Book Reviews by a Pioneer: March to Glory by Major Akash Agarwal

This is another story from small-town India, and the dreams of the young coming from middle-class families. This fictional account is written by an army officer.

Ameya is the lead protagonist. He grows up like any other child till he meets a distant relative who works in the army. He is fascinated by the olive greens, and starts dreaming of joining the forces. But dreams are not enough to attain something in life. There are failures. He does not give up. It is the story of every child who is passionate about its dreams and uses failures as stepping stones to success.

The story of achieving something worthwhile has been written by innumerable writers in times past, and many more will write in future. The plot is timeless. This novel too had the potential to be bracketed in the same category, but for a few flaws.

There are grammatical errors in the narrative. The entire process of admission to NDA is explained in great detail, which would not be of interest to every reader. Each chapter starts with a motivational quote and ends with sometimes short and other times long sermonising passages. That makes reading tedious after a few chapters.

On the positive side, the book is a good ready reckoner for youngsters wanting to join the armed forces.

The review is by Sanjay Chandra, author of The Gymnast.

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Book Reviews by a Pioneer: Her Untamed Soul by Mandira Mazumder

This is a story set in the harsh realities of our times. It is a multi-layered story about two subjects – women emancipation and the caste system. The line between the two is often blurred as both are treated almost at par in a patriarchal society – they do not have a voice or say in their lives.

Latha is introduced in the first chapter as a spirited child, often scolded by her mother for bullying the boys in the neighbourhood, but indulged by her father. She belongs to an upper caste family in a small town in Tamil Nadu. As she grows into adolescence, and then adulthood, she starts noticing the way her father treats the lower caste tenants ruthlessly. This is a facet of her father that she cannot reconcile to, apart from the fact that the society continues to be male dominated where girls do not have a say in pursuing studies or selecting a life partner.

Without revealing the plot, I can only say that I am looking forward to reading the other two books in this three book series.

The review is by Sanjay Chandra, author of The Gymnast.

Contact sanjaychandra59@gmail.com for Book Reviews, Author Show, and Creative Writing Workshop.

Book Reviews by a Pioneer: Charu Majumdar, The Dreamer Rebel by Ashoke Mukhopadhyay

I first came across the term Naxalite when I was a young boy of 17 and had just started college. I read in some film magazine that the popular movie star Mithun Chakraborty was involved with the movement in his younger days. But it was a gossip journal; and besides it was too far removed from my consciousness, having been born and brought up in north India.

A few years later, when I started government job in east India, I heard about many violent incidents in the past against senior colleagues by members of the movement. It was also around this time that I heard about Charu Majumdar, who was considered the originator of the movement. But it was still too far back in the past for me to really explore further.

With this background, I could not resist the temptation of reading this book about Charu Majumdar, who, besides calling for an armed revolution, taught many to dream, as described by the author on the back cover of this small book, which is only a little bigger than a pocket book.

The biography is based on official documents and writings from that period. It is a well researched account of Charu Majumdar and the Naxalite movement. It explains the reasons for the movement to catch the imagination of the contemporary youth, who were dissatisfied with the living conditions of the poor farmers, and felt that all political parties were only interested in exploring them for political gains. The movement spread like wild fire.

The writing style is such that it makes this biographical book written with excerpts from official papers, documented speeches, and letters, more like a well-narrated story. I remained invested in the book till the very end. My only complaint is a one-sided tendency to eulogise the violence against the state machinery, and calling the counter offensive as repression.

The book is an attempt to highlight the contributions of a not so well-known personality, who in his own way contributed in shaping the country as we see it today. I look forward to reading more books under this series titled by the publishers as Pioneers of Modern India.

The review is by Sanjay Chandra, author of The Gymnast.

Contact sanjaychandra59@gmail.com for book reviews.

Book Reviews by a Pioneer: Light Between Words by Nirmala Pillai

“I am not a poet. This is a genre that leaves me baffled.” I told Nirmala when she requested me to review her book of poems. But I could not refuse her, as she is a colleague bureaucrat and now a friend. I am glad that I read her poems.

Each of the 46 poems captures a slice of emotion not just from our daily lives, but from our lifetime itself. There is happiness, there is sorrow; there is satire, there is also the comic; there is life, there is death; there are poignant moments.

An example – A Small White Hair. I could not imagine that a poetry could be written about the moment when one first discovers a white hair, and the pain that it causes.

Another example – Her God, “Patidev”. The abuse a woman bears at the hands of one man, as She cannot kill him. She cannot die… In his death She ceases to be- He is the ‘God’ He is her “Patidev” How can she? A stark reality of our life across different social strata.

Or Mumbadevi which is a search for the Goddess of the city of Mumbai, Yes, goddess You live in high places.

Poetry lovers would certainly love this book.

The review is by Sanjay Chandra, author of The Gymnast.

Contact sanjaychandra59@gmail.com for book reviews.

Book Reviews by a Pioneer: The (In)significant Soul by Abhishek Chaturvedi

Kabir is born in a lower middle-class family in small-time India. He, like so many others in the same social strata, are expected to lead an insignificant life. But he refuses to bow down to destiny.

His chance meeting with a distant relative from the army makes him see the dreams of joining the Indian army through NDA. Failure to do so in the first attempt makes him even more determined to clear the entrance examination.

As he moves along in life, Kabir meets several people, and gathers many bitter-sweet experiences. He realises that he is not insignificant since he refuses to accept a common life as his destiny. This is the message that he sends out to all – do not accept an insignificant life.

The author is a serving army man. There are many anecdotes from the army life beginning from the NDA selection process, till actual life in the army, well woven in this fictional narrative. This would certainly appeal to the younger generation on the threshold of embarking on their professional journey.

There is only one aspect in the book that did not work for me. Each chapter starts with a motivational quote and ends with a few lines, and sometimes with a single or multiple paragraphs, of moral preaching, about how one should handle situations in life. This was too much in the face as I progressed from chapter to chapter. The book lost its charm of a good fictional read.

The book should appeal to the younger generation.

The review is by Sanjay Chandra, author of The Gymnast.

Contact sanjaychandra59@gmail.com for book reviews.

Book Reviews by a Pioneer: Muffled Screams of Buriganga by Sthitaprajna Debadutta Kar

Adyasha is an investigative journalist based in Delhi. She has successfully worked on many high profile cases in the past, and is currently investigating an incident in Jagannathpur in Bangladesh.

Arfin, a Bangladeshi journalist has been her mentor, and is now more of a brother. He promises to send her documents and pictures pertaining to the incident by the next morning, but fails to keep his words.

Adyasha later learns through a newspaper report that he was brutally killed with his wife. She travels to Dhaka for the funeral, and then decides to visit Jagannathpur for her story. It seems that Arfin’s death is linked to the evidence that he wanted to send her.

It is an edge of the seat book. The storytelling is compelling. You are left guessing about what will come next. It does not falter as Adyasha tries to unravel the mystery behind the gruesome incident. The end, when it comes, is unexpected.

The book would appeal to readers who love a good crime thriller.

The review is by Sanjay Chandra, author of The Gymnast.

Contact sanjaychandra59@gmail.com for book reviews

Book Reviews by a Pioneer: Chandausi Junction by Shankar and Preeti Sahay

All of us have grown up listening to tales narrated by our parents or grandparents. If we were not children, we might have discerned a certain fondness, a certain longing, in their tone while telling these stories. But mostly these made us smile or chuckle or laugh heartily with our elders. These were not just stories for them – they were either anecdotes from their own childhood or stories handed down to them by their elders.

Chandausi Junction is a collection of 25 such fables from the lives of the author couple. These span a timeline from before independence till the mid-eighties. All the stories are narratives from the rural, semi-urban and urban India, across different social strata. The beauty of the stories is that they are timeless. Each reader would have gone through similar incidents from at least one story. I certainly felt a sense of déjà vu while reading some of the tales.

My review would not be complete without a special mention of the excellent cover. I believe, and I hope that I am right, the sepia tone of the picture is original and not photo shopped. This certainly would be an old photograph from the albums of those years.

This anthology would appeal to readers across different age groups.

The review is by Sanjay Chandra, author of The Gymnast.

Book Reviews by a Pioneer: The Vow of Parvati by Aditi Banerjee

Many of us have either read or seen on the television the story of Sati and Shiv, their marriage, Sati’s immolation in the ritual fire when her husband was insulted by her father, her re-birth eons later as Parvati, and the coming together of the two.

It is a timeless tale, retold many times by many people. Aditi brings alive the vivid tale of love in her inimitable style. The author has also researched extensively to narrate many events that I was not aware of.

The challenge in narrating stories from the past is that there are no records of what transpired between different characters. We are also biased by the many retellings by our ancestors. The author has given her own unique perspective to the story. The dialogues that the author has attributed to the trinity of Brahma, Vishnu and Mahesh, or the goddesses Lakshmi, Saraswati and Sati, makes the tale relatable to us. They too indulge in banter like we humans do. The intense scenes are also well etched out depicting the sentiments that the characters are going through. That makes the story interesting to read.

This ageless story would appeal to readers across different age groups.

The review is by Sanjay Chandra, author of The Gymnast.

Book Reviews by a Pioneer: The Cord by Sredhanea Ramkrishnan

Human relationships are complex. They would always have dilemmas. It is these dilemmas that the author explores in her debut fiction work.

The story is set in the backdrop of the 1947 Indo-Pak partition till the Bangladesh liberation war in 1971. Is the partition only a line drawn on the map? What happens if the son does not want to migrate with his family for his love? What would happen if two people who were friends just the other day look at each other through the sights of their rifles on the battlefield? What would happen to the conflicts in a mother for the love of her son and her responsibilities towards her family? How would a son react when he has to take his father a prisoner of war? Are the relationships also casualties of that line drawn on the map?

You feel the pain of all the protagonists – every one is a protagonist in his life. In the end you realise that there are no winners in this battle. This is a war that each one has to fight in own way.

A beautifully written story that would make you smile, that would also make you cry. Short chapters make reading a treat. I would look forward to more stories from this young author.

The review is by Sanjay Chandra, author of The Gymnast.

Book Reviews by a Pioneer: Tribin and the Battle Axe by Abhijit Chaki

I was not sure what to expect when I first picked up the book. The cover was attractive, the blurb was interesting.

Tribin, a writer, working against a deadline to submit his manuscript, lands up in an isolated property somewhere in the Kerala mountains.

Out on a morning walk, he hears a scream from the estate next door. The lady is Sayali, a renowned badminton player. She was amongst the top 10 in international ranking till sometime back. But then she slumped. She is trying to rediscover her top self.

Tempers are frayed – at least those of the lady. Tribin… Well he does not know what has hit him. He just wants to help the young woman… With just a rudimentary knowledge of the game. Unthinkable… Will this lead to something beyond a professional relationship?

This is the beauty of this novel. It makes you believe in the improbable. The storytelling never flags. The language is fluid. Once I started, I did not want to put the book down.

A fast-paced easy read.

Sanjay Chandra is the author of The Gymnast (Book 1 of Street Performers Series)