Book Reviews

Karl Aaj aur Kal

This reads like a book Cyrus Broacha wrote in between shoots of MTV Bakra and other shows. Possibly he smoked some pot before penning each chapter, and shared the grass with his publishers at Random House India. Filled with zany characters, comic heavyweight (literally) Cyrus Broacha goes where no Indian writer has gone before…into the far-reaching territories of ‘anti-Booker’ land. 

The book barely has plot, at least not a linear one. If I asked you to graph it with a flowchart you’d have a tough time. It could’ve been maddeningly funny but the only issue is it is extremely tough

a) For an author, to sustain this level of humour

b) For a reader, to read 250+ pages of continuous humour 

I am sure at some point even the most genteel soul would fling the book across the room calling it ‘pure drivel’.

As a humour writer, reader and fan of all things comic, I felt I could appreciate the book best if I read it in fits and spurts. I set aside fifteen minutes before bedtime to read a paragraph or two.

Even reading a few pages at a time got me frustrated into yelling, ‘Come on! Get on with the story already!’ 

It’s time I introduced another august personage into my narrative. He was about six feet tall thanks to his four inch heels. His trousers were too tight to have been put on him using conventional means. They must have been stitched on him after he stood upright. 

The august personage introduced above is ‘Masterji or Sylvester Sir, Masterji because he was the fight master…’ 

The other problem with this kind of book is it would’ve been tough for him to snag any celebrities to endorse it, containing as it does a famous film actor called Yusuf Khan who insists on only playing characters named Rohit. Cyrus spoofs the entire film fraternity in hilarious episodes, like where the action master mismanages a fight and loses the inner heels of his shoes: 

Two pages after his introduction, Masterji’s direction of a fight sequence goes awry when an adoring crowd mistakes the fake actor-goons as real goondas. At that point: 

By the time the misunderstanding may have been cleared, it was too late. Masterji’s shirt, shoes, and reputation were in the gutter, and while you can replace a shirt and a reputation, four-inch high-heeled silver shoes with pointed fronts are directly irreplaceable. 

I am proud to say I did finish the book, down to the last Author’s Note:

Much against my will, and under severe duress, I have been coerced into writing this book. If I am found dead by the end of it, please arrest the publisher forthwith. 

I hate not finishing books, no matter how meandering they may be. The first few days I read almost a chapter a day, but then quickly latched on to this technique of reading it in such small bits and pieces that I wouldn’t get easily frustrated. 

Read another review here. And an excerpt here.
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My Writing

On the Write Path

Reading this post by Great Bong led me to think of my own career path as a writer.

He writes:

Virtually ever unsolicited article I would ever send would be rejected. The prospect of having a book published, far less for it to go on to be in the Bestsellers Lists, was as distant a possibility as of Anil Kapoor ever walking onto the stage during an Oscar presentation.

For me, the first sentence doesn’t hold true. In fact, the first ever unsolicited article I sent, to no less a magazine than Femina, was published and paid for, to my great delight. I thought it was no mean feat to have a humour piece published in a prominently read women’s magazine that didn’t really feature such articles. You can read a humorous article on my first sale here

From there on, I wrote several more. Many were published in Times of India, in their supplements. I had a couple of ‘middles’ published in Deccan Herald. 

But through all of this, I never started a blog. I have no idea why I never thought of it. I was having too much fun writing and getting published (even if not as often) and getting paid (not as often or as much). 

This is not to say that had I started a blog in lieu of writing articles I might have latched on to something spectacular. It’s hardly easy to write a blog that goes viral and captures the attention of the multitudes and even results in a book deal. For all I know, any blog I started might have turned out the opposite. 

Regardless, at some point, I started writing books. Ideas came thick and fast in the summer of 2002 itself. Here’s a little chronology of the books I’ve completed: 

The Unofficial Guide to the Indian Company(2002-2003)

A humorous nonfiction book about life in an average desi firm. The book clocked in at a grand total of 22,000 words, deemed too short for publication, though the sample chapters sent to various houses drew some praise. 

The Ramp Less Traveled(2003-2006)

Humorous fiction about an heiress who defies her father’s plans of making her an engineer and opts for an unsuitable career of her own. This too drew uniform praise from industry professionals who received sample chapters, but I guess the pacing was off as it didn’t go further. 

Perfection (2008-2009)

Set in a software company. War between two colleagues for a coveted award. The woman here acquires some magic that she thinks will defeat her opponent, but what does she know?

Of all the three, I have had the least success with the last. On introspection, I realize it is perhaps due to my placing it so firmly in the software world. Non-IT people were left befuddled. 

Lessons learnt

Another thing I’ve had to accept is that fiction is a different ballgame altogether, and the learning curve associated with it far exceeds what I’d expected. I still need to keep learning and keep writing, and develop my skills. 

My goal now is to write more short fiction and get it published. My thirst for penning novels, however unpublishable they might turn out, hasn’t died yet. I just have to fit it into my already brimming schedule as a mother and an IT professional, but then everyone makes sacrifices to pursue their dream. 

Hoping for the best!
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Book Reviews

The Reluctant Fundamentalist

I had read reviews of this book earlier and an author interview as well, but never really got around to reading it. Last week I chanced upon it in British Library, and added it to my pile immediately. 

I found it an absorbing read. Over the course of two evenings, I finished this short book. It clocks in at less than 200 pages. 

The protagonist Changez narrates the book in first person as a lengthy monologue. Though his surname is not mentioned anywhere, my subconscious automatically added a Khan to it throughout. I knew about the symbolism in it beforehand (Underwood Samson = US, Erica = America, etc). 

I enjoyed the book but felt it petered out a few chapters after Changez’ startling revelation that he smiled when the Twin Towers collapsed. The best line that struck a chord with me lies on page 64. 

I tried not to dwell on the comparison; it was one thing to accept that New York was more wealthy than Lahore, but quite another to swallow the fact that Manila was as well.

This captured exactly how I felt when I visited Singapore, a tiny island country that attained independence barely forty years ago, but today has leaped way ahead of India in terms of development.

The book is definitely worth a read and re-read. When you have finished it, do check out the author’s website and impressive essays.

Movie Reviews

The Curious Effect of Benjamin Button

Two years after The Curious Case of Benjamin Button garnered thirteen nominations at the Oscars, I got the chance to see it when it premiered on Star Movies on 18 July at eight pm. I pressed the ‘i’ button on the Tata Sky remote and discovered to my great shock that the movie was scheduled to end at eleven-thirty pm! It almost sent me scurrying to Wikipedia to check if it was directed by Peter Jackson, whose well-known penchant for epic-length movies extended beyond LOTR to King Kong as well.

Nevertheless, I braced myself for the onslaught. I wrapped up my household chores early, fed my daughter her dinner, and plonked down in front of the TV at eight pm sharp.

The next three hours unravelled, at a leisurely pace, the journey of a man who grows younger each day. This reverse aging presents several problems. His father no more than sets eyes on him before rushing out to discard him, in a piece of delicious irony, on the steps of a nursing home. A black woman, barren at that time, takes him in and showers much love and affection on him.

Benjamin’s journey as he goes to work on a tugboat, indulges in a fling with a married elegant lady (I congratulated myself on  recognizing Tilda Swindon immediately!)

I believe the movie, and indeed the short story it is based on, focus on life and death as a theme. Cate Blanchett’s frustration as she ages but Brad becomes more youthful is well-captured. She is brilliant in her role, as is Taraji Henson, who acts as his mother.

Brad Pitt does well, but I think his movie star personality still shines through his character somewhat.

Overall, though, for some reason this movie dissolved me in tears. The last few scenes when Benjamin turns into a toddler, then an infant and dies in her arms are very touching. I don’t think I will see it again in the near future, but maybe a few months down the line I wouldn’t mind a repeat watch.