Sunday, 27 May 2018

Review: Chanakya Neeti: With Complete Sutras

Chanakya Neeti: With Complete Sutras Chanakya Neeti: With Complete Sutras by Chanakya
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“Peoples happiness should be King’s happiness. Welfare of people is King’s welfare. For a king, there is no task which is only individualistic and pleasurable to him only. It is king’s utmost duty to look after progress and welfare of people of his country.”

Kautilya (also known as Chanakya aka Vishnugupt, c. 350-275 BCE) was an Indian statesman and philosopher, chief advisor and Prime Minister of the Indian Emperor Chandragupta, the first ruler of the Mauryan Empire. Kautilya belonged to the Brahmin caste (the priestly class), he was originally from Northern India and a professor of political science and economics at the University of Taxila. He was fully knowledgeable concerning the Vedas literature and it is also believed that he might have had some knowledge of Zoroastrianism. He mentored Chandra Gupta Maura (a Shudra Low caste person) to become king. With Chandra Gupta he repelled the invasion of Greeks and also dethroned Dhananand.

This is the English translation of his Chankya Neeti. First the shloka is given in Sanskrit, then it is written in roman and finally the English translation is given. Some explanation is also given in brackets if required. The shlokas given here are for practical use in statecraft. These are not theoretical. This is proven by the historical facts that how he defeated the mighty Nandas. Some examples are reproduced below:

1. Without good assistance a king can take no right decisions.
2. Courage alone is not enough to achieve success in one’s mission.
3. An irritable or foul tempered cow is better than having thousand dogs.
4. One’s wisdom fails at the onset of the evil days.

Although the teachings are excellent some have become outdated. Some of these are anti Dalit and sexist in today’s context. Some of those may be correct when written but lost relevance in today’s age. Some examples:

1. A woman, by nature, is liar, courageous, deceitful, foolish, greedy, impious and cruel. These are innate attributes of a woman.
2. Women have a knack of talking to one man, casting an askew glance at other and loving secretly a third man. They can’t devotedly love just one man.
3. The power of Brahmans is knowledge, of the king his army, of the trader class their wealth and of the menial class their service ability. [Chankya asserts Manu]

So, this Neeti is mixed bag in present context. It should not be followed verbatim and in toto, but in small doses. We should use our wisdom and use it as per the changed times wherever required. There are many printing mistakes and at some places there are boxes instead of words. A better proof reading was required. Translation could have been better.

4/5 stars.

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Review: Carthick's Unfairy Tales

Carthick's Unfairy Tales Carthick's Unfairy Tales by T F Carthick
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“You think fairy tales are only for girls? Here's a hint - ask yourself who wrote them. I assure you, it wasn't just the women. It's the great male fantasy - all it takes is one dance to know that she's the one. All it takes is the sound of her song from the tower, or a look at her sleeping face. And right away you know - this is the girl in your head, sleeping or dancing or singing in front of you. Yes, girls want their princes, but boys want their princesses just as much. And they don't want a very long courtships. They want to know immediately.”
― David Levithan, Dash & Lily's Book of Dares

As the quote suggest fairy tales are not so innocent after all. These have implied sinister meanings below the pretty fa├žade. Carthick tried to bring to surface these implied meanings in his book.

This book is an attempt to see the classic tales from the hidden perspective. Then they are not so fairy. They become unfairy and that’s why the name. Like the tale of three bears is told from the perspective of bear. The part where the bear and girl see each other is hilarious. To tell the truth why the girl shouts. It should be the other way around. Then in the end the message is that humans are invading animal’s spaces.

Similarly, Cinderella’s tale brings forth the hypocrisy of society. Every girl wants to marry a prince and forgets about his pals as soon as she goes to palace.

“The frog who would be king” is the story of a princess who does not want to marry him even when he becomes a handsome price. She somehow gets rid of him but that is not the end of her ordeal. Or is it? Read to find out.

The book is dark satire/ comedy and not easy to read. This is a strong statement against the hypocrisy of society. I will sign off with this quote of Taylor Swift:

“When I was a little girl I used to read fairy tales. In fairy tales you meet Prince Charming and he's everything you ever wanted. In fairy tales the bad guy is very easy to spot. The bad guy is always wearing a black cape so you always know who he is. Then you grow up and you realize that Prince Charming is not as easy to find as you thought. You realize the bad guy is not wearing a black cape and he's not easy to spot; he's really funny, and he makes you laugh, and he has perfect hair.”

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Review: A Time To Burnish

A Time To Burnish A Time To Burnish by Radhika Nathan
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

“India is not, as people keep calling it, an underdeveloped country, but rather, in the context of its history and cultural heritage, a highly developed one in an advanced state of decay.”
― Shashi Tharoor

India is a poor country having a rich cultural heritage. We are the oldest civilization. The diversity in cultures and rulers across the ages and width and breadth of the country the legacy is huge. We have temples, caves, palaces, idols and much much more in terms of historical legacy. This book is story of one such idol. Nataraja the dancing Shiva’s idol of Chola empire times is at the centre of the book.

There are three main characters in the book. Josh and Tom are brothers and Vidya is a friend of Tom’s. Tom is affable and makes fired easily. He is studious and devotes time to ancient artefacts. In an unfortunate accident he became wheelchair bound. Vidya is his online friend. They know each other very well and admire mutually. Josh is a computer expert and a contrast to Tom. Still both brothers love each other dearly. A bronze Nataraja idol is stolen from India and smuggled into London. Tom thinks he might be an accessory in crime. As he cannot move much he asks Josh to go to Chennai and uncover the mystery. He requests Vidya to help Josh. Initially Josh find Vidya unbearable but later on they come close. Will they be able to solve the mystery?

India is a vast country and ASI does not have the resources even to protect the heritage forget about restoring it. The antiques fetch high price in international market and the theft are common. The book has some insights into the rich history. Vidya and Josh trace the origin to a non-descript village of Tamil Nadu.

The book has a promising premise but it became slow and meandering after initial chapters. Nothing much happened until it was too late. The chemistry of Vidya and Josh was tedious and uninspiring. Then Tom keep on mentioning about a detective who gives him information. What and how and when is unanswered? Also, why didn’t he send this detective to India alone or with Josh when he was so resourceful. The story was stuck and I was hoping a fast pace thriller a la Clive Cussler, Dan Brown or Steve Barry. But this disappointed me in that sense.

Keeping in view the pros and cons 3/ 5 stars.

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Saturday, 26 May 2018

Review: Tied to Deceit

Tied to Deceit Tied to Deceit by Neena H. Brar
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“God has given you one face and you give yourself another.” Hamlet by Shakespeare.

Tied to deceit is a whodunit primarily. The strength of a good murder mystery that you should not know about the identity of the killer till the last scene. The conflict in story comes from the weaknesses of human character. Here this book works big time. Unsuccessful marriages, greed, philandering and blackmail: you name it and it has it all.

Dr Rajinder Bhardwaj and his wife Gayatri are a highly respected upper class couple in a small town Sanover. Dr Bhardwaj runs a hospital and has ancestral wealth too. His brother had exogamous marrige for love and was disowned by their father. His nephew Rudra has no such moral dilemma and he is ambitious. He works for him and dreams of inheriting his vast wealth one day and Dr Rajinder is issueless. Dr Rajinder’s is an unhappy marriage in reality but Gayatri gives it an appearance of happy one. She knows full well about his infidelities but ignores. But one fine day she catches him red handed with Devika, a receptionist in hospital. Devika dramatically announces that she is pregnant with Dr Rajinder’s baby. Shortly afterwards she is killed brutally. Now it is up to SP Vishwanath Sharma and SI Rawat to solve the mystery.

This book does not follow the standard template for a murder mystery. There are many red herrings but the focus is more on character development and emotions. Marriages are unhappy in the book. The police men are too good to be true. SP Vishwanath is polite, persevering, considerate and sharp. He is no Sherlock but he is unrelenting. The characters of two main antagonists Devika and Rudra has layers and surprises. Those layers reveal slowly as the book progresses.

The book is nice but the pace is slow. After the initial acceleration it loses momentum. Then it meanders in the side stories which does not add to the overall scheme of story. A tighter editing and chopping off some side stories would have been nice. The track of Dr Namita, Devika’s family etc were not integrated and story would have done without those. In fact, the love interests of Rudra added nothing and seems improbable.

The book gave some nice insights about human nature and marriage. The descriptions of beautiful hill town are awesome. Language is first rate and in the end the book delivers. 3.5/ 5 stars.

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Tuesday, 8 May 2018

Review: And So Can You!

And So Can You! And So Can You! by Dr Roopleen
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Dr Roopleen is an eye surgeon among other things. She is an accomplished writer. So why she wrote this book? Because she wanted to read it and it was unwritten. Many books on achievers have been written but none on doctors. So, to fill the vacuum she wrote this book about 17 doctors.

These are chosen from many special fields and across the country. Everyone has different story and background but one thing common: love for medical profession and desire to serve others.

Dr Sundaram Natarajan (never say die) was born to a doctor and raised in a village. He was a cry baby in childhood. He joined Madras Medical college. He believes in four Ps for success- passion, perfection, precision and perseverance.

Dr Anita Panda (resilience) was born in a remote village of Orissa. She read scriptures and mythology in childhood. She joined PG at AIIMS. Her being the woman was never a handicap for her though she has to overcome the dogma and hypocrisy. Passion and dedication to work is her mantra.

There are more such stories. Each unique and identical at the same time. The common theme is medical profession. They belong to different part of India and different streams of medical science, but they all became doctors because of love for medical field. Most of them are from poor or middle-class families and face hardships during studies but it did not deter them from achieving their goals.

After every story there are some advice and takeaways given e.g.

1. Don’t always believe what others say.
2. When in doubt take a second opinion.
3. Aspire to always improve and update knowledge.
1. There is no professional right path for everyone.
2. Never allow your ego to become a bigger part of you.
3. Problems will come your way but do not stop.

These doctors really wanted to be doctors. But it is said that why people want to become doctors is because it is their passion. That is totally wrong in Indian context as parents push children to only medical or engineering. Being an engineer, I know this first-hand.

This book is written in simple language and is sincere. There is no pretence and the stories are of simple people who become successful due to hard work.

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Review: Ramayana: The Game of Life – Book 4: Stand Strong

Ramayana: The Game of Life – Book 4: Stand Strong Ramayana: The Game of Life – Book 4: Stand Strong by Shubha Vilas
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“...the secret of the Great Stories is that they have no secrets. The Great Stories are the ones you have heard and want to hear again. The ones you can enter anywhere and inhabit comfortably. They don’t deceive you with thrills and trick endings. They don’t surprise you with the unforeseen. They are as familiar as the house you live in. Or the smell of your lover’s skin. You know how they end, yet you listen as though you don’t. In the way that although you know that one day you will die, you live as though you won’t. In the Great Stories you know who lives, who dies, who finds love, who doesn’t. And yet you want to know again.

That is their mystery and their magic.”
― Arundhati Roy, The God of Small Things

The Ramayana is the greatest epic ever told (at least one of those). This is my second book of this series. The first book I read was “The Stolen Hope”. I liked that immensely review of which can be found here:
this is just the extension of story which now moves to Rishimukh Parbat where Ram meets Hanuman (Kishkindha Kaand). Whatever I said in the previous review applied to this too.

The story is great because everyone knows it but still a brief outline. Sugriva is hiding in Rishimukh mountain beause of his brother Bali. Then Ram and Lakshman comes that side and he sends Hanuman to find out who are they. Ram befriends Sugriva and kills Bali. The book ends with Hanuman running towards Mahendra Parbat.

The book tells Ramayana and stays true to the original most of the time. The footnotes are life lessons which is derived from the story itself. Some of these are reproduced below:

1. A mature person knows how to neglect disrespect toward oneself and take very seriously disrespect towards others.
2. Luxuries are of concern only when basic needs are met, and basic needs itself are of concern only when need for mental peace is met.
3. Responsibility appears like a cage, but it sets the bird of self-growth free.
4. A fearful person is like a paralyzed person.
5. Where power ends, responsibility begins.
One question which is often asked “why Rama killed Vali from hiding?”. The author tries to answer it by saying that Vali is an animal and Rama is a hunter. The hunter (men) decide the rules and not the hunted. Also, Vali was wrong by laying eyes on Ruma and trying to kill Sugriva. So, Rama was justified in killing him. I am not convinced by the reasoning.

One more drawback is that the interpretation given in footnotes and in boxes are good but they impede the enjoy of reading. The acts as speed breakers and slows down the reading. It would have been better that they would have been given in the running narrative.

Keeping in view the overall reading 4/ 5 stars.

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