Tag Archives: Asia

The Golden Legend by Nadeem Aslam

the-golden-legend-by-nadeem-aslam Title: The Golden Legend
Author: Nadeem Aslam
Publisher: Hamish Hamilton, Penguin Random House India
ISBN: 978-0670089116
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 376
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 Stars

With every book that he writes, Nadeem Aslam only gets better at his craft. Since his debut novel in 1993, “Season of the Rainbirds”, Aslam returns to Pakistan with his latest book “The Golden Legend”. His new book is also just the others – a statement made against wars, what was started by the West and how the country he depicts is hell-bent on completing it, and to top it the darkness of the world. What is different about “The Golden Legend” (which I personally love) is the combination of realism and fable across a terrain of terrorism, tragedy and cruelty.

“The Golden Legend” opens with the death of a middle-aged architect Massud, leaving his wife and collaborator Nargis behind. Both of them were collectively working on building a library on the outskirts of the city – to which they were transporting books and that is how Massud got shot and died. At this time, with turmoil surrounding them and a roadside shooting as well, Nargis flees with her Christian neighbour Helen. This is when there are violent relations between Christians and Muslims.

This is only one part of the story. There is also the story of Helen, who falls in love with Imran, an unknown Kashmiri. There is the story of Helen’s mother Lily. There is another tale of the US officer who wants Nargis to forgive her husband’s killer. Amidst all this, there is the story of life, love and reconstruction of faith.

Aslam’s prose cuts through to you. At least it has always to me. His narrative is wise and affecting and perhaps more timely than ever. Catharsis for his characters comes in forms and ways one cannot even imagine. Through his solid writing, Aslam reflects Pakistan’s present and past through a story of love and human spirit, which only he could have offered.

Incarnations: India in 50 Lives by Sunil Khilnani

Incarnations by Sunil Khilnani Title: Incarnations: India in 50 Lives
Author: Sunil Khilnani
Publisher: Allen Lane, Penguin Random House
ISBN: 978-0241208229
Genre: Non-Fiction, History
Pages: 636
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 Stars

Sunil Khilnani’s “The Idea of India” is one of my long-standing favourite books on Indian history (well of whatever is there in it) and civilization. Till “Incarnations: India in 50 lives” came along. Not that it is any better by any stretch of imagination than “The Idea of India” but I quite like the concept. So what is the book about? Just what it says – India in 50 people – their lives and their journeys as the country progressed or declined – a mirror of our times so to speak. The concept is terrific and so is the writing, at the same time, there are some places where the book falls short.

Mr. Khilnani however picks some very obscure people for the book – which again I think is okay, given the timeline he covers and what he wants to communicate, however, there is something which is amiss in the book – the time spent on each personality. I wish there was more written on each of them which is not the case, only because Khilnani’s writing is par excellence.

Now coming to the personalities from Aamchi Mumbai or the state of Maharashtra as well. There are only 8 of them – nonetheless – I thought there could have been more from our city; however we will make do with these eight.

The eight personalities are: Shivaji (quite an obvious one, isn’t it? – the warrior king and about how he changed the course of the state of Maharashtra), Jamsetji Tata (another obvi choice), Annie Besant (her role in Mumbai wasn’t all that much, but still noteworthy, given the educational institutions set up by her and the time she spent in the city so much so that people mistook her to be Indian and from Mumbai), Manto (one cannot forget the time he spent in India and most particularly in Mumbai working with Bollywood – given he was also a screenplay writer), Raj Kapoor (need anyone say more when it comes to him – the first true blue showman so to say, and yet Khilnani has such an unbiased perspective which I personally loved and enjoyed), Ambedkar (the man who no one will ever forget and his role in starting the Dalit movement – this is my favourite piece in the entire book – only because there is so many layers which have been uncovered where the man is concerned and that too only in about five to six pages), M.F. Husain (one of India’s most prolific painters) and finally Dhirubhai Ambani (I shouldn’t have to say anything at all about him, should I?).

So these are the personalities – the purpose of the book is to trace their lives and see its relevance in not only shaping India as a free country but also their ideologies communicated through their work and made a lasting impression on people’s minds.

“Incarnations” as a book to me is complete in the sense of an idea or a concept but again there had to be more personalities – a 100 of them would perhaps been ideal. Mumbai was a terrain has also perhaps not been explored that much because of the restriction to 50. The book reads slowly (of course) and it will take some of your time before you are done with it. What I also found quite magnificent was the way in which the illustrations are handled – some are prints of paintings, some posters and some in the form of maps, which gives the book its very layer dimension. “Incarnations” is a very relevant book for our times and the world we live in. It is time to go back and trace our civilization and history through people who lived then and the difference they made.

Book Review: Gaysia: Adventures in the Queer East by Benjamin Law

Gaysia by Benjamin Law Title: Gaysia: Adventures in the Queer East
Author: Benjamin Law
Publisher: Random House India
ISBN: 9788184004779
Genre: Non-Fiction, Travelogue, Humour
Pages: 336
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

It is funny how in the wake of Section 377 and LGBT rights, I finished reading, “Gaysia: Adventures in the Queer East” by Benjamin Law – a book on gays in the East and more importantly on their culture and lifestyle. The reason I find it funny is that I find the judgment quite a farce and love how Law speaks of gay men and women (sometimes) in an account that is hilarious, emotional and mostly a travelogue in search of identity across Thailand, Indonesia, Japan, Burma, China, Malaysia and India, each with its own peculiarities and quirks.

The book as you delve further in is not really a travelogue; it is more of an insight to a troubled world. It is a world where two men cannot love each other – though the rules of lust are very different. There is humour and a lot of angst to the people and stories that Law documents. The social patterns from where he comes, which is Australia are very different in Asia. The world when it comes to rights of men and women is not the same. The Eastern world when it comes to same sex love or lust as Benjamin sees it is quite an eye-opener and it is for this, I would urge people to read, “Gaysia”.

It is funny how things are in different countries. For instance, in China, there are self-flagellation techniques, when a “bad” or “homosexual” thought occurs. Of how in China again, lesbians fake marry just to keep their parents happy. In Malaysia, people – Christian and Muslim fundamentalists, whom the author encounters, thinks homosexuality can be cured. In India, a certain yogi (should not be too hard to guess who this one is) thinks that it stems from bad thoughts and that it can also be cured.

“Gaysia” was released in our country without raising any eyebrows. I think it did so also because the so-called law holders, could not care less about a book – may be they would not understand this type of non-fiction or any book for that matter. The writing is sharp and humorous (the trans-gendered beauty pageant in Thailand, pride parades in these countries) in parts and in some, Law reflects on his sexuality and his relationship with his boyfriend. To me, including something personal in a book speaks a lot about the writer. It somehow makes him more accessible to readers, which is most needed in a book of this nature.

“Gaysia” is an eye-opener – for most people out there. I think it is written with a lot of eloquence and at the same time, Benjamin does not shy away from writing what he witnessed. The writing is honest and that is hands down one of the strongest features of the book. I want to gift this book to every friend of mine – straight or gay, just to understand if nothing else, about orientation and the fact that people are different and entitled to living their lives, the way they want to. Free love does not come with a section or with a judgment. It is just there, for all.

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Gaysia: Adventures in the Queer East

Book Review: Radio Shangri-La by Lisa Napoli

Title: Radio Shangri-La
Author: Lisa Napoli
Publisher: Crown
ISBN: 978-0307453020
PP: 304 pages
Genre: Non-Fiction
Price: $25.00
Source: Author
Rating: 5/5

It’s a true sign of a good book when you are still thinking about it a week after finishing it (while halfway into another book). I’ve wanted to write a review for a while but I’ve had a really hard time processing my thoughts on this book to get them into words and I wanted to say a little more than “I really liked this book”.

From the very start, “Radio Shangri-La” felt a bit like “Eat, Pray, Love”, with that vibe of journeying across the world to find ones own self. Lisa’s journey is a bit different and in some ways maybe not as profound as Elizabeth Gilbert’s, but at the same time just as important.

The subtitle of the book is “What I Learned in the Bhutan, the Happiest Kingdom on Earth”, and it is not just what she learned about herself that makes this such a good book and so interesting a story. As much, if not moreso, it’s what she learned about Bhutan itself, and its inhabitants.

Through a strange twist of fate meeting, radio reporter, Lisa Napoli gets an offer to go to Bhutan and help the Kingdom start their first radio station. This is a Kingdom that rarely allows outsiders and when they do they charge a pretty steep travel surcharge. Until the mid-90’s, the people there did not even have television. A one month trip to volunteer becomes several trips over the course of a couple of years and through her trips and her eyes we watch two parallel evolutions. We see how Lisa changes how she looks at herself and at life in general, and we see how the people of Bhutan change their outlook on life. Perhaps it is seeing possibilities that keep one from being happy?

In addition to the culture of Bhutan, learning about the radio station was another experience in itself. The radio was a gateway to the outside world for those in Bhutan and Kuzoo FM sounded like an ideal job to have for the younger generation. Even though Napoli had more knowledge and was adapt in the latest equipment and techniques, she did not take over when she came over to assist at the station. Instead she allowed herself to become the student, having the staff teach her what should and should be done in both the station and in terms of culture and country. Any time she did feel that she needed to voice an opinion, it seemed to be a struggle due to not wanting to offend those already in place. The Valentine’s Day contest was a prime example of this situation. What interested me most about the disc jockeys is that, unlike those in American radio stations, they truly seemed like they really enjoyed their job and wanted to learn as much as they could.

Unlike Elizabeth Gilbert in “Eat, Pray, Love”, Lisa didn’t embark on this journey as a means of self-discovery or looking to change herself. It was just an opportunity that fell in her lap and bored with the status quo she decided to accept the opportunity, with little knowledge of what she would find when she got to there. In the end, I think that’s what really seperates this book from the other. While Gilbert’s book is internal, Napoli’s is external. This book is less about her and more about others. However you choose to look at it, I think it’s a great book, not only interesting in the story but interesting in an informative way of learning about a culture you’ve rarely, if ever, heard of.