Sunday, December 21, 2014

Best Time Ever at the Utkal Literature Festival!

I was invited to Bhubhaneshwar for the Odisha Literature Festival organized by the New Indian Express, last year and promptly developed a soft spot for the beautiful city, designed by the German architect, Otto Konigsberger in 1946. Although not as exquisite as Pondicherry which never fails to make me feel a pang of regret that the French lost the Carnatic wars and failed to make the rest of the deep south as gorgeous as that gem of a union territory, Bhubhaneshwar has more than its fair share of charm going for it. Consequently I was thrilled when the opportunity to visit presented itself to me  via the Utkal Literature Festival. The second time around my attraction for the city of temples blossomed into full blown love.

As the tourism guides will tell you, Bhubhaneshwar completes the Swarna Tribhuja or "The Golden Triangle" of Puri (Jagannadh temple), Konark. I had already visited Puri and Konark last year. This time around I completed the triangle with a visit to the Lingaraj temple. There is no doubt about it... Kalinga architecture is absolutely incredible but it is just too bad that the walkways leading to all three destinations are choked up with all manner of refuse running the entire gamut of grossness from the filthy to the unspeakably ugly. Exactly when did Indians start embracing their inner pig with such gusto?

That major grouse aside, it was a blast exploring the city and pigging out on asli Odia street cuisine like gupchups, chicken pakodas, mutton chops, chenna poda and authentic rasogollas with fellow writers Alaka Sahani, Kavita Kane, Satyarth Nayak and Sujit Mahopatra.

The sessions were pretty interesting as well. It was a nice initiative to highlight Odia literature and writing. There were some intense moments between the Odia writers and Odias writing in English but they blew over  without anyone coming to blows over it. In my opinion, events like ULF are a great way to bridge the yawning gulf between Indians who write in English and those who are proficient in their respective regional languages. After all, writers irrespective of the langauage they prefer communicate through their stories and the good stories always transcend the words used to frame them. It is to be hoped that someday such festivals become the norm in Tamil Nadu as well where language remains a very sensitive issue.

Lastly, do check this out. It is an interview I did for the Telegraph. Really enjoyed it, although I do wish their photographer had not gone with the pic where my admittedly wonky expression has prompted a whole bunch of people to wonder aloud if I had crapped my pants! (For the record, I sorta made a face because I hate cameras and posing :( The painful part is that there were tons of other photos where I smiled sweetly for the intrusive lens or at least managed a more normal expression :) ) Oh well!

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Kamadeva gets Hotter!

Kamadeva: The God of Desire was recently featured in Storizen magazine's 'Hot off the Press' section. Merci beaucoup to Mukesh Rijhwani, co - founder of Storizen for promoting Indian authors and their stories. Do take a look at it here.

"Author Anuja Chandramouli’s writing has blossomed a lot more since her last book Arjuna. The writing is so good and so different that you will wonder that is this really the second book by the author. In her first book also I liked the writing a lot but this time around it is even better and so much more different which brings a freshness to the entire story telling.
It appeared to me at certain places that the author is trying to test the limits, challenge our society and its deep-rooted beliefs in our gods and goddesses."
Abhinav Shrivastava had this and more to say about Kamadeva: The God of Desire which you can check out here.

"The best part of the book is that Anuja Chandramouli makes her characters very human. Yes, she is telling the story of the Gods, whom we hold with such reverance, yet she humanizes them in such a way that a reader can actually relate to the character and situations. The dialogue delivery in our everyday language adds to the allure of it. The book also discusses some topics that are very relevant in our society. It is very apparent that that the author has put in some quality research time while developing the plot and apllaud the author for that. The language and the narration compliments each other by maintaining a certain balance. The author has a very refined language and it is a pleasure to read her prose."
Popular blogger Debdatta Dasgupta Sahay's review of Kamadeva can be found here.

Friday, December 12, 2014

On Cutting the Crap and Dealing with India's Rape Crisis the Sensible Way!

Every time, a rape case hits the headlines which, unfortunately has become something of a norm in India today, like every self - respecting human being, I tend to froth at the mouth, nearly apoplectic with rage and wonder why castration has not been legally sanctioned as a suitable punishment for the debased creatures who prey on women. On December 16th, 2012, a horrific crime on a Delhi bus saw a brave young girl's life prematurely snuffed out and awakened the conscience of this nation. We shed tears of grief and rage when she passed and cried out for changes that needed to be implemented in a country that ought to be made safe for its daughters. Nearly two years later, very little progress has been made as evidenced by the dramatic fallout from the Uber rape case.

Women seem to be as vulnerable as ever to acid attacks, rape, molestation, and every other form of abuse. Recently, two sisters from Rohtak made waves when they fought back and found themselves cheered by just about everybody who saw the video recording of the same, which promptly went viral. This mother of two however, found little to cheer about, if the latest role society has smugly sanctioned for members of  the formerly gentler sex is that of a butt-kicking brawler. Am I supposed to raise my  little girls as though they were heading out  into a battlefield and teach them to embrace violence if they want to be safe? How can that be right?

Whereas earlier, citizens of India were criminally indifferent, now things have changed but certainly not for the better. An atmosphere of fear, mistrust and repressed anger has spread like a particularly contagious infection tainting our view of everyone and everything. The kindly milkman or the handy chauffeur are viewed through a prism of suspicion, and they, not surprisingly respond with baffled hurt which slowly becomes thinly veiled hostility. Nobody believes in India or Indians any more and the results are plainly there for everybody to see. The garbage choking the streets is nothing compared to the attitude we have adopted to our motherland which is why we spit and shit on it both literally and metaphorically.

It is awful that the philosophy of Mahatma Gandhi who preached  non - violence and showed the world how to be the better man/woman even under great adversity has been forgotten except
 when an enterprising director makes a hit film series based on his doctrines. If women felt compelled to accessorize their outfits not with sexy bags or shoes but tasers, Swiss knives, pepper spray and pearl - handled guns finished off with an attitude of extreme wariness and aggression they may as well douse themselves with blood to attract every shark circling the vicinity. A trigger - happy girl or one who is ready to dole out the slaps to every ruffian out there must in all practicality be prepared to bite the bullet or get slapped in return. Because violence begets violence and that truism simply cannot be gainsaid. If a stray Dog were to chase a cyclist, some would recommend pelting it with stones but the Gandhian way is to chuck a few doggie biscuits its way, since that way nobody would get hurt. It is the better way since it follows logically, that there is no need for little girls to be raised as warriors by paranoid parents who want their daughters to learn to outfight the brawnier sex and beat the fellas at their own game when in reality, girls should be taught to play to their strengths which thankfully need not be about emulating martial artists.

The best way to build a world to our liking  is to start at home, and despite its hideous warts and all India is home. I refuse to believe that all men are dogs. There are good, kind and decent Indian men out there and we can't let a few bad apples define our nation or force us to arm ourselves and our young ones to feel safe in our own backyard.

In recent times, there has been a clarion call for men to change their attitudes towards women. But women need to modify their thinking as well. We need to hold our heads high and do our thing without ever giving in to fear. This is our land and nobody has the right to make us feel scared, lonely, or make victims out of us. And we need to believe that all Indians are our brothers and sisters and they'll come through for us. These are troubled times but if we stand united there is no reason why we cannot emerge from this period of strife into a better tomorrow.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

The Woman in Black by Susan Hills: Old Fashioned Horror at its Eerie Best

What is a book lover and a fan of the horror/ghost story genre supposed to do when the market is inundated with tedious tales about gorgeous vampires/werewolves with a penchant for manufacturing drama and making much ado about nothing? You strap yourself into a time machine and head for the past or pick up Susan Hill's "The Woman in Black", an old fashioned ghost story narrated by Arthur Kipps in a desperate bid to escape "from under the long shadow cast by the events of the past.", The narrator then proceeds to take the reader into the dread events that almost proved to be his undoing long years ago, when as a young solicitor who did not believe in ghosts he found himself in Eel Marsh House, to sort out the affairs of the recently deceased Mrs. Alice Drablow. Incidentally, the said creepy mansion is isolated from the town it is situated in, by a causeway that can only be traversed in low tide. 
Hill does full justice to the material at hand and wields her pen like a virtuoso to create a chilling atmosphere that is hauntingly beautiful but nevertheless fills even hardened horror aficionados with mounting dread that subsequently oscillates between pity (for the victim as well as persecutor) and terror.
The ghost's back story is skilfully woven and to use a somewhat perverse metaphor given the context in question it feels like digging into a particularly succulent drumstick chicken with plenty of meat and a juicy bone to gnaw upon. The road to the end is carefully constructor and even as the reader hurtles towards it with a sense of the inevitable it still packs a wallop.
"The Woman in Black" is definitely something to be prescribed for those who are heartily sick of vampires. 

Saturday, December 06, 2014

"The Replacement" by Brenna Yovanoff: Too much Teenage Angst and Too Little Terror

Brenna Yovanoff's "The Replacement" has a very eerie premise. It is about babies being stolen from their cribs and replacements getting left behind mostly to sicken and die. There is an underworld, a thriving metropolis populated by the dead and not - quite dead ruled over by the Morrigan, a creepy little Princess who treats the town of Gentry to hard rock performances which are supposedly beneficial to their mutual health if not the levels of noise pollution.  Finally, a revenant, which is a reanimated corpse turns up to effect a rescue. Yet, despite the promise offered by such macabre conceits, "The Replacement' is less about thrills and chills than it is about teenage angst in all its, underwhelming, pimpled, hormone ravaged glory.
The protagonist, Mackie Doyle is a replacement who managed to survive despite his debilitating allergies to iron, blood and consecrated ground, complicated exponentially by having a Pastor for his father. When he is not yearning for a normal life he is ogling the breasts or legs of the resident high - school hottie and cursing his luck that her pierced tongue prevents him from fully exploring the wonders of her oral cavity.
Even as Mackie's troubles spiral out of control and he seeks solace in the hawthorne water coughed up by denizens of the underworld who kindly offer him surcease from his allergies in exchange for him joining their band, a potential love interest's sister is kidnapped and her replacement is hastened to an early grave. This prompts Mackie to rise to the occasion by making out with the grieving sibling and discovering his inner hero in time to square off with a dirt witch who fancies herself a God and demands fear or blood sacrifice when she is not playing with live dolls as well as the Cutter, who is a sadist/masochist who enjoys ridding the loved ones of his victims of their digits in order to get them to toe his line.
If all this sounds like a cheesy B- grade horror movie, it is probably because that is exactly what it reads like sans the titillating sight of nubile nymphs baring their cleavage or the clever manipulation of light and sound that make you jump and spill your popcorn.