Before I begin, July-August was pathetically slow in terms of reading. And now zikra of the books that I did manage to read:
1. Sea of Poppies (Fiction) by Amitav Ghosh
I liked the booked. The story was about a couple of characters and how all of them came aboard an old Schooner to start their journey from India to Marich (Mauritius). If this sounds like an incomplete story then please recall that this book is just the first part of a Trilogy – the other two are yet to come out. The characters were interesting. There was Deeti, a poor bihari lady whose ganza-addicted good for nothing husband died in the middle of the novel and who was then rescued from sati that could have taken away her life, by a lower cast chamar – Kalua – with whom she finally fled. Then there was this French dame Paulette aka Putli who had grown up in Calcutta and who later ran away from her care-takers who had adopted her because they were planning to get her married to some old moral preaching British judge. There was Zachary – the bhola bhaala American carpenter who was promoted to the rank of second mate, there was Serang Ali – the head lascar whose English (or the lack of it) killed me, there was Mr. Burnham – the mighty rich British businessman based in Calcutta who owned the schooner that I mentioned earlier (he was also the one who had adopted Putli and from whom Putli had ran away), there was Bobu Nob Kison – Mr. Burnham’s sagacious manager who was so sure that Zachary was lord Krishna in disguise and he himself the lover – Radha. In fact, there were several more – each one nicely sketched, but let me not get into each character here. The entire novel was set during the period when Britishers had recently started ruling India, evil of the caste system was widespread, kings still existed and the opium-trade was legal and flourishing.
Amitav Ghosh has this grand-fatherly style of writing which makes you feel like a small kid and the stories sound fantastical. This is my opinion of this author based on Sea of Poppies – his only book that I have read so far. I really loved the way he used various dialects, lingos, accents in his writing (though I must admit that at times this made it difficult to read and understand). My final verdict is this: very ordinary story but excellent use of English language and a certain charm inherent in the writing style.
2. With Cyclists Around the World (Non-fiction) – by Adi B. Hakim, Jal P. Bapasola & Rustom B. Bhumgara
In early 1920’s six Parsi dudes decided to globe-trot on bicycles. They started their journey from Bombay, cycled to Baluchistan, Persia (today’s Iran), Iraq, Palestine, Italy, Switzerland, Vienna, Germany, France, UK, America, Japan, Korea, China, French Indo-China (yes this was a separate country back then!), Burma and finally back to India (with a detour to Ceylon – today’s Sri Lanka – thrown in). Phew! Only three could complete this trip. It took them more than four fucking years and there were several occasions when they almost died. Fuck, fuck fuck! I bow to them! Seriously! And now – let me move to the book.
It was earlier this month when I was contemplating on a solo mountain-bike (read cycling) trip in the Himalayas myself (btw – the plan is more or less frozen now). So imagine my awe when I spotted this book on one of the shelves in Oxford. I had to read it! I read it. The English was good in vocabulary but boring in style. The authors lacked the ability to create suspense, thrill or drama. An extraordinary venture like theirs sounded more ordinary than it should have had save few exceptions now and then. The following is how most of the book was written: we cycled for A miles, the road was like B (good / bad / ugly / non-existent / etc.), the weather was like C (boiling hot / hot / pleasing /cold / freezing / raining / stand storm inflicted / etc.), then we reached D, people in D were like E (E = good / bad / ugly / poor / rich / hospitable / indifferent / etc.), the place D had E,F,G,H things to see which we saw after which we ate I & J and then slept (or depending on the circumstance – could not sleep), got up the next day and cycled A1 miles and on and on. I am glad that the authors managed to wrap up the book in less than 400 pages. My final verdict: 1/10th of the book is interesting, rest is boring (but definitely puts up a brave account). More than the book itself, what truly touches you is the guts of these dudes who made something so stunning sound so cool and peacemax!
3. The Talking Guns – North East India (Non-fiction) by Niendra Dev
I picked up this book in Shillong. Bad English. Poor structure. Passionate author. When you are done reading this book, you do realize how serious the terrorism problem in Assam, Manipur, Nagaland & Tripura is. You also realize how cut off the central government’s thinking really is from these states. By the time this book ends, you only wish that the bloody conflict and violence prevailing in these four states that I just mentioned dies down gradually instead of leaking out to Mizoram, Meghalaya & Arunachal Pradesh – the comparatively stable north-eastern neighbours.
4. Under a Cloud: Life in Cherrapunji (Non-fiction) by Binoo K. John.
In a way it was funny to read a book on Cherrapunji immediately after visiting the place. There was nothing too special about this little over 150 pages travelogue though I must admit that the author did have a way with words and could flaunt his little sense of humour now and then.
5. Khasi Folk Tales by Mrs. Rafi
This was some old piece of good shit that I picked up – once again from Shillong. The first edition was published in 1920 while the edition that I picked up belonged to 1985. All the pages had turned grayish yellow and within few days – the hard-bound cover came off!
Now to the content. Folk tales are always enchanting, aren’t they? They are the simplest of stories and yet capture in them the most complex flavours of an entire culture. Khasis are one of the most predominant tribes of Meghalaya. This book helped me connect better with the state. Reading this book was like reading Nandan or Nanhe Samrat or Balhans or one of those kiddy mags – except that here, the cute, short stories that I read were all deep rooted in the local Meghalaya culture.
6. India and the Global Financial Crisis: managing money and finance (Non-fiction) by Y. V. Reddy
It was obviously the title of the book that tempted me to read it. Who wouldn’t have liked to read about the captioned title from none other than the ex RBI chief himself? But what a misnomer this title was! One does not get any gyaan on the global financial crisis till one reaches the blessed Epilogue which is like less than 10% of this 350+ paged compilation of intellectual but highly boring essays. I could read about 70% of the book but I doubt if I remember even 1% of all that I read.
The only way you can read and remember this book is if you have a quiz – based on this book – to write the next day and your life depends on cracking that quiz. There’s another thing that I would like to tell you about this book – Y. V. Reddy truly teaches you how to write the drab bureaucratic english (not too different from the way consultants write formal letters / notes / reports : P ). So you would find repeated usage of sleep-inducing words like – effectiveness, paradigm, framework, priority, permanency, objectivity, quintessence, resolve, conjunction, appropriate, seek, advocate, foster, strength, restructure and phrases like “flagged the issue”, “enduring nature”, “at this stage” and blah! If you picked up this book because of the same reason as mine, then all the best mate! Final verdict – not for non-bankers. Period.
7. Teilnag – a novel (Fiction) by Yona M. Nonglang
Don’t laugh at the author’s name – ok? The very fact that this novel was typeset in comic sans font should have been a good enough reason to keep me away from it. But then, sometimes I act as irrational as most human beings do. A book published by an unknown author himself and printed in a local printing press in Shillong wouldn’t be read by many – so in a way I am one of the lucky few who read it. 😛
Average English. Pointless story. I only wanted to see how the local Meghalaya talent was. I didn’t expect to be impressed much. When I was done reading it, I wasn’t impressed much. Anyway, the book did give me a glimpse into the way of thinking of a local Meghalaya youth, how he views his matrilineal society, how he wants to serve his hilly state and what kind of live he leads in general. That’s the more and less of this book. Enough said.
8. Meghalaya – Issues and Legacies of its Early Years by Dhiren Bhagwati
LOL – if you are thinking by now that I have been doing a PhD on Meghalaya, I won’t blame you for that. I might not be doing a PhD but when in Shillong, I was really really desirous to discover more about the state than what a regular tourist usually cares to find about. This state came into existence only in 1970 when Indira Gandhi finally agreed to the demand for a new state and carved it off from Assam. The book – albeit boring like most text books are – gave a fair account of developmental issues and the early days of Meghalaya.
Phew – that’s about it. I am off to Hyd tomorrow where I shall be running my first half marathon on Sunday morning (30th August). I shall be in Hyd till Monday afternoon, so if any of you are there and want to catch up, have beer with me, etc. – give me a call on 0 9 1 7 8 7 4 2 2 0 1 or 0 9 8 8 4 2 7 0 0 9 4 – whichever works.
See you in September! 🙂