Losing my Religion: A review

I’m not a huge fan of Rock music, so the title did not ring a bell with me as it was supposed to. But the author clarifies it within the first few chapters.

‘Losing My Religion’ is the story of Rishi, a failed entrepreneur who feels washed up and de-energised, thereby tapping into a potential market of millions of would-be entrepreneurs and corporate employees who are struggling with their work and passions.

Vishwas Mudagal is a first-time writer who has experienced these things for himself before turning to writing, so a lot of experiences and instances in the story seem to be inspired from his own life.
The story is chequered in terms of content; sometimes fast, sometimes slow, sometimes natural, sometimes unbelievable; but then, that’s what life is too.

It’s a good one-time read, perfect for a journey. I give it 3 out of 5.

The Sialkot Saga: A review

Ashwin Sanghi is an author I have taken note of since the days of Chanakya’s Chant, his story that merges history and current times. So when ‘The Sialkot Saga’ came out, I was very interested.
Right from the outset, the story comes across as one with a grand scale. Mr. Sanghi has attempted his broadest canvas yet. This is his magnum opus. The story starts in 1950, with occasional flashbacks to ancient India, right from Samrat Ashok.

There are two protagonists, Arbaaz Sheikh and Arvind Bagadia. The reader is a witness to the various crests and troughs that appear in the lives of these two characters, separated by the mainland of India – Arbaaz is in Mumbai, while Arvind is centred in Kolkata. Both are businessmen, with deals that are above board, below the allowed purview of law, and everything in between.

Arbaaz works for a don, and through his eyes, we see Mumbai go from Bombay to Mumbai. There are sections that read like a history book, with the rise of the underworld, the growth of the city and I was not surprised to find Dongri to Dubai in the bibliography section.

Arvind is a bonafide businessman who sets up his shop as an investment director in Kolkata. Kolkata does not get as much attention as Mumbai does, but the focus of the narrative is more to do with the tricks up Arvind’s sleeves.

There are other characters who get good quantities of screentime: their families, their confidantes and their adversaries. Another character is the country itself: one gets a sense of changing times with the different moments of destiny the nation has borne witness to.

The narrative flows smoothly through the decades, interjected by the peek into the past, where we learn of a society, with a secret that is passed down the ages. There is a twist at the end as well, but Sanghi has left clues in the narrative. If you were to have followed them, it will not come as a shock to you.

Even though this is no ‘Chanakya’s Chant’, the story engages you as a reader. The writing is Archer-esque at times and keeps you invested. I would give this a solid 3 out of 5.

The Great Human War

The Mahabharat is the greatest epic India has ever produced. The layers to the story, the symbolism, flawed heroes, upright ‘villains’ – it has the works. You could enter a debate on the Mahabharat and it could continue for weeks and months J

The Thirteenth Day begins at the end of the Bhishma campaign or the beginning of the Drona campaign, depending on which way you look at it. It attempts to humanize the characters we have come to know and love/loath. Aditya Iyengar cuts through the mists of legends and introduces them to us as normal people, with their strengths and fallacies. It makes us relate more with them in terms of understanding their fears, their desires and their reasons for being in ‘The Great War’.

The story is told from the viewpoint of three figures: Yudhishthira, the leader of the Pandav clan, fighting for the crown and recognition. From our earlier readings, we remember him as a just, honourable, silent man who is remorseful of his treatment of his wife. Here, he is torn between who he needs to be as a leader of the war, an active combatant and a valorous one at that; and who he is, a thoughtful leader who does not see the need for so much bloodshed, one who would see the war end even with a victory for the other side.

The second figure is Radheya/Karna, a man who for me is the most intriguing character in the great tale - the lost son of the Pandavas; the best friend of the leader of the Kurus, Suyodhana – the man who would be king. Fresh with the knowledge that recognition would give him the throne in case of a Pandava victory, he is torn between his duty and desire. Does he abandon Suyodhana’s cause for pursuing his own ambition of being king; one that will potentially end the bloodshed? Or does he stay true to the man who brought him to the limelight and remains his closest friend till date? This dilemma is what defines Radheya, and what makes him the most human character among all.

The final character is Abhimanyu, the boy warrior itching for a chance at glory. This is the character I found to be cast in the most different light. Rather than be a prodigy thrust into the pitch of battle because of his Dharma as a warrior; he comes across as a warrior yearning to make his mark on history and be remembered forever. He is not a fledgling prince, but a fully aware, honourable warrior.

The author writes of the Chakravyuh used by the Kauravs as an onion with layer upon layer. His story is something similar. As a reader, you go through multiple iterations of the major characters, and come to know newer and newer nuances of not only them; but the people, times and even how history was written for them.

War is no light matter, and you can sense a shadow of gloom towering above everyone, a sense of impending doom pervading the air. As the story builds towards it crescendo, you can see yourself yearning for the best ending – one that would do all three of our narrators well – and see it coming towards you, in sight. And then you see it being torn away cruelly, and the reality or the yatharth of war, stares you squarely in the face, and smiles a hard, yet understanding smile, as if saying – “This is what was to happen, and this is what will”.

If you want to strip away the layers of the mystique, and understand the emotions of the people and the war around them, pick up a copy of The Thirteenth Day. You will enjoy it thoroughly. I rate it 4.5 out of 5.

Autobiography of a mad nation: A review

I recently had a chance to read this book, and I must admit, like a true journalist, Sriram Karri had me hooked from the first line – I was born in a mentally retarded country.

In today’s world, where consumerism is holding sway, Karri’s narrative holds up a mirror to us and asks, no, beseeches us “How much are you willing to take before you fight back?” Topics such as political leanings, religion, regionalism, sensationalism that are normally touched upon very lightly, if at all, are tackled head on.

Coming to the story, the diary of a convict on death row is discovered by the highest office in India. The sentiments strike a chord, and a covert mission is sanctioned – to find out the reason for a normal person to suddenly kill his mentally retarded neighbour.

The premise of the story is very interesting, and it grabs you right from the start. This story goes beyond the regular fiction piece, as it drives you to think of where we are and where we are headed in terms of a society and a country.

Moving at a breakneck speed from partition to emergency, to nuclear tests to liberalization, to the Mandal commission to Babri masjid, to Godhra riots to Indira’s assassination to banning Satanic Verses to the Kargil war; the story makes all important milestones part of the narrative. A group, hidden in the shadows, controlling the strings of the story only serves the purpose of making you question “Who is pulling our strings? Do we have control?”

It is a brave book, and one that requires you to keep an open mind. Your beliefs will be tested, your opinions will be questioned, and you will feel enriched by the end of the story. This is a book that you must read. I would rate it 4.5 out of 5.

Book Review: The Curse of Surya by Dev Prasad

I recently got a chance to read The Curse of Surya by Dev Prasad while on my birthday trip. This book is what one might call a mythological mystery set in modern times, a-la The Da Vinci Code or Chanakya’s Chant.

This book is set in locations inhabited by Krishna during his era (Mathura, Dwarka etc.) and focuses around a jewel called the Shyamantaka that was lost during Krishna’s times. What powers does the jewel hold, who all are the interested stakeholders in this jewel, what transpires between them is what makes up the story.

It is refreshing to see a female protagonist in a mystery novel. Sangeeta Rao, the carefree reporter from India working in Singapore, fits the bill very well. She is strong, inquisitive, knowledgeable and ready for adventure. She runs into Alan Davies, a Welsh professor, and is instantly charmed off her feet by the Welshman. Together, the two attend a religious conference where an untoward incident happens. In the ensuing confusion, the duo finds themselves on the run and being helped by a Frenchman who works in a museum in the USA (talk about globalization!). Meanwhile, the police is after them for prosecution. How this intrepid group of individuals peels the layers of the plot behind the crime and realize the bigger game underway, is what forms the crux of the story.

In terms of structure, the story flows well from one part to the next. I did not feel as if it was disjointed at any level. It takes a couple of chapters for you to get invested in the story, but once you’re in, you want to know what happens next and are wondering about the next steps of the characters.

In terms of the background, the story has its origins in Indian mythology and this makes it easier for the average Indian reader to relate with and understand. The easy-going way the story is written also makes you wonder about the authenticity of the claims. I, for one, have felt interested in reading more about Krishna’s times and the history behind them. As it turns out, the author Dev Prasad has written another book, Krishna A Journey Through The Lands & Legends Of Krishna which caters to the actual historical information about Krishna’s era.

In terms of readability, I would say it is a good read. As mentioned, the book starts out a little slow, but picks up speed as you go along. In the second half, the motivations of a few characters seemed a bit circumspect to me. However, all in all, this seemed like only a minor hiccup in what was an easily readable story.

In terms of final views, I would rate this book as a good easy read. As mentioned earlier, I read this in transit, and this was done by the time I had reached my destination. It’s a book that will keep you entertained, interested and invested while it’s in your hands. Once done, you have an easy option to explore further as well. Overall, I would give it 3.5 out of 5.