Thursday, August 26, 2010

Book Review : Sikander

Title : Sikander
Author : M. Salahuddin Khan
Publisher : Karakoram Press
ISBN : 978-0-578-05288-5

Review written for BookPleasures

I am so glad to be awarding my first stars (and that too a 5-star status) to this book. It was a pleasure reading this book.

Sikander - A story bringing glimpses of the changes in the world. The changes which rechristened the world as:
a) pre-dismantled USSR and post-dismantled USSR (Pre-dismantled USSR phase saw the world divided more on the basis of ideologies or philosophies - communism versus capitalism. After the demise of USSR, this division lost its existence to a large extent)
b)pre-9/11 and post 9/11 - (Post 9/11 world is now divided on religious fault lines)

This book enlightens the world's citizens about the dreams, realities and struggles of people of Afghanistan and Pakistan and what it is like to be among those who bore the brunt of these changes the most. The saga provides just the right balance of historical facts of the happenings in the west Asian region as well as the personal and emotional perspective to the sequence of events through the central character Sikander.

The life of a seventeen-year old Pakistani student Sikander, takes an unexpected turn when after having an argument with his father, he decides to leave the comforts of the home in order to prove his worth to his family and specifically to his father. A chance meeting with an Afghan Mujahideen group steers his life towards the struggle to fight against the occupying Soviet. While being a part of them and dealing with the harsh realities of the war, he realized how different was the experience of actually living the war in comparison to the intellectual debates that he often engaged in with his class fellows.

Sikander gets chosen for the Britain sponsored special training of an advanced weapon - Stinger
Missile, which was conducted in the beautiful locales of Applecross (Scotland). The author brings out the irony of the whole situation through perfectly apt words - "He was in the nameless paradise having come to learn how to kill people whose names he'd never know, who would be trying their best to kill him without knowing who he was, for reasons at best only vaguely understood by them, but largely to avoid their own deaths. And it wouldn't end there. Who knew how many disasters would be spawned by any one of those deaths? Or for that matter, by that same death not occurring?"

With America's assistance in the form of weapons, expertise and the finances, the mujahideen could vanquish Soviets and made them retreat. Now Sikander could go back home as an experienced and a matured individual hoping to start a normal life in Pakistan with his new Afghani bride.
But unfortunately it was not meant to be. Shortly after Sikander's home coming, 9/11 happened. Perhaps bad US foreign policy was responsible for the birth of a monster which had eventually attacked America itself. Sikander found himself trapped in the aftermaths of this ghastly event when he was falsely convicted as Taliban or Al-Qaeda terrorist .

People of Afghanistan, who were waiting for the peaceful period after Soviets left could not enjoy it for long. On one side, the Taliban brought more confusion in the country and enforced stricter rules especially for women and on the other they had the American attack to deal with. Pakistan was equally confused. The Pakistani people were expected to sever all links and ties with Afghanistan and Afghani people overnight.

I specifically liked the way author emphasized the need and desire of every individual to have a peaceful and happy environment and that hatred cannot be a solution to any problem. The end of Sikander's odyssey could not have been better when Mahler(the American in charge of Sikander in captivity, post 9/11) so desperately wants to search for that one thing which had eluded him so far - the humanity. Humanity - which does not come by just belonging to a certain caste, community, religion or nation.

These are some of the questions that are so validly raised in the book:
1) Americans decided to catch the criminals in the Afghanistan land post 9/11, yet so many men, women, children had to die to let the Americans have their revenge. What kind of revenge is this?

2) With the aim to eradicate terrorism from the society, the nature of actions that are taken, is it ensuring a terrorism free world or leading to a situation where new terrorists are going to get spawned by the unintended death of a father, mother, brother, sister, husband, wife or child? Would the surviving family members see these events as accidents and applaud the justice of America?

3) Who is responsible for the plight that the middle eastern part of the world is in - the misplaced priorities, short sighted foreign policies or petty interests?

The author has very rightly pointed out the doubts which must have bothered many Pakistani and Afghani people at some point of time - Did God that created the cosmos and managed all existence for tens of billions of years has formed a preference for blessing America, which has existed for a little more than two hundred of those years? If God cared for nations more than human beings, would he pick America over others? Why would he not want to bless Iraq, Pakistan or Afghanistan at least as much as America?

Many books have been written on this topic but 'Sikander' presents systematic and humane saga of common people living in Pakistan and Afghanistan. How like the people in the rest of the world, they also enjoy freedom, peace, fearless environment and happiness. World needs to understand what America is fighting for in Afghanistan and it is very important to realize that when any ammunition is used against people of a particular city or a village, it does not discriminate common innocent people from the handfuls who are at fault.

A must read for all those who want to know the truth behind the whole issue, why it gained such monstrous proportion and the questions which are unanswered still. A perfect mix of fiction, entertainment, reality and truth. In spite of the book exposing some harsh realities and ugly truths, the tone of the book is very positive and warm, because of the brilliant character portrayal of Sikander.

"You know you've read a good book when you turn the last page and feel a little as if you have lost a friend" - Paul Sweeney

After reading Sikander, I really felt like I lost a dear friend and am sure other readers will feel the same for this book. Sikander is one character who will stay with me for a very long time.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

A new feature...

From now on, I will award stars to the books along with the book review. This is to help the readers to get an idea about the quality of writing and what to expect from the book in just one glance.

What will these stars mean:

- Not Good/Bad

- Not Bad/Average

- Good

- Very Good

- Excellent

And in rare cases, I would assign an additional '+' with five stars for the books which you must read in this lifetime.

Enjoy reading!!

Friday, August 20, 2010

Book Review : Listening to Poetry

Title : Listening to Poetry
Publisher : Charkha Audiobooks (an imprint of Karadi Tales Company Pvt. Ltd.)

"What is poetry? How does one define poetry? Is it a bunch of words put together that rhyme? Is it a feeling expressed? Is it a short piece of imaginative writing laid out in lines, sometimes to rhyme, sometimes not? "

The book begins with this set of questions and you start wondering how is poetry actually defined and while you are trying to figure that out, there are some definitions that have been given by some great poets like Wordsworth and Samuel Coleridge and you start nodding along the description of a poem - how true. Wordsworth puts it as "the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings".
What I personally like about poetry is its flows like a river where the words are so convincingly used to describe the essence sometimes subtly sometimes not and we keep wondering how could the words bring such range of emotions and feelings.

'Listening to Poetry' is a set of two books bringing out a wonderful potpourri of timeless poems by some greatest poets of all times. We have the first book and the first poem is 'Palanquin Bearers by Sarojini Naidu, a very short poem but so very gracefully brings out the delicate nature and handling of a palanquin and emotions of a bride inside it. Do not want to miss the opportunity to write a few lines from this poem here:

"she sways like a flower in the wind of our song;
She skims like a bird on the foam of a stream;
She floats like a laugh from the lips of a dream"

Some light verses like "The Duck and the Kanagaroo" bring the lively interludes to the otherwise very thought stirring poems. The Duck is bored of its little pond and wants to see the world hopping with Kangaroo on its back. What all conditions are set forth by the Kangaroo and how the Duck manages to satisfy all these conditions, is hilarious.

How can we have a book on poetry and not have any mention of Rabindranath Tagore or William Shakespeare.

Rabindranath Tagore's - "Open Thine Eyes and See Thy God" the famous poem which manages to stir the inner emotions every time I read it. I marvel at the ease and the flow with which he puts the words together to awaken and feel the presence of God in the common man who is toiling hard in sun or in rain.

"He is with them in sun and in shower
And His garment is covered with dust
Meet him and stand by him in toil and in sweat of thy brow."

William Shakespeare's "All the World's a Stage" reiterates and reinforces the fact that we are mere actors on the stage and the supreme entity directs all the scenes and decides the entry and exit of each actor on this stage.

My personal favourite is "Teach me to Listen, Lord" by Anonymous. Simply an incredible piece of verse. Just a little sample from this poem-

"Teach me to listen, Lord
To those far from me
The whisper of the hopeless
The plea of the forgotten
The cry of the anguished.

To myself,
Help me to be less afraid
To trust the voice inside
In the deepest part of me."

There are 14 poems in each book and the likes of P.B.Shelley, W.B.Yeats, Robert Frost and Edward Lear are gracing the books by their presence through the verses here.

The books have companion CDs and the poems are recited by stage actors - Naseeruddin Shah, Gareth Armstrong, Shernaz Patel and Dhritiman Chaterji. It is an attempt to "resurrect the power of spoken poetry bringing back to life sheer pleasure of listening to verse" and what a pleasure it is!! Listening to poetry is a unique experience and must not be missed when the poems are such gems and the performers are of international fame and repute.

A brilliant masterpiece to own and to cherish for all times.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Book Review : The Journey of Om

Title : The Journey of Om
Author : Chandru Bhojwani
Publisher : Pustak Mahal
ISBN : 978-81-223-1091-7

Om, a columnist for a magazine is a sensitive and emotional lover who very diligently expresses his emotions to his lover Preeti and shows her that he really cares. But as a strong punch in the stomach he gets to witness his girlfriend cheating on him. That very moment of betrayal makes his whole life fall apart and he takes refuge in his trusted friends and liquor. Typical melodramatic bad breakup phase follows. As the story progresses, Om keeps trying to put the past behind him and to move on but finds hard to do so as the memories of past tend to overpower him during the unguarded moments. He continues finding solace in losing his sensibilities to liquor. Some of the side stories about his close friends - Arun and Mona are added to the narrative displaying the weaknesses and vulnerabilities of different individuals, in different situations and at different junctures in life. Through the side stories, the author brings in cross cultural and cross country relationships, which are not alien to people now. This helps in giving a contemporary and modern feel to the story.

Throughout the book, a very informal tone of narration is adhered to, depicting the waves of emotions that Om experiences. The characters come across as very believable and the precise and detailed portrayal of their inner feelings make them so. Om is introduced as a person next door, nothing special or extraordinary about him. But as the story moves forward he starts resembling more like a spineless person who lacks determination and confidence both. But then no single character from the story rises above to potentially make an indelible mark on reader's mind. The weak plot offers nothing new and the handling also fails to garb it into any new packaging.

For a debut writer, Chandru does have the flow in his writing and the ease with which he connects the past events with the present is commendable. There are some occasions when the wit and humor are attempted to be brought in the narrative but much remains unfulfilled. If you are looking to satisfy your literary appetite, I would say this is not the one. If you must, read it once to appreciate the effort of a budding Indian author in the literary firmament. Hope to see some more substance and quality from the author in future.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Book Review : Your Work, Your Life, Your Way

Title : Your Work, Your Life, Your Way - 7 Keys to Work-Life Balance
Author : Julie Cohen
Publisher : Julie Cohen Coaching LLC
ISBN : 978-0-9842474-0-0

Review written for BookPleasures

A great handbook for those who find themselves often struggling to strike a balance between work commitments and needs of personal life away from work. This book empowers the readers to take control in reaching the state where no one side gets ignored while no one side hogs all the attention and time.

The author Julie Cohen enlists and elaborates upon seven keys to reach the blissful state of having both work and life well taken care of and well balanced. These keys thus become absolutely important for all those who want to relish that supreme state. And the activities that she entreats all to try are brought forward in an extremely readable, understandable and methodical manner making the path very clear.

Julie Cohen first encourages the readers to look inwards rather than focusing on the external environment. It is so very important to first realize that we need to start living on our own terms rather than the ones dictated or driven by some external agents. Identifying individual priorities and then fixing the SMART boundaries to safeguard these priorities become the initial steps to begin this journey. While implementing these, learning to understand and to use the power of 'no' at the right time is imperative. In order to respect the boundaries, each hour and day needs to be managed efficiently but this cannot be achieved if there is no support system and no work is delegated to proficient concerned people. To make the best out of the limited time, it is highly important for every individual to be a good worker as well as a good manager. Be extremely watchful for the time leaks and plug them as and when they start surfacing, trying to interfere in the defined boundaries. After having worked with preferences, boundaries, priorities and expectations, the following step is to establish these same things in context of the organizations and the communities. This step calls for looking outside to evaluate whether our individual world is in sync with our external world and in case of any discrepancy appropriate measures can be adopted to address the same.

After explaining all these helpful keys, the author makes it very clear that this is not a one time exercise. It has to be maintained and worked upon continuously to reduce stress levels and to enjoy the mental peace always. Without regular conscious follow-up, there is possibility of falling into the same trap of being caught between work life and personal life time and again.

However, I felt the need of a more detailed chapter in the beginning for the readers to identify why they need to embark on the journey to have a work-life balance. The personal requirements and expectations could be very diverse for different individuals. If the goal is unclear, the conviction to follow it sincerely will not come naturally. So spending a little more time and energy on identifying the reasons to begin this exercise is not a bad option.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Book Review : Price of Revenge

Title : Price of Revenge
Author : Dennis Vaughn
Publisher : Synergy Books
ISBN : 978-0-9842358-1-0

Book reviewed for BookPleasures
A story exposing treachery, deceit, blackmail, forgery and revenge in the inner circles of some of the reputed names among the legal firms of Denver. The main protagonist of the story, David Fox is introduced as a highly aspiring lawyer who is enjoying almost every possible bliss that the life has to offer - having a great career, on the verge of being a partner in the firm and a wonderful relationship with Ellen - who happens to be the granddaughter of the firm's owner. But this all does not stay the same for long and while investigating a lawsuit against the Denver City Ballet, he stumbles upon some very crucial pieces of information, which he is thrilled to be bringing to the courtroom. But one of his weak moments makes him vulnerable to be blackmailed and being cajoled for doing what another partner want him to do.
David Fox refuses to stoop low, follows his heart and quits the firm to join the second best firm and the direct competitor to the previous one. The rivalry between these two firms enters an altogether new phase of more animosity and more bitterness. Ellen, now David's wife, finds herself torn between two of her most dearest relationships who are now in camps which are direct adversaries to each other. The mental stress affects Ellen so much that she ends up seeking regular psychiatric assistance to untangle her mental clutter. But do these sessions help her to set things in right perspective or do they lead her to a more complicated situation which has the potential of even entrapping her dear ones in it? The story takes a lot of interesting twists and turns and keeps the interest and curiosity alive among the readers all through.

A very well written and well presented piece of writing and Author Dennis Vaughn has neatly weaved the feeling of anxiety, tension and stress in the narrative to bring forth the actual flavor of the real corporate world riding on a lot of high stakes. The story has a quick pace to it and grips the readers attention right from the first page. The book offers a wonderful potpourri of things ranging from a corporate saga, a family drama, personal relationships to highlighting various strengths and shortcomings in each character. However, it fails to make any character rise above the rest to be able to stay with the readers even after the book gets over. The book has been publicized as a legal thriller but the story falls short in creating any nail-biting or edge of the seat kind of anticipation or anxiety among readers. Moreover, the characters seem to follow the course of actions more in tune with the practicality of the same rather than being completely revenge motivated. A mismatch between the title and the story becomes very apparent. This book should be read and enjoyed for an interesting story but don’t get misled by the title and raise expectations which have all the probability of being left unfulfilled.
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