Sunday, December 23, 2012

Us and Them

There comes a time in the course of events that define and often shape the character of a nation, when a collective gasp escapes from the lips of society. A helpless, strangulated sound of pure anguish that jolts everyone back to reality. The existential stupor, we choose to call life, is broken and we find ourselves irrevocably incapable of living in denial. We realize the world is a lot bigger than the imaginary, selfish, private planet that all of us have chosen to sequester ourselves in. And we are forced to come crashing back to the cold, hard reality of the actual world, evaluate our true standing.
Where are we headed as a civilization? What is the landscape like through which we're travelling? Where are we going anyway?
We stop in our tracks and look around only to find vicious demons lusting for our blood - abominations of our very own creation. Flesh eating, venom spitting monsters of the deepest pits of the purgatory or its equivalent, which have assumed such gargantuan proportions when we were looking the other way, that we do not know how to tame them or make them disappear anymore.
The woman on that bus was me. It was you. It was somebody else we knew.
Or maybe it was all of us.
A part of us suffered with her, a part of all of us was brutalized the way she was. And a part of us will never be the same again.
Since childhood, we have been taught by our anxious mothers and over-anxious fathers to tolerate 'insults' that come our way, handle 'situations' 'diplomatically' and to protect ourselves as best as we could. And to always, always expect the worst.
We are in tacit agreement over the assumption that between our legs lies the treasure chest of the family's honour and dignity and that we have to guard it with our lives even if it means never living them at all.
The world for 'us' is different from the world 'they' live in. They can tear us apart, rip our souls to shreds and still go unpunished. While the blame of losing the 'treasure' will be apportioned to us and stigma will follow. We'll be labelled 'victims'.
But there's only so much that a woman can take.
Just a spark. A flame of discontent here. A flash of resentment there. And BAM!

There it is. A tremendous explosion. An eruption of outrage, grief, shock and other raw emotions which have accumulated slowly over the years, over the decades, perhaps even over the centuries. A boiling point had already been reached long ago, but it had merely evaded our notice, only to be identified so late.
Dear unnamed woman on the bus, you are me. I am you. You are her. She is you.
You are all of us.
And we are all around you. Beside you, behind you, inside you. We have been there all along.

We were all raped, beaten, ravaged, cut open, preyed upon and thrown aside like a used rag doll, left to bleed out on the roads.
And so you are not alone. You are not alone.
We are all trapped inside this storm together. We will weather this storm together. And we will live to see better days when the sun shines pleasantly and all monsters have been slain, never to raise their heads again.

P.S.:- This post has not been composed for the sake of resuscitating a dead blog. I had to express what I'm feeling, somewhere. And this is dedicated not only to that girl on the bus but the millions in our country who have faced sexual violence at some point of time in their lives.


Sunday, September 23, 2012

Decoding Krishna

Happy as I am to write another review for Ashwin Sanghi's latest, I'm disappointed in equal measure at not being able to sort out my feelings for The Krishna Key.
But I'll be coming to that later. Here's a brief overview of the plot :-

Ravi Mohan Saini, a renowned professor of ancient Indian history, is given an ancient seal depicting a bull, unicorn and goat by his school friend and noted linguist Anil Varshney, for safe-keeping. Turns out four such nearly-identical seals were recovered from archaeological excavation sites at Kalibangan, Kurukshetra, the fabled underwater city of Dwarka and Mathura and together they constitute the key to a unlocking an enormous secret concerning the historical Krishna. In order to ensure the safety of the 4 seals he leaves one seal with each of his four friends - Dr Nikhil Bhojaraj, Professor Rajaram Kurkude, Devendra Chhedi and our protagonist Ravi Mohan Saini. Along with the seal, Varshney leaves Saini with a cryptic message and instructions to get the four seals together along with a base plate locked away in a safe deposit box, in case anything happens to him.
Mayhem ensues when Anil Varshney is gruesomely murdered by an unknown assailant and Ravi Saini is apprehended as the killer. He is forced to flee from police custody, along with his beautiful doctoral student Priya Ratnani (aided by Priya's father Sanjay Ratnani) and thus begins a race against time to recover the 3 seals,  prevent the impending violent deaths of the 3 remaining seal-bearers and solving the riddle of the historical Krishna. 

The above is a highly condensed form of the plot (which includes an alternate narration by Krishna, recounting the chain of events of his life upto his death) which goes through an intricate maze of twists and turns before reaching its climax.
One has got to be living under a rock for the past decade, to miss all the glaring similarities this book has with Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code and Angels and Demons.

Academician in his 40s as the central character - check
An ancient secret relating to history and mythology - check
Macabre deaths of scientists/other academics - check
Beautiful female sidekick - check
Religious symbolism - check
Solving secret codes, puzzles - check
Anagrams - check
Delusional, (not very) psychopathic killer - check
Unlikely villain revealed towards the end - check

Now this is not a big deal. Since so many writers across the world have tried to emulate Dan Brown's record-breaking success by creating a suitable concoction of history, modern science and numerous conspiracy theories. I have read a slew of such books especially by James Rollins and Sam Bourne and found them to be passably entertaining (nothing close to the Dan Brown awesomeness though). But The Krishna Key, misses the point somewhere. It failed to to give me those goosebumps-inducing moments that I have come to associate with books of this genre or make me care about the characters or the mystery.
Don't get me wrong. I am a sworn Ashwin Sanghi fan and I loved his Chanakya's Chant to death, which was a fabulously well-written political thriller. But The Krishna Key is unable to stitch together a coherent narrative. It focuses too much on the history and the mythological explanations, while ignoring important aspects of a novel like a solid narrative, the characterization and sometimes even logic.

Towards the beginning of the novel, when Priya Ratnani tags along with Professor Ravi Mohan Saini, both of them being assisted by her father, I was unable to comprehend as to why a father would encourage his daughter to be on the run with a suspect in a murder case. Later on, of course, this is explained. But my common sense tells me Ravi Saini should have found this odd at the time. Then there's the case of the events at the Somnath Temple and Mount Kailash. That part of the book was completely wasted on depicting wild goose chases, which had very little to do with furthering the plot and mind you, I know the importance of wild goose chases in novels of this sort.
Another major weakness is the character sketching. One remains so unaffected by any of them that it is difficult to even remember their names. It's because none of them make an impression on the reader of any sorts. The reasons given as to why the psychopath became a psychopath, are too feeble to be accepted without any argument.
And most annoying of all, a bizarre love story was thrown in to the mix of history, mythology, murder-mystery and conspiracies towards the end. It felt very jarring to the overall tone of the novel and was completely unnecessary in my opinion.

Coming to the strong points of the book, the theories of Krishna being an actual historical figure are fascinating. So are the theories of an actual existence of a lost city of Dwarka and the Brahmastra being a metaphor for a device triggering a nuclear blast. Particularly the tons of historical information with emphasis on the Vedas make for an intriguing read. Who would have known the significance of number 108 and how this single number could be the explanation of The Big Bang? Or how The Pentagon, USA's top defence establishment, could owe its shape and name to our Vedic age scientists. These serve as the ultimate fodder for the conspiracy theorist in each one of us. My favorite conspiracy theory from the lot has to be that Vedic era symbols are a part of most modern religions.

Now if I'm to consider my own review, then the number of shortcomings definitely outnumber the good things about this book. I did not hate it but I did not find myself caring about it a great deal either.
The only reason I kept reading till the end was because the oodles of historical data and myths made it engrossing enough for me. I couldn't care less about whether Ravi Saini was killed by the psychopath or whether he got to solve the mystery. For the real protagonist of The Krishna Key, is not Krishna or any of the characters, but the painstakingly done historical research.
Overall, I give it a 2.5 stars out of 5. A good read but not a memorable one.

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

Monday, April 30, 2012

The Murakami Effect

Words don't come to me now-a-days. Words I can write out and effectively record. Words that shout out my disapproval or critique or even appreciation. At least not as easily as they came to me about 6 months ago.
It's not that I have lost the desire to write, it's just that I'm not in the right mind to sit at my desk and invest three or four hours in writing. I have something going on in my life right now which is taking up all my time.
My day begins and ends without me even realizing where I lost the past 24 hours.

I've never been more busy and I've never been so full of bristling energy and enthusiasm. So I'm happy to stay away from writing as long as I know I'm spending my time doing something worthwhile instead.
Besides one cannot write when one has nothing significant to say or express.
There was a time when blogging was for the sake of sometimes sycophantic sometimes positively awestruck comments, likes on my Facebook page, changing the template for the umpteenth time and taking part in blogging contests in the hopes of getting some recognition, some form of tangible proof of the fact that at least in this virtual spatial plane, my writing matters.
But then time passes and you change, evolve and mature. Unlike other people, you realize that writing is not just a hobby for you or a way to relieve pent up stress. It is a much more important and vital part of your existence which you revere in a way you didn't even know of.
So this is why I haven't written a single line in over five months now. Because I want to write when I feel it will hold some meaning, some significance.
There were times when I gave in to inner paranoia and couldn't help but wonder, will I be able to write again? Was blogging just a childish game for me? or the latest fad which I had busied myself with? Was I writing because I could afford the time back then and quit the moment real life came calling?

As it turns out I was wrong. I can still write. I am writing right now and it is making me feel alive like never before. Inside my head at this very moment, is a mess - of words, of expressions, of emotions, of things I don't fully comprehend yet, all dying to coalesce together and manifest themselves in pages of coherent thought.
I have found my words again. And it's all thanks to Haruki Murakami, who of course needs no introduction. (There's google, if you do need an introduction though)
"Sputnik Sweetheart" in the course of just one day, has helped me rekindle my relationship with my creative side that had eluded me for a while.
And boy have I ever felt more relieved for choosing to read Murakami when I was feeling a bit out of it?
If you have read my blog before, you know that I have gushed about him already but now I feel I wasn't able to do justice to his creative genius in the review of Norwegian Wood. An author of his stature deserves to be accoladed in a greater and much better way.
Murakami's work is like an abstract painting. You can never fully grasp the meaning the artist intended to convey or the underlying message it carries as it's always open to interpretation by the reader. But what you are instantly struck by is the seductive beauty of the vignettes he creates.
You can't help but plunge headlong into the enigmatic tale he spins. You are slowly but gradually pulled into the core of it without even realizing that you are engrossed so deeply that you cannot pull away of your own volition. Like an ingenious magician commanding the attention of his viewers on stage, he makes you build unshakable faith in the illusions he begets.
Murakami does not ever want you to fully understand what's happening, because if you do, the charm, the magic melts into oblivion robbing his writing of its unique surreal quality. But at the same time, you do least as much as its necessary to connect with his characters and their psyche.
He has the unparalleled ability of stringing together the main narrative and the psychological repercussions the happenings have on the central characters in a way such that both meld into one entity, indistinguishable from the other.
And not even once do you feel that the story has lost its clarity.
In the world Murakami envisages, nearly anything is possible and legitimately so.
His writings are bound to provide you with intellectual as well as emotional stimulation especially if you're low on inspiration. And create gateways to a whole new dimension, where your imagination knows no constraints and can conjure up delightfully distorted images without having to forego a touch with reality.
And that is why, at this very moment, he is my one true Sputnik Sweetheart.

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