Book Review, Historical

Empire Of The Moghul – Brothers At War written by Alex Rutherford

n331665 This book is the second in the Great Moghul series. The Mughal empire falls into the hand of Humayun after Babur’s untimely death just after he had conquered Hindustan from the Lodhis.

Though a fearless warrior, Humayun is a dreamer of sorts, preferring to watch the stars instead of court activities. He finds himself thrust with a legacy that he feels he needed more time to get adjusted to. Babur’s death had left the fledgling empire vulnerable with enemies closing from all sides. But as the new emperor soon finds out, its the enemy within that is much more lethal.

Babur had left the whole of the new empire in the hands of his eldest and favourite son. This left a lot of hearts broken, but the one who is most affected is Kamran, his half brother who is only a few months younger. Askar and Hindal were to follow Kamran’s lead, though Hindal, the youngest, was always a reluctant conspirator.

So begins this book, which, as is readily apparent, is much well written than its predecessor, Raiders from the North – about Babur. The action is more gripping and seems less like a tract of historical text. The characters have much more flesh. Of course some of the old characters from the previous book make an appearance – especially Khanzada, the pillar for Humayun in the most difficult of times.

And as you progress, you realize that the old cliché – truth is stranger than fiction is well, so true. The story of intrigues, love affairs, battles, betrayals, the incredible turning around of fates and an end that any fiction writer would have been proud to have come up with. The book is so packed with so many twists and turns that you literally have to keep reminding yourself that this is in fact historical fact (of course with liberties taken from a writers point of view).

Humayun’s dreamlike character, his addiction to opium (encouraged14603_Humayun by the scheming mother of Kamran), his haywire schemes of running his court according to the stars, the titanic clashes with Sher Shah Suri, Humayun’s miraculous escapes, his fleeing across half of northern subcontinent seeking refuge (at one time reduced to a handful of men in rags pursued by armies), his reversal of fortune, the constant betrayals by his brothers, the constant battles when one battle has been won, his love of the women in his life – especially Hamida (the mother of Akbar).

All these read almost like a potboiler. I mean, for it being a novel based on history, I found myself on the edge of my seat many times as the book was polished off in a couple of readings.

For me, as with the first book, the appeal is in knowing more about the Mughals in a way that Wikipedia can never teach me – learning while being entertained. It is strange how little we really know of our history. As we witness the early Mughals struggling to reserve a vision that Babur had nurtured, we almost see modern India in the making as one of the greatest empires in modern world begins to take foothold. You get to know more about other characters – like Sher Shah, who are dismissed in a couple of sentences in most school books.

Importantly, it brings into focus a Mughal who is so often overlooked in history with almost everyone else hogging the limelight, even though it was him who actually set a firm foundation in India for the OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA         Mughals. Humayun was emperor in actuality for a very short time and died almost in a bizarre tragedy when he tripped and fell down stairs after he had secured his kingdom after long gruelling years. We see a man who in more peaceful times would have become more of a poet rather than a king. His acts of benevolence especially in forgiving his brothers again and again is a feature that is almost impossible to imagine in his times when kings eliminated rivals at the first chance. Humayun comes as irritable personality  possessing all faults but more than compensating for them with his more generous qualities.

All in all, a gripping and enjoyable read. And hopefully the writing would keep on improving with the next one – on Akbar. Cant wait for that one…

Comedy, English Movies

Curb your enthusiasm conceived by Larry David

curb_your_enthusiasm This is one of the most successful American comedy series so it is a bit of a surprise that it is so little known in India.

This is all about the most cynical social misanthrope that you cant help but fall in love with!!! Larry David, creator of Seinfeld, plays himself, albeit in a highly exaggerated form.  He plays a semi-fictionalized self, living as a semi-retired writer who has made a lot of money after the uber-successful Seinfeld series. A lot of other characters play themselves – Ted Danson, Richard Lewis, Mary Steenburg notably. A lot of delightful guest appearances happen throughout the seven seasons (there is another one to come out in 2011) – people like Mel Brooks, John McEnroe, Martin Scorsese, Ben Stiller, Shaquille O'Neal, David Schwimmer, Lucy Lawless  and the Seinfeld cast play themselves in sometimes more than one episode…

The show in mainly centred around the relationship that Larry sharesCurb Your Enthusiasm - Season 6 - Jeff Garlin and Larry David - Claudette Barius/HBO with the people around him – his wife, his friends, his manager, his friends and a lot of people that he meets daily – waiters, drycleaners, drivers and so on. He is a misanthrope with highly eccentric ideas and theories especially about social conventions and suffers from a foot in the mouth syndrome. But he is eventually good at heart and frequently goes out of his way to help his friends and other people around him, though he still manages to put off the people who he is helping.

The main feature of Larry’s characters  is that he is absolutely socially incorrect. He would say and do things that people would not because, well, we have been taught not to do so. Larry is always getting into troubles for this reason, frequently being thrown out of people’s houses 22_curbyour_lg and having to try and try and make up with people who are upset with his improper frankness.

He would almost always say what he has in mind even if it is completely out of context (which is very usual) or offensive (from mild to extreme). He is constantly getting into one warped situation or another. His manager, the incorrigible adulterer Jeff Green (played by Jeff Garlin) is almost always a partner in all the troubles – either as a direct participant or as an advisor or a confidante. In almost all the serials, Larry gets a tongue lashing from Jeff’s foul mouthed wife Susie (played by Sussie Essman).

At the end of each serial, Larry ends up with more trouble than he started out with. At the end of each serial, you wonder how people tolerate him at all. And at the end of each serial, you wonder why hisCurb Your Enthusiasm - Season 6 - Jeff Garlin and Susie Essman - Claudette Barius/HBO frequently embarrassed wife, Cheryl (played by Cheryl Hines) doesn't leave him (she does in a season, but comes back eventually).

And at the end of each serial, you end up laughing and grinning away like crazy – at Larry’s antics, his theories, the embarrassing situations he gets into and the way things always seem to go wrong for him. And it takes just one serial for you to get comfortable with the characters and it is soon that you become addicted to the series. You just want to see what other troubles he can get himself into…

This is one comedy series that you can keep for a long time and which you can watch anytime. There is no irritating canned laughter and that's the way I like my comedies. I want to hear my laughter. And I was constantly hearing it throughout the seasons…

I was almost heartbroken when I got through with the seasons. Life seemed a little less joyful but hey I can always watch them as re-runs. After all they are all on hard drive!!!




Book Review, Humour, Science fiction

Hitchhikers guide to the Galaxy (all 5 books) written by Douglas Adams

6a00c22521073e8e1d00d4142a15843c7f-500pi1 The thing with cult-classics which you have not read or seen is that you many times you feel let down by the end of it, having driven your expectations sky high before you started off. Something similar happened with me with Star wars after I finally decided to see all the six movies in one go (the first three were enjoyable, the last three were a let down)…it has something to do, I think, with the fact that many of the cult classics became such at a certain time and place and with the decades passing and with changing technology and sensibilities, things that might have seemed extraordinary become pedestrian or archaic…

So, it was with some trepidation that I started off with this hugely successful series – a series that started with a radio show, grew into a trilogy and then five books, spawned comic books, movies and two types of towels!!!

After having finished all the five, all i can say is that I don't remember633715261840117110-HitchhikersGuidetotheGalaxy having laughed so much except for “Three men on a boat” and “Yes Minister” series…and I have never read such veritable nonsense that strangely seems to make sense. Even though I knew that Adams had improvised while writing, which led to some contradictions, the storyline is solid enough to be a immensely rollicking ride. You have to suspend your belief of course and after the first few pages when the earth is destroyed, it is not really difficult to do so!!!!

What pops out of the pages are not something alien as such but things you can almost relate to but they happen in such bizarre combinations that they cant help but bring a grin to your face. The combinations of hitchhikers_guide_to_galaxy_2005_te such absurdities are just too numerous to recount but one thing for sure is that out of almost every page would come out something that can only be the product of a feverishly creative imagination taken notches higher by a haze of cannabis!!!

I think that the cake for the most unintentionally comical character in literature has to go to Arthur Dent!! if the best humour is created by contrasts, Dent’s perennially flummoxed character has to be one of the best examples. From the moment he is rescued by Ford Prefect by the use of a towel and had a fish stuffed in his ear, Dent goes unboldly where no man has ever gone before!!! Along with Ford, Zaphod, Marvin the depressed robot and Trillian, a fascinating and unlikely group is formed to trawl the universe. They are helped along with the encyclopaedically unreliable ‘Hitchhikers guide to the Galaxy’.

The incidents and the stories and the sub stories are just too numerous to recount but something that I found fascinating was that in the total of 1000 odd pages that make up the five books, the humour never flags and you never lose interest, inspite of the absolute nonsense that seems to be going in the pages. Strangely for all that nonsense, you never once feel alienated from it or feel that its been too much. 10002005_the_hitchhickers_guide_to_the_galaxy_wallpaper_001 pages of utterly fascinating nonsense – that's quality writing!!!

How can you forget the question of meaning of life, the actual rulers of earth, the real message of dolphins, Gods last message, the origin of cricket and the reason why the rest of the universe hates earth, the real ancestors of earthlings and so on…if you want the answers to all these, turn the pages. You wont be disappointed with the answers though you might be a little more than surprised

If I have to pick the best out of the five, it would be difficult to do so, since each one has a character of its own. The first one is the most hitchhikers2 fascinating, probably because its the first of the series and you get almost a culture shock when you read it. The last one is pretty dark at the end…

For someone who goes through life without reading these, it would be a huge loss. These books redefine a genre of their own and the humour is right there among the top in world literature…

The review has to go on for atleast two dozen pages if the books have to be described properly in all their humorous glory. Better still to read them…