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!

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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! 

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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!

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Mumbai Times

I am back to Mumbai! Well, for my loyal readers, apologies for being away for so long, but moving gave me a convenient excuse to stay away and do fun things like sitting on rollercoasters in Six Flags instead of writing a gooey and grumpy blog on how sad it is moving and what a pain packing is!  Well, I also didn’t want to write a blog on returning back and my first impressions, but well, that’s all I can do today.

First impressions – Well, Kareena is SRKs Chammak Challo and protected by the still dashing Salman as Bodyguard.  Also, Katrina is Imran Khan’ brother’s dulhan and seems to also be dancing in every other trailor.  The number of TV channels has happily gone up and I now am happy to continuously flip through a higher number.  The songs are happily as nonsensical and annoying as ever and we still have the potbellied Sanjay Dutt and other old old actors jumping around with actresses half their age. Oh Boy, we really do need a new crop of actors and actresses.  To think half the people in Mumbai came to be actors!  We still have the same boring people who should start doing papaji and mummyji roles now. Anurag Kashyap still seems to be hell bent on producing apparently esoteric movies (say the reviews) that most people are not supposed to understand as he tries to paint the town yellow. I totally love the ads if they don’t have a Priyanka Chopra in each of them.  From the realllly dumb ads in the US to the zingy ‘Har ek friend jaroori hota hain’ was a nice change.  The khabars are still sansani and Maya is seems to be in her element as she proclaims wikileaks owner as mad and needs to go to the Agra asylum.

I love the rains at Mumbai. I think Americans were rather cute to call similar little puddles that form after a few minutes of a lashing, as flooding!  The traffic outside my house has increased as have the honks. I also woke up suddenly from my cosy afternoon nap (of 4 hours) to rush out because of an earthquake that turned out to be beats from some loudspeaker from a nearby Ganesh Pandal.  After exulting about getting a cook and getting meals which I DID NOT HAVE TO COOK, I ended up doing all the dishes from the last two days since the maid who did the washing did not turn up. 

I still need to venture out and then come back and bitch here more about the traffic and pollution and honking and public spitting all the time and the filth and poverty etc and annoy all my Indian friends.  Forgive me, but I am really trying hard to play the role of that foren returned NRI here although my past 48 hours of mostly lolling on the sofa and only watching tv while being served chai and lunch by my wonderful cook J makes me forget I ever did all those chores in US!  (Okay, this second part is to make all my foren friends who are still slogging away with cooking and cleaning envious!). It is little wonder that I came back! All in all, I am loving it as of now and looking forward to eating Damodar ke mashoor samose, jalebis, Sardar’s buttery pav bhaji and  paneer tikka masala that leaves orange color on my hands. More on Mumbai hereforth!