Guldasta

A bouquet of flowers picked along the way ….

Bollywood Sperm (book review) July 13, 2011

Filed under: book reviews,friends,India — gurdas @ :

What should I expect from a novella titled Bollywood Sperm? Anything Bollywood by itself is packed with controversy, spice, and silliness. Add Sperm and it becomes potent, ready to re-produce within you. Nikhil Tripathi’s first published work is good storytelling. An easy read that does not fail to raise uneasy questions. That said, this is not great writing. The dialogues are witty and entertaining, but there is nothing here, in terms of mechanism that has not already been done to death before. This is a clever book, not a classic. And maybe that is what the author meant it to be. Reason demands the question, “Is this far-fetched and almost fantastical?” Something tells me that if the sperm of a Bollywood mega-star were to become available, there will be takers. Sad, but true.

Nikhil packed a lot of re-readable sequences into this novella. I enjoyed the many shades and swings of the character of Farrukh Khan. I would prefer to see more layers in other characters but did not find any. Everyone else in the story is painted in monotone. They are either always greedy, always sad, always scheming or something along those lines. Maybe I am expecting too much within these few pages. A few other reviewers find Sumit to be a champion. I see him as a disaster. A loser who is clinging to a baby to find redemption. He marries a woman he lusts for when she is having a weak moment. Not much is said about his professional life but it seems it isn’t going anywhere. He then agrees to have his wife bear Farrukh’s baby. Okay, he does not see the baby as ugly. Unfortunately, that may not be because he is an evolved soul but simply because the baby is not demanding him to man up. He evokes pity in me and that, I know for myself, is not a positive. Sumit’s wife, Priya Kumar, Star Seed employees, and the Judge are all villains thrown in to further the plot.

The real hero here is Farrukh. Complex and charismatic, I find his character to be fascinating. He is more honest than anyone else in the story. Also enjoyable are the passages where Farrukh duels with his son, Salim.

I would rate this first novella at 3.5 / 5

Certain features/passages of the novella delighted me while some others were disappointing. Spoiler alert!

The delights

  • The pilot program description left me with some very industrial images. A nicely ‘engineered’ delight  J
  • The lab scene in the commercial is pulp fiction taking a satirical jab at real life.
  • “As you all know, babies conceived in cold weather are likely to be fair and attractive.” Wait, is that true? LOL
  • The conception sequence left me smiling.
  • “Sir, all the brands endorsed by you,” said Sumit. “Please take something.” Oh, how I’d love to see this put to film so that I can see Sumit’s and Farrukh’s expression.
  • Sumit’s reason for not having sex with his beautiful wife was like seeing a beautiful flower along an evening walk. A moment of stillness, pondering, grief, and wisdom.
  • The cover, by editor Sonal Gupta, does complete justice to what is inside.

The disappointments:

  • The use of “Idiot” by the judge is not a true representation. Indian judicial system is known to be many things not good, but I doubt a judge can get away with such language. This kind of put me off. Is the author falling into the trap of providing too much spice?
  • Twice is the “…err…” trick used to depict humor. An easy device that left me cringing.
  • Description of Sumit’s house is overly pulled down. Make everything look bleak and gain some sympathy device? Did not go well with me; need more realism here.
  • Why would Farrukh say “Shall we go for a walk?” when he is going to such lengths to hide his identity? Seems like the author wanted us to draw the image of Farrukh and Sumit taking a walk.
  • Sumit’s use of flat out party style English does not blend with his character. I simple cannot imagine this person blurting out sentences like: (1) “Of course,” said Sumit. “Just holler when you’re done talking.” and (2) “And the toolbox is in perfect working order.”
  • “The baby chewed on the stem of the sunglasses that he had been given, wondering what the fuss was about.” Too Bollywoodish and needless.

The leftovers

  • A dramatic Scene I. Maybe a little too dramatic for my taste, but entertaining nonetheless.
  • Inexplicably, the description of Farrukh Khan reminds me of Elvis. The Shahrukh connection is not lost thought.

……..

Nikhil and I go back a long way, some 19 odd years now. While Bollywood Sperm is his first published work, I have had the pleasure of reading him for many years now. For a first novella, Bollywood Sperm is very good. But I am not going to let him off easily, am I? 🙂  I have found his short stories to be extremely well written. In my opinion, they leave this novella looking ordinary.

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The 100 best novels of 20th century September 18, 2007

Filed under: book reviews — gurdas @ :

For the English speaking world, what are (considered to be) the best novels of the 20th century? As I set out to find the answer I came upon some nice lists. And like all lists they represent the eccentricity of their makers. Some of the titles will leave you doubting, while some others will invite angry gasps by their conspicuous absence. To repeat, lists are only that much. They represent the taste of one, few or many people. How else can you explain that some people do not find Catch-22 funny? Here I am, dying of side-splitting laughter when I first read the book a few years ago and breaking into a giggle even today by just thinking of it . And I know people who read it and said “It is OK”. Forget that, I even know someone who tried reading the book, but could not, because it did not appeal!!

But one thing is for sure. If you are like me, there is a certain peace in knowing that you know what next to read. And going by the collected pages held between these lists, there is enough to keep the bookworm in you happy for many years.

http://www.randomhouse.com/modernlibrary/100bestnovels.html
http://www.randomhouse.com/modernlibrary/100rivallist.html
http://www.dougshaw.com/top100.html
http://www.amazon.com/Modern-Librarys-Novels-Century-1-25/lm/1H5G8DBB7IRYK

http://www.time.com/time/2005/100books/the_complete_list.html

http://www.bbc.co.uk/arts/bigread/top100.shtml

http://books.guardian.co.uk/news/articles/0,6109,711520,00.html

http://www.nytimes.com/library/books/072098best-novels-list.html

http://www.best100novels.com/

http://www.madisonpubliclibrary.org/booklists/100best.html

http://www.nationalreview.com/100best/100_books.html

– – –

My take (on 20th century works) from whatever I have read:

Drama – Kane and Abel, The Good Earth, 1984, The Man, First Among Equals

Action Thriller – The Day of the Jackal, The Dogs of War, The Fist of God,

Vision and storytelling – The Lord of the Rings

Youth – The Catcher in the Rye

Funny, outrageous, dark and tragic – Catch 22

Western – Louis L’Amour (specially the Sackett series)

Mystery – Sherlock Holmes and Hercule Poirot

Philosophy – The Fountainhead, Illusions, The Animal Farm, To Kill a Mockingbird

Science – Cosmos, In Search of the Big Bang, Imagined Worlds, E=mC2

 

The Man, by Irving Wallace (Book Review) September 14, 2007

Filed under: book reviews,Ethics and Values — gurdas @ :

The Man by Irving Wallace

Warning: This review has spoilers. If you are reading this while still deciding on whether to read the book, I suggest you jump straight to the last paragraph.

When acting president TC dies due to a fluke of destiny, the succession laws implant Douglas Dillman, a black citizen, in the hot seat. Much to the disbelief and chagrin of racist America. The book is about how a nation, which professes equality and liberty as its cornerstones, lies exposed of its hollow inner. Written in the manner of a fast paced novel, it is quite a page turner. While the final showdown is long anticipated, what makes the novel great is that it holds your attention without any grand designs but by small well cooked incidents that add up to the whole. The Man is generously endowed with good to great characterisation. I specially like the characters of Douglas Dillman, Nathan Abrahams and Arthur Eaton. All three are powerful, thoughtful, restrained men. Yet each is different from other. And the author brilliantly sketches each for the difference to be conspicuous.

It is not a classic because no new literary ground is broken in the style of story telling or in the story itself. The novel first published in 1964, is preceded by another novel on racism, the widely considered as classic, “To Kill a Mockingbird”(1960). I would say that some of the characters in The Man draw inspiration from Harper Lee’s book. Douglass Dillman and Nathan Abrahams have shades of Atticus Finch and one can see Calpurnia in Crystal. That is where the similarity ends and that does not take away any credit from Irving Wallace for his noteworthy effort at pulp fiction.

But more than anything else, the novel makes a grand statement on goodness and honesty through the character of its protagonist – Douglas Dillman. He is sharp, intelligent, shy at asking any favours, very sensitive (gets on your nerves) and over-cautious lest he be labelled as showing preferential treatment to his kind. There are parts in the novel where you are angry with this man for being so good that he compromises his position with battle lines drawn. Like when he gives back to Sally Watson the index cards she is sneaking. The subdued acceptance displayed by Doug is where the story hinges and his eventual rise to confidence brings cheer to the reader’s face. Like when Nathan starts to give back the opposition a taste of its own medicine.

The writer keeps you angry long enough to make the retribution sweet. The sheer audacity of lies, the shameless hatred veiled in goodness, and the vocal mudslinging is just perfect to get the reader angry. And angry I was! So much so that while reading the book, there were instances when I had to keep it aside and allow the torrential anger inside me (at the injustice meted out to Doug) to subside. It is fun to be angry, happy, frustrated etc when reading a book because that means you are visualising well. The book is getting to you. But too much of it and you miss the subtle presence of other sub-plots. Like, if you are too angry, you miss the ‘beauty’ of the weasel like tactics affected by the good man’s opponents to trap him. To truly enjoy any read, it is imperative that you enjoy them all – the good guys and the bad guys. The Man provides ample opportunity for both.

There are sections where the novel fails to live up to its own standards. To being with, the manner of TC’s death is hard to digest. What of the purposefully missing interrogation of Eaton (was the author afraid of venturing into the demanding and explosive possibility?). And many sections are done in the manner of a Hollywood movie with its obvious drama, sleaziness and valour. The speeches by Doug could have been better. The characters of Gordon Oliver and Mindy Dillman hold no water. The end holds you to the edge except in the last few paragraphs where you can jump the book and ‘feel’ the outcome.

Some noteworthy sections of the text:
The NY daily editorial warning the country that it is the citizens (and not the new president) who must prove themselves
The ‘keep the door open’ sequence between Doug and Edna
The handling of Leroy Poole by Douglas
The wavering of Edna Foster
The fall and rise of Otto Beggs
The high octane bursts from The Judge
The acerbic and almost always bombastic speeches by Zeke Miller
The interrogation of Wanda Gibson by Zeke Meller

I would recommend The Man to anyone interested at a peak inside colour racism in America. But above that, this novel is a must read for people seeking a finely etched essay on goodness. There is never an excuse for being weak, but then not all (seemingly) signs of weakness are propelled by weakness. Sometimes it is just goodness speaking in its highest form – in the form of Douglas Dillman.

ps: Thanks to AV for recommending (and lending) the book to me.

– – Further reading – –

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Man_%28novel%29
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Irving_Wallace
http://www.amazon.com/Man-Irving-Wallace/dp/067103894X (the Indian print costs Rs. 150/-)