Friday, May 15, 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)

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Mysteries in April

In April, I read both fictional and non-fictional mysteries.


We all know those books that begin with a bang but end with a whimper. Thus it was with Anthony Abbot's The Shudders, a book that I could not put down initially and then could not believe that in the end it amounted to so little.

 On a cold, melancholic night, the Police Commissioner of NY, Thatcher Colt, receives a call from Warden Massal to inform him that a convict on the death row, Jeremy Taylor (whom Colt had captured), wanted to meet him before he is electrocuted. Colt and his Watson, Anthony Abbot, travel to the jail where Taylor informs them that he does not mind dying but that he does mind that his girlfriend Marcella instead of supporting him has in fact deserted him and shacked-up with a certain Dr. Baldwin: a man who is evil incarnate and has devised a new method of killing people. After Taylor's death, the police search for Dr. Baldwin but are unable to find him. Marcella too gives them the slip.

Three years later, Warden Massal barges into Colt's office and tells him that he has located Dr. Baldwin. Before he can divulge anything else, he drops down dead. Colt sends two policemen to the address of Baldwin, one of whom expires while bringing Baldwin to the police headquarters. Colt starts his investigations and realises that the two doctors who were present at the time of Taylor's execution too have died under mysterious circumstances. Colt and Abbot travel to the house of Myron Forbes, the executioner. However before their horrified eyes, Forbes jumps into some electrical cables and is singed to death. Now Colt and Abbot are the only ones left who were present in the room on the fateful day when Taylor was put to death. How long before they too die inexplicably? And what role does Dr. Baldwin play in all this?

First Line: It was nearing ten o' clock, now, and we had been fighting the budget since dinner.
Alternate Title: Deadly Secret
Pub: London: Collins (The Crime Club), 1943
Pages: 192
Source: Borrowed
Other books read of the same author: None



Commander C[olumbus] D[arwin] Smith was the commanding officer of the USS Wake, one of the two war-ships left at Shanghai, China, when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbour. As Smith had no information about the attack, he was captured by the Japanese while his ship was renamed HIJMS Tatara and taken over by the Japanese navy. (The other war-ship, for those interested, was the Royal Navy's HMS Peterel which was sunk by the Japanese)

Smith, however, wasn't content to remain in Japanese captivity and was soon planning his escape. And escape he did but was soon recaptured by the Japanese forces. Undaunted, he continued to plan and in September 1944 made another bid for freedom. In the company of two other officers, Commander John B. Woolley of the Royal Navy and US Marine Jerold B. Storey, Smith scaled the walls of Ward Road Jail and made his was across miles and miles of Japanese occupied territory.

The story of this daring escape, from Shanghai to Calcutta, is told in thrilling detail (and in the first-person) by the author Quentin Reynolds, a journalist and war-correspondent. When Smith finally reaches Calcutta, he is told by the authorities that the Japanese have declared him dead and he remains dead in the official records of the US in order to hoodwink the Japanese.

More on Commander Smith can be accessed over here:

Incidentally, I have read quite a few books about daring escapes by Allied soldiers from the prisons of the Axis powers but haven't read any account of an Axis soldier escaping from an Allied prison. Can anyone recommend such  a book?

First Line: December 7th is a date that means a great deal to a great many people.
Alternate Title: He Came Back

Pub. Details: London: Panther Books, 1945
First Published: 1945
Pages: 190
Source: Borrowed from Library
Other books read of the same author: None


Professor Bart Moore-Gilbert is a renowned scholar of post-colonial studies. One day about to go to the pub, he opens his mail-box and finds by an email by an Indian Professor who is researching nationalist movements in India asking whether he has any family papers on his father who was a policeman especially deployed to squash one such movement in Sindh. For Moore-Gilbert, who lost his father at a tender age and who has mourned him ever since, this is news. His memories of his father, Bill, are those of Africa where the latter had settled after India became independent.

Determined to know more about this phase of his father's life, Moore-Gilbert travels to India at a time when the country is still in a shock over the Mumbail terror attack. What follows is a thrilling narrative about archival research, about searching for documents misplaced or destroyed either accidentally or deliberately, about the contested versions of the past, about the unreliability of memory which ultimately (as Salman Rushdie puts it) creates its own reality, about references to other authors: Kipling, Paul Scott, George Orwell, Amitav Ghosh, about finding that there are many aspects of your parents that you had no idea about, about an India caught between the wretchedness of poverty and the generosity of spirit....

I enjoyed this part-travelogue, part-detective fiction but what I found spine-tingling was this passage from T.B. Macaulay's address to the British Parliament in 1835:

I have travelled the length and breadth of India and I have not seen one person who is a beggar, who is a thief. Such wealth I have seen in this country, such high moral values, people of such calibre, that I do not think we would ever conquer this country unless we break the very backbone of this nation, which is her spiritual and cultural heritage. I propose that we replace her old and ancient education system, her culture, for if the Indians think that all that is foreign and English is good and greater than their own, they will lose their self-esteem, their native self-culture and they will become what we want them, a truly dominated nation.

Oh! The rapaciousness of Colonialism!!

There are two points that remain a mystery to me after reading this book. When Professor Moore-Gilbert arrives in Mumbai, he finds himself totally lost and disheartened. Why? Did he have no contact in the Mumbai University? Being a well-known critic in this part of the world, how is it that he had no acquaintance with any of the professors at Mumbai?

And secondly, why-oh-why is the name of firebrand nationalist leader, Netaji S.C. Bose misspelt as S.C. Bhose whenever it occurs in the text? Coming from an erudite scholar, this is inexcusable.

First Line: 'Get up, Nigger, quick,' Wilson whisper raps, 'don't wake the others.'

Publication Details: London: Verso, 2014
First Published: 2014
Pages: 306
Source: CL [954.035909 M781S]


Submitted for FFB, this week @ Todd Mason's blog, Sweet Freedom

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Books on Bhagat Singh

This month I have read more non-fiction than fiction. As three of these books deal with Indian revolutionary Bhagat Singh, I thought I'd club them together.


Rajshekhar Vyas is a noted writer who has written considerably about the revolutionary stream of our freedom struggle. This book deals with the thoughts of Bhagat Singh and also contains a translated version of Irish revolutionary Dan Breen's autobiography - My Struggle for Irish Freedom - a book which had a deep impact on Singh and his comrades.

First Line: - Bhagat Singh, jo phansi ke fande ko vichar ka manch samajhte  the.
Publication Details: ND: Pustakayan, 1989
First Published: 1989
Pages: 158


This book again deals with Bhagat Singh and his thoughts. The authors' note does not mention that this is a compilation of essays on Singh published at various times but the way the book is repetitive makes me suspect this is the case. Typos and certain factual inaccuracies are further irritants.

First Line: Bhagat Singh was an Indian freedom fighter, considered to be one of the most famous revolutionaries of the Indian independence movement.
Publication Details: ND: K.K. Publications, 2009
First Published: 2009
Pages: 249
Source: DPL


Lala Ram Saran Das was an older contemporary of Bhagat Singh who had already suffered incarceration at the infamous Cellular Jail in the Andamans when he met Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev and others of their circle. Arrested once again in 1929 and tried along with Bhagat Singh, he asked the latter to write an introduction to his verse-composition Dreamland. For years while Singh's introduction to the text was available, the main text itself seemed to have disappeared. But now one can not only read the text but also Das' preface which he wrote after India had become free and Bhagat Singh a memory. The preface which answers many of the questions raised by Singh in his introduction is interesting but what I found most touching was this line that Das made in his statement to the police: " After this I went to Amritsar and happened to see Sukhdev near the railway station."

I don't know why I was moved by this but perhaps just the thought that here were men who had met and talked with these young men, had accidentally chanced upon them....I don't know.

First Line: Lala Ram Saran Das Talwar was born at Kapurthala, on 24th August, 1888 in a middle class Kshatriya family, who devoted his heart and soul into the Freedom movement of India.

Publication Details: Chandigarh: Unistar Books, 2007
First Published: 2007
Pages: viii + 192
Source: CL [954 W196R]

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Mount TBR 2015: First Check-In

It's time for the first check-in @ Mount TBR Challenge hosted by Bev @ My Reader's Block.

It has been a slow start for me. I have read only two books from my shelves but as I have only the smallest mountain (Pike's Peak) to scale I am pretty happy with the progress.

The two books read are both biographies of Indian Revolutionaries:

1. Bhagat Singh: Liberation's Blazing Star by P.M.S Grewal
2. Ajey Krantikari Rajguru by Anil Verma

To answer a question asked by Bev as to who has been my favourite character, I would say that both Bhagat Singh and Rajguru are my favourites.


If you want to participate in the challenge, you can do so over here.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Mysteries in March

It has been a mixed bag of mysteries for me in this month of March. I read a couple of books which are all but forgotten and two which are far more recent.


This novel, published in 1918, is set in the pre-war years. Hugh Abercromby is a medical student in Germany who becomes involved in a nefarious German plot to over-run England (What else?)

Racial stereotyping is a major put-off in the novel. From what information, I have been able to get from the Web, the writer was a Scottish clergyman and unsurprisingly the Scots are described as an upright people, putting morals before everything else. Though surprisingly, earlier in the novel, there is a description of a Scottish farmer deliberately drowning his dog as it has become old and has outlived his usefulness. (Must say the description of the dog wagging its tail and licking it's master's mouth even as the latter put a stone round its neck was extremely difficult to read).

"The German", according to the narrator, Abercromby, "is childish in many ways: he is like a bad boy, not only in his love of destruction for its own sake, but also for his irrepressible boastfulness."

One can still overlook these views considering the time when the novel was published but to show the Germans as complete blackguards and then have a character say this:
"Sentimental I grant you...but then every one knows that the Germans are a sentimental, kindly, pious and simple race." (218)

You know that the author wants you to let out a big guffaw at this time. It simply put my teeth on edge.

First Line: If you leave the Friedrichstrasse at the first street beyond the Cafe Bauer, which is at the Danzigerstrasse, and then, near the far end, take the third to the right you come on the cafe Rosenkrantz.

First Published: 1918
Pages: 304
Source: Borrowed
Other books read of the same author: None


Last year I read Henry Cecil's delightful take on the anomalies between law and justice. Philip Mason (a writer whom I was more familiar with under his pseudonym Philip Woodruff, author of such texts as The Men Who Ruled India) also takes up the issue of law and justice (albeit in a more serious manner) in his 1946 novel Call the Next Witness.

We normally tend to believe that in a Court of Law, it is justice that prevails but Mason shows how any judgement delivered by the court is dependent on the evidence produced, especially on the testimonies of the witnesses who can be threatened, coached, bribed, coerced to give a false account.

Pyari, the daughter of a Thakur is married off to Gopal Singh, a thakur from another village. The marriage however, soon starts falling apart: He is avaricious and lustful, she is authoritative and shrewish. One day a quarrel between the two of them ends in Pyari being fatally shot. But did Gopal pull the trigger? Or was the death triggered off by something else altogether?

Mason, an ICS officer, presents a vivid picture of India in the 1940s and to have that touch of exoticism even has an entire chapter devoted to boar-hunting.

First Line: On the last day of her life, Pyari sat at her spinning in the veranda before her bedroom.
Publication Details: ND: Penguin, 1991
First Published: 1946
Pages: 208
Source: MCL [823.91 M381C]
Other books read of the same author: None


It was in 2012 that I first heard of Japanese writer Keigo Higashino. When I read The Devotion of Suspect X, the first in his Detective Galileo series, I was blown away. Here was a taut thriller that had me guessing till the end. Yet today I feel that Salvation of a Saint, the second in the series is even better than the first.

Don't go by the blurb, he is far better than Larsson

Ayane and Yoshitaka's marriage is over. Ayane cannot bear him a child and Yoshitaka cannot continue in such a relationship. Soon after his decision to end their marriage, Yoshitaka is found dead but Ayane, the logical suspect, was miles away. Did she kill him or not?

On the rain-drenched first Sunday of this month (the skies opened up on early Sunday morning and rain continued to pour continuously till late Monday afternoon), I snuggled up in a razai, opened this book...and just couldn't put it down. Reading the book with cups of garam cha and malpuas (hot tea and pancakes) was an experience that I'll cherish for ever.

First Line: The pansies in the planter had flowered - a few small, bright blooms.
Original Language: Japanese
Translator: Alexander O. Smith & Elye J. Alexander
Publication Details: ND: Abacus, 2013
First Published: 2008
Source: CL [823 H534S]
Other books read of the same author: The Devotion of Suspect X


After the highs, the lows. Earlier this year when I browsed the net for lists of the best mysteries of 2014, a novel that was featured repeatedly was author Tom Rob Smith's The Farm.

The premise seemed very interesting. Daniel's parents have retired to a farm in Sweden (his mother Tilde is a Swede). They are a loving couple who have always made their son feel secure and loved. Then one fine day Dan receives a call from his father stating that Tilde has been confined to a mental asylum as she had been imagining things and acting weirdly. A disturbed Dan books the first flight to Sweden but as he reaches the airport, he receives another call. This time it is his mother who tells him that she is flying over to London and not to believe a word uttered by his father. Caught between his parents, whom does Dan believe?

Who wouldn't want to read a book after such a premise? It was with great anticipation that I borrowed this book only for it to turn out to be a real turkey. The father's voice all but disappears in the narrative, more than 80% of which is devoted to the version of the mother, a character whom one exasperated Goodreads reviewer described as "beyond annoying".

First Line: UNTIL THAT PHONE CALL it had been an ordinary day.
Publication Details: ND: Simon and Schuster, 2014.
First Published: 2014
Pages: 351
Source: CL [823.910309 S55F]
Other books read of the same author: None

Monday, March 23, 2015

23rd March: A Remembrance in Books

It's that time of the year again. A day when I salute all those who laid their lives so that we could be born in a free country. This year too I am paying a homage to all those heroes by reviewing the books recently read on the revolutionary struggle for India's independence.


Sukhdev Raj was the person with Chandrashekhar Azad in Alfred Park on that fateful day when Azad attained martyrdom. In many ways, his reminiscences about his initiation into the revolutionary struggle in the Punjab and his later role in the party, makes for painful reading. While the first rung of Revolutionary leaders were in jail, the others who were supposed to carry the struggle forward simply fell apart, guided by personal vanities and gratifications and governed by petty jealousies and one-upmanship.

First Line: Mera Janam Lahore mein 7 December, 1907 ko Punjab ke khatri vansh mein hua.
Alternate Title: Jab Jyot Jagi
Editor: Sudhir Vidyarthi
Publication Details: ND: Rajkamal, 2009
First Published: 1971
Pages: 248
Source: DPL [954.0841 SUKHDE]
Other books read of the same author: None



Virendra was the editor of Partaap and Veer Pratap when the emergency was declared and editorials in newspapers started to be censored. Rather than suffer such an ignominy, Virendra stopped writing editorials and instead wrote a series of articles about his life as a young college student in pre-partioned Punjab when he was on the fringes of the revolutionary movement in Lahore. About the same age as Bhagat Singh and Sukhdev, Virendra was much impressed by the fiery zeal shown by these young men and became involved in the struggle for freedom. An involvement that saw him being arrested and locked-up in jails repeatedly.

For anybody interested in the history of pre-partioned Punjab, its politics, the prominent leaders, the play of press and politics, this is a must-read. In fact, reading it for the second time this year, I enjoyed it much more as compared to when I read it for the first time.

First Line: April 1927 ki baat hai.
Publication Details: ND: Rajpal & Sons, 1986
First Published: 1986
Pages: 212
Source: H.M.L [1602]
Other books read of the same author: None



Of the trio that was hung on 23 March, I had the least knowledge about the youngest, Rajguru. While I had read biographies of both Bhagat Singh and Sukhdev, this was the first time I read a full-fledged biography about Rajguru. Author Anil Verma thus has done a great job in filling a lacuna.

First Line: 23 March san 1931, Central Jail Lahore.
Publication Details: ND: Publications Division, 2008
First Published: 2008
Pages: 196
Source: Bought
Other books read of the same author: None

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Non-Fictional Reads in February

Besides Mysteries, I also read a couple of non-fictional books in February:


The author, P.M.S Grewal is Secretary, Delhi State Committee of the CPI (M), writes a thought-provoking introduction to his assessment of Indian Revolutionary Bhagat Singh but adds nothing new to the already existing scholarship on Bhagat Singh.

First Line: Bhagat Singh, like all individuals, was a product of his times.

Publication Details: ND: LeftWord, 2007
First Published: 2007
Pages: 104
Source: Bought @WBF, Delhi in 2010
Other books read of the same author: None


by ALEX TICKELL (2012)

Alex Tickell, lecturer in English at the Open University, UK, looks at certain flash-point situations during the British Raj: - The 'Black Hole' of Calcutta, the 1857 revolt, the assassination of Curzon Wyllie by Indian Revolutionary Madan Lal Dhingra in London, the Jallianwallah massacre, the dialogue between Gandhi and the revolutionaries - and discusses the impact on not only Indo-British relations but also on the literature of its time. Though a study of extensive scholarship, Tickell's book doesn't use convoluted arguments couched in high-sounding words but uses simple and effective language which make this book an easy and interesting read.

My favourite part of the book was however an extract from Veer Savarkar's book on the 1857 revolt:

Someone had asked the last Mughal Emperor, Bahadur Shah 'Zafar':

Dumdumaymen dam nahin ab khair mango jaan ki
Ai Zafar thandi ho gayi ab shamsheer Hindustan ki.

['Now that with every passing moment, you are becoming weaker, pray for your life (to the English): for, Oh! Emperor, the sword of India is now broken forever!']

To which the emperor replied:

Ghazion mein bhu rahegi jab talak imaan ki
Tabto London tak chalegi tegh Hindustan ki.

['As long as there remains the least trace of love of faith in the hearts of our heroes, so long, the sword of Hindustan shall be sharp, and one day shall flash even at the gates of London']

I'll also remember this book for another reason: I was reading this book in the Metro and a co-passenger glancing at the title of the book gave me a hard, searching look. It was then that it struck me that carrying books with the word Terrorism in the title can give rise to suspicious scrutiny nowadays.


First Line: By the night of 19 June 1756, the illusion of British mercantile authority in Calcutta, the East India Company's great trading centre in Bengal, had started to falter.

Publication Details: London & NY: Routledge, 2012
First Published: 2012
Pages: xiv + 273
Source: CRL: 0111944:g (Y:45) Q2
Other books read of the same author: None