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.

The Winds of Hastinapur – Sharath Kommarraju – Book Review


thewindsofhastinapur

When Sharath Kommarraju, author of “Murder in Amaravati” [Read my review here] approached me to read his latest book “The Winds of Hastinapur” and write a review for the same, I almost jumped out of my chair. This was one book which I was looking to read for quite a while now for two reasons – one, my inherent interest in Indian mythology and more specifically the great epic that the Mahabharata is, and two, if you read my review of Murder in Amaravati, you will realize that I liked Sharath’s narrative style so much that I had decided to read the other books authored by him.

Goodreads blurb of The Winds of Hastinapur:

My hair is white and thin, now. In a few moons, the Goddess will claim me, and I do not have a fresh young virgin by my side to absorb my knowledge and take my place once I am gone. The Mysteries of Ganga and her Sight will vanish with me, and the Great River will become nothing more than a body of lifeless water … It is my intention, therefore, to tell you the story as it happened, as I saw it happen.

The Mahabharata is the story of women, even though men have focused far too much on the Great Battle. It is women who have set events in motion, guided the action and measured the men. The Winds of Hastinapur begins at the point that Ganga was cursed and sent to Earth. She lives among the mortals and bears Shantanu, the King of Hastinapur, seven children, all of whom she kills. With the eighth, she leaves. That boy, who returns to Earth, will prove to be the key to the future of Hastinapur. The story, as told through the lives of his mother Ganga and stepmother Satyavati, is violent, fraught with conflict and touched with magic.

A lady of the river who has no virgin daughter to carry on her legacy, Celestials who partake of a mysterious lake they guard with their very lives, sages overcome by lust, a randy fisher-princess – these and other characters lend a startling new dimension to a familiar tale. Sharath Komarraju does not so much retell the epic as rewrite it.

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First up, if you read the words in italics in the above blurb, you will realize that this is nothing like what we have ever read of about Ganga in the great epic. Neither did BR Chopra in his legendary TV series (which for most of us still remains our visual yardstick for this great epic) nor have any of the other numerous books written about this story take this approach to this enigmatic character who in many ways signals the start of this wonderful epic.

Sharath however takes us down (or should I say ‘up’) into a journey into the clouds, on to the top of Mount Meru and her misty climes and tells us the story of the Lady of the River. For obvious reasons of not giving away any spoilers here, I am not revealing more of that story here, but suffice to say that Sharath has woven a magical tapestry with this part of the book.

The first half of the book completely rewrites all that we have known and heard about humans, demigods and gods themselves. Concepts such as immortality, the inherent balance within nature and the universe, ‘greater benefit of the greater good’, and quite a few other extremely powerful concepts have been woven into the story of Ganga, the time spent by her on earth as Shantanu’s queen and the first few years of her son, Devavrata’s life.

The action then moves down to earth, to Hastina, where Satyavati goes on from being a humble fisherman-chief’s daughter to the queen and the king-mother of the kingdom. How she manages to achieve this, some of the sacrifices that Devavrata has to make, his terrible and legendary vows, Satyavati’s subsequent reign as queen, her sons Chitrangada and Vichitravirya, their tragic lives, these make up for the proceedings of the second half.

To be honest, the second half did not surprise me as much as the first half did with its imaginative retelling of Ganga’s story. But what worked really well for me in Satyavati’s story was the fact that Sharath has taken great pains to ensure that the narrative comes out from her viewpoint and hers alone. He has not taken the conventional route of ‘walking down the middle’ and played it safe by presenting a neutral viewpoint. He has literally gotten under the skin of the character and tracked her graph from being an ambitious fisherwoman to a worldly-wise grandmother of Dhritarashtra with Pandu and Vidura on their way to being born.

What I really loved about the book was the fact that it presented yet another dimension, yet another credible alternative narrative to this great epic which I can never get tired of reading in its various hues and colors. And I use the word ‘credible’ as a deliberate choice as Sharath has chosen a difficult point of view (on in his case ‘points of view’) to walk us through this great epic, that of the women characters.

Given the plethora of options that will open up to him going forward in the form of Kunti, Gandhari, Draupadi, Duhshala, Hidimba, Subhadra, Uttara and so on, I wonder which of these will take precedence over the others and make their voices heard through subsequent installments of the series. All I can say is that I will surely read all of them and put up their reviews here, whether Sharath asks me to or not.

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Disclaimer: Sharath Kommaraju, the author of this book approached a group of people requesting them to read and review this book. Although the book was sent to me for free, the views and opinions expressed here are my own and have in no way been influenced by him in any form or fashion.

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Name The winds of Hastinapur
Author/s Sharath Komarraju
Publisher Harper Collins India
Year published 2013
ISBN 13 9789351160878
Goodreads link Link
Flipkart link Link
Amazon link Link

Murder in Amaravati – Sharath Kommaraju – Book Review


murderinamaravati

Author : Sharath Kommaraju

Goodreads blurb

Padmavati, the village hostess’s body is found in a sacred chamber of the Kali temple. Men wanted her; women hated her; while some men wanted to keep their liaisons hidden. But who had the motive, the means and opportunity to kill her? Padmavati charged by the hour – her laughs, her understanding, her empathy, her advice – everything was available only in return for payment, which made her, in the Sarpanch’s eyes, a little more than a trader.

‘Look,’ the priest Krishna Shastri said, pointing to the letters around him. ‘Satyam, Shekhar, Seetaramaiah – how many men did she have in her grasp? How many? ‘  The onus of solving the case puts head constable Venkat Reddy in a quandary. He has never even solved petty crimes and here he is faced with murder! If this were a novel, the constable thought vacantly, would the reader think of him as a worthy detective? Would anyone bother reading about a bungling, confused constable pretending to be a detective? The equation before him is simple; seven suspects, seven motives, one murder.

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When Krishna Shastri opened the sanctum sanctorum of the Kali temple in the sleepy village of Amaravati on the day after the Dasara celebrations, little did he expect to find the corpse of Padmavati, the village hostess at the feet of the Mother. Along with shaking him to the core, the murder also stirs up the otherwise usually quiet and boring life of head constable Venkat Reddy. While he could have just registered a FIR and let the case file rot in a cupboard until the world forgot about it, something about Padmavati’s dead eyes made him investigate the case further thus leading to the subsequent chain of events.

What I particularly liked about the book was the fact that the author created a main protagonist who was actually learning how to investigate a crime almost like the author himself was trying to learn the ropes of writing a crime thriller himself in the debut novel. Reddy gaaru (gaaru being a term of respect in Telugu) himself was learning on the job on his first real case investigation and therefore restricts himself to tried and tested theoretical techniques. Ably assisted (or at least facilitated assistance) by Krishna Shastri, the constable tries to piece together the events leading upto the crime itself so that the perpetrator can be arrested and brought to justice.

He searches for the usual classic ingredients of a crime – motive, means and method to try and figure out who in the village had killed the hostess. And to add to his woes, it turns out that more than quite a few people had a bone to pick with her; the women because she did what she did, and the men due to various other reasons ranging from possible spurning of romantic advances to the possibility of her blackmailing them. Starting with the village sarpanch, the list of suspects involves the sarpanch’s son, the postmaster and his wife, a partially handicapped teacher and his wife, and Krishna Shastri, the village priest himself.

Another interesting thing about the book is the fact that the specter of Padmavati, her soul, her spirit seems to be hanging over the whole proceedings. Everything that all the characters in the book do obviously deal with her in one way or the other, but the author has managed to keep them so subtle that at times you don’t even realize that she is dead in the first place. At the same time, her presence is not so overpowering that she ends up taking up a bulk of the book as well. All the characters mentioned above are given almost equal prominence and hold their own against each other. And given that this is a whodunit book, it bodes well that readers are not quite able to easily figure out which among the seven suspects could have committed the crime. All of them seem to have equally good motives, means and methods of killing Padmavati.

At the very end though, the author employs the classic sleight of hand that this genre of books necessarily needs to have, and what is good about this is the fact that readers don’t quite see it coming the way it finally ends up. And that to me, elevated this book to a really good one. Given that this was Sharath Kommaraju’s debut novel, this was a really nice crime thriller, and for sure makes me want to pick up his second book as well in the same genre.

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Name Murder in Amaravati
Author/s Sharath Komarraju
Publisher Amaryllis
Year published 2012
ISBN 13 9789381506103
Goodreads link Link
Flipkart link Link
Amazon link Link