……………………………voiceovers from life.

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The female of the species is deadlier than the male.

-Rudyard Kipling

Not dark, a bit gritty and evoking interest without getting judgmental……….. Mafia Queens is a book that strikes a perfect balance between fiction and non-fiction in the art of storytelling.

Why I read the book

This is quite a story. One fine day in 2002, I stumbled on a promo of Black Friday featuring Kay Kay Menon in the Indian Ocean song ‘Bandeh’. Two of my most favorite artists brought together by an eccentric film-maker Anurag Kashyap. I faintly remember trying to get all the information about the movie which was quite a task as Internet was not the phenomenon it is now. I got to know that it is based on the novel Black Friday by a veteran crime journalist S.Hussain Zaidi. Days went by and the movie never came. My dreams of seeing the Kay Kay movie seemed blurred but then out of the blue I got to see it in my engineering days when a heavily edited version was allowed to release. On seeing it, I realized the caution behind allowing its release.

The movie set the ground for my curiosity in the field of using crime reporting as a base for a novel. I wondered how Mr. Zaidi could go story hunting and then name dropping so fearlessly. And then in June this year, one of my reader friends went on raving about the book Mafia Queens. I decided to give reading it a shot although I was pretty skeptical about the treatment of the subject from the title. Just as the title Black Friday made a strong statement condemning the happening and labelling the fateful day as a ‘Black’ page in history, Mafia Queens was a title which seemed to unnecessarily glorify and romanticize the crimes and its femme fatale perpetrators.

When I feel that I disagree with something, I go deep into the matter and then form a definite opinion if any. When Blogadda put up the book for review, I did not miss the chance and signed up immediately.

Why you should read the book

There are many big names associated with the book. It boasts of an elegant following with the prologue written by Vishal Bharadwaj & Vikram Chandra being associated with the discovery phase and the actual drafting of the book. Mr.Zaidi weaves his stories with the utmost sincerity, dropping the names of the who’s who of the Mumbai underworld wherever necessary. The sources are very authentic with some stories like Sapna Didi’s coming straight from the horse’s mouth.

But this is not the reason why you should pick up the book. The above points are just an icing on the cake. If robbed of its starry accolades and relevance to the sensational details pertaining to the Mumbai underworld, it still makes an intriguing read for the audience panning not only India but the world at large. Jane Borges is a surprise package personifying the spunky and young reporter circle in the present day Indian media. I am secretly jealous of her getting to experience and write a work of such calibre at such a young age. The combination of Mr.Zaidi’s experience and Jane’s fresh approach makes Mafia Queen a delightful read.

The story

The book is a collection of short stories from the era when the Mumbai underworld was at the peak of its ill-famed glory. It starts with a reference to Haji Mastan, the oldest recognized Don by the media, film-makers and people alike & ends at the present day gangsters who are a very subdued version of the ganglords who once ruled the crime scene of Mumbai. The interesting part is, they are all side characters to the actual stories which center on their female counterparts. There are 13 stories featuring each of the ‘Queens’ some from different time frames, some overlapping each other’s tenure but showing a common streak of each wanting to be a survivor. They do not want to play the victims of fate even though pushed into taking resource to criminal activities. They all show a common zeal to live life to the fullest, I could almost see a spark in their eyes as I read through the amazingly balanced accounts.

Characters

Like I said, the characters though have a common underworld background, show a remarkable variety when it comes to cunning, wit, modus operandi and appearance. Suprisingly characters like Monica Bedi, Tarannum, had no direct connection to actual crimes.The best narrated stories are that of Jenabai(gangster turned freedom fighter), Gangubai(the matriarch of Kamathipura), Sapna Didi(a hapless victim transformed into a femme fatale) and Monica Bedi(a naive girl caught into criminal quagmire by her own foolishness).

*Spoilers ahead*

Most of the stories draw their plot from facts published in the media and insider info from relatives, informers etc. Most of the readers must have come across them in front page & page 3 news. I liked Jenabai’s cunning and philanthropic traits. I did not find her turning to bootlegging justified at all. Whereas I found Gangubai’s decision of staying back at Kamathipura totally justified. As they say, somebody has to get their hands dirty in order to clean the backyard. She saw to it that the women from Kamathipura are not exploited or maligned by the so called guardians of morality in the society. I found her outspokenness very spunky be it the conversation with Karim Lala or when she asked Jawaharlal Nehru to marry her. Monica Bedi’s story is worthy of a cinematic adaptation.

*Okay spoilers over 🙂 *

Writing style

One can easily identify the reporter base to the author as each story is narrated with perfect precision and literary aloofness. He has managed to keep his thoughts from mingling in the story, at the same time; evoking a sense of mystical feel to the otherwise drab media articles which state only facts. True stories are very difficult to document as they involve a lot of big names and connections who do not wish to be named. The authors have managed to do so and in turn maintained the credibility of each story. This is by far the best true story accounts I have read after Alive.

me likey……..me dislikey 🙂

I liked both the authors’ courage in sticking to the facts. I liked the way they have shown restraint from sensationalization and exercised due discretion in giving the accounts which concern the personal life of the characters. They could have resorted to ruthless romanticization of the stories in order to catch reader attention by creating controversy. According to me, the book could have been wrapped up with fewer accounts as the stories after Monica Bedi’s seem hurried up and without details.

In a nutshell!!!!!!!!!!

Overall verdict, this book is for film-makers, writers who wish to depict true accounts pertaining to news that have rocked the media for a very long time. The avid reader would like to check out this latest offering from Mr.Zaidi and Jane to enjoy an interesting tour of the dark underbelly of Mumbai.

This review is a part of the Book Reviews Program at BlogAdda.com. Participate now to get free books!

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Hey guys, I am back after a long hiatus. Was caught up in office work.
All credit to Blogadda’s Book Review program which ensured that I post within a week of getting the book.

Why I read the book

I had first heard of Ashwin Sanghi in an article which quoted that the 26/11 Mumbai attacks were eerily similar to the description in Rozabal Line. Also, comparisons to Dan Brown drew my attention to Mr. Sanghi’s work, as I am a sucker for rational interpretation of religious symbolism and rituals. After Rozabal Line, Minissha Lamba’s tweet mentioning Chanakya’s Chant as a good read came along. I am always on the lookout for fast paced political thrillers and here was the one that fitted the bill to a perfect T. I picked it up at the first opportunity I got and battled through my jam packed office routine to finish it within time. (Chanakya niti did help me there 😉 )

Why you should read the book

The story catches the reader’s attention right from the prologue where old Pandit Gangasagar refuses to die before seeing his protegee ascend the ultimate throne in the democratic hierarchy of India.(Yep President as a head of the state is a misnomer) The narration oscillates between 2 eras drawing parallels with the tale of Chanakya in ancient Magadh and Pandit Gangasagar. The resemblance between both is uncanny and keeps the reader turning the pages till the end.

The story

The plot is mainly character driven, with the storyline highlighting events in their lives. A Brahmin called Gangasagar stumbles on an ancient scripture holding the secret to Chanakya’s power while learning wily business tricks from his mentor Agrawalji. Soon the mentee becomes the mentor as Gangasagar shifts his focus from business to politics. He ingeniously creates a party with the help of a local don and a slum-child – and manipulates them both like a master puppeteer,eventually changing the canvass of Indian politics as Chanakya did for independent and cohesive Bharat.

Characters

The character etching is so efficient that it almost seems as if Chanakya is reincarnated in the form of Gangasagar in the 20th century.He believes that even to do good through politics, one has to employ dirty methods. His strategy consists of bribing, intimidating, assassinating his opponents without letting on a whiff as to who the perpetrator is. Chandini does justice to a rags to riches heroine, the core of Chanakya’s mystical chant.She is a smug confident lady fully aware of her greater role in Indian politics when she is sent to study in a foreign university. The supporting characters also have parallels in both the tracks and are believably grey in their mindsets.

Writing style

The author’s writing style is short and crisp. Amazingly that does not compromise with the fluidity of the story – almost as if you are reading a film script. The anecdotal narration style (although some are common knowledge in Indian masses) makes the reader feel as if he is a disciple attending Chanakya’s classes at Takshila.Dialogues dominate the feel of the book. I am thinking of making a compilation of the awesome one-liners by Chanakya and Gangasagar 🙂

me likey……..me dislikey 🙂

What I liked is the seamless merging of the two eras, I still don’t know which one I found more riveting. The landscapes of Kanpur and Magadh are sketched so life-like replete with the aromas dominating the paan shops, halwai dukaans and zhopadpattis! What I did not like is the romaticisation of Chandini’s life – somehow we always expect famous politicos to have an explosive background story – and yes, she is true to that stereotype. I guess it was essential to the plot 🙂

In a nutshell!!!!!!!!!!

Overall verdict, please pick it up anytime – if you are looking for a fast paced thriller, an out of the box Indian fiction,better perspective on Chanakya. You can even pick it up as a study in better business strategy, what people call ‘kootneeti’ while the genius called it ‘Chanakyaneeti’….doesn’t have to be bad always! 😀 Happy reading folks!

This review is a part of the Book Reviews Program at BlogAdda.com. Participate now to get free books!



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