Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Book Review: One Indian Girl

It is a typical Chetan Bhagat novel – from the viewpoint of a female protagonist. I frankly never understood why people hate Bhagat so much. I felt this book was a light read with a few 'feminist' concepts discussed – career-oriented women, career vs. motherhood, etc. It takes you through NYC, Hong Kong & London with a fair bit of Goa thrown in. It does seem like a movie script but I still felt it is better than most movies these days. This book apparently broke all pre-booking records on Amazon thus reaffirming Bhagat's popularity!

The book's blurb states, “Hi, I am Radhika Mehta and I am getting married this week. I work at Goldman Sachs, an investment bank. Thank you for reading my story. However, let me warn you. You may not like me too much. One, I make a lot of money. Two, I have an opinion on everything. Three, I have had a boyfriend before. Okay, maybe two. Now if I was a guy, you would be okay with all of this. But since I am a girl, these three things don't really make me too likeable, do they?”

It's a story about Radhika and her professional & personal life. She's an ambitious woman who will not stop anything to advance in her career and she's also willing to commit herself to somebody & give the relationship her all. The book is a fast-paced, breezy read with quite a few interesting food for thought. Sample this: Radhika's character thinks to herself, “Why do we need our men to praise and validate us in order for us to feel accomplished?” That's quite true, right? By the way, Radhika keeps talking to herself in her mind throughout the book [I guess so do most of us].

Some thoughts that stuck with me while reading the book – she says sorry to a guy for 'snapping' at him – I wonder how many men would say sorry to a woman for 'snapping'? That's an intrinsically feminine thing, I guess. The book also deals with women's insecurities and asks if women can take compliments. It also talks about a world that has been designed by men where women cannot even rejig office timings, as they want to fly while also have a nest at the same time.

Bhagat also highlights how men mostly seem to have the upper hand in a relationship; when a woman exerts authority/control, she's made to feel guilty & bad about it. Bhagat is qualified to write about women's careers considering he gave up a full-time job more than 10 years ago and is a proud house-husband taking care of his twin sons while his wife works full-time.

There are a whole lot of restaurants that feature in the book including in NYC Harry's Cafe & Steak, Nerai, Whiskey Blue and Dishoom in London.

I am rating this book 3 out of 5 – it's not one of Bhagat's better books (like Five Point Someone or Two States) but it's definitely not as bad as his critics are making it out to be.

I was given a review copy of this book by Rupa Publications in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: My Gita

I have been a big fan of Devdutt Pattanaik's writing and so when My Gita was published, I naturally had to read it. However, the book kind of disappointed me.

The book's blurb states, “In My Gita, acclaimed mythologist Devdutt Pattanaik demystifies the Bhagavad Gita for the contemporary reader. His unique approach – thematic rather than verse-by-verse – makes the ancient treatise eminently accessible, combined as it is with his trademark illustrations and simple diagrams. In a world that seems spellbound by argument over dialogue, vi-vaad over sam-vaad, Devdutt highlights how Krishna nudges Arjuna to understand rather than judge his relationships. This becomes relevant today when we are increasingly indulging and isolating the self (self-improvement, self-actualization, self-realization – even selfies!) We forget that we live in an ecosystem of others, where we can nourish each other with food, love and meaning, even when we fight. So let My Gita inform your Gita.” [The highlight is my emphasis].

The book is divided into 18 chapters with a brief history and introduction of The Gita. I enjoyed reading the introduction more than I did the actual chapters. This talks about the approaches to Hindu history through eight phases – Indus, Vedic, Upanishadic, Buddhist, Puranic, Bhakti, Orientalist and Modern. After this, it mentions the various readings and interpretations of The Gita wherein the first wave involved Sanskrit bhasyas by Vedanta scholars. The second wave involved retellings in regional languages – Devdutt mentions the Gyaneshwara here (which was in the 13th century) as also Dasopant Digambara and Tukaram (in the 17th century). The third wave was translations by Europeans, the fourth wave involved retranslations by Indian nationalists. This was followed by the fifth wave which involved reframing following the end of the two World Wars.

I loved the bits about Karna (I have been besotted with him since The Palace Of Illusions). Karna's circumstances made him an outsider though technically he was an insider. While narrating Karna's story about previous lives, Devdutt chooses to remind us that our story is part of a grand jigsaw puzzle, we are part of a larger narrative.

Throughout each of the chapters, there are several verses mentioned in a paraphrased form which are then elaborated upon by the author. Some of them make interesting reading, some, I felt, were too stretched and made no sense to the theme of the book. Each chapter ends with a small gist. There are, of course, several illustrations throughout the book which seek to take the explanation forward.

The book ends with yet another discourse by Krishna after the conclusion of the Bhagavad Gita. Devdutt says that the yearning for perfection stems from the desire to control and organize the world to our taste, to create a cocoon where everything makes sense to us. The Gita does not aspire for perfection.

To sum up, the book does give an insight into Krishna's discourse to Arjuna before the war. But it also digresses a bit into unrelated topics. I did not enjoy it as much as I enjoyed Jaya (a retelling of the Mahabharata). I am rating it 3 out of 5.

I was given a review copy of this book by Rupa Publications in exchange for an honest review.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Book Review: I Made a Booboo by Shivangi Sharma

Shivangi Sharma's debut book is a hilarious and first-person account of the birth of her child. The book's blurb reads: “Once upon a time there was a woman who used to sleep eight hours a day and laze around on weekends. Her clothes were mostly free of gross body fluids and her bag rarely had biscuit crumbs. Then she decided to have a baby. With books and the internet for friends – and a husband who answered commonsensically – she thought she had it all sorted. But then her baby arrived, and turned everything upside down! The baby made it his mission to present a new surprise every day. Mommy, after fighting hours of helplessness, came to learn that parenting was a lost battle. There was only one way to survive – keep calm, laugh on and write when the baby dozes. The result: I made a Booboo, a rollicking account of the trials, tribulations and occasional triumphs of a first-time mom. P.S: Everyone did live happily ever after (albeit only when the baby willed so).”

The book's chapter titles are funny ranging from “Stork Brings the Baby. Well, Not Exactly” to “Breakfast (and Lunch and Dinner) of Champions” and “His Majesty – the Invincible, the Unrestricted, the Toddler”.

Shivangi starts off by narrating her life before the baby – like any other normal couple's is. But when they learn about the imminent arrival of their first child, their life turns upside now – more the mother's as she adjusts with both the physical and the mental aspects. Shivangi's writing style is matter-of-fact and she doesn't hesitate from discussing even the most basic to the most gross stuff!

The book takes us through her pregnancy to her delivery (albeit with a few false alarms thrown in) and her adjusting to an infant in the house. Anybody who's ever had a baby or been in a house where there's a child can easily identify with most of the points stated in the book.

Shivangi uses dry wit and humour to narrate the trials and tribulations associated with raising a child. Amidst that, she also finds spirituality. As she writes about her son, “He is totally at peace with his existence – not wanting to be at some other place or in some other time. He holds no grudges against anyone. He lives life to the fullest, eats to his heart's content and does what he likes. “ As she points out, there's immense joy that a child finds in the simplest of things. And, as she reminds us, “We are all born like that but then we forget it over the years as we run fast to grow up and reach our respective finishing lines.”

I loved reading the book for the matter-of-fact way in which Shivangi has written without any fancy words or proferring any unwanted advice. I would give this book 3/5.

Note: I was given a review copy of this book by Rupa Publications. Needless to say, the review is independent of the same.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

My Year 2015 in Books!

So, it's been a really long time that I have updated my blog. I guess I have been too busy reading books to actually take time out and review them. Not that, that's any excuse. So, one of my 2016 New Year Resolutions is definitely to blog more.

I am a regular visitor on Goodreads and, in addition to using it to track the books I have read, also use it to peruse books that interest me, see what others are reading, go through quotes, read up on an author's entire works till date, etc. I am really proud of the fact that I was able to read 50 books this year; the number could obviously have been way higher but guess I will just read more books in 2016 :)

One of the features I really like about this site is the analytics it does. The link given below will give you all the details about the books I have read in 2015 including the total number of pages I have read and the shortest/longest books. 

The Great Gatsby was one of the most popular books I read (2 million people have read it apparently!) My average rating for 2015 was 3.7.

To know which books I read this year, go here: https://www.goodreads.com/user/year_in_books/2015/12430250

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Book Review: The Power Of Habit by Charles Duhigg

In The Power Of Habit – Why we do what we do and how to change – author Charles Duhigg takes us into the thrilling and surprising world of the scientific study of habits. The book is an eye-opener into how habits change lives both of individuals and corporates. Though all of us know how difficult it is to form good habits and get rid of bad habits, this book made for some very interesting reading. A few examples of what I found fascinating throughout the book follow.

In one example of a man who had lost parts of his memory, one of the doctors makes a beautiful comment, “I saw how rich life can be even if you can't remember it. The brain has this amazing ability to find happiness even when the memories of it are gone.”

Keystone habits” matter more than others in remaking businesses and lives. They can influence how people work, eat, play, live, spend and communicate. Keystone habits start a process that, over time, transforms everything. While discussing these habits, the book talks about how they help explain how Michael Phelps became an Olympic champion and how Alcoa became one of the best performing stocks in the Dow Jones index, while also becoming one of the safest places on earth.

Duhigg states how routines are habits which we do without thinking. Habits create cultures where new values become ingrained. Small wins help create widespread changes, for example, keeping a food journal helps monitor one's diet leading to better health.

The book also highlights the power of social peer pressure in leading to worldwide movements. Most movements happen because of strong ties of friendship and weak ties of peer pressure giving protestors a new sense of self identities. A wonderful example is the protests against the race issues in the USA.

Another piece of discussion that I found interesting was the one on sleepwalking. Mark Mahowald, a professor of neurology at the University of Minnesota and a pioneer in understanding sleep behaviours says, “Sleepwalking is a reminder that wake and sleep are not mutually exclusive.” There's also an interesting study conducted by a cognitive neuroscientist Reza Habib where he was particularly interested in looking at the brain systems involved in habits and addictions.

There's a fascinating piece of information on William James whose 1892 quote, “All our life, so far as it has definite form, is but a mass of habits.” features in the prologue. James spent 12 months believing he had control over himself and his destiny, that he could become better, that he had the free will to change. He later wrote that the will to believe is the most important ingredient in creating belief in change. And that one of the most important methods for creating that belief was habits.

Duhigg offers a four-stage plan to form or reshape habits. Identify the routine, Experiment with rewards, Isolate the cue and Have a plan. As the author says, Once you know a habit exists, you have the responsibility to change it.

I hope now that I have read the book I will be able to at least change a few of my habits and, thus, change my life as many of the people mentioned in the book have done.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

My most read Top Ten Authors

It's a shame I have neglected this blog for so long. However, I hope to change that, starting today.

This post is inspired by https://adventuresofatraveller.wordpress.com/2015/08/21/the-top-ten-authors-ive-read-most-books-from/

My most read Top Ten Authors are:

1. Paulo Coelho (6 books read) - He is one of my favourite authors after all. Though some people find him vague and a little too preachy, I think his books and stories are wonderful. And The Alchemist remains my go-to book for most situations.

2. Six authors are tied at place 2 with 4 books each - Dale Carnegie (the original self-help guru), Preeti Shenoy (one of the top selling woman authors in India), Chetan Bhagat (isn't his name itself enough), Ravi Subramanian (the John Grisham of banking), Jane Austen (bless her for giving us Mr. Darcy) and Malcolm Gladwell (think without thinking).

3. Eight authors are tied at place 3 with 3 books each - Mitch Albom, Khaled Hosseini, Haruki Murakami, Amitav Ghosh, Vikram Seth, Ruskin Bond, Jack Canfield and Erich Segal.

As is obvious, there are no clear favourites when it comes to my most read authors - I basically seem to be reading anybody and everybody :)

But considering the fact that I am besotted with Vikram Seth (or more specifically, A Suitable Boy), maybe, just maybe, I need to push him to the top of this list. Followed by Haruki Murakami perhaps? :)

Thursday, March 12, 2015

The Rang De Basanti Album

When it released in January-2006, Rang De Basanti (RDB) became a cult movie almost overnight. Everybody, including me, was simply blown away by it. It had a very unique storyline, brought alive on screen amazingly well by all the leading and supporting actors. In my opinion, the music of the movie composed by A. R. Rahman had a huge role to play in its success. I am fascinated and love each of the songs for different reasons elaborated below.

The title song – Rang De Basanti – is a typical Punjabi song sung by Daler Mehndi & K. S. Chithra. I bet nobody can avoid tapping their feet while listening to this song. Both the lyrics and the music have a very North Indian feel to it.

The song Paathshaala turned out to be a total rebellious college song. Prasoon Joshi's youthful lyrics only added to its charm. Sample this: “Yaaron Ki Equation Hain Love Multiplication Hain”. It is very easy to time travel back to your college days while humming this song. It was shot at Nahargarh Fort in Jaipur.

When Madhavan proposes to Soha Ali Khan, Naresh Iyer chooses to croon the romantic and slow number Tu Bin Bataayein. It was shot in a spectacular location called Mughal Sarai, located about 20 kilometres from NH-1 [http://www.wherewasitshot.com/2010/05/26/mughal-sarai-doraha/]. I hope to visit it someday.

A. R. Rahman considers Luka Chuppi to be a very special song for him because it was the first time he had an opportunity to sing with Lata Mangeshkar. It comes at a very poignant moment in the movie; when a mother has to bear with the loss of her young son in a plane accident. Listen to it and you will find it difficult to hold your tears.

Khoon Chala sung by Mohit Chauhan is his first song with A. R. Rahman. It portrayed the angst of a civil society rising against the injustice faced by it quite well. Of course, I could be biased since I am such a huge fan of Mohit Chauhan!

And last, but definitely not the least, is Rubaroo sung by Naresh Iyer and A. R. Rahman. This song won the National Award for Best Male Playback for Naresh Iyer. The song comes at the fag end of the movie when the protagonists have confessed what they have done and heave a big sigh of relief. The song captures their friendship and their commitment to the cause quite beautifully.