captain phillips
Drama, English Movies, Recently Posted

Captain Phillips – Subtle, gripping and surprisingly poignant

Captain Richard Phillips: There’s got to be something other than being a fisherman or kidnapping people

Muse: Maybe in America, Irish, maybe in America

Captain_Phillips_poster Initially, I admit, I was a bit reluctant to watch the movie. For a couple of reasons – post the complex and sensitive ‘Syriana’, it has been tough work   finding a portrayal that was is not either a self-pitying American version of white man’s burden or an out and out macho version of how American military goes about its business. Though thankfully, movies like Rambo have moved out of fashion. Secondly, the theme seemed like one where there will be quite a bit of action – though with Tom Hanks in there, I was sure it wont be of the Bruce Willis and Nakatomi Tower variety. More like the cat and mouse variety, I reckoned

Well, I can say that I feel lucky that I was persuaded to watch Captain Phillips. In its short running time, it was gripping and surprisingly subtle, with the best acting, probably, not coming from Tom Hanks as Captain Phillips but Barkhad Abdi playing Muse, the Somali pirate captain. At the end, it leaves with you with a feeling of having watched a well made, well balanced movie. It also leaves you with an ache you cant shake off. Continue reading

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Classics, English Movies, Recently Posted

Who’s afraid of Virginia Woolf? directed by Mike Nicols

Martha: Truth or illusion, George; you don't know the difference.

George: No, but we must carry on as though we did.

Martha: Amen 

 

Who's afraid of Virginia Woolf?Be warned: Watching Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton giving probably the performance of their lives will probably leave you emotionally drained, exhausted and breathless!

Adapted from the play with the same name, “Who’s afraid of Virginia Woolf?” has the tagline “You are cordially invited to George and Martha's for an evening of fun and games.”

Within the first five minutes, the tagline starts to feel ominous. George (Burton) and Martha (Taylor) bring an atmosphere that can be best described as chilling with a creeping sense of dread. An atmosphere in which nameless things are present but just out of sight.

The masterful thing about the movie is that this atmosphere keeps growing throughout, slowly, almost playfully in the beginning, reaching a deafening crescendo near the end and ending with an exhausted quiet – like a perfect symphony

George, a middle aged college professor and Martha, his wife, come back from a gathering and its already two in the morning. George realizes that Martha has called a young couple from the gathering over to the house for a few more drinks. Nick, the athletic good looking instructor, recently joined and Honey, his mousey wife. George voices his displeasure at which Martha launches into an angry tirade, giving us the first glimpse that everything is not quite right with the couple

From the minute that Nick and Honey enter the house, they and the viewer realize that they are mere pawns in a verbal and emotional duel between George and Martha. A duel that we realize is very old and has a devastating deep buried history.

And what an epic duel it is. If there was ever a movie that exemplifies masterful verbal dueling of the most violent kind, this has to be the one. Laced generously with expletives that seem somewhat tame by today’s comparison but which was scandalous for the time, the sparring between Martha and George is like watching an Ali-Frazer to the death. Martha is the termagant who lashes out with her tongue and body, George is menacing and pure acid. And oh the words! Who needs computer generated action when mere words can have the same effect? The dialogue can be so searing and the delivery can be so devastating that at times you have to fight the urge to close your eyes! If nothing else, a still image of Martha and George having a go at each other, mouth spewing venom, eyes wild and faces distorted will remain with you for a long time…

When two people have been married for a long time, they know enough about each other to know what will cause a deep emotional gash in the other. Martha and George know exactly what will hurt each other. And the level to which they are willing to hurt each other keeps going up. They are at each other’s throat throughout and quite suddenly you realize that they are doing it out of pure habit, as if its something that they have done many time before and they know their way around the fight ring. The decibel level just went up because of the presence of the young couple caught in the middle

And that’s where it gets interesting. Nick and Honey are not the straight arrow couple that we have been led to believe in the beginning. As the evening gets more and more ‘interesting’, dark secrets start tumbling out, a dribble at first, then a torrent. And by the time the end comes, when everything is one roaring pit of hell, it all comes to a full brim. But the end is well, theWho's afraid of Virginia Woolf? end. More on that later…

So the stage is set for a heady cocktail. Four people, each with their own demons and hidden mysteries. Each with quite distinct personalities. And none of whom are willing to let go. Its like watching a spiral unfolding in front of your eyes. A spiral of destruction that just keeps getting deeper and just when you thought it cant go on much further, the four people caught in the middle springs a surprise! Just four people in the whole film and what destruction they can cause…

Taylor and Burton as Martha and George are truly a force of nature. Watching them is like watching two masters at work. Its increadible how both had changed their appearances for getting into the skin of the role. Burton with his middle aged paunch and the hangdog expression and Taylor who put on thirty pounds for the role. Anybody who watches the pair in ‘Cleopatra’ before watching this will be in for a shock of their life.

A special mention for the contribution of Nick (George Segal) and Honey (Sandy Dennis). Without their understated but layered acting, the environment would have been punctured. The bewildered and unwilling pair, who, as the movie progresses become almost willing accomplices in the unfolding drama are a critical, though often overlooked, part of the whole structure. Starting off as plaything of Martha and George, the toys bring their own game into the drama.

 Last scene - Who's afraid of Virginia Woolf? And it all comes together at the end. When everything has fallen apart, when Nick and Honey go back to pick pieces of their shattered life, when George has delivered the final blow to Martha, everything makes sense in retrospect. Lot of things are left unsaid, lot of things are left unexplained. Which is the best way to end. Watching the end is like seeing the world after a violent blinding storm.

Saying anything more or anything specific will be a spoiler. This is a film that is best experienced, preferably alone! Leaving you with the very last line in which Martha answers the title question with

“I am, George, I am”

 

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dachau door man's search for meaning
Book Review, Non-Fiction, Recently Posted

Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E Frankl

That which does not kill me, makes me stronger – Nietzsche

 

We have come to know Man as he really is. After all, man is that being who invented the gas chambers of Auschwitz; however, he is also that being who entered those gas chambers upright, with the Lord's Prayer or the Shema Yisrael on his lips. – Viktor Frankl

 

Man's Search for Meaning Viktor Frankl

 

‘Man’s Search for Meaning’ is a book that, at first, may put off a lay buyer by the title itself. “Another self help book”! is probably the thought that would cross the mind, as it did mine. Cynicism of commercialization of the problems of modern living runs deep. Each book that purports to provide a solution to the problem in career, marriage, relationships and to the general feeling of emptiness ends up providing pop stories that makes for light entertaining reading doubling up as inspirational stories – of how other people solved their issues (or how monks sold their Ferraris!). Psychology tells us that herd mentality works for humans. If I know that some other guy cracked the secret of happiness, the brain releases enough happy hormones to make us feel that we can do the same. So the temporary happiness. And then we forget what it was all about!

And that is precisely the reason that you need to pick up this book. And you may never again may need to pick up another book to ‘help yourself’. ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’ written by holocaust survivor Viktor E Frankl is a book that I can safely add to the small list of books that I can say has changed the course of my life perceptibly.

Viktor Frankl is perhaps the one of the best persons to have written a book on the topic. He was a Holocaust survivor. But that is only the part of the reason. There were thousands of survivors and not only of the Holocaust – of various Gulags and other extermination camps run by other regimes and countries. Viktor Frankl was a psychiatrist who was in the process of developing his theory of logotherapy – study of how people find meaning in life, before he was seized by the Nazis. In the concentration camps, in a situation that was unique to modern human experience, Frankl was able to become a dispassionate observer of the people around him. And of himself. And he observed and kept developing his theory.

And he discovered some startling discoveries about human behaviour that otherwise would have been denied to him had he been just given an university environment.

And it is these discoveries and observations that he has put into this slim book. Slim yes but I don't recall the last book that I have highlighted and made notes of so much. Right from the first page, you start feeling the power of the book. Power that can only come from the words written by a man who has seen hell and has, for the benefit of those who come later, was able to record how man behaves in hell. And why some men can come out of hell unbowed while most are annihilated.

Man’s Search for Meaning is divided into two parts. In the first part Frankl takes us through his experience in the concentration camps. Through his eyes we see the world that he had to survive. He notes the behaviour of people around him – of prisoners and of guards. And he notes some things that can be observed only in extreme situations. Hope, he realized was a cause for life. And of death. Frankl narrates how he saw fellow prisoners literally turn from healthy people to being a corpse within a couple of days. Just because they lost hope and therefore the will to live.

In the second part he expands upon his theory of logotherapy. And in the process gives a primer on how to live.

 

“One should not search for an abstract meaning of life. The more one forgets himself-by giving himself to a cause to serve or another person to love-the more human he is and the more he actualizes himself. What is called self-actualization is not an attainable aim at all, for the simple reason that the more one would strive for it, the more he would miss it.”

      is one of the first lines that I highlighted. Ah! good, no pop psychology, no mysticism, no universe is in you type of bullshit. And that's how ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’ starts. Cutting through the bullshit. Viktor Frankl tells us the things as is. No sugar coating. An example. His wife, pregnant at the time the Nazis captured them, was kept separately in another camp. He was not to know till after the war that she was killed almost immediately after arrival at her camp. Yet he finds out one of the greatest revelations of logotherapy from this.

A thought transfixed me: for the first time in my life I saw the truth as it is set into song by so many poets, proclaimed as the final wisdom by so many thinkers. The truth-that love is the ultimate and the highest goal to which man can aspire.

Then I grasped the meaning of the greatest secret that human poetry and human thought and belief have to impart: The salvation of man is through love and in love. I understood how a man who has nothing left in this world still may know bliss, be it only for a brief moment, in the contemplation of his beloved

Viktor was able to pass some of his darkest moments by visualizing his wife and her smile and kept alive the love he felt for her. He drew strength from the hope that he would see her again. It is love, literally, that kept him alive

 

On finding out later that she had died, in the midst of his world crashing down a second time, Frankl did not sit down and die. For as he had learnt – even in the worst of time, life does not cease to have a meaning. As he was to tell his patients and students later on – the only thing that matters in the end is what response we choose to give.

Forces beyond your control can take away everything you possess except one thing, your freedom to choose how you will respond to the situation. You cannot control what happens to you in life, but you can always control what you will feel and do about what happens to you.

Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms-to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way.

So Viktor Frankl chose to choose life and find meaning in it.

He later posed a question to his students – to guess what his, Viktor Frankl’s meaning is life is.

One student got it right. Viktor Frankl’s meaning in life was to spread the message of his book

For as he wrote,

This uniqueness and singleness which distinguishes each individual and gives a meaning to his existence has a bearing on creative work as much as it does on human love. When the impossibility of replacing a person is realized, it allows the responsibility which a man has for his existence and its continuance to appear in all its magnitude. A man who becomes conscious of the responsibility he bears toward a human being who affectionately waits for him, or to an unfinished work, will never be able to throw away his life. He knows the "why" for his existence, and will be able to bear almost any "how."

No one except Viktor Frankl himself could do what he himself could do. Therefore he had meaning in his life.

This above statement may be the single most important lines that I have read. What different people have poured tones of ink over, Frankl sums up in a paragraph. For what can be more powerful and more empowering than the realization of our uniqueness? That no one can replace us and what we feel. That our memories and experiences are our own and own alone. No matter what the conditions.

 

And Frankl is nothing if not practical to the point of dispassionate stoicism

If there is a meaning in life at all, then there must be a meaning in suffering. Suffering is an ineradicable part of life, even as fate and death. Without suffering and death human life cannot be complete.

Suffering will happen. Period. We need to know that it is as much a part of existence as happiness. What matters is our response to it

There are situations in which one is cut off from the opportunity to do one's work or to enjoy one's life; but what never can be ruled out is the unavoidability of suffering. In accepting this challenge to suffer bravely, life has a meaning up to the last moment, and it retains this meaning literally to the end. In other words, life's meaning is an unconditional one, for it even includes the potential meaning of unavoidable suffering

Suffering in and of itself is meaningless; we give our suffering meaning by the way in which we respond to it

 

 

Meaning of life is not to be found in a particular episode or in a particular form of feeling or in the way we meditate. It is to be found by living and finding meaning outside of us – in someone or some work. Fulfillment and meaning is to be found in our actions an in the way we feel for others.

By declaring that man is responsible and must actualize the potential meaning of his life, I wish to stress that the true meaning of life is to be discovered in the world rather than within man or his own psyche, as though it were a closed system.

This particular part above suddenly opened up a small fresh window for me as I read it. I felt the truth of the statement instinctively. I think our modern self help gurus may have got it dead wrong. Its not in ourselves that we can find meaning but in others and in our work that has some meaning to the outside world I think we were never wired to be isolated happy beings…

 

There is another beautiful thought that Frankl keeps coming back in the book. That of the fact that each moment we live is something that remains with us forever. Our past is the only tangible proof of our existence. All that we have felt, each moment that we have felt and lived and cried and laughed is something that is unique to us and is life’s greatest treasure to us

What you have experienced, no power on earth can take from you. Not only our experiences, but all we have done, whatever great thoughts we may have had, and all we have suffered, all this is not lost, though it is past; we have brought it into being. Having been is also a kind of being, and perhaps the surest kind.

 

 

For me, Frankl tackles beautifully one of the most difficult question that I had. And makes it look simple. I, like so many, have often wondered about the question of meaning in a general way – as if there is supposed to be a general theory of meaning. A one meaning to explain it all. Frankl gives the answer while demolishing the whole notion of a grand theory

What matters, therefore, is not the meaning of life in general but rather the specific meaning of a person's life at a given moment. To put the question in general terms would be comparable to the question posed to a chess champion: "Tell me, Master, what is the best move in the world?"

I am yet to see a more uplifting advice on how to live a life with meaning!

 

Viktor Frankl author Man's search for meaning In truth, Man’s Search for Meaning cannot be reviewed nor explained in detail. It has to be experienced. Reading it once is surely not enough. Its life changing enough to be read at various times in life. But reading it once is enough to change the way we think about ourselves and the way we live in the world. And I think that reading this book will be a different experience for every one. Just as we are unique individuals, just so we would take unique experiences from the book.

In sum Frankl saw three possible sources for meaning: in work (doing something significant), in love (caring for another person), and in courage during difficult times. Since all three are unique to everyone at all times, then it follows, I guess that we will find different meaning in different times, uniquely.

Frankl offers readers who are searching for answers to life's dilemmas a critical mandate: he does not tell people what to do, but why they must do it. This is a small but crucial difference in the way we expect self help books to help us

 

In the end, all I can say is that not reading this book would have been a great loss to me. Its quite an unique book that is probably even more relevant in our times than earlier. A couple of quotes from the book that Frankl could as well be writing about this time

People have enough to live by but nothing to live for

Our current mental-hygiene philosophy stresses the idea that people ought to be happy, that unhappiness is a symptom of maladjustment. Such a value system might be responsible for the fact that the burden of unavoidable unhappiness is increased by unhappiness about being unhappy

Some things never change! Ah wait, I know Frank would have said to that – “Our reaction to the things can!”

 

Closing the post with a summation in Frankl’s own words. Who else to close it better?

 

Now let us turn to the question of meaning itself. To begin with, I would like to clarify that, in the first place, the logotherapist is concerned with the potential meaning inherent and dormant in all the single situations one has to face throughout his or her life. Therefore, I will not be elaborating here on the meaning of one's life as a whole, although I do not deny that such a long-range meaning does exist. To invoke an analogy, consider a movie: it consists of thousands upon thousands of individual pictures, and each of them makes sense and carries a meaning, yet the meaning of the whole film cannot be seen before its last sequence is shown. However, we cannot understand the whole film without having first understood each of its components, each of the individual pictures. Isn't it the same with life? Doesn't the final meaning of life, too, reveal itself, if at all, only at its end, on the verge of death? And doesn't this final meaning, too, depend on whether or not the potential meaning of each single situation has been actualized to the best of the respective individual's knowledge and belief?

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31 by Upendra Namburi
Book Review, Recently Posted, Thriller

31 by Upendra Namburi

31 upendra Namburi Corporate thriller

 

Imagine a situation where a Chanakya or a Machivalli would have thrived in a modern corporate…

Now imagine any organization you may have worked in – increase its size to global. Now imagine a financial crisis, a barely hidden extra marital affair, a wife in a professional and personal crisis, a fraud allegation, a traitor in the most trusted circle,  a very real chance of unemployment and financial ruin, a pregnancy, job interviews which seem to lead nowhere

Now imagine all of this happening within just 31 days!

And now imagine that the guy facing all of this in 31 days is nowhere close to a Chanakya or a Machiavelli. He is about as plain as you and me – grappling with the day as it comes…

Upendra Namburi, in his debit novel, has written a cracker of a book! And its not an easy genre to crack – Corporate thriller. And that too in an Indian setting

A good corporate thriller not only has to read like a racy John Grisham but from an Indian prespective, the book also needs to hit some chords with an audience that has faced atleast some, if not all of the problems that Ravi Shastry faced (if only in a much more extended period than in a month). Not only this, the book cannot take itself too seriously. Much of corporate humour is like gallows humour. The trick is get this brand of humour in a book…

And very satisfyingly Upendra succeeds in all of this in 31.

I had picked this book with some trepidation, not really knowing whether Indian writing had turned the corner on this brand of thriller. A corporate thriller hits close to home and if any of it seems even remotely fake or worse, seems like a lift from some US office situation, the book is an instant practice shot for the nearest dustbin!

And guess what – 31 is something I finished in a few hours.

And I realized something else. Here is an Indian book that you can finish in a 3 hour flight and it does not have to be juvenile writing. In fact, Upendra pulls off a tight script with enough twists and turns to leave you breathless enough to turn the next page.

While reading this, I was trying to remember when I had felt this irrestible urge to keep looking for the next button. Two came to mind – Prison Break and 24, the book’s almost namesake! Both of these left enough tantalized at the end of one episode to make you go begging to see the next one.

31 does the same with each page!

And the way that Upendra has structured the narrative  is another reason why the book turns out to be a page turner. Like the series 24, he has put time as heading of  each paragraph.

So it feels like a constant countdown happening. And you know the time left for Ravi Shastry is only till 31st March, only a few days left now!

Ravi Shastry is the regular performing guy in a regular large MNC bank. He indulges in polite politics, is hoping for a promotion soon, has had an affair on the side which almost caused a rift with his wife, a wife who is starting to feel neglected. All par for the course and seemingly normal existence (the affair, even, yes!). And then one fine monday it all goes topsy turvy and Ravi is now forced to race against time to save his career, his solvency, his marriage and his sanity

Along the way Ravi faces everything that anybody who has ever worked in a corporate enviroment in India would have faced – a snarky and over-demanding boss, a smug HR guy, colleagues and subordinates jostling for few scraps of positions, a constant looking over the shoulder for backstabbers, a top management devoid of brains interested only in the next paycheck. Its a bewildering maze of relationships and power equations lubricated with blackberrys that we are very familiar with. From our comfort zones, the best thrillers have arisen. Upendra Namburi ensures that he follows this trend nicely…

You, the reader, keep rooting for Ravi, inspite of all his follies and missteps. Because I guess, somewhere you feel a part of him, or him of you…

And then the litmus test, at least for me – the ending. The ending for me is the distilled flavour of the book that I retain. And 31 has one of the best possible endings – not a fairy tale ending nor a distressing one – but one that is real enough, an open ended one. And a nice end to all the breathtaking days and minutes of  countdown

Pick this one up. Its one unassuming book that for a short time will completely occupy whatever you are doing.

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Bollywood Movies, Crime, Popular, Recently Posted

Gangs of Wasseypur (Part 1) directed by Anurag Kashyap

00-Gangs-Of-Wasseypur-2012-VMR-Covers-Album-Art Gangs of Wasseypur, for me, is a landmark in Hindi movies. There has been quite a few path breaking movies which have come recently – Taare Zameen Par, Udaan to Dhobi Ghat, Kahaani and Paan Singh Tomar recently, which have slowly started creating a market for movies with strong unique stories. Gangs of Wasseypur will be among the top in this list and will also have a few uniques to its name

I don't recall a Hindi movie that was intended to be produced in two parts from the start, different from a sequel. Which is a gamble. Since if the first half does not catch on, the second one will have no takers. But this confident gamble seems to have worked out for Kashyap and his cast

And another thing about Gangs of Wasseypur is that the whole universe of the movie is in a very believable hellhole of rural India. In the genre of movies dealing with gangs and the underworld, started primarily by Ram Gopal Verma, most have dealt with urban gangs, mostly Mumbai based. The fact that India has a very rich tradition of banditry and mafia culture across its length and breadth has been largely ignored till now except in superficial ways. This criminal culture is heavily intertwined with local politicians and police, to be almost indistinguishable from them. This has usually been shown in a very fantastical light – e.g. Singham, Rajnikant movies etc. These have never really got into the teeth of the matter.

Gangs of Wasseypur completely rips away this curtain of shallowness and presents to us a story which is completely raw and bloody and completely believable. Local mafia in a rural town of India is shown exactly how it is – driven by history, sustained by opportunistic politics, driven to a frenzy by a people who know no other way to survive. The characters are in a world where there is no moral compass of right or wrong. The right or wrong is completely dependent on who is on top and who has the muscle. Might wins at the end, no matter what else you put up at the table. You either fight and hope to win or you are suppressed by a heavier boot everyday. If Paan Singh Tomar was about banditry – outlaws who are forced to take up arms for dignity or revenge, Gangs of Wasseypur is all about the choice of a lifestyle. There is a revenge aspect all right but its mostly about gaining power, money and fame.

There is no sugar coating in the world of Gangs of Wasseypur. You swear, fuck around, kill people with a knife, gun or agangs-houseful bomb depending on the day, intimidate the police, earn a cut from illegal mining and hack bodies. Sometimes all in a single day! And nobody will think of asking for a justification nor will any be offered. Things are right or wrong just because, well, it is and because the guy on top said so.

The rawness of this world is something that is seen to be believed. Many people will be turned away by what they see as  'excessive' violence. I differ. There is no unnecessary violence at all in the movie. Each kill drives the story forward and I didn't find any violence for violence sake. In any case the whole point of Gangs of Wasseypur is that there is a continuous war outside your door. Do you sit back or dream or do you kill to love yourself? For those who like sanitized violence, watch the highly stylized violence of Singham. Gangs of Wasseypur is real. Deal with it

What increases the realism is the fact that real stories make up the Gangs of Wasseypur storyline – stylized and adapted for the screen. So you know right from the time that they show the history of Wasseypur (from 1941), you are dealing with real stuff. And talking of realism, the acting is something that needs to be seen to be believed. There are no ‘extras’ in this movie. Each character has a role to play, a story to tell of their own. Each in its own way takes the story forward. Manoj Bajpayee, the central character in this first part, shines as the complex gangster who kills to save a 335437-interview-with-zeishan-quadri-writer-of-gangs-of-wasseypurwoman’s modesty and sleeps around blatantly cheating on his wife, at the same time. The galaxy of talented stars around him – Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Jaideep Ahlawat, Tigmanshu Dhulia, Reemma Sen, Richa Chadda, Huma Qureshi are all deliciously rural Bihar – sing song dialect with the choicest swearwords, homemade revolvers and all. They get completely  into the story. Not for the characters of Gangs of Wasseypur the superficiality of mere rural clothes over urban behavior. These guys walk, talk and fuck like guys in Gangs of Wasseypur should!!

A special note about the music. Sneha Khanwalkar is truly a force of nature when it comes to extracting music from noise and creating amazing sounds. In Gangs of Wasseypur, she has created some ground-breaking music. Music created from emigrant history and localized, the music is something of a revelation. Listening to them separately, the music of this movie is a collector’s item in itself

Gangs of Wasseypur brings something quite different to cinema. All I can say is that I cant wait for Part II. This review will be complete only then

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Book Review, Recently Posted, Science fiction

Old Man and the Wasteland written by Nick Cole

 

"Can you let go of what is gone? I think at first I felt that I could not go on. The things I lost were too painful and I could not imagine a life without them. I remember feeling awful. All the time. But I cannot remember when I changed. When I thought of salvage. When I thought of what was today, and not of what had been or what was lost "

 

Old Man and the wasteland by Nick cole

 

What happens when you take Hemingway's age old classic about an old man fighting alone against nature and adapt it to a dystopian future? You get "The Old Man and the Wasteland"

In the hands of Nick Cole, this is a story that you just cannot put down…

In an future only a generation away, an apocalyptic war, most probably nuclear, has laid waste to everything. Everything that man takes pride in – his creations of steel and brick, his civilization, the technologies, communication systems all have been destroyed and what is worse – has faded away to forgetfulness. People in the book actually marvel looking at freeways and flyovers – wondering whether its their own species who had built them.

All that is left now for scattered survivors to do is scavenge. Things that people a generation ago took for granted – steel, tinned food, worked metals, electronic parts, batteries have now become more precious than gold ever was. A man's worth is measured in how much scavenging he can do. A man's reputation is built on the value of the scavenge he can bring back. The hunter-gatherer turning full circle to scavenger..

Nick Cole brings alive this frightening world. The reader is never told directly what has happened and why things became the way they did. We are just put bang in the middle of the reality, the present. Everything is told from the perspective of the old man, who is trying to survive in the terrifying present reality while still holding on to vestiges of a very different past, fast fading. All we get are flashbacks from the memories of the old man, a common young man at the time of the apocalyptic disaster. The horrors and the helplessness of the time when everything familiar and comforting – society, government, geography, technology broke down, never to come back, is told to us in short flashes of memories. These are memories that still haunt the Old Man but he has learnt to live with them and even use them for scavenging. We are left to piece together what might have happened. And because he is one of the last people around who still remembers something of the life before, the reader is able to relate to him more.

Its a world that is beautifully created, if beautiful is a word we can use for a desolate dystopian world. Man has reverted back to his primitive ways, in the background of crumbling skyscrapers. This is a world that can lend itself to many clichés, but in the hands of Nick Cole, this is a breathing, living world with nameless horrors lurking at every corner.

The old man, like in the Hemingway classic, has a point to prove. To himself and to the world. That he still has it in him – to be useful. That he is not cursed to failure. The old man in "Old man and the sea" took to the sea. Here the Old man takes to the wasteland.

And the Old man takes with him his favourite book – a tattered much used "Old Man and the Sea", a story that is his most prized possession, a story that he hopes he would be able to fully narrate to his granddaughter one day.

Through the Old Man, we see the world as it has become. As he pushes further than anyone from his village has ever gone, he meets a world that has completely broken down in half a century. From the motel owner to the savage band of cannibals right down to the end where a soldier had made his last stand, the old man goes and sees and we see with him, a world that seems familiar as if in a slow nightmare. The reader, along with the old man, struggles to retain their senses. The powerful writing of Nick Cole ensure that we constantly stay on the precipice. The small parallel story of the wolves pack pursuing the Old Man and the last stand of the pack's leader is a nice touch – giving a sense of universal struggle for survival

A bit of an unusual ending does take away some of the perfection of the story but its a small blip. Overall, as the ending ends in a happy one (though I would have preferred a more open ended ending), you put down this book wanting more of the Old Man. Nick Cole has created a character that will stay with you a long time – a everyday man caught in an alien world trying to make the best of what he has. I think we would all relate to that at some level. And that is the triumph of the book – "The Old Man and the Wasteland" is a familiar book in an utterly unfamiliar world.

Highly recommended!

 

 

"I want to tell my granddaughter the lesson of the book. The lesson that they can beat you, but they cannot defeat you. I must tell her that. "

Btw, I have to thank Amazon and its Kindle for the book. This is not a book that you can get in a bookshop easily and certainly not at a price of $0.99! The low price enables experimentation with new authors and then you realize that there is huge choice of good stories out there, independent of what publishing houses promote.

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The Taj conspiracy
Book Review, Historical, Thriller

The Taj conspiracy by Manreet Sodhi Someshwar

The taj conspiracy The Taj conspiracy is a thriller from a genre in Indian writing that is just waking up to its potential – crime fiction. Also the fact that this is based on one of the perennial controversy surrounding the Taj Mahal – of its very authenticity, makes it a compelling pick

So far so good. The positioning is brilliant. The question then is – is the story and the writing to the mark? Read on…

As you start reading this, you get a sense of deja-vu. Which is confirmed as the first chapter goes by you and realize that "The Taj Conspiracy" is heavily inspired by "Da Vinci Code". The strong woman with a powerful sense of history, a murder victim who leaves clues with his own blood, a elderly intellectual who is steeped in the history of Taj Mahal, an investigator who starts believing as the story moves on…

The good thing about the inspiration is that it does not stretch too far. You see the obvious similarities but it is never a pale imitation. Instead the Indian context is brought out well. And after a few chapters, you forget about Da Vinci code and begin enjoying the book in its own right

And its time that we get a doughty and attractive women sleuth of our own!! Mehrunnisa Khosa, she of the exotic name and the exotic origin fits the bill.

The book opens with a murder right inside the Taj and unravels with a plot to destroy the Taj Mahal itself. And it only gets more exciting. Bringing in politicians and fringe fanatic groups, the story never loses steam through to its ending. There can be no joy in telling a story in a review, especially one like this. It just has to be picked up to be read!!

What the "Taj Conspiracy" does well is bringing to life the controversies surrounding Taj Mahal. And brings to life, how the conspiracies resonate to this day bringing in politicians and media and fringe groups of all hues. Its refreshing to see an Indian mystery/thriller based on historical intrigues. India's history is laden with riches just waiting to be mined by storytellers. Its a wonder why it has not happened on a large scale till now

This is where Manreet Sodhi Someshwar does well. The research is upto the mark and contributes a great deal to the readability. And Manreet succeeds where many authors falter – meshing the research with the storyline. Amidst all the running and shooting and killings and revelations, the wonder of the mystery is never far off.

In fact, this book will open up the Taj Mahal for the readers once again. I know that the next time I go there, I would beManreet sodhi seeing it with new eyes and not what the guide or the guide book tells me. And if a book can open up something new in something that seemed so familiar, I daresay that its worth reading…

I have a small gripe though. The character development could have been improved a little more. Manreet creates fascinating characters that could have been fleshed out a bit more. At the end of the book, the characters remained slightly one-dimensional.

But then, Manreet has planned a whole trilogy with Mehrunnisa Khosa. So lots of space to iron out the chinks…
Overall, a book worth picking up. And in the fledgling genre of Indian mystery, this quality book is a great step forward. Looking forward to see which mystery Manreet throws at us next…

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