DVARCA by Madhav Mathur

When and where you read a book should not be an influencing factor in your appreciation of it.  Or should it?

Reading Madhav Mathur’s intriguing novel “Dvarca” in India (where I live), during the worst days of demonetisation, when millions of people found themselves with no access to their own cash, added a definite piquancy, I have to admit.  India in late 2016 – now very early 2017 – is a far cry from the Dvarca of the 22nd century, but I couldn’t help finding disturbing parallels as I read.  Growing intolerance of what are dubbed “minority” religions here (read Islam), the brazen way Hindu-fundamentalist trolls harass people on line, and, of course, the wholesale buying into the demonetisation move, with dissenters being labelled anti-national…again, I repeat, we are, thank goodness, far far away from 22nd century Dvarca.  But it makes you think.

And it’s a chilling thought.

Madhav Mathur’s Dvarca is a world where the (Hindu) state controls every aspects of one’s life, projecting images – literally – of a supposedly ideal world into your head, and monitoring every aspect of your life, from your moment of birth to your place in society. The state is all-seeing, and projects itself as all-knowing and all-caring, and the citizens of Dvarca are expected to follow the dictates of society without any questions.

The parallels with “1984” are telling, but even more frightening, for this is a world where love has been eradicated, where sexual contact is prohibited, and where women are impregnated by the state, at a time of the state’s choosing, with a baby designed for and by the state.  The scene when Jyoti is made pregnant is terrifying – little more than state ordered rape.

I found the book disturbing and thought-provoking, and every time I said “No, don’t be silly, this is just fiction…” I’d remember the millions of people getting up in the winter dark to stand in serpentine queues to try and get access to their own money, and then I’d be even more disturbed.

Initially, as a non-Indian – and a non-Hindu – some of the more Sanskrit-based words and religious concepts were a bit of a barrier, but with time, they became more familiar.

A good, interesting, thought-provoking read – especially in these disturbing times we live in.

Published by Fingerprint! and if you would like to read this book, just click on the link below.

Inspector Singh Investigates : A Bali Conspiracy Most Foul by Shamini Flint

No sooner had I finished the first Inspector Singh novel, than I started on the second – and books 3-6 are already stacked up and waiting on my Kindle – so addicted have I become to these murder mysteries set in SE Asia, and starring the wonderful overweight, chain-smoking, wheezy, unconventional Inspector Singh of the Singapore Police.

The second chapter of Inspector Singh’s adventures opens in Bali, an island devastated by the Bali bombings, nearly empty of tourists, and where the maverick Inspector has been sent to help the Indonesian authorities, despite the fact that he knows nothing about counter-terrorism.  He has pointed this fact out to his bosses, but they seem delighted to be rid of him for a while.

For his (presumed) sins, Singh has a partner, the larger than life, overweight, informal Bronwyn Taylor, of the Australian Federal Police.

Both of them have been despatched by their relative countries to help with security and counter-terrorism measures after the bombings, and since Singh knows his bosses back in Singapore are looking for any excuse to turf out such an unconventional, un-Singaporean, copper he has to get on with Bronwyn.  Which he doesn’t find easy.

She is flippant, and way too informal for Inspector Singh :

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He fumes silently to himself:

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And then the tables turn a little when they discover that amongst the heart-rending remains of badly burned and shattered bodies there is one fragment –  for that is all that remains – with a bullet hole through the skull.

And these 2 unlikely partners launch a murder investigation in the middle of a massive terrorism situation.  Only now Sigh has the upper professional hand, since he knows a whole lot about murder (and nothing about counter-terrorism) whereas the affable Bronwyn is a complete rookie in murder investigations –  but takes to it with great enthusiasm and a cheerful willingness to do Singh’s often ill-tempered bidding.

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He, of course, being the kind man he is, behind his gruff exterior, warms to her, for (like him) she is in the professional doghouse :

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Ms Flint writes with great skill, weaving her exciting whodunnit against the background of a country traumatised by the violent bombings, by the religious divide, by the sudden exit of the tourists who are the backbone of the Balinese economy.

Ms Flint writes, without ever flinching, about the un-PC fact of life that the Muslim immigrants into Bali are deeply resented by the easy-going Hindu locals:

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The Muslims immigrants from Sulawesi are equally contemptuous of the Balinese Hindus and the foreigners who live in Bali, and none more so than the family of Ghani, whose docile wife Nuri develops in front of our eyes into a wonderful young woman.  She is shocked by much of what she sees in Bali, but as the book progresses she is increasingly disenchanted by her much older husband and her bossy brothers:

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Ms Flint writes with equal skill about the foreigners, who have stayed on despite the attacks.  They are a motley crew, at odds with each other, drinking too much, and sticking together simply because they are all white  This is Inspector Singh on the ex-pats he has to interview for the murder enquiry :

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And this is a young Balinese policeman deputed to help Inspector Singh:

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Ms Flint has her finger totally on the Asian pulse.  This extract below, describing the driving style of their wrap-around-sunglassed driver who wants to sell them anything and everything, talks non-stop, and turns out to be a fabulous bloke.

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I live in India, and shortly before reading the extract (above) I had been driving for 10 hours through rural north India.  Yup, I had an aching leg from instinctive, imaginary braking, too.

The murder investigation is absorbing, and the depiction of the poor, gentle Balinese trying to move on from such a tragedy is tenderly written.

I won’t spoil the plot by telling you anything more (of course I wouldn’t do that to you) – but suffice it to say that I had tears in my eyes in the closing pages.

A great read, with a great central character, the irrepressible Inspector Singh.

Thoroughly recommended.

 

If you have enjoyed this review and wish to buy the book, then simply click on either of the links below :

 

BESIEGED by Mahmood Farooqui

Does a reviewer have a moral obligation to finish a book ?

If so, then this review must carry a caveat.  Half way through, mired down by too much information, and  too heavy a writing style, this reviewer abandoned “Besieged”.

The writer has done a hugely impressive job of tracking down and translating hitherto unseen papers from the First Indian War of Independence/Indian Mutiny of 1857.  He has read, translated, catalogued and shared with his reader thousands of letters and fragments of correspondence written by the many people caught up on the side-lines of the epic struggle of the colonial British for domination in India.

There are requests for money for troops, complaints from the very same troops about unpaid wages.  There are requistion orders, legal hassles, reports of blocked drains – no detail of the minutiae of Delhi life in the turbulent days of 1857 is too small to be excluded.

Wherein lies one of the flaws of this impressive scholarly work.  There is almost too much information, and since it is arranged by theme, after a while it gets – sad to say – a wee bit “same -y”.

It is all to easy to be an armchair expert, but this body of material is just crying out to be a novel.

The clichéd “cast of thousands” is already assembled here – administrators, prostitutes, coolies, butchers, the King, beggars, and the delightfully monnikered “loiterers”.  British, Hindu, Sikh, Muslim – all these voices are present, clamouring for attention.

Free all these grumbling, loud, confrontational voices from their strict thematically arranged categories. Jumble them all up. And let the noisy, chaotic story of life in Delhi, on the sidelines of history, emerge.  That, in this reviewer’s opinion, will make a truly marvellous book.

Besieged Voices from Delhi 1857 by Mahmood Farooqui is published by Penguin Viking.  Published in 2010.

The hardback sells in India for Rs 699.