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.
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.
It 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?
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.
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.’
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.
If you have read any of my reviews on Bangla books, you might be aware that Shirshendu Mukhopadhyay is one of my favourite authors. My admiration and awe for his writing cannot be described by just ‘favourite’. The author’s USP is his characterisation – you’d be amazed to get into their psyche peeling off layers from apparently mundane characters. They are people around us, but each with a different story to convey through their eyes or words. Have you ever read an entire novel on dialogues, without a single paragraph of narration? I’ve been learning not only the nuances of fine writing, but more about life in general from this octogenarian author’s works. There’s rarely been a story where he has failed to impress me as a reader.
Jao Pakhi (Fly away, Birdie) is one of the more tender stories with lesser shock value from its characters. It’s the story of a young man named Somen. He’s a rookie just out of college with his dreams still shaping up. His father, a man ruled by his ideals, lives in a village building his own hut and growing his own crops. His mother, however, didn’t leave the city as she raised her two sons and a daughter, married them off and still lives with her family. She wants Somen to begin working and establishing himself in the world like his elder brother Ranen. She wants their father to hand them his money from a policy that is going to mature soon.
Everyone has secrets . . . but is hers the most shocking? Orphaned at birth, seventeen-year-old Sahil has always blamed himself for his parents’ death. He has little interest in life until he meets the enigmatic Anya in a chance encounter during the Shimla fest. Soon he falls head over heels in love with her, but Anya doesn’t reciprocate his feelings. An accident leaves him in a coma and when he wakes up he makes a startling discovery-he can read minds! Now he can find out what goes on in Anya’s mind and maybe, just maybe, make her fall in love with him. But is Anya all she seems? Or is she hiding something? Deliciously plotted, full of morbid secrets and startling revelations, Secretly Yours will make you question what you see and who you trust.
Secretly Yours is a romantic thriller with other elements as well. The first attraction of the book is surely the cover. Wonderfully designed, it is sure to catch the eye and that’s one of the reasons I picked this one. The blurb promises a love story and the book starts off on such a note. We meet Sahil, a teenager plagued with more problems in life than teenagers should ideally have. He’s an orphan and is blamed by his grandmother for his parents’ death. You bet that’s way too much to be handled by a young boy. He takes refute in alcohol and bruising himself. His passion for music, however, keeps him alive. And then he meets a pair of eyes that entice him as well as baffle him. As luck would have it, Anya enters his life and everything turns topsy-turvy.
What happens next? Sahil meets an accident, loses his grandmother and gains Anya. Or does he? Anya has a bagful of secrets that get uncovered over the second half of the book. I can’t give away her secrets as spoilers and hence, you have pick up the book.
Finders, Keepers. Losers, Weepers Two men are murdered in settings which speak volumes of involvement of some sacred cynicism. A psycho-killer on the loose? Or is this the beginning of something much more grave and dangerous? This is the tale of how Deputy Director, I.B., Shoumik Haldar and celebrated author Ishan Vajpayee exercise all their tools of conventional and unconventional deduction to solve the puzzles thrown across by the enemy, yet unrevealed. Intertwined intensely with the opulent mythological tales and specimens attributing to the rich cultural heritage of this country, the story depicts the resurgence of a dormant historical sect, which attacks the very foundations of one of the most powerful and secreted organizations of all times. Spread across the length and breadth of the entire Indian subcontinent, read the mystery as it unravels with the duo travelling from one corner of the country to another searching for the signs.
Before you attempt to read this book, I must advise that you gather enough patience in your kitty. Finders, Keepers is a huge novel, almost an epic with a heavy dose of Indian Mythology. I haven’t read a longer one by any Indian Writer in English yet. And in my opinion, you should read the entire novel only if you have the time to. The story and plot is sprawled all over India with references to Mythology that’s millions of years old. It would be a shame if someone doesn’t read the entire turn of events.
The basic premise of the book dates back to King Ashoka and his devise of creating a clique of Nine Unknown Men with all the knowledge in the world. They gather their respective departmental gems into a book each that will be protected by guardians for centuries. The book begins with two murders and enter IB officer Shoumik Haldar to investigate them by special request from an eminent personality. Anticipating a connect of Mythology in the murders, Shoumik decides to confide and take assistance in a very able author, Ishan Vajpayee. A few murders follow and they unravel the immensely complicated mystery that has been protecting and progressing our country since long. Do the Nine Unknown Men still exist? What knowledge do they guard in each book? Why are they murdered one at a time? Who is behind all the murders and what is their motive? These and many more questions spring up in the first two chapters itself. With a whopping total of 624 pages, the book traverses at a gradual speed to solve the case with the help of two efficient men.
As a fashion buyer at one of New York’s most glamorous department stores, Dana McGarry is a tastemaker, her keen instinct for fashion trends and innovative ideas coupled with a razor sharp business sense. But like the elegant and conservative store that employs her, Dana is caught between two eras—between being liked and standing her ground, between playing by the rules and being a maverick. Dana is sensitive and beautiful, but what you see is not what you get. Behind the cool and attractive facade, Dana is both driven by her need to control yet impeded by her expectation of perfectionism. As she competes to replace women at the top of their game, she is challenged by jealous colleagues. And when a wealthy love interest wants to open doors and support her ambition, she embraces Coco Chanel’s mantra of “never wanting to weigh more heavily on a man than a bird.” As the women’s movement paves the way, Dana finds a path to the career she wants at the expense of happiness that was not meant to be.
Steward captures the nuances of 70s life in New York City and provides the perfect backdrop for an independent woman determined to make her mark. What Might Have Been is a story that transcends any period.
While I have read books covering various industries like hotels, automobiles, hospitals, and even films – fashion is certainly a first for me. A novel that is set in the fabric and fashion world of New York City and in one of my favourite decades – the ’70s – there wasn’t any reason I would turn down this one! And might I add that Lynn Steward has a pretty impressive way of writing her Dana McGarry series. Gorging on What Might Have Been for the last two days, I’m quite tempted to go back and read the #1 in Dana McGarry series – A Very Good Life.
New York City is the epitome of fashion with names that we revere all around the world. I have been to the Fifth Avenue and Manhattan’s high end stores and it has left me awestruck with the amount of hard work that goes behind all the glitz and glamour. With the help of cutting edge technology, using fabrics and designing them has become easier in this millennium. But how did it all work in the 1970’s? How did women working in fashion make their way through an outright competitive industry? Dana McGarry and her journey gives an insight into that era and I think it has been captured beautifully by Lynn Steward who has worked as a buyer.