A selection of books I've been reading...
"Caribbean" by James Michener - I've said it many times before, I'll say it again. Michener is a genius. And this book is another example. The amount of research that goes into each novel is mindboggling. And he writes about each subject with so much love and involvement, that he takes the reader with him. He creates very believable characters, and you get so embroiled in their lives that when the chapter gets over, you are upset, until you start the next chapter with completely different characters who are so fabulous that you forget the previous ones. But not quite. For their descendants make an appearance in successive chapters - changing, being involved in real history, and interacting with real historical characters, such that the lines between fact and fiction get blurred. At the end of each novel, he makes you love the place, the people, the culture, and you know the entire history of the place, and what makes it what it is.
"Raga'n Josh" by Sheila Dhar - This is a combination of two of her books - "Here's someone I'd like you to meet." and "The Cooking of music and other essays." Sheila Dhar was a Hindustani classical vocalist. She had the good fortune to know many of India's legendary musicians personally, and she is brimming with anecdotes about them. She also happened to have the gift of writing - and the result is this wonderful book. If you like music and writing, you've got to read this. Even if you are not much of a music enthusiast, the stories are such that it can be enjoyed by anybody. There are also some essays on music - and I've got to say this - I've never read a more elegant depiction of what music is, what raagas mean, what is special about classical music. Her writing is a work of art. Apart from all these are extremely interesting stories about life as the wife of a man who was in the Prime-minister's advisory committee. I came away from this book full of awe for Sheila Dhar. If she'd still been alive, I would've travelled the length of India to meet her.
"Good Night and God Bless" by Anita Nair - I happened to mention to a writer friend that Anita Nair is one person I can say this about - she has read me, but I haven't read her! (Refering to her being a judge in a competition where I won a prize) My friend, who is an admirer of Anita Nair, decided to set it right, and sent her copy of this book to me, from Mumbai, by courier.
I loved it. It is sharp, witty, and pithy. Her observations are remarkable. A book that can be a constant companion - you can pick it up anytime and start reading it from anywhere.
"Ladies Coupe" by Anita Nair - Of course, I had to follow it up with this book. It was great. So many women - such different stories, yet so similar. Somewhere in it was my own story, in a very strange way. And I'm certain every Indian woman will find something to take away from it. One phrase in it struck me and has kind of gripped me. "I was tired of living life from the sidelines." (paraphrasing). I am, too.
"In other rooms, other wonders" by Daniyal Mueenuddin - The same writer friend recommended this to me, and also sent me one of his stories from the New Yorker. I then read this book. Though set in Pakistan, the situations, social conditions, and mentality is very similar to that in India, and I enjoyed them. The best part of his writing is the economy of words. He says so much with so little, it is incredible.
"Nectar in a Sieve" by Kamala Markandaya - I picked this up because of many recommendations. Excuse me, how is it I'd never heard of the author or this book? She published this in 1954, when she was 30 (I groan, I blush and hide in a cave.) What a book! Usually stories about the everyday struggles of poor farming people depress me, and my general mood is not too conducive to reading this. But this one was worth it. It was sad, but it was also a story of eternal hope and the will to survive. And it is so beautifully told, that it took my breath away. She was a real pioneer, she was.
"A girl and a river" by Usha KR - Actually, this author was another of the judges in that competition, and I hadn't read her either. I'd met her at the award ceremony, though, and I remember writing about her - her quiet elegance blew me away. Anyway. The title of this book is deceptive - I had assumed it was one of those sad stories about someone's struggles, and like I said above, I wasn't too keen on reading it in one of my dark moods. But I picked it up on a whim - and wow - it is fabulous. The story itself, its pace, its minute detailing, the suspense, the characterization - are all brilliant. What made it special for me was that it was like one of my aunts or grandmother telling me a true story - it is set in a small village in Karnataka - and all the day to day details of their lives, the food, the customs - are all intimately familiar to me. That made it very real. Great language, very natural flow, likeable characters and a gripping storyline. I'm looking forward to reading more of her.
"Andamans Boy" by Zai Whitaker - A young adult book. And I am so annoyed to see that the book and its author are not more well-known. Stories like this are what makes my heart soar with pleasure. It is written with love, sensitivity, and loads of humour. Full of adventure, brimming with information - Zai takes us to a completely different world. I've always been lukewarm about the Andamans, but Zai Whitaker has single-handedly put it on my wishlist. A wonderful book for young people. And for old people.
"The Riddle of the Seventh Stone" by Monideepa Sahu - A very enjoyable children's book - an interesting story, unforgettable and likeable characters in a very familiar setting - the streets and bylanes of good old Bangalore, including Vidhana Soudha and Avenue Road. Very imaginative, laugh-out-loud funny at times. Another book that can make a great gift for a young person. [Since writing this, I've spoken to the author on the phone, and she is one of those people who have the ability to make you laugh both with the written word, and the spoken.]
Collected poems of Rabindranath Tagore - My father casually told me that sometimes it's good to read a book outside one's comfort zone. I liked the idea, and combed the book cupboard at my parents' place for something like that - I was actually looking for some very different non-fiction, but I chanced upon this big book that somebody gifted my sister, and I thought, why not. I don't usually read poetry, claiming that I'm too prosaic, so I thought I'd give it a try, and it was good that it was Tagore. It was in line with my latest passion for Indian writing. It took me a while to warm up, but warm up I did. Some poetry still didn't make much sense to me, but others did. And it was really food for the soul. Made me stop, think and sometimes shed a tear out of pure emotion. I never knew I could enjoy poetry. Now that opens up an entire new world, the door to which I'd conveniently closed!
"On Writing" by Stephen King - If you are a writer of any kind, at any level, you MUST read this book. Enough said.
"Eat Pray Love" by Elizabeth Gilbert - engaging, lively, chatty and outrageous. I love the way she describes food - it had me drooling. I'd like to watch the movie now.
"Namma Maragalu" (Our trees) by H.R.Krishnamurthy - I am often ashamed at the lack of knowledge I have of trees around me. Except for the usual suspects - coconut, mango, tamarind, gulmohar, peepal, banyan, neem, eucalyptus, jackfruit and such, I can hardly recognize any. Every day we go to the park, Puttachi and me, and stroll under the beautiful trees - and I don't even know what kind most of them are. I seek to set it right with this book. I'm making good progress.
"A journey down Melody Lane" by Raju Bharatan - a history of Hindi film songs through the decades, and the unbelievable stories behind them - as seen first hand. Very interesting. The man is a walking-talking encyclopaedia of film music. If you are an old Hindi film music fan, I'm sure you'll enjoy this. But the author could do with some lessons in sentence construction. This is not an easy book to read.