12
Jun

DANCING WITH THE DEVIL

Is a phrase oft left me wondering …what?

Many a trials and tribulations…later,

I still am where I always began .

Life’s journey, so strange and unnerving,

Yet the strange calm in all the din. .

Makes me take a breath and trudges me to move on.

It was never about the acquisition , or never even about proving oneself

Yet the whole destination thus reached was only about the race

Betrayals plenty only proved time and again

All humans are mortals, then why dance with the Gods. …. ..Dance with the Devil…

– Dr Liza Raj

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Rating: 8.0/10 (1 vote cast)
06
Jun

THIS DAY…

there is an agitation in me

to find truth, direction, cure, and light

I live in a turbulent time

moving left to centre to right

 

emotions are high

as I pick a side

as I lose time

as I leave my self behind

 

this here is my leader

this here is my written word

this here is my God

where though is my conscious, to be heard

 

after birth, life

after life, death

is life enrichment of my soul

or is it a loss this breath

 

this here war, strife, and famine

this here waste, corruption, and violence

this here struggle

is this life my penance

 

or, is it love and kindness bestowed,

abundance of nature,

the beauty beheld in my senses,

the blend of these my past, present, future

 

will good prevail

and ease this agitation mine

will god bless

this world, my shrine⁠⁠⁠⁠

 

– Suraj Menon

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Rating: 9.3/10 (3 votes cast)

Jun

Caste calls

Pyre

Review of Pyre; Perumal Murugan; translated by Aniruddhan Vasudevan; Penguin Random House; Rs 250; pp 270

– Shana Susan Ninan

Perumal Murugan’s Pyre is a caustic reminder of India’s caste intolerance. Clearly pointing a finger at the harsh treatments meted out to inter-caste couples across India, the title of the book is a clever one. Following his now-controversial book, Madhorubagan, this is a story of hatred, intolerance and human suffering. And beneath it all, tucked away in little corners of the book, is the love between the couple.

I only wish I could read it in the original Tamizh. The Translator’s Note at the beginning tells us how his job wasn’t easy, partly because, although speaking Tamizh, the two protagonists – Kumaresan and Saroja – conversed in dialects. The variations in the two cannot be fully brought out in English. The explanations of the same also renders reading a tad bit marring.

The large use of metaphors and visual imagery in the story is just too good. Chronicling a place and a people that have nothing other than village rules to follow, I’m sure Murugan’s work wasn’t easy. Nondi’s mother, Mariya is a one-dimensional woman here: she seems to open her mouth only to abuse her new daughter-in-law, a city-bred, fair-skinned girl who wilts under her words.

Destruction is in our blood. From the cave to the skyscraper, humans haven’t let go of that trait. And when you couple the intolerance with centuries of adherence to community mores and norms, nothing could be more drastic than marrying a woman outside their caste and rendering the village unclean.

Murugan has taken one emotion – hate – and portrayed it in so many myriads of ways. From the villagers spewing hateful curses, and women gawking and saying the angry words to Nondi’s relatives and the final fire that destroys the outsider, it’s all about hate. And how!

The only glitch in my reading was that Nondi comes out as too soft. In spite of marrying a woman of his choice and trying to stay afloat in his village, when the whole community and his family turn against them, he doesn’t even raise his voice nor opposes with strong nerve.

Murugan has, to his credit, six novels, four collections of short stories and four anthologies of poetry. Three of his novels have been translated into English: his controversial, One Part Woman, Seasons of the Palm, shortlisted for the Kiriyama Prize in 2005, and Current Show. A professor of Tamil at the Government Arts College in Namakkal, he has received several recognitions from government and other agencies.

 

 

 

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Rating: 9.0/10 (1 vote cast)
04
Jun

A TRIBUTE TO PRABHAKARAN, THE TAMIL REBEL

– Soma Dutta Gupta

 

:To Prabhakaran…..so long!!

Forty summers passed,

I slighted the sun, going behind the horizon.

It was a riot of red,across my gray sky.

The gentle falling leaves,

cradled my comrades.

I submersed myself in mutilated mirth.

Marching on the invincible path,

I stumbled upon destiny.

 

She ridiculed me with her gear, death.

I embraced it silently.

The slanderous wind unveiled me of glory,

Barring a handful of earth, where I stand sublime.

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Rating: 10.0/10 (1 vote cast)

Jun

JOURNEY

– Sara Caleeckal

the child who sits beside me

is not mine,

mine I left behind

back home.

 

this journey is mine,

mine alone,

lonely in a carriage full

of strangers,

away from home.

 

I sit by the window and watch

the endless tracks

run over by relentless wheels

keeping the beat of my heart,

the heart I left behind,

back home.

 

Some day I hope to trace my way

back home,

same wheels over same tracks

with some child beside me

but the child of mine

I left behind will be gone,

when I reach

back home.

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Rating: 9.0/10 (1 vote cast)
09
Dec

The Sea and its People

dance-of-the-sea

Review of Dance of the Sea; Soosaiya Anthreas; Gatekeeper Press 2015; pp 462

– Paavana Varma

Franklin D. Roosevelt once remarked, “A smooth sea never made a skillful sailor.” This quote fits rather perfectly in Soosaiya Anthreas’s fine novel, The Dance of the Sea. Set in a coastal slum village of Kanyakumari, his book paints an intriguing picture of the difficult challenges life puts forth. The Dance of the Sea traces with remarkable subjectivity, the unfortunate lives of the fisherfolk situated in the southernmost tip of the Indian subcontinent. It speaks about how ambition and poverty strives together in the rural lives of Indian fishermen.

The protagonist, Sebastian, struggles to escape his squalid town of slum dwellers and later on emerges as a successful engineer. Sebastian’s success makes him less self-effacing as he goes on to desert his lover, Gloria, who lives an independent and more successful life, with regards to money and fame. He also leaves his poverty-stricken sister to herself, not bothering to lend her a helping hand in deadly crisis. But the problems develop into a more serious one as the 2004 Tsunami strikes and takes the lives of hundreds of fisherfolk, and their properties are swallowed by the sea. More troubles follow as the fisherfolk divides themselves into two rival factions based on the method of fishing, and the community disintegrates.

Reading this book will be an emotional experience as the common man will get to live the lives of a set of people hitherto hidden to the fast-paced urbanised population of the world. The unthinkable lives of the characters, ravaged by pain has been addressed directly and in a poignant manner. It shows the research that the author has done over the years. There is anger, humour and grief. Somehow, I felt that Sebastian’s longing to escape his hometown was his own way of seeking salvation. Sebastian wanted to disappear and his search for respite from the brutality of the world is rather breathtaking.

The author hasn’t hesitated to expose the vulnerability of his characters and this makes the book all the more dramatic. The tenacity of the characters especially that of Gloria is admirable. The deadening weight of the circumstances draws a thoughtful picture, nevertheless. A picture of how people find themselves in each other and how strokes of empathy lessens the naive narcissism of the better off and how there is a light of hope however faint, shining through the wreckage.

The writing style is fine except in some places it lags and tends to get jerky. The author has used rich language to depict the lives of the poor fisherfolk. In spite of the challenges and traumas, there exists a kind of harmonic suppleness. The novel is extremely atmospheric and very emotionally involving. There also prevails the inevitable melancholy the story brings with it. The Dance of the Sea is a very interesting novel. It is the kind of book that you might want to read in sessions, to take time and read it in your own pace. The book doesn’t fail to communicate effectively with the reader and even when the book has ended, the sea looms over your imagination distinguishing itself as an entity.

Soosaiya Anthreas was born in the year 1959 in Azhikkal, Kanyakumari District, Tamil Nadu to fisherfolk parents. He graduated in Engineering from CIT, and is interested in Philosophy, Literature and Spirituality.

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Rating: 7.3/10 (9 votes cast)
24
Nov

Stalker on the loose

stalker

Review of Stalker; Lars Kepler; Harper Collins; pp 603

– Karthika Nair

Stalker is the fifth book from Jonna Linna series written by Swedish pair Alexander Ahndoril and Alexandra Coelho Ahndoril, under the pseudonym “Lars Kepler”. Before reading Stalker, I was not aware of their works and talking about Swedish bestsellers, The Millennium trilogy takes up the top spot. The name and the book blurb drew my curiosity; it is about a person who stalks women with a video camera, capturing their “last” moments. And then goes on to kill them in a brutal manner and leaves them in a particular posture, disfigured. This video is received by the national crime investigation team and they are unable to trace the video source and while they are watching it, the victim is facing the last few minutes of her life. Detectives Margot Silverman and Adam Youssef are on a manhunt and eventually Joona Linna, who had been absconding, joins the investigation.

Since this is the fifth book of a series, I did find some plot points confusing and felt like several characters were introduced at the beginning of the story. The course of the plot is so intriguing that I ended up taking the book everywhere with me, even ended up dreaming about the characters and their circumstances. The character development and the build up of the suspense are all up to the point. The pinnacle is the twist of the story: you won’t see it coming and it challenges the general perception by an average audience about a typical “stalker” and the book cover will look completely different to us. Until the big reveal, you are in a dark room where your mind is working on several possibilities as you are reading it.

There are many instances depicting gruesome violence in gory detail; the murder scenes are disturbing and one may feel like throwing up. A major limitation I felt was Joona Linna’s limited role in this book as he is someone who is hailed as a hero. But, his involvement during the final situations is quite heroic. I also liked the characters detective Margot Silverman and Nelly Brandt. Margot Silverman is the detective assigned to the murdered women’s case and the fact that she is seven months pregnant makes it more interesting. She is determined to find the killer and vows that she will give birth only after the case’s resolution.

The way she stood up for Linna and challenged the circumstances of the case when necessary is vehement and impressive. Silverman in a way broke stereotypes regarding pregnant women’s ability to work. It reminded me of Marge Gunderson from Fargo. Nelly Brandt is a very layered character and we will admire her. Female characters like Nelly are rare. Erik, the hypnotist, is also a very noble character and we will feel sorry for him in the course of the story.

As always, suspense thrillers will leave a massive plot point behind. The same is noticed here in terms of the circumstance surrounding Adam Youssef, Margot’s partner from work. After reading the book, I couldn’t help but think “whatever happened to him”. The connection between Erik and blind piano teacher named Jackie is shown in a nice way. When it springs up amidst the investigation, one might find it irritating and unnecessary, not knowing that it is an integral part. As a reader, I was all agog with anticipation while waiting for the resolution which felt like a deep breath one takes after being in the water for several minutes.

Stalker is a very exciting thriller for all those enjoy that genre. As a fan of thrillers myself, the book reading experience was massively satisfying. I look forward to read the first four books from Kepler’s Jonna Linna series.

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Rating: 10.0/10 (5 votes cast)
07
Nov

Fighting defanged snakes

house-of-a-hundred-stories

Review of The House of a Hundred Stories; Mariam Karim-Ahlawat and illustrations by Ajantha Guhathakurta; Life Positive Books 2016; Rs 195; pp 135

– Shana Susan Ninan

With a very pleasing cover and blurb, a tight plot, and hoards of animals and birds, Mariam Karim-Ahlawat’s The House of A Hundred Stories is my four-year-old son’s current favourite book. Well, it was a review copy for me, but it ended up that my son, who loves animal stories, found it more endearing. Which is a good sign, I think, because kids of all ages will just love this book.

I was reminded of The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly by Sun-Mi-Hwang, which was narrated from the PoV of Sprout the hen. But this one by Ahlawat has several storytellers. The mongoose, the owl, the rabbit, and others are all narrators, lending different voices and tones as and when the situation calls for. Told mainly from the perspective of Noël Noyla the mongoose, this children’s fable is quite an allegorical one. Once the mongoose leaves the snake charmer’s hold, he comes across several situations in his journey. From fighting defanged snakes for the sake of pleasing humans to understanding his Self, there’s a lot to learn from. There are different languages for each species of animals, much like the segregated human society we live in, ourselves. Philosophical thoughts on identity, freedom, overprotected lives, community, independence, crimes, responsibility and the like are discussed through the animals’ lives here.

In a colonial bungalow close to the Taj Mahal… that’s where this house is. The people living in it barely get a mention, whereas the animals are well-rounded characters, almost always human-like in behaviour. The animals, their kids, and grand kids, all make for a lovely menagerie, much like what the author herself raised as a child.

Ahlawat has written many children’s books and novels, as well as plays and musicals. Currently based in New Delhi, she has been a university lecturer teaching French language and literature, and a columnist. My favourite character from this book is Idiot Frog. Don’t be fooled by his name, no. One of his lines go, “To act boldly in a situation that actually frightens you shows true courage.” He’s full of quips and tales, amassed experience from a life well-lived, meeting all kinds of beings.

In the end, friendship and love are just what we need.

 

 

 

 

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Rating: 9.0/10 (5 votes cast)
05
Nov

I AM.

I’m feminine, I’m masculine.

I’m fearless, I’m scared.

I love reds, I hate reds.

Adventures seize me, adrenaline drives me.

 

I nurse, I ignore.

I care, I neglect.

I am, I am not.

Snakes I like, millipedes I dislike.

 

I love with viguor, I hate with choice.

I am mother, I am father.

I throw away, I hoard.

Friends adore me, others turn sour.

 

I do, I do not.

I’m impulsive, I think hard and long.

I love all, I look back at none.

I cower in remorse, I stand up.

 

I am feminine. I am masculine.

I am woman.

 

 

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Rating: 9.8/10 (4 votes cast)
01
Sep

Challenges of Saving the World

Sky God

Review of Book of the Sky God (Vol.1 & Vol.2); Laura Markowitz; Story Bridge Books; pp 299

– Paavana Varma

Five teens and the end of the world! One wouldn’t really expect five teens to save the world, but the fate of humanity rests with them. This fantasy book written by Laura Markowitz revolves around the Indian-American Rajthani siblings Laila, Ram and Nina, former Miss Popular, Katie Chase and part time zombie, Henry Lipton. Centred on the Mayan prophecy, the book is targeted at young adults. Part one of the book is where the the story line slowly develops, the admirable writing delving into the ties of long friendships is enough to make this a one sit read. We find that Ram and Henry are best friends, Ram’s little sister Laila who voluntarily went mute six years ago has numinous senses and knows the song of humanity. Henry was trained his whole life, without him knowing, for the day of the judgement by an evil secret cult called the brotherhood of prophecy. They believed, they would ascend to godhood through their living heir, Henry.

The author has written the story in such a way that all the events are interrelated. The occasional shift to a whole new imaginative world of immortals and higher beings make it all the more gripping. Miss Markowitz definitely had her creative juices flowing into the pages while writing this book. One understands it from the other worlds, aliens and the multiverse she has talked about in the book. We have Aditi and Itzam-nah the sky gods who will be coming back to Earth another time to judge humanity. They have the power to erase timelines and all the memories associated with it. The author seems to have great interest in Indian mythology too since, Aditi and Itzam-nah are described as having six arms and a third eye.

Part one of the book talks more about the characters’ lives and gives us a sneak peek into their deep thoughts that make them, who they are. Ideas and sub-stories weren’t clashing with one another and as the title of each chapter suggests, the story is rooted to what the chapter name conveys. Because of this clever idea, even when the plot thickens and twists around a lot, in the bigger picture you have a clear understanding about the story. Going through the difficult period of adolescence, we find in all the five teens a search for self-identity. Part one is also not as dramatic and action packed as part two. This book ends in such a way that it keeps you tip toed to find out what the next book has in store for us.

Part two has road trips and is jam-packed with adventures and fights. Unlike the innocent immaturity we see in the characters in part one, part two sees a newfound maturity in the five teens. Maybe we can link it with the purposes they have found to their lives. We also see a gradual strengthening of family and friendship bonds. Nina and Ram who couldn’t stand each other’s presence are now completely comfortable with each other. Friendships and family bonds are tightened and rediscovered. The transformation of characters and the storyline line from part one to two is not sudden but rather slow and subtle and that makes the story more interesting.

The way the author has woven the concept of Karma into the story is quite intriguing. The language is free-flowing and at times you might even find it poetic. The values and meaning of friendship manifest in the novel through the bond the five share. There is more to the book than just the surface story. If you dig deeper you will find a lot of messages that are crucial to our adult lives.  The book is a great read not just for young adults but anyone who enjoys science fiction, fantasy and mythology. The Book of the Sky God is the kind of book you’d want to read in a good summer vacation. But once you take up the book to read, don’t ever think you can stop it midway. It is what you may call ‘unputdownable’.

The only glitch is that after all the hustle and bustle it all ends quite abruptly. The end really doesn’t seem like the end! Maybe it isn’t after all.

 

 

 

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Rating: 9.8/10 (4 votes cast)