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Book Review of “The Newsroom Mafia” by Oswald Periera

It’s true…and proven time and again – men opt for a “crime-thriller-suspense” novel when it comes to writing. And rightly so. They have a knack to capture and portray the precise feelings associated with the genre. And Oswald Periera does complete justice to his debut novel- The Newsroom Mafia that offers more than just the thrill of being a media-related-crime story.

The story is about how the Mumbai police commissioner Donald Fernandez puts all his efforts in nabbing the don, Narayan Swamy, with the help of Oscar Pinto, a young crime reporter with “The Newsroom”, one of India’s most venerable newspapers. But we see how Swamy’s ties in the media are stronger, and more effective than Fernandez can think of. How some of the “exclusive” stories were planted and how most police officials, reporters and politicians were mere pawns controlled by the don, is scripted quite brilliantly by the author.
The battle of power, and wits, played with dirty tactics by both, the law breakers and the law abiders raises a lot many questions in the mind of the reader, regarding the authenticity and the truthfulness of the media and the people attached to it.
Rightfully the book description says, “The Newsroom Mafia captures the unholy alliance between the fourth estate, the underworld and the government”.
The narrative is riveting. The language is simple and lucid; the pace perfect to keep you turning page-after-page without a break; and the description of places/situations/events and the people so meticulous and faithful that it breathes life in to the words.
The story is more of an eye-opener about things that happen in the media industry and how people (read: cops, politicians, the underworld and media) work their ways around situations and their counter-parts. What happens behind the curtains and the camera is only known to the insiders. Oswald bares the truth, and how!
Who says money can’t buy everything. In today’s world, the media is offered a more-than-handsome-amount to not print/publish/uncover stories that are critical and important for the public.

To say that not everyone is as corrupt or dishonest is true. But the number (or percentage) of such honest folks is minuscule.

The author’s background as a crime reporter gives him the leverage to churn out such a fantastic piece of crime-thriller. With such in depth research and insight, the book feels more real than just “a piece of fiction”.


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Book Review of “The Long Road” by Dr. Vivek Banerjee

The Long Road

by Dr. Vivek Banerjee

There have been umpteen books around college life, or professional institutes (IIM, IIT, etc), and the corporate world, but not any about medical colleges and the lives of students there (at least I haven’t come across any, except The Long Road).

Though I really wasn’t impressed by the cover page design, I kinda loved the story.

No great guns surely, but the way it is put simply captures your heart. Yes, there is something about the way the story is written that it makes it extremely difficult to stop mid-way.

The book opens with a bit of suspense (with a link to the Mumbai attack) and goes on to describe the characters and gives quite an apt description of their background.

The story is about 5 people pursuing their PG in medical science in a reputed medical college of Mumbai.

The intelligent, sweet, and innocent Hina; the rebellious Ranjiv; the ambitious Sarika; the love-struck Rahul; and the simple Sagarika –all who make their place in the sun after undergoing their share of troubles. Their varied backgrounds and diverse upbringing add color and life into the story.

Rahul is head over heels about Sarika but her overtly ambitious zeal drives them apart, only to connect again when she experiences pangs of jealousy arise. Ranjiv and Hina eventually get hitched, given their love for their work and of course each other.

Their personal life sometimes clashes with their professional obligations, and how they deal with it makes up the crux of this story.

Let’s not deny there is a bit of faltering in the middle. The flair and ease and grip that the author commands in the beginning seemed a bit lose in the middle, only to catch up again towards the end.

Yes, career always isn’t the most important thing in one’s life. It is the people who love you.

A good plot ideation and execution.

The experiences at the medical college were very interesting to read.  I liked the parts describing medical college, its environment and procedures in a language simple enough for a non medico like me to understand. Not bad for the first book of an author.

The individual stories of the characters (except one) are quite finely depicted. It makes you connect with the characters and relate to the situations they are faced with.

There is love, romance, friendship, marital bliss and its hardships, temptations, struggle, and a plethora of emotions that people experience. All well scripted.
But also, all that glitters is not gold. There were just a couple of points I didn’t quite connect to.

Firstly, the similar sounding names of the characters got me a bit confused initially

Secondly, I didn’t quite understand the role (and character) of Sagarika in the story. It feels the story could do well without her too. She got a mention towards the beginning somewhere and then went amiss in the middle only to pop back up towards the end. That was one character that (I feel) added no value as such to the story.

The chapter titles weren’t not all that inspiring. I don’t think I paid attention to them. For all that you notice they end up disclosing the chapter highlights.

The narrative could have been a bit more engaging. Its simplicity may put off some readers. The author, at a point, narrates as if stating facts from a report.

Overall the book scores well.

Quite a refreshing approach and style. Crisp and short chapters. Nice narrative. Well researched and etched characters.

Fast flowing and totally believable, the book ended too soon for me.

There is a unique flavor to the book- I guess it’s because the author is a doctor himself. It is quite commendable how he has managed to balance the language (for non-medical people to read and connect with) quite well.

I hope there is an undisclosed (or unthought-of) sequel that follows (soon) with all points considered. There is immense potential in Vivek’s writing, and I wish he goes that extra mile in his next run.


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Book Review of “The Quest For Nothing” by Anurag Anand

The Quest For Nothing

by Anurag Anand

A contemporary love story that not only provokes thought but also makes you realize the importance of the people in your life – your family.

We usually end up taking our families and our loved ones for granted. And Anurag’s novel –The Quest For Nothing quite remarkably hints at that.

The story traces Akash’s life- from his management college to his professional and personal life thereafter.

To sum up the story, quite briefly:
Akash lands himself a good corporate job soon after his MBA (very tactfully, may I add), and ends up marrying Deepali (a very caring and rooted girl) in the first half of the book. He then shifts base to Mumbai to work with the FMCG sector, with his better half and both of them end up boggled by the shackles of corporate life. Though their love doesn’t diminish, the approach does. What initially was cute and kiddish about Deepali, ends up being immature and irritating at times. What follows is the increasing distance- not just physically but emotionally too.
Yes, they start taking each other for granted. At least Akash does. Good thing is that he realizes it.

We move on to see Akash moving back to Delhi as he gets a better offer in the finance sector. Distances draw the couple further apart. He ends up worrying more about Monisha (a conniving subordinate) who uses him as a hook to retain her job with the company as recession strikes.
He also befriends a stranger online to share his woes.
Towards the end of the novel, we see Akash stuck in a life/career threatening scam, only to be saved by his wife and a dear friend Vikram.

I really don’t want to give much of the story away –because this is one book I feel you should read.

The relevance of the subject is sure to resonate with your life. Young working professionals have fallen into a rut and almost everyone ends up making a similar mistake (the one Akash makes). We place our careers ahead of our families and our lives. We take it upon us to provide a better lifestyle to the ones we love, but it leads us to a path where we end up making certain “not so right” choices. In the zest to stay ahead in the rat race and to succeed professionally, we leave our lives behind.

The characters felt real. I started to care for Deepali and Akash at a point. I maybe even used some colorful language when I felt that Akash was being a “typical male” by not cherishing what he has and instead pursuing something that he doesn’t need/deserve. That was the level of connectivity here.
Akash had a great career, a loving wife, a smooth life…until he stepped on the axe, as if quite willingly!

I cannot stress enough on how much I adore the narration and the author’s lucid writing. A very gripping read that takes you on an emotional journey spanning different cities and relationships. The brilliant twists and ardent writing makes this a page-turner.

I say, go pick this up if you haven’t still. It is really worth reading!


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Book Launch of Reality Bites by Anurag Anand

5th July, Mumbai.

Landmark at Inifinity Mall was crowded as ever. But this time it was Landmark garnering most of the attention. And why not!?! Anurag Anand’s fifth novel, a fictional one, Reality Bites was launched at Landmark by eminent personalities of tinsel town – Sudhir Mishra (Director), Randeep Hooda (Actor) and reigning Pantaloons Femina Miss India World 2011, Kanishtha Dhankhar.

(L to R: Randeep Hooda, Anurag Anand, Sudhir Mishra, Kanishtha Dhankhar)

Reality Bites: a not so innocent love story, reveals the life of the protagonist Atul through his hostel and college days and his tryst with love and paternal pressure. A humorous, adventurous, contemporary love story with a myriad of emotions so relatable that you’d be hooked on to it till the very last page.
Yes, the usual gimmicks were witnessed here too: Anurag and Kanishtha were the only ones to arrive at the venue before time while the rest of celebs walked in late. But the wait was definitely worth it.

They unveiled the book at the very end, after the interactive session. Amazingly, the audience seemed quite enthusiastic about the event and shot a volley of questions as soon as the floor was set open for audience interaction. The author seemed very calm and composed, and handled the questions with much panache. Sudhir Mishra is a strong opinionated man with all the right points to make you ponder. Randeep brought in a lot of humor to the evening. For some reason, Kanishtha seemed quite formal at  her first book launch event.

Overall, quite an exciting and fun-filled evening with quips and mirth and laughter on the floor.
Anyway, I are all set to review the book soon. Let’s see you beat me to that!

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Comically Tuned

We all love going through the small comic strips that appear in newspapers. There is something about them that always catches our attention. No, it not just about the instant smile that they bring, but the satire on certain socio-political or other critical issues that hooks us on to the graphical representation. The works of R.K. Laxman and Suraj ‘Eskay’ Sriram are cases in point.

Come to think of it, amongst the first things a baby is taught or shown are pictures.
And right from our childhood, reading comics is one of our greatest indulgences.

Kids would create havoc if their monthly subscription didn’t arrive or wasn’t handed to them. Well, at least that was the case in my house.

I remember, my brother and I had an entire rack full of ChandamamaTinkleJataka TalesBahadur (Indrajal Comics),Chacha Chaudhary and Sabu, Pinky, Billoo, Shrimatiji, Shikari ShambhuAkbar and BirbalTantri the Mantri, Suppandi, Nagraj (snake king) whose powers are based on ancient Hindu tales, and various other characters from Amar Chitra Katha, Gotham Comics and Diamond Comics.

Then came Western comics in the form of Archie’s, TinTinAsterix,Dennis the MenacePopeye the sailorSpidermanSuperman, Batman, X-Men and their ilk.

But as we grew up, comics had to take a back-seat – given the academic overload.

Not to forget the advent of television, followed by umpteen animated series on cartoon channels, which was closely followed by the highly engrossing game consoles and the internet lure. Comics and graphic novels lost their readers almost in a jiffy. And surprisingly, us, readers did not seem to miss our “once-upon-a-time-favorite” characters too. Somehow, Mario and Luigi seemed more interesting and car racing was more fun than reading and laughing over Suppandi’s idiocracy.

And soon, comics almost disappeared.

But just like other things in life that have undergone revamping, comics too seem to have come back in a new rejuvenated form.

A new wave of graphic novelists has emerged, in the recent past, to shake up the art form. We no longer see conventional centuries-old myths and folktales adorning the covers of comic books. The new crossover Indian superheroes have gained popularity and a wider audience amongst the adults as well. And subjects now range from subtle social messages about the environment and society to bolder issues of homosexuality and politics.

New-age artists are looking to create brand new superheroes that are quintessentially Indian to see off competition from the likes of Spiderman and Batman.
Amongst the new-age cartoonists and graphic novel designers, we have Sarnath Banerjee, whose graphic novel “Corridor” is set in New Delhi and delves into politics and sex. Sarnath is known to write and develop comics through his keen observations.

River of Stories” by Orijit Sen, that released around 1994 in black-and-white, dealt with the social and environmental impact of a controversial dam, and prompted changes even among traditional comic publishers in India.

Kari” by Amruta Patil, the writer also known as India’s first female graphic artist, centers on a suicidal lesbian and has been dubbed India’s first gay graphic novel. And another, “Kashmir Pending,” by Naseer Ahmed and Saurabh Singh, seen through the eyes of a reformed militant in jail in the disputed region.

A recent Mumbai based start-up, Vimanika Comics, aims to bridge the gap between historical narratives and graphic novels, giving mythological characters a 21st century facelift.
From what I gather, the company’s “The Sixth” series shows Karna, a warrior from the ancient Indian epic “Mahabharata,” in a modern light. The series starts as a high-flying businessman, suffering from recurrent nightmares, discovers he is the reincarnation of Karna.

Another publisher, Campfire, based in New Delhi, is about to launch “Ravana: Roar of the Demon King,” a graphic novel of a story retold over centuries in India but this time seen through the eyes of its primary antagonist — the demon king Ravana.

Fresh initiatives like Manta Ray, Level 10, Random, Abstraction, World Comics India (an NGO floated by young artists, who pick tales of common man’s heroism) Cartoon Watch, Comix.India, Creative Gaga, and many others aim to offer a platform to new talent. This alone shows the uprising the industry is about to notice soon.

Even the virtual world of web-comics has managed to entice readers.
I read this recently and decided to bring it everyone’s notice as well:

Kshiraj Telang has more than a thousand comic strips, many around the middle-class status symbol – a pug puppy on the web. Badmash is created by and aimed at the Indian diaspora. Curry Bear Comics is another popular Indian webcomic that revolves around three South Asian college students and their White friends, taking a dig at the Indian students at odds in America. Fly, You Fools (webcomic) deals with the daily irritants of life in India. Arbit Choudhury, regarded as the world’s first MBA comic character had to be created in India. Though, another Dilbert is what we are waiting for, to comment on our cutely corrupt and jugadu Indian work culture, Sunny Kris, a web comic, focuses on the unique idiosyncrasies of an Indian workplace.

And this is just the beginning.

Bringing back and boosting the fading love for comics, India recently saw the first Comic Con being held in the Nation’s capital, popularizing graphic novels and comics in India.
I heard that the two day convention saw more than 15,000 fans relishing the art in its new avatar. Fans dressed up as various characters, from American superheroes and villains such as Superman, Wolverine, and Harley Quinn to local Indian heroes like Chacha Chaudhary.
The festival had stalls for comics and graphic novels as well as workshops, activities and book launches. Illustrators, cartoonists, designers were awarded and felicitated for their contribution to the world of comics and fun.

Comic Con India also saw many new comics being launched – including “Uud Bilaw Manus: Back with a Vengeance” by young Adhiraj Singh, which shows off a new Indian superhero: a half-otter-half-human from the post-apocalyptic fictional place of “Beehar” in northern India, who fights corrupt officials, among others. That seemed somewhat striking. No matter how modern or western the graphics look; the stories, the subjects and the emotions that it carries is very distinctively local in flavor.
Sumit Kumar’s The Itch You Can’t Scratch, is an adult book, not by common connotations attached to adulthood-sex, but because of its stark honesty.

Amazingly, the sales over the two days at Comic Con spoke volumes about the love for comic books that still exists in a country like ours.

Overall, not just the sales, but the sheer enthusiasm and spectacular attendance and excitement shown by the people stands to prove that comics and graphic novels will never vanish. They had and always will find space in our hearts and bookshelves.

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Book Review of “Can’t Die for Size Zero” By Vrushali Telang

Can’t Die for Size Zero

Vrushali Telang

This is a totally humorous yet candid take on a large-sized girl’s attempts at losing weight.

30-year-old Joyeeta Naik, the protagonist, is a middle class Mumbai girl who works and lives in the city alone. She is single, “big” girl, with no boys/men in her life, and no career to boast of. She writes for a newspaper supplement – The Buzz of the Biz and it ain’t no big guns.

Her best friend Lara offers to fix her up for an appearance on a televised makeover show, and Joyeeta gets more conscious and bothered about her weight. She decides to surprise her family and friends and colleagues by revamping her image.

Out goes the obese Joyeeta and in comes a diva from the glossies whose weight loss journey is marked by many trial and error methods. New fancy diets and excruciating workout regimes – just so that she can be more confident and love her body. (Un)fortunately, Joyeeta is a true foodie and loves her occasional beer sips. There comes in a point where the reader can sense that Joyeeta is losing her basic self.

What follows is an interesting account of Joyeeta’s new life around (ex) boyfriends, friends, tailors, colleagues, parties, and a hoard of incidents (revolving around food) that make you laugh out loud.

Oh the connection between movies and food is strikingly well put. Haven’t we all felt like grabbing the same kind of food that we’ve seen actors eat in the movie? I always have.

And the rightful love/respect for beer is just hands-down perfect. Discussions amongst friends about love, life, sex etc. are brilliantly put and they never feel vulgar or forced.

Their (mis)adventure during the trek is an absolutely hilarious read.

The book addresses not just the weighty issues but the support friends and food provide to an individual.

It is a fun, witty, bold and, rather appetizing tale of the large-sized and large-hearted Joyeeta. It is hilarious, and is written in simple unpretentious language. The characterization is done darn well and you begin to care for Joyeeta and relate to her in many ways.

Looking at the cover page you might feel it is a clichéd subject to read. Yes, to a certain extent it is. But the way it is delivered is what I’m hinting at. The book goes beyond the usual concept to explore what happens to those who are not a size zero. It is a hilarious and poignant tale on how it feels to be an XXL size in an age that worships size Zero. The whole concept has received so much attention in the last few years that one begins to wonder about how it impacts those who sit on the other side of the fence. It is much more than being healthy. The book aims to be more about food and fashion; about men and marriage. It reflects sexual liberation.

Some food for the body and some for the soul. Overall, pure entertainment.

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Book Review of “Beautiful Thing” By Sonia Faleiro

Beautiful Thing

By Sonia Faleiro

Though a piece of non-fiction, “Beautiful Thing: Inside the secret world of Bombay’s dance bars” by Sonia Faleiro, flows more like a well-narrated (contemporary-fiction) story. Having heard Sonia read an excerpt during the Jaipur literature Festival, 2011, I could almost visualize the entire narration as I read the book.

Crisp and neat prose, jelled with prolific slang used by the characters, the story explores the world of dance bars and the women who work in it.

The first half of the book tells the story about bar dancers and the second half deals with the effect of the ban imposed on Bombay’s dance bars, by the government.

The life of dance bar girls is told through the story of Leela (a bar dancer), her family, her past, her friends from the same profession, her customers, dance bar owners, the underworld, the policemen, the eunuchs, the pimps, the health hazards, and other flesh trade businesses affiliated with it all makes for a deep and compelling read.

Leela comes across as a very colorful/vibrant person. She is young, beautiful, self centered, contemptuous, sharp-tongued, and a calculative character who demands gifts of money, clothes, jewellery and oddly, vegetables, from her customers, and lures them with her sighs, pouts, smiles and other such charming tricks. In search of love, a normal traditional Indian wedding and a normal life, the girls end up falling for treacherous men who con them for money and sex.

Then comes in the ambitious politician who, rides on a wave of false morality and, bans dance bars in Bombay, in August 2005, rendering more than 75,000 dance bar girls unemployed.

Life changes for Leela and the others in the most unexpected way.

The harsh and brutal reality of fathers raping their daughters, selling them to dance bar owners for money, a son raping his (prostitute) mom, a mother stealing from her own daughter, the grim tale of domestic violence, the ugly truth masked by pretty faces, is well portrayed by Sonia. The language is lucid, simple and real with a mix of Hinglish and the colorful jargon used blatantly by the characters.

Characters like Masti, the stunningly confident hijra (eunuch) accepted by his/her family; Priya, Leela’s (best) friend in love with her own beauty; Apsara, Leela’s selfish “simple” mother; Shetty, the owner of the dance bar; Gazala, a brothel madam who is a eunuch; and a  Dubai-based fixer who claims to be Abu Salem’s right hand man, are unforgettable. The life of all these people in Mira Road and Kamathipura evoke emotions that seemed unstirred for so long.

Capturing the disconnected events as they appear in the lives of the dance bar girls that she befriended, Sonia highlights tiny but significant details of relationships, friendship, feelings, love, longings, independence, poverty, desperation and the bitter truth of the dark side of Bombay.

The story, beguiling, warm, funny in bits, sensitive for most of it, is absolutely heart-breaking. It shows the hardened lives of bar dancers who’ve been used and abused to endless limits. It gives the reader a whole new perspective about the lives of bar dancers and circumstances that led them to a fate – definitely not by choice, for most. At a point, dance bars seem to be a boon for these girls that save them from the endless exploitation they (otherwise) face every day.

Sonia put in five years of her life, researching for Beautiful Thing and following Leela. And it was totally worth it!

You grow to care for Leela. The sad, moving fate to which she and the others are pushed to makes the reader think and question the “morality” of society at large.
It depicts a part of society that we pretend is invisible, since it doesn’t concern us. Sonia Faleiro brings it out in the open, revealing the true nature of “men” – who move from one bed to another, from one woman to another, to satisfy their own needs. And women (like Leela) end up resorting to alcohol and false promises of happiness and normal life.

As rightly described: “Beautiful Thing, one of the most original works of non-fiction from India in years, is a vivid and intimate portrait of one reporter’s journey into the dark, pulsating and ultimately damaged soul of Bombay.”

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