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Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Now Reading...

When inspiration refused to strike for me to write anything, I went into a crazed book reading mode instead. It feels like a long time since I did that too. Piggy backing on those writers in the guise of reviews :P

It started with Samanth Subramanian's 'Following Fish - Travels around the Indian Coast'. This is Samanth's first book and I hope he will write more. The book merely follows everything to do with fish. The nine pieces stand alone in no particular order. The enthusiastic descriptions of the various fish he samples will definitely bring a smile to your face. However, what makes this book good to read is the way such descriptions are woven into a larger picture. The fish and its eating are the end. Stories of the fishing communities, their history, the beaches, boat building, the sport of fishing and some odd quirks form a larger portion of the book. The narration is engaging and sprinkled with humour. I love the fact that the book is no expert speak. It is just a description of various journeys, bound by the common theme. While Goa, Kolkata and Kerala would be expected stops on such a journey, other spots like Mangalore, Hyderabad, Gujarat etc were a surprise for me. At 160 odd pages, the book stops at the right point. There is a sense of an abrupt end to the book, but how do you really stop when you talk of journeys undertaken?

***

I picked up Santhosh Desai's 'Mother Pious Lady - Making Sense of everyday India' next. I found this gem of a book quite by chance when I had an extra hour to kill at the airport. The cover caught my attention first and then the title. A quick flip through the pages convinced me that I would enjoy the book and I paid up Rs 399 (I hate the Bata pricing model!) This is a collection of short pieces on everyday India - more specifically every day 'middle class' India. The general tone of the book is humorous and fondly nostalgic. The language is almost poetic at times and I loved just reading it for the pleasure of reading something well-written. There is a good mix of larger beliefs and those little mannerisms that make the middle class of this country.

A sample of the topics - our obsession with cricket, larger than life nature of Bollywood, the way we travel, the 'native' place, the almost-worship of the mother, the way we adjust to everything, the arranged marriage funda, the autorickshaw, the political and filmi dynasties, traffic, fanatic games of anthakshari, family, officialdom, our food, language and much more.

A few quotes from the book

"India understands time. It understands the transience of all things, including solutions. It understands that there are no final solutions to problems; at best there is a temporary equilibrium that must eventually get destabilized and give way to a new equilibrium."

"In more than a few ways, Indian Society conspired to make the woman most comfortable in her role as mother. In every other role, she was frequently evaluated, circumscribed and diminished. But as a mother, she faced no censure and no limits..." "The Indian man in particular owes much to the mother. Brought up in an environment where he could do no wrong and where every whim of his was somehow catered to, at least in part, he finds the sticky bonds of maternal love very difficult to extricate himself from." "The mother's role was to turn her little girl into a knowing woman as soon as possible and to keep her son a little boy for the rest of his life."

"The scooter carries with it an aura of safety....It had space to squeeze in a full family, a place to carry vegetables, a dickey to store sundry needs of the family - in short, it seemed safe because it catered to all those stable, worldly things that made a man a 'responsible' person." "The auto is the urban rat: a wily, crafty creature that wriggles its way through the urban sewer."

"At some point in their lives, everyone has heard a Mukesh song in self pity.....when suffering from a imagined heartbreak caused by the imagined infidelity of one's imagined lover..... They were the baubles of expressiveness that adorned us briefly before the business of living our more mundane lives exerted its authority."

"To the Indian mind, the world of knowledge is divided into three broad categories - Science, Commerce and Arts... Science is the undisputed leader, towering above the nondescript commerce and cowering Arts."

The book is huge at 380 pages. My only complaint is that somewhere after the half way point, the book seems to echo the same sentiments again and again. It would have been perfect if it were a lot shorter.

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Having read the first two Percy Jackson books by Rick Riordan, there has been no change in my favorites in the fantasy section. Harry Potter rules, followed very closely by LOTR and the Chronicles of Narnia. Percy Jackson disappoints in the fact that there is not much that has been imagined. The Greek myths are there to pick on and they have been picked on completely, with no attempt at creating any deep real characters. Displacing the old world to the present period has been the author's only task apart from creating the younger hero characters. Even the narration seems faulty - as if the author just created a character and plunked himself in those shoes and began talking. There is not much effort spent in building the background and painting the scenery for the readers. Fantasy is about building a world for the reader to lose himself in - and I found that lacking in these books. Read More......