The Paper Rants

A dance of words and chapters

The Collaborator – Mirza Waheed

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It was the summer of 2008. We were tightly packed in an old beat up Mazda 929 as it hobbled up and down the jaunty road of Rawalakot (Azad Kashmir) leading to Hajira. I was visiting North with my family to kill the summer heat and there was no better place to be than at Rawalakot, a cool bustling city near the outskirts of Muzaffarabad. As we rode the rusty creaking car to the nearest village to the LoC, the rain overcame us and by the time we reached, a dread had already crept into each of our person. It was an exciting place to be – the beautiful streams toppling down from the giant mountains, the clouds brushing past along the wind, the green inevitability of the land, the terrace fields of colored flowers, everything about the place sang of the exquisiteness of the valley. But the threads of the natural beauty unhashed as soon as upon exchanging pleasantries with the locals and receiving warm welcome, we heard about a Pak-India encounter at the LoC. It couldn’t be more timed. Just what I wanted to know about the situation at the LoC came to me in the concerned frowns and misty eyes of those people. Kashmir was beautiful during the day but dreadful at night. There was an ominous ring to everything that went about in Hajira valley. The fear, the trepidation, the anxiety of the place was haunting. Though everything was quite alright, I was never able to fathom that dread till today.
After reading Mirza’s novel, I came to understand that dread. The valley that hides many a secrets and stories in its limitless folds emanates that fear. Mirza’s book encompasses one of such stories, out of millions of others that are probably muffled over by now but not quite dead. The grief of each story collectively screams out of the valley and anyone visiting the place cannot help but discern that feeling of anger and helplessness. The story is about a boy who is unnamed during the entirety of the novel, takes on a special duty to collect belongings off the corpses left to rot in a hidden gorge. Though the boy is disgruntled and takes on the job out of fear, he’s constantly ridden by guilt and longs for the company of his friends who went missing – most probably crossed the border to Pakistan to get military training and pick up arms against the Indian army. While some of those men who cross borders to dream of upending the fate of the valley and turning revolutionaries encounter Indian Army, others left in the valley find it difficult to live under the constant surveillance of the same. There’s hardly any climax in the story. It finishes off smoothly as it starts, showing the adeptness of Mirza’s lyrical language which confers much without being overly dramatic.

A must read from this part of the world.

Apocalypse Now Now – Charlie Human

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The cover of the book, with its sensual juju wildness that suggested a Reservoir dog-ish underworld drama and nutty supernatural and somewhat bizarre fantastical characters, leapt out of the book and dragged me headfirst into it. All eagerness bound, I was expecting much violence and gore and also some titillating imagery and I’m glad to say that I wasn’t disappointed. However, all that expectations aside, the twists in the story were like a rollercoaster ride, you had to strap on and hold on tight whilst the author flounced you in and out of madness till the point you’re left to question your own sanity and the constant struggle to shut down the brain wave as to why the hell you picked it up, the book was just too fast and just too wild.

The story is of Baxter, a teenage boy from Cape Town, SA (post-apartheid ideal location for the underworld crimes), is hurled out of his perfect life of a bully-cum-businessman-running-his-own gang to an unexpected alternate reality when his girlfriend, Esme, goes missing. After a verbose battle of this badass bully with the much softer side of his personality, the softer Baxter wins over and goes out to hunt for his girl friend. His vision of normality diminishes as soon as he meets a crazy red-haired long beard filthy bounty hunter and he acquires a status of a seer, who goes back and forth his psychotic phases, and knocks down many unfathomable supernatural creatures just to spot Esme. His mentally handicap brother with his erratic drawings and his deranged grandfather lodging in an asylum for the crazy with his eccentric crow stories, feed Baxter with enough background to believe that the alternate reality he has just stepped over actually exists.

Without giving much away, I would wind up the review, hoping that the other readers of this book find this insanity perfectly plausible for their fantasy-driven mind but for me, it knocked me out of my sweater!!

Shalimar the Clown – Salman Rushdie

Shalimar-the-Clown4/5

All the time while I was reading this, I was specially reminded of the ‘Kashmir Hour’ broadcasted on PTV during the late 90s when the photos of mutilated bodies and wailing mothers used to repeatedly flash on the screen that made an 8 year old me cringe and get chilled to the bones. The fight for freedom was rich and loud while we dined and the TV blasted off songs of Humera Channa calling out to the world’s justice. We had no other option to switch a different channel. We had to realise that the war of freedom is hollering worse than ever until it got muffled over the years on our ears.

So this book is about Kashmir. Rushdie wanted to spit venom and did a tremendous job of it. Though the story rocked me out of my blazers, the long winded lament of Kashmir was a tad bit overdone. Rushdie wanted to come out ugly. He succeeded.

Such violence. Much drama.

The book starts in an intense manner when India (Kashmira), a smart woman of 30, harbours sexual thoughts for her father’s chauffer, a lean handsome Kashmiri man inducted specially for her father’s services. Later when her father, America’s counter terrorism chief, Max Ophulus (whose name is so wildly sensual) gets assassinated, the assassin turns out to be none other than the handsome chauffer himself who happens to be the husband of India’s mother. So there, now that you have a great Bollywood twist there, let’s move on to the more pressing matter at hand, Rushdie’s political concerns, which are not hard to discern through the text.

Rife with anti-Pakistan sentiments, Rushdie moves on to create a really ugly picture at the Line of Control, which is though somewhat true, stands out relentlessly as a biased stance of a one man’s propaganda. Other than that the book was an epitome of smart writing and rich cultural history. The realism, the dark magic, the Kashmiri food, the villages, the smell of the valley, the richness of the dialect screamed through the pages and while you can shrug off Rushdie’s biasness of Kashmiri’s fate, you cannot help but laud him for the powerful piece of writing.

I know the guy had gone through a lot of hate in the past, some deserved and some undeserved, but this book stands a chance to be read and analysed, along with other literature on Kashmir. And so while I cannot say it is one of the best books on Kashmir, it exists and it makes sure to leaves off a mark that is hard to rub off.

After the Prophet: The Epic Story of the Shia-Sunni Split in Islam – Lesley Hazleton

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*The review is solely based on my religious beliefs. May differ from yours which I respect and do not wish to discuss save only from what you have to say about the book.

I was an emotional b*tch while reading this in public transport. I understand that religion can be really sentimental and plays the chord of your heart like no other but I’d really like to get over my sentiments to make most out of the rational part. So, it was pretty hard for me to not remain teary eyed in the initial chapters on the beloved Prophet Muhammad (May thousands of blessings be upon him).
The split of Sunni-Shia is a subject which isn’t a new one and though many stories and facts are heard about it, no single reason is ever drawn. After reading this book, I can say it was all due to the result of an over possessiveness of a jealous wife and the devotees of the Prophet.
The book is a somewhat biased factual record of the history and if there was anything, it inspires in your life all the goodness that is in Islam and gets to the bottom of certain laws and events which always were doubtful or needed explanation on the subject. The fact is much more blood could’ve been saved to run a gush in the battle fields had the Prophet decided whose side he was on (according to the book). Much as was the Prophet unable to decide whether to be biased towards his loving wife or his own blood, Muslims too are torn between their love for the Mothers of the Faithful and the Ahl-e-bait.
The external factors and much of the incidents were a real eye opener and the split’s lineage to the current political situation of the middle east with reference to Sunni- Shia split was very knowledgeable too but though I thought it to be unbiased, in the end almost all of the accounts are from the Shia texts leaving little room for the Sunni’s less than no accounts of the events whatsoever. The book is a summarized version of the events as it happened so many of the details are voluntarily omitted.
Not a minute while reading this book did I ever yawn or got bored of the text, interesting and full of zest as it was, kept me on the toes.

The Moslems are Coming – Azad Essa

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Grabbed this book hurriedly while taking the van for university in the crappiest of moods, not aware of what’s in store, I skimmed through the preface to arrive at the first chapter with nonchalance only to find Essa’s brilliant wits sweeping away the grumpiness and I was totally caught unaware in the furnishes of gonzo journalism. I say gonzo because what I mostly read on blogs is too political to grab your interest for long. Essa had the humorous material to develop the longevity of the readers interest by strictly keeping himself within the confines of the matter. By not straying away from the major points, almost every chapter is an epitome of a successful message spread across. Touching on the subjects of Muslims maltreatment by the non-muslim world to the South African government and the presidents orgies (I wasn’t aware of either before reading the book) to Africa, Kashmir and India’s most important concerns, Nobel Prize, prominent activists and everything else that is human.
I think I must congratulate the author/blogger for increasing my interest in journalism manifold and opening the windows into all that I was unaware of.
This is the most current book for the most current topics for part hidden world. A must read this year.

No Exit – Satre

no_exit_miguel_mansur5/5

This play gave me a wonderful idea for my next photography project and another view of hell. Every time I pick up something by existentialist authors, I’m reminded of how much they closely border upon my thoughts on life. The play centers around three characters who are trapped in a room after being dead for several hours and begin conversing about each other’s idea of why they’ve landed there which they think is essentially the hell. They bicker, fight and hate each other and we come to see how each one of them is a cause of torment for another.

So to sum it up “Hell is other people.” 

There was never a time while reading this I wasn’t reminded of The Breakfast Club. The bickering and incessant probing for truth from each character was done almost alike. Even the lipstick scene is pretty much the same! Hughes, like Satre, tried to steer the focus away from stereotypical images and presented what is human under the façade. The play is short and quick to read but leaves a much lasting impression forever, and ever, and ever…

The Emperor’s Soul

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Ah, Sanderson. You’ve done it again!
I love Orientalist literature and absolutely adore the kind of fantasy Sanderson creates in his books. It’s dark and mysterious and always well experimented/researched leaving no second out of entertainment. This is a mix of both and so well balanced. There is no fantasy author I’ve read who experiments with concepts like death and soul so tactfully and amazingly as Sanderson always manages to do. The bad ass characters and swash buckling scenes all shoot straight at a masterpiece.
I wish he keeps on writing such novellas for people like me who can not get their hands on his hard/paperbacks so easily.

Lake by Banana Yoshimoto

2011_Melville House_Yoshimoto_The Lake_cover4/5 stars

In the end, I’m really really glad to have read this. Also, feeling far too proud to have discovered a new Japanese author whose book I can curl up with in not-so-perfect days to make sense of things and to realize that the world is not perfect neither are the beings breathing and surviving in it. This is the book that takes you with it to another world but soothingly, calming you into its fold where you feel safer and better.

Basically this is about two people who melt together easily into each other’s comfort and silence through a web of dreams and fears. Their relationship has a subtle influence that can make anyone shed a tear or two out of love and compassion. It’s dreamy and misty and reminds me of Japan at every turn of the page. The sadness that comes along with it is too addictive and a curious romantic like me found it absolutely easy.

If you are a fan of Hong Kong movies like In the Mood for Love, this is going to nip up a similar tango. I simply loved it

Ocean at the end of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

Ocean_at_the_End_of_the_Lane_US_Cover

3/5

What really surprises me about Gaiman is how he keeps on producing voluminous stuff in such frequency as he does, he is beginning to look like a best-seller churning machine to me now. Also, the class that comes with his books is not to be ignored. He hits it lucky with almost every book I’ve read of him and when I picked up this book, I dived into it already heavy with expectations. 

The book started off with a strangely familiar scene where a man drives to a place (Hempstock’s farm) after a funeral, as if in a trance and reminisces about his past sitting beside an ocean (is really just a pond), caught in the snippets of time, he is reeled back into his memories. The start of the book (which I read way back when the book was first released) enticed me to read more and urgently. However, I am a bit disgruntled to declare that the rest of the story that followed did not really sweep me away too far.

The story has Gaiman written all over the place (a bit too Coraline-ish!). It’s full of his usual quirks and crotchets and he really has it all together fairly fine until you’re well into the midriff where it’s stretch. And you can really feel that stretchhhh! (yes, it is a bit of a pulling-you-along-and-releasing sort of a stretch.) And then you’re on the loose into something that is full of meaning and stuff. 
The fact that the book is kinda memory house for the author makes it a bit personal to me, since Gaiman is revered by me like every other book geekster. Urrrgghhh.

Well, 3.5 stars from a jadedly surprised Gaiman fan

Fortunately, the milk by Neil Gaiman

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If you really want to exercise your imaginative muscles which I’m sure must have rusted after reading Russian literature for a long time (out of custom, out of habit) then it would be apt to pick this sherbet strawberry inked by Gaiman himself. Though he was being as original in this book as he’s been in any, I thought he gave us a blend of Roald Dahl, Douglas Adams and Dr. Seuss here.

So, the story goes: Mother leaves the kids and the father behind while she goes away to attend a conference on lizards. The father who scarcely moves his nose out of the newspaper, goes to fetch some milk for the young ones. Takes ages in returning and when he does, he makes up a story involving green globby aliens who wants the father to name off the planet of Earth to them so that they can plant plastic flamingos on earth instead of the trees….

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Wumpires (Vampires of our world..*rolls eyes*), Splod, the god of people with short funny names, Professor Steg ( A stegosaurus, who is for Dad as Dr. Emmet Brown was for Marty. You guessed it – a time traveller!)..
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Space police (Which is nothing but a bunch of dinosaurs on high speeding motor bikes in space)

6576040and well, a bunch of pirates and a fatso pirates queen.

During all this fiasco where the Dad time travels and escapes these rowdy characters one by one, he makes sure no harm comes to the milk and hence, when he returns, it was Fortunately, the milk that saves him.

I know, I should also let you know that this book is pitched for kids but I dunno why I feel this too would be enjoyed by Gaiman fans of all sizes and ages. And he’s doing a great job promoting it. 😉

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