The Nine Lives discussion is getting documented after hazaar time, so please do forgive my somewhat hazy recollections. As I remember, some of us loved the book - Rachna, Rohit and Munna in particular. We found some of the stories absolutely fascinating, and it was interesting given that we live in such materialistic times to observe the lives of those who seem to live completely spiritual ones. Munna felt that it was a wonderful glimpse of the kind of people that we otherwise would never meet.
However, Bhavna and I, admittedly having read only a couple of the lives, found the book depressing on the whole. Possibly the choice of the first story, the Jain nun, was what lead us to that conclusion. It seemed like the Jain nun hadn't really imbibed the philosophy she stood for, since that is all about detachment from everyday emotions/ other people and yet the nun was so attached to her recently dead traveling companion that she was in deep mourning. If the whole point of her having given up a 'normal' life to follow Jainism was for her to learn these spiritual lessons and after years of leading that life she was still prey to the same emotions...well, let's just say that if finances had permitted, I would have been making a beeline to the nearest mall after reading her story!
Songs of Blood and Sword:
We began by saying that a better editor and in fact a better writer would have made even more of this book than it already is. Certainly, the way the book began was a lame opening to a cracker of a book that kept one hooked throughout. Honestly, if we were not from the subcontinent, we would have suspected Mario Puzo of having ghost-written the book.
Fatima Bhutto makes it very clear that she is antagonistic to her aunt Benazir from page one, and by the end of the book, she certainly had all of us convinced as to why that was, and we also started viewing Benazir through her eyes. While fatima Bhutto's adoring, subjective view of her father blurs out some of the rougher edges of his personality or doings, it still seems like he at least had some definite principles, whatever the means he may have adopted to fight for them.
The Bhuttos are a very interesting family - rich, landed, powerful...in some ways reminiscent of the Gandhi-Nehru family or the Kennedys. Despite their education at liberal institutions like Oxford and Harvard, feudalism seems to run in their veins and colour their worldview, their every action. From Zulfikar down to the latest generation, eventually their lives become about the power struggle, and it is both repellant and fascinating to read about how the hunger for power changes relationships and characters.
Eventually, we became even more fascinated by the thought that despite having a class of politicians that is no better than those in Pakistan, somehow India has managed to remain saner, and is not a failure as a state. Despite Indira Gandhi's best efforts during the Emergency, our institutions have remained, and thus preserved us as a democratic country, and a free one. We debated the various reasons why that was so - Hindu philosophy, the diversity, Nehru setting the tone, the army that never wants to take over the state...Obviously it wasn't a definitive discussion, but after reading the book, we all collectively said, "There, but for the grace of God..."
We also thought Fatima was one ballsy woman to continue living in Karachi after what happened to her father, and especially after writing this book!
The book is highly recommended for anyone from India/ Pakistan...