It is a sweet irony that I am writing this review on a day when my State of West Bengal has started strict lockdown measures to break the chain of COVID transmission. Lockdown – this is definitely one of the words that have become part of everyday lexicon post March, 2020. And it is also a divisive idea that has the society split wide open.
While scientists and the medical fraternity are vocal about complete shutdown, economists, and governments across the world have often been found not to keen to enforce a lockdown, as livelihoods of millions would be threatened because of it. However, we live in times, when one has to choose between life and livelihood.
Last year, the Government of India announced a countrywide lockdown at four hour’s notice, leaving millions of Indians – mostly migrant workers stranded. The government’s handling of COVID had been lackadaisical, whimsical and downright unplanned. The lack of foresight and forward planning among the policy-makers plagued the nation, for which we are suffering till date.
Abantika Ghosh’s book ‘Billions Under Lockdown’ throws light on India’s tryst with the pandemic. I have been zealously following her updates on Twitter, and this book gave a better insight into how the ‘backroom offices’ in the corridors of power functioned to deal with this unforeseen enemy. From the sudden lockdown to economic slowdown, the sloth reaction to the first few cases to the stage of community transmission — she has chronicled it all.
From controversies – for example, the various ‘remedies’ offered to rid India of Corona – to the confusion in scientific community regarding the use of hydroxychloroquine, struggle with flailing health infrastructure to the politics surrounding COVID, and the vaccine diplomacy – she has given a detailed perspective of the year gone by.
The book is a must-read for public policy enthusiasts, as well as policy makers, for a know-how on what not to do – and some best practices – while dealing with a pandemic.
It is always refreshing to read a thriller that grips your attention from the word go and sustain the excitement till the last word. The Shrine of Death by Divya Kumar takes us into a murky world of idol theft. The reason I chose this book is the hope of reliving the experience of ‘Kailashe Kelenkari (a story in the Feluda series by Satyajit Ray, which also deals with the theft of a priceless artefact from the Rajarajeshwari Temple, and an international smuggling racket).
Prabha Sinha, an IT professional in Chennai, is drawn into the investigation of the mysterious disappearance of her friend Sneha Pillai. I have always loved the prospect of a female investigator and this book delivered it with élan. As Prabha delves more and more into Sneha’s life, she is sucked into a maze of deceit, betrayal and illegalities. She has Jai Vadehra, who comes with his own baggage of a tragic past, to help her solve this mystery, along with DSP Gerard Ratnaraj of CID’s Idol Wing.
Since the book deals with idol theft, there are temples involved, dating back to the days of the Chola Kingdom. As a reader, I was longing to read more about the history of these times, but the author chose to stead clear of that track. After all, this book is a historical thriller, and one expects a dose or two of history, even if not a detailed thesis as one would encounter in a Dan Brown novel.
Instead, there is a subplot involving a romantic angle between Prabha and the DSP. The scenes have been written daftly, communicating the sexual attraction to the readers, without delving into eroticism. Talking about writing, the pace of the story keeps you riveted to the plot. Despite a lot of characters, the reader is allowed to keep focus on the main plot involving Sneha and the idols. While the writing is crisp, the language often borders on the casual.
India is a land of varied cultures and diverse traditions. No wonder many authors these days choose the historical/mythological fiction genre of writing. The Shrine of Death is a good first attempt by Divya Kumar. Will look forward to reading more of her works in the future.
My Rating: 3/5 stars
P.S. This review is part of the Flipkart Bloggers’ Affiliate Programme
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