Saturday, 28 February 2015

Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Lowland/ Random House India

Reviews, Vol. I, Issue III
Winner ~ DSC Prize for South Asian Literature (2014)

The Sixties. The colorful and uncannily dangerous Sixties. Nothing can describe the character of the age so aptly (of course, when decontextualized from its immediate referent) than the famous lines from A Tale of Two Cities: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair…”. The countercultural and revolutionary forces effecting, both ways, fundamental changes in life across the globe also swept over India, especially Calcutta (now Kolkata, generally acknowledged as its cultural capital) in that murky Sixties. Here it came in the form of the Naxalite Movement. In 1967, the insurgent Naxalbari, a remote village in the Darjeeling District, tucked into the foothills of Himalayas, set ablaze the dissent’s voice throughout West Bengal, particularly Calcutta. Its lanes bore witness to those ‘bloody’ days of revolution, to how the city’s intellectual hubs- its universities, colleges – fell under its great sway under the leadership of Charu Majumdar and Kanu Sanyal, and how the revolutionaries attempted a mass mobilization against the local authorities in the hope of a better world and what price ultimately they had to pay in the hands of the repressive state forces for such a dream.

Many literary exponents have turned, from different subject positions, to this potent revolutionary field to capture its various shades. While works like Samaresh Majumdar’s Kaalbela and Neel Mukherjee’s The Lives of Others give an almost full length detail of the Naxalite Movement, Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Lowland does not only project snippets of the fatalistic movement but also telescopes the repercussions the movement had in personal life, highlighting the political imbricating the personal. Of course, Lahiri, here, continues with her favorite themes of diasporic displacement and alienation in lesser degree, but  this extra dimension of the effect of political in the personal sphere is something both new and radical, setting her work apart not only from the works by the two mentioned but also from her previous ones. It is a saga of love, endured and survived even after the physical bond is severed.

The novel begins with an objective but precise detailing of a lowland, spanning a few acres in Tollygunge (a place in south Calcutta), of Tolly Club so as to initiate the reader into the very much personal lives of two Mitra Brothers – Subhash and Udayan – in a small enclave by this lowland. The narrative, sometimes elliptical, complicated, with shifts more than often from present to past and vice versa, introduces the reader with the childhood days of these two brothers, so much different in their susceptibilities but again complimenting each other as if they are ‘mirror images’: “Sitting over the chessboard they were mirror images: one leg bent, the other splayed out, chins propped on their knees”, the narratorial voice comments. While Subhash is more restraint and cautious; Udayan is a daredevil and adventurous. But one is incomplete without the other. We come to know both the brothers move to different colleges, befriending different pupils there (Subhash to Jadavpur University and Udayan to Calcutta University): Udayan gradually drifts towards leftist ideology and is finally hooked to the roaring tide of the Naxalites, Subhas leaves for America to study marine chemistry. This branching out at different directions shows their inherent differences, but, as mentioned already, their mutual understanding and complementing each other dismantle any reading along the line of archetypal sibling rivalry. However, the narrative occasionally offers glimpses of the partition days, crisscrossing the narratives of their growing up in those after partition days. Again, there is reportage of events from both national and international history, leaving the reader be deluded or read it like more of chronicle initially than anything else.

But that it is not meant to be a chronicle of political facts or a political uprising becomes clear as the story takes a sudden twist, much before the book reaches its middle, in Udayan’s death following this boisterous Mitra lad’s involvement in that Leninist-Marxist Naxalite Movement. From now on, it focuses more on the psychological ebb and flow of its character, of showing how this single event is to affect other characters and events henceforth. Shocked at the news of his brother’s death, Subhash returns home to sooth his parents’ heart but only to find himself unwelcomed, and moved by the fear that widowed Gauri, whom his brother married much against the displeasure of his parents, would face a life of hardship, he marries her again to his parents’ objections. The narrative, henceforth, concentrates more austerely on the repercussions of personal choices on the agents themselves and on their near and dear ones too. Udayan’s political choice has cost him his life, left his parents in irretrievable loss and shock they can never overcome, left Gauri alone, bearing their child in her womb. Now this choice of Subhash bears its own kind of fruits. It alienates him further from his parents. And so far his newly-wedded relationship with Gauri is concerned; it ultimately turns out to be the case of a disjointed couple, ever in search of love to dawn upon. Though Gauri agrees to marry him and moves to Rhode Island, she is a girl more at ease with philosophy, finds liberation under the alien sky, stats pursuing higher studies, ultimately moves to California to lead a pure sequestered life in the academia on her own liking.

The second half of the novel – after Gauri gives birth to Bela– becomes more psychologically incisive and poignant. Here Lahiri’s prose is so controlled, brilliantly precise and at the same time emotionally so exhilarating. The issue of parenthood, her relationship with Bela, with her past, with ghostly presence of Udayan’s memory and more importantly, with Subhash, now her lawful husband – all these are explored compellingly enough to provide us with contours of experiences the characters sometimes hold back verbally. The dark secrets in their hearts, though closed to the other characters, are unspooled before the readers through plain, suggestive, easy-to-understand language. The narrative beautifully captures the trajectory where Subhash, not the biological father of Bela, almost occupies the ‘fatherly space’, executing all those duties a father should do, Gauri, the biological mother seems to be detached, gradually drifting away from Bela, from all parental concerns and rather erecting an insulated home in her academic research. Towards the end where Gauri stands isolated from all, her portrayal not only attracts readers’ pity for what she has done, for her and only her choices, Lahiri, through an astute exteriorization of her thoughts, makes sure she has a ground for her actions/decisions. Though sometimes a reader may feel the portrayal of her character is failing, sometimes inadequate, Lahiri, apart from this objection, cuts a fine figure in matters of characterization: the portrayal of Subhash is dealt with sensibly and deftly.

The lowland with the description of which the novel begins remains a constant recurring motif throughout the story. It works as marker of change in a rapidly changing scenario of a city. But not only has that, it, cutting across the barriers of time and space, become a potent symbol, a haunting presence to the characters. Moreover, on stylistic aspect of the novel, it can be said that the beauty of the text lies in its taut structure, restraint but easy-to-follow language, self-assured prose studded with bridled eloquence, and its suspenseful narratival pattern. The psychological aspect adds a special charm to it. The impersonal style of its narrative may sometimes read like a journalistic view but this detached, matter-of-fact nature brings its own kind of elegance, providing an impartial take on and description of the characters and events. Though sometimes narrative may appear a bit stretched, it is absorbing otherwise. Covering almost four generations of a family, Lahiri’s The Lowland, which has won recently the DSC Prize for South Asian Literature (2014), is, as the back cover of the book says, “a tale of two brothers bound by tragedy, a fiercely brilliant woman haunted by her past, a country torn by revolution, and a love that lasts long past death”. And its finely-pitched absorbing narrative showcases one of the best story-tellers with Midas touch.

Reviewed by Soumen Jana, Assistant Professor of English, Subarnarekha Mahavidyalaya, Gopiballavpur and Research Scholar, Department of English, Vidyasagar University, Paschim Medinipur, West Bengal, India


Tuesday, 24 February 2015

The Mime Order by Samantha Shannon/ Bloomsbury

Reviews, Vol I, Issue III
Also available as an audiobook from Audible Studios.
Click to listen the sample audio
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Once again gold is touched through the pen of Samantha Shannon. Flamboyant and graceful imagination is portrayed by her second sequel this time more vibrantly and though it is the second script of The Bone Season still it has a rich freshness and undiluted taste for the readers, a true treat of science fiction blended exuberantly with the flavour of fantasy, adventure, blood and glimpses of future era. She has engraved a whole new genre, if not exaggerated as those characters like Paige Mahony and many thrilling ones have that uncanny ability to transport the readers to a new world of suspense and dark secrets which will compel you to want more .

The book posseses a magnetic charm which can bind the readers for a ride very adventurous and never ending excitement. Shannon is successful in bringing so many facets of a brilliant fantasy novel under one title .The readers who loved books like The Da Vinci Code, The ever charming Harry Potter or the books by Sherlock Homes are bound to appreciate the beauty of this novel. If I say in words of a true fan, then the void left by Harry Potter can be filled by Paige Mahony.

In this plot, Paige Mahony has escaped the brutal prison camp. But, now her problems have just started to multiply along with her many of the survivors are missing and Paige is the most wanted person in London now. Scion is now much vigilant and is keeping an eye on the dream-walker. As it advances, the mime lords and mime queens are invited to a rare meeting of the Unnatural Assembly, there vivid and picturesque showcasing of future generation which at one moment seems to be real. Jaxon Hall and his seven seals are all set to take the centre stage. But as it should be there are bitter fault lines throughout the clairvoyant community and the fate of underworld is yet to be decided. Yes it is a bit hazy and complex in parts but that is only a trace and be relaxed it has not broken the rythm. The flawless aroma of dark secrets everywhere and still there are hints to break the shackles of suspense and mystery which fades away as the width of the pages shift to the left.

One prominent thing which Shannon has successfully done is to make you believe that all the tunnels, drones, and the surroundings really exists in the same manner as that of R.K. Narayan’s Malgudi Days though two of them are completely different masterpieces but the intense flavour of making you believe what you read is somehow alike which ultimately makes it an excellent work. It seems so real in some parts that you can actually see yourself in the plot. Through this work she has unfurled her exceptional ability of storytelling which can mesmerize people of all ages and of all times. As you read through the lines you want to read it at once, that’s the beauty it has. There are many reasons to pick this novel, one being to revive the nostalgia of fantasy thrillers and explore more this time. Through this you will be on a journey which I can also assure that you can experience which takes you to a new world which suddenly seems real. A book which is so magnificient that it seems why so late but history repeats itself and I guess it is the next phenomena and is bound to hit the bestsellers gallery. Breaking the monotony and about to create history this time it is none other than this recipe presented by Samantha Shannon in an extraordinary manner. It is really a thing not to be missed and is really a cherishable thing of our times, which is guaranteed to be tasted again and again every time with a new flavour and imagination.

Reviewed by Partho Mishra
Check out the official trailer

Film Review - Whiplash

Reviews, Vol I, Issue III


“If you don’t have ability you wind up playing in a rock band.”
-        Buddy Rich

Ever since I have heard Joker saying in The Dark Knight (2008), ‘what doesn’t kill you makes you simply stranger’, the phrase haunted me, as I never grasped the acumen behind the saying till I saw Whiplash, written and directed by Damien Chazelle. This movie is criminally conspicuous for its pernicious perfection that cinema can deliver. Now, all these negative adjectives that I’m garlanding this movie with is for a purpose. This movie is chaotic, is troubling and will haunt you as soon as it ends. An art that doesn’t consume the artist is no art, and by art I mean here creative skills of any sort (physical or mental). Once the artist emerges out from the turbulence of his creative endeavors, so rises his emblem that keeps people in awe for ages. That’s how we have known all the greats till date and that’s how greats emerge. And this movie stands out because it brings the turbulence with all its tour de force before audience.

            This story is of a 19-year-old boy Andrew Neiman who is a first year student in a music school in New York, Shaffer Conservatory, where he is learning drums. He has been playing drums since he has been kid, and has dreamt only one dream, to be a great drummer one day. One day while practicing conductor Terrence Fletcher discovers him who further recruits him in his studio band. Thus, begins the estranged journey of a teacher and pupil that climaxes with pupil emerging over all the odds laid down by the teacher and displays the potential of the legend that he is ought to become. The story looks simple but it’s not even an iota close to the simplicity with which I have described the story. There are layers of tension accumulated within this simple story, which has been successfully brought on the surface by superlative performances of J K Simmons as the abusive Jazz instructor Fletcher, and Miles Teller as the determined Andrew.

            Across a number of reviews I have seen critics and people showing their hate for Fletcher as being the mean and obnoxious teacher who is an evil for his students. But the way I perceived this character was totally opposite. No doubt he is an evil, but he is a necessary evil. Andrew understands this and that is why even when he is totally devastated, he does not wish to blame Fletcher for his condition. Andrew never had a normal childhood. Fletcher understood this and described it accurately though viciously in front of everyone that how his mother left him and his father because she saw a failure in his father. Andrew, thus, wants everything but not the ‘normalcy’ of his father behind the veil of which he can hide his failings. Also, Fletcher pushes Andrew out of his comfort shell to confront his emotions before others. When he coaxes him in his first session with his band, he asks him to say it loudly before everyone that he is upset, and this turns out to be one of the best, highly elevated and disturbing scenes from the movie. The ambitions that Andrew caters inside his naïve head starts taking shape only when Fletcher starts putting him at the center of the odds. I loved the dinner table conversation between Andrew and his father and other family members where he emphatically admits, ‘I’d rather die drunk, broke at 34 and have people at a dinner table talk about me than live to be rich and sober at 90 and nobody remembered who I was’. Thus, characters like Andrew and Fletcher knows only extreme, as they both are driven by their ambition, one to become the best drummer and the other to produce another Charlie Parker, and they feed on their respective dreams.

            You all reading this review, do yourself a favour and watch this movie. One of the best parts of watching Indie movies are to witness the budding filmmakers bringing new sense of breathe into storytelling. Whiplash is a prime example of such cinema. Also, performances by Miles Teller and J K Simmons are so captivating and powerful that you will start loving and hating the characters in a moment, and as per the length of the movie, you all will be driven to the extremes of opinion just like these characters. Last but not the least, watch it for its brilliant editing, one of the best in recent movies, by Tom Cross. The editing at the climax is so sharp, the way it criss-crosses between musical instruments and characters that it weaves music of the images. This is an exceptional movie and stands tall along the sides of Birdman and Foxcatcher as a cinematic feat. Watch it!

Reviewed by Amar Singh                       
Amar Singh, is a Research Scholar from Department of English, BHU, working with Prof. Anita Singh on the topic titled, “Hyperrealism and Christopher Nolan’s Cinematic Texts.”   


In Conversation with Aastha Atray Banan

Reviews, Vol I, Issue III
Interviewed by Varsha Singh, Managing Editor, Reviews

Aastha Atray’s recently published novel Games Girls Play by Rupa Publications has won numerous heart and is still creating waves all around. We are glad to feature an on-demand interview with Aastha in the current issue of our magazine.


Aastha Atray Banan is a Delhi girl with her head up in the clouds. No wonder writing romance comes easy to her. As a journalist, for publications such as Tehelka and Open, she has written about India and its many facets right from movie stars to underprivileged Muslim girls playing basketball. As a romance writer, she aims to write about relatable love you know, the kind we all feel. Currently an assistant editor at Hindustan Times' Sunday magazine, Brunch, she lives and dreams in Mumbai.



VS: A warm welcome, Aastha! Thanks for taking out some precious time from your tiring schedule.  It means a lot. My first question; we already know that writing is like food for you, yet asking – what makes you write?
Aastha: It’s the only way I express myself. It’s the best way to talk about my feelings, my imaginary life and all those romantic thoughts that my head is full of.

VS: Was there a special moment, when you realized that you are made for the world of creativity, rather than the technical world?
Aastha: I have always been a romantic person, who saw the world through rose coloured glasses. All I did was read, listen to music and write. I used to write books in diaries about me and my friends going for mad adventures. So it was always meant to be.

VS: Your work explores the meaning of the word ‘liberation’ – could you define this?
Aastha: I hate that we have to be confined to a “label”. That’s what liberation means to me. You are free to be who you are, love who you want and live however you want.

VS: How did Games Girls Play happen to you? Did it happen the Siya’s way, as per your narrative? (Siya – Protagonist from Games Girls Play other than Natasha)
Aastha: No. I wrote the Mills and Boon and when Rupa came calling, I just came up with this book. I wanted to write about how it’s so wrong to be judgmental. And friendship. And love.

VS: How much of Siya and how much of Natasha exists in you?
Aastha: Both exist in me. I was more of Siya till a few years ago, and now I am more of a Natasha. I am both. I am comfortable with being both. It depends on my mood.

VS: Which actor/actress would you like to see playing the lead characters from your recent book?
Aastha: Siya - Alia Bhatt | Natasha - Shraddha Kapoor

VS: Where do your ideas come from?
Aastha: From the world around me and my mad head!

VS: How do you think you've evolved creatively?
Aastha: I am evolving every day as I grow older because you learn with every day, every experience. I love growing old! I think I am getting more and more fabulous everyday.

VS: What are the hardest thing and the easiest thing about writing, in your views?
Aastha: Hardest is to actually write, like sit down and type. Easiest is that it lets you all the lives you want.

VS: What is coming next from your desk?
Aastha: A couple of books. Another mills and boon. And many books about women in love.

VS: What advice do you have for young writers?
Aastha: Just sit down and write. And never become jaded. Believe in love

VS: Thank you very much. Team Reviews wishes you all the best for your future endeavors.

Click to read: Review of Games Girls Play


Saturday, 21 February 2015

A Door Somewhere? by Jaydeep Sarangi/ Cyberwit

Reviews, Vol. I, Issue III

Doors to Freedom
Jaydeep Sarangi in his latest poetry collection ‘A Door Somewhere?’ grapples with the living with glowing eyes and a wide view of the horizon. He rekindles the urge for exploration of the elusive mystique and summons side by side the dissipating humanity.

In her excellent introduction, Dr Usha Bande mentioned “When words and ideas rush through the mind, there is no choice but to express them, to write them down and offer the world a vision albeit a personal one.” That is what Jaydeep believes and conveys from word to word, from image to image in constructing a ‘living totality’. He reiterates, “Poems are the ventilators for fresh air to come in a suffocating life of fact and reasons.”

Jaydeep is easy on ears and his readers will enjoy reading especially for that reason.

Each death has a story./Each story has a reader./You and I are in the story. (Counting Beads)
Some of his poems are insufferably emotive. Always drawn to lyrical moments and allure of truth, he captures the essence of life bit by bit.

Life’s ember/Sparks with a flash/A tender journey within/With a magic rod/To enlighten each rock/Speaking to one another.

Most of his poems are held together by the intensity and the urge to share the visual beauty and lyrical grace but never have they shrunk from showing the actual space and time. We can figure out (they have long roots) what they mean and what their world for all the same.

Life’s acts are shadows of the past/Shadows are residue/Of light and lighted trajectory./The optimists you. (Playing with Shadows)

Keki Daruwala, the noted writer, very aptly said “Jaydeep Sarangi gives a fresh paint to everyday living.” The firmly worded and contoured or glistening, his poems are full bodied painting.

A place has an echo of the people/All around the power circle./Night’s crossing over/Embracing the red Sun at the horizon/Radiation of a power hub/Sweet birds twitter for/One being and consciousness. (Dawn at Pondicherry).

Admittedly, ‘Door’ is the word that lift the soul submerged and Jaydeep knows well that words using as metaphors (‘a door is always a door’) can have consequences, just like actions. Yet in many instances, it’s in the repetition of the signature word ‘Door’ in a symbolic motion, the whole details are told in a perfect manner.

It’s a door between the self and the world,/Despair dances in Hope’. (A Door- Somewhere?)
Or
A poet is a translator/He translates for his reading world/Through a door,/Whispers in time/To another door somewhere. (A Door)

It’s not so much that the poet is scared or unwilling to enter into the burgeoning mix and the complexities of the modern world but still he finds his way to the mind of the readers who share resonance with their life and experience. He is a word artist, not fighter, no dewy doubt about it.

Blood is sold at low price, all can buy it./May be with a discount/One bottle free, if you buy one (Globalised manners)

So creative, so vivid and rich are his poems that they inlet at a deeper level than the normal process and change the direction of the thought streams. The visual imagination is always tested in his verses.

You and I/Alone in this circle of actions/The coconut tree my father and I planted/Dances sweetly along the monsoon thunderstorm./My father had left me alone./Wheel runs on me, I wait for my second coming (Lonely Bard)

In spite of good intention, a few of the poems are more like wish-fulfillment or the pleasure principle. (A mirror or In memory of an Inkpot etc.). That said, the beauty of the language in undeniable in spite of the subject of the poems sinking into insipid conversations. In a way, his sympathy for the ‘Caged Bard’ is understandable and he can wait and surprise the passionate readers later on with these gems,

The daybreak is leaning/On the doorway now, with shadows of an earlier night,/Night’s lullabies welcome the yellow sun (Day Breaking)
or
I conjure, I wait./everyone is only waiting,/patiently waiting./each one for the other… (Waiting)

In his note, Jaydeep mentioned emphatically ‘Poems connect continents’. Reading the book, cover to cover, does provide a rich experience of a long walk across the continents to the door of poetry and his poetry is always a pleasure to read. Staying resolutely independent, he is surely forging ahead a path, embedded in history and peerless in dissecting the humanity and beauty in their simplest forms.

Rob Harle’s Cover design and Artwork is in tune with the metaphor of this poetry collection. You readers do yourself a favour and read this book at the earliest.

Reviewed by Gopal Lahiri

The Feast of Roses: A Royal Saga by Indu Sundaresan/ HarperCollins India

Reviews, Vol. I, Issue III

Indu Sundaresan’s second novel ‘The Feast of Roses’ is the sequel to her first ‘The Twentieth Wife’, wherein the latter deals with the life of Mehrunnisa, the former accounts her tenure as the Mughal Empress NurJahan.‘The Twentieth Wife’ ended with MehrUnNisa becoming empress through her second marriage with Emperor Jahangir who entitled her as Nurjahan in 1611. ‘The Feast of Roses’ picks up the narrative from here to continue her later life as the Queen Consort of first half of the 17th century Mugal India.

The blind love of Jahangir for Nurjahan widens latter’s way to exercise a strong influence over him. The eventful journey of becoming an Empress from a common woman made her more diplomatic, deceitful, manipulative, political, scheming, shrewd, and selfish who played underhandedly to raise and hold her position intact inside the royal zenana and surprisingly outside the world of men as well. She played the game of power and politics in their true terms. She formed a junta with Ghias, Abul, and Khurram to help herself in reigning the empire and she was successful as it was evident that from behind the veil it was her voice that controlled the actions of Jahangir. She venally snatched the title of Padshah Begum from her arch rival, consort Jagat Gosini (mother of Prince Khurram, alias emperor Shahjahan). She rounded her stick all over the state affairs be it granting trading permission to the foreigners or sending cogent Mahabat Khan to the furthest Qabul. She was a self-centred woman. She did love Jahangir but it never superseded her self-obsession which even took her to an audacious public brawl with the Emperor ending with a scuffle. Whenever Jahangir had fallen ill she genuinely got anxious but the apprehension was more for the powers she exercised. She became one of the very few Mughal ladies who possessed the power to issue royal farmans using the imperial seal and the only Empress to have her name minted with on silver coins. She even tried to arrange a marriage between would-be emperor Khurram and her own daughter Ladli despite knowing that Ladli was the cousin of Khurram’s most beloved wife and her own niece, Arjumand Banu (later empress Mumtaj Mahal). But this time she failed and gradually the course of events took unexpected turn for Nurjahan. Arjumand was envious of her aunt’s position and power everywhere in the empire. She started giving counsel to Khurram which led him to dislike NurJahan day by day and finally the junta broke. Khurram’s refusal to marry Ladli made the empress more furious and she started planning her game deviously. She approached to prince Khusrau and later convinced prince Shaharyar to marry Ladli and started putting him as the next heir before Jahangir. At first things were running in favour of her. Nurjahan made Jahangir angry with Khurrram and put the latter in flight with his pregnant wife and children to escape the wrath of the Emperor. But her game was not successful. Defending all kind of her attacks Khurram finally, after Jahangir’s death, ascended to the throne as Emperor ShahJahan (1628). He sent Nurjahan for a royal exile to Lahore with Ladli where she took her last breath (1645). Indu finishes Mehrunnisa’s story with her death and ends the novel as well.

Indu once again has enwrapped her novel with rich descriptions. Marriages, hunting tours, royal attires, jewelleries, battle fronts, foods & beverages, or even conspiracies; all are vividly there to show the magnanimousness of the dynasty. She already is a proven story teller who possesses the captivating power of retaining the readers to her writing. She has offered Nurjahan under the shades of real history and imagination. Her Jahangir sometimes appears as the just Emperor and sometimes as a mere uxorious husband. Indu has named her novel after a line from Thomas Moore’s oriental romance ‘Lalla Rookh’ and concerningly introduces a splendiferous garden episode where Jahangir publicly featherbeds Nurjahan on a pathway of rose petals. As far the historical liberties are concerned, she had to give the ‘Rahimi’ to Ruqqya Sultan, actually belonging to MariamUzZamani as she deliberately wanted to elude the latter in both her narratives. Every part of the sequel like its prequel witnesses Indu’s meticulous researching to proffer Nurjahan before us, yet it fails to mirror the disputed Empress’s entire personality. Indu has focussed mostly on her political side where she is sly as a vixen always running after position and power; but history says also about her extraordinariness to write poetry (it is assumed that the epitaph inscribed on her tombstone was composed by herself), read books, or design clothes & jewelleries. One may also argue over whether both the novels bear the feminist perspectives as it is clearly apprehended that Indu had the power of feminism turned on in her mind while writing the two novels.

Indu has sincerely matured her writing style in the sequel since her first novel ‘The Twentieth Wife’ was allegedly over described and detailed. The sequel has also florid descriptions but in a more condensed and compact manner. The portrayal of Empress Nurjahan is drenched in various shades. It is surprising to see how a woman of a common birth gathers such audacity that she practically ruled the whole empire exclusively on her own terms. Her tricky games sometimes make the readers more irritated than angry. But as the novel proceeds toward its very end we do feel sorry for the proud woman and shed a drop of tears for her inglorious death in a forlorn state. It is indeed ironical that the Taj Mahal (the great monument of love, built by Emperor ShahJahan in the memory of his deceased wife Mumtaz Mahal) surpasses in notability the memory of Empress Nur Jahan, a woman of great achievement, centuries before her time. Though it is a matter of great regret that she could not left behind any such token of love which would eternise her, like her niece Mumtaz Mahal, among the masses; history will always celebrate Nurjahan who withstands all the existing norms of an Empress and dares to redefine her role as a decision maker.

The Feast of Roses’ is the second novel of Sundaresan’s ‘Taj Trilogy’. The other two novels are ‘The Twentieth Wife’and ‘Shadow Princess’.

Reviewed by Prosenjit Ghosh
A teaching associate at a Govt. aided school in West Bengal.

Shashi Deshpande’s Shadow Play/ Aleph Book Company

Reviews, Vol. I, Issue III

Shortlisted for The Hindu Literary Prize, 2014.
A Filigree of Relationships 
Shashi Deshpande while articulating about the double position of being a writer and a woman shares: “I have managed to give the main, not the supporting roles to women, erasing from my own mind the belief that they were doomed to be forever in the wings, or backstage.”

Shadow Play is no exception to the rule with its squad of female protagonists occupying positions of eminence in the novel. Be it Kalyani and Aru who amalgamate tradition and modernity to lead dynamic and wholesome lives or Seema who embraces an avant-garde career like modelling to earn creative and professional gratification. Kasturi, the beatnik comes along as the ‘New Woman’ who flouts all the outdated norms of this degenerate society. What she resents is the falsehood; she rather chooses to be truthful to herself and loyal to friends who helped her regain the lost ground. After enduring extreme cruelty in a nuptial relationship that is imposed on her, Kasturi’s resilience finally entrusts her not only emotional conciliation but professional fruition too.

The immediate world of Aru and Rohit, a lawyer-architect couple orbits around Aru’s younger sisters, Charu and Seema. Presiding over the family is the grande dame Kalyani who succors Gopal- their dad, Premi and Devaki- the maternal aunts and Aru- the eldest amongst the siblings in holding together the family after the tragic death of Sumi, the girls’ mother in a road accident. Kalyani is monumental in bringing Gopal back to the family, and its she who segues his changeover from a ‘deserter dad’ to a ‘dad dependable.’ The large extended ménage weathers all emotional tempests with panache and aplomb:
“Everyone had tried to plug the gaps, not only of those who had gone, but even of those who had never been. For Premi’s son Nikhil, to take on the role of Aru’s brother, since Aru has no brother, was easily and naturally done.”

After Kalyani’s demise, Aru engages herself with greater reason in enhancing not only the luxuriance of Kalyani’s trees and garden but also oxygenate the bonds that conjoin the human souls at ‘Vishwas’- their new house. The new house which has been built according to Kalyani’s desire for Sumi’s three daughters retains its original name. Aru envisages it to be her prerogative to guard the trust that holds the natives (resident as well as visiting) of that house together. For that she doesn’t even mind counteracting her own conduct in the past:
 “She looks after them the way Kalyani did, assiduously anointing the tree trunks with hing and watering them with buttermilk, something which she and Charu had laughed at earlier. ‘Feeding the curry-leaf trees,’ they had called it.”

Shashi Deshpande in a deviance from radical feminists gives credence to male involvement in the feminist movement. The character of Gopal is etched on the lines that men need to be coerced to assume responsibility for transforming their consciousness and the consciousness of society at large. Gopal who abandoned his family twice to seek solace in the serene Himalayas speaks of: “Paschatap and prayaschitta: remorse and atonement, they go together, one follows the other.” Shashi Deshpande gives ample space of as many as six chapters for Gopal to co-narrate the tale from his perspective, and to share his afflictions, malaise and ecstasies with the readers. The author welcomes Gopal and Kasturi uncovering a new face of love in each other in their sunset years, bereft of any guilt or contrition:
“At our ages, Kasturi’s and mine, there can no longer be thunder and lightning, no more a rush of blood to the head, no sudden savage arousal. And yet I have a sense of excitement when I am with Kasturi. She has awakened something in me. I like to be with her, I like to see her smile...feel the skin of her cheek against my palm.”

Shadow Play, a sequel to an earlier novel of Shashi Deshpande, A Matter of Time (1996) is truly about the delicacy of relationships that give life its meaning. The novel lays bare the “many selves” of the horde of characters that throng it. Howbeit, the personal memoirs are entwined around the insensitive realities of the cruel world we inhabit, the senseless and devastating acts of terrorism, atrocities against women be it domestic violence or violations evinced on their bodies in the savage gang rapes and callous marital rapes. Even tangles around the surrogacy issues and adoption find a mention in the novel as Aru and Rohit languish for a child of their own.

All these and many other concerns of the modern world are brought in precedence. The South Asian Diasporic experience post 9/11 is not bypassed too, Shashi Deshpande takes a dig at ‘the racialization of religion and xenophobia’ and considers them playing a spoil sport to many an émigré hopes and, to newer concepts of borderless world and ‘World Aborigines’:
“The two planes that sliced through the twin towers have sliced the country, indeed the world, into two, leaving Charu and Hrishi asking themselves: where do we belong? We don’t belong to the faith that terrorists claim they belong to, but the colour of our skin, our country, the part of the world we come from, mark us and make people- some of them at least –look at us with suspicion.”     

Apropos the language of the novel, it can only be said that Shashi Deshpande has proficiency with words, and of course she requisitely flavours her language with Sanskrit and Kannada words without dissipating the pristine touch of English. Her inimitable style has few equals as far as Indian writing in English is concerned. Her unique expression skills and lucid prose engages and enchants the readers.

Reviewed by Manjinder Kaur Wratch
Recipient of Maulana Azad National Fellowship, she is pursuing her doctorate degree in English Literature from University of Jammu on the topic of Partition Literature. Her M.Phil dissertation was on the translated in English works of legendary Punjabi writer Amrita Pritam. Earlier she has served as Faculty English Language and Literature in various leading institutes of the country. She has made many presentations in various national and international conferences and has many published articles to her credit.

Item Girl by Richa Lakhera / Rupa Publications

Reviews, Vol. I, Issue III

Goodreads blurb: Sunheri and Suhana—twin sisters who share a horrific childhood—get caught up in a vortex of pain and deceit when Sunheri, a popular item girl in Bollywood, is accused of murdering her vicious uncle and is sent to jail. Suhana, an aspiring filmmaker, is determined to seek justice for her sister but comes up against Kala, their stepmother, who has hatched diabolical plans of her own. And when three other manipulative item girls—Nargis, Digital Dolly and Daisy—are identified as key eyewitnesses in Sunheri’s case, the matter only becomes more complicated.

Throw into the mix an explosive rape-tape, a brutal blackmailer, a cruel boyfriend, a cynical journalist who knows too much, and a hard-boiled cop, and what you have is a mind-bending psychological thriller that will hold you hostage until the end. An intense, gripping account of the dark side of showbiz, there is never a dull moment in Item Girl.

Rupa Publications’ recent release Item Girl by Richa Lakhera is a psychological thriller, an adventurous murder mystery coming all the way just after the success of the author's first book Garbage Beat. The novel has achieved commendable response in a brief time and is still creating waves.

Lakheria’s protagonist in this novel is Sunehri – a popular item girl from Bollywood, supported by her twin sister Suhana – an aspiring filmmaker. The novel mainly revolves around the gruesome murder of KD – the manager as well as step-Uncle of Sunehri and Suhana.  

While the plot revolves around the spine-chilling murder of KD, all circumstantial evidence suggest towards Sunehri Kashyap (Sunny). She is accused of murdering her uncle in drug induced frenzy and is taken under police custody.

It is Suhana, who is determined to seek justice for her sister Sunehri, but Kala, the evil stepmother of both girls, makes the matter worse with her diabolical plans.

The narrative becomes stem-winding when the investigating officer ACP Kabir Bhonsle suspects the whole affair and goes on to conduct a thorough investigation leaving no loose ends.

However, this suspicion lead towards the revelation of numerous hidden secrets from the past lives of all characters involved – Sunehri, her sister Suhana, their step uncle KD, his sordid business associates, his sister and Sunny’s step mother Kala and the three other item girls Nargis, Digital Dolly and Daisy – the key witnesses of the murder.

Hereafter follows a baggage of events and characters that pull ACP Bhonsle towards an unforgettable journey through the squalid under-currents of the Indian film industry.

Richa’s writing is apprehensive and balanced, as required by the theme and plot of this novel. Her brisk tone does an extraordinary job by making the readers much aware about the issues which are often discussed in hushed tones. She reveals the less known, darker, disturbing facets of the industry such as the casting couch, the absolute lack of integrity and morality with which the seamy elements of the industry operate as well as the presumptuous display of wealth and power displayed by them. 

The author deserves all accolades for weaving all these elements into a single narrative in such a way that it becomes a vital part of the plot without restraining the stride of the storytelling.

Richa Lakhera is a TV journalist by profession; hence, the strength of this novel resides in its storytelling technique as it reaches out from an insider’s perspective.  Her personal research and experiences are visible in the book, as she successfully makes most of her characters unforgettable by the subtle handling of their personalities, their inner-conflicts, their strengths, their weaknesses and much more.

The brief epilogues available at the end of this book speak volumes about the maturity and seriousness of the author.

This book carries all the essential elements of entertainment including a gruesome take on the Indian film industry, which was left unexplored by the novelists.  

Reviewed by Varsha Singh

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

She Will Build Him A City by Raj Kamal Jha / Bloomsbury

Reviews, Vol. I, Issue III
Also available as an audiobook from Audible Studios.
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There was a time when Midnight’s Children was being written not just by a person, but by a nation; here comes another time when another narrative of modern India has taken birth from the womb of a nation, instead of a mind. Rajkamal Jha’s novel She Will Build Him A City published by Bloomsbury India is such a saga which tells multiple tales entwined into one grand narrative; just like this nation - India, known for its oneness and plurality; divided by states, united by a nation.

The story is about the midnight’s grandchildren as well as the great grandchildren of the same night, who are out there on the streets of a city (which is going through the process of mallification) in order to build their own destinies. It is all visible in the pages of this book. The urge is clear; to tell a tale which has been craving to come out since quite some time.

The narrative begins with three different tales, of a Woman, a Man and a Child, enveloping various identities, ideas, viewpoints, emotions such as - love, horror, grief, guilt, destiny, belonging and forgiveness, altogether, but emerges as a single, unified tale by its edge. 

The story begins where it ends; as the capital city Delhi covers itself with the quilt of night, the woman - a mother, spins tales from her past for her sleeping daughter.

“This, tonight, is a summer night, hot, gathering dark, and that is a winter afternoon, cold, falling light, when you are eight years nine years old, when you come running to me, jumping commas skipping breadth, and you say, Ma, may I ask you something and I say, of course, baby, you  may ask me anything … “

Now an adult, her child is a puzzle with a million pieces, whom she hopes, through her words and her love, to somehow make whole again.

“Tonight is thirty years forty years later.
So quiet is this little house that I can hear, from upstairs, through the walls of the room in which you are lying, the drop of your tear, the rush of your breadth.
One’s like rain, the other wind, they both make me shiver.”

Meanwhile, a young man, thirty years, thirty—five years old, rides the last train from Rajiv Chowk Station and dreams of murder.

“He is going to kill and he is going to die.
That’s all we know for now, let’s see what happens in between.”

The narration is postmodern, indeed; as incidents keep merging from past and present, enveloping the technique of flashback, most importantly.

In another corner of the city, a newborn wrapped in a blood-red towel lies on the steps of an orphanage as his mother walks away.

“The night is so hot the moon shines like the sun, its light as bloodless white as bone, casting a cold shadow of a woman as she steps off an autorickshaw, carrying her newborn wrapped in a thin, blood-red towel, tells its driver to wait, walks up Little House, a home for children,, orphaned and destitute, leaves the baby on its doorstep, turns and walks away into a wind, slight but searing, that slaps her in the face and fills her eyes with water.

An essential and interesting instance is put together in the novel through a red balloon. As this thirty years, thirty—five years old man tries to get into a relationship with a beggar girl who sells red balloon; it immediately strikes a linking cord with a short French film Le Ballon Rouge (The Red Balloon) by Albert Lamorisse. Similar to the little boy in the film, the man anticipates the balloon girl flying with him in the sky taking him on a ride over the city.

It also relates to the famous song "Girl with the Red Balloon" written by John Paul White and Joy Williams, as well as with the widely acclaimed painting - “Girl with a Balloon” by Banksy.

The characters of Jha develop as develops his city – it becomes a character in itself.  

Intriguing, intense and intricate, this may seem as the story of a city and its people; but in reality, it is the story of a nation and its people.

Raj Kamal Jha has expertly blurred the division between the narrator and the narrated. His tricks are upright and probably make one turn back the pages to confirm themselves twice, thrice. His language is effortless but layered into manifolds. As a reader of this novel, it becomes essential to be doubly sure, what has been read just the past page.

His reliance on narrative techniques such as fragmentation, paradox, and the unreliable narrator are capable enough to deceive the readers while going through the revelations of the “New India”.

The blurb of Raj Kamal Jha’s She Will Build Him A City clarifies the soul of its narrative very well - There are twenty million bodies in this city, but the stories of this woman, man, and child--of a secret love that blossoms in the shadows of grief, of a corrosive guilt that taints the soul, and of a boy who maps his own destiny--weave in and out of the lives of those around them to form a dazzling kaleidoscope of a novel.

Reviewed by Varsha Singh
Managing Editor, Reviews

Sunday, 1 February 2015

Whisper the Dead by Alyxandra Harvey / Bloomsbury

Reviews, Vol. I, Issue III

The second script of The Lovegrove legacy, Harvey brings many facets and beauty of literary fiction through the pages of this exuberant novel; a step ahead of the first book in the series. A vivid portrayal of imagination of the human mind and an essence of grace is showcased through this pace of writing.

As the plot advances, cousins Gretchen, Emma and Penelope are dealing with what it means to be a lovegrove. For Gretchen, it means she often feels that her head is going to explode. As a whisperer, Gretchen constantly hears the whispers of the witches’ spells, these in some parts are funny, though a bit irritating too in parts. While whispers help her to know when her own spells are going wrong, but on the other side the incessant buzzing and pain the whispers cause makes it difficult to use her gifts as a witch. These sequences are a joy to read, blended with suspense at its apex. Not only this, Gretchen through her deeds in various ways spreads the message of women empowerment too.

But when something evil starts to menace Mayfair, she tries to master her powers. Along with her cousins, the character of Moira is worth to mention, a madcap. Harvey brings out flawless romance through the irresistible and magnetic Tobias Lawless, but the good thing is romance is not the main ingredient of the recipe, like many other novels. It’s rather a sensational merge of humour, romance, suspense, a fast paced cliff-hanger plot, dark twists and other thrilling spices.

As the plot progresses, other characters are revealed through poetically vibrant metaphors, strong and lyrical adjectives, yes, it’s hazy and confusing in pieces but the other refreshing factors completely out shadows them. It has everything for burning a little of your pocket. A different taste guaranteed for the readers with a spellbound experience. A must read for getting the aroma of good literature.

Reviewed by Partho Mishra
He lives in Dhanbad, Jharkhand and can be contacted at parthomishra016@gmail.com