Adrift – A Junket Junkie in Europe

— by Puneetinder Kaur Sidhu

Before beginning the review, I have to say that this is my very first travel journal. I have read travel anecdotes and accounts on blogs all over the internet, but I had not read such an extensive journal till date.

My first reaction after reading this book was simple awe and a decided kinship! It is amazing that this author can pack up her bags and leave to the most favored destinations of the world trusting a shoestring budget and a bunch of relatives & friends. I am yet to go alone on a trip anywhere! And she managed most of Europe on her own. She is living my dream and I have to applaud her for this.

I started this book not knowing what to expect, but the author has managed to move me with detailed accounts of all her destinations. She has devoted a chapter each to significant places of visit. Mostly following a pattern, she begins by introducing her hosts in that place, all of them old friends or relatives. She then briefly describes her accommodation conditions and then launches into an extensive narration of the history, nuances, culture, people and cuisine of each of the places. And being a self-professed foodie, she describes the culinary delights of the place with mouth-watering descriptions! She effectively captures the core attraction of the place through her experience of it and feelings towards it.

As much as the book is about Europe, it is also about the author. Her personality and preferences shine through her words. Without being too narcissistic, she manages to balance the information and her own personal feelings towards these destinations. We gather from her journal that she is a seasoned traveller and not a mere tourist. It is not her job to go to catalogued places and take pictures , live in expensive resorts and wind up a trip. She is determined to soak in the experience of a particular place. By meeting its people, by eating the signature dishes, participating in the local events and in general by enjoying herself thoroughly!
The journey through Europe for Puneet starts by the discovery of a ticket that was gifted to her long time ago. Some rummaging around found her a couple of relatives in Germany and UK. So she gathers her essentials, scrapes some money together and sets off on the trip. With her determination to not delegate herself to being a tourist, our happy traveller sets a few ground rules for herself. She does break a few of them but under pressing circumstances. Her wit and humour are a part of her writing too. She also manages to sufficiently convey her sympathy when she visits places with unfortunate history like the house where Anne Frank’s family hid from the Gestapo. She parties hard and fully exploits the delights of places like Amsterdam. She finds the best of eateries in Paris, bicycles through the plains of Sweden and even manages to travel on a train in Paris without a ticket! Though not many misadventures, except a near escape from a customs officer and a bad movie experience, her other happenings are thrilling enough for somebody who truly would love to go to Europe!

I was a bit put off by some of the writing though. Though I do applaud her vocabulary, the book consisted of one too many unnecessary words. Also some of the complex sentences were not well formed and it is real hindrance to read a sentence multiple times, distracting the reader from the real intent of the book. Also, I was amused to find British influences in her writing. The trip really seems to have had an impact on her! Looking over other aspects of presentations, I have to say, the cover art of the book really did its job by capturing the mood.

All in all the book is an excellent ride through Europe. I thoroughly envy the author for her spirit and independence. Still I hope she goes to more places and documents more of her travels for me to read!

My Rating 4/5
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Love on the Rocks

– Ismita Tandon Dhankher

My first thoughts on hearing the title of this book was categorizing it to the arena of sappy romantic stories. But surprise of surprises! It is an enthralling thriller with strong undercurrents of love. The first two pages of the book are enough to  make you get up and take notice of the plot line.

In a cargo ship sailing from Japan to America,the Sea Hyena, among with the 24 crew members, the chief officer, Aaron is newly wed and decides to bring along his wife, Sancha on board for the voyage. The husband and wife are blissfully in love but there is turmoil on the vessel. A murderer is on the loose and this in turn causes turmoil among the happy couple too. Everybody is under suspicion for theft and murder. Once the detective authority comes on board, it becomes a vicious cat and mouse game. With the thrill of murders there are also revelations of various key characters and they are not pretty. Sancha even doubts her own husband and doesn’t hesitate to voice these doubts. A gloomy masked presence looms over all this drama.

The narration of the book is unique. Every character explains the proceedings from their own perspectives in their respective chapters. This style may start out to be mildly confusing, but you soon get into the rhythm as you grasp the nuances of each character. There are several mysteries entangled in this story but the author deftly extracts each one and even succeeds in connecting them to each other to form a beautiful large picture at the end.

The mounting suspense predictably climaxes to the finding of the murderer without any twist. But it is then that the author brings out her trump card and reveals the identity of Manna, the mysterious journal writer with the violent past.

One flaw that I observed was the characterization was incomplete. There were some gaping holes in the character descriptions. All the characters have some kind of a past which could have been better illustrated in the soliloquy chapters.

Even through all of this and some mild confusion in the middle of the plot , the book turns out to be a delightful read. It is non pretentious, mature and manages to be practical and true to the characters at all time. An engaging thriller with great description of life on a cargo vessel. Kudos to Ismita!

Rating – 4*

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The Boss Is Not Your Friend

… by Vijay Nair

When I heard the title of this book and the introductory blurb, it all sounded like a self help book with detailed steps and mantras for improvement. But the snazzy cover art threw me off. It made me very curious to find out what this book was really about. As it turned out, “The Boss is Not your Friend” was an enjoyable read. It is basically a satirical, mostly pessimistic look on the corporate organizational structure in India.

Vijay Nair has a way of convincingly proving a seemingly outrageous hypothesis. He shows that the entire corporate pyramid is a flawed structure. A money-grubbing, greedy and self-involved one. He spares nobody in the book. The boss, the HR, the team members, the system, the process, everything in an organisation is “evil”. Yes, thats right. “All organisations are evil”. This is the premise he comprehensively proves in the whole book.

The book starts with the Boss, a despicable thing, whose criticism is the main agenda of the book. We look at a modest questionnaire whose result classifies the boss into six categories. These categories are later explained with associated case studies. Next, he gives in-depth instructions to counter each kind of Boss and to emerge victorious in the battle. After this we move on to the CEO. The CEO is apparently a no-good fellow and I wouldn’t be spoiling the book if I revealed that he has to always be fed on flattery to keep him amiable. Next he attacks the HR managers, who are ultimately slimy and two-faced in their dealings with the employees. Further on, there are tirades against third-party consultants, the rules of the organisation and more such instructions to fight them in the corporate setting.

All in all I found this book outrageous and enormously hilarious! The author treads no sort of middle ground in the book. He is focused on the mission at hand and very carefully avoids even a single good remark about the organisation. He urges the reader not put herself in any of the characters described but to only visualize the other members of the organisation in those roles. I enjoyed the case studies immensely and some points could even relate to them through personal and second-hand experience. It is true that when it comes to money-saving, nobody is indispensible to the organisation. The encouragement of countering office politics with even more under hand methods appeared, in some places, to be practical even!

But still, the book is what it is. It is an offshoot of the recent scams uncovered and the recession cost cutting that was rampant. It appears to be a comical take on these events and I just felt that actually following this advice would get me into a lot of trouble at my workplace! The exaggerated effects leave you in no doubt about the intentions of the book, however.

Everyone may not appreciate the author’s intellect, but for a corporate employee it is an enjoyable read and an assurance that he is not the only sufferer!

Rating 3*

The Vague Woman’s Handbook

… by Devapriya Roy

I first noticed this book in my neighbourhood book store. Fresh new copies were on the shelf. My first impression was it must be a new time pass book by another new author. I have had some bad reading experience with some new authors. The cover art looked light and on a whim I picked the book.

I got immersed in the story of the two protagonists. Sharmila Mukherjee and Indira Sen are two different strata of women. In fact Sharmila or Mil is still a girl. Newly wed Mil is proudly living with her husband, while the long-widowed Indira is an outwardly mature Government officer. They meet in the offices of Academy of literature. And become fast friends. The unlikely friendship blossoms to a great extent, bringing solutions to many problems and great companionship.There is also the very immature but cute love of Mil and her husband Abhi, Indira’s dominating mother, Abhi and Mil’s uncompromising parents, the nosy neighbors and insufferable house owners too!

The beauty of the book lies in the dynamics of the different relations described in the book, estranged mother-child, not-enough-space mother-child, the newly married lovers, the college friends. All of these relationships are described and built to the reader with utmost care. The author puts forth incidents that test these relations and shows us that the relationships deserve to exist and will stand every test. The love of a young couple, the frustration of living frugally in expensive Delhi, the pain after fights, all these leave the reader with a lot of warmth towards the characters. Both the women are slight scatter brains, Mil not possessing minimal direction sense and Indira being prone to apathic Credit card spending. This definitely helps the women to identify themselves very easily with the characters. Even with their flaws they lead very fulfilling lives. There is no drama in what the author writes. The problems faced by these women are hard ones. They don’t have miraculous solutions but over time with some determination and support, they all overcome their problems, managing to get a few laughs out of them and even managing to allow themselves happy endings.

As for the writing, I enjoyed it immensely. The writer is such an imaginative person and the best part is that she can so easily translate that to the written word. The imagery she builds up to describe all the situations and the surroundings is so beautiful that I fell in love with the writing. The fact that I finished the book in one night is itself a testimonial to that.

My only gripe is that though the cover art is interesting, it does not portray the women as described in the book. Hope that changes in the next reprint!

Excellent read. My rating 5*

Bangalore Calling

.. by Brinda S Narayan

A few years back and even now, one reason Bangalore is on the world map is because of the huge number of call centers. The relatively lower cost of living and the abundance of suitable workforce seems to have caused this. This book is a study of what happens to a generation that is lured by a seemingly attractive liberal culture and easy money.

The employees of a call center Callus are the subjects of fifteen interlinked stories in this book. Each of the stories shows us how the environment, night shifts, accent changes and incredible salaries change the lives of these characters in different ways. Yvette, the Anglo-Indian accent trainer, is determined to teach her trainees that learning an accent is not conversion to the American culture. A van driver, a staunch Ayyappan devotee, is disgusted by the behavior of the employees that he shuttles from their homes to the office. A Tamil Brahmin girl is introduced to the power of money and credit cards. A bathroom cleaner dreams of an opulent lifestyle looking at the people in the office and so on.

The book is a demonstration of the popular adage that everything that shines is not a diamond. It candidly tells the effects of culture change and that what goes around comes back every time. The poignant depiction of the characters and the shockingly real stories make this book a welcome change from those that are simply blatant criticism of the call center encroach. It shows that with the right attitude one can turn everything to his advantage. Every phenomenon is registered and reacted to by the people in different ways. For some it is good and for some not so much. Hence the books simply provides us with a great study and it is up to the reader to judge its intent.

A really good read in my opinion.
My rating is 4*

KKrishna’s Konfessions

…by Smita Jain

For anyone who has watched the infamous K series soaps on Star Plus, the theme of the book would be obviously clear. But for those who do not know, Star Plus channel in India had this burst of emotional drama soaps(in Hindi language) that became a national craze. Most of these were produced by “Balaji TeleFilms” and their names started with the letter “K” as its owner Ekkta Kapoor believed in the power of auspicious alphabets. Every housewife in India was hooked on to these sagas and they thus became a general topic of humo

Coming back to the book, KKrishna is the screenplay writer for a hit TV serial. She is now faced by a seemingly insurmountable writer’s block and her creative director knows it too.  The producers are pending on the decision of changing the writer for the show and who else must it be other than Dev Trivedi, her college friend with whom she shares a love-hate relationship.To save her reputation and her livelihood, KKrishna starts looking for new sources of inspiration. While doing so she and Dev happen to witness a murder! Things get muddled and later unraveled as the murderer starts pursuing them, and they get actively involved in the investigation.

The book is very fast paced and seemingly exposes (comically of course) the underbelly of the world of soaps and TV production. Kkrishna herself has no ethical or moral qualms when it comes to her job. She is ready to cheat, lie, seduce and basically do anything to get her job done. The story though predictable, loops through a lot of hilarious twists. The characters too are extremely lovable ranging from the neighborhood pervert to the fat policeman. As for the plot, KKrishna’s broad perspective and wild theories  help the police in solving the murder successfully. Also there is the sub-plot of her relationship with Dev, the one for whom our protagonist nurses a secret crush while donning a façade of contempt and hate.

All in all the book is a hilarious and light-hearted riot! You do need an open mind to read it but it promises to be a page turner in many ways. The best thing I liked about the book is that the author is clear that it is only a chick-lit and so the expectations are set and met with proper satisfaction. It is not a literary delight but it is just what it is.

Pick it up for a very light and entertaining read.

My Rating – 3*

Chanakya’s Chant

… by Ashwin Sanghi

Two thousand years ago , there existed this brilliant king-maker, economist and tactician. After his father’s murder under an egotistical king, he made it his life’s purpose to unite Bharat into a single sovereign under a worthy ruler. He was VishnuGupta , better known as Chanakya ,the son of Chanak. In an unstable Bharat which is facing the imminent threat of the invincible Alexander , the comprising kingdoms are busy fighting among themselves leaving their subjects to the mercy of the Gods. Chanakya identifies potential in the son of the chief army general and takes it upon himself to make ChandraGupta the ruler of Bharat. He plots mercilessly to meet this goal. He brews trouble between kingdoms , manipulates many people and tweaks a lot many circumstances to achieve this aim.

In the present day we have Pandit Ganagasagar , a lowly history teacher , who learns the rope of politics and vows to counter the corruption , poverty and waywardness plaguing India. He finds a suitable candidate in young Chandni Gupta. While grooming her for the post of the Premier, he works very hard to build a new political party and garner enough support to wield power at the central level. He employs a repertoire of political gimmicks like manipulating oppositions , blackmailing high-placed officials and even smoothing international relations!

The book basically comprises of two stories narrated in a parallel manner to the reader ,of course each of them pausing at tantalizing moments. The protagonists are wily teachers who do not want to hold the reins to great power. As Chanakya guides ChandraGupta , Gangasagar grooms Chandni for the highest power in India.  What follows is a series of cleverly plotted events that ultimately leads to success in both the stories. The pitfalls and the master-plans are detailed in a very realistic and well researched manner. The games of politics and the idea that every event can be controlled is laid bare in front of the reader. But the best thing about the storylines are that instead of each of the gurus mirroring each other, we have both of them coming up with different but suitable plans for their wards advancement in their present eras. This makes for a lot of unpredictability in the story and good thrills for the reader.

Political intrigue is the crux of the book. Being straight and naive will not get you anywhere , the author seems to say. One has to manipulate every circumstance and luck plays zero part in these games. If you have strategized well enough then everything will definitely go through your way. Necessary sacrifices for the greater good are ruthlessly made in the stories. Just as Chanakya gives up his love for the country , Gangasagar does not tolerate anyone who tries to tarnish Chandni’s reputation.

Reading this review you may get alarmed at the ruthless power hunger , but these king makers do not, for one minute, forget that they are doing this for the good of the country and the society , to bring in a ruler and a time which the common man deserves. This aspect , I must say, has been beautifully captured by the author.  This may not be the best of the books I have read , but kudos to the author for the masterful plot and the obvious research of current and ancient politics. The events in the book are very much plausible and give a true insight of a real life power struggle.

A definite must read.

My Rating – 4