Standing in Another Man’s Grave by Ian Rankin


Retired. Haunted. Alcoholic. Smoker. Rebellious. Cheeky. Dark. Old School. And yet on the side of the law. Rebus is everything he has ever been and more as he takes the front seat in another great murder mystery by Ian Rankin.

Rebus is digging skeletons from closets, trying to fill his spare time with long-closed but unsolved cases instead of just liquor and music records. Boxes in a room with pages upon pages full of transcripts, notes and reports about victims who never got justice. His aim is to be back on the squad. The retirement age has taken  an upward swing and he is eligible again. Of course, the skeletons in his own closet mean he is under the strictest of scrutiny. A determined young officer is eager to see Rebus fall of the bandwagon. And yet, somehow, Rankin has you believe it’s a good idea to follow your dark and dangerous hero over to the other side and root for him when he’s on to the big stuff and cry with him when he turns back from his daughter’s door, choosing instead to call  her from miles away and being okay with just hearing her voice.

And then a mother comes into the picture. Convinced that her daughter, who had disappeared years ago, had actually been murdered by a serial killer. Almost nobody else had believed her but Rebus chooses to carry the box of files she claims are linked, back to his empty house and examine them at leisure.

While a hunch starts to take over him, another missing girl leads him to the conclusion that something isn’t right in these sporadic disappearances. And the ever-resourceful Siobhan Clarke is going to find that once more, having Rebus around would be as advantageous as it would be a pain-in-the-ass.

I just love how dark and deadly stories become in the hands of Rankin. He paints Edinburgh as a thriving, throbbing monster. He deals with Rebus with unforgiving bitterness and yet pulls him through in the end. I wouldn’t be very surprised if one of these days Ian Rankin decides Rebus has had a full life and must now fall to his own grave. I don’t expect a Sherlock-esque protest for rebirth. Rebus would just have to be a good man and stay dead.

In the meantime, retired or not, he is full of acid sarcasm and the best of crazy ideas as he chases murderers through the deep ends of Scottish country and her rain-drenched cities.

A slight complain from this book. Towards the end I was still expecting a more staggering truth to grasp me but that never came. There was one and only one conclusion and past it, I was left with a little bit more desire. That being said, Rankin’s books never fail to haunt me, at least for a night or two.

It’s just not another man’s grave every time, is it?

The Secret of the Nagas and The Oath of the Vayuputras (Amish Tripathi)


(I had to do a combined review of these books because I wouldn’t have known what to say if I didn’t.)

The Secret of the Nagas and The Oath of the Vayuputras are the second and third parts respectively of a trilogy following a fictionalized human manifestation of the Hindu god Shiva.

Amish Tripathi writes with straightforwardness and with the best of intentions, no doubt. But his books leave much to be desired. Is it okay if I call him AT for the rest of the review?

First thing that strikes me throughout the series is that AT lets his characters talk colloquially, often with hilarious consequences.
So, for example, we have Kali tell Sati that she has always been ‘daddy’s little princess’. And Veerbhadra teases Parvateshwar and his wife by exclaiming, ‘get a room, you two!’. And Shiva says things like ‘Oh hell’ and ‘Shit!’

The characters are pretty much linear too. When they do decide to develop complex,  conflicting emotions like real humans do, they come through as over-chewed cardboard cutouts.

It is strange to me that while Shiva talks against blind belief, the openness to question existing rigid systems, including changing some aspects of existence which had apparently been introduced by Lord Ram (he justifies this by saying this is what Lord Ram would have wanted and he knows that because he is the much-proclaimed Neelkanth), he chooses to chant god’s name and pray every day. But I found it rather amusing.

Keeping the initial story intact, AT weaves a human life for Shiva but in the process, perhaps in his need to maintain the semblance of the legend, he lets the plot take absurd turns. His characters often talk illogically.

Case in point?

 Parvateshwar, Shiva’s General and staunchest supporter makes some of the most foolish proclamations and declarations a clever man can ever be expected to make. He isn’t the only one though. Logic is given a big kick out of the window but instead of replacing it with something believable, AT chooses to let the plot limp along. Until…

And I must stress that this was, for me, the saving point of the series. The ending.
It wasn’t what I expected. Perhaps this was because AT chose to follow the original plot without modifying it into something that would please his mainstream audience a lot more. And I see across the internet, a volley of complaints launched at him for going down this particular road. People don’t want to see their hero suffer. God forbid if a God be reduced to something less than all-knowing, all-powerful and completely, one hundred percent invincible.
But I liked that.
In the end, I liked AT for putting a modern spin on Shiva’s tale. I liked how he treated the issues of caste-ism and gender. I liked, for the most part, the values he tried to impart in a manner that people might enjoy.

So although the plot fell short with loopholes abound, what I really enjoyed was how it came together in the end. It was the redeeming part of the story, the reason I felt it was okay that I spent time on the trilogy. Ultimately, I enjoyed the flawed but likable protagonist Shiva and his immediate family.

And they’re making a movie out of this?

Oh no. :/

 

Lesson Learnt?


You asked me to pick my battles-
Reserved strength- you called it
What a refreshing lesson
I only take from this
Experience- a song
A far cry from everything I
Have ever known
I can’t hide forever
But I can try

You said you’d guide me
Whilst I traverse
This maze
This rat race
Of flitting, emotional experiences
Magic absorbs you
But it slips through my fingers
And I wonder if
You wrote a travel guide called Life

I wish you had though
When I see you slip and slide
And I see my mighty efforts
At self-comfort sucked into
An abyss
Are-we-pawn-pieces-on-a-giant-chessboard
I wonder if you could save me
If need be
Or can I save you?

Keep off the Grass by Karan Bajaj


At IIM Bangalore, A Yale graduate Samrat- An American-Indian who belongs neither here nor there, descends to learn the nitty-gritty of management, although his personal quest is aimed at self-discovery of what the elusive, notorious but much-chased happiness really is. As he tries to settle into the backbiting, sleep-snatching, grade-chasing life of business school in India, he starts to see things in a new light. Happiness takes on a new meaning. All the cliché explanations he has ever heard come together and a big picture begins to emerge.

 

Some books are like gusts of strong winds that just blow you away for a little while. When you land back on your feet, your glasses askew and your hair windswept, you see things a little better- perhaps with a freshness you didn’t think was possible before.

Keep off the Grass is one such book. It uses the simplest of words and without beating around the bush, takes you through a darkly introspective journey filled with tragic humour and  a few refreshing realizations. What sets this book apart? Perhaps the fact that it pits a fast, competitive world against a slow, sluggish, hedonistic lifestyle and lets you decide where you want to end up. For me, a personal touch that brought the experience full circle was how the story wraps up at my hometown and in rather a charming way at that.

The past three weeks have been a rollercoaster. I don’t even understand why the things I have been exposed to make me feel fulfilled in a way years of education haven’t. This book was given to me as a parting gift from a friend I probably wouldn’t see for the next two years (at least). I don’t know why, despite my belief in randomness, things seem to be fitting together like puzzle pieces. There probably couldn’t have been a better timing for this book.

I am learning to be okay with different. It doesn’t have to be about running after the same things that other people want. I am still not sure what it has to be about, really. A sojourn was what I had felt like I needed and so I grabbed it with both hands, no questions asked. Lazy days examining the rain from a window and enjoying hot food and tea to the beats of romantic songs with a novel in my hand. A weekend spent that way and ending with an evening out and a sleepover. So when I reached home again, somewhat liberated, Keep off the Grass was the perfect answer to the questions in my head.

Arguably, this delightful little pocket-sized story wouldn’t even feature on best book lists. It just happened to be the right place and right time for me to read it. What is happiness, really? Just sitting here and typing this. Or meeting someone new. Or doing the work I am doing these days. Or a nature walk through one of the greenest places I have seen in a long time, especially when the Monsoon clouds are compounding its natural beauty. I feel dreamy and right now, I feel disconnected from life. Just drifting along.

Song of the moment:

Good That You Came.


It is good that you came.

Not good in a conventional sort of way-
Like I feel when I see my mother
After staying away for too long
-But just good. Like watching an eagle soar.
Or hunting for stones on a moss-covered floor.
Or tomato soup on a rainy day.

We stood at the door
And I wondered why your eyes bewitch me
They cannot even exist
I cannot even fly

It hurts that you left
Not the way it would if I lost a good book
Or lost my eyesight, for that matter
It just hurts. Like an old gramophone
That my grandfather used to play
Is lost to us now.

 

 

The Candle Snuffs


I sat on the bed and
Made little chits
To remind myself
How powerful this chance
Can be-
Could I ask for
One return ticket, please?
I want to take this
Journey in reverse
I’m travel-worn
My cloak is torn
I just haven’t seen
The worst of it

I felt the plush carpet
Rich beneath my feet
Something rose inside my throat
A promise or a declaration
Dying unspoken
I think of where I
Had been
And it makes me queasy
Why would I ask for life
To take me somewhere new?
Why can I not be content
Dying in a ten-mile radius
Like people used to

I opened a box of
Old photographs
Surveyed the field and compared
Graying hair, laughter lines
If these decades just pass by
I’ll take one for the team
And surreptitiously I
Understand the feeling
Of some day wanting to die

I talk to people I’ve known
My entire life-
They are different and yet
I see the very same things
Crowding on their living room floors
Filling cabinets with memories
Who will take these away?
And why and where?

So I draw full circle
These Jhodpuri slippers
The chicken-work suits
Or just a stark white sari-
It’s all the same
In the dying calls
Of that house-
To me
It will just be
The darkening of dreams
Looking at wizened people
Wondering when
The candle snuffs and
Where I’ll be when it does.

Refreshing: Just One of the Guys


 

This is one of the most wonderful things I have seen in a while. It rings with truth, it’s liberating. It’s just a little something:

“No matter how hard I try to be just one of the guys
There’s a little something inside that won’t let me
No matter how hard I try to have an open mind
There’s a little clock inside that keeps tickin'”

I cannot help marveling over how brilliant it is:

“There’s only one difference between you and me
When I look at myself, all I can see:
I’m just another lady without a baby”

Might I just add, as an after-thought: Kristen Stewart looks adorable and dorky as a guy.

Song on loop for foreseeable future.

Victory


She called your name-
From the stinking pit
You gathered her in your arms
The fire was raining down on both of you
For a moment at least, you were one
- You come back to the day
When a single word whispered on a park bench
Reminded you of the misery you had borne
It would no longer do to love
Life was only the fusion of days

You questioned morality, existence, harmony-
A letter read out in the name of someone
It bequeathed truckloads of ‘stuff’
You simply stored it in your kitchen
Thinking you won’t even use it on any day
-But the silverware was all good and new
There was crocheted table clothes
Old children’s books you re-read at night
There was magic in those memories
But you did not even know why

The little child lay in your arms-
You remembered her playing under the apple tree
She sat on a low wall, swinging her legs freely
The laugher that filled the house
Was turning into an agonizing shriek
-You weren’t even sure why
They said it was all worth it in the end
You didn’t even believe in anything
It was victory but it was utterly hollow

Of the Men


Of the men who adorn her nightstand
Some glitter, woozy in the dying neon lights
Like actors patterned onto a cheap television screen
Framed with cigarettes, tainted black-and-white
They are men from all walks of life

Some tall and pointed, thickening
With chest hair matted, double chins
Some ticklish, smiling, flirting, lying
Some whispering the words she wants to hear
Some role-playing life into a dream
A casino, chips and the reigning queen
On silver screens she wondered how
These things could turn out quite so hot

Of the men who fill her books with words
Nobody knows how many roost
In arcane, crazy wild parlor stories
She narrates to girlfriends when the party buries

Some perfect gentlemen, they open
Doors and ask her to be the judge
In random matters requiring arbitration
Some beasts with devilish horns of fire
And unconditional loathsome desire
Some taken up for no good reason
But capricious turns between love and treason
The jars are full of countless delights
Lining up behind her wall untouched
They hold the men she taught to cower
Forever entrapping them for her
Saying, ‘oh all is fair in love and war’

Don’t Answer


Don’t answer to the call
That the new day will bring a transformation
We are on bitter recall
With no room for further clarification
This senselessness will dissolve
If time becomes a pardonable officiator
I’ll erase these last few falls

Don’t answer to the call
It will make me feel worthless and dirty
Let all the pain stand tall
I’m ready to be painted in new hues of red and green
Although things will seem to crawl
We’ll trade the town and end the lease
These memories will be stalled

Don’t answer to the call
Sometimes silences are saccharine
There will be other balls
Infused with croquette, snippets and wine
Feelings that ought to enthrall
Will come to life and turn out fine
The world won’t seem so small