Sunday, September 22, 2013

Review of India Unlimited: Good book exploring life and India

Courtesy: Google images

Book: India Unlimited- Stories from a nation caught between hype & hope
Author: Kulpreet Yadav
Publisher: lifi
Genre: Fiction/Short stories
Pages: 198
Cover price: Rs 190
Rating: 3 out of 5

Review: ‘India Unlimited’ is an anthology of 31 short stories. They are slightly shorter than a conventional short story and slightly longer than a flash fiction. Most of them are around 3-4 pages long and hence make for a 5-10 minute read, depending on your speed. So, those who are looking for a light read can pursue a story during TV ads or between two WWE matches or while sitting on the breakfast table waiting for the steaming coffee to cool down.

Author Kulpreet Yadav is erudite and has got featured in several literary magazines and journals. His stories are based in India and portray the lives of simple people and revolve around simple incidents. Though the book is a work of fiction, it borrows almost entirely from personal incidents, anecdotes and author’s own observation which admittedly is sharp as that of a Holmes or a Poirot.

So, these 31 stories talk of beggars, lovers, estranged couples, peanut sellers, thugs, mothers and brothers. To the credit of the author, the stories have been written in different formats. Some are penned in third person while some in first person, some in past tense, while some in present tense, and some are dreams while some are mere soliloquies.

The language is simple but powerful. A discerning reader will easily figure out that the author can play with words deftly and can provide almost surreal amount of detailing.

On the downside, the stories are too simple and some of them lack any substantial plot or any gripping material to give the reader the thrill or surprise which he may expect of a short story.

One of the best stories is ‘The Saree Shop at Alwar’ (my rating for it is 4). This tale, in all probability, is the outcome of the author’s observation of the behavior of the hard-to-please Indian women and the I-must-lure-her-to-buy kind of saree shop owners.

Here is an excerpt from this story:

The old man is smiling and now there’s a pause. Everyone’s looking at my wife. I look at her too. She, very gently, perhaps without knowing it herself, moves her head suggesting a no.
The old man beams and declares, ‘I knew this wouldn’t be your taste. Let me show you something that arrived this morning which is yet to be included in our stock’. …….
I know the lie- which is far too obvious- but my wife’s eyes have slightly brightened.

‘A pocketful of memories’ is another light, short and heart-warming tale about forlorn childhood crush and some native memories. The story won’t exactly give you a lump in the throat but will surely touch a cord within (My rating is 3)

‘The Blind Date’ has been written in a tone of narration which suits the theme of the story. The climax offers surprise, though it leaves the readers with more questions than answers. (My rating is 3).

‘I and Sonia’ (my rating 2.5) is a story without any plot and relying solely on narration. Quirkily simple and innocent but falls short of being a good story.

Stories which I have rated 4
1.      The Saree Shop at Alwar

Stories which I have rated 3.5  
1.      A familiar stranger
2.      The fish and my wedding
3.      The Family of stars
4.      The Pickle seller
5.      Faking it at the conference
6.      The beautiful people
7.      The pickle seller
8.      The everyday lover
9.      The dream girl who loved me
10.  The picture of my life

Stories which I have rated 3  
1.      Not the only Peanut seller who hasn’t heard of Osama Bin Laden
2.      A pocketful of memories
3.      The mother with a future
4.      Tell me if I am dead or is this a beautiful dream?
5.      The sahib and the siesta
6.      Bringing sunset home
7.      Samir in Rain
8.      The shadow of tomorrow
9.      The blind date
10.  The Delhi thug
11.  Rahul won’t dream again
12.  The naughty Celina I miss sometimes
13.  A hard day’s night

Stories which I have rated 2.5
1.      The city of mirrors
2.      The Spy Tuesday
3.      I and Sonia
4.      The temple luck
5.      The rum base
6.      The Red Woman

Stories which I have rated 2
1.      The Holy assassin
2.      The particle don and the desert

Verdict: It is a good book but falls short of being a great book. Some stories border around greatness while some are bland and disengaging. You can buy the book from Flipkart at great discounts here.

~Ritesh Agarwal

[This book has been reviewed on personal request from author Kulpreet Yadav.]

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Whisper of the Worms Review: A deliciously intelligent book

Book: Whisper of the Worms
Author: Marcardian
Publisher: Cactus
Genre: Fiction
Cover price: Rs 240
Rating: 4 out of 5

Review: Most of the books which are written by the current crop of Indian authors revolve around the so-called ‘chic lit’ genre. But there is a banality to them since an overdose of saccharine can often lead to gastronomical troubles. In the wake of the declining standards of Indian writing, ‘Whisper of the Worms’ comes as a reprieve. The author Marcardian is not just intelligent with an excellent command over writing but possesses deep insightful eyes that brilliantly amalgamate the world of reality and fiction. Though the book is a piece of fiction with fictional characters set in a fictional Asian country called Marcardia, the author has borrowed everything from reality, thus blurring the line of difference between the two.

‘Whisper of the Worms’ has freshness written all over it. The story is a far cry from chic-lit romances and is a poignant tale of a cancer patient who, during the final days of his life, faces harassment from investigating bureaus for corporate criminal proceedings he has not done.

The story is an eye-opener into the world of banking where our protagonist Thobias Mathai used to work 20 years back. Now, settled in USA with his wife and grown-up children, he discovers that he is battling an incurable form of lung cancer and has got barely 6 months in hand. Though he gets shattered from within, he conceals his ailment from his family members and takes a final flight back to India to breathe his last amongst the reminiscences of his childhood.

Returning to his roots and to his aged mother after 2 decades does evoke its share of nostalgia. So, the initial pages of the book take us through the happy past as Thobias recalls to mind flashes of his treasured memories.

But his happy past soon gets eclipsed by his unhappy present once he starts getting hounded by authorities and is charged with white collar crimes of grievous nature. Thereafter, the reader is taken on a roller coaster ride wherein he is grilled by authorities and harassed unjustly. Most of the story is in flashback mode as he narrates his years spent in Smile Bank and the many nefarious elements involved with the bank.

In Marcardia, readers can sense India, and amongst Macardians, readers can see Indians. A reader often finds a perverse pleasure when someone else throws open a cupboard which is full of skeletons everyone knew existed but nobody dared to speak of them.
The narration is beautiful, since our protagonist Thobias Mathai is a simple, truthful and innocent person, untouched and uninfluenced by the corruption around him. His character has been beautifully penned and can remind you of the character of actor Anil Kapoor essayed in the old Hindi film ‘Eeshwar’.
It is a gripping book and not dull or didactic by any means, despite the absence of sexualized romance and despite the abundance of bank-related subjects.

The author makes another brilliant move towards the climax and simply checkmates you when he lends a refreshing touch to the subjects of death and after-life. The few pages towards the end are set in a graveyard where he shows us the bitter-sweet-bitter world of human beings through the eyes and lips of worms.
It is, undoubtedly, one of the finest books to have emerged in recent times and deserves to earn the spotlight it has been kept bereft of.

~Ritesh Agarwal

[This review has been written as a part of the Book Review Program for The Tales Pensieve, a place where writers and readers come together. Do make sure to follow these guys.]

Friday, September 13, 2013

Roald Dahl and his magic factory

[This post won the Starmark's 'Roald Dahl Day' contest]

Much like Enid Blyton, Roald Dahl is someone who should not be deprived from a child. If you haven't grown up reading Dahl, then you have had a flawed childhood, and if you never smelt the delicious pages of 'Charlie and the Chocolate Factory', then you had an incomplete and largely insipid one.

The world not just lost a literary gem when he bid adieu from his mortal abode on a mournful day in 1990, but it lost a man who has been the foster parents to children all over the world and sprawling across many generations.

It is hard to describe the magic that Dahl could conjure and the legacy which he left behind in immeasurable amount. His characters were real, so brutally real that readers often feel that he is using their lives and peeping inside their hearts. His villains were so incorrigibly villainous that they create as much of an impact on the readers’ minds as do the protagonist heroes.

Over the course of his illustrious literary career, Dahl penned 19 children's books. One book which has had a deep influence in the hearts of many of his young female readers is 'Matilda'. It is the tale of a young girl who refuses to act as the subservient woman to this chauvinistic society. A true rebel, she protests against the established norms in her own way and with panache. This book gives a cathartic experience; it has a healing touch and offers liberty to the soul. ‘Matilda’ was also turned into a film and the celluloid version did full justice to Dahl's masterpiece, going on to notch 12 nominations for Tony Awards.

Here is a trivia for you fans. Roald Dahl always wrote on yellow paper and always with a pencil. Yellow was his favorite color.

And for his die-hard fans, here is his picture with his daughter. J

Monday, September 9, 2013

A rambler’s rendezvous with royal Rajasthan

Rajasthan, through my eyes

It is said that imagination can travel at a speed faster than that of light. So, one can so easily travel to faraway places like the Moon and that fictitious planet where monstrous aliens run the affairs. But I don’t think that I need to leave my planet, or even my country for that matter, since India itself is full of surprises. So, if I need to take my family, friends or my future spouse to one place on Earth for an unforgettable sojourn, then I know that I have got to choose Rajasthan. The state is a true reservoir of India’s history, almost in its unspoiled virgin form. Plus, it is its culture and the tradition which can make even a small silly writer like me into a photographer (albeit a silly one  :P).

After all, flying away to this glorious destination is a hassle-free task these days. All you need to do is book your flight and hotel through and hip hip hurray!
Let me give you a virtual tour of Rajasthan to give you an idea why you must must must visit this place at least once before you die. Just hold on to my memories tightly!

Let us begin with the ship of the desert. Camels are as common in Rajasthan as are item songs in Bollywood films and almost as grumpy as some of my readers. One of the most thrilling things to do in life is to board a Camel Express (it certainly is cheaper than Chennai Express and far more ‘paisa vasool’).

But be wary of the heart-in-your-throat moment when the animal stands up or when it gets down. 

The frightened expression of my sister Chitra as the camel gets up

The locals out there are very friendly. So, the ‘camel wallah’ was very compliant when I requested him to let us pose individually with the animal. So, here is my mom holding the camel on her own. She is a lot cooler than I thought. Ain’t it?

My cool mom with the ruminating camel

Since the ‘camel wallah’ won my heart with his simplicity, innocence and friendliness, I thought that I should take his picture to add to the memories. He was a very small boy of 10 (he told us in English) and is the secret possessor of a killer smile as you will find out soon. 


Warming up


The capital city Jaipur has many aces up its sleeve. To give you a teaser, this is the ‘Jal Mahal’. It is a monument built right in the middle of a small lake. Unfortunately, it cannot be accessed anymore and one has to stay contented with a view from the shores. Though, the lake is littered with fishes and we had a whale of a time feeding them with crumbles of bread which are sold there for Rs 10.

Jal Mahal in Jaipur

It would be fair to say that Jaipur has a pack of cards which has no joker, and most of them are aces. The biggest ace, undoubtedly, is the Amer or Amber Fort. It is colossal and full of intriguing passageways, chambers and surprises. Make sure to hire a guide who will regale you with anecdotes from the past. 

Inside the Amer Fort

So, this is the bath tub where the ‘maharaani’ of those days used to take her royal bath. Of course, only female sentinels were stationed in this area.

Maharaani bathed here  :O

And this is the dingy room where the kings and queens of that era would do their morning toilet. I had a secret desire to pee here, so as to leave my mark in the pages of history :P  

The royal 'shauchaalay' or bathroom

There were a number of secret passageways and dungeons and the stairs were elephantine. Just take a look at the height of each step. It is that OMFG moment  :O

My mom feeling scared negotiating the stairs

Once you recover from the secrets and thrills of the Amer Fort, you need to visit the Jaigarh Fort. It is another remarkable landmark, sprawled handsomely over the hills looking down mightily at Jaipur. It is best known for its cannon machine, the largest ‘tope’ ever made in India.

The giant

And the view from this fort is simply megafoxyawesome  :O

That wow moment

Coming back to that ‘tope’, the guides informed us that more than 7 men can lie flat inside its belly and there will still be room for me  :O 

So, we decided to pose before this giant

As for tangible history, I would say head over to the Albert Hall Museum. It is full of history and even houses an Egyptian mummy. I mean, really a mummy. A real one.Yes yes, a real real one! Sachi mein!

They said that an expert from Egypt arrives every 2 years to do some chemical thingy to preserve this mummy.


And this is the headless Buddha and a few other candies for your eyes.

The headless Buddha


See, they had wine taste..i mean fine taste

My sister Chitra thought let's pose with the Pharaoh

Kinda old coins, now obsolete under inflation :P

And for a wildlife lover like me, Rajasthan has a lot to offer. Here are few snapshots I took at the Jaipur Zoo. I love zoos and whenever I travel to a destination, I jump at the prospect of a zoo or a sanctuary  :P

A tiger tearing off a morsel of meat

Panther, oooh

Locking horns, eh
Jaws where I would put you if you trouble me :P

Looks arrogant and fat, huh

It looks like this guy is into yoga  :P

Ranthambhore National Park is a coveted destination which has been sitting tight on my wish list for quite some time. I haven’t visited it yet and will love to take my loved ones there. For the time being, my memories can feed you with a vignette of the Bharatpur Bird Park. So, here we go:

Beautiful, ain't it

I loved this parrot

A gorgeous sight

Another wonderful bird, I'm forgetting the name

That's a boar

Jackals were openly roaming ahead of our rickshaw

And the highways and the bylanes of Rajasthan present a lovely cocktail of quaint and natural beauty. You really cannot have enough of this destination. The long unwinding road trips can give you a high which even Katrina Kaif in her ‘aamsutra’ ad cannot match.

And then it RAINED
Rashee feels the drops and the dew

Rajasthan is also for the religious minded and the spiritualism seekers. While the towns of Mathura and Vrindavan are noted for their temples, you cannot escape the cute/naughty/impish/devilish monkeys. So, I fed them with bananas. And with a promise that I shall come again some day to feed them with more bananas. 

This cute baby posed for me, Aww 

The real thrill of a Rajasthan rendezvous lies in exploring its culture. From the turban-clad men to the rustic belles to the traditional dances to the ‘been wala sapera’ to the folk singers- the basket is full of unlimited fruits. And none of them tastes bitter. That’s the magic of Rajasthan.

At the entrance of Amer Fort

At Chowki Dhaani

The Puppet Dance

Ooola la la la hooh

'Been wala sapera' outside City Palace, Jaipur. I touched this cobra's hood

View from Hawa Mahal

All images are mine. Please do not copy ><

And you know what is the true and ultimate secret to 'happy traveling'?

It is to let go of your fears......

Scared Sister Rashee and  my brother-in-law Sumit battling their own demons

It is to eat in authentic Rajasthani style.....

Chitra and Rashee gobbling at Chouki Dhaani    :P

It is to befriend foreign tourists, despite the cultural and linguistic differences......

Sonya and her friend- Belgian tourists whom I befriended at Hawa Mahal

It is to click a poor child slurping at the melting happiness…….

Ice cream knows no class boundaries

 It is to become a child again……..

Rashee, at 24, rediscovers the bliss of childhood

And that, my friend, is Rajasthan for you....Smeared with history, replete in traditions, sunk in thrill, encircled by adventure and wrapped around true, pristine pure childhood joy. That's the secret of happy traveling. That's the secret of life...........

[This post is a personal memoir plucked out from the tree of memories for the 'Creating Happy Travellers' contest in association with IndiBlogger and, a backpacker's best buddy]

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