Category Archives: Indian authors

The Forest of Enchantments – A #Review

Mythology tells timeless tales. Which is perhaps why, we never tire of listening to these stories from our childhood. Or perhaps the charm lies in the voice of the storyteller who brings something new, something unexpected to the tale; a new perspective perhaps or a poetic narration – something that makes the same old story fresh and exciting.

That’s why Chitra Banerjee’s The Forest of Enchantments was a book I was really looking forward to. It made me break my no-book-buying resolve within a few days of making it. Oh well!

The story 

…. of Sita is not new – found as an infant by the king of Mithila she is married off to Ram, the charismatic scion of the Raghu clan. When Ram is banished to fourteen years of exile she decides to accompany him, is abducted by the powerful Asura King Ravan only to be rescued by Ram. Barely has she settled down in the palace when she is banished, once again to the forest, this time by Ram himself for imagined infidelity. Finally, broken and hurt she finds refuge within mother earth.

Divakaruni’s Sita

…is my Sita too. She was closest to the one I’d always imagined and loved.

I loved that Sita chooses to tell her own story. Valmiki’s version wouldn’t do for her. How could he, a mere man, be equipped to understand a woman, divine guidance notwithstanding? So this here is the Sitayan.

Divakaruni crafts Sita’s character with care – her traits and her strengths complement her origin. Daughter of the earth, she understands all things that come from the earth. She has a green thumb, she can heal through herbs, she talks to the trees, she feels their pain, she craves the forest. Divakaruni’s pen brings to life Sita’s love in beautifully flowing prose, making one fall in love with the world as she sees it – free and unrestrained.

Sita is taught to use her body like a weapon, to centre her whole being and withdraw into herself when situations around her became unbearable.

Her natural gifts coupled with learned skills make her, to me, the perfect woman. One with silent strength and quiet courage, in Divakaruni’s words, ‘easy to mistake for meekness’; Sita has the courage of endurance.

On Love

Ramayan, as also Sitayan is definitely Sita and Ram’s love story. However, beyond that, The Forest of Enchantments is a treatise on love. Every action, good or bad, stems from love and its myriad shades – joy, ecstasy, expectation, pain, suffering, even death. Divakaruni gets elegantly lyrical as she enumerates how each action, each emotion finally finds its root in love. And every single quote is worth being read over and over again.

My absolute favourite is the one on Kaikeyi

It’s not enough to merely love someone…. we must want what they want, not what we want for them.

And this one from when she isn’t able to tell Ram how desperately she wants children during the banishment.

That’s how love stops us when it might be healthier to speak out, to not let frustration and rage build up until it explodes.

I know I’m overdoing this but just one more..

How entangled love is with expectation, that poison vine!

The other characters

..are beautifully etched too. Ram, the duty bound Raghuvanshi, Kaikeyi – strong and stubborn, Urmila – happy, effervescent as also Ravan, Shurpanakha, Mandodari, Sarama (Vibhishan’s wife), Ahalya (my favourite) and Shabari – they were all just right.

I would have liked to see a softer side to Lakshman. He seems forever angry and suspicious. Ram is his whole world, to the exclusion of everyone else. I sorely missed the warmth of his relationship with Sita.

But I’ll let that go, there is only so much one can do while cramming an epic into a few hundred pages.

The ending

…needs special mention because it is absolutely magnificent. Sita’s last few lines completely satisfied the feminist in me, without being angry or aggressive or loud. You need to read it to get what I’m saying.

The few bits that missed the mark

I loved Sita, I’ve made that pretty clear. That said, there were parts of her character that didn’t come together. One, she seemed overly empathetic, unnaturally so – even with Ravan and Shurpanakha. She is constantly thinking from multiple points of view even in the most dire circumstance. I get that she’s a divine, evolved soul but in her human form, it didn’t ring true.

Yet at places what she feels and says doesn’t tie in with her divinity. When she thinks of dying in the Ashok Vatika one of her thoughts is,
‘I wouldn’t be able to tell him how I’d suffered and how all through that suffering had remained true to him.’ Only too human!

I’m being too demanding, I know. The balance between the divine and mortal is difficult not to say subjective.

There were also bits of writing that didn’t quite come through. The abduction scene, for instance, didn’t turn out to be as dramatically horrifying as I thought it should have been.
Says Sita ‘My nails raised welts on his dark smooth skin…’. No one would note her captor’s ‘smooth’ skin while being abducted.
Also, when Sita sees the Pushpak Viman, she says, and I quote..
‘I was so amazed, I couldn’t help staring in open-mouthed wonder. For a moment, I even forgot to struggle.
‘You might want to close your lips’, the rakshasa (Ravan) said kindly (?). ‘A bug might wander in.’
The humour detracted from the horror of the situation.

And yet, despite the few hiccups I’ll say this is the best retelling of the Ramayan I’ve read. The one that reminded me of my grandma’s stories only in a more colourful, more fresh, ever more engrossing form.

Last Thought: Buy it.

Click on the image to buy the book.

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The Bodyguard – A #Review

Book Title: The Bodyguard
Author: Ruchi Singh

I was eager to pick this one up as I had read Jugnu, by the same author and loved it. The premise was deliciously different and the cover was enticing. What’s not to like with a brave strong heroine and a rich handsome hero in a sort of role-reversal? That’s what caught my interest. I thought this would make for a wonderful romantic read. And I wasn’t disappointed. That there was a mystery element thrown in made it even better.

The Story

Major Esha Sinha, an ex-army officer is hired as an undercover agent for Vikramaditya Seth Jr. Things take a serious turn when repeated attempts are made on his life. Esha struggles to ignore their mutual attraction in order to focus on the killer who is out to get Vikram.

What I loved

I started out thinking it was a romantic novel, however few pages down the line I realised it was more of a suspense thriller and, to me, that was a plus.

The characters come to life early on. I loved Major Esha – strong, silent, somewhat brooding with a bit of a mysterious past – the classic Mills and Boon hero. Flirtatious, egoistic, workaholic Vikram was a delight too. There were a host of other supporting characters, all etched out with care.

The writing was fast paced and there never was a dull moment. The story moved ahead with every page as new bits of information were revealed.

I loved that we got glimpses of the assassin’s life, a little peek into his head, just enough to spike ones interest and keep one guessing.

What could have been better

On the flip side, the suspense could have been tighter. There were a number of suspects, which was good, but they were rejected without really convincing reasons. Also, although I loved Major Esha’s character, she slips in her line of duty – her charge gets hit (twice) in her presence by the same person and she fails to protect him. That didn’t quite fit in with her character as the super-efficient bodyguard that I wanted her to be.

The end seemed rather hurried with Esha figuring things out pretty fast. Also, there were a few lose ends that needed to be tied up but were left dangling.

Oh and there were editing errors, more than a few. Avoiding those could have added quality to the book.

Last thought: A decent travel companion.

I was given a copy of the book by the author through Write Tribe in exchange for an honest review.

How I Became a Farmer’s Wife #Review

Book Title: How I Became a Farmer’s Wife
Author: Yashodhara Lal

Fictionalised memoirs are definitely Yashodhara Lal’s forte. After her debut book Just Married Please Excuse, we meet her again, along with her husband Vijay and the triple bonus of her three kids.

The story

Vijay, an engineer with a full-time job, decides to take up farming. We follow his story as he struggles to set up his farm right from planting vegetables (because he loves the idea of apne khet ki gobhi), to buying cows, and handling the motley crew that makes up the help. The farm hiccups along solely on Vijay’s passion and his determination to realise a dream. It is hard work, full of hreatbreak and yet comes with immeasurable rewards.

What I loved

Lal handles the story with her characteristic humour. It isn’t laugh-out-loud hilarious (like her first) but it still is a fun read. Her writing is realistic, too realistic sometimes. The first few pages that described the chaos with the children, were so close to the truth, like a mirror to my own anarchic home, that I felt my blood pressure rise and almost put away the book in fright.

However, there are plenty of good bits too.

She weaves in a host of characters, good, bad and ugly. The wily Shukla ji, the endearing Mobeen and his family, Akshata the yoga teacher (I want one like her) as also the familiar Kajal didi. The story of the farm is interwoven with her own internal complexes and struggles as well as tales of grappling with a pair of twins and a fast-growing tween.

My biggest takeaway from the book was that it never is easy to step out of one’s comfort zone but that is exactly what one has to do if one wants to follow a dream. I loved Vijay’s doggedness and I have to hand it to him for the ploughing on ahead (pun intended) despite the thousand set-backs.

Also, as a mom, the book reminded me that children are more than willing to give up their gadgets if we show them the fun they can have outdoors. I loved how Peanut, Pickle and Papad connected with the farm and farm animals.

What could have been better

On the flip side the book gets tiresome in parts, the struggles too many and too long and I’m not just talking about the farm. Pickle and Papad seem too hung up on technology and Peanut is in a whole different world – they all are kind of scattered and disconnected. I didn’t get as much of a warm family vibe as I expected from the book. So that was a bit of a disappointment.

A little more humour might have done the trick, or maybe a greater focus on what kept the family together during those crazy days. But then maybe that’s all meant to happen in Madhya Pradesh.

Last thought: Pick it up if you’re looking for a fun slice-of-life read.

The Liberation of Sita – #Review

Book Title: The Liberation of Sita
Author: Volga

The Liberation of Sita is a collection of four short stories picked from Sita’s life. I’d like to say these are imaginary interactions but then this is mythology and real and imaginary aren’t really pertinent. It is all about how the story is told. This here is a whole new take.

In Volga’s stories Sita meets Surpanaka, Ahalya, Renuka and Urmila – all powerful women from the Ramayan, all wronged by men in different ways, often in the name of dharma, always as a result of patriarchy.

Sita meets them during the course of her sojourn in the jungles, where she spent most of her life.

When she hears her sons Luv and Kush talking about an ugly woman (with no nose and ears) who has a beautiful garden in the forest, she knows it is Surpanakha. She wonders in regret if Ram and Lakshman would have done the same had Surpanakha not been who she was, had they not wanted to provoke Ravana. She goes to meet the demon princess who raises questions on the identity of women, ‘Do women exist only to be used by men to settle they scores?’ she asks.

Then there is Ahalya who refuses to give anyone the right to judge her. ‘Never agree to a trial Sita’, she advises her for trust does not need proof.

There’s Renuka, whose son, Parashuram chopped off her head when her husband, suspected her of infidelity. She tells Sita to free herself from her husband and sons. ‘A woman thinks giving birth to sons is the ultimate goal of her life… but one day they begin to legislate our lives. Why bear such sons?’

Lastly there’s Urmila who shuts herself up after Lakshman leaves to accompany Ram and Sita to the forest. Not in loneliness, she says but in solitude. And in solitude she launches on a journey of self discovery.

These are women who refuse to wallow in self-pity or shed tears for men (or society) who have ostracised them. They choose to remain strong, to give up their families – husband and sons – to not bow down to the expectations of a patriarchal society. Instead they carve out a life of their own choosing and inspire Sita to do the same.

This is a powerful book, although the language isn’t perfect – some bit of it is bound to get lost in translation. However just this once, I was willing to overlook all of that. To truly enjoy this book you need to be familiar with some bit of Indian Mythology. If you do have that background this is a perfect read. The original work in Telugu, must have been better. Even the translation very effectively manages to say what it has to, and so remains a book that must be read.

Last Thought: A must read for those familiar with Indian Mythology, specifically the Ramayan.

 

 

 

Jinnah Often Came to Our House #BookReview

 

Jinnah (2)

Book Title: Jinnah Often Came to Our House
Author: Kiran Doshi

The best way to learn history is to weave it into a story, a fictional tale with a dash of drama. When an author does that, and does it well, history becomes a captivating story rather than a dry collection of facts. It becomes easier to understand, to sympathise and to identify with. That’s exactly what Kiran Doshi does so very brilliantly in this book of his – Jinnah Often Came to Our House.

So he takes one of the most intriguing characters from Indian history – Jinnah, puts him in the story of Sultan and Rehana and sets it in the backdrop of the Indian struggle for Independence.

What we have then is a gripping book.

The story begins with Sultan a well-to-do upper class Kowaishi Mohammedon lawyer, or barrister, as they were called then. He is in the process of separating from his English wife. He then woos and weds Rehana, sets up his practice and goes on to make a mark in the Indian legal system. He vows to remain apolitical, to stay away from the freedom struggle, to focus on being just a lawyer. He fights cases for Hindus and Muslims alike, hence the nickname Azad.

This is also as much, perhaps more, the story of Rehana – the only surviving child of a forward thinking Muslim professor. She falls for the witty Sultan and fits into his life and his family like a long-lost piece of jigsaw. She wins over Bari phuppi, the matriarch of the family, who bestows a grant on her to set up a school for muslim girls (which she later opens up to all girls). Strongly influenced by Gandhi ji, Rehana later joins the Congress and fights for India’s freedom.

Most of all, this is the story of Jinnah, woven beautifully, inextricably with these two characters. Jinnah who is Sultan’s very famous senior and later, a friend. Jinnah, who parries and argues with Rehana in Shakespearean quotes and also nurses a soft spot for her.

The book talks about his turbulent marriage with Ruttie, the effervescent Parsi girl young enough to be his daughter (he was just three years younger than her father) and his brotherly affection for his (quite unpleasant) sister, Fatima. It talks about his journey from a pork eating, cigarette smoking liberal Muslim who believed firmly in Hindu and Muslim unity, to the man who fathered a separate nation for the Muslims.

The Review

The biggest strength of this book is its smooth gently-flowing narrative that keeps the reader turning pages.

It gives a fascinating glimpse of the Bombay of the early 20th century. It talks about upper class Muslims of that time, when men went hunting and got together at clubs to gossip; when the streets were washed by the bhishtees and the first Rolls Royce rolled out; the time when electric fans, flush toilets and hydraulic lifts were things only the very high-class could afford. It was absolutely fascinating.

While I was aware of the facts that lead up to partition I had little idea of the way the Congress spearheaded the freedom struggle, the various factions within it, the motivations of the people who joined it as also those of the few who decided to stay away. There was also the formation of the Muslim League, the way Jinnah initially distanced himself from it, decried it for trying to split the country on communal lines and then how he joined it because, as he said, better him than a conservative Muslim.

He continues to work for an Independent India till the Gandhi wave takes over the Nation, sidelining him completely. From the most respected man of the country he is suddenly lost in this wave, turning angry and bitter. It broke my heart a little bit to watch him change page by page until finally, driven largely by his ego, he decides to write a different history. And we watch as he singlehandedly forges a new country banishing India and Pakistan to eternal enmity.

03

The book opened me up to new perspectives.

For instance there’s Gandhi. I have come a long way from idolising him to demonising him in my early youth, to now finally accepting him as an extraordinary man who had his flaws. The book reinforces that image. I could see how frustrating it would have been to live and fight along a man like Gandhi. Many of his decisions made sense only to him, though they were right on principle they took away from the freedom struggle. For people like Bhagat Singh and Subhash Chandra Bose and perhaps even Jinnah in the beginning, the freedom struggle was supreme but for Gandhi it was his principles that were most important.

Despite all the complications, the twists and turns, Kiran Doshi manages to tell this tale simply and with plenty of humour. 

Last Thought: Absolute must-read.

You can buy Jinnah Often Came to Our House by clicking on the image below.

Note: This post contains affiliate links, which means that if you buy the book on Amazon through this link, I will get a referral fee, at no additional cost to you.

Carthicks Unfairy Tales #BookReview

Carthick's Unfairy Tales

I thought this majestic horse was a befitting backdrop for fairy tales.

Book Title: Carthick’s Unfairy Tales
Author: TF Carthick

I’d seen this one on social media and the title seemed intriguing. Then Shantala from ShanayaTales recommended it and the link was right there waiting for me and so here I am with the review.

Carthick’s Unfairy Tales takes seven well-loved fairy tales of our childhood and turns them on their head. Cinderella, Princess and the Frog, Goldilocks, Jack and the Beanstalk, Pied Piper of Hamelin, Rumpelstiltskin and Hansel and Gretel get a complete makeover in this short story collection.

You know the story, right? But this is a whole new interpretation, a different point of view, one that blurs the boundaries of good and bad.

So we have a Cinderella who isn’t as sweet a girl as we thought her to be and Rumpelstiltskin isn’t a nasty old goblin after all. A princess doesn’t go weak in the knees when her frog turns into a prince while the prince may not be good and kind and chivalrous.

I enjoyed figuring out who would be the narrator in each of the stories and the different point of view gave a fresh perspective.

The language is simplistic but you get bits of interesting life philosophy thrown in. Sample this one from Goldilocks and the Three Bears:

You have to try everything. You need to poke your nose everywhere. Isn’t that what being human is all about? You call it intelligence, curiosity, spirit of enterprise and other fancy names. But the fact remains that you are nothing but nosy busybodies. 

If I had to pick a favourite, it would be Rumplestillskin. It kept me hooked and the end took me by surprise/shock. That’s all I’ll say to keep the review spoiler free.

Last Thought: If you’re looking for something sweet and sappy, this one is not for you. However, if it’s the unusual and unexpected you’re after, even dark and twisted maybe, give it read.

The Conundrum – A Review

Book Title: The Conundrum
Author: Ajita Jabal Shah

 

The Conundrum

 

The Story

The Conundrum tells the story of Maia, brought up in a relatively sheltered world by open-minded parents who encourage her to follow her dreams. And that of Ajay, a poor farmer’s son, who has toiled his way to college. They don’t seem to be made for each other and yet they come together to make a story that makes its way from Baroda all the way to Champaner.

What I liked

This is a simple story, simply told. To begin with, I liked Maia as the protagonist. She’s a modern-day girl, smart and pretty and a bit of a feminist, just the way I like them. The arranged-marriage-groom-hunting scenarios were only too real and brought back memories. The masala chai and the ‘letting the youngsters talk’ were only too familiar.

My favourite, however, were the little touches that the author included in her descriptions. The smells, the sights, the clothes – those are things that made the story come alive for me. The smell of Rajnigandha, the sight of a flaming Gulmohur, the Bougainvillea and the Banyan, the singing of bulbuls and chirping of sparrows – those  images stayed with me.

What could have been better

On the flip side, I wish the author had taken more time to build the characters, other than Maia. Given that this is a love story (according to the blurb) we didn’t get to see many glimpses of Ajay’s life and as a result couldn’t form a connection.

Also there were a host of other characters, too many of them – Nirav, Swapna, Nupur, Manan, Nitish, Nalini, Neelu. They ended up cluttering the narrative. Fewer characters with more flesh on them would perhaps have worked better for me. I would have definitely liked to know more about Nitya, her life and her struggles, given that she has such a pivotal role. The book needed to be longer.

Oh and there were easily avoidable editing errors:
‘Ringed a bell’ for ‘rang a bell’, ‘Effluent sangeet ceremony’ instead of ‘affluent ceremony’, and ‘sheer korma for sheer khurma/khorma’.

Last thoughts: This one makes for a light easy travelling companion.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of the book from the author in return for an honest and unbiased review.