Tag Archives: caste

Book Review: The Moslems are Coming: Encounters with a Desktop Terrorist by Azad Essa

Title: The Moslems are Coming: Encounters with a Desktop Terrorist
Author: Azad Essa
Publisher: Harper Collins India
ISBN: 9789350294390
Genre: Non-Fiction, Essays
Pages: 256
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

I picked up, “The Moslems are Coming: Encounters with a Desktop Terrorist” when I was in a different state of mind, actually the right state of mind to read a book of this sort. I was questioning religion and how much of a part does it play in our lives.

Let me tell you something about the book. “The Moslems are Coming: Encounters with a Desktop Terrorist” is a collection of pieces written by a young Muslim South African blogger of Indian origin, Azad Essa. It started off individually as articles for various publications which have now been compiled into a book by Harper Collins India.
What I liked about the book? A lot of things. The book deals more so with a mix of religion and identity in modern times. About what it is to be a Muslim in today’s times and how are you viewed or looked at, more specifically as a modern Muslim Youth. That is the core of the essays in the book. While on the surface, the pieces seem tinged with humour and sarcasm, there is a lot more to them than what meets the eye.

For instance, the way Azad has spoken about the so-called Kashmir Issue and its impact on both sides – the Kashmiri Pandits and the Muslims, who have continued to stay on in the valley and the impact of violence on them. I liked his point of view, the fact that some Hindus are living in the valley, safe, sheltered by the Muslims and yet there is an unseen divide, always hovering above them.

The book also looks at another country, whose citizens face the issue of identity on a daily basis that is South Africa. Azad’s experiences are raw, vivid, and contain a lot of cultural references, which attempt to almost appeal to a larger audience.

You will be surprised with the book as you read along, that it isn’t all about Muslims. It is about humanity at the end of it all. Azad Essa writes bluntly and does not refrain from using swear words when necessary. He covers almost every terrain of topics that we normally shrug aside. His views on world politics and cultural issues are stark and often laced with wit and black humour.

The questions that were raised in my head, while reading the book were of an intense nature. I could not tear myself from the book once I started reading it. This book is real, honest, without any inhibitions, and stays true to what the author observes and wishes to document. The Moslems are Coming is a strong reflection of the times we live in and how maybe we can change some parts of it.

You can buy the book from Home Shop 18 here

Here is a book trailer:

Book Review: Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo

Title: Behind the Beautiful Forevers
Author: Katherine Boo
Publisher: Penguin Books India
Imprint: Hamish Hamilton
ISBN: 9780670086092
Genre: Non-Fiction
Pages: 280
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

When I first started reading, “Behind the Beautiful Forevers” by Katherine Boo, it didn’t strike me as a different book. I mean I had read the similar story in Suketu Mehta’s, “Maximum City” (Honestly I didn’t think much of it), though it was in brief. It was still more or less the same – Mumbai and its dichotomy (like every major cosmopolitan), its slums, its smells and sights and the hidden side to the city, which we ignore or pretend doesn’t exist most of the time. Then what made this book so different that I finished in almost a day?

The difference lies in the way Katherine Boo has written the book – from providing a perspective on the what, the why and the how to experiences that will sometimes warm the heart and sometimes break it, knowing that this is the condition of a city that never sleeps. Having said that, there were also gaps in the book – the way it jumped from one story to another and how that was written almost in a haste which at times provided some disconnect with the overall structure.

The book, “Behind the Beautiful Forevers” is essentially about “Annawadi” – a slum in Mumbai next to the International airport and close to the luxury hotels there (again another facet of the caste and class division). The Annawadians are full of hope as the Indian Economy rises without any realization that nothing is going to change for them. The parity will exist if not widen itself. The under-city and over-city are explicitly portrayed in the book and that makes the reader think: Is this my city? Or could this be any booming cosmopolitan in the nation? The story (I call it that because it reads like one at times) is essentially about these people and their lives – some more and some less.

Abdul, a teenager sees a future beyond counting the recyclable garbage that the city’s rich throw away. He is quick at sorting waste. He is almost there in fulfilling his family’s dreams of moving out of the slum. Asha, a woman of the world and witty at the same time, opts for a different way out of this misery: political corruption. She wants her daughter to become the first female graduate of the slum and will not stop to make that dream come true. And just when all seems to fall in place, there is global recession and Abdul is falsely accused of a terrorist attack and the dream-world they are hoping has crashed to pieces.

Boo’s writing is stark and in your face. There is no pretense and cannot be when one is writing life-stories. The people in the book may seem stereotypical but they aren’t. Each of them is as different as you and I and with their own story to tell, which Boo captures beautifully. There are times when she appears disjointed in the book and fragmented, however in the larger scheme of the plot and writing, the reader tends to easily overlook that.

“Behind the Beautiful Forevers” is a depiction of our times and where we live. It represents the societies we create and how we take advantage of those to fulfill our selfish ends. The book removes masks that we sometimes wear and compels readers to take a better look at their worlds and surroundings. A disturbing read at times, however quite stark and impactful in its essence.

Affiliate Link:

Buy Behind The Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death And Hope In A Mumbai Undercity from Flipkart.com

Book Review: The Hindus – An Alternative History by Wendy Doniger

Title: The Hindus: An Alternative History
Author: Wendy Doniger
Publisher: Penguin India
ISBN: 9780143415343
Pages: 800
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

An extensive work on Hindus and Hindu Mythology isn’t something which I would’ve read a couple of years ago. Why? Because I would in all honesty find it boring and I am glad that was just a phase when I felt this way. I was introduced to Hindu Mythology and ancient culture by a friend, and I am glad that it gave me a different perspective and at the same time made me want to read more.

Wendy Doniger’s, “The Hindus: An Alternative History” is a big book about The Hindus. She has through extensive research almost dwelt on every topic in the book concerning religion and caste. However, the alternative history angle comes from the fact that the book is centred mainly on women and the lower caste.

The book isn’t about philosophy. It is more about a social history and of course that would involve various Gods and Goddesses. There are tribal tales as well, which are a totally different take on the regular epics – Ramayana and Mahabharata. I loved how Ms. Doniger brought these to the surface.

There is nothing new about the book per se. There are tales and facts and legends that most people are aware about. What is different is the way they have been documented. Wendy Doniger knows how to write and she does so without it being complex or difficult to read.

A beginner can read this book and understand The Hindu culture better. Each chapter has several textual examples – which are intended to communicate the beliefs and traditions in the form of myths and legends to the reader. This kind of writing always works with readers who may find the subject boring.

There is a lot of imagery in the book which probably could have been cut down on and yet that is one of the ways of better understanding while reading a book of this nature. At almost 800 pages though it does get tiresome to read. I for one had to put it down and pick it up several times before I could finish it completely.

Hinduism is an entire universe so to say. It isn’t easy to comprehend or chronicle and Wendy Doniger has done a reasonably good job in merging the old with the new. There will be times when an experienced reader will be tempted to argue with the writing, which is fair enough. At the same time, the book has a quite charm about it despite its flaws. I left taking in a stronger sense of how diverse a tradition Hinduism is and how it evolved over a period of time. There are many ways to represent Hinduism and how the world views it, and yet Doniger has given us another view – which is refreshing and conflicting at the same time.

Affiliate Link:

Buy The Hindus: An Alternative History from Flipkart.com

Book Review: No Alphabet in Sight: New Dalit Writing from South India Dossier 1: Tamil and Malayalam: Edited by K. Satyanarayana and Susie Tharu

Title: No Alphabet in Sight: New Dalit Writing from South India Dossier 1: Tamil and Malayalam
Author: Edited by K. Satyanarayana and Susie Tharu
Publisher: Penguin India
ISBN: 9780143414261
PP: 656 pages
Genre: Fiction, Non-Fiction, Poetry
Price: Rs. 599
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

What is the true nature of a democratic country? The real face of it. When does it appear and make itself visible or does it choose to remain hidden and elusive, considering the fact that the country isn’t really democratic, if one looks closely? The idea of the distinction in just about everything is so evident and appalling to a very large extent.

And this is when a book like “No Alphabet in Sight” is published. My personal belief is that if you can make people aware of what exists behind the shadows, then in all probability half of your work is already done. The book is a collection of New Dalit Writing and it is a first volume from South India, featuring Tamil and Malayalam Writers. Edited by K. Satyanarayana and Susie Tharu, two stalwarths in Cultural and Women Studies, this collection is a heady mix of fiction and non-fiction, basically points of view.

What got me started with this collection were the poems – dark, dense and touching that basic chord in human beings, these poems are nothing short of brilliance. The volume brings together close to 40 intellectuals’ works from Tamil Nadu and Kerala – all searching and questionning the same situation – The Dalit Situation and what will be its’ fate in Modern India? The book delves into bigger questions and issues, about what it means to be a Dalit and how despite modernization and technological advancement, we are and will always remain a backward nation.

People from every walk of life – teachers, clerks, students, officers, factory workers, journalists and activists, these writers bring to front their opinions, their views and what they think awareness classification should be and how will people understand the true, Dalit Movement. For me, the book was an eye-opener, making everything that was hidden being brought to the front. A must read if you have the time and the patience and the willingness to know more.

Makers of Modern India: Edited and Introduced by Ramachandra Guha

This is one book that everyone who has an interest in the evolvement of the idea of India must read. Ramachandra Guha, the writer of this book, is known worldwide for his impeccable style of writing. His writing only gets better when he deals with anything that has any interest in the modern India.


This is a book about those Indians who has changed the way India used to be perceived. Guha meticulously researched for this book and the result is a highly readable account of genuine heroes of modern India. The book is about thinking and writing of nineteen thinkers of modern India. 

I started reading this book around four days ago and it took a lot from me – in the sense, when it came to the ideas and thoughts of the nineteen thinkers – right from Rammohan Roy who speaks about Relations between Men and Women to Gopal Krishna Gokhale’s thoughts on elevating the depressed classes, it was an eye-opener. The topics that these leaders touch on are varied – from gender, class and to banishing English as a language to Kashmir, Tibet, and Nationalism – it is the variedness of these topics that sometimes lead to contradictory and quite opposing ideas. What I like is the selection of passages, speeches and thoughts that Guha has so skillfully compiled. It touches on almost every aspect and yet there were gaps that could have been filled.

The interpretation of their writings were done by Guha in the context of the then prevailing situations. Though, there is notable exclusion from the book. Not a single Indian Marxist has been covered by Guha. There is no doubt that Indian Marxists are great thinkers, but when it comes to the pragmatism of their high level of thinking, there is none. Definitely, there is not an iota of pragmatism in the thinking of Indian Marxists.

Then, the exclusion of Subhas Chandra Bose and Sardar Vallabh Bhai Patel from the list of makers of modern India is highly contestable. These two definitely changed the perspective and thinking of innumerable people. And, of course, these two leaders were also responsible for making the largest democracy of the world. The reason mentioned by Guha for their inclusion is not sufficient.

Anyway, this is a book which will directly take you in the mind of thinkers who have been covered. Do read this to understand the ethos of India in a straight way and to the point. In a nutshell, this one is a highly readable book by Ramachandra Guha.

Makers of Modern India; Edited and Introduced by Ramachandra Guha; Penguin Viking; Rs. 799