WRITING STYLE: 2/5
ENTERTAINMENT QUOTIENT: 2.5/5
“Varanasi, Kashi, and Banaras the city has so many names, but I feel very peaceful here, in its slowness the heart of Indian spirituality is embedded. Banaras is a city where people come to die from all over the world. The city of Moksha, the city of death, the city where every Hindu wants to cremate their dead.”~ Anuj Tikku, Unholy Tales from Banaras
Long before Varanasi became the hotspot for new generation travelers, I had my eyes on it. Long before people flooded the internet waxing eloquence about their spiritual awakenings in the city, I was already an enraptured soul; one that was irrevocably enchanted by its mystic appeal.
Historically, Varanasi or Kashi, as many like to call it, counts amongst the oldest continuously inhabited cities of the world. But many others believe that its history is as old as time itself. Even a skeptical soul cannot resist its spiritual allure and the vibrancy of its rich culture.
I recently had the opportunity to read a book about Banaras and needless to state, both the reader and the believer in me was too excited to let it pass. Read on to know more about my thoughts on author Anuj Tikku’s latest book, Unholy Tales from Banaras.
What to expect?
Expect a short read that shares multiple tales from the land of Banaras. Expect a book that is part fiction and part travel writing.
Expect a book that paints a rather vivid picture of the city and its exuberant culture.
What is the book all about?
Unholy Tales from Banaras shows us a side of the city that often eludes a normal traveller. In addition to all its culturally rich experiences, the book lays bare its dark underbelly too.
The story of Chashma Baba and his infamous adventures (which makes up for a large part of the book) shows us a side of Banaras that is rarely touched upon in regular narratives and media articles.
The book also sheds light on the various spiritual centres of the city and their historical and religious significance.
Who can read?
Since the book is written in a simple language it can be easily picked up by a beginner level reader.
How good is the writing style?
The author’s writing has come a long way since his initial books. I am happy to observe the positive changes that Anuj has inculcated in his writings.
The first thing that strikes the reader is the attention to detail, whether it is the description of the city itself or its many ghats. Or whether it is the description of the enigmatic Chashma Baba or the poor unassuming Shyam Pandit – the attention paid to details is commendable.
With a keen eye and flair for words, Anuj is able to recreate the scenes visually for the reader.
I also like how Anuj combines mythology, history and mystery and packs all of it in a decent story. A small but significant part of the book also sees the travel writer in him taking the forefront and dictating the narrative. And I like that.
Of all the books written by him, the travel writing ones are the best.
What did I like?
The first part of the book is captivating. I like the way Anuj initiates the mystery; laying the trap and luring the reader to go further. The atmosphere that he creates is intense and foreboding; hinting at the thrill that may lie ahead.
I also appreciate the images that are a part of the book. A perfectly captured image is worth a thousand words. The images set the stage for what it is to come while perfectly complementing the narrative.
What did I not like?
Like most other books by the author, Unholy Tales from Banaras lacks editing and proof reading. The book is full of grammatical errors and that makes it very difficult for the reader to sit back and enjoy the read. Much effort is wasted on making sense of a text that comes replete with errors.
What could have been better?
One cannot help but notice the repetition and reprocessing of the same old content again and again throughout the book. For example, when the cows behave strangely after the death of the Pujari – the same weird behavior is repeated multiple times albeit from different mouths.
I also think the intense foreshadowing that the author indulges in could have been turned down a notch.
Creating suspense is good but too much of anything is bad. Especially so when what follows does not live up to expectations of readers. The same happens with Unholy Tales from Banaras. What is projected as an intensely layered and complex mystery gets solved very easily and predictably.
How good are the characters?
The characters of the book are well conceived. They are dynamic and complex and give the reader a necessary hook to hold on to.
Let’s talk about the climax
To put it simply, the climax of the main story i.e. the Chashma Baba and temple priest story, isn’t that great. It starts on a good note, creating an aura of enigma around the characters, building multiple layers of mystery and setting a sinister and ominous tone for the story. But the climax simply doesn’t rise up to the occasion. It is predictable, insipid and a tad disappointing.
It all boils down to the entertainment quotient
When it comes to entertainment, the book sure shows a lot of promise. But unfortunately, the whole appeal and effect of the book is lost because of poor editing.
It takes great patience and perseverance on part of the reader to go through the numerous grammatical and editing errors that accompany the text.
In the end
In the end, Unholy Tales from Banaras is a light read that makes use of both fictional and non-fictional elements to bring to us an exclusive and unique experience of Banaras; an experience that is bound to make you pack your bags and absorb the city in all its glory.
Pick the book if
- You are looking for a short read about Banaras.
- You are looking for a book that has both fictional tales and non-fiction experiences about Banaras.
- You don’t mind reading books that are poorly edited.
- You are a beginner level reader.
Skip the book if
- You are looking for a five-star read.
- You are looking for literary fiction.
- You can’t stand poorly edited books.
Can’t wait to read it? Buy your copy of Unholy Tales from Banaras using the link below.