Thursday, November 09, 2006

Book reviews

After a hiatus from the literary world, I have hit back with a vengeance...devouring paperbacks and hardbacks alike, with all the zest of a possessed bibliophile. I have read quite a bit over the last month and briefly review here, three of the most readable titles I've leafed through:

1. Calcutta - A city remembered by Jug Suraiya

Quite possibly one of the few cities to have so many books dedicated to it. A hopelessly biased selection, I chose this book because it was made out to be a collection of essays about the sights and sounds of Calcutta, and not a prolonged and detailed history of the city. And i wasn't disappointed. The book is a poignant look at the images one naturally associates with the city...Rajiv Gandhi's 'dying city', Mother Teresa's home, the Howrah Bridge, the rickshaw puller, the football, the cultural melting pot, the 'Bengali' and the famous 'adda' sessions. The city evokes such strong and diverse feelings, both emotionally and culturally, that everyone has their own Calcutta and the author has his, and my, isn't it just fantastic. Vivid, funny and insightful, the book is a series of essays on the stereotypes associated with the city. He takes a look into the city's glorious past, its British heritage, its famous gentleman's club culture and its lost opulence and heads onwards in time into the turbulent 60s and 70s and ends with a note on its eventual decline and current resurgence. And at 130 pages, it leaves you thoroughly satisfied and yearning for more.

Extract - "In many ways, Calcutta - or at least, the Calcutta I knew - found an apt metaphor in a derelict, tuneless piano in my aunt's attic: once grand and imposing, but now consigned to cobwebs and memories; difficult to accommodate in any practical scheme of things, yet defiantly enduring; pathetic to some, poignant to others, sufficient to itself. "

2. From Balham to Bollywood by Chris England

A book that marries 2 of my keenest interests, cricket and Bollywood. Also a fun light read, this book is part travelogue, part cricket tour and part Bollywood movie. Chris England was chosen to play the role of Yardley, the fearsome Larwood-esque fast bowler from the British army team who lose to bunch of rag tag village cricketers in Champaran in a Bollywood movie. Yes, Lagaan. The book takes us on his journey into India, experiences with both Indian film making, the star system and the cricket. This laugh a page marathon will keep you guffawing right till the end. A great companion on a flight or a train journey.

Extract - " Within about fifteen minutes of Mela, however, 1 was utterly at sea. Aamir and his mate were involved in a fantastic fight scene, and then we cut away to a musical number. In a Hollywood musical the songs by and large seem to grow out of the story. Characters burst into song, which is not a particularly realistic thing to have happen, but the song takes place in the same location as the surrounding story, and pushes the plot along, or illuminates a character's emotional state in some way. In this, though, we were wrenched from a countryside scene on to a huge theatrical stage, where the characters were suddenly all clad in black leather, and surrounded by neon lights and a bewildering number of dancers. It was as though the Young Generation, the Younger Generation, the Second Generation, the Nigel Lythgoe dancers, the Jeff Thacker dancers, Pan's People, Legs 'n' Co, Hot Gossip, the lads from Michael Jackson's Thriller video and the Kids from Fame had got together to form some kind of almighty synchronised pelvisthrusting supergroup. They did their funky thing, and then it was back to the plot, and a bit of comic relief."

3. A bowl of steaming rice or a mere ghost story - Sunil Gangopadhyay

One of the finest collection of short stories I have read in a while from any Indian author. While this collection is a translation of the author's Bengali works, it does to a degree manage to hold its own in the English language. 15 stories, set both in the villages and in the city, present the reader with the opportunity to look into the the lives of ordinary people, living ordinary lives and facing ordinary problems. The author seems more comfortable with rural life and the stories set in the villages are the better ones, dealing with issues like decadence, hunger, superstition and fear(The goings on at Keshtopur). The title story, is by far the best and the most intricate. However, the stories dealing with city life are not far behind, and tend to delve into subjects like alienation, competition, morality(For acertain woman, The meaning of Bijon's life) and personal loss. Each story highlights some facet of daily life we have certainly encountered and or some emotional upheaval we have definitely been through. A book written from the heart, this is my first brush with Sunil Gangopadhyay and it has made sure that it will not be my last.

No extract available.



Nikheel Shaligram said...

Your review made me to look for these books in Bazar at the earliest.
Nikheel Shaligram

Cogito said...

I am not a big fan of Jug Suraiya and I hope the book is better than his dreadful TOI column.

The second one seems interesting.