There’s Gunpowder in the Air: Manoranjan Byapari translated by Arunava Sinha

‘Dripping from Rajat’s bullet-riddled chest the blood took on the shape of India’s map as it flowed down the wall’

Set against the backdrop of  Bengal’s Naxalite movement in the ’70s, There’s Gunpowder in the Air is a daunting description of the activities within the four walls of a correctional home.  What laymen understand to be a place for robbers, murderers, rapists, kidnappers, and those who have gone against the law; the jails, are a world on their own. The daily happenings within the precincts are elaborately described in the novel.

It all begins with the imprisonment of five Naxal revolutionaries. Young educated men, who stay away from regular jail gossips but definitely have a philosophy and determination of their own to fight against the injustices brought upon them by feudalism. When a petty thief Bhagoban is sent in as a spy by the jailor to be amongst them, and to take note of their vicious plans, does the story pick up pace. However, what happens when Bhagoban starts having a change of heart upon meeting the young comrades?

The novel is complete with all the small nuances of prison life. The story of a bandaged ghost called Bandiswala keeps everyone on their feet, especially on full moon nights. In fact, the poor ghost was found easier to blame for anything that went awry rather than suspecting living men. His story has often been reiterated and discussed along with the lack of ritualistic initiatives to cordon off the evil spirit. If a wicked ghost wasn’t enough, stories of pilferages with the common rations and smuggling substances of abuse were not far behind. Gossips always pointed a finger towards ‘abc’ or ‘xyz’ including both jail guards and prisoners.  But hardly could anyone ever be caught in the act; and even if one was, there were ways to move out of trouble.

Amidst all the comic and witty turns, what Byapari explores the best throughout the novel is human emotions.  Hunger and poverty were always common reasons leading to one becoming a petty thief or a rogue. Outside the disciplined walls, each had their own families. Though they were allowed to meet them, many were disowned and many were shameful of their children being called ‘children of the criminal’. These pent up emotions along with severe ideological affiliations often led them to act on chance. Sometimes leading to their success and at other times, brutally crippling their will, for the rest of their lives or worse, curbing their lives itself.

There’s Gunpowder in the Air is just not the name of the novel, but holds much significance as a symbol of revolt, freedom, loyalty, guilt, betrayal, sacrifice and duty. Gunpowder is usually used for rifles, guns and the likes which are used for various illegal purposes upfront; but to me, it signifies rebellion – an act put together by many. Every individual taking part in the rebellion or its trial suffers from extreme emotional upheaval but their decision to take part in it or not; and to live up to the expectations of other comrades is their decision alone. Freedom, loyalty, guilt, betrayal, sacrifice; and duty are the results of the actions that one performs during a rebellion. Each individual holds great significance and their contributions can never be compared to one another.

Byapari weaves a lucid tale of Naxal prisoners in erstwhile Bengal fighting for their Rights and Motherland by radical means. But Rebellions owe as much to Fate as to the individuals who take part in it; and their success or failures are divided between both. Only time will tell the story of the Naxal prisoners and their Fate during their imprisonment.

Definitely a must-read whether in Bangla- Batashe Baruder Gandha-or in English to understand the psyche of the perceived rebels. The book is bound to raise questions about the pre-conceived notions about the Naxalities and make you revisit the era and re-interpret the ideologies in a new light.

No. of pages: 162

Publisher: Eka, Westland

Available on:Amazon/ Flipkart

Translated from: (Bengali) Batashe Baruder Gandha

The Sinners by Sourabh Mukherjee

If you are looking for a mirror that shows the real face of corporate giants with hidden agendas, thirst for power, frenemies and ruthless market competition; the sinners is just the book for you. A fast-paced unputdownable thriller, yet again, by Sourabh Mukherjee, will keep you glued to the pages of the book.

Rewinding and unwinding

The story is narrated as a flashback and is presented as a series of mysteriously related events which ultimately ends with the climax. Mukherjee, from the very beginning, lays bare the signs of sins in the personality traits of all the major characters. What is interesting is that these characters are very relatable and almost always around us. One just needs to unmask the worldly masks to find the Sinners. The novel presents an array of intriguing characters from the biggest tech giant of the day-NexGen- a company that is the perfect example of the journey of a start-up to a corporate. Every character is nothing but a pawn in the hands of the mastermind. But truly, they are nothing by slaves of their own sins, their own weaknesses – traits that are terrible and compel them to turn into silent observers as their fate comes crashing down in front of them.

Unmasking the Sins

Whether it be a woman who has lost her love, or a man fighting to rise up in the corporate ladder, a jealous ex, a miffed wife, an over-confident player, an underestimated techie, a beautiful slayer; Mukherjee makes it a point to incorporate all. What is interesting is that not a single character is pure black or white. Every personality has traits of grey so much so that some exhibit multiple sins. In fact, it was as if, the author had personified the seven sins- Pride, Greed, Lust, Envy, Gluttony, Wrath, and Sloth- through the illustrious characters of the book.  This is what makes the book special as no person is devoid of sin and gives way to their basic instincts, as every human being tends to do.

The Game called Corporate

Another very interesting aspect that Mukherjee puts across through his writings is the corporate environment. With the big businesses having almost reached their saturation point, it is the era of the start-up revolution. Nowadays, start-ups are a favorite with the media; and when they become successful and get praised by the society, not only the brand but also its top employees get trapped under the radar of media. As is said that a company is made by the employees, hence the higher the position the lonelier and competitive it gets among the subordinates and peers. One can trust absolutely no one. Even friends become enemies, not mentioning the actual enemies that one creates along the way. One is often forced to resort to ways that might otherwise seem ‘immoral’ and ‘betraying’, but these form part of the survival tactics. This corporate scenario is beautifully penned down in the pages of the book. A closer look at the storyline will surely make the reader understand how the foundation of the entire narration is formed keeping in mind the competitive corporate structure coupled with the complex basic human instincts and relationships.

Set against a highly relatable, realistic and practical backdrop, the sinners is a highly recommended book for anyone who likes to read contemporary thrillers!

No. of Pages: 191

Publisher: Srishti Publishers

Rating: 3.95/5

Available at: Amazon/ Flipkart

Tape: Steven Camden

Steven Camden’s Tape is a narration between time.  A daughter rummages through her mother’s room and chances upon a completely different side of her parents that was yet unknown to her.  The story follows Ameliah and how she discovers the untold love story of her parents. Traveling back to an era gone by, understanding her parents much more than she ever could; Ameliah learns how she came to being all through the narrations of a Tape. It is often said that sometimes even though the loved ones perish, their memories reside forever. Camden makes sure to freeze memories in a Tape in order to drive ahead the storyline.  The story was published some five-six years ago, and in all honesty that an author could so beautifully play with an object deemed to be obsolete in the modern world is commendable.

Child Psychology at Play

Camden is quite successful in capturing the essence of child psychology. No matter which decade or era we talk about, the thought process of a child remains significant. While Ameliah tries her level best to dig out information about her parents from an unknown friend of her fathers’ who suddenly rings her doorbell one fine day; she is also often seen keeping herself in her mother’s shoes with respect to the choice of songs, playing the guitar and through many habitual similarities. This only suggests that she is frequently reminded of her mother with whom she could spend only very little time. Quite similarly the voice on the Tape is torn between the records he made for his lost mother and a final parting gift he wants to make for his beloved. Entering the teen years throws a child into a vortex of emotions and feelings that he/she had been thus unaware of, and this vortex is further aggravated by relationships.

The Web called Relationship

Much that one thinks it’s easier for a child to adjust to newer situations than an adult, it is often forgotten that a child’s mind and heart are more delicate than that of an adult’s. It is difficult to imbibe shocks as a child than it is to do the same when one is older. The author brings Ameliah and the voice on the Tape a notch closer through the shared bonding over personal loss.  While Ameliah loses her parents and moves in with her grandmother, the voice upon the loss of his mother has to adjust to a step-mum and step-brother. For a child it is difficult to give the place of a parent to a new individual, not counting the step-sibling rivalry which automatically falls into place. Camden plays with relationships through many layers in the story.  It is interesting to note that every individual has grey areas instead of complete black and white.

The Emotion-Coaster Ride

Tape is an emotionally draining story. What might seem like a straight forward narration of a story through a time portal, manages to take every reader on an emotional roller coaster ride. Uncovering one’s past is not easy and sometimes one ends up questioning and judging the actions of the people. Whether it is Ameliah, her grand-mother, the voice, all have a past and an emotional aim in life. But what is interesting is the final twist in the tale which defies all rationale of love and brotherhood and raises an underestimated character to one of the most respectful of all.

A Story conjured in an Alternate Reality

 Tape is nothing short of fairy tale love story conjured in an alternate reality. Reading the complete story is bound to spring mixed responses. While some might discard the entire concept as illogical, some might grace it with an understanding that the novel is a work of fiction. But nevertheless, if the pages of a book fail to instill in me an alternate reality with experiences and situations which are usually unheard of but might have a 1% probability of occurring in the universe; the book is a winner already!

Publisher:  Harper Collins UK

No. of Pages: 363

Available at: Amazon/ Flipkart

Rating: 3.5/5

Mayurkhund: A Tale of Royal Passion, Secrets and Lies by Sadiqa Peerbhoy

Mayurkhund, a name which  evokes the feeling of mysteries and secrets under the royal garb!  

Mayurkhund, a name which reeks of screaming voices under a façade of silence!

Mayurkhund, a word which makes me visualize peacocks and royalty, but above all, riddles waiting to be solved.

Written by Sadiqa Peerbhoy and published by Readomania publishers, Mayurkund is described as ‘a tale of royal passion, secrets, and lies’. The storyline follows Amaari, a smart, independent girl working in Mumbai having a strained childhood. For years she is in search of her mother who left her one night in Mayurkhund, never to return again. Often here and there Amaari suffers from the feeling of seeing a shadow of her mother from the corners of her eye, but every time they are too real to be true.

With a troublesome past during her growing up years in Mayurkhund and a forbidden relationship with the royal prince, Amaari has much attached to Mayurkhund that contributes to her pains. But as fate would have it, when she is summoned by the Royal Mother for a task that only she can accomplish and can be trusted with, she is torn between her past and the shining future. But maybe it is the hunger to know the truth about her mother that makes her take the decision to go back to Mayurkhund.

Essentially filled with extremely strong female characters, the narration not only traces Amaari’s journey but also tells the story of her mother in a parallel sub-plot. A simple woman living with her family in Mumbai during the 1960s who falls in love with an upcoming lyricist and elopes with him. It is interesting to see her struggles as a young woman and then a mother. The nuances of changing times have been well traced through generation dynamics in the narrative.

Throughout the story, we meet suspicious characters like the all-knowing Elder Queen, the lavish and liberal Younger Queen, the flamboyant younger Prince of Mayurkhund, and a host of maids and servants who walk across the corridors of the large Mahal. What attracts me the most to each of the characters is that their personalities are never woven in pristine white or black. Thus one can never know whether they are friends or enemies till the end of the story. Each having their over-powering persona is just the right fit in the storyline to make it more mysterious and engaging.

Mayurkhund is a story of digging up your past and perhaps a fulfilling of the statement ‘forgiving and forgetting’ the past for a better future. The aura of a high ceiling palace, with numerous rooms, corridors, legends, and hauntings, all make the story come alive in the eyes of the reader marking it as a must-read book of all times.

Mayurkhund can be purchased via  Amazon.

Publisher: Readomania

Total No. of pages: 284

Rating: 4/5

*I would like to thank Readomania Publishers for giving me a review copy in return of an honest review.