Birds, Beasts and Bandits – 14 days with Veerappan by Krupakar and Senani

This book was highly recommended by someone in a ‘Book Reading Club’ on fb, just a few days back. I have a fascination for wildlife so I was drawn towards this book and intrigued by the mention of Bandits especially Verrappan. I ordered this book which seemed to be different and interesting.

Presumably, the book is a comic account of 14 days of being hostage to the dreaded bandit Verrappan and his companions. The two hostages were constantly kept on the move. During the move they witness the plant and animal diversity in the jungles of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. They are in awe of Verrappan’s knowledge of the local flora and fauna.

The kidnapped photographers, Krupakar and Senani, who have also authored this book, become closer to Verrappan and experience the strange mix of cruelty and humanity in him.

To start with, I found this book extremely amateurish or maybe for the young adults. It lacked depth; about birds, about beasts and the bandits too!! Most of the statements are self contradictory. Though the writer claims that Verrappan had wide knowledge about the wildlife, he himself narrates accounts where frequently the bandits keep asking the writer about the birds they see on the move. The writers claim that they were constantly on the move but in 14 days, they changed only three camps and that too within Karnataka. They did not venture into Tamil Nadu though the book cover mentions their traversing the jungles of the latter state too.

In the very beginning of the book, Krupakar narrates the incidents where he interviews the people for Verrappan, of a van captured by the bandits because the kidnappers have no knowledge of Kannada. Why would a seasoned bandit lay his trust on two hostages whom he has kidnapped half a day ago? I could not connect with this idea. The writer has tried hard to make it into a funny account but he has failed miserably.

My verdict: I could have used this money to buy a better book! The book might interest teenagers, so I would lend it to them.Lastly, if you get attracted to the book cover which is indeed fascinating, don’t buy the book, borrow it from me!

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Ever read books by Arun Joshi, Temsula Ao and the likes…

Today, I finished reading the book ‘Laburnum For My Head’ by Temsula Ao. The stories were short and crisp describing the lives of people of Nagaland. Every story was different from the other with a strong narrative. But this post is not a review of the book. After reading her book I felt compelled to write a post appreciating not only hers but the works of Indian writers and thus promoting them.

Laburnum for my Head by Temsula Ao.

I have become an avid reader since 10-12 years. In this (short) duration, I read books from authors all across the global and enjoyed devouring their contents. But I have also come to realise that sadly, like all other aspects, we undermine the talent of Indian authors too. If given a choice between two books on a topic, we prefer a foreign author. We lack the will to appreciate our own!!

We were ruled by foreigners for centuries and now our brains are ruled by their ideas and thoughts, they subtly ingrain through their writings, musings or anecdotes.

In the recent past I accidentally came across two Indian writers – Arun Joshi and now Temsula Ao; neither are their books promoted nor are they heard about in book clubs.

Though I would not make any false claims about Temsula Ao because this is just one book of hers that I completed reading today, for which she won the Padma Shree Award in 2007. But Arun Joshi, a writer from 1970s was a chance but delightful discovery. His works are crisp, well-articulated, powerful, bringing the imagery and characters to life. I have already read three novels he wrote and intend to read the rest of them in the near future.

Shashi Deshpande is another talented Indian author who won the Sahitya Akademi Award for her novel That Long Silence. She has aged and unfortunately has not written any books in the last 4-5 years. Nonetheless her previous works are a treasure trove, a treasure I have collected over the years in my personal library.

Timeri N Murari is an absolute favourite. If you want to read any of his works…borrow them from me. He has written on various topics. The novels are descriptive and the memoirs are heart warming. Though through his memoirs I have embarked on many journeys with him but I am pinning for the day when I actually meet him.

I apologise, for I got carried with the thoughts of my favourites. There are so many more writers whose works I have admired. Amongst them are Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, Sudha Murthy, Subroto Bagchi, J Krishnamurti, Susmita Bagchi, T Rangarajan, and many more. These Indian writers are a class apart. Their descriptions of our culture are precise and vibrant. They bring alive not only the lives of people but also bring forth Indian thoughts, insecurities and prejudices to the surface. So, indulge in the works of Indian authors (too). They may not be celebrated writers, nevertheless their writings are distinguished. Indulge in them and you’ll be delighted too!!

This post by no means tries to draw a comparison between the Indian writers and others. It is merely to draw your attention to the wealth of our country which we otherwise tend to overlook. Give our Indian authors their due and let’s be appreciative of our own. Next time, when you are out to select a book, make the effort to dig out one from the lesser known Indian authors.

Also, do share your recommendations with me. I’ll be more than happy to hear from you.

Seven Years in Tibet by Heinrich Harrer

I had ordered this much talked about book because I presumed it was related to the life of a westerner in the Himalayas and later in Tibet, which has always been the hub of Buddhism. I thought that the author had visited this place, was impressed by the lives of monks and turned into an ascetic himself.

To be very honest, I was disappointed to find none of it in the travel account of the author. And yet, I enjoyed the book. It was a fast paced book enumerating the difficulties faced by the author and his fellow inmates who escaped from a POW camp, reached Tibet and stayed there for few years.

The travel account starts while he was on an expedition to capture Nanga Parbat. He being an Austrian mountaineer, travelling in India when the second World War broke, was caught and detained as a POW in an army camp. He writes about his escape from the camp and later his difficult times in the unfamiliar and rough terrain of Himalayas while he was on the run. For days together he travelled during the night to evade capture. His adventurous streak did not let him give up in the face of adversities. Believe it or not, but it took him 20 months of arduous travel in the barren lands and mountains of Tibet to finally reach Lhasa, the capital of Tibet.

The author gives a vivid account of life in Tibet. He was amongst one of the few westerners who were allowed to reside in Lhasa. During those days, the Tibetans did not appreciate the interferences of the outer world, be it in the form of technology or visitors, into their domain. Though the author and his friend Aufschnaiter did not get permissions to stay in Lhasa but they slowly won the hearts of Tibetans and eventually become an inseparable part of them.

The author has at leisure described the lives of monks, Regents, abbots and even the Dalai Lama. The decisions and life of people in Tibet are dominated by religion and the verdict of the Oracles. Though the Tibetans were accommodating to all other religions, none the less the supremacy of the Dalai Lama and Regents were maintained at all costs.

While in Lhasa, at one point the then 37 year old author had a strong association with the 14 year old 14th Dalai Lama which continued to grow even after he left Tibet. Heinrich, the author had the privilege to tutor the ‘God King’ in English, Maths and Geography. I wanted to know more about these meetings and their time together simply because I find Dalai Lama to be one of the most enigmatic persons in the world. The author claims that Dalai Lama was charismatic both as a person and as a literate monk even at the tender age of 14 years.

The author stayed in Lhasa for about 5 years after which he was forced to leave the country. The Red Army of China had invaded Tibet.

This travelogue has enriched me, given an insight into the lives of Tibetans and made me realise my folly – every book on Tibet or Himalayas is not related to monks and Buddhism!