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Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Book Review- The Shadow Lines- Amitav Ghosh

Title- The Shadow Lines
Author- Amitav Ghosh
Pages- 267



The back of the novel has a comment by Khushwant Singh saying- 'This is how a language should be used' and that lines resonated in my mind as I read this wonderful masterpiece by Amitav Ghosh. The book has a narrative that shifts back and forth in past and present and it is all woven very beautifully.

One beautiful thing about this novel is that it has no breathers. There is no way you can consider a part of it read or be done with a chapter or a section. You have to read it in the same breath and if you fall behind, you need to go back, revise where you had left and then resume. It is not one of the books you take lightly. Also, there are no threads left bare and hanging in the end, it is all perfectly sewn together so that the ending feels like a well-crafted, well-orchestrated landing.

The novel is a first person account of a guy who grows up in Calcutta (and not Kolkata) and his life is sprinkled with ripple effects arising from Dhaka, London, Sri Lanka, Kashmir and other places. It actually is an amusing thing when the protagonist picks up a compass and draws a circle with radius comprising the distance between Dhaka and Kashmir. It drives home the author's point in more ways than one and lets the discerning eye read the message about the interconnected nature of our lives and also the pointlessness behind conflicts.

The language is smooth and the effort that must have gone behind coming up with the right words and the right phrases doesn't really show. Of course, the novel is completely Indian in its feelings and narration and that's why, I can see why some Westerners might be having a problem reading it with ease.

For me, it was a job well done and it totally deserved the Sahitya Akadmi award that it got.

5 Stars!

Friday, 10 October 2014

Book Review- To Rise Again At a Decent Hour- Joshua Ferris

Title- To Rise Again At A Decent Hour
Author- Joshua Ferris
Genre- Fiction
Price- Rs 599
ISBN- 978-0-241-00383-1
Publisher- Penguin
Pages- 337
                                                            
I picked this book up for its fresh content more so, because it had dentistry in it. Also, the fact that it has made to this year's Booker shortlist was pretty convincing. In 4 days from now, we will know whether it beats Neel Mukherjee's The Lives of Others among others to win the coveted prize but meanwhile, it can be safely said that it is already a winner. It is apparently the author's third book and he is only in his late 30's. Hmm.. successful in his late 30's- that is exactly what the protagonist of this book, Dr Paul O'Rourke can be described as.

The book talks about a well established practice of one Dr O'Rourke DDS who has a dedicated staff which includes one of his ex-girlfriends too. Having an ex at your workplace can be a real pain for you but real entertainment for the bystanders and that's what it is for us. The humour arises from all the awkwardness and unease in this setup. The dentist also takes religion pretty seriously and there is a lot of dark humour attached to what he does to get accepted in closed groups like Roman Catholics or Jews. Although I am not very well acquainted with the jewish history and traditions. Growing up in India, I have always had my hands full managing the knowledge of Buddhism, Hinduism, Jainism, Islam, Sikkhism and Christianity so, I never really had the theological space to lend for Judaism but this novel parks the car of Judaism in my closely packed space so snugly that it is amazing.

(spoiler alert)
There is also talk of several cults which form the centerstage of the novel. A cult tries to contact O'Rourke by impersonating him. It was a quirky way to contact someone and it was hard to reconcile for me as a reader that someone claiming to be your wellwisher would do that. The cult complains of being ignored due to Judaism hogging all the limelight with all the holocaust, Hitler and stuff. This is where the novel takes a DaVinci Code-esque turn and things start to get a bit suspense-y.

(spoiler over)

 I personally enjoyed the dental humour more than this part, more so, because it seemed like a commercial for Ulms and other neglected cults. I am not even sure the historicity of the facts stated by the novelist are true or not and am too confused to start any research.

The language of the book is pretty innovative and colourful. The word 'cuntgripped' appears quite often in the novel and every time, it makes me smile. Think of it is an extrapolation of 'henpecked'. The author used the word 'me-machine' to describe phones, tablets etc and that too rings a different kind of tone. It was innovative.

The ending seemed rushed but then, after 300+ pages, you do tend to start winding up all the spread out thoughts. The story in itself is purposeless which gives it an artsy feel. There is no conclusion and the ending is quite Bollywood-esque.

As an Indian reader, I'd say that this novel made me smile a lot, it gave me intrigue and also confused me. It failed to get full marks from me because we, as Indians in general and storytellers in particular seek purpose in stories and sometimes we don't like to be confused.

I give it 4 stars out of 5

****/5

Thursday, 9 October 2014

Episode 19- The Last Call


Me and my team Inspirati are participating in the Game of Blogs by Blogadda and this is the final episode of our story Kidnapped. It was a fun experience and I'd like to thank everyone involved for their constant support and inspiration.

Game of Blogs


Kamla's firm resolve was going to pit her against the same kind of danger that had engulfed her early years. She was ready to run on the wide open highway with Roohi in her arms as the armed assassins chased her and shot her down. Her heart was beating furiously and her brain had gone into an alternating loop of nervous frenzy and firm resolve. She wondered about her chances. 'Was it late to turn back and run away? How did it get so late so soon?'- she thought as palpitations gripped her head, chest and wrists. 

In moments like these, one doesn't really pray for success. What does a driver think right before a collision? What does the deer think right before the cheetah catches up with it? These are the moments which makes you want to press the eject button, pull the power cord, apply the brakes; just do whatever it takes to make the situation go away but you cannot abort, you cannot end the struggle because all the buildup takes you to a cliff and the only way you can come down is via a free-fall. Kamla was about to take that leap and there was no turning back. She could just go out and come back from the washroom and sit in her place. Everything could still be avoided and she might actually end up getting relieved from this heinous business after this final kidnapping. But her mind had planned ahead of all the things that could transpire in the near future. In her mind, she was already Roohi's saviour. She was ready to be martyred and the option to chicken out had been closed down.

The car screeched to a halt as one of the goons spotted a petrol pump. He asked Kamla to get down and be done with her business. Kamla's mind had already played out this scenario a million times in her imagination. She was ready for it. 'I think the kid might also need to freshen up. I am taking her with me.' Kamla said with such nonchalance that there was no question for the men in the car to answer. They just grunted dejectedly and asked her to make it quick. 

Kamla took out Roohi, the little 9 year old, 'She might be running a fever'- Kamla thought to herself. She held her up and started walking toward the washroom. The petrol station was the typical highway station in the middle of nowhere. The  washroom was toward the backside of the building and Kamla hoped for a hidden exit route in the vicinity. She had planned an escape where she'd just jump into the paddy fields behind the petrol pump and start running; in her mind she had dodged all the bullets and ran perfectly across the field to reach some sort of safe refuge from where she could take Roohi to the police. Real life rarely lives up to such high expectations. Not an open field or jungle but a brick wall awaited Kamla in the backside. She felt helpless and the walls started closing in on her. She thought of calling the police from her mobile. She thought about the consequences and couldn't think of anything happening by informing the police that would be worse than handing Roohi to the trafficking mafia. Even her dying in the crossfire. 

Kamla smiled wryly as she dialed the police control room number from her phone. Her worries had reached a stage of helplessness where she could no longer stay apprehensive. She was ready to die finally. She was ready for the worst.

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Tawde had grown impatient in the last half hour. Kamla's phone was out of coverage area and the mafia don which he had coordinated with for getting his estranged daughter back to him had also stopped taking his calls. Had he planned foolishly? He thought long and hard about the possibility of Roohi being taken away to some secret place and sent off to some God forsaken country. Sweat-drops danced over his eyebrows and his nervousness grew in leaps and bounds. He took out his cellphone and checked for any messages but there were none. 

'No matter how far you've gone on a wrong road, turn back.'- a startled Tawde turned around to find Aryan standing right behind him. Those words gave a feeling in the room that Tawde's secrets were finally out. 

Tawde looked around to check if someone in the police station was overhearing them and then spoke to Aryan in a hushed panicked tone- 'So you know, huh?' 

Aryan stood there with a grim, unflinching expression. It was an old trick in the book. The less you speak, the more the other person divulges. 

Tawde grimaced and began disclosing things which Aryan hadn't even fathomed. 'Yea, ok. So Roohi is my daughter and I exchanged her in the hospital with the stillborn of the Duttas. I wanted her back and this was the only way that seemed easy. I couldn't bear the thought of her being away from me. Living a life that was disconnected from me. Yes, I collaborated with the kidnapping mafia but I was going to bust their racket after this small operation. Trust me, I did keep you there to keep an eye on Kamla and had planned to eventually tell you everything but I also wanted you to gather intel about this gang. I didn't tell you earlier because I knew this was dangerous and if you knew, you'd not let me go through with this plan.'

Aryan had not even imagined this twist in the plot. He had already placed Tawde as a kidnapper and wanted to know the reasons. He had prepared to hear a story about how Tawde was being made to do all this, or how he was just broke and had taken up an alternative career choice but this fatherhood and long-term planning was news to him. 

'But now...' Tawde stopped and Aryan blurted out, 'now what, Prakash? Now what? Now they are taking the little girl away and you are realizing that you're not the puppeteer anymore? You like to be in charge. That is your problem. You wanted things your way and that why you didn't involve me, you went to the mafia, you hired people to get your job done and now you're worried that the onus of this failure might fall only and only on you?' Aryan had come to his own after the revelation session, 'I still don't understand how you suddenly have a daughter and a secret mission but all I know is that there is a kid out there and her life is in jeopardy due to some very very stupid people. I should have never said yes to this plan, it was flawed since the beginning. But what is done is done, c'mon, let's get moving now. We need to get this girl home.'

Tawde followed Aryan. It was a weird moment of paradigm shift where the whole dynamic of their friendship changed. Aryan had taken control and Tawde was suddenly helpless. The duo moved toward a room the sign above which read- 'Police Control Room'.

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Jennifer had no clue how Cyrus was a part of the quagmire that had riddled her life for the past few days. It is funny how we know so little of the person that we love sometimes. She waited for Cyrus to wake up and come clean about everything. She secretly wanted him to be an undercover cop who was on a mission; 'God, that'd be so awesome.'- the child in her thought. The adult in her was still in prayers as Cyrus was still in coma. Doctors said his signs were improving and Vijay looked a bit worried. She wondered if Vijay wanted Cyrus to die. 

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Shekhar and Tara had finally made amends and looked more like a couple than ever before. Grief and joy bring people together and love uses the strangest ways to spring again. Ever since Roohi went missing, they had more or less been on the same team and all the crying and shouting had finally broken the silence that had gripped them for years. There were so many things that had been left unsaid which came out and cleared out so many things of past. They sat in a warm embrace and lent each other figments of hope to hold on to, as the chances of finding Roohi got bleaker and bleaker.

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Kamla dialed the police control room number and strangely, a familiar voice came from the other side. She asked for help, half apprehensive of the voice that she couldn't place where had she heard before. Aryan took her coordinates and told her that help was on its way. Tawde stood in a corner, thinking calmly whether there was life after this nabbing. He seemed at ease but his eyes wore a blank, foreboding expression.

Aryan placed his hand on Tawde's shoulder. They both looked at each other and moved out like members of a regiment deputed for war. Both of them wore a stoic expression. As Tawde boarded the jeep, he thought of the holes in his plan. In his fatherly anxiety, he had forgotten that Roohi was a 3 year old and was bound to ask questions about her dad and mom. Wasn't it better if she was left with the Duttas? Aren't they her real parents now? He wanted this secret to die with him now. He was happy just meeting Roohi occasionally as the friendly police uncle who rescued her from evil kidnappers. Aryan was looking at Tawde this whole time. He had suddenly begun to pity his colleague and gave him a smile as a courtesy when Tawde turned to him.

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Vijay went up to a worried Jenny and sat by her side in front of the ICU room. He quietly just handed her his mobile phone which had the twitter app open. She was too distracted to look closely at the mobile so, Vijay just pointed at the trending topics section of the page. #FindingRoohi was the trending topic of the day. Finally Vijay's media connections had paid up and he had gotten the news to spread nationwide via twitter and facebook. Jenny looked up at him with gratitude, she knew that Vijay was doing all this for her. It was a warm gesture but it was devoid of altruism. Cyrus was trying to save Roohi when he got hurt. And that was not to impress Jenny. Vijay was no Cyrus; but she still gave him a smile. Vijay smiled back and realized in his heart of hearts that this was just his consolation prize. 

Tara and Shekhar had been getting calls ever since the twitter trend had finally begun. They were calls from random strangers who wanted to help. It was an overwhelming gesture but they didn't know if it was taking them anywhere. 

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Tawde and Aryan raced on the highway on a speeding jeep as they tried to reach the petrol pump in a hurry. There was too much on the line and time was a scarce commodity. They wanted to put an end to this whole fiasco.

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'Who were you talking to?' A man from the kidnapping gang suddenly popped in front of Kamla. She didn't know how to respond. She should have been more careful but there was no use repenting anymore. The men tied her up along with the girl and shoved her in the backseat. It felt like 'the end'.

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A group of college kids who were on a road trip had stopped at the petrol station for petrol . They saw the car speeding away into the narrow road by the side of the highway disappearing in the rural landscape leaving behind a cloud of dust. They had seen the funny business going on in the backseat of the car. Out came the smartphones and the twitter app popped up on all their screens. The ball was in social media's court.

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Tawde got a a call from Shekhar who connected him to the college kids who had seen the car disappear on the nondescript kuchcha road. Soon, the jeep was also in the fields and behind it were more jeeps with more armed men.

They finally reached a village where the villagers had formed a circle around a car which was found abandoned. The goons apparently had come to know of the social media campaign #FindingRoohi and had panicked and ran away. Tawde swore under his breath and vowed to catch them all soon. Aryan had unlocked the car and rescued both Roohi and Kamla from inside. The chase was finally over.

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There was a thankfulness in Tawde's eyes for Kamla. Kamla held the look of a woman who demanded no mercy. She expressed her wish to turn protected government witness which was immediately taken in consideration. The arms of law were soon to be closing in on the perpetrators of the crimes that had taken away Kamla's childhood. 

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Shekhar and Tara were finally united with Roohi. They were grateful to Tawde and had almost forgotten about Aryan who understandably was missing from the scene when Roohi was returned. Cyrus finally came out of coma and Jenny went inside the ICU to meet him. There were so many unanswered questions in her mind. Vijay sat outside the room for a while and then left.

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Epilogue

Cyrus after coming out of the coma, finally revealed how he had met an anonymous person asking legal advice about getting his daughter back on an online legal forum. He had noted down the case in his blog because the person had also mentioned that he was a policeman and could manipulate the law if needed. He had totally forgotten about the case until he saw Roohi's pictures. He noticed that she had features not very similar to her parents. She also seemed to be kidnapped in way described by that online poster. As the case was fresh in his memory, he had drawn conclusions that Tawde might just be the mastermind of this kidnapping. He had emailed the link to this secret post that he had entered in his private blog to Jenny. 

When he saw Jenny getting involved in the case, he got reminded of the online poster's comment where he had confessed that he was ready to kill if that's what it took to get his daughter back. Cyrus was scared for Jenny and that's why tried to discourage her from physically pursuing the abductors. By a twist of fate, he ended up doing the same thing and getting injured in the process. 

Tawde knew that luck was against him this time and he turned himself in before Cyrus divulged the details of their online conversation.

Till this date, Roohi doesn't know that she is adopted.



“Me and my team are participating in ‘Game Of Blogs’ at BlogAdda.com. #CelebrateBlogging with us.”