Monday, July 21, 2014

The Taliban Cricket Club by Timeri N. Murari

Title:  The Taliban Cricket Club
Authors:  Timeri N. Murari
Category: Fiction 
Publisher: Aleph Book Comapny
Date: 2013
Price: Rs. 295
Pages: 336

Snapshot:   This story is a work of fiction around the fact that the Taliban did apply to ICC for Afghanistan to have a cricket team and to be included in international cricket. A family which includes a female reporter and her cousins form a team, as it becomes their only passport to get out of the Afghanistan under the Taliban rule.

The Review:  With a cover page as eye catching as one the best pictures by National Geographic, in the region we have loved to read about "Afghanistan", the combination of Taliban and Cricket on top of that is just too much to resist. When I was gifted a hard copy of this book by my senior Swati who is a greater bookworm that I am, I was sure it was special. I couldn't resist but begin reading this book and gave it my complete holiday, just unable to put it down.

The  story begins with Rukhsana, a free spirited under cover (being a female)  journalist being summoned by Zorak Wahidi - Minister of Propogation of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, Taliban Goverment in Afghanistan.

Her only surviving parent is a mother suffering from cancer which has relapsed. She was a journalist with Kabul Daily, but the day Taliban came to power, the very man Zorak Wahidi, used physical violence to get women in her office understand that Taliban law "Women should be seen only in homes of graves", which ofcourse the meant the end of her career and many more like her. However, she was a bit of a rebel and continues writing about the miserable life of people, especially women as an alias via contacts for Hindustan Times in Delhi. 

Upon reaching there, with her male companion (mahram) which was a must for women when they travel during the Taliban rule; she is happy to find her old editor in chief Yasir,and other journalists. They were summoned to publish an announcement that Afghanistan believes it should have a Cricket team, it being the only sport where sportsmen are covered.  Civillians were invited to form teams and the team that won would get to go to Pakistan for a formal training. This is the best news men in Rukhsana, her brother Jahan and their cousins have heard. Most family business have been blown in the war, or shut down by Taliban. they also stopped all education, hence youngsters just waited endlessly with this nightmare rule to end. Many people were trying to escape, through any means possible, this opportunity presented as a bright ray in the darkest tunnel of their lives, luckily for them Rukhsana is the one who knows the game, has played for the college team when she studied in Delhi, India.

The author intelligently introduces the reader to Rukhsanas beautiful past in Delhi, Veer, her love in bits and pieces as she discovers the batting equipment. It is the story of immense attaraction, companionship, love and loss; as her family is an orthodox and she returns to Afghanistan post her studies. she doesn't rebel against her who had fixed her alliance with a distant cousin Shaheen, as is the ritual there. She dares to love in full knowledge of the fact but doesn't dare to stand up to her own father for Veer. The aches of love continue in bits and pieces as we know more about their story, Veers communication post their separation and his inability to get over her and vice versa. Shaheen on the other hand flees Afghanistan suddenly one night, leaving a meager that he would send money to her to join him in the USA  and marry him, as promised. She waits endlessly for Shaheen, though in her heart loves Veer. 

At this point the story gets a 180 degree twist when Wahidi sends his elder brother Droon, to fix a marriage alliance with Rukhsana. Her mother though sick and waiting for her end, her brother though younger and weighed by greater responsibilities, her cousins though distant just want her to escape, but under no circumstances marry a Talib.  They get a momentart relief in the lie that Rukhsana had been attending a wedding in another town but his men continue to patrol the house to find her or the lie. But will the endeavour be fruitful? Will their team win against the state team of Afghanistan? Will she be able to save her only brother Jahan? To know all of this grab a copy.

The Review:
Positives:  Apart from a simple language and a steady flow the author plans Rukhsana's past to be revealed to the reader in bits, creating great curiosity in the beginning and satiating the same at the right moment. This also helps keep the note of the story lighter, giving the reader a hope that keeps him glued to the end. The best part however was the way he described the game of Cricket as the game that brings out the collective outcome of team work and individual excellence and traits at the same time. I was really skeptical the Cricket part, the detailing would bore me but no, it didn't not even for a minute. The fresh concept of Taliban and Cricket provides one the read, one was looking for, for a long time. 

Negatives: The last part could have been made more dramatic, the escape seemed simpler after the entire euphoria of going through the entire story.

The Verdict:  Highly recommended read. 3.5 stars on 5.

About the Author
Timeri N. Murari is an award-winning writer, filmmaker and playwright. Time magazine chose his film, The Square Circle, as one of its top ten films of 1997. His works include the bestselling novel Taj, which has been translated into 21 languages. He lives with his wife in his ancestral home in Chennai.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

The Cover Story

Book writing is a tedious task and picking up a good book confusing. With about 14+ titles released by a major publishing house each month, there is just the lot to read and the ever hanging question "What to read?". Authors and publishers therefore do their best in serving the dish with decor , which means a good focus is put on not just what is inside but even what is outside.

Certainly you cannot judge a book by its cover, but a good cover catches the vision and the reader does end up reading the blurb at the back, may be even the first two chapters before deciding to buy. A cover is the face of the book and if appropriately made can portray whats inside, and even hide just enough to get you thinking and want you explore. 

I am somebody who gets attracted to cover pages and that itself begins with me boarding onto the journey and if I like the first few chapters and the flow well we do reach destination sooner than we thought. Being a cover page enthusiast I shall now try to bring to you story behind the best cover pages (in my opinion), their creation right from ideation, the myths, the symbolism, the choice of depiction, everything that we can manage to get.

So are you ready to listen to the story the coverpage has to tell?

Friday, July 18, 2014

"Angarey- 9 Stories And A Play" - by Mahmuduzzafar, Sajjad Zahir, Ahmed Ali, Rashid Jahan; translated from Urdu by Vibha S.Chauhan and Khalid Alvi

Title:  Angarey- 9 Stories And A Play
Authors: Mahmuduzzafar, Sajjad Zahir, Ahmed Ali, Rashid Jahan; translated from Urdu by Vibha S.Chauhan and Khalid Alvi
Category: Fiction (Anthology)
Publisher: Rupa Publications India
Date: 2014
Price: Rs. 195
Pages: 144

Summary of the Book

Angarey was first published in the year 1932, but it happened to be one of the first books to have been banned on free speech in the country then, by the British Government of India. It was then re-published in 1995 in Urdu. The book had stories that reflected the hard truths and had no mercy on pretense or sham, which could have evoked the protests back then. But it is now published in English for the first time, after being translated sensibly and sensitively. It will bring to you some of the most evocative stories like A Night of Mahavatt, The Clouds Don’t Come and The Winter Rainthat belonged to the beginning of Progressive Writers Movement in the twentieth century.

The Review:  Anyone interested in literature loves the writings of the era gone by more than the current times for many reasons. For me it is because these writings are the only means to connect with the ideology of the past and ponder upon the structural and ideological changes in the society since then. This book being all of that was also the fruit of the forbidden tree being banned right after its publication in 1932 and it spoke of liberal views prevalent even in that era. How could this voice not drive me? I stuck to the book like honey bee to a comb.
The stories in the book are all short to the point. The narrative technique used is "the stream of consciousness" that hits the heart right as intended by the authors. The book speaks about poverty, the double standard of the upper class society and the religious priests alike. It speaks about infidelity and dominance of men and the last play "Behind the Veil" delivers it simply yet sarcastically. The intertwined thoughts of women who since birth were taught and trained to wives and mothers, let their hearts out about their fanatics being born as the very Christian women (as it is written during the British rule) they would hate as daughter-in-laws. 
I believe the book was banned mostly because it didn't pretend to or hint at the issues it wanted to portray but was a full fledged direct attack at the double faced society, which I hope people would be able to accept now better than those times. Having said that its also important to mention that the issues that existed then are unfortunately not the issues of the past, they live very much even today amongst us or we chose to nurture them, this translation like an alert signal has come out at the right demanding freedom, more so now post independence singing "its a high time", more than there ever was. 
The translation was difficult with a modern narrative technique but has been accomplished beautifully, and I wish the motive of the same is successful. A must read for everyone 4.5 stars on 5 especially for erasing the myth that Indians are not direct and straightforward, well some of them have been and mercilessly so as deserved. Taste it to believe it. 
About the Authors
Sajjad Zaheer was a famous Urdu poet, Marxist thinker, writer and dramatist. He completed his studies in Law at the Oxford University. His translation works include Othello, Gora, The Prophet and Candide. Some of his famous works are London Ki Ek Raat, Roshnai, Zikre Hafiz and Pighla Nilam.
Ahmed Ali was a renowned poet, translator, diplomat, novelist and scholar. He and Mahmud-uz-Zaffar formed the League of Progressive Authors which later expanded and became the All-India Progressive Writers’ Association. Ahmed Ali is the author of Twilight in Delhi.
Rashid Jahan was a famous Urdu writer. She was known for her progressive and groundbreaking short stories. Rashid was also involved with the Communist Party of India. She dies in Moscow. She is the author of Dilli Ki Sair.
Mahmuduzzafar had graduated from Oxford and came back to India in the year 1931 as he had turned out to be an active nationalist. He wrote the play called Amir Ka Mahal in Urdu.
Dr Vibha S. Chauhan teaches English at the Zakir Husain Delhi College, University of Delhi.
Dr Khalid Alvi teaches Urdu at the Zakir Husain Delhi College, University of Delhi.

I thank Rupa Publications for a review copy.

Sita's Curse by Sreemoyee Piu Kundu

Title:  Sitas Curse - The Language Of Desire
Authors: Sreemoyee Piu Kundu
Category: Fiction (Erotica)
Publisher: Hachette India
Date: 2014
Price: Rs. 350
Pages: 344

Snapshot:  This is a story of Meera, a village girl from Gujarat through which the author depicts the desires of a woman and her plight in the Indian society.

The Review:  Meera a daughter and hence neglected right from her birth, being born a twin after a male child Kartik. Growing up with a male sibling till she comes of age is like being an equal. Kartik and Meera were one. However the love was not bounded by dimensions of the womb and extends beyond being brother and sister. Kartik resists the distancing from Meera as she matures and she longs only for him, as for a woman her first touch was him. It's relationship difficult to explain in words. She looses him however as he passes away in an accident, but a woman never forgets her first love and for Meera he was the first being she knew.

Meera is beautiful and as a woman alert enough to notice the eyes that fall upon her, gaze her and lust her, be it her dance teacher or the crowd when she plays Sita in her school plays. Playing Sita over and over again she thinks, relates and eventually through her own life understands how every woman in the orthodox Indian male dominating society is after all a Sita. The parallels between the two characters was the best component of the story.  

She marries Mohan, a man who is not only ten years older, but also belongs to a very orthodox family. The inability to bear an offspring is the next curse after her craving for physical intimacy from an husband who is either not interested or is wild, when what Meera seeks is passion. She is taken to a Maharaj to cure her infertility and the episodes that follow were very uncomfortable. However, the reality being otherwise, there is no choice but surrender. Meera so alone and wanting that she grasps the most frail blade in the name of love, lust of the Maharaj. She however fails to conceive. Her life with Mohan occasionally paying some attention continues, but her thirst drives her to some sexual encounters. Love however is still far like some myth. 

She then discovers the Internet and as with most lonely people goes cyber chatting. Her needs are fulfilled here, for love and desire both. She meets the man Yousuf but after just one meet of passionate love, in an accident he too passes away. Meera blames herself and unable to control her own emotions her affair story is visible to Mohan who physically abuses her. She leaves her house in search of Yousuf's body for one last time, in search of may be herself, in search of love, in search of the fulfilment of her own desires. Will a Sita ever get what she wishes, even a bit of that affection?

This book made me think about lives of the most beautiful women we adore on the silver screen, whom men lusted then and many admire even today Marlyn Monroe, Madhubala and mare more. What did they not have to deserve love.?Why is a woman the more beautiful she is just an object of lust, like a toy, used and forgotten?

The other huge realization which I am not sure many would agree with me here is, one cannot write "just Erotoica" in India. Indian women and even women in may countries are desired but not supposed to have desire. A minimal exhibit of either brands her as a slut or uncultured. Why is desire not accepted of a woman when it is of a man? Biologically speaking both beings have a hormonal system. An Indian woman remains someone who is lusted and even raped but expected to be the object and never the subject. She might be worshipped in temples but oh! that's an illusion for in her own home even the CEO of the biggest multinational is nothing but someone who has to prioritize the needs of her male counterpart and his family. A woman in India is and will always be a Sita, nothing has changed. 

Positives:  The writing is very good, Sreemoyee Piu Kundu has set standards that can be paralleled with writing anywhere in the world. The flow is smooth and editing crisp. Language is simple.

Negatives:  The use of Hindi and Gujarati words comes out very prominently than it otherwise against the backdrop of the authors hold over the English language. Most of these words still blend, however the Yousuf's part of dialogues disturbs the equilibrium and could have been avoided.

The Verdict: A recommended read for women and more for men to be able to understand a woman. 4 stars on 5.

About Sreemoyee Piu Kundu
Sreemoyee Piu Kundu is the former Lifestyle editor and PR head who is settled in Delhi. The full-time novelist has also penned Faraway Music and is working on a political tragedy entitled Rahula.
I thank Hachette India for a review copy.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

The Legend of Ramulamma by Vithal Rajan

Title:  The Legend of Ramulamma
Authors: Vithal Rajan
Category: Fiction
Publisher: Hachette India
Date: 2014
Price: Rs. 350
Pages: 200

Snapshot: This book has a very fresh concept about a forty year old lady (a dalit midwife) playin a detective. 

The Review: The book had it all, an impressive blurb which promised adventures of an unusual character, plus a great cover page to get me reading it the very day it arrived. Ramulamma is a dalit mid-wife, called dai in India, who lives by doing odd jobs and helping people by here clever observations and quick summation of facts. 

 The first story is the best one where she manages to bring justice to the case of a poor low caste girl being raped by rich spoilt brats. What was more realistic was that the justice was realistic and practical, something that forms the solid core of all the stories. The outcome of the cases was the most critical balance and a huge challenge for the author. 

The stories like She Closes The Case and The Case Of The Missing Necklace became my next favourites wherein Ramulamma scores again in her simple, indirect yet emphatic manner. While in stories like The Grandest Wedding In Town and The Visitor,  Ramulamma is that silent spectator who simply acts in the end like the schocking twist in a movie. 

The book in many ways highlights the plight of the poor and the middle class. How birth could dictate more than it should. On the other hand it also provides light at the end of the tunnel in the form of a central character that within its limits ensures that justice in the least, may not be direct, even if indirect is served to the innocent. Also as I always mention in each review where a collection of short stories by just one author is involved that maintaining uniqueness in each of them is crucial and Vithal Rajan manages to do that quiet effortlessly.

Positives: The concept is fresh and unheard of. A brave attempt with an unusual central character who acts Sherlock. Each story is crisp, unique and most plots are good. The language is simple. The most impressive part being that the cases are not blown up, nor is the character to do justice to the outcome of the cases. Each outcome is measurable, achievable and very realistic.

Negatives:  In the story A Cure For Sugunamma the fact that she knew more than doctors was hard to digest for the biologist in me. In fact the entire story was out of theme and couldn't match up to the others and should have been replaced by a case. The story A Million Protesters again does establish principles and adds one more chapter confirming Ramulamma's observations but fails compared to the others in terms of plot and execution.

Overall better selection of stories could have made this book exemplary and Ramulamma's character could have been The Sherlock Dai of India, but that is missed by a few points. 

The Verdict: Having said everything because I did enjoy the rest of the stories I would love to have the author tell us more of Ramulamma's adventures and if there ever is a second book I shall be the first one to pick it up, for the character is brilliant. 3.5 stars on 5. Definitely worth a read.

I am eager to read other books by the author like: Holmes of The Raj, the Year of High Treason and Jungu -The Baiga princess.

About the Author

Vithal Rajan did his PhD from the London School of Economics. He was the first executive director of the Right Livelihood Award Foundation, Sweden, popularly known as the Alternative Nobel Prize. He has founded and managed several NGOs in India. In 2006, he was made an officer of the order of Canada for high merit and lifetime achievement in the service of humanity. He is also the author of Holmes of the Raj, Sharmaji Padmashree, The Legend of Ramulamma and several short stories.

I thank Hachette India for a review copy.

The Uncommon Memories of Zeenat Qureishi by Veena Nagpal

Title: The Uncommon Memories of Zeenat Qureishi 
Authors: Veena Nagpal
Category: Suspense/Drama
Publisher: Tara Press
Date: 2014
Price: Rs. 254 
Pages: 478

Two young cousins hell-bent on restoring Muslim glory, even if it means importing terror. An incendiary Hindu religious leader with one mantra, 'Break-mosques, buildtemples.' Zeenat Qureishi has one question, "What's my name? Why can't you tell me my name?"Traumatised in the aftermath of the London Tube bombing, the phobic 20-year-old comes to India. Long before Zeenat was born, the eldest Qureishi brother, his wife, and six-year-old daughter Zainab were murdered.

Zeenat's family believed the Mehras, their Hindu family friends, responsible and the friendship turned sour. Wild and impetuous Zeenat promptly falls in love with Ajay Mehra. Faced with proof that he was involved in the demolition of a mosque, she scorns him.

Disturbed, Zeenat undergoes regression therapy in an atmosphere of paranoia and uncovers memories so powerful that she can project them. Communal bitterness that has simmered for centuries threatens to explode around her and Zeenat tries to find answer in the past that will help her understand and heal the present.

About The Author: 
A graduate of Lucknow University, Veena Nagpal majored in English literature. She has written two previous novels, Karmayogi (Jaico) and Compulsion (Sterling). She has also written four children’s books, Time Travellers, Smuggler’s Isle, Tenderella and the FoFs and Garbie Garbyhog – The Worm That Wanted To Fly. Her short stories and articles on diverse topics have been published in leading Indian magazines. She lives with her family in Delhi and devotes most of her time to writing on environmental issues. 

Grab A Copy Here!!! 

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The Uncommon Memories of Zeenat Qureishi by Veena Nagpal

Title: The Uncommon Memories of Zeenat Qureishi 
Authors: Veena Nagpal

Category: Suspense/Drama
Publisher: Tara Press
Date: 2014
Price: Rs. 254 
Pages: 478

Snapshot :
The book essentially depicts the religious volatility in the  modern times with pinches of historic massacres through the eyes of a tormented young and impetuous protagonist. The dark ethos of the religious fundamentalism and its impact is dealt with optimum sensibility and excellent narration.

Review :
It has been a very common style lately to weave an imaginary plot against any real-life incident. Not only it catalyze the connection with the readers but also it comes with an exponentially accelerated enthusiasm. Not only in literary works – have even the movies adopted it successfully. And, in Indian and also the subcontinent context – the issue of religion has always been a taboo. Many a time including some spectacular masterpieces like Khuda Ke Liye explored the religious state of the region. Even the stalwarts like Meera Nair also could not put off her from The Reluctant Fundamentalist being filmed. And, with all such overweighing baggage of expectation and footprints of masters – Veena Nagpal comes up with her work of fiction – The Uncommon Memories Of Zeenat Quereishi – with a plot that clearly falls in the genre.

Religious turbulence has always been a major issue in the socio-political arena of the world. And, Islam has always been a subject of discussion influencing the turbulence. Though a highly debatable issue, the western countries many a time has shown intolerance towards the “fundamentalists” which affected directly a section of people believing in Islam and supports progressiveness. And, the situation always gets bitter. The author here in a very sensible manner portrayed the events of inhuman turbulence. The tormented protagonist experiences a life of dangerous religious clashes. And, with all these high voltage Hindu-Muslim turmoil – she falls for a neighboring Hindu guy!

When an author projects a story in the backdrop of any social theme – it is very important to weave the events and juxtapose them against the plot. The author here weaved the events in a very well-knitted style. Never had it seemed out of context. And, the timeline of events, though spreaded across, was never lousy. Unlike the major mistake that Pankaj Kapur made in his ambitious Mausum, where he also explored many events – against the story without any involvements of the hero / heroine– the author here knitted the plot across the background and made it more responsive to the readers. The author here also used creative liberty in many a place to commensurate with the plot.

There is a very thin line between sensationalization and sensitization. Though she was dealing with such a subject – she never went ahead or behind the point. She kept it touchy. She made it to feel. With simple words. Effective narration. And, interesting plot. but, she never went above the mark to affect sensibility. Though in many places, the shortening of sub-plots may have helped it to become a page-turner – it never bores though.

The author kept a balancing act intact. The religious fundamentalism was exposed. Be it of any religion. In the genre highly explored and tried – tested – Veena Nagpal though gave nothing very mint-fresh – opened a way for a thought-provoking intelligent read. It is a read that stays with you for long. You can almost feel the protagonist. Her emotion moves you. Her pain hurts you. Her wilderness scares you. Her projection of past life experiences scares you. And, “Her Uncommon Memories” glue you. To the pages of the book!

Rating :

3.5 / 5

About The Author: 
A graduate of Lucknow University, Veena Nagpal majored in English literature. She has written two previous novels, Karmayogi (Jaico) and Compulsion (Sterling). She has also
written four children’s books, Time Travellers, Smuggler’s Isle, Tenderella and the FoFs and Garbie Garbyhog – The Worm That Wanted To Fly. Her short stories and articles on diverse topics have been published in leading Indian magazines. She lives with her family in Delhi and devotes most of her time to writing on environmental issues.

This book is reviewed by Sankha Ghosh: 
Sankha Ghosh was never born in that 'City of Joy', never dreamt of being a banker, never watched a Godard, never loved Kafka, never fell for that Solitary Reaper, never danced on a friend’s wedding, never fought for human rights, never had a crush at college and never ever aspired to work on a novel! Never was he as simple as this! #He wishes