Prem Rao

Stories from a Story Teller

“The Unexpected Son” by Shobhan Bantwal

This was the first book I read by Shobhan Bantwal and I must say that I enjoyed her , “The Unexpected Son.” The story begins when a letter written in the old fashioned way, by ordinary mail, is delivered to Vinita Patil who has made the United States her home for the past few decades. In these days of electronic mail, this in itself was an oddity since there weren’t too many people who would write to her like this from India. Her surprise turns rapidly to shock when she reads the letter addressed to her by name by an anonymous well-wisher. The letter, in brief, informs her that her son in India is suffering from leukaemia and is not expected to live much longer. He desperately needs a bone marrow transplant which just might save his life. Read more…

“She Walks, She Leads” by Gunjan Jain

She Walks, She Leads” is in my opinion a somewhat misleading title for Gunjan Jain’s outstanding book profiling 24 of India’s most famous ladies of recent times. If not for the by line, “Women Who Inspire India” one might wonder what the book was about going just by the title. I would have opted for, “Trailblazers: 24 Women Who Inspired India” or something to that effect.

Be that as it may, this 520 page book published recently by Penguin-Viking is a trailblazer of sorts. I can’t readily recall anyone having catalogued so succinctly but in such an interesting manner the lives of 24 women who achieved great success in contemporary India, almost always struggling against great odds. Without exception all of them have become household names in India, a country where there is a huge need for role models. This book provides an intimate glimpse of the lives of these women. Read more…

“The Escape” by David Baldacci

I seldom read two books by the same author in quick succession. This time there has been an exception as after “The Hit” by David Baldacci, a couple of weeks later, I read his “The Escape.” This features the Military CID Investigator John Puller. I was coming across this character for the first time but I understand he has featured in two other books by Baldacci in the past. The book starts with a bang, as all thrillers should. In a first time ever event, a notorious captive escapes from the ultra high security United States Disciplinary Barracks in Fort Leavenworth. The man who escaped did not merely vanish into thin air but left behind a body of someone whom nobody had seen before at that prison. What makes the plot more intriguing is that the escaped prisoner was a brilliant man, an expert in nuclear technology and cyber security who had been a Major in the United States Air Force until his conviction. He happens to be none other than John Puller’s elder brother, Robert. Read more…

Learn More About Writing

There really is no end to learning. Reading what others say about the craft of writing helps you improve your own writing. With this as the context, allow me to share a few articles that caught my attention over the last few weeks:  Read more…

“Chillies and Porridge” Edited by Mita Kapur

This delightful book, edited by Mita Kapur, founder and CEO of Siyahi, described as India’s leading literary consultancy sports the  cheerful title of  “Chillies and Porridge.” It is a must read for food lovers. It is not a collection of recipes, it is not a treatise on the history of food habits in the various parts of India but is a collection of anecdotes contributed by 23 well-known Indians. All of them have one theme in common : food is central to their  stories. In them, they capture through their words the sights, sounds and tastes that they relished in the course of their lives, recounting their favourite stories about their favourite foods. Read more…

“The Hit” by David Baldacci

If you like action-packed thrillers, you will enjoy, “The Hit” by David Baldacci, an acclaimed writer in this genre. The book begins with a gripping account of how a handler for the CIA, Doug Jacobs is literally shot on the job. He is killed as he directs his sniper to shoot an assigned target. Suspicion falls on Jessica Reel,  a former sniper expert in the Agency who has gone rogue. The case is assigned to Will Robie, known far and wide to be the best in his trade. Robie has to find and stop Jacobs’s killer.  Read more…

“Durbar” by Tavleen Singh

I have always liked books by Tavleen Singh and this one was no exception.  The aptly named, “Durbar” is a breezy read about Lutyens Delhi as it now is popularly called, where the high and mighty of India meet in exclusive social circles of which at one time she was a prominent member. The book is about the period from 1975 when she first became a journalist to around 1991 when Rajiv Gandhi, the then Prime Minister of India was assassinated.

In those days, far more than now, the school you went to, the university you attended and the way you spoke English mattered more and often determined whether you could become part of exclusive social circles. Tavleen happened to be one of those who was a part of, what we would now term a social network, which included prominent politicians like Naveen Patnaik ( who later became, and indeed still is, the Chief Minister of Orissa), and Dr Farooq Abdullah, (later Chief Minister of Jammu & Kashmir). They were amongst her close friends. She thus came to be part of a social circle which included the then Prime Minster Indira Gandhi’s son Rajiv, and his Italian wife, Sonia. This book, in some measure, is a story of the Gandhis of Delhi. Read more…

“Tiffin” by Rukmini Srinivas

Writing a story of a large family that starts in 1892 till the present day is in itself a huge challenge. To write about the wonderful food which you have cooked, eaten, and enjoyed over the decades is again an incredibly challenging task. Added to this, you need to choose the most memorable from amongst a long list and carefully write their recipes while catering to an international audience. Mrs. Rukmini Srinivas surprises us by doing all this and doing it with finesse and style in her semi-autobiographical book, “Tiffin” described as “Memories and Recipes of Indian Vegetarian Food.” I loved  this book and would commend it to anyone fond of family stories and who look for a bunch of amazing recipes mainly from the South of India.

Read more…

On Writing Competitions & More

One of the most effective ways to hone your writing skills is simply to keep writing! There are many opportunities for a writer these days to take part in writing competitions the world over, thanks largely to the power of the internet. A budding writer keen on improving his skills and image as a writer will seize the most appropriate opportunities as often as he can. This does not mean, of course, that one participates indiscriminately in every writing competition one comes across. That would be a stupid thing to do and extremely counter-productive. Read more…

“The Red Sari” by Javier Moro.

I was astonished to hear that “The Red Sari” (originally titled, “El Sari Rojo”)  by Javier Moro was for sometime banned by the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) when it was the ruling Government in India. If anything I thought their opponents, the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) who are the current ruling dispensation may ban the book for being altogether too flattering about the central figure of the book, Congress President Mrs Sonia Gandhi nee Maino.!! The book was released in English in India in 2015 when it was eagerly awaited as a book known to have been banned makes people want to read it all the more. Whispers about its contents when it was not available in India made the book more mysterious and enticing than it eventually turned out to be. What kind of scandals were in the book that it had to be banned, one wondered? Frankly, there turned out to be none.  Read more…

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