Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Book Review: The Hunt For Kohinoor

The Hunt For Kohinoor is the second book in the thriller series featuring Mehrunisa Khosa written by Manreet Sodhi Someshwar. The book's blurb reads: "A spine-chilling ninety-six hour hunt through the world's most dangerous terrain where history collides with gunfire - will Mehrunisa get out of this one alive?

One morning on her way to work, Mehrunisa gets a call that will change her life forever. The truth about her missing father is at her fingertips - but it will take her on the most desperate chase of her lifetime.

A chase that will pit her against hardened jihadis plotting the deadliest terror attack on India, that will test her mettle against history's deep secrets, that will teach her that the price of love can mean bloodied hands ...

The Hunt For Kohinoor hurtles from icy Kashmir to snow-clad Hindukush, from the sinister corridors of a military hospital to the warrens of Peshawar, even as the clock counts down to the impending catastrophe."

The book is a historical thriller popularized by the likes of Dan Brown and Ashwin Sanghi. The book brings together an art curator, the Indian military, RAW agents and jihadis in a mission intended to create panic amongst the Indian population. Mehrunisa, an art curator, is summoned asked to go to Pakistan to find out a secret. And she has 96 hours to finish this life-threatening mission.

How she goes about it, whose help does she elicit, is she finally successful and at what price form the rest of the book.

The author's style of writing is evocative especially when she describes the various landscapes her protagonist travels in search of the secret. And she has done a lot of homework when it comes to narrating the history of a particular place or incident or event mentioned in the book. So, it is not just a passing mention but a detailed description that accompanies it.

And though we know what the ending will be, the book turned out to be a page turner.

On the downside, I personally felt the book had a lot of characters so it became difficult to keep track of them individually. And each of them had a background story leading up to where they were currently. That led to some confusion for me while reading the book.

On the whole, the book is an enjoyable read. I would rate it 3 on 5.

Disclaimer: I was given a review copy of the book by Westland.

Saturday, February 01, 2014

Book Review: Our Moon Has Blood Clots by Rahul Pandita

The book is an autobiographical account of the author, a Kashmiri Pandit (KP) living in Kashmir, who, along with his family, was forced to flee the Valley in 1990s. The book's blurb reads: "Rahul Pandita was fourteen years old when he was forced to leave his home in Srinagar along with his family, who were Kashmiri Pandits; the Hindu minority within a Muslim-majority Kashmir that was becoming increasingly agitated with the cries of 'Azadi' from India. The heartbreaking story of Kashmir has so far been told through the prism of the brutality of the Indian state, and the pro-independence demands of separatists. But there is another part of the story that has remained unrecorded and buried. Our Moon Has Blood Clots is the unspoken chapter in the story of Kashmir, in which it was purged of the Kashmiri Pandit community in a violent ethnic cleansing backed by Islamist militants. Hundreds of people were tortured and killed, and about 3,50,000 Kashmiri Pandits were forced to leave their homes and spend the rest of their lives in exile in their own country. Rahul Pandita has written a deeply personal, powerful and unforgettable story of history, home and loss."

While all of us living in India are vaguely familiar with the Kashmir issue [as we refer to it], the issue of the KP exodus is not discussed much or referred to. I, in fact, was not even aware about it, till this book came out. Rahul has brought this issue out in the open and is fighting an almost lonely battle assisted by Sanjay Tickoo and Ashok Pandita. He is keeping a record of each and every Kashmiri Pandit killed in the Valley.

In the book, the author paints a very vivid and beautiful picture of Kashmir and his home, which his father built painstakingly and which had 22 rooms [which his mother never forgot to mention to others]. His house had fruit orchards in the veranda and he enjoyed a life like any other. Until that fateful day on January 19, 1990, when the KPs were ordered to either flee their homes, convert or be prepared to die. And the killings were usually barbaric in their form. It was not just that. KP women were raped, children killed and their houses looted as well.

You cannot not be affected while reading this book. Rahul's writing style is such that, for a long time, I had a feeling that there was someone behind me, poring over my shoulder. Such are his descriptions of the accounts of people hiding in their own homes from the separatists. The movement became so powerful that even friends and neighbours turned against these KPs.

For the last 24 years, these people have been living away from their homes - they literally had to flee taking with them only bare minimum possessions. And the relief camps provided by the Government only made mockery of their pain. It is surprising, however, that no central/state authority was willing to step in and stop it at that point in time.

Personally, I cannot imagine being asked to leave my house without knowing whether I shall be able to see it again. Rahul brings out this anguish well in the book - you are able to empathize with him while feeling your blood boiling at the same time.

Certain incidents/sentences in the book stayed with me. At one place, the author quotes the poet Paash's lines, 'Sabse khatarnaaq hota hai/humare sapnon ka mar jaana'. Elsewhere, he feels, 'Kashmir is memory, an overdose of nostalgia.' Still elsewhere, when he returns to his house to find it occupied by somebody else, 'A man knocking at his own door, finding someone else opening it, and then seeking permission to enter his own house.' Rahul also speaks about how his cousin Ravi [with whom he was very close] was killed and the effect that had on Ravi's parents.

It is not an easy book to read. At several places, you will be shocked and saddened to read the treatment meted out to Kashmiri Pandits in their own land for absolutely no fault of their own. And, even when the book ends, parts of it will continue to occupy your mind - how some people were naive enough to believe they could go back to their homes and were killed as a result; how, when a majority decides to take matters into their own hands, no responsible person can really do anything and how, at the end of the day, being asked to leave your home has to be among one of the worst things anybody could be asked to do.