Saturday, 20 October 2018

A chance to write about my favourite genre...

I have been reading Indian Mythological Fiction for more than a decade and a half; as long as its been around for. I am a big fan of the genre and find it interesting to read about characters that I had grown up with, read their stories in a new light.

Sometime back The Curious Reader, a literary website that dedicated to books and gives a platform for various perspectives wanted me to do a piece for them. When they asked me to write about Indian mythological fiction, I was rubbing my hands in glee. I was always meaning to do something on the topic and here was a chance to actually write it! The result was a 1000 plus piece that was published in time for Dussehra this week. I felt the timing could not have been better.

Here is the link to piece that was published sometime back.

Do you like Indian mythological fiction as much as I do? Do you agree with what I have said in the piece. Is there something that you would like to add? Do let me know.

And Then One Day - Naseerruddin Shah

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A great actor, an OK biography

Shah is an acclaimed actor someone who is highly respected for his acting prowess and for creating the kind of repution he has.

I loved watching him way back as Hero Hiralal to the villian in Krrish 3. He is one of the few actors who have an amazing range of acting capability. The funny thing with actors is that once you watch them enough on screen, there is a sort of kinship with them, a bonding a sense of having known them to a certain level.

 I was in India at a relative's place when his stark black and red cover beckoned me over to the bookshelf. The book cover was incredibly fascinating and the name on the book forced me to pick it up and have a quite read through.


Like any autobiography it takes us through the childhood, the making of the individual before it moves towards his acting days  early and late ones and the ramifications of it on his personal life.

What works:
  • The style is open, frank as if no holds barreed. 
  • The stories are entertaining and it was fascinating how these actors had to struggle to make their mark as the shining beacons as they are today.
  • It is about the Hindi film industry and it amazing how he and his wife were part of this elite set 
What doesn't:
  • The language is a bit old school and is a bit dated. In this day of blogging where short sentences create most impact, the long sentences and winding narrative tends to slow the narrative down.
  • The memoir is honest and with good intentions. However, it is devoid of masala or gossip. Shah doesn't name and shame much and the reader is not his confidante. Therein was my problem.
  • A loved one told me the other day, that they found it enjoyable. Sadly, I didn't. It was well written unfortunately not enough substance for me to register it as an enjoyable experience.

Wednesday, 12 September 2018

Writing For The Curious Reader

Sometime back I stumbled across a book website while looking for a book review that was recently adapted for a movie. As I looked for the review, it gave an interesting tour of the contents and their passion for literature in general.

The website is called The Curious Reader run Nirbhay Kanoria and Devanshi Jain. They have an interesting array of articles based on all things books. With a modern and liberating outlook, they look at different aspects of society through books as a magnifying glass.

Also they invite pitches and commisson for pieces for their website. Was super excited to find they liked my pitch on Indian crime writers and wanted a story for their website.

The piece was published online recently. The link is given below:

Have you read any of these? What do you think of them?

This is Going to Hurt - Adam Kay

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A funny, heartwrenching story of a guy in the NHS.

I have written about topical issues being documented in literature. This is another example. Of how the health service is facing and dealing with hard time.

Anyone following local news will be aware of the junior doctor vs government tussle that hit the headlines sometime back. Art reflects society was what my BA course taught me and this is a case in point.

So much for all the newspaper headlines, documentaries, talks that dominated the media, this book outlines what it is like on the hotseat. Hats off to Adam Kay for summoning the guts and the publishers to back him to taking the issue head on.


Adam Kay shares his diaries of his time of a junior doctor (he is not one anymore, he gave up the white coat for a mike and a comedy audience) and takes us through his experience.

Some are comical, some heartbreaking but said with a trace of humour. My favourite was the instance where he asks a woman how many weeks pregnant she was and she gets to count the weeks from her birth. It was so straightforward and dead pan that it was so effective.

What works:
  • The book is packaged well, it explains the context of how the book came into being. It takes the non medic reader by hand into the journey of this guy who starts his journey as a House officer to a Senior Registrar.
  • There are helpful footnotes explaining the medical terminology. I cringed a bit when I thought I will have to acquaint myself with the medical terms but to Kay's credit those footnotes are a delight to read and I found myself looking forward to it
  • The humour that marks through the experience is amazing. It is not surprising how and why he found his calling as a comedy script writer.
  • The lack of social life, support these junior doctors get in return for standing on their feet for hours, making snap decisions comes to life in the pages.
  • The tone of humour is great, a subtle level of it while it tackles daily life on a ward.
  • The letter to Hunt at the end of the book is a great touch and very effective.
What doesn't:
  • If you are closely associated with medics (I am married to one and my social circle predominately consists of them) you can empathise and stick through the experiences right till the end. However, even for this ardent fan of Holby City, the highly concentrated medical experiences got a bit too much at one point. 
  • The experiences are not varied, it is about life in a hospital more importantly that of a obys and gynae ward so the jokes are centred around it. Perhaps that is the reason why the book although rightly deserved the praised heaped on it, was a bit limiting in its reach and popularity.
But there are some really good bits. How rotas don't let you plan a social evening till later, or shifting swapping is such a pain you give up on meeting up with friends. Also the bit where medics are asked for medical advice at all times is something that was fun reading about.

Overall, a fun read. It is often said that Britons like three things to watch and read about - Food, property and the NHS.

The popularity of this book proves it.

Tuesday, 7 August 2018

Don't Let Him Know - Sandip Roy

A fascinating story where different chapters piece together one complete story of a family.

This debut novel by a senior editor at Firstpost shows great promise. When I picked it up at the Santa Clara Library, it had all the keywords - Immigrant experience, secrets, generations, sexualities. Enough for intrigue to take over and to dign into find out what it is all about. 

Ramola has finally decided to move in with her son and his American wife and is still getting used to the Americanness of it all. Later when he questions his mother about a letter, the past comes back in rushes, reminding her why she as a newly married bride in the US she chose to come back to Calcutta.

What works:
  • The first chapter is very strong, the scene where Ramola tries to order a Macdonald's burger and ends up running away reminds one of the Sridevi Movie where she encounters a similar experience.
  • However, the story takes hold as various chapters come together as fragmented memories that gives an insight into the characters and their behaviour. These seemingly different chapters come together beautifully to tell a fascinating tale indeed.
  • The characters are well etched. Ramola's character has so many shades. The first chapter gives an impression of Ramola's personality and as the chapters move on, we encounter different shades to her persona. That for me was the highlight of this novel. 
  • The immigrant experience is woven in through Amit experience as he finds himself on a lonely Christmas day. On the other hand, the "exoticness" of an Indian city is duly fulfilled by using Calcutta as its setting, its narrow lanes and big ancestral houses. 
  • The device of using various incidents in order to tell the stories of Ramola, Amit and Avinash is undoubtedly was another major highlight. Roy has used the style to good effect. 
Some of the lines that stayed with me:

The quiet rose warmly throughout the house, rushing to fill in spaces that had been so frantic and busy five minutes ago.

What doesn't:
  • The story flows very well, however the reader cannot help wondering that the story designed to fit the same mould of a typical novel by an Asian American writer mould.

But that doesn't mean that it falls short in any way. It fulfills all the requirements of a great read. 

Sunday, 5 August 2018

The Sleeping Dictionary - Sujata Massey

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A great tale about a woman's journey set in the pre independence era.

Massey's writing came into spotlight when her latest book The Widows of Malabar Hill came out. Though I have not read that one yet, this one came my way and the title really got me. A very intriguing title that is explained in the story.

A quick search told Massey she had already written a slew of mystery novels about a detective set in Japan. Wow, for someone with such a strong Bengali influence (as the book suggests or is it that she is that good in projecting that?)  it is amazing that she has such a varied set of books. Her blog is wonderful read about her - both bookwise and lifewise.

However, one of the most interesting things I love about the book is the acknowledgement page. Often it gives insight into the making of the book and the writer and this one did that in abundance.

It was here I discovered that Massey had a Bengali father and German mother and how she first discovered India while on her father was on a sabbatical trip. It also reflects on how she drew on experiences of various members of the family to write such a fascinating book. Do not miss the page at the end of the book if you do pick it up!


A story begins with 10 year old Pom who belongs to a low caste but a happy family. Her idyllic childhood comes to an abrupt end when she is the only member of her family to survive the village floods. Fate takes her to an orphanage and later a school, where she does odd jobs and becomes a companion to another girl. Just when she thinks that a good education could lead to the life of a teacher, fate intervenes and she finds herself in Rose Villa - a classy brothel. Not ready to give up on life yet, she makes her way to Calcutta - the City of Palaces. At each stage she steps into a new life and identity, she picks up skills that help her survive and ultimately take a stab at happiness. And when she does, her truant past plays catch up threatening to ruin it all.

What works:
  • The story flows very well. The first chapter is strong and built an idyllic even though a poverty striken childhood. The flood that follows thereafter got me guessing about what will happen and proved me wrong. Loved it.
  • The very first page which is the part of the letter gives an insight into who the central character would be. Great intrigue building device to draw the reader in. 
  • There is something of period dramas. Imagining a bygone era is great for the reader but only if the writing is that powerful. That it is in this book. I loved the fact that the visual descriptions were so good that I could easily imagine a British Raj school with its class conscious students. Even the brothel was painted with elegance, the garish colours muted by the strong characters who inhabited the place. 
  • At one point it almost felt like I was watching a film unfold in the pages. Massey's character reminded me of a B&W heroine battling her way through life and a stoic society, but without the melodrama that usually marks it.
  • Loved the way Massey handled the relationship between Simon and Kamala and between her and Pankaj. It showed perspective and Kamala's growth as a character.
What doesn't:
  • It appealed to my sensibilities as a reader. But then it is a story of how women in the past did not have many options at empowerment that single women take for granted today. Therefore this could be a tad boring for those who may feel that in this era that story is hopelessly dated. 
Not for me though. Within its context and setting, the story works quite well and illustrates effectively the status of women and the story of this gutsy women who strikes on her own. 
  • The story seems has a strong influence of classic novels and could draw parallels with many of them. 
David Copperfield: an Pom's childhood ends when she loses her family in floods. 

Jane Eyre: Pom now Sarah ends up in a school where she is employed as a servant but then strikes friendship with a high born Bengali girl. The Jane Eyre association is more distinct when the school is called Lockwood. 

Silas Marner: The connection is highlighted by the central character when Sarah is wrongly accused of theft.

Memoirs of a Geisha: When Sarah now Rose enters Rose Villa and is initiated into the life of a prostitute.

However the literary influence ends when it takes on a desi feel and Massey weaves in the Indian struggle for independence and the famine that hit Calcutta just before Independence. For me any input about Indian history is a major plus. The Bengal famine when rice was exported to feed the armies abroad was not something I was aware of. The fact that Massey weaved this historical detail showing the callousness of British Raj was commendable. It enhanced the reading experience. 

I also enjoyed Bose's struggle for independence which again is very Bengali and does not get its due importance in popular Indian history. Loved the way how Massey depicted INA women soldiers and their role in Indian independence.

It felt great that while the story reads as an reflection on women during a specific time, it is also a comment on Bengal during the independence era. 

But most importantly it is a great read by a hugely talented writer. Glad to have discovered her. It is believed that this book is part of Daughters of Bengal series. I shall be waiting eagerly to see how she takes the story from here.

Friday, 13 July 2018

Home Fire - Kamila Shamsie
It is said that art reflects society. Well this book is a perfect example of it. We live in a turbulent age when the question of identity and loyalty depends on our origins and this book is a great reflection of that. It is great to see a topical issue that has been raging for a while to be documented and immortalised in literature.

When the issue of Isis and jihadis first came up, a lot of documentaries and talks were held as to the why and how behind it. This book gives a great insight into the issue, about what happens when the radicals and government clash in the face of religious ideologies and how individual is caught in the middle.

The book is loosely based on the Greek play Antigone. However it has been placed in a such a contemporary context that it is at once explosive and yet poignant in its treatment of the subject.

It is no wonder that Shamsie won the Bailey's prize in Fiction and made it to the Booker longlist. Also uncanny is her prediction of a Muslim Home secretary which turned out to be true in real life. 


Isma after years of shouldering the responsibility of her twin siblings Aneeka and Pervaiz, is now free to forage her own path. She is leaving for the US to do a doctrate in Sociology. She meets Eamon a handsome Muslim young man, who is everything she is not and falls for him. 

While she is away, her home is falling apart. Her brother has gone off to join the Isis media section and her sister is not talking to her.  Aneeka is very close to her brother and is determined to bring him back. The only problem is she needs the government to be on her side, seek help from the Muslim Home Secretary, Karamat Lone who is against the family, a hardliner. 

What works:
  • The writing style is unique. It moves in a linear fashion. But there are scenes which show how the story has progressed and the direction it takes.
  • The opening scene of Isma at the US immigration interrogation is such a powerful one. It hits the reader in the face and is a great insight into what it is like to have a Muslim name in the foreign world.
  • The characters are so good, it is very easy to identify with them to see how it must have been for them.
  • Karamat Lone is such a great character. Loved the way she portrays his Englishness and his Muslim identity. She captures the essence of him so well.
What doesn't:
  • The writing needs a bit getting used to. The writer plunges the reader directly into the story, throwing her into scenes to work her way through. It demands a bit from the reader and reluctant readers may struggle a bit with it.
The book is one of those rare literary novels that reads like a thriller appealing to the mass while siding along with highbrow literature. That for me, was the best part. Making literature accessible to more people instead of just shutting them off with hard to follow writing style.

Easily one of my top reads of 2018. If you want to know what makes a really good novel is, look no further.