Sunday, August 26, 2012

Barnabas by Sangeeta Nambiar - A Review

A mystery writer hits the nail right on its head when he/she realizes that he is dealing with an intelligent audience. The misfortune with most of our in-bred mystery authors is that they try to spoon-feed their audience, point out the obvious, play around redundant sub-plots - and in the process create a thriller which loses its thrill in the first fifty pages. A smart writer would understand the psyche of his readers, he would let out facts on purpose to pique their interest, and he would know the topography of his plot well enough to play mind games and not allow the reader to arrive at any conclusion till the very end. Recently, via a book sent my way by Westland, I had a rendezvous with a similar smart author, her name being - Sangeeta Nambiar.

Setting her novel in the pre-independence times, roughly around the Quit India Movement, Nambiar has created a character called Barnabas C. Mehta, who, quite obviously, is the lead of her eponymous novel - Barnabas, Bombay's First Private Detective. Yes, in this novel, we are transported back to the times Mumbai was still known as Bombay, and Gandhiji had gotten ready to launch his third big assault on the colonial government. British establishments and Englishmen were a prominent part of the social fabric of India. While a large chunk of Indians, infected with patriotic zeal, were responding unconditionally to the call of Gandhiji, there were others like Barnabas, who could not associate with that concept of nationalism, which was solely based on the resentment towards a collective enemy - the British. Barnabas had been brought up in the backyard of Francis Curtis, his father's employer and an Englishman who was an indistinguishable part of India and its people.

The son of a cook, Barnabas, brought up fine and intelligent in the tutelage of Curtis, decides to become a jasoos, much to the disappointment of his father. The man who calls himself the first private detective of Bombay soon has a complicated case in his hands to solve, one which he pursues beyond the mandates of his assignment. A British woman, Rose Stanton, goes missing from her house. To keep police out of the loop, her husband, Thomas Stanton, invites Barnabas to search for his wife. Barnabas was a detective of great skill and intelligence. He finds Rose in the bylanes of Girgaum, a shoddy area compared to the grandiloquent homes inhabited by the British, well under the stipulated time. What his smart investigative skills could not anticipate, however, was that Rose would be murdered just the day after he met her, and that he himself would become a suspect in her murder investigation. Mr. Barnabas C. Mehta now has a case to solve, and in which the culprit is a complicated and brutal, but a daring person, who indulges in mind games with this private investigator himself.

To be honest, it was very easy to figure out where the script is headed; it is the journey which was very thrilling. Running along with the author, you can figure out just enough details to feel as if you are in Barnabas' shoes, but you still will not find enough facts so as to uncode the whole storyline. Deceit, secrets, sinister ambitions, and misleading clues - all the ingredients of a perfect murder mystery are to be found in this amazingly well written book. The background, the period none of us have seen but remember as one which lay down the foundation for a free, democratic India, add to the charm of the book. It is extremely interesting to note that in an otherwise all English cast, how an Indian steals the show as the protagonist. The characters of this novel as a beauty! Defined and consistent, they are as believable as characters get. The mystery is mysterious, not because the end is elusive, but because the road to that end is nowhere in sight. The expression of the author is easy to understand and the story interacts well with the reader. This book does not deserve anything less than 3.5 stars on 5. And also, this book deserves a sequel. Barnabas C. Mehta should resurface with his second case, and his third. Moving closer to the year of independence, the turmoil and tension in Bombay would make for an excellent backdrop to Mr. Mehta's investigative skills. I hope Sangeeta Nambiar picks up from where she has left.

"I am not allowed an opinion. I have to look at the facts."
- Barnabas Chetan Mehta.
Bombay's First Private Investigator.

(Reviewed on request from Westland Publications)

Title - Barnabas
Author - Sangeeta Nambiar
Publisher - Westland
Price - Rs. 250
Pages - 232
Genre - Mystery

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Kitnay Aadmi Thay? by Diptakirti Chaudhuri - A Review

Bollywood, as much as cricket, and perhaps more in recent times, is a national passion. It is the one industry that unites us, inspires us and often incites us. Bollywood is a conversation-starter for people who have just met; and it is a part of the historical accounts of lives of many of us, who remember incidents in their life by the movies which released contemporaneously. Film-stars in our country are often demi-gods, and often like mortal members of our own families. They give us a taste of reality sometimes, and drive us into fantasy land at others. Bollywood is an institution which is impossible to sum-up in a few words. Volumes of books might be insufficient to capture in totality the stories of Mumbai Filmdom, both, which occur on-screen and off the screen. However, a worthy effort has been undertaken by Diptakirti Chaudhuri in a book of trivia to document some 'useless' (as stated on the cover), but immensely interesting facts about Bollywood in a neatly packaged book called - Kitnay Aadmi Thay?

This book is a joyride through and through, beginning with its very title. The eyes of my friends glittered with a perverted connotation the moment I told them I am reading a book called "Kitnay Aadmi Thay?" For others, this legendary dialogue from an iconic movie refreshed memories, and immediately led to imitation of the dialogues of Thakur, Gabbar, Basanti, Jai, Veeru, Soorma Bhopali, the Jailor - each in himself a distinct fabled character. A perfect companion during my metro journies for about a week, this book took me deep into the part magical, part controversial world of Hindi films, and revealed some facts which I hope I remember to share with authority during filmi social conversations.

Are you one of those who thinks beyond what a movie depicts on screen? Are you interested in remembering all the records made on the filmfare award stage? Do you wish to know what lies behind the perfectionist image Aamir Khan has arrived at today? Does your mind often think of the movies which got their names from past melodies? Do you have your own list of who is the best 'ma', 'beta', 'bhai-behen' etc. among the characters essayed in Indian film industry? Are you fond of humble anecdotes of bollywood veterans which are recounted as fables by industry experts? I can unleash a fairly long chain of such questions, and if one or more of them are answered in a 'yes' by you, trust my word, Kitnay Aadmi Thay? is the book for you.

The author warns you on the very cover- 'Completely Useless Bollywood Trivia'. Well, ask me, and I won't tell you the information contained in this book is useless by any standards. For us, who take pride in the grandeur and madness of bollywood, having before us a collection of its many less known facts and facets is a boon. Presented in a manner so intriguing that by reading the very headings which give a peek into forthcoming pages you start forming your own content in your head, this book does its best to interact with the reader. Bollywood, after all, can't be special only to one. The author, in fact, invites the readers to sit with a pencil, and add notes of his own at places where his memory reveals more than the author's research.

I think this book should be a recommended reading for those with academic interest in Indian Film Studies. Okay. That might be a bit of an exaggeration, but this book is what I would strongly recommend to all Hindi film enthusiasts. Bollywood is an indispensable part of our lives, one that has also found its way into our popular culture. Folk songs during traditional rituals have been replaced by prominent bollywood melodies. Dialogues are quoted during routine conversations for an added emphasis and to find resonance. Ingrained so deep in the sociological fabric, Indian film industry does deserve its own literature- the kind which is in reach of the ordinary reader/viewer. Kitnay Aadmi Thay is a humble, but laudable effort in the same direction by author Diptakirti Chaudhuri. Kudos to him! And from me, a rating of 3 stars on 5.

PS- I have been dying to find an opportunity to post here some of my favorite moments from Bollywood. This post, perhaps, has the perfect space for them. There are infinite, but I have culled them down to five iconic scenes. Are any of these your favorite too? 

The love of an austere Sunil Dutt for an untouchable girl - Sujata. The subtle, yet poignant romance of this film touches your heart, and pours out through your eyes.

No scene can come close to competing with this one when we remember epic climaxes. Tears amid  roars of recorded laughter, Hrishikesh Mukherjee sure knew how to regale and involve his viewers.

Who has not danced to this song in weddings of near and dear ones? A song, which is a story in itself. This film - the best from the Barjatya house.

The great coming together of Aamir and Salman - this movie is rightly called a cult comedy. And this song - one that  I invariably look forward to when I begin watching this film.

The best of this man. SRK's talent and charm regained their former, glorious spot in my heart the moment I heard his 'Sattar Minute' speech in this epic movie.

(Reviewed on request from Westland Publications)

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Let's Quote India

"A moment comes... when we step out from the old to the new... , and when the soul of a nation finds utterance..."
- Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru
on Independence
( I noted this down on his 47th death anniversary)

Happy Independence Day

Yesterday, while travelling back in the metro with a bunch of friends, I met a French tourist, by the name of Etienne. He has been vacationing in India, alone, and is headed back tomorrow. Etienne has seen, in these two months, every place of significance in India, from Kolkata to Varanasi to Leh-Ladakh. Ladakh, according to him , is the best of all the place he has visited, and he made a strong case as to why we should also visit it. It was ironical and pleasant to see a foreigner advise us on the places in our homeland we must see. An anecdotal meeting.

I, on my part, duped him. The inquiring tourist wanted to know how we celebrated our Independence Day. I related the entire Republic Day proceedings to him, mixed with a little bit of August 15th celebrations, and felt horribly stupid later. My friends mocked at once we exited the metro; I mocked at myself till hours later.

Every such event is promptly recorded in my diary, and as I sat down to write, still feeling goofy over the metro meeting, my eyes fell down over a few quotes about our great land, and its various facets, which I have noted down over past some months. Spoken by eminent persons, these are simple lines, carrying meaning which sure is greater than the words. I think today is the perfect day I share these with you all. Quoted directly from source, no duping now!

On Economy

"Twenty years ago when I had a thick mop of hair, I used to pay ₹ 25 for a haircut. Ten years ago, after my hair started thinning, I was paying ₹ 50 for a haircut. And now, when I have virtually no hair left, I am paying ₹ 150 for a haircut. I struggle to determine how much of that is inflation and how much is the premium I pay the barber for the privilege of cutting the governor's non existent hair."
- Duvvuri Subbarao
(RBI Governor)
Decades after reforms, the common man still leads a troubled life. Growth and inclusion are two vastly different terms; so have our policy makers proved.

On Politics

"If you really care for freedom, liberty, there cannot be any democracy or liberal institution without politics. The only true antidote to the perversions of politics is more politics and better politics. Not negation of politics."
-Jayaprakash Narayan
(From a lecture at Mumbai University)
He is what many modern day crusaders attempt to be. Leading one of the most powerful agitations against the system, JP, in these lines tells us how faith is important for bringing about reforms.

On Politicization

"The man whose stint as a Finance Minister saw the economy shrink from 9.5% to 5% is rewarded with Presidency; the man whose son is being investigated by the ED is rewarded with finance ministry; and the man who oversaw India's worst power breakdown is rewarded with home..."
- An SMS on Cabinet Reshuffle of August '12
We saw it all together, didn't we?

On Identity

"Don't try to look special with fancy clothes. There will be richer people with better wardrobes. In stead, wear Khadi and you will stand out."
- Dr. Zakir Hussain
(As an advice to his daughter)
I read this in HT Brunch, and its symbolic relevance to the contemporary world is striking. Why do we continuously undergo pressures to ape that which the west has induced in our culture, or that which a large part of our circle finds 'cool'? These are pressures me and you deal with everyday. Don't fit in. Stand out.

On Legislature

"It is almost as if we believe passing a law is tantamount to solving the problem it is meant to tackle."
- Our Take, Hindustan Times
Guess what this comment alludes towards.

On Change

"The only change the public wants to see is iman restored and active in our politicians, just as it wants to see ilm in a teacher, hunar in a doctor and kashish in a poet."
- Gopalkrishna Gandhi
One of my favorite columnists, he always says something very meaningful and provoking, always in a very smooth and subtle tone.

On Gender

"Better 500 now than 50000 later"
An advertisement for sex determination test. A whole psyche is captured in this one line. A major chunk of Indian still find it better to spend a little on determining the sex of the foetus now, than spend many times over as dowry later.
Interestingly, according to some survey conducted in June 2011, the most dangerous countries for women are -
1. Afghanistan
2. Democratic Republic of Congo
3. Pakistan
4. India
5. Somalia

On Herself

"I cannot afford to take a break from work for full recovery. I need the money and others would displace me. If I had someone to love me and take care of me, I would not be in this trade."
- Salma
She is a sex worker, who, according to a story published in The Hindu Sunday Magazine, earns her livelihood on the porous India-Bangladesh border. Here, she related her helplessness after having suffered injuries in her mouth and internal organs, courtesy a ruthless client.

On Fanaticism

"Zahid sharaab peene de masjid mein baith kar, ya aisi jagah bata de jahaan khuda na ho"
- Mirza Ghalib (Daag)
Fighting in the name of God is a sacrilege routinely committed in our pious land. If a man desecrates another's faith, can he ever call himself a believer?

On Nation Building

"If a country is to be corruption free and become a nation of beautiful minds, I strongly feel there are three key societal members who can make a difference. They are the father, the mother and the teacher."
- APJ Abdul Kalam
He has always worked on showing us the positive, but practical picture. At least two of the three roles quoted above I plan to adopt. My salute to these guardians of our young minds.

For all of us

"If I do not stand by my conscience, then who will?"
I do not know who said this, but he said it well, didn't he?

I have gotten my facts about the Independence Day right, thanks to a rebuke by my friend Neha. But it doesn't end here, it never can. Dream for yourself, dream for your country. As a basic request, if you cannot participate in her prosperity, please do not participate in activities which add blemish to her name.

Jai Hind

Fly high!

Monday, August 6, 2012

Pop The Champagne

Can I please sound repetitive and thank you all again for making my blog what it is? I may also leave for you some nice flowers towards to end of this post. A bouquet of flowers in fact. Please please!

Well, okay. I will tell you why am I suddenly being so full of gratitude, and that too with such glee. I do not know if it sounds small or big, but Indian Top Blogs, a webpage which reviews and displays a list of the best pan-Indian blogs, has recently added me to their directory of top Indian blogs! Yay! To me, that sounds a good enough news. Besides the moderators of Indian Top Blogs, the only other people I could think of thanking of for this are the readers of Nascent Emissions. Because you read, I am compelled to write. Er, to be honest, I would write anyway, but you all make my writing experience more dynamic and blissful.

To the team of Indian Top Blogs (ITB), I would like to convey my deepest gratitude. To all my fellow bloggers out there, I would like to tell, that the review which ITB sends across is both, detailed and comprehensive. It is also written with, if I might use the word, 'personal' care. They have evaluated the pros and cons of my blog in a manner I would appreciate a lot. Praising at places, advising at others and also adding the necessary caveats so as to make my blogging experience better than it already is - the ITB blog review catered fully to all these aspects. If not already there, do submit your blogs for review at this fantastic forum. A little more fantastic now that they have added me *wink*

More seriously, blogging is an activity I am passionate about. It is a means to communicate, connect and sometimes, even, unburden myself. When greeted with a happy news such as this, I feel encouraged, because in this world full of excellent writers, I am but a tyro. Its always blissful to know that people out there are noticing your work. I hope I manage not to disappoint anyone of you, ever!

As promised, here are the flowers for you all - the team at ITB and for all my followers.

PS- A lot of concerned readers have expressed their disapproval at the very frequent posting of book reviews on my blog. Many of them have written to be about how the book reviews often force them to keep away from my blog and they are looking forward to more 'original' content. I would like to tell all such readers that your feedback floors me! It hints at how involved a few of you are with my blog. However, reading books and reviewing them is an activity I enjoy. And, it is only my blog through which I am able to fulfil these two hobbies of mine. There is an isolated set of readers who connect with me only because of these book reviews. I do hope you all will understand and keep visiting my blog. Thanks!

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Nude and other short stories - A Review

Intriguing title, isn't it? Well, try reading a book loudly proclaiming 'Nude' (calligraphically embedded in a suggestive figure) on its cover in a crowded metro, and the piercing stares of passers-by shifting from the cover to the engrossed reader will tell you exactly how intriguing this title is. Part provocative, part alluring - a title like this can compel you to conjure a lot of thoughts about the kind of content offered in the book. Most of those thoughts involuntarily tilt towards the bolder side. Alas. This title was just one among the many titles of short stories which make this book, and is in no way indicative of generic essence running through those stories.

Nude and other short stories is an anthology of short fiction pieces which won The MAG 2011 short story writing competition. The nineteen short stories published in this anthology are penned by bloggers from across the country, and they deal with people, circumstances, incidents and human psyche, among other things. Few stories, including the titular 'Nude' are such which make you stop and notice the maturity and sensitivity of the authors. Still others, like Karma Yogi, which is for me an aimless biographical sketch, go nowhere near catching the imagination of a reader. It is a thin book, with crisp content, but not a lot of stories which one might be tempted to flow along with.

I have to admit, I am one of those who do judge a book by its cover, no matter how antagonistic it sounds to a popular dogma. With a cleverly chosen title, a graphic artist could've (should've) churned out something more tantalizing, inspiring. Besides a few stories, its cover is another thing which does not work for me with respect to this book.

The foreword by an anonymous editor serves as a beautiful introduction. Thereafter, the only stories which I liked and took home (literally, since most of my reading is done while commuting), are -

1. Nude by Purnima Rao - A very smart title for a sensitive yet subtle tale. Subtle, but giving away hints of intensity. Telling anything about this story is perhaps ruining what it has in store for its readers.

2. Of Dreams and that thing called Fate  by Himangshu Dutta - The tale of an orphaned kid, left to cope by himself on the cruel streets of the world. How his story ends is exactly how his story had started. Spoiler? No. Reading it will be much different than reading about it.

3. The Lost Earrings by Kalpana Abhijith - Like a modern fable. Of thefts and repentances.

4. The Suicide Note by Vivek Singh - The plot is as much as the title reveals. It is the expression of the author which honestly left me enchanted and enriched. This is one story I could not help flowing with.

5. The Traveling Suitcase by Manu Chaudhary - A heartwarming tale of goodness.

There were many other stories which had a great potential, because they drew inspiration from very real and relatable themes, like The Perfect Girlfriend, The Unfortunate Episode etc. However, their potential remain untapped, because these stories did not cross over into the realm of imagination. To me, it seemed I was reading a narrative of someone's life, that too not in the most outstanding language. In all, this anthology was just about an average book for me. 2 stars on 5 is my verdict.