Book Review: Byculla to Bangkok: – “The Saga of the Maharashtrian Mafiosi”

byculla to bangkok

3/5 Stars

“When plunder becomes a way of life for a group of men in a society, over the course of time they create for themselves a legal system that authorizes it and a moral code that glorifies it.”
Frédéric Bastiat

“Ganda hai par Dhanda hai yeh !” (“Its Bad(..filthy..) but it’s Business!”), this song from the movie Company, seemed to be playing all the while in the background while I was reading this book.

The Mumbai Underworld, Mumbai Mafia….. Organized crime in any part of the world, makes up for a fascinating study, (insensitive, is it? well, its true anyhow) be it the glorified Mob in America, The Cosa Nostra in Sicily, Italy ,The Yakuza in Japan, Bratva in Russia or our very own ‘aamchi muley'(‘our boys’, as Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray once put it) from the Mumbai Underworld. So, the subject matter of this book was obviously intriguing in the extreme, add to it my own personal curiosity about anything related to real crime and the writer’s own credible background (S.Hussain Zaidi was a former investigative journalist, who spent much of his career covering the mafia and crimes in Mumbai) all solid reasons to read his books, specially this one. And so I had, this was my third book my Mr. Zaidi, Dongri to Dubai and Mafia queens of Mumbai being the first two.

Byculla to Bangkok, focuses on those individuals in the Mumbai Mafia,(Arun Gawli, Chota Rajan & Ashwin Naik, mainly these three, but many more big & small) which were perceived (in general? Really?) as Hindu Dons or Gangsters, more ‘Maharashtrian’ than the others (Dawood and his ilk). But let’s overlook that distinction for the time being. The stories of these dreaded gangsters and mob bosses are no doubt most interesting. Add to that the sensational way of writing that only a seasoned journalist could have and you hope to get a treat of a read. But, well, I was left a bit underwhelmed by the whole account. Primarily because his first one(D2D) kind of stole the show. Now, Dongri to Dubai was better in my opinion, Why? because firstly it had a more comprehensive coverage of the subject and it gave you the Origins of crime in Mumbai from the very start .i.e after independence, with Don after Dons and gangs and all that. Secondly, though it was also tainted with bias and sensationalism, Mr.Zaidi had not tried to divide the world of Indian Crime along communal lines (I mean its CRIME, for God’s sake….umm…. that is, NOT for God’s SAKE obviously). In Byculla to Bangkok, he has kind of botched up both these points. If one book was not enough for the whole story (which of-course, was not) he could have split the whole thing on a more general lines than portraying them in such a fashion. But oh well, I will take it.

Now, despite the interesting and often chilling stories this book contains, it struggled with being a ‘Non fiction’ Vs ‘Sensational Fiction’, often it read like a chronological account of events leading to the formation of a gang, rise of a Don or a vicious gangster, and then their subsequent downfall (All the while trying to be neutral) and some other times it was a sensational almost fictitious tale straight out of the silver screen. Perhaps, when you are this much involved in your subject matter as Mr.Zaidi no doubt is, some musings are pardonable, but what to make of it as a reader I was hard pressed  to think.

Despite these few problems that I had with the book, It was a good read nonetheless, well researched and quite informative (just….take some cringe worthy..roamctic vibes with a pinch of salt…its the Mafia after all). The stories about Arun Gawli(alias ‘Daddy’) were specially interesting, about the mills, the allure of crime, about the struggles for dominance with other gangs, the role of politics (Yeah I admit it….I saw the trailer of the movie ‘Daddy’…so I was curious, guilty as charged)

Daddy movie
‘Arun Gawli’ The gangster turned politician( on the left); ‘Arjun Rampal’ as Him in the movie ‘Daddy'( on the right)

Ahhhh.. Bollywood and its glorification of Crime and Criminals, what would the youth of this country do without you.

Getting back to the book, It is fast paced and not that big (266 pages, Kindle edition) so, you could comfortably finish it in a few sittings. If you are interested in reading about crime , the mafia, their origin stories then this is a must read for you, along with the other two by Mr.Zaidi, because if someone could write credibly about the darkness of that world it would be him. So, pick up this one and travel the congested alleys of Mumbai in the 1970’s, with a whistle on your lips and a ‘Rampuri’ (Knife) tucked in your back.

Book Review: Flood of Fire : – “When the Dragon got burned and the Lion escaped unsinged”

Flood of Fire

4/5 Stars

‘A few big bangs,’ observed the officer sagely, ‘can save a great many lives.’ ~Amitav Ghosh, Flood of Fire

Ahhh…..So, this ‘fabulous’ Idea had occurred to the British long before the Americans. Can’t say I am surprised really. The British at that time(most of the 17th, 18th and 19th century…and possibly before that too) were the flag bearers of despotism and well…I am an Indian, if anyone knows how being at the receiving end of that feels like, it would be us.

With Flood of fire, Amitav Ghosh concludes the Ibis Trilogy, and this series is without a doubt one of the finest historical fiction I have read till date. Mr. Ghosh’s impeccable attention to detail, his extensive research and his no nonsense yet creative way to portray history has made this series a must read for any respectable history buff. As with anything linked with history, this series too has a lot of pages, a LOT. With each book in the trilogy he adds 650+ pages to the tale. And yet, even with the slow pace the story doesn’t let you go, yes, you do take rest in btw (I did, had to absorb before moving on) but the characters were so interesting, the whole era itself was so very captivating that you puff away at the tale as you do a Cuban cigar, taste it, enjoy it up-to a point, slowly, then extinguish it, at some other time relight it and carry on where you left it from, and of course its just as good every time.

With The Sea of Poppies we began the tale from the heartland of Bihar, with the farmers toiling away under the British raj, then we progressed on to the traders of the final product (“opium”) in River of Smoke where we follow the sticky balls of opium from the well powdered hands of elite company men and ‘Free Market’ traders(smugglers, traffickers), to its ultimate destination .i.e the shivering hands of a Chinese addict in some dark den in Canton. And with the Flood of fire, we come to the point where every story line in the trilogy converges to give you the first opium wars, where a country which fought to save its citizen from the dark embrace of destruction was thoroughly humiliated and beaten by the ‘Respectable’ and ‘Honorable’ men of an empire which claimed to bring civilization and freedom to its shores, How? by giving them uncooked opium at ridiculously high prices, imposing a *cough*.. loot.. *cough* of more than 12 million Spanish dollars(at that time .i.e.1840’s) and wrested away two islands for the sole purpose of forcing the drug down the throat of an already choking country.

Ahh…I got carried away….didn’t I……..ahm ahm I love the current British, trust me, (John, Lucia, even Ravi, if you are reading this, I love you guys OK). So, Now, onto the book, yes.

The four main characters this book follows are ‘Kesri’, our village woman ‘Deeti’s brother and a proud soldier in the East India Company’s formidable army; ‘Shireen’ ,’Behram’s (our trader from book two) wife, Zachary (Our mulatto upstart), and ‘Neil’ (a convicted king / ‘Munshi’ / Translator / the guy who experiences things from the Chinese side). Their story is woven with the fate of the Chinese and Indian lands so skillfully that you get to know the conflict from every angle. Specially Kesri’s experience, fighting for a foreign power against another foreign power for………….nothing, nothing of consequence of his own is interesting in the extreme. Some of his thoughts for his superiors are, so very relatable, like…

“..to skewer this maadarchod seemed far more urgent than fighting some unknown Chinese soldier.” ~Kesri

Ahh.. the beauty of foul language in one’s own mother tongue, but I digress. So, as I have mentioned in the first two reviews too, Character development and strength of its story lines are two of the best aspects of this series. Zachary’s zig zag travels through moral considerations and temptations, good and bad, were again a testament to Mr.Ghosh’s skill at creating an interesting character which showcases that how THAT world molded the unsuspecting and gullible in its own twisted image.

All in all, Bravo!, A standing Ovation!, tilted hats and ‘Bangra’ dance all the way, so, why the 4 stars you ask. Why not 5? Fair question, so here’s the deal, when I had to check to see how much a book is left, to actually count down the pages till I finish it, means I wavered, means I could come out of the book without meaning to, that I noticed the door bell being rung, noticed that I was hungry, noticed that maybe I should sleep because I had to go to the office. Now, you might say that that’s no excuse, but it is, to me it is, so deducted one for just that, for making me read those extra pages that were not so interesting, that made me take a break. Unfair? well no I don’t think so.

But I wholeheartedly recommend this to every history lover, or the ones who enjoy a long read, buckle up guys, this is your door to the 19th century Asia, where all the ‘Fun’ stuff was happening which led to the current shit we are in. Take a gander from the deck of the IBIS.

The Liebster Award

Leibster award

An Award! A Nomination!….What ……what’s happening? Do I have to get on a stage! Receive a trophy!.. Do a speech!.. In front of…..PEOPLE!!……What’s that?……No, I don’t? , You sure?……….It’s just on the net?……Promoting new blogs by fellow bloggers ? ……Really?……Phewwwwwww , Yeah that’s my kind of award alright.

Thank you PRANEET SHEKHAR for nominating me. The guy writes some damn good poetry both in Hindi and English, so do check his blog out.

The Rules Are:

  • Acknowledge the blog/s who nominated you and display the award
  • Answer the eleven question that the blogger gives you
  • List 11 random facts about yourself
  • Nominate upto eleven other blogs that you think are deserving of this award (with less than 200 followers)
  • Let the bloggers know you have nominated them
  • Give them 11 questions to answer

Now, Let’s see..  11 Random facts about myself

  1. I love reading (pfff! you do book review blogs and love reading!…bahh!), yeah I get it, not so random after all huh.
  2. I have a job with… a company almost everyone in this world has heard about (don’t be so surprised, they will hire anyone these days it seems).
  3. I am a night owl.
  4. I also like poetry and Music, each and every kind, poetry specially Ghazals and Music specially sufi. Others too but these I admire the most.
  5. In books, I prefer ‘Historical Fiction’, ‘Mythology’ ,’Dark or High Fantasy’, ‘Pulp and Noir Fiction’ and everything else written under the sun……..or the moon.
  6. I like taking long walks, specially when its dark and the streets are deserted (No, I am not a serial killer….or am I?) and (No, I do not recommend it, have almost been mugged twice, almost)
  7. I like the rain, in all its fury and glory (Yeah the sunshine too, but who doesn’t like that)
  8. ‘North’ Indian food is life, don’t know what that is? Google it my friends, you are missing what heaven tastes like.
  9. I have grand designs and ambitions to see the world which are severely hampered by my laziness and lack of …well……funds.
  10. Ohh! and Assassin’s creed Brotherhood and Black flag are two of my best played games ever.
  11. I own a Kindle and a lot of books and am one of those unbiased guys who value words, in whatever format they may present themselves. Even audio books.

So, Whats next, Ahh Questions by PRANEET SHEKHAR :-

  1. Who Or What Inspires You?
    Ans:-  Life and Books, Books and Life, and the occasional beautiful face of-course.
  2. What Was The First Thought When You Started Writing?
    Ans:-  That “…..Absolutely in no circumstance…..should anybody be allowed to read this nonsense.”
  3. Which Is Your Favorite Post Of Mine?
    Ans :- Ahh you clever devil!. “मैं चुप रहता हूं…”  Because of these last words “बड़े तबियत से तोड़ा है दिल
    बस अब मुझे देखने तक को तरस जाएंगे!” I mean dilljalleee!!!!
  4. What Would You Do If There Is No Blogging?
    Ans:- Would irritate everyone in my social circle with my half attempts at poetry and my over enthusiastic book recommendations(oh wait, I do that already) OR hire the services of a psychiatrist perhaps.
  5. Where Would You Like To Go For Your Honeymoon?
    Ans:- Hmm….Bhutan. There’s just something about that country. OR Greenland/Antarctica, for obvious reasons.
  6. Which Language Would You Like To Learn?
    Ans:- Ahh many!…….Urdu, Spanish, Mandarin, Russian and French.
  7. Which Is Your Favorite Character?
    Ans:- It’s a three-way tie between ‘Sand dan Glokta‘ from ‘The First Law‘ series, ‘Tyrion Lannister‘ from Game of Thrones and ‘Harry Potter‘ from you know what.
  8. If You Could Have One Superpower, What It Would Be And Why?
    Ans:- Teleportation, like in the book & movie ‘Jumper‘, Why? Seriously?.. Morning Coffee in Brazil, Afternoon on a California Beach, Evening in an European night club and you still get to wake up in your own bed. That my friend is the LIFE!.
  9. Which Are The Two Words In Which You Can Sum Up Your Life You Have Lived Till Now?
    Ans:- ‘Endless Confusion’
  10. What Is Love According To You?
    Ans:-  Let…..me…….get………back……to you on that.
  11. If You Can Express Your Current Situation in Short Poetry, What It Would Be?
    Ans:-
    “बे-क़रारी सी बे-क़रारी है
    वस्ल है और फ़िराक़ तारी है
    जो गुज़ारी न जा सकी हम से
    हम ने वो ज़िंदगी गुज़ारी है”   ~ जौन एलिया

And now to pass the madness on, My Nominees For Liebster Award are: –

  1. Anabhigya
  2. At least I’m Well-Read
  3. Priya’s blog
  4. Funmi’s thoughts

My Questions to the nominees……

  1. What made you start blogging?
  2. Do you keep deadlines for your blog posts?
  3. For what in your life do you feel most grateful?
  4. What is your greatest desire and your greatest fear?
  5. What’s that one place and one book that you absolutely love and would want everyone to travel and read ?
  6. If you could have one superpower, What would it be and why?
  7. Given the choice of anyone in the world whom would you want as a dinner guest and why?
  8. Wine or Whiskey Or Vodka or Beer or what? Why or Why not?
  9. Which was or is your favorite cartoon ? Why?
  10. What would you do if there was no “blogging”?
  11. A romantic one liner, for your present or future ‘Love to be’?

Thanks for the nomination again PRANEET SHEKHAR , and to all my nominees, I look forward to your responses. Keep writing keep reading.

liebster-award-a

कलाम क्या लिखूँ

sufi-whirling-dervish.jpg

ज्यों की कैद कर सकूँ उनके सारे रंग, ऐसे शब्दों के बाण क्या लिखूँ

ज्यों की बरी हौं जाऊं उनकी सज़ा से, कोई ऐसा बयान क्या लिखूँ

जिनका होना ‘होने’ पर खुद ही एक क़सीदा हो, उन पर कोई क़सीदा क्या लिखूँ

उनकी नाक पें सजे नग पे, कुछ यूँ हूँ फ़िदा की क्या लिखूँ

शहद से मीठी मुस्कान हो जिनकी, उनसे मीठी जुबान में क्या लिखूँ

उनके चेहरे को पढ़ने में लग जाए सदिया, मैं एक ही जान में क्या लिखूँ

जिनके काजल से शर्मा गयी ये श्याही, कलम में इस,  उस श्याही से क्या लिखूँ

जिनके लिए क़यामत टाल दे ख़ुदा, मैं उनकी शान में क्या लिखूँ

जिनकी जुल्फों की छाँव से जलती हों रातें, उस गहरी शाम में क्या लिखूँ

जिनके नाम से भर दूँ सेंकडौ दीवान, उन पर ‘एक’ ही कलाम क्या लिखूँ

Her kohl laden eyes

2017-07-08-22-49-47

I have beheld a sight more magnificent

 Than the sparkling night skies.

 Drowned in them,

Lost in them,

Drunk from them,

 Them what?

Why, Her kohl laden eyes.

I have seen sadness more acute

Than a child’s wails and cries.

A caged soul in them,

A wet wrong in them,

A woeful song in them,

Them what?

Why, Her kohl laden eyes.

I have felt frustration more maddening

Than a cripple’s dance and tries

Crushed by them,

Rebuffed by them,

Handcuffed by them,

Them What?

Why, Her Kohl laden eyes.

Book Review: The Hero of Ages :- “Third Time’s Really the Charm!”

heroofagesen1-b

4/5 Stars, Goodreads Rating System

“THE BEST WAY TO FOOL SOMEONE, was to give them what they wanted. Or, at the very least, what they expected. As long as they assumed that they were one step ahead, they wouldn’t look back to see if there were any steps that they’d completely missed.” ~Brandon Sanderson

Oh you deviously clever clever man, Mr. Sanderson. I love it! There! There’s no other way to put it. This is without a doubt one of the best ending to a fantasy trilogy I have ever read. Don’t you love it when it all comes together beautifully, surprising you a bit at how perfectly it all fits.

Blurb :- Tricked into releasing the evil spirit Ruin while attempting to close the Well of Ascension, new emperor Elend Venture and his wife, the assassin Vin, are now hard-pressed to save the world.

Ever since I started The Final Empire, I was apprehensive about the end of the series, the mistborn universe was so good, the characters were so well developed and the story line with all its structured magic and constant plot twists was so engaging, that I thought this is too good to end on a good high. You kind of feel that way about a fantasy series, but dear me, was I ever wrong to doubt, to lose faith because Brandon Sanderson is the real Hero of Ages for fantasy writing. Even though his writing style is simple, you feel the world for all its complexities and interlaced storylines ever so acutely. In some books you have to give a lot of leeway to the author, take his leaps for granted, stifling your urge to scratch away at the cracks or to demand answers to actually engross in the book like The Gunslinger by King, people have loved that book but I just couldn’t, there were just too many holes, leaps that I just couldn’t love it all the way. No such trouble here, The Final Empire was to my mind kind of a standalone book, it didn’t give you too hard a time about anything, introduced to an awesome new world, to a intriguing cast of characters and left you a little curious. The Well of ascension again furthered the world building, made you comfortable with the characters and DID leave you with questions, as the second book in the trilogy that was its rightful function. The Hero of Ages, was the end, the book of answers and although I did not expect it, Answers it did provide, for Everything! Each little story line was linked, it was all part of the plan, the dominoes all fell into their respective places in the end and you go ‘Woaaahhhhh!’

One of the main strengths of this book , is the character development of “Spook” , “Sazed” and “Tensoon” , though ‘Sazed’ has been one of my favorite characters in the series since Book 1, the other two were also infinitely enjoyable. The other strength is the Story-line itself, “You Don’t know what I do for Mankind.” The lord ruler had exclaimed in the first book, and boy was he right, I mean seriously, after reading this one you say to yourself “You knew nothing Jon Snow“, and that was the intention, crafty little Mr.Sanderson had the whole thing figured out since page 1 of book 1, he didn’t go in blind, he started this thing having the whole damn map and deliberately hid, blurred or plain hoodwinked us into not paying enough attention, until it was time and he went Abra-ka-Dabra. Good one Sir, Good one indeed.

The world building in these books was phenomenal, at par with Martin or Rowling or even Tolkein I dare say (Okay, maybe not that intricate, but pretty damn close). The landscape with its various dominances, the Ash mounds, the Red sun, the constantly falling ash, brown plants and the mists. I mean talk about a world which knew that there’s some seriously wrong shit going down in it, and you would get the Mistborn Universe. With its creatures and species and the whole hierarchical hullabaloo, its pretty fantastic.

This is a gem of a fantasy, a novel, a series rather, which every fantasy lover should read at least once, Okay maybe twice, maybe give it another go after reading all the side books too, okay maybe read it every two years, when you want to get lost somewhere.