I thoroughly enjoyed this bestseller of a novel and more or less, finished it in a day; it was that unputdownable for me. The voice of the book is strong, it serves a concrete plot, and chief characters are charming. Categorised under fantasy, The Hunger Games is narrated by the protagonist, the plucky 16-year old Katniss Everdeen. (Let us overlook the fact here that I also took to adore her because I absolutely love her name.)
The story, roughly, is how the said Katniss and 23 other young participants are picked out by a lottery and forced to compete in the annual Hunger Games, thanks to their whip-cracking government. Probably Darwin’s delight, this is a pure game of survival of the fittest, and true to the rule of nature, participants actually begin to lose lives, until there’s just one winner left. A large, enclosed terrain of mountains, snow, forest and alike is created, where the participants are let lose to confront or hide from one another. They are compelled to murder each other until one emerges victorious. Oh, and did I mention, the entire drama is televised live, for the entire nation to see.
Much like our reality shows.
The best aspect about the book, according to me, is Collins’ writing. Nowhere does it bore, be redundant or lapse. Narration is from Katniss’ point of view and that’s crucial, because this way, you don’t know what the other participants are doing, unless Katniss get to know. You only see what Katniss sees, and along with her, you’re also dragged into the forest of suspense and anxiety.
When I figured the premise of the story, I thought it was quite appalling, and unbelievable. How could the entire nation simply watch the gruesome killings of their own children? And then it stuck me. Of course they can! If we can, in today’s date and time, watch and pray for contestants on kids’ reality talent shows – then by the post-apocalyptic world where the novel is set – can definitely enjoy the killer games. We too, after all, crush hopes and damage the very psyches of god-only-knows how many little singers, comedians and dancers who appear on our reality shows. Only one child receives the trophy, and rest all are shunned into oblivion, until perhaps when they bag a role on another channel. It’s probably not long until some Raghu Ram-inspired producer decides to televise Hunger Games – with real murders – for Indian audiences.
Oh, and of course, The Hunger Games uses the formula that everyone loves: Against all odds, poor girl emerges victorious. I think I enjoyed it doubly because I’m a girl. A girl who loves stories of first kisses, and this book does offer me a good one. For all the boys, I suggest that you borrow a friend’s copy of the book and read a couple of chapters. If Collins manages to have you hooked, read on!
Title: The Hunger Games
Author: Suzanne Collins
Genre: Fantasy/ Young Adult | Pages: 374 | Price: Rs 299
“The perfect crime lies not in the execution, but in the cover-up.”
It’ll take all of a few clicks on the Internet to acquaint oneself with the Neeraj Grover murder case. But devil lies in details, and it suffices to say that author Meenal Baghel has pulled the devil out right by its horns. Simply put, one early morning of May 2008, a jealous Emile Jerome snuffed out Neeraj Grover, who he suspected of having an affair with his fiancée Maria Susairaj. The body was soon cut up, stuffed into a bag and set to flames.
The “cast of characters” includes the charming Neeraj, who was a small time employee in television production house Balaji Telefilms, beautiful and petite Maria, a hopeful export to Mumbai’s thriving TV industry, and the handsome Emile, a much-loved Naval office posted in Kochi.
Death in Mumbai though, is not a simple chronological story of crime and subsequent arrest of the murderers. Rather, it is a heady psychological thriller. The resultant of Meenal’s copious note-taking is entire chapters dedicated to people associated with the very premise of the crime, those who understand the world of Neeraj, Maria and Emile, and cops who solve the crime.
Meenal is currently the Editor-in-Chief of city’s top tabloid Mumbai Mirror and there couldn’t be a better author for this sensational subject. Using her excellent reporting and researching skills, she interviews a number of people related to the star cast of this thriller and peppers the book with words unfamiliar to me, at every three sentences. The writing is sharp, time zones overlap nicely, and insiders’ accounts, plentiful.
Meenal speaks extensively with the superstitious Ekta Kapoor, who understands the world of television actors and their trappings only too well.
Ram Goal Varma is the Chetan Bhagat of the film industry – the audience loves to hate him. RVG, as is common knowledge by now, loves to explore the darker side of crime, especially when those of passion are in question. Meenal meets this man who declares that he’s quite forthright about things of love and passion. “I’d rather have sex with you than conversation,” he confesses having said to some women.
Moon Das is a model-cum-dancer who was lucky enough to have escaped the hysteria that had overcome her boyfriend, who, in a fit of rage, ended up shooting her mother and uncle dead, before checking himself out of the world too. What makes these girls (such as Moon and Maria) suffer pushy and disastrous relationships and what are their trappings, is what Meenal tries to decode, over several cups of coffee with Moon.
The best part of Death in Mumbai is, of course, about how the Mumbai police team, lead by Rakesh Maria, then Joint Commissioner of Mumbai Crime branch, cracks the case. Inspector Satish Raorane plays a lion’s part in the madness that was of narrowing down suspects and finally interrogating the tough Maria Susairaj to a vulnerable point, when she eventually confessed about the gruesome incident. The tedious procedure which the police implement, the infinite patience they posses, the number of people they have to deal with before laying hands on the criminal – all this, as recollected by friends of Neeraj, Maria and Emile, not the policemen themselves.
Death in Mumbai is a hard-hitting, riveting read, and I suggest you pick it up just for Meenal’s writing, if the mystery of the case fails to excite you. The book was released at the recently held Times Literary Carnival where Meenal, after a discussion on the book, was also signing copies. This was the first time I got my book signed by an author, and I was quite thrilled, for I do admire the lady.
By the end of this unputdownable book, one also suspects that Meenal has a soft spot for Rakesh Maria, who currently heads the Maharashtra Anti-Terrorism Squad. But oh well, given his reputation for cracking cases and coming down hard on criminals, who wouldn’t!
Title: Death in Mumbai
Author: Meenal Baghel
Pages: 231 | Price: Rs 299
It is interesting to note that Ashok K. Banker’s version of the mythological saga Ramayana is published under the genre of ‘Fiction.’ For it well feels like one, thanks to the surprisingly eerie details Banker fills our mind with.
Banker reconstructs the epic poem, and painstakingly so. I’ve read the first book – of the series of six–and found it to be immensely engaging. In fact, I finished the fat volume in no more than 3-4 sittings (of course, it helped that I’m unemployed at the moment), and though it will probably take you a few more sittings, every minute will be worth it. This, provided you are ready to accept Banker’s version of the tale.
Banker puts his disclaimer well, in the prologue. No two versions of this eons-old tale are same, as it is passed down from grandmother to her grandchild, orally, he says. What we hear today, is the dumbed-down version of the story, the original being in cryptic Sanskrit verses. He insists that the Ramayana most of us know today is reduced to a mere “moral tale,” as opposed to the actual story of Prince Rama, which is packed with amorous escapades of King Dasarath, grim details of the battles fought, detailed explanation of the way Ayodhya’s seemingly unconquerable armed soldiers worked (Ayodhya translates to ‘the unconquerable’), physical description of the asuras, uncouth mannerisms of Queen Kaikeyi, astounding powers possessed by the great seers, and so on.
Book One is a mix of all of the above. It begins with Rama having a vision of the horrific misfortune that awaits to befall his beloved home city of Ayodhya, ravaging it to nothingness. We see the story – if I may call it that – move on to how sage Vishwamitra warns Ayodhya’s king (Rama’s father) of the impending doom with the imminent and eventual rise of the Ravana. After much debate and persuasion, the father’s heart in the king reluctantly allows Rama (and Lakshman) to accompany the learned sage to a forest to rid it of asuras and other demons. Meanwhile, Ravana, of course, is readying a colossal army to capture Ayodhya, and eventually the whole of Prithvi lok.
To praise Banker’s work seems embarrassing to me, for those who have read him will testify of his prowess with words and ability to transport the reader to the actually place of the event taking place, in the book. Read his work to know the fascinating times of yore – their traditions, practices and talent. Their social and moral dilemmas, and eventual decisions are mirrored in the book. Banker sprinkles a few Hindi words here and there to bring this nascent part of the Ramayana to life. I’ll admit the book did feel tedious to me a couple of times, but I blame that on the lateness of hour I read into.
For those of you aren’t interested in this book, for the only reason that the subject is of mythology, I urge you to pick this book up as fiction, if nothing else. For the tale is imaginatively told.
This blog post ends here, for the second book, Seige of Mithila, beckons me much.
Title: Prince of Ayodhya (Book One of the Ramayana)
Author: Ashok K. Banker
Pages: 517 | Price: Rs 350