Book Review: ‘Harbart’ by Naburn Bhattacharya

Reviewed by Amritbir Kaur

Harbart Sarkar, the protagonist of the novel ‘Harbart’ by Nabarun Bhattacharya (translated to English by Arunava Sinha), is the sole proprietor of a business. He has had a tragic and eventful childhood. Harbart was the son of Lalit Kumar and Shobharani. His father lost all the money in gambling that he had made from the war economy. Harbart lost his parents when he was less than two years old; his father in an accident and his mother due to electrocution. Having faced such a tumultuous childhood, he goes on to live with his uncle, Girish Kumar. Life was not smooth for him even after that shift. He had to live on the charity of his relatives. Being a highly neglected child, nobody noticed that he had left his school and only indulged in a bit of self-study.
His life takes a sudden, complete turn when he discovers a skull along with a few bones lying in a trunk in his room. The discovery of such things gives a huge boost to his hunger for knowing about the mysterious death and after-life. And this was the beginning of his intriguing business. And his business is nothing short of the most extraordinary. He is into communicating messages of the dead to their near and dear ones on this Earth. Then in continuing with the chain of turn of events, one night after a bout of drinking Harbart is discovered dead in his room. With a view to gathering an insight into the after-world, he took to reading more and more on such topics.
While going through this novel, the rational reader might find this pill a bit too hard to digest. Despite a sense of skepticism being there that dominates a major part of the novel, there are times when the reader feels for Harbart. For instance, it is heartbreaking when Harbart is labeled as an impostor.
One incident that gives a new direction to Harbart’s life is Binu’s revelation at his death-bed. Binu tells Harbart of his private diary.
The narrative technique is a bit complicated for a casual reader as it frequently shifts focus from the known to the unknown. The book has a few flaws that creep into the fabric of literary translations. It is worth a one-time read, as there are parts, which make you read more of it.
Do share your take on the book once you read it!

Book Review: ‘Mafia Queens of Mumbai’ by S. Hussain Zaidi

The theme of crime, investigation and intriguing mysteries have been very popular when it comes to the choice of themes to be read. We have had great classics apart from the contemporary authors (writing on such themes), who are a great hit with the readers. It is not without a grain of truth when Vishal Bhardwaj writes in the foreword of the book ‘Mafia Queens of Mumbai’: “Crime is juicier than spirituality. Guns are more attractive than roses.”
The words like gang wars, mafia etc. are on everybody’s lips with nefarious activities becoming an every other day affair, especially in cities like Mumbai that is considered to be the den of such deeds. Do the names of Gangubai, Jenabai or Ashraf alias Sapna ring a bell? If not, that means you have not been through S.Hussain Zaidi’s book ‘Mafia Queens of Mumbai: Stories of Women from the Gangland’.
‘Mafia Queens of Mumbai’ is a book of thirteen factual stories about mafia queens who are prostitution ringleaders, black marketers or trained assassins. The book boasts of a foreword by Vishal Bhardwaj and gives the feeling of a film-script. It is indeed a pulpy fiction that gives the reader a full chance to enjoy the twisted tales with surprise turn of events. ‘Mafia Queens of Mumbai’ is the second book authored by S.Hussain Zaidi, a veteran journalist by profession. While work of fiction like Chetan Bhagat’s books are fit masala for Bollywood, these true stories too are promising ones for Bollywood pulp. They have all that it takes to be success story. The narration is so gripping that at places the reader tends to forget that the work is produce of careful investigation and reporting. All bits of information have been assembled together by the author, S.Hussain Zaidi, who also penned ‘Black Friday’ (also made into a film by Anurag Kashyap). Zaidi has a lot of experience of working with ‘Asian Age’ and ‘Deccan Chronicle’. The original research for these stories was done by Jane Borges.
There are a lot many brilliant turn of events from the plot, where the reader’s attention and concentration is focussed towards the book. There is the story of Ashraf. Her husband is shot dead in a fake encounter at the behest of Dawood. She determines to avenge her husband’s murder but with a sudden twist she is unable to do so. The basic twist lies in the title itself, just because the stories are about women and not the popularly known con men. It is a discovery that some women were so powerful inspite of the fact they were living in a world that was dominated by men.
Monica Bedi’s story might seem unconvincing to a few readers. It is already a well known fact that Monica Bedi was Abu Salem’s girlfriend. We have an amazing story of Neeta Naik. It was she who had made her husband join the underworld. Later on he was shot at and paralysed. That was not all, she also forced her husband to leave the country. Finally, he hired goons to get his wife killed.
Overall, the book was an interesting reading. Apart from that it also provided an insight into the role played by the powerful but lesser known women in this ‘gangland’ called Mumbai (that has been the capital of smuggling, gun-running, drugs, terrorism etc. for decades now). We have in ‘Mafia Queens of Mumbai’ a remarkable piece of research and investigative journalism.

Book Review: ‘Revolution 2020’ by Chetan Bhagat

‘Revolution 2020’, the fifth novel by Chetan Bhagat (after ‘Five Point Someone’, ‘One Night at a Call Centre’, ‘Three Mistakes of my Life’ and ‘Two States’), too begins with a Prologue just like all his other novels. The Prologue binds you to the story as a reader. The only difference is that this time the prologue continues at the end of the novel and the whole story of ‘Revolution 2020: Love, Corruption, Ambition’ is a flashback of the events that have already happened. As a reader, I found the prologue comparatively a bit less effective in evoking a sense of suspense and mystery.
As far as the pace of the story is concerned, the pace of events happening in the first half of the book is fast but they become a bit dragged in the second half. Inspite of this, the greatest achievement of Chetan Bhagat is that he keeps the reader hooked on to his book till the end. Though Chetan Bhagat has none of the literary touches (you’ll be totally disappointed if you are a fan of Salman Rushdie, Rohinton Mistry, Jhumpa Lahiri or Amitav Ghosh), yet he is a good story-teller. At times the things become predictable, just like it happens occasionally in Bollywood masala flicks. After all, soon ‘Revolution 2020’ would be one amongst them.
At the very onset of the story of the novel, Bhagat visits GangaTech college in the city of Varanasi, where he is to deliver a lecture. The story presents before us a love-triangle, which involves two childhood friends, Raghav and Aarti, and Gopal. As might be expected, Gopal falls in love with Aarti, who instead professes her love for her childhood friend, Raghav. And then in vengeance, Gopal sets out to prove himself better than Raghav. In this venture Gopal entangles himself in educators-MLAs nexus. Thus, Bhagat weaves in a social message along with a masala story.

Book Review: ‘Turbaned Tornado’

Turbaned Tornado: Run, Fauja! Run!
Reviewed by Arcopol Chaudhuri*

Turbaned Tornado is the biography of the oldest marathon runner in the world, Fauja Singh. Fauja’s birth would have been a joke today – his date of birth is 1 April – and having turned 100 this year, he is clearly the celebrated flag-bearer of the Indian and Sikh community globally, having battled ridicule (he was mocked as a Bin-Laden look-alike) and won praise and appreciation (the blondes hug him fully and cheer him along), not just from his community members but also from leaders like Pervez Musharraf and the Queen of England. Fauja is one of the front-runners (excuse the pun) to represent England at the opening ceremony of the London Olympics in 2012.
The book is fascinating to learn about the incredible courage and spirit of this man and his life story, clearly would also make for a spectacular film.
Singh, in his 100th year, is old enough to sit at home and count his days, but instead chooses to run the most challenging of marathons in Europe to raise money for charity. “I can either walk or sleep. The moment I sit idle, I will die,” he says.
Once a poster boy for Adidas, he truly lives their tagline, ‘Impossible Is Nothing’. What else can explain this peculiar phenomenon: With each passing year, Fauja is beating his every past running records, a feat that seems unbelievable after one takes a fleeting look at his long, skinny legs and frail figure. Look harder and you’ll see a determination worthy of Robert Frost’s poetry. This man indeed has miles to go before he sleeps.
Khushwant Singh, Fauja’s biographer is sincere in capturing what makes Fauja the man he is, through rigorous interviews with him, his coach Harmander Singh and family members.
At a mere 112 pages, this book succeeds in making Fauja’s story far more accessible than a tome. Singh’s narration of the centurion’s life is simple, linear and full of ‘Faujanomics’, a term he’s coined to capture the beliefs of the marathon runner. There’s plenty of trivia that passionate runners and marathon enthusiasts will find handy – like Fauja’s habit of scrubbing his body with baby oil every morning, his absolute disregard for gymnasiums (“they don’t nourish the body and soul together”) and his inexplicable fetish for branded shoes (Puma is the best for marathons, he says).
Some of Singh’s touches are beautiful, e.g. parts where he quotes Fauja in Punjabi. It lends an incredible amount of authenticity to his entire work, besides a touch of wicked humor (“Bush dey chakkar wich tussi baba maar lena hai!”, he says describing an incident when he was about to meet George Bush, but wasn’t satisfied with the food served to him.
If the first half of Turbaned Tornado serves as an inspiration, the concluding half is a handy guide to turn that inspiration to action. There’s a detailed regimen for aspiring marathon runners with instructions about what runners must do on a day-to-day basis to become fit enough and participate with a gusto similar to that of Fauja. This guide will appeal to people across ages and has some incredible learnings.
I certainly recommend that you buy a copy of Turbaned Tornado. It’s an easy read, a meaningful one at that, and doesn’t take long to finish. I like Singh’s attempt at keeping the writing and narration simple and lucid, which incidentally are qualities that resonate with Fauja’s own life. The prescription pages for aspiring long distance runners, are what this book a must-have. That’s almost like getting to know ki Sachin Tendulkar kaunsi chakki ka aata khaata hai.

* Arcopol Chaudhuri lives on a paperback diet. When not reading, he steers online marketing for and hunts for authors who have an interesting story to tell.