Dec 26, 2014

2014 - In a nutshell

After 4 years of writing about ‘This Year in a Nutshell’ blogpost, I skipped 2013. 2013 was one big year for me with a big career and personal move. I’d moved back to India after 7 years and 7 months in the US. And that was for good, and life has been good!

So here’s 2014 in a nutshell:

- The year with most travel to date! Thanks to work-related travel primarily and professional travel. Personal trips to Srilanka, Costa Rica, Amritsar, and Pondicherry; work-related trips to Nagaland (yes, you read it right!), Assam (again right!), Chandigarh, Jalandhar, Delhi, Indore, Pune, Mumbai, Hyderabad, Chennai, Kochi. So much air travel that the flight seat has become of one of my favourite reading chairs!

- The year of reading books! Finished my Goodreads yearly challenge of 20 books by reading 56 books (and counting). I can lose myself in books completely anytime. @NameFieldMT was one big motivator for me on this front. Thanks A!

- The year that I became a book review blogger! Thanks to @blogadda and @vivekisms, by sending in many many books for reviewing. You made me both read and write! The book review blog (I do crosspost on this blog, at times!)

- The year where I successfully completed two 10k runs! TCS 10k and Ajmera Thump, with a personal best of 59:22! Thanks to Bengaluru Runners and GS for the motivation.

- The year the Siblingeshwari got married and also left home to head to Bombay for studies (both being independent events).

- The year with increased traveling on public transport! Boo to traffic woes and dust! :D

- The year I moved past TV shows (hopefully!)! Have a huge backlog of TV shows to watch and I continue to read books.

- The year with two recordings including this 90stalgia! Hope I get back to music more and get better! Thanks @sdhrshn for that 90stalgia and making me sing some of my favorite songs by my God! Thanks @amaravind and @_curses too!

Okay, I think I have had a great year! Let me stop here before I cast nazar on myself! ;-)

Dec 25, 2014

Rabda: My Sigh... My Sai [Book Review]

Rabda: My Sigh . . . My SaiRabda: My Sigh . . . My Sai by Ruzbeh N Bharucha

It is not often that I go into an experimental phase with respect to reading, though I’d like to count a lot of the reads that I have done this year as experiments to see how my taste has evolved. When I got a chance to review ‘Rabda: My Sai… My Sigh,’ by Ruzbeh N. Bharuch I was not too sure if this book, given the spiritual read it was described to be, would be my cup of tea. I carefully navigated through the first few pages and had multiple false starts before I sat and completed the book in almost one go. While I am not too sure if I will go back to this type of reading, I must say that reading this was an experience in itself.

The premise of the book is a very simple one where a patient Rabda who is very very close to death gets to interact with Baba Sai. Baba Sai looking at this devotee of his from a previous lifetime begins to talk about his life, from the time he got to Shirdi, how he treated his devotees, what he thinks of life, and more. This interaction more or less turns out to be a discourse of sorts and there is definitely a lot of philosophy, spirituality and some common sense in it.

While the writing is pretty much to the point such that a reader is not bogged down by the vocabulary especially considering it is a spiritual read, the use of abusive words that are found in Baba’s speech is something that definitely leaves a bad taste in the reader. It is true that Baba was a man who had a colourful vocabulary and used words at his will especially given his temper. However, the same set of words and same provocations and reactions from Rabda were done to death after a while.

For me, the read was mostly material that I think I would listen to in a discourse/lecture. And the fact that the author Ruzbeh is able to put in a book is impressive. I am sure people who are into spiritual reads will enjoy this book.

View all my reviews

Dec 10, 2014

The Ripple Effect

I was in Class 3. Due to some family constraints, I was put in a ‘local’ school close to home for two years, before I went on to one of the ‘bigger’ schools in the city from Class 5. Class 3 is where you more often than not associate a kid with a happy-go-lucky lifestyle without bothering as much. You still are in a nascent phase of your life and do not have a clue of what happens in life anyway. This school that I was in did have a lot of students from the lower economic background and a few of them did go hungry through the day filling their ever-growling tummies with the tap water during lunch and headed out to play. There were many such classmates of mine, and the fussy eater that I was would end up passing on parts of my lunch or at times in entirety to one of those classmates.

The reason I mention this is because I have seen at least a dozen of my classmates faint during the physical training (PT) classes which were usually held after lunch. The reason why that happened is not difficult to trace back to. This would in turn mean the student would miss the classes at least for the rest of the day, and at times for multiple days in a row. It is not rocket science that this definitely disrupts the learning of the student.

So hunger fuels bad health. Bad health in turn leads to the student missing his classes. This in turn leads to a less-than-perfect learning for the student. This may very well continue to haunt him for the rest of his life particularly considering the impact that education has on one’s career and life.

I’d rather be seen as a person of action than that of words. One way that I along with my family has acted on this is by shunning all forms of celebrations for birthdays, anniversaries, and success. We instead contribute to an orphanage closely which though managed well is quite short of funds. Rather than spending a good Rs. 2000 on getting a few pizzas, I’d use the same to feed the 20 kids in the institute three times a day for two days. This has been the case for close to 10 years and we will continue to do so in the years to come.

BlogAdda, as innovative as they are, are supporting the AkshayaPatra foundation and I am happy to be a part of this cause since the ripple effect that a mid-day meal scheme for children has is indeed amazing. Kudos to you, BlogAdda!

I am going to #BlogToFeedAChild with Akshaya Patra and BlogAdda.

Nov 25, 2014

The Magician who lost his Wallet [Book Review]

(I received this book from the author Gautam Acharya as a part of Goodreads First-Reads giveaway program. Thank you Gautam!)

I have always been fascinated by the first book of an author, mainly because I am curious to see how the author pens down his thoughts and sustains his ‘first-book’ enthusiasm through the course of the book. Gautam Acharya, the author of ‘The Magician who lost his Wallet,’ had me intrigued with the title of the book itself and he moderately succeeds in having me glued to the book till the end.

At less than 190 pages, The Magician who lost his Wallet is an easy read with mostly simple and conversational language with a semi-compelling premise. The premise is that of a person who finds a wallet and tries to trace down the owner of the wallet, while there are others who are onto doing the same thing. In the process, we learn about a person who finds a way to work on what he thought was his true calling, his complex with his neighbor, his relationship with his brother-in-law and the like. The word ‘magician’ in the title is where all the mystery is shrouded in and Gautam handles this mystery in a pretty safe and tested manner.

As mentioned, the book has its premise in a lost-and-found setting while incorporating quite a few characters into the premise. While Gautam builds up a good background for most of the characters including Debu, Rana, Ritvik, Pandey and others, he could have perhaps emphasized a little more on the other three characters around which the novel is centered in the last few pages. As a result of this, the mystery is not an easy guess, especially considering the detailing that goes into most of the characters. This is where Gautam wins (and perhaps falters!). You seem as though you are led into believing something and then there’s a perfect foil to what you thought might be the ending. Of course, there are a few loose ends which do not seem to matter in the larger scheme of things.

Gautam Acharya in his first books seems to have treaded a safe line quite successfully without indulging in many a fancy writing. But it would be good to see how he gets out of this safe zone aka. comfort zone and voices his thoughts in the near future. 

Nov 23, 2014

The Mahabharata Quest: Alexander’s Secret [Book Review]

The market is definitely flooded with a lot of the mystery thrillers which borrow their themes from some form mythology and weave around a story with a search for something precious. Dan Brown, one of the authors who tasted great success with this type of premise, opened up this market to the mainstream readership. In India too, there have been authors like Ashwin Sanghi and Amish Tripathi who’ve experimented with genre and tasted commercial success. Christopher C Doyle, who debuted with The Mahabharata Secret last year, seems to have gotten the ingredients for this thriller right.

The premise has three to four equally important protagonists, among whom Vijay is seems like the main one, who are working against (and perhaps later, for) something called The Order. The Order has been working towards gathering some information which is rooted in the Macedonian mythology from the times of Alexander and his mother Olympias. The ‘secret’, if obtained, will work as a perfect cure for many a thing. What is this secret, how is it connected to Alexander, why does The Order have so much of significance, why do the Intelligence Bureau and characters like Vijay, Irfan, and many others matter to The Order is the premise of the story.

At 350+ pages, this book is an easy read and a page turner and manages to sustain the reader’s interest quite a bit. However, it has its slow moments when there is a lot of talk about the biotechnology aspect and also due to the repetitiveness with respect to the mythological aspect. The author tries to reach out to the average reader and hence over-explains a lot of things which could have been avoided. The language is definitely above average.

What really is to be appreciated about the book is the fact that the author, despite the convoluted premise, has researched quite a bit on the Macedonian history, the Mahabharata, and a little bit of the geography. At times, there is a mention of things from the previous book in a few places to help the author understand the rapport that a few of the characters share. But the book easily stands out as standalone book and the author has taken care to introduce mystery elements in the premise, which he says he will address in the subsequent books in the series. The book ends with some form of closure that the ‘good’ guys are still looking forward to something and the ‘bad’ guys have gotten the secret for now.

What the author could have worked on is on shortening the premise, as explained earlier. With some good editing, the book could have been a fast paced 250 page thriller. In addition, stretching a premise over multiple books sort of weakens the premise as such unless there is indeed a ‘WOW’ moment in each of the books. There are many such revealing moments in this book, but they all fall short of the WOW factor. Perhaps, the next few books can work towards that.

Overall, the Mahabharata Secret: Alexander’s Quest is a mostly decent thriller read with some interesting historical trivia and biotechnology lingo. 

This review is a part of the biggest Book Review Program for Indian Bloggers. Participate now to get free books!

Nov 2, 2014

The Innovators [Book Review]

Title: The Innovators
Author: Walter Isaacson (Twitter)

It was 1994. My parents had brought home a Dolphin home computer, which had just a keyboard and possibly a small CPU in there which could run LOGO. Having been exposed to a computer just a year earlier, the 9-year old me was fascinated to see how that piece of keyboard connected to the television and the way I could draw on the monitor. I tried to form my own form of a treasure hunt (without even knowing what the term meant) and was half-successful in that. Reading The Innovators by Walter Isaacson, the author of the best-selling autobiography on Steve Jobs, I was reminiscent of those times in addition to being in awe of each of these ‘inventions’ or ‘innovations’ presented in the book.

The book follows a mostly linear perspective to show how Digital Revolution evolved from the early half of the 19th century to the second decade of the 21st century. The title caption says ‘How a Group of Hackers, Geniuses and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution’ and indeed without a doubt one can say every one of these innovators was a genius in his own right. In addition to being a genius, the innovators fell into various categories including generous, eccentric, selfish, workaholics (for sure), childish, loners, and more. Above all, as Isaacson mentions in his book, they were all (mostly) wonderful collaborators. There are a couple of statements in the last chapter of the book that read: ‘People don’t invent things on the internet. They simply expand on an idea that already exists.’  The whole book is a wonderful piece of well-researched history on how the ideas from one time moved to another influencing innovations when people worked collaboratively.

From Lady Ada Lovelace to Charles Babbage to Shockley to Gordon Moore to Bill Gates to Steve Jobs to Larry Page to Evan Williams (I sure have missed many important names in between), the book gives a great insight into their background, what ticked them intellectually, their shortcomings, their contributions to the world the way it is today, and most importantly how each of them collaborated, despite their differences, with their peers and contemporaries.

The book also lists a variety of disputes including the ones on who took the credit for the invention of the transistor, the Apple and Microsoft issue on GUI based operating systems which was originally designed by Xerox, the patents for microchips, and many more. It is to be noted that despite a lot of the idea springing up at the same time, the population remembers the name of the person who was either most influential or the one that the media portrayed as its maker. It was news to me, an Electrical Engineer, that Shockley was not the only one to be responsible for the creation of a transistor.

As mentioned earlier, the book traverses a nice story-telling approach linearly with each of the key figures of the era that ushered in the digital revolution, and packs in a lot of detail. While the book on the whole is an easy read, there are a few short chapters in the middle on the video games and the initial discussion on internet which got a little too monotonous with too many inventors finding their name there. But the author quickly gets bad into the earlier mode and pens the most important chapter of them all: Software. This included a focus on Operating Systems and spoke about the two most important people in the history of Digital Revolution: Bill Gates and Steve Jobs.

The book culminates with two wonderful chapters on the web, one of which included the stories of Blogger, Google, Yahoo!, and Wikipedia, among others, and the other was aptly titled Ada Forever. This spoke about how computers despite all their power could not perform one function, exactly what Lady Ada Lovelace predicted two centuries earlier: using their own intelligence to make decisions.

Overall, The Innovators is a well–researched, well-detailed, and well-written piece of literature on the Digital Revolution. While the book does have its slow moments, it is a compelling piece of read in the overall of scheme of things. If you are an engineer or a computer scientist, you’ll be amazed to see how much you do not know about the inventors and their inventions. If you are not an engineer or a computer scientist, you will see how products that you use in your day-to-day life came about to be and perhaps you’ll stop equating engineering with information technology alone, and equate it to inventions too.

Oct 25, 2014

Not Just an Accountant - [Book Review]

Title: Not Just an Accountant: The Diary of the Nation's Conscience Keeper 
Author: Vinod Rai 


Every person who has lived in India in the last 10 years has comes across the term 2G scam and the (questionable) Rs. 1.76 lakh crore that was embezzled by A. Raja. While much of this scam is still shrouded in darkness, with the ugly truth in all possibility never seeing the light of the day, one hopes that someone in authority at least points to what the major mis-happenings with the government was. Vinod Rai in 'Not Just an Accountant' just does that.

Vinod Rai, a well-known figure to those who watch the news channels religiously, pens down his experience of close to 40 years in which he serves the government in various capacities. He has most recently served as the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India and was witness to a lot of the happenings in the government from mid 2000s till almost the end of the UPA regime in 2013.

Having seen CAG as just an abbreviation in a lot news articles ranging from the Commonwealth games 2010 scam to the coal block allocation case, this book gave a wonderful insight for me into what the office of the CAG actually does. By explaining the duties and tasks of the CAG in common man’s lingo, Mr. Rai sure makes the premise of the book easy to digest in terms of vocabulary. However, the same cannot be said about the premise. For an upper middle-class individual, the magnitude of the scams described in the book, is something that is indeed unpalatable.

In the first part of the book aptly titled ‘The Journey’, Mr. Rai starts off with his journey as an IAS officer of the 1972 batch from Nagaland to Kerala to Delhi and more with the shuttles between Kerala and Delhi being of a higher frequency. He throws in instances of what he was able to perform in each of the stints he had in the administration in various capacities. This is followed by a ‘explain to me like I am five’ lesson on ‘The Role of Audit,’ which forms a basis for the the rest of the book. Short descriptions on the ‘Role of Media’ and the CBI in the current state of affairs in India complete this first part.

The second part of the book ‘Follies’ (‘Follies of whom?’, I am tempted to ask) majorly deals with the 2G spectrum allocation scam, CWG 2010 scam, coal block allocation scam, Gas explorations  and  finally the way Air India has operated in the last few years. This, to me, is the most compelling part of the book. While a lot of the material in this regard is public knowledge, Mr. Rai provides an insider’s view at what is seen by the office whose responsibility is to audit the practices of the government. The dark secrets remain dark for the most part, since Mr. Rai refuses to take names in multiple contexts, but what comes tumbling out of the closet is the fact that what we see in newspapers in mostly the tip of the iceberg.

Despite his misdoings, particularly in the second UPA region, I remain a fan of Dr. Manmohan Singh, as does Mr. Rai. But the extent to which Mr. Rai goes on to prove that the PMO has sufficient information about each misdealing that have occurred in the last decade makes me empathise with Dr. Singh. A hand-tied puppet, who perhaps with all his foresight could have steered us in a direction of progress, remains tongue-tied too.

In the last part of the book ‘Course Correction,’ Mr. Rai quickly goes over what he sure sees in India as a potential superpower settling down for mediocrity. I recently read a book edited by Shashi Tharoor ‘India: the Future is Now,’ which had a collection of essays by the new generation MPs. While each of the essays read like what a high school kid would write, with some imagination all over the place, the book showed that there was still some promise. Mr. Rai, with his final words, just re-emphasises that.

A cleansing of the system is necessary. For that, a lot more people should be aware of what goes on in the government. And this book ‘Not Just An Accountant,’ where Mr. Vinod Rai manages to settle his accounts with the ‘barking dogs,’ is a good start.

Oct 24, 2014

7 Secrets of the Goddess [Book Review]

Title: 7 Secrets of the Goddess
Author: Devdutt Pattanaik
Reach the author at
Twitter: @devduttmyth 

Buy this book from Flipkart here.

There is always a sense of fulfilment when you read a book by Devdutt Pattanaik.  He delivers what is promised. Be it Jaya, The Pregnant King or Sita (for the most part), there is a lot of research that has gone into getting the material for the book and it is presented in a way that is easily consumed. While the author’s thoughts and comments on various social practices come as a part of what is presented, it is mostly logical and not forcibly fit into the premise.

Devdutt’s latest book ‘7 Secrets of the Goddess’ is no different either, from what I mention above. Part four of a series called the 7 Secrets, this book is the first one I read in the series.

The book, in typical Devdutt style, has a lot of illustrations. However, the illustrations are artwork and photographs from various sources including temple sculptures and calendar art, in lieu of a hand drawn sketches like in Jaya or Sita. Every page of text is accompanied by a page of artwork with sufficient captions. This artwork serves as a good precursor to what may be coming in text that follows it.

The book talks about the secrets of Gaia, Kali, Gauri, Durga, Lakshmi, Saraswathi, and Vitthai. It is interesting to see how Devdutt starts off with the Goddess Gaia from the Greek mythology and weaves in the tales of corresponding Indian counterparts into the chapter. In almost every chapter, particularly the first, there is a mention of the gender ‘inequality’ and the co-existence of male Gods and female Goddesses. This is exactly where Devdutt brings up a lot of the logical reasoning based arguments on certain practices.

The book has significant borrowings, in terms of characters, from his earlier works including Jaya, Sita, Shikhandi and other stories they don’t tell you and the Pregnant King. The mythological value addition in terms of stories/anecdotes is limited compared to these earlier works, since this is more of a book that describes the existence of various goddesses, the practices related to them and the way we perceive them has changed over the centuries.

Following the first chapter, the chapters on Kali, Gauri, Durga, Lakshmi and Saraswathi were particularly very strong, while the last chapter on Vitthai did leave a lot to be desired. For some reason, it did seem forcefully fit into the scheme of things.

My favourite part of the book, all along the book, is how Devdutt visits every practice that were not favourable to women and mostly says it out aloud. One of my favourite lines from the book is on human ego and how it originated from ‘Aham’ and how we have modified to suit our requirements just to appear superior. Another noteworthy thing in the book is that Devdutt does talk about the misdoings of Brahmanas with respect to preserving the vedic wisdom and the superiority shown by that sect. And he does that without the cliched brahmin-bashing.

Overall, Devdutt Pattanaik’s 7 Secrets of the Goddess is a wonderfully educative read as his earlier books, but from a different perspective.

PS: One thing that bothered me initially about the book was the size of the book and the font sizing/spacing. It seemed like a workbook that we had in school, and a little difficult to hold. But once I saw how the artwork on the pages effectively added to the reading, I realised why the book was designed that way. 

Oct 23, 2014

Love Lasts Forever… [Book Review]

A mild curiosity crept in seeing the title of the book when BlogAdda first posted about this book being available for review. Having done some heavy reading including ‘A Fine Balance’, ‘The Glass Palace’ and ‘And The Mountains Echoed’ in the last few weeks, I was in mood for some light reading and requested for the book, assuming it was going to be one seeing the title.

The cheesiness in the title, unfortunately, does not stop there. Vikrant Khanna, the author of the book who is also in the merchant navy, has a mention on his website that, ‘the author has his finger strongly on the Indian youth's pulse.’ If this is what the pulse of the Indian youth is, I am beginning to worry. A little more.

The premise of the book is fairly simple. Two parallel stories with some love, rant-filled love one must say, the usual misunderstandings, a tragic moment, and some lighter moments (which in this book seem slightly gross); all of this coupled with a pirate drama in the background, you have your Love Lasts Forever.  I could go on about how cliched a lot of the premise and the romance seems, but since this seems to be the flavour of the ‘youth’, I suppose Vikrant may have a winner in his hands.

While Vikrant seems to have a reasonable grasp over English, he doesn’t resort to using bombastic words and uses a colloquial lingo for most of the book. Perhaps, his way of catering to The pulse. Some more attention could have been paid towards the grammatical correctness since there are quite a few instances where the book could have used more proofreading. Additionally, what ticked me big time was the use of the word ‘marriage’ in almost every situation that demanded the usage of the word ‘wedding.’ Agreed that the two words have unfortunately become interchangeable (not just in India), but I guess someone has to point it out and I guess I will do that here. The book has a statement ‘We had a long last night and we reached our home way past midnight after our marriage.’ While the intent of the statement was something, but it definitely reads in a different way.

Coming back to the premise, I seem to have severe dislike on how the fairer sex is portrayed in the book. While the older character Shikha had her own reasons to act the way she had to, as a reader I felt bad for how poorly Aisha’s character was developed, in addition to it being shown in such poor light. I will not dwell too much on the gender-biasedness that the book has to offer, since many ‘contemporary’ Indian writers who cater to the same youth population tend to do so as well and the aspiring writers seem to draw inspiration from that.

Love Last Forever, overall, was a quick read on a lazy afternoon which did not involve too much of thinking while reading it. But it did serve as some food for thought on how we perceive love and relationships. The book succeeds on that front. If only the current generation which includes me saw love in a different way, the world would be a much better place to live in.

This review is a part of the biggest Book Review Program for Indian Bloggers. Participate now to get free books!

Oct 17, 2014

Under Delhi [Book Review]

Buy Under Delhi by Sorabh Pant on Flipkart here.

Reach the author at:
Twitter: @hankypanty

Under Delhi. It is always interesting to see popular bloggers and stand-up comedians become authors. One, it shows if a good blogger than hold a reader's attention through an entire book as opposed to a blog post. Two, it shows if the stand-up comedian can work his way around a book the way he does with a show of his own. Sorabh Pant mainly succeeds in the second category by ensuring that is a enough hilarity in his narrative of a very average premise.

The premise is simple. The protagonist Tanya Bisht is a person who takes revenge of acts of rape by men and she is led by a Soniaji (no kidding!) Throw in a few characters including a rich land-grabber, a pervert for a boss, an attention-seeking colleague and a spineless boyfriend, you have your narrative there.

What works best to Sorabh's benefit is the fact that he uses a lot of material, which is stand-up comedy material, in the premise and those are genuinely laugh-worthy moments. I couldn't help myself from smiling or laughing when I read a few of those wordsplay, including the one on IIPM. This man is definitely someone I'd love to watch on stage sometime soon.

What also works for Sorabh is the fact that his language here is definitely appreciable and the writing doesn't read like a screenplay. There is some sincerity in the writing, and it shows. The characters, for the most part, are well-etched, except for a few of them that appear suddenly in the narrative.

What did not work for me in the book was a beaten-to-death premise. The concept of a woman who leads a dual life, over and under Delhi, trying to have her way with rapists is not completely novel. There is also an emphasis on her relationship, which seems cliched than ever. Why is it that most 'independent' women these days settle for spineless guys, at least in books?  Secondly, the book seemed to lose its steam by the time it entered the third part and it definitely appeared as though the author did not do too much thinking to write the last part. It just drags on forever. With some editing, the book could have been come well under 200 pages with a crisper narrative.

With a generous seasoning of some witty one-liners and some decent writing, Under Delhi is a book that could have been much more.

Sep 28, 2014

God is a Gamer [Book Review]

When a book is advertised as the 'First Bitcoin Thriller' or the author of the book is referred to as 'India's No. 1 Thriller Writer,' there is definitely a sense of expectation arising from those claim. Whether Ravi Subramanian manages to satisfy those expectations in 'God is a Gamer' is subjective, but one must give it to the man for having been able to weave out a story with a mostly decent premise incorporating money, online gaming, bitcoins, 'love' and politics.

Having seen the author's books adorn the best-seller shelves in Crossword, Landmark and elsewhere, I was keen to know whether this author was one of those 'new-age Indian writers' capitalizing on the success of Chetan Bhagat. But my impression about this author has significantly changed post reading the book. This is mainly attributed to the fact that the author, as mentioned earlier, has a decent premise in hand and does a good job of executing it with words. The language, as with many of the books these days, is mostly simple and mostly conversational and is sure to draw the average Indian reader who may want to move away from C-Bag.

The book begins with narratives from multiple cities including Mumbai, New York, and Washington DC, with multiple characters and parallel stories running through almost two-thirds of the book. These are the book’s best pages, when you try to understand how all of these parallel story threads will fall into place in the premise. While there’s the story of Malvika, Aditya, Swami, Sundeep, Varun, and Tanya on one side, there’s Gillian, Nikki, Gloria, Adrian, Dan, and Mike on the another side with pieces of Josh, the finance minister and others thrown into the premise when required. In the large scheme of things, what was impressive was the fact that it is hard to lose track of the characters for the most part, mainly thanks to the short chapters (4-5 pages each at the maximum). That is, each character felt important to the premise and was never ignored or left out across multiple chapters.

Having said that, the main peeve I have with the book is with the same aspect of having the shorter chapters, which sort of doesn’t help in forging a long bond with the character in that chapter. However the biggest disappointment from this book is the fact that you can smell the ending from a long distance (almost at the 200th page mark), though I must confess that I almost fell for the ‘almost-ending’ before the epilogue. Another fact that I did not completely relish was alienating women characters from most of the narrative using them mostly as props. Though there is Tanya and Malvika, who are presently through a major part of the narrative, they hardly seem to make an impact. The fact that the reason for the actions in the premise mainly stem out of the lust of two main characters makes for a pretty lame reasoning and seems rushed. Fortunately, this doesn’t affect the premise of the book for the most part, since it comes up at the very end.

Overall, God is a Gamer makes for a mostly decent lazy afternoon read (like the one I read it on), or as a read for person who would like to observe how Indian writing continues to evolve, for the better. Mostly.

Reach the author Ravi Subramanian at:

Sep 27, 2014 [Book Review]

(A book review for BlogAdda)

If the first few pages of a book has quotes by Rumi, I am usually sold. Though it doesn’t take too much on the author’s creativity to reproduce the lines of Rumi, the selection of the quotes from hundreds of very relevant quotes is no easy task. Abhimanyu Jha, the author of won my attention right there. Whether he managed to hold it on or not is a different story in itself, but still 10 points to the selection of the Rumi quote and 5 more points to each of the other quotes in the preface.

MarryAGhost – One would wonder what sort of a title that is. While the back cover the book has a synopsis of the book (with spoilers), it was both a cheesy title, and a title that piqued my interest, at the same time. Having never heard of this author before, I cautiously proceeded to read this book and man, I was drawn. Call it guilty indulgence or the craving for a break with a lighter book (having read A Fine Balance and This Divided Island prior to this – both heavy book), I must say I quite enjoyed reading most part of the book.

The likeability of the book comes mainly with respect to the fact that the language is free-flowing and one need not invest too much time in trying to understand what is happening. There is also an advantage in that regard that there are just 4 main characters, with a couple more showing up at times. This minimal character count is perhaps easy on the light reader, and also you are drawn towards the main two characters greatly. The conversations between Maahi and Veeru are mostly not forced, as simple and realistic as what a couple would have (except that they are not a couple). I am almost tempted to use the spontaneous with respect to the premise, except for the fact that this spontaneity comes with a price.

What could the book have done better or what could Mr. Jha do with the second part of the book? Oh yes! There is a ‘To be continued!’ on the last page, and it is indeed a pity that the book doesn’t have a mention of whether it is a multi-part series. Well, I am going to definitely want to read the next part, and I hope it is the only other part. Coming back to what the author could have done better, the first thing that any new author is guilty of is the repetitive nature of the conversations. It is indeed understandable that the two main characters have (sort of) fallen for each other and are insecure about the others’ feelings. But bringing this up every now and then can get a little annoying. Second, the book requires a total suspension of belief, which is to be understood seeing the title, but it would have helped if there was a logical flow to a few things like how the characters landed in Goa (there is a logic, but a flawed one!)Thirdly, the language is pretty light on the brain especially because is mostly conversational. But I fail to understand why the author uses the F-word with hyphens at a few places and uses it in entirety elsewhere. And why even use it in the first place?

While the story in this first book ends at a pretty interesting point, what happens to Maahi, Veeru and the others involved at the end of the 14 days is something that I can’t, but will need to wait to check.

This madly in love ghost could use some of your love with a suspension of belief.

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Sep 24, 2014

This Divided Island [Book Review]

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There is a line in This Divided Island that reads ‘In the new Sri Lanka, demolition was a vital tool of nation-building.’ The author Samanth Subramanian could not have summarized the country and his experiences in the country better.

I was in Sri Lanka in 2013 during the Christmas and New Year time. While I had a whale of a time relishing the way the monuments in Sigiriya and Kandy were protected, I really had an urge to see how the war-striven areas were doing. Unfortunately, I did not get a chance back then since I decided to stay back in Colombo and interact with the locals there to get a perspective of their life there. This book by Samanth Subramanian definitely helped fill the void that I had carried with me following the trip.

The division of the book into its four parts, called The Terror, The North, The Faith and Endgames, is a masterstroke in itself and one can witness the amount of research (and interviewing) that has gone into the writing of the book to ensure that it is a coherent read. What makes this book fascinating is the fact that Samanth has numerous first-hand accounts of the pre-war life (assuming there is something like that), the duration of the ‘prachanai’ (the problems/troubles), and the post-war ‘recuperation’. It is difficult to draw strict lines differentiating these three parts, considering one has a long lasting influence on the other, but Samanth ensures that there is good emphasis on the lives of each of the people featured in the book.

Be it Raghavan (a close aide of Prabhakaran) who was based out of London after a brief stint in the Tigers’ camp, or the fitness conscious doctor Thurairaja, or the Canada settled Ravi, who feature in the Terror part of the book, the perspective of the minds that operated for the Tamils was indeed fascinating to get into.

The North, which is perhaps the most engaging and also the important part of the book, features people working on automobile repairs, a very mysterious yet outgoing character M (one whose identity is cleverly hidden), and the Muslim community. The Muslim community are sort of neither favored by the Sinhalese nor the Tamil, but face damaging consequences in the conflict. This reminds me of the Parsi community that faced similar troubles during the India-Pakistan partition.

The Faith part could very well be the Sri Lankan counterpart of the William Dalrymple’s Nine Lives. Be it the Buddhist Monks who take up violence and turn against the Tamils, or the monks that get involved in politics, or the history of the Buddhist influence in Sri Lanka’s growth, this part gets into something that many authors may shy away from. The fact that the current president Mahinda Rajapakse is perhaps be placed on the same pedestal or even higher than that of the historical king Dutugemunu in Sri Lanka owing to his ‘illustrious’ victory and wiping out the ‘demelas’ is interesting.

The most moving part of the book for me was the one called the Endgames, which featured instances of the Tamil families who had at least one family member missing post the conflict. The missing here corresponds to them being ‘made to disappear’ by the army. The stories of the frequent relocation of the families, thanks to the war and its aftermath, is indeed heart-wrenching. In addition, this part presents a variety of discomforting truths including how the families had their kids recruited into the Tiger army and how there is no ‘youth’ in the current generation of the Tamil population. No one type of family is spared. Not a journalist. Nor a tea shop owner. The hope with which a lot of these families await the return of their (possibly dead) loved ones is beautifully presented.

To summarize, this book is a book about Sri Lankan people: people affected by the war; people who took part in the war; people who believed the Sinhala Buddhists were the only real Sri Lankans; people who just followed the Tiger leader blindly or otherwise, despite knowing that they were on the losing side; people who are leaders and refuse to acknowledge their inebriated state being drunk with power.

This Divided Island is completely worth undivided attention!

Sep 7, 2014

60 Minutes [Book Review]

(A review for the Blogadda Book Reviews program)

At times while watching a (not-so-good) movie, we continue watching it, sometimes till the very end, to see if the plot gets better. 60 Minutes is one such book.

There are movies with plots that begin slowly, but pick up momentum and then leave a lasting impression on you. There are few other plots which start with a bang and end with the same bang maintaining the thrill throughout. While the book 60 Minutes is advertised as ‘A One-of-a-kind Corporate Drama Where All Action Will Unfold In Sixty Racing Minutes,’ the book fails to fall under either type of the movies/plots mentioned above.

A time-bound premise with a non-linear narrative traversing back into flashbacks every five minutes had such promise. When I first looked at the contents, I was both excited and skeptical at the same time. The former because I am huge fan of the TV series '24' and perhaps this was going to be a racy ride. The latter because I was not too sure how a non-linear narrative would fit into a premise that was time critical. My fears, unfortunately, came true.

Firstly, to focus the positives, I was quite impressed with the simplicity in the style of writing. It sure did not use bombastic words and it is very well evident that the author wanted to use a limited vocabulary. This is a plus because words could have distracted and I was in no mood to keep a dictionary by my side while I read this book. Next, the characters had enough depth, at times more detailed than necessary. There was sufficient background to each of the characters and this helped the characters appear slightly more human, especially with their gray shades. The characters Maithili and Sailesh, especially the latter, definitely seem to invoke some sympathy from the reader and come across as real ones.

While focusing on what could have been better in the book, the first thing that comes to mind is the business lingo especially with respect to the stock markets. While the premise of the character Agastya (the main protagonist) being hooked to stock markets is understandable, it got way too distracting and definitely got in the way of the ‘thriller’ that this could have been. Secondly, there were way too many characters, all not of importance, and the author could have easily done away with 4 to 6 of them. The background for those characters in the flashbacks did not prove to be beneficial either.

My main peeve with the book is the non-linear style of narration. While a well-crafted movie running in real time can do with those short flashbacks every now and then, a book surely needs to be able to hold the reader’s attention with a crisper narrative. This book definitely lacked that. What would have helped the book was just 12 chapters (for each of those 5 minutes in the 60 minutes), with narrations from the BCL side and the Stark side alternatively, with the details from the flashbacks woven into these chapters in a much briefer fashion. The author could have taken a cue from '24' for this.

To sum it up, 60 Minutes is a decent lazy weekend read which doesn’t fully realize the potential it had.

This review is a part of the biggest Book Review Program for Indian Bloggers. Participate now to get free books!

Aug 23, 2014

Private India [Book Review]

I should begin this review with a disclaimer that this is the first book of Ashwin Sanghi that I have read and I was not aware (until this review opportunity happened) that James Patterson is one popular and widely published author. I do have Sanghi’s Chanakya’s Chant lying on my bookshelf for over a year, but did not get a chance to read it yet.

The Private series by James Patterson is now set in India and there is a string of murders occurring in the nation’s financial capital Mumbai. The task that the Private team comprising of Santosh, Nisha, Mubeen, and Hari have in hand is to see if the murders are linked and identify the killer(s) and the motive(s) behind the killing. Apart from this, a terrorism angle is thrown in and a few elements that were essential to a Bollywood potboiler of the 80s and 90s are incorporated as well.

With simple language, good characterization and most importantly, shorter chapter length (there are over hundred chapters ranging from 4 to 6 pages long), the authors ensure that the flow of the premise is pretty easy. For a first time (after long) mystery reader like me, this was a very very easy read and I did not have to spend a lot of time trying to remember characters’ names or what was happening in the book even if a character popped up in the narrative after 200 pages. In addition, there is a linear yet non-linear first person narrative occurring every few chapters which I felt was very well done. This brought me closer to that particular character without knowing who he/she was and that is something commendable.

One thing I definitely admire about the book is the way in which a few of the locales from Mumbai are presented, including the very important Parsi location. For a person like me who has not seen much of the city lately, an author basing the story in Mumbai and not taking the cliched depiction route was refreshing.

I do not want to dwell into the premise of the novel completely, since that would mean posting spoilers in this blogpost. But I need to mention a few things about the book and the narrative that did not quite work for me.

  • The way the mystery of the sequence of killings that occur is deciphered by Santosh leaves a lot to be desired. It appears as though the author did not want to spend too much space in the narrative to help him arrive at that conclusion.
  • A whodunit mystery always has a few unfortunate good souls who are suspected of the crime, and this book is no different either. That got bland a tad too quickly and perhaps lessens the impact. 
  • In trying to explain the premise completely to, perhaps, an average reader, the book definitely goes deeper into the details of the resolution of the crimes. It would have worked better for me if a lot of the simple assumptions/conclusions were left to the reader to make, and also if a couple of the ‘twists’ were just introduced and left to the reader’s imagination to interpolate. 

To conclude, Private India in no way is a terrible book, but it is definitely not the best book you will read this year either. It is an easy read that you can use while waiting for a flight at the airport. It may turn out to be a popular book and perhaps soon have a Bollywood adaptation. But Mr. Sanghi, I definitely expected a lot more from this book.

This review is a part of the biggest Book Review Program for Indian Bloggers. Participate now to get free books!

Aug 11, 2014

Game of Life - Round 1 [Book Review]

This is probably the first time I am writing a review for a book, outside of Goodreads. And man, while I thought peer-reviewing research journal articles was hard, reviewing a 200+ page book definitely seems harder.

As a self-confessed fan of Mahabharatha, literally the great epic, I have always found the Ramayana a little too underwhelming in terms of character portrayal. The reason may be because of the epoch (yuga) that it is set in, where the characters are portrayed as either all white or all black, seldom with shades of gray as in the Mahabharatha. It could also be attributed to the type of books I have read previously on the Ramayana (the Rajagopalachari version, Sita by Devdutt Pattanaik and Asura by Anand Neelkantan). But, I was proven (mostly) wrong by the first book in the series, Ramayana - The Game of Life called The Rise of the Sun Prince.

The Game of Life. For a title, this is a pretty ambitious choice, I felt. After getting to somewhere around 50 pages in the book, I realized why the author named the book that way. A few obvious, a few not-so-obvious, a lot of not-at-all-obvious pearls of wisdom on life, correlating to the happenings in the epic are thrown at us. Most of these are in the form of footnotes which are plenty in number, and can get quite distracting too till you get used to them. (Jaya and Sita by Devdutt Pattanaik have similar treatment with respect to trivia, however all of them appear at once at the end of one chapter.)

The main protagonist of this Bala kaanda is actually Vishwamitra, the sage king who has a wonderful chapter on his transition from a king to brahmarishi. A lot of the trivia about the brothers and sister of Ravana, the 350 wives of Dasaratha, the story of the bow that Rama breaks at Janaka’s palace, the ancestors of Janaka are something that I was unaware of. The whole premise is something that is known to any Indian kid who has seen or heard of Ramayana stories in one form or another. But it is this trivia that makes a lot of these epic interpretations interesting and the book definitely delivered a lot more than I expected.

The language is pretty simple and perhaps aimed at multiple markets. One - as a story for someone reading the Ramayana for the first time. Two - as a book to correlate life’s happenings with what the Sun prince faced.

The beauty of the book lies in the overall feel where that it gives. Yes, the book can get philosophical, but it does manage to get so without getting too preachy. Another attribute is that the author is aware that he is dealing with material that has had multiple interpretations, but he still manages to not get influenced by the base material he has (Valmiki Ramayana and Kamba Ramayana) and manages to get his points across with little effort.

A few things that I look forward to in the forthcoming books in the series:

- hopefully better placed footnotes,
- a little deeper analysis into the psyche of the person called Rama, and not the Vishnu avathaar,
- a more conversational narrative than a biographical narrative, and
- no preview to the next book in the series. It is best to end the book at a particular point/juncture which is very significant.

As thanks to this blogadda book review program, I have been able to write a blogpost after really long. I hope this is just a start!

This review is a part of the biggest Book Review Program for Indian Bloggers. Participate now to get free books!