Tag: #IndianAuthors

Silent Witness ~ Sharmishtha Shenoy

Famous detective Vikram Rana goes to Kolkatta with his wife and daughter for a much needed holiday. While enjoying his mother-in-law’s hospitality and good food, he comes to know about the mysterious death of a former neighbour Akhil Garg. The insurance company, aware of Vikram Rana’s talent, asks Vikram to investigate the matter. No one knows if Akhil Garg’s death was accidental or if he was murdered deliberately. Vikram Rana, intrigued by the nature of the crime, sets out to unravel the mystery.

This is my first Vikram Rana book and I have to admit that I was not disappointed! The book has an intriguing plot, the twists and turns keep the reader engaged. Time flies while reading the book as you keep turning pages one after the other. For a mystery novel to be successful the author must plant seeds of doubt against the characters and author Sharmistha Shenoy succeeds in doing so. You, as a reader, keep doubting the actions and motives of all the characters. When the case is finally cracked, you are surprised by the actual culprit and marvel at the ingenuity of the author. There are no nagging loose ends, which are usually the downfall of many mystery novels.

The characters of the book are grey, their interactions with each other filled with rancour and jealousy. The foibles of humans, with greed, anger, revenge and jealousy are shown without any sugar coating or softening. The detailed description of their appearances and mannerisms helps the reader to create a mental image of the characters, making the book more relatable.

Vikram Rana, as the main protagonist, comes across as a rational detective who can unearth the secret. His interactions with his family, Inspector Lobo and food, makes him a very likeable character. In contrast to the dour, know-it-all detectives that we usually encounter in books, Vikram Rana is a breath of fresh air. He is young, funny and a family man, untouched by the darkness of the cases he usually solves.

The book made me want to visit Kolkata. The description of Kolkatta’s Park Street during Christmas is a marked departure of the usual Durga Puja setting of the metropolis. The beauty of the metropolis during winter months is something most of the authors have overlooked when they write about the City of Joy. Kudos to the author for showing the hidden side of the metropolis. Another point in favour of the author is the detailed description of the food which made me feel ravenous!

If you want to check out the book it is available on Amazon.

About the Author

Sharmishtha Shenoy is the author of the Vikram Rana Mystery series. The books under the series are “Vikram Rana Investigates,” “A Season for Dying,” “Behind the Scenes” and “Fatal Fallout”. She has also published a book of short stories, “Quirky Tales.” Her short stories have been published in efiction magazine and Woman’s era. She loves writing murder mysteries, the kind of books that she likes to read. Her favorite authors are Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Agatha Christie. She also likes the work of Satyajit Ray – especially the Feluda Series.Before starting to write, she had been an IT professional and had worked in TCS, Satyam, Infosys, and Microsoft.She is a big foodie and enjoys Biriyani (both Hyderabadi and Awadhi versions) and rasgullas like most Bengalis. She is also a lusty singer of the bathroom singing variety.

Sharmishtha on the Web:

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A Fun Way To Learn History: My Top Five Indian Historical Fiction Books

If you ask people about their favourite subject in school, for the majority of them, history will come at the bottom of the list. History, with its innumerable dates, the unending wars, the boring prosing emperors, the treaties, was one long snooze fest for most of the people in school. I, however, have always been very fond of history. I look at history as a series of stories and narratives all intertwining to create our current world. There are valuable lessons hidden in the past, many mistakes repeated by subsequent generations, who refuse to learn from the missteps of ancestors. For those who like history but shudder at the thought of reading dry, boring historical tomes, historical fiction is a genre which brings fun into this staid subject. Historical fiction is about real events which took place but with a super-imposition of characters( who may be real or a figment of the author’s imagination). The authors do take a few liberties but on the whole they stick to the facts. History comes alive in this genre, making it feel real to the readers. The books of this genre are not only entertaining to read, but also a treasure trove of knowledge.

I have stuck to India’s history for this list of my favourite historical fiction authors/series/books. There are, of course, authors like Ken Follet and Phillipa Gregory who are experts in historical fiction, but I have reserved them for another post.

  • Amitav Ghosh. The Marchijappi Massacre; The fragile ecosystem of Sunderbans; Rubber plantations and expatriate Indians of Burma; The opium wars and the journey of girmitiyas to Mauritius, all these and much more can be discovered through the pages of an Amitav Ghosh novel. Researched in detail the human narratives of the books ensnares the reader. The reader starts identifying with the characters who seem as if they are someone known. Amitav Ghosh, the master storyteller, draws the reader into his books, transporting the reader to Burma or Sunderbans or on a ship to the colonies. My favourite series of his is “The Ibis Trilogy” about opium wars and the shipping trade routes of that time.

  • Alex Rutherford. If you are in the mood to know more about the great Mughals, Alex Rutherford’s series is the one you should pick. Starting from Babur till Aurangzeb, these historical fiction books give an in-depth account of each of the great Mughals. The author draws extensively from the accounts of Bernier, Manucci and also from the biographies and the court chronicles. These books are easy to learn about medieval India through the lens of a dynasty which is still making its presence felt in India. My favourite book of the series is “Brothers At War” which chronicles the life of that oft over-looked Mughal, Humayun.

  • Indu Sundaresan. “The Feast of Roses” and “The Twentieth Wife” by Indu Sundaresan are a fictional account of Noor Jehan, the Queen who wielded immense power and challenged the societal norms. Noor Jehan becomes a living breathing character in these books. The reader becomes aware of Noorjehan as a woman, privy to her innermost thoughts, desires and machinations to hold on to the throne and power.

  • Aruna Chakraborty. “Jorasanko” and “Daughters Of Jorasanko”, are two books which bare the family secrets of the Tagore family. The Tagore family had an enormous impact not only on Bengal but also on India’s history. The Tagores influenced religion, art, literature, civil services and public life. The book, Daughters Of Jorasanko, puts a spotlight on the women of the Tagore family, who despite being talented were outshone by the men of this family. The Jorasanko Thakur Bari comes alive in the pages of these two books.

  • Zindaginama, (Krishna Sobti). A sprawling magnum opus, this book meanders through early 20th century rural Punjab. There are no protagonists or a particular storyline, there are multiple characters in the book, depicting the life of ordinary folk living their routine lives. Living their insular lives, the villagers cannot escape the winds of change flowing through the world. The book is about mundane everyday life in a village, and yet it offers a fascinating glimpse into a piece of history.

Have you read any of the above books? Do you have any recommendations which I may have missed?

Farthest Field-An Indian Story Of The Second World War~ Raghu Karnad

“People have two deaths:the first at the end of their lives, when they go away, and the second at the end of the memory of their lives, when all who remember them are gone. Then a person quits the world completely”

Raghu Karnad, Farthest Fields

Photographs of three young men, framed in dull silver frames, stood on tabletops in a house in Madras. The photographs were to remind people of three brothers-in-law, Godrej Mugaseth(Bobby), Kodandera Ganapthy (Ganny) and Manek Dadabhoy. The three joined the largest volunteer army, the Indian Army, to fight in World WarII. Bobby joined Bengal Sappers as an army engineer. Ganny, a doctor, joined the Indian Medical Services and was stationed at Thal. Manek became an officer in the Indian Air Force and was dispatched to North-East Frontier. All three perished in World War II. Ganny from acute bronchitis, Manek’s plane crashed inside the Indian lines on the North-East frontier and Bobby was lost in the jungles of North-East. The three were minor cogs in the war machine and the impact of their death was only felt in their immediate family. Over the years the stories, hidden behind the veil of stoicism, became blurred. Until finally the author’s curiosity was piqued by the photographs in his grandmother’s home and this book was born.

The book starts idyllically with Godrej Mugaseth aka Bobby, enjoying his pampered life as the son of a rich Parsi businessman of Calicut. Blessed with charm and good looks, Bobby moves to Madras to study engineering. Madras becomes the new home of the younger Mugaseths. His elder sister was excommunicated for marrying Gopalaswami Parthsarthi, who joins The Hindu. His other sister, Nugs, the grandmother of the author Raghu Karnad, falls in love and eventually marries a Kodava, Kodandera Ganapthy aka Ganny. His youngest sister, Kosh married Manek Dadabhoy, the dashing young Parsi who took to flying like a duck to water. The threads of war, the struggle for Indian independence and the struggles of the Mugaseths, are all entangled with one another in the book.

Many books have been written about World War II, but the narrative has always overlooked the importance of the soldiers and officers from the Indian sub-continent. The book is a great read to know more about the contribution of the Indian Army to World War II. Many forgotten facts of World WarII come to light, for instance, the fact that even Madras at one point, was at risk from Japanese invasion. The war action shifts from NWFP to Egypt, to Basra and finally culminates in the siege of Kohima. The war scenes are described in great details, with the siege of Kohima getting its due. The so-called “Forgotten Army”, the one which fought on the North-Eastern Frontier of India, is brought into prominence in this book. It brings to the reader the importance and the significance of the Indian Army in helping Great Britain get the upper hand in World War II.

It is an astonishing fact that even though more than two million men and women served the Indian Army, their services during World War are forgotten, even in India. The book lays bare the prejudices against the Indian officers in the Indian Army before the start of World War II, and the Indian officers getting their due after the introduction of the Emergency Commission which gave them equal pay and rank on par with the White Officers. Verghese Kurien and Laksmi Sahgal also make a fleeting appearance in the book.

Non-fiction books based on dry war facts are not what I would pick for myself, but this book is different. Farthest Field has been classified as a non-fiction book, but it is not a scholarly tome, it has a human heart. What makes this book exceptional is that it touches you on a personal level. The human element of the Mugaseth family makes you invested in the story, eager to know more. Bobby Mugaseth gets resurrected as your friend, as he goes gallivanting through his life.

“Death is a field from which no one returns. The second death is the farthest field of all. That was where I found Bobby, trying to cross.”

Raghu Karnad, Farthest Fields