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Some of the toughest questions in life remain unanswered. No matter how much you brood over them, twist and twirl them in your head, they just don’t seem to get solved. What’s worse is that they can get even more complicated and entangle your little head deeper and deeper into its mystery. Many real life people have broken their heads pondering over these tough questions. But this scenario is true of many literary characters as well-the most famous of them being Hamlet. He is ridden with thoughts of revenge but also conflicted with how to execute this task. And we will all unanimously agree that the question of revenge is undeniably a tough one. Revenge can prick your conscience, corrupt your soul, foster evil etc, but if your father’s ghost orders you to do it, then what can one do but carry out the task? Poor Hamlet was indeed in one problematic quandary.

For those who are not in the know, ‘Hamlet‘ by William Shakespeare is considered one of the greatest tragedies written by him. The play begins with a couple of guards on the night duty watch who come across a mysterious ghostly apparition while on duty. The latter doesn’t talk to them, doesn’t reveal anything to them. Horatio, one of Hamlet’s loyal friends, who witnesses this scene with the guards, then decides to inform Hamlet about the ghost. Till now, Hamlet is gravely mourning his father’s death and is greatly perturbed by his mother, Gertrude’s marriage to his uncle, Claudius, who is now the King of Denmark. Hamlet’s disgust with this incestuous relationship reveals itself in his first, masterfully delivered soliloquy. But when Horatio informs him about the ghost and Hamlet decides to see for himself what the apparition is, the play takes a turn because the ghost is none other than Hamlet’s father who tells him about the actual cause of his death(which was murder) and also instructs Hamlet to take revenge of his death. So now Hamlet is not just grief stricken but also burdened by an immense task and a knowledge of a murder that few are aware of. It is not easy to take revenge against a King who is comfortably on the throne with public support. Murdering the King would amount to treason and further, Hamlet himself is worried about the moral implications on his soul if he does commit the crime. Hamlet is thus very much alone in his dilemma. Everyone in the court (with the exception of Horatio) seems against him or plotting against him. Though he is swift in establishing the guilt of Claudius by staging the  play,The Murder of Gonzago, that also has a murder of the King by his brother by similar means, his inaction in carrying out revenge says a lot about his conflicted attitude towards the whole business of revenge. Does he finally carry out the task his father’s ghost set out for him? Or does he simply ruminate over it throughout the play without any conclusive answers being revealed to him? Now these are questions that can be solved if you read the whole play. If only Hamlet could have had such an easy way out of his conundrum.

Hamlet‘ is a thoroughly enjoyable play to read. Hamlet himself is a complex, many layered character. However, the entire play itself is constructed with much ingenuity to create Hamlet’s complexity of character. His inactivity is contrasted with both Laertes and Prince Fortinbras’ hot blooded desire to take revenge. The play has many sub plots as well-Hamlet’s love for Ophelia, Ophelia’s eventual madness, Polonius’ assumption about Hamlet’s madness, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern’s guise of friendship to get Hamlet to reveal his plans to them, the plot to kill Hamlet etc. ‘Hamlet ‘ is not a regular revenge tragedy which had flooded the Elizabethan and Jacobean literary periods. Instead, Shakespeare uses the themes of this genre to create a play that goes beyond the normative to create a character study, to show the influence of a corrupting society and court of Denmark on an individual, to show the politics and construction of power and many other aspects.

Melancholy and tragedies and brooding protagonists may not appeal to you any more in the 21st century, but ‘Hamlet’ has a universality in its story and themes that makes the play such an enjoyable and intellectually stimulating read. And here’s another reason to read the play: you can then boast about having read the oft quoted soliloquy, ‘to be or not to be,’ the famous fatherly advice by Polonius to his son, Laertes; Ophelia’s suicide which has been the subject of many paintings etc. and then pretend to be an intellectual.

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Mumbai-a city you can have a love-hate relationship with, a city in which people think dreams are built (do they ever think that they are shattered there too?), a city fast moving, on the go, a whirling vortex that will push you into anonymity at times. Yet still we all live, die, dream and enjoy and curse in this bunch of islands reclaimed together to assume the shape of a city. ‘Sacred Games‘ by Vikram Chandra  is wholly enmeshed with this whirling vortex of a city whose one claim to fame is being the commercial capital of India. The story focuses on Sartaj Singh, a lone Sikh inspector in Mumbai police and in his forties, who gets an anonymous tip off on Ganesh Gaitonde, a dreaded Hindu don of Mumbai who any respectful inspector would kill to catch and get a promotion. Similarly Singh sees a window of opportunity in this tip off and soon gets to Gaitonde’s shelter from where he chats with Singh through the intercom telling him a winded tale of the start of his criminal life. Sartaj is unable to convince him to surrender and so eventually bulldozes the place and much to his chagrin finds Gaitonde and an unknown women dead already. Thereafter, the book weaves its way in a parallel of Sartaj’s investigation into Gaitonde (after Gaitonde’s death, the Indian intelligence comes to investigate this mysterious presence of the gangster in Mumbai and how he might have posed a threat to national security. Sartaj is recruited to help in the investigation) and Gaitonde’s narration of his life to Sartaj. The latter is rather eerie as it feels like the dead is speaking directly to Sartaj. Within these parallel stories lie countless number of subplots-Katekar’s (Sartaj’s partner) life and death, Katekar’s wife and his two sons, Sartaj’s other numerous investigations such as the case of blackmailing of Kamala Pandey, Sartaj’s mother’s ponderous moods, the Partition and how it affected Sartaj’s mother’s family, Senior inspector-Parulkar’s tactics to stay on the job, Jojo’s dreams of becoming an actress and several more. There are chapters in the novel called insets which can become novellas and short stories in themselves. These insets are related most often to the subplots like Sartaj’s mother’s sister, Navneet, being lost in Partition. Gaitonde’s life story reveals the grim underbelly of Mumbai’s mafia and how much of the city functions only because of them and the fighting between Gaitonde’s Hindu gangster company with the Muslim Suleiman Isa’s company seems faintly reminiscent of real life fighting between Dawood Ibrahim and Arun Gawli in Mumbai. Vikram Chandra has himself said that he did meet up real life ‘bhais’ in Mumbai and perhaps a lot of it is inspired by real life itself. We can only speculate and guess. What we can be sure of is that from this epic novel you can definitely get a lot of excitement and entertainment and thoughts to ponder over.

Sacred Games‘ is a massive book-900 pages long-quite daunting to look at and even more difficult to hold for long and if you are one of those who bought a hardback copy (like me) my utmost sympathies. But the size shouldn’t mislead you. The book is very engaging, eloquent and epic in every sense. It is difficult to categorize this novel-it is a mesh of a Bollywood film (and can be adapted into one as well given Bollywood’s penchant for action), thriller, detective novel, city novel etc. Pinpointing to one exact genre is next to impossible because of the sprawling nature of the book’s story which covers such a wide range of subjects and is written in multifarious styles that could be from any genre. ‘Sacred Games‘ is a wholly Indian book, a completely Bombay/Mumbai book reflecting Indian moods, issues, problems, daily existence, language. There is a generous sprinkling of Hindi terms, Bombay Hindi, Hinglish and Marathi too which could be hard for a foreigner or even an Indian unfamiliar with the special mix of Bombay languages to understand. On the author’s website, you can find a glossary for the novel which may or may not be useful. Click here to get it.   A little background knowledge about the 80s’ and the 90s’ scenario in India would also help in better understanding as Chandra routinely refers to actual events though he never names them explicitly such as the Partition, the Indo-China war of the 60s’, the Bombay riots of 1993 etc. The book is definitely for a true Mumbai inhabitant, one who will immediately recognize these events, feel a connection with the persistent smoke, traffic, noise and the islands of peace of the city, one who will know about the criminal underbelly of the glitzy city.

The detailing of ‘Sacred Games‘ is splendid. Chandra has done a fabulous job to string together vastly different lives/characters and put them together in the story thus creating a rich, multifaceted tapestry of Mumbai and its many quirks. Sartaj Singh is one of his best creations. He gives the inspector a humane personality which most mainstream portrayals of policemen lack. They tend to demonize them and constantly depict them as cruel,lecherous and sadistic in their behavior (which may be true of some but generalisation is always a dangerous thing to do). Gaitonde is suffused with a very Godfatheresque aura having the same paternalistic outlook towards his people and business as Don Corleone did.

The plot, the writing, the variety are all very fine and good but what eludes the book is any challenges on the author’s part. Vikram Chandra simply spins a yarn and puts it down in a 900 page book which is thrilling nonetheless but there is none of Chandra’s own opinions reflecting through in the novel. ‘Sacred Games‘ is too realist, doesn’t challenge anything. It only states that yes-the city is and will always be ruled by mafia-police-ministers nexus, women will forever be seen as sex objects, Bollywood will always be a dreamland etc. Catherine Belsey, a famous British Marxist feminist critic once asserted that realism only legitimised the actual society and their authors never challenged the several practices of the society: they only depicted it as it was. This is true of ‘Sacred Games‘ as well and the most damning of the ‘realist’ depictions are the inferior status of women in Indian society. The novel is very male centric and women are either only whores or depicted as dispensable dependable objects. There is a tacit subtext of the novel that women only exist to please men’s needs, to do their duty (Sartaj’s mother’s assertion that it is her right to feel happy in being alone after her husband’s death because she has done her duty is rather badly misogynistic. It implies that happiness only comes for women after they have been dutiful all their lives) for society i.e. to get married and procreate and take dowry with them. There are hardly any major, strong women characters barring Anjali Mathur, Mary and Jojo Mascarenhas and Iffat Bibi. This stereotyping fails to do anything except assert the ‘real’ world and does not challenge it. Moreover, there is a sense that Chandra seems biased against the Muslim community. It is a delicate thing to write about Muslim-Hindu mafia or the Partition but it shouldn’t have to hold fingers against a particular religious group. Manto wrote on the most sensitive topics around the Partition but he showed the inhumanity of it all rather than blaming either Muslims, Sikhs or Hindus.

Taken together, ‘Sacred Games‘ can be quite a task to read, but take the book one chapter at a time then there won’t be any problems in finishing this epic novel at all.

Such A Long Journey‘, the debut novel of Rohinton Mistry was in the news due to it being banned by the esteemed vice chancellor of Mumbai University. Leaving aside all the political crap raked up by the Shiv Sena, the book is an exceptional work of literature and no one should be denied the right to read such a fantastic book.

Taken from faber.co.uk

Such A Long Journey‘ in general is a story of a Parsi man, Gustad Noble, livng in the then Bombay in a Parsi Khodadad Building. It is set during 1971 when East Pakistan was at war with West Pakistan and millions of refugees poured into India, particularly Bengal, due to unspeakable crimes committed on them by brute forces of West Pakistan.

Gustad is a bank clerk whose eldest son, Sohrab, gets into IIT but wants to continue his BA much to the dismay of Gustad, his other son, Darius is a sort of a body builder while his daughter, Roshan, falls ill constantly with bouts of fever and diarrhea. Gustad had known better times, more prosperous times. If his family troubles weren’t enough, his old friend Jimmy Bilimoria sends a letter asking him to help out in a preposterous, somewhat heroic, somewhat illegal manner.

In between all these happenings of Gustad’s life, Mistry exposes the reader to an assorted motley of characters whose lives are entwined with Gustad’s. For eg, his homely , superstitious wife-Dilnavaz,the fumbling, handicapped-Tehmul, the bipolar Ghulam Mohammad, the philosophical pavement artist, his college friend-Malcolm etc. The best thing about Mistry’s novel is the apart from the realistic and episodic descriptions of the main character’s lives, he also imbues even the most trivial and seemingly unimportant character with stark and singular qualities that immediately make them memorable. He is skilled in the way of characterization.

Mistry provides the reader with a glimpse of the way of life at that time, gives fleeting images and vast descriptions of certain peculiar aspects of Bombay like the House Of Cages, Mount Mary Church and most importantly, a middle class Parsi way of life in Bombay.

Such A Long Journey‘ has no clear cut divisions, like many other novels, of prologue, climax, epilogue or conclusion. The story goes on with a smooth flow, carrying the reader through Gustad’s and others’ lives. There is no obvious climax, no resolute conclusion. In fact, the end of the book suffuses one with a sweet lingering feeling of nostalgic happiness and sadness. There are no shades of excitement in the book except for parts when Gustad is engaged in helping out Jimmy. There are flecks of suspense in those parts. Other then that, ‘Such A Long Journey’ has no proper plot, no climax, no thrills and frills. This is not a disadvantage but for those who prefer the above aspects may find the book largely monotonous. ‘Such A Long Journey’ depicts Gustad’s life. It portrays it realistically and it is as if the reader is being taken through his life. And in real life, there are hardly any clear distinctions of plot and climax and such stuff. Thus the story tries to mimic this aspect and Mistry has thus created a unique novel.

The rest can easily pick up the book, sit cozily on an armchair, cuddle up and let Mistry draw you into the ups and downs, highs and lows of Gustad’s life. Let yourself journey through ‘Noble’ Bombay.

‘Love Story’ by Eric Segal is a famous romance bestseller. Its an unusual love story with bouts of unusual romance coupled with a touch of sadness. It is a short book, almost a novella and can be read in no time.

Taken from hachette.com.au

Oliver Barrett IV is a descendant of a rich, old family and he is a Harvard student who wants to pursue a career in law. Oliver falls in love with an ordinary(read no heritage and poor) girl studying in Radcliffe, Jeniffer Cavilleri. They plan to eventually get married which causes Oliver’s father to disinherit him. After marriage, its difficult to earn money but they pull through. However, a tragedy cuts this pretty love story short.

The good thing about ‘Love Story’ is that Eric Segal does not make the two protagonists fall in love in a cliched manner-like love at first sight or the guy doing the most chivalrous things or making disgusting promises to woo the girl. Its a quick romance with a few swear words thrown in(Its amazing how profanity can be romantic in ‘Love Story’). I have never seen a romantic novel where swear words and insulting each other contributes to building up the love between a girl and a guy!

Its written from a male perspective which I think is rare as most love stories have a woman’s point of view or have a woman as the narrator.

The book’s length is an advantage and a disadvantage simultaneously. On one hand ‘Love Story’ makes for a short read. But it is this short length that doubles up as a disadvantage too because it does not allow depth in the story and in the characters. It almost becomes a breezy, unmoving read because there is not much descriptions about either Oliver’s or Jeniffer’s feelings or their relationship.

Too much use of American slang also creates a casual effect, not a deep one . It feels like it is not a profound love story but rather just an ordinary one. The short length and slang usage contribute in diluting the sadness at the end of the novel.

The last word-‘Love Story’ is no doubt a good romantic read but it is definitely not the best. Its only a one time read!

P.S. I Love You‘ by Cecilia Ahern is an international romance bestseller. It makes for an enjoyable read.

Its a sweet and cute book which has a touch of hilarity, grief, fun as well as goodness. Holly Kennedy lost her childhood sweetheart and husband, Gerry due to brain tumor. Holly misses him like hell and feels her emotions overwhelming and confusing. She does not know how to live without Gerry. However, she learns to do that through her own understanding, her family and her best friends and a list that Gerry had prepared for Holly.

Its a breezy read, very easygoing(except dome parts where Holly is thoughtful about herself, her life and Gerry) with a light writing style. ‘P.S. I Love You‘ is not very descriptive but it is mostly active and happening with many events occurring in the book. The story is well laid out. It is a tad bit cliched but fortunately it is not about a guy and a girl stereotypically falling in love. Its an emotional story of a widow coping with an immense loss. Despite such a serious issue, the book is  surprisingly not very deep, in fact it is light and relaxing. It ends on a positive note which is heartening.

All chick lit fans will love ‘P.S. I Love You‘, they will be delighted in reading the book.

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