Posted in Books

Book Review: The Common Man Watches Cricket, by RK Laxman

About the author:
Rasipuram Krishnaswamy Iyer Laxman is an Indian cartoonist, illustrator, and humorist. He is best known for his creation “The Common Man”, for his daily cartoon strip, “You Said It” in The Times of India, which started in 1951.

My thoughts on the book:
Can a book be light and heavy at the same time? Possibly not, but that’s what I feel this book is.

RK Laxman brings forth various issues in India through his thought-provoking, yet humorous cartoons. While making us smile or even chuckle in delight at the intent, it also makes us question, “Is this India?” No, it makes us question, “Isn’t this India?”

His character “The Common Man” is someone who sees the country in various situations, but doesn’t talk at all, or raise a voice against it. Much like you or I, a common man in this vast populous.

In this book, the first cartoon left me wondering about the state of cricket in our country. As an ardent cricket fan, I had started to wonder the same long before I set eyes on that cartoon, with that caption. At times, it does seem like the country, and the cricket team, act that way. Looking for fans rather than wins, acting as if the cricket pitch is a boxing ring, and losing their wits in tough matches… yes, even chatting about the matches and corruption in the sport etc. like they were the most important part of our lives… yes, in India, it seems to be true, sadly.

Title aside, the book is much more than just about cricket. It shows the contrast in politics. It shows the state of India might be so low that even the neediest person might think twice before accepting something, or consuming what they find. It shows the politician’s mindset where he’s prepared to leave a public gathering for a private meeting, leaving the people who elect him half way. It shows the other side of the picture. One of my favorites from the book shows the beggar asking the rich person, “The price of everything else has gone up, how come I still get the same old 50 paisa coin?” and another that shows how we punish the innocent by misinterpreting what actually is to be something else.

Want a dose of humor, with cartoons that make you smile and yet think as well? This book does that. Other than a couple of typos in the captions, I enjoyed this book thoroughly.


Rated a 9/10
Rated a 9/10

Book details:
Title: The Common Man Watches Cricket
Author: RK Laxman
ISBN: 9780140299328
Genre: Cartoons & Illustrations
Publishers: Penguin Books India
Price: INR. 200

 


The book was borrowed for reading from the local library. This is not a paid review.
The opinions expressed in the review are my own, and remain unbiased and uninfluenced.


Shared with the First Reads challenge at b00k r3vi3ws and Indian Quills at Tales Pensieve.


(April 4th, 2013)

Posted in Books

Book Review: Dancing Earth, poetry anthology edited by Robin Ngangom and Kynpham Nongkynrih

About the editors:
Native of Cherrapunjee in Meghalaya, Kynpham Sing Nongkynrih has published three poetry collections in Khasi and three in English besides other books in the two languages. He received the first North-East Poetry Award in 2004.

Robin Singh Ngangom, native of Singjamei in Manipur has published three collections of poetry and his works have appeared in leading journals and anthologies both in India and abroad. He received the Katha Translation Award in 1999.

Both live presently in Shillong, where they work at the North Eastern Hill University as reader in the English department and teacher of literature respectively.

My thoughts on the book:
Reading poetry is no walk in the park. What the poet conveys to the reader might be just direct to the point, or hold layers, depth that might point to a whole other concept. So we can interpret both ways at times.

What this anthology, Dancing Earth, brings to the table is unity in diversity, just like the country. These are poets from different parts of North East India, across time and across languages. Translated from regional Indian languages, like Bengali, Hindi, Assamese and Manipuri (which I’ve heard of) and some like Kokborok and Chakmae (which I hadn’t heard of till now), into English, these are poems filled with native imagery.

From this collection, few poems really touched my heart.

There is a poem, “Dot” by Nini Lungalang who is an English teacher in Nagaland. This poem is one of my favorites from the book. It’s like a story in a poem, one which many of us might be able to relate to. The poetess sees her neighbors quarreling over their ancestral land, as to who gets a particular piece, which is insignificant in the bigger scheme of things. The poetess then wonders if we look to take ownership of lands till the centre of the earth which is a dot, who owns that dot? Other than seeing this happen in my family and wondering the same, it also makes me think, if the world continues to fight over insignificant things, finally who takes the responsibility for its well being?

It was a pleasant surprise to me to see Kynpham Sing Nongkynrih’s haiku collection in the anthology. A haiku is three lines that are meant to show something. His did. One about a rainbow was particularly poignant. It told life as it is. Another one about city folk going to office resonated very easily with me.

Ananya Guha writes a poem about God. It’s not something everyone would agree on perhaps, but I liked the thought. To me, it had depth too. I particularly liked the play on words in the first line, “A petal trembling falls”, which to me not only showed the fall of the petal but put forth a waterfall too. The poem tells me God is there, in the hardest of times, showing us the calmness. We just have to believe in it to see it.

A couple of verses from Bevan L Swer’s poem The Bitter Sunrise also echoed. It reminded me of me at times. Alone, silent, brooding though I know there are people who are alike at heart and willing to talk to me, listen to what I want to say, relieve me of at least a little part of my sorrowful burden.

There are poems in this collection that make me return to them again, re-read them, try to understand them and search them for depth where there might just be simplicity. That to me, a poet, signifies power in poetry. There are also poems that don’t feel like poems, few that I skip over and forget. There is even a prose. But the collection doesn’t leave me disappointed. It makes me think, if the translations have got such power in them, how beautiful the original verses would have been.


A rating of 8/10
A rating of 8/10

Book details:
Title: Dancing Earth
Editors: Robin Singh Ngangom and Kynpham Sing Nongkynrih
ISBN: 9780-0-143-10220-5
Genre: Poetry Anthology
Publishers: Penguin India
Price: INR. 350

 


The book is a personal copy. The opinions expressed in the review are my own, and remain unbiased and uninfluenced.


Shared with the First Reads challenge at b00k r3vi3ws and Indian Quills at Tales Pensieve.


(April 3rd, 2013)

Posted in Books

Book Review: The Forest of Stories (Mahabharata Series #1), by Ashok Banker

About the author:
Ashok K. Banker is an internationally acclaimed author of mixed-race and mixed-cultural parentage based in Mumbai, India. He aims to retell all of the major myths, legends and itihasa of the Indian sub-continent in a span that will cover over seventy volumes.

My thoughts on the book:
The power of a story is not just in the plot, but in the narration as well. The ability of the author to hold the attention of the reader through the book with just his words to me tells a lot of the book itself. I found this book to be that sort of end-to-end brilliance. I usually associate that phrase end-to-end with thrillers, but this mythology masterpiece definitely merits it.

The first book in the “Mahabharata (MBA)” series, this book sets the tone for what is to come. This is Ved Vyasa’s epic retold and the characters built as they are. The language is poetic, as befits the great epic, and the author shows that he is not just a writer, but a raconteur, as his voice takes one into a trance. Narrated by a raconteur Ugrasrava Romarsana, son of Suta and hence named Sauti, we are taken right to the heart of Naimisha-van, to the hermitage of Kulapati Shaunaka and his many disciples as he does so.

What I liked:
From the get-go, you are drawn into the tale and its interest is such that you don’t stop till the end, or you have to. For a magical tale, a magical narration is needed. The book has that. Right when you are lost in the book and may have missed a line of thought, the narrator brings it back to your attention by a wise interruption and question from the learned sage Shaunaka. The imagination of Sauti, where he sees not just the people at the hermitage but also the many souls of those who were lost in the epic battle, is well-drawn. I was especially drawn to the tale of Jamadagneya Rama. The pause in narration happens at exactly the right places, and split as the Mahabharata epic is.

What I didn’t like:
I couldn’t fault much at all. If any, I found a misprint somewhere, but that isn’t at a place where you can notice it.

Closing thoughts:
With the first book ending at a place where the birth of Ved Vyasa and his existence is shown, it sets the stage for the second book to continue. This is my favorite fiction of the year to date.


Rated a perfect 10/10
Rated a perfect 10/10

Book-details:
Title: The Forest of Stories
Series: Mahabharata Series (Book 01)
Author: Ashok K Banker
Genre: Mythological Fiction
ISBN: 978-93-81626-37-5
Publishers: Westland
Price: INR. 295

 


The book is a personal copy. The opinions expressed in the review are my own, and remain unbiased and uninfluenced.


Shared with the First Reads challenge at b00k r3vi3ws and Indian Quills at Tales Pensieve.


(March 25th, 2013)

Posted in Books

Book Review: Our Moon Has Blood Clots: The Exodus of the Kashmiri Pandits, by Rahul Pandita

About the author:
Rahul Pandita is the author of the bestselling book “Hello Bastar: The Untold Story of India’s Maoist Movement”, and co-author of the critically acclaimed book, “The Absent State”. He has reported extensively from war zones including Iraq and Sri Lanka, and Kashmir and Bastar in India. In 2010, he received the International Red Cross Award for conflict reporting.

My thoughts on the book:
It’s difficult to recollect painful memories. But that’s exactly what Rahul Pandita, the author, does through his book, “Our Moon Has Blood Clots”. Just into his teens, at 14, Rahul and his family, who are Kashmiri Pandits, were forced to leave their home in Srinagar because they were the minority within the Muslim-majority state. Being forced to abandon the place they are from, to find themselves without a proper home or foraging for food, or even see others fighting for food isn’t easy or enjoyable. Such events leave a mark on any heart, and it stays longer when the heart is young.

The book however is not just a sob story or a narration of just hardships. Rahul mixes his memories and blends it in the narration. The effect touches our hearts, and we lose ourselves in the reading. Many of us would have scars, but not of such an incident in childhood. So what we read brings us some notion of understanding, and we feel sad that at one time, our country did experience such, and perhaps it is still experiencing it now as well.

I’ll quote a line that to me tells of his understanding of home, his “shahar”: “Shahar was also about friendships, bonding, compassion and what elders called the lihaaz, which, in simple terms, means consideration.” That line means much more when you see its placement, which is right after a paragraph that says there was an irreversible bitterness in those days between Kashmir and India that felt evident by the time children learned the alphabet, and that the minority Pandits felt the wrath of that bitterness. The lines after that quote showed the importance of that lihaaz as he remembers how they bonded, as they went to neighbors’ homes during Eid and wished them and their neighbors did the same during Shivratri, still trying to maintain religious considerations.

For me, this was a difficult read, firstly because I’ve only recently taken to reading non-fiction and I still imagine certain parts of the narration, so it becomes vivid in my head; and secondly because it is recollections of reality that occurred. It’s not a book that can be read over and over again I feel, but it leaves a mark on us with its first read. To me, this has been the best non-fiction of the year so far.


A rating of 8/10
A rating of 8/10

Book details:
Title: Our Moon Has Blood Clots: The Exodus of the Kashmiri Pandits
Author: Rahul Pandita
Genre: Non-fiction
ISBN: 9788184000870
Publishers: Random House India
Price: INR. 499

 
 


This book was given to me for review by Random House India. This is not a paid review.
The opinions expressed in the review are my own, and remain unbiased and uninfluenced.


Shared with the First Reads challenge at b00k r3vi3ws and Indian Quills at Tales Pensieve.


(March 18th, 2013)

Posted in Books

Book Review: Beautiful Country, by Gunjan Veda and Syeda Hameed

About the authors:
Gunjan Veda is an Indian journalist and the cofounder of iRead Books Ltd, an online bookstore and library. This book is her first, a joint venture with Syeda Saiyidain Hameed, who is a prominent member of the Planning Commission of the Government of India. Syeda Hameed’s writing highlights various aspects of modern Indian history, women’s issues, Urdu poetry and South Asia.

My thoughts on the book:
I bought this book based purely on instinct. The cover called out to me and I didn’t even check the back blurb before I claimed a copy. It was only later, once I reached home, that I realized what I had acquired was a non-fiction book, the recollections and stories of real life in India brought out from the eyes of two people who had actually been there and felt that life moving, seen it and understood it. I’m the first to admit that I’m usually deterred by non-fiction books. They’re other people’s lives; you can’t always place yourself in their shoes and walk that life with your imagination. But this book somehow kept telling me not to stop reading. Lying back on a cushioned diwan, with the fan easing the heat, I might not know the toils and struggles that people in the other parts of the country are going through each day. And though at times I do wish to go to those places and capture that life and the beauty that that world holds, I realize that it’s not what I can do immediately.

Beautiful Country, authored by two prominent women of India, brings to me the images of life in different corners of the country. It not only brings those stories, but also the beauty of that part of the country. To be more specific, it brings out the authors’ experience from their travels to eighteen different parts of India.

Told with a poignant, touching yet direct voice, these stories are true stories. It intrigues, calls the reader in from the very first lines from a poem in the preface, which is written by Mohammed Iqbal: “Khol aankh, zamin dekh, falak dekh, fiza dekh, Mashriq mein ubhartey huey suraj ko zara dekh, Iss jalwa-e-be parda ko pardon mein chhupa dekh, Ayyam-e-judai ke sitam dekh, jafa dekh.” If not for the translation below it in the book, the poem would be lost on me, its beauty lost on me. If not for this book, I can say the beauty of India, and the pains and life of those in parts of my country would have been lost on me as well.

What I loved:
Well, what I love most about the book is the raw, direct facts about the country said as they are. You don’t see words being sugarcoated, or incidents downplayed. The starting of each chapter and each part of the country is with a nice piece of poetry (I think it is Urdu) and in between the book, there are some beautiful color photos. This is what India is, we might not choose to believe it, but it is there for all to see. The honesty in the book is what I feel makes it wonderful.

What I felt lacked:
I can’t say what lacks in such a non-fiction. They are after all, memories and thoughts. They might be as complete as the authors remember them. If I could suggest, maybe I’d say to put the pictures along with the chapters itself, rather than all together in the middle of the book. Also, many places are missing, like Karnataka, or Goa, or Orissa… I was hoping they’d be there too (but that’s of course still possible as a volume 2, so not exactly a lacking point maybe).

Closing thoughts:
If you aren’t sure what the real India is, this book would clear your mind. The narration is melancholic, but it’s not saddening, in fact, some things are absolutely inspiring. You can at times see the picture come to life (then again, that might be my imagination!) A non-fiction that will stay in my collection!


A rating of 8/10
A rating of 8/10

Book details:
Title: Beautiful Country: Stories from another India
Authors: Syeda Hameed, Gunjan Veda
ISBN: 9789350291306
Genre: Non-Fiction
Publishers: Harper Collins
Price: Rs. 399

 
 


The book is a personal copy. The opinions expressed in the review are my own, and remain unbiased and uninfluenced.


Shared with the First Reads challenge at b00k r3vi3ws and Indian Quills at Tales Pensieve.


(March 9th, 2013)