May 21, 2015

A Review of Shattered Dreams (Book II: Ramayana - The Game of Life)




Shattered Dreams is a sequel to the first book in Ramayana - The Game of Life written by Shubha Vilas, a spiritual seeker and a motivational speaker. Honestly, I have not read the first book titled Rise of Sun Prince, which was based on first chapter or Bal Kanda of Ramayana. But then, a book based on one of the most popular epics is like packing old wine in a new bottle. What really matters is the way it is presented.

Unlike works of fiction, epics like Ramayana does not revolve around a central theme; rather myriads of sub plots are involved. The sub plots themselves are so subtle that it requires a qualified scholar to interpret and tell the story, while retaining its original meaning intact. However, new authors/publishers are more interested in popularizing epics, just like scientific findings reached the common man through popular science series. The advantage is that it makes many young readers "read" the work. The flip side is that only the essence can be captured through such "fast read" works.

Through The Game of Life series, the author has made an attempt to rewrite Ramayana in a "readable" way targeting young Indians. I must say that the author has done a commendable job in achieving this. The book is surely a page turner, so fast that one does not realize that he/she is reading from a classic epic story. This itself is a great achievement in my opinion, as the original work was written ages ago in a language which now barely a few speaks.

In order to add more spice to the story which many of us have already read or heard through different sources, the author has written anecdotes at every page. Though adding spice would excite more taste buds, a food which is entirely made of spice can never be had. As the saying goes, “too much of anything is good for nothing”. While some of the anecdotes were interesting to read, most of them are philosophical.

In a work of fiction, it is not common for a reader to say that I had to read a particular paragraph twice to understand what the author is saying. In my case, I had to read several anecdotes twice to understand what the author is saying! The flow gets affected due to this and that makes the “readable” book non readable. But then, what makes these anecdotes irksome is their presence in almost every page. It sometimes made me wonder if I am reading two books at the same time, instead of one! My suggestion to new readers; ignore the anecdotes and read the story first. After you are done with reading, go through the anecdotes.

We live in an era at which our youngsters do not have time to read classic epics nor to hear them from their granny’s. A few decades ago, Rajagopalachari (popularly known as Rajaji) wrote a simple and yet concise version of Ramayana. Shubha Vilas has reproduced a similar version, but this time catering to the masses.
 
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PS: I should have written this review ages ago! However, I could not find time to sit and compile my views due to prior work commitments. I sincerely appreciate blogadda's patience and tender my apologies for such a prolonged delay.

Jan 25, 2015

5 arrows: Duryodhana and Bhishma

The atmosphere was filled with overwhelming smell of burning flesh and bone from the mass funeral. Hundreds of thousands of men had lost their lives in the battlefield of Kurukshetra, one of the gruesome war history has ever witnessed. Many more have lost their limbs and other body parts fighting a brave battle between the good and the bad. Both Kauravas and Pandavas fought the war with valor and utmost resistance that the end of war is nowhere in sight even after the end of eighth day.

Duryodhana occupying a makeshift chair outside his tent, sobbed continuously looking at the lifeless bodies of eight of his kinsmen who died in the battlefield at the hands of Bhima. His red, swollen eyes and grief stricken face cried for revenge. “Pandavas should die, every one of them”, he grudged. It seems to be an impossible task as long as the old man acted as his Commander-in-chief, he thought, eying  at his great grandfather Bhishma scornfully.

“There is only one way to end this battle without losing more of your kinsmen, my dear son. It is to seek peace with the Pandavas”, Bhishma spoke to the lamented Dhuryodhan.

The words of Bhishma drove him crazy. “How can such words come out from your mouth, my great grandfather? Are you fighting the battle for Pandavas or for us?” he asked. “Did you switch your loyalty? Have you forgotten your vow to protect Hastinapur from its enemies?” he continued his questions as if there was a war between them and he was shooting each questions as if they were string of arrows pointed towards Bhishma’s heart.

His last question reminded the invincible warrior of his vow to his father that he would remain celibate and protect Hastinapur as a servant and not as a ruler. “How can you utter such nonsense Duryodhana? To protect Hastinapur has been my Dharma and I have been pursuing it with utmost sincerity. The fact that I am standing in front of you in this battlefield and had raised my arms against your cousin proves the point”.

“But it is of no use old man. It is true that you are standing here and physically fighting for us. But your heart is with the Pandavas. Deep in your heart, you yearn for their victory. Why else would it take eight days for you to fight against five Pandavas whose collective strength does not match your valor?”

Duryodhan’s words were provocative. He conveniently forgot that Bhishma had accepted Duryodhan’s request to command his army on the condition that he would not harm the Pandava brothers. But having seen his kinsmen’s lifeless bodies, he could not satisfy himself with mere destruction of Pandava’s army. He would like to see them killed brutally, the way his brothers were killed by the ruthless murderer.

“How dare you suspect my integrity?” Bhishma roared. An awful silence reigned throughout the Kauravas camp.

“It is now the time for you to prove it, dear pitamah”, he replied.

Bhishma hasted to his tent furiously, picked up five golden arrows from his quiver, chanted verses and meditated on them briefly. He then returned to Duryodhana and declared, “I have imbued my life’s penance on these five golden arrows. Tomorrow, I will kill the Pandavas using these arrows”.

Duryodhana felt elated hearing Bhishma’s response. Why would not he? Tomorrow, everything would come to an end. The war and with it the killings of his brothers and on top of all, the downfall of his enemies. He whistled in joy. Not having complete faith in Bhishma’s words, he ordered Bhishma to make him custody of those five arrows saying he would return them the next morning.

Did the five golden arrows took the life of Pandavas? Of course, we know that that did not happen. However, there can be no second opinion about the power of Bhishma’s penance. So why did not the five golden arrows kill the Pandavas? What happened to them? The second part of this five part series will shed more light on these questions.

Dec 5, 2014

Review of The Mahabharata Quest

"Christopher C Doyle”, I read the author’s name aloud holding the book I have just received. Has blogadda asked me to review the work of an American author?", I wondered. After googling, I came to know that the author is very much Indian who went to St. Stephens and IIM Calcutta for his education.

I have never heard about the author, was my first reaction; he had already published a book before titled "The Mahabharata Secret". Could "The Mahabharata Quest" be a sequel to his previous work then, a doubt surfaced from my mind? I hoped that it is not so, for otherwise I would have to read his first book in order to be able to review the second one.

I felt relieved when I felt that I was able to follow the story after reading first few chapters. So I decided to continue with it. I have read contemporary fiction before; I have read historical fiction before. The first few chapters made me realize that here I am reading a work which is a blend of contemporary and historical fiction.

The challenge is to come up with a compelling contemporary actions that connect the story with the past. Doyle has done a very good job at this. He indeed transported me into a fascinating world where ancient secrets buried in legends blended with science and history to create a gripping story.

Three forth of the book is surely a page turner. I finished reading this part within a few hours of single sitting. However, the story moves with a different tempo after the protagonist help the Order find the way to the secret location, following the footprints of Alexander the great.

Doyle’s scientific interpretation of Koorma avatar, a legendary story told in Mahabharata and in other texts, is not convincing. In order to convince the reader, he continued to explain more scientific terms in the latter part of the book. I felt as if I am reading a science book rather than a work of fiction.

While “The Mahabharata Quest” is not a sequel to “The Mahabharata Secret”, certain characters are common in the two stories. After the discovery of the ancient site, the author keep mentioning about the protagonist’s first expedition to discover the secret scientific events told in Mahabharat. It will be better for the reader to read the author’s first book before reading this one, for then the reader will know well about the events that the protagonist is talking about.

Finally, the author’s writing style deserves an applause. As I mentioned earlier, the author has done a very good job of blending science with contemporary and historical fiction. He does this by changing the story flow alternating between present and the past, while maintaining the story flow smooth and easy for the readers to follow.

To summarize, “The Mahabharata Quest” is an excellent piece of fiction writing by Christopher C Doyle. With his magic spell of writing, the author ably transports a reader to the past, rediscovering scientific events that is hidden in legendary stories. It is a must read book for everyone. I rate this book with 4.5 stars out of 5.

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Sep 14, 2014

A cup of filter coffee

No meal is satiating if it does not ends with a cup of filter coffee for Vasundhara. No wonder; being a middle aged women, she was born and brought up in an orthodox Tambrahm family. The fact that she could not get a good darshan of Sri Jagannath at Puri Dham did not bother her even more than not having a single restaurant that served a cup of filter coffee.

"Do not worry Ma'am. There are many more restaurants on our way back home. You will definitely get a cup of filter coffee", the autowallah assured her. "Lets go then", she urged him thinking of the prospect of tasting a cup of authentic filter coffee. Hailing from Kumbakonam, a temple town itself, she could not believe that Puri does not have a single shop that serves a cup of filter coffee.

On our way back to Bhubaneswar, our autowallah enquired at every chai and coffee shop that our eyes could find, but still no luck, until we came to this shop. "I will prepare a special filter coffee for you Ma'am", he replied.

He must be over fifty, but with jeans on, he looked like a man in his early forties. "Please sit while I prepare coffee for you", he said.

"Make it four, for all of us", Vasundhara ordered.

"Sure Ma'am, as you please".

While the rest were seated, Vasundhara could not contain her excitement. She watched the chaiwallah like a toddler looking at her doll. A few more people entered the shop and ordered for cups of tea.

The chaiwallah counted number of cups to be served mentally and added a few spoons of tea powder to a pot of boiling milk. "He is making tea for other customers when I had placed order for coffee!", she felt agitated, but decided to wait as he is the only chaiwallah who agreed to prepare and serve a cup of filter coffee.

After the tea powder mixed thoroughly with milk, he added crushed elachi and ginger to make it spicy. He then filtered out the tea and transferred it into another vessel.

"How effortlessly he made this tea! I will take it next time", she thought to herself. While she was expecting that he will pour the tea on cups and serve other customers, she got shocked on seeing what the chaiwallah did next.

Taking a bottle of Nescafe, he carefully added a few spoons of coffee powder on the tea that he just filtered!

"Ma'am, here is your special filter coffee", he said handing over a cup of tea-fee.

Sep 3, 2014

Review of Private India

Spoiler Alert: This review contains spoilers.
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"Will I be able to read 470 pages work of fiction and write a 500+ words review article within 7 days?" I questioned myself reflecting on a daunting task that I've committed to blogadda. When the neatly wrapped book finally arrived at my hand, I could not wait for a moment to start reading. As expected, the authors, Ashwin Sanghi and James Patterson, did not disappoint me with their affluent writing style which made the book another page-turner. In fact, I would have finished reading the book in one-night, had there not been frequent power outage in my area.

If you are looking to read a book in a weekend or keep yourself engaged while traveling, buy a copy of Private India. "Is it that good?", you may ask. From reading point of view, yes, it is very good work. Coming to plot, the authors had tried to build suspense and thriller by introducing lots of knots, some of which are not tied in the end.

From my experience, I found that if the start is impressive, overall impression about the story will be good. It is easy for the author to keep up with the momentum once he gets a good start. In Private India, the first chapter was written so nicely that I re-read it several times. It has everything in it; a gentle start, smooth flow, a surprise murder and finally the innocence of the housekeeping in her next thought after spotting the body.

The flow through the subsequent chapters show that the authors indeed had kept up with the momentum they gained from the first chapter. Even though I have not read James Patterson's work on Private before, it is well introduced in the plot. But the authors failed to carry forward the momentum by sticking to that old cliche; police officials are dumb and private detectives are super intelligent.

Ashwin Sanghi's style could be seen when the protagonist figured out that the serial killing has a pattern similar to nine forms of Durga. But the protagonist's conclusion that the serial killer is about to wipe off entire womanhood by killing nine women who had ruined the killer's past is nothing but a hyperbole. Even more, the reason given at the end for killing some of those women is not convincing. During the conversation between the serial killer and final women to be killed, the serial killer was accounting for all the killings; Priyanka Talati, one of the women who got murdered, was murdered because she found the secret about the serial killer when they both were in Thailand. Why din't the killer kill Priyanka in Thailand itself? Why did she leave her alive with a risk of secret being spilled any moment?

Towards the end, the authors failed to tie the knots tight. I do not understand the link between Indian Mujahideen and the main plot. If the authors tried the Mujahideen angle to show even greater danger Private India is facing, my opinion is that they could have done it in a better way.

To summarize, we have read/watched umpteen novels/movies involving serial killer. How about a female serial killer then? But then, are females both physically and mentally strong enough to carry series of murders without getting caught? How about having a female serial killer who is gender reassigned to become a male? It is this idea that forms the crux of the story.
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