Book Reviews by a Pioneer: Sleep Your Way to Success by Khurshed Batliwala and Dinesh Ghodke

It was the title that tempted me to read this non-fiction work when recommended in one of my book clubs. Having spent a good enough time in the government sector and then corporate world, and brought up on the staple of less sleep for more work mantra of many of our celebrities, I also believed that stress made me more productive, and sleep of 5-6 hours was enough.

This book on the importance of a daily diet of 8 hours of sleep turned all my misconceptions on their head. The book is not just a philosophical treatise on sleep – there are enough explanations of the chemicals released when you are sleeping – which is what got the rational scientist in me to – well let us just say to sleep, more. And I can already feel the difference.

There are other chapters on importance of accessories to have a good night’s sleep. Many of us have experienced first hand the importance of a good mattress, soft linen, comfortable linen – on many occasions I slept on the floor even in a 5 star hotel, only because the mattress was not comfortable. But even other accessories like a soft non-flickering light is equally important to make you sleep well.

Having slept well, you are now more productive. The authors then explain tools to improve your life. I loved the chapter on Pizza of Life, where you identify 8 important features in your life, rate them on a scale of 1-10 as per your understanding, and then write one page essays on how you will improve your top 4 in the bucket list. This becomes your resolution, till you are ready to move on to the next 4.

This is a book which is helping me evolve. I am sure it will help others too.

Book Reviews by a Pioneer: Masala and Murder by Patrick Lyons

I read another thriller this week. This one is set in Bollywood. Subhani Mehta, a young lead actress in the Hindi film industry, walks up a steep mountain in Australia with other crew members to shoot a dance sequence for an upcoming film. It is a long hot day and during the retake she gasps for breath and falls dead clutching the pendant around her neck. An autopsy is done, which rules out any foul play, the case is closed.

Samson Ryder, who had to quit Australian police force under a cloud, is now working as private detective. He is receiving death threats from a few young men who are into peddling drugs. In the middle of all this, he receives an unusual visitor – Subhani’s father – who wants him to investigate the case for final closure.

Sam travels to India and meets several celebrities from the film industry. A terror of someone or something had made Subhani wear the pendant, which was apparently a talisman of some sort. Everyone seems to be pointing at supernatural death due to a curse put on her, which a rational Sam cannot accept. Eventually, he successfully closes the case.

The story is fast paced, and I was left guessing the conclusion. The disappointment for me was the inconclusive supernatural angle. I enjoyed reading the book – there is even a touch of humour provided by Sam’s aunt in Mumbai, who acts as his assistant, but is an incorrigible gossip, which lands him in a few sticky situations.

Book Reviews by a Pioneer: My First Hanuman Chalisa by Chitwan Mittal and Sarita Saraf

I have fond memories from my childhood and adolescence. There was no television then; we were expected to be in bed by 9 in the night. The only time we were permitted to stay up late – almost till midnight – was going out to watch Ramleela with my grandfather. This is a street play organised in Indian villages, towns and cities every year for a few days before the Hindu festival of Dussehra, depicting the life of Lord Rama till he killed Ravana.

Another memory is that of visits to the temple on Saturdays for the sweet boondi, traditional offering for the God. The common character in all these memories was our mythological superhero Lord Hanuman.

As I grew older, I saw my friends visiting the temple to pray for success in examinations. They also recited verses to the God when scared. Over years, I also mechanically listened to the verses sung by priests and devotees during prayer ceremonies. The words were melodious and soothing, but I did not understand the meaning as they were written in Awadhi language by the great poet Tulsidas. This hymn in praise of Lord Hanuman was Hanuman Chalisa.

I recently came across My First Hanuman Chalisa, an illustrated translation in English. This is not a story book; yet an interesting book not only for children, but also for adult parents of children. It was a revelation to me also as I finally understood the meaning of those verses from my memories. The illustrations will appeal to children as they read the book or the book is read to them. It is a good addition for the home library of every child, but price of Rs 999/- would be a deterrent for a wider outreach.

Book Reviews by a Pioneer: The Darkened Pearl by Pratik Jadhav

Ralph, Detective in the police department of the city of Hamberberg, has broken up with his girl friend, and is on his annual leave. He is asked by his boss to return to office urgently, where he is informed that Jake, his adoptive brother, is missing for 48 hours.

Ralph has to find evidence or his brother within the next three days, otherwise the case will be put in the back burner as pending. He also knows that the first 48 hours are critical to find a missing person, after which one can expect the worst.

Ralph is now racing against time as he starts looking for Jake. His brother is a musician and plays in bars, restaurants and cruises for the wealthy. There are no leads except that Jake went to a party and did not return home. Ralph starts looking at his brother’s call records and meeting people. One meeting leads to another, one evidence leads to another, until he unravels the mystery.

It is a well written plot. All the characters are introduced during the story. This also gives the reader opportunity to play detective with Ralph. I also tried doing the same, and zeroed in on two – one of which was indeed the killer. But then, there was another twist.

This is a self published book, and needs editorial corrections.

Book Reviews by a Pioneer: Avishi by Saiswaroopa Iyer

This is a a full length fictional novel created out of a strong female character and other references from the Rig Veda.

Avishi is spirited out of her homeland as a child by a friend of her father to save her life. The father, working in the king’s army, has been brutally killed along with the king, by another ambitious soldier, who eventually takes over as the ruler. The young child grows up to be a fearless warrior in a far away establishment run by saints. She does not remember the traumatic childhood events, but has nightmares.

She is asked by the vice chancellor of the establishment to travel to another republic to fulfil her destiny. She is a fearless warrior, and is soon required to be the head of her adopted republic. There is a standoff with the brutal king of the neighbouring state, during which she is injured in the leg. She has to be amputated.

She is devastated. She has lost a limb, she can no longer be a warrior, she can not avenge the murder of her father. But her mate – this is a period when marriage has not yet been institutionalised – has other ideas. He develops a prosthetic leg for her, with the help of the celestial Ashwini Kumars. She is whole again, to fight the atrocities unleashed by the king.

It is a gripping story of a strong female character from our pre-historic times.

Book Reviews by a Pioneer: The Unexpected Mrs. Pollifax by Dorothy Gilman

The book was recommended by a member in one of my book clubs. I picked up the book with hesitation as I had never heard of the author. As I read, I realised that the book was written way back in 1965.

Mrs. Emily Pollifax is a 60 something widow, living alone in a quiet suburb in America, tending to her little garden and a cat, going for her medical check-ups, and other such mundane activities. Her children are pursuing their own professions away from her, connecting with her on the phone periodically. This sweet lady craves to work for her country as a spy.

So what does she do? She travels to Washington and lands up in the CIA office with her request to work for the country. The junior officer is foxed, not knowing if the lady is crazy. As he is called out to attend to another visitor, his senior chances upon Mrs. Pollifax, and mistaking her to be another person, he asks her to travel to Mexico City as a courier to bring back a package. The old lady is thrilled.

She is kidnapped and flown across oceans to Europe with another operative. Using her common sense and intuition, she manages to identify the location where they are held captive, escapes with the crippled operative, is shot at, and is rescued and brought back to America. She brings with her the courier package – microfilms of secret documents. The films were placed in a most unlikely package, which was in plain sight of her Chinese kidnappers, who were actually looking for those films.

She is back in her home, in time for the next periodic call from her children. Her children did not even miss her. She will not be recognised as a national hero, she cannot talk about it with anyone, not even her children. But she is not complaining – she is a spy for her country.

I smiled, I chuckled, and I rooted for this sweet lady, as she out-manoeuvred her captives. It reminded me of another famous character – Miss Maple, the detective. This one is an international spy.

There is a series of books around Mrs. Pollifax. I am looking forward to reading more of her escapades.

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: 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.