Title: 60 Minutes
Author: Upendra Namburi
Number of pages: 361
Price: Rs. 350
60 Minutes by Upendra Namburi is a corporate drama where all the action unfolds within 60 racy, and sometimes chilling, minutes. Primarily a tale chronicling the intense rivalry between Agastya and Sailesh, two Chief Marketing Officers (CMOs) at leading FMCGs, it touches upon the other trappings of corporate life with finesse; the thrill of addictive trading in the stock market, the fast cars, spurned women out to avenge hurt, humongous egos, deception and the lust for money, power and hegemony.
Agastya is in the midst of a new product launch, perhaps the most important one of his career, when Maithili, an ex-flame, walks into his office threatening to turn his marital life upside down. Maithili comes with her own share of emotional baggage and it’s almost amusing to see her lose herself, gradually.
Simultaneously, other events in the office and the marketplace, set into motion at various points in his career, threaten to jeopardise Agastya’s professional life. And he has only the next 60 minutes to salvage it all.
The book is set in contemporary Bombay, travelling to other cities occasionally. Although all the action takes place within 60 minutes, the narrative continually shifts into the past to sometimes indicate the context of the current events. Sometimes, it is just additional background information on an individual, occasionally tying a loose end together. It is an intense read, often asking the reader to connect some dots.
While Namburi does a fine job of detailing the characters of the two rival CMOs, replete with their angst and insecurities, some of his other characters are quite vague. They make fleeting appearances and hasty exits, sometimes without an adequate backstory. I also felt that the characters spend too much time ruminating on their thoughts, motives and intentions, taking away from the main plot. There was much telling rather than showing.
It is a complex plot. Namburi attempts to pack in too many details about too many events. I think a slightly less complicated plot with better characterization, particularly of the two women in Agastya’s life, Maithili and Nandita, would have been more effective.
But I enjoyed Namburi’s writing. It is direct, crisp and engaging. However, I did spot some sloppy writing in a few instances though, which some careful editing could have weeded out.
60 Minutes is high on emotions; disappointment, rejection, elation, fear, relief. It is a revealing window into corporate life in India, exposing the slime and deceit in corporate relationships, the oft-shady transactions, the back-stabbing and the vested interests. It would make for a fantastic Bollywood plot, with all the drama, subterfuge and intrigue.
Take your time to relish 60 Minutes. There is much to enjoy in the careful plot that Namburi weaves. You will find shades of yourself and your colleagues in Agastya and his world. And increasingly you’ll find yourself as a voyeur in this corporate action-packed drama.
It is the type of book that you want to curl up with on a lazy weekend and read it at a stretch only because you are impatient to end the suspense, but relish it.
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Book: Prisoner Jailor Prime Minister
Author: Tabrik C
Number of pages: 319
Price: Rs. 350
Prisoner Jailor Prime Minister by Tabrik C is a chilling tale of a music maestro, who by a sudden turn of events is also the newly elected Prime Minister of India. It is an intense account of Siddhartha Tagore’s fascinating journey from Harvard to 7 Race Course Road in the backdrop of an intriguing past, menacing politics and hidden lust.
The sight of a solitary man on the front cover pretty much sets the tone of the book, because for a large part of his life, Tagore walks alone, sometimes also lonely. The back cover depicts Rashtrapati Bhavan, reminiscent of a power struggle.
It took me a few chapters to warm up to the book and get used to Tabrik’s style of writing. He switches between times, places and ideas with great ease, usually providing a connecting idea, thought or word for the next chapter. At some places, it is very obvious, not so obvious at some others.
Set in India, largely in Delhi, January 2017 onwards, in the midst of a turbulent political scenario, Prisoner Jailor Prime Minister traces Tagore’s disturbed life; his student days at Harvard, his all-consuming passion for music, his troubled return to India, his meteoric political assent, the skeletons in this closet, which threaten to destroy him.
Tabrik’s heavily-layered writing leaves you for gasping for air on more than one occasion. There is much sub-text between the pages, some of which could be done without. Tabrik is a detailed writer, but also leaves a lot open to the reader’s imagination. He elevates Tagore’s musical gifts to that of Mozart’s madness, providing a refreshing spin on a prime minister’s persona. His music is his refuge; it threatens to consume him. It also keeps him together. As the prime minister, Tagore is determined and extraordinarily clear-headed. He only comes undone when he is alone with his piano.
For the all the loneliness and emotional upheaval in his life, Tagore’s best moments are when he is interacting with other characters in the book. Be it Rubaya, the love of his life; Karishma or K, Ruby’s twin sister; Rukmani Devi, his primary rival; Kabir; his son. His exchanges with Kabir are particularly revealing. They also lighten up the general mood of the book.
Prisoner Jailor Prime Minister is a contemporary read. There are emails, press reports, clear references to previous political leaders, Harley Davidsons zooming all over Delhi, etc. I’d love to see this book being made into a film. To see Siddhartha Tagore get consumed by music and passion would be so much nicer than reading it.
Tabrik’s warning on the front cover, “You can’t outrun fate,” is beautifully illustrated toward the end of the book. This trail of thought is also present throughout the book but it reaches a crescendo toward the end, until Tagore puts all the demons to bed.
Tabrik’s Prisoner Jailor Prime Minister is a bit of an effort initially. It is slow and dull. But it picks up pace after the first few chapters, beautifully. It will also take some time to acquaint yourself with Tagore’s idiosyncrasies. And then you’ll enjoy them when you do.
Prisoner Jailor Prime Minister is a good read. Refreshing and reaffirming. Pick it up for a heady combination of perfume and music and relationships.
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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.
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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