The Peshwa: War of the Deceivers

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Tell me that a 400+ paged novel about politics, war and strategy will have me rooted to the spot for over 6 hours and I’d probably have laughed in your face. Well, I’d have done exactly that before having read The Peshwa: War of the Deceivers by Ram Sivasankaran. Set against the backdrop of the Mughal Empire and the increasing agitation of the Marathas against the Mughals, this second installment in the Peshwa series begins with a sense of alarm as someone from the royal family meets an unfortunate end. It then picks up the pace, touching upon the conquests of Peshwa Bajirao Bhat as he tries to weed out the Mughals from his homeland. However, a secret group of assassins, known as the Scorpions, continue to pose a serious threat, ravaging villagers and disrupting Rao’s attempts to bring the Emperor to his knees. It falls on him to capture these elusive hitmen before they get to his family and lay waste to the Maratha Empire.

Ram Sivasankaran’s writing equips you with the tools for imagining exactly what he is trying to convey. I was glad to see that it didn’t focus too much on nature imageries, rather chose to spend all its powers of persuasion in delivering crisp scenes, with an equal amount of dialogue and description of the happenings. The cruelty with which the assassins and tyrants dealt a blow to the Marathas and Sikhs is absolutely horrendous. But the author had the good sense to depict it in a subtle manner and not get into the gory details that would’ve been entirely too harsh on young, impressionable minds.

Interspersed throughout the narrative are several words in Hindi, Marathi and Sanskrit – all of which have been explained in the glossary. Something that aided in making this book extremely gripping is the fact that each of the chapters (sometimes the subsections too) followed different storylines. So you could be reading about Bajirao or Emperor Muhammad Shah or Kashibai or Nizam Ul Mulk or any of the several other characters that are featured in this adventurous, action-packed story. While the illustrations that intervene the writing are simple, they reinforce what is being told and so were a welcome distraction.

Oscillating between pride at the depicted valor of some heroic historical figures and exhilaration at the pace with which the plot of the novel advanced, I couldn’t believe how genius some of the plot points were. It truly takes a mastermind to weave such intricate designs into a tapestry borrowed from Indian history. Speaking of history, I’m not sure to what extent some aspects of this novel are true and where exactly the author’s imagination steps in to add some seasoning. But collectively, this was such an impactful and awe-inspiring account. I took a peek at the Goodreads page and was so disheartened to see that a third book in the series hasn’t been announced yet. But be sure that the moment it is out in the market, I’m going to bring home a copy. Meanwhile, you should pick up The Peshwa: War of the Deceivers for a gala time. Take my word for it, you won’t be disappointed!

Thank you Writers Melon and Westland Books for sending me a copy of this book in exchange of an honest review.

★ ★ ★ ★.5

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Cover Reveal — Paradise Towers by Shweta Bachchan-Nanda

Shweta Bachchan-Nanda’s debut novel is all set to leap onto bookshelves come 2nd week of October 2018. The book already has a very mesmerizing trailer that you can watch on HarperCollins India’s Instagram page. Here’s what the cover looks like:

About Paradise Towers:
Dinesh opens the door to the Kapoor flat to find Lata, the enchantress who works at Mrs Aly Khan’s, carrying a hot case with freshly made gaajar ka halwa. On the first floor, the inquisitive Mrs Mody wipes the dust off her precious binoculars to spy on the building’s security guard. The Singhs open the doors of their SUV, their four boys creating a ruckus – they are the newcomers, the outsiders. Through the peephole, the ever-watchful Mrs Ranganekar observes their arrival. Welcome to Paradise Towers, an apartment building in central Mumbai. Everyone here has a story to tell. Or maybe they have stories to hide.
Shweta Bachchan-Nanda’s quirky, intimate debut explores the intertwined lives in this building – a
forbidden romance, an elopement, the undercurrents of tension in corridor interactions and an explosive
Diwali celebration. Shweta Bachchan-Nanda’s is a dazzling voice that will draw you into the intoxicating,
crazy world that is Paradise Towers.


Now you know what to pick up in October for a fun read. I can’t wait to snuggle up with this book and hopefully, I’ll have a review post live soon.

Book Review — Dreamers by Snigdha Poonam

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Snigdha Poonam’s Dreamers brings to light the struggles and aspirations of the Indian youth. In a society that is brimming with job seekers, the paucity of employment propels these young Indians into doing whatever it takes to make ends meet. Filled with political stances and the desire to break through the gateway of modernism, this book brings to us the stories of individuals who refuse to back down.

When I heard about this book, I had a slightly different picture in mind; one of a dramatized version of what the youth in India are upto, in order to achieve their dreams. As I began reading this book, I was convinced that I wouldn’t be able to finish it because of the overwhelmingly detailed content. But the more I read, the more I wanted to know about where India was headed, in terms of the mentality of its youth, their actions. The author’s writing style is commendable. She writes very eloquently, in a non-judgmental manner. Themes of religion, bigotry, woman empowerment, violence, technology and modernism are highlighted throughout this tome.

Something that irked me about this book was that I felt it was not really inclusive. In the sense that it doesn’t draw a fair picture of the youth of India. A majority of the stories were about men (I don’t have a problem with men and neither is this about feminism. So don’t misconstrue my words.) and then, none of the stories covered the southern states of India, or even the East. I agree that it must have been extremely difficult to seek out youngsters from different parts of India. But for equal representation, it would have been nice to know about individuals from different backgrounds. Some of the stories and morals that come to our attention when reading this book concerned me a great deal, because it unearthed the face of a highly intolerable and prejudiced future. While it’s important to be aware of that, it doesn’t color my opinion of everyone below the age of 25 years. This book has just equipped me with the affirmation that we are a fierce bunch, ready to do whatever it takes to fulfill our goals. All in all, I would recommend Dreamers to those who enjoy nonfiction and are interested in the subject matter.

Ratings – 3.5 out of 5 stars

What do you get out of it? An indepth glance at some of the mindsets that are the future of our country.

Thank you Penguin India for sending me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. 

Book Review — Amla Mater by Devi Menon

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Amla Mater is a very short graphic novel in which the narrator recounts her childhood memories. The act of making gooseberry pickle reminds her of the times she had spent in Kerala with her childhood friend, Maya.

I was very intrigued by the title of the book and also the fact that it’s a graphic novel. However, I found it to be an okay read. For starters, the sketches weren’t all that captivating and in my opinion, didn’t add to the story. There was some kind of a formatting issue which disrupted my reading experience. There’d be text missing or aligned haphazardly. Moreover, this book was too short for me to actually connect with the story. On the other hand, reading this book reminded me of my grandmother because she too, like Maya’s grandmother, makes delicious gooseberry pickle. So that’s the one thing I liked – I could relate to the essential theme of being grounded to your roots. I wish this book had been written a bit more elaborately to allow us readers some more insight into the life of the narrator. That way the author’s intent would have been delivered with much more clarity.

Ratings – 2.5 out of 5 stars

What do you get out of it? A quick read that’s filled with cultural emblems and transports the reader to their own childhood.

Thank you Yali Books for sending me an eARC in exchange for an honest review. 

Book Review — Aqson Level 1 by Sreejib

Aqson Level 1 is an action packed Indian fantasy fiction that has so many layers to it, it’s a complete feast! God and Lucifer have started a new game, the goal of which is to make their weapon the Prime Minister of India. They launch their angels onto the battlefield to defeat one another and take control of all the weapons that Nature has endowed them with. Toya Mahapatra and her friends were only getting by with their college when an unforeseen incident pulls them into the student politics scene in Kolkata. They soon realize just how influential they have become on a national level. What they fail to realize is that governing humans is but a game to God & Lucifer; unfortunately for them, they’re neck deep in the mess.

FINALLY! An Indian fantasy fiction that has been done right. When I heard about this book, I was extremely enthused at the idea of a fantasy plot being based in India. But this book just blew my expectations away. There’s so much going for it:

  • For gamers – The surface level plot being a video game with maps, rules, opponents, weapons etc. 
  • For fantasy lovers – Mythology, elemental magic, angels.
  • For politically inclined – elections, youth politics, strategising. 
Image Courtesy – Goodreads

All of the above are masterfully woven into the multiple plot points that constitute the book. There’s so much more I could list, but I will leave it to you to discover. The author’s writing style is very descriptive, focusing on minute details to give you the complete picture. I liked the fact that some of the speech occurs in Bengali (there’s translation too! so don’t worry about that.) and cultural motifs have been generously sprinkled throughout the novel. In addition to being of fantasy genre, it is also laced with a certain kind of thrill and humor that makes it all the more enjoyable. There were so many mesmerizing moments where I couldn’t believe how intricate and genius the plot points were!! The world building is mind blowing. On the other hand, there were small instances that could have been more convincing. That’s something I felt could have been improved.

Speaking about characters, I downright detested Ollie a.k.a Niyol. He’s a sexist and wouldn’t stop ordering Toya around. The only time I felt remotely proud of him was during a debate (you’ll see what I’m talking about). I was also confused at times by Toya’s personality; she’d have these random outbursts. Arpita and Goenka are the two characters I liked. Arpita is dauntless, open-minded and considerate. Nevertheless, the bond that Toya, Goenka, AJ, Ollie, Rahul and Arpita share is heartwarming to say the least. They are all super protective of each other and find a sense of belonging in their tight knit group, even when things aren’t going right. I would have liked some more scenes with God and Lucifer, the little taste we get in the prologue is just not enough. Overall, I liked this book so so so much. I would recommend it to all of you fiction readers. Just give this one a try, you’ll be left speechless.

Is there a next book? Someone please tell me there’s a second book. I NEED IT ASAP.

Ratings – 4 out of 5 stars

What do you get out of it? A very unique outlook on mythology, astral travel and a refreshing glimpse of what youth could contribute to politics.

Thank you Sreejib for sending me a copy of your book in exchange for an honest review. 

Book Review — From Twinkle, With Love by Sandhya Menon

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Sixteen-year-old Twinkle Mehra is an aspiring filmmaker, looking for her big break. So when it comes in the form of her all-time crush, Neil Roy’s geeky brother, Sahil Roy, she decides to give it a go. Their school is hosting the Midsummer Night, an event that would present her with the golden opportunity to screen her film. All her life, Twinkle has felt sidelined and now, she is ready to be in the spotlight for a change. As Sahil and Twinkle work together, there builds an undeniable attraction between the two. But Twinkle is determined to not let go of her hopes of being Neil’s girlfriend; thereby putting her friendship with Sahil in jeopardy. With fame and authority clouding her mind, Twinkle risks losing herself entirely.

After having read and loved When Dimple Met Rishi, I was certain that I would love this book too. But that wasn’t the case. No doubt, it was a fun read; it’s just that I didn’t really like Twinkle. The author’s writing style is colloquial and fits so well with the tone of a sixteen year old that you won’t realize it hasn’t been written by a teenager. I find it really commendable when authors are able to adapt their writing style to the characters and cultures they are writing about. The plot explores several themes like social exclusion, familial discord, high school hierarchy etc. This is an epistolary novel, where the story is told through Twinkle’s diary entries addressed to female filmmakers who are her inspiration. That’s something I really liked. It was interesting to see what she took away from the works of a particular filmmaker.

The reason why I didn’t like Twinkle’s character as much is that she came off as a person who complained a lot. She’s either constantly whining about having lost her bestfriend or she’s swooning over Neil (even when things were happening between her and Sahil) and the fact that the popular kids don’t give her the time of the day. I understand where she’s coming from and I’m not being insensitive to her problems. But when there’s a 300 odd paged novel with a protagonist who is mature enough to want to make quality films, you’d expect the focus to be a little less on her complaints. Thankfully, Neil Roy – who is good looking, desirable, great at academics and athletic – isn’t our MC.  Sahil, who has been foreshadowed by his twin brother, Neil is a very supportive, patient and understanding character. He stood by Twinkle’s side even when I was (mentally) yelling at her. I also wasn’t particularly happy with Maddie. She simply doesn’t know the definition of being a bestfriend; abandoning Twinkle and not giving a damn about her feelings. On the whole, this book was moderately fun to read, if you don’t count the times I got annoyed with the characters. I hope Sandhya Menon’s next novel, When Ashish Met Sweetie is just as good as When Dimple Met Rishi. 

Ratings – 3 out of 5 stars

What do you get out of it? An entertaining read about high schoolers and the things that drive them.

Thank you Sandhya Menon for sending me an eARC in exchange for an honest review. 

Book Review — When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon

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When Dimple Met Rishi tells the story of two individuals brought together by the age-old Indian custom of arranged marriage. Rishi Patel’s parents set him up with Dimple Shah, and ever the dutiful son, he agrees to head to Insomnia Con to meet her. On the other hand, Dimple is the least bit interested in getting married. All that’s on her mind is to win the ultimate web development championship at Insomnia Con and meet her idol, Jenny Lindt. So when her parents agree to send her for the summer program, she can’t believe her luck! Little does she know her parents’ ulterior motive. As is bound to happen, when Dimple and Rishi meet, a whole lot of drama ensues.

This book is 40% cheesy and a 110% hilarious! I had such a good time reading it. There were a couple of instances when the narrative became a little too romanticized, and not very realistic. But it didn’t bother me enough to dislike the book. In all sincerity, I feel that the depiction of NRIs (Non-Resident Indians) is not cliched or heavily influenced by Bollywood films. The fact that the author uses cultural motifs frequently made me like this book more (better rep and all). You can very well understand the mentality of an Indian who has grown up abroad, having to juggle between two cultures. The story is told from the perspective of the two characters in alternating chapters. Sandhya Menon’s writing style is casual and inviting, imbued with Hindi phrases for an authentic touch. She has nailed down the humour so much so that I couldn’t stop laughing/ grinning for a majority of the novel. It gives you all the feels.

This book could easily have been very stereotypical, but what I really liked is that the author starts out with certain stereotypes and over the course of the book, bulldozes through them; thereby sending across a different message. Rishi and Dimple’s characters are quite contrasting depending on the situation. She is always at loggerheads with her mother about what she wants out of life. And so I was surprised to see that she couldn’t hold her own in a social scenario. When she gets bullied, Rishi is the one who gets all riled up. Sometimes (especially towards the end) I found Dimple to be unreasonable. That said, their relationship is not one of insta-love. It goes through many phases. Since the setting of this book is a college, there’s a good deal of rivalry and tension. Dimple and Celia’s friendship was just as fun to read about as Rishi and his brother, Ashish’s equation. On the whole, I really enjoyed reading this book and look forward to reading more of Sandhya Menon’s works. If you’re in the mood for a YA romance, you should definitely pick it up.

Ratings – 4 out of 5 stars

What do you get out of it? A hilarious Indian chick lit, that explores stereotypes and then squashes them to give you the heartwarming story of two individuals fighting to achieve their dreams.

Book Review — The Goat Thief by Perumal Murugan [Translated by N. Kalyan Raman]

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Famed Tamilian writer, Perumal Murugan’s 10 short stories have been compiled into this volume called The Goat Thief. Steeped in cultural nuances and throwing light on the simplicities of life, the stories draw our attention towards the very nature of humanity; be it seeking company or obsessing over ordinary objects. Some of these tales are testament to the hardships that people from lower tiers of society undergo. And by imbuing common occurrences with an almost surreal quality, this book digs its talons deep into the psyche of the reader. In Mirror of Innocence and Musical Chairs, you’ll read about household objects that grow to mean something different to certain inhabitants. Whereas, The Well and Sanctuary are two stories that hauntingly convey how the protagonist loses himself in the depths of a well.

I’m not all that familiar with translated literature, but if they are anywhere as good as this one, sign me up! What’s refreshing about this collection of short stories is that they concern the most random of things like salt shaker, toilet bowls, tumblers, wells, chairs etc. and yet there’s something so captivating about the narration. You can’t help but be in awe of how realistically basic human sentiments are unearthed by such ordinary events. As far as the form goes, there’s very little dialogue in all of these short stories. But that didn’t deter me, because the narrative was so reminiscent of several quirks and attributes unique to Indians. Two of my favourite stories are An Unexpected Visitor and The Well. Another factor that I simply LOVED about this book is that the stories have ambiguous or abrupt endings. And you can’t even see it coming. All in all, this collection is a quick read; appealing to those who enjoy stories that challenge the norms of possibility and bring out the endearing quality of companionship. I thoroughly enjoyed it and so, I urge you to pick it up!

Ratings – 4 out of 5 stars

What do you get out of it? A microscopic glimpse at the lives of individuals from different backgrounds, the little things that keep them going.

Thank you Juggernaut for sending me a copy of this book in exchange for a review. 

The Misplaced Indian

Image courtesy - Sangha Mitra
Image courtesy – Sangha Mitra

The Indian spirit is like a motherboard. It cannot be whole without its multiple subparts and as a separate entity, drives forward the existence of every Indian soul. This spirit is for us to wield and imbibe as we see fit. Yet, we somehow manage to demarcate the “true” Indian by turning a blind eye to those whose Indianness is diluted by years of westernization and foreign upbringing. This essay looks at the misplaced Indian – one who wholeheartedly wants to be part of the community, but cannot because he/she is far removed from any physical connection to their motherland.

The misplaced Indian is either overlooked to some extent in discourses of Indianness or ignored completely in discourses of foreign communities. He/she belongs to a no man’s land, caught in between two communities and not really a part of either. Such an Indian is not detached from his native because of his own voluntary actions but because of ancestors who have moved to a foreign land. And so matter of factly, they begin to learn their Indian mannerisms alongside the resident country’s value systems. Regardless of how much they want to belong, they are not accepted as equal Indians. Hence, they get misplaced in the process of migration and their identity becomes a matter of questioning.

Some Indian Literatures emphasize on the perspectives of such misplaced Indians. Kenyan born Indian, M.G Vassanji says in his book, A Place Within, “It would take many lifetimes; it was said to me during my first visit, to see all of India. The desperation must have shown on my face to absorb and digest all I possibly could. I recall an anxiety as I traveled the length and breadth of the country, senses raw to every new experience, that even in the distraction of a blink I might miss something profoundly significant.” Other notable writers who convey the sentiments of the misplaced Indian are V.S Naipaul, Shyam Selvadurai and G.V Desani. Such Indians face the anxiety of belonging, as discussed by Meenakshi Mukherjee in her essay Anxiety of Indianness. They are generations away from understanding the essence of Indianness and spend a lifetime trying to grasp what they can of the Indian spirit.

– Meera

Indian Epics and Questionable Decisions

Disclaimer – No offense meant to anyone through this post. If it struck you as negative or outrageous, please turn the other way and know I mean no harm. This is not some rant about how silly/bad the Indian epics are (because they are not!) but a general wondering about why people do what they do. 

Now that we have gotten to a point where we don’t need to be apologetic for questioning everything we’re told, I’d like to pose a question – What’s with the numerous Indian epics and the series of mind bogglingly daft decisions that propel the story?

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Image Courtesy – Google.

We are not mindless fools and we are allowed our follies, but some of the courses of action chosen by renowned characters in the epic tales makes you wonder about their logic. Their sense of reasoning is excruciatingly frustrating, to the point where yelling at the book or TV renders you the mad one. Why in the world did the cultured, familial Pandavas (of Mahabharata) think it was okay to wager their own family members for a game? And when an entire court didn’t raise an objection to Draupadi being abused, the brothers got all riled up about their lack of “righteousness”. On the other hand we have King Bindusar of the Maurya Dynasty who, for a majority of his life, lived under the influence of his multiple scheming wives, ministers and others. He was a king loud in voice but not bold in opinion. As chance would have it, his beloved wife Dharma a.k.a Subhadrangi was estranged from him because of the looming threat on her son’s and her lives. Enter the Great Emperor Ashoka who, courtesy of his mother and Chanakya’s plotting, doesn’t know he is royalty for the longest time. Don’t you think that a lot of lives would have been saved had Dharma/Chanakya decided to come clean to Bindusar and Ashoka? Trying to protect a loved one is not silly, but when that introduces detrimental complications, its better to stray away from the “highway”.

Image Courtesy – Google

Then we have Kunti who gave up Karna, her first born son, because of the illegitimacy situation.  All his life, he was faced with challenges that could have been kept at bay had society known the truth about his biological parents. Heights of injustice are crossed when towards the end, she beseeches him to not kill her other sons (the Pandavas) and so he sacrifices himself for brothers who don’t know of the shared lineage. Whereas the banishment of Sita by Ram based on the word of a fisherman appears to be ridiculously inconsiderate when compared to his natural personality which is a lot more genteel and loving. Quizzical, isn’t it!

It’s not that any of the above mentioned characters are actually incapable of rational thought but the fact that, at a time of dire need, reason seems to evade them – just wooshes past their head. For some incomprehensible reason, withholding information seemed to be the way they rolled. That was their ultimate solution to all problems. And no, the excuse that it is all for the supposed “betterment” of their loved ones/ the kingdom is rubbish. These actions/decisions were expedient if nothing else.

I haven’t read up on all of our Indian epics. And despite the fact that such instances are nerve-grating, I absolutely love the Epics – not only because they convey our Indian sensibilities but also because they propagate values like reverence, unconditional love & friendship, immateriality, determination and conquering all evil. Reading books based on these epics and then having them  brilliantly recreated into a TV series has been a boon. If you haven’t watched/read any, I suggest start with Mahabharata. I hope you will enjoy it as much as I did.

Cheers,

– Meera