Category Archives: Indian Authors

Book Review : Murder with Bengali Characteristics by Shovon Chowdhury

Shovon Chowdhury’s Murder with Bengali Characteristics is a sequel to his book The Competent Authority (Book Review | Author Interview). Although a sequel to the book, it is a stand alone novel. While The Competent Authority was a purely satirical novel, Murder with Bengali Characteristics is part sci-fi, part satirical and part crime fiction.

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Image Source

When I picked up this book, Murder with Bengali Characteristics by Shovon Chowdhury, I was fascinated beyond belief with the title. It’s a very well thought out, attractive title, much like the book itself. It invites a reader to be curious about the content of the book.

The book focuses on Bengal in the year 2035, when it’s no more a part of India and is in fact a Chinese protectorate. The plot revolves around a certain inspector Li who is investigating the murder of a teacher, suspected to have been carried out by the New Thug Society, an organization which has resolved to liberate Bengal. Also involved are two businessmen Verma and Agarwal trying to save their business which wouldn’t benefit if the Indians and the Chinese weren’t on good terms. Along with other intriguing characters like Sexy Chen, Big Chen, Governor Wen, Propagandist Wang and General Zhou, the book has an interesting premise. But the best thing about the book was the author’s extremely witty humour; the kind which deserves great respect.

I felt the book was ferociously inventive. There were no limits to the imagination of the author, which should always be the case when one attempts to write fiction. The talking, flying car was kind of cool but the talking magazines were highly amusing.

But apart from all of this, the book lacked the one ingredient necessary for all kinds of books- Grip. The entire journey through the book felt like I was dragging a heavy bag across the floor while ostensibly laughing about it. The crime fiction genre of the story was unfortunately unsuccessful to sell itself. The book isn’t a page turner, no matter how funny it is.

The book lacks a compelling story although you can still experience Shovon Chowdhury’s satirical brilliance in the book. He still makes fun of our famously twisted political ethos, in his typical style. However, one can’t help but compare it to The Competent Authority which introduced us to his sardonic humour and in that case, Murder with Bengali Characteristics seems a let down when you have experienced once, what a writer like Shovon Chowdury is capable of.

Guest Review by Sherry Verma (Instagram | GoodReads | WordPress), with inputs from the administrator.

About the book: Murder with Bengali Characteristics | Shovon Chowdhury | Aleph Book Company | Fiction | 204 pages

 

Note: This book, Murder with Bengali Characteristics by Shovon Chowdhury, was provided for free, by the kind people at Aleph Book Company.

Book Review: Marriage Material by Sathnam Sanghera

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Book Cover

In the beginning, I had absolutely no idea what this book was supposed to be about. By the end of it, the purpose wasn’t clear as crystal, but I did have a slight idea as to what the aim of the book was.

The plot of Marriage Material by Sathnam Sanghera seems heavily based on Arnold Bennett’s The Old Wives’ Tale. It revolves around a certain supermarket, called Bains Stores, located in Wolverhampton and the family running it, taking us through two different decades. It was a bit confusing in the beginning, trying to connect the dots, shifting from the 1960’s to the 2010’s but after a few chapters, the reader gets used to it. Now, while this addition is rather intriguing, I found it a little hard to get into the book.

A lot of things in the book are stereotyped – Girls, Punjabis, Muslims, The British, etc. Basically, there might come a point where it might turn you off. Although some stereotypes literally went over my head, the book definitely did present me with staccato bursts of laughter; I laughed out real loud on a few parts. There was one quote that I liked in particular, enough to write it down – “Families are the last people who should be entrusted with the task of finding you a spouse, given that they are incapable of appreciating that you may have changed since the age of twelve.”

The content of the book reflected the extensive research done by the author, with him scouring through the archives of Wolverhampton, mentioned in the Acknowledgements section, which is commendable.  I didn’t learn anything significant from the book, but the sarcastic tone used for the present day storytelling and the ambitious, independent one used for the 1960s’ was what helped me survive the book. The ending felt rather disconnected, providing us with a suspense which didn’t really hit me hard because of the lack of an element of mystery in the entire book.
The characters I believe were realistic but not entirely likeable. Except for the character of Surinder, which saw a lot of improvement over the years, being present in both the decades the story focuses on.

Guest Review by Sherry Verma (Instagram | GoodReads | WordPress )

Sherry is a self proclaimed quintessential nomadic bookworm. She reads anything and everything and does not restrict herself to specific genres or authors. She loves how words have the ability to tell tales beautifully and is practitioner of the same. Currently, a Journalism and Mass Communication student, Sherry will be visible on this website frequently.

Note: The book, Marriage Material by Sathnam Sanghera, was provided for free by the kind people at Random House India.

If you want to review for this website, please get in touch with me at booksandalotmore@gmail.com.

Book Review: Asura Tale of the Vanquished by Anand Neelakantan

I miss MICA. Yes, I do. It’s not like it was Utopia (In some ways, though, it probably was, compared to real life). People living together in a campus means that there are bound to be the usual jealousies, back stabbings and the constant need to hide your insecurities by pretending to be someone you are not. It’s like an entire zoo of human emotions, in perfect biological balance. Just like society all over.

However, there are lots of things that I thank MICA for. Apart from the friends that I made (the ones of course who stayed till the end) and the great time I had, there are some things that you take away from MICA for which you’d always be in debt. One of them is the conditioning that an institution like MICA provides. The wide range of events happening on campus has something to offer to everyone (if you were intelligent enough to take advantage).

I first heard Anand Neelakantan speak at Reverie, the annual Literature festival hosted by the Literary Committee of MICA in early 2013. He shared the stage with Mallika Sarabhai, for a talk on ‘Mythology through the lens of art forms : Dance & Literature’, which revolved largely around the portrayal of women and the demonization of everything non-brahmin in our religious texts. Here’s a video of the same.

That is how I came to know about Anand Neelakantan’s book ‘Asura : The Tale of the Vanquished’. It was only later that I got a review copy and read the book, co incidentally finishing the book around Dusshera, this year. I was going to write about it on Dusshera, the day being perfect for writing a review of a book on Ravana. But one thing led to another and things in my life (or rather in my mind) became a little chaotic which led to inactivity on this website. But let’s not get into that. By the time  I write this review, Anand Neelakantan’s second book ‘Ajaya’ has already released (Check out the book on Flipkart | Amazon| GoodReads). But then, better late than never!

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Book Cover (Image Source: GoodReads)

Asura Tale of the Vanquished is a story of the Ramayana from Ravana’s perspective. As part of readings for a class on ‘Imagining India’ at MICA, I read this essay by A K Ramanujan, titled ‘Three Hundred Ramayanas’ (Yes, it’s the same essay which was scuttled out of the DU syllabus).  No doubt, Anand Neelkantan draws influences from all the different folk versions that exist, of the Ramayana.

The book is written from the point of view of Ravana, alternating in between with a narrative from the perspective of Bhadra, a fictional character who is an untouchable. Bhadra stands for the marginalized common man, filled with all the classic positive and negative qualities embodied by man.

Anand Neelkantan writes an interesting story, in the sense that it portrays Rama as essentially a weak person full of failings, in his bid to be a God while Ravana, even when he is  defeated in the end, somehow emerges as the better person. You end up identifying more with Ravana with all his negative human passions than Rama, an unfair god who society forces you to emulate. Essentially, it brings to light how ‘Sanskritised’ everything is in our religious literature, and how we look for justifications, when we encounter problemmatic episodes (most of them which deal with the caste system and the portrayal of women) in them.

When it comes to the language and writing in general, it is decent enough and certainly not to be regarded as anything more than that. But you should treat Asura as an alternate narrative to that existing in the space of popular literature on mythology and read it for precisely the same reason.

About the book: Asura: The Tale of the Vanquished | Anand Neelakantan | Leadstart Publishing | Fiction | 504 pages | Rs. 250.

Note: A copy of this book was provided by the kind people at Leadstart Publishing, for review.

Some ‘bites’ from Manish Gupta, author of English Bites

English was always my favorite subject in school. Whenever the text books would be bought for the new school year, I would pick up the English textbook and finish reading it in two hours. And the rest of the year would pass, along with examinations, without me ever studying a word of it. I was always so in love with the subject that I never studied for an English Exam and still managed to get good scores, much to the envy of some of my friends who aced through all the Math and Science papers but struggled with English.

My copy of Word Power Made Easy  gathers dust somewhere. I bought it in college, the book having been recommended as practice material for my preparation for the Common Admission Test (CAT). I never used it much but I remember a friend who borrowed and sincerely worked on it every day. Now, I have never really ‘learnt’ the English language. Mostly due to my love for reading books, I know when a sentence just doesn’t ‘sound’ right. And I managed to get a 99 percentile in  the English Section in CAT and getting through a good B-school (if you can call MICA one). But I still can’t distinguish between a Present Perfect and Past Participle.

I have always found most of the books on Sentence Correction and English improvement quite boring. Being made to ‘learn’ something is always tedious. However, English Bites: My Full Proof Learning Formula, authored by Manish Gupta and published by Penguin India last year, seems to be different from the other books in the genre.

Till recently, Manish Gupta used to work as a Managing Director and Head of Sales for Treasury  & Trade Solutions division of a major multinational bank in India. After the release of his book, English Bites, he has now decided to take a plunge in the field of education, training, consulting, and executive coaching and will shortly start working with an organization that works for the underprivileged children at the school level.

For the readers of this website, here is a chat I had with Manish Gupta!

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Manish Gupta, author of English Bites: My Full Proof Learning Formula

I ask him, ‘Have you always loved the English language?’

He replies, “To answer this question, we need to get a little bit into my background. I grew up in Rohtak, a small and sleepy town in Haryana in the 1970s and 80s. The only English I spoke was in school and that too to respond to questions of my teachers in the class. I looked down at English as an alien tongue merely suited to the narrow field of academia and with no particular use once someone got into the real economy.

As a result, I was horrible in all aspects of communication. My active vocabulary was extremely limited, pronunciations & spellings were terrible (as I refused to accept English as a non-phonetic language that it largely is), sentence construction was poor, and my fluency was severely compromised.”

I am curious what made him write this book then and he says, “It started with the thought of improving my English in Class XI after facing acute embarrassment in front of my third and final crush (and her family) when I could not speak even one correct sentence of English with a foreigner we met during a family vacation (and she did).

This thought took a serious turn once I landed-up at Punjab Engineering College in Chandigarh and came face-to-face with far more fluent and erudite specimens from convent schools from metros and towns much bigger than my hometown. I also noticed how I used to get tongue-tied while attempting to make a small conversation in English with or even in front of the convent educated colleagues and that hurt…really badly.

This thought was further strengthened when I realized to my horror that English had long outgrown the narrow confines of academia and become extremely relevant and in fact an absolute necessity in the real economy. So much so, that I would need to face group discussions and interviews where my proficiency in this language will be put to the real test to get into one of the best engineering jobs offered on campus.

Having lived all my school life in disdain for this alien tongue, the grossly neglected subject of English made me realize its importance, its vastness, its complexity, and my far less than self proclaimed ‘photographic memory’ all at once. I needed something quick and in large doses to beat the convent educated types in their own game and seal the best job offered in the campus in my name and after gaining some industry experience, successfully compete with them once again for admission into a top-tier MBA program.

Hence, I set aside the word lists, my failed attempts at mugging, and started creating interesting stories and anecdotes to make indelible imprints of this foreign language in my mind. This was the genesis of the book. It took a lot of research and creativity, but it was a matter of survivability. It was the only thing that could have rescued me from definite depression and elevated me to think and speak like an erudite gentleman.”

I ask him to tell us more about his book.

“English Bites is the story of my life. It begins when I am in high school and much of the damage to my understanding and grip over the English language has already been done. It ends when, even after spending 20 years as a devoted student of the English language, and having achieved my goals of getting into engineering, securing one of the best jobs engineering has to offer, getting into a top-tier MBA program, a medico wife, kids attending convent school, and a reasonably senior position in a multinational bank, I am stumped by new discoveries every other day. So much so that I find some unfamiliar English words in the nursery rhymes of my kids. My extended student life as far as English language is concerned continues and it’s an exciting journey. Come, join the fun.’

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Book Cover and Back

The reviews of the book say good things about the book. The book is a crazy mix of facts, fiction, and real-life. It is full of amusing incidents, anecdotes, jokes, and a lot of interesting trivia.

I gather the book must not have been easy to write. I ask him and he says, ‘You may find it hard to believe but this manuscript was in the making for over 20 years and this has influenced a lot of content in the book. It started as an idea in my second year of engineering way back in 1989-1990 when two of my closest friends and I resolved to publish a book each before we turned 21. I thought I had written a masterpiece by the time our final placements ended (spoiling my grades in the process) and was still a few months shy of turning 21. My other friends, who were writing on ‘quizzing’ and ‘poetry’, had pulled out of this pledge while they were still in their teens.

My manuscript then hibernated for 20 years as I got busy with my first job at Tata Motors, an MBA from XLRI Jamshedpur, my banking career at a major multinational bank, and family life. Fortunately, the handwritten version (‘manuscript’ in the real sense of the word) had survived well on loose sheets of paper, which I promptly transferred on my PC and started editing and expanding it at the same time. By the time I finished in 4 years (working on weekends), I had landed up re-writing the entire book.

When it came to publishing, I realized that there has been an explosion of books in the Indian market in the past 3-4 years. Thus, a freshly minted author had little or no chance to get his manuscript a fair evaluation with the top publication house, unless the manuscript was, in their assessment, a masterpiece and/or immensely suitable as a script of a block-buster movie. I did send it to a few publication houses directly and their lack of responses despite passionate follow-ups told me it didn’t fit either of these two categories.

Fearing I will exhaust all the top names though this route, I sought the expert intervention of a literary agent. He critically assessed the quality and marketability of the manuscript before submitting it to the select set of publishers that are interested in publishing this genre of books. It took less than 4 months after submission of the manuscript to the literary agent for me to sign a publishing contract with Penguin Books India.

Thereafter, life became hectic as I had to incorporate the extremely valid suggestions of my commissioning editor Shahnaz Siganporia, who made me connect my disparate chapters on different subjects into a single story that started from page 1 and ended at page 334. Then the copy editors Mudita Mubayi-Chauhan and Paromita Mohanchandra took over and made me relearn the rules of grammar and punctuation.  Finally, after 9 months of hard labor, the book came to life.

I ask him to tell me of interesting anecdotes of things that happened while writing this book.

“The book is peppered with some of my real life experiences which were either hilarious or embarrassing or both. However, let me share with you something that I had a lot fun creating. I was battling with the word ‘bedraggled’ and knew that it had the structure and the tonal quality that demanded a good mnemonic. Not only did I succeed in making one but it took in its fold some other difficult words (highlighted in the text). The final plot compelled the reader to sharpen his or her knowledge of these words before getting to bedraggle – The meanings of the highlighted words were given as footnotes for the reader’s convenience. Here it goes:

“While sharing a cozy corner with her current heartthrob, Sarah suddenly held John’s hand and looking up, announced: ‘The firmament is azure, let’s go to the shore.’ At first, he was not sure what she was suggesting. And just as they reached the destination, the firmament began to roar, and they were caught in a downpour. While running to find some shelter, she suddenly stopped him and looking into his eyes, said, ‘Let’s get bedraggled.’

Poor John was unable to decide if it really was a flirtatious overture (courtesy the ‘bed’ in bedraggled) or if she meant something else. By a mischance, he decided to go with his initial hunch, and the stinging slap he received, ensured that for the rest of his life he would remember that to get bedraggled is to get drenched in water.”

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From the book ‘English Bites’

I ask him next about his future plans.

“I guess when you write a book, you give it your all. My stock of ideas is now empty but it doesn’t mean that I will not write another book. Book sales and readers’ feedback and appreciation are extremely strong motivators in rapidly refilling one’s reservoir and giving new ideas and different perspectives to make more meaningful and interesting books. However, I would like to stick to writing in a similar genre (laugh as you learn) I feel strongly about and need to put in my bit to make sure that that language does not become a handicap for anyone to realize their ambitions and dreams! 

In my personal life, I now live by the principle of learning one new skill every year (pity, I understood and adopted this only a few years ago) and have dabbled in adventure sports (like skiing, paragliding, bungee jumping) and getting off the beaten track while travelling. I plan to hone my moderate skills in singing, gardening, and cooking next. I also like to delve into human psychology and waiting for the day when someone will actually pay me for my wise counsel.”

That’s all from Manish Gupta, author of ‘English Bites’!

You can check out reviews on Goodreads | Flipkart | Amazon India for more information about the book.

Book Review: Hitched – The Modern Woman and Arranged Marriage by Nandini Krishnan

The question of marriage hovers threateningly over every woman in India, as much as she may want to avoid it. Every single person in our society thinks it is their duty to make sure every single girl gets married (either that or sympathize with the parents of an unmarried girl). With more girls stepping out of homes and giving equal priority to a career and family life, it gets increasingly difficult to find a suitable boy. Hitched : The Modern Woman and Arrange Marriage is a collection of stories about real life women (and some men) and how they have maneuvered the difficult lanes of arranged marriage. It is also something like a how-to with different women giving advice.

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The author, Nandini Krishnan (Image Source)

The author has spent a lot of time in talking to women from different backgrounds and religions and with different expectations of the kind of life partner they wanted (and luckily got). It also features stories of women who have not been very successful with arranged marriage which they ventured into for entirely wrong reasons. The author tries to put rest all the worries that a girl might have when contemplating arranged marriage.

What the book says seem very authentic and a reader would connect as it indirectly comes from the mouth of various couples that the author has interviewed. It’s also witty as it talks about funny first meetings and strangely behaving prospective grooms.

The book will make you laugh at some places and encourage you at another. It may seem at some point that women take marriage as something you can’t avoid and make your best with whatever you get. That is because of the wide spectrum in which the author has conducted her interviews, with only one thing in common- they are all modern women who are independent and don’t wish to compromise their happiness any longer for the sake of ever complaining parents-in-laws or the pressures of conforming to standards of society.

About the book: Hitched: The Modern Woman and Arranged Marriage | Nandini Krishnan | Random House India | Non Fiction | 253 pages | Rs. 299.

Note: A copy of this book was provided by the publishers, Random House India, for review.

Book Review: He loves me not by Vrushali Telang

He loves me not by Vrushali Telang is the story of Jimmy Cooper and Mehroo Nasarwanji, childhood friends (sweethearts doesn’t exactly seem to be the right word). I thought it was a chick lit and was looking forward to reading it as I was in the mood for one. However, it’s not really chick lit, it’s more of a contemporary novel, that everybody is writing (and reading) these days.

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Image Source

Honestly, the book doesn’t really start out very well. I don’t really know what irritates me about this novel, it’s like I expected that I would like this story but it fell short. Mehroo is a sad female who doesn’t quite have much self esteem or anything to go for her, really. She constantly obsesses about Jimmy deserving someone so much better. It is quite annoying especially when Jimmy is such a good for nothing guy. He is your typical guy next door who does not quite realize the value of  everything important in life.

The story is a coming of age novel of both the characters, Jimmy and Mehroo. But much of it centers on Jimmy. The author tried to connect with the target segment of ‘young’ people by writing about hip lifestyles and at the same being sarcastic about some of the aspects of it. I liked some of the jokes she made, especially the one about Fifty Shades of Grey and about faking sexy. But, she seemed to be in a hurry to finish the novel.

The story does justify Jimmy’s coming of age to some extent but when it comes to Mehroo, the book is sadly deficient. At the start she’s such a depressing person and suddenly she’s changed into this soul who’s so much at peace with everything around herself. I suppose, most of us have been Mehroo at some point or the other in life, but how you come out of it to be a stronger person is what was lacking in the book.

On the whole, it’s a fast read with some very witty dialogues, a sarcastic view on ‘wannabe’ behavior among the rich and the upper middle class and endearing parsi characters. It also illustrates the disconnect between parents and children and how we desperately try to fit in. However, the author failed to develop Mehroo as a worthy character.

About the book: He loves me not | Vrushali Telang | Ebury Press – Random House India | Fiction |  232 pages | Rs. 199

Note: A copy of the book was provided by Random House India.

Book Review: The Competent Authority by Shovon Chowdhury

The current status of our chaotic country seems to be an extremely fitting time for this book to be written. With our country riddled by dishonest, utterly inept politicians, a failing bureaucracy, a police willing to act only at particular instances, a media perpetually high on steroids, shrewd spiritual leaders (better to call them businessmen, no?) and people divided by stupid things like caste and religion, the book ‘The Competent Authority’ by Shovon Chowdhury is a commentary on the prevailing social and political conditions in India.

With 452 pages and a small sized font, at first this book seemed to pose a challenge to me. Lately, things have been hectic and I have found it hard to sustain the energy to write on this blog, after a long day and the commute in the metro. However this book is anything but boring.

The book The Competent Authority is a witty take on life in the year 2050 in a scenario when cities like Delhi and Mumbai do not exist (at least not in the same form we know them today) because of a war with China (they got nuked). Bengal has declared itself to be a Chinese protectorate and India is controlled by a bureaucrat known as the competent authority, with the PM only being a figurehead(Oh well, not that it is quite different in real life too). The competent authority is invisible to the public and is a megalomaniac with a desire to go down in history as the one who successfully spurred economic growth and reconstruction. Not satisfied by the ongoing reconstruction efforts which have managed to do little ‘re-construction’, the competent authority wishes to ‘re’-start the ‘re’-construction process completely. This, he aims to do so, at great cost, even if you disregard the whole madness of his scheme. Essentially, this is a story of how he is stopped from carrying out his mad plans.

There are many interesting characters who join him, especially Ali – an Al Queda member who isn’t much of a terrorist, Banani – a school teacher who is not as helpless as her husband seems to think, Pande – the epitome of the paunchy Indian policeman or Pintoo – a character without whom the book would be incomplete. Actually, the book would be incomplete even if one of the other characters were to be removed.

The writing is funny and simple, neither compromising on the laws of language (or the ‘literary’ quotient, if you may choose to call it so) nor becoming obtuse to the reader. At the start, one may get a little confused when so many characters are introduced at quite the same time. However, the author has listed all the characters in the book at the start, describing them in a short and funny way.The Author has made fun of everybody, whether it be spiritual leaders running a business in the name of faith, bureaucrats, Bengalis, communists, capitalists, dynasty politics, right wing fundamentalism and even Honey Singh (Yey!).

This is a satire but at the same time, the book becomes sensitive at certain places, giving time to the reader to meditate and take it all in, the whole meaning of life, hidden somewhere in between the different layers of sarcasm, speculation and irony. Extremely poignant are two scenes, one in which Gandhi talks about himself and what’s he done, to Chatterjee, who’s been sent into the past to save Gandhi. The other scene has one of the central characters losing his hand. The book also leaves you with a positive message, albeit a little cliched.

About the book: The Competent Authority | Shovon Chowdhury | Aleph Book Company | Fiction | 452 pages | Rs. 495.

Note: A review copy of the book was provided by the publishers, Aleph Book Company.