Sunday, August 19, 2012

Wake up. And read some books

Hello, hello, it's been a long time since we've been here, isn't it? A lot has been happening on the work front. Meanwhile, the social life continues to compete with Jacky Bhagnani's career over who can remain sad and hopeless, longer. I seem to be winning but I shan't bore you with the details. What I shall do is recommend some of the books I've read over the past few months. For the two people who actually read this blog (and books). 


A Song of Ice and Fire: Well, it's a series of books, beginning with 'A Game of Thrones'. HBO has already made a show called Game of Thrones (with a lot of nudity too. You're already downloading the torrent, aren't you?). If you love fantasy, you will love this.  Written by George RR Martin, the series follows the saga of seven families (and a million others) as they each lay claim to the kingdom of Westeros. What I particularly liked about the series is the detailed characterisation and marvelous writing. You can almost feel Westeros take shape on your fingertips. Also, there's no divide between good and evil. Every (and I do mean every) character is good and evil in his/her own way. Perspective is all it takes, and GRRM writes from the point-of-view of each character. And he's brutal, ruthless like no other. The plot is stunning, to say the least and extremely engaging. If you plan on reading the books, remember to say your goodbyes to friends and parents because it'll be a while before they see you again. GRRM has a mad fan following; fans have even threatened him to finish writing the sixth book fast, or well, face the consequences. You take a call now.


In Other Rooms, Other Wonders: They can't seem to get anything right, except for their books. Another lovely book from our beloved friend Pakistan. It follows the lives of a set of people from various strata of society in the Pakistan of the 70s, 80s and the 90s. From a farm manager who swindles his owner of money silently to a poor maidservant whose promiscuity and licentious nature is both her strength and weakness, Daniyal Mueenuddin's sharp observations on society and its prejudices are a treat. Poignant and yet mostly funny, it's a must-read. And it also (almost) passes the 21st century book test (my own invention). It's short (only 300-odd pages) so it won't take up much of your precious time (unless you're Darsheel Safary). Sadly, it does cost more than a Chetan Bhagat novel. 


Catch-22: Mad, hilarious and completely bonkers. This masterpiece by Joseph Heller needs no review. I, as usual, am late to the party but I absolutely loved it. Having read it on the bus, train, in office and any place in the world I could find, I could sense people silently moving away from me, shifting in their seats, changing positions etc. I don't blame them. Who'd want to sit next to a guy who's laughing like a maniac. Just for kicks, I would suddenly start staring at them to see how they reacted. If I had a better phone, I would've Instagrammed their expressions (and then gone to jail for being too creepy). But seriously, read it if you haven't. Joseph Heller was a copywriter too. *nudge nudge wink wink*. There's another Pakistani novel called 'A Case of Exploding Mangoes' by Mohammed Hanif. I'd heard a lot about it, and I did read it. It was nice, and a bit similar to Catch-22 but it wasn't as good as the reviews said it would be. But that's just me speaking.



Chinaman: The Legend of Pradeep Mathew: I have only one word for it. Absolutely incredible. Okay, that's two words but that's how I felt about Shehan Karunatilaka's novel. It's the story of a dying cricket writer WG Karunasena who has set out to write a book on Pradeep Mathew, the greatest cricketer of all time whom people have never heard about. Fact and fiction come together in a magical fashion. 

Under the garb of a book about cricket, it presents a brilliant view of Sri Lanka as a country. Unlike India and Pakistan, Sri Lanka isn't raving mad (no chappal garlands or effigy burning). Like all island dwellers, the Lankans are laid-back and relaxed. Like all sub-continental governments, the Lankan government is inept, lazy and corrupt. And then there's the 1996 World Cup. The cup that announced Sri Lanka's arrival onto the cricket scene. I remember being glued to the TV during the World Cup as India beat Pakistan in a cracker of a quarter-final (remember this by Venkatesh Prasad?). But we botched our semi-finals as Aravinda de Silva (pure class) punished us rightly. Kambli cried himself back to the pavilion; no Indian can forget those images. And SL went on to beat the Aussies and claim the cup. The book brought back many memories of my childhood. I was a cricket fan until the match-fixing scandal ruined it for me. I only started watching it when I went to a hostel. 

It's a breezy read, and almost a guide to life in Sri Lanka. Did you know that all Sri Lankan cricket players come from a set of 7-8 schools? There's no Ranji trophy system but a school cricket system, a bit like in the US. And there's hierarchy in the schools too (Royal, Thomas, Ananda etc.). If you love sports, you should read the book. If you don't, read the book and you'll start liking it. 

I go by a simple rule. If a book makes you wish you lived where the characters live, it's well-written. I almost wished I was born in Sri Lanka. 

This is easily one of the best books I've read in recent times.  Go, buy it now. (No, I'm not getting any money from the author).

Images: Wikipedia and Cricinfo