G= Guernsey of “The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society”

I am running very late today. I missed yesterday and want to make up for that as well as today. So this is going to be a short post.

For G, I want to cover Guernsey from Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society. There are a lot of things which are good in that book, but I think the place itself deserves a mention. This is not only the story of a town, but whole place recovering from occupation as explained in the introduction to Guernsey in the beginning of the book.

Ships are coming to St. Peter Port everyday to bring us things Guernsey still needs: food, clothes, seeds, ploughs, animal feeds, tools, medicines—and most important, now that we have food to eat, the shoes.

This above paragraph explains so much about the impact of the war on the society which is further elaborated by the thirst for the news in local populace. And this was the state of a place, as book explains, where it was meant to be proven that “German occupation was a modern one.” Another of the passage explains how the parents had no news of their children, whom they sent to a safe place, for six months. German Occupation is further explained in the letters in the book:

“They kept track of every gallon we milked, weighed the cream, recorded every sack of flour. They left the chickens alone for a while. But when feed and scraps become so scarce, they ordered us to kill off the older chickens, so the good layers could have enough feed to keep on laying eggs.”

Further wartime is explained when there wasn’t any salt in the town and the people had to carry seawater to salt the food. I cannot even imagine the food without salt for one or two days (I have tried, and I get serious headaches). Imagine the suffering of these people.

There is a mention of the war everywhere in the book, but beauty of Guernsey is also highlighted in the story as it is in the following passage:

My greatest pleasure has been in resuming my walks along the clifftop. The channel is no longer framed in rolls of barbed wire, the view is unbroken by large VERBOTEN signs. The mines are gone from our beaches and I can walk when, where, and for as long as I like.

But I think what touched me the most was the way the war was described for this island. This is the island which had seen death—so much so that there wasn’t even place to burn the bodies. And yet the people of this island hoped: hoped that the vines will cover the bunker walls, hoped that the world will be a better and beautiful place, hoped to live their life normally. Among all the bookish places I have read and talked about, this is one place which is very close to my heart and one which makes me feel happy and safe.

P.S. : I have seen the movie and liked it as well. But the Guernsey which stayed with me is the Guernsey of the book, although the movie has some exceptional cinematography.

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D=Delhi from Korma, Kheer and Kismet: Five Seasons in Old Delhi

D never sired any doubts in my mind. The only place with “D” I wanted to talk about was Delhi. The only question was which Delhi do I want to talk about? The Connaught Place of Pricey Thakur Girls? Or Delhi of “Ministry of Utmost Happiness”? Maybe I want to talk about Delhi near IIT and take Chetan Bhagat just to spite myself? City of Djinns was a good book to introduce readers to Delhi.

But the problem with all these books was they were not describing “my” Delhi. I belong to Delhi (including my heart and soul). My childhood, teenage, and college years took me to those unknown corners of the city, and most of the time, it was in search of the food. So to bring Delhi in my blog, I selected the book called Korma, Kheer and Kismet: Five Seasons in Old Delhi. The author, like me, had travelled to many parts of Delhi in search of food. She felt like an outsider there (not at home like me), but her outlook shows us the Old Delhi in color. To my body living in Mumbai, the book was a peek back at what might have happened or might be happening at home. This post is in memory of Delhi food that I ache to taste sometimes in Mumbai. Mumbai might be a very good city, but when it comes to food, nothing can beat Delhi.

This book is an ode to Delhi’s weather and food. Although other parts of Delhi are explained in the book, but like me, the book thrives in Old Delhi. The book begins by explaining Delhi summers as “life-sapping feeling of being trapped inside a tandoor”. This was when I knew I wanted to see what is she talking about. Her exploration of Old Delhi starts at Sadar Bazar and Khari Baoli—two of most crowded places in Delhi at any time. She observes how “chai (tea) gets the market moving” because no morning starts without a cup of tea for many of the Indians. She explains the mayhem of the porters running back and forth with luggage cushioned on their head or in their carts in these areas. She also captures the crammed roads of old Delhi as “horns blare, bicycle horns tinkle, and skinny weather-beaten men in scraps of threadbare cloth wield sticks at equally bony bullocks.

She studies celebration Indian Independence Day in Delhi. “In Delhi kite battles are fought fiercely.” She even touches upon Janmashtami celebrations of Delhi as “parades of elephants, camels, horses, and requisite ragtag marching bands belting out tuneless cacophony”. Honestly, this is not my favorite description in the book. The cacophony is not tuneless—they belt out well-known tunes. I haven’t seen camels or elephants in Janmashtami too. But then, it is a festival when lots of road parades happen, so I am okay with discounting the author.

The author delves into the month after these festivals and states  “It was the calm before the storm of later autumn festivals—Raksha Bandhan, Independence Day, Janmashtami, Ramzan, Eid had whizzed by but there was still few weeks before Navratri, Dussehra and Diwali.” She understands how “not all food is to be available at all times, but there are seasons for carrots, mangoes, lychees, melons, etc.”

The book proclaims what I have always known for Delhi food, “Home cooks and even professional chefs can never compete with a street food vendor who’s been making the same dish hundred times a day, often for decades”. There is a section in which she wonders if  her “happiness levels were directly related to the time she spent thinking about, preparing and eating food”.  

If I start quoting Delhi of this book, I will end up quoting whole of the book. This part-memoir-part-recipe book illustrates what my Delhi looks like. So, I will end the post with the wish that author made, that I dream of: “If I had three wishes, one would be to time travel back to seventeenth century Delhi” to see her in its all glory.

C=84, Charing Cross Road

In past few days, I had been going through difficult time, and I requested Senior Raccoon group on Facebook, my reading group, to suggest me some feel-good books. This came as reference for that time. The book is very small, and it did not disappoint me.

The book is a letter-conversation between a reader in US, Helene Hanff, who is requesting the second-hand books from a store located in 84, Charing Cross Roads.

Honestly speaking, there is not much about the place covered here as much characters in the book, but it is the place which interested me more in the book. Letter after letter, the place came to life—Marks & Co. on 84, Charing Cross Roads. Helene sends across hams, eggs, and a lot of food stuff which I have no idea about to the people in the bookstore, and slowly with each character, the bookstore appears more clearly.  Helene Hanff  explains her fascination with London as “I live for the day when I step off the boat-train and feel its dirty sidewalks under my feet.” She says she will go “looking for the England of English Literature.” And that is what the book invokes me: a feeling that 84, Charing Cross Road is the “England of English Literature”.

In one of the letters written to author by author’s friend explain the bookshop as “loveliest old shop straight out of Dickens.” This small description is complete in itself. But the letter further describes, “It’s dim inside, you smell the shop before you see it, it’s a lovely smell, I can’t articulate it easily, but it combines must and dust and age, and walls of wood and floors of wood.” Can you imagine anything more peaceful than this shop? It sounds like heaven on earth.

The shop managed to find a lot of books for Helene. They are all listed out in the letters too and the book also has a bit of the bookish banter. I still do not understand how the book shipped from London to US could have costed less to her, but then I am not well-versed with US economy. It just reminds me of my childhood when I used to spend days and hours in the second-hand bookshops (Only the people there weren’t as nice as they are in these letters).

I have tried to keep this post as spoiler free as possible. I will close this letter from one of the snippets from the book as she urges her friend: “If you happen to pass by 84 Charing Cross Road, kiss it for me? I owe it so much (It here refers to Marks & Co.).”

I think I owe this place something too—for giving me a bookshop, for giving me a smile in VERY difficult time, for reminding me that there are so many more books to read. It is a very short read—97 pages only, and yet, it manages to transport the reader to a world where books are treated with love and respect.   

A= Afghanistan of A Thousand Splendid Suns

“A” is such an interesting letter. A is the first alphabet of four of the continents of Africa, Asia, Australia, and Antarctica. Then there are places like Aymanam from  God of Small Things that is forever imprinted on my mind. A offered me many options for selection. Still, this alphabet turned out to be the easiest one for me. All the options tried to seduce me in writing about them, of course, but my heart only went to one place and my first choice—Afghanistan of Khaled Hosseini that he brought to life in A Thousand Splendid Suns.

I am a child of 1980s. By the time I came to understand or even think of Afghanistan, the war had already ravaged the country. News highlighted the place. For me, it was the city of wars, extremism and refugees. I am not trying to insult anyone here, but that’s all I knew. I was an ignorant teenager who had little interest in world politics. Till the newspaper highlighted the country, I had no particular thoughts about it.

I did read “Kite Runner” too, but that was more of a mixed book with all countries covered in. Even though Afghanistan is at its centre, there still are tangents. It was this book, A Thousand Splendid Suns, which made me see Afghanistan. As the book describes the city using lines of poems:

“One could not count the moons that shimmer on her roofs,

Or the thousand splendid suns that hide behind her walls.” (Pg 149)

The book spans two different eras for Afghanistan. The first era is the era of Mariam—the first character who was born in 1959, in peaceful Afghanistan. Part 1 of the book defines the Kabul which has just heard the distant echoes of wars and has not faced them directly. In Mariam’s words, one of the leading characters, tell about her impression of modern women in Kabul.

“Yes, modern Afghan women married to modern Afghan men who did not mind their wives walked among strangers with makeup on their faces and nothing on their heads. Mariam watched them cantering uninhibited down the street, sometimes with a man, sometimes alone, sometimes with rosy-cheeked children…”

This was the Afghanistan I hadn’t thought of, a country devoid of wars and tyranny , but home where people—men and women—lived in harmony. The book not only talks about the modern people.

It also talks about Afghani food like borani, daal, rice etc. There is a reference to communal tandoor where Mariam would go after kneading her dough where “Mariam could hear their high-pitched chatter, their spiralling laughs.” She also “caught the banter which had to do with sick children or lazy husbands.

This was a new Afghanistan I was seeing, yet it felt similar to my own country in some ways.  There is a beautiful description of Ramadan and Id which brought the city to life for me. All is not rosy in that world as well. In fact, the book shows the divide of that time between rural and urban Afghanistan. Book touches on the struggle of women who are new to burqa with quotes like how it “hampers the peripheral vision” but yet provide a “one-way window to the world.

Then came the Part-2 of the book which took me back to those newspapers and news channels showing the city being eaten up by war. When the book took the readers to Buddha’s statues in Bamiyan, I was living in the pages of the book seeing the world through the cavities in this huge Buddha statue. The lush green fields “bordered by poplars, criss-crossed by streams and irrigation ditches” mesmerized me as well along with Laila, the second character of the book. My gasp was real when I read about the statues being blasted.

I do not want to give the spoilers about the book, else there is much more marked up in my copy of the book. So, I will close it here. Also, I would like to clarify that this book talks about a lot more stuff—gender inequalities, the bombings, Taliban, education, and resurrection of Afghanistan as well. Even though my post just covers the setting of past and present as explained in the book, the book itself is more than that. If you haven’t read the book, do read it. It is one of the most heart-wrenching stories.

P.S. All the text marked in italics is from the book directly.

The Curse: A Book Review (And Welcoming 2019)

Hello Everyone. I know it has been a very long time since I posted. It seems like life and I are wrestling to have control on the schedule, and life keeps on winning. But the good news is that I am reading and writing again. That’s a big deal for me because the past one year felt like that words have turned into strangers. They won’t entice me in reading, and they won’t entice me in writing. I cannot explain the joy finding the words again.

So let us start 2019 in February with a book review  with a hope that I will be able to win future battles as well with life.

The Curse: A Dystopian Thriller

By Randeep Wadehra

Amazon

Goodreads

Available for Free on Kindle Unlimited

Blurb

Through peace, it’s justice we seek!
The hunter will meet the fate of the hunted
And the mighty will serve the meek!

Twenty years ago, a corrupt President, a greedy industrialist, and a sycophant policeman uprooted the tribal people from their own land and burned their houses. Twenty years later, the Republic of Bodh is in danger from a similar evil troika.

The curse uttered by a frail tribal woman during the carnage twenty years ago has inspired Jwaala, the only female leader in the senate, to reform the Republic of Bodh.

But the same curse has turned Saaya, once an innocent victim of the massacre, into a relentless killing machine with a mission to prey on the predators.
Even when the Republic spirals into a storm of scandals, the greedy and corrupt President Chaupat is torn between his lust for a dancer and his unrequited passion for his wife Kaamini.

Will Saaya succeed in his mission or will Chaupat thwart his efforts?
Will Jwaala, orphaned in a violent attack, be able to turn the curse for the greedy into a blessing for the poor? Will she succeed to save the Republic from another ensuing bloodshed?

The Curse is a gritty political thriller about people who have lost much to greed but want to transform their nation. 

Initially, I had no interest in this book, but when my friends started telling how this book was written so well, my interest was piqued. I picked this book only to see what was so good about it. I did not expect it to be an excellent read, however, the book proved me wrong. It even appealed to apolitical person like me.

This is the story of a dystopian world which is being ruled by Chaupat. The poor are getting poorer and the rich are getting richer. There are pockets of slums which government refused to recognize. The people living in these slums are considered dispensable. In such corrupt and oppressive society, there emerged our hero or heroes who want to change the system—some from inside and some by violence. It is an interesting book which you will want to read ahead to know about.

What I liked

  • Story in itself: Although it is not a very unpredictable story, it still manages to capture the interest of the readers by its details, language and writing style. There is a little suspense to the story, but I was able to guess that early on. Part of it was unanticipated, but it was such a hurried execution that I thought it more of a passing end than the big reveal itself.
  • Idea: The book is very relevant to current times. It talks about the things that are happening around me, the fears that I am truly afraid of at this time, and because of this, I could relate to it more.
  • Politically Impartial: The book actually considers as evil both the main party and opposition and hence stays clear of political partiality. Although some would say that there is a certain kind of partiality in declaring all parties as wrong as well, the book still felt impartial in its intake.

What I did not Like

  • Predictability: I have no idea how the author could have avoided the predictability, but I wish there was less of predictability in the story. I wanted to be taken up by surprise by the end. However, the only surprise sequence of the story was too short to garner any attention.
  • Names of the Characters: I think what adds to the above point is the names of the characters. For non-hindi speakers, this might not be an issue. But for hindi speakers, the names added to the predictability. Each name is the directly chosen to express what the characters role in the story is going to be. I understand finding such right names is difficult and must have been a difficult job for the author. But, I would have liked something subtler in these names—not this outright definition of how all the characters are going to be. This added to the predictability for me. Even though it felt like careful and deliberate selection by author, I could not enjoy that.
  • Ending: I have said this earlier as well, but the end sequence of the story—the one that was supposed to be the surprise—was not very well-executed. I wished it wasn’t the miss and blink kind of thing. I would have enjoyed the book more if that ending had appealed to me.

Overall Thoughts

Overall, the book is an interesting read. Those who want to read something about the political situation in the country (I do think this is applicable to many countries) will enjoy the story. It is written well and flows smoothly. The book is a short-read. For the people who have Indian KU subscription, the book is available free of cost.  

Overall Ratings

The Stargazer’s Embassy: Another take on aliens

The Stargazer's Embassy

The Stargazeer’s Emabssy

By

Eleanor Lerman

I got this book from NetGalley, and this was the pleasant surprise. My selection of this book was based on the quirky name it has and the description given on the book cover. I mean The Stargazer’s Embassy sounds like an odd concept! I  actually did not even know what to expect, but in the end, it was good that I did not have any preconceived notion. The book is of-course about the aliens, but more than aliens, it felt like a peek in the brains of the different stories that float around the aliens. The book’s heroine, Julia, is an oddball who can see the aliens everywhere. They are the part of her life, but they have always been on sidelines. Julia meets a professor cum the practioner of psychology named John, and that is how she gets sucked further into the aliens.

The books is a different take on aliens. I have read quite a few alien books, but most of these books have been in the field of the romance or intergalactic war. I do carry my towel with me as well for hitchhiking. 😉

But all this paints a picture in the mind where we are able to communicate with the aliens, some establish relationships too(friends, family, romance etc.) But this book is making me think differently. The book talks about a situation in which a few people are abducted, and they carry with themselves the trauma of that experience. The book treats the abduction by the other race in such an other worldly manner. There is a psychiatric treatment for these people, support groups, books, theories etc.

I have always thought about the aliens as a race–either in their romanticized form or probably in their enemy-who-are-going-to destroy the earth form. This book doesn’t take any midway. It is so realistic in its description of the confusion about what the aliens want that I am also with the characters in the story, confused as to where all this is leading to.  I don’t know how the book is going to end, but it has made a home in my mind for now. We all talk about aliens, but we rarely talk about the victims who have to go through the experience of trying to decipher what these aliens are actually looking for and want.

There are so many frightening aspects this novel brought to forefront.

Here is the official summary of the book.

The Stargazer’s Embassy explores the frightening phenomenon of alien abduction from a different point of view: in this story, it is the aliens who seem fearful of Julia Glazer, the woman they are desperately trying to make contact with. Violent and despairing after the murder of the one person she loved, a psychiatrist who was studying abductees, Julia continues to rebuff the aliens until her relationships with others who have met “the things,” as she calls them, including a tattoo artist, a strange man who can take photographs with the power of his mind, and an abductee locked up in a mental hospital, force Julia deeper into direct alien contact and a confrontation about what death means to humans and aliens alike.

What I liked about the book

  1. Characters and idea: The book is filledd with quite interestng characters. I mean, apart from the title, there is a character which can actually click actual pictures of vision in someone’s mind. There are aliens who are so out-of-place in the dimension that they don’t know how to behave like humans.
  2. Details and writing: I generally do not know much about alien abductions, fictional or non-fictional, but the way this book gave a perspective, it was a way which I found quite realistic. I  mean, of course, I don’t know the people who believe in that, but the details were so beautifully woven in the story that it never felt unreal. There was the direct connection in the story.
  3. The plot: If it is not clear till now, I enjoyed the plot a lot. Although I was not much into the ending that the book had, I still was won over by the plot. It is a mix of intrigue, psychology, sci-fi, and language. It just had me there. There were times when I felt that the book was going too slow, but I just could not keep it down because I wanted to know what is going to happen next.

What I disliked

  1. The ending: The ending of the book just did not resonate with me. I have no idea how the book could have been ended in any other way, but that ending just felt a bit forced to me.
  2. The uneven pacing: There were few sections when there was nothing happening. I knew while I was readig the book that things were happening, but it felt a bit dragged because I could not understand why they were happening. There were moments, small ones, when I thought about keeping the book down because I just could not understand what was happening. But I’m glad I did read the end. And if I try to recall those moments when I wanted to stop reading, I cannot recall them.


Final Verdict


The book is definitely worth reading. If yoou start the book, do preverse till the end. You won’t be disappointed. The book is novel in its plot, characters, and writing.

Four Stars

 

 

 

 

Aadhe Aadhure: A hindi book review

 

 

My native language is Hindi or more of Hindustani with a mix of Hindi and Urdu. I am not really ashamed to accept it like many people are. Someone once told me that it’s really nice to be ESL. There are some stories which connect with you in the home tongue only. This is a review of the Hindi book.

Some time ago I watched a play called “Adhe-adhure”. The play was enacted during some theater festival. I was still new to play then. All I knew was that it is going to be a melodrama and that the play has been played by different actors since 1950. That’s really a long time for a story to survive. Another important fact of the play was that the one male actor played the role of five characters. Sounds intriguing, yes? That’s what pulled me to the play. Amidst the darkness of the theater, I was sucked into the story and left gasping at the end with a question of  “is this the end?” and yet with a lingering relief that the writer ended the story on the right note.

The story was of a woman who is trying to find her completeness in different men. The family is rife with strife. The kids have grown up in the midst of arguments. The story showed a married daughter returning to that angst-ridden home to find out what was that thing that she took from her home that keeps her from being happy? What’s that thing which bothers her even if everything is going fine with her husband and at her home?

It has been months since I watched the play. I had even forgotten the name of the play and actors. But those dialogues stayed in my mind. As if buried in my subconscious, at times, their bones rattled in my mind. I did not remember the complete dialogues, but yet I could smell them in my thoughts. It was like the smell of the sulphur in the chemistry lab of my school which just refused to leave me alone. I washed and washed and washed, but sometime or the other, it will be there again. I wanted to know the exact wordings, the exact lines that were said. Then I started hunting for the name of the play again. Checked the schedule of NCPA. Checked newspaper articles of that time. Conferred with the friend who accompanied me. Singled out the director’s name, Lillite Dubey. And then Googled. Finally, I had the name. Aadhe Adhure. Incomplete, it means. I needed to know that dialogue. It was like I was incomplete. So I went on and searched for the screening of the play. No success as the play was re-enacted once as a tribute to the original play.

But there was a book. A script of that play. I just checked to see if the book was in Hindi because I was sure English translation won’t have the same effect. It just can’t hit you that hard. My purchase was made once I was sure that the book was in Hindi.

It was a book whose story I already knew, already understood, yet reading it left me gasping once more. The whole story was verbatim same; I could see the actors playing the roles, yet it was a different experience. I had the heightened awareness of the dialogues and nuances presented in the story. When I came to that dialogue, I almost cried with relief. And when I reached the end, I raged at myself. How could I not see the male chauvinism in the play? How could I read something which saw women as such?

The story was the same. A main male character, a husband, who doesn’t work anymore and feels like a burden. The main female character, a wife, who works and feels burdened by handling everything. A boss whose favors the wife seeks for the betterment of her son. A son who scoffs at her efforts and can’t believe that she will hide her neediness behind him. A daughter who has returned from her husband’s place again to her parents’ home—without any money, without anything. There comes my favorite dialogue (Attaching the picture for those who understand Hindi):

img_20170224_230354787img_20170224_230337052

The play ends in the dialogue in which husband’s friend tells the wife that she is the one who is responsible for the pathetic state the main male character is in. Then comes my anger on why the writer didn’t seem to understand the plight of the women, the question on why didn’t writer delve into the character to understand the wife’s motivation and her reasons for discontentment.

Overall, it is a book which left a sour taste in my mind, but it is something which I will read again and again and again.

What I liked

Masterful dialogues. This is a play, and dialogues have to be effective for it to be successful. But the exchange of dialogues in the play is amazing.

What I did not like

The unbalanced scales of attitude towards men and women. The  story leans strongly in favor of men. Everything is blamed directly on the women. This fact has been identified in the introduction of the play as well, but the fact that it is there doesn’t go unnoticed till the end. Probably I did not notice it during the play because of the actors’ judgment and sympathies towards the women, but it is glaring in the book.

Overall Opinion:

I will give this book five stars. Everything in it is masterfully executed. Despite my anger and my hatred towards the treatment of women in the story, I loved it.

Five Stars

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