Books en Thu Oct 01 13:38:45 IST 2020 plot-clot <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>At nearly 1,000 pages, <i>Troubled Blood</i> is a wrist-breaker. And the longest you get to spend with the author’s famous characters—private detective Cormoran Strike and his assistant, Robin Ellacott. Still, one wonders, is it a tad too long? J.K. Rowling, writing as Robert Galbraith, loves stories with diverse characters and side-plots. Her latest is cluttered with them. Each character, even the minor ones, are etched out in great detail with elaborate back stories, even if red herrings.</p> <p>It all starts with a cold case. At a pub in Cornwall, a woman asks Strike to find out what happened to her mother, Margot Bamborough, a doctor and former Playboy Bunny who disappeared 40 years ago. Bill Talbot, the first investigator in the case, was attacked by the serial killer Dennis Creed, who tortured and murdered several women. Margot’s daughter, Anna, was only a year old when her mother disappeared. Now, she wants closure. Anna’s partner Kim—this is the first time Rowling is introducing a lesbian couple, after facing flak for her comments on the transgender community—is not too keen. Strike, too, is hesitant, what with the cold trail, dead witnesses and an imprisoned Creed.</p> <p>You do not turn to Rowling for fast-paced thrillers. Her stories are for those who love wonderfully eccentric characters and rambling plots, but even for the most enthusiastic Rowling fan, this book is tedious. The messy lives of the characters and the different threads in the story are too much to keep up with. The thrill of the first two books in the series, including the delicious chemistry between Strike and Ellacott, fizzles out in <i>Troubled Blood</i>. They spend most of their time bickering or being grumpy. Consequently, instead of a sinfully-satisfying experience, Strike’s fifth outing is a let-down—not fun, frothy or eminently sinkable.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><i>Troubled blood</i><br> </p> <p>By Robert Galbraith</p> <p>Published by Hachette India</p> <p>Price Rs899 Pages 929</p> Thu Oct 01 14:45:29 IST 2020 game-of-thrones <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>It is not a story of true love, but there are lovers aplenty. <i>The House of Jaipur: The Inside Story of India’s Most Glamorous Royal Family</i> is a tale of romance, opulent palaces, infidelity, scandal and princes who lived large—all wrapped up in an irresistible fairy-tale with no happy endings.</p> <p>Author John Zubrzycki traces the history of the family that truly put Indian royalty on the international map. The book is the delicious tale of the most glamorous couple in India, who dined with the Kennedys and counted the Windsors as their friends—Gayatri Devi, or Ayesha as she is referred to in the book, and her husband Sawai Man Singh II, or Jai.</p> <p>Zubrzycki has written about opulence before; <i>The Last Nizam</i> was a fascinating glimpse into the intrigue around the world’s richest man. Here, too, he is wonderful at blending fact, gossip and history into a heady cocktail. He vividly recreates an almost impossible-sounding world—of champagne, cocktails, <i>shikars</i> and parties—that existed at the cusp of Independence. It is also an ode to Gayatri Devi. Zubrzycki makes no bones about where his sympathies lie. She is the heroine of the story, but he also peppers it with the delightfully eccentric characters who surround her.</p> <p>While the story of the royal couple’s whirlwind romance is well known, Zubrzycki paints it as an unequal relationship, with Jai continuing to have affairs with other women. But more than just the romance, glamour and wealth, that might seem straight out of The Arabian Nights, there is also a glimpse into the kind of turbulent times in which these characters grew up. Jai, who was adopted by Sawai Madho Singh II, was just nine years old when he ascended the throne. The fear of him being murdered was so real that his meals (sampled beforehand by food tasters) were served in special poison-detecting plates.</p> <p>The extent of British control over the princes’ lives included even their sexuality. When Jai got married to 24-year-old Marudhar Kunwar, they were not permitted to consummate the marriage until he became more mature. In 1927 came the disturbing news that she had intoxicated her 15-year-old husband with wine, slept with him and was now pregnant. This turned out not to be true as each of his visits had been chaperoned. But the paternalistic attitude of the British to Jai’s sexuality reached its peak in the summer of 1927, writes Zubrzicki, when it was recommended that he not sleep with his wife until he turned 17. The reason was his alleged interest in boys and her propensity to drink. During his last year at the Mayo College for Indian Chiefs, however, he was allowed conjugal visits once a fortnight.</p> <p>Peppered with fascinating stories and characters, the book is a compulsive read. Jai’s second wife, Maharani Kishore Kanwar, or Jo, was lively and struck a firm friendship with Virginia Cherrill, her husband’s lover. Jo and Virginia wrote to each other regularly. While Jai was busy writing love letters to Virginia, he was also wooing Ayesha, who later became his third wife. Then there was the powerful Roop Rai, or “the female Rasputin”, Madho Singh’s favourite concubine, who, according to British intelligence, had “hypnotic power” over the Maharaja and had convinced him that she could speak with his dead wife.</p> <p>But perhaps the most fascinating character he writes about is Indira Devi—Ayesha’s mother, who spurned the Baroda Maharaja to instead marry Jitendra Narayan, who later became the Maharaja of Cooch Behar. She brought chiffon into fashion, had several affairs and was close to Jai. One of her paramours was Khusru Jung, the dashing Hyderabadi nobleman who was private secretary to the crown prince of Kashmir, Hari Singh, and with whom she had a daughter. Thrilling, deeply satisfying and engaging, the book is a must-read.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><i>The House of Jaipur: The Inside Story of India’s Most Glamorous Royal Family</i> </p> <p>By John Zubrzycki<br> </p> <p>Published by Juggernaut</p> <p>Price Rs599 Pages 358</p> Thu Oct 01 14:41:47 IST 2020 pk-rosy-the-mother-of-malayalam-cinema <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Back in the 1920s, Malayalam cinema's first ever heroine, P.K. Rosy, experienced art in its purest form in <i>Kakkarissi Natakam</i>—a folk musical drama enacted in Malayalam and Tamil, usually plotted around Shiva, Parvathi and Ganga descending on earth to decimate the demons and the bandits. This night-long theatrical form was not allowed to be performed in high-caste temples of the time.</p> <p>In the book, <i>The Lost Heroine: A Novel</i> (Speaking Tiger, 176 pages, Rs 299), when Rosy is taken to see her first ever <i>Kakkarissi</i> play, she is enamoured by the character of Parvathi who denounces the heathens to turn into cats, lizards and owls, whose dancing and singing were as dainty as they were divine in Rosy's eyes. So, when she learns that neither Parvathi, nor Ganga or the Queen in the play were female actors, she wonders in surprise, "Can the men transform themselves to become such beautiful women?"</p> <p>The first ever English biography on the life of Rosy, translated from Vinu Abraham's <i>Nashta Naayika</i>, goes on to recount two important transformations—much more significant than men transforming into beautiful women: Rosy went on to become the first woman to perform in a <i>Kakkarissi</i> play. And later she became the first Dalit girl to transform into an upper-caste Nair woman in the first ever Malayam film made in 1928. In fact, she is the first Dalit girl in Indian cinema.</p> <p>Just that in this fascinating story of firsts, the heroine from a poverty-stricken Pulaya family has to succumb to vicious caste violence, forcing her to flee town to save her life and honour. The tragic story of Rosy is well-known in Kerala, but for non-Malayali readers 'The Lost Heroine: A Novel' is an enlightening primer on the sexual abuse and discrimination that women from poor Dalit families faced at the hands of rich upper castes through the prism of the making of <i>Vigathakumaran</i> (The Lost Child), the first Malayalam feature film, released in 1930.</p> <p>In a matter of weeks, Rosy, a poor Dalit Christian girl of the Pulaya caste, was transformed into Sarojini—the beautiful Nair girl who lived in a grand <i>tharavad</i>, wore <i>mundus</i> and blouses of the finest silk and gold jewellery from head to toe. Sarojini, with whom the handsome Jayachandran falls in love at first sight as she sits at her window playing the veena in <i>Vigathakumaran</i>. But when the film is screened at the Capitol Theatre in Trivandrum, stones are pelted when the handsome hero kisses the flower he removes from Sarojini's hair. At the premiere, a nervous, excited and demure Rosy, sitting in a corner of the hall with her proud parents, is gheraoed and condemned as in a witch-hunt. Later, her house is set on fire by a rampaging mob. Rosy narrowly escapes death while fleeing town. She goes on to marry the truck driver who saves her life, Kesava Pillai, and spends the rest of her life in anonymity. It is only in a forgotten roll of film that her story lives on. This is the origin story of the Kerala film industry. She could aptly be called "the Mother of Malayalam Cinema".</p> Tue Sep 22 16:31:18 IST 2020 lockdown-reading-the-divine-boys <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><i>The Divine Boys&nbsp;</i>(Los Divinos in Spanish) is the story of five boys who form a gang called Tutti Frutti in school. The boys—Muñeco, Tarabeo, Duque, Pildora and Hobbo— are into pranks, games, alcohol, drugs, girls, and the nightlife of Bogota.</p> <p>Inspired by “One for all and all for one” they have a pact “One for Tutti and Tutti for Frutti”. Their common code: Worship of drink, the dominance of females and scorn for the weak.&nbsp;They carry on their boyhood bonding even in their thirties by getting together to relive the nostalgia and push the social boundaries.<br> </p> <p>The hero of the gang is Muñeco, also known as Mi-Lindo, Ken and Baby-Boy. He&nbsp;is handsome, wealthy, athletic, stylish, charmer, talker and party animal. He is short-fused, prone to rages and gets into brawls ending up sometimes with black eyes and broken bones. His appetites grow wild and twisted. After having exhausted a vast repertoire of sexual deviations and perversions, he goes after a little girl, rapes and kills her. He seeks the help of his brotherhood to help him out after the crime. But he is caught and convicted.&nbsp;</p> <p>The other four members of the brotherhood are: Tarabeo (aka Dino-rex, Rexona, Taras Bulba) is a playboy and master of the art of seduction. He makes plans and decisions for the group. He and Muñeco are known as the Divine boys; Duque (aka Nobleza, Dux) is a perfectionist. He is the wealthiest and has a country home where the Tutti Frutis meet for poker and drinking binges; Pildora (aka Pildo, Pilulo, Dorila) is the errand boy. He does whatever he is asked to do: shopping, driving, picking up things for others and supplying party drugs to the gang from his mother’s pharmacy; Hobbit (aka Hobbo, Bobbi and Job) is an introvert who is into literature and has a phobia against physical touch by others.&nbsp;He does not belong to the rich class of the other four. But the others take him in for his complementary qualities missing among themselves. There is a girl who joins the boy's group occasionally. She is Alicia (aka Malicia), the girlfriend of Duque&nbsp;but she has a secret affair with Tarebeo&nbsp;and flirts with Hobbit.<br> </p> <p>Laura Restrepo, the author makes the characters come alive with her graphic descriptions and&nbsp;elaborate&nbsp;narratives.&nbsp;She develops each character with their own phobias and fetishes, craziness and creative talents, inner demons and outer appearances. She describes how an individual is shaped as a monster in brotherhood gangs.&nbsp;She gives a glimpse of the Colombian society through the adventures and circumstances&nbsp;of the characters.&nbsp;Hobbit exclaims, “This country of ours has had so much war—so very much, borne for too long a time—that we the living have grown inured to it”.&nbsp;Colombia has suffered so much violence and death from ideological conflicts, guerilla wars and drug trafficking. Much more than any other Latin American country.</p> <p>The only disappointment is that after building up the&nbsp;characters and the story&nbsp;so steadily and elaborately,&nbsp;the author&nbsp;finishes the novel fast at the end. The reader who is settled in for a long journey is woken up and asked to get off the train before the imagined destination. But I had enjoyed long fantastic journeys in her&nbsp;other novels&nbsp;such as <i>Leopard in the Sun,</i>&nbsp;<i>Delirium</i>, <i>The angel of Galilea</i>, <i>The dark bride</i>&nbsp;and <i>Too many heroes</i>.</p> <p>Laura Restrepo is a gifted writer and guide to Colombian and Latin American society. Her works are not just pure imagination. Some of them are based on her own political experience and personal witness to violence, crime and wars. She combines the facts and fiction seamlessly and creatively in her novels. Her life is as interesting as her fiction. She has seen life from different angles as an academic, journalist, political leader, member of the guerrilla movement, writer and novelist. As a journalist, she was in the frontlines covering the US invasion of Grenada and the Contra war in Nicaragua.&nbsp;</p> <p>When she was working for a Colombian TV channel, she wrote the script for a miniseries on the theme of a deadly feud between two families involved in drug trafficking. But the channel did not air it since they received the visit of a lawyer who " mentioned about blowing up the office building of the TV channel"<br> </p> <p>In1982, President Betancur of Colombia nominated Restrepo as member of the commission to negotiate peace with the&nbsp;<a href="" title="19th of April Movement">M-19</a>&nbsp;guerrillas.&nbsp;She received death threats after voicing her loud opinions and comments on the peace negotiations and the guerrillas. She was forced to go on exile to Mexico for six years. During this time she wrote the novel " Isle of Passion" about the Mexican revolution after which an army group is stuck in an island off Mexico.<br> </p> <p>She started her career as a professor of literature at the National University of Colombia. She worked as editor of the popular magazine <i>Semana</i>&nbsp;for twelve years. and was later involved in the politics of Colombia and was a member of the Trotskyite party. She became a member of the Socialist Workers Party of Spain where she lived for three years. She was in Argentina for four years as part of the underground resistance fighting against the military dictatorship. This experience comes out in her novel,"No place for heroes". She was briefly married to an Argentine politician with whom she had a son.&nbsp;</p> <p><b>The author is an expert in Latin American affairs</b><br> </p> <p><b>&nbsp;</b></p> Sun Sep 13 19:29:06 IST 2020 consumerist-encounters-understanding-the-psyche-of-the-consumer <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>It is not clear if author and academic Sreedeep Bhattacharya approves of Rhea Chakraborty, despite their common ‘Bong’ness. But they do have a certain T-shirt connection, as it turns out.</p> <p>The actress, who was the epicentre of a media storm the past few weeks over the investigation into the death of her former boyfriend Sushant Singh Rajput, had famously worn a T-shirt deriding patriarchy on her last day of interrogation with the CBI and NCB. In his new book just out, titled ‘Consumerist Encounters’, Bhattacharya spends an entire chapter crunching down the socio-economic connotations of the humble T-shirt. After going through various examples ranging from text to colour to shade to genre (no, feminist tropes did not find a mention), he gives his opinion, “T-shirt captures the ephemeral tendencies of consumers to whimsically pick up ready-to-wear things and discard them soon, too. The T-shirt…is not eternal but ephemeral - till it lasts the wash.”</p> <p>This new book dwells deep on the various facets of post-liberalisation culture of consumerism in India. But before you groan, hear us out. This is not another celebration of MTV and Levi’s jeans, or all the shopping malls that everyone’s scared to go in these pandemic days anyway. Bhattacharya’s approach is much more in-depth, as he looks at various aspects of our culture that have been transformed, and defined by the economic changes brought about by (and since) the 1991 Union budget.</p> <p>For example, beside the just mentioned reference to T-shirts and how they went up in popularity despite (or because of) their apparent ‘ordinariness’, he narrates the ordinary individual’s relationship with commodity (product, item, object, whichever way you want to look at it), the importance of images in popular culture, how the need for ‘identity’ as defined the evolution of Indian society even from colonial times and how consumer culture has fundamentally changed in the last three decades. Somewhere right at the start of his discourse (it is difficult to call this a book, as many chapters have been individually presented as lectures at various forums), he comments, “Ephemerality ensures the rapidity of choosing, usage, and disposal of things and their images. That pace of moving on is unprecedented as the basket of choice has increased and the lifespan of things has shrunk.”</p> <p>The biggest strength, and weakness, of this book is the fact Bhattacharya, a sociologist and associate professor at Shiv Nadar University, uses a lingo normally found more in doctoral dissertations than in paperbacks. Every analysis is jazzed up with complex ‘academese’, with dutiful references and footnotes offered on every page for the more-curious. And that’s a pity, since a more reader-friendly text could have taken his incisive observations on anything from the nature of advertisements, how they have changed us a consumerist society and the milestones we’ve crossed in popular culture and its representation, to a much bigger, and appreciative, audience.</p> <p><b>Book: Consumerist Encounters: Flirting with Things and Images</b></p> <p><b>Author: Sreedeep Bhattacharya</b></p> <p><b>Publisher: Oxford University Press</b></p> <p><b>Pages: 292</b></p> <p><b>Price: Rs 1,599 (Hardcover, on</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> Sat Sep 12 19:32:19 IST 2020 parveen-babi-unraveled <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>When Parveen Babi, yesteryear's glamour diva in Hindi cinema, went to college in Ahmedabad in the 1960s, her hostel friends didn't really consider her an 'ideal roommate'. Babi's corner of the room was always a cluttered mess of unwashed clothes, books and loose sheets of paper. Babi's friend Mala recalls, however, that on rare occasions when Babi did clean up, her drive to sort out the mess would border around the obsessive.</p> <p>When the tall, slim, cigarette-smoking cool Babi was betrothed in college to a Karachi-based pilot, she would doodle his name in pillowcases and notebooks. And then on her wrists with a pin pressed hard on her skin, mesmerised by the trickle of blood oozing out and persisting with it to carve out the perfect initials of her long-distance beloved.</p> <p>Karishma Upadhyay, in her sumptuous biography of the glamorous star, situates this fanatical trait as an ominous warning. "One wonders if what might have passed off as the ultra-romantic gesture of a girl pining for her first love was, perhaps, the earliest marker of an obsessive mind. Later, the same disturbing behaviour would later manifest itself in Parveen's obsession with her co-star of many films—Amitabh Bachachan."</p> <p>In her biography of the actor, 'Parveen Babi: A Life', Upadhyay opens the book with the mentally broken starlet returning from a stage show in London engulfed in melancholy. She had left for the London tour excited and full of hope because Bachchan, her co-star from several films, was also part of the performing group. But she wasn't the centre of his attention there. After her return from the show, a scene of complete meltdown unfolds in that first chapter where Babi starts attacking her mother like a psychotic person.</p> <p>Upadhyay, a seasoned film journalist, unpacks the life and legend of the bold and beautiful Babi with meticulous research and care. She traces the journey of a shy, curious-eyed girl from an aristocratic family in Junagadh to an unconventional showstopper in the 1970s and 80s Hindi cinema who broke the "pious, nice girl" template to carve her own niche in over 50 films in a career spanning 15 years, with great commercial success in films like <i>Deewar</i>, <i>Shaan</i>, <i>Kaalia</i> and <i>Amar Akbar Anthony</i>. A complete outsider who blazed like a comet, defining her own rules. Paced easy with simple, flowing language, the gritty and gregarious subject herself with her glittering tale takes the plot forward without much effort.</p> <p>A free-spirited boheme, she was the darling of gossip columns in her time. The author unveils lesser-known facts about the actor's doomed romances, her delusional attachment to a spiritual mentor who counseled her to quit films, and her struggles with mental illness. Friends, former lovers, co-stars, parents and relatives have all been roped in to reconstruct the life of an extraordinary public figure whose rollercoaster ride of finding fame, love, money and losing it all is the stuff of great cinema history and lore.</p> <p><b>Parveen Babi: A Life by Karishma Upadhyay</b></p> <p><b>Publisher: Hachette</b></p> <p><b>Pages: 299</b></p> <p><b>Price: Rs 599</b></p> Wed Sep 09 11:50:54 IST 2020