Category Archives: Books

The Magical World of Enid Blyton!

A little girl, all of 9 years old, had locked herself up in her room. Her parents had been warned not to disturb her. Afterall, she had a few important meets lined up. First she had to visit Janet and her brother Peter and their 5 friends in their shed again. Their mother had promised there would be hot scones, ginger biscuits, sardine & potted meat sandwiches and huge jars of jam & cream for the high tea. Scamper was already present, tail thumping away, eyes drawn every now and then to the laden table! Then, she would have to visit George, Anne, Julian & Dick as they set out on their cycles up the hill to the little shop that sold lemonade, grape-fruit juice, ginger-beer, and delicious ice creams. Timmy would chase their cycles, as always, distracted every now and then by the rabbits scurrying down their holes at his sight!

A trip last week to the Isle of Wight & Dorset here in the United Kingdom, presented before me a moment of intense nostalgia. In a quaint little English restaurant, we tried the Cream Tea. Alongside the steaming tea were 2 scones, warm and fresh from the oven. A slice in the middle and dollops of clotted cream and jam later, this little piece of heaven melted in my mouth and transported me back to the little room, with my friends Peter, Janet & George from Enid Blyton’s The Secret Seven & The Famous Five. The little girl in me had come home 😊

Cream Tea @ Isle Of Wight, UK

Enid Blyton wasn’t just a British author. She was a magician. A children’s writer, she enthralled many, many young adolescents like me. The world through her eyes was an exciting place! She brought home to me my teenaged friends and amateur detectives who enjoyed adventure. Their little escapades…complete with their secret codes and hide-outs and mini picnics fascinated me beyond measure! Her plots felt nail-bitingly interesting to my young mind…who could the culprit be?! I would open her book and read her detailed descriptions and lose myself completely in her world. There, in the confines of my room, I ran alongside her characters and their dogs as they chased thieves and solved cases for the police, I sat beside them as they enjoyed delicious meals prepared by their mothers, I laughed with them as they chatted over ice creams and I cried with them when their dogs got kidnapped. In short, Enid Blyton showed me that there’s a huge vast world outside, and I could see all of it if I wanted, right from my room, as long as I had a book by my side. While I had started reading much before her books, I think it was she who truly instilled this passion for words in me. It was through her that I realized the power a book had in shaping my mind. Afterall, imagine a little girl having seen and felt in her mind’s eye the things that she would only be experiencing for real 18 years later!

The Secret Seven by Enid Blyton

As I grew up, I realized how many facets of my personality have been shaped around what I read as a child. My love for the written word was just a tiny reflection of how Enid Blyton had touched my life. When she had said “Dear, silky old Scamper, his ears flopping up and down as he rushed into the hall, his tail wagging nineteen to the dozen. He flung himself on the children, barking loudly in joy”, it was me that Scamper had been running to and I knew I would love dogs all my life. She had made my mouth water with “The high tea that awaited them was truly magnificent. Lettuce, tomatoes, radishes, mustard and cress, carrot grated up..lashings of hard boiled eggs. There was an enormous tureen of new potatoes , all gleaming with melted butter, scattered with parsley…Look at that cream cheese too. And fruit cake. And are those drop-scones?..And there’s cherry tart made with our own cherries and our own cream in it”! She spoke of jam tarts and ginger cake with black treacle and I fell in love with food. She would have been a fantabulous food blogger in today’s world. Her characters went boating to islands or cycling atop hills or swam in the beaches…and I grew up loving to travel.

The Famous Five by Enid Blyton

I have always believed that a fantastic fiction writer is one who, with their words, can stimulate your mind enough for you to create your own movie in your head. That’s usually why most movies on classics fall short of their original books, something is always lacking, because the movie that had played in your head had been wayyy more detailed & descriptive than the one playing out on the screen. Enid Blyton is one such writer. While there have been many more books from my childhood, if there is one book I pick even today when I’m craving for comfort, it is definitely hers. My personal favourites are The Secret Seven and the Famous Five series. I also enjoyed her The Five Find-Outers and Dog and The Naughtiest Girl series. Much later, I realized she was the one to have written Noddy as well. So my association with Enid Blyton goes back even further than I had realized!!

The Five Find Outers & Dog by Enid Blyton

My Father gifted me my first book when I was in class 1. In a gesture as simple as that, he had made sure that he had given me a companion for life. If you have youngsters at home, do pick one of her books for them, you could be giving them a gift for life! If not, it’s never too late to read her yourself….she just might bring back the child in you!! 😊

The Year of the Runaways – Sunjeev Sahota

Poverty & hope often go hand in hand. Humans, I believe, are programmed to fight till their last breath, and what drives them is the possibility of a better future, a miracle that could turn their lives around. So when the possibilities start seeming limited, we move on to what we believe are wider horizons, with the conviction that a fresh start is all it takes to reach out for our dreams. While sometimes the dreams come true, at other times, we move from dream to dream, each new one easier to achieve than the last.

Tarlochan, or Tochi, is a Chamaar, a caste treated as lowly untouchables back home in India. With much struggle he finds himself a job as an auto-rickshaw driver. Just as he finds the way to provide his family all the little joys they had been deprived of and get himself the dignity he craves, fate cruelly pulls him back and slams a mountain of sorrow and pain for life. Siblings Randeep & Lakhpreet Sanghera should have had a comfortable lifestyle with their father employed with the government. But with their father slowly losing his mind, young Randeep must now bear the burden of supporting his entire family. Avtar has big dreams for his life with his girlfriend and he is working hard towards that goal. But he must pay the price for his straying friend, the boss’s son, and is left job-less.

All of them set out for England, in search of a better life, and end up in a house shared by 13 in Sheffield. With each passing day the sheen is lost bit by bit and soon the grim realities of life as an immigrant are laid bare. Meals become fights for scraps. Jobs are scarce and the competition breeds mistrust among the occupants of the house and more often than not, even homesickness in a foreign land or the understanding of common fears,  cannot make them leave behind the prejudices from back home. Dark secrets are hidden, confided in and exploited as the characters grow meaner and meaner in their struggle to reach for the goals, that once seemingly achievable, are now increasingly out of reach. Narinder, meanwhile, a pious Sikh woman trying to do good, gets unrevokably intertwined with the lives of these men and slowly her once simple life gets more and more complicated as she tries to understand her duties to herself and God. The character’s lives are soon spiraling out of control and drawn into their worlds, all we can do is watch.

Sunjeev Sahota is simply brilliant as he moves you back and forth between time and characters. So compelling is the writing that, as the desperation of the character grows, so does the helplessness of the reader..if only one could reach out and stop a character from taking a step in a glaringly wrong direction! No compromise is made in the portrayal of the characters’ backgrounds, the dreams of their youth crushed at no fault of theirs, their endless struggle to fulfill familial obligations while always trying to making it big in life..so much so that the reader begins empathizing with their actions, no matter how wrong. Sahota’s work is a big reality check of the lives immigrants have to face, very different from the hunky-dory picture we paint of life outside. A powerfully engrossing read that keeps you hooked for more, there is no questioning its shortlisting for the ‘2015 Man Booker prize’. The only complaint I have is the epilogue, hastily thrown in to show us life many years later, which left a bad aftertaste. Some things are better left unsaid. For all other reasons, this book is a great read, both for the intriguing story and the impeccable style!

My Rating : 4/5

AND THE MOUNTAINS ECHOED – Khalid Hosseini

Abdullah loves his little sister Pari as a mother would love her child. With their mother dead and a step-mother at home, Abdullah feels she is the only true family he has left. She means the world to him, and all he wants is to give her happiness abundant. But with a harsh winter coming, and a baby on its way, their Father may have to make some tough decisions. As the brother & sister set off to Kabul to their favorite Uncle Nabi, little do they realize that their togetherness might be coming to an end. What could drive a father to give up a child? Why would an uncle betray the admiration he can see in his niece’s eyes?

One would think the story follows through the lives of Abdullah & Pari. That’s where Hosseini surprises you. With the thread of Abdullah and Pari’s bond, he weaves a complex story of human relationships, not so much in his efforts to bring the brother and sister back together, but more as a broader view of the course their lives take, the many other lives they get interwoven with and consequences each must face of the decision taken for 2 little children in Afghanistan. This is a story of love, separation, regret, happiness, shame, longing and redemption and what these emotions in humans drive them to do!

Each character is so brilliantly explored, their past torn apart to understand their present, that the book almost feels like a collection of multiple short stories. Each character’s goods and bads are so clearly visible that one cannot help but love and hate them at the same time. So while Dr. Markos helps the victims in Afghanistan, he lives with mixed feelings of love & regret for his mother back home. Saboor, who dotes on his children, has no option but to severe a finger to save the hand. Nabi, a gentle and caring man at heart, makes a mistake in his blind love that he cannot forget and seeks redemption by loving and serving another. Nila, rash, haphazard, dangerously free Nila on the outside, keeps fighting the demons of loneliness on the inside. Idris, compassionate & honest, feels the connect with the little girl lying battered in the hospital..but will he remember her once he gets back to his life in the US?

Khalid Hosseini is a master of human emotions. Humans are never black or white. They aren’t even grey. Humans can be blue, brown, red, yellow, purple all at once, and Hosseini knows it only too well. He makes no efforts whatsoever to give you a story you want to hear. It’s a story he wants to say, with all the sorrow, pain, struggle, happiness smack in your face, in a style so simple and yet so absorbing, so like a quagmire sucking you in, that you have no choice but to hear it! After reading his books ‘The Kite Runner’ and ‘Thousand Splendid Suns’, I had decided I wouldn’t read his books ever again, there was just too much pain and sorrow. Sigh. So much for the promise. Who can stop herself from reading a book that lays bare the human heart and mind with a reality we cannot deny. We may all hope and wish for sunny days and glorious times and brilliantly satisfying endings, but where life decides to step in, man is but a puppet. One almost feels like reaching out and just tweaking a small decision here, a tiny action there, knowing that would get us where we want. But we cannot. All we can do is read helplessly, knowing it isn’t what we want to read, but it just is what must happen.

My Rating : 4.5/5