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March 23, 2015

Book Reviews: Country Capers

Text by Huzan Tata

Tales steeped in history and mythology, explorations of different cities and a look at the lives of some of South India’s memorable actresses. Verve takes you on a multi-faceted journey with this month’s titles

  • Goa Travels, Manohar Shetty, Rupa Publications
  • Drowning Fish, Swati Chanda, Hachette India
  • Halt Station India, Rajendra B. Aklekar, Rupa Publications

Goa Travels 
Edited by Manohar Shetty
Rupa Publications 
Today, Goa is known as the land of beaches and parties and is popular amongst tourists. But centuries ago, it was the capital of Portuguese rule in India and was renowned as the epicentre of trade and wealth. Goa Travels, through the first-person accounts and experiences of foreign officials and travellers, gives readers a glimpse of Goa from the early 16th century onwards. There’s a story by Anthony Monserrate, a Jesuit from the Mughal court, about his religious discussions with Akbar. Portuguese writer Duarte Barbosa talks about women committing sati. And modern-day accounts of Goa of the 1980s and the early 21st century are found in the last few chapters. The book reads like a well-written diary and for all those who want to know the history of Goa — the ‘Eldorado’ or City of Gold, as it was known — Goa Travels is a good pick.

Sita’s Sisters 
Kavita Kané
Rupa Publications
“There is none like you!” says Shatrughna to his sister-in-law Urmila — the protagonist of this tome. Through the course of the tale, readers will learn why the young prince of Ayodhya thinks so. Most of us are familiar with the lives of Ram, Sita, Lakshman and even Bharat. This fictional offering gets us closer to Lakshman’s better half and Sita’s childhood companion, Urmila. The personal conversations between all the characters and the simple language make the book an interesting read. For fans of the epic Ramayana, Sita’s Sister is a chance to know more about an important, but seldom-talked-about protagonist in Ram and Sita’s story.

Drowning Fish 
Swati Chanda 
Hachette India 
The Partition of India affected millions of people not only on the western border of the country but on the eastern side as well. This novel, that weaves history into its plot, revolves around Neelanjana, a young Bengali girl who heads to USA in search of an independent life. Stories shared with her by her parents and aunt help her discover her past and learn more about her grandmother’s struggles after her escape from East Pakistan in the early 1950s. Drowning Fish is definitely gripping in parts, and will make readers think deeply about the true meaning of ‘home’.

Halt Station India 
Rajendra B. Aklekar
Rupa Publications
The subtitle of Halt Station India says it’s ‘the dramatic tale of the nation’s first rail lines’ — and the author, a trained journalist and museologist, writes about Mumbai’s lifeline in a fascinating manner. From Victoria Terminus to Dadar and from Vikhroli to Byculla, Alekar travels through the history, foundation and architecture of the city’s train lines and stations. This piece of non-fiction, complete with black-and-white images and amusing anecdotes, makes for an engaging discovery of Mumbai.

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