Monday, December 12, 2011

The Dirty City

‘Clean Mumbai! Green Mumbai! Beautiful Mumbai’ – These few phrases are a rude bundle of crap from BMC and all the politicians who have made the Shanghaification of Mumbai a colossal joke.
Apart from the many popular polluting elements of air, water, sound that afflict Mumbai, one which is less talked about but one of the most rampant forms is ‘Visual Pollution’. 

Huge ugly looking vinyl hoardings with ugly politicians with creepy smiles grouped with sycophants dot every road and square.  Those very smiling goons bash up sincere lads who go to remove the illegal cost-free advertising hoardings and threaten BMC workers who order them removed.  Bah! to think, multinationals shell out money to pay for the almost as ugly OOH (out of home) advertising.

The airport road was once upon a time supposed to be ‘beautified’ to avoid foreign visitors from getting headaches from all the ugliness that hits them suddenly.  After seeing a sea of blue, which is not the Arabian sea, visitors and Mumbaiites come out in the open in grubby taxis, to see people peeing, squatting, shitting on roads, picking lice on their heads etc. If that were not enough to make them want to turn back, they get to see the unavoidable unseemly sight of people spitting usually that revolting red muck every five seconds on pockmarked roads.

The ugliness continues on the unpainted roads with construction rubble lying everywhere –on the sides, below flyovers, on the unpainted dividers, with dried up and dead ‘beautifying trees’. No lane markings are present on any roads, and the dividers broken wherever convenient for motorists to make illegal passes and turns. New flyovers had come up were supposed to be gleaming and shiny new structures.  Then I saw these weird metal contrapments, probably cellphone towers all along the flyovers.  God! More ugliness! Talking of unpainted, rows and rows of dilapidated buildings with peeling dirty paint look on with shanties at their bases all along every large road in Mumbai and in smaller bylanes.

‘Clean up!’ dirty green Garbage trucks of BMC freely ride the roads at all times of the day and one sees a ‘Mera Bharat Mahaan’ painted on some unsightly broken granite obstruction in the middle of the road. The whole city is a dustbin for one and all where people litter as they please, where they stand, leaving their legacy behind for someone to clean up after them. Shopkeepers dust their shops driving the garbage to the middle of the road onto unsuspecting pedestrians.  A pile of garbage that should not be where it is, collects for days together.  Numerous flea ridden dogs and scraggly cats are seen loitering near these dumps or the middle of roads. 

One would escape the ugliness that abounds this city once one was home; I would have liked to believe, but there, as I enter, dirty shoes of all the family haphazardly kept by my building people greet me on the staircase. Across the window, in the opposite building, I am forced to look at my neighbours’ chaddis, banians and bras hanging out of their living room windows to dry.
Call me intolerant or just a foreign returned NRI even if it was for a really short while, or call me snooty, a snob, or whatever, but could we PLEASE stop exhibiting all our clothes to our neighbours, and stop littering alteast!?

And to think, people call this morbid place a beautiful city. Mere wishful thinking probably where we refer to the ‘indomitable’spirit and resilience of Mumbaiites as beauty. I wish we stopped talking about beauty like that in the Miss Worlds where they unnecessarily discuss ‘inner beauty’ on mugged up answers. I am done with the inner beauty, I want to see some physical beauty in this city! It is nice to sit on to Marine drive and stare out into the sea out of Mumbai.  Staring out of Mumbai makes it beautiful you see.  The city is a damn dump.  Can anyone at all do anything to reduce disgusting habits, really clean up and to make this city less of an eyesore than it can be helped? I love this city despite its short-comings and heaven knows why I want to return always to it and I always did, but indeed, it is being abused way beyond its tolerance limits. One day, it will exact its terrible revenge from the denizens of Mumbai unless something were done about it.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Book Review - The Best of Quest by Laeeq Futehally, Achal Prabhala and Arshia Sattar

Daring, illuminating, and inspiring. These best describe a journal that took birth not so way back in the pre-emergency days in 1954.  It was called Quest – ‘a quarterly of inquiry, criticism and ideas’. With a prolific writer, poet and social commentator Nissim Ezekiel at its helm, this magazine commented on the political, social, philosophical, cultural and ideological environment of a newly liberated India.  The magazine featured a motley of brilliant writers and poets of the time that included great names such as the zesty Dilip Chitre, sociologists such as Ashis Nandy and Sudhir Kakar, and the feisty Khushwant Singh and the haunting poet Agha Shahid Ali to name a very few of those geniuses.

In its short life of 2 decades, this insightful magazine was forced to down its shutters, but fortunately for our generation today, The Best of Quest, an anthology of the very best essays, critiques, poems and stories from an era bygone provides us with a superb insight into the thinking of the intelligentsia of those times.

The Best of Quest edited by Laeeq Futehally, Achal Prabhala and Arshia Sattar showcases writers from different backgrounds, and conversations on a myriad themes and topics. Divided into seven parts interspersed with old ads and including a worthy introduction and endnotes, this book features in three parts, Essays and Opinion, Poetry and Fiction.  Several translated works are thankfully included in this volume that might just have been lost.  At the end of the book, I am already wishing, there was a second volume in this series!

In the Essays section, what struck me was that so many of the articles commented on the questions that are still raging more than 50 years down the road. This section, includes writings on the still debatable caste system, the place of women in an evolving society in articles such as Women’s Lib in India, The Married Woman and Our Sex Morality, Fair and Free; cultural discussions on the Konark temple; the Islamic connection in a still relevant article Am I a Muslim. On a lighter note, the spirited two articles, On Caged Chaffinches and Polyglot Parrots and a reply to it in Indian Writing in English on the usage of English as a medium of expression were uplifting.  Movies have always been ingrained in the fabric of India and these were seen in caustic critique of Satyajit Ray juxtaposed with the hit movie Bobby by the then mysterious ‘D’ aka Dilip Chite and in the Charm of Rajesh Khanna. I wish I could quote or just list down all the well researched articles that said so much in so few words and truly provided a glimpse into the world which barely seems to have changed since then.

Poetry included works by the editor and great poet himself, Nissim Ezekiel, Kamala Das, A.K. Ramanujan to name a very few.

Some lines that I think will stick on in my head are in

Stance by Nissim Ezekiel
Elusive for ever,
the middle road
is never
in the middle.

From Three Cups of Tea by Arun Kolatkar –
i went to Burma
i was arrested and sent back
            to Manipur
no passport
                        the police commissioner asked
why did you go to burma?
                        Prickface i said
what’s there in India?

I also particularly enjoyed ‘City Streets’ by Santan Rodrigues which echoes what I think of Indian cities today with the scum and filth in them. 

In the fiction section, a fantastic array of haunting, satirical and charming stories has been selected with great care in this book. I loved the twist in The Departure, the simplicity in Aunt Matilda turns ninety and the poignant story The Accompanist.  Again, an enthralling anthology of fiction.

The endnotes and the story behind the magazine Quest were illuminating and I felt privileged to read so much more about Nissim Ezekiel, Dilip Chitre and the other scintillating men behind Quest. Kudos to the editors for the incredible collection of the essays, stories and poems in this terrific book.

My verdict is a thumping 4.5 on 5 for this book.

About the Editors -

Laeeq Futehally is a writer and garden designer. She worked as the Literary Editor of Quest for over twenty years.
Achal Prabhala is a writer and researcher in Bangalore
Arshia Sattar works with classical Indian literatures and teachers at various institutions across the country

This review is a part of the Book Reviews Program at Participate now to get free books!

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Dark was the night and weird the atmosphere...

Dark was the night and weird the atmosphere­­­­­. It rained from time to time; gusts of wind shook the trees. Between thunderclaps and the moaning of jackals could be heard the eerie laughter of spirits. Flashes of lightning revealed fearsome faces.

For those wondering where they have come across these lines, Chandamama it is, in the new tales of Vikram and Vetal that they featured for several decades and still continue. I loved the colorful delineation in paragraph mentioned above and had almost mugged it up! I have a collection that dates back from 1976 till around 1996 and I particularly looked forward to reading these stories in every issue that I had hoarded through subscriptions and old ‘raddiwalas’ (waste/old paper buyers and sellers). 

Vikram and Vetal (Vampire) has for long enamored generations of Indians with stories of wit, mystery and stimulation of those grey cells. The courageous King Vikramaditya sought to dislodge a vampire from his hideout in an eerie jungle replete with ghosts, jackals, and several monsters and deliver him to a tantric to fulfill a promise. The Vetal turned out to be loquacious, and he made a deal with Vikramaditya – If the King could answer his questions after listening to a story he narrated during the walk, then the Vetal would fly back to his original hideout. If he could not or did not, then he would stick around.

A page from Chandamama
The stories were particularly interesting revolving around kings, queens, commoners, princesses and a host of issues – ethics, morals, love, courage, dishonesty etc.  The conundrum at the end of each story was particularly thought provoking and the King usually had his quick correct answer ready which he blabbered out which had the Vetal laughing all the way back to the tree!
The original tales which are 24 in number are as old as older than the 11th century –incorporated in the Kathā-Sarit-Sāgara ("Ocean of the Streams of Story"), which is a work in Sanskrit compiled by Somadeva. Sir Richard Francis Burton adapted these stories in his translated English compilation of 11 tales in his largely fictitious work Vikram and the Vampire. I recently read this adaptation and found it to be highly intriguing and I almost thought I was reading the original stories. Next on my reading list would be the more original 22 Goblins by Arthur W Ryder.
The King did not continue his cycle of walking up and down with the Vetal for eternity like I once used to think seeing the Chandamama tales never ended! The last or the 24th story had him befuddled with this one tale.  In a kingdom ravaged by war, a man married a princess and his son married her mother, the queen and they had kids. The question to King Vikramaditya was – ‘What is the relationship between the children?’ The discombobulated relationship flummoxed the King and he was unable to answer this question resulting the end of his ordeal and delivering the vampire to the evil tantric.  The evil tantric had hatched a plan to slay the King but was finally outsmarted by clever King Vikramaditya. With this the tales of Vikram and Vetal concluded originally, but like most hallowed classics the legacy lives on with more tales being concocted around the same lines in books and on television.

PS - I was delighted recently to see all the old Chandamamas archived on their website Loved those enthralling folktales and stories then, loved them now again.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Book Review - The Blogging Affair by Manu

I don’t read books such as the one I am reviewing now, but well, it is the author’s first attempt and he did get it published.  There must be something in it after all. So, with such low expectations did I take up reading ‘The Blogging Affair’ by ‘Manu’ and didn’t find it bad!

The author has attempted to write on a sleazy affair, made as sleazy as an Indian sensitivity would permit it to be and woven a tale of lust with the façade of a mystery.  I am not sure what was more important to the author, the sleaze around the story or the story around the sleaze.  If you are getting confused, this book well, is an Indian Irving Wallace or a Clive Cussler kinda tale.  Quite honestly, the mystery is decent and did keep me engrossed with a mysterious blogger being an insane murderer.  The blogs were engaging too and the investigation process well described.  Yet another book, where the I was sold on the concept but the execution somewhat questionable.

I am sure there is a sizeable audience that is interested in fiction of this genre. However it is my perception that this audience will probably venture towards known foreign writers rather than an Indian newcomer yet.  Now, had this same author woven this same tale, aka Chetan Bhagat, we might have had a wider audience.  Just give Indians the story, plain and simple without the sexual tones to it and it probably will be openly talked about.  
My verdict – This book is not meant to be a classic or intellectually stimulating which I give higher marks for, but I would give this one a rating of 2.5 to this book for the story and the effort.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Book Review - 7 Secrets of Vishnu by Devdutt Pattanaik

I have always been big on following mythology and folklore around our thousands of Gods and Goddesses.  Along came this book ‘7 Secrets of Vishnu’ by Devdutt Pattanaik which promised to reveal all.  From Mohini to Krishna, this book wanders between folklore, stories as we know them and as we don’t, symbolism in various art forms across the country and tenets of Hindu philosophy.

The book starts off with a chapter titled Mohini. It starts off with explaining that Mohini is none other but Vishnu in female form, then the chapter goes on to various stories revolving around Brahma, Narada, Suka and Shiva with no apparent context with respect to Mohini and ends with a brief paragraph on Mohini’s liaison with Shiva. Now had the author not titled this chapter Mohini, the explanation behind Narada and Brahma falling into ‘Maya’ or the delusional ephemeral world, would have made far more sense.
That aside, I am glad, the author explained the structure of the book at the outset in the foreword since the names of the chapters are seemingly misnomers.  The rest of the book concentrates on the popular tales from the Dashaavtar covering all of them in the remaining six chapters.  Plenty of stories have been woven in around those tales with explanation using more tales!

The war between Deva’s and Asura’s, symbolism around the Goddesses of Lakshmi and Saraswati, stories from the Mahabharata and Ramayana have been narrated quite well and heavily illustrated.  The book secures plenty of brownie points with the lovely illustrations of murals, sculptures and paintings from all parts of India.  

Unfortunately, here is the ‘but’ though with respect to the illustrations – But, the captions of the pictures were grossly inadequate, as were the labels.  Perhaps a listing of various temples/locations of the illustrations at the end in an appendix would have really helped curious readers to know where they could actually see the real thing.   Many of the labels seemed quite superfluous too – a spear pointed as a ‘weapon’ or a painting of Matsya avatar (half human half fish image) with a label on the human body part as ‘The human upper body is a reminder of human possibility’.  Sometimes the lotus indicated appreciation; sometimes it indicated affiliation with Kama, the God of Love, sometimes, just something that was held by Lakshmi. It seemed to me, pretty random, that holding a child by a Yakshin, indicated earth’s fertility.

What I also did not like was the stress on ‘domesticated’ consorts of Lakshmi, Sita, Saraswati. About Sita, the book claimed –‘Sita embodies culture which is domesticated nature’, Lakshmi who is not ‘chased’ by Vishnu but who ‘chases’ Vishnu, Lakshmi massaging Vishnu’s feet.  The author did sound pretty chauvinistic to me!

My Verdict - All in all, I would give a rating of 3.5 stars (out of 5) to the book.  I would take away a few points for illustrations not being aptly labeled, titles of the chapters not entirely living upto the content and some seemingly far-fetched answers. However, the positives still override the negatives with a good mix of stories interwoven with the guiding philosophy and apt illustrations. All in all, reading this book was like reading an interesting textbook with plenty of illustrations, stories and learning!

This review is a part of the Book Reviews Program at Participate now to get free books!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Rickshaw Realities - The Other Side

We hate them.  But we need them.  I speak of the ubiquitous lifeline of Mumbai, The Rickshawwallahs.  I have written and unwritten this (deleted I mean) blog several times, sympathizing with the 'bechare' rickshawallahs and then casting aspersions on the same damn rickshawallahs.  In here, I ask the reader of only one thing – perhaps hate them a little less even though the most commonly used word in their vocabulary in the early morning rush hour is NO-GO, their meters are usually fast, they constantly strike, blow loud horns, spit disgustingly on roads all the time and drive recklessly!

For the past month, the lack of a personal vehicle has forced me into the rigmarole of hailing atleast 5 rickshaws before I get one to go and then inch my way on the LBS marg and the bumpy stop and inch ahead climb to Powai. I must say, these rides have given me a fair view of the other side of the lives of these supposedly bad guys and almost feel sorry for them for all that they have to bear. Perhaps there are certain myths and certain realities which commuters need to understand.

On Roads
Mumbai is a tough city (except the roads which are sadly very weak).  Bad traffic jams anywhere you go at any time of the day, do not make a rickshawallah’s life fun.  We the commuters, get utterly frustrated after that one hour of ride for the rest of the day.  Imagine being stuck on those roads with constant loud honking and pollution equivalent to smoking a hundred cigarettes every hour. What is also not seen is the health hazards that they probably face due not just the pollution but also back aches that the terrible roads and the very make of the rickshaw must give them.  Of course, you might say, they have enough vices of drinking and chewing paan and spitting out on the roads that make them deserve all the other health problems they have, but perhaps if lives weren’t as tough, they wouldn’t have these very problems.

On Havaldars (Traffic Policemen)
‘H&*#mi saale’  resonated with all rickshawallahs I spoke to, with reference to the traffic havaldars. ‘! Being stopped just for the sake of taking a bribe, or for pure harassment for breaking no real rule isn’t something we can take, but being gareeb and less chance of being influential, havaldars stop them all the time to extort money.  Perhaps it would be a good thing if they actually stopped them when they do break rules, one would think.

On MNS and the Marathi Manoos
‘Raj Thakrey, MNS, Shivsena vagere madam, ugich halla kartat.  Tyanna fakta votes payje’ –(Raj Thackray, MNS, Shivsena, create unnecessary trouble.  They want only votes). Infact, the Marathi rickshawallah, spoke on behalf of the ‘bhaiyyas’ saying they are very sincere and hardworking unlike their lazy Marathi counterparts.  I was surprised to hear the ‘Marathi Manoos’ say this.  But apparently, vote bank politics is something that every aam aadmi has realized.  These rickshawallahs, condemned the burning down and ransacking of the rickshaws recently of those poor bechare rickshawallahs who must have lost so much with the destruction of their medium of occupation. 

On Strikes
Rickshaw strikes lead to mayhem in commutes across the city furthering their image of the bad guys, but sometimes, it’s a few errant rick wallahs, which force all the other ricks off the roads with threats of violence if they don’t do so resulting in heavy losses for the day for everyone including the ones who cannot afford the strike.  Sadly, at the end of the day, with not much achieved, it’s the commuters and the rickshawallahs who both lose out.

On Traffic and NoGo
When 10th Rickshawallah I hail says ‘Udhar bahut traffic hian, No Go.’, I do want to tear my hair out, but the 11th one sighs and takes me in, and says, ‘Madam, what to do, People get into our ricks for a little bit instead of all the way, then get off in the traffic to walk off leaving us in the lurch in the heavy traffic.’  I can’t help but think, well, that is a different point of view!

On High Costs
Inflation has hit every aspect of one’s life in a city like Mumbai.  Although fares have increased to Rs 12 minimum now, still, really is it enough yet?  After comparing the local transport rates in other parts of the world, Mumbai still charges a piffling Rs 12 for the first km as compared to an average of $5 (Rs 300) plus tip in the developed countries.  Maybe if the rates were more reasonable, meters would not be as fast and the rickshawallahs less reluctant to ply between their non-routine destinations.  Where capital costs are concerned these aren’t too low either, with Rs 1Lakh towards the permit to be renewed every three years and Rs 1.5lakh towards the vehicle.  Fuel charges are separate.  A rickshawallah typically makes around Rs 700 on a good day of which he pays Rs 200 towards the lease of the rick and Rs 100 for fuel. 

Day vs Night
I had no idea, rickshawallahs worked in shifts.  Well, they do. The ones who drive at night prefer the day, since obviously the number of people who take ricks are more and the earning capacity is more.  The ones who drive in the day almost wish they did so at night when the traffic wasn’t so bad and it wasn’t so hot.  The night rickshawallahs are also under constant threat from drunks and louts who take rickshaws for the fun of it and threaten to beat up drivers if they are charged for the ride.

Most people consider rickshalwallahs as those ‘chote log’ and expect to be respected in return.  Granted that they probably do not earn as much as the one’s using their vehicle do, but still, I wish every person providing a service was respected atleast a little bit. Most rickshawallahs, have kids in good schools and hope they study well and not become rickshawallahs.  One rickshawallah I encountered from outside RK Studios, turned out to be a talented mimic who demonstrated his skills and gave me his card for his services in entertainment and hopes to get a break somewhere in that field.  What I am saying is, it’s time we stopped referring to the rickshawallahs in the ‘poor trashy category’.  After all, they are trying to get out of being poor. 

I do not condone the harassment that commuters are subjected to when there are constant strikes, are cheated and charged more and unethical practices by a humongous proportion of the rickshawallahs. But it helps to realize, not all of them are wicked. Most are out to earn their daily living. Hopefully, the next time I get frustrated due to the non-cooperation of this community, perhaps I could remember that they have their reasons probably to not go somewhere. Whatever it is, the relation between Mumbai and its rickshaws will continue to clash but the meter will continue to run.

Saturday, October 01, 2011

Mighty Chittorgarh and Blasphemous Indians

Massive, Mighty and Magnificent.  I loved Chittorgarh fort.
Morons, Miserable, Miscreants – Those Bloody Indians who desecrated its walls.

I speak of the Sunils who love the Nehas and are joined by that cupids arrow through the heart on the Ramayana etching, Chandraketus who visited the monument on July 7, 2009, Swapnils, Pankajs, and Rahuls who found it fun to use a permanent marker to scribe their names and present their autographs to the grim 1000 year statues. I speak of the Rams and Mohans who left their legacy on Mumtaz Mahal’s tomb.

I speak of the mother who instructed her kid to throw away the pepsi bottle in a corner of the monument and not carry it out to throw in the many dustbins stationed. I speak of the vile pan chewer who spit on most marvelous engraving in the fort.  I speak of the snacks vendor at the Rana Pratap memorial who discarded his trash outside his window on a hill which he thought was not visible to tourists. I speak of the literate but uneducated girl who did not think twice before throwing out tissue paper out of her car on the road after seeing the monument. 

Can we even remotely call ours a civilized society?  We harp about the ‘Mahaanta’ of Bharat and the rich culture and heritage and in the next instant trash it with our waste.  I am so indignant and disgusted at this apathy and this lack of reverence.

I had trekked earlier this year to a wonder of the world named Macchu Picchu to see some ruins which I have described in an earlier blog.  Those ruins, mere walls of stone, have been preserved with utmost care by Peruvians.  Peruvians who are from a similar poor country, are proud of their heritage and have not taken it for granted as Indians have.  In eras older than the Inca empire of the Peruvians, our emperors and kings were far advanced in their art forms and built structures which withstood not just battles and attacks but the test of time.  I could go right upto the Victory tower and I could only gaze in wonder at the art forms in the masonry and sculptures that were not valuable enough for the British to plunder.  But can we say that we have preserved them well enough? Sure, the Architectural Survey of India (ASI) has done a great job in digging out similar structures and maintaining them.  But what about the vast majority of the people who do not understand how privileged they are to be able to see them?

I almost feel India and Indians are not worthy of this rich heritage.  All these beautiful ancient monuments and gorgeous art forms would have been preserved far better in countries such as USA or in Europe where people admire, appreciate and respect them. 

Merely studying history is not enough.  Can we inculcate enough pride in our heritage so as to only be able to at least very mildly respect the wonderful history that still stands today and not desecrate it? If this cannot be imbibed, can more punitive action be taken against the cowardly sociopaths who carry out their ‘rebellious’ pranks covertly? Perhaps a fine of Rs 500 to be enforced by a wiry thin watchman standing at the entrance may not be the right way.  Can the government have CCTVs which are monitored and enforce more stringent action, say a non bailable imprisonment?  Is there anything we citizens who love and value our country can do more than turning away indifferently for fear of getting into arguments and then tsking tsking behind their backs? In this blog I speak of only our tourist places, but on a broader level, I question, why is it that the very same Indians who break all rules in their home country are able to even pick their dogs shit with their hands to throw it in the dustbin in another country? If only, everyone respected in their own country what they did in foreign lands, India could come somewhere near being called a civilized society.

A few glimpses of the magnificent Chittorgarh fort below –
Vijay Stambha (Victory Tower)

Hanuman 'Pol' (Gate)

Carvings in Victory Tower

Carvings in Victory Tower
Kumbha Shyam Temple


Padmini Palace

Jain Temple of Mahaveer

Meera Temple

Picturesque view near Gaumukhs Reservoir

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The Secret of the Nagas by Amish Tripathi – Book Review

This review of the second part of the Shiva trilogy follows my earlier blog where I have reviewed the first part 'The Immortals of Meluha'.

The second part 'The Secret of the Nagas' picked up where the author had left off with a skillful Naga targeting Shiva’s consort Sati after the attack of Mount Mandar and killing his friend Brahaspati. Shiva vows to hunt down the Nagas to avenge Brahaspati.  Along this quest, he searches for answers to understand what evil is and if the Nagas can lead him to this secret.  As promised by the very attractive book cover and the blurbs from other reviewers published on the book, this second part of the trilogy is action packed.  Perhaps a little too action packed.  Shiva battles the Nagas, the Nagas battle with others. There are also fights with the Brangas who support the Nagas. A mission to combat ‘bandit’ Parsuram is led by Shiva while Sati duels with tigers. A second love story apart from that of Shiva and Sati is also thrown in. Kartik is born to Shiva and Sati and long lost siblings are re-united in this second book. With so much happening, I honestly felt like I was watching a hindi television serial that had twists and turns and ample ‘dramebaazi’ on every page of the book. However, what irked me the most was the revelation of the secret of the Nagas, their identity and their delineation. The pleasure I had felt in reading familiar names in a fresh light evaporated when justice was not done to these very revered and familiar names. 

 For those who like racy books, possibly this book might be a treat. I have to admit, I was hooked to the book, but it gave me the impression, that the author had almost thrown away the opportunity of writing a classic thriller by merely being crisp in his writing.  I was hoping, the author would lend a little more color to Shiva’s character apart from his blue throat in this volume, but alas!, Shiva remained very one dimensional, almost to the point where, he became just a figure head for the legend that He was out to destroy Evil in the world.

On the positive side, this book is certainly very vivid in its descriptions and would make an eminently watchable movie.   The intense action in every battle and the internal turmoil that Shiva was undergoing has been expressed well. I could almost hear the drums in the war and see the blood shed. Shiva’s discovery of the deep underlying message that Evil is a matter of perspective was well narrated, and I could almost see him in the ancient temples and hear his conversations with the Vasudev Pandits who helped him in this discovery.

I would give this book a three star rating out of five for its racy plot and innovative story.  A crisper story, a different choice of words to replace commonly used Indian phrases such as ‘what rubbish’, better characterization and good editing will probably elevate this book to a much higher level. I do hope that while the author tones down what is not necessary, the high energy levels that are in the first two books continue in the third and final book of the trilogy, 'The Oath of the Vayuputras’. I look forwad to reading the final version and hope for a spectacular finish!

Read more on the triology on

This review is a part of the Book Reviews Program at Participate now to get free books!

Sunday, September 25, 2011

The Immortals of Meluha by Amish Tripathi - Book Review

I was excited about reading the first book of the Shiva Trilogy by Amish Tripathi and was thrilled when Blogadda gifted me a set of the first two books in exchange for just an impartial review for readers and the author.  It certainly was a win-win situation!

‘The Immortals of Meluha’, the first in a series of three is a fresh perspective of what Hindus and Indians believe in or know as mythology.  The author in his book has personified what Hindus have deified.  Shiva as we know him, has been portrayed as a mere mortal, albeit a great mortal and warrior. Reading this book with familiar landscapes and characters but a new story was an odd but interesting blend of knowing and not knowing what would come next. Familiar characters of Sati, Daksha, Nandi, Veerbhadra, Brihaspati have been personified in roles, as we know in mythology and I could easily conjure up images from the Amar Chitra Kathas that I had read in the past. I loved the canvas that had been painted for the entire storyline using various ancient civilizations of the Indus Valley of Mohenjo Daro and Harappa as well as from ancient Hindu cities of Ayodhya, Takshashila etc.  

The plot revolves around Shiva aka the Neelkanth, Mahadev or Natraj, who is a young warrior and leader of a tribe in Mount Kailash. He moves with his clan in a search for peace, to Meluha, a land famed for its ideal civilization more popularly called Ram Rajya. However all is not well in Meluha, this land of the Suryavanshis.  The Chandravanshis, their foes who reside in Swadeep seem to have allied with the evil Naga race and engage in terrorist attacks causing havoc in Meluha.  The story chronicles Shiva’s journey of love, thirst for revenge, and his quest to find evil to root it out.  Aided by the dependable Parvateshwar, with the fearless Sati on his side and the Vasudev Pandits guiding him in his spiritual quest, Shiva leads fearsome battles against his foes and leaves the readers asking for more.

The flow of the story was smooth and the narration gripping, although somewhere I felt the author drifted off at times losing focus of the main storyline and the characters.  Although the characters were strong in themselves, there was plenty of scope of adding more depth to their personalities through their actions- especially Shiva’s.  What I particularly did not like, was the use of modern day Indian parlance consisting of phrases such as ‘what the hell is happening’, ‘Dammit’, ‘what nonsense’ etc. a tad too many times taking away that old world charm in which the story was set. The landscape Amish has chosen to paint his story in, is marvelous, and I do think there is still plenty of more room to use this multi-region, multi-cultural background to his advantage to create a masterpiece.

All in all, The Immortals of Meluha was a gripping story that would probably make a riveting movie. I enjoyed reading it and I look forward to getting to Secret of the Nagas – the second volume of this trilogy! 

Read more on the triology on

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Royal Rajasthan - Part 1 - Udaipur

Rajasthan – a state that was truly royal.  A trip to Udaipur and Jaipur left me feeling proud of the heritage we have and increased my wanderlust in exploring more of India.

Udaipur  - a charming city with shimmering lakes, ancient architecture, grand mansions and plenty of folklore.  We got off the airport and were able to promptly avail taxi services at the airport.  Our taxi driver and guide Rais Khan started our trip with taking us to the famous Nath Dwara mandir which is a temple of Krishna and more popularly Srinathji in those parts.  We had around two hours to kill before the gates were opened to the hordes of devotees.  The area was like any other religious area really.  Rows of shops with artifacts to be used for worshipping, plenty of silverware, idols, marble besides the paraphernalia of the photos of Srinathji ofcourse, along with religious dvds etc.  We had the most wonderful chai that we have ever had at a little chai tapri there.  The chai vendor’s secret ingredient was Mint leaves!  I tried it back home immediately, and I highly recommend it! Well, we waited and waited, with the throng of devotees, right upto 15 minutes before the gates opened.. and then, much to Sandeep’s chagrin, I freaked out from the charging crowd, and I actually backed out! Oh well, I tried My Lord!  I hope we still have his blessings!

Near Nathdwara temple 
Near Nathdwara temple

Battle of Haldighati site

Udaipur and Jaipur, we found were cities replete with plenty of stories.  We were told stories of grandeur of the existing royalty of the family owning whole huge palaces, dozens of vintage cars, private jets, and even private airports! We heard stories of how Kokilaben built an entire town around a new temple she built adjacent to the Srinathji building, stories of the many filmstars weddings that now favor the grand Udaipur palaces for venues.  Particularly interesting was the tale of the two royal princes of Udaipur in which we were told that the elder heir to throne had been thwarted in ascending the ‘throne’ and hardly received anything from his ancestor whereas the younger brother got all the wealth and title of King.  Our driver told us how the people of Udaipur still stood by the wronged elder brother and respected him as King even though he had not received all that his brother had.  In Jaipur, the story was of that of the young teenage King whose princess mother had married a driver or commoner, and hence, her King dad, passed on everything not to her and her husband, but to the little prince.  These stories were all set in the modern day.  Besides these were the stories behind each building, each mansion, and each structure in the forts around these cities.  Where Rana Pratap and his loyal horse Chetak, were the subject of stories, memorials, and statues in Udaipur, it was Sawai Mansingh and Jaisingh who left their legacy at Jaipur.
Rana Pratap Memorial at Haldighati

City Palace

Palace near Lake Picchola

Dudh Talai near Lake Picchola

We boated on Lake Picchola and marveled at the gorgeous landscape with grand palaces, mostly now heritage hotels, in all directions. Particularly spectacular was the lighted up Taj hotel in the shimmering waters of Lake Picchola.  Being monsoon, the lakes were full, and it was surprising to note that the desert state of India was probably more verdant than Kerela!  
Taj Lake Palace

Bagori ki Haveli dance
We proceeded the next day to visit the City Palace, still owned by the Maharaja of Udaipur.  After a tour of the mansion, we banked for a bit on the shores of lake Fatehsaagar which was close to our hotel, had more chai, and then went to Bagori ki haveil to see some folk dances.  As a pointer to future tourists, the show is from 7 pm to 8 pm and is certainly worth a visit!  Our last stop at Udaipur was the lofty fort of Chittorgarh which I shall keep for a separate blog.  In very few words though, Chittorgarh was one of the most impressive forts I have ever seen. On the downside, it was disconcerting to see the number of cows  on most of roads left stray by their owners to fend for themselves in order that they did not have to waste precious space on them.  Apparently if the cows got rounded off, the owners were happier since the expensive cattle feed got taken care of at the shelter.  Thus, sadly the government stopped catching the cows, and the owners had their own way.  It is little wonder that foreigners have this pathetic image of India with cows sitting all major road junctions without batting an eyelid! On visiting Udaipur, I finally see why!

Rolls Royce at the Vintage Car Museum
For pointers on where to eat, our driver unfortunately did not take us to the kind of places we would have liked, but the one place I would recommend is the lunch with a vintage touch at the vintage car museum.  The Rajasthani thali was delicious and the vintage car collection incredible!  We also had an animated guide who quizzed us on Vintage car trivia and made our experience fun! All in all, a wonderful trip, and we left for Jaipur in the convenient night train with memories of the shimmering palaces around the tranquil lake Picchola.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Creepy Horrors

I am in shock and in deep pain.  Lizards.  Disgusting creepy lizards.  Again.  I was just confronted by a lizard in my dusting cloth in what I thought was a lizard free home. I remember some terrorizing times at my grandma’s place. Those disgusting, squiggly brown colored things have made me quake in bed in terror spending sleepless nights for fear they may be near me. I have opened cabinet doors fearfully expecting those beasts to jump out or jump away for me and for me to jump back if I see them.  I have entered rooms armed with a broom in my hand (which usually has usually fallen down since I have never not panicked and fled when confronted by those things).  I seriously don’t get it.  How can those tiny creatures incite such feelings of hate, repulsion and fear in any one! 

For those who belong to the lizard hating club whose numbers are quite large especially among females, I believe, can understand my agony when, I fled to a floor below to my MIL's as I await hubby dear to come home, find that awful creature and chase it away before I can cautiously go back.  The other thing about lizards and I think mice too, unfortunately is, once they come inside the house, there is no easy way to chase them out. One can chase a lizard around and around a room with all windows and doors and all possible openings open, but they manage to skip all of them and find that one immovable painting or cabinet above the most comfortable seat in the house behind which is security for them and insecurity for me if I dare to sit on that seat! Ruthless killing is not an option since these creatures have tails that live on and are more eerie than even the whole thing!  I remember a friend even bought this ultrasonic sound producing device that was supposed to shock lizards and drive them away.  Didn’t work.  Cockroaches and lizards have withstood the test of time and have I reckon, been through every possible calamity to be driven away by mere sound waves! The only thing that has worked is being armed with a nagging broom to chase them away so frequently that they give up and go to a neighbor’s house!

What I don’t understand, but am thankful for is the fact that guys and a few girls too never do find these things repulsive (atleast someone can chase them away!). In fact, I knew of a guy who had pet lizards and frogs.  Someone from that club, help me either overcome my repulsion or drive out that thing from my house!