Cover to Cover
By default I like to read. And since by default I like to read, I am more often than not found in possession of books that no one in their right mind should read. The market is flooded with books that you can pick up just before you board your flight or your train, and finish them in a couple of hours; there are books for metro rides - books you can wrap up in an hour (or less); books that need no more than a day or two. There rapid reads that do not take too much of emotional or intellectual investment and thankfully for good measure.
Our of the incredible columns of books that have piled up all over my house, I pick out five - The Quiet Riot of Robin Shute P., Maya’s Revenge, The Embers of Light and the Sacred Secret (Part 1), Gone with the Vindaloo and Tuki’s Grand Salon Chase. Ranging from ‘Oh God this is Awful’ to ‘Hmmm...well, it Might Live’ and ‘Not bad at all’ from ‘Ok...What was this about Again?’ to ‘Hello! You spoiled it’. Take our verdict or plunge through it yourself.
The Quiet Riot of Robin Shute P. written by Prabhjot Kaur (Rupa Publications. Rs 295) falls into that ‘Hello! You spoiled it’ category. If you can ignore the prologue and the epilogue of the book, this is one of the most entertaining books I have read in this year so far. Kaur’s protagonist - Robin, better known as Boy is incredible. He has stomick-icks, sits for a whole week in a different section without getting caught in school, loves his music, takes his sports very seriously and every fight with his sister Suki is apocalyptic. Well...almost. Kaur paints a very entertaining picture of life in the coastal town of Tangy - you would well want to get there and sit on the sidelines and watch. But the problem starts when Boy starts growing up, his antics don’t make you laugh anymore and before you know it - he is a ‘responsible’ doctor who goes on jogging stints at night only to be stopped by cops. It seems like Kaur runs out of steam after pouring heart and soul out into Boy’s childhood. However - do pick this one up. It is fun as long as the childhood lasts. Wait! Reality check!
Maya’s Revenge by Deepika Ahlawat (Harper Collins. Rs 299) steps in at the ‘Hmmm...well, it Might Live’ zone. The book traces Bindy’s journey through convent school to the palace of Sheerpur alongside tracing the legend of Kamroop (a secret society of beautiful women trained to kill) and Mahamaya. There is the debonair brat of a prince Riddhiraj and the spoiled princess Riddhima and an entire repertoire of complex royal figures that flit in and out of the story. William Dalrymple called this book wacky, witty, zippy and playful, the book is wacky and perhaps borderline witty and that’s about it. Ahlawat blends serious issues (mass genocide in a place called Ghasrampur, corruption in the government and royalty nexus, attempted fratricide etc) with trivial ones ( a whiny Bollywood starlet’s ruined Vogue shoot, Bindy’s crush on the prince) and which is fine as far as a tongue-in-cheek treatment is concerned but the author seems to be losing her way through this all. But not half as bad as a rapid read.
Now the ‘Oh God this is Awful’. I physically had to stop myself from destroying this book, if I wanted to put someone off reading - this would be the book I would give them - The Embers of Light and the Sacred Secret (Part 1) by Abhi (Konark Publishers. Rs 225). The author wants to create a trilogy of sorts where he manages to throw in bits of every rotten fantasy his brain must have delved up. Five stereotypes - a non-descript Indian, a hot Russian girl, a Brazilian street-fighter, a cop from New York and martial arts expert from China. Give me one bullet instead and put me out of this misery. Throw in a city below the Himalayas an evil prince reincarnate who uses a geeky nerd for his dirty work, walls that are portals, lockets that can make you enter other worlds, weapons that remind you of a light saber with the capacity to change into any thing (including a baseball bat) and some retarded illustrations. And the last time anyone read about ‘fairies’ they were probably in nursery. No sir, pretty pink fairies do not work and please do not contrive a love story between the Indian with serious self-esteem issues (who is the good prince incarnate by the way) and the hot Russian babe. I am not interested in Part 2 and I hope there is never a Part 3. Amen.
Vikram Nair’s Gone with the Vindaloo (Hachette. Rs 350) can be slotted in as ‘Ok...What was this about Again?’. What could have just been a gastronomic delight of a book becomes a documentary of sorts running through India with a brief stint in the US and back again with a plate of crispy okhra and vindaloo in hand. There are the Brits, the Flower Children, the IAS officers and the aspiring NRIs - Gone with the Vindaloo has it all. But my problem with the story was that there was too much of shuttling between time frames and after a bit I simply got distracted and very hungry and more often than not I had to take a moment off and map the story out in my head. However, I should not blame the author - I have the attention span of a squirrel and am mostly hungry (I remember while I read Ira Trivedi’s India in Love I would inevitably make popcorn, I did that with Plato too). Not a bad read, but you will take a lot of snack breaks.
Tuki’s Grand Salon Chase, written by Parul Sharma (Westland. Rs 350) is perhaps a book I would recommend in this lot of five. The story traces Tuki’s (Tulika) journey though Mumbai and Goa as she strives to open her own salon. Tuki is talented, has a great heart but as luck would have it - the odds are stacked against her and that makes the character excellently relatable. I loved the relationship Tuki and the elderly writer Bijoy have (completely platonic if I may add - tut tut! dirty minds) and the way she handles unwarranted attention from the new tattoo artist Faraaz dumps on her. Sharma creates some delightful characters in her book and she makes you want to know more about them all - which is delightful. The story flows great but the neatly wrapped up love story in the end feels a tad contrived. I could have lived without that. A definite read from this lot.
While bad books flood the market with a vengeance a few good books crop up almost reluctantly. And more often than not you are wondering long and hard - are good books not being published? Or is it that tropes that work are actually below-average for anyone with a sliver of intelligence? I recall this discussion that happened with a lady who works extensively with authors. She said that certain books, that we don’t rate too high, work brilliantly in tier two and tier three cities and I wondered why - is it not more important to read substance with time than read utter hogwash in a few hours? Perils of my trade - but what is your excuse? Pick a question and answer it. Till then I shall try to brave through a few more terrible ones and return to Neil Gaiman for happiness and Giorgio Agamben for work.