Friday, April 12, 2013

Book review: Tantra

I was a part of that generation that grew up watching sitcoms like Friends, Silver Spoon, Who’s the Boss? or for the more taxing to the imagination, the likes of Buffy, the Vampire Slayer. Not much into fantasy I was never quite taken up by vampires, or werewolves or their slayers for that matter. It could have been that I was also fairly influenced by my old man’s opinion that these were nothing but American imagination let loose and gone wild.
I have been, since then, of the opinion that Indian mythologies too have their fair share of fantasy and imagination to give the West a run for their money. I accepted it and let it be. Not until I signed up for a book review program for Blogadda where I was asked to review a book by a first-time author, Adi, called Tantra. A few pages into the book I was taken back to my days of sitcom watching years – of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, only in this case it was Anu Aggarwal. Looking at the story objectively, one can pick up strong influences from contemporary fiction, like how Anu was identified as one of a kind and sent off to a special school at a very young age. Far away from home, she found a father–figure in John Drake who walked with her during her those years of training to become one among that elite force. They were the ‘guardians’, the chosen few who protected the world from vampires and such agents of the night and like all ‘chosen fews’ they had to isolate themselves from their families and sever all such ties for it only made them weak. It was like a police academy only that they churned out no-nonsense professional guardians with a reputation for killing the most dangerous vampires in New York City. Leaving not much to the imagination from my previous sentence, the story of course begins in New York where guardian Anu Aggarwal of Indian origin suddenly finds her world thrown out of order when her enemies murder the one person she truly cared about. There is not much detail as to what exactly happens to Brian but a rather forced effort at making the rest of the story, which is mostly all of it, to unfold in India.
The story is a sort of East meets West as Anu tries to fight the darker forces and save the world through her special ability of channelizing her inner forces and ignore the wordly ties that renders her capable of weilding the weapons of the Gods. In the middle of all this the desire for the typical American born ‘desi’ girl coming back to her roots and taking on her Indian tradition and culture head-on story is carried on alongside as a known garnish to this age old recipe of the two hemispheres of the globe coming to terms with each other. There is an effort to make the creatures of the night look cool but I have seen the French do it better. As a debut author, the style of writing is appreciable only that the author’s fascination with Indian myths and legends seems to have gotten the better of it, leaving the story to sort out many of the loose ends. The author seems to be targeting only the urban readers who are exposed to such fiction through television, cinema or sometimes even literature, which is the common trait in most of the debutant authors of the contemporary times. The emergence of the fascinating population of the yuppie crowd has provided many urban authors with a convenient background source for one’s fiction. There is a parallel commentary on the urban youth’s desire for the kind of lifestyle that they prefer to have and yet at the same time trying to balance it out with a generation that is still trying to come to terms with it. Thus we have Anu’s aunty who frets about how Anu must not lose out on a single opportunity to ‘mingle’ among the motley bunch of available singles and finds it perfectly normal to get into the fast lane when it comes to striking the right match with the right guy, while at the same time raises not much of a tantrum with Anu’s odd hours at the office. Of course thanks to the twenty four hours service call centres.
The book has its fiction which, if one takes a look at the blurb at the back of the book, people have found highly engaging and quite a page-turner. But at the same time for readers like us who do not know the author personally or how well-connected he is find it tempting to make parallel observations that the book seems to be a perfect subject of study for. Overall, there is a good build-up to the story and the characterization is quite interesting. Indian readers may not be too surprised to find that the guardians have struck a deal with the vampires to practice self-regulation – a perennial case one comes across on a daily basis in various aspects of life in India. 

This review is a part of the biggest" target="_blank"> Book Review Program
for" target="_blank">Indian Bloggers. Participate now to get free books!

Monday, March 4, 2013

Book review

I had signed up for this write-a-review-and-get-a-book-free thing. Needless to say, I was selected and the book arrived in a few days. I was to write a five hundred plus word review for the book within the next seven days on my blog. Here it is.

Let me begin by giving an update about the author herself, which I gathered from the book – she has an interesting mystery thriller series under her belt called the Muzzafar Jang series. It is about a Mughal detective in seventeenth century Delhi. Her penchant for dishing out mystery thrillers is evident in the short stories in the collection “My Lawfully Wedded Husband and Other Stories”, which I am slated to review. She also has a knack for the filmy, which can be seen in her writing.

As I progressed through the book, my initial observation of the language being the new corporate style (that has become the ‘in thing’ among the recent crop of young popular and new writers), stripped off the usual drama that accompanies a serious literary text, is actually hidden under the trick of finding the capacity to ‘see’ the events in the narrative as if they are playing out in front of us on a screen. This is because I noticed after reading a few stories that the author sees most of her stories being played out a series of events – just like in a film. Her blog shows her interest in that field and her writing seems nothing but a projection of it. So for a mind that is used to reading a literary text as conjunction of a series of developments within the narrative, finds this form all too simple and almost commits the mistake of passing it off as light reading. Once if you can get out of that a sensitive reader will be able to find the connection and the kind of appeal that the stories hold.

Thus in the first story, as a reader I first observed that there is a certain kind of calmness and matter of factness with which her protagonists commit the murder, only to later look back and realize that I was not looking at it enough. If one is to talk about the language of the author, it is like one can almost hear the author speak through her writing. Needless to say, she will find ready takers in script-writers. But there are loose ends that will catch the eye of the keen reader. One does not get away by serially killing two people – both of whom die after drinking coffee offered by the same person. Maybe a visual medium might provide a higher satisfaction that the stories deserve. However, at the same time, the ending is one of the best in the entire collection.  Nothing can be more fascinating in a murder plot if you can add a slight touch of mental psychosis. In this collection she deals with issues relating to adultery, to homicide, child abuse, corruption, the good winning over the bad to sexual harassment at workplace. There is a certain amount of detail that Liddle indulges in but which suddenly meet an untimely end. It would almost seem like the author had thought in great detail about certain portions of the story while seemingly in a hurry to end when it reaches the climax. However, her settings are interesting and she shows a certain degree of familiarity with them.

This author seems to be like a bundle of surprises. In each of her stories she seemed to assume a different avatar of an author. But my favourite so far has been the children stories avatar. She successfully evokes the affect of how a child now grown up would have recreated her childhood memories. Till the ending (and this is where I now find some similarity in all her stories, and which seemed like a trademark that kept the conviction of the reader intact that they were reading the work of the same author and not an anthology of short stories) it seemed that this was a young girl telling her story – in a much Ruskin Bond-like fashion. There was the sing-song-ness and the pace just perfect of a child.

Thus, Madhulika Liddle has all the qualities of a good story-teller, albeit in a different medium. There is the O’ Henry-esque sudden twist in the end that one is bound to be left surprised with. The title of the collection is catchy indeed I feel there were plenty of other stories that deserved the book title.

This review is a part of the biggest" target="_blank"> Book Review Program
for" target="_blank">Indian Bloggers. Participate now to get free books!

Thursday, February 7, 2013

My review of Joseph Anton written sometime back on good reads

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I had pre-ordered this book even before its release and finished in less than a fortnight. It is a page turner -- Rushdie gives a personal account of the nightmarish decade of the fatwa as he fought battles at various ends. Some of the pre-release reviews said that the book provides the reader the required tools of understanding and the urge to go back to his books once again and take another look. However, for me, as I made my way deeper and deeper into the world that became less Rushdie and more Joe, it let inside the head of not Salman but any 'Joe' whose right of expression is curbed by the narrowed vision of a clique of fundamentalists, powerful enough to force the British intelligence to assess and rate the risk factor at Level 2. The book is an honest account of an author who has mostly been misunderstood. The author however never cries out so but the note of honesty rings loud and clear in every page that provokes in the reader a sense of respect and adoration. Writing in third person under the identity that rancorously stuck to him for an entire decade or more, this book was more of an exercise to shed the last shreds of that fake identity and his return to the world as the Salman he always wanted to be.