Sunday, October 6, 2013

Book Review - Asura: The Tale Of the Vanquished

Ravana sees himself as the epitome of a complete human being; So, Rama may be seen as God but Ravana is the more complete man.’ Thus proclaims Anand Neelakantan’s take on Ravana’s story, Asura: The Tale of the Vanquished. I’m hooked by these lines right in the beginning that describe why Ravana was perceived as a Dasamukha, what the ten ‘faces’ denote. I am extremely impressed with the point of view and thoroughly excited about listening to the other side of the story, giving the fallen a chance to voice their reason. And then I go on to read a fantastic book that cements my secret vote for Ravana, justifying the benefit of the doubt that I have reserved for him all along. Right? You couldn’t be more wrong.  

While the idea of shifting the point of view from the popular to the villainous is completely laudable, the book reads like a punishment save for the 1st chapter that details Ravana’s final moments of contemplation. I am not happy hacking away at this one, but I wish to be fair to the reviewing process.

This review contains spoilers. If you would prefer not to know what happens, I suggest you read the book before you get to this.

What did not work for me:

1 – Editing
Terrible to the say the least and virtually absent at too many instances. If I were to dig deep, I’d have to quote about 95% of the sentences used in the book for bad grammar and sentence formation. My copy is marked up in ink from start to finish and not in a good way. There’s a sentence in this book that describes someone’s growth as ‘matured into a mature minister of finance.’ If this doesn’t rest my case, no issues, I can still give you a hundred more.

2 – Language and Narration
While an interesting plot cannot survive on its own, shrewd and tight editing has a strong chance at salvaging the best parts of what’s available. This novel has biting wit running through its pages that makes for some seriously enjoyable moments. But the narration & language in particular begin to sound jarring beyond a point due to switching tenses and it gets outright annoying, the editing not holding up the least bit. What takes off to a glorious start, left me cheated and disgusted, by the nonchalant attention paid to details or logic, I can’t quite decide.

3 – Stereotypes
Any point of view finds leverage in a fact, creating a protagonist or an antagonist to support. The author grounds his story on the unfair treatment meted out to Asuras by the Brahmins of earlier society, eventually phasing them out and making outcasts of them all. While this is a strong reason for rebellion, one you can logically assume Ravana to revolt against, the plausibility holds good only for a while beyond which it just becomes an open Brahmin-bashing fest, without backing arguments. The equivalent of Hulk saying ‘Hulk mad. Hulk don’t know why.’ Assuming you are okay with the bashing and maybe hope that the Asuras would have a solid system that works for them, you can argue for, you’d be sadly disappointed. Throughout the book, the Asuras, and that includes the protagonist Ravana, claim nothing but disgust for their clan of men and women who drink, dine and sleep around all the time and basically agree that they are not worthy of redemption. They remain that way until the end, Bhadra being the stellar prototype. What are we expected to support here exactly?

4 – Characters
I cannot sufficiently describe how disappointing this novel was without detailing why the different characters portrayed did nothing to earn my respect, but considering I’d run the risk of writing a novella out of it, let me try to be precise.

A – Bhadra: Never have I come across a more disgusting man in stories that I have read. This one’s a spineless, pride less, jobless drunkard specializing in debauchery and the lowliest form of unfaithfulness, to his king, to the women in his life, a man with zero ethics and a terribly confusing portrayal from beginning to end. He has a back story where he loses his wife and daughter to a Deva raid, and how I wish he’s been killed too. He suddenly proclaims Ravana as his king, literally behaves like a dog with him, then jumps ship, then comes back again, drinks, sleeps around, kills men, plots against Ravana, goes back to being faithful to Ravana, curses him, always has access to the palace, falls at Ravana’s feet and declares his undying love for him and finally kicks Ravana’s bones from his funeral pyre into the sea. What the f***?
And like I already mentioned, he is the classic example of how every single Asura behaves in this book. Bhadra never moves a muscle to find work, chastises the king for treating him like a beggar and then scrambles with other beggars to retrieve silver coins from the ditch to buy drinks. What was the author thinking?

B – Mandodari
One thing that has always stood out for me in the stories surrounding Ravana that I’ve heard is the love he shared with his wife, Mandodari. Don’t expect that here. Ravana’s arranged marriage is a joke, one he makes of it in the beginning, where he hates his bride and suddenly two pages later, he is in love with his wife, just like that, out of the blue! Those two hardly talk, practically yell at each other all the time and appear to be in pain when in each other’s company. He cheats on her, multiple times, even makes a kid and the relationship they share is so very disturbing you can’t help but think they need therapy. I don’t know if there’s even a point discussing this anymore but maybe I should tell you this – towards the end, all of Lanka is at war, Ravana wants to tell Sita that he is her father and Mandodari suddenly appears out of nowhere to put a hand on Ravana and tell him it’s ok. And get this, Ravana begins to undress her (the author’s words. Not mine.) And nothing works. He is sad that the passion between them is lost.
I was just stumped. I read on only because I wanted to keep my word about reviewing this book.

C – Ravana
This one will seriously turn into a full size novel if I begin listing how badly Ravana is portrayed in this book. The stories I’ve heard about him, depict him in a tyrannical light, yet mention what a fantastic ruler he was, caring about his people and building an empire out of nothing. He was a talented man, devout and principled and for want of better analogy, did things that were terrible, yet great. (Similar to Ollivander’s description of the Dark Lord’s actions in Harry Potter.) The Ravana in this book starts off as a disadvantaged teenager with ample reason to fight for his place in the world and overthrow it in the process. And just as you watch him, he turns out to be a whiny, talentless wreck, more interested in women and occasionally the arts as he claims, surrounded by people he can’t control, behaving like a teenager right upto his death, absolutely clueless about what he wants and what he should do to get there, trying to answer the why’s along the way. It’s pointless to even write about this any longer. If you have even an ounce of respect for Ravana, you’ll lose it if you read this version of what could’ve happened. I’m going to revert to my opinion of him gleaned from childhood stories, thank you very much.

5 – Logic
Logic takes ad-hoc vacations at so many points in this narrative. To name a few:

-  Maricha’s supposed skinning of a deer and fitting under its skin and jumping around like a deer
- Every single Asura army man boozes on the job, dozes on the job, sniggers at their king openly, doesn’t even bother to light candles in the durbar, never takes any threat seriously and the entire system is a huge security threat. Bhadra keeps getting into the fort as do a number of other people, there are so many traitors around and all Ravana does when he acknowledges these gaping issues is go ‘Grrr’ in his mind. Sheesh!
- Varuna, the pirate-king/ enemy suddenly gets promoted behind the scenes to Ravana’s best friend. Abracadabra!
- The Vanaras are described as a mixed caste of people, led to independence by Bali and only referred to as monkey-men due to their jungle ways. So when Hanuman holds court with Ravana and he orders for Hanuman’s ‘tail’ to be burned, literally, so that he can feel the pain when he sits, your cry of anguish isn’t all that unfair. Not back, not butt, but his ‘tail’. Sigh.
- This is the best one of them all: ‘Women were treated by Deva men as nothing more than commodities’ thinks Ravana when he attends Sita’s swayamvar and isn’t fond of the whole a –contest-for-the-princess’s-hand concept. As opposed to Asura men, including Ravana jumping at every single chance to ‘take women’ (the author’s words. Not mine.) Now isn’t that very honorable. What WAS the author thinking?

I’m going to stop here and just say it was a task getting through this book that seemed to hold such promise in the beginning. If I could sum up Ravana’s argument based on this read, it would go something like this:

Ravana: ‘Hey, what d’ya want from me man? All I wanted was to be Emperor. Can’t blame all the crap that went on around me that I didn’t know how to control. I lost interest midway, anyhow. So yeah dude, whatever. Should’ve taken up music or something.’

Rating: 1/5 for the novel idea of a different point of view.

Verdict: Enough said.

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Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Ring The Bell - Child Marriage

Women have been part of the backbone of change and development in this country for as far as one can trace back in history. While they have had to fight their way up at every single stop, it is quite disturbing to witness the baseless struggles that women continue to be subjected to, given the current state of empowerment we believe we’ve rightly earned.

To me, the glaring statistics presented with regard to child marriage in Bihar, only reiterate the difference I’ve always held between being ‘Literate’ and ‘Educated’. One of the long standing problems that this country is yet to find a solution to is a kind of stereotyping in the name of culture and tradition that has unfortunately been misrepresented under various circumstances and has not managed to undergo any positive form of evolution. It doesn’t help if a girl child in Bihar is taught to read and write when the practical education she’s going to receive from her societal setup is to obey what the family dictates, marriage being a part of the package.

So, the first step I would take in a ‘Ring The Bell’ gesture would be to create awareness about the difference ‘practical education’ can bring and sharpen the objective for the process. It is imperative that people first understand that there is a glaring problem, for them to be willing to work towards a solution. The parents of every girl child should be made to feel responsible for their ward as an asset and not as a liability warranting quick profitable disposal. A phenomenal change in attitude is called for.

Step two would be to create more exposure to the outside world, a term I use here loosely to denote the rest of India in comparison to the cocoon that girls in Bihar seem to be tied to.  A systematic education program can be included as part of schooling, to talk to female students about opportunities available, what they are capable of. They can be given material to read, watch and listen, on women achievers from around the world and quite simply on urban women who juggle work, family and ambitions every single day. They need to be made aware of the physical and emotional trouble that child marriage can bring in and counseled towards realizing their potential, taking responsibility for their own lives and making informed choices.

Step three would be to make noise. The cause could be projected as a brand and pushed forward to the common man, effort dedicated towards making people talk about it to a sufficient degree that Bihar would have no other choice but to sit up and take notice. The recent spot fixing issue has proved only too well how strong a wave of reaction we can create as a country of people together. For once, we could put our rage to better use. This article is my two cents and one voice, feeble as may be.  

Let’s ring that bell and bring about a necessary change.

This post was written as a part of the Ring The Bell initiative for IndiChange on IndiBlogger.inCheck out details here : Ring The Bell  Write a post and make some noise!

Friday, April 5, 2013

I read, therefore I review

       I recently reviewed two books back to back and ended up loving one and not favoring the other much. While as a bookworm that forms a part of my existence, relating to the written word on varying levels, it struck a peculiar chord with me as a reviewer. 
      I realized that when I agree to review a book, I’m not merely reading it, I’m judging it as well. And in this age of the Internet and heated tempers, not many take a diplomatic view when it comes to agreeing to disagree. It also remains that, with books, reputation is built by word of mouth and sometimes all it takes is one review to tip the scales for you either way. That said, here’s some insight on what I do as a reviewer and some pointers on how to choose the word you can trust the best.

What I Do:

1 – Choice of books: My reviewing commitments are spaced out. I make sure I have the time to focus on whatever I’m reading and ensure I finish a book before I form an opinion.

2 – Comments: I maintain a reading journal or atleast sticky notes throughout the book so that I can quickly jot down a criticism or appreciation or question as and when I’m reading.

3 – Favorites/Stereotypes/Pre-judging: I do not let prejudices get in the way of my review. Each review is subjective. That said, I do have certain expectations from different genres, like for example, nail-biting sequences in a thriller, but that’s only general. I’ve had books live up to my expectations and sometimes blow my pre-conceived notions through the wall. That’s what makes you grow. That’s the hallmark of good writing.

4 – Incubation: I don’t jump at my laptop to write a review immediately after I finish a book. I give myself atleast an hour or two, or overnight if possible to let the idea sink in. That’s my buffer time to get over mere reactions and move on to more proactive commenting. That is how I exercise responsible journalism.

5 – Categories & Clarity: I try my best to categorize my comments and provide as much clarity as possible. I prefer to be honest with my review than be funny to gain a following. I don’t trash for popularity. I’m an author too. I know what goes on behind the scenes, both before and after print.

6 – Openness: I don’t review to create an image, so I’m not looking to be a patronizing or a demoralizing figure who wields power. I’m merely just another bookworm blogger who loves to read. I don’t expect to have THE opinion, I only have AN opinion.  You are welcome to agree or disagree with me.

7 – Role: When I’m a reviewer, I play the role only of a reviewer. I don’t compare an author’s writing to my own writing. I do learn from every book I read and review but I know my place and I most certainly don’t criticize based on the fact that I too am a writer. I consider myself a blogger first and I adhere to the reviewing policy of whatever medium I’m doing it for. Some sites and platforms out there do not allow peer authors to review each others’ books.

Who should I believe?

When you decide to read reviews for a book, it helps to keep certain points in mind.

1 – The source: This talks about the credibility of the reviewer.  The Internet, being an open medium, allows both encouraging and damaging reviews to be posted virtually everywhere. There have been instances where rival authors try to taint each others’ images by posting reviews against a work. As a reader, it’s very important to know how credible the source of a review is.

2 – Be open: The best thing about the world of books is that there is no single blanket opinion that can be pronounced over a work. What someone loves, you might dislike and vice versa. Always remember that each individual is entitled to his/her opinion. Constructive discussions can be enlightening but blaming someone for not seeing things your way is just plain chauvinism.

3 – Choose wisely: What reviews/reviewers you choose to follow can be established with a little background work. Read as many reviews from a person as possible and find out if you and the reviewer agree on a majority of things you expect out of a book. This will help highlight what you focus on when it comes to a book. With any new review be prudent enough to accept that while you agreed on another write-up, there’s every chance you might not agree with this one.

4 - Be a sport: No matter what anyone tells you, there is no fixed rule to the kind of books or authors you should like. Reading is a privilege. How you go about it is your business. And in truth, what some reviewer thinks about your favorite author should not alter your opinion of him/her. Therefore, dismissing a reviewer’s opinion just because they don’t like your reading list or trying to get back at them by criticizing their works will not get you anywhere. If you think they are wrong, read the book yourself and judge it by your own standards.

These days it has become relatively easy to communicate with authors and with luck, they might read your reviews and actually listen to your pointers. Afterall, every writer knows his/her written word will always be a work in progress. :)

Read and review responsibly :)


Book Review - Tantra

            Tantra, is the latest book to hit the stores, in the Indian fantasy fiction genre. The author is Adi. I wonder if it was a PR choice to just go with a more personal version of his name straightaway. I don’t know how everyone else is taking it, but to me it just feels unconnected. I keep waiting for something to follow the name, a surname or a moniker. Something that’ll endear to me, the owner of the text I’m ploughing through.
And that also remains my strongest complaint about the novel. It just doesn’t connect.

           Tantra tells you the story of a vampire hunter who fills out for a transfer from NYC to Delhi. She has her reasons, vengeance being one of them. How she adapts to what is originally her country and a relatively lackadaisical hunting system, stumbles upon the bad guy who is trying to take over the world, albeit for reasons he thinks are legitimate and how she thwarts his attempt, form the gist.

           Reading the book, I felt like watching TV on a day where heavy rain has messed up the system and the picture is all but a cluster of dots and bands and lines on the screen, buzzing out every few seconds. You don’t collectively watch any program but you know it still counts as watching TV. That’s as best as I can explain my experience.  
Let me get down to the tough part, then.

What did not work for me:

Where do I begin?

1 – The heroine : Anu. Again, named to match the brevity of the author’s, is a very confused woman indeed.

She annoyed me to my limits and here’s why:

She calls herself badass
She is NOT badass

She tries to be sarcastic
She is oh so not sarcastic
She thinks she loved Brian
From her account of it, I felt Brian was more of an enjoyable sexual experiment. She did say ‘fuck me’ to him every single time they met and not once an ‘I love you’ or a confession.
She thinks grabbing mens' balls is badass
I think she is a sex addict who likes to play games. Not to mention the dozen other recollections and incidents involving flirting, blushing, grabbing, ‘fucking’ (her words, not mine) and even slapping a guy after making out. She needs therapy. She could’ve done well as a character on Gossip Girl.
She thinks she’s falling for Gaurav
Dude, protect your balls.
She thinks wearing leather makes her cool
I think she isn’t professional enough to adapt to her mission or atleast pretend to.

I think, a more diabolical name could’ve helped her image a little bit, if not salvage it. Something like Maya or Tara or Shakthi or even Tantra. I actually thought hence the title.

2 – Language & Narration : I have no solid complaint in the grammar department but the narration was not engaging at all. There was something missing, a hook maybe or style or perhaps execution. The plot is actually decent and has potential but it just did not work for me.

3 – Details : Too much at times, too little at others. Some of the characters are similar and a few others do not make any impact. Nina aunty was irritating, Smiti was a Xerox of Nina aunty. Chandra, Panditji, Dr. Sharma, Suresh and Karim sounded like each other, and the villain Senaka actually had very little part to play!

There was a lot of mumbo jumbo explanation that Anu wasn’t very interested in learning, so I took her lead and chose to be bored of them. I appreciate the idea but the final output falls flat.

This one line in the climax surprised me – Already, there are illogical bits happening, like Dr. Sharma doing a Dumbledore and trying to take on Senaka a.k.a Voldy here, and the two of them going on and on about their master (What villain waits patiently for his enemy to compare notes and distribute power? If it were me, I’d have had him at hi.) Then, Senaka actually says “...he was to be our guru, not a mindless Scrooge dancing to the fall of gold coins!”  Wait, did this guy just refer to Uncle Scrooge? Apparently, you can afford to take cartoon breaks while on the way to achieving spiritual enlightenment or conquering the world. Sounds fun. Sign me up! I’d love to know if Senaka likes Johnny Bravo.

What did work for me:

1 – The saving grace of the entire book : AMIT! I love that guy. Now, here’s someone who is sweet and funny! (Anu, take notes) I would not have read further if he had died towards the end. I suggest making him the hero and shipping Anu back to NYC where she can mope over Brian and grab balls in bars.

Which brings us to the fact that this is a book series so there’s more fare to come. I hope the author will find a better pace and connect, with the rest of the books he has planned. Less preachy choomantar and more intriguing tantra, please.

2 - I thought the bookmark idea was neat.

Oh and the demon in the cover – kinda off-putting. Vampires are good looking (No. Not THAT one you are thinking about. Try the Salvatore brothers) and the vampires even in this book are in human form, who blend with the crowd. If I saw someone who looked liked the cover-demon, I’d most likely think Halloween-costume-overdone. Hey, maybe Anu brought a souvenir back with her?


A good plot that could use tighter execution and a different protagonist. 

Rating : 3/5 (For Amit)

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Sunday, March 31, 2013

Book Review - Behind the Silicon Mask

            The Indian contemporary fiction scene has steadily grown fatter in the past few years with a surge of new authors trying to make a point and find their place. Yours truly included. I’ve reviewed quite a few of these works on a regular basis and as much as they help me understand my peers, it helps me understand where I stand. There’s one thing I’ve maintained through all the criticisms I offer and that is being true to the fact that when I’m a reviewer I am a reviewer and I do my best to be as honest as I can get.

            Having bared my blogger soul in such a manner, Eshwar Sundaresan’s Behind the Silicon Mask was my Christmas gift delivered early! I had my skeptic cape on when I began reading this book, because language has long come to be my pet peeve while doing a review but I’d finally found my raison d’ etre in the world of words. This book also proved to me that I had been right all along – good writing can amplify reading experience by a gazillion notches. I was sold on this one when I reached this particular line ‘Osama was on top of everybody’s hit list and Obama was a spelling mistake.’ I rest my case.

           Behind the SiliconMask is a true to life account of the larger than life game that is the IT life. More so when IT began gaining ground to grow into almost a lifestyle in the present day. The novel moonlights as a murder mystery and while that isn’t one of the pillars holding up the tale, it isn’t a narrative trench either.

The run through quickly this time.

What worked for me:

1. The language, hallelujah! If I had been on a QA team sifting through this book for errors, I’d be raving mad at the Project team for making me look useless because I could come up with nothing bad.

2. Narration : The book goes by on a terrific pace and actually ends on a practical if a little abstract ending. I had to pinch myself to acknowledge that I didn’t plough through a sappy plot, no sir.

3. Characters : Keep your fingers free, you’d need them to keep count of everyone. But then, isn’t that exactly how the industry functions? Beyond a point new email IDs borrow numbered suffixes.

4. Humor/Satire : I was on the wall trying to take a side but then I conceded both these tones in the book were conveyed so beautifully and I appreciated them equally well.

5. Editing hallelujah, again! Phenomenal. It was so sharp, it actually hurt my eye!

What did not work for me:

For the sake of QA, I'm going to complain that the murder subplot only grazed the boundaries of convincing. Since everything else was terrific, I’m willing to let it slide but I’m going to make sure that goes into the appraisal report. Just because I can. Hah!


Before you read this, go buy a copy of the book.

I’m serious. Leave. Now.

Gift a copy of Behind the Silicon Mask to your friends who work in the IT industry. You’ll see their eyes grow bigger with excitement. When they are done, they’ll deny everything outright and pooh pooh your claims of having learnt the truth. But in their eyes, you’ll see what you wanted to see.

Rating : 4.999/5 (you know why)

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Saturday, March 23, 2013

Book Review - The Oath Of the Vayuputras

I write this review keeping in mind that with a great start to any work, comes the heavy responsibility of providing a fitting closure and in most cases, well begun is only half done. Amish Tripathi’s Shiva trilogy took the Indian reader base by storm and for good reason at that. The book series details the life of Lord Shiva as we know him, but focusing on what happened before he gained reputation as a God. 

Amish weaves an elaborate plot, beginning with the assumption that Shiva was born a mortal and was only as human as you, me or your irrational neighbor. The first two books talk about how and why Shiva comes to be chosen as the Neelkanth, the savior who would deliver his people from Evil. In the third and final book of the series, ‘The Oath of the Vayuputras’ we find out if Shiva manages to fulfill his destiny. 

This review focuses only on the third book and contains spoilers without apparent guilt.

To begin with, Shiva and his entourage at Panchavati learn how Brahaspati sprang back to life and in the explanation that ensues, Shiva puts two and two together and concludes that the elixir of Meluha, the Somras, is the root cause of everything that went wrong in the past few centuries. This includes a plethora of issues from the creation of Nagas to political unrest in surrounding kingdoms. Hence, Somras = Evil. 

With the definition finally drafted, everyone makes a choice and picks a side. They are either for or against the Neelkanth as and how their personal faith dictates. The end objective is to take the Somras out of the equation and the ultimate means is through war. The rest of the book is about how the offending and defending powers fight to destroy and protect and I use those terms with all the ambiguity they bring with them. That is the brilliance of the setup. What is good for you may not be so good for me.

That said, let me rant on why the book, while strong on so many points, still drew up to be a disappointing conclusion to the series.

Bones I’m picking on:

1 – Language : All hail the power of editing! Book 3 flows from start to finish, like the waters of the Saraswati, enriched by correct and simple language, free of annoying grammatical errors, spelling mistakes, clichéd dialogues, unnecessary lingo and  preachy prose. The text is a relief on your brain and you are free to focus on the plot and not break up now and then to roll your eyes at the author trying to act smart.

2 – Narration : This is an extension of the appreciation for point #01. Amish’s voice is honest and that was a striking feature throughout the book. His tone is free of gimmicks and his characters are well defined and sharply etched. They are clear about who they are so you could be clear about your opinion of them.

3 – The plot : To be honest, the plot isn’t path breaking. It follows a series of wars that need waging and for most of the time proceeds without shocking turning points or 180 degree flips. That said, it takes a serious turn towards unreasonable when Sati decides to march into Meluha and sign a peace treaty. The ambush, Kanakhala’s choice and Daksha’s foolishness fit in perfectly but then a bunch of Egyptian assassins swoop in and suddenly you find yourself reading about Sati being led to a gory death. This is where the book begins its journey towards being extremely disappointing. I assume Amish decided to finish Sati off in order to give Shiva a reason to use the Pasupatiastra, but the foundation does not sit well, at all. What should’ve been an enraged Shiva gradually losing reason and choosing vengeance, becomes a sorry tale of a widower. In a flash, he is no more the Neelkanth but a husband crying over his dead wife. This, in my opinion defeats the entire point of the series, that projects Shiva as a legend who fought for Good! It seemed like the book ended prematurely when Sati decided foolishly to take on the assassin army, due to guilt and the remaining pages merely came across as a mythological twist to a Nicholas Sparks plot.

4 – Contemplations : The dialogue between Shiva and Sati over the existence of Karma and God, and Parvateshwar’s choice were some of the best parts. That also is my favorite thing about this series. Amish allows Shiva to question without fear and agree to disagree. While other mythology titles most often end up as religious propaganda, Amish leaves the answer to faith open. Its all about perspective. Har Har Mahadev, indeed!

5 – Parvateshwar, the man : My respect for General Parva went up a thousand notches when he decides to fight for Meluha and not the Neelkanth, who still remains his God. Shiva isn’t able to digest it but I completely agreed with the General. It was such a beautiful digression that goes to waste in the climax. Beyond this decision, Amish gives Parvateshwar no role, except for a few war schemes. In the end, he just lets Parva and Anandamayi die in a quandary. If not for the sloppy ending, Parva could’ve been put to better use and maybe even had a more honorable and useful death.

6 – Daksha : This was one of those parts that left me in shock. This man, has just lost his daughter, the one he loved so dearly, the one that apparently had no high opinion of him and tries at every chance to win back her approval. He makes stupid decisions out of love and all that is justifiable. What isn’t is the last few pages he gets, to lament and he does it in reality TV style! There isn’t a chapter in the series that’s as disappointing emotionally as the one where Daksha merely looks out at a banyan tree and awaits his death albeit irritably while his daughter’s mutilated corpse rots outside the city walls. Two thumbs down.

7 - The Vayuputras : The book is named after them, but they hardly feature anywhere important, except as a crude sort of arms dealers. What was their oath again that deserved mention in the title?

In all, I enjoyed the series immensely, but the final book, the climax in particular, did not measure up. The Neelkanth is reduced to a brokenhearted man, who has lost sight of his mission thereby raising the question of why he received as much build up through three books as having been a living God. I loved Shiva’s portrayal throughout and the climax only cements my opinion that Sati could never have loved him, the way he loved her. Amishji, you broke the man too early!

All that said, I’d like to congratulate Amish for staying true to his voice and narration and not trying to pull a commercial success coup. Three cheers. I’d give five stars to the first two books anyday and a four star to the third one, only because I choose to ignore the climax and the crash landing. 

If the last few lines are any indication, Amish is due to bring out a retelling of the Mahabharatha and if he retains the same kind of transparency with respect to perspective, one that doesn’t get preachy on what is good and what is evil, my kids someday, would finally have an unambiguous account of Indian mythology to read about. Fingers crossed.

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Monday, February 25, 2013

Chanakya's New Manifesto - Book Review

We belong to a country that has enjoyed a well-fought independence and over six decades of democracy which we pride ourselves on. But there are gaping issues that have been threatening to pull the threads of stability to breaking point and it is high time we addressed them. While as Indians we realize there are problems and we each argue passionately about the possible solutions, Pavan K. Varma rounds them up and stamps a Chanakya mark of approval on them.

Chanakya’s New Manifesto, details the pressing charges that hinder the progress of our country towards becoming a self-sustained global superpower. We got off to a promising start, as Mr. Varma highlights in the chapter 1947 and After, (“Nations seeking to fashion a future cannot do so without objectively interrogating the past”) but the machinery was never foolproof. With time and as Mr. Varma rightly points out, misguided governance, we as a country have fallen prey to the dissection of goals, and democracy is no longer the only pillar that can be expected to hold up our existence.

I particularly appreciate the tone that this book takes, one of calm introspection that chooses to identify the key areas that need to be addressed at the earliest, without being patronizing, guilty, sentimental, or outright accusing; what Chanakaya prescribed as mandatory when drafting a governance plan. Mr. Varma’s analysis of issues, in the chapter Crisis, leave you with no doubt, what numbers we don’t see or hear about in the news. He insists and verifies with Chanakya’s written recommendations that democracy requires the backing of shrewd governance, something we observe lacking in the political setup today. You cannot but agree with him when he points out that multi-coalition structures are not stable and only serve to divert the efforts of politicians towards sustenance in politics and away from the interest of the public that votes them into the setup.

The language that Mr. Varma employs to make his point is clear and reads like a well written report as opposed to a jargonized preamble for the future. This book deserves a thorough read and it is a trifle hard to discuss each point in detail because there’s so much to talk about. Some of the best opinions that I could relate to were with regard to democracy  being a factor that helps focus away from religious extremism, the argument that it is ‘diversity’ and not ‘unity’ per se that keeps the nation together and the fact that a politician is not by default a good governor.

Mr. Varma proposes corrective action, in terms of Chanakya’s prescriptions, to bring about a change in governance and take full advantage of the democracy that we claim is the greatest strength we possess as a republic. This book comes across both as a vision and a dream, fleeting yet achievable at the same time. If only.


Your copy of this book is sure to be filled with notes and comments as mine. A must read if you wish to understand the state of affairs as they were, and as they are. The ‘as will be’ is for us to create.

Rating: 4/5

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Tuesday, January 29, 2013

RIP - Book Review

Try as I might, I cannot help but read the title of the latest thriller from Mukul Deva as Rest In Peace. Forgive me my blunder but now that I have finished reading the book, I have restructured my slip to mean RIP, corruption. (Hah! Take that you evil problem eating away at the country’s progress.) When you decide to read RIP, there is only a very slim chance that you would want to take a break anywhere along the way. The book races forward at such pace, I wouldn’t be surprised if it leaves behind a few disheveled heads in its wake. 

Mukul Deva’s RIP is a huge what-if. It tells the story of the vexation that a group of ex-Army men arrive at, post their brush with the corrupt democracy that reigns over the country. Set in present day India, the book introduces to us the Resurgent Indian Patriots or the K-Team, led by Col. Krishna, comprising his comrades out of service, all bearing names that begin with the letter K. Krishna and his team operate based on loyalty and commitment which apparently is absent when it comes to how politicians run the government. After a sour encounter with corruption revolving around a personal loss, Krishna and team decide to shake the system up a bit, in a bid to support the efforts of one Mr. Hazarika, who has taken it upon himself to wage a war against the problem. This results in a series of calculated and well planned assassinations that the team has no difficulty executing.

Threatened by the fear of death and of losing face, the Home Minister hires, Ragav, a rogue and corrupt ex-Army man to hunt down the RIP team. Caught in the middle of this crossfire is Reena, a reporter with the NDTV and also to be ex-wife of Ragav, who takes to the widower Krishna. In an edge of the seat climax, the K-Team decides to deliver one final and deep blow. You find out in the last chapter if they succeed and what happens thereafter. That said, let me get down to my analysis.

What Worked for Me:

1 – The pace of the story, which was nothing short of terrific. The story does not halt anywhere. It’s a rollercoaster ride from start to finish that will leave you exhilarated.
2 – Certain scenes that were cleverly set and thoroughly enjoyable, like for example this point where Krishna, Ragav, Reena and Vinod, the cop out to get the RIP, are all travelling on the same plane within calling distance of each other. The hunter, prey and predator all together!
3 – Narration that was easy and fluid. There was nothing pretentious about the text and no prose trying falsely to sound intelligent.

What Did Not Work for Me:

1 – At the beginning of the book, when the K-Team knocks off a couple of people, we have a few characters making some clichéd predictions as to the identities of the killers. This sounded forced to me, as if the author was in a hurry to let the cops assume certain things to save a few pages of print.
2 – On the same note, I felt the romance between Krishna and Reena, though developing nicely toward the end, started off on a contrived note. It ended up coming across as a love story hurriedly stuffed into an action movie. Case in point : Reena recognizes the perfume that Krishna wears as the same one that Ragav used to wear. In the very next scene, Krishna’s son tells his father that Reena aunty wears the same perfume as his dead mother. The author could’ve taken some time to think the romance through. Case 2 in point : Krishna’s sister Payal as a matchmaker. It was almost as if the author wrote down a formula and fitted people into it.
3 – Certain actions or the absence of them were not justified. For example, in the entire climax sequence Vinod, does not call his team for backup and follows the killers on his own. This is mentioned as a slip initially citing the excitement of the moment. But the same happens thrice in total within the next few minutes, which does not tally. The same goes for the security officer at a VIP target’s house not informing her of an impending assassination attempt. Why he does not get to it is explained with very silly reasons. The intent behind these slips was probably to isolate the required characters into the final act, but without justification, they just came across deflated.
4 – The very weak attempt to fictionalize the current Indian political scenario with characters in the book. Or was it an attempt? I felt it would’ve worked better if the names had been fictional as well. A little more imagination, like Shashi Tharoor’s The Great Indian Novel. I still grin over ‘Comea’ for ‘Goa’.


RIP is well written, unpretentious, racy and engaging. The plot will address the ‘if only’ that makes your blood boil everytime a fight against corruption fizzles out. Definitely top of my list amongst recent contemporary works in the commercial genre.

Rating: 4/5

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Saturday, January 5, 2013

Close Shave!

                She turned around in the elevator to give him a giggle and a grin. She had absolutely no regard for his embarrassment. When the doors opened, she pranced out in arrogant knowledge that he will follow, since they were both on the same floor. He stayed put and enjoyed the sweet relief of escape as the doors closed once again with the intention of carrying him up a few more floors. Up or down, he did not care. He just wanted to be transported away from her. His joy was nothing short of sadistic pleasure, at the look of disappointment on her face and he stopped himself from waving a parting goodbye to her. All said and done, he knew he was safe only until the morning break.
                She did not relate the incident to her clique, each member hovering on terminal giggle-mania, that made them break into shrill fake laughter at the drop of a hat. Or a tube of lip balm. Or a pair of brightly colored slippers. No rhyme. No reason required. She was looking forward to micro-analyzing the twenty seconds spent walking with him through the lobby on rare occasions like that morning, when she took the same elevator as he. It was a lost cause now and she was miffed. However, she pulled her spirits together and crossed her fingers for an encounter during the morning break. That cheered her up a little as she proceeded to whine out a wheezy greeting to her fellow gigglers.
               He was guilty. He had to admit that. He had liked her when he first laid eyes upon her. When a new project had brought him to where she was posted. He was glad he had been able to locate some refreshing eye-candy. He had no idea that she was not candy, rather a jumpy, high-energy, decked-up bottle of glitter-glue that came with a gang of its own and had the propensity to cling and cling hard. When he first met her, ironically in one of those elevator rides, she had been quietly shy. It took him only a day and twenty minutes during the morning break to understand that she was neither quiet nor shy. The first time had been an accident – they had been the only people in the elevator and she couldn’t be on the phone. Unfortunately, by the time he could detach himself from the glancing process, she had decided to cling. And from that moment he was a goner.
              They’d had so much fun during the last month, ever since that guy had started giving her the eye. She was suddenly in and happening and she enjoyed the attention, taking the liberty to exaggerate a little here, to deny a little there, all in the spirit of being in the spotlight. If she truly believed this could go somewhere, she didn’t know it and he didn’t show it. Infact, she had the nagging doubt that he was beginning to avoid her. She chose to blow that thought away when her unruly bunch called for a break. Showtime, she smiled to herself as she quickly re-applied her lipstick.
              He'd had to endure quite many embarrassing moments when she exercised no restraint at trying to get his attention or make contact. Added to this was the background music of laughter and encouragement her friends provided. That morning, a silent dread chose to warn him that she was going to make a move very soon. What kind of move, he didn’t know. But a move, nevertheless. He had panicked and quickly hit a button on the number pad, wishing it would somehow take him to another location if possible.                                                                            
            The morning break confirmed her suspicions that he was trying to keep a distance. She was very careful about letting her girls in on that detail. When they questioned about his apparent boredom, she dismissed it with a bored expression of her own, meaning it was her right to be bored, not his. All the while, she knew she had to make a move. A lot of attention was at stake. She took in a deep, silent yet determined breath, eyes on the target.                                      
           His friends were nagging him about joining them for a smoke break. He had tried to tell them subtly that he didn’t smoke and didn’t want to be anywhere near second hand smoke either. He feared one of the primary effects of smoking, deeply. Not cancer. A little below the belt and a lot primal. But he couldn’t say that without risking coming across as someone you can use an array of words to describe, none of them synonymous with fit or athletic or healthy. That day he had no choice but to tag along.
           She was just then showing off the web page of this cosmetic product, her latest online buy when her phone rang. The delivery was here. With a shrill cry of joy, she jumped up and trudged off downstairs to collect her package.                                                    
           They stood around making small talk, which means they were discussing girls. He laughed at a joke. His friend’s phone rang and by the look on his face, it was quite clear, the boss was calling. The guy mouthed a swear and handed a half smoked cigarette to him for safe keeping until he returned from a bout of shameless metaphorical appreciation of a few behinds. With a burning cigarette in his hand, the first one that he had ever held, he looked absolutely clueless but managed to hold his cool. In his mind, he wished his friend would return before the butt burned into a stub and singed his finger.                                          ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
          She signed for her parcel and with a huge grin on her face, happily bounced on her way back. She was looking forward to the envious glances she would receive when at her desk. Suddenly she stopped dead in her tracks. She spotted him, standing with some of his regular group of buddies, at what she and her friends called the cancer zone – the smoking spot. Her face shrunk in hurt for a moment and quickly turned into a scorn. She marched up to the group resolutely, parcel in hand, a woman on a mission. ‘You smoke!’ she almost yelled at him. He stood silent, shocked from being caught in the act. ‘I hate you’ she told him very clearly and with a ‘Hmph’ she stormed away. He just stood there.
          The guy on the phone returned from the call to take possession of his puff of high. He couldn’t understand why his friend wore a huge grin on his face and certainly did not understand why he said ‘You saved my life man!’ as he handed the cigarette back to him.                                                                                     ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
It was the first time in the history of the world, a cigarette had saved a man’s life. All in the spirit of a little drama.

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