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August 30, 2011

Book Review - 44 : Dream's Sake

Author: Jyoti Arora
Publisher: V&S Publishers

He can be as good as he wants to be and I'll be as bad as I need to be! We'll see where it all ends up??? says Aashi.

She believes she has a right to fight for her dreams. She believes a little bit of selfishness is necessary to survive in this world. Abhi, however, has not learnt that lesson. And he can't accept the fulfilment of his hopes when they seem to rise from the ruins of Aashi's dreams.

His sister Priyam and friend Sid are made from much the same mould. And in the path of their love too lies a dream ?..... the dream of a dead and betrayed mother.

Feelings rise, and are suppressed. Past grips the present and threatens the future. Memories refuse to wane their shadows from the heart. Hope and despair fight a battle. Guilt rises up and resent the forgiveness. Revenge weaves a web. Friendship is tested. And love demands a sacrifice. A tumultuous battle wages on...

What lies at the end of this battle?

Dream's sake is what i love to call as a book straight out of Rajshri movies. Each character is squeaky, clean, perfectly etched with no single bone of unpredictability in it. Simplistic and sincere, the book is bursting at its seam with old fashioned plot points, twists and turns. The story in its basic form is about achieving your dreams and not losing your close ones in that process. Indeed, 'I-have-read-it-before' kind of story, told yet again.

As it generally happen with such books, most of the characters are stereotyped.There is a too-busy-businessman-father and too-arrogant-businessman’s-son, there is a typically suave London returned NRI and a typically flirtatious sister who has clearly forgotten her cultural values after living for a few years abroad. There is a best friend to die for and a helpless mother to look for. Even though based in Delhi, it is clearly exists in a world of its own...the one where a few of us can claim to exist.

Most of the situations are contrived and punctuates the narrative with juvenileness that is hard to follow or fathom. Sample these: a) Ashi on the first meeting with the neighbours gang start talking about finances and family issues. Really, do people behave like that in real life? b) Priyam, even though adopted by a business tycoon but supposedly short of finances actually sit at home all day and cook for his brother and boy-friend. Really, women do much better in such situations. c) The character of Sid is so contrived, almost used as a tool to make feel Adi handicapped. These and many more such instances that leaves a lot to be desired from the story.

The only saving grace is that even though plagued by grammatical and spelling mistakes, the writing is fairly competent. The language is lucid and portrays the quintessential urban set-up effectively. Most of the conversations between lead characters, even though predictable and bordering on melodrama, are relatable to real life. The author makes good use of English classics interspersing the narrative with some beautiful lines at the start of each chapter. People may particularly enjoy the banter between the friends, though there are too many PJs for my liking.

I am going with generous (2+0.5)=2.5/5 for Jyoti Arora’s debut novel, ‘Dream’s Sake’. It is not a bad book; just that it could have been so much more had the author tried to break the stereotypes and gave us more real characters and situations. Read it because at least it attempts to be sincere in its storytelling.

August 29, 2011

Arranged Marriages & the 95-percent rule

Watch this 12 minute short film by Nars Krishnamachari on arrange marriages. It is short, crisp, entertaining, yet educating video.

Those who don’t have the patience to go through the whole video, here is a little gist: A man and a woman are put in a room for the first time in an arrange marriage ‘set-up’ to know each other and decide for their future. It is not clear whether they have to make the final decision in the first meeting but to cut a long story short, they decide to ask each other 20 questions alternatively to make the process quicker and reach a conclusion. What follows next is an interesting conversation in which they both realize how opposite are their personalities and consequently, how incompatible they are as partners. This indifference is followed by a hesitant decision of meeting again but not before they have decide to pass on their approval of each other to their parents. The video ends with a conclusion – in India, 95% of the marriages are arranged types, less than 5% result in divorces and hence, it is the most appropriate way of getting married (even in this 21st century)

Now this conclusion is not only inherently flawed but reeks of complete ignorance of Indian real-world settings. It blatantly puts forward the argument that being ‘different’ in habits and lifestyle need to
be the first spark people should look to get married. That’s a point of view which is alright in a perfect, happy-go-lucky marriage scenario but what if those same differences in the personality are the cause of discomfort and marital discord between the couple?

The stats of 95% successful arrange marriages also conveniently ignore the numerous cases of sham marriages:

  • Gay men who marry women under family pressure in the hope of getting ‘cured’.
  • Women tortured for dowry and if fulfilled, are in the constant threat of carry forward a marriage because too much ‘investment’ has already been made into the relationship.
  • Women or men who carry forward an arrange marriage because of kids or parents or family’s prestige.
  • Women or men who don't marry again because hell, who has the time to go through the motions again.

On the risk of overanalysing the short film, my point of contention is the way it conveniently puts the remaining 5% people in an almost untouchable, unforgiving category in Indian context. As if those who indeed do love marriages are inferior to the one who do arrange marriages and they have nothing to fall back on (parents, friends etc.) if the relationship does not work out. Clearly, it does not give a damn to those people who stay in failed marriages but have extra-marital relationships with other partners. Statistics, in retrospect and introspect, will never ever provide such solid conclusions to socially fabricated events of arrange marriages as indicated in this video.

I may be sounding a being little too harsh on a nicely done video. However, my cause of discontentment arises only because it is so well shot and performed...the basic flawed idea gets hidden somewhere. The performances are honest and credible, so much that you want it to be your story than any one else. There is an inherent sincerity towards the way the couple approach this uncomfortable situation.

I particularly liked the way how the conversation, at one point of time, takes a sexual overtone....How woman reject the idea of exposing her sexual side, but is equally keen on knowing the man's side to update herself (how typically hypocrite of women, some would say). I also enjoyed when the girl freaks out on living in a joint family or the boy is embarrassed yet, forgiving to himself when it comes to his culinary habits.

On a subtle level, men can relate to statements like 'i would prefer fights over loneliness' and women can vouch for lines like 'can't you see we have nothing in common except our parents want to check marriages on their list'. These are classic setup lines and indeed expose the vulnerability of people who are unwillingly or emotionally blackmailed to be in such situations.

But in the end, arrange or love marriages, what should work out is the respect and care for each other personalities. In any case, everything in life is so fake... at least marriages shouldn't go the same way.

Damn the statistics, long live the L.O.V.E.

August 27, 2011

Notes on Kalpish Ratna's 'The Quarantine Papers'

This book review has been published in association with Vodaphone Crossword Book Awards -2010. You can check out the award details here.

Author: Kalpish Ratna
Publisher: Harper Collins India
Buy from Stack your Rack

Rating: 5/5 
That first Sunday in December, while the Prime Minister in India dozed in Delhi, lesser things happened to lesser people in Bombay.

Mohammad Yunus doused his clothes with kerosene and struck a match.

Balkrishna More leaned out over the frenzied maha-aarati in the street and jumped to his death.

In a shuttered room in Girgaum, three old men waited for an answer.

Enraptured, Radhika and Anwar were oblivious to the nasal monotone on BBC. Who saw it first? It was there, happening right before them.

A saffron ant crawled up the black dome. Then one more. Then another. Then a swarm of them. And then madness spilled every which way.
In 303, Nandanvan Apartments, Ratan Oak looked out of the window and discovered he'd been living in the wrong house all his life.

‘The Quarantine Papers’ is an absolutely fascinating book. It is one of those books which you should not start late in the night, otherwise just like me, you will end up with groggy eyes by the time you finish it in early morning. There are so many layers to it: A love story, a political saga, an historical fiction, a medical thriller, a morality tale, religious commentary and ultimately a trail of clues to solve the murder mystery. Each layer, more mysterious and engaging than the other.

It focuses on the life and encounters of Ratan Oak, a Maharashtrian Brahmin by birth and a freelancing microbiologist by occupation, who is given to hallucinations that turn him into his great-grandfather, Dr. Ramratan Oak.
As the Babri Masjid is razed in Ayodhya in 1992, Ratan stumbles upon a corpse at the Kipling House in Bombay. It is the beginning of an unraveling for him, of the submerged identity he has sought to suppress all his life: Ramratan.

Grappling with this tandem existence, Ratan realizes that the communal violence which consumes Bombay mirrors the turbulence it experienced in Ramratan's times. Yes, the shocking fact is that the communal riots that occurred in the aftermath of the Babri Masjid demolition in 1992 and riots in the city in 1893 took place in the very same alleys of Bombay.The very same buildings witnessed violence and killings, a hundred years apart!!!

What follows is an exhilarating tale of following all the visual and conditional clues to observe the scientific discoveries of the plague epidemic of 1897 and discovering the terrifying truth about the dead women of Kipling House in 1992. Interspersed in the narrative are the numerous bit players whom Ratan/Ramratan encounters that poses further questions or provide clues, but add layers of complexity to this engrossing novel.

The narrative of the pace never slows down. The detailing of characters is deep and distinguished, and the different pieces of the mystery are made to fit with attention to details.The various fonts used in the book may irk a few readers but few pages into the book, you will realise how this slight diversion is used to add subtle twists in the narrative. There is a shock value attached to most revealings, yet the authors show inherent vulnerability between the characters as easily.
But in the end, the research put into this fiction book will bowl you over. From Rudyard Kipling's family to Bal Gandadhar Tilak, from medical theories to Urdu Poetry...all this subtle twists will grabs your attention from the very start and won't let it go till the end.
Kalpish Ratna is an almost-anagram of Kalpana Swaminathan and Ishrat Syed, both surgeons. The author plans to write 9 more books in Ratan/Ramaratan series. If the first book is any indication, then book lovers should be in for a treat. If the quality is maintained, this could well go down as a landmark medical-thriller series from India.

August 20, 2011

Book Review - 43 : If I Pretend I am sorry! : Will you Pretend and Forgive me

Author: Prashant Sharma
Publisher: Sristhi Publishers

If i pretend i am sorry! is a thriller set in the maximum city of India, Mumbai. It traces journey of three men who are connected to each other in a way and their path intersects. Here is the excerpt from each of these characters:

"I was sitting in a room with four of the most dangerous men in Mumbai. All four had a gun in their hands. I has a single malt in mine. And I was the one who was going to dictate the terms.” Rajvir Singh

“That day, I understood the importance of money. That day, I got a new reason to live. That day, I knew what I had to do in life and for what. I had to kill, and I had to kill for money.” Ranvijay Singh

"I felt relieved, I felt scared, I felt guilty. I had finally made the deal. I had paid for my first murder.” Viraj Singh

To put things in right perspective (and this is a spoiler!), Rajvir is the father of Viraj and Ranvijay is the prime henchmen of their illegal underworld business. So we follow their stories differently, all in first person, till their paths collide into a thrilling climax.

The author keeps the pace of the book brisk, unraveling the narrative in the dark underbelly of Mumbai.
There are murders, kidnapping, drug dealing, smuggling, fraud and deceit happening between the 'grey' characters. Honestly, all this silently reminded me of the movies of 1970s. The book is a hefty mix of the haves and have nots in the Mumbai society and delve into their psyche of rising above the ranks.

The only issue here is all this even though all this concept is decently executed, the basic story is hardly new from any angle.
There is a liberal dose of convenient coincidences and creative liberties thrown in to get out of difficult screenplay situations. The writing does not add any nuances to the characters, so most of them become one-dimensional and screenplay starts reeking of predictability. The twists and turns comes flying from all the directions, but all of them are far too familiar and too 'filmy'.

I am going with generous (2+0.5)= 2.5/5 for Prashant Sharma's second book. It is fast paced and it is unlikely you will be bored with the narrative. But if you are looking for anything extraordinary in terms of concept or execution, you will be disappointed. Read it if you are fan of simplistic storytelling.

August 19, 2011

PMS - Piss @ Men Syndrome

I was literally dozing off at my seat thanks to a heavy lunch session when a (senior) female manager barged into a (junior) male colleague sitting in the next bay. It was a small miscommunication regarding not sending an email but the lady was adamant to have her way. In the next 2 minutes or so, amidst pin drop silence on the whole floor, the guy was literally plummeted with a volley of words. As soon as that senior manager left, another female colleague sitting in the next row commented a little too loudly, “Poor man... just had a PMS-bashing session". I tried not to laugh out too loud. She tried not to hit me too hard.

I honestly believe that just like life, in blogging every post comes with a destiny of its own. It will come out when the right time has arrived. I have genuinely avoided writing on this topic in the past mainly because I feel it is a sensitive topic and should not be really ridiculed in any manner. But then i am not so stone hearted that i will let go of an opportunity to make fun of such a situation. So even though I had my share of fun on it before, today’s incident just triggered me to write about it.

Over the years, I have been a silent observer for women rants on this subject: How men are insensitive towards them, how they quietly overlook or ignore them during PMS, how they never cooperate and all that womanly jazz. I believe this is a flawed logic. Women themselves are extremely insensitive towards other women in such condition. They are, in most cases, irritable and irrational to talk in a logical space. In such a scenario, to accuse men of not completely understanding something which they have never experienced is not only biased but extremely unfortunate. I do not say men should not be careful about a women undergoing PMS, but the problem in itself is grave and certainly requires urgent measures to avoid this grossly sexist monthly exploitation of men all over the world.

Women think men are dickheads who don't know anything about PMS. But honestly, we don't need anyone to tell us. Personally, I can just observe women around me and tell it. Here are some pointers to the ignorant working men:

1. Why the hell a.c never works properly in this office?....(a.c switched on her request) OMG, it is so cold, it is freezing here..... (a.c closed on her request) OMG, it is so hot here, do they plan to suffocate us? ....My boss is asshole because a.c works only in his room....I will change my job because a.c never works in this office.

When all this is said by a female within the space of 10 minutes, all i genuinely wanted to do was to understand her condition, her hormonal changes and pass on a smile. Yes, after all i am super-human.

2. My mail is not working? Is your working? ....(i nod, YES) Why the hell my mail never works? I can't do anything in this office....(i reply, why you need the mail for creating ppt.) Not required, but really it should work naaa.....

Yes, after hearing all this... I really want to understand THE logic behind it, be sensitive and courteous and never say anything rude. Men are doing that for decades now and will continue to do so. I am no exception. Please keep showering your similar blessings on us.

3. This company is going balls, the coffee is pathetic today....(calls peon in pantry on extension) How long you are making coffee, still can't make a decent one. Get me another one....(another coffee arrives in 5 minutes) Who the hell asked for a coffee, all i wanted today was Tea. You moron.

I genuinely felt sorry for the poor pantry boy who listened to all this wondering what has hit him. All i wanted to do was take the coffee and pour it on her head. After all, they feel doing the same when men ignore them during PMS.

PS: Men inherently are pretty simple human beings. All they ever require is - 2 time ki roti aur 1 time ka sex. That is a totally different thing that women even find these things difficult to give. I tell you, Men have a painful life on hand. Much bigger than PMS.

August 17, 2011

Notes on Rashmi Bansal's 'I have a dream' - Inspiring stories of 20 Social Entrepreneurs

Publisher: Westland Publications
Author: Rashmi Bansal

Having previously authored the bestsellers on entrepreneurship, ‘Stay Hungry Stay Foolish’ and ‘connect the Dots’; Rashmi Bansal writes on a similar theme and incorporates the element of social entrepreneurship in her latest. It is a story of 20 idealists that think and act like entrepreneurs. They are dedicated to various causes with one common factor: the belief in the principles of management and its optimal use to achieve greater common good.

The book has three parts: Rainmakers, Changemakers and Spiritual Capitalists. The first section, expectedly the largest of the three, has 11 stories of people whose enterprises make profits, but for whom profit is not the only driving force. The next section is the most inspirational, about genuine change agents who have kickstarted movements of wide-ranging consequences in areas such as RTI activism and education. The third section, as its title signals, is about those who have blended spiritualism and service for common good.

Two stories stood out for me: Mirakle couriers started by Dhruv Lakhra which employs exclusively deaf people to deliver parcels and Super 30 started by Anand Kumar who enrolled 30 underprivileged students , prepare them for 2 odd years to get through IIT-JEE. Both these stories defy the stereotypes and have never wandered away from the core mission and vision of the company, even though their business is highly scalable.

The most relevant story as of today must be that of Arvind Kejriwal, but i hope this chapter is updated in the next edition to include bits about the messy Lokpal bill controversy. I am not underestimating his genuine efforts in filing numerous RTI applications through ‘Parvirtan’, but it just seems odd not to know anything about the roadblocks he is facing along with managing the entrepreneurship role.

Most of the stories are inspiring and portrays a strong conviction of the entrepreneur as a life-changing experience. All of them portray the same philosophy – be the change you always wanted to see in the world. The most fascinating facet of these stories is that all are in Indian context and have overcome some genuine bureaucratic and social issues to achieve in their own spheres.

The only quibble I have with this book is that certain chapters are stretched unnecessarily and poorly edited. The Chilka Lake story goes in circles during the middle portions and does not contribute much to the overall setup. Also, the author’s knack of breaking into Hindi vernacular has been constantly criticized and this book is no different. In fact, out of the three books she has authored, this one is peppered with maximum Hindi usage. There is nothing wrong in keeping the language simple and accessible, but the deliberate intentions of trying to reach readers through Hindi one-liners seems forced, almost as second thought.

But these are mere nitpickings in an otherwise engaging, competent third part in the entrepreneurship series of books by the same author. The main intention of bringing out the stories of not-so-glamorous, almost invisible entrepreneurs is commendable and deserves a look ahead.

This review is a part of the Book Reviews Program at Participate now to get free books!

August 9, 2011

The Drunken Conversations...

She: Hi, babyyyy
He: (straight face) OK
She: What OK?
He: You are drunk again.
She: Not enough.
He: I can see that.
She: I want to see you too.
He: See me in your dreams.
She: Why are you so far?
He: Good for me....
She: That was rude.
He: I am sick of your Saturday Night parties.
She: Then be a part of it.
He: You know i don't drink
She: But you can join me.
He: To do what?
She: Take advantage of me drunk.
He: That i can do it in any case.
She: In your dreams.
He: Ok, now sleep.
She: No, let's make love.
He: Hush...
She: What hush?
He: Just sleep.
She: Not without you.
He: Someone is horny.
She: Always with you.
He: OK
She: What are you wearing?
He: Nothing.
She: What?
He: Ya, nothing.
She: And you were saying me horny.
He: Do you have a copyright on it?
She: So what next?
He: I was just setting myself up.
She: So sweet.
He: Hello, who said with you?
She: I will kill you
He: Not when i am naked.
She: You dare not see any of those bitches.
He: I never see them, they like it blindfolded.
She: OK
He: What happen?
She: Nothing.
He: Still...
She: I am sleepy.
He: Miss J
She: I am not.
He: You are.
She: Fine, so?
He: I like it.
She: I hate you.
He: I wish the feeling was mutual.
She: Hmm
He: Hmmm
She: Stop hmming
He: Stop making stupid face
She: how do you know on phone?
He: I know
She: Let's sleep.
He: Sleep well.
She: Ok listen.
He: Listen-wao
She: I missed you.
He: When you were horny...
She: No, Stupid.
He: Then?
She: When we were drinking...
He: Really?
She: Yes.
He: Nice.
She: Good night.
He: I missed you too.
She: Liar.
He: No, really.
She: When?
He: When you are going to sleep....alone.
She: Love you.
He: Hmmm...
She: Say it.
He: What?
She: Thappad khana hain?
He: Thappad khana hain....said.
She: Uffooo....
He: OK, OK....i love you too.
She: Great, good night.
He: Good night.