Book Review: The Painted Towns of Shekhawati

I am usually inspired to read about a place after a visit there; I have also been known to pick up something to read once I have decided to visit a place. As for packing my bags and heading to a destination after reading about it? Never, though I have added a destination to a mental list of places to visit.

Did I just say never? Actually, that has now changed to ‘just once’ when I visited the Shekhawati region in Rajasthan after reading a book about its painted havelis or mansions in January this year. The Painted Towns of Shekhawati by Ilay Cooper was a serendipitous find, and I want to first share how I found the book with you before telling you what the book is all about.

The Painted Towns of Shekhawati, Book Art Book, Ilay CooperIt was a rainy August day in 2014 and I was feeling quite sorry for myself at that time. All my travel plans were falling through for some reason or the other, which meant that I hadn’t travelled anywhere that year.

A casual twitter conversation with a friend on the Jaipur Literature Festival (JLF) got me thinking about attending the festival in 2015 and maybe combining it with some travel to places around Jaipur.

A simple Google search threw up Shekhawati as a possible place to visit. A little deeper search and book on The Painted Towns of Shekhawati popped up. Though I was aware of the painted havelis in Shekhawati, I was more than a little sketchy on the details. The book intrigued me enough to place an order and the book was in my hands a few days later.

The first thing I did after reading the book was to apply for leave at work, write out a tentative itinerary, and book the hotel and flight tickets (not necessarily in this order). Yes, I had decided to go to Shekhawati after reading the book.

So what was in the book that got me all set to travel to Shekhawati?

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Book Review: The Museum of Literary Souls

The Museum of Literary Souls, John Connolly, ebookHave you ever noticed that extraordinary things only seem to happen to ordinary people?

In real life. In films. In books. Especially in books.

Take for example, Mr. Berger of “The Museum of Literary Souls” by John Connolly (ebook, StoryFront, 2013). Mr. Berger, the protagonist of this story leads a rather dull existence of unvarying routine.

He is single, never been married, and lives alone in London. He works for the housing department of a rather minor council as an Assistant Registrar.

His position as registrar paid neither badly nor particularly well but was enough to keep him clothed and fed, and maintain a roof above his head. Most of the remainder went on books. Mr. Berger led a life of imagination, fed by stories. His flat was lined with shelves, and those shelves were filled with books that he loved…

Mr Berger might sometimes have been a little lonely, but he was never bored and never unhappy, and he counted his days by the books he read.

In all probability, Mr. Berger might have continued living his life in a similar manner for the rest of his life, if not for his mother’s death. Her bequest, though not a great fortune by any standards, was enough for him to resign from his job, move into his mother’s house in the countryside, and attempt to live out his dream of becoming a writer. A new routine developed, another unvarying one that included reading, writing, walks in the countryside and an occasional visit to the local pub.

One evening something happened. Something that shifted the equilibrium in his carefully ordered life.

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Book Review: Sirens Spell Danger

Self-published books are not my choice of reading material. In fact, I would prefer not to read them at all as my experience of reading such books has not been a very happy one. I know it sounds like a sweeping statement, not to mention prejudiced, but…

Now consider this scenario. A fellow blogger and a friend, Suresh Chandrasekaran, whose writing I admire and like very much, comes out with a self-published book. This leads to a dilemma or what can even be called a “situation”: I really want to read the book, but the self-published tag is a big deterrent of sorts. While I am mulling over this, Suresh (who I think is aware of my views on self-published books) requests for my feedback on the book. I agree, buy the book, read it and one afternoon over a long FB chat give him feedback on the book. This happened about 6 months back.

Sirens Spell Danger, ebook, Suresh C

Recently, I participated in an excellent discussion on “Self-Published Books” (do click on the link to read more about the discussion) at The Sunday Book Club (TSBC). It was an enlightening discussion and one that spurred me to to convert the feedback I gave Suresh on the book, Sirens Spell Danger, into a full-fledged book review.

Sirens Spell Danger (2013, Amazon eBook) is a collection of three longish short stories edited by Suresh. As the title suggests, all the stories in the book have women or “sirens’ as the pivot.

The sirens are not necessarily the protagonists of the stories; instead, they are characters without whom there would have been no story in the first place.

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Book Review: Silent Cinema in India

Watson Hotel, Historic Hotel, Mumbai

Watson’s Hotel / Esplanade Mansion

In the busy Kala Ghoda area of South Mumbai is a run down, decrepit building called Esplanade Mansion. Once upon a time, it was known as Watson’s Hotel and is India’s oldest surviving cast-iron building today. Fabricated in England and assembled on site between 1867–1869, Watson’s has quite a bit of a history attached to it.

There are many stories about Watson’s, but the one I’m going to share here is in the context of the book being reviewed here — Silent Cinema in India: A Pictorial Journey (Harper Collins, 2012, Price: Rs.4,999/-) by B.D. Garga. It was at Watson’s Hotel that the Lumeire Brothers’ Cinematographie was screened on July 7, 1896, to an all-white audience for an admission fee of one rupee.

“Cinema arrived in India like an itinerant traveller, unannounced” (pg.15).

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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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