Summer Holidays by Koral Dasgupta

Book Name- Summer Holidays

Author- Koral Dasgupta

Publisher- Rupa Publications

Buy it from- Amazon

Blurb:

Three cities—Mumbai, Bangalore and Shimla. And a big family feud spanning over sixteen years. Summer holidays is a fairy tale for adults with a comic take on modern families, their ideals, beliefs and prejudices.

My view:

Summer Holidays’ by Koral Dasgupta is a light, funny and entertaining read. It’s a story about love and not a love story. I know this sounds cliché but its totally true. The story is bout different kinds of love- love between siblings, love between friends, love between a boy and a person whom he considers his mentor. It also includes love between two people. If you pick up this book thinking that it’s a love story and that you’ll be able to read/see the regular romantic scenes between a couple, then sadly you’re mistaken.

Written in simple and easy language, ‘SummerHolidays’ is mostly a story about sibling love and rivalry. As the blurb of the book already suggests Mira’s father and Rishi’s mother were siblings who were in a fight for the last 16 years due to which Mira and Rishi both had to grow up separately. Even though shy, introvert Mira was happiest when she was with her loud, extrovert cousin Rishi she had no choice but to let go of him in her childhood. However, in the modern world due to the advancement of technology and obviously facebook, both Mira and Rishi are able to connect with each other once again and they decide to live together in Mumbai where both of them were completing their respective studies.

Set in three cities- Mumbai, Bangalore and Shimla, the author has portrayed the difficult familial relationships in a simple yet elegant manner which is simply praiseworthy. It is a story about joint family and how other people in the family are affected if two people within the same family fight with each other. The writing style of the author is funny, the characters are vividly interesting and the well placed humour and wit just adds on to the list of why you should pick up the book to read. The author keeps in mind of all people, making the book simple and relatable. Koral Dasgupta shows, through her writing, that not every book should be written in hard language to make it a good book. A simple book with a simple storyline and language is just as great as a book with difficult language and plot.

Even though I have not read other works by the same author, I definitely would love to read them as this book has touched my heart and I expect to love all the other books by her. I would recommend this to all who want to a relaxing, light hearted read or someone who’s in need of a book with a humorous take on relationships. 

Overall rating: 4/5

I would like to thank Koral Ma’am and Rupa Publications for sending me a copy of this book for an honest unbiased opinion.

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In conversation with Amrita Mahale

Amrita Mahale is the author of the novel Milk Teeth, published by Westland Context. Her writing has appeared in Hindustan Times, Scroll, Himal Southasian and Brown Paper Bag. She was trained as an aerospace engineer and is a product manager at a nonprofit research lab working on AI for social good. Here’s a sneak peak of a conversation I had with her.

1. You were in a career of aeronautical engineering, so what made you move towards writing? 

I studied aerospace engineering – first as an undergraduate at IIT Bombay and then as a graduate student at Stanford – but I have never worked in the aeronautical industry! I worked in management consulting and technology start-ups for nearly a decade before I started writing my novel. I have wanted to be a writer since I was a child. One thing was always clear to me: no matter what I studied or where I worked, I would work towards being a writer. I started with baby steps, writing alongside my full-time job, but a few years in I decided to quit my job to focus on my novel. 

 

2. How did you come up with the plot of this story? 

It happened slowly, over a period of several years. I have now thought about the three protagonists and the issues they struggle with for almost a decade now. The starting point for the novel was the idea of a prophecy that comes true for the most unexpected reasons: a prophecy that these two childhood friends would grow up and get married, even though have very different lives and personalities. It was a time in my life when I was thinking a lot about the kinds of social pressures that compel people to make certain decisions. This evolved into the idea that sometimes prophecies are redundant because people live the same lives over and over again, that their lives are scripted by social pressures more than by fate. I decided to tell this story against the backdrop of a rapidly changing country and the book became something bigger than just the story of two friends.

 

3. I noticed that none of your characters in the story pursue mainstream careers like engineering or law or doctorate. Why’s that?

One protagonist does, but two don’t (one of the characters is a journalist, the other is an architect). It was a conscious decision. If all my characters did what I do for a living, what new things would I have learnt? I am very interested in cities, in heritage buildings, architecture, and urban planning and development. Civic journalism and architecture were two lenses through which I could explore these topics.

 

4. Since this book is set in a middle-class Mumbai suburb and is a definite treat to those who are familiar with the city, do you think it will have the same impact on a non Mumbaikar?

I think so, because the main themes of the story are pretty universal. It’s a coming of age story, it’s a story about love and friendship, about young people trying to find their place in changing world while remaining true to an idea they have of themselves. Of course, people familiar with Mumbai will see more layers in the book. Readers from Mumbai seem to have loved that I don’t name many of the landmarks and restaurants I describe in the novel. The book works perfectly well without those details, but for Mumbai locals, there’s an added thrill of being in the know.

 

5. I found the title Milk Teeth to be very interesting. How did you come up with it? What does it exactly refer to? 

Milk teeth evoke childhood and a sense of becoming. They are signs of growth, of coming of age. The novel itself is about these characters figuring out who they are and finding their place in the world, and it’s also about all the changes the Indian middle class and the city of Mumbai went through in the 90s right after liberalisation. The phrase ‘milk teeth’ appears just once in the novel, in a passage that refers to the peace after the 1993 Mumbai blasts. It was only when I was on draft number four that the words jumped out at me: it hit me that this was the perfect title. 

 

6. From childhood, you have travelled and lived in different cities, but it seems like you have a strong affinity towards Mumbai. Is this the reason for choosing it as the base of your book or was it just a coincidence?

Certainly not a coincidence. I was born in Mumbai but spent most of my childhood in Gujarat, till I moved back to the city as a teenager. My entire extended family – grandparents, aunts and uncles and aunts, cousins – was in Mumbai, so my summer and winter vacations were spent there. And my own family moved every two years, so the sense of continuity in my childhood came from spending all my vacations in Mumbai. It is the place I have always thought of as home and it is the city I know best.

 

7. According to you, what entails the chaos of putting a novel together? How did you navigate your way through this chaos while writing your debut novel?

Writing fiction is a pretty chaotic process. You are literally making things up, creating something out of almost nothing. This chaos becomes easier to navigate if you start at the heart of your story and expand outwards. It’s important to ask yourself what your story is really about. Each time I was stuck, I would go back to what I really wanted to say and that would guide me to some extent. 

 

8. Which part of the writing process do you particularly hate? 
Most of it, haha. The process of writing is mostly torture, far less fun than thinking about writing. It is boring, grueling, and a test of grit and patience more than anything else. The novel Shalimar the Clown (by Salman Rushdie) has this wonderful line: “Sometimes your heart’s desire hung from the highest branch of the highest tree and you could never climb high enough to reach it. Or else you just waited patiently and it fell into your lap.” This happens with writing as well. You play with scenarios and combinations of words, you turn over many possibilities in your head. For the longest time, nothing works. Then suddenly, things fall into place. It feels like magic but it really is a reward for not giving up. 

 

9. People often re-read books they love. Do you do the same? According to you, is that a good thing or a bad thing? 

I rarely reread entire books, maybe two or three a year, but I revisit scenes and chapters very often. Reading is a good thing, but what you read, how many books you read a year, and how often you reread books, that’s all up to the reader. Nobody should be judged for these decisions. 

 

10. Now that Milk Teeth is out and is quite successful, what are your future plans? 

I am working on a second book, but it’s too early to talk about it. I have only written a few pages so far.

 

11. Message to your readers.

To my readers I would say: Don’t give up on reading, even though your generation has more distractions and more amusements on offer than mine did. Books build bridges to new worlds and offer new ways of looking at the familiar. And even if it might seem that TV and movies do the same things, books are different: reading is about the exercising the imagination, it is about learning to spend time with yourself.

I would like to thank Amrita Mahale for agreeing to this interview and giving me time out of her busy schedule.

Ramayana Versus Mahabharata by Devdutt Pattanaik

Book Name- Ramayana Versus Mahabharata: My Playful Comparison

Author- Devdutt Pattanaik

Publisher- Rupa Publications

Buy it from- Amazon

Blurb:

It is a popular belief that the Ramayana is idealistic, while the Mahabharata is realistic. Yet these two epics have identical building blocks, identical themes, and identical history. 

In this ground-breaking book, Devdutt Pattanaik, India’s most popular mythologist, explores the similarities and dissimilarities between the two epics in a ‘playful analysis’ accompanied by his signature illustrations. Whether it is the family structure, forest exile, or war, the comparison between the two epics proves a startling point—the Mahabharata is in fact a reaction to the events in the Ramayana. 

Ideas in this book are distributed over 56 chapters. In temple ritual, Vishnu is offered 8 different meals daily, different on all seven days of the week—56 dishes in all. May each chapter serve as a mouth-watering offering to the Vishnu within you.

My view:

If you have been following my blog, you would know that I’ve been reading quite a lot of mythological books lately. Even though I’m not a mythology buff, I’m trying to explore all types of genres. To be honest, I always thought that mythology was boring to read. When you can read romantic, adventurous , mysterious, thrilling books then why read something that has happened so many decades back? Suffice to say, I never thought that I’d be reading them. But sadly I’ve been proven wrong. The few mythological books I’ve read (thanks to Rupa Publications) have been pretty great and interesting. So it’s no surprise really that I picked up ‘Ramayana Versus Mahabharata‘ by Devdutt Pattanaik as my next read.

Ramayana and Mahabharata are the two epics that have been told to us when we were kids by our parents and grandparents. No Indian child is unaware of these two stories. One is about the morally upright prince Ram, who gives up his kingdom and goes on exile to fulfil his father’s wishes. But afterwards he sends his wife on exile to uphold dharma! Whereas the other epic is about dynastic feuds and war for inheritance between brothers. One of the book is said to be idealistic while the other is said to be very realistic. Both of these stories contain different interpretations of dharma and in this book by Devdutt Pattanaik, he does a comparitive analysis of these two epics and tries to portray both the similarities and dissimilarities between the two.

The book, divided in 8 parts & 56 chapters, has each of its chapter dedicated to one similar aspect found in both the mythologies. The book gives us a beautiful comparison between the two epics and fills us with knowledge and interpretation which one might have missed while reading the original version. We are aware that both these epics are usually read independently but this book is unique in its own way that it gives insight into how they are related and intertwined with each other. The hectic research work done by the author shines throughout the book and can be felt by the way Pattanaik explains everything with ease. Its also important to note that this book is more like a summary of the two great epics and cannot be read as an introduction to them by a first time reader as it does not elaborate the details in a story like mode. The striking illustrations by the author is just the added bonus you get on reading this book!

Devdutt Pattanaik strikes again and shows that he’s the leading mythologist of India with his interesting and colourful comparison. An unputdownable read, this book is quick paced as well as pretty informative. It also has an interesting spin by showing us how both the mythologies can be understood in the 21st century. Again, this book is for you, Mythology lovers! You hear me?

Overall rating: 5/5

I received a copy of this book from Rupa Publications for an honest unbiased opinion. Thank you.

Ashtamahishi by Radha Viswanath

Book Name- Ashtamahishi – The Eight Wives of Krishna

Author- Radha Viswanath

Genre- Indian Literature/Mythology

Publisher- Rupa Publications

Blurb:

Krishna, the eternal lover, is believed to have charmed the heart of every woman he came across and his marriage with 16,100 women is the stuff of numerous ballads that have enthralled us over ages. But who amongst them all did Krishna love? Who ruled his heart and influenced his life? 
Not one, but there were eight women whom Krishna married solely on the basis of mutual love and respect. Each of these wives—the Ashtabharyas—contributed to making Krishna what he was. While their names figure in the text of the great epic Mahabharata, not much has been discussed about them. Who are these women and what was that special ‘something’ in each of them that won Krishna over? What were each of those relationships like? 
Radha Viswanath delves deep into the great Hindu epics, puranas and other ancient texts, weaving nuggets of information with rich imagination to give us a fascinating picture of Krishna’s life with these eight extraordinary women.

My view:

As the title suggests, this book tells us all about Krishna and his relationship with his wives- not all of them but the 8 principle wives- Rukmini, Jambavanti, Satyabhama, Kalindi, Mitravinda, Nagnajiti, Bhadra devi, Lakshana. It gives us the details of how he met them and wed them (under what conditions) and how they helped him in his life. Although he had 16 thousand and 8 wives, these 8 wives were the most important as they had taken birth for the sole purpose of marrying Lord Krishna. Interesting much? It also gives us other details of Krishna’s life which one might be unaware of.

This book also shows us the lesser known sides of Krishna and the different phases of his life (like a son, a father, a brother, a husband, a lover). They have been depicted so beautifully with mesmerising language that you won’t be able to put down the book once you’ve started it. It has portrayed the human nature/side of Krishna, unlike other books where he has been depicted only as a God. Throughout the whole book, the hard work that the author has put in her research can be seen and that’s what makes the book worth reading. It’s narrated in a simple language and the writing style is so enchanting that one simply falls deeper into the story as one proceeds. Other positive points of the book are it’s strong characters and the tight plotline along with the impressive narration style.

Even though I’m not a mythology fan, I found this book quite appealing and informative. I have read Radha Vishwanath’s previous book ‘Ravana-Leela’ and was pretty sure that this book would not be a letdown. And boy was I right. I would recommend this to all mythology lovers out there. Guys, trust me on this that this one’s definitely for you!

Overall rating: 4/5

I received a copy of this book from Rupa Publications for an honest unbiased opinion. Thank you.

Once Upon an IAS Exam by K. Vijayakarthikeyan

Book Name- Once Upon an IAS Exam

Author- K. Vijayakarthikeyan

Publisher- Rupa Publications

Buy it from- Amazon

Blurb:

Vishy’s worst nightmare-failing the UPSC’s Civil Services exam-has come true. He is plagued by insecurity, fear and doubts. The mother of all competitive examinations has rejected him and he needs a reason to live. So, what does he do? He tells his best friend Rithika, ‘I love you. Will you marry me?’ 

In Once Upon an IAS Exam, twenty-five-year-old Vishy tries to overcome the uncertainty and confusion about his future and figure out ways of convincing Rithika to marry him. Things turn even more interesting, funny and emotional as Vishy reattempts to conquer ‘Mount IAS’. As he tries to take his academic and love life towards safety, he seeks refuge in the world of IAS coaching centres. 

Set in the bustling Civil Services exam coaching hub of Anna Nagar in Chennai, this book is a hilarious account of the actuality, stress and struggle faced by millions of candidates who prepare year after year for one of India’s toughest exams. Join Vishy as he sets out to prove his mettle to the world-and himself. Will Rithika accept the love of her best friend? Will Vishy overcome his sense of failure? Will there be a happily ever after?

My view:

Even though it is not a self help book, ‘Once Upon an IAS Exam’ definitely does the work that sometimes even self help books fail to do. It motivates you and sets you straight to focus on the goal you dream to achieve.

The whole story revolves around a Chennai boy named Vishy, a former engineer, who now dreams to be an IAS officer. In order to do so, he needs to pass the UPSC exam, which, unfortunately, he has already failed once. But that doesn’t deter him and he focuses on cracking the exam the next time. With the help of his family, friends, teachers and his love interest, he aspires to clear the exam and be the person he wants to be. Now, whether he cracks the exam or fails it, is what you’ll have to find out on your own by reading the book!

Written in a lucid, straightforward way, without any twists and turns, it revolves around how Vishy tries his level best to fulfill his dream. It is short and simplistic and the author portrays how the educational world has also turned into a money-making one which is the harsh reality. It shows how the tutorials for the competitive exams make studies a part of business. The author also describes how a student feels and does during this time of high duress and stress. He does so exceedingly well allowing every reader to relate with Vishy. In some places, you also get motivated and inspired by the characters the author has woven. They make you want to be like them and allows you to think of the better that is yet to come. It is a light read which can be finished within a day and is perfect for anyone wanting to go through a breezy read after reading something heavy. I would recommend this book to anyone willing to read a funny, short story for time pass and enjoyment.

Overall rating- 3.5/5

I received a copy of this book from The Bookoholics for an honest unbiased opinion. Thank you.

Swami in a Strange Land: How Krishna Came to the West by Joshua M. Greene

Book Name- Swami in a Strange Land: How Krishna Came to the West

Author- Joshua M. Greene

Publisher- Jaico Books

Buy it from- Amazon

Blurb:

In 1965, a seventy-year-old man set sail from India to America with a few books in his bag, pennies in his pockets, and a message of love in his heart. He landed in New York at the peak of the revolutionary counterculture movement of the ’60s, and went on to spark a global spiritual renaissance that led to the creation of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness.

Through the depiction of Prabhupada as both an enlightened luminary and a personable, funny, and conscientious individual, Swami in a Strange Land shows why cultural icons such as George Harrison and Allen Ginsberg incorporated Prabhupada’s teachings into their lives, and why millions more around the globe embarked upon the path of bhakti yoga in his footsteps.

Set in locations as far ranging as remote Himalayan caves and the gilded corridors of Paris’s City Hall, Swami in a Strange Land traces the rise of Eastern spirituality in the West—and in particular, the rise of yoga culture and vegetarianism and the concepts of karma and reincarnation.

A remarkable journey into the deepest dimensions of the human experience, Swami in a Strange Land shows how one man with a dream can change the world.

My view:

‘Swami in a Strange Land’ by Joshua M. Greene is a wonderfully written spiritual memoir of the revolution and movement in an unknown land. It covers the life of Prabhupada, his devotion towards his Guru and how he reaches overseas on the wishes of his Guru, spreading the Krishna consciousness all over the world.

As the title suggests, it is a book explaining the historic achievement of Swamiji in a strange, unknown land. With a great style of narration, it shifts smoothly from past to present explaining the various events that had occured and the struggles Swamiji had faced in America while trying to gain followers and popularizing the Krishna consciousness and the Hare Rama Hare Krishna chant.

Reading the book makes one realize how well the author has researched and how much effort, time, patience he has put into making this book a success. The author has done a commendable job in bringing forth the events, both personal and public, which many people might not be even aware of. All in all, it was an amazing book. It provides a well detailed and well written account of the inspiring story of Srila Prabhupada.

Overall rating: 4/5

Thank you Jaico Publishing House for the copy of the book for an honest, unbiased opinion.

The Chronicles of Kali- The Secret Book of Asurs by Prithvi Raj

Book Name- The Chronicles of Kali- The Secret Book of Asurs

Author- Prithvi Raj

Publisher- Vishwakarma Publications

Buy it from- Amazon

Blurb:

A fantasy/fiction novel that lures the reader into a parallel world of ferocious Subterranean Asurs plotting and planning to enslave the entire human race. Kali the protagonist, a regular teenager, soon learns of her supernatural abilities after which her life gets swept up in a whirlwind of cosmic adventure along with her companions; an ageless comrade, an unsuspectingmother and an enlightened master who help in fulfilling her destiny. The journey unfolds some thrilling mysteries across geographies; from the city of Angels – Los Angeles to our very own ancient Varanasi. An interesting read that cleverly clubs together history, adventure, and fantasy.

My view:

Mythology. A genre from which I’ve read very few books. However, the ones I’ve read have been pretty good and this one was no exception to that.

In this story, the author tried to connect the protagonist- a teenage girl named Kali with supernatural abilities destined to save the world from evil- with the ancient stories of Goddess Kali- the destroyer of the devil Raktabij Asurs. Today, the most harmful thing in the world are the evil thoughts floating around in ones head. This is what the author portrays by showing how evil asurs have been infiltrating our thoughts and making us their prisoners for centuries.

However, the story is not only about Kali. It’s also about her adoptive mother Pat, who is a writer of a best-seller. She had gone to visit Varanasi in the search of answers to the secret how Asurs are controlling the thinking power of human. She visited the place in search of Vyaas and the secret book of Asurs which holds the ultimate key to life. In short, the story is about a teenage girl with extraordinary powers and how she uses them to defeat the evil lurking around with the help of her mother and master.

The whole book was a unique mythological retelling with a commendable writing style. It consisted of the old tales but was written in a new, fresh and modern way which made it more appealing rather than boring. The author has given a modern touch to the old tales of Kali and shares his knowledge in a fascinating way. The vivid descriptions, the incredible narration and the refreshing plot makes the book so captivating that it keeps you hooked till the very end!

This book is a perfect read for all mythology lovers. However, it can be read by all, even the ones who are not into this genre.

Overall rating: 3.75/5

I received a copy of the book from Vinfluencers for an honest unbiased opinion. Thank you.