Friday, 30 May 2014

Book Review : Starcursed by Nandini Bajpai review by Sanchit Bhandari

In the ancient city of Ujjayani, the planets align to decide the fate of two starcursed lovers. Born under the curse of Mars, brilliant and beautiful Leelavati, daughter of the famed astronomer Bhaskarya Acharya of Ujjayani, knows she can never wed. But when her childhood playmate, the handsome and rich Rahul Nagarseth, returns from sea, their attraction is rekindled under stormy monsoon skies. As Leela, forced by fate to relinquish Rahul, tries to find solace in teaching at her fathers observatory, a fleeting alignment of the stars is discovered that can help overcome her curse. But Rahul is called away on a war to defend his kingdom. Can he return in time or will she lose him forever to the will of the planets? Set in turbulent twelfth century India, against the backdrop of the savage wars waged by Muhammad of Ghor and his band of Turkis, Starcursed is a sweeping tale of science, romance and adventure that will transport its readers to another world.

My Review

Short Review
Starcursed is a Star shining bright to capture your imagination and sail you through to the mystical twelfth century India.
“Why was I surprised? I may be unmarriageable, but he, clearly, was not. I looked away. Dimly I could hear murmurs of congratulations. Where was the door ? I had to leave, to escape. I concentrated on moving my feet. Walk, just walk, I urged them.”

Full Review
To begin with I would like to mention that I am not a proponent of Historical fiction, for the simple reason, I believe that history should be built up of rock solid facts rather than fragments of fiction to capture the imagination of readers and cloud the original facts . But I will play Devil’s Advocate to Nandini Bajpai. Though it’s a long way before her name is taken with Rosemary Sutcliff but her mettle in writing historical novel is sure to be watched out for.
“It was a Day of Sun and Shadow. That rarest of Monsoon days when sunshine could suddenly streak through the mass of dark clouds to dance on the hills and river below. A day for surprises. I told myself I was ready for them”
Starcursed is a frictional recreation of the story of Leelavati. Her life was guided by the stars. Her birth chart claimed that anyone who would marry her would die and hence she was deemed to be a maiden all her life. Her Father Bhaskara Acharya the great Mathematician and Astrologer calculated an auspicious moment when the curse of the stars would not have an effect. He created a special oil and water clock to calculate the exact moment, but it failed due to some reasons and the moment passed away.
“Are we pawns in the hands of fate or can we rise above it?”
In Leelavati, Nandini has created a witty, learned, intelligent, brave female lead but to balance it out she is clumsy, at times a crackpot, though she can face the world she is afraid to face her love for the fear of the fate that awaits. Most importantly she is a character true at heart. Rahul is fictionalized in the most perfect way possible. Nandini has woven an intelligent Scholar, a wealthy trader, a brave warrior into a romantic person, add to it the nobility he has inherited from his Chinese and Jain descent.
“The clouds have gathered, my love
Thunder shakes, Lightning falls
I wait all night by the window
Listening for your silent flute

The moon is hiding, lost and moody
Rain weeps softly into the streets
On the pathways you walked
The clouds have gathered, my love”
Other characters including Sethani and Bhaskara Acharya are well portrayed and I was able to connect to each one of them in a very interactive manner. They all stand out on their own and you can actually guess what they are going to do in a particular situation.
The narration is quite good but lags behind at some points. The initial four chapters make a slow start for an otherwise intriguing novel. Once again the plot takes a back seat as in Nandini Bajpai’s previous book(Red Turban White Horse), as it is already revealed to the reader in the synopsis. Even the twist in the end is well expected. But it’s a different joy altogether to find out that you were right!
“I know that of the many things consulted when contracting a marriage- family, honour, health, possessions, star charts, caste and faith- love is not considered to be of much importance. Yet to me it is paramount”
The author skillfully takes us back to the twelfth century with the smallest details, rituals and customs. She touches upon several social atrocities in a non judgmental way but stern enough to get across her view to the reader.
“Anyone could step into this river. Maybe upstream, an atheist, a foreigner, an untouchable, perhaps even Rahul,was stepping into it at this very Moment. Why then these rules about caste and creed, whom it was permissible to touch or marry, when we were all made from the same earth and water?”
Unlike her previous outing “Red Turban White Horse”, Nandini has not strayed into Punjabi and Hindi. Though she has restricted herself to English, some of the translations of hindi proverbs like “Tere muh mein ghee shakkar “ being translated to “Butter and Sugar in your mouth” just loose it’s touch and translating “ghee ka diya” to “butter lamp” and and “Akash Ganga” into Sky Ganges is just hilarious (Milky Way would have been good enough). The writer’s attempt to tickle our funny bone just makes us smile wryly.
“I had been studying the qualities that my birth chart had forecast for me. They were a terrible list of vices- Pride, arrogance, quarrelsomeness. I wouldn’t want to marry me.”
I would like to sign off showering kudos on Nandini for the character she has infused in Leelavati. She maintains her dignity and the pride of her family. Though she loves him immensely she subdued her feelings and went on refusing him for two years. It is only in the end that she breathes life into her Love.
“True love may. And I say may, do ten times the work that growing wheat in winter demands. And it may even be that this winter wheat tastes better than the easy wheat harvested in autumn. But attraction and infaturation will let the wheat wither and the farmer shall die of hunger.”

About The Author

Nandini Bajpai grew up in New Delhi, India, one of four sisters and many cousins, in a family that liked to read. Although she dabbled in corporate finance, business analysis, and fostering shelter animals, her first love is writing. Her novel Red Turban White Horse: My Sister's Hurricane Wedding was published in 2013 by Scholastic India. She lives in the Boston area with her husband, kids, their dog Yogi and cat Rakhan.

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