The Narrow Road to Palem – Sharath Komarraju – Book Review


TheNarrowRoadToPalem
Goodreads blurb
: Rudrakshapalem lies a few kilometers East of Godavari in the South Indian state of Andhra Pradesh. At first glance, it looks like just another sleepy little village. But as you walk along its borders and peer into the lives of its people, you will find that deep within its breast are hidden some dark secrets.

– In the temple compound roams a crazy man named Chander. He hugs a gold pendant and sings lullabies to it every night. What is his story?

– Subbarao, one of Palem’s richest men, came up the hard way, having started life as the poor son of a snack seller. But what is the secret that gives him sleepless nights?

– A young couple dealing with loss stand in front of the road to Palem, and there is a seller of mirrors on the sidewalk, welcoming them in. Will they heed his words, or will they run away?

– How much are happiness and peace worth to Rama Shastri, the priest of Palem’s Shiva temple? And to what extent will he go to ensure the well-being of his daughter?

In these ten delightful stories, Sharath Komarraju takes you by the hand and gives you a fully guided tour of Palem and its people. But don’t fear, he will bring you back home safe and sound, long before it’s dark.

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Regular readers of my blog will know that I am quite a big fan of Sharath Komarraju and his work. In fact I would go far enough to call myself a die-hard fan of his work, and it therefore is quite a travesty that it took me so long to get around to reading The Narrow Road to Palem, his collection of supernatural stories. And given that it is a collection of short stories, I have gone ahead and penned down a couple of sentences about each of them below.

Subbai and his Ace of Clovers – Kind of guessable story, but intriguing nevertheless and the ending takes the cake for sure.

Malli – A more conventional edge of seat thriller with quite an unexpected ending.

Round and Round – As seems to be the norm with all the stories in this book, the ending is brilliant. What I particularly liked about this book was the role that the setting and the environment had to play, it was almost like I was there when the action was happening.

The Milk is sour – Now this story truly takes the cake so far, especially with the choice of the unlikeliest of antagonists.

The Narrow Road to Palem – This eponymous story is probably not as good as the ones preceding it, but has enough intrigue and insight into the human psyche. And I personally didn’t quite see the ending coming the way it did.

The Sitarist of Palem – Now this story was a bit more ‘classic horror’ in its treatment and quite a departure from the way the rest of the stories in this anthology have been written with in terms of style and treatment of the subject.

Peaceful are the dead – An extremely grim tale following the classic tenets of a horror story, at least in my opinion. Although you could see the end coming, the way the author has dealt with it is quite nice.

The barber and the milkmaid – This one is quite a chilling tale. It deals with the limits that a man goes to when driven by insanity and unfulfilled desires.

Dear House – This has to be one of the most ‘completely cuckoo’ stories that I have read in a while. The premise of the story is something that doesn’t quite grab you by the throat but slowly creeps up on you, just like all good story plots should.

No yellow in my rainbow – This story kind of seems like a culmination of the rest of the stories in this wonderful collection. I kind of find it hard to classify this story into any of the other genres in this book, but it just felt right to end this book with this story.

To wrap up, I wouldn’t slot this book in the classical horror genre but would rather put it in the psychological thriller genre. One way or the other, fans of the horror genre of books would surely enjoy it quite a bit.

Click here to purchase the book from Amazon [Link].

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Disclaimer: A review copy of this book was provided to me by the author, however, the above review and opinions are honest and unbiased.

Pradyumna – Son of Krishna – Usha Narayanan – Book Review


PradyumnaGoodreads blurb: ‘I see a dark future that makes me quake,’ Devarishi Narada said. ‘One of these newborns will ravage the world and erase the name of Krishna from the face of the earth.

As the world trembles on the threshold of Kali Yuga—4,32,000 years of unprecedented evil—it waits for a savior to rise.

Meanwhile, in the dark netherland of the asuras, the meek Vama shudders as he learns that he is actually Pradyumna, the son of Krishna. And that his journey has just begun.

From the asura kingdom to Dwaraka and then Kurukshetra, destiny forces him to battle monsters, angry gods and blazing weapons, and overpower his own weaknesses. Will he be able to rise to the challenge in time to save the world? Or is he the destroyer prophesied by Narada?

Pradyumna is the gripping saga of the rise of this mighty, swashbuckling hero whom all of humanity awaits.

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Given my interest in mythology and its various retellings it must not come as a surprise to regular readers of my blog that I picked up this book and ended up reading and reviewing it. And true to its pre and post release hype around Pradyumna – Son of Krishna by Usha Narayanan, the book is quite well plotted and narrated. Relying mostly on relatively authentic sources from the original Sanskrit texts, this book, the first in a series narrates the events around the birth of Pradyumna, his separation from his parents, his subsequent reunion with them after fulfilling a part of the prophecy surrounding his birth and the events that occur thereafter.

What I liked the most about this book was the fact that the author does not take too much liberty from the original Sanskrit texts from where the core material has been sourced. Yes, while a few liberties might have been taken in terms of the sequencing of events and ‘shading’ the characters in various hues of ‘grey’, it is quite clear that by and large the book stays close to its original mythological roots.

While the first half of the book deals with the story behind Kama’s incarnation as Pradyumna, his birth as a mortal on earth, his separation from his parents Krishna and Rukmini, his teenage years as Vama and his subsequent fulfillment of a prophecy, the second half takes a more serious turn and focuses more on Pradyumna’s heroic exploits on the battlefield fighting away various enemies, battling monsters, and helping out people in distress.

Never too far away from his bete noire, Pradyumna’s brother, Samba, Krishna’s son from Jambavati follows his brother’s exploits closely, all the while seething in anger and looking for some way or the other not only to outdo him but even kill him. Samba’s character is like an overpowering presence on almost the entire proceedings of the second half of the book and readers cannot help but wonder how and what he will do next. In fact I will stick my neck out and make a prediction that Samba will have a more prominent and decisive role to play in the proceedings of the second book in this series.

The only grouse I had with the book were the last few chapters where Pradyumna decides not to participate in the greatest battle of his era, the Kurukshetra war and instead goes on to battle Vajranabha. While this may very well be how things unfolded in the original Sanskrit texts, this last portion of the book felt a little contrived to me and would probably have been better off as the beginning of Book Two of the series. But then, I am guessing the author knew perfectly well what she was doing and chose to slot this episode at the end of Book One.

This grouse aside I will surely pick up the second book in the series, if not for anything else, to enjoy the saga of this wonderful but overlooked character from Indian mythology and the sheer easygoing way in which the author has narrated his story to us.

Menaka’s Choice – Kavita Kane – Book Review


MenakasChoiceGoodreads blurb: We make love and leave. That is our motto. Live by it, Menaka or you shall suffer untold, unnecessary grief.

Born during the churning of the ocean, Menaka is the most beautiful of all the apsaras in the world, with quick intelligence and innate talent. However, she craves for the one thing she can never have – family. Elsewhere, after severe austerities, a man, now blessed with the name Vishwamitra, challenges the gods and dares to create another heaven. Fearing his growing powers, Indra, the king of gods, decides to put a stop to his ambitions by making Menaka seduce him.

What will happen when Menaka and Vishwamitra meet each other? Will Menaka finally find what she really wished for? Or will she again be forced to surrender to her destiny? Find out in this fascinating portrait of one of the most enduring mythological figures.

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Most of us know Menaka and Vishwamitra’s story only at a superficial level and I am sure all of you would agree when I say that the most we can come up would be the one line where we say that Menaka was sent down by Indra to seduce and disturb Vishwamitra’s penance when he had ambitions to become a Brahmarishi.  I confess that this was pretty much the extent that I knew of this story before I read this book. Blame popular media, blame my lack of insight into reading this particular story despite my interest in Indian mythology, blame whatever, but the fact remains that this one liner was what I knew about Menaka all these days. But this book changed all that and much more for me as far as this character in particular and apsaras in general are concerned.

As is the norm with all her books author Kavita Kane takes a slither of a story, a fairly unknown character, a lady perennially in the shadows, an actress in the wings, in Menaka and brings her to the centre stage and makes her the heroine of her story. And honestly, she does make for a good heroine as well, no two ways about that. Beautiful, smart, talented, warm, caring, elegant, intuitive, the list of positive attributes about her keeps going on and on. And as is the case with people who are blessed with such good things, the story of her life doesn’t quite mirror them. Being stuck in Indra’s court as an apsaras would be a fate that you wouldn’t wish upon even your worst enemy (at least as far as this book is concerned). And to be honest I found Indra’s depiction a little disturbing and distressing, more so given that this is the second book in recent times where his character has been written in a similar vein. I am guessing he is the favorite ‘bashing boy’ of all authors of Indian mytho-fiction books.

Coming to Vishwamitra whose story this book narrates as much as it does Menaka’s, I knew a little more about the man courtesy an old eponymous Doordarshan serial and his appearance in the Ramayana when Rama is a teenager. That being said I didn’t quite know his antecedents and his rivalry with Rishi Vasishta which spurs on the action in this book. Suffice to say he comes across as a man one could admire quite easily despite his obvious flaws. It isn’t quite hard to see why Menaka does what she does during the course of this story.

Although the genre chosen by the author for Menaka’s Choice would probably ‘officially’ be classified as mytho-fiction, I would probably be more inclined to put it squarely into the ‘romance’ or even ‘chick-lit’ genre (and I don’t use either of these words in a derogatory sense). My reasons for saying so would be the fact that at the heart of it, this book is the story of love, betrayal, redemption and so on and it just so happens that the action happens in a mythological setting. With Menaka and Vishwamitra, you have two protagonists who readers would ardently root for and you have an antagonist in the form of Indra who readers would love to hate.

In a nutshell, as was the case with her earlier books, this one too is a must-read for anybody who loves a good yarn with a strong woman as the main protagonist.

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

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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.

The Crows of Agra – Sharath Komarraju – Book Review


TheCrowsOfAgra

Goodreads blurb: The year is 1562 A.D. Just into his twentieth year, Akbar readies himself to emerge from behind the veil and stake his claim to the Mughal throne.

But the figure of his regent, Bairam Khan, looms large in his path. After an exchange of blows and wits, Bairam Khan is subdued. Akbar forgives him, and forces upon him a pilgrimage to Mecca. On the eve of his departure, Bairam Khan is found murdered in his chamber.

With the help of Mahesh Das — a Brahmin who Akbar has befriended — Akbar must find out who killed Bairam Khan. But in the insidious Mughal court — a hotbed of intrigue and suspicion — danger lurks at every step. One false step could cost them their lives.

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With this book author Sharath Komarraju takes on the much loved characters of Akbar and Birbal and tries to plot an origin story of their relationship. I am more than sure that all of us as children have heard at least one or more story of the wonderful little riddles and problems that Akbar poses for Birbal (possibly his favorite courtier) and how Birbal in his own whimsical, quirky and idiosyncratic ways solves them. However, this book has a more serious issue which Mahesh Das (who goes on to become Birbal) has to solve at the behest of his emperor Akbar.

As the blurb states, the book deals with the murder of Bairam Khan, Akbar’s regent who is almost like a father figure to the emperor. Mahesh Das, who by sheer dint of fate (and a few machinations of his own) ends up being in the same building where the crime occurs and is therefore pitch forked into the  middle of all the action and is tasked by Akbar to find out who the murderer is. More than just the identity of the murderer himself, there is more at stake for Mahesh Das as the emperor’s mandate is crystal clear – find the murderer if you intend to continue as a courtier in my court.

Given the desperate situation he finds himself in Mahesh Das uses his wits and smarts and begins investigating the murder itself. And he stumbles upon suspect after suspect who has enough and more motives and probably even the means to have committed the murder. It doesn’t help that almost all the inmates of the palace where Bairam Khan was murdered seem to have had more than one bone to pick with him. Suffice to say that Mahesh Das has to bring his “A Game” to the table to solve the crime.

Does he manage to solve the crime, does he manage to become Akbar’s courtier, and how does Mahesh Das become Birbal forms the crux of the rest of the book. Suffice to say that Sharath Komarraju lives up to his already high standards of penning eminently enjoyable murder mysteries with The Crows of Agra as well.

Click here to purchase the book from Amazon [Link].

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

My Gita – Devdutt Pattanaik – Book Review


MyGitaGoodreads blurb: In My Gita, acclaimed mythologist Devdutt Pattanaik demystifies The Bhagavad Gita for the contemporary reader. His unique approach—thematic rather than verse-by-verse—makes the ancient treatise eminently accessible, combined as it is with his trademark illustrations and simple diagrams.

In a world that seems spellbound by argument over dialogue, vi-vaad over sam-vaad, Devdutt highlights how Krishna nudges Arjuna to understand rather than judge his relationships. This becomes relevant today when we are increasingly indulging and isolating the self (self-improvement, self-actualization, self-realization—even selfies!).We forget that we live in an ecosystem of others, where we can nourish each other with food, love and meaning, even when we fight.

So let My Gita inform your Gita.

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Despite reading a fair bit of Indian mythological tales and assorted articles on the same, the Bhagvad Gita remained one of those formidable tomes which I was even scared to touch with a barge pole. However, numerous conversations with my wife on various aspects discussed in the Gita and the fact that my all time favorite mythologist Devdutt Pattanaik (www.devdutt.com) wrote a book on the same, My Gita meant that it was finally time to put aside all misgivings and doubts about my ability to assimilate the vast volumes of learning from the Gita and get myself introduced to it formally. And believe me when I say this, it has probably turned out to be one of the wisest decisions I have taken in recent times.

In his own inimitable style, Dr Pattanaik takes on a subject (which in his own words has been dealt with in greater detail and better style by people more knowledgeable than him) as complicated as the Gita and goes ahead and makes it ‘his own’, quite literally given that the book is called My Gita and not The Gita. As the title suggests, the author is of the opinion that the Gita is not thematic, it is not subjective and it is not obsessed with the self. He feels that everybody reading this verse, this rhyme, this song, will do so and end up taking learnings from it which might just go on to be entirely different for the next person in line reading and studying it. Simply put, that is how powerful and life-changing this subject is.

Breaking away from the usual norm of translating the verse from Sanskrit in which it is originally written and providing his interpretation of the words and the flow of the verse, the wise Dr Pattanaik takes an entirely different approach to the Gita. He goes on and makes the book his own take on this immortal song. Instead of approaching it by chapter by chapter in a linear manner, he divides the book into various sub-themes under the overarching three main themes, viz, Bhakti Yoga, Karma Yoga and Gyaana Yoga.

Peppered with various insights into his vast pool of knowledge in Indian and Abrahamic mythologies, the author manages to draw various parallels and analogies between various verses in the Gita and makes things extremely easy to understand, more so for first time readers of the Gita like myself. And I am more than sure that even people who have read and studied the Gita more than I have will surely find this book a worthy read and will enjoy the entirely different style in which Dr Pattanaik has presented this immortal song sung by Krishna to Arjuna.

While I could go on and on about how wonderfully well presented this book is, especially the various small little diagrams which are present on almost every page to explain and elucidate the various concepts, the fact remains that this is one book which needs to be read in its entirety to be enjoyed, rather than trying to understand the same through this small review of the same. As is the norm with all his books, Dr Pattanaik’s illustrations also enhance the overall book reading experience more than quite a bit.

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

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