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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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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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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The House of Fear by Ibn-e-Safi

The place: Allahabad. The year: 1948. Twenty-year old Abrar Narvi was a fairly well-known Urdu poet, a sometimes writer of short stories and satires, and with a wish to write in other genres as well. One day, someone told him that Urdu novels “would not sell without an element of sex in them”. When Narvi said that no one had ever tried, the same someone retorted that until this was tried no one would know, would they?

Narvi took this remark very seriously, changing the course of his life and that of a whole legion of his readers. In 1952, under the pseudonym of Ibn-e-Safi, he produced his first novel in Urdu without an element of sex and with an emphasis on originality and newness. This novel, in the crime fiction genre, was the first of a series that came to be known as “Jasoosi Duniya”. And in 1953, when Narvi migrated to Karachi in Pakistan, another series was created in the same genre that came to be known as the Imran Series.

Ibn-e-Safi was a prolific writer and wrote 3–4 novels a month at the peak of his productive period. When he passed away in 1980, he had written about 245 novels across both the series. Published simultaneously in India and Pakistan, his novels were hugely popular as they were the type that everyone in a family could read. In fact, Ibn-e-Safi’s publishers (on both sides of the border) claim that no writer of Urdu crime fiction has broken his sales record till date!

It is this popularity which prompted an attempt at translating Ibn-e-Safi’s novels into English to enable a larger number of readers to become acquainted with his works.

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The Red House

Take two families, related families actually, and have them holiday together. They spend a week together in a neutral place, a holiday home, and interact and relate to each other, and attempt to be one big happy family. This is the plot, in brief, of The Red House by Mark Haddon (Jonathan Cape, 2012, pp. 264). But families are never simple are they, and the families here are no exception. And therein lies the extraordinariness of this book.

Richard and Angela are brother and sister, siblings who have buried their mother recently. Estranged for many years now, they don’t really feel like “brother and sister, just two people who spoke briefly on the phone every few weeks or so to manage the stages of their mother’s decline” (p. 6-7). A week after their mother’s funeral, Richard invites Angela and her family to holiday with him and his family. A surprised Angela accepts.

For Richard and Angela, this week gives them a chance to try to put their estrangement behind them and forge a new relationship. It is a week where 4 adults and 4 children try to “bond” with one another. So who are these 8 “family” members?

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