August 30, 2011

Raja's Tales- 1

Long long ago, very long ago, when Raja was a little boy, he used to live in Ernakulam. He also lived in Trivandrum. Now he is so old, he does not remember where exactly this incident took place.
Raja and his brother, along with their cousins, used to frequent, what we shall assume from now on as, the Ernakulam Palace, every Friday. This is a story that happened on one fateful Friday, as he remembers it.
The King of Ernakulam lived in the Ernakulam palace. The palace was shaped like a square, open on one end with a huge mittam*  in the middle. The King used to organize huge feasts every Friday in honour of the lord. Every Friday, he would walk out of his inner chambers, stand for a minute and survey the crowd that gathered in the courtyard. He would then climb on to his special pedestal to eat lunch alongside his subjects.

The Friday Feast used to be a grand affair. Many many cooks from all over the land used to prepare the rich meal with the finest of ingredients. Work started in the wee hours of the morning and would only just about get done on time. 

That Friday was like every other Friday, except that, somehow for some strange reason, the cook had forgot the Pachchadi on the menu. 
The crowds had gathered, and the King was just about to come, when the head cook realized his folly. But nothing could be done and so he instructed everyone to keep mum about it. He hoped people would not miss the Pachchadi, relishing all the other extraordinary items on the menu. 
The King walked out of his inner chambers, looked left, looked right and twirled his mustache, satisfied at what he saw. 
As the cooks brought out urlis of food, the clouds suddenly huddled together. The world grew dark and an unearthly voice resonated, "Pachchadi vechchilaingyil, Vechchadi edukkilya!"**
The head cook trembled. All his assistants looked perplexed.

The King was shocked and stood still to his ground. He pleaded to the voice, "O Divine Lord! Pardon us! The Pachchadi shall be made at once". He looked at the head cook and ordered him with a look to proceed.

The cooks at once scampered to make the pachchadi. The world stood still. The clouds stayed huddled. There was something unearthly that everyone felt in the air. No one spoke a word. Ten minutes seemed like ten years. and a pachchadi fit for the gods was made.

The cooks wheeled in the urli and waited. A gust of wind blew over the mittam, sending shivers down everyone's spine. And just as suddenly as it had huddled, the clouds parted and a beam of sunlight streamed. The King gingerly took a step forward. Nothing happened. 

The crowd broke into a thunderous applause!

mittam* courtyard
"Pachchadi vechchilaingyil, Vechchadi edukkilya!"** If you do not offer the Pachchadi, you cannot take a step forward


In work we trust, and in cinema.

And in dreams of travel we pin our hopes. 

August 27, 2011

Book Review: Bombay Duck is a Fish

I had always been fascinated by the medium of films. And when in my final year of under-graduation, I realized it is not brick and concrete I want to chase, but capture stories through moving images, it was truly a moment of realization. A calling.

I signed up for this book mainly because it was about the Bollywood film industry. It's blurb read interesting, real and also entertaining. Almost like a dhamaakedaar film that scorches the screen on its opening day!

'Bombay Duck is a fish' is as refreshing a book as its title. The allusion to the misnomer in the title, very precisely suggests what the book mockingly narrates- how Bollywood is not as glitzy as it seems.

It places itself much higher than any chick flick, but falls a tad short of being a layered master-piece of fiction. But what it ends up as is an enjoyable must-read.

Kanika Dhillon most interestingly delves into the life of Neki Brar, an aspiring filmmaker from Amritsar who leaves home to Mumbai, and joins as the last AD on the sets of Fiza Khan's multi-starrer film. Being a student of film, I have my wee bit of experience in being on film sets and dealing with the exciting madhouse that sets could be. The accounts in the book were absolutely authentic and had a lovely progression of action in it. It played like a film in my head, although Farah Khan kept playing the role of Fiza in it! The supporting cast of the remained true to what Bollywood and the author claim to work most of the time- stereotypes. And quite justifiably so, stereotypes exist for a reason of convention and association that the majority of the audience have been  trained to understand over the years.

And so in Kanika Dhillon's book, we come across the typical 'Mumbai-mein-struggle-karke-naam-banaana-hain' dream of small-town girl Neki, the success-hungry-doing-favours hero Ranvir Khanna whom Neki falls for, the petty jealousies between lead actresses, the powerful Prateeksha Devi and well..., in short, there is the entire Bollywood package in place, albeit in a tongue in cheek fashion. Other interesting characters like Zoya, Sam, PJ, Aslam, Punjabi and Goku make the ride through the book interesting and liven up things immensely.

What makes the book un-put-downable and highly entertaining, is the fact that it does not let itself be just a racy story, but goes beyond it and throws in philosophy, some really good wisecracks and situational authenticity.

The letters that Neki mails her mom after every incident would remain the best part of the book for me. The contrasting nature of the letters from Neki's reality is sheer wry humour.

In the season of cameos and item songs, can a book on Bollywood be far behind? Our author brings in the inimitable Shahrukh Khan for a little role in the book. (It might be noted, that in reality , he released the book). The cameo, however, seemed a little forced in the book, as far as situational flow goes. One feels that the author could have as seamlessly strung it in, as she did the rest of the incidents in the book. The author's real life adulation comes across unabashedly here. I DO know that it is difficult to not be awe-struck by the amazingly self-made man that SRK is, especially in an industry dominated by starlets. But somehow, one wishes that the wide-eyed wonder could have been kept a tad under control.

I was glad that the end did not turn out to be a mushy tear-jerking end to a masaledaar hindi flick, but instead became a bit surreal, and therefore, a better end. I would have still preferred a different end to the book, and I must say, it left me a little disturbed. Anything more I reveal here, and I'd be killing the book for you, and hence I relapse to omerta. 

For once, one can judge the book by its cover. A special mention must be made of its wonderfully designed cover by Rupin Suchak: yet another reason for me to pick this book.

On the whole, however, I would recommend this book to every one who loves their Hindi films. Here is a book- vibrant, interesting and honest, although dealing with the world of the larger-than-life. So go, pick it up, and get lost in a world that oscillates between the reel and real worlds of Neki Brar and Co.

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

August 12, 2011

On a dark cloudy eventide

It is one of those days you are glad you were alive! A gray storm of clouds gather darkness around the world. Wind beats agains a sheet of tarpaulin as if to warn mere humans against the wrath of Varuna. Rains, they shall pour and how! A lightening breaks out like the menacing fangs of a wild untameable beast.

They threaten to tell us that we cannot hide. Each drop shall unleash havoc. A murmur goes between the clouds as thunder. Like a dark curse, they gather closer and with one last cry, like a lament, they burst forth as rain.

inspired by the words of Rohit Keluskar.

August 11, 2011


Political dramas never interested me. In fact, I always felt they were a tad too serious and too boringly prosaic to kindle any amount of fellowship in me. In such a scenario, when Chanakya’s Chant fell into my arms, I had my own set of apprehensions. Something about the historical promise the book made in its blurb, is what made me pick it up and begin to read through.

I must agree, it completely vanquished my suspicions!

The book was engaging, riveting and extraordinarily rich in style, language and research. I wonder why people like Ashwin Sanghi, the author of Chankya’s Chant, don’t write history books. As Prahlad Kakkar laments, “I wish our politicians were literate enough to read it”.

The book traces two different and yet extraordinarily parallel characters. As suggested by the title, it acquaints us to the life of Vishnugupta, also known as Chanakya(son of Chanak)- the erudite Brahmin whose skill, wiliness, absolute disregard for morals and masterful knowledge of governance and people helps him install his pupil, Chandragupta, on the throne of the Mauryan Empire and also send back the powerful armies of Alexander the Great from India. In this process, he most importantly succeeds in reaping revenge against the evil Dhanananda who had brutally murdered his father, the scholar Chanak.

Around two thousand three hundred years later, a similar avatar of Chanakya is born in the country, in the form of an equally crafty, scheming, ruthless and extraordinarily intelligent Gangasagar Mishra. He catapults Chandini, an ordinary slum girl to the seat of power in the country through his tactics, manipulations and cunning.

The most impressive part about this book is the fact that Ashwin Sanghi so deftly uses words to make politics so engrossing! What my school economics books made me shun, Sanghi makes un-put-down-able!

His words are sculpted so wonderfully that the dialogues that Chanakya and Gangasagar mouth make you want to whistle in parts. The raw and menacing struggle for power is captured to its barest detail in such a realistic fashion that it makes you shudder. And then you realize that Sanghi’s fictional universe is not far from the existent power plays in the political world around you today, it does make you sad and fearful.

The murder, deceit and plotting that run through the pages of the life of Chanakya(or Gangasagar in the present day) make you feel like you are a witness to a charming game of chess played between a grandmaster on one side and imbeciles on the other. Such is the brilliance of move, detailing of action and sleight of hand!

The book leaves you in a shocked and stunned silence at the sheer brilliance and intelligence with which it engaged you.

I cannot wait to try Ashwin Sanghi’s “The Rozabal Line” now. The reviews of that book also seem to suggest an extraordinary piece of work.

If his two books are any proof, India has got herself a wonderful and captivating author in Ashwin Sanghi.

And in his own style, we send him the Chanakya’s Chant to help and guide,

“Adi Shakti Namo Namah! Sarva Shakti Namo Namah!
Prathama Bhagavati Namo Namah!
Kundalini Mata Shakti! Mata Shakti Namo Namah!

“Primal Shakti, I bow to thee
All-encompassing Shakti, I bow to thee
That through which God creates, I bow to thee
Creative power of the Kundalini
Mother of all, to thee I bow.”

This review is a part of the Book Reviews Program at Participate now to get free books!
© Dryad's Peak
Maira Gall