Cut Like Wound by Anita Nair

I’ve always liked Anita Nair’s writings, and this book that has been on my wishlist for a while. I knew I just had to read it when I saw Wanderlustathome rate it highly on Goodreads.

CutLikeWound

A young male prostitute is found murdered and burnt in one of the many alleys in Shivajinagar in Bangalore. The case lands on the desk of Inspector Gowda and his new subordinate, SI Santhosh. Gowda is distracted, with personal issues crowding him. Not the most social person even normally, Santhosh finds him even more grouchy and grumpy than he expected. As they start investigating, they realize the case is more complex than they thought initially, it has all the indications of being a serial murder. The only clue they have is the modus operandi and a solitary pearl earring that they found on one of the victims. They have to use all their investigative skills and intuition to solve the case, while fighting bureaucratic bosses along with clever criminals.

A page turner, it is a wonderful book. I especially like the flavour of Bangalore that comes through so strongly in the book. It was like Bangalore was another character in the book, genteel and sophisticated at times, seedy and shady at others. Anita Nair’s writing reminds me of Elizabeth George’s crime books. Complex crimes, beautifully interwoven snippets of local life, and complex characters, interesting, and different practices, it was a very interesting book to read. I had an inkling of who the murderer might be, and yet the ending was very impressive. A book that I enjoyed till the last page.

Since this book ‘introduced’ Inspector Gowda, I, for one, am looking forward to more of Inspector Gowda thrillers from the author.

I would definitely recommend this book.

Advertisements

The Mango Season by Amulya Malladi

The name caught my attention. Having loved Malladi’s A Breadth of Fresh Air, I was tempted to give this a try.

MangoSeason

Priya Rao had left India 7 years ago as a twenty year old student. For seven years she avoided coming back, and managed to flout most of the strict rules that her mother had handed out, most important of them all – not to marry a foreigner. Well, she’s not married him yet, but she’s engaged to him. And the biggest challenge she faces this holiday is to tell her parents all about Nick, the man in her life.

Returning back to India, Priya realizes that while she has changed a lot over the last few years,things seem to have remained same back home in India. Things she grew up with, suddenly felt alien and strange, although her family, her really extended family seemed to be just the same. The same values, the same power struggles and conflicts, the same beliefs, some of which included very narrow view of Westerners. All of which, of course seems even worse now, now that Priya wants to marry one. How on earth is she supposed to tell them that, when the whole family seems more interested in getting her married to a nice Indian boy? They seem to be ready to do anything to get her married off to a nice Indian Boy.

While her family arranges bride-seeing ceremonies, Priya is at a loss. She feels torn and a traitor to both her family and Nick. She knows she will have to choose between her love and her family, and it’s no easy choice, even though her family gets so annoying at times, even though Nick is just perfect for her. Both are equally part of her. To have to choose is so brutal.

I particularly enjoyed the descriptions of the mango season, the way life in India in the hot, sultry summer was depicted. I could almost feel the sweat, taste the tangy mango pickle that was made, hear the bargains that Priya’s mother stuck up.. and Priya’s embarrassment. It was just great! I love these sort of books, which totally take you to the place they are set. Priya’s dilemma felt real as well. Especially given the family that she came from. Although the story could have been predictable, the manner in which it unfolds is quite nice. And there is a nice little twist at the very end.

A quick, fun read, one that will keep you entertained and asking for more. The ending was a wee bit abrupt, but never mind, I still liked the book, over all.

The Truth About Me: A Hijra Life Story by A. Revathi

I only recently came across this book when Bindu added it to her ‘to-read’ books in Goodreads. Luckily for me, it was available in my library. Normally, most of the really good books aren’t available there- so, I was quite happy. Although I wasn’t sure that the book itself would be something that I would enjoy but I was curious, to be honest.

HijraLifeStory

Hijras have always inspired fear and a bit of apprehension in me since I was a child. For some reason, they always made me uncomfortable, as long as I can remember. This time, after years of being away from India, they invoked the same sense of apprehension if they confronted me on the roads. Most of the time, I would be in an auto, and would just hand over money. This book, I hoped would tell more about their life and the reason why they do what they do.

The book is Revathi’s autobiography. Revathi was born into a working class family in Tamil Nadu. The youngest of three brothers, she was born as Doraisamy. From a very young age, she enjoyed the tasks that were assigned her sister more than her brothers. She longed to be a girl as long back as she remembers. She feels like a woman trapped in a man’s body. All she wanted was to be a woman, to be considered a woman by society. Slowly, getting more and more aware of herself, she meets up with others like her. Her quest to be a woman leads her to a totally different life. A life where she is taunted for her state of being, where she is not accepted by her birth family, and yet she finds a family of her own. She runs away to Delhi in search of a life where she can be herself. All is not rosy there either. She faces trouble and violence of all sorts.

All she wants is to live a life being true to herself, with a little dignity, to be accepted for what she is but that itself seems like a tall order.

The book is a difficult read. It is an honest autobiography which depicts life as a hijra in India. A community that is feared, ridiculed and ill-treated in so many ways. What can a person do when everything seems to be stacked against them. Being considered freaks, unable to gain acceptability in society like the rest of us do, just because they are born in a way that is considered abnormal. It is a peek into lives of our sexual minorities who have struggled so hard to gain acceptance, ill-treated by society, by the law enforcers,shackled by our archaic laws, looked down by their own families, no means of earning a living… Is it a wonder that they have to resort to all sorts of things to keep themselves alive.

Reading this book opened my eyes to things which I knew about only vaguely. The life that they are forced to lead, because of the way our society functions. It just makes me hope that things do change for the better for this community. The life that a lot of them lead is so tragic. It made me feel very helpless.

As I said, it is no easy read. It is sad, tragic and heart-breaking. Having said that it does give an insight to life as a Hijra in India.

PS: Does anyone know how it is for transgenders in other countries?

Intermission by Nirupama Subramanian

intermissionSmita recommended this book on my review of the Author’s first book.

Varun, lives a ordered, boring, not-so-happily married life with his wife Gayatri and teenaged son. While everything looks fine on the surface, there is unhappiness and dissatisfaction simmering under the surface. They are NRIs who have recently recently relocated to Gurgaon. Varun appears to have settled in well, while Gayatri is finding it far more difficult to take to the place and the way of things.

Living in a luxury condominium, they are living an life of luxury, but of unease.In the midst of all this, Varun falls in love with Sweety, a young mother of twins living a dream life of her own. Having recently shifted out of her joint family, Sweety is savouring the joys of nuclear living.

A disturbing as well as quite a possible scenario. The way the story unfolds is quite nicely handled, without making it sleazy or cheap. The frustrations and the challenges that each of them face is nicely brought out. The illict relationship has been handled with sensitivity. And all the characters feel real.

I especially liked the descriptions of life in the luxury condos of Gurgoan – quite relate-able to life in most new parts of urban cities, where sudden development sees luxury and poverty living side by side. Gayatri was the character who appealed the most to me. She was real, she was not perfect, but she was doing the best she could do. I liked the ending as well. It was a realistic ending.

A quick read, a page turner, something which will definitely not bore you.

Arranged Love by Parul A. Mittal

Arraned love

Suhaani is enjoying her independent status in the US and her sexy Indian American boyfriend, when suddenly she loses her job to recession. And she¹s forced to move back to India where her father has selected a boy for her from his guitar class.
Suhaani doesn¹t know how to tell her Internet-savvy dad and Farmville-addict mother that she¹s not interested in an arranged match, especially to an IITian. She decides to dislike the guy.
Except that he’s not too thrilled about her either.
Even when they end up working together,
Suhaani decides she will not fall for this guy.
But before she can turn him down, he rejects her!

It would have made for an interesting story had it been better treated. In this case, the story gets predictable, and the main characters are so inane. Suhaani comes across as someone obsessed with the idea of a ‘love marriage’ and Facebook. Nothing else seems to matter. The whole manner in which she deals with her boyfriend, is just unbelievable. And every character, absolutely every character puns, plays with words, which would have been fun, had it just been one of them, but when every single character does it, it gets a bit much and way too predictable. For a book that was supposed to be romantic fiction, the romance, well, to put it lightly, did not come across as very romantic. It might just be me, though, with a very different idea of romance.

None of the characters seemed well developed, and most if them came across as either silly or shallow.

In my opinion, this would be a book, I would happily give a miss. From the constant Facebook presence, it might have been targetted to appeal to a younger audience, but if you ask me, I am not sure that even a generation that lives their lives on Facebook, might find it all that very appealing.

This is a author requested review.

The Wedding Wallah by Farahad Zama

Another book, I chanced upon by accident. I saw it on the ‘just returned books’ shelf in my library, and I had to have it!

It turned out to be a sequel to another series of books, but it still was easy enough to figure out the previous parts of the story.

Mr Ali runs a successful marriage bureau, while Mrs Ali runs a successful campaign against crows in her back yard. Their niece Pari who lives near them, is a widow, and has just adopted a young boy, Vasu. Mr and Mrs Ali have taken her(and her son) under their wings, while hoping that their son, Rehman would get more responsible.

Everybody is pleasantly surprised when Pari gets a marriage proposal from a very affluent lady for her son Dilawar. Everybody is overjoyed and feels that Pari should accept the proposal, while Pari herself seems extremely unsure. Pari had been working at a call centre and felt independent enough to take care of herself and her son. She also loved her husband, and is not quite sure about marrying again.

There is also Aruna(Mr Ali’s assistant) and her husband Ramanujam’s story interwoven with the story.

It was a very interesting read. I read it almost in one sitting. I loved the way the author has brought out scenes in everyday life. I loved his descriptions of the characters. Mrs Ali, and her neighbours, Mr Ali, Pari – all very real, and believable. Mrs Ali’s new cellphone and the way she handles the phone, is so typical of some of the older people I know. Aruna and her husband make a very cute and loving couple – again quite real, in the small town way they are portrayed. Dilawar’s dilemma – to follow society’s norms or to follow his heart..

The book addresses gay rights issues, the campaign in India to legalize gay relationships, and the kind of issues they face in society today from police harassing them to societal condemnation.

The story also brings to front, the Naxalite movement, as is prevalent in certain parts of India, where landlords have oppressed the poorer sections of society for ages.

The author manages to weave in the different political and social issues really well into the story. A fast paced, interestingly written story. I was a little disappointed with the way the book ended. There was something missing. But that might be because there is more in the series to come. I think I will definitely be picking up his other books.

Zohra by Zeenuth Futehally

March has been a good month for me – books-wise. I have loved all the books I read so far. Most of the time, I review only some of the books I read. This time, however, all the books so far have been review-worthy- which means that I am hard pressed for time. Sigh! But I can’t really complain – have been having so much fun reading them 🙂

Edited to add the book cover. Thanks Smita – I don’t know how I forgot, and did not even realize!

I came across Zohra, when I was searching through books on Amazon. It sounded very interesting, so I placed a request for it at the library.

Zohra was first published in 1950, and remarkably still remains very readable, even after more than 60 years of being written. Set in Hyderabad, when it was still a princely state, with Nawabs and their way of life still intact. Hyderabad has just become part of India, and the turbulent state of affairs of the state(and the country) is reflected in the people living in those times.

Zohra grew up in a Nawabi family, with her sister. Her mother and other women despaired of her interests in studying(mainly Persian poetry) because they feared that educated girls would never settle in domestic life. Although Zohra has hopes and aspirations of her own, she comes to realize that those are futile to hope for, given her background and resigns to her fate. She gets married to Bashir, an England educated young man, who comes to adore her, but fails to understand her.

She lives a normal married life, when her brother-in-law, Hamid returns from England. Despite all the years spent abroad, he seems to be the brother more comfortable on Indian soil. Both brothers clash on several issues like modes of political protest. Hamid, siding with Gandhian methods, while Bashir felt that the violent/aggressive methods would have been more effective. Hamid seems happy in home-spun Indian clothes, while Bashir insisted on wearing suits in sweltering Hyderabad.. In the middle of all this Zohra, trying to balance duty with passion. Married to the brother who loves her, and attracted to the brother who loves and understands her.

Zohra’s life, her sacrifices, and her choices make up the book. A touching story, a tragedy which just had to happen..

The story also gives an insight into the lives of the Nawabs in Hyderabad at that point in time. People who believed that their lifestyles would continue the way it had been for years. Only some like Hamid believed that change is at their doorstep. The book also reflects the conditions, confusions and mindsets of the Indian Muslims who decided that India was their land.

A beautifully written book, that cannot leave the reader untouched. A story that will stay with me for a while. A wonderful period read.

The Death of Mr Love by Indra Sinha

I keep a look out for Indian authors or authors from the Indian subcontinent. I don’t get as many books here in the library, as I would have liked, so I pick up whatever I do chance upon.

The Death of Mr Love is based on a real life incident, the Nanavati murder in the late 1950s. The blurb says.. The reverberations from the notorious Nanavati society murder in 1950s Bombay – the fatal consequence of an affair between an Indian playboy and his married English lover – were so great that the reached the offices of Prime Minister Nehru and irrevocably changed the face of the Indian justice system.

The author weaves a fictional tale using the backdrop of the murder case. Bhalu, in modern day London, meets his childhood friend Phoebe, whose mum, Sybil and Bhalu’s mother, Maya were great friends when they were both growing up in India. Bhalu’s mother had just passed away, and reading through her documents he comes across several documents which puzzles and interests him.

Meeting Phoebe results in more revelations and the two of them travel to India in search of the truth. They believe that there is a second unpunished crime which got hidden in the uproar of the murder case. A crime that destroyed 2 families, and exiled them to far-off England. A crime that still seems to be capable of creating an impact in Bhalu and Phoebe’s lives.

The story spans 5 decades, two countries and a bunch of very interesting characters. It feels to believable, so plausible, and makes you wonder – what if that were in case the fact.. The author also transports you to the places(Ambona, Bombay) with some wonderful descriptions. The story also traces the political situations in India, and how old friendships get changed, modified with time and circumstances.

As for the characters, I felt sorry for Bhalu, while Phoebe just evoked irritation in me. Somehow, despite the life that she had, she as a character, did not evoke much sympathy, probably because she remains quite a mysterious figure till the end. Other characters like Maya, Jula, Katy(Bhalu’s wife) are quite well fleshed out.

Would I recommend it? I certainly would. There are places where the narrative gets a little slow, and you almost want to give up, but all in all, it is an interesting book. I was fascinated by how well fact and fiction were interwoven. An interesting, but bulky book.

Darjeeling by Bharti Kirchner

Another book that I picked up, just by the blurb at the back.

The tale of two sisters. Two sisters who do not get along, who have their own set of insecurities which cloud their relationship. Aloka and Sujata have grown up in Darjeeling, with their father and loving Grandmother Nina. Aloka is the older, confident, accomplished sister who is the centre of attention everywhere. She has numerous suitors buzzing around her, while Sujata, the prickly, younger sister is ignored in the general scheme of things. Aloka falls in love with the tea taster and revolutionary Pranab, and the two get engaged. In the meanwhile, Pranab meets Sujata and they fall in love with each other. Pranab ends up marrying Aloka(let me not divulge too many details). They emigrate to New York, and have finally get divorced. Pranab is keen to re-kindle his romance with Sujata, who has been living in Victoria, Canada.

Grandmother Nina, invites all of them to come and celebrate her birthday with her in Darjeeling to try and get them to reconcile. I can’t write any more without giving away the whole story. It is an interesting story, but in a lot of places, I felt it was quite cliched. In some places, I found it difficult to understand what motivated the protagonists to behave the way they did.. I mean, some of the choices seem quite inane – at least to me. Pranab’s character especially felt quite lame.

What I did like about the book was the descriptions, and the way she brings out the feel of the places. It transports you to tea plantations of Darjeeling, New York or Victoria. She did make me drool with the food that she describes. I actually feel like making Channer Payesh, just to have a taste of it.

I would give it a 2.5/5. An easy read -but not exactly something I would buy – I would much rather pick it up from the library.

Tiger Hills by Sarita Mandanna

I picked up this book for a lark(like I pick up most books these days). Some of the books I pick up like this end up very disappointing. This one on the other hand, was anything but disappointing.

It was riveting. The story of Devi, a girl born in Coorg in late 1800s. Devi is a wilful child with her mind of her own, unlike other girls at that time. She decides at the age of 10 that she would marry the Tiger Killer, Machu, her best friend Devanna’s cousin. Devanna, on the other hand grows up, desperately in love with Devi, who is completely unaware of his feelings. Devanna is a very intelligent child and is mentored by the local Reverend. He shares a love for Botany with the Reverend, and both of them spend a lot of time together finding specimens in the rich Coorg forests. His dedication towards biology pushes him into a medical school education, which turns the tide for everyone involved.

The way their lives turn out, weaved in with what is happening in Coorg at that time, makes for a fascinating read. The beauty, traditions, and the culture of the place is brought out beautifully by the author. The book transports you to the Coorg that Devi lived in. From the older times when Coorg was untouched by outside influences, to when Eurpoean influences gets the locals to change their names from Kalamma to Kitty, just as Nari Malai gets changed to Tiger Hills.

The story is fast paced, with shocking twists and turns, making us empathize with the characters at so many levels, even when they end up doing things which are not quite right.. A story of love, unrequited and requited, a story of the things people do when consumed by emotions, a story of how normal lives can change in an instant.

A book that gripped me through it. I would not call it a fast read, but a book which refuses to let go, even after you turn the last page.