Saturday, 17 December 2016

Book Review : Complete Nonsense by Edward Lear

Throughout my idea of Lear was - a Children's Limerick writer! From what I had read about his life, that made sense. He wrote those five-lined rhyming poems for the children of his patron Edward Stanley, the 13th Earl of Derby. After reading this compilation however, that view of mine has changed considerably! This book has the following parts and along with my reactions are listed under :

1. A Book of Nonsense - √ :) :D
(Ha-ha-ha!!!)
I had read this volume earlier separately and it is a joyride. Funny! A nice book for children and adults alike. You can also learn about certain pronunciations you did wrong earlier by rhyming along.

2. More Nonsense - √ :D :)
(More ha-ha-ha!!!)
Funny, weirder and funny! His neologisms (words not accepted in mainstream literature, but have some popular use of various kinds) are amazing to read aloud, and today many are dictionary words!

3. Nonsense songs - √ :) :D
(Ha-ha-ha. :\ What?!? Oh! Ha!)
I was a fan of Jumblies and their sieve for quite some time; and they, along with Quangle-Wangles, Pobbles, are Lear's reappearing heroes. Lear's nonsense songs were once so famous that some phrases became a part of mainstream literature expressions. An example is the "Owl and the Pussy Cat" 's 'runcible spoon'!
"They dined on mince, and slices of quince
Which they ate with a runcible spoon;
And hand in hand, on the edge of the sand,
They danced by the light of the moon,
The moon,
The moon,
They danced by the light of the moon."
But not all songs are as nonsensical as the poems are. Some are based on "reductio ad absurdum" (reduction to absurdity) where an argument disproves a statement by showing its compulsive absurd conclusion. This shows the range of literary forms Lear used in his writings, and did best.

4. Nonsense stories and alphabets - √ :) :D
(The first story is okay : typical Lear. BUT the second : Really disturbing!
The parents teach children not to so some things, which they do and all the children of seven families die in weird and even grotesque ways. Perhaps the motivation was to teach the children a lesson of how important it it to listen to your parents. But this way seems strange! And then the parents starve themselves and make a pickle of themselves and are now kept in a museum!!! It is eerie!
What was Lear thinking writing these?
They are nonsensical sure, as promised but the sense of humor is very dark and not at all suited for children. It will be disturbing to them, as per myself. 
This broke my perception of Lear!

5. Nonsense alphabets - √ :) :D
(Perfect for teaching infants!)

6. Nonsense cookery - √ :) :D
(What does he mean? :P )

7. The Heraldic Blazon of Foss the Cat - √ :) :D
(Hail Foss! _/\_ )

In this collection, the type of humor ranges from typical silly, children's to really dark humor and literary devices used very aptly. The range I had imagined Lear was set in has been made vast considerably after reading this collection. The variety presented in this particular genre is phenomenal. It is a really good read for limerick lovers and Lear fans.

I give Complete Nonsense by Edward Lear 4 stars! :)

Happy reading! :)

Tuesday, 13 December 2016

Book Review : The adventures of Tintin in the Land of the Soviets

I wonder what communist fans think of this book! :P

But a Hergé is always a delight to read, right?

Reading the first book after the more refined later ones gives you an idea of how the prolific cartoonist progressed in his genre where he is an epic. The typical storyline and Hergé-framework exists there from the very first book, as it seems, which has also framed the blue-prints of the comics that came later with the same structure, albeit certain nuances changed and some characteristics changed considerably.:D Later, Hergé was better with the correctness of his some scientific descriptions and was also known for his scientific accuracy, though Tintin almost always gets such impossible feats done, and perhaps that is why he is loved so much.
For one the characters are drawn differently. They are also very right-wing, though it was so in other books but here the shades of sentiments are more hued. It gives you a perspective of the time they were drawn which is perhaps the year 1929. But Tintin does some impossible jobs while employed as a reporter like mending a leaking petrol tank on an aeroplane while being its pilot!






Being the first book of the series, it was in black-and-white, and it is said that Hergé never gave permission to publish it in color. There are also a very limited number of copies of this book. So, it is an absolute must-read for all Tintin fans out there, and a collectible of a great value.



I give this book 3 out of 5 stars! :)

Happy reading! :)

Wednesday, 30 November 2016

Open to interpretations

Her candor resembled an archaic smile
- open to interpretations.
Well being,
or, ignorance
or perhaps, plain technical ease?

The carvings were ancient
as the wrinkled visage
- like the silent ripples
of a long lost lochan
forgotten in the folds of time.

The stirrings were noiseless
- almost tranquil,
or perhaps, eerie?
All reticence lost, a steady gaze
held beneath the noiseless stars a secret.

Saturday, 19 November 2016

Pain

Pain.
Alluring, isn't it?
Devouring poets
- the quintessential conundrum!
Accentuating the enigma
of lone fortresses,
and forgotten poetesses,
and characters of protagonists;
My love life.
Symmetrical, bewitching.
Familiar, but menacing.
Grandma in her wheelchair
awaiting a visit, longtime.
The girl who begs:
enthralls or appalls?
&
a forgotten call.
All connected in a thread.
A chord of pain.
Inspiring writers for centuries
and drowning the sun.
Gorecki's third had begun.
Just pain.


Thursday, 25 August 2016

Is it a book? The Kolkata Official Adda Book 1!

I don't know if it is review-able or not! Or even if it is actually a book! But whatever may be the genre, I absolutely loved it! Its a definite collectible if you love Kolkata, know Kolkata and still love Kolkata, sometimes are disgusted by Kolkata and still prefer to live in Kolkata! :)

This is the 'Kolkata Official Adda book 1'. 'Adda' means 'leisurely conversations', but I am sorry! It ain't a proper definition Charlie! Let me explain...

Me, my best friend, his pre-school friend whom I had never met until today, my uncle, his son, his girlfriend, her best friend, my parents, my best-friend's parents, my grandfather all are by some chance are together in our 'baithak-khana' (drawing room) and the Bangali's bangaliyana starts!
Pic. Kolkata Official Adda Book 1

Can you somewhere identify with that? Even if your are a Lucknowi, or an aamchi Mumbaikar, a Greek or any human tribe practised in the art of leisurely 'adda'? Yes, this is 'adda'! And you, if you are in love with Kolkata, will identify with this. If not, its a treasure for a prospective tourist.

Do you go back to the nostalgic spirit when you again see a page of 'sandesh' (not the sweet, but Manik da's magazine!)?
And Manik da? You prefer him to Satyajit Ray, right?

Sukumar Sen- the mathematician turned civil-servant, who designed and supervised independent India's first ever general elections. Did you know about him? No? Are you agonised that people don't know his name even though moments before you had never heard of him? Yes?


Does the new year's eve customary 'Nahoum and sons', a necessity for the upcoming year to be pleasant for you? Does that lingering aroma waters your mouth now as you think of it? Do you wish Frispo's was back? Yes?

Do you say, "ektu side deben" even in metro instead of "excuse me"? Yes?

Do you still think that the Delhi, and now the Mumbai, Bangalore metro rails are not 'authentic' enough, and are in love with the single-occupancy window seats of the musical Girish Park trams? Yes?

Most yes-es? Yes? Okay. Then this book or diary or book that looks like a diary, is a collectible you must have. 

It's true that I- the so called reviewer is overtly romantic, but I am a 'Calcatian' in love with both Calcutta and Kolkata. So, can't help it.

And lastly, I once said this exact line to a friend of mine who scoffed and made faces. If you have read till here, I don't think you will do it too. 
"Kolkata is a feeling, not just a city. You don't just grow in this city. Slowly, this city grows on you."

Enough said. Now read. Hallelujah!

And yes, I give 'The Kolkata Official Adda Book 1' full five stars!

Happy reading! :)  

A lone diner

Sitting alone
in ABCOS Food Plaza
I wonder
how blissful
is solitude!

A woman
in aquamarine
a mother-
middle-aged,
a wife;
Her years
of domesticity
settled
and pleasantly ripe.

I am awkward
as she
is joined
by family
and friends-
all together
happier
and fairer,
while I
write these
self-consoling lines
in ABCOS Food Plaza
:a wannabe loner.

Solitude here
-a choice?

Then there are
four gentlemen.
While collar,
blackberry
and sherry;
politics, office(?)
school system,
rainy days
and
sewer maintenance!

While sitting
in a quiet corner
I wonder
again...
Solitude here
-a choice?
Will I ever
share
a world,
a home
they agnize?

I'll go back
from ABCOS Food Plaza.
But where?
Whom
will I ask
to dine
with me?
(at least once
every day...)











Sunday, 31 July 2016

Book Review - "Volga se Ganga" by Rahul Sankrityayan

Oh! What a book! The writer is brilliant! Simply brilliant! This idea of presenting the history of Indian civilization coming from Aryans, then getting mixed with the 'Asuras' and finally maturing into a more contemporary outlook in the form of twenty short stories is just genius, brilliant, all superlatives! I read this book 'Volga se Ganga' by Rahul Sankrityayan in Hindi, the language it was originally written in 1942; the hindi being purer, our 'hinglish' generation, alas, will be a bit slow in reading. This is a book that unfolds more and you read it again. It is a cult and its eminence is a history in itself. It has been translated to English, Bengali, Russian, Malayalam, Telugu, Polish, Chinese and so many other languages. So the review is going to be heavy and lengthy one and this time I will not apologize for that. :)


The book specializes in presenting "point of views". Rahul Sankrityayan basically paints various timelines and landscapes while drawing the graph of the development of Indian civilization. He does it from the aspects of various characters true to their race, class, creed, sex and their time. The ideas of equality, justice, the conflict in judgement arising from how what is shown differs from what actually is, how politics of lust and power frames the history, where it wins and when and how it looses make the central theme of this book. And we practically see how ideals, notions, superstitions evolve over time to become a much stronger part of the civilization, completely detached from its roots but still retaining a touch if you scratch the surface.


Rahul Sankrityayan was famous for being an excellent scholar of languages, histories and mythologies; an ardent traveller whose aim of travel was understanding and knowledge. His writings are said to be well researched. Even though I haven't verified its authenticity completely, but when there is imagination in the very art of presenting history, personal opinion may abut the content and tinge the glass we are looking through. True! But still, for novices and history-insinceres (like me), and so I have heard for many elites of the history culture as well, this book a gem. You will, if you are an Indian or know of the Indian culture, will visibly see the past carnivals hold the seed of the society as it is today.


The thing I like about this book is that even though it talks through perspectives and opinions, its characters are not always anti-slavery, anti-racism but real, true to their ideas, intentions and necessities as people in a dynamic society are. Through them, you get to know how religion shaped the society, how brahmins-kshatriyas came to be 'gau-mata-poojak's from downright carnivorous society who consumed even pigs and horses, how races got mixed and what were the dynamics of that, how slavery from being a well hated concept came to be accepted and why that happened and how. I have read this book in Hindi which makes me sad as to why our so ferocious Hindu 'gau-hatya' haters have not read this book yet (Well most of them claim to be learned 'ved-pandits')!


It starts with blue-eyed, blonde haired Aryans settled near Volga in Caucasia in about 6000 BC. People were living in small clans, the society was matriarchal and hunting and incest were the basis of a family or a clan. Then sizes of nomadic clans began to grow, and the oldest blueprint of a human society was formed. Going back to 4500 years before, I think imagination plays a major role in drafting these stories. But the research is attributed to the "Origin of family private property and State" by Engels. Then we move towards the Himalayan mountain ranges. A bigger fraternity was a stronger alternative for survival, but along with came the vices as well. We see the birth of a position called 'indra'- the chosen leader, the strongest fighter and the supreme judge who acted for the people. Perhaps the idea of the Hindu god 'indra' was inspired from this!

The next stories trace the complete dynamics of how the reluctant diffusion of Aryans, Asuras(brown-skinned Northern Indians) and 'Solas'(the dark-skinned Southern Indians) created the race we Indians are today. This part of the book is said to be relying on the information from vedas, upanishads, ramayana, mahabharata, puranas and writings of some well known ancient names like Kalidasa, Banbhatta and so on. The 'brahmin' and 'a-brahmin' difference was once based on color. Then 'brahmin's used to be the educated and the fighter class. Further, the upper strata disintegrated into 'kshatriyas' and 'brahmins', the fighters and the 'acharyas'- the so called intellectual elite, the power holders. Slavery, untouchability whose 'authenticity' is claimed by 'hindu pandits' to be rooted in the great Indian 'mahakavya's were basically ideas drafted on payment by an "ashthan kavi"(poet of the court) of a king's or a rich man's court with the interest of glorifying the payer and keeping his power within his grip. The strata of women was now gutted down the drains and they were now mere objects of pleasure and no more than that. Slaves were traded as objects. Women slaves of a household were also part time pleasure objects along with being a servant, and their trade, inspite of the so-revered marital or birth status otherwise, remained unaffected by that.


While reading this part I was wondering if the present acharyas of Banaras or elsewhere even know of this history? Once, as these were being done, people perhaps knew the origins of these hypocrisies. But today, these are so well dissolved in our veins in terms of our 'reet-rivaaz' that damage conspired a thousand years ago still refuses to loosen its grip in the name of religion.


Then we arrive at the pre-contemporary and contemporary time lines of the history. Here we can easily judge the author for we are more aware of this part of the history than the previous ones. These last six stories start with prodding the time of the Mughals We see how Akbar and his ideology framed what is modern India today. Our constitution is based on one of his prime ideas- the panchayat raj. The stir in hearts to abolish slavery was helped by his old idea of equality and the notion of the success of an empire stemming from the content of its people first took place in the Indian subcontinent. This part is much more connectible to the present day reader. Then came the British and not only the panchayat raj suffered but the outline of a revolutions began taking shape. It took a long time, given our caste divisions, for a united voice to rise and ultimately win. With Mangal Singh's story we come to know that how even among the united one side of the rebellion, the driving factors can vary so much, and how that effects the course of the act. Rahul Sankrityayan was a communist. And the last two stories border on the ideology and its differences with Gandhi followers. Now, with the British in India the shape of our history was also attached to the ongoings of Europe and they were one important point that influenced our notions and reasons of revolt and revolution. The opinion about fascism, communism, socialism, nationalism started forming in the mind of the average Indian. Here we can almost hear what the writer believed in as the book draws to a close in 1942, the year it was published. Of the aftermath we know the basics. So, now its time to think!


Two of my seniors, Shauri di and Monalisa di, say you achieve a 'paradigm shift' after having read this book. I don't know about that but once you have read this book, you will have a certain understanding. Though of course not complete, you will have a basic and well-formed idea of how things work, how human greed, lust shapes religions, beliefs, superstitions and they civilizations. How power play is central to the growth of the civilisations, and perspectives matter. And you will almost feel sad seeing that so vigorous a society still thriving, not understanding, and your ideas just being one of the many perspectives as was Rahul Sankrityayan's among many.


The book ends with "satya se badhkar koi dharma nahi hai". It implies that no religion is greater than the truth. And that is what throughout this journey the writer has successfully tried to establish perhaps though what is the truth, differs from time to time and varies with the need of those who somehow become very important for various reason in shaping the history. How this happen and what are the reason? Well, the ball is in your court now! Play well.


I give Rahul Sankrityayan's “Volga se Ganga” full 5 stars.


So what are you thinking now?

Don't think much.

Over-thinking leads to stress.

Go and buy this book.

Then let me know in the comments if you can gently share some of your

(so-called) precious time (I know how much time you waste!).


Happy reading! :)

Wednesday, 6 July 2016

Book Review - "Tales of the Open Road" by Ruskin Bond

  There are great writers in this world who have given something new to the world in the form of their writings. Among them there are two classes : one whom you can't help but admire for their beautiful penmanship, and the second with whom you, unconsciously, fall in love. For the second class, admiration comes after love. The speciality of writers like J. K. Rowling and J. R. R. Tolkein is that you can't help but fall in love with their writings, the worlds that they have created, beautifully crafted and designed. You marvel at their ingenuity and their ability to grasp your soul with a brilliant involvement.

Ruskin Bond
Picture Courtesy : Rusty's Photo
Among them in my list there is another guy who isn't a fantasy writer but who is so much in love with his own world that you must also fall in love with the world that he pens down and the view that helps him and you, through him, access the vista of that world. That guy is none other that our dear old Rusty or Ruskin Bond. His writings soothe your soul when you are down and give you a hope that apart from all the bad, there is another aspect of life which is always going to remain beautiful and pleasant no matter what. Those things are nature's bounties, its people, their general goodness, animals in the wild, rhododendrons of the mountainous valley, glitters of dew on them with the freshness they bring, a little girl who is very happy to see all this and an old soul who has found himself after being lost in these. When you read a Ruskin Bond, in all there experiences perhaps you have never been there, but you find yourself becoming a Ruskin Bond.  I have been in love with whatever he pens down from the time I have started to appreciate the small things in life amidst all the crisis we face everyday. The bad thing in this love, as in any other love, is that I can't find a flaw in him which as a book critic, that I am trying to be on this blog, I should be, as the tradition dictates. But I generally don't do that well in presence of a dictatorship. SO, please pardon me if you find lack of criticism boring or un-deserving but such is my love for Rusty. I apologize for the length as well! With your forgiveness, lets move forward. :)

This post is dedicated to 'Tales of the Open Road' by, yes, our dear old Ruskin Bond. As would be anyone for to guess, this book is a collection of travel pieces. It has been written over a time line of fifty years, and hence is as rich and as varied in point of view as fifty years of experience may entail one to, but united in the essence. The spirit is that of a wanderer who is in love with his wanderings and his places and peoples of wanderings...

The book starts with tales of highways and the GT Road, and Rusty takes us to those silent corners of the well trodden dusty road where he just spotted a cheetal, or just missed a leopard who was supposed to be there as per his driver. He, then, narrates his own story of running away from school with his friend Daljit, how they posed as tourists to avoid detection once and some long lost sikh relative of a friendly truck driver another time to make that journey which will just be a start to their grand voyages to Rome, New York, Dubai, London and so many exotic places in the world. He discovers in his journey the people of India and added to the cunning they let grow in you, he realizes some soft but some bitter truths about the roads , less or more but, travelled and unforeseeable surprises when the supposed and real ends do not meet. There are splashes of joy, spatters of disappointment, marvellous young ideas of adventurous school boys and a simple innocence that bind you to the tale. Rusty's roads are more about the bliss of travel rather than the ecstasy of the destination which not many times end in joie de vivre.

Picture Courtesy : Book Cover


Then follows the plain tales of the plain towns. Beer at Chutmalpur or the Rose Rum Factory of Shahjahanpur which brings back the forgotten nostalgia of Bond grandfather on his fore-passed road tales before 1857, and a cheer(s)-ful remembrance to the to the famous Solan Brewery in Simla. He talks about the lesser known Monsoon in Meerut in a crummy guest-house that belongs to sole survivor of the forgotten tribes of lost Englishmen in independent India. He talks about his summer road rages in Delhi. How he could never fall in love with Delhi but found a temporary respite in scorching summer walks in the city and how he always yearned for the hills while being there. Then he goes to Agra, but remembers more of the kites and the kite-makers and the endangered species of kite-fliers; not the Taj Mahal and its grand tribute to 'love'; but a lazy afternoon conversation with a young boy he met while searching for a shade beside. Then he ascribes the pilgrims' of Ganga, the devotees of Rhishikesh and Haridwar, his inquisitive friend Kamal and the Delphic sadhus they met on their travel. Oh so much of India! Can you take it any more?

Finally he comes back to the hills. He is at peace there. He reflects full of nostalgia on the changes that have hugged the high himalayan hills of India. Once sitting on an erstwhile rat infested royal chair in a wayside teashop, he tries to understand its owner whose life, health plans are all dependent on a road that will be build in god knows how many years and a few buses that will pass through that road; and how there is still hope till there are a few bank managers in unknown villages who get all excited about a freshly blossomed flower. Passing along a moonlit dark alley in his city he comes to tryst with one of the profound truths about humanity and succumbs to his Hillel-ian ethics that say,
“If I am not for myself
who will be for me?
If I am not for others
what am I?
If not now, when?”

Now coming to it, what do you think of Ganga? A holy river revered by Hindus, embraced by Indian customs and beliefs of rituals and purity although ecological reports differ! But how does Rusty's Ganga looks? She is not just a river, but almost a character full of fun and frolic, dangerous and lovable. She almost imbibes the personality of the path it traverses ('or is it vice-versa?') before pouring herself down at the Bay of Bengal. The gradient of her character and transformations, somewhere smooth and somewhere abrupt, amazes the reader. Alaknanda geographically the true-born one is the more atrocious one. She moves with an unrest and roars as the thunder on her way to Devprayag. She is as scary as she is temperamental. Whereas Bhagirathi, traditionally the more respected one due to her patience and control and choice of the path that reflects her beauty and greenery, is as if the elder sister, the calmer one, who finally meets Alaknanda and both assume the character that the plains' devotee worship as mother Ganga. You can almost feel his love and admiration for the attractive Mandakini ('the river, not the actress though both lovely beauties to look at and admire!' ;) ).

Living in the aftermath of the 2013 Uttarakhand tragedy, you can relate to how the characters of these rivers, just as Rusty described, were fateful in deciding the destiny of the devotees. That is the genius of the writer and the prowess of his observation. The description of the deodars, silver-firs, spruces along the coasts, the silky rocks polished by the raging river, and a writer's judgment on her character, the usual Indian tourist trivialities and so on are what attracts you to this trail of Ganges, and you will always feel that connection re-establish when either Rusty or you return there one day.

You can read Mr. Ruskin Bond's tales as if you were there, beside him, as a silent observer on these trails, and then the wanderlust strikes you. If you once fall in love with Bond, there will always be a part of his character that will live inside you no matter where life takes you.

I give Ruskin Bond's “Tales of the Open Road” full 5 stars.

So, you are packing your bags now, right?

Happy reading! :)


Thursday, 16 June 2016

Book Review - "Servants of India" by R. K. Laxman

The second review again is aimed for another 'Laxman-flavour'-ed book titled "Servants of India". The reason of this line of succession is because I am reading his works one after the other at this moment. So, pardon me if you get bored.

Going by the title, anyone accustomed to R. K. Laxman would assume this to be a book on the esteemed politicians of our country, but it is not so! This book is basically about the most important person in the Indian household - the servant, something that is even unheard of in our western counterparts of similar social status. For Indians, the servant of the house is of utmost importance for the plethora of activities they perform at lower rates which constantly seem to rise, and the topic is worrisome as well due to their unpredictability, inefficiency or sheer unavailability. And our dear Mr. Laxman tries to write by hand a picture of the helping hand.

In a single sentence, it is a nice little book. So, this review is going to be a short and a crisp one. The first two stories were amusing enough. A crook handyman and another cook who emerge as a priest and motivational speaker after taking a well-informed leave respectively. The following stories are ordinary incidents narrated with Laxman's signature satire and sense of humour. They do give you his perspective and Indian people's outlook of the servant condition of India, but I would especially mention (not spoil!) two of his servant stories which I actually loved very much.

The first one is 'Iswaran the storyteller'. It's eerie as is supposed to be, and the writing is well suited for that purpose. Apart form that, the remarkable quality of the writing lies in the fact that the writer never looses his sense of humour throughout the narrative. So, the great interest for you is that at the the end of the story you are not only uneasy but also chuckling.

After that follows a nice descriptive narration with the essence of the unusual style of the cartoonist in 'Narsimha the terrible', you reach another story - 'The Saga of Ramaswami'. Here Laxman is marvellous, as he gets to describe various landscapes and diverse people, not just limited to the household arena as in the rest of the book, with his confident flair of a caricaturist-turned-writer. The imageries are really well constructed and the story, though quite simple, appeals.

An American or a European might find this particular collection of writing very odd due to the topic it deals with. Being not accustomed to the way things are done in India, as the author unabashedly mentions, might arise a question like, "Why the hell!?" For example : a child of eight came in as a domestic help and the family, though was an educated one with the bread-earner being a writer- an intellectual great, never admitted the boy to school; instead his job was to play with their own kid who subsequently goes on to school. But this relation, in spite of its sheer inequality and injustice, goes along healthily and happily for a long time. One might criticise this aspect of the book, but this system of household servants is still there at large. Child labour, cheap labour rates are a handful of the big, major issues faced by India today. One has to understand that the caricaturist is just writing about the reality, what he saw around himself with a stroke of satire on the attitude of those who are around.

So, on the whole if you are not bothered by the above fact, the book is a nice quick little read, and some of the story-titles are really nice. The middle section of the book is a bit boring and repetitive which gives me the impression that due to poor choice of many similar, weak stories in a book concerned with a very domestic and non-exotic topic, the effect of writing remains a bit powerless. It seems a good story teller choose a bad story to tell. But still a few are really nice, funny and great to read.

So, for me R. K. Laxman's "Servants of India" earns 2.5 - 3 stars.

Happy reading! :)

Tuesday, 14 June 2016

Book Review - "The Distorted Mirror: Stories, Travelogues, Sketches"

I love reading, and it is one of the best habits of my life. This is a blog I have opened to start doing book reviews on a proper basis as I often have something to say about the books I read. So why not let this vast expanse of populated void, called the internet, know them too? Now that was idea behind starting this. I hope people who might make the mistake of reading this will forgive me for being too romantic and too emotional in my reviews, because that's how I am. :)

This book review is for "The Distorted Mirror: Stories, Travelogues, Sketches" by the most revered and loved cartoonist of our country R. K. Laxman - the man who chronicled India's first sixty years of independence from the point of view of a 'common man'. His cartoons spoke all that an 'aam aadmi' ever felt. But what the larger population doesn't know is his prowess as a writer. And I will give you a partial idea about that in this post.

A good warning for all is that I am a devoted fan of Mr. Laxman (pardon me for referring to him that way; it's a really bad habit of mine to call my favourite authors sometimes like this!); and thus, I might be a bit more elaborate on his good side. I will try to be equally critical of his shortcomings (thanks to Amal for advising me to do that).

The book has an easy, lucid language. Extensive readers might guess from his writings that his style exemplifies typical Indian English but, as I feel, as long as it remains a pleasure to read and that depends on the content, newness, etc., that is never the problem.

The book starts with short stories which might more properly be the character of sketches, with brilliant minute observations perfectly conveyed, rather than a conventional package of stories. They are quite abrupt without a proper trimming and lack the power of narration. With so many great short stories we have, Laxman's ones simply fail to amaze as much as the accompanying cartoons. I personally feel that they should have been published under "character sketches" or something like that. But after all they are short stories, so a new 'Laxman-flavour' is not unwelcome there, and they get over quite fast. :(

But as you move to his travelogues, the power of a brilliant observation made strikes you in a better way this time, and you can appreciate the strong imageries of 'Laxman-flavour' in a better way here. The descriptions are authentic, personal, the reminiscences powerful and witty. My first great moment of pleasure came as I was reading his travelogue 'Darjeeling', and just a page later suddenly encountered a happy observation- "How similar are his observations to me!" And that connected a chord. So, I will go into a bit extensive detail about his travel pieces. Please skip the next four paragraphs if the narrative gets too boring to be digested without medicine.

As I was reading 'holiday in the islands', I was transported back to the days when Laxman visited, when the tourism of the Andaman and Nicobar islands were lost in oblivion after the British left. I could almost smell the moist grass, tread on the forgotten, mossy islands where forgotten leisure houses gloated in their ruin. What an amazing descriptor! No doubt that his cartoons could speak. No doubt he is a legend.

While writing of Australia, even though I know that my reflections on visiting the same sketches, if I ever visit them, would be different, I can still agree and ponder on with his outlook, impressions, writings of the untouched blue of the isolated continent, of the enthusiastic gold miners of leisure hours, and of old millionaires of the sheep. His pen is almost visual with the flair and confidence of an established cartoonist who is damn serious and honest in his witticisms.

Of Mauritius and Kathmandu, his pen describes all that would be evoked in the mind of any 'Indian-ish' Indian. The surprise of a familiar ancestral Tamil speaking French-accented English, the descriptions of nightmarish corals that give you the creeps, the king typhoon unsettling the peace till it is forgotten in a cycle of stormy aftermaths. All remind you a bit of yourself taking these impressions as if it were you in the tiny island country. Also the parting where he is filled with a necessary grief born out of an experienced intuition showing the fate of an ever-desired industrialisation that would secure but kill the paradise of a now vulnerable nation dependant only on the sweetness of sugar-cane farming and its friendly people; but he is still hopeful, maybe very pessimistically as he dreads the shadow that kills his imagination to play with the clouds, as he boards the plane to return to India. For Kathmandu the nature of impressions are his amusing musings after overcoming the initial shock and disgust. How a king's courtyard is filled with grass sellers and dogs reminding him and the reader of India! How foreign tourists are fooled and sold the idol of goddess Tara that to them becomes the Buddha! :/ He almost always is chuckling darkly and so are you. But still the observations of a similar Indian are much more favourable of a Kathmandu than its pretentious casinos and nightclubs. You agree, don't you?

But Laxman is at his best and magnificent at his sketches, for a less obvious thing his literary sketches. The charismatic caricaturist is at his best framing those sentences, especially if the sketches are describing a political creature, or a humble hypocrite or simply a bored commoner for whom both the aforementioned caricatures are as true and real as the next day. His writings show us the potential of a cartoonist and a political satirist who is honest and funny in his views, narrations and sketches. The humour, satire and the wisdom in choosing those are the superlatives of that class. I have fallen in love with his writings of a caricaturist-turned-writer while still retaining the effortless, visible humour, irony and satire of that brilliant observation-ist and comparision-ist alive in every sentence . The metaphors, direct comparisons are just too great to be missed. Literature isn't just great words or grand sentences, but something new and brilliant of an idea to offer to the existing mass, and our dear Mr. Laxman does that seamlessly.

The last piece of this collection is a caricaturist's self-reflection. He vividly recalls what is the impression of the impressionist, what questions he is asked and how he replies. He also ponders along deep whether and to what extent his profession as a cartoonist has effected his outlook. Though it does less to ease the effects of rising prices of onion or the irritation of sticky jams but having a frame of humour in mind perhaps does a lot to ease the journey. And that funny, witty but serious and satirical journey of one hundred and sixty pages were one of the fastest and most amusing that I have ever had. The read is very light but not forgettable. A 'Laxman-flavour' definitely stays with you and impregnates your outlook. Hail the cartoonist and his witticisms! Hail Mr. R K Laxman, his pen, his mind and his observations!

I will give R. K. Laxman's "The Distorted Mirror: Stories, Travelogues, Sketches" 4 stars.

Happy reading! :)