The Reading List

The bed side has 5 books right now –


City Adrift (hardcover) by Naresh Fernandes–
I am halfway through the book, and it has been a dry but intriguing narrative about Mumbai, its past, its cultural evolution, and its people. I am learning a lot of things about the city that I have been a part of for the last seven years. For the content, the narrative could have been a little more fluid. But I am not exactly complaining.

Amar Akbar Anthony by Siddharth Bhatia

Harper Collins had started this series of books on some of the cult movies of Bollywood. They were supposed to be a behind the scenes insight on how those movies happened to be. Jai Arjun Singh’s Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron is probably the best of the lot. Deewar, probably the worst. AAA, so far, has been a disappointment, with a little over a chapter of a thin book wasted on telling us the story. Damn it, you’ve picked a cult movie, and the person interested in the behind-the-scenes is someone who already knows the story. Get it?

Mirza Ghalib by Gulzar (Hindi) 

For those who have seen the TV series many a times, the books is a parallel running compendium. For those who have not, and enjoy good old fashioned storytelling (albeit in Urdu heavy Hindustani), there is a lot of Mirza in this beautiful book.

The Kill List by Fredrick Forsyth

Starts off in the usual FF way. The narrative and context setting is going on. The intrigue is setting in. The context is a mysterious preacher who has a confounding effect on individuals turning them into murderous fanatics, before and after 9/11. I will come back with a more detailed review later on.


The Casual Vacancy – by J K Rowling

This one’s going to be a difficult one to finish. I am halfway through, but everytime I drop the book, going back to it is a challenge.


I recently finished reading Siddharth Tripathi’s The Virgins. Detailed reviews is pending, but for small-town-desis, its an extremely relatable book. The big positive – the easy narrative style. The big negative – the effort that has gone into developing the characters. However, works perfectly, if you want to pick something for an easy flight read or a quick weekend read.


What are you reading?

IQR 2013 – The Reading Challenge

I have decided to sign up for the IQR reading challenge. Through blogadda, booklovers, etc. I have been getting access to some Indian authors’ work, which I might have skipped earlier. Despite my initial complaints, the quality and quantity are both improving with each passing day.

So, the target’s going to be,…. well.. I guess about 12 books by Indian authors this year. If I do more, good for the writers 😉

Changing redundancies…

We live in a world where redundancies are far too many and far too quick.

Last night, I was at the Mumbai airport, ready to catch a flight to New York, and I was reminded of my first trip to US back in 2004. Back then, I had taken a flight from Delhi. I did not have an iPOD then, I did have a cellphone which I used fairly sparingly. I  had borrowed a Discman from Moron with a few MP3 CDs adding to the weight of my bag.

Back then, people used to reach the airport 3 hours before the flight departure and there used to be chaos reigning everywhere. Now, even 2 hours gives you a 30-45 minute wait at the airport.

Anyway, back then, I had no idea how to kill my time, because Dad had ensured that I don’t have to go through the usual immigration queues. I was on the other side in about 15 minutes flat, and I was left with about 2 hours to kill.

Back then, I spent 2 hours just looking at people around me. I tried reading a book. I was a voracious reader back then. But my idea of enjoying a book is not sitting in a large hall where every minute someone is making an announcement about some flight leaving, and some boarding happening, and someone having lost his mobile phone. Back then, there weren’t too many people listening to pods or talking to girlfriends. In fact, those who hogged that solitary free phone (for local calls) talking to their girlfriends or their entire clan (yeah, the time required for both might actually be the same) invited hateful glances from those waiting in the queue. Back then, there were a lot of people like me. Looking around at faces. Eager to strike a conversation. Back then, there were laptops, but wi-fi was not the in-thing. Back then, Air India had television screens dropping from the plane ceiling showing movies that Indians and foreigners took turns at not being able to understand. People with nice CD players were given envious looks. People carried 2-3 books. And a whole lot of people looked bored. Dead bored.

Last night, I just noticed that things were different. People had cellphone, IPods, PSPs, and laptops with wi-fi connections keeping them busy. But these are gadgets that kept them busy while they were at the airport. Once you are inside the flight, the interactive TV takes over. There are 20-odd movies and several TV serials and music videos to choose from. Suddenly, the pod becomes redundant. The laptop is not needed unless you have some work that needs attention. Discman is history. Every seat has its own console. You can play some games too. These days, there are less people looking bored. Even on flights that keep you meaninglessly engaged for 16 hours at a go.  There are television screens with beaming newsreaders, several coffee and snack joints. There is free internet from Airtel for wifi enabled laptops. There aer sophisticated blackberries that people use to check their emails. There are English speaking Indians at the airport, a greater queue at the duty free, and a different kind of chaos. 80% of the young travelers have some variant of an iPod.

However, everything has a short-lived utility. Even relationships.

Roundup…. No Title

Haven’t been blogging for a while, as the seasonal lethargy takes over. I can’t really blame it on anything else. Anyway, just a roundup of things/people/songs of note –

1. Television – I am in love with the 2 singing competitions on telly these days, Zee Saregamapa 2007 Challenge – Sangeet ka Pratham Vishwayud and Amul Star Voice of India. SVOI is going through a dramatic phase with Gajendra Chauhan ( the pioneer of such singing talent hunt shows) getting confused with his self created frankenstein. However, the singers to watch out for are Toshi Sabri (brought back into SVOI by popular demand, after being ejected on the basis of public voting), Harshit (SVOI), Amaanat Ali (SRGMP, an amazing voice from Pakistan) and Raja Hassan(SRGMP). Raja has the rusticness and purity in his voice, Toshi is probably the best trained and a sufi-genre singer. Harshit will make an awesome playback singer while Amanat probably is the most versatile of the lot, and will surely make a great ghazal singer if given a chance. His rendition of “Tujhse Naaraz Nahi Zindagi” yesterday (6th Oct) was plain simple awesome. The idea behind this long para on these people is to remind you guys that for every Dhoni who came out of Jharkhand, there are several who join Tata Steel on a small stipend! Please support, encourage and look out for these raw talents in the years to come. You can see the videos online here – SRGMP, SVOI

2. Music – 1. Main Agar Kahoon (Om Shanti Om) – beautiful romantic song with a very simple melody and another proof of how good Sonu Nigam is. Especially, when it comes to romantic songs, there are few who are as good. His voice has a certain yearning that others don’t
b. Yoon Shabnami from Saawariya  sung by Parthiv Gohil. A lot of you won’t even know who Parthiv Gohil is. Parthiv is the lost find of 1998 Saregama MegaFinal (youtube videos) (the year Sonu was still hosting the show,  Sanjeevani – another finalist, got a few movies as playback singers (such as Kareeb), and there were some truly amazing singers like Mohd. Vakil, Bela, Mukund and Sudeshna). An year or two after 1998 Shreya Ghoshal became the winner of Saregama. Anyway, Paarthiv had a very strong classical learning background and his rendition of songs like Ketak Gulab Juhi, and Dhanyabhaag Seva ka Awsar Paaya back in 1998 were wonderful. So, Bhansali has given Parthiv a break, along with Monty (the music director, who played some part in the background score of Devdas)
c. Songs from Manorama – 6 feet under.  From a collection of 4 songs (excluding remixes and versions), 3 belong to the category of very good to excellent. Woh Bheege Pal, Dhundhla jo sama bandha, Tere Sawalon Ke.. Try them out.

3. Movie – Johnny Gaddar is definitely my pick from bollywood. Bourne Ultimatum would be the hollywood pick. Johnny G is a wonderful movie which takes you back to the 70s thrillers where things just kept happening all through the movie. Director’s tribute to Vijay Anand and James Hadley Chase is visible throughout the movie. The movie could have been shortened by 15 minutes or so. But, but… its a wonderful movie to see on a weekend.

4. Books – Reading “Of Love and Other Demons” by Gabriel Garcia Marquez right now. Seems good so far, while being standard Marquez narration. Will update later.

However, just in case you got a feeling that this is what is keeping me busy.. Naah!  How many of you out there have lived out of a suitcase to get a house renovated. Working your butt off five days a week to reach home on a weekend (travelling usually in the middle of night both ways) to deal with tiles, cement, paints, designs and woodwork! Ugh.. its not easy!

Btw.. quick emotional outburst – Raikonnen has taken the pole. Hamilton has to wait. Vettel seems a driver to keep an eye on. The last couple of races are going to be amazingly interesting! 😀

Book Review: The Golem’s Eye

I had posted the review of The Amulet of Samarkand quite some time back with a promise to finish the remaining two books of the The Bartimaeus Trilogy and come back with their reviews.

So, I did finish of the other two books – The Golem’s Eye and Ptolemy’s Gates over the last couple of weeks. Would I recommend? Yes. But read the complete trilogy. If you have to read just one, stop at AoS, even though PG is the best. But a lot of things in PG won’t make perfect sense unless you have read the previous two books!

Let me review the second book, The Golem’s Eye first. And then, I will start reviewing PG.

Review : TGE

Golem’s Eye is probably the worst book of the trilogy, despite being far from getting classified as a bad book. The problem with TGE is that it gives you the feeling of being a filler. Something like the several filler episodes of Naruto while Sasuke is growing in strength at Orochimaru’s castle, and Naruto is growing in Konoha. To show the growth, you need to show something happening at Konoha which is helping all the Ninjas grow.



Plot (Skip this if you are planning to read the book – Doesn’t contain spoilers, but what the heck!)

Back to TGE, the book starts off a few years after book 1, Nathaniel/John Mandrake is a prominent person in the Government’s scheme of things. However, his status and safety is under threat, as a Golem is unleashed on the city of London, by God knows who! Nathaniel, under uberpressure from all angles, turn backs to the Djinn he had thought of not summoning again, and who continues to be his best bet, Bartimaeus. Bartimaeus is full of his wise quips and antics as the two set out to solve the dual problems of Resistance & Golem that the city of London is grappling with.

Kitty, the cursory encounter with whom had left a deep imprint on both Nathaniel and Bartimaeus, makes a strong comeback as a Resistance member with an ideological/honest side. The resistance rises, gets crushed, and Kitty along with a couple of other people survives to set the stage for book 3 – PG.

The conspiratorial angle of magicians, power leading to corruption, and an innate honesty saving the day are still the main themes of the book. The allegories to modern day and historical politics/world are fairly visible. I am surprise how books like these find their way in the children’s section of bookstores. The hidden layers after layers of satire and metaphors is not something that I expect children to understand. Having said that, I think the story in itself is quite a generous dose of fantasy for children to enjoy!


My views

Where the book suffers is the shallowness of the conspiracy which does not get matched with the thickness of the book. The book could have been finished off in half the number of pages. It becomes a drag at times with all the details around things that sound better when narrated at a frantic pace. For instance, the scene at Gladstone’s tomb should definitely have been shortened, given the surge of emotions that every character would have been going through.

Good things about the book –

  1. Bridges the gap between AoS and PG nicely.
  2. The story has elements of fantasy which are nice (Golem, as a concept is quite intriguing)
  3. Nathaniel finally moves on from being the hero to the dark guy (for a big part of the novel).

Bad Things about the book –

  1. The pace
  2. There aren’t as many sub-plots in the story to wrote a 300 page book
  3. Could’ve explored Kitty’s character a little better
  4. The book has chapters narrated from the eyes of Kitty, Bartimaeus and Nathaniel. There can be chapters narrated from the evil guys’ eyes as well!
  5. While the book is titled the Golem’s Eye, Golem (I found Golem to be a very exciting concept) isn’t given a good amount of importance in a book which is more about the war between Magicians and Resistance

Back to my rating mechanism (mentioned in this post), the book holds true to 2 of the 4 parameters – attention to detail, loyalty to genre, and fails to deliver the ultimate punch on two of them – pace and content. I won’t go to the extent of saying it failed on the content. It’s the right content, but not sufficient!

Overall – Read the trilogy. It is very very gripping!

Book Review: Amulet of Samarkand

Its by a stroke of luck that I chanced upon the book (well, you can’t chance upon something good just like that, unless luck is on your side!)

It’s a good book for a weekend read. First of a three book series, known as “The Bartimaeus Trilogy“, its a book that you can pick up, and keep running with it unless you’re done with it. The pace of the book is so good that you will anyways end up running with it.

A fantasy novel set in London, the book operates in a world which is controlled by magicians that control djinns, afrits and imps, and their incantations, summons, curses are the source of their power. In this world, where the control of power is so important and malicious that this power, through an explicit rule, is not transferred through generations. It is transferred to someone outside the family whose previous identity is erased before he/she is molded into becoming a magician. In such a world, Nathaniel, adopted by a weak magician in the Ministry of Internal Affairs, Arthur Underwood, as his apprentice, summons Bartimaeus, to avenge the insult handed out to him by Simon Lovelace. But the whole plan unravels itself as he finds himself getting deeper into a very dangerous game against a very formidable foe. Let me not spoil it all by telling you the story here.

Trivia: Surprisingly enough, the Djinn in this novel, Bartimaeus, derives his name from a biblical character of the same name. However, that Bartimaeus was a blind beggar healed by Jesus Christ, and he later became a follower of Christ.

The book can be read for its imaginative storytelling, extremely fast pace, simple characters (the author does not bother with too many sub-levels of characterizations), true to its genre, and his away from the realms of everyday reality. Yes, it confirms to my check list of what defines a good book.

But I would qualify the simple characterization bit. It holds, unless you start thinking about the book at the third or the fifth plane, as Bartimaeus would have said.

The book can be seen drawing a lot of parallels with modern world, where the commoners are being controlled by magicians (wicked politicians who can’t even be true to their master, and change loyalties at the drop of a hat), who know how to control the djinns and afrits (the powerful governmental organizations that can but never fight back because of the stronghold of charms – (money?)). Some of the more powerful afrits like Ramuthra can cause a rummage, a disturbance at elemental level (Watergate scandals, et al.). Even the mildly powerful but intelligent djinns like Barthameus (the intelligence departments) can be controlled (Late Indira Gandhi would know that!), but can cause the downfall as well. The Tower of London can crush the imaginativeness and powers of all powerfull djinns. Every powerful magician has own djinns and afrits. Pity, the novel does not talk about the commoner’s life. Though it does talk about a “resistance”.
Additionally, there are a lot of references to history (Ptolemy, Disraeli, etc.), contemporary places (Tower of London, Westminister hall) and so on.

I am sure I will discover more as I read through The Golem’s Eye and Ptolemy’s Gates.

Good work Jonathan Shroud! It’s a good read.

An Idle Weekend: Captured On My Cellphone

A sunset near Bandra Fort

Some hard and spicy realities of life.. Struggle for survival

Some more sunsets at Bandstand (PDA was not fined at that point! and the tides weren’t so high. Check them out today!)

And a play at Prithvi

And some light reading through the night….

Can an idle weekend be better than this?

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