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: 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: 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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Book Reviews by a Pioneer: Sleep Your Way to Success by Khurshed Batliwala and Dinesh Ghodke

It was the title that tempted me to read this non-fiction work when recommended in one of my book clubs. Having spent a good enough time in the government sector and then corporate world, and brought up on the staple of less sleep for more work mantra of many of our celebrities, I also believed that stress made me more productive, and sleep of 5-6 hours was enough.

This book on the importance of a daily diet of 8 hours of sleep turned all my misconceptions on their head. The book is not just a philosophical treatise on sleep – there are enough explanations of the chemicals released when you are sleeping – which is what got the rational scientist in me to – well let us just say to sleep, more. And I can already feel the difference.

There are other chapters on importance of accessories to have a good night’s sleep. Many of us have experienced first hand the importance of a good mattress, soft linen, comfortable linen – on many occasions I slept on the floor even in a 5 star hotel, only because the mattress was not comfortable. But even other accessories like a soft non-flickering light is equally important to make you sleep well.

Having slept well, you are now more productive. The authors then explain tools to improve your life. I loved the chapter on Pizza of Life, where you identify 8 important features in your life, rate them on a scale of 1-10 as per your understanding, and then write one page essays on how you will improve your top 4 in the bucket list. This becomes your resolution, till you are ready to move on to the next 4.

This is a book which is helping me evolve. I am sure it will help others too.

Book Reviews by a Pioneer: My First Hanuman Chalisa by Chitwan Mittal and Sarita Saraf

I have fond memories from my childhood and adolescence. There was no television then; we were expected to be in bed by 9 in the night. The only time we were permitted to stay up late – almost till midnight – was going out to watch Ramleela with my grandfather. This is a street play organised in Indian villages, towns and cities every year for a few days before the Hindu festival of Dussehra, depicting the life of Lord Rama till he killed Ravana.

Another memory is that of visits to the temple on Saturdays for the sweet boondi, traditional offering for the God. The common character in all these memories was our mythological superhero Lord Hanuman.

As I grew older, I saw my friends visiting the temple to pray for success in examinations. They also recited verses to the God when scared. Over years, I also mechanically listened to the verses sung by priests and devotees during prayer ceremonies. The words were melodious and soothing, but I did not understand the meaning as they were written in Awadhi language by the great poet Tulsidas. This hymn in praise of Lord Hanuman was Hanuman Chalisa.

I recently came across My First Hanuman Chalisa, an illustrated translation in English. This is not a story book; yet an interesting book not only for children, but also for adult parents of children. It was a revelation to me also as I finally understood the meaning of those verses from my memories. The illustrations will appeal to children as they read the book or the book is read to them. It is a good addition for the home library of every child, but price of Rs 999/- would be a deterrent for a wider outreach.