March 9, 2011

BOOK REVIEW: 'Love was never mine' by Kunal Bhardwaj

Kunal Bhardwaj's debut novel 'Love was never mine' is an emotional story about Rahul (no, not the TMD kind), your simple 'guy-next-door' types and his unconditional love for Shreya, the beautiful girl from his office. The book starts on a promising note with an interesting prologue and as we turn the pages we see Rahul falling for Shreya when he sees her for the first time in their training program on their new job. As fate would have it, Rahul, who is too shy around girls and does not appreciate outer beauty (though he believes in love at first sight), is introduced to Shreya by his friend, Riya. And from then on the three along with Hari, Rahul's pornstruck friend and roommate have fun in office and outside its four walls.

Shreya starts asking for Rahul's help whenever she is in trouble and even though she has a boyfriend, Rahul never gives up on her. He believes in the universe and his love for Shreya. And the universe in turn does not disappoint him, some welcome coincidences and twists of fate ensure that support. Rahul continues going out of his way to help her, take care of her and do all the small little things that people do in love. Ultimately however, Rahul's love stays just a one-sided affair even after he ends up confessing his feelings via an e-mail to Shreya. Anything ahead of here will give away the 'real' story and hence I would not venture further.

That's the issue! The story was written with only the ending in mind and you can literally feel it as the author makes his way towards the ending, creating and birthing events that have pretty much the same flavor (office, love, heartbreak). Another aspect was that the shift in the POV was irritating, especially initially. I would have much rather preferred the author sticking to the protagonist (Rahul's) POV and not venturing much into Shreya's mind. The shift in tense was another issue in the initial chapters but it might have been an editorial mistake, I am not sure.

Now the real judgment. This book is not a story, though it might come across as one. It is more like a collection of events bound together by fate and their subsequent outcome. The main focus of this story is on 'feelings' and the emotional turmoil the protagonist goes through. The events composed though repetitive are cute, coming from a character who has never been in love before (reminded me of my Rahul from TMD). The ending is surprising, though the title pretty much gives it away that it is not really a 'happily ever after' story. I liked the ending but it might not be lapped up by some. The author has done a decent job of his first novel and his sincere efforts comes across on every page of this easily readable book. It's short (about 144 pages) and cute. Give it a try for your reading buds, especially if you fancy a light romance with an interesting ending. It's a 3/5 from my side!

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March 7, 2011

BOOK REVIEW: 'All and Nothing' by Raksha Bharadia

The book tells us the stories of four characters apart from the primary character named Tina, a troubled wife who forces her four friends to come together at a house in Mahableshwar to solve the puzzle of their lives. Tina was a budding artist when she met Aditya, a successful executive with an MNC still to get over his first wife. After a series of successful dates, they marry and have two beautiful daughters but post-marriage Aditya is a changed man. And it is this change that Tina cannot fathom. She tries to get rid of the ghosts of the past but Aditya is not willing to let go of his first wife and ultimately all hell breaks loose.

Then there is Tina's cousin Upasana, who should make do with a wife-beating husband and find justifications in his actions. Tina's wife-club friend, Poorvi, who is distraught at not being able to give her husband's family a boy as an heir. Tina's co-worker friend, Manas, who is troubled at having lost his love due to his own doings after seven years of their live-in relationship. Tina's old friend, Kriya, who has always been under her father's shadow and now is a guilty woman after her best-friend committed suicide. And then there is Prashant or Prats, who is Aditya's maternal uncle and only guardian and also Tina's confidante. All these individuals are headed in different directions until a letter from their friend, Tina pulls them towards Mahableshwar where their caller is herself missing but she has left them a letter each and in it, they must discover their lives and move on. The common aspect is that all the characters are tied down to their past in someway or the other and can't seem to let go off it, can't seem to look ahead to a better future and it is Tina, who undertakes the responsibility to do so for them. As she tries to come to terms with Aditya's betrayal, this is more of a challenge for her. Is she successful in taking it up? You'll have to read the book to find out.

This is primarily a story of relationships and tying those loose ends tight. This book shows us the errors of the human heart and mind in an impeccable manner. Real characters highlight the story, making it easy to identify with them. Well-thought of situations and problems that we daily encounter in life make it more endearing. Perhaps the author's experience as the editor of 'The Chicken Soup' series has helped her immensely in doing so because these too are the stories of real people. It's a good pacy read though sometimes the inclusion of Bengali in between is not really necessary and makes the reader skip those parts. The book is divided into four parts and the first two parts are quite pacy though the book tends to slow down toward the middle and the ending. Nevertheless, the latter are interesting too, without meaning to take away anything from the author. She has of course chosen to talk about social evils, martial discontentment and relationships and she excels in doing so in her own unique way with an interesting third-person narrative. The plot is nothing extraordinary, simple and sweet and aimed at giving the story some pace. The settings chosen reinforce that a woman has written this book and rightly so. 

Courtesy: Infibeam news
The author brings you back to the story just when you are on the brink of closing the book for the day, to continue reading it later. It's not a mammoth epic, just around 220 odd pages or so, easily read in a single-sitting like I did. Of course, intelligently thought of, short chapters aid that cause. It is commercial fiction and tends to get literary towards the end but again depends on how the reader absorbs it. Surely one of the better ones this year. I say 4.3/5!

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March 2, 2011

BOOK REVIEW: 'Fate, Fraud & A Friday Wedding' by Bhavna Rai

 It seems Bhavna Rai has stayed in more than seven countries and it is this experience that shows in her debut novel 'Fate, Fraud & A Friday Wedding' (Interesting title!). And going by the title, I was anticipating a Priyadarshan movie kind of a drama but I was not prepared for what was to follow.

An interesting prologue lays the foundation for a promising story. A motley of characters crop up right at the start seeking your attention. We have Anand Sharma, a self-made successful entrepreneur, who owns one of the largest security company, Intellicom. Anand is someone who shifted to the states and made it big there, working with GE, then setting up his own venture. Anand's company manufactures an innovative device that allows customers to directly transact form their computers by swapping their credit cards. 

Enter Neel Kapoor, the new manager at Indysoft technologies, working with two others and reporting to a perfectionist kind of a boss. Neel has given up his big American dream to look after his ageing parents in Delhi and hence has taken up a job with Indysoft. Of course, along with him he brings along his American girlfriend, Jenna, who has given up everything with the hope that Neel will marry her one day. Jenna seeks a transfer from Letsfly, a BPO and shifts to their Indian outsourcing branch where she leads the operations and even manages to identify a big discrepancy in the system with the way scripts. Jenna catches hold of Rajat, a team-leader in the same organization for running malicious scripts and making away with customers' credit card details by using an innocent accomplice, Suman Agarwal. Suman who was deeply in love with Rajat gets blackmailed by him and coerced into doing the dirty job for him due to a MMS scandal featuring her and her blackmailer. Yeah, she has a sister, Monica, who is pregnant and develops labour during the wedding of her friend, Sheila. Both Sheila and Monica alongwith Jyoti and Tanya are a part of a larger group of females, one which includes Tara Mehra, the girl in the middle of it.

Tara Mehra has an unforgettable past. Hooking up with many guys when she was studying in the states until she found Anand, whom she dumped unceremoniously, not realizing how much he loved her. Anand, of course got over her and made it big, realizing that his status was the only reason his lady-love dumped him. Tara vows never to love anyone and toys with a lot of hearts in the process, including that of one of her close friends, Varun. And this continues until she meets Neel, who manages to impress her with his intellect and wit. 

During the wedding, Rajat barges in with a revolver to avenge his humiliation and Neel and Tara are forced together by the turn of events in a hospital as Monica tries to deliver her baby. That time Jenna has moved to the States to celebrate Christmas with her family and also unravel a deeper mystery of the motive beyond the fraudulent transactions. A mystery she cracks alone and ends up meeting Anand to give him the details of the entire thing and what follows is an engaging and surprising ending.

The most engaging character was Jenna. Her sweet nature and hardworking attitude, and a will to give her relation a try no matter what that costs her, grabs your heart and in the end, you sympathize with her as her boyfriend never gets time to see her and is only obsessed about the Intellicom deal that he should win to prove his caliber. The main story is however based on only three characters,i.e. Anand, Neel and Tara and the others are mainly secondary characters though Jenna's/Suman's/Rajat's POV also ends up taking part in the story though the author uses third person narrative. 

It is said too many cooks, spoil the broth. The author confuses the reader initially by bringing out character after character in what is basically the story of three individuals. Similar sounding names or rather too many characters to keep track off initially might put one off initially but the story grows on you as you cruise along. Another drawback was shifting view points in different paragraphs, a technique I haven't seen many Indian authors use in commercial fiction. Also flashbacks emerge out of nowhere and it takes sometime to get used to the flow of the story. There are various subplots involved and they seem to fall in place during the wedding, so you will need some patience to read through and understand what is going around before you get the hang of it. Scene changes are not highlighted through the use of an asterisk or two and one wonders how a new character suddenly starts talking until you realize it's a different scene altogether but I guess that may be an editorial mistake, so let's not arrive at judgments too soon.

However, set against the backdrop of the IT industry boom (like Sundip Gorai's 'HDS', thankfully no LORD emerged this time!), the novel manages to stir a thought or two. I really liked the subtle use of metaphors and analyzing feelings of the primary characters. In one instance, the author intelligently uses raindrops on a glass window (one falling down to be immediately replaced by the other) to showcase Tara letting go of her past. The author manages to display the contrast between America and India through Neel and Jenna's mannerisms. The dialogue is crisp and to the point and the author does not waste much time in actions except for the narrative. It was a more than decent story, surely one of the better reads this year and the author has done well to showcase her knowledge and writing skills at the same time. Overall, a worthy read with a surprising ending. Rating? A sure-shot 4/5!

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March 1, 2011

BOOK REVIEW: 'The Diary Of A Social Butterfly' by Moni Mohsin

 This is the first book I read from this author and it made me seek out her earlier book 'The End of Innocence' which is a very different one from the book I'm currently going to talk about. I was hoping it would be kind of the same and was a bit disappointed to note that it was more of the serious types (I don't know why!) but glad the author came up with a sequel to this fabulous read.
'The Diary of a social butterfly' by Moni Mohsin, one of Pakistan's most celebrated columnists is a humorous satire in a noveau rich female's voice. Moni Mohsin, who was in Mumbai some weeks back to promote her new book 'Tender hooks' (which is a sequel to this one and marks the return of the Butterfly), shaped this book in the 90s in a column in Lahore's Friday Times. The book is a collection of these columns, wittily put together from 2001 to 2008.
The period covers a lot of turmoil in Pakistan including wars, militarization, the 9/11 incident, the President's US dilemma, earthquake, emergency rule, Benazir Bhutto's assassination and fundamentalist policies. It is almost difficult to believe that anyone can extract humor out of it in a light-hearted manner.The lead character Butterfly Khan sounds like a desperate-to-showoff kind of a wife, who thinks that her husband aka 'Janoo' (as she likes to call him), is dheela (No, his name is not dheela...dheela ki jawaani and whether he's sexy or not... ah!) While describing him she says "You say even one small thing and he corrupts like a volcano." 
Butterfly's use of the English language is really interesting and throws up quite a few innuendos. The most hilarious one I found consists of Butterfly describing her mother-in-law's (The Old bag's) angina attack as vagina attack. The real highlight of the book is the way Butterfly interprets Pakistan's inner turmoil and political pressures. She talks about the Taliban in an almost dismissive manner and the most important thing on her mind if they come to power is that her foreign trips would be cut off. She shops as Harrod's in London and renames some of the most popular brands in the world to suit herself and she does not limit herself to just brands, goes on to include her family members as well. She believes she is the limelight of every part and a page three star. She lives in her own sweet world, surrounded by like-minded friends (Floozie, Mulloo and Dropsy), husband (Janoo), son (Kulchoo), sister-in-laws (Gruesome Twosome) and of course her mother-in-law (The Old bag). Not to forget Aunty Pussy (I'm serious and no, there is no Uncle Dick before you get any ideas of your own!)
Sometimes you end up wondering the actual reason behind Janoo marrying Butterfly but you are glad he did because this ends up giving you some of the most hard-hitting scenes in the book which I cannot go in further for fear of spoiling the story. Janoo is more interested in the world and his business but shahtoosh shawls and foreign shopping trips are the only thing on Butterfly's mind.
“Janoo tau, bechara, bilkul hi crack ho gaya. All day now he spends reading international news on things on the Inner Net,”she says when her husband is keeping track of the ravaging war. Butterfly comes across as a fresh change after Bridget Jones or even the Shopaholic series. Kudos to Butterfly for being so confident despite her shortcomings and hats-off to the author for creating such an identifiable character because I'm sure you've seen people who are at least fifty percent like this memorable house-wife (and no, I'm not talking about Savitha bhabhi :P) Read this one for Butterfly's charming voice and amazingly dumb wit and her literal grinding of the English language which gives us locutions like 'proper-gainda' and 'what cheeks!' I can't miss the next one for sure. As for this one, deserves a more than decent 4.5/5!

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