Review -The Storyteller of Marrakesh by Joydeep Roy Bhattacharya.

“A philosopher realized,” as Hassan, the protagonist narrates “the truth is precisely that which is transformed the instant it is revealed, becoming thereby the only one of many possible opinions, open to debate, disagreement controversy, but also, inevitable, to mystification” Truth especially in the hands of a master story teller Hassan who displays his skill with words at the famed Jemaa el Fna acquirs many forms weaving an intriguing tale of fraternal love, imagination, intrigue, suspense, philosophy, and an extended debate on truth and its existence.
Hassan is a storyteller based in Marrakesh who gather a crowd every year at the famed Jemaa el Fna to narrate the same story over and again, the love story and the mysterious disappearance of one or both the lovers or maybe neither. The story is woven through the narration of multiple audience members ranging from acrobats to musicians, fortunetellers who were all witness to the arrival of the strangers. In a multiple strand narrative that threads together events of the night of the disappearance no detail, no observation is considered to be of little value. From the unusual forked lightning to the ring around the moon to the various signs around the marketplace, every narrator’s version of the events that happened that day are combined with a heady mix of romance, intrigue and truth in its various clothes. As the moon rises higher, so does the passion of the eclectic mix of Moroccan society weaving more and more threads of truth into the turn of events leading to a story that is left to the reader to untangle or maybe not.
Bhattacharya has incredible skills as a storyteller and it is evident in the rich narrative of the book. Efficiently combining the dying art of the “Storytellers of Marrakesh” into a philosophical fable on truth is not for the lesser talented. The richness of the land, combined with the myths and fables it carries in its heart is expertly exploited by the author. Hassan’s story is more about his own survival and the survival of his art which relies heavily on the listeners to contribute by way of imagination, and suspension of reality, while making sure the storyteller is in touch with real life enough to weave his tale. There are parts when the thread becomes too entangled to read the truth clearly, but perhaps that was the idea. Storytelling is as much about creating mythologies from reality as it is about making the listener think and feel that the stories are innocent fiction. “Storytelling is an art that supersedes morality; it is an act of will.”
With the skill of a miniaturist painter, Bhattacharya manages to evoke both the rich tapestry of imagination of the storytellers rooted in the rich, varied and colorful surroundings of Marrakesh. The place plays as big a role to root the varied versions of truth as it plays in anchoring the characters that weave into it their stories and their imaginative word plays.

This review is a part of the Book Reviews Program at Participate now to get free books!


Bombay Duck is a Fish – Review

Bombay Duck is a fish by Kanika Dhillon starts on a promising note with the protagonist Neki Brar contemplating suicide. Before making the leap and while waiting for the playback of her life in highspeed, Neki decides to go through her diary “Nano” to see how she a small town girl who ditched her MNC job and possible Indian-American husband to become a Movie director in Bollywood ended up on the terrace of the five storey Rose Mahal building in Mumbai

Written in first person and as a retrospective narrative, Bombay Duck is the story of Neki who arrives in Mumbai to pursue her dreams of making movies, transforming herself, working towards her goals and holding on to her greatest dream of meeting Shah Rukh Khan. Does she stand up to the pressure of her work, fulfill her dreams or self-extinguish in the process of climbing the ladder of success forms the crux of the story. Hired as the Sixth Assistant Director for Fiza Kareem, Neki is thrown at the deep end of the quagmire from which dreams in Technicolor are spun. Constantly shifting from real world Pali Hill to the make believe world of Film City, the story takes us through Neki’s star struck eyes, her shock at seeing an underwear model from a hoarding, boarding with her room-mate, small time actors on set and falling head over heels for Ranvir Khanna, the second hero of the movie. Through Nano, she takes us through the trials, politics, betrayal, ecstasy, inflated ego’s of stars small and big and how she picks herself up every time, until she finds herself drunk and on the terrace thinking of suicide.

The plot is extremely fast paced and the author taps into the reader’s curiosity in seeing how ugly and miserable people who make Bollywood dreams really are. The blurring of real world and cine world and how easy it is to get trapped in the webs that are spun on set is interesting to read. It is not easy to figure out if the difficulty that Neki faces is because of the puncturing of her ideas of how Mumbai will be or the crashing of her Bollywood dreams. The harsh, back stabbing, deceptive, canny ways in which people are manipulated both in life and in the celluloid one makes her feel like a fish out of water.

The downside to the book was the characterization of Neki. The sad, easy to manipulate, naive, easily led, doormat like character makes it difficult to believe that she has the guts and gusto to make it as a director. The superficial Freudian insights and Siddhartha insights become annoying after a while. Also difficult to believe is her entry into Bollywood. There is very little growth in the character and the makes the reader wish that the tiny glimmers of self-confidence and raring to go attitude could have been developed. The fringe characters are very one-dimensional and at least a few could have been completed well or maybe that is how people becoming while attempting to create four-dimensional characters on 70mm screens.

All in all, a racy, plot with drama, comedy and tragedy. As Neki closes her nano, a new chapter begins for her. Worth a read.

This review is a part of the Book Reviews Program at Participate now to get free books!

Chanakya’s Chant

Politics is a cliched field..nothing new ever happens. The new too, is not necessarily an improvement of the past. “Chanakya’s Chant” by Ashwin Sanghi is a parallel reading of the original and the cliche. The book takes us in a rocking time travel machine to roughly 2300 yrs ago where kingdoms that squabbled in what will be “Bharat” to present day India where the squabbling continues. Greatness as Malvolio puts it in the “Twelfth Night” is not something to be afraid of “some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon ’em.” That seems to be the running theme in the book as it focuses on people on whom greatness is thrust upon, on the ones who were born so and more importantly on the two people who achieve it. Chanakya’s chant traverses the life of Chanakya whose mission is to install Chandragupta Maurya on the throne of Magadha, defeat Alexander and unite the various warring kingdoms to create a strong, self sufficient Bharat. His greatness is achieved through a series of events in his life, which shapes his philosophical as well as his political views. With the Takshila University forming the background, the setting is laid for the master strategist to craft a worthy revenge against the King of Magadha for murdering his family, while plotting the downfall of Alexander who comes to India seeking fame and new lands to conquer. His biggest coup-d’etat however will be seeing his protege Chandragupta Maurya become the king of Magadha and usher in the Age of Empires through the Mauryan empire.

Roughly two and half thousand years later, Pandit Gangasagar Mishra in Kanpur with providence and divine luck on his side, uses similar strategies to bring his protegee Chandini Gupta to power by making her the Prime Minister of a united India. Every means, be it lying, fudging the truth, murder, concealment, inciting violence, threat or plain cunning strategy is used to justify the end. Both Kautilya and consequently Gangasagar believe in the principles of Saam, Daam, Dand, Behd – Equality, Enticement, Punishment, Dissension. They use it strategically to extract the maximum benifit resulting in book that is fast paced, gripping and riveting to read.

The research and the fictionalized history blend beautifully and makes the tale of the two Chanakyas enchanting. The part I found interesting was how both Chanakya and Gangasagar keep chanting the Shakthi Mantra as a means of strength and in Gangasagar’s case wisdom, and yet have no qualms in using religion itself as a means to achieve the end.

Two things that disturbed about the novel was the lack of a higer goal for Gangasagar mishra. Chanakya’s every move and every strategy was planned with two things in mind, to usurp the hedonistic King of Magadha and install Maurya, therby creating Bharat and putting a break on the Alexander war machine that threated the subcontinent. Mishra’s goal however revolves entirely around making Chandini the PM on India. Chandini’s character could have also been etched better. Maurya’s character worked with Chanakya because of the teacher student relationship they shared all their life. Chandini and Mishra on the other hand seem more forced together because of the lack of background on Chandini. The historical part was more tightly woven and well written, the present becomes tedious due to a few exagerrated events and conversations and the juvenile humour in places.

The novel as a whole is excellent and the reader does not tire of the constant move between past and present. In a lot of places, the conversation bear a heavey resemblance to Jeffrey Archer novels like “Kane and Abel and “The Prodigal Daughter”. A tight, fast paced reading of fictionalized history that fits beautifully into the present.

This review is a part of the Book Reviews Program at Participate now to get free books!

Hello darkness, my old friend.

Inky Ink Time. The very Higgins Clark inspired JHughes challenges me to indulge in my morbid here goes. As usual prompt follows post.

“Stupid, Stupid Bird!” I throw the pillow at the music-box I use as an alarm..the pillow bumped the side of the box, pushing it down..the lady in the ballet dress was shocked and expressed it by spinning faster..faster..louder…louder

The loud boom rattled the glasses and the little glass of wine whimpered as a scarlet shade of lightning tore another heavy cloud apart. The lights flickered. Groaning, I got up to look for my candles and matches. I wans’t especially eager to spend this evening alone, espeically after that wierd, diastrous date. I hadn’t even got out of my evening dress, and the crumpled maroon skirt kept catching my foot as I tried to reach for the lights.

I had always taken refuge in my closet, it seemed comforting, and familiar. I stifled a scream as a furry sensation passed up my leg. The shadow outside the door and the gentle humming seemed to be coming closer. I grabbed a spare pillow for defence and on second thought removed my inch and a half spiky shoes from its prime position. The humming came closer as I stepped deeper into the closet.

“Oh! Crap!! There they go” talking to myself I lit the candles and placed them around the room. It looked as if I was going to get proposed to or was going to hail spirits using an ouija board. I moved a few candles to the window, when I first felt the cold, damp draft and saw the shadow sprinting. “The candles must be playing with my mind” I went around to arrange a few more and grab my glass of wine, when I heard the door slam upstairs. I dropped the glass, spilling the wine as my mind started shutting down and my voice caught in my throat. Grabbing the torch, I started up, when the skirt caught in my foot again, tripping me. My hands clammy, my throat parched and my temple throbbing, I make my way upstairs and into my bedroom. I see the shadow again and hear the slow humming of a Simon Garfunkel song..I shut the closet door gently from inside and hold my breath.

It was a bright and sunny day after a dark and stormy night, and the scent of murder was in the air…The heels lay on the carpeted stairs, the bloody stains from the spikes had seeped through the carpet and dried matting the fiber. The humming of the song in a different pitch was carried by the zephyr through the open window as the maroon skirt swished and sashayed over the delicate ankle. The music box still singing its tilting melody was shut, as I tripped yet again as I stepped over and walked down the stairs

The prompt was “It was a bright and sunny day after a dark and stormy night, and the scent of murder was in the air…” I kind of used Jhughes last post about the Caged Bird Sings and flipped it around.

The pain of immortality

Tara R challenged me as part of the Indie Ink challenge this week. The challenge details follow the reply.

Would I not change the feeling of thinking that we were all immortal beings or would I change the heady rush of the cornucopia of emotions that came when we realized immortality was but a hypnotic state that we would wake up from. It is not that I hadn’t seen death knock on doors or have seen him in a rush to finish his job that he often couldn’t wait for people to bide their time. It was just that in that moment in time, in a new school, with new people, with the list of possibilities and dreams seemingly endless..immortality seemed to offer more choices and a better vision. It is a hard thing to take in one week into school…having a friend who you saw the Friday before driving off, being declared dead due to drowning the Monday next. The wind rushes in. You wave to your father dropping you off, you run to see a friend who goes to another school, you stop, you see them all red-eyed and life becomes eerily silent. The sequence of events after that chilling confession, is painfully alive. For every high school story I think, I also live through the reactions and the high emotions that day which act as a painful bitter, bitter crumbled foundation. There was a single moment when I was sitting, engulfed in my own emotions that I wanted to turn every minute, every star and moon to the day when immortality was still within reaching distance..and where the dead would come back to life. Reality, I sincerely feel, should be anathema for 16 year olds.

Living my life now as a jaded, memory bearer, knowing more and having lived more…would I change that time, that day and that part of my life. I don’t think so. It has made me who I defines my ideas and my being. I like this person that I am now. I will not have it any other way..thank you very much.

My challenge was this “Tomorrow morning you wake up and are 16 again, on your worst day in high school. If you knew then what you know now, how would you change that day… or would you change it?”

Keep walking till you reach Chamindra’s reply to my challenge. Awesome work..I think.

The Tinderbox!

The Fire-engine was heard a full 10 mins before it made its appearance. Life, at 2.30 in the morning is quiet where I live, but by the commotion outside you would never believe me. The police cars with their loud sirens, the ambulance with their loud sirens, the screaming of instructions, the clanging of buckets, pipes and vessels, the swish and splash of water, I grabbed another bucket of water to try dousing some flames only to see the million little droplets join together in a dance with smoke effects…the water kept splashing and spraying..

August ’96,

Dear Diary,I feel at once mighty and minute. When you are the helm of a ship like this in the middle of this beautiful blue-green feel as if you own the water and the sky and with the stretch of a palm, cover everything in sight and yet..they are so much bigger, vaster and deeper that it overwhelms me. Coming on this trip, inspite of all the financial problems at home and inspite of leaving my pregnant mother behind, might be the best thing ever. I know, I will enjoy this journey and the destination much more than you can imagine..

“Give Way! GIVE WAY!!!….MOVE, Move” They came running up to the building in blaze, the ground floor was fully ablaze. I moved glancing up at my home and fearing for every little material possession I owned. I could barely release a sigh for all that I had left books, my jewels, my wedding sarees, my books..I wanted to sit and shut the noise out, let the peace of the night take over.

June ’98

I met him on saturday, he gave me a book on hope and looking forward to the future..I cannot believe he is dead. I cannot understand how this could happen. All of us had gone out saturday, we were laughing, talking about “The Titanic” and he drowns on sunday..this must be some sort of cruel, malicious joke. I cannot think about him as dead. God! I don’t know what to say…I want to sleep, wake up and hear him calling up and screaming “Got you” yet with sleep I fear, he will remain forever in my dream and I will never be able to see him chuckle about something silly. Sleep can never be the same again.

The firefighters controlled the blaze. They went back in to see what remained. I didn’t want to. I couldn’t face the ashes and dust that my home had become. The home where I put the rich red curtains up to shield a prying sun or a sneaky moon, where I put the collage of mouths and eyes erupting into laughter, smiling with warmth and grinning cheekily. The home where I baked my first cake for a birthday, where I stirred up a big feast for friends

Nov ’01

He came home again today. Infact all three of them came, he stayed over talking all night with ma. I made lunch today. Point to be noted because, I had never seen it disappear so fast. It must have been really good or as he said..”No..No.. I am just very hungry. When you eat dorm food all the time..this is like manna” Idiot. We sat up half the night discussing the “Bourne Trilogy” Never knew I could bond with someone who grew up in entirely different circumstances, so far away. It is like we have known each other all our lives.  Dear Diary, I think I have found my soul mate. I don’t think it is the way people make it out to be. I think people can be friends and soul mates.

“Hi, Honey! Coffee” I put my diary down with my box of rescued diaries and grabbed the hot cup. “Where are the kids?” “My dad came and picked them up. Everything’s over?” “Yup! They think it must have been some candle that fell over and caught fire downstairs. Anyway, some of our things can still be salvaged. You can thank me for putting your books in the attic. They are all safe” I could have screamed in joy. “What about your paintings and materials?” Some of them are damaged. I managed to grab a box of paint and some brushes” He put his hand down his backpack and removed one lego, one tonka truck and clown. “Guess life can be rebuilt again..this time we will have two extra pair of hands..What is your opinion on putting children to work”..The sirens had gone, the disco lights from the police car threw random shadows dancing on the ground and walls..people muttered about early morning and the smoke looked like it was blushing as dawn approached. I had my box of diaries, and my grandmothers sari..a tinderbox of memories and a comforting presence.Life can be fixed again.

July ’03

I am getting married in six months. Can you believe it..six months! AHHH!! He is amazing. Gentle, Soft spoken, engaging and reserved. Things I totally am not. Which is why I believe we will be good together. My cup overflows..Life is good..Dear Diary, Life is very good.

This part fiction account was written for theIndie Ink Writing Challenge. My prompt was “Your home is on fire and you only have 30 seconds to get out. Assuming your family and pets are safe, what do you take with you and why?” given by Joelyn
Enjoy..and leave your comments 🙂

Happy Families are all Alike!

I always hear about how unhappy families are unhappy in their own way and I wonder if that is true. You see people fighting, couples I mean and assess where the cards fall in your own  relationship and realize that the source of unhappiness is not that different. It always boils down to the ego equation, the emotional space between the two people and the ability of one to respect the space, value the others time and be courteous to them..I am by no means positing this as the perfect solution to the perfect marriage. This is just a itsy, bitsy bit of what I feel is required. Perhaps it is the not that unhappiness that sets families apart, but the ability of that relationship to withstand the unhappiness and perhaps recover from it.