Ziddi – by Ismat Chughtai

I have been coveting to read Ismat Chughtai’s books since long, in Hindi, preferably. I started with Manto, however, picking up a translated copy (by Atish Taseer) from a friend and realised that I didn’t savour the translation. Taseer might have done a good job in trying to extrapolate Manto’s writing to those who cannot read Hindi/Urdu but I wasn’t one of them. The anguish and dilemma in Toba Tek Singh must be read in the original flavour, I thought. Thus, I procured Manto in Hindi, read, tried to fathom and moved on to read Chughtai too. Ziddi was my first choice as I had already watched the film (1948) starring Dev Anand and wanted to read the original, rich text that Chughtai is so famous for.

Ziddi is the story of Pooran and Asha. No, it is not an easy love story as it may sound. The book starts with a very old woman on deathbed who wishes to glance at young Pooran one last time before she dies. She’s the nanny who looked after him all childhood and leaves behind her only grand-daughter, Asha. After naani passes away, Asha takes refuge in Pooran’s palatial house. An unequal love blossoms, though the rest of the family treats Asha as the nanny’s kin-turned-gracious-househelp. Due to this socio-economic imbalance in their statuses, they are stricken apart every time they come close. Years pass, but the unavowed love lingers as embers in a dying fire. Ah yes, fire plays an important role in the climax of the story. But that is for the readers to find out.

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Book Review : The Conspiracy At Meru

Blurb View:

Victory is Temporary the Battle is Eternal’.

Vikramaditya and his Council of Nine have fought valiantly to repel the rampaging hordes from Devaloka and Patala – but Avanti has been brought to its knees. Ujjayini lies battered; its citizens are scared and morale is badly shaken. Meanwhile, the barbaric Hunas and Sakas are gathering on the horizon and cracks are emerging between the allied kingdoms of Sindhuvarta…

The only silver lining is that the deadly Halahala is safe. For now.

Bent on vengeance, Indra is already scheming to destroy Vikramaditya, while Shukracharya has a plan that can spell the doom for the Guardians of the Halahala. How long can the human army hold out against the ferocity and cunning of the devas and asuras? And will Vikramaditya’s love for his queen come in the way of his promise to Shiva?

Review: 

For those who are familiar with my reviews, you already know that Mythology is not my forte. And it is a fact that I had liked the #1 in Vikramaditya series – Guardians of the Halahala. These two facts combine into a solution that I’ve implemented while reading this series – treat it is a thriller. I didn’t get boggled by the fact that I’m dealing with King Vikramaditya and the devas, asuras and super powers. Instead, I tried to ingest the story as a racy over the edge action-packed thriller. And it is safe to infer that the book met all the expectations.

The plot begins exactly where we’d left it in the previous book. The city is in shambles and the king tries to pick up the pieces with the help of his councillors. Each of them has their own story, Kalidasa has strange visions that want to convey some secret to him, Shanku realises her secret super power, and the Acharya has his own issues to resolve. With consistent attacks from the Devas and Asuras, Ujjaini is battered and bruised, struggling to even exist before considering survival. Will they be able to decipher what Shukracharya ‘The Healer’ has in store for them? Will Queen Vishakha regain her health and memories? Will the kingdom of Avanti resurrect gathering all its pieces together?

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Book Review : Alchemist Of The East

alcofeastBlurb View:

The Alchemist of the East is an enchanting saga of gaining wisdom, following one’s heart and, above all, chasing one’s dreams.
This is a story of Sushyo, a toy maker from Mesopotamia who wishes to travel all over the world and spread the message of peace and joyousness.
From his home in the city of Nineveh, on the banks of river Tigris, he voyages to the land of seven rivers, Melhua.
What unfolds is an adventure of epic proportion with his destiny throwing at him, one challenge after another, probing him in the most frightful manner.
An apocalyptic encounter with the Alchemist of the East prepares him for the road ahead.
As events occur rapidly, the boy finds himself a part of a legacy for which he will have to face up to the ruler of Arianna, Queen Kassandrra, in an epic battle on the banks of river Helmand.

Review: 

I’ve read Aporva Kala only once earlier and the best thing I like about his works is the simplicity in writing. There isn’t a barrage of difficult-to-pronounce words or complicated sentences that send you in a tizzy for the dictionary. While Life…Love…Kumbh was more of a journey than a concrete story, Alchemist of the East is a full grown novel that blends history with mystique.

The book begins with Sushyo, a teenage toy maker from Mesopotamia tragically losing his mother. He embarks on a life altering journey, one that is essential for his survival and evolution as a human being. Sushyo sails on a ship to a faraway land, gets into a confrontation with the Captain of the ship and finally wins his trust. Fate takes him to a gurukul where he meets his calling of toy making. He learns the art and the fine tunings of it. And yet, there’s something else in store for his future, something from his past that suggests he could be the next king of Alexandria. Will Sushyo be a toy maker when he becomes an adult or will e really be the king, defeating Queen Kassandra in an epic battle and avenge the death of his parents?

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Best Reads of 2016

This year has been good in terms of reading, though I couldn’t fulfill my target of 70 books. Nonetheless, combating reader’s block once in a while, I can safely assert that my reading mojo hasn’t gone anywhere. The lot had been a mixed one this year, quite a few mediocre books were moved from the bookshelf to obscure cartons that are sealed and stored. Others were neatly arranged in the already overwhelming array of books. Here are the ones that kept me hooked this year.

animal-farmAnimal Farm – It’s a pity that I hadn’t read this George Orwell classic so far. The book is iconic and doesn’t need a description. I began reading it after getting bored with a few sub-par books in Indian English. That made this classic all the more endearing. Written in very simple language, laced with rhymes and innuendos, Animal Farm makes for a very interesting read. If you can decipher the hidden meanings, metaphors, and references to the erstwhile politics in Europe – there’s nothing better!

jojoMe Before You – Rave reviews about Jojo Moyes’ writing and hype about this book being made into a movie were reasons that I wanted to read this one. Fortunately, my Secret Santa had gifted Me Before You last Christmas and it was on my TBR since then. It took a holiday and the reader’s block to get me start this beauty. Of the contemporary British women writers, Sophie Kinsella has been my favourite and Jojo Moyes came quite close with this book. I love the dry humour and ample sarcasm that the Brits expertly exude in their style or writing. It goes very well with me and I can entirely relate to the darkness. Me Before You makes you embark on an emotional journey that you wouldn’t want to end. Trust me, it isn’t a sob story.

grassThe Grass is Singing – I had bought this book (as the Secret Santa for my angel) based solely on the theme of Apartheid. It’s a subject that had occupied a part of my childhood, reading about it in the newspapers, watching the cricket team of South Africa and criticising them. I didn’t know about Doris Lessing then, but I’m glad that I discovered her writing. This book has had a profound impact on me; it had put me into a completely dark zone while I was reading. I couldn’t imagine that the verdant fields of Rhodesia and their vastness could create such a void and mess with the psyche of a perfectly normal woman. This book is a must read if you want to know about madness, fantasy and stark reality.

honestseasonThe Honest Season -I hadn’t read Kota Neelima prior to this one, but she managed to enter this list alright. A very complex plot, coupled with good writing and great journalistic measures makes an engaging novel. It is the correct mix of politics, romance, lobbying, ethics and rain. Yes, rain is one of the main protagonists of this novel and I loved the way Kota Neelima played with this element. It managed to bestow a wonderful lyrical quality to prose and that’s quite a rare trait to be found in contemporary Indian authors.

dragonThe Girl With the Dragon Tattoo – Stieg Larsson’s magnum opus is by far the best book (& series) I’ve read in the last few years. This is the best one in the Millennium series and a fine book by itself. I was quite aware that it belongs to translated literature and the best way to read is not to judge it based on the language. Lisbeth Salander impressed me immensely and I am still in awe of her. The story is obviously very intriguing and so is the hero Mikael Blomkvist. One of the best thrillers I’ve ever read. But it isn’t just a thriller, it’s a labyrinth of family ties and pervert psychological experiments.

Do let me know your best reads of 2016. 

KiKiRa The Great

I’ve been fortunate enough to be nestled into the world of Bangla Literature in my formative years. I had begun reading magazines and novels for children even before I turned ten. The joy of holding a freshly printed periodical magazine at least once a month and glancing through the pages to skim the content before rushing off to school was incomparable. Calcutta has carried a rich tradition of interesting magazines for children, young adults as well as adults. The ones, especially for pre-teens were a huge treasure of informative articles, short stories, poems, comics and sports. Anandamela, Shuktara, Kishore Bharati, Kishore Gyan Bigyan, Sandesh – there were so many to choose from each fortnight! The most popular among these, Anandamela was from the ABP house of publications – it was bourgeoisie, glamorous, rich in content and had great print quality priced at Rs 10 for each issue.

kikira

The annual pujabarshiki Anandamela 1996 and the Kikira novel published in it (on right)

The fortnightly and annual Pujabarshiki issues of Anandamela introduced me to Kikira The Great by Bimal Kar. No, he isn’t Japanese and is almost not a detective. KiKiRa stands for Kinkar Kishore Ray, a brilliantly crafted pseudo-acronym to enhance his identity. He is a self-proclaimed magician who had a target of at least a hundred magic shows in his lifetime but was stopped short at only thirty six of them due to an illness. A sudden bout of disease disabled one of his hands and made it impossible for him to perform on stage again. He called himself ‘Kikira The Magician’, ‘Kikira The Wonder,’ ‘Kikira the Great,’ and still had a few tricks up his sleeve that effervesce in all of his cases. Kikira has two assistants, a young clerical fellow named Tarapada and a doctor of medicine, Chandan. The evolution of this apparently lopsided friendship between the three occurred during a case for the first time. The first story in the Kikira series – Kapalik-ra Ekhono Achhe (Tantrics Still Do Exist) – began with Tarapada and Chandan as the main protagonists, Kikira only making an entry later with a burly introduction! I think the author wanted to experiment, improvise and give a trial with the readers to see if they accept such an offbeat character.

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Book Review : The Peshwa

Blurb View:

peshwa-1It is the 18th century and despite the dominant Mughal rule, the Maratha Confederacy has established itself as a force to be reckoned with in the Indian Subcontinent. The fragile peace between the two powers is threatened when Balaji Vishvanath Bhat, Peshwa of the Confederacy, foils the plans of Nizam Ul Mulk of the Mughal Empire, and asserts the power of the Marathas. However, little does the Peshwa know that he has dealt the Nizam an unintended wound—one with roots in his mysterious past and one that he would seek to avenge till his last breath.

When the Peshwa surrenders his life to a terminal illness dark clouds gather over the Confederacy as it is threatened by a Mughal invasion as well as an internal rebellion.

All the while a passive spectator, the Peshwa’s son, Bajirao Bhat, now needs to rise beyond the grief of his father’s passing, his scant military and administrative experience, and his intense love for his wife and newborn son to rescue everything he holds dear. Will the young man be able to protect the Confederacy from internal strife and crush the armies of the Empire all while battling inner demons? Will he live up to his title of Peshwa?

Review: 

I’ve always been a fan of historical fiction as they seldom fail to provide new perspectives to the erstwhile facts. After the success of the Hindi film Bajirao Mastani, Ram Sivasankaran’s novel The Peshwa is bound to invoke interest among history lovers. I haven’t watched the film, but I was aware of Peshwa Bajirao and the colourful life he led. A book on him seemed to be need of the hour and well in sync of keeping abreast with the topic.

Ram Sivasankaran has done quite a bit of research and plotting before embarking onto this journey with The Peshwa. The story begins with the lesser known Peshwa, Balaji Vishwanath Bhat, father of Bajirao. He had been rock solid against the Mughal empire and their tyranny against the Chhatrapati and the Maratha Confederacy. Sneaking a glimpse into Balaji Vishvanth’s life and his valour while camping outside the borders of Delhi to initiate the release of Queen Yesubai. This was Bajirao’s first tryst with negotiation and a pre-emptive to war. He was on the verge of evolving into a fine warrior, unlike the previous Peshwas, who were Brahmins and administrators. After the demise of his father, Bajirao had to accept the responsibility of the next Peshwa bestowed upon him by Chhatrapati Shahu.

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Book Review : 03:02

0302Blurb View:

At 03:02 on a Sunday morning, the world as we knew it came to an end. Mumbai suddenly went black — no electricity, no phones, no internet and no working cars. It was as if someone had turned off the master switch of our civilization, turning us back hundreds of years overnight. We learned that it was not just Mumbai, but much of the world that had been impacted. We also learned that it was no accident. A deadly enemy was behind it. An enemy that was now in our midst, seeking to conquer us and destroy our way of life. This is how our war for freedom began. A war that was to be waged not on the borders or by the Army, but in our homes and streets, with us as the soldiers. This is our story. ’03:02 celebrates fictional heroes who fight for our freedom, but to give back to the real heroes who do so every day, for every copy sold, a contribution from author royalties will be made to the National Defence Fund, which takes voluntary contributions to help armed forces service members and their families.’

Review: 

Mainak Dhar’s previous book Chronicler of the Undead is the only dystopian novel I had read in a long time. His latest offering 03:02 seemed a tad different, moving to the thriller and mystery genre. That was reason enough to pick it up for review as I’ve been a fan of Mainak’s writing. It’s always perspicuous and pleasing to read. From what I’ve read by him so far, I surely can’t complain about the form of writing. It might be the content that varies from each book to the other and creates a difference in quality.

03:02 is an interesting take on a thriller, blended with mystery and most importantly, terrorism. The protagonist, Aditya, is on the verge of turning into a corporate robot and deserves the promotion he receives. There’s a party in the evening and he crashes onto his bed later that night. Something happens at 03:02 in the morning and there’s a blackout. Aditya is oblivious of the situation and wakes up to realise something serious has happened. He goes out, scrutinises his neighbourhood and learns that nothing is working – phone, car, electricity – all dead. His neighbours are as baffled as he is. The scenario unfolds gradually, the horrors are peeled off in layers and people face the stark reality of living a life without modern facilities. Aditya takes control of the situation for the lack of a leader and starts restoring life.

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