6 books you must read if you are an Indie author (or if you want to become one)

The journey of an independent author is unique. Exhilarating as well as terrifying. The solitary phase of writing, the agonising rounds of editing, the pounding in your chest as you hit the ‘Publish’ button, the daze of initial launch time, the nostalgia, the celebration of crossing a milestone and the despair of not going anywhere, Indies can connect with it all. The greatest help that one can get in these phases is the assurance that they aren’t alone, that the problems they face have already been faced (and solved!) by those who are eager to share their success stories.

Here, I suggest 6 books by 3 authors that could act as a compass while you traverse through this exciting maze. Some of those are such books which I wished I had known about earlier. These aren’t those dreaded self help books filled with superfluous sermons. But they are true accounts of what worked and what did not and why. Scroll down to find out more:

10 Step Self-Publishing BOOT CAMP: The Survival Guide For Launching Your First Novel by S. K. Quinn

Susan Kaye Quinn, an author of 40+ novels suggests a step by step method of launching not only your first novel, but your career as a writer. Going through the book, I could feel the author’s resilience build up as she launched a novel after a novel. Her observations about the industry and insights of book buyers are an added advantage to those who are new to the publishing world. I personally disagreed with some of her views on editing those on Social media. But this book brilliantly summarises her learning through out the last five years highlighting the relentless hard work and perseverance she has wielded. One can’t help feeling her pride as an author mother who not only earned enough income to put her three kids through college, but also inspired her sons to take up a writing career, early in life!

I loved the idea of having a five year mission statement as a writer. Also the quote that I would treasure for a long time, “There is no perfect. There is only finished.” Intrigued? Check out the book, clicking on the image below:

5 Steps to Self-Publishing FOR LOVE OR MONEY: Build a Career as a Self-Published Author

Written by the same author, the compendium dispassionately focuses on balancing the passion and career aspects of writing. In Susan, we see a passionate author who seeks to disrupt stereotypes that have built up in the publishing world. But she also sheds light on the brutal truths that many idealists among us would dread to accept. Reading for love or money, helps us reconcile the passionate author in us with the commercial success seeker and mould ourselves into pragmatic career writers. If you are someone who has already launched a book or two and are aware of the basics of the Self Publishing journey, I recommend this a notch more than the book above. Click on the image below:

Successful Self-Publishing: How to self-publish and market your book in ebook and print (Books for Writers 1) by Joanna Penn

Joanna Penn does not need an introduction. If Self Publishing were a religion, I am sure she’d be the all powerful Zeus! 😀  If you know the word Indie author, it is almost impossible that you have not heard about Joanna or have seen her in one of the literary meets, bubbling with enthusiasm to share her journey. Her positivism, I admit, is infectious. I could keep pessimism and despair zealously at bay, whenever I read her blog or listen to her podcasts. The book below is something which I wish I had read before I launched my debut novel Abhaya. Nevertheless my learning was acquired ‘hands on’ and I strongly suggest you need not face the hard stops I did. What more? The book below is free!

How To Market A Book: Third Edition (Books for Writers Book 2)

We are all aware about the famous quote that 50% of marketing works. We don’t know which 50%!  In this book, Joanna comes up with another great compendium of all the marketing techniques that an indie author can deploy. It is not just the author’s experience (which is no mean achievement!), but also summarises the best of what one could learn from the galaxy of successful Indie authors. The insights drawn, might be a bit skewed towards the Western markets and Indian Indie authors are advised to make their own conclusions with the local knowledge. But nevertheless a must read, not once but every time you have a book to launch!

Let’s Get Digital: How To Self-Publish, And Why You Should: Updated Second Edition (Let’s Get Publishing Book 1) by David Gaughran

Another hard hitting account of the world of publishing by this very successful author of 11 books. This book is more a pitch to Indie authors to digitally publish. While most of us go for a ‘digital first – print next’ model in a bid to test waters, given our budgetary constraints, Let’s get digital  increases an indie author’s confidence about digital publishing. Again, the readers might want to be wary that the information and data shared are largely US-centric.

Let’s Get Visible: How To Get Noticed And Sell More Books

This is one of the 6 books, I would again recommend in a stronger tone. While the first book details about the industry dynamics which is crucial, Let’s get Digital details out the way Amazon works, its algorithms, the mistakes that many authors commit and the pitfalls to be wary of. Those wanting to go wide might find the book very Amazon centric though there is a dedicated section about going wide. But I found the book very relevant to Indian Indie authors to who, Amazon is still the most preferred platform. The numbers and data cited to inch into the best seller lists is only relevant to the US store. But the good news is that Indian authors have far lesser numbers to achieve to get into similar top positions in the best seller and popularity lists. Don’t miss this book.

That’s all for now! Have you read a book that could help an Indie author’s career? Do let me know in the comments. 

Book Review – Arjun Without a doubt by Dr. Sweety Shinde

Re-telling of Mahabharata from individual perspectives has been an ever-green favourite of the Indian literary segment. Arjun without a Doubt by the debutante Sweety Shinde stands out of the rest, giving a voice to the ever inspirational Arjuna while admirably balancing the macro narrative. It is not surprising that the author actually chose that perspective which refreshingly does not blame the world for his misfortunes. In a unique approach to balance the male and female (perhaps) narratives, the author chose to retell the epic through the eyes of Draupadi and Arjuna.

Warning, I am going to rave about the book, it finally retells Mahabharata as I loved it since childhood.

This is in contrast to the various other books which retell Mahabharata from many individual points of view like Draupadi, Karna, Bheema, Duryodhana and so on.  While each of these books have a passionate narrative and raise uncomfortable questions, most of them heavily fall short on doing justice to the macro narrative. Bringing out the macro-narrative of this immortal epic is possible only with multiple perspectives (something that the SL Bhyrappa did with scholarly élan in his critically acclaimed Parva which became the reference to most of the new authors and in the recent years, Krishna Udayasankar attempted with a unique macro plot though with a fantasy approach).

Arjun

What stands out in Sweety’s Arjun is his aptitude for intellectual and philosophical discussions and his way of dwelling on each of the challenges he faced, every misery making him stronger and wiser than before. Adhering to the allegory of Nara-Narayana, Arjun comes across as a befitting comparison to Krishna. His valour, obviously is peerless. But Arjun is not someone who flaunts his expertise in archery to prove a point to this world. In fact, the skill of archery is his passion, his love and his solace and the Gandeeva, his ‘bride’ that would always be by his side after he lost Draupadi to the complex marital predicament. That apart, he perpetually strives to be worthy of Draupadi’s acceptance while being sensitive of Subhadra’s love. I liked the way Karna was dealt with the contempt he really deserves. Arjun is shown too busy facing his own intrigues inside and out to care for the wannabe rants of Karna. While Karna’s aim was to better Arjuna in archery, Arjuna’s love for archery was not for fame but an endeavour to discover his own self, something that he achieves without disappointing those who believed in him. This is one book I can thrust on the faces of Karna’s admirers with complete confidence. I would have loved it more if the author had elaborated more on the episode of Kiratarjuniya and the killing of Jayadrata. The numb shock that casts him into a daze during the gambling scene could have been dealt with a bit more detail.

Arjun

Draupadi

“Oh My God! Not again!” was my initial reaction after learning that the book carried a Draupadi centric narrative. But Sweety’s Draupadi is amazingly refreshing. This Draupadi loves Arjun and not Karna (No sane woman would love an eternal cribber in a perpetual battle mode like Karna and even thinking of a strong woman like her falling for the loser is such an insult to her personality!) as some popular literary works speculate. This fits with the narrative of Krishna Dwaipayana Vyasa, keeping in mind, Draupadi’s reaction about Subhadra wedding Arjuna and Yudhishtira’s last words about Draupadi. She is a heroine, a true Kathanaayika blossoming from a bewildered bride braving a complex marital relationship to an empress that held the family together through hopelessly miserable situations. What I loved the most is the author’s portrayal of Draupadi’s facing the ignominious and horrifying episode of dice and disrobing. The Empress of Bharatavarsha is not a distressed helpless woman calling out to Krishna. She is not numbed by the shock of being wagered, lost and branded as a slave. That is the moment she behaves as the true Samragni who realizes that she is the only one to stand between the Kauravas and the women of the Pandava family (who might be put to a greater misery than her as she speculates). She was not the victim, she was the saviour! Could not help tears of sheer admiration reading that episode. Different shades of her character surface during various incidents and Draupadi never fails to intrigue and inspire.

Where I disagreed

Subhadra’s demure personality somehow did not go well with me. Felt that the author could have portrayed a more vivacious and endearing woman in her and still retained Draupadi’s superiority if I may say so. To me, Subhadra is always that sister of Krishna who is a befitting comrade in all his quests and her greatness need not be in clash with that of Draupadi.

Yudhishtira is someone I feel is a character who is always dealt a raw deal from the poets and authors. The author, in fact, tried to balance with a redeeming last chapter. But the root problem I feel is that not only her but most other authors including the literary scholars also see Yudhishtira only from a collection of perceptions and not as an individual himself. Any modern author who dares to sympathize with him will have to face the eternal battle with the feminist rage of the world: D (Kidding, or am I?).

Final word: Arjun is a must read for those aiming to draw inspiration from the epic of Mahabharata. Interested readers can buy the book from Amazon

Book Review – The Guardians of the Halahala by Shatrujeet Nath

The evergreen genre of historical fantasy can survive for eternity on the treasury of Indian literature right from the lore of scriptures to the untapped folklore. Every story has something unique to offer and every retelling explores an untold perspective of the said legend.

Guardians of Halahala is a culmination of the infinite perspectives of Indic lore and a masterful storytelling by the author Shatrujeet Nath. The book being the first of the Vikramaditya trilogy came as a suggestion by my editor when we had started editing the final draft of my debut fiction Abhaya. Her conviction that Shatrujeet’s handling of a multi-character driven epic would have a lot to offer to the newbie writers made me go for the book. This would be one of those reviews where I would also focus on what an aspiring writer can learn from the novel.

The author weaves a tale that extensively draws storylines and characters from history, folklore as well as the Puranas. Those who are particular about compliance to historicity might have a lot of reservations about the contents of the novel. But beyond the debates of historicity, the story has enough and more to offer to a reader who loves the craft of story-telling.

Unlike many novels of the genre which start with an adolescent protagonist struggling to find his or her purpose, Guardians of Haalahala starts at the pinnacle of the protagonist’s achievements. Emperor Vikramaditya’s Rajasuya could have been the finale of an adventure ridden tale of the most beloved king of the bards. But the author chose to delve into the fresh set of intrigues that follow a man’s ascent to ultimate power. It is like the author wants to send a strong message about how retaining the stability of an empire is much trickier than the ascent to the position of an emperor. The readers get a taste of the multiple forces that can neutralize the so-called power.

We are introduced to multi-layered characters who weave their own sub-threads of the story and I felt myself liking each of them immensely. Those who we only know as the patronized, luxury-pampered poets like Kalidasa also appear with jaw-droppingly different personalities.

The plot revolves around the dagger of ‘immense value’ that could potentially destroy the universe that Lord Shiva entrusts Vikramaditya to protect. The cause attracts newer enemies of supernatural nature, adding to the already existing invasion threat by the dreaded Hunas. Adding to these, there are a variety of riveting political intrigues that keep the pages turning.the-guardians-of-the-halahala-original-imaefctgqaazuhza

The language is another aspect worth dwelling upon. While the gripping plot pushes the reader’s gaze towards what happens next, the savory poetical descriptions add to the flesh of the novel. I really loved the bit where Vikramaditya and his half-brother Vararuchi have a Veena ‘jugalbandi’ which immediately brought to life, the diya lit palace of Vikramaditya in front of my eyes. In retrospect, the Veena scene wasn’t crucial to the plot, but it mirrored the cultural image of the times, the multifaceted skills of the kings as well as the delicateness of the complicated relationships.

As a reader, I look forward to social commentary and in my opinion, that is what differentiates a folklore from an enduring legend. But storytellers have a hard job of introducing social commentaries without slowing down the plot. Often it has to be an added dimension to the core plot, the character structures and the relationships between them. I liked the face-off shown between the supernatural ‘healing’ and actual scientific medicine (of those days) in the spat between Shukracharya and Dhanvantari.

Like any good trilogy, the plot goes only deeper as the book ends and left me waiting for the second book of the series, The conspiracy at Meru. Above all, this is the kind of writing craft I would love to learn and practice – intertwining an independent and intriguing plot with the Puranic concepts.

There is little that I can complain about the book except for minor technical detail. One is the interchangeable usage of terms Rakshasas and Asuras (which even ancient authors and poets have done). I always believed that ‘Rakshasa’ was a derogatory term used for Asuras who are otherwise not very differentiable from the Suras. But then, the premises either way is debatable. Another thing is a couple of formatting errors I came across which Jaico Publishers need to take care of. There was a paragraph repeated and some needless line spaces and a rare typo here and there. I don’t know if that is just in the kindle version. Given the excellent writing craft, the proofreaders need to pay more attention to it.

My Rating 4.5/5

Do buy the book from Amazon

Book Review of Madurai Sultanate, a concise history by Sandeep Balakrishna

For a country that has been programmed to understand their history from a Delhi-centric perspective, books focussing on other empires give a refreshing point of view. It is not only about expanding the scope of the historical study, but also about understanding the chain of historical events from a grounded position.

The book about Madurai Sultanate piqued my interest, given my ongoing research on South Indian history. (Also, read my review of Gods, Kings and Slaves, the siege of Madurai where  Venkatesh Ramakrishnan gives a gripping prelude to the fall of Madurai to Islamic invasions).

Madurai Sultanate is a quick and short read that covers the history of Madurai from the rise of Kulashekhara Pandya whose rise is marked by his victory over the Cholas and elaborates on the fraternal conflict between his sons Sundara Pandya and Veera Pandya. The book also elaborates on the incessant efforts by the generals of Alauddin Khilji. We also get to know about the various bouts of resistance offered by different Hindu Kings. To my pleasant surprise, I found a good amount of detail about Veera Bhallala of Hoyasalas and Pratapa Rudra of Warangal.

51whcbMgDaL._SX312_BO1,204,203,200_

Picture source : Amazon

I rate the book 5/5 and here is why.

1. The topic deals with a region often ignored in the mainstream history. The importance of studying Madurai Sultanate is not about how long the empire survived. As the author rightly opines, the negligible run the Sultanate got was ridden with palace conspiracies, fratricides and continuous rebellions from all sides of the borders. But the topic’s significance has more to do with continuous resurgence offered by the Hindu Kingdoms, a point that many historians have consistently failed to highlight.
2. Detail covered. As a history enthusiast, I do start any history text with some amount of background reading. I was agile about any detail being left out by the author in packing so much information. Trust me, he impresses. The only detail he left out was probably the names of Telugu resurgents like Kapayya Nayaka and Vema Reddi when the narrative briefly touches the come back by Warangal after Prataparudra’s death.
3. Research. The author takes care to quote from a lot of accounts right from the records of ancient travellers like Ibn Batuta and Ferishta to the modern historians like RC Majumdar and Nilakantha Sastri. The quotations are diligently placed making the historian in the reader more and more thirsty for further research and reading
4. Flow and language. Pages keep turning effortlessly and a quick reader can finish the book in about an hour or two but is very much enriched. I got to know the names of so many kings about whom I have never heard. I could see the myriad problems faced by the Delhi Sultanate even as it tried to expand its course. It is really hard to believe that so much is stored in a 43 page short read. Any mainstream historian could have written the same information in two volumes in flowery language that takes a reader days weeks to complete.
5. Tone of the narrative. Let us face it. Some accounts by older historians about Islamic invaders are gory and disgusting. But the author’s dealing with these gory details of various invasions were dealt with an admirable amount of dispassion. The reader does not get to hear the voice of author till the final section he gives his takeaways from the account. Even there, not much is there to disagree with him.

About the author :  Sandeep Balakrishna is the Editor of IndiaFacts Research Centre. He is the author of Tipu Sultan: The Tyrant of Mysore and the English translator of S.L. Bhyrappa’s Aavarna. He is also an active columnist on issues related to history and culture of India.

Buy this book at amazon. The author confirms that only a Kindle edition is available currently.

 

Book Review – The legend of Parshu-Raam by Dr. Vineet Aggarwal

क्षत्रिय रुधिर मये जगदपगत पापं
स्नपयसि पयसि शमित भव तापं
केशव धृत भ्र्गुपति रूप जय जगदीश हरे

You bathe the world, whose sins have been destroyed and whose afflictions of existence have been allayed, with the waters mixed with the blood of the Kshatriyas. O Keshava, You who have assumed the form of Bhrigupati, O Lord of the world, victory be unto You.

– Jayadeva’s composition

Vineet Aggarwal’s Legend of Parshu-Raam chronicles the genesis of the warrior-Rishi Raam. The book is a sequel to his earlier one, Vishwamitra – The man who defied Gods (I had liked that a lot as well. My review pending). The rise of Vishwamitra to the pedestal of Brahmarshi is one of the early examples of Varna ‘transgression’ that was also blessed by the gods (albeit after continuous testing). The emergence of Rama, the Bhargava as the warrior can be seen as a converse ‘transgression’ which in fact got the world rid of the tyrannical rule of wayward kings. In a way, I see it as a negation of hierarchy (if any) and hailing the action of ‘rising to the occasion’.

legend

Coming to the book, Vineet draws from the Puranic version of the story where the destinies of Vishvamitra and his nephew Jamadagni (consequently passed to Jamadagni’s son Rama) were determined by the magic potion concocted by Maharishi Ruchik. In contrast to a lot of popular retellings, the author sticks to the Puranic plot while successfully chiseling the character sketches, narrating their journeys and visualizing relationships. Being a woman, I liked the way character sketches of Satyavathi and Renuka were conceived and presented.

Another noteworthy aspect of the story is the rise (and subsequent fall) of Arjun Kartavirya. Most of the existing legends start with an arrogant, tyrannical figure when they start the tale. Vineet however, has taken care to bring out the hero out of Arjun before charting the imminent fall. Readers can’t help feeling bad for him while realizing how the loss of discretion can result in a rapid fall, bringing all the hard earned achievements to a zilch. If not for the protagonist Raam (who by all means is endearing), the book should be read to understand this enigmatic anti-hero (or so I am forced to call him) Arjun.

The legend is too well known and I am not attempting to summarize the plot of Parshuraam because it is the approach and execution (or call it narration) that stands out. The social commentary about the Chaturvarna system and Vishwamitra’s reformist steps about the ritual of animal killing make for a contemplative reading. We need more honest story-tellers like Dr. Vineet Aggarwal and more stories from Vineet himself.

Interested readers can buy the book from Amazon

Those with a passion for the tales and legends of Puranic lore should also check out the book Bhagavan Parashurama by KM Munshi published by Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan. At many places, I could not help comparing both the narratives though the stories were too far apart. KM Munshi identified the tussle between Vishvaratha and Vashishta, which was more ideological in nature as a prelude to the battle of ten kings.

Book Review – Urnabhih by Sumedha Verma Ojha

Empires rise. Empires fall. We read about the Kings and their king makers. We learn about the landmark battles, coups and takeovers. Where Urnabhih stands out is in narrating the tale from the perspective of those who shouldered the crucial responsibility of ensuring the stability of an empire- the spies. The author impresses with her way of balancing various aspects of romance, intrigues, adventure and emotions while not compromising with the pace of the narration.

The tale starts with the entry of the protagonist Misrakesi, a dancer who enters Magadha with a vengeance in mind and ends up in the spy network of Chanakya, the enigmatic kingmaker, politician and the accomplished guru in statecraft. To those who watched the critically acclaimed TV Series Chanakya, this book starts like almost a sequel, but with a change in the POV. The author delves into the details of the topography of the city of Pataliputra while detailing the early intrigues that Chandra Gupta Maurya faced and Misrakesi’s role in ensuring his coronation. Fans of Chanakya serial get to catch up with old friends like Shrunottara, Siddharthak and Akshay.

urnabhih

Characterization is another aspect where Urnabhih impresses. Misrakesi comes off as a fiercely independent woman, a ravishing dancer and someone who wonderfully balances her ambitions with loyalty to her role as a spy. The male protagonist Pushyamitra (Not to be confused with the founder of the Sunga dynasty who comes quite some generations later in the history) keeps the reader hooked. Arrogant, bossy and patronizing as he is, Pushyamitra also has an endearing, sensitive side and manages to win hearts of the readers. The ‘boss-employee’ relationship between Pushyamitra and Misrakesi that blooms into romance while encountering roadblocks is something to be read and savored.

Sumedha’s knowledge about the social norms, state-craft and policy of those times, rooted in Arthashastra flows and blends with the plot. Revealing any more would spoil the tale. I was particularly impressed with the economics that was enunciated in a particular episode that involved fake coin minting that threatened the Mauryan empire with dire consequences.

Misrakesi after her initial success, finds herself caught up in the web of intrigues that sends her on a journey to Kekaya, the ally turned rival of Magadha and as I said earlier, revealing any more of the tale could spoil it for the readers.

What left me impressed with the novel is the rooted and responsible feminism as opposed to the angry, rebellious and almost misandrist version of feminism that is seen in most of today’s literature. Often, the feminist stories end up betraying the principle and glorifying masculinity with their tom-boyish and overtly aggressive heroines who seem to think being unreasonable is the way to assert independence. But in Urnabhih, not only Misrakesi but even the other female characters brim with confidence in themselves and make their presence felt. The portrayal of society too can shatter some long drawn stereotypes we’ve all had regarding the ancient India. Misrakesi herself is a multi-faceted and well-rounded character who seems to know when to fight back, when to reason, when to manipulate and when to sweet talk. Definitely a case-study worth exploring for modern Indian writing enthusiasts.

Last but not the least is the classily narrated erotica. Often in most other books, the sexual scenes either disappoint me or make me want to puke. With Urnabhih, I can proudly confess that the love making scenes had me going back and re-reading the whole book for the second time. Opposed to the western erotica where the act of sex is burdened with unnecessary guilt, Urnabhih leverages the Shringara rasa of Indic literature. It emphasizes the Indic value system where Kama, the desire is held on a pedestal as high as Dharma and Artha. As if to echo this conclusion of mine, Pushyamitra declares his faith in this delicate yet cherish-worthy balance between the Purusharthas towards the end of the book. It can engage not only the reader’s senses but also the mind and soul.

One minor aspect where the book sort of falters is in giving the sense of closure in the end while there is actually a sequel coming up. A more intriguing ending could have kept the reader waiting for the sequel. But as an ardent reader of historical fiction, I am looking forward to reading the second book of Urnabhih. Definitely, a must-read for those interested in the history of India.

Urnabhih can be bought from Amazon

Book Review – Gods, Kings and Slaves by Venkatesh Ramakrishnan

Historical fiction is an ever green genre in India. The regional literature with had got into the genre quite early and has established its mark. The classics by the likes of Kalki R Krishnamurthi, Vishvanatha Satyanarayana, KM Munshi have remained all time favourites and some of their works have groomed fan cults. Indian English literature has begun to get into historical fiction quite late and is quite welcome.

Gods, Kings and Slaves, The siege of Madurai by Venkatesh Ramakrishnan, a Chennai based historian and author dwells on the conflict between Malik Kafur, the slave and trusted war general of the Delhi Sultan Alauddin Khilji and Veera Pandya, the King of Madurai.

Starting with an engrossing narrative of the individual travails of both the characters in their early youth, the book sketches their journey upwards. The reader can be moved by the making of Malik Kafur and inspired by the ambitious Prince Veera. The tale of Malik Kafur that transformed an innocent love lorn youth into a stone hearted manipulative war general who knows no defeat was quite eye opening. The dramatization of Veera’s exploits at a crisp pace makes this book a page turner.

The book also dwells into the internal conflicts of the Royal Pandya family. Being the son of a courtesan by the Pandya King, Prince Veera is not considered a natural heir to the throne of Madurai against his step brother Sundara Pandya. But a dramatic turn of events sees Veera ascend the throne but the power comes at a high cost, at the cost of love and friendship. The book alternates between the individual tales of Malik Kafur (I am almost tempted to give his real name away, but that would be a spoiler 😉 and Veera Pandya and I personally found the alternating narrative quite gripping.

Gods Kings and Slaves

One highlight of the book with regards to the war scenes was the balance struck between dramatic narrative and attention to detail be it the description of the fortress of Warangal or strategies that made Prince Veera secure a crucial victory at Lanka. A history enthusiast could have his interest rekindled about the many dynasties the author mentions that most of us would not have studied in high school history. His description of Warangal actually made me want to visit the place the very following weekend. (I was in Hyderabad then).

The author’s way of handling the after effects of a battle is another noteworthy aspect. One can empathize with Veera Pandya’s broken heart at losing Madurai to invaders and his unspoken grief in seeing the changed layout of the city when he visits the erstwhile Pandya capital in incognito. May be as a poetic justice (oops a spoiler!) all does not go well with Malik Kafur back at Delhi after his victorious conquest of medieval India. The idol of Goddess Meenakshi that he is smitten with which he takes from the temple of Madurai has her own ways of working.

The mystique touch at the end of the novel was the lone thing which I felt was out of sync with the rest of the book which does not have a super natural angle. (It might be just me). But then with Kings and Slaves dominating the story, the gods had to show themselves sometime and it happens in the last few pages. The book ends with a brief epilogue about Kumara Kampana, the Vijaya Nagara Prince reclaiming Madurai.

I personally liked the strong female characters along the novel, be it Tara, Sunanda, Radhika or Vani. Readers could wonder about who the male protagonist of the book is when it alternates between the stories of Veera and Kafur. But each of the women make it clear to the reader that they are all here as heroines of their own mettle.

In the authors note, we get to know that ‘Madura Vijayam’ a 14th Century work written by Queen Gangamba was the inspiration for the book. Or rather the book might work as a sequel to the events described in Madura Vijayam. As a history lover I hope that R Venketesh does take to writing the sequel of reclaiming Madurai too.

Venketesh is a bilingual author and has penned Kaviri Maithan, the Tamizh sequel to Kalki R Krishnamurthi’s block buster classic, Ponniyin Selvan. Gods, Kings and Slaves – The siege of Madurai happens to be his first novel in English. The novel did reignite my enthusiasm for the medieval Indian history, especially that of South India and got me reading about the rise and fall of many kingdoms and dynasties that my school curriculum had by passed. If you are a history lover, then go for it on Amazon.

Book Review – Kaal Trilogy by Sangeeta Bahadur

I had picked up the Book One (Jaal) of the Kaal Trilogy in a serendipitous moment in a Bangalore based book store. As I read through I realized that it was more than a novel (in present day fiction standards). Reading Jaal was a total experience in itself. The totally new universe created by the author with its own Pantheon of divinity, super natural beings, mystics and the ever lively characters make for an intriguing and yet a pleasing read. I should mention that this series is definitely not for a racy reader and it demands a greater attention span from the reader while returning a unique experience.

Jaal starts with a cosmic situation where the pantheon of the universe is faced with the peril of facing the wrath of Aushij, the wayward God of Maya. Arihant, the protagonist is the nemesis to Aushij chosen by the Gods. But his destiny comes along with a mixed path of obstacles, assassins , devoted friends, enigmatic mentors and breathtaking confrontations. Jaal is about the journey of Arihant as he begins to discover that the idyllic life of his cosy village was not what he was meant for and leaves everything dear to him behind to find the answer to his questions.

The reader is also presented with the political dynamics of the continent of Hastipeeth where righteous and the wicked are on a constant strife. The exiled Queen Vagdatta, the devoted friend Brihadrath and the enigmatic Vakrini stand out of the rest. There are the sages who work in tandem with the pantheon for the good of the universe. There are intriguing mythical beings, each of them adding his or her own bit to the greater cause. And the spectacular highlight of Jaal is the revelation of the Supreme Goddess. Without spoilers, I can say that I was reminded of the Saundarya Lahari and Mahishasuramardini hymns where contrasting aspects of Adi Shakti reveal themselves

Jaal
Jaal left me waiting for Vikraal, the second of the series which finally came out in March. The Author Sangeeta Bahadur has made the wait worth it. I could feel the characters growing as the story plot evolved. Arihant grows honing his acquired mystic skills. We find him experiencing new phases of life as he finds the love of his heart. With Jaal, the first book giving sufficient clue for the romantic story that would ensue, I was waiting for it to happen in Vikraal. I expect the reader to be pleasantly surprised as here, the woman is the first to profess her love. Aagneyi’s character comes of as something worth admiration on multiple fronts. Revealing anything more might just spoil the fun.

The plot of Vikraal sees the various kingdoms of the continent Hastipeeth becoming aware of the impending conflict between Arihant and Aushij. Adventures and surprises (some pleasant and some not so pleasant) are a part and parcel of Arihant’s journey. We also get to see more of Raudra, the high priestess and warrior on the side of Aushij with her side of the story, intriguing, touching and yet something which stokes fear.

Two parts of the book that can awe the reader from a philosophical point of view are the commentary about Vikaaras or what we know as the six internal enemies and the conversation that Arihant has with another mystic entity about discovering his own self. Philosophically, this is a treat to the reader. The name Arihant started to make more sense as I read more about these internal enemies. The physical journey of Arihant would then seem to each of us like our own virtual journey combating our weaknesses in search of the ‘self’ each of us is.

Vikraal1The greatest aspect that sets the series apart from the rest is the rich descriptive language. It is something which transports the reader into that universe and experience the story. At the same time I fear the description could hamper the pace of the story, especially in nail biting situations of combat and battle. I found it a bit challenging to stay focused when the story shifted to multiple perspectives of each of the many kingdoms. But I think multiple perspectives are key to what become epics. At places I also found the language a bit too modern for the look and feel of the universe of Kaal. (Might be just my perspective)

Vikraal ends on an almost tragic note while leaving a faint hope for something miraculous to happen in the third book Mahakaal. As a reader I found myself praying for that ‘moment’ and am waiting for Mahakaal to come out soon! Buck up Sangeeta, you have loads of readers waiting I am sure!

You can buy Jaal and Vikraal from Amazon.

Scion of Ikshvaku: An Engrossing And Moving Read

This was written for Swarajya Magazine and published in June 2015

There are few books that leave you sleepless when half-read. Scion of Ikshvaku by Amish Tripathi was one such a retelling of Ramayana. It goes without mentioning that the epic of Ramayana has undoubtedly captured the imagination of poets over millennia all across the Indian subcontinent, with versions travelling as far as Indonesia. Each retelling carried a fresh perspective with each poet trying to drive a contemporary message. Hailing from the southern part of the country, I can say Sri Ramachandra is one name taken by one and all in every instance of extreme emotion. His is the first cradle story an average child hears from his or her parents/grandparents or it would not be much of an exaggeration to say that celebrating Ramayana begins right from the womb.

Scion of Ikshvaku was surely one of the much-awaited books this year and, fortunately, the Kindle version was available overseas too. For those who know the structure of Ramayana, this book covers the Bala Kanda, Ayodhya Kanda and most of Aranya Kanda. The opening chapter ofSitaapaharan grips your attention and gets you hooked as the story flashes to the beginning of Ramayana. Amish has taken care to detail the prevalent socio-political dynamics of Sapta Sindhu in those days and the inevitable dangers of an apparently unwise belief of looking down on trade activity by the Kings.

For those who have read his Shiva Trilogy, Amish’s creative liberty does not come as something new. Creative liberty, of course, has been something that every poet and storyteller has indulged in the literary history of India and this book is a welcome continuation of the same tradition. We see Ramachandra having a troubled childhood taking the burden of an undeserved blame and moving us with his commitment (in contrast to who we know as someone being everyone’s apple of eye).

The second thing which would strike the reader is the amount of discussion and debate over philosophies and codes. The indulgent conversations between Guru Vashishta and the four princes of Ayodhya would make one wish that the kind of education system returns to us, where each student is encouraged to voice his/her opinion and build upon the same with differing perspectives. I really liked the part where Bharata boldly points out that Ravana was a better ruler of Lanka than Dasharatha was of Koshala. “Even honourable men sometimes prove to be terrible leaders. Conversely, men of questionable character can occasionally be exactly what a nation requires” is one pragmatic quote of Bharata where he separates the desired personalities of an individual and a ruler without superimposing.

The amount of care with which relationships between Rama and his brothers have been dealt with is another endearing aspect of the book. We would adore the young Rama for his steadfastness as much as we would adore Bharata for his frank views often disagreeing with Rama and yet take delight in the unaffected fraternal bonding.

24709327

Intriguing conversations don’t really hamper the pace of the plot. One can see the amount of effort that has gone into balancing the philosophical content with the lively nature of characters while reconstructing every detail. In the second half of the book, we are introduced to Sita, who like Sati of the Shiva trilogy is a warrior princess with steadfast beliefs. The ensuing romance of the poised characters of Sita and Rama is something one would look forward to read. The couple who are probably the most celebrated couple in our culture (The only ones who come close are Parvati and Shiva). Sita Kalyanam, the eternally celebrated event though has been retold in a thrilling manner where the newly wed couple would face the battlefield together, almost immediately after their wedding. We also see Ravana, the antithesis reconstructed with great care.

The readers should be ready for Vanavasa episode to gather new reasons other than just Kaikeyi causing it in the last moment (as told in most of the narratives). The quick pace with which Vanavaas came to a close was surprising. I was expecting a discussion or two with Rishis like Atri, Gautama and the Charvaka Jabali, who Rama meets in the original Valmiki’s version. Surprisingly, Scion of Ikshvaku does not contain Rama’s interaction with either. But the nail-biting chapter where the book ends surely makes the reader await the next book.

The book in its first part also has, what I felt, the author’s tribute to Nirbhaya, an event that made our national conscience shake with shock and burn with anger. The character Roshni (the word is of Persian origin though, which I felt was slightly out of place), the daughter of Manthara and the childhood mentor of Rama and his brothers endears herself to the reader in the short duration of the narrative. As a woman, it satisfies me that in this book at least, justice was dispensed even at the cost of the law.

In summary, the book rekindled my love for Ramayana and reminded me about my own earlier love-hate journey with Sri Rama since my teens before I settled as a seeker. Caught between singing Thyagaraja Kritis like Jagadananda Kaaraka while seething with anger about how he (supposedly) treated Sita, my past predicament would have amused Lord Rama for sure. I remember a certain blog post of mine hailing Rama got me angry messages from my feminist friends (the reasonable ones too). After a lot of books that have given a glorified platform to those against Rama or angry with Rama, a counter view from Rama’s perspective was much needed rather than the usual defence of ‘He did what the society expected of him’. This Ram Chandra series by Amish Tripathi will hopefully go a long way in bringing the reader closer to what the spirit of Rama is.

Jagadananda karakaa Jaya Janaki Prananayaka
Gaganadhipa satkulaja Rajarajeshwara
Sugunakara sura sevya bhavya daayaka Sada Sakala
(Jagadananda Kaaraka)

Hail, the one who is cause of universal bliss, the soul mate of Janaki,
The scion of the blessed dynasty of the Lord of skies, the king of kings,
The Ocean of noble characteristics, the one worshipped by gods, the bestower of divinity,
The eternal cause of bliss to all the worlds

-Saint Thyagaraja

Here is the Amazon link to buy Scion of Ikshvaku. Hindi translation can be bought here

Rearming Hinduism – Speak for Sathya to dispel Maya

Book Review

Politically Incorrect

It is a well known fact that Hinduism in academia has long suffered misrepresentation. Most of the books written come either from a closed guild of western scholars. They also come from some ‘Hindus’ (or at least appearing so by their names) who have for reasons known to them alone chose to decry Hinduism. Reading the content often made me wonder about the long chasm between what Hinduism truly is and how it is seen or made to be seen.

Rearming Hinduism by Prof Vamsee Juluri had done a great job of highlighting that chasm and going into the reasons behind. The tone of the author resonated what I feel in my heart with greater clarity and apt expressions. The flow of the message, the structure, the anecdotes, references, inherent emotions and everything together can make the reader completely unconscious of when she/he is turning a page.

Rearming Hinduism

The author Prof…

View original post 1,056 more words