Book Review – “Men And Dreams In The Dhauladhar” by Kochery C. Shibu

Blurb –

A hydel power project in the remote Himalayas. Three people brought together by fate. Nanda, an engineer from Kerala at the dam construction site hiding from his past, from the law, torn between the love of his dear ones and the traditional kalari code of revenge. Khusru, a boy displaced from his native village in Kashmir, a gambit in the terror plot threatening to blow up the dam, working as a labourer at the site. Rekha, a Kathak dancer in heart, a doctor by profession, arrives at the campsite as the consort of Khusru. A village that accepts the dictates of modernity with a heavy heart, its population steeped in superstitions and religious beliefs.

All throng the campsite like moths to a flame, some escape untouched, successful; some, miss a step, and perish. Each has a story to tell and a dream to realise. Men and Dreams in the Dhauladhar is about the aspirations of these people with their cares and worries woven into the site life. The fury of nature and the hardships of project life have no mercy for the weak and no time for the dead. Like an eternal spectator, the Dhauladhar watches as men risk life and limb in a quest to fulfil their dreams.

The enrapturing view of the majestic Himalayas looking out for you fills you with a sense of calm and serenity and lures you into a world far removed from the regular humdrum constantly engulfing you. You open the book and enter into an altogether different realm that strikes you with both its intricacy and its simplicity as you realize “Yesterday is but today’s memory, tomorrow is today’s dream.” You travel places, imbibe in the cultures and traditions, ranging from the foothills of the Dhauladhar to certain towns and districts of Kerala.

I would like to thank the author for providing me with a review copy of the book. This extremely well-researched book, with its wonderfully built-up plot, posed a bit of a challenge for me because of all the technical information about the dam construction which the author has described in great detail. However, if you are well aware with the workings you would find it pretty engaging. Though the background information on the characters serves the purpose of giving a clear view, at times it becomes somewhat monotonous and seems to drag on. Moreover, the multiplicity of characters and events sometimes confuse one and tend to become a bit repetitive. However, what makes up for this is the plot itself with its richness seeped in Indian diversity and culture and some usage of the local language which helps you form an unspoken bond with the characters. The ending, where things reconcile and the people strive forward towards a future of uncertainty, appealed to me. A very important issue, the ongoing clash between Mother Nature in all her primal glory and the dictates of human intrusion, has been touched upon by the author.

Men and Dreams In The Dhauladhar is a book that draws you in to become a witness and leaves you satiated, yet hungry for more, while you are left wondering “What could they (the snow-clad peaks of the Dhauladhar) be speaking about”. “Was it ‘Que sera sera'”?

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Book Review – “2 Day Down” by Dr. Nikita Lalwani

Blurb –

2-day-down is a compilation of stories of 5 women from different walks of life. Each story digs into one of the five period related problems: Pain/Staining/Sexual Inhibition/PMS/Taboo, through each one’s journey. The title signifies the second day of a woman’s period, which is said to be the toughest of the five days. The stories are a reflection of the less acknowledged society around us. Through menstrual problems as a window, the book is an attempt to bring light to the intriguing yet briefly understood aspects of womanhood in different age groups.

Firstly, I would like to thank the author for providing me with a review copy of the book. 2 Day Down endeavours to remove the invisible cloak shrouded by the society on several important concerns of the day and the striking cover with the splatter of red and white adds foil to it.

However, the numerous flaws dim the effect which it intends to produce. The tone is a bit uninterested, as if passing a cursory glance at the whole process. There is a sense of looseness in the narrative and things seem to be fleeting by. Though the titles of the five short narratives have been issued keeping in mind the content, they are not absolutely accurate since the real bit of action arrives quite late in each of the stories. They wander about a lot without focusing much on the exact issues and this leaves one somewhat unsatisfied. Moreover, the characters have not been fleshed out appropriately, making them recede in the background as meagre cardboard figures. There are also signs of poor editing – grammatical errors, printing mistakes, mixing up of first person and third person pronouns.

In spite of all the follies, I would like to appreciate the author for the sheer bravado she has exhibited by choosing to pull these hushed up topics out of the closet and penning down her thoughts.

Book Review – “A Cage of Desires” by Shuchi Singh Kalra

Blurb –
‘There’s a kind of love that makes you go down on one knee, and there’s the kind that brings you down on both. You don’t need the latter, because no matter what you do, you cannot make anyone love you back.’
Renu had always craved love and security, and her boring marriage, mundane existence somehow leads her to believe that, maybe, this is what love is all about. Maya, on the other hand, is a successful author who is infamous for her bold, erotic books.
What do these two women have in common? How are their lives intertwined?
Renu’s thirst for love and longing takes her on a poignant journey of self-exploration. The answers come to her when she finds the courage to stand up for herself, to fight her inner demons and free herself from the cage of desires . . .

Firstly, I would like to thank the author, Shuchi Singh Kalra, for providing me with a review copy of this wonderful book – A Cage of Desires. This is a book that encourages you to confront your demons and punch them hard in the face, accept your failings and work on them, eggs you on to shake off all inhibitions and hesitations, strengthens you to follow your dreams and desires and always has your back. Everything – downright from the characters to the plot to the setting to the narrative is fierce and has a streak of the headstrong person that I believe the author is.

The protagonist Renu’s evolution from a meek, submissive housewife to a ball of fire wrecking havoc within the patriarchal society, its confines and shackles that bound her is simply amazing! Her strive to create ‘a world where no ugliness existed. There was only love, and beauty, and happiness, and ecstasy’ and the roadblocks she has to overcome have been portrayed fascinatingly. Adding foil to her are the other characters who revolve around the illuminating orb that she is.

The entire plot is done wonderfully; the sexually explicit scenes painted boldly by the author (though at times unnecessary) add to this effect, even as some printing errors mar the process. The narrative, though a bit repetitive and quite predictable in parts, is otherwise colourful and vibrant. Renu’s helplessness as she goes on falling (mind you, not rising) deeper and deeper in love and the doubts and insecurities gnawing at her are echoes of the disasters and storms raging within us, the ones we choose to ignore and go around with the same bland smile on our faces. ‘Skies she had wistfully gazed at for years, and yet knew nothing about how it would feel to spread her wings and fly into the unknown. … She did not have the answers yet, but she also knew that the only way to find them was to take that leap of faith.’ These lines enamour you with an impulse to break free and engulf you in a feeling of recklessness and encourage you to be ‘a glorious bird in the sky with fire in her soul and ferocity in her heart; a soul free and fluid like the wind; wings wooing impossible dreams.’

It does not have a lot of crazy plot twists or action (in case you are looking for some). However, the beautifully crafted lines and the unconventional unorthodox ideas will leave you satiated as you find yourself unable to break your gaze from the bright and dazzling cover.

Book Review: Pancake Money by Finn Bell

Pancake Money
“If you hurt someone bad enough for long enough then there’s nothing, absolutely nothing, they won’t do.”
This is what the whole story of Pancake Money revolves around (but with some added twists). Winner of the Indie Reader Award for Best Fiction 2018, Pancake Money by Finn Bell, a psychotic thriller, is not your average whodunit. It is truly psychotic in every sense of the term and delves into great depths of the human mind and reveals how “Love and hate. That’s all people really are.”
Bobby Ress, a cop who believes in making a difference, is a family man who loves his wife and daughter. However, his world is turned upside down by the gruesome murders of some old retired priests, all of which have been done in the lines of the tortures inflicted by the church in the medieval days. Thus begins the pursuit of this murderer, who seems to be sick to the core. Bobby, accompanied by his friend Pollo Latu (another cop) enter this tornado and find themselves getting sucked into the vortex as they unravel certain incidents and places which had been kept hidden as secrets. To top this up is the escapade of Jonas Maihi, leader of a native gang Manga Kahu, which apparently had no relation to the earlier case. However, later things take a different turn, people are killed, corpses keep piling up and ultimately end in revenge and justice.

Set against the backdrop of New Zealand, it is sprinkled with colourful images of the lives of the people, the notorious local gangs, their sentiments and feelings, the strong family bonds of brotherhood they share, the Māori Culture. To spice it up are added little facts about the place like- the city of Dunedin, Baldwin Street (the steepest street in the world), the beautiful coasts and mountains, the Aramoana Beach.The characters have been developed over the pages of the novel. Both the internal and the external actions have been carefully attended to and their actions are mostly based on their deep inner feelings, which range from the two extremities of love and affection to intense violence, mental instability and a lust for revenge because after all “The prime motivator of human behaviour is pain.”

What impressed me most was the casual writing style and the imagery which made it seem like a reel playing in front of the eyes. The complicated working of the human mind has been presented quite simply through the lectures of the forensic psychology professor. However, the details regarding the gruesome murders made me feel a bit nauseated. But this can be seen as the author’s approach to make the incidents more realistic. What bothered me a bit was the last scene where two people discuss the situations leading up to the murders and the motives of the murder, as I felt it to be somewhat unbelievable that someone could discuss something so calmly, standing in a room splattered with blood and two corpses.

The author has dealt with several important issues of the day like- child abuse and violence, sexual violence, paedophilic church priests and impacts of past experiences of violence and abuse on a person’s psychology. He has also touched upon the idea of colonisation and the deep resentment it caused in the minds of the locals. Being from a country which had been colonised for 200 long years, I myself can relate quite well with them. The last part of the book titled- SLIGHTLY BIASED MOSTLY TRUE THINGS contains several titbits and interesting facts on which the setting and characters are based.

If you are ready for an engrossing action-packed thriller with some crazy plot twists, this is THE book I would recommend you.