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February 18, 2013

Notes on 'Urban Shots - Crossroads'

Edited by : Ahmed Faiyaz
Publisher : Grey Oak / Westland

Rating: 2.5/5

Urban Shots – Crossroads, is a collection of 30 urban stories by 26 authors. Edited by Ahmed Faiyaz, it delves into the commotion, conflict and upheaval in the lives of interesting and colourful characters in urban India. The book boldly reveals the good, the bad and the ugly that exist in our society. Though it’s a work of fiction, the stories expose the realistic world of urban lives and talk about different aspects like relationships, love, depression, friendship, infidelity and longing.

All of the characters and situations used in the stories are almost extracts out of the everyday. The circumstances are real so that you tend to live the story rather than just read it. A matter of shame however is how a majority of the tales start out beautifully; build up to a point of thrilling engagement but fall flat towards the end.The style is heavily cinema inspired and immaturely believes that heavy descriptions and an incessant use of adjectives somehow translates to a better, more poignant read.

Premanand’s Yoga Class by Paritosh Uttam is about a mild mannered doctor whose love for yoga makes him infamous on TV and the writer also takes a dig at the mob psychology and yellow journalism. The Pink Slip is a
 succinct tale of a project manager, whose job is to fire programmers from work during recession, is faced with a similar predicament. Plummet by Avani Rajesh and Pranav Mukul is a terrifyingly beautiful mix of innocence, boldness and naivety. Song of the Summer Bird by Anita Satyajit  is the tale of a delightful little 8-year old whose love for books leads her on to explore new territories. Mind Games by Manisha Dhingra has a terrific twist in the end and is difficult to second guess. Jump Didi by Sharath Komarraju has a social cause hidden which requires immediate introspection.

Overall, there are very few stories that will leave you inspired, most of them are dull and drab and leaves you with a feeling of disappointment. 

February 15, 2013

Book Review - 116 : Chanakya's New Manifesto

Author : Pavan K. Varma
Publisher : Aleph Book Company

Former diplomat-turned writer, poet and now budding politician Pavan Kumar Varma adds to existing repertoire with his formidable collection of India volumes like "Ghalib: The Man, The Times", "Krishna: The Playful Divine", "The Great Indian Middle Class", "Being Indian: The Truth About Why the 21st Century Will be India's", "Becoming Indian: The Unfinished Revolution and Culture and Identity" and "When Loss is Gain". Varma's new book, "Chanakya's New Manifesto: To Resolve Crisis Within India", is a journey through the ideological terrain of modern India striving to streamline governance, hone the democratic apparatus to make it more inclusive, purge corruption and instal foolproof security - key areas that continue to throw up fresh challenges 66 years after Independence.

The book is a reflection on ideas of change that the writer says is meant for youngsters - aged between 15 and 35 - to draw them into the functioning of the country and join the refrain against rot. The narrative is in the voice of one of the greatest thinkers and teachers in Indian history - Chanakya - as his response to the various crises that beset modern India.What would Chanakya do if confronted with the various crises that beset contemporary India? Using this question as the starting point for his new book, writer has drawn up a practical and detailed plan, modelled on the Arthashashtra, to bring about reform and change in five key areas that require urgent attention governance, democracy, corruption, security, and the building of an inclusive society.

Whether it is laying the foundation for an independent and effective Lokpal, or decriminalizing politics and successfully weeding out the corrupt, the solutions he proposes are substantive, well within the constitutional framework, and can make all the difference between intent and action. Varma’s Chanakya prescribes setting up of a five-member Governance Appraisal Panel (GAP) which will independently evaluate the performance of the government and submit annual report to the President of India. According to the suggestion in the book, the GAP should comprise a leading economist or a corporate sector personality, a distinguished journalist, a respected former bureaucrat, an academic of eminence in the field of governance, and a retired chief justice of India or a retired Supreme Court judge. And they should be picked up by a selection panel comprising Prime Minister of India, the Leader of the Opposition in Lok Sabha, and the Chief Justice of India.

I am going with 3/5 for Pavan K. Varma 'Chanakya's New Manifesto'. It is gripping for the most part and does well in collating together the pointers to each of the five foundations of India. As far as the politics and economy is concerned, it doesn't tell you very much that you don't know already. Read it for a comprehensive quick recap of what is so wrong with India and effective measures how it can be improved in the future.

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

February 12, 2013

Special 26 & the no-heroine clause

I absolutely loved Neeraj Pandey's debut movie - 'A Wednesday' and it remains one of my most favourite movies of last decade. And i hate to acknowledge, i did went in to see 'Special 26' this week with bit of expectations and even though i loved major portion of it, certain bits left me terribly disappointed.

Everybody walks in the movie. Brisk walk. Slow walk. Walk with smug. Walk with style. Walk when anxious. Walk when excited. There is so much walking in the movie that you tend to forget at times that there are certain absolute gem of nuances quietly seeped in the screenplay. My most favourite scene of the movie, however, remains the action sequence for the introduction of     Manoj Vajpayee in a rechristened 1980's CP. Watch the subtle things of art design - 'Only Vimal' Logo, those old number plates on the auto or even the blue line buses, those cleaner passages without hawkers and many more. 

What ultimately ruined a fairly good movie was the romantic track of Akshay Kumar with Kajal which does nothing but give some cheap reason of redemption to the central protagonist. Not to forget, it slows down the narrative and sucks energy out of otherwise fairly brisk proceedings. May be time has come for Bollywood to say a no-heroine (or no-hero, if the script demands ala Kahaani) clause to their films. Putting a romantic character just for the sake of it is so frigging irritating. May be that's why we will never be able to match up to the Hollywood potential. At least, in terms of script vision.

February 8, 2013

Notes on 'Urban Shots - Bright Lights'

Edited by : Paritosh Uttam

Rating : 2.5/5

Urban Shots Bright Lights, a collection of 29 urban tales by 21 writers is a collection of short stories edited by Paritosh Uttam, author of Dreams in Prussian Blue and editor of the first Urban Shots collection. This anthology contains stories contributed by various authors and captures the numerous hues of life in modern urban India, alive with a cacophony of sounds, kaleidoscopic colours, dizzying heights, blinding lights and a fast paced life.

'Amul' By Arvind Chandrasekhar is a beautifully narrated first person account of a terminally ill girl.The sensitivity with which the innocence of a class five student is captured and subtly combined with the harsh reality she is facing is wonderfully reflected in the writing. Alabama to Wyoming, by Paritosh Uttam mocks Indians' USA obsession, as well as our presumed right to cheat Americans of their money, all in the backdrop of a visit to the Taj. The Wall by Saurabh Katiyal is an evocatively written description of ennui that strikes a young corporate executive and is most heart warming. The Raincoat by Rashmi Shah is a sensitive narration of mother and daughter relationship to make the ends meet. The Bengal Tigress by Malathi Jaikumar is based on subtle emancipation of women similar to her previous works. Mr. Koshi's Daily Routine by John Mathew is a touching and plaintive portrait of a sad, bitter man forced to conform and compromise all his life because of the demands of family and expectations.

The Weeping Girl by Kunal Dhablia and Jo Diktha hain, Woh Bikta hain by Sneh Thakur are predictable and you can see their climax from a mile. It's All Good by Ahmed Faiyaz does nothing to redeem his writing ability, being a silly little morality tale on spending beyond your limit set in a sales dept in an organization. In fact, apart from Mr.Perierra which tricks you into a sentimental hole, remaining 2 other stories by him (Across the seas & Good Morning Nikhil) raises questions the process of putting in below average stories in order to allow one author to give family tributes. Even Ready, Jet Set Go! seems to be borne out of popularity of other mass market fiction writers rather than contributing any genuine pathos.

There are few gems in the book, rest of them fails to match up to that high. As is the case with most anthologies, some stories were better than others. This will differ for each person, of course, based on personal taste. However, all the stories maintain similar writing styles, being informal even when talking about serious issues. The brightest thing about the book is the front cover which brings around the central theme effectively.

February 6, 2013

Notes on 'Down the Road'

Editors : Ahmed Faiyaz and Rohini Kejriwal
Rating : 2.5/5

The book is divided into four sections with 28 stories by 16 authors, which brings to a personal reservation - Why only 16 authors and 28 stories when 9 stories from 1 author (some of them below average) has clearly been squeezed in the anthology. Surely a publishing house wanting to give opportunities to young writers should have taken care of this. On top of this, one short story - 'Between friends' from Urban Shots has been repeated in this anthology and two short stories has been put in as a novel extract purely as a marketing gimmick. The two essays in the end are poorly researched, catering to the 'nepotism' masses instead of really getting into the details of social repercussion of the college romance in fiction books or cinema.

The individual authors have explored many different facets of campus life including elections, politics, ragging, teachers, passions, lessons, crushes, and placements. Most stories end up adopting gimmicks or by surrendering to clichés, boldly presuming that by adding college lingo, the characters would become representative of campus life. They merely touch upon themes which works well in short story format, but ultimately leaves you hanging with amateurish finish off style.

Some of the stories, however make a strong impression. Bellow Yellow by Chinmayi Bali has a dark, yet tender detailing about the well being of a student. The cafe with No Name by Sneh Thakur explores a heart warming relationship between its owner and one of the students from the college. An Accidental Start by Kunal Dhabalia bring alive a layered, beautiful relationship between student and teacher. Stranger in Strange Places by Abhijit Bhaduri could have been longer, but  the makes an impact with its freshness during the stay. Rishi & Me by Ira Trivdei throws in a dark emotional punch while Sororicide by Paritosh Uttam once again shows the versatility of the writer.

Overall, you will feel disappointed with most of the stories and will give you a feel of been there, read that. Read if you are looking for a light read or desperately want to take that nostalgia trip down the memory lane.

February 5, 2013

Book Review - 115 : The Krishna Key

Author : Ashwin Sanghi
Publisher : Westland

Forty-five-year old professor Ravi Mohan Saini, who teaches the history of mythology at St. Stephen's College, is the unlikely sleuth who scouts on the trail of a "poor" little rich boy Taraak who believes he is Kalki. In Sanghi's theology tale, Kalki is a serial killer who embarks on his bloody journey with the murder of Anil Varshney, a young symbolist in Rajasthan. Varshney is Saini's oldest friend. And his murder at the beginning of the narrative - a la "The Da Vinci Code" - becomes the spur in Saini's life, turning him into a sort of Robert Langdon, the star of Dan Brown's cult classic - looking for clues to the gruesome death.

He must breathlessly dash from the submerged remains of Dwarka and the mysterious lingam of Somnath to the icy heights of Mount Kailash, in a quest to discover the cryptic location of Krishna’s most prized possession. From the sand-washed ruins of Kalibangan to a Vrindavan temple destroyed by Aurangzeb, Saini must also delve into antiquity to prevent a gross miscarriage of justice.

The pace of the novel is brisk and the cross over between the fact and the fiction is engrossing all through the narrative. Problem is, it goes on for too long. The real motive of the heist is buried under clatter of over-exacting details, over simplified descriptions and religious jargons that seems to progress ad nausea.  It had to be much shorter and less flabby to have better impact on the readers. The characters change loyalties at the drop of hat in turn hurting the genuineness of these characters.

The Bollywood-style flashbacks to the fabled stories of the Mahabharata at the beginning of every chapter are an unnecessary break to the story, which barely seems to flow at a steady pace in the first place. I understand that this is a story about Krishna and there are certain chapters where the similarities are obvious in terms of actions and characteristics, but still such kind of spoon feeding about the retelling of Mahabharata from the point of view of Krishna is quite unnecessary in a thriller genre novel. In the end, it just adds to the length of the book and something with which author could have done without.

I am going with 2.5/5 for Ashwin Sanghi's 'The Krishna Key'. It is a major let down by one of the promising authors of recent time. It is an exercise in excess which ultimately turns out to be just a mixture of fact and fiction without achieving much in terms of plot and working as a strong thriller. Read it only for some interesting religious connotations.

February 3, 2013

Book Review - 114 : RIP

Author : Mukul Deva
Publisher : Westland

R.I.P. The Resurgent Indian Patriots. Self appointed guardians of a nation seething with anger at the endless scams and scandals rocking its very foundation. Vigilantes who vow to stop corrupt politicians and colluding civil servants. Even if it means killing them. Colonel Krishna Athawale and his team of Special Forces officers rally to protect the country from the enemy within. They call themselves the K-Team. Team is a self appointed guardian of nation and is fed up of current political structure, corruption and scenario of the country. They want Jan Lokpal bill to be passed and a lot of other demands which they keep in front of GOI and want them act on them immediately. And no one is safe from their deadly intent which is illustrated by three murders committed in three days with prior hints given about the targets.

Hellbent on stopping the K-team is Raghav Bhagat, rogue para commando, gun for hire and Krishna’s bête noir. Caught in the crossfire is Vinod Bedi, Special Director CBI. Reena Bhagat, a glamorous news anchor, embittered by her husband’s betrayal. And two young boys, Sachin and Azaan, torn apart by the loss of a parent. Playing across various plot lines and back stories, the narrative unfolds briskly and gives you various high points which stays with you. 

The reason for the whole insurgency is something with which we can all relate to - corruption portrayed by the wily politicians and the influence of such douche bags on the Indian society and economy. The author cleverly mixes the fact and the fiction with almost all the characters pulled out directly from the Indian army and political milieu with names changed, of course. You are always second guessing who is who in the middle of some strong ideas and action against the wrong doers.

The personal turmoil the people involved in defense might face has been portrayed very delicately. The acute qualities they develop, the amazing sensory abilities they possess is just aptly described. The angst of losing a beloved, the anxiety of a bad relationship, the joy of finding new love, the blind trust shared between the team, the connection between true friends, the stress even kids go through is all excellently rendered by the author. 

But the narrative slows down when the writer concentrates too much on brewing romance between the two lead protagonists which takes away from the fast pace of the thriller. There is also a lack of closure on lot of the characters in the climax and epilogue seems poorly etched out with specific details about the K-Team deliberately edited out in the hope of a sequel to the book.

So, that's 3.5/5 for Mukul Deva's 'R.I.P'. Barring a few sentimental detours, it is a hard hitting thriller which is fast paced and keep you turning pages as you go along. It is a crime thriller with comes with a solid ideology with it. Worth your time and money!

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

February 2, 2013

Notes on 'Mumbai Noir'

Editor : Altaf Tyrewala
Publisher : Harper Collins (India)

Rating : 3.5/5

There has been a steady spate of Mumbai-centric books in the past few years prominent of them being  'The Maximum City', 'Sacred Games' and 'Shantaram'. Edited by Altaf Tyrewala, the stories in this new anthology choose to walk the dark, seedy and twisted by lanes of Mumbai that are generally obscured by the bright lights and upright skyscrapers.

In his introduction to the book, Tyrewala writes that “What inoculates the stories in this collection from the hyperbole of ‘maximum city’... are the restraints set by the noir genre, which stipulates, among other things, anunflinching gaze at the underbelly, withoutrecourse to sentimentality or forced denouements”.

Tyrewala’s claim is not entirely true: There is sentimentality in the book, in the use of ‘Mumbai characters’ like corrupt cops, tough-talking detectives, hijras and dance bar girls, and there are forced denouements as well, when a terrorist’s wife meets a victim, or a depressed housewife snaps. But what is true is that this is an unflinching gaze at Mumbai that makes you, sometimes, flinch. The themes are predictable: drugs, sex, prostitution, eunuch-cop nexuses, confused sexuality and the casualness of brutality and crime. 

There are two stories about hijras in the collection dealt with the same milieu, albeit from divergent perspectives. Two stories also feature dance bars and two stories deal with persecuted Muslim characters. The scenes conjured are vivid enough though and sure to provoke many a moment of déjà vu for those familiar with the city. Like in Jerry Pinto’s ‘They’, a story of the habits and politics of a neighbourhood gym that are uncovered when a gym trainer is murdered. Or Paromita Vohra’s ‘The Romantic Customer’, a first-person narrative of young love and betrayal, set in the ubiquitous cyber café. Tyrewala’s ‘The Watchman’, about a building watchman waiting for an impending death, captures a sense of the irrational fear that can sometimes swamp us in a city where death is ever-present. And then there’s the horror of the home, like in Namita Devidayal’s ‘The Egg’, a satirical tale on what happens with the discovery of a single egg in a ‘vegetarians-only’ building.

At Leopold Cafe by Kalpish Ratna comes as a disappointment from the credible duo and the narrative seems to be straight out of their another book, Quarantine Papers. Ratan-Ramratan story will be difficult to understand for the readers who have not read their earlier work.

There is variety here but that makes the literary quality somewhat erratic. The anthology does, however, succeed in reflecting the dark side of Mumbai with a great deal of authenticity. Don't read with too many expectations, specially if you have read Delhi Noir before.