Friends in Small Places

…by Ruskin Bond

This book is a collection of stories from the author’s life. They are excerpts from his diary or recollections of dear ones or just a note of the most odd people he has met. Some of the characters are endearing like the Kotwal with the unusual case. Some are very touching like his accounts of his parents. Some are plain hilarious like the story of his old Hindi master. The book gives you a detailed insight of the author’s life , his childhood memories , his beliefs , and his overall experience in India as a struggling and a successful writer. It can be considered a testimony to all the people who touched his life .

Each one of the stories are amazing. Ruskin Bond has given flair to the lives of these common villagers , army men , families and even crazy queens and gardeners. Every story is engaging and makes you wonder as to how did Bond meet so many exotic people in the course of his life! But I think , it is his viewpoints and his depictions which make the everyday lives of these people truly interesting.

My favorite story is the one about the author’s uncle’s murder exploits. Bond’s uncle or Uncle Bill is a shady character. A gentleman who poisoned unwanted people with arsenic! His love affair and the planned murder of his lover’s husband is obvious but still enthralling to read. The story goes on describe how Uncle Bill ends up at the author’s place after Bond is successful as a writer. He plans to murder Bond and live off the book royalties comfortably. But Bond cleverly dodges these attempts and foils his uncle’s plan thus confirming that Uncle Bill had indeed committed the previous unproven murders!

All the stories are written from a first person perspective and ring with the finality of truth. The O’Henry type of twist to the stories make it all the more enjoyable. Fiction or real , the book is a treat to those looking for relaxed reading. Short stories appeal to me because there is no stress to actually finish the book and there is always curiosity about what the next story will be like!

The little collage of images on the cover itself is such a draw for me. The simplicity of the book is an ode to Ruskin Bond. Excellent book in my opinion. You must own a copy of this one!

My Rating – 5*

Let the Rain Kiss You

by Vibha Vyas

The prologue of the book suggests that it might just be a true story. I wouldn’t be surprised if it were! This book narrates a very compelling tale. Even if the incidents seem a tad extreme , they are definitely not unheard of. The first triumph of this book is its story. It is what we have experienced or heard in neighborhood gossip. It is what we have seen happen elsewhere , what is depicted as the background of the 80’s Bollywood movies. The story lays bare the practices we think ( or hope) are no longer a part of the society. The connection one feels to the story is a huge plus point.

The Sahni family are a set of survivors right from the grandmother who is virtually the head of the family. Her escape during the partition and the resultant communal hate are very natural and we applaud her for her determination. Until one sees her from the eyes of the daughter-in-law. Suddenly the blackness in her character is evident. Such is the case with most of the characters in the book. At many places it is up to the reader to judge the validity and sometimes even the sanity of their words and actions. The son who favors his mother , the vanity of girl’s beauty and the yearning to have a baby boy are all recurring themes in the book.

Even though you know the fate of the characters when you begin with the story , you will still be very curious to find out why things turned out to be what they were .How a well meaning , well-groomed huge family was brought to its knees by their  own actions makes for a good read. It is definitely a page turner.

The story very clearly tells us that incidents are not a cause for distress but one’s perspective is what colors the significance of events happening around us. Cruel fate hits everybody and it hits the Sahni family too. But instead of accepting what they cannot change, the members end up dissatisfied and live in denial of facts. This causes a lot of friction between them and even “Biji”‘s little superstition that rain is a bad omen for the family. Hence the title of the book.

The author is an MBA graduate who is a fiction writer. She has done a reasonably good job of narrating this story. But sadly I have to point out that proper grammar and proper distinction between the passive and active voices would have made it an even more memorable book. The cover art is really drab and I could not even find a good picture to upload!

But I would still recommend you to read this story. It definitely holds your attention and gives you something to think about.

My rating 3*.

Ladies Coupe

Quick Data

Author: Anita Nair

ISBN:978-0-141-00595-9

Price: 275INR

Author Website: http://anitanair.net/

The plot is very easy to comprehend. As the title suggests, it’s about the ladies travelling together in one ladies coupe. The journey is made wonderful and thought provoking when these ladies share their till-date spent life with the protagonist Akhilandeswari, 45 -the one who is on a quest of finding out what her life means to herself, where is her life headed and what exactly she wants from it-after all these years of being the ‘man of the family’?

Poignant tales of 5 ladies-Margaret, Janaki, Sheela, Marikolunthu and Prabha Devi-of different ages and background and performing different roles in their lives- lay in front of Akhila from which she picks up some bits and pieces and tries to solve her own jig saw puzzle which is on her mind since a long time now.

What are these ladies going to tell Akhila, which is going to make her confident about her own thoughts and her own decisions which she is unable to take?  Is it going to be something about the woman power? No, it’s all about the woman as an individual herself. Her desires, likes, wants, needs and her own identity.

A power packed novel about woman and her life in different settings-rich-poor, educated-illiterate et al. The best part is this novel doesn’t offer some unwanted ‘gyaan’ or ‘lecture’ to be precise- on what woman should do and should not do. It’s about knowing your inner self. It’s about the human being inside every woman who somehow is left behind or sometimes buried while catering to other’s demands and roles which are dawned upon her.

I think it was a nice read though like every story there are some negatives too but they’re negligible-not to be counted! The down to earth language and some facts that are presented about Hindu culture are also like eye-openers. These are things which we may know but when weaved in a story they create an impact and make sense. I like that way of presentation!

My rating for this book is 4*

 

Secret Daughter-edited

Quick Data

Author: Shilpi Somaya Gowda

ISBN: 13: 978-006192231

Website:http://www.shilpigowda.com/

[putting it as it is straight from the back of the book-the excerpt]

On the eve of the monsoons, in a remote Indian village, Kavita gives birth to a baby girl. But in a culture that favors sons, the only way for Kavita to save her newborn daughter’s life is to give her away. It is a decision that will haunt her and her husband for the rest of their lives, even after the arrival of their cherished son.

Halfway around the globe, Somer, an American doctor, decides to adopt a child after making the wrenching discovery that she will never have one of her own. When she and her husband Krishnan see a photo of the baby with the gold-flecked eyes from a Mumbai orphanage, they are convinced that the love they already feel will overcome all obstacles.

What I liked about this book is the way it has been presented in a simple manner in spite of the issue being a bit complicated. The book also takes you through the city of Mumbai in few of its’ chapters-the riches and the poors of the vast city. As the title suggests it’s about a daughter and then it’s about the mother as well. Which is interesting. The chapters weave through the happenings of India and America simultaneously without letting the reader feel confused even for a moment. Two families,two countries,two mothers and one daughter that binds them all together !

Yes..I liked the end as well..the author has treated the story pretty well when it comes to an obvious end.

Umm..there is nothing that I didn’t like about the book…just that in general it scores not more than 3 according to my opinion. It’s one of those books,you know,which you feel is a good one but you won’t want to read it again after a certain interval…it will reach your heart but I’m not sure whether it will stay with you or not…but in all a good read..check it out yourself :)

My rating for the book is 3*

A Fine Balance

A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry is set in India in the mid-1970s. When Indira Gandhi was the Prime Minister and a state of emergency was called upon the country. The book begins in the City by the Sea where Om and Ishvar, tailors from a village, meet Maneck Kohlah, a college student, all on their way to Mrs Dina Dalal’s house for different reasons. Om and Ishvar are hired as tailors by Dina to undertake sewing for an export company while Maneck is her new paying guest. They are the central characters of the book.

Each chapter takes you into the characters’ pasts. Dina came from a Parsi family and was brought up in the city by her kind and generous father who was a doctor and her mother and older brother Nusswan. Unfortunately, hard luck hits the family and Dina is forced to leave school and is under Nusswan’s reign. She manages to escape through marriage to Rustom but once again, life isn’t fair to her. She strives to keep her independence and dignity despite struggling with money for basic necessities like rent and food and clothes. Yet, she ploughs through what life throws at her.

Ishvar and Om (uncle and nephew) belong to the Chamaar caste or the ‘Untouchables’ and their family has been on the receiving end for generations due to the nonsensical caste system that ruled rife in India. Ishvar’s father Dukhi finally snaps due to the unfairness of it all and sends his sons, Ishvar and Narayan, to the nearby town to his friend Ashraf, a tailor, to learn the trade. The upper castes in the village are obviously not happy with Dukhi breaking the norms of Hinduism and the family have to pay for it dearly for generations. However, Ishvar and his nephew Om, eventually set out to the City by the Sea to earn more money before they can go back to the village. However, not all is rosy in the city either, especially with the Emergency and the unfair treatment continues. Through their escapades, they meet other interesting characters such as Shankar, the crippled beggar, Rajaram, the hair-collector, the Monkey-Man. and Beggarmaster.

Maneck is probably the most privileged of the lot. An only child, he is born and brought up in the mountains and is doted on by his parents. Until the change in the cities begins to affect the mountains. Maneck’s parents send him to boarding school and then off to college in the City by the Sea thereby creating a distance between themselves and their son. A gap that only widens the older he grows. However, despite this, he is not an arrogant boy and befriends Om and Ishvar. He believes that everything ends badly, and unfortunately it seems more prominent as he grows older.

Dina automatically mistrusts the tailors as has been taught to her by society. Om too is not fond of her and is hostile. Ishvar plays the peacekeeper. However, slowly and steadily, the relationship blossoms between the four central characters and they do seem like family after a point. Dina forgets what society tells her to do in terms of class barriers and treats the tailors as family. The tailors for thier part are always willing to help…helping Rajaram, Shankar, the Monkey-Man, despite struggling to make ends meet themselves at times. However, things start to go wrong when two beggars are murdered. Who has done it? And will the upper caste brahmins make Dukhi regret his decision? And will Dina manage to live independently?

The book critically looks at the caste system that was so rampant (and still is, though not to this extent) in India. It looks at the hypocrisy of the same. It also questions the state of emergency and its farcical nature. [Funnily enough, I don't remember learning about the Emergency in history at school. I wonder why...] It looks at what a mockery Indira Gandhi made of democracy. And it looks at the massive class difference, the scale of corruption and yet, the goodness of mankind that is struggling. The fine balance that exists is one between hope and hoplessness for all characters. Which ones continue to have hope and which ones succumb to the hopelessnes is for the reader to find out…

There are so many aspects of the book that make you smile…especially where the so-called lower castes or the poorer people help others worse-off. And there are several things that make you feel sad…and leave a hollow feeling. The book has a bitter-sweet ending.

I absolutely love the book and have read it twice. Yes it is a thick book (about 600 pages) but it is an easy read and flows really well. From all Indian authors I have read, Rohinton Mistry remains, by far, my favourite. He tends to have Parsi characters but I don’t find that a problem. A Fine Balance is my favourite book by an Indian author. In this book, Mistry never names the City by the Sea but I suspect it is Bombay. A city where several people around India migrate to with hopes and dreams…and some of whom do not get what they expect.

Highly recommended!!! A page-turner for sure. And after that, I’m sure you are not going to be surprised with my rating: 5

Until next time,

Cheers!!!

The Journey of Om

*** This post has been cross-posted at Over Cups of Coffee***

This is a book by Chandru Bhojwani and follows the journey of the protagonist, Om, and his two close friends Mona and Arun, following being betrayed by his girlfriend Preeti. This is the first book I am reviewing upon the author’s request.

Om walks in on his girlfriend, Preeti in bed with another acquaintance and is expectedly broken-hearted. Thus begins his spiral into depression as he gets nostalgic about the relationship and what could have been, and simultaneously receives support from his two best friends Mon and Arun while trying to get on with his daily life. At the same time, Mona is dealing with her own issues of being in her late-thirties and unmarried (which is a curse if you are Indian and a woman!) However, she ‘meets’ someone online — an Indian guy based in Hong Kong and takes the plunge leaving LA to meet who she believes is her soulmate. Arun on the other hand, is perfectly happy with his relationship with Rakhi, a medical student. However, her parents think otherwise. The reason: Arun is not earning enough in his market researcher job to support their princess.

The book moves from past to present and looks at Om’s depression, his battle with the bottle, his friendship being tested with Arun, his views on Mona’s decision, his friendship with Jim, and how he overcomes the betrayal by who he thought was ‘the one’.

What I liked about the book:
It’s an easy read and a good past-time. It is one of the few books by Indian authors that doesn’t portray living overseas as being bad and that the ultimate goal should be to go back to India. That, for me, was a refreshing change! It also shows the protagonist as having a close friend who is not Indian. Again, something I have not really come across in most books by Indian authors who seem to show that only an Indian can be another Indian’s trusted friend.

What I did not like about the book:
Too Bollywood-ish for my liking. Yes, there was too much melodrama and crying that it reminded me of a Karan Johar movie in some parts. And I am not a fan of Karan Johar movies. I was also a bit annoyed at the manner in which women were portrayed. Not Preeti but rather Mona and Rakhi. You get the sense that the latter are strong women and yet, they weep at the drop of a hat, they will do ‘anything’ for love to the point where it seems like they are self-sacrificing. They do kind of redeem themselves towards the end but it was still not enough for me personally. Finally, the ending was a bit of a disappointment. It was an open ending…and I normally like those…but the manner in which is was left open was disappointing. Just when I was having high hopes about how the book was doing something most Indian books don’t seem to do, it took a twist that left me disappointed.

Read it without any expectations for any deeper level themes. It’s about relationships: love and loss. And if you believe in soulmates and are a romantic, you may enjoy it more than me. I am not much of a romantic. But it wasn’t a complete shocker :)

I rate it a 3.

Until next time,

Cheers!!!

Front Cover Friday – 16

I have two book covers for this week.  I stumbled upon them while browsing through Krishna’s Book Reviews.

Besides having beautiful covers; the books are from Indian Authors which made me like them more. I surely want to explore more books from these two writers.  You can read detailed reviews by S. Krishna   here and here.

Have you read any of these ? Do share the link if you have done the review. Will love to read it.  :-)