Karm – Aditya Mukherjee, Arnav Mukherjee – Book Review


KarmGoodreads blurb: 2020. Mumbai a fetid city, full of crime and violence.

Rising above it, a flattened obelisk of polished black granite, stands the Rustomji Group’s imposing headquarters the One World Tower. And at its very tip, is Babylon, Vishnu Rustomji Mistry’s famous garden on top of the tallest building in Mumbai the centre of its wealth and power.

It’s the day the flamboyant billionaire will make his big announcement. Yet, it’ll be one of the few days in the year when his won’t be the biggest story. It’s the day a letter will be found that could change the meaning of everything. A simple letter, signed ‘The People’s Guardian’, which threatens the Chief Minister with dire consequences.

When model-turned-newscaster Tara and rookie journalist Sudhir Navkar stumble upon clues about this possible vigilante, they are led on a breadcrumb trail from the eerie slums of gangland Mumbai to the high-rise towers of SoBo.

As the two of them try desperately to solve the mystery, they begin to uncover a frightening conspiracy that threatens to cast a shadow on the entire nation and on their lives.

In a choice between love, life and their karm, will they have the courage to pursue the truth?

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While the book and its premise of radical individuals resorting to revolutionary measures, this book clearly takes the ‘vigilante’ genre of stories and tries to customize the same using the Indian political system and the surrounding milieu as its base. While that by itself is not too much of a problem, the fact that the authors tried a little too hard to imbibe some extremely popular elements from this genre and didn’t quite succeed was where the book falters a little bit.

For example, Vishnu Mistry’s loss of his parents at a young age with them being gunned down right in front of his eyes reminded me too much of Bruce Wayne who goes on to become the Batman. The fact that both Vishnu and Bruce Wayne were both millionaires who probably had the economic and financial clout throughout their lives was also something that seemed just a little too coincidental for me to ignore. Further, the fact that the authors tried to present the Mumbai of 2020 as a place where crime and criminals rule the roost with the politicians of the day being extremely corrupt also struck me as a little too Gotham-like in its descriptions. With the resemblance to Bruce Wayne and Gotham being so prominent, I simply couldn’t get Batman out of my mind when reading this book, although Vishnu didn’t quite take to donning a mask and a cape and start fighting crime all by himself, a-la the Batman.

The resemblances to Batman notwithstanding, Karm does stand out as quite a good book by itself. An extremely relatable plot, fast paced narrative and decent protagonists in the form of Vishnu, Tara and Sudhir ensure that readers are not bored and the pages of the book turn themselves quite well. And the authors have done just about enough to ensure that character motivations are also quite coherent and none of their actions seem contrived or forced.

Click here to purchase the book from Flipkart [Link] or Amazon [Link].

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Disclaimer: A review copy of this book was provided to me by the publishers in return for a honest and unbiased review.

Kamadeva: The God of Desire – Anuja Chandramouli – Book Review


Kamadeva_GodOfDesireGoodreads blurb: Kamadeva, the charming wielder of the sugarcane bow and the flower-tipped arrows, born out of the wellspring of Brahmas latent passion, has for long remained an enigma. This enthralling story of the God of Desire explores his many wondrous adventures, as well as his heady romance with Rati, his chief consort.

Best friends with Indra, the King of the Gods, tutor to the Apsaras in the art of lovemaking, Kamadeva lives a dream life in the magnificent Kingdom of Amaravathi – until danger strikes when he incurs the wrath of Shiva because of a preordained curse. Follow Kama as he hurtles towards his destiny and the Destroyers dreaded third eye. Find out if he will rise from the ashes to reign supreme as the King of Hearts or if he will be doomed to spend an eternity as Ananga – The bodiless one.

In Kamadeva – The God of Desire, the author masterfully marries imagination with stellar research to bring to vivid life one of the most intriguing Gods of the Hindu pantheon. Laced with wit and narrated in contemporary flavour, Kamadeva will take you on a rollicking ride into the heart of desire and its tantalizing dark side.

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With this book, the author Anuja Chandramouli uses an extremely irreverent and cheeky tone to tell us the tale of one of the most under-appreciated and oft misunderstood characters from Indian mythology, Kamadeva. Starting from the unique story of his birth and that of his consort Rati, to his persistent squabbles with his father Brahma on various issues, the first part of the book deals with how Kama eventually finds his way to Amaravathi, and goes on to become a very good friend of Indra, the King of Gods. Here, the author uses their friendship to narrate some of the stories involving Indra, his various expeditions into the realms of mortals and Asuras and how he manages to get himself into trouble more often than not. Anuja cleverly uses these stories to highlight how Indian mythology in general seems to favor the male chauvinistic attitude and tends to use its female characters are mere props or worse the instigators of all the troubles of the world.

As the narration progresses, Kama finds himself on a path hurtling towards his certain doom as pre-ordained by his father Brahma at the hands of Shiva, the Destroyer. What happens thereof forms the second part of the book and deals with the life of Pradyumna, the incarnation of Kama as the mortal son of Krishna. Pradyumna, the purpose of his birth, the love of his life Maya and his life with Krishna is detailed in a lovely narrative in this part of the book.

What this book does is that it brings to light some of the lesser known tales from Indian mythology, especially those involving Indra and his dalliances with lovely damsels from the Three Worlds. And given the mythology buff that I am, I truly enjoyed this book and for sure it has given me enough fodder for the mythology related posts on my blog.

What also endeared this book to me quite a bit was the fact that the author chose to treat the Gods almost on par with mere mortals and she has also successfully managed to try and bring out some of the motivations behind their actions, their deepest fears and desires; after all this is a book about the God of Desire and in hindsight it was but natural that she took this approach. The use of colloquial dialogues between the characters and the friendly banter that they share with each other was a refreshing change from the normal style in which mythological books are written. Yes, while purist readers of Indian mythology might have issues with the same, kudos to Anuja Chandramouli for having taken the brave decision to take this path and what’s more she seems to have succeeded wonderfully well given the warm reception that this book has received. She has more than successfully managed to ‘humanize’ the Gods mentioned in this book, and that to me, is quite an achievement of sorts.

So, what are you still waiting for? Go ahead and click on either of the following links to purchase the book from Flipkart [Link] or Amazon [Link].

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Disclaimer: A review copy of this book was provided to me by the publishers in return for an honest and unbiased review.

Sita’s Sister – Kavita Kane – Book Review


SitaSSisterCoverGoodreads blurb: As Sita prepares to go into exile, her younger sisters stay back at the doomed palace of Ayodhya, their smiles, hope and joy wiped away in a single stroke. And through the tears and the tragedy one woman of immense strength and conviction stands apart—Urmila, whose husband, Lakshman, has chosen to accompany his brother Ram to the forest rather than stay with his bride. She could have insisted on joining Lakshman, as did Sita with Ram. But she did not. Why did she agree to be left behind in the palace, waiting for her husband for fourteen painfully long years?

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At the outset, let me clarify that one word to brieftly describe this book would be ‘mindblowing’.

While most regular readers of my blog would know that I am quite a big fan of Indian mythology and it therefore follows that the Ramayana and the Mahabharata remain two of my all time favorite books for multiple reasons. Of late, what has piqued my interest are the various retellings of these great epics by various Indian authors ranging from the extremely multi-faceted and knowledgeable Devdutt Pattanaik to personal favorites like Sharath Komarraju with The Winds of Hastinapur (read my review here). Almost all of these books, the good ones at least have always managed to rekindle my interest in the originals yet again and I tend to redouble my efforts to go back and revisit them. Sita’s Sister by Kavita Kane is truly a notable addition to this growing list of retellings and novels derived from these great epics.

Using Urmila, Sita’s sister and the wife of Lakshmana as her central protagonist, the author manages to convey the story of one of the most overlooked and probably the most under-appreciated characters of the Ramayana. Using information available in the Ramayana itself and also her creative liberty and imagination in trying to imagine the situations that Urmila found herself in, Kavita Kane manages to quietly but surely pull us all into her version of the palace of Ayodhya in the middle of the turbulent days immediately following Urmila’s marriage to Lakshman and takes us on what might have been her personal journey of fourteen years when her husband was on exile with Rama and Sita.

What endeared this book to me so much was the fact that the author has asked all those questions from Rama, Dasharatha and all the other elders of the Ishkvaku clan that probably all fans of this great epic have debated over the course of very many years; that of the fate of the women of the palace that Rama left behind when he went on exile, his mother Kausalya, Lakshmana’s mother Sumitra, Lakshmana’s wife Urmila, Bharata’s wife Mandavi when he decided to live the life of a recluse hermit in Nandigram for those fourteen years. Using Urmila as the medium to ask these questions, the author manages to put forth extremely pertinent points as to how the women of this epic suffered quite a bit due to the insistence of the men of the family to follow their dharma and perform their duties to their parents and kingdoms even at the cost of their mothers and wives. While these portions of the book deal with topics that could easily have been treated with a heavy hand of feminism, the fact that the author chose to deliver her questions and points extremely logically without resorting to ‘rabble rousing’ speaks volumes for her levels of even mindedness with which she understands and has handled these sensitive questions.

What also struck me about this book was the treatment of the main protagonist, Urmila. While most of us who have read the Ramayana earlier would probably have assumed a weak, moping wife who would have resigned to her fate and her dharma as Lakshmana’s wife, Urmila strikes us a strong, confident, independent woman from the very outset. Her loyalty to her sister Sita, even though she was adopted, her parents’ preferential treatment to Sita from a very young age, and her unflinching love for Lakshmana through the fourteen years of exile, are all brought out extremely poignantly and beautifully throughout the book.

In my opinion, no review can do true justice to this wonderful book and you should immediately click on one of these links to purchase the book from Flipkart [Link] or Amazon [Link].

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Disclaimer: I was provided a review copy of this book by the publishers in return for an honest and unbiased review of the same.

The Night It Rained Guns – Chandan Nandy – Book Review


The Night it Rained GunsGoodreads blurb: On the night of 17-18 December 1995, an aging Russian Antonov-26 plane dropped three weapons-laden wooden pallets over Purulia, a backward, nondescript district in West Bengal.

Four days later, the same plane was force-landed at Mumbai’s Santa Cruz airport, from where the mastermind of the operation, Kim Davy aka Niels Christian Nielsen, managed a daring escape. Who were the end-users of the weapons? Why were they airdropped over that particular region? Were they, as claimed later, meant for the shady cult, the Ananda Marga? Was it an effort to topple the CPI (M)-ruled state government of West Bengal? Or was it a conspiracy of international proportions, spanning continents and masterminded by a global superpower?

As a reporter for The Telegraph and, later, the Hindustan Times, Chandan Nandy broke several stories on this bizarre covert operation. Nineteen years after the sensational arms drop, in this book, he exposes the grave lapses committed by India’s security agencies and pieces together the story of how the operation was planned and executed. He brings to light as-yet undisclosed evidence about the end-users, whose identity still remains a mystery.

Based on scores of interviews with R&AW, IB and CBI insiders and relying on classified documents, The Night it Rained Guns is a riveting exploration of India’s greatest security breaches.

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Being an avid quizzer over the course of quite a few years in my high school and college, I had inevitably heard of the Purulia Arms Drop case in passing and had only superficial information about the same until I actually picked up this book. And man, is it quite an interesting story or what?

The author, Chandan Nandy, who used to work as a reporter for the Telegraph and the Hindustan Times picks up from where he left off in the newspapers, compiles all the available information, puts his own contacts to work and conducts more than quite a few interviews with various people involved with intelligence agencies around the world and tries to make sense of the still unsolved case, where the main accused is still at large, living freely in Copenhagen, Denmark, from where the Danish authorities continue to refuse to extradite him to India to be put on trial for this case.

While the incident itself and the book is quite a damning revelation of the absolute lack of co-ordination and teamwork between the various security agencies of the country viz R&AW, IB, CBI and the local police, it is also quite an eye-opener in terms of the fact that despite all the Hollywood blockbusters that deal with espionage and covert international operations conducted around the world, the truth seems to be stranger than fiction.

The last chapter of the book titled The Manchurian Candidate goes into moderate detail where the author tries to put together various pieces of the puzzle to find out who the arms and ammunition was intended for, and the picture that emerges is quite a complex jigsaw puzzle by itself. Highlighting the possible collusion of the CIA and IB, possibly to provide arms to the Kachin rebels in Burma, the author seems convinced that this could be the main reason that the Danish authorities, who have always been ‘cronies’ (for lack of a better word) of the Americans steadfastly refuse to extradite Niels Christian Nielsen to India to be tried for his adventure.

The portions relating to how Niels planned the entire operation, the detailed logistics itself starting from the initial meetings, how the players arrange for the various pieces of the deal, the dry runs, the actual operation itself, its aftermath, etc are very well written. And although the book is packed with facts and figures, in this particular case, the author has exercised mastery over the craft of the narrative itself and this non-fiction fact-based book reads quite like the Forsyth and Ludlum books that regular readers are used to. And that to me, is what made this book so interesting and unputdownable.

For sure, a must read for all fans of the espionage thriller genre of books, despite the fact that this is a non-fiction book. Click on the links to purchase the book from Flipkart [Link] or Amazon [Link].

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Disclaimer: The publishers of this book provided me with a review copy of the same in return for a honest and unbiased review.

Item Girl – Richa Lakhera – Book Review


ItemGirlGoodreads blurb: Sunheri and Suhana—twin sisters who share a horrific childhood—get caught up in a vortex of pain and deceit when Sunheri, a popular item girl in Bollywood, is accused of murdering her vicious uncle and is sent to jail. Suhana, an aspiring filmmaker, is determined to seek justice for her sister but comes up against Kala, their stepmother, who has hatched diabolical plans of her own. And when three other manipulative item girls—Nargis, Digital Dolly and Daisy—are identified as key eyewitnesses in Sunheri’s case, the matter only becomes more complicated.

Throw into the mix an explosive rape-tape, a brutal blackmailer, a cruel boyfriend, a cynical journalist who knows too much, and a hard-boiled cop, and what you have is a mind-bending psychological thriller that will hold you hostage until the end. An intense, gripping account of the dark side of showbiz, there is never a dull moment in Item Girl.

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The action in this book revolves around the gruesome murder of KD and while all circumstantial evidence points towards his step-niece Sunheri Kashyap (Sunny) having killed him in a drug induced frenzy, the investigating officer ACP Kabir Bhonsle smells something fishy about the whole affair and goes on to conduct a thorough investigation leaving no loose ends.

However, what he doesn’t quite bargain for are the skeletons that come tumbling out of the closet from the past lives of all the people involved – Sunny, her sister Suhana, their step uncle KD, his seedy business associates, his sister and Sunny’s step mother Kala and the three other item girls Nargis, Digital Dolly and Daisy who were the key witnesses. What follows is quite the Pandora’s Box of events and characters who take the ACP on an unforgettable journey through the seedy under-currents of the cinema industry.

Written in an extremely edgy manner, especially the parts involving Sunny’s drug abuse and her traumatic childhood, the author Richa Lakhera does a lovely job of letting readers know more about the oft discussed in hushed tones but little known darker, disturbing elements of the industry such as the casting couch, the absolute lack of integrity and morality with which the seedier elements of the industry operate and the brazen display of wealth and power put on show by them. Kudos to the author for having woven these elements into the narrative in a manner that it forms an integral part of the plot without impeding the pace of the book in any manner.

And the fact that the author has also managed to make most of these characters memorable for different reasons ranging from their personalities to their insecurities also speaks volumes for the ‘insider’ level knowledge that she has of the industry and how it operates. And the brief epilogues that are presented in the last few pages of the book show a great depth of maturity as well on her part in stating what should otherwise be obvious, the fact that the show goes on, no matter what.

A breezy entertaining read and a must-read for anybody who thinks they know how the cinema industry operates. I am sure it will end up being an eye-opener in more ways than one.

Click on the links to purchase the book from Flipkart [Link] or Amazon [Link].

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Disclaimer: I was offered a review copy of this book by the publishers in return for an unbiased review.