Monday, December 28, 2015

Book Review: The Murder of Sonia Raikonnen by Salil Desai

Title: The Murder of Sonia Raikonnen
Author: Salil Desai
Publisher: Fingerprint Publishing
Genre: Murder Mystery (Fiction)
Date:  2015
Price: Rs.250
Pages: 326

The story begins with a strange incident that the author has chosen as a starter to leave the reader aghast and wondering "to themselves "did it really happen?", setting the perfect stage for the story to unfold. It then shifts to the plot where a woman's body has been found at the edge of a park near the wire mesh as if clinging for help. It is the corpse of Sonia Raikonnen, a Finnish citizen. The brutal murder of a girl which looked like rape on a superficial view but only a disguise to depict that later sets in motion a hunt for her murderer. 

Inspector Salalkar gets gearing into finding who could be the killer, who could have the greatest motive in killing her. The writer chooses to move the story on multiple parallel tracks with each short chapter for a character involved which works beautifully as the multiple folds of mystery unravels. On one side one gets an insight into the life and people in Sonia's life but the writer brilliantly gives away only a little each time. Though the reader is made to think he can predict "what next" the author uses this strategy to add more layers of complication and confusion to case. As each person had a motive to kill Sonia, on one track is Badri Tiwari, a driver who runs away with Sonia's bag to his home town;on the other hand the news of her murder un-nerves a corrupt and maligned politician. Then her boyfriend Vaino tries to flee back to Finland before he is caught in the fear of being charged for killing her, as he had a big fight with Sonia visible to everyone in the hotel they were putting up at and he is sure to be a chief suspect.

Her parents are brought into picture who unravel the purpose of her repeated visits to India adds to the web woven thus far. Inspector Saralkar and his team members, each chase a different end and find each suspect equally convincing to have a motive to murder. Who actually did kill her is only unraveled much later with the writer revealing it in very clear terms.

The strategy of running on different parallel tracks yet making a puzzle appear unsolvable is a rare art and the writer exploits it completely indelible ring a book you would want to return to each time you have spare five minutes.An absolutely gripping and interesting thriller which plays on the confusion factor and takes the reader on a roller coaster ride. A recommended read in the genre. 

The language is simple and the editing is crisp delivering it with no drag even for a line.Kudos to the editor here. All in all the story is like a puzzle that get miss arranged every time as anew piece is unraveled. A perfect blend for lovers of crime fiction.

Rating: 4 stars on 5

About the Author

Salil Desai is an author and film-maker. The Murder of Sonia Raikkonen is his fourth book and the second one in the Inspector Saralkar Mystery series. He has penned two more crime novels, Killing Ashish Karve and Murder on a Side Street, as well as a collection of short stories, Lost Libido and Other Gulp Fiction. His writing has been praised by well-known Indian authors Shashi Tharoor, Shobhaa De and Saaz Aggarwal, while his books have received good reviews in The Hindu, The Pioneer, DNA, First City, The Tribune, Afternoon Despatch & Courier, etc.

An alumnus of Film & Television Institute of India (FTII), his dramatized training videos (www.relivingindia.com) are much appreciated in the corporate world, while his short films Making Amends and To Khayega Kya have been screened at various film festivals. Salil also conducts workshops in creative writing and film making for aspiring authors at British Library and leading educational institutions. Over 400 articles, travelogues and features written by him have appeared in The Times of India, Indian Express, DNA, The Tribune, Readers Digest, etc. He lives with his wife and two sons in Pune


Grab your copy now!!! http://www.flipkart.com/inspector-saralkar-mystery-murder-sonia-raikkonen-killing-contact-sport-my-friend-english/p/itme4dk4h5hn8aku?pid=9788172345679&ref=L%3A1544795184908488437&srno=p_1&query=murder+of+sonia+raikonnen&otracker=from-search

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Author Interview: Indrani Singha Majumdar

In the effort to bring out stories from nascent and budding writers as they pave their way into telling their stories to the world, I collided with Indrani Singha Majumdar. Her story has a very fresh and novel plot which includes a daring move into having a transgender character live with a journalist in an unforeseen situation. The story that then unfolds in her book The Paradox of Vantage Point is the one close to human behavior, emotions, acceptance and society pressures. How much can we be the person we showcase and prophecise to be, with all our will and grandiloquence? Travelling through these rough territories the story does leave an impression on your mind and the writer behind is surprisingly very young for a plot of such intensity. We admire Indrani for she dared and therefore decided to know what makes her so. Here is the conversation with her. 

1. What does writing mean to you?
A: Till few years back I took writing as a medium to express myself. It still means the same, but the horizon has widen to the extent that now I just not want to weave a tale; I want to tell engaging stories that can bring a wave of change and from which the readers can take back something. I am not here to be a literary god. I just want to pen down a piece of literature which can help readers to get a self-check. I may or may not succeed. That is for the readers to decide. I will try to better myself with each book.

2. Describe your journey into writing?
A: I always loved writing ever since the shift from pencil to ink pen took place. I remember often my essays were read out loud in class as a mark of appreciation. That used to give me a high. I used to write diary entries for the purpose of giving words to my thoughts. However, I lost my track when I opted for Biotechnology as my graduation subject. It took me 3 long years to realize that this is not what I am meant to do. Finally, with great courage, I told my dad that I want to pursue my masters in Mass Communication. I started my career in content writing and many stories started developing in my mind. As a professional writer, writing technical things is fine for me. The Paradox of Vantage Point was an attempt to give a creative outlet to the story of social equality that I wanted to put across.

3. In your debut novel The Paradox of Vantage Point, what was conceived first: the story or its philosophy? 
A: Apart from the philosophy, it was the yearning to envision an idea that will make the readers connect to their inner horizon.  I never wanted to pen down a market driven story. I wanted to talk about the positive energy that still needs to be released from within.

4. What tempted you to write about the transgender ?
A: You know when I was in Kolkata I used to travel in local trains frequently. Every Monday morning I met a eunuch who, like many other eunuchs, used to seek money from the travelers. Some spared 10 Rs note in disgust while some used to turn their face away. That eunuch started interacting with me regarding my work and area of interest on a regular basis. It used to be a very casual chat like you would have with your friends, and the fellow passengers exchanged ‘are you crazy’ glances with me. It was kind of a reality check that even eunuchs are easy to talk. They breathe, eat, think and live just the way we do. It is only the social stigma that lets us think of them in a demeaning way. That thought kind of stayed with me for many years.
  
5. Was the story conceived from fact or was it fiction?
A: The story was entirely a work of fiction. I wanted to deliver a message without being preachy. Every writer has a unique voice and that should not be compromised in the quest for being the bestselling author of this country.

6. How difficult was it to write about the lead character who is a eunuch in your story? Did you have to resort to doing some ground research on them?
 Although The Paradox of Vantage Point is fiction, I borrowed a lot from real life incidents. Having said that, a writer should always have the ability to dream up situations and tweak those into engaging stuff.

7. Is there a message you wish to give through your story?
A: We have Manabi Bandopadhyay as the world’s first transgender principal. We have Padmini Prakash as India’s first transgender news reader. We have Madhu Kinnar as India’s first transgender Mayor. And many other people who have left behind tales of inspiration. So, you see, we have many people from transgender community who have to potential to rise above the mediocrity if given the right opportunity. But, even the people I mentioned had to undergo lot of misery because of their desire to be different. I hope my story succeeds in bringing a thought to the forefront that they are not misfit. A person’s caliber should always be kept above social expectations. They need our recognition and nothing else.

8. What is your take on the way transgender are treated in our very own country? 
A: There are two diverse pictures that I get. Few months before a group of transgender appealed to Tamil Nadu government for Mercy Killing stating that despite getting the recognition of third gender last year they still struggle everyday to lead a dignified life.  On the other hand, Kolkata welcomed first transgender idol this Durga Puja in order to question the discrimination that society throws. More than anything, I feel, the change has to come from within. We should be more responsible while sharing those “hijra jokes” or remarks. We have to put a lid on things like being judgmental and putting label on people. We will endlessly keep talking about freedom, empowerment, and my choices, but nothing will happen unless we start practicing compassion. Little changes by each one of us can bring the difference.

9.  What are the stories brewing after this one?
 A: There are many going on right now, but I don’t want to rush into things. Unless and until I don’t have a meaningful story, I won’t come back. (Smiles)
  
10. What are your favorite books and writers?
A: There are many but if I have to pick some then I will start with Pride and Prejudice, Kite Runner, The Pursuit of Happyness and Argo. Khalid Hosseini is one writer that I really admire. I get really mesmerized by his tales of redemption and emotional richness. I took back something from each book of his.

11. Your favorite lines from a book are…. 
A: “Love is a colorless,volatile Liquid.Love ignites n burns.Love Leaves no residue neither smoke nor ash.Love is a poison masquerading as spirit of Wine”—Ladies Coupe by Anita Nair

“I liked to put young and old in the same room, because they would certainly have different takes on the same problem.”—Argo by Antonio J Mendez

12. What to you has been the most difficult part of your journey with this book? 
A: Writing is never easy. To many it looks like a glossy, celebrity-kind-of profession. I am sorry to disappoint; it isn’t. You need to practice discipline, churn out creative juices, explore different possibilities and bring the right impact. It is not at all a mechanical thing so you cannot put a time limit. It is much more than putting string of sentences together. I am already having a corporate life so coming back from office and then starting with the story was extremely difficult. The subject I was pursuing in my book was not the usual college rom-coms. I remember I stopped writing for a while after the ‘laundry scene’( if you have read the book you will understand). It was so painful that I couldn’t muster the courage to write further. There were days when I didn’t want to write and there were also days when I was so engrossed that I refused to eat/sleep/talk and just bleed in front of my laptop. In the hindsight, writing makes you grow into a purposeful person. It makes you more humble and enriched.

13.  An advice for the budding authors….
A: I am still no one to give advice to anyone. I am, in fact, a budding author (smiles). However, if I have to suggest one thing for the betterment of storytelling then it would be always keep writing in one flow. Think about editing at a later stage because emotions look best when they are raw. When edited excessively, they look crafted. Story has to be lucid even when delivering a message. 

NV: Thanks a lot Indrani for your time and extremely honest answers.
ISM: The pleasure is mine :).

Book Review: The Recession Groom by Vani

Title: The Recession Groom
Author: Vani
Publisher: Leadstart Publishing
Genre: Fiction
Date:  2015
Price: Rs.299
Pages: 299


Recently a lot of stories in books and movies have been focused on delivering a message subtly with the ingredient of comedy, flavored such that you savor it with pleasure and it touches the heart leaving a lasting impression and is imbibed by the senses for a long time. One such work of writing in this direction addressing the issues of “arranged marriage” - a norm in India is this book The Recession Groom by Vani.

This is the story of Parshuraman an IT professional settled in Toronto, Canada. He is tall, dark, handsome and most importantly an NRI; the perfect dream Indian groom as per Indian parents. Having lost parents early in childhood he is brought up by his grandmother and elder sister, and later on sent to the states and educated with the support of his aunt. He therefore falls into the mould of the traditional Indian guy with values, respect for family and is indebted to their support. His dreams are shaped by years of engraving of thoughts and wishes of his family members, carved on his innocent mind, approved by their morals transforming into a marrying a “perfect Indian bride” of their choice. He lovingly accepts the idea as his own without much thought.  The writer draws the lead character sketch clear and crisp by opening the book with a circumstance where Parshuraman is seduced by his colleague – Jennifer, a white girl, half naked in his house. He however refuses to accept the advancement making it clear that he would marry the Indian girl his family chooses.

As Parshuraman then sets off on a journey to find his soul-mate in an arranged setting, which is predominantly the Indian norm even today; we are set off on a journey that only lightly but surely undresses the hidden reality of the process. It being a trade where the lead character is sized up not so much on his abilities except for one, ‘the earning potential’, the only parameter on the score card that matters, for that is the sole measurement of the bride to be’s security and happiness. His looks, abilities, struggle and hardwork are shadowed by the digits entering his bank balance each month. He manages to score “a good catch” on the Indian score card and is noticed by everyone with daughters of a marriageable age. The neighborhood girls clinging to their windows, each time he moves out, having made a time-table of his movements, approved by their otherwise posing to be cultured parents is one of the few examples of the hilarious, light tone this book adapts to underline a greater darker truth of our society. The confusions of everyday life, the two different teams on mission bride hunt, his sister Ragini and grandmother in India on one and his high on adrenaline aunt Parvati in the U.S on the other; each trying to tie him up with the woman of their dreams keep the tone of the book cheerful.

While in India he faces specimens of women from the lingering on his moves neighborhood girls to the totally stranger girls ready to marry him just because their parents scored him well. On the other side as he begins to find his dream girl in the rich business class of Indians in the U.S, sought by his aunt, he is labeled less ambitious for settling down in Canada by the wealthy prospective father-in-law. He thus measured each time, feels like a commodity and gets tired of the process. On the other hand Jennifer after trying to make him realize her love for him, standing by him in his low times, etc. fails to move him and ultimately begins dating their common friend Bill, who is madly in love with her.

In the middle of all confusion, some settlements and a lot of judging hits recession and the inevitable strikes, people are removed from their jobs for no reason and a dark man in a foreign land is a second priority compared to their own citizens. Parshuraman therefore loses his job. The scorecard now bears the ugly red sign and the digits in the bank balance do not get added to at the end of the month. Aunt Parvati’s never say die attitude, visiting all sorts of witchcraft people and doing what traditional Indian aunts do best – worry and talk, keep the tone cheerful.

The man, an ideal desirable groom girls lined up for garlanding in their dreams as an ideal life partner is alone and has no company. He like a lot of people are ready to take up any job that comes their way only to be earning again, keeping aside the merits of the degrees they earned with such hard work. The aspiring groom now dejected and alone begins to find himself and see things in better perspective. He begins making strong and clear decisions guided by his own will above all. He faces and accepts many realizations, happy as well as unhappy only to be able to fight his circumstances and be able to find himself and his career aspirations for which he has worked. His experiences and tragedies make him more mature, so his decisions more sure than ever before. 
  
In summation the author has beautifully put forth the chaos, love, family values, tradition and process that comprise the traditional Indian wedding. The writing is lucid and draws the reader within instantly, to be hooked to the book that constantly keeps him/her laughing despite the book addressing a very serious topic is the greatest merit of the writer. The book does have certain flaws wherein the voices of certain important characters such as Jennifer or Tara do not come out well. There is also a lacuna in communication between some of them which often interrupts the flow making it a solved puzzle albeit with visible breaks between sections. On the other hand she has formulated amazing secondary characters like the delightful and supportive grandmother and the over energetic Punjabi aunt who is the winner riding the story through her unending dialogues and actions that every Indian can relate to. The author also ensures explanation of the nitty-gritty of Indian norms and therefore the book is suitable for non-Indian readers, giving them an amazing glimpse of the chaos around the “arranged marriage” setting in our nation. The twist at the end of the story is highly unexpected and takes the reader by surprise.

The book falls in line with the likes of much loved movie “Vicky Donor” or the recent blockbuster “Bajrangi Bhaijaan” that leaves the audience thinking due to the subtle art of inoculating the thought of a critical problem with a flavor of comedy. This book is an experience of a similar kind and magnitude. Recently as Indian writing matures from being dominated by “100 rupee novels” by young writers in the fiction genre, to some good quality writing, not just stories but the very art by people of the same generation, writing such as this, aid the cause.

This being her debut writing, the author Vani has set the bar for herself and emerging Indian writers very high. A read worth your time and money. 

Rating: 3.5 stars on 5

About the Author

I was born in Garian, Libya, in a traditional Hindu Punjabi family. My parents prized good education above all else and when I was still small, they decided to move base to Chandigarh, a modern city in the North of India, famed for its educational institutions. As a child, I loved reading, but writing stories of my own never occurred to me, much like everything else. Becoming a doctor wasnt an option, for the very sight of blood made me retch. Mathematics and Excel sheets bored me no end, leaving Humanities as a last resort. I could easily compete for the civil services, my parents reasoned, although, sitting for an exam with a million potential candidates vying for one job didn't make much sense to me. Fortunately, life took a better turn and it was a Masters degree in Economics alongside a programme in Mass Communications that set my foundation for a career in business journalism. Luckily, I got to work in some of the best organizations in India, like The Times of India and The Financial Express. In 2004, I was hit with the desire to write a novel. However, a few drafts and several ideas later, I gave it all up to pursue an MBA degree from Kingston University in London. Of course, I dreamt about MNC firms coveting me, the Deloittes and the McKinseys of the world chasing me with multiple job offers, the likes of Accenture begging me to work for them. The reality was quite different. The completion of my course coincided with the start of global recession and my dreams could never be realized. My situation, nevertheless, prompted me to write my first novel. So, it was all okay in the end.


Grab a copy now!!! http://www.flipkart.com/recession-groom-english/p/itmefqakjhzbs6sx


Saturday, December 5, 2015

Sugar Free Gujarati Mohanthal

My dad has diabetes and that means he cannot enjoy all the sweets that we so greedily devour in the festival season like Diali. I therefore thought of treating him this Diwali with a sugar free version of his favorite Gujarati "Mohanthal". It turned out really well with Sugarfree Natura. I am sharing the recipe here with you. If you have a loved one with diabetes and you don't want them to feel left out on the good things in life then try "Sugarfree Natura" today!


Ingredients:
 4 cups of gram flour
1/4 cup milk
1 tablespoon cardamom powder
2-1/4 cups ghee
1 bottle of Sugarfree Natura (minimum 200 gms)
1/2 cup finely chopped almonds and pistachios

Recipe:
  1. Take a large plate or a pan and grease its sides and bottom with ghee and keep ready before beginning the procedure. 
  2. Take a large bowl full of gram flour, add 1-1/2 cups of ghee to the same, mix to break crumbs.
  3. Add milk and stir. Mix well by rubbing in between palms so ass to break the lumps formed. 
  4. In another large sauce pan heat the remaining ghee, and add the flour mixture made above by continuous mixing till it turns golden brown. 
  5. Add the nuts and cardamom till it is well combined. Judge by the emanating aroma.
  6. Heat the remaining ghee in a large sauce pan and add the above flour mixture, stirring continuously until golden brown and releases a roasted aroma about 7 to 10 minutes. Stir in the nuts and cardamom until combined.
  7. In another vessel mix sugar free in a warm water.
  8. Gradually add the sugar-free syrup thus prepared. keep mixing till it thickens. Do not stir too long else the paste shall become too rubbery.
  9. Taste the mix, if needed add more sugar free powder after dissolving in water. Please do not add the powder. 
  10. Turn off heat and transfer the Mohanthal mixture into the greased rectangular pan, leveling such that the Mohanthal is about two inches in height.
  11. Run a knife or the sharp edge of the mixing steel spoon to cut square pieces immediately once the mix is set in the greased pan.
  12. Your sugar free Mohanthal is ready.
  13. You can store it at room temperature for 3-4 days or upto 15 days in refrigerator.
                                                            Gujarati Mohanthal
Sweets during Diwali isn't something you want to miss and for a loved one with diabetes try this product today. To know more, log on to http://sugarfree-india.com/.


Thursday, December 3, 2015

The Paradox Of Vantage Point by Indrani Singha Majumdar

Title: The Paradox Of Vantage Point
Author: Indrani Singha Majumdar
Publisher: Educreation Publishing
Genre: Fiction
Date:  2015
Price: Rs.199
Pages: 160



We all have a rebel within us, we are taught to fight the wrong, as through history humans have been wronged by another group of humans. The major cause of misery for a smaller group of humans often called “outliers” in better words than the ones used by what constitutes a larger group that humans, who tend to collectively form another dominant group (of people of the same customs, sex, gender, creed, religion or worst of all opinion) popularly known as "society". We raise our voices, write furiously and even return our greatest awards, the ones that signify our lives work and worth for we believe in something. But believing is a small minute step, living and facing a very different story. This is the precise point that the writer Indrani Singha Majumdar makes in her debut novel “The Paradox of Vantage Point”. She does this in a seemingly simple soul searching journey of a journalist who wishes to become a writer. As she begins working on her book during a sabbatical, she finds her own nature, her own beliefs in people and the very creative process of her writing being challenged, as if there is a need for her to evolve to reach her destination of writing better.

Her first interaction is with her pre-conceived notion that a eunuch who peacefully existed as her neighbor before, as she never paid attention when working was now a nuisance. She files a complaint with the building managers to get him out, tagging him as “not fit for their locality.” The eunuch Raghubir Kishor, the real ‘hero” of the story, having faced worse in life, confronts her directly on the subject matter. Being impulsive, yet a good human being at the base she realizes her mistake but then it’s too late. He is been thrown out from his home already, it been given to another person. Raghubir Kishor who doesn’t believe in giving up gives the guilt in Anwesha no choice but to keep him in her apartment till he finds one.

Anwesha’s highly sought sabbatical is jeopardized by another person’s company. She knows and has written and spoken all about gender equality but can she accept him in society as a room-mate? Can she accept his presence in front of his friends and family? Will things between them improve? Or beliefs and rights exist on paper and sometimes even we don’t know that deep within we are prejudiced. Join Anwesha in this soul searching journey as she finds herself, her pre-existing notions, her passion and her life figured out, finally to know if she does complete her dream and write her story?

The story moves very slowly in the beginning but catches up pace really well in second half where it is spiced with travel and soul searching. The writer’s journey then looks real to the reader and one nearly experiences her dilemma, thought process and sentiments. The book however makes abrupt transitions from one chapter to another, which should have ideally been much smoother. This 160 page story which does manage to put forth its point could be more entertaining if the very backdrop in which it is set was used to create more situations of conflict, friendship, confrontations and soul searching. At some points the author has introduced some characters, landscapes abruptly who could have been exploited in a much stronger manner. However since the writer has chosen such tough characters and a unique, difficult to put forth idea and managed to present her point substantially; I believe she would exploit every factor of the story better in her writings to come.