Days of our Lives!

February 24, 2013

Book Review: Icons of England – Bill Bryson

Filed under: Books — Santhosh @ 11:26 PM

Book: Icons of England
Editor: Bill Bryson
Genre: Non-Fiction, Anthology

94 pieces about the woods, the downs, the heaths, the marrows, the crags, the moors, the orchards, the cider farms, the brecklands, the grasslands, and the marshlands; evensongs, stand-alone trees, hares, protean shapes, cherries, summer fĂȘtes; village spires, stiles, pub signs, churchyards, red postboxes, arboretums, and monuments; holloways, hedgerows, drystone walls, estuaries, broads, water meadows, cattle grids, sheepfolds, English country houses, and milestones; Nimbys, ploughmen, family butchers, local stores, family historians, rural friendliness, and the village cricket.

Gave a more vivid outline to images of the English countryside given base by literature and popular culture. A touch overboard with the waxing lyrical bit though, which is bound to happen when writing about such things; would be better enjoyed by anglophiles and those who’ve previously experienced something of the English countryside.

My Rating: 3/5


October 20, 2012

Book Review: What Young India Wants – Chetan Bhagat

Filed under: Books — Santhosh @ 8:48 PM
Book: What Young India Wants
Author: Chetan Bhagar
Genre: Non-Fiction, Anthology, Social Commentary
Chetan Bhagat’s novels would quite obviously ensure nobody in their right mind would expect literary excellence in his writing. His column in TOI is, generally as a rule, tailored to increase his stated fan base / target group of semi-urban teens and early tweens. However, I’ve liked him in the couple of his early interviews that I’ve watched where he comes forth in a clear and lucid manner, without a hint of apology, embarrassment or sarcasm, on why he writes the way he writes. It’s pure business, and if there are benefits of first-time readers and worldly awareness, then all the better. However, over the last few years, he has slowly picked up steam as the voice of young India, and to satisfy my curiosity on where he now stood as a thinker and writer for what young India wants, I picked up the book.

The book comes across as a collection of slightly better-edited versions of his TOI articles, which is saying that it’s one long rehashed rant. It’s hard to believe, considering the naivete and simple-mindedness that comes across in most of the pieces, that he has really studied economics and finance in his IIM A days, has worked at mid-level managerial and leadership positions in the corporate world, and has been travelling around as a youth icon for the last few years.

Even taking at face value the stated aim of the book to increase the awareness and broaden the outlook of his target group of semi-urban teens and early tweens, which is unquestionably laudable, the book works and fails on its (over)simplicity. While explaining the issues in simple terms would help his reader understand the basic issues, the book should have aspired just to be the base on which the reader could slowly start to grasp and comprehend the complexity of the issues at the microeconomic and macroeconomic levels and as the trigger for further discussion and learning on the same. Similarly, the book should have worked upon the fact that there are no easy solutions and charted out some of the ways, again from the ground level to the top, in which the issues can be tackled. Instead, the 3 page essays start and stop at the basic level, providing a very simplistic, black and white case analysis in the style of the angry young man movies of old.

And hey, don’t blame me for expecting more from a book, Chetan Bhagat’s as it may be, that is titled What Young India Wants (and is queerly targeted at the same Young India) and purportedly attempts to answer questions such as “Why do our students regularly commit suicide?” (grammar, somebody?) and “Why is there so much corruption in India?”

My Rating: 2/5

October 16, 2012

Book Review: Following Fish – Samanth Subramanian

Filed under: Books,Travels — Santhosh @ 7:14 PM

Book:  Following Fish: Travels Around The Indian Coast
Author: Samanth Subramanian
Genre: Travel, Food, Culture

I’m a fan of narrative journalism and Samanth Subramanian’s Following Fish is an excellent example of such long-form writing as he weaves a beautiful, eidetic narrative about the Neithal hinterlands. As much as this book is about the karimeen and the hilsa, it’s also very much about communities, cultures, histories, tales, recipes, social commentaries, fishing, boats, travel, and people. I had picked up the book expecting it to be a travelogue through some of coastal India. There is however a larger theme to the book as Samanth explores each place he visits and speaks to us from research, experience and the voices of the locals.
I loved Samanth’s vividly descriptive writing that ensures your vicarious presence as you taste the hilsa in a roadside shack in Kolkata’s Diamond Harbour, feel the alive fish wriggle down your throat as you hope for your asthmatic cure in Hyderabad, speak about the challenges to belief and tradition with the last surviving jati thalaivan of the Paravas of Manapadu with some fish podi and Portugese culture thrown in, embark on an odyssey through southern Kerala’s toddy shops in search of the perfect pungent karimeen, stroll lazily dreaming about rawa fry and Mangalorean meen curry, set out on an Enid Blyton approved fishing trip ‘in search of the fastest fish in the ocean’ in the place-that-shall-not-be-named Xanadu, reminisce wistfully about a sepia-tinted romantic pre-tourist Goa of after-school fishing, take a walk down history with the mill workers of Bombay, and spend some days in the fishing-boat building towns of Mangrol and Veraval in lower Gujarat.
One of those delightfully perfect Sunday afternoon reads!
My Rating: 5/5

October 10, 2012

Book Review: The Krishna Key – Ashwin Sanghi

Filed under: Books — Santhosh @ 12:56 AM

Book: The Krishna Key
Author: Ashwin Sanghi
Genre: Fiction

A quick summary of the Mahabharata, some research on Krishna, and a bit of mythology and history weaved into a Dan Brown derived formula with a complete lack of any factual cohesiveness or sense. Oh, and presented in a way a sixth grader’s story-writing would cringe at: making up characters and facts on the go, ridiculous gimmicks and tricks (such as using burkhas to pass through police security. Seriously?!), completely undeveloped characters, cliched phrases, filmi plot-twists, etc. A cheap imitation.

My Rating: 1/5

September 20, 2012

Book Review: Holy Cow! – Sarah Macdonald

Filed under: Books,Travels — Santhosh @ 10:50 PM
Book: Holy Cow: An Indian Adventure
Author: Sarah Macdonald
Genre: Travel, Religion

The first third of the book is fantastical poverty porn and reads like Borat attends Ripley’s! There are lepers begging at the airport, ash-smeared naked aghoris at traffic signals in central Delhi, earthquakes that claimed hundreds and yet ‘hardly is in the news’ because it’s common in India, Apollo is ‘the only good hospital in New Delhi’ but is ‘half a city away’ and has a ‘For Poor People’ special entrance, her boyfriend has to stay with her in her hospital room since rapes are very common in Indian hospitals, hijackings, dead cows, dowry deaths, female infanticide, child marriage, girls not allowed into schools, vomit, urination, pollution, population, brown skin, phlegm, crowds, beggars, astrologers, green goo, paan, etc. Her “you know what, I am in a strange foreign land where everything is strange, so up your’s” narrative is one where anything strange (and only strange) that may have happened is mentioned (a model shot dead in an illegal bar, a superstar hitting his actress girlfriend, a monkey causing panic in Delhi, etc). Crass, cheap, voyeuristic, patronising, and just plain fantasy.

The rest of the book, though better in terms of content, still suffers from her over-the-top recital. Every hotel she checks into is filthy and without water or power, trains and flights always seem like crashing; all Muslims, Buddhists, Sikhs, and Christians she meets seem to be unhappy with India and either want a separate state or join Pakistan or China. Indians are very shy about public displays of affection, the parental bond is very strong, social mores are very critical, the traditions are strange, there are festivals of colours and lights, wedding rituals and last rites, all of which seem very eccentric and queer. It’s called a different culture, goddammit.

As mentioned, the book does become better in terms of content once she starts actually living in India, as she transforms from tourist to resident, and as she starts trying to experience and understand the religions, the spirituality and the people. The hyper voiced news reporting morphs into some decent long-form narrative journalism. She visits, experiences, lives with and learns about Vipassana in Dharamsala, Sikhism in Amritsar, Islam in Kashmir, Kumbh Mela in Allahabad, Buddhism in Dharamsala, Judaism with Israeli backpackers, Zoroastrianism with Parsis in Bombay, “Amma” Mata Amritanandamayi, Sathya Sai Baba, Our Lady of Velankanni, Mother ashram in Pondicherry, Sufism in Pakistan and some Jainism. She learns from Buddhism about controlling the mind, from Hinduism about respecting other paths, from Islam about surrender, from Jainism to make peace in all aspects of life, and from Sikhism about the importance of spiritual strength.

Sarah Macdonald does end the book with the expectedly patronising lines on how much she has changed as a person, how she’s realised how much privileged she is, how much she’s learnt and irrespective of how much exasperating India is, she feels a force pulling her and somehow India feels like home for the soul. However cynical that may make one feel, one does get the feeling that she’s really had a life changing transformative experience and the changing narrative of the book is a reflection of how she’s actually growing as a person over the course of the book. And for just that, she gets an extra star.

My Rating: 3/5

August 30, 2012

Book Review: Rahul Dravid: Timeless Steel – ESPNcricinfo

Filed under: Books,Sports — Santhosh @ 10:54 PM

Book: Rahul Dravid: Timeless Steel
Author: ESPNcricinfo
Genre: Anthology, Sports

I read cricinfo. I also like Dravid. And I mean both in the most politely understated way possible. If ever someone got into the online stalking business, they’d find that a cricinfo hits counter for me would have a daily average not too dissimilar to Dravid’s, and for almost as long. Dravid’s the cricketer I’ve liked the most (with Sachin, it’s love, which is different) and I’ve gone through phases where I’ve voraciously searched and read everything to do with him (google alerts, rss feeds, the works). And then, along comes this book, which is made up mostly of the best of the cricinfo lot on Dravid, and complemented by new articles from some of my favourite cricket writers.

Nicely structured (as can be seen below), it at once provides both an intimate and a complete picture about the man and the cricketer. Because of the anthological nature of the book, and the filtering from among the tens of really really good writing on the topic, we’re essentially talking about a collection of, for the most part, truly great articles. That a couple may pale in direct comparison with the other articles in the book is more a reflection of the quality and richness of the collection.

The final retirement interview is a case study in its genre for both the interviewer and the interviewee. There is the unedited article of Vijeeta Dravid’s, the unabridged Dravid interviews that even further illuminate his class and intelligence, and edited versions of gems previously published but now with that extra bit of hindsight. Siddharth Monga’s amazing play-by-play account of the Kolkata 2001 innings took me back a decade and the brilliant dissection by Akash Chopra on Dravid’s evolving technique is a masterpiece in its own right. The articles by juniors, coaches and peers give a peek into the competitor and the professional, and Samir Chopra’s The Money Moment throws that bit of light on the steel behind the gentleman*.

* Something which I’ve also once seen happen during a Dravid interview just before the 2007 world cup. The interviewer was some kid who was clearly out of his depth and kept talking in cliches in terms of the game and, funnily enough, even of the man he was interviewing. At one point, there was some ridiculous question that Dravid politely patted away. The kid again pressed Dravid on it, and at that moment, I too saw the strength and steel behind the cool exterior. Dravid’s eyes narrowed a touch, his lines hardened a bit, his voice became steely, and suddenly the kid (and I) knew he was witnessing 20000 international runs talking to him.

My Rating: 5/5. Definitely a keeper. The book, that is.


Introduction: Your Regular, Everyday Superstar by Sambit Bal

The Cricketer

In The Words Of His Peers

The Great Innings

The Man

The Interviews

The Bradman Oration

The Numbers

August 11, 2012

Book Review: In the Hot Unconscious – Charles Foster

Filed under: Books — Santhosh @ 7:26 PM
Book: In the Hot Unconscious
Author: Charles Foster
Genre: Travel, Religion, Philosophy

The book cover and the general internet have slotted this as a Travel book. Westland seems to think this is Fiction. I can confirm that it’s neither. The setting of the book is the time Charles Foster spent in India to research on leeches, and the content of the book is about some of his days, generously interspersed with religious discourse, philosophical wry observations, and bits of intermittent irrelevant unintelligible babble (at least to me).

It was a very slow and heavy start to the book, with needlessly big worded phrases and long-winded sentences. Without trying to be modest here, it’s rare that I have need to refer a dictionary when reading. This book forced me to on more than one occasion. But once you get used to the writing, you start to appreciate what Foster is trying here.

The impressions about India are given in a very matter-of-fact way and act more like incidental backdrops than the usual firang-in-town travel book that ends up playing in cliches. Foster comes across much better and, given the months he’s spent in India and his more mature world views on culture, religion and differences, his writing feels more local than alien. Of course, there is the jeans clad sadhu, the puffed-up American lady, the red-tape and bureaucracy, the public urination, the floating carcass, and the “I wiped the glasses, which had fallen into the open gutter, with a piece of newspaper with an article on wife-beating…“. However, the story being woven is much deeper, more ambitious and entirely different to the usual linear travelogue.

The book requires serious time to be devoted to it and is definitely not one of those quick reads. At places, the narrative gets quite heavy and dry and requires the will and curiosity to follow through. Cynical at large and witty in the dry humour way, Foster ensures the book keeps moving at a decent pace between the larger intentions of the book. Where the book worked for me was in the religion part. Evidently well-read and passionate on the topic, Foster carries us along in his expositions, dissertations and cerebrations. Illustrating the extremities in the underlying philosophies between the West and the East, articulating quite deeply about the ways, means and entities that Hinduism, Christianity, Buddhism and Zen can contribute to each other (especially the Trains and Myths chapter), Foster’s quest to discover his own spiritual essence by embracing India’s emphasis on the Unconscious is quite a journey.

My Rating: 3/5

Note: This review is a part of the Book Reviews Program at

July 30, 2012

Book Review: Urban Shots: Crossroads – Ahmed Faiyaz

Filed under: Books — Santhosh @ 12:02 AM
Book: Urban Shots: Crossroads
Editor: Ahmed Faiyaz
Genre: Fiction –> Short Stories

First things first. Short stories, these definitely are not. These are more like Slices of Life blog posts.

With all the talk about blue ocean strategies, it is nice to see Grey Oak actually go out and create a market by sourcing popular bloggers. Grey Oak should, however, have pushed the authors out of their comfort zones by better editorial control and ensuring that the authors come up with content that is in line with the genre, intention and theme of the book. Instead, what we’re left with is a set of random shots at short story writing that would fit as well, or as badly, into any of the other books in the Urban Shots series. The style is heavily cinema inspired and immaturely believes that heavy descriptions and an incessant use of adjectives somehow translates to a better, more poignant read.

Some of the authors are actually very good, as is obvious from their blogs, some of which I already follow. Some parts and passages are particularly thoughtful and touching too. But, like I said, the whole exercise feels more like a quick-fix solution for content rather than a sourcing start-point of budding authors.

Scroll down to the story “Hako” under “Excerpts from Urban Shots” in the following link and let me know if you weren’t also left with a sense of “What was that all about?” at the end of it.

My Rating: 2/5

July 24, 2012

Book Review: It Takes All Sorts: Celebrating Cricket’s Colourful Characters – Peter Roebuck

Filed under: Books,Sports — Santhosh @ 12:25 AM
Book: It Takes All Sorts: Celebrating Cricket’s Colourful Characters
Author: Peter Roebuck
Genre: Anthology, Sports

I’ve always liked reading Roebuck, who’s been one of that rarest of breeds: the cricketer-turned-mediaman who is actually good at this second inning. His writing always looked at the bigger picture, never was there a hint of parochialism, and was one of the few that held original thought, thoughtful ideas, and incisive opinion. Foremost though, was his writing style and quality. Lyrical prose of Edwardian timbre adorning the back pages of newspapers, a delight any day. Unlike any sports article required or managed to do, you could read his articles purely for the joy of writing, the events and people being described becoming incidental happenstances. Of course, there have been times where I’ve wished he’d just get to the damn point and let ’em rip, but, as with all things, I miss his writing after his tragic passing.

This book is a collection of articles and writing published over a decade (approximately 1994 to 2004) and has some excellent vignettes within: immediate impressions of some of the grandest innings and spells; the first published article about a 17-yr old Ricky Ponting (where his mates call him “Sachin” for the prodigy he was developing into); an impression of Kevin Pietersen playing Sunday grade cricket in Australia during his initial days in the wilderness; the farewells to Merv Hughes and the Waugh Twins; the common-man connection of Allan Border with the Aussie public; the background stories of Klusener and a host of other African, Dutch and Asian players; the moving eulogies for some recent passed cricketers – Ben Hollioake, Malcolm Marshall, Corey Doyle, Don Bradman; impromptu games by a far-retired Lillee, noiseless cricket by the deaf, articles praising the brightest of futures for a developing club/county player(s) (who we now know never made it), etc.

Unlike non-fiction where you have to concentrate and analyze and think, and unlike fiction where it always ends up being a page-turner which you tend to rush through, this is a perfect lazy-Sunday-afternoon book to curl up with as the Sun sets in a hazy blaze of orange and the Bangalore monsoon pitter-patters on the windows.

My Rating: 4/5

July 12, 2012

Book Review: Tuesdays With Morrie – Mitch Albom

Filed under: Books — Santhosh @ 12:01 AM
Book: Tuesdays with Morrie
Author: Mitch Albom
Genre: Non-fiction novel

Morrie lies awaiting his approaching death, accepting the finality and the definitive finish line in sight, and spends those few months reflecting, contemplating, and talking about life, family, emotions, regrets, money, fear of ageing, marriage, culture, forgiveness, and love. You know, the wisdom thingy.

There isn’t much that hasn’t already been said – relationships and spending time with loved ones are what make one happy, the importance of family, love others, look out for others, learn to forgive yourself, build your own subculture, accepting your mortality will make you live better, etc. And yet, the lightness of touch in the writing coupled with the context of it all being said at death’s doorstep, make for a nice, positive, sometimes introspective read. I’d recommend this as a better self-help book than those promoted as such. Also has some wonderful aphorisms thrown in.

Half-way deep, yet light.

My Rating: 4/5

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