VIRGIN GINGELLY by V.Sanjay Kumar

It’s not always an easy task, writing book reviews.

Someone has dreamed and sat down and written.

A publisher has accepted the finished manuscript and published the book (and what a lovely looking book this is.  Great cover.)

And so I hesitate to be churlish.

But “Virgin Gingelly”, Mr. Kumar’s second book, was a baffling and unsatisfactory read.  I truly am loathe to sound too harsh, but between unnecessary over-use of the F word and unexplained Tamil vocabulary (at least I imagine it was Tamil) I was often adrift.

The cover told me, and I quote, “a bunch of misfits perform a strange kutcheri”  and then goes on to list those misfits.  If I hadn’t read the cover, much of the time I would have understood even less than I did.

And, by the way, shouldn’t it be ” a bunch of misfits performs”…

To put this confusion in context : I live in India and I speak Hindi.  But not Tamil.  So if a so-called “insider” like myself is baffled, I suspect that were a non-Indian reader, unfamiliar with the country/language to read this book, he/she would be stumped.

Use of different languages in a novel is nothing new, and when well integrated it can often enrich the reading experience, adding a true, authentic “local colour” feeling.  For example, I have recently finished the 7th of the Chief Inspector Chen series by Qiu Xiaolong.  Mr. Qiu uses Chinese terms, refers to food by its Chinese name, uses Chinese street names, but always manages to explain what he has just said, so that the narrative flows and you are not excluded from the novel.

No-one necessarily expects a glossary (though in this case it would have helped enormously) because, like Mr. Qiu, there are subtle ways of explaining the use of a word in another language.  No such help in this book, which is what made it so baffling to a non Tamil speaker and – ultimately – made me feel excluded from the story, and inevitably less involved.

Let me give you an example.

I have no idea what the extract below is telling me.  No idea at all.

 

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Nor here :

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Since food and rituals are such an evocative part of a culture, it seems a wasted opportunity on the part of Mr. Kumar, not to engage his readers more…

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The same goes for this, below :

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Mr. Kumar favours short sentences :

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Sometimes his descriptions are spot on :

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The sentence below is a little gem.  In one sparse sentence, we know exactly what Mr. Murty is like.  Perfect writing.

 

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But more often than not, I was left baffled by the over use of the F word.  Sometimes profanity is justified.  And other times it isn’t :

 

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I thought that first paragraph (above) was doing quite nicely, just as I thought the description of the mother (below) was well written and lyrical.  And then came the F word…I’m not a prude, far from it, I just found the profanity jarring and mostly unnecessary.  I’m not convinced shock value is an acceptable substitute for good prose.

 

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Ultimately, I found “Virgin Gingelly” an alienating, unsatisfactory read.  And I never did figure out what the title of the book meant.

 

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Published in 2014 by Hachette, the (lovely looking ) hardback costs Rs 499

 
But hey! Don’t take my word for it.

Please.

Read this book, Mr. Kumar’s second, and judge for yourself.

CAPITAL by Rana Dasgupta

There are, just now and then, books that are so wonderful, so well-written, so utterly, totally readable that you revel in them and dread their ending.

I have just finished reading one such a book, the beautifully written “Capital” by Rana Dasgupta.

“Capital” tells the story of 21st century Delhi, which happens (now) to be my hometown, my forever home. But this is a book that will resonate with anyone interested in the psychology of a city, presented and told in a chatty, non-judgemental, almost picaresque fashion.

Mr. Dasgupta moved to Delhi with the millennium and has seen the city change hugely over the intervening years, both literally and metaphorically. (I moved here permanently in late 2005 and have lived through immense changes, not all of them positive).
But back to “Capital”.

Mr Dasgupta takes to the streets of Delhi and as he explores he talks and, most importantly for we the readers, he listens. People talk and tell him about their lives and he shares their interactions. He doesn’t judge, he doesn’t preach, he listens.

To follow Mr. Dasgupta as he explores this city is to catch oneself saying, over and over again, “Yes, of course, that is EXACTLY what I feel/think/see/smell/hear…”

He has an unerring eye and ear for this city.

Take this vignette as he goes to meet 3 people in a hospital, who have horror stories of the unscrupulousness of the Indian medical system, where doctors push expensive tests and procedures on vulnerable, desperately worried family members :

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Contemporary Delhi summarised in a couple of paragraphs, right down to the microwaved muffins.

The author lets the city speak for itself:

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I drive past just such a front-ripped-off building in Moti Bagh every day, on my way to the park where I run and walk my dogs.  The only difference is that there are no desks and calendars left on these particular expose walls, just faded paint as the sawn off houses gaze blankly out at the Metro construction towering over them.

Mr. Dasgupta has a wonderful knack of picking up on every visual clue this city has to offer, as he tries to understand (and in the process explain) its complicated and often selfish psychology

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“Too democratic and open for their tastes…”  Indeed.  As he goes on to explain, Delhi embraces “utter unintelligibility within its own population.”

 

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As we accompany this erudite and, I suspect, eminently likeable man through his meanderings, we meet some extraordinary characters, from the hugely talented Manish Arora to mega-rich tycoons to slum dwellers to ex-drug dealers –  and these meetings are not at all clichéd, despite what that list might perhaps imply.

Each conversation is fascinating and gives us insights into so many aspects of this city –  medicare, water shortages, arranged marriages, the drug habits of the city’s rich youngsters, the callousness of the government – but all told without any hint of passing judgment, no ranting, no preaching.

If indeed Mr. Dasgupta has an agenda, it is simply to get to grips with this ever-burgeoning city, and try and explain it to us.

There are moments of pure lyricism :

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Any of you who have seen an elephant wandering the Delhi streets will know this rush of love.

I had my own elephant moment just 2 days ago.

Driving to drop my cook’s child at her 12th grade exams at a centre too far away for her to go on her own, I saw arrogant Delhi at its worst.  Cars blocking the access road to the exam centre, drivers staring unseeingly ahead refusing to move to let other cars through, cars slewed everywhere on the broken down pavements, rubbish, mud –  the whole unlovely selfish Delhi cityscape.  I dropped the child, wished her luck and cursed (and, yes, honked) my way back through the horrific traffic.

And then I saw an elephant calmly eating whatever little municipal vegetation survives in mall-infested south Delhi.  And my anger went.  I stopped the car (yes, yes, parking properly) and went to talk to the mahout and took photos of the lovely creature who came and snuffled me with her trunk.  I patted Aarti and drove off feeling Delhi wasn’t perhaps that bad after all.

So, yes, I share the author’s rush of love for the ellies lumbering through our streets.

 

The author rarely shows his irritation, but loud-voiced Aarti in the hospital café manages to get to him.

And then a page later, he made me cry, when he lets her tell her own story of losing her husband:

 

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“She is so Delhi.  It drives me crazy.”

This could be the hashtag for this wonderful fabulously well-written, fabulously readable book.

Do yourself a favour.  Buy it and read it, whether you know Delhi or not, whether you love Delhi or hate it.
This is a book I cannot praise highly enough.

 

And in a “so Delhi” touch, you can, of course, order the book right here, through me…

 

 

Published in 2014 by Fourth Estate, the hardback costs Rs 799.

FINAL CUT by Uday Gupt

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I was sent this recently published collection of short stories and a novella to review by www.marketmybook.in, and though I have taken a while to review it – to my shame – it was nothing to do with quality of the writing, rather my own too-busy-to-find-enough-time-to-read life.

Mr. Gupt is a skilled and accomplished writer, and his stories cover many different areas of life with equal ease – colonial history, the Naxalite movement, business tycoons – and I enjoyed them all.

There is, however, one big drawback to a good short story.

And that is its very shortness.

Caught up in the adventure of the opening story in the collection, “Hodson’s Gold”, I was taken aback to turn the page to find it had finished, leaving me with an admittedly good, clever puzzling ending, but actually wanting more…

Also, this story –  because of its historical markers –  made me want to learn more about Major WSR Hodson, whom I knew only as a controversial 19th century figure, and founder of Hodson’s Horse.  Now, however, I want to know whether he also…ah, but I musn’t spoil the surprise for you.

It’s a great read.

This colonial/history-based story segues into another tale from a completely different world, that of West Bengal and the early days of the Naxalite movement.  This story, “Friends” has such a clever ending that I can’t tell you any more, or I would spoil it…it certainly tool me by total surprise.

Yet another really clever ending (that I also absolutely didn’t see coming) was in the interesting “Will Reena?”

Mr. Gupt is super skilled at pulling a surprise out of the bag in the closing sentences of his stories, making you think “Now why in earth didn’t I see THAT coming…”

Great collection, and I look forward to reading more of this talented writer in the future.

 

The physical book looks good, especially the cover, which I like very much indeed.

But Mr. Gupt has been poorly served by his editors.

There are far too many sloppy typos that simply shouldn’t be there, such as inconsistent spacing/use of hyphens, all of which are (I instinctively feel) not the writer’s error.

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If you use foreign words  – Get Them Right.  Please.

It is NOT nom-de-gurre.

Nor is it a la carté.

If you don’t know, ask that clever Mr. Google.

Such silly carelessness spoils what is otherwise a good read.

But don’t let that put you off reading “Final Cut”, please, and if you wish to buy the book, nothing could be easier.  Just click on the link below :

Published in 2013 by Frog Books, the paperback costs Rs 195/$10

Recommended.

The Sea of Innocence by Kishwar Desai

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I first discovered the talented author Kishwar Desai and her eminently likeable heroine Simran Singh, in “Witness the Night” which I reviewed in 2011.  So I was thrilled to be sent a copy of Ms Desai’s latest novel “The Sea of Innocence” and asked to review it.

Simran Singh really is an engaging heroine and in this bang up to date novel – it takes place over New Year 2012/2013 with the horrors of the Dec 16th Delhi gang-rape case as a leitmotiv – we meet our feisty, middle-aged, smoking, drinking, slightly overweight heroine as she holidays in Goa.

Now, I haven’t been to Goa in aeons –  well, in about 22 years – so that means that it will have changed out of all recognition.  20 years in post liberal-economy India usually means a major change and –  dare I say it –  not always for the better.  So the Goa I knew –  sleepy, very few tourists, one restaurant worth its salt, 2 good hotels –  is, I know, hopelessly out of date.

Simran goes through the same experience :

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I fully empathise.

But, my word, the Goa of “The Sea of Innocence” is an edgy, not very nice place at all.  Beneath the holiday veneer of beach shacks and playing on the beach, of swimming and buying sarongs, there is a seething underworld of drugs, sex, gambling and worse.  Ms Desai brings this parallel world out of the shadows and into the limelight with devastating force.

Simran and her adopted daughter are in Goa for their Christmas and New Year break, with a brief to relax, unwind and spend some quality time together, but events soon overtake them.  Simran, in her role of social worker (and pretty smart investigator) becomes embroiled in a murder case that leads her deeper and deeper into the murky underbelly of Goa.

Ms Desai is an accomplished writer and the story grabs you by the throat from the very first sentence, and  the pace and suspense never let up until the closing paragraph.  Obviously I am not going to be a spoil sport and reveal too much of the plot and certainly not the ending, but there were twists and turns that caught me unawares right until the final pages, making this an addictive read.

The suspected rape of a young British girl – not Scarlett Keeling, though this poor child is referred to many times in the novel – takes place against the backdrop of sea and sun, whilst back in Simran (and this reviewer’s) home town, Delhi, the city explodes in cold, wintery anger at the horrors of December 16th :

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Though the topic is grim, the story has many moments of lightheartedness and the descriptions of Goa are great fun.

Ms Desai  –  through Simran –  often compares the Goa of January 2013 to the Goa that she (and I ) knew 20 odd years ago.  Compared to the hidden ruthlessness of Goa circa 2013, the Goa of ageing Western hippies like Stanley seems positively innocent.  Guitar strumming under a banyan tree and smoking joints in the forest seem benign compared to the tawdriness of offshore floating casinos.  And yet how freaky those self-same hippies seemed 20 years ago…

Stanley, who lives in an apparent drug induced haze most of the book, is shown to be more than aware of the ravages of what passes for progress in India :

 

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A good read.

Thoroughly recommended.

And, yet again, let me repeat what I said in my review of “Witness the Night” –  I do like Simran Singh very much indeed.

Published in late April 2103 by Simon & Schuster, the paperback costs Rs 350 in India.

Now, having read this review, if you would like to but the book, nothing could be simpler. Just click on any of the links below :

Shoes of the Dead by Kota Neelima

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I was sent a copy of “Shoes of the Dead” and asked to review it, and so let me start this review by saying a big thank you to blogadda.com.  Thanks to them I have just read a fabulous book, and have discovered Kota Neelima, an author who is an amazingly talented writer and story teller.

This novel is a piece of committed, erudite and yet 100% gripping writing about the contemporary political and social scene in India.  Ms Neelima explores with equal skill and dexterity the corridors of power in Delhi and the ground realities of the tragic, ongoing phenomenon in India of farmers’ suicides.

With poverty-driven suicides as the central topic of the novel, “Shoes of the Dead” is never going to be a light fluffy read.  Instead it is robust, riveting and heart-breaking at times.

(Don’t worry, I won’t spoil the plot).

You are engaged from the opening page, as you are led deeper and deeper into the web of political machinations that try to extract self-serving political benefit from the deaths of desperate men. The author clearly knows her way through the bureaucracy and the murky world of politics in India, and the quality of her writing and story telling bears this out.  What is impressive is that her descriptions of life in the rural cotton belt of Mityala district are every bit as compelling.
The narrative moves seamlessly between the manicured lawns of grave and favour Lutyens bungalows in New Delhi and, in stark contrast, the parched infertile farm land of what she terms “South Central India”

What I especially liked about Ms Neelima’s writing is that she never once reduces any of her characters to a stereotype, even though they are all there – the political Mr Fix It, the son with a sense of deep entitlement, the ruthless moneylender, the honest farmer.   In the hands of a less gifted writer, these men might have become 2 dimensional stereotypes, but in Ms Neelima’s skilful hands, they leap from the page, fully fleshed out, believable characters.

I loved the book, was deeply moved by the ending (which I absolutely didn’t see coming) and as an exposé of the manipulation of well-intentioned poverty alleviation schemes, “The Shoes of the Dead” cannot be bettered.

Ms Neelima’s writing is elegant and a pleasure to read :

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She has her finger firmly on the pulse of contemporary Delhi, sharing with her readers the incongruous sight of unbelievably expensive cars staying in low gear because of the mind-numbing traffic.  Just this last week, this reviewer saw a bright orange Lamborghini stuck in the mother of all traffic jams for such a long time that everyone (reviewer included) was hopping out of their equally immobile cars to take photos of said OTT car.

 

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The writer observes the manipulative, cynical workings of the New Delhi political machine with cool insight :

 

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And she is equally eloquent about the dashed hopes of those born into poverty :

 

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Her description of desperately poor patients waiting at a government hospital is moving in its sadness :

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Thoroughly recommended.

 

Published in 2013 by Rainlight by Rupa, the nice looking hardback is priced at Rs 495.

 

As I said earlier in this review, the ending took me by surprise, and I closed the book both sadder and wiser.  This is a well written, good read.  What are you waiting for ?

You can buy the book right now, by clicking on one of the links below :

 

This review is a part of the biggest Book Review Program for Indian Bloggers. Participate now to get free books!

THE OTHER SIDE OF THE TABLE by MADHUMITA MUKHERJEE

Disclaimer – if indeed there is a need for one: I was sent this book by the publishers, and asked to review it.

That’s it !

 

This début novel is an interesting read, which kept me involved until the end, as I read on with growing interest, keen to find out what happens, all the while hoping for a happy ending.

But…No, no, I am absolutely not going to spoil the plot for you, so worry not.

Suffice it to say that the narrative covers the years 1990-1999, and charts the friendship and relationship between a young London based NRI, Abhimanyu, known throughout as Abhi, and his Calcutta based friend Uma.

(Hey, it is written as Calcutta throughout by the author, so I am not being politically incorrect)

They are both doctors (as is the author) so there is a lot of medical speak throughout the book, and much of the story line takes place in and around hospitals.  The couple never physically meets in the book, and the whole narrative takes place via the exchange of letters.  At times, to be honest, this technique jarred, especially when you know that they had well and truly entered the email era.  Why would you write when you could email, was often my rather cynical reaction, but this issue is addressed, late in the book, when Abhi admits to preferring hand written letters to emails.

I like the book, and I am full of admiration (and not a little envy) for a first-time novelist, but there are a few very mild comments, which I hope will be taken in the right spirit.

At times, the “dialogue” seems a little stilted.  I realise these 2 young people who are writing to each other are very clever young people, but all the same, sometimes the writing does seem somewhat stiff :

 

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Or take this, when Abhi is telling Uma about a trip to Italy :

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Doesn’t ring true, in the way that other parts of the book do.

 

This extract, below, however, sounds as though it is written with genuine feeling :

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Or this moment, when her college romantic hopes are dashed :

 

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I think when the author speaks with her own voice, from the heart, she is at her best.  When she is trying to impart knowledge to we the reader, she sometimes sounds a little artificial.

I very much look forward to Ms Mukherjee’s next book, and hearing more of her perceptive and intelligent voice.  For she is without question an intelligent narrator.  I want to hear more from her.

Published in 2013 by Fingerprint, the paperback costs Rs 195.

If you wish to buy and read this book, it couldn’t be easier. Just clink on one of the links below :

 

TANTRA by ADI

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What an enormously entertaining read “Tantra” is. Haven’t had so much good old-fashioned reading fun in years.  Honestly.

I am not into fantasy fiction, nor am I into vampires, and yet this book –  which has them all in spades –  kept me hooked until the rather puzzling end…I sense a sequel.  Hurray!

Meet the Delhi you/we never knew existed.  I live here, for goodness sake, so I should know…

This is a Delhi where vampires and guardians battle for control of the city, and for the safety of its citizens.  A Delhi full of tantric and sattvic rituals, and of course, full of the more instantly recognizable Delhi types such as this specimen our heroine meets in a bar :

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Ah yes, Anu, our heroine.  Introducing Anu Aggarwal, a tough NRI professional vampire killer, who moves from New York to Delhi, to try and avenge the gruesome death of her boyfriend, Brian.

She moves in with her aunt, Nina, who provides a recognisable foil to Anu’s other life. Nina wants to marry her niece off. Anu wants to kill vampires.
The scene is set for a downright fun read.

The book is well written, crisp, and fast-paced, and there is an underlying wry humour as fantasy meets the 21st century.

Whoever knew vampires checked their email, for example:

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Like Anu, I knew nothing at all about the tantric arts  –  and I don’t think I could have properly explained sattvic, either, before reading this book – but the author wears his obvious scholarship lightly.

Anu has to learn much about the way not only the tantric world operates, but also how Delhi does :

 

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Poor filing, non-existent back office support – sounds more like a business than a vampire killing unit, but the mission is deadly serious :

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As Anu delves deeper into the occult, and begins to understand the magnitude of the evil forces she is up against,  she even learns to negotiate with her sworn enemies, vampires.  She is a trained vampire killer, but there are times when they are the lesser of 2 evils :

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There is drama, tension, religion, the occult, a love story (that is not concluded in an entirely satisfactory manner, but as I said – I sense a sequel) and there is enough blood and guts to satisfy –  well, a vampire, I suppose.

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Anu is a likeable heroine.  A super-heroine, really, able to do all kinds of amazing things and consumed with an unserving desire to do good.

I like her very much :

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Published by Apeejay Stya Publishing in 2013, the paperback costs Rs 195

 

If you want to buy the book –  and it’s a good read –  then nothing could be easier.  Just click on either of the links below :

 

This review is a part of the biggest Book Review Program for Indian Bloggers. Participate now to get free books!

 

THE HIDDEN LAND by URSULA GRAHAM BOWER

Ursula Bower, author and anthropologist (died November 1988). She lived with the Naga tribesmen and fought against the Japanese in World War II

I read this sadly out of print book a year ago, when I visited Nagaland and became fascinated with the tale of Ursula Graham Bower.  Ms Graham Bower’s “Naga Path” (that is a link to my review, obviously) covers her years in Nagaland, and “The Hidden Land” takes up the story.  Ursula is now married – only just –  and with her husband, Lt. Col Tim Betts, they set off on their new posting, to the virtually unknown, uncharted Lower Subansiri region of Arunachal Pradesh.

Now, let me stop here for a moment and give you some background information.

Ursula and Tim’s daughter, Catriona Child is a friend of mine in Delhi, and we have just returned from an amazing trip together to Arunachal, following in the steps of her parents.  A friend and passionate historian accompanied us, identifying places where Catriona’s parents lived, camped, visited – nothing short of amazing, recreating a journey of over 60 years ago.

So, having read “The Hidden Land” once and found it poignantly sad compared with “Naga Path,” I re-read the book before our trip, and no sooner had I closed the last page, on a frosty morning in the Apa Tani valley, than I turned right back to the first page and re-re-read it.

And that I have never done.  Ever.  Read a book literally back to back.

But so fascinating was it to put faces to names, and to put the exciting adventure that the Betts couple live into perspective, that it made sense to keep on reading this book which is still so fresh that it is hard to imagine that the events in it took place in a very different India.  To read about the men whose families we would meet was both moving and highly emotional.

Ms Graham Bower is still desperately in love with the tribal North East during her years in Arunachal, but their time in the Lower Subansiri district was a trying one, with feuding and sparring tribes to contend with, as well as the couple’s growing anxiety about their future in India after Independence. (I did just say that they lived in a very different India, remember).

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And so off they set, to trek into this virtually uncharted land –  the hidden land of the title – in their pragmatic, down-to-earth way.  Supplies were in desperately short supply, in those years immediately after the Second World War.  Porters were hard to find.  They had no idea if the tribes would be hostile.  And the going was physically tough, but from the very start, from the opening paragraph, you are captivated and ready to accompany Ursula and Tim on their big adventure :

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The famed Apa Tani valley, a place that captured the heart and the imagination of this intrepid couple still is beautiful, despite “progress” in the form of buildings and traffic and satellite dishes, but to the Betts’ it was literally breathtaking :

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They loved the country with a passion, and the hidden land of the title becomes hidden to them for ever, as they walk out of the Valley for the last time, unable to look back, such is their grief.

This book is a wonderful read.

If you know India and especially the north east it is compelling.

Track it down online – I have added an Amazon link below – and let yourself be swept back to a time when voyages of discovery were literally possible.

THE ACCIDENTAL APPRENTICE by VIKAS SWARUP

IMG_0458Vikas Swarup, known for his hugely popular “Q & A”, the book behind the award winning film “Slumdog Millionaire” has just published his latest novel, and even without the Slumdog hype, this was always going to be a great book.

It is always a little difficult to review a friend’s book, and Vikas is indeed a friend, but I can honestly say, hand on heart, that I absolutely loved “The Accidental Apprentice,” and gobbled it up in record time.

It is a fast-paced book, well-written, with an intriguing storyline –  how Vinay Mohan Acharya, an uber-rich Indian billionaire picks a young Delhi girl out of obscurity, and plans on making her his successor and the CEO of his company?  All Sapna Sinha, a 23 year old shop assistant, must do is pass seven tests to prove she is indeed worthy of becoming Mr. Acharya’s successor.

The book takes us on a journey with Sapna, as she negotiates this new and oftentimes frightening development in her life.  She has a wise head on her young shoulders, yet despite her misgivings about this fantastical sounding plan, she embarks on each challenge with her own brand of honesty and courage and values.

There are two extraordinary things about this book.

One is that Mr. Swarup gets inside the head and the mind and the skin of a young woman and tells her story with an accurate voice.

And the second extraordinary thing is the author’s impeccable sense of timing.

In the aftermath of a brutal gang-rape in Delhi in December 2012 and the consequent soul-searching that the country has gone through, as a nation questions its own moral views, its attitude to women and its apparent unwillingness to help out strangers, Mr. Swarup’s book is beyond timely.  We meet members of a Haryana family, coolly marrying off their daughter against her wishes to a much older man.  We meet would-be rapists.  We meet corrupt policemen.

We encounter apathy and corruption and pure evil, all of which this young woman must fight, and without being overly dramatic, one can almost see Sapna as a symbol for an emerging, socially-aware India.  The India that protested against the gang-rape, despite the water  cannons and beatings of its own government.

Judge for yourself :

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Powerful writing.

I won’t spoil your enjoyment of the book by telling you how Sapna’s quest ends.

But suffice it to say that this book is a page-turner, is so up-to-the-mark about contemporary India, especially Delhi, that is is beyond a piece of fiction.

Personally recommended.

Published in Jnauary 2013 by Simon and Schuster, the paperback costs Rs 350 in India.

If you wish to order the book right now, just click on the link below.  Couldn’t be easier.

If you would like to read about the Delhi launch of “The Accidental Apprentice” then just click on the following link. There is even a clip of the author answering some of the rapid fire 20 questions put to him by his interviewer.

THE FISHING FLEET Husband-Hunting in the Raj by Anne de Courcy

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Anne de Courcy’s book is a delightful account of that well-known colonial sport, husband-hunting in India.

Quite.

In a book that is well-written, informative, poignant and often times sad, Ms de Courcy tells us some of the stories of generations of young British women who went out to India to marry.  Or not marry, as the case may be.

During the height of British colonial rule, there were very many more (British) men than there were (British) women in India.  Generations of young men went out to India in search of adventure, of a prestigious career, and also in search of money (though that was often less of a motivator than prestige and a sense of duty, it must be said).

And generations of young women subsequently went out to India, in search of their own version of a career, i.e. a husband.

The British colonial authorities had strict rules on the age at which its servants could marry, and affairs, let alone marriage with Indian women, were severely frowned upon, and so when the ships arrived in India, with their precious cargoes of carefully chaperoned unmarried young women, there was something of a feeding frenzy.  The prize was a bride.  Or a husband, depending which way you look at it.

Through letters and diaries, and accompanied by many glorious old black and white photographs, the adventures, loves and lives of these intrepid young women are told.  They were young, ready to be romanced, and amazingly resilient. Some girls married and settled in cities, but some fell in love with planters or military men in far-flung corners of the country, so off they went to live lives off isolation, adventure and – seen from our cosseted perspective – often downright hardship.

Most of these fishing fleet girls loved their husbands, their lives and loved India.  The biggest sadness in their lives usually centred around their children.  In the early days, babies died so tragically easily, in the unhealthy climate, and lacking as they did medical facilities in the “mofussil” or countryside.

Those children who survived spent their early years cossetted and pampered, until that dreadful day when they were shipped back Home to school.  These are the saddest moments of this lovely book.  Little children are torn from their parents and the sunny, colourful, cherishing country of their birth to be sent away for years to a cold, grey, unfamiliar place called Home.  Except that home is India.

Of course, many children of the fishing fleet couldn’t wait for their miserable English school days to be over, so they could head straight back Home, and thus the long love story with India continued.

A happy, upbeat read, which certainly made this Indian resident slightly ashamed of herself for her occasional moans about Delhi power cuts or poor internet connections.  Most un-fishing-fleet-y.

Recommended.

Published in 2012 by Hachette, the hardback costs Rs 750

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