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Book Review: The Mask Diaries By Abhinav Goel

Book Review: The Mask Diaries By Abhinav Goel

Heard of the great Persian epic Sohrab and Rustum? It is that tale of the brave warrior Rustum who unknowingly slays his long-lost son Sohrab, in a single combat. A tale of valor, though it may seem, but this epic is not just about war, death and battle. It brings out the ironies of life. It brings out pride and anger – the masks we wear. It is about good and of evil existing within the protagonist and all around him too. Taking a cue from this great epic is Abhinav Goel’s The Mask Diaries. Profound and deep, the book is soul stirring, spiritual and takes you on a path of self-discovery.

The Mask Diaries- The fascinating story of Sohrab

He is cursed with a troubled and painful childhood. But his gift is enormous and overwhelming in every way. Blessed with the ability to read and influence minds around him, Sohrab is all set to journey around the globe. As a mind reader, he finds immense success, yet, he finds himself torn between the good and the evil. And that’s when, unable to conquer over his alter ego, Sohrab destroy all that he has- the fame, the adulation and the love received. The book is his journey as he lives life over five decades. Sohrab sees the world and takes you along with him on a journey, with him across the Himalayas, all the way to Paris and Hungary, towards self-acceptance.

“How beautiful this day is, how replete with the perfection of life! On days like these I wish to tear the Mask off my face for good, for I have everything that I ever aspired for. Yet, as I aspire to do the unthinkable, I realize that the Mask hides the skeletons of my past beneath it and the moment I tear it off, I will become naked in front of the world…” – excerpt from The Mask Diaries.

Truth of life- In a whole new avatar!

The narration surely stands out.  Very often books that belong to the genre of experiential, psychological or spiritual tend to become quite a heavy read for me. However, The Mask Diaries was quite the opposite. What appealed to me was the way the story line was dealt with. Crisp narration, a neatly laid out plot and characters etched with perfection, the book was indeed a pleasure to read.

The story is narrated in the voices of the protagonist, his mask, wife and son. The multiple voices did seem to confuse me in certain parts, but the story line gripped me and its flow soon cleared the cloud. Characters are easily identifiable, those we bump into each and every day of our life. The book is decently paced too and incidents are relevant in every way to today’s world.

I loved the way Sohrab’s childhood has been described. The vivid descriptions played on my mind and stayed well after I had closed that last page and had put the book down. It got me into a sort of introspection mode. I smiled with the book, fell in love and was also moved to tears. I lazed on my arm-chair book in hand, closing my eyes, drifting away in thoughts.

My Take 

Love self-realization books? Then The Mask Diaries could well be the one for you. It would prove to be a perfect thought-provoking read on a lazy afternoon. Oh well, otherwise too. It has the power to heal your soul. It teaches you to face your fears, and inspires you in many a ways. Along with the spiritual journey of the protagonist, the book leads you too, towards self-acceptance. From the depth of your mind, it churns out your darker shades and guides you towards forgiveness.

An interesting read!!!

Book Review: Before We Visit The Goddess By Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

Book Review: Before We Visit The Goddess By Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

“What is the nature of life?
Life is lines of dominoes falling.
One thing leads to another, and then another, just like you’d planned. But suddenly a Domino gets skewed, events change direction, people dig in their heels, and you’re faced with a situation that you didn’t see coming, you who thought you were so clever.”
Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, Before We Visit the Goddess

If ever you feel like reading a fiction, that holds within its pages a deep tale, with elements of profoundness, pick Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni. Her writing surpasses all, and the stories never fail to grip me. Here earlier books such as Palace of illusions, Oleander Girl and Mistress of Spices, have been bestsellers and portrayed human relationships and its complexities in a unique way. The latest, “Before we Visit the Goddess” is yet another brilliant book from Divakaruni that recounts an unseen tale spanning across three generations, between mothers and daughters.

The storyline

“Before We Visit the Goddess” opens with Sabitri. Frail and stricken with old age, she has never met her American born granddaughter Tara. When she hears her granddaughter considering dropping out of college, she begins writing a letter to her detailing her own life, reminiscing the past. She was the daughter of a poor sweet meat -maker in rural Bengal. As a young girl when Sabitri falls in love with a boy from a rich household, little did she realize she would be discarded from her own community. Her life takes a turn when she seeks refuge in a professor whom she eventually marries.

Years later, she finds herself yet again staring at an uncertain future, as her husband dies, forcing Sabitri to take charge of life and her daughter Bela. Fighting all odds she sets up Durga sweets making it into a successful enterprise. Over the years, life and fate take her on a roller coaster ride. Bela, haunted by her mother’s choices, flees to America with the one she loved. But destiny had other plans and Bela is forced to search for her own path. Disconnected from her country and culture, she passes on much more than the bitterness of her life onto her daughter Tara.

Portrayal of characters

Emotions well portrayed, the tale describes a mother as she tries to save her own child from making the mistakes she had made years back. Yet she is unable to do so, generation after another. Sabitri is ambitious and resilient. Bela is talented and strong willed, yet lack’s the enterprising skill and ambition her mother possessed. Tara, disconnected from her roots, grows into a rebel. Her relationship with her mother remains rocky, as she throws away an education to find herself a monotonous job instead. All three women are distinctly apart, yet none crumble despite the agony and pain of betrayal they encounter. As relationships fall apart, its pieces are more difficult to gather. Yet the three generation attempt to find respect and purpose in life, trying to put as much of the pieces back together.

What I liked…. and did not too!

I loved the seamless integration of the three women and their lives across the years. Divakaruni’s characterization is a masterwork indeed. So is her prose. There were lines in the book that stayed with me much after I closed that last page.

However, parts of the book seemed to drag on with meaningless references. There were several loose ends that hardly had any conclusive narration. The book does open on an interesting note, but the climax doesn’t really do justice to the prose and closes on a rather hurried note. And yes.. The title of the book is quite a mystery to me. I can’t really fit in its significance.

Nevertheless Chitra Divakurni’s prose steals the show. Worth a read!!

Chetan Bhagat- Review of One Indian Girl

Chetan Bhagat- Review of One Indian Girl

Chetan Bhagat is truly the most loved or, the most hated author in the country. Surely, on one side we have a large percentage of readers who simply cannot stop adoring his books, and on the other side there is a larger number who simply dislike his books. Despite all the brickbats he receives for his featured columns in major dailies, or for his stint as a judge on a reality show, Chetan Bhagat’s books do sell and they rake in the moolahs!!

To me he is neither good nor a bad writer. He is average and yes, definitely over-rated. Reading a Chetan Bhagat is akin to watching a Karan Johar or maybe a Salman Khan movie. Loaded with emotions and relationship tangles, the plot may lack depth, with seldom any logic. Yet we all watch them once in a way. Chetan Bhagat books are no great pieces of literature, yet they appeal to the masses, and that’s why his books are ranked as a best seller and I do enjoy reading them once in a way.

Getting to his latest book- One Indian Girl…

Radhika Mehta is educated, intelligent and ambitious. She is a topper of sorts and after her MBA degree from IIM; she lands herself a job as an investment banker at Goldman Sachs. She heads to New York, to start her professional life, much to her parents’ dislike, who are more than keen to see her married at 21. New York is an all new world for Radhika. She lives her life and accomplishes on the professional front, earning a bonus her father seldom saw in his entire banking career. Her mother though doesn’t appreciate it and the pressure to “settle” down into matrimony is mounted upon her. Fighting away the stereotypes, Radhika, does well professionally, has a string of relationships that makes her move base, from New York, to Hong Kong and then to London. It teaches her life’s important lessons and gives her an insight into what she wants and who she exactly is.

She eventually decides to settle down into an arranged marriage, when the unforeseen happens. Her ex-es land up at her marriage venue. Radhika’s mind is in the biggest of turmoil’s. With her wedding just 24 hours away, she has her present and past all in one place. Who would she choose and why? What exactly is in the mind of this one Indian girl? Read the book to understand this as Chetan touches that one raw nerve- feminism.

The books delves into the deep lying patriarchy in Indian society. The restrictions that are not spoken about yet exist all around us. Radhika deals with an insecure boyfriend who cannot handle her earning more than him and later a married boss who becomes her lover, but seldom acknowledges that she could want to start a family too. Neither of the men she encounters understand that she could want to have both worlds- a home as well as a career.

The narration and content is candid and simple, filled with relatable incidents and connections. Chetan brings in the entertainment element with the dramatic Punjabi family, loaded with aunts and cousins galore, plus a wedding scene to top up the drama factor. I loved Radhika’s characterization, and her evolving from a simple West Delhi girl to a chick smart corporate woman. The narration in female first person is impressive, with the entire story conveyed as Radhika’s thoughts and views.

I liked Chetan’s view and stand on feminism. In a world where everything is almost a hype, and the true meaning of feminism lost somewhere, he brings out the choices that women are forced to make.

Yet, the book fails on many fronts. Highly predictable, it isn’t very different from his earlier ones. There is a degree of monotony in the tone and yes, you could comfortably skip a couple of pages. It also lacked that “spark” and humor that would have made the book otherwise a better read.

Surely Chetan Bhagat may be no great writer, but his Bollywood inspired writing does make him a fairly decent story teller.  Worth a one-time relaxed read ‘cause when you do finish that last page and close the book, you are left behind with a smile — and thinking.

Would it be a future Bollywood block buster? Well only time can tell that!

The Secret of God’s Son- Usha Narayanan

The Secret of God’s Son- Usha Narayanan

‘The seas will devour the glorious city of Dwaraka. People will forget your name and your Gita!
May the world perish! May the world perish!’

This is the cruel curse Queen Gandhari throws upon Krishna. Mankind plunges into the evil of Kali Yuga. It is now on the shoulders of Krishna to reverse this curse and prediction. As he journeys through terrifying realms, he confronts Yama the Lord of Death and Shiva the destroyer and, vanquishes the Kali demon. He must lead his people out of the swirling vortex of greed, disease and misery. And there is one powerful weapon still — the secret surrounding his origin. Will he uncover it in time to fight off the cataclysm? In the answer lies the destiny of all humanity!

The Secret of God’s Son is the sequel to the highly acclaimed book Pradyumna- Son of Krishna by Usha Narayanan. After a successful career in advertising, radio and corporate communications Usha became a full-time writer. She is the author of several books including The Madras Mangler, a suspense thriller and Love, Lies and Layoffs, a lighthearted office romance.

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The book takes you on an interesting journey along with Pradyumna for, he is going to be the savior of all of mankind. It’s a cruel curse that Queen Gandhari cast upon Lord Krishna, and the consequences are not going to be good. Pradyumna has to save mankind from the evil clutches of Kali. He of course has the support of his loving wife Maya, yet, for Pradyumna this is no easy task. How does he do this and emerge victorious? Does he manage to reverse the curse? Loaded with the right blend of emotions, action, battle and drama, the “The Secret of God’s Son” would intrigue you right from its first few pages, till the end when you finally put down the book.

I loved Pradyumna’s characterization. He is charismatic yet has those shades of grey similar to what each one of us has within us. He asks rightful questions that stir your morals and conscious and you question yourself from deep within. Not to forget the characterization of Maya and the role of women as wives and mothers. Relevant in every way in today’s life and times.

Excerpt from the book: 

“Pradyumna smiled at Maya, knowing that this was just the beginning. Women such as those who had assembled here would provide the stability that the world needed in order to survive. Dharma could not win if half of humanity was denied their rightful place…”

The plot is strewn with twists and turns leaving you intrigued and drawing you into the vortex of the story. The climax of the book was perfect with the appearance of Kali. A visually stimulating read!

If you are a lover of the great Epics, Usha Narayananan’s The Son of God’s Son, won’t disappoint you. Usha has surely lived up to her reputation with this sequel. Rightly paced, with in depth research she knows how to bring out the best in a genre that’s generally a toughie for writers- mythology.

Another Excerpt from the Book:

“Draupadi will be the most beautiful woman on earth,’ declared a heavenly voice. And she will bring doom to the arrogant warrior clans.

The smoke turned black. Thunder rumbled in a cloudless sky. The priests felt a dread worse than death. Their eyes shut in fear and they failed to perceive the goddess, black as the void, who flashed out of the girl’s body. It was mighty Chandika, the fierce avatar of Durga, destined to devour the world using Draupadi as her medium.

Years passed. Blessed by the goddess, Draupadi grew into an enchanting woman. When Drupada arranged for her swayamvara, the kings who came to vie for her hand were spellbound by her charms. But she turned them away in disdain. She laughed at Duryodhana, the mighty Kuru prince. She scorned his companion Karna and called him low-born. The kings who failed to win her hand cursed her for her arrogance. And all the while, Chandika watched from above, her lips curled in contempt……”

A Forgotten Affair -By Kanchana Banerjee

A Forgotten Affair -By Kanchana Banerjee

“Sometimes you need to forget everything to recognize what matters the most….” One of those lines that would linger long in your mind, as you read A Forgotten Affair.

How would it feel to wake up one fine morning to realize that you absolutely have no idea about who you are, or where you are from? Sagarika Mehta is in one such complex situation in her life. A victim of the Mumbai bomb blasts, she wakes up from a deep coma, in the hospital only to realize that she has no memory at all of her past. Who was she? What was she like and who are the people she knew?

Reeling under the pressure of getting to know herself and those around her, Sagarika, finds herself whisked away to an altogether new place- Gurgaon- by her husband. He insists she starts life afresh. But does this really give her the answers she is desperately seeking? On the contrary she is loaded with more questions- What has she forgotten?

A debut novel by Kanchana Banerjee, A Forgotten Affair is a face paced fiction. It is the tale of the young and vivacious Sagarika Mehta, who is trying hard to piece together her life that seems crazier than a jigsaw puzzle. Would she be able to? And in the process what more does she discover?

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After writing feature articles for various publications, PR firms and companies for nearly two decades, Kanchana Banerjee decided to pursue her long cherished dream – to write a novel. She holds a master’s degree in English from Jadavpur University, Kolkata. She lives in Gurgaon with her husband, son and two dogs, Archie and Casper. A Forgotten Affair is her first novel.

As important as it is to have an interesting storyline, it is also necessary for authors to be able to put that storyline across to readers in an effective way. And Kanchana Banerjee scores high in bringing out the best out of the story. Superbly narrated and well-paced, the book leaves you guessing and, as you flip through the pages soaking in every bit of the narration, you are left enthralled.

Kanchana leads you into Sagarika’s world, which is as much unknown to you as it is to Sagarika. You journey with her, meeting friends and acquaintances, getting a glimpse into what her life before the accident was like. With elements of suspense well blended, you are led from Sagarika’s present to past seamlessly. No over the top dramatization and as you near the end of the book you as a reader are convincingly ably to piece together the two worlds of Sagarika.

With brilliant characterization A Forgotten Affair explores the various dimensions of relationships. It explores the beautiful friendship between Roohi and Sagarika. It brings out what it is to be in an abusive relationship. It brings out real love in a relationship.

A well packaged book-not to forget the lovely cover design. If you love contemporary fiction, then this book is a must read. Definitely Kanchana Banerjee is an author to look forward to in the future days to come.

This Time It’s Forever- Aditi Bose

This Time It’s Forever- Aditi Bose

There surely is no better feeling, than finding that one book that feels like magic in your hands. A book that takes you in from its very first page, right till the end. And when you are done reading it, you can feel your heart squeezing- a weird sort of ache and you clutch the book tightly unable to put it down.

I am one of those kinds who could read practically any genre of writing. I sometimes pick up contrasting genres back to back so that I am able to look at each book with a fresh perspective. My recent read was a book by Aditi Ray Bose- “This Time its forever”. The book is a tale of pursuit -of lost love, and finally accepting true feelings.

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Aisha Ahuja has almost everything in life. A decent job, a bunch of good friends and of course Arunavo. Their interaction though begin at a professional level, the daily rigmaroles of life get them closer to each other. Arunavo Banerjee on the other hand is this suave, mature, intellectual person. This charming man is every girl’s fantasy and Aisha also finds it hard to resist him. He has a past that he seldom wants to let go off. However, with the growing mutual attraction, the passion is almost waiting to break free. When one fateful night they finally decided to act upon their attraction, little did Aisha know that she would soon be seeing many twists and turns in her life.

When Arunavo walks out on her, Aisha misses him and his friendship. The walls around her heart are the only things keeping him out of her life. They knew each other’s heart and soul and now he was gone. Will Aisha allow that? Will she let his past win and her heart fail?

The book begins with an interesting prologue. A very short insight indeed into Aisha’s thoughts, stirring a high amount of curiosity, and well, you do start imagining the course of the tale, probably expecting a clichéd end to it. And that’s where Aditi Bose has successfully managed to pull it off. Don’t want to give away spoilers here, but yes, the book ends on a totally unexpected note. “This Time its forever” is a mixed box of feelings- of happiness, pain, anger, curiosity and surprises. But it sure does put you at ease once you bring that last page to a close.  

This simple, yet beautiful story of love and acceptance will turn you around. A great story to keep in your collection, and a perfect Saturday afternoon read!!!

Madaari- My Weekend Movie

Madaari- My Weekend Movie

It is a week of big movie releases in the country, and Madaari was my pick. This much awaited film has an interesting ensemble of actors. The extremely talented Irrfan Khan plays the lead, with Vishesh Bansal and Jimmy Shergill making up the rest of the cast.

Irrfan Khan to me is one of those versatile actors who could practically play any role with ease. I loved his wit and subtle humor in Piku and the calmness and maturity portrayed in Life of Pi. But with Madaari, Irrfan Khan has reached all together a new height. His role of Nirmal Kumar in the movie, an “aam admi”, is exceptionally portrayed- poignant and hard hitting. It surely is one of Irrfan’s best performance. 

Madaari- a movie that brings out the realities of our nation.  Arent we a country where power lies in the hands of a select few? These are the ones who often call the shots and the “aam janta” is left in the lurch? Madaari explores the aspirations and life of the common man- such as Nirmal Kumar- asking questions that are hard hitting and making it a must watch. He is an average middle class man-like most Indians, working hard to make ends meet. In an unfortunate incident, Nirmal Kumar’s son goes missing.  The movie traces his journey of searching for his child, running from pillar to post, powerless as he cries out for help.  A directorial venture of Nishant Kamat (the one who directed, Drishyam and Rocky Handsome) Madaari could well be included among those movies that are totally thought provoking. With some brilliant performances and powerful dialogues, the movie leaves you intrigued.

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I liked the simplicity in portrayal of characters- no larger than life hero who woos heroines around trees. Irrfan Khan brings out the anguish of a parent who has lost his child in brilliance. Jimmy Shergill as Nachiket Verma stands out too. The beautiful depiction of the camaraderie between Rohan (Vishal Bansal) and Nirmal Kumar is worth a mention.  With adequate suspense strewn across the script, the movie surely is nail-biting to the finish. The direction is flawless with a seamless screenplay and dialogue delivery. 

Madaari may not be your conventional film. It doesn’t have item songs, glitz and glamour or fight scenes. Well! making it a great movie for family audiences. Yet, it is a movie that is engaging, bringing out the grim reality of the nation that we are part of. It sure does touch you somewhere deep within.

So do watch it and share your thoughts with me.

Book Review:The Sialkot Saga:Ashwin Sanghi

Book Review:The Sialkot Saga:Ashwin Sanghi

So it was a big release in the month of April for Ashwin Sanghi. The release had it all- well you know the way bestselling authors do it. The grand launch at the Jaipur Lit Fest, a Bollywood styled book trailer, and of course full page advertisements in almost all local newspapers. Hmmm I do wonder… Does Ashwin Sanghi really needs such large scale promotions? He already has a couple of best sellers up his sleeve and is considered as India’s best-selling conspiracy fiction writers. Forbes India has included him in their Celebrity 100 list.

From Rozabel Line, Chanakya’s Chant, and The Krishna Key to the latest Sialkot Saga…Sanghi has sure come a long way. I have read the earlier three books, where there is a seamless inter-twining of historical episodes with fantasy and fiction.

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But “The Sialkot Saga” comes as a big disappointment, failing to deliver a similar magic.

The story begins in Amritsar. It’s the time of partition between India and Pakistan. In a railway station a constable saves a small boy from under a pile of dead bodies in that last train which traveled from Sialkot. The narration quickly shifts to King Asoka’s court, where the discussion concerns preserving a secret. This secret travels through different periods and different kingdoms, eventually blending in with the key protagonists- Arbaaz Sheikh and Arvind Bagadia

Arvind is the son of a rich Calcutta based business man. He is ambitious and hungry for money and power. Nothing can stop him and with his razor sharp thinking he makes his move to earn those big bucks. He wouldn’t hesitate to deceive or lie. All that he cares for is success, and money. A failed love affair sure does break his heart, but instead of brooding about, he focuses on his ambition, pushing every bit to get to the top. Arbaaz on the other hand is the son of a poor man. When he loses his father, Arbaaz picks up his job as a laborer at the docks in Mumbai. As a petty thief, he associates himself with a local don Abdul Dada, eventually becoming his most trusted one and then his successor. But soon Arbaaz and Arvind’s paths meet. They meet to clash. Their egos inter-twined, ready to over throw the other. Yet they pick themselves up, to get ahead of the other.

So who amongst them emerges victorious? What’s the outcome of their clash? Do they have any other link apart from the rivalry? That’s Sialkot Saga – a business thriller – of politics, betrayal, revenge, heart breaks and ancient secrets.

I liked the story narrated across different timelines from the era of partition in 1947 to the more recent 9/11 attacks and the Mumbai 26/11 strikes. Great research has been done by Sanghi and the events have been seamlessly integrated with the characters and story. Sanghi indeed has a powerful storyline here with perfect etching of the characters- Arbaaz and Arvind– both with similarities galore yet differences that are distinct.

Yet despite this, I did find it over stretched in most parts. Besides, the historical sub pots, made no sense, thrust in-between chapters. In fact I felt the novel would have been far better without historical links of Ashoka’s nine men. It seemed to have been linked just for the sake of it.

Sometimes it is not just the story that makes a bestseller. One of the basic things readers expect form a bestselling author is to avoid errors, something as basic as editing. I sure did overlook a few typographical errors but here is one that I just could not and had to point it out. Flip through to page 341-342 of the book. The paragraphs speak about Abhilasha the wife of Arvind Bagadia. As you read through the paragraphs, you notice the use of the name Paromita (wife of Arbaaz) in the place of Abhilasha!!

So the thumbs up is for:

  • The powerful characterisation that’s perfectly etched out.
    The timeline from 1947 to present day seamlessly woven with storyline.

Thumbs down:

  • Editing errors in more than one place.
  • Overstretched narration could get you to yawn, well may be doze off too. Could have been crisper.
  • Historical references dating back 2000 years seemed out of place.

Verdict: The Sialkot Saga is not one of Ashwin Sanghi’s great books. It comes as a disappointment in comparison to his earlier books such as Rozabel Line and Chanakya’s Chant. Read it if you desire a brush up of your history lessons!

About the Author:

Ashwin Sanghi is counted among India’s highest-selling English fiction authors. 13 Steps to Bloody Good Luck is his foray into the world of non-fiction. Ashwin is the author of three bestsellers—The Rozabal Line, Chanakya’s Chant and The Krishna Key. In addition he has co-authored a crime thriller, Private India, along with James Patterson, the world’s highest-selling writer. Ashwin’s books have sold in lakhs and have been translated into many languages. He was included by Forbes India in their Celebrity India 100 Rankings and was the recipient of the Crossword Popular Choice Award. Ashwin was educated in Mumbai, at the Cathedral & John Connon School and St. Xavier’s College. He also holds a Masters degree in business from Yale. Ashwin lives in Mumbai with his wife Anushika and his son Raghuvir.