Thursday, September 27, 2012

The Krishna Key - A review

When blogadda announced that Ashwin Sanghi's next book was up for review, I pounced on the opportunity to read up on what could be a worthy successor to his Chanakya's Chants (which really was a 'cannot-put-down' read).

So when the book came, I could barely wait for nightfall (reading is a pleasure that is now confined to when the kids are tucked in and the rest of the world has drifted to sleep). A few pages down, and one gets a sense of deja-vu in the book. That's when it hits you - a brilliant (and sexy) scientist, framed for murder, on the run with another female scientist (yup! sexy one again) trying to solve a mystery while evading the law. Vaguely familiar? It's like someone tore up the pages of 'The Da Vinci Code' and 'Angels and Demons', shuffled them up, and replaced the Christian stories with Hindu mythology, and sewed it up again.

Not that one should dismiss the book as a 'copy'..... Its not original, but definitely worth a read. Let me try and get into the nitty-gritties without giving away the plot. As I usually approach reviews, lets look at the various aspects:

  • Plot : Yes, you've already read something that looks like this, and in all probability, you know what the next chapter is going to tell you sooner or later. You also know that the similarities between this book and other best sellers are not coincidences. But the book still manages to strike a chord - maybe its the renewed interpretation of the stories we've heard from our grannies; or maybe its the attempt to get to the 'patriotic' Indian in us - the book gloats about the superiority of the mighty civilizations that existed in the Indian sub-continent (there! doesn't that ALREADY appeal to you?) and how historians from the 'West' tried to change a few facts to change history. So yes, the book certainly has pages and pages of well-researched feel-good facts about our glorious past, interwoven with a tried and tested plot.
However, the only problem with this plot was that sometimes, it goes all over the place, hinting that the author himself might have been confused how he wants it to end. Somehow, the climax leaves you wanting to turn yet another page and find a closure to the whole madness in the murders. The gruesome murders seem pointless and unexplained in the end.

  • Writing style : Its a la Sanghi all the way. Just as in Chanakya's Chants, we move back and forth in time. The events in the mythological character's life are used as bookmarks to pave the way to the next big revelation in the present. But one can't help comparing the two books by this author; and when one does compare this to Chanakya's Chants, this one comes across as slightly confused, slightly forced. Some of the connections between mythology and the present were lost to me, which was not the case with Chanakya. But, having said that Sanghi does not disappoint with the research. (I learnt that Ranchordas is a name for Krishna!!) Yes, sometimes one does feel inadequate while reading (you see, everyone in the book - from a murderer to a thug, seems to be an expert in history and symbolism!) but the explanations are made out in simple language. It does force one to rethink all that was taught to us in the name of 'Indus Valley Civilization'.
  • Character development : Could have been much, much better. When one reads, the words have to be able to paint faces to the names. Somehow, I couldn't put a well-defined face to even the main protagonists in the story. The characters with shades of grey had much more scope in terms of why they are as they are. Like I said earlier, some actions seem forced - because the author wanted a certain closure -  and not because that would have been the logical course of events.
  • Words and print quality: There were no grammatical or typo errors, which is a big thing these days. Editing could have done much more, some distinctive words (the kinds you would remember when you read them once) have been repeated quite close to each other, and in two places the character names have been mixed up. (I had to read the para twice to understand what the author wanted to express!). Good print quality, spaced out words, right font size..... it is easy on the eyes.

Final verdict : A definite one time read. I don't think it will go on the bookshelf as a timeless classic, but it is definitely one that I would lend out to a friend when they are on a long flight; the flight will seem shorter. Expect however, to feel a little disappointed for want of a more reasonable closure.

This review is a part of the Blogadda Indian Bloggers Book Reviews Program at Blogadda. Participate now to get free books!

Friday, September 21, 2012

The Backdoor VIPs

Rural Kerala is discretely chauvinistic. Even the houses. Even modern, upper middle class houses. But these houses only gave the woman of the house much more personal space than other normal houses. Let me explain.

Every home (unless they are the unimaginative new apartments that are mushrooming everywhere!) has a boundary wall (varying from mud mounds lined with the thorny pineapple plants, to imposing structures with spikes and electric lamps) with a gate (again varying from little bamboo strips to iron), which then leads through a pathway into a front door.

The front was a signature for most homes - this was where the man of the house would spend most of his 'thinking' time. Morning teas to after dinner debates were all held at the veranda of the front door. One could often see a worn out easy-chair that usually belonged to the patriarch of the house.

Looking closely at the pathway, one could see another smaller path winding itself towards the back yard of the home. Usually in close proximity with the kitchen or the wash-up area, the back door was a little less glamorous than its pompous brother. If one overlooks this minor superficial point, the back door had much more character - maybe because of the colorful variety of  visitors that door saw through.

In my home, the back door was always open, unlike the front door, which was more anglicised. The front door was of carved wood, with a fancy door knob and an even fancier door bell. Traditionally, all houses in Kerala had open doors. But then, what was the point of keeping a fancy door bell if one did not have to summon someone to open the door? So, the front door evolved into being the 'closed' door, while the back door had sunlight, random noises, and happiness streaming in throughout the day.

After much prodding, my mother relented and allowed a net door to be placed, which could be closed without interrupting the senses. This also meant a stop to the stray visitors who flew in along with the sun - little sparrows looking for the rice that managed to sneak out along with the husk while Mom had sifted the two; or little lost squirrels who suddenly discovered that the floor was a lot cooler than the one outside.

But other visitors were not dissuaded by the net door - my Mother's "VIP"s (as we all liked to call them). The old lady servant who had, in her better years, bathed, powdered, kohl-ed and trudged the little kids of the household to a school many kilometers away; the neighbour's mother who did not hear too well anymore; the slightly deranged schoolteacher who was once a freedom fighter, but was hazy on the difference between fantasy and reality; and many more such interesting old folks - the ones who have the time to pause and admire the drawing of a child; or the ones who have the time to sit and tell you fascinating stories of kings and queens.

Every day, there would be one or more of these visitors. They came just to chat sometimes; or just to have a cup of tea served to them with a smile. They came because they saw in Mom, a connection to the good days they had witnessed; or maybe because they were hungry and wanted a few bites without seeing a frown. As young children, we were fascinated, sometimes scared, and yet sometimes, entertained, by Mom's VIPs. This then changed to irritation at the perceived loss of privacy, and then to just plain indifference.

As we moved on in life, we saw them only once in a few months, and then heard news of them moving on to a different world, one which, in all probability, would treat them much better than this one did.

Why do I write about them today? I don't know. Maybe I seek pardon for having been irritable and indifferent to people who really did care without a reason. Maybe I realize that life does mean all about little pleasures - like the sparrows and the squirrels who mistook the back door balcony for their homes....

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Of little lessons from great people .............

"Because my Miss told me....." my nine year old whines when I ask her why she did something different from what I had asked her to do. The first time, it did come as a shock that she would take someone else's word against mine, but then I took a ride down memory lane, and discovered I was no different!

I realize now that I have been very fortunate with the kind of people that the Almighty has scattered all over my life, at various stages. This is an attempt to dig into memory and try to thank those 'teachers' I've had in my life.
  • The nurturer : My first day at formal school was in Dubai Indian High - a huge campus, with hundreds of classes, and thousands of students. My parents were paranoid, my mom was ready to cry at the drop of a hat, and I was equipped with brand new paraphernalia - all pink! Mrs. Simon, my class teacher for nursery and prep, was the sweetest little lady I had seen (as a 4 year old, that is) and she had a soothing tone to her voice, which put all my separation anxiety to rest. I was the topper in her class for two consecutive years - a performance which never repeated itself! She instilled the love of words and letters and crayons in me - Ma'am, thank you!
  • The tough coach : My sports coach, Mrs. Omana  - who made sure I didn't give up too early, and made sure I walked away when it was time to do so. All the basketball matches, the throwball matches and the badminton matches that she stood by me, in the hot sun, was the only reason I went on to become a house captain in the later years of my life. But the most important lesson I learnt was to be a team player. I was coaxed, warned, punished and rewarded to instill this life skill - thank you Ma'am.
  • The passionate artist: In middle school, habits are formed that change the way your life takes course. Kalpana Ma'am, who came by as my English teacher in the fifth, changed the way I looked at books, the way I approached stage fright, and started a saga of prizes for debates, extempores and poetry recitals that followed me all through high school. She would sit after class to get the right emotions into my recital - for many days, she would even call up Dad to let me stay longer. After this, I've always had, in every class I studied, someone who stacked books into my arms and forced me to read - this, I realize, is the only reason I am able to write what I do today. Prameela Ma'am, Rasika Ma'am..... thank you!
  • The mother figure : While struggling with a tragedy that affected my sister and me, Vasanthi Ma'am took us under her wing - like a mother hen. She never had a frown, never an impatient glance at the clock, never an irritated sound when I approached her with all the rebelliousness of a teen, and the grace of a hippo. A few years later, when my sister faced difficulties she stepped up and became a mentor to her as well. Thank you Ma'am!
  • The stern administrator : The principal of my high school is a lady of steel. She was the disciplinarian, and the very mention of her office made the worst of us behave. Yet, it was her that prodded me to work harder, push myself further - and a word of praise from her made my day! Thank you Sugeetha Ma'am!
The college mentors : I would rather call the faculty in college mentors, as they were more than just faculty - they sorted out so much of our confused minds, that in the span of 3 years, we were ready to take on the world. While there were so many faculty members who contributed to our lives, a quick mention of some here:
  • Mr. Prakash : Its tough being a disciplinarian. I realize that now, when I need to manage a team, and of course, manage my kids. Its tougher being a disciplinarian to a bunch of hormone crazed morons, who think they are adults. Its even tougher when you are also responsible for their careers - and he did it with aplomb. Whether it has to do with punctuality, or grooming, or attitude - he preferred to take on the tag of the 'bad guy' instead of going soft on us. Sir - thank you!
  • Mr. Ranjit Pillai : While preferring to take the back stage whenever there is any limelight, this person was, in my life (and many others who had him as a guide) a troubleshooter. Each time we were in trouble (and believe me when I say life or death situation) it was Mr.Pillai who swooped in with firm words and even firmer resolution to get us straightened out. Sir, thank you for all the trust you showed in us - even when we were complete idiots! 
  • Jolly Ma'am : ........Sigh!!!!!! That's the reaction you'll get from anyone she's taught. She was endearingly tough (am sure she still evokes shivers from the students now), and had taught us what "elbow grease" was all about! Eye for detail, and perfection in the smallest of task - these were essential skills that helped us advance in our careers - Thank you Ma'am.
  • Mr. Ivan Thomas : Organized, calm, witty and with a keen sense of responsibility towards the kitchen - that's Chef Ivan. We've been punished zillions of times (scrubbed the kitchen a million times myself), but the entire experience only left us happier and satisfied with a sparkling kitchen  -  how did you manage that Sir? His witty one liners are still told and retold in every get together. Thank you Chef!
  • Nirmala Ma'am : Yet another language specialist - the one who initiated the writing bug in me - my first (failed) attempt at managing hurt sentiments after an article saw me running to her for cover. And of course, how can we forget the French -Merci beaucoup Ma'am!

To all my inspirations : Happy Teachers Day .... and thank you for all that you've done for us!

Monday, September 3, 2012

The Verdict

For those of you who have read my post on the Customer Service fiasco recently (which was also a Tangy Teusday pick by Blogadda), this post is an update on the same.

I had not mentioned the resort details in the last one. Read this to find out more details.

Happy reading!