Category Archives: book review (or not)

Wild Child and Other Stories by Paro Anand

Wild Child and Other Stories contains stories about teens dealing with issues that they grapple with. Paro Anand’s earlier book School Days which I thoroughly enjoyed was about tween’s issues but this one is so much darker because of the themes it deals with. Teens are unruly, difficult and moody but always in the need of love, both tough and tender.

This is an award winning book but why does it have such a bad cover? I mean come on, YA audience is used to being treated better all around the world.

The title story Wild Child deals with a girl who is always bunking school (I had read an excerpt and decided to buy the book), vanishing somewhere where no one can find her. Intent only on punishing her, the elders make no enquiry or try to find out what is the matter with her. The answer when it comes, sheds light on her behaviour. People who deal with children need to be more aware and open, not to mention perceptive, to catch what is really the matter.

This is Shabir Karam is about children whose parents have been killed in Hindu- Muslim conflicts. Kids from different religions live together in a home but they have no love lost for each other. How children, who have no clue what religion is, are caught in the crossfire of hatred and bigotry will make you very uncomfortable.

Children are vulnerable, yet to form their opinions and adults, who are in a position to influence it, do grave disservice to them when they do it to meet their agenda. It makes children easy targets. Early childhood trauma is not something that can be reversed and their childhood is lost somewhere.

They Called Her ‘Fats’ is about an unruly, unfriendly and angry girl. Fatima has no friends and the children in the school spread vicious rumours about her. It is not only adults but children also fear what they don’t understand, and Fatima doesn’t make it easy for anyone. The sports teacher sees the potential in her when she throws the javelin.

Very few people are lucky to find  something that channelizes what they have inside them. It just takes one person to believe in you. What makes the story riveting is that it has roots in reality.

Santa’s Not So Little Helper is in a lighter vein. A boy who writes a creative writing piece in class about being part of Santa’s family. It is funny and did take me back to my school days but it didn’t quite fit in this collection.

In Jason Jamison and Ia star tennis player with swoon worthy good looks is troubled inside. The perfect exterior is a facade. He is the new boy who defeats the old reigning champion. Looks can be deceiving (quite literally) and friendship can spring up in the oddest of places between unlikeliest of people.

Mixed marriages are taboo in India and it is the worst when it is a foreigner. When the marriage doesn’t work out the family is left in the deep end, shunned by the society. What is the child’s fault? But he is the one who has to bear the brunt of it.

Hearing My Own Story talks about abuse that goes on inside the house. Physical and mental abuse is a reality for many married women. They have no clue that they can walk out of their abusive marriages and claim compensation. But the ground reality is murky and in India where marital rape isn’t a crime, women are helpless. The social fabric is at fault. Both people, outside and inside the home tell you to keep mum. 

Like Smoke was gut wrenching but felt short and abrupt. Maybe that is what the author wanted to show, how living in terrorist climes is, with bombing and shooting being everyday affairs; how uncertain and fragile their lives are with the threat of death looming on the horizon.

It makes you think about what is really being done about the situation in Kashmir. The militancy is destroying the lives of so many people, who are easy targets because they refuse to leave their motherland; it is the civilians who are paying the price for the unrest. Continue reading Wild Child and Other Stories by Paro Anand

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Neel Mukherjee’s A State of Freedom

The first thing that struck me about A State of  Freedom is it’s cover. The book jacket has a large bear on the cover, which is unusual and arresting but surprisingly aesthetically pleasing. When I began reading A State of Freedom, it reminded me of Lahiri’s oeuvre because of the way it started and the themes it deals with. But I soon realized Neel Mukherjee’s book is quite different.

The book is edgy and each section ends with a cliffhanger. You want to gallop ahead and connect the dots, and at the same time, you want to take your time to savour the way it’s written.

A State of Freedom has a large canvas and deals with many issues in only 275 pages. The book is divided into 5 sections and the events that unfold are in different geographical locations. The way the stories of these characters are narrated gives them depth, and makes them appear real.

In the first section a man wants to familiarize his increasingly Americanized son with his roots. So they visit Mughal monuments like Fatehpur Sikhri and Taj Mahal. Originally from Calcutta, he has been living abroad for two decades, and now feels like “a tourist in his own country”. He wants his son to see India, and understand the culture he was born into. But they are like aliens from another planet.

I felt disoriented as the first section ended and wanted to stop but I urge you to read on (and not be put off by big words).

The second section flows more easily. A Bengali couple, the Sens, live in Mumbai and their son, a young writer, lives in London. He returns to India periodically to visit them. He is working on a cookbook which will contain authentic recipes from India as cooked in Indian households. The cooking at their home is done by Renu, who works as a cook in many households in Mumbai. Their son is curious about Renu because of her surly manner and tries to draw her into conversations but she doesn’t respond.

Treating the domestic help as a lesser human being is perhaps a relic of the Zamindari system. The son now straddles both worlds, old and new, and finds it  increasingly difficult to deal with the way things continue to be done in India.

The love of food intersperses this section. If you pay attention, many a recipe can be mined out from these pages. While exploring India for recipes, he also visits Renu’s home at her insistence. It is here he witnesses the divide between the classes.

Another woman, Milly, comes to clean the Sens’ house. She reappears as a major character in another section of the book.

The third section is the longest, and is the soul of the book. Motherless twins brought up by a father, who dies in a forest fire. One brother leaves home to find work. This section follows the other brother, Lakshman, as he attempts to eke out a living. He finds a bear cub and keeps it to save it from being killed. He names it Raju. With his brother gone, the responsibility of feeding his wife and children along with his own family now falls squarely on his shoulders.

The way the bear cub is handled, in an attempt to tame it, is barbaric. This, in a country where cows are ‘worshipped’. It makes you question who is really savage, man or beast?

They are animals their pain doesn’t last. All these animals that live in the wild, in the forest, on the streets, you have never known them to need a doctor, have you? They heal quickly, they are strong. It’s we, humans, who are weak.

With hunger gnawing their insides, their lives are foremost about survival. They are largely unaware of the world outside of their existence. They have no time to understand the rights of animals. Lakshman has trouble believing bear dancing is a crime one could be sent to jail for.

Lakshman tries to train Raju to be a performing bear and wanders from place to place living like a nomad, trying to earn money by making him dance. Though Lakshman is cruel to Raju, he is aware that he is at the mercy of the ‘helpless’ animal. Lakshman depends on Raju; the bear can forage for food and fend for itself. It makes you think about freedom, who is actually free.

The book shows how leaving home in search of a better quality of life works out differently for people, and the price they pay for it.  (Warning – Animal sacrifice is described in this section.)  Continue reading Neel Mukherjee’s A State of Freedom

School Days by Paro Anand

Even though I am a grown woman a school girl still resides in me somewhere. It is wonderful to get into a child’s head and see how they view the world and hope some of the innocence rubs off on you. So years ago when I spotted Paro Anand’s School Days in the book fair I pounced on it. It was a tattered old copy but all the pages were there. I know I have come a long way from reading only pristine undamaged books (read new books). What can I say poverty teaches you many things.

It has eight not so short stories with different settings and situations. They are guaranteed to make both children and adults laugh. Your attention won’t waver even once (unless you aren’t a reader) as the stories are delightfully crisp.

Center of attraction

The girl in Centre Stage is competing with Malati , her classmate, to be centre stage in some kind of a gymnastic event. She has to do a headstand to guarantee her place in it. But for some reason she’s unable to pull it off even after trying many times. Help comes from unexpected quarters, from a person who exists only for her. Confidence is the message here. 

Settling in a new place

New Blue was hilarious and had me laughing out loud in a public place. Immersion into a new culture is never easy. Being the new girl in not only a new school, but a new country in a culture Parvati’s not familiar with is too much. Making friends isn’t easy when people can’t even pronounce your name. (Read Parvati becomes Poverty). How we perceive things to be true without really knowing the facts and fitting in, are what the story deals with.

Stammering through a play

​To Play a P-p-part is about a girl who stammers. ​Gitali desperately wants to take part in a play in school which is about Savitri and Satyavan. How will she make that happen? Most people in her class make fun of her but her teachers start to hope when she shows initiative and suggests a play, Children of a Lesser God, of her own accord. It has a deaf and mute girl in its lead. Since she won’t have to open her mouth the stammering won’t be a problem. Clever, but there is one problem. The movie is a romance with intimate moments and not suitable for children. Comedic moments are done well and it so real you think it is all unfolding before your eyes. Evading a problem isn’t going to make it go away. To deal with the truth you have to face it head on. These stories have a lesson or two for us world weary adults too.

Who’s a bully?

In Bullies, a fat kid who is a good student is spoilt rotten by his parents because they finally got a son after 3 girls. Hail patriarchy! He is bullied because of his flab. It talks about a very important issue that affects so many people at so many levels, not only kids. Either you have been teased or you have done the teasing or you know someone who has been teased because of his/her weight. The story is about learning to deal with body image issues and being comfortable in your own skin. Continue reading School Days by Paro Anand

Just Married, Please Excuse

I read Yashodhara Lal’s There’s Something About You about two years ago and had quite liked the book for its unlikely lead pair (What’s not to love about an overweight, clumsy woman and a mild mannered man finding love!) and her sense of humour. Since then the name of the author had stuck. So when I saw Just Married, Please Excuse in the book fair I bought it without any compunction.

Yashodhara (Y) is a drama queen losing her temper at the drop of a hat. Vijay (V) is steady and has a cool demeanor. Both work in the same company and they ‘fall’ in love. I don’t think it’s clearly stated in the book why V fell for Y. Complete opposites in every which way, they belong to different generations (a 7 year age gap), and have different backgrounds (big city girl and small town boy). They also have different world views and ideologies unable to agree on anything except their love for each other. With possibly the shortest courtship in the history of modern romance, they jump into matrimony because V is getting older. He pesters the reluctant Y to say yes within months of going out. Yes, that is how it happens. No, I am not exaggerating.

How is 30 old (unless of course you live in a small town like me)? Isn’t 40 the new 30? Are we still living in the 21st century? That is the beauty of living in India. You can simultaneously experience many centuries in one lifetime.

V wanted to know Y’s caste before approaching his family but he assures her it won’t matter. Y on the other hand has no clue about her caste. I would like to say casteism is regressive and has no place in the society but having seen the matrimonial columns, and living in the society with my eyes and ears open, I have seen caste rear its ugly head more often than I’d like to admit.

Just Married, Please Excuse isn’t exactly a romcom but a scathing look at marriage using humour (sarcasm) as a tool.   Continue reading Just Married, Please Excuse

Not Too Sweet

I recently read the last book in the Tamanna trilogy, Time Will Tell, which didn’t make complete sense to me (obviously) but I liked the ease with which Andaleeb Wajid wrote and her sense of humour. I know what you are thinking. I read the last book because it found its way to me first and couldn’t bother waiting because this was my first book from the author.

I had read an excerpt of A Sweet Deal online and was hooked. I thought to myself, I ought to get my hands on her other books soon, notably The Crunch Factor and More Than Just Biryani. Yes, I am a foodie and I have a sweet tooth. Go skewer me!

In A Sweet Deal two friends leave their drudgery filled corporate jobs and invest all their savings in a cafe, Not Too Sweet, taking on the challenge of running it by themselves. 

Rumana is hot headed, jealous and jumps to conclusions without knowing the facts. Then looks at her actions, in hindsight, with a twinge of regret. That is, if she is not in denial mode. She has a cool as cucumber partner in Neharika, who balances out the craziness unleashed by her moodiness. Slothful Vinod also helps in running the cafe. He does odd jobs whereas the baking part is completely left to the girls.

One fine day Vinod waltzes in with a flyer with the news of a new patisserie  opening next door and all the hell breaks loose.

Enter Daniyal. The rich and suave owner of the patisserie next door. He has studied in a fancy culinary school abroad. And he has many people working for him, whereas Rumana and Neharika only have themselves to manage the food.  He is charming and has everyone eating out of his hands.  If that wasn’t infuriating enough, he worms out Rumana’s life story and her Nani’s recipe of delectable carrot cake, from her within minutes. She is furious and makes up her mind to do whatever it takes to stay ahead of him.

In reality there’s no competition but Rumana gets this thought into her head since she heard about the patisserie opening next door. They cater to different niches and could have amiably coexisted but she feels threatened. More so, because theirs is a new cafe and they are yet to break even.

Initially, Daniyal enjoys sparring with her and has fun riling her up but ends up feeling more than he had bargained for.

Let’s talk about the meet cute. The woman is in her bed clothes, hair wild and the man looks like a worker on a deadline, slaving away to complete a paint job. It also involved a shouting match. It’s a rocky start from the word get go.

Continue reading Not Too Sweet

Baaz by Anuja Chauhan

In the past Anuja Chauhan has tackled topics such as cricket and politics in her novels, The Zoya Factor and the Battle for Bittora respectively. I like her writing but I’m not what you would call a fan. Anuja Chauhan is known for witty romances nestled in good, if sometimes unbelievable plots. I was skeptical going in when I heard Baaz was about war, the Indo-Pak 1971 war no less. Baaz offers us a behind the scenes view into the lives of everyone associated with air force.  The multitude of things the air force men worry about, knowing their future is uncertain. How their wives and girlfriends deal with the stresses of their men being in combat.

Baaz opens in 1957 newly independent India. 10 year old Ishaan ‘Baaz’ Faujdaar is standing in front of an incoming train to get his adrenaline kick, to get that dhook-dhookk-dhoookk feeling, as he calls it. Ishaan or Shaanu, as he’s fondly known, is a thrill seeker. Motherless, his stepfather isn’t too fond of him but his five siblings hero-worship him. His Nanaji gives Ishaan the idea of becoming a pilot so that he could get the thrill he craves for. And there is no looking back.

10 years later, Ishaan gets through the exam and joins the  Indian Air Force (IAF). Here he meets Rakesh Aggarwal (Raka) and Madan Subbiah (Maddy) who were in NDA corps together. Initially they make fun of him but soon become his good friends. Ishaan takes never having known his father, coming from a humble background and not knowing English, lightly. His faith in himself (read cocksure) tides him over.

Ishaan meets Tehmina Dadyseth (Tinka) when he’s on duty and she’s fleeing her marriage. They appear to have some kind of a connection which they realize when their paths cross again. She doesn’t believe in hyper-patriotism and hates the idea of war whereas for Ishaan the country comes first, and everything is black and white. Their backgrounds are vastly different and so is the way they view the world, but they do have something in common. The chemistry was sizzling but there was something missing.

Tinka, the motherless daughter of Major General Ardisher Dadyseth, was born to challenge the status quo.  She is unafraid to go where very few women have gone. From studying photography to becoming a war correspondent in Dacca, she is undeterred once she has made up her mind.

Caste is very much in the air though caste system has been abolished. Pakistanis and Muslims were viewed with the same suspicious lens. The society then was regressive and not to mention conservative – not ready to accept independent free thinking men or women who deviate from the norm. So it was heartening to have many strong female characters in the book, who defied convention in their own way.

Continue reading Baaz by Anuja Chauhan

My Lawfully Wedded Husband and Other Stories by Madhulika Liddle

 

Late at night reading the stories from Madhulika Liddle’s My Lawfully Wedded Husband and Other Stories I knew why I waited so long before reading the book. The devious machinations the characters devise to get their sanity back is the stuff nightmares are made of. The twist in the tale endings leave you feeling bleak and second guess everything in life. I read this fine collection of short stories at the wrong time when I was wallowing in negativity. It resulted in a black mood I couldn’t shake off very easily. The hangover of hopelessness, thinking of duplicitous people and the likelihood of being taken for a ride being were swimming in my head.

Reading these stories made me feel like the writer really enjoyed writing it. The writing is effortless and the dialogue is crackling (you can almost hear it). It was a compulsive read for me but the stories will remain with me for a long time to come.

Some stories are deliciously macabre and reminded me of Roald Dahl’s The Landlady which had us flabbergasted in school.  It also reminds me of  Daphne du Maurier’s The Rendevous and Other Stories.

We follow the trail in fiction and believe what we are told. What if there’s an unreliable narrator? Sum Total delves into the mind of a troubled young woman. Forced to be good by her mother, she is under immense pressure. Her way of dealing with people who annoy her is to get rid of them. Turns out you don’t need blood and gore to write a chilling story.

Why do we make snap judgments about people? And more importantly, how accurate are they? We assume the friendly, gregarious ones are nice whereas surly, cantankerous people, who keep to themselves are not so nice, if not bad. In A Tale of a Summer Vacation, the fate of two sisters hangs in balance on their ability to decipher the world around them, and the people in it. The story is set in a village in Goa, which is wonderfully evoked.

Another such atmospheric tale is The Howling Waves of  Tranquebar. I could almost sense the changes in the weather. Two friends meet in Pondicherry while doing their own thing. Something happens in Tranquebar, which at first glance isn’t extraordinary, but not quite normal either. The truth when it comes out is something sinister. Also, it is close to being a story within a story, in a sense. The main narrative falls by and another narrative takes over. Towards the end both unite revealing the unimaginable twist. Continue reading My Lawfully Wedded Husband and Other Stories by Madhulika Liddle

Thoughts on Nandhika Nambi’s Unbroken

When I was asked to review Nandhika Nambi’s Unbroken, I jumped at the chance of reading a book from the perspective of a teenager who is in a wheelchair. I had seen how the lives of paraplegics are in the movie Guzaarish and the book Me Before You, but they weren’t narrating their own stories like Akriti does in Unbroken (and I have a soft spot for YA). The first person point of view has its limitations but here it is an advantage; we go straight into the heart of the matter.

Let me clear it from the outset. If you are expecting a story where everything works out in the end and Akriti miraculously recovers, then this is not the book for you. Her disability is permanent and she has to find a way to live with it.

Akriti is in 11th standard. She is sarcastic and spews out hate on the world unable to come to terms with her condition. She is mean and cruel, especially to people, who are sympathetic to her. She could have been a normal grumpy teenager but the inability to do the simplest of things for herself, and having to depend on others, makes her angry.

I hated taking people’s help.
 Akriti’s life is now divided into a before and after the accident where she lost the use of her legs. Life as she knew it was over. The sooner she accepts the reality and stops dwelling on the past, and focuses on getting the help she needs in the present, the better she will deal with the reality. Unbroken shows that to completely heal, you have to go inward and face your deepest fears.

Continue reading Thoughts on Nandhika Nambi’s Unbroken

I Kissed a Frog – tales of friendship and love

Rupa Gulab’s I Kissed a Frog is a cool book and I don’t know why I hadn’t heard about it before. Living under a rock the size of Antarctica isn’t the answer, isolation from fellow bookworms is. Not many book nerds around ergo even less bookish discussions because apparently everyone has a life. Sniff. As if I don’t. My idea of living it up is just different from most of y’all.

Never judge a book by its cover or the colour of its cover. Or its title for that matter as it is completely misleading sometimes. I am a woman but I despise Rani Pink and no, you cannot change my mind. It took awhile for me to pick it up because of my reservations. I eyed it warily in the book fair many times before picking it up and reading the blurb, then surreptitiously googling. What! I have loads of unread books and no space to keep them. I have been shallow before and bought books because I loved their covers. What will you do? Disown me and banish me from sisterhood? No can do. Once a woman always a woman (or so I have been told).

Google told me that the reverse fairy tales are supposed to funny, so picked it up, and read them first. They subvert stereotypes sure and these modern fairytales, from Rapunzel to Cinderella, were interesting but they didn’t hold my interest. They were too short to make a real impact but I loved the accompanying cartoons. I would like to read them again, preferably out loud to my sister (that is if she can stand my grating voice and is willing to waste precious time) so that we can both have a good laugh.

The stories in the book are divided into three parts – love, friendship and fairytales. As you know I read them in reverse order.

Continue reading I Kissed a Frog – tales of friendship and love

Simply Nanju by Zainab Sulaiman

10-year-old  Nanju  wears a diaper to school and hobbles around as he has crooked feet. He lives with his Appa and older sister Shanti. He doesn’t pay attention in class and regularly scores zero but manages to hide the evidence from his father, who threatens to send him to a hostel. Happy in his world, nothing seems to bother him much. His best friend is Mahesh, who is terribly clever and lets Nanju copy all his answers. He gets by with a lot of help from his friends.

When I was reading Simply Nanju many people commented on the lovely book cover. The face of an innocent child with an endearing smile, who can resist that? (People who have hearts of stone, that’s who!)

It is business as usual in school with petty rivalries and merciless teasing, greeting teachers in a singsong voice, and the class turning into a fish market when the teacher leaves the class momentarily. Class topper Aradhana’s notebooks vanish and return days later in a shoddy condition. Nobody knows who is behind it and Nanju makes it his business to find the culprit when fingers are pointed at him. Mahesh and Nanju, though not quite Holmes and Watson, set out to solve the mystery. Do they manage to find the thief who isn’t a thief? Read Simply Nanju to find out. Continue reading Simply Nanju by Zainab Sulaiman