Wednesday, July 31, 2013

August: 30 days; 30 blogposts


I had been planning on writing everyday, since a while. I do write for work, but I had been meaning to write for myself, everyday. Had planned on blogging everyday of the month in May, but that never happened. So, August!

Of late, I have been taking up small 21 / 30 day challenges, be it for fitness or for reading. This time, I take it up for writing. Everyday. Here are the 30 topics I have roughly chalked out, I hope to follow them, though not in the sequence they are listed.

Another reason I want to do this, is because I want to go to sleep thinking what my next day's blog post will be about, and not about the unpleasantness people around are causing. I cannot shun them, so I am giving my mind better and more interesting things to think about! :-)
.

Anybody else wants to join in, let me know. I would love to read you too!

My religion, my faith.
Education - how important do I think it is.
Language. Why do I hate it when people butcher a language!
Five famous men I find incredibly attractive.
Love.
Favourite movie(s).
Someone from real life who really fascinates me.
Favourite comfort food.
Favourite childhood toy.
Biggest regret of life.
Favourite books.
Why I am so obsessed (or, am I, really) with my Zodiac sign?
14 facts about myself, 14 being my dob.
Place I would really want to visit.
Platonic love.
My earliest memories.
Social media friendships.
Favourite tv shows.
10 likes and 10 dislikes.
Marriage.
Three things about myself, that I am proud of.
Things that make me happy.
A letter to my teenage self.
A letter to my future self.
What I dislike about myself.
Trust. 
Fitness - my journey in the last 3 months.

21 Fools says, 'Thank You' to Indian soldiers. What about you?

Last year around 1700 soldiers had a huge smile on their faces when they got a Thank You card from a lot of us, 

There are around 1 lakh soldiers who are posted at the border and our vision is to reach out to every soldier and make them smile.

Help us do that?





Most of us want to stay happy despite the odds life throws at us. And most of us also want to spread happiness. A smile here, and a hug there; ensure we smile our way to bed at night, and so do they. 

Trusting the good in each one of you, this year, we at 21 Fools, are barking upon the path to do our bit as well. Last year, the cards we sent to the soldiers were priced. This year, we are not keeping any price tag on them. The cards will be free

The cards will be charged Rs 0.00 and you are free to pay the amount you wish. This is in hope to keep the goodness alive. Shall we?

You can also send our soldiers, our saviors, cards and rakhis. Who else, specially as of today, but them, can we depend upon, to be our saviors? While they are away from home for very festival which we celebrate with our families, let's try and send a few festivities and lots of love their way? What say, people?

Know more about how to send cards and rakhi here.

Disclaimer: All photos taken from 21 Fools' website.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Book Review: Boomtown by Aditya Mukherjee

On the jacket:


Boomtown, a witty, delectable story of food, friendship, romance and adventure, marks the arrival of an exciting new talent.

Roy, I m going to make you an offer you can t refuse.

I can't marry you, JJ. It would ruin our friendship.

JJ laughed. Very funny, but no, I m going to start a restaurant chain. I found this amazing cook in Chandni Chowk...

Jacob James - JJ - eccentric idealist and scion to a wealthy family, is determined to make it big on his own. A chance meeting with Jaaved, an innovative young chef at an iconic Old Delhi restaurant, triggers an idea. What if JJ set up a chain of fusion restaurants, spinning new-age twists on traditional recipes?

As JJ embarks on his grand entrepreneurial journey, he convinces two others to join him Roy, a disgruntled engineer, and Sheetal, a feisty single mother who works in the hotel industry. Join the team as they travel from the crumbling Mughlai kitchens of Chandni Chowk to the trendy upmarket eateries of Gurgaon, from the corporate corridors of venture capitalists to the crummy offices of property brokers.

Will they realize their Great Entrepreneurial Dream? Or will Khan Mian, legendary chef and Jaaved s grandfather, hell-bent on protecting his heritage and his traditions, thwart their plans?

Review:

If I say, Boomtown was a brilliant debut read, it would be an understatement. It is more than brilliant, it was highly impressive. Right from page 1, it was captivating. Well evolved characters, smooth narration and easy flowing words. From the moment, the book said that Jaaved was trying to make modifications in his family recipes and see how the changes work, as a reader, I was trapped. The plot and characters are such that one will end up reading the book as a third person, present in all the scenes. 

Other characters in the book are JJ (JAcob James) a rich guy, who is determined but doesn't want to do any work, Karthik a software professional who has just lost his job and Sheetal, a restaurateur, a successful one too. Jaaved's modified recipe and these three entrepreneurs. That's what the book is about; a book about entrepreneurs. The title didn't make much sense to me, and to be frank, some other title might have seemed more fetching for such a brilliant read. 

Each of the four young people mentioned above have strong characterizations, but Jaaved is a treat in himself. The more you read, the more you would wish such a person actually existed, and you could get to know him, his mind!!

A foodie, a food lover, and entrepreneur, a good book lover - whoever you are, you might love Boomtown.

Rating: ****/5

[This review is for Rupa Publications. The opinions are strictly my own and not been written under any obligation.] 

Managing happiness at 21 Fools

21 Fools has always and will always stand for happiness and carrying forward the core vision in our mind; and recently we came up with our brand new logo. With this blogpost I would like to present to you the new, 21 Fools' logo! Here is the brief idea what it says.. 

The beautiful green petals represent us/life. The seven petals are the seven colors of life; the seven stages of life. The petals are asymmetrical depicting that life isn't perfect. However imperfect, life can still spread the color of happiness - yellow.

The logo is made with such simplicity and innocence that a child could redraw and create his own definition of happiness. This logo does not belong to just 21 Fools but to all of us. This isn't just a logo, its a symbol of happiness.

When you look at this pic, what do you see? How do you weave a tale from the thoughts that fill up your mind, looking at this logo? Tell us, we would love to exchange stories!

Shop with us at: 21 Fools' Shop

Drop in a line for us, we would love to know you more!

Monday, July 29, 2013

Book Review: Waves: Experiments in short stories (1996 - 2005) by Ahila Thillainathan

On the jacket:


Ten short stories exploring moments in people's lives that causes different responses akin to the movement of waves.
Paperback, Reprint, 128 pages
Published July 19th 2012 by Self-published (CreateSpace) (first published July 2010)
original titleWaves: Experiments in short stories (1996 - 2005)
ISBN 9558535095 (ISBN13: 9789558535097)

Review:

On fine morning, I received a mail from Srilanka. Ahila Thillainathan found my blog while looking for a food blog. Coincidence or what! She mentioned about a self-published book, Waves, (first self published in limited copies in Sri Lanka in 2010 for a fund raiser and then on Amazon in 2012 not for a fund raiser). An I, love short-stories. There was no way I would not read this book. And I am so happy I got to read this wonderful collection of stories.

Not a waste of breath, The Cuckoo, Vani, Safe in the city, The mango tree, One foolish mustake, All for a cup of coffee, To tempt fate, The birthday wish and The Gaze - every story is so earthy, simple and easy to identify with. Again, as I strongly feel, well-written short stories do, these ones also make one think. Think, relate, delve into and bring back some learning, some lessons.

Easy, simple, free flowing language, plots close to our home, right from within our lives, every story in Waves is a pleasant read.

Rating: ****/5

[This is a author request review. The opinions are strictly my own and not been written under any obligation.] 

Book Review: Happy Birthday! by Meghna Pant

On the jacket:



Happy Birthday! (Random House, India) is a beautifully written, compelling and emotionally intelligent collection of short stories by award-winning novelist Meghna Pant. These finely nuanced stories provide a rare glimpse into the complex and mysterious inner lives of human beings.

A dedicated friend undertakes one last labour of love for a childless woman. Nadia - married into money - finds herself facing uncomfortable truths about her comfortably numb marriage. A Mumbai slum-girl dreams of speaking words valuable enough to be translated into English. An American tourist seeking nirvana sets off a sudden chain of events when his bag is stolen, and destiny plays her hand. A retired civil servant of modest means struggles to support his snooty foreign-returned daughter.

Meghna Pant’s knife - sharp stories are compelling, emotionally intelligent and provide a rare glimpse into the strange workings of the human heart. They evade neat categorization and
are the perfect read for all curious spirits.

"These are stories with a large heart and a keen eye, deeply aware of the complex, sometimes uncomfortable realities of India, its many layers. Meghna Pant knows how to create characters that will surprise and move you." 
– Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni 

"Deft, merciless and expertly-tuned parables for the new Indian century."
– Jeet Thayil

Review:

Anyone who has been reading my blog over the time knows, I adore short stories and believe anyone who can write good short stories, is truly a good author. I haven't read Pant before, but I am glad I finally did. What a plethora of short stories!

The Gola Master, Hoopsters, Happy Birthday!, The Gecko on the Wall, Friends, Lemon and Chilli, The Message, Clip and Cane, The Bailout, Shoulder Blades, Aster Ashes, Dented and Painted Women, and Shaitan - I read one story a day. I could have finished the book in a day but right after I read the first story, I knew this book has some strong, retrospective, stories. I read one a day, so that I could soak in the plot for the rest of the day. Simple plots from our everyday life, yet not too simple; we know these events happen in our lives and around us, but they are not so obvious. It's those apparent, but not so obvious events that happen in and around our lives, that Pant has picked and weaved tales around. And, brilliantly so.

A beautiful book, and not just the cover; every story in Happy Birthday!  will leave you thinking. Very difficult to pick a favourite, but I think The Gecko On The Wall touched a raw nerve in me, somewhere - reminding me again, how much we take our parents for granted, and how far they can go, just to keep us happy. But then, every story will touch a raw nerve; different ones.

Rating: ****.5/5

[This review is for Random House India. The opinions are strictly my own and not been written under any obligation.] 

Book Review: Why I Failed: Lessons from Leaders by Shweta Punj

On the jacket:



Prominent personalities open up about failure and learning from it 

Failure that dreaded word. The fear of failure curtails growth and inhibits people from taking risks. Getting people to talk about failure, especially their own, is the singularly most difficult thing to do. In Why I Failed, Shweta Punj does just that by getting leaders to share experiences of when they did not succeed and how they turned it around to their advantage to emerge indomitable and stronger than before. This book shows that it is okay to fail as long as you treat failure as a stepping stone for greater things.

Review:

We've all read various success stories. If not read, heard. Derived inspiration for them. Thought about them much later. Wondered how the achiever did it. Told ourselves, if they can, so can we. I know I have, I am sure most of you have too.

But, rarely comes a book where achievers talk about the times when they failed. And, miserably. Abhinav Bindra, Anu Aga, Madhur Bhandarkar, Narayanan Vaghul, Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw, Captain Gopinath, Sabysachi Mukherjee, Narayana Murthy, Dr Prathap C Reddy, Sunil Alagh, Subhash Ghai, Ajit Gulabchand, Sminu Jindal, William Bissekk, Sanjeev Goenka and Shankar Sharma - each an example in him(her)self in being an achiever on the global scene, yet they have failed miserably in what they do, at some point of their lives. Why did they fail? What happened? There is always a reason, and in Why I Failed: Lessons from Leaders, these people talk about the same.

India was ecstatic when Bindra won the Olympic medal. And equally bitter when he didn't. The same person who was showered with bouquets was now being thrown brickbats. What no one thought of was, why? Why did he drop out so soon? Bindra analyzes and tells us why - I was not desperate enough to win. Courageous!

When Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw was setting up Biocon from scratch, it wasn't easy. She didn't take the easy way out, but raised money for her entrepreneurial venture and trying to build credibility, when the first batch of enzymes failed. Shaw confesses that in the initial years, she failed to get the best talent for her venture.

Subhash Ghai, a FTII alumni, wanted to be an actor. But every film he auditioned for, went to his FTII batchmate, Rajesh Khanna. Thus began the five-year jinx. How Ghai never gave up his love for films, despite no success in the one thing he knew he was born to do - act. Reading about what Ghai has to say, about his failure and learning from it, one also realizes, how big a word love is and that there can be advantages even in disadvantageous situations.

All in all, and extremely good read; short and precise. Perfect, crisp editing makes the good a very good handbook to go back to, from time to time, to draw inspiration from.

Rating: ****/5

[This review is for Random House India. The opinions are strictly my own and not been written under any obligation.] 


Author Interview: Tushar Raheja

Recently, I read Romi & Gang by Tushar Raheja, an young-adult fiction. From the look of the book, it's cover, the characters, the events - everything about the book took me back to my own childhood; days when school vacations were spent with The Five Find-Outers.

Romi & Gang is by far one of the better reads I have read of late. Currently, almost all books for young-adults pertain to fantasy, while the real fantasy which we grew up on, is totally ignored. Raheja has brought back the genre not just for the pre-teens of today, but if you have grown up anytime till the 90s, you will love it too.

I tried to know the author a little better, why don't you too? Read on:

No one really writes much for children these days. Specially not best-selling authors who write for grown-ups. How come you did?

A book writes itself. In my case writing is more of a caprice. The subject chose me and I went along. You don’t really think about these best-selling author and target audience trifles.
When I read 'Romi & Gang', I felt I was reading Blyton. Despite nothing being copied from her style of writing, this book gave a faint remembrance of her adventure books. How did you manage that? 
Really didn't go out to do that. Although am a Fatty fan myself what has inspired me in general is more of Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn, Tom Brown's school days to an extent, and, R K Narayan back home.
When we write for our age-group, we think, as we are. But children are whimsical, they like something, the other moment they don't. Was writing this book difficult?
I really haven’t grown up at all; so I assume it was not that difficult. :-) Writing, as I mentioned before, is itself whimsical – in my fantasy land I really haven’t grown up.
                                      A short film based on Romi & Gang

What's with so many IIT grads turning into authors? So much literary talent, sitting in engineering classes?
Literary talent? Not sure! There have been better authors from other walks of life. Anything associated with IIT just grabs the eyeballs.
Do you write for a hobby or you are planning to take this up as a full time occasion subsequently?
For me there is no switch off button; so haven’t ever been able to keep reading/writing down to a hobby.
Both your books are widely spaces, 'Anything for you ma'am' came in 2006, and 'Romi & The Gang' in 2013. Pretty long gap. When do we expect your next?
The next should come sooner. The reason for the gap is the publishing set-up here. Have found an indie support system and at the moment am not wary of seeing the book in print.
What would your next book be about?
It will take you out your armchair to a wormhole for a ride of a life time :-)
Who do you read, who are your favourite authors? And genres?
Kipling, Wodehouse, Mark Twain, R K Narayan, Asimov... am more inspired by movies – Hrishikesh Mukherjee, Capra, Hitchcock, Ray, Lubitsch, Zemeckis... so many of them. No particular genre.
Are you in support of the emerging trend of e-books, or do you need paperbacks?
That's a tough one. Love the smell of books but have never been a fan of elitist bookstores and expensive books. So ebooks have made reading remarkably democratic and accessible. So I am happy to read on Kindle but any day prefer diving into a pile of old books and fishing out treasures.
What inspires you to write. Who/what is your muse?
Again whims and fancies that seize you, consume you and swell into inspirations.
For every 10 reader who loves a book, there will be 12 who didn't. Any book. How difficult is it to accept criticism? And how important?
Old adage – you cannot please all. So I prefer to focus on surpassing myself.

Read the review of Romi & Gang here.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Book Review: The Weight Loss Club by Devapriya Roy

On the jacket:



A warm, witty, gloriously realistic novel about living, loving and losing weight. 

Set in a middle-class housing colony, this is the story of stay-at-home mum Monalisa, who cannot clean the kitchen counter enough times; Meera, who is bullied constantly by her traditional mother-in-law; college-going Abeer, who isnt sure how to impress the glamorous Mandy; academic Aparajita, who has no takers on the marriage mart; philosopher Ananda, whom no one takes seriously; and Treeza, a former school secretary now sunk in gloom. Into their midst arrives Oxford-returned Sandhya: half hippie, half saadhvi, full spiritual guru. Under her aegis is formed The Weight Loss Club, throwing the lives of our heroes and heroines into utter and delightful disarray. 

But while chemistry brews and equations change, one question remains: who is Brahmacharini Sandhya, and why on earth has she moved into Nancy Housing Cooperative?

Review:

The Weight Loss Club is not really what you might guess from it's cover and title. Well, it wasn't what I guessed! I had imagined the plot to be about a club which will be formed by fat society aunties and the book will talk about their experiences, funny incidents etc. No. I was wrong. There was not even a mention of a weight loss club till page 172, and by then I was confused, annoyed and unsure if I should continue reading the book. 

Having said that, let me tell you what is there in the book from Page 1. An earthy connection to Kolkata which probably only Bengalis or those with a Kolkata connection can feel, lots of emotions, and an array of events. And once I had finished reading the book, I sat there for a few moments, took time to come out of the lives of the residents of Nancy Housing Cooperation.

The story is about the residents of Nancy Housing Cooperative and every chapter is actually very interesting, right from why Nancy became Nancy. A plethora of characters - the Mukherjee family with two overweight children, Abeer and Aparajita, with Aparajita being on the threshold of marriageable age, is put on a strict diet by her mother; the Das(s) - parents and two sons, where the mother, Monalisa is obsessed with her sons' education and scores; the Sahai(s), husband-wife-MIL-two children kind of a family with a nagging MIL and a whole host of annoying relatives who have come visiting; the Boses - Ananda and his ailing mother; John and Treeza; and whole lot more - with saadhvi Sandhya moving in at the flat above John and Treeza.

Each person in the plot has a distinct personality and events going on in their lives. These events get entwined at times, and at times run parallel. The typical Bengali household attributes which we see in the Mukherjee hosehold, or how a regular Bengali mother dotes over her kids, as in the Das family, or, how Meera Sahai is suppressed by her mother-in-law and sister-in-law - we have witnessed such families and we know one such in our lives too. Being more used to the difference in usage of co-sister/co-sister-in-law and sister-in-law, the jethani /devrani being referred to as sister-in-law did come across as odd.

By the time I finished reading The Weight Loss Club, I had a good feeling about the tale, having been involved in the lives of the character while reading. When I had started reading, I was concentrating on the title and not finding any mention of the apparent theme, was turned off. However, once the title made sense and I began concentrating on the plot; it was a smooth read. My favourite part was where John and Treeza got to a family gathering; the section gave a Bow Barracks kind of feeling. Durga puja planning was nostalgic, even though I am a probashi Bengali.

The cover page illustrations were particularly noteworthy.

Rating: ***.5/5

[This review is for Rupa Publications. The opinions are strictly my own and not been written under any obligation.] 

Book Review: Everything Under 18 by Manish Tripathi


On the jacket:



One always has to make important make-or-break choices in their lifetime.

What about a boy who is under 18? Is he mature enough to take such decisions? What happens when he chooses wrong?

Life under 18 is always at its craziest best. It is full of hopes, aspirations, plans, friends, love and crazy hormones. But what happens when everything turns into a nightmare; when friends turn to foes, parents behave like strangers and choose to trust outsiders over you. What happens when your friends move on and life stagnates on you. What happens when your love walks out on you and you are willing to give up everything for her to have her back.

In this true to life story, Vimal has to face his hardships, his pains, his wounds which are unbearable even for a grownup. He faces all his traumas alone and still being under 18. Will he be able to finally stand up? Will there be a second chance for him? 

Can true meaning of life be learnt when Everything Under 18 happens?

Review:

Everything Under 18 by Manish Tripathi is the kind of book all of us will identify with. We are either in our teens, living this stage, or have in the past. And we all know, it's not easy being under 18, albeit a lot of fun!!

One can read about Vimal, the protagonist, wonder how he will cope with life and it's troubles, or draw inspiration from it, or just enjoy reading it, reminiscing their own times. A lot happens when on is in their teens and at times, to us, the world seems wrong while our actions seem right. At times, we do the right, yet lose out. Age old friendships break, or strengthen, or new bonds are formed. The heart falls in love, the mind tries to focus on the career.

Narration is clear and characters are well-formed; Tripathi has spun an entertaining tale. Editing, however, leaves a lot to be desired.

Rating: ***.5/5

[This is a author request review. The opinions are strictly my own and not been written under any obligation.] 

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Author Interview: Sid Bahri

From being a necktie-clad waiter, to a necktie-clad executive in the corporate world, Sid Bahri has recently published his first book. Titled The Homing Pigeons, it is a fresh breathe of air in the pretty stagnating realm of books with stereotype plots. No wonder it was endorsed by Dr Shashi Tharoor himself!

When I decided to begin a new segment of author interviews in my blog, I couldn't have begun it with a better author than Sid Bahri. The Homing Pigeons was easily one of my best reads of the year, and trying to know the mind behind it, proved to be interesting. Here is an excerpt of some of the tête-e-tête:

How did the Homing Pigeons come into existence? Did you decide to be a published writer first and then thought of the plot or you decided to get published when you had a good story in hand?

It’s a long story which dates back to 2008. I was in disguised unemployment which really means that I had a job but not enough work to justify my salary. Since I had the time, I started writing about a banker who had lost his job, which wasn't a very remote possibility in those times of recession.  Too soon, my bosses realized that they were paying me for nothing and the book went into cold storage.
By 2012, I was in a different job, at a higher pay, in a different company but I hated it, nonetheless. Writing was my vent; nothing more than a hobby but something that gave me immense pleasure. I revived the book that was warming my hard drive and converted it into what we today call The Homing Pigeons.
I wasn't writing it to be published and maybe, that’s why it’s turned out like it has. If you’re writing for the market, you’re not doing justice to the story or the characters.

How scared or worried were you for the reviews? Yes, a creative person’s work, when judged, does ignite a lot of anxiety. But how anxious were you?

My journey into publishing can be best described as bumpy. When you get rejected by various publishing houses, it does dent your confidence. I think the credit must go to Stuti Sharma, my editor, who read the draft and said that it is one of the finest books that she had read. When Dr. Shashi Tharoor endorsed it, I was reasonably confident that I had a good product in hand. I say good because it’s not my best piece of work. So, that took away some of the anxiety.
I am a Virgo, which means that criticism is second nature. And, it’s good to be at the receiving end this time because it also helps me improve.
I loved how you sketched the characters. Did you take motivation from real life or they are purely from imagination?

The Homing Pigeons is my second book. The first one that I wrote will never see the light of day – it was that ugly. I had written my third book, the sequel, before I had sent this one for publishing. Practice makes perfect and when I went back to edit The Homing Pigeons, I knew the flaws and was able to correct them and create vivid characters that breathe. I think both the protagonists are mostly imaginary.

It's not easy being a writer. It's even tougher writing a book which is so well-received. Any mantra, other than being an honest writer?

I think you have to love what you do. My education is in hotels; I started my career in BPOs. Along the way, I joined a bank but I think that of all these trades, I love writing the most. If you’re passionate about what you do – it shows.

The previous question reminds me, when I was reading your book, honesty kept coming up from within the pages. Honesty, in terms of the author not being pretentious, aping other authors, or trying too hard to make the book a hit. Was this conscious, or is this how Sid Bahri writes?

I didn’t go to a creative writing school and never had the opportunity to. But most education comes from observation and practice. I am a voracious reader and that’s helped me immensely while writing. There are some authors that I look up to and I’d be dishonest if I said that I haven’t learnt from them. But, yes, I didn't try to ape them. All along, I was writing for myself; my job paid me more than enough to satisfy my needs and my greed. So, there wasn't really pressure to write for the market.

What does one of our favourite writers of 2013 do, when not writing? 

Oh, thank you for the compliment!!! There isn't much to do in Ranikhet except to take a walk out on a mountainside. My daughter is two and I get to spend a lot of time with her. With writing being my only vocation, it’s a fairly lazy life that I'm living. Occasionally, I cook to break the monotony.
Who are your favourites? Also, e-reader or paperback, what do you prefer?

Ken Follett, Jeffrey Archer and Kathryn Stockett are some of the names that come to my mind instantly. Steigg Larsson is another one. Paperback, always; technology and me don’t go together.
What next? Is your next book in the pipeline or do we have to wait?
The sequel is being edited. I’ll send it out to the publishers when I think I have a book that’s worthy enough to be published. I don’t know how long it will take to come to that point. There’s another book in the pipeline that’s hibernating on my desktop. It’ll pull me in one day to complete itself.
For your next books, would you be trying out different genres or you plan to stick to love stories? 
It’s too early for me to stereotype myself into a particular genre. In fact, just last night, while I was editing the sequel, I was wondering how I would ever be able to classify that book into a genre. But, it also doesn't mean that I won’t do another love story.

A lot of us want to get away from the high profile (or not so high-profile) jobs that we are doing, and set ourselves free. Forget about the constant salary for once and do what the heart wishes to. Yet, liabilities tie us down. What would you suggest?

If you’re a slave to a pay check, you won’t last very long. If you love what you’re doing, then this discussion is immaterial. But, if you don’t love it like I wasn't, then it’s time to change.
Often, I would question my existence and the frequency of that question made me believe that it was time to change. For me, there was only one way to find out, which was to make a hard decision. I’d be foolish to suggest to anyone that they quit their job to follow their passion. That path is fraught with danger and insecurities. But, I believe and I do.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Book Review: Here Sat a Key Maker...: Of Friendship, Love, Hate and Men by Makarand Lohire

On the jacket:

Can a poor boy dream of a life with his love? Does the lure of money drive one to betray ones own? Here Sat a Key Maker... is the story of Javed, Shashank, Preity, their simple lives complicated by poverty, love and ambition. Set in the backdrop of sprawling metropolis of Mumbai, will fate be kind enough to fulfill their wishes?

Review:

A very fresh story-line, an interesting read. I chose to read and review this book based more on it's title than it's small blurb and I was not disappointed. 

The story begins with a doctor, dead tired after his shift, trying to get back to him room to sleep, having to go look for a key maker. Here is where the read story begins, when the tired doctor, listens to the key maker's story, wide-eyed, not sleepy any more. A story about friendship, love and hatred. A story about Javed, Shashank, Preity, Dinesh, Adesh and their friends. 

Characters have been defined well, the plot is tight and doesn't lose it's focus, the author shows a lot of promise. Emotions are very well-depicted, with some lesson about love, friendship and hatred, at every step. Editing leaves a lot to be desired.

Rating: ***/5

[This is a reader request review. The opinions are strictly my own and not been written under any obligation.] 

Book Review: Cough Syrup Surrealism by Tharun James Jimani

On the jacket:

"Charlie's not a depressive. He's certainly not suicidal; the boy's too big a coward to even cut himself while shaving. He may be delusional, he may sincerely wish that he were depressed, but he's certainly not a depressive."

That's Mao; nobody listens to him. But that's probably because he's a figment of Charlie's imagination.

An unwitting Charlie - rudely interrupted in the middle of typing out his umpteenth suicide note - is hurled into a brave new world of addiction, rock music, and debauchery in this tale of growing up and going down. From rolling joints to rolling in drug money, from backing out of life, to fronting somebody else's rock band, he's in for a bumpy ride. Charlie divides his time between being in love with Paloma and hating himself, betweein living out Nineties music video fantasies and wishing he were someone else.

The problem is it's 2006 and MTV is not Music Television anymore. Mixtapes are passé, self-loathing is cliché and Charlie's world is fast deteriorating into caricature. At the end, Charlie is forced to figure eout which one of his many lives he really wants for himself.


Question: You can take a boy out of the Nineties, but can you take the Nineties out of him?

Review:

The book begins with a suicide note on facebook, with various kinds of reactions being posted under it.

Cough Syrup Surrealism is a take on issues bothering the latest lot of teenagers - the kids born in the nineties. The book is about Charlie, a student in Chennai. His parents want him to be an IAS officer, but his life is messed up. While he is amidst drugs, rock n roll and sex, and attempting suicide for the nth number of time; his parents are worried about him. And, there is Mao, Charlie's alter ego, a very active one too. 

A quick read, this will leave you with a whole lot to ponder upon. Conversations between Charlie and his alter-ego, Mao are hilarious and witty. A refreshing read, specially for the generation that is growing up to be tomorrow's future.

Rating: ****/5

[This review is for Fingerprint Publishers. The opinions are strictly my own and not been written under any obligation.] 

Book Review: Parachutes and Peppermints by Sadie Mills

On the jacket:



Chocolateer, Lucy Simkins, has been unceremoniously dumped by her dithering boyfriend, Phil. She's left feeling achingly numb. She needs to blast him out of her system. She decides to go skydiving.

Joshua Snow is one of the most experienced instructors at the dropzone, with a smile that can charm the birds from the trees. When his shy little tandem student starts talking about BASE jumping and wingsuits, pushing him to teach her how to fly, he suddenly finds himself on the back foot.

There's an instant attraction between Joshua and Lucy, an attraction that hasn't gone unnoticed by his peers. A distracted student is one thing - they're all used to that. But a distracted instructor? That's a whole different story.

Review:

This book was my first Amazon download on my Kindle; I wanted a nice, easy, quick read. And, I was not disappointed. Having always wanted to skydive (freefall), but feared, not the height, but the capacity (or lack of it) of my lungs, this book has made me crave more.

A short story, yet unputdownablE, entertaining and tells you so much about skydiving. I read this in one go, and I suspect anyone who tries to read this book, will want to do the same, it's that enjoyable. Very well written, tight plot and likeable characters. 

If you are curious about skydiving, and want to know more; or just curious, wouldn't ever try yourself, but would like to know more - this is your book. It will take you through the entire process as if you are doing it yourself.

Rating: ****/5

[This was a personal read on Kindle.]


Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Book Review: Forever In My Heart by Arindam Dey

On the jacket:


‘The moment your heart chose to love each other, you challenged destiny. And it came for you, just like it comes to measure anyone who chooses to love . . .’

Eighteen years ago, an accident separated Saanjh from Rishav. When fate brings her back to him, she is confronted by a scheming Josephine and her dire obsession to win Rishav at any cost. But is that all that’s keeping Rishav away from Saanjh? Or is there another shadow of fate lurking somewhere between them? Are divine plans really designed around the deepest desires of the human heart? How far can one go to resurrect one’s life, and seek redemption?

When desire deceived love . . . the debt of a sin remained . . .

Review:

After a very long time, I read a book by a new age Indian author which I finished cover to cover, in one sitting. Also, it is after a long time that I read a love story, which was unpretentious, unaffected by other authors and was honest. Yes, Forever In My Heart was a good read.

You must have read a lot of books which you picked for their blurbs but the books disappointed you. In this case, the book surpasses the little expectations that the blurb establishes in the reader's mind. A story about Rishav & Saanjh, Joey & Ankit, Joey & Rishav, and, Saanjh and Joey. Strong, honest emotions, strong character building, and a tight plot which keeps moving from past to present to past, but never confuses the reader. 

Innovative in it's plot, with characters who behave stranger than the word itself, as a reader, you are bound to be glued to the book, to know - what next and why. There are some editorial loopholes, some minor while one blatant, like where Ankit is in the hospital with the rest, and Richard is in Shimla, Ankit's dialogues are said to be by Richard - but these can be ignored, because the plot keeps you glued. Over all, and excellent attempt, which I suppose will only get better.

Rating: ****/5

[This review is for Paper Clip Books. The opinions are strictly my own and not been written under any obligation.] 

Mahabaleshwar Tourism: Top 5 awesome places to see in Mahabaleshwar

Lohagad Fort, Mahabaleshwar. Pic courtesy: Weareholidays
Mahabaleshwar is a very popular hill station situated in the state of Maharashtra. It offers a rejuvenating getaway to the city-wearied souls of Mumbai and Pune. Wrapped with pristine beauty and brimming with splendid waterfalls, this town is surely a breath-stealer.

Here are some of the places and attractions to see in Mahabaleshwar:

i. Pratapgarh Fort: Pratapgarh Fort is a rich piece of history and the pride of the state. It was constructed by the Maratha warrior Shivaji and has carried his legacy over the last 4 centuries. It is not only rich in history but is also besotting to the nature lovers. There are beautiful ponds situated in its premise and some of its doorways are very puzzling and intriguing.

ii. Lingmala Falls: Mahabaleshwar tourism receives so many visitors because of its many crystalline waterfalls. One of the prime examples is the shimmering Lingmala Falls whose silvery beauty can cast that spellbinding effect. Watching it stream down its steep descent is something which would
Viewpoints, Sahyadris, Mahabaleshwar.
Pic Courtesy: WeAreHolidays
keep you rooted to the spot for hours. Its cousin Dhobi Falls is another enigmatic waterfall which has an enslaving quality about it. These waterfalls offer serenity and greenery, and form the hottest picnic spots of the region. If you are planning to come with your spouse, then you are in for an unforgettably romantic treat. 


iii. Mahabaleshwar Temple: Once you are through the historic and natural attractions, you should also pay a trip to the famed Mahabaleshwar Temple. It is donned by the unconquerable Lord Shiva and is thronged by tourists and pilgrims alike. 

iv. Venna Lake: Coming back to nature (which is aplenty at this site), Venna Lake is another jewel in the crown of Mahabaleshwar tourism
There are some exciting activities which one can enjoy here. Apart from boating, you can also enjoy pony rides or just take a stroll feasting your eyes on the bouquet of strawberry-selling stalls. This place is also a firm favorite with the kids. 

v. Wilson Point: With so many domineering green hills around, there are some excellent viewpoints in the region. One of the most popular ones is the Wilson Point. It has an impressive altitude of about 4700 feet and is a special place for viewing sunset and sunrise. You can easily visit this photographic point under your Mahabaleshwar tour packages.

---------------
About the author:
Manya Singh is photographer & solo traveller by hobby, travel blogger by passion and lifestyle writer by profession. At present she is responsible for planning holidays at WeAreHolidays. She tweets from @ManyaJee.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Book Review: Compass Box Killer by Piyush Jha

On the jacket:


‘Akurle is just the first to die. To find out who is next, find me first.’ 

One muggy afternoon in Mumbai, a senior police officer is found murdered at his desk. When Inspector Virkar from the Crime Branch arrives at the scene, he finds a cryptic note that spills out of a student’s compass box. Then begins a series of killings and in each, a tell-tale compass box reveals more clues.
Accompanied by the attractive, ambitious TV reporter, Raashi Hunerwal, Virkar has to race against time to catch the Compass Box Killer before the bodies pile up. As the investigation shuttles from Mumbai to Khandala to Belgaum, Virkar is taken deep into a labyrinth of backroom deals that lead to shocking revelations about the ruthless killer’s motives.
Slick plot twists and high-adrenaline action mark the first of the Inspector Virkar Crime Thrillers—part of the Mumbaistan series. Tough, daring and relentless in his pursuit of justice, Inspector Virkar is a policeman one wishes every city had.

Review:

I have not read the author's first book Mumbaistan but had heard a lot of good things about it. When Compass Box Killer was published, again, I heard a lot of praise for the book and the author's style of writing. So, it was beyond doubt that when I got a chance to review it, I grabbed it.

In one word, Compass Box Killer is a gripping tale. A very well-spun, tight plot, it will have you glued to the book, skimming through the lines as quickly as you can, turning pages fast, to know what happens next.

Murder after murder happens, and Inspector Virkar runs from pillar to post, clues to betrayal, trying to find the killer. He keeps leaving clues, as if to take Virkar through his own journey of killing these people, some high-profile, some not. Crisp editing, perfectly placed sub-plots and smooth writing.

Only two things didn't work for me personally, but they are two small to hamper the reading experience. One, there are times when Marathi phrases are use. Now, I could make out what they meant, but can every reader make out their meanings? A glossary of sorts, would have been nice. Another, probably because this was the second book in the series, for someone who hasn't read the first book, Virkar's character is not very clear. It's not vague, but a little more clarity would have made this book top notch. Also, this book has every ingredient required to make a bollywood thriller.

It's very nice to see Indian authors moving our of the stereotypical romance novels and writing good novels in other genres. A crime thriller is something that interests almost everyone, and Piyush Jha has done a very good job in this. I think I will but Mumbaistan and read it; and wait for his next books. It's a nice feeling that one can have a favourite author from amongst new age Indian authors too!

Rating: ****/5

The book was received as part of Reviewers Programme on The Tales Pensieve.

Friday, July 12, 2013

I Saw, I Learnt.

We learn from what we see. And this holds true right from when we are born. We learn to talk, we learn words, we learn attitude, behaviours, everything from the examples set to us by people around us, some intentionally like by parents and teachers and some unintentionally.


To write about learning from seeing, one can actually sit and write a host of things, dating back to decades. But what comes to my mind is recent.

My mother has been a single mother since when I was 16 and every thing she has done has been inspirational. But, something very against her character happened recently. 

Maa has always been health-conscious; not just about being thin but about my father's and my own inner well-being as well. Few years back, she was diagnosed of osteoarthritis in both her knees. One knee was worse, so the entire pressure of walking went to the other. As a result, even though it wasn't in a very bad shape, it suffered more wear and tear. As a result, both knees needed to replacement surgeries. Unsure, she got one done and when she felt it went well, a year later, she got another one done.

Now, a knee replacement surgery isn't very painful. In fact once the knee is replaced, the pain goes. Only if you have seen someone suffer, would you know the magnitude of this pain. And Maa bore this all without any pain-killer for about 4 years. Why no pain-killers? Because excessive intake of those cause another set of ailments. After the surgeries come very gruelling rounds of physiotherapies, which go on for 3-4 months minimum. My mother being a working woman, it took away every bit of free time she had in a day.

Now let me tell you about me. I have been going through a rough patch physically and emotionally and if not for Maa, my husband and a couple of friends, I would have succumbed to a breakdown by now. Nothing life-taking, but it did keep my spirits down for close to four years and day by day, I was sinking into further depression.

Now comes the inspirational bit. Maa went to her orthopaedic, for checkup of her knees. The knee which was operated later, was still stiff and not bending to the angle which is desirable. Doctor suggested weight loss. Owing to her movement getting restricted post Osteoarthritis, she had put on some weight. 

Maa started walking. After a while, she realised she needed more, so now, she has joined a gym. Not to do cardio, but because she felt she needed a trainer to help her understand her muscles. So, maa, who is a teacher, goes to school at 7 am, comes back home with a whole lot of corrections etc at 4 pm, goes for walk at 6, then the gym at 7 , comes back home by 8, finishes the work she has brought home from school and repeats this schedule diligently, every single day.

And me, 25 years her younger, was wallowing in self-pity and letting myself go thinking I cannot get out of this. Yes, it's easier to make the body fitter than doing that to the mind, but somewhere Maa inspired me. I saw Maa taking care of herself, finally, and I learnt no one else will do that for me, I have to snap out of this and take care of myself. 

I have been on a fitter and happier lifestyle since two months now. The journey is long, very long. But it's time I prove I am my maa's daughter!

I am sharing what I Saw and I Learnt at BlogAdda in association with Do Right!

Book Review: The Garden of Evening Mists by Tan Twan Eng

On the jacket:

Malaya, 1951. Yun Ling Teoh, the scarred lone survivor of a brutal Japanese wartime camp, seeks solace among the jungle-fringed tea plantations of Cameron Highlands. There she discovers Yugiri, the only Japanese garden in Malaya, and its owner and creator, the enigmatic Aritomo, exiled former gardener of the emperor of Japan. Despite her hatred of the Japanese, Yun Ling seeks to engage Aritomo to create a garden in memory of her sister, who died in the camp. Aritomo refuses but agrees to accept Yun Ling as his apprentice "until the monsoon comes." Then she can design a garden for herself.As the months pass, Yun Ling finds herself intimately drawn to the gardener and his art, while all around them a communist guerilla war rages. But the "Garden of Evening Mists" remains a place of mystery. Who is Aritomo and how did he come to leave Japan? And is the real story of how Yun Ling managed to survive the war perhaps the darkest secret of all?

Review:

The Garden of Evening Mists is a book which has everything. It is a book which took me on a roller coaster ride of happiness, sadness, peace, turmoil and almost every imaginable emotion which touches a human heart and leaves a mark. And when the book ended, it left me wanting to cry my heart out. 

Talking about The Garden of Evening Mists and reviewing it seems futile as I truly would not be able to do justice to it. I have a feeling I would want to read this book again, and every time I would read it, I'd be enthralled with a different emotion at the end of it. I am pretty positive about this.

The book moves at a slow place, very descriptive. Don't let this persuade you to put the book down. Finish it, I urge you to finish it and witness the turmoil of emotions inside you. The book is narrated by a war survivor who will very soon not be able to communicate. She talks about the camp and her sister's death, the revenge of which she wants to take.

Rating: *****/5

[This review is for Random House India. The opinions are strictly my own and not been written under any obligation.] 

Book Review: The Andalucian Friend by Alexander Söderberg

On the jacket:


Hector: Lover. Killer. Crime lord.

Lars: Stalker. Policeman. Addict

Jen: Ex lover. Arms dealer. Hero?

Sophie: Nurse. Mother. Victim?

Living a quiet life in the suburbs, Sophie Brinkmann is captivated by the handsome and sophisticated Hector Guzman. She has no idea that beneath Hector's charm lies something far more dangerous. Hector is the head of an international crime syndicate. He is used to getting what he wants, and what he wants now is the total annihilation of his rivals.

Before she can fully grasp the extent of Hector's world, Sophie is trapped within it. Her house is under surveillance, her family is at risk. Hector is at war - with Russian hit men, South American drug traffickers, German gangsters - and now Sophie is too.

But who can she trust when even the people who have sworn to uphold the law are as dangerous as those dedicated to breaking it? If Sophie is to get out alive, and with her integrity intact, she will have to summon everything within her to navigate this intricate web of moral ambiguity, deadly obsession and ruthless killers.

Review:

A story about Sophie, a nurse who falls in love with a patient Hector. At this point, she is told by the police that Hector is a criminal. Hereafter begins a spine-chilling tale where Sophie gets trapped in a world she is clueless about, needs to betray the main she is in love with, unsure if he is really a criminal of innocent and her own teenage son getting dragged in all this with her. 

This book started off on a very exciting note, I felt like I am reading the script of a tele-series. A gripping thriller, yet at times, one would wonder why it is dragging. The way the story begins at the story, the author had my attention and I wanted to speed through the pages to know what happens next. 

This was my first book by a Scandinavian author. I personally love thrillers and  The Andalucian Friend by Alexander Söderberg is definitely a good, gripping read. It's the kind of book which you will either love, and flip pages quickly to know what happens next, or, you will be bored by it's length and give up. I suggest you read the book till the end.

Rating: ****/5

[This review is for Random House India. The opinions are strictly my own and not been written under any obligation.] 

Take a Trip to Bekal Fort in Kerala: Walk inside a history book

Pic Courtesy TripAdvisor. Has been provided by the author of the article.
If you ever plan that Kerala trip (which you should do sooner rather than later), then do not miss the chance to have a go at the Bekal Fort. This historic and magnificent fort is easily the best which the state has to offer. Situated serenely beside the shores of Arabian Sea, the fort will transport you down the pages of history into the 17th century. 

The exact origin and date of this fort lies shredded behind apocryphal corridors. Some cite that Bekal was constructed by Sivakka Naik of the Ikkeri dynasty, while some claim that one Kolathiri Rajas was the builder of the fort. Nevertheless, what is certain is that this landmark was passed down from one hand to another amidst the myriad wars which it has witnessed over the decades. It went over to Mysore’s Raja Haider Ali and later came into the possession of the British. 

Now, left to itself, it serves as a top tourist attraction and is counted amongst the best places to visit in Kerala.

The fort is circular in shape and mammoth in scale. It is one of the most well-preserved forts of the country and easily elicits warm memories of the bygone eras. 

Bekal Fort can be reached easily by a private car or cab. It is a small distance away from Kasargod (only 12 km away) and a little away from the town of Kanjagad (15 km away). If you wish to travel by train, then you can travel up to the Kanjagad or the Kasargod Railway Station and take a private vehicle from thereon. 

Bekal Fort also presents some enthralling statistics. At 130 feet above the sea, it is tall enough to make you go ‘wow’! Since, it is situated at an isolated location by the shore, the absence of any cemented clutter in the vicinity magnifies its charm. There are steep stairs which allow visitors to climb to the top. The view from there is phenomenal. 

Bekal Fort is a must-visit for every kind of backpacker. Whether you are 8 or whether you are 80, whether you love history or whether you hate history, whether you are adventurous or whether you are a nerd, whether you are a photographer or whether you love painting- this place is going to spellbind every visitor.  

Bekal Fort, often counted amongst the top ten places to visit in Kerala, can be toured round the year. The monsoon season is the only time when one can give it a miss (since the walls and walkways can get quite slippery).

-----

About the author:

Manya Singh: Manya Singh is photographer & solo traveller by hobby, travel blogger by passion and lifestyle writer by profession. At present she is responsible for planning holidays at WeAreHolidays. On twitter, she is @ManjyaJee.

#BookReview: The Golden House by Salman Rushdie

On the jacket: When powerful real-estate tycoon Nero Golden immigrates to the States under mysterious circumstances, he and his three...