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Book Review: The Green Room

I volunteered to review Wendell Rodricks’ The Green Room. I had heard only briefly heard of Wendell (courtesy one of his controversial shoots), I only knew he is a fashion designer. Since I did not know a thing about fashion, I thought it would be new knowledge. But when I saw the hard bound 355-page thick book, my spirits plummeted. I thought who wants to read soliloquies of a designer who is obviously too self-obsessed to write such a thick autobiography/memoir.

Half-hearted I dug into book, to my surprise the writing was good, it was in simple storytelling voice. I easily dug in the story. And story began right where he, a Goan guy, was born in a Bombay chawl and his journey to become the man he is today. In between, there are interesting vignettes such as about 1965 war, tales from Marinagar, and his Grandma Rita’s mystifying Konkan ritual to get rid of ‘disht’, an evil eye. And I thought, why did I never ask my parents how was it for them during the war, how, they were affected by several historical on goings. That is the stuff history is made of, that is how books like Art Spiegalman’s Maus come along and take their place in recording history.

But I digress, Wendell’s book though enshrines the ongoing historic pieces, it is in face a memoir of his personal journey. It is story of a Goan boy from middle-class Bombay chawl who goes on to make his name in International fashion.  It is achieved through variety of experiences starting from Oman where he worked in a hotel and then his dream to save and go to US to study fashion. Passing out with summa cum laude, he returns India to teach in SNDT college in Juhu and he finds he loves teaching. This is my favourite part too, to know few of India’s talented fashion designers such as Hemant Trivedi and Wendell love to teach. Wendell, eager to learn more, goes to Paris to study again – something that would stay with him all his life. He would years later go again for an internship in a Portuguese museum to learn about costume etc.

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Book Review: Between the Headlines

Between the headlines is everything the book blurb and the publisher claim to be – it is the journey of a TV reporter – her life and times. Unlike recent genre of books by Indian women – this is not a chick lit with juicy, eye-grabbing story about love life. Love figures, but it is not the focal point of the book. Focus always remains on the work life of a TV reporter.

Satyabhama Menon has just moved from Delhi to Bangalore as a TV reporter for new, upcoming N.E.W.S India channel. Like all journalism students, she has dreams to make a difference – and make it big while doing so. (I know because I was one myself longtime ago.) However, she realizes in a competitive business like TV journalism, talent is not the only factor that takes you places. There are small, asinine things as pesky bosses or input teams, office politics, jealous colleagues and of course TRPs that always govern the priorities. TV reporter, especially a budding one, remains a small cog in the network.

Saddled with mundane, mindless and menial (from a TV journalist’s POV) assignments such as vox populi (that too fake), small-time weather reports (involves a trip all the way to Coorg just to cover rains!), Satya struggles to carve her niche. It does not help Ram Kedhia, a high-ranking channel boss insists on sabotaging her career –keeps her on low-priority stories, or breaking news duty (which means though she is at work waiting for ‘breaking news’ she is not getting to work on stories) and worst while world is praising her story, he accuses her of inefficiency and unprofessionalism.

Yet Satya’s opportunities to shine come up from unexpected assignments. Even as a novice, she soon learns to use her resources well – gets her young cousin to find suitable college folks for vox pops, builds up rapport with her camera guys – who time and again will prove to be valuable allies. She finds herself increasingly disillusioned in the world of TV journalism – suddenly channel diktat arrive that since TRPs indicate crime beat is most popular and all useful stories from other genre are forgotten. Truth, even if an exclusive bite, is snipped and lies are both forgiven and forgotten without much ado by ‘honest’ idols.

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Book Review: The Devotion of Suspect ‘X’

This is one of those books where the meaning of the title sinks in with full force only when you have finished reading the book. But that is something I will leave you to find about yourself.

The Devotion of Suspect X is what I call one-sitting-novel, it is written by Keigo Higashimo. It is actually third book in his Inspector Galileo series, published in 2005 and widely translated and transformed into movies and TV shows.

Yet despite its suspenseful plot, this book is not a who-dunit as any decent review will tell you. A murder happens in first chapter. The murdered man is abusive, ex-husband of Yasuko who has been stalking her for years. Suspicion naturally falls over beautiful Yasuko who only wants to protect her daughter. Yasuko, once a night club hostess now works in a box lunch place. Unexpectedly, she finds an ally in her neighbour Ishigami, who is a mathematician.

In comes an observant, honest police detective Kusanagi – to his consternation even though everything on surface seems fine – Yasuko is too gentle to commit a pre-meditated murder and she also seems to have an alibi for the night of the murder – something doesn’t ‘feel’ right. There are no other leads either. Kusanagi has an intelligent physicist friend, Dr. Manabu Yukawa as a friend in Imperial college – this man often helps him close cases. Dr. Yukawa is also nicknamed as Inspector Galileo.

The next chapters unfold the plot layer by layer. Both, the police and the accused play an astute, graceful game of chess – with two characters that stand out clearly. The mathematician and the physicist, each responding other with a move . An equal and opposite reaction. As a reader, you are hooked, curious what comes next – and yet sometimes you root for few characters. Despite the fact you know that murder happened and who committed it, the details around it as much surprise you as they mystify you when they are unravelled.

The book is not intended to be a work of literature or a brilliant masterpiece in terms of plot, even though I must mention that plot has no loopholes, and all threads link together when you go back in the story. Yet I would say, that plot is commonplace, it is instead the crafty style of presenting the mystery is the disarming feature of the book. Another is its climax – it is one that I must admit I didn’t expect. It was not only a surprise but also proved rather disturbing to my ‘emotional’ sensitivities. And yet I abide by the end.

A very fast read where plot meanders and takes new course like a fast-flowing river. If you peek carefully, characters are bland and simple – Yasuko has some claim to righteousness but is meek enough to be boring, Kusanagi’s only redeeming feature is his observation, in particular observation of his genius friend (that solves cases perhaps), Ishigami is ‘Buddha’ – nothing as ‘ill-feeling’ ever emanates from him. It is just warring of wits and the way script throws surprises so often what maketh this book.

Lastly, a note must be added to acknowledge the translation by Alexander O. Smith. Though I’ve not read the original book in Japanese, but the way translated language kept up that sense of suspense and urgency – I believe translation has been a fruitful one.

Curl in bed with book, coffee on side – you should have one ‘thrilling’ ride

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Book Review: Delirious Delhi

I always love a book about Delhi – and the market is abuzz with them. I picked up Delirious Delhi solely because the author was co-blogger at a wonderful blog called Our Delhi Struggle. ‘Our Delhi Struggle’ was unique in the sense that it was collection of short, witty, first-hand experience of a couple who had moved from New York to Delhi. Their keenness to have ‘an authentic Dilli experience’ would often lead them to treasure troves and interesting revelations. For example, Dave and Jenny also found an old-style Hindi movie poster painter and had their own Bollywood poster painted that also adorns the book cover of Delirious Delhi. (The painter had his share of limelight in press thanks to Dave and Jenny.)

ImageDelirious Delhi can be easily called a tribute to Delhi, since it is obvious Dave and Jenny genuinely loved the city. The couple lived for two years in Delhi, after which they moved to Singapore.

And they did manage to have that ‘authentic’ experience. Dave, an advertising agency executive in Gurgaon lived in Hauz Khas. He did what millions of Delhites do everyday – travel to work. For more than a decade in Delhi, I too have travelled on an average 3-4 hours to and fro college or work. They zipped around the city in autos, learned various tricks/tips to bargain. Again, this is something I had to do every day (tough job at times) for 2 years when I worked in GK-2 – right in that square that has Nathu’s where Dave had his first meal in India.

The couple  went all round Delhi for the Indian food they would come to love – imagine my surprise when I read in the book ‘best South Indian food in Delhi can be eaten at Saravanna Bhawan’. I thought, how did he know! Since I keep finding people in north who are not so aware about it. Mystery soon unravelled – Dave and Jenny were part of Eating Out in Delhi group – and sample food from all over Delhi, including gastronomic delights of Old Delhi. I smiled when Dave was unimpressed with over-hyped Khan Market – I agreed.

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Book Review: Delhi: 14 Historic Walks

They say, you learn more about a city by walking around.  You walk around Florence, Paris, Munich, Edinburgh and even New York! Delhi, a city I call home and one that is 100 years old this year, is another such city that can be appreciated on walks. ‘Delhi – 14 historic walks’ is a delightful guide book that helps you to accomplish that.

ImageFrankly, this book does not need a book review to extol its virtues. Its back cover lists its merits in simple no-nonsense words in the back cover. However, to do the book and Blogadda’s book program justice, I will first air my views for the record.

I jumped to have this book since I have been on Delhi walks (and none by INTACH to which Swapna Liddle belongs to but that I will come to later). Delhi has a fantastic cultural heritage, but most of us even while living in the city sleep-walk through it. I did.

I think I re-visited even the popular monuments Red Fort, Qutab Minar when I was studying at a college in Delhi, at least a decade after when I first visited those in childhood. That too because I had to take an NRI friend of mine around the city. I haven’t forgotten my ignorance and the embarrassing fact that I was enormously proud that I have never cared enough for these ‘cliche’ places to visit myself. And even if we deign to visit these places, we hardly see/know things. We fail to appreciate the beauty and wonder of it.

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Book Review: The House of Silk, New Sherlock Holmes Novel

ImageThis is a book I would have never ever bought myself simply because I am cynic and did not really believe someone could pull off a Sherlock spinoff with same panache. I am only happy to admit that I was proven wrong.

Just under first 20 pages, I could sense Anthony Horowitz has stepped fairly well into Watson’s shoes. It begins, as did all Doyle stories, with Holmes making his remarks and surprising people with his deductions.

The House of Silk is an investigation conducted by Holmes that was believed to be too horrific in nature to be revealed at the time. Therefore, Watson records this investigation in the twilight years of his life, after the death of Sherlock Holmes, with instruction that it should be published a century after his death.

The case begins when the client walks into the now familiar house at 221B, Baker Street. The client is Edmund Carstairs, an art gallery co-owner. He has had a brief brush with a gang in past which once destroyed his paintings. He believes he is now being followed by the one of the gang members for vendetta. Mr. Holmes is intrigued but relaxed. Events take an unpredictable course when one of the street urchins – part of Wiggin’s army – assisting him is brutally murdered. Holmes, regretful for unknowingly putting an innocent urchin in the harm’s way, is determined to bring the killer to justice. This leads both Holmes and Watson on a journey where there are several traps, guns and pitfalls. Meanwhile, Edmund Carstairs’ family seems to be disintegrating. Holmes must not only find the killer but save his reputation by stopping what is assailing the Carstairs, who like everybody else seem to be losing their faith in him.

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Book Review: Zero Percentile 2.0

Zero Percentile 2.0 (ZP2) is sequel to Zero Percentile written by Neeraj Chibba that was published by Rupa in 2010.  The characters in Zero Percentile have grown up and stepped into big, wild world of corporate business.

ZP2 is set up in Gurgaon, a colossal noveau center of India’s IT hub. This is where two best friends, Motu and Pankaj, set up an IT business together. They begin well, bagging crucial first, big contracts until the past intervenes. Friends separate and businesses are divided. But there’s more. Their closest friends and business associates are forced to choose amongst them. A wife and a mother have to decide the side they are one. ZP2 is story of these friends who strive to survive in cut- throat world of software industry, where a bigger shark is always ready to gobble up the smaller ones. And the lines between friends and foe aren’t always visible.

ImageEach character in ZP2 has his/her unique personal problem – they juggle this beside their demanding jobs where they are fighting against a hostile takeover. The book is divided into three parts – the first where a small but robust IT company is facing a threat from a mysterious source, the second the flashback where all friendship and closely-knit relationships are revealed and third where culmination takes place.

The story in ZP2 moves pretty fast, therefore, you do not mind it when you see blatant filmy moments like a helicopter ride to Haryana and ensuing mutual admiration in the conversation between pilot and the passenger. Or how the husband and wife bond with each other over an anonymous chat online. (I can’t recall but there is a movie like that by Revathy). You are still engaged because so much is always happening. Every time Taj was mentioned, I expected a reminder of past tragedy and I was right it does weave one of ZP2 characters.

And yet you do not mind any of its small predictabilities, because ZP2 has a heart. It is never judgemental of its characters and refuses to pander to traditional righteousness. For example, It doesn’t judge a mother harshly when she is unable to shower her love unconditionally at her offspring who she considers as her failure. Neither does it judge a person for ambition.

It also carries forward the story of Nitin from Zero Percentile; Nitin is the guy with AIDS. It stands up for his right to have privacy and live with dignity. Nitin’s story reminds me of true story of Dr. Tokugha of Nagaland who sued the hospital for making his HIV status public. Ironically, the court case only ensured that his HIV status was a newspaper headline. To me on this story, focus was not how Dr. Toku might have got AIDS, but rather his right to live with dignity and love.  (Believe me, he finds both in real life). I am not aware if Neeraj has read the story of Dr. Toku but that is exactly what he has focussed on in ZP2 – the right of an AIDS patient to live with dignity. Nitin for me is brave, fictional version of Dr. Toku.

I happened to read another book Aftertaste by Nandita Devidayal a day after reading ZP2. Aftertaste is also a story of Marwari family of business class, who run a mithai business. While Aftertaste is so deliciously salacious and wicked, ZP2 manages to retain tenderness and warmth even with such a competitive setting. I suggest reading both the books for their realistic and unique narrative in world of Indian business and subtle differences that both books throw upon.

You may know more about the author Neeraj Chhibba on his Web site and his blog. ZP2 is available on Flipkart for Rs. 105/-.


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