The Shadow of Moon Read Along – A Brief History of the “Company Raj”

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The Indian History as I had mentioned in my The Home and the World Read Along Historical Overview is vast and it’s simply not possible to summarize all that has happened over 5000 years in 5 paragraphs.  However since I always chose to host books with historical significance, it behooves me to ensure that my friends who come along for the ride, get a better understanding of the complex dynamics at play, to better understand the nuances of the novel that we are reading! Hence I present to you, a snapshot of India in 1857.

To get a more detailed understanding of what happened to India before the British came, I would refer you to the post highlighted above from last year! If you are interested in more details, please reach out to me and I will be happy to share more information.  Now, to 18th century India.

The British company, The East India Company, got its charter or “firman” to trade in India,  after several rejections at the court of the Mughal Emperors, when a fluke chance enabled the East India Company Doctor to cure the then Emperor Jahangir’s son from a long suffering illness. As a mark of gratitude, Emperor Jahangir, granted the company the right to start a factory in Surat, in the Western coastland of India. This was the beginning of British presence in the country! The company soon acquired more rights and established factories in Madras (modern day Chennai) and Bombay, which was a Portuguese colony and was gifted to England as part of dowry for Catherine of Braganza when she married Charles II and finally, Calcutta on the eastern banks of Ganga in Eastern India. At this, point, several companies, including the Dutch, French and Portuguese were all competition with the English to gain supremacy over trading rights in India and the British began to realize that they would have to quickly up their game to survive the trading rights.

Enter Robert Clive, an 18 year old clerk who had a vision which saw England triumph over all her peers. In 1757, through guile and much bribery, he defeated Nawab of Bengal, Sirj-ud-Dula in the infamous Battle of Plassey. Sirj-ud-Dula was an independent minded ruler who was unhappy with the East India Companies free for all trading rules and wanted to Company to pay taxes for its presence in Calcutta, Bengal. Using this as an opportunity to turn a financial enterprise into a military campaign to gain complete land control of East India, Clive bribed some of the Nawab’s closest aids to turn traitor and became the Governor of Bengal, giving Britain an absolute control, economic and political over one of the most economically rich areas of India. He soon followed it up with Battle of Buxar (1864), forcing the then Mughal Emperor to appoint East India Company as Diwan of Bengal, Bihar and Orissa. A Diwan is a powerful position; the official revenue collector of the Mughal Court and by this means became the de facto rulers over the populous and rich areas of Easter Gangetic Plains. The Regulating Act further asserted the power of the company by making it the official representative of the British Crown in India. The act also set foundation of making Calcutta the capital of British India by asserting the supremacy  of the Presidency of Fort William in Calcutta (Bengal) over those of Fort St. George (Madras) and Bombay and made the then Governor-General (Warren Hastings)of Bengal, the Governor  General of all Company lands in India.

Over the next 70 odd years, the East India Company would use guile, wars, pretended mis-rule of the local ruler or blatant disregard of Indian customs to annex practically whole of India. The Anglo Mysore and Anglo Maratha Wars saw subjugation of Western and Southern India. Post this came, the outright and blatant annexation of centuries old kingdoms of Rohilakhand, Assam and eventually Punjab. The company also entered into alliances with other Princely states, under which the Indian rulers acknowledged the Company’s hegemony in return for limited internal autonomy; however this treaty was often negated and terms violated per the convenience of the British Company, as was the case in Jhansi and Satara.

The Company rule was a mixed bag, which tilted more towards negative than positive! The revenue system which had been in disarray because of the broken leadership across India for about a 100 years was systematized and put in order under the Permanent Settlement Act. It introduced a feudal-like structure in Bengal, often with Zamindars, the landed Gentry, who were placed in charge of the lands and had the right to extract taxes from the peasants and after keeping a share of it for themselves, turn the remaining over to the Company. If the Zamindars failed to pay the revenue on time, the Zamaindari right would be taken from them and because it was called permanent, as in the right of the land would exist with the Zamindar and his family for perpetuity, the taxes were fixed at a much higher rate, burdening the Zamindar and most importantly the poor landless peasant who had to starve to pay the gentry those taxes.  The modernization of the Indian Army also began under Warren Hastings, and began recruiting across Northern and Eastern India; most of these recruits were from the Hindu High Caste as well Muslims, and the Army adapted itself to ensure that the Hindu and Muslim practices and customs were not violated during their service! Soon the Sepoys, as in the Indian solider outnumbered the British officers by 10 to 1, the idea being one British solider could take on 10 Indian Sepoys. The Civil service was also reorganized on modern lines and various departments were created to manage affairs of customs, taxes, justice and general civic administration. It was under this new administration, that India was introduced to the modern marvels of Telegraph, Railways and most importantly education. Soon after taking over the administration of India, the British realized that they needed a body of clerks who albeit being Indians, would be educated in the English education system to support the growing multitudes of requirements of the Company Raj. This saw the founding of English style schools and then the universities – University of Madras (1855) and University of Calcutta and Bombay (1857).This was a significant move as it suddenly opened Indians to a world of Western education and Science and the works of Locke and Bentham as well as re-discovering their own Vedic philosophy that began to resonate with the middle class Indians. The education system which sought to provide clerks to help the company business, was suddenly producing thinkers and heralding a profound social movement termed as the Bengal Renaissance leading to abolition of such medieval practices like Sati (burning of widows on the pyre of the dead husband) and child marriage and was vociferous in its favor of education of girls and remarriage of widows.

While all this good was happening, there were other effects of this colonization. India was ravaged with famine after famines, with no support coming from the company to alleviate the conditions of the masses. If there were no famines, the heavy land-revenue assessment in some areas by the British resulted in many landowning families either losing their land or going into great debt to money lenders. Furthermore, fertile lands which were earlier used to grow crops to feed the families were forced to cultivate Indigo, which kills the soil and makes it unsuitable for growth of any food crop. Thousands and thousands of peasants were forced to abandon their farms where they had existed for generations and search for living in the big cities, barely eking out an existence. The indigenous industries were slowly being destroyed through competition from the Manchester Mills. For instance raw cotton was no longer plucked and woven in the guilds of Indian fabric merchant, but sent to Manchester to made into cloth, which was the sold at cheap rates back to Indians, who already on pecuniary existence , could no longer afford to buy the relatively more expensive indigenous guild products. With the coming of the English Memsahibs, the close bonding that existed between the English and Indians disappeared.  The improvement in ship enabled travels, led to many English women to traveling to India. They brought with them their English social mores and suddenly the ‘darkies’  were not fit companions anymore and were only good to be subjugated to a servant class. English men, who had married high born Indian women, suddenly became socially outcasts as were their children. Marrying an Indian was a taboo that not even the strictest Brahmin standards could compete with. Added to this was the missionary efforts of the various sections of the Churches – suddenly the Hindus and Muslims were being told that they were heathens and unless they convert, their afterlife would be spent in the fires of hell! Then came aggrandizing policies of Governor Generals who followed Warren Hastings; with an exception of William Bentinck, none understood India nor its people or its culture. The worst was Lord Dalhousie, who enacted the infamous Doctrine of Lapse that would directly contribute to the 1857 rebellion. Under this policy, any princely state or territory would automatically be annexed if the ruler was either “manifestly incompetent or died without a male heir”. The latter clause especially violated the long-established right of an Indian sovereign without an heir to choose a successor, by adopting someone from his/her family. In addition, the British decided whether potential rulers were competent enough, making the Indian kings and Princes, puppets in their own country, expected to serve at the pleasure of The East India Company. Under this law, the much loved and respected monarchs of Oudh and Jhansi among others were deprived of their kingdoms. Finally came the grievances of the Army, the long pampered and loyal arm of the Company Raj! First, the Army was asked to cross the seas to fight wars for the British Empire; for the Hindus, the crossing of the sea was a grave religious sin that cannot be rescinded in any way or form. There were also grievances over the issue of promotions, based on seniority. Further more, the European officers were given precedence making promotion slow for the Indians who either never reached a commissioned rank or were too old to be effective. The final spark was provided by the ammunition for the new Enfield P-53 rifle.These rifles used paper cartridges that came pre-greased and to load the rifle, Sepoys had to bite the cartridge open to release the powder. The grease used on these cartridges included tallow derived from beef, which would be offensive to Hindus and pork, which would be offensive to Muslims. Despite knowing the reservations the English continued the production of these cartridges and court martialed any Indian solider refusing to use these rifles. The stage was thus beautifully set by the British  for the 1857 rebellion and the spark was ignited by a solider called Mangal Pandey, who refused to bite the bullet and was hanged infront of his peers under the judgement of the Army Court. The Rebellion had begun!

It was in this backdrop that the narrative of Shadow of the Moon evolves. Next week, I will share a high level road map of how the Mutiny happened, the lands that were impacted and its closure.  As always, while I have not cited any specific source, but all my knowledge stems from the following – Modern India by Dr. Sumit Sarkar, The Men Who Ruled India by Philp Mason, A History of India by Percival Spear, Awakening: The Story of Bengal Renaissance by Subrata Dasgupta, The Great Mutiny by Christopher Hibbert, The Last Mughal by William Darlymple, Wikipedia and once more, class notes during my Graduate School days from the lectures of Dr. Tanika Sarkar.

Cleo, Helen and Yvonne thank you for not only joining the Read Along but also reading through this 1700 word essay. As Cleo, knows, I do go overboard when it comes to History! But now that Cleo has the book, I think, we can officially commence the Read Along!!!

And Now Its June….

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As I read other posts, on glories of Summer, I am hard pressed to find one good thing about this damm season in this part of the Geography! Heat, dry and unceasingly stifling beats, down on all in the Indian sub continent and those of us able to afford air conditioning count our blessings. But what of those who are barely able to manage a roof over their heads, let alone any cooling instrument to give relief? There are many such in this part of the world and I can only say, we have a long way to go way before equality for all in all kinds becomes a reality for many!

I had no intention of kick starting this post is such a pedantic note, but sometimes you gotta stop and count  your blessings and spare a thought for those not so fortunate! Anyhow, June is here and of course its time to read! I was hoping to read a lot more in the last few days of May, which I spent at a friends place in the deep Himalayas; but nature in all its beauty kept calling me and I abandoned reading in favor of hiking all over the small Himalayan town, gossiping with friends over cups of tea and playing with my friend’s three cats! I never figured myself for a cat person, since I always had dogs around, but I guess we live and learn! Due to such wonderfully rejuvenating distractions, needless to say, reading took a back seat! But now is the time to play catch up!

I have finally finished, Histories by Herodotus (Finally and Yay! and blog post coming up soon!) and can now move on to The History of the Peloponnesian War  by Thucydides as part of The Well Educated Mind Reading Challenge  the with Cleo and Ruth! Again with Cleo, I continue reading Dead Souls by Nikolai Gogol. And again with Cleo and O, I continue the serialized reading of The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens, as part of O’s brilliant and innovative Reading Event. I have quite a few read alongs with Cleo for the Summer, and a host of interesting books to read, but then what’s so unusual about that? 😉 I also picked up The Camomile Lawn by Mary Wesley and am finding it very interesting and intriguing! Finally, after much plodding and many recommendations (the last being Stefanie’s decisive review), I have decided to join the Ferrantas bandwagon and plan to read My Brilliant Friend, through the next month!

Besides all of this, as many of you are aware, I am also hosting The Shadow of the Moon Read Along through June-July. Cleo and Helen are joining the event and I hope some of you will come along for the ride as well!

That’s the plan for the month and as I bid adieu for this post, I leave you with some pictures of the mountains and the cats!

 

The Shadow of The Moon Read Along….

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Anyone who has been reading my blogs for sometime now, knows that among my all time favorites, of Austen, Pratchett, Lee, Steinbeck, Tagore and Rowling, is yet another, perhaps lesser known Author, who went by the name of MM Kaye! Many know of her magnum opus, The Far Pavilion, but do not know that she was a prolific writer who wrote many other works including mysteries and non fiction and more importantly, more than 18 years before the publication of The Far Pavilions, she wrote her first historical novel, The Shadow of the Moon – the story of a Spanish heiress, Winter De Ballesteros and the English Captain Alex Randall, in the tumultuous backdrop of 1857 mutiny in India.

I read this novel for the first time from the school library 18 years ago and somehow my reading of English in India would never be the same. I discovered an English author, who could describe India as an Indian and write about one of violent and most horrific episodes of Indian history, with balance and empathy and a deep understanding of Anglo-Indian relations. The novel, like many others, has been incorrectly termed as a romance, but it is not. It is history, politics and a narrative of the uneasy relationship between two strong, albeit different nations! Ms. Kaye who had spent many years in India and came back to the country, leaving England and her family behind, as she reached adulthood, beautifully captures the identity of those Europeans who were by birth, Europeans, but lived and drew their very identity and roots from a land, far away from their own motherland!

I can keep waxing eloquently about her works, but to get to the point, every May I usually revisit, The Shadow of the Moon, because it’s main action is set the blazing heat of Summers and somehow gives the book an authentic feel as the heat comes bounding inside my house. Furthermore, May seems like an apt month, since the Mutiny or the War of Independence, depending of which version of history one reads, kick started in May, May 10th to be exact, and the book is a fitting tribute to both the Indians and the British to lived and died bravely for the land and their beliefs!

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As always, I knew that  my partner in all kinds of reading adventures, Cleo was interested in reading this novel and with a little bit of temptation, she is on board. Helen from She Reads Novels is also joining the event and I hope some of you would also come along for the ride. We plan to start in June and continue through July if need be, taking it slow and steady. As always, I will be providing a historical overview in a couple of days time to give a context to the dynamics at play during this time.

So without further ado, lets start our journey back in time, 160 years back in time, to the princely states of Oudh and Jhansi as the then India comes alive through the narrative of Ms. Kaye!

The Dutchman in 18th Century Japan

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Sometime, actually, depending on your taste and choices, you come across a book, that moves you and leaves you completely and totally breathless. At the ending of the book, you feel like have to part, you know you will part and while a part of you rejoices because you can now focus on other reads, there is yet another part of you that feels like something deep has been wrenched away from you! Without getting too maudlin, it is bitter sweet to say the least!

There are very many books, that provoke such emotions in all of us and personally for me, the older I get the more I am inclined to agree with my blogging friends who to quote live by the principle of Marcel Proust that “On the whole, though, the wisest thing is to stick to dead authors.” Very few new age authors impress me and with a few exceptions like MM Kaye ( she can hardly be called new, but her books were published in 1980s, so relatively new!) JK Rowling and couple of other, most books fail to touch anything inside me. They are not bad books, in fact some of them are very good; it just that I do not feel that, they have managed to touch a chord deep within me! In fact, most new age authors while being good reads, were exactly that, good reads! I had resigned myself and happily resigned to reading the dead folks whenever I needed some enrichment of the soul; until one day causally browsing I stumbled upon and brought on a whim  – The Thousand Autumn of Jacob De Zoet by David Mitchell.

Its 1799. a young Jacob De Zoet is crossing the ocean to reach Japan, the tiny island of Dejima to be exact, as a clerk of Dutch East India Company, to investigate the corrupt practices of the previous resident of Dejima. Jacob has a lot on his mind, he wants to distinguish himself in the service of the company and most importantly build a fortune, so that he can return home to Holland to marry his sweetheart. In the same island, there lives an old Japanese Doctor, whose disfigured daughter, Orito Aibagawa is a talented mid-wife. As a reward, for saving the life of his new born son, the Japanese Governer, had allowed Orito Aibagawa to study at Dr. Marinus’s Academy. Dr. Marinus is an European and a man, and this exception granted to Miss Aibagawa is not something she takes lightly and all her focus is on becoming more proficient to help women needing help! Jacob takes up residence next to Dr. Marinus and soon becomes acquainted with Orito Aibagawa and becomes attracted to her from the start. However there are many other matters that need to be attended to and Jacob is soon involved in unvieling the corruption of the previous resident, only to realize that he has been trapped in an compromising position by his own chief, Vorstenbosch for the latter’s own greed! In the meanwhile, Miss Aibagawa’s father dies, leaving the family in deep debt and her step mother strikes a deal with the powerful monk Enomoto to sell Orito to his  monastery deep in the Japanese mountain country as a payment for him paying off her husband’s debts! Orito on realizing the kind of card has been dealt by her mother, decided to seek a life as a “Japanese wife” with Jacob, whose attraction for her, she had always been aware off. However before she can achieve her end, she is spirited away by Enomoto’s men and Jacob caught in his own problems, is unable to rescue her! Now both, must use their own wit, to fight conspiracies, threats and even war to survive and seek out and finally achieve their ultimate life aims!

What can I say about the book? Critics will say it is linear and the characters are kind of uni-dimensional and for the western reader, there is an onslaught of Japanese names and practices!  Some have even called it a romance. It is  perhaps, all this, but it is still beautiful and so much more. David Mitchell in this sweeping tale weaves in History, Politics and trade and human emotions/relationships of all kinds!  Japan in all her beauty and grandeur comes alive in the hands of David Mitchell and all her secrets, while remaining carefully hidden, are nevertheless given a glimpse off to help readers understand, how the land must have fascinated to Western world when they sought her out from 16th century, in turns being welcomed and the shunned.The history is deeply embedded in the narrative and in one of the most well crafted marrying of fiction and history, the history prods the narrative forward, instead of just serving as an interesting background. The customs and practices are clearly laid out and exceptions clearly explained! The characters are all well rounded and they stand their in all their glory of being good and bad. Jacob de Zoet while being a quintessential hero, honest and brave, is also given to lust and mopping. Orito is honorable but rational enough to know not all can be compromised at the stake of personal suffering. Dr, Marnius, Enomoto and so many other provided a living breathing ensemble of characters that evoke all kinds of real emotions within the reader. The beauty of the book however to me was in the very end, where instead of striving in a cliched end of improbabilities, David Mitchell, writes out a practical, sensible and heartbreaking end, in an ultimate testimony of art imitating life – life being of course practical and good, nevertheless, heartbreaking!

Wonderful wonderful book…I strongly recommend at least one read by one and all!

Here Comes May….

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The much dreaded Indian Summers are here and much as I would want to hide away and never really come out of igloo styled hibernation, there are bills to be paid and work to be done! So May, do thy worst, I shall live for October!!

First thing about May was changing the theme of my blog; I was tired of looking at Classical libraries and dark paintings, which while look very cosy and comfortable in Winters, they make me feel hot and stifled in summers. Inspired by O and Cleo, I decided to finally get around to changing the theme, archiving old posts and setting things up in simpler, whiter, and less cluttered theme! I know that the banner painting is still on darker tones, but it’s one and its got color so it stays! The white background, trust me does wonders as the sun beats down on everything, outside!

I will drink lots of water, nimboo pani which is an Indian version of lemonade only more sweet and spicy, stick to cold soups and dream of cooler weathers that October will bring! In between, hopefully around end May, I plan to go running back in the welcoming and cool arms of the Great Himalayan range; now that a close friend has opened a cafe in the Dhauladhar Range, Himalayas are actually a second home, which I plan to utilize the most, especially as the plains burn in the sun, as we head towards June and July!

Anyway, so much about themes and weather, the point is what reading is happeneth this month? While I know you all must be bored of listening to me go on and on about this one book, but I shall finish one day and until then, it stays put in my reading plans; naturally I am talking about The Histories by Herodotus. As the entire, universe must be aware by now, I was reading this with Cleo and Ruth as part of The Well Educated Mind Reading Challenge. Speaking of Cleo, I am also reading Dead Souls by Nikolai Gogol, with her. And again with Cleo and O, I continue the serialized reading of The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens, as part of O’s brilliant and innovative Reading Event.  I am also reading The Patriot by Sana Karsikov with Brona and this is one book, I am seriously excited about!

The change in the blog theme, also brings forward a resolution about something that has one been on my mind for a while! Like in many other things, here too, I am inspired by Stefanie ………so what is this big resolution you ask? The resolution is (DEEP BREATHE)  –  I will not buy any new books until I finish the ones next to my bed side table and those on my writing desk. This means I diligently stick to finishing The Instance of the Finger Post by Ian Pears, The Last of the Mohincans by James Fenimore Copper and finish the three Terry Pratchets, The Fifth Elephant and Snuff. I also have several unread volumes lying dormant in my Kindle and its high time I finished what I bought! That is the resolution as of now…of course everyone knows of my will power and how I cannot be tempted and I always stick to my goals, especially bookish goals! Yes, you can stop laughing now! Ok…I will try, that is all I am committing to now! And I am allowed to borrow from the library! Ok…that seems reasonable, now to actual READING!

The End of the 2nd Madness….

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How much I had looked forward to the Dewey’s 24hour Readathon and now, its all over! Like always, it was a brilliant, exhilarating experience of reading non stop and bonding with a tribe that slept, ate and dream books! I call them my tribe, because only spirits that felt so closely to books could have participated and enjoyed this mad rush of 24 hours of reading and more reading and yet more reading! I know so many who remained sleep deprived and many who had to change their personal life schedules and routines to be a part of the event and yet many others, who though they tried hard, could not join because of some pressing commitment!This tribe of bookworms, brings such a wonderful sense of belonging, of being a part of larger geekdom and just being ok about being passionately fond of books! The Dewey’s 24hour Readathon epitomizes this sense of bonding of book readers across continents and oceans!

So how did I do? Well I still finished 2.5 books, the same as last time, a cumulative of 800+pages. But unlike last time, I loved all my 3 selections  – Bones of the Hills by Conn Iggulden, Men at Arms by Terry Pratchet and The Histories by Herodotus. The first two I finished and the latter, well I am still trying! I unfortunately could not make any headway into either Dead Souls by Nikolai Gogol or The Instance of the Fingerpost by Ian Pears, but there are more weekends ahead and I hope to conquer more! I loved all the three that I read. Conn Iggulden made History of Mongolia come alive and made the historical characters, humane with deep insights into the culture and the history, that went into making the Mongol Horde. Terry Pratchett is Terry Pratchett; Captain Vimes is off to become a gentleman, but he cannot stop being a Copper when there are murders and lost kings of Ankh-Morpork to be found. With deep understanding of human nature. and dwarfs and trolls and an amazing sense of humor, Sir Terry wove another tale of brilliance and satire! Herodotus continues blending History and myth to take us across to ancient Greece, Persia and introduce us to long lost races like Scythian’s and Phoenicians!

Needless to say I had awesome fun in this April Readathon. I was really looking forward to it and now wait with bated breath for October! I want to take a moment and give a shoutout to our amazing hostess at Dewey’s @estellasrevenge and @capriciousreadr for your energy, encouragement and sense of fun!! Thank You guys and the entire team of Deweys! Look forward to chatting with you all again, come October!

The Return of the Maddness – Updates on 24 hours of Non-Stop Binge Reading

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Here we go –

Update 1

Hour 1  –  05:27 PM IST

The Pile –

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Let’s Start!!

Opening Survey from Dewey’s 24hour Readathon

1) What fine part of the world are you reading from today?

India

2) Which book in your stack are you most looking forward to?

Toss up between Bones of the Hills by Conn Iggulden & Men at Arms by Sir Terry Pratchett

3) Which snack are you most looking forward to?

Something I make myself – Chocolate Fool; a concoction of Greek Yogurt, Cream and Chocolate
4) Tell us a little something about yourself!

Full Time Project Manager, Part Time Writer (wish it was in reverse) constant reader, frequent traveler, occassional cook, daughter/sister/friend and trying everyday to be a decent person
5) If you participated in the last read-a-thon, what’s one thing you’ll do different today? If this is your first read-a-thon, what are you most looking forward to?

I participated in the 2016 October Readathon. The one thing I did do differently was while I still have a motely crew of books, I kept the number of books in the list on lower side, so as to not confuse myself and lose precious time in deciding what  to read next!

Update 2

Hour 4 – 08:49 PM IST

Books – Switching between Men at Arms by Terry Pratchett (Page 70) and The Histories by Herodotus (Page 255)

Take on the Books –  Herodotus is brilliant as he takes on a sweeping narrative, part history and part derived from myths, across ancient Greece, Persia, Libiya and India. I am fascinated with the descriptions of the Scythians and think they may be closely related to present day Mongols. Will look it up later. In Men at Arms, Lance Corporal Detritus (Troll), Lance Corporal Cuddy (Dwarf) and Lance Corporal Angua (Werewolf) join Vimes, Carrot, Fred and Nobby to find out what really happened the Assassins Guild! Brilliant, funny and idealistically real, Sir Terry as always takes my breathe away – I am still laughing aloud at head honchetta/honcharina/honchessa!!

Snacks Update – Dinner – Tuscany Chicken & Pasta Salad

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Update 3

Hour 8 – 00:36 AM IST

Books – Bones of the Hill – #3 The Conquerer Series by Conn Iggulden (Page 106)

Take on the Books –  One of my all time favorites! I love this entire series that Mr. Iggulden has written about the rise of Chengez Khan and his dynasty. Stripping away commonly held myths, with deep research, this historical fiction constitutes everything that a good historical fiction must have – powerful narrative that mixes easily with the time it was set in, with great story telling and accurate history! This volume is an especial favourite – the first that I ever read, and was mesmerised by he brilliant writing as I rode with Chengez Khan to conquer Persia and Europe. It also has one of my biggest book crushes of all time – Subutai is right up there is my pantheon of bestest bookboyfriends, along with Fritz William Darcy, Captain Alex Randall and Ari Ben Cannon!

Snacks Update – Water & now Coffee

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Update 4

Hour 12 – 04:31 AM IST

Books – Bones of the Hill – #3 The Conquerer Series by Conn Iggulden (Page 249)

Take on the Books –  Still loving the read. Though the change in the character of Changez Khan from a far seeing ruler to someone blinded by personal prejudice is a bit difficult to digest, but then sometimes success does change a person completely. The narrative is still brilliant and I who usually skip battle scenes, is hooked on page to page. Subutai still rocks!

Snacks Update – Sandwich and Rose Tea to fight of slight onset of sluggishness!

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Mid-Event Survey!  
1. What are you reading right now?

Bones of the Hill by Conn Iggulden

2. How many books have you read so far?

Half way through two different books

3. What book are you most looking forward to for the second half of the Read-a-thon?

Reading till the end with minimum or no sleep…can my body do it? that’s the question!

4. Have you had many interruptions? How did you deal with those?

Some, but good interruptions; using them as breaks!

5. What surprises you most about the Read-a-thon, so far?

How much I still enjoy the event! Also trying to keep up on social media can be a tad taxing!

Update 5

Hour 19 – 11:46 AM IST

Books – Bones of the Hill – #3 The Conquerer Series by Conn Iggulden (Page 260)

Miscellaneous Note – no traction as fell off to sleep for 5 hours! 😦

Snacks Update – Masala Tea to get the day going!

Update 6

Hour 23 – 04:01 PM IST

Books – Bones of the Hill – #3 The Conqueror Series by Conn Iggulden (Completed) Men at Arms by Terry Pratchett (Page 107)

Take on the Book – As always, Bones of the Hill leaves me speechless. The rise and the betrayal are overwhelming and it leaves much to ponder over, especially when one cannot really dismiss the thoughts under the guise of fiction. The rise of the Mongols did happen and what the great Khan went through despite all the negative history surrounding him, cannot be evaded Mr. Iggulden tries to give Subutai the due he deserves in the books of history – unfortunately, the Mongols produced a host of brilliant men 800 years ago and giving space to all of them is an ask. Despite the author manages to etch out the great General’s character and bring in the more humane side of him, especially when he leaves for his final command under Chengez Khan; your heart torn as you see one of the best General’s is history of warfare struggle to keep his loyalty to the Man who had raised him and to the boy who looked up to him. One of the best pieces of historical fiction, where Mongols, come alive and you can hear the war cries assaulting you from the pages of the book!

Snacks Update – Lunch – Traditional Indian Dal (Legumes) Rice & Saag baji (Spinach fry)

Update 7

Hour 24 – 05: 28 PM IST

Books –  Men at Arms by Terry Pratchett (Page 213)& The Histories by Herodotus (Page 321)

Take on the Book – Brilliant, intuitive, kind and hilarious – simply put. vintage Terry Pratchet

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Snacks Update – Tea

Closing Survey

1. Which hour was most daunting for you?

Early morning – around 6:00 AM

2. Could you list a few high-interest books that you think could keep a reader engaged for next year?

  • Historical Fiction – The Conquerer Series by Conn Iggulden
  • Fantasy/Humor – The Discworld Series, especially the Vimes & The Witches novels by Terry Pratchet

3. Do you have any suggestions for how to improve the Read-a-thon next season?

I think you guys are just perfect! Though I think the Goodreads page could be simplified instead of multiple threads!

4. What do you think worked really well in this year’s Read-a-thon?

I think the Mini Challenges were awesome!

5. How many books did you read?

2.5

6. What were the names of the books you read?

  • Bones of the Hills by Conn Iggulden
  • Men at Arms by Terry Pratchet
  • The Histories by Herodotus

7. Which book did you enjoy most?

Bones of the Hills by Conn Iggulden

8. Which did you enjoy least?

NA…I chose well this year! I loved everything I read!

9. How likely are you to participate in the Read-a-thon again? What role would you be likely to take next time?

I repeat, once again, on a scale of 1 to 10 with 10 being the highest, I would say 20! Role would be a Reader, maybe even a host!

The Return of the 24 Hour Madness….

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I have not been keeping well for sometime now, sleepless nights due to sever bronchial asthma. The biggest project of my career goes live on May 1st and it could set me up for next 3 years or make me look up other jobs! Minor domestic crisis continue to plague me. Life can hardly be called a bed of roses; but do I care? Am I really worried that my life is falling apart?!?!?! Nope…the only thing I give a damm about at this point is that the Dewey’s 24 Hour Readathon is BACK!!! April 29th, 8:00 AM EDT the non-stop reading binge starts!!! Wooohooooo……I CANNOT wait!

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My first Readathon was last year in October when I stumbled on Brona’s post on her Readathon prep. This is exactly why you need friends…..to drag you and tempt you into madcap adventures! Of course, not that I really need tempting to read a new book or participate in reading events! Anyhow, I attempted it last year and had a ball! Scratch that, I had a ball time 10! There is no way I was passing the April event up, even if it meant working late into the night to ensure Project launch on Monday goes smooth and I have the weekend to READ!!!

Now to proceed to matters, of actual importance – what do we read??!!! That, delicate and difficult question, that haunts each reader’s life; such a wonderful pain! I have my list all set, though again, I am not really sure, if I will be able to cover all or some or even in the end, throw up all the careful planning, to re-read Harry Potter, but for now this is what it looks like

  1. The Histories by Herodotus – Many of you are aware that I am reading this with Cleo and Ruth as part Reading The Histories for The Well Educated Mind Reading Challenge. Both Ruth and Cleo have finished while I lag woefully behind. Having said that, I am loving this narrative and I hope to cover some significant portion, through the Readathon
  2. Dead Souls by Nikolai Gogol  – This comic satire of Russian feudalism and bureaucracy set in 19th century is an absolutely wonder to read. Again, this is something I am reading with Cleo and again while my progress is slow, I hope, seriously hope to make some progress over the weekend!
  3. An Incident of the Fingerpost by Ian Pears – A whodunit is a must to break the monotony, especially if it’s a whodunit set in medieval England! Really looking forward to this one!
  4. Bones of the Hills – #3 The Great Conquer by Conn Iggulden – Can I possibly do any reading event, without atleast on hardcore Historical Fiction. The answer naturally is a big NO!!! This time I revisit and re-read an old favorite; Conn Iggulden’s marvelously researched tale of Chengiz Khan and his army is a fascinating read, away from all incorrect myths and gory descriptions. I finished Part 1 & 2 over this last week and now move on to part 3.
  5. Men at Arms by Sir Terry Pratchett – Could I possibly consider any reading event as complete, without one homage to a comic and humane narrative of mankind and its his frivolousness? Nope!! We go “detectoring” with Commander Vimes and his crew in the greatest city of Discworld, Ankh-Morpork!

My update style will remain same! I will have a 24 hour open blog update which I will try and update every 3 odd hours. I will also try to be more diligent and in fact use the Twitter and Goodreads pages for well needed breaks!

My cheering squad, I look at the same two – Brona & Cleo – some serious cheering required!!

This should be yet another restful weekend, which  should ensure I am all ready for the big launch come Monday! However, Monday is still far and for now, LET’S READ! Counting down the last few hours!

When Alice Went Wondering

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Everybody knows that I often keep **complaining** about all the reading adventures Cleo gets me dragged into! But heart of heart, I know that life would be one mundane boring reading if it was not for friends like Cleo, who make you read everything from Beowulf to The Histories to The Metamorphosis. Naturally, this year is no different, and after swearing off on doing any read along on account of being crazy busy at work, I was soon signing up to read with her several works!! What do they say about, road to hell being paved with good intentions??

Anyhow, Thanks to Cleo, I got to know that Amanda at Simpler Pastimes, is hosting the Classics Children’s Literature Event 5 and not only that, the suggested book was Alice Adventure in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll! Now I have always wondered about Alice in Wonderland; as a child when my Dad got me that huge pop up book with some lovely illustrations, I remember loving the colors and pictures but not putting in too much tuck with the story! As I grew up, I read a lot of Carroll’s limericks and puzzles and I was moderately impressed but hardly blown away, As a student of English Literature, I read a lot of “analysis” on Alice in Wonderland and when this event came along, it was as good a time as any to revisit the book and decide once and for all, do I like Lewis Carroll or not??!!

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The story is too well known to everyone; nevertheless, here goes a brief summary. One summer afternoon, Alice finds herself bored and drowsy, sitting by her elder sister who was reading, near the riverbank, when she noticed a rabbit in a waistcoat and a pocket watch hurrying off. She follows the rabbit and falls a long way, until she reaches a hall with many doors. She spies a beautiful garden beyond the doors, which she wants to visit, but is to big to get through the door. She finds a drink which shrinks her to enable her to get through the door but then she realizes that the key was still on table and now she was too tiny to get it. Thus begins her adventures of growing big and small and of meeting rabbits and the Duchess and the Cheshire cat and the King and Queen of hearts. She drinks tea with Mad Hatter and his friends and plays croquet with flamingos, until she ends up in a most strange court room case!

I have read a lot of essays attempting to de-code this tale. Its been called a sarcastic commentary on  the education system of 19th century to the author’s word play with French. I am sure there are other many interesting interpretations – but to me it is still a very good yarn for the children. Imagination and fun flows through the tale. It’s like an adventure where you let go of reality and let the author take you places for he would. I loved the quirky crazy sense of humor. I loved how from one tale to another, we jumped characters and situations without any need to justify the previous occurrences. I loved the characters – Mad Hatter and Cheshire Cat were my most favorite, but I quite loved the King of Cards trying to run the court! I thoroughly enjoyed Carroll’s mockery of “moral tales”. But it was Alice herself that left be in her language “Curiouser and curiouser”. I am not sure what to make of her – true, she is only a 10 year old but I found her quite annoying 10 year old and while she does display a lot of spunk, but she seems to come across as someone completely oblivious of others. I get it 10 years old is very young, but 10 year olds can be as sensitive and kind as any adult, in fact more so. While Alice seems to be just a bratty kid!

Overall I am so very glad I re-read this book! I am still not too fond of Carroll, but that still did not diminish my complete and thorough enjoyment of the book!

All About the Ladies from the Choir

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Everybody and by that I mean EVERYBODY who reads my posts knows that I have a blind spot for Historical Fiction. And historical fiction that is set in the backdrop of a small English village, during the early years of World War II – well, there is no way I am going to pass up that book! Hence, I was supremely satisfied to find The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir by Jennifer Ryan, when one day browsing through bloggingforbooks.com.

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The novel opens in March 1940, with England beginning it’s initial foray into World War II and the Ladies of Chilbury Choir realizing that their singing in the church has come to an end, since the men, so very necessary to produce the right balance in the choir have left to join the armed forces. Each member of the choir has her own thoughts and reservation about this ending of their Choir singing. There is Mrs. Tilling, a widow and a nurse and one the premier members of the troupe; her concerns are divided into the worry of her son leaving for the front, the horrors that war will bring and of course the demise of the beloved choir which brought much peace to her. Then there is Edwina Paltry, the village mid-wife, guilt ridden by her past conduct that robbed her sister and herself of a good life; she is now desperate for a fortune, to ensure she can get away from the village and re-posses her old home with her sister and whose only motive of joining the choir is to use it as a means to her ends. Kitty Winthrop, the talented and precocious 13 year old daughter of the local gentry Brigadier Winthrop, who dreams of becoming a famous singer and leading a happily ever after life with the much older Henry Brampton-Boyd, who in turn seems to be infatuated with her elder sister, Venetia. Venetia, yet another member of the choir is a willful, pampered and bereft of any worries, 18 year old, seeking adventures and entertainment. Finally, there is Sylvie, the 10 year old refugee form Czechoslovakia who is troubled from the memories of a Nazi occupied homeland and a constant yearning for her family. The ending of choir leaves all the members at lose ends, with a sense of loss of something comfortable, in absence of singing when the new Music Teacher in the town,  Miss Prim starts the  revolutionary idea of  a women’s only choir, forcing the members into life changing situations, forcing them to confront their long held believes and do things that they never quite thought possible. As they all try and grapple with these changes, the meet and are forced to shape their lives around strangers who pour into the village, like the mysterious painter Mr. Slater, Colonel Mallard and the London evacuee, Tom.

This is a wonderful and delightful tale told in the form of diary/journal entries and letters exchanged and the narrative is well woven among the characters and the historical backdrop. Ms. Ryan is able to deftly portray the impact of the war on a small village community, balancing it well, with the more immediate concerns of its inhabitants. The life and concerns of the small community is extremely well captured. She creates some wonderful characters in Mrs. Tilling and Miss Prim and Sylvie. The way her characters evolve as the war goes on is very well done, especially when the way she manages to convey the changing belief system of her characters, from denial to tolerance to respect.  The slow sense of empowerment that comes through to the women of the choir as they stand up like never before is very well captured! I loved the way the author was able to intersperse the whole book with hymns and songs that were so apt for the occasion! The only call out I had was some of the events, which I thought were cliched and could have been managed better – for eg. from the moment, Kitty mentions Mr. Slater, I knew what he was about, as well as the way it would finish off. Similarly, I knew how Colonel Mallard would end up in the narrative, from the very moment he was introduced. Some of the interactions depicted are kind of jerky and jump from one emotion to other without sufficient reasoning of why it was happening and how did  the change come about; like the one between Mr. Slater and Venetia. The end also seemed to suddenly tie up neatly in a package, leaving one wondering about where did that come from. However despite, some of these flaws, the book remains a good read – a perfect anecdote to a hectic day, in the accompaniment of some good tea!

I understand from her website that the novel was based on the experience of Ms. Ryan’s grandmother who lived through World War II and shared her stories with the family.  The author does a wonderful job of taking these real life stories and turning them into fiction with enough dash of reality to make it believable and readable!

I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.