Challenging Destiny: A Biography of Chhatrapati Shivaji; Medha Deshmukh Bhaskaran

I was looking forward to this book, after the author’s historical fiction debut. That one was a well-researched book, but the dramatisation in the fiction wasn’t to my liking; it was trite, and often unimaginative.

Challenging Destiny: A Biography of Chhatrapati Shivaji is a non-fiction book by the author, and is a very well-researched book. It refers to many of the various biographies of Shivaji that are in circulation and makes extensive use of extracts from these books. As the author tells you early on, Mehendale’s biography of Chh. Shivaji is the primary source for this book; needless to say, this book borrows heavily from Mehendale’s biography.

4136rg1qgkl-_sx332_bo1204203200_I was a bit surprised that the author has chosen to use an academic (in-text, APA) form of citation, rather than using endnotes of footnotes, especially given that there are numerous direct quotes from other authors. Perhaps, because of this, the texture of reading seems uneven, at times. There are times in the book, where references (like the definition of a gaon, mauja, and kasbah), are completely out of place, irrelevant, and do not fit in the narrative at hand.

Overall, for someone who does not know the life and times of Chh. Shivaji, it is good first book, which covers his life and career, fairly well. For someone with a more serious interest in history, there are other biographies.

I return to my pet peeve. This book is published by The Write Place, the publishing arm of Crosswords. It is a sorry state of affairs in Indian publishing where copy-editing isn’t given the importance it deserves.

It’s not oddicers, its officers. Not tilted, but titled. And, definitely there isn’t a word called agreeded.

Halt Station India; Rajendra B. Aklekar

It has been years since I’ve read a book in two sittings. This one is it. “Unputdownable” doesn’t quite cut it.

Halt Station India, is a historical biography of the arrival of trains in Bombay. And while sketching this biography of the arrival, birth, and establishment of the locomotives in Bombay, Mr. Aklekar tells you another story, incidentally. That of the Bombay. And he tells it lovingly.  Very lovingly.

I’ve always loved trains and I’ve always loved this city. So, you can imagine, this book made twice the sense for me.

halt-station-india-original-imaefqdav64cru5s16th April 1853, the first passenger train service in India, plied from Byculla to Parel, and the rest, they say is history. Well, this book is about the rest. And of all the events that went in to make this service a reality. The entire narrative that led to this first service, right up to the Mumbai local trains of today, Mr. Aklelkar tells the fascinating story, smoothly, and proudly. There is extensive research backing up the story, but is never obtrusive nor does it affect the flow of the narrative.

The trivia, especially of names of places and such, is total treasure. But unlike other books, Mr. Aklekar uses trivia, not as a filler, but to build proper context, helping the reader visualise the changes that this great city has undergone over the years. I confess, I have started seeing my city completely differently.

It is also a very human story at the same time, lest you may take this wonderful book to be a drab, chronological sequence of the evolution of trains. Mr. Aklekar has taken the care and the effort to bring forth the people and their stories as he takes us on this rail journey.

Like a master craftsman, Mr. Aklekar has weaved art, architecture, emotions, technology, travels, trains, names, places, people, and spaces. Needless to say if you love trains or Mumbai – this is a great read. Even otherwise, this is an easy and an enjoyable read for all of us who like stories.

Mr. Aklekar, easily is the custodian of the heritage of railways in Bombay, And I am glad for it.