November 2013 Posts

Of diaries and YA literature

Of diaries and YA literature

Tales from the Secret Annexe, Anne Frank, Hachette IndiaOne of the most famous diaries to have been kept by a teenager has to be thirteen-year-old Anne Frank’s Diary, maintained during World War II. Years later it continues to be powerful. ( In fact her lesser known writings were published last year – Tales from the Secret Annexe, a collection of short stories, fables, personal reminiscences, and an unfinished novel, Cady’s Life. )

Recently the diary form has caught the imagination of many writers. An influential factor on this genre has been Jeff Kinney’s Wimpy Kid series. The story began online but was soon published as  a diary, with scribbles and illustrations taking nearly 50% of the space in the book. Earlier this month, the latest volume, Hard Luck, was published. According to the publishers, Penguin Books India, it immediately zipped to the top and is No. 1. Wimpy KidIt is understandable. Frank  conversations, angst about “losing” a friend to a girl friend, bullying etc. It is fun to read. In fact the moment a mother saw the book in my hand, she pushed off to the bookstore to buy her daughter a copy!

Diary of a Soccer Star

According to the promotional poster for the book this is a book that has done exceedingly well. Yet there are other titles in this genre for young adults. Some of the recent ones are: Shamini Flint’s diaries of sports “men” ( Diary of a Soccer StarDiary of a Cricket God, and Diary of a Taekwondo Star); Paro Anand’s The Secret Diary of the World’s Worst Genius and a favourite of mine – Mayil will not be quiet ( by Niveditha Subramanian and Soumya Rajendran). The latter was shortlisted for the Crossword Book Award for children’s literature but never won. (Actually no one won that year!) It is a sensitively told book, touching upon various issues dear to a teenager, whose hormones are already out of control but is a sharp and perceptive observer of the world around them. Some of the challenges that can bewilder anyone, especially a teenager, are of sexual attraction, recognition of domestic violence victims but how to address it, privacy and basic social arrangements. It is very well told, sensitively too, without being patronising and can easily be accepted especially in the Indian milieu.

Oh! And how can I forget the Hank Zipser series, which follows the “everyday adventures of a bright  boy with learning challenges”. ( http://www.hankzipzer.com/ ) Written and based upon Henry Winkler’s dyslexia, these books have been on the New York Time’s bestseller list as well. Stories worth reading. ( FYI: Henry Winkler played the role of Fonz in the long-running and hugely popular TV series, Happy Days.) In fact in September 2013, CBBC announced that a new show, “Hank Zipser”, has been commissioned. It will feature Henry Winkler in it. ( http://www.bbc.co.uk/mediacentre/latestnews/2013/hank-zipzer-announced.html )

Paro Anand, The Secret Diary of the World's Worst Genius

Mayil will not be quiet, Tulika

“Mirrored Mind” Vikram Chandra

“Mirrored Mind” Vikram Chandra

Vikram Chandra, Mirrored Minds

Sometimes the sheer vastness of what I want to put into fiction terrifies me. I survive by not thinking about the whole. I write my 400 words this day, and then another 400 words the next. I find my way by feeling, by intuition, by the sounds of the words, by the characters’ passions, by trekking on to the next day, the next horizon, and then the next. I pay attention to the track of narratives I leave behind, and I look for openings ahead. I make shapes and I find shapes. I retrace my steps, go over draft after draft, trying to find something, I am not sure what until I begin to see it. I am trying to make an object, a model, a receptacle. What I am making will not be complete until I let go of it.  (p.197)

It must be lonely being a writer,’ people have said to me. But I like being alone, at least for a goodly sized portion of every day. And working by myself on other things — programming for instance — is never painful. There is something else altogether that is peculiar to the process of fiction writing, a grinding discomfort that emerges from the act itself: it feels, to me, like a split in the self, a fracture that leaves raw edges exposed.  ( p. 213)

It is always a pleasure to read/hear writers talk about their craft. Programmer and successful author like Vikram Chandra spends a couple of chapters — “Learning to Write” and ” The Language of Literature” — in his latest book, Mirrored Mind: My Life in Letters and Code. dwelling upon he found his way into writing fiction. He mulls over the similarities and complexities of language, a skill that is inherent to both professions and how one informs the other, while being so different as well. Two essays worth reading especially by new authors curious about the craft of writing.

Vikram Chandra Mirrored Mind: My Life in Letters and Code Hamish Hamilton, Penguin Books India, New Delhi, 2013. Hb. pp. 260 Rs. 499

 

Anthony Horowitz “Russian Roulette”

Anthony Horowitz “Russian Roulette”

Russian RouletteWhen the Cold War raged, there were plenty of spy novels being written. With the collapse of USSR, the Berlin Wall, and the collapse of a polarised world even novelists who specialised in this genre were at a loss. In fact it was after many years that John Le Carre released a new book — A Delicate Truth— in 2013. ( My review http://www.jayabhattacharjirose.com/jaya/2013/06/01/a-delicate-truth-john-le-carre-june-2013/ ) But children’s and YA literature has continued to have an appetite for espionage fiction. The new Alex Rider novel, Russian Roulette, is a fine example of it. It is a “prequel” to the hugely popular Alex Rider series. It is about the young Russian man, Yassen Gregorovich who is sent to America to kill the fourteen-year-old spy, Alex Rider. While on the mission he reminisces about his childhood in the village of Estrov, his parents, the chemical warfare and his induction into becoming a lethal contract killer.

Russian Roulette required a fair amount of research especially for the Russian sections of the book. As he mentions in the book – ” So much changed between 1995 and 2000 — the approximate setting of the story — that I’ve been forced to use a certain amount of dramatic licence.” But Anthony Horowitz is a marvellous storyteller that he is able to tell the story with finesse. 

Anthony Horowitz Russian Roulette Walker India, Walker Books, 2013. Pb. pp. 410 Rs. 350

Hybrid books

Hybrid books

Hachette Indiapedia

School textbook market is the bread and butter of many publishing businesses. If a book get adopted by a school board or a bunch of schools, then the title has an assured market for many years to come. It is a market that is not easily broken into. It has a cycle of publishing that is very different to trade publishing–it is a specialist market. Most importantly, the content being created needs to be vetted or written by specialists. Yet of late trade publishers, at least in India, have been making attempts to step into the school textbook market by creating books I would like to term as “hybrid books” — books that somewhat fit on the lists of a trade publisher but with the hope of being adopted by the school market.

The three examples of recently published books that I wish to discuss are — Indiapedia: The All India FactfinderHachette: School Handbook, and India:A to Z. These are a cross between easy reference books for school students and encyclopaedic in their content, with a bit of trivia thrown in, suitable for young quizzers. Save for India:A to Z written by Veena Seshadri and Vidya Mani, the other two books seem to have been put together by a content creator or a team.  For instance Indiapedialists Christmas as one of the top 10 festivals in India ( all though it does not include Christianity as one of the religions in India). The entry on p.187 is:

The celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ is carried out with great pomp and fervour in India. Christians and non-Christians alike attend Mass in churches and partake of Christmas cake. Midnight Mass at St. Paul’s Church in Kolkata is a favourite spot for tourists to attend at this time. Christmas trees are decorated and hymns are sung–this is perhaps one of the most favourable reminders of the British Rule in India. 

It is a rewriting of history. It is not  a legacy of British Rule in India. For the record, Christianity has been practised in India for as long as the religion has been around — 2000 years.Hachette School Handbook

India A To Z, An Alphabetical Tour Of Incredible IndiaEven in India:A to Z the reference on p.43 to the “Fab things freedom fighters did!”, to only focus on the events of 1857, referring to it as a “revolt” or mentioning Veer Savarkar’s book terming the “The Indian War of Independence” needs to be reviewed. Historians prefer to refer to it as “Uprising”, taking into account all perspectives.

This is careless writing and irresponsible publishing. All three books mentioned here need to be vetted by educationists and academics for the information that they include. If these hybrid books get the stamp of approval from specialists, the chances of these books being adopted by schools and selling well, will increase substantially. A point to be considered rather than releasing mediocre books that in all likelihood will sink.

 

 

 

Hachette School Handbook Hachette India, Delhi, 2013. Pb. pp. 250 Rs. 195

Veena Seshadri and Vidya Mani India: A to Z An Alphabetical Tour of Incredible India Puffin Books, New Delhi, 2013. Pb. pp. 160. Rs. 325

Hachette Indiapedia: The All-India Factfinder Hachette India, New Delhi, 2013. Pb. pp. 250. Rs. 175

 

 

“Eye on the tiger”, an interview with Valmik Thapar, The Hindu, 23 Nov 2013

“Eye on the tiger”, an interview with Valmik Thapar, The Hindu, 23 Nov 2013

Tiger Fire, Valmik Thapar, Aleph, Nov 2013Later this month Aleph will be releasing Tiger Fire by Valmik Thapar. It is a fantabulous book with rare pictures and documentation. It is worth buying. I interviewed the author for The Hindu. The interview has been published online on 23 Nov 2013 – http://www.thehindu.com/features/magazine/eye-on-the-tiger/article5383268.ece – and it will be available in print tomorrow, 24 Nov 2013. I am c&p the interview below.) 

Valmik Thapar, whose new book will be out on December 3, talks about how he got involved with the big cat.

Valmik Thapar has spent several decades serving the wild tigers of India. During this time, he has written more than 20 books and made or presented nearly a dozen films for the BBC and several other television networks on the tiger and Indian flora and fauna. He has also established the Ranthambhore Foundation, a non-governmental organisation dedicated to conserving wildlife. Despite having served on government panels and committees relating to nature conservation, he is today a fierce critic of government policy and continues to campaign and fight for new ways to save wild tigers and nature in India. This, he feels, requires partnerships with civil society in villages, towns and cities and a change in the mindset of governments. His latest book, Tiger Fire, brings together the best non-fiction writing, photography and art on the Indian tiger and is also the first time he writes on the tiger from a historical perspective. Excerpts from an interview:

How did you fall in love with tigers?

That is not easily explained, as the power of that emotion is beyond words. In 1976, I was probably open to such an experience but could never have imagined that my love for the tiger would have continued over my lifetime. Basically watching tigers, fighting for them, and looking at their history fills up my senses like nothing else… it has a power over me. This book has been a labour of love and just over three years in the making.

Tiger Fire details your experience in the Ranthambore Park. What unusual facts about tigers have you discovered in the many years of observing them?

In nearly 38 years of a life spent with tigers, I believe that the tigers of Ranthambore rewrote their natural history for the world to read, see and record. The first records of kin links among tigers were established here as were the first records of the male tiger in the role of a father and looking after cubs. This has also been established by Kim Sullivan’s recording of the baby sitter in Bandhavgarh and, more recently, Balendu Singh’s record of the male tiger bringing up cubs after the tigress died. Earlier most believed that the male killed the cubs. Ranthambore also gave us the first pictures of tigers killing in water, fighting crocodiles, eating pythons and porcupines, of a bear attacking a tiger, of the secret life of mother and cubs in the first six months of the cubs’ existence…

Towards the end of Tiger Fire,  you sound disappointed by the government’s efforts made to save the tiger. What are the current initiatives (nationally and globally) to help save the tiger?

So far as current initiatives are concerned, I find them pathetic and encouraging of lip service rather than of field action. I advocate that the bureaucracies of the world — especially in India where 50 per cent of the world’s population of tigers live — should share power and decision making with committed people in villages, towns, and cities, with scientists, NGOs and conservationists.

In Africa, countries like Kenya, South Africa and Botswana allow all kinds of models from local people managing the conserved area to resort hotels managing it to partnerships between resorts, locals and the government. As a result, large and new areas have been added to wildlifescapes. In the Masai Mara, the locals get more than $100 million a year from revenues generated from tourism. In some areas, only locals manage both the area and tourism.

In India, the government takes on this role and it is least talented. We need to reform our levels of governance, change our rules and accommodate the young and the talented in the effort to save the tiger.We need a landscape approach with innovative tourism models. (Landscape means all categories of land: government, private, revenue and includes local people who may choose to live within it.) Our government must also partner with locals in villages to create a mindset change if the tiger is to survive.

In saving the tiger, what are the other animals that are also being saved from extinction? 

With the tiger, you save leopards, bears, rhinos and elephants and all the deer and grass eaters right down to the birds and insects. If you fail, it strikes them all. There should be special schemes for snow leopards, wolves, brown bears, sharks, whales… all of which represent their ecosystems. This requires immense political will and action.

The section “Tiger in Time” brings together the finest writing on the tiger by a variety of writers from the 16th to the early 20th centuries.  But most are foreigners. Are there no accounts in Indian languages?

I could not find any with the kind of detail that the foreign travellers brought to the table. May be from the 16th to the 19th centuries, India’s forests were so thick and inaccessible that, till the British entered to plunder them, there were written records by locals who lived outside. It was the tribals who lived in the forests and I could not find their written narratives. I think there were two worlds in those times — the tame one outside the forest where the kings and emperors ruled and the wild forest where the tribals ruled. Very few ventured into each other’s worlds till the British came in. There is a lot of visual material on paper and stone and a rich folklore. I have given a short summary of it in the section “The Cult of the Tiger”. A book of the same name and The Tiger: Soul of India, both published earlier by Oxford University Press, also deal with that aspect.

After the Ranthambore National Park was created, it meant that villagers — whose ancestors had for centuries lived within the environs of the Park — had to lose their homes and all access to wood, water and traditional farming lands. An initiative to support these villagers was taken when the Ranthambore Foundation was created with the objective of acting as a catalyst in resettling the displaced communities. The Ranthambore Foundation was created to help resettle the villagers displaced when the Ranthambore National Park was created. Presumably this model helped the people to look for alternate sources of income and livelihood and thus help conserve the natural habitat of the tiger. Do you think such a model has been successful? Would you advocate it for other sanctuaries? 

Personally, I see the model as a failure because it did not do enough. In the 1990s, we had a rigid and uninterested forest bureaucracy who did not know how to partner and hold hands. Many believed that Ranthambore would have been in a mess without the creation of the foundation. There should be site-specific models in every tiger forest but the forest bureaucracy has to change their mindset and start working with locals first.

Excerpt from Tiger Fire —

“The Secret Life of the Tiger”

Strange as it may seem, it was on my last night that I had the encounter I always longed for. After dinner that night, I slipped into the jeep with the two trackers, Laddu and Badyaya, and the driver, Prahlad Singh. … The sky was pitch black with a brilliant array of stars. Our first job was to check two live baits that had been put out to attract the tiger …. The first bait that we went to check was tied to a large banyan tree at Singh Dwar. It had been killed. My heart missed a beat, but I could see nothing around the dead animal. As I flashed my torch around, I spotted a leopard curled up in the banyan tree watching the carcass.

Other than the crickets playing their orchestra, there were no other sounds. Suddenly, the booming alarm call of a sambar deer rent the air. I knew instinctively that a tiger had killed and the sound of our jeep had forced it to flee. … I waited for a while but the tiger was not coming. Our presence discouraged it. I did not realize it then but it would be years before the Ranthambhore tigers would lose their fear of man.

I quickly drove off to the second bait. Gone. Not a sign of it anywhere. I tried to search the area thoroughly but an old ruined wall hampered my visibility. I was sure the tiger feasted behind it. I was desperate to see it and the only person I could think of who might help was Fateh Singh Rathore. I raced out of the park to Sawai Madhopur where he lived. It was nearly 11 p.m. when I arrived at his house. On banging on the door, I found Fateh a little groggy but awake. When I explained the situation to him, I caught a glint in his eyes. He picked up his Stetson hat and jacket and we raced back into the park. With Fateh at the wheel, we reached the old wall at the edge of the lake close to midnight. He drove all around the wall, cramming the jeep into every crevice and corner. We directed our searchlights into every conceivable place we could think of. I was sure that the elusive tiger of Ranthambhore would have fled the scene because of all the pandemonium.

As I had suspected, we found nothing, but as Fateh reversed I saw the rear wheels of the jeep entering the water and soon the back of the vehicle was in danger of being submerged. I shouted to Fateh that we would soon be afloat and all he said was to keep the torch trained on the wall. And that is how I saw my first tiger in Ranthambhore— from a floating jeep while I flashed the searchlight around. There was a sudden sharp cough and snarl. Framed in front of me and watching the commotion with its huge head above the wall was the tiger. …

Excerpted with permission from Aleph Book Company

Tiger Fire; Valmik Thapar, Aleph Book Company, Rs.2995.

On business books

On business books

Malcolm GladwellBusiness books are useful, at least those meant for the lay reader. These spell out complicated business methodologies and strategies simply, usually anecdotal. For instance, Malcolm Gladwell’s basic premise that it is the attitude that matters on how you tackle a problem. He uses the Biblical analogy of David & Goliath but the examples he cites to illustrate his point are of ordinary people in ordinary settings, who later went on to make a change. It could be in their personal lives or impacting others.

Subroto Bagchi, Inked, MBA at 16Subroto Bagchi’s premise in The Elephant Catchers is much the same. To net the big clients for business, a lot of it depends upon your strategy, confidence and attitude. Some of the ideas that he hopes to inculcate in the students he interacts with in MBA at 16. Vijay Govindarajan and Chris Timble are a little technical and create models to explain the different stages of a business evolving. Theories that are useful to know and understand.

 

Dave TrottBut it is Dave Trott, advertising guru, uses plenty of stories to explain different, but pertinent, aspects of promoting a service/product. Yet reading his book, Predatory Thinking, along with the others on how to be effective in business, one realises that the best way to learn and grow a business is to be confident, honest about your deliverables to the client, passionate about your work, build your brand image slowly and steadily, word-of-mouth publicity is still the strongest mode of promotion, and always be sharp, creative, think out-of-the box and never get dull. Learn, learn and learn. Beyond the Idea

 

 

Malcolm Gladwell David & Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits and the Art of Battling Giants Allen Lane, an imprint of Penguin Books, London, 2013. Hb. pp. 310.

Vijay Govindarajan and Chris Timble Beyond the Idea: Simple, powerful rules for successful innovation St Martin’s Press, Macmillan, London, 2013. Hb. pp. 178

Dave Trott Predatory Thinking: A Masterclass in out-thinking the competition Macmillan, London, 2013. Hb. pp. 270

Subroto Bagchi The Elephant Catchers: Key Lessons for Breakthrough Growth Hachette India, New Delhi, 2013. Hb. pp. 240.

Subroto Bagchi MBA at 16: A Teenagers Guide to the World of Business Inked, the Young Adult imprint of Penguin Books India, New Delhi, 2012. Pb.

 

“Looking for Jesus, the man” ( An interview with Reza Aslan, the Hindu, 16 Nov 2013)

“Looking for Jesus, the man” ( An interview with Reza Aslan, the Hindu, 16 Nov 2013)

I was asked by the Hindu to interview Reza Aslan. Earlier this year he published Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth. It was released in India by HarperCollins in Sept 2013. The interview that was conducted via email has been published online on 16 Nov 2013 and in the paper edition on 17 Nov 2013. Here is the url http://www.thehindu.com/features/magazine/looking-for-jesus-the-man/article5357812.ece?homepage=true . I am c&p the text below. ) 

Reza AslanDr. Reza Aslan on why he wrote his new book, Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth.

Dr. Reza Aslan, an internationally acclaimed writer and scholar of religions, is the author ofZealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth, which was in the news a few months ago and also reached the number one slot on The New York Times Bestseller List.

He is the founder of AslanMedia.com, an online journal and co-founder and Chief Creative Officer of BoomGen Studios, an entertainment brand for creative content from and about the Greater Middle East. His first book No god but God: The Origins, Evolution, and Future of Islam, was translated into 13 languages. His other works include How to Win a Cosmic War(published in paperback as Beyond Fundamentalism: Confronting Religious Extremism in a Globalized Age) and Tablet and Pen: Literary Landscapes from the Modern Middle East and Muslims and Jews in America: Commonalties, Contentions, and Complexities.

Excerpts from an interview:

How long did it take you to write this book?

I have been researching for more than two decades, ever since I began my academic work on the New Testament as an undergraduate at Santa Clara University in California. Of course the quest for the historical Jesus has been going on for 200 years. Countless scholars and academics have written about the Jesus of history. The methodology for that is more or less written in stone by this point. I have distilled these two centuries of debate and analysis and rendered it in an appealing and accessible way for a general audience.

What was the target audience you had in mind?

I wanted to give those who worship Jesus as God a different perspective of him as a man. Of course, Christians believe that Jesus was both God and man, yet they rarely understand the implications of that belief. If Jesus was also a man, it means he lived in a specific time and place, and that time and place shaped who he was. This book is an introduction to that time and place. But I also wanted to write to a non-Christian audience to help explain why, 2000 years later, this man and his teachings and actions are still so significant.

Has your upbringing influenced your thinking?

My upbringing taught me to take faith seriously, to respect it and not denigrate it, even when I am questioning some of the most fundamental tenets of that faith.

What was the most surprising thing that you discovered?

I suppose the most surprising thing about Jesus and his time was just how many other messiahs there were around the first century, many of whom were far more popular and far more successful in their lifetime than Jesus was.

What is the difference, if any, between the men who claimed to be messiahs in Jesus’ time and the many god men (across religions) today?

I suppose if you believe that all religious experience is a matter of the psyche, then there is not much of a difference.

In the “Author’s Note, you state that you “have chosen not to delve too deeply into the so-called Gnostic gospels… they do not shed much light on the historical Jesus himself”. But did not the Gnostic gospels actually reveal much more about the man we know as Christ, including that he probably belonged to the Essene sect? So would not a close reading have helped you “reclaim” the historical Jesus before he became synonymous with Christianity?

The Gnostic Gospels were written in the second and third centuries. While they shed light on the enormous diversity of Christianity in the years following the death of Jesus, they do not give us much information about the historical Jesus himself. Neither does the Gospel of John, which by the way was written between 100 and 120 A.D. These texts are simply too late to be of much use to those looking for the Jesus of history.

The Jews attached great importance to writing things down. Yet the testaments were written only some 70 years after Jesus’ death. Muhammad knew the importance of writing things down, yet the Quran ended up being a careful reconstruction of his words. In your opinion, why isn’t there a Book of Jesus?

Mostly because nobody could have written it. Jesus and his disciples were Galilean peasants. None of them could read or write.

Was your choice of Christ as a subject a natural result of being a scholar of religion or did it have something to do with the number of books on the topic, including Philip Pullman’s The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ and Colm Toibin’s The Testament of Mary?

I think Jesus has always been an interesting character and always will be. While some argue that there has been a sudden flood of books about Jesus recently, the truth is that such books have been appearing every few years for some time.

Do you think that the days when men could start major world religions are over?

On the contrary, take Mormonism, which is only 150 years old and already a major world religion. I think the same could be said about Scientology one day. Religions are born all the time. Who knows which one will be seen as “great” one day?

Reza Aslan Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth Harper Element, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers India, Delhi, 2013. Hb. pp. 300. Rs. 499

“The Siege: The Attack on the Taj”

“The Siege: The Attack on the Taj”

The Siege

When 26/11 happened it was unnerving to see the drama that was being shown live on televisions. During the attacks I was with a colleague at a national security agency to discuss an academic journal. Before beginning the meeting, we spent a few minutes watching the drama being shown on the television. It was a little disconcerting to get a running commentary from the security experts on the tactics, the guns being used by the armed forces etc. They were analysing the situation and figuring out what to do next. They had been trained to assess and act under such situations. But what happens when many ordinary citizens are ambushed by armed gunmen? You get a glimpse of it in The Siege. The panic and chaos exists, but also how well individuals can behave under extraordinary pressure.

Adrian Levy and Cathy Scott-Clark have written a “non-fiction thriller” called The Siege. It is a reconstruction of the events of 26 November 2008 (or 26/11 as it is popularly referred to) attacks in Mumbai. This is a book based upon innumerable interviews, reports, conversations, audio files, mobile phone text messages etc. They even obtained “audio files and transcripts from the wiretaps placed on the gunmen’s phones from India, US and British security sources, the most complete to be assembled, which includes matter never published before.” (p.297) Later they add — “Inevitably, some of these reconstructed events will jar with individual memories that placed a person somewhere else, at a different time, as might some of the dialogue, although we have tried to show some accuracy. A few quotations have been compared to or directly extracted from interview survivors gave at the time to cable news channels and newspapers, so as to capture the authenticity of that moment – the thoughts that they had back then, rather than with the benefit of hindsight.” (p.299)

In an interview to the Outlook ( http://www.outlookindia.com/article.aspx?288414 ) they say “It would be wrong to rewrite the truth but one thing is clear that a whole lot more of the threat was known than anyone let on. Incredible details were provided because, as we now know, the US intelligence community, was all over Lashkar-e-Toiba. Hotels, especially wonderful historic hotels, like the Taj, are theatres. They need to balance the desire for spectacle, being the House of Magic, with the safety of their guests. In this case, the hotel, the upper echelons of the police, and the intelligence services fought each other, and undermined the value of the early warnings they received. That is undeniable….A truth that emerges here is the police on the ground did what they could with the resources they were allocated. But in reality there were insufficient — shoes, bullets, helmets, guns jackets and patrol boats — to protect this one of the largest and wealthiest cities in the world, where private money builds sky scrapers and is not ploughed back into the municipality — that teeters.”

The Siege is not easy to read. The writing in the first few pages is stodgy, but after a while it is forgotten, and it is easier to read. For a lay reader it is a fascinating document that reconstructs the events of 26/11. Of the many recent attempts (including accounts in newspapers and magazines) are retelling or attempting to fathom what happened in the terrorist attacks of 26/11, this is a book that will often be referred to since it marshals together evidence in one place. A technique that the authors are familiar with, having applied it in their previous book, The Meadow which was on the kidnapping of the ten western journalists in Kashmir. But The Siege needs to be read/reviewed by security experts for their comments.

Adrian Levy and Cathy Scott-Clark The Siege: The Attack on the Taj Penguin Books India, New Delhi, 2013. Pb. pp. 320 Rs. 499

Spirit Animals, Book 1: Wild Born

Spirit Animals, Book 1: Wild Born

Spirit Animals, Wild Born, Book 1“You got a true response through trickery,” she said. “What you did to use was a betrayal.”

Brandon Mull’s Spirit Animals is about four children– Conor, Abeke, Meilin and Rollan– born in Erdas. They are eleven-years-old when they are expected to drink the Nectar before witnesses, where it will be revealed if they have a spirit animal. Irrespective of class or gender, all children are eligible ( in fact must) drink the nectar. Whereupon Conor, Abeke, Meilin and Rollan are successful in calling Briggan the Wolf, patron beast of Eura; Uraza the leopard; Jhi the panda, who is on the Great Seal of Zhong; and Essix the Falcon respectively. Guided by the Greencloaks The children set off on a quest to tackle the dark forces that are determined to destroy the world of Erdas.

The concept of spirit animals is based on power animals. According to Wikipedia it is a broadly animistic and shamanic concept that has entered the English language from anthropology, ethnography and sociology. Power animals are common to shamanic practice in both Eurasia and the Americas. They are the helping or ministering spirit or familiar which empowers individuals and is essential for success in any venture undertaken.
In the shamanic worldview, most persons have power animals or tutelary spirits which empower and protect them from harm, like guardian spirits or angels in the Abrahamic traditions. In these traditions, the power animal may also lend the wisdom or attributes of its kind to those under its protection.

Brandon Mull may have borrowed this concept from Shamanism but the story is original. The world of Erdas is created very well. From page one, the reader is immersed in the story. The author is an American writer, a New York Times bestselling author, who firmly believes that “imagination can take you places”. Wild Born is the first of a series planned.

Brandon Mull Spirit Animals: Wild Born ( Book 1) Scholastic Inc., USA, 2013. Hb. pp. 200 Rs. 450