“One Indian Girl ” by Chetan Bhagat

Let me start by saying that I like Chetan’s writing. There are some in the writing fraternity who do not appreciate his style but the fact remains that he is one of the most successful authors that India has ever seen. All his books have been best sellers. Recently, I read his 2016 novel, ” One Indian Girl” published by Rupa and enjoyed it. I have a partiality for books written in the first person, (I can’t say why)  and this one was one such. It is the story of Radhika Mehta, the younger daughter in a typical Punjabi family from Delhi. Her mother’s biggest desire in life is to see her married off. Her father is dreamy and too mild to protest against anything his vociferous wife says. Her elder sister is happily married and represents for her parents what every Indian middle class girl should do!  Continue reading ““One Indian Girl ” by Chetan Bhagat”

“To The Last Bullet” by Vinita Kamte

It must be extremely difficult to write about the death of a loved one. And, how can one remain objective while writing about someone you have loved and admired? Yet, Mrs Vinita Kamte has managed to do just that in her book, ” To The Last Bullet” , published by Ameya Prakashan in 2009 and co- written with a senior journalist Vinita Deshmukh. It is possible that the author’s name doesn’t ring a bell because time flies and it is now 10 years since the awful terror strike on November 26, 2008 at Mumbai. I must admit that till 26/11, I had not heard of Mr Ashok Kamte IPS and it is only after reading this book that I realise what an admirable police officer he was.

This book is written by Mrs Vinita Kamte in remembrance of her husband, the late Mr Ashok Kamte, IPS, then Addl. Commissioner East Region, Mumbai who lost his life fighting the terrorists on that fateful day. Mr Kamte was honoured with the posthumous Ashoka Chakra for his bravery in fighting back and injuring the lone terrorist to be captured alive, Ajmal Kasab.

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“The Diary On The Fifth Floor” by Raisha Lalwani

For a debut novel, I must say that “The Diary On The Fifth Floor” has been well written by Raisha Lalwani. The plot is rather unusual in that it dwells on the goings on inside the mind of a young lady wrestling with ghosts from her past and childhood. The book has endorsements from Bollywood stars like Sonam Kapoor Ahuja and Soha Ali Khan, which gives the book and the author a huge boost.

Ms Lalwani has chosen a difficult subject to write about as depression and mental health are amongst the most misunderstood in our country. A visit to a psychiatrist, more often than not, has to be done in secret. The hapless patient hopes no one has seen him/her come out of the doctor’s clinic. To that extent, this book, written in simple language without the medical mumbo-jumbo lays bare some of the problems faced by persons, especially younger ladies, who suffer from high degrees of mental anxiety and depression.

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“Once Upon An IAS Exam” by K. Vijayakarthikeyan

There are some books which you feel like reading almost at one go. One such book is a delightful, light read titled, “Once Upon An IAS Exam” by a doctor turned bureaucrat called K. Vijayakarthikeyan. But before speaking about his book, let me provide some context to the setting of the story. The Indian Administrative Service (IAS) is clearly one of the most prestigious occupations in India as the bureaucrats rule the country, following , of course, the directives set out by their political masters in our democracy.

Selection to the IAS and its allied services like the Indian Foreign Service ( IFS) and the Indian Police Service ( IPS) is based on an extremely  competitive examination conducted each year by the Union Public Service Commission ( UPSC). To give you some idea of the numbers involved, I read in this website ( appropriately perhaps) called Clear IAS.com that in 2016,  over 11, 35, 000 candidates applied for the preliminary examinations, from which about 4, 59,000 were called for this exam. Subsequently, 15,400 or so qualified to appear for the Mains, only 2961 got through and were called for the final interview. Ultimately  a mere 1209 ( out of the original 11,35,000) were selected not just for the IAS but for all the 24 Central Services.

As you can imagine, there is a great deal of prestige attached to getting into the IAS. I suspect that Dr. Vijayakarthikeyan has based this story on his own experiences and that of his friends, when they were striving to get into the IAS. I shall not be surprised, though it is only my guess, that the author has created Vishy in the book based on his own character. Of course, Vishy is a Mechanical Engineer by qualification, while the author is a qualified medical practitioner who chose to totally shift careers and enter the Civil Services. I understand that he is currently the Commissioner of the Coimbatore Municipal Corporation and the youngest officer to have held that post so far.

But let’s get back to the book. Vishy is devastated at 25 after he has failed in his attempt to qualify for the IAS. Like thousands of others who share a similar fate, he decides to give it one more shot and enrolls for coaching at the Great Minds Coaching Centre, (the one adjacent to Super Best Coaching Classes!!) I enjoyed the author’s often tongue in cheek writing style, which is so easy to read, simple yet effective! He traces the ups and downs in the lives of a bunch of students at Great Minds, young men like Vishy, Vinod, Ashok, Madhan etc. They all have one burning ambition: to crack the prelims., get to the Mains and triumph in the final interview to enter the hallowed portals of the IAS. Vishy is under pressure from another source. His girlfriend Rithika, who works in an IT company, is waiting for the day that they can get married. She is a source of strength to him though often he does not fully appreciate her value.

The author very deftly captures the coaching class staff, the teachers, the students and their  characteristics as also the environment there with its intense competition. He weaves into the story different facets of the coaching classes which really has become a major industry!!

All in all, I would recommend this book strongly to anyone looking for a light read about a topic that is so relevant today as thousands of students, who are aspiring Civil Servants,  battle it out to reach their ultimate goal. I am sure the book will particularly appeal to the youth who face such problems and can relate very well to the characters in the book.

 

“A German Officer in Occupied Paris: The War Journals” by Ernst Junger

I saw this book in NetGalley and jumped at it being an avid reader of military history. I expected it to be an interesting account of the Second World War as seen through the eyes of a German Officer. I thought it would have stirring accounts of pitched battles, and stories of intrigue, bravery and sacrifice, although as seen from the perspective of the Germans ( read: Nazis). I could not have been more off the mark. The wrong expectation was because I had, at that time, no idea who Ernst Junger was.

It turns out that he had fought in the First World War with distinction and his book, “Storm of Steel” still remains one of the best accounts of the bloody battles in the trenches from 1914-1918. Later it appears he did not join the Nazis though they appealed to him many times to join their emerging organisation. He remained aloof from the Nazis and it would appear that in later years, he did indeed privately wage war against them although he was on the outer fringes of the plot to assassinate Hitler. Continue reading ““A German Officer in Occupied Paris: The War Journals” by Ernst Junger”

“Restless: Chronicles of a Policeman” by Dr V. R. Sampath IPS

I must admit that I found it rather difficult to write a review of “Restless: Chronicles of a Policeman” by Dr V R Sampath IPS (Retd). On reflection, I think the difficulty was in distinguishing between Dr Sampath the person and the book he wrote. From what one gathers from the book, Dr Sampath is an admirable and talented individual. He comes across as being honest, upright and with a big need to satiate his inborn curiosity to learn new things. I particularly liked his message that we need to constantly re – invent ourselves in order to survive, if not flourish in a fast changing world. This message has huge impact as most people tend to become complacent with their successes. Consequently they feel all at sea when the world around them changes and makes their skills redundant.

This message has been exemplified by the author in his own life as he has transformed himself with the passage of time. As far as career is concerned, he started work in a bank then was selected to India’s prestigious Indian Police Service where he served with distinction for 25 years . Most of his batchmates would have stayed on in the Police Service and retired, but Sampath being restless left the service at the peak of his career. He still had a decade of service left before the age of retirement. He joined India’s private sector businesses and held important positions there, working with some of the country’s top most industrialists like the Ambanis and the Adanis, to name a few. He then left the world of business, to begin all over again as a student when he enrolled for the MFA program in Creative Writing in the United States. Of course, the fact that both his sons were well settled in the United States contributed, I would imagine, to this decision.

The book itself is in two parts, the first half ” Mechanical Life & Awakening” deals with his career as mentioned briefly above. The chronicles of a policeman were not as exciting as I imagined they would be. There are descriptions of waiting for cadre allotments, transfers, postings and the like but not too many incidents about his experiences as a top cop. The few that have been described have been very well written which leads me to believe that instead of the book being equally divided in two parts, I would have preferred if the book was 75-80 % about his policing days and 20-25 % about his explorations of life, for the many like me who are less spiritually inclined. He could later have written a separate book built on Part 2 of this book. Sir, by the way, as a child you read Erle Stanley Gardner and not Perry Mason.

The second part is titled,  “Exploration, Expansion and Integration.” As you will appreciate, this lifetime of diverse experiences enabled Dr Sampath  to think deeply of life and what it means in its entirety. Being of a scholarly and spiritual bent of mind, he did not rest content with his first Ph.D  ( about Airline Security) in India. He is currently working towards the Master’s degree in Fine Arts specialising in Creative Writing and subsequent PhD in Consciousness Studies at School of Consciousness and Transformation at the California Institute of Integral Studies. He summarizes the essence of his life experiences in one sentence: ” Life is accidental and random in occurring, unless your consciousness level is high enough to neutralise them.”

Dr Sampath said he, all through his life and career held on to his identity which has four parts. In his own words, he says, ” first and foremost , I am a Hindu; second, I am a Tamilzhan, third , I am a Brahmin; and fourth I am a Srivaishnavan. I am aware that all four have been under siege for hundreds of years. I am confident that one day, all of them would triumph.” Hats off to you, Sir.

All in all, if you are spiritually inclined and would like to explore what life means you would love this book. If not, the second part could be heavy reading as it needs concentrated attention as it has vast amounts of information and insight.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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“Tides Don’t Cross” by Simar Malhotra

Having just completed her latest book, I can testify that young writer Simar Malhotra has considerable skills in creating characters. She has done this perfectly  in her second novel, “Tides Don’t Cross” published recently by Rupa Publications. Rukmani aka Rhea, Mrinalini, or Ayaan, each of the main characters has been extremely well depicted. The story is built around these three people. Rukmani and Mrinalini are sisters but are as different from each other as you can imagine. Ayaan is Rukmani’s friend, with whom she spends six memorable months in Paris.

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“Born Smiling: A Father’s Tribute” by K Ravi

How would you react if, God forbid, you were to be pre deceased by your child? Just the very thought would shock and send you into a frenzy, right? My friend, K Ravi who went through this sad experience took the courageous decision to write a book, as a tribute to his daughter.  I am delighted that he has recently joined our ranks as a published author. My sincere congratulations to him. His book, ” Born Smiling: A Father’s Tribute” was published earlier this month. I am so happy for him as I know how much the writing of this book means to him.

I had the pleasure of being invited to be the Guest of Honour at the book launch. We had an interesting conversation on what motivated him to write the book, what he hoped to gain from the experience and how it could be of help to others whose children may be facing depression and other difficulties.

A roar of applause greeted Ravi’s announcement at the book launch that all sale proceeds from this book would be donated to two NGOs carrying on laudable service, namely Sa Mudra Foundation, and Youth Empowerment Foundation. This is indeed a moving gesture on his part.

In the foreword to this book, I wrote, ” Perhaps the saddest thing that can happen to any parent is to have their child pre-decease them. A mortal blow from which many never fully recover. Sushmitha, the author’s beloved daughter passed away in April 2016 when she was just 34. It is to the author’s credit that he found it in himself to write in considerable detail about his daughter and the life she led. ”

 

I went on to say, ” In his introduction, the author expresses the hope that this book will help others in similar circumstances as his daughter as she suffered from time to time with acute depression. An article in ” Medical News Today” says, ‘The causes of depression are not fully understood but are likely to be a complex combination of genetic,  biological, environmental, and psychosocial factors.’  Reading this book will tell you how apt this definition is. The author needs to be commended for his honesty in sharing his life story and his grief.”

The book is currently available with Sa Mudra Foundation but will soon, I am informed by Ravi, be available on online portals like Amazon and the like.

By the way, I have known Ravi for 45 years as he was my classmate in XLRI, Jamshedpur. He can be contacted at : ravikris4@gmail.com.

 


“The Watchdogs Didn’t Bark” by John Duffy & Ray Nowosielski

As you would expect from such a title, this book is about something that went horribly wrong. It sure looks like the watchdogs didn’t bark!! Would you believe that the horrendous events of 9/11 could probably have been avoided, if not the damage vastly minimised?  To refresh your memory, though on this event most do not need reminders, 9/11 must rank as one of the greatest tragedies in American history. On that fateful day in September 2001, Islamic terrorists of Al Qaeda crashed 4 hijacked aeroplanes in a series of meticulously planned attacks. Two aeroplanes crashed into the iconic World Trade Centre in New York, one crashed into the supposedly invincible Pentagon, HQ of the US Department of Defense, while the fourth heading to Washington DC ( with the White House, no less, as a possible target) was thwarted by passengers who fought with the hijackers forcing them to crash the aeroplane into a field in Pennsylvania. In all, it is reported that 2996 people were killed and over 6000 injured in these attacks. This event, more than anything else, changed the way people reacted to terror threats forever.  Continue reading ““The Watchdogs Didn’t Bark” by John Duffy & Ray Nowosielski”

“Train To Nowhere” by Anita Leslie

Over the decades I have read ever so many books about the Second World War. Most have been by professional journalists or by the military top brass who have written about their own experiences. I have just finished what must be one of the best autobiographies I have read which has the Second World War as a backdrop. This is “Train To Nowhere” by Anita Leslie, a young lady from a well to do aristocratic Anglo-Irish family who was distantly related to Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill. In 1940,  aged 26 she joined the Mechanised Transport Corps where she became a qualified mechanic and ambulance driver, to do her bit for the war effort.

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