Tag Archives: biography

Book Review: Gandhi Before India by Ramachandra Guha

Gandhi Before India by Ramachandra Guha Title: Gandhi Before India
Author: Ramachandra Guha
Publisher: Allen Lane
ISBN: 9781846142666
Genre: Non-Fiction, Biography
Pages: 688
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

Gandhi. Mahatma Gandhi. Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. Who was Gandhi? Was he just a movement? Or was there more to him? Was there ever more to him as a person? What was he like before he started the revolution of such a kind that inspired millions to follow him? How did he get there? Who was Gandhi the man? Such questions always cropped in my mind in school.

There was always this chapter on the Mahatma in school and yet we never tried to know more about the man. He was always an enigma. Maybe because not enough is written or spoken of him before his time in India. Of his formative years spent in England and South Africa. Ramachandra Guha discovers the man through those years in his aptly titled book, “Gandhi Before India”.

“Gandhi Before India” is all about the man and what led him to believe in what he did. It is about his years in England and South Africa before coming back to India in 1915 and starting a revolution against the Empire like none other.

The book is an attempt to unearth Gandhi like never before. His ideologies, his thoughts, the convergence of incidents in his life, that made him the man he was and how he grew to become the Mahatma or rather what he was before he became the “Great Soul”.

“Gandhi Before India” brings to light the transformation of the boy to the man. The writing makes no bones about it and that is what will have the reader from page one. Gandhi somehow is always relevant. In almost every single time and era, and this book strives to unearth the man behind all the layers.

Ramachandra Guha’s research is intense and that is evident. He has gone through letters, journals and had more conversations with people to get to know the Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi that we all grew up knowing and taking for granted as a part of history.

To me the book told a lot more about the Mahatma than I ever knew or was aware of. Maybe books such as these are meant to do that. To get you to know more so the dim view or opinions do not exist anymore. “Gandhi Before India” is a rich work on the man who was and what he became. The “what he” became part is yet to be documented by Mr. Guha and there is definitely a sequel of to this. I for one cannot wait for it.

Affiliate Link:

Buy Gandhi Before India from Flipkart.com

Book Review: Guru Dutt: A Tragedy in Three Acts by Arun Khopkar

Title: Guru Dutt – A Tragedy in Three Acts
Author: Arun Khopkar
Translator: Shanta Gokhale
Publisher: Penguin India
ISBN: 9780143415053
Genre: Non-Fiction, Biography, Film
Pages: 168
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

There is no better way to get to know a film-maker than through his works. To watch them repeatedly – one after the other, till they charm you, make you smile, make you cry and make you think. That to me is the best way to know a filmmaker. To realize and understand what made him or her make movies like the ones you are watching, what is the psyche behind them, and what is the connect it has with you and the impression it leaves behind.

One such filmmaker whose works I have admired for years now has to be Guru Dutt. His cinema according to me was way ahead of its time. The depiction of a poet trying to come to terms with the world’s ways or the idea of a disillusioned filmmaker trying to cope with failure, Guru Dutt to me was a storyteller beyond words. He to me was successfully in creating poetry on screen – with eye movements, with body language and with silence. So when I got the opportunity to read, “Guru Dutt – A Tragedy in Three Acts” by Arun Khopkar, I jumped at it.

Arun Khopkar is an award-winning film director and scholar and it is through his eyes that the reader gets a sense of Guru Dutt and three of his films – Pyaasa, Kaagaz Ke Phool and Sahib Biwi Aur Ghulam. Arun Khopkar does not talk about Dutt’s private life even once in the book and that is commendable. He looks at the person and the director through his movies which is most essential.

The technical aspects of Guru Dutt’s movies are explored more – with reference to lighting, the play of shadows, the script, the music, the plot of his movies and ultimately to me, “the man who never tried to fit in”. Khopkar’s language is simple and retrospective, which has been beautifully translated from Marathi by Shanta Gokhale. The idea of a troubled genius is clearly communicated throughout the book, and what I found most intriguing was how Khopkar has managed to understand Dutt layer by layer purely through his cinema and silences.

For me, each film mentioned in the book is precious. Khopkar’s views on each of these three films are unique and intelligent. His writing does not ignore the minor or secondary characters. He takes into account every aspect of those films and presents Guru Dutt to the reader – raw and brilliant.

The book is not a long read and as the writer describes in the preface, that it was just meant to be a personal documentation on the legendary filmmaker and nothing more. It somehow took the shape of a book and I am glad it did. “Guru Dutt: A Tragedy in Three Acts” is a book that will make you think about art and the genius that Dutt was to devote his life to art and sometimes the madness that came with the devotion. A short and effective read, this is one book on cinema which you shouldn’t miss.

Affiliate Link:

Buy Guru Dutt from Flipkart.com

Book Review: Are You My Mother? : A Comic Drama by Alison Bechdel

Title: Are You My Mother?: A Comic Drama
Author: Alison Bechdel
Publisher: Jonathan Cape, Random House UK
ISBN: 978-0-224-09352-1
Genre: Graphic Novel
Pages: 289
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

When Alison Bechdel wrote, “Fun Home”, a graphic novel about her closeted gay father and her relationship with him, it was received with great aplomb. Critics loved it and so did the regular readers. I read it last month and was in absolute love with it. At the end of the book, I wondered, “What about Alison’s mother? What about her point of view and her life?” and the wonder was put to rest when I read her new book, “Are You My Mother?”

Are You My Mother speaks of the relationship Alison shared/s with her mother. Alison’s mother was everything rolled into one – an actor, musician, lover of books and also a woman unhappily married to a gay man. Alison’s childhood simmered under all of this – her father’s constant battle and her mother’s constant shirking away from her, so much so that she stopped touching or kissing her daughter good night ever since she was seven. There was this constant tension between her parents, which led to Alison’s history of obsessive compulsive disorders which she shares in the book.

The book in itself is funny and at so many places only heartbreaking. There are moments when Alison’s relationship with her mother are for all to see – how she did not get the attention she craved for, or the relationship defined by the complete and absolute lack of intimacy. At some places she provides answers and reasons and at the others she leaves it for the reader to figure it on his/her own.

Are you my Mother contains a lot of dream analysis as well – Freud has to jump in, when it is the bigger picture and through these dreams one can also understand how detail-oriented Bechdel is with reference to her life and relationships.

As a graphic novel, I loved the drawings as much as I did in Fun Home. The lines are clear and the colour is just what this book should have – in shades of grey and tinges of red. Alison’s book is not just about her mother – it is also about introspection of her life and the way she led it before writing Fun Home.

I loved the way this book was written. More so because I am biased to graphic novels. They speak a different language of words and pictures, which also conveys a lot, like a novel would. The past and present are beautifully juxtaposed and the good thing is that there is also a sense of empathy while reading the book. There is no pity or sympathy; however it is something one can relate to, without experiencing it at some level.

“Are you My Mother?” for me was a wonderful read this month. Family relationships are beautifully portrayed in this one and that too being a graphic novel, it manages to convey a lot. Bechdel’s mother remains an enigma in most places, but that doesn’t deter the book from being what it is – brilliant. Relationships are like a prism sometimes with way too many angles and perspectives. This is one of them – from a daughter to her mother.

Affiliate Link:

Buy Are You My Mother?: A Comic Drama from Flipkart.com

An Interview with Nelofar Currimbhoy

I had the good fortune of interviewing Nelofar Currimbhoy after reading her book, “Flame” based on her Mother Shahnaz Husain’s life. Here is the interview for you to enjoy.

1. Why write a biography? Why not a story may be or something fictional?

Writing for me has been a passion as far as I can think back. I once wrote a 60 page poem ‘Eyes of the Healer’ and got it read by Darley Anderson , the well known British agent. He wrote back to say that , there was no doubt that there was talent but I should write prose because it was salable. Somehow the salability aspect of writing seemed like sacrilege and I still love my poetry. Why not a fiction ? Well I guess sometimes things take a life of their own. My mother and I happened to be at Barista when my she went to the little book shop they had started and came back with a copy of Gulzar’s biography by his daughter. When I opened it, it said ‘Promise me , you will write a book on me.’ For years she had been the audience for my writing and was convinced that I was the best person to write her story. I have written twelve thousand words of my first fiction novel and I am very excited about it. It’s an exotic romance, a saga. Ideally it should have come before the biography because it would keep the focus on my writing and not the subject. On the other hand the response from serious readers to the quality of my writing has given me -a first time writer- a thumbs up that’s propelled my enthusiasm a great deal. Many books to come from this pen, or should I say computer.

2. What inspired you to write this book?

My mothers life , in fact her ability to defy life and change every negative event that came her way into a challenge that had to be overcome was the sort of inspirational story that had to be told. I see this book as a self help book in the form of a life story that will inspire and encourage those that read it. Many women and men too will identify with it. Struggle is not gender specific and we all dream of success and fame. Here is the story of a girl born to a traditional Muslim family , married at 16 , she had her first child in the year and went on to become an iconic figure.

On the professional front her ability to stay ahead of her competition without advertising, her faith in the all Indian Dream of Ayurveda as a way of life and her astute and instinctive decision to market this science at a time when it was taken as outdated and old fashioned will make this book an interesting read for every dreamer who dares to dream the almost impossible.

I have walked her journey with her, and seen her life unfold like a saga of a story book and all I can say is that this story was worth telling.

3. Beauty is only skin-deep. Is that true? Do you believe in it?

Not at all. It starts with the heart , the goodness of soul shows in the eyes. A good nights sleep and a diet of fruits shows on the skin much more than any beauty product can. A beauty routine is a good addition to a healthy life style and above all a mind at peace.

4. How much of an inspiration has Shahnaz Husain been to you? If you had to name 3 character traits that you would want of hers, which ones would they be?

I have always maintained that no two people can be as different as my mum and me. She is fiery and passionate , I am calm and serene , she works best around a lot of people and noise , I am methodical and enjoy my space. Yet I have indeed been inspired by her in many . Her family values and her ability to find self expression without undermining the importance of her marriage is something I respect and endorse for all people. It is an aspect that is going to become more relevant by the day when the pressure of urban life is becoming oppressive and couples opt out too quickly. I would always like to hold the family values that she has taught me as sacred in my life.

Her ability to change the course of her destiny when its almost staring at her in her face and her desire to enjoy life to the level of making every moment lived a celebratory event are qualities I would love to keep for myself too.

5. How difficult is it to differentiate personal life from professional especially in a profession like yours when the borderline is too thin?

In my mothers life there is no separation between personal life and professional life. She lives and breathes her work every moment. If she is at coffee shop she is signing autographs. When she is shopping she is approached by people who want to ask her about a beauty issue. She never turns them back. I am sure she even dreams of her work.

As for me I am the other limit. I keep all media interviews away from my home. Home to me is sacred and a place for family and friends.I believe in privacy as the most essential aspect to keep my life and those near me functional. My children were never allowed to be photographed so they would grow up level headed. If I am out and recognized as my mothers daughter I find it awkward and an intrusion. I work meticulously , but only from my office table and when I come home I am mum and wife. I think my mum and I are best friends because we are perfect foils to each other.

6. Nelofar as a person…

Can a person judge themselves fairly. Its not an easy question to answer. Okay ! Here I go , giving it a try. I love nature and the outdoors. I am quite hung up on good values and principles. I feel that good work ethics in a company is a purifying experience. If I sound boring , I am not. I laugh a lot. I find things funny quite easily and I have sense of humour that I think is quick enough ! Well the rest is for someone to say when they write a book on me. Who knows ?

7. If not beauty therapy, then what profession would you be in and why?

I could be so many things. But within my circumstances I would still like to expand myself to experience something beyond, follow my bliss for a while and write many more books. I believe that we need to extend our vision to the maximum, to touch, feel, celebrate the entire universe if one can. I don’t believe in remaining trapped in a tight environment. Prisons are often of different kinds, not always concrete and sometimes we build them around ourselves. There is too much happening in the world and life’s opportunitiy can’t be a missed experience.

I was first introduced to social work by a precious friend, Ms. Jetsun Pema, His Holiness The Dalai Lama’s sister and since my training centres for women have become a rewarding part of my life. Apart for my contribution to Shahnaz Herbals, I would like to be known as someone who made a difference to people’s lives.

8. What does success mean to you?

Sleeping at night with the belief that I did my best and that I have retained a clear conscious about what ever I did.

9. Nelofar the writer….

As a writer I am completely influenced by my childhood hero John Keats. A story needs to be seen , felt , tasted and touched. Your words must be palpable. The reader must walk the journey with you, you have to take him along . One cant be a distant narrator but an up close and personal voice that rings within you. That is my idea of writing and I believe – from those who have read my book – that I have achieved that in Flame.

You can buy the book, “Flame” on Flipkart on this link:

Buy Flame: The Story of My Mother Shahnaz Husain from Flipkart.com

Book Review: Coltrane by Paolo Parisi

Title: Coltrane
Author: Paolo Parisi
Publisher: Jonathan Cape
ISBN: 978-0224094108
Genre: Graphic Novels, Biography
Pages: 128
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

John Coltrane is probably one of the best saxophone players who ever lived and performed and yet when music enthusiasts speak of Jazz they conveniently forget him. I had almost forgotten how much I loved his music till I started reading the very-well capsulated and drawn graphic novel of his life by Paolo Parisi.

I believe that if you are setting to capture an artist’s life through a graphic novel, it isn’t enough sometimes. You need more than graphics to do justice to the artist and his or her life. However, while reading Coltrane, I did not feel that way at all. Paolo Parisi has done a great job of telling the story of one of the greatest Jazz musicians beautifully – from his humble beginnings of a deprived childhood in North Carolina to his journey and stumbles along the way in form of drugs, a broken marriage and a successful second one to his solo recordings and his name high up there with the legends such as Miles Davis (who he started working with coincidentally). The book but obviously ends with his death due to liver cancer.

All of this in the book is layered with quotes from interviews and articles with Coltrane, Malcolm X (in whose movement Coltrane was highly involved), to the bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church by the Klu Klux Clan (to whose victims Coltrane then dedicated a song).

The book worked for me as I wanted to know more about Coltrane’s life. About the artist who constantly broke boundaries in his music and was not afraid to experiment. Parisi through his writing bows to that musical genius by converting his life to a graphic novel. Or maybe at some level it is easier and more accessible for people who don’t have the patience to read biographies anymore. The book interestingly is also divided into four parts that mirror Love Supreme’s four parts: Acknowledgment, Resolution, Pursuance and Psalm.

At the end of it all, Parisi provides a simple and yet emotional insight to one of the greatest artists’ who ever lived. Read this one while listening to Coltrane’s music. It has quite a mesmerizing effect. Here is Love Supreme for you:


Affiliate Link:

Buy Coltrane from Flipkart.com

Book Review: Chanel: An Intimate Life by Lisa Chaney

Title: Chanel: An Intimate Life
Author: Lisa Chaney
Publisher: Fig Tree, Penguin Group, Penguin Books
ISBN: 978-1-905-49036-3
Genre: Non-Fiction, Biography
Pages: 496
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

One icon that instantly comes to my mind is “Coco Chanel” and it is not because of the laurels. It is because of the life she led. So when I received a detailed biography of Chanel’s life, I jumped at it and finished it in a matter of two days. Prior to this I had seen the movie based on her life, “Coco Chanel” starring Shirley MacLaine (who by the way made a perfect Chanel in her later years) and wanted to know about the designer who ruled the fashion scene for years.

Lisa Chaney’s book, “Chanel – An Intimate Life” is the most comprehensive biography there is on Chanel’s life and I say this after the research I have done on works written on her. Chanel not only chronicles Coco’s life before she turned Coco, but also proves to be an entertaining read.

The sadness and deprivation of her early years are heartbreaking – when the family did not have enough to eat and survive. Lisa then moves on from here to her emergence into fashionable society and the love affairs that defined her, to the man she loved the most and lost (Arthur ‘Boy’ Capel), to the point when she became a brand thereby changing the face of fashion to the war years as well as the loneliness of her later years to the re-emergence of Chanel in fashion.

Chaney clearly has the extraordinary ability to enter into and make her readers also understand the lives of people who were closely connected to Chanel. The writing did get pedantic in parts; however I ignored it because the rest of it was beautifully written. I liked how the author described the times Chanel lived in and how difficult it was then for any “new fashion sense” to make its presence felt. The analysis of the artistic scene then (Dali, Picasso, Cocteau) had a great impact on Chanel’s work and Lisa has given us a brilliant take there in most chapters.

Chaney’s book is an honest attempt to detail one of the most talked about lives in Fashion. It is a moving portrayal of a strong woman who did not let go of what she thought and believed in. Chanel makes for a great read.

Affiliate Links:

Buy Chanel: An Intimate Life from Flipkart.com

Coco Chanel: An Intimate Life

Book Review: Jerusalem: The Biography by Simon Sebag Montefiore

Title: Jerusalem: The Biography
Author: Simon Sebag Montefiore
Publisher: Weidenfeld And Nicholson, Orion Books, Hachette Book Group
ISBN: 978-0297866923
Genre: Non-Fiction
Pages: 696
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

Jerusalem: The Biography is one of the great reads of the year for me and you should not miss out on reading this one. I have always loved reading anything by Simon Sebag Montefiore. He writes with honesty and passion that is hard to miss. Whether it is about Stalin as a boy and adolescent to Monsters and Heroes, Montefiore does a remarkable job of it.

Jerusalem is a true masterpiece – a biography of a city and yet so much more. It is not easy to write about a city – and also considering that the city is so old and ravaged by the brutalities of time. The thing about the book is that the reader feels as though he is stepping back in time and experiencing the history of Jerusalem first hand.
Jerusalem the book has been written in a very colourful manner – full of anecdotes, how the city came to be what it is today, the rulers, the ones who squandered and looted its riches, the ones who hold it in high regard – its Kings and its Prophets. Montefiore does not leave any stone unturned.

Having said that, there were times I would tend to disagree with the author and yet could not put the book down. There is not much in terms of guidance or analysis by the writer, and yet the book shines. What got me started was the role Jerusalem plays in the apocalyptic vision of fundamentalist Christians and Muslims, and how that has been brought to light in this book. The other aspect that got me going was the deep-rooted connection between Christians and Muslims is made so evident and clear throughout the book and the way it is done is marvellous.

Sparkling and profound, the book is written keeping in mind the most terrible things that have happened behind her walls and also the richness of its land. The book does not take sides. It is an unbiased book and at the same time lays the facts as they are which should be the case while writing about a city. My favourite chapter in the book is, “Sunset of the Byzantines” which truly captures the essence of the book – its timeline and charisma in drawing historical references.

To review a book of Jerusalem’s stature would definitely require a research paper. It is that intense and deep. What I can say is that this is not one of your airport reads. It requires the time and attention that a book of this kind deserves. It however makes you turn the page and wonder at the scale and scope of Jerusalem’s place in history.

Affiliate Link:

Buy Jerusalem: The Biography from Flipkart.com