Govinda: Book 1 of The Aryavarta Chronicles

A couple of pages into the “Author’s Note” in Book 1 of the The Aryavarta Chronicles: Govinda (2012, Hachette India) by Krishna Udayasankar, I came across these lines:

We are the stories we tell. The Aryavarta Chronicles are neither reinterpretation nor retelling. These stories are a construction of reality based on a completely different set of assumptions… I am simply one of those innumerable bards who passes the story on, contexualized and rationalized but not lacking in sincerity or integrity. It is you, the reader, who shall infuse it with meaning and bring it to life as you will. (pg. vii)

Govinda, Aryavarta Chronicles, HachetteHa ! That’s what nearly every author of mythological fiction claims, I grumbled to myself as I settled down to read Govinda.

458 pages later, when I closed the book shut, I was no longer grumbling. Instead, I was keenly aware that I had just finished reading a book that had turned out exactly as Udayasankar claimed, particularly the last sentence.

Govinda was no “old wine in new bottle”, as I had initially feared, but a completely fresh perspective on the most timeless of all epics — the Mahabharata. It was a perspective that delighted me, challenged me and, more importantly, made me think.

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When I met a book cover

The best part of travel is the unexpectedness. No matter how much researches or reading one does in advance about a place, there is always something unanticipated to surprise the traveller. I always delight in these unanticipated surprises that get thrown my way and sometimes these surprises are so unexpected that it is difficult to even describe the feeling. Something like this happened when I visited the City Palace of Udaipur earlier this year.

But I’m getting a little ahead of the story, so first a little background.

Color by victoria finlay

About a year back I read a book that I can safely say enriched my life-like no other. It was Color: A Natural History of the Palette by Victoria Finlay, which traces the history of how natural dyes, paints and colours were made for a European artist’s paintbox. The book is full of stories, anecdotes, histories and adventures inspired by the human quest for colour. (I highly recommend that you can read my review of the book here.)

To say that I liked the book is an understatement and I have lost count of the number of times I have read it. However clichéd it sounds,  Color… opened up a deliciously new world before me and one that I continue to explore every single day in art, but also in textiles, interior design, music, porcelain, and craft. For me, Colour… was as perfect as a book could get for me.

The beautiful book cover, which depicted a stained glass window with panes of different coloured glasses, was an apt choice for the book. But the book gave no details as to where the window was, and even though it looked Indian, I knew that this window could be anywhere.

When I entered the City Palace of Udaipur that February morning, I was looking forward to seeing the Maharana Pratap artefacts, the Mor Chowk, miniature paintings, some wonderful views across Lake Pichola… I had an audio guide with me which gave me the perfect opportunity to explore the Palace at my pace. When I reached the Amar Vilas,  a large breezy courtyard on the 4th or 5th storey of the City Palace, nearly 2 hours later, I decided to take a break and sit for a while on one of the many benches laid out there. As I looked around, I saw the multi-coloured shimmer of a large stained glass window across the courtyard.

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Business Sutra: A very Indian approach to Management

Business Sutra, Devdutt Pattanaik, Aleph Book CompanyWhen Business Sutra: A Very Indian Approach to Management (2013, Aleph Book Company, pp. 438, Hardbound, Rs.695/-) was offered for review, I went through a dilemma of epic proportions. Authored by Devdutt Pattanaik, whose books and articles on Indian mythology I have read and enjoyed over the years, the book title had the dreaded word “management”.

Now, management books and I don’t see eye to eye, so much so that I completely ignore the management section in bookstores and pretend like they don’t exist. I’ve tried to read books recommended by friends and have found myself yawning with boredom or scratching my head at the drivel written. Management books are also probably the only reason why I don’t have a management degree ! On the other hand, I am a mythology buff and will do anything to get my hands on a book from this genre.

I’m sure you can appreciate the dilemma that I went through over deciding on whether to read the Business Sutra or not. I didn’t bite my nails or have hysterics. Just allowed my head (management) and my heart (mythology) to battle it out.

And the winner was… I got a copy of the book to read and review. :-)

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Meeting “Eskay”

It all started with a DM (Direct Message on Twitter) from Gitanjali Sriram that I received about a month back. Actually, there were 3 of them.

Hey! My dad published a book last yr ‘Indira Gandhi: The Final Chapter’ which chronicles her story from the Emergency to her assassination

The story is told thru the political cartoons he was doing for the Indian Express during those year. It’s a fab book.

Would you like a few signed copies to give away during one of the TSBC sessions?

(Note: #TSBC or The Sunday Book Club is a book chat on twitter. For more details please click here.)

Ahem… Would I like a few signed copies…? ;-) Once I had conferred with Raghav and Rahul, my #TSBC co-founders, I sent a DM to Gitanjali accepting her offer. She, in turn, sent me the email address of Suraj ‘Eskay’ Sriram, her father and author of the book giveaway, to work out the formalities involved. And a few emails later we were set.

I am embarrassed to admit here now that, at that time, I had not heard of the book or the author. A quick online search revealed that Indira Gandhi: The Final Chapter (Niyogi Books, 2011, pp.176) was a glimpse of the Indian political and social scene during the last few years of Indira Gandhi’s political regime through Eskay’s cartoons and illustrations. I also asked my older brothers and Amma if they had heard of Eskay. To which I received an immediate “Of course !” followed by a “Why do you ask?” When I gave them the background details, I was told by all of them that I don’t read enough ! :-(

But I digress from the main topic of this post: Meeting “Eskay”, which happened last Saturday in Pune. And what a meeting it was !

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Lonely places, lyrical prose

The Guest Post Series onMy Favourite Thingshas contributions by those sharing my interests in travel, books, photography, music, and on issues that I am passionate about. Though the guest posts are not always by fellow bloggers, the guest authors are always those who have interesting experiences to share.

Today’s guest author is Zephyr of The Cyber Nag, who writes about “social issues, family and kids” with dollops of humour, gentle sarcasm, and subtle nagging for our conscience without sounding patronising or condescending. In my opinion, her writing can only be classified in one category, “Excellent”. In today’s post, Zephyr moves away from the topics that she usually writes on and talks about Pico Iyer’s Falling of the Map and how, in spite of not being a fan of this genre, slowly fell in love with this book.

I heard about Pico Iyer and his highly acclaimed Video nights in Kathmandu, about a quarter century ago. But somehow, the title didn’t appeal to me. Don’t ask me why. And so Iyer remained a quaint name in the far recesses of my mind for some years.

Falling off the mapThen came his Falling off the map ( first published in the US by Alfred Knopf in 1993). This one sounded intriguing. My fertile imagination made me visuaIise the countries mentioned in the book jostling for space to stay on the map, but kept being pushed out by the other and better known countries. Sometimes these countries fought with the lonely ones, making them sadder and lonelier! But the book remained right there – in my imagination because back then I couldn’t afford to buy new books and most of my purchases were restricted to second-hand bookshops. Alas, for Falling… to come to that sales outlet, I would have to wait a long, long while.

Besides, travel books as a genre, did not hold much appeal for me. I liked James Michener’s Hawaii, but it was more a historical novel than a travel book. Till one day I picked up a small volume of Lost Continent by Bill Bryson. It was such a delightful read and made me laugh so much that I got hooked – not to travel books, but to Bryson. And Pico Iyer remained a distant name, just like the countries he had written about in that book.

It took a session of #TSBC on travel books to remind me of that long forgotten name and his book and I promptly bought Falling off the Map (2004, Penguin Books India, pp.190, Price: 250/-) from Flipkart.

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Celebrating India: A book review

What makes India a nation? What gives a common Indian identity to its billion plus population? Is it religion? Is it race or ethnicity? Is it language? Or is it something else altogether? In his essay on “The Invention of India”, Shashi Tharoor says that the answer for a common national identity, unlike in other countries, is neither religion nor race nor ethnicity nor language, but diversity.

India is never truer to itself than when celebrating its diversity. (in Celebrating India, p.14)

Celebrating IndiaThese particular lines in Tharoor’s essay sets the context for Celebrating India (2012, Nivasini Publishers, pp. 152, Rs. 200), an anthology that aims to celebrate this diversity and the “India in each of us” through memoirs, poems, short stories, travelogues and art. A special feature of this book is that all the contributors have waived off their fees and have agreed to contribute the profits of the book to the Yamini Foundation, Hyderabad.

An initiative of the publishers themselves, this anthology has contributors from various backgrounds — journalists, engineers, editors, academicians, film personalities, students, bloggers… In fact, nearly half the contributors have blogs !

The contributors are a mix of well-known names like Tharoor, Gulzaar and Deepti Naval and unknown writers (for me at least) and have attempted to elaborate on the theme of the anthology in their individual pieces. And do the contributors succeed in communicating this? Let’s see.

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