Wah Taj!

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A novel by Khalid Hosseini
Book Review

My readings in the recent past have been erratic. But I try to catch anything new and happening that might rock the literary world, caries other than keeping update of Jeffrey Archer‘s releases (which, price I admit with a heavy heart, have not been really great in the past two cases Cat O Nine Tales and False Impression). Most times I am left sorely disappointed. And I end up going back to tried and tested P G Wodehouse or Agatha Christie to satiate the reading urge.

But The Kite Runner deserves all the accolades and praises it receives. It’s been quite sometime since a novel touched, moved, stimulated and inspired me the latter is a huge criterion, since I write my own stories as well. Dan Brown was one, but that was over two years ago.

Khalid Hosseini‘s The Kite Runner is to put it in one word scintillating! With his words he weaves a riveting yarn about guilt and redemption, about growing and maturing and about life and living. The story is in first person, about Amir, his yearning to get his father’s approval, his inner fears and of course, his guilt. In the winter of 1975 (after a successful kite-flying tournament)he witnesses an act against his faithful servant-cum-friend-cum confidante Hassan, which Amir could have prevented but doesn’t do so because of his own fear and cowardice. That one cold evening will shape his entire life, leading to more wrongs, revealing other secrets in his mature years and finally taking the story to its logical conclusion.

Set against the turbulent backdrop of Afghanistan, The Kite Runner charts its course keeping in mind the unrest that unleashes on the country post-seventies.

The novel is a success because of three major reasons- a) it brings alive the characters. Amir, his father Baba, his father’s friend Rahim Khan, the guileless servant Hassan and many others are people that seem to jump up from the cold words and get a warm life in your hearts and minds; b) the details are strewn in the most unassuming manner at various places, not giving away all at once, and not unnecessarily hiding it to fool the readers; and c) the twists are beautifully brought up, just when you are not expecting them, hitting you in the plexus like a sledgehammer; and despite it not being designed as a page-turning thriller it ends up being just that. Of course, it has a few contrived scenes, but then I will grant that to writer s liberty and frankly, when the whole is so beautiful, nitpicking on a few warts and moles is being damn petty. I also wish that the ending was trifle happier, though in no way can it be called tragic or failed.

It’s after aeons that a novel managed to bring a lump to my throat and moisten my eyes – nay, the tears flowed! The section where Amir and his father re-build their ravaged lives in America is one of the finest pieces of writing ever published. I had to in-between keep the book down only to absorb the overwhelming feeling that drowned me, and I kept staring at the ceiling long after, flush with countless emotions, thinking of my own father and my relation with him. I don’t know when I snuggled into sleep, but when I woke I could still feel my wet eyes. Anyone who has had even a fleetingly close bond with his/her father shouldn’t miss this novel ever. There is also a brief but charming track about Amir’s romance with Soraya in this section.

Hassan’s unflinching devotion towards Amir is the novel’s keystone, which not only sets the foundation for the story, but also is the motivator to take it forward. The relationship between the two, through their childhood years, is captured with all the innocence that those years carry. It brought back memories of Harper Lee’s masterpiece To Kill A Mockingbird. In this section, the kite is a character of its own, as one relationship disintegrates during a kite-flying tournament and another is built in the climax in yet another such tournament. Successfully, Hosseini avoids making any judgements – if Amir is weak, he is so; that’s a human folly and there is no need to make unusually moral hue and cry about it. But then, the novel actually is about how he falls and rises – more so, in his own eyes, within his own parameters and structure.

Lastly and extremely importantly I read the novel voraciously analyzing the way Hosseini has built the scenes, the manner in which he constructs the sentences, the usage of similies and metaphors and the deployment of words and grammar. It is simple, short and succinct, without using crutches of heavy words or long sentences. And I re-read some key portions to understand the machinery behind the scenes. Absolutely A-class!

Overall – Simply Don’t Miss It Ever!

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Standing on my balcony late last night, rehabilitation I looked in the darkness towards where Taj Mahal is. I wondered if it realized that millions would be watching about it’s fate in the New Seven Wonders list on their television sets (and live in Lisbon). Did it understand its own grandness? More importantly, nurse did the callous city which houses it realize it’s importance. During my stay here I have heard several derogatory comments against it (many industries had to be shifted/relocated due to the environmental pressures, leading to a lot of unrest and discomfort amongst the business community).

Unfortunately, the cable here chose to vanish and I couldn’t catch the New Seven Wonders results. Today morning as I made way to pick up the newspaper, I stopped again to look at the white marble wonder, standing dignified surrounded by rain-clouds, and I hoped that it would have made it through to the new seven wonders.

It has!

Here is the final result of the New Seven Wonders List, as announced in a glittering function in Lisbon (Portugal), attended by our very own dusky siren Bipasha Basu and Agra’s mayor.

The New Seven Wonders list has evoked several responses – from excitement to indifference to cynicism to controversies (after all it’s just a private new list, without even the official sanction on UNESCO! The Egyptians pulled out of the vote in a huff!). Then some found the ‘false patriotism’ unleashed the past few months to enable voting highly distasteful.

But in all this, my contention is simple – however stupid or silly this list be, however private it be, however useless it might turn out to be in the long run, if there is a competition that has attracted world-wide coverage, why shouldn’t our country be participating (considering we have such a rich historical and cultural lineage)? Why should we be left behind? Let there be a new found interest whipped up towards India. After all, we have all rejoiced when our women won Miss Universes and Miss World titles, so why not this time again? (And let’s not get into the utterly deplorable argument about how the cell-phone companies are actually making money out it! My one vote will only cost me Rs 6-7 or thereabout, an amount which we wouldn’t think twice in spending otherwise, especially while downloading those sickening ring-tones and dialer-tones!)

The Taj Mahal itself stirs up varied reaction. The romantics view it as an ultimate tribute of love. The skeptics see it as a monumental waste of money. Add to this the various contradictory stories and doubts floating around it’s origin – from the popular view to this one recounting that it was originally a Hindu Shiva Temple!

Our films, forever the keen reflection of society, have captured it probably the most effectively in two of its most enduring numbers. On one hand we have Lata Mangeshkar and Mohd. Rafi exhorting its virtues when they claim Ek shahenshah ne banwake haseen Taj Mahal saari duniya ko mohabbat kii nishaanii dii hai (penned by Shakeel Badayuni for the movie Leader and composed by Naushad). On the other extreme, perhaps in the same year (1964) Mohd. Rafi sniggers at the monument urging his beloved that Meri mehboob kahiin aur mila kar mujhse, since (as he says in a wonderfully fiery climax of the number) Ek shahenshah ne daulat ka sahara lekar hum garibon ka udaya hai mazaak (written by Sahir Ludhianvi for the film Ghazal and tuned by the ever-dependable Madan Mohan) (Incidentally, the song is amazingly tuned and Rafisaab adds extraordinary life to it). Two sides of the same coin! Take your pick…

Earlier, I had many misgivings about Taj Mahal. I had always wondered what is it about a building of white marble, which doesn’t hold anything of importance to the common man inside it, that it could evoke so much passion for four centuries and more! But the moment I stepped into its compound and beheld it with my own eye, all other thoughts vanished and my heart literally skipped a beat. For one, it is much larger than we imagine and the various photographs don’t do full justice to it. And second, the sheer symmetry and elegance (despite it’s size) is actually to be seen to be believed. (And it’s not about the marble only; for that I would request everyone to also see Jai Gurudev Ashram en route to Agra, at Mathura, on the National Highway No. 2 to realise how plastering marble and having domes doesn’t make a Taj Mahal!!!)

Whatever be the misgivings, the doubts or the skepticism, Taj Mahal has won. And there is a surging pride in me as I again stand by my window viewing its handsome dome looking proudly up towards the darkening skies (the rains are ready to pour, probably to rejoice in the celebration).

If only now, the Mayor on her return to Agra, would clean up the city and make it living worthwhile. If nothing else, at least she can ensure a cleaner and wider approach to the monument (and certainly not have generators spewing out venomous fumes in the curio shops just outside the gates, while the entire city’s business has been penalized for this very purpose!)

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18 Responses to “Wah Taj!”

  1. kaush says:

    me first! amen to everything you said! I did see the final moments when Taj was being awarded! I am glad for the international attention it will get, but the people of Agra also need to realize their role in this world heritage site.

    Its just a list, but its popular. The places that didnt win, will look down upon it. I knew the Taj was going to make it anyway! so yay!

  2. kaush says:

    I don’t remember the Taj at all. I have a picture with it but I was too little! Sheesh I so want to visit!

  3. Kaushi – Hey , this was superfast. And here’s the Superfast Gold to you 😀

    Yes, that’s what I believed. It is popular worldwide, so why shouldn’t Taj win in it!

    Oh you must visit it… I tell you, i was like so skeptical, and the moment i saw it , sab udd gaya! You really can’t take your eyes off it…

  4. kaush says:

    thats what I hear…and btw you meant ke photographs *dont* do justice instead of do right? I have seen some closeup pristine pictures and from what I get it is even more prettier than it looks in photos!

  5. Kaushi – Yep, thanx for the correction 😀

  6. kaush says:

    gtalk ya yahoo pe ho?

  7. Apoorva says:

    This is so funny. I think I am starting to mind-read you Deepak.

    Its almost mid-night and am back home a lil early from a bar-crawl. And I logged on to read that Taj was included in the 7 wonders and the first thing which came to my mind was, “I shudnt be surprised if Deepak has a post saying Wah Taj!” And then I check my google reader and what do I see =)

    You should be proud of me. Now write a post saying – “Wah Apoo!” 😛

  8. Apoorva – Reading my mind? Umm err, that’s dangerous, no? LOL… And sure, Wah Apoooooo!

  9. gaurav says:

    I guess i was one of the first one to read this news on IBNlive and times of India..and yes…i voted 3 days back!!
    Although i stay like 120 Kms from Taj Mahal, i got achance to see it only one,in 6th standard…Believe me, its still afresh in my memory!

  10. priyangini says:

    Hi, congrats to the Taj. It will be good for tourism hopefully. I was watching the news and it pissed me off though to hear Bipasha pronouncing “Mahal”, the wrong way.

  11. Anz says:

    I voted as well…and guess what was up to see the ceremony live….Bipasha Basu reading the name with her co-hosts. It is indeed worthy of pride. Never been to Agra to see The Taj…many a trips planned and many a trips canceled. Hopefully the next one i plan isn’t.

  12. Pratik says:

    I think with Taj making it to the list, the tourism would be on uprise. But 7 wonders campaign was more of commercial in nature, hence I abstained from participating in it.

  13. Manish says:

    It pissed me off too Bipasha 🙂 Oddily, I also belong to school of that which believes whol Taj issue was monkey business 🙂

    For Agraites, its like Ghari Ki Murgi Dal Barabar, though I agree they should be fiercely possesive and proud about it.

  14. Gagan says:


    Congrats for the victory for the Taj Mahal. You are now more a ‘resident’ than me. Couple of things that I would like to add, which everyone may not find amusing. The poll for the N7W was a brain child of some character called Weber and he made a cool buck out of this ‘unofficial’ story.

    Bipasha made headline more due to her presence at the ceremony and a subsequent kisss to some dude then anything else of value.

    The Mayor of Agra whose only travel to date would have been to Mathura went to Lisbon. Having been born and brought up in Agra would like to add that the city remains filthy,with no infrastructure , power cuts that seem unending. The world is milking the poor Taj Mahal for all its worth.

    Having seen the Taj practically everyday for 22 years, the yellow color due to pollution is a painful reminder of what it has suffered. The drain called the Yamuna, once a river, cries for help and so does the Taj

  15. Gaurav – You must see it again…and yeah, tumhe toh iss baar bhi mauqa diya tha, bhai, tum aa hi nahi paaye 😉

    Pri – LOL @ Bipasha. I wasn’t really expecting anything better from her 😛

    Anz – Well , if you have to, make that fast to use the services of DJ Guide 😛

    Pratik – I hope so. And what is not commercial in these days?

    Manish – Yaar, daal barabar toh theek hai, par uss daal mein ek achcha sa tadka toh daal dein yeh log! 🙂

    Gagan – Ha ha … yeah. Oh yes, Weber made money. So do Airtel/Hutch and sundry others if you see the amount of ring tones/dialer tones swishing the air space. At least in this kahiin na kahiin India ka naam bhi juda tha. So it’s ok IMO.

    LOL@Bips – I wish i could see her ‘act’. Pity she didn’t break into ‘Beedi jalai le’ and scorched the Portugese there 😛

    ROFL @ Mayor of Agra – he he

    the city remains filthy,with no infrastructure , power cuts that seem unending. The world is milking the poor Taj Mahal for all its worth.

    Couldn’t agree more with this! Cent percent correct!

  16. Anz says:

    LOL DJ guide….cant rely on that can i? 😛

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