Friday, 29 March 2013

Fiction Reads: Corduroy Mansions by Alexander McCall Smith

Corduroy Mansions by Alexander McCall Smith, the first book from the Corduroy Mansions series is a rare novel. And McCall Smith is a very rare and special contemporary writer in English. This book has all the elements of quiet and warm humour, eloquent language, and numerous conversations on philosophy and fine arts. It is also a fine book on etiquette and sophistication without a touch of over-the-top snootiness. It is devoid of anything that is crass. This is why I adore this book.

Published in 2009, Corduroy Mansions is based on the lives of the inhabitants of Corduroy Mansions and their dear ones with the exclusion of the despicable Oedipus Snark. Corduroy Mansions is situated at Pimlico in London. The main characters are William French, Eddie French, Marcia Light, Freddie de la Hay, Jenny Hedge, Dee Binder, Jo Partlin, Caroline Jarvis, James, Basil Wickramsinghe, Terence Moongrove, Barbara Ragg, Berthea Snark, Oedipus Snark and Hugh Macpherson. Extremely quirky, their conversations run across varied themes from Caravaggio and Nicolas Poussin to table etiquette, travel writing and much more. It is riveting and unforgettable indeed.

(Article by Kabita Sonowal)

Monday, 25 March 2013

Comic Book Reads: Batman - The World of the Dark Knight

Batman - The World of the Dark Knight is a 200-page odd hardcover encyclopedic compilation of all the things you wanted to know about Gotham's caped crusader. Published in 2012, the mesh of well-designed content, collected artwork and boggling details is a sweet addiction for the trivia-gobbling Batman fanatic. Hold your breath while I take you on a brief tour:

  • When and how did Batman make his Detective Comics (DC) debut - Check. 
  • Detail of every inch of the Batsuit, its accessories and alterations over the years - Check. 
  • A magnifying glass view of the Batcave - Check.
  • Detailed descriptions of the Batmobile and Bat-Vehicles - Check.
  • The Batman origin story - Double Check.
  • Batman's diet, training and physical attributes - Yes.
  • The best Batman quotes - Totally.
  • Bruce Wayne's character profile - Aha!
  • All you wanted to know about Wayne Manor, Arkham Asylum, Wayne Enterprises and Gotham City - Yeah.
  • How about Robin? - His whole file is laid out here.
  • Alfred, Commissioner Gordon and Lucius Fox - Laid bare.
  • Batman's friends, allies, villians, love life - All there.
  • Batman's comic book evolution from his 1937 debut to the landmark comic issues that defined him - Spread out nicely. 

I hate to word it in cliche, for the book contains - a lot more...

Even if you are delirious about Batman, there is too much here to imbibe in one sitting, this is more like a sturdy thing you can pick from the bookshelf, whenever the trivia mood takes over.

(Review by Snehith Kumbla)

Sunday, 24 March 2013

Non-Fiction Reads: Mary Queen of Scots and Her Hopeless Husbands

The Dead Famous Series’ Mary Queen of Scots and Her Hopeless Husbands is an unforgettable read. Written by Margaret Simpson and illustrated by Philip Reeve, this quirky book sheds light on Mary, her predicament, her times, and not to forget her husbands. She led a wild, grand, tumultuous and strange life that many girls never at any time or age ever lived or experienced. She was queen of Scots when she was a week old and then again the queen of France too when her husband became the king of France. However such grandeur did not last as she ended up as a prisoner in England. Born on December 8, 1542, Mary inherited a kingdom that was in the midst of chaos. The rest is history which beguiles the contemporary reader.

This book celebrates Mary the Queen of Scots; a lot of Mary’s charm, wit, naivete, her knack for trouble and escapades and her pick of husbands are wonderfully portrayed and illustrated in this book.

(Article by Kabita Sonowal)

Monday, 18 March 2013

Murder Mysteries: Appointment with Death by Agatha Christie

This was the second time I read this book by Agatha Christie. The first time I read it was many years ago. What was truly wonderful and special about reading this book for the second time was although I remembered the characters and the descriptions; I just could not guess who the murderer was right until the end of the story. Needless to say, it was a very engaging read.

On a holiday by the Dead Sea, Hercule Poirot overhears a conversation between two people,“You do see, don’t you, that she’s got to be killed?”There echoes the first thought of a murder. It revolves around the American Boynton family, a strangely docile, nervy and docile lot. The members include Mrs. Boynton, the stepmother to Lennox, Carol and Raymond; mother to Ginevra; and mother-in-law to Nadine who is Lennox’s wife. Addressed by all of them as ‘mother’, Mrs. Boynton is a former wardress in a prison. Her love for power and sadism drive her family to submission and nervy excitement to revolt and kill her. This is their first holiday ever and their interactions with the outside world make them realize that with the exception of Nadine, they are socially awkward to interact with the outside world. And the mother loves her freaky control over them. Her cat-and-mouse taunt at subjugating others culminates in her murder.

The other characters include Doctor Gerard, a celebrated French Psychologist; Sarah King, a young doctor; Lady Westholme, a respectable member of the British Parliament; Miss Pierce, a former nursery governess; Jefferson Cope, a friend of the Boynton’s; and Colonel Carbury, a senior official in former Transjordania. The descriptions of the places in this part of the Middle East are pristine and the thoughts they evoke, seen through the eyes of a curious and brilliant observer. The characterization and psychology behind everyone’s motive to bump off Mrs. Boynton is well-etched. Without giving away the plot of the book, I would certainly recommend it to all Agatha Christie fans and others who have not yet read it. One would not be able to guess the motive behind the murder.

(Review by Kabita Sonowal)

Thursday, 7 March 2013

Conversations: Quiet Happiness by Natasha Nair

Natasha Nair is an Abu Dhabi-based landscape architect, and Quiet Happiness is her first collection of poetry. The interviewer received a copy of the book through his friend Shardul Akolkar, a Pune based music composer.

Most of the poems look inwardly, the poetess is usually having conversations with herself. Rhyme is faithfully put to use; two little poems particularly caught my eye - one on Istanbul and the other on Scotland. Here is the interview:       

SK: How did you end up writing poetry, when and how was your first poem written?

I am a self-proclaimed day dreamer. Because dreams during the day can be creatively woven by the mind!

Day dreaming translated into doodling…that’s how I started writing I guess. Being left handed, as a child, I always wrote the alphabets as their mirror images. It took me some time to differentiate between drawing and writing back then. Thus some forms on paper became words…and I learnt to arrange them. Secretly, I started loving this exercise…and so poetry happened to me!

I still remember when I was around seven or eight years old…and I was on a sick leave from school. My mother suggested that I try writing what I feel …And I did! My first poem described my little pet kitten’s soft white fur and blue eyes…

SK:What inspired you to bring out the poetry collection - Quiet Happiness?

I have always loved to capture memories in descriptions, photos and sketches. I love celebrating life with all bad things cropped off and only beauty preserved. I thought a collection of poems that I had written through the highs and lows of life in the tangible form of a book would best arrest my humble life story that could touch many other lives and be passed on even after my spirit leaves this world…something that nobody can take away from me!

Living in this multi-cultural land of the Middle East gave me the perfect balance between personal and professional life. I continued to juggle a career and an inspiring motherhood with a dash of art. That brought a quiet sense of satisfaction. Hence the name – “Quiet Happiness”.

SK: When do you know that a poem is ready and nothing more needs to be added or omitted?

I believe in writing in the moment…to pour out the feeling when it exists in my heart. At times, when I go back and read my poem again, I feel I could revise some lines…but the emotion to be conveyed holds more importance to me. Nonetheless somewhere my mind just knows when to stop.

Like in architectural design, we sometimes had to return to the tracing sheet to get back to the design done two days before…it’s a process of evolution that largely depends on personal style. My writing has now transformed into a denser and crisper form as opposed to overflowing verses from my book quietHappiness. It’s here that I quote from a letter written by famous artist Vincent Van Gogh, when his brother criticized his painting ‘The Potato Eaters” - “I am always doing what I can’t do, yet, in order to learn how to do it.” This inspires me to continue writing without thinking of imprecisions.

SK: Do tell us about the book design - how were the cover images, book images, design and font selected?

After moving to the UAE, with ease of travel, my husband and I developed a keen interest in photography. The book design was almost ready in my head when I decided to have my poems published. I wanted it to be simple, emphasizing more on the written matter than on any other graphic art. The cover image is a photo from our travel album of Mykonos, Greece. The flowing curtain with the sea beyond seemed to be an inviting image that fitted the dreamy nature of the book. The other images from the book are from our travel albums in India, Greece, Scotland, Jordan, Istanbul and the most precious snapshots of my baby boy.

The font is Adobe Calson Pro - bold for titles and italics for poems as it is not too decorative or too technical in appearance. The book design was done by me using InDesign software and the cover design, by my husband, in Photoshop.

SK: How does your profession influence your poetry writing?

Architecture is not only a profession, but it has become a way of life. My life is my quietHappiness and quietHappiness is my life. My profession has taught me to explore all the creative sides of this life and extend design not only to drawing, painting, photography and poetry but to incorporate it in home interiors, fashion and each and every small product that can be custom made. My poetry stems from this aesthetic virus that architecture sowed in my impressionable romantic mind years ago.

SK: Who are your favourite poets, authors?

NN: The poetic works of Rabindranath Tagore - Gitanjali, have been the biggest inspiration for me. His timeless earthy writings never fail to pass a chill through my spine…and I feel…what a thought! When the effect of a poem is so profound that any number of translations cannot erase its depth, that’s real poetry!

In the new age, I like many poems…not really a specific poet. I like poetry that displays variety in structure or rhyme. I am experimenting with new forms now. But in my book, most of my poems follow a rhythmic structure and alternate rhyming pattern. In new age authors, I like Arundhati Roy’s writing style in The God of Small Things…the way she nails the descriptions of things with a childlike innocence…


(Poetry enthusiasts may note that at the time of writing, Quiet Happiness is available for sale at Popular Book House, Deccan Gymkhana, Pune.)

(Interview by Snehith Kumbla)

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Fiction Reads: A Prisoner of Birth by Jeffrey Archer

A Prisoner of Birth by Jeffrey Archer is a thriller. A racy read, it is a novel based on a man’s journey and his search for justice. Danny Cartwright, the protagonist of the story has been accused of stabbing his best friend, Bernie Wilson outside a pub. They were out to celebrate the engagement of Cartwright and Beth, Bernie Wilson’s sister. While all evidence accusingly points at Cartwright for being the murderer, there are people such as Beth and her mother and his lawyer, Alex Redmayne who believe in his innocence; yet it has not been proven.

Cartwright decides against appealing on charges of manslaughter. He is marched off to the infamous Belmarsh Prison for twenty two years. Here he meets two prisoners, Nicholas Moncrieff and Albert Crann or Big Al. In the meantime, Beth is pregnant with Danny’s child. This is when the story gains momentum.

As always, Archer’s gift at storytelling is brilliant. A Prisoner of Birth is riveting and the plot is brilliant. There is a lot of optimism that runs all along in the story.

(Review by Kabita Sonowal)

Sunday, 3 March 2013

Poetry Reads: If by Rudyard Kipling

One of my favorite poems, If by Rudyard Kipling is a poem about grit, pluck determination and resilience. It is a poem that is very personal to me, reminiscent of my public school days. The following stanza reveals a phase that a lot of us have been through. What makes me wonder is what Kipling must have been through or what urged him to write this poem.

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don't deal in lies,
Or being hated, don't give way to hating,
And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise:

The following stanza encourages one to dream; yet not make ‘dreams’ one’s ‘master’. It urges one to spring to action. The most amazing line here is about courage –

‘If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools’.

The next two lines after the quote speak of having the audacity to start life afresh after everything has been destroyed in one’s life.

If you can dream - and not make dreams your master;
If you can think - and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build 'em up with worn-out tools:
The following poem is an echo of resilience and patience; to have lost it all and not to complain – ‘And never breathe a word about your loss’.

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: 'Hold on!'

The following stanza summarizes the flavor of the poem. It is what grips a reader of this poem: to be untouched by the crowd and glory and yet retain one’s sanity. And finally, do one’s own thing one needs to do.

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
‘Or walk with Kings - nor lose the common touch,
if neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds' worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,
And - which is more - you'll be a Man, my son!


(Article by Kabita Sonowal)