Out with Corruption -A review of The Redeemers by Suresh Taneja

The book is about how 4 teenagers; Vikram, Yuvi, Manisha & Akshay who have a brush with the deep-rooted corruption in India, in the form of a cop who tries to frame their uncle in a car accident in order to get a bribe. This incident forces them to think about corruption in general and they realize how damaging corrupt practices like bribing, currying favour, fudging financials etc can be. So they decide to come up with a strategy and start a movement to fight corruption. Their movement is a roaring success and it ultimately leads to India being a superpower about 20 years down the line.

There are certain stories which become more effective when fictionalized because the impact of the real story is not as dramatic. Sometimes a fictionalized version promotes a better understanding of complicated issues and makes for more interesting reading. But this is possible only if the real issues and the fiction are intricately woven together to form a beautiful pattern. In this case the fiction doesn’t work because the story, the characters, their lives take a back seat to the corruption and the author’s idea to fight it, which are the main focus of this book.

The author has tried hard to bring an authenticity to his protagonists by giving them individual personalities but the only one who stands out is Yuvi. She is the ideas person, the youngest of the four and quite mischievous.Though every instance of trying to make her seem naughty just comes across as fake. All the other characters are mere fluff and could easily blend into one another. There are too many characters and yet not enough time is spent on any of them and often the author refers to the four protagonists as G4 (gang of four), a single unit. This I felt is a flaw since the four of them are the ones who start this movement and realistically there would be differences galore when taking up a cause this important. But with these guys there seem to be no differences, they agree with each other about everything and enhance each other’s ideas all the time, they never have arguments or any difference of opinions.

The entire book is this way. There are no pitfalls despite talk and hints of problems cropping up, the author does not follow through with genuine issues. Every problem that comes up is very quickly nipped in the bud within two pages. For example, the protagonists talk about the issue of increasing complacency and loss of interest in the movement over time as something this big would take long to yield any concrete results and they talk about guarding against it. But there are no instances of people losing interest or even the protagonists themselves becoming bored and how they actually deal with it. We have to remember that the author is talking about school and college kids here who usually have short attention spans especially when it comes to serious issues. If a movement like Anna Hazare’s fizzled out, what chance does a movement aimed at college & school kids have of sustaining interest. If the author had shown some idea that one of the four came up with to keep the momentum going despite meager results, the continued success of the movement for almost 10 years would have seemed more real.

While the ideas in this book are fresh and innovative, I don’t think that they have been thought all the way through to make a truly engaging, interesting story of a fight against corruption and the rise of a country to super-power-dom. This lack of thought; a lack of true immersion in the story is painfully obvious throughout the book. As a side note I must mention that the grammar in the book is atrocious and I only mention this because it was impossible to ignore and it took a lot away from the story. Read this book for the author’s out of the box plan to rid India of corruption, other than that the story hasn’t much to offer.

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The Cuckoo’s Calling -Review

Though undeserving of praise such as it is a must read, the best detective novel of the century blah blah blah, “The Cuckoo’s Calling” by Robert Galbraith a.k.a J.K. Rowling is an enjoyable read. The premise is simple; Lula Landry, a super model dives to her death from the balcony of her flat. The police investigation concludes that she committed suicide. Three months later, her brother, unhappy with the verdict brings in a PI, Cormoran Strike to re-investigate.

The characters in this book, especially Cormoran Strike, who you care about almost as much as the mystery is the reason this book is fun to read. Because Strike is so secretive about his own past, his back story is revealed over many pages and we are left to interpret and draw conclusions about him with a little bit of information that is provided initially. It managed to keep me hooked and interested despite the slow pace of the investigation. At one point I wondered if there was going to be any real investigation because Google searches was all Strike did. This was definitely a refreshing change from all the serial killer mysteries and CSI style detective stories. This book is more reminiscent of Perry Mason except that Strike is nothing like the suave, charming, always impeccable Mason. Strike is more what you would think a private eye to be in this day and age. He is broke, financially and emotionally, too proud for his own good (he refuses help even from his sister), has had a difficult and murky childhood, he is prone to use alcohol as a shield, he is mostly honest but his honesty is peppered to some extent with self-interest. This last trait more than anything makes him very relatable along with the fact that unlike many detective stories, the work does not completely overtake Strike’s life. His problems are still intact and they continue to affect him in numerous ways. And though Cormoran is the star of the book, the rest of the characters are not ignored, each one has their quirks, each one is described in enough detail that they leap off the page.

The pace of this book, from its almost lethargic beginning where Strike’s every movement is recorded, from his taking the afternoon off to drink at the local pub, to his spending the nights in his office etc to the increasing speed of the story as it nears its conclusion where days/nights are skipped over to get to the relevant appointment which would further the investigation, was almost like listening to a symphony with its ever-increasing tempo to the final crescendo.

The revelation of the mystery came as a slight surprise and was completely satisfying. My only gripe was with Strike’s monologue where he explains every nuance of his investigation. Though the explanation of his process was necessary, the way it was done in the book felt unnatural.

In the end, I would say the book was an entertaining read and if you are a fan of detective novels then this book will not disappoint.

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The Homing Pigeons -Review

The Homing Pigeons by Sid Bahri is Aditya and Radhika’s story. They love each other but things never go as planned for them. At every stage of their life one thing or another pulls them apart. But like homing pigeons, they always come back to each other. The concept of the book is lovely. The idea of two people whom life keeps bringing together but they are just unable to make their relationship work is great. And yet this story fails miserably in execution.

The story is stretched so much that it comes apart at the seams. The many situations that Aditya and Radhika end up in, though genuine at first began to come across as contrived. They seem made up just to keep the story going in a certain direction. Every relationship in this book is treated frivolously except Radhika and Aditya’s love for each other. Both the main characters are estranged from their respective parents, Radhika has divorced her first husband, her second husband is dead, she hates her step daughter, Aditya and his wife loathe each other but there doesn’t seem to be an  adequate cause for the hatred. It just became tedious to read the two characters reminisce about their troubled relationship.

The narrative style the author has used, where he uses the perspective of both his lead characters to tell their story, resulted in repetitions of the same events and an over simplification of the plot. The book alternates between Radhika and Aditya’s voice with one chapter in her voice and the next in Aditya’s. This is a clever device but I think the charm of a love story usually is that the reader is left wondering along with the protagonist what is going on in the other person’s mind. Since this story is written with two perspectives, that mystery is gone.  Also, the author went back and forth from the past to the present. This would have been very effective if the author had put some effort into the transitions and created an interesting present for the characters. The present day Aditiya and Radhika live in the past, they don’t have anything significant, no family, and no friends in their present life. The switching between the two perspectives, the two different times did not add much value to the story; in fact it made the reading tiresome.

The book is not well edited. It is peppered with grammatical errors, some bad metaphors and it is too long. The book would have worked if the writing was brilliant and the book was shorter.  I struggled to get to the end of this book, I wouldn’t recommend it.

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When the Signal Turns Red

“When the Signal Turns Red” by Jayanand Ukey is a modern-day love story. The main characters, Girish & Prajakta have been together for 4 years and are about to be engaged. With their engineering degrees and job offers from prestigious Indian companies, they seem to be set for a bright and happy future. Unfortunately, before their engagement, both Girish & Prajakta’s job offers are rescinded due to the slowing economy. This puts a dent in their happily ever after, mainly in the form of Prajakta’s father who refuses to marry his daughter to someone without a steady income.
The book would have been an enjoyable read despite the generic plot, if not for the following reasons. The topmost being the mediocre writing and the dialogues which were labored, unoriginal; and lacked wit or humor. There was no natural flow to the story. In fact the same scenes are repeated so often, I felt I was reading a very badly written version of the Groundhog Day. There wasn’t a single sentence in the book that made me feel like the book was worth my time.
Sometimes the saving grace for a book with bad writing and a generic plot can be well etched characters. People in the book who incite emotion in the reader, it could be love, hate, curiosity anything but indifference. The characters in this book though were completely flat. There wasn’t an adequate physical description of any of the characters, the back stories for all of them were thin and uninteresting, and all the characters lacked depth or dimension. It was impossible to make any emotional connection to Girish or Prajakta or anyone else in the book. It became a chore just to finish the book despite the short length.
By the time the climax came around, I thought it was impossible for me to be any more disappointed with this story but I was wrong. The way the problem of the loss of Girish’s job was resolved, the way the new man favored by Prajakta’s father is taken out of the picture, all of it just brought home the staleness and lack of imagination evident in every aspect of this story.
I would not recommend this book unless you are stranded on a deserted island and this is the only available entertainment, maybe not even then.

(Note- A free copy of this book was received from the author for this review)

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The Collaborator by Mirza Waheed

Mirza Waheed’s “The Collaborator” is the story of Nowgam, a border village in Kashmir, set in the early ’90s at the height of the insurgency. The narrator is the son of the village headman, stuck in his village becasue of his father’s decision to stay, even after everyone else flees either across the border or further into India.
The narrative moves from the present, where the son of the headman is forced to work for the Indian Army, to the past, when the village was a happy place, full of life. This structure works well in creating a stark sense of horror, tragedy and loneliness. Especially when the narrator recalls the many hours he spent in the valley near his village playing cricket, singing songs, talking about mundane things with his four best friends while working in the same valley, now a dumping site for the dead bodies of alleged insurgents killed by the Indian Army. Or when he walks down the main street of his village which some time back was alive with men and women he knew and greeted every day.
The character of the narrator, a 19-year-old boy, who lives in a ghost village, has lost his best friends to the insurgency and is forced to spend his days working for someone he despises, doing work he hates, that of collecting weapons and Id cards from the dead bodies in the valley, engages your attention and immediately pulls you into his story. You see the world from the eyes of this Kashmiri boy, his confusion with regards to what is true and where he belongs, summarized in this line, “For a Kashmiri there is always an Indian and a Pakistani version of everything”, his desire to be a part of the movement at the same time his reluctance to do anything as drastic as kill his boss, the Indian Army Captain, his need to understand the reason his friends did not ask him to join them across the border, his memories of his beautiful village and most of all his hopes for his and his family’s future. All of it is brought to a not unexpected but elegant conclusion, the only way this story could have ended was with a lot of questions left unanswered.
The book is a serious read. It has vivid images of death and torture and the destruction of a way of life. Though the language gets slightly over descriptive and wordy, I would still recommend this book because it tackles the subject of militancy, a sense of country & belonging, loyalty, friendship and kinship with a rare insight.

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Indian Quills Reading Challenge

I have decided to participate in this challenge as I love to read Indian writing. I think this will be a great opportunity to discover more Indian writers and also spread the word about my favourite Indian writers. I think about one book a month so 12 books will be my target for this challenge.

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Em & The Big Hoom

Em and the Big Hoom by Jerry Pinto is the book I have been telling everyone I meet to read. I am not sure how to describe what the book is about because to condense this story into 2-3 lines feels impossible. And saying that it is a story of the narrator and his family, mainly his mom who is a manic-depressive is just not enough even though I have done it now.

From the first page, I knew I made the right decision in buying it because I knew I will read it many times. If for nothing else, then for the writing. Every sentence has been chiseled and carved to perfection. And if I were the kind of person to underline memorable quotes, this book would have pencil marks all over it.

Jerry Pinto brings the characters alive. Every time I opened the book I entered the 1 BHK in Mahim where this family lives. I watched as Em slashed her wrists, I recognized the helplessness the narrator felt when there is nothing he could do while his mother suffered; the determination of the kids to maintain a veneer of normalcy in front of anyone who is not part of the family; the isolation they felt despite a steady stream of well-wishers. This book communicated all of these emotions without self-pity. The matter of fact tone and the emotional restraint in the book are what made this story so real and moving. By the end of the book I was in tears.

Despite all of the charged emotional content, not once does the story devolve into melodrama. In fact there were plenty of laugh out loud moments.The author does a marvelous job of maintaining that balance between pain & humor that comes instinctively to us in times of crisis. And he does it without it becoming morbid or cynical.

Anyone who has ever dealt with the sickness and death of a loved one will relate to some aspect of this story. I think everyone should read this book.

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