Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl

January 9, 2013 § Leave a comment

A little embarrassed writing this post NOW because I am sure mostly all avid readers have read this one as a kid. Anyway, better late than never!

The book is about Charlie who lives with his parents and his maternal and paternal grandparents. They are poor and for little Charlie, the single bar of chocolate that he gets as a birthday present every year, is a luxury. But during a particularly harsh winter, things go from bad to worse and Charlie’s family begins to starve. The only solace is the evening chat that Charlie enjoys with his grandparents. And during one such chat session Charlie discovers unknown and amazing secrets about Mr. Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory where no worker is seen going in or coming out, yet strangely enough, the factory produces the most amazing chocolates.

The book is an amazing and exciting journey into a world of fun-filled fantasy. Mr. Willy Wonka’s world of chocolate factory will suck you into its magical labyrinths as you keep turning the pages faster and faster. From parents who spoil their kids rotten by giving into their demands, and ones who let them sit for hours in front of the idiot box… no one escapes the author’s attention.

Mr. Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory is not some huge factory with black soot and women and children working in despicable conditions (far from the unhappy London factories of Mr. Dickens)… this is a place where the workers live and feast on cacao beans!

The characters called the OompaLoompas are based on the African pygmies and this has not gone down too well with critics, and most certainly when you read about them, Wonka does quite appear to be the quintessential coloniser luring away workers from their native land with the promise of Cacao beans, to be his slaves in the Chocolate factory.

Also, the punishments meted out to the bad children and their parents are amusing but astonishingly violent! But with the violence that children are exposed to today, whether it is via the media or life in general, really– Who are we to decide what they like?

From gums that can turn a girl into a blueberry, to chocolates travelling through televisions—this is one crazy world that in its own entertaining way urges you to junk every distraction and fall in love with the written word for the rest of your life. There are loads of funny rhymes but there was one poem that is still resonating in my mind, (read it if only for these lines!!):

The most important thing we’ve learned,

So far as children are concerned,

Is never, never, NEVER let

them near your television set —

Or better still, just don’t install

The idiotic thing at all.

In almost every house we’ve been,

We’ve watched them gaping at the screen.

They loll and slop and lounge about,

And stare until their eyes pop out.

(Last week in someone’s place we saw

A dozen eyeballs on the floor.)

They sit and stare and stare and sit

Until they’re hypnotized by it,

Until they’re absolutely drunk

With all that shocking ghastly junk.

Oh yes, we know it keeps them still,

They don’t climb out the windowsill,

They never fight or kick or punch,

They leave you free to cook the lunch

And wash the dishes in the sink —

But did you ever stop to think,

To wonder just exactly what

This does to your beloved tot?

IT ROTS THE SENSES IN THE HEAD!

IT KILLS IMAGINATION DEAD!

IT CLOGS AND CLUTTERS UP THE MIND!

IT MAKES A CHILD SO DULL AND BLIND

HE CAN NO LONGER UNDERSTAND

A FANTASY, A FAIRYLAND!

HIS BRAIN BECOMES AS SOFT AS CHEESE!

HIS POWERS OF THINKING RUST AND FREEZE!

HE CANNOT THINK — HE ONLY SEES!

“All right!” you’ll cry. “All right!” you’ll say,

“but if we take the set away,

What shall we do to entertain

Our darling children? Please explain!”

We’ll answer this by asking you,

“What used the darling ones to do?

“How used they keep themselves contented

Before this monster was invented?”

Have you forgotten? Don’t you know?

We’ll say it very loud and slow:

THEY . . . USED . . . TO . . . READ! THEY’D READ and READ,

AND READ some more. Great Scott! Gadzooks!

One half their lives was reading books!

The nursery shelves held books galore!

Books cluttered up the nursery floor!

And in the bedroom, by the bed,

More books were waiting to be read!

Such wondrous, fine, fantastic tales

Of dragons, gypsies, queens and whales

And treasure isles and distant shores

Where smugglers rowed with muffled oars,

And pirates wearing purple pants,

And sailing ships and elephants,

And cannibals crouching ’round the pot,

Stirring away at something hot.

(It smells so good, what can it be?

Good gracious, it’s Penelope.)

The younger ones had Beatrix Potter

With Mr. Tod, the dirty rotter,

And Squirrel Nutkin, Pigling Bland,

And Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle and —

Just How The Camel Got His Hump,

And How The Monkey Lost His Rump,

And Mr. Toad, and bless my soul,

There’s Mr. Rat and Mr. Mole —

Oh, books, what books they used to know,

Those children living long ago!

So please, oh please, we beg, we pray,

Go throw your TV set away,

And in its place you can install

A lovely bookshelf on the wall.

Then fill the shelves with lots of books,

Ignoring all the dirty looks,

The screams and yells, the bites and kicks,

And children hitting you with sticks —

Fear not, because we promise you

That, in about a week or two

Of having nothing else to do,

They’ll now begin to feel the need

Of having something good to read.

And once they start — oh boy, oh boy!

You watch the slowly growing joy

That fills their hearts. They’ll grow so keen

They’ll wonder what they’d ever seen

In that ridiculous machine,

That nauseating, foul, unclean,

Repulsive television screen!        

And later, each and every kid

Will love you more for what you did.

Of Love and Other Demons by Gabriel García Márquez

December 16, 2012 § Leave a comment

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For the past few days I was the victim of terrible cycle. I started to read a book and then left it mid-way not because it was boring or because I had other things to do, but because I always felt I have so many other things to read. So I would just jump to a new book and the cycle would repeat. Finally as I try to come to terms with staying in a new city, I resolved not to touch a second book until the first was finished. Of Love and Other Demons was the perfect thin book to impose this resolve upon myself.

Sierva Maria, a thirteen-year-old girl with incredibly long hair, is one of the four people bitten by a rabid dog. While others perish, she is the only one who survives. However, the bishop of the town fears that she is possessed by the Devil and prescribes confinement and, if necessary, exorcism. The young man Cayetano Delaura who is entrusted with the job of her treatment knows that she is sane, so suspects her father.

As with his other books like One Hundred Years of Solitude and Love in the Time Cholera, one is absolutely consumed by the story that operates on so many levels and of course there are elements of magic realism. On one hand is the conflict between the religious superstitions of Christianity pitted against the individual, and on the other hand there is the arrogance of the coloniser whose religion (no matter how superstitious itself) is the only legitimate voice while the pagan rituals, languages and customs of the African slaves among whom Sierva Maria has grown up, are reduced to being ‘symptoms’ of being possessed by Satan. In the midst of these conflicts is the love that blooms against all odds, a love that did not stand a chance. Interwoven with such themes are the tales of other characters like Federa, the cunning mother of Sierva Maria, the stern Abbess and Abrenuncio, the physician who cures an eye damaged by the eclipse, with drops of rainwater and finally the Marquis who realises late in his life how much he loves his ill-fated daughter.

The witty tone and crisp narrative peopled with interesting characters make this novella a fascinating read.  My favourite section is where Sierva Maria and Delaura lie together in her cell and twist the Biblical sentences to create subtexts of love and lovemaking!

Haroun and the Sea of Stories

October 8, 2012 § Leave a comment

Author : Salman Rushdie

Publisher: Penguin Books

Pages: 211

Prince and Princess- check, innocent child protagonist- check, loads of funny fantasy creatures- check, humour-check, adventure-check. Yes it has all the ingredients of the best adventure story and is much more. Not even remotely does this book resemble some of Rushdie’s other works like Midnight’s Children , Shalimar, the Clown. Written for his son, this book by Rushdie will be enjoyed by children and adults alike.

Haroun Khalifa is the son of Rashid Khalifa the storyteller. Everything in Haroun’s life is going smoothly until the day when disaster strikes. His mother elopes with their neighbour and his father is unable to weave the interesting tales  he is so famous for. Thus begins Haroun’s journey to find the Ocean of Stories.

The book is a delightful one, in the tradition of Alice in Wonderland or The Wizard of Oz. As you read, you realise that all is not fantansy and adventure. Haroun and his father travel to the valley of K. where there is a “Dull” lake. The hidden associations and allusions to other wondrous tales (fishes named Goopy and Bagha), the play on language (Princess Batcheat, Prince Bolo, the enemy Khattam-shud and so on) make it a highly interesting and enjoyable read. If you are Bengali, you can’t miss echoes of Hirak Rajar Deshe as the “gigantic ice-statue” of Bezaban falls in the end.

My only complaint was that I didn’t feel as drawn into the tale as I did with other fantasy books, like the ones mentioned. The kingdom of fantasy is well-etched and has it’s own characters and rules but somehow falls a little short of becoming a reality  which the reader inhabits.

It is surely worth a read, not only because it’s pretty delightful but also because of what it stands for. Stories which are not even real, still need to be told. Literature is always relevant and stories have power.Despite the attempts of the Khattam-Shuds, the story must go on.  Publisher’s Weekly is bang on target when it says that this is “As eloquent a defense of art as any Renaissance treatise…”

An extract:

‘Up there’ was the balcony of the Palace of Gup, on which the city’s dignitaries were now assembling. It was to identify General Kitab, a weatherbeaten old gent with a rectangular uniform made of finely-tooled gold-inlay leather, of the sort Haroun had sometimes seen on the covers of old and valuable books. Then there was the Speaker (that is, the leader) of the Chatterbox, a plump fellow who was even now talking unstoppably to his colleagues on the balcony; and a frail, small, white-haired gentleman wearing a circlet of gold and a tragic look. This was presumably King Chattergy himself.

“The Wildings” by Nilanjana S Roy, Illustrated by Prabha Mallya

September 15, 2012 § Leave a comment

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Beraal. The Beautiful Queen.

From August 2011 to December 2011, I worked at an office where I had precious little to do. I spent my time reading blogs, one of my favourite haunts was Akhond of Swat. I had seen Nilanjana Roy on Barkha Dutt’s talk-shows, where she in her gentle voice put forth one logical point after another unfazed by the screaming voices around her. In her blog,  she reviewed books and wrote articles on topics ranging from censorship to Charles Dickens and more. Often I read reviews of books that I never intended to read, only because the reviews were so well written. Here was a good writer, you could tell that, but if I was asked what kind of book would she write  if ever she wrote a novel … I would have answered without a doubt that it would be something very serious, very literary and high-brow, which would take me ages to understand.
Then, she wrote The Wildings. A book about a group of cats. The excerpt released was enough to entice me. I Flipkarted the book few days ago and finished it this evening.
Right from the word go, I was sucked into the world of Katar, the confident leader , Beraal, the beautiful, agile queen, Southpaw, the cutie kitten always getting into trouble and Mara, the orange kitten, the anomaly … the devilish Datura…Tooth, the cheel… I could go on and on.  The world is viewed through the eyes of these cats where all people are the “Bigfeet”. As the cats roam and hunt and laze around; the streets of Nizamuddin Dargah in Delhi come alive. There are endearing moments, humorous moments and nail-biting moments- I don’t ask for more in a book. You can’t help but smile when you read about “Affit” and “Davit”, the Supreme Court cats” and also the beautiful regal queen  who reigned in the past – “Neferkitty”.
Mara, the orange kitten, the “inside” cat, is very different from the others, she is a Sender . You must be wondering what is that…well ,between them, the cats have their own linking system to communicate, it is almost like their own Skype or Facebook chat and Mara happens to be a powerful Sender who can virtually travel anywhere without stepping out of her Bigfeet’s home. It is this linking system that plays a vital role in the story.
Perhaps due to hype around this book, I expected something more from the story, but I am more than delighted with the way it has been told. If you love and own a cat you will recognize each and every gesture that the author describes.
There is also a very good reason why you should not borrow this book and buy it instead–the illustrations by Prabha Mallya, they lend a character to the story being told and create the mood. You are never distracted , only spellbound. My personal favourite is that small sketch of Beraal, who happens to be my favourite character too! The illustrations are a huge reason why I love the fact that I OWN this book.
Of course being an animal lover I loved this book as much as I loved Born Free, Black Beauty and others. But even if you are not an animal lover or more specifically, a cat lover, you’ll still enjoy it. I did. Immensely.

Mottled Dawn by Saadat Hasan Manto

August 26, 2012 § 2 Comments

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Many of my friends had recommended Manto but after I picked up this book I went on ignoring it. I kept thinking that “Partition” as a subject implied that the stories would be high on morbidity and melodrama. When I finally read the book, I was pleasantly surprised. Each tale is told with great precision, gentle humour, irony, and what shines through is the inescapable mystery of the way we humans act, think and feel. Why a perfectly normal citizen does not think twice before committing a crime during a riot? What suddenly turns friends and neighbours into foes? Once they are officially enemies, is the friendship lost forever?

The stories are not long, the ones towards the end are barely a paragraph in length.Manto does not fill his stories with exhaustive minute details or description of misery, nor does he advocate or champion any political cause, he just does what an author is expected to do – tell a story. More significant than what he says is what he, at the end of a story, leaves unsaid- the reader’s imagination  is Manto’s second pen.

While stories like ‘Toba Tek Singh’ have been widely acclaimed, my personal favourite was the one titled ‘The Return’, the story of a father’s search for his missing daughter, which ends on a brutal note of irony.

Whether it is the story of a dog inhabiting a no man’s land between two armies at war, or that of  two children taking care of their ailing father, who till the end believes that nothing is wrong with his city, where everyone has left and every house is up in flames.

Even if you are not interested in the history of Partition, this collection of stories will surely mesmerize you and haunt you.

Loved this one.

PS: I was reading this one when a family member was admitted in the hospital and I was suffering a great deal. This book helped me put things in perspective. Pain, even if put in perspective, does not hurt less, yet …

Let’s munch on some thoughts and words.

August 23, 2012 § Leave a comment

I never thought I would dare. I was always wary of ‘book review’ blogs. Either they are by people who write terrible English or they are by fascinating people who are so freaking awesome that one is spellbound.

Yet here I am– planning to write about books that I read, planning to share the emotions they evoke or fail to evoke. I read as much as I can yet I feel helpless, there’s always more to read every single day. There is no pause button for putting authors on hold till I catch up. It is a serious crisis!

I always thought I’d start a blog about books but somehow it always seemed a very pretentious idea. Yet here I am. For the very first time in my life, I felt a book was holding my hand and seeing me through a personal crisis like a friend. I feel I owe it to the book. More about this later in my first ‘review’ (I hate the sound of it!).

Cheers!