A Tale of Impossible Heroes a.k.a Every Alistair Maclean Novel

My travel time to office has recently come down from 1 hour ( in a cosy bus) to 30 mins ( 15 minutes by metro rail and a 15 minute walk after that). In other words, my glorious two hours of reading everyday is now reduced to a mere, frenzied half-an-hour ( even lesser, when the train perks up and makes it in 12 minutes). If anything, this has made me realize all over again how much my sanity hinges on being able to snuggle into a book and lose myself to it for atleast a little while everyday. So, the last ten days in the metro have seen me feverishly poring over ‘South by Java Head’ – an Alistair Maclean classic.

My love for Alistair Maclean’s writing began when I was a child, and like so many other childhood loves, it is one that has stood the test of time and familiarity. The first A.M novel I read, in my early teens, was ‘Fear is the Key’, one more of my dad’s excellent recommendations. On its heels, I read a dozen more, such as  ‘Night without end’, ‘Bear Island’, ‘Partisans’, and the gruesome ‘Puppet on a Chain’. I promptly fell in love with every hero, just as a teenager ought to.

These were no ordinary men, they were supermen. They all had a dry wit which they exercised even in the most dreadful circumstances. They always knew the right thing to do, and on the rare occasions when they made a mistake, they recovered in the most fabulous ways. They did not need to sleep like normal people did – they could complete an entire 300-page adventure without a wink of sleep! And somehow, they managed to pack in a hint of vulnerability too – just enough to entice the heroine.

Somehow, growing up and realizing that men are not, that men ( or women) can’t possibly be all that Maclean portrays, has not affected my absurd, all-out crush on these guys. Which is why, yesterday, when I turned over the last page and finished ‘South by Java Head’, I was grinning silly, just as unabashedly high as my teenage self! 🙂 After this book, I sense a Maclean phase in the offing..  Good times ahead! 🙂

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Scott Adams : An Unlikely Mentor

I was fifteen when my dad introduced me to Scott Adams. I read his book, ‘The Dilbert Future’ over three vastly enjoyable summer days. As much as I laughed over the entire book, it was the last chapter that fascinated me. Here was this funny, too-good-to-be-true concept, called ‘Affirmations’ – pick something you really really want, write it down a bunch of times every day, and watch it come true!

It is a testament not to my erstwhile nerdiness but to my erstwhile laziness, that I began with an affirmation to the effect that I would score 96% in my 10th Standard board exams.

I scored an 86%.

Here is where I should have given up on Scott Adams’ fantastic theory. Instead, I attributed the 86% to a slight functional glitch in the powers-that-almost-made-this-work, and became a believer.

Over the next few years, I continued to use affirmations to what seemed like varying degrees of success and failure, with an unfading enthusiasm. When I look back at those years now, I think that those affirmations did have an impact on my life –  I’d become a much more optimistic person! ( And no, I wasn’t a natural optimist – my favorite mental state as a teenager was melancholy, with a generous sprinkling of angst and boredom). Something in the act of writing those absurd sentences, line after line after line, made me perk up and believe in good things. It’s strange, but there it is!

Afterwards, Life happened..a lot of it. And I suppose I became a little more of a realist along the way and began to regard affirmations as hocus-pocus. However, I still smile about the fact that the best self-help tip I received came from an author who mostly wrote about workplace humor.

Some years down the line, in my mid-twenties, came another big Scott Adams phase. I discovered his site, and found to my glee that there were more than twenty years’ worth of Dilbert comic strips I hadn’t read yet! I proceeded to correct this gross mistake over the next year or so, and in doing so, stumbled upon his new book – ‘How to fail at almost everything and still win big’.

Had I failed at stuff? Yes!! Did I want to win? Hell, yeah! And that is how Scott Adams, that zany, witty man, helped me yet again. This time, having read and re-read the book thrice, I have narrowed down his advice to one all-important point – exercise regularly! Somehow, reading this book brought home to me the necessity of disciplined exercise more than any other article or statistic or doctor has in the past.

Now and then, I imagine meeting my personal heroes in an airport terminal, and striking up a conversation with them. Even in these fantasies, their awesomeness leaves me tongue-tied..very unlike my usual glib self. If I were to ever meet Scott Adams, I would probably desist from talking to him at all, for fear of saying something cliché and ordinary.

So, Scott Adams, if you ever read this ( and if one were to go by your parallel universe hypothesis in ‘Dilbert Future’ , you probably are reading this, in some universe or the other) – this post is my way of telling you – I owe you a lot! Thank you!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Karna’s Wife

For most of my reading life, I’d escaped the lure of the ‘Indian’ English novel, apart from the childhood fascination with Ruskin Bond and his tales of vagrants. In recent years, I’d spent a few feverish hours poring over Ravinder Singh’s ‘Can love happen twice’, just to see how bad it could get, and this had pretty nearly killed my interest in the genre.

My interest in Indian writing (and also in Indian mythology) was reignited when I read Draupadi’s narration of the Mahabharata in ‘Palace of Illusions’, and more recently, ‘Karna’s wife’ by Kavita Kane.

‘Karna’s Wife’ is the story of Karna and his wife Uruvi, told from Uruvi’s vantage point. Uruvi is portrayed as a charming and headstrong child-woman, who watches from the gallery as Karna tries to compete in the infamous archery tournament, where he is humiliated by the Pandavas, and saved from disgrace by Duryodhana, thus cementing the most poignant friendship in the Mahabharata.

She falls in love with him and takes matters into her hands by getting him invited to her Swayamvara, in the face of all opposition, and marries him. The next few years see her mature from an idealistic girl to a pragmatic woman. She watches as her husband is driven by his unswerving friendship for Duryodhana to deeds that she finds heinous, and that could only lead to his downfall. Through her eyes, we witness the moral struggles of a man who was considered the most noble of them all by his contemporaries.

Mahabharata is a story that yields a different lesson every time you turn the pages. But the overarching lesson in this book to me, was acceptance. In today’s world, we’ve come very far down the road of self-expression and self-fulfillment. We’ve become consumers who demand only the very best experiences. In the characterization of Karna, this book suggests a different form of fulfillment – that of a man who was stilted and shamed by his ancestry, who was dogged by bad-luck and curses galore all his life, and yet unflinchingly and perhaps even joyfully performed his duties and stuck to his ethics. He accepted the poor deck of cards that fate had dealt him and made a meaningful life of it. A similar trait is displayed by Uruvi, who realizes very early on that she is powerless to change the course of Karna’s life, and has a happy marriage with him despite knowing that his days are numbered by his own actions.

Read this book for a fresh perspective of the Mahabharata, one that will make you question who the heroes were, and who the villains. Read it to be enamored and inspired by the staunchness and integrity of its central characters, and ponder awhile over the various shades of moral grey that was the Mahabharata.

 

 

 

Wacky Places to Read!

This post is part of a guest post exchange with IndiaBookStore. IndiaBookStore is a Book Search Engine which helps you find the best deals on books. We are book lovers ourselves; we define ourselves as ‘Of the Bookish, By the Bookish, For the Bookish.’ Check out our book blog here: http://www.indiabookstore.net/bookish/ and start finding the cheapest books here: http://www.indiabookstore.net/ Connect with us on facebook https://www.facebook.com/IndiaBookStore and twitter @IndiaBookStore. Happy Reading

Thanks to Priyanka Pimpale for this post!!

“Here’s to Books – The CHEAPEST vacation, money can buy.”

Charlaine Harris got it perfectly right! Every reader worth their salt agrees with this statement. When you are truly immersed in a book, you emote with the characters.  Reading a book is a mini-getaway, a retreat to wherever the author takes us. In such times, if someone or something were to disturb you, only a fellow reader would understand why you’d want to exact murderous revenge. Ergo, everyone has a comfort place where they are oblivious of everything else, but the book. A place where they can go and no one will disturb them. It’s an alcove, a sanctum where they can be themselves. Your most popular choice might be ‘that comfy sofa, with the erstwhile hot chocolate stain from uninterrupted reading sessions over the years’ but for many other readers, this “holy” place is as wacky as comfortable. It could be a bathtub or the roof, there are a myriad of possibilities. As they say – to each his own.

1. Behind the textbook during an on-going lecture

Picture this: The professor has just launched into Newton’s Laws of Motions with renewed vigour and you can only think of how the ‘saviour quartet’ siblings will save Narnia from the impending doom of the Ice Queen. Oh, the agony! What do you do? You carefully extract the novel from your bag and place it strategically behind your textbook. The teacher thinks that you are intently studying Newton, but really, you are light years away from this insipid class, in Narnia! Everybody wins!

2. In the bathtub or on the pot

It’s been such a long day! And everything seems to get to you, it seems like the universe has planned your downfall today! What do you do? Draw a hot bubbly bath, pick that book you’ve wanted to read, since forever, and read your troubles away (at least temporarily!). The bathtub – where the hot water calms your frayed nerves and the bubbles make you dream in reality – is a god send place to read a book or two, or three. 😀

Another popular place is the pot. (You giggled, right? I did too.) The doughty reader, determined to not let anyone get in his way of completing the last two chapters of ‘THE BEST book ever’ (note: all books we read are THE BEST books ever) locks himself in, huddles on to the pot and merrily reads away. It’s the best place because, hey, who is going to disturb you in the washroom? (They don’t need to know the truth about what you are doing! *wicked grin*)

3. In a bookstore

You have been lurking about in the shadows of the book store for two hours now. Only one more page and you promise yourself that you’ll leave. The store manager walks by with a condescending glare. The store clerk looks at you with impatient eyes wondering when you will be out of his way. The store manager recognizes people of your ilk when he sees them. You claim your seat in one of the corner aisles of the bookstore. You pick one of the top selling novels and read from the first chapter or browse through the enormous selection of coffee table books. You have the perfect room temperature, the best seat and you’re surrounded by books. Nothing tops this reading ambiance, except maybe, a library.

Reading a popular book on-sale in a bookstore gives book nerds like us an adrenaline rush. We feel like spies in stealth mode, our aim – reading through the pages as fast as light and completing as many chapters of the new book as possible.

4. Travelling

The necessity of getting from one place to another requires us to use different modes of travel. Unfortunately, teleportation still doesn’t exist in our world (Sigh!). But the banality of commuting to work every day and wading through a sea of human population to get to your destination is warded off by books! Read them in a boring flight or being wedged between talkative teenagers in the train or after finally catching a seat on the bus! It takes you away from grim reality! And if the thought of carrying the book worries your back, what are e-book readers for? Technology finally has something for us too   😀

5. On a tree or in a park during summertime.

Take a book, lie down on the soothing green grass and read away. Sit on a bench, and concentrate on your protagonist’s adventures. There is no chance of anyone disturbing you. Except,  pesky kids playing in the park. And their pets. And, if you need to get away from that menacing dog, perch yourself atop a wide branch of a tree and read. Or do it because you want to. Very few things are cooler than reading a book on a tree. Take a picnic basket, stuffed with yummy food and make a day of it! Nothing would seem as perfect.

6. Beach Reads

A book is like a mini-vacation. And what’s better than a mini-vacation, you ask? A real vacation! Go to the beach, look at the sea and contemplate on what came first, the chicken or the egg? And if worrying about the beginning of the world is too stressful, take a book along! Beach reads are a popular category of books. You read the book, look up at the sea dreamily, you read again. You swing away on your hammock, wait for the hero in the book to kiss the heroine and live happily ever after. Then you sleep, with a satisfied smile on your face. Oblivion, ain’t it?

7. Rooftop

It’s been a long hard day. And the climax of the story is finally going to unravel in this chapter. You lock yourself in your room and frantically turn the pages, and you hear your name being called out. Your siblings want you to come and help them out. After grudgingly helping them and a few murderous glances, you climb out of the window, slowly onto the roof. Yes, the rooftop! Imagine lying down against the cool roof-tiles and gazing at a starry sky and a rogue cloud, then reading your book. Every time you get tired (this doesn’t apply to veteran readers) you could look at the stars, count a few, and then continue reading. And then there is also the added adrenaline rush! For adventure lovers, combine your hobbies of reading an adventure and hop on to your rooftop.

8. In a boat

In the middle of a lake, surrounded only by ripples of water, stretched across the boat, reading a book. Nothing can disturb you there. Except maybe a shark (Just kidding. Or maybe not.) Reading on a boat is as solitary as it can get. And it is the ultimate tribute to literary hedonism! Plus, rowing is great exercise! So when you are taunted to go and get some “fresh air” you know what to do!

9. While waiting for your turn!

1..2..3..4 hours! That’s how long you have been waiting in line to avail the early bird Super-Shopper discount. And you’re tired and snappy and irritable. You have the necessary food and water supplies. But what about entertainment? You certainly can’t play the Indian national entertainment game – Antakshari! What if someone you know sees you? And you turn to your silent friend, the book, and sooner than you know it, the line is moving. Forgive the girl, who shoved you in to get ahead; she doesn’t have what you do!

10. Under the office table/ study-table.

What is it that we love about being under the table? Is it the feeling of being hidden and/or safely ensconced? Or maybe it’s the thrill of procrastination or defying your superior in his/her ambit! Either way, reading a book under the table (most definitely a wacky place) multiplies the fun of reading it!

Wolfhall

For the impulsive and remorseless book-collector that I am, the process of getting Hilary Mantel’s ‘Wolfhall’ in my bookshelf was uncharacteristically drawn-out.  I read many reviews about it, all of which described the book as an excellent read, but let it languish in my to-buy list for a long while..  I even walked away from the book at Odyssey because I wasn’t used to spending that much on one book. I finally bought it after a year’s worth of deliberation.  It took me another six months to start on it.  This is the first man-booker prize winning book ( or any award winning book  except in the children’s book category)  that i’ve read. Loved it!!

Mantel’s  style of writing takes some getting used to..but once you ease into it, it is well worth the trouble.  This book got me feverishly clicking links in wikipedia.. i felt like i HAD to know all about Thomas Cromwell. The author tantalizes her readers by saying just short of enough about Cromwell..And a mysterious character is always romantic, no exceptions!  The much less flattering depiction of Cromwell on most other sites on the net left me disappointed, but not for long. I told myself he was an almost universally misunderstood man..and of course that immediately upped the romantic appeal 🙂  There are a lot of better-informed reviews of Wolfhall out there. You would probably be hard pressed to find one as bereft of facts and analysis as this one.  But, history buffs out there who are reading my blog  ( or will be, once I have the number of readers that it takes to make the presence of a history buff statistically likely ), do not miss reading this book!!

His Dark Materials

One month back this time, I was reeling under the brilliance of Philip Pullman’s trilogy, His Dark Materials. Having recovered slightly, I felt I was ready to write an objective review of the series.

If you like fantasy and swear by the good ol’ Lord of the Rings, Narnia and Harry Potter, this series is definitely one you should not miss. It is more of a science-fictiony fantasy as compared to H.P.. H.P tantalized us through some books with the ‘strongest force in the universe’ theory and anticlimactically concluded that it was love (Which it is, probably, but the story-line didn’t have much to do with that theory).

On the contrary, His Dark Materials weaves Dark Matter, alternate universes and theology convincingly into the time-tested tale of a young boy and girl who set out on an adventure. There are the mandatory faithful friends – people, talking animals and weird- creatures-from-other-worlds to boot. Besides, there are references to energy creation, evolution, the Church and atheism. In fact, more than just a reference to the last – atheism is the underlying theme of the book.

This series should be read for the sheer variety of concepts presented, the taut and expressive writing, the ensemble of fleshed-out characters, and the bitter-sweet feeling at the end of it. In my opinion, one of the best series in this genre,  always keeping in mind that Lord of the Rings surpasses all the rest.

Awesome – The word of our times

Conversation with a couple of friends-

Friend: Got a new phone! Check it out!

Me: Awesome!

Friend : Getting a promotion again! 🙂 Second one this year..

Me: That’s AWWESOME!

Friend ( different friend…one can’t have it all) :  Guess whom I met?? Gerard Butler!!!

Me : ( wide-eyed, struggling for expression, choking over half-formed words..and then..) That’s AWESOME!

Is it only me, or is everything good, fortunate or beautiful these days termed “awesome”? I don’t at all like the idea that my brain refuses to budge from its set grooves every time I need to find a word to describe..err..awesomeness. Hence, I think its evident that my reluctance to use any other word in its place is a result of the all-pervasiveness of this word in our milieu. I even have proof – watch a few episodes of ‘How I Met your Mother’, and you will know one of the ways in which this word has permeated into the collective consciousness. ‘Awesome’ is the equivalent of the 60’s ‘rad/groovy’, the 20’s ‘dashing’, the Victorian ‘fine’ and the medieval..no, let me not tread these unfamiliar scholarly waters and destroy my credibility 🙂

Anyways, the point is that ‘awesome’ seems to win hands down each time I’m pitting it against other possibilities, in the brief second before mouthing the word. ‘Great’ is too generic, ‘nice’ too dispassionate.. ‘brilliant’ seems inappropriate to use about anything other than bulbs and white teeth.. ‘kickass’ has the word ‘ass’ in it..’mindblowing’ sounds like a word to be used only for special occasions, plus it has a vaguely destructive quality to it..’fantastic’ seems like too much..’fantabulous’ is way too pompous.. In short, not a word that simply means awesome, nothing more, nothing less!

Awesome is the definitive word of our times.. unless I’m making it all up 😀

Eat Pray Love

I had intended to write a full-blown review of Elizabeth Gilbert’s bestseller ‘Eat Pray Love’.
Instead, I’d like you to watch this video –

http://www.ted.com/index.php/talks/elizabeth_gilbert_on_genius.html

Its a TED talk by Elizabeth on creativity and related topics.
I’d heard of the book many a time, but I read it only because I saw this video and wanted to hear more from her.

If you like her talk, inspite of the arguably shaky notions she presents, you should try her book.

If you found her arguments interesting and even mildly convincing, you should definitely read her book!

Three cups of tea

I haven’t posted here for a while now, for various reasons.. one of which is that I was engrossed in reading a couple of awesome books. One of them is ‘Eat Pray Love’, which deserves a review all to itself, some other day.  The other book, which I read close on the heels of EPL, is ‘Three cups of tea’, which is a book regaling the tales of a wonderful humanitarian of our times, Greg Mortenson.

Greg Mortenson was an avid climber, who strayed into a mountainous village in Pakistan after losing his way during his descent from the peak K2 ( which he unsuccessfully tried to scale). This serendipitious meeting between Mortenson and the villagers of Korphe in 1993 has resulted, 17 years later, in a network of more than 130 schools built in the remotest areas of Pakistan and Afghanistan. Mortenson came away from the village of Korphe, determined to build a school for the villagers whose kindness had saved his life. In the coming years, battling through indifference, cultural barriers and the forbidding terrain, Mortenson expanded his vision and built schools throughout the Karakoram region, reaching the most impoverished villages. Mortenson’s efforts in Pakistan and Afghanistan continued through the turbulent period that saw the Kargil conflict, 9/11, the ousting of the Taliban and the Iraq war. Mortenson was waging his own war on terrorism, by making education and a better life accessible to the poor.

Read this book for a rich, interesting account of life, traditions, and values in these regions. Read it to gain a new, maybe a more sympathetic perspective of our neighbors to the west. And most of all, read this account to be awed and blown away by what one man’s will and passion could achieve.  Also, check out the website of the Central Asia Institute, which Greg Mortenson co-founded.

If you’re in between books or looking for something to read, I’d strongly recommend this book.  It is up there in the league of books that could leave a permanent imprint on a person’s life and thinking.