Category Archives: May 2016 Reads

Shashi Kapoor: The Householder, the Star by Aseem Chhabra

Shashi Kapoor - The Householder The Star by Aseem Chhabra Title: Shashi Kapoor: The Householder, the Star
Author: Aseem Chhabra
Publisher: Rupa Books
ISBN: 978-8129139702
Genre: Biographies & Autobiographies
Pages: 216
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 Stars

I remember asking my mother when I was a ten-year old boy: “Mom! Who is your favourite actor?” and she answered unflinchingly “Shashi Kapoor”. I could almost sense a sly smile as she uttered his name. It was almost like she had betrayed my father by uttering that handsome actor’s face (of course I would know it later as to how insanely crazy she was when it came to him). I did not understand then about a young woman’s desire when it came to her favourite actor and let it pass. I was ten after all.

After almost two decades and two years, I got the opportunity to read the biography of that very actor by Aseem Chhabra titled, “Shashi Kapoor – The Householder, the Star” and it all fell into place. Why was my mother crazy about him? Why did his films matter so much to her? Why would she insist of even watching all Merchant-Ivory productions in which he acted and they weren’t even mainstream movies, which my family would gorge on?

At the same time, some of the family members for the life of them couldn’t understand that how could a man play a role in movies such as Deewar, Trishul etc and still continue to work in “art films” (they used to call them that) such as Junoon, Kalyug, etc. It is perhaps for this versatility of roles and acting skills, Shashi Kapoor was the go-to-guy. Maybe that is why because he was so busy during the shoot of Satyam Shivam Sundaram, that Raj Kapoor dubbed him “Taxi”. All said and done, it was these anecdotes and more you should read what Aseem has written about the star.

I mean more than anything I have always been a fan of Merchant-Ivory productions – I have almost watched all their films and then while I was watching their movies growing-up, I would be jubilant that here was a face I could recognize and how come this Indian actor spoke such great English – he of course was Shashi Kapoor and then slowly, but surely, I fell in love with my mother’s favourite actor.

To know that it was his production house that produced movies such as 36 Chowringhee Lane, Utsav (well I know most people think this movie makes no sense at all, but personally I love it), Kalyug and Junoon, I fell in love with the book even more. What I love about the book is Aseem’s attempt to make readers and film-goers world over not only meet Shashi Kapoor the actor, but also the man behind the actor and the movies. His life is spoken about throughout but very nonchalantly – almost as though it is there for you to see, but only if you try reading between the lines. At times, Aseem even gives it away on a platter to the reader.

“Shashi Kapoor – the Householder, the Star” is a book about the generous spirit of the man – as a human being, actor and producer. It was Shashi Kapoor who was the first so-called “crossover” actor and also among the first who took to stage the way he did and created an institution called Prithvi Theatre which still runs strong in Mumbai.

I love the book. I love its nuances – the way Aseem has researched it and the amount of time it took him to give shape and form to it. It is almost no one else could have written about the actor but Aseem. There is so much empathy when he speaks of Jennifer and the effect she had on Shashi’s life – both as a professional and his wife. I think as a person who loves Bollywood and everything about it (well almost everything about it), this book was not only a revealer of sorts but also refreshing – it is about a man that not much is spoken or written about (not at least now) and I loved the way it is structured and written. If you are a Bollywood aficionado and even if you aren’t, you must read this book only because Shashi Kapoor deserves to be known the way Aseem wants you to know him.

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Crenshaw by Katherine Applegate

Crenshaw by Katherine Applegate Title: Crenshaw
Author: Katherine Applegate
Publisher: HarperCollins Children’s Books
ISBN: 978-0007951185
Genre: Children’s Fiction
Pages: 256
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5 Stars

If a book like “Crenshaw” doesn’t warm your heart, then I don’t know what will. I absolutely adored the book. I knew it would end soon (barely about 250 odd pages) and I so didn’t want it to. I had read “The One and Only Ivan” two years ago and couldn’t stop recommending it to people. I loved it. I cried, I laughed, I wept like a baby, and I needed to be consoled after the book ended. I was scared picking up “Crenshaw” thinking I would feel the same, but surprisingly I was perhaps stronger or the story sailed me through the parts when I came this close to burst into tears but did not.

“Crenshaw” is an imaginary cat. He is ten-year-old Jackson’s friend and times aren’t easy for Jackson and his family. The landlord is at the door. There is not much to eat in the fridge. His parents are trying very hard to keep their family afloat. And in all of this an imaginary friend comes along and changes his life forever, making him realize how to hold things and people dear to him.

The plot of Katherine Applegate’s books for children is threadbare. What infuses life into them is language, the fact that you can not only relate to them but that the feelings resonate, and you then realize that it is absolutely okay not to have answers to everything in life, because life doesn’t work that way anyway.

“Crenshaw” is a big-hearted book for people who have a long way to go. It is not only for children or teens but most certainly for adults as well. Our lessons after all do come from places where we least expect them to pop from. I love that about life and about books that teach us that.

The Wedding Photographer by Sakshama Puri Dhariwal

The Wedding Photographer by Sakshama Puri Dhariwal Title: The Wedding Photographer
Author: Sakshama Puri Dhariwal
Publisher: Penguin Books
ISBN: 978-0143426264
Genre: Indian Writing, Indian fiction
Pages: 256
Source: Publisher
Rating: 3.5 stars

Now I am a fan of good comic writing (because it is so rare and far and few in-between) and when I come across something really nice, then I cannot help but speak about it. Even if it is a little cheesy and quite predictable this was the case in most places in Sakshama Puri Dhariwal’s book “The Wedding Photographer”. Why did I like it then?

I liked it for various reasons. The prose is racy, cracking with wit and does not lose its steam at any point. It becomes predictable yes, it is also jarring sometimes (given the mélange of characters and the setting – a big fat Punjabi wedding – what do you then expect?) but all said and done it is funny, contemporary and relatable more than anything else.

The plot is simple: A journalist and a moonlighting wedding photographer Risha Kohli meets the young, handsome real estate dynamic tycoon Arjun Khanna on a seventeen-hour long flight and sparks fly. The obvious happens – Risha is the photographer for Arjun’s sister’s wedding and they meet some more over the course of the lavish three-day wedding. There is some misunderstanding, some witty banter, quirky characters that walk in and walk out (I love the Nani – she stays throughout the book and I absolutely love her candid whisky-drinking nature), the much-needed drama and all’s well that ends well.

Now the writing like I said is breezy and it definitely is one of those long airplane journey reads, but somehow to me, the predictability of the plot and the fact that it was written just so it could be made into a movie, overshadowed everything else. I mean the book is crying out loud to be picked up by Yash Chopra Films or Dharma Productions (or at least that’s what it seems to me). I like the humour. I like the wit. I like Risha and I absolutely want to meet someone like Arjun but that’s about it. You most certainly cannot reread it (I guess even the author knows it) but I sure do recommend it as a one-time fun read.

The Association of Small Bombs by Karan Mahajan

The Association of Small Bombs by Karan Mahajan Title: The Association of Small Bombs
Author: Karan Mahajan
Publisher: 4th Estate, Harper Collins
ISBN: 9789351777878
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 288
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 stars

I finished reading “The Association of Small Bombs” two weeks ago and I am still reeling from its effect. Sometimes you know when you love a book too much and you also know that you can read it fast and finish it but you want it to last longer, so you don’t finish it really fast. Ever get that feeling? Happens to me all the time when I am reading a book I’m really enjoying and that has occurred after a long time with this second novel by Karan Mahajan.

At this point, let me also tell you that I had read and not thought much of Karan’s first book “Family Planning” at the time of reading it (I am being extremely honest. Please don’t kill or hate me for it Karan). I will for sure go back to it after some time. For now, let me share my experience of this literary stunner of a book “The Association of Small Bombs”.

You will one way or the other get the title relation once you read the book, so I will not talk about it. Let me instead go straight to the plot: It all begins with a bombing that takes place in Delhi’s crowded Lajpat Nagar. The year is 1996 and it is not a big bombing. It is a small bombing. Lives are lost – and amongst those lost lives two belong to the Khuranas’ sons Tushar and Nakul. There is also Mansoor; their friend who accompanies them to get the Khuranas’ repaired TV home and while he is alive, he is scarred for the rest of his life by the incident. The book in short may seem about this but there is so much more to it. In fact, there is so much more that I do not know what to include and what to omit from this review.

So I will start with it all. The Khuranas’ live with their guilt for years and Mansoor lives with that terrible memory and how he is physically and emotionally damaged by it. There is also the terrorists’ (so-called) side of the story (which isn’t all that much but when you read it in the context of the plot – it makes so much sense and is needed there). The empathy, the rawness of the writing and above all the precision with which every detail is explained – you cannot help but fall in love with the book.

The book begins in 1996 and ends in 2003 (I assume because there is nothing more after that). Mahajan’s capturing of the seven years throughout the novel and its protagonists (there is more than one) is magnificent and taut. For instance, the relationship between the husband and the wife after the sons’ death is something that I still think of – the edge of the relationship ,the brink of it which they face and sometimes only to go back because there is nowhere else to go. Mahajan is a master of his craft.

I have so much to talk about this book and I know that words will fall short. I will not be able to explain what I felt every time some stunning paragraph or line hit me. A small detail you would have not paid attention to in your daily routine shines in the book. The mere simplicity and elegance of writing is what will make you turn the pages and not stop. I will not be able to put that in words – because you have to feel it as you read and wade through this one – hoping it will not end. All that I can say is: READ THIS BOOK NOW!

Here are some of my favourite parts from the book. There are a lot more but for now I will list these:

“It was as if, having failed to protect them in life, they felt double the responsibility to fulfill their duties in death.”

“The station was so bloated with people that the loss of a few would hardly be tragic or even important”

“The May heat was horrifying, violating the privacy of all things while also forcing you into yourself.”

“She was aware, suddenly, that the death of her children was not a metaphysical event, but a crime. A firecracker set off by uncaring men in a market. She did not trust the government or the courts to do anything.”

Mayumi and the Sea of Happiness by Jennifer Tseng

Mayumi and the Sea of Happiness by Jennifer Tseng Title: Mayumi and the Sea of Happiness
Author: Jennifer Tseng
Publisher: Europa Editions
ISBN: 978-1609452698
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 272
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

There are books that come on to your shelf quietly and from there enter your heart and stay there. “Mayumi and the Sea of Happiness” is one such book which I have just finished reading and cannot stop talking or thinking about.

Jennifer Tseng has written this book about uncharted and almost forbidden territory when it comes to falling in love and yet it is so exquisite, raw and almost unnerving by the time you reach the end. It is almost like a movie that you are witnessing and don’t want it to end or at least end the way you imagined it to.

“Mayumi and the Sea of Happiness” is the kind of book that will make you sit up, turn the pages furiously, go back to the pages read and mark passages vigorously, finish the book and come back to your favourite sentences over and over again.

Mayumi Saito is a librarian. She is the sort of unassuming woman who goes on about love – day by day without really aspiring for much. Mayumi loves her books and that’s all there is to it. She then meets a seventeen year-old and her life is not the same anymore.

I wouldn’t call it an affair, as much as it is just being together and their common love for books that brings them closer. It is the subtleties, the nuances of the plot, and the sheer connection between them that makes this book what it is. Wait a minute though. There is a twist in the tale – well not so much as a twist but something that is almost predictable – Mayumi knowingly befriends the patron’s mother and that in itself is a different story for you to read and explore.

The book is hedonistic in its approach and it is brilliantly executed. Every word and every sentence is so in place that you pause, hold your breath and marvel at Tseng’s literary skill and craft. It is heady, almost like a car waiting to collide and you know it will and yet all you want to do is enjoy that catastrophic ride, nonetheless.

“Mayumi and the Sea of Happiness” is one of those rare books that speak of loneliness and isolation so candidly that it hits and hurts the spot. You are scared of what might happen to you when you reach a certain age and how perhaps literature might not be the only crutch that will save you. Jennifer Tseng brings out the best, the graceful, the sweet and the horrid nature of humans in her characters stupendously. Yes, the book is self-conscious and so are the characters, but that is what I expected and it served me well. You might expect erotica but it is again graceful and subtle – the kind I enjoy reading about.

If you have to read one book that speaks of love, longing, desire and books all at the same time – almost culminating to an obsession, then you must read, “Mayumi and the Sea of Happiness”.