Book Reviews

Book Review|| ‘Play with Me’ by Ananth

“I walked over to her side, knowing fully well that if it came to the inevitable, I would give in meekly.” Welcome to the highly conflicted world of Sid,the protagonist of Ananth’s debut novel, Play with Me. As one of the founders of Alpha, a boutique ad agency, Sid has everything an entrepreneur can ever hope for – money, a job worth waking up for, a reliable car, a corner office with a view, overseas clients, and beautiful girls throwing themselves at him. Unapologetically “lookist” and “weightist”, Sid has an affair, a fling, or at least a brief electrically charged encounter, with every girl he comes in contact with. But this is where Sid is the most vulnerable, too – the man doesn’t demonstrate a shred of restraint in the face of temptation – and as a result we never see him take a single hard call. Decisions for him are made by the ladies in his life, most of whom seem to have him wrapped around their little fingers. Starting from Kay, his first girlfriend, to the ethereal beauty Cara, and the warm and nurturing Nat, women walk into and out of his life as per their convenience, and the poor soul continues his journey without ever learning a lesson. All of us have come across someone like Sid some time, somewhere, and part of his charm lies in his flaws. It is easy to see why Nat chooses to “mother” him. The quality of writing in most places is good, though some passages spent on internalization could probably have been edited down. They do nothing but state the obvious and slow down the otherwise pacy narrative. The style is bold and dabbles with symbolism – I would in particular like to mention the borrowed umbrella that Nat forgets to bring back to the hotel on the night when she and Sid share their first kiss. Both Sid and Nat know that the kiss was a borrowed moment, and both must go back to their everyday lives, where the kiss should ideally be nothing but a memory. But their world, just like ours, isn’t ideal and, therefore, they had their dinner by a glass window that “overlooked a brick wall.” Now, go figure. The book stood out for me for several reasons, and one of them is the cover. Conceptualized and designed with care, the cover is simple and still manages to catch your eye. And wait till you run your fingers along the jacket on the hardcover. It feels like velvet. The book is also the first erotic fiction I have read that manages to transcend into the territory of literary fiction at places. I will also remember the book because before this I have never read an erotic fiction where the protagonist is a man. If there is one thing that I would definitely change in the book, it is the name of the protagonist. “Sid” has been so overused in recent fiction that all the Sids kind of merge into one another after a point....

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An Interesting Lesson in the History of Punjab || A Review of Khushwant Singh’s ‘Maharaja in Denims’

I had heard about the book Maharaja in Denims by Khushwant Singh much before I actually got down to reading it. The title is catchy, but nothing prepares you for what lies inside those innocuous looking covers. The book starts right in the middle of love-making between Hari and Gaitri, and it is obvious that things are headed downhill between them right from the time Hari ecstatically cries out “I’m coming, Lily.” A fuming Gaitri gathers her clothes and storms out, all this while hurling choicest of Punjabi abuses at Hari, who himself is as shocked by this mysterious turn of events as Gaitri and the readers. “Lily”, one of the names that keep flashing in Hari’s mind, is his connection to his more illustrious past life – none other than that of the “Lion of Punjab” Maharaja Ranjit Singh. As the novel progresses, Hari meets Suzanne, the girl with whom he would eventually fall in love, and the flashes from his past life keep getting more frequent, clearer, and sinister. Suzanne, who is a psychology student, takes Hari through sessions of past life regression, thinking that it would cure him of  his extraordinary predicament. But these sessions end up revealing much more than either of them had bargained for. The story slowly graduates from merely enjoying the antics of a rich, spoilt punjabi brat, to a serious investigation of Punjab’s past, present, and even the future. Nothing will prepare you for the unexpected end. I will keep it to myself and leave it up to you to find out. I can only say one thing – it feels like a hard punch in the stomach. It can only be attributed to the brilliance of Khushwant Singh’s writing that the story effortlessly moves back and forth in time, interweaving several abominable historical events with the present. The depth of the narrative and the revelations show that the author has put in considerable research, and that the story is the result of years of hard work. But despite this, the book is an easy read. So much so that you won’t realize what  you have got yourself into until you are so deep in it that you cannot turn back....

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Reminiscing Gurudeb…|| A review of ‘Kabuliwala’ by Antara Moitra

We conclude the extended celebrations of Gurudeb Rabindranath Tagore’s birthday with this touching tribute by our Guest Writer  Antara Moitra, while she fondly recalls her visit to Jorasanko and reviews her favorite short story Kabuliwala. ***** Sometime ago when I visited Kolkata, I realized that though I am a huge Tagore fan I am yet to visit Jorasanko – the Nobel laureate’s birthplace. So I decided to set the ball rolling. All I needed to do was a bit of planning. After a quick research on the available modes of transport in Kolkata, I was convinced that the best way to reach this destination was by tram. I took the tram from BBD Bag (central Kolkata) to Jorasanko (a neighbourhood in north Kolkata). The tram passes through the narrow lanes in north Kolkata, imparting a glimpse of the old town, and was the perfect way to enjoy my first tram ride. It took me around 20 minutes to reach the Jorasanko Thakur Bari – the house where Tagore was born and spent most of his formative years. Once inside, I was struck by the size and architecture of the impressive building. With huge courtyards, long corridors and windows with Venetian blinds, the place looked spectacular. When you get to enter Tagore’s room, you are bound to think of the sights, sounds and the natural surroundings that would have influenced him to produce such remarkable treasure trove of poems, novels, short stories, dance dramas, and much more. And the irony is that he loathed formal education – after a brief stint at several schools he refused to attend schools! He found them boring. He wanted to inculcate freedom of education in the educational system. He was against sitting inside a “closed” classroom and stressed on freedom of imagination. He felt that one’s relation with his cultural and natural environment was crucial, and goes a long way in imparting confidence in life. This legendary maestro’s birthday, which falls on May 7, is celebrated worldwide with a rendition of his songs, poems and dance dramas. This year I pay tribute to my favourite author with views on one of his short stories – Kabuliwala. The heart-warming tale is based on the strong bonds between a father and a daughter. The story revolves around the tall, tough, turbaned kabuliwala (Rahman) from Afghanistan, the vendor who had come to Kolkata to earn a living, and five-year-old Mini. The two meet when one morning Mini notices the kabuliwala passing down the street and calls him home. Mini, who is initially shy, soon overcomes her fear of this huge man and in no time they become the best of friends. The kabuliwala, who has a daughter back home in Afghanistan, sees reflections of her in Mini and showers his affection by bribing her with raisins and almonds. Written in 1892 the story focuses on an extraordinary situation, and might have been unlikely in the normal day-to-day lives of families living in Kolkata during that period. So it is not surprising when Mini’s mother imagines the Afghan to be a kidnapper and is apprehensive of their daily encounters. Respectfully addressed as Gurudeb, Tagore was a genius when it came to expressing the nuances of how people act or feel in different situations. In Kabuliwala Tagore’s craft is reflected in the way he weaves the emotions between two unusual friends who shared jokes and seemed to have their own little secrets! As you reach the end of the story, you are left with a heavy heart and can’t help but feel for this man – a father who loves...

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Happy Birthday Rabindranath Tagore||A review of his novel “The Home and The World” by Meenakshi Kashyap

On this day in the year 1861, God’s own gift to world literature, the prodigious writer Rabindranath Tagore was born. The beloved “Gurudeb” made India proud with his timeless tales. To celebrate this day, Literature Studio had called for entries for reviews of Gurudeb’s literary works. However, we hadn’t anticipated the tremendous response the call would evoke. So instead of publishing just one review, we will be publishing the best three starting today. Here is the first review in the series: The Home and the World (Ghaire Bair) is an autobiographical novel, which was originally written in Bengali and published in 1916 by the legendary writer of 20th century, Rabindranath Tagore. He is a great intellectual, philosopher, eminent poet, and writer. He is the first non-European Nobel Prize winner for his famous collection of poems, Gitanjali. The Home and the World is a psychological novel and reflects upon the deeper meaning of life through a portrayal of the struggles of three distinct individuals. The backdrop of this novel is Swadeshi Movement, which played an important role in the independence of India. Tagore illustrates how the freedom movement was perceived differently by different people. The story revolves around Nikhil, Bimla (his wife), and Sandip who was invited into their house. Nikhil comes from kulin house and his family expected him to marry a beautiful girl. But he chooses Bimla, poor as compared to Nikhil’s family, and unattractive. Bimla considers that it is her luck that she is married into such a rich family. She is completely devoted to her husband and follows Indian traditions and customs. She is confined to her inner world of domesticity. Nikhil is a liberal husband who doesn’t object to his wife wearing western clothes. He invites her to attend social political meetings in order to provide her some exposure into the outside world so that she can find her individuality. He encourages her to go out of Zenana, a private domain inhabited by traditional Indian woman. Sandip is a patriot, skilled orator, is aggressive and has strong determined persona. He wants to achieve his targets at any cost. He gives references from Bhagavad Gita to support his arguments. Bimla is impressed when she, for the first time, hears Sandip’s speech. She feels a natural attraction towards Sandip, driven by an unknown force she comes closer to him. She starts spending time with Sandip and her sister in law, Bara Rani, criticizes her for this. Bara Rani is calculative and demanding and constantly keeps an eye on Bimla’s actions. Amulya is a follower of Sandip and a surrogate son of Bimla. Sandip needs money for running the movement. He persuades Bimla to steal from her own house. She is so entangled and lost in the waves of emotions that she is not able to gauge what she is doing. Eventually she realizes that she is not only stealing her husband’s money, she is also robbing her ‘own nation’. Throughout the novel she is in a dilemma about what perspective of life she should choose. Subconsciously, she is constantly drawing comparisons between her husband and her lover. Nikhil, Bimla, and Sandip narrate their own stories and the reader gets a chance to see their worlds through their own eyes and perceptions. Tagore shows conflicts between the Western culture and Indian tradition, duty and emotions, passive and active, and internal and external. Although, Nikhil encourages Bimla to see the outside world but she ends up looking through the eyes of Sandip. She does not realize when she starts developing an interest in Sandip. There is a complete change...

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Toeing the Boundaries || A Review of Veena Nagpal’s “The Uncommon Memories of Zeenat Qureishi”

A book about communal harmony can never be easy to write – not only because of its obvious vulnerability to controversies, but also because so much has already been written by literary geniuses that one would think it would be difficult to come up with a new approach. However, the complexities of relationships between various religious communities in contemporary context are very different from those that existed at the time of Partition, the era that was tackled by the likes of  Intizar Husain and Manto. In her book The Uncommon Memories of Zeenat Qureishi, author Veena Nagpal bravely sets out to explore the complexities as they exist today, even though the book itself is set in the early 1990s. The novel, though based on some historical events, doesn’t claim to be historical fiction and takes liberties with some aspects of history. The novel revolves around Zeenat Qureishi, a sensitive 20 year old who lives in London with her father and a 70 year old grandmother. Traumatized by London Tube Bombings, a phobic Zeenat who is plagued by mysterious recurring nightmares, visits India in an effort to escape her private demons. However, that is not what destiny has ordained. She finds herself irresistibly drawn to Ajay Mehra, their neighbour whose family has been accused of butchering Zeenat’s Great-Uncle, Great Aunt, and their six-year-old daughter Zainab in the post-partition riots. Their relationship flourishes despite the growing animosity between the two families, until it too falls prey to the communal tensions following the demolishing of Babri Masjid.  With her heart constantly torn between what she believes she has seen and what her instincts tell her to be true, she is pushed over the edge and the painful memories from her several past lives explode  around her and channel themselves out to the world through the national television. All viewers interpret these memories in different ways and what follows is a spurt of heated discussions, riots, and, in some cases, introspection. The book ends with a final act of supreme sacrifice that leads to the Ultimate Peace. Though the underlying message isn’t new, the method used to convey is far less pretentious and much more direct. The novel, though long, is an easy read, and the author chooses to refrain from using unnecessarily complex language – a wise decision considering the inherent complexity of the subject. With multifaceted characters that often display very human contradictions, the novel tells an intriguing tale and at places keeps the readers at the edge of their seats.  Though it succumbs to cliches at places, such as while depicting the forces of good and evil, the story subtly explores the gradual demise of reason and logical thinking during the times of communal unrest, and the resultant lack of trust. The story manages to put forward the viewpoints of both Hindus and Muslims without succumbing to biases, held together by the voices of sanity that manifest themselves through three characters who would rather believe in the basic goodness of human beings. Though peace reigns towards the end of the novel, one is left wondering whether the loss of countless innocent lives over meaningless religious egos can ever be justified and whether those souls can ever get justice....

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Happy Birthday Charles Dickens! || A Review of his Book “Hard Times” to Celebrate the Occasion

Exactly 202 years back, on February 7th 1812, the world took a turn towards the better with the birth of Charles Dickens, the legendary literary maestro. During his lifetime, the writer made several social commentaries through his big fat novels and left behind a legacy that few would attempt to conquer. His novels keep literature students all over the words busy and his works have been interpreted and reinterpreted many times. His complex, candid themes have never gone stale and his style stays unparalleled till date. And today we celebrate Charles Dickens’s birthday. We had requested some of Literature Studio’s friends to send in reviews of Dickens’s books and we received several brilliant responses. Many of them were brilliant reads. We had a fun time going through the entries and a tough one deciding which one to publish. At the end we decided to go with Meenakshi Kashyap’s scholarly review of Hard Times, as a tribute not only to Charles Dickens, but also to literature students all over the world. So here it goes. Hope you enjoy reading this. ***** A review of Hard Times by Charles Dickens – by our guest writer Meenakshi Kashyap Hard Times is a commendable work by Charles Dickens, which, as the title suggests, is a story of tough times. However, it makes a larger comment on the lives of people in Victorian industrial towns. Set in a fictitions town called Coketown, the novel’s story is divided into three parts; sowing, reaping, and garnering. These three parts establish a parallel meaning to life – how the actions of an individual affect him or her as well as others. This book was published in 1854 in Dickens’s weekly publication. The main theme of this novel is based on the conventions of Utilitarians. In Victorian times, this was the prevalent school structure, where stress was laid only on rationality and logical reasoning. There was a constant tussle between “fact” and “fancy”. The subtext deals with how rigidities of certain principals destroyed creativity and imaginations of children, and this can be easily captured by the readers. There is no single protagonist as such in the novel, but rather there are many characters whose lives embody different aspects of life in different conditions. One of them is Mr Gradgrind who runs a school where he teaches his students only “facts”. For him there is no place for imagination. His method of teaching is very harsh and stern. He has two children Louisa and Thomas who do what their father wants them to do. And then there is Mr Bounderby, the boss to Mr Gradgrind. He is a manufacturer and a mill owner. He appears to be a heartless human being. Both Bounderby and Gradgrind equally deserve to be termed as the “destroyer” of people’s lives. Sissy Jupe is another character and she studies in Gradgrind’s school. Her father works in Mr Sleary‘s circus, so indirectly she belongs to the world of creativity. Sissy is the only character who does live in compliance with her society. She emerges as a unique individual who thinks and acts in a unique direction. And this turns out to be sole reason why her life does not suffer the same fate as the others. She takes her life decisions on her own and she ends up escaping from the prison of Grad grind’s school. She opted to follow her own path and does not compromise her integrity and morals. Louisa and Thomas, on the other hand, have to face many difficulties throughout their lives, and the sole person responsible for this is their...

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