Friday, 27 June 2014

Kim's Review : The Linnet Bird

I've been currently reading about Victoria Gowramma, who along with her father, were the first Indian Royals to travel to England in 1852.

The Linnet Bird is in some ways a reverse story. It is a fictional account of one of the women - Linnet Gow, nee Linny Smallpiece who traveled from Liverpool to India on "the fishing fleet" in 1832. Most women who undertook the 4 month journey by sea from UK to India, did so to find suitable husbands who were in high positions in the East India Company or the British military stationed in India. But that was not the case with Linnet.

Her background couldn't be more different from most of the high-born women on the "Fishing Fleet" ships. Born to an unwed mother, who took her to work with her at a Bookbinders factory. Her mother Frances dies before Linny turns eleven and her stepfather prostitutes her out, until a senile old customer almost murders her and throws her body into the Mersey river.

This is one turning point in her life and she leaves her stepfathers rented rooms and goes to work on the street, so she can keep at least half her wages for herself.

But another twist in her life sees her taken in by a kindly man, who gets her a job at a Library. Here she is able to observe people from a higher class and finds a friend in Faith Vespry. When the man whom Faith hopes to marry leaves Liverpool for London, she decides to make the trip to India to find herself a husband, but she needs a companion for this trip.

Faith's father is willing to pay for the voyage and they have a family in Calcutta willing to host them for the season.

This was the part of the book most interesting to me. To read about India through the eyes of Linny and the views of other Britishers living in India towards India and Indians.

Linny has a unique view on the country because of her previous background. She is more sympathetic and has a hunger to learn more about the locals and their ways, while most of the other Britishers that she encounters are determined to be more British in India than they ever were in Britain. Hierarchies, customs and etiquette are much more pronounced in their adopted country than in the original.

The descriptions of Linny's 4 month journey by ship from Liverpool to Calcutta and then a subsequent 4 week trip from Calcutta to Shimla were very interesting.

Linda Holeman is a Candian author who has written 13 books of fiction, 5 of which are Historical. These tales demonstrate the plight of women in the 18th and 19th centuries, from the point of view of strongly drawn female protagonists. Linnet

There were a few "Indian" words that I couldn't figure out, other than that, this book was an easy interesting read, that kept me reading.

Rating : 3.5 / 5

Sunday, 22 June 2014

16 Truths You Will Understand If You Are A Book Lover

From :

I don't do number 10 and number 15 isn't true for me - given the wide range and sheer numbers of books that we read / buy, its difficult for people to be able to gift us a book we are interested in and haven't already bought for ourselves. Other than that, its all true!

The world is divided into two kinds of people, readers and everybody else. Reading is not just a habit it’s a way to be. A person who reads is often by himself but never alone.
Here is a list of sixteen amazing things that all book lovers would relate to.

1. Everything from boarding pass to railway ticket becomes a bookmark for you


Sometimes you use price tags too!

2. While you look for bookmarks, this annoying habit on non readers really puts you off

That is NOT how you treat a book!

3. Nothing is more refreshing than the smell of new book

I wish there was a perfume with the fragrance of a book.

4. More often than not Kindle does not light any fire with you

We like our books hard bound and printed.

5. As a kid your mother always warned you ‘Chashma lag jayega!’

Early signs of developing into a serious reader.

6. ‘Keetabe bahut se paadhi hongi tumne…’ should not be used as a pick up line

Never works. Just letting you know.

7. You always get grief for reading on vacations and are often labelled anti-social

Reading is my idea of a vacation. Why is it so hard to understand?

8.  No movie adaptation can ever be as good as the book


9. You can ask a reader her salary, you can even ask her age. But do NOT ask her for her books

Especially if you are the types who wouldn’t return it.

10. When you get a friend request on Facebook you invariably end up checking the list of books they have read

We don’t judge a book by its cover but we do judge people by the books they read.

11. A reader will always be curious about what the other person on the next table is reading

And will go out of his way to find out.

12.  You have spent nights finishing a book. Sobbing, laughing, and enjoying the world the writer paints

In the meantime everyone else around you thinks you are slowly turning delirious.

13. You often forget to eat or sleep because what you are reading is just unputdownable

What a joy that feeling is. To be so involved that everything else around you ceases to exist.

14. Your friends believe that you have all the answers.  ‘Tu bata na yaar. Tu toh kitna padhta hai’

And the truth is that you don’t have the answers. Just like them, you are exploring.

15. People have no difficulty buying you a gift

Most of your gifts are books. No surprises here.

16. Your retirement plan revolves around owning a quaint book store cum coffee house in a corner of a bustling street. Somewhere in the mountains


Where all you do is read. What a life that would be.

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Kim's Review : Angaaray

"Angaaray" - an Urdu Anthology of short stories, first published in 1932, was an explosive book that created a public furore for criticizing conservative Islam and British colonialism. It turned out to be,  an iconic book that changed the rules of Urdu literature and gave birth to the Anjuman Tarraqi Pasand Mussanafin-e-Hind / Progressive Writers’ Association - PWA.

Later on almost all the writers of Indian languages had their own organisations with the same aims and objectives: struggle against British imperialism for the liberalisation of India from the foreign yoke; struggle against imperialism, land for the tillers of the soil. The PWA organisation regarded socialism as an economic system, which could end exploitation and it is no surprise that most of the members were left leaning and later on became a part of the Communist party.

Inspired by British modernists like Virginia Woolf, D H Lawrence and James Joyce, as well as the Indian independence movement, the young writers from Lucknow, who penned this collection — Sajjad Zaheer, Ahmed Ali, Rashid Jahan and Mahmud-uz-Zafar — were eager to revolutionize Urdu literature. Instead, they invited the wrath of the establishment: the book was burned in protest and then banned by the British authorities "for hurting the religious susceptibilities of a section of the community".

Nevertheless, Angaaray spawned a new generation of Urdu writers and led to the formation of the Progressive Writers’ Association, whose members included, among others, stalwarts like Ismat Chughtai, Saadat Hasan Manto, Munshi Premchand, Mulk Raj Anand, Kaifi Azmi, Bhisham Sahni, Habib Tanvir, Sahir Ludhianvi and Faiz Ahmed Faiz.

This slim volume of short stories created a firestorm of public outrage for its bold attack on the hypocrisy of conservative Islam and British colonialism and all copies were burned except for 5. 2 of which were in the British archives. From here, it has been translated into English for the first time by Snehal Shingavi, assistant professor of English at the University of Texas, Austin, where he specializes in teaching South Asian literature in English, Hindi and Urdu.

This edition also provides a compelling account of the furore surrounding this explosive collection with never before seen police documentation and criticism of the ban.

Angaaray is a collection of 5 stories by Sajjad Zaheer, 2 by Ahmed Ali, 1 by Mahmud-uz-zafar and a short story and a one act play by Rashid Jahan. While the stories by the other 3 may seem commonplace today, the stories by Sajjad Zaheer could still be considered inflammatory, so it is quite courageous of Penguin to have published this translation.

Personally, I preferred the work of Rashid Jahan as I could empathise with her characters and got drawn into her stories much more easily. Also they are still contemporary, they aren't just something from a bygone age, they could as well be happening in your neighbours house today. As a gynecologist, Rashid was privy to the social, sexual and medical problems of her patients.

The stories by Sajjad Zaheer were the most difficult for me to connect to, as his writing style in some of the stories is a little too disjointed for my taste. Also, having lived in Islamic nations for 4+ years, I often found that my brain was screaming out at me "how could he write this? Was he begging for trouble?" and so his objective of forcing someone to rethink the widely accepted beliefs would still be in play, today. His stories focus on how religious and social restrictions damage the psyche. Economic vulnerability and sexual predation are linked together in his stories. However the most controversial of his statements in the book appear in Neend Nahin Aati / Can't Sleep
where he remarks that the Prophet might have made the migration from Mecca to Medina to escape his nagging wives. And that God might be a womanizing lecher.

Snehal Shingavi in her opening note says that : "repressed sexual desire and open sexual hypocricy were the intolerable sources of modern frustration for young English-educated men like Zaheer"

Mahmud-uz-Zafar's story was written in English and then translated into Urdu by Zaheer for this collection. Ali's 2 stories revolve around the economic and social vulnerability of women. I'm eager to tart reading his "Twilight in Delhi" which has been beckoning from my bookshelf since awhile.

At the end of the day, these 4 authors published this collection to hold a mirror up to society and encourage people to initiate change and Snehal Shingavi says he composed this translation with similar aspirations in mind, which I think he has done a good job of.

Rating : 3.5 / 5

Saturday, 7 June 2014

Kim's Review : Ramayana : The Game of Life - Rise of the Sun Prince

Shubha Vilas is the latest person to come out with a book, to capitalise on the current interest in mythology among Indians reading in English. "The Rise of the Sun Prince" is the first book in his series.

Shubha Vilas styles himself as a motivational speaker and a spiritual seeker and both these parts of his persona manifest themselves completely in his book.

He claims that his interpretation of the Ramayana is based on the Valmiki Ramayana and Kamban's Ramayana, And he incorporates a lot of teachings from his own spiritual gurus in the process. Hence this particular book reads more like a spiritual text than a mythological tale.

There are long foot notes on almost every page (sometimes taking up as much as half a page), that for my style of reading are extremely distracting. Reading Ashwin Sanghi's debut novel "The Rozabal Line" was lengthened considerably because of his myriad notes and annotations, but at least there, since they were at the back of the book, I could leave it until the end of the chapter. In this book I found myself constantly shifting between story line and foot notes on every page and for me that is a very irritating way to read. If you are the type who can ignore footnotes completely when reading a book, you will not mind it so much.

Footnotes include explanations like this "Kumba means pot and karna means ears, or the one whose ears were as gigantic as pots. If the ears are so huge how big would the body be. Ears represent the organ through which we acquire knowledge to destroy ignorance.Although Kumbakarna had such huge ears, the knowledge to help discriminate the right from the wrong never entered his ears. When right knowledge escapes the ears, garbage makes way into it. Kumbakarna was filled with rubbish, which is represented by his gigantic body"

Secondly, the story being told here, seemed more a condensation of selected portions of the Valmiki Ramayana than having any new thought, concept or idea behind it (other than spiritual lessons). And the Valmiki Ramayan is amongst my least favourites versions of the Ramayan for the parochial reinforcement that it has been used to justify along the ages and that has been further magnified in this version.

Also the spiritual interpretations were a bit too preachy for my taste. The concepts seemed sound, but the way they were put down on paper, did not appeal to me at all and in fact turned me off. For these reasons, I definitely will not be buying or reading the books that are yet to come in this series.

I do understand that this book will have an audience and it could be ideal for someone looking for a deeper understanding of the philosophy and thought behind the mythical tale of Rama. However, the style of this book was not to my taste at all

I definitely prefer the version written by Ashok Banker, "In Search of Sita" is an excellent anthology put together by Namita Gohale and Malashri Lal, Arshia Sattar has written a beautiful understanding of Rama in "Lost Loves: Exploring Rama's Anguish", Anand Neelakantan has turned the tale on its head in "Asura", even Samhita Arni's "Missing Queen" & "Sita's Ramayana" brought new thought to the table. In comparison to all these books, "Rise of the the Sun Prince" just did not measure up to them, for me.

Rating : 2 / 5

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