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.

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

Sep 14, 2014

A cup of filter coffee

No meal is satiating if it does not end with a cup of filter coffee for Vasundhara. No wonder; being 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. "Let's 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 the 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 an 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.
"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.
This review is a part of the biggest Book Review Program for Indian Bloggers. Participate now to get free books!

Aug 11, 2014

One Five-Year-Old Day

"I should not have watched a wizard story a night before my interview", Tejas muttered to himself, disbelieving what he saw in the mirror.

"How can I go like this to the interview? I look like a five-year-old kid!", he talked to his reflection. "You always wanted to be a kid, don't you?", the mirror asked in reply.

"Whatever", he gestured as if he disagreed with his own choice at the moment. "Thank God, at least I have my kid's dress to wear!", he exclaimed. He took a quick bath, wore his kid's dress and rushed to the bus stop.

"Hey kiddo, is your father coming to drop you in school?", the bus conductor asked him.

"No. Please give me a ticket to textile stop"

"Oh, so your father works there", the conductor continued handing over the ticket to him.

Tejas got down at his stop, walked towards the entrance to the company that had invited him for an interview. At the entrance, the security officer sized him up with his look and stopped him.

"Whom do you want to meet son?", the officer asked him.

"I want to meet HR manager. Please tell him I have come to attend an interview".

"Good joke kiddo. Go to school. You should not be here at this time".

"Dear Lord, how can I make him understand!", he sought out divine's intervention to bring him out from this mess.

After a brief minute, he asked, "could you please call the HR manager? Maybe I could explain to him".

Giving a confused look, the officer asked him to wait a minute, went inside and dialed an internal number from his desk. After a few minutes, he gestured Tejas to come in.

"Sir, I have a boy here, he must be five or six. He says he is here to attend an interview today!".

The HR manager must have blasted him for wasting his time with such a silly request, for a change in expression on the security officer's face was apparent.

While he was trying to pacify the manager, Tejas found an opportunity to sneak in through the entrance and ran up to the reception hall where other candidates were waiting to be interviewed.

Fortunately, nobody noticed him more than a glance. The security officer must have thought that the boy had left the place after playing a prank with him, for Tejas did not see him after he sneaked in.

After about half an hour, his name was called. Taking a deep breath, he walked into the interview hall.

"Looks like the candidate did not come to the interview today", Tejas heard one of the interviewer talking to the other. How can they see the presence of a small boy who is not even taller than their work table!

"No Sir, I am right here", he raised his voice to gather their attention.

"Who are you son? How did you get in here?"

"My name is Tejas. I am here to attend the interview today. Hearing his response, the entire committee laughed together as if they heard the joke of the year.

"Please ask me questions, then you will not laugh at me", Tejas replied.

"Let us have some fun. After all, we need some entertainment to increase our energy level", head of the interview committee said and others nodded their heads in agreement.

Tejas reply to their first question must have surprised them, for their face expression suddenly changed to become serious. Question after questions was asked and Tejas replied to most of them.

"Kid, I appreciate your knowledge. Even people with experience sometimes struggle to answer some of the questions we asked you today. However, we cannot give you a job as it is illegal", the head of the interview committee said, summing up the interview process.

Tejas returned home with disappointment. Tears filled his eyes and he sobbed continuously. He slept not knowing how to come out from his dreary world. When he got up again, it was already next morning.

Cursing his fate under his breath, he took the newspaper and went to brush his teeth. He could not contain his laughter when he read the news headlines, "Five-year-old kid aced a job interview".

When he looked at the mirror, he realized that that five-year-old kid does not exist anymore.

This post is a part of Write Over the Weekend, an initiative for Indian Bloggers by BlogAdda.

Jul 31, 2014

Vegetarianism and God

"Are you a vegetarian?". 

I have been asked this question several times on different occasions by different sort of people. Am I a vegetarian?

To find an answer to this question, I tried to list things that I do not eat. I do not eat fish, meat, pork, chicken, not even egg. In short, I do not eat anything which I think has a right to live.

Or so I thought. Does not vegetables have a life of their own? Every vegetable and fruit is an outcome of the growth of a plant or a tree. It may or may not have feelings like other living beings, but still, it has a life of its own.

If I stick to the principle of not eating anything which has a right to live, I have to eat either rock, sand, and water or should wait till a living being, be it an animal or vegetable, dies on its own to feed myself. Most probably I would starve to death before I get my next meal.

But coming to think of it I realize that by adhering to such a principle, I acknowledge the fact that I am not the owner or enjoyer of other life in any form. It may be possible for us to take the life of a being, but it is never possible for us to give life. Science may strive to reach that point someday, but the fact is we are not there yet.

The only choice I have at this point is to accept the presence of a supernatural power (God, nature, time or whatever that is) who is the giver of life. All forms of life, including the life in me, must have been created by such supernatural being(s). So this points out to only one thing, that the supernatural power is the owner and enjoyer of all life, including the life in me.

So now, how do I feed myself? How do I prevent myself from starving to death? Do I have to kill some life in order to protect my living?

If we look at the life of fish, cow, pig or chicken, they lose their life the moment we kill them. However, some vegetables and fruits when plucked from the tree, does not give their life instantly. They continue to live for a brief period. This is because some vegetables or fruits contain seeds inside. In order for such species to survive, those vegetables or fruits should be plucked from the tree (or fall down naturally) and planted elsewhere. For this reason, such vegetables and fruits continue to live for a short period of time even after they were plucked from the tree or plant.

If I still want to stick to my principle, I have to pluck the vegetable or fruit when it has life and eats it before they die. But won't they die when I eat them? This is a moral dilemma. The only way to address this issue is to consider the supernatural element as God.

If I can pluck a vegetable or fruit, eat them and pray for the mercy of God, I can very well kill a living being such as fish or cow, eat them and still beg for his mercy. So considering the supernatural element as God is not enough. I need to have faith in His existence.

By having faith in Him, I pluck a fresh vegetable or fruit and offer it to Him as food when it is still alive. The faith gives me a belief that the food that I am eating for my survival has left its life in its own wish to serve God.

Whether God really accepts my offering, or whether a vegetable or fruit willfully leave their lives to serve God are the questions that can never be answered. But if I have to strictly adhere to my principle that I will not eat anything that has a right to live, and still want to survive, having faith in God is the only choice I have.

Apr 26, 2014

Inside a Little Brain

A few days ago when we were at my friend's place, my little one was crawling towards where the food was kept thrice. On all those three occasions, I picked her up when she came near to the food. On her fourth attempt, she crawled in the opposite direction towards her mom. Halfway between me and her mom, she stopped crawling and looked back at me. Since she was going towards her mom, I was not making any attempt to stop her. Sensing this, she suddenly reversed her direction and reached food in no time! She almost succeeded in dodging me!

The following incident happened a few times at my home. I have observed that she likes to go through a door even if it is only slightly open. If the door is wide open, she would crawl through it, but if the door is kept ajar, she would stand straight, position her body such that she could go through between the narrow space.

These incidents made me think how my little one's little brain works. To put her little brain to test, I made her a challenge taking help from my wife and observed how our little one performed. I kept a room door wide open and placed a steel rack on the way. The steel rack had space between the two shelves which is enough for my little one to crawl through, but not enough for her to walk in between. 

Seeing the way blocked, she stood up and tried to position herself to go past through the door. She cried at first, then applied brute force to push the steel rack aside thereby making a way for herself!

I placed the steel rack again, but this time in such a way that she could not move it by force. She cried a lot and put a sad face as if asking me for a clue. I asked my wife to make her sit in crawling position and show the gap between two shelves.

Our little one got the clue immediately, and felt elated after knowing that she was able to crawl between the shelves and go through the door!

After repeating the test one more time, I found that when I make her stand and asked her to go through the door, her reaction was to apply brute force. When I make her sit in crawling position, she gets the clue and crawls through the door.

So much for her little brain!

Apr 12, 2014

Pursuit of (Eternal) Happiness

Some people say if I do "this..this..this", this will make me feel happy.

Some others will say if I do "that..that..that", that will make me feel better.

Yet some others would say if I get "this..this..this" or "that..that..that", it will make me happy.

This begs a question, Can someone feel happy by doing "this" or "that" or by getting "this" or "that"?

Maybe. But how long can one remain happy with "this" and "that"? Is eternal happiness really possible?

Time and again, people's experience has shown that nothing can make one eternally happy. This statement has been warranted by scriptures as well which says one gets eternal happiness by serving the Lord.

Though scriptures are very clear on this point, the human tendency is to ignore what scriptures say. Our tendency is to think of scriptures rules as the ideal which we could never achieve. We accept that we are at a lower level of consciousness and we deserve to be happy only by doing/getting this and that.

There is nothing wrong with this kind of thinking. But the issue gets bigger when one strives hard to change temporary happiness to an eternal one. This can never happen!

Let us for the sake of an argument say that if a person does "this/that" or get "this/that", he feels happy eternally. Extending this argument to all the people in this world, then people from this entire world will remain content with their own "this/that". When this happens, the earth will stand still! There will not be any progress, no newer ideas, and development.

Assuming that no one is bothered about not getting newer ideas or development, one may still feel jealous of other people's "this/that". I may have what I want, but I still want what the other person has!

Even if one person in this entire world thinks along this line, like the butterfly effect, the whole scenario would change in no time. Negative forces such as jealousy, possessiveness, etc are always at work. No matter how hard one strives, eternal happiness with materialistic desires is beyond one's reach.

Wise are those who are in pursuit of eternal happiness. Those who pursue mere happiness are otherwise.

Mar 15, 2014

Indru Oru Thagaval: Anger Management

I heard the following story on anger management narrated by Thenkachi Ko. Swaminathan in Indru Oru Thagaval (Today's fact of the day), a popular radio show during early 90's.

Once there lived a very short tempered kid who gets angry at slightest provocation. In a fit of rage, he would break any object that comes to his hand. His father tried several methods to teach him how to control his anger.

One day, his father called his son and said, "Listen son, I have been trying to advocate you that anger is not good for your health. But you keep getting angry and break lot of objects. Destruction is the character of a demon. To teach you a lesson, I am going to try a last resort."

At this point, the boy got curious. For every time in the past the boy met his father, he has given nothing but advices. But now he is going to stop doing it for good (or bad). "What is it father that you are going to teach me this time?", he asked.

His father replied, "I am not going to teach you or advice you any more. I now realise it does not work. I am going to adopt a strategy. Every time you get angry, I am going to hit a nail in the banyan tree outside our house", saying thus, his father went outside and hit the first nail.

At the beginning, the boy did not understand how this strategy is going to make him overcome his anger. But after a few months time, he saw that his favourite banyan tree which provided shade during scorching days, swing during evenings to play, cool breeze to take a mid-day nap is bearing all suffering for his anger. He soon found that a good portion of its bark is now covered with nails.

He went to his father and said, "My dear father, I now realise that I am getting way too angry even for mundane things. Help me to get rid of my anger. Help me to control my sense".

Hearing this from his son, the father felt elated. He called his son to come near him, gave him a warm hug and replied, "Son, there is a way to control your anger. Every time you get angry, try helping someone in need in whatever way you can. And when you do that, remember to remove one nail at a time for every service you render".

The boy obeyed his father's order. After a few months time, he had removed all the nails from the banyan tree. He was so happy that he jumped in joy, went to his father and screamed from top of his voice, "Dad, today I removed the last nail from the banyan tree".

His father held his hand, took him to the banyan tree, pointed towards the nail marks and said, "Son, no matter how much you try to help others, you must realize that your anger has left a scar on the tree". At this point, the boy fell down and cried.

"Dad, I am extremely sorry. I did not realize that by getting angry, I hurt others. What should I do now?"

Being his father, he felt pity on his son. He lifted him up and said, "Do not worry my dear son. Pray to God. Think of all the times when you got angry and hit a nail. Beg for his forgiveness".

After this, every time the boy came out of his house, he would sit next to the tree and pray to God, "Dear God, I have made a grave mistake because of which I have left scar in people's heart, just like this banyan tree. Please forgive me for my shortcoming".

With time, all the scars on the bark of banyan tree was healed. The boy realized the greatest truth of all time, "getting angry is not only bad for the person's health, it also hurts people's heart and leaves a scar".

Thenkachi finished his narrative with the following quote from Thirukkural,

Theeyinal sutta-pun ullarum, aaradhe
Naavinaal sutta vadu.

Theeyinal: by fire
sutta-pun: wound caused
ullarum: heal completely
aaradhe: does not heal
naavinaal: by spoken words
sutta: caused
vadu: scar
(Wounds caused by fire would heal completely with time but the scar from wounds caused by angry words would never heal)