Saturday, September 22, 2012

45 Days In A Cancer Hospital by Alka Dimri Saklani - A Review

I am eating, living, breathing mysteries. Yes. In books. On television. In my mind too. Its just a matter of time before I become that lampooning character who roams around the world casting suspicious looks at people, trying to find mysterious stories and explanations where exist none. Phew. One more time, its a mystery that came my way for review. A win - its a different kind of mystery - a medical mystery - the first that I have ever read.

45 Days In A Cancer Hospital is the debut work of author Alka Dimri Saklani. This book narrates a story based in Umeed Hospital - a medical centre which has built its reputation as the best cancer treatment centre, in perhaps the whole country. Dr. Chatterjee, the founder of this hospital, is also a famous cancer specialist, one known to have given his life to the cause of caring for cancer patients. His own mother had died of bone cancer and under excruciatingly bad conditions since his father refused to afford the treatment. His incapacity to save his mother as a child drove him towards the noble medical profession - one which he pursued with obsessive sincerity.

Enter Ashritha - a young and famous writer, who, as her latest project is writing a book on the lives of cancer patients, for the purpose of which, she decides to stay in Umeed Hospital and observe and interview patients. She hopes that her book will become a source of hope, company and inspiration for others afflicted with this deadly disease. However, little does she know that the hospital she chooses to stay in has more to offer than just the stories of people coping up with cancer. A number of terminally ill patients are being killed in cold blood - an extremely strange occurrence given that they are already going to die. Ashritha, the strong, concerned and smart woman she is, suspects some foul play and with the help of her friend from CBI - Animesh - gets on course to unravelling the elusive facts behind these hideous acts. The road to solving the mystery is paved with threats to Ashritha's life, but for once does she not buckle down. If anything, she is even firmly back on the case. Intellectually ripe, she is able to figure out it all - only her wildest dreams could not have conjured where ultimately her investigations lead her. This, along with a subtle, brewing romance between Ashritha and Animesh is what makes this book a wholesome tale to savour.

I roughly took three days to finish this book, that too when I had a pile load of work to do. The previous line is to show that the book managed to keep me engrossed. The storyline is interesting, with adequate crests and very less troughs. Crises are introduced in the story when you least expect. However, as you get friendly with the author and the psyche of her characters, for sometime, the narrative does become predictable. The tale ends like most mysteries do - the culprit is not whom you expect, but one who fits the jigsaw perfectly. Alka's characters are deep, and have consistent traits, which makes them easy to understand and follow. The language of the book is quite ordinary and comfortable. No big promises, but this book does live up to the excitement it creates in the back-cover blurb. The knowledge and research of the author shows in the way she has described unto last detail the life of doctors and nurses in the hospital. The book seldom loses its focus and ties together all the lose ends at the climax. To summarize, I would not label this an extraordinary piece of writing, but a genuinely decent effort by first time writer Alka Dimri Saklani. Giving it 2.5 stars on 5, I would go on to say that this is the kind of easy-read mystery that would conveniently fit into your hectic schedule and provide welcome distractions.

PS - My favourite bit about the book is the Acknowledgements. The author admits to having named her protagonist on her brother, because his support during the process of drafting the book was invaluable. I only hope that if someday I get down to writing a book, I have similar support systems available to me too. 

Book Details -
Title - 45 Days In A Cancer Hospital
Author - Alka Dimri Saklani
Publisher - Leadstart
Genre - Medical Mystery / Crime Fiction
Price - ₹ 195
Pages - 296

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

More Ghost Stories of Shimla Hills by Minakshi Chaudhry - A Review

This book, I believe, is a sequel to an earlier book with a similar theme. Not restricted to hills alone, most places in India have myths, legends and stories surrounding their existence. People inhabiting such places occasionally refute, but mostly subscribe to popular beliefs, even when they allude to something unthinkable - as in supernatural. A story surrounding ghosts and spirits is a listeners delight! However, it could be a nightmare for the one who lives through it. India is a land which believes - in Gods and spirits. Unravelling this very facet of Indian hills - Shimla to be specific - Minakshi Chaudhry has come out with a collection of tales about ghosts and apparitions, collected by meeting people and hearing their stories.

Shimla, formerly Simla, the Summer Capital of the British, and now the Capital of Indian state of Himachal Pradesh, is a top tourist destination in India. Home to many colleges, research institutions and temples, Shimla is also one of the top entrepreneurial destinations in India. Beyond what is known to the outside world about this scenic hill station, there are many facets of this place known only to the locals, and perhaps, also understood only by the locals. Shimla is home to many ghosts and spirits, who have entrenched themselves in the local lore. These ghosts do not have a mythological origin; mostly they are an expression of unfulfilled objectives of life of persons belonging to the British or post-British era. Ghosts depicted in this anthology of short narratives are not a negative force - there are many who are caring and benevolent. Spirits are sometimes whimsical and other times they manifest only when disturbed or disrespected. It is easy to talk with conviction about their existence once you have immersed yourself in the fantasy world created around you by this book.

The narration of the book is light, and in parts capable of transporting you to the pleasant climate of Shimla. The stories, though interesting, I would admit, are not captivating. Despite being a small book, I took time to finish it, because, despite dealing with something as intriguing as ghosts and supernatural, it could not form a relation with my imaginative mind. This book is more suited for a younger audience. As an adult, I would have revelled in more literature about a legend, more knotted tales. Most of the apparitions talked about in this book are flat characters, with no shades to them. The narrative mostly is informative and descriptive, lacking an element of mystery and thrill. Very few stories, if any at all, would remain with you, as anecdotes to pass on to other people. An okay read, I would award this book 2 stars on 5. Somehow, Ruskin Bond completely captures your imagination when it comes to tales about hills, especially ghost stories. A comparison with him is inevitable if a similar genre is picked up by any author, and to live up to that comparison is an arduous challenge indeed. Good effort, with some lost potential, I would say.

PS - I am confused, do you call such a book, drawing on local legends, fiction or non fiction?

(Reviewed on request from Rupa Publications)

Book details-
Title - More Ghost Stories of Shimla Hills
Author - Minakshi Chaudhry
Publisher - Rupa
Price - ₹ 150
Pages - 147

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Risks and Passions

Skirting the truth, I skipped around the beach
Water’s dangerous”, chirped many a noisy beaks,
‘Tis cold and deep and dangerous and unkind,
Stay away, little girl, oh you juvenile mind!”

The endless skies were my heart’s delight!
“Soaring too high, beware of the Sun’s might.”
“Bask if you want, but from a distance.”
Here I stood dejected, at the edge of a rigid fence.

The glory of night, was only despised,
Warned, I drew away, scared of horror-filled cries
"The home of haunted", did have a mystic touch
The dark was hailed as abode of forbidden lust.

Tempted to step over, needing that one prod
Mired in wonder, did I actually need a nod?
He had to come, and come he did,
Filling me with beauty, dispelling all myths.

He came bathed in the crystal ocean,
Luminous, with softness of rising sun
Descending from a beaming unicorn,
Whom glittery jewels of the night adorned.

We allowed the waves to caress our feet,
His hand reached out, to steady my wobbly gait,
The water was warm, not a prickly cold,
Danger stood afar, my heart was in his hold.

The balmy sun sent out its love,
I and he basked in its mirth.
Together we rode on the stream of air,
Plummeting down? No longer a fear!

Night came again with its horrors and charms,
Nervous and cold I stood in his arms,
The cries I heard were of my own ecstasy,
In pleasure and passion now lay my dark fancy.

They all say love comes with its risks. They further color it with forbidden hues. But each of you who has experienced it knows the joy which only true, rich, passionate and intense love can give you. Throw the stereotypes in the ocean. Go out, immerse yourself in love and feel it to the fullest. A morning walk on the shore, hand in hand, talking of  nothing in particular and yet conveying a lot is the perfect start to a lover's day. A night, filled with emotions shy of daylight; the dark giving cover to two souls trying to become one is the perfect end to a day spent loving and living. And as John Donne puts it, when you wake up the next day in your lover's arms,when it is The Good Morrow, you will find your entire world having come alive in that one little room you share with your beloved. 

Don't be shy. Love is all there is.