‘Shunya’ by Sri M – A Book Review

Over the years, there have been very few books of fiction that have left a profound impact on me. The blog has been lying dormant for a fair while for the want of something concrete to write. Do I write about my recurring visits to the hospital with my mother vacillating between critical and extremely critical or about the failure of finding purpose in life! No one cares about reading dull verse masquerading as poetry of the soul. Political commentary and sports analysis has its own perils. So what does one do? Write about a good book. No further boring you my dear readers. Let’s head into the book right away.

‘Shunya’ is the first work of fiction by Sri M. Sri M is someone whom I was not aware of and when I signed up for the book review program from the good folks of Westland India, I did up a fair bit of reading on him and was quite intrigued.

Blurb of the book:

He appears out of nowhere in a sleepy little neighbourhood in suburban Kerala. He calls himself Shunya, the zero. Who is he? A lunatic? A dark magician? A fraud? Or an avadhuta, an enlightened soul?

Saami—as they call him—settles into a small cottage in the backyard of the local toddy shop. Here he spins parables, blesses, curses, drinks endless glasses of black tea and lives in total freedom. On rare occasions, he plays soul-stirring melodies on his old, bamboo-reed flute.

Then, just as mysteriously as he arrived, Shunya vanishes, setting the path for a new avadhuta, a new era.

This first novel by Sri M is a meditation on the void which collapses the wall between reality and make-believe, the limited and the infinite. With its spare storytelling and profound wisdom, it leads us into the realm of ‘shunya’, the nothingness of profound and lasting peace, the beginning and end of all things.

Set in a village near Trivandrum in Kerala. The book chronicles the tale of an enlightened soul Shunya who lands up in the village unannounced. We meet interesting characters like a toddy-shop owner who is scared out of his wits at their first meeting. The shop-owner offers him a place to stay and then numerous changes happen in the village. We are introduced to different characters in the village and how Shunya Swami’s arrival has a lasting impact on the lives of the villagers. We also have visitors like Kumar who becomes the Swami’s protege, Diana, Bob, the politician who is skeptical at the beginning, the Namboodiri, the young lovers from two different communities, the corrupt church-conversion tout. The list of characters goes on.

This book has a fair bit of philosophy woven into it and works quite well for those looking for an introduction to a ‘path’ or wisdom. The ending seems rushed and was the only weak point for me in the whole book.

I would recommend this book for lovers of fiction and spirituality. Go for the book, you won’t be disappointed.

Buy from Amazon

Happy reading and till we meet again – May you find what you seek 🙂

 

 

 

 

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What Defines a Literary Classic? Thoughts on One Hundred Years of Solitude

One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez is considered as a seminal masterpiece and is unanimously accepted as the author’s greatest accomplishment. I will be honest, I have not read the book in all these years, despite being a student of Literature and spending generous amounts of money on all kinds of books, year-on-year, once I started earning regularly.

First, how the book found me. So brother Karthikeyan Santhanam landed in India to renew his visa. We decided to meet and Ampa Skywalk was equidistant and an ideal spot. The Annual Landmark Sale was to begin, I continue to hold the Landmark card and was shopping looking for spectacular books in the 70% off and 50% off sections. KS walked in and he held the book in hand asking ‘Have you read it?’ I nodded my head in the negative and next thing I know I have the book in hand as a New Year Gift. Thank you Karthi :).

Now back to the book! This is essentially a tale of a man, his wife, the man’s levels of insanity, the woman’s courage and faith, war, famine, gypsies, love, hatred, death, infidelity, incest, revolutions, science, progress, and evolution that’s spread across seven generations.

See this picture to understand the primary characters in the book.

The book is not exactly an easy-read, way too many characters, different names, lots of things happening, idle ramblings, purported metaphysical thoughts and love, lust, sex and anger in ample measure.

The magical realism aspect seems to be forced. The book was published in 1967 and perhaps would have been a testimony of the strange times then. Reading the book now, it seems to be a laborious task.

How does a book become a masterpiece? Sales-numbers? Quality of Prose/Poetry? Characters and Settings? Marketing? Or a heady mix of all the above? If you are suffering from insomnia, read this book, either you will get a headache and continue to make sense of the chaos unfolding or you will fall asleep.

Of Books, of Authors, of Reviewers, of Book Clubs and Moore Market

There was a time when finding a book meant something special. Look at rows and rows or rather piles of books on the pavement on Mount Road, Triplicane, or shops at Moore Market. Haggling with the book-seller, good-natured ribbing and persuasion and getting a deal. Look at the cover, reading the blurb, wondering how different the book would be… All very nostalgic.

Now everything has to be a big-launch, promo after promo, trailers for books – my God, where have we come to… Goodreads, FB, Twitter, stars, reviews, ratings, it is no longer a book for the love of reading and writing. Even the beautiful book has become a blasted product to be glossed, lots of make-up applied, lies pandered, images created, marketing push, review push, page-like push, events, parties, interviews… an endless loop. I gratify your ego, you gratify mine… The self-publishing revolution has unearthed some gems, but has set forth an entire chain of authors who will stop at nothing short of stardom.

OK–Why did I digress? Damn this random sequencing syndrome will kill me. The seed of the post was how book-buying habits have changed. The stores seem to be dying everywhere, except Bengaluru. Online book sales, discounts, stars and review-ratings dictate terms. The joy of finding a new author (hitherto unread is lost). We have blog reviews, newspaper reviews, magazine reviews and celebrity endorsements and how could I forget — Book Club recommendations to go by!!!

OK let me look up for the best deal between Flipkart and Amazon and buy a book…We need patronage for shops like Giggles in Chennai. Blossom and Bookworm in Bengaluru where we can still find gems. My dear book-seller Anna on Mount Road has been away on a long break – Metro Rail, police harassment, traffic, have all taken their toll. At Anna Nagar, used book shops have gone replaced by some store. Moore Market stands a testimony to a time gone by. The engineering, computing and medical books sell like hot cakes. Dig deeper into the complex, there are some thathas still selling old Enid Blytons, dig deeper you may find an old edition of Playboy somewhere, the Readers Digest condensed classics, Perry Masons, Frederick Forsyths and other popular writers all find a place in the dog-eared books.

Time to go visit Moore Market, so who is joining me!!

Pustaka Praandhan – Mad about books

There is this fear,
What will I carry,
Once I leave,
All these books,
All these movies,
These material possessions,
They have to be put to good use.

Time to start de-cluttering and give away stuff to deserving people who can’t afford good books. At the back of my head, every single time I buy a book is will I be able to finish this book at all. This year I had planned to cut down on my spending but with the shut down threat of ‘Giggles’and some good deals and vouchers received for writing have gone mad and bought book upon book.

Book Fair is in progress. Have to demonstrate extreme caution and restraint.

April-23

It is the 23rd of April today; William Shakespeare’s birthday, Satyajit Ray’s death anniversary and in the past few years in India; gaining prominence as World Book Day. A lot has been said about Shakespeare and we will let it rest at that! Satyajit Ray well definitely a series of posts are lined up soon. An icon, a master magician with the camera, a poet, writer, musician and artist. For someone like me who spent his childhood in Calcutta, Ray and his creations were a part of life! I digress again, another day we will look at Ray Moshai in earnest.

Coming to the crux of this post – BOOKS – Yup, books that created a life-long love affair with books and characters; this post is going to be about books. The few friends that I have and the fewer friends that have visited my house know the state of my house. Shelves stacked with books, cartons full of books, bags full of books, you get the drift! With my mother constantly threatening me to drive me out if I don’t stop buying books, I seriously think I might have to rent a small office/godown space to stock my books. In a world of e-books and e-pub files and Amazon Kindles; I guess I am still an old fashioned romantic who has to hold a printed book in his hands! Sorry, you can’t teach an old dog new tricks 🙂

Like most youngsters around the world Enid Blyton formed an inevitable part of growing up! Famous Five, Five Find-Outers, Secret Seven, The Adventurous Four, Mystery Series were all devoured and one longed for picnics and adventures with sumptuous spreads of scones, buns, sandwiches, jams and ginger ale!

As one grew up the Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew and Three Investigators garnered interest. How many of you remember the S.E.Paces series of abridged classics that would be a part of the English syllabus. They opened our eyes to classic tales of adventure and history. Gokulam and Chandamama played a big role as well. Tinkle was surprisingly something that did not captivate me much then. The few Indrajal comics that somehow I got and Target magazine were real fun as well. How many of you remember Gardhab Das the donkey-singer and Detective Tegrat?

Jaico abridged illustrated classics were safe and sound birthday gifts and I recollect receiving a few of them one year. By the time I was 12, I had moved to Sidney Sheldon, Jeffrey Archer, Agatha Christie, P.G. Wodehouse and Shakespeare’s first full length play – ‘The Merchant of Venice’ part of Class Eight English lessons. At this juncture one has to mention ‘The Abridged Shakespeare Tales’ by Charles and Mary Lamb with some lovely line sketches that offered a clear insight into Shakespeare’s plays.

The first Sherlock Holmes story that I read was ‘The Red-Headed League’ a single tale hardbound cover in blue and a love for Sherlock Holmes and the science of detection commenced. One of my treasure possessions for a long time was a Jaico book – ‘The Hound of Baskervilles’. Years later I bought the ‘Complete Sherlock Holmes’ it was by a small-time Calcutta-based printing press and nothing fancy. But the book still remains safe and is very close to my heart. I think it was the first book that I bought on my own at a book fair in Chennai. The princely sum of Rs 200 after discount was paid for the book – 16 years ago.

Other authors whose books created an impact include:

  • Jules Verne – for two very treasured books – ‘20,000 Leagues Under the Sea’ and ‘The Journey to the Center of the Earth’.
  • Alexandre Dumas – ‘The Count of Monte Cristo’, ‘The Man in the Iron Mask’ and ‘The Three Musketters’.
  • Anthony Hope – ‘The Prisoner of Zenda’
  • Satyajit Ray – ‘The Complete Feluda Stories’ – Penguin’s two volume set is again a special book!

But the one character who will always be special is —-???? – Guess???

It will always be Tintin 🙂

tintin

Herge and Tintin taught me a lot about the world, values, human nature and loyalty and friendship than all my teachers combined!

‘The Blue Lotus’ was the first Tintin book I got. My sister’s friend had the entire collection and thanks to her, every vacation I would go to her house and read the comics again and again. The greed of these publishers Methuen/Egmont has grown to unimaginable heights as they charge a premium price for these beautiful comics. Thanks to the internet old scanned copies are available and Tintin and Snowy will always remain close to my heart. I always hoped someday like Tintin, I would be a reporter, travel the world and have adventures. Instead, I have become a cross between the bungling Thompson twins, the forgetful Professor Calculus and the angry Captain Haddock. The closest that I had to Snowy was my dear Brownie, who now lives on a farm, I visit her once in a while.

The years have been gentle and kind at least in letting me buy and read books, I do not have too many vices, I splurge on books and movies, I am thankful for a job that lets me indulge in these two interests. Over the years novelists like Jo Nesbo, Ian Rankin, Stieg Larrsson, Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo, U.R. Ananthamurthy, and the translated works of Sivasankari, M.T. Vasudevan Nair, Jeyakanthan, O. Vijayan, Basheer have created a strange sense of longing in the heart.

Will there be someone with whom I can sit together and read a book, share a coffee and a hug and hold hands and listen to the birds chirp as the sun sets, letting the breeze kiss us gently as I slowly part the strands of her hair and smile. The sweetest love story that I have enjoyed is a 10-minute introduction of the beautiful movie ‘UP’. I hope I will find someone with whom I can share my books, my life, my movies, my music and my dreams!

Where art thou my Queen of Hearts? Where art thou???

#BOOKADAYINDIA – My List

With lots of book-loving friends putting up posts on a daily basis about the books they love – #BOOKADAYINDIA.

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Here comes my blog-post, it is finally year-end; but no great change in the ‘quantum of work at work’ – life goes on as usual.

But we need to make some time right 🙂 So without further ado —-

Ideal December Read – ‘A Christmas Carol’

Book Cover – ‘Swami and Friends’ – Life in a simple unhurried time!

A book you identify with – ‘Oliver Twist’.

Wisest book I have read – ‘Autobiography of a Yogi’

A book you keep going back to – ‘The Complete Sherlock Holmes’ – Never tire of reading the book.

Your perfect winter read – ‘Pride and Prejudice’

First book that I remember reading – Very, very tough question – ‘He-Man’ pocket comics perhaps!

The book that gives me the chills – ‘Dracula’

My favourite mythological tale – ‘Mahabharata’

The book that makes me want to write – ‘The Jungle Book’ by Rudyard Kipling

A book character that I want to marry – George/Georgina from the ‘Famous Five’ series 🙂 – Wonder how she would be as an adult!!! Fascinated by Lisbeth Salander as well.

A book that I pretend to have read – ‘Ulysses’ by James Joyce.

I curl up to read – A good crime thriller – Love Jo Nesbo’s works in the past two years he has become a huge favourite.

My favourite book series – ‘The Famous Five’ by Enid Blyton.

My favourite Jane Austen character – Emma

A book that made you hungry – All Tarla Dalal cook-books 🙂

Favourite Autobiography – ‘My Experiments with Truth’ by Mahatma Gandhi.

A book to read when homesick – David Copperfield

Favourite fairytale character – Betaal – from Vikram and Betaal.

Christmas Gift book – ‘How the Grinch Stole Christmas’

A book that made me cry – ‘Marley and Me’.

Best book that I got as a gift – Twelfth Birthday I guess – ‘A book of Feluda stories’ by Satyajit Ray.

My favourite family read – ‘Winnie the Pooh’ tales.

Favourite Christmas book – This is an overload of Christmas themed entries here – ‘Horton Hears a Who’

Book on my shelf that I have not read – Well I have two racks full of books to read!!!!!

A book I can’t put down – ‘The Phantom’ by Jo Nesbo.

An author I discovered this year – Barry Eisler.

Best read of 2014 – ‘Gone Girl’ by Gillian Flynn.

Favourite Rudyard Kipling Character – Bagheera and Baloo.

Most awaited book of 2015 – Probably the next book to be written by Jo Nesbo!

Private India – Blogadda Book Reviews Program

Title: Private India
Author(s): James Patterson, Ashwin Sanghi
Language: English
Genre: Fiction/Thriller/Crime
Publisher: Arrow/Random House India, Year Published: 2014 July
Pages: 480
ISBN-13: 9780099586395 , ISBN-10: 0099586398

I first heard that Ashwin Sanghi was working with James Patterson on a novel set in India, at the beginning of this year, at ‘The Hindu Lit for Life Literature Festival’ in Chennai. The announcement had me excited because JP is a master-writer spinning plot upon plot and is I believe among the rare few people who does not suffer from Writer’s Block. The prolific output of work is testimony to the statement above 🙂

JP surprisingly was a recent entrant in my reading list; read one of his books about three years back and then a friend gave me a full bunch of his ebooks with about 15 or 17 of his works and it was an absolute blast reading his books.

Ashwin Sanghi has won the title of India’s Dan Brown and his books have found success with the steady mix of history, mythology, science and politics. I enjoyed ‘Chanakya’s Chant’ and look forward to reading more of his solo-efforts.

Now let me tell you a bit about my reading tastes – I am a bit crazy about serial killers and murder mysteries. There was a time when I hoped I would go on to do an MPhil and a PhD and my thesis would be ‘Serial Killers in Fiction and Reality’. Well fate had other plans and all I do is read books and write reviews when time permits. Jo Nesbo has been the single biggest novelist who has managed to charm his way into the hearts of readers with his Harry Hole series and his translator deserves equal merit.

Now moving back to ‘Private India’:

In Mumbai, women are being strangled and killed with a yellow scarf. Strange motifs and symbols are being placed next to their corpses. Private India, a team of super exclusive private investigators is brought into action and headed by Santosh Wagh, ex RAW, the team of Nisha Gandhe (ex Mumbai CID), Hari Padhi (tech wizard) and Mubeen (forensic expert) take it upon themselves to try and find the killer before he strikes again.

Step-by-step the case unravels, the book is paced fast and lots of secrets tumble out. I do not want to add too many details as this would make reading the book boring. The book is a great read for those unfamiliar with the works of JP. To seasoned readers of books by JP and other crime-thriller masters; this book is a bit of a letdown.

It is evident that the descriptions of Mumbai references to the various forms of the Goddess and the Navrathri are by Ashwin Sanghi – but somewhere deep down I felt this book was going like a bit of a tour guide for international readers. Somewhere there seems to be a disconnect, I am just not able to put it clearly, perhaps I am wrong and it is my personal viewpoint. May be if I had not read any of JP’s books before I would have waxed eloquent and offered five stars. Read some of JP’s earlier books and you will feel the difference.

Mahesh’s Rating: Three stars out of five for this thriller.

This review is a part of the biggest Book Review Program for Indian Bloggers. Participate now to get free books!