Category Archives: Books and reviews

Book Review: Story of a Brief Marriage

Author: Anuk Arudpragasam
Publisher: Fourth Estate (imprint of Harper Collins)
Pages: 193
Price: Rs 499

Dinesh is a young man who has survived the civil war in Sri Lanka and escaped the eyes of the establishment that has sent every fit and healthy man to fight the war. He has also survived the daily shelling that kills and maims many. While living in a temporary camp near a clinic, he is approached by a man with a strange request — strange for such turbulent times.
bookThe man asks him to marry his daughter Ganga. The young girl, who lost her mother and brother to the war, also lives in the camp and volunteers at the clinic to tend to the wounded and help the staff, just like Dinesh. And so begins The Story of a Brief Marriage.

The author, Anuk Arudpragasam, gives away the tone of book with the title — ‘brief marriage’. It is a very unlikely term for an upbeat story. However, the word ‘brief’ translates into a day in the book and is explained in great detail. Every incident, every act  — something as basic as a scene of a man taking a bath — runs over many pages. For an impatient reader, it might seem like a never-ending description. For a reader who loves to explore every detail of an act, the surrounding, the past and the present, this novel is a piece worth treasuring. There are times when the detailing overtakes the storyline and it’s difficult to reconnect if you are not reading this book in one sitting.

And that is where the author has shown some bravery, because not everyone can take a risk like that. Arudpragasam’s ability to portray human emotions and behaviour has brought the two characters to life in a very natural way. You would think you know Dinesh and Ganga for ages, the way they would react or what they would say next.

Overall, this book is that kind of a novel that l
eaves you with an after-taste of the character’s life — secretly wishing there was more to this ‘brief marriage’ and in happier shades.

This book review has also appeared in Sakal Times, February 12, 2017’s edition. Click here to go to that page on their website. 

Book Review: Solo in Singapore by Tanushree Podder

Solo IN SingaporeWhat is the first thing you feel like doing after a break-up? Party like there’s no tomorrow or go a dramatic haircut? Well, Munmun Menon, a journalist, takes it one step further. She hops on a plane to be ‘Solo in Singapore’.

And that’s how the journey of a 30-something woman unfolds in a foreign land who tries to bring her life back on track. Munmun realises the horror of relying on google when she enters a dingy hotel, only to check out the very next day and bump into a breezy Australian girl who becomes her friend.

They explore Singapore on a budget, end up renting a part of an apartment from a local old woman and that’s how a journey of a confused woman coping with heartbreak and trying desperately to “not be” penniless grabs our attention for the next 200-odd pages.

Even if the first few pages remind us of Kangana Ranaut in Queen, the resemblance quickly vanishes as Mummun not only sets out to find a job, but also her father, who had disappeared from her childhood many years ago.

The amazing travelogue-cum-chick lit is authored by city-based seasoned traveller and author Tanushree Podder.
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She refuses to label her work as a travelogue, but there are clearly some generous glimpses that she offers of the different culture of Singapore. The credit for it goes to Podder’s daughter, who lived in the country for several years and also for the extensive travelling that the author undertook, not just in Singapore, but also in other countries.

“Being an intrepid and passionate traveller, I feel that travelling has amazing healing powers. It widens your horizon, gives you confidence, opens up new windows and helps you find your feet, especially if you are travelling solo. I, for one, feel that nursing grudges or heartbreaks is difficult when you are travelling,” Poddar confesses.

It seems the idea of travelling has also helped the protagonist of the book. What sets apart Solo in from other chick lits is that there isn’t too much emphasis on finding “the one,” until the end.

Grab Solo in Singapore for that popcorn break when you need something light and witty to lift your mood. It can be your weekend buddy this month!

Book Review: House Spirit by Palash Krishna Mehrotra

OUT OF THE BOTTLE…and, into our homes. Palash Krishna Mehrotra talks about our drinking habits through his anthology — House Spirits, Drinking in India. Hic on…

“Our attitude to drinking is the same as it is to sex. We do it all the time. And some States, it seems, do it more than others.” Palash Krishna Mehrotra opens House Spirit, Drinking in India with this preface. And, it’s clear that this delightful cocktail of stories, poems and essays is not going to beat around the bush, or specifically the bottle! House-Spirit_Front-websitejpg-480x698

Brought out by Speaking Tiger and edited by Mehrotra, the thrust of the anthology would be on drinking in India — snazzy upper class bars, thelas and in theatres etc. So seasoned and new writers have come together in the book — with their shots; some are super smooth, some are hard-hitting and some leave that burning sensation in your throat, once you reach the rock bottom. The stories are on drinking, and not about the drinks and where you can find them. They reveal the fun side as well as the dark shadows lurking beneath your glass.

A couple of pages into the book, and you go up. But soon enough, you come crashing down to harsh reality.  Reading House Spirits… is like a sine curve. “I wanted to cover both sides — the merry part and the not so merry part of drinking,” explains Mehrotra, who has a reputation for liking the bottle. That and the experience of editing an anthology in the past, set the ball rolling for this book.

“I decided to focus on drinking in India, which has not been written about. We think of it as something transgressive, something naughty.

Indians drink outside their homes because it’s not acceptable to our families. So I was looking for people who write entertainingly, rather than just cover ground. They could write personalised copies or about the places to drink like thelas which offer local booze or the gay bars,” tells Mehrotra from his Dehradun residence.

So the anthology has stories from Haridwar, Kerala, Delhi, Kolkata, Dehradun, Bengaluru and Gujarat (yes, you read it right), revealing a tantalising tip of the iceberg.

Little surprised that Goa does not feature much in the book, we asked Mehrotra about it. He calmly explains that one story does brush over Pune’s favourite booze destination, but after all, an anthology is about “Commission and Omission”.

With such variety of topics — hilarious poems, bone-chilling rehab stories, family secrets and strained relationships — the language and tone of the anthology is earthy and refreshing. None of those glass-clinking and air kissing, alcohol drinking janata makes an appearance in this anthology. It’s about aam aadmi. And aurat about whom Kanika Gahlaut talks through her essay, ‘When Nights Turn Into Decades’.

Then there is a generous tadka of Bollywood with ‘Booze, Bollywood, Bombay and I’ by Mayank Shekhar and ‘Permit Room: Drinking In Hindi Cinema’ by Sidharth Bhatia.

“We didn’t want the articles to be a very upper class thing, as drinking in India can be a very expensive affair. We have included many personal essays. For instance, Pawan Kumar Jain writes about coming from a family where alcohol is a taboo. Or Amit Chaudhari talks about being a non-drinker. Samanth Subramanium talks about his love for toddy, while Mayank Tewari writes about the Brahmin from Haridwar who drank too much for his own good,” says Mehrotra. DSC_0016

The USP of the book is its down to earth, sometimes dirt-covered approach to a sensitive issue. “Some of the pieces are very honest and confessional. The ‘Rehab Diary’ is brutally honest. We are in a society where we sweep things under the carpet. We don’t talk about it much. It’s not very easy to write either. In that sense, the writers of House Spirit have not held back anything,” he adds.

Definitely, a one of its kind anthology, House Spirit would make an excellent addition to your friend-who-loves-to-drink’s collection. It would be a welcome change from that bottle of French wine you keep gifting him thrice a year!

Out of the bottle

This book review was first published in Sakal Times, Pune, Sunday June 19, 2016. 

Storyteller Ashwin Sanghi talks about his latest – The Sialkot Saga

Ashwin Sanghi

# Tell us about The Sialkot Saga and what inspired you to write this book.

The Sailkot Saga is a business story about two businessmen, one is a guy called Arvind who grew up in Calcutta in a Marwari family, and the other one is Arbaaz, who is brought up in the chawls of Dongri in Mumbai. Both led exceedingly different lives but one thing they have in common is their love for money. This book actually traces their life from 1947 to 2010, good 60 odd years. While these gentlemen are carrying on with their usual business shenanigans, what they don’t understand is that there is deeper secret that units them. That is revealed at the end of the story. It was my quest to examine the issue of man’s insatiable lust for gold.

# How much of The Sialkot Saga is inspired from real life and people?

Most of books, the plot is generally not inspired from real life but more of a theme. The theme of Sialkot, Business rivalry as a theme has been seen in the Bollywood movie Deewar or the Immigrant, there are multiple people who have explored the idea of a business rivalry.But many of the incidents that happen to these characters and the situation that they go through is inspired by real life — what I might have experienced or stuff that I’ve heard about. I give credit to the newspaper walas for the amount of inspiration I get from them too!

#You were planning to write this one long time ago, but other things and books kept coming in between. Is that why you are calling this book a slow cooked dum biriyani?

Sialkot SagaWhen you have a project that is a little too wide in scope, when I conceived it, it was a massive project by my yardstick. There is a parallel story that is set in the ancient times that covers emperor Ashoka whereas 90 per cent of this book is about the life of these two gentlemen. Now the problem is that. The period between 1947 and 2010 is the time which most of us had lived through. As a result of that, one can’t afford to say something that is wrong. I feel the need for accuracy goes up the moment you write about a period that is closer to the present one. As one moves backward into the ancient times, the need for accuracy declines. Mapping every incident to each year and figuring out what each of the character would have been doing during those times, to mapping it with what would have been happening in India at that time, what was the political backdrop, the historical backdrop and the cultural backdrop. Man who wanted to have Puchka Pani in Calcutta, I should know what was the cost of a plate of Puchka Pani in that year! That required a lot of work. That process of reading, interviewing people and plotting, that took about 18 months. While all that was going on, the crime thriller I did with James Patterson happened. It breaks the continuity, but it is possible to do that at the research stage, not in the writing stage. What should have gotten over earlier, stretched to about three years.

#Writers often go away, cut themselves off from the world to complete a project. What is your style?

Not me. This is my Karma Bhumi. Your Karma Bhumi is where ever you are. I feel even if you are focused on what you want to either research, or read or write, you will find the ability to do it. I have never found the need to go away to some other place to work. For me the way it works, in a  normal day, I take out four hours for my writing and three hours reading and researching. It changes depending on whether I am in the midst of writing a book or whether in the middle of researching for a book. My writing hours between 5am to 9am, and my reading hours are between 5pm and 9pm.

# Why have your book series been called Bharat series?

My reader should know what category of book they are picking up. So Bharat Series is the ones that deals with the history, mythology, the political climate and business, and very much focused on India. I am working on a ’13 step’ series and “Private series” with James Patterson.

# Writing trends in India have lately been falling into some set categories. Which genre has a lot of potential?

One category that has not developed in our country is science fiction. According to me, there is a huge scope for that. In the west, crime thrillers take up the first five position in any bestseller list, but in India, you will rarely find that. Here, it will either be the mythology book, or romance books. I feel that we have only scratched the surface when it comes to thrillers. This is a specific section where I feel there is a dearth of books in our country.

# How do you react when compared with Dan Brown and Jeffery Archer?

Ashwin Sanghi1First reaction is one of being absolutely flattered. Brown and Archer are master storytellers, I have loved each one of their books. It gives a great sense of satisfaction when my work is compared with theirs. The Dan Brown comparison happened with me when my first book Rozabel Line was published, which was in set in Kashmir. The story involved Jesus Christ and Mary Magdalene, everyone said this is a desi Da Vinci Code and Ashwin Sanghi is a desi Dan Brown. Similarly, Jeffery Archer is a storyteller that I don’t think the world has ever seen. He is at a completely different level and it’s a childish comparison to make. I can write another 20 books and I will still not be Jeffery Archer. There is one part of me that wants be happy about these comparisons, another part cautions me to not get taken in by these compliments. Sometimes I wonder why these comparisons are being made? Are foreign authors called American Amish Tripathi, English Ravi Subramanium or the French Ashwin Sanghi?

# Fact that sounds like fiction and fiction that sounds like fact? Is that what is behind every book of yours?

Yes, I always try to bring a factual element and weave them into the story. For example, in The Sialkot Saga, one of the characters that makes an appearance is Atal Bihari Vajpayee, in addition to PV Narsimha Rao. There is a scene of a person traveling from Bombay to Hyderabad and he just drops in to meet the pilot in the cockpit — who turns out to be Rajiv Gandhi. Similarly, historical and cultural events of that time also form a part of that story. So even though, you are just enjoying the story, it sounds that much more real because the backdrop has changed to the time when that character was alive. I would say Sialkot Saga is a lot like my previous book Chanakya’s Chant — which was a story of conflict in the world of politics — so this is a story of conflict but in the world of business.

# Next book that you are working on?

2015 was the most strenuous year as I was not only completing The Sialkot Saga, but was also finishing up a crime thriller, which is likely to come out before the end of this year. I suddenly I feel like I have a lot of time on my hands this year!

Excerpts from this interview first published in Pune’s Sakal Times Sunday Plus 4 on May 22, 2016. Ashwin Sanghi photographs provided by publishers Westland . “All that glitters is gold” screengrab from Sakal Times epaper.

Book Review: Thicker Than Blood by Munmun Ghosh

Thicker than blood

Book: Thicker Than Blood

Author: Munmun Ghosh

Publisher: Jaico Publishing House

Price: Rs299

Thicker than Blood is essentially a book about a typical Indian housewife’s struggle to experience the joys of motherhood. When everyone in cities is acutely aware of how many working women are intentionally delaying marriage and motherhood, this book comes as a whiff of fresh air. So women whose ultimate goal in life is to become a mother — a successful mother — still exist.

Munmun Ghosh’s story is about one such young woman, Mayuri Mehta, who feels her true calling is in being a doting mother. She is in her mid-20s and coaxes her reluctant husband into starting a family. However, nature is not so benevolent to Mayuri, who has to struggle through multiple doctor visits and tests because she cannot conceive naturally.

It just makes her life less difficult when she finds out that she and her husband both have minor biological shortcomings that are adding up to this problem. Women in India are aware of the torture they undergo when people blindly pin the blame on them alone — the bitter truth remains that they are considered baby-making machines.

Mayuri takes the help of technology, and baba, tantric, homeopath, alternative medicine, and almost everything under the sun that is suggested by her friends and relatives. Years pass on, and a now 30-year-old Mayuri seems to have accepted the fact that it will take a super human effort to get pregnant. Needless to say, it takes a toll on the husband-wife relationship as well.

The author has touched a subject that is increasingly becoming common among urban women. The complexities of life in a joint family, the predicament every bahu faces, the battle of sexes in which the wife is blamed for everything that goes wrong and the male ego refusing to acknowledge the fault in their stars has been beautifully brought out by Ghosh.

Full credit to her for writing a book about this turbulent phase in a woman’s life. It was long due. We can tell you the story in 25 minutes, but it would be rather enriching to read the 250 pages of this book filled with pure human emotions and love of motherhood.

A little more effort into the cover page would have helped. Overall, a good read to sensitise men and women about this issue.

The review was first published in Sakal Times, Pune edition, dated April 24, 2016.



Book Review: Runaway Writers

Name: Runaway Writers
Author: Indu Balachandran
Publisher: Speaking Tiger
Pages: 296
Price:  Rs 299

Three women, who have quit their regular jobs to become writers, meet in Greece, one of them desperately tries to figure out intricacies of love — that’s Runaway Writers for you in 140 characters (well, 144 to be precise). That is probably how Amby — the main protagonist of this book and a Twitter expert — would have described this book.

Runaway Writers

The story of Amby is something many of us can relate to. She has the potential to make tons of money through a banking job. But is currently doing some creative tweeting for a famous movie star, in the hope to become a famous writer herself.

As the book repeatedly emphasises, we are all looking for the second best job in the world — something that is creative, satisfying and pays decently. Which is why Amby wants to go to Greece to attend a writer’s workshop, so that she can quit the ghost-tweeter job (yes, that’s a job, as Amby repeatedly explains) and start writing that bestseller she is destined to write. She is joined by two more women, equally eager to pursue their dream of becoming a writer, on this trip to Greece.

The book is a chick-flick, a travelogue, a writer’s “how-to” guide, and a love-story all rolled into one neat package. Divided into two sections — Before Greece and After Greece — the book focuses on Amby’s life in a typical Chennai family.

She has a secret crush on her boss, the movie star, but is torn between the mixed signals she keeps getting and the match her parents are pushing her to consider. The new guy is a well-settled Tam Brahm living in Finland, and after a couple of online meetings convince Amby that he is truly Mr Eligible.

Meanwhile, Amby’s pursuit of her dream of becoming a writer kindles the spark in her boss to chase his own dream of becoming a chef and opening his restaurant. And so, Amby is confronted with the question: Who is a better option? Mr Eligible or Mr Edible!

The author’s wit and ability to connect with the new-age reader has made this book a good read. Runaway Writers is that kind of book which will instantly lift your spirits. Writers — anyone who writes, reports, tweets, posts and pitches — in particular will instantly connect with the book. The details of the writers’ workshop are simply awesome, almost made me quit my job to look for something similar in some exotic land.

We cannot help but wonder if author Indu Balachandran, an advertising veteran who became a travel writer and columnist, has written her own experiences of this journey of chasing the ‘second best job in the world’. But if that is the case, then there is hope for many of us who are still stuck in our ‘best jobs’.

Do not feel disappointed if the cover illustration gives you an impression that it’s a story of three writers. Though the other two runaway girls are at best bridesmaids in this delightful read, you will find enough in Amby’s life (whose real name is Ambujakshi, by the way) to chuckle, smile, love and take inspiration from.

This book review was first published in Sakal Times, Pune, on February 14, 2015.