Saturday, March 29, 2014

Book Review: Aisle Be Damned by Rishi Piparaiya

Title: Aisle Be Damned
Author: Rishi Piparaiya
Publisher: Jaico Books
Pages: 216
Price: Rs 250
Genre: Non Fiction / Humour
Rating: 9/10
Format: Paperback

The moment I saw this book, I was immediately taken in by its unusual cover page and the title. Both do justice to the theme of this book. ‘Aisle Be Damned’ is a work of non-fiction that finds humour in every aspect of air travel. The humour is not forced. What really works in this book is that the author has pulled out some common observations which anyone with air travel experience can relate to. I finished this book in one sitting and laughed a lot till the end. Every person who has done a bit of air travel will get the humour in this book.  

By virtue of being a frequent traveler, the author offers loads of wisdom and suggestions on how to make the most of your air travel, peppered with plenty of humour. He has thought of everything, right from the baggage trolleys to airport, the boarding strategies to seats one must opt for, trivia and funny anecdotes related to air travel from around the world, and several such pieces that will tickle your funny bone. He tells you stuff like when are the business tycoons likely to travel, how can you get your economy class ticket upgraded to business class, how to choose your seat well, how to handle immigration officer, etc.

The author confesses at one point that several publishers found this book niche, but air travel has become so common that I am certain there is a huge target audience for this book.

It was a fun book to read, except perhaps the last chapter [Commerce, Literature and Zen] which looks a little forced. The book is perfect without that extra chapter. You must pick it up if you are feeling a little down or feeling stressed, this book will instantly perk you up. This can also make a nice gift. The only prerequisite for enjoying this book is a little experience of air travel. It is one of those books which you can pick any time [even after you have read it], read random lines again; and it will still give you a few laughs.

Here are few funny lines from the book:

[During Immigration] He will languidly open your passport, look at the photograph, look at you, then look back at the photograph. You can see the nuts and bolts in his brain rasping, straining to draw some correlation to the grotesque face in the photograph and the pasted smile standing in front of him, but there is none…….He lets it go though – it’s not the right time or place to empathize with you on the shortcomings of your gene pool.”

 “I am always on a first name basis with anyone from Sri Lanka, neither of us being able to pronounce the other’s last name.”

“There is a sign above the basin that says the water is not for drinking. Okay, thanks for letting me know. Because I usually love to drink water from bathrooms.”

“An experienced pilot earns well over $100,000 and flies about 800 hours a year. That’s $125 an hour for essentially playing Flight Stimulator. He has no monthly goals, no boss and all his colleagues are hot. The job calls for some travel yes, but stay is at luxury hotels, meals are included and life is one long MTV Grind party.”

[I am still laughing while writing this]


Note: The text in italics have been quoted from the book.

Review Book courtesy: Jaico Books 
Image source: Jaico Books 

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

The Catching-Up Post

When I started receiving review copies, I must admit, I was overwhelmed initially. I was like ‘Whoa! I am getting free books to read all the time!’ But let me tell you, it is a vicious circle [atleast it was for me]. Allow me to explain why. In January this year, I emptied both my bookshelves into one of the balconies for the much-needed airing. [Before the baby arrived, it used to be one of my favourite activities.] That whole week, I spent a lot of time with my books – categorizing them, removing the stuff that I had read and would never read again, putting the rest back on the shelves [surprisingly despite removing more than 100 books, the shelves are still overflowing].

Not the Sunday secondhand book market;
 just a view of my balcony 

When I was going through my books, I realized what an amazing collection I had; and many of those books have been with me for a couple of years now. In reading review copies, I could not make time for my own collection. I must also confess that while I was reading review copies, I never stopped buying books.

To give you a perspective, I read 49 books in 2013. Out of those 49 books, 33 were review copies. And the truth be told, I would not have read many of those 33 books, if they had not landed at my place for review. When you get a lot of review copies, you feel compelled to review at least a few. Many times those books are not according to your taste, so you come out not liking the book; and the whole experience is unsatisfactory. When I review, I attempt to articulate what I liked about the book and what I did not like, because eventually, every person has an individual taste. For example, I love Sophie Kinsella's books and yet I don’t generally like to read chicklit. But I don’t miss her books because I have so much fun while reading them.

Anyways, I decided at the beginning of this year, I would stop taking any more review copies for some time. First of all, I need to review the books which I have read but never got around to reviewing. Secondly, I still have several review copies which I want to read and review. And the third aspect is my own collection, which I certainly want to read pretty soon.

Apart from that, I would like to start reviewing children’s books also. I have discovered this whole new genre after having baby. Since I am a passionate reader, I am doing everything to ensure that my son grows up to be one too. Reading is part of our daily routine. I never imagined I would enjoy children’s books so much. The biggest revelation is that they appeal as much to the grownups as much they do to the kids. There is a huge collection of interesting and attractive books for every age-group now. One can choose books from Indian publishers as well as foreign. Just take Alphabets for example; the variety of books available on just Alphabets is unimaginable. There is Alphablock, ABC3D, Eric Carle’s ABC, Eating the Alphabet, The Sleepy Little Alphabet, Alphabeep, Alphabet City; and I can go on and on.

Trust me, hunting for suitable and interesting books for the little one [and for myself] is one of my favourite pastimes. I can do that for hours. Our kiddie books’ collection is growing day-by-day and I enjoy them as much as my little one does. I have mentioned a few favourites here and here. Watch out for more reviews soon.

Another thing I wanted to bring up is that when I was in the process of sorting my books, I was also reading about minimalistic lifestyle. I would like to just say that finally I was convinced that I need not keep every single book that I purchase. I must let go to make space for new. So, believe it or not, I cleared over 100 books from my home. But I haven't given up on my dream of a home library or reading nook. It will take a couple of months for sure because right now [actually since January 2014], I have been de-cluttering my home bit-by-bit.

Did I tell you, I have started reading e-books? And frankly, they are not that bad. I have read just 2 books so far but I had a decent experience. Moreover, e-books align well with my new mantra of minimalism.


That’s all from me at the moment.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Book Recommendations: 5 Books for Toddlers

This post was first published on Parentous.

I love reading books. Naturally, if there is one habit that I would like to pass on to my son, it has to be love of reading. So, I exposed my son to books quite early. To a newborn you can read just about anything. They just need to be exposed to the sound of words. So, I would usually read my own books aloud in the initial months. Gradually, I introduced cloth books and board books. Initially, books are also playthings for little ones, so be prepared to see the books getting abused [loved, in their way]. Now at 28 months, I cannot say my son is a reader yet but we enjoy reading books before his afternoon naptime and going to bed at night. Since now it is part of his bedtime routine, he himself gets the books he wants to read. He would usually have a pick of few favourites at one time, and it is interesting to listen to his observations while reading those books.

Here is a list of 5 books which are the current favourites: 


This beautiful picture book follows a bunch of kids [8 of them] who are starting school – their first day, their second day, the first week and how they get used to the school. The kids are shown doing all sorts of exciting activities like playing with blocks, puzzles, colours, play dough or learning new things like reading, writing, saying prayers, etc; thus creating a fun and positive image of school. This book does not dwell into negative feelings like missing home or first day anxieties, and focuses more on making school a fun experience. A few things may not be relevant in our context like involvement of kids’ parents in different kinds of activities but those things can be ignored.

It was really difficult to get this book since it was out-of-stock on most websites. I finally found it here. Read more about this book in this review.


This is an attractive bilingual picture book from Tulika Publishers. All kids are fascinated by animals, and more so with their babies. This brightly illustrated book has bare-minimum text on each page [2-3 words on most of them] and educates about the action words like pounce, roll, drink, climb, roll, eat, sleep etc. “This book follows the playful adventures of three curious lion cubs while their mother is away. Minimal text and lively illustrations with an edge of drama skillfully introduce young readers to the fact that those we see as predators can be under threat themselves.” [Quoted from the book]    
Read more about this book here.


I am always on the lookout for Indian literature for kids. I found this collection of Indian Rhymes by Karadi Tales, and I knew I had to get it. I got Book 1 more than a year ago and it is still a favourite. I am getting the second Part soon. Book 1 has an interesting line up of rhymes very relevant for Indian kids. The most favourite rhyme from this book is called “Just like you’. It tells you about different people from different places in India, speaking different languages, and yet they are like us. Check out its video here. It is quite a catchy song. There are songs [or rhymes] about mangoes, crows, festivals celebrated in India, cricket, sari, flowers, Indian flag, etc. Essentially, the book attempts to capture the essence of India. My son makes me read all the rhymes in this book over and over again.

This book also comes with an audio CD which contains rhymes in the voice of Usha Uthup.
Read more about the book here.


I am convinced that playing with kitchen utensils and dough should be part of developmental milestones. I am certain every kid goes through that phase. Since my 2 year old loves playing with the regular dough on daily basis, when I chanced upon this book, I thought this was apt for reading to him. To add to the fun, we sometimes also keep some dough handy to make the things that the little boy, Neeraj, in the book makes.
This book is about Neeraj. He gets a little dough from his mother, and his imagination lets loose. He turns it into a snake, a mouse and a cat. This book is about how a child’s mind is full of imagination and creativity. The illustrations are extremely endearing.
Read more about the book here.


This book was a hit with our toddler from the first day. It is a lift-the-flap book. The text is minimum and prompts the child to lift the flap on each page, which reveals an animal inside. It is exciting for the child to lift the flap one-by-one and discover the animal.
Learn more about the book from author’s website.







You may also want to read: 5 Fiction Titles for Toddlers.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Book Review: Meena Kumari by Vinod Mehta

Title: Meena Kumari - The Classic Biography
Author: Vinod Mehta
Publisher: HarperCollins India
Pages: 248 
Price: Rs 350
Genre: Non Fiction / Biography / Films
Rating: 8/10
Format: Paperback

I read about this book somewhere and then chanced upon a chapter in The Greatest Show on Earth. Life of a movie star is intriguing and there is a dearth of such biographies about any Indian film star. I don’t know why I wanted to read about Meena Kumari. I haven’t even seen too many of her films, and it was from my mother. I first came to know that Meena Kumari was known as the tragedy queen. In fact, people of her generation had started using the term ‘Meena Kumari’ as a word for ‘sad’ [in the way, the term ‘Devdas’ is still used]. So, when people would say “don’t be a Meena Kumari”! They would mean ‘sad and melodramatic’. Whether she was one of the best actors of all times is highly debatable, but certainly her life was intriguing.

This book was written in 1972, immediately after her demise [republished in 2013]. The author confesses “I found that it was impossible to collect even one ‘undisputed’ fact about this woman. Everything connected with her life had atleast four versions" [quoted]. He never met the actor. He admits that facts and opinions were piling up and weighing him down, and without being over-ambitious, what he sought to achieve was to offer a few glimpses of who Meena Kumari really was; for who can really claim to know a person completely.

The book begins with everyone’s reaction on Meena Kumari’s death. The chapter is interestingly titled “Lies” to connote how all the reactions by film industry as well as media were superficial. The various chapters in this book tell us about the circumstances she was born into, her family, her early life, her romance with Kamal Amrohi, her journey as an actress [which started at the tender age of seven] as well as her turbulent personal life, her various relationships, her addiction to alcohol, her self-inflicted depression, the most important movie of her life - Pakeezah, Meena Kumari – the actress, Meena Kumari – the woman, and her death [few weeks after Pakeezah’s release]. Even with her disturbed personal life and poor health, she worked relentlessly and did very well professionally.

“Despite unreliable lovers, despite unreliable alcohol, despite unreliable dinner, despite unreliable friends, she had Bahu Begum, Manjhli Didi, Noor Jehan, Abhilasha in various stages of completion. All of which goes to prove that India’s No. 1 tragedienne did not live by bread alone.” [Quoted]

Her alcoholism is legendary. But surprisingly, she drank seriously only for three years. What started as a small peg to cure her insomnia later became addiction. This continued till she died of cirrhosis of the liver.

“The question is how could she stop drinking. She had as she saw it, no emotional support; her family life was not exactly ideal; and the possibilities for the future looked extremely grim. In these circumstances she needed a crutch, and for people the world over in her state the bottle has been the most potent, if disastrous, crutch.” [Quoted]

Meena Kumari as a person was known to be generous, attentive and empathetic. The author believes that most of her pain and depression was self-inflicted because she felt she was let down by her relationships. She did not get love, and fell into the trap of her screen image. Perhaps she always missed a part of her life she never lived – a normal childhood. Isn’t it widely known the world over, the fate of most of the child actors?

“The great tragedienne Meena Kumari became the great tragedienne not only in front of the camera but behind it. And this is the real sorrow, she aided the latter.” [Quoted]

I liked the book. May be I haven’t read any outstanding biography to compare it with, but generally speaking, I liked reading about the many aspects of Meena Kumari’s life. There aren’t too many biographies or autobiographies of Indian film stars, and if you like this genre, I certainly recommend it. It is always interesting to know interesting people. 

Read an excerpt from the book here.

Review Book courtesy: HarperCollins India 
Image source: Flipkart

Friday, November 29, 2013

Book Review: Pakeezah by Meghnad Desai

Title: Pakeezah - An Ode To A Bygone World
Author: Meghnad Desai
Publisher: HarperCollins India
Pages: 160
Price: Rs 250
Genre: Non Fiction / Film
Rating: 8/10
Format: Paperback


About the Book [from the blurb]

An entertaining look at one of the landmarks of Hindi cinema.

Meghnad Desai tracks the film’s tortuous journey and reveals fascinating, little-known aspects of it. He foregrounds the craftsmanship, perseverance and perfectionism of its maker, Kamal Amrohi, who would wait weeks for the perfect sunset. The director even took on MGM, because the CinemaScope lenses they supplied were out of focus by 1/1000 mm.

Desai sees the film as a ‘Muslim social’ set in a ‘Lucknow of the Muslim imagination’; as a woman-centric film with a dancing heroine at a time when they were a rarity; and above all, as a film that harked back to an era of ‘nawabi culture with its exquisite tehzeeb’, a world that is lost forever.

Pakeezah: An Ode to a Bygone World is a fitting tribute to a film that Meghnad Desai calls ‘a monument to the golden age of Hindustani films’.

My thoughts:

I love reading about films, especially Indian films. I feel there is a dearth of literature in this genre despite the fact that so many films are made every year in India and the fact that we recently completed 100 years of Indian cinema. I think it is commendable that HarperCollins India saw the need. This book is part of the recently released HarperCollins India’s Film Series, which also includes books on Amar Akbar Anthony and Mughal-e-Azam.

The author of this book, Meghnad Desai, says that “if there has been a film which has captured Muslim culture of a certain period albeit with contemporary resonance, it has to be Kamal Amrohi’s Pakeezah.”

His approach is methodical in analyzing ‘Pakeezah’ - what makes this movie iconic. He discusses every aspect of the film to offer a complete perspective - the story, the origins, the making, the rewriting, the many themes in the movie, the man behind the movie - Kamal Amrohi, the stars of the movie and the unforgettable music. Take for example, the story. By culling information from various sources about the film, he speculates on what the original story might have been and how it must have been modified over a period of time, considering the movie took 15 years to complete, Meena Kumari’s health deteriorated towards the end and interpersonal dynamics changed a great deal between Kamal Amrohi and his wife, Meena Kumari. Did you know that the movie initially did not get a good response on its release? But probably Meena Kumari’s untimely death within a month of its release piqued people’s curiosity and they started queuing up to watch the great tragedy queen in one of her most memorable roles of her career. If Pakeezah could not have been made without Kamal Amrohi, it is hard to imagine Pakeezah without Meena Kumari as well.

I would highly recommend this book to anyone who loves reading about films. After all, the making of a movie is as fascinating as the movie itself; more so, a classic. Imagine we are talking about the times when scripts weren’t finalized before filming; they were developed on the sets, on locations, under the influence of a lot of things. At 150 pages, this book isn’t too long, though may be a few times repetitive. Nevertheless, I personally loved it. It offers a lot of insights, observations and information about the film, and at the same time quite easy to read.

Review Book courtesy: HarperCollins India 
Image source: Flipkart

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Featured on Random House India Blog: the Future of e-Reading

Image source: www.against-the-grain.com
So, the Random House India blog features a post on 'the future of e-reading' which includes my two pence. Read the complete post here.

Here are my thoughts on the future of e-reading:
For my generation, physical books will continue to play a huge part. I have several books on my Kindle but I am yet to read a single e-book. I prefer reading physical books. I like to think that e-book readers are extremely handy while travelling, when you just need to pick it up and go with all your books inside it. But it never happens that way. Personally, I leave behind the Tablet and take along a few books.


Image source:www.digitalbookworld.com
But yes, for the next generation [my son's], who is going to read e-books from a very young age; e-books, audio books, etc will be a way of life. I am also alarmed at the diminishing attention to a particular activity. In our pursuit to accomplish too many things together [multi-tasking], we are perpetually distracted. Reading needs attention. I am sure, this trend will also impact the act of reading. I wonder if the next generation will find other avenues of reading [ebooks, augmented reality, any new techno-invention] far more in tune with their lifestyle. 

Monday, November 25, 2013

Book Review: Kaurava by Krishna Udayasankar

Title: Kaurava
Author: Krishna Udayasankar
Publisher: Hachette India
Pages: 384
Price: Rs 350
Genre: Fiction / Indian mythology / Alternative history
Rating: 7/10
Format: Paperback

About the book [from the Blurb]

Nothing left to fight for is nothing left to lose...

Emperor Dharma Yudhisthir of the Kauravas and Empress Panchali Draupadi rule over the unified realm of Aryavarta, an empire built for them by Govinda Shauri with the blessings of the Firstborn and by the might of those whom everyone believes long gone – the Firewrights.
Now the Firewrights rise from the ashes of the past, divided as before in purpose and allegiance, and no one, it seems, can stand in the way of the chaos about to be unleashed on the land – not the Firstborn, not the kings of Aryavarta, and not Govinda Shauri.

As sinister plans are put in play and treacherous alliances emerge, Aryavarta transforms into its own worst enemy. Dharma Yudhisthir gambles away his empire, the tormented empress is forced into a terrifying exile and the many nations of the realm begin to take up arms in a bid to fight, conquer and destroy each other.

His every dream shattered, Govinda is left a broken man. The only way he can protect Aryavarta and the woman in whose trusted hands he had left it is by playing a dangerous game. But can he bring himself to reveal the terrible secrets that the Vyasa has protected all his life – secrets that may well destroy the Firstborn, and the Firewrights with them? 

My thoughts:

I felt I was at a little disadvantage in reading this book before reading the Aryavarta Chronicles: Govinda [Book 1] because sometimes Firewright - Firstborn thing would be baffling. Nevertheless, the good thing is that we all know the basic Mahabharata so over all I enjoyed this book.

The story in this book begins at the time when Dharma Yudhisthir is the emperor of Indraprastha while Govinda Shauri [Krishna] has been shunned from the empire. In the turn of events, Dharma, his brothers and Panchali are invited by Syoddhan [Duryodhan] to Hastinapur, where he [Dharma] gets into a game of dice. This legendary game of dice is the one in which he loses everything including himself, his brothers and Panchali. The book ends with the promise of impending war in the third part of the series, aptly titled ‘Kurukshetra’.

Mahabharata, as we have known it, has been a story of larger-than-life men and women, and difficult-to-believe sequences. Now the unique aspect of this book is that it explains everything logically, and does not demonize anybody unnecessarily. In author’s own words, through this series, she attempts to offer “a plausible narrative with reasonable internal logical consistency. Something that could well have been history, something that stands firm not just on faith but also on logic and science.” She has imagined several new angles to the original story without compromising on what is widely known. Her research work has been meticulous and extensive, and therefore what you get is a book [and probably the series] which is compelling and very contemporary in its appeal. The author has spent sufficient time in building up characters like Shikhandi, Ashvatthama or Sanjay.

There are so many characters that the relationship chart in ‘the Dynasties of Aryavarta’ is not just a luxury but a necessity. ‘The Cast of Characters’, also provided in the beginning, tells us about the main characters in this book. The author has intentionally used alternate names so that the characters don’t have to carry the unnecessary baggage of their fame / notoriety. So, Krishna is Govinda Shauri while Duryodhan is Syoddhan Kauravya. It took me a while to understand that Vasusena is Karna. A reader well-versed with Mahabharata will find several characters in a different light. For example, Syoddhan is a largely positive or at most a grey character here while Dharma is too smug.

I loved the cover page. It reminded me of Hachette India’s another fabulous series Empire of the Mughal. The narrative is largely fast-paced barring a few times when certain things have been described in too much detail. I also found use of swear words funny like “Who in the name of an elephant’s backside are you talking about?”

I will certainly recommend it to readers who love exploring different facets of the epic tale ‘Mahabharata’. But you must have an open mind towards the author’s imagination. Meanwhile, I eagerly look forward to the next book in the series ‘Kurukshetra’. 

If you are yet to read the series, I suggest you begin with the first one: 
The Aryavarta Chronicles: Govinda (Book - 1)

Review Book courtesy: Hachette India 
Image source: Hachette India

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Book Review: Looking For Alaska by John Green

Title: Looking For Alaska
Author: John Green
Publisher: HarperCollins India
Pages: 272
Price: Rs 299
Genre: Fiction / Young Adult / Contemporary
Rating: 7/10
Format: Paperback

About the book [from the GoodReads page]

Before. Miles "Pudge" Halter's whole existence has been one big nonevent, and his obsession with famous last words has only made him crave the "Great Perhaps" (Fran├žois Rabelais, poet) even more. Then he heads off to the sometimes crazy, possibly unstable, and anything-but-boring world of Culver Creek Boarding School, and his life becomes the opposite of safe. Because down the hall is Alaska Young. The gorgeous, clever, funny, sexy, self-destructive, screwed-up, and utterly fascinating Alaska Young, who is an event unto herself. She pulls Pudge into her world, launches him into the Great Perhaps, and steals his heart.

After. Nothing is ever the same.

My thoughts:

Once I read the brilliant ‘The Fault in Our Stars’ by John Green, I was eager to pick up another book by the author. Someone suggested ‘Looking for Alaska’ and I jumped at the chance. Though this book is not in the league of ‘The Fault in Our Stars’, it is certainly a good read. I started, finished and reviewed this book in a single day, despite my limited reading hours. That itself tells a lot about it.

Miles Halter’s life has been ordinary and uneventful until he moves from Florida to Alabama to join Culver Creek Boarding School. There he makes friends with the brainy and brawny Chip Martin [called ‘Colonel’ by everyone, who is his roommate], the witty Takumi, and the unpredictable Alaska Young [‘the hottest girl in all of human history’, as Miles puts it]. From that time onwards, Miles' life is a maze of attending classes, studying, playing pranks, smoking cigarettes, drinking booze; while also falling in love with Alaska.

Each one of them has a talent. Miles likes to learn the last lines of famous people. Colonel is good at memorizing things, especially about countries, their capitals, population, etc. Takumi is a rapper, while Alaska just likes being an enigma. She is moody, without feeling the need to explain herself. Alaska claims to be in love with his boyfriend Jake, but she is often flirty with Miles.

The book is in 2 parts – Before and After [of an event]. The story begins at ‘One Hundred and Thirty Six Days Before’ and ends at ‘One Hundred and Thirty Six Days After’, and everything is in-between - excitement, curiosity, love, friendship, trust, guilt, love, loss.

Well, in short, the book was emotional, funny and sometimes also philosophical. It will appeal to you if you like Young Adults genre – the vulnerabilities, the innocence, the mischief and the beauty of young love.

Here are a few of my favourite lines quoted from the book:

I’d never been religious. But he told us that religion is important whether or not we believed in one, in the same way that historical events are important whether or not you personally lived through them.”

 “You spend your whole life stuck in the labyrinth, thinking about how you'll escape it one day, and how awesome it will be, and imagining that future keeps you going, but you never do it. You just use the future to escape the present.” 

 “I wanted so badly to lie down next to her on the couch, to wrap my arms around her and sleep. Not fuck, like in those movies. Not even have sex. Just sleep together in the most innocent sense of the phrase. But I lacked the courage and she had a boyfriend and I was gawky and she was gorgeous and I was hopelessly boring and she was endlessly fascinating. So I walked back to my room and collapsed on the bottom bunk, thinking that if people were rain, I was drizzle and she was hurricane.” 

Image source: Flipkart

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Book Review: The Mountain of Light by Indu Sundaresan

Title: The Mountain of Light
Author: Indu Sundaresan
Publisher: HarperCollins India
Pages: 352
Price: Rs 299
Genre: Historical Fiction
Rating: 6/10
Format: Paperback

About the Book [from the blurb]

As empires rose and fell and mighty kings jostled for power, its glittering radiance never dimmed. It is the “Mountain of Light” - the Kohinoor diamond - and its facets reflect a sweeping story of love, adventure, conquest and betrayal.

Legend has it that Lord Krishna gave the Kohinoor to a devotee as a reward for his meditations. But the first recorded mention of the diamond is in the memoirs of Emperor Babur, who received it from a Hindu raja he had defeated. It then slipped out of India and was possessed briefly by the Shah of Persia – who gave it its name – and the king of Afghanistan, Shah Shuja, who surrendered the Kohinoor to Maharaja Ranjit Singh of the Punjab Empire as a reward for helping him regain his kingdom. Here begins The Mountain of Light.

The novel takes us through the sprawling gardens of nineteenth century Lahore to the palaces of the six-year-old prince Dalip Singh who, on his father’s death, loses his empire and the Kohinoor to the British. The diamond is secreted out of India once more and, at the age of sixteen, the boy king follows it to London, where he is feted and petted until he realizes that nothing can replace the loss of his lands and his diamond – which now belong to the Queen of England.

My thoughts:

The book begins with a map of the Punjab Empire and British India c. 1823, a very handy list of primary and secondary characters and an Author’s Note which introduces readers to the background of the book. The narrative starts from 1817 and continues selectively [as per relevance to the Kohinoor story] till 1893. The Kohinoor touches several lives over the years, beginning with Shah Shuja and his wife Wafa Begam trying their best to hold onto the coveted diamond despite promising it to Maharaja Ranjit Singh for his help; and eventually ending with the Queen of England.

There is no doubt in my mind that Indu Sundaresan is a fabulous writer of historical fiction. All her earlier books have been beautifully-written narratives of historical fiction, but personally, this book did not work that much for me [there, I said it]. Wherever she gets a chance, the author makes the characters come alive and creates a vivid imagery of the setting. The characters in themselves were interesting but since they did not have a lasting role with Kohinoor, they had to be left behind, moving on to next set of relevant characters. Jumping years is also for the benefit of Kohinoor but it does nothing for the narrative.

So, while you warm up to Wafa Begam and Shah Shuja, and wonder about their life, etc., the Kohinoor has gone to Maharaja Ranjit Singh. Soon the story shifts to a couple of years later when you discover that Maharaja is dead and his 4 grown up sons have been killed in their quest for succession, leaving the very young Dalip Singh as the successor. There is Henry Lawrence [a guardian of child king Dalip Singh] who is enchanted with Roshni [who was betrothed to Dalip Singh]. Then a section is about how the Kohinoor reaches England towards the end. In fact, the last 100 pages are fairly interesting. In between, there are interludes of romance but nothing becomes of them as the central theme of the story is pursued.

I feel the main problem is that the story is not character driven. It has Kohinoor at the centre. It lacks a central character as an anchor on which the book could have been rooted. It just moves from character to character. I was not able to sink into the story, I always felt on the surface.

Over all, it was an interesting take on history and I enjoyed it in parts, when the narrative dwells into the characters. If you love history, you will love it in any case because the author crafts a beautiful tale around the historical facts.


After I finished the book, I found that actually there are many people who have absolutely loved the book. Catch a few more positive reviews on GoodReads. After all, reading is a very personal experience.

Review Book courtesy: AuthorHarperCollins India 
Image source: Flipkart

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