Book Review – Stories of Us: The Common Man by Bobby Sachdeva

Title – Stories of Us: The Common Man

Author – Bobby Sachdeva

Publisher – Pan Macmillan India

No. of pages – 254

Genre – Fiction, Short Stories

Blurb – Does saving your family’s honour trump personal happiness? Will the god be appeased if you overfeed him and not help the needy? Will the law protect the stray dog that tears an eight-year-old into shreds? Is a deceased manual scavenger just another statistic who risks his life for a cleaner future?

In the voice of the everyday person, Bobby Sachdeva questions the commonsensical in the most unorthodox manner in Stories of Us. From Rishi to Parth or Lata to Rajnath, their hard-hitting and honest narratives are sure to inspire the common person to rethink the values long etched in our belief system.

Bobby Sachdeva’s Stories of Us: The Common Man, a collection of forty one short stories, tackles a diverse range of issues that plague our everyday existence. These include casteism, class differences, gender insensitivity, bigotry, transphobia, blind faith, superstition, inequality and exploitation. And in doing so, it questions the basis of these concepts that direct the human nature. The stories are of ‘Us’, the common people, who have become numb in the face of the severe injustice they witness regularly, who are continually dictated by the norms set by the society much like a puppet left at the mercy of a master puppeteer. These stories might be perceived as some sort of a wakeup call designed to shock us out of our perpetual state of happy complacency. Not only does the author dabble with the big moral questions, the problems and dilemmas one faces in his/ her daily life have also been highlighted.

The author has done a commendable job in picking up these untold stories and bringing them to the foreground, all the while retaining their authenticity. These forty one narratives are an unique blend of the drab and mundane and the rich and exotic as their respective titles suggest. Arranged in an impressive order, these tiny tales follow one another quite effortlessly and can even at times be considered a complete whole. However, much remains to be desired with regards to the style. While on one hand it is extremely lucid and straightforward, on the other hand it seems to have been hurried up by the author which in turn give some of the stories the impression of being meagre sketches of certain incidents. As a result of this they have been rendered incapable of attaining their true potential.

Lastly, I would like to thank the author for providing me with a copy of this book and wish him well for his future endeavours.

Book Review – Once Upon Us by Abhiishek Mohta

Title – Once Upon Us

Author – Abhiishek Mohta

Publisher – Multiverse Publishers

No. of pages – 175

Genre – Fiction/ Romance

Blurb – Arjun Bedi’s college dreams include an education, meeting new friends and hopefully launching a successful music career. With the notes in his soul, he feels the rhythm in his rhymes and the beat of the instruments even when he closes his eyes. When he meets Saatvika Lakhiani, her voice and her form inspire that music and shine through every interaction they have. There is something about her that pulls him and calls to him… an underlying feeling that maybe she is the one who will complete him and be the partner he need. However, sorority princess Abhilasha walks and talks as if Arjun is already hers, a fact that seems surer by the day. While Saatvika is not exactly looking for a relationship, there is something about Arjun that makes her catch her breath – and ensures that a confrontation with Abhilasha is inevitable.

Abhiishek Mohta’s debut novella Once Upon Us, a romance fiction, narrates the story of Satavisha Lakhiani and Arjun Bedi. Opening with the perspective of Arjun after he has received the news of Satavisha’s death, the narrative mode shifts and presents the readers with a glimpse of Satavisha’s diary which becomes the voice that propels the rest of the story forward. However, the narrative is occassionally interspersed with the the point of view of Yamini Khandelwar, whose story along with that of Shaurya, Tanya Khanna, Rudra, Kate, and Charles continues for a few chapters. In spite of the profusion of characters within the short span of the novella and the diversions they provide, the clear division of the chapters by the author wards off any confusion or difficulties the reader would otherwise face. However, the only problems that mar this smooth narrative technique are the numerous grammatical errors and the somewhat juvenile writing style. But I believe this style might have been deliberately employed by the author in order to fit a college romance.

Coming to the theme of the novella, I would like to point out that this is an out-and-out love story as has already been implied in the blurb. Added to this are elemts of behavioural changes which sometimes mark the high and low points of success, the sacrifices made by a partner (usually the woman) in order to ensure a long term relationship. While this might be an example of her supreme love and regard for Arjun, Satavisha’s self sacrifice for his sake, her endurance of Arjun’s erractic behaviour and her practice of prioritising him over her own self prevents her from becoming a complete, flesh and blood human being. The idea of the woman enduring whatever is thrown her way and emerging victorious with a happy ending has been normalised in fiction over time. Here, the author, however, while denying the characters the happy ending, subverts this idea. The woman, after having endured everything, dies and her death haunts the other person too. This subversion of certain established ideas is what I liked in the book.

Lastly, I would like to thank the author for providing me with a copy of this book and I would like to wish him well for his future endeavours.

Book Review – The Soul of Truth by Shaji Madathil

Title – The Soul of Truth

Author – Shaji Madathil

Publisher – Bloomsbury

No. of pages – 360

Genre – Spiritual Fiction

Blurb – …”The light of day culminates in the darkness of night. Likewise, does the radiance of birth dissipate in the gloom of death? No one knows.

A new day inevitably emerges from a dying night. Likewise, does new life arise from death? No one knows.

The author, speaking through the soul of the dead protagonist, takes the reader on a tumultuous journey, reliving the memories, and thoughts, and dreams of Uthaman; dead and gone, and yet, very much alive in essence. In the shadows of the dark trees, in the corridors of moonlit nights, Uthaman’s soul lives on for forty-one nights, telling readers a vivid, poignant and silent story.

Of life! The fervour, the greed, the passion.

Of death! The tragedy, the loss, the emptiness.

What is the logic? What is the reason?

Are we simply marionettes in the hands of a master puppeteer?”…

Firstly, I would like to thank the author for giving me the opportunity to review this wholesome book.

This is a book that begins with a death and has a dead person (not death) as the protagonist and also the narrator. Divided into 41 different chapters which span over 41 days, throughout the entirety of which, the protagonist, Uthaman, is reminiscing his memories of when he was alive and connecting it with his current condition where every day, his spirit is getting further away from his family, friends, and home, this book deals with both the spiritual and also the fictional. Originally written in Malayalam by Shaji Madathil and translated into English by Dr. Jessy Skaria, this 360 pages long book presents a wonderful picture of the events through the eyes of a deserted soul.

One of the best parts of this book is undoubtedly its theme. Amidst all the doubts and debates about the workings of the human consciousness after death, this book takes a simple approach to it even while it reverberates with deep philosophical questions. After casting off the physical body, the protagonist Uthaman’s soul persists for 41 days before ultimately it starts floating away. This perception of the afterlife by the individual is what separates it from the grand narrative that is usually associated with it and, thus, gives it a distinct flavour. Furthermore, it brings in several references to the Hindu scriptures, especially the Vedas. However, too much dwelling on philosophy might get a tad bit boring. In order to counter this, the author has also shed some light on the life of the deceased Uthaman prior to his death. The chapters, beginning with Uthaman observing his family and friends from a distance, ultimately reach a point where certain aspects of his life are discussed. As he says – “A life full of dreams and hopes, in search of perfection. Yes, that is what the world called me – Uthaman,The Perfect One”. This also contributes extensively to both the theme and the structure of the book since it greatly contributes to building up the reader’s perspective of the man himself, and also helps in organically connecting the entire process. This completes the ultimate cycle where life and death are intrinsically connected. Another noteworthy aspect of the novel is its language. Lucid and simple, it draws the readers in and engages them completely in the process. The glossary provided at the end further helps the readers in getting familiarised with the local dialect.

Book Review – Infin-Eight by Prajeet Budhale

Title – Infin-Eight

Author – Prajeet Budhale

Publisher – Fingerprint Publishing

No. of pages – 224

Genre – Non-fiction

Blurb – What is worse than not having the ability to bring success in one’s own life? It is having the ability and not being able to use.
Infin – Eight is designed as an intensive practical “work-with-self” guide to professional success. It brings alive the power of your strengths and synchronizes them to your professional goals.

What is the first thing that comes to your mind when you come across a nonfiction self-help book? Well, the first thought that springs up to my mind is a long, tiresome, preachy read laden with inspirational quotes by some CEO which eventually would do anything but inspire me. This is precisely what was nagging me when I picked up Infin-Eight whose title itself states – Eight Principles for Infinite Professional Success while infinity symbols adorn the bright red background. But I was in for some surprise! You would be too if a self-help book turns out to be a self-help cum practical workbook. Sounds pretty cool, right?

This book enhances you to become aware of your own aptitude and apply it accordingly in your professional sphere. And it does so not only by descriptive passages but also by the various exercises which give you enough room to explore vast arenas and develop your own opinions. This completely pragmatic approach is what makes the book so handy. The interactive nature of the book focuses solely on you and thus succeeds in gaining your trust. The entire book, divided into eight chapters, spans over only 224 pages. Its compactness, coupled with the clear, simple language and the logical progression of ideas, is what makes it so appealing and easy to comprehend. Believe me, this bit-sized read is completely worth your time. “To lead a well engaged, fulfilling, and achievement-oriented life is the objective of this workbook.”

Book Review – Turn the Tables by Priya Kumar

Title – Turn the Tables

Author – Priya Kumar

Publisher – Books That Inspire

No. of pages – 280

Genre – Non-fiction

Blurb – Turn the Tables is a book where I have penned down the lessons that I have learned through some really trying and challenging situations which brought me to where I am today, a place where I am a bigger and better person, where I know that I can be the solution to any problem that comes my way and use it to grow further and higher. Challenges have brought me inner strength and power. Success has brought me responsibility and balance. I have learned through both. And I have learned well. To ask for success is to ask for challenges, that is a truth that I have accepted. And so, I ask for challenges, big challenges, and many challenges. I know that every challenge comes with the unbroken promise of success when it is overcome.

Turn The Tables is a journey through challenges into opportunities. Every situation and person that presents itself in your arena is purpose-bound to serve you a unique lesson. When learned, that lesson can bring magic in your everyday life. Be the magician, the source of control and creation, where no matter what life brings to you, your destiny can never be denied.

Are you feeling somewhat low in your life and are desperately looking for motivation? Well, Turn the Tables is the book that will indeed turn the tables for you, inspire you and help you pick, choose and fight your battles, as it guides you through the entire process.

Turn the Tables by Priya Kumar, an internationally acclaimed motivational speaker, is a fine blend of both autobiography and self-help. While on one hand, the author invests a part of herself, her failures, successes, the enormous challenges she had to overcome and which have ultimately shaped the person who she is, on the other hand she presents it in such a way that anyone can gain a lot from it. And by anyone I mean both – people who have reached a standstill in their lives, more so the teenagers, and also a common reader who just wants to read.

The entire book is divided into 30 chapters with each one presenting some questions for the reader to reflect upon at the end and thus develop her/his own ideas and face the challenges. Each chapter opens with the author’s personal experiences, shifts to the point where it focuses on what she learned from then and then turns to the reader. Thus, there is a beautiful transition from the personal to the public, the individual to the collective. The style, the narrative technique is so fluent and easy-going that this does not for once feel like a self-help book, even while it provides you just the right amount of inspiration and urges you to move on. It helps you stand your ground and retaliate as it challenges Life itself – ‘I came here for a reason, and I will participate in life, even if I have forgotten the primary purpose of being here. I am not the kind who enrolls for the game and then sits in the stalls. I am there out in life, all geared up and enthusiastic, playing, losing, winning and learning.’

It truly lives up to its title Turn the Tables: from Challenges to Opportunities.

Book Review – Snakes in the Meadows by Ayaz Kohli

Title – Snakes in the Meadows

No. of pages – 278

Author – Ayaz Kohli

Genre – Fiction

Publisher – Rupa Publications India

BlurbJammu And Kashmir, 1987. In the hilly village of Pathri Aali, where legends appear true, Aslam and Ashwar, two young lovers, dream of marriage and of good things of life. But that is not to be. Unable to cope, Aslam leaves Pathri Aali forever. Years later, as men migrate to Saudi Arabia for employment, Pathri Aali is populated mostly by women and children. Soon they realize the Mujahideen, who guise themselves as their liberators, are the worst perpetrators, and misery seems inescapable. Ashwar refuses to be cowed down by this reign of terror and is determined not to let it devastate the once-peaceful village. The only one she can bank on is Aslam—and she calls out to him across the distance of time and space, to return and live up to the legends of their village. Snakes in the Meadows is a saga of the onset of militancy, and the suffering and the resilience of Pir Panjal—the ‘And’ of Jammu And Kashmir.

A burkha clad woman stares into the distance as she contemplates her decisions, the turmoil all around her, some angry purple bruises marring her features, while the sky behind her sports some similar purple patches amidst the clear blue. A part of the sublime greenery seems to have gone up in flames towards which two figures carrying schoolbags stare dejectedly. Unperturbed by everything, a lone river winds lazily through the valley. The cover of the book Snakes in the Meadows, itself, sets the stone rolling.

Kashmir, the Paradise on earth, is a region that has forever witnessed massive unrest, which has been documented time and again in books and movies. Here, once again author Ayaz Kohli focuses on the wars and strikes that ravaged Kashmir in the 90s, and with this he blends in the tale of two lovers Ashwar and Aslam. The way he narrates the cruelty, the inhumanity unleashed on the people by the Mujahideen is extremely powerful. Coupled with it are the breath-taking views of Pathri Ali, even as it is stained by the bloodshed; unsullied, untainted nature plundered by man and his lust for power. The author’s attention towards detail is also evident in the way he has built up the characters, such that their plight, their victories are bound to be engraved in the reader’s mind for quite some time. He has embraced a simple way to give us an insight into the grim reality of the lives of the people. In this regard it is needless to say that the opening pages of the book might be addressed to the reader who is asked some very pertinent questions –

“How do you define misery?
How do you define sorrow?
What about horror?
How about unimaginable humiliation?
And systematic annihilation?
… Words almost fail me when I attempt to explain what we are going through.” and is the accused – “I can’t believe that you are unaware of our misery, oblivious to our suffering.” When posited against the present circumstances this further seems to take a dig at the whole lot of us, the present generation of “facebook nationalists”.

The title, Snakes in the Meadows, has certain Biblical allusions. As the author himself explained in an interview – “Kashmir is known as the paradise on earth. In Abrahamic religions, like Islam and Christianity, Satan in the guise of a snake had entered Paradise to get Adam and Eve banished out of it. Drawing that analogy, Snakes in the title refers to all the unholy and crooked people and ideas that orchestrated the mischief and mayhem in that once tranquil land. Operation Sarp Vinash by the Indian Army in 2003, gets so perfectly with that notion.”

Thank you so much for providing me with a review copy of this wonderful book.

Order it now from –

The lone ranger

I took this picture yesterday when the seemingly incessant showers had, in fact, ceased for a while and the sudden gusts of fuming wind were making the trees tremble with ferocious intensity. I went out and was greeted by the simultaneously dismal and wondrous sight of life yanked out by its very roots like feeble little origami figurines which never even stood a chance against the sudden whims of the universe. Crumpled, unhappy leaves and melancholic petals of varied hues lay in huge heaps adorning the brown desolate puddles, embalming everything with the fleetingly sweet odour of death. The slow wafting fumes of the completely drenched earth brewed gently with it and exuded a consoling stillness in the face of this rampant mayhem.

This is when I noticed this lone warrior, pitted against a tremendous force, striving against it with her resilience, her resplendence and holding herself high in her own right even after every single blow sent her reeling all over the place. Embellished with the tiny pearl-like droplets, maybe wounds, the result of a long-drawn-out battle with the cascading rains, she stood exhausted, but exultant.

“Whether they are on the hills or the city, no one will tell her who to hate.”

“She felt an enveloping happiness to be alive, a joy made stronger by the certainty that someday it would all come to an end. Afterward she felt a little foolish, and never spoke to anyone about it.
Now, however, she knows she wasn’t being foolish. She realizes that for no particular reason she stumbled into the core of what it is to be human. It’s a rare gift to under stand that you life is wondrous, and that it won’t last forever.”

The love for life, to be able to be alive seems so common an idea that we are used to take it for granted. While we celebrated love, the terrorist attack in Pulwama resulted in the death of several soldiers of the Indian Army. And now, in our desire for vengence we have lowered ourselves to denigrating an entire religion and brought upon ourselves communal hatred. We are doing exactly what “the men on the hills” want us to do; we are letting them decide for us whom to hate, and this is absolutely unacceptable.

I read this book last year, but some of its lines have been coming back to me for these past few days.

A man comes out of his apartment everyday at 4 o’clock, unfolds his stool on the spot where a shell had killed 22 people standing in a que to buy some bread, sits down and plays his cello. Regardless of the shelling, the ongoing war around him, he plays on and on. This goes on for 22 long days; after his last performance he drops his bow on the ever-growing pile of flowers near the indentation where the mortar fell, and breaks down. Revolving around this seemingly inconsequential act of defiance are the lives of the three protagonists – Kenan, Dragan and Arrow.

While the men on the hills are hell bent on wrecking their physical and moral spirit, the cellist, emerging from underneath the rubble, comes across as the sole guardian of hope, keeping alive its shaky flames from the forces of darkness. He plays Albinoni’s Adagio, sitting in the open, in the direct line of a targeting sniper. He tries his utmost to fight the deep dark despair and keep it, restrain it from engulfing whatever little is left of the city and its residents. While everyone and everything is fixated on the sole purpose of wringing out the last drops of humanity still pervading their senses, the 3 of them try and retain their wavering sanity, their ideals, the mutual love and respect they have for everyone.

The intense turmoil raging within them reaches a decisive end with the Cellist’s last notes. As the notes fade into the distance amidst the screeching of shells and wailing of the victims, it plants an idea in their conscience. The idea not to bow down to the will of the men on the hills, the idea that they would not be told by anyone about whom to hate, the idea to not loose the grip on life, the idea to be alive once again, they’ve “heard what there was to hear. It was enough.” All of their actions converge with this incident and sets rolling the ball of hope, faith, beauty, love and solidarity. Kenan sets off towards the brewery unafraid, Dragan crosses the intersection at a leisurely pace, Arrow refuses to target a civilian of the opposing side in spite of her superior’s orders. She lays down her rifle beside the cellist’s bow because she realizes – “She didn’t have to be filled with hatred. The music demanded that she remembers this, that she knows to a certainty that the world still held the capacity for goodness.”

Book Review – Song of Life, A poetic retelling of Mahabharata by Anuradha Singh

  • Title – Song of Life, A poetic retelling of Mahabharata
  • Author – Anuradha Singh
  • No. of pages – 36

Blurb – Mahabharata, India’s legacy, longest written poetry, stories interlinked into each other, with so many characters, events and places. Each character has a role to play, which is vital for the story to go ahead. This Mahakavya, which is written by Krishnadwaipayana Vyasa is imprinted on Indian mind. It has been translated world wide, every region of India has its own narration, interpretation and connection with Mahabharata. In song of life the author has created poetry which can be read and understood easily by young generation who have not read or heard of Mahabharata much. Along with the young even the elders can read and relish the easy flowing poetry of the verve.

All of us are more or less familiar with the basic storyline of the great Indian epic Mahabharata. Since childhood I have read, heard, seen numerous retellings of the Mahabharata and every time it has opened up new vistas for me. The fact that this book, a magnanimous work both in scale and grandeur, curated eons ago, never fails to pique our curiosity even today because –

“It’s a song of love, compassion, loyalty and integrity

But not only that, it also has strains of politics, Law, vengeance and war

Families, brotherhood, nationalism, society,

Conspiracy and trust have not escaped its tune.” (Song of Life by Anuradha Singh)

And here lies the key to its ever heightening success. The fact that it enlightens the human mind with lessons on love, compassion and morality while it also reminds us of war, hatred, revenge makes it all the more relevant, provided the present socio-political scenario.

This huge mountain of a work has been retold poetically by the author Anuradha Singh and I want to commend her for undertaking such a daunting task. Compressing the entire thing into a 36 pages long poem is no easy job and this in turn has its own share of flaws. Putting this aside, the author has done a pretty good job; the simple, lucid tone helps the reader in absorbing the idea easily. I would recommend this to people who wish to know the basic idea of the Mahabharata and also enjoy the easy flow of poetry.

Click here to purchase the book – Song of Life: A Poetic Retelling of Mahabharatha

Book Review – Patna Blues by Abdullah Pandari

Title – Patna Blues

Author – Abdullah Pandari

No. of pages – 296

Genre – Fiction

Publisher – Juggernaut

Blurb – Arif is the son of a sub-inspector in Patna. His once prosperous landowning family has slipped low down the class ladder. Arif ’s sole ambition in life is to crack the civil service examination and become an IAS officer. He believes this will restore the family’s fortunes and works hard at his studies. Until his first glimpse of Sumitra, a voluptuous long-haired beauty. Married, Hindu and several years older than him, she is wrong for him in every way. It is the beginning of an infatuation that will consume his life.

“Sirf ehsaas hai ye rooh se mahsoos karo

Pyaar ko pyaar hi rahne do koi naam na do”

(This is a feeling and your soul can feel it

Let love be love, don’t give it any name)

I’m sure we’ve all felt this way sometime, wanting something we should not. But then how do you realize that it is something beyond you? How much of it is an excess? Do you rely on your own instincts and emotions or follow the voice of reason spearheaded by your society and surrounding? Seems to be a tough choice.

Debut author Abdullah Pandari has presented this conflict between emotion and reason through the protagonist of his book Patna Blues, Arif Khan. His dream of becoming an IAS officer gets interwined with his desire for Sumitra, a Hindu married woman. Their mutual love for Urdu poetry tightens this bond and builds a sense camaraderie between them. Keeping this as the main storyline, the author weaves an intricate tale which spans over a vast range of social and political issues – demolition of the Babri Masjid, hate crimes against both Hindus and Muslims, inciting people of one religion against those of others for political gain. This upheaval, engulfing everything, takes hold of Arif’s aspirations and also affects his family. He finds himself as a person bent beneath the burden of his own fate, whose hopes have been crushed severely and who is only on the look out for a means for survival. This turmoil raging in his mind and being has been portrayed brilliantly by the author who has divided it into four sections. Arif’s Dream has to cross the hurdle named Desire, undergo Grief and finally face Destiny. The entire process is extremely fluent, to which has been added the sheer beauty of Urdu poetry. The ending will leave behind a bittersweet tinge and you will be left grappling for more, hungry for a slice of the characters’ lives.

I would like to thank the author for providing me with an opportunity to read and review this book and also for bearing with me for such a long time.

Click on the link to buy the book – Patna Blues