Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Review of "The Winds of Hastinapur"

The Mahabharata is a vast, sprawling epic containing stories within stories and many different versions of this tale have been created over the centuries. They follow the same basic story but highlight one legend more than others or give different causes for the different actions of its characters.   Over the years, I have read many different versions as well as some scholarly analyses of these tales and have yet to be disappointed by any of them. The reason is simple- the basic Mahabharata story is so perfect that it is impossible for anyone not to like it no matter what your perspective is. 

Sharath Komarraju’s book “The Winds of Hastinapur” is another fresh new rendition of this ages old tale. This one is told through the eyes of the women of the novel and lays out the background of the events leading up to the Great War. It’s worth a read, even for someone who is intimately familiar with the story. A number of more obscure legends have been weaved into the tale to create the world of the celestials whose actions trigger off the story. A completely new angle is given to the story by the world that the author creates for the celestials. It’s also very interesting to read the well-known tale told deftly through dialogue and action. The chapter where King Shantanu meets with Satyavati and her father is truly riveting.

This is a good one-time read and I would definitely recommend it to anyone who has an interest in the Mahabharata. Possibly, the ones who are completely new to the Mahabharata would gain even more from it. I am definitely looking forward to the next installment of this tale.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Review of 'Murder in Amaravati' by Sharath Komarraju

Here’s the take-away of this review. If I were to use one word to describe this book, it would be cute. The story is cute. It’s perfectly written. And as Ravi Shastri would say ‘It’s a Humdinger’- as a mystery, it’s a humdinger of a mystery. If I had to rate this story- I would give it five stars. 

Let me explain. This book is a murder mystery set in the small town/big village of Amaravati.  The book starts with the murder of Padmavati, the village prostitute, whose body is found in the sacred chamber of the Kali temple. This author has liberally sprinkled red herrings all over the story and it begins with the murder itself. The only key to the temple is in the possession of the head priest, the same man who finds her body and reports it to the police. Also, the medical report states that the cause of death was drowning and yet, why would someone bother to drown this woman and then place her in a posture of worship at the feet of the goddess?

I won’t reveal anything else about the plot so let me just get to my impressions about the book.

Firstly, as I said I found this book very cute. I say cute because the author literally seduces us with the setting- a typical Indian mofussil town. Just like the noise of the river Krishna that surrounds the town of Amaravati, the small town atmosphere of the setting slowly seeps into the reader’s subconscious and draws them into the story. You can literally draw a mental landscape of the place- the constant gurgling of the River Krishna, the Big Banyan tree, the Kali Temple, the people going by on bullock carts and cycles, the sunsets, the social structure in the village, the small idiosyncrasies and the mentality of it’s inhabitants all of these are perfectly described. I could imagine this place and felt as if I knew it and so, for me, the story came alive for me. That was the point at which I was hooked.

Secondly, it’s easy to see why I say this book is perfectly written. Whether it be dialogues, setting, characters or plot- I could find a single line that was less than perfect in this book. As a person who is thoroughly disappointed with a lot of the current Indian fiction (including some of the bestsellers) it was a delight to read this book. If you are a person who hates Chetan Bhagat, I can guarantee that this book will refresh you, if only by restoring your faith in popular Indian fiction. 

Thirdly, as I said this book is a humdinger. You will be constantly kept guessing right till the end. In fact, even at the end the manner of the denouement is not what the reader might expect and even after the end, the epilogue has one last trick up its sleeve. Half of the fun in a murder mystery is in the guessing and I would say that somewhere I felt a little cheated by the number of red herrings thrown in by the author. The author literally throws your suspicions one way and then another throughout the story and though I could guess quite a few details I could not guess either the murderer or the motive. I don’t know which is more satisfying the ‘Ha! I knew it all along- this author is an amateur’ feeling of triumph or the sense of awe in saying ‘Bastard! He completely fooled me’. Guess you will have to read it and judge for yourself.

I am not a big fan of murder mysteries, so for me what really stood out were the quality of the writing and the setting of the story- I fell in love with it! Finally, if you hate Chetan Bhagat style writing- you should buy this book, if for nothing else than supporting good writing in India.

I am definitely going to look for his other works. I think he has three books out including the latest one which is on mythology and called the ‘Winds of Hastinapur’.