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Category Archives: Disappointing

Escape – Manjula Padmanabhan

Two budding flowers and few drops of blood, the cover says it all. It took me a while to make the connection. Deep, I must add.

Actually the only new IWE book the Bangalore Airport had was this one. Only later did I hear that most critics had trashed this one anescape-manjula-padmanabhand not without some reason.

Escape is the story of teenager Meiji who is the only surviving female in a country that has wiped out the fairer sex. The land is ruled by a general and marshalled by his marauding Boyz.  Meiji has been kept hidden in an estate and reared by her three Uncles – Uncle Zero, Uncle One and Uncle Two. When keeping her hidden further gets tougher by the day, the Uncles decide to move her to freedom. Uncle Two, the youngest is entrusted with the task of taking her to her freedom. The entire plot is built around this journey. Fairly decent plot at that, has several layers of symbolic meaning – Meiji’s the journey to womanhood and maturity, Youngest’s struggle with his carnal feelings and propreity, etc.

The characterisation is decent too. Meiji, as the confused girl suddenly having to accept bitter truths while at the same time handling her bodily and emotional changes is the pivot. In her mood swings, a petulant child one minute and a high strung woman the next, Manjula has made this character authentitic and realistic. Youngest plays his role well too, the older uncles dont occupy too much of stage time. The narrative tends to drag sometimes. I must point out a totally superflous tactic she has used – the story is interspersed with parts of an interview with the General. It has absoluetly no connection with the story and could have been left out, she may have had a tighter story. The end is a let down after all the build up.

So what is the problem, you ask? The setting dear Watson, the setting. Manjula has taken a potential winner story and messed it up with the setting. My view is that Indian Writers appear uncomfortable with the Sci Fi genre and they should stay away. She has over-reached and tried to be creative but is found wanting. There are several instances where she appears confused about her view on a futuristic world and her attempts to keep it real. For example at several times during the journey, the duo have nutrition or food pills and the next meal they have to heat and eat paratas. Youngest wears high tech clothes and at home wears kurtas. There are several such instances. This plot would have worked better in any other setting, it could have been an Arabic country in contemporary times  and it would have still worked.

A big let down.

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Posted by on May 21, 2009 in Disappointing

 

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The Lost Flamingoes of Bombay – Siddharth Dhanvant Shanghvi

If the ‘Last Song of Dusk’ was bizarre, this one is bizarre too; less but bizarre all the same. Siddarth hid behind the facade of magic realism in his last book, this one however exposes him. ‘The Lost Flamingoes of  Bombay’ is disappointing and does not stand up to all the hype created by the spin doctors. Even the 11th hour attempt to rake up a controversy on  TV about characters resembling real ones will not resurrect this one.  

The book is the story of Karan Seth, an ace photographer who moves to Bombay to work for The India Chronicle. His pet project to capture the dying old world charm of Bombay sets him on a journey of discovery – of self, of others, of the strength and frailities of realtionships, of the deep rooted corruption in the Indian polity. During his assignment for the Chronicle he meets and befriends Samar, a failing celebrity pianist;  Zaira, a successful yet lonely Bollywood star and Rhea Dalal, a wealthy and free spirited artist. Coming from the small town of Shimla, Karan is lost in the morass that is Bombay. His friendship with Samar and Zaira is tested at several points and matures into strong bonds that lasts through the book. However, it is his relationship with Rhea that takes him to the peaks and troughs of success and love. Zaira’s murder and the trial puts her friends and acquaintances through severe strain. Frustrated over the outcome, each of them go their separate ways in search of love, respite and escape. Samar follows his lover Leo to the US, Rhea rekindles her marriage and Karan moves to London in search of work.

Siddharth has used real life incidents and people throughout the book but has given them different hues for obvious reasons – Samar the child prodigy pianist is strongly remniscent of a music composer who is regularly in the news these days, Malik Prasad is a mixture of traits drawn from several progeny of politicians, Rocky Khan is an obvious caricature of one of the Bollywood stars who tears of his vest at the drop of a hat and the list goes on. Real incidents like the murder and trial of Zaira is taken straight off the Jessica Lal case, Rocky running his car over pavement dwellers, the Hindu Political Party driving out north Indians from Bombay give the book some sense of realism.

The narrative does maintain some sense of suspense and tautness till the trial and then it falls apart, almost like the author was unsure of how to end it. It is hurried and boring towards the end, one just wants it to end eitherway. His use of language is weird and at times his attempts at humour is way off the mark. Sample these – Her voice was wobbly with emotion like a hippo on stilletos. Or – She thought Inspector Rajan had the slightly glandular, fatigued air of someone who masturbated for a living and moonlighted as a policeman

The corniest piece of symbolism that I have read in a long time  is this one where Claire, Karan’s English lover, is getting intimate with him in her parent’s house – Outside, Mr. Soames was cleaning the head of his rifle with a square of cream muslin. 

If Meenakshi tried to shock readers with promiscuity in her book, Siddharth has tried to be bold his dealing of homosexual love between Samar and Leo but is restrained when it comes to intimate scenes as opposed to the intimacy between Karan and Rhea and Karan and Claire. Still squeamish and not brave enough to take on our moral police, eh Siddharth?

My advice? You can safely let ‘The Lost Flamingoes of  Bombay’ stay that way, and you wont have missed much.

 
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Posted by on March 8, 2009 in Disappointing

 

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In The Country of Deceit – Shashi Deshpande

I was wading through Lament of Mohini by Shreekumar Varma and feeling any book would be a reprieve when I started on ‘In The Country of Deceit’. I have to admit that it started off well and then it just tapered off especially towards the end as though the author also lost interest and just was not sure how to end the story. While Varma tries too hard to impress with a convoluted plot marred by stilted language, Deshpande skims across barely scratching the surface. 

Devyani is a young unmarried woman living alone in a small town in Karnataka called Rajnur. She is just recovering from the loss of her mother and starting life anew, symbolised by the demolition of her ancestral home and the building of a modern house. And with the modern house Devyani sheds her conservative outlook on life and her inhibitions. And this alteration comes with the arrival of Rani, a retired actress and Ashok, a police officer into Devyani’s life. Devyani has a brush with the filmdom given Rani’s persistence as Rani makes a last ditch effort to court the camera. Devyani  walks on the wildside with her relationship with Ashok and that is the pivot of the story. The novel peters out to a predictable end without much fuss.

In terms of characters, as is expected Devyani is the only well developed character. She is generous, long-suffering and patient with all the calamities thrown her way. Above all she is honest, honest to her own self. At times she is sickeningly subservient and lets herself be led. The other characters are bit shadows, Ashok included. There was so much potential to fill out his character which Deshpande has missed out on. There is this one instance where Ashok assaults a young man who drives carelessly in front of Ashok’s car and one saw a glimpse of the dark side of this man. Sadly he remains unidimensional and indistinct. Another event that held the potential for a gripping plot was the accosting of young Devyani and her friends by a man on their way home from school. It showed glimpses of terror, guilt and self preservation. Again Deshpande glosses over that as well as part of a conversation.  

Savi, the sister Sindhu, the aunt are all weak and listless. Rani who plays the alter ego is also tepid. Again here is another wasted character when the author could have delved deeper into why she did the things she did.The author tries to draw Rajnur on the lines of another Malgudi, again another let down.

The narrative is in first person and from Devyani’s perspective. Deshpande uses letters from various people to Devyani to probably fill out the other characters and their perspectives. However, this falls flat as the content of the letters is stilted and definitely not realistic. Simply put they are more like conversations than missives. There is no discernable difference between the regular narrative and the letters in language or tone. The lines exchanged in those intimate scenes between Devyani and Ashok are cheesy and repetitive. 

The jacket say the book is a subtle, many-layered exploration of the consequences of betrayal on people’s lives and relationships. There is nothing subtle, there are not many layers and as for exploration it is like taking a straw to drink from a river.   

‘In The Country of Deceit’ is an example of missed opportunities and unrealised potential.

 
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Posted by on October 18, 2008 in Disappointing

 

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You Are Here – Meenakshi Reddy Madhavan

She was on ‘We the People’ a while ago, awkwardly warding questions about how much of her blog is fact and how much was fiction. Meenakshi also talked about how the popularity of her blog resulted in her being approached by publishers to write a book. Ever since I was intrigued about her book and was looking out for the launch. I am not sure if it did justice to the hype. I remember a similar book I read long ago which was similarly hyped up – Babyji by Abha Dawesar. It was so lame and superficial that one felt cheated. Meenakshi’s book is definitely vastly superior to that. 

The novel is about Arshi, a twenty five year old working in a PR agency in Delhi. A broken family, a dragon lady as a boss, a boyfriend who blows hot or cold based on unexplainable factors, a room-mate who is unsure of her dreams are the people Arshi deals with. The narrative is stream of consciousness and is used pretty well. It is also slice of life and deals with a particular phase in Arshi’s life – her break up with her cheating boyfriend, her total frustration with her job and her coming to grips with her new beau’s boorish behaviour. And therefore there is no real development of character or plot. The plot, if there is one. is simplistic and does not have any real meat. However, Meenakshi uses humour pretty well, and several passages will have you smiling. Her use of language is pretty good.

But when you have turned over the acknowledgements page and you sit for a while and think about the book, there’s nothing that really stands out, except probably that Arshi has so many lovers cum dates cum buddies that you lose track of their names. And if this is any reflection of life in our metros, well thank god for condoms, else we would need to colonise a planet pretty soon.

 
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Posted by on September 4, 2008 in Disappointing

 

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The Small House – Timeri N Murari

Timeri N Murari is a name that you will see tucked away among the likes of Rohinton Mistry, Anita Desai, Anita Nair, etc in the Indian Fiction section of libraries and book shops. I had never tried reading Murari before and if this book is any reflection of his skill I won’t be reading anymore.

The novel is based on the concept of ‘chinnaveedu’ (made famous by Maniratnam in Agni Natchathiram and Bhagyaraj in Chinnaveedu), a social norm that has an unspoken acceptance in Tamil Nadu. It is the tradition of bigamy where a man has two houses, one to house his mistress which is the chinnaveedu or literally the small house. Politicians and thespians in Tamil Nadu indulge in this even to this day. ‘The Small House’ is the story of Roopmati a modern day princess from a derelict lineage, who is a Professor in History. Her failing marriage sees her business tycoon husband Khris finding solace in the scheming TV journalist Maya. There is a parallel plot of her friend Tazneem who is also battling a similar crisis, except that her husband Hari finds comfort in Sanjay, a famous film actor. There is also the convoluted story of Roopmati’s long-lost brother Tommy. In the background there is the legend of Rupmati, the shepherdess who charmed Sultan Baz Bahadur. She is Roopmati’s friend, confidante and companion in her sleeping hours.

This novel is feeble in its appeal at best. Murari could have done so much with the theme of chinnaveedu, the interplay of characters and emotions is totally lacking. He just does not make use of it to make the narrative stronger. The plot is very weak and so are the characters. Rupmati’s story served no purpose as well. This again could have been used to the author’s advantage. And Tommy the brother, played no real part and one wouldn’t have missed him even if he lay dead in the sea. And the denoument is so farcical like a Bollywood movie where all the characters come together and there is the resolution except that the cops make their appearance one scene too early. And even in the resolution there are so many loose ends – we are left wondering what happens to Maya, Tazneem and Hari. Murari could have done better even with his choice of words. He does take a bold step with the intimate scenes but even there his choice of words is quite jarring and seems contrived.

I don’t know if I will take a risk with Murari’s more accomplished works. It may take a while for me to forget the disappointment with this one.

 
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Posted by on August 13, 2008 in Disappointing

 

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A Journey Out Of India – Anna K Chacko

I am thoroughly confused about this book, I searched the book for clues, I trawled the Internet and yet I am not sure – some say this book is a memoir, some say fictionalised autobiography and some others say it is a novel. And what exactly is a fictionalised autobiography? It can only be one of the two – fiction or autobiography. I don’t know if it is deliberate, but the author also does not clarify anywhere. And why am I caught up with on that one point? Because any review will revolve around that critical aspect. If it is an autobiography, I would say it is a very brave attempt. If its fiction then it is lacking on several fronts.

‘A Journey Out of India’ is the story of Anna, a Syrian Orthodox Christian growing up in Hyderabad. Born into an affluent family, she is living under illusions of external grandeur and contentment. Underneath the exterior of domestic harmony, Anna is battling feelings of inadequacy, neglect and abuse. Her father is disappointed that his first born is a girl child and that actually starts the downward spiral of the family’s fortunes. Adding to this misery is the fact that Anna is born with a congenital problem. There is a simmering conflict between her parents and she finds love and care in Lakshmi her maid. She is abused by her uncle and molested by a family friend and therefore grows up confused about her own sexuality. A failed marriage, familial betrayal and exodus from India are offset by her success as a doctor in Hawai. Her ally till the end is her sister Rachel. Together with her mother and sister she finds freedom and contentment.      

While Anna is an amusing character, she exhibits shades of grey. On the one hand she is independent, perceptive and intelligent but there are times when she prefers to be led and has no clarity or purpose. Rachel is a much more firm character. The mother scores no points for tenderness or concern barring a few instances. One cannot ignore the strains of Lear in the father, more sinned against than sinning. The men obviously take the brunt in terms of characterisation, with the exception of her father the others including Uncle Joey, her husband James are amorous and devious. (One can’t fathom how one man can abuse three women in the same family despite being so close knit, especially since Anna and Rachel share practically everything). What makes the characterisation realistic is that all of them are flawed – her aunt Anna (her role model), her upright uncle Matthew, her mother, her father even Lakshmi.

The setting is in old nawabi Hyderabad, where religion has not yet divided the people, where there is harmony. Anna uses plants and flowers like Chitra Divakaruni does with spices in ‘Mistress of Spices’ to give clues of how the plot will unfold. It is a little hard to understand how plants can govern human destiny. The author seems much more well versed in Urdu than with Malayalam and she has made errors in her translations of malayalam words and phrases. Aban she says is malayalam for brother when it is malay. One glaring instance is when she writes ‘kurielaison’, as ‘kyrielaison’ and says it is Aramaic while it is actually Syriac for ‘Lord have mercy upon us’ (atleast that is what I believe). There are several typos and errors in the book that the editing team has missed – leaves a bad taste.

Give it a miss and you won’t have missed much.

 
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Posted by on August 6, 2008 in Disappointing

 

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Under The Rain Tree – Vatsala Balachandran Warrier

I should have judged the book by its cover this time. Sometimes my quest for checking out unheralded authors backfires, and how. This is another book that I regret having bought, not for the cost but the anticipation and effort. After having read short story collections by Kunal Basu, Shinie Antony, Vassanji and Rohinton Mistry, may be I set my expectations too high. This book was thoroughly disappointing to say the least.

So what’s wrong with the book? Everything. Published from Cedar Books, ‘an imprint of Pustak Mahal’, the very appearance of the book is juvenile. They have a caricature of a tree with an umbrella and drops of rain drawn like students draw short lines to indicate water. Methinks they re-used the cover of a pre-school coloring book minus the see saw, the merry-go-round and the smiling children with pigtails and colored cheeks. They should have had a statutory warning ‘Not for Children Above 13’. The stories are like those short stories in Women’s Era.

Coming to the content the stories are superficial and hollow. Some of them have plots that are strongly remniscent of some mallu movies – like Time and Tide, Mist in the Mountain, A Rainbow in my Heart. The plots are predictable and uninteresting. But for one story, ‘The Champion’, the author does not let the reader draw his own conclusions nor does it tickle your imagination. After all the beauty of short stories is to be crisp and let the reader draw up the story line in his own head. Here everything is staring in your face and is disappointing.  The editing could have been tighter, there are errors in punctuations, there are avoidable repetitions. The language and the descriptions are laboured and quite tedious.

Buy and read at your own risk.

 
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Posted by on July 11, 2008 in Disappointing, Short Stories

 

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