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Book Review: Private India by Ashwin Sanghi & James Patterson

August 27, 2014

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When a series of seemingly unconnected murders rock the city of Mumbai with the macabre rituals and artefacts found around the corpses, Private India, a leading investigation agency takes the case. Santosh Wagh, the head of the organization, has only one mission. He needs to stop the killers before they strike again. However, in a city of over 13 million people, he finds that the clock is ticking too fast. He finds himself pitted against underworld dons and a Godman who isn’t what he seems. However, the worst is yet to come and Private India itself may be threatened with a revelation that could destroy the entire organization.

I must be honest. I read this book only because of Ashwin Sanghi. That man knows how to weave a compelling story around history and mythology and I was keen to see what he has done with this one.

I had only heard of James Patterson as #1 thriller writer in America but had never read of his books. A Google search later, I was more knowledgeable about his Private series and his protagonist Jack Morgan. This book is a collaboration to bring Private, an exclusive and world’s best-known private investigation firm to India.

If I say anything more about the plot than what is given in the blurb, I might reveal spoilers. So I will straight go into the review.

In a true thriller style, the authors introduce numerous characters right in the beginning. They include the Private India head Santosh Wagh, ex-police officer and alcoholic with a troubled past, his colleagues Nisha Gandhe, ‘head-turningly attractive’ ex-police, medical examiner Mubeen with a tortured history in America and technology expert Hari with a secret. Then there are Jack Morgan from Private L.A playing an important role, Assistant Police Commissioner Rupesh Desai with a history with Wagh, the various victims with their varying background and dark deeds, a gambling-addicted top lawyer, a Mumbai don, corrupted godman and a serial killer on the loose. Not all characters come alive; in fact some are very sketchy. They left me wanting to know more just so that I could figure out why they did what they did, especially in the sub-plot of Hari.

The plot is fast, engaging and interesting. The authors have added interesting mythological (Durga avatars) and historical (thugs) twist to the tried-and-tested serial killing premise. However, at the end, I was wondering the purpose behind the thug reference. The climax involving the identity of the killer was truly mind-blowing; however the extra few pages involving the India Mujahideen and the bomb blast plot felt too stretched. Why did the authors feel the need to include every topic of current affairs into the plot? Why is Mumbai made synonymous with bombing conspiracies? What was the significance of Hari’s sub-plot? But for me, the most difficult question to find an answer for was the reason behind one of the character’s need for sex-change. I was unimpressed with the over-simplified reason given in the book.

Sanghi is known for his meticulous research but I expected more from him in this book. Oh and one more thing – in the age of Google, one need not rush to the library to read up on any topic, including Durga avatar. Such small details should not be overlooked.

I have time and again complained against poor editing and grammar in a lot of contemporary authors’ works. This one is no exception. It really kills the story bit by bit.

Over all, Private India is a fast and enjoyable read if you are not the nitpicking kind.

My Rating – 6/10

 This review is a part of the biggest Book Review Program for Indian Bloggers. Participate now to get free books!

No more Facebook on my Phone – A Mid-Year Resolution

August 25, 2014
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I recently read this article and paused to think.

In an essay on Emily Dickinson, the poet Adrienne Rich once wrote, “It is always what is under pressure in us, especially under pressure of concealment—that explodes in poetry.” We live in a time in which little is concealed, and that pressure valve—the one that every writer is intimate with—rarely has a chance to fill and fill to the point of explosion. Literary memoir is born of this explosion. It is born of the powerful need to craft a story out of the chaos of one’s own history. One of literary memoir’s greatest satisfactions—both for writer and reader—is the slow, deliberate making of a story, of making sense, out of randomness and pain. In the inimitable words of Annie Dillard, “You may not let it rip.”

Dani Shapiro wonders whether the constant need to fill the social media with out lives’ details robs us, especially the authors, of that feeling of ‘need to say’ ones’ story in the book form. Where is the need for writing a memoir when almost everything has been told on Facebook? Writing a book is a laborious process while updating status or tweeting or blogging a 500-word post is enjoyable and grabs instant attention.

In the words of the author,

I haven’t shared my story, I want to tell them. I haven’t unburdened myself, or softly and earnestly confessed. Quite the opposite. In order to write a memoir, I’ve sat still inside the swirling vortex of my own complicated history like a piece of old driftwood, battered by the sea. I’ve waited—sometimes patiently, sometimes in despair—for the story under pressure of concealment to reveal itself to me. I’ve been doing this work long enough to know that our feelings—that vast range of fear, joy, grief, sorrow, rage, you name it—are incoherent in the immediacy of the moment. It is only with distance that we are able to turn our powers of observation on ourselves, thus fashioning stories in which we are characters. There is no immediate gratification in this. No great digital crowd is “liking” what we do. We don’t experience the Pavlovian, addictive click and response of posting something that momentarily relieves the pressure inside of us, then being showered with emoticons.

I have no plan to write any memoir, unless my life turns immensely interesting tomorrow. However, I do want to say stories – stories that I have been gestating inside my mind for long. Recently, a tag was doing rounds on Facebook where one had to share a certain portion of one’s manuscript or work-in-progress. I was tagged twice but I refrained, despite an urge to share a snippet and gain some ‘likes’. My baby is still infant and shy. It is not ready to face the world yet.

While I mostly agree with Dani’s views, I wish to disagree when it comes to blogging. My blogging and writing are poles apart, even though they are connected. Blogging helped me in getting my writing voice back. Blogging led me to write more and more short fiction and get recognition, which in turn, brought the confidence to attempt a long one. For that, I shall forever to grateful to my blog.

However, social media (minus blog) is harmful for a writer in many other ways, in my opinion. I have realised I wander into Facebook every time I take a writing break. I spend more minutes going through the album of a recent Europe-returned friend than on researching for my book. I click on every article, every video posted on Facebook and lose track of time.

But sometimes, Facebook brings gems like this article and forces me to think about what I am doing.

I toyed with the idea of going off Facebook (I am hardly on Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest etc) for a certain length of time and see the effects. But a lot of information on writing, contests etc have come to me through Facebook, which I do not want to miss out on. So I decided on a middle path – I have decided to delete the FB app from my phone and log only through laptop. Once I have finished FB-ing, I would switch off the wi-fi and open the word document. Once earlier, I had to go completely off FB due to lack of connectivity and I became accustomed to living without knowing every single detail of others’ lives. I hope to do the same again, this time for the sake of my writing.

I am blogging about it so that it is out in the open; so that I cannot cheat. There, I have said it.

 

And Then She Smiled

August 20, 2014

I could deny it no more to myself that I had an incurable lust for her.

Ever since the day she walked into my office six months ago, I have been fighting a constant urge to touch her on some pretext or the other. At times, I would lightly tap on her shoulder to get her attention instead of calling out her name. Sometimes, I would caress her fingers to stop her from taking dictation instead of saying it aloud. I turned chivalrous and always held the door open for her but stood close to it to feel the electric sensation of her body touching mine.

Why was I so smitten with her?

Read the remaining story at the Femina Fast Fiction portal who published it.

I wrote this story, in its unedited avatar in a day-long writing workshop, which I have talked of here. This idea had been playing in my mind for quite sometime but was slipping away the moment I opened a Word document! In that workshop, I learnt that writing by hand can aid in such instances!

With ruthless editing, I brought the story down to 500 words, which is the word limit for Femina Fast Fiction and sent it to Femina the next day. And now it is up on the portal :-)

#WhatTheBlack has been going on?

August 6, 2014
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Very few blogging contests excite me enough to participate. In the initial days of blogging, I would salivate at the grand prizes and attempt the contests. These days, the prizes have become grander, contests have multiplied over more than one platform and my patience at them has reduced exponentially.

But this one was different. It was one of the few brilliant contest ideas which piqued my interest. Blogadda promised to send a few items in the course of four days, which were to serve as hints to answer the question “What has turned Black”.

Since I am not usually available at my home during office hours, I received some items through my neighbour who resisted the temptation to ask why I was receiving weird looking black packages. The rest arrived to my office address and were promptly hidden from prying eyes.

First came a black egg. Thinking caps were put on all over the blogoverse to figure out which product has turned black. Lot of mulling over in social media took place but no one was any closer to cracking the code.

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Next day, at around 6 pm, I received a black newspaper! Complete with the headlines and the sports page at the end and a few blank, black pages in between. Some one hinted at the product being a morning one – black egg and newspaper for breakfast. Could it be so? Now one more clue was left.

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The final clue came in the shape of a black paper cup and black tissue papers. Suspicions were now stronger about a morning item. What could it be? Milk? Tea? Bread? Something to do with the bathroom? Social media was abuzz with speculations. Some of them had even announced that the product is a black toothbrush.

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The final day finally revealed the product!!!! Scroll down for it….

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Yes! They were right!

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It is the new Colgate SlimSoft Toothbrush with 17* slimmer Charcoal Infused Bristles! Here is the link to find out more about the product.

To my mind, this has been one of the best launch of a new product – by creating a buzz in the social media through bloggers. I really enjoyed participating in this engaging and exciting contest.

Black is beautiful! #WhatTheBlack

July 26, 2014

At some points in all our lives, we have owned something in black, which has been a prized possession. Like the classic black leather bag bought after getting the first job offer or a little (or not so little) black dress bought for college farewell party or a timeless black pen in whatever brand we could afford then, for carrying to important client meetings or a black leather planner bought to celebrate a promotion.

At all points in our lives, there are items, mostly in black, that feature permanently in our wishlist. Following are the top 5 in mine -

Sabyasachi sari

I love draping sarees on occasions. Sabyasachi is the master-creator of sarees and it’s my dream to have one in my possession. All his sarees in black are beautifully vintage. If I ever manage to add one Sabyasachi saree in black to my wardrobe, I will wear it only on special days and then pass it on to my next generation as an heirloom.

Leather La Z boy

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Why do I want a La Z Boy? For marathon movie sessions or re-runs of The Big Bang Theory on Zee Cafe. For curling up my feet and blogging. For reclining with my favourite book. It has to be in the classic black leather because nothing else looks so regal yet to so inviting.

Mont Blanc Fountain Pen

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Oh! my ultimate dream writing instrument! I own one MB ball point and have been lusting after this Meisterstuck 18 carat gold nib edition for some time. How I wish I could loosen my purse string to the extent of INR 68K for this. Then, I would chuck my laptop and finish my novel only on paper and (this) pen.

Hermès Birkin HandBag

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A woman can never have enough bags, especially since they come in various shapes, sizes and brands. I am bored of my present tan leather office bag. I want this beauty in crocodile design with Pavé Diamonds and white gold hardware to carry my world everywhere. I think I will now go off to sleep with happy dreams of me carrying this ‘bagwati’ and enjoying the heat of jealousy!

Coco Noir by Chanel

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Seductive, magnetic and mysterious oriental fragrance – what more can a woman want? I am usually a fresh, floral scent kind of a person but to add a spicy variety and surprise MH (a.k.a My Husband) I want this pretty black bottle of magic potion.

And of course, I want the latest iPad in Black :)

This post is a part of #WhatTheBlack activity at BlogAdda.com. I’ve also signed up for the #WhatTheBlack experience

My Day of Writing

July 14, 2014

I stared at the Facebook notification that said I have been invited to a day-long writing workshop at Zorba the Buddha by Kiran Chaturvedi.

I was flummoxed. I knew nothing about the venue and the person inviting me.

I was also a little worried. Do I now need writing workshops? I was pretty sure writing came naturally to me. I quickly looked up my blog for reassurance. I had written so many fiction, a few poetry, won some contests – I was momentarily happy.

Then I checked the dates of my last few posts with a sinking heart. I also knew that I have been trying to take forward my novel beyond the first few chapters for the last few months.

I also wanted to explore a new place and meet new people. So I clicked on the “Going” option.

On 12 July 2014, last Saturday, I arrived at the venue at Ghitorni 30 minutes earlier! By now, I had conversed with Kiran, checked out her initiative Write & Beyond and knew about Zorba the Buddha. Something told me I was going to like it.

This was my first time inside one of Delhi’s farmhouses and it was such a nice surprise! It is an eco-friendly place, with undulating landscape, water bodies and lots of open space. The huge room where we were to have the workshop had mud walls and high ceilings.

Zorba

Image from the Facebook page of Zorba the Buddha

After a round of tea and cookies, we settled down on the floor cushions and wicker chairs. I got myself acquainted with my fellow participants and was kicked to know that there was a strong Calcutta connection among us! Kiran and Kanchana, our guides for the day had both lived in Calcutta for some time while Anupama, a fellow participant grew up in my city and even attended Gokhale College! It was so much happiness for a Cal-starved soul like me. When we came to know Nidhi, another participant was expecting, we passed on hearty congratulations and shared wisdom and naughty jokes at the same breathe!

Kiranjit Chaturvedi, a soft-spoken and petite Punjabi (what a lovely oxymoron :)) welcomed us four – Anupama, Nidhi, Avanti and me to the workshop and invited us to take a journey to our innermost being. She informed that unless we connect with ourselves – body and mind – our writing will not flow flawlessly. We closed our eyes, relaxed our whole body and were soon transported to a quiet solitude. The only sound we heard was Kiran’s voice and our breathing!

My skepticism at the concept soon vanished. For many days, I have been trying to pen down some short stories for a few contests but have drawn blank. I did not lack time but was unable to grasp at the ideas. I realised that I have not been able to write anything because my mind had been too cluttered with thoughts which I were not letting go of. Once my mind had calmed down, I realised that my fear of not being able to write was unfounded.

We were asked to quickly write down whatever came to our mind. Even Kiran and Kanchana joined us. After 15 minutes, we read out our pieces and discussed with each other. I realised Anupama has a flair for beautiful words, Avanti has great clarity of thought and Nidhi has a quirky sense of humour. Kanchana shared something from her novel, a work-in-progress.

Kanchana and Kiran

Kanchana and Kiran engrossed in their writing. Photograph by me.

Soon the potato chips were flying off the bowl, peanuts and other munchies vanished into our tummies and a round of wine was offered to us. For Anupama and Nidhi – the teetotalers, nimbu pani and juice came from the organisers.

We settled down for a discussion on writing craft, with Kanchana as the leader. Soon we were all participating and contributing our bits. We read from and discussed famous books while talking of opening sentences, narratives and characterisation. We also answered the question “Why we write” to understand how to improve upon what we write.

Soon it was time for lunch and we joined many others in the lunch room. The spread of hearty and tasty vegetarian food increased my appetite manifold. We got talking to Ashwin, the owner of Zorba the Buddha and participants from the workshops on calligraphy and past life regression, which were simultaneously taking place in the venue. For me, as an additional treat of dessert, a Baul sang in my language to keep us company.

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Image by me.

Post lunch, we were joined by the mentor authors of the day – Nirupama Subramaniam, the best-selling author of “Keep the Change” and “Intermission” and Satyarth Nayak, author of “The Emperor’s Riddle”. After a helpful discussion on various aspects of writing, Nirupama gave us word prompts to write a less than 700-words piece on the spot! I was in a panic. How was I supposed to write down something new in 30 minutes when I have been struggling to do the same for so many days? Even if I manage to write, what if it was bad? How would I then share it with the others?

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Image by Kiran Chaturvedi

The mentor authors themselves got down to writing. I closed the incessant chatter of self-doubt in my mind and made myself comfortable with the notebook and pen. I knew that I could incorporate the words into anything that I wrote. So I focused on an idea that has been living with me for many days and scribbled vigorously.

Soon, 30 minutes was up and I had 4 pages of written words in front of me. I tried to quickly do some editing but had to give up when Satyarth began sharing his story. We all applauded his piece and then offered some feedback. He was gracious enough to listen to the non-published members of the group too! We heard some beautiful, funny, tragic, quirky pieces from everybody. For everyone, Nirupama and the others had words of encouragement and tips for improvement. When my turn came, I disclaimed heavily saying that my first draft always sucked. I have always been uncomfortable sharing un-edited writing pieces with anybody before since it makes me feel vulnerable! But that day, I boldly shared a short fiction with my new-found writing friends, all of whom only had lovely words for me. A weight from my chest was lifted. The story idea which was residing with me was finally out.

We spent the next hour picking the authors’ brains on publishing, editing and the likes. A lot of contacts of literary agents and publishers were passed around. We promised to keep connected through Facebook and Write & Beyond and parted ways 45 minutes past the scheduled end time.

I returned happy, satisfied and with a spring in my steps.

Thank you Kiran, Kanchana, Nirupama, Satyarth, Anupama, Nidhi and Avanti for all the love, laughter and encouragement.

Can Women Have It “ALL”? – Thoughts on Indra Nooyi’s views

July 2, 2014

For me, Facebook has evolved from a medium to peep into everybody’s exotic and beautiful lives through their photos and status messages to a medium which brings interesting news, views and articles to my fingertip. Today I came across an article published on website of The Atlantic where its owner, David Bradley interviews PepsiCo CEO Indra K. Nooyi at the Aspen Ideas Festival.

Now I consider Indra as one of the best role model for women who dreams of breaking the so-called proverbial glass ceiling. Whenever I have read her interviews I have found them insightful and witty. This one is no exception. Apart from talking about managing a business conglomerate, she gave her extremely frank opinion on work-life balance for a woman, which got me thinking hard.

I watched the full video just now and immediately opened my dashboard to type out this post, because there are so many things that I want to express out loud.

From the transcript you can see that Indra talks about how her mother told her that whether she was the CEO of PepsiCo or not, did not matter the moment she stepped inside her home – there she was only the wife/mother/daughter/daughter-in-law and was expected to do her duties. e.g. buying milk at 10 pm for next day’s breakfast.

This is so true in almost every household in India – for every women, whether she is a CEO or a professor or a doctor or an accountant or a consultant or a teacher! Every woman is expected to buy groceries and vegetables, instruct the cook or cook herself, do household chores if the maid is absent, pray to the Almighty for the family’s good health and fortune, tidy her house, help her kids do homework, observe fasts on religious grounds, keep the inventory stocked up at all times and satisfy her spouse’s needs – whether or not she stays at home or works for pay. She must leave behind her designation aka crown (in Indra’s mother’s words) and cannot, for the love of God, throw her weight around! She is forbidden to say that she is tired and hence would like to go to bed early, without ensuring a proper dinner at the table. In fact, this is true for my cook too. Even if she returns home tired after cooking in different household, she still has to cook for her husband a decent meal.

This brings me to my second thought. Indra’s mother thought her husband was too tired to go out at 8 pm to buy milk but she was in perfect shape to do it when she returned from a highly stressful workplace at 10 pm. This is again the prevailing attitude of the society. It’s the men’s which are real and actual jobs. The women’s career is just a 9-5 job even if she is globe-trotting for work, pulling all-nighters, bagging a fat performance bonus or heading a team of individuals at office. No matter what a woman accomplishes at work, she will always be considered inadequate and inefficient if she cannot manage her household. Just by being a woman, she ‘HAS’ to manage the household. These days, men have fashionably started to lend a hand to the in-house work, which means it is perfectly fine to expect women to lend a hand to the outside-house work e.g. buying vegetables, picking up laundry etc. If there is bank work to be done, the men cannot take a half day, of course. Today’s educated woman, adept in all financial matters has to take up the responsibility after making excuses at her work place as to why she can’t attend the 10 am meeting. Parents-teacher meeting at the kid’s school is always a mothers-teacher meeting. Craft projects will be brought by the kid to only the mother, who must juggle her Blackberry with black ribbons and paint.

Indra candidly confesses that women cannot have it all, even if they pretend they have! She talks of how guilty she used to feel when she could not attend her daughter’s school programmes. I was happy to know that I was not the only one who goes into immense guilt-trips when I cook a half-boiled dish or discover dust on the furniture or forget to stock up the inventory or feel lazy to straighten the bed or fall asleep without the main door being securely locked. Just like I feel bad if I miss a deadline at work or cannot turn up my best draft. This is because I too, believe that I can have it all; that I can be a brilliant lawyer and a brilliant home-maker and wife; that I can impress people at work with my sharp legal acumen and family with my cooking skills – all at the same time.

Did my belief waver at Indra’s confession? I am not sure. Am I being unreasonable in my goals? Only time will tell. May be I want to try it out myself and come to my own conclusion whether or women can have it all. However the upside is that I have decided to stop feeling guilty for being less than perfect in a few spheres of my life.

Till the time I learn the tricks of the trade of managing both home and work with ease, I raise a toast to all women, single or married, with or without kids, working or stay-at-home for constantly striving to achieve the perfect balance in their minds or according to our society.

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