Ministry of utmost happiness – Review

04SMministryjpgThe latest book book by Arundathi Roy is not what I expected at all. Though I enjoyed her previous novel ‘God of small things’ for the brilliant play of words and superb portrayal of the characters, I was bitterly disappointed by the bizarre ending. I thought that was a very forced and desperate attempt to get attention.

So I braced myself for a similar disappointment when I started ‘The ministry of utmost happiness’.

But thankfully, the ending was a good one.

The book is a dark one, though.

It tells us the stories of the neglected and the marginalized.

The novel opens with a middle aged transexual taking up residence in a grave yard. How she came to live there is her riveting story.

This is the story of Anjum – the hijra, Saddam Hussein, Tilo – a rebel south Indian woman, Musa – Tilo’s Kashmiri militant lover, Naga – a diplomat’s journalist son, Garson Hobart – the diplomat and many more people who live in a parallel universe that we, the regular people look right through everyday.

The story seamlessly travels through the by lanes of old Delhi to affluent South Delhi enclaves to the beautiful Kashmir Valley where death, blood and gore are part of daily lives of people. It takes us briefly to Gujarat when the massacre happenes, to Kerala where Tilo’s mother dies and to rural Andhra rife with naxals.

The prose is beautiful and spell binding, but Arundathi Roy does not shirk from telling the brutal, bitter lives of these people.

This is an account of the misfits. The story exposes the atrocities committed by the government on innocent people and the unnecessary lives lost in the process.

This is a grim book, each tale sadder than the other, and each character with a heartbreaking sorrow.

But underneath all the gloom, I could sense a deep anger at the present government. She openly criticizes the ‘orange parakeets’ and ‘lalla of Gujarat’ in many a paragraph.

She does paint a very bleak picture of the future in India, hinting we’re about to self-destruct.

A haunting book, but a bit excessive in the political flavouring.


The Mother in law – Book review













I picked up this book from the ‘New Arrivals’ section of a popular book store, thinking it’s a tongue-in-cheek account of various anecdotes gathered from interviewing daughters-in-law across the country.

The synopsis at he back of the book proclaims it  a ‘witty, acute and often painfully funny book…’

The introduction is a brief account of the author’s personal experience with her own mom-in-law, followed by an inkling of what to expect from the chapters ahead.

Contrary to my expectations, the book turns out to be a lot more serious. Each chapter deals with a story of a daughter-in-law, who meets up with the author in coffee shops, hotels, taxis and various places to recount their horror stiries.

Horror stories they are. Undoubtedly.

Of course any true-blue Indian will know the Indian mom-in-law is quite different from her counterpart in other countries and cultures. That a desire to wield control over the daughter-in-law is a given. But these 12 stories take that ‘control’ to totally another level.

According to Venugopal, every Indian mom starts planning her son’s wedding,  right from the day he is born. As he grows up, she guilt-trips him with stories of her various sacrifices and how he will break her heart once he gets his wife, thus ensuring his support continues even after he’s out of the nest.

The stories in this book range from a mom-in-law hand picking her daughter-in-law, charming her way into her heart with gifts, movies, etc even before her son comes into the picture. To mom-in-laws who were so affronted that the son chose a bride himself, that she makes it impossible for the girl to find any happiness with him after her marriage.

There’s Rachna, whose mom-in-law courted her for months before introducing her son. Literally taking over her life and grooming her to be the exact daughter-in-law she wants her to be…

Carla, an European bride having to put up with her conservative  ‘Mummyji’, who initially refused to accept her, but when there was no choice, accepts her grudgingly and treats her like an unpaid maid…

Payal, who manages to break away from her domineering ‘Mummyji’ by creating a separate kitchen for herself while still staying in the same joint family…

Keisha, who not only put sup with a nightmare of a mother in law, but also an abusive husband…

Each story tells us the ugly , hidden face of the Indian families without mincing words.

Of course one constantly hears about the power-struggles between mother-in-law and daughter-in-law and various petty fights over the years, but I haven’t heard of such nasty stories since the 80s…

Even then, as a child, I never personally knew the vile mothers-in-law, whose stories I eavesdropped during family gatherings… It is shocking such people still exist, fueling the TRP rates of soaps like Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi…

Veena Venugopal goes to an extent of saying her campaign is to save the Indian daughters-in-law from this mother-in-law menace, which is rampant in this country.

Once I started reading the book, I just could not put it down till I finished the last page…

Though it really saddens me to read these heart-rending stories, I cannot help remembering sad stories of meek mothers-in-law who are really a rare breed.

I’ve come across a few who cook, clean and take care of the grand children while the ‘modern’ daughters-in-law is always traveling and skypes them with hundred instructions on everyday chores. These are the moms-in-law who meticulously organise the daughters-in-law’ wardrobe for her next trip, sit outside play schools to pick up their grandchild while running the household successfully.

Of course, like I said earlier, these are a very rare breed.

Most of them, I guess are the ones in this book – The mother in law – The other woman in your marriage…


The Twentieth WIfe – Book Review

I just finished ‘The Twentieth Wife’ by Indu Sundaresan. This book was written in 2002, but I got my hands on it only now.

This is essentially the story of Mehrunnisa- the twentieth wife of Emperor Jahangir.  The story takes us through lives of the lesser-known, but important people of the Mughal Dynasty – their women.

The book starts with Mehrunnisa’s birth enroute to India, when her parents flee Persia with three of her elder siblings.

Her father almost gives her up because he cannot afford to keep her, but she’s brought back to him by a kind soldier/noble who has taken him under his wings.

Once in India, he joins the court of Akbar & establishes himself in the Mughal government & rises to a good position.

Mehrunnisa sets her eyes on Salim, initially the errant son of Akbar on his wedding day when she’s barely nine years old. From then, she grows up dreaming of marrying him  & becoming an empress. But her dreams are thwarted when her father is forced by the emperor Akbar to marry her off to a valiant soldier from Persia, Ali Quli.

Mehrunnisa & Salim meet briefly by chance just before her wedding. Salim is captivated, but unable to stop her wedding. Her marriage takes her away from Agra & Lahore to Bengal, where her husband is posted. Married to a hard-core, alpha male soldier whose sensitive side is non-existent, Mehrunnisa pines for Salim and he in turn thinks of her often.

The story traces Salim’s frustration on not having the crown & his  rebellion against his father, egged on by his cohots.  And Mehrunisa’s loveless marriage simultaneously.

Once Salim becomes the emperor after Akbar’s death, his position is threatened by his own son who rebels against him. He manages to quell this with his well-appointed spies and loyal soldiers.

The story is fast-paced, set in the 1700s brings history alive.

We get a feel of various aspects in the lives of the royalty & especially their women, who are mostly shut in the Zenana, away from the prying eyes of the public. But still manage to be as powerful as their men and they too rule the country indirectly by advicing their men on various issues.

Mehrunnisa’s husband gets killed brutally by the army when he attacks  a General. And she’s brought back by Salim’s aide to safety in Akbar’s first wife’s Ruqqaya’s harem. Ruqqaya herself is like a self-appointed godmother to Mehrunnissa from her younger days and she’s only too happy to get them together, so she can regain some of her lost powers at the Zenana from Salim’s wife, the empress Jagat Gosini.

Mehrunnisa meets Salim again after 16 long years and this time as the emperor. His second son (Shah Jahan) is engaged to her nice who will later become the famous Mumtaz .

The story ends with Mehrunnisa marrying the emperor and gets the title ‘Nurjahan’ and is now the twentieth and the last wife of Emperor Jahangir.

Though the author claims it as a fictional story based on actual historic facts, it’s a very gripping tale which weaves around the various power struggles and seems convincing enough to be a real story. The characters are lively and one can relate to almost everyone. The events that unfold are all put together meticulously and there’s never a part which seems slack.

There’s a sequel to this ‘The Feast of Roses’ and I just can’t wait to read that now!

The Immortals of Meluha – Book Review

This book was strongly recommended by a friend, an avid reader whose taste in books is largely similar to mine. “Its a page-turner. Totally un-put-downable” He said.

So I picked it up on my next visit to a book shop. Down with a strange viral which refused to disappear despite paracetemols and heavy duty antibiotics, I was confined to bed for almost a week. But I had lot of energy to read.  I finished this book in two day’s time.

Yes it was un-put-downable. The theory that Lord Shiva was a tribal from Tibet, who comes to the Indus Valley civilisation to fight for them in a war against evil and falls in love with the princess Sati and marries her is all very very interesting. The plot has all that a good drama demands. A reluctant hero, an unattainable heroine, a prophecy, brotherhood, war, twists in the story, etc. makes this book a page turner.

But since I just finished reading Ashok Banker’s Ramayana series, I just cannot help feeling biased.

I’m not comparing the authors. Both are skilled writers. Their books are really fast-paced. But there’s a huge difference.

While I did feel the Ramayana series could have been finished in 3 books instead of 6 and the violence was just too much for me, there was a sense of witnessing mythology in Banker’s books.

But The Immortals of Meluha gave me the feeling that I was reading cowboy or a James Bond story  set in ancient India.

Just imagine. There’s a part where  ‘Shiva was lying on his bed reading a book (a palm-leaf book) and smoking a chillim when he heard a blast outside’

Excuse me? I can only imagine a Sean Connery or Roger Moore or Clint Eastwood doing that. Not someone wearing a dhoti and angavastram and has jata-mudi!

In another page, one of Shiva’s side kicks actually says  “Yeah, right!”

And in another, Shiva looks into Sati’s eyes deeply and says “I love you..” And she replies “I love you too…”

This whole thing cracked me up so badly, I just couldn’t read the book seriously after that!

And the characters keep referring to India and its greatness and powers.

I thought till the invasion of the British, India was only a loose combination of various kingdoms. And I remember reading somewhere that it was the British who even coined the name India. So how did ‘India’ exist in 1900 BC?

I just cannot wait to get my hands on the rest of the triology!

But jokes apart, people, do pick up the book. It’s a high drama, fast-paced, un-put-downable and if you don’t mind the cowboy-bond influence, you’ll probably enjoy it much more than me!

Oh, I forgot! The friend who recommended the book is a typical ex IIM, fundu type of a guy, just like the author! No wonder he loved it!

Perfect Eight – Book Review

Perfect Eight by Reema Moudgil is a haunting story of someone born to parents who are totally opposite in what life has dished out to them.

Her mother is a refugee from Pakistan who came to India at the age of 5, brought up grudgingly by a family friend. Ever sensitive of her position in the lives of people around her, her outlook of life is rather grim. She never trusts happiness when it finds its way to her.

Her father, on the other hand, is a very cheerful guy who can sing a happy song at any given situation.

The story is also about her love for Samir, the boy whom she sees periodically during her stays in Anneville, his home.

The story travels easily from Pakistan to Kanpur to Ambrosa to Bangalore… The narration never loses pace even for a paragraph…

I think revealing the protagonist’s name in the last page of the book is a stroke of a genius!

The characters in the book, their pain, longing, happiness… everything is so real.

The language is lucid & poetic…. really touched a chord in me. (Imagine if  one can smell grief!)

Loved reading this book & I reccommend it strongly to people who love reading Indian authors.

One of the best books I’ve read in a long time!

Mythology & more mythology

Long ago, when I was about eleven, I went on  a trek through a nearby forest with my brother, uncle and his friend from college. All we carried with us was a back pack with a water bottle and a box of bajjis my grandmother had made especially for the trek. Once we reached a clearing, my uncle and his friend plonked themselves on a rock to do some catching up on their lives. My uncle strictly instructed us to explore the forest on our own but only within his field of vision. He visually marked the boundaries and told us to stay within.

Eagerly my brother started looking for exotic insects and wild animals. (Considering the sparse forest, I don’t think it housed any!) But me, I was on another mission. High on all the Enid Blyton stories I’d been reading, I was in search of pixies. Once I met them, I wanted to ask one of them kindly to accompany me back home.

I started speaking softly to the bushes and plants, sure that pixies were hiding inside them. I tempted them with various treats if only they’ll come out and show themselves.

My brother slowly stopped what he was doing and began to notice me. Once he came closer and realised what I was doing, he started begging me to stop. He had a panicky edge to his voice. He was sure that I had totally lost it. “There are no such things as pixies, ” he pleaded. ” Its only a story… Will you please stop this nonsense at once?”

“Go away!” I snapped at him. “You’re scaring my pixies.”

Giving up he wandered back to my uncle casting nervous glances towards me.

After a while I gave up too and plonked myself on another rock and began to devour the bajjis.


Last week I finished two books based on Indian mythology back to back.

One was Ashok Banker’s Prince of Ayodhya (I know, I know, it came out ages ago, but just got my hands on it!) and the other was The Pregnant King by Devdutt Patnaik.

The former was Valmiki’s Ramayana retold and the latter was a fiction based on one of the branch stories from the Mahabharatha.

And both were just brilliant.

How could Banker make the Ramayana, which we all have heard a hundred times from our grandmothers to Amar Chthra Kathas to the good old Ramanand Sagar Productions so gripping?

He has got into the pyschies of each individual character and not just stereo-typed them. He’s just taken them from the 2 dimensional level we’ve been used to and re-presented them in 3 dimension. I never knew what went on Rama’s or Laksmana’s mind when they followed Vishwamitra to the forest. Nor about the relationships between Dhasaratha’s three queens. This book is full of the emotional struggle they went through when faced with various situations. We all know Rama and Lashmana were inseparable. But what Banker does is also explore the comaraderie  between Bharatha & Shatrukuna. We read about Bharatha’s emotions when he’s torn between his loyalties towards his mother on one side and his father and brothers on the other.

To all this add Banker’s brilliant picturesque descriptions of Ayodya and Mithila, the dark forces, Asuras and thier dark powers, the Brahmans and their powers and all the magical stuff that Indian mythology is made of.

You get the unfolding of this mind-blowing drama of jealous queens, brave sons, all-powerful sages and a Dark Master.

The Pregnant King, though a fiction, is made up of almost the same things. But this is more about a king yearning for an offspring. And his inner turmoils of not being man enough for his mother to hand over the reigns of his kingdom (because he has no heir apparent) in the beginning.

He drinks the magic potion from a yagna conducted to give him an heir by mistake becomes pregnant with his son. He is later torn between his maternal instincts towards his son and his outward, stern and dutiful appearanace of a kingly father.

Brilliantly written, this book too has no slack in the story and travels fast from one incident to another through the minds of the king, his mother, his queens and others.


Now having  had a heavy dose of occult, ancestors watching us from the other side, various yakshas floating around humans without their knowledge, I’m seriously thinking even if an iota of all this is true, I may have some yaksha or demigod smack next to me and I may not even realise it!

So people, don’t be surprised if I start talking to my comp, my shelf or just the wall…

I think I’ve come a full circle!


My son had 6 weeks off from school. During which time he was supposed to catch up on his maths. We had 2 entire work-books to finish.

And yours truly was in charge. And terribly apprehensive about the whole thing.

Now let me  give you an inkling of what kind of student I used to be.  Once,  I spent the entire a day before a math test, making greeting cards by pasting pencil-shavings. (they made pretty attractive flowers, actually.) Then spent the next morning working myself up to a major state by trying to study at the breakfast table, enroute to school, etc.

Lets not even get into the marks I scored!

Totally forgetting all this, I looked at him sternly. He was actually eager to do the sums. “Good,” I thought to myself.

He had to add up numbers. There was this row of numbers from 1 to 20. And if he needed to add 2 + 7, he had to put his finger at 2 and count 7 to find out the answer.

He did the first one with great speed.

Next one was a bit slow.

The third one was ‘difficult’.

The fourth was ‘boring’.

He looked at me pleading. “Amma, please, can I take a break?”

“Ok, I relented.  “But only 5 minutes”

“Ten minutes..” He bargained.

I gave in. I Picked up a book and began reading.

He took a fresh paper and started drawing Hanuman and his army of monkeys.

The ten minutes stretched to half an hour. All my efforts to get him back to Maths were met with screams of  “But I’m busy!” or “Look at this!” He was so engrossed in drawing that I let him be.

But after half an hour, I lost my cool.

“Now!” I said sternly. “I want you to finish that page!”

He whimpered a bit, but went back to the book.

“What’s 8+4?” I plodded on.” Where’s 8? Put your finger on it.”

He looked at me with big, sad and accusing eyes.

“I don’t know.” He said in a small voice.

I took his hand and guided it to 8.

“Now, count!” I ordered.

He stopped mid-way  and said, “I’m soooo tired!”

“Just 5 more sweetie… ” I cajoled. “C’mon! You can do it! You’re so good at this!”

He responded by sliding down his miniscule writing desk with an exaggerated groan.

I tried to pull him up, but he clung to the legs of the chair, shouting, “I can’t! Leave me!!!” and groaning “Aiyyooo!!!”

I burst out laughing. I suddenly thought of my own wayward ways of handling homework even when I was in my teens.

Startled he sat up and looked at me.

“Go on!” I waved him away. “Play! Draw! Do what you want!”

Shocked at my reaction, he stared at me dumb-founded for a second before charging out of the room with his usual war cries.

Actually, I really don’t mind if he doesn’t grow up to be an Einstein. I really don’t mind if he even takes up grazing cows!

I know, I know, I’m a bad mother…  but Krishna the cowherd had more fun and less pressure than Einstein, anyway!!!

PS: I was so relieved when I learned later that completing the work-books were not mandatory. It was just to help him at home to stay in touch with what he’s been learning at school. Phew!

Don’t lose your mind, lose your weight – Book Review

Book covers

I was listening to a friend drone on about her dietician… Another friend had just asked her how she managed to lose so much weight from the last time she’d seen her…

I politely interrupted to ask her if she’d read this book by Rujuta Diwekar.

“Pooh!” spat my friend. “My dietician told me that book is nothing but trash!”

Having read that book and totally taken in by it, I was a bit mortified by her strong reaction.

But in retrospect I always wondered how the regular dieticians would react to this book which attacks dieticians who use startvation to reduce weight so vehemently.

There, I got my answer!

Infact, I’m surprised why they all didn’t gang up together and sue her or something!

I,  for starters, have totally changed my perceptions on eating, after reading this book.

Its fantabulous!

The author, whose claim to fame is that she got Kareena Kapoor to achieve size ‘0’ tells all in this book. She even got Ms. Kapoor to write the foreward.

If a friend hadn’t recommended it so highly, I’d have just dismissed it as another filmy, hyped-up book…

Thank god I didn’t!

Because there’s nothing filmy about this book. Its more like the collective wisdom of all I used to hear from my grandmother, aunts and not to mention my own mother! With simple educational information on how to treat your body right and feel good about yourself.

She breaks down the most complexly percieved notions on the most simple process in our lives – feeding ourselves.

She educates us in a very simple language the processes involved in building a healthy body and how we punish ourselves by denying our bodies in the name of fad diets – nutrients.

I learnt that there are types of weights we carry. Lean body weight; which are the bones and muscles. And fat: which is just fat.

How those diets which tells us to avoid carbs or sugar or whatever reduces our lean body weight which is so essential to being healthy and not our fat…

She gives lots of examples from real life too, to make her point. For instance,  how a man went to weighing 68 kilos from 116 kilos after he joined a centre which promised rapid weight loss. But never felt energetic. His hair was falling at a rapid rate. His skin sagged around him. He tripped over a speed breaker while walking and ended up with multiple fractures in his arm. Why? Because his bones had lost their density due to starvation.

‘Don’t ever hold your body ransom to the weighing machine’ she cautions. ‘Weight is just a number. Once you start eating healthy and cultivate good fitness routines, you’ll automatically lose your fat’.

Along with all that we’ve heard and never paid much attention to.

Like chew your food, swallow and then take the next spoon (I was amazed that I was eating only 60% of what I normally eat to feel full!), think positive thoughts while eating, no TV or phone calls while eating, (this is the hardest! Istill haven’t mastered this!) eat something every 2 hours, eat your dinner maximum 2 hours after sunset, sleep early, never have alcohol on empty stomach, exercise regularly… all this and more.

She has a chapter dedicated to the four basic principles of eating right, which blows up a lot of myths on eating.

I was so floored by this book I was a zealous follower for about 2 weeks.

I could actually see my cheek bones at the end of 10 days and even my tummy had visibly reduced. Excited I got  a lot of copies and distributed it to all my friends.

But once the enthusiasm waned I’m back to my usual sins! And gained my weight back.

But since I have seen the results of  this book first hand, I’m making this my bible. I read a few pages everyday to drill it into my head.

I push myself to practice Yoga even when I can think of a million excuses….

Maybe  now I need a book for self discipline!

IIM – Ganjdundwara: Book Review


This book was published in January 2008. I got my hands on a copy only last week. After I finished the book, I was so impressed.

I’m surprised that I’ve never heard of it till now. Was this raved about at the time of release and I missed it totally? Or the publishers chose to maintain a low profile?

Whatever it was, this by no means is an average book. It overtakes any other book in this genre (IIT/IIM guys writing their college/career stories) by its sheer content.

Though it’s a ‘dear diary’ type of novel, all the characters breathe life to the story, however small their role is.

It starts off with two management trainees finding their way to Rangpurgaon, a small village where they’ll spend the next 2 months as part of their training program.

How they adapt themselves to village life, live without a bathroom or internet connection, succeed in generating income to the women’s self help group with their products and finally get a taste of the brutal laws of village, is the story.

The narration is simple. Like I said earlier, it’s more like reading someone’s diary. But that itself makes it a very interesting read. The purpose of the book is not to showcase (or show off!) the author’s command over the English language. But to recreate (it’s semi-autobiographical) life in a remote village in all its glory.

It has humor too.  Simple incidents like the villagers wanting to buy the laptop from the trainees so they can attach it to their tractors to watch movies and songs as they work, the way almost the entire village escorting the two to buy a bicycle in the nearest town are two good examples.

The characters portrayed are so likeable. From the village supremo Martand Tiwari who terrorises everyone but clucks around the two city dwellers like a mother hen, his younger brother Anuj who is tongue-tied in his brother’s presence, but shares his dream of a ‘love marriage’ with the young city men… the star-crossed lovers Lalu and Manju whose idea of a date is to walk a few paces away from each other in the pretext of some chores… the old men who form the panchayat with Martand Tiwari, who grill the two men on their first day and after being shocked they’re still unmarried, offer to find them good matches… and not to mention Shyam who shares this adventure with the author..

All of them are so true to life and you genuinely start liking them after a few pages.

I don’t know if the dramatic end is fictional or not, but I closed the book with tears in my eyes.

Married But Available – Book Review

 I didn’t think much of this book when I picked it up. Not exactly the corporate type, I just classified this as one of the many chetan-bhagat-like books.

But the humanness of this book hit me like a ton of bricks.

This is a story of Abbey, who’s born and brought up in a middle class Bengali family who comes of age in the corporate world.

Materialism & hypocrisy constantly fight in his mind with loyalty, freedom and justice.   

Delhi and Bhawanpur form the contrasting backgrounds .  The language is simple and no-nonsense, very much from am average Indian male point of view. But told with sensitivity and pathos.

I loved Abbey’s euphoria on buying a second hand Maruti car. And impressed with the way the Abhijit Bhaduri has used it as a trigger to Abbey’s heart break.

The whole book is fast-paced, without a slack anywhere.

But after I read it, I discovered that this is only the sequel! 

So I shall get the first book for a flashback on Abbey’s college life now!

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