Category: Reviews

A Play for the Spring: An Enchanted Afternoon at Corpus Christi College

This song has been stuck in my head throughout the merry month of May, ever since I spent a charmed afternoon watching a matinee performance of As You Like It at Corpus Christie College, co-directed by John Retallack and Renata Allen of the Oxford Playmaker and performed as part of the college’s 500th-anniversary celebrations. I had gone there expecting to watch a students’ play and came away enriched by a remarkable experience of great theatre.

The play was set around multiple locations around the college. The audience followed the scenes at the garden, the cloister, a cosy auditorium set up as the Forest of Arden, the college chapel and the hall. The cast consisted entirely of students and staff, and yet the play was nothing less than professional. Each actor lived their role on the stage as they emoted, fought, fell in love, fainted, philosophised, wooed, teased, hunted, dined, played the fool, sang and danced through the play. Orlando’s frustration over his life at the beginning of the play came through as earnestly as his devotion to his lady-love in the later scenes, as did Oliver’s cruelty and subsequent transformation. Both Rosalind and Celia had immense stage presence as well as the chemistry of devoted cousins whose lively dialogue was at the heart of the story. Touchstone was the star of the show, stealing every scene with her exuberant presence, whether it was grudgingly accompanying the cousins to the forest, leading the audience (sometimes literally) to the next scene, wooing an equally brilliant Audrey or kicking the simpleton William off the stage in a sequence of comic dance steps. The actors from amongst the staff were as effective – the genial Senior Duke and the wicked Duke Frederick, the devoted Adam and honest Corin could not have been any better.

All five songs set to music by Howard Goodall were rendered melodiously. Amiens cast a spell on the audience with her songs that invoked both the pastoral setting and the philosophy of the simple life. Every aspect of the play came together perfectly – the idyllic settings of Corpus Christie in spring, the lilting music, and the talented cast. The fourth wall was pushed aside regularly and deliberately to include the audience, as characteristic of the Bard’s comedies.

A very few minor quibbles. Rosalind and Celia batting their eyelashes to convey that they were falling in love appeared artificial, for the actors are naturally good without the need for histrionics. Jacques delivered his much celebrated lines beautifully but he was too lively, without the melancholy that marked the original character. Orlando could have attacked the Duke’s table brandishing a sword rather than a gun. But overall it was a magical performance which took the audience back in time to the Bard’s own theatre.

On the way to the play, I was reading my textbook in which Professor Waugh elaborates on how ‘‘all the world is not of course a stage’ and ‘the crucial ways in which it isn’t’’ (Waugh, P.4). But the play restored a gentler, simpler world on the stage. A world in which life was lucidly defined in black and white and despite the Bard’s caution that ‘most friendship is feigning, most loving mere folly’, people still believed in friendship, true love, and happy endings. The effect was rather overwhelming. When the play concluded with drinks and cheers to Corpus Christi, I wanted, like the others in the audience to congratulate the cast, to greet the Professor whose guidance was visible throughout the performance and hang out with my classmates in the audience. Instead I left quietly, unwilling to break the spell around me, hoping to hold on to the enchantment for a few more hours before the grey post-postmodernism of real life took over.

The Reengineers: Review by Jasleen Kaur

A wonderful review of The Reengineers by Jasleen Kaur, originally posted on her book review blog 

Chinmay is all set to free himself from the worldly affairs. He finds solace in the old library with his friends Anu and Sabi. Their life was monotonous until one day when they have to escape. The Seekers School is not in its full form after some people decide to change the shape of the administrative wing and the modus operandi. What happens when Chinmay and his friends are stuck at a place and its whereabouts are unknown to them? Will they remain in mental despair or will things change shape?

Title and Cover-
The title and cover were both were meaningful and far-sighted. I loved the colours, tones, and richness of the cover. It is definitely eye catchy and also it says a lot without any extravagant detailing done.

There were characters from two phases and I loved all of them. They were crazy, humorous, deep, dark, mysterious etc etc. I liked the balancing that was done in order to bring in front both negative and positive characters so that some phrases become clear and impactful.

From the major characters, I liked Chinmay and Siddhartha. The analogy maintained between them was superbly penned.

From the minor characters Sabi, Professor, Govind, Roshan, Nivedita etc were some of the characters which keep helping the major characters to move ahead. And I loved their movements, talks, and traits.

The first person narration was not bland at all. The story seemed more lifelike with that. I liked the change of speakers with the movement of the story. I felt that the number of chapters could have extended because a lot was said in just one go.

At first, I thought that “The Reengineers” is about the gloominess that some students would face or are facing in their lives. But Indu Murlidharan really surprised me as I proceeded ahead. I was not at all ready for a book like this and after completing it I was certain that my time is invested at a very worthy place. Such was the beauty of the book.

The book started at a normal pace and a larger space was given to the readers to know the three friends who are somehow travelling in the same boat which has traversed from different shores. A deeper analysis was done at one point and other to showcase the mindsets of Chinmay, Sabi, and Anu.

All three of them had an enormous amount of pain within themselves and it was well portrayed. I could connect with them and their depression without any efforts.

Twists and turns are the lifeline of any book and this particular book has loads of such surprises. The first turn that came in the book was enough to tell me that something big is on the way. I was perplexed just like Chinmay and others.

I loved the advancements thereafter. There were so many important aspects and teachings that were shown by different characters. The whole aura that was created of a secluded place offering numerous courses was ecstatic to experience. I liked the sarcastic imageries.

Further, there were some particular places where I was enjoying the richness of the book. The letters written by the Siddhartha were my favourite. They had so much to say in few words. Also, the different type of people which he explained was serene and meaningful. The conversation between Chinmay and the Professor was the cherry on the top. Who can think of such an ending? Kudos author.

Summing up- The novel started on a very different note and ended up in a totally different dimension. I was dumbstruck to know the ending and the proceedings that lead me to such spectacular ending which was just smooth, interesting and not at all hasty, allowing each and every difficult turn of events to be grasped with ease. The book came as a surprise package for me. A fantastic read.

• “It was so quiet that has a pin dared to drop in that room, the silence would have swallowed the sound.”

• “Depression is a cruel malady. It can paralyse your mind and leave you vulnerable and helpless, messing you up within although you may appear healthy to the world.”

• “The bigger your goal and the higher your targets, the greater will be the chance of things going wrong.”

• “You can change your fate any way you like. You only need to know that you can do it.”

• The different levels at which the book went to entertain the readers.

• Wide variety of characters of different hue and persona.

• Smooth flow.

• Deep analysis shown inside the story and its perfect blending with the moving picture.

Well, this book can be read by all those who are fed up of their lives and who are trying to find answers in self-help books. Also, fiction lovers can pick it for some different angles mixed up to form such complex yet easy going compound.


If you like literary fiction, you will love The Reengineers:
Click here to buy

The Reengineers: A Review by Nimi Arora

A beautifully written review by Nimi Arora, which made me look at The Reengineers from a reader’s eyes. In these insightful lines which have captured the essence of my novel, I see that Chinmay now belongs to the world. Feeling delighted, blessed, humbled and grateful.

Link to the review on her website:

The Reengineers: A Review by Nimi Arora

Chinmay, Anu and Sabi are three friends who have no other friends. Except for books, that is.
The three friends are misfits in the society, even among their own family members.

“We are ugly ducklings of the same feather…”

Chinmay Narayan is the protaganist of The Reengineers.
On the first page itself, he tells that he had two goals – to top the class ten board exams, and to kill himself after the exams. In the very next sentence, he clarifies that by the next afternoon, his life and plans had changed.
A sensible, oversensitive boy with the insensible thought of suicide in him. He believes he doesn’t fit in.
As readers, we now have a notion of where this story would go, and probably end. It is the ‘how’ that keeps you hooked.

Despite the knowledge and reminders of the upcoming suicide, there is a relaxed, serene feel to the book.

The author plays with words to describe common emotions with an elan.
“…I waited, aching to find a sentence that would draw me in, that would free me from my mind for at least a while.”

The protagonist talks about Chennai. I have never been to Chennai, but even though I can’t relate to the reminiscences of the city per se, what radiates through the words is a warmth and pride for the city that surpasses time and changes. A feeling that is not limited to one city. It is the expression of ‘home’.
“The feeling of home still pervades my city, despite the impersonal the impersonal flyovers that now criss-cross above the old familiar roads, the acres of shining skyscrapers that buzz with the sounds of the software cities teeming within them, and the gleaming malls that may soon outnumber the tiny Ganesha shrines on each street…”

The three kids with their innocent, yet profound philosophical discussions are smarter than the rest, yet trying to fit in. Your heart breaks for them.

The protagonist is looking back at that time of life and has no qualms about writing about his own shortcomings. ‘I was too full of myself’ – one of the things he remembers.

It is a coming of age book. It starts at a time when Chinmay did what his parents desired. He did not know he could choose different. Not while living anyway. So he had decided to end his life.
When the book ends, the life and its’ choices have changed drastically.

The moment of epiphany when he realised that he is a ‘seeker’.

The language of The Reengineers is rather poetic, dreamlike quality at times. You feel your sense being enveloped by the emotions of the characters whose life is about to be reengineered.

“Fourteen is the age when time first starts to make its presence felt. Time took on such a variety of hues in those days that even my frozen mind sometimes reflected the colours of the world around me, and I could feel my thoughts fluttering in the humid, salty breeze.”

The feelings of teenage infatuation…

“O for those days when these tired metaphors were teenagers too, when it was still possible to recite ‘Daffodils’ and feel thrilled as you gazed at the golden laburnum in bloom. Recognising clichés is a sign of aging. Sweet as the past may be, it best remains pressed within the pages of memory, savoured for a moment or two on quiet Sunday afternoons.”

Suddenly the vibe changes. There is mystery, tension, and danger in the air.
The world they enter seems to be a parallel to the world they live in.

As Chinmay learns and discovers, a lot of life lessons are find a pace in The Reengineers.
“It is curious how the weak-minded among us are wired like that, the way we turn subdued and silent when confronting real bullies and yet stand up almost aggressively to those who are genuinely kind to us.”

For me, the one major epiphanic moment is when he realises that he’s not a misfit. He is a seeker.
So true for so many of us, who go through life dissatisfied, not realising that to want to search for more does not make them abnormal. Irrespective of what others say.

“Everything has a reason, though it cannot always be deduced for we cannot see the full picture of a life at any point in time.”

The story of The Reengineers doesn’t rush from one event to the other. It relishes the emotions.

We know from the beginning that Chinmay wants to commit suicide and that he won’t do so. The how keeps you hooked. And it is to the author’s credit that she doesn’t disappoint in the process.
The path the story takes is not predictable.

I have lent this book to my nephew now, who is studying… well, engineering. I am going to insist that the rest of the kids (who are still in school) in the family read The Reengineers too. Nothing can explain what I feel about this book better than this fact.
I feel that it is a relevant book for everyone – students, corporate employees, spiritual aspirants… actually anyone who is looking for a more contented, confident life.

Review by Nimi Arora here:

To buy The Reengineers:

Art for its own sake: The Distance Between Us by Fiona Sampson

How relevant is art when it is indulged in for its own sake? The common sentiment is that books must be written for their own sake, without the writer having to look over their shoulder, without thinking about the invisible critic or reader. But what if the work of art thus created does not reach out to most readers? On the wide spectrum of all fiction, if one extreme corresponds to pulp novels, the modern equivalent of penny dreadfuls which serve no purpose other than a few short hours of distraction, experiments in high art must be at other end, which are too focused on their technique, style or concept that they are unable to transmit the author’s thoughts to the reader. I suspect Ulysses would fall in this range, while The Portrait of an artist as a young man moves further this side, reaching out to the reader and Dubliners would be still further, much more accessible. The Distance between us by Fiona Sampson is a close contender for the extreme range of high art.

Labelled as a verse novel, the book is more verse than novel. Little of the plot or characters comes through the seven chapters. The experimentation with language, the varied sequencing of words on the page, the changing syntax and the surreal images which come through each of the chapters gives the overall impression of a modern art painting. Art for its own sake that rejoices in being itself, irrespective of what, and whether, it communicates. The lines of verse fold within themselves, obscuring the meaning they hold within their layers, or dance to a music that the reader cannot comprehend. I tried reading this three times before I put it away, thinking that it would have been a rewarding experience had it been slightly more accessible, my thoughts echoing the book’s title – there is just too much of a distance between the book and the reader.

To buy The Reengineers:

The Reengineers: First Reviews

“Every reader, as he reads, is actually the reader of himself. The writer’s work is only a kind of optical instrument he provides the reader so he can discern what he might never have seen in himself without this book. The reader’s recognition in himself of what the book says is the proof of the book’s truth.”
― Marcel Proust, Time Regained

I was surprised and delighted at how the first reviews of The Reengineers evoked this quote.

“Chinmay and his friends, I loved them. When I started reading, I felt it was a light hearted book, but had a nagging feeling that I was wrong..Then the book turned so intense that I was affected by so many emotions that I had to take a break from reading. At first , I could see you in Chinmay and Siddharth, then I saw myself and then I realized they represent so many of us , especially from our generation. Indu, I am sure that your book will influence so many people around us, just like how your ‘Poet’ influenced you and how ‘Sid’ influenced Chinmay. Thank you for letting out Chinmay into the world.”
Review by Sayana Rasal, a dear friend and voracious reader

“The Reengineers” reads as an exploration into the meaning of life, success and failure – a grand quest, but interestingly done.
Starting with a traditional method, of stumbling into an alternate reality, the book takes us through one day of a troubled young kid, Chinmay; and his exposure to the “Seeker’s School” – a failing institution. Through the twists and turns in that school, to which Chinmay is merely a spectator, he slowly pulls back from suicidal thoughts and “centers” himself. The book has much to recommend, but the most important reason is that it is splendidly reflective. It let me lay back and observe familiar thoughts running through a younger version of myself in its pages. This mood of reflection is hard to create in writing – congrats to the author for doing it well”
Review by Ramiah Ariya, author of ‘The Exorcism of Satish Kumar MBA’

Book Review: Colour of Gold by Gita Aravamudan

I first met Gita Aravamudan at the Hindu Lit for Life in Chennai in 2011. As we waited for the inaugural session to begin, I started talking with the elegant lady seated on my right and was surprised and delighted to find that she was Gita Aravamudan, a name that was very familiar to me through her bylines in various magazines and newspapers. I especially remembered reading her articles in Aside, a fortnightly magazine that celebrated the Madras in which I grew up. Gita is an award winning author and journalist who has published important non fiction books such as Disappearing Daughters: The Tragedy of Female Foeticide, Unbound: Indian Women @ Work as well as fiction. Over the years, I have been in touch with Gita over Facebook and literary festivals. It is a privilege to know a person like her. She is warm, friendly, gracious, a down to earth intellectual. My respect and regards for her have no way biased this review of her latest novel.

Set in the gold mines of Kolar which was once counted among the richest goldmines in the world, The Color of Gold flits back and forth between three different time periods in its narrative spanning a hundred years, and through the characters who live in each of these times weaves together a story that blends literary and historic fiction in the form of a cozy whodunnit mystery. Seen mainly through the eyes of three female protagonists – Shiela, Arati and Ponni who live in the sprawling house in KGF at different periods in time, the Colour of Gold is the story of a town which was once a charming haven and now a ghost of its past, stripped of the sheen of gold that had pervaded it once upon a time.

At the heart of the novel lies the town of KGF where gold was mined from ancient times dating back to the first millennium, which was an idyllic place in the 1950s with sprawling bungalows lines with trees and gardens and a close knit community that rejoiced in the colonial customs left behind in the town which once called itself ‘Little England’. The novel depicts how KGF changed over hundred years through the stories of the people who lived in the place – English officers who held court in KGF during the days of the British Raj, the Indian officers who took over the place after independence and the poor native miners who struggled to make a living under both of these even as they brought forth gold from the heart of the earth.

Between the history of the place that is narrated with a tinge of nostalgia lies the mystery of a genial Anglo Indian who is mysteriously killed soon after he receives a letter from a hundred year old Englishman, the romance between a young Indian woman Arati and an Anglo Indian which is taboo in the period and the passion of an Englishman for his Indian mistress Ponni who has borne him a white child with ‘a touch of the tar brush’. Descriptions of the ore being smelted into golden bricks which are then carried away to England, the claustrophobic atmosphere underground in which even longtime miners feel suffocated, the lure of the shining metal that leads mining expeditions to the their deaths beneath the glittering rocks, the vibrant Christmas balls celebrated in the town in the old English traditions and the changing attitudes to class and race differences across a century, all of these take the reader on a journey across KGF through the different time periods described in the book.

The plot goes from one story to the other without the reader losing interest and ties up the threads neatly in the end, with a twist worthy of classic murder mysteries. I loved the many references to gold in the narrative, such as the dead man being remembered as ‘a solid rock of gold’, Ponni bemoaning her fate of being stuck with Robert Flanagan like ‘a nugget of gold within a rock’, and so on.

The book is action-packed, with lyrical descriptions in places. It is both a gripping page turner as well as a lovely old photo-album with beautiful black and white pictures of a lost golden world.

If you like literary fiction, you will love The Reengineers:
Click here to buy

Book Review: The Ghost Bride by Yangsze Choo

The Ghost Bride by Yangsze Choo can be placed under many genres – a work of literary fiction, it can also be easily categorised as historical, paranormal, YA, multicultural or mystery novel. It is one of those books that transcend genre and can be read by various categories of readers for the pure pleasure of reading a book with an unusual premise, a fantastic setting, a gripping narrative and well developed characters.

Set in colonial Malaya in the 1890s, The Ghost Bride narrates the story of seventeen year old Li Lan who is compelled due to her family’s penurious circumstances to consider marrying a dead young man based on the ancient Chinese custom of arranging marriages for dead people.

Li Lan is surprised when her father informs her about the proposal from the wealthy and influential Lim family seeking her hand for their son Lim Tian Ching who had died a few months earlier. Her father has neither the means nor the active will to seek a suitable match for her as he lives out his days in a haze of opium and memories of her mother. It does not help that Li Lan does not have much of a social life and sees no one except her father, nursemaid and cook who make up their household. Lim Tian Ching’s mother pursues Li Lan with invitations to Mahjong games and musical soirees at the Lim family mansion where Li Lan meets Tian Bai, Lim Tian Ching’s cousin and the present heir to the Lim fortune and falls in love almost immediately with him. But soon Lim Tian Ching begins to haunt Li Lan in her dreams and in her bid to get rid of the nightmares of his ghostly wooing, Li Lan finds herself trapped in the spirit world, where she must confront not only the conspiracies of the Lin family but also the secrets of her own past.

The book takes the reader on a fast paced tour of Malaysia when it was Malaya and the Chinese afterworld, stopping now and then to explain the context and describe the surroundings – such as the Chinese folktale of the cowherd and the weaving maiden which is celebrated as a festival on the seventh day of the seventh month, the politics of the afterlife which replicate the world that they had left behind for both rich and poor ghosts, ridden as it is with conspiracies, greed, lust, struggle for power and corrupt border officials who can be bribed to delay the passing of ghosts from one realm to the next where retribution awaits them.

The side characters are a most interesting lot – Li Lan’s stern but well meaning Amah, the old cook who can see ghosts, the ghost woman Fan who hovers around her lover’s house draining him stealthily of his life force, the vicious concubine of Li Lan’s grandfather who takes her revenge from the afterlife, the medium who foresees Li Lan’s journey into the afterworld, the old maid at the Lim’s ghostly estate who guards a secret related to Li Lan and the dashing and mysterious Er Lang, all of them including the ghostly characters come alive through the pages.

What I liked about the book: Almost everything. I especially liked two aspects – one was the realistic characterisation of the heroine and the way she was shown to be changed as a result of her curious journey through the afterlife. Bookish and logical, Li Lan is hardly a perfect heroine. When her Amah tells her the love story of the cowherd and the heavenly sewing maiden, the child Li Lan is more interested in why the cowherd’s ox was able to speak and how it knew about the heavenly maidens, rather than the pathos of the love story. Unexposed to high society or even regular social interactions, when she is invited to the Lim mansion for the first time, she stares uninhibitedly at the opulence around her and eats her way through several platters of Malaysian delicacies. As the story progresses, from a lovestruck teenager who is uncertain of her fate, she grows into a mature person who is able to see things as they are and take strong life decisions.
The other thing that I loved about the book was its highly polished narrative, both the elegant descriptive prose and the subtle foreshadowing. For example (mild spoilers ahead), how the symbolism of Tian Bai presenting Li Lan with a watch is tied with Li Lan’s excursion soon after into the afterlife. This is linked to the Chinese belief that gifting a clock or a watch should be avoided as it measures out the days of the recepient’s life. Also the meeting between Li lan and Tian Bai at the Double Seventh festival, the symbolism of which is highlighted touchingly towards the end. (spoilers end)

A delectable treat that will appeal to both readers of literary and commercial fiction, this book is a dream debut for a first time author – it is as likely to be on several literary prize shortlists as it is to be on many  bestseller lists.