Sunday, 31 August 2014

Brajesh's Review : On Safari - The Tiger and the Baobab Tree

While on a week-end get-away at the Velavadar black buck sanctuary, I found this beautiful book  - "On Safari. The Tiger and the Bobab Tree" by Babi Nobis in the resort library.

The size of my list of unread-but-purchased books, gives me little motivation to purchase expensive photo books. These photo-books end-up being a one-time indulgence. Hence every time I find an opportunity to lay my hands on a photo-books I try and flip through it immediately.

“On Safari” is a collection of photos by Babi during his journeys in India and Africa. My favorite section is the one on the Indian Tiger which has many amazing pictures. These are beautifully laid out and printed on a very fine paper, both increasing the impact of these great photographs.

I have attached two collages from the book (pictures taken of the book) to give you an idea of how powerful the images are.

Babi is the founder board member of the wildlife protection society of India and his love for the animals is evident in the stories and nuggets accompanying the photos.

Rating : 3.5 / 5

Saturday, 30 August 2014

Brajesh's Review : A Short History of Myth

The title and size (149 pages) of this book - "A Short History of Myth" by Karen Armstrong, are both misleading. This is not a quick read at all. This is a book which expands horizons, gives perspective, questions history and addresses the issues of post-modern world through the lens of Mythology.

The book is a part of  the "Myth Series" similar to “The Good Man Jesus and The Scoundrel Christ” written by Phillip Pullman.

This book was published the same day in 33 countries in 28 languages, in what The Washington Post called "the biggest simultaneous publication ever.

The book begins with a simple example of a Neanderthal grave. Using this Karen outlines the 5 core threads of a Myth.
1. It is about DEATH and beyond
2. RITUALS are integral
3. Works at the EDGE of experience
4. TELLS us about living practices and the
5. PERENNIAL Philosophy.

The book then takes us from 20,000 BCE to year 2000AD across 5 section of history. Each section is separated by a significant change in human evolution and corresponds with evolving themes of Myths. It is amazing to see the principles of Myth-making holding true over such a large historical commentary.

While I hate to mark my books, I read this book like a text book and the accompanying picture of my notes will give you an idea on how much there is to absorb in this so called “short history”. I quote from the jacket of her other book “History of God” which has been on my shelf for some-time: the perfect summary for this book. “Karen has the dazzling ability : she can take a long and complex subject and reduce it to its fundamentals without oversimplifying”.

I am filled with total and utter reverence for Karen and her writing. If you are not the reading type, I would still recommend you to spend 20 mins on her TED talk titled “The Charter for Compassion”.

The most amazing section for me in the book was the last chapter corresponding to 1500-2000 AD. In this section Karen laments the death of Mythos at the altar of Logos. Then summarizes beautifully by writing “using reason to discuss the sacred is like trying to eat soup with a fork”. Logos can tell us What & How, but it is only Mythos that can answer the broader bigger and existential question of Why.

The only reason the book doesn’t get a perfect 5, is the sheer weight it demands on ones intellect and can never be recommended, even to a casual reader of non-fiction.

Rating : 4.5 / 5

Friday, 29 August 2014

Brajesh's Review : My Passage From India

"My Passage From India" is the life story of Ismail Merchant - from a school boy in Bombay to one of the biggest producers in Hollywood. From an struggling producer to one half of the legend of Merchant Ivory Productions.

This book has all the ingredients of a blockbuster film. The book feels like a perfectly cooked biryani which is balanced, sumptuous and wholesome at the same time. Not surprising, given Ismail Merchants fondness for good food and cooking.

The book is filled with beautiful stories, larger than life characters and sweet anecdotes, but the narrative still remains fast paced and light. The photographs are beautiful, like any Merchant Ivory period drama and so is the layout.

While I had watched "Heat and Dust" as a child on DD and "Cotton Mary" a few years back on a flight, my lack of interest in period dramas had deprived me of the magic of Merchant Ivory. This book has ensured that I will go back and finish the collection of Merchant Ivory's 5 Movies which we had picked up over 5 years back.

Rating : 3.5 / 5

Also Read : Kim's Review of My Passage From India

Thursday, 28 August 2014

Brajesh's Review : Bhutan - Through the Lens of the King

I spotted this photo book by His Majesty King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, at a wild life resort in Gujarat. As I am scheduled to visit the Shangrila Country of Bhutan next month, the coincidence was great, or may be given my impending visit, the country was top of mind and hence I spotted this book amongst the collection.

"Bhutan Through the Lens of the King" is a beautiful collection of photos by the current King (5th), taken during his visits across the country. He is known to travel across Bhutan regularly to connect with his people. Often these visits are difficult treks of 4-5 days in hilly terrain, which he undertakes while sleeping in make shift tents.

This book hence not only gives us a peek into this breathtakingly beautiful country, it tells us a lot about the commitment and selfless approach of the Bhutanese Kings. It is the father (4th King) of the current King who invented the now famous concept of Gross Domestic Happiness Index. GHI is now widely regarded as a more wholistic tool of progress. GHI adds the dimensions of Good Governance, Environmental Harmony and Preservation of Cultural Heritage to the traditional economic measure of GDP.

The commentaries by Pavan Varma and Malvika Singh helped my uninformed mind get a context on this neighbouring country. A monarch who willingly renounced his throne at 50 without any compulsions of health or political issues. Then along with his son he dismantled the monarchy to usher in democracy in a peaceful transition.

A society which has this great ability to balance the demands of modern technological advances and economical growth measures perfectly, alongside the preservation of their cultural and environmental heritage.

Clearly this youngest democracy of the world in a tiny nation has lots of offer to its big brothers across the globe. I only hope that the big brothers are paying attention to the case study.

Once the country context is understood and the reader understands that the king is positioned not as a ruler but as a servant of the people, the photographs attain a different meaning. Rather than talk about the photos, I am attaching a collage to give you a sample. This book has now given me reasons to visit Bhutan with the respect of a student and not the lens of a tourist.

Rating : 3.5 / 5

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Brajesh's Review : Adi Parva

"Tales must be tilled like the land so they keep breathing. The only thing you owe allegiance to is the essence." This quote sums-up Amruta Patil's Adi Parva in particular and also gives the philosophical context of the greatest story ever told.

Adi Parva is the first chapter - the beginning of Mahabharat. "In the beginning, one beginning, among countless beginnings" this non-linear narrative sets the mood and characters of the epic.

The book begins at the "beginning of it all, where between the end of one world and the beginning of another, Vishnu sleeps". It uses Ganga as the sutradhaar to hold the knots of a mega narrative . As the sutradhaar moves along the string from one knot to another, out come the stories.

The beauty of this book is its ability to summarise the Adi Parva in a 2 hour read. The full power of the graphic medium is used to further the narrative while simultaneously keeping the mystic qualities alive. The unfinished feel of the picture panels leave enough space for the the reader to personalise the myth and submerge oneself into existential debates.

I will only review the graphics here as I am obviously inadequate to review the greatest story of all times. The art is perfectly balanced to hold the reader as he/she pauses to gaze at the panels while absorbing the deep philosophical layer of the narrative.

Thank you Amruta Patil for tilling the tale of Adi Parva for a whole new generation. I have also made note of a few books from the bibliography section, which will keep my exploration of Myth and Mahabharat going for a few years to come.

Rating : 4.5 / 5

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Brajesh's Review : The Hundred Year Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window & Disappeared

The Hundred Year Old Man Who Climbed Out Of The Window And Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson is a crackling, sharp, witty, rock-star of a novel.

The original Swedish novel has been translated into English by Rod Bradbury. I picked this up at a recent 80% discount, but would recommend you to buy it, even if you are paying 400% premium. Books like this don’t come around often and you shouldn’t miss this one.

The life story of the 100 year old Alan Karlsson is told in two tracks of present and flashback.

No words can do justice to the experience of reading this breathtakingly funny book. I broke into laughter on every second page. While the book is a solid 389 pages long, halfway into the book you would hope that the story never ends. As Alan continues his current journey out of the window, each new character he meets turns out to be wilder than the previous.

While the current story line is hilarious, Alan’s past is downright maniacal. Over his 100 year life journey he meets significant historical characters like General Franco, Roosevelt, Truman, Johnson, De Gaulle, Churchill, Stalin, Mao and some-one who turns out to be Einstein’s Brother.

While each of these meetings are crazily funny, the impact of these meetings are outlandishly enormous. To give you a sample - our hero Alan seems to be at the center of great revolutions in Iran, Spain and China. He has trekked across the Himalayas. He also seems to be the person responsible for the invention of the atom bomb, strangely for both America and Russia. If your head is already spinning, wait to you read the funniest book of the year.

This novel is an epic and I am sure it will inspire many more novels and movies.

Rating : 4.5 / 5

Monday, 25 August 2014

Brajesh's Review : Madhubala - "I Don't Want to Die"

Given my adoration of Madhubala, I was so happy to receive this gift from my wife. The small comic like, 40 page life story of Madhubala is part of a series titled “Discovery Books” by General Press.

I think the concept is outstanding to have short 50/- MRP booklets to educate the interested reader. Topics and personalities covered in this series range from Amitabh, Sachin, Lal Bahadur Shastri to AIDS, Jama Masjid & Delhi.

Unfortunately the book didn’t even have material to to do justice to 40 pages. It felt more like a badly written long essay on Madhubala. The themes of Mumtaz Jehan Begum Dehlavi’s (Madhubala) strict father and her legendary affair with Yusuf Bhai (Dilip Kumar) is repeated umpteen times. It would have been better to edit the book further by 40% or get some additional material to avoid this useless repetition.

For a fan of Madhubala there is enough new material for a quick read. But the poor quality of writing and lack of authentic insights mean that I won’t be recommending this series to anyone.

Rating : 2.5 / 5

Sunday, 24 August 2014

Kim's Review : Labyrinth

Labyrinth is the print version of some selected short stories from the virtual world of

Its been a long time that I read a set of short stories and I read this one inspite of Brajesh's low rating,  because while we share a lot of similar tastes in fiction and non-fiction, I do love quirky short stories too.

Its been a long time since I read an Indian anthology of short stories and with a variety of writers, it is obvious that some stories would be better than the others. This collection has 15 stories by 10 authors.

My favourite was Mainak Dhar's - The Martyr which completely brings home the futility of war and the senseless death of children.

The Puppet Show meandered a bit too much for me and I would have like a sharper editing. That actually was an issue with a lot of the short stories, they could have been kept shorter.

Candies was the most ridiculous of the lot, I just didn't see the point of actions taken by Divya, they were more psycho than anything else. If you want to include a twist in your tale, it better make logical sense. Jeffery Archer is a master of this genre, this was a damp squib.

I also enjoyed Rishabh's Travel through the Night and the Labyrinth is the best piece of Greek speculative fiction I have recently read.

A Day of Battle seemed pointless, as it had nothing new to contribute, I dont know why it was included in this collection.

Ruskaya Rulyetka was a good change and the Night of the wokambee had a really funny ending.

Not a bad attempt, but nothing extraordinary either.

Rating : 3 / 5

Saturday, 23 August 2014

Brajesh's Review : Sister

"Sister" by Rosamund Lupton is a book about the bond of sisterhood, and also a murder mystery and thriller. Not an easy genre to tackle.

While the book does justice to the sisterhood, I found it weaker in the thrill and mystery part. The unusual story telling style hold you for a large part, but gets heavy in the last quarter.

The story is told from the point of view of an elder sister, who flies to London to be with her mother as her younger sister has gone missing. As the story progresses the elder sister turns into a part crusader, part detective.

The characters are real and you start to relate to their pain with each turning of the page. Even the psychology of the fringe characters is well fleshed out.

The book will work well with a Western audience, given the cultural & emotional landscape is quite more familiar to them. If you like psychological-emotional thrillers like “Gone Girl” this will appeal to you. Though “Gone Girl” far superseded "Sister" in terms of style and narration.

Rating : 3.5 / 5

Friday, 22 August 2014

Thought : All I Want in Life is . . .

Kim's Review : The Winds of Hastinapur

The Winds of Hastinapur is the third book by Sharath Komarraju and the first in his series - on The Ladies of Hastinapur. The series plans to tell the story of the Mahabharat through the eyes of some of its leading ladies. Winds of Hastinapur is the tale told by Ganga and Satyavati, the next one will feature Amba, Kunti and Gandhari. However Sharath has promised that Ganga will be the main narrator and that she will remain in the story until the end of the series.

That is not surprising given his interpretation on the immortality of the Gods of Meru, which is an interesting concept and in itself makes this book worth reading. Sharath has tried to bring about some reality into the fantasy and fantastical elements of the Mahabharath, but other elements remain.

The concept of Leading Ladies retelling the Mahabharat is not a new one, we have seen Pratibha Ray's Yajnaseni & Chitra Diwakaruni's Palace of Illusions which told the tale through Draupadi, The Outcasts Queen tells the story through Princess Uruvi - Karna's Royalborn Wife. Manu Sharma has written multiple female perspectives in Hindi - Draupadi ki Atmakatha, Gandhari ki Atmakatha etc However, I think this is the first time that they have done so in sequence, by a single author.

This book wouldn't really be classified as Speculative fiction, but it is more an interpretation of the events as they happen through a different perspective. The speculative portion of this story is negligible compared to facts from the original. The churning of the Ocean of Milk is the only incident which is reinterpreted in terms of Speculative Fiction and perhaps Bhishma's discoveries before he comes back to take his place as his fathers heir.

I loved the tale of Ganga, it is turned in to something so natural and Satyavati's intentions in her perspective seem so pure, yet the results of those intentions caused serious repercussions.

The question still remains though, how much is actually in our hands and how much is decreed by fate / God?

Rating : 3.75 / 5

Thursday, 21 August 2014

Brajesh's Review : Shikhandi and Other Tales They Don’t Tell You

Another Devdutt Pattanaik special. By now, I am quite familiar and comfortable with his narration style. This book addresses the controversial issue of queer characters and queerness in Indian mythology. He handles the issue with great objectivity and each story is accompanied with his signature endearing drawings.

"Shikhandi and Other Tales They Don’t Tell You" opens with a lovely quote, which for me summarizes the entire hypocritical approach of modern religions around the LGBT issue. On page 1, the book says “Beware of a land where celibate men decide what is good sex”.

Then, over 170 pages he shares 30 stories which aren’t necessarily a part of the main-stream mythological narrative. While I was aware or some of the stories featuring characters of Shikhandi, Mohini, Aardhnarishwar and Brihanalla. I was happy to discover many a new characters like Makara, Chudala, Gopeshwara, Samaran, Aravan, Sudyumna, Pormannan, Samba, Alli and Pramilla. It was also satisfying to unearth newer stories around familiar characters of Mallinath, Maandhata, Urvashi, Bhagirath and Bahucharaji.

At the end of each story, Devdutt Pattanik gives a one or two page commentary exploring the queer aspects and interpretations of the story. Overall the book comes together beautifully between the story, sketches and commentary.

It is also interesting to note the range of sources from which the book draws the stories from. It doesn’t limit itself to only Vedic and Puranic literature, it also draws from stories from South Indian literature and folk traditions.

I recommend this book to be read by all supporters and opponents of the homosexuality. The last page of the book has a quote from Vedas which leaves the ideal takeaway for any reader. “Vikruti Evam Prakriti” which can be loosely translated as “all things queer are also a part of nature”.

Rating : 3.5 / 5

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Kim's Review : The Taste of Words - An Introduction to Urdu Poetry

The blurb for Raza Mir's "The Taste of Words - An Introduction to Urdu Poetry" read as "Have you ever been enchanted by the spoken cadence of an Urdu Couplet but wished you could fully ubderstand its nuances? Have you wanted to engage with a ghazal more deeply, but were daunted by its mystifying conventions? Are you confused between a qataa and a rubaai, or a musaddas and a marsiya?"

This book was supposed to help me with all 3, but unfortunately it only helped me understand the answer to the last question.

Don't get me wrong, this is a book that has been researched with a lot of love and passion by Raza Mir and I do appreciate it. The first 26 pages which give an introduction to Urdu poetry and a Note on the Poetic Forms is brilliant and I wanted more of it.

However, the bulk of the book was where I was disappointed, because of my expectations.

I learned Hindi late in life (in my 20's) to be able to converse with people in college, at work and then with my inlaws, so my knowledge of Hindi is restricted to the colloquial. I do understand a fair bit of Sanskrit, because halekannada / the classical Kannada (which I learned academically until my graduation) is deeply rooted in Sanskrit (like most Dravidian languages)

So when it comes to Urdu poetry, I love the lyricism, the cadence, the beautiful descriptions, the rhythm - I love everything about it, except I only understand about 50% of it. I was hoping that this book would help take that percentage up a bit further.

However what this book did, was explain to me the technicalities of how Urdu Poetry is classified, it gave me a bit of insight into the History of Urdu as a language (and the multiple events that were portended to bring about its death), it introduced me to a multitude of Urdu poets - some of whom I had heard of, but most of them were a new discovery. The mini biographies included with each, were enlightening.

What Raza Mir has done is assembled a collection of 47 famous Urdu Poets, chosen certain couplets (around 150 poems) from some of their famed works (or his favourites) and then translated them. However, except for a few free verse translations, he has tried to maintain the rhythm and rhyming. He confesses that he internally debated a lot on this point, before choosing this route.

However, for my understanding, I would have preferred a more literal translation with a little note on the double meanings / play on words etc of individual poems.

Rather than a standard transliteration scheme, Raza Mir has chosen a vernacular format, that is easy to read for those accustomed to reading the Devnagari script in English. However, it would be a difficult read for those unfamiliar with this.

This is not a book that can be read at one sitting. There is so much Philosophy and Mysticism in these poems, that each one warrants some reflection.

I commend the author for the amount of work that he has put in, into this book, however it wasn't suitable to what I was looking for and did not help me too much with nuances, which is why I have given it a lower rating.

Rating : 3 / 5

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Brajesh's Review : Night Train to Jamalpur

The beautiful colorful cover of this book by Andrew Martin, and a prominent display in the book-shop made me buy this book. I am so happy that I got influenced by the jacket summary and bought the book, since it gave me an opportunity to immerse myself in the exotic world of 1923 Calcutta.

One of the endorsement blurbs says that "Andrew’s novels are works of literature and not simply puzzles", I couldn’t agree more.

Since the book is heavy on period & settings, it feels a little slow and uncomfortable to begin with. But once I got used to the prose and pace of the book, it was like sipping on Vintage Scotch. Each page gave me greater and greater pleasure and I just didn’t want the book (bottle) to ever get-over.

This book is difficult to categorize, as it is quite unusual from the regular thrillers and suspense novels which rely essentially on twists and turns to keep you hooked. This book is more like watching a Merchant Ivory period drama, where the setting and stage is reason enough to keep reading.

I would recommend "Night Train to Jamalpur" to every person who has ever taken a train journey, and a compulsory read to all Calcutta lovers.

The book for me turned extra contextual as I read the part about the snakes in a train compartment during a train journey from Ahmedabad to Bhopal. I only wished my compartment and companions were half as exotic as the ones in this book.

I am going to pick up two more from Andrew Martin’s historical crime series. These will be “The Somme Stations” and “Death on a Branch Line”. By setting his stories against the backdrop of the British railway network, which is spread across the Globe, it gives him multiple opportunities to keep building the fascinating franchise of Jim Stringer.

Rating : 4 / 5

Kim's Review : Korma, Kheer & Kismet - Five Seasons in Old Delhi

I first heard of Pamela Timms, when I had just returned to India in December 2010. We were posted to Delhi and by February 2011, I had connected with local foodies and heard rave reviews of her Upar-Wali Chai's - the pop-up High Tea Parties - that she used to organise with her friend Laura. Sadly, by the time I could contact her, Laura left for the Netherlands and these pop-ups came to a full stop and I had to satisfy myself with drooling at the pictures on her blog - eat and dust.

Baking is something that is stressful for me as I am too much of a rebel at heart, especially when it comes to cooking. I'm more comfortable cooking by andaaz (touch, smell and feel), than in following exact measurements. I happily "adjust" recipes from blogs and recipe books when I cook for ourselves, but you see the potential for disaster when it comes to baking? Hence the need to be satisfied with drooling at pictures.

Pamela Timms is a Scottish Journalist who has been living in Delhi since the last 10 years. In 2005, her husband Dean moved to India as a foreign correspondent and she and their children accompanied him.

I saw so many similarities in Pamela's life as an expat in Delhi, with my life as an expat in Cairo and perhaps this is why I connected even more with the book. Except for the food, the monuments and the history of Delhi, there is little else that I love about the city (its just too aggressive, rude and in-your-face for me, I'm happier in a Bangalore, Pune, Hyderabad or Mumbai than Delhi. Even living in Guwahati and Ahmedabad has been a 100 times more pleasant)

By a strange coincidence, the last book I read was : Ismail Merchant's - My Passage From India - and in that he recounts how one of the Rejection Letters that he received from a studio for their movie "Heat and Dust" (based on Ruth Prawer Jhabwalla Booker Prize Winning novel of the same name, the movie later won a BAFTA and was nominated for 7 others) was "we are not currently interested in your project of eat and dust" Mr, Merchant wasn't impressed with the production house getting the name of his movie wrong, but it has proved to be an apt name for Pamela's blog that is currently extremely popular.

Another strange connection between these 2 books is that Merchant Ivory productions, produced 3 movies based on books by E M Forster - A Room With A View, Maurice, and Howards End and Pamela was inspired by the heroine of another E M Forster Book - "A Passage to India" that she read shortly before she moved.

After a couple of disastrous rental accommodations (which made it difficult to cook) and the extra attention of being a fair skinned expat in Delhi (constantly besieged with "you want maid?", "you want driver?" and once even being bundled into an autorikshaw by policemen, when all she wanted to do was walk!), she found a refuge (from the stifling Expat Bubble of New Delhi) in Old Delhi.

To paraphrase Pamela, the people of Old Delhi were too busy with their business and their lives to give them any extra, unnecessary attention. Each one was caught up in their own routine and treated them as just another customer. Old Delhi was a sensory overload, but left them exhilarated. (I know the feeling: wandering around the Khan el Khalili in Cairo, in a long sleeved kurta and jeans, with my basic Arabic - as long as I didn't get into a conversation - I blended in as a local and was pretty much left alone to explore the area on my own whims.)

I completely empathise with and understand Pamela's experience of cooking Roast Chicken with Pasta and Tomatoes (an excellent recipe by the way), I've been through it myself.

In Egypt and Dubai (or even Mumbai or Bangalore), when I had a dinner party at home, I just had to visit one large hypermarket and get everything I needed from there. In Delhi, it was a trip to a large supermarket to buy staples, one to Godrej Nature Basket in Def Col to buy boneless meat, imported ingredients and cold meat, INA market for fresh fruit and vegetables and Jor Bagh Market for pork. This is manageable (except for the time taken to get from place to place) as long as you go with a fixed menu in mind and a list of ingredients, but a bit of a toughie for someone like me who looks at ingredients (which are the freshest and the most inspiring?)  and then decides what to cook. This turned out to be more of a mystery box challenge for every dinner party - as I never knew what I would get at the next shop and whether it would match with ingredients I had already picked, to make up a cohesive meal.

But this review is not about me, so to come back to this brilliant book :  Korma, Kheer and Kismet - Five Seasons in Old Delhi - is a a beautiful food memoir of Old Delhi / Puraani Dilli / sheher.  The book has history, culture, food, travel, recipes (just about 14-15) and personal stories all woven into each other. I absolutely LOVED it - if I ever get around to writing a book, this is the book that I would aspire to emulate, it has captured all my favourite interests.

I read this over last weekend and I loved it so much that I gave it to Brajesh and asked him to read it immediately and he also finished it at one shot. While he promised Rushina, that hers would be the first "food" book that he would read, he just read through the introductions of each chapter in "A Pinch of This, A Handful of That" and skimmed over the recipes. In "Korma, Kheer & Kismet" he again skimmed over the recipes, but as it is more memoir than recipe book, he felt that he had actually "read" it. He is now fixated on locating "Ashok & Ashok" on his next trip to Dilli.

As I was reading this book, I found that I was marking a few statements and underlining the names of restaurants and locations and other food writers mentioned in the book. Then I realised that this was the first time since college that I was doing this in a non-management book. (I hate having my books marked permanently in any way, I prefer to use post-its for the occasional note.) This is just a sign that I valued and wanted to emphasise all the new things that I learned in this book - even if it was just the name of a dhabha in Amritsar - but it serves the best cholle bhature in the world.

There is so much depth in this book

- a depth of knowledge of Indian food - Pamela is not just another "visitor" to India, penning a book after a 2 week holiday in the country, she has spent time, energy and effort into researching the topics that she writes about.
- a depth of research - into the families and people cooking up old favourites in this part of the City and into the history of food in general.
- a depth of passion and love - for food and the Old City.

My only issue with this book is the pictures. Being spoiled by the gorgeous technicolour / HD photos on her blog, the Black & White pictures in the book are a disappointment, some of them have become very blurry in grayscale. I understand that printing colour photos in a book, raises costs significantly, but I think a lot of them would have been better off as a link to a colour photo on her blog than as a grainy image in grayscale.

A lot of my Delhi friends have read this book over the long weekend and are already planning an eating expedition to the Old City, while also keeping Rahul Verma's tips for the monsoons in mind

Charmaine O'Brien's - "Flavors of Delhi" is much more comprehensive and wide in its spectrum, but Pamela's book has a ton of passion - which clearly makes it a much more emotional and enjoyable book.

If you like (notice I don't say love) food and live in Delhi or are visiting Delhi, this is a book you MUST read. Its also a beautiful gift for someone moving to Delhi.

Rating : 4.5/ 5

Monday, 18 August 2014

Kim's Review : My Passage From India

"My Passage From India" is the autobiography of Ismail Merchant - the famed Indian film director and producer who made it big even in Hollywood, earning 4 Oscar nominations and winning 2 BAFTA's. He was one half of  Merchant Ivory Productions with James Ivory being the other.

Their partnership has a place in the Guinness Book of World Records for the longest partnership in independent cinema history lasting over 44 years and spanning over 40 films.

Ismail Merchant was the producer of movies like "Remains of the Day", "Heat & Dust", "Howards End" and "A Room with a View". He even directed a few including "Cotton Mary", "The Mystic Masseur", "The Proprietor" and Documentaries like "The Courtesans of Bombay" and "Lumière and Company"

As a rule, I'm not a fan of autobiographies, but having watched a few of his movies and loving his cookbook "Ismail Merchant's Passionate Meals", when I saw this book at the library of the place we were staying at, I picked it up to just browse through it. However, after reading the first few pages, I was completely hooked.

The story of his life is beautifully written with humour and every incident is so vividly retold that it paints a picture for the reader, its almost like watching his life on a screen. That's how powerful his words are.

While he does try to underplay his origins and make them seem disadvantaged, he did grow up in an upper middle class family. His father was a textile dealer in Mumbai, who was quite active in politics (as President of the Muslim League) and they had family connections in the movies (It was Ismail's fascination with family friend "Nimmi" - one of the most popular actresses of yester-years, that sparked his undying interest in cinema. As the only son of the family with 6 sisters, he would also have been completely indulged.

He studied at St Xaviers in Bombay (the top college of those times) and then proceeded to New York University for an MBA. While he did show early signs of entrepreneurship and chutzpah while in India, it was living alone in New York which made him come into his element.

What might seem dishonest tactics that could result in being sued for millions in today's day and age, were stepping stones for him in his early life. And in most cases they seem to have won him admiration or amusement of those concerned.

For eg : he got a job as a messenger / guide for Indian Delegates to the UN in New York through the Indian Consulate by claiming that he knew the city very well, when in fact, he had barely gotten off the boat himself. He then charmed one of the Brazilian secretaries to introduce/announce him as a delegate whenever he was entertaining "important' guests. And he wined and dined people whom he felt could help him in the movie business (in any capacity) at the delegate lounge of the UN, by posing as an Indian delegate.

When the delegation returned to India, he visited the Indian Tourist Centre to check if they had any vacancies and this is where he met Saeed Jaffrey. Although there were no jobs available, this meeting led to a lifelong bond between the 2 and Saeed's then wife Madhur Jaffrey whom Ismail was later to cast in important roles in "Cotton Mary", "The Perfect Murder", "Heat and Dust", "Guru", "The Shakespear-wallahs" and "Autobiography of a Princess"

Saeed narrated Ismail's first documentary "The Creation of Woman" and was also instrumental in introducing him to James (Jim) Ivory (for whose documentary "The Sword and the Flute" Saeed had also provided the voiceover) who went on to become Ismail's Business and Life Partner.

Ismail does not elaborate too much on his personal relationship with James Ivory in this autobiography, except for a few stray hints of a relationship between the two.

Ismail was later known for the personally cooked meals that he dished out to his cast and crew. He says that it was his way of acknowledging their sacrifices, especially when working on films with as tight budgets as the Merchant Ivory Productions. But his first attempt at cooking, is beautifully described, even though it was done out of sheer necessity (of constrained budgets and the need to stand out to actors and financiers that he was wooing.) By the end of a couple of years, a lot of people agreed to work with him, just so they could partake of his famous meals. While initially he cooked ad hoc as needed, the End-Of-Week Curry Party was initiated during the shooting of "The Savages" and he even opened a restaurant in 1993.

The book is littered with trivia and is a delight to read, especially if you are familiar with the main characters of Hollywood and Bollywood in those early days. His meeting with Sigourney Weaver, when trying to cast her for "The Bostonians", has her father (Pat Weaver - Ismail's First Boss from McCann Erickson - Chairman of International Division) recounting their own first meeting, when Ismail moved from New York to LA and had a friend publish an extremely glowing article about him in the New York and LA newspapers.

Their first introduction to Ruth Prawer Jhabwalla and her husband Cyrus (who was convinced that they were charlatans) happened when they were trying to convince her to give them the rights to translate "The Householder" onto film. They also managed to convince her to write the screenplay and she went on to become their script writer for many more movies after. She was initially reluctant as she had never written a screenplay before, but they said that it wouldn't be a problem, since Ismail had never produced a feature film before and Jim (James) had never directed a feature film before. Ruth later went on to write the Booker Prize Winning "Heat & Dust" which they also translated onto film.

What is really touching in this book, is the humbleness of one of the Greatest Indian Directors - Satyajit Ray who often helped them without any expectation of anything in return. He introduced them to his cinematographer Subrata Mitra and recommended that he work with them. He edited their first Feature Film "The Householder" for free, and with the agreement that they could discard any changes that they did not like. He helped get their film into the Berlin Festival, where one of his own films was in contention. Of course they were grateful for all this help and were finally able to repay this immeasurable debt, by lobbying for (and succeeding) a Lifetime Achievement Award for him at the Oscars.

Shashi Kapoor and Jennifer Kendall were like an extended family to him and it was Shashi who introduced him to wine "If you have never tasted wine, then you have wasted your life"

Utpal Dutt being arrested for putting on Anti-Communist Maoist plays in Bengal just before the start of shooting of "The Guru", and being temporarily released into their custody by the Government of West Bengal, until the end of shooting on the assurance that he would be returned to jail at that time.

It is bits of stories like this, that make this autobiography so interesting.

There is so much more insight into the movies that they made, that I would need to re-watch those that I have seen before and I now have a long list of movies that I would like to watch. I have also added a lot of authors to my "Must-Read" list, based on his impressions - Jean Rhys, Henry James, John Cheever, E M Forster, Harry Keating, John Masters and Anita Desai.

While Merchant-Ivory achieved the pinnacle of success with their Oscar nominations, they also had their share of detractors. Peter Biskind's book, Down And Dirty Pictures, records that Quentin Tarantino, before the first ever showing of his ultra-violent gangster movie Pulp Fiction (1994) bounded on to the stage, asked those in the audience who liked "The Remains Of The Day" (set in the 1930s, with Anthony Hopkins as the repressed butler, struggling with his feelings for Emma Thompson's housekeeper) to raise their hands, and then pointed to the exit, yelling at them: "Get the f*** out of here!"

But, Ismail Merchant also won multiple accolades along side. In 2002 he received the Padma Bhusan from the Indian government and in 2003, he was made an honorary fellow of the BAFTA and received the Commandeur de L'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres in France.

This book was printed in 2002 and sadly Mr Merchant passed away shortly after in 2005. The spirit of his life and his autobiography can be summed up in his own words : "There is nothing to lose by asking and I have become seasoned in this practice, although I still find a refusal very hard to accept"

Its a lovely book and I heavily recommend it.

Rating : 4.5 / 5

Friday, 15 August 2014

Kim's Review : The Bell Jar

"The Bell Jar" is an iconic book by Sylvia Plath originally written in 1963, under the pseudonym "Victoria Lucas". This is her only novel, she was better known for her poetry and children's books and is best known for her two published collections, The Colossus and Other Poems and Ariel. In 1982, she even won a posthumous Pulitzer Prize for The Collected Poems. Plath had committed suicide on 11 February 1963, shortly after The Bell Jar was published, 5 months after separating from her husband.

The book starts off as an easy read and its almost reminiscent of "The Devil Wears Prada" (in the imagery that it invokes) and then it gets heavier and heavier as Esther Greenwood starts battling Depression. Its so realistically described, that it kept bogging me down as I read it.

Its set in the 1950's, when women were quite repressed. So while at times I just wanted to shake Esther up and tell her to "snap out of it", I could also empathise with her feeling of being trapped (inside a Bell Jar) in a Society where women's voices and aspirations were mostly just ignored.

The novel starts with Esther Greenwood having won an internship at a New York fashion magazine in 1953 (timeline is set by the Rosenberg Execution). It seems like she has the whole world for the taking. She has plenty of interested mentors - strong female personalities who have bucked the conventions and made a name for themselves in their respective fields.

But her background, what she considers her financial situation as poverty, her lack of closure at her fathers death, the loss of confidence in her abilities all of this start crippling her more and more, until all she feels is stifled and she keeps considering different ways to commit suicide.

Plath's Bell Jar is considered semi-autobiographical and was published in UK in 1963 and in the US in 1971. Describing the compilation of the book to her mother, she wrote, "What I've done is to throw together events from my own life, fictionalising to add colour - it's a pot boiler really, but I think it will show how isolated a person feels when he is suffering a breakdown.... I've tried to picture my world and the people in it as seen through the distorting lens of a bell jar". She described her novel as "an autobiographical apprentice work which I had to write in order to free myself from the past" (Plath Biographical Note 294-5 & 293. From Wagner-Martin (1988))

(this technique of weaving facts from real life, overlaid with a facade of fiction, into a novel is termed Roman à clef, French for novel with a key. The fictitious names in the novel represent real people, and the "key" is the relationship between the nonfiction and the fiction.)

The Bell Jar is a brilliantly written book. As an author Sylvia Plath is able to transmit the feelings, thoughts, misgivings, fears, terrors and apprehensions to the reader so well. This is an art in itself.

This book is a classic and figures in so many "Must Read" / "Top Reads" lists, for good reason. As a reader though, I would caution you to make sure that you are in a really happy and positive place in your life, before you start to read this one. Inspite of being in a positive frame of mind, I found myself feeling heavy after each stint of reading a couple of chapters at a time and I would take a break of at least 2 days before being able to pick up this book again and that too only with the hope that the situation HAD to get better.

Rating : 4 / 5

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Kim's Review : Private India

Private India - is James Patterson's first collaboration with an Indian author  - Ashwin Sanghi - who is better known for his books that are backed by solid research into symbology, myth and history. (Rozabal Line, Chanakya's Chant and Krishna Key.

The 2 of them worked on this book together in an interesting manner of moving the script back and forth between them, with Ashwin providing the setting and nuances into life in Bombay / Mumbai and Patterson driving the plot.

This is part of a spinoff of Patterson's - "Private" Series (started in 2010). Former Marine Jack Morgan runs Private, a renowned investigation company with branches around the globe and while the main series focuses on Jack Morgan in the USA, Patterson has already penned collaborative books based in Berlin, London and Australia, before opening the series in India (Book 8 in the overall Private Series)

The Mumbai office is run by Santosh Wagh (ex-Intelligence) and a team of brilliant specialists - Nisha, Hari and Dr Mubeen.

The team becomes involved in a care where seemingly unconnected women are murdered in a chilling ritual, with strange objects placed carefully at their death scenes.

The book is a typical Light Summer Read - its great for a non-Indian reader who has never visited India, but has always been interested in the country and Bombay / Mumbai in particular. For them its a great introduction to the city. But for someone familiar with the city, more than half the book is taken up by stock Mumbai characters and plots - Bollywood, underworld, corrupt cops, dance bars, police brutality, Page 3 parties etc.

This book is typical Patterson who has now made a career out of collaborative writing efforts (even having a collaborator on his iconic Alex Cross series), but in my Humble opinion it is a waste of Ashwin's talent and skill set.

Ashwin Sanghi has penned 3 brilliantly researched books, where his research has been very effectively woven into gripping fiction. Rozabal Line is monumental in its in-depth research. Krishna Key & Chanakya's Chant did a great job of amalgamating, history, culture, current events. Ashwin's books are an education into Indian History, Society, Sociology, Mythology. We bought this book for Ashwins inputs and skills and hence were sorely disappointed, to have received just another Crime Thriller, but set in Mumbai

I can see the appeal for Ashwin - to be introduced to a wider American audience, but for fans of his solid story telling skills, "Private India" is a disappointment.

Rating : 3 / 5

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Kim's Review : The Essential Kodava Cookbook

C B Muthamma & P Gangamma Bopanna's - The Essential Kodava Cookbook has been out of print for a couple of years now, but I've constantly been keeping my eyes open for it. The other day there was an online offer of an old copy, but I immediately snapped it up.

The book starts with a brilliant introduction into Kodava Philosophy and Culture. What stands out especially is the role of a woman in Coorgi society. Even when she is married, she still is treated as an important and essential member of both households. Its an outstanding essay and definitely worth a read.

The Recipe Section is divided into Rice, Meat & Poultry, Fish & Prawns, Vegetables, Chutneys & Pickles and Desserts & Snacks.

Coorgi recipes do have a lot of local ingredients like Sannakki rice, kaachambuli etc which aren't easily available outside Coorg (although, recently Bangalore has had quite a few Coorgi ingredient shops open up). The authors have kindly provided alternate ingredients.

The Meat section focuses on mutton & pork with chicken only being advised as a substitute for mutton.

The number of recipes is quite limited (given the other titles in the Penguin - Essential Cookbook series), but it is quite comprehensive and the popularly known dishes are all in the cookbook.

The recipes are quite easy to reproduce at home for someone who is familiar with general cooking techniques and there isn't too much specialised equipment that is required to cook these dishes

While a lot of the rice based dishes are similar to what is cooked in Mangalore and Kerala, the meat and vegetable preparations have their own unique flavour.

If you are looking for something new, I would quite recommend this book to you, but there's no need to buy this book, if all you are looking for is - the famed Pandi Curry (there are enough online recipes for the dish)

Rating : 4 / 5

Monday, 11 August 2014

For Amdavadis, printed word holds and irreplacable charm

Brajesh and this blog featured in today's DNA Ahmedabad (Page 2 of Main Paper) article on Booklovers

For Amdavadis, printed word holds an irreplaceable charm

The adage – ‘Wear the old coat and buy a new book' — goes very well for Amdavadi bookworms who are still hooked to the woody aroma of the printed pages. These bibliophagists appreciate Kindle, but say digitisation cannot replace the charm of printed words. dna’s Himali Doshi finds out how the city-folk declare their undying love for printed books on Book Lovers Day

‘Begin reading today and change your life’
Brajesh Bajpai, business head, Vodafone Ltd Gujarat, owns a 1,500-book library. An active blogger on, he and wife Karishma summarise and rate the books they read across all genres. ‘My library grew naturally when my wife Karishma brought home her own large collection of books,” he says revealing how he thought of making a library. “The print form is being challenged by lower costs and easy accessibility of e-books, but will survive for its own unique reasons,” he says with hope. His favourite author is Devdutt Pattnaik whose “Mahabharata” he rates highly, with all its renditions, versions and speculative fiction.

‘Read books and let your imagination soar’
“When my family moved from Sindh, my grandmother brought with her only a few clothes but a trunk full of books,” says Prakash Ramrakhiani who has a 5,000-book library which he calls 'Danai' meaning 'knowledge' in Greek. His love for books soared when he began receiving books as a prize for standing first in class.” His favourite authors are PG Woodhouse, W Dalrymple, John LeCarre and Frederick Forsyth. That books would be redundant soon was speculated even 20 years ago, he remembers and feels e-books can never replace the smell of fresh paper or the charm of holding a book in the hand. His message for the young is that they should read all genres to develop mind and thought.

‘Food for thought weighs more than food for stomach’
Founder of 'The Riverside School', Ahmedabad, Kiran Bir Sethi has about 1,000 books in her personal library. Lending and borrowing books was an essential the part of growing up she remembers and insists that parents should encourage their kids to make their own collection. Though she loves e-books she says, reading printed books gives her unparalleled pleasure. “Youngsters read a lot of stuff on social networking sites, but they need to be inspired to read books” she says. Among her favourite books are 'The difficulty of being good' by Guru Charan Das and MK Gandhi's 'My experiments with truth'.

Published Date:  Aug 11, 2014

Kim's Review : Devi 1, 2 & 3- Shekhar Kapur's Graphic Novel

When Virgin comics launched itself in 2006, their brief was to create Graphic novels with original story lines, that were Indian culture based, but for the international market. the company itself was a collaboration between Richard Branson's Virgin Group (Virgin Airlines, Virgin music etc), acclaimed movie director Shekhar Kapur, spiritual Guru Deepak Chopra (and his son Gotham) and Gotham Entertainment Group (South Asia's largest comics publisher)

They created 4 distinct lines of comics.

Director's cut for Directors to get into print, projects that may not have been viable on the big screen. Collaborators here include : Shekhar Kapur, Guy Ritchie and John Woo.

Voices / Maverick line to feature new talent and collaborations with actors and musicians. The line's first release was written by Eurythmics frontman Dave Stewart.

The Shakti line featuring Indian mythology, art, history, classical stories, and other related themes, often with a modern twist. This is the line that debuted with "Devi" and "The Sadhu"

And Others to tap into innovative creators in comics, film and entertainment from around the world.

While created by Virgin Comics, they soon went out of circulation in India, but some of these Graphic Novels are now published in India by Westland & Graphic India (who made the pages smaller, the paper less glossy, but seem have kept the colour and print quality intact - to my unprofessional eyes). And Virgin Comics has been remodelled as Liquid Comics.

Devi features "a modern take on a very ancient myth", in which the title character Devi becomes a "warrior of the light" after the pantheon of gods rebirth her in response to "the rapid decay of the city of Sitapur" caused by "fearsome renegade god Bala."

Each book is divided into 5 parts / chapters and the entire series has had a couple of different authors. the first 2 parts were written by Siddharth Kotian. 3 - 10 were written by Samit Basu (whose Gameworld Trilogy, I simply adored) and 11-15 (maybe ~20 too)have been written by Saurav Mohapatra who is the author of Mumbai Confidential and has converted the Bengali classic Chander Paher / Moon Mountain into a Graphic Novel for kids.

The artists of the series so far, include - Mukesh Singh, Aditya Chari, Saumin Patel, Siddharth Kotian and Edison George.

Devi - Part 1 starts with the origins.

Bodha is the King / Father of the Gods. During the second century of Mankinds arrival on Earth, Bala - one of Bodha's sons, rejects the old ways of the Pantheon and forces mankind to worship him, he feeds off that and becomes too powerful for the pantheon to take him on.

The Gods then all sacrifice a part (power) of themselves to create an entity who is - "Devi"!

Devi is placed among the Durapasya clan - warrior/priests who fight alongside the pure Gods and she leads an Army of Goda & Warriors against Bala. She wins, but just as she is about to kill him, Bodha steps in to save his sons life and instead imprisons him in what he hopes is a secure location - Jwala - the prison of Fire & Stone, deep within the Earth.

To prevent another incident of a God getting too egoistical and powerful, Devi is awakened in a mortal woman who will die, each time her mission is accomplished and lie dormant until she needs to be brought back to life again.

Cut to present day and Bala is threatening to raise his ugly head again in the fictional town of Sitapur. And Tara Mehta is destined to be the Devi for this Generation. Tara is currently dating Iyam (one of Bala's generals) unaware of her potential, the Durapasya ae looking for her, they intend to sacrifice her life, so the Devi can inhabit her body (as they have done for centuries), but Agantuk - one of the priests, believes that they should let the human Tara live and the Devi and her share the body.

Through a series of events, the priests are unable to kill the mortal Tara before the Devi inhabits her body and with the help of Inspector Rahul Singh, she temporarily defeats Bala's army and leaves the Durapasya behind to manage on her own and take her own decisions.

 The artwork is brilliant, very well thought out and you should definitely read the notes and sketchbook at the end to see how Devi's look was conceptualised.

Devi - Part 2 has Bala playing a more prominent role and there seems to be trouble in the ranks of his followers, with each one battling for supremacy and some of them involved in Double Crosses.

Devi & Tara learn to share their body and the mind. Devi starts to trust Tara's judgement more and Tara realises that she can use Devi's powers to do good. Devi's judgements and actions are tempered by Tara's emotions.

However, it is Tara's emotions that leave them devastated in the end, inspite of her almost vanquishing Bala, who is again saved by Bodha.

Bodha wants to take Devi back to the Citadel in Akarshit, but Devi & Tara decide to stay behind to right the many injustices on Earth.

Most of the Chapters in Part 2 have outdoor locations and the architecture that has been conceptualised is complex and beautiful.

Devi - Part 3 starts with a lovely explanation by Shekhar Kapur on how Devi was conceptualised. This is the book, where the story reveals its roots with the backgrounds of Tara, Kratha (the Apsara Assassin) and Inspector Rahul Singh.

With Bala vanquished (for the time being at least), a new Anti-Hero was needed. This position is first played out by Ismael Bhai who stands for everything that devis against, but Ismael is mortal. The Superhuman anti-hero comes in the form of the "Horseman of the White Steed" who is drawn to this world as he feels that Devi & Tara sharing the same body is an abomination that needs to be ended.

Tara who is depressed with the events of Part 2 finds the uglier part of her raising its head, who finally manifests as Daani - the Demoness.

Do not miss Saurav Mohapatra's note on "Enter the Demoness" at the end, its a beautiful insight into the story creators perspective.

The stories are well written and engaging.  Based in Mythology and Indian Culture and even a bit of Mythology from other parts of the world thrown in (Refer - Devi's gifts)

The colours, the dream sequences, the action sequences, it is all a testament to the artists translating the writers visions beautifully.

Its a very interestingly done series. Its strange to see an Indian Goddess dressed in a Bollywood Item Number costume, but she grows on you.

Part 4 was re-released by Westland & Graphic India in February this year and I have just placed my order for it.

Rating : 3.5 / 5

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