Book Reviews by a Pioneer: Hallowe’en Party by Agatha Christie

Halloween nights are not for the weak-hearted, what with all the scary masks. But the fun-filled laughter of the children and the young adolescents is enough to soon put one at ease and bring on a smile on the face of even the grumpiest. The death of a child during such a night is unthinkable.

But this is what happens in a village Halloween party in England. A young girl is found dead, her head forced down in a bucket full of apples bobbing in water, while the other children were shrieking with joy in the next room. The party is also attended by an author, who is a friend of Hercule Poirot.

This is the cue for the famous Belgian detective to make an entry. It is a small village where everyone knows everyone. Who could have murdered a young child, who was overheard boasting about witnessing a murder a few years back, only a few hours before her death? The girl was known to be a compulsive liar, whose tall claims could not be taken seriously.

Poirot goes around meeting people and sifting through evidence to eventually nail the killer before another murder could take place.

Anything more might spoil the chill of reading the book on a winter night. Let me just say… Another gripping case solved by the master detective.

The review is by Sanjay Chandra, author of The Gymnast.

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Book Reviews by a Pioneer: The Infidel Next Door by Rajat Mitra

Past is the stepping stone to future. A good or a bad future is for us to build on the foundation of life gone by. But what if the past is not the immediate past, not even decades old, but one that goes back centuries! And if it was so traumatic that forgetting it is a tempting invitation!

The book is the story of Kashmir, not only in the present, but one that is built on centuries of persecution. Aditya is a young priest, who returns to renovate a temple, demolished eons ago, and whose ancestors perished in a futile attempt to save it.

Next to the ruins is a mosque, and Anwar is the son of the Imam. He has vowed to create an Islamic Kashmir. Torn between her love for the priest, and her faith, is Zeba, sister of Anwar.

This is a great story – of a search for roots, and about the strength of forgiveness. There is yet hope – for the future.

The review is by Sanjay Chandra, author of The Gymnast.

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Book Reviews by a Pioneer: Shree’s Varah by Sandhya Borkar

A young woman – she is the sister of the evil sarpanch; her husband – a young man liked by the villagers and a leader to the underprivileged for which he is murdered on the behest of the village head; the young man’s precocious sister; the beloved Raja Saheb; a young doctor settled in USA; and his wife.

The village festival held every 12 years is the setting where all the characters come together. Miracles happen during the mela as Lord Shree comes down amongst the devotees to bless the devout and finish evil.

As I started reading the book, I was certain that I would not like the story – I am not a fan of the supernatural genre. I was mistaken. It was a light breezy read once I had gotten over my initial shock of miracles. Besides, I have been a big fan of the many Bollywood potboilers, and the story reminded me of the movies from the 70s.

The book needs few editorial inputs.

The review is by Sanjay Chandra, author of The Gymnast.

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Book Reviews by a Pioneer: Snippets of Life Music by Ramesh Chandra Tiwari

We gather snippets of wisdom as we grow older. We also want the younger generation to gain from our experiences and not commit blunders or follies that we fell to. That brings in a tendency to be repetitive and often preachy. But each generation has its own challenges, and would love to learn from its mistakes. That is what life is about.

The title of the anthology is apt. Each of the short stories in the book is about different facets of relationships, and life itself, but most of them relate to incidents in the lives of the lower middle-class. Quite a few of these snippets may not be even relevant to the fast paced technology driven upper middle class upward generation.

I have mentioned in one of my earlier reviews also, an author has to walk a tightrope while delivering message – it has to be subtle. The book suffers from an in your face sermonising. It also needs improvement in grammar.

The book is an attempt at character building in the younger generation.

The review is by Sanjay Chandra, author of The Gymnast.

Book Reviews by a Pioneer: Sone Chandi Ke Buth by KA Abbas

This was another interesting translated semi-non-fiction that I read this year in August. The reason for the unusual genre classification – one section of the book, out of the three in which it is divided, consists of short stories. These stories are based on the life of some personalities from the film industry, obviously with changed names. If you are conversant with the lives of the celebrities from around 1950 to the 1970s, then you just might identify them.

Part 1 of the book covers 10 articles by Abbas, each covering one or the other great from the industry across diverse aspects of filmmaking. These are the people who Abbas came in contact with, and who influenced him. These are producers, directors, music directors, lyricists, and actors. As you read the articles, you can feel the admiration that the author had for these personalities.

The last section consists of articles that Abbas wrote as a film critique and other miscellaneous subjects about films, covering diverse aspects of filmmaking. The articles are witty at times, poignant at other times, and make you visualise a period that many of us may not even have read about.

Since this work is a translation from Urdu, I do not know if the translation does justice to the original writing. But for me the book was a wonderful looking back into the past.

I only wish that the translators come up with more volumes covering other artists from that era. There is only one issue that I had with the book – the author comes across as biased in favour or against certain filmmakers. An example – while he justifies the changes that Raj Kapoor made to his script in Bobby, in the same breath he condemns the interference by Dilip Kumar in the films that he acted in later years. But to give credit, he praises the latter as a great actor. And as I mentioned earlier, many of my favourite actors are missing. Maybe he did not find them mention-worthy.

An interesting read.

The review is by Sanjay Chandra, author of The Gymnast.

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Book Reviews by a Pioneer: The First Year Fiasco by Angandeep Chatterjee

Aratrika Roy joins an engineering college in Panagarh enjoying the new-found freedom away from parental control in Kolkata. Jayashis Dey is another first year student who looks and sounds mysterious.

I have also lived in a hostel in teenage years. I can vouch that walking out of your room to the common toilets through deserted corridors in the dead of the night does get spooky sometime. You look for shadows where there are none.

Aratrika sees actual shadows lurking in the dark. She also overhears whispers not meant for her ears. Then there are deaths on the campus, which let us say, do not appear natural.

This is the detective thriller that the author has woven out of 17-year-old young characters (contradiction is intended). The narrative keeps you on edge till almost the end, as you keep guessing about the killers.

The author has created wonderful and sometimes spooky surroundings in great detail which adds to the mystery.

I am looking forward to solving more mysteries with the young detective and the young assistant.

The review is by Sanjay Chandra, author of The Gymnast.

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Book Reviews by a Pioneer: Adventures of a Countryside Boy by Dr. Thomas T Thomas

I did not know what I was getting myself into when I first picked up this book by Dr T3 (Dr Thomas T Thomas). That it was a memoir – I could make out. What I did not realise was that it was a roller coaster ride in the life of this young boy from small town Kerala as he navigates an exhilarating journey to be a doctor.

These are anecdotes from the life of T3 written in a simple language. The narrative is fluid and you keep turning page after page to learn what new adventures this boy would get into. The book is also a commentary on the social and political milieu of the times. But it does not feel like you are reading non-fiction.

Incidentally, the author is a General Practitioner, who worked in rural dispensaries and government hospitals by choice. Even if he is only half as interesting as his writing in real life, his patients would indeed be a happy lot.

It is a good book to have on the bookshelf.

The review is by Sanjay Chandra, author of The Gymnast.

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Book Reviews by a Pioneer: March to Glory by Major Akash Agarwal

This is another story from small-town India, and the dreams of the young coming from middle-class families. This fictional account is written by an army officer.

Ameya is the lead protagonist. He grows up like any other child till he meets a distant relative who works in the army. He is fascinated by the olive greens, and starts dreaming of joining the forces. But dreams are not enough to attain something in life. There are failures. He does not give up. It is the story of every child who is passionate about its dreams and uses failures as stepping stones to success.

The story of achieving something worthwhile has been written by innumerable writers in times past, and many more will write in future. The plot is timeless. This novel too had the potential to be bracketed in the same category, but for a few flaws.

There are grammatical errors in the narrative. The entire process of admission to NDA is explained in great detail, which would not be of interest to every reader. Each chapter starts with a motivational quote and ends with sometimes short and other times long sermonising passages. That makes reading tedious after a few chapters.

On the positive side, the book is a good ready reckoner for youngsters wanting to join the armed forces.

The review is by Sanjay Chandra, author of The Gymnast.

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Book Reviews by a Pioneer: Her Untamed Soul by Mandira Mazumder

This is a story set in the harsh realities of our times. It is a multi-layered story about two subjects – women emancipation and the caste system. The line between the two is often blurred as both are treated almost at par in a patriarchal society – they do not have a voice or say in their lives.

Latha is introduced in the first chapter as a spirited child, often scolded by her mother for bullying the boys in the neighbourhood, but indulged by her father. She belongs to an upper caste family in a small town in Tamil Nadu. As she grows into adolescence, and then adulthood, she starts noticing the way her father treats the lower caste tenants ruthlessly. This is a facet of her father that she cannot reconcile to, apart from the fact that the society continues to be male dominated where girls do not have a say in pursuing studies or selecting a life partner.

Without revealing the plot, I can only say that I am looking forward to reading the other two books in this three book series.

The review is by Sanjay Chandra, author of The Gymnast.

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Book Reviews by a Pioneer: Charu Majumdar, The Dreamer Rebel by Ashoke Mukhopadhyay

I first came across the term Naxalite when I was a young boy of 17 and had just started college. I read in some film magazine that the popular movie star Mithun Chakraborty was involved with the movement in his younger days. But it was a gossip journal; and besides it was too far removed from my consciousness, having been born and brought up in north India.

A few years later, when I started government job in east India, I heard about many violent incidents in the past against senior colleagues by members of the movement. It was also around this time that I heard about Charu Majumdar, who was considered the originator of the movement. But it was still too far back in the past for me to really explore further.

With this background, I could not resist the temptation of reading this book about Charu Majumdar, who, besides calling for an armed revolution, taught many to dream, as described by the author on the back cover of this small book, which is only a little bigger than a pocket book.

The biography is based on official documents and writings from that period. It is a well researched account of Charu Majumdar and the Naxalite movement. It explains the reasons for the movement to catch the imagination of the contemporary youth, who were dissatisfied with the living conditions of the poor farmers, and felt that all political parties were only interested in exploring them for political gains. The movement spread like wild fire.

The writing style is such that it makes this biographical book written with excerpts from official papers, documented speeches, and letters, more like a well-narrated story. I remained invested in the book till the very end. My only complaint is a one-sided tendency to eulogise the violence against the state machinery, and calling the counter offensive as repression.

The book is an attempt to highlight the contributions of a not so well-known personality, who in his own way contributed in shaping the country as we see it today. I look forward to reading more books under this series titled by the publishers as Pioneers of Modern India.

The review is by Sanjay Chandra, author of The Gymnast.

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