Raakshas-India’s No. 1 Serial Killer – Piyush Jha

When you read the life story of the serial killer, you begin to think: No wonder he turned into one. He was dealt a tough hand by everyone he knew! And when you think about Maithili, you think, how did someone like her become so righteous? No guilt associated? The story is, in a gist, is something we might have seen portrayed multiple times on screen in different languages, but it is so freshly put that the book turns out to be quite the thriller. The book reminds one eerily of the movie, Gangaajal, though, here, there’s the reasoning behind the bad man’s actions listed out in detail, too.

Maithili’s story, on the other hand, begins as one with reason behind her becoming a police officer and soon, tumbles into a resume of her accomplishments. As well it should, laying a foundation and letting the readers into the depths of her character. Her ghosts, though, do not let loose as easily, and she tries with a shaking bravado, to ignore them for the moment and focus on the case she is handling.

The reason the investigator becomes the pursued might be on throwaway remark, but as you think back about it, you realize the impact that remark might have had on the fragile ego of the serial killer. One thought does creep into your mind: Oooh! She shouldn’t have said that!

And now the game begins in full flow, if it wasn’t already.

Every step the killer takes is a direct assault on the senses not only of the person who managed to scratch at his ego, but also of the city, that begins to wilt under fear and an emotional pressure that drives one to be safe.

Cold and spine-chilling, Raakshas manages to induce a fear that any hapless victim would feel. Before you begin to feel sorry for either the victim or the killer, you cringe in disgust at what goes on in their heads. Piyush Jha portrays every negative emotion admirably – disgust, self-doubt, overconfidence, dwindling self-worth! He brings in the pursuit so smoothly; you blink twice before you realize that yes, it’s going to get murkier from here.

Further, Jha plays on the human tendency to think highly of oneself and in those lines, he makes you want to shout out; makes you want to shake the character and tell them not to be so self-absorbed. But this swings hard both ways – and you find yourself falling into the depths of further intrigue. He conveys everything a character is, and what a character is feeling, using minimum dialogues and maximum description. And he does it with such panache that you begin to want more!

Piyush Jha also speaks about the stigma associated with mental illness, especially in India, and strives to explain why serial killers are what they are. Listing out little known serial killers who once walked the country, he gets his point across fairly well.

All in all, a book that achieves what it sets out to do, eerily engaging and will push you to be careful about who you bond with next!

Rating: 4/5

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Nari – Sharath Komarraju

Nari came out before the Hastinapur series, but I’m reading it now, well after I have read The Rise of Hastinapur and appreciated how adept Sharath Komarraju is at putting word after word and weaving a story with panache. From Nari to his latest book, Sharath Komarraju has evolved in his writing tremendously.

Nari is well-written, but it has a sense of disconnect between some of the scenes being portrayed, and there is too much mention of sexual escapades in it, to my liking (hence the 4 stars. Would have been 5 otherwise). As I started the book, I thought that maybe books like these need the explicitness to spread awareness, and by the end of the book, I was convinced. The book gives out, in no unclear terms, the long standing and ignored fact that men can be victims of rape as much as women. We need to take it seriously that not all men are hounds and not all women are angels.

Nari has some hard-hitting revelations in the first few pages. You begin to hate the character but as the story unfolds and facts are revealed, you begin to second-guess your earlier opinions. It very plainly puts forward the fact that when one is used to being mistreated, it shows how they get used to being thrown around, and how it becomes a part of their life. You start feeling sorry for them, and also maybe condone some of their actions.

In the midst of all this, Sharath Komarraju has woven the story so well, filled the characters so well, that about 60 pages into the story, and you’ll find yourself not trusting any character’s actions/reactions. You find yourself searching for a backstory to their different shades.

The best part of the book, according to me, is how every character is unpredictable in whatever he/she does. And it all comes back to the same thing: You do not know how to feel towards a character; any character. It’s like you have a love-hate relationship with every one of them. The moment you expect one of them to do something, they change course and do something completely unexpected. And that’s what brings the thrill – What happens next? What will he do? Will she stand up to him? Will he escape her? Just tell me more!

Komarraju has the ability to incite disgust in a reader’s heart at the repulsive actions of a character. It is a measure of how much you begin to sympathize or empathize with one that you start praying for the other to just keel over and drop dead.

“Once a person becomes an intimate part of your life, I don’t think it is possible to ever let them go. They leave a part of themselves with you for safekeeping. I think, even those you think you hate – or especially the ones you hate.”

It is parts of the book like this that make you smile in understanding. You know exactly what the author is trying to say. And for me, those are points in the book when I realize that despite what I don’t like about it, I do like it after all. Unpredictable, just like the characters in the book!

Halfway through the second half of the book, I realized how the author has cleverly woven two different points of view and builds the suspense in the mind of the reader: Who is telling the truth? It was then that I slapped my head in slowly spreading understanding.

Nari reminds us that there can be multiple points of view towards anything in the world. It shows two testimonies, each most likely to happen in some context or the other in the world. But it touches on sensitive topics and the insensitive statements that so many so-called learned men have made about women being raped across the country and how it is woman’s tendency to dress provocatively invites men to commit such crimes.

The disturbing thing about the portrayal is that a mother-child relationship is abused by the people involved. How can rape follow a realization of someone being one’s mother, or someone being one’s son?

All in all, Nari is a thought-provoking story that has been molded into two different stories, each involving the same protagonists. It is a little too explicit in mentioning rape, for my liking. But in this age, like the author puts it, maybe it is for the good to be out in the open, because we need to understand the why and the how, rather than merely condemning it outright.

Rating: 4/5

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The Bestseller She Wrote – Ravi Subramanian

I am a writer myself, so I know how difficult it is to weave stories. And I respect Ravi Subramanian for it. The Bestseller She Wrote is gripping, fast-paced, and brilliantly woven. It was easy to read; so easy that I finished reading it in a few hours.

The story befits a proper masala film, replete with characters turning shades at the drop of a hat, drama unfolding page by page, and your worst fears about what will transpire, coming true, leading you to stand before a vast library of expletives, trying to decide which one to choose. Because that is the kind of heart-racing story that it develops into. And now, it is a soon-to-be motion picture. Well. That was quick!

The Bestseller She Wrote delves into the life of a hotshot banker-cum-author, eerily similar in character to Chetan Bhagat, (I had half a mind to put the book down because the comparison just wouldn’t go away, but I’m glad I didn’t) and Shreya Kaushik, an ambitious MBA student who can do anything to get what she wants.

Aditya Kapoor is rich and successful, in every sense of the word. He has a beautiful family, a family to die for. And one encounter precariously places him at the threshold of losing all of that. The story follows his dalliance with a woman much younger than him, who is trying to find a foothold as a writer. They fall head over heels in love, and there comes a time when he stands to lose everything. While he is frantically trying to keep his two lives apart, she has only ambition in her view of the world. She will do anything to get to her destination. On the other hand, the more he tries to make things right, the more he gets pulled into the quagmire.

Ravi Subramanian weaves a story of love and deceit, and a tale of frenetic attempts to find forgiveness. He does it so expertly that you can feel the pulse of your heartbeat racing to keep up.

The Bestseller She Wrote is a page-turner, and as a reader, I expected something to jump out at me from every page. I was prepared to stomach it. But it is the mark of a brilliant storyteller to show how even the best of preparations can be brought to their knees by mere words. The redemption brought to me a fierce sense of vindication that I never thought it would.

Of course, as a reader, I have one complaint. I found some places to be raw, that gave the book a rough cut. It could have been rounded off better, used better sentence formations, perhaps, to get the word across.

Yet, it does not take away the charm and the well-written sketches of the characters, so identifiable and close to reality. Something that defines a good book of this genre.

And The Bestseller She Wrote is exactly that!

Rating: 3/5

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The Rise of Hastinapur – Sharath Komarraju

Elegantly woven, The Rise of Hastinapur is a worthy successor to the equally engaging The Winds of Hastinapur. Throwing light on the importance of women’s presence in the time of the Mahabharata, The Rise of Hastinapur brilliantly captures the lives of Amba, Kunti and Gandhari, giving you a comprehensive view of the characters of the great epic.

To be frank, I had minimal knowledge about the Mahabharata before I read these two books and I’m not proud of it. The fact that a person who is not well-versed in the Epic, such as me, can now write down the characters’ names and draw family trees with panache, reflects highly on the author’s ability to skillfully penetrate any reader’s mind.

In The Rise of Hastinapur, Sharath Komarraju brilliantly portrays the early signs of women empowerment, egged on by eminent sages like High Sage Parashurama who tells Amba: A priestess is slave to no man. In addition to the obvious delight that the book provides to us women, telling us in no uncertain ways that we shaped the past, we shape the present and we will shape the future, Sharath Komarraju has also crafted sections that have detailed and impressive descriptions of weaponry and tactics to cutthroat precision. For example, the fight between Parashurama and Bhishma.

In a book full of brilliant allusions, the only niggling worry is the confusion between who the author is trying to refer to. In dialogues of Kunti’s story that say “your king”, we get lost trying to understand if the king is of Shurasena or of Kunti. Also, certain doubts arise when referring to some characters like, “Is the person a he or a she?” For example, Agnayi. In some places, the author refers to Agnayi as “waved HIM away” and in some places, Agnayi is referred to as “a pink silk bundle in HER arms”. It might be that I am missing what the author is trying to say in less than obvious terms, but that’s what I thought.

We hear of women who crave for careers and to build their own legacy; those who do not think of marriage. But in this age, we forget that women who want the opposite, exist too. Women like Gandhari, so exquisitely put forth by the author, who had to take up the throne at a young age, but yearn for someone by their side; yearn for marriage. It’s amazing how subtly Komarraju has woven the wants and needs of Gandhari. You don’t realize all this until you are well into her story but when you do, you want to hit yourself because it has been glaring you in the face all along!

The book has an eerie ability to sway your loyalties. It is not strange for you to sympathize with the enemy or loathe a character you knew of thought was good, when you see their behaviors varying with time. You get a sense of strong vindication when you see the object of your sympathies rising.

All in all, The Rise of Hastinapur is a literary gem! Sharath Komarraju expertly weaves storylines together at a steady and gripping pace to end the story/stories. In the end, the brilliant narrative leaves you asking for more!

Rating: 5/5

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