I was not sure what to expect when I first picked up the book. The cover was attractive, the blurb was interesting.
Tribin, a writer, working against a deadline to submit his manuscript, lands up in an isolated property somewhere in the Kerala mountains.
Out on a morning walk, he hears a scream from the estate next door. The lady is Sayali, a renowned badminton player. She was amongst the top 10 in international ranking till sometime back. But then she slumped. She is trying to rediscover her top self.
Tempers are frayed – at least those of the lady. Tribin… Well he does not know what has hit him. He just wants to help the young woman… With just a rudimentary knowledge of the game. Unthinkable… Will this lead to something beyond a professional relationship?
This is the beauty of this novel. It makes you believe in the improbable. The storytelling never flags. The language is fluid. Once I started, I did not want to put the book down.
I saw that family on a road divider close to where I live. The children wore tattered clothes and looked hungry. There was a makeshift tent erected on the road divider itself and that apparently was their home. But the children, like all other children, were oblivious to their surroundings and were innocently playing on the road.
Their games, of course, were nothing like the games that children from relatively well-off families played. One child was doing cartwheels across the road during stoppages in traffic at a red signal. One child was playing a homemade musical instrument. Yet another child was singing and dancing. They were doing that to earn little money, which some good Samaritan might throw their way.
It was a scene that I was used to on roads across all cities not only in our country but also in developed countries of Europe and England as well as many other nations. I realised that I had become immune to their presence around me. Earlier, I saw them but did not notice them.
This started me on a long journey – a journey of almost 75 years starting from sometime in 1955, and ending in 2029. The beginning of the journey was modest… No, modest is an overstatement. The beginning was even less than humble. But there was a burning desire to be better than what they had been. This passionate fire continued, till Roshni, a girl born in this family started her journey in 2011.
The Gymnast is the journey of Roshni, foundations of which were laid 75 years back. I count my blessings that this family chose to include me in their travels across decades and across two centuries.
There was a time during my professional life when I travelled extensively to Kashmir. The Hindi diction of the local people is a little different – it is almost sing-song. As I picked up the book by Prashant, I wondered why it was titled ‘Jehlum’ when we know the river as ‘Jhelum’. The author clarifies this right at the beginning – this is how Kashmiris pronounce the name.
Nishant and Mudassir are two childhood friends born and brought up in Kashmir. Fateful events of January 1990 force Nishant and his family to migrate to a refugee camp in Jammu. He does not give up on hope. He realises that the only way out for him to move out of this squalor is to study and work hard. He succeeds in moving to America.
Mudassir on the other hand is manipulated and ends up in a training camp in Pakistan, and then as a labourer in Karachi.
The plot till almost 80% of the story is relatable and storytelling is compelling. It narrates the events leading up to the exodus, life in the camps, Nishant’s hard work, and then his moving to USA. The unfortunate circumstances are not heavy with sentimentality, but are backdrops for the principled and ethical man that Nishant turns into.
It is in the last part of the book when Nishant practically becomes a single man army or more appropriately a superhero that the story felt as if I was watching a Bollywood movie. But I am not complaining. Having brought up on the Amitabh Bachchan movies of the 1970s and 1980s, it was enjoyable.
An enjoyable fast paced read if you have also loved the Bollywood movies of yesteryears.
When the rains come to Malwa, it is as if the slopes and valleys and the river begin decking themselves up for wedding festivities. These opening lines by Malathi, and I prepared myself for another lyrically written historical fiction.
I had visited Mandu a long time back and heard about the legendary romance of Baz Bahadur and beautiful Roopmati, a girl from farming family. The story held a certain mysterious charm, and I wanted to know more. I was not disappointed as the author has narrated an engrossing tale set in 16th century India around the legend.
This is a story of two unlikely young people, coming from different strata of society, bonding over a common love for classical music. This bonding leads to the two gradually falling in love with each other. But their love is doomed from the beginning as their lives are drawn into court intrigues. Eventually, sultan Baz goes out to fight a loosing battle against the might of the Mughal emperor, Akbar. Roopmati consumes poison to save herself from the lecherous eyes of Adham Khan, milk brother of Akbar. Yet again a love that was not meant to be.
A simple story, narrated beautifully, that keeps you engrossed till the end. Words are expertly woven – be it to describe the beauty of the region, or that of Roopmati, or even that of love itself. It would have been difficult to narrate a story that only exists as a legend – Malathi does not falter even a bit.
Yet, I could not but feel a little disappointed. Not by the storytelling – which is excellent – but by the fact that Baz Bahadur comes across as a weak sultan, immersed in songs and dances and his love. He fails to protect his principality, his people, and above all the woman he truly loved against the marauders. Maybe he indeed was a weak sultan, but for the positive influence of the woman who he fell in love with. It is the beauty of storytelling that makes us believe in events that are not recorded anywhere.
When Vasant ritu comes to Malwa, they say the river brings new life to her valley… But wait… hark! Is that a snatch of a distant song on the air? Or is it only the moaning of winds in the ravines of Malwa? Who knows … This is how the story ends.
I am sure to remember these closing lines and probably hear that song on the air from the distant past when I visit Mandu next.
As I had mentioned in my previous review also, the writing is almost lyrical. It is a beautifully woven tale of two people who loved and lost. The storytelling keeps you immersed in the story till the end.
They say the desert is ageless, timeless. That it was never born and will never die. They say it has no form either… its shifting sands take one shape today and another tomorrow. These were the opening lines of this historical novel set in Rajasthan. I was mesmerised.
I remained engrossed in the story till I reached the end. …for what is truer than love is true love… across the desert rides he who is yours… to meet, to hold, to never let go… for who can keep apart those whose lives are fused for eternity…
The novel is inspired by certain events from 200 years back. 80+ villages of Paliwal Brahmins in the Thar desert of Jaisalmer were abandoned overnight. This is a historical fact. What is not known is the reason why this sudden exodus happened on a single night. There are folklores around it.
One reason is attributed to the exorbitant taxes demanded by Saalim Ali, the Diwan of the kingdom ruled by Rawals. Another is that these villagers left to save their honour, as the debauched Diwan chanced upon the beautiful young daughter of the headman of Kuldhara, one of the villages, and demanded that the maiden be handed over to enter his harem.
Nobody knows the truth. The abandoned ruins of Kuldhara still exist, and the place is considered haunted. Malathi has woven a heart wrenching tale of what might have happened. The story is that of two strong women whose destinies are interlinked with that of the Diwan.
Pari from Kuldhara falls in love with Dharam, a young man from another village, during the flight. Unknown to the two, different villages have decided to split and move in separate directions to escape the pursuing soldiers. A single night of passion; and the next morning Dharam has already left the camp with his village folk. Nobody knows where. Pari realises that she is pregnant.
Parvati is an older women who had also been taken in Saalim Ali’s harem. She has borne him a son and still waits for her husband’s infrequent visits to the conjugal bed when it pleases him. She is unhappy with her life, but this is the only life that she has known. She still wants to remain that favourite wife of her husband.
Eventually the two women face each other. The young unwed mother is saved from the Diwan by Parvati. Pari returns back to an abandoned Kuldhara to wait for her daughter’s father, hopeful that one day they shall unite.
I had only heard about lyrical prose. This was the first time that I read one. It is an expertly woven haunting tale of love, despair, and hope. The storytelling keeps you immersed in the story – page after page, word after word.
Blessed are those who have a house which they can call their Abana (home in Sindhi). A house is only a physical structure, but it is our loved ones, and our memories with them, that truly make this structure a home – a place where we can return after a hard day’s work. Do we ever pause and even think about a scenario where our home is snatched from us overnight? All that we are left with is an ache, a longing, to reclaim our lost hearth. Would we go to any extent to take back what was rightfully ours?
Paari, the central character of this novel by Lata, is a Sindhi, who lost her home in Pakistan during partition. She lives in squalor in the refugee camp in Ulhasnagar, dreaming of the day when she would reclaim her home. She does not know how, only that she would.
She is lured into smuggling gold jewellery from Dubai to India, which might one day change her life for the better. From smuggling jewellery to smuggling guns to Afghanistan via Pakistan for an unknown boss is only a short step. Travelling to Pakistan rekindles her urge to reclaim her Abana. She is certain that she would take her house back.
A chance encounter with Virmal, her childhood sweetheart, makes her start dreaming of a life with her lover in her own home. She is willing to go to any extent, even running the guns herself through dangerous terrain, or shooting a man.
This is a story of love and betrayal, but in the end it is the story of a quest to get the home back, at any cost.
A beautifully written book, which has emotions aplenty, but never gets overboard with sentimentality. It makes you take a pause and reflect – what would we do if our home was snatched from us?
We all have fond memories of our childhood, particularly the age when one is around 9-years old. I too was a 9 year old child a long time back. Those were the days when we did not even have television, nobody had heard of internet; and we were forced outdoor by our parents by the time it was 5 in the evening in summers, and 4 in winters. We also sometimes managed to sneak out during the afternoon when the elders were having their siesta. We played marbles or spun tops, flew kites, the big bad boy down the road was our role model, got into scrapes, were fond of hoarding comics, had our favourite teacher – the list is endless. But it was the most carefree period in my life – not worried about what the future held, or envious about the success of the boy next door, in having more marbles or any other pseudo currency in circulation at the time. It only goaded me to win back more of that currency.
This collection of 12 short stories, revolving around the escapades of precocious Pushkar, a 9-year old boy, living in a small town of India, came as deja vu. The setting could have been any city, big or small. Each child would have gone through something similar. Pushkar desperately wants to win marbles to achieve a target of 100 marbles, but then consciously loses a little more to a much younger child, as his conscience does not allow him to take undue advantage of a novice. He learns the art of making the most lethal manjha to win in kite flying, only to see the kites going up in smoke because of his notion of using another dangerous ingredient. He wants to hit back at the bad boys, giving them back the cuss words, but is unable to do so. He is ready to take punishment from the teacher that he has a crush on – she is her queen. And many more scrapes.
If you loved the child in you, and sometimes long for those days gone by, then this is the book for you.
Each one of us carries secrets that we are unwilling to share even with those close to us. Yet, many times we are forced by circumstances to revisit these secrets. Is it destiny or is this what life is all about?
Sivakami, the protagonist of this novella, is a professional working in Chennai. She has made two friends within the confines of her professional circle – Sowmya and Sharan. One morning Sowmya breezes into the office after a few days of absence, and shyly informs her two friends about her engagement, with an invitation for them to join her wedding ceremonies in her native village.
The village is where Siva was brought up till her adolescence, when she was forced to relocate, away from the one person whom she loved. She is excited, and scared at the same time, at the prospect of facing the one person who mattered the most in her life.
She reaches the village with her colleague and friend, Sharan – unaware that the latter secretly loves her. She comes face to face with Anandhan, who still loves her, though he is now married.
But this is not the only secret that Siva has kept away from her friends. Her world had come crumbling down when she was told the truth about her paternity 15 years back. Would she be able to overcome the trauma of her earlier years? Will she be able to accept the love of her friend from her mature years?
I loved the story and the storytelling. It was as if I was watching a television series. A fast paced read.
I have travelled to Turkey multiple times for work. I have always tried to be in Istanbul during each of my visits, even if for a single day. I have loved the vivacity and the boisterous cheerfulness that the city presents – whether walking in the by lanes, or sipping a glass of wine sitting in a bistro overlooking the Bosphorus.
I always wondered about a period in Turkish history, that many of my hosts spoke about, and which was mentioned in passing in a few novels set in Europe – the Ottoman Empire. I could not resist the temptation of picking up this book when I read the blurb – the book was set in 1730, a time known as the Tulip Age.
The novel is the story of two young men. One is an illegitimate prince, who does not know about his paternity, and whose existence is known only to a few people. He finds himself in prison, falsely implicated for the murder of his young wife on his wedding night.
He escapes, and befriends another young man, who escapes from a lunatic asylum. The friend was forced into the asylum by the father of the one whom he loves.
As the two men come together to search for their beloved, the story moves into the revolt brewing in the population due to an era of economic and social collapse. The rich are corrupt, enjoying the luxuries of life, and growing exotic tulips. The common people, including small traders, are the wretched lot. There is a revolt, the Sultan is deposed, another Sultan installed. The two young men also meet their destinies.
The story provides historical and cultural details of the time. Life in the palaces and dervish lodges, and the intrigues and conspiracies hatched in coffee houses and hamams by the revolutionaries and criminals, are beautifully brought out in the novel. There is never a dull moment in the storytelling.
The book will appeal to readers for its storytelling.
There is something about festivals which we look forward to. All festivals are a celebration of life; there is a cheerful spirit all around. These are times to meet family and friends, or make new friends, or look forward to meeting your soulmate. One such festival in the year is Christmas.
This book of short stories and poems by Manali is a celebration of the spirit of Christmas. You may feel lonely, but there is someone out there whom you are destined to meet. You may be destitute, yet even you can bring cheer to somebody less fortunate than you. There is a friend or a lover waiting for you somewhere, to bring sparkle in your eyes, to bring colour to your cheeks, and to bring a smile on your lips – and above all to kindle love in your heart.