Monthly Roundup- October 2009

This has been a very hectic college month, and hence a bad reading month, and a worse blogging month. I'm behind on my reviews: there are quite a few drafts languishing. I haven't also been able to visit other blogs and comment on them as much as I would have liked to. I hope things will straighten up next month.

Ok, so what's been happening on this blog? My featured author of the month was P.G. Wodehouse, one of my perennial favorites. For Banned Books Week, I didn't manage to read any book which was banned, but I did write a post about the system of banning books in India.

I had my first interview with Michelle Moran, author of Cleopatra's Daughter, an experience I thoroughly enjoyed.

I reviewed the following books:

The English Teacher- R.K. Narayan
The Remains of the Day- Kazuo Ishiguro
City of Ashes- Cassandra Clare
Hot Water- P.G. Wodehouse
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime- Mark Haddon
The Godfather- Mario Puzo

I reviewed the following movies on Monday Movies:
Becoming Jane
Star Trek III: The Search for Spock
10 Things I Hate About You
The Dark Knight
Dil Bole Hadippa

P.S.: Happy Halloween to everybody!

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REVIEW The English Teacher: R.K. Narayan


I read this book, along with Swami and Friends, and Malgudi Days, a long time back. I remember vaguely the story of Swami and Friends, but the story of The English Teacher had completely slipped my mind.

Krishnan is an English lecturer at the Albert Mission College, living in the hostel while his wife and child live with his in-laws. When they decide to move in with him, and Krishnan rents a house, where he lives with his dear wife in marital bliss. But their little heaven is short-lived, when Krishnan’s wife Susila falls ill. The events that follow shake Krishnan’s life, but slowly he attains clarity of vision and ultimately, peace.

This book has Narayan’s trademarks: simple prose and an uncomplicated storyline. But the picture it paints of the ordinary Indian family is joyful to read. Narayan’s Malgudi is a small town (Bangaloreans will recognize the amalgamation in the names of Malleswaram and Basvangudi), where people have straightforward concerns: earn money, keep wife and children in relative comfort and live happily. The idyll and routine of daily life is captured very evocatively, and the small things which we often overlook acquire new light through his words. When I read Narayan, I feel like I am seeing the events of the story unfolding around me, as if I were a part of the story too. This is the power that Narayan exerts over his readers: everybody can identify with the characters.

I’d say that The English Teacher is not among my R.K.Narayan favorites. It has a good plot, about dealing with loss, and is reportedly based on Narayan’s own experiences, but it didn’t strike a chord with me. There is nothing fundamentally wrong; it is just one of those books I didn’t like. I can’t really pinpoint what is wrong with it, because it is no different in style from his other works which I loved. Having said that, I would recommend it to anybody interested in Indian literature; Narayan is one of the best, on par with Chekov and Greene.

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Monday Movies: The Search for Jane

Starring: Anne Hathaway, James McAvoy
Directed by: Julian Jarrold

Jane Austen(Anne Hathaway) is the youngest unmarried daughter of Reverend Austen, and harbours dreams of becoming a published writer. Tom LeFroy (McAvoy) is a brash young lawyer, who Jane develops an instant dislike for. They spar occasionally, but slowly fall in love. But their love is not easily fulfilled, as Jane's family is poor and Tom has many siblings depending on him.

I like period dramas, and I enjoyed this movie. It's supposed to be a fictionalized account of the posited relationship between Jane Austen and Judge LeFroy. LeFroy is said to be the inspiration for Mr. Darcy's character, and the script shows many parallels between Pride and Prejudice and Jane's life. Jane's parents are replicas of Mr and Mrs Bennett, her sister Cassandra so like Jane Bennett. I enjoyed the performances; Anne Hathaway was refreshing as the spirited Jane, and her chemistry with McAvoy was wonderful. Right now, I have a small crush on McAvoy; I liked his portrayal of the charming "bad-boy" lawyer. I'd definitely recommend this movie.

Starring: William Shatner, DeForest Kelley
Directed by: Leonard Nimoy

After Spock's death in The Wrath of Khan, the Enterprise, along with Admiral James T. Kirk(Shatner) return to base. But then, Kirk learns that Spock (Leonard Nimoy) transfered his katra or living spirit to Dr. McCoy(Kelley), Kirk and crew steal the Enterprise to return Spock's katra to his body. But the Klingons are after the Genesis device for their own evil ends, and Kirk must face many battles and losses to get his friend back.

After the recent Star Trek movie, I was really looking forward into my first initiation into the Star Trek franchise. But I was a little disappointed. I thought the movie was a little dated. Maybe I'm used to the glitzy action of today, so I found the action and drama of 25 years ago a little insipid. The acting was a little over-the-top and the whole movie seemed quite theatrical. Should I have expected this? I don't know. The original Star Wars movies are nearly 30 years old, but I loved them; there was nothing melodramatic about it. A disappointment for me, but I won't give up on Star Trek.

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Sunday Salon: Jonathan Livingston Seagull: Richard Bach

The Sunday

I loved it. I have no other word for it. I just loved this book so much that I read it thrice in two days, and I probably will reread it many more times.

Jonathan Livingston Seagull is a gull who loves to fly, one who is more interested in flying higher and faster than he is in mundane things such as food and shelter. But his attitude earns him a lot of brickbats from his flock, who throw him out. It is then that he meets a group of gulls similar to himself and learns the essence of flying.

This is a very short book, a hundred-page novella you will finish in an hour, at most. It is essentially self-help, but has none of the tedious morality or preaching that I usually find in self-help books. Its story is so simple yet so profound. Bach's story about a seagull who just wants to do what he loves most has inspired people around the world, and had a profound impact on me as well. Through allegory and metaphor, the story manages to make you experience the sort of diverse emotions that heavy tomes cannot inspire. It moves you and motivates you, exhilarates you and challenges you. Every line has a deep meaning which sinks into you and makes you ponder. This is definitely a book everyone should read.

And here are this week's giveaways.

Page Turner is giving away a Halloween prize pack, open till October 30
B.A.M. Book Reviews is giving away a Sarah Dressen or a Laurie Halse Anderson book, open until November 13.
The Undercover Book Lover is giving away Hush Hush by Becca Fitzpatrick or The Exorsistah by Claudie Mair Burney till November 1.
The Eclectic Reader is giving away a choice of 6 books to celebrate her blogiversary till October 31

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REVIEW The Remains of the Day: Kazuo Ishiguro


I picked this book up at Nymeth’s recommendation, and I’m so glad I did. This is a gem of a book, a masterpiece by a very gifted writer.

Stevens, a longtime butler of Darlington Hall, has been given some time off by his new American employer Mr. Farraday. Stevens uses this opportunity to make a cross-country motoring trip to meet Miss Kenton, a friend and former housekeeper at Darlington Hall. During his journey, he reminisces about his master and the company he used to keep and emphasizes the qualities a great butler possesses.

The first thing that strikes you about the book is the stiff, formal voice of the narrator. Indeed, for a while, you feel as if you are reading some official memo about butlering, instead of a man’s reminiscences about his life. This throws a lot of light on the sort of person Stevens is: highly controlled. The emotional restraint that Stevens shows is alarming; he’s methodical and accurate, but more mechanical than human. This restraint pervades all his relationships, that with his father and especially with Miss Kenton. For example, when his father lies dying, he doesn’t spend time by his side but goes his professional duties as if nothing was wrong. Stevens considers such restraint a symbol of dignity, something he believes is a hallmark of a “great” butler, but frankly, his emotional immaturity shocked me. He never pursues his relationship with Miss Kenton, causing her to ultimately leave in despair.

Stevens is also an unreliable narrator, and he presents events as he chooses to see them, not as they actually were. He is blind to a number of things, notably the faults of his employer. He strongly defends Lord Darlington’s policy of appeasement of Nazis, and dismisses allegations of anti-Semitism as “absurd” and “insignificant. There is a distinctly feudal air to his belief that the employer knows better than him, and it is not his position to question his actions. It is a theme repeated time and again, that it is more dignified for a person to know his place and not try to rise above it.

One is simply accepting an inescapable truth: that the likes of you and I will never be in a position to comprehend the great affairs of today's world, and our best course will always be to put our trust in an employer we judge to be wise and honourable, and to devote our energies to the task of serving him to the best of our ability.

The only butlers I’ve encountered before are Beach and Jeeves in Wodehousian literature. The Remains of the Day presented a totally different perspective. The English stiff upper lip is famous and revered, but Ishiguro shows us how restraint can prevent a person from discovering his abilities and exploring his emotions. There is certain stuffiness in the manners of the Englishmen, as much in the bourgeois as in the aristocracy. Ishiguro explores every character thoroughly, in the process, creating a picture of a decaying upper class hanging on to its illusions of grandeur, and the people who help maintain the illusion. At the end of the book, I was left feeling sorry for Stevens, when he ponders about his life and all he has missed.

I gave my best to Lord Darlington. I gave him the very best I had to give, and now - well - I find I do not have a great deal more left to give…

For a great many people, the evening is the most enjoyable part of the day. Perhaps, then, there is something to his advice that I should cease looking back so, much, that I should adopt a more positive outlook and try to make the best of what remains of my day. After all, what can we ever gain in forever looking back and blaming ourselves if our lives have not turned out quite as we might have wished?

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REVIEW City of Ashes: Cassandra Clare


This is the second instalment in the Mortal Instruments series, and I enjoyed how the story was developed, though I had some complaints with the pace.

Clary and Jace are struggling with the secrets revealed to them in City of Bones. Jace is locked up by the Inquisitor on charges of conspiring with Valentine, awaiting trial with the Soul-Sword. However, Valentine pays him a surprise visit at his cell, on his way to killing the Silent Brothers and stealing the sword, the second Mortal Instrument. Meanwhile, Clary and Luke investigate the murders of Downworlder children by some unknown force, and uncover Valentine’s true intentions. This discovery has shocking repercussions for them all, as Jace has to choose between his father and his friends, Simon has a horrible accident and Clary discovers the nature of her powers.

City of Ashes was nice, with its requisite share of chills and thrills. A few new characters were introduced, and some returned with a greater share in the action. But I thought that the book dragged a little in the middle. The sarcasm and witty repartee was in short supply, something I enjoyed in the previous book. Some of the situations seemed a little contrived, especially the entire scenario at the Faerie Court, which seemed put in just to add fuel to the Jace-Clary-Simon love triangle. But I got over these hiccups as the story progressed, and the twists and turns came to light. What I liked about the book was the whole setting, of a parallel city with its hidden strife. The characters were pretty realistic, no over-the-top drama for anyone, no wishy-washiness either. Valentine was also great as the villain, cold, suave and lethal, quite reminiscent of Voldemort. The best creations, however, were the demons; from Raum to Raveners, they were well-thought out and extremely menacing, especially the fear demon, Agramon.

Looking forward to finishing this trilogy.

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Monday Movies: 10 Things About Dark Knight

Starring: Heath Ledger, Julia Stiles
Directed by: Gil Junger

Kat(Julia Stiles) and Bianca(Larisa Oleynik) are sisters, the former an outspoken misfit, the latter an attention-loving popular girl. Bianca is desperate to have a boyfriend, but her over-protective father rules that she will be allowed to date only when Kat does. High-school stud Joey(Andrew Keegan) wants to take Bianca out, and pays rebel Patrick(Ledger) to date her. On the other hand, new student Cameron(Joseph Gordon-Levitt) falls for Bianca despite her faults. How the couples get together forms the rest of the story.

I had a back-to-back Heath Ledger movie night a couple of days back, and I found this movie quite good. Now normally, I'm not much of a high-school movie fan, but this one was different; Taming of the Shrew set in high school. Sure, it had the high-school cliches: shy geek falling for dumb blonde running after arrogant jock, but the sarcastic and outspoken Kat made all the difference. I laughed quite a bit, especially when the dad was around. I enjoyed Julia Stiles and Heath ledger together, I thought they looked cute but not mushy. You'll enjoy this movie, it isn't as inane as other teen movies.

Starring: Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, Michael Caine
Directed by: Christopher Nolan

Batman has put the fear back into the hearts of Gotham's criminals, and the mob bosses aren't too happy. But his alter ego, Bruce Wayne (Bale) isn't having a great time, as his love Rachel (Maggie Gyllenhaal) is dating the new DA Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart). Bruce sees Harvey as the public face of crime-fighting and his worthy successor, but the arrival of the Joker complicates thing. The Joker (Ledger) is a sadistic psychopath, determined to destroy Batman, and blows up the Commissioner, and threatens to kill innocent people until Batman doesn't unmask himself. Batman faces his greatest challenge yet, to protect Gotham and the people he loves.

I have just one word for this movie: AWESOME. Everything about the movie is brilliant: the direction, the storyline and the performances. Heath Ledger is phenomenal as the Joker, he's competing for top position with Darth Vader on my top villains list. I kept thinking, oh God, why did he have to die, he was such a great actor, with great movies ahead of him. Ledger is chilling as the Joker, portraying his complete disregard for life and his cruel cleverness to perfection. I especially loved the scene where he threatens Rachel, and the confrontation with Batman in the jail cell. Truly, the movie belongs to the Joker.

I also can't say enough about the storyline. I have liked the earlier Batman movies, but they always had the cheesy comic-book element in them. This one is more true to life, more hard-hitting and gritty than any other super-hero movie. Christopher and Jonathan Nolan have written an awesome screenplay, with many memorable dialogues. Everybody talks about the Joker's "Why so serious?" line, but my personal favorite is the last speech by him, when Batman has him hanging upside down.

You just couldn't let me go, could you? This is what happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object. You…truly are…incorruptible, aren't you, huh? You won't kill me out of some misplaced sense of self-righteousness. And I won't kill you because…you're just too much fun! I think you and I are destined to do this forever.

This is one movie I watch again and again, I simply can't have enough of it.

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Sunday Salon: My Fall TV Lineup

The Sunday
I am a TV buff, walking the tightrope between affinity and addiction. This fall will see some of my favorite TV shows returning, and I'm eager to catch them. This, despite the fact that I'm nearing the end of my semester, I have a million projects and assignments to submit and a proposal to write. Maybe I am addicted. But it's not like TV time is a waste of time; I'm usually multi-tasking- writing assignments, researching etc, as the show plays out in the background. Anyways, here are my favorite TV shows for this season, not in any particular order.

Must-watch Shows:

1. HOUSE: I love this show. It has a fantastic cast, great story and lots of sarcasm. Hugh Laurie is great as the maverick Dr. House. The last season ended on a crucial note, with House going to the psych house, and I'm eager to see what he he does there. I haven't managed to catch up with the episodes that are out already, but my friend did and loved it.

2. Big Bang Theory: It's funny, it's goofy, and it has Sheldon. I watched the season premiere a couple of days back, and Sheldon is as cute as ever. If you don't watch this show, you should give it a try, because they make geek definitely chic.

3. Fringe: This is a pretty recent discovery, and I just finished the first season a week back. But I liked the story, it was thoughtful without being too complicated. I found the 50-minute episodes a little lengthy at first, but the script and the performances drew my attention away from the length.

Watch-when-I-have-time shows:

1. Bones: Actually, I like this show, but I haven't watched all the previous seasons. I know I don't need to, but I'd like to.

2. How I Met Your Mother: I like this show, but I'm getting a little irritated at the non-appearance of the "mother". They've been dropping teasers through the last 4 seasons, but there is still no sign of her. I'll still be watching this show, but I'm not eagerly waiting for it.

3. Heroes: This had been one of my favorite shows, and I used to be blown away by every episode, but I found the last season slow and boring. I was in love with Zachary Quinto as Sylar, but now that Sylar has morphed into Nathan, I'm losing interest. If Quinto is back, so am I.

So, what are the shows you are looking forward to?

And here are this week's giveaways.

Brizmus Blogs Books is giving away The Vampire Diaries by L.J. Smith, open till October 28
The Book Butterfly is giving away Hush, Hush by Becca Fitzpatrick till November 13
Bibliofreak is giving away a choice of 5 books till October 23

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Happy Diwali!

Today is Diwali, or Deepavali, the Festival of Lights in India. It's one of the biggest Hindu festivals, a day when everyone celebrates the triumph of good over evil, of light over darkness, of joy over sorrow.

Diwali signifies different things in different parts of India. In North India, it's a celebration of Lord Rama's return to Ayodhya after a 14-year exile. It is also known as Naraka Chaturdashi, marking the killing of the evil demon Narakasura by Lord Krishna's wife Satyabhama. Most people perform Lakshmi Puja to welcome the Goddess of Wealth and Prosperity into their homes. In Bengal, we celebrate Kali Puja, to seek protection against calamities, and for general peace and prosperity.
To all Indians, I send my greetings and well-wishes.


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Author Feature: P.G. Wodehouse

This month's Author Feature stars one of my favorite authors, one who has enriched English literature and made us all laugh in the process.

Brief Bio: Pelham Grenville Wodehouse was born in Guildford in 1881. His father was a judge, and he and his brothers rarely saw their parents, spending their childhood in a variety of boarding schools. After school, he found a job at HongKong and Shanghai Bank (HSBC), while writing part-time for The Globe newspaper. He went on to write for a variety of papers and magazines, including Punch, Vanity Fair and The Saturday Evening Post. During the war, Wodehouse lived in France, and was imprisoned by the Germans for nearly a year. After unfounded accusations of treason, he moved permanently to New York. Wodehouse died on Valentines Day in 1975, shortly after being awarded the Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire. To learn more about him, you can visit

Selected Bibliography:

Thank You Jeeves
Very Good Jeeves
Jeeves in the Offing
Full Moon
Heavy Weather
Code of the Woosters
Uncle Fred in the Springtime
Hot Water
Meet Mr. Mulliner

My Reviews:
Hot Water

My Views:
What would literature be without Wodehouse? A lot less fun, to be sure. Wodehouse is one of the greatest writers I've read, and I think English would be quite boring if he hadn't been around.

My first introduction to Wodehouse was my dad guffawing during his reading of Galahad at Blandings. I wondered what was it that made my dad laugh so much, so I borrowed the book one day and sat down to read it. And I have never looked back. I've read nearly all the Jeeves and Emsworth stories, and I enjoyed all of them.

What I enjoy most about Wodehouse's writing are the intricacies of the plot. There is a standard formula: one of the characters gets into a fix, or two lovebirds have a tiff and get engaged to unsuitable people. But every situation is different, every plot element fresh. As you read, a problem that appeared to be standard and easily solved develops layers which become increasingly complex, and you think the hero can never get out of it. But there is one character who saves the day, the wits of whom gets everyone out of their respective messes and reach satisfactory conclusions. One example which comes to mind is Code of the Woosters. Bertie becomes engaged to the soupy Madeline Bassett, has to steal a cow-creamer belonging to Madeline's father, get Gussie Fink-Nottle and Madeline back together so that his engagement to Madeline is broken, recover a notebook where Gussie has detailed the failings of Madeline's father so that neither father nor daughter see it, outwit Roderick Spode, and stay out of jail. Confused? I was, too, and I was pretty sure Bertie couldn't escape unscathed. But Jeeves made it all right, with a flourish that had me cheering.

Wodehouse's cast of characters are memorable, and nobody who reads about Bertie or Jeeves or Emsworth or Galahad, can easily forget them. Each character is unique in himself, even the smaller ones. My favorite character is the loony Lord Emsworth. When he starts talking about his pig, Empress of Blandings, I can't stop laughing. Most plot elements set in Blandings Castle figure the pig in a major role. People are trying to kidnap the pig, or make it lose weight, things that make Emsworth's hair stand on end, and are the driving element of the story. Out of the smaller characters, I particularly like Beach, and the description of his portly nature cannot fail to crack you up. And Baxter, Emsworth's long-suffering secretary, who tries to impress his employer buts ends up being berated by him.

There are many more great people in Wodehouse's world, such as Uncle Fred, Psmith, Monty Bodkin, Ukridge and Mr. Mulliner. Wodehouse was very prolific and wrote 96 books in his 73-year long career. I have read most of them, except some of his earlier works, and his last novel, Sunset at Blandings. That book was released in its unfinished form, with Wodehouse's extensive notes, but I don't want to read it. There is something very disheartening in reading an author's last unfinished work; it reminds me that he is no more and he couldn't finish what he had started.

Anybody can make someone cry, but the greatest challenge is to make another person laugh. That is what Wodehouse did all his life, and did it masterfully. On his birth anniversary, that is how I'd like to remember P.G.Wodehouse.

Do you love Wodehouse as much as I do? Which is your favorite Wodehouse novel?

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REVIEW Hot Water: P.G. Wodehouse


This is one of my favorite Wodehouses which does not star Emsworth. It's not as well-known as his other works, but a laugh riot nevertheless.

Packy Franklin, an American millionaire and sportsman, is engaged to Lady Beatrice Bracken. A chance meeting with the famous Dry legislator Senator Ambrose Opal causes all hell to break loose when a letter written by Senator Opal to his bootlegger, falls into the hands of Mrs Wellington Gedge, who uses it to blackmail him to appoint her husband Ambassador. Packy helps Senator Opal's daughter Jane to sweeten her father by posing as her fiancee and visiting the Gedges' home, Chateau Blissac, to recover the letter.

Hot Water is one of the lesser known Wodehouse novels, but there is nothing less in terms of the writing. As usual, it's a comedy of errors, with Packy in the thick of some laugh-out-loud impersonations. He is a younger version of Galahad, "spreading sweetness and light" wherever he goes. Also starring in this novel are a pair of safe crackers, "Soup" Slattery and "Oily" Carlisle, who have their eyes on Mrs. Gedge's jewels, and who join the motley crue at Chateau Blissac. Add to that a perpetually drunk Vicomte, and a timid, America-loving Mr Gedge, and you have all the trappings for a good show. Everybody falls in and out of totally ridiculous situations, engaging in the mischievous but good-natured antics that are typically Wodehousian. This has been one of my most frequent re-reads, a book I return to again and again.

Have you read this book? What did you think about it?

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Monday Movies: Dil Bole Fashion

Starring: Rani Mukherjee, Shahid Kapoor
Directed by: Anurag Singh

Veera Kaur (Rani) is a perky village girl who loves playing cricket, but there is no team she can play for. Chaudhury Vikram Singh (Anupam Kher) organizes an Aman Cup between his Indian and his friend's Pakistani team, a tournament his team has been losing for years. He asks his son Rohan (Shahid) to come down from England and lead the team. Veera wants to play in the team, but she is turned away as she is a girl. So she gets the idea of dressing up as a boy, Veer Pratap, to be accepted into the team. Everything starts clicking for her, her dreams, cricket and love.

I was in a pretty good mood when I watched the movie, so I overlooked many things that would have irritated me. The movie is a direct lift from She's the Man, but then every Bollywood movie is "inspired", isn't it? It tries to be fun Punjabi, but ends up being kinda loud. I liked the Rani-as-sardar part, she was fun and enjoyable. She looks older than Shahid, but the age difference is not very noticeable in most parts. I admit I like Shahid, though the hair was more Kaminey-bad-boy than Hadippa-cool-guy. I think he's a good actor, though the role didn't demand much. The movie started to go down about halfway into the story, and even Rani and Shahid couldn't save it. All the funda-giving about national pride, Indo-Pak brotherhood and feminism got tedious, and the ending was quite cliched. An okay movie, I'd say.

Starring: Priyanka Chopra, Kangana Ranaut, Mugdha Godse
Directed by: Madhur Bhandarkar

Meghna (Priyanka) is a small-town girl who comes to Mumbai to become a model. She is mocked at her first show, but is helped by a few friends. She gets small assignments, including a lingerie ad, which causes her relatives to cut off ties with her. Slowly she works her way up the ladder, getting shows with her idol, the arrogant drug-abusing supermodel Shonali(Kangana). A wardrobe malfunction helps her dislodge Shonali, but she gets drawn into the seamier side of the fashion world: the booze parties, the drugs and the affairs. She is traumatized by her experiences, and a surprising encounter with Shonali helps her get back on track.

Madhur Bhandarkar's movies are well-written and hard-hitting, and Fashion is no different. Priyanka pitches in a powerful performance, possibly the best of her career. It's a very topical movie, and exposes a lot of the darker aspects of the glamorous fashion world. He packs in a lot of things into the movie, including the Gitanjali Nagpal story. The movie is different from the formulaic romances that form part of Bollywood, but I felt that the Madhur Bandarkar formula was there: choose an industry, show the seamy side, have the protagonist transform from starry-eyed girl into a hardened woman. I've seen it in Page 3, Corporate, and this formula, while not jaded like the Bollywood cliches, is getting a little old. Nevertheless, it's different from the conventional fare, and I liked the movie.

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Sunday Salon: Short Story Focus

The Sunday
The Legend of Sleepy Hollow- Washington Irving

I love Tim Burton's Sleepy Hollow, and for a long time, I've wanted to read the story it was based on. I enjoy creepy stories, and this one didn't let me down.

Ichabod Crane is the schoolmaster at Sleepy Hollow, a small glen on the edge of Tarry Town, a common traveller's haunt. He also courts the local beauty Katrina Van Tassel, for the attentions of whom he competes with country hero Brom Bones. Sleepy Hollow has an enduring legend, that of the Headless Horseman, one which the superstitious Ichabod finds fascinating. When fiction becomes fact, it has some unpleasant consequences for the schoolmaster.

The short story is completely different from the movie, as Burton had retained only the bare skeleton of the story. The writing is very descriptive, but its archaic nature meant that it was full of words I didn't know; I kept referring to Free Dictionary. That was good, because my vocabulary has improved so much through this short story. I enjoyed Irving's detailed descriptions; I found his elaborate character sketch of Ichabod a very nice read. The ending is left open, but you can make a very good guess as to what Ichabod's fate could be.

[Ichabod's] only study was how to gain the affections of the peerless daughter of Van Tassel. In this enterprise, however, he had more real difficulties than generally fell to the lot of a knight-errant of yore, who seldom had anything but giants, enchanters, fiery dragons, and such like easily conquered adversaries, to contend with and had to make his way merely through gates of iron and brass, and walls of adamant to the castle keep, where the lady of his heart was confined; all which he achieved as easily as a man would carve his way to the centre of a Christmas pie; and then the lady gave him her hand as a matter of course. Ichabod, on the contrary, had to win his way to the heart of a country coquette, beset with a labyrinth of whims and caprices, which were forever presenting new difficulties and impediments; and he had to encounter a host of fearful adversaries of real flesh and blood, the numerous rustic admirers, who beset every portal to her heart, keeping a watchful and angry eye upon each other, but ready to fly out in the common cause against any new competitor.

Have you read any of Washington Irving's work? How did you find it?

And here are this week's giveaways.
The 3R's Blog is giving away an ARC package in celebration of her 1000th post, open till October 14
The Book Butterfly is giving away Eyes Like Stars by Lisa Mantchev till November 6
Alaine-Queen of Happy Endings is giving away Unbound, a collection of paranormal short stories till October 17
Savvy Verse&Wit is giving away Haunting Bombay by Shilpa Agarwal till October 16

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Saturday Evening Poetry: Nadia Anjuman Herawi

Nadia Anjuman Herawi was an Afghani poet. As a student in Herat University, she had her first book of poetry published, which proved quite popular in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran. On November 4, her body was found in her home, and her husband suspected of killing her. The United Nations condemned the killing soon afterwards. It is believed that her family was ashamed of her poetry, which deals with the oppression of Afghan women. The following poem is a heart-rending look at how Afghan women feel, like birds trapped inside a cage. To some extent, it is true for women across the globe, trapped in the restrictions imposed by the male world.


No desire to open my mouth
What should I sing of...?

I, who am hated by life.

No difference to sing or not to sing.

Why should I talk of sweetness,

When I feel bitterness?

Oh, the oppressor's feast

Knocked my mouth.

I have no companion in life

Who can I be sweet for?

No difference to speak, to laugh,

To die, to be.

Me and my strained solitude.

With sorrow and sadness.

I was borne for nothingness.

My mouth should be sealed.

Oh my heart, you know it is spring

And time to celebrate.

What should I do with a trapped wing,

Which does not let me fly?

I have been silent too long,

But I never forget the melody,

Since every moment I whisper

The songs from my heart,

Reminding myself of

The day I will break this cage,

Fly from this solitude

And sing like a melancholic.

I am not a weak poplar tree

To be shaken by any wind.

I am an Afghan woman,

It only makes sense to moan

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REVIEW The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time- Mark Haddon


This is another of my Guardian challenge books finished. Honestly, I’m really glad I signed up for this challenge; otherwise I might never have got around to reading this really great book on autism.

Christopher Boone is an autistic child, who lives with his father after his mother dies of a heart attack. He cannot fathom emotions and social niceties, hates to be touched and has a pathological fear of crowds. When his neighbour’s dog, Wellington, is killed with a pitchfork, Christopher decides to become a detective to find the murderer. But what ensues is a startling discovery about his mother and a harrowing journey to London, which shakes him to the core.

The first thing which strikes you about his narrative is the digressions. Every other chapter has Christopher talking about his likes and dislikes, famous puzzles and solving numerous math problems. He numbers his chapters in primes (2, 3, 5, 7 etc), something I found really interesting. Christopher has a lot of quirks: he won’t eat his food if the different items touch, he doesn’t like yellow and brown, he can’t stand any change in his routine.

Mr. Jeavons, the psychologist at the school, once asked me why 4 red cars in a row made it a Good Day, and 3 red cars in a row made it a Quite Good Day, and 5 red cars in a row made it a Super Good Day, and why 4 yellow cars in a row made it a Black Day, which is a day when I don't speak to anyone and sit on my own reading books and don't eat my lunch and Take No Risks.

But that doesn’t mean he is stupid, no way. His general knowledge is great and he is a whiz with numbers, knowing all the primes up to 7057. But he cannot interact with people and has difficulty making simple connections, such as a smile implies happiness, raised voices mean an argument and so on. His life is one of routine, order and stability, and any deviation from status quo can have him curling up into a ball, screaming or groaning. He also displays a complete lack of emotion, and some of the most heart-rending moments, such as his mother’s death are presented dispassionately. He doesn’t pick up on obvious facts, such as the disintegration of his parents’ marriage. If you expect an adorable kid, he is not it; if you’re looking for a rebel’s story, this is not it. But you are drawn into Christopher’s neat, emotionless, analytical routine, as you learn how his mind works. There is a saying that when God closes a door, he opens a window. The door of social normality is probably closed to Christopher, but he has a huge French window of analytical brilliance to make up for it.

The character I hated most was Christopher’s mother. I understand that taking care of an autistic child is a mentally draining job and it can take a heavy toll on marital life. But that did not excuse her actions. Essentially the message she was sending was: my son, you are a freak and I can’t stand to take care of you any longer, I need my own life; I’m sorry. The dad is not nice either, but at least he tries. I was also a little surprised that despite going to a special school, Christopher is still not comfortable with change in his social environment, as I was given to understand that autistic behavior improves with a proper support structure. But then, this book is about how Christopher sees things, which differs from a third person’s view, so we really have no idea if there has actually been any change.

I cannot say if Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time is an accurate portrayal of an autistic child, considering that my only exposure to autism is watching the movie Rainman. But I do believe that this will help neurotypical people understand an autistic person’s needs and be better equipped to interact with him/her.

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Sunday Salon: Banned Books Week

The Sunday
I think you will find a lot of posts across blogosphere as to why banning books is shameful and ridiculous. I won't add my words to the topic, as I think a lot of bloggers have put the message across more eloquently. Instead, I will focus on a couple of authors whose books have been banned in India, and how it reflects on a country trying to make its mark on the world.

Whenever I think of banned books, I think of Taslima Nasrin. She is a Bangladeshi author who has been hounded for her outspoken views on feminism and her critical look at Islam. Taslima Nasrin shot into fame with her novel, Lajja, which details the volatile situation in Bangladesh following the Babri Masjid demolitions in Ayodhya in India. The book was banned in Bangladesh because of the graphic description of the rape of a Hindu woman by a Muslim man. Her autobiography Dwikhandito was banned in India because it offended the sensibilities of Islamic fundamentalists, and she was forced to delete a couple of controversial paragraphs. But still the moral police didn't leave her alone. She was hounded out of her adoptive hometown Kolkata, kept under house arrest in Delhi, and finally forced to leave India under the shadow of death threats and fatwas. There are other instances of religious banning: Satanic Verses is probably the most famous one, but some books banned in the British Raj era remain banned even today.

Nine Hours to Rama by Stanley Wolpert is another book that has been banned in India because it exposes negligences in security of Mahatma Gandhi which led to his assassination. The book is set in the nine hours of Nathuram Godse's life upto the time he killed the Mahatma. Nehru: A Political Biography by Michael Edwards is another banned book which traces Nehru's political and psychological development. Any book that is even faintly critical of India and its policies finds itself on the banned list, which makes me wonder: how progressive are we really?

What I don't understand is the double standards of the Indian government when it comes to banning books. It bans Nasrin's books as it is seen to hurt the sentiments of the minorities, but allows Bal Thackeray's inflammatory anti-Muslim writings in his mouthpiece newspaper to continue. It tells Nasrin that she has to respect the sentiments of the 150million-odd Muslims living in the country, but when Thackeray calls these same Muslims as "cancerous", it takes no stand. The conclusion is obvious: appease the minority vote bank while retaining control over the Hindu majority. Political power pays.

Another ban topic is Mahatma Gandhi. Any book or other work that has tried to depict Gandhi as Mohandas rather than Mahatma, that tries to put forth Nathuram Godse's side of the story, is instantly buried by the censors. Books like Nine Hours to Rama have faced this, as have plays like Mee Nathuram Godse Boltoy (I am Nathuram Godse Speaking). These works don't take anything away from the greatness that is Gandhi, but just serve to provide an all-round view. I have no doubt that Gandhi himself would be quite angry with the web that has been spun around his name.

In the U.S., books are banned from the educational curriculum if they are considered to be blasphemous or filled with profanities. I don't think such measures are taken in India, mainly because our education system is different, and we don't have prescribed reading books. But in India, book banning takes an ugly and intolerant stand, often leading to book burning. It almost always has political undertones, and I hate to say this, but I don't see it changing anytime soon.

And here are this week's giveaways.
Misfit Salon is giving away an Amazon gift card or a choice of three books till October 5
Alaine-Queen of Happy Endings is giving away 6 books as part of her birthday celebrations till October 31 as well as Marked by PC and Kristin Cast by October 7

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Author Interview: Michelle Moran

I'm thrilled to welcome Michelle Moran, author of the bestselling novels Nefertiti and The Heretic Queen, and the newly released Cleopatra's Daughter, in my first author interview.

: All three of your novels are connected to Egypt. How did your interest in ancient Egypt begin?

Michelle: My inspiration to write on the Egyptian queen Nefertiti happened while I was on an archaeological dig in Israel. During my sophomore year in college, I found myself sitting in Anthropology 101, and when the professor mentioned that she was looking for volunteers who would like to join a dig in Israel, I was one of the first students to sign up. When I got to Israel, however, all of my archaeological dreams were dashed (probably because they centered around Indiana Jones). There were no fedora wearing men, no cities carved into rock, and certainly no Ark of the Covenant. I was very disappointed. Not only would a fedora have seemed out of place, but I couldn’t even use the tiny brushes I had packed. Apparently, archaeology is more about digging big ditches with pickaxes rather than dusting off artifacts. And it had never occurred to me until then that in order to get to those artifacts, one had to dig deep into the earth. Volunteering on an archaeological dig was hot, it was sweaty, it was incredibly dirty, and when I look back on the experience through the rose-tinged glasses of time, I think, Wow, was it fantastic! Especially when our team discovered an Egyptian scarab that proved the ancient Israelites had once traded with the Egyptians. Looking at that scarab in the dirt, I began to wonder who had owned it, and what had possessed them to undertake the long journey from their homeland to the fledgling country of Israel.
On my flight back to America I stopped in Berlin, and with a newfound appreciation for Egyptology, I visited the museum where Nefertiti’s limestone bust was being housed. The graceful curve of Nefertiti’s neck, her arched brows, and the faintest hint of a smile were captivating to me. Who was this woman with her self-possessed gaze and stunning features? I wanted to know more about Nefertiti’s story, but when I began the research into her life, it proved incredibly difficult. She’d been a woman who’d inspired powerful emotions when she lived over three thousand years ago, and those who had despised her had attempted to erase her name from history. Yet even in the face of such ancient vengeance, some clues remained.
As a young girl Nefertiti had married a Pharaoh who was determined to erase the gods of Egypt and replace them with a sun-god he called Aten. It seemed that Nefertiti’s family allowed her to marry this impetuous king in the hopes that she would tame his wild ambitions. What happened instead, however, was that Nefertiti joined him in building his own capital of Amarna where they ruled together as god and goddess. But the alluring Nefertiti had a sister who seemed to keep her grounded, and in an image of her found in Amarna, the sister is standing off to one side, her arms down while everyone else is enthusiastically praising the royal couple. From this image, and a wealth of other evidence, I tried to recreate the epic life of an Egyptian queen whose husband was to become known as the Heretic King.
So given how far I’ve come since that day our team first found an Egyptian scarab in the dirt, I would say that my time in Israel has had the biggest impact on my writing. If not for that experience, it may have taken me years to discover that what I wanted to write was historical fiction.

Hazra: Your novels are usually told from the viewpoint of a young girl. Is there a reason behind this?

Michelle: I feel that it’s always easier to relate as a woman to the struggles that women have gone through. Also, given how perceptive women are with emotions, relationships, and details, they also make for much better narrators!

Hazra: How did you undertake your research for Cleopatra’s Daughter?

Michelle: I do a great deal of traveling both for research and for fun, and most of my destinations are archaeological sites. On a trip to Alexandria in Egypt, I was afforded the amazing opportunity of participating in a dive to see the submerged remains of Cleopatra’s ancient city. More than ten thousand artifacts remain completely preserved underwater: sphinxes, amphorae, even the stones of the ancient palace. Although I'm not a fan of diving, it was an incredible experience, and it changed the way I looked at Cleopatra. I immediately wanted to know more about her life, and it was mere coincidence that my next trip took me to Italy, where her ten year-old children were brought to live after her suicide. While in Rome, I was able to retrace her daughter's steps, and upon seeing where her daughter had lived on the Palatine, I knew I had my next novel.

Hazra: You have written about the slavery system in ancient Rome. Can you tell us something about it? How does it affect the lives of Selene and Alexander?

Michelle: Yes, a slave’s life in Rome was a daunting prospect. In the case of Cleopatra Selene and Alexander, their Roman blood ensured much better treatment, and perhaps so too did the status of Egypt in the Roman worldview. But for conquered Barbarian tribes such as the Gauls, the treatment of captives was far more severe. Ironically enough, for Selene and Alexander, who themselves wanted freedom from Rome, their opulent lifestyle in Octavia’s palace was underwritten by the labor of thousands of slaves. Without giving too much away, the theme of slavery plays a bigger role in the novel than I initially intended, perhaps because it looms so large in our modern consciousness.

Hazra: If Cleopatra’s Daughter were to be made into a movie, who would your ideal star cast be?

Michelle: I try not to tempt fate by speculating! But…… Selene is the sort of role that a director would choose a promising young unknown for.
I liked James Purefoy from HBO’s Rome as Marc Antony, though! Catherine Zeta Jones as Cleopatra?

Hazra: Catherine Zeta Jones is indeed a great choice! I understand that you’ve traveled to India as well. Which places have you visited? What is your impression of India and its history?

Michelle: I visited India as a teenager, at the invitation of a close friend. I really got to spend time in a traditional household for several weeks, and got a sense of the rhythms of village life, in addition to the standard tourist destinations. Being able to do that, and have that balance was a tremendous experience, and taught me a traveler’s most important lesson: that I knew nothing, that I had barely scratched the surface, and that to a place as ancient and overwhelming as India, I would have to return many times.

Hazra: You started publishing your stories at a very young age. What was the first story you published?

Michelle: I have a rather hazy recollection, but most of my early childhood stories seem to have been biographies that starred my cats!

Hazra: Tell us something about your next project. When can readers expect it?

Michelle: Yes. I am hard at work on Madame Tussaud, and it will be released in March, 2010. As someone afflicted with almost Jeffersonian levels of francophilia, the chance to write a novel set against the backdrop of the Bourbon court was too much to pass up! Tussaud’s story fascinated me, as much for what she saw and did before the revolution as for her famous death-masks. Something about her brazen self-promotion was charming, as was her tremendous impulse to survive during very dangerous times. And she saw everything and met everyone- from Voltaire to Franklin, from Napoleon to Marie Antoinette. The story of her life is the story of two ages- before and after the fall. I’ve had a fabulous time travelling for, researching and writing this one!

Hazra: That sounds exciting. Lastly, if you could organize a dinner with five of your favorite fictional characters, who would they be?

Michelle: In gratitude to my characters, I would have to invite Cleopatra (who knew a thing or two about fine dining), Nefertari (for her spirit), Selene (for her kind companionship), Marcellus (for his stories), and Nefertiti (who would be insufferable if I left her out!)

Cleopatra's Daughter is Michelle Moran's new historical fiction novel. It's the story of young twins Selene and Alexander, taken in chains to Rome by Antony's rival Octavian, after their parents Marc Antony and Cleopatra choose to die by their own hands. As they come of age, they are buffeted by the personal ambitions of Octavian’s family and court, by the ever-present threat of slave rebellion, and by the longings and desires deep within their own hearts.

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REVIEW The Godfather: Mario Puzo


I cannot believe that despite being such a voracious reader, it took me as long as it did to read this book. I mean, this has been on my reading list ever since I watched the movie, but it’s only now that I got around to reading it. Probably it’ll be another century before I buy it.

The Corleones, headed by Don Vito Corleone, are the most powerful Mafia family of New York. The Don is highly revered, but his unshakeable code of conduct annoys many people. So when the Don turns down a drug smuggler Sollozzo’s offer of partnership, Sollozzo, with the help of another family, the Tattaglias, decides to take out the Don. This drags the Corleone family into a bloody war, and Michael Corleone, the youngest son of the Don, who had till then removed himself from the Don’s nefarious activities, must step in and get his hands bloody.

The only Mario Puzo book I had read before was Omerta, and while I liked it, I wasn’t ecstatic about it. But Godfather met all my expectations and more. It’s a mind-blowing story about a powerful man, and the “family” he controls. I fell in love with Puzo’s complex plotting and his ability to sketch this huge canvas filled with diverse people, from mafia chiefs to movie stars, from peasants to princes. The characters are very well fleshed out, and their back stories are the most interesting parts of the book, where you see how they became what they did. This is something the movie doesn’t manage to do quite fully, and is one of the reasons why I liked the book so much. There is a lot of sexism in the book, the women are hangers-on more than anything else. I also found the writing to be a little soap-operatic, especially in the portions dealing with Michael’s exile in Sicily, but that complaint was short-lived when the story moved back to the Corleone family in New York.

What I found absolutely fantastic was the way the Don was depicted in the book. He is a cold-blooded murderer, a chillingly dangerous man, but when you read about him, you feel you’re reading about a strict but lovable uncle. He is an honourable man, one who lives by a strict moral code and values friends a lot. In the words of Michael,

My father is a businessman trying to provide for his wife and children and those friends he might need someday in a time of trouble. He doesn’t accept the rules of the society we live in because those rules would have condemned him to a life not suitable to a man like himself, a man of extraordinary force and character. What you have to understand is that he considers himself the equal of all those great men like Presidents and Prime Ministers and Supreme Court Justices and Governors of the States. He refuses to live by rules set up by others, rules which condemn him to a defeated life. But his ultimate aim is to enter that society with a certain power since society doesn’t really protect its members who do not have their own individual power. In the meantime he operates on a code of ethics he considers far superior to the legal structures of society.

Puzo doesn’t glorify the Mafia, he doesn’t gloss over the criminal aspects of the Corleone family. He presents to you both the deadly side and the family side of ceive him as. You know the Don directly or indirectly killed many people, but admire the way he dispenses justice to one and all. You respect the way he built his own life, you like his calculating mind, which is both unemotional and passionate at the same time. My favorite bit is when Puzo describes the Don’s analysis of his first criminal act. It’s cruel, but weirdly fascinating.

If he did not kill Fanucci, he would have to pay the man seven hundred dollars cold cash. Fanucci alive was not worth seven hundred dollars to him. He would not pay seven hundred dollars to keep Fanucci alive. If Fanucci needed seven hundred dollars for an operation to save his life, he would not give Fanucci seven hundred dollars for the surgeon. He owed Fanucci no personal debt of gratitude, they were not blood relatives, he did not love Fanucci. Why, then, should he give Fanucci seven hundred dollars?
And it followed inevitably, that since Fanucci wished to take seven hundred dollars from him by force, why should he not kill Fanucci? Surely the world could do without such a person.

But the greatest revelation was Michael Corleone. His transition from the soft-spoken war veteran to the equally soft-spoken Mafia chief was a brilliant one. His tactical brilliance at ending the war and restoring the Corleones their position was an awesome one. The ending was smashing, as multiple storylines collided together, all the different threads were wound up so well. Al Pacino’s face kept floating into my head at every step, and I realized, as I read the book, what a great job he’d done.

Godfather is a classic, a novel I believe everybody must read once in their lives. Have you read it? Do you agree with me?

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