Book: Shoes of the Dead
Author: Kota Neelima
Number of pages: 274
Price: Rs. 495
I was looking forward to Shoes of the Dead by Kota Neelima. With farmer suicides, arrogant politicians and conflicting interests, it looked like a timely read. Reminded me of something that P Sainath might put together. In her note, at the beginning of the book, Neelima admits, “The stories of the Vidarbha region of Maharashtra are the soul of this book.” Largely set in Delhi and Mityala, a district in south central India, Shoes of the Dead draws you into a world of greed, deceit and helplessness.
Sudhakar Bhadra, bogged down by the burden of successive crop failures and excessive debt, commits suicide. The powerful district committee of Mityala denies his family compensation, stating that his death was not debt-related. Gangiri, Bhadra’s brother, takes it upon himself to bring justice to the dead by influencing the committee decisions to validate all similar farmer suicides as being debt-related. He gets himself appointed in the committee and systematically works toward questioning the status quo and reversing the previously passed verdicts.
In Delhi, a novice politician, Keyur Kashinath of the Democratic Party, a first-time member of Parliament from Mityala, is facing his first political crisis. It is in his invested interests to project the farmer suicides in his district as negligible and that all is hunky dory. However, Gangiri does not let him rest easy. The fight is not personal. It’s about being principled and doing the right thing.
Joining the two worlds is the tale of Nazar Prabhakar, a conscientious journalist, and Dr. Videhi Jaichand, a academic with the Center for Contemporary Studies, both of whom are fighting demons of their own.
Shoes of the Dead is an incisive read. Exposing the rot at the local government level, it has characters we are all too familiar with: the young and ambitious second-generation politician who thinks political power can be inherited and the spoils are his for the taking; greedy, unscrupulous moneylenders who thrive on exploiting the impoverished, often living off them; well-meaning but misguided academics; and farmers who give up literally everything in the hope of a successful harvest.
It is a loaded but an easy road. Neelima is rich with her descriptions, of people, of homes, of nature and even Delhi. I could keep rereading her passages where she narrates how the day makes way for night, the ennui of mid-morning angst and the bittersweet feeling that accompanies most sunsets. But as much as I loved reading the prose, I kept feeling that a lot of the writing and pontification belonged elsewhere. There was too much subtext between the lines, which the author failed to tie in successfully. Perhaps she didn’t intend to lead them to a conclusive end but I was left wanting.
Read Shoes of the Dead for its bold and blatant portrayal of the complexities and dynamics that govern our interaction with and perception of rural India. Let the facts startle you and leave you pondering on the worth of human life and its inequities.
I finished the book in a few hours but I’m going to revisit it to get reacquainted with heroes like Gangiri and Nazar Prabhakar.
Learn more about Shoes of the Dead.
Book: Salvation of a Saint
Author: Keigo Higashino
Number of pages: 377
Price: Rs. 350
Yoshitaka Mashiba is discovered dead by poisoning in his empty apartment and his wife, Ayane, falls under immediate suspicion. But she was away at her parents’ place in Sapporo when it happened. Kusanagi, the Tokyo police detective, smitten by Ayane’s beauty and grace, and in denial, investigates a seemingly unrelated sequence of events to trace the killer. He is assisted by Kaoru Utsumi, a new recruit in the department. Utsumi is sharp, driven by instincts and unafraid to speak her mind. But she is equally baffled when her gut instincts and the apparent evidence don’t quite match.
Salvation of a Saint by Keigo Higashino opens with the Mashiba explaining his reason for wanting to leave Ayane. And she hears him out, patiently. So patient that’s it almost unbelievable and eerie. And as is Higashino’s signature style, Mashiba is bumped off soon after that interaction. The remainder of the book is a compelling read, which traces the poison, the motive and the killer.
Kusanagi and Utsumi hit several blind-spots during the course of their investigation. On the face of it, it appears like the perfect crime, unsolvable. But Utsumi is convinced that Ayane is the killer, while Kusanagi has some difficulty accepting Utsumi’s train of thought. They rely heavily on the friend-scientist, Professor Manabu Yukawa’s, popularly known as “Detective Galileo,” deductions, with him being their sounding board, devil’s advocate, et al. Kusanagi, initially, hopes to resolve the mystery without Yukawa’s assistance but he not too successful with that.
Higashino weaves a delightful tale of love, deceit and audacity. You will marvel at his attention to the minutest of details and the choice of words. He connects an apparently random chain of events to construct a plot that leaves you reeling with astonishment. I turned each page of the book with heightened excitement, only to go back and revisit some of the minor details I had glossed over in a hurry. I tried to be extra-attentive to keep pace with the plot and that very bit led me to be distracted. Higashino turns you into a patient reader. In all likelihood, you probably know the identity of the killer. You probably even like or sympathize with that character. But Higashino will still keep you hooked for the remainder of his plot.
Higashino doesn’t spend too much time on his characterization, revealing only the essential bits, as and when it aids the plot. Instead he concentrates all his energies into crafting an entertaining, fool-proof plot, riding high on emotions.
Salvation of a Saint is rich in details, nuanced with heavy emotions and the regret that accompanies some romantic relationships. There is a touching scene where Ayane in conversation with Hiromi Wakayama (the woman her husband intended to leave her for) reveals her emotions and motivations, for perhaps the very first time. She is otherwise, usually, very calm, composed and dignified.
I was a wee bit disappointed with how the book ended. Forced and abrupt. I’d have liked to see the killer build up a defense of sorts when the investigators came for her in the end. Leaving it narrated in the third person made an otherwise perfect plot, a little bland.
However, I’ll leave you with this gem from the second –last chapter from the book: “Marriage meant offering daily salvation to a man standing on the gallows.” This for me, summed up the book.
Curl up with Salvation of a Saint on a lazy afternoon and feel yourself drawn into Higashino’s world of crime.
Book Review: The Devotion of Suspect X by Keigo Higashino
Book: Business Sutra: A Very Indian Approach to Management
Author: Devdutt Pattanaik
Number of pages: 437
Price: Rs. 695
I was looking forward to reading Business Sutra by Devdutt Pattanaik. I was intrigued by his designation at the Future Group: Chief Belief Officer. Pattanaik clarifies it in very beginning, “My job was to neither judge nor change beliefs; it was simply to articulate them.” And that for me set the tone of the book.
Business Sutra uses stories symbols and rituals drawn from Hindu, Jain and Buddhist mythology to illustrate a wide variety of business situations one needs to tackle while running and nurturing a successful enterprise. Pattanaik argues that belief drives behavior, which drives business. The why, how and what. Or intent, task and target. That is the essence of Business Sutra.
According to the author, modern management systems are more focused on an objective institutional truth, allowing little scope for individual truths and personal imaginations. And while the Indian economic, political and education system are rooted in Western beliefs, Indians themselves are not. This leads to a dichotomy of sorts and a sense of alienation from the workplace. For example, he highlights how the Western world is more rooted in order, unlike the Indian style of functioning.
Pattanaik connects mythology and management in an attempt to simplify the complexities and pressures of a dynamic, fast-changing workplace. Taking cues from Indian mythology, he takes apart the mindset of a typical workplace to reveal gaps and opportunities for learning, promoting inclusive growth, harnessing the power of the mind and imagination and appreciating individual passions. Therefore, he stresses on a very Indian approach to business, celebrating plural truths and the human capability to expand the mind.
He does not seek to sell a particular framework or prescribe a specific set of methods to increase business revenue. Instead, in his words, “Every idea in this book is a dot that the reader can join to create a pattern.”
The book serves as a wonderful introduction to the world of Indian mythology, some familiar, some not-so familiar. Pattanaik repeatedly emphasizes on the difference between varna and jati, reminiscent of sociology lectures in college, and highlights the multiplicity and plurality of the gods in the Indian pantheon
He equates all business with yagna, the ritual, as described in the Rig Veda, and places all business activity within that framework.
The book is a collection of sutras (an aphorism or a terse statement), derived from the vast depth of Indian mythology. He constantly refers to Vishnu, Shiva, Krishna, Brahma, Indra and various other gods in the Indian pantheon, illustrating their traits, strengths and weaknesses, and juxtaposes certain incidents in the present-day workplace scenario. He leans heavily on the use of examples to drive home an idea. But he clarifies that the case studies highlighted are just “imagined tales.” Imagined yes, but fairly believable.
With the sutras, Pattanaik attempts to cover all aspects of the professional life – personal, individual growth; collective, inclusive growth; building trust; decision-making; emotional turmoil; exploitation; organizational hierarchy, business uncertainties; profit generation; learning and development; ethics; the latent power of thinking; tackling change; nurturing talent; compliance and rules; crisis management; ego tussles, etc.
Reading each of them was a delight. They are short, crisp and to the point (not longer than 3-4 pages each), and carry an example at the end. The author stresses on the importance of striking a balance between the forces of nature and tackling perceptions. There are numerous references to the Ramayana and Mahabharata, placing the epics in a whole new light. I now have renewed respect for Hanuman and his devotion toward Ram.
One also gets a better sense of the inter-personal dynamics at play in our day-to-day workplace interactions. We all operate with a different set of motivations. Therefore, we also seek a different result.
The book feels like a heavy read in its initial pages, where it traces the history and legacy of Indian culture, in comparison to the Western world. But Pattanaik is a patient and detailed writer. He takes care to avoid loose ends and provides the reader with the complete picture, as the risk of sounding repetitive. His language is simple, but the ideas can get slightly complex, requiring some rereading. But it’s a breezy read once you’re past the introductory chapters. Read a few sutras at a time, pause, repeat.
There is a complete list of the sutras at the end of the book, with page numbers. There is also a “Business Sutra Vocabulary,” which lists down the meanings of non-Indian words used in the text, in their business and conventional contexts. Both, very handy features.
Pattanaik also lists down how one can choose to reject this text. Read it.
Business Sutra, with its many ideas and thoughts, isn’t a book you will want to rush through. Take your time with it. Read, pause and reflect. Some incidents you will be able to relate with right away, some will require some introspection. Some pages, you will nod in acknowledgement.
Read it with patience and an open mind. Take it up, one sutra at a time, see what you can glean from it and walk away with a renewed perspective on life.
Learn more about Business Sutra: A Very Indian Approach to Management
Number of pages: 195
Price: Rs. 335
Tantra by Adi is not a book I would have typically picked off a shelf in a bookstore. That it came from Blogadda was a major point of consideration. It was a different book, a welcome change from the usual clichés. Midway into the book and I had forgotten all my reservations. Adi had me intrigued with his words. The teaser on the back cover also had a little something to do with it.
Tantra’s protagonist is a leather-wearing, no-nonsense Anu, who as a professional guardian is known for killing the most dangerous vampires in New York City. She makes her way to Delhi, seeking vengeance for the death of a loved one. But India, she realizes, is a whole different ball-game. She has to be wary not so much of the vampires wandering in the city but the nice boys her well-meaning aunt lines up for her to marry. However, Anu has more important things on her mind. Like saving little children from getting kidnapped and saving Delhi, by slaying one vampire at a time. Until she discovers, much to her bewilderment, that her fellow operatives have arrived at a truce with them vampires.
Anu finds a friend in Amit, a fellow operative, who helps her navigate her way in the city.
Over the course of her stay, she finds herself confronting forces older, darker and more complex than anything she has ever tackled before. She is excited, overwhelmed and clueless, all at the same time. And increasingly she finds herself getting restless until she can resolve it. And for that, she must slay her own personal demons. Her stash of weapons can only take her so far. For the rest, she has to delve deep into her mind, for clarity, perspective and mental strength.
Tantra for most part is an easy read. It is a refreshing and entertaining plot, set in a familiar place, based in contemporary India, with well-etched out characters and lots of intrigue. Her superpowers aside, Anu is the average hot-headed, stubborn and fiercely-independent individual, plagued by the usual angst, insecurities and anxieties, beneath a tough exterior. Her superpowers and determination set her apart. Her relationship with her cousin, Smiti, reveals just how much we need our gal-pals to remain sane and afloat. Whom else would we discuss wardrobe woes and guy issues with!
Reading about Amit makes me smile. He is charming, level-headed and witty. I think Adi gave him the best lines in the book. Anu’s aunt is a fixture that we are all too familiar with, in our lives. The concern, the affection and the ensuing drama is endearing.
The language is simple and engaging. Adi chooses his words well. And he excels at narrating conversations. The humor, the quick repartee and the ease with which it flows, were the high points of this book for me. Adi also cleverly, sneakily inserts random details in his sentences, which on a quick reading, are easy to gloss over. And then you regret skipping them and return to those bits for a reread.
The story of Anu’s spiritual quest will leave you reeling with a few questions of your own. If prodded sufficiently, how far can one push one’s self? Whom to trust and how much? Do we really who is an ally and who, a foe? How many earthly ties ensnare us and why?
What irked me slightly is how smoothly Anu is successful in hiding her superpowers from her aunt. That bit of the novel seemed a little-too perfect in my scheme of things. Adi also makes repeated references to how Anu had to leave behind so many of her weapons in the US to escape detection by the airport security. Unnecessary emphasis and too often, I felt.
But Adi deftly combines intrigue, mysticism and weaponry to make Tantra an action-packed thriller. You get awed at the strength of human will. Some of Adi’s descriptions will send a chill creeping down your spine, while some others will leave you in smiles. There are fight sequences, a few shades of a budding romance, some tantric mumbo-jumbo and lots of suspense, making it apt for a Bollywood film.
Savor Tantra on a lazy weekend at home. Revisit the romance of Delhi by the night, marvel at Anu’s superpowers as she fights with her life to save the city and prepare to get mesmerized by the power of the mystic forces.
Learn more about Tantra.