Saturday, 11 November 2017

Hell! No Saints in Paradise

Hell! No Saints in Paradise is an urban fantasy fiction set in 2050. Ismael is a Pakistani-American student. After a tiring spirtual quest he enters into an alliance with otherworldly beings who send him on a precarious journey of self discovery. Ismael still remains a non-believer, in sharp contrast with his father who is a prominent extremist in Pakistan. Now Ismael has to return to Pakistan. To gain the trust of his father, who stays in a fundamentalist Pakistan, he has to pose as a true believer. Will he complete his mission. This is the story of Hell! No Saints in Paradise.

The book chronicles life of a non-believer. It is not easy at all if you are living in a country like Pakistan. I liked the way character of Ismael is developed. With this book the author has tried to step into a new territory. His writing is clean and error-free. Yet the story appears non-linear and difficult to comprehend. What is the use of germinating a great idea when you are unable to communicate it to the masses in unequivocal words. The novel certainly falters when it comes to comprehension. This book may have been a great book, if it was a bit simplified for the lay readers.

Wednesday, 8 November 2017

Unlikely Tails - Book Review

The blurb, the initial pages of Mani Padma's debut book Unlikely Tails announce that it is a collection of seventeen stories. However there are eighteen stories in this book. Two stories are numbered as five in the index and in the interior and that makes the eighteen stories seventeen. This blunder for sure makes a bad first impression.

Feeling of rejection, loneliness and death permeates most of the stories. The opening story Prince Charming is about the fluttering of heart of a young woman when she meets the man of her dreams. I really liked the second story in the book Eight Days with Sushil. In this story a depressed girl meets an old friend who lightens up her dead life. I liked the format which the author chooses for narrating this story. Its end though is quite shocking.

The story Harmony demonstrates how music can bring two unhappy souls together. Pammi's Escort Service is about how we all have the money but lack company. Broken heart is an interesting tale where an old woman tells how she broke a broken heart's heart again. Date with future is all about the games that girls play.

Man, Woman and capitulates the dynamics of a seasoned marriage. The story Sabjiwallah falls into the horror genre. The story Breakfast opens at a breakfast table. It is about a woman locked in a loveless marriage, who is drawn towards an out of marriage relationship. In Pursuit of Fame is a multilayered story about parental pressure on children who are forced into reality shows. I liked this story for the manner in which it welds reality with fiction.

Bhaavya delves into the mind of a mentally unsound woman. The Perfect Plan revolves around infidelity and a perfectly planned murder. Mamma's house shows how attachment to places changes with time. Dulliance deals with bride seeing ceremonies, customary for arranged marriages in India. Keep the Change again deals with issues of marriage and money. The last story in this collection titled The End tries to underline that in any given choice you have the power to chose your reaction. Again the author uses a unique format to weave her story.

What I liked about this book is that the writing is clean. These stories are projected as stories about as to what goes into the minds of women. While some stories indeed relate to this theme, some like Sabjiwallah are out of sync with the theme. Most of the stories are prosaic, too abstract. But yet if you want to read something really different, you may go for this book.

Friday, 3 November 2017

No Mud No Lotus - Book Review

No Mud No Lotus, the art of transforming suffering by Thich Nhat Hanh indeed offers a very different yet pragmatic take on overcoming life's problems.

The author who is a renowned Zen Buddhist master says that the main affliction of our modern civilization is that we don't know how to handle the suffering inside us and we try to cover it up with all kinds of consumption. He states that we have the seeds, the potential in us for understanding, love, compassion, and insight as well as the seeds of anger, hate, and greed. While we can't avoid all the suffering in life, we can suffer much less by not watering the seeds of suffering inside us.

We are truly alive only when the mind is with the body. What a simple yet profound statement. The book is full of such gems. At another place the author says the Buddha said that nothing can survive without food. This is true, not just for the physical existence of living beings, but also for states of mind. Love needs to be nurtured and fed to survive and our suffering also survives because we enable and feed it. We ruminate on suffering, regret, and sorrow. We chew on them, swallow them, bring them back up, and eat them again and again. If we are feeding our suffering while we're walking, working, eating or talking, we are making ourselves victims of the ghosts of the past, of the future or our worries in the present. We are not living our lives.

Speaking of suffering he says part of the art of suffering well is learning not to magnify our pain by getting carried away in fear, anger and despair. We build and maintain our energy reserves to handle the big sufferings; the little sufferings we can let go.

The book offers eight meditation techniques for happiness. Indeed this book is to be treasured.

Let Him Not Sink

Let Him Not Sink First Steps to Mental Health is a manual for adults who work closely with children and adolescents. Unfortunately very little is known about mental health even to the educated people of our country. The poor illiterate masses are so busy in their struggle to make two ends meet that mental health becomes a neglected factor. But the truth is that mental health concerns everyone and mental ill-health doesn't look at if a person is rich or poor. It is for these reasons that this book assumes tremendous importance.

While I knew depression, bipolar disorders and obsessive compulsive disorders were psychological issues requiring expert intervention, I was totally unaware that even anxiety disorders, separation anxiety and selective mutism too form a part of the mental disorders spectrum. This book bursts many myths. A common reason cited these days for depression and many other mental diseases is lack of support system. Though this is one of the causes, the book tells us that mental disorders can be genetic as well as result of birth and delivery related conditions.

The book tries to simplify the mental disorders. It cites as to why early identification of mental problems is important. The book also enumerates essential skills for dealing with children and adolescents. Each disorder is discussed in separate chapters and in every chapter there are boxes containing red flags highlighting the factors which increase the risks. Self-harm among the youth is on a rise. There is a separate chapter devoted to it as well. It was startling to know that if there is history of self harm in the family, the probability of the child having suicidal tendencies rises many fold.

This book by no way can replace the therapist. That is not the intention of the book. It serves its purpose by enlisting symptoms which may fall under the category of mental disorder. If you see them in your children rush for help at the earliest. I welcome this book and wish many more flood the market for mental health is as important as physical health.

Thursday, 2 November 2017

You Never Know - Book Review

You Never Know is the story of Dhruv and Anuradha. Dhruv is married to Shalini and has kids. Dhruv and Anuradha work in the same office. They end up having an extra-marital affair. Things take an ugly turn when an influential politician Hemant Tiwari threatens to wipe out Dhruv’s children if he doesn’t get the video which Anuradha has. Dhruv doesn’t know anything about the video. The video revolves around Anuradha, her deceased boyfriend Sid and of course Hemant Tiwari. Will Dhruv find the video? What does it contain? To know the answers to these questions you will have to read You Never Know by Akash Verma.

The book opens with Dhruv in search of Sid’s phone at the spot of Sid’s death. There are references to Talk-Tel a telephone service provider in the first chapter. But you can’t make much about it. The following chapters revolve around Dhruv and Anuradha’s affair and you almost forget all about Sid and his mobile. They resurface only towards the end. By that time you are huffing and puffing about the Dhruv and Anuradha’s extra-marital affair which drags for eternity. The problem with You Never Know is that it is disjointed. You feel like the beginning and end were simply inorganically connected to the middle of the novel, which consumes most of the space.

Speaking of good things, the writing is clean. The end though predictable is good one. Of course, this novel could have been much better if the aforesaid flaws were taken care of, You Never Know.

'I received a copy from Writersmelon in exchange for an honest and unbiased review.'  

Tuesday, 31 October 2017

Different Beads of the Same String - book review


Different Beads of the Same String is a collection of short stories written by Sujay Malik. These diverse stories are interesting, with human conflict at their core.

The opening story And Then She Found It Again is about Anahita, a young woman of eighteen who has failed in her CA examination. Her relationship with her mother, like any other girl of her age, is rocky. This story demonstrates how a stormy youth can be transformed for the better by offering some love and understanding.

'He,' Pluto and the Incomplete Solar System is a love story which remains incomplete inter alia because of difference in religions. In Feelijus the writer adopts a scary narration style to highlight the plight of those millions who wait for justice. This story, though disturbing is a creative genius for sure.

Pushed into a Corner is about the discrimination, particularly sexual harassment which women from the North-east face due to their distinguishable physical features. Weaved amidst communal violence the Genuine Protector is a tale with a twist. What if you fall in love with the man from the same community which has massacred your own family member and robbed you of your speech and hearing, is a question dealt in the story Converted Language.

Then and Now cites the dramatic transformation of a person who had been wronged into the justice giver. The Missing Link shows the plight of a couple whose son is missing after a devastating earthquake. The Apt Time underlines the blind faith of masses in Godmen in India and its unfortunate repercussions. The Boy Who Uttered 'That' Word exhibits the double standards which teachers adopt sometimes.

Sujay's writing is poignant and disturbing, more disturbing then poignant. He touches varied subjects and sometimes simply leaves you shaken to the core, without offering any solution. When it comes to originality and social context, I give him full marks. The stories leave an impact on you. The dialogues though are a big problem. The characters speak bookish language and that makes them sound unreal. Yet if you, like me, admire short stories, would like this book. 

Sunday, 29 October 2017

Milkman, his nephew and my old laptop

What I want to sell is a buffalo and not a laptop Mom.’
Come again.’
I said I want to sell a buffalo.... Sorry I wanted to say that what I want to sell is a laptop and not a buffalo.’
I know that’
and that is the reason why you told about it to the milkman.’

The burly milkman tore the non-existent curtains in front of my eyelids and stood there on his signature hard and sturdy black gents bicycle, adroitly balancing the two milk cans on each side. He smiled behind his flowing moustache as he watched the screen of my laptop which he had perched on the handle of his bike.

See if you want to sell, you have to speak.’
I agree, but to a milkman?’
But my mother was very firm on her stand. The following days our two maids with the same name, whom I had named as Shanta one and Shanta two, our watchman and the old aunty who took out her dog for a walk, and smiled back at my mother, knew that my old laptop was for sale. I told my friends and the laptop mechanic that my laptop was for sale. On second thoughts I felt that my mother, who didn’t possess any management degree, had succeeded in breaking into the market which I had never thought of.

Its brand new. My son, since his childhood handles his things with great care. So even after years of usage, his things appear as if we have just bought it from the market and the laptop it is super fast. These days he even buys groceries and some times vegetables too from it.’ This was my mother’s marketing pitch.

The next week the burly milkman came to our house in the afternoon.
Bhaiyaji did you forget to give us the milk in the morning?’ I asked when I opened the door for him.
Na, na babua, this is Ramesh my nephew and we have come to see the laptop.’ He said. A young man who appeared to be an abridged version of the milkman stood next to him.
I escorted them into the house. My mother joined us with a victorious smile on her face.

The young man examined the laptop. ‘I liked it.’ He said. My mother’s smile stretched all along her face. ‘Five thousand.’ He said, quoting the price for my laptop.
What?’ I said. ‘I got it for thirty five thousand.’

Then we negotiated. The prospective buyer increased the purchase price by rupees one hundred for every ten minutes and after one and half hour, during which I told him about the technical specifications of the laptop, hearing which he sounded indifferent but the milkman nodded his head in appreciation, his quote stood at six thousand.
If the laptop is so good, why are you selling it.’ Asked the milkman when there was an impasse.
That is because he has got another one from his company. What is the point in keeping two laptops in home. You cannot garland them around your necks.’ It was my mother. Now I was really appreciating her skills. It was only the milkman and my mother who laughed at the garlanding around the neck joke.

Then I used another strategy which I had learnt while studying negotiations. I offered the milkman’s nephew a set of speakers free if he purchased the laptop. But he didn’t catch the bait. His funda was simple. He wanted to buy the laptop for no more than rupees six thousand. That was the dead end to negotiations and my laptop didn’t reach the milkman’s nephew’s hands.

Finally I sold my laptop to a very dear friend, who was facing a financial crunch and was in dire need of a laptop. He being a friend, there was no any question of negotiations and I simply accepted whatever he thrust into my pocket. I wish I had known about cashify back then. You can sell your laptops, mobile phones and other gadgets on cashify. Use coupon code CLEANCASH and get additional Rs.250 on your sale. So what are you waiting for. #CleanUpCashOut