The Amazing Story of the Man who Cycled from India to Europe for Love by Per J Andersson | Book Review

The title screams it is a love story. Of one man fighting against all odds to travel seven thousand miles over land and be with the woman he loved.

In reality though, this book is far more.

This is the story of a man, Jagat Ananda Pradyumna Kumar Mahanandia, born in a remote village on the edge of a jungle in Orissa, who experienced crushing hardships during his childhood as an untouchable in the early years of Independance. Forced to sit outside the classroom, he would watch his classmates wash themselves if they came in contact with him. He was pelted with stones when he approached the village temple, for the priests said he dirtied everything pure and holy. But as PK later realised, his life would have turned out very differently had he not been an untouchable.

PK, as he was fondly addressed by his friends, was inclined towards the Arts, while his father wanted him to become an engineer – a career that promised bright prospects for his future. However, after a disastrous term struggling with Maths, Physics and Chemistry, PK applied to art school and was later accepted on a scholarship to continue studying in New Delhi.

It was here that he met Lotta, a young European woman of noble descent who had driven from Sweden, in a beat up VW bus, with a couple of friends. He had a chance encounter with her on a cold December evening, amidst a queue of people waiting for PK to sketch their portraits for a paltry sum of ten rupees, which was to change their lives irrevocably.

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Since this is a true story, it wouldn’t be fair to assess and review the author’s work as is done with most fiction and non-fiction writing. I rather see it as the passion in his endeavour to bring PK’s story out into the world in a way that is endearing, inspirational, and, most of all, authentic.

The story begins when PK was born and the village astrologer made the prophecy that he would “… marry a girl from far, far away, from outside the village, the district, the province, the state, and even the country”. He had looked straight into PK’s eyes and  whispered to him that he wouldn’t have to go looking for her, she would come to him. The prophecy, as scratched on a palm leaf with a sharpened stick continued that she would be musical, own a jungle and be born under the sign of Taurus. PK grew up believing his fate was written in the stars, as for all newborn children, and he carried these stories in his heart.

What follows is PK’s struggle to survive amidst poverty and hunger, without a roof over his head. It was when he decided to become a commercial artist and set up shop by the fountain in Connaught Place Park that his fortune began to take a turn for the better.

Andersson has written a memoir on PK’s life which shows how his experiences shaped him into the man he was to become. It was these experiences that would be his strength on the long journey he was to eventually take across continents and cultures.

About a third of the book describes the actual journey from India to Sweden, via Afghanistan, Iran, Turkey, Austria, Germany and Denmark.

PK had decided he would take a month to travel on a bicycle from India to Sweden, but it took him four months. He ran out of money for food and shelter fairly quickly and would earn his way by painting portraits. His charming personality ensured he made many friends on the way. He carried with him an address book of travellers on the hippie trail he had met in New Delhi and would look them up on the way. He soon realised this was the warmest community of people.

When he finally arrived in Sweden, he wasn’t sure if Lotta would still want him. Another man was already vying for her affections and one evening he came to Lotta’s home, upset that she was living with PK.

PK realised this man was the perfect match for Lotta and he was wasting his time here if there was no love. He needed a home, security, a place to build his life. He decided he would cycle back to New Delhi.

The following night, Lotta cried when PK refused to budge on his decision. She said to him, “…I don’t want you to buy a bicycle and leave. … I want to be with you, together in one big mess. For life.”

PK took a four month course in Swedish for immigrants and worked hard to fit into his new home country. He started teaching art at the local high school. Exactly two years after they were reunited in Sweden, PK and Lotta were married. The children, Emilie and Karl-Siddhartha arrived a few years later.

PK has since travelled back to his birth-place with his family and built a house between the mountains and the river where he grew up. From here he co-ordinates his charitable work – the water-wells, the school and the activity centre for women.

PK’s story is not about the pursuit of love. It is about his journey through life that unravels the psychological layers of the man who decided to rise by getting past the obstacles that lay on his path. It is a testament that nothing is impossible and that despite the flaws, there is love and beauty all around us. It is this narrative that makes his story truly amazing.

Title: The Amazing Story of the Man who Cycled from India to Europe for Love
Author: Per J Andersson
Publisher: One World Publications
ISBN: 978-1-78607-207-8
Edition/Year: First Edition 2017
Format: Paperback
Genre: Non-Fiction / Travel-Memoir
Pages: 304
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5 Stars

Available on Amazon.

About the Author: Per J Andersson is a writer and journalist. He is the co-founder of Sweden’s most well-known traveller’s magazine Vagabond, and has been visiting India for the last 30 years. He lives in Stockholm.

About the Translator: Anna Holmwood translates literature from Swedish and Chinese to English.

About PK and Lotta: PK and Lotta have been happily married since 1979. They have two children and live in Borås, Sweden. PK is an Art and Culture Adviser for the Swedish Government, and also the Oriya Cultural Ambassador to Sweden.

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Kissing The Demon by Amrita Kumar | Book Review

If you have decided to embark on a writing journey, either professionally or as a hobby, you will soon realise it is a feat akin to kissing the demon. Fortunately though, Amrita Kumar, with the repertoire of her experiences spanning four decades, lays out a simple and effective method to traverse this seemingly arduous path.

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She starts from the absolute beginning – why one should write, for that is the most important question a writer must be able to answer. Not to anyone else but to the self.

Once that is established, she goes on to explain the integral elements of creative writing: plot, characterization, narration, setting, dialogue, that help form a compelling story. She explains with examples which are relevant to the aspiring as well as the seasoned writer. Kumar draws parallels from notable films as well as award winning and popular books to drive the point.

What is most important, however, that sets this book apart from almost all others on the subject of writing, is that she dedicates an entire section to the publishing process, specifically tailored for the Indian writer.

Starting from when, how and where to look for a publisher and/or agent, pitching your manuscript, waiting for a response, negotiating a contract, understanding advances & royalties, to the actual editing, and finally publicity/marketing, she brings focus to an otherwise blurry image that few debut writers can claim to have fully understood.

Last but not the least, she also helps with tips and tricks to manage the complicated balance of dealing with everyday life, and staying fit while indulging in an altogether sedentary writing habit.

You may choose to read this book before you start writing, or after you have written a first draft, nonetheless it has a wealth of information on both creative writing and publishing that you would otherwise rarely come across. One you cannot afford to miss.

Title: Kissing The Demon
Author: Amrita Kumar
Publisher: Harper Collins Publishers India
ISBN: 978-93-5264-303-5
Edition/Year: First Edition 2017
Format: Paperback
Genre: Non-Fiction
Pages: 268
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5 Stars

Available on Amazon.

About the Author: Amrita Kumar is an anthologist, novelist, writing-mentor and creative writing teacher. She began her career in the godowns of Daryaganj to select books for a chain of bookshops, moving on as research writer for the Department of Culture, Government of India, then on to publishing as associate editor, Penguin India; editor-in-chief, Roli Books; managing editor, Encyclopedia Britannica; editor, Indian Design & Interiors magazine; and vice-president, Osian’s Literary Agency. In addition, she has freelanced for Rupa & Co., HarperCollins India and Oxford University Press.
She lives in New Delhi.

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The Windfall by Diksha Basu | Book Review

I had been seeing this book pop up on my Instagram and Twitter feed every now and then and had made a random note of it somewhere on my TBR list.

Then, I landed at the bookstore to pick up a few books that had been out of stock when my trusted bookseller pulled out a book from the large display table on his right and placed it in front me. “Read this,” he said, his gaze pointing at the copy of The Windfall by Diksha Basu. His recommendations having always been spot on, I couldn’t refuse and returned with a book that was to soon become one of my favourites.

The Windfall begins by introducing Anil Kumar Jha who has worked hard and is now ready to live well. Having sold off his website for what he thinks was an unbelievable price of twenty million dollars, he and his family are moving out of their modest flat in East Delhi, that had been their home for thirty years, into a spacious bungalow in upscale Gurgaon. But, his wife, Bindu, is heartbroken at the prospect of leaving their neighbours and doesn’t want to wear designer sarees or understand interior decoration. Meanwhile, their son, Rupak, is failing business school in the US and secretly dating an American girl. He has still not summoned the courage to talk to his parents about either of these developments.

Once installed in their mansion, the Jhas are soon drawn into a feverish game of one-upmanship with their new neighbours – the Chopras. When an imitation Sistine Chapel is pitted against a crystal-encrusted sofa imported from Japan, and each couple seeks to outdo the other with increasingly lavish displays of wealth, Bindu begins to wonder where it will all end.

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Diksha Basu presents a hilarious tale of a middle-class Delhi family struggling to fit into the mould that comes with their new-found wealth. Their discovery of a lifestyle they have never known, one which Mr. Jha is determined to embrace while Mrs. Jha is fearful of accepting, highlights the insecurity that plagues us all.

Basu’s prose is simple and easy going, much like the family whose story she tells. She infuses a sense of humour in her writing which makes one laugh out loud at every page. The novel is paced exceptionally well, discouraging the reader of any urge to pause. She weaves a captivating narrative of the Jhas’ new lifestyle in Gurgaon entangled with the confusion Rupak experiences in the face of his parents change in mindset.

The Chopras play their part as supporting characters to perfection. Dinesh Chopra, the new neighbour, is as nosey as they come. Watching every move the Jhas make, he is determined to prove he is better and richer.

I particularly loved the nuanced character of Mrs. Ray, the 37 year old widow who is Mrs. Jha’s best friend. Basu loops her story in the narrative effortlessly, and draws attention to the meaningless stigmas associated with being a young widow in India.

The Windfall is a tug of war between values and aspirations. As Michael Mandelbaum said, ‘The windfall of great riches can, if mismanaged, make things worse, not better, for the recipients’. This book simply shows the reader how, albeit with dollops of humour.

If you’re looking for a better-than-good book that will spread warmth in your heart after reading it, I recommend this one. I guarantee it will make you laugh so much that you will cry.

Title: The Windfall
Author: Diksha Basu
Publisher: Bloomsbury India
ISBN: 978-93-86606-62-4
Edition/Year: First Edition 2017
Format: Paperback
Genre: Fiction/General
Pages: 304
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5 Stars

Available on Amazon.

About the Author: Diksha Basu is a writer and actor. Originally from New Delhi, India, she holds a BA in Economics from Cornell University and an MFA in Creative Writing from Columbia University. Her writing has appeared in the New York Times , Cosmopolitan , Buzzfeed and the BBC. She divides her time between New York City and Mumbai.
To connect with her, find her on Twitter.

This post is participating in #MyFriendAlexa because I am taking my Alexa rank to the next level with Blogchatter.

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Jukebox: A Short-Story Anthology from Writersmelon | Book Review

There are these lines in the song All I Want by Joni Mitchell, from her album Blue:

I wanna be strong, I wanna laugh along,
I wanna belong to the living.
Alive, alive, I wanna get up and jive,
Wanna wreck my stockings in some jukebox dive.

This is as close as it gets to how I feel when I read the stories in Jukebox – Writersmelon’s newest anthology – a product of fifteen best short-stories handpicked from Melonade 5, their annual nationwide writing competition.

Each of these stories is written by a fresh, new voice: The story you wish was never narrated to an eight-year-old. A cold December morning and a lone gravestone that changes a woman’s life. A teenager who, struggling to deal with the challenges in her life, believes she is cursed. An ageing alcoholic superstar who finds a magical cure for his baldness. The love story linked to a missing earring. A teacher’s faith in her student that bears fruit fifteen years later. These are just a sampling of what the book has to offer.

Categorised in three sections – Suspense, Humour, and Romance – these stories take the reader on a journey where the characters’ lives would have been very different, were it not for the choices they made. They display the protagonist’s strength in drawing courage from within. To do the unthinkable, the supposedly taboo, or to simply follow their heart.

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I can’t deny the fact that I was caught in the web of this jukebox right from the first page.

Abhishek Mukherjee’s ‘Story’ had me biting my nails from the sheer anticipation of what his protagonist was unravelling. His pointed questions to his mother, about his father’s murder, were something you wish no child had to ask. Mukherjee narrates it with the innocence and curiosity of an eight-year-old.

In ‘A Deep Fried Love Story’, Diptee Raut weaves an interesting tale of fat, fried, and love on fire. A woman’s chance sighting of a delicious snack in the hands of a man, puts both man and woman on the fast track to love. The absurdity of such a normal encounter is what endears this story to you.

Purba Chakraborty describes a teacher’s affection for a student unlike others in ‘Her Favourite Pupil’. Her leap of faith in pushing him to test his limits backfires and she ends up losing him. This story is as inspiring as beautiful, and reading it brought tears to my eyes.

‘One Day in December’ by Deboshree Bhattacharjee Pandey is so full of spine-chilling suspense that I am still reeling from the shock of how it turned out in the end.

Avishek basu Mallick begins ‘Lizard Grass’ with a disclaimer that is difficult to ignore. His tongue-in-cheek humour and the obvious reference to reality makes this an absolutely hilarious read.

I could go on to review every story but it wouldn’t do justice to them. There is something unique and special about each one of them.

I did feel that some of the stories could have been edited better, though Priyanka Roy Banerjee has done a remarkable job with most.

Even so, once you pick it up, you will find yourself lost within its gripping tales, losing all sense of time. This jukebox sure carries a delectable selection for aficionados of all genres.

Title: Jukebox
Author: Various
Publisher: Readomania
ISBN: 978-93-858543-3-0
Edition/Year: First Edition 2017
Format: Paperback
Genre: Fiction
Pages: 176
Source: Writersmelon.com
Rating: 4 Stars

Available on Amazon.

About Writersmelon:  They are a leading community of book lovers, constantly buzzing with ‘real conversations’ around Books, Authors, and Writing.
Budding authors & bloggers can explore interesting writing opportunities to review books, contribute articles, or cover a book related event in their city.
Writersmelon has a unique approach for new release books, combined with other professional services which have been widely appreciated with glowing testimonials from authors, their agents, and reputed publishing houses.
They also run a nationwide writing competition – Melonade – which is an attempt to provide a platform to young and upcoming writers from all walks of life. It gives them an opportunity to get judged & reviewed by some very respected & widely read authors and  showcase their stories.
With hundreds of entries received every year as part of Melonade, the best stories are published as an anthology, the first of which was First Brush on the Canvas.
Jukebox is their second anthology, edited by Priyanka Roy Banerjee and with a Foreword by Preeti Shenoy. 
Follow Writersmelon on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. Also check out their website http://www.writersmelon.com/wm/ for some great articles.

Note – I received this review copy from Writersmelon.com in exchange for an honest and unbiased review.

This post is participating in #MyFriendAlexa because I am taking my Alexa rank to the next level with Blogchatter.

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I Quit! Now What? by Zarreen Khan | Book Review

I remember reading a quote by John Ortberg which said, ‘I have always heard that you need to give yourself a long time to unplug when you do a sabbatical. I unplugged so fast I was a little concerned that I was losing brain capacity.’

I couldn’t help being reminded of his words when I started reading I Quit! Now What? by Zarreen Khan:

As the title explains, Nimisha is exhausted. Of endless weekdays, working weekends, making presentations, working with complicated Excel sheets, handling a boss with time-management issues and the general politics of the workplace. Sigh! After eight years of this life, her only personal insight is that she’s terribly unambitious and constantly struggling to be an average performer in the competitive corporate world.

When a colleague flashes the glint of a golden sabbatical, she catapults into it headfirst. After all, one has to find one’s calling at some point in one’s life.

So, will the sabbatical miraculously change her life forever? Or will she go rushing back to her pocket-money-generating job?

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Khan, having chosen a single, twenty-something female professional as the protagonist, speaks for all the unmarried women today who are looking to take a break after a seven-to-ten year career track.

The fact that Nimisha is inspired by a colleague who is four months pregnant, itself speaks volumes. I, for one, have never understood why it is considered normal for a married woman to take a break from work, but when a single woman decides to take this step, everyone – from her company’s chief (insert name of your company’s top honcho – man or woman) to the chaiwallah outside her office building – has an opinion; her own relatives included.

The first obvious question is what said single woman will survive on, without the luxury of a regular salary being credited to her account. The author tackles this in an understated way. She lands a sharp punch on the nose of all those who think a single woman sitting at home is only living off her parents money. (Hello Uninitiated! Are you familiar with the term ‘Savings’? No? Look it up!)

In addition to her overt subtlety, Khan also has a definite flair for humour. This is evident from the opening scene and is carried throughout the book – Only one of the many reasons I ended up reading this through the night. It comes naturally to her and she infuses it at the right places, often coupled with eye-rolling sarcasm that makes you roll on the floor from laughing so much it hurts.

The story is told in two parts – The Corporate Life and The Sabbatical. And these pictures couldn’t have described it better. (Kudos to whoever came up with the idea….I love them!)

When she does eventually bite the Sabbatical bullet, and begins her quest to discover a new passion, Nimisha is supported by a loving family, two adorable nieces, a gang of 2:00am friends and, last but not the least, the quintessential best (boy) friend.

Wait, don’t start jumping in excitement just yet. There is a (boy) friend, yes, but this is not a romance novel. So, don’t pick this up if that’s all you’re looking for. You won’t find it here.

What you will find though, is a lot of cupid confusion, which is just about the amount of romance I can handle. 🙂

As Nimisha soon finds out in her preparation to dive into this new phase, armed with a list of activities she has been meaning to pursue, it turns out there really is a technique to live and enjoy a sabbatical. No wonder John Ortberg said what he did about the time needed to unplug.

I Quit! Now What? is a fun read, with the perfect mix of dreams, fantasy and practicality. Zarreen Khan has definitely made her presence felt with her strong writing and should consider making this a series. I will surely be lining up to get hold of her next book.

Title: I Quit! Now What?
Author: Zarreen Khan
Publisher: Amaryllis – An Imprint of Manjul Publishing house

ISBN: 978-93-81506-97-4
Edition/Year: First Edition 2017
Format: Paperback
Genre: Fiction/General
Pages: 296
Source: Author/Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

Available on Amazon.

About the Author: The author, Zareen, is NOT on a sabbatical. She is a mother, cook, maid, doctor and magician for her kids – a very demanding job! And when she gets time off, she works as a marketing consultant.
Zarreen loves writing and has been secretly maintaining piles of self-written storybooks since the age of eight. I Quit! Now What? is her first novel.
She lives in Delhi with her husband, Moksh and children, Zayn and Iram.
Follow her on Facebook to know more about the author and her writing.

Note – I received this review copy from the Author/Publisher in exchange for an honest and unbiased review.

This post is participating in #MyFriendAlexa because I am taking My Alexa rank to the next level with Blogchatter.

UPDATE 3rd Oct 2017: This review is now also published on womensweb.in

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Picture2 Courtesy: Amaryllis - An Imprint of Manjul Publishing house