Category Archives: Book Reviews/ Reflections

Re-reading Philosopher’s Stone

If you know of me, chances are you know me as a Potterhead. I’ve obviously read (and watched) the books at least 10 times. I also make it a point to read at least one of the books twice a year. And I do all of the fandom activities- online forums, podcasts, you name it. But this post isn’t about my obsession (is it?).

The first time I read the books, I was eleven years old. It’s been eleven years since. That means half of my life, I’ve been a Potterhead. (Should I be worried that that’s my identity for many?) And obviously the way I engage with the books is different each time. The last time I read Deathly Hallows, for example, I cried when Harry thought about the relationship between his parents, Sirius, and Ron and Hermione, if his parents and Sirius were alive. It was such a small detail- probably a line, or an opening paragraph. The first time I read Deathly Hallows, I cried about how beautiful Snape and Lily’s relationship was. Now I dislike Snape, and I realise just how creepy and nasty he is.

That’s the thing right? When I first read it, I was perhaps twelve, or thirteen years old. I thought that if you did something for love, it was okay. That Snape, a thirty year old man, is fighting for the good because of his childhood friend/crush/love. But now I realise that that’s utter bullshit. If Lily weren’t dead, he’d be a Death Eater till the end of the day. Did he really need someone who he claims to love (yuck) to die to realise killing people is not a good thing? 

I’m reading Harry Potter again, and I’m realising newer and newer things. I also can’t help seeing the parallels between the politics of certain countries and the Wizarding World. I definitely know a political leader who is like Gilderoy Lockhart. I know enough pure blood fanatics like Lucius Malfoy. I somehow do not know Umbriges, but probably don’t know enough politics. But I do not Crabbe’s and Goyles.

I’ve often been surrounded by Draco Malfoy lovers. But I really don’t get why he’s so great. In Philosopher’s Stone he literally bullies Harry for not having parents! I mean come on! His pure-blood mania is literally like any fascist “You do not belong here” ideology. And please don’t give me the “family” explanation, because a. Tonks. b. Sirius Black. 

On a lighter note, there are things that I never before noticed that I appreciate now. For example, Rowling is hilarious! I’ve startled my parents laughing out loud at certain parts. Now that I’ve seen brilliant screen adaptations (hello, The Handmaid’s Tale), I’m also realising how shitty the movies are. I’m not saying those who have only seen the movies are not real enough fans. But they definitely are missing out on the essence of the canon. It’s like plot, like a brick structure, but it’s not your story, and will never be home. If you don’t have time, just listen to the audio book! It’s equally good! 

I guess I’ll always come back to Harry Potter in the end. No matter how old I am. No matter how demystified by some characters I get. I’ll always pick up Prisoner of Azkaban every time I’m in a reading slump. I’ll always read and reread Marauders and Next Gen fanfiction, because canon isn’t enough (no The Cursed Child doesn’t count as Canon). I’ll always be ‘that Potter girl’.

More than anything else, I feel like I’m rediscovering magic, as I read Philosopher’s Stone again. The awfulness of Dursleys to the beauty of Hagrid. I want to ride the scarlet train from platform nine and three quarters home. Hogwarts has always been there to welcome me home. (I know I’m being sappy, and using intertextuality, but every bit of it is magic).

 You’d think that after more than a decade, I’d bore of it (all my relatives certainly thought so). But somehow, I love it more. I’m so glad Rowling went down the Classics corridor that fateful day. I know it didn’t go well for her in the short run, but the world is a better place thanks to that, for a million people worldwide.

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Anuja Chauhan’s Baaz: Definitely not a Turd

The first time I heard about Anuja Chauhan was in my favourite bookstore, sipping on coffee, when my friends and I were talking about books we’d read and loved. It was 2013, and she’d just read The Zoya Factor, and I was a literary snob (aka a dumbshit who needed a whacking from the present me). Since then, I’ve spent a year studying Indian Writing in English, and now I read anything that’s not Chetan Bhagat (I still have some taste).  This year, blessed with a New Kindle, and the glory that comes with it, I read, for the very first time that book that intrigued me all those years ago with my favourite people at my favourite place. To be honest, I was quite disappointed. It was quite shitty, according to me.

Cut to five months later, I heard she’s coming out with a new book. I really didn’t want to read it, but I thought if people don’t shit on her as much as they do on Chetan Bhagat, she must have done something right (sorry, it’s been a long time since I’ve read Chetan Bhagat, maybe I forgot how bad he is- I probably shouldn’t compare). So I read BaazAnd it was the opposite of what I thought it would be.

Baaz is the story of an Air Force Pilot- the very best one in his batch. Ishaan is Baaz, for his eagle-like flying abilities, but also because he’s a bastard. His step father is a zamindar who hates his guts. His maternal grandfather sowed the dream of being an IAF pilot in young Ishaan, who as young impressionable boys wont to do, internalised this dream without questioning it. The fact that he was a naughty (stupid​) little boy who did reckless things for adrenaline rush probably helped. Point is, he enrolled himself in the Flying College, got through it effortlessly, and inculcated the values and ideologies of Defense personell. This is not just a plot point, but also the major conflict in what is, primarily a romance.

In stark contrast, Tinka, born and raised in the US (the reason why this is important gets clearer later in the narrative), influenced by John Lennon’s Imagine, is completely anti-war and anti-violence. She’s a Parsi, a photographer, and she unapologetically stands up for what she believes in. Her father is an ex-Army personell, and much of her family is in the Defence Forces, including her brother who dies, and is taught about in the Defence Academies. (Spoiler Alert: The truth of his death made me close the book and shed a quite tear). Her father cuts her off because she runs away to Bombay, instead of getting married. She becomes the model in the very first Indian advertisement featuring a bikini. She does it for the money to continue photography. But, of course, she gets slut-shamed for it.

This is as much the story of the Indo-Pakistan War of 1971 as much as it is of Ishaan (Shanu) and Tinka. A direct nod to the Military, and a simultaneousfuck youto the very concept of war. Multiple times in the text, Chauhan (mock?) praises the bravery of the Military, while juxtaposing the individual in battle who ultimately suffers. Ishaan and his friends gets lost. One of them loses a limb. Jimmy, Yinka’s brother, kills six Pakistanis after his tank becomes useless. He kills them with his bare hands. He becomes the hero of the nation. Then he shoots himself in the head. Many we know througout the novel die. Chauhan, through Tinka asks what’s the point? She talks about the kind of people who enter this workforce – the poor, looking for a Middle class alleviation. The army brats who are forced. The army brats who probably don’t know better. She questions the rationale of war.

“Tinka- I shot him down, I cut down his body and yanked the clothes off his charred corpse. I do not want to look at pictures of his daughters.”

“Why the hell should I feel guilty, anyway? Sure, I chewed up Bilawal Hussain – the others ejected, I saw their chutes, so I know it was just the one guy. But what about Raka? They shot him up so badly, he’d be better off dead, the poor chap.”

She raises her chin, her face mutinous.

“Raka will get better,” she says firmly. “Also, that’s bullshit logic, and you know it.”

 

Throughout my reading of the entire book, a single quote ran through my mind.

The world is run by one million evil men, ten million stupid men, and a hundred million cowards… The evil men are the power–the rich men, and the politicians, and the fanatics of religion–whose decisions rule the world, and set it on its course of greed and destruction.
There are only one million of them, the truly evil men, in the whole world. The very rich and the very powerful, whose decisions really count–they only number one million. The stupid men, who number ten million, are the soldiers and policemen who enforce the rule of the evil men. They are the standing armies of twelve key countries, and the police forces of those and twenty more. In total, there are only ten million of them with any real power or consequence. They are often brave, I’m sure, but they are stupid, too, because they give their lives for governments and causes that use their flesh and blood as mere chess pieces. Those governments always betray them or let them down or abandon them, in the long run. Nations neglect no men more shamefully than the heroes of their wars.

 

What I personally enjoyed about the book was some of those terrible puns (Kuch Bhi Carvahlo, for example). She literally made me laugh out loud at a couple of points in the book. (I’m surprised nobody ever called Ishaan Baaz Turd, though. But then again, my terrible puns are the worst kinds of terrible puns). I also loved how much time she spent describing Ishaan (delish, that boy). Physically and his cockyness. (Right up my alley, if he weren’t in the military). I’ve never gotten to read physical descriptions of guys in this much detail, while the girl’s physique was thoroughly deemphasized. (Of course she wears a bikini and guys go crazy, but we don’t know what colour her eyes are, or what she’s wearing at the moment, which almost never happens). I like how Ishaan gets confused about basic (to me) English words.

I’m not calling this the best book I’ve read this year. I’m not calling it flawless, or a literary masterpiece either. But it was a definite cheap thrill. Anuja Chauhan has definitely grown as an author, in my opinion (should I be saying shit like this? Idk. But we’ve established I’m a snob). This is much, much better than The Zoya Factor. It’s got me piqued enough to consider reading more of her. It does have a certain je ne sais quoi.

 

TLDR Definitely better than ‘turd’. If you want to read something worthwhile for fun, read it. If you want a literary masterpiece, don’t. If you like The Zoya Factor, you’ll like this too. 

  • Release Date: May 1, 2017
  • Page Count: 432
  • My Rating: 6.5/10  (I cried and laughed).
  • Average Goodreads Rating: 3.77/5