Archive for the 'Book Reviews' Category


Book Review: Last Man In Tower

Last Man In Tower rises from its drab premise as Aravind Adiga builds it into an unlikely thriller

I may have been slightly unfair to Aravind Adiga in my review of The White Tiger, which, despite my complaints about its effect being very close to that of Slumdog Millionaire, was a story told successfully. Like the acclaimed film, The White Tiger is about the triumph of the human spirit, even though in the case of Aravind Adiga’s book, the protagonist is wily and selfish. That is good, of course, and infinitely more endearing than a chocolate boy who won’t harm anybody. The White Tiger is what I call grit through shit, and a compelling tale of a man who works his way up in life.

From Last Man In Tower, I had low expectations because of its story. A shrewd builder against a stubborn old man? It must be funny, I thought, maybe very funny.

The depth with which Aravind Adiga gets into the details of the residents of Vishram Society in Vakola, Santacruz East, was enough to drown me. The characters are so believable that you’re almost sure the author has based his story on a real incident someone narrated to him. The plot of Last Man In Tower, unexciting as it sounds, is what made me finish the book. The residents of Vishram Co-Operative Housing Society, convinced by Dharmen Shah, the builder who wants them to let the building go for redevelopment, gang up against Yogesh Murthy, the retired schoolteacher, who for some reason refuses to let the house go.

Whether Masterji is being pigheaded or only wants more money is what his neighbors and co-residents ponder over, and the book doesn’t seem to be working its way to being humorous at any point.

Aravind Adiga, after leaving me surprised with the way he ended The White Tiger, left me shocked with the turn he gave the story of Last Man In Tower. It possibly made a strong impact on me because I wasn’t expecting anything serious from the book, all the while expecting it to dash into a dead-end that would make me either guffaw when the big twist finally came or chuckle at its predictability.

Last Man In Tower didn’t keep me hooked throughout, but had me amazed at its detailing – something I marveled over even more after it sank in that Aravind Adiga had truly delivered.

Book Review: Aravind Adiga’s The White Tiger


Graphic Novel Review: Sandman

By Aritro Roy

Sandman vol. 1 through 5

Author – Neil Gaiman

Artists – Various

Publisher – Vertigo

Score 8.5/10

I will not be reviewing single issues. There are just way too many of them. These first few issues were printed and published in 1989, I think. Remember “……till the sandman he coooommmmmmesssssssss”? Well, this that dude. The stories are pretty damn twisted. There are some small references to some of the worst taboos imaginable; this is not for the weak of heart. When it comes to graphic novels, the order you read the issues in really doesnt matter, but for Sandman, you do need to read the first issue. The one difference the first issue has with of the others is the later issues are single issues with a single story (Excluding spin-offs). The first one, Preludes and Nocturnes, is compiled of a few shorter stories.

Dream or The Sandman is captured by a man and is imprisoned for like 70 years and the first issues is basically the background of characters, places and ideas you will see often. The stories are structured beautifully. The artwork, I can see why some people might need some time to get used to it. First off, the it was first out in 1989, so I guess in some way, it does look a bit dated as compared some of the newer computer edited novels out there. Second off, the style of the drawings is not like your goody goody two shoes superheroes (Don’t get me wrong – I like me my dose of Batman), but these look grim and bleak. WTF do you expect. This guy is a god, trapped for 70 years in an oversized test-tube. Stripped of his pride and possessions, needs to go to hell and bargain with Lucifer……. do you really think he is not piss mad. There are lighter moments in and around as well. I like it when new ideas are explored. Ideas that are difficult to replicate by someone else without looking like a complete rip off. The Sandman series of book are exactly that.

Most the above information are more in relation to the first issue. These books can be pretty expensive and you cant exactly get them used either. One thing this book does that few people have been successful at; making death look bad ass and cool.


Book Review: The White Tiger

Released in the year of Slumdog Millionaire, Aravind Adiga’s debut is viewed by me with the same eyes that watched Danny Boyle’s multi-award winning film. The White Tiger is an exciting story gift-wrapped in the foil of India’s ugly side.

The book is actually the protagonist writing to China’s premier Wen Jiabao on Indian entrepreneurship and his life. Balram Halwai, born in corrupt India, brought up ruthlessly, having made his way through life by climbing slowly but steadily, having waited for that one big moment, is now an entrepreneur.

Balram Halwai is ‘the white tiger’, the rarest of rare creatures, one that comes along once in a generation. He is fully aware of where he is going, never ceasing to remind the reader of the part of India he has come from is dirty, messy, despicable. Getting his break in the form of a job as the chauffeur of a good man, Balram Halwai reshapes his own destiny… not wanting to be a servant for the rest of his life, he works out his role as a master.

Aravind Adiga thrills with the conviction in Balram Halwai’s words, his desire for freedom, and with the pacing of the story. The constant hammering at the home country is funny, at least to me. Bihar is made fun of, Gandhi is made fun of. The few hundred Hindu gods too, with a mocking remark here and there. Delhi, Bangalore… Mumbai has been spared. Maybe the author felt sorry for the city after watching Slumdog Millionaire and decided to dip his beak into the rest of the motherland exclusively.

Not that anyone thinks of India as a superpower, but it’s easy to see why Indians would squirm at the thought of other countries reading The White Tiger. It’s like taking a guest to the loo and showing them a piece of shit floating in the commode.

And as much as we like to see a man beat all the odds and sprint a lot farther than is expected of him, we might not return for the thrill if his ass crack’s always on display.


Jackson & Rahman

A Lost Victory For India

Satan’s Bollywood Predictions


Book Review: Such A Long Journey

Oh, look! It’s the critically acclaimed novel which became even more famous when someone raised a hue and cry about it without actually reading it! Pulled out of the college syllabus and bookstores across the state of Maharashtra, this book has become much sought after with full credit to the controversy surrounding it.

Such A Long Journey is about how a Parsi man named Gustad Noble is taken on a politically thrilling ride thanks to a letter from his absconding neighbour Jimmy Billimoria.

Rohinton Mistry begins his story with Gustad’s family and their domestic squabbles, occasionally throwing in Parsi/Gujarati words… the cutest one being matloo. For those who don’t know, Parsis (all sixty of them) are a lovable people for several reasons – the main ones being that they almost always sound chirpy, and eating meat and drinking alcohol isn’t a taboo with them.

Gustad has issues with a few things like his son not wanting to go to IIT and people peeing on his building compound’s wall, and these are problems he has no solution to. Set in 1971, Such A Long Journey is about how the dark times India faced during Indira Gandhi’s term as the Prime Minister affect the Noble family.

Anyway, let’s cut all this out and get to what you’re reading this review for – here’s a sampler:

‘Believe me,’ said Dinshawji, ‘she is a shrewd woman, these are vote-getting tactics. Showing the poor she is on their side. Saali always up to some mischief. Remember when her pappy was Prime Minister and he made her president of Congress Party? At once she began encouraging the demands for a separate Maharashtra. How much bloodshed, how much rioting she caused. And today we have that bloody Shiv Sena, wanting to make the rest of us into second-class citizens. Don’t forget, she started it all by supporting the racist buggers.’

Rohinton Mistry throws in humour that makes you laugh aloud; Gustad and his Parsi colleagues cracking jokes about every community including their own – the laughter it evokes is truly something that would make people divided by religion come closer. At some point, a man they’ve nicknamed ‘Goover-Ni-Gaan’ is brought up, and I just can’t get over it.

Here’s another attack on the Shiv Sena:

‘It’s the time of dubbawallas. They are supposed to use only the luggage van, but some got in the passenger compartments. Jam-packed, and what a smell of sweat. Toba, toba! I began to feel something wet on my shirt. And guess what it was. A dubbawalla. Standing over me, holding the railing. It was falling from his naked armpit: tapuck-tapuck-tapuck, his sweat. I said nicely, “Please move a little, my shirt is wetting, meherbani.” But no kothaa, as if I was not there. Then my brain really went. I shouted, “You! Are you animal or human, look what you are doing!” I got up to show him the wet. And guess what he did. Just take a guess.’


‘He turned and slipped into my seat! Insult to injury! What to do with such low-class people? No manners, no sense, nothing. And you know who is responsible for this attitude—that bastard Shiv Sena leader who worships Hitler and Mussolini. He and his “Maharashtra for Maharashtrians” nonsense. They won’t stop till they have complete Maratha Raj.’

Call it funny or sad, but these words ring true even today. As loud as back then. The anger every community that is considered a minority or happens to be non-Maharashtrian feels comes alive in the words of Gustad Noble’s friend Dinshawji. It is something everybody closely associated with Bombay feels, and it definitely should make at least some sense to the literate ghatis (all eighteen of them).

Here’s one more:

‘Wait till the Marathas take over, then we will have real Gandoo Raj,’ said Dinshawji. ‘All they know is to have rallies at Shivaji Park, shout slogans, make threats, and change road names.’ He suddenly worked himself into a real rage; there was genuine grief in his soul. ‘Why change the names? Saala sisterfuckers! Hutatma Chowk!’ He spat out the words disgustedly. ‘What is wrong with Flora Fountain?’

‘Why worry about it? I say, if it keeps the Marathas happy, give them a few roads to rename. Keep them occupied. What’s in a name?’

‘No, Gustad.’ Dinshawji was very serious. ‘You are wrong. Names are so important. I grew up on Lamington Road. But it has disappeared, in its place is Dadasaheb Bhadkhamkar Marg. My school was on Carnac Road. Now suddenly it’s on Lokmanya Tilak Marg. I live at Sleater Road. Soon that will also disappear. My whole life I have come to work at Flora Fountain. And one fine day the name changes. So what happens to the life I have lived? Was I living the wrong life, with all the wrong names? Will I get a second chance to live it all again, with these new names? Tell me what happens to my life. Rubbed out, just like that? Tell me!’

That he started off by following his fascist family’s footsteps when he could’ve begun by rectifying several of their wrongs might be Aditya Thakeray’s biggest mistake, and it should be his greatest regret.

Such A Long Journey is a book every Mumbaikar Bombayite should read.

The Sucker Punch Review

Rudra – The Idea Of Shiva Review

Gandhi’s Experiments And Hitler’s Struggle


Book Review: Banker To The Poor – The Story Of The Grameen Bank

By Janak Samtani

How will you define poverty? How did poverty come into existence? Have we accepted poverty as a part of people’s lives which cannot be eradicated? Do you feel this money market system which we survive in and which gives us buying power is fool-proof?

Banker To The Poor – The Story of The Grameen Bank identifies human sufferings through the face of the rural population of Bangladesh and narrates the solutions which were needed & created for them. The book defines poverty not in philosophical terms, but from lack of basic needs of people. It tells us why people are in the state they are in. It tells us the significance of credit & how the international & domestic financial institutions operated back then & still do operate.
The book is authored by Mr Muhammad Yunus, who initially takes us through his childhood days in the then East Pakistan, his college days in the U.S. and the formation of Bangladesh. All these chapters tell us what he saw around him and about his participation in people movements, which later would give him the necessary direction to carry out the most important project for the people, which was people specific & not region specific.
Mr Yunus, being a professor of economics himself explains on how economics itself ignored most of the population and gave no support to them. All this understanding was from his initial rural visits, where he saw how the system of money lenders & borrowers worked, where the terms always unfairly favor the money lender, whom at instance of non-repayment are the owners of the borrowers assets, which are valued significantly higher than the loan amount. The end result he saw was hunger. He defined poverty in form of hunger. What followed was his change of belief in the existing financial & credit system, which lead to initial experiments & projects of the first micro-credit loans.
Mr Yunus narrates his experience not through the position of a money-lender & a borrower & in temporary form. But, it is about the creation of a new financial system with a completely new perspective of the rural poor; which was that they possessed the necessary enterprising will, but were hungry because of the lack of micro-credit. The micro-credit was to support self-employment; where the borrowers would earn slowly & steadily through agriculture, livestock farming & other basic services. The system was well thought off, which evolved over time, with the focus not on profit making, but for uplifting people economically. The model focused on the ease of repayment for the borrowers; who eventually helped themselves build their lives.
The new financial system was called the Grameen Bank. Mr Yunus is the founder of this revolutionary program. This bank empowered people, who own & run the bank now. Several enterprises were created by the people over the years to diversify & compete.
On reading various topics and on connecting them as dots, it becomes quite clear on how a phenomena like hunger can be manifested. Since we all survive in an open society, directly or indirectly we are continuously impacting others’ lives in effective and also harmful ways. We just do not realise it.
Banker To The Poor is one of the finest books I have read so far.
Mr Yunus won the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize for his work on the Grameen Bank.


Book Review – Rudra: The Idea Of Shiva

Rudra: The Idea Of Shiva is a mythical biography of the most intriguing Hindu deity. Nilima Chitgopekar is the vessel through which the voices of Vishnu, Sati, Ganesha, Parvati and Daksha are heard speaking about the Shiva they know. The author takes you through important events that show interesting sides to Shiva’s commanding personality, why those who believe in god or have an interest in mythology are so fascinated by him, and why the deities close to him love him, fear him, and hold him in awe. Nilima Chitgopekar’s writing flows beautifully and makes Rudra: The Idea Of Shiva a most thrilling read on the mythological badass. Boom!


Book Review: The Sucker Punch (1954)

James Hadley Chase knocked my fucking head off with this riveting crime thriller. A small-time bank clerk gets a shot at managing the biggest account he could ever dream of, and being the opportunist he is, does a rather fine job of handling not only the account but also its owner –  a rich, snooty heiress. The arrogant but ignorant woman falls head over heels for the womanizer, who hates her and marries her only for her money, only to fall madly in love with the heiress’ nerdy secretary, who happens to be playing a little game of her own. With his wife coming in the way of him and the geeky secretary, the dashing narrator must remove the one thing that stands in the way of his wealth and love… I just told you, dummy – his wife. The Sucker Punch has had its entire plot and lines stolen and translated into Hindi for the film Aar Ya Paar, with the super-suave Jackie Shroff playing the protagonist and Paresh Rawal playing the razor-sharp cop. James Hadley Chase’s 1954 story proved too much to handle for the 1997 Indian audience, who sucker punched the film right back. I leave you here with the less titillating of the two covers of the classic novel which taught me that one can get ‘systematically drunk’.

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