Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Book Review: Ajaya – Epic of the Kaurava Clan by Anand Neelakantan

Book: Ajaya – Epic of the Kaurava Clan - Book 1 – Roll of the Dice

Author: Anand Neelakantan

No. of Pages: 456

Genre: Mythological Fiction

Publisher: Leadstart India

I had purchased 'Asura' and reviewed it earlier this year in Feb. I did not like it and the review was pretty negative.

I got in communication with Leadstart Publishers for review of some other books and then when Ajaya was to be released, the communication started once again and I even did the Author Interview of Anand Neelakantan. The review copy arrived this month post the book's release straight from the Publisher.

I started off with very low expectations but as I progressed through the book, I found the book not just interesting but ABSOLUTELY BRILLIANT !!!

The book started off in an absolutely interesting and engaging manner (almost hollywoodish) but then it veered off portraying Bheem/Bhima as a villainous character who is a bully to Duryodhana (refered to as Suyodhana which is supposed to be his real name). There is disrespect shown towards Vidura because he was the son of a maid and Eklavya makes his appearance right when Drona appears and not later.

This kind of got awkward to read as it was in contrast to what we 'know'. The characterization is a bit weird for most of us who have read the Mahabharata at different points in our lives and also seen the B R Chopra version. We have a set character-sketch for each of the characters and any deviation from it seems weird. It is difficult to digest. And Anand does that to each and every character. Each one is shown in a different light with a different bend of mind and different thought process and different motivations of life. The only element that remains constant is the REAL Villain of the Mahabharata – Shakuni !!!

After some time, IF you are able to overcome the inherent bias we have towards the characters of Mahabharata, and are able to consume Anand Neelakantan's fresh new perspective of the Mahabharata … the book transforms into an engaging tale which grips you and surprises you at many junctures. Anand keeps showing sparks of sheer brilliance as he weaves the different seemingly unimportant characters into the mainstream Mahabharata story.

You read spellbound as Anand presents you with a different Mahabharata. Not a retelling, nor a different Mahabharata; not even the story from the side of the vanquished (as it is being talked about). It is a different Mahabharata all together where the plot, premise, story – all are different.  

Anand's Mahabharata does not have Gods nor does it have Sons of Gods; there are no justifications given in the disguise of 'miracles' nor is the story about being the king and ruling the kingdom. Anand's Mahabharata is about the country of that era, ravaged by the caste system and a host of characters who are the cause and effect of the same.

I would readily recommend 'Ajaya' to anyone … as long as they are ready to suspend their existing beliefs and ideas about Mahabharata. If you keep holding on to your existing beliefs about the different characters, Anand will seem like a mad-man who is maligning all that is good in the Mahabharata and glorifying all that is bad by presenting them in different perspectives. If you can read the book with an open mind … it will simply open it up further by its sheer brilliance.

Not to give our some spoilers but the 'invention' of Jara and his Dog are simply master-strokes by Anand … and so is his version of Eklavya. They give you an entirely different perspective of the story.

I am eagerly looking forward to part 2 of this book … since this first book took a break at the point of Draupadi's cheer-haran.   

Overall, my 2 word review for Ajaya is SIMPLY BRILLIANT

Saturday, December 28, 2013

A Different Mahabharata …


A Mahabharata where the characters are mere humans and not sons-of-gods, where the ideologies of various characters are different from what we have read (in school and in books) and seen (B R Chopra's Mega TV serial), where the story is not about 5 brothers fighting for their 'right' but about a country ravaged by caste system, where the story takes different turns (from what we have known) and the cause-effect relationship are different.
This is definitely a very different Mahabharata. Anand Neelakantan's 'Ajaya' is a different Mahabharata to read and absorb … and I am finding it pretty refreshing.

I have read through only 40% of book and I am already impressed.

Anyone thinking about reading it … leave the impressions of the existing Mahabharata in your head aside and read this book unprejudiced and with a neutral mind.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Book Review: The World’s Stupidest Instructions

Book: The World's Stupidest Instructions

Author: Crowd-sourced content

No. of Pages: 120

Genre: Non-Fiction (and that makes it more hilarious)

Publisher: Michael O'Mara Humour

Shraddha, my best friend and book recommendation engine; once again gave me this book to read in spite of me not showing any real interest in it. I read this in less than an hour and enjoyed every minute of it.

This book is Positively HILARIOUS.

I was so tempted to put the ROTFL and LOL all over the book after each instruction. But scribbling, writing and spoiling books in general is almost criminal ... and this book does not even belong to me and I do not wish to be murdered or abandoned by my best friend.

Coming to the stupid Instructions: Some were wierd, others hilariously foolish ... some were mere translation errors (so not really fun) but there were others which simply made me stop reading and wonder where humanity was heading to !!

How else do you explain an instruction like

-          "Keep away from Children" on the bottle of a BABY Lotion !!!

-          "Do not use this lift when it is not working" in a hotel lift

-          "Not suitable for children aged less than 36 months" on a B'day card meant for 1 yr old

-          "May contain Nuts" …. On a packet of peanuts !!!!!!!!!!!

-          "if you have difficulty reading instructions, please report to Information Desk"

-          And so on and so on and so on and so on ….

These are just 4 out of the 40 absolutely hilarious instructions and another 120 simply humorous instructions.

It's a nice book to spend an hour laughing and wondering where humanity is heading to …

Warning: Do not attempt read this review post without internet connection or if you do not know English.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Management Lessons from a Bank Robbery

I read this on facebook and liked it ... posting it on my blog for future reading :)
Management Lessons from a Bank Robbery
During a robbery in Guangzhou, China, the bank robber shouted to everyone in the bank: "Don't move. The money belongs to the State. Your life belongs to  you." Everyone in the bank laid down quietly.

This is called "Mind Changing Concept" or "Paradigm Shift". Changing the conventional way of thinking.

When a lady lay on the table provocatively, the robber shouted at her: "Please be civilized! This is a robbery and not a rape!"

This is called "Being Professional". Focus only on what you are trained to do!

When the bank robbers returned home, the younger robber (MBA-trained) told the older robber (who has only completed Year 6 in primary school): "Big brother, let's count how much we got."

The older robber rebutted and said: "You are very stupid. There is so much money it will take us a long time to count. Tonight, the TV news will tell us how much we robbed from the bank!"

This is called "Experience." Nowadays, experience is more important than paper qualifications!

After the robbers had left, the bank manager told the bank supervisor to call the police quickly. But the supervisor said to him: "Wait! Let us take out $10 million from the bank for ourselves and add it to the $70 million that we have previously embezzled from the bank".

This is called "Swim with the tide." Converting an unfavorable situation to your advantage!

The supervisor says: "It will be good if there is a robbery every month."

This is called "Killing Boredom." Personal Happiness is more important than your job.

The next day, the TV news reported that $100 million was taken from the bank. The robbers counted and counted and counted, but they could only count $20 million. The robbers were very angry and complained: "We risked our lives and only took $20 million. The bank manager took $80 million with a snap of his fingers. It looks like it is better to be educated than to be a thief!"

This is called "Knowledge"

Friday, December 20, 2013

Book Review: The Other Side by Faraaz Kaazi & Vivek Banerjee

Book: The Other Side

Author: Faraaz Kaazi & Vivek Banerjee

No. of Pages: 320

Genre: Horror Short Stories

Publisher: Mahaveer Publishers 


This is the first time I am participating in a Book Tour so the book comes directly from the Author via the Book Tour run by the Readdicts duo (Janhvi and Sarika).

Last month I reviewed a collection of short stories which I liked and this month this one came up and it has been an equally delightful read.

One thing before I move on, you will read about this book and they will tell you that it is collection of 13 short stories … they almost lie. There is actually more. The foreword is an essay on Fear while the prelude chapter has a couple of horror stories dropped in simply as a warm up exercise before you begin the workout with the 13 horror stories.

The book is a mix of ordinary and extra-ordinary, spooky as well as entertaining, expected as well as unexpected stories. There were times when I felt that a particular story had nothing new (it was simply a horror story we have read and seen a hundred times) while there were times when the climax was near brilliant ... or more specifically unexpected. Overall, if you have even the faintest interest in Horror genre, this will be a good book to read. If you are a horror fan, then this book is a good one with pretty good short stories. There is a nice bit of romance mixed with horror in some stories while some are plain simple horror.

I did not do it last month while reviewing the horror story collection so was in two minds about doing a story by story review but then decided to do it. So her I go … a one liner about each story with my spook rating – higher the spookiness, higher the rating; greater the surprise / shock that I received while reading, greater the rating. Similarly, ordinary predictable stories get a low rating. One thing though, even the ordinary stories get a 2/5 rating simply because they are well-written. If not the story, the writing style made the reading worthwhile.

Foreword: It is actually an essay on Fear. This was quite a decent read. 3/5

Prelude: A couple of horror stories wrapped in the context of a larger one. Don't miss this. 4/5

S1 - The Fateful Night: A doctor saves an old woman's life in a Haveli having been stopped by her old husband on a deserted road. His next visit to check up on them is a shock for him. This one was very ordinary and very predictable. 2/5

S2 РThe Long Weekend: A couple goes for a long weekend after the wife attends a s̩ance. All that she was told becomes true in an unexpected manner. 4/5

S3 – The Man Who Did Not Fear: A brave young fellow spends a night in a haunted mansion (need I say more – predictable story – written well). 3/5

S4 – Strangers in the Night: A man picks up a lonely girl at night outside a cemetery and thinks it will be his lucky night - Real shocker at the end. 5/5

S5 – The Muse Comes Calling: The author of a best-selling horror stories collection is seeking inspiration for his next book. What comes though is another matter altogether as he faces the horrors of his own creation. The thought-process is shocking. 4/5

S6 – The Lady in the Pub: A young man meets an interesting girl in a new pub after a long period of abstinence. He drops her home and the next morning he received surprises and shocks. Once again, there is a real shocker at the end of the story. 4/5

S7 – A Mother's Love: A couple moves to the quant surroundings of a tea estate with some murmurs of the house being haunted with a strange history. The couple wants a child … but not the one the haunted house is providing. Ordinary - not really horror. 2/5 

S8 – Red Bangles: A boy's crush for a girl grows with time and transforms into morbid passion when she starts going out with a 'boy-friend' to whom she is eventually also getting married. The protagonist decides to take the ultimate step to 'own' her which doesn't really go as planned. Nice horror. 4/5

S9 – The Mark of the Beast: A young newly married couple goes out to the mountains for a different kind of honeymoon. Local guides warn them about the 12-foot large beast (half bear, half man) but they ignore. A chance encounter with the beast turns out to be quite unexpected. Not horror but interesting. 4/5

S10 – The Mystery Lake: A man dreams of a lake and its surroundings. Locates the lake using google search and decides to visit it. En route he dreams of another journey taken in another era. The end is unexpected but ordinary. 2/5 

S11 – Possession: A couple with 2 kids moves to a new place and starts staying in a house haunted by the ghosts of a murdered child. The murdered child becomes a companion to the daughter of the family and then when her school begins, things go crazy. Full horror. 4/5

S12 – Unfulfilled Desires: A young doctor gets transferred to a village with a deserted health center where localites warn him about the ghost of a girl. He not only encounters the girl but also digs deeper (not literally though) to find out the real string of events. 3/5

S13 – Dream Girl: A deformed man, snubbed by people and especially girls, wants to 'create' his dream girl. This is the most disgusting of all stories – not really horror at first but mostly 'sick'. I would still give it a 4/5

Epilogue: A night in a haunted place spent with lots of scientific instruments – do they keep the paranormal away or attract their attention? 4/5

So there you go - a story by story review. I enjoyed reading the horror stories and before I forget, the simple illustrations in each story added to the spook factor. Sadly, I could not locate the name of the illustrator in the book. Hope he is reading this post.

Overall Rating of the book is definitely on the higher side … 4/5


Here is some additional info about the book and the authors …



Thursday, December 12, 2013

Most Powerful Photos Of 2013

Lovely photos which make you emotional ... 

Go straight to this link and have a looksie ... 

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Book Review: Bankerupt by Ravi Subramanian

Book: Bankerupt

Author: Ravi Subramanian

No. of Pages: 320

Genre: Fiction, thriller

Publisher: Penguin Books India

The source of the copy of this book was again different. The marketing agency got in touch with me for a review and sent me the copy. I had read Bankster and had liked it so when the offer to review Bankerupt came up, I grabbed it.

Bankerupt has all the elements of a movie and it would be interesting to see someone like Bhandarkar attempt it … it would be on the lines of his movie Corporate which depicted corporate espionage. Bankerupt has that and a lot more with a twist as the battle moves from the corporate to the academia. It has the glamour of swanky investment banking corporate lifestyle and at the same time the seriousness of academic research and life and not to forget the gun-manufacturers adding the 'danger' side to the story.

So let's take a look at the different threads the story has:

1. Killing spree in US schools where student opens fire on other students and teachers. This sparks off debate on gun-control and ease of availability of guns. The gun manufacturers are worried and so are those who have put their money on them.   

2. The internal politics of MIT where becoming a tenured professor can be quite a struggle and the funding and grants for research can be pretty difficult to get

3. An ambitious investment banker in India married to an academic researcher wife who shuttles between Boston and Mumbai trying to manage her precariously balanced married life. Add to it their individual moral inclinations and attitude towards earning money and relationships can get muddy.  

4. An old man who hits upon a business for his retirement only to find that it has become a money spinner … so much so that he can't even manage it (the money I mean)

5. A shoe manufacturing company owner who wants to sell the company at a high valuation but his track record does not inspire the price he expects. The people who 'turn around' things to make the company suddenly very very profitable and lucrative (for themselves of course) and their fate add to the elements of the story

There are several other aspects to the story and I might get blamed for putting plot spoilers in the book review if I say any more ...

What I want to highlight here is the sheer number of facets the Bankerupt story has and how well Ravi has managed to weave them into an intricate pattern which emerges only when you have covered a lot of ground.

I did get the feeling that in the climax (which throws up an entirely different picture – and which hits you like a sledgehammer) some of the facets get an orphaned treatment and they are simply closed with a few remarks – almost as if they are inconsequential. Wish they had been given some more space and more elaborate closure … but then having multiple climaxes in a novel has never been a trend. 

Ravi develops the characters slowly and you see different facets of the characters as the story proceeds. You don't exactly label them as Hero or Villain because they don't really fall in to that category … they all just have shades of gray; which makes them seem very very real. The characters themselves throw up some surprises and one particular confrontation I was waiting for in the story never came. Was it an opportunity lost or was the novel exceeding some hypothetical page limit the publisher placed on the author ???

On the whole, the story has all the elements of a Bollywood potboiler – love, deceit, greed, fraud, murder … someone in India should consider getting a movie out of Ravi's book. We have a dearth of suspense movies in India and Bankerupt has a pretty interesting twist in the tail of the tale.

Saturday, December 07, 2013

Book Review: Aisle Be Damned by Rishi Piparaiya


Book: Aisle Be Damned

Author: Rishi Piparaiya

No. of Pages: 216

Genre: Non-fiction, Humour, satire

Publisher: Jaico Publishing House

This time around, the source of the copy of this book was unexpected. I won the copy in a giveaway!! The book came straight from the author and I was intrigued, both, by the author profile as well as the subject of the book.

The author has been a very very frequent traveler and I could identify with him to some extent having taken around 50 international flights from 2005 to 2011 … and then within a year, taking 50 domestic flights within India from July 2012 to June 2013. I knew I was in for a fun-ride but it turned out to be more.

And incidentally, I read the whole book on a Delhi-Mumbai flight spanning 2 hours where I could closely relate each and every thing written in the book and often slipping into memory lanes, remembering my own experiences from past 8 years about airports, flights, boarding onto flights and so on.

Personally I feel the book could have much more. There is a lot more to write about on this subject and I am sure the author himself would have been tempted to write to a lot more. There are certain areas of air-travel Rishi has not touched upon … so maybe an 'upgraded' version might be released in future or a 'sequel' – who knows?

The book is well written and Rishi has maintained the humor quotient high. I would recommend this book to any frequent air traveler (anyone who is flying around almost every month – taking more than 8 flights in a year qualifies). You should definitely read this book … and like me, read it on a flight. It will entertain you … and even promote the book amongst other fliers. And of course, it can even be used as a conversation starter with the beautiful/handsome neighbor during your journey.

For those who don't fly at all or fly occasionally a couple of times year, this book will provide you with entertainment for sure BUT you may not be able to relate to the content or 'feel' it. The strength of this book is the high level of 'identification' and 'emotions' it churns up in a frequent flier.

The non-fliers should not get scared by what Rishi writes about 'the horrors and risks of flying' … they are meant in a lighter vein. The fliers will know exactly what it means (wink)!  

Last but not the least, I would seriously hope to share a flight with Rishi someday – preferably sitting next to each other – talking about the different aspects of the book. It would be a lively and loud conversation and we might just about raise the 'entertainment quotient' of the otherwise boring and sleepy flights.


Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Book Review: The Himalayan Revelation by Pankaj Misra

Book: The Himalayan Revelation

Author: Pankaj Misra

No. of Pages: 346

Genre: Fiction

Publisher: Power Publishers


My new and second source of books for review – The Tales Pensieve – came up with Himalayan Revelation for book review and the book blurb sounded interesting.

Bringing together the majestic Himalayas, the Hampi heritage site, the mighty Vijayanagar Empire and the political tension of Indo-China war – Pankaj has created a novel which grips the reader and doesn't let go.

Pankaj has done a good job of fusing these seemingly unconnected unrelated factors in a story. The plot twists surprise you 'slowly' as the author shifts your focus from one thing to another.

This is an interesting aspect of the book - the way the subject of focus constantly shifts as the story moves along. There are times when you think you are reading about the most important aspect of the story while there are times when you are tempted to skip a few paragraphs thinking them to be unnecessary fillers in the book. You might be wrong on both counts. So be patient with the novel and read it through.

 The characters develop gradually although I wouldn't say the author spent too many words in 'character development'. The characters are pretty much shallow and uni-dimensional but its ok because the story and the twists take the center-stage. There is history and there is treasure hunt which them becomes a race to find something of immense economic and political importance. The race goes right to the Indo-China border and a war is brimming up on the seams … and even breaks out to some extent.


I would personally recommend this novel. I liked it and I think you might like it too.

The book was received as part of Reviewers Programme on The Tales Pensieve

Sunday, December 01, 2013

November Reading

Last month, I started up Asimov's collection of 17 short stories titled "Earth is Room Enough" and ended up reading half of them. This month, the remaining half got completed. It has been a delight to read.

The month was otherwise a very busy month and I was not keeping well either so that is again reflected in the lowest reading score of this year (and probably lowest in past couple of years).

I managed to read only 2 novels and 9 short stories clocking in a score of 11 for this month.


1        Novel: The Mayan Codex by Mario Reading

2        Asimov Shorts: Satisfaction Guaranteed by Isaac Asimov

3        Asimov Shorts: Hell-Fire by Isaac Asimov

4        Asimov Shorts: The Last Trump by Isaac Asimov

5        Asimov Shorts: The Fun They Had by Isaac Asimov

6        Novel: The Himalayan Revelation by Pankaj Misra

7        Asimov Shorts: Jokester by Isaac Asimov

8        Asimov Shorts: The Immortal bard by Isaac Asimov

9        Asimov Shorts: Someday by Isaac Asimov

10    Asimov Shorts: the Author's Ordeal by Isaac Asimov

11    Asimov Shorts: Dreaming is a Private Thing by Isaac Asimov