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
Website: http://devdutt.com/
Twitter: @devduttmyth 
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/DevduttPattanaik

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
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/SorabhPant

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.