The Boy Who Loved Trains by Deepak Sapra | Book Review

If any fans of The Big Bang Theory are reading this, do not be misled by the title. This book is not about Sheldon Cooper.

This is a book about a boy who fell in love with trains at a very young age, so much that he had the entire railway timetable memorised – for every train, at every station. A boy who stumped his college interview panel with his fascinating knowledge about trains and went on to study at the Indian Railways Institute of Mechanical and Electrical Engineering (IRIMEE) and then was commissioned to work in the Indian Railways Service. This is the story of that boy who loved trains.

As a young officer posted in India’s Eastern Railway, Jeet Arora is responsible for running trains on one of the densest train routes in the country.
In doing so, he encounters pretty girls and thugs, shares space with buffaloes and goats and finds himself in the midst of oil spills and fires.
As he stumbles across several unexpected, hilarious and entertaining adventures, can he keep trains, and his sanity, on track?

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Deepak Sapra uses his experiences earned during his career in the Eastern Railways to take you on an exciting train journey unlike any other. From his stint at the IRIMEE where he earned his engineering degree, to the challenges of working in an establishment of this magnitude as the Indian Railways, he keeps his readers engaged with a delightful story.

In addition to the insight that this novel offers on life within the IRS, generously flavoured with anecdotes on the mechanism of a government operation, there is also the subtle, often dry, humour that Sapra brings forth – of Jeet working amidst dust, oil and grease – which is extremely entertaining.

Amidst all this is Jeet’s family, who assume he must either be a Ticket Collector or Train Driver and can supply them with free train rides for the rest of their lives. Then, there are his own aspirations as a young man, doggedly vying for the romantic affections of his lady friend and hoping to put down some roots between the many directions that the train tracks follow.

After having read this novel, I wonder why more Indian authors do not write such pieces of fiction with a backdrop of the workings of large scale Indian industries. I believe they could be real entertainers, despite including what many would (incorrectly) assume to be mundane details.

As Jane Smiley wrote: Sometimes, a novel is like a train: the first chapter is a comfortable seat in an attractive carriage, and the narrative speeds up. But there are other sorts of trains, and other sorts of novels. They rush by in the dark; passengers framed in the lighted windows are smiling and enjoying themselves.

There couldn’t have been a better metaphor for this novel about the boy who loved trains.

Title: The Boy Who Loved Trains
Author: Deepak Sapra
Publisher: Readomania
ISBN: 978-9385854644
Edition/Year: First Edition 2018
Format: Paperback
Genre: Fiction
Pages: 256
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 Stars

Available on Amazon.

About the Author: Deepak Sapra is a former Indian Railways Service officer. He is an alumnus of IRIMEE, Jamalpur and IIM Bangalore. He travels, blogs and writes on places and people. His diaries have been published by the Outlook Magazine.
He currently holds a very senior position in an MNC and lives in Hyderabad with his family.
To know more about his life in the railways, connect with him on Facebook and Twitter.

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Koi Good News? by Zarreen Khan | Book Review

Marriages, they say, are made in heaven. Well, so are thunder and lightning.  A wise woman once remarked: whether you’ve been married a year or several, it is an Indian marriage that is most frightening.

When Mona Mathur of Dehradun married her college sweetheart, Ramit Deol of Amritsar, there were two things she wasn’t prepared for:
1. The size of the Deol family which put any Sooraj Barjatya movie to shame.
2. The fertility of the Deol family which had them reproducing faster than any other species known to mankind.

It has now been four years since their wedding, and Mona and Ramit have done the unthinkable – they have remained childless. Of course, that also means that they’ve battled that one question day in and day out: ‘Koi Good News?’ It doesn’t matter that they have been happy to be child-free. They are married; they are expected to make babies. After all, there are grandparents, great-grandparents, uncles, aunts, and even colony aunties in waiting.

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Now, the truth is, Ramit and Mona had been trying to conceive for the past one year. But having a baby isn’t as easy as it’s made out to be. Finally, aided by the wine at their highly glamorous neighbours’ party, Mona gets pregnant. And so begins a crazy journey – complete with interfering relatives, nosy neighbours, disapproving doctors, and absolutely no privacy at all!

Can Mona and Ramit survive The Great Indian Baby Tamasha or will their carefully built tower of marital joy crumble to the ground?

To find out more about this book, which some bookstores have been found to also categorise under pregnancy self-help, read my detailed review as published at Women’s Web, here.

Title: Koi Good News?
Author: Zarreen Khan
Publisher: HarperCollins India
ISBN: 978-93-5277-905-5
Edition/Year: First Edition 2018
Format: Paperback
Genre: Fiction/General
Pages: 388
Source: Author/Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

Available on Amazon.

About the Author: After working for Pepsi, Hindustan Times and ACNielsen for ten years, Zarreen Khan decided to take a break and raise two children, who are sometimes kind enough to let her role-play as a marketing consultant. She lives in Delhi with her husband, Moksh, and children, Zayn and Iram, dealing with the craziness of being half-Muslim and half-Punjabi, which is detrimental to her weight, sanity, and sense of humour.
Zarreen’s first book, I Quit! Now What?, was published in 2017. Koi Good News? is her second book.
Follow her on Facebook to know more about the author and her writing.

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Great Textpectations by Ruchi Vadehra | Book Review

How many of you (if you belong to that generation) remember the time when mobile phone service providers first added the text feature? When each message character was worth its weight in gold, and we were forced to develop an entire lingo meant specifically for messaging in order to have a text conversation without emptying one’s bank balance?

Today, nearly two decades later, however, texting is a much more evolved form of speech – Fingered speech, to be precise. Now, we can write the way we talk, especially when characters are not weighed by their monetary value. No wonder, then, that people are having entire relationships via texting. Whether it is a couple in love, living a few kilometres from each other, or two people sitting on different continents running a business together, texting is the new means of interaction; of getting to know each other and thereby establishing a deep, albeit largely virtual relationship.

Without the necessity of face-to-face interaction that most expect to be the framework of relationship building, new rules are being established, as the protagonist of this novel discovers along the way.

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Amaya Kapoor is a Delhi-based intellectually inclined thirty-five-year-old single, financially independent, and sexually liberated woman, who wants to open a ‘boutique bookstore’ and live life on her own terms—single and content. She comes across Rohan while playing Scrabble online, and they soon get chatting, enjoying each other’s company without the usual baggage face-to-face interactions bring. Their text conversations are fun, flirty, and become instrumental in connecting their worlds. Amaya and Rohan become an integral part of each other’s lives even before they realize it and so, eventually, decide to meet. What happens to their virtual relationship when they finally do meet in the real world? Can texting really be the key that unlocks the heart?

To find out more about this book, read my featured review as published at Women’s Web, here.

Title: Great Textpectations
Author: Ruchi Vadehra
Publisher: Rupa Publications
ISBN: 978-81-291-5183-4
Edition/Year: First Edition 2018
Format: Paperback
Genre: Fiction
Pages: 236
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 3 Stars

Available on Amazon.

About the Author: Ruchi Vadehra belongs to a family of writers from both sides of parentage. Writing is thus homecoming to her. She began with conceptualizing and co-editing a neighbourhood community newsletter which inspired her to take forward her zest for words, people and travel through fiction.
Ruchi lives with her husband and two children in New Delhi. Great Textpectations is her first book.
To know more about her book, connect with her on Twitter.

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To Hell and Back by Anurag Anand | Book Review

Call me a cynic if you will but I don’t think Voltaire, when he said: ‘Paradise was made for tender hearts; hell, for loveless hearts’, would have made much sense today. Two reasons. One – the world we now live in can no longer be deemed paradise, and thus, two – tender hearts no longer have a place to survive. That is precisely what, as if to disprove Voltaire, this book draws its premise from.

A mindless road-rage incident leaves a young and promising entrepreneur dead. The woman travelling with him is the sole witness to the event. Is it an accident, or a cold-blooded murder planned to absolute perfection?

Namrata, a young professional, is enveloped by all the quintessential elements of life in the fast lane – a staling marriage, an extramarital affair, and eyes full of dreams, until a fun evening turns into a chilling nightmare for her. Renu, a girl living a life marred by regressive customs and dated practices, has resigned to the patriarchal ways of her world, until they begin to cast their malicious shadows on her unborn child.

Their worlds, although separate, intersect each other in a single strike of tragedy that none could have imagined. It is then that this story begins and sends everyone’s life on a dizzy tailspin. Will they be able to get back to their safe and secure lives, or will their world have shifted on its axis forever?

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The book opens with the accident and then proceeds to retrace the events from eight months ago. The author delves into Namrata’s life and gradually brings Renu into the picture, their narratives proceeding alongside each other, yet not crossing paths until the end.

Anurag Anand has crafted his characters well, giving them a layered persona. Whether it is the lead, or supporting cast, they have all been fleshed out in detail which is displayed in the part they play in the story. Every character has a time and place for their literal presence and they perform on cue.

Anand’s writing is smooth and exhibits a natural flow in the events that form the framework. The parallel narratives sometimes do appear to be vague and disconnected which, I gather, may have been deliberate on the author’s part to add to the suspense. Even so, when after three quarters of the book, there is no sign of any connection between Namrata and Renu or why the accident came to be, the interest starts to wane.

The story finally brings the players together and ties up loose ends to put it all in perspective in the final few pages in a conversation led by the protagonist. It appears as if the suspense may have been resolved but the thrill of the mystery loses its impact. What would have made a spine-chilling revelation, ends up seemingly rushed. The aftermath of the accident also leaves much to be desired.

Nonetheless, the concept of how all tragedies are not orchestrated by fate is an interesting one. When it comes to people we think we know, virtue has a veil, vice a mask, and it is behind the mask of sanity that psychopathy might lurk. And to know how, To Hell and Back deserves to be read.

Title: To Hell and Back
Author: Anurag Anand
Publisher: Readomania
ISBN: 978-93-858546-2-0
Edition/Year: First Edition 2018
Format: Paperback
Genre: Fiction
Pages: 238
Source: Publisher
Rating: 3 Stars

Available on Amazon.

About the Author: Anurag Anand is a prolific author, a corporate professional and a devout family man, who finds himself shuttling between Pennsylvania, where his family is settled, and Gurugram. Two of his works – The Legend of Amrapali and the Quest for Nothing – have made it to the final shortlist in the past editions of the Crossword Book Awards. His other books are Love on 3 Wheels, Where the Rainbow Ends, Birth of the Bastard Prince, of Tattoos and Taboos! and Reality Bites.
He is a contributing author to several renowned publications, including the Times of India, and his column, ‘Corporate Whispers’, is a monthly feature in the Suburb Life magazine. The biggest reward for his writing, he believes, is hearing from his readers and interacting with them.
You can reach him with your comments and feedback on the book via Facebook and Twitter, or email him at contact@anuraganand.in.

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How I Became a Farmer’s Wife by Yashodhara Lal | Book Review

In an interview, many years ago, Bill Gates remarked: “I know there’s a farmer out there somewhere who never wants a PC and that’s fine with me.”

At the time he said this, Gates probably didn’t take into consideration the rapid development of technology and, more importantly, our dependence on it. Nor did he account for Vijay Sharma’s determination to venture into farming and rely on the now omnipresent network-connected device as a valuable resource to aid his endeavour.

Can you blame him? Who in their right mind would’ve thought, back in 2006, that an educated man would contemplate giving up a successful corporate career to become an urban dairy-farmer? Even today, it all seems a little far-fetched, but Yashodhara Lal’s latest offering narrates the story of just such a hare-brained idea.

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Mild-mannered Vijay is the perfect Indian husband – responsible and predictable. Well, at least he was, until he decided to turn Farmer! Vijay’s unsuspecting wife Yashodhara is caught off guard when, tired of the rigours of city life, he actually rents land and starts dairy farming! As if Yash didn’t have enough going on already, what with her high-octane job, three children and multiple careers. As Vijay dives deeper into his quirky hobby, the family is plucked out of their comfortable life in the steel-and-chrome high-rises of Gurgaon and thrown headfirst into a startlingly unfamiliar world – complete with cows and crops, multiple dogs and eccentric farmhands, a shrewd landlady and the occasional rogue snake. Will these earnest but insulated city-dwellers be able to battle the various difficulties that come with living a farmer’s life?

To find out more about this book, read my detailed review as published at Women’s Web, here.

Title: How I Became a Farmer’s Wife
Author: Yashodhara Lal
Publisher: HarperCollins India
ISBN: 978-93-5277-585-9
Edition/Year: First Edition 2018
Format: Paperback
Genre: Fiction
Pages: 328
Source: HarperCollins India / Women’s Web
Rating: 5 Stars

Available on Amazon.

About the Author: Yashodhara Lal is an author, mother of three children, marketing professional, and fitness instructor. She lives in Gurgaon with her family, her husband Vijay and three kids – Peanut, Pickle and Papad – who never fail to provide her with material for her blog.
To connect with her, find her on FacebookTwitter, or Instagram.

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Gurgaon Diaries by Debeshi Gooptu | Book Review

I remember when we were kids, and Gurgaon was a far cry from what it is now, we would pile up in the car and often head over for a drive outside Delhi, via Mehrauli-Gurgaon Road, relieved to leave the hustle and bustle of the city behind. Admiring the vast expanse of farm land along the way, secretly counting the dhabas and petrol stations on the highway to see who got the most, we would continue along until the mountains came into view.

Then, on the the way back, we would stop for ice-cream at Jumbo Point, sit on the top of the car, and wait. Wait for the sound of an approaching airplane and, as soon as it became audible, attentively follow its path until it descended lower and lower, and finally crossed the airport wall right above our heads with a deafening roar.

As far as we knew back then, going to Gurgaon meant the thrill of driving fast on wide, empty roads and see an airplane land or take-off over our heads. But when I look back now, I also remember how the landscape of Gurgaon evolved slowly and steadily. By the time I started working a few years later, and began driving myself to Gurgaon, the village and its people were already unrecognizable. I made sure I was always armed with a city map, for it was not yet the time of smart phones and Google Maps, and one couldn’t afford to be stranded in this strange land.

Modern-day Gurgaon was Guru Dronacharya’s village, a gift from the Pandavas and Kauravas for training them in military arts. While the legends of the mythical village are woven around the warrior mystic, the Millennium City, as it stands today, owes its rapid growth to globalization, outsourcing and the BPO boom.

From swanky malls and skyscrapers to pot-hole-ridden roads where gleaming Mercs vie for space with rickety rickshaws, from voluptuous North Indian aunties and brawny local men to rotund Bengali mashimas, from designer stores and Starbucks coffee to roadside vans peddling chole bhature, Drona’s village is riddled with contradictions, both hilarious and poignant, irreverent and bittersweet. Debeshi Gooptu’s Gurgaon Diaries is a humorous peek at the workings of this modern-day village and how the Millennium City is a paradox in itself.

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The author begins with a lovely introduction chronicling the history of Gurgaon from as far back as the Mahabharata. She describes how she first saw it upon moving here nearly two decades ago, having left the city of her birthplace, Kolkata (I believe it had still not been renamed from Calcutta back then), behind. Land, roads, infrastructure, people, and the language – it was all the hallmark of North India’s very own village bordering the grand capital.

Then came the boom in property and while builders and real estate agents seemed to take over the landscape to raise the skyline, there was an influx of people from all over the country who came in hordes for better opportunities. The village was taking over.

Unfortunately, this village wasn’t prepared to handle the rapid development and urbanization. Infrastructure was severely lacking. Gurgaon was unable to keep up. Soon enough, the success story developed large cracks, much like its potholed roads come monsoon season.

Nonetheless, the city has continued to grow and Gooptu has captured the nuances of her experience through the years in a short story / essay format.

The book is divided into three sections – Life, Work, and Play. True to their name, the stories in each category describe her various adventures of living in Gurgaon. Some are humourous, while others evoke anger, and then there are those that completely appall you.

The wonderful thing about the book is how, within the backdrop of development, it is a study in Gurgaon’s Sociology. Changes in values, culture, morals, ethics – life in Gurgaon and the people here are shown as the mishmash they are. As the author still learns to come to terms with this development of an entirely different kind, you – whether you are a resident, or visitor – can’t help but marvel at it.

I may be a born and bred Delhiite, yet, having been closely associated with Gurgaon in more ways than one, I still find myself amazed reading these stories. And while I continue to have an old, foldable map in the dashboard of my car (probably quite outdated now), I still trust it to help me find my way home if I do get lost in the burgeoning city. Though, I must confess, I am strongly considering supplementing the map with this book. For all you know, it might teach me a trick or two in handling tricky situations, or trickier Gurgaoniites.

Title: Gurgaon Diaries
Author: Debeshi Gooptu
Publisher: Rupa Publications
ISBN: 978-81-291-4995-4
Edition/Year: First Edition 2018
Format: Paperback
Genre: Fiction
Pages: 240
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 4 Stars

Available on Amazon.

About the Author: Debeshi Gooptu is a business journalist turned digital content strategist and entrepreneur. With more than twenty years of experience in print and television (Business Standard, Business Today, Plus Channel) and higher education (British Council, Canadian High Commission, Intel Asia Electronics), she runs an online research consultancy for overseas education organization and works as a digital content strategy head for Digiqom, a digital media agency. Debeshi is also the India editor for Innovation Enterprise, a Singapore-headquartered publication tracking trends in technology and innovation in Asia-Pacific.
She frequently blogs for The Huffington Post and runs ‘The Gurgaon Diaries’, a successful blog. In 2015, she self-published an e-book (with the same name) comprising a few of her stories from the blog, on Kindle Select. The book did extremely well with readers across the world requesting for more writing in this genre.
Her latest book – Gurgaon Diaries: Life, Work and Play in Drona’s Village (also based on her long-running blog of the same name) – was published by Rupa Publications in January this year.
Her book, Dragon Aunty Returns, and a collection of short stories has been published by Juggernaut Books in January last year.
In her spare time, Debeshi plays the piano, sings in the bathroom, and desperately tries to emulate Nigella in the kitchen.
She lives in Gurgaon, Haryana and continues to blog while also being active on Twitter.

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In Conversation with Jayant Kripalani

If you’ve been around since the 1980’s, then you would need no introduction to Jayant Kripalani. In fact, you would most likely have admired his various onscreen performances over the years. Nonetheless, I can’t stop myself from sharing a brief introduction of him, with you.

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An Indian film, television and stage actor, writer, and director, he is known for his performances in television series such as Khandaan, Mr. Ya Mrs., and Ji Mantriji. He has played character roles in movies like Heat and Dust, Rockford, Jaane Tu. . . Ya Jaane Na, 3 Idiots and, most recently, Hawaizaada and The Hungry.
He has directed and produced a number of films, is actively involved with theatre, and has also written the screenplay for Shyam Benegal’s film Well Done Abba.

He graduated from Jadavpur University with a degree in English Literature and worked in the advertising industry, before moving to film and television. He has authored two books – New Market Tales (2013) and Cantilevered Tales (2017). His recent foray into writing performance poetry has brought him acclaim in poetic circles around the country.

Earlier this month he launched his first book of poems titled Some Mad Poems Some Sad Poems Some Bad Poems and A Short Story in Verse. It is a collection of wonderful poems that he has written over time. The poems, sometimes satirical, sometimes allegorical reflect the times we live in. The book has two parts, the first being a collection of general poems and the second being a short story narrated in verse.

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I was, of course, delighted to have the opportunity to interview him ahead of the book launch. My joy knew no bounds when he went as far as to email a copy of the manuscript (a document that now holds pride of place on my bookshelf) to read, before we sat down for the chat. I have always been a great admirer of his work and the admiration has only increased ever since I met him personally.

So, read on to know what he had to say during our conversation that has got me fangirling:

Ashima Jain: Who is Jayant Kripalani today? Is he an actor? Or director? Or writer? Or poet? Or a beach-bum? Or is he someone who enjoys juggling all these different hats together, on his head?

Jayant Kripalani: If I had an answer to even one of those questions I might be a more settled human being today. I am not even sure I know if I am all of those things or whether I have the talent to wear all those rather lovely hats. In my rather checkered career I have also lived in the corporate milieu for a bit where I came across the work of a gentleman (a rather famous psychologist) whose name I can’t pronounce – Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. (I am sure he won’t be able to pronounce my name either.)

In his studies he showed that what makes an experience genuinely satisfying is a state of consciousness called ‘flow’. In this consciousness one ‘experiences deep enjoyment, creativity and a total involvement with life’.

I think that is something I knew without being able to articulate it as well as he did. So, whether I’m acting or bumming, I do both with complete abandonment and enjoyment. In the ‘flow’ as it were.

Ashima: I gather this ‘flow’ was what brought you to writing and, like your acting career, this too has been an enjoyable journey for you. Your last book, Cantilevered Tales, has done extremely well. Your third book is all set to be released – A collection of poems that has no title but a description of what lies between its pages. What is the Mad, Sad and Bad of Jayant Kripalani’s poetry, and what inspired it?

Jayant: “Your third book is all set to be released” – you say. It has been released and here I owe you an apology. I should have sat down with you much earlier to answer these questions, but travel, prior commitments, and a minor bout with a malignant little tumourous bastard delayed everything a bit. So, apologies for the delay.

What inspires my poetry? I couldn’t say. An incident here; a stray thought triggered off by a rude politician there; a bridge falling; an encounter with a disgruntled cop – any little thing that drives pen to paper. If it writes itself in verse – blank or rhymed – it calls itself a poem. And of course, sometimes it’s Mad, or Sad or just plain Bad. Once I’ve written it, I don’t touch it. I call it ‘hit and run’ verse, because I don’t like spending too much time on it.

Ashima: You have strong views on politics and religion which you share on social media. The same is seen in these poems as well. Do you believe there is hope for change? For improvement?

Jayant: People have often complained that I am an incurable romantic. Where they get these strange ideas from, I don’t know. I guess I am an eternal optimist and dopes like me never lose hope.

I don’t hope for change though. I watch it happen. There is never a static or dull moment in this world. Swirling changes happen all the time. We are in a constant state of ‘samudra manthan’ and I just love the churn.

Ashima: What prompted you to write a short story in verse? Tell us more about Shakuntla and what lies behind her door.

Jayant: If you read between the lines, you’ll discover that Shakuntala is Calcutta. My love affair with Calcutta has been a long one. I did desert Calcutta for 30+ years but the love and warmth I got from the city never wavered and when I decided to come back, it enveloped me in its arms and I fear I might never be able to leave again.

Ashima: There seems to be no set formula to your writing. You have experimented with almost everything under the sun in this book – the range of topics, the sentiment, the humour, and even the language. What makes it all work as well as it does?

Jayant: Go with the flow. Live in the moment. Live THE moment. You can’t go wrong.

Ashima: You have always entertained your audience and readers, be it with your acting or writing. What’s next that your fans should await from you?

Jayant: Death. A fun one I hope. One surrounded by laughter, music, and drama. Of course drama. But a comedy. If anyone sheds a tear at my funeral I’ll come back and haunt them.

Ashima: It can’t be the end of the line. Not when you’ve only just added another exciting new hat to the collection. Surely you have more stories of your everlasting romance with Calcutta?

Jayant: The fact that I think about death seems to worry you? It doesn’t worry me. When I was very young (and believe it or not, I was young once) I read somewhere that if you see danger or death approaching, rush towards it. By and large, both are rather polite and step aside when they see you coming. It’s one helluva rush!

I think the thought that I might die at any moment is what keeps me alive. Alive in the truest sense of the word.

Take this whole cancer business. It’s a laugh a minute. I tried getting depressed about it and failed. So I wrote a poem in hospital. Unfortunately, the book was already in print when I wrote it, so here it is:
Colon v Colon
Two dots that don’t stand on ceremony
As each exercises its hegemony
Sometimes it precedes a long list of items,
Or before a quotation that heightens
An expansion, or an explanation
Of a mathematical equation,
Or in a numerical statement of time
Separates hours and minutes – that isn’t a crime.
A minor little asset to our grammar
One that is needed but lacks any glamour.
If the lower dot is replaced by a comma
It doesn’t cause too much of a trauma
And without offending either you or me
Becomes a colon that is largely semi
The other colon is a bit of a beast
Five feet or more at the very least
The very last part of the GI tract
That traps all the water and all the crap
Before they’re evicted from the base of the bum
From the hole that we politely, call a rectum.
And if you’re having a problem with humour
You’ll have more of one when it grows a tumour
Which if it decides to be malignant
Will make you feel more than just indignant.
Life can become a terrible drag
As you carry around a colostomy bag,
It’s hugely offensive for both you and me
That this colon too, has become a semi.

Note – Look at the bright side. I Do Not have a colostomy bag. See what I mean?

Ashima: I think I do 🙂 . Thank you so much. It was wonderful talking with you. I wish you good health, and much success with your new book. All the best for wherever the ‘flow’ decides to take you next.

Mad Sad Bad Front&Back Cover
Some Mad Poems Some Sad Poems Some Bad Poems and A Short Story in Verse is published by Readomania and is available at all leading bookstores, as well as on Amazon.

Caricature by R.K.Laxman as done for Ji Mantriji courtesy: Jayant Kripalani
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Book cover courtesy: Readomania

Little Maryam by Hamid Baig | Book Review

One can’t deny that deep down we are all hopeless romantics who believe that love makes us grow stronger, which is why we have consoled our broken hearts time and again with the age old saying: ‘Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.

The story of Little Maryam begins on quite the same note and by the end one can’t help but question: How far are we willing to go, for love?

While giving a speech for his Nobel Prize nomination, Dr. Saadiq Haider, a renowned gene therapist, receives a phone call that changes his life. Abandoning his duties and responsibilities, Saadiq hurriedly boards a flight bound for India, embarking on a journey that spans thousands of miles and pulls him back into a past long-buried.

Seated next to him on the flight is Anne Miller—an intrepid journalist with a nose for headline news— who senses the reclusive genius has a bigger story to tell, and she is determined to get it. With some coaxing, Saadiq transports Anne back in time to a small, sleepy town nestled in the mountains of northern India. A time where every second of Saadiq’s life belonged to Maryam Dawood – a girl Saadiq was born to protect – his first and only love. But when the friendship between Maryam and Saadiq matured, it was tested in the face of tragedy. She was forcefully taken away from him. And now, decades later, Saadiq is finally going to meet Maryam. One last time.

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The book seems to grip you before you’ve managed to turn over the first page. It is evident there is a mystery waiting to be revealed, depending on how fast you can read to get to it. The author successfully adds a thrill, by way of conversation between an unwilling protagonist and a persistent reporter, even as he has only just begun narrating. It creates the framework that is enough to keep you hooked.

The story is divided into two parts – Saadiq’s life as it is now while he is on a plane reminiscing his past, and what is to come later when he finally does meet Maryam. In the first part, the events oscillate in a steady rhythm between the past and the present. Timelines are paced strategically in tune with the narration. The second part moves slowly, adding to the suspense.

Baig allows his lead characters to traverse the highs and lows of love, heartbreak, separation, and reunion. He brings an intensity in his writing with the way he creates conflict in person and story. Saadiq’s character is etched with a nuanced detailing that makes him endearing as a young boy, while at the same time absolutely loathsome as an adult. The transition is seamless and falls right into place as demanded by the events in the story.

The simplistic elegance of the prose comes as a pleasant surprise, unlike most books by debut authors. However, I found it to lose its crispness as the book progresses. It calls for a thorough proof-read and edit to fix grammar which seems rushed after about a quarter of the book.

Despite that, what wins you over is how the author treats the theme of friendship and love . I have always believed that there is something truly magical in the love that begins from a deep friendship. Bruce Lee explained it in its simplest and purest form when he said: ‘Love is like a friendship caught on fire. In the beginning a flame, very pretty, often hot and fierce, but still only light and flickering. As love grows older, our hearts mature and our love becomes as coals, deep-burning and unquenchable.’

Little Maryam is just such a beautiful, yet heartbreaking tale of love and loss. The story of a deep childhood friendship that grows into a love that is powerful and intense. And when love calls to make the ultimate choice, it is the power of love itself that makes the decision. With that Hamid Baig proves the paradox that if you love until it hurts, there can be no more hurt, only more love.

Title: Little Maryam
Author: Hamid Baig
Publisher: Notion Press, Inc.
ISBN: 978-1-64249-055-8
Edition/Year: First Edition 2018
Format: Paperback
Genre: Fiction
Pages: 296
Source: Author
Rating: 3 Stars

Available on Amazon.

About the Author:  Hamid runs a successful market research company, providing customer insights to some of the biggest names in the industry. He is a voracious reader and has been one for as long as he can remember. He started penning short stories at a very young age, but never thought of writing a full length novel until the idea for Little Maryam popped into his head. He writes as fast as he reads, which is sometimes just a little too fast.
Apart from enjoying good books, Hamid is passionate about travel and food. He is sometimes called “the culture connoisseur” by his friends because he loves having long conversations about different cuisines, exotic travel locations, and of course, books.
Hamid lives in New Delhi with his wife and two wonderful kids.
He is active on Facebook and Twitter.

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Mothering A Muslim by Nazia Erum | Book Review

A quote credited as Anonymous says: ‘Every child is a different kind of flower, and all together, they make this world a beautiful garden.’ I couldn’t agree more, but at the same time I can’t help wonder, how does it speak for our society when these very flowers, beautiful and fragile as they are, start discriminating against each other on religious grounds – a subject they aren’t even equipped to comprehend?

If a mother has to start thinking whether the name she chooses for her child should establish their religious identity or not, it becomes a cause of great concern. Surely, every parent has a right to name their child without having to mentally run through its religious repercussions?

Unfortunately, in a country claiming to be secular, we as a nation are becoming increasingly divided over religion. While there is the strong political angle to it, Nazia Erum, the author of Mothering A Muslim, discovered the shocking reality of the religious segregation that has slowly, steadily, crept into the classrooms and playgrounds of India’s elite schools.

As she reached out to 145 families across twelve cities, over a period of one year, she realised naming her child was the least of her concerns.

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Erum has researched extensively on the subject of this book. To begin with, she consciously chose to speak with Muslim women living in mixed localities rather than those from all-Muslim neighbourhoods. She documented personal experiences of urban, educated Muslim women and their families. In the course of her interviews she also met many ‘authentic Muslim women’ who seem to be missing from our society but are more than just a symbol. As she found out, this authentic Muslim woman could be your neighbour, your doctor, or your child’s school teacher. She is everywhere, in all her hijabi feisty-ness, as long as you care enough to pay attention, and she too is struggling to prove her identity in a community that is constantly judging her for how she practices Islam.

All these women made a varied collection of subjects, each with their own stories that had one thread connecting them. They were all fearful for their children who had been targets of Islamophobia and nationalism in school.

The author has presented a subject considered taboo in our society with a brilliant sensitivity. She highlights how conversations from our drawing rooms are growing roots into the minds of children as young as six years old, which in turn are becoming the cause of trauma and rampant bullying in school yards and classrooms.

It may be a harmless seeming remark when a student decides to call his Muslim classmate ‘Paki’ or ‘Terrorist’. But as the author discovered, it has raised alarming questions in the mind of the child labelled so, regarding his identity. It was disturbing to read how a parent did not reprimand their child for one such insensitivity and instead replied that it was in response to being called ‘fat’. What more can one say? And this was only of the many stories revealed in this book.

The experiences narrated are horrifying and heartbreaking, to say the least. Yet, many parents let it slip by, choosing not to report them to the school authorities, because it is something that happens and one has to learn to live with. The statistics presented at the end of the book clearly speak for themselves – not enough is being done. However, as the author points out, schools need to create a policy and parents need to sit up and take notice.

Mothering A Muslim is not an argument over religion. It is a conversation on the values with which children are being raised today. Children perceive actions more than words and unknowingly imbibe the sentiments of the elders around them. This book is a call to parents and teachers on the role they have as nurturers and educationists. For they are the ones who must rise to fight for what is right in the hopes of creating a better future for all of us.

Title: Mothering A Muslim
Author: Nazia Erum
Publisher: Juggernaut Books
ISBN: 978-93-8622-853-6
Edition/Year: First Edition 2017
Format: Hardcover
Genre: Non-Fiction
Pages: 248
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5 Stars

Available on Amazon.

About the Author:  Nazia Erum runs a fashion start-up called The Luxury Label. She lives in Noida.
She is active on Twitter and Instagram.

Note: This blogpost is a top post on Indiblogger.in and has appeared on their homepage.Top post on IndiBlogger, the biggest community of Indian Bloggers

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Marital Advice to my Grandson, Joel by Peter Davidson | Book Review

With Valentine’s Day just around the corner, hearts, roses, and teddy bears have already hijacked our social media timelines. While those with a special someone in their lives can’t get enough of the season of love, there are others, like me, who once again struggle to resist rolling their eyes at those big red hearts. It is only apt then that I chose to read this book in the month of February. To understand why, read on.

Being a 30-something single woman, when I see the way romantic relationships, especially those committed in marriages, function today, I can’t help but agree with British writer Rosamunde Pilcher, OBE, who said: ‘People today expect too much from marriage. Getting married is really like taking on a big new job.’

I believe it was Leonardo da Vinci though, who described it best, saying: ‘Marriage is like putting your hand into a bag of snakes in the hope of pulling out an eel.’ As off-putting as that may sound, I do think it captures the true essence of the institution.

When American author Peter Davidson’s grandson, Joel, got engaged, he decided to jot down a few words of marital wisdom for him, based on his own experiences as a husband. Then he thought, why share this wisdom with only one person when he could share it with the whole world. So, he started a blog, listing new marital advice every week. As the popularity of the blog grew, people suggested that the material be turned into a book, and, well, he did turn it into one! A book that explained to the reader – How to be a husband your wife won’t throw out of the window in the middle of the night.

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We’ve all heard of marital advice being passed down generations. Every family has their own treasure trove of wisdom that they swear by. This grandad is no different. But you can be sure he knows exactly what he is talking about. Let me share an example or two.

The first piece of advice he received when he himself was getting married was that ‘It takes a lot of effort to make a marriage work.’ Sure, everyone knows that. Okay, almost everyone. But no one told you exactly how much effort you should expect to put in. Davidson, on the other hand, gets it spot on when he explains that this advice is like giving you a rowboat somewhere off the coast of California, pointing out into the ocean and saying, “If you paddle in that direction you’ll eventually reach Hawaii”.

Another well-meaning gentleman advised him: “Measure twice and saw once.” The purveyor of this fabulous wisdom was a carpenter, he says, but in marital terms it probably means you should think twice before you open your mouth. I think most people, married or not, would stand to gain by following this.

The author starts his book on marital advice from the very beginning. As soon as the ring finds its place on the finger, it already seems too late in getting started with wedding preparations. He explains exactly what the man’s role is in his own wedding – right from deciding the date (sports lovers: you might want to pay attention to what he has to share here) to planning every little detail that goes into putting together a wedding.

Once that is done, there is more valuable advice on settling into married life, understanding your wife and other myths about marriage, being the exemplary husband she wants you to be, and last but not the least, how to make sure you’re in it for the long haul. All of his advice has simple tips, easy to understand and follow, that are explained by way of examples.

However, the one particular piece of wisdom that made me laugh like none other was his observation on the measure of being a good husband. As he points out in his book, there are few things married woman enjoy more than getting together with their friends, mothers, and other wives, and having a full-blown bitching session about what a bunch of low-down, miserable, worthless, lazy, sloppy, gross, crude, barbaric idiots their husbands are.

There is one thing though, that they like even better. It centres around the magic word B.R.A.G.. As long as wives can brag about all the wonderful ways in which their husbands help around the house, the husbands can be sure they have hit the jackpot in their marriage. Rest assured, his advice includes steps, with examples, to win that elusive jackpot.

I wouldn’t deny that much of his advice is off-the-charts wacky. Nonetheless, it is a hilarious look at marriage. Davidson’s nuggets of wisdom are as entertaining as they are insightful which makes this book a priceless find. These are things you won’t find in a book on marital relations written by a psychiatrist, nor will you learn them in a session with a marriage counsellor. This is real advice, for real people, that just needs to be followed everyday.

Whether you are married, engaged, or single, this is one book you can all relate to. Women will have a good laugh while at the same time appreciate the message because, let’s face it, we are far more attentive to detail and all we need is for the men in our lives to understand that. This book might help in using some of the ideas to our own advantage.

Most importantly, this may be the one book that helps you decide how important marriage is to you. In the author’s words, it might convince some of you to take the plunge, or perhaps confirm your belief that being single is a blessing. If you’re still stuck deciding, I strongly recommend you pick this up. It is a quick read that is sure to brighten up your day, one way or the other.

Author: Peter Davidson
Publisher: Sweet Memories Publishing
ISBN: 978-0-692-99815-1
Edition/Year: First Edition 2018
Format: Kindle Edition
Genre: Non-Fiction
Pages: 152
Source: Author
Rating: 4 Stars

Available on Amazon.

About the Author: Peter Davidson is the author or co-author of twenty-nine books including fiction, non-fiction, college textbooks, and children’s picture books. His works have been published by McGraw-Hill Book Company, Perigee/Putnam Publishers, Sweet Memories Publishing, Haworth Press, and others.
Davidson is also a songwriter and one of his songs was used in a television series in the Netherlands. For more than two decades, Davidson was one of America’s most active writer’s seminar presenters, having presented over 625 one-day seminars. Davidson has been a professional recording studio owner, college professor, and retail store owner. Peter and his wife live in the Lake Okoboji resort area of Iowa in the summer and in their Arizona home in the winter.
Follow Peter on Twitter and Facebook to connect with him. You can also read his blog at www.maritaladvicetomygrandsonjoel.com, where the idea for this book began.

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