Book Review: Godman to Tycoon by Priyanka Pathak Narain

Sometimes, Twitter does good. It was through Twitter that I realized that I wanted to read this book. Someone was posting passages and snippets from the book. Soon enough, I realized that the book is not easily available online (digital or print editions). Because there is an injunction to the distribution and sales of this book. More intrigue. More itch to get the book. I can be blamed for many things, but being resourceful on matters such as these wouldn’t be one of them. [Anyway, click on the book, and you will get to the Infibeam page where it’s being sold]

So, with the book in my hand, and a long weekend around the corner, I dug my heels in, and began my quest to understand this extremely enigmatic person and brand. For, Baba Ramdev, the person, is the same thing as Patanjali, the brand. At least in my humble world view.

Someone already did a brilliant TL;DR version of the book, so I would let you go read that. I would not talk about specific gossipy elements. Or maybe, I would.

The book is a pretty darn good read. The level of research, given the general air of mystery around the Baba, is good. The narrative style – fluid. The level of detail – not so much that it becomes boring. Not so little – that you say “is that it?” I was expecting far more sensationalism and far less detail from the book. Sometimes, three passages that are used for advertising are all there is to the book. Quite similar to the trailer of Dharma movies.

Well, coming back to the man – Baba Ramdev’s life can be organized in 3-4 brackets.

First, the  early life in Saidpur, Haryana. Next, from the Khanpur Gurukul to Saffronisation of Baba at Kripalu Bagh Ashram. This phase introduces two of the most important actors of the story – Acharya Balkrishna and Acharya Karamveer. The third stage is the media brand that Ramdev built. And lastly, the Patanjali phase.

While the third and fourth phases make for an engrossing read and are a lot well researched, the first two leave a lot to be desired. The third and fourth phase also have the benefit of far higher media coverage, availability of footprints online, and more people tracking who this Baba is!

When it comes to the first two phases, the book somewhat disappoints. Ramdev’s strained relationship with his father, the agonies of a poor farming family’s life in rural India, and his family relationships – leading all the way to his running away to join Khanpur Gurukul – are largely unexplored. One of the biggest mysteries has to be how the failed family relationships suddenly became an important pillar of his empire (his brother handles all the finances of Patanjali, and has a hot-n-cold relationship with Acharya Balkrishna). It is here that a reader wants to understand Balkrishna and Ramdev’s relationship. One of the unresolved conflicts of the narration is how easily Ramdev became the CEO in the trio of Ramdev-Balkrishna-Karamveer, given that Acharya Karamveer was the senior of the three and had helped them get their foothold in Haridwar.

Second, the Gurukul to Kanakhal foothold. From Karamveer’s introduction into the story, to the eventual “saffronisation” of Baba Ramdev as he spots the opportunity of taking over the Kripalu Bagh Ashram of Shankar Dev. This section builds up a reasonable amount of understanding of how Baba Ramdev started becoming a Godman. You see early signs of his visionary forward thinking, business acumen, and leadership skills. But here again, a lot of things are presented on face value – like a chain of events. The under-currents of relationships are not that well explored. What’s great to know is how the same set of opportunities led three different men to three different places. Balkrishna started his Divya Pharmacy stage at this point.

However, the book picks up heat in the last two phases. There are lot more balancing viewpoints, people speaking in favour and against Ramdev and his Patanjali empire. A reasonably wide gamut of issues are touched upon – from something as serious as the suspicious death of Swami Yogananda/ Rajeev Dixit, to the less talked about marginalization of Shankar Dev.

Scrupulous as his methods come across as, there’s a lot to admire about the Baba Ramdev, the businessman. How early he spots the religious TV opportunity and the far sighted calls taken on Patanjali products are commendable. Yet, as expected, the book leaves you with a lot of unease about a man who’s revered by a large section of people, and yet has enough skeletons in the closet that the authorities are paying lip service to.

I felt that as a journalist, Priyanka Pathak Narain has done a fabulous job of not taking an either-or stand about Ramdev.  A lot of the evidence is anecdotal and conversational. The places where there is hard-evidence (such as the litigations or product failures), she does present an unambiguous picture. But for what its worth, success has as many enemies as it has friends. While writing the book, it must have been tough to not color every passage with a bit of black against his name, yet the book seems to respect the difference between information and opinions.

 

I really enjoyed the book, and would heartily recommend it to all you Dant-Kanti lovers and haters alike! Have I used Patanjali products? Unfortunately, yes. ☹

 

p.s. One of the funniest things about the book is everyone’s failure to find Baba Ramdev’s date of birth! I mean, in the age of Aadhaar…

 

 

 

 

Book Reviews

A bunch of book reviews I had done for thetalespensieve are out.

 

Zen Garden by Subroto Bagchi – Collection of Bagchi’s interactions with some of the finest business and social leaders, entrepreneurs and pathmakers, invited to the Zen garden, where they share their life stories, inflexion and tipping points, principles, driving forces, passion, and success mantras.

“Comes in easy language and short chapters, well catalogued without being prescriptive, and is a great bed-time read.” (4/5)

Dream With Your Eyes Open by Ronnie Screwvala – Ronnie Screwvala traverses his entrepreneurial journey of over two decades in his debut book. More popularly known for having created UTV from scratch, many people may not know about his several other stints across toothbrushes, games, and many other categories (not all of them successful).

Great lessons, extremely conversational, slightly preachy, but a wide view of what entrepreneurship can be!

 

Letters From An Indian Summer by Siddharth Dasgupta – less a novel, more an elegy. It’s a celebration of Arjun Bedi and Genevieve Casta’s love story, through letters and meetings, destiny and serendipity spread over 5 years and many countries.

Reminded me of the first time I had sizzlers. Someone else had ordered in on some other table in the restaurant. It promised a lot of sizzle and excitement. And it delivered on that very well! But once the show was over, the taste was passable. (2 on 5)

The Death And Afterlife of Mahatma Gandhi by Makarand Paranjape – ““He felt that non-violence during the struggle for independence was an expedient, i.e., resistance to the white man was undertaken in a non-violent manner simply because we had no military strength with which to offer battle.” – Kingslay Martin – Jan 27, 1948

Where the book succeeds in a big way is by asking us – Is Mahatma Gandhi relevant anymore? Or, was Gandhi ever relevant in a post-independence India? Paranajape believes, and so do I, that he was, is and will continue to be. (Rating: 3/5)

Seven Uncommoners by Ridhima Verma – collection of biographical sketches of seven entrepreneurs from across a variety of industries in India.The choice of entrepreneurs is interesting – across gaming and technology (Vishal Gondal of Indiagames and Goqii), hospitality (Patu Keswani of Lemon Tree Hotels), logistics and supply chain (Pawan Jain of Safexpress), construction & infrastructure development (Jagdish Gupta of J Kumar Infraprojects), financial advisory (Mahesh Singhi of Singhi Advisors), facilities management (Prasad Lad of Krystal Group) and legal services (Nishith Desai of NDA).

The feeling that there has to be more, and that something has been left out, is the pervasive sentiment at the end of the read. Nevertheless, the book is a good celebration of home grown successes in a world which is excessively enamored by the Steve Jobs brand of arrogant leadership and perfect solutions.(Rating: 3.25/5)

A Hundred Lives For You by Abhisar Sharma – takes montages from three decades of Abhimanyu’s life. A media man with a penchant for reporting, Abhisar seems to have gotten down to writing a deeply personal book, or so it seems

Simple story, great emotions, good use of the country’s timeline, weak first half, good narrative, few editorial misses, and a very strong father-daughter relationship in the second half of the book. (Rating: 3.5/5)

 

Ladies Please! by Jose Covaco – A no-holds barred take on dating in India from a man’s perspective. Jose, through his series of spectacularly failed (I am not sure if they are real or imaginary, but at the very least they are relatable and everyday sightings) and moderately failed and occasionally successful relationships (because in India, there is no dating; there is only a relationship), bares it all and leaves you with (especially women) tips and tricks for dealing with the other sex better.

I strongly urge all ladies to read the book. Especially, if you want to really train your man. And of course when we talk about training or changing the man, all you are trying to do really is make us better. Right? The book is hilarious in pint size measures, but slow otherwise.(Rating 3:25/5)

 

Book Review: The Girl On The Train by Paula Hawkins

I picked up Paula Hawkins’ “The Girl On The Train” for just one reason – for the last several weeks, I have seen the book perched on top of the NY Times Bestsellers list (Fiction). Lately, my reading has gone down significantly. Some of it can be attributed to paucity of time, but the bigger reason, I hypothesize, is a distracted head-space. Sometimes, I believe, reading fast paced fiction helps you get back in the groove. And TGOTT seemed to fit the bill. Also, I had seen a rather interesting promo image sometime back – of several ladies sitting side by side on a subway train reading ‘the girl on the train’.

TGOTT

Image Source: http://www.usatoday.com/story/life/books/2015/01/28/american-sniper-the-girl-on-the-train-usa-today-best-selling-books-list/22464365/

 

Rachel, the girl on the train, loves looking out of the window and weaving stories about what she sees. She gives names to people, imagines stories about stranded items like clothes or shoes, and obsesses over them. She is a divorced alcoholic with severe depression and confidence issues, who cannot seem to get over her broken marriage, and just cannot get her life back together. She is the central protagonist. Most of the chapters have been written from her perspective. The male characters in the book don’t get chapters of their own. The other two girls of the story are Anna – the new wife of Tom, and Jess/ Megan – a girl Rachel has seen many times from the train’s window. Tom is Rachel’s ex-husband. And Scott is Megan’s husband. Kamal Abdic is Megan’s therapist. With this much, here is a poll for you to consider – Column A is the murdered. And Column B is the murderer. Take a guess.

Victim Perpetrator
Rachel Rachel
Megan Megan
Anna Anna
Tom Tom
Scott Scott
Kamal Kamal
Some other person briefly mentioned Some other person briefly mentioned

TGOTT excels at its broader plot contours. It delivers a taut murder mystery. The book works well as a single session race to the finish. It uses the standard narrative of a shifting timeline and multiple vantage points to create a sense of darkness, foreboding, and suspense. More often than not, it succeeds. Paula has created a book which is ready to be adapted into a movie (and Emily Blunt will be starring as Rachel). All the right elements. But it is no “Gone Girl”. It neither has characters so grey or flawed, nor a suspense so riveting. Moreover, the central characters are not “that” smart. Megan is a bored seductress, Rachel is a broken alcoholic, Anna is an insecure home-maker and a new mother, Scott an overbearing masochistic husband, Kamal a flawed therapist, and Tom is the ex-husband who doesn’t like anyone touching his phone or laptop. The darkness that permeates that entire narrative of Gone Girl is missing here, save for the end where you see the untapped potential of some of these characters.

Let’s revisit the poll with the additional information I just threw at you. Has your opinion changed?

TGOTT’s problem for me was its predictability. The victim’s too obvious, and so is the perpetrator. The haste in introducing the suspects, and the choice of crime scene makes it a little too obvious. The decoys and breadcrumbs are not the most engaging. Yet, the storytelling is gripping. I envy (and respect) people who can write such engaging stuff.

TGOTT’s other problem is the long drawn moping of Rachel. The continuously repeating montage of her getting drunk, reprimanding herself, and the wine and the gin and the tonic stops serving its purpose beyond a point, unless you are too absorbed to notice the conflict that is established in each such cycle. In the end you might just say – oh yea! remember that?

All in all – It’s a middle of the road – 6 on 10 – kinda thriller. I enjoyed it. I would not, though, go out of my way to recommend it. I won’t diss it either.

In a world where “The Girl On The Train” by Paula Hawkins is a long standing NY Times Bestseller #1 (Fiction), I worry about the quality and quantity of what is being read at large. Am I being extremely critical of the book? No. I definitely do not want to. Do I think the book is an undeserving bestseller? Not at all. It probably is the best thing visible on the shelf right now. My problem – the #1 for weeks should have been a little less obvious.

The novel has quite a few loose ends, which I hope get resolved some day. Someone once told me that to be a good writer, the need to be a good storyteller is way higher than the need to have a good story. So there! More power to Paula, because I do believe that the survivors of this novel can come together for another twist in the tale.

Book Review: Teresa’s Man and Other Stories by Damodar Mauzo

Book Review of Teresa’s Man and Other Stories, written by Damodar Mauzo and translated by Xavier Cota now live on The Tales Pensieve 

A vibrant, yet subtle cover that matches the flavors in the book

Book Review: Shattered Dreams – Book 2 | Ramayana – The Game of Life by Shubha Vilas

Title:  Shattered Dreams, Book 2

Series: Ramayana: The Game of Life

Author: Shubha Vilas

Publisher: Jaico Publishing House

Publication Year: 2014

ISBN 13: 9788184955316

Binding: Paperback

Number of pages: 387

Price: Rs 350

 

Shattered Dreams is the second book in Shubha Vilas’ Ramayana Series.  In this book, the story begins just before Dasharatha’s decision to pass on the reins of Ayodhya to Rama, and ends after the famous Rama-Bharata Dharma-Dharma dialogue at Panchvati. Deftly peppered along the way are the author’s footnotes and philosophical discourses to make the book relevant to modern life.

 

How many Ramayana does it take to tell it all?

The last few years has seen a surge in Indian literary works that revolve around the twin epics of Ramayana and Mahabharata. There are, then, tales that revolve around the diversion and mini-stories that both these epics have embedded. And somehow, there is always something more. Something that you might not have known already.

What’s more important is to remember the relevance of the book to the believers. Ramayana, or the tale of Rama, the finest among men (Maryada Purushottam), in the Indian mythos-ethos, is often the book of reference. It’s the book that tells you right and wrong. I have known too many people who in times of deep distress or difficulty, close their eyes and open a random page of Ramayana or Ramacharitmas, read a few verses, and find peace. For it is their pathway into righteousness. I am not one of them.

That, however, also makes you wonder whether or why you’d pick one more such book without knowing if there is any new and interesting titbit in this version.

 

In that space, does this version of Ramayana, which is just a translation and a philosophical discourse, fit?

 

Shubha Vilas’ Ramayana – The Game of Life – Shattered Dreams (Book 2) is one that did not excite me at the outset. The context and the title don’t give me enough push to pick the book. The blurb also suggests that it’s as much a retelling as it is a philosophical discourse around Ramayana’s relevance to everyday life. That part? Neither. So, in reality, I picked it up because of Blogadda.

 

So, let’s first talk about what works and what’s good.

There are newer touches. For example, the tale of Kaikeyi’s mother, or of Dasharatha’s promise to King Ashwapati, Kaikeyi’s father. Or, the story about Guha and Lakshmana trusting but never fully trusting each other.

The narration stays close to being a literal translation, a well researched literal translation. The frequent reference to the actual Sanskrit words/ verses and their contextual interpretation is a nice addition to aid one’s understanding of the epic.

For those who are interested in debates around a whole set of events that place in Ramayana, even though Ramayana is often considered to be the blander of the two mega-epics because of its morally upright viewpoint all the time, the frequent footnotes often provide explanations that will fuel some thoughts and introspection.

 

What doesn’t work?

The book is sluggish in pace, and has few new elements to offer.  There are very few incidents and stories that are new or unheard of in the translated Ramayana world.

The simplicity of Kaikeyi has always unnerved me. For someone who has the wits to manoeuvre a battlefield, Kaikeyi continues to be a simpleton in most versions of Ramayana, who so easily gives up his love of Rama and is manipulated by Manthara. I would love someone to research this aspect and tell a more interesting tale.

I noticed some linguistic inconsistencies too. Rama, for instance, never addresses Kaikeyi as just Kaikeyi. There should always be the “Mother” prefix/suffix associated with it. To address her otherwise would be a blemish on his personality, for he never lets down his guards and has never really blamed Kaikeyi for anything. For instance – “The boons he had given Kaikeyi” can not be a Rama statement. Also, his tone and explanation at quite a few points suggests a level of resentment towards Kaikeyi. Example – “His greatest worry was mother Kaushalya’s safety from the tortures of Kaikeyi”. In the truest form of Ramayana, that does not seem right.

The language is too dramatic and hence, in a different time and space than the audience that is reading it. For instance, the continuously fainting and rolling on the floor in agony kind of Rama and Bharata somehow seem out of place.

While the philosophical notes are good, the interruptions happen a little too often. The debates happening at the end of a complete sub-section would be my preference. And unfortunately, the interruptions are less reflective, more pedantic. Like the one on Rama’s management sutra. On a positive note, probably, they are meant to make you pause more often and reflect on what the text means to the reader.

Lastly, the Kaikeyi episode/ Ayodhya kaand is one of the ripest sections of Ramayana for a moral conflict and ideological debate. There are multiple conflicts here – Dasa-Kaikeyi, Kaikeyi-Rama, Rama-Sita, Rama-Kaushalya, Rama-Sita, Rama-Lakshman, Lakshman-Urmila, Lakshman-Sumitra, Rama-Ayodhya, Rama-Bharata, and so on. And each of these conversations is an opportunity in itself. Unfortunately, it does not come across as enough justice has been done to most of these conversations.

 

The book at an overall did not quite work for me. But it may work for many others with a deeper faith in the epic and who are looking for a debate on the epic. If I had to read another retelling of Ramayana, I would probably go back to Ashok Banker’s Ramayana series.

 

I would go with a 2 on 5 stars for this book.

 

 

This review is a part of the biggest Book Review Program for Indian Bloggers. Participate now to get free books!

Book Review: The Legend of Amrapali – Birth of the Bastard Prince by Anurag Anand

My latest review is up on The Tales Pensieve

Anurag Anand’s retelling of this important story from Buddhism’s evolution around 5th Centure BC is gripping, fluid and has the right elements of intrigue, politics, romance and history. Though it does not necessarily stay parallel to the historical version all the time, it’s a fictional retelling that makes the original way more interesting.

What really works for the book is the narrative pace and the strong grounding in history. Where the book falters a bit is the lack of characterization. While that of Amrapali is done over almost a book and a half, Bimbisar, Bindusen, Yudhveer, Chetak, etc. are not detailed.

Overall, the book makes for a good weekend read.

Book Review: Michael Lewis’ Flash Boys is a thriller and thankfully, not a doomsday prophecy

Flash Boys: A Wall Street Revolt, picks its name form “Flash Orders” placed by “High Frequency Traders (HFTs) on stock marking using “proprietary algorithms” and using “speed of transaction” (measured in nanoseconds) as a differentiator, Michael Lewis’ nth attempt at explaining the dark side of wall street. This time, he touches the dark pools as well and the victory of the technologists on the street as well. Phew! So much stock market jargon!

Brad Katsuyuma, a reluctant but extremely competent trader with Royal Bank of Canada (RBC), an Asian- Candaian (who doesn’t identity with his Asian identity at all), takes the battle to the Wall Street biggies when his years of understanding the basics of trading are brought to nought by e-trading or HFT. From having a sub-zero understanding of the technology that has changed the rules of the game to the formation of IEX and with a bunch of  unlikely heroes by his side, Michael Lewis travels through the evolution of high frequency trading (and to some extent, the Street itself) and the subversion of investor interest by traders. (The word subversion comes a few times when Michael goes through the story of ace Russian programmer, Serge, of Goldman Sachs).

One can only speculate where the world goes after IEX. My guess is as good as yours. And my guess is that we are just waiting for new inefficiencies to creep in. In a way, it is like Jana Lokpal. Will you expect the police to be the one to setup a policing regime on their own life. Some of the righteous ones may agree. Some may do it to create the aura of being righteous while figure out a way of subverting it. Most, however, would just refuse. In the end, it all boils down to game theory.

Michael puts Brad Katsuyuma and his band of warriors at the center of a right and wrong, good and evil, prey and predator story. The book leaves you with a lot of answered and unanswered questions, especially if you are, like me, an outsider. If you’re one of those who has often wondered about the excessive lifestyles and monies of the investment bankers and traders, and the overall razzmatazz of trading, stock market price fluctuations, options and futures, and what nots, Flash Boys, at the very least, gives you a good ring side view and an access to an exciting commentator of the game. The book also, unlike what you’d expect, is not very judgemental. Brad manages to keep his sanity through till the end, and is able to understand and rationalize the motives, even though he doesn’t always agree with them.

I have had similar predicaments. Not just once. A scenario where an extremely profitable engagement depends on one’s ability to downplay the morality of what is being asked for. There is a certain point in Flash Boys, where an analyst explains how his bosses ‘told’ him to prove that the “dark pools” were benefiting the banks’ customers. As an analyst, he knew it wasn’t true. As an analyst, he managed the numbers in a way that it could be proved true. As an IB analyst, or a consulting analyst, tell me if you haven’t been in a similar situation! Yes. One of those.

Flash Boys runs like a thriller, jumping timelines & story-lines, weaving a tale of greed, deceit and genius, and is well marinated for being converted into a movie right away. The book is absolutely riveting. The concepts and most technicalities/ stock market actions have been explained in layman terms for people like me who haven’t really cared for them all these years. And I am sure, once could have foreseen why this book would be a bestseller.

The way Michael has built each of the key characters is the secret sauce. At the beginning, there were many instances where I could identify with Brad’s inertia or lack of ambition in life a lot. There are also a lot of moments where people would find themselves nodding to certain actions that people like Ronan take. Right down to the defiance and condescence against the apparent ruler and rules of the street. You can’t help but feel a lot of sympathy for Serge, even as you try to wave the corporate ethics and IP protection manual in front of people. I must also confess that I am a little late to the party, and a lot has been written about the book already. However, I do encourage all of you to read the book if you haven’t already. It’s a fascinating read, even though many may consider it a bit one sided, with nothing but Brad’s desire to do right holding him through a lot of those difficult phases. I have no business calling it out as absolutely the unadulterated truth or a blatant lie. Though, I have no qualms in adding that HFTs are supposed to work exactly like they are explained to be in the book. Whether or how it creates a competitive advantage for the one with the best resources, the best access, and the highest level of corporate corruption is something that is and will remain a hypotheses.

So go on then. Enjoy it. A definite 4.5 on a scale of 5 for me. Good story, good story telling, great memorable characters. And off I go to the next one!

 

Books Roundup: Autobiographies

Do you read autobiographies?

तुमको देखा तुमको जाना, आइना अच्छा लगा
आज पहली बार मुझको भी खुदा अच्छा लगा

Tumko dekha, tumko jaana, aaina acha laga…
aaj pehli baar mujhko bhi khuda acha laga

(Meeting you, knowing you, I now appreciate the me some more
Today, for the first time, I, too, appreciate Him some more)

These days my love for autobiographies or self referential literature has grown. I am not exactly sure what exactly I look for in these books, whether I am moved by these stories, whether this fondness is reflective of my current life phase or if my quest for understanding myself has begun a little too late.

I have stared enjoying the tales that are not necessarily heroic, and describe flawed geniuses. They definitely help me understand my flaws better.. And maybe, someday, the cycle will eventually lead to my discovery of the genius within me. That’s optimistic though. The genius part.

My love for sports (watching/ following), on the other hand, has gone down. I still enjoy watching a game or two, cheering for something/ someone, posting status messages, getting into occasional debates. But the interest sustains only for a short while. After the previous world cup, and the wankhede moment, my interest in Cricket also has come down faster than the water slides at Water Kingdom.

Coming back to the books, in the last few months, I read four sports-autobiographical works. Playing It My Way by Sachin Tendulkar, Open by Andre Agassi, Rafa: My Story by Rafael Nadal and The Test of My Life by Yuvraj Singh. Unfortunately for everyone, Tendulkar’s book projects him as a genius, but an unflawed one. He is a well-cut diamond all through. The book is so polite that at the end of it, all you can eat is Parle-G.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The best by a margin is Open. Not for its literary quality, but for the openness with which Agassi bares his soul and his life. It tells you of the funny nature of his success and how his failures to come to terms with his personal life and aspirations occupy the top drawer. And also, his growth. I have been in the Pete Sampras camp all my life, and here I was, rooting for Andre well after his retirement. I relived many of those games, the rivalries, their importance or insignificance. And I learnt that the whiz kid of tennis wasn’t really in love with the game. Or, so it seemed. The book is also a very effective reminder of Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers.

Rafa and Yuvi’s books have a few similarities. In pure literary terms, they both suck. And both of them pick a grand event as an anchor (the Wimbledon final vs the world cup) and run the book around that grand event. Those anchor events serve as benchmark of excellence that the world has come to know these two by. And yet, the preparation, the agony of successes and failures on that path, the physical beatdowns, the personal and the professional – they are fairly insightful. Yet, just to highlight the differences, Rafa’s book is a few miles ahead of Yuvi’s book in overall quality and impact terms. And a lot more honest also, I guess.

I have just about finished reading “The Hard Thing About Hard Things” by Ben Horowitz, and for a change, I did not feel like I was being preached to. What a brilliant book to come from a CEO (and not the investor). The book managed to put the mistakes of a decade long career in perspective, without, for a moment, reprimanding me. I strongly recommend the book to everyone out there. Even though most people will consider it a business book, I consider it fairly autobiographical. Especially those who aspire to become a good leader, a good CEO, or to have their own startup someday.

किताबों से कभी गुज़रो तो यूँ किरदार मिलते हैं
गए वक़्तों की ड्योढ़ी पे खड़े कुछ यार मिलते हैं

Kitabon se kabhie guzro to yoon kirdaar milte hain.
Gaye waqton ki dyodhi par khade kuch yaar milte hain

Travelling through books, these characters come and meet you so
In the bylanes of a time gone by, a few friends come and meet you so.

Book Review: The Love Letter and Other Stories

My review of The Love Letter and Other Stories, written by Buddhadev Bose and translated by Arunava Sinha, is live on The Tales Pensieve.

In short, its a fairly sensitive and poignant  set of short stories, well written and well translated.

To call it “Playing It My Way” is UNFAIR

Disclaimer: Irrespective of the rest of this post, let me be clear on thing – I am still not open to a debate on Sachin vis-a-vis the other cricketing geniuses. For me, Sachin is “the one”. It is a choice bordering on irrationality, but we are all allowed our vices, right?

His book, though, is another matter.

Playingitmywaybookcover

Playing It My Way is Sachin Tendulkar’s autobiography, written with a little bit of help from Boria Mazumdar.

Blurb from Flipkart (I pre-ordered the book): In this long awaited autobiography, readers will be able to see glimpses into the life of this living legend; and of the man behind the sport, the husband, the father and an extraordinary human being– quiet, calm and with a rare humility. This is the story of Sachin Tendulkar, the most celebrated cricketer of all time in his own words.

So, how does it fare? In one word, the book can be described as – UNFAIR. To the fans of the man, to all those who follow cricket, to all those who read autobiographies, and to all those who pay to buy books, and maybe even to those who downloaded copies from torrent sites as well.

The book was launched with a lot of hoo-ha and fanfare. I think the fanfare was better than the book itself. It was like the Yashraj films’ trailer thing. The gag that’re in the trailer are all that are there.  The launch had a session where VVS, Rahul Dravid, Saurav Ganguly and Sachin shared the stage. And Harsha moderated. That was king. More interesting stories came out of the closet that day than an entire hardcover book.

To be fair (to the extent possible), when you’ve lived a life that’s scrutinized at every possible turn, there is precious little left to reveal. Yet, the man has been an immensely private person. And he finally writes a book titled – Paying It My Way. What’s the least you would expect-  honesty? An explanation of the many unexplained things? Things you’d expect were brushed under the carpet while saying – we had a tough day in the field…

By all possible benchmarks of a biography – the book is BAD! And that’s an understatement. Its boring, it lacks any new insight into a person who’s the biggest sporting legend/ brand that this country has seen, and rather than being an autobiography OR a biography, it’s a collection of post-match interviews. “The boys played well”, “The ball was doing a bit”, “My goal was to stay on the crease as long as I could”, “The team supported me”, “the management has been supporting the team”, kinds. It adds nothing to your understanding of what made the man the legend.

If I think about his career, as someone who has no desire to get into the stats surrounding his career, I would still want a such titled book to  get into a few spheres–

  • The kind of monstrous desire to play cricket and be successful in it that made him play two matches a day with hours of practice around it
  • His relationship with Marc Mascarenhas, his brother, his family, etc. – the people he thanked so well in the speech that made a nation cry
  • The momentousness of the first match. The match that actually stood out in his lifetime. Was there one? Ever? Anything?
  • The mental and physical preparation that went into some of the big matches, like world cup final or Sharjah.
  • The Chennai test, and some such disappointments
  • His captaincy years
  • A little more about the monkeygate incident.

 

I can go on and on and on. But the book has nothing to offer.

And that’s a huge disservice to the people who’ve been waiting for the book. What was the point of the autobiography anyway? I might as well have clicked a few hyperlinks on Cricinfo. The book is an opportunity wasted.  And that’s why I think the book is unfair. Grossly unfair.

There are times I am glad that there aren’t too many times Sachin has given hour long interviews. His aura would have diminished. For now, let me go and watch some of his innings on youtube.

Book Review: Love @ Air Force

“This book review is a part of The Readers Cosmos Book Review Program. To get free books log on to thereaderscosmos.blogspot.com

 

“A heart is a more sophisticated device than a Sukhoi”

“The violent romance of the Fighter planes with the clouds in sky… the pulchritudinous Officers walking around arrogantly… the runway with the logo constituted by the concentric tricolored circles in the background… is the spectacle meets our eyes at the feeble mention of the Air Force but there is more about the Air Force besides these…” – Official book blurb

 

Love @ Air Force is Gaurav Sharma’s debut novel, and is a love story set against the backdrop of the actual and perceived hierarchies at an air force base station. Most of us would have heard stories about what hierarchy and order means in the armed forces. Most of us are familiar with the world of class based societies where the rich and the poor don’t mingle, the masters and the servants don’t, and so on. And we are familiar with the fact that some of these divides and biases flow from one generation to another. A King’s daughter doesn’t marry a foot soldier’s son.

Such is the premise of the book, and Gaurav weaves a simple tale of unfulfilled love and compromises about JWOs and Seargants and Officers. The book is written with a lot of heart, and one can feel the personal nature of this story. Gaurav’s father was a JWO in the Indian Air Force for more than 26 years, and the narration for most part seems autobiographical.

The central theme of the plot is disarmingly simple. It does not have many layers, neither for the characters, nor for the story. One hopes for the author’s sake that such a plot lends itself to being a Bollywood romance drama, wherein an old-ish Shahrukh Khan gives up on his love for Madhuri Dixit to find happiness with Sri Devi. Or something like that. The question is – would you want to watch that movie? Or read that script?

When the theme is simple, the narration takes precedence over the story. The language, the imagery, the characters, the conversations. And that’s where the book fails to delivery. The quality of editing is horrendously disappointing. Without reading the book with great attention, I could find more than 20 glaring mistakes. A 50-page shorter version with crisper editing, a scrupulous editor with zero tolerance for grammatical errors and irrelevant flowery prose would have made the book so much more bearable. I had a tough time finishing the book, simply because halfway through the book, one could foresee the end. The quality of prose was far from being noteworthy. And unfortunately, the excitement that the air force delivers on a screen was completely missing from the narration, as most of the book is a bland narration of a love story come undone by the class distinctions of a military society.

 

I will go with a 1 on 5 for this one. Passable. Breaks my heart to say this, but your first and the freshest piece has got to deliver a little more passion.

 

“This book review is a part of The Readers Cosmos Book Review Program. To get free books log on to thereaderscosmos.blogspot.com

Book Review: The Other Side by Faraz Kazi and Vivek Bannerjee

<I was sent a copy of the book by the authors for an honest review. Blimey! Honesty? In this age and time?>

The other side

I hardly ever read horror, macabre, spooky and such books. I haven’t really read a lot of Stephen King, and/or his imitators. Nor, GreatBong’s The Mine. So, when Faraz requested me to review his book, I gave him as much of a disclaimer.  That being said, the merit of a book is in its ability to retain you while its unfinished, and stay with you once its over. So, I picked it up.

 

I got down to reading the book one fine afternoon, and thankfully, rather than being a long gut twisting novel, TOS is a compendium of shorter stories. Expectedly enough, it has (unlucky) thirteen stories. The stories range from spooky to macabre, but mostly dealing with the kind of urban legends, old wives’ tales, etc. that we have most likely heard growing up. Don’t go near that well because it’s cursed, or there is an old lady in white sari that comes by the graveyard every night and takes away little children that cry too much. I managed to finish the book in two settings, which is testimony to the book being able to retain me.

 

The prologue of the book starts with a casual chat between Vivek and Faraz as they start telling each other some spooky stories from their respective childhood. The genesis of the novel, it would seem.

 

The book is an easy read, and is hardly the kind of gruesome that I was expecting when I picked it up. Its audience seems to be decidedly on the younger side. But then, the authors are young too! And the narrative style as well.

 

Except for a story or two, it plays on one of two things – either a twist in the tale spookiness, or a tale of confrontation with the other side (the undead dead). The narratives are simple. The stories always seem familiar but have a measure of newness. Interestingly, recently, there was a link floating around on Facebook and other soial networks that captured really short two line horror stories, and many of them were mind bogglingly brilliant. As you read the book, I couldn’t help but think that many of these stories could have been condensed to give a more brutal and chilling effect.

 

For instance, the story about the girl in the village (Unfulfilled Desires) drags. And so does the story about the little girl by the banyan tree (Possession). However, some of the other stories are well edited and leave you either wondering or smiling at the end. In fact the first half of the book comes across as better edited than the second half. “The Fateful Night”, “The Long Weekend”, “The Mark Of The Beast”, etc. are enjoyable, while the “Dream Girl’ was disappointing.

 

The biggest success of the book is the variety of spook that is delivered. The stories are not carved off a single mould, and are not of a single flavour. The failure of the book – the inconsisteny of the experience. After the first couple of stories one comes to expect a twist in the tale format, but many of the remaining tales are extremely linearly narrated, and hence the horror is never really delivered.

 

At the same time, one must acknowledge that the genre by itself is a less explored one in the Indian English literary scene, and Vivek and Faraz have done a good job bringing together a bouquet of these quintessentially Indian tales, full of bhatakti aatmas, tantriks, and bhootiya havelis.

 

If you enjoy watching the horror films, give it a read. It may seem juvenile at times, but is an enjoyable read.

 

Book Review: The Virgins by Siddharth Tripathi

Siddharth Tripathi’s  “The Virgins” carries the ominous tag of “written by a young MBA riding the bandwagon of Indian publishing revolution”. I am scared of most books falling in that genre, usually, much as I would love to be a part of that bandwagon myself.

 How does one become a man? Three young friends are about to find out.

The book revolves around the lives, friendship and coming of age of Guggi, Bhandu and Pinku? Guggi is the sexpot fun seeking school bully, who comes from a lot of money, Bhandu is a middle class bred studious jock looking to discover fun, and Pinku is the much poorer struggling to get by bloke who tags along. Or, so it seems. Their friendship has undertones and dynamics that range from protectiveness, subservience, adulation, affection, cunning, to betrayal and tragedy. The irreverence of adolescence, the crushes, the archies cards with poems written by a friend, the first encounters with a failing relationship- Pinku, Bhandu and Guggi, grow up and grow apart. A little too far apart.

 

cce2f-the-virgins

The book is set in the city of kashi/ varanasi, and stays with the small city feel throughout. The life and times in a smaller city in the 90s was remarkably different from that in a bigger city, and the life now. There are the touches and flourishes in narration that can make you smile very now and then, and I think. Siddharth captures that nostalgia very well. And in occasional bursts, it hilarious.

 

The book has a linear storytelling style.  The flashbacks, as they come, derail the pace of narration. And somewhere in there, lies the biggest challange of the book. The three central haracters as well as the many peripheral ones don’t get the depth that they deserve. Almost all of them are presented somewhat frivolously. The parents, the parents, the teachers and the mentors. And doubt not the potential, for the chracters are extremely relatable, and people we would have seen in our school days. Maybe, some of the goony stuff would be missing. But that would be just about it.

 

There are times when I am very glad that someone writes on these themes and social setups. Given the dearth of quality indian literature that captures the psyche of that era of growing up in the 80s and 90s, most of the folks from my generation resort to facebook sharing of old telly serials, advertisements,and listing of things we used to do. Or, we watch Jo Jeeta Wahi Sikandar. Some of us would remember Goonj, the TV serial. When I read hindi literature, I am awed by the depth of charaterization in the pre independence era stories. Or even some of the stories set in in 60s and 70s. However, 80s and 90s seem to be the industrial revolution conundrum. Just as india skipped the industrial revolution to move straight to a services revolution, indian literature skipped  that generation to jump straight to the 21st century. There arent any wonderful literary records of the life and times in those two decades.  When the current indian workforce was discovering its identity. Or the lack of it. The old moralities were dying, and the new was yet to come in, the world was not a standard unified place where either everyone was looking for independence, or where everyone was looking to gain personal independence. I am a firm believer of history needing to be preserved not just through the eyes of the historian, but also in the literature of the generation.

 

Or, maybe, a lot was written but I missed all of  it.

 

Does this book attempt to go there? Not deliberately. I doubt if it even attempts to. It seems to be a simple enough tale that many of us would have grown up with. Dramatised for extra effect. However, in trying to tell the story of three kids from small city, the book does preserve some cultural references. And thats a good win. It’s not an exercise in nostalgia, and hence, not sepia tinted. It just is an account of things that happened in the lives of three kids who are on the verge of loosing their innocence.

 

It doesnt matter if the book is not the best written or the most flowing book. I enjoyed reading it one sunday afternoon, thinking about the times I had left behind in a small school in a small town, and wondering whether it still is the same.

 

Not the best, but a good debut by Siddharth. I wish him well for his future works.  Looking for a lazy read, go for it. Looking for a stroll down the memory lane. Read it.

Book Review: The Kill List by Fredrick Forsyth

TKL

“In Virginia, there is an agency bearing the bland name of Technical Operations Support Activity, or TOSA. Its one mission is to track, find, and kill those so dangerous to the United States that they are on a short document known as the Kill List.”

 

For years, Fredrick Forsyth has been synonymous with “The Day Of Jackal” for me. It is somewhat unfair on an author when he has a long list coming after his best work, because nothing really ever matches up to the earlier one. So, I will try to be fair, and do away with any comparison.

 So, standalone, where does The Kill List stand? Well, I found it to be a middle of the road book. Offers enough for you to finish it off in a smooth read. Doesn’t offer enough for you to stay with it for long once you are done.

The book is set around a mysterious islamic preacher whose inflammatory sermons in the post 9-11 world are turning individuals into fanatic and killers. With more than 10 attacks across US and UK, an ex-armed forces agent, now known as The Tracker, working with TOSA, is on the chase, which becomes a little too personal, when one of the assassins kills his father. The hunt is on. The methods not strictly legal.

The book jumps between Pakistan, Afghanistan, UK, Somalia, Sweden, US and a few other places, perfectly aided by cutting edge spy tech, some chance coincidences involving Somalian pirates, and a level of juvenile cyber infiltration usually not expected from Forsyth, to get to the man, and do the clean up job. All this – To kill The preacher, the one with amber eyes.

The core hunt of the book, in Forsyth style, is about less than half of the book. The rest of it, expectedly, is spent on detailing detailing the incidents, and building the character of the Tracker. After a while, going through these attacks becomes mundane and boring. Someone is killed, and the killer’s apartment or laptop has sermons by a mysterious preacher whose face is not revealed. The real motives and inspiration for the preacher never really come out. Nor does the reason for his influence. Not a lot of ink spent on the characterization of the fanatics. What is done well is a detailing of the Tracker, the man on the job.

 

There isn’t any new flavor to this story. There is an attempt to ride on the Operation Geronimo that took out bin laden, with explanations given around why similar tactics could not be deployed, and the difference in the modus operandi of this new guy. The book remains a very basic well written book about the hunt for a criminal. Good guy, bad guy and a very smart good guy using cutting edge infrastructure to nab a very smart bad guy. Except that you hardly see the genius of the evil mastermind. Its over simplified. In the end, for most part, it is an exploit for young Ariel, the hacker whiz kid, making the entire intelligence apparatus look like ponies.

 

Forsyth effortlessly blends the narrative with his style of detailing each and every scene. So much so, that it seems ready to be a movie’s screenplay, and I would not be surprised if its picked by some Director with a limited imagination. The high point of the book is the effortless ease with which you can finish off the book.

 

The Kill List is something that you should pick for a long flight. Finish it, and leave it in the craft for the next traveller. Its not worth hanging on to it, or increasing your shoulder bag’s weight for.

Book Review: City Adrift – A Short Biography of Bombay by Naresh Fernandes

I take my words back. When I referred to the book earlier, I had mentioned that it was a dry read. I take it back.

CA1Summary: Go read it.

Back in the early 90s, when I was a school-kid in Ranchi, I was fascinated by some of these guys who’d know fairly great details about the girls they had a crush on. They’d know the typical schedule they keep, their walk and talk times, their teachers, friends and foes, where they lived, where they ate, their parents’ history, blah blah blah. How? That’s the question I always struggled with. What I knew for sure is that their crush was supported by a huge volume of research painfully collected and organized over days and weeks and months of following the girl everywhere. On a cycle. On two feet. On a scooter. In the morning. Or the evening. Effort. Love. Dedication. Single Minded Focus. Oh… and there was heartbreak too!

City Adrift gives you a feeling that Naresh loves “Bombay”. He still doesn’t like the city being called Mumbai.

Over the years, I have had several fascinating conversations about the city of Mumbai/ Bombay with several people, most of whom I believe knew a lot more about this city than me. The landmarks, the emotions, the stories behind the daily places, and what-nots. And like most great cities’ history, Mumbai’s history is fascinating. And most of these conversations often become a rant about how bad things have become, and how the city is doomed. We, the all knowing, take prophetic stands, based on all the wisdom those conversations bestow upon us.

Alas, I knew not much.

As you flip through pages, the first few pages worry you. It seems like Naresh is building up on a rant about a depressingly true facet of the modern Mumbai– the real estate prices and the emerging “townships”. However, the deftness with which it starts unfolding layers after layers of the city’s evolution is remarkable.

Naresh takes you through the key moments in the coming together of the seven islands that form Bombay, the reclamation of land that’s still not complete, the cultural and ethnic evolution, the insiders and the outsiders, the haves and the have nots, the current and the forgotten, and the now and the future – with stories and anecdotes that only someone who’s done extensive research on the subject can provide. It manages to avoid the possibility of the book becoming a long rant about the current state of affairs. At the same time, it never gets stuck so deep in a piece of history which has become irrelevant that it remains of interest only for people who love history. The book is surprisingly contemporary in its coverage. One of the fun references in the book – the average speed of cars in Mumbai often is less than 10kph, which is about half the speed of the winner of the annual marathon in the city. And yeah – all the digs on the real estate adverts are fun.

As he navigates from the then to the now, you understand better what he means by the city being adrift – a tiny goal-less, direction-less, vision-less, rudder-less speck in an ocean of humanity – and a terrible heartache is all that you are left with. Like the cliche goes – beautiful girls marry dumb jokers. Mumbai has had her share of administrators and politicians.

Pick it. Read it. Enjoy it. Great investment if you want to understand the uniqueness of this city… And the uniqueness of its challenges.

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