The Rise of Hastinapur – Sharath Komarraju – Book Review


TheRiseOfHastinapur_CoverGoodreads blurb: For the story of the Great War is also the story of the women…

Amba lives for revenge, but circumstances and men conspire against her. Will her daughter bring her the only salvation she seeks?

Kunti stakes all to free her brother Vasudev and his wife Devaki. Yet it is the groom choosing ceremony that will define her life.

Gandhari too has come of age, and is faced with a difficult choice: she must marry the blind prince of Hastinapur if she is to save her kingdom from the certain ruin it faces due to Hastinapur’s deceit.

In the background, Bhishma pulls the strings, making alliances and marriages, devising new strategies, ever increasing the might of Hastinapur.

This is the Mahabharata like you’ve never seen it before.

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The toughest job for any author penning a series of books is to keep each successive book in the series just that tad better than the previous one. But going by how Sharath Komarraju has written The Rise of Hastinapur, the sequel to The Winds of Hastinapur [Link to my review], this seems like cakewalk for him. If I thought the first book was awesome, then I truly have run out of exclamations and superlatives to describe the second one.

While a simplistic opinion of this book could be summarized as a point of view of the Mahabharatha as seen from the principal women characters’ eyes, such a description would be doing grave injustice to the extremely imaginative manner in which Sharath has written both books in the series so far. In fact, I would even go far enough to recommend this book to anybody who has actually read/seen the great epic and has disliked it. I challenge them to read these books and then tell me that they still find it boring, or even worse, they find a lot of incidents and characters wrong in the story itself.

Sharath seems to have taken it upon himself to ensure that readers see this great epic in a completely new light and rather than justifying all the incidents under the guise of destiny or whatever is pre-ordained shall happen irrespective of anybody’s best efforts otherwise, the author has clearly laid out a plan where all that happens in the book somehow appears to be the ‘master-plan’ of a character. Who that is, he reveals in the last four pages of The Rise of Hastinapur.

Suffice to say that anybody who has read the first book must compulsorily read this one, no two ways about that. And even if you haven’t read the first book I would strongly encourage you to buy both books and read them back to back immediately. If not for anything else, at least to enjoy a masterful retelling of an all-time favorite story, that of the Mahabharata.

The following are a few things which I thoroughly enjoyed in the book (spoiler-free points below) –

From the story thread involving Amba

  • Amba’s moves to gain Vichitraveerya’s trust and get back into the political scheme of things at Hastina.
  • The reason as to why Amba had to finally leave the court of Hastina.
  • Amba’s desperate attempts to extract revenge from Bhishma.
  • Amba’s revenge takes a completely different hue, albeit with the same consequences for Bhishma.

From the story thread involving Kunti

  • Durvasa’s role in Pritha (Kunti)’s life.
  • The interesting story behind the birth of Kunti’s first child, who in due course of time would grow up to become Karna.

From the story thread involving Gandhari

  • The interesting story of the ‘gold standard’ being followed in Gandhar and how it was smartly used by Hastinapur politically.
  • The role that the Celestials had to play in Gandhari’s life.
  • The usage of official letters as a medium to communicate the esacalating tensions between Gandhara and Hastinapur.
  • Gandhari’s ability to ‘see’ things even though she ‘cannot’.
  • The seeds of revenge sown in Gandhari’s mind, a crucial point for moving the story of the Great Epic forward.

And finally

The last chapter of the book leaves readers a little breathless, when they come to know who it is that has been moving the pieces of this gigantic chessboard so far. However, the intentions behind these moves are still a little baffling, especially coming from this character.

All said and done, the end of the second book in this series leaves readers licking their lips, with parched throats waiting for the next book in the series to be published. And going by the two books, the rest of the series promises to be mind-blowing, to say the least.

Click here to pre-order the book on Amazon [Link].

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I was selected as an ‘early reader’ of this book by the author, however, the review itself is unbiased and uninfluenced by him in any form or fashion.

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The Winds of Hastinapur – Sharath Komarraju – A second reading


thewindsofhastinapur

Given that I am going to read the second book of The Hastinapur series by Sharath Komarraju (The Rise of Hastinapur) sometime soon as an ‘early reader’ of the book, I thought I would quickly re-read the first one in the series The Winds of Hastinapur so that I could brush up my memories of the story so far. And man, did this book take away my breath yet again or what.

As I have mentioned in my earlier review [Link to review], the first half of the book sets the stage for what is truly an unique retelling of the Mahabharata, reimagining the origins to quite a large extent while staying extremely honest both to the epic itself and the characters as well. While the character motivations for their actions are probably a little different when compared to the original epic, the fact that they don’t stray too far from the original premise of Veda Vyasa’s epic shows the reverence that the author has for it.

The following are some of the more striking incidents in the plot and its treatment that stayed back with me during the second reading of this book.

1- The extreme sacrifices made by the Ladies of the River in ensuring that they lived out their lives burdened with the memories of all the earlier Ladies of the River before them. Even to imagine a situation like this gives me a headache. As it is, memories (good or bad) from one’s own lifetime are bad enough to give me a headache, then just imagine living out a lifetime with memories of more than one previous lives.

2- Devavrata’s farsightedness and ability to put the greater good of the greater number of people when he decided to leave Meru and search his destiny with his father Shantanu in Hastina.

3- Satyavati, also called Matsyagandha, her thoughts on virginity and to paraphrase “She knew now that that was virginity; being pure in thought and action, being unafraid as long as your actions have nothing immoral about them; and taking pride in the gifts that the Gods have given you, and spit back on the shame that the world insisted on heaping upon you.

4- Ironical situations – The price Satyavati pays for having extracted the promise from Devavrata, despite having both her sons ascend the throne of Hastina, both of them didn’t even last for more than couple of years as the ruler. Despite keeping his oath of never ascending the throne of Hastina himself and ruling the kingdom, the irony of Devavrata having to run the kingdom all by himself for more than his fair share of time.

5-In case you wondered why the book is called what it is called, its last line has the answer to this question.

In a nutshell, if you are still wondering if this book is worth reading, then you just haven’t read either my original review or this post carefully enough.

Don’t wait anymore, purchase the book from Flipkart [Link] or Amazon [Link].

Farthest Field – Raghu Karnad – Book Review


FarthestFieldGoodreads blurb: A brilliantly conceived nonfiction epic, a war narrated through the lives and deaths of a single family.

The photographs of three young men had stood in his grandmother’s house for as long as he could remember, beheld but never fully noticed. They had all fought in the Second World War, a fact that surprised him. Indians had never figured in his idea of the war, nor the war in his idea of India. One of them, Bobby, even looked a bit like him, but Raghu Karnad had not noticed until he was the same age as they were in their photo frames. Then he learned about the Parsi boy from the sleepy south Indian coast, so eager to follow his brothers-in-law into the colonial forces and onto the front line. Manek, dashing and confident, was a pilot with India’s fledgling air force; gentle Ganny became an army doctor in the arid North-West Frontier. Bobby’s pursuit would carry him as far as the deserts of Iraq and the green hell of the Burma battlefront.

The years 1939–45 might be the most revered, deplored, and replayed in modern history. Yet India’s extraordinary role has been concealed, from itself and from the world. In riveting prose, Karnad retrieves the story of a single family—a story of love, rebellion, loyalty, and uncertainty—and with it, the greater revelation that is India’s Second World War.

Farthest Field narrates the lost epic of India’s war, in which the largest volunteer army in history fought for the British Empire, even as its countrymen fought to be free of it. It carries us from Madras to Peshawar, Egypt to Burma—unfolding the saga of a young family amazed by their swiftly changing world and swept up in its violence.

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While I have read more than enough Commando comics in my teenage years to claim a reasonably decent knowledge of World War II, the fact remains that my knowledge was limited to information that is readily available in public domain and most of that restricts itself to the role of the British, Americans and to a lesser extent the French armed forces. With this background, when I read the blurb of this particular book Farthest Field by Raghu Karnad, I immediately jumped at the opportunity to know more about the Indian armed forces’ involvement in World War II. And, trust me when I tell this, this book was more than quite a revelation, at least to me.

The author uses an interesting narrative and point of view to take readers through the entire theatre of war from the Indian armed forces perspective. Starting with how the three main characters, Bobby, Manek and Ganny join the armed forces to their postings with their units in geographically diverse locations such as the North-West Frontier Province, Persia and the north-eastern parts of India, the book takes us through various occurrences and incidents that the Indian armed forces had to face during the course of around half a decade or so.

Bobby Mugaseth’s gradual transformation from a carefree engineering student at Guindy, Madras to a battle hardened sapper on the north-eastern theatre of war as part of “The Forgotten Army” forms the canvas on which the author paints the story of wide sweeping changes in the world including the renewed vigor of Indian freedom fighters who use the war as an excuse to accelerate the process of breaking away from the colonial yoke of Britain, the Indian armed forces using the war to come into their own as a formidable fighting unit capable of taking on any armed force in the world, brief snippets into Japanese imperial ambitions to become a colonial power of the East and various other important but overlooked historical events of the world in those years.

In a nutshell, this book is a good read for all enthusiasts of history in general, and the history of the Indian armed forces in particular.

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A review copy of this book was provided to me by the publishers in return for an honest and unbiased review of the same.

Panther – Chhimi Tenduf La – Book Review


PantherGoodreads blurb: I see you. Legs like toothpicks, body and face all ribs and cheekbones. And that hair. Come on, what is it? Like friggin’ barbed wire. I see you with a hand-me-down cracked bat creaming a leather ball, in a sock, hanging from the branch of a mango tree.

Being accepted into an elite international school on a cricket scholarship doesn’t mean your life is going to change. Except it does, because hunky Indika – I for Indika, I for Incredible – takes you under his wing, drags you to posh restaurants and shows you pictures from glossy magazines of women who … well, never mind, that’s not the point. The point is: if your best friend snogs your girlfriend, can he still be Incredible? Was he ever? But don’t sweat the small stuff. There are cricket matches to win, examinations to pass, a horrifying past to forget, a sinister schoolmaster to avoid … and, of course, a first kiss to finally experience. Prabu’s life is never going to be the same again.

Funny, diamond-sharp and unapologetic, Panther is a novel about that familiar, fractured passage to adulthood that can make us magnificent if it does not kill us.

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While all authors (at least the good ones) need to have the ability to harness the ‘voice’ of their main protagonists and antagonists, very few ones successfully manage to convince their readers so comprehensively that the lines between the author and his characters’ voices blur. The really good authors do so in a manner that the readers begin to believe that the author is narrating his own story and from his own autobiographical experiences rather than writing a novel or a story which is fully fictional in nature.

With Panther, the author Chhimi Tenduf-La almost managed to convince me that he had a childhood which was spent in a Sri Lankan Tamil rebel fighter camp, that he was separated from his parents and taken there, that he had deep dark secrets during these years that still sear his memories and scare him till date, that he developed this wonderful friendship with a Sinhala ‘wannabe Sachin Tendulkar’ and that the two of them had some really good times and a few bad times as well at school together. The lines between where the author is telling us a story versus where he seems to get autobiographical are so blurred that for most part of the book, I felt that Prabu, the protagonist was the author as well. That is how well the author has managed to get under the skin of this particular character.

As the blurb and the above paragraph states, this book is essentially a ‘coming of age’ story of Prabu, a young Tamil rebel fighter in Sri Lanka who is undergoing the process of rehabilitation in a country were a bitter, cruel and terrible civil war has ended and is currently coming to terms with its new multi-cultural reality. Cricket seems to be Prabu’s only way out of the messy situation he finds himself in at that point in time and it provides him with a gateway to an education and a school life which he wouldn’t have even imagined possible otherwise. But there’s another deeper, darker motivation behind him joining school as well, and that to me, is that makes this book more serious and way darker than it looks and reads at the outset.

Suffice to say that Panther gives us an unique insight into a whole generation of teenagers and youngsters who have grown up on both sides of the Sri Lankan civil war and provides readers with at least a vague idea of both perspectives, while being interesting and fun enough to read without getting all too serious about it.

Click here to purchase the book from Flipkart [Link] or Amazon [Link]

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A copy of this book was provided to me by the author, Chhimi Tenduf-La expecting nothing whatsoever in return. Thanks Chhimi, this book was as enjoyable, if not more, than your earlier publication, The Amazing Racist whose review I had published here [Link to review]

Bloodline Bandra – Godfrey Joseph Pereira – Book Review


BloodlineBandraGoodreads blurb: David Cabral is a journalist and also one of the original peepils: an East Indian from Pali Village, which is a viperpit, yes, but a happy, oblivious one. David manages to shake off the stupor of village life and heads to New York. There, he finds himself practically a slave, his drudgery leavened only by Japanese cello student Hatsumi Nakamura, whom he loves.

Bloodline Bandra is a riveting tale of love and loss, of home and homelessness. But you will remember it most for its portrait of life in the tight-knit community of Pali Village and a way of life that’s dying out.

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While the first part of this autobiographical book is quite entertaining and hilarious primarily because of the quirky and whimsical description of life in the village of Pali in Bandra, Mumbai, the second half is quite serious with the narrative arc and the fates of the characters taking on quite unexpected turns.

Read my detailed review of the book at The Tales Pensieve [Link to review]