Category Archives: book review (or not)

Just Married, Please Excuse

WithI 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. A rocky start!

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

 

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

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

Anuvab Pal’s Chaos Theory

A love story by any another name is still a love story, especially one masquerading as friendship. Don’t believe me? Read Anuvab Pal’s Chaos Theory, and if you come away thinking they didn’t love each other, I promise I will refund your money for the book (if that isn’t possible you can throw the book at me). Mukesh and Sunita meet each other in college and they stick together through decades but not in the way you’d imagine.

They hover around each other all their lives and mind you, this was an era before the internet, and cellphones became commonplace, when keeping in touch was much harder and people actually wrote letters and made phone calls. What bound them together all their life, through different continents and their respective families? To find out read the book or watch the play. Didn’t I mention? It was originally a play which was later adapted into a novel by Pal himself. I am dying to see the play and hope they revive it so I can see it in this lifetime.

Head here to read what I thought about the book. Continue reading Anuvab Pal’s Chaos Theory

The Purple Line

Six Indian women from diverse backgrounds as different from each other as chalk and cheese. What could they possibly have in common? What could a childless performance artist, who likes inflicting pain on herself, have in common with a young Muslim house wife, who was taken out of school the day she had her period, and married to an older man? What could an anaemic housewife afraid of delivering a girl child have in common with a beautiful computer programmer, who is looking forward to complete her family? What could an artist working in an advertising agency, who yearns to have children, have in common with a pregnant teenager distraught at the news of her pregnancy?

Unaware of each others’ existence they are bound by a common thread – they see the same gynaecologist, Mrinalini. She serves not only as their doctor but as a woman and a confidante, who helps them take decisions that are best for them whether or not they appease their families (or the collective social conscience). This is a story of the people we see everyday. I had read the book years ago, and rereading it again, I felt it was a more universal story – the story of every woman. Continue reading The Purple Line

Mrs Funny Bones is a could have been

Mrs Funny Bones by Twinkle Khanna is a lighthearted fun read. Witty observations on life and the world around her. I found it hard to stop once I started. It does not read like a book in the true sense of the word but like a series of (very )short blog posts.

I had read a few of her columns in Times of India, where she took digs at accepted norms in a very pop cultury manner and made them look quite silly. Taking everything not so seriously, that is not always a bad thing, is it? Having said that the book would have found it very hard to achieve what it has, had it not been not written by a star wife and backed by aggressive marketing.

Sometimes she tries too hard to be funny. Sometimes it is all very predictable and you can predict how the sentence would end. But she is funny, and with her pithy observations, you will let loose a giggle or two, like I did. To be funny one has to poke fun at oneself first and not take themselves too seriously, which she does with aplomb. You also have to be a bit brave to poke fun at your fraternity, more so if you are famous.

For me, however, the book will forever be an opportunity wasted. She could have done so much more. This is by no means a tell all account which will give you insights into a star household and like Aarushi, I resisted it for the longest time but then one fine day I decided to take the bait. I’m pretty sure it had to do something with a sale and a friend’s indirect recommendation.

The last two chapters (I find it odd to call them chapters even though they have been named with great care to elicit a laugh or at least a chuckle) were more emotional than silly and a few life lessons were thrown in. I felt like telling her that you don’t have to change your tone just because the book is coming to an end. The illustrations were perhaps supposed to be cute but they missed the mark.

The fun aside there were some things which rankled. She juggles her work with responsibilities at home. How many women claim they are modern but fit into the same age old traditional roles, is a little heartbreaking. She questions traditions but not enough, I felt.

A woman plays so many roles and she shows that it is not always smooth sailing, transitioning from one to the other. Wife to daughter. Wife to daughter-in-law. Wife to mother. Working woman to housewife. She talks about her issues with weight and how they stemmed from being overweight during childhood. There has always been societal pressure on women to conform to invisible rules in every sphere, which is both stifling and damaging. Naturally, breaking free is the only logical option which is what is happening now. I thought this is a book my mother would identify with better and commiserate with the author, so I read out a few snippets to her and she nodded solemnly.

The husband is called the man of the house and son is called the prodigal son. I wondered if she was poking fun at centuries of conditioning or reinforcing it?

Perfect for a few hours of downtime when you want some some light reading, so light it doesn’t feel like reading at all as the movie plays on in your head. I have seen a few movies of Twinkle Khanna and Akshay Kumar as a kid. That certainly helped. I have probably seen their son somewhere (on TV). It was only the baby I had to imagine and I imagined the baby in Baby’s Day Out. Where stupid? Right here, baby.