Title: 50 Cups of Coffee: The Woes and Throes of Finding Mr Right
Author: Khushnuma Daruwala
Price: Rs 250
50 Cups of Coffee: The Woes and Throes of Finding Mr Right by Khushnuma Daruwala sounded intriguing. I was looking forward to it. The first chapter was a breeze, it set the context and premise for the book. It was light, tongue-in-cheek writing, akin to a conversation across the table with an old friend.
The book is a narration of Dia’s (Daruwala’s friend) fifty dates, all described in Dia’s voice. I particularly love the disclaimer that Daruwala inserted in the lines:
“While this book will do absolutely nothing to allay her fears regarding the paucity of good men, it hopes to lift her spirits and offer a kinship to all women who have suffered similarly disastrous dates.”
And kinship it offers with the many hopeless conversations and incidents that Dia shares with us in the subsequent pages.
Daruwala warns you of the non-linear flow, making it easier to jump in at any chapter. The book also answers why coffee shops are preferred for most first and early dates: “They are casual, allow for quick exits and more importantly, the unlimited flow of caffeine and sugary treats help soothe frayed nerves.”
The chapters are short reads with snappy titles, almost like a compilation of blog posts. Daruwala covers a range of issues: from men with mommy issues to stalkers.
The book held promise. But I ploughed through most of it. It was funny and humorous, but it told me nothing that I didn’t already know. The writing is cheeky and clever but there’s a lot of drama and hyperbole within the pages. A tinge of despair, too. And after a while, it got frustrating to read Dia’s stance. From being a sympathiser in the first few pages, I got almost exasperated in a few instances towards the end. Some chapters just didn’t make any sense and seemed like a forced insertion to touch the number 50.
But 50 Cups of Coffee left me with one insight: Why do the good bits outshout the bad? The answer lies in the theory that negative memories (unlike the positive) “get fragmented into different parts—the feeling, the visual, the sound the sensations, etc. are all saved as different ‘files’ in different parts of the brain. Which is why when you try to retrieve a negative memory, you merely retrieve one part of it and not the whole memory. Which in turn makes it feel weaker and less intense.”
That’s my takeaway from the book. I was hoping for a nice warm, fuzzy read. What I got were a bunch of exaggerated reflections, which led me to wonder why Dia was still out there in search of Mr Right, when she could have just gone on with life unscathed.
Author: Selina Sen
Price: INR 399
Zoon by Selina Sen is a beautiful read on Kashmir, love and longing.
Yes, before you ask, zoon is an actual word. It means moon in Kashmiri and is a popular name for girls in the Valley.
Our Zoon is the 16th century Kashmiri queen, poet and musician, Habba Khatoon. She is the protagonist of Bollywood director Shantanu Rai’s magnum opus. And by and by, we also realise that Zoon is a metaphor for the Kashmir Valley, which is, today, marred by curfews, barricades, despair and immense anger.
It’s the late 1980s, and Kashmir is a paradise for tourists. Rai transports his entire crew, including an internationally acclaimed film personality, to the romantic landscape of the Valley to shoot Zoon. Joya, freshly graduated from film school, is also part Rai’s production unit. She is to work alongside Rashid, a young Kashmiri historian.
At the face of it, they make an odd pair. But they soon find themselves irresistibly drawn to each other, while Kashmir serves as the perfect backdrop. Until a shocking incident of terrorism alters their lives forever. The shoot is abandoned, the Valley is gripped by terrorism and militancy and Zoon once again lies buried in the forgotten pages of history.
A decade later, Joya is inspired to complete Zoon and returns of Kashmir. She is there to make amends. To say that it is a struggle is an understatement. But Joya is determined. And perhaps, it is only Zoon that she lives and breathes for.
I enjoyed Zoon. I savoured all the bits set in Kashmir and Joya’s emotional turmoil felt like my own. There’s despair and disappointment all around but love keeps her intact. Just the very thought of it. It was ephemeral. But it was all she had. Perhaps, it was all she needed. And Zoon is her victory.
Read it for Joya and for Habba Khatoon. But also read Zoon for Kashmir and its despair.
Learn more about Zoon.
Title: Amir Khusrau: The Man in Riddles
Author: Ankit Chadha
Price: Rs. 299
Ankit Chadha’s Amir Khusrau: The Man in Riddles came to me wrapped in a yellow envelope, sooner than I was expecting. And it was tough to let go of it, as soon as it revealed itself.
Part verse, part prose, Amir Khusrau is an absolute delight to touch, to read, to admire. Beautifully illustrated by Urmimala Nag, it is a mélange of colourful motifs, intricate patterns and evocative imagery.
In the introduction, we are informed that “Khusrau would often compose verses to describe each collection of poetry he wrote. When taken together, these introductory verses can form an ode or a poem of praise.” Therefore, Chadha selects 20 riddles (each attributed to Khusrau) to introduce Khusrau to the modern reader and acquaint us with his poetry and legacy.
We learn that poetry was only one of the many facets of his larger-than-life personality. And Chadha highlights that Khusrau’s poetry is typically layered with two meanings: One, which refers to the daily hustle-bustle of life, and the other that touches upon the spiritual aspect.
A riddle is a puzzle, wrapped up in words, which we have to decipher. “Each word is a clue, visual, a tiny part of a larger picture.” There is some amount of wordplay and one must pay close attention to the imagery that the words evoke. The answer lies close to that.
Every riddle, a few lines each, (with an accompanying English translation) is followed with insights and snippets of information that reveal Khusrau’s personality and the era he lived in. It is a little bit of history, a little bit of literature and a little bit of culture. I fondly recalled all my history classes in college!
Did I solve all the riddles? Nah! I only got a few.
But Amir Khusrau: The Man in Riddles is easy to read and follow. I flipped through it in less than an hour. But the soul wasn’t satiated. So I reread it. And once again. I read bits of it aloud, to enunciate and savour each syllable. But it got over too soon. Next, I imagined how Chadha would have recited these lines (I’ve watched him perform the Dastangoi, and it was a treat)!
The Notes at the end of the book will help clarify and dispel a few doubts that readers might have upon reading the verses.
I leave you with my favourite riddle.
Jiske wo pairon padi,
Uska jee ghabraaye
Bahur dukhon se qadam uthey
Aur raah na nibdi jaaye
Whoever’s feet she touches,
He is left to seethe
Makes it tough to take a step
Or find a way to breathe
Do take a minute to decipher it. Also note how well the translations read!
Solve the riddles on your own, take a friend’s help or simply savour the sound of each word. And you’ll soon find yourself immersed in the life and times of a fascinating poet, mystic and musician.
Title: It Must’ve Been Something He Wrote
Author: Nikita Deshpande
Price: Rs. 350
It Must’ve Been Something He Wrote by Nikita Deshpande is a fun, contemporary read. Book snob Amruta – Ruta – is a marketing executive at Parker-Hailey’s Publishing, in Delhi. She is young, finding her way in a new city and almost an idealist. A tough boss, shoestring marketing budgets and high expectations keep her on her toes.
And if that wasn’t enough, she also has to survive being a publicist for Jishnu Guha, whom she just cannot tolerate. Guha is the best-selling author of seven cheesy romance novels. And let’s just say that she isn’t a fan!
Deshpande chooses her words well. The language is conversational and descriptive. She evens throws in a few colloquial phrases without being too jarring. However, the characterization left me wanting. All the characters seem to speak in the same voice, and there’s little differentiation or variation. I wish they had been etched out a little more. I also felt that the quality of writing was inconsistent. Some bits were beautifully written. Some others read like a last-minute revised draft.
While the book is set in Delhi, there was nothing specific pinning it down to the city, except perhaps the backdrop of the publishing industry. But it is an urban story. It is also a very contemporary read. And social media and the Internet play an important role in how the plot evolves. I simply loved how Deshpande resolves a conflict, making good use of the Internet. And that she does it so casually is delightful.
The book also offers a peek into the dynamics of modern-day publishing and marketing. I interned at Crossword, a decade ago, and it was interesting to note the many changes.
I enjoyed reading It Must’ve Been Something He Wrote. And I read it fairly quickly. There’s something warm and friendly about Deshpande’s writing. And it reveals itself very strongly in her Acknowledgements. It’s long, but it’s heartfelt. And it tells the reader just how important this book is to Deshpande.