Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Two recent book reviews for Sunday Deccan Herald

This is the second time that I  have reviewed a Shobhan Bantwal book. The Unexpected Son was released in in India in August 2013.

Here is my review  :


And here is Shobhan Bantwal's  homepage:  http://www.shobhanbantwal.com/

The prolific  Canadian writer Margaret Atwood has recently come out with 'Maddaddam', the third and final installment of her science fiction trilogy.

More about the book and its predecessors, here :  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MaddAddam

And here is my review of Maddaddam :  http://www.deccanherald.com/content/367973/apocalypse-amp-after.html

Saturday, November 09, 2013

Book Review of Jump Cut

Jump Cut
Krishna Shastri Devulapalli
Harper Collins Publishers India
Pages: 293
Price: Rs.299/-


The  link above leads to my  review in the New Indian Express.It is a slightly shorter version of the original piece   -- which I am sharing here, below, on my blog.

                              Ray Raman and Friends (to say nothing of Dog Raj)

With apologies to Jerome K Jerome (author of a comic classic) and Krishna Shastri Devulapalli (Chennai-based author of his second book Jump Cut), -- the title of this review is my own contributory header to a book that  has charmed me as much as KSD’s first (the hilarious Ice Boys in Bell Bottoms, 2011).

 Set in India’s bustling Tamil film industry, Jump Cut is ironically reminiscent of a favourite film, Khosla ka Ghosla (a 2006 Hindi film comedy on real-estate scamming). Both relate tales of exploiters getting their comeuppance, sport an irreverent air, and speak up for the underdog.

 In main Jump Cut (a film-editing term) is a seriocomic credit-heist caper dealing with the familiar subject of credit-theft in our various film-industry ‘woods’. Plenty of mediaspace has been devoted to the perennial problem of intellectual property rights violations, and stealing sans compensation. But whilst the thieves win mostly, occasionally a Ram Sampath wins too – and here, in fiction, a son avenges his cheated father.

And so you have the tale of the US-based Ray (full name Satyajit Ray Raman, son of film- scriptwriter and veteran cineaste Raman), in India to attend on his hospitalized dad. Post-funeral, Ray discovers that professional heartbreak is the root cause of his father’s untimely heart-attack and quick demise. Raman’s diaries, scripts and conscientious associates reveal to the son, the father’s unhappy and unsuccessful professional life.

The villain is revealed soon enough – Raman’s associate-employer Rajarajan, the non-entity turned hugely successful writer-director. Ray soon   becomes aware of the perfidy his film buff  father was subjected to, the numerous ideas and scripts stolen without a thought. After an initial attempt to appeal to Rajarajan’s non-existent conscience, Ray employs the help of friends and sympathetic helpmeets (including Raman’s dog Dog Raj, so named since ‘anyone who is anyone in Tamil films is a Raj’) -- and thus begins a bizarre revenge-revel, that’s enjoyable to read even as one wonders whether such an elaborate prank could actually be pulled off. Incidentally, the book is a visual read, much like a film script.

Ray’s first meeting with the loathsome but savvy Rajarajan is a scene straight out of a satirical film on the movie industry. A tad exaggerated maybe, but effective enough. One begins to root for Ray and read on to understand how the impossible is achieved, how an ordinary man (with a little help from friends, faithful workers and said dog) is able to turn the tables on somebody who seems infallible and untouchable despite being a crook.

The novel plots and zips along to a satisfying ‘gotcha’ culmination. Concurrently, there are passing hilarious asides on the local film scenario –‘first-name-only demigods’ uniquely southern, the politico-cinema world of TN, language chauvinism and attendant hypocrisies….thus you have the fictional Tamil lyricist Chentamizh Chelvan (native of Tadepalligudem, AP).

There's a  bit of magic realism mixed up  with all the filmi shenanigans and revenge-plans. The late father makes sudden appearances.... a few instances seem inexplicable, while one early incident has a hilarious explanation.

  A rich cast of characters (including some quirky and liberated Chennai-ites) livens up the book -- but changing adaptable Chennai is an important character too. ‘The city had grown aimlessly, bringing white-collar folk to shirtless areas’.

 Locals rule with their unapologetically expressed Tamil slang.  An auto driver expects ‘untime’ extra fare for a midnight ride. 
KSD’s language often delights: ‘The car let out a smoker’s cough and died.’

Ultimately, there is satisfying closure; in love too.

An empathetic, insightful, fun read, Jump Cut works. And if you enjoy  watching films and reading film related writing, do give this book a chance.

Friday, September 27, 2013

A Tamil writer discovered (in translation)

Thanks to two recent review assignments I have discovered a Tamil writer, the late  Sundara Ramaswamy (1931-2005). Thanks also  to Penguin Classics for introducing this lesser known writer to  an uninformed readership. Mr Ramaswamy deserves to be read, his particular Tamil-Travancore-Nagercoil world understood and appreciated. The writer was  fondly known known as 'SuRa' in literary circles

Here is a link to the recent releases of Sundara Ramaswamy's translated works.


And here  are the links to my reviews of two 'SuRa' gems.



Here is Mr. Sundara  Ramaswamy himself.


Thursday, September 05, 2013

Dalrymple Di Dilli -- 25 years on

Before the righteous reader accuses this writer of blasphemy-- after all, it is ‘Hamari Dilli’, not an English writer’s Dilli; our national capital (fallen in grace recently, but still our age-old world class capital city even so) — let me hasten to explain.

I’m a transplanted Chennai resident since the past twenty-five years. Prior to this period while my marriage and children were still young, I spent a happy decade (’78-’88) in the national capital -- approximately the same period that the Britisher William Dalrymple resided in Delhi, experienced the city’s endless charm and ended up writing an iconic book about it, -- The City of Djinns, a fabulous book that I continue to recommend since my first encounter with it in the mid-nineties. The book unpeeled Delhi through time and space, spoke in detail about its seven renewed lives, pointed to the living proof of the past, history alive as it were—and simply enthralled  me, made me fall in love with the city all over again. Since then I have wanted to revisit Delhi, relive my salad years there.

The opportunity happened recently, following a positive family event; and I spent a fortnight with a lovely family, experiencing the new—a gurgling newborn, plus a new colony, well-planned, green, clean, an urban delight (to be precise, Dwaraka, the sub-city to old New Delhi, and quite unlike the latter). I also took time out to explore and rediscover as much of the old as the muggy weather would permit.

In fact July-August is not exactly the ideal time to visit Delhi –it’s hot, sweaty, occasionally drizzly, suddenly pouring wet, chilly for a few hours, then muggy again. Still, as with any such place, visitors there were aplenty, and we cheerfully coped.

I  had carried my well-thumbed copy of Dalrymple’s book.  I wished to tread the Dalrymple trail, to whatever extent possible. I also wished see anew the place I had experienced in the eighties,
It wasn’t going to be easy. After all Delhi had changed tremendously during the ensuing period. The city was more accessible thanks to the efficient metro railway network. But conversely, it certainly wasn’t safe to walk around in lovely isolated spots, the way Dalrymple did in the eighties.
What I finally managed, was to ensure  a bit of both, experience a bit of  Dalrymple’s Dilli  and my own version of the city, its 2013 avatar seen through  rose-coloured spectacles from the eighties.

Some things never change – the clean manicured lawns, gardens  and roads of Lutyen’s New Delhi, the stunning  Lodhi gardens,  ice cream carts, the mobile carts selling ‘peeney ka thanda paani’ ( at two rupees per glass against fifty paise in the eighties), the properly manicured and pedicured  Dilliwalis, graceful old Sardars …  and brash young  puppies breaking the metro station queues.

The metro rides however did give one a peek into the mobile Delhi-ite’s soul, so to say. It was a pleasure to come across graceful ladies and gents who were only too willing to spare a seat for somebody who looked tired and in need of a seat. At the other end of the spectrum, one found reserved seats (for elderly or handicapped commuters) being usurped by youngsters who brashly stayed put while an older commuter hung on to a strap or pole. And there was the occasional human interest story observed through a long ride—the lovely looking girl with sad eyes, quietly wiping tears, being comforted by a young man. Enough material for a short story there…

Sarojini Nagar market (looking much the same despite its terror tryst from October 2009) and Lajpat Nagar market continue to be a bargainer’s delight. The former still looks neater and cleaner, the latter a bit messier.

Village Dilli continues  to  ensure its pronounced presence – bone-shattering ‘share-vans’ trundle along Dwaraka’s   clean wide roads picking up passengers pressed for time or money. New-look rickshaws and motorized cycle rickshaws continue to ply in these ‘border areas’ of spiffy   Delhi – a city often described rightly as an overgrown village.

Village Delhi’s entry into the city is nowhere more pronounced than at Chattarpur with its famed Katyayani  temple, last experienced during  the nineteen-eighties --  then an an isolated spanking new temple standing on a track of land surrounded by farmlands; it was the sort of spot  where one parked one’s car, quickly visited the marble-acred shrine with its golden Durga, partook of langar and then swept out of the isolated locality before dusk. Now, circa 2013, Chattarpur has its own metro station; the place is bustling, full of visitors who linger on and  enjoy the extensive delights of a place that is much more than a temple ... and as for the farmlands –they’ve been gobbled up by the flyovers, the much-expanded temple complex, other commercial establishments, wide roads, traffic, commercial garden nurseries...and thus do farmlands quietly disappear.

Village, culturally loaded ancient city, the national capital, rape capital….multiple images attach themselves to this megapolis, but sadly, the last one has stuck.  A young working lady friend  ensures that she is home by 7.00pm, back in her south Delhi pad. It would be an unwise risk catching a drama or film that ends late in the evening. Another young friend misses Mumbai where one could stay out late with nary a worry (but with its recent horrorfest at an abandoned mill, even Mumbai’s ‘safe’ reputation has suffered). Our  country is being raped in more ways than one – but that’s another story altogether.

 Delhi’s lately acquired reputation may go against it, but one can still steal daytime delights. A visit to the National Museum proved a rich and rewarding experience. I even picked up from  the museum store, a pair of ‘Harappan Seal’ tablets  – done beautifully in plaster of paris.

The buses are clean, low-floored (and ‘green’, thanks to CNG); the metro is good with its connectivity; and auotorickshaws are still cheaper than Chennai. So one would be wise to take advantage of   Delhi’s many inexpensive and eclectic delights.

To get back to Dalrymple – yes, I did wish to get a whiff of ittar scented  Purani Delhi. The writer’s tales about Chandni Chowk’s origins—the street that was created by a ruthless Mughal king’s sister – they perked up my interest in visiting this moonlit mall from the past.
As luck would have it, one got caught in a sudden cloudburst – and Chandni Chowk cum adjacent  Nai Sarak became squelchy slushy and plain impossible. Still, it was good to experience, in between dry spells, the grandeur, grace, calm and kirtanic melodies of Sis Ganj Gurdwara.

Chandni Chowk still manages to retain a very basic level of connection to its hoary past. Every few yards, one found coin sellers displaying a mound of 10, 20, paise rounds, copper doughnut annas--- and some Mughal period coins, looking extremely authentic.

The past is alive and flourishing in Delhi. Speeding along a highway, one peers at the greenery -- and eyes spy a broken brown monument bit hidden in the foliage.

 Plenty of monuments  and ruins dot the city’s by-lanes, parks, gardens and tourist tryst points  like the Qutub complex --  and   are easily accessible thanks to the metro (unlike the eighties when one ended up waiting endlessly  for an infrequent DTC bus). However this time I had wished to sidestep the regular places and check out some lesser known spots.

 The Mehrauli Archeological Park was made known to the public late in the nineties after its discovery and development; yet to date, few visitors seem aware of this adjunct to the famed Qutub Minar.  Luckily, a  friend was good enough to mention it as a must-see; I checked the 'net -- and discovered that the place was chock full of baolis(medieval step wells), gardens, tombs, mosques, the lot. So  my spouse and I zoomed off to  Qutub  Metro station, then flagged an auto to the Qutub complex a couple of kilometers away. We also quizzed the autorick driver about the recently popularized archeological site -- but the autowala’s response stumped us —‘Nobody goes there; the place is a keechad (swamp).’  Now our main interest was the archaelogical park, so we persisted and asked to be dropped off at the archeological park.

A small iron gate led us on to enclosure with its detailed map -- featuring Balban’s tomb, the rose garden (which was right there ahead), the Rajaon ki Baoli, Jamali Kamali Mosque , everything  significant, ancient, preserved. In the near distance one could spy  the top of  a   domed sandstone monument  In the foreground lay the (fairly unkempt) rose garden. The place at one sweeping glace looked lovely --  and lonely. Dismayed, we realized that the bloody place was deserted! Except for a lone man who watched us from a ledge, and another solitary hiker in the far distance, this resurrected bit of Delhi history was simply not safe to survey, walk through and enjoy without undertaking the risk of getting mugged or worse. So we acted sensibly -- took photos of the map at the park’s entrance, plus the rose garden – and moved back to the main road – where our auto driver awaited us, so sure was he of our quick return. He generously offered to drop us off at the main Qutub monument  and we hopped in, thanking the man, yet distressed at missing the Mehrauli  Archaelogical Park. A sad case of so near, yet so far..

At the Qutub Minar complex, there were crowds aplenty. I questioned the Qutub bookstore manager about the deserted archeological park – how safe could it be when it was not publicized well enough to attract visitors? His reply was unsatisfactory; he replied that the individual monuments within the park had their guards and we could safely visit the place. And why were there no crowds at the archeological park?  ‘Well, most people don’t know about it…’

A request to Delhi tourism folk—please advertise your wares properly. We’d like to experience Delhi’s hidden charms at least on our next trip.

Friday, July 05, 2013

Two articles and four recent book reviews, at Sunday Deccan Herald.



1. Well-known writer Kalpana Swaminthan (also a surgeon) has tried to create an Indian  Miss Marple through her Detective Lalli series of mysteries.  I have read only this one book from the series-- and I found it strictly ok,perhaps a one-time read. Check out The Secret Gardener if you like mysteries.

The book --  http://www.penguinbooksindia.com/en/content/secret-gardener

My review :  http://www.deccanherald.com/content/325683/mulch-murder.html

2. A lovely inspiring book --Legacy, edited by Sudha  Menon.


3.A Karan Johar flick in a book!


4. This is a pretty good book, quite revealing about real Delhi --but don't expect a great thriller. It's more a  readable and fairly  witty critique of Delhi, the press, the police...all that we read about Delhi.


Three more book reviews from me, at Sunday Deccan Herald

1. Monisha Rajesh a, debutant writer gets it right in this sparkling travelogue through India -- Around India in 80 Trains. Here is a link to the book details:


And here is my review: http://www.deccanherald.com/content/298751/rediscovery-rail.html

2. This one is right up there in my all-time favourites list.  Sanjeev Sanyal has written a brilliant history of  India's geography. Here is a link to the book details.


And here is my glowing review:


3. Veteran travel writers Hugh and Colleen Gantzer  are at it again, re-discovering India for travellers and travelogue-buffs. Here is a link to one of their books from the Inriguing India series.


My review of this book :  http://www.deccanherald.com/content/317629/eclectic-east.html