Adventures of a Brahmin priest: Vishnubhat Godse

Title: Adventures of a Brahmin priest. My travels in the 1857 rebellion. (Maza Pravas)
Author: Vishnubhat Godse. Translated from Marathi by Priya Adarkar and Shanta Gokhale
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India in the 1857 C. E., what kind of a country was it? What kind of people inhabited it? What motivated them to unite and to separate in the rebellion against their foreign rulers? Did India almost achieve independence through this rebellion or was it as unattainable as ever? Was the revolt a mutiny or a widespread uprising? There were many theories at that time, many analyses, each differing from the other depending on which side was theorizing. But how was India at large perceiving this tumultuous event? In the ‘Adventure of a Brahmin Priest’ we do not get an answer to all these questions, but we do get a precious glimpse into the psyche of a cross section of the Indian society during 1857.

Vishnubhat Godse was a poor Brahmin living in a small village in Maharashtra. His family had incurred deep debts which they had no means of repaying. In this dire situation Godse saw a ray of hope. A large religious ceremony was going to be conducted in Gwalior (North India) which held a promise of earning some money. After convincing his family of the necessity of this journey Godse left with his uncle to travel to Gwalior. It would have been a long and arduous journey, but not really extraordinary, except for the fact that the year was 1857 and the country was on the brink of a major unrest.

Soon after Godse began his journey the revolt broke out. The Gwalior ceremony was cancelled, but Godse and his uncle pushed on and travelled extensively in the North of India, visiting Gwalior, Jhansi, Kashi, Lucknow, Ayodhya and other places of religious importance. The rebellion had flared up all around them and they travelled amidst the battles and the looting that ensued. Along his journey he came across soldiers from both sides, sometimes this put him in danger and at other times he could glean information about how the rebellion progressed. Notable amongst his experiences was a certain period of time he served under the patronage of Rani Lakshmibai of Jhansi. He witnessed the battle that the Rani fought with the British and he was also witness to the falling of Jhansi. Godse returned to his village after a time period of three years and brought back stories and some notes of his experiences from the time period. Twenty five years after his return, he penned down ‘Maza Pravas’ in Marathi language (My journey), a travelogue of sorts which included his experiences from this eventful journey. ‘Adventures of a…’ is the first English translation of Godse’s text.

Religion has always been a prime motivator for political uprisings. For the revolt of 1857, it provided the ultimate trigger in the form of the offensively greased cartridges. Religion and caste structure reverberates in different forms throughout this text. At times it is a motivation to fight the foreigners, and at others it is also a reason for people to distance themselves from the revolt. Godse’s text gives us an insight into the mindset of the people of different social statuses. He talked to soldiers and royalty, as well as common citizens. The intensity of association and the effect of the revolt vary drastically with the geography and social status of the people. The fragmented nature of the society of that time is very startling. Godse’s text is not a comprehensive account of the 1857 revolt, but the most important thing that it does is provide a sense of the moral code of the people, a sense of their beliefs, hopes and fears.

The original was written in Marathi and ‘Adventures of a…’ is its first translation in English. The translation done by Priya Adarkar and Shanta Gokhale is excellent and feels very transparent and non-intrusive as a good translation should be. It maintains the original tone of the writing intact in the translation. Most importantly the translation makes this text available to a wider audience.

In conclusion:‘Adventures of a Brahmin priest’ is an extraordinary text written by an ordinary man. It was written at a time when it was not very common to travel, and even less to write about such travels. Fortunately for us Godse did undertake this journey and has left behind a rare eye witness account of one of the most intriguing periods of Indian history. I highly recommend reading ‘Adventures of a Brahmin priest’. It is a must read.

Book Source: Author

Three Dog Night: Gouri Dange

Title: Three Dog Night
Author: Gouri Dange
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‘Three Dog Night’ is a sweet little story about sixty one year old Viva Pradhan living in Mumbai. Viva has recently lost her beloved husband Ashwin, and is yet to come to terms with his passing away. Everything around her brings back memories of Ashwin and underlines his absence. Perhaps it this new loneliness that makes her contemplate her life, her relations, her age. She decides to simplify her life. She starts giving away her treasured saris, her precious glassware, and her husband’s blazers to friends and relatives. But while she is heading towards austerity, life keeps rolling on, bringing unexpected people and relations into her life making it more complicated than ever.

‘Three Dog Night’ means a very cold night, a night when you would want to sleep with three dogs tucked with you in the bed as a defence against the severe cold. Viva seems to be battling her own ‘cold night’ phase of life. She has an affectionate son, her grandson Dhruvi is much attached to her, and she has kind friends like Moni and Aidan. But she knows that they all have their own lives and she is essentially going to be alone. A brief attempt at dating has been a fiasco; her daughter Shruti continues to be aloof with her, and she has been cheated in a land deal. But despites these kinks, Viva tries to untangle her life, and finds her own brand of happiness and peace.

Dange’s Viva Pradhan is an adorable protagonist. She is very real and we can easily identify with her fears and hopes. She is not perfect but she comes across as a genuine person.  It is Viva’s character that keeps the novel nicely pivoted. The story is fast paced and very easy to read. Dange also weaves in pop cultural references which make the novel fun to read. References to Manna Dey karaoke nights, detailed recipes for exotic dishes and Hindustani Classical ragas find their way into the story. What makes this novel really appealing is that it is kind at its core. There is generosity at unexpected places and it is love and warmth that guides the people in it.

In conclusion: I enjoyed reading this short but fun-packed little novel. I will recommend it for its lovable protagonist and for the fast paced story telling.

Book source: Publisher

The Baron in the Trees: Italo Calvino

Title: The Baron in the Trees
Author: Italo Calvino
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Young Cosimo, the twelve year old son of a Baron is faced with an unpleasant prospect at dinner one day. His sister Battista has prepared a dish of snails. This circumstance is especially unpleasant since a few days back Cosimo and his younger brother Biagio had tried to help the snails escape from their captivity. The boys had been caught and punished. But as a result now it has become unacceptable to Cosimo to eat this dish. It is sheer disobedience to refuse food at his father’s table, but Cosimo has more will than what his family suspects. Not only does he refuse the dish but he also escapes the stone mansion of his father and takes up residence among the trees.

‘The Baron in the Trees’ tells the extraordinary story of this Cosimo. Once Cosimo entered the world of trees he decided never to set his foot on the ground again. In the trees he grew up to be a young man, a well-read man because he took an early liking to books and spent many a happy hour reading great works in the branches of an Oak or a Magnolia. He found the love of his life while sauntering about in the orchards of his neighbour, the willful Viola, and later assumed his Baronetcy while still living in the trees. He made many friends - unusual friends for a Baron - in the poorest of people of Ombrosa, helped these friends face their adversities and generally lived a good and satisfying life. All in the trees.

A singular story, narrated by a singular author. I will not talk about what a great writer Italo Calvino is because anyone who has read any of his work already knows that. Calvino’s easy and yet meaningful style makes this novel a great joy to read. The social observations, the commentaries on the human behaviour that form such a natural part of his writing make for rich reading.

In this novel he builds a perceptive picture of the social geography of Ombrosa. He writes about the lives of the common people – the labourers, the farmers, even the thieves and the pirates alongside the politics and aspirations of the noblemen. It is very interesting and entertaining to see these dynamics play out into the events of the novel. The character of Cosimo is of course pivotal to the novel. It is very easy to fall in love with this unusual Baron and his extraordinary pursuits. The generosity, the rebellion, the philosophical maturity that he carries in his bosom makes him one remarkable character.

In conclusion: Of course go read this book, while I go and read my next Calvino ‘If on a winter’s night a traveller’.

Book Source: Self

The Cosmic Clues: Manjiri Prabhu

Title: The Cosmic Clues
Author: Manjiri Prabhu
Buy it from: Flipkart, Jaico

Astrology holds a very important position in the Indian psyche. Everything from arranging marriages, starting businesses, forecasting the future to finding remedies to diseases has solution under the umbrella of astrology. Author Manjiri Prabhu has made another very intelligent and unusual use of Astrology by employing it to solve crime. The outcome is ‘The Cosmic Clues’ a very gripping and enjoyable detective novel.

Sonia Samarth is a young detective who has just started ‘Stellar Investigations’ with the help of her assistant Jatin. But it is not just any detective agency; Sonia is well versed in astrology and believes it can be used to investigate crime. The venture does not begin very well; she is met with skepticism and ridicule. But soon enough a lovely cat wanders into her office and brings with her the first case for the Stellar Investigations. It is a gruesome murder which needs to be unraveled, a murder which appears senseless, without motive and yet has been committed. Sonia puts her unconventional methods into actions and is able to solve the crime. This first success brings her a string of cases in its wake. Some of these cases are easy and yet others are challenging and while solving them all Sonia finds new friends and discovers new things about herself.

Manjiri Prabhu has spun out one gripping case after another in this novel. The most interesting aspect is of course the use of astrology in solving the crimes. I had no inkling going into the novel what kind of role astrology would play in the story and how effective it would be. But Manjiri Prabhu knows how to tell a story well and she makes intelligent use of astrology to give twists to the cases. I adored the protagonist Sonia Samarth; she is a spunky and adventurous young woman who makes the novel an enjoyable read. The novel has a fast pace and it keeps the reader hooked till the end. 

In conclusion: It was great fun to read ‘The Cosmic Clues’. I loved the unusual combination of astrology and crime which Manjiri Prabhu has woven into her stories. I will recommend this book to anyone who likes reading mysteries or who wants to read something unusual and fresh.

Book Source: Self

Anansi Boys: Neil Gaiman

Title: Anansi Boys
Author: Neil Gaiman
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Anansi is one of the West African gods, a trickster god, a Spider god. Anansi is also the owner of all the stories. The stories used to belong to the Tiger before, but then Anansi acquired them from the Tiger using his cunning. It was a change for the better of course. For the stories which were violent before now became the stories of cunning and wit. Gaiman’s ‘Anansi boys’ is also a story of cunning and wit. Here intelligence overpowers brawn, and good wins over evil.

Fat Charlie had never known that his father Mr. Nancy was the spider god Anansi. It was only when Mr. Nancy died that Charlie discovered this little fact. On the same day he also found out that he had a brother. In one of his several moments of despair, Charlie sends for his brother Spider. Now Charlie has not inherited any of his father’s godliness, it had all gone to Spider. So when Spider decides that he likes Charlie’s home and his girlfriend, Charlie’s simple and depressing life becomes all topsy turvy. What Charlie decides to about this leads to further complications and hilarity. 

Neil Gaiman certainly knows about gods and about stories. I had read his ‘Graveyard book’ before and had totally loved it. I found ‘Anansi boys’ to be just as spectacular. The tricks are clever and the story is full of wit and good humour. The gods and the people are quirky, unpredictable and very likeable. I enjoyed the way Gaiman mixed reality and fantasy like where at one moment you are in a musty old parlour and the next into some weird godland. I also loved the ending and the way all threads are tied up into a pretty bunch. Overall an adorable and completely un-put-downable book.

In conclusion: Great story? Check. Magic? Check. Loads of fun? Check. Should you read it? Yes!!!   

Book Source: Self