‘going-rate’ or the ‘price that you pay for comfort’. And there’s nothing wrong with that whatsoever- demand drives prices. Why would a company not want to charge a customer, a certain something, a premium, if there’s a demand for that service?

The problem becomes a little more complicated when it comes to the drivers. In the early days, aggregator companies invested significant capital into acquiring and retaining driver partners by incentivizing them with lucrative payouts, even if they were losing significant money on every ride. With the focus increasingly turning towards profitability, the companies are forced to cut costs. And the drivers are suffering in the process because of the sudden decline in their incomes.

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