Jan-Feb 2011: Book Reviews

Heartbreaks & Dreams! The Girls @ IIT
Fiction: Parul A. Mittal
Srishti Publishers (2010)
Reviewer: Deepa Kandaswamy

A girl in an engineering college is already in a minority and when it is no ordinary engineering college but an IIT, what sorts of challenges does a young woman face? Find out as Tanu, a small town girl from Gujarat realizes her dream of attending IIT Delhi, only to find it’s not exactly what she thought it would be. Tanu, a school topper, suddenly finds she is just an average student in a class of school toppers from all over India! Through gruelling course work, ragging, eccentric professors and jealous seniors, college is a minefield to negotiate, especially when standards are the highest and every graduate is expected to either secure a masters’ admission in a top university or get a job in a top company.

Then, there are consuming questions: is love a biological feeling, chemical reaction or an outcome of physical proximity or mathematical probability? What is the eligible bachelor paradox in game theory and is it applicable in real life? Tanu and her friends come up with different conclusions from an engineering perspective to help many engineering students both women and men!

Campus suicides, the invisible caste system in the IIT departments and the paranoid women’s hostel management - read how Tanu and her friends cope, in Parul A. Mittal debut novel, ‘Heartbreaks and Dreams! Girls @IIT’.

An M.S. from USA and an IIT Delhi alumnus, Mittal worked in the corporate world before following in the footsteps of her more famous batch mate at IIT-D, Chetan Bhagat. She holds her own and succeeds in creating a new genre in fiction like none before - women in technology (WIT)!

Being an engineer myself and the only girl in a class of 67 students to boot, I caught myself empathizing with Tanu and her friends, at various points in the story. Funny, logical, heart-warming and smart in turns, Mittal is a promising author and a fresh new voice.


Writing Short Stories: Mastering The Craft
Author: Suseela P. Ravi
Publisher: Writers Workshop (2010)
Reviewer: Deepa Kandaswamy

So, you've always wanted to write fiction. But how do you start a story? How do you hook a reader from the first line? How do you evolve your own unique style? What are the different types of short stories and how do you write some of the successful models? When do you decide if your story is going to be plot driven or character driven? How do you create a hero? How do you evoke sensory perceptions in readers? How do you determine the point of view (PoV)? These and many more questions are asked and answered by author Suseela P. Ravi in her very readable book, “Writing Short Stories: Mastering the Craft.”

As far as I can recall, this is the first book of its kind written by an Indian author for fellow Indians, especially Indian writers in English. In a slim book of 110 pages, the author manages to cover all the basic components of a short story: plot, dialogue dos and don'ts, description, style, PoV, show vs. tell, effective techniques used by successful writers in narration, the importance of revision and rewriting. She deals with each component in detail and uses plenty of examples to illustrate. The chapter on the role of sensory perception in writing is capably done by Sucharita Dutta-Asane. The book also includes three interesting short stories by three award
winning Indian authors to illustrate conclusively the points made by Suseela P. Ravi.

Suseela Ravi is a medical doctor who worked in the USA for over thirty years and returned to India in 2004. While in the USA, she attended creative writing workshops in Stanford University. She currently lives in Bangalore. While her short stories have won several contests and been published, this is her first non-fiction
book, and recommended for all those who nurse dreams of writing fiction,  especially short stories.

The book is easy to understand and is a much better investment than a creative writing course! The author's style is no-nonsense and jargon-free. This book would make a thoughtful gift forsomeone you know who dreams of being a writer of fiction one day!


Balloonists
Fiction: Rajorshi Chakraborti
Tranquebar Publishers (2010)
Reviewer: Monideepa Sahu

A lively, entertaining story laced with touches of self-deprecating wit, this book will hold your attention till the last pages. Young British-Asian writer Dev learns that his live-in girlfriend is pregnant, and reacts by rushing off to Munich. He needs to meet Heidi, his ex-girlfriend, to find a manuscript he had left with her. What matters, more than the manuscript, is at although Heidi left him long ago, Dev still hopes for a second chance with her. Soon after they meet, Heidi disappears without a trace. To find her, Dev is compelled to team up with Rodrigo, the man Heidi had left him for. The squabbling duo of ex-boyfriends set off on a quest that takes them all the way to Kolkata and then Shillong. In their hearts, both hold dreams of reuniting with Heidi again. Rodrigo isn't quite as irritating as Dev would have us believe. Dev grudges him a “tiny bit of due credit, soon to be snowed under by an avalanche of idiocy.” Dev himself has his “overdue light bulb moments”.

The peripheral characters have the potential for being interesting , but Chakraborti doesn't flesh them out quite as much as we would have liked. Jo, Dev's pregnant girlfriend, is a shadowy figure. We learn little about her, or Dev's best friend Rob, or even Rodrigo. We would want to know more about Dev himself, his experiences as a young man of Asian origin growing up in western society, the kind of books he writes and likes to read, his inner life and thoughts between ordering-out Pepsis and catching flights, working out hare-brained stratagems and being at perpetual loggerheads with Rodrigo.

The author who teaches Literature and Creative Writing at the University of Edinburgh, is careful to write a story with substance. The title hints at the prevalent attitude of today's youth, who long for a free life without restrictions... but there is a price the two young men have to pay for dropping everything and taking off on a disaster-ridden wild goose chase.


The Immortals of Meluha
Fiction by Amish
Westland Publishers
Reviewer: Monideepa Sahu

This heady, fast-paced cocktail of mind blowing adventure, action, ancient Indian history, archaeology and mythology is absolutely brilliant. This first book in a trilogy on Shiva, the simple man whose karma reinvented him as Mahadev, the God of Gods, is exciting and crafted well enough to take on bestsellers from any corner of the world. The author, Amish, is an IIM educated finance professional fascinated with history, philosophy and the future of human civilization.

He takes figures from mythology and fleshes them out into human beings that the contemporary reader can relate to. History's mysteries are demystified and philosophy made accessible and relevant in clear, smooth language and style. Best of all, the language is contemporary, and the characters converse just the way we do, without using archaisms. It is 1900 BC in what modern Indians call the Indus Valley Civilisation, and the people of that era are called Meluha. The flawless empire founded centuries ago by Lord Ram and his Suryavanshi rulers now faces grave danger. Their life-giving river, Saraswati, is dying. The Chandravanshis from the east have allied with the Nagas, a sinister race of demonic humans, and together they are making crippling attacks on the Meluha. According to ancient legends, “When evil reaches epic proportions, when all seems lost, when it appears that your enemies have triumphed, a hero will emerge.” Is Shiva, theyoung warrior from Mansarovar Lake, at the foot of Mt. Kailash, that much anticipated hero.

“But Shiva has no faith in himself. How can you force him to be our saviour when he himself doesn't want to do it?” “Sati will change that.” King Daksha hopes that Neelkanth's intense desire to impress the person he loves most will be his motivation. This Neelkanth doesn't drop from the skies. His body is as human as anyone else's, he has human doubts and weaknesses.

After a destructive war and much soul searching, Shiva arrives at the towering Ramjanmabhoomi temple in Ayodhya, seeking peace and a path to some good that would come out of this war. As Shiva's “throat choked with the cry of remorse” he found answers which are relevant even in today's turbulent times. He grasps “a duality that is one of the many perspectives of the universe.” The people he led his followers to fight against “aren't evil. They're just different. Being different isn't evil.”

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