Monthly Archives: January 2014

‘Absolute Khushwant’ by Khushwant Singh and Humra Quraishi

khushwant“An old man is entitled to his secrets, fantasies, Scotch, good company,”

says the inimitable Khushwant Singh at 95. The name was a taboo in my younger days, for what he was known most for was ‘sleaze and scotch.’ Reading his articles in the occasional ‘Illustrated Weekly’ I was lucky enough to get my hands on , the title bestowed on him was difficult to believe, at times. ‘Train to Pakistan’ was the first of his books that I came across. How could this man write about something so serious was the first thought. Finished it in one go and it was after many a day that the pain subsided. The next one was ‘The Portrait of a Lady’ and I was in love with this ‘notorious’ author.

‘Absolute Khushwant’ is a collection of his thoughts and experiences on writing, religion, people he admire, partition, the Delhi riots, in short, his life. The one trait that comes through is his honesty, in all areas of his life, including his unhappy marriage. Here is a sample,

“I have never taken anyone seriously, least of all myself. I have always been a nosy person, forever probing into other people’s private lives. I love to gossip and have an insatiable appetite for scandal.”

The picture that he paints elsewhere sounds contradictory as he tells us about his work ethics.

“Over the years I have discovered what enormous energy silence creates, energy that socializing and useless chit chat depletes.”

The partition and the 1984 Delhi riots left a deep impact on him and it is evident that he could never get over the pain. His concern for the religious fundamentalism had landed him in trouble , he was on top of the Khalistani hit list. Even an almost successful attempt at his life did not stop him from speaking out about what he believed in. His philosophy on life is best summarized in his own words,

” I would like to be remembered as someone who made people smile.”

Isn’t that essence of being a true human being?

Verdict – An absolutely delightful read, whether you have read him before is irrelevant. Perfect for a pleasant afternoon.

4/5

‘Enduring Love’ by Ian McEwan

ianThe author’s name sounded familiar, the word ‘Atonement’ struck a chord somewhere and the book found its way home with me from the library. The first few pages reminded me of Julian Barnes. No wonder, considering that both are British was my first thought.

Joe Rose has a planned a picnic on the way back from picking up his partner Clarissa after a few week’s long visit away from home. As they are finding a comfortable place, a balloon comes crashing nearby with a 10 year old boy inside it and his grandfather hanging on to the ropes. Life is never the same for any of them after that. Five men come together and one gets killed in an attempt to save the boy. One of the survivor meets the eye of another and their worlds turn upside down.

Joe is disturbed by the look in Jed Parry’s eyes as well as by his words that sound ominous. Thus start a cat and mouse game that gets more and more sinister as Jed stalks Joe through calls and in person. Joe knows he is being harassed by  someone who has a mental illness but no one is ready to believe him, even Clarissa. What follows is a slow falling apart of  life as he knows it.

In parallel is the widow of John Logan , who died in the attempt to save the boy. Joe’s and Logan’s lives seem to run in a parallel course even though one is alive and the other is dead. Both their wives come to their own conclusions regarding certain incidents in their respective partner’s lives. The story comes to an unpredictable end that sounded a bit convoluted to me.

What I loved about the book is the powerful and poetic language. Many a time, how the author has described the thoughts of his characters bears strong resemblance to Julian Barnes’ ‘The Sense of an Ending’, or at least that is what I thought. But, Barnes’ book and prose is something else altogether. The story is paced like a psychological thriller and your interest is kept piqued throughout. The precarious nature of relationships and how certain insecurities remain in spite of the long years that a couple might have spent together is brought out really well. The story also talks about the perils of coming to conclusions based on circumstantial evidences as also how not to give up on one’s intuitions in spite of everyone turning against you.

Verdict – If you like beautiful prose, well thought out plots with a psychological twist, you will love this one. Not for those who like fast paced stories with more action than thought

3.5/5

Meanwhile in December….

So, I’ve been busy boozing baking, like it was going to be deemed illegal. Oh don’t raise your eyebrows, the rate at which things are being judged  immoral, illegal , illegitimate and what not, I wouldn’t be surprised if some Supreme Court judge finds baking soda to be against the tenets of some now obscure religion, baking could indeed be banned, you know 🙂

Anyway, December was one of most hectic months that I’d seen in a long time. Baked almost fifty cakes, sold half of them and played Santa to many a friend. Kids fell ill, one after another, thankfully. Office was crazy as usual, the change over from one legal entity to another did nothing to lessen the daily madness. None of these was a deterrent to my life mantra, “Come what may, I will read.” A few that I managed to devour in the odd moments out of life as usual..

‘Open : An Autobiography’ by Andre Agassi

andreHis fate was sealed even before he was born. Andre’s father had decided his youngest , whether boy or girl, would be the world number one in Tennis. From the day he was born, tennis was all he was allowed to even think of. Hard as it is to believe, the boy grew up to hate tennis, but he didn’t or was not allowed to know any other way of life. After a spate of local wins, he was sent   to the boot camp style tennis academy in Florida where he turns into a total rebel.

The book is less about tennis and more about life, in general. How parents can build or break their kids. The terrible sense of meaninglessness and bewilderment is what young Andre seem to plod on with during his teenage and youth years. It is as if he is searching for something all along, not knowing what exactly it is that he is searching for. This is the story of how he finds the answer finally.

It is also about the guardian angels in his life – the elder brother, the friend for life, the coach and last but never the least, his trainer Gil – they are the ones that need to be mentioned above all. Andre’s life and success as we know it, were built on these pillars. But for them, the story would have  had a totally different end. This was my take away from the book – that a single person believing in you, unwavering, can alter your life for ever. And yes, the story also covers his first marriage to Brooke Shields and then the calmer and stable one with Stefanie Graf. What is most heartening about the couple is the seamless understanding that they seem to have about each other and the way in which they bring up their kids. Both of them would rather not have their kids playing tennis.

True respect for the man comes when we read about his philanthropic activities, especially the ‘Andre Agassi College Preparatory School’ The school is located in one of the most economically challenged areas of Western Las Vegas. Having not completed his education, Agassi started the school with the belief that “the best way to change a child’s life is through education.” Rated as ‘High Achieving’ within eight years, I am sure this is going to be his lasting legacy,what he would be known for in future.

Verdict – Go get it, doesn’t matter whether you like tennis or not

5/5

‘Revolutionary Road ‘ by Richard Yates

One of those classic cases where too much expectation leads you to a  deep disappointment. The book is touted as a classic and was on my reading listrevolution for quite some time. The story revolves around Frank and April Wheeler, the quitessential all American couple – Frank with a job that he is complacent about but that pays him well enough for a home in the suburbs, a wife who can afford to stay at home and the customary two kids. The characters, their behavior, what they want to and what they actually do, their conversations, everything sounded artificial. Maybe that was the point of the story, anyway, found that this was a tea that I would have thrown out half way down, but for that masochistic streak that refuses to let me close a ‘classic’ half way through 🙂

Verdict – Will not recommend to anyone…..at least until I find some hidden meaning in there

3/5 – for the style, loved that

‘Salmon Fishing in the Yemen’ by Paul Torday

salmonThe best antidote to an exhausting month, this was a Christmas gift from a fellow book lover. Like a hot cup of sulaimani chai after a heavy lunch, this book kept me company and solace on Christmas day and the next. Simple life of ordinary people, told in a straight from the heart language have always enamored me, and this wasn’t any different.

Dr. Alfred Jones, a timid fisheries scientist, who leads life in the shadows of his intimidating investment banker wife , would never have thought how his life would change after he gets a request to head a project that sounds not just foolish, but insane. A sheikh from the arid deserts of Yemen wants to start Salmon fishing in his country. And his only back up is his belief that Allah will perform a miracle if He so wills.

The story is also a satire on English politics, or rather politics everywhere. People who have no clue about ground realities are in charge of projects, their only concern is the image that would be presented to the world. I loved the way the story was told and how Dr. Jones’ life is transformed along with the Salmon project.

Verdict – A pleasant sunny read.  If you look for goodness in people, stories splashed with subtle humor, go for it.

4/5

December must have been the only month last year where I read less than a book per week. I had taken up a challenge to read 70 books and completed about 80. On that high, have set a bar of 100 for 2014, and have also promised myself to review all 100. Wish me luck folks!