Book Review: Norwegian Wood

“No truth can cure the sorrow you feel from losing a loved one”

Sad but true!

I have never read a book like this, which is so depressing. The novel is

Norwegian Wood

Photo by writer

about young people who have to deal with vicissitudes of life. It seems that the transition into adulthood seems stressful. It talks about youngsters who fail to make transitions and life takes its toll, forcing them to end their lives.

The story revolves around three main protagonists: Toru Watanabe, Naoko and Midori.

Watanabe was the central character and flipping through the pages of the novel, you come across his emotional tale of growing up, his learning to accept responsibility for his actions and his ability to deal with loss and rejection. He lost his friend Kizuki, who committed suicide in high school. Toru, later on, went to Tokyo to pursue his studies. There he met Naoko (Kizuki’s girlfriend)

Naoko was sensitive and vulnerable, definitely influenced by the people around her. She lost both a sister and her boyfriend Kizuki  as they gave up their lives. Afterwards, she developed a romantic relationship with Toru. However, she knew she has psychological problems, and therefore checked herself into a mountain retreat.

Her letters to Toru was a depiction of sudden enthusiasm of youth, followed by capricious silences and sometimes philosophical musings.

While Toru and Naoko were having a beautiful bond, the complication arouse when Midori stepped in. Midori was the opposite of Naoko, she was outspoken and an optimistic soul. She was audacious to express her fondness for Watanabe.

Delving into Midori’s life, she had her own struggles to face. But she is not a pessimist, and therefore, she refused an easy way out to her struggles. To see her perspective about life, there is one quote which I want to share here:

“You know how they’ve got these cookie assortments, and you like some but you don’t like others? And you eat up all the ones you like, and the only ones left are the ones you don’t like so much? I always think about that when something painful comes up. ‘Now I just have to polish these off, and everything will be OK’. Life is a box of cookies.” 

Other exception was Reiko, an older woman, who became best friend of Naoko in mountain sanatorium. She was the one who gave the kernels of wisdom that Toru gets to keep after all his emotional journey in the novel.

“Death is not the opposite of life but an innate part of life”

The novel is set in Japan in the late 1960s, which were the most politically chaotic period in Japan. Like in USA and Europe, Japan witnessed its share of sexual revolution, radical socialist movements, and anti-Vietnam War protests, etc.

NorwegianThe title of the novel is inspired by The Beatles song ‘Norwegian Wood’. Murakami’s obsession with western classics and music is reflected in the countless references to Beatles numbers like “Yesterday”, “Michelle”, “Something”, Bach, Mozart, Scarlatti and literary works of Joseph Conrad, Fitzgerald, Thomas Mann, Karl Marx and so on.

The novel’s structure looks like reading someone’s personal journal. There are some moments of touching sadness, but that’s all the book is really, just moments of sadness strung together.

This is my first foray to Haruki Murakami’s world, though it is not his best work , however, Murakami’s writing is subtle and beautiful. I am sure that the other book of Murakami (Wind-up Bird Chronicle) in my reading list will be much better than this one.

I rate this novel 4/5

 

 

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Book Review: The Picture of Dorian Gray

” There is no such thing as a moral or immoral book. Books are well written or badly written.”

Last night, I finished with ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’, and I must say that the quality

dorian-gray

of this novel is nothing short but a masterful work of art.  I closed the book and start contemplating for a few hours as it was mind-boggling to sit back and penned down my thoughts.

Imagine, if you realize that every sin you commit, will leave the ugly scar on your visage, what would you do at that moment?

It begins with a simple realization, and perhaps an obvious one. But, for Dorian, it is completely life-changing. He realizes that beauty is finite. It won’t last forever. It’s like a flower, temporary and splendid. So if you’re a young man whose appearance is your singular quality, then this is some damn scary news. It is scary to even think that people are with you because you are attractive, and they are near to you only for your looks.

The novel is a reflection of life and societal ugliness. The level of cynicism and societal disregard that Wilde’s characters display towards humanity is simply staggering. It is a study of how the sins we commit cannot be hidden, even if we lie to ourselves about that.

There are three main characters: Basil Hallward, Lord Henry Wotton, and Dorian Gray. Basil Hallward is an artist who after painting a picture of Dorian Gray becomes obsessed with him because of his beauty. Dorian then meets a friend of Basil, Lord Henry, and becomes enthralled with Lord Henry’s world view. Dorian Gray, once he becomes aware his portrait will bear the scars of his corruption – thus leaving his actual appearance unstained – feels free to ignore the pious morality.

Mr. Wilde does not elaborate on what vile acts Dorian committed. One is left to their own expansive imaginations to surmise the bulk of what he had done.

With this novel, Oscar Wilde has produced one of the literature’s greatest study of shallowness, vanity, casual cruelty and selfishness.

quote-dorian-gray

There is an underlying side to Wilde’s character Dorian Gray which probably leads to his homosexuality.  This novel was published in 1891, which was the time when Wilde fell in love with Lord Alfred Douglas and started a clandestine affair. Wilde was always persecuted by others and himself for his homosexuality.  Rarely any work of fiction seems to mirror the life of an author.

Despite what this novel implies, one thing is for sure,  youth is an adventurous phase where one’s actions yield to its whims; while maturity enables a person to be introspective of their past deeds.

I would recommend this novel to all those readers who want to read a beautiful fiction with a few moral lessons, here and there, between the lines.

I rate this piece of art 5/5

Book Review: My Feudal Lord

Living in Pakistan one is well aware about feudal system. It is deeply rooted in our society feudal-lord-1which has eaten up the lives of the ordinary masses. Feudalism has brought ruins to the nation and ongoing cycle of the rich becoming richer while poor pushes down to the pits, needs to end.

Tehmina’s autobiography ‘My Feudal Lord’ depicts an invaluable insight of women caught up in the complex web of feudal system. While reading this novel, what intrigues me is the struggle she had to face which is rare for a Pakistani woman this educated and elite, especially one whose life was fairly public, to be abused to this degree.

Tehmina Durrani was brought up in a privilege milieu of Lahore society. She was the daughter of former Governor State Bank of Pakistan and former Chairman of Pakistan International Airline S.U. Durrani.

Durrani’s first husband Anees came off as a polar opposite to her lover and second husband Ghulam Mustafa Khar. Unlike Khar, Anees was gentle, honourable, and treats women with respect. When Durrani asked for a divorce, though much pained, Anees granted one without much of a fuss. From first marriage she had one daughter only.

After divorce, Durrani married to former Chief Minister and governor of Punjab, Ghulam Mustafa Khar. She was in love with him and marrying him was like a dream come true

Her first encounter with Khar’s assault left her shocked. She was violently attacked by her husband every other day. He had a charming personality which is why people adored him, oblivious to the fact that this person behaved like an animal within his four-walled house.

Tehmina endured the physical pain which Khar gave her but her world was shattered when she got to know that Khar was in clandestine relationship with some girl. She was flabbergasted to know that it was none other than her own younger sister Adila who physically seduced Khar and put her older sister’s marriage at stake.   Tehmina and Khar had four children.

Constantly lying and being physically involved with Adila, Tehmina was gradually losing her sanity and could not endure his brutality. She ended her marriage of 13 years in divorce.

Her parents ostracized her for a quite long time. They weren’t happy of her decision because they believe in the notion, once the girl is married; she should come back in a coffin to her parents’ house.

Following her divorce, Tehmina wrote autobiography on her post-marriage life with the feudal. Originally published in 1991, the book was co-authored by William and Marilyn Hoffer.

In Pakistani society, where the Muslim patriarchs dominate, the entity of women is that of inferior beings, both intellectually and socially. Her main purpose seems to be an instrument for the satisfaction of the man’s sexual desires and perpetuation of the species.

Feudal system is uprooted in Pakistan. I wish women of Pakistan would stop bearing the torture after marriage and actually start living. I wish women would stop breaking the tradition of silence.

As in the words of an author in a novel: “Silence condones injustice, breeds subservience and fosters a malignant hypocrisy. Mustafa Khar and other feudal lords thrive and multiply on silence. Muslim women must learn to raise their voice against injustice.”

feudal-lord

In between reading

When her novel came out, it instigated uproar within the country because it was one of the  first times that a woman from the elitist of the elite revealed the deep dark secrets of the feudal society and politicians. Initially the book was derided but then with the passage of time, receiving an international acclaim, the book became an instant hit amongst the readers particularly women.

Agreed that Durrani’s novel reflected the lives of feudal system in the country, and it has ruined the foundation of our country. But I do have some issues while reading this novel. Why? Simple, Durrani bashed feudal culture and then again she married to a feudal lord, the present Chief Minister of Punjab Shahbaz Sharif.

I am glad that there are women like her who do not give in to the bigotry rather she fights back and challenges injustices of the patriarchal society. However, her third marriage to the feudal lord questions her narrative of whether what she said was true or it was an exaggeration.

2016 Last Book Haul and Karachi International Book Fair

Call me a book hoarder or bibliomania! I love books.  I cannot resist the urge of buying

book-haul-december-1

books whenever I pass by any bookstore or book fair. I see books and I feel my legs have got stuck under some heavy object and I cannot move ahead.

This time, it happened when I got an opportunity to visit 12th Karachi International Book Fair (KIBF) 2016 held in the month of December. For those readers who don’t know about KIBF, the five-day book fair is an annual event, which is organized by the Pakistan Publishers Booksellers’ Association (PPBA), with an aim to provide platform for local book-lovers like me.

KIBF is one of the country’s largest book fairs, bringing many publishing and distribution houses together with domestic and international publishers, booksellers, librarians and institutional customers.

Each year many international publishers participate in this event and this year too, publishers from Iran, Turkey, Singapore, China, Malaysia, England, UAE and other countries were part of this international event.

Coming back to my book-haul, I went on the second day of the fair. As I entered Karachi Expo Center, I was pretty excited because I was going to be with my love (read: books). It was a treat to see children and adults sharing same passion for books.

I made my way to hall number three where I went straight into Liberty Books stall. I browsed through variety of books on the shelves and then I decided to take out my list (which I had been preparing for two days) to purchase only selected books. Though let me tell you, I failed to follow my list.

Before coming to book fair, I made a decision that I would purchase less than ten books. However, I believe decisions are meant to be broken (or rules are meant to be broken) whatever, I end up spending more on books in one go and left broke.

I bought 20 books in the month of December which is quite huge after combining all the months’ purchase.

So, let me present you my last book haul for this year which I am sure will keep me occupied in 2017.

  • Swing Time by Zadie Smith

I am going to read this for the first time and I have never read her before. The story is about two brown girls Tracy and Aimee who dream of becoming dancers. One has talent and the other has ideas about rhythm and time. A complicated childhood friendship ends abruptly in their twenties, never to be revisited but never quite forgotten either.

  • The Vegetarian by Han Kang

I got to know about this novel through Goodreads. A story about Yeong-hye and her husband who apparently seem ordinary people but when Yeong-hye seek a more plant-like existence, commits a shocking act of subversion; she refuses to eat meat.

  • The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen

Don’t know anything about this novel; the reason to buy this novel is its inclusion in the list of winners of Pulitzer Prize for fiction 2016. The narrator, a Vietnamese army captain explored the legacy of Vietnam War in literature, films and the wars fought today.

  • All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

First time I saw on liberty books website and that’s it, I decided to buy this one because I was in love with its cover and after reading blurb I thought to myself, need to read this one.  The story revolves around Maurie-Laure and her father who live in Paris near Museum of Natural history. When the Nazis occupy Paris, father and daughter flee to the walled citadel of Saint-Malo with museum’s most valuable and dangerous jewel.

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  • Do Not Say We have Nothing by Madeleine Thien

As soon as my eyes set on this cover which was lying on the shelf at Liberty book stall, I just picked on the spur of the moment. The novel brings to life one of the most significant political regimes of the 20th century and its traumatic legacy which still resonates for a new generation.

  • The Sellout by Paul Beatty

Winner of Man Booker Prize 2016 is the apt reason for buying this novel. According to what I have read in the blurb of this book, the narrator was raised by a single father, a controversial sociologist. His father was killed in a drive-by shooting and the son realized that there never was a memoir as claimed by his father. The son was left with a bill for a drive-through funeral of his father.

  • Thirteen Reason Why by Jay Asher

I saw its cover first on instagram which was shared by one of the bookstragrammars and therefore the book made into my list. The story is about Clay Jensen who found a strange package on his return to home. Later he discovered several cassette tapes recorded by Hannah Baker-his classmate and first love-who committed suicide two weeks earlier.

  • Finders Keepers by Stephen King

King had to be in my list without any doubt. I had in my mind to buy this title for long and finally I bought it. The novel is full of suspense where the main protagonist Morris Bellamy, a reader, consumed by his obsession for America’s author John Rothstein prepared to kill for a trove of notebooks containing at least one more unpublished novel.

  • Where Worlds Collide by David Waterman

I bought this one from Oxford University Press stall. It was just one of those moments when you read something and it captures your attention. Same happened with this book. The reason behind purchasing this book was its survey of contemporary Pakistani writers and their efforts to trace the itinerary of Pakistan in the 21st century.

  • Haruki Murakami novelsharuki.jpg
    1. Wind-up Bird Chronicle: The story unfolds the tidy suburban realities of Okada’s vague and blameless life are turned inside out and he embarks on a bizarre journey guided by a succession of characters, each with a tale to tell.
    2. Norwegian Wood: A story of one college student’s romantic coming-of-age, the novel takes readers to that distant place of a young man’s first, hopeless and heroic love.
    3. Pinball: The story is based on the writer and it’s also about rat. It’s about a quest, a brief love affair, and the three-flipper Spaceship pinball machine.
  • Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

I was introduced to Kazuo through his first novel ‘A Pale View of Hills’ which I read few days back. I found his writing fresh and he has an ability to draw interest of his readers with his writing style. The words flow like a river on the pages of his novel. Therefore I got hold of his finest work which was also shortlisted for Man Booker Prize. It is a story of love, friendship and memory, which is charged throughout with a sense of the fragility of life.

  • The Art of War by Sun Tzu

I want to read something about strategy and how the politicians and executives use this tool on every level from interpersonal to the international, with an aim to understand the physics and psychology of conflict.

  • The Upstairs Wife by Rafia Zakaria

I read its review sometimes back and it was in my mind to get hands on this one for sure. So, I was enthralled to see this book in the Liberty Book stall.  The story is an intimate exploration of disjunction between exalted dreams and complicated realities.

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  • The GoldFinch by Donna Tartt

Obviously I found this title in the Pulitzer Prize List and then next I found in the book fair. The story revolves around son who is abandoned by his father, miraculously survives a catastrophe that otherwise tears his life apart.

  • Taboo by Fouzia Saeed

The title and the cover says it all. My interest to know about the world of prostitution which is considered a taboo in our society instigated me to purchase this book.

  • Keeping faith by Jodi Picoult

I have watched ‘My Sister’s Keeper’ which was based on Picoult’s novel, a brilliant story full of emotions which is why I bought this one. In this story, the author depicts the broken family and how it affects the child’s mind?

  • David Copperfield

I bought this one because it only cost Rs. 50 and other reason is its story which is both fantasy and fact, an autobiographical fiction that stood the test of time.

  • The Fool’s Tale

Less cost so why not! No other reason to buy this one, and after all I am a book collector at the end so yes, I bought it.  The story is a historical fiction, compelling political intrigue and passionate romance to create an intimate drama of three individuals’ bound-and undone-by love and loyalty.

This year, I was no good but next year, I hope to do a lot more reading and less buying. I only hope but no promise because after all I love books…

 

Book Review: After You by Jojo Moyes

“Far easier for you to just stick with that depressing little job and complain about it. Far easier for you to sit tight and not take a risk and make out that everything that happens to you is something you could not help.”

How do you move on after losing your loved one? How one builds a life worth living when a person you loved truly leaves you in the midst?

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Photo Collage: After You

Losing someone you love is very painful and grief is a natural response to loss. On top of grief and pain, you are forced to make changes that you are not prepared to make. It becomes hard to keep your life in line. You are supposed to look forward and let go of the past. You have to move on without feeling like you are betraying the one you have lost.

I was very anxious to read the sequel after reading the first novel ‘Me Before You’. In the first book, the quadriplegic Will wish to end his own life. Louisa Clark worked as caretaker of Will. Both fell in love for each other but probably not hard enough to change his mind.

In the second novel ‘After You’; Will’s death devastated Lou and she had no idea what to do

with her life.  Lou tried to cope with her loss and how grief had consumed her? How did she tackle Will’s death?

All these questions were brewing in my mind. ‘After You’ is an answer to all my answers about Lou’s life. It’s true that we cannot forget our love but once a person dies we cannot die with that person. We have to move on for our sanity. We need to take chances because we are still alive and life is short so to speak.

The novel is all about Lou’s journey, a bumpy process of accommodation to loss and the fear of starting over. She is stuck in a bartender job which she abhors; she wallows in her apartment in London until an accident forces her to be around her family and to try to move on.

There are two new characters that change her life. Sam who works as a paramedic who disentangles her from downstairs neighbor’s canopy and Lily, the teenager who barges in her home and in her life unexpectedly, claiming to be a daughter of Will. These two characters help her emerge from the dark place she is in.

‘After You’ has taken me on yet another roller coaster ride of emotions. I don’t know how the author does it, tackling death and the void it can leave us but Moyes has created absolute gems; she has a knack for breaking your heart before restoring your faith in love. Her innate ability to describe damaged people with complex lives is just brilliant. One would fall in love with weepy bits and witty bits.

The first series is a tear-jerker where the love evokes a  sense of desolation whereas the second one helps in making peace with the past and moving on and in doing so, it reminds us that ‘Life goes on!’

As per Moyes in her own words: “That’s life. We don’t know what will happen. Which is why we have to take our chances while we can.”

Book: After You

By Jojo Moyes

ISBN 978-1-405-90907-5

Pp 406

Book Review: Me Before You

“You only get one life. It’s actually your duty to live it as fully as possible.”

me before you 3

Photo By Me

When I start reading this novel, I thought it to be another love story but I never know that it would provoke an emotional typhoon within me that is just beyond my imagination.

Me Before You is a page-turner that gives the reader one hell of an emotional ride. This book spun its magic around me and encompassed me in it. While delving into the lives of Lou and Will, I was overwhelmed with emotions; there was not one line in the whole book I didn’t love.

Reading about the six months tenure that Louisa Clark and Will Traynor spent together made me laugh and cry. I laughed on many occasions and there were times my tears would roll down my cheeks and this would continue till the end of the story.

It is a moving tale of two lives that intertwined in such a way that both Lou and Will never realized. 26-year-old Lou is a simple girl who needs a job after she was being laid off from the tea shop ‘The Buttered Bun’. Will’s mother requires a carer for her son who is suffering from quadriplegia after an accident- a condition caused by severe injury in which patient is unable to move any part of his body below his shoulders. Because of his condition, Will longs for death and wants to go to Switzerland to put an end to his misery.

Enters in Lou in the gloomy life of Will who tries to brighten up his life with her quirky nature and weird fashion. Both change each other’s lives for good. She elevates his mood and he introduces her to the finer things in life such as classical music and foreign films. She chides him to be more positive as she communicates with other quadriplegic online to learn their special needs and expectations. He encourages her to live to her potential and expand her horizons.

During her six months stay, she gets to know about Will’s motive of taking up his life. Horrified by this discovery, Lou sets out to improve his life and give him a reason to live and look forward to each day.

As an outsider probably I would not agree with Will’s decision to go for euthanasia but then

me before you

Can’t stop reading!

going through his life before his accident, would justify his motive. He was a debonair man who could sway over anyone with his smile and easygoing attitude. Unfortunately the accident took away his everything and he could not accept to be weak and dependent, bound in some wheelchair for his whole life.

Meanwhile, Louisa’s character somewhat goes beyond that of a struggling middle-class girl. She may be light and cheerful on the exterior, but inside there’s an unshakeable tinge of tragedy about her. She’s never really ventured beyond the small town she lives in. There are economic restraints, but it’s more than that. It’s a phobia of not playing safe. Louisa was sexually assaulted by a group of men in her teenage days, and in an emotional moment in the novel, she returns to the scene of the assault with Will and explains her trauma. It’s this plot line, perhaps in the novel that gives the most insight to Louisa as a character.

It was a tear-jerker read; what struck me was their love for each other. Love doesn’t destroy you rather it tries to make a better and improved version of you. Love doesn’t suffocate you, it let you fly high and let go of the fear and this is what Lou and Will did for each other! The relationship between them is told in such a wonderful way and develops through several stages, each filled with hilarity.

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Just Live!

Jojo Moyes has beautifully crafted the story which is funny, utterly engaging and blissfully romantic. The novel is also adapted for the major motion picture starring Emilia Clarke (Louisa) and Sam Claflin (Will) however,  I am kind of person who does not believe in making a movie out of an enchanting and heart-wrenching novel.

To be honest, I have not stopped thinking about this book since I put it down!!I know it will stay with me for a very long time. And I want to give warning to all those readers who want to read this book, it’s better you avoid reading in public because crying in public is apparently a weird thing to do.

I rate this novel 4.5 out of 5

Me Before You

By Jojo Moyes
Penguin Random House, UK
ISBN: 978-0-718-18118-5
481pp.

Book Review: Karachi You’re Killing Me!

“It’s Karachi. It’s where life and love come to die. It has nothing.”

saba imtiaz

Photo by Author

The above line is an excerpt of Saba Imtiaz’s novel ‘Karachi You’re Killing Me’ which showcases a different world of Karachi. I remember that this novel was published in 2014 but I didn’t get the chance to read at that time. Recently it caught my attention when it was announced that Sonakshi Sinha’s next film Noor is based on Imtiaz novel. I just thought to give it a read.

Ayesha is a 28-year-old journalist with the gift of finding herself in absurd, often mind-boggling, situations. She lives in Karachi with her father and an arrogant cat who behaves like a sibling to her. She has a snobbish boss (Kamran) and her job becomes nightmarish as she struggles to keep up with her boss’s grueling schedule and demeaning demands (it kind of reminds me Miranda Priestly in Lauren Weisberger’s Devil Wears Prada). The only surviving factor which keeps her going in her gruesome job is lots of booze, cigarettes, and of course her 3 a.m. friends (Zara and Saad), who she could look up to for everything.

From interviewing designers, freed Guantanamo detainee to reporting on gang-wars, her brief is to cover almost everything that happens in Karachi.  Being a journalist is not easy in this conflicted area. Running from pillars to post, she stumbles upon many adversities which include the gunmen, near miss from death, starlets, and elite teenagers and who’s who of Karachi.

The book had a very Moni Mohsin’s ‘The Diary of a Social Butterfly’ and Helen Fielding’s ‘Bridget Jones’s Diary ‘ feel to it, filled with humour and a protagonist who you often found ranting about a city she loved and wanted to escape at the same time. It was inked with words that Pakistanis, especially Karachiites will understand instantly and conversations that simply leapt of the page because they honestly felt so real.

I have lived a major chunk of my life in Karachi and living here is nothing but a roller coaster ride. One will see a phenomenal diversity in this city which I don’t think one can find in other city. The city with its exuberance has a tendency to embrace every wanderer and seeking soul in its arms. It gives hopes and dreams to all those seekers who traveled to this place in hope to make it big in their lives.

Despite its vivacity, the city is a difficult place to live in especially for journalists. Interesting part of Imtiaz novel was her wittiness that enables readers to stomach out the horrendous details without grimacing.

“People tend to think living amid bombs and blood is inspiring. It isn’t. It just makes me feel exhausted with the sheer pressure of either trying to shrug it off like nothing happened or having to write about it-how many new ways can one come up with to write about blood and gore? A couple odd one-liners in the book cracked me up bad. This is not a story of terrorism or a mishap faced by the city but a feisty girl’s everyday story which is a concoction of lies, deceit, love, passion, hate, friendship, misfortunes and trust.” (Excerpt from Novel) 

The downside of the novel was having no real plot and a predictable story. At maximum, it appears like Ayesha’s memoirs on display and while they are interesting, one wonders if this would be all in the book which had an interesting enough premise to lead into a much bigger show. Nevertheless one does not lose interest, the sway appeal that one expected, especially with such a powerful title, isn’t quite there.

P.S. After reading this novel, I just wonder how Sonakshi would justify with the character of this novel.I am not optimist about Sinha playing Ayesha’s character as the novel has a tongue-in-cheek humour which I doubt Sinha would be able to pull it off.. For now let’s just wait till the cat comes out of the bag ( 2017 it is!)