Friday, September 23, 2016

BOOK REVIEW: A PERFECT MURDER AND OTHER STORIES BY S.R. NAIR

Name of the Book: A Perfect Murder
Name of the Author: S. R Nair
Rating: 4 Stars

BOUQUET OF GENRES


A Perfect Murder and Other Stories by S.R Nair is more like a potpourri of different genres, rather than one theme. Starting with a murder mystery where the murderer gets away with a crime in the opening story A Perfect Murder, Mr. Nair has set the tone of the novel as an interesting, unusual and a very gripping read. Lust and greed form the background of the story as we see the innocent Hiten going towards his doom. His roving eye lands him in a bad situation. You cannot but praise the ingenuity of this crime and have all your sympathy with the actual murderer. As A Perfect Murder showcases a woman in all her seductive avatar, in the next one Mr. Nair introduces Salma.

Salma’s Fate will leave you with a bad taste as you watch with horrific fascination how a man can murder all relationships just to satisfy his lust. Rape by itself is an ugly word, but when such a heinous crime is committed by someone whom you call your father, this crime has no pardon. And while we are saluting the courage of Salma, Mr. Nair changes the mood completely and introduces, Hira Bai.

In the story iPad, Hira Bai represents the age of innocence. A breather, after the two intense stories. iPad has a lot of emotions but they are that of innocence and love. Where an old and poor woman is ready to sell all that she possesses- just to buy an iPad. Her reason for wanting one will touch your heart.

Mr.Nair has one factor appearing in most of the stories. Immigrants. Indians living in the Middle East and the USA are the main characters of his stories. And in Koya’s Story, he touches the biggest fear that many immigrants have – what if we never return home again? Heart-touching.

Seema brings out a bit of positivity again when Seema, the protagonist, is a victim of a social media mishap. You cannot call the perperator a “social media troll” since he knew her from a long time. A weakling and a fool maybe. But the way Seema’s fiancĂ©, Gautam, stands by her, makes you believe in love again.

She had accepted the abuse as her due and now paid it forward with compounded interest to her daughter-in-law.

This is one profound line from the story The Grandson. To what length we would go to have a son. Lata’s mom is a classic example of that. If you read the above lines you will see that the author has nailed it. What one experiences as a daughter-in-law, one passes on to the next generation as a mother-in-law.  While as a mother, Kanta is blind to her son’s amorous behavior, I found it acutely funny that she extended the same thing to her daughter-in-law as her need for a grandson was intense. Again I feel that the author has given the story a fitting end.

I have a small peeve with this story. Since the topic is that of respecting a girl child, why was the girl child who was actually present in the story not given any importance? Just one scene that would indicate that the author actually remembered her? Like it was done in The Stolen Child.

When Safiya finds out that her blood is not matching with her parents, she starts thinking about her real parents. She meets a lady who had been attacked by her own son and is now in a trauma ward. Do they have a connection? This story had a truly fitting end to this theme.

In an anthology, rarely will you find all the stories written with an equally strong voice. Mr. Nair’s voice faltered a bit in The Missing Wife. While a reader will be sucked into the tale to find the missing Geeta, but the straight path the author has adopted to write this story does not give too much scope for guessing. It’s a tale of deceit and lies told in a simple manner. The author could have used some strong incidents to heighten the curiosity factor in this story like he had done in A Perfect Murder.

Mr. Nair takes away my complaint of too much placidity in his next one aptly named Seduced. I don’t know whether to laugh or sympathize with Adi in this story. This one reminded me of an anecdote from the Bollywood movie, Dil Chahta Hai. How we develop a friendship with strangers is very important. Adi thought he would get free sex with a British lady. What happens is a series of funny anecdotes (not so funny for Adi) But at the end of the story, I could not but think that it served Adi right. Didn’t it?

Total Eclipse has one of the most uncalled for ending. Ramu, who is an ordinary laborer, works very hard to keep his wife and dog happy. He has some grief hidden in his heart which he could never tell anyone. So on the day of the eclipse, he does such a cruel act that brings out many secrets. But Total Eclipse left me with many questions. How did Ramu find out the truth and what happens to the characters after the secret is out. But I can assure you that the ending is the least expected one.

In Visa for America, we see another age old question arising. When someone marries a green card holder or citizen of USA, what is the real motive? Is it for marriage or going to the USA? Sam met Sandhya through a matrimonial site. After reaching the USA, she goes missing, leaving a note in which she states that she is in love with someone else and that she had only married Sam to get to come to the US. So what happens to Sam? Does he get the love of his life back and if he does can he really forgive her?

Visa for America has some unconnected dots. There is a mention about Sandhya’s parents and yet that which is supposed to form a crucial part of the story is widely neglected. As in the case of many of the short stories that you find in anthologies, many such small things are often left unsaid, leaving much to the imagination of the readers.

If I had to choose one story which I did not like, that would be The Soothsayer. It’s a story told over generations and it had nothing much to offer. Attukal Ravikrishnan was an astrologer, whose prediction could never go wrong. Now this astrologer read his own chart and came to the conclusion that he would die in a road accident. From that time onwards he had imposed a self-curfew and refused to go out of the house in any vehicle. So now the question is will he be able to prove his own prediction wrong or death has a way of finding you even when you are hiding from it?

If the characters were more involved with each other it would have made a wider impact. Or why the astrologer is behaving in a peculiar way is revealed to the family members as a mystery, it would have made more of an impact. After reading  the above stories written by Mr. Nair, I expected more.

Moving on, I did not quite understand what the title The Lost Son had to do with the story. It was a story about friendship. But the title shows that it had more to do with Ram becoming what he had become. While that is not the nucleus of the story, I could not quite place the title along with the story. It is a story about a Hindu and a Muslim, whose friendship transcends over time and many riots. But when they enter into the business world, the failure of one and the success of the other bring the crack in their friendship. Soon small incidents join up and how they part and make their way back to each other forms a beautiful story.

And the winner is Zubair. I enjoyed this story thoroughly. If the author had planned that the readers would close the book with a smile,  he has succeeded. The feminist in me cheered for Sahana as she adapted to the lifestyle of USA. What brought a smile on my face was the reaction Zubair was having. I could almost imagine Farooq Shaikh and Deepti Naval in this role. I think I can truly call this my favorite in the lot.

Crisp writing and the free flow of the stories make this anthology a wonderful read.

WOULD I RECOMMEND THIS BOOK?
If you like stories that bring out the basic human characteristics and make you feel emotional – this one is a taker.

LINE THAT STAYED WITH ME
The kindly gentleman suggested that he write to the Honorable Prime Minister of India and helpfully provided him with the mailing address in New Delhi.  Zubair was not sure whether writing to the Prime Minister would help.  Nevertheless he planned to write to the Prime Minister. He had nothing to lose.

I couldn't stop laughing. 

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

BOOK REVIEW: THE MAHABHARATA CODE BY KARTHIK K.B. RAO

Name of the Book: The Mahabharata Code
Name of the Author: Karthik K B Rao
Star Rating: 4 Stars
Goodreas Link: http://bit.ly/2cVZtui

AS WE DIG UP OUR PAST. . .

Rick Riordan has really opened a Pandora's box. From Shiva to Zeus, from Arjun to Hercules and from Sita to Diana - has been told, and retold. Hashed and reincarnated. The question is why? Why are we so much into analyzing and retelling the events which have already become a way of life for an entire nation? Is there a dearth of imagination or is it the analytical minds of the writers that need to understand why Sita went under the ground or why Draupadi's clothes were ripped off her body and yet her silent spectators are given god-like respect? I think this is an era of giving answers to the questions our younger generation has been asking. No more are the words enough. Words that are parroted without understanding and cloaked with scientific explanation lose their true essence.

The Mahabharata Code by Karthik K B Rao is yet another contribution to this phenomenon called retelling of mythologies.  He has gone a step ahead by adding Sci-fi to this genre. Very innovative.

This novel is not for a rainy day. Many questions have been raised and some answered scientifically. Why did Jarasandh have such immense strength and what was the reason behind Krishna for slaying him? How did Ravana have 10 heads and what was the reason behind the monkey men fighting for Rama? I am sure many of us have asked these questions at one time or the other. Mr. Rao has almost given some believable justifications. - 

The narrative will catch your interest in the beginning when questions regarding Krishna and the whole cosmos planner are raised. A mixture of past and present, reality and surreal are blended. When past merges into the present and vice versa, forms a page turner till a certain point.

The story takes a turn when the protag is sent to another planet where the restaging of Mahabharata will take place. All the characters are already decided upon by the great maestro Vyasa and the protag along with his team are mere witnesses. 

The Mahabharata Code...

'When the earthlings get a message in the form of Hindu symbols which reads, 'athithi devo bhava' it starts a journey to the unknown. Who are the players and who play the role of spectators will be understood much later in the story. Curiosity factors are maintained till here. Even after they reach the planet the occurrences of the Mahabharata are orchestrated by whom and why also forms quite an interesting read. 

But the problems start with the winding down of the story. The ending where reality is merged with ambiguity might be a bit off-putting for some. For a more analytical mind, it might open a plethora of questions raised in this book. The author has given women a much higher place than was given during those times. There is even a Nirbhaya shot for Arjuna. 

And this is where my greatest peeve with this novel is. 

The flow of the story is full of diversions. From mythological characters to reality. From expectations of a father to being a defenseless father... I wish the author did not have to give justification for all his characters. If one character is bad then he is bad. A villain needs no justification. And this dual image of Krishna is something I accepted but still had my doubts. Krishna is one of the biggest examples of shades of gray - even if he is a god. But why he is like that and what is the difference between a villain and a man fighting for his rights, is what makes Mahabharata code an interesting read.

The Resolution ...

The resolution of the story could have been a bit earlier. If I say more on this it will have spoilers so let me just surmise that even with an ambiguous ending let there be only one school of thought. Too many resolutions gave to the same occurrence or to reach the same destination can be detrimental to the readers.

WILL I RECOMMEND THIS BOOK?
Yes. For those who like questioning the roles of the mythological characters in the Mahabharata and the Ramayana, you will love it. You will love to read it and debate about it for hours for this book does raise a lot of questions.

THE LINE THAT STAYED WITH ME

I even attended one self-help group therapy program where people from all walks of life would share their life experiences and then the instructor tries to resolve their problems using some techniques. It started off well and I had even begun to like that program when suddenly the instructor remarked that we are all just biological machines and our life is empty and meaningless.

Hahhaa. Now that is one heck of a self-help group.