Tuesday, November 08, 2016

Celebrating Diwali without the Crap

There was a time when celebrating Diwali was simpler. It meant wearing new clothes, and sitting restlessly through pujas, the duration of which depended entirely on the austerity levels of the households one belonged to. The next step was listening to the tale of Narakasura’s violent life which came to an inevitably grisly conclusion at the hand of Krishna, which of course was the cause for centuries of celebration in honour of good triumphing over evil which in later years we cynically realized is history’s way of telling us that losers usually have their mistakes rubbed in their faces over and over again. Forever.
 Then the fun and games would begin. We got to stuff ourselves silly with sweets most of which were supersaturated with sugar before being deep fried in ghee, bursting too many crackers with gay abandon, and rushing off to crowded theatres to catch the Diwali releases. Mostly though it was a day of glorious celebration suffused with an unalloyed joy that would rejuvenate our tired souls, filling us with renewed vigour for whatever lay ahead.
Whatever has happened to the wonderful sense of wellbeing that nothing but an old – fashioned celebration can provide? How come we no longer believe that evil will be vanquished and good will shine through? Why have we allowed our faith as well as the lustre of the festival of lights to dim? 
Nowadays we see monsters everywhere and everyone is the enemy. Sugar and fat have both been declared as the real demons in a world where one of the greatest evils is love handles. Never mind that even science has decreed that a balanced diet means including everything in moderation. As for crackers, they are the devil’s toys contributing to pollution and must be avoided at all cost if you believe the celebs on social media who favour top of the line, high – priced gas guzzling automobiles  to get their bony behinds from one place to the other. Taking off to the theatres to forget our troubles over caramel popcorn and the turbulent drama in the lives of gorgeous people is no longer a relaxing pastime. Instead it is a political minefield where extremists flex their extortionist muscles forcing their hate – filled ideologies on us, effectively ruining the festive season. Enough is enough!  

Let us get over ourselves already and recapture the essence of Diwali, the whole point of which is to brighten our lives by dispelling the darkness that resides within and without. It is time to light a fire under intolerant backsides everywhere and resolve to respect the choices of others even if that includes gorging on sweets to the point where they risk worms tearing out chunks of a chubby caboose, lighting up a few flower pots, chakras and colourful sparklers with friends and family or watching a film starring artistes from a neighbouring nation (gasp!). Finally let us celebrate a traditional holiday with all our hearts, spreading warmth and happiness around till everyone is infected with the same.

This article originally appeared in The New Indian Express 

Book Review: Burhan Sonmez's Istanbul Istanbul

Turkish writer, Burhan Sonmez’s Istanbul Istanbul is about four prisoners who are held without trial and tortured deep in the bowels of the city. Locked away in a windowless cell they are routinely dragged away along a narrow corridor, past an iron gate to where a world of endless torment awaits. When the guards see fit to return them to captivity more dead than alive they pick up the pieces of a broken body with the help of a marginally more resilient spirit and their cellmates to live out another day to the best of their abilities. A chilling detail is tossed in almost as an aside – in the cell opposite a woman is being held and her gender does not exclude her from the exact same brutal treatment meted out to the opposite sex.
            Yet Istanbul Istanbul is about none of these things simply because it refuses to dwell at length on the torture, pain and suffering or the gritty, stomach turning nature of these characters’ misfortune and spares us the graphic details. Instead, the four men choose to distance themselves from the unspeakable horrors they are being forced to endure and wile away the time by telling each other stories, retreating further and deeper into an imaginary realm until the immediacy of their situation acquires dreamlike contours. The reader is drawn in as well and the effect is disembodied and disconcerting to say the least.
            The stories themselves inspired by Boccaccio’s Decameron s are varied.  Some are naughty such as the tale of two nuns who discover a certain prosaic truth about exactly how fast a woman with her skirt up and a man with his pants down can run. Another involves fantastical man – eating wolves and some are downright bawdy including the one with a randy soldier and the sexcapade of a runaway Princess. These are funny, thought – provoking, bland or intensely philosophical.
            One thing these stories are not however are revelatory of their narrator’s background or circumstances that led to their current predicament. Early on, the prisoners warn a newcomer not to reveal any incriminatory evidence or reveal telling details about himself. As veterans of ill treatment they are aware that nothing good can come from spilling their guts.
            Despite the best efforts and extreme measures taken by their tormentors, the victims refuse to part with their secrets. The readers are treated roughly the same way. While allowed a free pass into the fantasies conjured by their coping mechanisms, the protagonists hold on to the  best part of themselves which is locked away deep inside leaving the onlookers out in the cold. Whether this is a good or bad thing depends entirely on personal perspective.

This review originally appeared in The New Indian Express.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Message from a Reader!

It is just too bloody awesome when a reader finishes your book, takes time out of his life to hunt you down on Facebook and  reach out with a long, beautifully worded, delightfully complimentary message. That gooey feeling you get at moments like this is absolutely priceless! Have produced it below with permission:

Hello Mrs Anuja,
This is Rama – I have had the brilliant opportunity of reading your recent book: Yama’s Lieutenant. I was really enthralled by the writing and the tale itself, and thought of writing my appreciation to you directly. I have kept up with all your works, and I have noticed that you have a tendency to take tales of mythology which are hitherto little known in detail, and to spin a beautiful tale around it. I personally enjoyed your Kamadeva book a lot for this reason, for it not only spun an engrossing tale, but rather informed me of many aspects of Kamadeva which I otherwise might not have been able to unearth myself. Coming to Yama’s Lieutenant though, this by far is your best work and one of the finest books I have read. I am a huge mythology fan, and I have always noticed that authors usually tend to succeed when they write stories which are either grounded completely in mythology or in the contemporary, but falter significantly when it comes to combining both worlds. This is your truest success – this is the first and only book I have read as part of the Indian Mythology Pantheon that has made me forget that it is a combination of both contexts, and entirely drew me into the tale. The story itself is very unique and is a brilliant adaptation of the little known fact that Yama had a twin, and intelligently taps on the point of confusion that some consider Yami to be Yama’s wife, while others consider her to be his twin sister. By the time I was done with the book (in 2 days), I was very proud to have read such engaging writing with a very creative spin put on the story. You are one of the finest authors of India I daresay, and I wish you all success in all of your future endeavours, literary and otherwise. Do kindly keep writing, as I foresee that your books might stand as authority for certain little known aspects of Indian mythology in the future, such as the points on Yama and Kama. Finally, assuming that you are Tamil, it makes me extra proud that an author of my own beloved mother tongue has proceeded to writing such fascinating tales that captures the interests of the entire nation. All the best and thank you for your works!

 Really touched and have been grinning from ear to ear ever since I read it.  Aren't my readers the absolute best? I think so :)

Tuesday, October 11, 2016


All Indians are proud of their country and treat its citizens as brothers and sisters, their cultural and religious differences notwithstanding (at least in theory). But as long as anybody can remember the North and South Indians have regarded each other as curiosities to be viewed askance through the glass wall that is the Vindhyas. Down South, stereotypical versions of the Northerners include images of Punjabis going ‘balle balle’ and gorging on Tandoori chicken or evil ‘Sethjis’who chew paan and make Shylock seem like the very epitome of compassion. Thanks to Bollywood, it is assumed that South Indians live on noodles flavoured with curd when not stuffing their faces with idly and sambar, smearing their foreheads with liberal amounts of sacred ash and forever running around fluttering their hands to the steady accompaniment of ‘Aiyayo’ or ‘Aiyo’ for short.  
            The same South Indians who took umbrage for this less than accurate or flattering portrayal of their charming quirks are now doing a victory dance (or its Bharathanatyam equivalent to the accompaniment of the Mrithangam) thanks to Oxford Dictionary which has included the term ‘Aiyo’ as a new addition to its venerable lexicon. This newly minted, bona fide English phrase is an exclamation according to the revered Guardian of the world of English words, in Southern India and Sri Lanka, expressing distress, regret, or grief; ‘Oh no!’, ‘Oh dear!’.
            Those from traditional Southern households would tell you that the family elders tend to frown on the casual usage of the term ‘Aiyo’ by callow youngsters (‘Aiyo! I look fat in this selfie!’) because it is essentially a lament and they believe that it could serve as an invitation for calamity to strike. Rather like the much maligned boy who cried ‘Wolf!’ and was grievously and gruesomely punished with temporary accommodation in the belly of the predator for his lapse in judgement. But even those stern, bastions of tradition would no doubt approve of the recognition given this term which conveys pithy emotion so succinctly and will no doubt be less inclined to rap the knuckles of those who use it indiscriminately now that the said term has the blessing of Oxford Dictionary.
            In other good news for South Indians, ‘Ayya’ has also been accommodated by the definitive authorities of the English Language. For the uninformed, ‘Ayya’ is no relative of ‘Aiyo’. It is now defined as a noun, in Sri Lanka: an older brother. Or more generally: any older male relative or acquaintance. Frequently used as a form of address, having its origins in Tamil aiyan, ayyā father, also used to modify the word for ‘brother’ to convey the sense ‘elder’, and as a respectful form of address to male superiors more generally, ultimately from Sanskrit ārya.

            Those who have formerly been pulled up by Anglophiles and stern English teachers who speak pukka English and insist on the same, can relax and feel free to spice up the language with colourful epithets rich in vernacular flavour in the hope that someday even something as provocative as ‘Poda panni!’ (Get lost Pig! in Tamil) will someday win respectability. 

This article originally appeared in The New Indian Express

Monday, October 03, 2016

How much Mythology is too much Mythology?

In recent times, the tidal wave of interest in mythology has become something of a publishing phenomenon. Thanks to the extraordinary success of the likes of Ashwin Sanghi, Anand Neelakantan, Devdutt Pattnaik and Amish Tripathi among others, the supposedly 33 crore deities from the Hindu pantheon have been retrieved from the musty passageways of memory and legend, dusted off, polished, retrofitted and propelled into the collective consciousness with gleaming, often  glamourous avatars. And the reading populace can’t get enough, it seems. Mythology appears to have become a safe bet as far as the publishers are concerned and hence, an endless stream of myth – based fiction is making its way to the marketplace. But is this surfeit of a good thing really a good thing? 
            On the one hand, one wishes that aspiring authors would quit it with the mythology obsession which if it continues at the present rate is surely going to make the taste of the flavour of the season cloying in the extreme and effectively kill the market. It is the hope that the scribblers write about something else or take up another career if it means making the field less competitive. But that would be indicative of selfish self – interest as this writer has a finger in the mythology pie and it would behove her to look at this question from an objective angle.
            While those with a religious frame of mind or an appreciation for our glorious culture and heritage are no doubt thrilled that youngsters have taken to Puranic lore in such a big way the more conservative among the populace are frothing at the mouth with some of the artistic liberties taken with the sacrosanct material that most first heard, while seated on the laps of their grandmothers who told the edifying stories just so, the way they heard it while sitting cross – legged on the earthen floor from their elders. In this brave new world though, the Gods are no longer all powerful entities who leave the pious quaking with love, awe or fear but they have been brought to the level of the mortals where one may get up close and personal with them and I daresay find a wart or two and even grey hairs, sorry, shades.
            This brand new relationship that has been forged with the supreme consciousness, appalling as it may be to some is nevertheless a wonderful thing. And before extremists grab their weapons of sweeping condemnation and moral outrage, allow me to elaborate. Indian culture with its grandiose, sweeping range and a major chunk of traditions, religious and otherwise that have been handed down over the millennia has survived despite repeated attacks by invaders who made short work of entire civilizations. And no, it is not a fluke.
The powerful Gods from Roman and Greek mythology rule only in the pages of charming fiction but are otherwise forgotten and certainly not worshipped. Youngsters hardly know the Norse Gods, excepting Thor and Loki, the mighty God of Thunder and his nemesis, who many believe to be the work of Stan Lee at his most creative. Have the Egyptian Gods or the way of life that came into being with the magnificent Nile – valley civilization retained their relevance?  What about the Incans, Maya or Aztecs? What spared India from a similar fate? 
While it has not been worked down to a science, the general consensus is that Indians have always had the ability to assimilate the best from other religions, cultures and traditions even if it belongs to a hated conqueror in order to incorporate the best others have to offer with the vastness of the precious knowledge that was no doubt accumulated in the same way and make it their own. It is through this remarkably symbiotic process that the gifts of our predecessors in the fields of art, science, philosophy etc. have been preserved and we ensure that the presents of the past survives the merciless sands of time. If that is not a beautiful thing I don’t know what is!
Likewise, if the modern era demands that we re-examine the way we choose to connect with our Gods and Goddesses, treating them as friends, adversaries or intriguing puzzles that need to be scrutinized every which way, surely there is nothing wrong with it? Because for the most part, readers pick up these new – fangled books not merely because they are a fad or an amusing curiosity but out of an underlying sense of love and deep respect for a culture and heritage that is exclusively our own and one we can take rightful pride in.
This abiding affinity for all things Indian be it myth, pickles or item numbers allows us to stay connected to our roots and feel the sanctuary of a grandmother’s lap even as we find ourselves barrelling across the highway of life, heading for strange shores to make our homes, embracing cutting – edge technology and contributing to it or wrapping our heads around ideas and notions that are entirely foreign but have been accepted as the norm. Why then should we disparage authors for taking the mythology that is common to all of us and doing with it what they will if it means that our children and their children will keep the treasure trove of the best of our ancient beliefs close to their hearts and value it forever? 

Hopefully future generations will take the old stories, add a little something new in keeping with their times and infuse it with a delicious irreverence that will make the most sacrilegious and contentious authors of the present day puke blood or roll in their graves. That would be fine too, because ultimately we cannot have too much of a good thing when it is our good thing.   

An edited version of this piece was published in Creative India

Sunday, September 25, 2016


It has been a lovely Sunday. I made awesome Mughal Biriyani for one of my fave people in the world who came home for lunch. She is one of those people who brightens up the place by just showing up. Got the loveliest present ever from her too!

It had the cutest ear - rings inside in my fave color!
The day got better from there! I found this sweet email from a reader with the subject line: "Thank you for your Shakti." What followed had to be among the most heartwarming feedback, I have ever received. Do check it out :) I have produced it below with permission:

 Hey this is Hariny from Madurai. To be clear I am in class 12(Lakshmi School).. not the respectable age where you ought to forsake your textbooks for anything else! I randomly picked up Shakti- The Divine Feminine and I think that moment had such  a momentous effect on my thoughts later. It has been very long since any book entranced me like this. Not just any normal urge to finish the book...but a huge addiction where even when I wasn't reading it , my thoughts were swirling round and round Shakti. It’s been so long since I read anything that didn't consist of physics , chemistry and maths. Somehow despite what everybody said I clung on to the book everywhere...during class hours(sneakily reading under the desk) , bus journeys , hospital waiting areas ..to be honest even in the loo.I am typing this just having finished the book and I am very sure that the book is rarely going to be out of my thoughts for the next few weeks at least. The language was so vintage and rich cascading right off the book to my brain making me lie awake all night , haunted and deep in thought. This mail is to thank this amazing woman for such a classic novel that provided a highly vivid languorous experience. Thank you so much! ..you are wonderful!  
And this after Archit Ojha, CEO of A Million Minds, had this to say about Yama's Lieutenant:  "'Yama's Lieutenant' has everything that I could have asked for in a book." You can check out the rest of the review here. 

Tuesday, July 12, 2016


'Thank you for a wonderful book' These simple yet seriously sweet words emailed by Prathibha after reading Shakti: The Divine Feminine made me feel so good! Her email has been produced below with her permission.

Shakti, the novel you wrote is power packed! and I loved it to bits. Being a girl who grew up listening to stories of Gods and Goddesses, Shakti gave me a new perscpective.

The friendship between Shakti and Vishnu was heart warming, the love between Shiva and Shakti was so heart wrenching (i have mixed feelings here, as in I have no particular word to say what I feel..the pain, the love is so..)

Indra, one of the Antagonist resonates with us, humans in a way where we deny to see/accept the truth..
Mahisha who eventually felt guilt and accepted his misdeeds but Indra couldn't! And him being revered as Grama devi! It is quite fantastic (but is it true?? :P)

Reading through the book, you mentioned about Chinnamasta! I wish there was much more about it, I was intrigued the first time I came across a photo in a temple here(i was a mere 11 yr girl by then) but after many years with help of google I came to know a little of the Goddess, it is a wonderful representation of life, nourishment and death!

I loved Kali, the freedom, the wilderness and everything about her. in your words, Well Kali is just..Kali :)

Shakti and her forms! talks with Dugra and Kali, envy towards Parvathi. Each one a personification of her. 

And the problems of contemporary world is written well, Manusmriti and its effects, the dominance in the name of protection, auspiciousness and inauspiciousness, rape, power, insecurity everything is handled well.

Thank you for a wonderful book

If that does not make you want to pick up a copy asap I don't know what will!
Now available with a 33% discount on Amazon India. and Flipkart.

Pic courtesy: Bookish Thoughts

Another reader tweeted that her weekend indulgence is a copy of Yama's Lieutenant and strawberry cheesecake ice cream. That has to be the yummiest combo ever! Have you got your copy yet? If not it is available on Amazon India and Flipkart for a 35% discount. 

Saturday, July 02, 2016

The Cradle of Death

Kankana Basu of The New Indian Express had some awesome things about Yama's Lieutenant. Sample this: "Yama’s Lieutenant from the immensely readable writer Anuja Chandramouli, will enthrall readers of every age group. Blending mythology and fantasy with a rich sweep of imagination, Chandramouli creates a terrifying world of demons and necromancers, which chillingly echoes with resonances of contemporary times." Or this, "The author’s writing is crisp and riveting. At no point does she falter in her conviction even as she creates mind-boggling scenarios for her fantasy creatures to inhabit. The multitude of creatures could have been confusing to the uninitiated, but she introduces them with intelligent spacing. A very adult slant is visible in tackling the matter of sex, which among other deviations includes hints of incest, all of which seem slightly out of sync with the fantasy world." And finally, "A vibrant and rambunctious read, Yama’s Lieutenant is as unputdownable as it gets."

You can check out the full review here.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Beating the Censors with the Moral Yardstick

We Indians have become thin – skinned to an alarming degree and so given to taking offense at the drop of a cuss word that it has become the norm for citizens to go to war on social networking platforms every time somebody cracks a joke or gives compelling evidence to the fact that every one of us is as opinionated and judgemental as everyone else. When comedians embrace controversy with provocative material on the sacred cows of sport and playback singing to ensure that their underwhelming video goes viral and gets the attention it does not deserve, we are flooded by an outpouring of outrage that far more serious issues seldom get.
            Worse, since it has become common for runaway emotions and misguided passion to rule the roost in place of cool logic and common sense, the censors and moral police have taken the upper hand. As a result, decrees have been passed that trample on freedom of speech, artistic expression, and the right to tweet our peevish dissatisfaction while making tasteless jokes. Shockingly, despite the fact that India is a democracy, books are burnt, films are banned and Sunny Leone gets the free publicity she built her career on thanks to incendiary posters and press conferences.
While so much energy is expended on so much triviality, pressing problems persist and plague this proud nation which has still not managed to tackle the problem of providing the basic necessities for a vast majority of its populace. There are so many without food, clothing shelter, education or even a decent loo and yet we are far more preoccupied with nonsense, ours and others both. Surely this is not what our freedom fighters fought and died for?
Perhaps it is time to put an end to the endless chin – wagging, finger pointing and a collective tendency to froth at the mouth every time something mildly provocative starts trending on twitter. In short, unproductive and ultimately self – destructive habits including intolerance and strident censorship need to be put to rest in order to facilitate a conducive climate that fosters development, nation building and better understanding between the diverse factions that make up India. Nobody likes it when big brother gets carried away with his voyeuristic, tyrannical tendencies and starts rapping on knuckles to force political correctness down unwilling throats.

In order to stop dictatorial directives in its tracks, it behoves us to take up the role of moral watchdog and limit it entirely to our own selves. Nobody likes to be told their shit stinks but conversely everybody labours under the delusion that their shit don’t stink. Now more than ever, it is necessary to clean up our own act in order to mature into responsible citizens who can exercise every one of their rights while being sensitive and sensible enough to do so without stomping on toes and encroaching on somebody else’s rights. 
This column was published in The New Indian Express.

Thursday, June 16, 2016


Its confession time! There are few things in the world I love better than a rave review. It makes me feel all warm and tingly from the top of my head all the way to the soles of my feet. In fact, I cannot get enough of those. Blogger Namrata who has read every one of my books had this to say about YAMA'S LIEUTENANT.
"In the first 4 pages she has nailed your attention in a fashion that you don't want to let anything come in the way of you knowing what happens next. She thrills you, fascinates you, leaves you with mystery and in the end takes you on a high only she can with her words. The characters are so heart warming and close to real life you cannot help but feel their chaos. You are almost chasing the mystery with them to know who is behind it all. She has grabbed the biggest fear of human kind and merged it with myth to derive a perfect serving of a book called Yama's lieutenant which leaves you heady.
A strongly recommended read for people who love reading her works, this one will make you love her more. And people who have never read her, start with this one you will understand why people love her."
Be sure to read the rest of her review here. I particularly liked the bit where she compared me, sorry the book to a sweet called Kalakand which is supposedly a balanced that is nevertheless close to the hearts of those who have sampled it on account of its simple yet divine taste. Awww... I have never tried this sweet, but I just know that I love it!!

In more news, five author - signed copies of Yama's Lieutenant are up for grabs. In order to get your hands on them, please ENTER this contest organized by IndiaBookStore. Goodreads users will be happy to know that there are five more copies of Yama's Lieutenant available in a free giveaway.
For those of you who would like a fantastic read and to help a struggling author make some money please visit Amazon IndiaFlipkart or Kindle. Be sure to post your reviews as well!

Tuesday, June 07, 2016

Real Meets Surreal

The book opens in a decrepit Railway station in a “City – State” that has seceded from the “Back – County” which we may surmise is somewhere in the Congolese region abounding with mines. Requiem, a no – gooder who clearly has his sticky fingers in every shady dealing of the criminal persuasion to be made in the city – state is there to meet his writer frenemy, Lucien who conversely is so noble and idealistic, it is ridiculous.
The duo frequent Tram – 83 a popular bar that caters to the runaway appetites of all kinds of humanity such as tourists (for profit or non – profit), miners, officials, students, globalizers, hungry hookers, spies, soldiers, gangsters, journalists, poets, petty thieves and killers. Together, the duo are sucked into the seamy underbelly of a chaotic world run by a corrupt warlord where “the mightier crush the mighty, the mighty defecate in the mouths of the weak, the weak sequestrate the weaker, the weaker do each other in and then split for elsewhere.” 

Tram 83 is dominated by wild, jarring rhythms, smooth sounds and pulsing beats that plunge those in for the ride into a bleak and truly terrifying place whose violence afflicted past has paved the way for a dark reality that is riddled with vice gone on a rampage. It is a dog eat dog world where everybody eats dog kebabs. Of course, this can be discomfiting to say the least. There are too many baby – chicks (underage prostitutes) and notorious child soldiers to be comfortably borne and the degree of exploitation doing the rounds is enough to make even those hardened to the foibles of human nature feel queasy.
Conversations are not straightforward and rudely interrupted by the musings of those in the bar who have little patience for conventional niceties, forcing one to keep up using all the senses if need be. Nearly every page is peppered with the sexual innuendo of those who eat by the sweat of their breasts to paraphrase the author, which definitely cannot be repeated in polite company. Regular homilies on the reigning preoccupation with steatopygia are thrust into every other page. Everything seems to be permeated not only with the rank odor of the regulars but the fouler stench of dull cynicism and lost hope. This is not to say the proceedings are fully dark and dreary interspersed as the narrative is with bright bursts of humor.
   At the center of this maelstrom are the former friends. Requiem takes it all in his stride, throwing himself into the demands of living in such inhospitable terrain with savage determination and ill grace. Lucien on the other hand is practically a caricature who clings to his principles for dear life even when faced with the prospect of rotting in a prison cell. Mujila invites readers to closely examine the viewpoints of both men and take sides, inviting the occasional laugh or shocked gasp while keeping alive the curiosity to see which one will triumph over the course of events that clearly indicate that there are likely to be no winners.
Mujila’s debut has been long listed for the Man Booker Prize and is one of those books which have already won in addition to being in the process of winning, a slew of prestigious awards. Whether this translates into a winning read for the average reader depends on his or her openness towards an unconventional style that takes more than a little getting used to. Some of the stylistic devices and conceits on display such as mind – numbing descriptive lists or constant refrains run the gamut from exasperating to engaging. And yet the author has captured the morass of decay redolent of this land and the teeming undercurrent of vibrancy that is the essence of this unnamed place.

Nothing is sacred here and there is mounting evidence that the horrific past will bury the present and obliterate the future. But even so, Tram 83 may just be worth the visit if you are not unwilling to plunge into the depths of hell for a brief glimpse before getting the heck out of there. 

This review originally appeared in The New Indian Express.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

My Beef with JK Rowling

Book lovers owe JK Rowling a lot. She gave us Harry Potter. For many of us who grew up with the boy who survived, life became more magical for having expanded to include the meticulously detailed world she had created and brought to such glorious life. Thanks to her efforts, millions of readers were birthed throughout the world who would have otherwise spent the developmental phase having their brains turned to bread pudding from overexposure to their Television sets. Instead we all learned to expand our minds and hearts, were taught valuable lessons on the evils of discrimination, intolerance and cruelty to other species in a fun way without ever having to endure being preached at in addition to acquiring a keen appreciation for the Queen’s English. You have to love JK Rowling for this and more.
            In recent times, though I have come to admire Harry Potter’s creator even more, because she doggedly worked on the series and gave us the seven books that were promised without leaving us high and dry like the recalcitrant author of a certain epic fantasy series featuring a delicious plot, violence, nudity and dragons. Having acknowledged her overall awesomeness, let us move on.
 Some of the Potter maniacs (like myself) were less than ecstatic when Rowling sold the movie rights thereby forcing Daniel Radcliffe and the exquisite Emma Watson into our consciousness every time we re – read the books. The casting choice for the latter was particularly galling, since the book clearly describes Hermione Granger as bushy – haired and ‘long – molared’ whereas Emma Watson was the cutie who grew up to be a hottie. And then there was the endless stream of merchandise which was foisted on us by vested commercial interests. How are we supposed to believe in Harry Potter’s innocence and the purity of his soul when he has become a hack coercing us to buy crap we don’t really need? But this was a minor offense compared to what came later.
            When the seventh book came out, Potter fans were delighted that Rowling had seen fit to spare Harry and his two best friends especially after their creator had seemed inclined to go on arbitrary killing sprees which saw her bumping off beloved characters like Dumbledore (I went into hysterics when the great man passed), Sirius Black, Hedwig, Fred, Lupin and Tonks with indecent haste. We bid adieu to the beloved characters who seemed peaceably settled into the humdrum rhythm of a monotonous life. But the author seems to have trouble letting go.
            In the decade since the release of Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows, the last book of the series, Rowling has taken to releasing endless titbits of information related to the Potter World in interviews or via social media. Some revelations were momentous like the bombshell which exploded to reveal Dumbledore was gay and or that Harry and Hermione should have ended up together (Gasps!) while others were trifling, for instance, Teddy Lupin is in Hufflepuff. This compulsive need she seems to have to return to the wizarding world for regular nip and tuck procedures with the occasional augmentation, enhancement or implant while not outright grotesque does seem indicative of a process addiction that does not bode well for the writer and reader both.
            Those who devoured her books word for word tend to feel cheated when all these fresh additions are sneaked into a constantly burgeoning database that is destined to remain unwritten and therefore not technically a part of the story proper. Which is why it is annoying to be told that Dumbledore was gay even if it makes sense because it would made even more sense had it been properly woven into the narrative. Harry and Hermione shared a beautiful friendship without a whiff of romantic love or sexual tension which is why it stank when Rowling shot that all to hell. As for the rest of the tweaking, why not give it a rest already?
It is the sort of thing that makes one suspect her intentions and wonder if it is a marketing ploy to keep interest levels high since there has been official confirmation that there is a Harry Potter sequel play and three prequel films in the works all of which will also be released as books. Hopefully Rowling knows better than to damage the world she has so painstakingly created by reducing sweet Harry to a soul – sucking sell out, fouler than a dementor!

The edited version of this column appeared in The New Indian Express.


Saturday, May 14, 2016

Drowning in Dumbness

You know that times are bad when headlines are obsessed with the Duchess of Cambridge’s bum. Apparently she had a wardrobe malfunction during her tour of India that may or not have revealed her bare bottom in all its glory and it was all people wished to talk about. Those who could not care less for Princess patootie may have skipped these articles only to be told that Kangana Ranaut and Hrithik Roshan are currently engaged in a mud – slinging match with gobs of the stuff landing on the pope when the odds of a pretty boy landing a date with him was raised. If you were to persist in trying to find something else to read, you may be suckered into a long drawn discussion on the odds of Virat Kohli and Anushka Sharma getting back together because the latter has unlocked the secret to preventing dandruff as well as hair fall in addition to losing another two kilos on her derriere.
            Could it be true that deep down at the core, we are all just shallow, superficial twits? Is there no way to help our inner wannabe intellectual who has long been drowning in the dumbness we imbibe on a regular basis? What about the Zen Philosopher seeking enlightenment or the curious scientist who seeks to solve the world’s pressing problems? Needless to say both are doomed to die as well if we keep feeding them pointless information shovelled out by celeb watchers involving boob jobs gone wrong, leaked videos that chronicle a starlet’s sex life or torrid affairs that bit the dust.
Add caption
It is now more important than ever to embrace the inner geek and nerd we are capable of being rather than limit ourselves to being hopelessly enamoured of those who play geeks and nerds with such effusive charm on the Big Bang Theory. After all it is the clever ones among us who figure out ways to solve the problems that plague our planet and invent remarkable gadgets that make our lives so much easier.
Surely we would rather be the genius who figured out a simple, inexpensive, non – violent way to end poverty, racism, illiteracy and disease rather than the vacuous thing who devoted his/her life towards achieving a gym – ripped body that is the envy of pudgy neighbours, bathing in fairness creams so that someone says ‘Wow! You are too fair to be an Indian!’, buffing the body to a fine sheen without gross cellulite or stretchmarks, all so that a prefect Facebook profile pic which comes with a guarantee of 1000 likes might be clicked?

            If yes, it is time to make the effort to become a smart person who knows enough to discuss world politics, science, mathematics, philosophy and current events (excluding the shape of Kate Middleton’s abs post the baby) without aid from a smartphone. To do that it is time to read more sensible shit, eschew buying stuff that promises to get rid of the dusky skin you were born with, try and learn something that will make you a better person and less of a greedy, grasping moron and finally encourage cleverness in yourself as well as in others so that it may grow wings and fly us all away from the morass of stupidity in which we have gone and trapped ourselves.  

An edited version of this piece was carried by The New Indian Express.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016


I got these really sweet emails from my readers and am sharing them with their permissions. They really made my day J
This one is from Rajinder Singh (Dr), Jalandhar: 
Dear Madam,
I have read Shakti and congratulate you  for writing such a wonderful book.   Those of religious bent of mind have only some vague ideas of what our gods and goddesses have been doing without any scruples. Shiva-Brahma-Vishnu, Shiva -Shakti,, Indra-apsras-gandharva, sages and savants find a mention in our religious books. The way you have written in such a forthright manner clears the mist around them. In our Granth Sahib (The Holy Book of the Sikhs) countless references have been to Pauranic characters. Similarly Guru Gobind Singh has written quite a lot about Chandi and Durga and her fight with Mahishasur.  I place this book at a higher pedestal than the most gripping novels, or world classics. Congratulations again. I would like to read your novels also in course of time.  I am also a writer, though a very ordinary. I have written 15 novels in Punjabi and English and Hindi too. I have translated 95 books into English from Punjabi-Hindi-Urdu. Insofar as wirting is concerned I am beholden to you. I have learnt quite a lot from your beautiful style and the great treasure of words/your command over the foreign language (English).
The second one is from Madhu Shikhare, Hyderabad:
Interested in shakti per se and in mythology, i am loving the book.
The context is different many time than my knowledge but its a different view. 

The lanuguage is so rich that being a lover of english language its acting like a healer to my soul where I see the langauge murdered every day. 

Also I cant miss the psychological angle when all is analysed. 

Over all i just loved it thank you so much for this piece of work.

With gods grace someday maybe I can meet you.


Friday, April 29, 2016

Converting a Critic while Fighting the Green - Eyed Monster

There are few things that suck as much as a bad review.  And if the bad review is from a good critic it sucks even worse. A couple of years ago, Urmi Chanda - Vaz, who describes herself  as a psychologist by training, a journalist by profession and a mythologist by passion, had this to say about Arjuna: Saga of a Pandava Warrior - Prince in her article Indian Mythological Fiction: What to Read, What to Ditch for Scroll, "Another disappointment in the realm of Indian mythological fiction comes in the form of Anuja Chandramouli’s Arjuna. In yet another retelling of the Mahabharata, the author writes the story from the prime Pandava’s perspective. With so many character-specific retellings in the market and subpar language, there’s nothing new this book has to offer. Her latest book, Kamadeva – The God of Desire chooses an unusual character and one hopes there are more takeaways." (You can check it out here.)

Needless to say, I was crushed but consoled myself with the fact that Ashwin Sanghi and Anand Neelakantan,  were keeping me company on the 'Ditch' list and Urmi had some scathing things to say about their work as well. The thought offered a little solace till harsh reality struck - both are more successful and famous though I am younger and thinner, which last fact notwithstanding, Amazon still went with Ashwin for what I am sure was a super - lucrative advertising deal and the Gods of television chose Anand to script a mega serial. Damn it, no wonder they seem to handle criticism with such grace and poise, two traits I struggle to find in the aftermath of negative reviews! How on Earth does one recover from such trauma without wallowing in petty envy and resentment? Simple, one gets over oneself and keeps going. 

Cut to a couple of years later. I had been pestering Urmi on Facebook, with the occassional cringe - worthy message that went something like this: "Hi!
I just read your article, "Indian Mythological Fiction: What to Read, What to Ditch" and what can I say but ouch! That being said, I hope you do read Kama. Arjuna may not have been the right guy for you but Kama is irresistible and hopefully this time around, you'll be blown away! Regards, Anuja Chandramouli" 
Sometimes I am the world's greatest source of embarrassment to myself and still find it hard to come to terms with the lameness and desperate need to be liked part of me which clashes awfully with the don't - give - a - hot - damn persona, that I worked so hard to cultivate for myself. The critic in question meanwhile was sweet and showed a great deal of restraint while dealing with this pain in the posterior/ irritatingly insecure author. 
When Shakti was out, she promised me a review and was as good as her word. In her assessment of my third, which appeared in Swarajya she had a few observations, " This book had me both delighted and confused. Delighted, because in the realm of mythological fiction Anuja Chandramouli displays great skill...Confused, because its agenda doesn’t seem very clear.I cannot help but call this work ‘moody’ given that it swings so often from the sublime to the violent, from the lofty to the crass. 
When she assumes her beauteous stance, the author’s words sound mellifluous and poetic. But when she gets into her blood-and-gore mode, her language gets crass and the graphic details could put an Eli Roth movie to shame." (You can read the rest here.)
With Ashwin Sanghi, Anand Neelakantan and Arshia Sattar at OLF 2013

This is not exactly a rave review even though she commended me for tackling such a complex subject with "guts and gumption", but I am still over the moon, because it is awesome when readers get you. It was my intention to bring together the sacred and profane; profound and putrid in Shakti, because the way I see it, every single contrasting element in the world may be traced back to the same divine source and hence nobody and nothing is ever exempt from divine grace. That is a happy thought isn't it? Especially for one who admires and respects Ashwin Sanghi and Anand Neelakantan for being lovely human beings and wonderful authors, despite an awful tendency to be jealous of them and as a direct consequence, stooping to the level of making fun of their girth and advanced years. 

Saturday, April 23, 2016

The Need for A Balanced Diet Literally Speaking

A lot of folks ask me to recommend books for their children and look somewhat askance when I suggest letting the kids choose for themselves. “But I don’t want my underage child reading trash like 50 Shades of Smut!” they protest vociferously, “Are you saying that they should be allowed to get their hands on that sort of thing?”
            Not exactly. What I mean is that youngsters should be allowed to wander about in the aisles, inhale the delicious aroma of books, soak in the ambience of unlimited stories so that they may hone in on the tomes that speak to them. In the early stages, they may just go with a book because the cover is a virulent shade of their favourite colour with glitter to boot. But gradually they will learn to hearken to the call of the voracious reader within, attuned to the lure of the alluring opus that best meets their needs.
Parents in their enthusiasm to cultivate the burgeoning reading habit of their children tend to nudge them towards books that have educational or moral value which makes the experience feel like the literary equivalent of being force fed broccoli and spinach, thereby inculcating in kids a disdain for books and sending them back into the toxic embrace of television and ipads.
Any bibliophile will tell you that for sheer entertainment value, books are hard to beat. And as with any form of divertissement, tastes are wide – ranging and there is no accounting for it. Calvin and Hobbes is as likely to stimulate the intellect as Socrates or Plato and kids may be morally enriched by a perusal not only of Aesop’s Fables but Archie comics as well.
In the course of their literary wanderings, youngsters may want to wet their whistles in erotica and dip their beaks in novels written in blood with so much graphic gore, they make your standard Quentin Tarantino and Takashi Miike fare seem on par with Disney at its most cuddly. And I say let them. Why do we always assume the worst of our children? Today’s whippersnappers are smart and perfectly capable of making wise choices for themselves.

My father batted an eyelid but just barely when I opted for yet another instalment of Francine Pascal’s Sweet Valley series during our bookstore visits and much later, he might have winced when I informed him that Sade had taken up residence on my reading table. It is to his credit that he trusted me enough to believe that weird though my tastes were shaping up to be, the odds of my becoming a deranged serial killer were remote. Needless to say, his wisdom and forbearance paid off because to the best of my knowledge, I have not gone berserk, embarked on a mass – murdering spree or even done anything remotely illegal. Yet. 

An edited version of this was carried by The New Indian Express in my fortnightly column, For Crying Out Loud. 

Thursday, April 14, 2016

The Case against Game of Thrones the TV Show

Disclaimer: This writer is no prude and therefore not liable for direct, indirect, incidental, consequential or other losses and damages incurred from acts of censorship including but not limited to viciously hacking off graphic sex scenes and bleeped out cuss words in a beloved television show resulting from a perusal of this column.
It must be unequivocally admitted that George RR Martin, author of the wildly popular series A Song of Fire and Ice, commonly known as Game of Thrones is all kinds of awesome. However that has not stopped his more rabid fans from frothing at the mouth, when the sexagenarian failed to make good on a promise to finish the hugely anticipated sixth instalment of the series, ‘The Winds of Winter’ before HBO’s ‘Game of Thrones’ Season 6 premieres later this month.
For some, this is hardly the equivalent of the sun failing to rise in the morning or a similar catastrophe of devastating proportions but for the rest of us, who devoured his five offerings in the series, each thousand – page epic tomes of fantasy at its finest only to come to the calamitous realization that he is nowhere close to finished and tends to take a minimum of six years before books it is truly the end of the world and have been known to bawl uncontrollably into our pillows.
After venting their outrage on social media, the great man’s legion of fans have taken to praying fervently to every God out there to preserve the life of the old timer who looked alarmingly feeble and too overweight for the good of his heart when he held up his middle – finger on camera in response to all those who were selfishly worried that he would kick the bucket before writing the last line of his addictive saga set in Westeros.
Others like myself have chosen to take a principled stand against the television show which kidnapped the notoriously slow author, seducing and holding him captive with fat paycheques and impossibly skinny hotties who were very obliging when it came to leaving out the no nudity clause in their contracts with the unhappy result that GRRM has allowed the deadlines to whizz past while simultaneously pissing on every fanboy’s ardent desire to hold the next book in their hands and devour it whole to find out if a certain beloved character is truly dead and a notoriously wishy washy Queen has stopped shitting long enough to save herself and bring her winged monster to heel.
If that were not bad enough, the damn show is not a patch on the book. Initially, I refused to watch it, sticking to my decision to boycott the show for daring to distract GRRM from his noble labours, though others had given in to their desperate need for a Game of Thrones fix, in whatever format, with an embarrassing lack of resistance which made me go tsk and urge myself not to despise them for being weak.
It pains me to relate that my addiction got the better of me as well and forced me to throw myself at the feet of primetime television. And it was all for naught. The show is the book’s poor, plague – afflicted cousin. There are lots of ridiculously pretty people who jump each other’s bones at every miserably contrived opportunity acting on the instigation of their makers who compound their unforgiveable errors by daring to take liberties and diverging from the original script.
In the book, the characters are real and the writing is brilliant. Even the good looking ones get hurt, pass wind and suffer from hair loss, chopped noses and stretchmarks like normal folks. There is sex aplenty but it has the master’s touch which makes it engaging and arousing not groan – worthy like in the TV show, where nearly everybody is groomed to within an inch of their lives, boasting buff and hairless bodies as they moan and groan en route to the earth – shattering orgasms that form the climax of all that simulated sex. Who cares about the realistic dialogue when the sex scenes are amped up to the point where it is hilarious?

The entire thing is a blatant crime against good fiction and should not go unpunished. On behalf of fans everywhere, I beseech GRRM to save us before we once again fling every semblance of dignity aside to glue our eyes to the television screen in order to get high on Game of Thrones, even if it is a cheap fix.

An edited version of this was featured in The New Indian Express for my awesome fortnightly column, For Crying out Loud!  

Tuesday, April 05, 2016


Book Review: Rosalyn D'Mello's A Handbook for my Lover
Rosalyn D’Mello’s A Handbook for my Lover, which she asserts isn’t entirely fictional, is so exquisitely crafted and erotically charged it took my breath away. A young writer strips her relationship with her much older photographer lover of every scrap of clothing, leaving it nakedly exposed and bathed in the intense glow cast by the sheer poetry of her elegant prose, inviting bystanders to revel in the haze of sensuous introspection and be a voyeuristic onlooker, included within a love affair in progress.
            This is one striptease that is remarkably free of all things obscene even at its most brazen when the stripper dwells at length on the taboo thrill of “…manusturprare, to defile with the hand”, intercourse during “monthly spillage”, the perils and pleasures of traversing “the universe of love and the paradise of sex”, discovering the ecstasy of feasting on the delights down under or the hazards posed by an unbearably long dry spell in the boudoir in the course of a relationship that occasionally flounders because it has no destination. No subject pertaining to matters of the heart is shied away from and D’Mello flashes a light on every hidden nook, cranny and unwashed crevice in the landscape of love, scrutinizing it till she and her passenger have both had their fill of gazing.
            A skilfully constructed memorabilia, this handbook celebrates the joy of living life voraciously, hedonistically and with wild abandon, greedily gorging on every particle of pleasure that the human existence affords, be it a Chilean Red with wood – fired pizza, truly epic sex or the slow honing of one’s craft against the flesh and blood of an all – consuming passion. Interestingly enough for a work of erotica, A Handbook offers equal if not more insight into the fine art of conceiving and creating art be it writing or photography as it does love and lovemaking.
Bolstered by pithy inputs from fellow romantic conquistadors skilled in gathering together gems of wisdom and pinning it down on paper like Roland Barthes, Alain de Botton, Sylvia Plath, Jane Austen, Jacques Derrida and Kamala Das, D’Mello lovingly assembles the pieces of her grand love story while flipping the bird at absurd convention. With endearing candour she reveals her insecurity about her dark complexion which pre-empted her need to be desired and deep – seated wish for “earthly delights with all the seven deadly sins for company.” Her lusty revelations of sexual escapades, tampons made of toilet paper, and inability to walk away from the man who was the fount of her agony and ecstasy makes for a book that is to be slowly savoured and thoroughly enjoyed. 
Too many books, TV shows and movies have been devoted to the tired subject of romantic love with its attendant mundane, low octane drama rendered at a feverish pitch, inclusive of every form of physical and emotional chouchou that is usually irritating and occasionally uplifting or arousing. What makes A Handbook stand out is the raw honesty and sheer ballsiness of the author, who is also possessed of an impressive ability to string together a sentence with stylish craftsmanship as well as profound intensity.

Even more importantly, it is a formidable effort in an increasingly intolerant climate where women are encourage to cower behind their dupattas and pretend to be coy, inexperienced virgins till they kick the bucket. How then can it be possible to resist the unstoppable D’Mello who says of herself, “I am all cunt, all receptacle, all slush.”? More power to her and the other women out there who refuse to be afraid.

This review originally appeared in The New Indian Express