18
Jun

The Woman on the Roof

Review of The Roof Beneath Their Feet; Geetanjali Shree; translated by Rahul Soni; Rs 299; pp 156

- Shana Susan Ninan

On the first glance, the title was oxymoronic – don’t we always talk about the roof above our heads? But here, the roof plays two different roles – one that stifles people inside it, and one that’s liberating when people are on it. In the author’s words, “a story is not necessarily ‘told’, it is ‘experienced’. People’s past and memories are reconstructed and rearranged, things left out, added on.

In her novels, Geetanjali Shree brings forward conversations and narrations that deal with people’s past and memories, the idea of physical space, and of course, strong women characters. In The Roof Beneath Their Feet, memories take a tactile form, weaving in and out of the readers’ minds. Strong and memorable metaphors, the roof being the most used and the most significant one, are a signature of the author. Lalna, one of the protagonists, is compared to the stories that wander the roof: carefree and unrestrained. Lalna belongs to no home nor hearth, but to the roof. A place where she can be herself.

The roof represents freedom and uninhibited expression of the freedom – people gather together for hanging clothes, flying kites, meeting clandestinely, and to generally chill out. The roof is an extension of their minds. For Chhacho and Lalna, the friendship that forms between them takes shape on the roof, at night, when the rest of the mohalla have slept. They sneak up to watch the sky, to let their hair down, to leave their goonghats on the parapets, to lift their blouses and fan themselves in the horrid heat, to… and many things that women are usually forbidden from.

After Chhacho’s death, her nephew and Lalna piece together their memories of her, amid the chaotic households that surround them. In real life, too, it’s often after a person’s death we put together our thoughts and memories of them, trying to figure out how and why they shaped our lives.

The book is special for me for three reasons – it was gifted by a close friend; the book’s cover photo was shot by my husband’s uncle and famous photographer Saibal Das; a one-line review of the book in one of the inside pages is written by a professor who taught me in CIEFL!

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Rating: 10.0/10 (1 vote cast)
15
Jun

Fulfilling Sivakami’s Oath

Review of Sivakamiyim Sabatham Volumes 3 and 4; English translation by Nandini Vijayaraghavan; Pothi 2012; pp 249

- Shana Susan Ninan

Much of the action in the third volume of this literature is centred on the life after the siege of the Kanchi Fort. Naganandi Adigal, the Buddhist bikshu and secret admirer of Sivakami gets prominence as her savior. Once the young prince, Mamallan and his chief aide Paranjyothi set out to seek revenge on Pulikesi, there’s no turning back. But in a clash of events, Pulikesi and his Vatapi army take Sivakami hostage and Aayanar’s leg is maimed in the process. The father and daughter are separated, and she’s ‘imprisoned’ in the Vatapi Palace. Although she refuses to dance at the request of Pulikesi, she’s forced to dance at street corners in order to spare prisoners from Kanchi from being beaten up.

The fourth and last volume is a somber one – marked by the destruction of the city of Vatapi and Sivakami’s realisation about Mamallar’s queen consort and children. Earlier, before he breathed his last, Mahendra Pallavar secured the permission of the Ministers’ Council to wage war against Vatapi and to get Sivakami back to Kanchi. He also emotionally blackmails his son Mamallar to agree to a wedding he wasn’t dreaming of.

The emotions portrayed in the book vary from jealousy and pride to anger and haste. And it’s explained and characterised in a befitting manner. Egotistic Sivakami is a tad bit late to understand that her oath of leaving the Vatapi city only after Mamallar raises to the ground and seeks her hand makes things hard for all, especially the citizens. Mamallar and Paranjyothi once visit Vatapi in disguise and ask Sivakami to join them, but she refuses saying she would leave the city only after the oath’s fulfilled. What happens then is a war of emotions and feelings. Sivakami with her stubbornness and Mamallar with his pride. Suffice to say that it took 10 years to prepare for her release. And in between, Naganandi has his own plans – for himself and for his brother Pulikesi’s kingdom.

Nandini’s translation is poetic and precise, lending a lyrical voice to the narration. My only bone of contention is the clamping together of dialogues into paragraphs, without clear demarcation between the speakers. The ending is poignant. Sivakami is released. Mamallar wins the war. Paranjyothi is the head of a victorious army. But are the three of them satisfied with how life has turned out?

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Rating: 0.0/10 (0 votes cast)
12
Jun

Deconstructing Love

Review of Love, That Shit!; Chandru Bhojwani; OM Books 2014; Rs 195; pp 143

- Shana Susan Ninan

From Phil Collins to Sylvester Stallone, and everyone in between have had their share of ups and downs in their life. And love, or the lack of it sometimes, played a major part in their successes. Chandru deals with a delicate topic by drawing from the lives of people around us – celebrities, musicians, ordinary men and women – to show us how to tame life. A common thread that runs through the various chapters in the book is the fact that there’s just one You. No one can be Youer than You.

It’s the third work of the author I’m reading and I feel he’s matured as an author. The strength from which one can write such a book is immense – any fool can fall in love, but it takes a brave person to advice others on the matters of love.

Chandru weaves the fabric of love, intricately. It’s almost as if, when we read the book, you can feel the author standing behind your shoulders, reading out those words to you. Neatly stacked into small chapters, everything from being single and matrimonial pressures to unhealthy relationships and arranged marriage, culminating with the pregnant husband! The little human stories within each part make it authentic and identifiable.

 

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Rating: 10.0/10 (1 vote cast)
08
Jun

Unceasing Gladness for Everything

Review of Pollyana; Eleanor H. Porter; Puffin Classics, first published by Harrap 1927; pp 269

- Shana Susan Ninan

I haven’t seen many people who can remain ‘glad’ even in the darkest of times. And here’s a teeny girl, cheerful and with unbounded joy, looking optimistic at life. This was my second reading of the book (the first being in my teenage), and as an adult, I now see the story from Aunt Polly’s and the other adults’ eyes.

Pollyanna Whittier – her mom named her after her two sisters, Polly and Anna! – a recently orphaned girl, comes to live with her aunt, Polly. Now, Ms Polly is a stern spinster, who rarely smiles, let alone have the capacity to be glad about something in her life.

The little girl spreads cheer to all around her, whether at home or in the neighbourhood. And Aunt Polly finds it amusing, and irritating, that Pollyanna would even be happy to be punished! The young girl’s laughter and bubbling nature fills the house, to the point where when an accident befalls her, the whole place goes quiet and sad. Pollyanna’s optimism sees her through the dark days, giving strength to those who tend to her, too.

Pollyanna’s story is set in a time when mirrors were called looking-glass, and cars, motor-cars. The soothing narrative has a serene countryside and typical characters in it. And as a classic, it definitely scores. It made my day, once more.

 

 

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Rating: 0.0/10 (0 votes cast)
03
May

A True Friend

Review of The Elephant Bird; Arefa Tehsin; Illustration by Sonal Goyal and Sumit Sakhuja; Pratham Books 2014; pp 20; Rs 40

- Shana Susan Ninan

A level 3 book from Pratham Books, a Bangalore-based organisation that strives to make sure that there’s a book in each child’s hand. Authored by Arefa Tehsin, honorary Wildlife Warden of Udaipur, and illustrated by Sonal Goyal and Sumit Sakhuja, this book  is meant for three-year-olds and upwards. But the fact that my one-and-a-half-year-old son was mesmerised by the colourful and vibrant illustrations is fact enough that all kids will enjoy this feast.

Munia’s limp forbids her from making any real companions. And the Elephant Bird is her only true friend. When one of the horses in the village disappears, the headmen and elders are quick to point fingers at the giant animal. Munia knows that the elephant bird is a harmless herbivore, and has definitely not eaten the horse! She voices her protest at the village council, gets shooed away and even her parents are mad at her. But knowing that the village folk plan to search for the elephant bird and harm it the next morning, Munia goes out at night to find the truth about the missing horse. Values such as friendship, honesty and caring are stamped in the foreground of this story.

This children’s picture book is inspired by the real Elephant Bird, one that became extinct in Madagascar, its home.

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Rating: 8.5/10 (4 votes cast)
18
Mar

Checkmate The Murderer

Even Dead Men Play Chess and The Grandmaster’s King; Michael Weitz; Musa Publishing 2012 and 2013

- Tiya Mary Joshi

The book opens with the death of Erica, a girl who dies in a horrific accident on her seventh birthday in an explosion caused by the fumes of preparation of methamphetamine at her home. The narrator and the protagonist is Ray Gordon who is a chess teacher to this little girl’s brother.

Ray teaches chess to many, and among them is Walter Kelly who is two and a half hours’ drive away from him, and this time when he goes the Kelly family tell him Walter (an expert in wood working) has died from accidentally falling on his table saw. Ray trusts his instincts and believes that it is a murder. But why is a 65-year-old without any vices, murdered? To uncover this he plays detective in action, goofs up a bit, finds evidences knowingly and unknowingly and discovers that it is the family property, a wooden cabin which seems to be the center of the problems. Heading out there he finds a meth lab, gets caught sneaking. He realises that Walter himself had left him clues in his chess book with reference to the Evergreen Game (a tactic in Chess). He just has to find that hidden move, which will seal it. A lot of action follows which ends with him finally finding that Walter’s trusted neighbor and friend was the drug dealer who had chanced upon Walter’s cabin, and when Walter found this out had murdered him to keep his business going.

A Super short read, but be prepared to read it at one go, because once you pick it up you don’t feel like keeping it down unless you are done with it. continue reading…

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Rating: 9.1/10 (7 votes cast)
15
Mar

Picked up, Here and There

Review of Musings of a Wandering Ministrel; Ravi Trivedy; Patridge India 2013; pp 80

- Shana Susan Ninan

Poet Ravi Trivedy stays true to the heading that he’s given to his eclectic collection of poems and sketches, in Musings of a Wandering Ministrel. Drawn from real and imagined people and situations, the poems vary in size, form and tone. Definitely written at different times, when in diverse moods, they reflect slices of life experienced.

There are mixtures of short- and medium-sized lines, small and large paragraphs, rhyming and metaphors. Some poems are very symbolic – take, for instance, the great giving bosom of a tree and its shade. The picture that comes to minds is an all-giving mother.

Themes range from an ode to Ogden Nash, a poem on Bjorn Borg the Tennis great, a lost wanderer in a desert, loathing and derision, temptation, Bombay streets, awakening, youth in America… the last section on humour was refreshing.

The poet’s ability to touch a chord with his readers can be best seen in this piece of the poem, ‘A Traveler Grieves’:

Friends and selves,

left by the wayside.

Swept by tides,

of time and distance.

 

Had I seen you,

standing by the road,

we could have travelled

a few miles together.

 

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Rating: 6.0/10 (3 votes cast)
08
Mar

On The Sage, And Over

Review of Riders Of The Purple Sage; Zane Grey; First published in 1912; pp 196

- Shana Susan Ninan

I was introduced to Western novels before I had my hands on Famous Five and the Hardy Boys, by way of my parents’ love for lasso-wielding, cowboys of the American West. Movies and books introduced me to the desert life and culture. But I’d never read Zane Grey’s masterpiece, somehow. So reading this work, later in life, took me back to my childhood reading days on our farm.

Jane Withersteen has come to a lot of wealth – land, horses and riches – that her rich Mormon father had left her after his death. And she’s the kind of Mormon woman who hires a hundred or more Gentiles on her property – one, as charity; two, in order to bring them to her faith and ways – and earns the ire of the elders and ministers of her church. But her generosity rubs off on those around her – the riders, workers, her employees and the women of the society, who in turn help people who come to them.

Lassiter is a known name in western Utah as well as in Cottonwood, where Jane lives. His arrival in the town doesn’t exactly bring cheer to the church elders. And in the year 1871 when there’s already unrest regarding the black farmhands on the property, hiring non-Mormons in a Mormon stronghold, and the ubiquitous question of a woman who’s running a household or one who makes her own decisions, comes this man whose infamous deeds precede him. Quick-gunned and living with a vengeance to fulfil, he is charmed by Jane’s soft manner and soothing philosophies.

The subplot of Venters’ and Bess’ story is woven well into the flow. And Venters became my hero after reading one of the best horse chases in history! Sitting on the edge of the chair and flipping pages, I could feel the horses’ mane hit my face, the swift night wind encompass me.

Held in high regard, Jane finds it a personal turmoil to choose between her love of the religion and the love she feels in her heart, deep down, for a man. Although her love of religion greys her general outlook about other things, her allegiance to the Mormon Church doesn’t wane her concern for humanity.

The ever-present Sage is the central character of the book. It is wild country; the purple sage which is vast and unconquerable truly represents the large-hearted woman who finally picks her heart over her head, when it came to living a life of choice.

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Rating: 5.5/10 (2 votes cast)
06
Mar

Wings to your Dreams

Review of The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly; Sun-Mi-Hwang, Translation by Chi-Young Kim, Illustrations by Nomoco; Penguin USA 2013 (published in Korean in 2000); Rs 299; pp 134

- Shana Susan Ninan

If the English translation had been published two years ago, and I’d read it then, the effect it had on me would have been different. Having experienced birth pangs and then blissfully enjoying motherhood, now I can relate to Sprout the hen much better. The protagonist is an egg-laying hen, cooped up in a box that’s home to her. Laying an egg doesn’t mean that the hen gets to hatch it. Her eggs are taken away by the farmer’s wife, minutes after she laid them, warm and still soft.

Sprout (a name that the hen gave herself) has just one dream – to hatch an egg, to hold the baby dear to her heart. The story is about her will to realise this dream. Her struggles include having to escape the coop, facing the barnyard animals headed by the rooster and guarded by the dog, sleeping on the fringes of the farm almost falling prey to the weasel and finally, accepting the fact that the Baby she hatched isn’t one of her own, or might never look or feel like she does.

Human emotions and egos find life in the animals and birds in the plot. Avarice, hatred, low self-esteem, pride, jealousy, complacency, tolerance, love, grief, sacrifice… and more. Pointing a finger at the authoritarian mindset and system of the country, Hwang reveals much about the nation through the characters in her book. This is the first novel of the author I’m reading, and I hadn’t even heard about her earlier. I was casually ordering books online when this book popped up and reviews called it the South Korean version of Animal Farm. And, in a way, it is. Though more poetic and empathising than Orwell’s work. A little grim at times, and horrifically visual, Hwang’s work reflects Korean society and people.

The illustrations are typical of a person wielding the graceful calligraphy brush. And after Googling the name, yes my instincts were right – Nomoco is a Japanese artist and illustrator. Thoroughly enjoyed the book! A classic worth reading and sharing.

 

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Rating: 5.8/10 (5 votes cast)
01
Mar

Eerie Stories!

Review of Boarding School Buddies – Bizarre Escapades; Wyn la Bouchardiére, Foreword By Ruskin Bond; CinnamonTeal 2012; pp 54

-  Shana Susan Ninan

Just over 50 pages, Wyn La Bouchardiére’s book Boarding School Buddies – Bizarre Escapades is a great one for young readers. I love bizarre stories, and as a person who has scoured cemeteries and graveyards, enjoyed narrating and listening to ‘ghost stories’ in school and college, I found this book something to identify with. Wyn has neatly outlined the stories with a pencil sketch illustration at the beginning of each, thereby giving us a glimpse of the story’s plot.

Ponnu, Eddy, Sam and Abu are four boarding school buddies – their school is in the Nilgiris – and share the same hometown, too. The stories are spread across both the locations, with spooky characters all along. But they aren’t spooky enough to scare a teen reader out of her wits. The secure presence of an elder or a parent, especially towards the end of a story, is quite reassuring and comforting.

Themes such as the haunted pond, the gravedigger, the black magic neighbour and the terrifying tree all make for interesting reading. The cover page in sombre maroon, black and dusty colours of a Christian cemetery is definitely a scoring point. This is one book I’m sure I’d read to my son when he’s older; but that’s years away!

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Rating: 6.0/10 (5 votes cast)