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

Monday, June 01, 2020

Book review: Shadow Men by Bijoya Sawian # Short-listed in the Rabindranath Tagore Literary Prize 2020

Photo credit HERE
Protagonist Raseel Singh needs a break from Delhi, where her parents have been murdered by the trusted man-servant in the house. She has planned with her giggly school friend Aila from Shillong to visit the hill station town for a few days. Aila is touring China with her businessman husband, Aibor, and would return just in time to be with Raseel. However, the latter has arrived a couple of days earlier than planned, and much to her dismay has become witness to another murder at Aibor’s house in Shillong where Raseel is a welcome guest. The gardeners, from Bihar, called Suresh and Ravi, living in the cottage outside the main bungalow, have been attacked by three miscreants. The two other occupants of Aibor’s bungalow, Robert Nongrum, a cousin and the lady caregiver and mother figure Kmie U Flin, apparently is not aware of the incident, until the next morning. Kmie U Flin is naturally shocked. The book then proceeds to nab the killer. As this procedure develops, Raseel is now caught, despite herself, in the whodunit herself and suspects that people around her know much more about the murder than they are willing to share with her. So what is the reason behind this gross act upon a man, who has left his home in Bihar to find work in Shillong? The answer is not as simple as whodunit it seems, because, in the next few chapters which are short and extremely crisp, the author, Bijoya Sawian, opens up an entire pandora’s box full of issues that are ailing the small town of Shillong, in northeast India.

In Bijoya Sawian’s short-listed in the Rabindranath Tagore Literary Prize 2020 book, Shadow Men, insurgence by the local Khasi tribe and occupants of Shillong, against the so-called ‘outsiders’, people from other states of the country, who are settled in Shillong, is at boiling point and as an election is forthcoming, it might once again become the agenda on which winning rests. Besides, the age-old system of matrilineal and matriarchal structure of the Khasi society itself is being hugely contested, and the question of inheritance exclusively of women and the angst of the men about their children taking lineage from the mother continues to ail society. 

In this background, where, corrupt politicians mix and match the greedy demands of businessmen, who would like to fill their pockets at any cost, a willing killer, for cash is not hard to find. The outsider problem is still boiling as Sawian points out, through the characters Strong and Ksan, due to unemployment and opportunities of the youth leading them to all sorts of crime. Will this be an issue in the forthcoming elections?

While the reader is trying to hurry through the pages to find that out, who killed Suresh, the author, skillfully, takes the reader away to a soul-stirring beautiful and rich tapestry of natural beauty and social customs, culinary extravaganza which the British called, Scotland of the east – Shillong. In 1972, Shillong became the capital of Meghalaya.

“The Sanskrit name Meghalaya, Abobe of the Clouds, was suggested by the linguist, Dr. Suniti Kumar Chatterjee.” It is a collection of three hills, Khasi, Jaintia, and Garo hills. God’s picture-perfect little town, sits at an elevation of 1, 525 m above sea level, its terrain painted green, with stretches of green grass, lakes, little rivulets, gigantic waterfalls, tall monsoon grasses and a sky, forever, changing colours, from thick grey skies, laden with clouds to crystal clear blue skies, its weather, warm in the day time and cool at nights, in summer, and biting cold in winter. The entire terrain is spotted with flowers, of the temperate kind, Maple Leaf, Rose, Pomegranate, Lotus, Iris, Knapweed, Sunflower, Tulip, Chrysanthemum, Cherry Blossom, Golden Wattle, Kowhai, asanias, roses, forget-me-nots, daisies, dahlias, pansies, and even datura. Hills and dales undulate to make for the constant ups and downs of the roads, never ever, really giving a respite from climbing up or down.

An assortment of flavours meet the nostril and the tongue – partly British, and mostly typical Khasi cuisine, like jadoh, boiled cabbage, and beef, mutton chops mixed with pork pickles made with Khasi herbal masala. A musical race, the Khasis play multiple instruments and often music becomes their livelihood too.

Hard to believe that the wrath of the angels hound their minds and killing can become their source of livelihood too.

If the plot of the story has been laid on a town so beautiful, any review will be incomplete without praise to the storyteller. Bijoya Sawian has dealt with a story of crime, without spilling a single drop of blood on the pages of the book. There are no gory descriptions and the words are chosen and strung together like a bouquet of flowers, the language perfect and simple. Not once, does the reader have to open a dictionary to look for the meaning of a word.

However, a glossary of names of the persons in the book, followed by their relationship with other characters in the book, would have been good for the reader, unfamiliar with the region. Second, if the reader is new to Shillong, then the details of food and culture and history can be overwhelming. Thirdly, the political and social issues faced by the people in Shillong, may not gel well with the reader, who is looking for a crime thriller. But, then, without that background, it is hard to cull out the killer either.

Finally, to quote the author, "This is not a typical whodunnit. I chose this genre so people would read the book and learn about the region and also the dire consequences of unemployment, the pitfalls of the blame game and the futility of violence."

Name of the book: Shadow Men

Publisher: Speaking Tiger Books
Author: Bijoya Sawian
No. of pages: 98
Price: Rs 179

Click HERE to know more about the author.