Sunday, 23 September 2012

Book Review: The Great Indian Novel by Shashi Tharoor

A chance reference on an internet conversation to this book set me on the path of writing this review. I had not intended to pen a review on this book, as it is a few years old, but when an acquaintance referred to this as a work of fiction, I was genuinely surprised. That is when I thought to do my bit for the book, and try and pen a comprehensive review on this superlative look at Indian History. For that is what it is: a book on history, laced with an even dose of current affairs. 

The Great Indian Novel is a one-of-a-kind effort; a book that defies classification. It has been written as a novel, as a work of fiction. But the real topic has  been so thinly disguised - quite deliberately - that it comes across as a work of satire, humour and history. With a little bit of current affairs thrown in. A page turner from the first page to the last, it will have you rolling on the floor in laughter, clutching your sides with its unsurpassed humour. Note - I do not mean satire; I mean humour. And when this humour comes combined with satire - a brutally blunt, straightforward satirical approach, it elevates the book into a work of art; a best-in-class item; a top-notch book  worth a read by every Indian.

The story is the story of Mother India from around 1900 AD till around 1980, from the struggle for India's Independence, going on to the early years of self-rule, the disillusionment with Nehruvianism, the response of various characters, the wars, the Indira Gandhi Years etc. All this is told indirectly, through the Mahabharat Characters who are loosely based on real characters. But the beauty is that you immediately realise who is meant to represent who. Once you identify who is supposed to represent who, it becomes very easy,  and fun. This is one book that is meant only for Indians: non-Indians would very likely not be able to make much sense out of it!

Bhishma Pitamah has been represented Gandhiji, referred to in the book as Gangaji. Dhritarashtra is based on Jawaharlal Nehru, Duryodhan - Priya Duryodhani - guess who? Obvious, isnt it? Jinnah is represented loosely by Karna; You can identify most characters pretty easily this way, accept the main 5 pandav brothers. That is the key to understanding the second half of the book. Judging from some reviews I have read, a few people have not been able to fathom it, so let me spell it out for you, or give you a hint. The 5 Pandav Brothers represent the pillars of the democracy, The Army, Media etc. 

The book is a brutal blunt and straightforward look at Indian History, and is ruthless in its criticism of British Rule and the western approach towards India, in typical Tharoor style. Sample this: Born 30th November 1874, Home Secretary at Thirty Six, First Lord of the Admiralty, An overweight, overrated, politician, A representative of the worst of British Colonialism". Winston Churchill was born on 30/11/1874! "Viscount Drewpad was the right man to give away a kingdom- tall elegantly dressed, he wore his lack of learning lightly, cultivating a casual patter that impressed anyone he spent less than five minutes with. It helped of course, that in their ruling classes the British valued height more than depth" The last viceroy was Mr Louie Mountbatten! The book is chock full of such entertaining sentences that allude to real characters - both Indian as well as British.

The second half of the book narrates the tale of the pandav brothers and their wife- Draupadi Mokrasi (read as DMokrasi - get it? ) to stand on their own 2 feet. Read carefully - you will find enough hints to figure out who is what, Not who, but what. Draupadi has been mentioned in one place as D. Mokrasi.... which is a subtle hint. The Pandavas have been clearly placed as who represents what, stay with the narrative - which builds your suspense until the author reveals who is  what. And please remember (with regard to Draupadi) that India is a Democracy.... that should be enough hints. That along with the hint that the pandavs are not persons but "whats" or institutions, and most of you will enjoy the subtle second half as well!

Mr Tharoor has been straightforward, blunt and honest in putting his views across on most issues through this book - without regard for nationality or personage, as can be seen in the examples above. While going about this task, he has managed to embed these views in a fast-paced and interesting story based on our History. The book is a page turner, alternating laughter and smiles with passages that bring a tear to your eyes and a stillness in your heart; or a wonder as to how stupid could we have been. At no point in the book are you left wondering as to what is going on. 

The flow is smooth and effortless, touching major points of our history - Jalianwala Bagh, Salt March, Subhash Chandra Bose, Riots, Independence, Kashmir, Early development years, Building the nation, India - China, The wars, The onset of Priya Duryodhani and her trysts and battles with the 5 pandavas, The emergency years and the Janta rule. No one has been spared, indictments of all involved are brutal and are bound to hurt some people - especially any Britishers who happen to read this. "The British were the only people crass enough in History to make enemies out of the Americans; that took stupidity on quite a stupendous scale"; having said that, Indians have not been spared either. "They made a strange pair, the blond patrician and the blind politician" etc. This is in classic Tharoor style, as is evident in his latest book Pax Indica, which I shall review a bit later. But coming back to this book, it takes you from the early years of the struggle onto around 1980, leaving you with a simle on your face, and just a tinge of sadness in your heart at what could have been. If you  are not aware of the precise events full details, it will add to your understanding of the past century. All in all, a must read for all Indians. 

I dont usually rate books, but this one rates 6 stars out of 5!

Saturday, 22 September 2012

India Unfettered, but....

The mornings usually have a specific ritual for all of us... a cuppa tea or coffee with the newpaper (online or print, what does it matter) to peruse... and it was during this daily ritual that I noticed an article in the Business Standard Weekend section: The Knight In Veshti. (Link Enclosed). A remarkable article that showcases just how the critical and laudable decisions were taken leading upto the opening of FDI in Retail as well as the Diesel Price Increase. A blow by blow account such as this one is not easy to come by, so savour it, and read through it thoroughly.

I say read through properly because it raises many deeper questions (not about UPA-2; this is not a political blog) but about what passes for democracy in India. In some cases, deeper and disturbing questions; since there is no clear answer in the foreseeable future in sight. I quote:

"Dinesh Trivedi, then railways minister, said he could not be party to the move as his leader, Banerjee, was opposed to it. ";

Mukherjee subsequently told the Lok Sabha that further consultations with stakeholders would follow to create a consensus.".

"Last week, in one day, the cabinet decided to open not just multi-brand retail to foreign investment but also civil aviation, power and the media. What has changed between then and now, since the stakeholders are the same and the naysayers, too, are exactly the same? The answer is that Palaniappan Chidambaram has replaced Mukherjee as the finance minister".

The General Anti Avoidance Rule was expected — but not in the way it was framed, with the taxman having virtually unfettered powers. At a pre-budget meeting with Mukherjee, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had virtually pleaded with him to drop these measures. An officer recalls that ahead of one such meeting — as they were preparing the budget speech — they were asked to suspend proceedings until Mukherjee had met Singh. Mukherjee returned to North Block after the meeting with the terse message: go ahead. Singh had tried to intercede and dilute the measures but failed.".

"This reporter had asked a bureaucrat when he came to know that FDI in retail and other measures were going through. The answer was prompt and unhesitating: “On June 24, 2012.” That was the day Mukherjee had announced he would resign as finance minister (he did so on June 26) “to embark on a new journey”: to the Rashtrapati Bhavan"

Please note that there are 2 political parties highlighted in these exchanges; this is not limited to the congress. That is why I say that this is not a political comment, but a baser question relating to our democracy.

Further, please also note how in each case the individual supercedes not only the organisation but also the decision making process and the incumbent chair. What kind of a democracy is this that does not have any genuine democratic process at its core? This is the way it has always been since before independence: you need only to study history in detail to arrive at this inescapable conclusion.

How has it transpired that a finance minister is more important than the prime minister? How is it that the wishes of one leader - outside the government - checkmates all policy-making? This is not about right or wrong; it is possible that the leader was right in doing so. The point is the absence of genuine democracy in the parties; where one man's will prevails to such an extent that it paralyses decision-making. A situation where decisions are made by one central leader; a situation where you can walk out and create your own party if you dont agree; A situation where there is no clear public face of a party and anyone can speak his opinions... Are all parties the same? I will definitely try to decipher this parameter before casting my vote the next time. If I can find a party with a genuine democratic system... a big IF!

If you observe around you, this is clearly seen as a basic behaviour in India, where the wishes of one person prevail to an inordinate degree. It is considered bad to ask questions or challenge the leader. To be sure, it has some grounding in our culture which does not encourage questioning elders. Further, in a diverse country such as ours, perhaps this is the best way as it ensures that no one set of people enjoys total will over others - a way to balance as it were. But at some point we Indians need to ask ourselves if being silent is always good? Why cant we evolve ourselves such that we consider it ok to ask questions, and not taken to be a rabble-rouser? 

Democracy is a form of government in which all eligible citizens have an equal say in the decisions that affect their lives. Democracy allows people to participate equally—either directly or through elected representatives—in the proposal, development, and creation of laws. It encompasses social, economic and cultural conditions that enable the free and equal practice of political self-determination....

Can anyone tell me where the "equal say" is here? What democracy are we talking about? Does democracy mean that it extends only to the election of people, and not to the electoral parties? Ok, fine... nothing has been done about corruption. But what about basics? It is high time that you and I - the normal citizen - turned out to vote; and make our vote count for change. Our voting percentages are abysmal! Problem is, I cannot see anyone who deserves my vote... there is but one ray of hope - Arvind Kejriwal. But even that is slowly diminishing. I hope I am wrong, because we need change.

Perhaps the time has come to vote as per Section 49-O: Since the ballot paper / Electronic voting machine (EVM) contains only the list of candidates, a voter cannot record his vote under Section 49-O directly. He must inform the presiding officer at the election booth. This violates the secrecy of the ballot. However, with paper ballot a different method is used to "waste" one's vote, which is stamping on multiple candidates. In fact this was the standard method of giving null votes without violating secrecy before the advent of the EVM. At present, in an election, a winner will be declared irrespective of the number of 'non-votes'. However, a note of every 'non-vote' will be made with the Election Officer, and the total number of non-voters will, presumably, be available under the Right to Information Act.

But that would still leave our basic habits in place... to which not only do I not have an idea what to do; I do not even have an idea as to why we do it! Why

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Book Review: Fractured Legend

Fractured Legend is a tale of 3 women, three interconnected tortured souls and their journey through a difficult part of their life. One of the protagonists is a temple slave, one a professional assassin and the third is the daughter of one of the above 2. The slave, (presumably) very early in her experience, decides to leave the drudgery of her life and escape to create something of worth. The second is the professional assassin, whose assignment is to retrieve a manuscript for which a murder has been committed.  A mother herself, she tries to escape the clutches of her reality. The third is the daughter of one of these 2, who grows up hating her mother for what she was, and her internal torment. Her internal strife due to this pressure builds up over time, spills over into her adulthood, threatening her current reality… what is the connection between these three? How are they intertwined? For that, you would have to read the book. 

The premise stated above is a very, very promising one. It has the potential to be built up into a substantial, moving, gut-wrenching gripping emotional story that catches you by the gut and wrings you dry. That is the expectation I had when I picked this book to review. While the story is true to the promise- it leaves you with a feeling that you have been wrung out, it gives a sad melancholy feeling – but sadly, it fails to touch your heart and create a bonding between you and the characters involved. Throughout, it remains just that: a story, and never goes beyond that. 

The problem in the book is at several levels. But first, the good points. First off, the plot is promising and emotional. Second - the story –such as it is – holds considerable promise. Third, the author’s attention to detail has got to be commended. His descriptive grasp of each situation as well as his imagination is quite remarkable. I, for one, have no doubts that with a little evolution in writing style, this same author will reach heights, since he has imagination, and a flair to put himself in other people’s shoes. This imagination means that the image of each scene is vividly created in the readers’ mind.  This is not a common quality by any means. 

The problems, as I noted above, are at several levels . First off,  expectations. The expectation you have upon reading the back-cover is one of a book of a taut narrative, an emotional thriller with a human background, a book  that dwells both upon thrills as well as emotions. Unfortunately, nothing could be farther from the truth. To deal with this problem, the publisher needs to change the description on the back cover so as to attract the right clientele for this book.

Second, the characterization is non-existent. You are just unable to relate to principal characters, or imagine or realize their personality traits or physical characteristics. These descriptions, if they are present, get lost in the narrative somewhere. This inability to visualize the character you are reading about means that you are just unable to bond and connect with  the book as a reader. For, the story is an excruciatingly slow one. In such a plot, the basic need is that the characters should be painted with bold colours and strength, clearly defined, which binds the reader.  This binding factor is sorely missing.

Third, the writing style is way too descriptive. A credible attempt has been made at creating a vivid image in the readers mind., as I noted above. However, these descriptions should add to the story, take the story forward. In this book, in my opinion, these descriptions come across as unnecessary, and do not add to the story. After a couple of such paragraphs you realize that you can safely skip these descriptions, and still carry on with the story.  After a time, it becomes a little too much. All in all, this book could have been cut into a short story of   70-90 pages as opposed to 180, and still not lose anything. If anything, this will make the story into an incredibly powerful one. 

Fourth, the penchant of the author to write a paragraph in the present, followed by a paragraph in the past. At times, even within the same paragraph you get this vacillation. This hampers your understanding of the story. In fact, it becomes quite jarring with each passing page doing the same thing. The whole story seems in consonance with the title: fractured. This contributes in a major towards hampering your connect with the plot.

All in all, I rate this book 2 stars out of 10. I am not saying this is a bad book; I am not the target audience for this book….  The problem for me was not in the story, which was an excellent premise. The story was logical, well-thought-out – no issues there. I was just unable to connect with the characters in the book due to the excessive detail… 

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

Sunday, 9 September 2012

Book Review: Churchill's Secret War

The Holocaust  was the genocide of approximately six million European Jews during World War II, a programme of systematic state-sponsored murder by Nazi Germany, led by Adolf Hitler, throughout Nazi-occupied territory

We - the people of India, thanks largely to our media and our history books are well aware of this particular bit of unsavoury history of the 1930s and 1940s. We are told that this was an act unparalleled in documented history, and was carried out by Adolf Hitler. That just goes to show how ludicrously poor our knowledge of history - specifically our own history is. The Year: Circa 1942-1943. The Venue of the display of generosity and humanity that lead to the Indian version of the holocaust: Bengal. The Villain? As per the superb research conducted by Madhushree Mukherjee, A certain World War 2 hero known by the name of Winston Churchill, in addition to the entire British Raj. The result? A small matter of an approximated 5.4 Million Indians dead. Small change, really. Peanuts, as compared to 6 Million Europeans.... The sequence of events lead to a British Civil Servant to comment: "Naturally I lost patience and couldnt help telling him that I could not see much difference between his outlook and Hitlers'..." - Leopold Amery to Winston Churchill. Having read the book, neither can I. He continued in his Diary: "The dangers arising from his lack of judgement and knowledge in many respects and his sheer lack of sanity over India make him increasingly dangerous"

Words fail me... I consider myself unequal to the task of reviewing this particular book. The moment I take it up, tears well up my eyes and rage fills my heart... it is all I can do to remind myself that there are current, more pressing problems to attend to in life; that the past is best left in the past. But that does not mean that we remain ignorant of the price we have paid for our colonial heritage, and the degradation that we were subjected to, as well as the realities and sacrifices of that era...

The book is more of a historical investigation. It is buttressed with copious amounts of references that you can use - if you have the time and the resources- to cross check the material. It is exhaustive in its breadth and depth, and is tellingly impersonal in its narrative. Her calmly phrased but searing approach towards this  imperial brutality comes across  as gut-wrenching and damning because of the impartial and fact-based narrative. This makes the book even more effective, since the absence of anger or angst means that there is no outlet for the readers' emotions... page after impartial page builds up without any remorse, or value judgements This ends up leaving you, as a reader, free to experience the horror of the narrative in full...

The book traces the roots of the British Raj in India right from its genesis till the beginning of the Second World War in a short but effective prologue. The prologue sets the tone of the thesis that follows, with its precisely researched figures. I can vouch that the figures are readily available, since I subsequently read An Economic History Of India By Romesh C Dutt (written in the early 20th century. Another telling account, but that is another story). It chronicles the systematic rape of the Indian Nation, and enables you to understand how the richest nation in the entire history of Planet Earth came into its current status. It buttresses its arguments with specific examples and figures of looting, tax - revenue (same thing as loot for british India to my mind), governing horrors et al. It enables you to get a specific handle on what it means to   be ruled by a brutal and inhuman set of swines. But most importantly, this is the first authoritative source that states and gives credence to my personal belief - the World War was fought as a direct result of Indian occupation by the British; In my opinion, it was the price the west had to pay for the Rape of Greater India, Burma, Ceylon, Africa etc...

The book focusses on the Bengal Famine of 1942 - 1943, and examines in detail its causes. A word of caution here: you will come across some accounts from reviewers (most of them westerners, not unsurprisingly) which state that Amartya Sen has given a different reason for the Bengal famine. Well, he hasnt. Mr Sen's theory is well covered, and the author agrees with its supposition of stock-holding and profiteering. She just goes far, far deeper into the quagmire and pulls out the real causes, the events that lead to stock pile-up of food, the run-up to the famine -  the drought, the total absence to relief efforts, and most tellingly the continued exploitation of the people. The author has connected all the dots, and there is no discernible gap left. She also attends to the question of the food profiteering, and why it was not the core reason as well as  why it could have been avoided. Furthermore, she also proves the shortage of food stocks.  

The facts will make your stomach turn, especially at british hypocrisy. Scorched Earth policy was employed by the Nazis they say. Wrong! Scorched Earth policy was implemented by the "gentle" "civilized" "human" British in Bengal, Assam and much of East India. The horrifying impact of this has to be read to be understood! Fact 2: food was continuously sent to Europe to feed the newly-liberated European lands, to build a stockpile for the Invasion, and to buttress British food stocks. This was done even when there was no need for such heavy stockpiling. This was done even as Indians were dying by the millions... if anyone stock-piled food during the famine, it was the British. Food was deliberately not sent to India, or retained in India  just so the British could be well-fed. In the same Bengal, the British were eating 5-course meals! The book proves that the British were holding stocks of food that were far in excess of what they required. Thus, they not only caused the problem, they also exacerbated it. 

The book is full of heart-rending real stories that will, quite literally, make you cry. Stories of people just dying on the streets, corpses lining the streets of cities, stories of planned and systematic gang-rapes of women - entire villages of women, stories of starvation, stories of women selling themselves, stories of mothers selling their children, stories of women being kidnapped and gang-raped every night, stories of people walking long distances just for a bowl of rice soup, stories of the crying of children.... and the stories of corpses.... corpses everywhere, on the roads, in the fields.... and how the authorities did precisely nothing!

The book also enable you to understand the general atmosphere of animosity and outright hostility that existed in India. You get an impression of a land seething with rage and unbridled anger. The steady and systematic breakdown of the imperial edifice has been brought out very well, as is the increasing dissatisfaction in the Indian Army, which was, by 1945 - 1946, almost  beyond imperial control. The steady stream of letters, meetings and implorings for food from both Indian and British Civil Servants give you an idea of the steady breakdown of imperialism, as even some of the more decent britishers realised the immoral situation they were in.

It details the cover-up of facts during and after the famine, its examines the eye-wash of the famine commission. It quotes former civil servants in British India, and uses their experiences. It quotes the surviving victims and it bases everything on fact. it chronicles the struggle of the few western people who were fighting the system and trying to procure food, and this gives us a ringside view of the situation as it unfolds,. All in all, an awesome investigation...

It also states wonderingly, that despite people dying like flies, there were no food riots. People chose to die rather than become thieves.... it shows the strength of our culture, of our value-systems. You are left in tears as you read that people died in front of food godowns, homes and shops -  without resorting to violence, May they rest in peace... May God Bless All Those Who Suffered With Moksha is all I can say.  In closing, I would also like to give a ray of hope... the book also gives a few stories of children who starved - nearly to death-  but survived, studied... and overcome all this to become successful! It chronicles the sacrifices made by families to keep alive... Life goes on, life has to go on.... Whoever you are, wherever you are: I wish you all the happiness you can get....

Saturday, 8 September 2012

HP Bloggers Meet At Mumbai

By hook or by crook, I am the first in the contest!
PS: Team Blogadda, kindly DONT correct me in case I am wrong! 

Now, where were we? Aah, yes. The HP meet

All three of us were invited to the HP meeting held at Fat Cat, Andheri-west organised by HP. Who's the 3, you say? I, Me and Myself of course. Come on! And it was a good thing indeed that all of us - meaning I, Me and Myself were present... had only I attended, leaving Me and Myself in the office attending to business, a good event would have been missed.... in which event, the meeting would have been attended, but not attended....

But more of that later. First a word for the sponsors... I dont like commercial breaks; they interrupt the flow of the story, you see. That, and the fear that by the end of this rather monotonous monologue (tongue-twister, there: monotonous monologue) all of you will be so bored that no one would read about the poor sponsor! (Note my honesty: and remember my intro, Harish. I said I was a transparent and honest character). It was a blogger meeting organised by HP Printers Division, focussing on the range of their latest printer series... the HP Print Advantage - which brings me to the first takeaway for me from the meeting

Takeaway No 1: 
The latest technological developments in printing technology, affordability and simplicity of use are truly amazing: printing @ 0.75 per page, 500-something per cartridge, wireless printing. And at a starting price of 5799 MRP, not a bad deal indeed. Nowadays if you dont keep touch for even a few months (like me), you wont know where the market is heading! Great Experience! And a sobering thought: technology is moving fast... all of us have to keep abreast of the latest in the field... or end up getting surprised! One has to constantly upgrade... 

Takeaway No 2:
This is the main point I have to make about HP Printers; its low-key launch is the second - third if you include The Taj Conspiracy - launch that has opted to move away from mainstream media at least initially; Nokia Asha Series, HP Ink Advantage and Manreet Sodhi Someshwar (Taj Conspiracy) all opted for a low-key business launch, with a subsequent ramp-up. I had a word with the HP category head, who confirmed that brand is doing well despite its low-key approach. For me, as a marketer and avid follower of marketing developments, this is a lesson in Marketing. Do not go after the obvious. Second, ramp-up is easier when you have a base; as both HP and Nokia have taught me...

Takeaway No 3:
KISS. (I am most certainly NOT being naughty, mind you). Keep-It-Simple-Stupid. This was a point raised by yours truly - although in a somewhat different context, but admirably followed-up by one of the bloggers present. Long sentences, Long words, compound sentences should be avoided was the sage advice of the person. Simple words, short sentences (say, 15 words to a sentence, avoid the use of "And" etc ) should be preferred; people should not want to consult a dictionary. It caused me to pause a moment, stop in contemplation of my penchant for long words.... (Yup. QED.... "contemplation", "Penchant" when  thought and habit would have been just as good)

You can imagine my non-insubstantial trepidation (!), as I allowed my so-called mind to go gallivanting (!!) into the foggy environs (!!!) of my memories, recalling such lovely words that I have perchance (!!!!) had occasion to use; words like perchance, penchant, not-insubstantial, trepidation, environ, gallivanting, contemplation, pusillanimous... giving birth to a new resolve to ensure forthwith that here onwards I would keep to simple easy daily use words... (see? short sentence; very short in fact. No "And" here! And a further No - I have not used Pusillanimous in this post. Tricked you!)

 A big learning for me. Me, I am a fast learner-  current blog post is proof positive of that fact. Reminded me of sentence I once wrote: 

"Me, I had adjusted to this daily rigorous exercise with spoon, cup and milk powder with an unfailing regularity every 7 a.m., which would be the harbinger of the day to follow -  which was not necessarily a bad thing, as on the plus side, it gave me a damn good workout enabling this competitor to state with complete assurance that their milk powder is decidedly healthier than Nestle, allowing as it does the development of the musculature – male and female alike – of its faithful consumers, giving them a ruddy strong left / right arm, depending upon their dexterity."

I wont do THAT again. See? Short sentences in this blog post! What did you say? 92 words in one sentence? Where????

Jokes apart, that was a good bit of advice, at least for me. Thanks, Blogadda - and whoever made that point! This experience will enable me to become a better writer, not just a better blogger. As someone else stated, it is not about impressing the audience, but getting your viewpoint across. Such meets should be held more often, as they are great learning grounds...

Takeaway No 4:
The main point - and here I am not joking even in the presentation - was raised by an HR person present in the room. A blogger himself, he made a simple observation: even if we can convert 1 person through our writings on various issues, then it is a positive contribution. Excellent words, sir! Well Said! It also tends to bear out point no 3 above - the power of the short but correct sentence. 
Indeed, why should I get depressed that some of my posts on corruption, social change are not read by too many people? If even 1 person can get influenced, who knows? 1 added to 1 a hundred times gives a century! Besides, there is also the added advantage that in doing so, you also tend to recognise where you yourself are going wrong. 

Takeaway No 5:
BLOGGERS HOLD A RESPONSIBILITY TO THE SOCIETY AT LARGE, AND THE READERS TO BE HONEST, TRUTHFUL. Words of the same person.... I dont think any explanation or clarification is needed in this one....

There were many, many takeaways from the get-together; others will doubtless write much better lines, more inclusive feedback; but to me, the above are the most important points that stuck to me. All in all, it was a great evening. It was great to get together with some like-minded people, share views, learn from them, contribute something. At least I have come away with a value addition. Thanks, Blogadda: and I am writing this post from my heart, not just for the contest. 

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Book Review: Love, Peace and Happiness

Author : Rituraj Verma

Rituraj Verma, born 28th June, 1967, 
 grew up in Delhi and Mumbai and cleared the IIT-JEE in 1984, in which year, he was also selected as a Special Class Railway Apprentice by the Indian Railways. He was the editor of his college magazine, SAM, when he first started writing the book’s first story ‘A High Like Heaven’ almost twenty three years ago.

He later obtained his MBA from Tulane University in New Orleans, Louisiana, USA , and went on to work for several years in the corporate world before striking out on his own 


This is a book that is quite possible one of the most difficult to review, as it is not a story; nor is it prose; and neither is it a collection of short stories! First, it is a genre unto itself - one pioneered by Tamasha In Bandargaon with its interconnected short stories. Second, unlike its predecessor in this genre, it is not a set of stories; it is more like a collection of experiences. You cannot read this book - it has to be experienced and its message understood. Whereas "Tamasha...." is crystal clear, this book is more of a discovery... but more of that later

Love, Peace and Happiness is a book that focusses on the hunt of its characters (whom I shall not introduce; that would be a spoiler) for the equilibrium in their lives. Here you will find normal people, some of whose feelings and emotions every married man or woman can identify with. Almost every character portrayed in the story will trigger your memory and remind you of someone you have known or interacted with. The character portrayals are startlingly accurate; the mannerisms and personality traits of the archetypical role in our society have been breathtakingly captured. The book is worth a read for this alone; you have to marvel at the author's grasp, understanding and observation of life. 

The characterisation is strong, with bold lines and highlighted traits. The characters are amazingly well-etched and realistic. The jealous man whose wife earns more than him; or the elder sister who sacrifices everything for her family... all have been superbly outlined in the book. Their habits, traits are along the lines what we can observe and have observed in our society. We have ourselves encountered many types and examples in daily life; perhaps some of you even in your own life. You will like as not find at least some take-away from this book on either an emotional or an experiential plane. And that is another reason to read it! 

It is not light reading; far from it. It is heavy reading; but dont reject it because of that. The stories are short, and can be easily finished in a few minutes, or on journeys. The stories will leave a lump in your throat at some places, or leave you shaking your head at the crass immorality on display, or leave you in a state of wonder at the stupidity of a character, or provoke a feeling of utter disgust at the infidelity... but they will not leave you untouched. That is certain : the book will touch you in places and corners of your heart... and if you are lucky, the book will also remind you of some good thing, or some valuable relationship that you treasure.... 

The biggest takeaways from the book are on 2 planes: first the personal level. Most readers will find some personal learning where they could have reacted better in a relationship, since the human mind, especially under slight stress, tends to equate the imaginary with the real. You may not be an amoral person, a criminal against society who cheats on his wife - but you will still be touched in some place since the book deals with everyday situations. This is a book that focusses on relationships and the delicate interplay between 2 people, and that is what makes it so powerful. 

Secondly, this book teaches us a lesson on a broader societal scale: the dangers of slipping too far from our values. The inherent pitfalls in a western-style of relationship (Live ins etc) have been brutally exposed. Equally, the dangers of a disturbed marriage as well as benefits of a stable married relationship have been well portrayed. This second is of course dependent on your personal viewpoint; but to people of my type, this is an advertisement of why to stick to our Indian Values. 

The target for this book is every married man and woman - let us say ages between 25 - 45. This group will find it the easiest to relate to the powerful content of the book. Let me reiterate: this is not light reading. It is a journey into the land of relationships, into the hunt for Love, Peace and Happiness...