Sunday, December 9, 2012

If Only...



            The suffocation in my chest threatens to force me into seeking out the next park bench if not this one. I relent. My totebag now lies sprawled, unorthodox next to me as I try to find my way back to the present. I am not myself and I know it. It is but only logical to feel that way when the full force of heartbreak hits you. My mind tries to wrap itself around the fact that he is gone and where he is supposed to be, on the couch next to me, sits now, only a pillow. I leave it there to convince myself that fancy interior decoration is a placebo against the feeling of loss.

            My breath comes only in labored bouts and even amidst all the hurt, a short laugh escapes me.  There’s an undoubted ecstasy that remains distilled from the agony of lost love and at that moment, I understand the brilliant duality of it. It is just me now, having been sentenced to a blight of loneliness unasked. How long it would be before my condition matures into solitude, I do not know. Right now, I do not even know how my next moment of existence will play out or how I am going to pummel those pangs of disappointment that lie in wait for me. No more flowers in the morning. No more scribbled love notes. No more waiting to have him pick me up after work. No more late night conversations, no more pointless squabbles, apologies or any of those kisses that send my neurons into overdrive.

            I understand the consequences and I am already accosted with the pain. I can get my tears to stop eventually if only I can find them the answer to one question.
Who is this man whose memory that my tears wish to baptize? Whose apparent let down my heart has cartered in and is now mourning without bothering to enlighten me? Where was I when he loved me and why am I here now when I should be running after him crying, stop?

           What does he look like, this force that is making me lose control, making me question my dreams and my sanity? I looked around wildly, worry lines crawling on my face, where once happiness boarded. Is he around somewhere here? Should I go about placing a hand on each shoulder until I find the pair of eyes I am supposed to be looking into? Or, is this the other side of a blackhole, the dark side of a wrong choice? For a moment, I feel terrible and a little sob manages to escape my crude hunt for light.

           The park suddenly seems like the loneliest latitude you could locate, even though life dulls away normally around me. I gaze once again into the distance in a final attempt at identifying the source of my romantic sorrow. Is this what true love can do to you? Can two people reach out to each other across time and space? Did I accidentally overdose on something?\

           ‘Talk to me, atleast tell me who you are’, I ask him in my head. I almost expect a response, only lesser than a sharp twitch of lightening in the horizon and even lesser, the early symptom of mental disease.

            And then I stand up and sling my totebag over my shoulder. ‘Well,’ I say, to no one in particular. I walk away into my reality which seems distorted since my last time being in it.

            If I could atleast know who he was.

           Or, is…



Image courtsey : writerscafe.org



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Thursday, December 6, 2012

Wrong Means Right End - Book Review


            Two years ago, I caught a friend of mine laughing over a book called ‘Right Fit Wrong Shoe. I was naturally intrigued and joined the queue waiting to borrow the copy. As luck had it, the copy never made it to me and the book slipped into my ‘Someday’ pile. So, when a chance to review Wrong Means Right End’ by the same author came by, I literally jumped at it! Now I know why my friends loved the other book.

            Varsha Dixit’s third book overall, and second book in the Wrong-Right series, ‘Wrong Means Right End’ is a humor fest, thanks to Sneha, the female protagonist. Every page draws out a few giggles, a grin or outright laughter. The book comes packed with fun and narrates a simple story of love, vengeance and friendship.

            The story kicks off with Sneha being set up on a string of blind dates by her best friend Nandini, who thanks to her affection for the former does not hesitate to meddle in affairs. Sneha endures the experience rather than enjoy it because she is a single parent and happily divorced. The takes that go back and forth between these two women is giggle-worthy and enjoyable.

            The plot takes a turn when Nikhil Chandel, an acquaintance from the past emerges and sparks fly between him and Sneha. The duo also manage to successfully loathe each other adding to the chemistry. An evil-minded Mona enters the fray and befriends the gullible Nandini, only to sow some distance between the two best friends. Mona’s larger scheme is to bring in Gayatri who happens to be the one Aditya, Nandini’s husband breaks up with, when he previously fell in love with Nandini.

            Amidst all the plotting, Sneha and Nandini meddle in each other’s lives to fish the other out of trouble and the former manages to find love with Nikhil. Just when things seem to be coming together, they go to pieces. In the last few chapters, you find out if at all, Sneha manages to put things back in her favour.

What worked for me:

- For the major part, humor that forms the backbone of the narration and outlines Sneha’s character which Is well drawn out.
- The silly words that Sneha and Nandini use to replace swear words so that Sneha’s toddler son won’t pick up bad language.Funny and ingenious!
- The chemistry between Nkihil and Sneha that adds a lot of steam to the narration. At a few points, I felt it was a tad too much but towards the end, it was all tied up neatly so I am not complaining.
- The chapter titles that borrow a phrase from somewhere within the chapter.

What did not work for me:

- Grammatical and spelling errors at quite many points within the book was a huge turn off.
- A few instances sounded clichéd. Like Sneha’s son calling Nikhil ‘Dad’ out of the blue.

Verdict:

Wrong Means Right End is an enjoyable read, one time, if you are not a big fan of chick-lit. Pick up this book if you are in the mood for a good laugh and simple story that you can relate to. If you are a woman, draw up a bath and pull out a bottle of champagne.
I am now going to find a copy of Right Fit Wrong Shoe.

Rating: 3.5/5


Image Courtesy : Flipkart.com

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Sunday, November 4, 2012

The Bankster - Book Review


                    Before I get into the review, let me provide a quick list of things I expect from a novel classified as a thriller. 
1. A well connected plot, 
2. Gripping, edge of the seat narration, 
3. Loose ends tied up towards the end and 
4. Atleast one character that takes my arrogant deductions for a toss.

                    Ravi Subramanian’s ‘The Bankster’  in my scanner, scored a tick against all of those points except for the language and narration. That said, let’s proceed to the surgery.

                   The Bankster is an elaborate plot that describes and exposes a massive scam of international proportions, that involves diamonds and nuclear plants. Under the lens, those two areas do not matter much towards the end, but they drive the unraveling of the plot nevertheless. The story revolves around the Greater Boston Global Bank, referred to as GB2 (On the lines of DDLJ, KBKG, KANK, OSO and the like from Bollywood) and how a bunch of corrupt individuals in an unseemingly innocent day to day operation, paint a picture of fraud, money laundering and murder even.  What begins as a bits and pieces  timeline narration, grows into a full blown goose chase, brought to a glamorous and convincing conclusion by Karan Panjabi, who comes across as a minimalist version of 007. The fact that he happens to be a journalist cum ex-banker cum sleuth-in-training tends to sound a wee bit easy. I personally felt he could've just been another smart fellow who figures things out logically.

What worked for me:

- The plot in general. Good story, well-woven and neatly tied up.

- No stereotyping anyone anywhere.Which was a huge relief and helped take the story forward at a good pace.

- Though there wasn’t a big bang type of revelation during the climax, this one character’s involvement in the evil plans caught me by surprise, even if mild, and was worth the dough.

What didn't work for me:

- The language and the narration, throughout. For a thriller, it was quite bland. The plot was doing all it can to keep me intrigued but the writing remained lagging all along. So, what could’ve been a well above average thriller, ends up a few bars below, lacking panache. More reasons in the next few points.

- From cover to cover, the language is extremely colloquial and by that I mean the kind of conversational oddities we employ while talking to each other. To me, when it comes to the written word, I prefer language that stands up to some degree of quality and given this genre of fiction, lends it a more ominous and persistent voice. As a result, we have ‘na’ and ‘re’ and a generous dose of Hindi, which is not even highlighted in italics, peppering the text. Beyond a few pages, this got very annoying and watered down the seriousness of the pace. I’d cut some slack if the author had intended such dialogue to differentiate between two sides to a single character, for example, chocolate boy next door is actually a serial killer, but no, here it only makes the text sound flippant.

- I was left in a muddle at a few spots in the text.

1. Almost everyone treats everyone else like dirt. They call each other idiot, fool and swear constantly at each other. I understand that all of us are chronically frustrated towards our co-workers but I have not come across folks who hurl obscenities at another openly. What would become of bathroom breaks and back talking then! 

2. There are scene changes within chapters that could’ve been separated with a dash or star or something to that effect.

3. During the climax, Vishnu Shome goes from being introduced as Assistant commissioner of Police (ACP) suddenly to DCP (Deputy commissioner of Police) within a few pages! Typo, I assume, or that man is Sherlock Holmes (The surname could actually be a play on the name!).

4. In the first few pages, one character advises another to hire pretty women even if they aren't particularly quick on the uptake. The dialogue says ‘Hire smart young women, even if they are thick-headed’ – Eh? If a woman is smart, she can technically not be thick headed right? Enlighten me if am wrong.

- The first half of the book is slow. It picks up pace only after two thirds of the story is down. But it doesn't get boring anywhere along the way, I’ll give you that.

- There are a few grammatical errors and spacing issues that show up, a definite headache for any author and any editor, given that these days we edit on our computers. I’m including this here in the hope that people concerned with the book, might take notice and fix it in subsequent print runs.

Verdict:

The Bankster, started off as a slow disjointed read but ended up picking pace and finished as a well connected, neatly closed plot. Perfect for a weekend read, especially when you've had a tough week and would love to juggle up your mind and forget that Monday is fast approaching.

Rating : 3.5/5

P.S : My copy was autographed! :) Yay! Thank you, Mr. RaviSubramanian. All the very best.

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Monday, October 8, 2012

Thundergod: The Ascendance of Indra - Book Review


                Rajiv G Menon’s debut novel, ‘Thundergod : The Ascendance of Indra’ is a bout of relief amidst the various attempts at handling mythology by his contemporaries. While the plot draws a sigh out of you; yet another story based on yet another character out of Indian mythology. The neat narration that doesn’t lose pace (or gore for that matter) has you hooked until the end. The language is clean, save for a few bumps that I shall talk about in a minute.

                The book details the birth and rise of Indra as the king of Devas and in time, ascend to being god of thunder. What begins as a journey of vengeance, takes him through his self as a barbarian who works to become king, then the ultimate warrior, leader of brother tribes, slayer of evil and eventually graduate as a god, literally relocating to heaven, so he could keep a protective watch over lesser mortals.

                This journey as you can imagine, is not easy. Why and how Indra tackles life and his destiny is what the novel attempts to convey. Proceeding to the dissection :

Warning : This review contains spoilers. You might want to read the book first, if you don't wish to know them beforehand.

What worked for me:
1. The plot, events and narration in general. One thing leads to another naturally and the author takes us through in a logical pace.

2. Short chapters that makes it easy to navigate.

3. Subtle humour that runs along, without getting cocky.

4. I liked the names of Indra’s friends; the fact that they happen to be named so and acquire their powers only later on. The author plays a clever hand here.

What did not work for me:
1. Inspite of an interesting plotline and good narration, this book can actually be summarized in one equation : Sex + War (Die Hard style). If someone isn’t cutting someone else’s head off, or disemboweling an army, they are jumping into each others’ arms.
                  *  There are women of all sorts – goddesses, slaves, wives and friends, using sex as the only weapon to either humiliate Indra & Co or to supposedly attempt to defeat them. At one point it just got plainly queasy and felt like the author had run out of imagination. Granted, our ancestors lived literally like animals but detailed explanations everytime and the frequency only made the author sound like an ancient version of E.L.James.
                 *  If you held the book sideways and squeezed it hard, you could most definitely collect a bucket of blood and gory body parts. Ruthless killing in the name of war happens page after page. No wonder history is so violent! Be warned of possible nightmares if you sit on this one late.

2. There are atleast a hundred names in here. And a few hundred more for animals and weapons even. They all end up sounding very very alike, and sometimes even gender-neutral. I had a tough time placing Ur-Uruk and Ugra. Wait, did I get it right?

3. The war sequences are presented in excruciating detail. While watching it on screen would be easy on your imagination, reading about it line by line, grows tedious after a hundred pages.  Those sequences could have been trimmed. And, the mission of Indra, describes the need  to unite the sons of Aditi. Sadly, you have to dig that act up amidst descriptions of a hundred other battles.

4. The blurb wonders whether Indra would ever get the one woman he loves, to love him back again. There is no description of any such attempt in the book. She hates him after a terrible incident and that's it. They drift apart. Later he comes to know she considers him dead and he just let's her go. For someone he claimed as his true love, this was simply lack of effort and interest. Why?

5. The biggest thorn in this books fictional flesh, is the phrase ‘Unlike the world had ever seen’. Take my word for it when I say, that phrase appears atleast 675 times in this book. I admit, the number is exaggerated, but that is how magnificently annoying it was. It reminded me of Harold Bloom’s review of Harry Potter, where he claims JKR had over used the phrase ‘Stretched his legs’. One more occurrence and the book could have been renamed. Thundergod –Unlike the world had ever seen!

Verdict:
Thundergod is a good and interesting narrative. It guarantees a read that will take you from cover to cover, having to make only a few pitstops enroute. Definitely commendable for a debut.  Pick it up when you are in the mood for a history lesson that holds the promise of a roller coaster ride.

Rating : 3.5/5


Image courtesy : Flipkart.com

P.S : Incase you are wondering how I was able to review the book when it is due for release only later this month - Abracadabra! Read below :)

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Did you like this review? Do you agree with the points expressed? Or not? Drop in a comment. Let's discuss  :)


Saturday, October 6, 2012

Wake up call

      After 14 years of school and six years of college, I woke up this morning at 6 for the only purpose of reading. Not 'studying', or mugging up Physics definitions or trying to find my way through a calculus problem only to finally end up staring at the wall opposite that suddenly seemed far more interesting than any of the information in print. Back then my early morning trysts with existence would start out as an elaborately laid out plan of how exactly I would spend each minute toiling over earning that extra point in the exams so I could be a state topper. This morning I started out with practically no plan and ended up enjoying my reading session like never before. Perhaps the absence of an examination system breathing down my neck or the absence of submission deadlines (even my library has no reading deadlines! How awesome is that? :) ) has finally set me free. 

                 The pretty early morning picture I painted mirrored the ones I managed to create in school, one that succeeded in atleast giving others around me, the illusion of serious study. Except, today I was surrounded -  by Jeffrey Eugenides and Georgette Heyer on one side, a few debut authors on the other, Salman Rushdie knocking on my laptop screen from the inside and Fredereick Neitzsche waving at me from my Kindle, along with a couple of other geniuses. Unlike those years of academic rut, I didn't find the attendance overwhelming, rather happily flitted about from one to another, reading a few pages of each and marking down observations. It was a well earned bout of relief from trying to sketch the insides of a mitochondrion, even while explaining to myself why DC is better then AC or attempting to understand how Tamil poetry whitewashes over polygamy. 

                Over the years, I have cribbed about the education system and how even to this day, it does not achieve much with the majority of us beyond teaching the art of learning by rote. Institutional Education throughout time, in my opinion, has only been an attempt at control over chaos. It wouldn't bode well with the politics of the human mind, if most of the world was composed of free thinkers would it? These systems are akin to anaesthetics, I would say. Each of us metabolize anaesthetics over different times, meaning, some of us wake up early. To what and how, is what makes us who we are. 

               To cut a long write up short, education does not happen inside text books. It happens via everything else outside it, what we simply call life. If there is one and one thing only that I am thankful for, with respect to the system, it is for teaching me to read and write. The mechanics of it, not the 'how you are supposed to' part. For it is that ability that opened up my heart and mind to what I love the most. 

              Waking up early to read a bunch of books and write about how each one matters. 


How about you? Did the system put you to sleep or are you amongst the ones that managed to wake up? Drop in a comment. Let's discuss :)

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

The Krishna Key - Book Review


                    The first reviews that I read of ‘The Krishna Key’  were adamant on comparing Ashwin Sanghi’s latest thriller to Dan Brown’s bag of tricks. Then, I felt it was very unfair for an author to be blindly dismissed because of smiliar plot ground shared with a bestseller. Now, I sadly stand corrected. The Krishna Key, starts off, travels and chugs to a stop in typical formulaic fashion that cannot not be compared to that other fellow’s works. Alas, while Robert Langdon had me biting my nails with the agony of a wild goose chase, I wished I could have responded to Saini with a ‘No. Thank you very much’ when he handed me an invitation on the first page. I am going to directly delve into the ‘whats’ of my review.

Warning : This review contains spoilers. Do read the book first, if you wish to not know them beforehand.

What Did not work for me:

1. The narration and so many aspects of it. The entire plot revolves around a hunt, a few murders, an almost psycho youth led to believe that he is the Kalki avatar and yet the story failed to engage my intrigue in any way save for a few comparisons and facts. That is just plainly sad because the premise is outright fantastic and holds such promise.

2. The characters – None of them made me want to even remotely root for them. Everyone seemed annoyingly all knowing. Even Sir Khan! If Khan knew about everything, runs an underground empire and has powers virtually everywhere in the world, why would he need such a round about route to find what he was after? His reasons for employing Priya were just paper thin. And he dies in a puff anyway, so don’t bother.

3. The parallel narration of Krishna’s story. What was the point of it?! Really. Where did it fit in, in the story? To me, it was just a mass of text in italics that kept disrupting the already sloppy narration every now and then. I personally felt, it  mocked the legend of Krishna more than helping it in any way.

4. The flow of material – And I’m not even talking about the information overdose. Given the umpteen number of characters and sub stories, the publishers should have very seriously considered presenting them clearly. Given that they did not, you have a mass of italics followed by a dozen paragraphs of narration in the present, caught in a web of flash back and ruminations of each and every character, all in the same font, that play mind games with you. I did all I could to not chuck the book and walk away.

5. Most of the characters seemed to oddly sound the same.  There’s no distinct personality you could pinpoint. We actually have two characters counting prayer beads. Although, the higher purpose of that fact is supposedly a knot that conceals the identity of the villain. 

6. Every single sequence, save for the facts, was predictable. This is a given, in my opinion, in any kind of historical thriller. You expect such things to happen and you guess what certain characters are going to turn into. But, it is solely in the hands of the author to turn it around in his/ her favour, lend it a voice of his/her own and have  readers hooked involuntarily. This book had me rolling my eyes at every instance. 

7. Just simply too much explanation! Everywhere. Where underplay and subtlety could’ve worked wonders, Sanghi has his characters explaining everything. Literally. From composition of injection fluid at the hospital, to aircraft models, to a tough cop detailing every move she made to kick another’s ass, to why pressure applied behind the knees would stop bleeding….I could keep going on. The whole book felt like a crash course on everything under the sun.

8. As if explanations were’nt enough, there are several passages (complete) in the book that are reiterated word for word between the characters and with themselves. The dialogues are just bland. Need I say any further?

What worked for me:

I really hoped Sanghi would silence those who compared him to Brown and wished I would be one of those on his side but, the only positive thing I have to say about the story is the freshness of illustrations and images that prove some respite from the encyclopedia stuck in fiction, that is the rest of the book. Nevertheless, kudos to the effort that went into all that research, Mr. Sanghi.

Verdict:

I can handle information overload. I did read all of Dan Brown’s novels but while those books made me want to read them all over again, Sanghi’s ‘The Krishna Key’ makes me want to return the key back to Krishna. Chanakya's Chant was far better!

Rating : 2/5


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Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Announcement - Karma, Cupid & I

Its finally here! My first novel - Karma, Cupid & I 

This is how the story goes:

Twenty five year old Madhu has a peaceful present, born out of her conviction to run away from her past and all the hurt it brought her. Karma is a bitch, she learnt the hard way. Given that, surprise isn't the only emotion that Madhu feels when Karma returns and brings back people and situations Madhu worked hard to run from. What she doesn't know is that, this time around, Karma intends to fix things. Will Madhu make a different choice? If it means, earning all the happiness she rightly deserves? If it means, she might finally find true love?

The book release is scheduled for early September and the pre-order is currently doing the rounds on Flipkart. You can book yourself a copy with a discount of 25% here :

Karma, Cupid & I - Flipkart pre-order


And to give you a sneak peek into the novel, there's a sample chapter here :

http://www.scribd.com/doc/102130916/Karma-Cupid-I

Visit the bookpage on Facebook for latest updates, discussions and contests :

https://www.facebook.com/KarmaCupidI


Go ahead! Check it out :) One breezy funny romance coming your way soon!

Thanks in advance for your support!

Cheers!

Shades of Life - Book Review



                      It was time to sit, plan and execute a plan for survival. We had to accept this as a challenge’ reads one line in the beginning of this narration. The background to this declaration is the knowledge of the fact that twelve and a half year old Aditya has been diagnosed with acute kidney disease. While most people would have gone crumbling along with their world, when hit with news of such a magnitude, Aditya’s mother and family took it as a challenge that they eventually overcame with extraordinary measures of optimism and healthcare.

                      Shades of life is a first person account of Aditya’s struggle and subsequent recovery from  Renal Failure that caused him to lose function in both kidneys even before adolescence. While it was the boy who suffered from the clinical implications of the disease, his family – father, mother and elder brother, suffered along with him, emotionally as well. Vasundhara Ramanujan’s moving account, detailing her younger son’s condition and how it affected and changed normal life for the family, is a revelation. Of how, the ring of suffering and recovery is not just restricted to the patient but extends to his loved ones who wish to see him heal and return to life as they once knew it.

                     The book is a trove of information on renal disease, a more personal account rather than medical, offered from the point of view of Vasundhara and her family. While a text book or encyclopedia might give you all technical details of the condition and case studies to accompany, Aditya’s story includes a different perspective. It gives you, in addition, the reaction of a family, which until a stubborn headache, had a peaceful existence worrying about the result of cricket matches and college admissions. You get to feel and experience the patient side of the story, from the initial shock to coming to grip with the condition and choosing to fight to live and live with better health.

What worked for me:

1.       Short chapters with concise accounts of events.
2.       Chronological sequencing of experiences and information that make this book more of a journal than a compilation of medical inferences.
3.       The physician profiles at the end, detailing the work and achievements of experts in the field that I am sure will be useful to many.
4.       The honest tone of the book that does not at any point of time attempt to be overtly dramatic.

What did not work for me:

1.       While being a science student puts me at an advantage for understanding the medical terms and names of drugs listed in this book, to a non-science reader, it does tend to come across sometimes as too much detail.
2.       Some chapters have a final passage called reflections, that goes on to explain in some more detail about the emotional side of points covered in the text. In my opinion, I didn’t really find the need to separate the passages. They seemed to convey the same kind of matter as the rest of the chapter.
3.       The narration, fueled by a very emotional trove of experiences tends to get monotonous at times. There are opinions, anger, confusion and clarity from so many people closely involved with the problem, not to mention Aditya himself and I couldn’t help but want for a tighter script.

Verdict:

Shades of Life is a story of survival. Of how one family braved it through two critical health problems that threatened to rob one of their own, of holistic living. When you just can’t find that ray of sunshine in your life, pick up this book.  Aditya and his indomitable spirit will help you through.

Rating: 3/5


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Image Courtesy : http://www.shadesoflife.org/about.htm

Title : Shades of Life
Author : Vasundhara Ramanujan
Publisher : Westland
Price : 195


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Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Unstemmed Tears


                    The atmosphere in the kitchen is stuffy. It is the aftermath of a broken promise of rain that evening. The tears continue to flow down my cheeks. They have reached pouring stage since two minutes ago and I do nothing but endure them in silence like I have been doing for a while now. I make no attempt to wipe them on my apron or my sleeve because both easy access sponges are soaked to saturation with my lachrymal brine.
                    I make use of a series of sniffs to keep my running nose from joining the moisture party on my face, raging already, courtesy my tears and sweat. I go about my work, with extra caution now. My husband is in the living room and I don’t want him to find out about my state of affairs. He doesn’t like it when I bring out the waterworks and he has already reprimanded me twice, harshly at that. He doesn’t understand that all my toil, is ultimately for him. A strong sniffle breaks free of me, before I could help it. I freeze for a moment because I fear he must’ve caught wind of it.
                    ‘Honey,’ he calls out from the living room. ‘I can hear you sniffling again.’
                     I try hastily to finish what I am doing but before I can hide the evidence, he appears at the kitchen door and fixes me with a glare. ‘How many times do I have to ask you to use the vegetable cutter with the lid? Look at you, dicing onions in the open again! You are going to spoil your lenses,’ he utters. I stand there, caught red-handed, being told off for my laziness in not using the cutter.
                     He shakes his head and wipes my tears with his handkerchief. ‘Don’t exaggerate when you blog about this tonight,’ he tells me, as he kisses my forehead and walks away with a smile.


Image courtesy : http://www.holesinyoursocks.com/2011/02/07/onion-tears-2/

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Saturday, July 7, 2012

Book Review - Poor Little Rich Slum



               Poor Little Rich Slum, the latest from Rashmi Bansal and Deepak Gandhi,  begins with the old poem,  ‘It was six men of Indostan…Who went to see the Elephant’ Unlike those blind men of Indostan however, the authors of this book, in my opinion have succeeded in painting a picture of the Elephant with better clarity and resolution.  Poor Little Rich Slum is an out and out account of Dharavi (dhaa-raa-vi), Asia’s largest slum, as it stands credited and the grounds of Slumdog Millionaire as it was further popularized as. 
  
              The book has the feel and effect of a handycam taping a day in Dharavi, with a voiceover by the authors that steps aside occasionally to let the locals talk. Focusing on the Dharavi Redvelopment Project at the outset, the authors proceed to obtain a critical opinion for themselves on what goes into life at Dharavi and why all this fuss about DRP anyway. What follows is a glimpse into the reality that has lingered over Dharavi ever since it all began, one that leaves you amazed, confused, touched and outright speechless in the end.

              With my usual judging a book by the cover exercise, I anticipated this account would either be a story of accomplishment – Check it out, we did a study in a well known slum; or a manuscript for one of those documentaries that Social workers come up with – dark, questioning  and uncomfortable. The fact is, it was both, but without being cocky and arrogant like the former or depressing and blameful like the latter. This was an honest account of things as they are, from a group of people who chose to venture into the study with as much nervousness as any individual that chooses to do something right because he believes in it.

             The account takes us into the lives and existence of Dharavi folk, natives and immigrants alike. It speaks mostly of how, under what we see as grime and slush, are living beings who do not seem to share the same world as us, but sustain in a dynamic world of their own; with the same kind of dreams and aspirations as ours, but deprived of an easy entry ticket. To the urban eye Dharavi sounds and appears lost. Listen to the voices in this book and you’ll know you couldn’t have been more wrong. For Dharavi is a huge pulsating heart, that beats with the spirit of its people, a thousand success stories running through its spine.

             Every story presented, reeks of optimism and survival of the human spirit through the toughest of times; hardwork is a habit at Dharavi and it is not considered an imposition, which is what makes its inmates an enigma. What you make out of the stories in this book are entirely up to you because whatever I might conclude would only be subjective. But in the stricter view of a book review:

What worked for me:

     1.       Tiny chapters with delicious pictures at every turn and spaced out printing.
     2.       Simplicity of narration that didn’t try to wallow in sorrow, blame urban dwellers or delve into the poetic for effect.
     3.       The beautiful pictures by Dee Gandhi.

What didn’t work for me:

     1.       It is a bi-lingual narrative given the interviews with Dharavi residents featured, but I personally felt there should have been an English translation for Hindi dialogues for folks who are not familiar with the language.
     2.       One sore fact remains that, after the roller coaster ride through Dharavi this book takes us through, I could, in the end, still not understand what the authors’ stand is on the DRP. Do they agree? Do they not agree? Do they want us to decide?
     3.       I personally feel, Dharavi is too huge a study to be put into one single book and while the earnestness of the authors stands appreciated, it is only the tip of the iceberg that is featured between these covers.
     4.       A majority of these stories are of success and achievement. Of how people made it through hardship. But reality has an ugly side to it and in a place like Dharavi one can only assume a stronger presence of it. The authors but only touch lightly upon it. So the question in the end becomes – Do you want us to save Dharavi only for its successful side?

      My verdict:
Poor Little Rich Slum, to me is like a vitamin pill. I know I will browse through it when my urban life gets dull, boring or depressing because if, with an environment like Dharavi and no luxuries whatsoever, men and women can work their butts off to chase after their dreams, I should be able do a hundred times as much. 


Rating:
3.5 / 5

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Monday, May 28, 2012

Home is where the heart is


           It amazes me when I realize its been twenty five years since this house was built. It looks like it has existed for much more. And after all these years of being its owner, I am finally handing it over to someone that I hope would take better care of it. I can only hope the new owner would understand how precious this house has been to me, to a few others who lived here in the course of time and in general, warm and cozy to many that chose to seek shelter.
           I take a walk slowly, taking care to tread gently lest I disturb the memories that seem to linger in every crack and crevice, nook, corner and dust swirl. I wonder about the things this house has seen, people it has observed, weathers it has braved and silence it has borne. The signs show. I’ve been a very erratic caretaker. I’ve renovated this house multiple times but never completely. It was always about fixing a temporary crack, or weak pipelines or a new coat of paint.
          There was this one time when an entire wing collapsed and I had to come down personally to oversee the reconstruction that turned out to be very expensive. I was advised against spending so much to fix a lost cause but I knew I wanted to. This was my house and it was my way of covering up for the guilt behind having neglected it long enough to collapse, in the first place.
         This house will always remain close to me for it was built when I was born and I developed an intimate friendship with it as I grew up. I know its layout like a drawing out of an anatomy book. I’ve been to every part of it, explored every room and staircase. It has so many warm corners to lounge in and a huge terrace where I used to sit and dream of conquering the world. It reminds me of those old houses you see down the countryside, enormous and tough, built with utmost taste and pride.
         There are parts of it that are bright, where the sun doesn’t have to figure out an entry. There are also parts of it that are dark, spots that were perfect for childhood mischief and storing truckloads of secrets, but ones that I’ve long stopped visiting. As a child, you don’t understand the meaning of fear but as an adult, fear scares you and the fact that you can sometimes not understand why, terrifies you further.
        There are so many paintings on the wall, procured from time to time, pictures I’ve loved and cherished, things that I request renters to retain. When they don’t relent, I have them moved to one of those many rooms that they are never to open, by written contract. With a house as huge as this, I can’t quite empty out all archives everytime someone moves in and logically, they won’t need so much room anyway.
        Like the house, I’ve seen good renters, bad and worse. I guess it comes with the ownership. There were some that took great care, retained my tasteful décor and added to make it better. Some suggested changes that made a corridor more beautiful or created more space and light. I took them sometimes and they never protested when I didn’t. They treated my house like they would treat theirs. I always grew sad when such renters moved away. There were also ones that caused mayhem and billed me for damages! I didnt’t think twice about kicking them out but one thing that I am not proud of is my lack of judgement with such kind of renters. I kept renting out the space to similar people quite often.
        I heave a deep sigh as I take another look at the house. It looks simple and compact from the outside but there are just so many levels on the inside that you could only discover by exploration. My gaze falls on this long crack on the wall opposite, that runs like a scar borne out of deep circumstances. I run a hand over it and remember working on it a while ago to fix it. I had succeeded in concealing it under a fancy new shade of paint but ever since talks about the new deal began, the house has come under intense scrutiny. Bad spots revealed, bright spots taken stock of, weak links and strong links noted, foundation tested and even some of the unopened rooms opened and studied.
        I can’t really complain because, like I said, I’ve been a lousy care taker, despite loving the house so much and it needs a fresh breath of life. The new owner is nice and considerate. I chose him out of all others interested because he seemed to know about handling houses and my gut told me I could trust him.

                                                 *   *   *

        I handed over the keys this morning and shook hands with the new owner. His sincere smile boosted my confidence a little higher. I took one final look at my house and walked on.

                                                 *   *   * 

       My husband got in beside me and we drove on. I leaned in on his shoulder and he accommodated me in his arms. With the heavy weight of being a caretaker, off my chest, I proceeded to fall into a well-earned, deep sleep, free of worry and trouble as he stroked my hair. The new owner of my house - my heart. 


Image courtesy : http://flanaganrealty.com/2011/02/home-is-where-the-heart-is-happy-valentines-day/

Saturday, May 5, 2012

The Devotion of Suspect X - Book Review


            
           I began reading ‘The Devotion of Suspect X’ with a justified assumption. This was yet another translation that was going to probably leave me yawning despite claiming to be a murder mystery. I couldn’t have been more wrong! Keigo Higashino’s award winning bestseller is out in the international market and is sweeping audiences world over. With valid reason at that.

           The story begins on a lazy routine morning introducing the insular lives of Yasuko Hanoaka and her daughter Misato Hanoaka. Yasuko works at a food outlet nearby and leads a simple uninterrupted life where she bothers no one and no one bothers her. The apartment next door is occupied by one Mr. Tetsuya Ishigami, who is a high school math teacher fond of the same lifestyle that Yasuko adopts, passionate about math, math and math. The only exception to his interests is Yasuko for whom he harbours a liking and frequents her shop to buy his lunch and have a look at her.

           All seems well until Shinji Togashi pays Yasuko a surprise visit. The man is a vile con, who was Yasuko’s ex-husband. It is revealed that Yasuko suffered a terrible time being married to him and left him after having summoned courage and money with great difficulty. She subsequently moved and changed jobs quite a bit until she was sure that Togashi was off their trail. Yet, there he was, back in her life and threatening to interfere with force. What follows is an innocent argument after which Yasuko pays Togashi to get him to leave. The situation is almost under control but one moment of misjudgment from the young Misato breaks hell out. She attacks Togashi with a flower vase intending to rid themselves of him for good. In the skirmish that follows, mother and daughter end up murdering Togashi in cold blood!

          As they lie wondering about their life turned upside down within a few minutes, their neighbor, the math teacher Mr. Ishigami, offers to help cover up the murder. And from there, the story picks up as a proper murder mystery. Ishigami is a stickler for simple logic, something that is evident from his teaching methods and the kind of research he does. The underlying genius that he uses to cover up Yasuko’s guilt is kept behind the screen and only revealed in bits and pieces as the story proceeds. Two detectives, Kusanagi and his assistant Kishitani investigate the case and with a combination of hunches and logic, include Yasuko as a suspect. But Ishigami’s master plot is as elaborate as a game of chess with every move anticipated and accounted for.

          When Kusanagi draws a blank with his leads, he approaches Professor Yukawa, nicknamed Detective Galileo, a mad-genius physicist who helps the police with tough investigations. Yukawa, as it turns out, is a friend of Ishigami, a long lost contact he rediscovers. With Yukawa joining the hunt for the murderer, things get tougher for Ishigami because now he has to account for the sharp deductive skills of his friend as well. How he does precisely that and how Yukawa counters his genius is what the rest of the story brings forward.

What I liked:

 - The fantastic and crisp translation by Alexander O. Smith and Elye J. Alexander.  The narrative is very simple and very concise. There is not a single point of stagnation in the flow.

- Short chapters. I personally like it if a story is chopped into easy to read chapters that will allow you to take a breather in between and also maintain a smooth continuation.

- The absence of verbose descriptions that run to pages describing the place, people and setting. NIL. The story has the right amount of descriptions, the right number of characters, each of them distinguished in their own style and behavior.

- The pace of the story. Agreed, the story doesn’t fly like a Dan Brown plot but for a murder mystery, when authors normally tend to write so much to throw readers off track so that the end twist would be effective,  Higashino surprisingly maintains normal tone and narration, trusting the story to work on its own. I would say the trick worked because given the pace of the story, I was able to finish the book in four hours flat.


What didn’t appeal to me:

- The character of Mr. Kudo, who I assume was introduced only to provide a diversion and make the reader consider him a suspect. I thought he only added a few extra pages.

- The names of characters. From Kusanagi to Kishitani to Ishigami to Yukawa, I had a hard time keeping track of their names. Tongue twisters if you may!

- The big finish. They claim that the twist in the end would feel like a slap across your face but sadly, it wasn’t so for me. The way the twist is revealed, doesn’t make you gasp in surprise or cry out loud at how you missed it. After a good bout of narration for over 300 pages, the grand finishing touch, merely fizzles out!

- The climax. The story builds up and around Ishigami and Yasuko and given the ending, I felt their characters and the bond they develop, should’ve been much more stronger. With a breezy existence in her life, the decisions Ishigami makes for Yasuko and the ones she makes for him, just don’t come across as very convincing. They leave you a tad disappointed and forced to accept things at face value.

Verdict:

The Devotion of Suspect X is definitely a good read, supported by crisp translation, a fast-paced narrative, an intriguing plot and a bunch of interesting characters. I would recommend this book, for a boring afternoon or a lazy Sunday when classics are not appealing and that big fat book you are reading now is temporarily lost on you. This book is a palette cleanser.

My rating:

3.5 out of 5

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Thursday, April 26, 2012

Goodbye



               The hardest part is always the goodbye. I’ve read somewhere that goodbye is only until we meet again but that is just a bucket of lies. A goodbye undeniably takes away a piece of your heart that will never truly be replaced again. Today, I know for a fact that this goodbye will take away a bigger chunk of his hear t than mine. The guilt engulfs me like a particularly dark thought within the confines of an idle mind, intent on never allowing me to seek forgivance. If at all there’s someone willing to listen to my side of the story, for the simple need for fair judgement, this was not my choice to make. I tried to figure out an alternate way that would allow me to continue with our relationship. I honestly did. There were plainly no other workable options.
              You don’t have to necessarily point a judgemental finger at me because I already hold myself responsible. Love is a very serious commitment. Something that shouldn’t be overridden by petty issues like life and its crossroads. I knew it quite clearly when I got myself into this bond. I swore, more to myself than I did to him, that this time it was real and it felt so right. If I’ve failed miserably at giving myself a convincing explanation for my betrayal, you can rest assured that I cannot locate one for you.
              I sit here biting my quivering lip, at the station. A cool breeze brushes rudely by as if trying to slap some sense into me.  The overhead loudspeaker cackles to life and a metallic female voice announces the 7.15 train. My heart begins to race and breaks when the distant horn reaches my ears. A tear threatens to renounce my cooked-up bravery and announce my cowardice for all to see. The chug rhythm draws near as I wonder hopelessly about how he is going to take it. If walking away from someone hurts on one end of the pain spectrum, walking away for someone new, hurts on the extreme at the other. I stand waiting to administer precisely that to him.
              Another horn acknowledges m y presence and lingers a wee bit, sensing something wrong in the air around me and deducing quickly the reason behind it. I board silently and manage unsuccessfully to restrain a fat tear from dampening the lapel of my jacket. Twenty five excruciating minutes later, I alight where I always do and turn a sorrow laden face to the slender locomotive behind me.
             I won’t be making the return journey this evening. I am taking the bus to work from tomorrow. Is it just me or did the train just pull out of the station in complete silence, mourning my breaking his heart again?

Monday, March 26, 2012

A letter of request


From

       Non smokers

To  
   
       Smokers     

       


Sub:  Stop killing...us



Respected Sir/ Madam,      

       On behalf of all the non-smokers out here, I would like to request you to stop the carnage. Atleast take it away from us. I very respectfully accept your need to draft your own slow death methodology and indulge systematically in a dozen calculated puffs everyday. It is your right, what you do with your life. It is your choice to willingly accept the fact that one of these days you will bravely walk the corridors of a hospital with your cancer diagnosis in hand. You decided to smoke today because you have not a care in the world, you can afford to let your worries, tension and the need to project a cool personality, get to you and make you relax from the whiff of tobacco swirling around your nose. You are brave because you decided to smoke inspite of the fact that one day you might wake up and fall in love, only to discover you don’t have long to live. We look at you in awe and wonder.    

        Most of you are young intelligent students, or working professionals drawing a heavy salary so I hope I am right in assuming your genius minds can come up with some idea to stop your precious smoke from reaching us, the non-cool folks. A helmet maybe? That way, you get to maximize on the amount of smoke as well! Wouldn't it be worth every penny that you burnt off from the month's spending budget? I am sure this would be as simple as lighting a fag, because you have a good educational background and all those foreign and local author books in the library must atleast carry some tricks to build a contraption of that nature.      
              
        You ask us rightly why we make such a fuss and point out that all of us are going to end up in the dirt someday. We non-smokers are a bunch of cowards, wanting a healthy life to share, healthy anatomy and psyche to offer to loved ones. We already have too much on our plates, fighting to stay alive amidst recession, pollution, COPD alerts and lack of common sense. It is therefore a request, from all of us, to please stop adding a hundred extra carcinogens to our worry list. December 2012 already ranks as our greatest headache, for we wonder if we would have enough time to do what we have to do, love people that love us and make peace with things we can't complete. We chose the hard non-smoking way, over slow suicide. Forgive us, but our time already is limited and I pray you don't make it shorter than it already is. We are married to you, we are your parents, we are your kids and we are your lovers. Have some mercy. We are a bunch of selfish cowards you see.  


Thanking you,
Sincerely,
A passive smoker






Image courtesy : http://topnews.net.nz/content/221652-smoking-case-8-year-old-boy-proves-government-s-failure




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