Saturday, March 29, 2008

Book Review: "The Namesake" By Jumpa Lahiri

Jumpa Lahiri has done it again. After her marvelous debut short story collection titled Interpreter Of Maldies, she has delivered The Namesake (now a Hollywood movie as well). If anyone had any doubt her talent after reading Interpreter Of Maladies, they would be surely removed once they finish The Namesake. The way she builds her characters early in the novel through short story type episodes and then weaves unexpected turns of events all through the novel is truly amazing and refreshing to read in today’s fiction writing.

Ashima and Ashoke Ganguli are immigrants to Boston from India when they give birth to their son. Their son ends up with the name of Gogol, just because his "good name" never arrives from his grandmother in India. Gogol hates his name and grows up as American as he can while his parents stick to their Bengali past. The unfortunate Gogol is tethered to this dual Indian-American life, never quite fitting anywhere. At first he shifts to Americanization, pushing aside the Indian rituals. But after a number of relationship failures and some few successes, Gogol is attracted to the comfort of his heritage. His perspective changes dramatically over the course of events, especially when he sets a bond with his father as well as the name given to him.

Jhumpa Lahiri has written a wonderful novel about immigrant lives, families, and bonds that can never be broken. Gogol’s story is actually a simple one, as lived by many Indians in America. This is surely one of the best ones in recent times.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Book Review: "Interpreter of Maladies" By Jumpa Lahiri

Interpreter of Maladies is a collection of nine short stories by Jumpa Lahiri. It won the prestigious Pulitzer prize for fiction in year 2000. It is Jumpa Lahiri's debut and it tries to capture the dilemmas of Indian immigrants and their identity crisis with themselves. The stories are mostly set in America and India.

The short stories are titled as
A Temporary Matter
When Mr. Pirzada Came to Dine
Interpreter of Maladies
A Real Durwan
Mrs. Sen's
This Blessed House
The Treatment of Bibi Haldar
The Third and Final Continent

This is a remarkable collection from one of the most promising Indian American writer. The way Jumpa Lahiri makes the reader relate to her stories characters is hard-to-believe and need-to-read-to-understand. To write a short story is not an easy thing to do - there is such a short time to build a story and take it to its peak. But Jumpa Lahiri does this wonderfully. Although her message is through the lives of Indian immigrants but it could be globally related - that is the beauty of it - you do not need to understand Indian culture, aspiration, society and mentality to understand her stories.

Surely, worth a read. Short story-telling at its best in some of the stories.

"If" By Rudyard Kipling

A great inspirational poem

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don't deal in lies,
Or being hated, don't give way to hating,
And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream - and not make dreams your master,
If you can think - and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build 'em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it all on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breath a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: "Hold on!"

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with kings - nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds' worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,
And - which is more - you'll be a Man, my son!

Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936)

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Moonrise @ Satvik Resort, Bhimtal

A shot of moonrise as seen from The Satvik Resort in Bhimtal on 21st March 2008 at about 7 P.M. (courtesy Pulak Ranjan Shukla, founder of Satvik Resort). As per his observation over the past decade, before and after poornima (full moon night) near holi, the spectacular moon rise is visible and it appears very much coloured on Holi night.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Book Review: "Notes From A Small Island" By Bill Bryson

Notes From A Small Island is a travelogue by Bill Bryson about his farewell journey through England, Wales and Scotland before leaving for U.S. so that to "give his children the opportunity to live in another country, his wife the ability to go shopping after 10 P.M., and rescue Americans from the delusion that they were being abducted by aliens" (all is his own words). He travels through his adopted homeland by rail, bus or foot and captures, as usual, the details wherever he goes.

The best part about Bill Bryson is his eye for detail and his laugh-out-loud humor. This book has the details part intact but the laugh-out-loud factor is somewhat subdued. If you are truly a Bill Bryson fan, you will be a little disappointed by this one - at least I was. The book is more about his experiences rather than the history, people and other local things for the places he visits. Also, the second part of the book goes rather boring with his same type of rant about hotels he stays in, strange place names, identical places etc. Maybe it is because, as he says, there is everything identical in all the British places.

Overall, single time read. Not as good as "Walk in the Woods" or "Down Under" but still it has its own moments.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Taslima is right

Yes, she is right when she termed Indian government of being no better than "religious fundamentalists". If a so-called secular Indian government cannot protect rights of an individual (that too an artist) then it is surely religious fundamentalism. This episode brings shame to the country and now wherever she will go, she will talk about her experience here with the government machinery and surely they would not be good.

For me, as an Indian, I feel bad about turn of events and the government’s inability to stop or correct them. I also do think that it is better to be a non-secular entity than being a pseudo-secular one (which I feel the current government and its constituent parties are). At least being a non-secular entity, you can be straight forward in your approach. It is strange that the government was all quiet when Taslima was being humiliated in Hyderabad or Calcutta or was treated like a fugitive in New Delhi/Jaipur - now she has every right to say what she is saying. What all does these politicians do to stick to their posts :)?

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Book Review: "Transmission" By Hari Kunzru

Hari Kunzru's Transmission is a wonderful, witty yet thoughtful fictional novel about an Indian programmer who dreams of working in US, gets the opportunity, but finds it hard to survive there. It is a story about a computer virus, the man behind it and its effect on the global economy. It is also a satire on American culture and its technology dependence by means of the main protagonist's journey as well as other characters.

The main protagonist, Arjun Mehta, is a computer programmer & bollywood movie buff, who lands into his dream - working in Silicon Valley. But once he reaches there, he realizes that the reality is very different from the dream. His job is not what he desired and working is part time. Living in near poverty, he lands into a job at an antivirus company. When job cuts in the company threaten his job as well, he devises a plan - to create a virus named after his favorite bollywood actress, unleash it on internet and then become a hero by finding a "cure" for it. Unfortunately, he can't, and the things go out of his hand - the virus threatens the whole world economy and brings a lot of disgrace for his favorite bollywood actress as well.

Although the characters are shallow and the focus is more on their plight as well as satire over American culture, I feel this book is worth a read. Not as good as "The Impressionist" but still readable - easy read and funny.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Book Review: "White Mughals" By William Dalrymple

"White Mughals: Love and Betrayal in Eighteenth-century India" is a marvellous non-fictional work by Dalrymple. The sheer detailness and vastness of the subject shows meticulous research done by William Dalrymple for this book.

The book is set in late 18th century and early 19th century India and tells the romantic affair and marriage between James Achilles Kirkpatrick, East India Company resident in Nizam's Hyderabad, and Khair-un-Nisa, a Hyderabadi nobleman's grand-daughter. I think I have put it very much in simple terms but this book is more than this love affair. It is a research into complex East India working during those early days as well as a research into their complex administrators and office bearers. It is a research into cultural, religious and political state-of-affairs from Indian perspective. It is a research into Nizam's & Maratha's political clout at that time as well as English and French impact on it. The book is solely based on historical archives from those times - never once Dalrymple tries to put unnecessary words into the main character's mouth. It is really a remarkable feat considering the sensational nature of the topic itself.

A great book and must read for anyone who likes to read about Indian history as well as Anglo-Indian legacy with East India Company.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Book Review: "Eating India" by Chitrita Banerji

"Eating India: An Odyssey into the Food and Culture of the Land of Spices" is a book by food writer Chitrita Banerji about Indian cuisine, its evolution and present state of affairs. It is a wonderfully written book much like a travelogue - or a culinary travelogue. It is a journey filled with food culture across India - from the backwaters of Kerala to the Saffron fields of Kashmir. The most important aspect of this book is her attempt to cover obscure food traditions as well from the Parsis or Jews of India. Really a credible attempt.

For all the people who love good food and love knowing more about what they eat, this book will be worth a read. If you think you know a lot about Indian food then read this book to prove yourself wrong (at least I was proved wrong). The author has covered various aspect of Indian food which we are not aware of - like the impact of Portuguese, French, Dutch and obviously English waves in Indian history. It also touches upon the geographies, local customs, history and people of certain regions and the impact of all these factors on that region's cuisine.

If you are food lover, do read this book.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Book Review: "Three Cups of Tea" By Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin

Very seldom one comes to reading inspirational non-fiction at its best. This book is one of them. If you are reading this review and have not read the book yet, my advice to you to read this one. It is not high on its literary merit but its on the top for its inspirational value. Tegu recommended this book to me and what a recommendation it has been. Thanks Tegu for this one...

This book is one man’s story about fighting poverty, cultural divide and educate girls in some of the remotest corner of Pakistan and Afganistan. It is also this man's answer to the increasing terrorism in these areas - as he says, for every child going into regular school (not extremist schools) he is reducing the terror factor. The man, Greg Mortenson, is a ex-army medic and a mountaineer. During this failed attempt to scale world's second highest peak, K2, he lands into a rather forgotten region of the Karakoram Mountains. And begins the extraordinary journey to defeat poverty and terrorism, one school at a time, in these areas. Inspired by the need to give back to the villagers who cared for him a lot, Greg starts a mission to build schools for the children. And then it spreads from one village to another, till the time it becomes a full fledged humanitarian organization called Central Asia Institute building schools, bridges, water systems, and vocational centers. Although he faces lots of personal, financial & political obstacles, Greg Mortenson works his way through them and is still delivering to people not just in Pakistan but also in Afganistan. And during his course, he is also shattering the very negative views people have about this region. Not every child is terrorist here as is usually projected.

This book would make you think before saying, "What difference can one make?” Read this book for not how it is written, read it for what it has been written.