Sunday, 16 March 2014

Kim's Review : Udvada

This is an absolutely beautiful photobook by Shantanu Das which captures Udwada in all its glory, without hiding the reality of its crumbling portions.

Udvada is a quaint Parsi town in Gujarat near Daman, 200 kms from Mumbai. Home to one of the 9 Atash Behram - (Fire of Victory - is the highest grade of a fire that can be placed in a Parsi Fire Temple) in India. It is a place for pilgrimage and a million memories.

Today, parts of the town are crumbling and dying, especially with the younger generation moving away for work and education. But there is also an older generation that is coming back from Mumbai and other locations, either to resettle here or establish their households here for part of the year at least. All of this combined with the natural Parsi joie de vivre and love of food, makes it an extremely interesting place to visit.

As a casual visitor, you barely get to scratch the surface of the beauty and richness that is Udvada, so this book is an amazing revelation. It does not take you inside the Fire Temple itself (which is sacred and restricted), but it takes you inside peoples homes and hearts.

The reason Parvez Damania contacted Shantanu Das to photograph this little town, is so that it could be preserved for posterity. "I wanted to capture memories of the town, as the community — and I — still remember it. And I wanted to put together a photographic documentation of Udvada before it succumbs to modernism. I reckon that historians and generations to come may have nothing but a treasure trove of these and other photographs to remember it by. There was no photographic evidence of the times I myself had experienced in Udwada. As a twelve-year-old boy, when we visited the place, all the major hotels like Globe, Majestic or King’s had a Chevrolet or a Buick or an Impala to fetch us from the station. All that, and so much more, is already lost"

Shantanu is a brilliant Photo Journalist whom Parvez contacted and entrusted this job to. The 2 of them visited Udvada multiple times and clicked a ton of photographs, before shortlisting the ones that made it to this book. Shantanu has definitely stuck to his mandate and brought the town alive with his pictures.

This book actually started out as a Photo Exhibition, but has now been compiled into beautiful nostalgia evoking book, that anyone who has ever visited Udwada would love to treasure.

Its not yet available on flipkart or Amazon, but it is available in Gujarat bookshops and on

If you would like to see more pictures of Udvada, please click on this link. It is a mini album of a few pictures that we clicked on our visit to this beautiful historic little town.

Rating : 4.5 / 5

Friday, 14 March 2014

Kim's Review : Moon Mountain

Moon Mountain is a Graphic Novel representation of Bibhutibhushan Bandopadhyay's "Chander Pahar". For those unfamiliar with Bengali Literature, Bibhutibhushan Bandopadhyay is the author of the "Pather Panchali" on which Satyajit Ray made a film which received much critical acclaim.

What is so wonderful about his stories is that he wrote travelogues detailing countries across the world almost accurately, without ever having visited them. And these were written in the pre-internet age. (He lived from 1894-1950 and started getting published in 1921) All his research was painstakingly done in libraries via encyclopedias, newspapers and journals. He also wrote for children and "Chander Pahar" was considered a Classic.

Moon Mountain has been illustrated by Sayan Mukherjee and the Script has been adapted from the original by Saurav Mohapatra.

The protagonist of the book is Shankar, a Calcutta educated boy, from a small hamlet in Bengal. Given his fathers failing health, as the eldest son, he has to take up the responsibility of being the breadwinner. He unfortunately gets stuck in a job as a pencil pusher in the nearby mill, while what he really loves is the open sky, travel and adventure. He lives vicariously through travel books, until a neighbour brings him a letter from her son-in-law Prasad and asks Shankar to read it to her.

Prasad it turns out, now lives in Mombasa and Shankar immediately corresponds with him directly. Given that this is the pre-internet age, it takes about 2 months for messages to reach from India to Africa and back. Prasad, however does help Shankar get a job in Kenya as a storekeeper and clerk, with a company laying railway tracks in the wilderness of Africa.

And this is where the adventure takes off, Shankar starts living the dangerous yet exciting life he had hitherto only read about. Wild Animals, diamonds, snakes, lions, mythical creatures, explorers, local tribespeople - all feature richly in this illustrated version of "Chander Pahar".

Its a lovely book for a child who is not yet jaded by the internet age and has only seen Africa in an air conditioned van. Its a book, that you can use to discuss with a child how much the world and life has changed in the last 60 years. As an adult, this book will take you bck to your own childhood, where these books were the only escape from generic small town life.

Rating : 3 / 5

Thursday, 13 March 2014

Kim's Review : The Dalai Lama's Cat and the Art of Purring

"The Dalai Lama's Cat and the Art of Purring" is The Most Touching and Inspiring book I have ever read in my life. My only regret is that I read this second installment before the first and I've promptly ordered the first book too.

I've been recommending it to everyone that I've been speaking to in the last week and will continue to do so for quite some time to come.

This book, as the name suggests, is written in the voice of the Dalai Lama's Cat who is known by many names - Rinpoche, Swami, HHC - His Holiness' Cat amongst others.

The story starts with the Dalai Lama setting off on a long journey and tasking his Little Snow Lion with "investigating the art of purring" or rather finding the source of happiness. HHC wanders around the town in his favourite old haunts and investigates some new ones too. In the course of his wanderings, he is a silent participant in multiple conversations from different perspectives on happiness, contentent and satisfaction.

The insights, the teachings, the perspectives in this book are wide ranging and each one is brilliant fodder for thought.

While the tale itself, compelled me to race through, I had to restrict myself to a chapter a day, so that I could reflect on the ideas expounded.

Nothing I say or write, can even begin to do justice to this book. So I'll just humbly request you to read it and let me know if you agree with my rating.

Rating : 5 / 5

Saturday, 8 March 2014

Kim's Review : Cutting Chai and Maska Pao

"Cutting Chai and Maska Pao" is a slim volume, a text-plus-photo cultural lexicon of  Mumbai, (covering 65 terms from aila to zunka bhakar) - the result of a college project of three young girls - Digantika Mitra, Priya Sheth and Mithila Mehta.

There's plenty of interest for a foodie, even if he/she is just visiting Mumbai. Amul pav bhaji, Ayubs, baida (eggs), bhel puri, Bombay sandwich, cutting chai, Energee, Irani cafes, khau gallis, Leopold Cafe, masala, maska pao, Mewad kulfi, paan patti, ragda pattice, tapri, Udipi, vada pav and zunka bhakar.

Terms related to Travel & Sightseeing : Banganga, Best bus, Bollywood, chawls, chor bazaar, Dalal Street, Dhobhi Ghat, Fashion Street, Gateway, Joggers Park, Juhu Beach, Kala Ghoda, local, Nana-Nani parks, Oval Maidan, Queens Necklace, Sea link, talkies, Taj and Victoria.

Lingo : aila, bhai, dhinchak, dimaag ka dahi, Horn-OK-Please, jhakkas, oye!, Page 3, Pandu, rapchik, rokda, stick no bills, tapori, town and waat.

And a couple of others : Boot polishwala, check your weight, dabbawala, Dharavi, galli cricket, Italian barbers, kabootar khana, Kolis, Lovers rocks, nimbu mirchi, yacht,

As you can see from these terms, they are either unique to Mumbai (as in the lingo and travel/sightseeing) or an essential part of Mumbai (Irani Cafes and Udipi restaurants for example)

Any Mumbaikar will love it, for the collection of terms and the beautiful illustrations. It also makes a lovely souvenier for visitors to this maximum city.

Having lived in Mumbai in 2 stints spanning 2 years, the terms weren't new to me and Ayubs was the only food place in this list that I haven't visited. But I still loved this little booklet. It brings back lovely memories of the city and I often flip through it and randomly read a page from it, whenever I miss living in Bombay.

The pictures have been taken by girls themselves with a few taken by their friends and these pictures do convey more than the words used with them. They are extremely evocative, even the cartoons used to depict some of the lingo.

To compare it to a food analogy - "Cutting Chai and Maska Pao" isn't cordon bleu cooking, its ghar ka khaana made by mom and grandmom, that you yearn for when they aren't around and enjoy when available.

Rating : 3.5 / 5

Also see Brajesh's Review of "Cutting Chai and Maska Pao"

Friday, 7 March 2014

Kim's Review : The Bad Boys of Bokaro Jail

"The Bad Boys of Bokaro Jail" is the scariest book I have read in an extremely long time. No, it isn't a Horror Story. Its the Reality of the terror, that is the judicial + media pressure + police system in play in our country today.

When those 2 young girls were imprisoned for one stray status update on their private facebook pages, the whole country took offense, but was it really the whole country? Would the girls have received public support if they lived in a small town in North India instead of Mumbai?

A lot of people talk about 2 India's - and in all our postings and travels across India, we have seen the disparity - whether financial, educational, status of women, access to basic amenities, etc.

What happens when someone from the affluent English speaking, well educated India, gets trapped within the legal system in small town Bokaro in the Hindi Heartland of Jharkand in India? This is exactly what happened to Chetan Mahajan.

It was such a tiny case, that it barely found a mention in the National news or even the English news. The only reason, I even came to know about this incident is "Blue Salt" an imprint established by investigative journalist and author, S Hussain Zaidi, dedicated to crime and noir, co-published by Penguin which has just published his book "The Bad Boys of Bokaro Jail".

Chetan has an MBA from Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University (after one in India) and having spent a couple of years in the US, he is currently the Head of HCL Learning – the learning division of HCL Infosystems Ltd.

However, before joining HCL, he had joined Everonn Coaching Institutes and that is when the events in this book transpired.

According to Chetan, he was barely 3 months into the company (he joined them because Dubai based Gems Group had bought Everonn and seemed to want to turn it around and the skill sets that they needed in senior management, matched his experience and interests) when a few teachers in the Bokaro branch of the coaching institute had suddenly jumped ship to their competition and while substitutes were arranged, the parents of their students wanted their money back immediately.

Chetan headed to Bokaro to reassure the parents that they would all get their money back, but as the seniormost employee on location, the parents caught him, handed him over to the police and wrote out a police complaint against him.

All of this happened on 23 Dec 2012, a Sunday, when banks weren't working and subsequently the courts were on 8-day holiday, so after 24 hours in a police station, he is transferred to a jail for under trials, where he languishes for a month before being released.

The book talks about his experience with corruption at multiple levels, fear of the unknown, rage against his employers, and frustration at the system and its workings. While he does his best to stay positive by exercising, running, reading and remembering his children, the anger and frustration are too much to bear at times.

He ends up spending a month in jail inspite of the best efforts of his family and the institute refunding 100% of the money to almost all the parents. During this time he gets to know some of the other people in jail and does mention a few of their stories here too.

While, the premise and setting is similar, the book is nowhere close to Jeffery Archers Prison Diaries. Yet it is haunting for its brutal exposure of a hapless individual trapped in the Indian legal system by circumstances.

This story is one of those that will continue to haunt me for quite a few years to come. While I myself got out of the Corporate Rat Race a couple of years ago, my husband is still a part of it and being in the telecom industry there are a lot of cases (serious & nuisance) that are filed against the company daily. The telecom industry is often held responsible for issuing sim cards to shooters and terrorists (because the system can trace sim cards but not guns and bombs) - the charge? not conducting adequate background checks and not recognising govt issued id cards as forgeries. So yes, it scares me that he can be jailed on trumped up charges and falsely assigned blame for an incident he may not even be aware of.

All one can do is keep doing the right thing (this alone is no guarantee to not having a case filed against you) trust in God and keep ones fingers crossed that we never have to deal with a situation like this personally.

The larger problem in the country however remains : If someone of Chetans background, family standing (army contacts etc), educational & financial background can be treated like this, what hope is there for the uneducated and the poor who are trapped in this system?

Rating : I can't rate this book fairly at this point of time.

Thursday, 6 March 2014

Kim's Review : The Mountain of Light (Tale of the Kohinoor Diamond)

The Mountain of Light is Indu Sundaresan's sixth title after her Taj Trilogy : The Twentieth Princess, The Feast of Roses and Shadow Princess. She has also written a book of short stories - "In the Convent of Little Flowers" and an independent novel "The Splendor of Silence"

The only reason, I haven't read The Splendor of Silence yet, is that it is not yet being printed in India.

"The Mountain of Light" is Sundaresan's latest novel, which follows the trail of the Kohinoor Diamond across geographies and potentates from 1817 to 1854 from Afghanistan to Britain via Lahore.

While most characters in this book are based on fact, she has played around with the timelines a bit and given identities to characters deemed to have been minor players in the history books - this is almost standard procedure for works of historical fiction, which some readers fail to realise and accept as fact, even though authors give disclaimers in their books.

Indu's story starts with a deposed Shah Shuja and his wife Wafa Begam seeking refuge from his brother at the court of Maharaja Ranjit Singh at Lahore. To entice Maharaja Ranjit Singh into protecting him, Shah Shuja promises him the 186 carat Kohinoor diamond. However, he takes his time handing the pricelss gem over, meanwhile enjoying the hospitality of the Punjab Empire, until Maharaja Ranjit Singh literally forces his hand.

Shah Shuja consequently is reinstalled on the throne of Afghanistan by the British. With the death of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, a fight erupts for the control of the Punjab empire amongst his sons. The British step in here too and install the Maharaja's youngest son - the 10 year old Dalip Singh as a puppet ruler, while they carve up the Punjab empire and loot the Royal toshakhana (treasury is a simplified translation)

The Kohinoor is sent to England by Lord Dalhousie (one of the most hated and resented Governor Generals of India) in the hopes of utter secrecy, but in Indu's book turns into an open secret.

The story ends extremely pitifully for the Maharaja Dalip Singh who dies in penury in an Artists loft in Paris.

Indu's tale not only brings alive the Political and Economic Machinations of the East India Company, it also tells the tales of minor characters (who while not critical to the story line, is an interesting insight into relationships between people of various social strata who might not have ever interacted if not for the tumultuous events in India.

It is very easy to hate the officials of the East India Company as described in Mountain of Light, but Indu has a much more sympathetic outlook for Queen Victoria. Given that until 1857, it was the East India Company that was running amok in India and claiming all its riches in the name of the Queen. While she wasn't consulted before any action taken on her behalf, she was only informed of events after they had taken place and that too via an extremely long drawn out voyage of the post from India to England via Egypt.

The first part of the book describing the rule of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, is quintessential Indu. Rich descriptions of the court, its customs, its jewelry, the status of women and foreigners are easily woven into the narrative.

The second part starts with the annexation of the Punjab Empire and the "crowning' of 10 year old Dalip Singh under the "guardianship" of Henry Lawrence and the tale moves along with brief romances and the dismemberment of Punjab.

The third part for me, especially the voyage by sea and land from India to London seemed to be more in the Agatha Christie's Hercule Poirot style rather than Indu's usual style and it is a great contrast to the rest of the story.

The final part which takes place after Dalip Singh has been removed to London is painful. While the Queen acknowledges him and fetes him (unlike the later treatment of Nawab Wajid Ali Shah of Lucknow) and grants him peerage equivalent to a Royal of Europe, financially, he is still at the mercy of the East India Company's pension and faced with racial discrimination because of his origins even to the extent of being nicknamed "The Black Prince of Perthshire".

Queen Victoria tries to make a match between him and Princess Victoria Gowramma of Coorg (also an Indian Royal, converted to Christianity), which he isn't interested in. At the same time, his desire to be married to a British Lady (of meager fortune and from a non-Royal family) is turned down and the only reason seems to be his non British background.

Its a very well written story and I consider Indu Sundaresan one of the best authors in the Indian Historical Fiction genre.

Rating : 3.8 / 5

Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Brajesh's Review : The Bone Season

Move over Voldemort, Dementors, Dumbledore, Horcruxes, Hogwarts, Hermione and Harry Potter .... It's now time for Nashira, Buzzers, Jaxon, Numa, Oxford, Nick and Paige Mahoney.

I think you may have got the essence of this review by now. So while the world waits to see if Samantha is going to be the next Rowling or not, you should enjoy the 1st in the seven series chronicle of clairvoyant dream-walker Paige.

The Bone Season is surely not kid-fiction like Potter, I would classify it as teen-fantasy-fiction, though critics call it a supernatural-dystopian novel. The world conjured by a 23 year old Samantha is fascinating and exciting.

The book is a page turner and kept my wife awake for 3 nights till she finished it. While I did not find the book that gripping, I loved the characterization and constant surprises that the story throws.

I can't wait to get my hands on part 2, titled 'Mime Order' which releases on 21st Oct.

Rating : 4 / 5

Also read Kim's Review of The Bone Season

Tuesday, 4 March 2014

Brajesh's Review : Don't Lose Your Mind, Lose Your Weight

In my attempt to throw some weight around, I have been reading a few health related books over the last few months. Rujuta Divekar's "Don't Lose Your Mind, Lose Your Weight" has been the most sensible, logical and holistic one that I have found so far.

I would heavily recommend this book to every person, irrespective of your current health or weight state. Essentially if you are going to read only one book on weight loss (or to be correct as per the book - fat loss) this must be the one.

I am not saying this because Rujuta is Kareena's dietitian and is credited for getting her to size zero (a fact which she totally debunks in the book, including the myth of size zero). I recommend this book as it outlines an extremely balanced and sensible approach to healthy and happy living. Rujuta is totally against starving or deprivation based fat loss. In fact her favorite often repeated line in the book says, one must eat more to lose more.

She also allows enough leeway to indulge in one's favorite gajar-halwa and aloo-parathas. So if I have now piqued your interest, go pick this one up and change your life forever.

Disclaimer :- if you are looking for another fad diet which will make you lose 30 pounds in 30 days, this is not your book. (In that case you should try and read Kalli Puri's incredibly funny book titled 'Confessions of a Serial Dieter')

Rating : 5 / 5

Monday, 3 March 2014

Brajesh's Review : The Book of Destruction

"The Book of Destruction" by Anand Sachidanandan (translated by Chetna Sachidanandan) is a book which you should read without trying to make sense of every single page. And I say this in all seriousness.

From 'Thaggi' in India to 'Assassins' in Middle-East, the book explores various facets of death-murder in a most intriguing tale about a Real Book of Destruction.

This book was among the final short-list of 6 for the DSC Awards of 2014. It had the company of a couple of my favorites like 'Goat Days' by Benyamin and 'How to get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia' by Mohsin Hamid.

Anand's book is a joy, especially if you like intense, convoluted and occasionally circular philosophical debates. If you prefer a linear, structured narrative, then this might fry your brain. Overall an interesting offbeat read, but surely not a light one

Rating : 3.5 / 5

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