Mirages of the Mind by Mushtaq Ahmed Yousufi

Author: Mushtaq Ahmed Yousufi
Publisher: Random House
Year: 2014
ISBN: 9788184005530
Rating: ★★★☆☆
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Translated from the original (in Urdu), Mirages of the Mind is a witty account of life in our subcontinent in the twentieth century. The characters are well fleshed out and rather endearing with all their eccentricities – from Qibla and Mirza to Basharat and Khan Sahib. We see Kanpur in the pre-partition days; then Karachi, through the eyes of the quick-tempered and intimidating Pathan, Qibla. The 90s saw this era captured in serials and telefilms, but for the most part this cultural landscape has disappeared from public memory in the twenty-first century. Attempts like this one to translate works into English are a welcome trend.

The writing has an earthy humour that appeals. The author has elevated rambling to an art form. The style is anecdotal, but for which it could have been a tedious read at 500+ pages. Like Dave Barry or Bill Bryson, this is one of those books you read in instalments, a few pages at a time. Unlike the aforementioned where there is no plot so as to speak, here the writer introduces characters held together loosely by a narrative.

An interesting read for those who would like to gain an insight into the ethos of the time.

Find out more on this 90-year-old satirist here

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If you remember these books, your childhood was awesome

When I treat myself to a book-browsing spree these days, I feel so jealous. Growing up, many of us didn’t have access to the wealth of children’s books that kids today seem to enjoy. I see picture pop-up books, Chhota Bheem, Wimpy Kid, Geronimo Stilton. I see adventure stories, science fiction, educational books. Alas that I wasn’t born a couple of generations later!

Still, as reading material goes, I wasn’t completely deprived. I grew up on a healthy diet of adventure stories, most of which, in those days (I’m talking about the eighties and nineties) were written by British authors. So naturally, Enid Blyton figured high on this list.

Yes, Blyton. The very name seems like a blight on (ha ha, I feel so clever) children’s literature today. And yet, if I may be permitted to offer my two rupaiyas worth, reading her books wasn’t half the horrible, racially discriminatory experience that today’s commentators seem to suggest. I enjoyed Malory Towers and St. Clare’s (but never felt the tug of boarding school myself, thank you very much.) I idolized George of the Famous Five – because she was the bravest, most reckless of her gang, because she was headstrong and stubborn and her most baseless instincts always proved right in the end, because she scorned tears and acted tough in the face of danger, but most of all, because she had a dog named Timothy who slept on her feet at night. But my love for all things Blyton didn’t blind me to the murkier aspects of her writing. I instinctively realised that Ern was treated very patronizingly by the Five Find-Outers – even before I knew what ‘patronizing’ meant. Why wasn’t he considered a bonafide member of the Find-Outers – why was he always the outsider, even though his detective contributions were more than some of the others? Why was his pronunciation of English so markedly different from the other kids? So you see, I, like most other readers, questioned Blyton as much as we enjoyed her writing – and without the benefit of someone else pointing out her flaws to us. In my opinion, that’s much better than having a book that is antiseptically politically correct but low on excitement and adventure. (Incidentally, you might enjoy this parody of George and the other Famous Fives – I loved it.)

Tinkle was another childhood standby, and I thank Uncle Pai (who has also faced criticism for being pro-Brahmin, male-centric and pro-fair skin) for his farsightedness in starting an Indian children’s magazine, with Indian characters like Shikari Shambu the cowardly hunter, Tantri the ever-unsuccessful mantri, Kalia the clever crow and Suppandi the foolish manservant. Indian names, Indian ethos, Indian scenarios … a bi-monthly dose of fun that I awaited impatiently and devoured without belching (to add an Indianism! Translate into Hindi for maximum effect).

I missed out on Ruskin Bond and R. K. Narayan, growing up, and was introduced to them only in adulthood. The same goes for Feluda, Satyajit Ray’s gentleman detective. Instead, I immersed myself in Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys and Three Investigators… books that dominated the children’s section of libraries then. When Indian literary stalwarts, such as Khushwant Singh or Mulk Raj Anand, made their way into our syllabus, it was unfortunately their most uncontroversial stories that were included. Even today, that’s something the at hasn’t changed – the adult insistence on ruthlessly sanitising  the educational material being fed to kids. Which shows how dumb the educational authorities are: they seem to believe that Indian kids rely on their textbooks for knowledge of the world. Oh no, dear sirs; what they rely on their textbooks for, is a high score in the board exams, and nothing else.

Coming back to books though, it’s particularly fantastic to see rows and rows of children’s books, many by Indian authors (check out our list of the best Indian children’s books) in bookshops today. Not to mention the endless variety available online. Oh, if only I could revert to childhood, just to savour these books as a child might do!

Tell us: what did you read as a child? If you’re a parent, what do you read to your kids? Do you insist on politically correct books and authors only? Or do you believe in letting kids choose for themselves? And last but not the least: who’s your favourite Indian author for children?

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Review: The Radiance of Ashes by Cyrus Mistry

November 11, 2014
The Radiance of Ashes

Author: Cyrus Mistry
Publisher: Aleph Book Company
Year: 2014
ISBN: 9789383064748
Rating: ★★★☆☆
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The Radiance of Ashes, Cyrus Mistry’s second novel, is the story of “drifter, dropout, dreamer…Jingo.” A young man from a middle-class, Parsi family, Jingo’s only vague ambition is to write a book that chronicles the times he lives in.

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An Explosive Countdown: Quantum Siege

November 6, 2014
Quantum Siege by Brijesh Singh

Author: Brijesh Singh
Publisher: Penguin
Year: 2014
ISBN: 9780143422877
Rating: ★★★☆☆
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Another one of India’s new multifaceted authors is brought to the fore by Penguin and Blue Salt in their new thriller, Quantum Seige, which deals with an impending threat by a merciless terror outfit.

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The Return of the Gamesman

October 27, 2014
Chanakya Returns

Author: Timeri N. Murari Publisher: Aleph Book Company Year: 2014 ISBN: 9789383064021 Rating: Click for latest prices Chanakya Returns tells the story of Chanakya, the modern day reincarnation of Chandragupta Maurya’s Chanakya and his machinations which brings the downfall of a modern day empire, not very dissimilar to the downfall of King Nanda’s Empire. Author […]

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We Had to Struggle Through This One – Leadership: The Gandhi Way

October 24, 2014
Leadership: The Gandhi Way by Virender Kapoor
Author: Virender Kapoor
Publisher: Rupa Publications
Year: 2014
ISBN: 9788129134578
Rating: ★☆☆☆☆
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In this book, Kapoor draws lessons from Gandhi’s life and his style of leadership and tells us how we can implement those in our own lives. He explores the parts of Gandhi’s life that may not seem very important to ordinary eyes but could give great lessons.

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The Origin of the Young God: Kumarasambhavam

October 20, 2014
Kumarasambhavam by Kalidasa
Author: Kalidasa, Hank Heifetz (translator)
Publisher: Penguin Publications
Year: 2014
ISBN: 9780670086894
Rating: ★★★★☆
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The greatest long poem in classical Sanskrit by the greatest poet of the language, Kumarasambhavam, celebrates the love story of Siva and Parvati.

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Review: Half Girlfriend by Chetan Bhagat

October 16, 2014
Half Girlfriend
Author: Chetan Bhagat
Publisher: Rupa Publications
Year: 2014
ISBN: 9788129135728
Rating: ½☆☆☆☆
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The new Chetan Bhagat book is the latest in a series of fertilizers with which you can hope to get half – results.

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Review: Korma Kheer and Kismet: Five Seasons in Old Delhi

October 13, 2014
Korma, Kheer & Kismet by Pamela Timms

Author: Pamela Timms
Publisher: Aleph Book Company
Year: 2014
ISBN: 9789382277149
Rating: ★★★★☆
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In her book, ‘Korma, kheer and kismet’, Pamela Timms walks us through her romances with the streets of Old Delhi and their hidden savories, beaming with an energy and love, only a foreigner can carry for India.

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Review: To Rise Again at a Decent Hour by Joshua Ferris

October 9, 2014
o Rise Again at a Decent Hour by Joshua Ferris

Author: Joshua Ferris
Publisher: Penguin Viking
Year: 2014
ISBN: 9780241003831
Rating: ★★★★½
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To rise again at a decent hour is the recollection of the past few years of a Dentist Paul O’Rourke’s life in the Big Apple – New York. With a well settled practice and a satisfying career, Paul is driven by loneliness.

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