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The ExtrasThe Extras by Kiran Nagarkar
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Started the book with great expectations after reading the Cuckold by the same author. This book is very different from Cuckold and it is good not to carry forth any expectation if one has read Cuckold.

The book is about a person called Ravan (Ravan Pawar had been named Ram, but in a moment of indignation his mother renames him Ravan) and a person called Eddie (or Edward Coutinho). Both live one of the several chawls that sprawl Bombay. By quirk of fate Ravan as a child had jumped from the fourth floor and Edwards father who had been drooling at Ravan’s mother catches him safely. In the process Edward’s father passes away and the long history of a cold war between the two families begins.

Both grow up in the same locality but shun each other’s company. Ravan is love with Edward’s sister but is unable to bring himself up to speak to her given her convent education compared to his 10th fail status.

Both are them are laid back and are pushed by their mothers to start working. While Ravan starts off as a taxi driver, Eddie starts off as a waiter in one of the several joints that serve country liquor. Both the mothers are dreaming big for their sons.

One common streak that runs through both of them is that both have musical talent and both wish to become actors in the Bollywood. Fate pushes both of them to join the Extras Union of the Bollywood and both end up as extras in many films. They still continue to ignore one another before fate deems otherwise.

Read the book for more of the story. A decent book. Gives a good insight into the life of the extras in the Bollywood cinema.

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In the book Cuckold, at one point the prince is shown thinking the following about war.

“When I look at my peers, friends, colleagues, cousins and brothers, I realize what a dullard I am. They carouse together, they go out whoring, they are lively and full of fun and pranks. I would like to join them once un a while but am rarely invited since I am permaturely serious, and would very likely dampen their high spirits. But I am a plodder in other ways too. Even my elders find me a bore and a little too earnest. War is fun and games for them. They dress up, wax their moustaches, ride their steeds and charge blindly. They kill or get killed. Life is simple and far more exciting that way.

War is not my favourite pastime. I would resort to it only under exceptional provocation or if, after thorough planning, I was going for the big kill. The fact is, in the long run, most wars lead nowhere but back to where you started. If I am to fight, I want to make major and if possible, lasting changes in our political geography and fortunes. Otherwise I would rather sit at home and be at peace with my neighbours. I like to prepare myself before a confrontation. I need to do my homework. I want to know every single detail and fact I can lay my hands on about the enemy; the monarch, his generals and his army. I want to learn their likes and dislikes, peccadilloes and predilections; their mental make-up, their previous campaigns, what they eat, their notions of hardship, their sleeping habits and any other trivia you can think of. Most of all, I am interested in finding out how they think. What about contenders and pretenders to the throne? Why fight if you can help along a civil war and get someone else to do all the fighting for you? If internal jealousies and power equations are germane to the final outcome of any war and need to be exploited, it is just as relevant to know the state of mind of the ordinary citizenary. Are the common people tired of conflict or supportive? What was the harvest like, in the current year and in the previous three? Nor just the state of the economy, trade, too has an indirect but very substantial bearing on the enemy’s – or for that matter our own – capacity to fight a long war. None of these propositions are very original but I am perplexed by how reluctant most strategists and military commanders are are to follow even the most basic principles of preparing for war. I will grant you this, collecting information, more precisely reliable information, is laborious, time-consuming and a bore. Besides it is effective only if it is done in a sustained manner. Imagine studying the enemy’s economic, political and military abilities for months, sometimes years when all that the decisive battle itself will take is three, five or seven hours at most.”

CuckoldCuckold by Kiran Nagarkar
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The author keeps you engrossed in political happenings in the Mewar kingdom, based out of Chittor, from cover to cover. Sprinkled with political intrigue and Machiavellian machinations the book is unputdownable.
The Rajputs of Rajasthan are famous for their bravery which sometimes borders on bravado as they rarely adopt the axiom of “Think before you leap.” Thinking before leaping amounts to being a coward and brings shame to any Rajput. Rana Sangha, who very early in his life was left with only one eye, one hand and one leg thanks to his feud with his own blood brothers and his enemies around him. The book is based close to the end of his reign and the sons of his various queens are vying for his throne. Amongst them are sons of of the two foremost queens with contrasting sons.
The crown prince is considered a coward as he adopts the axiom of “Discretion is better part of valour” and is not shy of running away from a battle when he finds that the tide is not in his favour. He does not marry the second time when he finds that his wife is wedded spiritually to Lord Krishna and does not wish to do much to favour him with her wifely duties beyond a point. She is more interested in singing and dancing to Lord Krishna. This leads to her being labeled a courtesan and the town starts making fun of the crown prince and calls him a Cuckold.
The other, disgruntled son Vikramaditya, is a philanderer to say the least and at worst a sadist who will not think twice sleeping with anybody including the eunuchs in the palace. If somebody refuses to sleep with him, it drives him mad enough to adopt any means to secure them. As the author comments about this prince “Self indulgence is bad enough, but combine it with power and your appetite for brutality and evil becomes boundless. Your pleasure is the only law and in its pursuit you may ruin strangers as readily as your close companions.”
Rana Sangha is fighting the battle against the Sultan of Gujarat, over the territory of his son-in-law, while the crown prince is managing the affairs at Chittor. One of the various misdemeanors of Vikramaditya forces the Crown Price to imprison him much irritation of Vikramaditya’s mother.
The second son, Shehzada Bahadur, of the Sultan of Gujarat runs away from home and seeks asylum in Chittor. The crown prince gives him not only asylum but also treats him as a close friend and accords him with all honour befitting a prince. On a hunting trip Shehzada is mauled by a lion. Everybody had given up hopes on his survival and he is taken care of only by the dai who had breastfed and crown prince.
The crown prince calls upon the vaidya from the kingdom of the Bhils. The Bhils lived in the jungles their king was a close friend of the crown prince. This vaidya cures Shehzada and the Shehdaza becomes indebted to the crown prince.
On one occasion a famous singer is called upon to entertain the royal family including their guests by the crown prince’s cousin who is rankling from a defeat in which about 3000 rajputs had been massacred by the Sultan’s forces. The crown prince’s cousin has arranged for a dance by a set of dancers of whom one happens to be the daughter of a Kazi who had been captured when the rajputs had defeated the Sultan in one of the various battles that they had fought. The Shehzada is enamoured by this girl and keeps asking who she is. The crown prince’s cousin takes his opportunity to remind Shehzada about the defeat they had inflicted on his father and struts the girl as a prize catch. This enrages Shehzada enough to murder the cousin in front of everybody. The crown prince saves the life of Shehzada for the second time by carting him away to safety.
In the meantime Vikramaditya’s mother being the favourite queen pestered Rana Sangha and the Rana calls the crown prince to take over the battle with the Sultan and Shehzada also takes leave of Chittor to go his own way, looking for means to grab the crown of Gujarat from his father, superseding his elder brother. While the crown prince is in battle with the forces of Gujarat, Rana comes back and releases Vikramaditya and gives him charge of the security of Chittor. Drunk with power and newly found freedom and with nobody to confront him, Vikramaditya and his cronies play havoc with the city.
Almost as soon as the crown prince takes over the battle, he feigns surrender. The commander of the Gujarat army falls for it and sends back about 10000 of his forces back to Gujarat. On the way they are waylaid and they are driven to their death in the nearby swamps. The crown prince along with his companions now employs cunning and guerilla warfare instead of taking the enemy head on and troubles the Gujarat forces to no end. The commander is killed and the Sultan himself comes to lead the army.
One day when the crown prince is with all his chiefs, the sultan of Gujarat makes a surprise attack on the encampment of the Rajput to try and eliminate all their leaders. But the crown price thwarts his attempt. He kills a soldier of Gujarat and puts on the soldier’s garb. He manages to get close to the Sultan by pretending to be a soldier of Gujarat. He kills him taking everyone by surprise. The army of Gujarat, now without a leader surrenders and the crown prince’s brother-in-law is made the king of the local kingdom.
When the victorious crown price returns to Chittor, Vikramaditya and his mother have ensured that there is nobody to welcome him back. He is booed at by the citizens of Chittor for not having taken the enemy headon and for having killed the Sultan using deception. Rana Sangha is also conveniently away from Chittor paying respects to their family deity at Pushkar. The day is saved by his wife who comes out to greet him and manages to almost turn him into a hero. She herself is now being hailed as the little saint and everybody folks to the temple where she sings to Lord Krishna.
Rana Sangha comes back and relegates the crown prince to a secondary status. Soon cholera visits Chittor and the crown prince is left to take care of the citizens of Chittor who do have not left it. Slowly the epidemic dies down and the townsfolk attribute it to the efforts of the little saint and blessings of Lord Krishna. The little saint is stuck by cholera and the crown prince nurses her back to health.
Rana Sangha comes back and this time banishes the crown prince to a smaller province of Kumbalgarh and assigns him trivial tasks. The son of the dai who breastfed him, Mangal, is the crown prince’s secret agent and keeps providing him with happenings in the kingdom and happenings outside of it. One of the information that he provides is about the Afghan king Babur who has designs to take over Delhi from Ibrahim Lodi. The crown price had been failing to convince the Rana to take on Ibrahim Lodi.
Another crisis brews as another rajput king, Medini Rai, approaches Rana for his help to fight his erstwhile master Mahumad Khalji, Sultan of Malwa, from whom has been estranged for a while now. Rana calls upon the crown prince who sets out with his trusted lieutenants and a very small army. He manages to fool the Sultan into believing that he has come with a large army capable of defeating his army and the Sultan surrenders without much fight.
The triumphant crown prince marches into Chittor and this time his valour does not go unrecognized. He once again becomes the de facto crown price and Vikramaditya is relegated to Ranthambore. Medini Rai offers his daughter, Sugandha, in marriage to the crown prince who is not inclined to remarry. But he succumbs to pressure and marries her but is unable to fulfill is duties as a husband as he is now obsessed with winning over the little saint. The little saint also now starts bestowing her attentions on him while denying him the conjugal bed. The frustrated Sugandha succumbs to the charm of Vikramaditya and starts having an affair with him making the crown price a cuckold all over again.
The royal family decides to go to Pushkar to thank their deity for all the blessings that it has showered upon them. On the way back an attempt is made to murder a powerful eunuch who has been a close cohort of Vikramaditya and his mother. The crown prince with help of Mangal manages to save him and they keep moving him from one safe to another. Sugandha comes to the crown prince one day with bruises all over the body and the prince realizes who is behind this. The crown price takes her under his care and starts spending time with her much to the frustration of the little saint. Sugandha confesses that she has seen Vikramaditya try to kill the eunuch. The crown prince and Mangal now need the eunuch’s help to nail Vikramaditya for treason, But the eunuch refuses to help despite being in the know.
The crown prince and Mangal keep meeting the eunuch who is now up on his feet. They do not use any form of coercion on him and slowly win over his trust. He now confesses and is ready spill the beans on Vikramaditya and his mother. As the crown price assembles the court to hear the eunuch Vikramaditya and his mother get better of him and manage to poison the eunuch just before he spills the beans.
In the meantime Babur has captured Delhi and the rajputs gather to decide on how and when to take on Babur. The crown prince warns them against rash action. He suggests that they wait patiently, study the enemy, get some enforcement in the form of modern equipment (canons) before taking on Babur. But the rajputs laugh him off and an army of 120000 marches to take Bubur’s army of 20000.
On the battlefield too Rana and the other Rajputs fail to heed the crown princes warning and out of bravado take on Babur. They fail miserably and Rana is grievously injured forcing the rajputs to halt the battle and retreat. The victorious Babur goes back to Delhi while the crown prince and others are trying to nurse Rana back to his health. As the Rana finally recovers health and agrees to return to Chittor, some cronies of Vikramaditya come and suggest a party to celebrate the home coming of Rana. The crown prince who has accepted an invitation from the villagers goes to the village while the others party on in the palace. While the crown prince is with the villagers he receives a missive from Mangal saying that Vikramditya and his cronies are plotting to kill Rana. The crown price rushes back the palace, but he is too late. The cronies have poisoned Rana. They now come after the crown prince who manages to elude them and runs away and disappears forever.

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