Matinee Men – A Book Review

‘Matinee Men’ by eminent film journalist Roshmila Bhattacharya explores the filmography (briefly), lives and times of 13 of the most popular heroes who came, saw, conquered and ruled the kingdom of Bollywood in various periods of time. Her personal experiences and interactions with these men, right from the time of being a ‘cub journalist’ in her own words, till date, has been chronicled beautifully in this book, which gives us a sneak peek into the fantasy world they dwell in, accessible to only a few.

Out of many heroes who have adorned the silver screen in all these 70 years, Roshmila’s list has 13 of them, carefully selected, each having its own flavor, as has been the genre in which these actors reigned.  

From Dadamoni Ashok Kumar, Dilip Kumar, Shammi Kapoor, Big B and Mithun Chakraborty, the book has personal anecdotes of actors as told to her in the myriads of interviews that she had to take over the period of more than 2 decades of her journalistic career.

Some of these anecdotes are tales that depict heartwarming stories, giving a glimpse into the depths of the ‘real’ people that they were, behind those painted faces on the reel, that the strong lights of the camera projected us to.

Roshmila Bhattacharya

Stories of love blossoming between a young Dev Anand and Suraiya or the strange conviction that Mithun had while watching Yogita Bali in the Bombay gymkhana that he would one day marry this lady (while he never even interacted with her during that time) or the little poems that Ashok Kumar recited to his children and loved hearing them later in his life are some of the many tales that would tug a string in your heart.

The writer also takes us through the toils that she would undergo to get these interviews back in the day. From waiting for hours under the scorching sun outside their vanity vans, to being invited into their homes, the roller coaster rides had its own toll on her life too.

My personal favorite is the chapter on Shah Rukh Khan. After waiting for a long time, when the author finally gets her interview done quite late in the night, that she realized that she had missed the last bus and even the last train to her home at Vashi, Navi Mumbai. It was then that Shah Rukh himself came to her rescue. In her own words, “he soothed me saying his car would drop me home”. When she asked how he would get home, he replied that if the shoot (that was going on) ended before Kabir, his chauffeur returned, he would hitch a ride with someone.

And so while he cadged a ride, I arrived in Vashi in a large, red chauffeaur-driven Pajero, well past midnight. That’s Shah Rukh Khan, and that’s what makes him a Badshah for real!”

Chapters on Irrfan and John Abraham are equally interesting and leaves you with a feel good factor.

Overall, the book makes for an engaging read, especially if you are a Bollywood buff, and even if you are not, you would definitely get some ‘real life’ insight on these ‘Matinee Men’

My Rating – ****

Life After The Floods – A book Review

‘Life After Floods’ written by Anu Lal takes the readers back to tumultuous month of August in the year 2018 that remains a dark chapter in the history of Kerala.
The floods have been termed as a natural calamity since many human lives were lost. The floods occurred in the last week of July and followed until the third week of August.

Anu Lal belonging to state himself gives us a clear picture of the catastrophe. he writes how Telecommunications systems failed, electricity was disconnected due to fear of short circuits and electrical choking, the floods killed everyone’s spirits.
The central government of India pressed the Navy and the Air force.

Most of the sick were transferred to shelter houses and were fed through community kitchens.
More than one million people were displaced and more than 400 reported deaths in a few weeks wreaked havoc and brought the state to a complete halt.
Most were deprived of food.
Frightful sights of snakes sneaking out from the roofs of the houses were a common sight.
Elderly women were carefully taken in chairs and boats, in some places, there was airlifting too.
The author also mentions that the immense loss was due to the opening of the flood gates at various places.

The book has captured the actual details and since the Author has witnessed the incident, his vivid description can be a very good document of the incident for anyone who would like to read about it in detail.
Apart from this, the book also narrates short, interesting essays in the form of tales with two characters on various topics like on Celebration of Onam, Women’s Day in Kerala, Chicken, etc.

The language is easy to read and intelligible.
The Title and Book Cover resonates with the major part of the story.
I personally liked the essay on Floods and Celebration of Onam which is connected to Search of Man.
The book is a very short read and can be finished in a few hours. With interesting anecdotes, the book is very engaging and especially for the Malayalis, it would be a treat!

Recommend it to all.

Ratings: ****/5

Review done by Vasuki Book Reviewer.

In the Time of the Others – A book review

As a Bengali, the formation of Bangladesh, erstwhile East Pakistan, doesn’t cease to intrigue us. This book is set upon a time frame of 9-10 months during 1971 and the fact that it got longlisted for the DSC Prize for South Asian Literature 2019 caught many reader’s attention, including mine. Debut author Nadeem Zaman in this book offers a detailed, account of the gory incidents that took place during those times which resulted in the creation of a new country.

Through fictionalized events, Zaman recreates the ‘genocide’ that killed 3 million people in Bangladesh starting with the killing of students and professors at Dhaka University.

Image Courtesy – The Daily Star. File images of the times of the Liberation war in Bangladesh

The year 1971 is now an integral part of the Bangladeshi identity and also the source of various literature. This novel is no different, however, it attempts to archive the detailed accounts of the geopolitical uprising that eventually led to the claiming of a separate country out of East Pakistan by a local political party – the Awami League.  

Image Courtesy – The Daily Star. File images of the women being armed during the Liberation war in Bangladesh

Imtiaz arrives in Dhaka, at his maternal uncle and aunt’s place, from Chittagong to deal with a property issue when he finds himself amid a political turmoil, a result of broken promises from Islamabad including the breakdown of negotiations between Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. Dhaka is under curfew and as the smell of sulfur and gunpowder become a part of their lives, young pro-independence fighters – the Mukti Bahini – find a haven in the home of Imtiaz’s uncle and aunt, Kamruzzaman and Aisha Chowdhury.

On the other side, Fazal Shaukat, a young captain in the Pakistan Army with a family name to live up to, finds that the war he has signed up for isn’t going away anytime soon. There are things bigger than him or his family at stake, even as Pakistan is finding itself ripped apart and Jinnah’s dream of an ‘undivided Muslim country’ is turning into a nightmare.

All the characters, both central and supporting have been captured in an unbiased way through these nine tumultuous and their secular and multi-faith faces of the youth earnestly fighting for the liberation war is well represented. Be it the ‘Bihari’ judge, Suleiman Mubarak, whose intent in a separate nation for Bengalis is seen with suspicion, or the American journalist couple, who are horrified by the Pakistan Army’s brutality in Dhaka.

Zaman’s told a Bangladeshi newspaper that his mother and father narrated the stories of the Liberation war so well and with such rich descriptions that he started imagining the scenes in his head, and by the time he was in college, he was convinced the Bangladesh Liberation War had to be presented on an international platform.

A powerful debut, would recommend this fresh and unique take on the liberation war to all readers out there interested in the birth Bangladesh – an epoch in the history of southeast Asia.

Hiraeth – A Book Review

In the seven decades since India was partitioned, more than 25 million refugees have crossed the new frontiers mapped out by Radcliffe. A holocaust that is still fresh in our memories, its wounds yet to heal, its repercussions irrevocable. The unbelievable human savagery that wrought the lives of millions of common men who had nothing to do with the decision, gave birth to many works of literature. Today, we call it ‘Partition literature’. Manto, Ismat Chugtai, Bhisam Sahni, Kushwant Singh are all names that came to the fore, in the wake of the biggest human holocaust that the Indian subcontinent witnessed. Dr. Shivani Salil’s stories written with the Indian Partition as the central theme takes one back to those harrowing days, which is today a history writ in our veins.

Shivani has touched every single segment of the society in her stories and in doing so, has taken into account the minutest details. This goes on to show her tremendous efforts in research (geographical areas, local diction, food habits, clothing, etc.) 

Through these 24 stories, Shivani has created moments from the pages of history. A young Muslim lawyer who idolises Jinnah’s philosophy and hopes to see a new country for Muslims only to realise the falsehood of his utopia later, a sister who gets a postcard with a tattered picture of her brother after 60 years of the mayhem that took her away from her family, a young bride who loses her husband to the massacre and builds her life from scratch yet again, a mark etched on a Hindu house by mistake that saves the lives of its inhabitants (all unmarked houses were burnt down), a young mother who died out of hunger and sickness in a refugee camp with the guilt of not being able to give milk to her newborn, a Sikh father who killed his own daughter for saving the family honour at the hands of rioters…Shivani touches these raw nerves of human emotions through her stories and creates spectacular moments that are both tenuous and distinct.

Author Dr. Shivani Salil

The author’s usage of Urdu/Hindustani words (with the English meaning of each word in the footer section) and mostly Urdu titles for the stories adds to the authenticity.  

Tales that touches the inner chords, tales of falling asunder, tales of enormous hardship and tales of resurrecting life again, Dr. Shivani Salil’s ‘Hiraeth’ tells them all and how! 

This book should is for all to read, especially our children, who need to know this significant event of our recent past that changed the course of life forever in the Indian subcontinent. 

Rating – 4*/5

Kanha To Krishna – A Book Review

Kanha to Krishna is the debut book of Pranab Mullick who is otherwise practicing as an Advocate in the Supreme Court of India for the last 28 years. The book belongs to the now popular genre of mythological fiction. As the title suggests, this book is about the journey of Kanha the Gop to Krishna the Lord and it is only befitting that I finished reading it around Janmashtami, the day when Kanha was born!

Although the book is about Kanha/ Krishna, it’s not a paean to him and thankfully so. Most of us, in India at least, are quite aware of the mythological stories around Krishna so chronicling them wouldn’t really have made for an innovative book. The book does start with his birth and goes back and forth describing the various events surrounding it- Prince Kansa who deposes his father King Ugrasen to the imprisonment of Vasudev and Devaki to the growing years of Kanha in a cowherd and then landing in the city of Mathura that awaits its deliverance. It is the rich backdrop that however makes all the difference and which contributes to it being a compelling and may I add, an intriguing read.

The reader is introduced to the three Yadava clans—the Andhakas, Vrishnis and the Bhojas whose infighting helps Kansa stay in power. And then there is the triumvirate of Hastinapur, Magadh and Mathura who are forever involved in a power struggle and what it entails. The rich tapestry that is woven in the first few chapters may take a while to register considering the number of characters involved, but trust me it’s well worth your time.

Author Pranab Mullick

I don’t like to give spoilers so I will not be divulging much on the plot. But as you turn the pages, you cannot help dwell on the insinuations made towards Bheeshma as being manipulative and one who tries to always be in control irrespective who the King is. This is a departure from the popular version where he’s hailed and revered as the noblest one and that makes you want to rethink. The passing reference to the politics in the royal household led by King Shantanu’s widow Satyawati offers you a glimpse of the unfortunate circumstances that Kunti and Gandhari were in. The book also delves in detail about an otherwise ignored character, Jarasandh. An attempt has been made to analyse him which again holds your attention.

Though the book is steeped in mythology there are two things that struck me. The first one being how Kanha (and later Krishna) has been described as human and the incidents around him (leelas as we call them) have been essentially ‘deglamorized’ to make them believable. This is a risk that could have backfired but the author has deftly dealt with it.
The second thing that fascinated me is the way that the political scenario has been described. Chanur, a close aide of Kansa is a character I found intriguing. His plotting has shades of Chanakya’s kutneeti and at a lot of places you might end up drawing parallels with modern politics.

Meanwhile amidst all of this is Kanha who has to fulfill his destiny. A very believable saga follows describing how a humble cowherd does that. The price this greatness exacts on the personal front makes you feel sad for Kanha. Here again you are introduced to two characters- Akrur and Sandipani who play an important and a rather controversial role in Kanha’s journey to become Krishna.

Be it Chanur, Sandipani or Akrur, you are left with a lingering feeling that Kings may seem to have all the power but it’s the King makers who pull the strings. The book’s blurb very appropriately describes it as a unique retelling of Krishna’s story with an intensely realistic and political narrative.
The language is flawless and so is the narrative, which for a grammar Nazi like me is a pleasure and a relief as well. As it joins the ranks in the ever-growing list of mythological fiction, I’d say it has the merit to stand out on its own with the right mix of politics, intrigue, love, treachery and power struggle.

Rating: 4/5

Reviewed by Dr. Shivani Salil, published by Readomania.

‘The Deadly Dozen’ – India’s most notorious serial Killers – A Book Review

A man who makes passionate love with naïve women and then kills them by giving away cyanide in the guise of contraceptive pills, a pimp who goes into a killing spree and burns alive women in the fit of rage, a woman who kills in a row by manipulating the minds of women in personal agony in the name of faith, an ex-army man who mindlessly kills children of migrants in a fit of revenge, a tender 8-year-old who kills his own sister and cousins ruthlessly. These are some of the unbelievably notorious serial killers, whose accounts one would find in Anirban Bhattacharya’s gripping non-fiction novel – The Deadly Dozen.

The author points outright in the beginning, ‘what is it that attracts us to the heinous crime committed by a serial killer?’ As a reader, I agree that it’s a mix of many factors that makes us inclined towards knowing about them. 
Each story in the book is narrated in great detail and is dramatically depicted, making it for a gripping read. The dedicated research that has gone into each of these accounts is noticeable. Bhattacharya being a co-creator and producer of ‘Savdhaan India’ a prime time TV show on the crime scene in India, has brought in all the necessary elements, data and backgrounds to the story.

In ‘Beer Man’, the author gives us an account of Ravindra or Abdul (after conversion to Islam) who seemed to be a killer of people who lived on the streets of Marine Lines. In a strange course of events, he would first inebriate his victims (mostly men) with beer, sexually assault them and then kill them. Beside every dead body, there would be found a can of beer, hence giving the serial killer the moniker of ‘beer man’. 
‘Cyanide Mallika’ or K.D. Kempamma’s story is also equally chilling. Mallika would hunt for women who looked sad and depressed, talk to them kindly and promise them to solve their issues by offering a prayer to a very revered temple (with changed with every victim). She would take her victim to a different place, asked her to wear the best jewelry (to get the best results out of the ritual) and the end of the Puja instruct them to take the holy water. This holy water would be cyanide and the victim would perish minutes after consuming it. Her modus operandi gave her the moniker ‘Cyanide Mallika’. 

Why would a person kill another human being like this? is the killer a human at all then? How come the society begets such beasts? Though each case is different, however they all seem to have an unthinkable taste for blood, violence and bestial pleasure.

Though all the cases are equally chilling, however, as a reader the account of the beastly killing capacity of an 8-year-old made me sit up from my sofa while reading his details and left me in utter disgust and a sort of fear. 
When inspector Shatrughan Kumar, officer in charge of Bhagalpur Police station sat opposite the 8-year-old, who had been arrested for the murder of three infants, Kumar’s head was wrapped in a fog of disbelief.

When Amardeep was 7 years old, his aunt came to their place and left her 6-month old baby with them, as she had to go to Patna for a job she got there, saying she would come back after 1 month and take her baby. When Parul, Amardeep’s mother went to the market, he went to the infant and started pinching it, the more the baby would cry, the more pleasure he would derive. He put his hands on the infant’s throat and throttled him. after killing the baby, Amardeep would go to the paddy field and bury him. 8 months after this horrid incident, Amardeep strangled his own sister (few months old) and quietly went and buried her as well. When asked by his wailing and shocked parents as to why he killed his sister, he said calmly, “just like that”.

Amardeep an 8-year-old child committed his 3rd crime by killing a girl (younger than him). when asked how he killed her, he said, “Khapda se mar mar ke suta deliyay” (I made her lie down in the grass and smashed her head with a stone). 
With dark, horrid and spine chilling accounts of serial killers, this book doesn’t give you any rosy picture of the world outside, it brings to the fore those cases that made even the most courageous police officer buckle under their knees with its ferocity.

Tight writing, superb editing and rich data make the book a complete page-turner. Absolutely gripping, we would recommend this book to all you readers out there who have been avid watchers of ‘Crime Patrol’ on Sony and have immersed into crime fiction novels. Go grab a copy of this riveting read!

The Book Buzz gives a book a thumping 5 stars.

Secret Diary of an Incurable Romantic – Book Review:

The book, as its blurb describes it, is the story of a thirty-year-old ‘brand-spanking-new’ widow, Madhubala Ray who lives in Chennai with her seventy-year-old Mother in Law. 
Written as diary entries by the protagonist, the novel begins with her, wallowing in her husband’s loss. As she bares it all in her diary, you are introduced to her Tupperware-selling neighbour, an interesting bisexual best friend, her colleagues from work and some of her students whom she teaches Social Science.

As she seeks solace in wine and vodka, she’s drawn towards a colleague, a relationship that has been described in a detached, faraway manner. The author Chitrangada Mukherjee has spent quite a bit of time, and quite successfully I’d say, in creating a visual imagery of the protagonist’s surroundings.

If you are expecting a lone suffering lady swathed in white showing any overt signs of depression, you’d be disappointed. Instead there is an honest portrayal of a lady who has practical issues to worry about- like how to pay the rent and whether or not to hire an auto. Survival is high on her priority list. Can you really blame her for that?

Author Chitrangada Mukherjee

The memories of a dead husband who’d loved her and who she had loved, are portrayed quite realistically. As she deals with the men in her life (there are three, including the BFF), you find yourself rooting for her instead of judging her and almost exhorting her to make the right choice. The protagonist’s parents have been described with a tenderness that one feels for one’s parents. Despite their foibles and follies, they are loved and looked up to.

The author has done quite some work on the details as she describes Chennai through the eyes of an outsider, a Bengali widow who doesn’t even know the language.
The book is a very realistic and honest portrayal of her struggles and has its funny bits. It’s a light read and the pages are easy to turn. Towards the end, however, I felt that in an effort to tie the loose ends, there was a rush to set things right, especially the MIL who till then was silently cruising along, in the narrative. As everything suddenly falls in place, you still want to know whether or not she goes with your ‘choice’.

That felt a little jarring and I was let down. I was kind of hoping that the quirky odd ball widow would continue her unapologetic streak but I was denied that pleasure.
Overall, I’d say this book can be a good companion in these rains, for those who want to snuggle in their favourite chair with a cup of steaming coffee and a book that doesn’t weigh one down.

I would rate it 3.5* out of 5


This book has been reviewed by a fellow Book Buzzer- Dr. Shivani Salil.

Amazon link of the book –

Escape Velocity – A Book Review

At the outset, the book intrigues you with its mind-blowing subtitle – ‘Not all that spins away is lost, not all that comes home is familiar’. These two lines, in nutshell, encapsulates the spirit of all the 13 stories in the book. Written by 13 women authors, all living in Delhi, ‘Escape Velocity’ is as much the story of their lives and experiences as it is of the city – Delhi, for in the pages of this book is painted various hues of the city that conjures up images in the readers’ mind, and their lies the success of these tales. 
The stories are real, aspirational and at the same time unapologetically self-indulgent. All of them have women protagonists or a central women character who mostly stick to their ‘comfort zone’ to better deal with the harsh reality of their lives. 
In the first story ‘For the love of Likes’ Anjali Gurmukhani Sharma takes us to a high profile Indian household and the gadget freak, facebook addicted Ramola, who puts in all efforts for getting those extra ‘comments’ and ‘shares’ on her posts, at the cost of ignoring her son’s basic requirements. Ramola’s husband wishes her happy birthday on facebook, with perfect pictures and an equally romantic write-up to complement it at sharp 12 am, but forgets to wish her personally while staying in the same house, as he had an important office call to attend. A workaholic, her has no time for either Ramola or their son. Ramola on the other hand finds refuge in this virtual world and in the end, when her son accuses her of ignoring him for her phone and says ‘go hug your phone mumma, you love it more than me’, though she temporarily feels pained, she regained her composure by watching the latest notifications on her phone. And, ‘hugging her smartphone, Ramola sat up straight and blinked through her tears to focus better in the screen.’

In the story, ‘Between Bookends’ Kasturi Patra Kasturi’s Viakat beautifully describes her escapades into the world of books ever since her childhood and how books became her soul companion and remained so throughout her various ups and downs.

Kavita Bhashyam Jain in ‘Slipping through my fingers’ brings out the pain of a mother after having to stay away from her child. A single mother, the chronicling of the protagonist’s relation with her daughter right from the moment of birthing her, is beautifully done. The relationship changed over a period of time though… “the pull and tug of time changed our relationship in new ways….least of all things like makeup and hairstyling”. The story takes us through the various stages in the ‘cycle of growth’ in a mother-daughter relationship.

Kiranjeet Chaturvedi – Curator of the Book

Kiranjeet Chaturvedi‘s ‘Mauke Ki Nazaakat’ focuses on yet another interesting angle between two women. This time, mother-in-law (MIL) and daughter-in-law (DIL). This story is a tale of a daughter-in-law who shared a secret pact with her MIL – that of hatred. The son/husband had no inkling about this bitter relationship and neither did anyone else knew of it. The story takes us through the various events that took place in the protagonist’s life post marriage and how she dealt her mother-in-law’s illness tactfully (mauke ki nazakat) and took off for a delayed honeymoon later after her accidental death.

‘Seeta’s choice’ by Megha Consul is another gem of a story. Playing around the sensitive issue of ‘partial androgen insensitivity syndrome’, the story is a brilliant portrayal of how despite sexual disorientation, one can still make firm choices and lead a life of dignity. In this story, Dr. Shalini, a divorcee, finds a new direction in life in nurturing and caring for this boy, who had intersex disorder and was abandoned by his own parents. When he successfully portrays the role of Seeta on stage (in a different interpretation), Shalini shed tears of joy.

All the other stories of ‘Escape Velocity’ are special, as each writer has shared their stories of transformation. In Kiran Chaturvedi’s own words ‘even without a predefined theme or prompts we found a strong thematic connection between our stories. Each one had an underlying paradox, and a character or a situation wanting break out of the conventional.” 
The academically enriched foreword by Ashok University professor and author Saikat Majumdar, lends the book the right perspective. 
The story behind this collection of stories is also quite special. It was born when Kiran Chaturvedi, the curator of this collection, met the writer Kanchana Banerjee in 2014 and started discussing the idea of starting a writing workshop. With the support of Moitreyee Chatterjee, a senior publishing consultant, they set up Write & Beyond on Facebook within a week. “As we talked of writing, and wrote in each other’s company, it was like being around the proverbial hoary bonfire all over again,” writes Chaturvedi. “It was homecoming. It was validation, recognition, and permission to tell our stories, with the knowledge of being heard. We knew then, how our stories—real or imagined—while being personal in a particular way, were also universal.”

Here’s the amazon link to the Book –

Soul Connection – A Book Review

Soul Connection by Saurabh Turakhia is a single author anthology consisting of 30 stories. Though they are all stand-alone stories and can be read in any particular order, as I read each one of them, I detected a common thread running through all of them.

At the centre of most stories are quirky protagonists often with an artistic bent of mind. Their angst seeks an outlet that their art tries hard to provide. Most stories have a positive streak that shines through ending up as winners eventually. They are infused with hope and I am tempted to presume that it’s the writer’s optimism that’s clearly rubbing off on the stories. Often the story ends on a note that though seems impossible but something that the reader would hope for.

Without giving away too much, I’ll briefly tell you about some of the stories to give you an idea of what lies in store. There’s one titled ‘Stolen stories’ where a thief stumbles into an unknown artist’s stories and realises their potential. The stories go on to become popular but karma catches up with the thief.

‘Sketched in your mind’ is the story of an entrepreneur who reinvents himself into a self-taught artist. He wants people to appreciate art and that is what pushes him come out of his comfort zone.

‘Crossword’ is a murder mystery which has a puzzle as a crucial link to the murderer. As it unravels, it highlights the troubles that outsourcing is leaving in its wake. Quite similar to crossword is ‘The lost plot’ which is a revenge story with a twist.

While ‘Always your senior’ centres around the senior citizens who are left to fend for themselves, the story ‘Labour’ highlights the plight of labour who toil but can never enjoy its fruit.

The story ‘Meaning’ is about a writer who loses his all but all isn’t lost yet for him as adversity teaches him. ‘Drama’ is the story of a person whose penchant for looking for drama in the mundane disappears when life doles out drama. He adapts to emerge a winner nonetheless.

‘Tears to Giggles’ has an allegorical narration that tries to convey that comedy is serious business. Then there is ‘One day at a time’ which has a child who follows his heart and walks the road to happiness.

Saurabh Turakhia

While ‘Reviving strained bonds’ is a story of chalk and cheese siblings trying to connect over a cup of tea and conversations, ‘Simple by choice’ is a story extolling the virtues of simplicity in times of plenty.

‘Game over’ talks about the menace of on-screen games and ‘Storyteller’s Soul’ has artificial intelligence taking over the ancient art of storytelling to give the listeners an immersive experience.

The stories are a pot pourri of various fragrances with some very interesting plot lines. The stories have huge potential in terms of the issues they are raking up. Having read them all, I felt that though the ideas were wonderful, there was a gap in the execution. They leave the reader wanting for more. The stories need to be projected in a more lucid manner, the flow doesn’t feel smooth and there is a dire need for edits.

An overall rating of 3/5 solely because of the varied topics it touches.

P.S.: Of late, I have been reading one too many single author anthologies and my advice is that read them one at a time. Allow each one to settle before you move to the next one.

Reviewed by Dr. Shivani Salil

1971, a collection of short stories – Book Review

Poignant, brutal and honest, the characters in ‘71 – A collection of short stories’ by Bangladeshi author and scholar Rashid Askari and published by Rubric Publishing, evokes emotions that tug a string in your hearts. 
The Liberation War in Bangladesh that saw mass blood bath, plunder and unthinkable human suffering in 1971, has been effectively captured in two of his stories in this collection – ‘Circumcision’ and ‘Virgin Whore’. When fiction is built over facts and real-time massacres, there is little space for imagination. With the author being a fellow Bangladeshi, the readers are aware that these characters might have just been real people of blood and flesh!

The author effectively paints vivid accounts of the horrific fate that innocent victims had to meet at the hands of the Occupation army, lending the story an emotional quotient that almost becomes palpable.

When the Muslim army man asks a petrified Haripada to recite Islamic Kalema to prove his religious identity, as readers our hearts skip a beat. When Haripada (despite being a Hindu) recites the kalema perfectly, we are relieved for a second and earnestly pray that he escapes this dreadful situation and escape death at the hands of these beasts. But then the horrific ‘final’ test doesn’t allow him that. As the ‘wolves’ pulled down his pants to ascertain his religion, death stared at him starkly.

Even though each tale in this collection of 12 short stories is placed within different socio-political framework of Bangladesh, the emotions ingrained in them are ‘Universal’. Their joys would make anyone happy, their doom would create a vacuum in the hearts of many.

In the story ‘Human Cow’, when the poor wife of a debt-ridden farmer is ultimately forced to plough the field herself to pay off the debts of her much older husband, as readers our hearts ache at the thought of this docile woman of rural Bengal who (in her struggle with utter poverty) had to pull the yoke along with her animal partner and become a ‘cow’ herself.

In the story ‘Co-wife’, a different form of narrative comes to the fore. Askari through his deft storyline makes a strong point against male patriarchy and how! When Protagonist Bilqis after years of marriage couldn’t yield a child to her husband, the quick fix was him going for another marriage. Though guilt-ridden, her husband Nuruzzaman slowly shifts his attention and gears his emotional and physical needs towards the much younger ‘new wife’. Bilqis is left deprived, dejected and shattered. The biggest blow came to her when she realised that though her husband was dutifully sleeping with her at intervals, he wasn’t so keen on ‘wasting his seeds in barren soil’, he was ‘reserving it for a piece of fertile land’.

Bilqis, who had a strong belief within her of not being infertile in the first place, avenged her years of anguish in her own way and ‘gave out the good news’ soon.

Author Rashid Askari

Rashid Askari, apart from taking issues from day to day life and its various aspects, has also touched base with a rather sensitive area that is more often than not, barred from exploring in mainstream literature – male impotency. In the story ‘A Slice of Life’, protagonist Selina, a very meritorious student receives her ‘Grade A+’ prize in school from chief guest Alamgir, young, handsome and influential politician. She gets overwhelmed and awed by his persona and when she learns that his wife left him even before a year of marriage, her heart goes out to this him. Alamgir too shows much interest in her and eventually proposes marriage her, which to an innocent and tender Selima seems like a ‘dream’.

She didn’t realise anything on her wedding night, but gradually the reality of his ‘barrenness’ started raising its ugly head. Even with a luxurious life, a flat in Dhaka city and servants all around her, Selina’s life becomes unbearable.

The realistic approach towards the entire issue and the treatment of both these characters, makes this story one of its kind. The insecurities of the man, his ways of dealing with it and Selina’s subsequent behavior is deftly dealt with. This story has to be one of the most unique ones, given the topic and it’s sensitive handling.

One thing that is very evident in all the stories in this collection is the righteousness that each of its protagonist showcase. Whether it is the neglected wife, the trained Jihadi, the Hindu man who dreams to see Bangladesh as a republic country for all and live there forever, or the prostitute, each character lives on certain principles and ideals that guide them to their actions.

In the story ‘Virgin Whore’, when the prostitute Bhasanti realised that the Occupation army (at the time of Liberation war, 1971) is attacking whore houses, she resolved to herself that she might sell her body to earn her living, but she wouldn’t lie with occupation squaddies for love or money.

When she was finally caught by the raiders in the steamer in her bid to escape the atrocity, and found herself gheraoed by 30 army men, Bashanti took the call. She threw herself into the deep waters. “She knew she was nearing the end of her life, but she felt happy to think that she was still a virgin.. She had not been defiled by alien beasts”.

A wonderful collection of touching tales and a runaway Bestseller in Bangladesh, gift yourself the amazing experience of reading this book. My rating 4.5*/5. Here’s the Amazon link to his book:

About the Author:

Rashid Askari is a Bengali-English writer, fictionist, columnist, media personality and an academic in Bangladesh. Born on 1st June, 1965 in a sleepy little town of Rangpur, Bangladesh, he took an Honours and a Master’s in English from the University of Dhaka, Bangladesh and a PhD in Indian English literature from the University of Pune, India. He is currently the vice chancellor of Islamic University, Kushtia, Bangladesh. Askari emerged as a writer in the mid-1990s and has by now written half a dozen books and quite a large number of articles, essays, and newspaper columns in Bengali and English published at home and abroad. His two Bengali books: Indo-English Literature and Others (Dhaka-1996) and Postmodern Literary and Critical Theory (Dhaka-2002) and one English book The Wounded Land deserve special mention. He is one of the major present generation Bangladeshi writers in English with his own very personal style.