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Mayo, Zorro and Bollywood

August 12, 2005

We recommend four books you must check out this weekend.

Tin Fish by Sudeep Chakravarti (Rs 250)

This fine coming-of-age novel is set in the mid-1970s in Mayo College, Ajmer, where four young boys learn about the very particular ethos of boarding-school life while simultaneously coping with an increasingly confused outside world (this being the era of the Emergency).

The principals are the narrator, Barun Ray, nicknamed Brandy on his first day in school, and his three closest friends: P T Shoe, the son of a Rajput princeling; Porridge, with whom Brandy plans to write a musical that the Rolling Stones will (hopefully) perform in; and the moody Fish, whose relationship with his domineering father leads the story towards its tragic climax.

This is slice of life at its most engaging: the narrative moves unselfconsciously from one episode to the next, without stopping to get preachy along the way (given the flow of this book, it's appropriate that there are no chapter divisions).

A couple of the characters aren't as fleshed out as they could have been, but that's a minor quibble. The writing is fluid -- easy to read and full of the kind of slang ('cat', 'king') that will awaken nostalgia in anyone who grew up in a similar environment in the 1970s.

Highly recommended if you're from that generation, but even more so if you don't know who Katy Mirza is or if you've never known a world without cellphones, cable TV and instant access to parents.

Bollywood Uncensored: What You Don't See On Screen And Why by Derek Bose (Rs 195)

An informative, comprehensive -- if sometimes gratuitous -- study, Bollywood Uncensored discusses the ambiguities and paradoxes surrounding censorship in the Indian film industry.

Bose discusses the chequered, often random, history of censorship in India and the inconsistencies in interpreting guidelines, traces cause and effect, and supplies some amusing anecdotes (along with a number of interesting photographs).

The writing is often uneven and there really isn't a conclusion worth the name, but writing on this very important subject is always welcome.

Zorro: The Novel by Isabel Allende (translated by Margaret Sayers Peden))

You've seen the films, flipped through the comics, maybe even read one of the books. Now Isabel Allende, the renowned Chilean writer, comes out with a new version of the Zorro legend.

If you know nothing of Zorro beyond Antonio Banderas, this is the story of Diego de la Vega, the son of an aristocratic Spanish military man-turned-landowner.

As a youngster, Diego witnesses the brutal injustice dealt Native Americans by European settlers and soon after joins a secret underground resistance movement devoted to helping the powerless and the poor. A hero is born and a legend begins.

The Saratchandra Omnibus (Volume 1) (Rs 595)

This collector's edition of Saratchandra Chattopadhyay's works in English translation brings together the great novelist's most renowned books.

This first volume features Srikanta, Devdas, Parineeta, Palli Samaj and Nishkriti -- all everyday stories, told in a simple yet gripping style, with strong characters, meticulous plotting and brilliant depictions of life in turn-of-the-century Bengal.

And if that isn't exciting enough, you can always compare Devdas and Parineeta to the opulent film versions.

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