Book Reviews by a Pioneer: The Curse of Kukkutarma by Prateep Roy

I read about speed of light, the fourth dimension, relativity, and many similar fantastical subjects sometime in my adolescence. I would fantasise about travelling to another dimension and meet people from my past or future. That led me to think about a machine which could make me travel in time across centuries. It was only a concept, but it sounded something achievable to a boy growing up in the late 1960s.

Then I was an adult in the relative safety of the real world – occasionally giving in to my childhood fantasies watching Star Trek and the Star Wars. Till, I came across this book The Curse of Kukkutarma by Prateep Roy.

Opu, pet name for Opamanyu, from the early 20th century, is considered a child prodigy. He travels to England for studies. There he builds a time machine to travel to the period of Mahabharata, to meet Bhisma. Instead, he reaches Kurukshetra of early 21st century due to some technical miscalculations.

He is rescued by a brother-sister duo. Siddharth, a scientist, works in IIT, Delhi. The sister, Tanya is an anthropologist, and is studying the Indus Valley Civilisation. She is excited by the time machine and she wants to go back in time to Kukkutarma (Mohenjo-daro) and find the reasons for the disappearance of this once flourishing civilisation.

The two scientists work on developing another Atityán – that is what Opu calls his time machine. Tanya goes back in time to Mohenjo-daro, and Opu travels back to his England of 20th century. Tanya has her scrapes during her time travel, manages to fall in love with a man there, brings him to the 21st century, and eventually travels back one last time to leave her mate in his century.

You might smirk and say what an improbable story. Of course, it is an improbable story today, but do not forget that people said the same about aeroplanes at some time in the not too distant past. Who knows, maybe a few generations from today, someone may come to meet me in the 21st century.

An expertly woven story from our childhood fantasies. The manuscript does need a little work on editing.

Book Reviews by a Pioneer: Blue Eagle by Sharada Kolluru

Neil Randhawa, an Italian of Indian origin, finds himself in a Delhi Police station, trying to locate Blue Eagle – a wine that he lost at Delhi airport. What is special about this wine? A stranger successfully bid half a million US Dollars for the 1988 vintage, died the same evening of snake bite at the vineyard where Neil works and was also the auctioneer. The dying man extracted a promise from Neil to offer the wine to Lord Kal Bhairav in Ujjain.

Moe Kyaw Somani, a young Burmese Indian, also lands at the same police station, having lost her 12th grade certificates, without which her dream of studying in Lady Shri Ram College will remain just that – a dream, for which she has travelled all the way from Yangon.

The two narrate the stories of their lives in their birth countries to the sympathetic inspector, who decides to help them. The two young people come together in their search. Is it any surprise, then, that soon sparks begin to fly!

Sounds like another version of the Bollywood film Jab We Met, or many similar stories seen on screen. But I am not complaining. The storytelling is fast paced, the setting is different, and I just love a good old-fashioned romance – this one is inter-continental – so I got to travel a lot from the comfort of my armchair – Italy, the vineyards, Myanmar, and my favourite – Italian food. It was a magical journey expertly woven through words.

If you are looking for a fun fast-paced read over the weekend, then this rom-com is perfect. What I thought could have been toned down – a couple of pages of explicit physical intimacy. As my literary agent friend Lalitha keeps telling me, “Sanjay… show… not tell.”

Book Reviews by a Pioneer: The Thinnai by Ari Gautier (Translated from the French original by Blake Smith)

I first came across the term Thinnai last year in a novel by a friend – it means a shaded verandah at the entrance to a home. I could not resist my temptation to read a novel named The Thinnai – was the verandah a lead character in the novel? I was not disappointed – the thinnai is indeed the lead prop where most of the action takes place.

The book is set in Kurusukuppam, a working class district in Pondicherry. The place has its fair share of all kinds of people – from a few who would appear to be eccentric, to upper class Franco-Indian soldiers who fought for the French in the World War, have now settled in this district, have Creole servants, still celebrate the King’s Day and the Bastille Day, are more French than possibly even the French, yet are Indians at heart and in their acts.

Into this potpourri of characters lands Gilbert Thaata, an old Frenchman, who comfortably settles himself in the thinnai of one such soldier. No one knows where he has come from. He finds a roof and food and good alcohol in this thinnai. He starts narrating a tale to his gracious host, and those who come to the thinnai – a tale of his ancestors, and how they came in possession of a precious stone, the Curse of Sita. His wrinkled experience understands the human psychology – this free life of relative luxury is his till he continues to spin his yarn.

Does he hand over this precious stone to his host when departing? Will there be another storyteller?

It was such a fine storytelling that I did not want the story to end. I also wished that I had learnt French to read the original version of the book too. I am certain that Blake Smith has captured all the nuances of the original.

Pioneer Book Lovers Club Write Contest 2021: Prompt for January 2022 and Rules for submission

Write a short story of 1500-3000 words (excluding the prompt) using the below prompt.

It was at that moment of utter despair, I suddenly recalled what Emerson had said, “when it is dark enough, you can see the stars.”

1. The prompt can be used anywhere in your story, but it should not be split.
2. The story can be of any genre of your choice.
3. The storytelling is important, but please also take care of grammatical or spelling errors.
4. Your story should be submitted in both pdf and word formats by 31st January 2022 at pblcwritecontest@gmail.com. Please caption the subject line as Write Contest.
5. Two winners will be declared in case found suitable by the judges. The decision of the judges will be final. No queries will be entertained on the results.
6. All future announcements and results can be seen on the Facebook group of Pioneer Book Lovers Club (https://www.facebook.com/groups/880032822610818/).
7. The contest will run for one year till May 2022, with two winners declared every month if found suitable.
8. Winning entries at the end of the year will be compiled and have a chance to be published in a book of short stories.

Put on your writing cap and send us your short stories using the above prompt.

Pioneer Book Lovers Club also has monthly interactive shows with authors. Our next author is Prateep Roy, author of The Curse of Kukkutarma. He will be in conversation with Sanjay Chandra, author on Sunday, 23rd January 2022 at 5 PM, Indian Time. Please send message for registration and link for the show at pblcwritecontest@gmail.com. Please caption the subject line as Author Show.

Book Reviews by a Pioneer: Halfway Fates by Deepali Bajaj

Genre: Romance
Rating: 3.5/5

Suraj is a happy go lucky young man studying in college. He, Raghav – his roommate and friend, Mira – whom he loves, and Deepti – another close friend with whom he can share his secrets, are fun-filled college students. They attend lectures, sometime bunk classes, go out for parties, attend socials, play pranks, go for drives, get drunk also.

Suraj also has vivid dreams about a young girl Mithi. This girl is in love with Siddharth, and they both appear to be heading towards a forever life together. Suraj is perplexed – he has never met Mithi or Siddharth. Why does he dream about them? Is there a past connection?
The story moves in two parallel tracks – that of Suraj, Mira, Deepti, and Raghav in the present; Siddharth and Mithi in the past through Suraj’s dreams. Will the two stories merge?

This is an interesting novella, well written. I kept turning the pages to unravel the mystery. The unfolding – it comes almost in the end – was a surprise to me. I could not guess it throughout the book.

One aspect of the book is a let down – weak editing. There are grammatical and spelling errors throughout the manuscript. I hope the author takes care of this in subsequent editions, and future works.

Book Reviews by a Pioneer: Karna The King of Anga by Kevin Missal

Genre: Fantasy/Indian Mythology
Rating: 4.5/5

This is a retelling of the story of Karna, one of the greatest warriors in Indian mythology. Born out of wedlock, abandoned by his biological mother, and brought up by foster parents from lower caste, he was denied his rightful place in society. He was also ridiculed – the only person who stood by him was Duryodhana, offering him his friendship and the kingdom of Anga.

But what I had read was that the kingdom of Anga was offered to Karna by Duryodhana when the former was denied the right to bid for the hand of Panchali in the Swayam Var. I also thought that Adhiratha, Karna’s adoptive father, was the royal charioteer, and not the king of Anga. I also knew that Duryodhana was the given name to the eldest son of Dhritarashtra. I always thought that Jarasandha was created by fusion of two halves.

Kevin Missal gives his own interpretation to what we have read. Duryodhana was named Suyodhan, Adhiratha was the king of Anga, but was forced into the position of charioteer to Dhritarashtra because of a behind the scenes manipulative treaty between him and Jarasandha to usurp the timber rich lands of Anga. Suyodhan convinces his father to give Karna the kingdom of Anga to defeat Jarasandha in war.

Missal also tells us that Karna and Draupadi had a crush on each other since early adolescence – Karna loved her, but Panchali decides to marry Arjun for the social status. He also tells us that Jarasandha had a twin brother who was kept under wraps. There are many more of such events in this story of Karna from his early adulthood. The story frequently traces Karna’s childhood, adolescence, and his crush on Panchali, in flashbacks.

It is these unusual narrations and interpretations to what we have read that makes the book an interesting story. In a way, the book is also an attempt at narrating what might have happened in the real world as against what might be considered other worldly that we have read.

I have only one grudge against the author – there is an abundance of cuss words. My half point less is the objection of the puritan in me.

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Book Reviews by a Pioneer: The Fragile Thread of Hope by Pankaj Giri

Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Rating: 5/5

Hope in our lives is attached to a fragile thread. Many times, when faced with life changing incidents, we find it convenient to break the thread and fall into an abyss of despair. Soham and Fiona, two people unknown to each other, face such events in their lives.

Soham lost his elder brother as a young child and blames himself for the death. He then looses both his parents in quick succession in his adult life. Fiona had a traumatic childhood, because of which she did not trust men. Just as she had overcome her reservations and had found the love of her life, her husband dies in a road accident.

Then their paths cross. Will they be able to overcome their past and build a life together on the fragile thread of hope! They certainly will need to work for that to have a happily ever after story to narrate to their grandchildren forty years later.

This is a heart-warming story set in Sikkim. The story unfolds almost lyrically – be it the way the beauty of the landscape of Sikkim is captured, or the way the happiness or the anguish of all the characters is depicted. For me there was an instant connect with all the characters – that was the beauty of storytelling. There is a fair use of Nepalese terms, but these do not detract from the story – in fact they help in moving the story forward.

I loved the book.

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Mantra for Success – 2

“The planning fallacy is that you make a plan, which is usually a best-case scenario. Then you assume that the outcome will follow your plan, even when you should know better” – Daniel Kahneman

Daniel Kahneman is a psychologist, but this quote is so true not only in our everyday lives, but also in our professional pursuits, particularly construction projects. I am sure much of this may be relevant to other business ventures as well.

Those in construction projects mostly follow either of the two extremes:

1. Take risks indiscriminately when starting a new business or when expanding/diversifying the existing business
2. In case of failure, go to the other extreme of building in all risk factors in the costing, and then getting priced out of the business altogether

Failure in business is loss of profits for the promoter and delay in project completion for the client. Both have a very close relationship with each other – client seeks early completion and the promoter delays monetary support to the project, little realising that delay only means more fixed costs, further increasing the losses.

All of this could easily have been avoided, if a middle path was adopted. All possible risks could have been listed, appropriately costed, and finally evaluated for probability of occurrence. A conscious decision could have been taken about incorporating the cost of risk based on probability of occurrence in the final cost.

The trick for winning project, completing them timely, and maintaining your profits, lies in incorporating the risks in the cost based on past experience from the field and not on sentiments. Most of the times, this past experience is not maintained in a retrievable archive and the people on the ground with experience are not consulted. This is a recipe for failure.

I have not been a paragon of success in all that I undertook. But my failures have taught me important lessons.

1. Make a thorough study of the project/business that you want to venture into – whether a startup or an expansion/diversification
2. Do not be scared of facing the possible risks.
3. Evaluate the cost and probability of each risk.
4. Take a conscious decision of which risk to incorporate in your cost based on the probability, not on sentiments
5. Take expert advice to evaluate the probability of risk.
6. The experts will be the people who have worked in the field. Do not hesitate to consult them.
7. Create a retrievable archive of all the risks that you encounter in your business as you grow your business.
8. In time, this archive along with the advice of people in the field will be the ones which will take you successfully to your goal.

Do not plan on the best-case or the worst-case scenarios alone. Find the middle-ground for a lasting success.

If you agree with me on the above, or even if you disagree with me, and you have a success story to share, or if you want me to assist you with your business plans, please write to me at sanjay@forecsnappinfra.com captioning the subject line as ‘Mantra for Success – 2’.

#riskmanagement

Pioneer Book Lovers Club Write Contest 2021: Prompt for December and Rules for submission

Write a short story of 1500-3000 words (excluding the prompt) using the below prompt.

So the tradition of celebrating Halloween continued at Pioneer Park. It meant a lot to me….

1. The prompt can be used anywhere in your story, but it should not be split.
2. The story can be of any genre of your choice.
3. The storytelling is important, but please also take care of grammatical or spelling errors.
4. Your story should be submitted in both pdf and word formats by 31st December 2021 at pblcwritecontest@gmail.com. Please caption the subject line as Write Contest.
5. Two winners will be declared in case found suitable by the judges. The decision of the judges will be final. No queries will be entertained on the results.
6. All future announcements and results can be seen on the Facebook group of Pioneer Book Lovers Club (https://www.facebook.com/groups/880032822610818/).
7. The contest will run for one year till May 2022, with two winners declared every month if found suitable.
8. Winning entries at the end of the year will be compiled and have a chance to be published in a book of short stories.

Put on your writing cap and send us your short stories using the above prompt.

We have also started interactive sessions with authors. Our next author is Asha Iyer Kumar, author of That Pain in the Womb and other books. She will be in conversation with Sanjay Chandra, author of The Life and Times of a Common Man, and the forthcoming The Gymnast, on Sunday, 19th December 2021 at 4 PM, Indian Time.

Please send message for registration and link for the session at pblcwritecontest@gmail.com. Please caption the subject line as Author Session.

#writecontest #writingcompetition #writingprompts #shortstorychallenge #EventsContestsDeals

Book Reviews by a Pioneer: Hindu Refugee Camp, Lahore by Sachin Garg

Genre: Historical/Contemporary Love Story
Rating: 5/5

Once in a while you read a story that tugs at your heartstrings. Hindu Refugee Camp, Lahore is such a story.

Ghulam Ali is a limb fitter – the best from ‘Burma to Britannia’. He belongs to Lucknow, serves in the Indian army, and by a quirk of fate finds himself serving in Lahore at the time of India’s partition. He wants to stay in India. But for that he needs valid Indian documents – which he does not have, and hence permit from Indian government. He starts making rounds of government offices in Lucknow for the permit.

He meets Zahira, the lady in the government office, who will process his application, but who finds it difficult in the absence of any documents. She has lost one leg. He makes a perfect wooden limb for her, so that she can dance – her passion. They fall in love, and plan to get married. They consummate their relationship on the night before their planned marriage next day.

The Indian government looks at him with suspicion, is arrested on the same night, and sent back to Lahore with police escort, where he is released after a few days in the lock-up. He is unwanted in Pakistan as well. He ends up in a Hindu refugee camp, writing to everybody to let him return to India. A daughter is born while he is still in Lahore.

Ghulam Ali and Zahira Raza communicate with each other between 1958 and 1960 only through letters. It is these letters from Lucknow that keep him motivated even when facing adversities in Lahore. Then Zahira stops replying to Ali’s letters in 1960.

Ali gets permission to return back to India. Zahira is no longer in Lucknow, and no-one knows where she has gone with their daughter. He writes the last letter of the story to his daughter, now 19 years old in 1977, on the day that she is getting married.

Is Ali able to reunite with his family?

The story contains only these letters that Ali and Zahira share with each other, or his last letter to his daughter. There is never a moment when you want to skip a letter – in fact if you skip one, you might miss the sentiments conveyed in the letter. All the hardships that Ali faces in Lahore – everyone is using religion as a leverage to control others , or the difficulties of Zahira as an unwed single mother living alone in Lucknow – are beautifully brought out in these letters. These issues are contemporary, though written in the context of events in 1958.

Even his last letter to his daughter, beautifully brings out the loneliness of his life without Zahira and Zubeida, but with a hope for future. Ghulam Ali writes that if he were to die in that moment, his epitaph would have read, ‘He died out of happiness on being with the love of his life.’

History records that the partition happened on 15th August 1947. But for people like Ghulam Ali, it’s an event that stretched on for years and years.

The author has written in his notes, ‘I wish the subjects discussed in this book weren’t as relevant today as they are.’

This is what makes this love story as much contemporary as historical.

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