Friday, July 27, 2007

The Song of Kahunsha


I had never heard of "The Song of Kahunsha" nor had i heard of "Anosh Irani".. Then how did i pick this book up? Well, i was jobless one day and homesick enough to search for books with the tag "india" in my local library.. of the numerous results i got, the name "kahunsha" stood out. It wasn't a name i had ever heard and out of sheer joblessness, i googled it to see what it meant.. to my surprise.. all hits returned only this book and its reviews.. kahunsha was a name Anosh Irani had come up with.. his name for paradise..a land with no sorrow.. That made me pick the book up. The story starts in an orphanage in bombay. narrated in third person, it mainly revolves around an inmate in the orphanage - chamdi. A small thin weak looking boy with big dreams about the world outside the orphanage compound walls.. Just when you start pitying the conditions in the orphanage and thinking how lucky you are that your life is protected, he leaves his shelter and goes out into the city. He runs away from the orphanage searching for his father who left him as an infant on the doorsteps of the orphanage. Chamdi has no clue about the outside world. From inside the gates of the orphanage, he has often dreamt about how it would be outside the gates. He gives the land outside the gates a name - Kahunsha (City of no sadness).
Armed with just this dream, Chamdi leaves the orphanage. What he finds in the city is of course, no where close to what he had in mind.
But Chamdi is lucky. He finds himself companionship on the streets of Mumbai - Sumdi and his sister. At this point, we are taken into an even more cruel world- the world of forced bondage. The world where thugs like Anad Bhai literally "own" street beggars and get daily commisions from them.
The Song of Kahunsha is a brilliant book - harsh, cruel, unforgiving, without any mercy..but still gripping and heart wrenching.

Midnight's Children


If you want to read a book solely to appreciate the author's command over the english language, Salman Rushdie should be your obvious choice. The very characteristic which made me dislike his books the first time i read them many years ago made me enjoy the book this time when i read it - the language. His command over the language is very impressive.. I enjoyed the book thoroughly just for his writing.. its amazing how just the right pick of words can make ANY incident interesting.. i never thought it to be possible. Had ANY other author picked up this storyline and decided to make a book out of it, he would have, most probably, been a terrible failure...coz I don't think anyone else could have done this much justice to the concept.

While i enjoyed the complicated language use, i also enjoyed the story of the white bedsheet with a hole in the center and the 3 spots of blood staining it.. the smelly old boatsman tai.. the story of a man who loved the different parts of the woman he saw but of course, when they came together, she was nothing like the parts had made her seem!.. the story of another woman who in an attempt to love an man she couldnt get herself to love decided to love him in parts.. concentrate on one aspect of him until she fell in love with it before moving on to the next.. the story of the birth of midnight's children.. the brass monkey.. a telepathic brain holding midnight conferences between witches and other 10 year olds with super powers.. the voice of pakistan..the constant references to hindu mythology.. and the list just goes on and on..

Salman Rushdie is a master story teller.. he's awesome! when you manage to get beyond the complex barrier created by the vocabulary (i have never heard of phantasmagoria before in my life!!), the story that is weaved is magical..

it is evident that he has laboured over each chapter, each page, each paragraph, each line..yeah..each line! and all the constant references between chapters all over the book makes you wonder if he had the whole book charted out in his brain even before he began..it definitely didnt seem to be the case of "pick up the pen and let your thoughts flow and lo! the book is complete!".. it was something much much more complicated than that. Each chapter is so disjoint from the one before it or the one following it and yet..they are all connected and tell the same story.. the story of the midnight's children..

and that brings me to another point.. the intertwining of saleem sinai's life and the life of india after independence..in his own words.."actively-literally, passively metaphorically, actively-metaphorically and passively-literally, I was inextricably entwined with my world" and then he goes on to explain this random choice of words..and suddenly, this random combination of nonsensical seeming words suddenly make sense!! the casual attitude with which political references are thrown in alongside trivial incidences of his childhood is soo cool....how they all coincide and merge!..i love the way he brings in important political landmarks in a single line in a "matter-of-fact" manner while describing something totally unrelated about saleem's life..
for example..here's one of my favorite examples..
"Via Ceylon we flew, avoiding overflying India, and thus losing our chance of watching, from twenty thousand feet, the celebrations of Indira Gandhi's New Congress Party, which had won a landslide victory.."...
i don't know why that line appealed to me soo much.. it somehow seemed to be the perfect example of the casual references to important political landmarks..

Another thing i loved about the book were the little details.. the details that could have been easily ignored but what salman rushdie thought were important..the very details which made reading the book such an enjoyable experience.. For example, when saleem was putting together an anonymous letter from newspaper cuttings, rushdie gives a detailed list of the news items from which he obtained the different letters he used in his little note.. eg, "DER was concealed in "nehru consiDERs resignation at congress assembly"..etc etc.. his own special way of adding more political tidbits to the already interesting story..

My favourite character in the book..thats a tough decision to make.. but i think i'll settle for the dung goddess.. Padma.. her innocence and her enthusiasm is listening to saleem's story is very endearing. the way she sits at his feet and urges him to go on with his story.. she's quite a dear..

Though at times, the story line did seem to border on absurdity..(i mean, talks of child that can change sex by just having a dip in water etc don't really appeal to my senses), the language and the way the absurd story was spun was awesome. I loved the way, the whole books seems like a web.. there are references to different part of the book in every chapter..just a word dropped in the middle that would immediately take you a few chapters back.. he talks about stuff from previous chapters and stuff that's going to happen in the future chapters.. and they are all sooo linked! Reading such a book with full comprehension was quite an experience.

I am glad of that feeling that made me pick this book up and read it again inspite of not liking any of rushdies works the previous time i tried reading them.. i was not prepared for his works then.. i seem to be in a better state now..

will i read another rushdie soon??? definitely yes..:)

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Pride and Prejudice


How can i NOT write about this book.... The first time i read the book, i was too overwhelmed by the english to enjoy the satire, the comedy and the story of the book.. i started enjoying the book from the second time i picked it up and have liked it ever since.

I suddenly felt like picking it up again and i was scared that reading it for the nth time would definitely spoil its taste.. but that was not the case.. i totally enjoyed the book.

I love the romance between Elizabeth Bennett and Mr.Darcy. For the longest time in high school, i wanted to grow up be as strong willed as Elizabeth and meet with my Mr.Darcy.. it was my idea of a perfect romance:) Now after all these years, i still enjoyed the romance and the quirky twists in tale. Mrs. Bennett's stupidity(for lack of a better word) amuse me. Even when her youngest daughter had totally put the family to shame by eloping with a squadering man, all that she could think of amidst her tears was to pass on a message for her NOT to buy her wedding gown without her mother around.. Mr. Bennett mocks her throughout the book..guess that is his way of putting up with her stupidity..

I think this book has been analyzed and re-analyzed by literary enthusiasts of all ages. Every known "literature-enthusiast" talks about Pride and Prejudice when talking about classics.. and all that talk, i think, gives it a status that i don't think even jane austen imagined!

The old english language is refreshing. The lifestyle of "high society" and "middle class" english are quite comical.. For the longest time in life, i always wanted to have a house with a cozy drawing room with a fireplace and a piano and dreamt of a life where we would "retire" to the drawing room after dinner to read, play the piano, write letters, or play games..:) and ofcourse there would be all those exciting balls where I would be asked to dance:)) hehe!

Reading Pride and Prejudice has evoked all those memories in me now and thats what makes the book more dear.. it transports me back in time to an age where nothing occupied my mind more than tea parties and dancing and lengthy letters..and of course Mr.Darcy and Rhett Butler.. My affections were always divided between the two..:)

It is tough to come across a book with soooo much character these days.. irony, comedy and satire fill the pages along with quaint phrases and amusing descriptions of lifestyles..

My favorite part in the whole book is where Mr.Darcy proposes to Elizabeth.."In vain I have struggled. It will not do. My feelings will not be repressed. You must allow me to tell you how ardently i admire you and love you".. this of course has to be said in an hurried and agitated manner..:)

Pride and Prejudice.. one of my all time favourites..even the thought of the book brings a smile to my lips:)

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

The Shopaholic series - 5 books




There are times when you are in desperate need of a light book - something like a chick flick.. something that you can read, smile, finish and not think about about later. It happened to me when i was reading epics like Shantaram, A suitable boy, etc.. and happened again yesterday when i needed to get away from the complicated writing of Salman Rushdie in Midnight's children.. For times like this, Sophie Kinsella gives you the best solution - The Shopaholic series of books.

There are 5 books in the series:

1. Confessions of a Shopaholic (The Secret Dreamworld of a Shopaholic)
2. Shopaholic takes Manhattan (Shopaholic Abroad)
3. Shopaholic ties the knot
4. Shopaholic and sister
5. Shopaholic and baby

** in brackets - names of books in the UK edition..

and each book is a master piece.. you have to read the books in order to get the little references to the past that is continuously made in all the books.. but if you do pick one out of order, its not a big deal.. the books are entertaining no matter what order you read them in( thats what i think..i read them in order and so i wouldnt really know!)..

The main character in these books is becky brandon.. yes..the shopaholic.. a person who's addiction to shopping drives even you crazy! and the irony of it all, she worked as a financial advisor! in this series, she meets luke, moves to manhattan with him, marries him, and even has a baby.. and through all these "maturing" changes in her life.. she remains -the shopaholic..
In the middle of all this, she even meets a sister she never had (a half sister actually) and all her dreams of going shopping with her sister crazh when she realises that her sister is a sensible, level headed, frugal geologist..who hated shopping and would have nothing to do with barneys, tiffany's or any other brand name!

The book are hilarious.. Ad of course, like in a typical chick flick, in the middle of all the shopping and nonsensical activities, she manages to do something brilliant by the end of the book (usually unintentional) and that finishes the books with the "happily ever after" tag..until ofcourse, the next book in the series comes along and you realize that she hasnt changed one bit..:)

Becky brandon, for all her dumbness and shopping addiction, is quite a darling..

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

The Namesake


And I am officially the last one to read the book!:(.. EVERYONE i know has already read it and i don't know what took me soo long to actually get the book and read it even after hearing all those awesome reviews for the book and the movie!
so i am not going to say much about it..coz i know you've already read it..
but it was a great book..jhumpa lahiri brought out the true feeelings of an immigrant woman soo perfectly..everything she said hit soo close to home!
i somehow found the whole process of naming "gogol" very hilarious.. ashima's and ashoke's vain attempts to differentiate between "pet name" and "good name" had me rolling on the floor..don't know why!!
and yet there were parts that made me cry.. the worst was when ashoke dies.. tha pain of separation was depicted soo clearly in the book..not just ashima's pain..she was ofcourse completely dependant on ashoke and her pain was obvious.. it was gogol's pain that touched me the most...the hours he spent in the apartment that his dad last occupied and all the thoughts that went through his mind when he was there were soo touching..
it is soo easy to drift away from your parents when you grow up..you get involved in your life and you have your own issues to take care of that their presence seems to be merely a hindrance.. and yet you fell guilty for thinking that way.. i guess every person goes through this stage at some point or the other in their lives and no one could have described it better than jhumpa lahiri..
the behaviour of all second generation indians in the US has also been brought out beautifully.. their lack of attachment to India is understandable as they have none of those nostalgic memories their parents have..
i totally enjoyed reading the book and weeping through it..
and when i finished the book, i decided NOT to watch the movie.. movies are also quite disappointing after the book..whether it was the da vinci code or the harry potter series.. and somehow the images from the movie tend to stick with you..
somehow, the images formed in my mind while reading "the namesake" are beautiful and i do not want to spoil them by watching the movie..coz i know it is not possible to get all the minute details of the book into the movie and that is what i'll miss the most.
amazing book!!

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Just A Guy - Notes from a Blue Collar Life


** Bill Engvall is a stand-up comedian and a member of the Blue Collar Comedy Group.

When all that you are looking for is light meaningless reading, "Just a Guy" by the comedian Bill Engvall is not a bad pick. The book caught my life in the library bookshelf when i was browsing for something light to pick up..and not one more sophie kinsella..:) After having seen him on tbs ads for his new comedy show, i decided to pick the book up.. and it was more or less what i wanted.. a really light book that didnt need too much atention, too much thought, but entertained me nevertheless.
The book wasn't spectacularly humourous.. it didnt make me roll on the floor with laughter.. coming to think of it, it didnt even make me smile.. it was just a collection of memories from his life..right from when he was a little boy till when he was married and had kids and a successful career as a comedian..and it was very simply written..
One thing that totally bugged me how he typically like most other comedian men chose the "men-have-only-three-things-on-their-mind" comedy.. i hate that! I mean, why do sitcoms and books have to have irresponsible, foolish men and sensible, intelligent wives to be a succesful comedy sitcom/book?? Bill Engvall bases his book on the theme - I am just a guy.. i have only three things on my mind - water, sleep and sex.
oh come on.. give me a break..that is not even funny any more!
I wouldn't recommend this as a great read.. but it definitely doesn't suck.. so if you are looking for something to keep you occupied for a couple of hours..something that you dont really have to give a thought to ever again after in your life.. you can pick this book up!

The Story of My Life


* This book is the winner of a contest in ABC's "Good Morning America". It is a true life story of Farah Ahmedi, a refugee in the US from Afganisthan.

When you read books like "The Namesake" and "Colony", you are struck by the similarity between the two completely different books...they both involve stories of women..their lives..and both books start AFTER their wedding. The significant things that happen in their lives seem to happen only after the age of 25.. after reading the books, i started to wonder about my own life..these 24 years i led, how significant would they be when look back at my life many years down the lane? my question remains unanswered.. but there is one girl who has experienced more of life/death/sorrows/separation/etc..than many would even dare to imagine in their lives..and all this before celebrating her 18th birthday!

Farah Ahmedi was born in Afganisthan in 1987.. Her childhood was nothing like the sheltered childhood i have experienced. There was always an under current of war and unease in their seemingly normal lives. She lived with her parents and 4 siblings and they seemed to have a pretty normal life according to her.. inspite of hearing bombing occasionally and hearing stories of rockets hitting someone's house and killing just a few people..
School was a two hour concept during the day that was more often closed than open ..thanks to "bad bomb days"..
One day, Farah steps on a land mine that just short of kills her.. the appaling medical conditions of war-ravaged Afganisthan i protrayed through the eyes of an injured 7 year old. She is sent to Germany for a couple of years to get treated. It is here that Farah sees a "normal" life.. women with freedom to do as they please is a new concept for her and peaceful days with no bombings and talk of death.. a surprise!.In spite of missing her family, and a leg (she is put on a prosthetic leg and her other leg is fitted with an artificial knee), Farah begins to enjoy the freedom.
She eventually gets healed and has to return to Afganisthan at the age of 9. Now she begins to see the lacking in all their lives. She talks to her father about moving to a different country.. one with peace..but he is settled in kabul and does not want to move from things that he has been familiar with all his life..
Farah continues to miss germany and scornes at everything Afgani..everything that was her life until she had tasted the freedom.. and then one day, she realizes that her dreams of germany and a free life would remain what they were- a dream.. She decides to shun the german clothes she has been wearing and decides to return to Afgani clothes - her way of showing her family that she has finally accepted reality.
She makes a trip to the clothes store with her mother to get new fabrics for clothes for her..and when they come back from the store..they realize that their lives have been changed for ever.. a rocket bomb landed on their house killing her dad - the pillar of the family..
what follows is years of suffering, an escape to pakistan, and just more suffering there until they suddenly see a light at the end of the tunnel.. The possibility of escape to the US. They eventually land in the US to realize that life here is not a bed of roses.. we realize how diificult life in the US can be for two women who know no english and have been left to fend for themselves..

This is a really touching story.. experience makes Farah soo mature that while reading the book, you have to contantlyremind yourself of her age.. what she has had to go through at such a tendr age is appaling.. makes you realize how gifted you are for leading such a sheltered life..

This story also gives us a better understanding of the state of affairs in Afganisthan than "The Kite Runner" did..

Awesome book..:)

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Riot


Every list of good english books by indian authors had shashi tharoor's 'Riot' in it and that made me ant to read the book.. just to see what others had enjoyed so much and to see if i would react the same way to the book. Now that i am done with the book , i don't know what it is that i have to rave about more - the style of writing, the content, the characters, the plot.. everything about this book was amazing.
I have never been one for the news papers.. my love for reading unfortunately did not extend to reading news papers and that has always left me lacking in knowledge of affairs happening around me.. i would always know the gist of everything but never really bother to find the details.. due to that careles attitude, events did not have a significant impact on me...Only when i read Riot did i realize how much i missed by not knowing indian history.. i learnt soo much from just that one book and what i liked best about it was the opinion was unbiased.. the babri masjid incient was talked about in detail.. but not from one particular person's point of view.. we got to know how a muslim professor felt about the issue and also the views of a hindu politician..no judgements were passed..
the sikh police officer talks aboutoperation blue star and the golden temple in amritsar.. the gory details of innocent sikhs losing their lives as soon as indira gandhi was killed by her own body guards tugged at my heart..
the image of a poor little boy burning alive inside his ambassador car haunts my dreams even now.. the images of indi that this book brings to my mind are ones that i have unconsciously ignored...but can't do so anymore..
somehow, it only makes me miss home more..
one more thing that i liked about this book was that all these facts were presented around a fictitious story. the story of an american public health worker.. a girl who comes to india to help in the upliftment of poor rural women.. she falls in love with a married south indian man and that brings up the differences in american and indian cultures... the difference in views when it comes to marriages, love and life..
the writing style of the book needs special mention.. riot is not a conventional novel.. it is a collection of news paper articles, diary entries, interviews, transcripts, etc.. there is no flow to the story.. you know what happens at the very beginning.. an american girl is killed in a riot in uttar pradesh.. and her parents travel to india to visit the place where she last lived and died in an attempt to find closure..
you can read any chapter in any order and even ignore chapters and you wouldnt really miss the story.. you have the freedom to select and read what you want to know.. it is really nice!
i totally enjoyed reading this books..easily one of the best books i have read by any indian author.. unlike some indian authors who leave a bad after-taste of india once you are done with the book, tharoor leaves a good impression..inspite of the fact that all that book revolves around is a riot!
oh..by the way, the book has two covers..one for the indian edition and one for the american edition.. took the image of the indian edition cover though i read a book with the other cover. this somehow seemed to tug at me more..

Monday, July 2, 2007

A Breath of Fresh Air


Reading an Amulya Malladi novel is like a visit to Saravana Bhavan/ Udipi restuarant.. it is what you turn to when you miss india all that you want is to taste and smell it.. the previous book of hers, The Mango Season did remind me of homemade raw mango pickles and ripe fleshy mango pulp!! and with it came memories of hot indian summers.. and home..
it wasnt just the mango that made me miss home.. it was the story line and the authentic characters.. and that was what made me pick up "A Breath of Fresh Air"..
The book starts with the Bhopal Gas Tragedy, 1984 through the eyes of a victim in the prologue.. and the actual book is set 15 years later.. a complicated web of marriage/betrayal/compromise/sacrifice is woven throughout the novel..
the dreams of young girl getting ready to be married.. hopes of a romance like the ones she's read in Mills and Boons.. meeting a guy through common friends.. and for sometime, she actually believes that her dreams might come true when she realizes that the guy picked for her was from the army.. a very smart and stylish young army officer..a grand wedding takes places and then she is forced to face reality.. behind the facade of a the smart smiling army officer is someone she does not recognize nor like..
the marriage does not survive much beyond the gas tragedy..
Just when she's settled in a different life, 15 years later, she meets her first husband again.. all of them involved are thrown into the confusion together..
And anything more that i say about the book would just reveal everything there is to the book!
The thing that i liked best about the book was the genuineness of the characters..Though we get frustrated at anjali confusion, i guess every woman would go through the same feelings..
the style of writing is very simple and that makes you concentrate wholly on the plot of the novel.. the best part of the book is the accurate portrayal of emotions..
it doesnt take you too long to finish this novel.. but once you are done with it, it stays with you for a while..
another bonus for me in the story was that the second part is completely set in ooty, and it brought back wonderful memories of my childhood.. and made me closer to the book than i expected:)