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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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.

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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

The Doodler of Dimashq by Kirthi Jayakumar | Book Review

How many times in a week do we crave for five magical minutes of peace amidst a particularly rough day at work? Just so we can take a step back, breathe, and jump back into action, reinvigorated.

Imagine the aching desire for those same moments of peace when you are in a nation torn apart by war. A war which brings your entire world crashing down around you. A war that consumes all that is material, all that is human, and destroys every little emotion inside of you, and reduces it to the devastating remains of blood and tears. Imagine how precious those rare moments of peace would be, if at all, and how hard would you be willing to fight to keep them close.

Caught in the cross hairs of a raging civil war in Syria, is Ameenah. Displaced unexpectedly as a child bride, she navigates out of the heart of Dimashq (Damascus), and plunges into the ancient city of Haleb (Alleppo). Her voyage of self discovery is a heady mix of the personal and the political, and the maddening noise of conflict weaves a fabric that entangles her with the lives of many around her. As missile after missile brings the city down into a hapless pile of rubble, Ameenah builds it back up with her simple act of resistance: doodling.

In The Doodler of Dimashq, Kirthi Jayakumar brings a heart wrenching tale of hope that rises from Syria’s rubble like a phoenix.

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There is a moment towards the end of the book, when Ameenah recalls a conversation with her husband. He tells her he doesn’t like the word homesick’ because it’s like saying you are sick of home. He offers an alternate instead from the Welsh language – Hiraeth – which means the bond you share with your home. It has everything, he says, nostalgia, memories, dreams, sights, smells, sounds. Everything that made home what it was for you.

Ameenah’s story does not choose to take sides between the government or the resistance. Her story is really about home and a sense of belonging. Belonging to a place, to its people. It is about finding a way to survive, to hold on to what little remains when all that is taken away from her.

As Ameenah travels through the cities on her journey, the author describes Syria in all its splendour as it once was. She unearths it from beneath the news stories we see today, to reveal a land of exceptional beauty that few are aware even existed. And then, as the cities fall to the ground brick by brick, she shows how Ameenah fights to share her strength by way of her art.

The author’s words are powerful. She captivates you with the stark contrasts between the good and bad, the past and the present, the happy and the sad, that she draws at every scene. The following lines are a brilliant example:

I was alone. Alone, as alone could be.
And then there was this girl. Alone, as alone could be.
Do two alones make a together? What is a together – a weak bond of alones held by loose filaments of fragile mortal promises that could be blatantly broken when life chose to arm wrestle with it?

Each chapter in the book is preceded by a doodle where the author picks up one simple pattern and translates it into a way of life. As Ameenah’s story progresses, the patterns become more complex, the lines taking shapes of petals and swirls, each describing their beauty in a doodle, as well as in life.

As a reader, I often found my heart in the grip of fear, beating wildly at the loneliness of a young girl’s perilious journey. I couldn’t help but shed a tear at her struggles, or refrain from rejoicing in her achievements.

In her Author’s Note, Jayakumar writes: I may not be Syrian; I may not have lived through the war. But I’m human. And I can feel. And so, I leave this peace of my heart at your doorstep and knock thrice, on your doors of empathy.

This achingly beautiful story of Ameenah will break even the strongest of hearts.

I read a quote that without peace, all other dreams vanish and are reduced to ashes. The Doodler of Dimashq may appear to be a quest for peace in a state of war. Yet, Ameenah’s story is so much more. It is an inspiration and carries in it an unbeatable strength. It is a reminder that all we need is a little hope to carry on. That when all is lost, it is hope that will take us closer to our dreams.

Title: The Doodler of Dimashq
Author: Kirthi Jayakumar
Publisher: Readomania
ISBN: 978-93-858544-4-6
Edition/Year: First Edition 2017
Format: Paperback
Genre: Fiction
Pages: 202
Source: Publisher

Rating: 5 Stars

Available on Amazon.

About the Author: Kirthi Jayakumar is an activist, artist and writer from Chennai, India. She founded and runs the Red Elephant Foundation, a civilian peacebuilding initiative that works for gender equality through storytelling, advocacy and digital interventions. She is a member of the Youth Working Group for Gender Equality under the UNIANYD. Kirthi is the recipient of the US Presidential Services Medal (2012) for her services as a volunteer to Delta Women NGO and the two-time recipient of the UN Online Volunteer of the Year Award (2012, 2013). “Stories of Hope” is Kirthi’s first solo book, comprising a collection of short stories. She also co-authored a book titled Love Me Mama: The Unfavoured Child, along with Elsie Ijorogu-Reed, the founder of Delta Women NGO. Her second book, The Dove’s Lament, published by Readomania, made it to the final shortlist for the Muse India Young Writers’ Literary Award. In addition, Kirthi has published a series of eBooks centered around Peace and Conflict. Kirthi was recently invited to the United State of Women Summit at the White House in Washington DC, as a nominated change maker. She is also a Zen Doodler and her works have been commissioned by corporate establishments, non-profits and art collectors world over. She runs an Instagram based project called “Femcyclopaedia” where she doodles portraits of inspiring women through the ages and from across the world and curates their stories under these portraits. The story of Femcyclopaedia won a Story Award from World Pulse in February 2017. Kirthi lives in Chennai.
She can be contacted on social media via Facebook and Twitter.

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

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House of Discord by Sadiqa Peerbhoy | Book Review

There is an anonymous saying that family problems come in all shapes and sizes; some are short-lived and easily managed, while others are more chronic and difficult to handle. Somewhere, between these two ends of the scale, is where the story of Barrot House begins.

The Deshmukhs, residing in this rambling house in the heart of Bombay, are barely surviving. An effete father who shrugs reality, a rebellious son who marries a Muslim girl, a spinster daughter depressed with her flawed life, a resident ghost who is known to forewarn impending danger, and family secrets buried for decades that are clawing to get out. All of whom are bound together in a taut hold by a tough matriarch.

Outside Barrot House the post Babri-Masjid Bombay of 1992 is a city wallowing in hate, and when violence comes knocking on the Deshmukhs’ door, they find themselves in the eye of the storm.

Will the famed spirit of Bombay eventually rediscover the healing magic of communal tolerance? Will the Deshmukh family be able to bring down the walls they have built around their hearts and find the love that will help them survive?

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House of Discord begins with quite the thrill when a young boy sneaks into his house in the dead of the night, and the resident family ghost chooses that moment to make her presence known. From thereon, members (living and otherwise) of the Deshmukh family are introduced one by one, along with snippets of their family history thrown in for good measure.

The author unravels, layer by delicate layer, every fabric fold of Barrot House’s present and past, such that the layers appear almost fluid in their movement. She weaves her characters seamlessly into the story, taking time to acquaint the reader with each one of them.

While we learn about the turmoil in each of their individual lives, there appears to be a storm brewing behind the action, slowly and gradually making its way to Barrot House. That, coupled with the tensions in the Deshmukhs’ lives breaking surface, the story takes on a momentum making your heart beat faster as it lodges itself in your throat.

The city of Bombay plays an important role in the narrative. Known for its tolerance, its resilience is tested in the wake of the riots arising from the communal violence and the Deshmukhs find themselves surrounded. The scenes from this part of the story are described in vivid detail and bring back memories as if it all happened only yesterday.

The author has invested deeply in her characters and it shows in the way the unfolding events bring out their humane side despite their rebellious or antagonistic nature. One can’t help but fall in love with them for the sometimes subtle and sometimes grand change of heart.

The prose is picturesque and expressive; the language fluent and metaphorical. The narrative moves at a leisurely pace, bubbling slowly to a point where it suddenly bursts, turning the entire plot on its axis. It is the kind of writing a reader would undoubtedly enjoy losing themself in.

House of Discord is not just a saga about a family breaking apart in a city that is burning. It is a story of bonds that run far deeper than blood. Bonds that build love and compassion. That unite us in the face of adversity. No wonder they say, problems are like washing machines. They twist us, spin us and knock us around but in the end we come out cleaner, brighter and better than before.

House of Discord is a heartwarming story of just how that is possible despite the harsh, cruel, and turbulent world we live in.

Title: House of Discord
Author: Sadiqa Peerbhoy
Publisher: Readomania
ISBN: 978-93-858544-6-0
Edition/Year: First Edition 2017
Format: Paperback
Genre: Fiction
Pages: 298
Source: Publisher

Rating: 5 Stars

Available on Amazon.

About the Author: Sadiqa Peerbhoy was born in Hyderabad, grew up in Mumbai and lives in Bangalore. She has been an advertising professional all her working life and is the creative force behind many Indian and international brands. She started writing a humorous topical column in the local papers to keep her sanity in a deadline-ridden career and wrote it for thirty years, collecting a huge fan following in Bangalore. She has also scripted serials for television, scripts for BBC, short stories for the weekend papers, has four published books and many creativity awards. She ran a British college, Wigan and Leigh, in Bangalore and has taught advertising, brand building, life skills and lateral thinking in corporates and colleges.
Sadiqa is married to advertising legend Bunty Peerbhoy, is the mother of two, and remains an ardent student of Hindustani music.
She can be contacted on social media via Facebook and Twitter.

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

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The Woman Who Saw the Future by Amit Sharma | Book Review

Dreams. The result of our subconscious thought. Generated from the blankness of our mind. Disintegrated into the vast nothingness of our lives. We hope for them to be a peak into our future. We see them as a window to our past. They are manifested into our intuitive power. A gut feeling, a sixth sense, a premonition.

Khalil Gibran said, Trust in dreams, for in them is hidden the gate to eternity. But can dreams tell us the truth? Can premonitions show us the future?

Amit Sharma, in his new book: The Woman Who Saw the Future, spins an intriguing story around the concept.

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Sapna Vaid, a timid, wide-eyed, college-going girl, has lived with a unique power for a decade; a power that has turned her into the most influential and powerful Goddess on Earth. Sapna can see the future by way of premonitions that haunt her at night, where death and blood await her in her dreams. She saves thousands of people around the world every year through her record-breaking, popular show ‘Lucky People’. The show has given Sapna’s life a meaning and gives her the courage to sleep every night.

Even though the world is at her feet, this power costs Sapna her personal life. Broken relationships and separation from her son bring her unbearable pain. Her parents and the thousands of prayers that come her way every year are her only solace, her only reason to live. When blinding hatred leads to a desperate act of revenge, a single misuse of her great power triggers a reversal of her fortunes. Now she must decide the path she has to take to preserve her unique gift and her fame, even if it turns her into a murderer on the brink of insanity.

To find out more about this unusual book, read my detailed review as published at Writersmelon.com.

Bonus: Checkout my interview with the Author, here.

Title: The Woman Who Saw the Future
Author: Amit Sharma
Publisher: Readomania
ISBN: 978-93-858545-5-2
Edition/Year: First Edition 2017
Format: Paperback
Genre: Fiction
Pages: 276
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 4 Stars

Available on Amazon.

About the Author: Amit Sharma is an IT slave (read professional) since the last twelve years. He lives with his family in NCR but his work does take him to foreign lands. His wife was a teacher till she gave it up because of sheer exhaustion of answering questions of their four-year-old daughter all day.
His first fiction book, False Ceilings, a family saga spanning one hundred and thirty years, was published by Lifi Publications in 2016. The book garnered many good reviews on Amazon and Goodreads, and critical acclaim.
Amit’s hobbies include reading, watching world cinema, travelling, digging into various cuisines, cooking, listening to music, painting, blogging, making his daughter laugh and helping his wife with her unnecessary and prolonged shopping.
To read more about him, visit http://amit-sharma.co.in/ or connect with him on social media via Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

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Elixir by Sinjini Sengupta | Book Review

It was at a creative writing workshop earlier this year, where I first met Sinjini Sengupta, the author of this novel. She had written a short story which her husband had picked up to make a short film. The film was travelling across the globe, being screened at various International Film Festivals at that time, and collecting accolades. Meanwhile, the author herself was busy working on its full length novel.

Since the moment I first heard about the idea behind Elixir, at that workshop, I had been curious to read it. I remember she had described the story in a way that sounded almost magical. Many months later, when the book’s cover was launched and I read the tag line below the title, my interest was piqued yet again:
A Dream of a Story
A Story of a Dream.

Manisha leads a normal life. She is celebrating her wedding anniversary with her husband of ten years and is achieving success in her career which is taking her to new heights.

On one such normal day, she wakes up from sleep and goes to work. On her way back home, she walks into a coffee shop. The cafe is empty but for an old man behind the counter, and another man at a corner table. Later in the night, this man comes back to her in her sleep, and then, every night thereafter. A new journey begins, and a transcendence.

Manisha is well on her way to building a whole new life. The kind that is made of dreams. For it is, truly, made in her dreams. A story weaves itself around a life unfulfilled, and a destiny, beautiful and fated. But… where does this journey lead her to? Will Manisha be able to find her way through these parallel worlds?

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When I started reading Elixir, what first caught my attention was the imagery Sengupta has created with words. It reads like poetry,  with a breathtaking visual impact. Her writing has a certain rhythm to it. It brings movement, such as in music – with high and low notes, with breathless continuation, with broken pauses, all of which evoke a range of emotions.

On the surface, Manisha is a woman who has all the pleasures and luxuries of life. But does she really? Why does she appear to consider herself unimportant, unwanted? Why does she feel wrong to want something, to expect it? It is in the way Sengupta builds the character sketch of the protagonist that the author displays her deep understanding of human emotion. She peels away the glossy, albeit weak and thin, layers shrouding the reality of our lives to deliver a relevant social message.

As Manisha balances herself between her dreams and wakefulness, the fine line between imagination and reality is blurred, lost in its own definition. The nuanced transition from one to the other is what sets a benchmark in writing literary fiction.

Elixir is a journey into a magical world, one that is beautiful, heartbreaking and deeply emotional. As the name implies, it is both magical and medicinal for the beat of your heart. So read it. Read it for the thrill and read it for the salve. You won’t be able to free yourself of its hold on you.

Title: Elixir
Author: Sinjini Sengupta
Publisher: Readomania
ISBN: 978-93-858545-4-5
Edition/Year: First Edition 2017
Format: Paperback
Genre: Fiction
Pages: 264
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 4 Stars

Available on Amazon.

About the Author: An alumnus of the Indian Statistical Institute, Sinjini spent several years of her working life as an Actuary, clearing difficult exams and designing, pricing and reserving for insurance policies, before she took a career break in 2015 to revive her long-dead passion for writing. Writing didn’t disappoint her, either.
Within just a year or two, Sinjini went on to win quite a few coveted national and international awards. As a poet, Sinjini won the National-level English poetry contest—Rhyme India—hosted by Times of India in 2016. Several of her poems got selected and published in the poetry anthology She—The Shakti. One of her short stories themed on Nature writing won the prestigious South Asia FON contest and is soon to be published in an international anthology.
The screenplay of Elixir won her the Best Screenplay award from among 550-plus films internationally. As a columnist, Sinjini was awarded the coveted Orange Flowers Awards 2016 (Runners-Up) for her social columns. She writes mainly on gender issues, social reforms and sensitive parenting in a plethora of publications, such as the Huffington Post, Youth Ki Awaaz, Anandabazaar Patrika, Readomania, Feministaa, Women’s Web, MyCity4Kids, SBCLTR, Bonobology and several other popular publications. Sinjini was conferred the ‘Iconic Woman’ award at the international Women Economic Forum in May, 2017. She serves as the Gurgaon Chairperson for Readers and Writers of All Ladies League. Sinjini was recently featured by ICICI Bank as one of the ‘Inspirational Women of India’ in the Fund Your Own Worth initiative.
Sinjini lives in Gurgaon with her husband Anirban Guha, a banker by day and a filmmaker by night, and Roopkatha, their six-year-old grandmother-cum-daughter cum-spiritual guru.
To read more about her, visit https://sinjinisengupta.blogspot.in/ or connect with her on social media via Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

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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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Revelations of an Imperfect Life by Sankhya Samhita | Book Review

One of my favourite quotes I learnt growing up, is that Home isn’t a place; it’s a feeling. It is the people who you live with, amidst those four walls of your house, who provide a sense of belonging.

What, then, is one supposed to do, when the feeling of home is no longer there, and the people whom you regarded close, seem far, far away?

One utterly ordinary day, thirty-three-year-old Tanaya realizes that she is stuck in a perfunctory marriage, nursing a resentment at having to live life like a rolling stone and in an impulsive moment, decides to leave her indifferent husband and uninspiring apartment to go back to where it all began: the sleepy town of Tezpur, Assam.

Back home, in the company of family, friends and unavoidable wagging tongues, Tanaya is forced to face her indecision and confusion, even as she tries to find answers to the unsettling questions running in her mind. Dealing with the aftermath of a decade-long heartbreak, coming to terms with new revelations, when she reaches the fork on the road, will Tanaya be able to make the right choice?

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Revelations of an Imperfect life is a book that evokes memories of idyllic life, of growing up in simpler times, of roots, and of being home. The story is one you would want to read over and over again, for it imparts the feeling of being snuggled inside a warm blanket on a cold, rainy day.

The author starts off with a delectable description of maasor tenga (the signature Assamese dish), and just as your mouth starts to water from the flavour of the tangy gravy, she decides to jolt you from your reverie with the hard-hitting monotony of a life that is far from what one would desire.

Her protagonist travels to a time and place in her past, as a way to move forward, and along her journey she is reminded of the things that she misses today – Little gestures that would go a long way in bringing joy to her life.

Samhita’s characters are delightful, whether it is Dueta, Ma, Aita (one of my favourites), or Nobou Mami from across the fence, Nila (the sister who, for all you know, could be your kindred spirit) and even Nibir (whom one only hears on the phone for most of the book).

She writes them all with such perfection, despite each of their flaws, that after a point you can feel them being a part of your life. They hold on to you and gently pull you in, tugging you along into every memory and conversation.

The plot builds around recollections of growing up as a young girl within and around the walls of her family home, which then connect with the present-day events like a natural flow of the river current.

Her prose reads like a song – every note mellifluous with picturesque descriptions. Her expressions captivate you with the gorgeous play of words she weaves.

She brings Assam to life through the food, the clothes, the festivals, the seasons, and the wonderful people, right before your eyes.

The buildup to the climax and the end leave you amazed at Samhita’s talent and finesse which is akin to that of a seasoned writer. It seems impossible to believe that this is indeed her debut novel.

Tanaya’s account, as described here, may all be about the revelations of an imperfect life. However, as the author remarked at the end of her book launch: No life is imperfect. Your life is your own perfect, as long as you find what makes you happy.

That is really the essence of the book –  to know where and how to find what makes you happy. And for that simple reason, amongst the many others I described above, this book will be endeared by all those who read it.

Title: Revelations of an Imperfect Life
Author: Sankhya Samhita
Publisher: Readomania
ISBN: 978-93-858544-2-2
Edition/Year: First Edition 2017
Format: Paperback
Genre: Fiction/General
Pages: 270
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5 Stars

Available on Amazon.

About the Author: Born in a small sleepy town in Tezpur, Assam, rebelling against the name her Dad had given her in the hope of turning her into a mathematician, Sankhya Samhita fell in love with words from the moment she realised that syllables make up a word, words make sentences and sentences are basically magic. Despite a short-term affair with Physics and Computer Applications, she refused to give up on words and started her blog seven years ago. She was a part of the editorial team of the online magazine Fried Eye for five years and responsible for the feature articles and music reviews, a role she relished. She even dabbled in teaching the English language to adults in far-flung Vietnam and Malaysia after her marriage, until she settled down for the more challenging role of a stay-at-home-Mom to her daughter.
She currently lives in Singapore with her husband, her daughter and more books than she can ever hope to finish reading.
To connect with her, find her on Twitter and Facebook, or follow her blog https://ssamhita.wordpress.com/ for more of her delightful writings.

UPDATE 8th Aug 2017: This review is now also published on womensweb.in

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Confessions on an Island by Ayan Pal | Book Review

I once read somewhere that holding onto anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die. Anger generates negativity. It does not have the capacity to be positive. And this anger is what leads to Confessions on an Island, both literally and figuratively.

An abducted woman trapped on an island is given a chance to escape, provided she tells stories emerging from the stories her intriguing abductor tells her. Clueless about why she is being forced to participate in this game of Russian Matryoshka Dolls, the woman, a bestselling author, decides to play along. And therein begins a thrilling tale, narrated in part by an island while also seen through the eyes of the abductee. The tale of a man and woman consumed by the power of their imagination and truth, even as the stakes are gradually raised. Soon the only way out is in – into the past, heart and mind. The island is ready to confess. Are you ready for the truth?

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I was lured by the title of the novel. Confessions on an Island has a unique format to it. The story is revealed through different characters: The island which is a silent spectator to the events unfolding before its eyes, the woman who finds herself trapped on an uninhabited island in the middle of nowhere, and the stories themselves as narrated by the abductor and abductee in a twisted game of Matryoshka. Every chapter moves in sequence between its three protagonists.

In the course of these stories, the author lays out myriad human emotions which are inexplicable in the normal course of events. His characters display shades varying between greys and black as he reveals a dark psychological game of thrill and torture leading to an unexpected climax.

In my reading of the book, while I found the concept intriguing, the plot did not resonate with me as I expected it to. I was unable to connect the events as they moved from one story to the next. The character sketches appeared to have lost their way in the goal of creating dark players of this torturous game. Editing was another area which I felt was not as clean and crisp as it could have been.

However, knowing that the author has planned two more books, I gather this will intrigue readers of this genre and pique their curiosity enough to find out what happens next.

Title: Confessions on an Island
Author: Ayan Pal
Publisher: Readomania
ISBN: 978-93-858541-3-2
Edition/Year: 2016
Format: Paperback
Genre: Fiction
Pages: 192
Source: Author’s Copy
Rating: 3 Stars

Available on Amazon.

About the Author: Ayan Pal is a Kolkata-based IT professional and author who has received several accolades in his career so far. These include the honour of his book being a record holder in the Limca Book of Records, the title of ‘Distinguished Toastmaster’ from Toastmasters International for demonstrating outstanding communication and leadership skills, and a ‘Brandon Hall Award’, considered as the ‘Academy Awards’ by Learning, Talent and Business Executives worldwide.
He holds a Bachelor’s degree in Electronics and Communication Engineering from VTU, Karnataka and has completed a course in Education Technology from SDSU, California.
As an author, he is known for his acclaimed short stories in the Amazon bestsellers ‘Chronicles of Urban Nomads’, ’21 Tales to Tell’, and ‘When They Spoke’. He has also contributed to India’s first composite novel, ‘Crossed and Knotted’, ‘Upper Cut’, ‘Her Story’, ‘Rudraksha’, ‘Arranged To Love’, ‘Tonight’s The Night’ and ‘Long Story Short’. He is a columnist of lifestyle magazine ThnkMkt and blogger at Open Road Review.
Passionate about public speaking, Ayan also loves reading, creative writing, watching and reviewing films, listening to music, and binge watching his favourite TV shows. ‘Confessions on an Island’ is his debut novel.
To connect with him, find him on Twitter @ImAyanPal and Facebook @AuthorAyanPal.

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

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Cantilevered Tales by Jayant Kripalani | Book Review

This is not a Builder v. Helpless Citizen epic. In fact that is the least important part of the book. This is about a group of inept people who you want to reach out and protect but you discover are more than capable of taking care of not just themselves, but of you too.

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In the voice of his protagonist, the author decides to answer what was meant to be a rhetorical question, by launching into the history of the Howrah Bridge – the third-longest cantilever bridge at the time of its construction, thereby alarming his mostly quiet co-passenger and colleague of ten years.

From there, he delves into the back story of said colleague, winding his way around to the various other people who form the narrative of the book. Like his slow journey through the bridge traffic, he takes his time to unfold their stories and build them up as the eccentric characters they are meant to be.

He paints each scene with bright shades of tongue-in-cheek humour, paired with the most colourful Bengali phrases that dazzle his prose. I am not familiar with the Bengali language, thus the glossary at the end of the book was most helpful in deriving a full reading experience. It wouldn’t be the story it is, without the originality of the language, which proves its own inherent role.

The pages turn themselves at a foot-tapping pace as the reader gets wound up in the hilarious turn of events created by the seemingly ordinary Chingdi Kaka, Banshi Mama, Ashutosh Babu, The CM, and many more entertaining people.

I also couldn’t help but notice that the book is edited extremely well, absolutely flawless, something that I have rarely seen from Indian publishers. I only recommend that the glossary be more extensive to include other Bengali terms and phrases which are currently missing explanation. It would make a world of difference for readers who do not understand Bengali.

Cantilevered tales is a story about the quirks of ordinary citizens and their response to situations around them, which in turn makes them the people they become. All laid out with generous servings of wit and humour.

What Author Kripalani has created here is a literary masterpiece, as evident from his writing style that spotlights the sociopolitical theme he has chosen. Right from the pond caretaker, to the members of the Bird Witchers (you read that right) Association or the outrageously comic Oleek Babu, every person you come across is endearing.

Cantilevered Tales is clearly my choice for must-read novel of the year and goes right up to the top of my list of favourite books.

Title: Cantilevered Tales
Author: Jayant Kripalani
Publisher: Readomania
ISBN: 978-93-858542-7-9
Edition/Year: First Edition 2017
Format: Paperback
Genre: Fiction
Pages: 250
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5 Stars

Available on Amazon.

About the Author: Jayant Kripalani is an Indian film, television and stage actor, writer and director. Known for his performances in television series such as Khandaan, Mr. Ya Mrs. and Ji Mantriji, he graduated from Jadavpur University with a degree in English Literature. 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 had directed and produced a number of films and is actively involved with theatre. He wrote the screenplay for Shyam Benegal’s film Well Done Abba.
He is the author of the heart-warming and nostalgic New Market Tales, set in the historic New Market area of Kolkata in the 1960s and 1970s. His recent foray into writing performance poetry has brought him acclaim in poetic circles around the country.
When he is not in Calcutta, he is either fishing in Himachal, pfaffing in Bombay or being a beach bum in Goa.
To connect with him, find him on Twitter @JayantKripalani.

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