Book Review: The Temple is Not My Father by Rasana Atreya

Most of the books I’ve loved in recent times have been recommended by friends. This one was recommended by IHM.

Luckily for me, I found it in the Kindle store immediately, but getting to read it, took longer as I had so many books piled up to read. I finally read it, loved it, drafted a review but it took a FB group to remind me that I still hadn’t posted it. The last few weeks have been busy. At work and home and the last thing I have energy for is to write a blog post. I’m so knackered that all I want to do is head to bed. And that’s what I end up doing, most days.

So. Back to the book.

‘The Temple is Not My Father’ is a short novella based on the system of Devadasis in Southern India. Devadasi literally translates into ‘Servant of God’, and girls used to be dedicated to the worship and service of deities in temples. This used to be a position of privilege and most of these girls went on to become accomplished dancers. The system continued until the British outlawed the kings and kingdoms in India, leading to the temples losing the patronage of the kings, and consequently their biggest source of income. This ended up in devadasis getting forced into prostitution. This is the story of Godavari and her daughter Sreeja. Godavari was tricked into becoming a devadasi by her own father. It is a heart-wrenching story of a woman, caught in circumstances out of her control, treated like vermin by the same society that forced her into the situation she was in. All she wants is for her daughter to have a good life, a life as far removed as possible from her own.

The author does an amazing job with the story. In a short, simple story, she packs in so much. So many emotions, so many motives and people of all sorts. The ruthless father, the determination of two mothers, Godavari and her own mother, the callousness and hypocrisy of society and also the open-mindedness which sometimes comes with innocence. Beautiful characterisation, beautifully articulated situations, which call out to the reader. And the last line of the book, that was one killer line. One that will stay with me forever. It is a book I will re-read, even though I know it will make me cry, all over again.

A beautiful book, an absolute must-read, in my opinion. And for me, an author, I will be following. A 5/5 from me.

About the Author
Rasana is the author of Amazon bestseller ‘Tell A Thousand Lies’, which was also shortlisted for the 2012 Tibor Jones South Asia award. UK’s Glam magazine calls this novel one of their five favourite tales from India (June 2014).

This book is available from Amazon(UK).

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Book Review: The Sceptical Patriot:Exploring the Truths Behind the Zero and Other Indian Glories by Sidin Vadukut

I’ve read other books by Sidin, and enjoyed them – they have been light, fun reads, just like his tweets. Entertaining, and light-hearted. When I found out on Twitter that he was soon to publish a non-fiction book, I was intrigued. Even more so, when I read the subject of the book. Sounded just like the sort of books I love. I just had to get my hands on it. And so I did. It helped that the Kindle edition got released in the UK, which is something that never seems to happen with Indian authors’ books.

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India. A land where history, myth and email forwards have come together to create a sense of a glorious past that is awe-inspiring…and also kind of dubious. But that is what happens when your future is uncertain and your present is kind of shitty—it gets embellished until it becomes a totem of greatness and a portent of potential. Sidin Vadukut takes on a complete catalogue of ‘India’s Greatest Hits’ and ventures to separate the wheat of fact from the chaff of legend. Did India really invent the zero? Has it truly never invaded a foreign country in over 1,000 years? Did Indians actually invent plastic surgery before those insufferable Europeans? The truth is more interesting—and complicated—than you think.

That pretty much sums up the book. We’ve all come across these glorious facts about India. Of how India invented zero, and how Indians were the pioneers in Plastic Surgery, and more. How many of these are really true? Were we truly world leaders in most things until the invaders plundered our country and brought it to the state it is today? Are we being gullible by believing it all or are we being needlessly sceptical by being cynical ? Well, read the book to find out. Sceptical patriot that Sidin is, he has gone around digging into archives of libraries, read up stuff and put together a very interesting book indeed. What sets this book aside is the author’s style of writing. He includes personal anecdotes and I personally loved the way he introduces most of the chapters, and the way he ended each of his analysis- with a ‘Sceptical Patriot Score Card’, showing exactly where we stand in terms of these truths/myths. The historical facts that he recounts are fascinating, some I have read about and others which make me want to go and dig up the books he has listed and read them. Cover to cover.

His writing style reminds me a lot of Bill Bryson’s books, but is more relatable, for me, as he speaks of things which I can relate to much more, so it made a great read for me. The subject was engrossing and it was absolutely unputdownable- I actually wished I could call in sick at work and read the book at home, but better sense prevailed.

What I liked most about the book was the last chapter. The way the author ended the book. Some of the things he talks about, I wish a lot of would read and understand. India would definitely be a much better place for that.

I know that sometimes people are put off by non-fiction books, but I think this one is the one to start with if you worry about a non-interesting book putting you off.

I would easily rate it 4.5/5. A brilliant book, and one that I enjoyed immensely.

About the Author
Sidin Vadukut is a journalist, columnist and blogger. He has an engineering degree from NIT Trichy and an MBA from IIM Ahmedabad.

In a career spanning around a decade he has made automotive parts, developed online trading platforms, almost set up a retailing company and had a sizeable portion of a tree fall on his head. He is currently an editor with the Mint business newspaper.

This book is available on Amazon(UK) and Flipkart.

Book Review: India was One by An Indian

Another book that languished on my kindle for ages. I’ve got to motivate myself to read on the Kindle. But when real books beckon, I can’t hold an electronic device, can I? Anpther review copy that I took ages to read. Apologies again.
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…Suddenly, he saw something shiny at the bottom of the abyss. He squinted his eyes to see what it was. He ran back to his binoculars and turned them to see what it was. Sharp barbed wires that separated the two mountains came into focus. He had come as far as he could in his country. But she was standing in another country.

He was in South India and she was in North India…

Have you ever imagined India being divided into two countries? What happens to the millions of Indians who are from South India but are now residing in North India? Kaahi & Jai were two such people who got trapped in this situation. Everything was going smoothly for them and suddenly, their world turned upside down.

How will they get together? Will India become one again?

Jai and Kaahi were college sweethearts. The story follows their story from their college days to the time that they get married and move to California. They are leading a comfortable life in LA when suddenly a shock news shatters their lives. India has been divided into two, North and South. All communication channels to and from India have been disconnected and the only way to know what’s happening, to get in touch with their loved ones would be to travel back to India. But that is another problem, because after the division, Jai is from South India and Kaahi from North. They can’t travel to the same parts of India. What happens next, you will have to read it to find out.

It’s a book which clearly reflects the passion that the author has for the subject. The last chapter especially is very interesting. The concept of how India is divided into many Indias thanks to the mental barriers that we form. It’s an interesting take on the subject and as I said, one that clearly brings out the author’s passion.

I have to say that I did find somethings detracted from the story, for me. There is a lot of explanation about almost everything. Be it local words, dialect or the various aspects of life in India. For me it was a little distracting(actually more than a little distracting) from the story itself, but I can imagine it being very fascinating for someone who knows little about India and Indian culture. I would have liked a little less detail. May just enough to capture the reader’s interest, rather than bore the reader completely. Having said that, what was annoying for me, might be a bonus for someone else reading the book, so I wouldn’t let that stop me from recommending it.

I would rate it a 3/5. It is not a book that I would re-read, but it is an interesting one-time read.

About the Author
The author was born and raised in Mumbai, India. He came to the US in 1989 and lived in New York. He currently resides in Los Angeles with his wife and two children.

This book is available from Amazon(UK) and Flipkart(India).

Book Review: The Case of the Love Commandos by Tarquin Hall

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Vish Puri, the famous detective of India’s ‘Most Private Investigator’ hasn’t been having a good time. His ongoing investigations haven’t been met with any success. To add to it, his biggest rival, Hari Kumar, seems to be doing rather well, indeed, if his clothes and style were any sort of indicator. Puri is about to set off on a holiday or rather a pilgrimage with his family, to Jammu, to visit the famous Vaishnu Devi Shrine. Unlike most people, Puri hates going on holiday, or taking a break, but is finding it tough to wriggle out of this one. Even his secretary is determined to send him on a break.

Ram and Tulsi a love-crossed couple. Their families are dead against their union because they are both from different castes. Ram is a Dalit, and Tulsi’s high caste father would rather see him killed than married to his daughter. One day before they were supposed to get married, Ram disappears and it fell to the Love Commandos to trace him down. Love Commandos are a group of people in India, who help couples who are ostracized and threatened by society for falling in love with someone from a different caste. They help couples get married, and even change names in some cases when their safety be compromised. It is a dangerous thing to do, falling in love, when it could result in death.

Ram and Tulsi had approached the Love Commandos for help. When Ram mysteriously disappears, Laxmi, the Love Commando who was protecting Ram and Tulsi, knew she had only way to go. Vish Puri. Laxmi was also known as ‘Facecream’, a trusted aide of Vish Puri.

Puri had been unaware of Facecream moonlighting as a love commando, and her involvement came as a surprise to him. Moreover, he has his own reservations about young people falling in love and chipping away at ‘family values’, but he still agrees to help Facecream out, after all, a mystery is a mystery. And of course, this meant that he could wriggle out of his family trip as well! Puri sets out on the trail, and comes across all sorts of obstacles including his arch rival, Hari Kumar being on the case too. Now, he has to work doubly hard to solve the mystery before Hari does. The case turns out to be far more complex than he thought, but he gets there in the end, of course.

It’s a delightfully book, although that’s not something one would say, of crime fiction, but that’s what this book is – delightful! But Puri’s antics and idiosyncracies, make it such a fun read. He fondness of food, as usual, figures prominently in the narrative. Although I have to say, I start craving for samosas or Frankies, whatever it is that he is having. I love the way the author writes. You can vividly picture the lanes of India, flavour of the setting, the people, especially Puri’s wonderfully resourceful Mummyji.

About the Author
About the Author
Tarquin Hall is a British author and journalist who has lived and worked throughout South Asia, the Middle East and Africa. He is the author of The Case of the Missing Servant, dozens of articles, and three works of non-fiction, including the highly acclaimed Salaam Brick Lane, an account of a year spent above a Bangladeshi sweat shop in London’s notorious East End.

This book is available from Amazon(UK) and Flipkart(India).

The Mango Season by Amulya Malladi

The name caught my attention. Having loved Malladi’s A Breadth of Fresh Air, I was tempted to give this a try.

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Priya Rao had left India 7 years ago as a twenty year old student. For seven years she avoided coming back, and managed to flout most of the strict rules that her mother had handed out, most important of them all – not to marry a foreigner. Well, she’s not married him yet, but she’s engaged to him. And the biggest challenge she faces this holiday is to tell her parents all about Nick, the man in her life.

Returning back to India, Priya realizes that while she has changed a lot over the last few years,things seem to have remained same back home in India. Things she grew up with, suddenly felt alien and strange, although her family, her really extended family seemed to be just the same. The same values, the same power struggles and conflicts, the same beliefs, some of which included very narrow view of Westerners. All of which, of course seems even worse now, now that Priya wants to marry one. How on earth is she supposed to tell them that, when the whole family seems more interested in getting her married to a nice Indian boy? They seem to be ready to do anything to get her married off to a nice Indian Boy.

While her family arranges bride-seeing ceremonies, Priya is at a loss. She feels torn and a traitor to both her family and Nick. She knows she will have to choose between her love and her family, and it’s no easy choice, even though her family gets so annoying at times, even though Nick is just perfect for her. Both are equally part of her. To have to choose is so brutal.

I particularly enjoyed the descriptions of the mango season, the way life in India in the hot, sultry summer was depicted. I could almost feel the sweat, taste the tangy mango pickle that was made, hear the bargains that Priya’s mother stuck up.. and Priya’s embarrassment. It was just great! I love these sort of books, which totally take you to the place they are set. Priya’s dilemma felt real as well. Especially given the family that she came from. Although the story could have been predictable, the manner in which it unfolds is quite nice. And there is a nice little twist at the very end.

A quick, fun read, one that will keep you entertained and asking for more. The ending was a wee bit abrupt, but never mind, I still liked the book, over all.

May You be the Mother of a Hundred Sons by Elizabeth Bumiller

Another Goodreads recommendation, one that both husband and I loved.

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‘In a chronicle rich in diversity, detail, and empathy, Elisabeth Bumiller illuminates the many women’s lives she shared–from wealthy sophisticates in New Delhi, to villagers in the dusty northern plains, to movie stars in Bombay, intellectuals in Calcutta, and health workers in the south–and the contradictions she encountered, during her three and a half years in India as a reporter for THE WASHINGTON POST. In their fascinating, and often tragic stories, Bumiller found a strength even in powerlessness, and a universality that raises questions for women around the world.’, says the blurb, and it had me hooked from the first page.

Elizabeth Bumillier’s husband’s foreign assignment in India, brought her to New Delhi in 1985. She writes about how she came to write this book, going from a person who knew little about India, to someone who travelled through India, lived in villages and came to understand the lives of women across India. Absorbing it all in, and writing about it in the most non-judgemental manner possible. She writes about the dowry burnings, female feticide, the complex hierarchy that exists, the condition of women in both rural and urban areas. The ironies that is India. Despite the powerful women in the political arena, women, are still facing issues with the most basic of things, health care,safety, basic equality and social freedom. The traditions that bind even the richest families in India to patriarchal norms that have resulted in the deep-seated lack of gender equality in India. Women who make the most of their lives despite all the challenges that they might face, women who adjust, accept their fate, and some who succumb to the challenges they face.

Although it was written over two decades ago, the book is still relevant in so many ways. The way in which women’s lives have not changed at the rate at which one would have expected it to change is evident when we read the book. She explores the lives of successful, independent women in India, socialites, feminists as well as women bound by traditions, and rules, for whom life hasn’t changed much from the time of their grandmothers’. The manner in which she writes, the way she sees it, without being judgemental, or stereotypical makes it a great read. Her observations of life as it is in India for women, across all strata of society, the difference in lifestyles and expectations that could vary so much and at the same time be so similar for women across India. My husband read it. He rarely reads a book these days – he finds reading on the Kindle much more easier,he just couldn’t put it down.

For a book, on a subject that can be sad, and heavy, it was a surprisingly quick and interesting read. A book I would definitely recommend.

Henna for the Broken-Hearted by Sharell Cook

I am an occasional silent reader at Sharell Cook’s blog, and when I found out that she had written a book, it came onto my wish list. A few weeks ago, I managed to lay my hands on the book.

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How far would you go to change your life?

Sharell Cook is 30 years old and living a privileged life in Melbourne’s wealthy suburbs. She has it all: the childhood-sweetheart husband, the high-powered job and plenty of cash to splash.

And it’s not destined to last. Sharell finds herself in a broken marriage, and everything she had taken for granted seems to have changed. Impulsively, she decides to take a break and go to India to do some volunteer work for a few months. Living in Calcutta, a life which was totally different from the time she traveled in India with her ex-husband as a tourist, Sharell grapples with life in India, the frustrations and joys, the unexpected and the normal. She also meets her future husband in India. Reading her book, you start to believe in destiny taking you where you belong.

The book is her memoir of her time in India, the way it changed her, and the way she now leads the urban life of a white Indian housewife. Her journey from what she was, to what she becomes, as she lives in a different culture, which she accepts so open-heartedly. Her transformation, as she calls it. Some of things which even, us, Indians would balk at, she calmly accepts and lives with them. It was fresh take, devoid of the stereotypes one would expect, and without any undue glorification of India either. She writes it as it is, and that in itself is very refreshing.

I loved reading her experiences in India, as she travels through India, lives in various parts, lives a life which is different at the same time, similar to locals. Washing clothes by hand, living through water shortages, temperamental landlords, nosy neighbours, part and parcel of middle class living in India, and accepting it all in a very matter of fact way. I absolutely love her attitude.

What really stands out is the risks she takes, probably because all that she considered familiar had changed after the breakdown of her marriage. The risks she takes in coming back to India, living with the man she would later marry, and her willingness to make the most of her situation, to accept what life has in store for her. It’s not something what most of us would find easy to do. And her attitude towards the changes in her life. Her open-hearted acceptance of the confusion that India can be, and her willingness to be a part of it all.

She literally taker us on her journey, through India, with the wonderful companionship she shares with her husband, and their adventures of various kinds. Living in different parts of India, until they reach the place they end up settling down in – Mumbai. Her husband’s family comes across as such wonderful people, accepting her a part of their family, and doing what it took to get her comfortable. The wonderful bond that she shares with them comes out loud and clear in the book.

If I had to describe the book in a few words, it would – honest and captivating. She keeps the pages turning, you want to know more, and you actually feel sad when it ends. A book I would definitely recommend.