Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The Catcher in the Rye -- J.D.Salinger

Remember when we were teenagers? Yea, that weird and awesome phase all throughout from 13 to 19 years. Embarrassing visions flooding memories now right.  We were the victims of ruthless, unforgiving hormones and bodily changes. We lived on the extremes, when things were either too bad or unbelievably awesome and drama dictated our lives. All would wish to push all those ‘erasable’ memories under the carpet. Who would want to pen down them instead! But J.D.Salinger did go down that lane and wrote a book a delightful book that deals with the famous ‘teenage angst’. ‘The Catcher in the Rye’ is an amalgamation of humour, satire, frustration, confusion, anger and ......

Holden Caulfield is fed up of his school(s) and being kicked out of them frequently.  And yet again, he’s kicked out of his school due to him failing in many subjects. While he’s figuring out how to break the bad news to his parents, he embarks a peculiar and amusing journey. Holden’s trying to pass a few days without breaking this news to his parents and stay in his hostel instead. But a fight with his room-mate and his foul temper made him just leave the hostel too. With whatever money he had left he decided to stay in a cheap hotel and have fun doing random things before he goes home. His ‘fun’ unexpectedly included funny, scary, depressing, lonely moments. He meets old friends and new people during these days to pass his time but has one girl on his mind constantly. He wants to talk to her. Which he tries to do but what happens? (That's for you to find out..Duh!) He rubbed off on a wrong and rough note with almost everyone he met. His curiosity, his stupidity or sheer boredom led to a few unfavourable situations. As the days get fewer in number and it’s time to go home, he starts panicking about how his parents would handle the news, esp. his mother as she hadn’t recovered from a tragedy that struck the family in recent times. He makes a big decision and just wants his younger sister to know about. What’s the decision and does he succeed in doing that or does he end up facing his family’s wrath is for you folks to find out.

It’s a very cleverly written book. By the time you turn the second page, you’ll quit feeling like you’re reading a novel. It feels as if Holden is walking with or sitting across you and talking the entire time. It’s like he’s just pouring his heart out to you and you react by laughing at him, with him, empathising and sympathising with him. Don’t be surprised to find yourself talking the way he does for sometime once you finish reading the book. The language is kind of contagious and fun. J.D.Salinger has managed to create some humorous scenarios which might initially seem silly, but slow down and travel back to the time when you were a teenager. Step in those shoes for a while and that silliness doesn’t feel silly anymore. Read the book keeping in mind a teenager’s perspective on certain ( I repeat ‘certain’) things and you’ll find yourself agreeing with Holden most of the times or atleast defend his actions at times. Sure, not everything that is mentioned would be something everyone would relate too.  Few might find some content offensive. This book was controversial and banned in several schools due to the consistent use of the ‘F’ word and other expletives, and casual approach towards sexual topics, considering the protagonist is a minor. Arguing if it was appropriate to include such content with a teenage protagonist would be futile. It wasn’t like the author wanted to impose that all teenagers come with such package or all teenagers are like Holden. He mainly outlined the psychology,emotions and thoughts that rule, confuse and define any teenager. Instances where Holden expresses his dislike for certain people, their habits or certain norm (like it’s almost mandatory to say ‘pleased to meet you’ even if you don’t mean it) will certainly crack you up. Oops, that’s me talking like Holden!

I had a stupid smile the whole time reading this. It was like 'de-stress read’ for me. For all those who want a light read, it’s the perfect book. All those who think it’s a wrong portrayal of teenage, take it with a pinch of salt. Well, who knows you can compete with Holden with more funny, horrifying or embarrassing stories about yourself. (Do share if you do have any anecdotes of your childhood.) Just pick up this book and join Holden in his journey. It'll stay with you for a long time. That's assured.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Maximum City -- Suketu Mehta

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         Mumbai. Bombay. One word which spells out a gazillion dreams. And many things more.  Any number of adjectives to describe this city would fall short. A home to millions and a dream city for many. Mumbai means a lot of glamour, glitter. A celebrity infused city for the outsiders looking in and for many people living in the city. But as there is a yang for every yin, a head for every tail on the coin, this scintillating city also has its share of the dark. Suketu Mehta captured a different spirit of the city beautifully. Suketu was born in Bombay and later shifted abroad. He then returned when it became Mumbai, and he saw that it wasn’t just the name that had changed but there was more than what meets the eye. He was disappointed and enraged to see how much the city changed in two decades and sets out to find why the city changed and who all were responsible for the change. His quest to find out the ‘dark’ side of the city led him to many meet a lot of different and ‘invisible’ people residing the city, learnt about the different political-socio-economic  conditions which resulted in ‘Maximum City’.

Suketu visits the much spoken ‘underworld’ people, tries to understand the politics involved behind all their actions, spends time with the police and learn how they operate, meets the slum people and gets the answers to his questions like why they prefer staying in the slums in spite of being able to afford a better place, enters the Bollywood circuit and found out the edited and censored parts of the industry, interacts with the controversial ‘bar girls’, cross dresser, a passionate and struggling poet living on the street, a Jain family and he also manages to have a meeting with the Shiv Sena leader, Bal Thackrey.

His encounter with the varied group of people is fascinating in many ways. Everyone has just heard of all the above mentioned people but Suketu provides a firsthand experience of what it is to be them, be with them.  He narrates a very poignant and enrapturing story of all these people. He smartly included some historical facts (the origin of the name, the Rent Act, etc) which made it a rather interesting read than a boring one. The only unnecessary part I personally felt was the last section where he gave way too many details about a Jain family and their rituals. That section takes you out of Mumbai, which you do not want to read towards the end while you are already so intrigued by the city.  Thought it was interesting to read about that in the materialistic world, there are some people who choose a path of simplicity, had he kept the details short it would have been less cumbersome to read.

No other word could have captured the true essence of what this city stands for, i.e. maximum. Everything is literally maximum here. Maximum people, maximum emotions, maximum drama, maximum tolerance, maximum spirit and maximum in the heart.  (I’m sure every mumbaikar* is nodding ferociously reading this) After reading this book, it is assured that city has a place for everyone who comes to live here, irrespective of whoever they, right from filthy rich people to the slum people; high heeled socialites to a cross dresser who’s willing to change his identity to makes both ends meet; Bollywood glamour exists with struggling dreams of many. Many characters are non-fictional , but nonetheless, every character is intriguing. I found myself googling a lot of things mentioned in the book. In the end Mumbai (or Bombay if you prefer it that way) is portrayed like a person. A person with different personalities, one nurturing myriad dreams, dealing with a plethora of emotions, one having a huge welcoming heart and with an unbeatable spirit. Suketu observed that ‘mumbai suffers from Schizophrenia’. Well, it is true to quite some extent. Here, the reality and fantasy merges like nowhere else.   This soulful city just not stands only for hopes dreams and spirit, but is full of surprises and unexpected twists. In his quest for find out what makes this city so special, he ended up finding a home in Mumbai. His initial anger and frustration turned into acceptance and love. In its own way, like always, the city worked its charm on him and he 'found' and fell in love with ‘Mumbai’ like he used to love Bombay.

Suketu did an excellent job of revealing the unknown and uncovered of the city. He peeled of a few layers and for sure there are many more layers and hidden facets to this city. And that is for everyone to discover on their own. Suketu projected the dark side also in an appealing and glamorous way! If you think you know Mumbai very well, think again. Start digging in, you never know what surprises the city will shower upon you. If you too lazy to do that, well then, just pick up this book and be enthralled.

A highly recommended read.

(P.S: *Mumbaikar: for all those who are unaware, a mumbaikar just isn’t a person who’s residing there. It’s a person for whom Mumbai is the only home, irrespective of being anywhere in the world. Like me :D  ) 

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

To Kill A Mockingbird -- Harper Lee

“Mockingbirds don’t do one thing but make music for us to enjoy . . . but sing their hearts out for us. That’s why it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.”

This book doesn’t need any introduction at all. If you are a voracious reader you must have read this book already. Those who haven’t read, you may have at least heard about it. If you haven’t even heard about it, it may be safe to tell you to jump off a cliff! Listed in ‘100 books to read before you die’, still in publication after decades of its first copy, you just can't miss this. You might think it’s hyped. Well I thought the same which was why I never picked it up till recently. Take my word, I cursed myself for not picking it up since so long.

One word was commonly used when asked by readers to describe the book. INNOCENT. I never understood how a book can be innocent of all the things!! It can be mesmerizing, captivating, enchanting, even out of the world, BUT innocent!! Well, yea even I’m guilty of using the same word here. The book was the most innocent one I’ve ever read. Enter the world of an 8 year old daughter, sister and girlfriend (:P) , you'll get a book in which innocence is gigantically personified.

The plot is set in Maycomb, Alabama during the Depression Era. Our narrator, Scout stays with her elder brother Jem and father Atticus Finch. Atticus was a well respected lawyer and a single father who was a little laid back yet responsible when it came to raising his kids. This gave many people the perfect reason to blame him for his daughter’s lack of mannerisms that a girl is expected to possess. The relation between Scout and Jem was like any regular brother-sister. They fought, played, grew apart as they grew up but nonetheless, shared a strong bond. The story starts with a description of the siblings’ regular summer vacations. Though one vacation seemed like every other summer, it taught them invaluable life lessons. An unusual case had landed in their father’s lap where he had to defend a black who was accused of raping a white girl. It was a time when the ‘blacks’ were considered to be of a lower strata, that even talking to them was considered unethical. When one of them was accused of rape, the ‘white’ society wanted nothing less than death for him. Atticus didn’t let the society alter his morals, values, opinions and responsibilities. He did what was right and taught Scout and Jem to always do the same, no matter what.  The various incidents of that summer, the rape case and its outcome left a huge,deep effect on the Finch siblings.

A lot has changed since the Depression era. And a lot hasn’t, esp. when it comes to people, society.
Everybody still has that nosy, irritating or fascinating neighbour/relative; a person whom one can totally look upto or depend upon; and then there the infamous and unreasonable society norms and prejudices.  An ‘Atticus Finch’ would be a hard to find in today’s world though. But he’ll never cease to be an exemplary man. He trod very smartly between the thin line of being a lenient, carefree father and a responsible father teaching about various life lessons. He taught his children how to live their lives, how to stand up for what’s right and what they believe in, appreciated their efforts, respected their opinions and thinking and supported them in every way he could. He taught them that it was alright to make mistakes and that everyone makes them, and that sometimes everyone has to do things that they don’t really like doing. In spite of the blaring racial discrimination, Atticus’s household help was a ‘black’, whom he trusted and depended upon a lot. Due to this, the racial and class discrimination was an unknown area for the kids. He provided a perfect, ideal environment for his kids to grow up. He was a living example for them on how to be a good and fair person.

The summer’s episode forced them to step out of their comfort zone and they had to open their eyes to a whole new world. A world where grey existed, where racial discrimination was prevalent; where evil/bad coexisted undeniably with the good; where the society dictated some norms no matter how wrong they seemed;  and there were some things that just couldn’t be changed, irrespective of how unfair it seemed and one had to live with all that. Everyone learns this lesson sometime or the other and Harper Lee did a commendable feat by writing about this very subtly. It doesn’t sound preachy, and doesn’t make it a heavy read. The readers learn something with the siblings, Atticus and other characters of the book.

The title of the book has a lot of significance too. Although, there’s no mention of a real mockingbird throughout, the readers should understand the profundity of this symbolism. Mockingbird can be interpreted as innocence, or a quality of a person. In the story, the innocence of the children was killed due to various events. Mockingbird can be seen to be synonymous with certain characters in the story. Atticus was a mockingbird as he was brought down by everyone as he was fighting and standing up for a ‘wrong’ case; the accused Tim Robinson was a mockingbird for obvious reasons; Boo Radley was also a mockingbird who lived a dead man’s life for the most part due to certain events that marked his life. Like quoted in the book, it is a sin to kill a mockingbird as all it does is sing and make everyone happy. It’s portrayed in the book that people mercilessly kill various ‘mockingbirds’, in spite of being aware of that fact.

Harper Lee has produced a book that transcends different generations and still creates the same effect on readers of different age groups, of different generations. This book will, undoubtedly, remain immortal. If you haven’t read it yet, now is the right time to pick it up. And if you have already read it, maybe it’s time for you to re-read it.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Maverick -- Ricardo Semler

“If you know how to respond to official mails/calls during the weekend, you should also know how to watch a movie during the working hours”. – Ricardo Semler

‘Crazy’ is the word you’ll utter repeatedly when you’ll sift through the pages. And the second word would be ‘cool’. The impression this book would leave on anyone would be for a lifetime.  It’s almost like a fairy tale, which would start like, “Once upon a time, there lived a crazy man who changed all the rules...and which definitely has an ending like ‘happily ever after, or happily successful” or something on those lines.

Ricardo Semler was just in his 20s when he joined his father’s business. And since he joined, he turned his work place into something that even the no one would have ever dreamt of in the wildest of dreams. He made Semco the most unusual workplace ever. To get that tag, he challenged the age-old rules, did all unimaginable things possible, which, in a way enraged and delighted  the employees. The day he took charge of the place, he fired 60% of all the top managers. This baffled everyone as they were the ones who called most of the shots and firing them meant that they were literally on their own now. Everyone immediately doubted his capabilities and abilities. Well, little did everyone know that, that it was just the start of an unexpected and thrilling ride. Slowly but surely, the working environment and rules of the company went through major dramatic changes. The very people who initially doubted him, fell in love with his unique ideas and supported and helped him to make Semco a very successful business. After he took over, he took the company to dizzying heights and made it into a money churning place.

When Ricardo was diagnosed with acute stress and given an ultimatum by the doctors, he knew he had to make a drastic change in his lifestyle. Instead of bringing a change in his personal life like most do, he brought the much needed changes in his workplace, where most of his time was spent. Result was a stress-free, fun, employee friendly environment and a much relaxed, healthier Ricardo and happier employees. He wiped the rule slate clean and re-wrote the rules which seemed like the procedure of a whacky experiment. He removed the hierarchical system that is prevalent in all the companies and introduced a more employee friendly circular system, he broke down all the walls of the company, in literal sense too, he left it to the employees working in the production how they want to produce and did not burden them with unrealistic numbers, and rest I guess I should leave it for the readers to find out. My personal favourites were how the employees could choose a different work station and suitable work timings every single day! The best being, when a new person came in to join, there was no management who recruited them. Instead, the very team who was supposed to work with him/her are the ones who interview him and select him, irrespective of the post the new person was applying to. If he wanted to join as the manager, his subordinates were the ones to evaluate. I mean, how cool is that! Imagine having the power in your hands to select or reject your supervisor :D. Even an unproductive boss could be fired by his subordinates. (Yes, you can stop dreaming now. It’s not gonna happen with lesser  mortals like us). There are many such amazing surprises this company has in store which will undoubtedly delight the readers.

You might think that it really takes a lot of guts to give most of the power to the employees instead of managing them, which is the usual norm. Or you might think he was too uncertain or a coward to raise hands and shove all the responsibility to others and just view the entire show as a mute spectator. Well, whatever your initial thoughts about him are, you’ll end up bowing down to him or worship him. Alright, I’m being a tad dramatic here but I’m sure he’ll join your list of ‘People who inspire me or People I want to meet’ (I definitely want to meet him..if anyone reading this knows him personally, who know how to make me happy  :-D ). I don’t know how many of you would try those techniques in your own companies but I’m sure everyone of you will that moment of ‘I so wish I could work there’ or ‘why isn’t my company this cool’. To be honest, I had that moment and it lasted for, well, I think I’m still in that moment. 

This crazy man inspires, amazes and baffles me. He’ll rub off his crazy charm on you too. Go ahead, pick up this book about an awesome company, lead by a cool man, with unbelievable rules that somehow work! This book will make you gasp, marvel, wonder and dream. Enjoy...

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Legacy of Harry Potter

Harry, Ron, Harmione, Malfoy, Dumbledore, Snape and Voldemort, aren’t just any names but these are the names which brought a sense of inexplicable comfort and joy in my teens. It won’t be an exaggeration to say that this book was a big part of my life when I was growing up. I can safely say that I grew with the Potter series. The definition of fantasy was changed when J.K.Rowling conceived HP. Till then, the concept of fantasy included prince, princesses, super heroes, who were ‘good' while devils, witches were the ‘baddies’, who were eventually defeated by the good guys. With HP, wizards were not the ‘bad’ guys, but a magical race of people living in a secret world, with good and bad amongst them. HP series came with a bang, broke all possible records and took the world by storm and was worth every ounce of the hype. Once again, reading was ‘cool’.

My affair with HP started on one summer afternoon. When the bad picture quality and abridged version of the rented DVD left me confused about the entire concept, I decided to pick up the book, which I finished in two days flat (which, then, was a big feat for the 13 year old me :P ). I was bewitched, to say the least. Not a single day was spent without wishing that I wasn’t just a mere muggle. HP wasn’t just another story. It was a perfect amalgamation of reality and fantasy. It had the figments of magic and strokes of harsh realities of life. 

Every book in the series outlined one topic in particular. ‘Good vs. Evil’. It wasn’t just the usual ‘hero vs.villian’ stuff. It emphasized on how to face and handle the good and bad in self, in friends, in different situations and emotions.  It's portrayed very dramatically that the ‘good’ sometimes has to fight a lot to rise above the ‘bad’ but it eventually wins. This has been an age old lesson but the HP series took it to a different level. The concept of courage, trust, friendship, compassion,faith and hope has been brilliantly essayed. Whether it was a Quidditch match or fight against Voldemort, I always found my heart racing. Every character is sketched with utmost care and detail throughout the series, which isn’t a mean feat. Everyone, for sure, will relate themselves and their friends with some character in the book. I surely did. My emotions ran wild whenever I read these books. There were a lot of humorous moments (Weasley twins’ antics, Ron’s wrong spells) , many nail-biting instances (esp.Quidditch matches,) many gasping moments (Hermione almost turning into a cat, her punching Malfoy, the big chess game in the 1st book), happy moments ( Harry meeting everyone after the vacations, win after a game, their achievements, and Ron and Hermione FINALLY getting together) and painful parts which made sure of misting my eyes (Harry’s constant yearning for his parents, the fights and misunderstanding between him and Ron, kept me in the sad mode for hours) But the death of Sirius, Dumbledore, Weasley twin was totally unexpected, unrequired and devastating. I was thankful that I was alone when I weeping over their demises. It was a crazy roller-coaster ride. I would laugh, gasp, and cry all at once. It was too difficult a task of juggling all the different emotions within short intervals. All this for fictitious characters!

HP series personally helped and inspired so many people in so many unimaginable ways. Innumerable stories from around the world are a proof of that. The magical part was sheer delight. It left everyone wishing that the magical part in the books was a reality instead. I can say with utmost confidence that all the readers, at some point or the other, wanted to get a invitation letter from the wizard world, wanted to keep owl as a pet, wanted to ride the broom, held a stick or pencil and uttered different spells, gazed up in the sky hoping to see flying brooms, wished they had the invisibility cloak, wished they could eat the funny chocolates, had the urge to run through a pillar in a railway station, looked at a person and wondered if he/she was a wizard/witch. Just about everything about HP series felt so cool. Many a times it was like an ice-breaker for me when it came to making new friends. That time, school kids were not segregated as popular and nerds but as HP fans and non-HP fans. It was accompanied by a weird sense of belonging when you automatically were a part of the huge, ever-growing Potter family. Who would have thought that time, that a book would make such a gigantic difference in any way possible.

There were times when I was sure that Rowling had a secret wand and she just waved the wand to come up with all the amazing stories. The moment a new book came in the market, the wait for the next one started. And the wait was always excruciating (not exaggerating again). I was just in awe of her story telling. What seemed insignificant and irrelevant in one book became an important part in another book. Every book had some loose ends which were finally tied down in the last book. This just shows the brilliance of Rowling's story-telling. It's just weird to think how all the books and the entire storyline was planned way before she started writing. Reading the last book was the most difficult and bittersweet experience. I wanted to read it as fast as possible just to know what happens next but at the same time I didn’t want read it fast as it was the last of HP series. The book got better and exciting with every turning page and when the last page came I couldn’t believe it was finally over. (Yea, another bout of sadness). It was surreal. But even there were movies still being made and that was comforting. Now when the last movie was released, I couldn’t help but wonder if this, indeed, was the end of an era. But, I realised that it was just a hypothetical end as the HP series has left behind a legacy. An unforgettable, eternal legacy. I remember fairy tales always starting with a ‘once upon a time’ and ending with a ‘happily ever after’. This series had a start and end which almost meant the same but it's zillion notches above what you call a fairy tale or any other tale. Many stories have been inspired among the same lines but they will never attain what HP has. I’m sure HP will still be popular many generations down the line. Harry started his journey on the steps outside his aunt’s door and completed his journey inside everyone’s heart.

For me, HP series kept me enchanted for a long time. It will always be special and memorable for me in many ways. Daniel Radcliff said that he’s the only person in the world who doesn’t want an eighth book. Undoubtedly, he’s true about that. Rest of us muggles will be over-the-top if Rowling picks up her magic wand and create another masterpiece. Till then, fingers crossed. And hoping to receive the letter from Hogwards ;)

Thursday, July 14, 2011

The God of Small Things -- Arundhati Roy

I was a little sceptical of picking another award-winning book of the shelves after I had a bad experience reading one book which I kind of hated. But I still thought of taking the risk and picked up this book. The chance paid off handsomely and left me with a beautiful reading experience. The experience of reading this brilliantly written book can be narrowed down to 1 word as told by a friend: Surreal. It took Arundhati 4 years to finish of this book and the efforts and work that went into writing this book for 4 years is clearly visible and I felt that every page deserved the Booker Prize solely because of the honesty and boldness with which it is written. The message sent out through the book is that, the most powerful emotion of all is, Love. Presence and absence of it can make a big difference. It cannot be forced on anyone, including family, for any reason, it’s something that can make you do things which you can be proud of or regret, and it’s that emotion over which you absolutely have no control of. The highlight of this book is definitely the way it’s written. The depth of every emotion is beautifully penned down and almost brings it to life. This story shows how little things that happened in the past and how the lack of care, attention and love can completely change a person’s life and can alter his present and future.

The plot is set in Kerala in 1969 when the caste system was prevalent. Rahel and Estha are fraternal twins with a ‘Siamese soul’. Born eighteen minutes apart, these twins were never considered as two different individuals by anyone. Rahel was the bubblier twin who had a ‘fountain’ hairstyle and red coloured sunglasses and her brother Estha was considered the serious and responsible twin who always had an Elvis puff.  Their mother, Ammu, had made two mistakes that changed the lives of everyone. After a bitter separation from her husband, she returned home with her kids. She lived with her old mother (a widow), her aunt (a spinster) and her brother Chacko (whose wife left him for another man after their child was born). It was a perfect example of a broken family in which every member lost something. When Chacko’s ex-wife Margaret and daughter, Sophie come to visit them for Christmas, things unexpectedly get way out of hand, get murkier and changed every single person’s life. The events of those two weeks left each member with scars that stayed fresh as long as they lived.

The portrayal of ‘different’ kinds of love has been depicted beautifully in this book. Unrequited love, failed love, undemanding love, forced love, and most importantly “forbidden love”. Ammu’s aunt remained a spinster her entire life when she realised that she couldn’t get the man she loved, when her love was unrequited. She did whatever she could to keep the unrequited love alive, even after the man died. Chacko’s failed marriage paints a picture of failed love but the way he still loved his wife even though she cheated on him depicts the unconditional part of love. He never remarried and loved his daughter even though he stayed away from her. Rahel was made to believe that she had to love her cousin Sophie, just because she was family. Ammu loved an untouchable, which was forbidden. Another example of forbidden love mentioned was between the twins which eventually resulted in incest. (This surely must have stirred up some controversy!) Rahel beautifully reasoned the cause for all this was because Love Laws were not made properly. “The laws that lay down who should be loved, how and how much.”

Everyone shared the emotion of love but it brought different experiences for everyone. Uncannily, loss and betrayal of some form was also shared between all.  The events scarred the young twins and they carried the guilt and regret throughout their life, because of their childhood mistakes. They had almost a perfect childhood and were loved and cared by many people (minus the father), but the innocent mistakes of the past left everyone hating them and they grew up as lonely adults, whom no one could understand and they ended up seeking each other’s company in the end. Everyone grieved their respective loss silently and alone.

Arundhati’s writing is like poetry. It comes effortlessly and makes ugly things look beautiful. Everybody’s character is sketched in great detail, thus making it easier to understand and justify their actions and reactions throughout the book. The only minus of the book is that certain parts have gross description and might not be appreciated by the readers. But this is to show how some incidents that scar a child is remembered in minute details and no matter how hard it’s tried, some things just cannot be forgotten. The playfulness, the fixation and repetition of some phrases, these qualities are suggestive of a child's stream-of-consciousness. This works very well for parts of the novel told from children's viewpoints. The narrative is non-sequential. The events mentioned are like pieces of a puzzle which are put together slowly till the very end and once the puzzle is finished one can see a sad but beautiful story. This book is a perfect example of how a simple, regular story can be taken to another level just by writing and expressing it beautifully. The twins who led a normal life as naughty, rebellious kids, grew up (in their words) to be ‘emptiness’ and ‘quietness’ as adults, who were never understood by anyone but each other. Once you turn the last page you will definitely have a moment of ‘quietness’ as then the story completely sinks in and intensity of the emotions in the story is felt but it will surely not leave you with a feeling of ‘emptiness’. This book certainly deserved the Booker prize. But more than that, it deserves a read. Because it’s beautiful. And surreal.

Friday, June 17, 2011

The Diary of a Young Girl -- Anne Frank

Dear Blog,
They say that a young person, esp. a child grows up in a day when he’s faced with an unpleasant, horrid and terrifying situation. And when that situation carries the nametag of ‘World War II’ one can expect anyone to grow up in a day. World War II is definitely one of the most horrific events that ever occurred and lives in various countries have been affected beyond imagination. You can try to guess how it was like during the war or you have the option of reading Anne Frank’s diary to read how exactly the common people were affected during the war. Anne’s diary acts a keyhole to peep into the lives of her family and other Jews (ordinary families) when the most famous villain ‘Hitler’ was enjoying his reign. This diary is as real as it gets with a firsthand account of a vivacious girl whose life took a complete turn when her family had to go into hiding, which was desperate attempt to stay alive and keep themselves out of Nazis’ hands. This isn't some story depicting drama, mystery or horror. It's a story of a simple girl growing up, story of her normal life being cut short because of her being a Jew and a story of hope. This is one of those books which a reader will read again and again.
When I had first heard about this book as a small girl I was dead curious about its contents and thought that maybe their hiding place was some underground room of their house and how it must have been to stay that way for a few months. Levels of my fascination, admiration and respect soared when I read about what their actual hiding place had been for 2 years and the hardships they faced on a ‘daily’ basis. Hiding from the Nazis was one thing but the bigger challenge was to keep their morale high, be cheerful and keep themselves busy to escape the depression and fear that followed them to their hiding place. The Franks shared the hiding place with the Van Daan family which had an obnoxious, irritating mommy, a daddy who loved fighting with mommy and a very very quite son. Bearing the Van Daan parents was the biggest of all the challenges presented before them. Their daily hiccups consisted of fixed and lean timings to use bathrooms and water, eating rotten vegetables, being quite during the days so that no-one can find out about them, clothes and shoes getting old, small and tattered, not able to get a cure for common ailments or poor eyesight, putting up with pets and fleas, facing the changing weather with minimal clothes that they had etc. There was a threat in everything. Food, weather, disease and war. Everything. As time passed by, everyone got on each other’s nerves. Guess that’s bound to happen if you stay with the same set of people day in and day out, every hour and minute for two whole years, even if that set consists of your family. Big Brother/ Big Boss looks like a joke once you read what these people had to put up with. Their only consolation and prize for holding their nerves together and ‘tolerating’ each other is that they might finally be able to taste freedom at the end of the war. It was heartening to see how in spite of all the odds and hardships, they still cared to each other at the end of the day, how birthday presents were given irrespective of being holed up and how they had each other’s back when there were some scary moments. It was somewhat comforting to see how their non-Jewish people who so selflessly,risking their own lives,kept them in hiding and helped them.  

Anne who was always the naughty, talkative, funny and a practical joker amongst her friends in her school had to do the unpleasant task of growing up overnight. Though it did not happen overnight literally but she definitely grew wiser and became almost a new person in those 2 years. This is evident as each page of the diary is turned. Anne had received her diary as her birthday gift before they went into hiding and the very same diary remained her confidante and a best friend in those testing times. Every minute detail, sometimes even insignificant stuff was narrated to her diary, just like one would talk about every possible topic with a ‘human’ best friend. Only difference in Anne’s case was that the conversations were one-sided.  Another challenge faced by Anne was when she hit puberty when in hiding. Expecting any teen to stay sane in the discomfort of four walls with the same eight people AND handle those tricky hormones at the same time is too much to ask for. How Anne’s behaviour changed, her attitude and relationships with her family, esp. her mother changed, how she often found herself dwelling, questioning and getting confused on certain issues outline what every teen goes through. Her innocence, charm, mischievousness and wisdom (unreal at that age) reflect throughout the diary. The last few lines written by her will leave you restless, wondering and asking for more. Anne was just a regular 14 year old who showed wisdom, courage and character beyond her age and beautifully conveyed that it was a bittersweet experience, staying underground. Staying in the required conditions weren’t at all good but after hearing to what was happening to all the non-hiding Jews made it a blessed stay. You just keep wishing this sweet diary came with a happy ending.

This book has a special charm as it has a raw, genuine and warm feel to it. Every entry in the diary takes us to a day of an ordinary girl and an ordinary family. Yet this book has the power to make you laugh, cry, wonder and give you comfort. Anne’s wish was to live even after death and her diary immortalized her. ‘Hope’ is given a whole new meaning and is the hidden emotion in every page. Once you finish off the book a nagging feeling will leave you thinking how it was waste of a human life and race, all because of one man’s petty ‘ideologies’. I spent an entire night wishing Anne was alive, wishing she could see what effect her diary still has on people, wondering who betrayed them, imagining what it must have been in the camps, how she must have spent her last few days, and how a young girl didn’t deserve all this. I’m sure that everyone who reads this, will turn back to the cover to see Anne’s picture every once in a while, and wonder if it was the same sweet girl who had to endure such hardships at such a tender age.

Her diary fulfilled her dream of 'staying alive even after death'. To sum up about ‘what’s so special about Anne Frank's diary’ I will quote the very last lines of the book. “Her voice was preserved out of the millions that were silenced, this voice no louder than a child’s whisper... It has outlasted the shouts of the murderers and has soared above the voices of time.” 

P.S: This isn’t my new style of writing. Just wanted to hold onto the “Anne Frank Diary’s” spirit. :)

Friday, March 4, 2011

P.S. I Love You -- Cecelia Ahern


[NOTE: If you have seen the movie and not read the book, you have missed out something. The movie was horrible compared to the book and had a different story. The latter is way better. If you loved the movie, then you are in for a treat. If u hated the movie, there are all the more reasons to read this to see what you have missed. So read on.]
Alright all you guys. Don’t make the hasty decision of skipping this review just seeing the mushy title. This book could be title-less and even then it would make an AMAZING read. And ladies, please don't expect a super-mushy love story with a happily ever after story. Suckers for happy ending though, would not be disappointed by this book. Whatever the case, you would be enamoured by the warmth exuded by this captivating book.
P.S. I Love You is an unique, unusual and beautiful story of love, loss and letting go. Holly and Gerry met in school, fell in love and stayed in love forever, and forever in their case transcended life and death. Literally. They were a picture perfect couple whom everyone would envy (yea even the readers). They were nothing short of being soul mates. Gerry treated her like a princess and made sure nothing bothered her, but at the same time didn't leave any chance to pull her leg and irritate her. Holly used to hate it but loved him nevertheless. It all changed when Gerry's nagging (and much ignored) headache turned out to be brain tumour which slowly weakened him and eventually killed him. Holly, who always thought they would last for a lifetime, was left confused, angry, numb, devastated, helpless and alone in spite of having her huuuge family and a gang of best friends. Life wasn't the same without Gerry for her. She was sure that her life would stop now that Gerry's gone. And Gerry knew that Holly would stop living after his expected death. So, to help Holly come out of the grieving period he did the most loving and unexpected thing. Something who can never even think of doing. He left behind a series of letters (which was actually a joke they had once shared). Each letter had a 'task' which Holly had to do. They proved to be the gentle nudge and the baby steps that Holly had to take just to get out and start living a normal life again. The way those letters reached her and the way they slowly but steadily changed her life amazed one and all. Each letter will surely melt your heart. The delicate way with which each letter had been written with love, planned and executed will blow your mind and bring you down to tears. (Applicable for women. For sure). It just shows how well he knew her. He seemed to know every action that Holly would do after his death and knew that she wouldn't listen to anyone but him. Thus, this creative idea was conceived which beautifully served the very purpose that Gerry wished for.
Holly was not alone when she was left widowed prematurely. Her amazingly supportive and eccentric family kept her smiling, stuck by her when she cried. People will love Ciara and her little brother Declan. These two characters lighten up things but at the same time they are not just fun elements in the book. It has been showed in an unbiased manner that every single person in the family and her friends group had their own set of problems to deal with and that she wasn’t the only one dealing with a crisis. Every member learns something more about each other after Gerry's death and unknowingly teaches others something about life's uncertainties and complexities and beauty. A heart-warming part of the book to look out for. Next come her friends who advised, scolded, guided her and picked up when she fell. They did exactly what Gerry would have wanted them to do. They didn't shower her with pity or sympathy. They just made sure that she moved on and always looked out for her. I'm sure you'll find your best friends in Denise, Sharon and John. And there are moments where you choke up. I did when John tells Holly about what the relation he and Gerry shared meant to him and how he misses him a lot. (I cried for straight 5mins because I almost related it to my best friend and thought I never want to be in that place). And the final dash of spicy confusion is added when a man enters a picture who apparently falls in love with Holly. How Holly deals with him is like a crazy roller coaster ride. You’ll find your loved ones in all or some of the characters and learn some crucial lessons along with them. The most important lesson being that life, indeed goes on, whatever happens. You've got to catch up with it if you don’t want to be left behind.
Cecelia Ahern was only in her early 20s when she wrote this book. Many say she was too naive in her writing but I felt that, that very innocence added a special charm to the book. By the time I finished reading (3 times!!) I was wishing desperately for my own 'Gerry'. C'mon, any sane girl would want that!! It had wonderful moments of laughter, 'I-don't-want-that-to-happen-with-me' moments, when tears will roll down your cheeks without resistance, will leave a silly smile when some event reminds of a similar faint memory tucked somewhere in your head, those 'I-can't-live-with-my-family and can't-live-without-them' instances, some moments will engulf you with the excitement of a 3 year old, some will leave you with unbearable pangs of pain, moments of indefinable bliss, pinch of hope and scoops of comforting warmth. All in all, a perfect recipe to satisfy your insatiable bookish appetite. Holly and Gerry moments will leave you wanting for more. The delicate love portrayed is beyond belief. Stories where dying for your love is common and passé. Here is a story of what one can do for his love after his death. This book will touch your heart in a massive way and will make you want to fall in love. Once you read this book, Holly and Gerry will never leave your mind. And heart.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Snow - By Orhan Pamuk


The words 'Nobel Prize in Literature' can lure any person to pick up a certain book, irrespective whether you've heard the author's name or not!! I can use the same excuse to explain why i picked up this book. as you know that curiosity always kills me and the rebellious streak overpowers each time, I bought the book in spite of knowing it's not my area of interest. In spite of seeing the words ‘politics’!! That too of turkey. (Oh lord. What the hell was I thinking) I’m still trying to figure out how our political system is intact in spite of the nonsensical antics one witness everyday. Just for the
attempt of trying to understand how Turkey politics go about,I honestly deserve a pat on my back. Nevertheless, I pulled up my socks to experience what was called as ' brilliant work of literature' and then almost fell flat on my face experiencing it.

The title of the novel interestingly has pun in it. 'Snow' is based upon a forgotten city in Turkey named Kars. ‘Kar' in Turkish means Snow. What started as a story with a simple storyline ends badly entangled that it will leave the reader scratching his head. The forgotten city has a visitor, an equally infamous poet, Kerim Alakusoglu, conveniently abbreviated as Ka by the poet himself. Ka returns to Turkey after spending a good 12 years in Germany, to perform the last rites of his beloved mother and also he was given the job, by some newspaper to cover the increasing number of suicide cases amongst the women of Kars. This was just an excuse to visit Kars. The real reason why he braved the relentless snowfall and got into the last bus to Kars in spite of the danger looming ahead was because of the burning desire to see a girl, Ipek, from his college whom he loved, with the hope that his unrequited love finally blossoms into nothing less than a blissful marriage. After he arrives in the city all the roads had to be closed because of the heavy snow and he is confined to the poverty, sadness, horror, sufferings that defines the city. Oh also can't forget the tumultuous love he shared with Ipek. And then starts the so-called exciting and eventful 3-days in Kars and our story. (Sigh)

He commences his arrival by checking in the hotel which Ipek owns. He goes on to interview the families of the 'suicide girls'. Then he goes through the horror of witnessing the assassination of the Education director, encounters a terrorist, attends a play that ends with people actually dying, gets stuck in a so-called revolutionary movement which was triggered by, a theatre artist of all the people(!!) and in the end becomes a mediator between two self-proclaimed revolutionaries/terrorists. He is surprised to learn that the suicides are being committed because the girls are being told NOT to wear the headscarf, which goes against the holy teachings of Islam. The girls, being crushed between having to choose from faith or law, found it easier to kill themselves. The way they committed suicide (another sin according to Islam but still women seemed to prefer that rather than just live without headscarf!) is very disturbing. It was always almost sudden. They would commit the heinous crime with the same ease as they did their daily chores. The Education director was assassinated for following the law, which stated that no head-scarfed girls would be admitted. Ka also meets many influential and powerful people who have a great impact on the events that took place in his 3 super interesting days. The character I found most amusing was Serdar Bey, the city newspaper editor who writes and prints all the stories 1 day prior to the actual occurrence and waits for them to come true (which surprisingly always happens). It was funny that amidst all this horror and confusion, our drought stricken poet is suddenly flooded with poems. He surprisingly finds inspiration to write poems after a 4-year hiatus when he was caught in dire circumstances. The seclusion and sadness gets onto him (and onto us as well) so much that he felt God within him and confesses that he heard poems and he was just a mediator of the higher source who was telling these poems through him. This was ironic as he is an atheist. The readers only come across the titles of all his 18 poems. Probably if some poems were present it would have been an interesting read atleast!! And another thing which baffled me was why the people of Kars detested 'Western' so much. They even disliked Ka because he stayed in Germany (read: western nation). The line "I am proud of the part of me that isn’t European, I am proud of things in that the Europeans find childish, cruel and primitive. If the Europeans are beautiful, I want to be ugly; if they are intelligent, I prefer to be stupid; if they are modern let me stay simple" clearly conveys that the Turks prefer staying as destitutes,jobless,zombies but they wouldn't entertain anything western even if they end up having a better life! And yea the people of Kars don't want the readers to feel sorry for them or sympathise or pity them. (And here Indians are aping the west like maniacs with the belief that they will live a better life. Told ya..never understood politics..) By the way that's all for the story. Don't worry I didn’t kill any surprise or mystery of the book because it doesn’t have any.

One person made his presence felt throughout the book. The narrator. The narrator, Orhan (who coincidentally is also the author :P ) claims to write this novel after he found Ka's notes in his apartment after Ka’s death. The narration gets annoying when he gives away the climax to a particular event and after revealing the end he, at a snail's pace describes minute details of the same event, from square one. That is why I said there are zilch surprises in the book. I mean why would you want to read about something whose end you already known. Eg. "His beautiful green eyes, one of which would be shattered by a bullet in 47 minutes, stared intently at Ka.” After this sentence there is a long description of how he died. Which is no fun to read as you already know he dies! The book gets painfully slow a read to even enjoy it. And then suddenly Orhan throws in a chapter, which shows a scene 4 years henceforth.(which again gives away the entire story. i thought this might be the right time to just stop reading. but I still carried on thinking things would change). The reader again gets perked up to know why and how it happened.  Once again you fall flat on the face because after reading the entire book that 'why' is not answered. Disappointment. The only part where the readers may 'kind of' enjoy is when they watch Ka falling in love with Ipek...and with her equally beautiful sister, Kadife. Orhan brought out 2 characters that were almost alike each other but also differed, like Ipek and Kadife, Necip & Fazil, Blue and Sunay. But instead of making things clearer with the inclusion of so many characters, the readers are left confused as their similarities and differences are blaringly loud but of no use. The already disappointed reader gets all the more irritated when Orhan gets distracted and starts of telling his own story instead of Ka's. This book is a good read for people who are into politics and all that drama. For people expecting a fast paced, exciting thriller it will be a disappointment. Inspite of the beautiful writing and storytelling (and being painfully slow), something is missing. Many ‘where-is-the-dictionary’ moments will also come across (here it is proved why he got Nobel Prize for Literature!!). The best part of his writing is the scene which describes how the inspiration to write poetry again struck him. If not the book, just read that paragraph. It’s beautifully written and totally worth a read (get back to me for page nos. :) )

In the end it's the story of an unimportant man, writing unimportant poems, and dying a meaningless death. I thought maybe it’ll be better if made into a movie, then the world would have to bear the turn-off for just 2 hours, or at the most 3...;-)