?

Log in

Previous 10

Jan. 22nd, 2017

pen

'Nine Lives’ – William Dalrymple

To put it in one word – fascinating. Dalrymple uses a simple device - he takes the story of one individual and uses it as a focal point from which he branches out into the history both of the person and the particular sect or practice or culture that person belongs to. Stories of people you might have passed on the street and never given a second thought to. It makes you mindful of how much more there is to your surroundings than you perceive.

This is not an easy read. Maybe because at the end of a busy day, all you want is to read comics or your Facebook feed, nothing too strenuous. Instead, you have to grapple with existential dilemmas, philosophical quandaries, or the despondency of a dying faith or practice. Definitely not easy. But persist you must, if you're interested in expanding your thought process a little more than is usual.

Nine Lives, Nine Stories:

The Nuns' Tale - tells the story of a woman who became a Jain nun and all it encompasses, interspersed with some history of the religion.

The Dancer of Kannur - is a Theyyam practitioner, whose story is engaging because what he does is reminiscent of the 'Bhoota Kolas' that take place in these parts.

The Daughters of Yellamma - all I can recall of this one is that it was slightly melancholy. At the mention of Yellamma, the only thing that comes to mind is the tedious and completely fruitless trip to the selfsame temple near Belgaum, with its teeming multitude of people despite the scorching sun.

The Singer of Epics - This story I found the most interesting of all. The very fact that there are people out there who can recite 4,000 line epic poems from memory is enough to inspire awe, my own memory being the stuff my grandmother makes fun of (saying hers is better than mine though she's 87, which is sadly true..). The connection drawn between il(literacy) and memory is also intriguing.

The Red Fairy - talks of Sufism, and how it is in danger of being wiped out by increasingly hardline mainstream religion.

The Monk's Tale - is about how the monk had to take up arms in order to defend his faith, helping the Dalai Lama escape from Tibet in the process, along with some history of the Tibetan Buddhist way of life.

The Maker of Idols - takes you behind the scenes to where idols are made and how they are turned into gods.

The Lady Twilight and the Song of the Minstrel - speak of Tantriks and Aghoris and Bauls, without getting too much into the practices, as these seem to be very closely guarded secrets revealed only to those embracing the faith.


Overall, a very engaging read. I read it faster than I would have preferred as it was borrowed from the library but this is something that is preferably read slowly, in bits and pieces as the fancy strikes.
Tags: ,

Sep. 15th, 2015

pen

'The Remains of the Day' - Kazuo Ishiguro

In a nutshell, good writing, but not my cup of tea.

When I started reading this book, I was instantly reminded of Sir Humphrey in the 'Yes, Minister' series. The way he pompously rambles on about something and never, ever gets to the point.

For example, a random excerpt:


The narrative meanders on just so through the English countryside, showcasing along the way racism, class differences and behind-the-scenes politics in such a glancing way that you don't even realise it is happening.

Whenever Stevens starts off on his pet topic, 'dignity', it reaches a point where you think, how about letting the reader have some dignity and get to the point?

Stevens seems to be the quintessential butler, not having any thoughts or preferences of his own other than those required to run the huge, old English manor. He's mind-numbingly boring, seemingly oblivious to everything other than his work, and that makes it very hard to be interested in anything he has to say.
Nevertheless, I'm happy that I persevered, and didn’t quit halfway through the book like I thought of doing so many times along the way, because the very last chapter sort of makes it all worthwhile.

Overall, I'd say that this is something to read at whiles, with plenty of time and patience on hand. Without you realising, it makes you ponder about duty, and loyalty, and individuality, and yes, dignity.
Tags: ,

Jul. 15th, 2015

pen

'Neverwhere' - Neil Gaiman

So I read the book, which is quintessential Gaiman, weird and wonderful all rolled together. Instead of making my usual notes after reading, I thought I would answer the reading group questions listed at the end of the book, and I made the mistake of not copying the questions. :P
Anyways, here are my thoughts, which I'm recycling into a (sort of) review.
*Warning: spoilers galore.

1. At the very heart of it, Richard's character does not differ from the beginning to the very end, in that, he has a soft corner for the downtrodden and unfortunate, and seeks to help people in any way he can. What does change is his belief in himself and his capabilities. As a passive follower of life (and Jessica), he was initially always putting others' priorities and wants above his own. After the key challenge, where he comes to face with (and beats) his innermost fears and doubts, he emerges more confident and is able to both lead and follow orders better than before. Based on this confidence, the other characters become more open to his opinion and leadership. Where earlier he used to blend into the background, he starts becoming more assertive, and this increases the attention and respect he gets from others.
After all his adventures, using his wit and strength and the help of others, going back to his old life would be very boring by comparison. Underside was where he truly lived (and survived), as opposed to merely existing above ground. It was only natural that after a period of rest and recovery from his adventures, he decides to go back.

2. Probably the most bizarre characters are Mr. Croup and Mr. Vandemar. It is never quite clear what they are: they don't bleed, they have animalistic characteristics, and possibly looks. They are undoubtedly vicious, and yet quaint.

3. In order to fully understand the intricacies of this book, it is imperative to have a working knowledge of London, which I sadly do not, having never visited the place.

4. Neverwhere is built on the premise that there is an entire world underground built up of and by people and things that have been forgotten by the people above, and there lies its brilliance. How often have we passed by people who live on the streets or beggars, often without even a glance, as if they don't exist? It is those people who are the denizens of the underground world, building a network, an ecosystem (and a heirarchy, too!) with kindred souls.

There is so much more that I could've said about the book, it being as complex as it is, but too much time has passed since I read it, and too many books in between to include it now.
Tags: ,

Jan. 12th, 2015

pen

Review: Jaya - An Illustrated Retelling of the Mahabharata

If you want a bare-bones narrative of the epic, this is the one to pick up. Without any embellishments, it states the main points of the epic. This is what happened, this is why it happened, and notes thereafter. Something like a Cliff's Notes version.

Having read C. Rajagopalachari's and K.M. Munshi's versions years ago (both of which he has credited in the acknowledgements), reading this was like a flashback - the events being much more fleshed out in those versions, especially Munshi's.

Pattanaik's version is enjoyable because he doesn't opinionate. It is just a compilation of different versions pieced together beautifully. But for someone who has never come across these stories before, the story proceeds at such a pace that it may seem anticlimactic, with a vague feeling of something missing or unfinished.

For me, it was because this is a story with much potential for drama (so much so that a very popular tele-series was made out of it). That element is missing. More so, since he puts the rationalists' points across wherever possible, taking out much of the fantasy element that so enthralled us as children.

And while this is a story many children will be familiar with, this version is not for them. As an adult, I'm getting a whole new take on the epic after this reading. Children's versions have good guys vs. bad guys, whereas here there are just many shades of grey. I can't put it better than Pattanaik himself does towards the end of the book.

[Spoiler (click to open)]

Tags: ,

Aug. 19th, 2013

pen

‘Sea of Poppies’ - Amitav Ghosh.

Following as it did on the heels of ‘White Mughals’, ‘Sea of Poppies’ took some time to make an impression because I couldn't help but compare the two mentally; both the books are set roughly in the same era - WM in the late 18th century and SoP in the early 19th - during British rule in India. Both are well researched, but where footnotes and references abound in WM making up almost a quarter of its bulk, there are a few pages of acknowledgements at the end of SoP. One is to be read in stops and starts, the other flows smoothly. In other words, ‘White Mughals’ is like a documentary; ‘Sea of Poppies’, a movie (the first of three..). And there the comparison ends.

The assortment of characters that inhabit ‘Sea of Poppies’ are as varied as you can get. There’s Deeti and her husband, fresh off the poppy-filled Bhojpuri countryside; Zachary Reid, a freedman from America; Paulette, the nativised French girl; Neel Rattan Halder, a Bengali zamindar; and a host of others. They inhabit different worlds, and have nothing in common, atleast initially. Being the first of a trilogy, ’Sea...’ does little more than establish the variety of characters and how they come into contact with the ‘Ibis’, along the journey, dropping insights into how the British monopolised and ran the poppy trade in early 19th century.

As with all books set in another period and another place, it takes some time to completely get into the book, not helped by the insets of lascar English, which goes like this: “Malum Zikri! Captin bugger blongi poo-shoo-foo. He hab got plenty sick! Need one piece dokto”. However, like the ‘Tanjooberrymutts’ forward, it’s easier to understand as you go along. Bhojpuri songs, Bengali and Anglicised 'Hindustanee' words are also freely peppered all through the book.

A gripping tale, that leaves you turning pages for way longer than you envisioned, this book is a worthy read. I won't be surprised if the movie rights for this have been sold as it's good material. (and being a trilogy, ready-made for a movie trilogy!)

*~*

Speaking of trilogies, the dilemma right now is whether to read the next book in this series while the story's still fresh in my mind and then wait for the last instalment to be published; or switch to the second of the Shiva trilogy (the first of which I read a couple of months ago) and complete that. I have till the next visit to the library to decide on that. Meanwhile, I'm settling in with a Wodehouse after a really, really long time and enjoying a breezy read. ^_^
Tags: ,

Aug. 6th, 2013

pen

'White Mughals' - William Dalrymple

Thoroughly researched, brilliantly written - this book is a rather long-winded read; but it encompasses so much within it, the long-windedness is excusable. From the East India Company policies, to the Deccani Hyderabadi court of the Nizam, pen portraits of all the principal characters, their living styles and the customs of the time, architecture, gardening and everything in between, this story spanning generations gives more than just a peek into life in the eighteenth century.



This is a book that needs time and patience. The brain needs time to wrap itself around the contents. It takes a couple of chapters to really get into it, because of the sheer variety of what comes up; soon after reading about an inquiry into someone’s love life in eighteenth century Hyderabad, there might be a general description of the Portuguese inquisition in fifteenth century Goa! It all makes for very interesting reading though, and throughout I kept wondering why history textbooks are so dry when the subject is so interesting...

There are voluminous footnotes and references and it makes for smoother reading if you skip them (do you really want to know when so-and-so’s illegitimate children reached England and the name of the boat which took them?), although if you don’t mind frequently deviating from and reconnecting to the main story, they can be fascinating. (Did you know the word ‘maistry’ is of Portuguese origin?!)

The included illustrations are lovely and help to familiarise with the people whose story is being told. The Chinnery painting, in particular, is so beautiful in reproduction that it’s easy to understand why no one who got their hands on the original was keen on parting with it.

The voluminous correspondence, which made this book possible and quoted in excerpts throughout, brings to life the challenges faced back then. The fastest means of travel was by horse, and it would take weeks or months to get from one city to another. Family members wouldn’t meet for years sometimes, and that’s where the letters came in. It was possible for latter generations to know their ancestors from the letters they wrote and received.

Reading those letters, however stilted the construction might seem, makes me lament that letter-writing is now the preserve of school children, to be reproduced at exams and forgotten soon after. :(
Tags: ,

Jun. 19th, 2013

pen

"Sea of Poppies" - Amitav Ghosh.


Following as it did on the heels of ‘White Mughals’, ‘Sea of Poppies’ took some time to make an impression because I couldn't help but compare the two mentally; both the books are set roughly in the same era - WM in the late 18th century and SoP in the early 19th - during British rule in India. Both are well researched, but where footnotes and references abound in WM making up almost a quarter of its bulk, there are a few pages of acknowledgements at the end of SoP. One is to be read in stops and starts, the other flows smoothly. In other words, ‘White Mughals’ is like a documentary; ‘Sea of Poppies’, a movie (the first of three..). And there the comparison ends.

The assortment of characters that inhabit ‘Sea of Poppies’ are as varied as you can get. There’s Deeti and her husband, fresh off the poppy-filled Bhojpuri countryside; Zachary Reid, a freedman from America; Paulette, the nativised French girl; Neel Rattan Halder, a Bengali zamindar; and a host of others. They inhabit different worlds, and have nothing in common, atleast initially. Being the first of a trilogy, ’Sea...’ does little more than establish the variety of characters and how they come into contact with the ‘Ibis’, dropping insights along the journey into how the British monopolised and ran the poppy trade in early 19th century.

As with all books set in another period and another place, it takes some time to completely get into the book, not helped by the insets of lascar English, which goes like this: “Malum Zikri! Captin bugger blongi poo-shoo-foo. He hab got plenty sick! Need one piece dokto”. However, like the ‘Tanjooberrymutts’ forward, it’s easier to understand as you go along. Bhojpuri songs, Bengali and Anglicised 'Hindustanee' words are also freely peppered all through the book.

A gripping tale, that leaves you turning pages for way longer than you envisioned, this book is a worthy read. I won't be surprised if the movie rights for this have been sold as it's good material. (and being a trilogy, ready-made for a movie trilogy!)

*-*

Speaking of trilogies, the dilemma right now is whether to read the next book in this series while the story's still fresh in my mind and then wait for the last instalment; or switch to the second of the Shiva trilogy (the first of which I read a couple of months ago) and complete that. I have till the next visit to the library to decide on that. Meanwhile, I'm settling in with a Wodehouse after a really, really long time and enjoying a breezy read.

Tags: ,

Feb. 24th, 2013

pen

A new pastime

When we got engaged, D and I used to hunt for things to do together. Once you've covered the beach, the malls, the restaurants, there's really not much else you can do here to pass the time. And that's when we started baking. It started with wanting to know how to make my granny's yummy narain katar. We asked her to teach us, and as always, she was super enthusiastic and did a step-by-step tutorial for us, resulting in this. :D

bapama's narain katar


From there on, we tried other things: brownies, cookies, cakes. Cookies were the favourite because the quantity is easily adjustable, they're easy to distribute and they have a longer shelf life. Some turned out great - like the melt-in-the-mouth butter cookies, some were better-looking than tasting - like the owl cookies, some were downright disasters - like the rock-hard chocolate cookies you could break someone's window with. :P We made mistakes, learnt from them, gradually got the hang of it, had a lot of fun in the process.

cookies!


Back then, we were surrounded by a gang of friends with amazing appetites who used to finish anything edible placed in front of them; it was the perfect deal. We got to bake, no worries about how to finish our concoctions. The gang slowly dispersed, we got married, other priorities took precedence, and baking slowly went from being a weekly pursuit to something that happens maybe once a month. And while we still bake together, there are times when I get the itch to bake when I'm bored and there's nothing much to do.

This time around, the itch struck on Feb 14th.

Val's Day is usually just another day. I refuse to let marketing departments of various companies convince me that I need to make a big fuss about it.
This year was just like any other except that sometime in the morning, I wanted to make something chocolaty, but was out of cocoa powder. Normally, that's enough to make me give up on the idea. But I really wanted something chocolaty so I went out and got a big new tin of chocolate powder. After sifting through the plethora of recipes I've hoarded up, finally zeroed in on a chocolate cake which didn't need eggs.

I altered the original recipe beyond recognition to suit my needs, so what I finally ended up with was more of a brownie than a cake, which was yummy nevertheless.


Val's Day Brownie
brownie
Tags: , ,

May. 14th, 2010

pen

Afro Samurai - Resurrection


Was reminded recently that I haven't updated in a long while.. What I've been busy with may or may not come up here but one thing is for sure, I'm back to reading books and watching movies after a long gap. So till the bug bites hard, here's something to keep the blog ticking.

*-*


[Afro Samurai is an anime series which was followed up by a movie sequel. Months after I watched the series, I finally watched the movie, and that resulted in the following.]

The only thing to be said about this special and the 5-episode series preceding it is that the animation is top-notch. And not your typical cutesy anime either. It's more like a graphic novel that came to life. The character designs are similar to the ones in Satoshi Kon's movies.

Second in line is the music. There's a rap/hip-hop vibe with a steady beat running through the movie and it gives that required edge to the setting. The sound effects are also equally effective, making the fight scenes sound cool, especially at times when there's so much movement/dust that you don't quite know what's happening.

Having said that, the only people who would enjoy watching Afro Samurai is those who like lots of mindless violence with buckets of blood being shed round the clock. In that sense, the movie is better than the series because it's not quite so mindless this time around.

The storyline is stupid. Villain comes steals hero's fathers remains. Hero goes in search of villain to get back remains. Fights people/cyborgs along the way. That's it. There's a half-hearted attempt to show the villain's motive, but it's so brief that it doesn't really make any difference, except it makes you go.. O_o. The only character I really liked was the samurai with the kid. He was sensible, and an awesome fighter to boot. That one swordfight (as long as they were battling one-on-one) made watching the movie worthwhile for me.

I'll leave you with a quote by one of the reviewers on anidb.net -  "... an action-based series with revenge being the only excuse for the plot is not original nor it is smart. The series doesn’t try to go any further than that, leaving all characters with a depth in personality that even tadpoles would find hard to live in." The movie is only slightly better. The animation is really cool though. :)

[Conclusion: Total dude-flick. Only watch if you appreciate anime or if you like fighting, gore, and semi-clad sexy female villains.]

Feb. 2nd, 2010

pen

Bridges of Madison County.

 

Last month, a friend asked me which one of his friends' books I want to read, and from the list he sent me, I picked out 'Bridges of Madison County' because it sounded familiar and I thought it was on my to-read list. After I got the book in hand and read the synopsis, I realised I'd made a mistake. This was a romantic novel - something I run far, far away from. I must've confused it with something else.. maybe 'Bridge on the River Kwai'. Anyways, y'day, having nothing better to do, I thought I'd give it a shot. After all, he'd brought it all the way across the country.. It seemed quite nice - easy-paced, clipped sentences, almost abrupt in a way. I liked the style of the narrative. Stopped after one chapter because other, more interesting things came up.

Continued it today, and wondered if the contents had somehow changed, because I felt like I'd wandered right into the middle of a Mills n Boons novel (not that I've ever read one of those. The few paras I read over classmates' shoulders were enough to put me off for life.. :p) The contents had changed, in a way - the narrator had moved on to describing things from the p.o.v. of the second lead character.

The shift in narrative from a 52-yr old self-proclaimed 'last of the cowboys' to a 45-yr old Iowan housewife took some getting used to, but soon the story got back on track and I finished the book one day after I started - which reflects the size of the book more than the time I spent on it. It's really small..

This book is not for people who don't like descriptions, because it abounds in them. From clothes to stances to photography to scenery, everything is dealt with so minutely you can almost 'see' what's going on. There's so little conversation that the monologues Kincaid goes into on a couple of occasions feel very out of place. Although what he says makes sense, especially the first one where he talks on market forces and their effect on art.

It's a well-written book, I probably would've liked it more if I was into the genre. I was totally lost at the romance part of it (but then, that's always the case and it's why I stay away from such lit.) but the rest of it was fine. I liked the way the narrative changed to match the person whose perspective was being narrated, especially the prologue. If you like romance, go for it. If not, read it only if you have nothing better to do.

 

[Bob's, if you're reading this, thanks for the book. :)]

Tags: ,

Previous 10