Saturday, October 12, 2013

Book Review: TALE SPIN

Is the next spin only a page away? 

I did not think much when I laid my hands on this book - Tale Spin - a collection of 14 short stories by Sanjay Chopra, published by Harper Collins. Priced at Rs 299 and available at the Strand Book Festival, Bangalore at a whooping 60% discount, there was no room for second thought. 

My one year old son keeps me busy to the extent that hitting the blog/web space or reading a sizable book is next to impossible. Therefore, short stories give me the right option, a story a day at bed time after my baby goes to sleep, no worries of forgetting characters after a prolonged and significant disconnect from the book. 

Without further ado, let me hit at what Tale Spin provides. The short stories are crisp, simple in prose; most importantly, they provide an interesting, proportionate mixture of fact and fiction. The prelude to the book specifies that many stories have won accolades and to me 7 out of 14 tales are clear winners. 

Turache?, the first story in the collection mixes history and fantasy in an excellent fashion and provides a great start for the book. A neat figment of imagination, it deals with an encounter between King Darius III and Alexander taking us back to the Battle of Gaugamela, 331 BC. The throttle for the tale spin intensifies with the next tale - A Fate Worse Than, different periods in history - times of Timur rule and Hitler's attack on Russia are woven in an impeccable narrative. Sanjay Chopra once again conjures the past and present in a magical manner in his next tale - Men of the Horse. Odysseus, Troy and Trojan Horse together churn a gripping account. 

A small slack is felt in Awake, a story set in Magadha in 500 BC, during the reign of Ajatashatru. Nonetheless, the author quickly picks up lost momentum in Project Ha Ha. With this tale, the author proves his mettle lies in mixing true accounts of history with fiction/present day events and the transition in time is completely seamless. The German and English air crafts bombard in high skies to provide some intriguing stuff in this story. 

Putra, The Last Gurkha and God's Hand do not offer that brilliant a read as its predecessors. It appears that the author was tired of speeding all along and decided to go a little easy for some time. He tries to rivet the reader's lost interest in the next few tales - Bata Shoes, The Contractor, A Sound Idea. 

Bata Shoes  provides an interesting account of Indo-Pak war from an angle never viewed before.
The Contractor is passable, seems the author wobbled for a second when he tried to gain some lost momentum. The author nails a clean victory in A Sound Idea which is total thriller.

Betrayal unravels dirty dark secrets of twin sisters but miserably fails to impress, it is a sheer spoiler. Twenty20 brings back some lost smile on the reader's face, its protagonists hack into the most secure main frames and super computers and also place the author stealthily on a strong foothold for his next tale spin. The Day Tina was Born is an emotional power pack, well executed and sure to leave even the most hard hearted soul teary eyed. However, genre wise it is a misfit in this collection.

Overall, seven strong favorites make me pronounce Sanjay Chopra's Tale Spin a good read. The author's interest in history is highly admirable and his definitive style of mixing fact and fiction is laudable. 

The back cover of the book mentions the author ensures that the next spin is only a page away. Some tales stand tall by this claim but some do not - a MIXED BAG! 

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Train to Pakistan: Book Review

Train to Pakistan details a story that dates back to the summer of 1947. Published for the first time in 1956, this book holds a place of prominence till date. That it features quite noticeably in most bookstores' shelves even today speaks volumes of its relevance and notable ability to cross decades in time.

The story revolves around incidents in a tiny, fictitious village - Mano Majra,  in Punjab, on the border of India and Pakistan. This 190 page book (Penguin publications) is divided into four broad sections.

The first  section describes the village Mano Majra and activities of its residents only paint it as an insipid speck in the vast subcontinent. The village is marked by only three brick buildings - a gurudwara, a mosque and a moneylender's house, a peepul tree right at its centre, adjoining sprawling fields, flat roofed mud huts, low walled court yards and narrow lanes. The author highlights the importance of  railway station in Mano Majra, how its residents, an almost equal number of Muslims and Sikhs, chalk out their daily chores in sync with two passenger trains, one from Delhi to Lahore in the morning; another from Lahore to Delhi in the evening.

The central nerve of the story is the village gangster, Juggut Singh's love for a Muslim girl, Nooran. Other important characters include Bhai Meet Singh who preaches at Gurudwara, Imam Baksh, Hukum Chand who is the district deputy commissioner and Iqbal, the educated, social worker who lands up at a wrong place at a wrong time. Post independence tumultuous times coupled with the death of a money lender - Ram Lal, the only Hindu resident in Mano Majra, catapults the village into wild, gripping action.

Sections two and three portray TRAIN as the chief and central character. The author paints grim pictures of massive killings during partition. He describes ghost trains choked with dead bodies, Sutlej river brimming with dead and running red; how both sides nonchalantly killed, raped, shot and speared, how institutions meant to maintain law and order watched mutely, took very few, impulsive but wrong actions only to create a farce. These sections weigh upon the reader.

It is however, the last ten pages of the book that deliver the real, hard hitting stuff. When Iqbal contemplates in the last section of the book - India is constipated with a lot of humbug, be it religion, art and music, one cannot refrain from accepting his thoughts. Higher is the acceptance when the author weaves in Tryst with Destiny into the plot. Long ago, we made a tryst with destiny, now the time comes when we shall redeem our pledge, said the Prime Minister of a free nation in front of dignified visitors seated in galleries, rapt in admiration; how beautiful, elite and poetic it sounds. However, the common man had a completely different tryst on the roads across the border narrates the author. The author clearly differentiates the literate, statesman lot who preach and make policies but fail miserably when it comes to actions from the illiterate, not so well informed lot which believes in delivering only by actions and trusts in presence of mind more than logic and researched literature.

Even if you remarked that the book offers no exceptional stuff and wondered why or what earned it its place, you go completely wrong as the author nails it in the climax, a heart wrenching one it is, one that has secured the eminence of this piece of Indian literature through years.