Book Review : Love & Death in the Middle Kingdom

Image Courtesy: Google

Image Courtesy: Google

Blurb View:

A sixteenth century Vijayanagara courtier, Devadatta is drawn into a strange and intoxicating, even forbidden, friendship with a Persian traveller and a Portuguese trader. In a society driven by caste centred norms and pollution taboos, the stealthy love affair between the courtier and the Persian must lead them inevitably into a horrific doom. Centuries later, the courtiers diary, is discovered quite by chance in the Indian west coast town of Honavar by a student of History, Sharat, who translates the tale from its native tongue to English. Along with his female colleague Nitya, from Delhi University, he sets out on an exciting journey into history through the pages of the diary. What happens thereafter proves to be not only a voyage of self discovery but also an exploration of some of the meanings and lessons in history, in life.

Review:

My last read for this year turned out to be a historical fiction, a genre that I always look forward to. Blending history into our daily lives is necessary to an extent as each day rolls into past with passing minutes. I was waiting eagerly for this book as the genre is rare these days when romance and mythology are ruling the Indian readers’ bookshelves. The author being a professor of history, soared the expectations for me before the book’s release itself.

The book begins at present and not past. A history student of Delhi University, Nitya Ramiah is sent to the west coastal town of Honavar in Karnataka by her professor to look up a precious ancient courtier’s diary. Nitya’s senior colleague Sharat, working at Honavar, translates the diary from middle age Kannada to English and discovers astonishing facts from the era.  The events that follow build up the story. Excerpts from the diary are written in alternate chapters with Nitya and Sharat’s analyses. I particularly liked the diary portions. Though written in long paragraphs and pages, they exuded an old world flavour with a hint of architecture. I felt that the author wanted to convey more about the clashing Hindu and Muslim architectures of Vijayanagara kingdom, but she cut it short in fear of boredom.

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CalcuttaScape : Nalini Rajan

Presenting a new section to the readers : CalcuttaScape. It would be a guest column on One and a Half Minutes, in which published authors will write about their experiences on visits to Calcutta. I will be approaching non-resident authors who have visited for a vacation or stayed in Calcutta for a short while.

I know, dear readers, the first question cropping on your mind would be, why Calcutta? I’m not sure if I have a satisfactory answer for this one. It is my city, at times it has been my muse, it has been a companion in my early adult years, it has been a witness to a major part of my life. This is probably my way of paying a tribute to Calcutta, by bringing to you words flown from famous authors, on a city that never ceases to amaze.

The second article in this column is from author Nalini Rajan, her first novel ‘The Pangolin’s Tale’ was longlisted for the Man Asian Literary Prize, 2007.

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Calcutta

Howrah Bridge, 1945 (Image Courtesy: Wikipedia)

Howrah Bridge, 1945 (Image Courtesy: Wikipedia)

I have visited Calcutta three times, and I have mere fragments of memories of this city.

The first time I went to Calcutta, I was nine years of age. I was travelling by train from Delhi with my 12-year-old sister and a 20-year-old male cousin, Shekhar. “Girls, there are lots of things you should see in Calcutta”, our father advised us. “This is a city, brimming with history!” He looked somewhat dreamy. “And Howrah Bridge is something you see, anyway, from the train”, he added, as he waved us goodbye at Delhi station.

Right at the beginning of the 20-hour journey my sister and I knew one thing: we loathed our cousin, and he, for his part, simply forgot that we existed. It was lucky that our mother had packed loads of food for the train journey – else her daughters would surely have perished of hunger. For the most part of the trip, Shekhar would hang out with people his age, and usually of the opposite sex. Not once did he ask us, out of cousinly concern, if we needed anything! We were so puffed up with righteous indignation at this benign neglect, that we missed seeing Howrah Bridge altogether, as we approached Calcutta.

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