Category Archives: Indian authors

Before You’re Not Little Anymore #BookReview

Book: Before You’re Not Little Anymore
Author: Vinodini Parimi

There are a million things we want to teach our children, a million things we want them to know, to learn, to remember, specially when they are flying the nest. Is it even possible to put it all down in a book? How on earth do you condense the gyan you spout liberally throughout the day when your children are near you into just 26 short letters?

Also, how do you keep your letters personal while also making them universal? Vinodini Parimi manages to do that with moderate success.

Before You’re Not Little Any More is a collection of 26 letters from a mother to a son. 

Starting off with a letter on managing anger, the book goes on to touch upon topics like handling emotions, loneliness, friendships, infatuations as well as tougher topics like seeking happiness, the true value of trust and that of life.

What I loved

The book is divided into 26 chapters, each a letter on a single topic. The chapters are short, easy to read and digest.

The best thing about this book is that it comes straight from the heart – like a chat between a mother and a son, which is what it essentially is.

The author picks instances from her own life and uses them to pass on these valuable lessons. She talks about friends and relatives, perhaps some of them who are known to her son, which adds to the authenticity of the letters. Yet she doesn’t make the reader feel like an outsider perhaps because we’ve known similar people and can identify with the situations.

I specially loved the letter on friendship, probably because my own children are just entering the phase where friends are beginning to play larger roles in their likes and dislikes. She talks with amazing clarity on the importance of having boundaries with friends, or learning to appreciate different traits in different people rather than completely idolising a single person and trying to become him/her. She also talks about how friendships change and how it’s okay for you or your friend to move on. 

She includes some very practical tips too, simple things like keeping a pocket diary to avoid overwhelm and help one prioritise, or ideas to cheer oneself up should one feel sad and depressed. I would have loved more of these coping strategies.

What could have been better

I have already said that writing a book like this is a bit of mammoth task. And that’s where it falters. In its bid to pack in a lot, some lessons get lost in the telling. Some posts meander and overlap, though I do get that that is inevitable.

Last thought: One mustn’t attempt to read the book in a single sitting. These lessons are best read one at a time, slowly, over days, in order to fully appreciate each one. The book works better as a sort of ready reckoner. Each lesson will make sense at a particular juncture in life.

Disclaimer: I was given a copy of the book in return of an honest review.

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Ravan: Enemy of Aryavarta #BookReview

Book: Ravan: Enemy of Aryavarta
Author: Amish Tripathi

I have a soft spot for this series by Amish Ramayan series because it was with the first book  Scion of Ikshvaku that I kicked off this blog. I loved that one. I was curious about how Amish would handle this multilinear narrative and that was what made me pick up Sita and now Ravan: Enemy of Aryavarta.

The story

The book traces the life of Ravan, son of Rishi Vishrava and Kaikesi. Disliked by his father and not particularly fond of his mother Ravan, is a lonely child. He has a streak of cruelty that makes him torture small animals and watch them die.

If he has one tender place in his heart, it is for his baby brother Kumbhakaran. Ravan leaves his father’s ashram with his  mother, his uncle Mareech and Kumbha to protect his (Kumbha’s) life.

He knows he is made for great things and he sets out to achieve what is rightfully his, Kumbha and Mareech by his side. From a small-time smuggler he turns into a pirate and powerful trader. Unfettered by the values and principles that hamper others he forges ahead.

However, there is one pure, unsullied memory from his childhood that refuses to leave him – a face, a voice that could potentially steer him away from his reckless path. He seeks out that face but on the verge of turning over a new leaf it is snatched away from him. Filled with rage, he unleashes it on the Sapt Sindhu. Ravan thus emerges as the quintessential villain. He challenges the authority of Kubaera the businessman ruler of Lanka and displaces him to become king.

As he notches up victory after victory he is unaware that he is part of a larger plan, a cog in the wheel rolling towards a greater goal, orchestrated by the great rishi Vishwamitra. 

Ravan was a disappointment

First there’s the voice of Amish. He speaks the language of the millennials and that gets jarring, specially in a mythological setting (Remember Hanu Bhaiya in Sita?). I get that it’s his style and I did love Meluha though it had the same voice. Perhaps it might have something to do with the fact that I’ve grown up listening to the Ramayan and so find it tough to adjust to this pop-version.

My biggest complaint however is that the book turns plain boring in bits. There were too many and too detailed explanations and descriptions – of the Sapt Sindhu, the caste dynamics, the trading system, of traditions and palaces. There are too few dialogues, slackening the pace of the story.

Then there’s the story itself. Amish is known to give his own twist to every tale. I’ve liked his twists, I’ve liked how they tie in neatly with the original familiar story. However here, without giving out spoilers, all I’ll say is that Ravan as an angry lover-boy didn’t seem believable at all, more fantasy than mythology.

Then there’s the reference to Sabarimala. In his previous books he brought in references to a gory rape and then Jallikattu, this time it was Sabarimala. Perhaps that’s an attempt to weave in current events but it seems like a forced addition to the narrative.

The saving grace was the portrayal of Kumbhkaram – the endearing, good-natured giant. He is Ravan’s conscience and emerges (almost) as the hero of the book.

Also, I’m a little curious how Amish will take the story forward now that Ravan knows who Sita is. I’m hoping with all the war-action the next one won’t be a disappointment.

Perhaps the author should stick with lesser-known mythological re-tellings. He certainly has the knack for bringing alive mythological settings, of building up strong characters and of springing surprises.

Last thought: Read it only if, like me, you’ve committed yourself to the series. You might find yourself skipping pages though.

The Legend of Genghis Khan – A #Review

Book Title: The Legend of Genghis Khan
Author: Sutapa Basu

Before I picked up Genghis Khan by Sutapa Basu all I knew about him was that he was an ancestor of Babur and a very cruel one at that. There have been several great conquerers who have set out to own the world. I find them intriguing. What drives them? Power? Money? What keeps them going in the face of extreme adversity? How do they motivate an entire army of people to believe in their cause, to follow them and their dream, to accomplish seemingly impossible tasks?

For those reasons I found The Legend of Genghis Khan fascinating – the man, the story, the story telling – all of it.

The Story

Born as Temujin to the leader of a Mongol tribe, Genghis Khan is prophesied to be a great man. A shaman interprets the signs at the time of his birth that signal the makings of a conqueror. That’s the thought that little Temujin grows up with. He accepts it and owns it till it becomes a belief firmly rooted in his mind and later, the biggest truth of his life. It is this thought – that he is destined to craft a vast Mongolian empire – that remains his guiding light during the darkest times of despair and through the toughest decisions of his life. He pursues it with awe-inspiring single mindedness.

The Review

No fictional tale could compete with Genghis Khan’s life. He goes from being a clan leader’s pampered son to a fatherless boy, to a leader himself, then a helpless captive in a hostile land until he finally realises his destiny. Khan’s life was a roller coaster.

The book begins with his men plundering a palace, destroying, burning, killing and taking prisoner. Among the prisoners is princess Enkhtuya. When she is brought before the Khan, something about her makes him pause.

Then on the story flits between the present and past with glimpses of the Khan’s childhood, even as he and his men plan and launch attack after attack conquering vast territories.

The introduction of Princess Enkhtuya was a brilliant thought. Her character added a whole new dimension to Genghis Khan. Basu manages to give us a glimpse of his gentler side, without taking away from the image of a ruthless conqueror. For some mysterious reason he has a soft spot for her, yet he remains focussed on his life’s mission and none of her entreaties can persuade him to show mercy to his enemies.

The story flows simply and well as we follow the Khan through dry desert areas with raging sandstorms to freezing ice lands. The writing is evocative and the characters consistent.

It is a storyteller’s delight as well as a challenge. The research must have been mind-boggling. What I loved most is the objectivity with which Basu approaches this story. It is easy, almost natural, to admire/love your protagonist and to go on to justify him/his actions. Sutapa Basu manages to not to do that. She tells the tale like a seasoned chronicler remaining true to the tale and nothing else. She writes without attempting to glorify Genghis Khan – without apologies, without explanations – a little like the man himself. She lets his faults and his achievements speak for themselves. 

The Legend of Genghis Khan skilfully treads the line between history and fiction. Read this one for some great story telling.

Last thought: If you’re not a non-fiction reader but are a bit of a history buff this book is for you.

Linking up with the Write Tribe Reading Challenge – This is my review for ‘A book by an author new to me’.

The Forest of Enchantments – A #Review

Mythology tells timeless tales. Which is 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 maybe, 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.

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.