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Monday, September 29, 2014

Book Review : ‘Shikhandi and Other Tales They Don't Tell You' by Devdutt Pattanaik

Devdutt Pattanaik’s ‘Shikhandi and Other Tales They Don’t Tell You’ is an odd book. Not odd because of its subject matter, but because it touches upon many things, which were in our face, but just not getting inside our heads. 

I thought I had read enough of the ‘Ramayana’ and ‘Mahabharta’ before I discovered this book. Vedic, Puranic literature and also South Indian, Bengali, as well as the oral traditions are a part of these stories. This book told me of so much more.

Pattanik touches up on characters such as Shikhandi, Brihanalla, Bhima, Samavan, Chudala, Mandhata, as well as Urvashi, Skanda, Krishna, Narada and Shiva. These are only a few of them, the book contains many more.

I remember reading some of these stories, perhaps through other means, but I do not ever remember reading of anything with so much honesty.  The LGBT factor and queerness, which have never struck me before, all seem to be an integral part of the mythologies.

In this 176 page space, Pattanaik serves us up with almost thirty stories. The best things about these stories are the simplicity and plainness of facts. He uses commentary and illustrations to bring together these stories.

The amount of research can be understood through the bibliography, but the 
sensitivity can only be gotten in a Pattanaik’s book. The book is familiar but you have all these nuances to so many characters that are truly amazing.

I must say that this book definitely deserves a read, and probably the age old books, which deserve another read, with an altogether new perspective. The cover illustration by Arundyuti Basu gives us a glimpse into what is inside the book, but the author's own illustrations are altogether fascinating.

Author: Devdutt Pattanaik
Genre: Mythology
Publisher: Zubaan and Penguin Books
ISBN: 978-9-383-07484-6
Price: Rs 299/-

Friday, September 26, 2014

Author Interview : Sorabh Pant, author of 'Under Delhi'

Why is this Interview in point format, wonder my readers? That’s because I got it, in this way. And I really did not see the point in changing it.

Many points to the author, Sorabh Pant for writing it, as such! This is points plus the points earlier for the almost brilliant book, ‘Under Delhi’.You can read its Review here and Buy it Here, too!

How did ‘Under Delhi’ happen? Could you describe the journey?

I started writing the book 5 years back. The concept of a female vigilante in Delhi was always around.

Even in 2009, I was frustrated with the crimes against women and as an author – I guess, the small little thing I can do is live that fantasy of an ass-kicking vigilante.

But, because the issue is a delicate one, I spent considerable time researching the issue of crimes against women and rape – whether the attitudes toward it in media, socially or even historically and in religion.

The end result made it even more necessary to have this story written.

How did the story, especially Tanya’s come out?

As with most authors – every character is you.

Tanya is what I would be if I were more fearless.
The original title of the book was Fearless Tanya, as an ode to Fearless Nadia. Which I think 9 young people would have got!

Tanya is a woman in conflict. I can’t understand characters who have such a definitive purpose about everything.

She’s definitive about one thing i.e. her vigilante life but, everything else is mired in indecision and chaos. I’d love to go out and have a drink with her. Though I think my wife might turn vigilante on me!

Was any research involved? If yes, what kind was it?

The research was considerable.

I found it particularly fascinating that even in religion – rape is not really considered a big deal. In all major religions. Barring Sikhism. It’s a bit shocking. I doubt anything else could have made me consider believing in atheism! Except I still worship Gandalf. And, Kishore Kumar.

I also did research on the Delhi police and how they operate, rape victims and how they dealt with their life including Suzette from Kolkata who I think is awesome. The Red Brigade from near Lucknow – who trained themselves in martial arts to fight crimes against women – is based in real life.

I also spoke to a lot of Indian women to figure out what they go through. A LOT. You’ll be surprised at how many women were shocked that a man wanted to listen. Haha. I didn’t want Tanya’s voice to sound disingenuous.

Plus, I did research on vigilantes in history and even torture in the Middle Ages to how people dealt with criminals in history.

So, lots.
I studied more for this book than I did for my MCom!

What according to you is different about your book?

I’ve got it printed on hashish paper.
So, if you read it: you will be addicted.
You might snort it.
It’s different in that it’s a man writing from a woman’s voice and not being half-assed about it.

It’s an easy read with lots of jokes – some of them utterly stupid – but, still the topic and the issue is dealt with in an empathetic manner.

How would you relate the lives of characters to the lives today? Any similarities?

As I said: it is based on the lives of women in India. Whether it’s sexism at work, online harrassing, being judged by a landlord for being single, leching etc. etc. It’s all real.

The vigilante is largely fictional but, I know of women doing similar things. Probably, this is that on steroids!

What was the most challenging part about writing ‘Under Delhi’?

Marketing it :). I know the book is good. It’s not Shakespeare but, it’s not lazy. It’s not going to make you question your intelligence. It’s smart, it’s funny and it’s good. I’m glad LOTS of people are buying it.

As an author: it reaches a point where you don’t personally care about the profit or sales of a book. You just want EVERYONE to read it. I think it will get there.

What are the most fulfilling parts in your book?

Trying to figure out how to make a book about crimes against women funny! It was really, really tough. But, I decided to make everything around the issue funny, and it worked.

As a reader told me, “Loved your book. It has some of the best PJs I’ve ever read.”
I’m not sure if that’s a compliment but, I accept it!

Which particular character did you feel most close to? Why?

All characters are variants of the author in different circumstances.

I love Inspector Sharma: a paunched, angry, sweaty, slightly swinish Delhi cop who is shockingly on the side of good. He’s almost ridiculous. Human beings are rarely like the superheroes in stories that we’re usually made out to be.

We’re terrible in some ways and amazing in others. Sharma is exactly that!
I’m growing my paunch just for him.

Who was it that told you that you could become the author, you are today?

Narendra Modi.

He wrote me a letter a long time back saying, “If you become an author, I’ll become PM.”

But, seriously: if you’re waiting for someone to tell you to become an author, it won’t happen.

You just do it because if you don’t write and tell your stories – your head would explode!!

When will you next book be out?

2015-end or 2016-early. I’d have liked to do a book a year but, because of the insane standup schedules I couldn’t.

I’m like SRK. I have date problems. (And 8 pack abs.)

Which book are you currently reading?

I read about 5 books at the same time because I’m insane!

Currently reading,  2001: A Space Odyssey', 'The Importance Of Being Idle’, ‘How To Think Like A Freak: Freakonomics, David and Goliath’ and ‘World Without End’ – which is just brilliant and caused me to temporarily abandon the rest :)

Who are your favourite authors and why?

Douglas Adams: because, no one ever made me laugh and have no clue what the hell would happen next because as he often admitted he didn’t know either.

Susanna Clarke: who wrote 'Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell', one of my favorite fantasies ever. And, the deepest fantasy ever.

Lee Child: who is like a soap opera for men, and/or fans of quick action.

PG Wodehouse: because he’s like an old friend who can always make you smile. He’s like my British dad!

Philip Pullman with 'The Dark Material Trilogy' and Jonathan Stroud with 'Bartimaeus Sequence ': because as they proved that just because you write books for young adults, doesn’t mean you can’t be bloody brilliant!

HG Wells and Jules Verne: because adventure and fantasy was brilliant even before our era!

Arthur Conan Doyle: because, right from 1900s England to Benedict Cumberbatch, we’re still bloody fascinated!

What else do you do on a daily basis?

I swim in my pools of money.
Make love to supermodels.
Hang out with Zeus and Krishna.

But, I actually just write jokes, stories, do a hell of a lot of standup, make as many videos, as I can. And, when I have the time: give my wife some money.

What advice do you have for the young writers of today?

Quit. The competition is too much.
Or, just write because you love writing not because you think it’s going to make you bloody famous. Because, it won’t.

And, buy ‘Under Delhi’ – you can’t become a writer till you support the sexy writers of today!

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Book Review : ‘Uncles, Aunts & Elephants' by Ruskin Bond

Ruskin Bond’s ‘Uncles, Aunts & Elephants’ is a wonderful collection of short stories. With a delightful cover illustration by Archana Sreenivasan and cover design by Aparajita Ninan, this book takes us up to the cooler hills of India. There are three parts to the book; fiction, non-fiction and poetry. You can read the book right here.

The first chapter is set in London and it talks of Ruskin’s adventures with his new flat (or attic) and only a mouse as his constant visitor. Bond delights us with mousy stories, in ‘A Little Friend’. Bond gets up to all sorts of adventures with his father and his grandfather. His animal lover grandpa with a thing for monkeys, owls, cats and dogs and his grandmother who sounds like a superb cook sounds like you want to taste every one of her dishes.

Of course, his uncle, aunt, and scoutmaster are not too far off either in the silly and goofy adventures that Rusty gets up to. You are never away from the mysteries and dangerous birds like ostriches and the majestic eagle in these escapades that he cooks up. 'Escape from Java’, ‘Grandfather’s Many Faces’, ‘Uncle Ken’s Feathered Foes’, ‘Who Monkey Trouble’ and ‘The Parrot Who Wouldn’t Talk’ could leave you in splits.

In the non-fiction section, you cannot miss the peacocks, crows, sparrows, pigeons, parrots and even mynas. But one should not miss the habits of birds such as hoopoes, tree pies, tailorbirds. I had never heard of them, but they sound fascinating and leave you with a smile.

‘Bhabhiji’s House’ is about a wonderful family, who get up to the funniest acts and their antics are one for the road. Also, do not miss a love story for the tigers, gardens of ghosts and ways to deal with the evil eye. Of pleasant windows to look at beautiful sights, of wonderful, flowing handwriting, of delightful books, of weird neighbours and of hill fairies that are all a part of this section.

‘Garden of Memories’, ‘Reading Was My Religion’ ‘Respect Your Breakfast’ and ‘The Elephant and the Cassowary Bird’ make for the non-fiction section, which is not as non-pleasant as it sounds.

The poems, ‘In a Strange Soup’ ‘Granny’s Tree-Climbing’ and ‘As a Boy’ are personal favourites. They are all funny and anecdotal in their telling.

Overall, it is what Ruskin Bond’s book usually is. Pleasant, funny, and full of tales. I would not say this is a children’s book because it always would put a smile on anyone’s face. And the more adult we are, the bigger our smile can be. The baby elephant’s illustration is only a start to the hullaballoo of stories. 

Author: Ruskin Bond
Genre: Fiction
Publisher: Puffin Books
ISBN: 978-0-143-33262-6
Price: Rs 299/-