Friday, October 8, 2010

Mini Shopaholic by Sophie Kinsella

Title: Mini Shopaholic
Author: Sophie Kinsella
Publisher: Bantam Press
Pages: 392
Genre: Chicklit / Comedy / Contemporary women literature

Though Sophie Kinsella’s 6th book in the Shopaholic series, has nothing new to offer; yet it is enjoyable and quite a page-turner. To those who are new to this series, ‘Shopaholic’ series follows the antics of Becky Bloomwood (now Brandon), who is a highest degree of Shopaholic. She cannot resist the pull of the word ‘Sale’, branded clothes and ‘Discounts’, no matter how deep she is in credit, whether she has money or not, whether she ‘needs’ the stuff or not….she just has to shop. It is her therapy.

‘Mini Shopaholic’ is based on the premise that Becky’s two-year old daughter is also turning out to be a Shopaholic. However, when you read the book, the main storyline is still about how Becky has really not learnt anything from the several disastrous situations she has faced earlier because of her addiction to shopping. Now, with her daughter Minnie in picture, she has only increased her scope of shopping. In fact, at many instances, she goes completely berserk in shopping stuff for Minnie that are not even going to fit her for a long, long time. Despite at a mature age of 29 years and being a mother, Becky continues to behave like a teenager.

The reader also gets to know that Minnie, Becky and Luke’s daughter, has turned into a spoilt brat, while Becky lives in denial. The story is also about Becky’s surprise birthday party for Luke (her husband), and how things go completely haywire and yet slowly everything fall into place and at the end it is again ‘happily ever after’.

Luke has hardly anything to do in the story; neither does Suze, Becky’s best friend. Becky continues to shop like there is no tomorrow. The story really does not have anything off-beat, it follows the same graph. The success of Shopaholic series, despite its repetitiveness is that somewhere we all connect with Becky. She is our wildest dreams come alive on paper. We cheer for her, when she puts across weirdest logic to shop.

If you are a woman in your 20s & 30s, this book is totally for you. And if you are into chicklit, you cannot give it a miss. Even if you are not big on chicklit, you can try it as a stop-gap between books.

I will give it 8 out of 10, because I had a great time reading it, it was a super-quick read and I really felt relaxed and enjoyed it a lot. 

Sunday, October 3, 2010

The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger

'The Time Traveler’s Wife' by Audrey Niffenegger is essentially a love story, albeit an unconventional one, of Henry and Clare. Henry is a Time Traveler who travels in and out of any of his chronological age, without any control on where and when he would travel; while Clare has a regular chronological life. This almost 600-page, extraordinary page-turner is a beautiful blend of science fiction and romance. It certainly holds its own amongst such timeless classic love stories like ‘Love Story’ and ‘The Notebook’.

Henry De Tamble is suffering from a rare genetic disorder called Chrono Displacement because of which he time travels. During one of his time travels, Henry meets his future wife, Clare, much before he is actually supposed to meet her, and from there starts an amazing and unique love story between them. Henry and Clare keep on meeting at different ages, and pick up the pieces of their love story from where they had left before. It is amazing how Clare falls in love with Henry; while knowing it very well that Henry can never promise her the single most important thing that love promises - ‘to be there for each other always’- and yet they try to create an amazing life together.    

The book is actually written as a series of diary entries by Henry and Clare. It always starts with the age of Clare and Henry at that moment. One might find it a little confusing in the beginning but soon the pieces fit together, and it is easy to get lost in the world of Henry and Clare. Their love story is extremely ‘in the moment’ because they don’t know when, where and in what age they will meet next. But it is not all that rosy, because for Clare, it might mean loving a different person altogether - Henry at 28 and then Henry at 43; people become different when they grow up. For Henry, it is difficult too because when he time travels he is in the frame of mind from where he is coming. Amidst the disappearing acts, Henry manages to do a regular job as a librarian, enjoys a social life with friends Gomez and Charisse, deals with his problems with his dad and also tries to solve the puzzle of his life with geneticist Dr Kendrick. If this is not a roller-coaster life, then what is!

I would give it 4.5 out of 5 for its originality, momentum, grip and amazing characters. I take a 0.5 for a few minor things which I thought were unnecessary in the story. This book is something which one would want to recommend to everyone for a long, long time. 

Monday, August 30, 2010

My latest collection

I have no book reviews yet because since the time I have picked up ‘Tamas’ by Bhisham Sahani, I am stuck. I have reached halfway but the only thing which is keeping me going, at however slow pace, is just my policy of not leaving any book half-read!

Well, after my 10-books frenzy, a couple of days back; I have again bought some more books, some planned, some on the spur-of-the-moment. Here’s the list:

Stay Hungry Stay Foolish by Rashmi Bansal. Frankly, I had been avoiding this book for a long, long time because I have seen Rashmi Bansal on TV a couple of times and did not like her much…the way she keeps driving the point that she is from IIM and yet how she is not in the rat race, blah, blah, blah. But I wanted to know these inspiring stories of people who have taken the unconventional road and made it big.

Temptations of the West by Pankaj Mishra. I have bought this book only because I have read Pankaj Mishra’s earlier book ‘Butter Chicken in Ludhiana’ and I wanted to pick something from ‘Travelogue’ section. Hope it is good.

India: A Million Mutinies now by V.S.Naipaul. This is my first book by Naipaul. Whatever I have read of him online, I look forward to discovering his style of writing and hoping that I like it.

I feel bad about my neck by Nora Ephron. It was available at steal price of Rs 50, and found the first few pages quite funny…so thought, why not!

Talk to the Hand by Lynne Truss. I have read the author’s ‘Eats Shoots and Leaves’ which was a witty book on Punctuation. Bought it only for Rs 50

Mein Kampf ......finally! I think the whole world has read this book by now. But I was not ready so far. I got it at the Sale for Rs 100

The Perfect Store by Adam Cohen. The book is about e-bay. I am fascinated by the potential of online media and really wanted to read this book….one of the first movers! By the way, also for Rs 50

I also bought, some books on Interiors:

How to Decorate

Healthy Home

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Witness the Night by Kishwar Desai

I don’t know what led me to this book, but once I read this, I was certainly hooked to read it:

“In a small town in the heart of India, a young girl is found tied to a bed inside a townhouse where thirteen people lie dead. The girl is alive, but she has been beaten and abused. She is held in the local prison, awaiting interrogation for the murders she is believed by the local people to have committed. Visiting social worker Simran attempts to break through the girl’s mute trance to find out what happened that terrible night. As she uncovers more and more, Simran realises that she is caught in the middle of a terrifying reality, where the unwanted female offspring of families are routinely disposed of. Brilliantly atmospheric, hauntingly real, this is a major debut from an exciting new author.”

The book deals with an important issue of female infanticide in Punjab. Quite a coincidence, these days I have also been watching this serial called “Na Aana Is Des Meri Laado”, which also deals with the same issue. Apparently, the women in the interiors of such places believe that if there are few of them, then they will be valued more. Well, there’s this movie called “Matrubhoomi”, and it is one of the most horrifying movies I have ever seen. One thing is that it is badly made, but the main thing that disturbed me was the premise of the story. The movie is about this woman, “Kalki”, who is the only surviving woman with only men around her. You can imagine what would have become of her.

It is a well-known fact that Punjab-Haryana has the lowest sex ratio across India. Here’s an article on the alarming numbers and how education has not been able to curb this evil, and it stands out as prominently in urban Punjab, as much as it does in the rural areas.

Such strong inclination for a male child is not only for dowry because it is quite prevalent in affluent families as well. The issue is also deeply rooted into property and social status (read stigma).

Coming back to the book. The fact that the writer feels quite strongly about the issue stands out starkly through the book. There are definitely a few shortcomings, but we must give her credit to create such a page-turner, and yet drive home the point. The beginning is as much shocking as much it is intriguing, and sets the stage for the story to unfold. I finished this book in 3 ‘week’-days, with only a few hours of reading each day. It was almost unputdownable - sometimes you were absorbed in the flow, sometimes you rooted for Simran to keep up her spirit, sometimes you got all boggled on ‘who-did-it’! At some point, it also gets quite alarming to just think of what is happening to so many girls, may be our age, may be a few years younger, may be who never could take birth.

I would say it is a worthy book. 

Tuesday, August 10, 2010


I did a post on which magazines I absolutely love and follow, and I have been thinking about adding another of my favourites, but never actually went on to do it. I hardly read any newspaper. Not enough time, is usually my excuse, although I do find time to finish off fat books and watch FRIENDS everyday…mmm well!

The Saturday edition of Mint called Lounge is my favourite, and I make it a point to get it every week. I don’t take it everyday because I’m definitely not interested in financial news, though occasionally I have read the editorials, but that’s that. I like it because it dwells more on Lifestyle, Culture, Food, Travel and well, books! If you can’t get the paper itself, log on to their website.

You can also go through their Archives and read several delightful articles and interesting posts. I first came to know about kitschy Indian-design based firms like PLAY CLAN, DESIGN TEMPLE, HAPPILY UNMARRIED, etc, in one of the articles covered in ‘Lounge’. Even their book reviews are quite nice.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Butter Chicken in Ludhiana by Pankaj Mishra

I had received strong recommendations for Pankaj Mishra’s “Butter Chicken in Ludhiana — Travels in Small Town India”, and that is how I bought it long time back. For quite sometime, I would stop at the book and keep it back on my shelf because I was not too fascinated by a travelogue.

A couple of days back I picked it up for good. Though I took unusually long time to finish it, but I liked it. On certain occasions, I did find a general feeling of aimlessness and regular chatter in the book, somewhere in the middle; yet o be fair to the book, a couple of times I also felt the book was unputdownable. So, basically, it was an interesting read.
The book was written in 1993, with the objective of experiencing and narrating the changing diaspora of Indian society in the small towns, and when the writer chronicled his experiences, he never loses focus.

Being from a small town myself (not even town!); I already know the essence of small towns. The coming of age of people from little hamlets or the transformation of smaller towns is apparent through the lives of several people. Perhaps, the small-town people are more single-minded in achieving things in life. It is a dream that we are all living. Frankly speaking, I never even dreamt about this kind of life. Perhaps due credit should be given to education, more of our parents and less of our generation.
I liked the book, to the extent that I would recommend it to other people and also would like to re-read it in the future. It has also sparked my interest in travelogues. Now I am hunting for some good travelogues. Suggestions are welcome, preferably for good Indian travelogues.

‘Butter Chicken in Ludhiana is an endearing sociological study of small towns in India. Small-talks with different people, short conversations, functions that the writer attends; all of them give glimpses into the psyche of people there and their lives. It makes you nostalgic about your own journey from that small township to the big cities of the modern India. If somebody would have told me, ages ago, while I was still schooling at the tiny township in the interiors of Jharkhand, that I would be staying in almost all the metros of India, I would not have believed. I used to be overawed by city life and had that lack of confidence, which is inherent in almost all small town people. But now I feel proud to have belonged to a place so far off, and yet to be able to build a life here. Unlike, what Pankaj Mishra says, I do not want to shrug off my life there, but I am not hung up on that either. I have always liked ‘present’ than ‘past’.

Coming back to the book, it was easy to relate to the various conversations that the writer has with different people in different places in India. What stands out in a lot of his conversations and observations is that the apparent modernity which the small town people are so desperate to embrace, has actually not reached their thinking. I would say, it is not only with the small towns, yes, certainly more stark there, but one comes across the narrow-mindedness in a lot of city-dwellers also, and it surprises you even more because you are not expecting it.

Small towns are not just the idyllic, romantic, cozy places. Since I am from one, I have complete authority and clarity to comment on this. Small towns are full of their own idiosyncrasy. There is certainly an aspiration for the modernity, to get rid of the small town tag. I remember from my generation, English songs and bands were not part of my teenage. I read Archies only after growing up. But several people would like to associate themselves only with English channels, movies, bands, music, just to drive home the point that they are not into Hindi (read ‘lowly) films, channels, etc.
I am enamored by the books which Mr Mishra mentions in a lot of places. I am also jealous by the fact that he wrote such a book immediately after his education or during (not sure!). Obviously, he is well-read. When he mentions someone as the only person he has met who has read s0-and-so book, I am a little ashamed because despite all my claims about reading, I am still ignorant about a world of books, even classics. Mr Mishra, I am slowly getting there! Don’t judge me :-)

Well, in short, you will like it if you like non-fiction, or travelogues or small town stories, little conversations. It will make a difference if you are yourself from a small town or are inclined towards exploring them. Remember, non-fiction genre are not stories or page-turners, you really have to have a liking for this genre. 

Read more about the book here

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Getting booked this week!

Time really flies! No matter how much I try being regular on my blog, “time” just beats me! It smuggles away seconds and minutes, and even days. Anyways, that’s not the point. I don’t have a book to review right now, because I am still reading it. It will take atleast 2 more days. By the way, I am reading “Butter Chicken in Ludhiana by Pankaj Mishra”. Quite an interesting book, though a bit slow in few places but worth it. It is next on my review list.

This weekend, I had an overwhelming urge to buy atleast 10 books! First it took me hours to shortlist a few after reading lots and lots of reviews. So, I was not able to buy them during the weekend, but well, I have bought it yesterday! I just love the moment when I receive them through courrier. I cannot define the joy!

Here are the books that I bought:

1. Witness the Night by Kishwar Desai
 2. Deaf Heaven by Pinki Virani

3. Doordarshan Days by Bhaskar Ghose

4. Gandhi: Naked Ambition by Jad Adams

5. Harilal Gandhi: A Life by by Chandulal B. Dalal

6. If I am Missing or Dead by Janine Latus

7. Leela : A Patchwork Life by Leela Naidu & Jerry Pinto

8. Open: An Autobiography by Andre Agassi

9. The Dancing Girls Of Lahore by Louise Brown

10. The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger

I am majorly into Non-Fiction these days. I keep on hunting for different kinds of good non-fiction reads. Most of the above books are through Outlook reviews. I also like The Hindu Book reviews.

Monday, June 21, 2010


I have subscribed myself to 5 magazines!

Femina: I have been subscribed to Femina for 3 years now, and I totally love the magazine. It is amazing how many things they put into each issue. I especially love those special issues where they feature Femina through the years. Since Femina has been around so many years, it gives glimpse into the changing fashion, evolving social trends and most importantly, women. No other women's magazine even comes close to Femina! I got this for 50% on 3 years subscription, certainly a good deal, since I know I am going to read it forever! I would have gone for 5 years, if there were such a deal. (Image source: Pinkvilla)

BBC Good Homes: It is one of the best interior magazines around, featuring awesome knick-knacks for homes and superb ‘real’ homes. I have bought a lot of stuff after finding it in this magazine and found inspiration for my own home. I got this for 50% off on subscription for 1 year. I am certainly going to renew my subscription for 3 years atleast. (Image source: BBC Good Homes)

Living etc: Another fabulous interiors magazine, brought into India by Images group. Got the deal for 40% discount and also 4 free back issues. I think these kind of magazines should offer free back issues on their own, because these are not really news items or celeb dates which will go obsolete in a week. These are trends, which remain for a while! (Image source: Images Group)

Outlook: I have subscribed this quite recently, and my subscription hasn’t started yet but I got a great combo deal of Outlook and People for Rs 2999 for 3 years. I think it is fabulous and there are some subscription gifts as well. Outlook is really the best general magazine around right now. India Today has lost its shine long time back, while I do like some issues of “The Week” but “Outlook” is the best in the category. (Image source: Outlook)

People: I had read international editions of PEOPLE long back with Jennifer Aniston on the cover. I read the first Indian edition one year back and loved it. Since I am a big one on celebrity fashion and news, I lapped it up. What makes it stand out is, it is not about the scandals and trashy news-bites, it is about celeb lives, fashion, events, new movies and even books. I buy a lot of books, after findig it here. It is certainly not in the genre of Filmfare  and the ilk. (Image source: People)

And well, I love each one of them……………….! I was just about to subscribe for Outlook Money, but who am I kidding, I am not into finance so much. But for those who are, it is a great personal finance magazine. I love the way it is able to connect to a common man.

Other than above, I sometimes also buy “Better Homes and Gardens”, “Good Housekeeping” and “Ideal Homes and Gardens”. All these interior magazines are increasingly becoming similar-looking but I love peeping into beautiful homes for inspiration. So, be it!

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Miracle in the Andes by Nando Parrado

In October 1972, a plane carrying rugby team from Uruguay on their way to Chile, crashed amidst the treacherous, icy terrains of Andes. Miraculously, several of the passengers survived the crash but found themselves stranded at about 12000 feet above sea level. Nando Parrado was one of the survivors who spent 72 days without proper food, shelter and any help, some of them seriously hurt, some succumbing to injuries, cold and hunger. This book is a first person account of Nando Parrado, on how they overcame all odds to survive.

The story of these survivors can send chills down anybody’s spine! Here were a group of people, completely inexperienced to such terrains, putting all their efforts initially in the hope of being found by the rescue party and later to cross the Andes and get help.

Though a little slow in the beginning, the book starts getting its grip after a couple of pages. Nando has given a built-up of the incident by some background on the various people on board, their journey route and also about rugby as a sport. Nando was unconscious for the first 3 days after the crash. He loses his mother during the crash and his sister after a few days. The book dwells on the leadership and spirit demonstrated by a lot of his friends in trying to make things work for them. With only the wreckage of their plane to protect from cold, seat covers to shield them, meager food items and some liquor to satisfy their hunger; on the face of it, it is completely unbelievable how so many of them eventually make it to beyond Andes.

First of all it was shocking to know that they had to resort to eating the flesh of their dead friends, and you tend to get judgmental, but what happens to you several degrees below normal temperature and in the back of beyond, could be only understood who have lived through it. Definitely, it would have been difficult for them to resort to eating the flesh of their friends, but perhaps they did what they had to without dwelling too much on what was right or wrong! I am still not comfortable on whether it is better to embrace death rather than eat the flesh of your friends. People die for their friends but who can decide what is the right thing!

What works for the book is the unbelievable story of survival against all odds and how the survivors rescued themselves. What slightly disinterested me in a few places was Nando’s constant proclamation of his love for his father. He loses his mother and sister in the same crash. He does dwell on them, but in the later days, not much! The qualities he highlights in his co-survivors are repetitive. The book also inclines towards making Nando the unlikely hero. Perhaps, what I as a reader wanted was the triumph of this group and therefore, I was reluctant to consider Nando Parrado as the one person responsible for their rescue. Perhaps, to some extent, he did play a crucial part, but some of the others also played as much important role. Nando definitely treads on a diplomatic path and accredits a lot of people and their efforts during their stay in the Andes.

So, go ahead and read this amazing story. 

Image credit

Friday, June 4, 2010

Shame by Jasvinder Sanghera

While reading about “In the Name of Honour”, I cam across the topic of honour crime and then to this book called “Shame” by Jasvinder Sanghera. Last month when I watched ‘Love Sex aur Dhokha’, I was deeply disturbed by the first story which revolved around honour killing and really filled me with disgust at what level people stoop to withhold their so-called ‘honour’……their own flesh and blood!

The starting is quite OK, when the writer tries to establish that she was not the one to follow the trend set by her elder sisters. As her mum keeps pointing out, “why should you be different?”.

I have always wondered about these kids from Canada, UK and a lot of places abroad, who have even more conservative upbringing than us in India. Although living in the face of apparently an ‘open culture’ (read western culture), they are expected to not be affected by it. 

What is happening in the villages in India, is rarely different to what is happening to a lot of youngsters from this twilight region. They run away from home, get married, only to be hunted down and killed in a gruesome manner…yet again their own flesh and blood. After all, it is a matter of honour!

Thankfully, there’s no murder in this book, but this book brings an important issue to the limelight…forced marriage! The writer, Jasvinder, is on the verge of getting married to a stranger just like all her sisters did. She had seen the lives of her sisters, not surprisingly, none of them were happy. She runs away with her boyfriend, one fine day, and creates a life far from her family.

Her boyfriend Jassey comes across as a loving and dedicated guy, but surprisingly, she tells a couple of times that she never really loved him. You feel pity for the guy because he supports Jasvinder in all the way he could. I even hated Jas, as she is known to those close to her, in between for cheating on Jassey.

Anyways, her marriage does not work out although they have a daughter. That’s just some part of the book, and I really don’t want to give away the whole book.
The book is really good in the later part, and you tend to take sides with Jas, when she struggles hard to juggle 3 children, complete her education, do society work and also take care of her parents. 

I liked the book. Read another review here

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Aruna’s Story by Pinki Virani

I picked this up because I picked up “Bitter Chocolate”, and do not regret it. This is yet another remarkable book by Pinki Virani, based on the true story of Aruna Shanbaug. I had vaguely heard about this case. This case received much media glare due to its relevance in the legal debates on “mercy killing” or “euthanasia”.

Aruna Shanbaug, a nurse at KEM hospital, Mumbai, is accosted by one of the hospital sweepers, raped and strangled by a dog chain in the basements of KEM. The sweeper had been reprimanded by Aruna a couple of times for not doing his job properly, not feeding the dogs, etc. This person was on temporary duty in the hospital. Aruna, who was supposed to go on leave from December to prepare for her marriage to Doctor Sundeep from the same hospital, falls prey to sweeper Sohanlal in November. That one day changed the course of her entire life. This story dates back to November 1973. Due to strangling, the oxygen supply to her brain had cut off and she lost power of expression and speech, and even eyesight. In just one twist of fate, her seemingly envious life, turned into an utter waste.

Surprisingly, Sohanlal had to serve only a 7 year term in jail for assault and robbery, and never for sexual molestation, rape of ‘unnatural offence’. There’s not much of his perspective in the book. It is said at the end of the book that after he served in jail, he was working in some hospital in Delhi.

You don’t know what to feel when you read her tormentor got away with just 7 years of imprisonment and on the other hand Aruna Shanbaug lay in vegetative state for the rest of her life. Due to the kindness of the staff of KEM Hospital, she is taken care of by them, but her own family abandons her. It seems that they leave Aruna to her state because they were not well-off and did not want an extra burden when they were already struggling to make their ends meet.

This book is yet another marvelous work from Pinki Virani. What stood out in this book, as also in her other book called ‘Bitter Chocolate’ is the insufficiency of Laws to frame the criminals. The way she has converted an incident into a full-fledged novel is commendable, creating fictitious conversations and handling the sensitive issue with utmost care, she never falters from her focus – telling Aruna’s story!

Read more in the following links:
The Hindu
Indian Express

(Image source: Infibeam)

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Mixed Doubles by Jill Mansell

Immediately after ‘A Thousand Splendid Suns’, I picked up ‘Mixed Doubles, giving in to the persistent observations be everyone that I am reading too many disturbing books. So, I thought, well, I have too many chicklits also, so let me just take a break from the heavy-duty books and get on with a lighter, no-brainer.

‘Mixed Doubles’ is about three friends Dulcie, Pru and Liza, each make a resolution on the New Year. Liza wants to get married, Pru wants to stay married and Dulcie wants to get out of her marriage. The whole book is about this. As all chicklits, the book is predictable but it is quite fast-paced. You can even finish it in a day!

Liza is quite popular. Every guy falls for her, but she gets bored of them all too easily. After several flings, this year, she wants to take the next step and get married to a suitable guy. The challenge is to find one.

Pru is married to Phil, and just wants to make her marriage work, no matter how her husband is. But her husband goes on and has an affair with their housekeeper. The story takes from their. No matter how hard you try, destiny may lead you to something else, and who knows, may be it is good for you!

Dulcie is the most idiotic of all. She has a nice husband in Patrick but he is always too engrossed in work and out of sheer boredom of her routine life, Dulcie thinks she should take a divorce. Well, fate has other plans for her as well.

I have really grown out of chicklits, even Sophie Kinsela, so I found it an OK book. But all those who like chicklits, it is good one for you! 

Friday, May 21, 2010

Bitter Chocolate by Pinki Virani

Two weeks back, I went to Crossword to pick some books. I spent about an hour or so but could not find anything good. Then suddenly I chanced upon this book called “Bitter Chocolate” by Pinki Virani. The book was about “Child Sexual Abuse in India”. I skimmed through the book, and it came across as an interesting book that dwelt on the horrors of Child Sexual Abuse, while discussing the myriad of cases which have been registered and the relevant laws, the revamping of regulations required and so on.

Perhaps it happened for the first time that I bought the book and immediately started reading it, and finished it in 3 days. It was a well-written but deeply disturbing experience. There are about hundred cases which get discussed and one is worse than the other.

There are few observations about the book.

• The book deals with a controversial topic, but not even once does it become sleazy. It only evokes hatred for the people who do it. Pinki Virani, who has been a journalist for several years, has handled the topic very sensitively.

• It is shocking to know that Sexual Abuse has happened to children as young as 3 months also, and it has nothing to do with gender of the child as well. In fact, it has been reported that sexual abuse of little boys has been on the rise and apparently, Goa, Kovalam and Mumbai are hotspots for foreign tourists for this trade.

• It is also shocking to know how wide-spread this crime is in the society, regardless of the social strata the kids belong to, their gender or their age.

• It wakes you up to the fact the child today is definitely not safe anywhere. You need to keep your eyes and ears open all the time to the tell-tale signs, trust your child and invoke trust in her / him so that they open up to you for whatever they are going through

• It is also disturbing to note that even parents don’t pay much heed to this and feel that kids will not remember this when they grow up or think about the impact it can have on their stable / perfect lives. But the child going through any kind of abuse is scarred for life, and it definitely shows up in any form in their lives. In fact, it has been pointed out that several abusers have themselves been abused as a child. But that of course, is not justification for such heinous act.

• Pinki Virani also points out the legal angle to this. What the child goes through when he / she does come forward to give a statement – our courts are unfriendly to the child, the kid can be intimidated by the abusers and his slew of lawyers, the kid is made to repeat the details of his abuse over and over again

• The book has captured a beautiful yet touching poem by a 12 year old victim:

I asked you for help, and you told me you would

If I told you the things he did to me.

You asked me to trust you, and you made me

Repeat them to fourteen different strangers

I asked you for help and you gave me

A doctor with cold hands

Who spread my legs and stared at me

Just like my father.

I asked you for protection

And you gave me a social worker.

Do you know what it is like

I have more social workers than friends?

I asked you for help

And you forced my mother to choose between us.

She chose him, of course.

She was scared, she had a lot to lose.

I had a lot to lose too.

The difference is, you never told me how much.

I asked you to put an end to the abuse

You put an end to my whole family.

You took away my nights of hell

And gave me days of hell instead.

You have changed my private nightmare

Into a very public one.

This book is for everyone, and most importantly for a parent. We cannot close our eyes to what is happening all around us, no matter how disturbing. I did not know there was a play too on this.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini

'A Thousand Splendid Suns' is a disturbing story, this time from Afghanistan. I have read ‘Kite Runner’ and anyways all the reviews have been pretty good for this book, so when I saw it resting on my friend’s book-shelf, I picked it up. As it is quite obvious, I have been reading quite a lot of books in this genre, and what connects them all together is the fact that they were all about stories of women who went through quite a lot of ordeal. Not very pleasant books to read, as many of my friends have pointed out and loudly wonder, why have I been reading so many of melancholic books. But then, I see it differently. These are stories, many of them real, most of them disturbing, but that happens to life. One needs to deal with it. These days I have grown to love non-fiction quite a lot.

‘A Thousand Splendid suns’ is basically a story about two women, from almost a generation apart, who are thrown together by fate as wives of the same man. Half the book is about the backgrounds of both the women. The first one, Mariam, is an illegitimate child of a wealthy man. She loves her father, until she is married off hastily to a much older man by him. She used to look forward to the time that she used to spend a kid and as a teenager, never believing her mother even a word that she would say against him. But when she sets out to meet him, he does not meet her. And in a quick succession of events her mother commits suicide, she has nowhere to go and nobody wants her, so she is married off to a widower. The man turns out to be idiosyncratic and temperamental. But she learns to deal with him. It does not help that she is not able to bore him a child.

Second woman is Laila, who in a strange turn of events finds herself in Mariam’s home. Her father was particular about Laila’s education, and her upbringing was pretty liberal. But in a freak explosion, her parents are killed, and she survives. She hears of the demise of her boyfriend, Tariq. Finding herself 6 weeks pregnant with Tariq’s child, and knowing fully well, what happened to women with illegitimate child and women in general without anybode to protect, in Taliban, she agrees to marry Rasheed, Mariam’s husband.

This is their story, Mariam’s and Laila’s. I would say, I liked ‘Kite-Runner’ more, but this is not bad either. I found the beginning part, marginally slow, with too many pages dedicated to their growing up and reaching the main story. After a while, you get a little restless about reaching the main part of the story but towards the end, it is quite fast-paced.

I would definitely recommend it, and I think I would give it 7.5 out of 10. Read another review here.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

In the Name of Honour by Mukhtar Mai

‘In the name of Honour’ by Mukhtar Mai first caught my attention at Crossword. I did not buy the book right away because it was only available in hardcover, which made it expensive. So, I made a note and decided to wait for a few months, to be launched in paperback.

Several months later, while going through my wish list, I came across this book again and luckily, it was available online in Paperback. It is a small book, about 180 pages, so I picked it up for reading immediately after finishing the book I was reading.

To me this book is all about the courage and determination of the woman who was supposed to commit suicide after she was subjected to gangrape as a punishment for an “honor crime”. But she survives and overcomes her handicaps to turn into a social activist. Mukhtar Mai is inspiring, and this book stands for all the injustice and atrocities that women are subjected to, in the name of honor.

There are 2 things that come out very starkly in this book – the first is illiteracy. Half the battle is lost due to the fact that several women in the back and beyond of villages are illiterate, and thus are unaware and incapable about fighting or filing cases for the injustice caused to them. The second thing that has been captured vividly is the quantum of violence against women, predominantly rape and murder. In the tribal regions and villages, it is common practice to take vengeance with the other man by raping the women of his family. For years, women have been subjected to all sorts of violence under the guise of ‘justice’.

Mukhtar Mai is a divorced, 28-year old, tribal woman who is subjected to the punishment of gang rape because her 12 year old brother is accused of talking to an upper - caste woman. She contemplates suicide like any other woman subjected to such heinous crime, but unlike them she turns around, stands up and fights for not only her own honour but turns into a social activist and makes the public and the media sit up and take note of such atrocities in the society.

She is not bogged down by the fact that she is illiterate, though she regrets not being able to read, several times in the book. She comes across as an extremely courageous and intelligent woman, who did not let herself be intimidated by the powerful men and the system. Because she is illiterate, it becomes all the more difficult for her to fight her case because she is never sure whether whatever she is saying is getting documented correctly, and she attributes illiteracy a major problem in cases getting registered for such crimes.

Not being political about it, I would just say that It is just a matter of chance that she belongs to Pakistan because 'honour killings' happen everywhere.

Read another review of the book here. I definitely recommend this book. It has been written well and deserves all the attention for the cause it brings forward. 

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Some more books on my shelf (actually beyond shelf now)

People! Get jealous. I have just acquired a host of great books. In fact, even finished reading 1 of them and in the middle of the second one.

Here’s the enviable list:

A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth
Finally! and quite a fat book it is. Friends at work felt that it was too late for me to read “a suitable boy”; while my husband rummaged through the packing to confirm that it actually was 1 book and not a couple of books! The only thing he had to say was, “forget about reading, I don’t understand how anybody can write so much in the first place!”

In the Name of Honour by Mukhtar Mai
Quite a famous book by now, I had first seen this book in Crossword, on the ‘new releases’ shelf. At that time only the hardcover was available and it was too expensive, so I gave it a miss. Got this for just Rs 252 in paperback. Reading it right now.

Rooftops of Tehran by Mahbod Seraji
My current favourite is Iran and last couple of books have been in and around it. I came across this book, while hunting for some good books based in Tehran / Iran. I have already finished it and posted a review as well. Quite a good book really.

The Invisibles: A Tale of the Eunuchs of India by Zia Jaffrey
I have already read this book 4 years back while I was in Mumbai. It is a well-written and well-researched book. It really opens your eyes to the world where these “invisibles” belong. A lot of things are horrifying and eye opener. I definitely wanted it in my collection and I will surely re-read it.

Lipstick Jihad: A Memoir of Growing Up Iranian in America And American in Iran by Azadeh Moaveni
Another recommendation on Iran. In fact, I have got a long list of recommendations on good books on Tehran which was published on the back pages of ‘Rooftops of Tehran’. I’m all for it!

Iran Awakening by Shirin Ebadi
Yet another one. Read about the author here. Still awaiting the delivery of the book.

Dreams Die Young by C.V.Raman
I came across this book in The Hindu Book Reviews long time back, but it was ‘out of stock’ on almost all the websites as well as bookstores. I was lucky to re-discover it recently on

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Rooftops of Tehran by Mahbod Seraji

Just finished another book based in Tehran – Rooftops of Tehran by Mahbod Seraji. Unlike the other 2 previous books that I read, this one is a fiction and closer to the genre of ‘The Kite Runner’.

First things first, I liked the book. I finished this 348 page book in 4 days. ‘Rooftops of Tehran’ is essentially a story woven around friends Pasha, Ahmed, Faheemeh, Zari and Doctor. It is a touching story of love, friendship, political turmoil, courage and sacrifice. The story is narrated through the voice of Pasha, whose name you don’t get to know for a very long time. Nevertheless, the story succeeds in touching an emotional chord with the readers. The emotions that the protagonists go through can be true for anybody of their age in any part of the world, while at the same time, the story also creates a rich and vivid kaleidoscope of Iranian culture.

The back cover rightfully describes it as ‘an unforgettable novel of young love and coming of age in a nation headed towards revolution’. Pasha spends several moments of love and longing on his rooftop, in the relatively conservative Iran. Although the summer afternoons spent together by Pasha, Zari, Ahmed and Faheemeh sound unrealistic in the conservative Tehran, where so much time spent between unrelated young boys and girls can only be frowned upon; but one can overlook such things in this richly woven story of young love, Pasha’s guilt of falling in love with Zari who happens to be engaged to Doctor - his friend and mentor, his longing for her and so on. There are some potions that try to add humour but seem a bit forced.

For me, this novel was about understanding the contemporary Iran during 70s. I personally know very little about the history and culture of this politically disturbed country. You cannot help but feel sorry for the young people who are not free to express themselves, the schools are controlled, the expressions are controlled, so that you do not fall out of line with the government. The people of Iran have seen and gone through unimaginable violence for people and their families who opposed government.

Read more about the book here.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Nine Parts of Desire by Geraldine Brooks

Nine Parts of Desire by Geraldine Brooks has the cover page strikingly similar to the last book that I read ‘Prisoner of Tehran’. But the reason I picked up this book was because it promised a glimpse into “the Hidden World of Islamic Women”.

It is an interesting non-fiction account of the author’s interactions with women from several Muslim countries – their lives, the rituals, rules, regulations.

Geraldine Brooks treads the middle path of questioning the things passed on as religion while rationalizing some of the regressive aspects of the Muslim countries.

It was interesting to note what Geraldine’s colleague Asya had to say in justifying the role of burqa - ‘burqa-clad women are treated as equals based on their intellect not as sex objects.’

The book discusses the origin of a lot of practices like child marriage, polygamy, role of women, etc and their relevance in today’s society.

Frankly a general non-Muslim understands this culture only so much, but surely to world’s second largest population it must make sense. Even the most popular books that have come out on Muslim countries, have done little to create a good picture, say Not without my daughter, for example.

Geraldine attempts to strike a balance between criticizing the customs that stifles an individual’s (read woman’s) rights, and yet not being too judgmental about Muslim women who are comfortable in the safety of their ‘hijab’.

Personally, I learnt a lot about women in Muslim countries and I think this book will appeal to everyone who has interests in studies related to culture, religion and women. There are horrifying rituals, unbelievable stories, unjustifiable customs accepted and followed the world over. I think the book surely does some justice to the genre. In fact there are stories of several courageous women who overcame the limitations of hijab and participated in sports, politics, education and public affairs, which will appeal to the readers.

I also came across this interesting write up which is ‘a Muslim response to the book’.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Book Review: Prisoner of Tehran by Marina Nemat

I was looking to read about people in countries which have undergone political upheaval, that is when I came across this book. ‘Prisoner of Tehran’ in its own words is ‘one woman’s story of survival in a torture jail’.

I got a rare opportunity of reading a book without many breaks. It truly makes a difference in the way a book can affect you. And ‘Prisoner in Tehran’ by Marina Nemat surely did affect. It is surprising to know how politically aware and involved is the young people in countries that are unsettled, and it equally saddens to know what they go through just by voicing their opinion. Just voicing an opinion, just simple thing as having a conversation about what you like and what you don’t. For us, it truly sounds far-fetched to be in a situation like this. And that is the reason, somewhere in the middle, while reading the book, I asked myself if we take our freedom too lightly!

Every day newspapers are filled with stories of violence from across the world. There are several innocent people getting killed everywhere, there are countries who are constantly in turmoil, no law and order, no rules. 

Marina’s story is scary, even unreal, and sometimes too incredible to be true. You tend to feel empathetic and sorry for the people who live in a disillusioned state of a country. There are few choices and all wrong! It gnaws at your heart to read about such young people – teenagers - go through so much. It is disheartening to read about conditions that you would not even wish to your enemies.

It all boils down to only one thing - religion. Why did man create religion? Religion was supposed to be an individual choice of how they wanted to reach out to someone above, to the belief that there was someone there above who took care of us, who helped us in difficulties, who you call out to in moments of distress! And why did religion came to be mixed with politics? Religion should have remained personal. Just like it does not matter to others what food we eat at home or how we like our interiors, it should never have been anybody’s business as to how I reached out to my God, or even who was my God, for that matter! In the place where we have reached today is terrible and I don’t think we can ever go back and start this all over again, learning from where we went wrong.

It is certainly a difficult book to read, simply because Marina’s experiences have been horrific. My eyes were moist a lot of times, I even got a headache but I finished the book in 2 days flat.

I wanted to write about it before I forgot the feelings I experienced while reading it. And I’m happy that I could!

I completely believe that reading a book is an experience, and it changes with the book and the person reading it, who relates it to her own experiences. I just expressed my experience; I did not really review the book. For those who want to catch a review. Here’s one. Also read more about the Evin Prison here. This book is for anybody who wants to hear the voice that had always been there but probably not loud enough to reach us. I think it is really important to be aware about our world and what people go through while trying to live.