Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Soul Stories by Gary Zukav

A good friend recommended books by Gary Zukav after I talked about Aleph by Paulo Coelho. Since the book 'Soul Stories' by Gary Zukav was available in our library, picked it up. And, what a wonderful read it was!

While any one can read this book, this book is mainly for those who oscillate between believing and doubting the age-old concepts of karma, destiny, reincarnation. If you wanted someone to give an explanation about these concepts in the simplest terms, using the examples in our daily lives - this is the book!

The book talks about relation between the soul and the body. Gary compares the soul as a big mother ship and the various lives/incarnations as the small boats that go individually for some time. When the boat goes in the same direction as the mother ship, all is well - since the mother ship and the boat are both traveling for the same goal. But, when the boat goes in different directions, the results would vary.

While we believe that God should treat all human beings equally, we all know of situations where it seems like someone is all lucky but its not exactly the same for someone else. Gary gives a logical explanation on why that is.

Buy or pick it up at your local library and do read it to get answers to many questions on these concepts.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The Immortals of Meluha - Book Review

Just as remakes of classic movies and remixes of old songs continue to find new audiences, this is a refreshingly engaging book that is a different take on the back story of familiar mythological characters of Shiva and Sati.

The second in this trilogy written by Amish is already in bookstores so a review of a page turner, bestseller seems a little dated. However I was captivated by the story and the story-telling. Here is another writer from IIM who writes from the heart and reaches the reader (and not from the head who aims for his bank balance). The story of tribal leader Shiva who moves his tribe from the harsh environs of their village situated near Lake Mansarovar to the wondrous land of Meluha is a fast-paced tale set in 1900 BC but very much resonant of the times we live in. Amidst order and wealth and good governance, the people of Meluha, immortal as a result of their access to the technology of making somras, the elixir of immortality, suffer from the uncertainty of terrorist attacks that strike unannounced. In a society where science is amazingly advanced, the people still believe in the legend of the Neelkanth, the person whose neck will turn blue upon consumption of somras, the savior who will restore peace.

Shiva's arrival in Meluha and his consequent discovery as being the Neelkanth puts him in the difficult predicament of fulfilling a destiny that is unknown to him. It is refreshing to see his ambivalence at being received as a savior, a title that is uncomfortable at best. His love for Sati, the daughter of the king of Meluha, Daksha, is described with great sensitivity and restraint. The war scenes are vividly narrated. In fact, the whole book is an easy read due to the short chapters and even shorter scenes. It almost reads like a play.

In short, a wonderful book, that I highly recommend to readers of all ages.

Friday, November 4, 2011

ALeph - Book Review

Imagine an autobiography of a person who lived 500 years ago. A love story with a violent end. A narrative that stopped abruptly. A tale left resolved. Then imagine, completing that story today. Bringing a logical climax to what began centuries ago. When the story is Paulo Coelho's own journey, the book that he writes becomes "Aleph".

It is difficult to review autobiographies in general. When such books hold reader interest, it is usually because the author has lived an interesting life. No amount of salvaging by clever writing can cover a boring story. In Paulo Coelho's case, he is a man who has earned his fame by writing a particular genre of books that have been phenomenally successful all over the world, through translations. The strong spiritual bent of his words come from his own experiences in this lifetime. But here he goes into new territory. He tells the story of his journey to resolve something from a past life. He embarks on a travel across Russia by train, 9288 kilometers on the Trans-Siberian railroad. He is compelled to travel in order to renew himself and progress on his spiritual path. He encounters the fascinating Yao, a seventy year old man of Chinese origin but with exposure to Brazil and Japan, all of which makes him a perfect companion and translator for Paulo. But it is Hilal, the young Russian girl of Turkish descent who is the long-lost love from 500 years ago that Paulo must not only bear but also learn from, the one that will give him an opportunity to redeem himself.

The story is long and complex but written in Paulo Coelho's easy style. Even the esoteric concept of the "Aleph" - the point in the Universe that contains all other points, present and past, large and small, is explained in simple terms though one can only imagine the experience of being in the Aleph that brings the faraway past into current consciousness. There are exquisite insights offered by various people including Yao, the shaman and Hilal. I kept going back to passages that held me under the sway of not just the words but of the essence captured in them.

The Aleph is a heavy book to read. But for it to work on you, you need to be in the right frame of mind, just as Paulo Coelho needed to be in order to experience the Aleph.

Friday, October 7, 2011

The Last Lecture - Book Review

There are books that you buy, books that are gifted to you, books borrowed from the library and books passed on through generations. Then there are books that mysteriously appear in your life. "The Last Lecture" by Randy Pausch was one such book that appeared in my bookshelf. I was dusting the books one morning and I found this "The No.1 Bestseller" on the second shelf. I have no memory of buying it or receiving it (or stealing it!). So I figured that it was in my hands for a reason - for me to read it NOW.

Normally authors write books and then go on a promotional tour. In this case, the author, Randy Pausch, a professor at Carnegie Mellon University, gave his "Last Lecture" at the University. It was a fun and poignant lecture since Pausch had been told he had only 3-6 months to live after detection of pancreatic cancer. He was 47 years old. The lecture became a huge hit with millions of viewers seeing it on the internet which then became a reason to put his inspiring words into a book with the help of Jeffrey Zaslow. The book is now a major bestseller and continues to influence people 3 years after the death of the author.

The book begins with Pausch making an unlikely statement "I won the parent lottery" referring to his good luck at being born to parents who brought him up with the right values and support to help him move ahead in life while keeping him firmly grounded. The speech was about achieving your childhood dreams. For Pausch it included experiencing zero gravity, playing football and being a Disney imagineer among others. In a self-deprecating humorous narration, Pausch tells us the stories of how achieved (or did not achieve) all the dreams but shares the lessons he learned while pursuing them. He tells stories of his teachers, mentors and students who he has enabled to achieve their own dreams. In a non-preachy manner we get nuggets of wisdom which were either passed on him, or are cliches that work or gems that he has gleaned from his experiences.

All the humor comes with an underlying tone of sadness but at no point do we feel "you poor thing" for Pausch. All that comes through is his earnest wish to pass on a part of what he feels are lessons for his 3 young children who will not have a father as they grow up, to the larger audience that he is ostensibly addressing in his last speech. So the speech is really about "how to live your life".

I went on to watch the Youtube speech after finishing the book and it is easy to see why the speech has been so phenomenally successful. Pausch is handsome, persuasive and completely in control. The amazing optimism and sense of awe and gratitude for his life is clearly evident in his narration as well as the tremendous passion for life and family.

Should you read "The Last Lecture"? Absolutely yes. If you are not a reader, watch the video.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Last Man in Tower - Book Review

Vishram Society located in Vakola is the ideal target for ambitious developer Dharmen Shah - a crumbling society with two towers, close enough to the Mumbai domestic airport to be a desirable location with jaded occupants eager to lap up the offer of a lifetime. Thus begins the saga of the residents of Tower A as each apartment owner begins salivating at the unbelievable amount of money, upto Rs. 20,000 per dilapidated square foot that holds the promise of transporting their lives into realms that were beyond their imagination. Adiga introduces us to the characters who have lived in communal harmony, sharing meals and tears over the years of living in close proximity to each other.

Mrs. Rego (Batteleship), the Saldanhas, and the Pintos represent the dominant local Christian community of Vakola while Ibrahim Kudwa and his happy family lends the diversity touch. Mrs. Puri, a friend of the late Purnima, wife of retired Masterji, Yogesh Murthy is the key character who drives the residents towards freedom from Vishram, as she aspires for a better life with the money from the sale which can go towards paying for the care of her eighteen year old mentally challenged son. The central character of Masterji, who joins the Pintos in their dissent is etched beautifully by Adiga. The outdated idealogy with his rigid views about people, sharply contrasts with his sentimental memories of his wife and emphasizes the divide with his son. There is a point early on in the novel where Masterji remembers his wife's words "A man is like a goat tied to a pole. You may have free will but only so much." Those words ring true when the momentum builds up as the deadline provided by the builder for residents to accept the generous offer approaches.

All the characters are portrayed as flawed individuals, each responding to their own circumstances, including the characters of the apparently ruthless but physically sick developer Shah and his "left-hand man" Shanmugham. The evolution of the idealists in Vishram from nay-sayers to eager aides as they deviously plan to get Masterji to agree happens gradually and in the process some unexpected surprises are thrown from the stereotypical secretary Kothari and the wily broker Advani. As Masterji faces one challenge after another in his solitary battle once the Pintos succumb to threats of physical violence, the callous nature of the law, the silence of the media and the connivance of his son, you feel terribly for the lone crusader. You almost wish he would turn pragmatic and choose to live even if the money was inconsequential to him. The end is almost pre-decided but still catches you by surprise. After baring the heart of maximum city, Adiga shows how heartless it can be. As a Mumbaikar I may wish otherwise but the taste of betrayal lingers long after the book it put down.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Book Review: Entrepedia by Professor Nandini Vaidyanathan

Entrepedia!  The title sounded like Wikipedia and I picked up the book for the tag line, “A step-by-step guide to becoming an entrepreneur in India”. The book seemed to be just the thing I wished for along with a couple of friends who are in the entrepreneurial mode.

 I read about the author a while ago when she came for a program at ISB and thought it would be at least a reference book even if turned out to be another academic book.  But, to my pleasant surprise - the author's note started with "This is not a textbook on entrepreneurship.......This is not a scholarly treatise on entrepreneurship either......... This book is a ready reckoner for entrepreneurs in the start-up phase in India”.  Bang!!! It seems like she read my mind on books by professors.

The 20 step format is very easy to follow - like a road map for starters and checklist for those already on the road to e-ship, entrepreneurship for short. The story telling approach is leveraged to the maximum to get the point across. The case studies were attention-grabbing and presented in a conversational style making it very easy to follow. One example is how MTV got Indianized.

It seemed like Nandini is a gourmet. Her takeaways at the end of each chapter are like quick reads. I really liked step 14: How do you put a face to your customer? The case study is of an upmarket Thai restaurant but it applies as well to the specialty Idli stall around the corner. The analysis is simply superb and if we answer this right half of e-ship problems can be solved right away.

The info on currently available support in India for e-ship on line and off line is very useful. Information like 'The Honey Bee Network in India promoted by Prof Anil Gupta, of IIM Ahmedabad, has mobilized 1, 40,000 ideas from 545 districts in India’ inspires the readers. Entrepreneur and Antarprerna -they sound similar and spelt similarly. Isn't it? It’s a discovery by Nandini.  "Antarprerna is a Sanskrit word which means' inspired from within".

The content takes us across continents but always answering the 'What's in it for me' factor very well. Nandini isn't walking with us through the e-ship. She literally is making us run at e-ship Olympics. That's the amount of commitment seen in the research of the content.

It felt like this book can be to e-ship in India what RTI act was to anti-corruption movement in India.

 The content is more oriented on leveraging the technology and showcasing more of urban success stories - not much done to connect well those who aren't that tech savvy or who live in small cities - the huge class of people who can bring about successful e-ship movement in India.

Here’s an excerpt from Nandini’s note in the book. "One last word. I want this book to be your pocket mentor. What I would love to see is that it is on the bedside of every aspiring and practicing entrepreneur, in every nook and cranny of India, dog-eared, heavily annotated, and looking every inch like it belongs in your life." I happily second it hundred percent.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Custody - Book Review

Manju Kapur has been described on the book cover as "the great chronicler of the modern Indian family". I know that she has done that in her previous books, Difficult Daughters and Home. Those books were family sagas, in fact "Home" reminded me of the long-drawn TV serial "Buniyaad" from a couple of decades ago. Custody is her take on contemporary urban Indian life and the shaking of the great institution of the traditional Indian family.

The book is about the disintegration of the marriage of the upwardly mobile Raman Kaushik, rising executive in a global beverage company. His stunningly beautiful wife, Shagun falls for his dynamic boss, Ashok Khanna, ex-pat extraordinaire, sent to rescue the company bottomline in India. The narrative cursorily describes the comfortable marital life of the Kaushiks, blessed with two gorgeous children, 8-year old Arjun and 2-year old Roohi, with extended family of grandparents living within reach but without the suffocating joint-family situation more commonly described in such family tales.

Most of the book is devoted to the years after the discovery of Shagun's infidelity by Raman using a detective agency for proof and the impact of Shagun's leaving, with her kids, to her lover's home. The chaos of the altered domestic scenario is captured realistically through the eyes of young Arjun; the disapproving but silent suffering of Mrs. Sabharwal, Shagun's helpless mother and the vicious comments of Raman's angry mother. Shagun takes the kids away one day and while all she wants is a divorce, Raman refuses to give in, filing for custody instead, with the help of his obliging lawyer cousin who leads a perfectly peaceful family life in comparison. When Shagun realizes that the only way to secure her freedom from Raman is to give him custody of the kids, she calmly gives them away, retaining visitation rights during holidays. In the meantime, the smart Arjun starts avoiding school in order to gain his mother's attention but ends up in an all-boys, elite boarding school in Dehradun, a spot he secures due to the fact that Ashok Khanna, the new man in her mother's life is an alumnus of the prestigious institution.

Somewhere midway through the book enters Ishita, a wronged bahu of a family that sends her back to her maternal home when they find out that she is unable to conceive due to a childhood illness which was not disclosed at the time of the arranged marriage. Initially Ishita is shown as a weak woman who finally finds a purpose in her life when she begins assisting a neighbor with her school for street children. Just as you start rooting for Ishita's independent streak, a bitter Raman struggling with the full-time care of two-year old Roohi enters Ishita's life. Conveniently for the story, the senior Mrs. Kaushik and Ishita's mother are neighbors and friends, bemoaning their respective fates that has brought divorce into the lives of their precious children.

And as Shagun builds her life as the glamorous trophy-wife of a business tycoon, Raman marries Ishita, assured that she will provide the motherly love and attention that his daughter needs. As the days pass, Arjun, an occasional visitor during holidays, en route to New York, causes unhappiness to Ishita as he seeks to poison his sister's mind by reminding her of her "real Mom". And therein starts the new equation in Raman's life, as the couple make up excuse after excuse to not send Roohi to New York at the court appointed visitation times. Arjun makes the trips alone and a vengeful Shagun ensures that Arjun does not get to see Raman, tit for tat, for keeping her daughter away. Between the two women in his life, Raman is torn between doing the right thing for his children versus doing the right thing for Ishita. He ultimately pays a price for keeping the semblance of a functional family at least for Roohi, a resolution that Ishita is only too pleased with and one that Shagun has to bear, as a punishment for her choice.

The book's strength lies in the strong story line and an unsentimental approach to the telling of it. But the main characters, Shagun, Raman and Ashok seem to be one-dimensional creatures with no nuances to mark their individuality. Shagun is a beauty, Ashok is the brilliant boss and Raman is a hard-working regular guy trying to rise through the ranks through his sincerity and hard work. Ishita for while seemed interesting as she came into her own following her divorce but quickly becomes a caricature wife, this time clinging to her only hope of motherhood, as the mother to Roohi. All the women fall into typical stereotypes, the anguished Mrs. Sabharwal, an accessory to her daughter's crimes, one who loses a good son in Raman, her daughter to Ashok and the grandchildren in the battle. Shagun appears the superficial gold-digger, looking for an excitement that matches her beauty, gratifying herself even as she is aware of its consequences. Other than the physical/financial aspects, it is not quite clear what forms the basis of her attraction and subsequent marriage to Ashok. Ishita is only too happy to ditch her new-found independence as a teacher of the slum children, once Raman proposes marriage. It is as if any other aspect of a woman's personality is of no consequence once defined by marriage and motherhood, in spite of previous trauma in that department.

Perhaps Manju Kapur has honestly chronicled the lives to today's Indian woman. But it does not give much hope for the masses.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

How to Win Friends and Influence People - Book Review

To sum it up in one sentence - this book changed my personality - from a (hardcore) introvert to a cool and popular extrovert. Way back when I was in my teens and going through that very rough and rocky terrain (called 'starting teens' by me  - though only of late I've discovered this teen phase goes on forever or recurs but never ends) this book was a gift from the Gods - who happened to be my father actually. Among hundreds of other books in his collection, I still don't know what made me pick this one - maybe good luck.

 It started me on a journey of countless friends,  continuing interest in personal development and career as a counselor and mentor. The simple narrative style, the real life incidents, the anecdotes, and summing up the chapters in principles and above all - the fact that the author walked the talk is what makes it the bible of personal development.

Excerpts from the book

"You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you". Dale got this insight from his puppy Tippy - well he sure was inspired from every aspect of life.

"When you see a group photograph that you are in, whose picture do you look for first?"
Insights like these hit the target straight - it makes learning and remembering the concepts so much easier.

"Six ways to make people like you - Principle 3:
Remember that a person's name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language.
When I greeted him by his full name: Good afternoon, Mr.Nicodemus Papadoulos, he was shocked. For what seemed like several minutes there was no reply from him at all. Finally, he said with tears rolling down his cheeks, 'Mr.Levy, in all the fifteen years I have been in this country, nobody has ever made the effort to call me by my right name.'"
I wonder if the scenario has changed much in the U.S but in India where most of the people are referred to as bhayya, babu, anna, tambi maybe it helps to call people by their name - even just once - to give the personal touch.

Here goes the Q & A session

Q : What did Dale Carnegie do to humanity?
A : He filled it up with a large dose of human sense, which is much much more vital than common sense.

Though the book was published in 1936 and is filled with incidents from U.S, it is a book for the global citizen and for anyone who is a homo sapien.

The final question
Q : Should I buy this book?
A : Yes, Yes, Yes. You should buy this book, by-heart this book and eat it if you can :) 
An apple a day keeps the doctor away and reading this book a page a day can improve our human sense by leaps and bounds.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

One Minute Millionaire Book Review

When u flip a coin and chose (heads I win) and realize that both sides of the coin has heads - wow - that's the feeling I had while reading the book in 2003. Every time I pick up the book the same feeling continues - with more intensity. It caters to both left brain and right brain functioning modes.

This left right thing started with the title itself - my left brain said - "hey c'mon it's logically not possible to make a million in a minute unless it's a lottery of some kind", while my right brain was more liberal and started convincing me, "maybe there are certain possibilities in the western world (USA to be precise) which we can adapt here".

As the back cover stated it's about Michelle - who needs a million dollars to get back the custody of her children- which she does with the help of her mentor Samantha -(who guides her through the various methods legally available to make money in USA) along with the dream team.

It is a handbook of the century on money making - the various concepts like 
Butterfly effect
Choose your millionaire mountain
The HOTS theory
Millionaire Ahas
Enlightened millionaire
seem to be very handy in handling personal finances, people management, self development or to quench our thirst for money making.

Interesting tidbits of info about celebrities like Sylvester Stallone (The Real Rocky story spice up the concepts to be put to practical use)

The left side pages are analytical, informative, while the right side pages carry the story.
The continuity seems to be lost coz u have to keep looking only to one side to keep track of the version.
The left right concept didn't agree with my visual palette (if there's such a word).

It was a bit distracting - I would have preferred the whole book to be in two different versions.
It always felt like I was tasting south Indian meals with north Indian meals simultaneously not to mention the size of the book (definitely not our average 'zero size' kind).

Michelle's story reminded me of Indian blockbuster cinema with a female lead ( though a little less senti and more practical).
The only hitch is that the avenues of money making - the real estate, toy making and selling coaching classes on the net - these businesses function differently in India. While the story is a sure fire success in inspiring us to go trekking on the millionaire mountain
the footwear we wear here might be sandals and not the sports gear of USA. There needs to be lot of Indianisation to be done in our head to the script for us to get that million dollars (or 50 lakh rupees - whatever the current conversion rate is)

The author's have so generously shared almost every bit of info to make the reader successful (maybe influenced by Buckminster Fuller - the legendary enlightened millionaire).
This book is a must read for anyone who needs money, who loves money and who spends money.
And by the way this book is a must gift to anyone who belongs to the above classification too.
Well dollar dreams or Indian needs - this is the book.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Chanakya's Chant - Book Review

Historical fiction is not really a genre that I prefer. But when the hefty 450-page paperback came into my hands, I started reading the first few pages, assuming that this book would leave soon. I read the Prologue and was hooked. It took a while to go through the entire book but each day I would eagerly return to the pages, so see how the bilayered narrative developed.

Chanakya's Chant is a story about the legendary Chanakya who begins life as Vishnugupta, son of learned Chanak of the ancient kingdom of Magadha. But Chanakya's Chant is also a Sanskrit verse that is described multiple times in the modern day story that parallels the original tale. Pandit Gangasagar Mishra, a modern day Chanakya uses the powerful chant to further the political career of his protege in the sleazy world of Indian politics. The two stories are told side by side and mark the steady progression of the potential rulers, Chandragupta Maurya as leader of a united Bharat in 340 BC under Chanakya's tutelage and of Chandini Gupta, aspiring to be India's Prime Minister under the training of Mishraji.

It is an extremely well-researched book with very tight narration that keeps you glued to the pages as you learn the smart and underhanded ways in which kings are mere puppets in the hands of the kingmakers. With the uncanny ability to process reams of seemingly unrelated information, predict the behaviors of the other sides, and ruthless precision, these Chanakya's steadily advance their proteges towards the desired goal. While the historical Chanakya leaves his long hair untied until he fulfills his prophecy of avenging his father's death, the motivation of Gangasagar Mishra is not quite clear.

The author, Ashwin Sanghi, has divulged many secrets commonly known to modern-day politicians and some historical secrets like the use of the many medicinal plants available in India which can be used to harm or heal. Preying on the vices and weakness of men, even men as powerful as the great Alexander, Chanakya and his counterpart Mishra, bring about the fall of emperors and ministers, all mere pawns in the race to secure the highest position of power. One striking aspect that stands out is the fact that the art of politics is truly the Arthashastra, the science of wealth, not governance.

A must read for history buffs but highly recommended for those looking for a thrilling read as well.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Connect the dots - book review

Mera number kab ayega - this would aptly summarize the phase in which I randomly bought 'Stay Hungry and Stay Foolish' and impulsively (rather by default being habituated to pick up all the titles by an author whenever possible ) bought 'Connect the Dots' too.

Actually the cover page caught my attention first - I couldn't figure out which side to read the book from till I actually opened the pages.

What made me read the book was the fact that ( i mean choosing to read this first rather than the other title) I always considered myself to be a hum honge kaamiyab ek din MBA grad from the likes of Harvard, IIM, ISB so on. (Thank God u don't have to take CAT and other animal tests with the terrifying math paper to dream of these courses).

I should say it rang a bell and a whole Indian senti-film song started playing in my head, heart, and soul the moment I started reading the Author's note.

As can be expected, I started reading with the people I heard of  through business magazines or TV programs.

Ranjiv Ramchandani (Tantra T-shirts) - this article is as humourous and creative and whacky as his t-shirts. It actually brought back cherished memories of my tantra t-shirt.
Kalyan Varma - wildlife photographer. I've been much inspired by  Rashmi's intro than the actual story.
Well, it struck a chord.

" When my brother was little, he wanted to be a BEST bus conductor; when I was little, I dreamt of becoming an astronaut.

When Kalyan Varma was little, he said to himself, "I wish I could live in the jungle watching animals all day!"

Today, my brother is a brand manager with a multinational corporation.

I am a writer who looks up at the stars and thinks, maybe - some day.

But guess what, Kalyan Varma actually spends his days watching animals in the jungle. And, taking their pictures.

Kalyan Varma represents the big dreams of the little people."

This is precisely where I was hurled into my teen flashback where I decided I would be a poster designer.

I could go on and on but the final decision is if Big B or King Khan wil ask 'Lock kiya jaaye' haa! haa! haa!

To all the wannabe entreprenuers - this could be a life saver at the most and a inspiring read at the least and and an idea generator and host of other things in the middle

Though it was a bit tough following the hindi phrases - Rashmi did a fantastic job of bringing the essence of the people - their success and their messages in exactly the same order - the intro - the interview and advice to young entrepreneurs.
Rashmi showcased the other side of India - who stepped out of 'the conventional study and climb the success ladder' - and became 'the winners of the snakes and ladder show of real life'. ( well if you consider the 20 entreprenuers she introduced )

Finally - to all those MBA grads out there "mere paas connect the dots hei - aapke paas kya hei". Just kidding - I know - I know - you have 'stay hungry stay foolish :)

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Chicken Soup for the Indian Spiritual Soul - Book Review

My foray into the world of chicken soup was with a bit of hesitation. Being a 75% veggie (other than the much favored occasional tandoori chicken snacks), I wasn't very comfy with the title 'chicken soup'. This was way back when only American version was available. I picked up one. I don't remember which one but the stories caught my attention. They reminded me of the Chandamama and Balamitra and various other telugu story books I grew up with.

Coming back to the present, I bought this with lots of other titles. It was the last on my reading list - there were other interesting titles and not to mention that I was continuously in and out of one spiritual course or the other - what do i need to read a book for!
Well - this book did take me by surprise - my very understanding of spirituality has changed. I already knew conceptually that spirituality is a part of life - not a standalone segment still there was a lot that I learnt from this book.

The best thing about this book is the desi flavour it brought, even to spirituality and of course the curiosity of what the celebs think about spirituality

A few of my favorites

* The miracle of the flying leap - Suma Verghese - editor of life positive magazine. The simplicity and honesty with which she put forth her whole life in a few pages is amazing.

* Hug your enemies - Moid Siddiqui. It is the story of K.S. Raju, a successful businessman, where he shares a wonderful way of  forgiving.

* A single candle - Tanushree Podder. It shows how a simple selfless act of kindness can bring a tremendous shift in our thinking.

* To or through the messiah - Mini Krishnan. This is a story of how spiritual fragrance can touch our lives even through a school prayer and shape our personality.

Recently, I was going through one of those severe test of faith phases and I was drawn to this book. I casually flipped a few pages and amazingly got the answers i was searching for - the strength to hang on - to steer my life in a new direction.

Is this a miracle book? I don't know. But is it a must read?  Yes, yes, yes!

Just as much masala is to the Indian curry  - spiritualiy is to the indian soul - come in whatever form it may.

This book is a subtle help in understanding our lives and intergrating our roots in this fast paced world.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

One Amazing Thing - Book Review

Nine people are trapped in the basement of a building in an unnamed American city. This group of strangers are bound together for an unspecified period of time due to the earthquake that traps them in an unlikely place - the Indian consulate office. With this interesting premise, Chitra Banerjee brings together people of various races, religion, age and economic backgrounds to rally around their shared fate of being forced to stay together while they await rescue or death. The strange situation of spending time in a dark gloomy about-to-collapse building, makes the usually reticent strangers divulge their secret stories to a willing audience that amicably suspends judgement as it listens intently to each of them in turn.

Chitra Banerjee has woven together a reasonably plausible plot to explain the reasons for the stereotypical characters to want to visit India in spite of their apparent lack of connection to the country or their reluctance to do so, as the case may be. So we have Cameron, the African American ex-military man, a well-heeled Caucasian couple, the Pritchetts, a Chinese grandmother (Jiang) with a surly teenager granddaughter Lily, Tariq an angry Muslim boy, Uma a young single woman, and the two Indians from India - the consulate employees Malathi and Mangalam, taking turns to spill their stories into a room where a leaking water source starts flooding the floor, parts of the ceiling collapse and their hopes of rescue decline with each tale that is told.

I have read many of Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni's books and I am impressed with her writing style. The prose is poetic and her metaphors are unique, underlining the beauty of each observation. But her strength has been in writing for a predominantly American audience and her stories border on a magic realism underpinning to narratives that superficially appear to be about contemporary issues. This hybrid genre unique to Indian writers writing about India from their location based in Western societies has spawned many authors and Banerjee is at the forefront among them. While she has been prolific in creating diverse narratives, this book is different from her usual formula. With the key ingredient of "exotic" India missing from the stories within the larger story, the book is at best a half-baked attempt to link what might have been better presented as a collection of short stories instead of a homogenous novel.

The individual characters don't seem like real people and the disjointed tales serve no larger purpose of moving the story forward. Perhaps the biggest disappointment is the ending which really is neither an ending nor a reasonable denouement for a novel. Although an attempt to explain the title is made in the last few pages, it fails to register. The book is not in the same realm as any of Banerjee's previous writings and appears to a half-hearted and shoddy attempt at publishing within a deadline.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Mistress - Book Review

The prologue of the book begins with "The face. Yes, let's begin with the face that determines the heart's passage. It is with the face we decode thoughts into a language without sounds. Does that perplex you? How can there be a language without sounds, you ask. Don't dent it. I see the question in your eyes."

I put the book away after the first page. Not because the prose was difficult or the story hard to follow. But because it required effort from me. As I approached the book once more, with greater commitment, I understood why. The central character is Koman, an elderly Kathakali dancer, an artist wedded to his art. He is Uncle to Radha, his niece who lives at the adjacent resort, Near-the-Nila, with her husband Shyam. The novel unfolds with the arrival of Chris Stewart, a foreigner ostensibly interested in capturing the story of Koman's life, to understand the man and the veshakaran (actor).

Split into three parts, Anita Nair tells a spellbinding tale of the exciting life of Sethu, Koman's father, who returns to India after running away from home as a teenager to Colombo. He makes a life with the kind Doctor Samuel who rescues him and Sethu (as Seth) becomes a devoted assistant. Fate takes Sethu to Arabipatnam, a mirage-like place populated exclusively by Arab descendants where he meets Saadiya. Koman, the son born to them is left in the care of a caring Christian woman until Sethu takes him in and gives him a home along with his other two sons born of Devayani.

Why does Koman begin the story with that of his parents? This is explained through the medium of Kathakali that becomes Koman's life in his teens. Kathakali requires the performer to interpret, says Koman; and to do that, he has to imagine and interpret not just his life but the lives of all others who have been a part of his life.

So the reader gets to meet all the characters that shape Koman's life, his brothers Mani and Babu (Radha's father), Aashan (his Kathakali guru), Dr. Samuel, Lalitha, Angela and Maya. Just as the book is in three parts, the narrative is from three point's of view, Uncle, Radha and Shyam. And each part of the book begins with an introduction to the nine emotions, Sringaram, Haasyam, Karunam, Raudram, Veeram, Bhayaanakam, Beebhalsam, Adbhutam and Shaantam.

Superficially the story is about the undeniable attraction between Radha and Chris as Uncle mutely witnesses the ecstasy and inevitable pain that follows. But what is the book really about? Is it about "Art being a demanding mistress" or the fleeting nature of love that devours mere mortals in a tidal wave but soon passes? Is it about an artist's devotion to art, like Aashan's, that leaves him with no reason to continue living when he retires? Is it about the social conscience that seeks to legitimize man-woman relationships? It is a difficult question to answer.

All I can say is that Mistress is an exquisite book. With her genius for showing us the truth in everything we see, Anita Nair has created a performance with words that is as breathtaking as a Kathakali dance. I don't know what I should praise and what to leave out. The exquisite descriptions of the facial acrobatics required to create emotions in Kathakali, the soul stirring feelings that new love creates, the passive ways in which relationships continue to wither, the exciting story-telling (specially the part about Arabipatnam and each of the performances with the mythological context) or the detailed etching of each character?

I made slow progress through the 400 or so pages of this book and only at the end I realized why. Uncle tells a friend, "Classical art requires an effort from the audience. You don't become a connoisseur overnight. You need to imbibe it. You need to educate yourself, and it takes time to reach a level where you can understand the artist's imitation." It took time for me to savor this epic, time to get into the rhythm of the storytelling and time to get into the skin of the character.

Through this book I learnt the difference between an artist and a performer. I questioned "What is now?" I touched the ephemeral nature of art and the divine pursuit of it.

For all you readers, I leave you with one warning. Mistress is a demanding journey.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Keep the Change - Book Review

The protagonist B. Damayanthi leaves behind a boring life with parents in Chennai and jumps into the cauldron of corporate life in Mumbai in this debut novel by Nirupama Subramanian. An only child of doting parents who are desperately trying to "settle" their only daughter into matrimony don't agree with the plans of apparently demure Damayanthi who harbors a wicked side, one that is revealed in her letters to her friend Victoria. Through this regular correspondence with Victoria we get a glimpse into the naughty workings of Damayanthi's mind as she pulls off a major coup by landing a job with First Global in Mumbai.

In what seems like a fairytale transition, the sheltered Damayanthi finds her feet in the world of corporate banking set amidst the landscape of the cosmopolitan urban jungle that is Mumbai. We meet characters such as the lovable Jimmy Daruwalla, her colleague and comrade-in-arms at First Global, CG - a management consultant hired for the special project that Damayanthi and Jimmy are relegated to and the too good to be true Rahul that Damayanthi falls for. Damayanthi's female accomplices are a sympathetic friend Sumi who periodically gives her gyan while obsessing about her soon to be fiance, while the "other woman" Sonya Sood, the hot roommate becomes a thorn who continually assaults Damayanthi's self-esteem with her suave and sophisticated ways.

The author skilfully portrays Mumbai through the eyes of a newcomer and deftly sketches the characters and plot with an easy touch of humor. There are laugh out lines in many places, particularly while describing the weird ways of doing business that seems to be the specialty of large corporations. The protagonist is a lovable character full of spunk and self-doubt, a mix of traditional values trying to find its place in a new world of fast lives and loose morals. There is not much in the way of a story, the plot is simple, moves forward steadily through the chapters and ends on a predictable note.

A simple, funny travel read.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Marrying Anita - Book Review

As the title suggests, this is a memoir of the time period spent by author Anita Jain in India. In her early thirties, Anita takes up a job in New Delhi and returns to the land her father left, coincidentally at the same age to seek their fortune in America. But Anita. a Harvard-educated, well-traveled, independent woman, comes to India for a different reason - to find a husband.

Anita's journalist background is displayed both in her writing skills and her analysis of the India of the new millennium in the chapters that describe her on-off relationship with India in the years of growing up in USA. Her self-proclaimed " A quest for love in the New India", as the byline reads on the cover page of book that shows a pair of hands covered with mehendi leads Anita towards several young people. While she finds many kindred souls, particularly when it comes to consuming copious amounts of alcohol and cigarettes, even hashish, in the racy bars of Delhi, Gurgaon and Noida, they all seem to fall short of her requirements for a spouse.

Along the way we meet many characters including the couple who host her during her first days in the capital, Nandini, a small town girl gone wild in the freedom provided by the metropolis, Anita's parents and their relatives, her outspoken maid Chandra and some other unique characters like the members of a band and members of the gay fraternity. In terms of prospective grooms, she comes close to a couple of guys but for some reason things don't materialize to the much-awaited four words "Will you marry me?"

Anita candidly shares considerable details of the lives and motivations of her parents immigrant experience as well as her own life as a single woman who gets tired of her dating fiascos in New York city. There are way too many details of her interactions with men of many nationalities and the complicated rituals of the dating scene which only fosters greater emptiness in Anita. While we feel sorry for her unfortunate dalliances, Anita comes across as a bold woman not afraid to share her growing desperation at her loneliness.

The book reminded me of a work of fiction "Sharmila's Book" by Bharti Kirchner where a woman comes to Delhi to marry a suitable boy but ends up marrying someone else instead. I did not much like the novel for its superficial treatment and point of view which was written for a Western audience. At times, I thought of "Eat Pray Love" one of my favorite books in the memoir genre about a woman's year of soul-searching with the specific intent of not being with a guy. Though not of the same caliber as Eat Pray Love, this book certainly is an honest investigation and analysis of the reality of finding a mate in these days of internet matrimonial portals and global range of choices.

At the end, Anita is not looking for a bigger pool to choose from, but like everyone else, she is looking for one soul mate. And I wish her well as her quest continues.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Tender Hooks - Book Review

I recently read an interview with Pakistani author Moni Mohsin regarding the launch of her new book "Tender Hooks" and was intrigued enough to pick it up at Evening Hour. This is her second book after the huge success of "The diary of a social butterfly", based on her popular column in the newspaper.

The premise is simple. The protagonist, assumed to be "Mrs. Butterfly" is from an elite, well-do-to Pakistani family with an enchanted life - a large house, many servants, an adorable son and an Oxford educated (referred to fondly as Oxen) husband who lets her be herself. Butterfly observes the world through her rose-tinted glasses and her nose in the air, considering her place in society. Through her liberal use of grammatical errors (Thanks God), homophones (waste deep in snow), spelling goof-ups (good baggrounds), good old funny takes on known institutions (works in a bank Golden Sacks), slightly off the wall phrases (good radiance) and the like, Butterfly maintains a running comic monologue. I burst out laughing at least once in each chapter.

The chapters are short and begin with a date and what is presumably a newspaper headline. The book is not just about an airhead's view of Pakistani high society but a tongue-in-cheek critique of life in Pakistan today. Butterfly's breezy views on the army versus taliban, honest citizens versus the smugglers are put forth in an understated manner without ruffling any feathers.

In this book, Butterfly has the task of finding a bride for Jonkers, her cousin, by his overbearing mother, Aunt Pussy. Finding the right girl from the appropriate background is not as easy at is seems to be and we meet an endearing cast of characters in hilarious situations as we hurtle towards an unexpected ending. Butterfly operates from her superficial principles in most situations but is actually a feisty and sensible woman when push comes to shove.

I think Moni Mohsin has brought the right balance of humor to a lovable protagonist to highlight current issues in Pakistan with her breezy narration and wonderful wit. Definitely a must-read.

Monday, May 23, 2011

First Proof Volume 6 - Book Review

The Penguin Book of New Writing Volume 6 contains a selection of non-fiction, fiction and a couple of poems. Reading an anthology reminds me of the famous words uttered by Tom Hanks as Forrest Gump in the eponymous movie "...like a box of chocolates. You never know what you are going to get." The collection is a little erratic, with some excellent writing, some fantastic translation from regional languages and some run of the mill stuff.

The first non-fiction piece is a beautiful but heart-wrenching tale, "A Young Man", by Sunanda Sikdar, who has excerpted and translated from the original Bangla "Dayamoyeer Katha" by Anchita Ghatak. It deals with the barbaric practice of making young widows shave their heads and lead an austere life upon the death of their husbands, whether or not the marriage was consummated. The generosity of these women who were doomed by the prevalent customs with no way out is sure to bring tears to the most cynical among readers. Chatura Rao's three vignettes titled "By the Ganga one winter" has a memorable piece on the momentary fame experienced by an ordinary person and how one can live on a long-forgotten memory that lights up the monotonous present, if only fleetingly. In "Cabbie", Anindita Ghose poignantly captures the nuances of an unlikely friendship between a graduate student in New York and a Pakistani cabbie, how class differences may blur in a strange environment but only momentarily.

In the fiction section, Triptych by Ranjan Nautiyal describes the advent of rain and its effect of three young children with a loving touch in "Forgotten friend". "Soul Mates" by Kanchana Ugbabe is an extremely believable tale of a freeloader whose unwelcome stay creates problems in the household. Through "Aaba and other mysteries" Deven Sansare relates the effect of the prolonged mill workers strike that ended the industry in Mumbai and changed forever the lives of the workers and their families through the eyes of a young boy who comes of age in this period. Two wonderful stories of families with children abroad and the effect on the family members left behind are worth reading as they express the same sentiment through different protagonists - "Mrs.Dhillon" by Purnima Rao and "A 33-1/3 LP" by Somnath Mukherji. "Stink" by D. Rege is a hard-hitting tale of hijras and how their life does not become any easier even if the government passes article 337 in their favor. Of the two poems at the end of the book, I loved Keyur Patel's Conversations.

I am not sure what criteria was used by the publishing house to pick these stories amongst the myriad others that are available. A brief introduction to the authors is provided at the end of the book. It is clear that many of the authors are established in the writing profession, either as reporters, translators, screen writers, ad writers and such. Perhaps it is their level of proficiency that impacts the quality and feel of their words. What would be a worthwhile effort for Penguin is to bring out genuinely "first" writing by budding authors.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

The Vague Woman's Handbook - Book Review

Lately I have been having difficulty in figuring out the relationship between the title of a book and its contents. This debut novel by Devapriya Roy falls into that category. The brief description at the back sounded interesting, about an unlikely friendship between a newly-married young woman and another one, almost three decades her senior.

We are introduced to a hare-brained Sharmila Chatterjee, twenty-two years old, helplessly late for a job interview, having taken a break from her studies to financially help the dire home situation. Her husband, the idealistic Abhimanyu Mishra is pursuing his Ph.D. in an obscure subject, having given up the prospect of a Ph.D. in the USA. Consequently the two have eloped and married in Delhi, much against the wishes of the parents living in Calcutta. When Mil (Sharmila)is hired at the Indian Academy for Literatures, she meets Indira Sen, a senior government officer with whom she hits it off and thereby is supposed to begin a tale.

There are some vivid descriptions of New Delhi as the seasons change and some introduction to the mysterious working of the Indian governmental bureaucracy. However, there isn't much of a story to tell in the 300-odd pages of the novel. Indira's life seems to be one where an interesting plot could have evolved, given her strange home situation with a domineering mother, an obsessive-compulsive mother-in-law and a quirky Uncle along with a headstrong teenage daughter. But they seem to carry on with their weirdness, contributing nothing to Indira's life or to the novel. Mil helps Indira with her mounting, incomprehensible credit card debt while Indira seems to do nothing more than share junk food with the younger woman.

The characters seem two-dimensional with no significant inner angst other than the obvious daily difficulties of urban life; money problems, maid issues, interfering landlords and in-laws. As I mentioned earlier, the title and the story did not match but I can attest that the author seems as vague about what she wanted to convey through her characters and it is perhaps Devapriya Roy's handbook as a vague woman herself.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Chanakya's Chant by Ashwin Sanghi

In the recent times, I started posting mini book reviews directly on the facebook page. If it is a simple straightforward review, figured it will be easier to read from the page than go to a blog. But, this book, Chanakya's Chant deserves a bigger space.

I do not usually pick a political book nor a historical book by choice. But, Chanakya's Chant just changed it all for me. During the entire book, there was no lull, there was no page where you could miss even a single paragraph.

There are two stories that are run parallel to each other. One is the story of Chanakya and how he got Chandra Gupta to be united Bharat's emperor. The other story is of a Brahmin from Uttarpradesh, Gangasagar Mishra. His goal is to make a little girl from Kanpur to be the Prime Minister of India. The character of Gangasagar is analogous to the famous Chanakya.

The team even went on to create a Chant and called it Chanakya's Chant. It is even uploaded here. In the story, the chant is described to be very powerful and supposedly written in Chanakya's time.

While the book is almost 400 pages, it is so worth a read. You will remember the history around Chanakya, Alexander and will appreciate the will and purpose of Chanakya. It is a fiction book based on many many facts. Lots of research has gone into the book. The author, Ashwin Sanghi, even listed all the various books and links he referred to during his research.

Worth the read!

Friday, May 6, 2011

Legacy by Danielle Steel

One of my favourite writers,definitely a page turner!!
This is the story of a 38 yr old lady named Brigitte whose life changes when she is dumped by her boyfriend after 6 yrs of relationship and is laid off by her employer.She is a gal who would never want to take risks, either personally or professionally. She helps her mom on a family geneology project and falls in love with the character of her ancestor who is a Dakota Sioux named Wachiwi and travels to salt Lake and then to Paris and Brittany in search of her family history.
She happens to meet a writer named Marc at the National Library at Paris who helps a lot in her research of family history and changes her life from then.
Wachiwi is the great-great-great-grandmother of Brigitte, who travels from the Dakota Sioux - New orleans - Paris to marry her man who is the brother of French Marquis but marries the Marquis himself.
I personally fell in love with Wachiwi and Marquis, the perfect couple!!

SudhaRani Pisupati

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Almost Single - Book Review

One more in the ever-growing genre of Indian chick-lit, this book has one strength. Humour! The novel breezily captures the life of the protagonist, Aisha Bhatia, almost thirty, very single and surrounded by friends who are in a similar situation.

Most of the book is devoted to the single-minded pursuit (or discussion) of booze, cigarettes, available men, not necessarily in that order. Aisha's best friends,a very available and always on the look out, Misha and Anushka, undergoing the throes of divorce, provide able support to her angst as she works in a fancy hotel with its dark underpinnings reserved for the rich and the minions who serve them. It is not clear what the other two girls do for a living as they brunch at five-start hotels, discuss expensive shiatsu massages and consume copious amounts of branded liquor. Comic relief is also provided by a pair of gay characters who appear to be in a monogamous and committed relationship while the straight women ogle every specimen of the male species.

Of course, there is Aisha's consistent love interest, the hunky NRI Karan who has all the required attributes of a eligible bachelor and the multiple unfortunate liaisons of the intrepid Misha to spice up the narrative. The women seem be connoisseurs of wine but can't tell daals apart. Their redeeming feature is their closeness and camaraderie.

The novel is light-hearted and fun, with the devil-may-care attitude of the urban youth that laughs at tradition but is not averse to clinging to weird gurus and rituals when the situation demands. It is well-written but by no means a literary marvel. What saves the book from being mediocre is the irreverent humour that makes light of every dark situation, including the majestic institution of marriage.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Remember Me? - Book Review

Another lively and funny story from Sophie Kinsella, author of "Confessions of a Shopaholic". The best part of the book is the plot - a young woman wakes from in a hospital after a car accident and cannot remember 3 years of her life. Significant three years in which she has undergone many changes, from purely physical - like now having perfect teeth and a slim figure to financial - she has crashed her Mercedes and finally the most significant, marital - she is now married to Eric, a drop-dead gorgeous and rich man.

This unbelievable scenario where Lexi, the middle class low level department store worker gets transformed into a beautiful and wealthy woman, a modern day Cinderella tale come true, offers many laughs. In her breezy style, we struggle with Lexi as she tries to remember how she has got herself into this "dream" situation. While there are many benefits of this lifestyle, with a housekeeper and a luxurious home, there is a dark side as well. Husband Eric professes a "low carb" household where Lexi craves for the simple joy of eating buttery toast and finds that her perfect and humongous wardrobe has no comfy clothes or shoes. Taking a swipe at the snobbishness and superficiality of the lives of the wealthy, Kinsella shows how a "regular" person like what Lexi used be, can be miserable in their picture-perfect life.

There many other characters who are endearing with their quirks, like Lexi's old friends Fi, Debs, Carolyn, her spacey mother and delinquent younger sister. And then there is Jon, Eric's architect who adds to Lexi's confusion as she tries to reconcile with the cold, hard person she has become in those three missing years. She feels like a regular girl but the public persona she has created to move up in life clashes against her memory of who she still considers herself to be.

It's a funny, silly book that brings up important issues about money, fame, power and makes you wonder what you would choose if you woke up one day to find out that you have it all.