Thursday, June 30, 2011

Saeed Akhtar Mirza's Ammi

Ammi: letter to a democratic mother

‘…in the twentieth century
grief lasts at most a year.’

I have used this quote from the Turkish poet Nazim Hikmet as a prelude to a small tale before I go on to the War in iraq. The reason I chose to use this quote is because I wonder how long grief lasts in the twenty-first century. Is it now a month? Two weeks? Or just enough time for the television cameras to record it and then it’s over? I don’t know.

It is the early 1930s. There has been a Bolshevik revolution in Russia. Turkey is on its way to progress under the leadership of Kemal Attaturk.  Two years have passed since the British Empire hung the troika of Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev, and Rajguru

Three young people in the moufassil town of Sibi discuss the ramifications of these events and their impact on India’s fight for freedom. Which path should they follow? Which path will India follow?

‘Are you a communist, Madanlal sahib?’
‘I don’t know, but I agree with Bhagat Singh.’
‘I too think he was a good man…’
‘But.’ Madanlal smiled. ‘There’s always a “but” when people talk about revolutionaries, isn’t there Nusrat sahib?’
‘Yes, there is. I think I prefer the path of Khan Sahib. He wants the British out too.’
‘I don’t know how you can say that. Khan Sahib and Gandhiji are playing their game. You need to create your own rules. You have to fight the British and kick them out. That’s what is required. You talk about Kemal Ataturk with such fondness. All he had to do was go one step further and he would have reached the position of Bhagat Singh.’

It is these interesting conversations and personal recollections that lend such charm to Saeed Akhtar Mirza’s debut novel Ammi: letter to a democratic mother. Written as a letter to his dead mother, the book is part memoir, part reflections, part history... there is even a screenplay. Fictionalising the life of his parents, Mirza discusses the Muslim identity and the prejudices and challenges Muslims face post 9/11. Turning the pages of Islamic history, Mirza reveals the vibrant and progressive face of Islam that has, of late, been overshadowed by a narrower outlook that gives no space for questioning. The book’s set agenda makes it quite polemical in part, however, the story of Jahanara and Nusrat, of two young people trying to make their way in this world is engrossing enough to put in shade everything else. 

There are many beautiful passages in the novel but the one that resonated the most is one which, in fact, describes a tragedy - the killer quake that reduced Quetta to rubbles:

When he reached Quetta, it was as if the town didn’t exist. Most of it had been flattened and reduced to rubble. There was not a locality, a neighbourhood that was not badly affected. The only part left standing almost untouched, was the British garrison beyond the encircling ditch. There were thousands of corpses lying around and thousands more waiting to be discovered beneath the debris. Hundreds of dead bodies had been carted away. There was a wave of wailing and a stench that surrounded the city as the living and the wounded tried desperately to look for family and friends. British troopers and officers could be seen everywhere helping with the relief work. Nusrat rushed around trying to locate Jahanara’s home. The earthquake had leveled all signs of identification. As he ran down street, he saw a half-building suddenly come down in a haze of dust. He turned a corner to see a man screaming as he stood over the corpses of five people.

My grandfather lost members of his family in this quake. I visualise him running around like Nusrat Beg, screaming and searching, as the corpses stank, the wails grew louder, and hope sank...



First Line:                               Salaam alaikum Ammi
                                                When you died on the morning of the 
                                                7th of February, 1990, you did so
                                                without a fuss and in silence.

Author:                                    Saeed Akhtar Mirza

Publication details:                  Chennai: Tranquebar, 2008.

First Published:                       2008

Pages:                                     viii + 307


Ammi: letter to a democratic mother is available in bookstores and on the net. I borrowed it from Delhi Public library, Vinoba Puri.

First entry for the Borrowed Book challenge. Also submitted for A - Z reading challenge. Thru with the letter A.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Reading Challenge: Borrowed Book Challenge

I am all for libraries and the world-wide phenomena of libraries disappearing because of people not interested in borrowing books any longer worries me a great deal. So when I cam across this wonderful challenge hosted by Book'd Out, I simply had to join it. And the Challenge Badge looks good too :).

However, since half the year is almost gone, I will be Borrower Be that means I need to borrow, read and return at least 12 books.

If you too want to support libraries, register yourself for this challenge. Further details can be found over here:

30th June 2011

First entry: Ammi: letter to a democratic mother 

Review here

30th July 2011

2nd entry

Death in Kashmir by M.M. Kaye

11th August 2011

3rd Entry

Murder of a Martinet by E.C.R Lorac

3rd September 2011

4th Entry

Police at the Funeral by Margery Allingham

3rd October 2011

5th Entry

Night in Bombay by Louis Broomfield

19th November 2011

6th Entry

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

25th November 2011

7th Entry

The Reader by Bernhard Schlink

8th Entry

The Land of Green Plums by Herta Muller

9th Entry

The Wheel Spins by Ethel Lina White

10th Entry

The Savage Garden by Mark Mills

11th Entry

The Sonnet Lover by Carol Goodman

12th Entry

The Yellow Rose and Other Stories by K.K. Khullar

13th Entry

The American Boy by Andrew Taylor

Saturday, June 25, 2011

On My Wishlist: The Wheel Spins


On My Wishlist is a fun meme hosted by Book Chick City. The title is self-explanatory, every week we have to post about one book (if not more) that we wish to read.

Here is my first entry for this Meme:

The Wheel Spins by Ethel White

I love mystery stories, especially those set on/ in trains. And have been an admirer of White since I read her novel Some Must Watch. So this is a book that I am dying to lay my hands on.

For more on this meme, go here:

To see what the others are wishing for this week,go here:

4th December, 2011

Wish fulfilled

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Adam Dalgliesh's Adversary: P.D. James' A Mind to Murder

He wondered briefly where Deborah Riscoe had dined, and with whom. Their meeting now seemed part of a different world. Perhaps because he was tired he felt none of the confidence with which he usually began a case. He did not seriously believe that the crime would defeat him. Professionally, he had never yet known the taste of failure. It was all the more irritating, therefore, to be visited by this vague sensation of inadequacy  and unrest. For the first time he felt unsure of his own mastery, as if he were opposed by an intelligence actively working against him and equal to his own.

Attending a party given by his publishers, and musing whether or not to invite Deborah Riscoe to have dinner with him, Adam Dalgliesh is interrupted in his thoughts by a call from the Yard. There has been a murder at the Steen – a psychiatric clinic- that has a reputation of catering only to the rich. Arriving at the scene, he discovers the body of the Administrative officer with a chisel thrust powerfully thru her heart and a fetish in her arms as though cradling a baby. Thus begins an investigation into a ‘locked-room’ mystery with only a handful of suspects. A list that includes directors, doctors, nurses, porters - all with the expertise to have thrust that chisel with acute precision; many with a grudge against the dead woman; and one with a hatred so strong that it could kill.

            The second in the Adam Dalgliesh series sees the Inspector in a melancholy mood. Full of conflicting feelings regarding both his personal life and this particular professional case, we glimpse a more vulnerable side to his personality.  James has always been top-notch in creating atmosphere but in this book even her characterization is of the first order. What I liked best about the book was how we get to know what is passing thru the minds of almost every character rather than merely those of the detectives. Cryptic conversations add further to an entertaining mystery.


First Line:                                 Dr. Paul Steiner, consultant psychiatrist at the Steen Clinic, sat in the front ground-floor consulting room and listened to his patient’s highly rationalized explanation of the failure of his third marriage.

Author:                                     P.D. James

Series:                                      Adam Dalgliesh

Publication Details:               London: Penguin, 1988

First published:                       1963

Pages:                                      221


Available on the net, this book was gifted to me by my sister. Becomes my first entry for the Off the Shelf, and Mystery and Suspense Reading Challenges. Also submitted for the A - Z Reading Challenge. Thru with the letter M.

7th July 2011
Subsequently entered for Book Review Party Wednesday.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

5 Best Books about Travel

5 Best Books is a meme hosted by Cassandra at Every week we have to list our 5 favourites in a particular category. This week the theme is Travel. Here are my 5:

Three Men in a Boat: Never out of print since its publication in 1889, this classic by Jerome K. Jerome is a humorous account of a boating expedition between Kingston and Oxford on the river Thames, undertaken by three friends, to say nothing of the dog, Montmorency.:) This is one book sure to cure you of the blues.

The Lawless Roads: The account of a trip taken by Graham Greene in 1938 to Mexico. The vivid prose depicts a country in turmoil. Though Greene comes across as both prejudiced and contemptuous of other cultures, the journey resulted in his haunting novel:  The Power and the Glory.

Heart of Darkness: Joseph Conrad's epic novella depicting the rape of Africa, the greed of her European conquerors, and a journey to the darkness that resides in one's soul.

Kim: Set against the backdrop of the Great Game between Russia and Britain in Central Asia, Rudyard Kipling's picaresque novel describes the adventures of the Irish orphan Kim (Kimball O' Hara) as he travels the plains and mountains of Hindustan in the company of a Tibetan Lama. Full of spies, intrigues, sorcery, talking parrots, colourful bazaars, this is Kipling at his best.

The Chinese Love Pavillion: Paul Scott's underrated novel is about an English man Tom Brent who is trying to recreate the life of his ancestors in India. He meets a man called Brian Saxby and thus begins a journey that takes him to the jungles of Malaya. Add to this a love story and a mystery that hooks the readers as the story progresses.

To see the lists of others, go here:

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Book Lover: No,not really

I love books about books. So when I saw a book titled Book Lover on the library shelves, I simply had to pick it up. The description – Some women shop.Some eat. Dora cures the blues by bingeing on books – seemed delicious. Unfortunately the book failed to live up to the premise.

The story is simple. Dora, a woman in her thirties, feels life is slipping thru her fingers. Child of a broken home, she herself has had two failed marriages. Now without a job and squandering away the fortune that her father left for her, she feels herself a failure. The values that she had scoffed away earlier- security that marriage brings, sense of fulfillment that family provides, satisfaction that a job provides – now seem attractive. However it takes a while for Dora to realise what is that she lacks in life. The book is about her journey of self-realisation. And that involves going in the funk and reading books while lying in the bath tub, immersed in hot water, listening to jazz, and drinking wine. There are some amusing anecdotes involving writers and their books but frankly, it got to a point where I couldn’t care less.


First Line:                     When I was seven, my mother drove the       family car off a thirty-foot bridge.

Author(s):                     Jennifer Kaufman and Karen Mack

Publishing Details:         London: Harper Perennial, 2007

First Published:             2006

Pages:                          325 + 17   


Book Lover is available in book shops and can also be ordered online. I borrowed it from Delhi Public Library, Vinoba Puri.


Submitted for A - Z Reading Challenge. Have now covered the letter B.                   

Monday, June 13, 2011

Reading Challenge: Mystery and Suspense

I have not made much progress in the reading challenges I've joined so far but now as June too slips away, I need to tighten my belt. So what do I do? I sign up for another challenge. What?! Yes! Given my love for thrillers, cozies, murders, mysteries, mayhem, I simply could not resist it. Hosted by Book Chick City, the challenge requires one to read at least 12 mystery and suspense novels. Further details can be read over here:

And the delicious cherry on top is an advanced copy of The Survivor given to every one who participates. So what are you waiting for, you too join the fun.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

5 Best Books set during war

Thanks to Bev, I have come to know of an interesting weekly meme. Hosted by Cassandra at, it involves listing 5 favourite books on a particular topic. This week the topic is 5 best books set during a war. Well here is my list:

THE MAHABHARAT: Quite simply, the greatest story ever told. The rivalry between the cousins, Kauravas and Pandavas, results in a war that destroys and demolishes everything held sacred. 
Kamala Subramaniam's translation of the Sanskrit epic is by far the best that I've read.

ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT: Paul Baumer's youthful ideals are stripped away on the stage of the first world war. Erich Maria Remarque's heart-rending novel leaves one teary eyed as the old men of Europe send their sons to die.

ACROSS THE BLACK WATERS: It amazes me how often the first world war is discussed as a European affair (with a cameo by the US). In the war, were lakhs and lakhs of soldiers from Asia and Africa who died fighting for their colonial masters. Mulk Raj Anand's novel describes one such Indian regiment fighting in the fields of Flanders. Far away from their homes, fighting a war which made no sense to them, they yet marched on for the honour of  the
 Union Jack. That their masters reneged on their
 promises after having won the war is the story of

A FAREWELL TO ARMS: Semi-autographical and set during the Italian campaigns of the first world war, this is to me, Hemingway at his best. The author's stark prose brings out in sharp relief both the doomed love affair between Fredric Henry and Catherine Barkley as well as the brutality of the war. And who can forget the Italian doctor Rinaldi. 

THE NIGHT IN LISBON: The poignant narrative of a German Jew fleeing from the horrors of Nazi Germany. Through the travails - love, separation, growing distance, reunion, death - of the couple - (the wife is an Aryan, the husband a Jew) Remarque shows a country divided against itself. 

For Bev's list: 

Cassandra's list

For more on the 5 best books meme read here: