Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Book Review : The Fault In Our Stars (John Green)

Ironic. That's how I would like to sum this book that deals with terminal illness and yet pulsates with more life that many other books that I have read. This book is a reminder that life is but the sum of the moments that we choose to live to the fullest . Power, popularity and the riches notwithstanding, man cannot choose immortality. But yes, happiness is definitely within one's reach.

This moving tale of Hazel and Gus, two teenagers who meet through a Cancer Support Group and then go on to fall in love is one of John Green's most popular novels. The narration is at a comfortable pace and encompasses all aspects of a terminally youngster's life. The change of lifestyle as one drops out of school, the parents whose life comes to a standstill, and yet the need to maintain a certain degree of normalcy, John Green touches upon each of these and more without wallowing in pity and swamping the readers in a wave of suffocating sympathy.

One of the high points of this book is the tender love that blossoms between the leads. The selfless love demonstrated by Gus when he tries everything within his reach to fulfill Hazel's dream tends to make a deep impact on the reader.

The other high point is Hazel's obsession with a book named 'An Imperial Affliction'. She is obsessed with the book that ends in mid sentence and leaves the reader guessing about the fate of the characters. She even manages to convert Gus who begins to share her passion to track down the author and find out more about the unfinished story. While at times her obsession seems irrational, one has to understand it from the perspective of a terminally ill kid who knows that her days are numbered and there are few things that can really engage her mind. At such a point in one's life, even a simple thing like deciphering the climax of a story seem to be a crusade that gives one the will (and the strength) to live on.

A wonderful book. Nothing too voluminous and written in lucid style. Pick it if you are looking for a short read and you will not regret it !!!

Friday, December 11, 2015

Book Review : Wise and Otherwise (By Sudha Murty)

It is that time of the year when Santa comes a visiting with gifts galore. And that makes we wish that had I been a Santa I would be handing out copies of this book to every person I come across. Yup, this book is that dear to me.

Sudha Murty is one of those writers who do not feel the need to drown you in literary jargon. She speaks from the heart. Honest, straight forward and with a note that leaves you thinking about it for a long time. She prefers to narrate her own experiences which are myriad and very interesting.

Loved the way she touches upon the touchiest (and ouch-iest of topics) in her simple style. The perception of people towards IT, changing social values and ordinary people who come across truly exemplary thanks to the values that they uphold.
( Coming to the latter, I have seen real people fall from grace and I will be doing a series on it very watch out my blog )

One of the most touching stories I read was the one she narrates about a donation made by the Infosys Trust to build a new hospital wing. As is the custom, the hospital folks invited a minister to inaugurate the wing while completely cold-shouldering her and the idiot in turn choose to rant about the lack of facilities. But as she says, it was a beautiful gesture by a poor woman who would made it worth her while.

Another favorite is the story about a young fisherman from Odisha who in himself is a lesson in contentment. Yeah, that's my place and thank you so much Maam for writing about it.

Best part of this book is that all the people mentioned are so damn real that you will definitely recollect someone who fits the mould. Please find the time to read this book and you will love it to bits.

Spoiler - Not sure how it will go down with a non-Indian audience as this book captures the real essence of Today's India ( minus 10 years please ). But if you are the types that can put up with a Haruki Murakami or a Nikolay Gogol inspite of your ignorance about the Japanese and Russian culture, then it surely makes sense to give it a try.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Book Review : The Bestseller She Wrote (Ravi Subramanian)

Vendetta. Revenge. Both are best dished out hot. But sadly, over a period of time they lose their charm. And when you realize that you have spent hard earned money to fuel someone else's vitriolic tirade, it really hurts. Nobody wants to be taken on a ride. Not even by a bestselling author. This book is just like that one night stand that leaves you feeling repentant and with nothing to latch on to.

Going through the first few chapters, I realized Subramanian has his guns trained on one of his contemporaries. Ok , I already had a whiff of the scandal from a newspaper but reading it cleared my doubts about the individual in question. After all not many folks have earned the distinction of being branded 'The Paperback King of India'. Or have two of their books turned into motion pictures. Want more hints? He and his wife worked in Hong Kong for a  few years. His first book is on the life of an engineering student ( well not exactly the first one but it is the most famous book ever written about engineering students). Hold on,. This is when it gets really brazen. How many author's have been asked to judge a dance reality show ? Still clueless ? Then read the book till the end. One of the last chapters mentions him by name !! Did the publisher actually sleep though the editing ??

Back to the plot. There is nothing really new about it. A middle aged guy falling for the charms of a sexy manipulative chick. Haven't we all read/encountered such situations in real life ? Well, this one is just given some sheen and sparkle by making the lead protagonists look movie star gorgeous and sprouting author 'gyaan' here and there. Also, the action is punctuated by some well written sex scenes. Most Indian authors suck when it comes to writing about sex but Ravi Subramanian clearly demonstrates his mojo in such scenes. The climax is reveals a twist in the tale but nothing good enough to salvage the book.

Apart from that, there is not much in the book that I would specifically like to mention. I read it in a couple of hours as I wanted to be done with it. But I had loved the author's last publication 'God is a Gamer' and even re-read it. It was much more promising ( read the review HERE ) and thrilling.

My advice - Forget about this one . Grab a copy of 'God is a Gamer' if you have still not done it !!

Friday, October 30, 2015

Book Review: The House that BJ Built (Anuja Chauhan)

After the eminently enjoyable 'Those Pricey Thakur Girls', Anuja Chauhan is back with another sparkler. The setting remains the same but now the action has now moved on to next generation. The hell raising Thakur sisters have settled down and one of them is no longer alive. It is the romance between her orphaned daughter and the stepson of another sister that form the crux of this novel.

The fiesty young Thakur girl Bonu who now inhabits the old house turns out to a real enterprising type and has actully set up a full blown fabrication unit ( she rips off the latest designer outfits and sells/exports the fakes at a much lower price) within the four walls of the ancestral property. But one fine day the hero Samar (or rather her childhood crush who is now a hotshot director) turns up at the doorstep unexpectedly after a Bollywood scandal forces him to take a sabbatical. Things are beginning to stir up but then everything turns upside down with the elderly Thakur passing away.

The family gets embroiled in a property dispute with the old tenants from the North East adding to the problems at hand. Greedy relatives, a property shark and raking up an inhouse agreement that is supposed to have been forgotten a long time back, further complicates the matter. The Bollywood angle just serves to add to the drama that ensues. Anuja has explored the way in which Bollywood functions, the petty ego clashes and the tantrums that are part and parcel of this madness. Samar's Bollywood designer girlfriend whose designs are favorite with Bonu adds another interesting angle.

Anuja attempts to take a dig at the people who blindly join various cults and try to show off their spiritual trappings to the world. One of the Thakur sisters has morphed into such an individual who keeps lamenting that 'Money is Mael'. But does not lose any opportunity when it comes to grabbing handfuls of this dirt.

The romance is all feel good and mushy mushy. And the humor is spot on. Readers are rewarded with a Bollywood style climax where the hero and heroine finally come together despite everything.  Hardly any wonder given that Anuja Chauhan is the pioneer when it comes to 'chick-lit' on the Indian literary scene. 

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Women, Thou Belong to Venus !!

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There can be no other plausible explanation for the fact that so little is known or understood about us. Whether it be menstruation or PMS or even postpartum depression, these topics remain an unsolved (and even feared) mystery for the general public which is much more accepting of men and their perversions. Never mind that women themselves constitute almost half of the group.

Nobody seems to mind it when men do not think twice before flaunting the family jewels right in the middle of a busy road. Or pass lewd comments on girls as young as five. Or even try to molest a women. If perchance a motley crowd dares to raise their voices in protest, then there will always be another group or individual willing to take up the cudgels for the 'poor man'. "Boys will be boys", a smiling MSY would be ever ready to shrug it off.

Recently when a maid's affair with another neighbor came to light, she was duly bundled off to her hometown while the guy continues to live right there unashamed and unrepentant of whatever happened. Most people have stopped discussing about the topic and have moved on to fresher pastures but none of them seem to be in a mood to judge the guy too harshly. After all, he is married with kids. Nice bit of explanation, rite.

But the same benevolence is never extended to a woman. The recent incident in Bangalore where a mother suffering from postpartum depression killed her 7 month old baby girl brings this to fore. She was suffering from the clinical depression, which is commonly known as 'baby blues', right after the birth of her second child. While the report suggests that her husband abandoned her because of her 'mental condition', it will not come as a surprise to many if the actual reason turns out to be the fact that she had given birth to two daughters. In the sorry state of the Indian society, women are still blamed for begetting daughters. All the knowledge and understanding about the X and Y chromosomes and the conception being a matter of probability has come to naught where it actually matters.

Now postpartum depression affects one in seven women and in still rarer cases it turns in postpartum psychosis, as in this case. And postpartum depression is on the rise among urban women. Doctors blame it on stress, late motherhood, and lack of a support system. While the symptoms are lack of sleep, inability to connect with the baby, worry about not being a good mother or even wanting to hurt the baby, they usually go away on their own in a few days/weeks time. But if they linger, such symptoms require treatment and counselling. But at the same time, there is no substitute for family support .

Forget these more complicated matters for the time being and just take the topic of menstruation for example. A monthly occurrence, it is the discharge of  blood and mucosal tissue from the inner lining of the uterus through the vagina in women of child producing age. Nothing exemplary about it but it is still considered to be an 'impure' phenomenon. Can you recollect the taboos regarding those days of the month ? I bet you can count atleast half a dozen without much effort. If by a stroke of bad luck, you happen to step on a discarded napkin lying along the roadside ( another testimony to govt inefficiency in garbage disposal and not reflecting someone's standards of personal hygiene), you are supposed to head back home and take a purifying head bath lest the bad blood put a blot on your life. I am not kidding but lot of folks (mostly women) do believe in this sort of crap.

If something as normal as menstruation happens to be shrouded in so much secrecy, it is hardly surprising that any awareness about a woman's mental state is practically non-existent in India. If a women behaves in a crabby manner or refuses to socialize on certain days, hardly anyone realizes that she might be experiencing PMS and it is the crazy hormones which make her behave in a peculiar manner. Severe PMS can be very damaging and it can force one to retreat into a shell. I have personally experienced the ravages of PMS and realize that it can sometimes force us to say or do things that we never meant to. But sadly, such omissions are attributed to a woman's character. No wonder there is no separate provision in the Indian Penal Code to address women who commit crimes under the influence of depression. Unfortunate but very true.

It is high time for a change and that change can only be achieved by each one of us speaking up for ourselves. Ladies stop being ashamed of what you are and what you experience for there are no real taboos, only the ones that exist in our minds.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Book Review: Paper Towns (by John Green)

What am I doing reading a book that is targeted at youngsters ? Well, this piece of literature by John Green, who is more popularly known for penning books like 'Alaska' and 'The Fault in Our Stars', made me feel like a teenager again. I picked it up in a Sale and just as I skimmed through the first few pages, I became hooked.

The action takes place in a high school and involves a bunch of teenagers, mostly prominent among them being 'Margo', the female protagonist of this story. She is one super cool teenager with a super hot boyfriend and moves around in a hallowed gang which consists of the hottest chicks. But one night of revenge inspired adventure wherein she chooses Quentin, an average guy, instead of one among her gang-mates reveals that all is not well in her paradise.

Then she suddenly disappears, a few days before prom night (can I call it an American fascination that refuses to die?), and her parents quickly disown her. We get to know that this has been a regular habit of hers. But the way her gang reacts to her disappearance tells us a lot about their individual misgivings and failings. One realizes the amount of stress and jealousy one must handle in order to come across as a super cool teenager. However, it is Quentin and his honest love for her that makes his embark on an eventful journey that will finally lead him to her.

Margo's and Quentin's friends make for a strange and almost crazy mix. One of the kids has parents who are obsessed with black Santa's to such a dubious extent that they hold a record for it. Then there is the nerd who has come up with something called the Omnictionary, an online reference manual, and his whole life is devoted towards it. Maybe it is Green's way of trying to portray folks as flawed or highly skewed individuals instead of prefect caricatures. I mean that is how most of us are when we are not wearing a mask.

While the plot may not be much (and hence I am quite reluctant of  revealing a little of something that is already little), this book raises a lot of questions that we are afraid of asking. If you know anyone who is about to step into his/her teenage years, please gift them a copy (that is if they are the bookish types coz a lot of kids these days are more addicted to games).

[ Note - There is some locker room talk that might not be suitable for younger kids but at the same time it is nothing that they have not been exposed to....Thanks to television and internet]

Thursday, September 24, 2015


The words seemed to jump at him. Startled, he looked around himself.

Everything in the room had suddenly assumed gargantuan proportions and the eerie moonlight only seemed to add a sinister edge to the settings. The life sized portraits loomed large above him and gave the impression of having their stares fixed on him. The fluttering curtains had assumed a life of their own and their menacing shadows danced willfully on the walls.

His eyes fell on the tribal mask and the play of light around it . It appeared distorted beyond imagination and a loud scream escaped his mouth.

Running feet. The door being slammed open. And finally, a reassuring click.

"Piku !! How many times have I told you to switch on the lights before it is dark. And please stop fiddling with the magnifying glass."

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Book Review: All the Light We Cannot See (by Anthony Doerr)

"Books are a uniquely portable magic." - Stephen King

And I could not agree more after reading this one. Of course, there are good books and then there are superlative ones. But a very few have that magical quality of touching one's soul and that feeling gets etched forever in memory even though some of the words get blurred with the passage of time.

A blind girl in Paris whose father works at the museum. A boy raised in a orphanage in a nondescript mining town in Germany. Why would their paths ever cross ? Had it not been for a curse, a mindless senseless war (arn't they all ?) and of course a few fleeting moments of love. Love that is pure. Selfless. Unblemished. But that is not all. These two seemingly ordinary people possess something more, something quite extraordinary in common.

The story begins in 1944, travels backs in time to 1934 and then inches back to 1944. There it lingers and blossoms for a while and then abruptly transports one to 2014. And leaves one wondering whether "All the light" actually refer to the sightless but extremely brave and gifted girl Marie-Laure or those blinded by their greed and desire for power. The mindless killings, the wake of broken families and millions of ordinary people plucked out of their cities/towns/villages, this and everything else that wars are all about. "Can they not see ?"

While the entire story is enthralling and holds one's attention, it does have some sections that are relatively more endearing. The efforts of the father to make his blind girl self-sufficient, his patience and ingenuity of building miniature models of the city to make her learn every single road, alley or building is something magnificent. And so is the girl's quest for soaking up knowledge.

In contrast, Werner's childhood is starkly deprived. But the boy's self-taught expertise ( or shall we call it gifted ?) with the radio and his desire to do something different rather than working in the mine, "Life: it;s happening beyond the mill, beyond the gates." he tells us, take him into another world. A world that is not perfect and not certainly not what he expected.

And then, the fleeting and haphazardly scattered mention about the snails. I especially liked the one in Saint Malo where Marie discovers a entire wall studded with thousands of them. At first, these bits seems like beautiful flowery prose that serve a purely literary purpose and do not contribute to the narration in any way. It is only towards the end that the author reveals their significance and leaves one amazed. Yet again.

If you love books, then this is a real gem. A bit pricey (Rs 899) but worth every rupee.

Monday, September 14, 2015

The Voice

Image courtesy -

Everyone laments the Death,
the voice of reason is forever silenced.
No country for free thinkers they say !!

It dies a hundred silent deaths everyday,
the lone voice of reason in my head.
No home for a free woman I say !!

Monday, September 7, 2015


"Boki". The load rebuke sent tiny fissures of fear slithering down the new recruit's spine. And she almost dropped the large basket she was holding in her hands into the humongous wok as a cloud of steam erupted from it and threatened to engulf her. Lost in her daydream, she had carelessly tipped the freshly rinsed vegetables into the smoking hot oil without keeping a safe distance.

Kaki walked up to her and inspected the scene of the crime. But not before asking the young woman if she was alright. A few more words of warning were issued and then she walked back to her own cauldron. The lunch had to be ready on time and non of it could be wasted in bickering when the hundreds of hungry laborers would march in any moment now.

Kaki. That was what everyone fondly called her. A septuagenarian who walked around with a twinkle in her eyes and a spring in her gait, she had no family left of her own. Her husband had died more that a decade ago. They had moved into the industrial tiny town of Rourkela and set up a hole-in-the-wall eatery almost fifty years back. This place had kept the fires burning in the bellies of the numerous workers who in turn shoveled the coal the fed the insatiable appetites of the blast furnaces.

The years spent in the kitchen had sharpened her senses. Her ears were fine-tuned to pick up the slightest noise, with every hiss, splutter, crackle or splutter conveying a different message. And she possessed a sense of smell that could shame a grey hound. Whether it be spices roasted for a few seconds more than necessary or a few grains of rice catching at the bottom of the huge cauldron, she could pick it's scent much before anyone else could.

But she was no longer sure about her eyesight which had started failing her. And hence she was in a hurry to look for a recruit who could manage the kitchen that she had run single-handedly for so long. She cast a glance at Rupa, a hard working assistant. but one who had a lot to learn. "Will she pass the test tommorow?", she posed a rhetorical question to herself. She had trained and then tried atleast a dozen of them but none had proved themselves worthy enough to take over the reins.

Morning dawned, its brightness turned down a few notches by the coal and iron dust in the air. After cleaning the floor, the two of them sat on the floor chopping vegetables for lunch. Rupa was halfway through her pile of greens when she sensed that some of them had insect eggs and larvae clinging to them. She shook them vigorously and even beat them on the floor to dislodge the pests. She then proceeded to chop them and add them to the basket containing the chopped greens. Kaki kept watching her from the corner of her eye as she finished the chopping and proceeded to wash all the vegetables rather carelessly.

"I think the oil will be not sufficient to cook today's meal. Go and buy another can from the Old market. Get it from Babu's shop and ask him to put it on my monthly account. Hurry up. I will start the fire in the chullah's", Kaki instructed her assistant. Once she was out of the door, Kaki did not waste time any before picking the offending basket of chopped greens and threw it out of the backside window. She quickly locked the shop and went out to buy another bunch. Thankfully the vegetable market was in the next lane and she was back with a fresh bunch within a few minutes. Even though she had asked the vendor, an old tribal lady from whom she regularly purchased vegetables, to check it for insects, she strained her old eyes double checking the luxuriant bunch that had clearly been drawing nourishment from the soil a few hours ago. She then chopped and rinsed it properly and kept the basket in its original place.

Rupa returned from the errand and went about her chores as usual. The lunch was ready and bubbling in the huge pots even before the bull-horn announced the lunch break and the gates of the plant opened to let loose a sea of humanity wearing the trademark pale yellow helmets.

More than cooking the humongous quantities of food, it was tough to manage the crowd. Everyone was eager to get back to their stations after a quick meal. The duo continued to dish out the food in a frenzied manner for the next two hours. Only after the last of the customers had paid for his meal and left, the two ladies sat down to take their meal.

As they laid out the plates and helped themselves to the simple fare, Kaki noticed that Rupa had abstained from serving the stir-fried greens on the plates. They continued eating in silence except for a few occasional comments made by the older woman. Once they finished and had washed their hands, Kaki reached for a small bundle that she kept hidden inside her blouse. The small bundle turned out to be a red handkerchief that held a few rolled up notes. She counted two hundred rupees and handed it to Rupa. "You need not come to work tomorrow".

Rupa stared at the old woman and then blinked a few times. Tears threatened to flow down her face. She mustered all her courage and uttered a single word. "Why?"

"The greens. Why did you feed them to the workers ?"

A blank stare followed. Then she blinked again as realization dawned upon her. "They could never have seen the insects."

"But you could. And you still fed it to them."

Another one had failed the litmus test of character.

Thursday, September 3, 2015


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He felt the lone figure walk past his cubicle and stop at the coffee machine. The gush of water as the cup was rinsed, the clang it made when positioned below the spout,the beep of the coffee machine and finally the 'zoop' made by the hot liquid filling into the cup, everything amplified by the stillness of the floor during the graveyard shift.

It took all of his reserve of strength to resist the urge to stand up and steal a look at the lone figure who loitered near the coffee machine. Perhaps checking mails on the iphone.

Five minutes passed. Then another five. With each moment, his heart started to race more. Was it perhaps a subtle hint to join in for coffee ? Was it possible that the trainee had read his thoughts ? And had stayed back to confirm it. Or worse, was it all part of a plan hatched by his nosy colleagues ?

"No. Do not give in.", he admonished himself mentally. Just then, the footsteps started again. Moving closer by the second.

"Hi", said Ivan as he extended his hand. "Hi", Dave replied as he took in the beautifully manicured hand in his own.

Ivan's hand lingered for a few moments longer than necessary. And Dave experienced the stirrings of passion that began to rise within him. A passion that he could see reflected in Ivan's eyes. Passion that is raw. Primal. Unfulfilled. But most importantly, unfeigned. 

Choice ( 5 word fiction )

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Choice matters.

I choose life .

Friday, August 28, 2015

Book Review: Dead Souls (By Nikolay Gogol)

And translated by Robert A. Maguire.

"It is much easier to depict large-scale characters: there all you need do is fling the paints on to the canvas unstintingly - dark, burning eyes, beetling brows, furrowed forehead, a black or fiery-crimson cloak thrown over the shoulder - and the portrait is done. But if you take all these other gentlemen, of whom there are many in the world, and who greatly resemble one another in appearance, yet in whom, as soon as you look more closely, you will perceive many highly elusive traits - such gentlemen are dreadfully difficult to portray."

Thus wrote Nikolay Gogol, was one of the greatest writers of Russian literature. Brilliant lines that refuse to be erased from memory. His eccentric and highly satirical style of writing is not easy to understand as is the case with translated literature. Some of the nuances are definitely lost in translation. And add to that the fact that it is incomplete. But still it comes across as a brilliant piece of literature.

The story revolves around Chichikov,  a small time conman who plans to buy dead souls (who still exist on the census list) and then mortgage them for a handsome amount. As he goes about meeting and dining with the various landlords, the reader is exposed to various shades in the human character. One invariably falls in love with the characters who seem to be all flesh and blood, thanks to the author's brilliant delineation.

The Russian way of life is exposed in all its glory and shortcomings. The peculiar disease of living it up in style while being up to the neck in debt is finely depicted. When Chichkov sets about with his little scheme, some of the landlords readily agree while others try to hold on to the deal souls thinking that they might be worth more (one even wonders about the going rate for them). And still others strike a tough bargain for them by extolling the virtues of the serfs.

He almost succeeds and it the most sought after bachelor at a ball. But his undoing arrives in the form of a particularly greedy old lady who arrives in town to find out about the going rates of the dead souls.

So, he ends up moving to another town. And goes about his scan after spending some days in idyllic bliss. Until the bureaucracy and corruption does him in. (Doesn't it remind us of some famous people who have been in the news lately)

Apart from the detailed characterizations, it is the fact that this story still holds relevance, makes it for a most entertaining read.

But I must warn you that the language is not easy and one might just struggle with the first 50 pages or so. And then, it will just grow on one.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Book Review : Mrs Funnybones (By Twinkle Khanna)

"Nothing in life is more sacred except humour". So says my favorite TOI Sunday columnist Twinkle Khanna. And I cannot agree more since my philosophy in life is also loosely based on "A joke a day keeps the shrink away".

So, when this 233 pages gem of a read arrived after much delay (actually one whole day after it was released), I was thrilled to bits. This treatise on everyday humor was as engaging as I expected and I ended up finishing it in less than 24 hours. Finding hunour in the most mundane situations, she makes one smile with her witty one liners. My favorite one is " all good things come in medium size". Just can't stop laughing at that one.

Whether the antics of her toddler , the obnoxious behavior of Indian men or her run-ins with her mother in law, she is just like most Indian women. Learning on the job, improvising and juggling a million acts (a few of them being downright ridiculous) while still having bouts of self-doubt.

She says "A punjabi mother, her son and food form a triad as sacred as Brahma, Mahesh and Vishnu, and cannot be interfered with". That is so true about almost every family. DIL's have always be under suspect for starving sons and grandsons. Facts like the son turning into a health freak (that counts for the changing preferences) once he hits the mid 30's or the grandson being hyperactive are brushed aside quite casually. Instead of the regular cribbing that most women do, she has laced the entire episode with enough humor to bring a smile of the face of even the most molly-coddled son.

Kudos to her for that very funny chapter on her Mom and all the embarrassing stuff that the latter caused. I actually had to read it all over again. Thank god for my mom is not remotely interested in old statues and antique doors.

Don't miss this one for anything !!!

Tuesday, August 18, 2015


Bloated. Distended. Bulbous. Shapeless. Pooja stared hard at the bulging female form which seemed to be beyond redemption. And the more she stared, the uglier it seemed to become. She could have chosen to avert her eyes from the horrid figure. Only it seemed to follow her everywhere. For her very soul inhabited this grotesque form.

The transition from the slender girl with those well defined curves to an almost whale like cylindrical likeness had distressed her to no end. She had tried every trick in the book to lose the excess weight but the pounds only seemed to pile on. She worked out everyday. Survived on bits of carrot, lettuce and gallons of water which she would have gladly swapped for fresh air. That is if she could. For now, all her hopes were pinned on her doctor as she awaited her turn.

Dr Usha glanced up from her desk and looked beyond the one way glass at her patients who had lined up for their appointment. She had retained this arrangement for the last twenty years. It allowed her to jog her memory on the patient's history and slip into the right avatar for the meeting. Her eyes came to rest on the next patient. "Such a lovely creature", she sighed as she mentally revisited the former's affliction. 25 year old female. Grossly underweight. Suffering from BDD (Body Dysmorphic Disorder).

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Saturday, August 15, 2015

Crossroads !!

Riya's mind was besieged by a cacophony of dissenting noises as she fiddled with the bottle containing the beautiful blue pills. It had accidentally slipped out of Gautam's pocket as he had got dressed this morning.

Her mouth almost twisted into a smile as she realized that he would go to any lengths to make her feel special. The fact that had been together for the last ten years was testimony to his devotion towards her. A fashion photographer by profession, he stumbled across temptation on a everyday basis.

A mist of joy engulfed her as she thought of their togetherness. But it quickly dissipated as her thoughts were interrupted by the ping that emanated from her Blackberry. Her mind directed itself towards more practical matters.

The seven year long clinical trial had thrown up some shocking results. As director of the program, it was her responsibility to bring it to the notice of the medical fraternity. And she had agreed to hush up the damning bits in exchange of a plum posting. Not that her conscience had not taken a drubbing.

But a faceless consumer is a totally different entity as compared to a longtime companion. And it had never figured into her calculations that Gautam also belonged to the fraternity of well-heeled middle aged men that were the primary target of this miracle pill. She personal life had always been divorced from her professional life. Or had been till now.

She was fast approaching menopause or the critical stage where one's sex life hits a plateau and then goes downhill. A tragedy that in her opinion could only be offset by reaching stratospheric heights in one's professional life. And she was almost breathing in that rarefied air.

She hesitated only for a fraction of a second before slipping the bottle underneath the bed. 

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Soulmate 2.0 !!

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The divorce had been a messy one. And unnecessary too.

Pragyan would go to college in two years time while Pratyusha would follow her after another year.
The two penthouses were hardly more than assets given the fact that both of them would be travelling for most of the time.He could have kept the cars given that she hardly rode anything except for her battered Scorpio.

In retrospect, everything that they had fought over, seemed exceedingly futile.

Something made her stop the SUV. The scene that stretched ahead of her had drawn her out of contemplation. A herd of wild buffaloes had gathered near the stream which was thrusting ahead in a muddy roil.

Throwing caution to the winds and swiftly alighting from her vehicle, she quickly reached for the Nikon DSLR. She desperately wanted to capture antics of the herd before the forest patrol chanced upon her. It was a restricted area of the Bandipur forest and vehicles were not allowed to stop.

Her new single status had kindled the nomad which had lain dormant all these years. Working her way up the corporate ladder and raising a brood at the same time had taken considerable toll on her. She had all but given up on photography while travel had taken on a totally different meaning.

As she zoomed on the herd and adjusted the focus, she heard another soft whir. As she looked across the gulf, her eyes focused on a tall form clad in khaki trousers and white shirt stationed next to a mud splattered Safari . His boyish physique almost seemed to be at a contrast to the salt and pepper hair.

Their eyes met almost at the same instant and he smiled back. Perhaps the Gods were smiling down at her once again.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

A Day In Mysuru !!

Yesterday, I returned from a fruitful trip from Mysuru and today's TOI headlines screamed "Mysuru Is India's Cleanest City". What a coincidence I thought!! Just yesterday I was musing about this city where every second person is a tourist or atleast in transit ( Mysore is well connected to hill stations like Ooty, Coorg, Kodiakanal and Wayanad )and yet how nicely they have managed the roads and the traffic. Surely there are narrow lanes like one would expect in a historical town like this but it is hard to spot mounds of garbage piling up like one does in Bellandur, Murugeshpalya and some parts of Mahadevpura ( all are suburbs of Bangalore...How the hell did it make to the top of cleanest capitals in India ??? ). Some excerpts from my visit -

Time : 2 pm (Near State Bank of Mysore) - The navigation system had been playing truant for a while and after being confused by the 1st exit and 2nd exits on some imaginary circle, we decided to ask a local for the directions to our hotel. He dropped everything and proceeded to explain the route to us in detail. As he said, the route on which we were driving was shorter and simpler but a part of it was a 'Kaccha rasta'. The other route was longer and in good condition but somewhat more confusing given the numerous gallis that labyrinth Mysuru. We took the short route and found the hotel without any trouble. 

Time : 8:30 pm (Cafe Aramane) - "Hum Hindi samajtey hain. Baat kar saktey hain", proclaimed the waiter when his initial queries in Kannada yielded nothing more than blank expressions. We were sitting in Cafe Aramane, a pure veg restaurant located in a heritage building. He then proceeded to outline the dinner menu in Hindi. The guy was very much courteous and promptly took down the orders. The food was quick (it was served in the short while that it took me to appreciate the tasteful interiors) and tasty. And the final bill brought a smile on my face.

Time : 9:30 pm (Silks) - The guy was putting the sarees back on the shelves but promptly put everything down even as we entered the shop. Had it been Bengaluru, we would have been promptly shooed away like a stray bovine/canine that had ventured into prohibited territory. He suggested different styles as befitting me and my MIL. And he showed us quite a number of sarees including ones that are preferred by locals, Bengalis (he mistook me to be one) and ones that are worn during marriages. We bought two and while my husband was making the payment, he continued to enlighten me about the history of the Mysore Silk sarees.

PS - I am mighty dejected with the TOI and Raghavendra Rathore who did not include this classic beauty in the list of "5 Must-Have Sarees".

Saturday, August 1, 2015

This Ball's In My Court !!

Pop. I plunked the delicate pink ball inside my mouth and waited for a few seconds for that sensation which I would love to describe as 'Delicious nothingness'. As it melted away into the recesses of my mouth, I was left with a familiar high. Hell...before you guys get ideas and think that it is the new Prozac or Provigil (both are party drugs), let me enlighten you that I am talking about my favorite 'Pahala Rasgulla'.

This is not the 'Pahala' but the 'Salepur' variety

When I read yesterday's TOI, there was this article on the front page that mentioned about a 'bitter debate' between the Odias and the Bongs regarding the GI tag for it. A bitter fight over the sweet rasagulla ? Now, guys this is taking it too far. I have already written a few articles over the Rasagulla and ideally I would have stopped reading at that point. But something egged me on.

Now there is this historian Haripada Bhowmik who elucidates that Lord Jagannath cannot be associated with chenna /Chhana based sweets as it is a blasphemy to offer sweets from spoilt milk to the Lord . And he goes on to support his theory by adding that the Rasagulla does not find a mention in the Chappan Bhog, a list of 56 items that are on Lord Jaganaath's everyday menu.

I actually did a double take after reading the entire article. People do get carried away, dont they ?? Well, it is supposed to be a special treat offered to the Lord's consort to appease her so how can it be a part of the everyday menu ??? It is equivalent a guy offering a box of 'Ferrero Rocher' or 'Godiva' chocolates to his sweetheart who has been sulking after being left out. No guy would put that on his everyday menu for sure. Sweethearts deserve something special. Or do you Bong guys woo your girlfriends with something pedestrian like the 'maccher jhol' ?

I remembered my grandmother's chenna and jaggery offerings to Goddess Lakshmi on the Manabasa Gurubar. A mix of Chenna and jaggery is the very first offering made to the Goddess. A woman from the hinterland of Odisha, she used to merely carry on a custom that was passed on to her by her MIL who in turn undoubtedly learnt the same from her own MIL. And folks from the interiors of Odisha are not too fond of chenna unlike those living in and around the coastal belt. Yes, you will not find any chenna based sweets in this part. But still they make it a part of the offering which shows that it is a part of their tradition.

Now that kind of highlights the understanding (or the very lack of it) that the Bongs have about our culture and pooja rituals. I do not have anything personal against their ilk. Actually, I love Bengali folks as some of the favorite authors happen to be Bengalis . They are an intellectual and erudite lot without a hint of a doubt. And this is merely a case where they have allowed their hearts to rule over their heads.

I would suggest doing some 'mandwali' or coming to an understanding. Let the Odia's stake their claim to the 'Pahala' and 'Salepur' rasagullas and let the Bong's have their al-dente version concocted by the Late Nobin Chandra Das. Give it a thought. Meanwhile I am heading into my kitchen for my morning cuppa. Hell, where has that maid of mine thrown the sponge ? There she goes, misplacing my stuff all the time. Somebody please hand me a couple of those K.C. Das rasagullas ................

Friday, July 24, 2015

Book Review: The Invention Of Wings (By Sue Monk Kidd)

As long as the mind is enslaved, the body can never be free. Psychological freedom, a firm sense of self-esteem, is the most powerful weapon against the long night of physical slavery 


My favorite line from the book - "It was his way of telling me. I could not have him and myself both."
Spanning a period of about 35 years, this is the story of two female protagonists, Sarah Grimke and Hetty Handful and their tryst with broken dreams, heartbreak, personal loss and finally liberation (the so called wings).

The opening chapter introduces you to the character of the slave girl Handful who listens with rapt attention to the stories narrated by her mother, the best seamstress in Charleston. "There was a time in Africa the people could fly". The seeds of freedom from slavery are sowed in the little one's mind even before she realizes it. "It was later that I saw what she meant. We could fly all right, but it wasn't any magic to it."

The next chapter introduces us to Sarah, a eleven year old who devises a slogan for herself. "If you must err, do so on the side of audacity.". This proclamation combined with her refusal to take a waiting maid, sets the tone for things to come. Her love for books and her desire to become a jurist was in stark contradiction to her times which was about "polite education for the female mind", a course course in needlework, manners, drawing, basic reading, penmanship, piano, Bible, french and "enough arithmetic to add two and two". The early stirrings of feminism are very much evident in her character.

The readers are exposed to every aspect of a slave's life as the two girls set on a journey of breaking one taboo after the other. There are moments of humor like one where it seems that they are burning down the house, another moment of tenderness when the girls enjoy some tea on the roof and exchange secrets. There is downright indignation when Handful's mother is subjected to a most horrifying punishment. The change in latter's character is quite evident after the incident as she "had stopped stealing and taken up safer ways to do harm and wreckage".

As the girls grow up, Sarah suffers a heartbreak which leads her to the religious way. At the same time, we are introduced to the character of Denmark Vesey, who is shown to be linked with Handful's mother. As the plot advances, his character grows more and more prominent.

There are more characters introduced later in the book, the most notable of them being Angelina, who is Sarah's youngest sibling. She turns into a godmother for her, and wants to live her unfulfilled dreams through her. The reader is obliged when towards the end of this book, the sisters actually come together for a cause.

A beautiful tale that deals with slavery and women's empowerment, this is a book that grows on you as you move from one page to another. The unlikely bonding between a girl from a aristocratic family and her slave girl takes many a twists and turns before culminating in a befitting climax. 

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Book Review: Asura - Tale of the Vanquished (by Anand Neelakantan)

Some books do not end even when you have read the last chapter and have put it back on the shelf. The pages continue to be turned in your mind and some part of you wishes to go back again and read that particular chapter(s) or even a particular page.

And this particular narration of the Ramayana is just one of those. Ramayana has been told and retold but never from the perspective of the vanquished. And we all are aware of the fact that history is always biased, singing paeans of the victor and demonizing/denigrating the losers. So while Lord Rama is worshiped as the epitome of manhood, Ravana is degraded to the status of the evil villain who kidnapped the former's wife. Thankfully, the author has put a fresh spin on it and after reading this book, one will never look at the Ramayana is the same way as one did earlier. Meet Ravana, the complete man with his ten emotions (baser ones included) instead of the demon with ten heads .

The book opens with a grievously injured Ravana awaiting his death in the battlefield. In the final moments of his life, he takes us though his story, his childhood, his journey to the throne of Lanka and the final defeat at the hands of a enemy. As his story plays out, we are also privy into the private life of one of his foot soldiers Bhadra. A very effective ruse adopted by Neelakantan to showcase the divide between the rich and the poor, and how the change of a regimen hardly affects the miserable existence of those perched on the bottom rung of the social ladder.

"Fortunately, our citizens had yet to reach those heights of civilization when they stone women to death."

" I saw Brahmins in filthy clothes, thumping their walking sticks sharply on the ground to drive away any polluting castes. People conducted their business in the market place with elaborate rituals so no one would touch or pollute each other. But they also spat red pan juice all over the street and walked over it. People openly defecated but were still scrupulous about not touching each other.Had it not been so pathetic and ironical, it would have been comical. "

"We will cast away the evil society of the Asuras under Ravana, when men thought that merit and hard work alone could assure them happiness."

Though this book refers to an age that we have left behind, a lot of it is still very much relevant.

One discovers a Ravana who is haughty, egoistic but at the same time aspires to become a great administrator. There is much that our politicians can earn from him. He is, as Bhadra puts him "I understood why Ravana would never be deified. He was too humane to be a God."

If I had to rate this, I would give it a 5/5. Anything less would be injustice to Anand Neelakantan, who has given us this brilliant piece of literature. Truly unforgettable.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Book Review: Half Girlfriend (by Chetan Bhagat)

(Buy online Here)

Oops....he did it again!!! Chetan Bhagat's latest could easily be another Hindi blockbuster. Hardly surprising for a guy who is quoted to be the largest selling English language novelist in Indian History. He thrives on mass appeal. Something which the Dan BrownsJeffery Archers and the Sidney Sheldons lack. They do not touch the soul of the Indian reader simply because the plot, the settings and even the English is so alien. Bhagat has his finger on the pulse of the average Indian who just like Madhav, the lead protagonist, thinks first in vernacular and then translates it into English. Akin to providing the proverbial icing on the cake, he intersperses English with Bhojpuri, sometimes even crass stuff like 'Deti hai to de, varna kat le'.

The story which moves between Delhi, Bihar and New York, is a poor boy meets rich chick plot with a very realistic twist. "Rich chick falling for a poor guy?? Dude that happens only in our Hindi movies". A standard reaction. But what makes this convincing is that the chick, who is portrayed as being commitment phobic, does not fall for our poor Bihari guy until the end. She agrees to be his half-girlfriend but no more. The reason behind it revealed much later. For a story that is largely narrated in flashback, Bhagat maintains a good grip on the plot.

The main protagonists meet in college as teenagers. Their love for basketball brings them close but their bliss does not last. Both take off their separate ways to pursue individual dreams but destiny has other plans for them. They meet after three years, both older and wiser. Only to be separated by another twist of fate. They meet yet again in the climax, this time to end up together.

The book has quite a few sparkling moments including one when Madhav, the Bihari guy who has always nursed a complex about his English, delivers a speech (a section of which is impromptu) in English in front of Bill Gates and bags a grant from the Gates Foundation. Both the leads are flesh and blood characters who have 'hatke' dreams and are not afraid of pursuing them.

Bhagat has fleetingly touched upon a lot of sensitive topics including child abuse, marital abuse and secondary status of the girl child in society. But in typical Bhagat style, he does not dissect them. No intellectual reflections. No philosophical views. Highly recommended (even for those folks who rather prefer his movies)!

If you have any reservations about Bhagat's English which sounds rather juvenile given his pedigree, read this article (click here). English elitist's eat your heart out. The rest of India is catching up and how.

Book Review : Adultery (by Paulo Coelho)

'An attractive woman in her mid thirties is terrified of her humdrum but rather privileged existence. She keeps sinking into the abyss of depression till she meets an ex-boyfriend who is super successful. Predictably a torrid affair follows and then she is possessed by guilt. But it ends on a placid note when she gets back to her husband who accepts her with open arms (and heart). '

The above paragraph is a short summary of what the book is all about. While it opens with a great setting which sets off the mood for the affair that is to follow, it actually fails to strike the right chords with the reader. Not what I would expect from an author who gave us something unforgettable like 'The Alchemist'.

The opening lines certainly raised my expectations (and that of my female friends too). 'Every morning, when I open my eyes to the so-called "new day", I feel like closing them again, staying in bed, and not getting up. But I can't do that.' Then we are exposed to the turning point in Linda's (main protagonist) life. It is a question that changed her life. You feel good at that point as quite a few of us would have experienced that kind of a moment.

But then the story progresses to her first meeting with her ex-boyfriend (Jacob) where she transforms herself into some kind of a porn star. It gets a little jarring because at this point you realize that it is not emotional security that she is after. It is the sheer thrill of living on the edge that drives her. From then it is one crazy roller coaster of emotions which gets to a point where she devises of a scheme to plant drugs to get Jacob's wife out of her way.

It is a little incredulous when she finally attains enlightenment during a paragliding expedition( why of all things in this world ??). The ending of the story is quite lame and certainly very disappointing. It is a little too convenient as if the author just decided to finish the book one fine day and gave it a "lived happily ever after" kinda climax.

Rating 2.5/5 (only for the sake of those awesome opening lines). Read at your own peril.

Book Review : God is a Gamer (Ravi Subramanian)

"Indian teams of multinationals these days are just expected to execute not think".

Ravi Subramanian literally manages to hit the nail on the head. Even for someone who has been following him ever since the days of 'If God was a Banker', it comes across as quite 'tongue-in-cheek'. For me, this is a coming-of-age book for the guy who has actually been through the innards of the corporate world.

A plot that is entangled in greed (after all Bitcoin is money even though it is virtual), gaming, cyber-terrorism and politics, this one had me hooked till the end. Alas, all good things have to come to an end. But sometimes an encore is also a possibility (thank God for that) as in case of this book. I am reading it for the second time even as I pen down the review.

The plot that begins with two top notch bankers lobbying with an influential Senator who has the ear of the US President. There is a fleeting mention of Wikileaks which is used as a ruse to introduce the reader to the concept of Bitcoins, the virtual currency which was darling of the tech world till the collapse of Mt Gox in Feb 2014. Mt Gox was a Japan based exchange for Bitcoins that transacted over 70 percent of the virtual currency. Ravi has done a fair job of describing how Bitcoin works in layman terms. He even includes a website Cotton Trail ( does the term 'Silk Route' ring any bells ? ) that trades/accepts payment in Bitcoins in the book.

It is only when the Senator gets assassinated and a phishing scam happens that things start to heat up. The reader is exposed to the power play that takes place in Corporate boardrooms and politicals corridors. We have a female head of a powerful bank who is involved in money laundering, dalliances with a Finance minister and finally ends up dead ( is it a suicide or a murder ??).

The gaming angle and Facebook are given ample coverage. The role of social media in marketing anything and everything (whether it is a game or a even blog like "Confessions of a Hooker") is brought under the lens.

Plus there are the situations which cater to the Indian mindset too. The meeting between a father and a long lost son, the son helping the old man out with his latest venture, the father's unshakable faith in the son's ability to deliver, a romantic angle, an honest man getting bumped off because he chose to depose against a powerful figure, US investigators using guile to get past the famed Indian red tape in the course of their investigation are some of those.

There is a new revelation in almost every chapter and that is what sustains one's interest throughout the book (Ex- Do you know what Satoshi Nakamoto stands for ? ). This is difficult to keep the facts out of your head. One keeps working out the plot over and over while making amendments as and when new facts show up. But it is the twist in the end which delivers the knockout punch.  A must read if you are crazy about thrillers that draw heavily on technology.

A Thousand Splendid Suns (By Khaled Hosseini): Book Review

Buy it online on Flipkart.

A moving story about two women who share a relationship which can be described as mother-daughter, best friends, love-rivals (being married to the same man) and more. Mariam and Laila are heroines in the true sense of the word despite the abuse they put up with. Set in the backdrop of the socio-political changes that have completely altered Afghanistan, this one is another gem from the author of the best seller 'The Kite Runner'. It describes in striking details how war or social unrest affects the plight of women and children.

It starts on a relatively calm note. An illegitimate child or a 'harami' who lives on the outskirts of society looks forward to the monthly visits of her father whom she idolizes. In a strange turn of events, her father's spinelessness is revealed when her mother commits suicide and she is forced to marry a much older guy Rashid.

This guy too has a past of his own and one almost feels sorry for him until he starts to reveal his chauvinistic side. "A woman's face is her husband's business". Things get worse when she suffers the first miscarriage and then disintegrate further as there follows a series of those. Domestic violence rears it ugly head but the stoic Marian takes everything in her stride and shoulders on.

Laila on the other hand, has a more privileged and protected childhood. Her father is a teacher and an intellectual and she grows up in a rather liberal atmosphere. Her life is shattered by the sudden death of her brothers and a rocket attack that kills both her parents. Deeply in love with a neighborhood boy (and pregnant with his child), she is then forced to join Mariam's household. Another negative characteristic of Rashid is revealed at this point as he manipulates the fifteen year old into marrying him. A lot of intriguing events take place before the climax (which is a happy ending for those who really want to know). Most noteworthy however is initial skirmish between the two woman (which remind one of the MIL & DIL clash in the Indian telly soaps) and the failed escape bid of the two women and the repercussions that follow. I am not going to reveal more and spoil what can be the perfect read during the Christmas and New Year vacations (if you are the type who prefers to chill out with a book rather then party all night).

'A Thousand Splendid Suns' outraged my sensibilities, made me cry and yet having read the last page, it lit something akin to the glimmer of hope in my heart. Sorry, but you cannot just close this book and get it out of your mind for it continues to haunt you for days to come.

Book Review: Yagnaseni - The story of draupadi ( by Prativa Ray )

[This book was originally written in Odia by author Prativa Ray. She won the Moorti Devi Award in 1991 for 'Yagnaseni' and was honored with the Jnanpith Award in 2011. This is one of the few books to be written about Draupadi, one of the central female characters of Mahabharata. The author has, by her own admission, included some imaginary episodes in the narration. This review is based on the English translation]

History is replete with many a kings who have had harems full of women. Yet, they have been heaped with liberal praise and their achievements have never been overshadowed by their personal lives. The women on the other hand have never been so fortunate. The moment she takes another man, she is ridiculed in the unkindest terms. But since I read this book with the intention of unraveling the psyche of such a woman, I have tried to retain my objectiveness and have refrained from being judgmental at any point.

When I first picked the book, I wanted a fresh look a Mahabharata, one from a female perspective. Well, these days there is a lot of talk about it and it is touted as one of the reasons for inclusion of women in the boardroom. Now most men would support such a move for the fear of being branded politically incorrect if they choose to look the other way. Some would even say that they would support their spouse should she choose to work. But how many would lend her a helping hand when it comes to domestic chores ? Doing the kids homework ? Not many, I guess. And that is what makes a world of difference. So, the keyword here is 'empathy' and not 'sympathy'. 'Empathy' for Draupadi is what the author is trying to achieve through this book.

I loved the fact that Yagnaseni, meaning one who is born out of the sacrificial flames, is portrayed as a normal woman. She is shown as a carefree young woman who has a crush on Krishna. But circumstances lead to a Swayamvar and she gets betrothed to Arjun, the third Pandav. She is shown as idolizing him and treating him as a hero. She is every bit the shy new bride with stars in hers eyes till she is forced to marry all the five Pandavs due to a misunderstanding on the part of Kunti, her mother in law.

From this point, one sees her as a tormented woman who has to live up to the expectations of five husbands, each of whom is as different from the other as is chalk from cheese. She is shown to possess a soft corner for Arjun, her first husband and her hero whom she does not want to share with Subhadra. Though she is wise and learned, all these qualities take a back seat as she gets on with her domestic duties. At times, I felt that the five Pandavs are portrayed as being too conceited.

The author meanders into controversial territory with Draupadi's fascination with Karna. The latter is shown to nurture a grudge after being turned down at the Swayanvar. The few interactions between the two are beautifully narrated and are among the memorable parts of the book. Despite Karna's thinly veiled hatred, Yagnaseni seems to be attracted towards him.Though it seems jarring, it has to be viewed it in the light of Karna being an equal of Arjun ( as Krishna quotes in the later part of the book ). Maybe one should suspend one's rationality by a few degrees while reading this book and consider everything to be a part of Krishna ( who actually holds the Universe within himself ) and his scheme.

The book ends with a journey to heaven that Yagnaseni undertakes with her five husbands. But sadly it ends with her fall on the golden dust of the Himalayas. It is attributed to the negative thoughts in her mind. At this point, none of her husbands come to her rescue. Though it seems cruel, it has to be viewed in the light of one's accumulated Karma and the resulting ramifications.

Overall it is a good book but one that has deep spiritual connotations. It took me more than a month to get over with it as one tends to read a chapter, mull over it and then go back and read it all over again.

Buy it online @ Amazon .

Book Review: Warrior (by Oliver Lafont)

When it comes to fiction, I usually rate a book by the shortest possible time taken from start to completion. It boils down to a ratio like number of pages divided by the number of days. Anything that scores more than hundred is top dog. And it took me just 2.5 days to chow down the entire 375 pages on this one :):).

Coming to the storyline. An immortal son of Lord Shiva. The imminent End of Days. Space travel. A heavy does of quantum physics. And a rag tag team of soldiers facing an unknown enemy. Imagine the endless possibilities that can arise when one decides to throw all these components together into one heady cocktail. It can either make one land flat on one's face or one can end up with a sparkling read that is a sure shot winner. And trust me, this book falls into the latter category.

Oliver Lafont is a fine story teller. He adds elements of mythology, science, human emotions and heroism into the narration and yet does not allow these numerous elements slacken his grip at any point. The language is easy to grasp and yet at par with international authors. Since this is his debut novel, I would rate him to be much better than quite a few of his Indian contemporaries who are in the business of churning out one hopeless plot after another.

But at the same time, there are a few flawed bits. Some parts could have been left out or modified to add substance to the plot. For example, some of that banter between Saam and his girlfriend which lacks chutzpah, the meeting of the Peerless which looks contrived and even the first meeting with the geeky IIT professor which seems too gory without a proper reason. But then there are some bits like a parallel Kurukshetra war fought in another world (aka another dimension of time and space ) which make one wonder if the concept of good and evil are anything but absolute and need to be calibrated in terms of relativity. Nonetheless, this one slowly grows on you and keeps you captivated till the end.

This is a book that allows one's imagination to take a lot of wild twists and turns which may or may not be a good thing for some( personal preference ). Not going to spoil the suspense by revealing more of the plot. Grab a copy of this one and you won't regret it.

Buy it online from Amazon.

Do read the author's interview here .

[DISCLAIMER - A copy of the book was provided by the author's publicist but that has not influenced my opinion in any manner.]

Book Review : Ramayana - The Game of Life (Shattered Dreams Book 2)

Perhaps the greatest injustice done to our epics have been relegating them to the place of worship. For they contain the wisdom that is meant to be handed down over the generations instead of being locked up in the name of religion. Sage Valmiki's Ramayana is no exception, for every episode and every character is a case study in human and quantitative psychology. How unfortunate then that something so valuable is now considered uncool by the current generation !!

It then takes someone like Shubha Vilas to narrate it in a language that resonates with the youth of today and bring it back into popular imagination. A sequel to the first book 'The Rise of the Sun Prince', this book traces the events in Rama's life that precede his planned coronation, the bitter twist of fate and the initial days of the exile. Now I must admit that I have not read the first part though I am aware of the good reviews. I did pick up a fair portion of the Ramayana from my elders during the growing up years and had not thought of reconnecting with the epic since. Plus the feminist in me is forever up in arms against the 'Agni pareeksha' episode that Sita had to endure. But that has changed with this book. Now I am planning to order 'The Rise of The Sun Prince' and all the sequels as and when they hit the stalls. I am especially looking forward to the chapters that revolve around Sita and how sensitively the author handles them.

When the aging Dasaratha is besieged by nightmares and wishes to relinquish power and anoint Rama as his successor, the shallow minded Keikeyi devises a shrewd plan to exile the latter and to put the ropes into the hands of her own son. At this juncture, one can almost draw the parallel with India's aging politicians who suddenly find themselves out in the cold. This episode iterates the need for a leader to step down while he is still at the peak of his power and any signs of weakness are still undetected. For opportunists like Keikeyi, any sign of failing (which in the case of Dasaratha was his lust for the much younger and beautiful Keikeyi) signals an opportunity to grab power.

Deeper into the narration, one comes to know that Dasaratha was under the influence of a curse for having killed Shravan kumar and causing much distress (and ultimately death) to his blind parents. While his intentions might have been sabotaged by the devious Keikeyi, the seeds for his sorrow were already sown in his past. It goes to show that one has to bear the consequences of one's action and others can only act as a medium for it.

Some of the other memorable lessons in this book are the faultless arguments put up by Sita and Lakshmana who decide to accompany Rama to the forest , the first night of the exile and the story of the boatman . Of course there is an interesting chapter on Ravana's life too !

The footnotes included at the bottom of each page are quite useful. They provide detailed explanation and in most cases add to the narration with relevant facts without actually breaking the flow of the plot.

All in all, this is a great read. A big thanks to BlogAdda for giving me the opportunity to read and review this masterpiece !!!

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Book Review: The Lives Of Others (By Neel Mukherjee)

[Buy online HERE]

Poverty. Suicide. Murder. Domestic tussles. Incest. Adolescent minds. Worker unions. Red Tape. Marginalisation of widows. Prejudice over skin color. Drug abuse. Text book revolutionaries. Exploitation of tribals. Naxalities issues. Torture. 'Lives of Others' has all this and more. Neel Mukherjee has tried to cram in as much as he can. And with a wonderful flourish as the guy seems to have a remarkable talent for detailing.

It starts on a tragic note with a mass murder and a suicide by a impoverished farmer. But in the very next chapter, we are introduced to a rich family with the ladies of the house deliberating over what to wear during those five days of Durga Puja. In a stark contrast, the story moves along two parallel worlds, the bourgeois Bengali family residing at 22/6 and the marginalized farmers residing in the countryside. These two world are bridged (at least though a series of letters that have never been posted) when the pampered grandson of the family along with his revolutionary mates, leaves the material comforts of his home to become one with the farmers. But Supratik is no hero. He takes out his frustrations on his simpleton mother, ignores his brother who is sinking deep into drugs, feels outraged when lectured by the domestic help and finally ends up framing the poor man. His shocking untimely death makes one feel that he died an unsung hero. But redemption comes in the last chapter when a young Naxalite remembers the Pratik-da who invented the technique to dislodge fishplates on the railway tracks. The author should be given credit for providing such deep insights into two radically different worlds.

The Ghosh family is headed by the now-ailing patriarch Prafullanath who has built a fortune from the paper mills in the early 1900's. The story centers around his sons and daughter-in-laws who are now trying to grab on to the bigger share of the family fortune which is on a decline (thanks to labor unrest and a plant modernization gone kaput). Interestingly, the station of each member in the four storeyed house mirrors their position/status in the family hierarchy. Most heart-breaking is the fate of the widow of the youngest son and her children, who are relegated to the servant quarters and subsist on leftovers. Another heart wrenching plot is the fate of the only unmarried daughter of the house. Though well-educated and blessed with a golden voice, marriage has eluded her because of her being dark-skinned and cross-eyed. Her relationship with Priyo and jealousy towards her lower caste sister in law make for some thought-provoking episodes.

But it is the power struggle between Charulata (MIL) and Purnima (DIL) that provide some of the most sparkling moments on the domestic front. One such gem is the when the elderly woman silences the garrulous Purnima by threatening to withhold the family's heirloom jewelry from the latter' daughter's wedding trousseau.

The beautiful descriptions of Durga Puja, a girl's obsession with a imported pencil box and her cruel manipulation of her mother's lack of English skills, the episode when Chhaya spills nail-polish on Purnima's clothes or the time when she cleverly exposes her niece's escapades with the neighbor's son, Priyo's obsession with coprophila and the episode involving a prostitute, the family's mollycoddling on the youngest child Somnath and his inflicting torture on hapless insects and animals are memorable on the domestic front.

The sequence of letters which interrupt the happenings on the domestic front expose the inner turmoils of Supratik and his first hand experience of country life .The intricate detailing of the rice cultivation process and the back-breaking labor involved, the abject episodes of poverty, a village fair, the murders of Harekrishna Das and Senapati are very well narrated.

In short a very powerful and well-chronicled account by Neel Mukherjee. It goes on and on in your mind even after you have finished reading it( currently reading it for the second time and enjoying it even more than the first ). A must read.

[ The Lives of Others has been nominated for this year's Man Booker Prize ]

Book Review : First Family by David Baldacci

But it on Amazon.

First ladies come in all shades but none can beat Jane Cox. She is sharp, ambitious and totally ruthless. At times, she mirrors a former US first lady who choose to stand by her husband even when he was besieged by a sex scandal that lead to his impeachment. Just another example where a writer has drawn inspiration from real life. And she almost succeeds but for an unlikely nemesis in a plantation owner, a guy driven by his pursuit of justice. He is meticulous and has the patience to boot. He hatches a very audacious plot, unleashes a chain of events that lead his victims to him and then waits for them to walk into the trap.

The story starts with a high profile B'day celebration which promptly turns into a nightmare with a murder and a kidnapping. The investigators are called in but initial leads turn out to be false. The life of the First family and their ways are described in such detail that one almost starts to sympathize with the rich and the famous politicians living under the media glare . While the actual plot is not very new, the narration and the web of suspense built by Baldacci makes it a winner. The most brilliant aspect of the book is the turning point where the good guys and the bad guys actually swap places.

There are enough sub-plots and minor revelations to keep the suspense alive till the very end. Most of the characters are very human and hence prone to their own share of failings. Baldacci has nicely tied a lot of loose ends and created a memorable book.

The lead pair of Baldacci's novels, Sean King and Michelle Maxwell are in top shape apart from the personal problems plaguing Michelle which shape up into an impressive sub-plot. Given that this book is a through and through suspense thriller, I wont' be volunteering more details. Read it for you wont' regret it !!