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Showing posts with label Book review. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Book review. Show all posts

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Book Review: Yagnaseni - The story of draupadi ( by Prativa Ray )

[This book was originally written in Odia by author Prativa Ray. She won the Moorti Devi Award in 1991 for 'Yagnaseni' and was honored with the Jnanpith Award in 2011. This is one of the few books to be written about Draupadi, one of the central female characters of Mahabharata. The author has, by her own admission, included some imaginary episodes in the narration. This review is based on the English translation]

History is replete with many a kings who have had harems full of women. Yet, they have been heaped with liberal praise and their achievements have never been overshadowed by their personal lives. The women on the other hand have never been so fortunate. The moment she takes another man, she is ridiculed in the unkindest terms. But since I read this book with the intention of unraveling the psyche of such a woman, I have tried to retain my objectiveness and have refrained from being judgmental at any point.

When I first picked the book, I wanted a fresh look a Mahabharata, one from a female perspective. Well, these days there is a lot of talk about it and it is touted as one of the reasons for inclusion of women in the boardroom. Now most men would support such a move for the fear of being branded politically incorrect if they choose to look the other way. Some would even say that they would support their spouse should she choose to work. But how many would lend her a helping hand when it comes to domestic chores ? Doing the kids homework ? Not many, I guess. And that is what makes a world of difference. So, the keyword here is 'empathy' and not 'sympathy'. 'Empathy' for Draupadi is what the author is trying to achieve through this book.

I loved the fact that Yagnaseni, meaning one who is born out of the sacrificial flames, is portrayed as a normal woman. She is shown as a carefree young woman who has a crush on Krishna. But circumstances lead to a Swayamvar and she gets betrothed to Arjun, the third Pandav. She is shown as idolizing him and treating him as a hero. She is every bit the shy new bride with stars in hers eyes till she is forced to marry all the five Pandavs due to a misunderstanding on the part of Kunti, her mother in law.

From this point, one sees her as a tormented woman who has to live up to the expectations of five husbands, each of whom is as different from the other as is chalk from cheese. She is shown to possess a soft corner for Arjun, her first husband and her hero whom she does not want to share with Subhadra. Though she is wise and learned, all these qualities take a back seat as she gets on with her domestic duties. At times, I felt that the five Pandavs are portrayed as being too conceited.

The author meanders into controversial territory with Draupadi's fascination with Karna. The latter is shown to nurture a grudge after being turned down at the Swayanvar. The few interactions between the two are beautifully narrated and are among the memorable parts of the book. Despite Karna's thinly veiled hatred, Yagnaseni seems to be attracted towards him.Though it seems jarring, it has to be viewed it in the light of Karna being an equal of Arjun ( as Krishna quotes in the later part of the book ). Maybe one should suspend one's rationality by a few degrees while reading this book and consider everything to be a part of Krishna ( who actually holds the Universe within himself ) and his scheme.

The book ends with a journey to heaven that Yagnaseni undertakes with her five husbands. But sadly it ends with her fall on the golden dust of the Himalayas. It is attributed to the negative thoughts in her mind. At this point, none of her husbands come to her rescue. Though it seems cruel, it has to be viewed in the light of one's accumulated Karma and the resulting ramifications.

Overall it is a good book but one that has deep spiritual connotations. It took me more than a month to get over with it as one tends to read a chapter, mull over it and then go back and read it all over again.

Buy it online @ Amazon .

Monday, March 30, 2015

Interview with Oliver Lafont ( Author of the mytholgical thriller 'Warrior' )

Yep. I am on a high these days. One after another good read keeps up in that uber utopic mood. It seems a mere coincidence that whatever I pick up is at least tinged with mythology if not entirely based on it. And that is why I readily agreed when I got the chance to interview the multi-talented Oliver Lafont and review his maiden publication 'Warrior'. In case you are wondering about the guy, he played the very cute ( but price tag flashing ) fiancee of Kareena Kapoor in 'Three Idiots' . I still get a 'LOL' when I think of his 300 dollar shoes :) !!!

Lafont is a multi-talented and versatile personality who not only writes fiction, feature film screenplays, and editorial pieces, but also acts in feature films, endorses some of India’s most popular brands on television, and lends his voice to many media in many languages ( the guy can speak fluent French, Hindi, English and Spanish ). A French polyglot, Lafont pursues his eclectic interests at the highest standards having worked with some of India’s most acclaimed directors on films like 3 IDIOTS, Guzaarish and two HOLLYWOOD films, and continuing in the same vein with his new novel coming out with Penguin India. He is a familiar face due to his work in over 70 adverts on television.

His novel ‘Warrior’ is a high octane, action-packed story that travels all over India and beyond. The hero, Saam, is an immortal warrior who is forced to come out of hiding in today’s Mumbai to pick up arms again and take to the road. His epic journey spans three days across an India torn by unnatural cataclysms, and even stranger lands. To bring back peace Saam must stoke his consuming hunger for war - but at what cost to himself? 

A truly 'unputdownable' book, it touches upon a plethora of elements like thrill, romance, mythology, friendship and even more. I would have happily sacrificed food and sleep for finishing all 375 pages in a single go had it not been for my hyper toddler. No wonder, the book was shortlisted for the Tibor Jones South Asia prize. 

Lafont seems to be a guy who really knows where he is headed to. Read on for his take on mythology, his passion and life in general -

Interview with Oliver Lafont 

Q. How much relevance do superheros hold in today's technology driven world ? Are you inspired by any superhero in particular ? 

A. Superheroes have always had relevance and importance. When I look at mythologies around the world, the gods and demigods and demons of yore are all, to me, the ancient expressions of today’s ‘Avengers’ and ‘Superman’. I don’t think technology will or could change that. I think humanity wants superheroes, wants examples of people who are extraordinary, whether they’re real or fictional, to inspire us to be extraordinary ourselves. 

I’m not inspired by any superhero in that sense, but I like Superman most. 

Q. Since you have churned out a book that draws heavily on mythology, I would like to know if you are just moving with the current trend ? Or is it something that fascinates you ? 

A. I’ve always read and written fantasy, from a very young age. When my family moved from France to India I was seven years old, and my introduction to Indian culture happened in part through reading about India’s fascinating mythology. I originally wrote ‘Warrior’ as a feature film script when I came back to India from university more than a dozen years ago, so that was before the trend you mentioned. Indian mythology has always been particularly  interesting to me because of its amazing multilayered qualities. 

Q. Why is the plot based out of Mumbai ? Is it simply because you are familiar with it or is there any other reason behind it ? Since the city has already captured the imagination of the global audience thanks to movies like Slumdog Millionaire, are you merely trying to capitalize on it ? 

A. I chose Mumbai because I consider it the most cosmopolitan and aspirational city in India. Saam, my hero in ‘Warrior’, has returned to Mumbai to lose himself in this populace, wanting to be as anonymous and ordinary as possible. At the same time since Mumbai is India’s most global city, the drama of cataclysmic events occurring here felt most poignant on that scale. As I mentioned earlier, I first wrote ‘Warrior’ as a feature film script in 2001, while ‘Slumdog Millionnaire’ came out in 2009. 

Q. How would you rate your Hindi on a scale of 1 to 5 ? Have you ever dubbed for any of your characters ? 

A. I didn't speak a word of Hindi when I returned to India after university, and it did seem a bit daunting initially. I started with the alphabet and taught myself the language, and I’m pleased to say 
that my acting work has never been dubbed, that the directors I’ve worked with have all kept my own voice. So I’d like to say, as a non-native speaker who did the best I could, a 4 out of 5. 

Q. As I am also a food blogger, I would like to know if you ever find the time to rustle up a meal for close friends or family ? If yes, what do you cook for them ? 

A. I don’t cook much, but I think I make a good batch of crepes. That always seems to make my family and friends happy! 

Q. You are an accomplished actor, screenplay writer and author. But if you had to pursue a single interest, what would it be ? 

A. All the things I do are, for me, different aspects of storytelling, so I’m already pursuing a single interest. I might create a graphic novel tomorrow, or design a video game next week, and it’s still the 
same single thing that I’ve been passionate about since my childhood. So that’s an easy answer: storytelling. 

Q. Do you plan on penning down another book ? If yes, will it be a sequel to the first one ? 

A. There’s no question that I’ll be writing more books. In fact I already have a couple other finished ones which are with agents and publishers. As to writing a sequel, there are some ideas, but for 
now I’m only focused on promoting ‘Warrior’.

Keep watching this space for the review !!! Meanwhile do check out the book trailer.

Updated - Check the book review here !!



Monday, December 22, 2014

A Thousand Splendid Suns (By Khaled Hosseini): Book Review

Buy it online on Flipkart.

A moving story about two women who share a relationship which can be described as mother-daughter, best friends, love-rivals (being married to the same man) and more. Mariam and Laila are heroines in the true sense of the word despite the abuse they put up with. Set in the backdrop of the socio-political changes that have completely altered Afghanistan, this one is another gem from the author of the best seller 'The Kite Runner'. It describes in striking details how war or social unrest affects the plight of women and children.

It starts on a relatively calm note. An illegitimate child or a 'harami' who lives on the outskirts of society looks forward to the monthly visits of her father whom she idolizes. In a strange turn of events, her father's spinelessness is revealed when her mother commits suicide and she is forced to marry a much older guy Rashid.

This guy too has a past of his own and one almost feels sorry for him until he starts to reveal his chauvinistic side. "A woman's face is her husband's business". Things get worse when she suffers the first miscarriage and then disintegrate further as there follows a series of those. Domestic violence rears it ugly head but the stoic Marian takes everything in her stride and shoulders on.

Laila on the other hand, has a more privileged and protected childhood. Her father is a teacher and an intellectual and she grows up in a rather liberal atmosphere. Her life is shattered by the sudden death of her brothers and a rocket attack that kills both her parents. Deeply in love with a neighborhood boy (and pregnant with his child), she is then forced to join Mariam's household. Another negative characteristic of Rashid is revealed at this point as he manipulates the fifteen year old into marrying him. A lot of intriguing events take place before the climax (which is a happy ending for those who really want to know). Most noteworthy however is initial skirmish between the two woman (which remind one of the MIL & DIL clash in the Indian telly soaps) and the failed escape bid of the two women and the repercussions that follow. I am not going to reveal more and spoil what can be the perfect read during the Christmas and New Year vacations (if you are the type who prefers to chill out with a book rather then party all night).

'A Thousand Splendid Suns' outraged my sensibilities, made me cry and yet having read the last page, it lit something akin to the glimmer of hope in my heart. Sorry, but you cannot just close this book and get it out of your mind for it continues to haunt you for days to come.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Book Review : God is a Gamer (Ravi Subramanian)

"Indian teams of multinationals these days are just expected to execute not think".

Ravi Subramanian literally manages to hit the nail on the head. Even for someone who has been following him ever since the days of 'If God was a Banker', it comes across as quite 'tongue-in-cheek'. For me, this is a coming-of-age book for the guy who has actually been through the innards of the corporate world.

A plot that is entangled in greed (after all Bitcoin is money even though it is virtual), gaming, cyber-terrorism and politics, this one had me hooked till the end. Alas, all good things have to come to an end. But sometimes an encore is also a possibility (thank God for that) as in case of this book. I am reading it for the second time even as I pen down the review.

The plot that begins with two top notch bankers lobbying with an influential Senator who has the ear of the US President. There is a fleeting mention of Wikileaks which is used as a ruse to introduce the reader to the concept of Bitcoins, the virtual currency which was darling of the tech world till the collapse of Mt Gox in Feb 2014. Mt Gox was a Japan based exchange for Bitcoins that transacted over 70 percent of the virtual currency. Ravi has done a fair job of describing how Bitcoin works in layman terms. He even includes a website Cotton Trail ( does the term 'Silk Route' ring any bells ? ) that trades/accepts payment in Bitcoins in the book.

It is only when the Senator gets assassinated and a phishing scam happens that things start to heat up. The reader is exposed to the power play that takes place in Corporate boardrooms and politicals corridors. We have a female head of a powerful bank who is involved in money laundering, dalliances with a Finance minister and finally ends up dead ( is it a suicide or a murder ??).

The gaming angle and Facebook are given ample coverage. The role of social media in marketing anything and everything (whether it is a game or a even blog like "Confessions of a Hooker") is brought under the lens.

Plus there are the situations which cater to the Indian mindset too. The meeting between a father and a long lost son, the son helping the old man out with his latest venture, the father's unshakable faith in the son's ability to deliver, a romantic angle, an honest man getting bumped off because he chose to depose against a powerful figure, US investigators using guile to get past the famed Indian red tape in the course of their investigation are some of those.

There is a new revelation in almost every chapter and that is what sustains one's interest throughout the book (Ex- Do you know what Satoshi Nakamoto stands for ? ). This is difficult to keep the facts out of your head. One keeps working out the plot over and over while making amendments as and when new facts show up. But it is the twist in the end which delivers the knockout punch.  A must read if you are crazy about thrillers that draw heavily on technology.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Book Review: Half Girlfriend (by Chetan Bhagat)

(Buy online Here)

Oops....he did it again!!! Chetan Bhagat's latest could easily be another Hindi blockbuster. Hardly surprising for a guy who is quoted to be the largest selling English language novelist in Indian History. He thrives on mass appeal. Something which the Dan BrownsJeffery Archers and the Sidney Sheldons lack. They do not touch the soul of the Indian reader simply because the plot, the settings and even the English is so alien. Bhagat has his finger on the pulse of the average Indian who just like Madhav, the lead protagonist, thinks first in vernacular and then translates it into English. Akin to providing the proverbial icing on the cake, he intersperses English with Bhojpuri, sometimes even crass stuff like 'Deti hai to de, varna kat le'.

The story which moves between Delhi, Bihar and New York, is a poor boy meets rich chick plot with a very realistic twist. "Rich chick falling for a poor guy?? Dude that happens only in our Hindi movies". A standard reaction. But what makes this convincing is that the chick, who is portrayed as being commitment phobic, does not fall for our poor Bihari guy until the end. She agrees to be his half-girlfriend but no more. The reason behind it revealed much later. For a story that is largely narrated in flashback, Bhagat maintains a good grip on the plot.

The main protagonists meet in college as teenagers. Their love for basketball brings them close but their bliss does not last. Both take off their separate ways to pursue individual dreams but destiny has other plans for them. They meet after three years, both older and wiser. Only to be separated by another twist of fate. They meet yet again in the climax, this time to end up together.

The book has quite a few sparkling moments including one when Madhav, the Bihari guy who has always nursed a complex about his English, delivers a speech (a section of which is impromptu) in English in front of Bill Gates and bags a grant from the Gates Foundation. Both the leads are flesh and blood characters who have 'hatke' dreams and are not afraid of pursuing them.

Bhagat has fleetingly touched upon a lot of sensitive topics including child abuse, marital abuse and secondary status of the girl child in society. But in typical Bhagat style, he does not dissect them. No intellectual reflections. No philosophical views. Highly recommended (even for those folks who rather prefer his movies)!

If you have any reservations about Bhagat's English which sounds rather juvenile given his pedigree, read this article (click here). English elitist's eat your heart out. The rest of India is catching up and how.

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