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Wednesday, June 26, 2013

How I Braved Anu Aunty and Co-founded A Million Dollar Company by Varun Agarwal

Title: How I Braved Anu Aunty and Co-founded A Million Dollar Company 
Author: Varun Agarwal 
Publisher: Rupa Publication India  
Genre: Non-Fiction/Humor
Date:  2012
Price: Rs. 140
Pages: 256

First of all I would like to thank the author Varun Agarwal for sending me a copy when I expressed my interest to read the book. It was one of the coolest reads of my life with the flavours of humor, thrill of a true story and lessons on entrepreneurship.

Snapshot:  This is the story of Varun himself and his journey to establishing "Alma Mater", his million dollar company, against the advises of Indian parents and society projected by the 
character of Anu Aunty.

The Story from Critics Perspective: 
To begin with the coverpage is brilliant and eyecatching, I am sure anyone who saw it and read the title will sure pick up the book. So this is the story of varun, a cool guy, not brilliant in academics but has a mind of his own and is the street-smart type. Varun doesnt want a job where his interests dont lie, though most of his friends appear for entrances, opt for jobs, go abroad for higher studies, Varun has something else on mind - Entrepreneurship.

Also let me tell you this story is set in 2009, when e-commerce just started and flipkart wasnt an integral part of our lives as today, so imagine what would happen when nobody understands what you did? That was Varun's life.

Starting from the start, one day on a friends get-to-gather Varun decides to talk to his friend Mal, who is his most enterprising friend and obvious choice as a partner for his business idea. Mal likes the idea, which is making customised Hoodies and T-shirts for college and students. They chalk out a rough plan and decide to test their idea at the reunion or Old Boys Day at their own school Bishop cotton Boys. The idea is loved by everyone and they run out of hoodies and hence is born -Alma Mater.

This incident gives them confidence to proceed and they start making these hoodies for different schoold. Oh now if you thought Varun's parents are happy with it. NO, hold it there. Like every Indian parent his mom too wishes that he gets a high paying job and gets settled. Though India is one country which has produced the most successful and exemplery entrepreneurs, this career track is not what parents want their kids to choose.

So Varun hides it from her what he does. On the other hand how can we forget, we live in a society and are bound by its rules and more often people. So there comes the aunties or those people who have nothing great to do with their lives but compare themselves with other women, gossip and see whose son earns most. The head of these aunties or the icon of a group of such people is Anu Aunty. 

Anu Aunty- the ring leader of the group of all kitty party aunties, the proud mother of a son who was good at studies in school and earns well in a 9-5 job, gives his mother all his salary, and someone who thinks she is "the know it all". She makes sure she knows what is going on with everyone around her.

She helps Varun's mom fix up a job for him, right when alma mater begins and there begins their first problem. However crossing each step one at a time they begin doing decenty well. This story is not just about the ups and downs in varun's life with Alma Mater but its about life which always has ingredients of friendship, of love. Ofcourse it is the road to being the coolest and the most versatile being called - Entrepreneur fighting Anu Aunty. The best thing Varun says is the title does look cool but these are people who do all sorts of odd jobs to the most important ones for their company. 
Read it to enjoy and learn little yet important things about starting a company.

The Review:

Positives: Hilarious and educating.

Negatives: The Mother Swear chaper was just not needed.

The Verdict: A must read for everyone who is about to startup, You will certainly be motivated and get some of the most useful gyaan while enjoying varun's fight with Anu Aunty. Even if you aren't going to be one read it for fun. 4 stars on 5.

About the Author:
Varun Agarwal is a 25 year old Indian author, entrepreneur, photographer, and filmmaker. The author did his schooling from Bishop Cotton, Bangalore, and holds a BE degree in Telecommunication. His start-ups are Alma Mater, Reticular, a social media marketing company, and Last Minute Films, a film production house. Agarwal used to write blog posts on Facebook which became very popular. He sent a few articles to Rupa Publishers, who later asked him for a complete manuscript. This is how his debut book was born.

Friday, June 21, 2013

India Unlimited by Kulpreet Yadav

Title: India Unlimited 
Author: Kulpreet Yadav 
Publisher: Lifi Publications
Genre: Short story/Fiction
Date:  2012
Price: Rs. 200
Pages: 190

Snapshot: This book is a collection of short stories, mostly dealing with human social behaviour, concepts and makes you ponder over commonly accepted beliefs.

Stories from the Critics Perspective:  India is famous for folk tales and therefore short stories. We have some of the finest short story writers right from R.K. Narayan to carrying the torch today Kunal Sen and Prakash Gowda. The recent trend however is that very few short story books are released compared to full-length novels and that really is saddening because these books can be read by a wider audience, even those who have a limited attention span and therefore cant read much.

This book was one such good books in line, I was really happy to get to review, for short stories are my favourites too. This book though a collection of different stories is a mirror to human nature, psychology and behaviour to summarize. The stories are incidents around these and challenge the common perceptions we harbour, thereby crafting intelligently the web of readers interest. 

All the stories in this book are refreshing, though some definitely predictable, however some bizarre and absolutely amazing. The ones I loved  are, starting from the first one "Not the Only Peanut Seller Who Hasn't heard of Osama Bin Laden". As the title isn't enough, its end will leave you more amazed. A Familiar Stranger is a simple projection of how wrong our common concepts are. The Mother With a Future, is where every woman will find herself. The Sahib and the Siesta, is a clever and cruel plot. While The Fish and My Wedding is cute and lightens up the heart, Bringing Sunset Home,The Picture of My Life and The Beautiful people are very touching. The Delhi Thug  and The Red Woman are perfect entertainment. 

This book overall is a collection of packages of refreshing stories. 

The Review: 

Positives: The language is simple, book is well written and stories are good. The best part that I loved about the author is his versatile writing style. Most authors write amazing stories, beyond imagination but when a collection of such stories is published, after first four chapters the reader understands the writers style and pattern of plot. However, Kulpreet Yadav has done an amazing and difficult job of writing plots differently for each story.

Negatives: Some stories are predictable.

The Verdict: A good read. 3 stars on 5.

Grab a copy today!!!

About the Author:
Kulpreet Yadav is the founder-editor of Open Road Review, a journal of short fiction, creative nonfiction, poetry and artwork. Four issues are published in a year. His co-editors are Shanti Perez for fiction and Leah McMenamin for poetry.

Kulpreet Yadav also edits Under the Banyan Tree (UTBT), an online forum of short, true stories. UTBT hopes to organize events where people can share their stories from real life. Sujata Parashar, a bestselling novelist, is his co-editor. He read from it at Bangkok’s Chulalongkorn University on 7th Nov during the Asia Pacific writers ‘Reaching the World’ event. He is also the founding member of Asia Pacific Writers and Translators Association.

I thank the author for a copy of this book.

Monday, June 10, 2013

An Interview with Ravindra Shukla - Author of A Maverick Heart: Between Love and Life

A Maverick Heart Between love and Life is the story that takes you on a journey from the IITs to Wall Street. The same has been the journey of the author. Lets know from him what part was fact and what fiction. Here is Ravindra Shukla himself....

Q. When did you begin writing?
A: I began writing since I remember my life. To be more specific – I started writing movie script since 2001, converted script into full fiction in 2009 and edited final draft on 2011 when I was in India.  

Q. What is your motivation behind the same?

A: Key motivation came from an urge to share my thoughts and views with people. Book reflects events of my own life what happened in IIT campus, what happened in US corporate world (both Wall Street and Silicon Valley) and what’s happening now in India – current social-political revolution led by youth.

Q. You are also a member of the Film Writers Association, Mumbai. Tell us something more about your work on movie script writing?

A: In 2002, when I was visiting Finger Lakes area in New York, I saw screening of film “Seven Samurai” along with screening of “Godfather” at Cornel University, NY. I had read book “God father” and seen movie also. I was big fan of it. Screening of “Seven Samurai” next to God Father caught my attention. Since then I became fan of Kurosawa movie. I started following all classic movies – Akira Kurosawa, Stanley Kubrick, Martin Scorsese, Satyajit Ray, Quentin Tarantino – you name it.

Q. How did your journey into writing a novel begin? How was the overall experience? Would you like to highlight important lessons or issues that you faced?
A:  Writing started with my urge to share my thoughts with people. I have seen enough life around me. I have travelled from a village to IIT to Wall Street and Silicon Valley. I am always looking for activities which can quench my thirst for knowledge, for meaning in life and emotional relation. From my journey, I have learnt more about publishing process, pain of editing and effort needed in marketing. Getting a book to a reader needs much more than just writing.

 Q. Tell us something about your recent book “A Maverick Heart: Between Love and Life”?
A:   A Maverick Heart -is about following what your heart says. It does not evaluate what is good/bad and what is beneficial. It is flow of life. It is about following what you believe and live that life. Life poses many challenges. Love is very intrinsic part where heart involvement of the heart is very deep. The balancing act between life’s problems and heart emotion is tricky. I have just given a maverick side - how does he do it. A maverick response (natural response) to what we face on to everyday life. 

Q. What triggered your imagination to write this story? How did you imagine the concept, the characters, etc?

A: Richita‘s character - A part of existence, like a background music going inside my mind always. She is the image of love and inspiration.Rahul’s character - Is nothing but reflection of my own thinking, living life on your terms. No looking back and no remorse. True evaluation is our own reflection to us. We do not need others opinions to correct us if we listen to ourselves.Neerav’s character – I wanted to share how people can contribute from different areas and background to good cause/meaningful cause, where they can derive satisfaction in terms of bringing something new to the world, We need both – leader who take the hit and people who support in the background. There is meaningful combination in this union. 

Q:  Are any of the incidents/characters depicted in the story real? How much of it is inspired by your life at IIT?
A: Most of the events are real. The story is an amalgamation of imagination with reality. First 1/3 part is from IIT. Inter IIT events, hostel fights, class room events, discussion about girls/boys/sports, conflict between secure career vs jumping into social events – all are real.

Q: Your character Rahul was very inspiring, how many people have you met who leave the smooth lucrative road and can be change makers like him?
A: Outliers are always rare, therefore I too have seen few but not many. There is always a Rahul struggling deep inside everybody heart but we just ignore him and thrust ourselves in convenient life. Fear of losing your current secure life makes it difficult for people to be Maverick.

Q: Your story highlights major concerns in Indian education, thinking and politics. Did you choose to address these issues or they just came by as a part of the story?

A: We need youth energy in all area. We do not need to segregate areas. We need fresh talent, innocent raw energy and maverick approach without any fear in different areas. I just hate compromises. We start compromising slowly and end-up losing ourselves. I included these issues to create this spirit

.Q: This is a question that has always puzzled me: Why do most people from IIT turn into authors?

A: May be there is burning desire to share their thought with others. What else can be reason? It is definitely not money. Technology is not good enough to quench their thirst. 

Q. Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?

A: Editing in particular, I write but when I have to re-edit and make it full proof, it becomes repetitive.  

Q. What is the best and worst part about being an author in your opinion? 

A: Best part - you can interact with a large number of people, share your ideas and thoughts and make difference. Bad part – it’s not high paying area. You need to still have your full time job. I am not talking about the few exceptions where people were good at marketing and did well or have somebody else to support in family. If you are sole earner in your family and have passion in creative world - its challenge to sustain both. 

Q. Did you ever get “The Writers Block”? How did you overcome it?

A: I am not sure what is “The Writers Block”? Let me Google it.

 Q. Who are your favourite authors and what is it that really strikes you about their work?

A:  Premchand – Deep emotion and realistic picture of life, Jaishankar Prasad - Sarcasm against society at best! , Kurosawa – Love all his script, Hemmingway – Winner takes nothing, Shakespeare – It’s all about “to be or not to be”, GB Shaw – Love all his plays, Victor Hugo – Epitome of realty and emotion, William Wordsworth – Child is father of man! 

Q. What books have most influenced your life?

A:  Perelman (Russian Mathematics) refusal, successful story of Asha Foundation, Indian corporate billionaire’s in Silicon Valley, Premchand, Prasad, William Wordsworth & Frost poetry.

Q. What are you reading currently?

A. I have been very busy in move and job transfer. Not having much time but planning to start poetry/classic one again. 

Q. Broadly what are your next projects (books and movies)?A: I have already picture of my next book. When a character high in academic research gets into conflict with underworld- what will happen.

Q. What do you think about the current trend of writing in India? Is the current lineage of Indian authors ready for an international audience/market?

A: We lack depth in current writing. Many epics become a hit; however serious writing - classical and message oriented is still lacking. I have read better literature 30-40 years back. We need to bring deep and sharp message thru current context. We just cannot enjoy only masala. Masala should be limited to 20%, rest should be real tough and raw content. We need raw talent, not practiced and trained masala. 

Q. Any advice for budding writers?

A: Just follow your heart and enjoy the journey. Do not accept anything less than your heart believes. And face the consequence of your action. Do not be scared to ask yourself – will I be happy if I did not try this? Life is not about result but giving a full attempt in what you believe. 

Q. A message for your readers?
A: Please read the book and share your reaction. It is character based story full of messages.  You know what to do best. Follow your own consent, heart. I do not believe in telling others what to do. I give my perspective thru my characters.Book is full of your own thoughts and contains a message. Please read and react.   

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Hinduism - From Maya to Moksha

Title: Hinduism - From Maya to Moksha 
Author: Vijay Singhal 
Publisher: Vision India Publications
Genre: Religion
Date:  2013
Price: Rs. 395
Pages: 190

Snapshot: This book is a quick guide on Hinduism, its components and some of the important concept and greatest people who contributed to its development.

The Review:  The author believes that Hinduism is a religion that is broad and not illogical, which has helped it survive through the test of times, through the challenges each generation provided. However he expresses contamination in the religion by some, and also an increase in the number of people who fall in the "no religion" zone called agnostics or atheists. He believes that a better understanding of the religion ing will help them get a better quality life, reducing stress, suicide rates etc. 

He has meticulously planned the book beginning with the orgins and basis of the religion, going further to its history and the mythology associated. Then he writes about the important scriptures Vedas, the Bhagvad Gita, further moving on to the Gods and great men like Rama, Ganesha, Swami  Vivekananda, etc. Finally in the last part the author describes the challenges the religion faces at the moment.

Positives:  A quick instant guide to Hinduism.

Negatives:  I believe anyone writing on religion should not only write about its components but discuss them at length. Also when the author began with the rise of atheists in modern era I believed he would discuss the principles of Hinduism and how they do fall into place even today, but there was just a little flavour of this , not in depth essence. I was disappointed to find just information on the religion.

The Verdict: A quick instant guide to Hinduism for a beginner. 3 stars on 5.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Fire on the Mountain by Anita Desai

Title: Fire on the Mountain 
Author: Anita Desai 
Publisher: Vintage/Random House India
Genre: Fiction
Date:  1978
Price: Rs. 250
Pages: 176

I had read Kiran Desai's a few years back (review not available here) Inheritance of Loss but found it very depressing. When I read the blurb of this book, it seemed exactly the same concept to me. However I chose to read it as both the author and the book are highly acclaimed. As I was two pages into the book, I was sure I was right in giving it a benefit of doubt. Anita Desai is so far one of the best writers I have read after Bibhutibhushan Bandhopadhyay who can describe human emotion in conjunction with not only their actions but with surroundings so well.

Book Blurb:

Gone are the days when Nanda Kaul watched over her family and played the part of Vice-Chancellor?s wife. Leaving her children behind in the real world, the busier world, she has chosen to spend her last years alone in the mountains in Kasauli, in a secluded bungalow called Carignano.Until one summer her great-granddaughter Raka is dispatched to Kasauli and everything changes. Nanda is at first dismayed at this break in her preciously acquired solitude. Fiercely taciturn, Raka is, like her, quite untamed. The girl prefers the company of apricot trees and animals to her great- grandmother?s, and spends her afternoons rambling over the mountainside. But the two are more alike than they know. Throughout the hot, long summer, Nanda's old, hidden dependencies and wounds come to the surface, ending, inevitably, in tragedy. Marvellous yet restrained, Fire on the Mountain speaks of the past and its unshakable hold over the present. 

Snapshot:  The book is an insight into human nature, thoughts and behaviour through the story of Nanda Kaul. She is a loner and is living the life of her dreams, her utmost desire - to be alone after settling her children and grand children. But fate has one more test for her nature, so drops in her great grand daughter, who is also a replica, a loner. This is the story that describes by a medium of Nanda Kaul's character, human psychology.

The Story from The Critics Perspective:  Nature lovers will fall prey to the very first chapter of the book. Not just as the author little by little describes Kasauli, the place where Nanda Kaul is spending the best years of her life but the way the author depicts her character with everything around her. How she influenced her surroundings, how minutely she did and each act of hers defining her in a manner that you could read her mind. So Nanda Kaul is enjoying the only part of her life she has felt she lived. Her earlier life was a huge house, a husband with a good social status and circle. A status to maintain which she was responsible, and though it was her, someone who hated every bit of it, she did it well. A house full of children, which when seemed less the social circle kept the house flooded. In all of it was Nanda managing it all.

When it all ended, needless to say she was glad and the next moment came to this place where nobody, not even her children could disturb her. None of them afterall were like her. None of them could ever be. Then falls a bomb on her seemingly undisturbed world, which she assumed had no ties, but when does that happen? Her daughter Asha had to look after her daughter who kept unwell with a drunkard husband, who abused his wife everyday. Therefore her grand daughter Raka, who had no place now had to be with Nanda - her great grandmother. The description of the postman who brings a letter to Nanda's house in this part and how much she wishes he would just turn in a different lane, clearly depicts how much she hates people.

So Raka arrives and Nanda Kaul decided just to be very formal and aloof with her. However, to her surprise Raka is the child her family very much like her. She loves to be alone, wanders around the hill side alone and is in the house only at meal times when she has to. In short before Nanda can keep her at a distance, she chooses to be away, naturally. This starts a process, a change in Nanda Kaul where she begins taking interest in the child, for the only time in her life, engages her in conversation and tries very hard for all of it, because Raka is not interested. As if this was not enough, to add to the confusion enters Ila Das, the reminder of her past, some hidden truths she doesnt want to conciously visit. 

Get an insight into how Nanda and through her human thoughts and actions change with situations and circumstances by reading the complete story.

The Review:
Positives:  It has all the ingredients of a good book. Its not heavy like it does seem initially. In fact nature and human nature are both so intricately woven in description that you would fall in love with the writing and on top of that there also is a story that keeps you engaged. A perfect feast for a reader and a nature lovers soul.

Negatives: None

The Verdict: A highly recommended read. 5 stars on 5.

About the Author
Anita Desai is one of India's foremost writers. She has written numerous works of fiction, including Clear Light of Day (1980), In Custody (1984), and Fasting, Feasting (1999)?all shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize?as well as Baumgartner's Bombay (1988) and The Zigzag Way (2004). In Custody was made into a film by Merchant-Ivory productions, starring Shashi Kapoor and Om Puri. Her most recent work is The Artist of Disappearance (2011).

A fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in London, the American Academy of Arts and Letters in New York, Girton College and Clare Hall at the University of Cambridge, and most recently Sahitya Akademi in India, Anita Desai has also been a Professor of Writing at MIT and has frequently been honoured with awards, among them the Alberto Moravia Prize for Literature and the Padma Shri.

Born in Mussoorie to a German mother and a Bengali father, she was educated in Delhi, and currently divides her time between USA and Mexico.

I Thank Random House India for a copy of the book and an opportunity to review a great piece of literature.