Sunday, March 27, 2011

Delhi Is Not Far by Ruskin Bond.

Ruskin Bond steals into our thoughts and captures our hearts with his effortlessly charming stories. Having read a few of his books, I now know Bond's stories of rural India will stay with me forever. His is the quiet voice that leads to calm, restful communities and characters we feel we all know. I first heard of Ruskin Bond after a friend recommended him to me... when I was a schoolgirl - and I am eternally grateful.

Ruskin Bond - the name conjures up misty hills, lush green valleys, gurgling brooks, long languid stroll through the forests, small-town vibes and of course, Dehradun or simply Dehra. But one reading of 'Delhi Is Not Far' is not enough... to quench one’s thirst, so to speak. Bond's intensity of living, his joie de vivre and the breadth of his experiences are easily perceptible throughout each of his books... and that is Ruskin Bond's signature style. And it is infectious... I tell you!

'Delhi Is Not Far' is a 1994 collection of Bond's writings, from his first published poem ('Lost,' published in the Illustrated Weekly of India in 1952) to extracts from his more recent novels/novellas. Short stories, vignettes, travel pieces, poetry and two novellas are included in this collection. This is a sequel to his earlier two novellas - 'The Room on the Roof' and 'Vagrants in the Valley'. The narration is much like in the form of a diary... where the past, the present and the future crisscross effortlessly. A slow but charming story of a (imaginary?) town called Pipalnagar. I am yet to read 'Vagrants in the Valley' and am currently reading 'The Room on the Roof' which he wrote as a 17 year old boy way back in 1951. It was published when he was 21 and brought him the John Llewellyn Rhys Memorial Prize in 1957. I actually started off with this trilogy in reverse chronological order! The other day, I had been to Crossword and Reliance TimeOut (both bookstores) but 'Vagrants in the Valley' proved to be elusive. I guess I will have to try some other day. Instead I picked up 'Tales of the Open Road' by whom else but Ruskin Bond!

The narrator - Arun, a struggling writer of cheap Urdu thrillers, feels trapped in dull and dusty Pipalnagar, where nothing ever happens. He hopes to write a blockbuster one day, and escape to Delhi. Meanwhile, he falls in love with a young prostitute, Kamla, and befriends the homeless orphan, Suraj. Written in 1960 and published now for the first time as a stand-alone novella, 'Delhi Is Not Far' is a memorable story about desire, love and loss in small time India... where Delhi is the metaphor for 'dreams accomplished'.

Ruskin Bond has been writing for decades, quietly. He is not a recluse but does not make a song and dance about his books: novels, novellas, short story, poem, travelogue, essay... yet he has written on every genre for over half a century and counting. At the ninth edition of the Vodafone Crossword Book Awards held in Mumbai in Aug., 2010 the soft-spoken Bond was in a jocular mood, remarking how now that authors have become celebrities, they’d rather stay away from the limelight. "Writers are best read, but not seen in public, because most of them are not good-looking," he said, leaving the audience in splits. For Bond, anonymity has come at a hefty price. The author narrated an incident at a bookstore many years ago, when he spotted a copy of one of his books at the very bottom of a shelf. He reminisced, "Once in 1967, India Book House published a book of mine. Like every author I would go to the bookshop and look for my book. Once I went to a small bookshop in Shankar Nagar in Delhi. I found my book below a pile of Harold Robbins, who was a very popular author during those days. I looked around, making sure no one was watching, and removing my book from under the pile, placed it on top. The shopkeeper saw me and, replacing it back in its original position, said, Yeh chalta nahin hai! Well, to teach the bookshop owner a lesson I bought the book (chuckles)!"

Bond says his early work was fiction, short stories, and novella - some of it autobiographical. Then, when he was in his forties he started writing non-fiction, even children's books and that his favourite forms are essays and short stories. On being asked if he liked writing for children or adults he said, "I enjoy writing for both. I like writing funny stories for kids and making them laugh. Kids are very bright and it's great fun writing for them and interacting with them. For instance, in Delhi not long ago, a teacher asked a nine-year-old girl, 'What do you think of Mr. Bond as a writer?' Now that was quite a serious question. She looked at me, thought hard and said, 'You are not a bad writer.' I thought it was a great compliment (laughs)."

He says he has run out of ghosts, but will try to write more ghost stories and make them scarier. "Actually I write ghost stories when I run out of people and I have nothing else left to write. To be perfectly honest, I haven't yet met one though hill-stations are supposed to be the favourite haunt of ghosts" he states. His collection of ghost stories was roundly criticized by critics (who else!) but went into its 2nd edition the very next day. I guess critics should not take themselves and their jobs too seriously. What?

But his evocative stories set in small Hindi-speaking Indian towns and villages in the Himalayan foothills are delightful in the way that they capture the daily lives of common people, including gardeners, shopkeepers, tongawallas, sweepers and servants, kite makers, tea boys and street urchins. These stories tend to grow on you and bring to life a whole community forgotten by most Indian writers who generally like to set their books in the big cities/metros and target the multiplex crowd. While Bond's quiet humour and affection for the little people shines through in his writings... which stands apart from the big-noise books currently out there.

This book brings together some of Bond's best short stories. My favourites are the title story "Delhi is not far", for the way it shows even the poorest have aspirations and dreams; the beautiful "Time stops at Shamli", an evocative almost-love story; and "A job well done" where Dukhi, the gardener metes out a terrible, yet matter-of-fact revenge on a bullying master. The long neglected small towns of India are beginning to change now, with the arrival of cable television, mobile phones, designer clothes and a greater consumerism but Bond's stories have a timeless feel to them. I can still believe the characters that people his books are still there, eking out a difficult living.

Book Summary of Delhi Is Not Far: Momentous things happen elsewhere, in the big cities of Nehru's India. In dull and dusty Pipalnagar, each day is like another, and 'there is not exactly despair, but resignation'. Even the dreams here are small: if he ever makes it to Delhi, Deep Chand, the barber, will open a more up-to-date salon where he might, perhaps, give the Prime Minister a haircut; Pitamber will trade his cycle-rickshaw for the less demanding scooter-rickshaw; Aziz will be happy with a junk-shop in Chandni Chowk. None, of course, will make that journey to Delhi.

Adrift among them, the narrator, Arun, a struggling writer of detective novels in Urdu, waits for inspiration to write a blockbuster. One day he will pack his meagre belongings and take the express train out of Pipalnagar. Meanwhile, he seeks reassurance in love, and finds it in unusual places: with the young prostitute Kamla, wise beyond her years; and the orphan Suraj, homeless and an epileptic, yet surprisingly optimistic about the future.

Few authors write with greater sensitivity and skill about little India than Ruskin Bond. 'Delhi Is Not Far' is a memorable story about small lives, with all the hallmarks of classic Ruskin Bond prose: nostalgia, charm, underplayed humour and quiet wisdom.

This is yet another classic masterpiece by Ruskin Bond, I loved this book for its simple narration style and the way he pulls you into the story. Go for it... you will be well rewarded.

Details of the book: Book: Delhi Is Not Far/ Author: Ruskin Bond/ ISBN: 0144000954/ ISBN-13: 9780144000951, 978-0144000951/ Binding: Paperback/ Publishing Date: 10/26/2005/ Publisher: Penguin Books India Pvt. Ltd/ Edition: 1st Edition/ Number of Pages: 120/ Price: Rs. 150/ Language: English.

Photograph: The book jacket cover: Ruskin Bond's novella 'Delhi Is Not Far'. Pic. courtesy: Link

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Ruskin Bond's Book of Nature.

This one came along with the delightful 'Book of Humour'. Well, almost. They were separated by just 4 days. Which does not make them twins... even fraternal ones at that... but so what, both make for a very good read!

I finished reading this book a while back... and I wonder how Ruskin Bond manages to weave such simple, joyous tales all the time. Refreshing, fragrant with the smell of nature, and a charm that makes you want to read them again and again. They never let your interest drift or your mind to wander. This one is yet another gem from his treasure-trove. When you relax in your small verandah or on a garden seat, take this book with you and open it at any page. You will be well rewarded.

Having grown up in the hills, in the lap of nature... in once idyllic Mussourie, Kasauli, Shimla, Dehradun and Jamnagar... no one understands nature like Ruskin Bond and it takes his ability to put this wonder into words. He is indeed nature's favourite child. He has celebrated the wonder and beauty of nature as few other contemporary writers have, or indeed can... for over fifty years and counting. Apparently he has yet to lose faith in Indians. In 2009, a report was published which stated that he was seen going down to the Mall in the evenings and stopping drivers, pleading with them not to honk so much. Bond was 75 then. You have to be made of something special to be that age and yet optimistic about changing Indians. It is an indication of his love for the hills and for nature and speaks volumes of the incorrigible optimist that he is. He is a believer in universal culture. Only someone like him can weave such tales, given the serenity and lyricism of his prose. No one else can. For sure!

In these pages, he writes of leopards padding down the lanes of Mussoorie after dark, the first shower of the monsoon in Meerut that brings with it a tumult of new life, the chorus of insects at twilight outside his window, ancient banyan trees and the short-lived cosmos flower, a bat who strays into his room and makes a night less lonely. He captivates with his collection of nature pieces... not just from the Himalayan foothills that he has made his home, but also from the cities and small towns that he lived in or traveled through as a young man. And he is young at heart. Always. Forever. No wonder he has few equals. He shares a deep camaraderie with nature and his stories flow smoothly like a sparkling brook... no dramatic flourishes, no villains, ugly fights, in them. There is warmth and plenty of it and the simple pleasures of life... which make them so very endearing.

He is a painter of words. Bond uses his pen as a brush to paint captivating images of his observations on and his experiences with nature and beckons his readers into his imagination... like the sweet fragrance of a flower in full bloom during spring. A book that relaxes the eyes, rests the mind, lulls the noise and lets one drift into the idyllic life with nature that most of us are unable to lead... thanks to incessant 'development' made in the name of 'progress'. The 'Book of Nature' is liberally sprinkled with gentle humour and gives you the feeling... that you are having a one-on-one conversation with the narrator himself over a cup of freshly brewed filter coffee. Or even a cup of masala chai. It is very, very soothing... almost like a lullaby on a hot summer afternoon. While the fragrance of his words... lingers on and on and on.

Some snippets about Bond: Come every Saturday, the portly figure of Ruskin Bond can be seen at the Cambridge Book Store sipping hot tea and obliging autograph hunters. Opened in 1952, just two years after Bond finished his schooling, he fondly savours the nostalgia of this place.

"I still remember buying Agatha Christie's 'Death on the Nile' in 1965 for Rs. 3 from this store," says the creative writer strolling down memory lane, while having a cup of tea. Thanks to Bond's voracious appetite for words in black and white, the store has remained in business. "Bond is a loyal patron of our book shop and his presence provides readers a chance to interact with him," states 85-year-old LD Arora, the owner of the shop. Unfazed by tourists and their accompanying children, who keep pestering him for autographs, he revels in showing his funny side to all the visitors.

"His mere two hours presence at the shop sells about 50-100 books every Saturday," discloses Sunil Arora, the owner's son and a personal friend of Bond.

When Jalandhar's Vandana and Delhi's Shelly Jain hurriedly purchased Bond's books to get them signed, an avid soccer lover opted for his autograph on a Ronaldo picture. "I am also a Ronaldo fan," reveals the storyteller later, while trying to catch soap bubbles blown by playful children in the shop. Clad in a red jumper, the ageing writer still retains his loyal readers, who seem to keep increasing by the day.

"He has an elephant's memory," recalls a lady from Delhi, who had last met Bond 21 years ago during a visit to the hill town as a student of St Thomas' School and now seen getting a couple of Bond's books autographed for her children. Funnily, when the poor weather dampened Arora's business, it was a good time for writers, points out Bond giving slight heartburn to his friend. But how would he walk up to his Landour home without an umbrella?

Ergo, went the shop assistant and came with a bunch of colourful umbrellas. And Bond selected the obvious – the blue umbrella. Was that meant for Biniya - the 11 year old girl and the protagonist of his famous story 'The Blue Umbrella'? Well, nobody knows. (But as it turned out later, Bond's beloved Blue Umbrella had a gaping hole and had to be replaced).

In 2007, Bond's short story 'The Blue Umbrella' was made into a film... directed by Vishal Bharadwaj (of 'Kaminey' fame). It had a great lyrical feel and very good cinematography. As far as acting is concerned, Pankaj Kapoor, because of his tremendous histrionic skills, completely dominated the film.

Vishal liked another of his four-page short story, 'Susanna's Seven Husbands'. Bond expanded it into a 200-page piece, which could be filmed. The movie was titled 'Saat Khoon Maaf'... and the cast included Priyanka Chopra, Naseeruddin Shah, John Abraham, Irrfan Khan, Neil Nitin Mukesh, Anu Kapoor and Vivaan Shah. Bond's protagonist was a femme fatale who bumps off her seven husbands. He had to find ingenious ways of bumping seven people off while writing the story. According to Bond... that's something he cannot generally contemplate. Interestingly, during production, the film underwent two name changes. The project was initially titled 'Seven', which was then replaced by 'Ek Batta Saat' and finally 'Saat Khoon Maaf'.

It seems that the eminent author from Mussoorie is now enjoying his newfound love of acting in films nowadays. He shot a video, along with the noted Uttarakhandi singer Meena Rana recently. Ruskin Bond, speaking to The Tribune, said earlier he used to feel uncomfortable acting, but after his stint in 'Saat Khoon Maaf' directed by Vishal Bhardwaj, he is now getting used to the arc lights and the glamour world. However, his first love remains writing books, especially for children.

His novella 'A Flight of Pigeons', a story set in Shahjahanpur during the revolt of 1857 was made into 'Junoon' (1978)... starring Shashi Kapoor, Shabana Azmi, Nafisa Ali, Ismat Chughtai, Tom Alter, Deepti Naval, Jennifer Kendal, Pearl Padamsee, among others... and directed by Shyam Benegal. According to Bond... it was true to the story, only the ending was changed slightly. It was a good film, probably a bit too opulent. The acting, particularly Naseeruddin Shah's, was excellent.

Ruskin Bond has his modest home miles from the madding crowds in picture-postcard pretty Landour, a quaint little 'town' above Mussoorie. His tiny living room is filled with books, pictures and 'trophies'. The writer's familiar chubby face is now framed by hair that was 'more-salt-less-pepper' and combed neatly, like a schoolboy's. His eyes are sparkling blue, his complexion a healthy pink, and his smile ever so engaging. While his voice is deep and resonant. Bond has written in almost every genre - short story, novel, poem, travelogue, essay etc... and counts essays and short stories as his favourite forms. Prolific and popular, witty and wise, charming and cherubic, Ruskin Bond commands adulation across regions, age groups and gender. Here is a writer who has defied genres, challenged conventions and remained enduring and endearing down the years... and he believes that in order to become a good writer one has to be confident and perseverant. He says, "At times, when the chips are down and you are disappointed, you have to stick to this. I have seen young people who entered this field, but quit after some time and joined other creative streams like advertising or journalism. I stick to writing, since I had no other alternative."

Ruskin Bond Profile: Ruskin Bond (born 19 May 1934) is an Indian author of British descent. He is considered to be one of the icons among Indian writers and children's authors and a top novelist.

In 1992, he received the Sahitya Akademi award for English writing, for his short stories collection, Our Trees Still Grow in Dehra, by the Sahitya Akademi (India's National Academy of Letters). He was awarded the Padma Shri in 1999 for contributions to children's literature. He now lives with his adopted family in Mussoorie.

Ruskin Bond was born in Kasauli (Himachal Pradesh). His father was Aubrey Alexander Bond who served in the RAF during World War II. He had one sister and brother – Ellen and William Bond. When the writer was 4, his mother separated from his father and married a Punjabi-Hindu Mr Hari who himself was married once. At the age of 10, Ruskin went to his grandmother's place in Dehradun. He has been living in Landour since the 1960s, and has previously stayed at Shimla, Jamnagar, Mussoorie, Dehradun, and London.

Details of Book: Ruskin Bond's Book Of Nature/ Author: Royina Grewal/ Pages: 312/ ISBN: 0143064231/ ISBN-13: 9780143064237, 978-0143064237/ Publishing Date: 06/01/2008/ Publisher: Penguin Books India Pvt. Ltd./ Price: Rs. 299/- (paperback).

Photograph: Pic courtesy: link.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Do and Die: The Chittagong Uprising: 1930-34 by Manini Chatterjee.

Author's note: To read my take on the movie version of this book, click here.

A forgotten chapter of Indian history brought alive.

Meticulously researched and skillfully narrated, the story of the young idealists, heady with patriotism and ready to die, emphasizes the role of the revolutionaries as an important part of the freedom struggle in India. Manini Chatterjee has presented perhaps the first comprehensive history of the uprising based on a large corpus of original source material. British records and official publications form just one part of this. She has made extensive use of India-centered sources in both English and Bengali: the writings by participants of the uprising, interviews with survivors, newspaper reports, and contemporary political records. Using the skills of a journalist to ask the right questions, Chatterjee uncovers the riveting saga of an intrepid band of men and women who engaged the might and wits of a mature and entrenched colonial state for four long years. Surjya Sen, Kalpana Dutta and their comrades, historical figures whom we have encountered but do not really know, acquire real-life stature in Manini Chatterjee's telling.

Throughout British India, independence movements began to gain strength during the 1900's. The revolutionaries (of colonial Bengal) were organized into two major groups: "Calcutta Jugantar" and "Dacca Anushilan Samiti". These revolutionaries had to face British torture, rigorous imprisonment, the hangman's noose and deportation to the dreaded Andaman cellular jail. The 'Anushilan-Jugantar' merger provided a new impetus to the freedom movement with the revolutionaries making a federation of all groups to launch a new offensive. Niranjan Sengupta of the 'Barisal Anushilan', Satish Chandra Pakrashi of 'Dacca Anushilan', Jatin Das of the 'South Calcutta Anushilan' led the federation along with 'Masterda' Surjo Sen and Ganesh Ghose of the 'Chittagong Jugantar Party'. They adopted in 1929 a programme of hitting government establishments... all at a time. Biplobi Surjo Sen made a series of attacks on government establishments from 1929 to 1933... including the most sensational 'Chittagong Armoury raid'... in 1930. The textbook cliche that Gandhi’s 'Ahisma' forced the British to quit India is not merely trivializing of undivided India’s revolutionary heritage but also an ignorant historical reductionism.

The 1930 Chittagong Youth Revolt, which the British colonialists denigrated as the loot of the Chittagong Armoury, was one of the glorious chapters of the anti-colonial movement of the subcontinent and a valiant example of armed struggle. The exploits of the revolutionaries, whom the British denounced, brutally tortured, tried and hanged as "terrorists", have entered our folklore of people's struggle for independence from colonial oppression. The legendary 'Masterda' Surjo Sen, the leader of the revolt, has ever remained an icon of revolution and patriotism... in Bengal. The rest of India barely knows this heroic revolutionary... whom the British sought to portray as a midnight terrorist.

On a day (April 18, 1930) that is a landmark in India's struggle for Independence, the fearless Freedom Fighter 'Masterda' Surjo Sen with his comrades-in-arms Ganesh Ghosh, Lokenath Bal, Nirmal Sen, Ambika Chakrobarty, Naresh Roy, Sasanka Datta, Ardhendu Dastidar, Harigopal Bal (Tegra), Tarakeswar Dastidar, Ananta Singh, Jiban Ghoshal, Anand Gupta, Pritilata Waddedar, Kalpana Datta and many others, and a boy barely into his teens... the 14-year-old Subodh Roy, took control of two armouries in Chittagong, raised the Indian National Flag, and declared independence under a Provisional Revolutionary Government operating under the Indian Republican Army. They achieved a siege of remarkable magnitude, against the fully trained and equipped British military.

It took an inordinately long period for new research and interpretations of Indian history to percolate into the school textbooks of independent India. The Uprising of 1857, for example, continued to be referred to as the "Mutiny" of 1857 (a term the British chose in order to minimize the spread and impact of a people's uprising that enveloped large parts of the subcontinent) in Indian classrooms and textbooks till the early 1970s. An event that however never got upgraded in school textbooks from the status of an "armoury raid" to the popular anti-colonial uprising that it really was, is the Chittagong Uprising of 1930-34. The British used the word "raid" to wish away a challenge that shook their administrative apparatus, and morale, to the core. Wonder why, though.

The revolutionary chapter (or what Chatterjee says has been inaccurately called the "terrorist" chapter) of the freedom movement had a complex and not entirely inimical relationship with the non-violent freedom movement led by the Congress under the leadership of Mahatma Gandhi. This took very interesting forms in colonial Bengal, of which Chittagong was a part. All the six original leaders of the Chittagong Uprising - Surjya Sen, Nirmal Chandra Sen, Lokenath Bal, Ambika Chakrabarti, Ananta Singh and Ganesh Ghosh, were participants in the Congress-led Civil Disobedience movement launched in 1919. They were bitterly disappointed by Gandhi's decision to call off the movement in 1922 in the wake of the Chauri Chaura incident. It was as members of the District Congress Committee and other mass fronts of the Congress that they planned and trained for the armed attack on the Chittagong armoury, police headquarters and European club on April 18, 1930, an attack they hoped would yield them a sufficiently large quantity of arms and ammunition. They hoped it would be the prelude to a general uprising. They built up an 'army' amongst teenage recruits who were given physical training in physical training clubs, and secret training in arms under cover - a parallel activity which the district administration did not get wise to.

Despite an unforeseen hitch at the last minute, the carefully planned operation goes off flawlessly and takes an unprepared administration totally by surprise. "The strategy and success of the uprising," Chatterjee writes, "rested on two conditions: the first was to capture the enemies' armouries and the second was to repulse the attack of the enemy and protect the provisional republican government for as many days as possible". The revolutionaries were however forced to change direction mid-stream owing to a fatal failure of intelligence on their part. While the armoury contained the best collection of weapons in the district, this proved quite useless, as the ammunition to use it was not stored there. A new magazine had been recently built which the revolutionaries did not know about.

Their plans in disarray, the leaders responded to the situation on instinct. Chatterjee describes the events that followed. The original group found itself separated and in two. The bigger group, largely comprising tired but exhilarated teenagers who did not know the extent of the setback they had suffered, retreated with "Masterda" (as Surjya Sen was called), Nirmal Sen and Ambica Chakrabarti into the Nagarkhana Hills that flanked Chittagong. Around four days later, in what came to be known as the "Battle of Jalalabad" - in a showdown with the mighty Queen's army, this poorly armed group of 55 men and boys engaged a fully armed battalion of British troops numbering several thousand at Jalalabad hills. 10-12 of them achieved martyrdom, but not before taking down eighty of the colonizers. Several among the group sustained injuries while Ananta Singh, Ganesh Ghosh and two others had an eventful time, evading arrest and reaching Calcutta with great difficulty.

Striking and graphic accounts of the battle of Jalalabad, the encounter at Dhalghat, the attack at Pahartali and the underground resistance form the core of the book. Chatterjee scores in giving a human face to the dry bones of history. The enigmatic 'Masterda', the irrepressible Kalpana Dutta and the brooding, tragic Pritilata Waddedar all come alive with their zeal and fervour, love and loss.

Chatterjee traces the continuation of the struggle through many a tortuous twist. The official backlash was heavy (by the end of 1931, Chittagong had come under virtual martial law and the administration had special powers to arrest, detain and punish anyone it thought were connected with the revolutionaries). The survivors of Jalalabad broke up into groups to continue the resistance which now spread to the villages; more recruits joined the struggle, including Kalpana Dutta and Pritilata Waddadar (who chose to commit suicide in an armed action rather than be caught or surrender); several leaders were captured by the police; and an extensive plan to effect the escape of some of the jailed leaders was discovered and foiled by the authorities. Masterda and his comrades, continuously on the run, were finally caught in February 1933. Kalpana Dutta, Tarakeshwar Dastidar and a group of others were arrested in May that year. Surjya Sen and Dastidar were hanged to death in January 1934 and a number of other leaders deported for life to the Andamans.

The Chittagong Uprising, Manini Chatterjee persuasively argues, marks a new stage in the participation of women in the freedom struggle. While the Gandhian movement drew women into 'satyagraha' in large numbers, the revolutionary movement attracted fewer women but offered them a different quality of experience and involvement, indeed of equality with their male comrades. While Chittagong may have been the first "instance of women decisively crossing the Lakshman Rekha that bound them to home and family" it was not, as Chatterjee suggests, the only instance of this happening. Women continued, at great cost to themselves and to their families, to cut themselves off from traditional support structures and join movements that sought to bring change in radical ways. Women who had cast off traditional roles during a period of struggle found it far more difficult than men to pick up the pieces and reconstruct their lives in "peace time". They found that while they had changed, the societies in which they lived had not.

This is a book well researched and well told, and certainly enriches our understanding of an important part of our history.

Masterda Surjyo Sen: Surjya Sen, being constantly followed by the police, was once hiding in the house of Sabitri Devi, a widow, near Patiya. A police and military force under Captain Cameron surrounded the house on 13 June 1932. Cameron was shot dead while ascending the stairs and Surjya Sen along with Pritilata Waddedar and Kalpana Datta escaped to safety.

'Masterda' evaded arrest by disguising himself and taking on various odd jobs; as a labourer; as a farmer, or milkman, or priest, as a combined hand/man servant or even as a pious Muslim.

Either because of the lure of money (announced by the British as a reward), or out of jealousy, or due to a combination of both, Netra Sen betrayed Masterda. As a result, the police captured him on February 16, 1933. This is how one of India's greatest heroes was arrested. But before Netra Sen could get his 10,000-rupee reward the revolutionaries killed him.

Netra Sen's wife was a staunch supporter of Surjya Sen, and was horrified by her husband's betrayal.

One evening while she was serving dinner to her husband… a supporter of Surjya Sen came into the house carrying a very big knife (called "daa" in Bengali)… with one stroke of which he chopped off the head of Netra Sen in the presence of his wife… and left as slowly and silently he had come. When the police arrived to investigate, they asked Netra Sen's wife if she had seen the murderer. She said, "I saw with my own eyes, but my heart will not permit me to tell you his name. I am sorry. I feel miserable that I was the wife of such a treacherous man, such an undivine man as Netra Sen. My husband betrayed the greatest hero of Chittagong. My husband betrayed a great son of Mother India. My husband cast a slur on the face of India. Therefore, I cannot tell the name of the person who took his life. He has definitely done the right thing. You can do anything with me. You can punish me, you can even kill me, but I shall never tell the name of the person who killed my husband. Our 'Masterda' will be hanged, I know, but his name will forever be synonymous with India's immortal freedom-cry. Everybody loves him. Everybody adores him. I, too, love him and adore him, for he is the brightest sun in the firmament of Chittagong. Surjya means sun and he is truly our sun."

Tarakeswar Dastidar, the new president of the Chittagong Branch of the Jugantar Party, made plans to rescue Masterda from the Chittagong Jail. But the plot was unearthed and consequently frustrated. Tarakeswar and Kalpana along with others were arrested. Special tribunals tried Surjya Sen, Tarakeswar Dastidar, and Kalpana Datta in 1933.

The British hanged Surya Sen along with his fellow revolutionary Tarekeshwar Dastidar on January 12, 1934. But before the death sentence was carried out Masterda was brutally tortured. It was reported that the British executioners broke all his teeth with a hammer, plucked out all the nails from his fingers and toes and broke every limb and joints in his body. He was then dragged to the gallows unconscious. After his death nobody performed his funeral. The prison authority, it was found later, put his dead body in a metallic cage and dumped it into the Bay of Bengal. No tomb, plaque, or saintly epithets for him and his ilk... in independent India too. Sadly.

Details of the Book: Do and Die: The Chittagong Uprising: 1930-34 by Manini Chatterjee/ Manini Chatterjee/ pp. 356/ Paperback/ Publisher: Penguin Books India (14-Oct-2000)/ ISBN-10: 0140290672/ ISBN-13: 978-0140290677/ Price: Rs. 295/

Photograph: Pic courtesy: Link.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

A 'history' of the Indian subcontinent - Part II.

Author's note: Do read the 1st part of this post here.

This is the 2nd part of the same post that I discovered while trawling the net... and decided to share it on my blog... so that all my readers can be entertained as well :)

After the Tehmuri dynasty was over the throne of unified India was once again empty, and since somebody had to be king it was decided by mutual consent to let Babur, an unemployed regent at the time, take the seat of power. Babur had lost his own kingdom in Samarkand you see, and since Samarkand was a pretty big place, he didn't want to go looking for it.

Besides, Babur was obligated by history to fight in the battle of Panipat and found the Mughul Sultanate. If he hadn't come to the sub-continent, the battle of Panipat would've been rather one sided, given that only Ibrahim Lodhi would have turned up for it, who himself might have been convinced to stay home learning of Babur's lack of interest. Then nobody would have turned up for it. That would have been very embarrassing for historians.

To become the unequivocal ruler of Hindustan, Babur also had to deal with the Rajputs. He had to defeat Rana Sanga, Ranatunga and other members of the Sri Lankan cricket team to consolidate his authority.

Babur was reputedly an extremely strong man who used to climb the stairs to his palace with a couple of men on his shoulders. This, he said, was for exercise although there are rumours that he provided this service for some much needed disposable income. It was tough being a ruler in those days, the salary was very little and opportunities for kickbacks and appropriations so few. There were no Swiss banks to embezzle the national treasury into, either.

Babur was succeeded by his son Humayun, who had spent years coining the royal title Al-Sultan al-'Azam wal Khaqan al-Mukarram, Jam-i-Sultanat-i-haqiqi wa Majazi, Sayyid al-Salatin, Abu'l Muzaffar Nasir ud-din Muhammad Humayun Padshah Ghazi, Zillu'llah for himself. He really should have done something better with his time, because no sooner had he ascended to power that someone with a much shorter name and much more experience in warfare defeated him and took his throne.

Humayun, like any blue-blooded emperor in his position, did the brave thing and fled to Persia. Since Sher Shah Suri was much older than the young Mughul ruler, Humayun's strategy was now to wait for the Pashtun lord to die first, an eventuality that occurred in the summer of 1545. Nine years later, Sher Shah's son followed suit.

Emboldened by the natural demise of his enemies, the ambitious Humayun marched back into India with his eyes towards the heavens, and fell down numerous times for not looking where he was going. After many wrong turns and much bickering with his generals, he finally reached Delhi in 1555 to lay down on his father's throne, as he was far too tired to sit.

Humayun's death proved to be as comical as his life, as in early 1556 he fell down the library stairs after getting his robe caught under his foot, injuring himself badly. Or injuring himself very well, rather, because he died just three days afterwards. This should serve to highlight the danger posed to health by reading too many books.

It is also worth repeating that India was at one time ruled by a man who tripped himself down the stairs to his own death. This should be kept in mind when furiously contemplating how a company of traders and merchants from Britain managed to take down an entire empire in a matter of years. They just built their offices on the second floor.

Humayun left his throne to his thirteen year old son, Akbar, who proved to be an astute monarch. He gave the sub-continent a thorough system of taxation, printed his own currency and gave the media and judiciary all the independence that could reasonably be expected from an unelected monarch which, it goes without saying, pales in comparison to the freedom granted by today’s elected monarchs.

During his regime, the prices of utilities and food items were very low, at least much lower than they are today. Poor people could afford sugar and petrol, they didn't have to ration their tea, they weren't forced to sell their internal organs just to pay the electricity bills and all in all it was a time of greatly relative prosperity.

Akbar-e-Azam was a religious pluralist who had no delusions of self-grandeur. Those rumours were base and false. His Majesty Imam-i-'Adil, Amir-ul-Mu’minin, Sultan ul-Islam Kafatt ul-Anam did not start his own religion for self-deification. Din-i-Ilahi was a self-less venture intended to strengthen the communal bondage between the various religious communities of India and his undisputed throne.

But Akbar (played wonderfully by Prithviraj Kapoor) having conquered all the external threats to his power would find trouble much closer to home. His eccentric son Salim (Dilip Kumar) would become smitten by one of the courtly concubines, Anarkali (Madhubala) while his wife, Jodha Bai (Durga Khote), would largely be a spectator as Bahar (Nigar Sultana) exposed the affair in an open court. Akbar would sentence Anarkali to be buried alive as the pleas of her mother (Jilloo Bai) would fall on ears not quite deaf but definitely hard of hearing.

Critics agree that the character of Mann Singh (played by Murad) was largely inconsequential to the proceedings but Anarkali's classical rendition of 'Pyar Kiya to Darna Kya' received great plaudits and would inspire the latter day Lata Mangeshkar hit.

In Part 3: Dilip Kumar's revenge and ascension to the Mughal throne as Jahangir.

Meanwhile, more practice questions:

"Have you ever fallen to your death down any stairs?"

"Why not?"

A point to ponder: Why did Asia stagnate despite being ahead of Europe earlier? Just before Europe's take-off, Central Asian nomads, who reveled particularly in destroying formal knowledge, attacked Baghdad, India and China. One of Ancient India's seats of learning, the Nalanda University burned for 3 months after Khilji's attack while Mongols piled the books in Baghdad's House of Wisdom to cross the Tigris. Without such attacks, some Asian intellectual centers too may have soon then sparked Europe-like societal changes. While Europe suffered warfare too, its intellectual repositories survived them.

Note: For further readings:

1. The Legacy of Muslim Rule in India.

2. The Convenient Omissions From Islamic History.

3. Why the West? Race, Religion, Culture and Development.

4. On Raja Paurava and Alexander.

Photograph: A still from the movie 'Mughal-e-Azam'... with Prithviraj Kapoor as the Emperor Akbar and Dilip Kumar (Yusuf Khan) as Prince Salim (later Emperor Jahangir). Pic courtesy: link.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Review: The Silent Monument by Shobha Nihalani.

A very good read. Exciting, riveting, thought provoking.

'The Silent Monument'. The name sure is intriguing and so is the book jacket cover. And those were the very reasons I happily acquiesced to review this book. This is Hong Kong based author Shobha Nihalani's second novel... and the first to be published in India.

The Blurb: The Silent Monument is a thrilling tale of an age-old scroll discovered in the hidden chambers of the Taj Mahal - one of the seven wonders of the world.

The journalist (Parag Saxena) who finds the ancient artifact is murdered. His feisty widow Manzil is suddenly burdened with the deadly secret, the contents of which could rock the nation. She becomes the most wanted person in the country.

Methinks: Thrilling it sure is, nicely interwoven with history and modern day politics. The narrative moves forward at a brisk pace yet do not overwhelm... nor it prods you towards the surreal. It does not call for the (un)willing suspension of disbelief either. TSM is not in the whodunnit format. I think that the graph of such a novel drops when the motives are revealed towards the end. Whodunnits don't have much of a repeat value once we know what the mystery is all about. Here the author has taken pains to cover a wide gamut of emotions and events while weaving the plot. It takes guts to write a novel that combines an ancient scroll, history, culture, religious conflict, vested interests, a secret organization, deadly assassins, archaeologists, police, and politics over religion. With an attractive dancer, a beautiful widow and powerful underworld dons thrown into the mixture. Plus it raises some pertinent questions. It takes talent to make such a novel a page-turner. Kudos to Shobha for having achieved that!

But before you jump to any conclusions let me state that 'The Silent Monument' is not the Indian version of 'The Da Vinci Code' or 'Angels & Demons' ... nor is Shobha Nihalani India's answer to Dan Brown. Both have distinctive styles of writing and the plots differ. Yet there are echoes. And Shobha Nihalani is certainly not the Shobhaa with an extra 'a' whether night or de *wink*

The plot is not physically very deep. Metaphorically, yes. But then as best-selling British crime writer Peter James says, "A shallow grave works better than a deep one."

Why did Parag have to die? Why is Manzil being hunted? What is the explosive secret hidden in the scroll... that if revealed will prompt people to kill each other? What is the role of the Indian Institute of Archaeology (IIA)? What is the archaeologist Mahesh Bhakti's agenda? Who is KD and who or what is the 'Onyx'? What do they want? Why are the two dons, the two modern gods – Deva and Khanbaba – involved? What are their interests and their modus operandi? What is the 'Yuva'? What will the Police officer - Yadav - do? How is the media involved in this cesspool? What is the filmmaker's role? What will Manzil do? What is the message at the end of the novel? What happens to the scroll?

Questions, questions! Read the book to find out.

A Deeper Analysis: Don't read The Silent Monument as just another exciting thriller. Read the book for its engagement with issues and events that are not usually spoken about in fiction, and for its interest in a big city's little people. Also... it raises certain critical and uncomfortable questions that we need to ask ourselves and to each other. Now.

It meanders between the power dynamics of the underworld, conflicts between religions/faiths and the larger plot of a nation's identity and heritage. What the dangerous threesome between politics, power and religion has achieved over the years. The Taj Mahal is the metaphor.

The Taj Mahal... the near ethereal monument of love built by the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his favourite and beloved consort Mumtaz Mahal... who passed away due to anemia while giving birth to their 14th child in an 18/19-year marriage. Has the whole dreamy, romantic angle twisted history and hidden certain uncomfortable facts successfully? Is the Taj Mahal named after Mumtaz Mahal (real name Arjumand Banu Begum/Mumtaz-ul-Zamani)? But isn't that too far fetched? What about the architecture that tells a different story?

Apparently... more than 20,000 workmen/craftsmen toiled for 22 years to build the Taj. With the Maharaja of Jaipur sending the marble as a gift to the Mughal Emperor. But no traveler including the ones from Europe has ever mentioned about something being built on such a large scale in any of their chronicles.

The structure that is today known as the "Qutub Minar" was supposedly built by the Emperor Chandragupta Vikramaditya... the greatest Emperor of all times... to commemorate his conquest of Arabia (ancient Arvasthan, 'arva' in Sanskrit means a horse and 'sthan' means place/land. 'Arvasthan' signifies a land of horses, and as we all know, Arabia is famous for its horses). His empire stretched from Bali to Turkmenistan... and Bactria.

However... today the same structure is known as the "Qutub Minar" after Qutb-ud-din Aibak... one of the generals of the marauding conqueror Mohammed of Ghor, who ruled the far north from the Sultanate of Delhi... and established the 'Slave Dynasty'. How come breathtaking pieces of architecture, beautiful monuments, forts and buildings came to be regarded as the legacy of the marauding conquerors who came on horse backs from the east and the west... and left behind devastated cities and rotting corpses? How is it that the places they came from do not boast of such architectural marvels?

History is generally ignored and considered to be burdensome by most of us. Is history a past and closed chapter? Or is it work-in-progress? When we celebrate a new year... is it really a new year? Or is it history carried forward? Is it mere coincidence that both yesterday (the past) and tomorrow (the future) is referred to as 'kal'? And 'kal' (the past), 'aaj' (the present) aur 'kal' (the future) are strung together.

Does a nation's history affect the psyche of its people? Do people who are repeatedly told that they were conquered by outsiders and subjugated for centuries grow up with a different psyche/psychology compared to people who learn that 'they' had ruled and 'civilized the world’? I sometimes wonder... why are we strangers to our own glorious history. Why folks belonging to nations whose own history is but a few hundred years usually write the history of our country or the 'extinct' civilizations. And somehow... our history never goes beyond the British and the Mughals, with a smattering of French and Portuguese thrown in here and there. And the Dutch... for garnishing perhaps! As for the great Emperor Chandragupta Vikramaditya... we have successfully reduced him to 'Vikram and Betal'.

But I digress.

Does history speak? Or is history made to speak what the 'forces of history' wants to hear? Can we or should we correct the anomalies? Or should we let the past remain buried in the dunes of time... for the sake of peace? Is the 'unity in diversity' mantra hollow? Can Indians view events, people and history objectively without 'colouring' them? Or will it always be 'Us' Vs 'Them'? Can it ever be 'Ours'? Can we ever become proud Indians? Is there hope? Can Gurudeb Rabindranath Tagore's dream of a free and glorious India ever become a reality? Shall we ever awake to an India that will live up to his following immortal words... or will it remain a fantasy... a mirage?

Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high

Where knowledge is free

Where the world has not been broken up into fragments

By narrow domestic walls

Where words come out from the depth of truth

Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection

Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way

Into the dreary desert sand of dead habit

Where the mind is led forward by thee

Into ever-widening thought and action

Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake.

My rating: I will give it a very good 4.25/5.

The printer's devil has not been able to do much damage. Whatever little it has... can be ignored. The production quality of the book is pretty good and the book jacket cover is the star attraction. It piques your interest and captures your attention instantly... while the narrative sweeps you up in its fold. I liked the language in which this book has been written. Not simple, not flowery... but erudite, yet easy to understand. Which makes it a pleasure to read. No wonder it has made it to the top 10 in the bestseller list (in the Fiction category) consistently since January 2011. Happy reading!

Shobha is one author to watch out for. I am waiting for her next book with high expectations.

Details of the book: Author: Shobha Nihalani/ Publisher: Tara Press/ Edition: 2010/ Language: English/ ISBN-13: 9788183860994/ ISBN-10: 8183860990/ Book binding: Paperback/ Price: Rs. 250/ No. of pages: 304.

Photograph: The book jacket cover of 'The Silent Monument'. Picture courtesy: link.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

A 'history' of the Indian subcontinent - Part I.

Author's note: I came across this post while trawling the net... and was greatly tickled by it. I decided to share it on my blog... so that all my readers can be entertained as well :)

In detailing the past of the Indian sub-continent I will of course be ignoring the thousands of years of culture and ideas that predated the arrival here of the one true faith, as my history books say that the world before Islam was irrelevant. It suffices to know that this region was a cesspit of moral and intellectual decadance. The indigenous people were all savages who lived in trees and worshipped self-crafted figurines. Instead of the invisible man in the sky like rational people.

Thus when the first Muslim conqueror, Mohammad bin Qasim, arrived on these lands looking for a prosperous society to pillage he was sorely disappointed. There wasn't a sign of civilization for kilometers around. He stuck around for a while trying to convince the locals to climb down from the trees and die like men but the language barrier, since the Hindus didn't speak any, ensured that most conversations ended with him being pelted from above with tropical fruit.

It wasn't until the early 11th century (300 years later) that these Brahman and Vedic people managed to build something of a civilization half-worth conquering. So it was that Mahmud Ghaznavi launched his military expedition into the Indian heartland in the summer of 1001. And again in the winter of 1005, having failed the first time around. He tried a third time in 1007, and promised everyone that his attempt in 1009 would be the last but, as we know from his subsequent excursion and defeat in 1011, he wasn't telling the truth.

His failure in 1013 was largely due to the monsoon rains, as his troops were without umbrellas, and critics agree that if not for the poor form of his cavalry in 1015, he would surely have lost in less embarassing terms. Four further attempts from 1017 to 1023 met with the same fate and the lack of the tiniest hint of success was beginning to affect morale. It has been argued that these presistent failures were largely due to poor tactics, as dying in large numbers has not been known to win many wars.

Things were looking even bleaker when he returned to lose a year later when suddenly in 1025, he took the Hindus by surprise by being defeated three consecutive times in the same year. He lost again during an assault in the following year and finally, in 1027, the Hindus gave up. Saying they had better things to do than fight a deranged imbecile every other year and spend months burning the corpses of his men.

Altogether, it took seventeen attempts for Mahmud Ghaznavi to establish the first Islamic empire in the sub-continent. His victory was to be short lived however, as he was much more successful in getting ill than fighting wars. He died having contracted his first terminal illness in 1030. His dynasty tumbled on for another hundred years before the Ghaznavid empire back in Afghanistan came under siege from the Ghauris and relinquished all Indian territories by 1187, when Muhammad Ghauri captured Lahore. As none of the famous attractions of the city like the Anarkali Bazaar, the Shahi Qila or the red light district behind it had yet come into existence, Ghauri died of boredom soon afterwards and left a sprawling collection of conquered territories without any single ruler.

Following these events minor independent kingdoms like the Delhi Sultanate and Mamluk Dynasty started propping up in the early 13th century as seats of consolidated Muslim power in the region. But it wasn't until Tehmur, or Tamerlane or simply Tammy to his friends, dropped in from Central Asia one day to unify these fledgling sultanates under one rule and conquer the length and breadth of India that anything worth writing a poem over occurred. As none of his predecessors can be found in Edgar Allen Poe's work.

The Tehmuri Dynasty would eventually pave the way for the glorious Moghul Empire that would give Indian cinema so many of it's greatest hits. Having plundered all he could from the various kingdoms and states, Tehmur left India as he'd found it, wandering around aimlessly on the back of an elephant.

In Part 2: Babur and the Golden Era of Muslim rule in India. In the mean time, here are some end of chapter revision questions:

"Who attacked India seventeen times?"
"How many times did Mahmud Ghaznavi attack India?"
"Why did Mahmud Ghaznavi attack India seventeen times? Why not eighteen times?"

Note: Arab traders had visited the western coast since 712, but it wasn't until 1001 that the Muslim world began to make its presence felt. Keenly. In that year, Arab armies swept down the Khyber Pass and hit like a storm. Led by Mahmud of Ghazi, they raided just about every other year for 26 years straight. They returned home each time, leaving behind them ruined cities, decimated armies, and probably a very edgy population. Then they more or less vanished behind the mountains again for nearly 150 years, and India once again went on its way.

But the Muslims knew India was still there, waiting with all its riches. They returned in 1192 under Mohammed of Ghor, and this time they meant to stay. Ghor's armies laid waste to the Buddhist temples of Bihar, and by 1202 he had conquered the most powerful Hindu kingdoms along the Ganges. When Ghor died in 1206, one of his generals, Qutb-ud-din Aibak, ruled the far north from the Sultanate of Delhi, while the southern majority of India was free from the invaders. Turkish kings ruled the Muslim acquisition until 1397, when the Mongols invaded under Timur Lang (Tamerlane) and ravaged the entire region. One historian wrote that the lightning speed with which Tamerlane's armies struck Delhi was prompted by their desire to escape the stench of rotting corpses they were leaving behind them.

Islamic India fragmented after the brutal devastation Timur Lang left in Delhi, and it was every Muslim strongman for himself. This would change in 1527, however, when the Mughal (Persian for Mongol) monarch Babur came into power. Afghan princes in India asked for his help in 1526, and he conquered the Punjab and quickly asserted his own claim over them by taking Delhi. This was the foundation of the Mughal dynasty, whose six Emperors would comprise most influential of all the Muslim dynasties in India.

Babur died in 1530, leaving behind a harried and ineffective son, Humayun. Humayun's own son, Akbar, however, would be the greatest Mughal ruler of all. Historians state that Akbar tolerated local religions and married a Hindu princess, establishing a tradition of cultural acceptance that would contribute greatly to the success of the Mughal rule. In reality... he was shrewd enough to understand that without the help of the Rajputs - the warrior clans - he would not be able to expand and hold on to his Empire. In 1605, his son Jahangir, who passed the expanding empire along to his own son Shah Jahan in 1627, succeeded Akbar. Shah Jahan's campaigns in the south and his flare for extravagant architecture (?) necessitated increased taxes and distressed his subjects, and under this scenario his son Aurungzeb imprisoned him, seeking power for himself in 1658.

Unlike his predecessors, Aurungzeb wished to eradicate indigenous traditions, and his intolerance prompted fierce local resistance. Though he expanded the Empire to include nearly the entire subcontinent, he could never totally subdue the Mahrattas of the Deccan, who resisted him until his death in 1707. Out of the Mahrattas' doggedness arose the legendary figure of Shivaji, a symbol Hindu resistance and nationalism. Aurungzeb's three sons disputed over succession, and the Mughal Empire crumbled, just as the Europeans (the Portuguese, the Dutch, the French and the English) were beginning to flex their own imperialistic muscles.

Photograph: Sultan Mahmud of Ghazni. Pic courtesy: link.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Review: Cricket Till I Die! by Upneet Grover.

'Cricket Till I Die!' is the anthem of a nation... as well as the debut novel of Upneet Grover. Thanks to my Blogger Friend – Preeti – I got to read and review this one... in the middle of the ICC Cricket World Cup 2011. Talk about timing! The book certainly consulted the (printing) stars before making its appearance *grin* I said 'Cricket Till I Die!' is the anthem of a nation earlier. Well, on second thoughts... not quite. For our Bollywood beauties... it was, is and always will be '18 Till I Die'. Rest assured. Anybody wearing noodle straps... would not be a day more than sweet sixteen! *wink*

Well, first things first. The book feels good to hold... the production quality is pretty good and the book jacket cover is the star attraction. It captures your attention... instantly. This should be music to the author and publisher's ears... since it is a reader's 'first impress-aan izz last impress-aan'. The language is simple and not overly flowery... with the author keeping the management and cricketing jargon to a minimum. The book is written in the first person... with the protagonist (Vineet Grover) narrating his story and/or the events. The author uses real-world language and expressions... the "guys kinda language"... which enhances the effect and makes it more identifiable. For the guys at least *wink* If this book were to appear in its celluloid avatar... there would be several 'beeps'. Trust me...

Vineet Grover is a 22-year-old IT guy... 'working' in Infotech Ltd... from where he desperately seeks an escape. His hardly working ways... not having earned him the very deserving 'pink slip'! Not that he is complaining though. The salary enables him to lead the good life... while enjoying his 'dessert' in the shape of the delectable Sonali. All this time... with the gorgeous Simi head over heels in love with him... but then that's just one-way traffic. For any other guy... this would be THE life they would have always wanted to live. But not Vineet! He plans to do his Master of Business Administration (MBA) from a tier 1 institute... and earn mega bucks being a high flying, glib talking, soulless manager. All the while considering cricket as his religion and worshipping at the altar of Virender Sehwag aka Viru Bhai!

A chance encounter with the tough guy with a heart of gold - Mr. Sharma – a coach with a nondescript local cricket club... changes his well thought out plans. This club quite simply leaves most people stone cold... being the epitome of the nondescript club that makes up the numbers but never hogs the limelight. But what does it do to Vineet? Mr. Sharma reminds you of Naseeruddin Shah's character in 'Iqbal'. ... Lady Luck smiles on Vineet... and he gets an opportunity to play for the Delhi Daredevils (in IPL 3) alongside his idol... Virender Sehwag. But can he ace the tough selection process? What happens to his MBA ambitions? Does he bell the CAT in the first place? Well, read the book to find out. Who is the enigmatic Simi? Is she the slightly 'slow', simple, attractive girl that Vineet knew from his Infotech days? Will Vineet have an affair with Lady Luck... both ethereal and mortal? Is he selfish in love? Well you got to read the book to know that too. Along the way... also getting to read about the fast ones that Vineet has been pulling on all and sundry at regular intervals… and not just on the cricket field. Howzzat!

'Cricket Till I Die!' gives some insights into the sweat, grind and the unglamorous side of cricket and cricketers... our permanent religion and temporary gods. But who are the Godfathers? How does selection happen? Is merit the only criteria? How did the 'talented' Vaibhav get into the team? Errr... don't we all know that the scion of a certain practitioner of polytricks who had planted a 'fruuut tareee' while earning 'karores and karores'... even making the already bechara cows and buffaloes very, very be-chara... made it to the Delhi Daredevils? So... what does Vineet do?

Does he live his dream? Does he don the Delhi Daredevils' jersey? Does he get to wear the India colours? Or does Lord Fate join hands with Lady Luck to script a different story? One constant in Vineet's life is Hardik... his friend who is more than a brother to him. What does Hardik do... every time Vineet faces a test/opportunity? Is blood really thicker than water? Is 'Just Do It' the way to go? Or is grin and 'beer' it better?

Btw... hopefully – Paul Henry - the Kiwi television anchor that made some obscene remarks/jokes at the expense of Delhi CM Sheila Dikshit... by making fun of her surname... has not laid his hands on this book. Else he'll do an encore with 'Hardik'. But then that would mean free international publicity for this book... so much so that the 'Man of the match' and the 'Player of the tournament' might be awarded a whole truckload of 'Cricket Till I Die!' While Upneet gets to be the person handing over the World Cup to the winning Captain! What?

Some events in this book have shades of '3 Idiots'... while others have a distinct 'Forrest Gump' flavour. Interspersed with thumping cricketing action and corporate inaction... 'Cricket Till I Die!' makes for an interesting read... and a light read. Its light on the wallet too! One can finish the book in one sitting itself... that is one of its USP. If you are hard pressed for time... 2-3 days should suffice. The readers can connect with this book and with Vineet's passion for cricket and career dilemma. Those of us who have dreamt of playing electrifying cricket in a stadium full of people and performing at the highest level. Bringing laurels to the country... and being the toast of this cricket-worshipping nation... will rejoice with the successes of the protagonist and feel low with his setbacks. The book has a positive message and leaves the reader with a positive feeling. There really are no nondescript clubs, no teams that leave everyone cold, and no 'shithole'. Every club... could be your life. Well... almost.

Suggestions: Several typos... need to be corrected. The printer's devil has left its footprints in many places... resulting in poor grammar... and spelling Bee being all at sea. Simi and Sonali interchange and so do Mr. Chawla and Mr. Sharma (the coach). Identity crises you see. AB De Velliers vilify... while the god of cricket – Sachin Tendulkar wasn't 39 during IPL 3. He still isn't (having been born on 24th April 1973) and IPL 4 is barely a couple of months away. Nor were Jacques Kallis 36 years of age during the 3rd edition of the cricket IPill... oops IPL. The protagonist – Vineet Grover – oscillates between 22/23/24. No that's not his vital stats... but the number of years he has spent on this planet. And there is no indication that he was born on a 'leap year'! Plus opening a 'bottle of chilled bear'… may not be the idea of an ideal romantic lunch/dinner. Pass the smelling salt please!

My Rating: I'll give it a good 3/5. It is a good effort by a debutant author... who also worships at the altar of Virender Sehwag... and eats, sleeps, drinks, thinks and writes cricket. As to whether Vineet Grover is Upneet Grover's alter ego... or if the book contains some bits and pieces from his own life... well your guess is as good as mine! Happy reading!

Details of the book: Cricket Till I Die!: Upneet Grover, pp 191, Paperback, English, Rs.150, ISBN: 8122311741, Cedar Books - Pustak Mahal.

Note: Upneet Grover: Face book page.

Photograph: The book jacket cover of 'Cricket Till I Die!'. Picture courtesy: link.