Sunday, September 17, 2017

Author Interview - Maniissh Arora

Some waits to be an author while some just take the deep plunge.  Writer Maniissh Arora belongs to the second category. His first story titled ‘Purple Diary’ was published in a well-known transnational journal - Illuminati, a few months ago. His debut fiction ‘Sunshine Town’ is all scheduled for a launch on November 2017

Let's hear from him how he tackled the arduous journey of being a writer and also about his new book – Sunshine Town.

Tell us a bit about yourself?

I was born and brought up in a traditional Punjabi family, in Allahabad, a city located at the confluence (Sangam) of three rivers - Ganga, Yamuna and Saraswati. Dad worked for state government and Mom was a home-maker. Soon after graduating from Allahabad University, I moved to Indore to pursue management studies.

In 2002, I began my corporate journey from Mumbai and since last fifteen years, I have had the opportunity to work with some of the finest global organizations. At present, I manage a leadership role with a well-respected Software organization.

Though, I inculcated reading habit quite late in life, I am now an avid reader. I love reading both fiction and non-fiction. My favorite authors are Dale Carnegie, Julia Cameron, Steven Pressfield, Robin Sharma, Louis Sachar, Agatha Christie and Stephen King.
Having been born and raised in North of India, I have a special interest in the people and culture of the region and my writing reflects the same.

Tell us about your short story - Purple Diary?

Purple Diary is a story of Shira - a young, plump, short and dusky girl. She aspires to be an Airhostess. The narrator in the story is a ward-boy, working in a government hospital, who accidentally finds Shira’s diary in the hospital. He is faced with a dilemma, to open and find out the rightful owner or not to venture into someone’s personal matter without permission. The purple colour is not just the colour of Shira’s diary, it also represents the presence of divinity and spirituality in Shira’s life.

What persuaded you to make it as the theme?

I wrote Purple Diary when I was in the middle of writing my second book. And in both the books, though female characters play critical roles, the protagonist is a male character.

For a very long time, I have been nurturing this thought of writing a book with a female character playing the central protagonist. I always wanted to explore female psyche in great depth, to understand how a girl would look at this world and react to various circumstances around her. Purple Diary gave me that opportunity, albeit, briefly. I have plans to write a book in future.

If I am not wrong, you are working on your two fiction projects besides your book called Sunshine Town which is going to be launched on November.

Yes, that is true. My debut fiction novel ‘Sunshine Town’ is scheduled for a launch in November 2017. Besides, I am working on two fiction projects, exploring family bonding a little further in them. Unlike Sunshine Town, which is written for teenagers and young adults, the other two projects would cater to mature audience who are dense readers.

What is ' Sunshine Town' all about? 

Sunshine Town is about Shlok, a lanky teenager, a serial day dreamer. He doesn’t want much from his life. A dream to make his parents happy and the affection of a neighborhood sweetheart, Natasha. Though, both are poles apart, their interest in nature and jogging bring them close in a bond. The rapids of life push Shlok and Natasha on an unexpected journey and they realize one can’t always be in control of circumstances.
Set in Varanasi, a city in North India, during the late 90s, before the pervasiveness of technology, the book is about the aspirations and emotional turmoil of being a teenager. This story deals with the themes of love, career and personal fulfilment.

Which are the other two fiction projects you are working on?

My second novel is about three characters and a train journey. It has a corporate scavenger who is struggling to save his Job in office, a monk who is a mind reader and a girl who is crazy about books and reading. All three of them are on the same train. The book is somewhere between fiction and non-fiction, focused on bringing meaning to life. The expected launch would be 2018 mid.

My third novel is still work in progress, I plan to finish it by mid of 2018. It is about a half-burnt book that plays God in the life of a protagonist - a teen who has lost his elder brother and is unable to cope with the loss.

Tell us about your struggle to get your first break? I mean how you approached the publishers and what was their response?

While writing my first book, I did extensive research on the publishing industry and its nuances. I observed three clear patterns - (a) Script must be of high quality and unless it goes through developmental or substantial editing phase, it would be hard for it to fly off the ground, this is applicable for budding authors since the quality of writing improves with time and with a lot of writing. (b) Irrespective of marketing and hype, if the story is good, the book will slowly pick up and do well and (c) Creativity is subjective in nature and one should be relentless in applying to publishers and literary agents across the globe, without giving up.

I applied to 100+ publishers and literary agents across the globe and after a year full of rejection letters, I finally got a break. It was also interesting that a few literary agents in the UK liked the book, but they were pretty tight in their publishing schedule hence they had put my script on hold and asked me to wait.

Lastly, I also must acknowledge the role of my mentor, who played a crucial role in guiding me on every step in my journey from writing to publishing.

You are working in a corporate sector. When did you feel that you also have a story to tell?

I think we all have a creative child inside us longing for coddling and nurturing. It doesn’t matter which profession we are in, we all are creative in some way or the other. The important thing is to nurture our child so that it matures with time. We all have stories in the form of experiences and imaginations, it has to be expressed.
Writing happened to me by some sort of accident and it was a book that gave me the courage and inspiration to embark on this journey. It is my way of unwinding from the cascades of life. I enjoy it.
All your themes are very different from each other and to come up with such threads is not an easy task. How do you do that?

For me, it has always been a combination of my own experiences and the kind of books I have read and continue to read. In these years of writing, I have realized that I am an intuitive writer and more than anything else, spending time with a self-plays fulcrum and helps in firming up the thoughts into stories.

by Shalet Jimmy

Saturday, September 9, 2017

A Tap on the Window by LINWOOD BARCLAY

Book: A Tap on the Window
Author: Linwood Barclay
Publication Date : 2013

P D James, the acclaimed crime fiction writer believed murder mysteries were made of clues and not coincidences. But when it came to Linwood Barclay's ' A tap on the window', it was just the opposite. It was just full of coincidences.

It all began when a teenage girl tapped on the window of Mr Weaver's car asking for a ride. He refused as he knew that it wouldn't be a good idea to give a lift to a girl at night. But he couldn't resist any longer when she said she knew his son Scott who died two months ago.

The death of his son was yet to sink in for him and his wife. They could not bring themselves to believe that he had jumped from a building. Of course, he was under the influence of ecstasy. Still! could he just jump to end his life?

Cal Weaver who was a private detective was in search of an answer for his son's death and when Claire Sanders, the girl asked for a ride said she knew Scott, he just admitted the girl into the car, thinking he might get some leads that could direct him to his son's death. On the way, she said she would like to stop at Iggy's, a restaurant for she was feeling sick and wanted to use the wash room before they proceed to her house.

Even after 15 minutes, when she did not come back, he decided to check. He couldn't find her anywhere in the bathroom. Thinking she might have left through another entrance, he came to the car just to see that she was sitting inside his vehicle. It just took a few seconds for Weaver to understand that the girl who was sitting inside his vehicle was not Claire but somebody else who dressed like her.

When the questions came pouring in, she demanded to get out of the car and Weaver had to drop her in the middle of the road. Very soon, he along with boyfriend found her dead body under the bridge where Weaver had dropped her. He was quick to realise that/if the second girl was killed, the life of Claire was no doubt in danger. And when he inquired he could find that she was missing too. Since he was dragged into it, he felt that he should go in search of her.

Weaver was sure that the girls were followed by somebody and they played the game to hoodwink the stalker.

At the same time, there were so many happenings taking place in Griffon city which was on the borders of Canada. The Police Chief and Mayor of the city were at loggerheads. Claires Sanders was the daughter of the Mayor Bert Sanders and the police chief Augustus Perry was the brother - in-law of Weaver.
Cops Brindles and Haines were giving Weaver, a tough time. Hanna who died was underage but was delivering beer to the people.

I have mixed feelings about this book. It might be due to the reason that for the past several days, I was just reading classics and classic mysteries. I really had to struggle hard to get out of that world and embrace the modernity.
Linwood Barclay

 For the first few pages, I couldn't find anything substantial happening and that dampened my spirit. I was expecting something else just like his wonderful book ' No time to say good bye ". Hence, I just searched for it in the good reads and my friends over there assured me with their reviews that it's a good book and you could witness the elements of suspense only if I read till the end. That was what I did. Still, I am in a dilemma. I could not specifically that I liked or disliked it. Maybe, I stand in the midway.

Sometimes, I used to think that Hercule Poirot or Sherlock Holmes would not have done this way. Then I reprimanded myself for thinking like that as this murder mystery was all about coincidences and our protagonist was dragged into it. He was a vulnerable man which was perfectly fine.

Barclay has effectively portrayed the emotional turmoil, the Weaver and his wife Donna was going through due to the death of their son. They blamed themselves. It was not that they were not caring parents. First I thought I was not convinced of the motive which made the culprit to take a few drastic steps. Later I realised it would be wrong to say that as the human nature was beyond comprehension. If you like Linwood Barclay, then go for this book.

- by Shalet Jimmy

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Cards on the Table by AGATHA CHRISTIE

Book:  Cards On The Table
Author: Agatha Christie
Publication Date: 1936

Mr Shaitana was a  person of dubious character. He was attending a snuff box exhibition when he ran into our own detective Hercule Poirot. Shaitana was quick enough to invite him for dinner and lured him to meet some strange invitees.

There was something peculiar about that invitation. A collector of many strange things, Shaitana also nurtured a macabre habit. Some of the invitees to the dinner invitation were none other than people who have gotten away easily after committing murders. He had a strange talent of extracting hidden secrets from people and he used his talent arduously to find such people and bring them together to a dinner table at his house.

Finally, the fateful day had come. After the dinner, the guests decided to play bridge and divided themselves into two groups.

When the first group consisted of Dr Roberts, Major Despard, Mrs Lorrimer and Miss Anne Meredith, the second group consisted of Hercule Poirot, Superintendent Battle of Scotland Yard, detective fiction writer Mrs Adriane Oliver and Colonel Race, a retired secret service operative.

Both of the groups sat in two different rooms while Shaitana, the host did not take part in the game but sat in the first room by the fire, observing the players.

When they approached their host to bid good bye, after the bridge, to their utter shock, they found him murdered in his chair. He was stabbed in the neck with a stiletto.

In no time, Superintendent Battle took charge of the situation. It was then, the players in the second room realised that Shaitana had carefully picked his guests. While the guests in the second room were associated with investigation and authority, his choice of guests in the first room was a hint from Shaitana that they were possibly murderers who had gotten away after committing it. Shaitana had suggested the same thing to Hercule Poirot when they met at the snuff box exhibition.

Never in the wildest of his dreams, he might have thought that by inviting such people he was inviting his own death.

According to Christie, this was Hercule Poirot's favourite case though Hastings, his companion found it dull. For a change, she had come up with three other sleuths as well along with Poirot to nab the culprit from among the four possible murderers. It's not mostly the clues which had helped the four detectives in their sleuthing but pure psychology.

Though I understood the basic plot, the reading became a bit strainful when Poirot decided to analyse the suspects from their bridge scores. Because I don't know how to play bridge. Besides, there were many twists and turns.

Like most of her novels, Agatha Christie in this novel too was adamant that the reader shouldn't find out the culprit before she discloses it to them. Even though she had offered a clue in the foreword of the novel that there were four possible murderers, I failed miserably in detecting the real one. But that's the fun of it and that makes her the " Queen of Crime ".

To talk about the character Mrs Adriane Oliver, the 'whodunnit' mystery writer, she was full of energy and fun and Agatha Christie did leave no stones unturned to poke her.

Long and short, in her 25th novel, her plotting abilities were at its zenith.

- by Shalet Jimmy

Monday, August 21, 2017

An Unsuitable Job for a Woman by P D JAMES

Book: An Unsuitable Job for a Woman
Author : P D James
Publication Date : 1972

Cordelia Gray was just 22 when she had to take up the responsibility of a detective agency run by her partner, Bernie. He killed himself as he was ailing from cancer. The detective agency was not a huge success. It was then a famous scientist Mr Ronald Callender approached her to solve a case for him.

His son, Mark Callendar who was a dropout from Cambridge committed suicide. He wanted to know why he did so. After opting out of Cambridge, he had taken up a job as a gardener in the house of Markhlands. He was living in a small cottage in their compound. It was there he hanged himself.

When the police found his body, he was wearing jeans and had a smear of lipstick on his lips. Cordelia decided to shift to this cottage so that she could investigate the surroundings including the Cambridge. From Miss Markhland, she came to know that a girl had visited him before his death. Inside the cottage, she found freshly prepared stew and a coffee pot with coffee, definitely not the signs that indicated that he was contemplating suicide. It dawned upon her that it was not a suicide but murder.

Let me tell you, in the beginning, this is not a typical murder mystery. It can mar the fresh perspective, this particular one could offer. I did the same and it was when I reached the middle of the story  I realized that it had much more to it. It’s a Cordelia Grey mystery though Adam Dalgliesh would make his entry in the end.

What I liked about the book was the sheer sincerity of the character. Cordelia was not an expert like Sherlock Holmes, Hercule Poirot or Miss Marple and she knew that she was vulnerable and lacked experience. But that did not deter her from doing her bit.
Besides, it was also her story of survival. It was clearly said in the title of the book ‘ An unsuitable job for a woman’. Though many pointed out to her that the job was unsuitable, she was adamant about taking it up.

She did not have the experience but she was shrewd and knew how to confront a person during an investigation. Since his boss was dead, there was nobody she could rely upon with her instincts and intuitions. Still, she went ahead and did what she had to do.

This is my first P D James book. I am happy to know that this book comes first in the list of her works which one shouldn’t miss reading if one is a fervent murder mystery fan. I have watched many of P D James’ interviews and I would proudly call my teacher for she had taken me to a different level of the genre called the mystery.

I am sure that I will read this book again. Her writing was like honey dripping from the comb.

By Shalet Jimmy

Wednesday, August 16, 2017


Book : Rebecca
Author : Daphne Maurier
Publication Date : 1938 ( Great Britian)

Crime fiction writer P D James was right when she said " A novel is a good novel or not. It's foolish to say you can't write a good novel as a mystery."

Of course! There's an element of mystery in it. Just because of it, confining Daphne Maurier's Rebecca only to the genre of mystery would be a great injustice to this wonderful literary piece of work. It has everything - intrigue, romance, beautiful prose, in - depth and round characters. It had all the qualities to become a classic just like ' Jane Eyre', ' Wuthering Heights' etc.

"Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again." 

She was narrating her dream about Manderley. She was nameless and was living with her husband, an exile's life.

In her dream, she saw, Manderley was deserted and abandoned. The shrubs, the trees, the plants had encroached the drive and all around from their usual place giving it a ghostly look. Like any other bride, when she came to Manderley dreamt of a quiet life with her husband. But there was something sinister going on in Manderly.

Every wall of Manderely was yelling a name ' Rebecca'. She was the first wife of Max de winter who died of drowning in the sea. Mrs Danvers, an ardent devotee of  Rebecca intimidated the narrator.

 It was not that she had to fight with humans, but with the haunting and all pervading presence of Rebecca, the first Mrs de winter who died of drowning in the sea.

Rebecca was dead. But Manderley retained her daunting spirits. Mrs Danvers, had kept Manderley as if she had just gone out for a brief vacation and would be back anytime. The narrator did not do anything to alter the situation as she did not want to risk losing Max, her husband, whom she thought was still in love with his first wife.

She met him in Monte Carlo, France, where she was accompanying a wealthy American woman called Van Hopper as a paid companion. Her employer's illness gave her the opportunity to spend more time with Max and eventually, they ended up marrying.

Everyone compared her with Rebecca. Beatrice, Max's sister told her that she was nothing like Rebecca, and when she met Max's grandmother who also in her senility insisted on meeting Rebecca, leaving our narrator all the more perplexed. When Rebecca was alive, they had their bedroom in the western wing of the Manderley whereas; the second Mrs de winter and Max used the rooms in the eastern wing which was comparatively smaller in size for he did not want to go to the western side.

Mrs Danvers had gone to such an extent that  she was almost successful in convincing our narrator to commit suicide by saying on and on that she was unwanted in Manderley and her husband did not love her. It would have happened if the rockets were not fired, indicating that a ship was aground in the sea  near to the mansion with Max ordering everybody to offer help to the people in the ship.

A year ago, after Rebecca went missing in the sea, a dead body of a woman had washed up on the shore and Max identified her as Rebecca. But, to everybody's dismay, when the divers dived in to check the condition of the stuck ship, they came across a boat with a woman's body stuck in its little cabin. The boat was of Rebecca's.

No doubt! There would be an inquest. It was then our narrator heard something from her husband which she never expected. He was not in love with Rebecca and he hated her to the core. She was a woman of loose morals. That one sentence just changed our narrator in a trice.

“The moment of crisis had come, and I must face it. My old fears, my diffidence, my shyness, my hopeless sense of inferiority, must be conquered now and thrust aside. If I failed now I should fail forever," she told herself.

From that moment onwards, she had taken over Manderley. Mrs Danvers could not shake her anymore and nothing in the world could prevent her from adorning the title Mrs de winter. She was there lending her full support to her husband during the inquest.

Why was the narrator nameless? Was it the author's attempt to show that she never had any identity? Even after marrying Max de Winter, the owner of the famous Manterley, she was reduced to a shadow of his first wife. Perhaps yes!

She was living in her own world of imagination. Except for Mrs Danvers, everybody liked her- Maxim, his sister Beatrice, Frank even the insane Ben, living near the cottage near to Manderley.

"“I had built up false pictures in my mind and sat before them. I had never had the courage to demand the truth," she told herself.

The revelation of Max that he never loved Rebecca came as a pleasant surprise to her though it came with a heavy price to pay.

Kits Browning, Maurier's son says that her mother did not know what to call her. The only thing a reader could make out from the book was that she had a beautiful surname and she was very young than Max who was in his forties.

Then, as the story progressed, Maurier took it as a challenge to complete the whole story without giving the narrator, a name.

The book was a study in jealousy, according to Maurier. Before marrying Daphne, her husband Browning was engaged to a lady called Jan Ricardo who had a dark hair like Rebecca. Ricardo committed suicide by throwing herself in front of a train but the incident was not in any way related to Maurier's and Browning's marriage. At times, Maurier had felt there was no lessening of her husband's attraction to his late fiancee.

Maurier had also put some of her qualities in both the female characters though it were the traits of second de winter that could be seen in her mother, said her son Browning.  But like Rebecca, she was also good at sailing and had all the toughness just like her.

Mrs Danvers was a woman who was absolutely mesmerized by Rebecca. They were alike in spirits -absolutely inconsiderate of other's emotions. She considered Rebecca's audacity to continue her clandestine relationships under the nose of everybody at Mandereley as something heroic.

Mrs Danvers was a cruel soul who lacked judgement. According to Mrs Danvers, Rebecca loved only herself and Mrs Danvers was her ally, the only confidante. Even she was ditched by Rebecca before she died.

Max, on the other hand loved his second wife. But he was smarting over his own pain that he could not explicitly express that he was in love with her. The death of  Rebecca was hovering over his head like a dark cloud.

The Gothic mansion, Manderley will stay in your literature mind just like Thrushcross Grange of” Wuthering Heights' and Thornfield Hall of " Jane Eyre".

Maurier conceived the idea of Manderley from Milton Hall and she adopted the settings of Menabilly, her own house which was hidden away in the woods.

I am still at Manderley. Loved the book.

- by Shalet Jimmy

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Death at the Opera by GLADYS MITCHELL

Book: Death at the Opera
Author: Gladys Mitchell
Publication year: 1934

It was the realisation on the importance of reading golden age crime fiction which led me to various renowned authors such as Daphne Maurier, Dorothy L Sayers, G K Chesterton, Gladys Mitchell etc. And it was 'Death at the Opera' by Mitchell, I chose to read first.

Since I was accustomed to the writings of certain authors whom I read incessantly, I always found it a bit difficult to adjust to the style of new authors at least for a couple of pages. To my surprise, Mitchell's writing did not pose any such hurdles before me. I was totally engrossed in the book right from the first page.

Miss Calma Ferris was dead. She chose to commit suicide on the night of opera in the Hillmaston school where she taught. She was found sitting in a chair with her head drowned in a wash basin full of water. Miss Ferris was supposed to play the potent role of ' Katisha' in the opera called ' The Mikado'. Since she was found missing on that night, her part was enacted by another staff, Mrs Boyle.

The coroner's verdict said it's suicide.  But Mr Cliffordson, Headmaster of the school had his doubts as he found the pipe of wash basin was tampered with. It was blocked with clay.

Without wasting much time he sought the help of an elderly and sly psychoanalyst Mrs Bradley to investigate the case. The first few chapters were devoted to showing the kind of person Miss Ferris was. She had none except an aunt who was running a lodge. Though kind on her face, the aunt never had a sincere liking for Ferris.

 Her life was colourless and moral values very high. But she was a sort of person who could be happy with all the goodness happening to others. Her life was sans expectations with little time for rantings and ravings.

It's rather surprising to know that an inoffensive woman like Ferris could get murdered.

Through her analysis, Mrs Bradley came across people who had the opportunity and motives to kill Calma Ferris. But she was caught on the horns of a dilemma for the people who had the motives to kill never had the opportunity and those with opportunity did not have the motives.

 Even the motives did not seem like substantial ones that could make a person take somebody else's life. For instance,
 1) Ferris had destroyed a clay statuette, Mr Smith, the art teacher was making, not deliberate of course. He was given compensation by Mrs Boyle, later.

 2) She had witnessed Miss Cliffordson, another staff and Hurstwood, a student kissing. When the student was head over heels in love with Miss Cliffordson, she never forbade him from seeking any intimacy with her. She never loved him, though.

3) She had discovered the clandestine relationship between two senior staff Mr Hampstead and Mrs Boyle. The former's wife was an alcoholic and was admitted to an asylum and the latter was a widow. They were in a relationship for the past 11 years.

Just a few days before the opera, Ferris' aunt had sent a telegram warning him of a person called Helm whom she had met while staying in the lodge run by her aunt. That was the only clue which could make the reader think there was more to the plot. This took Bradley to Bognor and there comes the twist in the tale - Two more murders by drowning. ' An epidemic of drowning' as she would like to call them.

I cannot talk about my dislikes for the book I am reading her for the first time. Mrs Bradley is new to me and I am sure I will get to know the kind of person she is through her other stories. I like the method  Mrs Bradley employs to deduce who's the culprit. It's helpful for a reader who wants to be a writer.
Even though Mrs Bradley was noting down the causes that could make someone a potential murderer, which also gave the reader a feeling that she/he was moving along with her in finding out the culprit, I failed to pinpoint the real murderer.

 I was clueless who the murderer was until the end. But what I could not come to terms with was the motive that made the culprit commit the murder. It sounded flimsy. But I would like to think that a human being cannot be expected to behave in a certain way. Sometimes feelings and emotions can be betraying.

by Shalet Jimmy

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Happy Birthday Baroness Baroness James of Holland Park ( P D JAMES )

Happy Birthday

I am an ardent fan of crime noir, religiously reading Agatha Christie and Mary Higgins Clark. A few months ago, I stumbled upon an interview of P D James alias Phyllis Dorothy James.
 It just made me look at crime fiction from a different angle and soon she was added to my aforementioned list of favourite authors. I am currently reading her ' An unsuitable job for a woman' and have got a copy of ' Death comes to Pemberley'. Yesterday, watched the BBC adaptation of her novel ' Death in the holy orders'

A big Jane Austen fan, she passed away at the age of 94 in 2014.

Two links from Paris Review and Telegraph to know more about her and her works:-

Paris Review - Interview P D James
PD James' 5 novels you should read ( Telegraph)

Sunday, July 30, 2017

The Alchemist by PAULO COELHO

Book: The Alchemist
Author:  Paulo Coelho
Publication Year: 1988 (Portuguese) 1993 ( English)

' Maktub' - It's written

Twenty years ago, I was so excited for I was going to enrol myself in a library. I was 17 then. Books were a distant reality until then. Strangely, I don't remember the first two books which I took from the library but the one I bought from a shop keeper who had set up his shop on a portable cart. He was of my age and was selling second-hand books. With the meagre pocket money I was getting at that time, I could afford only second-hand books.

And I bought ' The Alchemist'. It changed my life. I knew about dreams but this book taught me how to dream. There's a huge difference between the two. For the first time, I realised that by pursuing your destiny, you are coming into close contact with the creator. It gave me goosebumps when I absorbed that idea for the first time.

As Paulo Coelho says in his book " Tell your heart that the fear of suffering is worse than suffering itself. And no heart has ever suffered when it goes in search of his dreams because every second of the search is a second encounter with God and with eternity."

The story is about a boy called Santiago who had dreamt of a treasure and was in pursuit of it. He inspired the universe as he dared to pursue his destiny. Like him, the author says everyone has a destiny and to reach there, one has to listen to his heart. For that, he has to be truthful to himself.

"And, when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.'

I think the story assumes different dimensions at different stages of your life. When I read it 20 years ago, I grasped only the basics because I was a naive girl with little experience. Time flew by and my experiences made me capable of comprehending the much more deeper meanings. I am sure, many years down the line, I would grasp more things.

Coelho says it is the fear that's holding us back from achieving our destiny.

"Most people see the world as a threatening place, and, because they do, the world turns out, indeed, to be a threatening place."

"We are afraid of losing what we have, whether it’s our life or our possessions or our property. But this fear evaporates when we understand that our life stories and the history of the world were written by the same hand.”

Along the way to your destiny, your determination will have to undergo several tests.

What you still need to know is this: before a dream is realized, the Soul of the World tests everything that was learned along the way. It does this not because it is evil, but so that we can, in addition to realizing our dreams, master the lessons we’ve learned as we’ve moved toward that dream. That’s the point at which, as we say in the language of the desert, one ‘dies of thirst just when the palm trees have appeared on the horizon.’

“Every search begins with beginner’s luck. And every search ends with the victor’s being severely tested.”

Years later when I met the shopkeeper he owned two book shops. Perhaps that's his destiny.

Some more quotes which I hold close to my heart:-

  • "When you possess great treasures within you and try to tell others of them, seldom are you believed."
  • "Your eyes show the strength of your world."
  • "When something evolves, everything around that thing evolves as well."
  • " Anyone who interferes with the destiny of another thing will never discover the destiny of his own.
  • " Remember, the world is only the visible aspect of God. And that what Alchemy does is to bring spiritual perfection into contact with the material plane."
  • " Where your treasure is, there also will be your heart."

- by Shalet Jimmy

Sunday, July 23, 2017

The Unexpected Guest by AGATHA CHRISTIE

The Unexpected Guest 
Author: ( A Play by Agatha Christie)
Adapted as a novel by Charles Osborne
Screened Year: 1958 

To put readers on tenterhooks from the first page to the last needs a skill. It's not a prerequisite that every mysteries or thriller should possess that salient feature. Out of the 13 Agatha books, I have read ' The Unexpected Guest' had that quality.

See how the story opens.

It was a chilly November evening. The tree-lined country road in South Wales coast was shrouded in dense fog, the foghorn giving warning signals every now and then. Though there were a few houses, they were half a miles apart, giving the area a forlorn look.

Nearby a three storeyed mansion his car got stuck in a ditch. Sheer inability to take his vehicle out of it made him walk towards the bungalow.
 As his knocks were unanswered, he tried the lock and entered the mansion just to see a man dead in his wheel chair. He was shot and nearby stood a woman with a pistol in her hand.

Without any compulsion, she said she killed the man who was her husband. The suspense started building up when the unexpected guest promised to help her by manipulating the surroundings.

This reminded me of Linwood Barclay's ' No time to say Goodbye'. One day, Cynthia Bigge, a 14-year-old girl woke up to the dreadful fact that her father, mother and brother had vanished without a trace. Before going to bed, the other night she had seen them in flesh and blood and perfectly fine. She had to wait for 25 years to finally know what happened to them.

These kind of beginnings are capable enough to make the reader not to put down such books until they know what had really happened.

The Unexpected Guest is, in fact, a play by Agatha Christie later adapted as a novel by Charles Osborne, an acclaimed journalist, theatre and opera critic, poet and a novelist.

Coming back to our story, I was curious to know how would they manipulate the time of death. It was sure to be revealed during the autopsy. Starkwedder ( the unexpected guest) concocted a story to save Laura Warwick that he had heard a shot and a man came running from the mansion bumped into him dropping a gun and disappeared into the thick fog. It was certain that after the autopsy, the time of death would not match with the time when they said to have heard the shot. But as the story proceeded, I got my answer as it was happening in a night and a day.

Christie had scattered a lot of cues here and there to confuse the reader. Though at the outset, we tend to think that Laura might have committed the crime, we would soon come across many characters who could be possible suspects.

Unlike her other works, this book came across as one with a simple plot but loaded with suspense.

 Throwing an unexpected climax is not unusual as far as a Christie book is concerned. But what is always unusal is the sheer climax. 'The Unexpected Guest' is no exception.

Without revealing much, I would like to say that she had easily established one fact through this book that SEEING IS NOT BELIEVING.

Though she had high hopes for her Play Verdict like Mousetrap which gave about 2239 performances, the former failed to repeat the same success. Undeterred by the failure, she immediately came up with The Unexpected Guest which played for a week at the Bristol Hippodrame and then moved on to the Duchess Theatre in the West End of London where it gave about 604 performances in 18 months.

- by Shalet Jimmy 

Thursday, July 20, 2017

The Painted Veil by W SOMERSET MAUGHAM

The Painted Veil by Somerset Maugham
Author: W. Somerset Maugham
Publication date: 1925

It's not only our experiences that mould us but also the lesson we imbibe from them. Unfortunately, there are many who learns nothing from such experiences but not Kitty Fayne. 'The Painted Veil' tells the story of a woman's transformation from a worthless being to an awakened soul.

Kitty, the wife of Walter Fayne had her own reasons to justify her clandestine relationship with Charles Townsend. She never liked Walter, a bacteriologist working in Shangai where she meets Charles who unlike her husband was a popular government servant. She married Walter just because she was not getting any suitable proposal though she was garnering a lot of attention from most of the men around.

To her utter dismay, her sister who was not as popular as she was receives a decent proposal from a Duke and this forced Kitty to go for Walter. On the other hand, Walter was neck-deep in love with her and every hell broke loose when he found out her infidelity.

Though Kitty thought getting a divorce from him would not be a strenuous task, Walter's conditions for granting the divorce shattered her expectations.

He would divorce her if Charles divorced his wife Dorothy and promise to marry Kitty. If not, she would have to accompany him to cholera stricken Mei-tan- fu where people were dying like flies. She never doubted for a minute that Charles would disown her which was exactly what happened.
 Charles was more keen to hush up the issue by asking her to deny their relationship.

"Steady on, old girl," Charlie said. "A chap says a lot of things he doesn't mean with his trousers down. You go off with Walter; cholera isn't so bad as long as you don't get it. Must bolt!"
Kitty was quick to understand that Walter too expected the same reaction from Charles.

Perhaps, this episode sowed the first seed of awakening in Kitty.

If Charles did not agree to divorce his wife and Kitty still needed a divorce, it would come to her with a heavy price - charges of adultery. Hence, she was left with no other option but accompany Walter to cholera-stricken place.

Walter was fiercely in love with Kitty. He volunteered to go to the Cholera stricken place to punish himself for loving her. Though she realised her mistake and accepted it, Walter could not forgive her. At the same time, he also could not stop loving her. 

He says " I know you are worthless - still I loved."

He loved her knowing all her defects. Still, he expected a lot from her.

And with Kitty, though she developed a huge respect for Walter, she could not bring herself to love him. Human minds are strange and Maugham had delved deeply into the abyss of those human emotions.

Shallow and frivolous, Kitty is not a likeable character. But my heart went for her when she was telling Walter, tears streaming down her eyes that it was not her fault that she was brought up that way. Kitty was right when she asked Walter why did he assume her to be of a higher order when she was not.

The remark by Waddington that Charles wife knew about his flirtations and only second rate women could fall for him marred her self-esteem but brought her back to reality once again.

Walter's love for her was too fierce that he could not bear the news that she was pregnant with Charles' baby. Perhaps, this induced him to experiment the medicine for cholera on himself.

Even after Walter's death, she succumbed to Charles, but she was quick to shun the chapter of her life with Charles forever though she was pregnant with his baby.

Walter has little part to play, his presence literally swayed all through the book.

Sometimes, you have to pay a heavy price to learn the greatest lesson of your life. Kitty paid that price by losing Walter.

She is a perfect example of a ' Round Character'.

The work was serialised in Cosmopolitan starting from November 1924 and the book was eventually, published in 1925.
Loved the book.

- by Shalet Jimmy

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Sandhya Iyer - Interview with a Book Reviewer ( Mesmerized by Maugham)

It's a matter of great relief that even after technological invasions, the art of reading has not diminished one bit. One of the best examples are the numerous blogs which speak only about books. When some do it professionally, some for the pure love of reading. Sandhya Iyer's blog belongs to the latter category. Hence, she is in no hurry to come up with the review of latest releases. Instead, she just ruminates over books of different genres and comes up with insightful reviews. Perhaps this might be the reason page hits on her blog never come down even when she leaves it unattended for almost a year. No doubt, her blog can be used as a reference material.

Sandhya's blog also lured me to read her favourite author Somerset Maugham. I am currently reading his  ' The Painted Veil'

If you love books and want to start a serious conversation on books, Sandhya's blog The Summing Up  is the right  platform for it.

Let me introduce her to you.

1. Sandhya, tell us about yourself.

If you ask from the point of view of career, then much of my time has been spent in various newsrooms. I started as a campus reporter at Midday, where I connected with some of the best and brightest names in journalism. My love for language was constant, and I think, without realising it, I had a deep interest in the business of information dissemination as well. I went on to work with The Times of India, Sakaal Times and The New India Express (Kochi). With both journalism and publishing careers being on the decline, it is important to consider fields where editorial skills would still be valuable but in a new context. Content publishing for brands is a growing field, and I do see myself gravitating towards it.

2. After reading your blog, I presume that Somerset Maugham is one of your favourite authors. Even your blog is named after his last work ' The Summing Up.’ How did you come to being his avid admirer?

I remember a friend showing me a film called 'The Painted Veil.' I was deeply touched by that experience, and I ended up reading the book on which the film was based. Soon, that book became one of my most favourite possessions, because everything in that novel - right from its genteel Edwardian setting, the powerful plot line, the searing insight it provides into the human condition, and its ability to be so perceptive about human weakness - spoke to me in a manner few others ever have. I was mesmerised by Maugham, and soon enough, I was devouring every one of his books. I was lucky he has a tall body of work, and the four years that it took me to read up his entire oeuvre gave me immeasurable happiness.

3. Your book reviews are insightful. You are concentrating not only on fiction but all genres. What is your criteria for selecting a book for reading and book reviewing?

Yes, my book blog is an indulgence for me, in that I don't necessarily review latest releases. In fact, most of the books that I have written about are classics or contemporary classics. I read and review as I please. I was doing a lot of book reviews for the newspapers I worked for, so that allowed me to keep my blog going.  Usually, though, I like to read books that I feel are relevant to my life phase in some sense. When I moved to Toronto, I had a deep urge to know more about Canada, and hence I took up books that could give me an insight into the country's cultural and political character. Now, that I am not reviewing professionally, I choose books with particular care.

4. When did you start blogging?

As early as 2007. I was doing a lot of writing anyway as a journalist, and maintaining a blog seemed like a logical thing to do.

5. I had never thought of buying a Kindle until a month ago when I realised that it is one of the best possible ways to read my favourite books without spending too much money. What is your take on e-books?

I haven't used Kindle yet, but I am sure I will like it a lot. Books for me are a way to get away from technology. I do a lot of short-form reading on my laptop, Ipad, and smart phone, but I tend to turn to physical books for immersive leisure reading. One of the reasons is because I currently have access to one of the best libraries, where practically any book can be found. I also tend to mark a lot of words and sentences, and then take notes later. But yes, there is no doubt that physical books are not going to be with us forever. They are already becoming scarce and in 50 years, they could well become a curious object like a cassette or typewriter.

6. Are you a fast reader? Do you also review every book you read?

I am not a fast reader necessarily, but I am a committed reader. When I'm reading a book that gives me endless joy and thrill, I actually tend to slow down my reading, so I can savour every word and phrase. I don't actually review all the books I read, for various reasons. Sometimes I am so overwhelmed by the writing that I can't summon up the courage to review it. But mostly, when I don't review a book I read, it is because of laziness and a lack of time.

7. You have another blog called ' Matinee Mix' which concentrates on movies. Unlike your book blog, it is not updated frequently. The reviews are insightful just like your book blog. Do you plan to revive it in the near future?

I was a film reporter for many years. I was always passionate about movies and had a thorough knowledge of the beat. I'm proud to have done some memorable interviews. Again, like my book blog, I started Matinee Mix because I was writing a lot on films. I haven't been updating that blog at all because my film viewing has drastically reduced. Also, whenever I feel like saying something about a film, I tend to post a few lines on FB or on some other film blog.

8. Most readers nurture a dream of being a writer? Do you have such a dream or a plan?

Definitely! The more you read, the better equipped you are to tell a story. There are no immediate plans, but I do see myself writing a short story at the very least. I think we can agree that pursuing a writing career is not all that feasible. The publishing industry is on the decline, so writing a book is more a matter of self-expression and prestige rather than an avenue for making a lot of money.  There are exceptions of course, but by and large, even well-known writers have to take up second jobs such as teaching to make their writing careers viable.

9. Which is your favourite genre? What is your take on ' Surrealist fiction'?

In fiction, I enjoy period dramas, family stories, romances etc. I don't think I have read any surrealist fiction.

10. Do you think reading 'Classics' is a must for a book reader? If yes, suggest some of the must read books?

I think classics are classics for a reason, so it is always good to dip into it.  But remember the reputation of an author or book waxes and wanes through the passage of time. Stunningly, Somerset Maugham was undermined by critics for a long time, which meant his name never appeared among the greats. However, his books have lived on. There is something to be said about the timeless wisdom and perspicuity in Maugham's writing that his plays are regularly staged for audiences around the world, and his novels continue to be adapted for the big screen. Not all classics are timeless, but a good number of them are. My own favourites are Jane Austen, George Eliot, and Mark Twain. Among the books that have made a deep impression on me are Pride and Prejudice, Persuasion, Huckleberry Finn, Tom Sawyer and Middlemarch.  I have read all of Maugham's books, but my personal favourite would be The Painted Veil, Up At The Villa, The Vagrant Mood, and his play, The Land of Promise. I am also a huge admirer of his short story collections.

11. Now Amish's Sita, the warrior has been released. Chetan Bhagat's book has been included in the syllabus of Delhi University. What is your take on Indian contemporary writers and Indian writing in English?

I always enjoy reading Indian writing in English. There is so much atmospherics that our writers are able to capture. But I don't know the wisdom of having Chetan Bhagat's book as part of the syllabus. He is an important phenomenon in terms of making book-reading accessible to the average or below average English reader, but I don't think I'd like to do a critical analysis of his plot or characters as part of a course. Some of the books that are prescribed in a course are the only ones many students will ever read in their entire lifetimes, so careful deliberation should be there in choice of books.

 12. Apart from reading and writing what are your other interests?

Cooking, nature, music, shopping for this and that...

13.Your 10 favourite books and 10 movies

Funny Boy - Shyam Selvadurai
The Hungry Ghosts - Shyam Selvadurai
The Painted Veil - Somerset Maugham
The Vagrant Mood - Somerset Maugham
Tom Sawyer - Mark Twain
Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen
Persuasion - Jane Austen
Middlemarch- George Eliot
Bookless in Baghdad - Shashi Tharoor
The Land of Promise - Somerset Maugham

Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikander
Kandukondain Kandukondain (Tamil)
Varavelpu (Malayalam)
The Second Best Marigold Hotel
The Best Marigold Hotel
Bangalore Days

14. How many books do you have in your library?
250 plus.

- by Shalet Jimmy

published here Mesmerized by Maugham

Sunday, June 25, 2017

The Second Time Around - Mary Higgins Clark ( 2003)

I am a die- hard fan of Mary Higgins Clark. What I like about her is the gentle way of narrating a story. I think she is a writer who does not believe in gory descriptions to make her stories more thrilling. Still, there's mystery and suspense that can put you on tenterhooks right from the first page.

Her narrations lack artificiality. Perhaps, it might be because she finds clues for her story from the newspapers - in other words, incidents that happen in the normal lives of people and the reader can relate to the story, easily.

Nicholas Spencer, the head of Gen - Stone, a company which is developing medicine against cancer disappears without a trace. The wreckage of his plane is found but not his body, raising many eyebrows. What if he has staged this accident? Maybe because he was aware that the vaccine is not going to work.  Lots of people whose dear ones are being victims of the deadliest disease have invested their whole money in the Gen- Stone stocks - Ned and Marty being two among them. After the news of his death starts doing rounds, Nick's bungalow has been set ablaze by someone. Lynn, Nick's wife had a close shave.

Carly Decarlo who writes financial advice columns is now a journalist in the Wall Street Weekly and her first assignment is to do a cover story on Nick. Carley has met Nick personally and for her, he has come across as a genuine person. She too invested her money in his company. Apart from it, Lynn
  is Carley's stepsister. After her father's death, Carley's mother got married to Lynn's father. As the story progresses, Carley feels that Nick is murdered. Her doubt is intensified when Dr Boedrick who bought Nick's house where his father used to do experiments meets with an accident just after he passes on to her the information that he has handed over the record of experiments to a red - headed guy.

I have read many thrillers. But I could not figure out who was behind the murder though there were many explicit clues. That's the beauty of her craft and maybe because of this I might have immersed myself in the story rather than interrupting my reading thinking who is the culprit. This book might not be her best but it's worth reading.

- by Shalet Jimmy

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Belated Happy Birthday - Anita Desai

" Reality is merely one-tenth visible section of the iceberg that one sees above the surface of the ocean- art remaining nine-tenth of it that lies below the surface. That is why it is more near Truth that Reality itself. Art does not merely reflect Reflect - it enlarges it"

Anita Desai, the acclaimed writer from India was born on June 24, 1937. This is to wish her belated Happy birthday.

My personal favourite is Fire on the Mountain. But I am sure as I keep on her reading her books, the list would increase too.

“Wherever you go becomes a part of you somehow.”
― Anita Desai

“Isn't it strange how life won't flow, like a river, but moves in jumps, as if it were held back by locks that are opened now and then to let it jump forwards in a kind of flood?”
― Anita Desai

Someone who wants to write should make an effort to write a little something every day. Writing in this sense is the same as athletes who practice a sport every day to keep their skills honed.
- Anita Desai

I aim to tell the truth about any subject, not a romance or fantasy, not avoid the truth.
- Anita Desai

My style of writing is to allow the story to unfold on its own. I try not to structure my work too rigidly.
-  Anita Desai

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Nobody Killed Her by SABYN JAVERI

Book : Nobody killed her
Author : Sabyn Jhaveri
Publication year : 2017

I chose this book to meet the ' kickass heroine 'and whom I found was an unapologetic heroine with little hypocrisy. Now, that stirred my interest. Prior to it, I had hardly any experience with South Asian thrillers though I was a huge sucker for mysteries and suspense fictions.

Javeri's book prompted me to turn my attention to South Asia and I ended up reading Kalpana Swaminathan and Ashwin Sanghi. Needless to say, it was a good experience. Reviewing these books gave me immense pleasure for there were many serious issues to ponder upon. Javeri's debut novel was no different.

When the story opens, former Prime Minister of Pakistan, Rani Shah was assassinated and her confidante Nazneen Khan ( Nazo )was held accountable for the murder. For, she was the one who was with Rani during her last hours.

 “ Who killed her?”

The story which was narrated in the course of courtroom proceedings was unputdownable. A pacy thriller with a maze of elements – treachery, gender equality, corruption, politics and what not.

Javeri had put the narrative in the unreliable hands of Nazo and this made the maze more thrilling.

What I liked about the book was that Javeri had left no stone unturned to depict the real life situations and it shunned hypocrisy to the core. The author was right when she said she was tired of suitable South Asian heroines. Even many of us were tired of that. She had torn apart those false faces which hardly existed and it's a big relief.

Jhaveri's character would make us think twice before we put every woman under one category when it's pertaining to topics like women empowerment, gender equality and feminism. The reasons for misinterpreting these words were mainly because we often tend to forget that there are different kinds of women with different circumstances with Nazo and Rani being the perfect examples.

There are a good number of women who have manipulative skills to get what they want. I liked the way Javeri left her characters ( Rani & Nazo) without judging them. They are at times strong, sometimes vulnerable and they get disillusioned too.

When Rani was born into an affluent family of politicians and everything had been offered to her on a platter, Nazo's family was murdered in front of her eyes by the General who was ruling Pakistan. Strangely, even such a strong background could not help Rani to wriggle through the maze of politics. But Nazo once determined had pushed the envelope and told us the story of survival. 

She was a refugee and Rani was Nazo's icon, God, lover and everything. She offered her at Rani's feet thinking that only she could save the country from the treacherous role of the General. But she was wrong. The moment Rani got the power her ideals quickly started changing. Mysogyny was prevalent. But with her hard-earned power did Rani do anything to change that? She comfortable placed herself where her society wanted her to be in.

The book created headlines even before it was released owing to Rani Shah's sharp semblance to the late Benazir Bhutto. It could not be denied but what amazed me was that even with a similar backdrop as of Mrs Bhutto, Rani Shah, all through the book hardly showed any traces of the late former premier. Now, that is something to be appreciated.

Once you finish reading the story, you will understand the quote mentioned by Sabyn Javeri at the outset of the book.

“I think you can love a person too much.You put someone up on a pedestal, and all of a sudden, from that perspective, you notice what's wrong - a hair out of place, a run in a stocking, a broken bone. You spend all your time and energy making it right, and all the while, you are falling apart yourself. You don't even realize what you look like, how far you've deteriorated, because you only have eyes for someone else.”

― Jodi Picoult, Handle with Care

Going to read her short story.

by Shalet Jimmy

Sunday, June 18, 2017

GREENLIGHT by Kalpana Swaminathan

It began when a six-year-old girl from Kandewadi, a small slum near Andheri in Mumbai goes missing. Pinky was the first to go, then Jamila followed by Mary, Sindhu and Tara.

Panic grips the slum when these children are returned as mutilated and raped corpses. Lalli takes charge of the investigation with police officers Savio and Shukla and her niece Sita who is also her accomplice. Written from Sita's point of view, Kalpana Swaminathan's latest book slowly opens to an unimaginable cruel world of crime and put forth several questions to ponder upon.

The book has dealt with issues like brutal child abuse, politics that can sell and buy anything, the helplessness of the officials who are not corrupt, pseudo feminism, etc. Though crime fiction written especially by Indian authors highlight several issues and makes the reader ask pertinent questions, there’s often a tendency to dismiss fiction noir as mere 'pulp fiction'. It is unfortunate.

If you put down a list of serious crime novels, Kalpana Swaminathan's ' Greenlight' will be the first in the category. It is her sixth book in the Lalli series.

Let's see who Lalli is? She is a retired police detective who has ace shooting skills. She is in her sixties and is ruling the roost in a world dominated by men. If there is a murder, Lalli is the last resort even for the police.

The book is unputdownable and a great relief that Indian writers can create novels in this genre that can compete with the west.

To speak further on the book, it throws light on the bizarre mindset of the people. On one side when the rich believes in committing horrendous crimes just for the sake having a thrill and also inflicting cruelties on children from slum purely, because they do not consider them worthy of living in this world, there are slum dwellers, on the other side,  who refuse to show any empathy to Tara's mother who is a sex worker even after Tara is abducted and killed. They even pray to take the life of Tara in exchange for their daughters' lives just because her mother is a sex- worker and they think she deserves it.

What I also like about the book is the innuendoes on pseudo- feminism. In a meeting called by Seema, the journalist who is following the Kandewadi story, women easily forget the atrocities and rape and easily shift their attention to take it as a platform to indulge in their own selfish interests – some writes articles, poem, etc. One has killed her feotus and has written a poem on it justifying her actions that she aborted it to save the fetus from the world. She has taken the decision after reading the Kandewadi incidents.

Sita who could not bear this hypocrisy comes out of the meeting and thinks to herself that “ I had lacked the courage I might have had five years ago to tell those women what a misogynystic bunch of voyeurs, they were, what pathetic human beings they were, if their only response to the pain of others was to trot out sorry tales of their own. I wondered what they would have said, or done, if they had seen Tara in her empty hut.

Calling ' Lalli', a ' Desi Miss Marple' will not do any justification to the round character Kalpana Swaminathan has created. Even the author has clarified once that Lalli is not like Miss Marple. There are no similarities barring the fact that they love sleuthing. Like Miss Marple of Agatha Christie, Lalli has her own identity.

One thing that could have been avoided is the gory description of the brutalities committed to the children. It's horrendous. This reminds me of books written by a renowned Crime writer from the West, Tess Gerritsen. Perhaps it might be their background as medical doctors which enable them to write precise description though a bit gross.

When the story ends Swaminathan also puts across a question to ponder “ The Cry, How can I bear that someone should use my body like this? Is usually read as a woman's outrage. But isn't it equally a man's? It is men who should protest against rape, and not women.”

- Shalet Jimmy

Friday, June 16, 2017

Quotes - Jhumpa Lahiri

“That's the thing about books. They let you travel without moving your feet.”
― Jhumpa Lahiri, The Namesake

“There were times Ruma felt closer to her mother in death than she had in life, an intimacy born simply of thinking of her so often, of missing her. But she knew that this was an illusion, a mirage, and that the distance between them was now infinite, unyielding. ”
― Jhumpa Lahiri, Unaccustomed Earth

“And yet he had loved her. A Bookish girl heedless of her beauty, unconscious of her effect. She'd been prepared to live her life alone but from the moment he'd known her he'd needed her.”
― Jhumpa Lahiri, The Lowland

“It was not in my nature to be an assertive person. I was used to looking to others for guidance, for influence, sometimes for the most basic cues of life. And yet writing stories is one of the most assertive things a person can do. Fiction is an act of willfulness, a deliberate effort to reconceive, to rearrange, to reconstitute nothing short of reality itself. Even among the most reluctant and doubtful of writers, this willfulness must emerge. Being a writer means taking the leap from listening to saying, “Listen to me.” 
― Jhumpa Lahiri

“Pack a pillow and blanket and see as much of the world as you can.You will not regret it.” 
― Jhumpa Lahiri, The Namesake

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Mr and Mrs Jinnah by Sheela Reddy ( a short introduction before the review )

When Mohammad Ali Jinnah fell in love with Ruttie Petit, she was 16 and he was 42.

She was the daughter of a rich Parsi baronet and Jinnah's good friend, Sir Dinshaw Petit.

After her marriage with Jinnah, she was ostracized from her community and a year later Jinnah was thrown out of Congress, says Journalist Sheela Reddy who authored the book. MR AND MRS JINNAH.

Very soon, the marriage hit rock bottom. A thoroughly disillusioned Ruttie committed suicide when she was just 29.

Though the book is all about Mr and Mrs Jinnah, it also says about the interplay of politics.
Gandhiji was completely against such marriages. He firmly believed in his stand and voiced his opinion against inter-religious marriages through his newspaper - Harijan.

Reddy says since he was a prominent figure in the country, people were forced to accept his view. Some of his followers had differences of opinion with Gandhiji regarding the same. But they never aired it in public.

Jinnah’s equation with Nehru was not great. It was an open secret. Reddy says ‘ Motilal Nehru was a good friend of Jinnah until the former ditched the latter for Gandhi due to his sons. Nehru looked upon Jinnah for reasons as frivolous as like the latter was less cultured and read only newspapers and not books.

SOUNDS LIKE AN INTERESTING READ. Kudos to Sheela Reddy! Even though, the availability of resources to delve into the emotional and personal life of Jinnah and Ruttie was scant; she came up with an interesting read.

I am yet to read this book. Looking forward to it.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Almost Single by Advaita Kala

Be it Bhatinda or Kerala, the mothers of single women nearing 30 speaks almost the same language. They want their daughters to get settled. But the daughters are not ready just because they fear that they will have to compromise their independence ( not making a generalisation here. I wrote it just because this is the point on which 'Almost Single' rotates)

To my surprise, ‘ Mama Bhatia ‘, the mother of Aisha Bhatia, the protagonist resembles my mother too strongly that there are times I had to pinch myself to make sure that it was not my mum speaking.
I chanced upon this book in a bookstore which I frequented just because it's a bookstore. I did not have the intention of buying anything. When I am a bit flurried, usually a library or a book shop calms my mind. The title ' Almost Single' was catchy.  and the price was so low that I thought I would give it a chance.

To speak about the book, I would definitely not call this a masterwork or great piece of art. It is a book which has been written in a simple language and absolutely apt for casual reading. There is no plot as such. It is the story of Aisha Bhatia from Bhatinda along with her two friends who are on a groom hunt, to be precise, it would not be wrong if I say ‘ NRI groom hunt’. ( One friend just got a divorce from her husband and the other is on a search ).

Unlike her friends, she did not want to flow with the age old tradition of groom hunting whether it be through social networking sites or by conventional methods. Her faith eventually triumphs at the end as she falls for Karan, an NRI. The story concludes with hero and heroine coming together just like a typical Bollywood movie.

It would definitely grab your attention till you end it. That's it. There's nothing to ruminate and not my kind of book. But you just can't ignore a book which has made you sit all through.

If you are somebody who needs food for thought after reading a book, Almost Single is just not for you. You won’t get anything serious out of it. Keeping all those seriousness aside, if you need a light reading while you are travelling or mired in depression, this could be a perfect remedy.


Wednesday, June 7, 2017

American Sniper directed by Clint Eastwood ( 2014)

YEAR :  2014
(American biographical war drama film directed by Clint Eastwood and written by Jason Hall)

American Sniper can be easily categorized into a war – movie, but with many underlying layers to it- emotions, faith, duty and certain viewpoints which are of course debatable.

Based on the real life story of Chris Kyle, acclaimed as the most lethal sniper in the US military history who had 160 official killings to his credit, the film solely speaks about ‘ Chris’, though the war is the backdrop. Nevertheless, through him many perspectives come to the fore, the first one being the definition of ‘Evil ‘which is no doubt, Iraq. If we keep aside that particular aspect for a while, the film is worth watching for its sheer display of emotions – a man caught between his duties towards his country where he has to take lives to protect his people and the humanity in him.

When the movie opens, Kyle is on his first operation at Fallujah, Iraq. He is on the rooftop of a building aiming at his enemy. His first target is a woman and a son. The woman, presumably his mother hands over a grenade to the little boy and he is about to throw it towards the convoy. One single shot - the boy is down. Chris is unflinching in his duty but is sad without remorse that he has to gun down the little boy.

It’s the lesson taught by his father that he should be a sheepdog who protects his flock, makes him one of the best snipers. When he guns down his enemy, there’s no remorse written over his face. He is clear – the evil should not thrive. The humanity in him is intact, but that does not deter him from taking over his enemy irrespective of who it is. But when he is away from the war - front, the gore and the violence consume him. As the film progress, we could see the real man whom he has subdued for a while. The scene where he struggles with himself when he has to aim another little boy who picks up the weapon dropped by a terrorist who has been shot by Chris clearly reveals his dilemma. When the child drops the weapon without firing, he heaves a sigh of relief.

Bradley Cooper is at his best that we could never find a trace of him in his character. Sienna Miller, though her scenes are a few, her acting made her presence felt all through the film. Her scenes throw light on what the families of the soldiers go through.

Chris might be the ‘legend’ as everyone calls him, but, when he’s home, we can see a mentally torn Chris struggling with the conflict that’s brewing inside his mind. But he refuses to acknowledge it. Besides, it is also the protector image which is ingrained in his mind right from the inception of his childhood aggravates his dilemma. He feels that when his buddies are dying in Iraq, he is with his family unable to save them.

It draws our attention to a universal issue – the trauma experienced by the soldiers all across due to their exposure to wars. Whether they are being addressed is the burning question. The scene in a bar where Chris spends time before going home after the war-front is a perfect example of that. As the audience are immersed in his dilemma, the scene cuts to another shot which is the last shot where Chris is seen enjoying with the family and goes out with a war veteran who later kills him. It seems as if the issue has been abruptly cut rather than delving into it a little further.

For a foreigner watching the movie, the answer to the question ‘ why did the war veteran kill Chris’, will be ambiguous, leaving him/her to rely on Google. When you search, you will figure out that he was killed by a psychopath who was affected by the sheer violence he had to see while he was deployed.

Eastwood and Jason decided to cut the final scene after a request from Chris Kyle’s widow – Taya Kyle. The team of American Sniper came up with five different endings once Kyle’s widow informed them that “ This is going to be how my children remember their father, so I want you to get it right.” The film ends with the ‘real funeral scene’ of Chris Kyle.

When every intention of Clint Eastwood was to portray war as something that annihilating, there’s another side to that portrayal – Dehumanisation of Iraq

Though not explicitly, Eastwood has shown it as an evil that has to be obliterated which makes the story one-sided.The explanation on why ‘Iraq’ became one of the ‘axis of evil’ is glossed over conveniently. Iraq is completely dehumanised in the movie.

Barring this single aspect, he deserves every appreciation for making one of the best war movies which is also the highest grossing war movie ever made.

Interestingly, the release of the movie ran parallel with the trial of Eddie Ray Youth who was guilty of murdering Chris Kyle.

The movie was nominated for six Oscars including best actor for Bradley Cooper and best picture. It won several other awards including Academy Award for best sound editing.


Monday, June 5, 2017

Minal Sarosh ( Indian Author ) Interview

It was in 2015, I read and reviewed Minal Sarosh's début novel ‘Soil for My Roots ’. She started her literary career as a poet writing in English. She won the commendation prize in the All India Poetry Competition 2005 organised by the Poetry Society (India) Delhi.  Her poems on the city of Ahmedabad was published in ' The Grand Indian Express, Poets' Travelogue.

Nevertheless, I began reading ' Soil for My Roots' with much trepidation. There was a time when most of the books written by new Indian authors in English failed to piqué my interest. Call me prejudiced, I would not deny it. At the same time, some books were a real turn off. To my pleasant surprise, Minal's book was an exception. It portrayed emotions so beautifully and with depth that I let go of my prejudice and enjoyed the book.

 Writing its review became an easy and joyous task because I could connect with the characters. I  love those writings which could paint a picture with words. Hers was one such book.

You can read the review of her book here Soil for My Roots

She is currently working on a novel which brings out the malaise of our society of the half-educated or the dropout students, who sometimes are not able to transform their lives and take unfair means of livelihood.
Thanks, Minal for this wonderful Interview...

 Minal, tell us about yourself?

Well, first and foremost, I am a poet, at heart, and by interest and of course writing! This is because even as I worked in a bank, and worked for many, many years, I did not give up reading and writing poetry, and finished my post graduation in English Literature, too.

Then, when I happen to leave my job, writing fiction which lay latent at the back of mind for so many years, happened! So, I have published one novel, so far.

How did you get into the world of writing?

     My writing started with poetry, the emotional outbursts kind, which I didn’t show anyone. But, one day, just on a whim, I sent a poem to a fashion magazine called ‘Flair’ and surprisingly they accepted, and I was overwhelmed and overjoyed on seeing my poem in print.  That was the trigger that made me take writing more seriously and intently and began sending out my poems to magazines, journals and newspapers.  

      And after I won an award in a poetry competition held by the local Times of India, newspaper, there was no looking back.

Tell Me about your book ‘Soil for My Roots’. Every meticulous detail has been taken care of in this book - emotions, details of the places etc. What made you write such an elaborate book? How long have you have taken to write this book? 

Well, ‘Soil for My Roots’ is my first book. It’s about living in a multicultural society like India. And it has many characters and situations which bring to fore the consequences of such a social fabric in terms of relationships and social adjustments.

          The book has turned out elaborate because I wanted it to be a mirror of our times, how everyday living and thinking has gradually changed. I did this, maybe, to preserve for posterity, hence the detailed descriptions of the way people live and the places.

        As I said, fiction also remained with me all through the years when I worked in a very different non-literary environment, so the theme and plot of the novel were always there. Hence, when I actually started writing, it took only 3 months to complete the first draft.

What are bottlenecks you had to face (if there’s any) while writing and publishing this book?

It took up almost 5 years to find a publisher, maybe because I hadn’t written any fiction before, not even a single short story. So, that was very frustrating and needed a lot of patience.

And while writing, apart from the physical stress, more so because I am a polio survivor, everything else fell into place smoothly.

 I have said this in my review of your book ‘Soil for My Roots’ that “Unraveling  Sarah would have offered the reader many a revelation.” Do you have any plan to come up with a sequel concentrating on Sarah? I would love to read it.

Yes, Sarah is quite intriguing at times and takes very bold decisions in the novel. This is because she is placed in very unusual circumstances. She is my favourite too, because the main theme of the novel being the effects and consequences of living in a multi cultural society is aptly revealed through her.  But no plans of exploring her future life, as of now!

 What was that ‘feeling’ when your work got published for the first time?

Yes, it was a very happy feeling, indeed! Thanks to my publisher who reposed faith in my work and gave me a break.

What do you think about current scenario of Indian writing in English?

      The current scenario is like a kaleidoscope, I think.   There are different colours and hues, I mean all types of work are being published, and each genre has its own readership.

Tell us a bit about your interest in poetry.

Well, as I said poetry is my first love, and will continue to be so. Maybe this is because the poetic inspiration can come from anywhere and everywhere. The creative impulse is all prevailing and gives such wonderful moments of joy and surprise as you write a poem. So, poetry gives me a lot of freedom, and I have written poems on various themes like nature, relationships, the urban ethos and poetry itself.

 Are you currently working on anything?

Yes, I have finished working on a novel which brings out the current malaise of our society of the half educated or the drop out students, who sometimes are not able to transform their lives and take unfair means of livelihood. There is a suspense hidden in the novel too. The novel is set in the city of Ahmedabad. 

Do you have a favourite genre? If yes, does your work belong to that genre?

No favourites, because now I read anything and everything which engages my interest and attention.

But, in my growing up years, I had a preference for detective and adventure stories of the Famous Five, Perry Mason and the likes.

Did you ever explore the Indian writing in English from other parts of the  country. I have noticed that writers belonging to the metros get a lot of attention though there are many good works from places especially like North East India etc. What is your take on this?

Of course, in a way every book has a distinct flavor of the place in which the story is set.

Absolutely true, more authors from metros are being published, maybe because the authors from non metro places are at a slight disadvantage since all publishing and literary activities take place in metros.

Yes, there is untapped potential especially from the NE region and am happy to see many authors from there being published now.

Who are your favourite authors and why? Any contemporary author/authors who caught your attention recently?

My current favourite authors as far as fiction is concerned, contemporary and non-contemporary together, are O Henry, Jhumpa Lahiri, Manu Joseph, Kushwant Singh and Arvind Adiga.

Do you have a library in your home? If yes, how many books are there?

Oh, my library at home is stocked by my husband and son as well, so it has all kinds of books!

 Your 10 favourite books and movie

Well I read more poetry and the  works of Emily Dickinson,  Robert Graves, A K Ramanujan , Imtiaz Dharkar  and Jeet Thayil are  my favourite to dip into again and again for those moments of revelation, joy and learning.

About movies, for some reason, I never tire of seeing the James Bond series.

- Shalet Jimmy