Sunday, July 23, 2017

The Unexpected Guest by AGATHA CHRISTIE

The Unexpected Guest 
Author: ( A Play by Agatha Christie)
Adapted as a novel by Charles Osborne
Screened Year: 1958 

To put readers on tenterhooks from the first page to the last needs a skill. It's not a prerequisite that every mysteries or thriller should possess that salient feature. Out of the 13 Agatha books, I have read ' The Unexpected Guest' had that quality.

See how the story opens.

It was a chilly November evening. The tree-lined country road in South Wales coast was shrouded in dense fog, the foghorn giving warning signals every now and then. Though there were a few houses, they were half a miles apart, giving the area a forlorn look.

Nearby a three storeyed mansion his car got stuck in a ditch. Sheer inability to take his vehicle out of it made him walk towards the bungalow.
 As his knocks were unanswered, he tried the lock and entered the mansion just to see a man dead in his wheel chair. He was shot and nearby stood a woman with a pistol in her hand.

Without any compulsion, she said she killed the man who was her husband. The suspense started building up when the unexpected guest promised to help her by manipulating the surroundings.

This reminded me of Linwood Barclay's ' No time to say Goodbye'. One day, Cynthia Bigge, a 14-year-old girl woke up to the dreadful fact that her father, mother and brother had vanished without a trace. Before going to bed, the other night she had seen them in flesh and blood and perfectly fine. She had to wait for 25 years to finally know what happened to them.

These kind of beginnings are capable enough to make the reader not to put down such books until they know what had really happened.

The Unexpected Guest is, in fact, a play by Agatha Christie later adapted as a novel by Charles Osborne, an acclaimed journalist, theatre and opera critic, poet and a novelist.

Coming back to our story, I was curious to know how would they manipulate the time of death. It was sure to be revealed during the autopsy. Starkwedder ( the unexpected guest) concocted a story to save Laura Warwick that he had heard a shot and a man came running from the mansion bumped into him dropping a gun and disappeared into the thick fog. It was certain that after the autopsy, the time of death would not match with the time when they said to have heard the shot. But as the story proceeded, I got my answer as it was happening in a night and a day.

Christie had scattered a lot of cues here and there to confuse the reader. Though at the outset, we tend to think that Laura might have committed the crime, we would soon come across many characters who could be possible suspects.

Unlike her other works, this book came across as one with a simple plot but loaded with suspense.

 Throwing an unexpected climax is not unusual as far as a Christie book is concerned. But what is always unusal is the sheer climax. 'The Unexpected Guest' is no exception.

Without revealing much, I would like to say that she had easily established one fact through this book that SEEING IS NOT BELIEVING.

Though she had high hopes for her Play Verdict like Mousetrap which gave about 2239 performances, the former failed to repeat the same success. Undeterred by the failure, she immediately came up with The Unexpected Guest which played for a week at the Bristol Hippodrame and then moved on to the Duchess Theatre in the West End of London where it gave about 604 performances in 18 months.

- by Shalet Jimmy 

Thursday, July 20, 2017

The Painted Veil by W SOMERSET MAUGHAM

The Painted Veil by Somerset Maugham
Author: W. Somerset Maugham
Publication date: 1925

It's not only our experiences that mould us but also the lesson we imbibe from them. Unfortunately, there are many who learns nothing from such experiences but not Kitty Fayne. 'The Painted Veil' tells the story of a woman's transformation from a worthless being to an awakened soul.

Kitty, the wife of Walter Fayne had her own reasons to justify her clandestine relationship with Charles Townsend. She never liked Walter, a bacteriologist working in Shangai where she meets Charles who unlike her husband was a popular government servant. She married Walter just because she was not getting any suitable proposal though she was garnering a lot of attention from most of the men around.

To her utter dismay, her sister who was not as popular as she was receives a decent proposal from a Duke and this forced Kitty to go for Walter. On the other hand, Walter was neck-deep in love with her and every hell broke loose when he found out her infidelity.

Though Kitty thought getting a divorce from him would not be a strenuous task, Walter's conditions for granting the divorce shattered her expectations.

He would divorce her if Charles divorced his wife Dorothy and promise to marry Kitty. If not, she would have to accompany him to cholera stricken Mei-tan- fu where people were dying like flies. She never doubted for a minute that Charles would disown her which was exactly what happened.
 Charles was more keen to hush up the issue by asking her to deny their relationship.

"Steady on, old girl," Charlie said. "A chap says a lot of things he doesn't mean with his trousers down. You go off with Walter; cholera isn't so bad as long as you don't get it. Must bolt!"
Kitty was quick to understand that Walter too expected the same reaction from Charles.

Perhaps, this episode sowed the first seed of awakening in Kitty.

If Charles did not agree to divorce his wife and Kitty still needed a divorce, it would come to her with a heavy price - charges of adultery. Hence, she was left with no other option but accompany Walter to cholera-stricken place.

Walter was fiercely in love with Kitty. He volunteered to go to the Cholera stricken place to punish himself for loving her. Though she realised her mistake and accepted it, Walter could not forgive her. At the same time, he also could not stop loving her. 

He says " I know you are worthless - still I loved."

He loved her knowing all her defects. Still, he expected a lot from her.

And with Kitty, though she developed a huge respect for Walter, she could not bring herself to love him. Human minds are strange and Maugham had delved deeply into the abyss of those human emotions.

Shallow and frivolous, Kitty is not a likeable character. But my heart went for her when she was telling Walter, tears streaming down her eyes that it was not her fault that she was brought up that way. Kitty was right when she asked Walter why did he assume her to be of a higher order when she was not.

The remark by Waddington that Charles wife knew about his flirtations and only second rate women could fall for him marred her self-esteem but brought her back to reality once again.

Walter's love for her was too fierce that he could not bear the news that she was pregnant with Charles' baby. Perhaps, this induced him to experiment the medicine for cholera on himself.

Even after Walter's death, she succumbed to Charles, but she was quick to shun the chapter of her life with Charles forever though she was pregnant with his baby.

Walter has little part to play, his presence literally swayed all through the book.

Sometimes, you have to pay a heavy price to learn the greatest lesson of your life. Kitty paid that price by losing Walter.

She is a perfect example of a ' Round Character'.

The work was serialised in Cosmopolitan starting from November 1924 and the book was eventually, published in 1925.
Loved the book.

- by Shalet Jimmy

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Sandhya Iyer - Interview with a Book Reviewer ( Mesmerized by Maugham)

It's a matter of great relief that even after technological invasions, the art of reading has not diminished one bit. One of the best examples are the numerous blogs which speak only about books. When some do it professionally, some for the pure love of reading. Sandhya Iyer's blog belongs to the latter category. Hence, she is in no hurry to come up with the review of latest releases. Instead, she just ruminates over books of different genres and comes up with insightful reviews. Perhaps this might be the reason page hits on her blog never come down even when she leaves it unattended for almost a year. No doubt, her blog can be used as a reference material.

Sandhya's blog also lured me to read her favourite author Somerset Maugham. I am currently reading his  ' The Painted Veil'

If you love books and want to start a serious conversation on books, Sandhya's blog The Summing Up  is the right  platform for it.

Let me introduce her to you.

1. Sandhya, tell us about yourself.

If you ask from the point of view of career, then much of my time has been spent in various newsrooms. I started as a campus reporter at Midday, where I connected with some of the best and brightest names in journalism. My love for language was constant, and I think, without realising it, I had a deep interest in the business of information dissemination as well. I went on to work with The Times of India, Sakaal Times and The New India Express (Kochi). With both journalism and publishing careers being on the decline, it is important to consider fields where editorial skills would still be valuable but in a new context. Content publishing for brands is a growing field, and I do see myself gravitating towards it.

2. After reading your blog, I presume that Somerset Maugham is one of your favourite authors. Even your blog is named after his last work ' The Summing Up.’ How did you come to being his avid admirer?

I remember a friend showing me a film called 'The Painted Veil.' I was deeply touched by that experience, and I ended up reading the book on which the film was based. Soon, that book became one of my most favourite possessions, because everything in that novel - right from its genteel Edwardian setting, the powerful plot line, the searing insight it provides into the human condition, and its ability to be so perceptive about human weakness - spoke to me in a manner few others ever have. I was mesmerised by Maugham, and soon enough, I was devouring every one of his books. I was lucky he has a tall body of work, and the four years that it took me to read up his entire oeuvre gave me immeasurable happiness.

3. Your book reviews are insightful. You are concentrating not only on fiction but all genres. What is your criteria for selecting a book for reading and book reviewing?

Yes, my book blog is an indulgence for me, in that I don't necessarily review latest releases. In fact, most of the books that I have written about are classics or contemporary classics. I read and review as I please. I was doing a lot of book reviews for the newspapers I worked for, so that allowed me to keep my blog going.  Usually, though, I like to read books that I feel are relevant to my life phase in some sense. When I moved to Toronto, I had a deep urge to know more about Canada, and hence I took up books that could give me an insight into the country's cultural and political character. Now, that I am not reviewing professionally, I choose books with particular care.

4. When did you start blogging?

As early as 2007. I was doing a lot of writing anyway as a journalist, and maintaining a blog seemed like a logical thing to do.

5. I had never thought of buying a Kindle until a month ago when I realised that it is one of the best possible ways to read my favourite books without spending too much money. What is your take on e-books?

I haven't used Kindle yet, but I am sure I will like it a lot. Books for me are a way to get away from technology. I do a lot of short-form reading on my laptop, Ipad, and smart phone, but I tend to turn to physical books for immersive leisure reading. One of the reasons is because I currently have access to one of the best libraries, where practically any book can be found. I also tend to mark a lot of words and sentences, and then take notes later. But yes, there is no doubt that physical books are not going to be with us forever. They are already becoming scarce and in 50 years, they could well become a curious object like a cassette or typewriter.

6. Are you a fast reader? Do you also review every book you read?

I am not a fast reader necessarily, but I am a committed reader. When I'm reading a book that gives me endless joy and thrill, I actually tend to slow down my reading, so I can savour every word and phrase. I don't actually review all the books I read, for various reasons. Sometimes I am so overwhelmed by the writing that I can't summon up the courage to review it. But mostly, when I don't review a book I read, it is because of laziness and a lack of time.

7. You have another blog called ' Matinee Mix' which concentrates on movies. Unlike your book blog, it is not updated frequently. The reviews are insightful just like your book blog. Do you plan to revive it in the near future?

I was a film reporter for many years. I was always passionate about movies and had a thorough knowledge of the beat. I'm proud to have done some memorable interviews. Again, like my book blog, I started Matinee Mix because I was writing a lot on films. I haven't been updating that blog at all because my film viewing has drastically reduced. Also, whenever I feel like saying something about a film, I tend to post a few lines on FB or on some other film blog.

8. Most readers nurture a dream of being a writer? Do you have such a dream or a plan?

Definitely! The more you read, the better equipped you are to tell a story. There are no immediate plans, but I do see myself writing a short story at the very least. I think we can agree that pursuing a writing career is not all that feasible. The publishing industry is on the decline, so writing a book is more a matter of self-expression and prestige rather than an avenue for making a lot of money.  There are exceptions of course, but by and large, even well-known writers have to take up second jobs such as teaching to make their writing careers viable.

9. Which is your favourite genre? What is your take on ' Surrealist fiction'?

In fiction, I enjoy period dramas, family stories, romances etc. I don't think I have read any surrealist fiction.

10. Do you think reading 'Classics' is a must for a book reader? If yes, suggest some of the must read books?

I think classics are classics for a reason, so it is always good to dip into it.  But remember the reputation of an author or book waxes and wanes through the passage of time. Stunningly, Somerset Maugham was undermined by critics for a long time, which meant his name never appeared among the greats. However, his books have lived on. There is something to be said about the timeless wisdom and perspicuity in Maugham's writing that his plays are regularly staged for audiences around the world, and his novels continue to be adapted for the big screen. Not all classics are timeless, but a good number of them are. My own favourites are Jane Austen, George Eliot, and Mark Twain. Among the books that have made a deep impression on me are Pride and Prejudice, Persuasion, Huckleberry Finn, Tom Sawyer and Middlemarch.  I have read all of Maugham's books, but my personal favourite would be The Painted Veil, Up At The Villa, The Vagrant Mood, and his play, The Land of Promise. I am also a huge admirer of his short story collections.

11. Now Amish's Sita, the warrior has been released. Chetan Bhagat's book has been included in the syllabus of Delhi University. What is your take on Indian contemporary writers and Indian writing in English?

I always enjoy reading Indian writing in English. There is so much atmospherics that our writers are able to capture. But I don't know the wisdom of having Chetan Bhagat's book as part of the syllabus. He is an important phenomenon in terms of making book-reading accessible to the average or below average English reader, but I don't think I'd like to do a critical analysis of his plot or characters as part of a course. Some of the books that are prescribed in a course are the only ones many students will ever read in their entire lifetimes, so careful deliberation should be there in choice of books.

 12. Apart from reading and writing what are your other interests?

Cooking, nature, music, shopping for this and that...

13.Your 10 favourite books and 10 movies

Funny Boy - Shyam Selvadurai
The Hungry Ghosts - Shyam Selvadurai
The Painted Veil - Somerset Maugham
The Vagrant Mood - Somerset Maugham
Tom Sawyer - Mark Twain
Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen
Persuasion - Jane Austen
Middlemarch- George Eliot
Bookless in Baghdad - Shashi Tharoor
The Land of Promise - Somerset Maugham

Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikander
Kandukondain Kandukondain (Tamil)
Varavelpu (Malayalam)
The Second Best Marigold Hotel
The Best Marigold Hotel
Bangalore Days

14. How many books do you have in your library?
250 plus.

- by Shalet Jimmy

published here Mesmerized by Maugham

Sunday, June 25, 2017

The Second Time Around - Mary Higgins Clark ( 2003)

I am a die- hard fan of Mary Higgins Clark. What I like about her is the gentle way of narrating a story. I think she is a writer who does not believe in gory descriptions to make her stories more thrilling. Still, there's mystery and suspense that can put you on tenterhooks right from the first page.

Her narrations lack artificiality. Perhaps, it might be because she finds clues for her story from the newspapers - in other words, incidents that happen in the normal lives of people and the reader can relate to the story, easily.

Nicholas Spencer, the head of Gen - Stone, a company which is developing medicine against cancer disappears without a trace. The wreckage of his plane is found but not his body, raising many eyebrows. What if he has staged this accident? Maybe because he was aware that the vaccine is not going to work.  Lots of people whose dear ones are being victims of the deadliest disease have invested their whole money in the Gen- Stone stocks - Ned and Marty being two among them. After the news of his death starts doing rounds, Nick's bungalow has been set ablaze by someone. Lynn, Nick's wife had a close shave.

Carly Decarlo who writes financial advice columns is now a journalist in the Wall Street Weekly and her first assignment is to do a cover story on Nick. Carley has met Nick personally and for her, he has come across as a genuine person. She too invested her money in his company. Apart from it, Lynn
  is Carley's stepsister. After her father's death, Carley's mother got married to Lynn's father. As the story progresses, Carley feels that Nick is murdered. Her doubt is intensified when Dr Boedrick who bought Nick's house where his father used to do experiments meets with an accident just after he passes on to her the information that he has handed over the record of experiments to a red - headed guy.

I have read many thrillers. But I could not figure out who was behind the murder though there were many explicit clues. That's the beauty of her craft and maybe because of this I might have immersed myself in the story rather than interrupting my reading thinking who is the culprit. This book might not be her best but it's worth reading.

- by Shalet Jimmy

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Belated Happy Birthday - Anita Desai

" Reality is merely one-tenth visible section of the iceberg that one sees above the surface of the ocean- art remaining nine-tenth of it that lies below the surface. That is why it is more near Truth that Reality itself. Art does not merely reflect Reflect - it enlarges it"

Anita Desai, the acclaimed writer from India was born on June 24, 1937. This is to wish her belated Happy birthday.

My personal favourite is Fire on the Mountain. But I am sure as I keep on her reading her books, the list would increase too.

“Wherever you go becomes a part of you somehow.”
― Anita Desai

“Isn't it strange how life won't flow, like a river, but moves in jumps, as if it were held back by locks that are opened now and then to let it jump forwards in a kind of flood?”
― Anita Desai

Someone who wants to write should make an effort to write a little something every day. Writing in this sense is the same as athletes who practice a sport every day to keep their skills honed.
- Anita Desai

I aim to tell the truth about any subject, not a romance or fantasy, not avoid the truth.
- Anita Desai

My style of writing is to allow the story to unfold on its own. I try not to structure my work too rigidly.
-  Anita Desai

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Nobody Killed Her by SABYN JAVERI

Book : Nobody killed her
Author : Sabyn Jhaveri
Publication year : 2017

I chose this book to meet the ' kickass heroine 'and whom I found was an unapologetic heroine with little hypocrisy. Now, that stirred my interest. Prior to it, I had hardly any experience with South Asian thrillers though I was a huge sucker for mysteries and suspense fictions.

Javeri's book prompted me to turn my attention to South Asia and I ended up reading Kalpana Swaminathan and Ashwin Sanghi. Needless to say, it was a good experience. Reviewing these books gave me immense pleasure for there were many serious issues to ponder upon. Javeri's debut novel was no different.

When the story opens, former Prime Minister of Pakistan, Rani Shah was assassinated and her confidante Nazneen Khan ( Nazo )was held accountable for the murder. For, she was the one who was with Rani during her last hours.

 “ Who killed her?”

The story which was narrated in the course of courtroom proceedings was unputdownable. A pacy thriller with a maze of elements – treachery, gender equality, corruption, politics and what not.

Javeri had put the narrative in the unreliable hands of Nazo and this made the maze more thrilling.

What I liked about the book was that Javeri had left no stone unturned to depict the real life situations and it shunned hypocrisy to the core. The author was right when she said she was tired of suitable South Asian heroines. Even many of us were tired of that. She had torn apart those false faces which hardly existed and it's a big relief.

Jhaveri's character would make us think twice before we put every woman under one category when it's pertaining to topics like women empowerment, gender equality and feminism. The reasons for misinterpreting these words were mainly because we often tend to forget that there are different kinds of women with different circumstances with Nazo and Rani being the perfect examples.

There are a good number of women who have manipulative skills to get what they want. I liked the way Javeri left her characters ( Rani & Nazo) without judging them. They are at times strong, sometimes vulnerable and they get disillusioned too.

When Rani was born into an affluent family of politicians and everything had been offered to her on a platter, Nazo's family was murdered in front of her eyes by the General who was ruling Pakistan. Strangely, even such a strong background could not help Rani to wriggle through the maze of politics. But Nazo once determined had pushed the envelope and told us the story of survival. 

She was a refugee and Rani was Nazo's icon, God, lover and everything. She offered her at Rani's feet thinking that only she could save the country from the treacherous role of the General. But she was wrong. The moment Rani got the power her ideals quickly started changing. Mysogyny was prevalent. But with her hard-earned power did Rani do anything to change that? She comfortable placed herself where her society wanted her to be in.

The book created headlines even before it was released owing to Rani Shah's sharp semblance to the late Benazir Bhutto. It could not be denied but what amazed me was that even with a similar backdrop as of Mrs Bhutto, Rani Shah, all through the book hardly showed any traces of the late former premier. Now, that is something to be appreciated.

Once you finish reading the story, you will understand the quote mentioned by Sabyn Javeri at the outset of the book.

“I think you can love a person too much.You put someone up on a pedestal, and all of a sudden, from that perspective, you notice what's wrong - a hair out of place, a run in a stocking, a broken bone. You spend all your time and energy making it right, and all the while, you are falling apart yourself. You don't even realize what you look like, how far you've deteriorated, because you only have eyes for someone else.”

― Jodi Picoult, Handle with Care

Going to read her short story.

by Shalet Jimmy

Sunday, June 18, 2017

GREENLIGHT by Kalpana Swaminathan

It began when a six-year-old girl from Kandewadi, a small slum near Andheri in Mumbai goes missing. Pinky was the first to go, then Jamila followed by Mary, Sindhu and Tara.

Panic grips the slum when these children are returned as mutilated and raped corpses. Lalli takes charge of the investigation with police officers Savio and Shukla and her niece Sita who is also her accomplice. Written from Sita's point of view, Kalpana Swaminathan's latest book slowly opens to an unimaginable cruel world of crime and put forth several questions to ponder upon.

The book has dealt with issues like brutal child abuse, politics that can sell and buy anything, the helplessness of the officials who are not corrupt, pseudo feminism, etc. Though crime fiction written especially by Indian authors highlight several issues and makes the reader ask pertinent questions, there’s often a tendency to dismiss fiction noir as mere 'pulp fiction'. It is unfortunate.

If you put down a list of serious crime novels, Kalpana Swaminathan's ' Greenlight' will be the first in the category. It is her sixth book in the Lalli series.

Let's see who Lalli is? She is a retired police detective who has ace shooting skills. She is in her sixties and is ruling the roost in a world dominated by men. If there is a murder, Lalli is the last resort even for the police.

The book is unputdownable and a great relief that Indian writers can create novels in this genre that can compete with the west.

To speak further on the book, it throws light on the bizarre mindset of the people. On one side when the rich believes in committing horrendous crimes just for the sake having a thrill and also inflicting cruelties on children from slum purely, because they do not consider them worthy of living in this world, there are slum dwellers, on the other side,  who refuse to show any empathy to Tara's mother who is a sex worker even after Tara is abducted and killed. They even pray to take the life of Tara in exchange for their daughters' lives just because her mother is a sex- worker and they think she deserves it.

What I also like about the book is the innuendoes on pseudo- feminism. In a meeting called by Seema, the journalist who is following the Kandewadi story, women easily forget the atrocities and rape and easily shift their attention to take it as a platform to indulge in their own selfish interests – some writes articles, poem, etc. One has killed her feotus and has written a poem on it justifying her actions that she aborted it to save the fetus from the world. She has taken the decision after reading the Kandewadi incidents.

Sita who could not bear this hypocrisy comes out of the meeting and thinks to herself that “ I had lacked the courage I might have had five years ago to tell those women what a misogynystic bunch of voyeurs, they were, what pathetic human beings they were, if their only response to the pain of others was to trot out sorry tales of their own. I wondered what they would have said, or done, if they had seen Tara in her empty hut.

Calling ' Lalli', a ' Desi Miss Marple' will not do any justification to the round character Kalpana Swaminathan has created. Even the author has clarified once that Lalli is not like Miss Marple. There are no similarities barring the fact that they love sleuthing. Like Miss Marple of Agatha Christie, Lalli has her own identity.

One thing that could have been avoided is the gory description of the brutalities committed to the children. It's horrendous. This reminds me of books written by a renowned Crime writer from the West, Tess Gerritsen. Perhaps it might be their background as medical doctors which enable them to write precise description though a bit gross.

When the story ends Swaminathan also puts across a question to ponder “ The Cry, How can I bear that someone should use my body like this? Is usually read as a woman's outrage. But isn't it equally a man's? It is men who should protest against rape, and not women.”

- Shalet Jimmy

Friday, June 16, 2017

Quotes - Jhumpa Lahiri

“That's the thing about books. They let you travel without moving your feet.”
― Jhumpa Lahiri, The Namesake

“There were times Ruma felt closer to her mother in death than she had in life, an intimacy born simply of thinking of her so often, of missing her. But she knew that this was an illusion, a mirage, and that the distance between them was now infinite, unyielding. ”
― Jhumpa Lahiri, Unaccustomed Earth

“And yet he had loved her. A Bookish girl heedless of her beauty, unconscious of her effect. She'd been prepared to live her life alone but from the moment he'd known her he'd needed her.”
― Jhumpa Lahiri, The Lowland

“It was not in my nature to be an assertive person. I was used to looking to others for guidance, for influence, sometimes for the most basic cues of life. And yet writing stories is one of the most assertive things a person can do. Fiction is an act of willfulness, a deliberate effort to reconceive, to rearrange, to reconstitute nothing short of reality itself. Even among the most reluctant and doubtful of writers, this willfulness must emerge. Being a writer means taking the leap from listening to saying, “Listen to me.” 
― Jhumpa Lahiri

“Pack a pillow and blanket and see as much of the world as you can.You will not regret it.” 
― Jhumpa Lahiri, The Namesake

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Mr and Mrs Jinnah by Sheela Reddy ( a short introduction before the review )

When Mohammad Ali Jinnah fell in love with Ruttie Petit, she was 16 and he was 42.

She was the daughter of a rich Parsi baronet and Jinnah's good friend, Sir Dinshaw Petit.

After her marriage with Jinnah, she was ostracized from her community and a year later Jinnah was thrown out of Congress, says Journalist Sheela Reddy who authored the book. MR AND MRS JINNAH.

Very soon, the marriage hit rock bottom. A thoroughly disillusioned Ruttie committed suicide when she was just 29.

Though the book is all about Mr and Mrs Jinnah, it also says about the interplay of politics.
Gandhiji was completely against such marriages. He firmly believed in his stand and voiced his opinion against inter-religious marriages through his newspaper - Harijan.

Reddy says since he was a prominent figure in the country, people were forced to accept his view. Some of his followers had differences of opinion with Gandhiji regarding the same. But they never aired it in public.

Jinnah’s equation with Nehru was not great. It was an open secret. Reddy says ‘ Motilal Nehru was a good friend of Jinnah until the former ditched the latter for Gandhi due to his sons. Nehru looked upon Jinnah for reasons as frivolous as like the latter was less cultured and read only newspapers and not books.

SOUNDS LIKE AN INTERESTING READ. Kudos to Sheela Reddy! Even though, the availability of resources to delve into the emotional and personal life of Jinnah and Ruttie was scant; she came up with an interesting read.

I am yet to read this book. Looking forward to it.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Almost Single by Advaita Kala

Be it Bhatinda or Kerala, the mothers of single women nearing 30 speaks almost the same language. They want their daughters to get settled. But the daughters are not ready just because they fear that they will have to compromise their independence ( not making a generalisation here. I wrote it just because this is the point on which 'Almost Single' rotates)

To my surprise, ‘ Mama Bhatia ‘, the mother of Aisha Bhatia, the protagonist resembles my mother too strongly that there are times I had to pinch myself to make sure that it was not my mum speaking.
I chanced upon this book in a bookstore which I frequented just because it's a bookstore. I did not have the intention of buying anything. When I am a bit flurried, usually a library or a book shop calms my mind. The title ' Almost Single' was catchy.  and the price was so low that I thought I would give it a chance.

To speak about the book, I would definitely not call this a masterwork or great piece of art. It is a book which has been written in a simple language and absolutely apt for casual reading. There is no plot as such. It is the story of Aisha Bhatia from Bhatinda along with her two friends who are on a groom hunt, to be precise, it would not be wrong if I say ‘ NRI groom hunt’. ( One friend just got a divorce from her husband and the other is on a search ).

Unlike her friends, she did not want to flow with the age old tradition of groom hunting whether it be through social networking sites or by conventional methods. Her faith eventually triumphs at the end as she falls for Karan, an NRI. The story concludes with hero and heroine coming together just like a typical Bollywood movie.

It would definitely grab your attention till you end it. That's it. There's nothing to ruminate and not my kind of book. But you just can't ignore a book which has made you sit all through.

If you are somebody who needs food for thought after reading a book, Almost Single is just not for you. You won’t get anything serious out of it. Keeping all those seriousness aside, if you need a light reading while you are travelling or mired in depression, this could be a perfect remedy.


Wednesday, June 7, 2017

American Sniper directed by Clint Eastwood ( 2014)

YEAR :  2014
(American biographical war drama film directed by Clint Eastwood and written by Jason Hall)

American Sniper can be easily categorized into a war – movie, but with many underlying layers to it- emotions, faith, duty and certain viewpoints which are of course debatable.

Based on the real life story of Chris Kyle, acclaimed as the most lethal sniper in the US military history who had 160 official killings to his credit, the film solely speaks about ‘ Chris’, though the war is the backdrop. Nevertheless, through him many perspectives come to the fore, the first one being the definition of ‘Evil ‘which is no doubt, Iraq. If we keep aside that particular aspect for a while, the film is worth watching for its sheer display of emotions – a man caught between his duties towards his country where he has to take lives to protect his people and the humanity in him.

When the movie opens, Kyle is on his first operation at Fallujah, Iraq. He is on the rooftop of a building aiming at his enemy. His first target is a woman and a son. The woman, presumably his mother hands over a grenade to the little boy and he is about to throw it towards the convoy. One single shot - the boy is down. Chris is unflinching in his duty but is sad without remorse that he has to gun down the little boy.

It’s the lesson taught by his father that he should be a sheepdog who protects his flock, makes him one of the best snipers. When he guns down his enemy, there’s no remorse written over his face. He is clear – the evil should not thrive. The humanity in him is intact, but that does not deter him from taking over his enemy irrespective of who it is. But when he is away from the war - front, the gore and the violence consume him. As the film progress, we could see the real man whom he has subdued for a while. The scene where he struggles with himself when he has to aim another little boy who picks up the weapon dropped by a terrorist who has been shot by Chris clearly reveals his dilemma. When the child drops the weapon without firing, he heaves a sigh of relief.

Bradley Cooper is at his best that we could never find a trace of him in his character. Sienna Miller, though her scenes are a few, her acting made her presence felt all through the film. Her scenes throw light on what the families of the soldiers go through.

Chris might be the ‘legend’ as everyone calls him, but, when he’s home, we can see a mentally torn Chris struggling with the conflict that’s brewing inside his mind. But he refuses to acknowledge it. Besides, it is also the protector image which is ingrained in his mind right from the inception of his childhood aggravates his dilemma. He feels that when his buddies are dying in Iraq, he is with his family unable to save them.

It draws our attention to a universal issue – the trauma experienced by the soldiers all across due to their exposure to wars. Whether they are being addressed is the burning question. The scene in a bar where Chris spends time before going home after the war-front is a perfect example of that. As the audience are immersed in his dilemma, the scene cuts to another shot which is the last shot where Chris is seen enjoying with the family and goes out with a war veteran who later kills him. It seems as if the issue has been abruptly cut rather than delving into it a little further.

For a foreigner watching the movie, the answer to the question ‘ why did the war veteran kill Chris’, will be ambiguous, leaving him/her to rely on Google. When you search, you will figure out that he was killed by a psychopath who was affected by the sheer violence he had to see while he was deployed.

Eastwood and Jason decided to cut the final scene after a request from Chris Kyle’s widow – Taya Kyle. The team of American Sniper came up with five different endings once Kyle’s widow informed them that “ This is going to be how my children remember their father, so I want you to get it right.” The film ends with the ‘real funeral scene’ of Chris Kyle.

When every intention of Clint Eastwood was to portray war as something that annihilating, there’s another side to that portrayal – Dehumanisation of Iraq

Though not explicitly, Eastwood has shown it as an evil that has to be obliterated which makes the story one-sided.The explanation on why ‘Iraq’ became one of the ‘axis of evil’ is glossed over conveniently. Iraq is completely dehumanised in the movie.

Barring this single aspect, he deserves every appreciation for making one of the best war movies which is also the highest grossing war movie ever made.

Interestingly, the release of the movie ran parallel with the trial of Eddie Ray Youth who was guilty of murdering Chris Kyle.

The movie was nominated for six Oscars including best actor for Bradley Cooper and best picture. It won several other awards including Academy Award for best sound editing.


Monday, June 5, 2017

Minal Sarosh ( Indian Author ) Interview

It was in 2015, I read and reviewed Minal Sarosh's début novel ‘Soil for My Roots ’. She started her literary career as a poet writing in English. She won the commendation prize in the All India Poetry Competition 2005 organised by the Poetry Society (India) Delhi.  Her poems on the city of Ahmedabad was published in ' The Grand Indian Express, Poets' Travelogue.

Nevertheless, I began reading ' Soil for My Roots' with much trepidation. There was a time when most of the books written by new Indian authors in English failed to piqué my interest. Call me prejudiced, I would not deny it. At the same time, some books were a real turn off. To my pleasant surprise, Minal's book was an exception. It portrayed emotions so beautifully and with depth that I let go of my prejudice and enjoyed the book.

 Writing its review became an easy and joyous task because I could connect with the characters. I  love those writings which could paint a picture with words. Hers was one such book.

You can read the review of her book here Soil for My Roots

She is currently working on a novel which brings out the malaise of our society of the half-educated or the dropout students, who sometimes are not able to transform their lives and take unfair means of livelihood.
Thanks, Minal for this wonderful Interview...

 Minal, tell us about yourself?

Well, first and foremost, I am a poet, at heart, and by interest and of course writing! This is because even as I worked in a bank, and worked for many, many years, I did not give up reading and writing poetry, and finished my post graduation in English Literature, too.

Then, when I happen to leave my job, writing fiction which lay latent at the back of mind for so many years, happened! So, I have published one novel, so far.

How did you get into the world of writing?

     My writing started with poetry, the emotional outbursts kind, which I didn’t show anyone. But, one day, just on a whim, I sent a poem to a fashion magazine called ‘Flair’ and surprisingly they accepted, and I was overwhelmed and overjoyed on seeing my poem in print.  That was the trigger that made me take writing more seriously and intently and began sending out my poems to magazines, journals and newspapers.  

      And after I won an award in a poetry competition held by the local Times of India, newspaper, there was no looking back.

Tell Me about your book ‘Soil for My Roots’. Every meticulous detail has been taken care of in this book - emotions, details of the places etc. What made you write such an elaborate book? How long have you have taken to write this book? 

Well, ‘Soil for My Roots’ is my first book. It’s about living in a multicultural society like India. And it has many characters and situations which bring to fore the consequences of such a social fabric in terms of relationships and social adjustments.

          The book has turned out elaborate because I wanted it to be a mirror of our times, how everyday living and thinking has gradually changed. I did this, maybe, to preserve for posterity, hence the detailed descriptions of the way people live and the places.

        As I said, fiction also remained with me all through the years when I worked in a very different non-literary environment, so the theme and plot of the novel were always there. Hence, when I actually started writing, it took only 3 months to complete the first draft.

What are bottlenecks you had to face (if there’s any) while writing and publishing this book?

It took up almost 5 years to find a publisher, maybe because I hadn’t written any fiction before, not even a single short story. So, that was very frustrating and needed a lot of patience.

And while writing, apart from the physical stress, more so because I am a polio survivor, everything else fell into place smoothly.

 I have said this in my review of your book ‘Soil for My Roots’ that “Unraveling  Sarah would have offered the reader many a revelation.” Do you have any plan to come up with a sequel concentrating on Sarah? I would love to read it.

Yes, Sarah is quite intriguing at times and takes very bold decisions in the novel. This is because she is placed in very unusual circumstances. She is my favourite too, because the main theme of the novel being the effects and consequences of living in a multi cultural society is aptly revealed through her.  But no plans of exploring her future life, as of now!

 What was that ‘feeling’ when your work got published for the first time?

Yes, it was a very happy feeling, indeed! Thanks to my publisher who reposed faith in my work and gave me a break.

What do you think about current scenario of Indian writing in English?

      The current scenario is like a kaleidoscope, I think.   There are different colours and hues, I mean all types of work are being published, and each genre has its own readership.

Tell us a bit about your interest in poetry.

Well, as I said poetry is my first love, and will continue to be so. Maybe this is because the poetic inspiration can come from anywhere and everywhere. The creative impulse is all prevailing and gives such wonderful moments of joy and surprise as you write a poem. So, poetry gives me a lot of freedom, and I have written poems on various themes like nature, relationships, the urban ethos and poetry itself.

 Are you currently working on anything?

Yes, I have finished working on a novel which brings out the current malaise of our society of the half educated or the drop out students, who sometimes are not able to transform their lives and take unfair means of livelihood. There is a suspense hidden in the novel too. The novel is set in the city of Ahmedabad. 

Do you have a favourite genre? If yes, does your work belong to that genre?

No favourites, because now I read anything and everything which engages my interest and attention.

But, in my growing up years, I had a preference for detective and adventure stories of the Famous Five, Perry Mason and the likes.

Did you ever explore the Indian writing in English from other parts of the  country. I have noticed that writers belonging to the metros get a lot of attention though there are many good works from places especially like North East India etc. What is your take on this?

Of course, in a way every book has a distinct flavor of the place in which the story is set.

Absolutely true, more authors from metros are being published, maybe because the authors from non metro places are at a slight disadvantage since all publishing and literary activities take place in metros.

Yes, there is untapped potential especially from the NE region and am happy to see many authors from there being published now.

Who are your favourite authors and why? Any contemporary author/authors who caught your attention recently?

My current favourite authors as far as fiction is concerned, contemporary and non-contemporary together, are O Henry, Jhumpa Lahiri, Manu Joseph, Kushwant Singh and Arvind Adiga.

Do you have a library in your home? If yes, how many books are there?

Oh, my library at home is stocked by my husband and son as well, so it has all kinds of books!

 Your 10 favourite books and movie

Well I read more poetry and the  works of Emily Dickinson,  Robert Graves, A K Ramanujan , Imtiaz Dharkar  and Jeet Thayil are  my favourite to dip into again and again for those moments of revelation, joy and learning.

About movies, for some reason, I never tire of seeing the James Bond series.

- Shalet Jimmy

Thursday, June 1, 2017

'Murder On The Orient Express' Official Trailer (2017) - Johnny Depp, Jo...

The die-hard fans of Agatha Christie fans will have to try hard to forget the David Suchet's Poirot and accept Kenneth Branag's 'Hercule Poirot'. Loved the background score..

' Murder on the Orient Express 2017 version trailer is out for Agatha Christie fans out there....

also starring Johnny Depp, Judi Dench, Daisy Ridley, Michelle Pfeiffer

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Private India ( Private #8) - Ashwin Sanghi & James Patterson

Despite being an Indian, I have always been wary of reading thrillers, or murder mysteries written by Indian English writers. Some of the books which I tried reading were a complete turn off just because they were trying to emulate the western thriller writers. The common knowledge that the sensibilities of India are different from the West was shockingly lacking in many of them.

Nevertheless to say, Pakistani Writer Sabyn Jhaveri’s thriller‘Nobody killed her’ changed my perception. She has written a beautiful thriller with her country Pakistan as its backdrop. It’s not difficult for an Indian to understand that backdrop and stories with a South Asian background.
For years, I have been longing to read a book with Indian backdrop and a story just like ‘ Samay - When the time strikes’, one of the best crime thriller movies, I have seen starring ex- Miss Universe Sushmita Sen.

The starting chapters of this book reminded me of Samay, though both are entirely different and unique in their own way.

I chose ‘Private India’ book for two particular reasons - firstly, no doubt, the name James Patterson and secondly the backdrop of the book - Mumbai. The book was co-written by Indian thriller author Ashwin Sanghi and it was one of the books in Private India series. Honestly speaking, I have never read a book by Sanghi before, though I have seen him interviewed thriller writers like Dan Brown- yes! I acknowledge that it’s a huge mistake from my side. That’s why I started reading his
“ Chanakya Chant”.

To my surprise, the book was unputdownable. I knew Patterson’s style of writing. But the writing style of the author of this book was not similar to his previous books. Perhaps, that made me read the whole book as an Ashwin Sanghi book. I was not wrong in my assumption as I learnt that the plot belonged to Sanghi when I went through the articles about the duo signing a deal.

It all began when a plastic surgeon from Thailand was murdered in a hotel and the Private India - the Indian branch of an investigative agency started by ex-CIA Jack Morgan had to plunge into the investigation as the organization was also in charge of the hotel’s security. Within a matter of hours, the dead bodies of women started piling up in different parts of Mumbai. The yellow scarves using which the victims were strangled were enough proof that the murders were being committed by a single person.
The Indian touch was added to the story when each of the victims was found with certain props which indicated the nine avatars of Goddess Durga.

Sanghi says the story was a response to the misogyny which has become so prominent after the gruesome Delhi Gangrape. But when you delve into the story, there’s much more. Who is responsible for misogyny? Is it just the repercussion of a patriarchal society? Are Men alone responsible for that? 

I have read somewhere that even crime thrillers can highlight certain issues plaguing the society and ‘How’ was my question. I think this book was an answer to that.

Ashwin Sanghi, who has never written a contemporary thriller prior to this, but thrillers based on mythological and historical settings have efficiently made use of his knowledge here and has not gone overboard. The props placed around every victim and a reference to the Thugee cult existed in India were an example for that. Santhosh Wagh, the man in charge of Private India knew that there will be eight more killings. Cain the murderer, complete that circle? Will the Private India be able to prevent the murderer? There’s a tempo all throughout the book. But somewhere while reaching the end of the story that the tempo was found slackening. That could have been avoided.

I also like the character ‘Nisha’ who is an agent in Private India. Her character consoled the reader in me who always wanted the main protagonist to be a woman (though I am trying to come out of that self -made rule).

As I already said, the book was set in Mumbai, the commercial capital of India and one of the most happening cities in the world.
When the collaboration was announced, Patterson said, "With its vibrant and chaotic cities, and rich history and heritage there could be no better place to set Private’s next adventure than India. And in Ashwin Sanghi, with his wide historical knowledge and his love of a fast-paced plot, there could be no better writing partner."

Though I have a high opinion of the book, I have certain questions. There’s is a tendency in many of the novels to portray the main detective as depressed owing to his personal grief.  Don't you think there should be more Holmes or a Poirot unlike Suresh Wagh of Private India? Besides, why the detectives are not married or in a relationship?  Is it because the author/authors want to alienate them from the mundane thing so that, they could give more importance to the investigation.

The book is a turning point as it has made me explore the crime thriller novels from South Asia.

Ashwin Sanghi ranks among India’s highest selling English fiction authors. He has written several bestsellers (The Rozabal Line, Chanakya’s Chant, The Krishna Key and The Sialkot Saga). In addition, he has co-authored a New York Times bestselling crime thriller with James Patterson called Private India (followed by another in the series called Private Delhi). Included by Forbes India in their Celebrity 100 and winner of the Crossword Popular Choice, Ashwin also co-writes the 13 Steps series of self-help books (13 Steps to Bloody Good Luck and 13 Steps to Bloody Good Wealth) to be followed by several other titles in the series. Scroll down to see Ashwin’s journey from an avid reader to a New York Times Best Selling Author. ( Source:

Thursday, May 25, 2017

The Lady Vanishes by Alfred Hitchcock (1938)

Talk about murder mysteries on trains, the first one that pops up in my mind is the movie and the book “ Murder on the Orient Express” by Agatha Christie. ‘ The Lady Vanishes’ reminds me of the same, though both are unique in their own way. The murder is committed in a moving train and most of them know that the murderer is still on the train. The excitement intensifies when the mystery has to be solved before the train reaches its destination.

To begin with, a moving train is a limited space for a murderer or a culprit to escape after committing the crime. But even with such faint chance, when the characters who are into investigating the incident encounter bottlenecks in their moves ahead, it becomes a real challenge not only to the investigating characters but the readers and spectators as well.

Without a speck of doubt, Alfred Hitchcock’s ‘ The Lady Vanishes’ easily fits into the above-mentioned category. Called as “ One of the greatest train movies from the genre's golden era" by The Guardian, it is based on Ethel Lina White’s novel  ‘ The wheel spins’, though with slight alterations in the plot to make it tighter.

The backdrop of the story is the political situation existed then which eventually gave way to the Second World War. The mystery begins when an old woman called Miss Froy disappears from a moving train. Iris, one of the protagonists met the old woman who calls herself a governess when another inmate, a musician named Gilbert disturbs their sleep by playing the music loudly in an inn where they all stayed for one night as the railway line was blocked by an avalanche.

The next day at the railway station, Iris gets hurt in the head when a big flower pot falls on her head. The attack was originally intended to hurt Miss Froy. Iris blacks out once she boards the train and the ‘lady’ helps her. Once she regains her consciousness, both women go to the cafeteria on the train for a cup of tea.  After a short nap in her coupe, when Iris opens her eyes Miss Froy has just vanished. The real mystery begins when the magician and family travelling with her in their coupe denies there was any old woman.

To Iris’ shock, her fellow passengers - the two gentlemen - Charters and Caldicott obsessed with Cricket, Mr Todhunter and Mrs Todhunter in fact, his mistress denies seeing any older woman with her though they have seen her. The denial is to due to several reasons - the first two just because they do not want to miss cricket and the second to avoid a possible scandal as they are involved in a clandestine relationship. Within a few hours into the journey, Gilbert with whom she had a ruckus in the previous night joins hands with Iris in search of the woman once he was sure she was not hallucinating.

To speak about the casting, it was perfect. Iris played by Margaret Lockwood and Gilbert by Michael Redgrave who were relatively unknown actors, then became International stars instantly once the movie was released. The chemistry between them was great. I fell in love with Miss Froy played by Dame Mae Witty, the moment I saw her on the screen.  Not for a single moment, I felt that the movie was shot 79 years ago. The emotions were universal and displayed well by the characters all through the movie that made me as a spectator to instantly connect with the character irrespective of being a foreigner.

The characters of cricket-loving Englishmen, Charters and Caldicott became so popular as comedians that other writers and directors included these two characters in some of their films.

Humour was displayed brilliantly, especially in the scene when Iris and Gilbert come across a dingy room which supposedly belongs to the magician who was travelling with Iris in her coupe. The fight then ensues is utterly humorous and the actors did it perfectly without overdoing it.

The project, at the outset, was initiated under the name ‘The Lost Lady’ directed by Roy William Neil. But it had to be shelved as the Yugoslavian police accidentally discovered that they were not portrayed in the film in a positive way. This happened when the crew were in Yugoslavia for the shoot. Later, Hitchcock took up the project, which became an instant. The only thing which I did not understand was the scene where a hand comes from the behind and strangles a singer who was singing a song which the Miss Froy was listening from her room.

Before I conclude, I would add that like most of his several films, he had a cameo appearance in this movie too.

-  Shalet Jimmy

Monday, May 1, 2017


" There is nothing more stimulating than a case where
everything goes against you."

"There is nothing more deceptive than an obvious fact."

"To a great mind, nothing is little."

" It is my business to know what other people don't

Monday, April 17, 2017

BEGUM JAAN ( Hindi Movie ) Review , Director : SRIJITH MUKHERJI, Cast : Vidya Balan, Gauhar Khan

Feminism, women empowerment, being true to oneself etc are a few words and sentences which are unfortunately being misinterpreted all the time and its true meaning still lies subdued. ' Being unapologetic' is one way of getting empowered. Being true to one's own reality is another way of getting empowered. Begum Jan is both.

The message is clearly conveyed when the protagonist says ' the brothel is ours, the body is ours and the rules are ours'. Though sex workers, we cannot see any victims there. They might have been victims at some point in time in their lives, but once they came under the safe roof of ' Begum Jaan', they ceased to be victims. Director Srijith Mukherjee has clearly drawn a demarcation line for the protagonist from becoming a larger - than size character.

She is strong but vulnerable too. As usual, you cannot see a single trace of Vidya in Begum Jaan.
The characters lack hypocrisy and it is well conveyed too.
The movie opens with an incident that shows a striking resemblance to the gruesome Nirbhaya case. But unlike the real incident, the girl is saved by an old woman who strips herself in front of the miscreants. Proved to be a knock on their conscience, they leave the girl unharmed.

From there, we are taken to 1947 when India was about to get freedom. Cyril Radcliff, who was utterly clueless on the diversity of India was called by the last viceroy Mountbatten to have the final cut on the country - perhaps, the most brutal atrocity which the English had ever committed in the country.

When Radcliff completes his task successfully by drawing the infamous ' Radcliff line', there stands a brothel as a major bottleneck in the border of Punjab and Pakistan.
For the Radcliff Line is paasing through ' Begum Jaan's brothel and to evict her is not an easy task. The crux of the story is how the two officers from the Congress and the Muslim league ( Rajat Kapur and Ashish Vidyarthi) who also happens to be friends become successful in their mission. Will they be able to revel in their success once the mission is accomplished.

Begum Jaan is an unrelenting opponent - a woman shaped and moulded by the scars of her life. She is running a brothel with 12 sex workers from all the castes. Though a brothel, it is a close-knit unit. Though they have their personal woes, they are happy at the moment.
Right from the outset, we understand that things are not going to end on a happy note.But how they deal with their reality makes the story.

Of course, there are many loud outbursts and use of expletives. But you cannot expect refined use of language from a brothel and its inmates. The partition is being used just as a background and you cannot see any worse ramification of the holocaust as you are watching the whole story either from the view of Begum Jan who is least bit bothered about the partition. " Partition is only for men. For us, everything is same once the light goes off," she says or from the officers' viewpoint who are only witnessing the Begum Jan's story.

Perhaps, this was how the people of India at the time of partition might have felt too. They had to bear the brunt for something they had not done. Unfortunately, the situation has not changed one bit.

Besides, it's the loudness which made me connect to their traumas and tribulations.
The two officers - Rajat Kapur ( Iliyaz and Hari Prasad) are also caught in the dilemma. They too had to sacrifice a lot due to partition. Unlike Begum Jaan and her girls these are two characters who are trying their level best to run away from their realities. Though ruthlessly quelled, Begum Jaan and her girls emerge victorious and these two men puts themselves in a state of being where even their success becomes their failures.

Ila Arun's character recites the story of Jhansi Rani, Padmavathi, Meera Bhai. I don't believe those narratives have sidetracked the story, instead, it is an attempt to reinforce the resilience of Begum Jaan and her girls.

Every actor in the film deserves special mention especially Chunky Pandey who played perhaps one of the best roles so far in his film career

Begum Jaan is the remake of Srijith Mukherjee's Bengali movie Rajkahini which was a major hit in Bengal.

Loved Begum Jaan

Monday, March 13, 2017

Toba Tek Singh by Sadat Hasan Manto

Only a few works could surpass the era in which they were written and can still hold relevance. Undoubtedly, “Toba Tek Singh” written by Sadat Hasan Manto is one.  Toba Tek Singh, one among the 15 stories in the book make use of powerful satire to tell the story of displacement and mayhem caused by the partition.

The cut was through the heart of both the countries. A couple of years after the partition, the respective governments decide to exchange the inmates of lunatic asylums in both the countries. The situation was such that nobody, not even the guards could tell exactly where both countries are situated. One day, an inmate who was fed up with the India - Pakistan - Pakistan - India rigmarole climbs up a tree and declares I wish to live neither in India nor in Pakistan. I wish to live on this tree.” It’s  certainly a gibberish of a lunatic but without any prejudice. With his simple but powerful language, Manto portrays explicitly,  the dilemma of thousands who were once caught in a no man’s land.

It is a strange paradox that even when Manto speaks about the displacement all through his stories, both countries still clamour to own him. Nandita Das who is directing a movie based on the life of Manto says “ Pakistanis says he is a Pakistani writer and Indian says he is an Indian writer.” For her, Manto is a South Asian writer who could be a perfect conduit for both countries to come closer.”

Bishen Singh, whom the author calls Toba Tek Singh is introduced as an old man who had not slept in 15 years. Occasionally he would rest against the wall but most of the time he was found standing. On a cold winter evening, the Hindu and Sikh lunatics were taken to Wagah border to be transferred to India. When his time came, Toba Tek Singh refused to budge from where he is standing. The swelling on his legs got worse as he was standing for a prolonged time. He stood there firmly as a rock until he fell dead in a no - man’s land.

Like Toba Tek Singh, thousands had lost their lives in a no man’s land whose stories will never be heard.

 The significance of these stories could not be undermined by confining it to the backdrop of partition. Because there lay “ Stark naked emotions” everywhere.

“ Colder than Ice”, the story of Ishwar Singh made me go stoic for a while. Frantic to erase some memory which was gnawing at him, he engrosses himself in a love game with his lover Kalwant Kaur but fails miserably. Why? He was in a “Muslim Mohalla” to kill several in the community and plunder to seek vengeance. He had broken into a house and starts eliminating one by one in the family barring a little girl. The little thing was so beautiful that he could not bring himself to do away with the child until he ravishes her. He carried her on his shoulders until he found a suitable place to commit the task.

“ first I thought I would shuffle her a bit… but then I decided to trump her right away”

“ I threw the trump...but but she was dead…..I had carried a dead body...a heap of cold flesh,”  Ishwar Singh confesses to his lover.
It’s strange that the living could not evoke any kind of emotions in a man but the dead.

I wonder why Kalwant Kaur's hand became colder than ice when she placed her hands on his.

In " Bitter Harvest", Manto evoked the darker side of a man when he is pushed beyond his limits. But does that justify his action? The answer can be only in the negative. A father molests a little girl to take vengeance against the rape committed against his daughter, Sadly, the little girl was in no way connected to his daughter’s murderers’. The partition had literally opened a ‘ pandora box’.

The story named “ A woman for all seasons ” is about a silent manipulative woman. And we can see many of them still living with their heads held high amidst us.

I would like to call  it as  “ The story of a seductress.” Besides, it also reminded me of the poem - La belle Dame Sans Merci ( The beautiful Lady without  Mercy). 

The uniqueness of Toba Tek Singh is that every story stands independently whether it is regarding the backdrop, portrayal of emotions, characters and what not.  Sometimes, you are so enamoured by certain movies and books that you do not want it to end forcing you to put intermittent gaps while watching or reading them. Toba Tek Singh did that to me.

- Shalet Jimmy

Saturday, March 11, 2017

A Few quotes from Agatha Christie's The Mysterious Affair at Styles -

“Instinct is a marvelous thing. It can neither be explained nor ignored.” 

“Sometimes I feel sure he is as mad as a hatter and then, just as he is at his maddest, I find there is a method in his madness.” 

“You gave too much rein to your imagination. Imagination is a good servant and a bad master. The simplest explanation is always the most likely.”

“When you find that people are not telling you the truth---look out!” 

“You know, Emily was a selfish old woman in her way. She was very generous, but she always wanted a return. She never let people forget what she had done for them - and, that way she missed love.” 

“Everything must be taken into account. If the fact will not fit the theory---let the theory go.” 

“Every murderer is probably somebody's old friend.”

“An appreciative listener is always stimulating.” 

“They tried to be too clever---and that was their undoing.”

“I did not deceive you, mon ami. At most, I permitted you to deceive yourself.” 

“Hasting - There are times when it is one's duty to assert oneself.”

Friday, February 24, 2017

The Mysterious Affair at Styles by Agatha Christie

Years ago, an English spinster was found murdered in a hotel called Savoy in Mussoorie, India. The British were ruling the country then. There was little information on whether the murder case was solved. But what was known that this case later provided a backdrop for a writer in Britain to base her first crime novel upon.

The book was rejected six times. But when it eventually saw the light of the day, it made the author an undisputed name in the genre of crime writing and enabled her to produce several other such works which were outsold only by the Bible and Shakespeare.

 The author was none other than Agatha Christie and the book was “ The Mysterious affair at Styles.”
If Madge, Agatha Christie’s elder sister had not challenged her to write a detective fiction, probably, her debut novel “The Mysterious Affair at Styles” would not have happened.
This book introduced the world-famous Belgian detective Hercule Poirot, who had absolute faith in his “ his little grey cells” to millions of her fans across the globe.

Hercule Poirot had just retired from the Belgian Police and was settling down at Styles St Mary. It was Emily Cavendish, the mistress of Style court that lay a mile the other side of Styles, who had helped him to start his life afresh. But to his utter dismay,  Cavendish, who had recently become Emily Inglethorp as she had married Alfred Inglethorp lost her life in her boudoir.

Captain Arthur Hastings, who was later to become the companion of Poirot had been there in Styles as he was invited by his friend John Cavendish, one of the stepsons of Emily Inglethorp. Hastings had appeared in eight other Poirot novels. Being injured at the war front, he was recuperating at Styles and was the narrator of the story.
Though, autocratic in nature Inglethorp had taken care of her stepsons’ - John and Lawrence need and treated them as her own sons. But things started going awry when she married Alfred Inglethorp who was much younger to her. And one fine morning, Emily Cavendish dies miserably in front of her sons, daughter in law Mary Cavendish and Hastings and also Dr. Bauerstein.

If you ask me who is the real villain of the story, I would say Strychnine - a highly toxic, colourless pesticide. Emily Cavendish was poisoned with strychnine. As Poirot had found a partly burnt paper from her boudoir, it became obvious to him that she had written a will and somebody had tried to burn it.

Was she poisoned because of that will?

It’s an indisputable fact that her experience in a hospital dispensary during first world war had helped her to gain immense knowledge of poisons. And she had skillfully used her knowledge in many of her books, especially, in “ The Mysterious Affairs at Styles”

Kathryn Harkup, a British chemist, and author who was in India in 2015 to participate in a crime writer's festival said " Many of Agatha Christie's fans know how she deftly used her knowledge of poison in her works. But what is less known is that her toxic arsenal – comprising over 30 compounds – included many Indian plants."

Christie is well known for her ‘ famous twists’ in the plots. When the reader feels that she/he is almost near the culprit, she twists the entire plot. Remember her famous twist in “ The Murder on the Orient Express’. You can see the streak of that twist in her first book also.
As he says in this book “ I find there’s a method in his madness” after Styles story, I feel that I should also alter my method of reading Christie. I mean I should delve more deeply into her plots and characters.

- Shalet Jimmy

Sunday, February 5, 2017

All Through The Night - Mary Higgins Clark

It was a winter night. Christmas is round the corner and it's the night she decided to abandon her infant, nevertheless to say, with a heavy heart. She was just 18 years old. With no other alternative left, she decided to leave her baby at St.Clement's rectory. She wanted the baby to grow in New York with a lovely family. She loved the place and was wanting to come back once she could stand on her own feet.

Her plan was to leave the baby and then alert the monsignor from a phone booth.

It was the same night Bishop Santory's chalice was stolen. He had planned it but little did he know that he would find a baby along with the chalice in a stroller which he strolled back to his house. When the security alarm rang, he ran and conveniently put his backpack under the foot of a stroller which was kept in the rectory. 

Seven years after, her guilt made Sondra search for her baby but was shattered to know that the St. Clement vicarage never got such a baby. Thus began her search for her baby.

 Alvirah's friend Kate was in deep trouble as she found her deceased sister, Bessie left her house, in her will to a stranger husband and wife who recently, occupied one part of her house. Just two days prior to Bakers' informing her about her sister's will, Monsignor Ferris had informed Kate just the opposite of what the Bakers said - she left her house in the name of her younger sister and Kate was thinking of giving it to two nuns to run a shelter home for poor children. Alvirah found the will brought by Bakers phony. 

How these two puzzles are related, that reader has to find.

I would call this story a “ short and simple mystery” for Christmas. There's no murder and 'whodunnit' but two puzzles which are vaguely connected. But without establishing that faint connection, the whole mystery cannot be solved.

I enjoyed it. What attracts me to Mary Higgins Clark's book is always her language. It's so simple yet powerful to make you feel that you are not walking with the characters but running with them.

My second book of Mary Higgins Clark, this year. 

Monday, January 23, 2017

The legend of Lakshmi Prasad by Twinkle Khanna

Years ago, I was waiting at the Le Meridian hotel, Kochi to interview one of the guests who had come to participate in a conference. All the while, there was a man with nondescript features sitting beside me, giving occasional smiles. Other than smiling back at him, I did not attempt to ask his role in the conference. If I had asked, I would not have missed one of the best stories – the story of the ‘ Sanitary Man’ – Arunachalam Muruganantham . 

It was this feeling of ‘ sheer loss’ that made me go for Twinkle Khanna’s second book, but first work of fiction – The legend of Lakshmi Prasad as one of her stories in the book featured him.

Speaking about the book, the author’s intention was good. The ideas were perfect, but unfortunately, it failed to strike the right chord. To be precise, the tempo of emotions were fluctuating.

 For instance, the first story, after which the book was named talk at length on women empowerment and how a young girl made an entire village stand up for women’s rights. But even after the story ended on a positive note, the reader was left wanting for that single spark of revolution. Though feminism was the all pervading element in the story, sadly it could not be felt.  

With least expectation when you move on to the second one – ‘Salaam, Noni Appa’, there comes a barrage of emotions which could leave you longing for many things. This one was my favourite – a beautiful story of two Ismail sisters straight from the heart. It talks about a woman in her sixties who found love at the fag-end of her life.

When the tempo of your expectation was at its zenith, the author takes us to a dark story - the story of a Malayali woman who did not have a goal of her own. Contrary to the author’s claim  “ Here lies Eliza, she briefly belongs to many, but truly to herself, I think the woman just went with the flow of life. Though belonged to a privileged family, she did not even raise a finger to straighten out the mess, she had made of her life.There exist many people like Elisa. But I am just wondering how her lack of commitment and running away from life could be regarded as finding herself.

The story of the Sanitary man was the longest and last in the list. Sadly to say, there are many areas in the story which made the book a little dragging which was otherwise a light read. Long and short, I felt the stories were short of emotions.

Most of the time, the narration had shifted to a non- fiction mode. The systematic style – intro, content and conclusion squashed the creativity out of them. If the author had not rushed and shifted to a more creative style, all these stories could have been beautiful.

Though intermittently, her streak of humour popped its head in the story, she was trying hard to shackle them. If she had unleashed it, the stories would have left an indelible impact on the readers. ( That's just opinion)for I believe when thinks presented with humour can hit the bull's eye.

But I think I like the book primarily for Noni Appa’s story and also that I did not leave it half – way.