Mind

Book Review: Ramayana-The Game of Life : Shattered Dreams by Shubha Vilas

RamayanaWhat happens to an epic such as Ramayana in the age of globalization and technology? We know well by now of the new lease of life that the epic received with its televised avatar in the 1980s. Shubha Vilas the author of this new series on the same epic seems as fascinated by the tale of Rama as so many other writers and artists. His project reminds me of the great works of Hindi novelists such as Narendra Kohli and of Amrit Lal Nagar. Going by the blurb of the book under review, the narration is that of the ‘riveting drama of Rama’s exile‘ and is aimed at teaching us ‘how to handle reversals positively‘. The book is a sequel and is the second part of a series that the author wishes to complete. The nine chapters of the book are organized according to the sequence of events as outlined in Valmiki’s Ramayana and other regionally popular versions such as Tulsidas’s Ramcharitmanas and the Kamba Ramayana.

The book makes for a not so smooth reading. Vilas writes while facing obvious difficulties of translation. His language in the book is colloquial and at times quite informal. Vilas seems to be in a hurry to address a modern audience that in his view does not care so much for the poetics and details of presentation as much it cares for the ultimate product that can be quickly read and done away with. Take for instance the scene from the first chapter where Dasaratha has had a bad dream. Vilas calls it a nightmare

Between his delusions and his consciousness, Dasaratha realized that he was in fact fighting two monsters- the monster within and the monster outside, Everything had become a big blur. Which of these two monsters was he fleeing from?“(p.2)

Another instance from the book dealing with the Kaikeyi-Manthara episode where he writes:

Kaikeyi was disturbed by Manthara’s constant babbling. She said “Don’t go in circles or mince any words; just speak clearly, without fear. What’s on your mind?” (p. 86)

It is not that one gets merely a sense of ‘loss’ in this translation, one also gets a sense of an imposed contemporaneity as far as an attempt at adapting the text for a new age audience is concerned. It ends up sounding like a desperate bid to make the epic sound fashionable and hence marketable. Instances abound where the flow of sentences is interrupted by words and terms (read expletives) written in ‘quotes’ which do not add to the quality of the tone and tenor. Despite these weaknesses, the innocence and the personal attachment and admiration of the author for the epic is amply visible throughout the text. It would have turned out to be a much more enjoyable read had the author spent some more time reflecting on the readership that he wishes to generate. Ramayana in my opinion cannot merely be a new age self-help book bereft of its music. It has to necessarily have a magical rendition to it for there lies its real character. Reversals of fortune and ensuing problems in life may well be addressed by reading about monks who sell and do not sell their Ferraris. I don’t really know much about those things. Coming back to the question that I ask in the beginning I have this to say- what we have come to call the era of globalisation and of new technology, is an era where frivolity goes unnoticed. The epic is bound to lose out substantially on its aura and beauty!

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Mind

Book Review- Salvation Of A Saint by Keigo Hogashino

Salvation of a saintThe plot of the second novel by Hogashino revolves around the investigation of a ‘murder by poisoning’ case of Yoshitaka, a reasonably rich Japanese man. Married to the pretty woman that Ayane is, Yoshitaka is in an extramarital relationship with Hiromi, his wife’s pupil assistant at the patchwork training school run by her. The novel opens to the reader with a feel of the  apparent discord and unease that has crept in the fabric of Yoshitaka and Ayane’s married life. The Ikai family comes to the couple’s house for a party following which the wife leaves for her parents’ place in Sapporo for a break. After she leaves, Hiromi meets Yoshitaka and the following day he is found dead on the floor in his house. Kusinaga, the detective from Tokyo takes on from here and investigates the case with his assistants Utsumi and Kishitani. It is established that the man has been killed by poison in his coffee. The wife and the paramour both emerge as the suspects. Interestingly it so happens during the course of the investigation that Kusanagi, the detective gets enamoured by the beautiful wife and his observations are subsequently guided by this feeling he develops for the woman who is a suspect in the case. The remaining plot is further foray into the investigation during which arise some necessary and emotional and at times not so necessary and not so emotional situations before the murder mystery is cracked.

In my opinion, the strength of a novel or of a film lies in the ability of the writer or the director to conceal to the extent possible the design of the work from the reader and the viewer. What adds to the mediocrity of a work is its manifest attempt at explaining situations and justifing the occurence of events or continually relating one event with the other so that reading the novel becomes a major exercise in nothing else but connecting the dots. In the process, the reader loses the essence of the larger aesthetic that the author has in mind. I found Salvation of a Saint to be precisely such a case. The author says almost everything through his characters. This approach frames the characters very well as we get to know who they are and their personalities stay with us. At the same time this approach makes reading the novel a mechanical exercise if one may call it that. A lot of ink is spent on the ‘thinking aloud’ characters. Consequently the author fails in painting the canvas where his characters stand as wonderfully drawn sketches. Undoubtedly the novel has a good plot and makes for an interesting reading. There is much that goes missing in the detailing of things not so necessary, of dialogues not so pertinent.

Lastly, Salvation of a Saint is a translated piece and hence a comment on its language might end up being unfair. Yet it may be pointed out that it makes for an ordinary reading of what could have been a brilliant thriller. Despite these shortcomings, Salvation of a Saint does moderately succeed in keeping the reader glued till the end. It is in my opinion a sincere attempt at targeting a readership that has predetermined ideas of what a ‘murder mystery novel’ should be and hence fails to break new ground.

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Mind

Book Review: The Krishna Key by Ashwin Sanghi

I really am short of words at expressing the sense of bewilderment that grips me while trying to finish reading this book. It is a tale (?) cum lecture (?) cum thriller (??) that tries too hard to present a lot of ‘research’ in the garb of a serial killer suspense novel. The presentation of this research (mainly carried out on the sites mentioned in the Mahabharata) is quite loud, preachy and pretentious. In the name of  supplying the reader with enough details- historical and otherwise, places such as Kalibangan, Dwarka, Somnath, Mount Kailash and Vrindavan have been historically profiled. In my opinion, these profiles should remain the sole reasons behind the novel’s significance, if any at all. The Krishna Key fails to engage the reader with its exceedingly boring plot inundated with a host of characters, events and ideas and a childish technique which is predictable to say the least.

In a way, the narrator of the tale happens to be Vishnu’s incarnation Krishna himself. It is his voice through which we have an entry to the 108 chapters of the novel. Instead of a breathtaking who-dun-it tale that TKK could have been, what we have in its place is a plot gone stunningly bizarre. None of the characters are allowed to develop enough to let the  reader remember him or her by the time their reference in the text is over. The tedious second half of the book is all the more sluggish.

The language of the book is unimpressive. Throughout its text, The Krishna Key seems to be a constant attempt by the author at nothing more than translating Hindi and Sanskrit lines and dialogues into English. At times the verbal exchanges begin to sound artificial and unrealistic. To illustrate:

Mataji nodded appreciatively. ‘Good. Now let us examine the salient features of a Shiv lingam, shall we? It’s made of two parts. The first is a cylindrical structure made of polished stone. The second is the surrounding coils or grooves ending in a spout. in Shiv temples, a pot of water hangs over the cylindrical structure, allowing for water to continuously drip on it at regular intervals. This water then empties itself out through the spout,’ she explained, pointing to each of the constituent elements as she described them.” (p.40).

The book does not succeed in presenting a coherent narrative of whatever it is that it tries to present. Hindu mythology in general and the Mahabharata in particular form the background. A number of characters are killed in the story by the time the reader realises that they actually have been. Regarding the flow of the narrative, there is little sense one can make of it, thanks to its movement back and forth in time and place.

In brief, The Krishna Key turns out to be quite disappointing. Both as a thriller as well as a fictional reconstruction of the ‘mythological’ past, this one surely does not stand up to the mark.

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Book Review: Hot Tea Across India

(It was extremely nice of the website http://www.blogadda.com to have selected me for reviewing Rishad Saam Mehta’s latest book titled “Hot Tea Across India”. I wish to express my thankfulness to the site for giving me this opportunity and for ensuring the timely delivery of the book.)

Hot Tea Across India is Rishad Saam Mehta’s new book about his adventurous expeditions to so many parts of India. The stories of the many trips amiably told give the reader a wonderful glimpse of the landscapes and the people he encounters on the way. It is also an insightful journey into the soul and mind of the new age, modern Indian. The average  audience has been of late coming more and more in contact with this personality (Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara, the Hindi film released last year was one such occasion). To break oneself off from the routine and the mundane and explore the world in one’s own way has been an idea that seems to have picked up fast and is so ‘in’. Marking a break from the established norms and conventions, the new age young man is willing to exoticise the ‘everyday’ more than ever.  Hunting for moments in life that can be necessarily metamorphosed into occasions for laughter, witty analysis and ultimately a written book/blog post/diary entry seems to be the newly found pastime.

The book opens with a striking comment about the ubiquity of tea stalls in India. Un-arguably the most popular hot beverage of the country- tea has been rightly selected by the author to serve as the binding thread of the lovely stories he sets out to tell. However there is nothing more about tea per se in the book other than  harping on the fact that tea is prepared variously in various parts of the country, that “a lot can happen over a cup of tea” and that a hot cup of tea can be really a source of rejuvenation and energy in the hour of fatigue. That’s almost all about tea that the book has to say. A reader who expects a fascinating and fresh account of the beverage or its stalls is likely to be disappointed. Kashinath Singh’s Hindi novel Kaashi Ka Assi is the novel I recommend in that case!

Mehta’s descriptions and his skilfully crafted narrative are a delight in as far as his language is concerned. Coming to the events and situations presented in the book, the reader would be  reminded of the 1970s era of Hindi cinema (specially while reading the stories from the mountains) when “scenes from the hills” became a rage . Remember Shammi Kapoor randomly deciding to go to Kashmir and singing a song in the hills and meeting the Punjabi Kashmiri tourists on the way- I think we have seen it all. Most stories that Mehta tells are so predictable. They are also short enough to make sure that none of the people we meet in the book stay with us after the book has been closed. If not rampant, stereotyping is something that the author has resorted to throughout the book.

Mehta does bring in moments which enthrall and captivate. These are few and shorter than the long, prosaic and clichéd sections (the one about his bullet motorcycle for instance was a lot of effort reading for me).

Hot Tea Across India is likely to interest someone who is new to India and wants to know about some of the easily observable incidents and people while travelling through its length and breadth. A deeper, lengthier and slightly heavier account of things, places and people could have definitely made this book better!

Cover of the Book: Image taken from http://www.helterskelter.in

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

 

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