Book Review: The Love Letter and Other Stories

My review of The Love Letter and Other Stories, written by Buddhadev Bose and translated by Arunava Sinha, is live on The Tales Pensieve.

In short, its a fairly sensitive and poignant  set of short stories, well written and well translated.

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To call it “Playing It My Way” is UNFAIR

Disclaimer: Irrespective of the rest of this post, let me be clear on thing – I am still not open to a debate on Sachin vis-a-vis the other cricketing geniuses. For me, Sachin is “the one”. It is a choice bordering on irrationality, but we are all allowed our vices, right?

His book, though, is another matter.

Playingitmywaybookcover

Playing It My Way is Sachin Tendulkar’s autobiography, written with a little bit of help from Boria Mazumdar.

Blurb from Flipkart (I pre-ordered the book): In this long awaited autobiography, readers will be able to see glimpses into the life of this living legend; and of the man behind the sport, the husband, the father and an extraordinary human being– quiet, calm and with a rare humility. This is the story of Sachin Tendulkar, the most celebrated cricketer of all time in his own words.

So, how does it fare? In one word, the book can be described as – UNFAIR. To the fans of the man, to all those who follow cricket, to all those who read autobiographies, and to all those who pay to buy books, and maybe even to those who downloaded copies from torrent sites as well.

The book was launched with a lot of hoo-ha and fanfare. I think the fanfare was better than the book itself. It was like the Yashraj films’ trailer thing. The gag that’re in the trailer are all that are there.  The launch had a session where VVS, Rahul Dravid, Saurav Ganguly and Sachin shared the stage. And Harsha moderated. That was king. More interesting stories came out of the closet that day than an entire hardcover book.

To be fair (to the extent possible), when you’ve lived a life that’s scrutinized at every possible turn, there is precious little left to reveal. Yet, the man has been an immensely private person. And he finally writes a book titled – Paying It My Way. What’s the least you would expect-  honesty? An explanation of the many unexplained things? Things you’d expect were brushed under the carpet while saying – we had a tough day in the field…

By all possible benchmarks of a biography – the book is BAD! And that’s an understatement. Its boring, it lacks any new insight into a person who’s the biggest sporting legend/ brand that this country has seen, and rather than being an autobiography OR a biography, it’s a collection of post-match interviews. “The boys played well”, “The ball was doing a bit”, “My goal was to stay on the crease as long as I could”, “The team supported me”, “the management has been supporting the team”, kinds. It adds nothing to your understanding of what made the man the legend.

If I think about his career, as someone who has no desire to get into the stats surrounding his career, I would still want a such titled book to  get into a few spheres–

  • The kind of monstrous desire to play cricket and be successful in it that made him play two matches a day with hours of practice around it
  • His relationship with Marc Mascarenhas, his brother, his family, etc. – the people he thanked so well in the speech that made a nation cry
  • The momentousness of the first match. The match that actually stood out in his lifetime. Was there one? Ever? Anything?
  • The mental and physical preparation that went into some of the big matches, like world cup final or Sharjah.
  • The Chennai test, and some such disappointments
  • His captaincy years
  • A little more about the monkeygate incident.

 

I can go on and on and on. But the book has nothing to offer.

And that’s a huge disservice to the people who’ve been waiting for the book. What was the point of the autobiography anyway? I might as well have clicked a few hyperlinks on Cricinfo. The book is an opportunity wasted.  And that’s why I think the book is unfair. Grossly unfair.

There are times I am glad that there aren’t too many times Sachin has given hour long interviews. His aura would have diminished. For now, let me go and watch some of his innings on youtube.

Book Review: The Other Side by Faraz Kazi and Vivek Bannerjee

<I was sent a copy of the book by the authors for an honest review. Blimey! Honesty? In this age and time?>

The other side

I hardly ever read horror, macabre, spooky and such books. I haven’t really read a lot of Stephen King, and/or his imitators. Nor, GreatBong’s The Mine. So, when Faraz requested me to review his book, I gave him as much of a disclaimer.  That being said, the merit of a book is in its ability to retain you while its unfinished, and stay with you once its over. So, I picked it up.

 

I got down to reading the book one fine afternoon, and thankfully, rather than being a long gut twisting novel, TOS is a compendium of shorter stories. Expectedly enough, it has (unlucky) thirteen stories. The stories range from spooky to macabre, but mostly dealing with the kind of urban legends, old wives’ tales, etc. that we have most likely heard growing up. Don’t go near that well because it’s cursed, or there is an old lady in white sari that comes by the graveyard every night and takes away little children that cry too much. I managed to finish the book in two settings, which is testimony to the book being able to retain me.

 

The prologue of the book starts with a casual chat between Vivek and Faraz as they start telling each other some spooky stories from their respective childhood. The genesis of the novel, it would seem.

 

The book is an easy read, and is hardly the kind of gruesome that I was expecting when I picked it up. Its audience seems to be decidedly on the younger side. But then, the authors are young too! And the narrative style as well.

 

Except for a story or two, it plays on one of two things – either a twist in the tale spookiness, or a tale of confrontation with the other side (the undead dead). The narratives are simple. The stories always seem familiar but have a measure of newness. Interestingly, recently, there was a link floating around on Facebook and other soial networks that captured really short two line horror stories, and many of them were mind bogglingly brilliant. As you read the book, I couldn’t help but think that many of these stories could have been condensed to give a more brutal and chilling effect.

 

For instance, the story about the girl in the village (Unfulfilled Desires) drags. And so does the story about the little girl by the banyan tree (Possession). However, some of the other stories are well edited and leave you either wondering or smiling at the end. In fact the first half of the book comes across as better edited than the second half. “The Fateful Night”, “The Long Weekend”, “The Mark Of The Beast”, etc. are enjoyable, while the “Dream Girl’ was disappointing.

 

The biggest success of the book is the variety of spook that is delivered. The stories are not carved off a single mould, and are not of a single flavour. The failure of the book – the inconsisteny of the experience. After the first couple of stories one comes to expect a twist in the tale format, but many of the remaining tales are extremely linearly narrated, and hence the horror is never really delivered.

 

At the same time, one must acknowledge that the genre by itself is a less explored one in the Indian English literary scene, and Vivek and Faraz have done a good job bringing together a bouquet of these quintessentially Indian tales, full of bhatakti aatmas, tantriks, and bhootiya havelis.

 

If you enjoy watching the horror films, give it a read. It may seem juvenile at times, but is an enjoyable read.

 

Book Review: The Kill List by Fredrick Forsyth

TKL

“In Virginia, there is an agency bearing the bland name of Technical Operations Support Activity, or TOSA. Its one mission is to track, find, and kill those so dangerous to the United States that they are on a short document known as the Kill List.”

 

For years, Fredrick Forsyth has been synonymous with “The Day Of Jackal” for me. It is somewhat unfair on an author when he has a long list coming after his best work, because nothing really ever matches up to the earlier one. So, I will try to be fair, and do away with any comparison.

 So, standalone, where does The Kill List stand? Well, I found it to be a middle of the road book. Offers enough for you to finish it off in a smooth read. Doesn’t offer enough for you to stay with it for long once you are done.

The book is set around a mysterious islamic preacher whose inflammatory sermons in the post 9-11 world are turning individuals into fanatic and killers. With more than 10 attacks across US and UK, an ex-armed forces agent, now known as The Tracker, working with TOSA, is on the chase, which becomes a little too personal, when one of the assassins kills his father. The hunt is on. The methods not strictly legal.

The book jumps between Pakistan, Afghanistan, UK, Somalia, Sweden, US and a few other places, perfectly aided by cutting edge spy tech, some chance coincidences involving Somalian pirates, and a level of juvenile cyber infiltration usually not expected from Forsyth, to get to the man, and do the clean up job. All this – To kill The preacher, the one with amber eyes.

The core hunt of the book, in Forsyth style, is about less than half of the book. The rest of it, expectedly, is spent on detailing detailing the incidents, and building the character of the Tracker. After a while, going through these attacks becomes mundane and boring. Someone is killed, and the killer’s apartment or laptop has sermons by a mysterious preacher whose face is not revealed. The real motives and inspiration for the preacher never really come out. Nor does the reason for his influence. Not a lot of ink spent on the characterization of the fanatics. What is done well is a detailing of the Tracker, the man on the job.

 

There isn’t any new flavor to this story. There is an attempt to ride on the Operation Geronimo that took out bin laden, with explanations given around why similar tactics could not be deployed, and the difference in the modus operandi of this new guy. The book remains a very basic well written book about the hunt for a criminal. Good guy, bad guy and a very smart good guy using cutting edge infrastructure to nab a very smart bad guy. Except that you hardly see the genius of the evil mastermind. Its over simplified. In the end, for most part, it is an exploit for young Ariel, the hacker whiz kid, making the entire intelligence apparatus look like ponies.

 

Forsyth effortlessly blends the narrative with his style of detailing each and every scene. So much so, that it seems ready to be a movie’s screenplay, and I would not be surprised if its picked by some Director with a limited imagination. The high point of the book is the effortless ease with which you can finish off the book.

 

The Kill List is something that you should pick for a long flight. Finish it, and leave it in the craft for the next traveller. Its not worth hanging on to it, or increasing your shoulder bag’s weight for.

Book Review: City Adrift – A Short Biography of Bombay by Naresh Fernandes

I take my words back. When I referred to the book earlier, I had mentioned that it was a dry read. I take it back.

CA1Summary: Go read it.

Back in the early 90s, when I was a school-kid in Ranchi, I was fascinated by some of these guys who’d know fairly great details about the girls they had a crush on. They’d know the typical schedule they keep, their walk and talk times, their teachers, friends and foes, where they lived, where they ate, their parents’ history, blah blah blah. How? That’s the question I always struggled with. What I knew for sure is that their crush was supported by a huge volume of research painfully collected and organized over days and weeks and months of following the girl everywhere. On a cycle. On two feet. On a scooter. In the morning. Or the evening. Effort. Love. Dedication. Single Minded Focus. Oh… and there was heartbreak too!

City Adrift gives you a feeling that Naresh loves “Bombay”. He still doesn’t like the city being called Mumbai.

Over the years, I have had several fascinating conversations about the city of Mumbai/ Bombay with several people, most of whom I believe knew a lot more about this city than me. The landmarks, the emotions, the stories behind the daily places, and what-nots. And like most great cities’ history, Mumbai’s history is fascinating. And most of these conversations often become a rant about how bad things have become, and how the city is doomed. We, the all knowing, take prophetic stands, based on all the wisdom those conversations bestow upon us.

Alas, I knew not much.

As you flip through pages, the first few pages worry you. It seems like Naresh is building up on a rant about a depressingly true facet of the modern Mumbai– the real estate prices and the emerging “townships”. However, the deftness with which it starts unfolding layers after layers of the city’s evolution is remarkable.

Naresh takes you through the key moments in the coming together of the seven islands that form Bombay, the reclamation of land that’s still not complete, the cultural and ethnic evolution, the insiders and the outsiders, the haves and the have nots, the current and the forgotten, and the now and the future – with stories and anecdotes that only someone who’s done extensive research on the subject can provide. It manages to avoid the possibility of the book becoming a long rant about the current state of affairs. At the same time, it never gets stuck so deep in a piece of history which has become irrelevant that it remains of interest only for people who love history. The book is surprisingly contemporary in its coverage. One of the fun references in the book – the average speed of cars in Mumbai often is less than 10kph, which is about half the speed of the winner of the annual marathon in the city. And yeah – all the digs on the real estate adverts are fun.

As he navigates from the then to the now, you understand better what he means by the city being adrift – a tiny goal-less, direction-less, vision-less, rudder-less speck in an ocean of humanity – and a terrible heartache is all that you are left with. Like the cliche goes – beautiful girls marry dumb jokers. Mumbai has had her share of administrators and politicians.

Pick it. Read it. Enjoy it. Great investment if you want to understand the uniqueness of this city… And the uniqueness of its challenges.

Book Review: Amar Akbar Anthony by Siddharth Bhatia

A few years back, Harper COllins India commissioned a Film Series, the first few of which included Jaane  Bhi Do Yaaron, Deewar, etc. These books were envisaged to be a throwback to some of the absolute cult movies of Bollywood from the yesteryears – movies that command a huge fan base, had some expected or unexpected things going in their favor, and a lot of interesting back-stories.

Somewhere, I feel the inspiration for this series must have been Anupama Chopra’s Sholay, a fantastic book that goes behind the making of Sholay and is a delightful read. The book from HC’s Film Series that stays closest to that exercise is Jai Arjun’s Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron.

I picked Amar Akbar Anthony in the hope of killing a couple of hours in a mall, as I waited for a movie show to start. Having read a few pages, I knew that this one doesn’t fit my expectations.

To set the record straight, the expectation I have from this series are – a lot of history, dollops of behind the scenes, a lot of trivia, and the process of making this film, which, by design or by accident, ended up becoming such a craze.

The book starts off well with a few nuggets and anecdotes, some soundbytes from those associated with the film, and some stories. However, it does two things which make it a rather boring read less than halfway through the reading – a) it starts dissecting the social construct around the times the movie was made, and gets into a critique of Manji’s movie making, and b) it wastes a lot of real estate by either repeating the same things over and over again (secular undertones of the movie, for instance), or by narrating scenes from the movie (the entire movie is narrated, and then some scenes are talked about over and over again – like the meeting between Vinood Khanna and Pran, or the mirror scene). I always thought the audience of this book is not someone who has not even seen the movie or has no idea about it, but rather one who is in love with it, and just can’t get enough of it.

After a while, I could start skimming paragraphs after paragraphs because there was hardly anything new. Worse still, it isn’t a heavy book. It almost feels like that research worth two chapters has been extended to fill a book by giving overemphasis to the author’s opinions on Manmohan Desai and his brand of film-making. The book is near pedantic, and seems severely out of water when the author is dissecting a movie and a director who’s absolute control on Box Office was undisputed, and who could be credited with a major part of the cult of Amitabh Bachchan. As Siddharth right points out, AAA was the turning point of Bachchan’s stardom, as it helped him move away from his angry-young-man image. 

The one place where the book deserves its due is in its understanding of Kader Khan’s contribution to the movie as a dialogue writer. Also, some of the incidents, like the filming of the mirror scene in Desai’s absence, or “I am not Satyajt Ray”, do help you recover some of the investment!

However, in summary, I would not recommended this book, as it fails to deliver the promise of the series.

Book Review – The Test of My Life – From Cricket to Cancer and Back

the-test-of-my-life-from-cricket-to-cancer-and-back-hardcover-Have you ever started your day with an abrupt cough and vomiting attack? Imagine a tooth pain, can you? How does the drudgery of going to the office or college or school feel like on that day? Are you able to focus? Now multiply that discomfort several times over. And then, imagine trying to focus hard enough to win a world cup. And be the player of the tournament. Fathom the magnitude? That’s what Yuvraj did in 2012, as he overcame major personal odds to win the tournament. Yuvi pours out his heart in this chronicle of his fight against Cancer. Abruptly at times, incoherent at times, but with his heart in the right place most of the times.

This book is not exactly an inspirational book, like most such books are expected to be. It’s just a heartfelt chronicle. It starts with his denial of the disease, and ends with his eventually successful treatment of it. It is not a tale of heroism. It is not a glorification of how this victory was achieved. And thankfully, it gives credit where its due. The people around Yuvi who helped him wade through this journey. The resources he had at his disposal. And probably, most importantly, his mother.

The book was kind of personal to me. Over the last couple of years, we have gone through a similar journey, where sometimes the very act of living gets discounted by the fight for survival. Moving from a test to another, one opinion to another, one chemotherapy session to another. You know that you don’t have an option but to fight, but it becomes difficult every now and then. Somewhere when I was reading through the book, the book was an insight into how my dad might have felt over these months. We do not have the kind of resources that Yuvi might have had at his disposal, but I am sure the fight of mind over body does not become easier just because you have the best doctors looking at you. So, for that, I am glad that I read this book.

The book does not carry much of a literary value. Its language is unpolished, and fairly inconsistent. The timelines are fuzzy, and the editors have done a rushed job on the book. I would say that it’s a purely commercial act, and that ends up discounting Yuvi’s ordeal a fair bit. But thankfully, somewhat like Rafa’s sectional autobiography, the book has a very honest sound to it, and that’s what makes it an OK read. A somewhat more interesting story that runs parallel throughout is Yuvi’s relationship with his father. It makes you wonder if it was even a remotely healthy one or not. And how did such an unhealthy relationship become the foundation of such a promising sportsperson.

At this juncture, it’s difficult to say whether Yuvi will ever be a permanent fixture of the Indian Test team, but it suffices to say that several years back, when he opened the gates to the grand entrance, he almost blew them open. His talent is unquestionable, his work ethics has often been questioned, and his achievements do not stand true to his potential. Yet.

I think the true segment for this book is cricket lovers, and not people who are looking for an inspirational tale of fight-back. Someone who has no relation with the game may not even appreciate it. Not for cancer survivors really, because Lance Armstrong’s book is a better one for that. And I don’t enjoy the sports called cycling much.

And lastly, Dear Yuvi, you should not have used the book for such a heavy parading of your twitter presence and your charitable foundation. Seemed like an overdose by the end of it.

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