Sunday, May 31, 2015

Readings in May

Last year, I made a list of 13 books that I thought were ideal Halloween reading. One of the books mentioned was Ruskin Bond's A Face in the Dark and Other Hauntings. After doing that post, I felt like reading the book once again and so when I saw it on the library shelf, I had to pick it up.

Ruskin Bond is an Indian writer of British descent who maintains that one doesn't have to believe in ghosts in order to enjoy a ghost story. The collection has 28 stories ranging from the terrifying A Face in the Dark (which I first read in high-school and can never forget) to the playful A Haunted Bungalow to the macabre Night of the Millennium. There is also the story of a female Bluebeard Sussanah's Seven Husbands which has been made into a Hindi movie.

First Line: You don't have to believe in ghosts in order to enjoy a ghost story.
Publication Details: ND: Penguin, 2009
First Published: 2004
Pages: 197
Source: DPL [B - 447984]



Gregorio Martinez Sierra is a renowned Spanish poet and playwright. His 1911 play Canción de Cuna is considered his masterpiece. Consisting of only two scenes that have a gap of 18 years between them and connected together by an interlude, the play still manages to hold interest. Set in a convent, we have in the first scene a group of young teenage novices 'celebrating' the birthday of the prioress. At the end of that scene, somebody abandons a baby girl at their doorstep and though motherhood is also denied to these women, they find a way to adopt her. The next scene, has this young girl - Teresa - all grown-up and about to get married. She has filled a lacuna in their lives and now all the nuns feel the terrible loss they are about to endure.

Though the play is so much about the denial of things (which can provide its own kind of solace), there is also plenty of humour in the dialogues. Here is the Vicaress, Sister Crucifixion, she is called, commenting on a some particular style of the wedding dress:

I neither understand nor wish to understand these things - pomp and vanity, artifices of the Devil, who, they tell me, is very well acquainted with the dressmakers of Paris... 601

First Line: A room opening upon the cloister of a Convent of Enclosed Dominican Nuns.
Original Title: Canción de Cuna

Original Language: Spanish
Translator: John Garrett Underhill
Publication Details: (From the Anthology: Sixteen Famous European Plays)
NY: Random House, 1943
First Published: 1911
Pages: 569-618
Source: CL [822 C32S]


Chandrashekhar Azad is a legendary figure in the annals of Indian history. At the time of his death, the commander-in-chief of the Hindustan Socialist Republican Army, he first came into prominence as a fifteen year old who took part in the first Non-Co-operation movement launched by Gandhi. Arrested by the police and brought before a magistrate, he remarked that his father's name was Independent, his address was Jail. As for his own name, the young (and at that time) Chandrashekar Tiwari, replied that it was Azad (Free). This sobriquet became the defining feature of his life. He could never be arrested by the British police and when at last he was surrounded by a police-force, he single-handedly fought as long as he could and then running out of bullets, used the last one to shoot himself dead. He was not even 25 at that time.

This biography of his (first published in three volumes in the 1960s) by one of his most trusted lieutenants, Vishwanath Vaishampayan, details the life of the revolutionary. His birth in a poverty-stricken but extremely self-respecting family, his desire for freedom from the British, his initiation into the revolutionary movement, his care and concern for his fellow-revolutionaries, his self-sacrificing nature...

The last part of the book deals with the question as to who betrayed Azad to the police. This makes for some very depressing read because we find such people jumping into the revolutionary movement who because of their self-seeking nature destroyed the party from within. Even more repulsive is the fact that while the martyr's parents continued to live in poverty, those who betrayed Azad were bestowed awards by the government of independent India. What do they say about a country that does not honour its heroes....?

First Line: Azad ka adarsh charitr tha, isliye ve safal neta they.
Publication Details: ND: Rajkamal, 2007
First Published: 1965-1967
Pages: 339
Source: Bought @WBF 2008

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Forgotten Book: Death Takes the Living by Miles Burton (1949)

 The Right Reverend Gerald William Kinghorn, Bishop of Fencaster, is going through his correspondence one January afternoon when his much-harassed chaplain brings him the card of one Reverend Jonathan Derby who is waiting for the bishop to grant him an audience. At first, the name means nothing to the Bishop and then he recalls that earlier as Master of Satterthwaite College, a leading public school, he had the Denby cousins as his students. One of them - Denby Major - Henry, has now become a cabinet minister. This is apparently the other one - Denby Minor. Glad to reacquaint himself with a former pupil, the bishop settles to have tea with Jonathan who tells him that he has recently been demobilized from the RAF where he had been serving as a chaplain in the Middle East. Now he wants to know whether the Bishop has any vacant posts in his diocese. He wants a living in this part of the country because of his interest in early Saxon history. The Bishop has one such place, a remote and inaccessible village called Clynde near the marshes, a place that has been without a rector for so long that the Bishop worries the villagers have reverted to Paganism. 

Young Denby is immediately eager to take up the challenge. However, there are problems. For one, the patron of the parish, Lord Mundesley is a little fussy about whom to offer the rectorate, secondly the village is lonely and desolate, thirdly the stipend is a mere pittance, and most-importantly the rectory is supposed to be haunted. However, Denby is undeterred. The isolation of the village doesn't matter to him; his father, Sir Ambrose, has settled a generous amount upon him so money is no problem; he also does not believe in the matter of ghosts; as for Lord Mundesley, his father knows him and perhaps can persuade him to give Jonathan a chance.

And this is what happens. Because of his high regard for Sir Ambrose, Lord Mundesley agrees to give Jonathan the post but he insists that the latter would not live in the rectory - it being not only too rambling for a single man but also being in a state of disrepair. Rather, Jonathan is told that he'd be staying in a property owned by Mundesley. However, Jonathan has no intention of being indebted in any small way to the patron and so when he reaches the village he quietly settles in the rectory.

But on that very first night, his sleep is disturbed by some curious noises:

A faint rattling, as of glass bottles being moved about. He remembered the empty bottles he had seen in the pantry. There was a famous case on record of bottles being thrown about by supernatural agency. Was this a manifestation? A protest against the rectory becoming occupied again, after having stood empty for so long? Well, the poltergeist was sadly mistaken if he thought that such disturbances would drive out the present occupant.

The rattling was repeated, and Jonathan decided that it was too muffled and distant to proceed from the pantry, which was immediately beneath the room in which he was. In any case, he told himself, supernatural manifestations were the last resort of the credulous. All the same, he was not quite so unperturbed as he tried to pretend. These mysterious noises in an empty house were eerie, to say the least. He felt the hair at the back of his head rising uncomfortably. Then an inhuman screech, at which he started violently.

Jonathan sets out to investigate the secret of the rectory....

Miles Burton is one of the pseudonyms of prolific British writer, Major Cecil John Street (more famously known by another pseudonym: John Rhode). For a detailed and interesting review of this book and its author, read this informative review @ The online link provided led me to this book for which I am most thankful.

I agree with the reviewers assessment that more than the mystery and the police-procedure, it is the unstated social and cultural mores of British Society that make the novel interesting.


First Line:  The Right Reverend Gerald William Kinghorn, Bishop of Fencaster, sat in his study at the Palace one January afternoon.

First Published: 1949

Alternate Title: The Disappearing Parson

Source: Free download @ Black Mask

Other books read of the same author (as John Rhode): The Motor-Rally Mystery, & Night Exercise


Submitted for Friday's Forgotten Books @ Pattinase & the 1949 Mystery Book ChallengePast Offences.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Remembering Sukhdev

"If you believe that shouting the slogan Long Live Revolution makes you a Revolutionary, you are mistaken."

Thoughts of a man on his birth-anniversary. Sukhdev (1907-1931)