The Paradox of Vantage Point by Indrani Singha Majumdar: A Review

cover_1The Paradox of Vantage Point 

Indrani Singha Majumdar

Six Word Summary: Three people. Three genders. Interactions happen. :|.

I rate it: 6/10

Indrani Singha Majumdar’s debut work of fiction is about three people from completely different walks of life who are forced to share close quarters and begin caring for each other. Anwesha Nair, a somewhat prejudiced writer, enters willy nilly into a flat-sharing arrangement with Raghubir Kishor, an eunuch. This mismatched duo is soon joined by an happy-go-lucky guy called Vikram Madane who moves in to a flat on the same floor. Things happen and people are forced to grow out of the biases built into their very cores, except that is easier than it sounds and rarely takes place with any lasting impact in real life. Continue reading

Sherlock Holmes and the Birth of the Ashes by Arunabha Sengupta: A Review

51DI4avPjPL._SX311_BO1,204,203,200_Sherlock Holmes and the Birth of the Ashes

Arunabha Sengupta

Cover art by Austin Coutinho shows a caricature of the characters with our heroes in the foreground and perfectly captures the mood of the novel: precise, intriguing, and subtly funny.

Six word summary: Holmes reveals cricket isn’t actually cricket.

I rate it: 8/10

Arunabha Sengupta’s pastiche on Sherlock Holmes in the backdrop of a historic cricket match caters primarily to two groups of people: Fans of Sherlock Holmes (popularly known as Holmies) like me, and fans of cricket (popularly known as kooks) not like me.

Of course, its dream reader is a Holmie who is also a kook. That said, people in the non-intersection of either sets will also probably enjoy this book to a great degree. I certainly did.

In the close of August, 1882, a legendary match was played in the Oval between Australia and England. It was memorable on many counts. Not only did England fail to chase a fairly chasable target and lose the match, the fabled W G Grace conned a young Australian into losing his wicket by what was widely regarded as a dastardly ploy, and thus triggered a spree of vengeful play by the dreaded Australian bowler Fred Spofforth. The galleries too were not devoid of peculiarities that day; a fan had died of excitement during the course of the match while another had chewed clean though the wooden handle of his umbrella.

This much history tells us.

What we didn’t know, before Arunabha Sengupta told us the story, is the role played by the  gentlemen residents of 221B in the events of this match and in the shaping of English and international cricket. Though we should have figured it out, really, if we fans  had put our heads together. After all, the events described in A Study in Scarlet took place only a year prior to the infamous match. Continue reading

180 Random Observations Made While Re-reading Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (Part 3)

This is the last of three parts of the fifth post on the Harry Potter Re-read Project. The first was published here, the second here, the third here, and the fourth here. Be sure, also, to read Part 1 here and Part 2 here.
What I’m doing here is making a record of random thoughts that popped into my mind while reading each book. It’s not a list of loopholes, or a list of questions, or a list of FTW moments, or WTF moments either, though it has a bit of everything. It’s just a random list that I randomly made.

Points 121-180 in this post.

121. Since Harry Potter joined the Gryffindor team in 1991, Gryffindor has suffered four defeats, one to Ravenclaw and THREE to Hufflepuff. The lions, in fact, have won just one match against the badgers, in Harry’s first year. It is a shame the Gryffindor has such a pitying, condescending attitude towards the Huffies despite getting its butt kicked by them 75% of the time on the field. Hufflepuff, and not Slytherin, is Gryffindor’s Quidditch nemesis.

122. Of course, it must be pointed out that in all four instances of defeat, Harry either missed the match altogether, or was unable to stay till the end, or was sabotaged in some way, because of  the following entities: disembodied Voldemort, dementors, Dolores Umbridge, and Cormac MacLaggen.

123. This is the second instance we see a team losing to another by 10 points despite getting the Snitch. The first, of course, was Bulgaria losing to Ireland in the 422nd Quidditch World Cup Final.

124. In Book 1, after Harry catches the Snitch in his mouth, Draco taunts Harry that a wide-mouthed tree frog is going to replace him as Seeker. Four years later, Draco’s pronouncement does come true of sorts: Harry is replaced from the position of Seeker by a wide-mouthed frog. (Yes, I know the word replace is used in two different senses here. Just play along.) Continue reading

180 Random Observations Made While Re-reading Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (Part 2)

This is the second of three parts of the fifth post on the Harry Potter Re-read Project. The first was published here, the second here, the third here, and the fourth here. Be sure, also, to read Part 1 here and Part 3 here.
What I’m doing here is making a record of random thoughts that popped into my mind while reading each book. It’s not a list of loopholes, or a list of questions, or a list of FTW moments, or WTF moments either, though it has a bit of everything. It’s just a random list that I randomly made.

Points 61-120 in this post. Watch this space, third part will be out over the weekend.

61. Be honest, Pottheads. how many of you actually read through Umbridge’s speech diligently, and how many of you read the first paragraph like me and just skimmed through the rest? Like Harry and Ron, I preferred to put my trust in Hermione’s summarization in all previous re-reads.

Having been told off for this by Abhishek Mukherjee, I went back today and read the damn thing, and have officially confirmed my suspicion that JKR did not mean for it to be read, otherwise she would not have made it so boring.

62. Harry’s first night at school this year is awful; he has a falling out with someone he had considered a friend. Hermione is not having a pleasant night either. In fact, hers is probably worse, because of the gap in IQ between her and her dorm-mates, and the frustration she must have felt at their gossip-mongering. All the same, Hermione trusts Lavander and Parvati enough to invite them to the DA meeting. Even more importantly, they attend. Which means, though they probably don’t understand her, they respect Hermione’s opinions over those of the Daily Prophet.

63. MacGonagall might be a very hard taskmistress, but she genuinely cares a lot about Harry. She’s not too practised at displaying softer emotions, though, and tries to replace them, as many others do, with an offer of food, in this case a biscuit.

64. Umbridge affects me as a villain in the series much more than Voldemort, who is very much a cartoon supervillain, or his followers who are basically weak. Umbridge is much more relatable; many of us know an Umbridge or a part-Umbridge personally and even if we don’t we can visualise one in our lives: bigoted, unscrupulous, malicious. She is no ordinary bully, she is a control freak who is drunk on power, who can only feel comfortable when others around her are submitting to her, who identifies only with her position (as Undersecretary) and is actually subhuman in other aspects. Continue reading

180 Random Observations Made While Re-reading Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (Part 1)

This is the first of three parts of the fifth post on the Harry Potter Re-read Project. The first was published here, the second here, the third here, and the fourth here. Be sure, also, to read Part 2 here.
What I’m doing here is making a record of random thoughts that popped into my mind while reading each book. It’s not a list of loopholes, or a list of questions, or a list of FTW moments, or WTF moments either, though it has a bit of everything. It’s just a random list that I randomly made.

Points 1-60 in this post. Watch this space, second part will be out tomorrow.

ootpee

1. The order of the Phoenix is my least  favourite book vecause it is goddamn dark and depressing, Harry has hormonal rages and talks in capslock for like half the book, and there is that hideous toad Umbridge who still appears in my nightmares sometimes. However, this book builds so much ground for the next two books, that it is worth reading with a magnifying glass. It is also one of the tightest in terms of plot.

2. If the Dursley’s neighbours are “the sort of people who thought scruffiness ought to be punishable by law,” isn’t it strange that Petunia and Vernon, who value  nothing more than normalcy and fitting in, should purposefully have kept Harry shabby and unkempt in Dudley’s clothes?

3. Do you remember the fan community’s excitement (and mine with it) at the mention of a muggle boy called Mark Evans who gets beaten up by Dudley. He was supposed to have been Harry’s muggleborn wizard cousin from his mother’s brother, or his mother’s unwed sister, and he was to have been either Harry’s saviour or his foil. But of course, this passage is the first and last we hear of Mark Evans, which is not at all strange you know. After all, the names in Harry Potter that aren’t completely outlandish, are pretty common, and just because you hear of a boy who has your mum’s very common maiden last name does not mean he has to be related to you. Continue reading

Gaata Rahe Mera Dil: 50 Classic Hindi Film Songs by Anirudha Bhattacharjee and Balaji Vittal

gataGaata Rahe Mera Dil

50 Classic Hindi Film Songs

 Anirudha Bhattacharjee and Balaji Vittal

I rate it: 8/10

I admit, reader, that when I write for you, I generally assume you are somewhat like me. A risky presumption, surely, but it helps me write. So I believe your ideal weekend evening also involves a half-bottle of whiskey, cigarettes being passed around, a few very close friends, one of whom is strumming a guitar, people singing along to the melodies of long ago (me only humming), and a discussion about everything under the blue sky, books, movies, and particularly music.

Gaata Rahe Mera Dil is like your Saturday evening in paperback. All you need to bring along is the booze (optional) and a tab opened to Youtube (recommended). Anirudha Bhattacharjee and Balaji Vittal supply the rest. 50 wonderful songs from 1941 to 1992, complete with anecdotes, gossip (but not the nasty kind), analysis of lyrics and composition, stories about the picturisation and loads of lovely trivia. Really, what more could a fan want? Continue reading

Know That You Have Won.

When they take out their knives, know that you have won.
When they try to put a gag on your mouth and fail and try to cut out your tongue and fail and finally slit your throat, know that you have won.
When their twisted tiny brains can no longer process your logic, you have won.
When they would rather murder than understand, when they get so angry that a machete is their only answer, you have won.
When you have reduced them to killing, you have won.
When the only way to shut you up is to chop you to pieces, you have won.
When they decide they cannot possibly survive in the same world as you, know that you have won.

In memory of writers who have chosen death over silence, and in celebration of those who won.

Say their names. Remember their names.

Ahmed Rajiv Haidar

Asif Mohiuddin

Avijit Roy

Sunnayur Rehman

Washiqur Rahman

Ananta Bijoy Das

Niladri Chatterjee Niloy

 

———————————————————————————————–

In solidarity, in strength:

Kausik Datta: Plight of secular bloggers in Bangladesh

Tanmay Mukherjee: ধর্ম, ব্লগ আর এক ঘেয়ে খুন-টুন

Tapabrata Banerjee: আহত কলম

Abhishek Mukherjee: আইডিয়া

Rohon Kuddus: আমার মহানবী

Prabirendra Chatterjee: ঊনচল্লিশের এক এবং অন্যান্য – বাংলাদেশ প্রসঙ্গে

Amritorupa Kanjilal: Know that you have won.

 

Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee: a very disappointed review.

go set a watchmanGo Set  A Watchman

Harper Lee

Six Word Summary: Mockingbird, grown up, sans the magic

I rate it: 3.5/10

All of my life, I have spoken about Harper Lee as the lady who died having written just one single perfect book. Understandably, when it was announced that her second novel would be released this summer, I was so shocked that she was still alive that I forgot to be thrilled. This became a running joke between me and  my friend who had been similarly taken by surprise, culminating in this pun that I’m particularly proud of, which all of three people got (two with prodding)

I confess the purpose of the last paragraph was mainly to tell that joke again, but also to make it clear that the eagerness with which I waited for Go Set A Watchman was enormous. Even when there were reports that Harper Lee has forever polluted the personality of her most iconic character.

In Go Set a Watchman, an adult Jean Louise “Scout” Finch, now settled in New York, returns to the town of her childhood for two weeks to find that nothing has changed and yet, everything has changed. She interacts with some family members, reminisces about her childhood,  discovers her father attending a pro-segregation meeting, is heartbroken when the old housekeeper disowns her, mopes dramatically for a while, interacts some more with elderly relatives, suddenly has an epiphany, and stops moping.

That is all.

Many reviewers, and many friends on Facebook, have expressed utter distress at the fact that “Atticus is racist.” I beg to differ from them. Atticus, seen from the eye of an 28-year old daughter, is understandably more nuanced, more imperfect, less heroic, than as seen through the eyes of the same girl at eight. I would actually have been disappointed had shades of grey not been added to his character this time. Atticus was a humanitarian, an intelligent, logical, golden-hearted person with an uncompromising conscience who thought way ahead of his time. But he was human, and it would have been superhuman of him to have developed 21st century sensibilities back in the Jim Crow era. What’s more, people change as the world changes, as they lose their loved ones and see the very people they have been fighting for turn against them.

Atticus’s political sentiments or that one time he attended a KKK meet is not what put me off the story. In my opinion, these were interesting premises for a sequel. The reasons the book did NOT work for me are different.

Usually, it is not fair to compare a book to the previous writings of a writer, but the fact is that the only reason Go Set a Watchman was published, anticipiated, and read is the magic of To Kill a Mockingbird. If you are a Harper Lee fan, you are probably still going to acquire this book sooner or later; all I can offer you then is a more realistic set of  expectations: Continue reading

Penguins Stopped Play by Harry Thompson: A Review

pspPenguins Stopped Play

Harry Thompson

Six Word Summary: 11 washouts take on world, lose.

I rate it 8.5/10

Growing up without an interest in cricket in India has to be very similar to growing up as an atheist in the bible belt: you have a lot more free time because you don’t spend hours attending meaningless rituals. And you get heckled a LOT in the playground. Like, really a lot. People call you names and push you, till you begin spending recess time in the library.

Despite all the explicit peer pressure, I never took to cricket. Grown men in flannel fancy-dress languidly chasing a ball and taking themselves way too seriously failed to appeal to either my sense of absurdity or my sense of realism.

Strangely, the peer pressure has not declined in my adult years, and perhaps because I’m growing more tolerant, I have begun giving in more often. I was dragged out by friends to trawl the roads of Hyderabad at midnight when India  won the World Cup in 2011. I have been coerced to write this mockumentary style (almost entirely fictional) article about Stephen King’s cricket connection. I am often bullied into taking cricket quizzes which calculate how much I know about fast bowlers (absolutely nothing) and which Indian cricketer I actually am (Virender Sehwag). And sometimes I am given cricket book recommendations, which I generally manage to duck (hee). Except this once, when I read Penguins Stopped Play (admittedly, I had asked for a recommendation this time.)

Harry Thompson, despite his love of playing, was such a mediocre player that he was perpetually left out of his school and college teams. Frustrated by the lack of opportunity to play cricket, he and his friends formed a team of their own, named it after history’s most tragic runner-up, Captain Robert F. Scott, and began challenging various village and school teams to play. Captain Scott XI, unfortunately, absorbed its philosophy from its eponym and deemed it far more honourable to lose than to try to win, with the result that most teams refused to have anything to do with such willfully feeble opponents after the first game. Nonetheless, the team thrived and grew, but with the inclusion of fresh blood, cracks began to develop. The new players were just as rubbish as the original ones, but they, especially the ones from the colonies, actually thought it was worthwhile and fun to try and win. That is a very basic difference in ethics, and expectedly, after a bout of mutual petty sabotage and bitterness, the team split; Harry Thompson continued to skipper the fighting team while the layabouts went their own way. Continue reading

The Heat and Dust Project by Devapriya Roy and Saurav Jha: A Review

51xWhJizcXL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_The Heat and Dust Project

Devapriya Roy and Saurav Jha

Six word summary: Hot. Dusty. Wonderlusty. Cheap hotels=crusty.

The Heat and Dust project has been raising quite a bit of dust (though thankfully not heat) in the Indian biblio circles this year. The reason is obvious. We read often, usually in the weekend colour supplements of our newspapers, about MBAs and corporate sharks chucking their worlds of security and social comfort to take the plunge into something crazy, something that could possibly ruin them, something they have dreamed of all their lives. No less frequent are the Kerouc/Ginsberg styled grass-fueled poets who make their way across the vastness of India, free from financial concerns and (I presume) baths. However, how frequently have you heard about a normal, middle-class working couple who decide to take an indefinite break from their careers and go backpacking through the country on a shoestring budget? People are intrigued, and with good reason. Continue reading

110 Random Observations Made While Re-reading Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (Part 2)

This is the  second part of the fourth post on the Harry Potter Re-read Project. The first was published here ,the second here, and the third here. Be sure, also, to read Part 1 here.

What I’m doing here is making a record of random thoughts that popped into my mind while reading each book. It’s not a list of loopholes, or a list of questions, or a list of FTW moments, or WTF moments either, though it has a bit of everything. It’s just a random list that I randomly made.

 Please note that this post, unlike the earlier ones, contains some text that could be considered NSFW (that is, if you read in very enhanced font and you have prudish colleagues who tend to rubberneck at your screen). But that should not bother you, dear Potthead. Harry and his friends are growing up, Hogwarts is sloshing with hormones, days are getting darker and more sinister. You and I cannot go on being children now.

51. I think the depiction of house elves in this universe is mirroring the speech pattern of people of African origins in the days of slavery (primarily in the use of double negatives to imply negative). But it bears thinking, are house elves really enslaved creatures, or is it in their special nature to serve humans, and Dobby is just a freak? He is certainly treated as a freak by the other elves, and even he seems to want to keep a low profile on his thirst for freedom.

52.

‘ Can I have a look at Uranus too, Lavender?’

A. Mukherjee points out that it took Lavender two years to accede to this request.

53.

‘…”The Yule Ball is of course a chance for us all to – er – let our hair down,” she said, in a disapproving voice.’

Professor McGonagall’s  apparent disapproval is both endearing and in character, but we have seen her getting tipsy before at Christmas, breaking into blushes and giggles at a kiss from Hagrid.

54.

‘He found it hard to concentrate on Snape’s Potions test, and consequently forgot to add the key ingredient — a bezoar — meaning that he received bottom marks.’

Two years down the line, forgetting a bezoar would have meant a far more serious loss in Harry’s life, but fortunately he remembers.

55. If Parvati and Padma are the ‘best looking girls in the year’, how come they are the last to find dates for the ball? Continue reading

110 Random Observations Made While Re-reading Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (Part 1)

This is the  first part of the fourth post on the Harry Potter Re-read Project. The first was published here, the second here, and the third here. Be sure, also, to read Part 2 here.
What I’m doing here is making a record of random thoughts that popped into my mind while reading each book. It’s not a list of loopholes, or a list of questions, or a list of FTW moments, or WTF moments either, though it has a bit of everything. It’s just a random list that I randomly made.
 Please note that this post, unlike the earlier ones, contains some text that could be considered NSFW (that is, if you read in very large font and you have prudish colleagues who tend to rubberneck at your screen). But that should not bother you, dear Potthead. Harry and his friends are growing up, Hogwarts is sloshing with hormones, days are getting darker and more sinister. You and I cannot go on being children now.

1. Goblet of Fire is not, in my opinion, one of the best books in the series, because of the massive plot holes I’ll touch upon. However, it IS the most fun book, primarily because of the suspension of ordinary school curriculum, and the fact that everybody’s hormones start kicking in. Also, dragons.

2. Cover art conclusions by a first time reader: Harry is fighting dragons! And stealing eggs! Probably to fill up some goblet with fire.

cover 4
3. Cover spoiler: As soon as the reader finds out what the first task will be, they can guess how Harry will play it, thus rendering pages of suspense useless.

4. The book starts with the first Voldemort dream that Harry has. However, strangely, Harry sees the dream not from the PoV of Voldemort or his snake, but from a detached PoV. A later dream in this book will have him share the PoV of an owl. Could this be because the Dark Lord has not yet assumed a body? Continue reading