Book Review: Shoes of the Dead

Shoes of the Dead
Shoes of the Dead by Kota Neelima
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Kota Neelima’s Shoes of the dead left me feeling uneasy. Uneasy is a vague description, I know, but that’s how I felt – part guilt, part sadness and somewhere in there a small sense of relief and gratitude that I live in a better world. A world infinitely better than what Gangiri Bhadra and his family live in. And what makes it all the more gut wrenching is the fact that farmer suicides are not fiction. There are scores of Sudhakar Bhadras dying every day, unable to take another day of the poverty and hunger. Not of their own probably, but of their family especially the children.

I wasn’t sure what to expect when I picked up the book – I bought it solely based on the blurb. That probably helps when trying to discover new authors, esp Indian ones. And Kota Neelima is a discovery for me. The prose was beautiful in places and the visuals and emotions were rendered crisp and perfect, like oil paints on canvas. I could’ve sworn I felt the winter in Mityala and the dirt and dust of its villages and streets. And that proximity, imaginary yes, but that proximity made it that much harder to digest the reality portrayed in the book about the vicious cycle of debt these poor farmers get into and how the politicians and local stakeholders still try to get mileage out of their grief.

The characters Gangiri and Keyur are written very realistically – the former suffering for his ideals and torn between standing up for justice and taking the easier way for the sake of the children and the latter showing his inexperience in politics, trying to learn everything on the fly. I liked the uncertainty about Keyur – one time he’s the ruthless politician and the next he’s almost humane and before you understand that he’s gone back to being a pampered son born into power. My only grouse is with how Videhi and Nazar’s characters are hardly used to their potential – the book was surely not that long so as to exclude these two the way they were. Under utilized, surely.

The last few chapters are a tough read because of the way the story progresses. I wish it were just fiction. Because if it isn’t, we’re all guilty of ignoring the plight of the farmer who grows our food. And their blood will be on hands as much as on the government’s.

And oh, if you’re wondering about the title – you’ll understand in the last few pages. Not before.

View all my reviews

Book Review: Songs of Blood and Sword: A Daughter’s Memoir

Songs of Blood and Sword: A Daughter's Memoir
Songs of Blood and Sword: A Daughter’s Memoir by Fatima Bhutto
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The short version – I loved it! It’s an amazing account of resilience, courage, integrity and above all, the love between a father and daughter. All this, amid blood and swords.

The long version – nah, not very long. I liked the way the book was structured, how the people and places intwertwined and made it a surreal journey through the most violent and remorseless history of Pakistan and it’s politicians. I agree, there’s another side to every story and I haven’t read any from the enemy camp (Benazir Bhutto, Asif Zardari, etc.) but still…some things are incontrovertible. Like death.

All I knew about Pakistan’s politics was this behemoth personality called Benazir Bhutto (and after her assassination, her husband Zardari) and nothing else. We were all probably in awe of the fact that a woman was at the helm of affairs in an Islamic state like Pakistan, that too at the age of 34. (Yeah, 34. I’m 34!) But I never knew about her brother, Murtaza Bhutto or the fact that he was killed in what seemed like a government-sanctioned encounter. I did not know about this charisma or his socialist ideals. We will never know what Pakistan would be now if he had been alive.

The book traces the history of Pakistan from the rise of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto to the fall of Murtaza, and eventually, Benazir herself. It’s heavily biased against Benazir and her husband Zardari and I guess it’s expected. But I’m still stupefied how Fatima Bhutto continues to live in the country, amid all those people in power who were responsible for her father’s death. That’s resilience of a different level. And courage too, for writing this book – I can imagine it would not have been easy given the political climate there. So more power to her!

I haven’t read her fiction (In the shadow of the crescent moon), but I might just pick it up – I like her style and her prose. I liked how she’s not overly filmi (for want of a better adjective) or verbose when describing events, people or places. I liked how she builds up to the event and quietly deals the blow.

When I finished the book, sadness aside, I felt a mild relief as if I’ve finally come out of Pakistan and their blood and swords.

View all my reviews

The ones we lost

There are some things we don’t talk about. Some words we just hush up or just whisper, making sure we’re not overheard. When the topic comes up, we look away, make some excuse, act like we didn’t hear or just change the topic.

An abortion.

A miscarriage.

A termination of pregnancy.

A stillborn child. (I like the other term some people use here – angel child.)

October 15, apparently, is Pregnancy and Infant loss Remembrance Day. I say apparently because I came to know of it just now. It’s a day for remembering our loss (es), a day to talk about it to show that those going through it are not alone. I wish I’d known this sooner. Why? Because I want to talk about it. Because this here, this blog, is probably the only place I can talk about it. No one at home wants to listen – it’s painful, so we bury it deep along with other unmentionables. We don’t forget, but we don’t remember either.

I lost 3 pregnancies before having my son. The first, at 9 weeks, was a spontaneous miscarriage. 2007. I was pregnant. They even found a heartbeat. But then 2 weeks later there wasn’t one. I got a tablet to expel the pregnancy, a super painful night of cramps and what not..and then it was over. The next morning I cried over the phone to my mom. I was back at work 3 days later.

I lost my second pregnancy at 23 weeks. 2009. It was supposed to have been a regular second trimester scan. But as the radiologist was doing it, I could sense something was off. He wouldn’t make eye contact and when I insisted he tell me what was wrong, he said there were some abnormalities and my doctor would explain it to me and most likely suggest an MToP. Medical termination of pregnancy. He wouldn’t tell me anything further. It was around 8 PM and I remember holding back my tears from the scan centre till the car. I was trying to be strong. I called my Dad from the car because my Mom was alone at home (Dad was traveling) and I didn’t know if she could handle it. I said hello and started sobbing uncontrollably, unable to utter even a single coherent word. My husband took the phone and explained it to Dad. He said they’ll take the next flight out. We went home, sat on our bed and cried. The next day, in the bathroom, I held my stomach and cried again, asking that unborn child to forgive me for what I was going to do and begging God to not let my child feel any pain. We were in the hospital the next day and 36 hours of labor-room-screaming later, it was all done. Not even a scar. I didn’t get to say goodbye. I came home feeling empty and guilty. I screamed at my Dad and husband that we threw our baby in a dustbin and came home. It was a girl.

13 weeks was how long I could hold on to my third pregnancy. 2010. The year my brother got married. I was around a month into the pregnancy at the time of his wedding. But the trauma of the previous one was still on the horizon. So I stayed back with my parents till the first trimester was over. 12th week scan. Rinse and repeat. I was a labor-room pro by now. The wide open hospital gowns didn’t make me feel naked. I couldn’t care less. A few hours of cramps, a D&C under general anesthesia and I was done. Back to work 2 weeks later. A girl. Again.

2012 was a good year. I had my own little miracle – my son. And I’ve bid adieu to this whole pregnancy thing. My body has done enough.

I’m crying as I write this now. It was 5 years ago, the last one. Yes, I have a child now. It should have healed by now, no? No. It never does. Not even time can heal this loss. Know why? Because you have nothing to hold on to and remember. No memories. No photos. Not even a name. Nothing. But that feeling in your gut every time you think of it, like you’re falling down from a height, like all your insides are suspended in mid air and then suddenly there’s a lurch and they all come crashing down – that feeling never goes away. Not in 5 years, not in 50. The first step in the process of healing – grieving – is absent. We don’t get an opportunity to grieve for a child we lost.

Let’s not be like that. Let’s talk. I’ll show you you’re not alone. You show me I’m not. Maybe just this one day. So we can remember the ones we lost. And grieve a little. They’re our children. So what if they weren’t born?

My unborn children showed me how strong I am, how strong I can be if I had to. They put all of my other troubles into perspective. They taught me to cherish what I have, to never take anything for granted. That the miracle of birth is exactly that – a miracle. There are a 100 things that can go wrong, in those 9 months. Sometimes they do. And when they do, we undergo a transformation and come out slightly (if not entirely) different. We won’t always have scars on our bodies, but in our hearts, we do. Once a mother, always a mother. Even if there’s no child.

We don’t have to forget, you know. And we can talk about it if we feel like. I’m listening. And I know you are too.

Book Review: White Oleander, by Janet Fitch

White Oleander
White Oleander by Janet Fitch
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Once in a long while do you come across such a book that’s a sheer pleasure to read. Every line, every word, so perfect and such poetry. I’m a sucker for good prose (even if the story is hardly there!) and this is just my kind of book. And to think this is the author’s debut novel. Bravo!

I loved Astrid Magnussen. I hated Ingrid Magnussen. The 3 days it took me to read the book, I was living with Astrid. The string of foster homes, the good ones and the bad. When she ached for her mother, I was there feeling her loneliness. When she found her light at the end of the tunnel, I was there cheering for her, but at the same time, praying that it doesn’t get messed up, that it’s not just a dream she wakes up from. It’s that powerful a book, the way it makes you identify with everyone. I don’t know how Janet Fitch does it, but she did – we look at the characters the way Astrid does, we feel what she feels, our perspective changes when hers does. We love Ingrid. Then we hate her. Then we’re confused. Just. Like. Astrid.

On a side note, I’ve always been enthralled by the oleander flower (in Tamil it’s called arali) – when I was a child, we had a shrub in a neighbor’s garden and I remember being warned by the adults that it was poisonous and not to ingest it. And oh, most Tamil movies in a rural setting had at least one or two women committing suicide by eating ground arali seeds! Ah, well. :-D

The theme of the book reminded me of another coming-of-age book I read recently – Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch. I found Tartt a bit of a chore to read at times and I definitely found the book long by half. But where Tartt lost me, Fitch just had me wrapped up in beautiful prose and kept me in that cocoon for days, snug and comfortable in the sweet melancholy of those words. I remember feeling greedy and hungry when reading the book – my eyes would jump to the next line, next paragraph and I had to pull them back and savor the words at hand. (Afterthought – I felt so when I was reading Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale).

This story of a mother and daughter has sadness, but it’s not sad. There’s a constant glimmer of hope, of good things even amid the despair and loss. And that’s probably what I loved (I felt the Goldfinch was very sad) about this book. I don’t know if I will read it again, but I will always remember this feeling I have now, of quiet contentment and calm that comes when a great thing ends but envelops us with a gentle hug and whispers that it will be back soon.

View all my reviews

Web page not available

Remember 10-15 years back, when Internet meant sitting in front of a little dial-up box and mechanically re-trying because the sonofab**** just won’t get connected? All that silent cussing and praying, both equally earnestly? And then when it DID get connected, that loud crackling noise and assorted beeps and bops and oh joy, when opens up nice and bright?

Today was like that. Because, thanks to the incessant rains or whatever nonsense, my WiFi died on me. Actually not just me – on the entire population in my apartment complex, but when did I ever pass up an opportunity to wallow in some self pity! And I’m thinking now or rather I’m unable to imagine now how we lived back then without Internet!

If you’re in your 30s now, you know EXACTLY what I’m talking about so don’t bother acting like I’m talking gibberish. Yes, you. You know how it was. No WhatsApp, no Facebook and above all, no Google.

No. Internet.

When I had a doubt in Field Theory (hypothetical – you need to read something on the subject to even have doubts!) I first called my friend/classmate and hoped she had the answers. And if she didn’t? Well, wait till I got to college and ask one of the brainy types (One never had a doubt that was doubt enough to take to a professor, so let’s not complicate things). There were no quick solutions. Convert Fahrenheit to Celsius? Look up the formula from a textbook, yo. What’s the capital of Sierra Leone? Check the atlas or the GK book (we had those things back then!). How to bake a pavlova? Pavlova who? Right.

Well, nothing earth shattering, no. We got by. We lived. We spoke to other human beings in person. We walked to the shops. We had books and libraries. We didn’t second guess our teachers and doctors. We didn’t let the milk boil over too often because someone was engrossed in a smartphone. We did good.

But it’s not so now, people. I think I’m going insane. Like, slowly but surely treading the path to cuckoo land.

I make breakfast but where’s Instagram to take a pic?!

I put the milk on the stove, but where’s Facebook to catch up on?!

Son wants to see Little Krishna, but where’s YouTube?!

And I have to ask the rest of the folks if THEIR WiFi is up or not BUT WHERE THE HELL IS WHATSAPP?!!!!




And then the son (who was till now yelling Amma Amma like a million times!) asks me to help him fix his building blocks. Well, alright kiddo, you’re in luck because Amma has nothing better to do right now. I chuck the phone and sit down with him. And we built an aeroplane. Stairs to climb up. A toll booth. An entire parking lot with real (toy) cars and trucks. We had little cops pull up errant bulldozer drivers and take them to jail for not following traffic rules. We hauled playdoh rocks into trucks and sent it spinning down a ramp. We sang made up songs about each other (“Amma Amma goes to kitthen…and bwings me chapati buvva” – Amma song, by V). We did good.

If you think I’m going to end this piece saying it’s a great blessing to spend time with family, yada yada yada..well..yeah, that’s there but, dude, I want me some Internet, yo. My brain cells are fried after that little play session and I NEED MY BYTE FIX RIGHT NOW.


Book Review: Bhima Lone Warrior

Bhima Lone Warrior
Bhima Lone Warrior by M.T. Vasudevan Nair
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If there’s one thing I’ve realised after reading M.T.Vasudevan Nair’s Randamoozham (English translation by Gita Krishnankutty) is that there is no one interpretation of the Mahabharata. There have been numerous re-tellings so far, from the PoV of so many characters and yet, every time I read it I come away with a different feeling and a different understanding of the characters. Like MT says in the Epilogue, the credit goes to the original author, Sage Vyasa – not just for what he said, but also for what he didn’t. The ‘silences he maintained’ in some parts were the places that future authors could interpret in their own way. And I can see now how it is that the same story can be told in so many different ways and still not sound repetitive. If anything, it only makes me want to read more versions of it.

Like all books translated from a language I know (Tamil, Telugu, Hindi or Malayalam), this one also started off with me feeling I’m getting a raw deal, to not be reading the original. The first few  chapters I struggled a little bit to shut out the constant comparison of the English words to the equivalent in Malayalam. But once I did that, I enjoyed the book immensely. The translator has done some justice to the work, without losing out too much of the poetry that would’ve been MT’s Malayalam version.

Bhima is a strange choice for a protagonist. The popular retellings do not pay too much attention to him – he’s overshadowed by Arjuna in terms of prowess and Yudhishtira with his claim to the throne. This is probably why Bhima’s PoV is a bit refreshing from the usual stories we read. Yudhishtira is shown in a completely different light and to an extent, so is Draupadi. But the surprising part was the portrayal of Krishna. MT has stripped off all traces of divinity from this retelling. Everyone is human. Mortal. Krishna, included. There is no flowing saree covering Draupadi’s shame during her disrobing by Dussasana. During the war, Krishna does not use his discus to block the sun, to bring Jarasandha out in the open. Not just that, Karna is not depicted with any permanent kavacha-kundalam. So the book comes off as a regular narrative, stripped off it’s divine and fantastical connotations. I guess this is what makes it a unique read, compared to the other versions of Mahabharatha.

I really would’ve loved to read this in Malayalam – maybe when the husband is in a good mood, I can coax him into reading out the good parts! ;-)

P.S.: Planning to read Prem Panicker’s translation soon.

View all my reviews



Image courtesy – Google image search

Once in a long while there comes a movie that will take your breath away. That will have you tied up, heart and soul, in the narrative so much that when it ends and the lights come on, there’s a moment of complete disorientation and you wonder where the heck you are. You keep playing the scenes over and over again in your head and it feels real, every single time. To me, Bāhubali was THAT kind of a movie.

Let’s get some things out first which might have a bearing on my experience –
(a) I set foot in a movie theater yesterday after almost 3 years. [Yes, when a child happens, some other things don’t happen.]

(b) I have a thing for Prabhas and Rana [yep, both].

And (c) I’m a sucker for period films with all the silks and crowns and royalty and macho looking kings and princes. [I’m a living stereotype, eh?]

Now, I went for the movie with moderate expectations – my husband had seen it already and he wasn’t all amazed, so I knew better than to expect the sky and heavens above. But I loved it! Yes, there were some inconsistencies and imperfections. Yes, there are a lot of scenes that require turning off the logic and reason button in your brain. But hey, that’s what entertainment is to me. For the umpteenth time (on this blog), I don’t like to go watch a movie only to see reality there – I have enough of it in my real life. If we go with that attitude, this movie is such a treat.

On to the details (oh so many details!)

[SPOILER ALERT – I’ve laid bare almost all the good scenes and the general story line. Consider yourself warned of spoilers.]

Cast: Loved Rana. Loved him in ‘Leader’, but after the eye-candy phase ended, I realized he can’t really act. Didn’t watch any of his other movies after that, but much drooling happened over his photos. Prabhas was good too, but he looked a tad old. Maybe all that body building took a toll, who knows. Oh oh, that scene with lifting the Shivalingam? Oh. My. God. I’ll go watch the movie again just for that scene, yo. Anushka didn’t have a lot of screen time in Part 1 (apart from the initial shock-value scene when we first see her face) and I’m assuming they’ve kept her for Part 2. Tamannah – hmm, this one is tricky. She did a good job, but I felt she was the wrong choice for a warrior woman. Her ‘manly’ warrior walks, dialogues and expressions didn’t seem natural and in some places, I kind of felt she was overacting. Maybe a Nithya Menon or Anushka Shetty (the ‘Arundhati’ type role) would’ve been apt. Nasser, Ramya Krishna – class acts, both. Satyaraj – good to see him on screen after a while! He was every bit the Kattappa character and was a joy to watch. Have I got them all? Ok good.

Music: Loved the BGM – it’s the goosebumps inducing kind, especially the part where they show the Mayushmati city/fortress for the first time. The songs themselves were not so memorable. I can’t recollect a single tune or word even from the songs now. Maybe if I hear them again a couple of times? I’ll try. What I felt was the music in the songs ended up being contemporary, rather than match the period in which the movie is set – the instruments and the digital undertones didn’t sit well with the overall theme.

Art/Special effects/Cinematography: Win. Win. Win. You have to see it to believe it. Here’s what I tell everyone to please watch this in a theatre – not on a laptop, not on a tab and not on a TV. In a theatre. Please. You can thank me later.

Costumes: I might have been actually drooling (imagine a gaping mouth and a stunned expression on the face) over the silk and handloom ensembles. All those ikats and pochampallis and raw silks – I died and went to costume heaven. There’s this item song with 3 item girls – oh their ikat harem pants! Beautiful! It’s all I saw (stop sniggering, yo). And Prabhas’ waist coat type thingie too. Much deep sighing happened. Also, I hate my wardrobe (rather, what passes for one these days).

That said, there were some inconsistencies with the costume in the first half – when Prabhas scales the mountain, he reaches a place that’s snow covered. But the people living there are wearing cotton! Fail. Rajamouli could’ve used some leather for equally good effect (the colors were anyway browns and reds). Small thing, yes, but this kind of attention to detail is what makes a movie perfect.

Story: Let’s face it – it’s a formula film. Son separated from mother at birth, grows up as commoner and then comes back to save mommy and take the throne. We saw MGR do it in Adimai Penn, a million years ago. But I’m willing to ignore that fact because of the way it’s taken. And the reasons above.

Direction: Fairly good, in short. Like I said earlier, there are some little slips here and there that could’ve been done better. There’s an overall lack of attention to detail, I felt. And we really could’ve done without that ‘romantic’ bit where Prabhas is giving Tamanna an impromptu makeover – there are a lot of ways to show a man wooing a woman and this was a bit creepy, with the disrobing, tearing, etc. And at the end of the song she’s instantly in love with him? Yeah. But hey, suspension of disbelief. So, ok.

I enjoyed the movie more than I expected to. I’m not a big fan of war scenes, so I found the last 20 mins a bit of a bore – there’s only so much killing you can see in a movie, no? [I didn’t enjoy the Whitewalker-Crows battle in GoT Season 5 either!] And the big suspense in the last scene – yeah, I saw that last week in some idiot’s FB or Whatsapp update (if I remember who you are, you better run and hide in a cave across the seven seas!), so slightly bummed.

So, all said and done, I’d love to watch it a second time! :-) Those 3 hours inside, I was not on this Earth. That’s the kind of entertainment I love.

Now waiting for Part 2 in 2016. Not very happy, but what choice do we have eh? Add this to the ever-growing list of sequels (books and movies, both) that I’m forever waiting for.