Paperback Pickings

Soulmates and primates

By The Telegraph Online
  • Published 23.05.08

Soulmates and primates

Brida (HarperCollins, Rs 295) by Paulo Coelho has nothing new to offer, even to diehard fans of Coelho. It is strange that Coelho, the ‘reluctant messiah’ of our age, always comes upon beautiful, lost and lonely women who are searching for the “eternal wisdom”. They lead tortured lives, have wiccas and magis for their friends, wax and wane with the moon and dance to the music of the spheres when fancy takes them. Last time it was the ravishing Athena, the “witch of Portobello”, and this time we have Brida, the stunning Irish girl, who has to brave “failure, disappointment, disillusion” to find her “Soulmate”. She hails the Virgin Mary, wanders in deep, dark woods and then the Light shines upon her suddenly. There is laughter and rejoicing, and the world is made whole again. The “moving tale of love, passion, mystery and spirituality” is so hackneyed in its blessed sweetness that one is best advised to avoid reading it.

Are you Ready For Love, Tomoko? : The Story of a Cambodian Gibbon (Frog, Rs 195) by Meenakshi Negi Dufault makes the disturbing assertion in its authorial introduction that a “simplified and illustrated version” of the book would be released in Cambodia. It leaves one wondering how a novella written with such a blasé disregard for original thought and the readers’ patience might be simplified beyond its already banal state of being. This is the story of a ‘real-life gibbon’, Tomoko, and chronicles the animal’s life, from her (uncomfortably graphic) birth to the incident of her being captured at infancy from a forest in Cambodia, and finally her rescue and ultimate death. Tomoko is given a childish narrative in the first bit. The second half is the author’s own gushing eulogy for an animal who was undoubtedly dear to her and whom she was well-justified to miss and mourn for. If only she had kept her grief personal, and spared an unsuspecting readership her stilted prose.

Koran, Kalashnikov and Laptop: The Neo-Taliban Insurgency in Afghanistan (Foundation, Rs 395) by Antonio Giustozzi analyses the return of taliban after their overthrow in 2002. The author emphasizes that the new insurgents were less orthodox, more open to the use of technology developed in the West. Giustozzi assesses the crises of the Afghan State by investigating the beginning of the Pakistan-abetted neo-taliban insurgency and the effects of Nato’s fumbling counter-insurgency intervention. The author’s research is meticulous and documents in articulate detail the breakdown of post-Allied-invasion Afghanistan into pockets of power, led by competing sets of religious fundamentalists, military commanders and traditional political leaders.

Narmada: River of Beauty (Penguin, Rs 250) by Amrit Lal Vegad has got nothing to do with the anti-dam movement, at least not in any obvious way. The author undertook the journey along the length of the Narmada, from Jabalpur to Mandla, because — to rephrase George Mallory — it is there and because it is so beautiful. While sketching on the banks of the river early one morning and reflecting on the blemishes of the yet-to-set-moon, Vegad saw an emaciated woman come to bathe. After bathing, she picked up her sari, but it was so tattered that she barely managed to cover herself. Vegad felt ashamed and could not sketch any more that day. There are many such accounts, poignant and funny, which make the arduous journey worthwhile. The sketches from the parikrama are the treasures of the book, bearing the unmistakable stamp of the Santiniketan school.