Monday, March 25, 2013

Introducing Vira!

Dogs are high maintenance. Dogs get very attached. Dogs demand a lot of time, a lot of attention. Dogs have short lives and always, always leave you with a broken heart. But dogs are like a grand love affair, they have a way of capturing your heart, making you their slave. After them, nothing remains the same, you can never remain the same. Their love is unconditional. Dogs are the only living beings that always love you more than you probably deserve. Like they say, you might not know how to love a dog, but a dog always knows how to love a human.

Yes, I LOVE dogs. They are very often much better than humans. I understand dogs better than humans, and them, me. As an only child, growing up, after a fight with ma, hugging a dog always stopped the tears. They have been family, never a pet. And a new addition to the family is Vira, a mongrel and something mix who is currently driving my other dog Blacky and the rest of the family up the walls with his energy and naughtiness.

Why Vira? Vira means brave in Kannada. At that time, I was thinking of my favourite yoga asana, Virabhadrasana and how I hadn't practiced it in a long time. Random as it was, the name clicked and stayed.

Dogs in my family are tremendously spoilt. Vira is well on his way to being the brat I never was.

Born: January 26, 2013
Breed: Mixed
Colour: Shades of black, biscuit and brown
Skills: Extremely energetic. Bites everything in sight. Borderline arrogant. Already adept at displaying the classic puppy eyes face to get away with bad behaviour. 

Saturday, March 09, 2013

Reviewing Oath of the Vayuputras

I don't have a favourite genre in books, as a writer I feel that it is part of my job to read just about everything. I read two fantastic books which I will write about in another post, for now, this is about the books I read only to comment or write about. So Talk asked me if I would like to review Amish's final book in the trilogy. The 600-page long book took me about two days of reading, while commuting to work, during lunch hour and into late nights. My verdict? It is easily the most readable in the Shiva trilogy. A pity that you have to get through the first two to read the Oath of the Vayuputras.

Here is the review from Talk magazine.

And here below is the longer, unedited version of the review.

In trilogies, is the subsequent book supposed to start off from the next sentence from where the previous book ended? I forget how trilogies are meant to be. The big fat The Oath of the Vayuputras by the other banker turned writer Amish begins that way. It has been a while since I finished his second installment in the re-imagined story of Shiva. So it takes me several pages before the story starts coming back to me, who is who, what just happened, everyone’s karma and what they are doing about it and all that. Problem number one – it seems like he has cut one very long book into three parts and bound them separately.

I have promised myself that I won’t nitpick on his populist writing, not so early on at least. But he makes it all too easy for me. I cannot help but notice the poor editing and find myself mentally correcting the grammar; I have a bit of the grammar Nazi in me. Amish has this rather annoying habit of italicizing Indian Hindu words like ‘prasad’, ‘darshan’ etc and giving their literal meaning, in italics again.  His books are releasing across the world, so that is clearly meant for those audiences. I find it ridiculous sometimes, like when the missile Pashupatiastra is explained literally as the weapon of the lord of the animals. But…nitpicking, nitpicking…I am trying very hard by now not to.

And then, Amish surprises me. Just when I am thinking I will have to groan through the book, the war—it is all about a war in this book—draws me in. Complicated strategies are discussed, battle lines are drawn, sides are taken, alliances forged. The next several hundred pages are only that, who will attack how and whom and from where. Bits about dharma and righteousness are thrown in every now and then, but if not such a racy read, The Oath of the Vayuputras would have been somewhat of a war manual, describing as it does tortoise formations, subvert attack tactics and such like. Shiva doesn’t swear as much as he does in the first two books. Though he continues to flirt with his wife Sati, the romance is kept to a very bare minimum; it is even a breather from long passages where every swordfight fought and every knife maneuver used by the war waging armies is detailed.

Shiva is the barbarian tribal from Tibet who migrates from the mountains and is reluctantly cast in the role of a living god. He is righteous and forgiving, an excellent dancer and fabulous singer even, but is no holds barred when it comes to destroying that which he knows is evil. He errs too, like a human; it is only 4,000 years after, in later times, that his “…descendants, in many ways unworthy…behold gods in what were great men of the past, for they believed that such great men couldn’t possibly have existed in reality.”

When I begin the book, I am determined to find its every fault. But Amish is miles better than the last time and I, almost grudgingly, pull up one notch higher my opinion of his writing. My expectations were never high brow to start with, yet the book is not half as bad as I had made up my mind it would be. It is a pity though that you have to suffer through the first two to get to what is the best of the Shiva trilogy.

Amish hints in the last sentence at what he might be writing about next; his publishers have already given him a million dollar advance, it is going to be another trilogy. What is it with him, Ashok Banker and the rest that they have to work through re-imaging the whole Indian mythology, I wonder. But then, you could argue that so did Uncle Pai.


Postscript: I am helping out at The Alternative with a water conservation campaign they are doing. A lot of writing is happening there. Read the stories here. Do follow the magazine too, there are some amazing articles there on sustainability, environment, inclusivity and other sexy issues.

Thursday, March 07, 2013

And another, and another... they all always let you down, huh!

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

A Tribute to Mills and Boon

My parents have bought me Mills and Boons when I was growing up; they are both very cool dudes like that. Plus they knew reverse psychology all too well with me. During the course of that phase, I read several dozen of them. A while ago, I wrote them a tribute. Last week, it got published in Talk magazine here. My friend Sajai there at the magazine is one of the very few copy editors I know who I feel safe giving my stories to. But like a mother's blind love for her baby, I cannot resist posting the original here too.

Reader, I married him.

By the time Jane Eyre tells you, the reader, this, you are rooting for her and Mr Rochester, rooting for the strings of happiness Jane is trying to hold on to, rooting for love and companionship and all that. More than that all, through the lives of the unlikely couple, you root for the love story that we each secretly hope to be ours, even if not in the manner of Bollywood excesses.

And that is the clever sales pitch that always works, be it in a rom-com starring American sweethearts or in chick-lit or in the ultimate temples of romance, Mills and Boons.

I have no qualms whatsoever in admitting I read Mills and Boons (M&B) through my teens and through the idyllic conquer-the-world early 20s. On my Kindle device, I still keep a few handy, for long commutes and the lunch hour. After a long day at work, after a fight with mother, after a heavy book, there is no better feel-good than an M&B. Or even Silhouette. Or Harlequin. Or their other offspring. It is perhaps like what ice-cream is to most people, you don’t need a reason to have it; and it always makes you happy.

Apart from being the ice cream on a rainy day, to me, the M&B books have helped hone my writing skills as well, something I realized, like the proverbial bulb above my head, the other day when some of us were discussing the new phenomenon ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ (which I don’t think I will ever finish). The subject veered to romance novels in general and listening to each of us talk of how we discovered and came to be hooked to them, I realized my association went a wee bit deeper.

It was my school principal who, unwittingly of course, introduced me to M&B when I was in class 7. During a routine PTA meeting, mother complained to the principal that I read more novels and less of my textbooks, often staying up into the night. Madam principal asked me what I read and I told her; I don’t remember what my answer was. She then turned to my mother and said as long as I was not reading Mills and Boons, it was all right, given that I was not slacking in the academics anyway.

In the 1990s, we school girls were still of the kind that did not know of nor had access to such books. My interest was obviously piqued; there is no greater reason to do something than to be told not to do it. As if the universe was conspiring, I found a worn M&B in a sack of second hand books dad had bought for me from a distant land. Never having bothered with the name of the publishers on the cover before, The Stars on Fire or some such like was thus my very first M&B. I still remember the story of a young actress who comes as a replacement for another and the director, while thinking the worse of her for supposedly manipulating her way in, cannot help but fall in love with her. There is drama and heartbreak and fights before the mandatory happily-ever-after. In hindsight, I nearly giggle when I remember that it was quite a racy book to be reading at the age of 12!

I remember narrating the story to a friend whose parents were stricter about what she could read. Mine, bless them, having seen the folly of the principal and knowing the theory of reverse psychology all too well with me, let me be. From then on, I must have read several dozens of them; most of them one summer in high school that I spent in the city house of an aunt with access to a whole library dedicated to M&Bs!

As I began writing in several forms and at several places, the value of these soapy, theatrical novels came to the fore. A sunset in these novels is never just a sunset, it is always a golden caramel yellow light that bursts upon from behind the island, yet pales before the glow of the heroine’s face. A face that isn’t just beautiful but is likened to the moon and the sun and the sunset and to the flowers in the meadows. Over the top, yes of course. But no one is telling you it is literature.

In those initial years of reading them, what I perhaps skipped were parts that talked of history of an island (not always fictitious, mind you), of food and little phrases from the local dialects and of culture. Much later, while revisiting some old ones and picking up new titles, I used to be struck by what I could only think of as travel writing in those passages between the heroine’s blush and the hero’s show of all-maleness. I would not claim to have found inspiring sentences and quotable phrases in any of them; now that would be too farfetched. But in the two-three hours that it takes to read one of them, if you pay attention, there is a little bit of history, some intro to food and clothes and language and culture of turquoise beaches and emerald islands to be found in those pages.

There are Indian versions as well, which were launched with a much publicized competition where winners got their stories published by M&B India. I read one of the first few that came out, and stopped at that. We have our Bollywood for our unbelievables. In romance fiction, I find the unrelatable-ness of foreign characters with blond hair and the French accent better to ‘get’ than the dusky dude in a sherwani wooing his fair, lithe bride in a ghoonghat. But that is just me.

This thought process started with the Fifty Shades of Grey phenomenon for me. I have an e-book version that I thought I would read, just to see what the fuss was all about. But a few pages down, I gave up after the girl began blushing in every seventh sentence. It is supposed to have revived erotica, but if that book is erotica, it is snowing in Bangalore today. I stopped at a point when the heroine says of her blush, that she was the colour of the Communist Manifesto! That made me laugh, doubly so because I don’t think that was the writer’s intended reaction from her readers. But then I read somewhere that she is making one million pounds every week (!!) from the book now. That robs me of the amusement.

Apparently, M&B has come out with fan fiction for Fifty Shades… as well. I am not sure I want to read them. I like my clich├ęs in my romance fiction. I like the emeralds and TDH men and the perfect stories. I might still skip over the sightseeing bits of the book, but like your vanilla ice-cream, plain and simple, there is nothing like a good, straightforward love story when real life gets bit of a bore. Plus I get to learn another way to describe sunset on a beach.


Friday, March 01, 2013

The Ides of March

*Shudder* *Shudder* It is March again, that dreaded month when something always goes wrong, when I lose people or things. It is the month of life changing happenings, none of them pleasant, none that haven't left an indelible mark on me. I dread March. Be nice people, and help me break the curse. In the meantime, let me go bury my head in the sand and let March pass as quickly as one whole month can. 

Crystal Ball

Perhaps there are people who are content with their lot in life. I don't know any. I wouldn't want to be one such. Those of the people I know are restless, easily irritable, inspired, inspiring, maverick, artists, people who want to live and feel and burn. We are all constantly searching for something. Maybe a lot of us wouldn't want to find it, whatever it is that we are searching for, because then we would become content, and that would be death. We look for that which makes us want to live, to do what we want to do. 

You don't always know what you want to do, but sometimes, in the middle of something that you have to do, no matter how uninspiring, you get a glimpse of that little thing, a quick singe on the soul, a fire that burns and burns and makes you want to let yourself go. It is a glimpse of the devil, for you see what could be possible, for you see how you could and what would make you happy. It is a fire dance that will burn you slowly and reduce you to cinders. But for a magical, seductive second, you see into the misty glass bowl and see how it could be. 

Then there is no going back to the fireless, hurtless cocoon you flew out of, in pursuit of that seductive second of possibility.