Thursday, July 14, 2022

#BookReview: Crochet – The Gordian World of Tahir Khan by Raman Agarwal

The fact is everyone and his uncle is talking about it. Yet most are afraid of it: worse, in denial of it when it comes to themselves. Indeed, depression may be the new normal, but really it has been there much longer. Schizophrenia, is a still more dreaded word implying much worse mental conditions, but it has been aclose cousin of depression. And the two are best friends to a host of people who go undiagnosed due to lack of knowledge or reasons of stigma associated with both. It was therefore refreshing to read Raman Agarwal’s debut novel, Crochet – The Gordian World of Tahir Khan, which deals with both the above mentioned subjects, in a matter of fact manner. He weaves a complex story of Tahir Khan,who lives in Delhi's Jahangirpuri, where a number of families found refuge when they chose to be in India leaving their homeland in Pakistan. The story runs asa trail of failed love, indeed, one after another, drive Tahir to become a complete recluse. And alone. But his aloneness is not singular to him only. It has a history, running from past to present. The book is a reflection of three lives who are pulled into the well of loneliness, his grandfather, his father,and of course Tahir himself. The cause of this state is even identical. Given this background, Agarwal, weaves a story that challenges facts around these people, whose vision is clouded by fictional characters and conversations with people and circumstances, that don't really exist. But the reader is never lead to the facts until they reach the last part of the book. No wonder for the life of me, I couldn't understand who were Saachi or Ghazal. But I think I understood who Mscavity, the black cat with green eyes was, who kept Tahir Khan company even if all else, deserted him. Written with tender loving care, there is no judgement cast on the characters. As a book on mental health, I would say, Raman Agarwal has done an extremely fine job, with the story. He took ten years to complete the book, which is a lot of time really. The reader can see it coming alive. Tahir is obsessed with his mother, her green scarf being his most beloved security blanket, which he preserves and treasures. His grandfather who lost his wife at childbirth of his only son, Azar, who is Tahir’s father, is devastated and loses his mind in grief. But the same fate is meted out to his son too, but Azar must keep a strong front, because strong man never cry. The emotional overload is palpable, as we readers journey through Tahir’s life. The 280 pages book is very absorbing but way too long and needs editing. The gory details of mental health of Tahir’s grandfather at the end of his life, can be structured differently, incidents in Tahir's own life need to be viewed and edited once again. The super-long descriptions of failed relationships can do with cut-to-size text to deliver the point only. All in all, the book is profound but eats into the reader's time. Therefore, may fail to hold attention, of reader who like it short and crisp like a Jahangirpuri to HUDA City Centre Delhi Metro journey, like one hour forty five minutes, during which if a reader is able to crack the quiz of who is Saachi and Ghazal, in the book, then he’d have got to the crux of the story. Pssst! Ask Mscavity's Tahir’s green eyed cat for help. Publisher: Notion Press (Indie) Pages: 280 Price: Rs. 300 Author: Raman Agarwal Cover: Sanjay Subramanian,

Monday, July 20, 2020

Book Review - Paper Tigers and their preys by Wise Owl

Picture Credit HERE

There has to be a method in this madness!

There is no other reason why a book of such length with two murders, one at the beginning and one at the end, may not be considered a book about crime by any standard. But it is in fact, not termed as one, although you can see the design and the reasons why there is the making of crime fiction in the pages, especially, because it is related to an industry that can make or break the political power of the country or the innocent lives of some.

Let’s start from the end, first.

A young girl, Sanjukta, fresh in the publishing industry has been sent to a workshop on sexual harassment, all expenses paid, by her employer at News Today, Rajinder Kohli. The workshop is run by a well-known person in the profession running an NGO focused on doing work in this area. However, it appears that the Leader of the NGO, in fact, has a problem, that being, alongside the classes on sexual harassment, he practices what he preaches! The young girl is caught in between, aggressive persuasion leading up to rape, where she has been enticed by this man in power, who happens also to be a good friend of her mother’s too! Sanjukta, has not been able be clear about her discomfort at these advances, and has now, with the help of her boyfriend and family, been able to lodge an FIR, First Information Report, with the police, who are sluggish to act. Rajinder Singh, her own employer, who had sent her to the workshop in the first place, has shut himself out from this and has commanded his Office, not to participate or support the girl in any way.

For his decision to do so, he must face the consequences in the most brutal manner by his own employee.

Woven in the pages of the book, Paper Tigers and their preys, is the life of our protagonist – Amit Gupta, from a middle-class family, with passion for sports journalism. It is very lucky that the Newspaper he grew up reading called Timeline, has absorbed him, straight out of college as an intern. After being shuffled around doing multiple jobs as a ‘sub’, by a fluke of chance, he is absorbed in the area of his interest – Sports. He dreams of foreign trips and meeting sports stars, he had only read about. However, soon his dreams will be dashed as he learns that all foreign trips are pre-planned and go to those who are well connected abroad with fellow journalists, so while reporting, the copy may just as well be a collection of paras gathered from different quarters and strung skillfully together, while the journo on foreign soil, has a fair holiday, with wine and love interest thrown in.  

Still, Amit Gupta, does get small joys, traveling out to cities within the country. Amit is also under considerable pressure that he hasn’t received his salary for a long time. Rumour abounds that the Newspaper will be sold out to a fat business baron and so, salaries may regularize then. Amit carries on although he is gradually disillusioned by the profession. He falls in love with his colleague, Lilly, but unable to voice his feelings to her in time, he loses his opportunity. Slowly, he is engaged to Shanta, but there too, just as his marriage date is fixed, his father dies and the marriage is broken. Amit leaves Timeline to join News Today. Love beckons again but his love goes for another toss as his lady, Ranjana is caught in intra-departmental politics which sideline Amit and makes the editor leave the newspaper. The paper folds up. Amit returns to the old News Today, where he finds balm to his yet again broken heart in Sanjukta. Amit is about to meet her ever-busy parents, when, Sanjukta is sent to the workshop on sexual harassment which takes an ugly turn causing a turn of events that will make Amit wait to marry Sanjukta, as her life now takes on a different trajectory as does his. So, the double whammy, apparently, unlucky in love and disillusioned with the life of a journalist, Amit, is about to open up the pandora’s box of vile and guile that go to make the most powerful industry in the country – Media. 

Wise Owl, the nom-de-plume of the author of the book, Paper Tigers and their preys, has drawn up an engrossing story around Amit Gupta, following his life from a boy with a fine intellect and love of books, entering the world of power, the barons that make up the world of media. They have in their hand the most powerful weapon, the pen, far mightier than the sword, which is used as a vehicle in the hands of political power, in the country, the very power, the pen/keyboard, has helped to bring to power. This is the irony of the situation.

The gloss and the grit of the life of a journalist is brought out with extraordinary skill and compassion, as Amit travels through these corridors of mammoth business houses engaged in the state-of-the-art of generating opinions and discussions over truth and (un)truth that they publish for consumption. The late nights, drinks and dinner on the house, including cozying up with a colleague in sly corners of the office, till wee hours of the morning next day, the ‘work-family’ often dislodging the real family, as night after night, journalists slog to put out the news that the masses consume the next day. It is the story of media mafia who grow fat and wealthy, by selling ‘packaged truths’ that determine whom they will wine and dine with and who will lick their shoes, during election times.  Amit reveals with candid reality, the inside story of Paper Tigers roaming around preying on innocent lives, or using them to further their interest in the accumulation of wealth. 

To me as a reader and a feminist, the stinking realities of this industry, threw open, yet another wolf in sheep’s clothing – the highly sophisticated media barons, who can’t take no for an answer, or who will show off their power by the size of their cars and the length to which they can go, wielding their ‘power’ in their pants. And I am happy that it is one among their own gender who finally kills a symbol of patriarchy showing its worst face in support of the system. I am therefore, not writing about the murder at the very start of the book, which the reader must find out, by reading the book.

The language is impeccable and the book is easy to read as in, the conversations between different characters tell the story. You can sit back and read especially if you are one of those who love a long story winding its way through your mind’s nooks and corners.  

Personally, I would have preferred a tighter manuscript - a book, which I could start to read at Rajiv Chawk Metro Station in New Delhi, and finish it by the time I have arrived at HUDA City Centre in Gurgaon, which is exactly one hour twenty minutes flat! 

Finally, let me not leave the book without the mention of the cover and the title of the book. Paper Tigers and their preys is an apt title with visual that in fact cleverly summarises the whole book. It is provocative and no one can miss the predator at all. Wise Owl, @hutomp on Twitter, who is the author of the book says, Brush Stroke/ @newbrushstroke on twitter, the gifted brilliant illustrator, loves her mouse, keyboard and colours. Isn’t that so cute? Besides, for both the author and the illustrator, this is their first attempt to showcase their work in book format.



Print Length: 445 pages

Kindle eBook File Size: 1795 KB

Available on Kindle eBook format  

First published in: Shillong Times, Sunday, 19.07.2020