Saturday, December 31, 2011

A Gift of Love - 17 Short Stories

Title: A Gift of Love - 17 Short Stories
Author: Various
Publication: Children's Book Trust
Price: Rs. 100

Courage is not in being fearless but in being brave even when you are scared” and many other such excellent thoughts have been caged in this wonderful book. I literally felt gone were the days when good short stories, preferably with morals made up for a sizable portion of the day till I stumbled upon this beautiful collection of short stories. From the deep seated desire for the ancient rural bliss in this modernizing world captured in the story, ‘A Bullock Cart in Badaltapur’ to the advent of the social networking world with all their pros and cons beautifully explained in ‘Netpals Dot Com’, the book has it all. The book has a social rationale as well, as it gives an affirmative answer to the question of India versus the Western world, by giving an insightful view of both the worlds, the aftermaths of polluting of the dreams of a river and the slaughter of innocent animals. ‘The Gonzalves Gold’ exuberantly describes the life on a beach and a hope of finding lost treasure, a lost lifestyle. The stories ‘Dr. Thankur’ and ‘Design to Win’ touch the emotional chord by how the life can be mended after what appears to be the end of the world, low grades and a suicide attempt. If a family could not adopt a little baby who it so keenly desired to, can’t they adopt a grandparent? A little girl wonders if her parents actually wanted a son in her place. A teacher does not mind being called a bloodhound, just to ensure history does not repeat itself. A young AIDS patient hopes to make the others who suffer like him, happy. A sudden surprise in a time when almost all was over and a sound lecture from the mother was inevitable. A battle against the prevalent caste system, just to get a pot of water. A couple of boys taking a vow that they would behave themselves henceforth. These are some of the brilliant themes that are portrayed by the book.
A must read for everyone young or old. It can also make a perfect gift, a gift of love.
The hope remains. As the last line of the book goes: “One day, Chinnamma,” she thought as she walked into the cool moonrise, “you will hand over a pot to me. One woman to the other. Our hearts have met. Our hand too will meet.”

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

And here comes the last leg of BANG! The Literary Challenge, the SPECIAL PRIZE. Here the lucky winners were supposed to send the review of any book they had recently read....

So here's a book review by AMAN ARYA. Read on...

Title: Great Expectations

Author: Charles Dickens

In this book Charles Dickens weaves a beautiful story about a boy named Pip. The challenges faced by Pip in his narrative like poverty, cold and contemptuous treatment of him by Estella, the girl he loved and wanted to marry and the irony of his good fortune. The author has taken  great care to distinguish between  imploring the voice of Pip, the narrator with perspective and maturity while also imparting on how Pip, the character feels about his life as it actually happens.

The main theme underlying the story is quite simple-affective, loyalty and conscience is more important than social status, advancement and class. Pip learns his lesson, by exploring his ambition and self-improvement-ideas that quickly become both the thematic centre of the novel and the psychological mechanism that encourages much of the protagonist's development. Ambitious and self-development take three forms in Great Expectations, moral, social and educational. These motivate Pip to better his behavior throughout this novel. Being-treated hard, Pip desires self development. In love with Estella, he longs to become a member of her own social, ambitious class. Encouraged by Mrs. Joe and Pumblechook, he entertains fantasies of becoming a gentleman. Also, he desires educational improvement. This desire is deeply connected to Estella. A full education is the requirement of being a gentleman, or so he believes. As long as he is an ignorant country man, he cannot win the love of the woman, he desires to be with. Ultimately through examples of Joe, Biddy and Magwitch, he learns that social and educational improvements are irrelevant and that conscience and affection are to be valued above social standing. The story ends on a happy note with Pip encountering Estella in a ruined garden, learning the fact that her mask of cruelty had been replaced by sad kindness and they end up leaving the garden hand-in-hand.

An enriching novel, a must read if you are a book lover!!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

The Doll Violinist

Title :The Doll Violinist

Author : Mayra Calvani

Illustrator : Amy Cullings Moreno

Publication : Guardian Angel Publishing , INC

This is a story about an orphan child Emma ,who just a few days before Christmas is captivated by one of the dolls in the toy store display window . Everyday Emma stands outside the toy shop inspite of Madame Dubois, the shopowner , shooing her away time and again, to admire the doll with the violin and cringes with fear when one of the dolls is bought . There is also an emotional angle between Emma and her liking for the doll with the violin .

Read on to find out whether the Christmas season casts its usual magic and Emma gets her beloved doll or not .

It is a very sweet , a typically girlie girls book . Amy Cullings Moreno has done a good job with the illustrations . Mayra Calvani has told the story in a way that will hold the kids interest till the end and along with that teach them a very important lesson that life is not exactly easy for a lot of people and to be kind and considerate towards the lesser fortunate ones.

The book surely goes well with the spirit of the festival season .

Saturday, December 17, 2011

The Magician’s Nephew by C. S. Lewis

Title : The Chronicles of Narnia (The Magician's Nephew)
Author: C. S. Lewis
Publication: Harper Collins Publishers
Price: US $ 6.99

A real world full of miseries, a kind of mid world of peace and perfect happiness, yet another one with just one sinister living creature left and one with talking beasts and the land of youth! ‘The Magician’s Nephew’ is an enchanting tale of an innocent friendship between Digory, the protagonist and his neighbor Polly and how they set out to explore the mystery behind an empty house, but instead end up discovering many new worlds – the world of woods, Charn – the land of dead and evil and Narnia- the young land of youth.

A little boy’s quest to explore new worlds, his little mistakes, extreme love for his mother, his quick wittedness and faith in values give shape to the whole adventure.

A beautiful message that comes out of the story is that evil (here portrayed by Jadis and her world of Charn) thrives in darkness, in stale environment and in desolate loneliness. Goodness, however thrives in open air, even though it might not be as mighty as the cruel. A similar thought can be seen in the ‘Land of Gup’ (where there is always light, genuine goodness and camaredrie are the order of the day) and the ‘Land of Chup’ (where there is always darkness, no one speaks and there is only evil) in the book ‘HAROUN AND THE SEA OF STORIES’ by Salman Rushdie. Surely, goodness needs no hiding place, it needn’t fear anything.

When things go wrong, you’ll find they usually go on getting worse for some time; but when things once start going right they often go on getting better and better.” or so declares C. S. Lewis in his book ‘The Magician’s Nephew’. For me after a stint with a few books, all of which, most unexpectedly, turning out to be some adult crap could not be read beyond a few pages was most definitely the unfortunate ‘wrong part’. This youthful and lively book of Narnia series came as a welcome change, the ‘right thing’, a whiff of fresh air, an easy one day journey into fantasy. Away from the mundane miseries, the book draws up a virtual picture of a world with peace, where happiness is natural and so is exuberance.

Truly a must read for all fantasy lovers!

The powerful and interesting storyline makes sure the readers will come again for its sequels for I am sure whoever has read this has loved it!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

TROFEO! The Winter Challenge!!

With the grand success of BANG! The literary Challenge!! behind us, we at Zealot Readers announced the launch of the X-mas challenge!

The theme was FANTASY and the dream destination was : The Fantasy Destination Here .

Our Esteemed Judges :

1) Ms. Roopa Pai - A well known name in Indian kidlit world. She mesmerized the young readers with her Sister, Sister (Eureka series, by Pratham) books and then with the Taranauts books (

2) Mr. Manish Verma - A great orator, a member of faculty for many management institutes besides leading an IT company. 

3) Mrs. Neena Aggarwal - Very senior English teacher at a leading school of Noida. 

We thank our esteemed judges for their invaluable comments and rating points that will go a long way in motivating the participants and for announcing who the winners will be.

QUESTIONS/ QUERIES/ COMMENTS: e-mail Vaishali Sethi or  email Vibha Sharma

The winners and their winning entries are:



Vidhi Sethi
The Three Shadows 

Once upon a time, there were three extremely arrogant shadows. They would always trouble all the people whom they met. One day when they were hovering in the graveyard, they suddenly found a fork lying on the ground. The trio was surprised that in such a cold weather the fork was very hot. The shadows did not understand what to do with it. After sometime they decided to take the fork with them. Next day while they were hovering on a dusty lane, they saw a small patch of grass. They were surprised that in the whole dusty lane, it was the only little patch of grass, that too in the shape of a lock. It so happened that the fork that the shadows that the shadows had found in the graveyard and had been carrying all along fell on the green patch. As the hot fork touched the grass, it melted like hot molten chocolate and lo! The magic lock cracked open! The grass slowly disappeared and cleared the way for a small tunnel from which a good fairy came out. She had an oversized boot in her hand. She gave the boot to the three shadows. Now wherever the shadows went, the boot also went with them. Even when the three of them were away from each other, the boot would break into three parts and follow them individually. Now with the boot trailing them always, whenever the trio tried to do anything wrong, a voice from the boot would scold them loudly. They were not able to do anything bad now. They transformed into three good shadows. The fairy again appeared. This time she had a magic button in her hand. She pressed the button and wind started blowing. Suddenly, the three bad shadows transformed into three good humans. They thanked the fairy and went away. 

Judge 1: Mrs. Neena Aggarwal
Rating : 6.

Judge 2 : Mr. Manish Verma
Rating : 6
Comments : There is a good flow to the story. The boot is like conscious that is awakened by fairy’s touch which first prevents the shadows from doing anything wrong and then helps them become humans. Good strong message.

Judge 3 : Ms. Roopa Pai
Rating : 7
Comments : 
The good stuff:
I like the visual image of the grass lock melting like chocolate when the hot fork falls on it, and the image of the tunnel opening up under it. I like the idea of a conscience following the shadows around.
The ‘to-work-on’ stuff:
• The plot leaves things unexplained – for instance, in what way did the shadows trouble people?
• Plot should have a logical sequence – for instance, you cannot say that the shadows were surprised that the fork was hot in ‘such cold weather’ without mentioning before that it was cold. You could say ‘One bitterly cold day when they were hovering…’ instead of just ‘One day when they were hovering…’ Also, you say the shadows thanked the fairy for turning them into humans. This would work better if you had mentioned earlier that they wanted to be humans. Maybe the shadows troubled people because they were jealous that they were human!
• Words could be more appropriate – in the first line of the story, you say the shadows were arrogant and that they troubled people. Don’t you think ‘mischievous’ or ‘annoying’ would be a better word for someone who troubles others?

Total Rating : 19.5 (out of 30)

ZR Thinks : Wow! Lovely imagination and the way you have brought the message ‘goodness triumphs always’ is wonderful. You are indeed a budding author in the making. Keep writing and keep enjoying.


Akriti Bali
The Secret Of Dusty Lane 

There once lived a good fairy named Tinker. She was very good  and kind, but she lived in a dusty lane. She wanted to do something about the dusty,musty lane.One day she saw three shadows,who were wearing oversized boots! These three shadows were sent by a bad witch, called Wilycobra. She wanted to get the book which contained the most difficult spells,which Tinker had. It was given to her by the queen of good faries called fairy Moonlight. Fairy Moonlight got to know about the three shadows. She told Tinker about this. She gave Tinker a magic lock and told  Tinker a plan. Tinker listened very carefully. She took the magic lock  and went home. She saw the  three shadows in her house. She took the magic lock and  pressed the magic button. Wilycobra and her full team was caged and  then all of a sudden the cage and all the bad witches vanished! Hurray! The faries have won! Now the book was safe inside Tinker's magic house. Tinker promised to be careful next time Fairy Moonlight granted Tinker a wish. Tinker wished "I want the dusty lane to become beautiful ." With this  the dusty lane was converted to the most beautiful lane in the world . 

Moral : Do not be careless .

Judge 1: Mrs. Neena Aggarwal
Rating : 6

Judge 2 : Mr. Manish Verma
Rating : 5
Comments : Good story flow. The plot is too simple.

Judge 3 : Ms. Roopa Pai
Rating : 8
Comments : 
Good Stuff : Well-written story. I like the way Tinker gets her wish in the end. I love the name of the witch. I like that the word limit has been respected.
The ‘to-work-on’ stuff: Sentence logic: You say ‘Tinker was very good and kind, BUT she lived in a dusty lane’ – the two parts of the sentence are not really related. Wouldn’t it work better if you said “Tinker kept her cottage spotless, but she wished she could do something about the dusty lane in which it stood” or ‘Tinker was a cheerful soul, but her happy smile went away whenever she looked out of her window and saw the dusty, musty lane outside.’
Plot logic: The plot of the story should have a logical sequence. For instance, you must say in the beginning of the story that Tinker had a very special book in her house full of the grandest, rarest magic spells BEFORE you mention that Wilycobra had sent the shadows to steal it.

Total Rating : 19 (out of 30)
ZR Thinks : Lovely imagination but spending a little time in editing after writing the story would surely take it to a really good level. So keep trying and keep writing. Good luck.



Abhinav Behl
Percy's Wish 

 My name is Percy Jackson and tomorrow is my birthday. It was almost midnight. Suddenly I saw a flicker of torchlight on my window.  
 Percy thought it must have been a star or firefly. But in the morning it was still there. "That's odd", he thought when he found the light shimmering on the oven. "It's time to put the cake in the oven, “said Percy's mom. Percy was eventually wrapped up in his birthday party with his friends that he didn't even know when the oven let out a "DINK" which meant that the cake was finished baking. But when Percy was about to blow out the candles, he noticed the cake was glowing. He thought that maybe the cake was like that, so he made a wish to be a Greek God of Mt. Olympus some day. Suddenly a glow of yellow light filled the air, but in a split second the glow was gone. Percy thought that nothing happened until he looked at his clothes. He was wearing white armor. He then started to grow! He grew to 20 ft. just like a real Greek God! He never knew that the cake was magical. Then he remembered that little light on his window and his oven. Out of nowhere, Chiron, a horse-man (and Percy's friend) appeared. “You are the God of Air,” said Chiron, “You must head over to Mt. Olympus because you’re needed there. So Percy went to Mt. Olympus where all the other Gods stayed. When Percy got there, he went to the Great Hall. 
 All the Gods were in the Hall. Percy found a seat that said "GOD OF AIR". When all the Gods saw Percy, they started telling him about a war that was going on. It was Gods vs. a BIG monster. Percy saw the monster through the window. A few Gods ran outside to fight the monster and Percy was also sent to battle the beast. He was given a sword for fighting the monster. After what felt like five hours, because it was, the monster was defeated. Percy was so sore he almost couldn't walk. He never knew that being a God was so tiring. That night Percy was informed that the evil Titan Lord, Kronos, was attacking Mt. Olympus. But Percy didn't want to fight in this battle. He was too tired to do anything after the monster was killed. But there was no choice. He had to fight in this battle. So Percy and the rest of the Gods went to fight Kronos. After many days of fighting, Kronos was finally defeated. Now, Percy was fed up of being a God. He decided to just go back home. 

 At home Percy met his mother. She was very glad to see him after a very long time. Percy just wanted to take a nap on the sofa. But when he passed by the kitchen he saw the light still on the oven. "Percy, there is a light on the oven, do you know anything about it?" asked his mother. Percy had a plan to conclude his God life that he couldn't even answer his mom's question. He thought that if he could wish to be a God, then he could also make another wish to be a regular boy. So he told his mom to bake another cake.  
 After an hour or so, the cake was done baking. Percy's mom put a candle on the cake and lit it with a match. He wished for everything to be normal just like it used to be. Then there was another glow of yellow light that filled the air and soon it was gone. Percy's white armor vanished and he became a regular human-sized boy. Just to make sure that the wish came true he asked his mom if he was a God and she said "no" which meant Percy was a boy once again! 

 And from then on, whenever Percy had his birthday party and the light was on the oven he was careful never to make a wish that would change his WHOLE life.  

Judge 1: Mrs. Neena Aggarwal
Rating : 6.5
Judge 2 : Mr. Manish Verma
Rating : 7
Comments : Interesting plot. The moral of the story is also good. You are best where you are and how you are. Things look great from distance but may not necessarily be so when seen from close.
Judge 3 : Ms. Roopa Pai
Rating : 7
Comments :
The good stuff : I like the fact that the story is an original take on a popular series. It is also well-written.
 The to work on stuff:
• Word limit: The story has well exceeded the specified word limit.
• Plot logic: If you start the story with ‘My name is Percy Jackson’, you should continue the first-person narrative throughout without switching suddenly to third-person.
• Adapting / spoofing a popular series: This is very very hard to do well, and I would generally recommend that you come up with your OWN original story rather than piggybacking on someone else’s. You could use the Percy Jackson idea, of course – how about if your character’s name was Paresh Jaikishen and he became Hanuman when he wished to be a god?

Total Rating : 20.5 (out of 30)

ZR Thinks : WOW ! You are our winner. So this clearly means, there is a budding author in the making. Now what you need to do it to keep imagining and keep writing.


Shabi Singh
"...there was eerie silence and a smoky figure appeared outside the window of my room, it was late in winter night and I had just fallen into my bed, I ignored it and quickly fell asleep. After some time, I woke up hearing a knock on my window and saw the same smoky figure standing outside. This time I decided to find who the person was.  

That mysterious figure disappeared as soon as I got out of my bed, the stillness of the time caught me for a moment and I thought maybe I should go back to sleep but what if that figure appear again, I quickly put on my jacket and canvas and rushed outside "pheww...its so damn cold" I cried, while looking for the person but did not succeed. Then suddenly I heard sound coming from the roof. I quickly ran upstairs thinking to catch the stranger but to my amazement I saw my friend standing. 

"Sam..!! u r too much to handle..." I cried, "what’s ya doing on the roof of my house" I demanded.  

She came near me and said "would you like to check out that so called 'haunted house' two blocks away", "remember you said we would go together"; 
"Sam it’s late in the night and I decided to go in the day and.....” 
"O come on! Don’t be a chicken, now is the time, it would great as no one will be there... spooky things don't happen in day....come Jack" she said.  
Maybe she was right so I decided to go. The house looked so scary and spooky in the moonlight. I zipped my jacket up to my chin and started towards the house. Halfway up to the house I tripped over a rock; hitting my head and went dizzy.  
I woke up with a burning sensation all over my body and to my horror I realized I was lying on fire flames. Suddenly someone hit me on my back, 
“Get up you rascal! You have work to do” said a man looking like a monster. I asked him where I was, “its Hell!! you fool” he barked. 
I was so horrified that I closed my eyes and started screaming..... 
When I opened my eyes I was lying in my bed sweating, with my brother staring at me. Oh! What a relief it was on realizing that it was a nightmare. 

Judge 1: Mrs. Neena Aggarwal
Rating : 6.5

Judge 2 : Mr. Manish Verma
Rating : 4
Comments : The story does not build completely. What happened to the smoky figure, what was there in the haunted house? The plot is incomplete.  Generally a story should have a plot, a beginning an end and some interesting event in between. The language used is good, vocabulary is good!

Judge 3 : Ms. Roopa Pai
Rating : 7
Comments :
The good stuff : Lots of action in the story, the pace never flags.
The ‘to work on’ stuff:
• Punctuation, capital letters, sentence construction: One of the hallmarks of good writing is proper punctuation, and knowing when to split a sentence into two. You can learn this by noticing how good writers do it when you are reading their books. For instance – She came near and said, “Would you like to go and check out the so-called ‘haunted house’ two blocks away? Remember you said we would go together?” – is the correct way to punctuate that sentence in the story.
Using accents: If you are going to make Jack say, “What’s ya doing on the roof of my house?” he should always speak in that accent. He can’t say “Sam! You are too much to handle!” He would have to say, “Sam, ya’s too much to handle!” On the whole, I would advise not to venture into accents in dialogue unless you know an accent very very well yourself.

Total Rating : 17.5 (out of 30)

ZR Thinks : Great attempt but try editing the final piece of writing. 


Friday, December 9, 2011

The Dragonfly Prophecy by Jacquelyn Castle

Author:  Jacquelyn Castle
Publication: Class Act Books
Price: $17.95

The Dragonfly Prophecy, by Jacquelyn Castle revolves around a 17 year old, Lexi Blane, who has a near perfect life with adoring parents and a doting boyfriend. As destiny takes a jerk, she realizes that it is all an illusion and her actual life is far from perfect. In a bid of self discovery, she finds an old friend Chace Preston who loves her to no limit. Torn between her far from ordinary real life and the seemingly perfect other world, where her parents and boyfriend live, she struggles to keep a balance. Lexi’s life takes another sudden turn and exposes the harsh realities and the big lies of her love life. Through the story Castle emerges as a powerful storyteller with a knack for putting sudden unexpected twists in the writing that leaves the readers enthralled.

The novel, through its interesting storyline, tries to give a number of good lessons for life. Just like the fact that we all have been bestowed with numerous wonderful gifts, all we need to do is to identify them and perfect them. Also, that life is not always as it appears to be.

Lexi’s life resembles a great deal with J K Rowling’s Harry Potter. Both are stories of orphan kids who had special powers but did not know until they were told so. Both had had admiringly affectionate parents, were now living at their aunt’s place and had friends play a huge role in their lives. The ‘Facility’ and the ‘Commission’ in this book bear a stark likeness with the ‘Ministry of Magic’ of the Harry Potter books and both were kept as a secret from the normal world, ‘muggles’ of the latter and ‘norms’ of the former.

Overall a pleasant and a clean book, an interesting pastime read.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

City of Djinns by William Dalrymple

Title : City of Djinns

Author : William Dalrymple

Publisher : Penguin Books India

ISBN : 978-0-143-03106-2

William Dalrymple is an accomplished historian and a great narrator. City of Djinns traces back the history of a fascinating city- Dilli or Delhi, which has innumerable stories buried deep in the folds of centuries that it stood witness to. The bygone eras are beautifully brought to light in this book taking the readers to a retro journey to find the roots of the city which was believed to be first established as Indraprastha (the original name) by the Pandava borthers, post Kurukshetra battle. Since that time, the city has been through a lot, has witnessed a lot, has endured a lot, has lost a lot and has transformed a lot. This is one city which has displayed unmatched resilience as beautifully worded by the author here , "Though it had been burned by the invaders time and time again, millennium after millennium, still the city was rebuilt, each time it rose like a phoenix from the fire. "

During his one year stay in Delhi, William actually travelled centuries back trying to delve deep in the past of the city which makes it what it is today. He introduces the readers to the two worlds of the same city as they now exist - Old Delhi and New Delhi. Old Delhi which was once an epitome of prosperity, sophistication, culture and magnificence is nothing more than a graveyard of Mughal era now. What is visible now is just the sad reminder of the past, and the ugly face of poverty and ruin at every nook and crevice of the place. This is the same place which bore testimony to the zenith and nadir of great dynasties.

In contrast, New Delhi is what urban India represents - which initially became the shelter for people who poured in from the partitioned Pakistan during 1947 and later from Punjab during 1984 riots. These people, predominantly Punjabis are the business class elite and there is mutual despise between the citizens belonging to these two different worlds. Dalrymple points out that these two diverse worlds meet briefly at the traffic lights as outstretched palms are thrust through the open car windows. The plight of Old Delhi is evident from this excerpt - "Today Old Delhi is a dustbin. Those who can afford have houses outside the walled city. Only the poor man who has no shelter comes to live here. Today there are no longer any educated men in the old city. All the learning, all the manners have gone. Everything is crude now."

Not many places can claim to have been a witness to such extremes as - the affluence and prosperity of Mughal reign versus Persian Massacres in 1739, aestheticism at its best during the reign of emperors like Shah Jahan versus the plunder by British post 1857 mutiny, magnificent architectural genius which have withstood the harshest tests of times versus the indifference towards the same and letting these monuments crumble with time, safe haven for physically and emotionally bleeding people who migrated from Pakistan during partition versus new wounds that were opened in 1984 riots, and much more.

Where does the city stand today? Is there no one left to even remember the likes of Mir, Zauk, Ghalib, Dagh? Is there no patron of chaste Urdu any more? Has the city become a carcass without its soul?

City of Djinnns is a very well researched piece of writing and the mention of dates, eras and the sources of information bring in the authenticity of the same.

Dalrymple takes the readers along to various places, sights and experiences in his venture to dig deeper into the enigmatic city that is Delhi. He joins in the celebration of various Indian religious festivals and vividly presents the experiences. He spends time in the society of eunuchs who earlier were entrusted the task of guarding the Mughal harems but are now literally shunned by the society to fend for themselves by performing at weddings and births. He visits Sufi enclaves which have a huge following by people of all religions and beliefs. He also interviews many Anglo Indians who are completely disowned by both - the country of their birth (India) and the country with which they have blood ties. He meets those who are trying to defy change of times by taking pleasure in continuing the tradition of partridge fights and pigeon collection.

However, I found two irritants in the narration - on a couple of occasions the author delves deep into too many intricate details about a particular person or incident which takes the focus off the mainline narrative. Such places in the book prove to be big diversions in the otherwise well connected and understandable commentary on history.

Secondly, the mention of same old (ab)normal Indian stuff that has been poked fun at by many other Western authors. I guess my expectations run much higher from an author of William Dalrymple's stature and sensibilities, who has experienced Indian slice of life very closely for many years.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The Age Of Kali by William Dalrymple

Title : The Age of Kali

Author : William Dalrymple

Publisher : Penguin India

ISBN : 978-0-143-03109-3

Kaliyug or the Period of Kali is the last of the four Hindu periods contained in mahayuga - the great age of the world. The age of Kali is when the imperfections are so overpowering that the doomsday is not far behind and a new cycle begins.

After having read 'The Age of Kali' by William Dalrymple, I just wondered, perhaps defining India means, getting the feeling of 'Neti Neti' (its neither this, nor that). Such unbelievable diversity in every aspect of human existence - from religion, culture, dressing habits, eating habits, faiths, beliefs, notions, values, to of course financial levels. As is said about Mahabharata, if it is not in this big epic, it is nowhere in the world. I think the same can be said about India to a certain extent.

William Dalrymple brings to us the glimpses of such huge multifariousness in the Indian subcontinent through the essays which chronicle a nation's struggle to rise above the ancient and modern forces which are trying to pull it in opposite directions.

He has brought out the coexistence of stark contrast by introducing the readers to the land of kamasutra, the land where shivalinga is one of the most sacred symbols in the temples, the land celebrating the beauty in the form of Khajuraho figurines and the same land where 'Sati mata' is still revered in some parts, where a woman (Sathin) is severely penalized for having attempted to stop a child marriage and where widows are left to begging in the streets of Vrindavan. But this is not all. He also opens a small window to peek inside the glitterati of Bollywood - the film industry of India and where women like Shobha De cater to the needs of people looking for spicy gossips and erotic writings.

Then there are some essays on the places like Lucknow, which bloomed culturally under the reigns of Mughal emperors and Nawabs who were 'liberal and civilized figures' - the great connoisseurs of poetry, dances, books and plethora of art forms. But such places are now completely bankrupt after having endured the plunder by Britishers, and by corrupt politicians, government officials and drug tycoons, post independence. In states like Bihar and Uttar Pradesh anarchy is rampant, especially in political arenas where elections are won by power, money and force rather than fair play. On the other hand there is Bangalore which has been unofficially christened as 'Silicon Valley of India' and offers hope of a better tomorrow for the whole country.

The author then talks about the financial and economic revolution by reporting about how the middle class families struggled in the seventies to buy their first fridge or a black and white television but quite suddenly there seemed to be a lot of money post 1989 economic deregulations and free market reforms. And subsequent deluge of TV channels brought the cultural invasion in the country.

There are some observations that he has very rightly made - India is struggling to shake away from the age old beliefs and caste system which seem to hold their fangs tight on the people very rigidly and refuse to die down. The unfortunate nexus between the religion and politics pushes the nation many times at the brink of volatile situations. The sluggish public sector is one major impediment in the growth of the nation, if not the sole one.

While reading the first half of the book, I was wondering - do such books sensationalize the events and issues more than they actually are but then the counter argument is, can anything non-existent be sensationalized?

But these essays do suffer from a few pitfalls - William Dalrymple has reported the actual events after interviewing many people but the actual flavor of India is lost somewhere especially of modern India which is committed to march ahead despite innumerable hurdles and push-pull forces from all conceivable quarters. The chapters are dedicated to the most depressing incidents in the life of the country in the last two to three decades which offer just one side of the picture. Moreover, I feel the analysis part got overshadowed by verbatim reporting of the people on many incidents and cases. From an author of William Dalrymple stature, I was expecting more deeper and broader scrutiny of the same which unfortunately came only in bits and pieces.

Found this quote from the book worth mentioning here "The eye of faith can often see much that is hidden from the vision of the non-believer". How true and sums up the belief system in one simple sentence.

I like William Dalrymple's writing style but would like to add 'India is not just this'.

Monday, December 5, 2011

As Long As I Love You ....I will let you hurt me

Title : As Long As I Love You....I will let you hurt me
Author : Nikhil Mahajan

Publisher : Srishti Publishers & Distributors

This is a story about Manav , a college student , who falls in love with Meha and then leaves her for Diva , who in turn two times him with Kabir . Then comes Gauri , Manav's senior and his confidante , who leaves him so that he can go back to Diva , who wants to come back to Manav's life after realising that she and Kabir do not suit each other and will not be able to find happiness together. There is also Miss Sehgal , Manav's teacher , with whom Manav has an affair .

This story has been told in a typical college life background , peppered with hostel life instances , parties , impressing girls among other things .

There is no strong storyline and at places no connectivity in the book . It is like a personal journal that has been published with little modifications . The author does not have good command over English . The book is full of grammatical mistakes . There are parts relating to Miss Sehgal in the book which leave a strong distaste because they have not been handled well .

It is difficult to connect with the story as the main protagonist keeps falling in and out of love . Since when has love become so shallow ? Though in end the author has asked questions about love on the same lines but somehow he is unable to leave any impact.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Manual For Living Connection Book2

Title : Manual For Living Connection Book2 [A user's guide to the meaning of life]

Author : Seth David Chernoff

Publisher : Spirit Scope

Connection is, as the book says, a manual for living. The book explores the theme of connection from various angles through a series of questions. The author tries to explain the meaning and relevance of the term in our lives. What are the obstacles that come in the way of connectivity -problems in communicating , judgement, anger, disagreement and how we can overcome them to live a meaningful and mindful life by claiming the power that is within. Its a guide to responsible living by a man who has gone through his own problems and triumphed.

The author in Socratic fashion tries to seek answers to the complexity of life by questioning it. The questions he asks are simple but he reaches deep down to answer them.

The chapters are short but packed with wisdom so the book is a slow read. Its not a book to be read at one time, it slowly grows on you. The subject matter does get heavy. Its still a relevant subject for the times we live in where we struggle to make connections. It is insightful and inspiring even though what it says has been said before. It is still worth reading and if you can take even one insight and apply it in your life it is worth your time and money.