Thursday, March 30, 2017

The Case of the Missing Servant- A Review

This is the first book in the Vish Puri series and I unfortunately read it after I had read The Case of the Love Commandos. Had I read it before I would have been even more favourably inclined towards the author. To cut a long story short, this is a much more lovable book then the previous one and something gives me a feeling that all the other ones after this, as wel.. So without much ado, here is what I thought of the plot, characters and the writing in the book, "The Case of the Missing Servant".

A servant goes amiss and the employer- an upright lawyer in Rajasthan- is charged with her murder. When our hero, 'the' Vish Puri of Most Private Investigators starts on the job, he has nothing to go on with. The lawyer's wife and others in the household can't help him beyond the missing servant's name. They did not know where she came from and of course where had she mysteriously disappeared to. The only thing he finds in the servant quarter that she occupied are some stones. The rest of the book, as you can well imagine, is devoted to how he manages to get the lawyer off the hook.

But..but..but...there are other interesting things happening in the story and that is what impressed me. While Vish Puri is engaged in this case, he is fired upon. His mother (less annoying in this book) solves this bit. He is also hired by an Army officer of old who wants him to run a check on his grand daughter's fiancee and give him something to call off the wedding. While doing this we are given a better and a more rounded picture of who and why Vish Puri is what and how he is. His family- wife and daughters- also are introduced.

We meet the characters that form his core team- Handbreak, Doorstop, FaceCream and his secretary Madam Rani- with their back stories which are very interesting and also show the author's understanding of the Indian milieu.

All in all a great read, especially if you like all the questions answered.

The Case of the Love Commandos: A Review

Umm.....The book makes for a light reading. If you are an Indian reading this book, chances are you will be supremely impressed by Mr. Hall's knowledge (or research) on Indian towns and how things work here. I may add here that he is a British journalist living now in India with his wife. That said, I found the book enjoyable to a great extent but also found some bits and parts quite irritating. 

The most enjoyable things first. The caste of characters and their names. Consider these- Facecream, Flush and Tubelight. The plot is thick and quite absorbing. You do want to find out what is going on with the characters and do want to get to the bottom of things. The plot takes you from Khan Market in New Delhi to a pilgrimage to Vaishno Devi to the villages of UP. The author is very particular about the details of the gulleys and the lanes that he mentions in the story and I felt as if he might have visited each one of them standing there thinking about how to further the plot.

The sub-plot which takes place in Jammu, of which Puri's mother Mummy ji takes charge of, is what I found annoying. There too, no complaints from how the things unravel but the jargon, after a certain point, began to get on my nerves. The passive sentences that she uses and the Hindi of those translated into English language- reading that taxed my eyes and my brain at the same time.

In all the detective and his team are a lovable lot and an attention to detail is what makes it a winner for me.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

In hope of a random power cut

When I was growing up in a small town in Himachal Pradesh in the 80s, there were no fans and really not much electricity around. A power cut instead of being a threat to mental peace was a delightful exit into a world of fantasy and rhythm. Here is a peek into my childhood
“Oh when I look back now
That summer seemed to last forever
And if I had the choice
Ya - I'd always wanna be there
Those were the best days of my life”
When I see my 8 year old daughter with her nose deep down in an electric gadget I can’t do more than sigh. It is so difficult to persuade kids these days to step outside of the four walls giving up the comfort of an air conditioned room and the plush mattress under their derriere. Maybe it has been forever like that. Maybe even my parents had to face some sort of resistance when they would ask me to take my nose out of a book and go skip, hop and jump. Maybe and just maybe I am being paid back in kind!!
Growing up in the 80s in a small town in Himachal Pradesh came with a lot of pros and some cons, which continue till date, like the mandatory power cuts on Monday. Even now the electricity will disappear at 9.00 am and not be heard of till about 5.00 PM. Now there is an urgency to charge phones and laptops to last you through the next day but when I was growing up, those times when there was no electricity were fun, way more than any offered by tv and video games on phones and tablets.
The power cuts of which I just now spoke were of an errant nature then and you could be sure of a cut if the clouds thundered and roared in the skies. I, born with an easy nature, not inclined to the rigors of life, looked forward to these unexpected gifts from heaven with delight and gratitude. Many a times I was saved from doing my homework, preparing from some test to-be-held-in-near-future or any other sort of mental exertion that could be taxing to a child of 8-9 years.
Now you might wonder what i did when there was no electricity. And if you are a kid of the 2000s then the whole thing might seem to you quite fantabulous because the things that I might speak to you of now must never ever have passed your consciousness. I don’t blame you either. Let’s put that on the times.
So on to some major revelations eh?
When there was no electricity I willingly hopped out of doors (Ya, that was the only time I would go out of doors willingly!). There was a small, vertical patch of grass growing right out of our beautiful, wooden, maroon gate and it was my own piece of heaven on earth. It was marked by maroon bricks placed in a slanting manner and sort of standing shoulder to shoulder together. My father, a hard working man, made sure that this little patch of grass was well manicured at all times. And so whenever there was that heaven sent gift of a power cut and our mohalla and even my house reverberated with disappointed sighs of many important tasks stalled mid way I would go out there and lie down to stare at the skies. I would count the stars, try and recognise the constellations of which I might have seen a picture of in some random book or just weave a fantastical tale. The cool summer breeze....ah... i can still feel it brush against my cheeks and ruffle my hair as it carried the sweet scent of deodars and pines. In the rare absence of that breeze or a fan even as meagre as a hand fan, can you hazard a guess, what we used to cool ourselves? No I didn’t think you would be able to. We would use the flaps of our notebooks.
As time progressed and if there was still no sight or sound of the electricity and it began to get a little hot inside the homes, people would start pouring out into the common space at the centre of the mohalla. Ours had a broad, raised pedestal, which on sides led to stairs further leading to some houses and gradually the whole space was filled with kids bickering, aunts chattering, elders gossiping and men coming out folding the sleeves of their white kurtas. The air then would ring with laughter and plans for a dinner together. What a treat it would turn out to be!
Or if it were the rains then the thundering orchestra from the skies with the melody playing on the tin roof tops of the houses there was mesmerising.  You could put everything on halt and sit enthralled as nature poured to its heart’s content.
The advantage of no electricity and no such gadgets as are present today was probably that one could fully, whole-heartedly, I must say, devote oneself to these pursuits.
 In summers when ones need for some cool air was taken care of by a hand fan, I clearly recall the absence of any piece of electronic machinery servicing our need and I and my mates would rush out unhindered to play in the white summer heat without giving a hoot about the its glaring intensity.
I don’t think my mother was ever bothered by the fact that I was getting tanned or resembled the underside of an iron griddle.
With the passage of time we shifted out of that lovely little house in an area called Mission Compound to our own house in a village. By that time, with global warming the climate had changed and become more pronounced even in my valley. Summers began to make themselves felt and first a pedestal fan and then ceiling fans gained entry into the household. Even then the power cuts offered a welcome break. Though now they would now make me break into sweat, they still offered a lovely opportunity to look at the clouds, discerning shapes of creatures of all sorts.
Sadly enough the fans are no longer providing much relief there and air conditioners have started to become visible here and there, yet whenever I go back, I do hope for a random power cut.
“And now the times are changin'
Look at everything that's come and gone
Sometimes when I play that old six-string
Think about you wonder what went wrong”

(This article first appeared, with edits, in the FAN special edition of The Indian Trumpet magazine.)

Shoes that squeak

Imagine this scenario.  You are working on your laptop or in your kitchen on perfecting a recipe. You are a picture of concentration and focus. There is Zen like atmosphere around you. You are calmly forging ahead on your path. But then the very silence that was helping you work dedicatedly gives you shivers. You remember that for the last five minutes maybe seven, you haven’t heard your baby. Yes, you have also come out from Zen-o-sphere and remembered that you are a parent. If you actually have baby/ babies you will  know where I am getting, but for the uninitiated, let me tell you that no sound from an active, awake baby for more than a couple of minutes is a sure sign of trouble.
In times like this, I think, mothers from all over the world are grateful to the fellow who invented the squeaky shoes. The ones that go chooon choooon and chooooon. These are the shoes that look so pretty and are lightweight but have real ammo- the sound, the alarm bell.

Those shoes, my friend, are real life savers in babydom. With time you learn to distinguish the sounds they emit when they are dry (read baby is safe) or wet (you forgot to close the door to the washroom). You can gauze what room is the baby in, by estimating from how loud or low is the ‘chooon’.

I have a feeling that they were basically invented to pique the kids’ interest so that they would get off the floor after having crawled and scooted; and graduate to the next level that is learning to walk. I don’t know if the said inventor then realised what boon it is for the parents who tune themselves to the sound of those shoes and carry on with their day’s activities. They come in particularly handy in a nuclear family set up where it’s just the mom (and once in a blue moon, the dad), who has more than a couple of chores to look after.

The sound at times can get to you if the baby in question doesn’t want to take her shoes off even after calling it a day or has learnt the pressure point to just make the shoe squeak. My very own cherub would repeatedly beat it on the floor to hear ‘that’ sound.

But like I said, though you may find it annoying, its usefulness can win the day!

(This articled appeared first, with edits, in The Indian Trumpet magazine in its SHOE special edition.)