Wednesday, 30 August 2017

Stories In Art

When writing presents art in different shades...

courtesy:tell-a-tale.com

Some time back, I came across a contest inviting entries for a unique competition. It was organised by an India based website specialising in the joy of stories. They were celebrating World Art Day and were looking for stories based on art. I loved the idea. Thinking about a painting and writing a story on it sounded right up my alley. It really tickled my imagination and I got down to scribble.

Imagine my excitement when I learnt it made it to the top slot! Here is the link to the story:

https://www.tell-a-tale.com/11409-2/

It was amazing to read other entries interpret paintings for their stories. It was an excellent example of how imagination can transform a painting. Kudos to all the shortlisted entries.  You can read the other entries here:

https://www.tell-a-tale.com/


Tuesday, 29 August 2017

Ring out the Old, Ring in the New....

Three years ago, I did a post on Cheeky starting school. 

Now, as I kissed my second born good luck at the school gate, it felt different. Walking back, I was wondering how the same experience could elicit contrasting emotions. 

It was hard with Cheeky, I admit. There was whole newness to it. The school, the kids in her class, the education system. How will she cope? Will they make it easy for her?

But this time round, there is a sense of melancholy coupled with excitement. There is sadness that a phase of childhood is lost forever, but there is also elation. School life has its share of adventure, after all.  

When Cheeky started at school, the "babyness" continued with Aadi. First toddler and then preschool  groups, park visits and soft play sojourns during the day, the small kid feeling was still prevalent. Not anymore. 


photo courtesy:silicon valley academy

On the other hand, there is a delightful absence of apprehension. Aadi has been coming on school runs ever since Cheeky started three years ago. The benefit of acquaintance with the staff, playground and older kids has been handy, to say the least.

There is definite comfort in knowing that the path my boy is going to tread has been "tried and tested", thanks to his older sibling. It has resulted in such a smooth transition to school that my heart swelled with joy instead of tears, to see him march off into this nurturing environment.

On a personal front, maternal feelings aside, there is a quiet sense of liberation. As my baby embarks on his academic journey, time feels right to reclaim my individuality and space. There is a sense of loss, yet an undeniable feeling of the start of something new.

Coleridge's poem "Ring out the old, Ring in the new" comes to mind with some modification:

Ring out the old, ring in the new, 

Look ahead, there's so much to do;

Letting go of the past how you

let in a morrow, full of adventures anew.

Letting go is so much about letting in too, isn't it?

The Smile of Murugan - Michael Wood

photo courtesy:goodreads.com
An armchair journey to the temples of South India.

The timing couldn't have been better. I picked up this book after a visit to a small town in Tamil Nadu. This book took me down the south visiting all the major temples lined with an entertaining and enlightening narrative .

In India temple visiting is not only for religious purposes, it is a form of tourism, a weekend getaway. Having been on temple visits and it is amazing how religion and tourism come together to make for a great experience.

Gist:

Wood is friends with a religious family in the deep south India. He visits them and is privy to the happenings in the family. As per an astrologer's prediction, Wood will come back to make a pilgrimage. The prophecy comes true and Wood finds himself making a journey to some famous temples, while learning about the gods and goddesses .

What works:
  • The narrative is so smooth and Wood has an engaging style. The concept is not something a random reader can easily relate to, but Wood makes the information accessible and interesting.
  • There is a wealth of information on how people live in small towns. It has universal resonance to it. It is fascinating how he tracks the life of this family and through them provides an insight into how small town people live, their perspective and a changing landscape of life in big city.
What doesn't:
  • Since the subject matter is all about temples, the information tends to get a bit much and sags a bit in the middle. 
By mixing his own story with that of the family, Wood really weaves an interesting travelogue. Despite the fact that it is dated (it was written in the 90s) there is a relevance to it. After all the temples have been there for centuries and twenty years later, water problem in Madras is still as acute as stated in the book.

If you like reading about India, this book provides an engaging insight. Recommended.

Sunday, 20 August 2017

The Girlfriend - Michelle Frances

photo courtesy:goodreads.com
Captivating suspense that keeps you hooked till the end.

I received this book from the blue spine writing blog's crime and thriller club in return for an honest review. Thriller is one of my favourite genres - reason being there is more analysis and insight than an entire psychology textbook put together!

As for this one, I read up on the author and it said the writer has worked in television. It helped - I love TV dramas, although the storytelling in that medium is quite different to the printed page, it built up good expectations about this book.

The story with its crisp sentences on the jacket sounded ominous and terribly intriguing.

Gist:

Laura, a TV producer feels blessed. With a smart son, long marriage and a successful career, she has it all - until Cherry, a street savvy girl walks into her life. Daniel, her son has taken to Cherry and Laura is eager to find out more about her. The only hassle is - she doesn't like her and soon that acquaintance turns poisonous liason.

What works:
  • The plot is seemingly ordinary. I mean how often do we come across tiffs between mothers-in-law and daughters-in-law. But with some clever tweaks and justifications, the story is packaged in a new light.
  • The crucial thing about a thriller is that pace is very important. It cannot afford to slag and billow out. The pace here is taut and the writer does a very good job with structure. The backgrounds are quickly covered in the first few pages and then story skillfully pans out.
  • The central characters are very believable. You can see how they act the way they do and the situations created by their behaviour.
  • I  also liked the ending. Despite the fact that the ending was predictable Frances added a nice little twist to it. I was wondering, having built it up, how was she going to handle it. But have to hand it to her, that was really well done.
  • There were some scenes that were so visual and kept lingering in my mind's eye.  I loved the camaraderie between Isabella and Laura. Also the one in France, when Cherry spends the weekend with them. Loved it! 
What doesn't:

  • Nothing really. It is a very well told story. Appealed to the thriller aficionado in me.
Very easy to see it as a TV drama or a film.







The Peshwa - Ram Sivashankaran

photo courtesy:goodreads.com
A great read about a lesser known historical character.

Bajirao came out of forgotten archives thanks to the Hindi film Bajirao Mastani. I loved the movie - the story and the valour of the Maratha hero is impressive. It left me a bit surprised too; he never featured in my history books in school unlike the more famous Shivaji or Prithviraj Chauhan.

I started looking around for books on the Peshwa and chanced upon this one. I had not heard of the book or the author before, but loved the way it was presented. the synopsis sounded good and the reviews helped it as well.

Amazon seemed to provide access to the copy and I looked forward to reading it with great anticipation. It was a relief that it satiated my curiosity and expectations from the novel.

Gist:

The story starts with introducing the ongoing maratha tryst with the Mughal dynasty.

The Peshwa in the Maratha hierarchy is considered to be the right hand man of the Emperor offering him military and emotional support.

The original Peshwa - Balaji Vishwanatha Bhat, is the fierce Maratha warrior who helps Shahu, the grandson of Shivaji to rescue his mother from Mughal custody. His son, Bajirao a young lad accompanies him on the trip, keen to imbibe his father's qualities. Later, the experience holds him in good stead as he moves on to take over the reins of the kingdom as a Peshwa.

What works:
  • The narrative is smooth and detailed. The introductory chapter takes you right in the middle of action. 
  • The character of the Peshwa is beautifully developed through a series of events.
  • The change of guard from one Peshwa to another is also well presented.
  • It was easier to see how the movie Bajirao Mastani took pieces of Bajirao's life to fit the movie. It made sense of many scenes which seemed a bit odd in the film. Like for the instance, it explains how a close aide betrayed him by planning to take over in a coup and had to be killed in order to stop him. This doesn't prevent Bajirao from displaying love and affection towards the slain aide's family and treat them as his own.
What doesn't:
  • The very detail that gives such depth to the story can bog it down sometimes. There are passages which offer a lot of information - at the cost of affecting the pace of the narrative.
Overall, a very original story about a such an underrated character. 

Sunday, 23 July 2017

A Forgotten Affair - Kanchana Banerjee

photo courtesy:goodreads.com
breezy romance thriller with a woman centric plot.

My India trip was filled with treats this time around. I had a set of books waiting for me at home - a prize I had won in a competition. Banerjee's book was part of the set and came as an interesting well structured read.

Gist:

Sagarika loses her memory in an accident - that is what the doctors tell her when she wakes up and finds her husband by her side. She tries to piece things together but finds it deeplyunsettling. There are some triggers that nag her consciousness: a scent, a word that fills her wit inexplicable emotions. Her husband waits on her hand and foot and yet she feels uncomfortable around him. Why? She struggles to find out her past, so far away from home, where her husband whisks her away to convalesce.

What works:
  • The characters. Sagarika and Rishab are well etched. Their behaviour are in sync with their back stories. 
  • Also the introductory chapters - they are swift, set the scene well and pull the reader straight in.
  • The story moves at a good pace. Sagarika's struggle to piece together her life, as she takes the reader along with her is a fascinating journey.
  • Although the cover jacket screams romance, there is suspense and intrigue that keeps the story moving.
  • The story is structured well and the narrative strong and smooth.
What doesn't:
  • Loved the pace of the story and also the way Banerjee chose to end the story. However, the the finale or the showdown seemed a bit abrupt. The build up was so good that the reader goes in expecting action and ends up feeling a bit shortchanged. 
  • It would have been great to more about the peripheral characters, Deepa and Amrita. They were interesting personas and a subplot would have done them more justice.
A fast track read, good for that rainy day weekend.






Wednesday, 19 July 2017

No Safe Zone - Adite Banerjie

photo courtesy: goodreads.com
A refreshing story in a marketplace dominated by mythological fiction.

Every time I visit India, a favourite hobby is to scan the local bookshop shelves to look for latest releases. Of late, all that seems available is mythological fiction. There is a rich source of characters in Indian mythology and it is fascinating how talented writers give them a contemporary voice and perspective. However, it does leave you wishing other genres exerted their influence too.

I won this book as part of a competition hosted by the author . It was a lovely surprise to receive this signed copy and an absolute delight to read the book.

It reiterated the fact that Indian writing does not need to be diasporic or booker prize type material. It can have a mass market appeal and offer its own level of enjoyment and adventure.

Gist:

Qiara Rana comes from London after her NGO is in trouble for receiving money through a fraudulent patron. She comes to New Delhi and finds herself framed as a murder suspect. Chance also brings her face to face with her ex boyfriend, the reason why she left Delhi all those years ago. Events bring them together as they get on a dangerous trail that carries a curious link to their past.

What works:
  • The narrative is compelling and sucks one in right from the beginning. It races through from the first line. 
  • The story takes the reader to Delhi, and to the interiors of Rajasthan. It is great to read a thriller based on an Indian city rather than European or American ones. The fast paced action never dulls and is a rollercoaster read.
  • The book goes on to show how great stories can be based in the Indian setting. As a lover of Indian fiction, this story offers the same quality of the enjoyment and adventure of any English thriller. 
What doesn't:
  • The books claims to be a romance thriller and it delivers. I only wished the characters' backstories were fleshed out better. There are some great subplots there and they could have been developed offering a more holistic view of the story. But I reckon they would have digressed from plot and the onus here seems to be a tight grip on the narrative.
There is action and romance and somehow at times feels a tad filmy. Perhaps because of the romance element. But for me it works well as a thriller too. It is a well written story and a welcome read in an era where mythological fiction rules the roost.

Overall, a good, fast track read.