Book Reviews by a Pioneer: Avishi by Saiswaroopa Iyer

This is a a full length fictional novel created out of a strong female character and other references from the Rig Veda.

Avishi is spirited out of her homeland as a child by a friend of her father to save her life. The father, working in the king’s army, has been brutally killed along with the king, by another ambitious soldier, who eventually takes over as the ruler. The young child grows up to be a fearless warrior in a far away establishment run by saints. She does not remember the traumatic childhood events, but has nightmares.

She is asked by the vice chancellor of the establishment to travel to another republic to fulfil her destiny. She is a fearless warrior, and is soon required to be the head of her adopted republic. There is a standoff with the brutal king of the neighbouring state, during which she is injured in the leg. She has to be amputated.

She is devastated. She has lost a limb, she can no longer be a warrior, she can not avenge the murder of her father. But her mate – this is a period when marriage has not yet been institutionalised – has other ideas. He develops a prosthetic leg for her, with the help of the celestial Ashwini Kumars. She is whole again, to fight the atrocities unleashed by the king.

It is a gripping story of a strong female character from our pre-historic times.


Book Reviews by a Pioneer: The Unexpected Mrs. Pollifax by Dorothy Gilman

The book was recommended by a member in one of my book clubs. I picked up the book with hesitation as I had never heard of the author. As I read, I realised that the book was written way back in 1965.

Mrs. Emily Pollifax is a 60 something widow, living alone in a quiet suburb in America, tending to her little garden and a cat, going for her medical check-ups, and other such mundane activities. Her children are pursuing their own professions away from her, connecting with her on the phone periodically. This sweet lady craves to work for her country as a spy.

So what does she do? She travels to Washington and lands up in the CIA office with her request to work for the country. The junior officer is foxed, not knowing if the lady is crazy. As he is called out to attend to another visitor, his senior chances upon Mrs. Pollifax, and mistaking her to be another person, he asks her to travel to Mexico City as a courier to bring back a package. The old lady is thrilled.

She is kidnapped and flown across oceans to Europe with another operative. Using her common sense and intuition, she manages to identify the location where they are held captive, escapes with the crippled operative, is shot at, and is rescued and brought back to America. She brings with her the courier package – microfilms of secret documents. The films were placed in a most unlikely package, which was in plain sight of her Chinese kidnappers, who were actually looking for those films.

She is back in her home, in time for the next periodic call from her children. Her children did not even miss her. She will not be recognised as a national hero, she cannot talk about it with anyone, not even her children. But she is not complaining – she is a spy for her country.

I smiled, I chuckled, and I rooted for this sweet lady, as she out-manoeuvred her captives. It reminded me of another famous character – Miss Maple, the detective. This one is an international spy.

There is a series of books around Mrs. Pollifax. I am looking forward to reading more of her escapades.

Book Reviews by a Pioneer: The Curse of Kukkutarma by Prateep Roy

I read about speed of light, the fourth dimension, relativity, and many similar fantastical subjects sometime in my adolescence. I would fantasise about travelling to another dimension and meet people from my past or future. That led me to think about a machine which could make me travel in time across centuries. It was only a concept, but it sounded something achievable to a boy growing up in the late 1960s.

Then I was an adult in the relative safety of the real world – occasionally giving in to my childhood fantasies watching Star Trek and the Star Wars. Till, I came across this book The Curse of Kukkutarma by Prateep Roy.

Opu, pet name for Opamanyu, from the early 20th century, is considered a child prodigy. He travels to England for studies. There he builds a time machine to travel to the period of Mahabharata, to meet Bhisma. Instead, he reaches Kurukshetra of early 21st century due to some technical miscalculations.

He is rescued by a brother-sister duo. Siddharth, a scientist, works in IIT, Delhi. The sister, Tanya is an anthropologist, and is studying the Indus Valley Civilisation. She is excited by the time machine and she wants to go back in time to Kukkutarma (Mohenjo-daro) and find the reasons for the disappearance of this once flourishing civilisation.

The two scientists work on developing another Atityán – that is what Opu calls his time machine. Tanya goes back in time to Mohenjo-daro, and Opu travels back to his England of 20th century. Tanya has her scrapes during her time travel, manages to fall in love with a man there, brings him to the 21st century, and eventually travels back one last time to leave her mate in his century.

You might smirk and say what an improbable story. Of course, it is an improbable story today, but do not forget that people said the same about aeroplanes at some time in the not too distant past. Who knows, maybe a few generations from today, someone may come to meet me in the 21st century.

An expertly woven story from our childhood fantasies. The manuscript does need a little work on editing.

Book Reviews by a Pioneer: Blue Eagle by Sharada Kolluru

Neil Randhawa, an Italian of Indian origin, finds himself in a Delhi Police station, trying to locate Blue Eagle – a wine that he lost at Delhi airport. What is special about this wine? A stranger successfully bid half a million US Dollars for the 1988 vintage, died the same evening of snake bite at the vineyard where Neil works and was also the auctioneer. The dying man extracted a promise from Neil to offer the wine to Lord Kal Bhairav in Ujjain.

Moe Kyaw Somani, a young Burmese Indian, also lands at the same police station, having lost her 12th grade certificates, without which her dream of studying in Lady Shri Ram College will remain just that – a dream, for which she has travelled all the way from Yangon.

The two narrate the stories of their lives in their birth countries to the sympathetic inspector, who decides to help them. The two young people come together in their search. Is it any surprise, then, that soon sparks begin to fly!

Sounds like another version of the Bollywood film Jab We Met, or many similar stories seen on screen. But I am not complaining. The storytelling is fast paced, the setting is different, and I just love a good old-fashioned romance – this one is inter-continental – so I got to travel a lot from the comfort of my armchair – Italy, the vineyards, Myanmar, and my favourite – Italian food. It was a magical journey expertly woven through words.

If you are looking for a fun fast-paced read over the weekend, then this rom-com is perfect. What I thought could have been toned down – a couple of pages of explicit physical intimacy. As my literary agent friend Lalitha keeps telling me, “Sanjay… show… not tell.”

Book Reviews by a Pioneer: Halfway Fates by Deepali Bajaj

Genre: Romance
Rating: 3.5/5

Suraj is a happy go lucky young man studying in college. He, Raghav – his roommate and friend, Mira – whom he loves, and Deepti – another close friend with whom he can share his secrets, are fun-filled college students. They attend lectures, sometime bunk classes, go out for parties, attend socials, play pranks, go for drives, get drunk also.

Suraj also has vivid dreams about a young girl Mithi. This girl is in love with Siddharth, and they both appear to be heading towards a forever life together. Suraj is perplexed – he has never met Mithi or Siddharth. Why does he dream about them? Is there a past connection?
The story moves in two parallel tracks – that of Suraj, Mira, Deepti, and Raghav in the present; Siddharth and Mithi in the past through Suraj’s dreams. Will the two stories merge?

This is an interesting novella, well written. I kept turning the pages to unravel the mystery. The unfolding – it comes almost in the end – was a surprise to me. I could not guess it throughout the book.

One aspect of the book is a let down – weak editing. There are grammatical and spelling errors throughout the manuscript. I hope the author takes care of this in subsequent editions, and future works.