Book Review | The Great Smog of India

Title: The Great Smog of India
Author: Siddharth Singh
Pages: 262
Price: INR 499

41kYow2BPL5L._SX316_BO1204203200_Mid-October, I saw a series of tweets by Siddharth Singh talking about his upcoming book on air pollution in Delhi and made a mental note to look it up. Little did I know that it would soon make its way to me to read and review.

The Great Smog of India by Siddharth Singh is a timely read on Delhi’s people, policies and pollution. For folks outside Delhi, the annual smog episodes in winter are mere headlines but this book brings into focus the challenges residents face on a daily basis.

It contextualizes the crisis through multiple lenses: historical, political and geographic. It also provides global references where cities have successfully tackled a similar situation.

Because I make it a point to always read the Acknowledgements first, I noticed that it was placed in the very beginning and not at the end, as I have come to expect it. Singh’s comprehensive network is a reflection of how well he is placed to explain this issue and elaborate on the numerous factors.

However, Singh takes his time and words to set the stage and present the problem. And the editor in me was itching to get hold of a red pen. Once he had introduced the problem, the writing flowed far smoother and it is evident how much he enjoyed writing them.

By comparing air pollution to terrorism, Singh equates the right to clean air with the right to liberty and safety. On p.34, he writes, “It can be argued that air pollution is one such form of unfreedom, one that takes away the opportunity from people to live a full life”.

For most of us who wonder why only Delhi is afflicted and not Bombay or Chennai, Singh explains in detail Delhi’s misfortune. This is a lesson I don’t remember reading in school.

Energizing India was a fascinating read on India’s energy grid. And How India Moves answered one question I’ve always had: The difference between a metro system and a suburban rail.

But the real eye-opener was the role of agriculture in air pollution, strange as it may sound. While I was familiar with the concept of stubble burning and the spoils of the Green Revolution, Singh highlights the not-so green side of the initiative. It’s a complex multi-state problem, which few in governance or the private sector wish to acknowledge or address, as amply discussed in The Administrative Tournament.

On p.193, Singh writes, “India’s fight against air pollution is therefore fragmented in several ways: the administration, ministries, monitoring agencies, expert committees, judiciary and even the response plans.”

What I missed in The Great Smog of India were vignettes and conversations. Singh presents numerous facts and figures, and most will tend to gloss over them. Maybe the same data could have been shared visually.

The lack of political intent is the best takeaway from this book. A serving bureaucrat beautifully sums this up in a quote on p.195. “Until the time someone loses an election due to air quality, don’t expect the issue to invite the political will to tackle this multi-state, multi-ministry issue.”



Book Review | Crazy Cat Lady Finds Love

Title: Crazy Cat Lady Finds Love
Author: Sudesna Ghosh
Pages: 62
Price: INR 99

415nhr2b0rnlCrazy Cat Lady Finds Love by Sudesna Ghosh is a fun read on cats, gal pals and contemporary relationships. Ghosh is a descriptive writer. And reading her words is like talking to an old friend. The prose is conversational and she crafts an easy to believe world with her gal pals, parents and cats.

Her gal pals love cats just as much as she does. And the four make an awesome team. Actually, a club! And they discuss cats and men with equal vigour. Or maybe they are a little partial to the feline family!

At one level, Crazy Cat Lady Finds Love helps sensitize readers about what it means to live with pets in the family, the good and the bad. It also touches upon the lives of strays and the care we could possibly extend.

At another, Crazy Cat Lady Finds Love is warm cozy read on friendships and relationships. Today, dating isn’t easy and Ghosh and her friends have had their share of heartbreaks. It gets tougher when they also have to fit their feline friends into the equation. So perhaps, some relationships must include more than two individuals!

Crazy Cat Lady Finds Love is written in a similar tone as Ghosh’s previous books. I like how she is very consistent about portraying affectionate female friendships, and the subtle undertones in relationships, platonic or otherwise.

She strings together common everyday occurrences into a neat little engaging tale, laced with humour and romance. Her characters are realistic and contemporary.

Savour Crazy Cat Lady Finds Love on a balmy wintry evening with your beverage of choice and let the cats rule your world for just a bit.

Ghosh’s previous titles include:

Find Crazy Cat Lady Finds Love on Amazon.

Book Review | Love Curry

Title: Love Curry
Author: Pankaj Dubey
Pages: 202
Price: INR 250

51tnh3u6ufl-_sx325_bo1204203200_Love Curry by Pankaj Dubey is a tale of three flatmates in London; Rishi, an Indian; Ali, a Pakistani and Shehzad, a Bangladeshi. They lead vastly different lives but their similar backgrounds keep them intact and together.

Rishi seeks a low profile personally and professionally and almost thrives on mediocrity. Ali wants to set up his own restaurant. And Shehzad is a tattoo artist. And all of them have broken, unresolved ties with the past. They lead insulated lives, mostly staying out of each others’ paths, except for the common presence of their landlord’s daughter, Zeenat in their lives. And I wish Dubey had etched her in more shades than just being a ravishing but blandish love interest.

It was nice to see the friendship, camaraderie and everyday banter (often aided by the joint history, some current affairs and lots of food) among the three flatmates. Their joys, highs and lows make them commonplace and relatable. It is a clever and contemporary book, but one in need of a good editor. There are some moments of brilliance in the plot as well as the writing. Just not as often as I’d like.

The plot was reminiscent of a Bollywood love triangle (primarily the male perspective), albeit with far lesser drama and theatrics. But it was interesting to read how each individual chose to express and exhibit his love and affection. And what the lady in question made of such acts.

However, I found the writing tedious, contrived and exaggerated. There’s more telling than showing. And the characters are largely uni-dimensional. It appears as if Dubey really enjoyed writing some bits of the book, while he merely plodded along some others. I wish the narrative had been more coherent and taut.

Love Curry is a poor male equivalent of a chicklit, whatever the term for it might be!













Book Review | Storywallah

Title: Storywallah
Author: Neelesh Misra’s Mandali
Pages: 214
Price: INR 250


Storywallah by Neelesh Misra’s Mandali is a collection of 20 short stories set in rural and urban India, with a common thread of nostalgia, love and longing. Misra presents a selection of diverse, handpicked and mentored writers from across India, each with a distinct voice.

You will encounter some bittersweet moments of relationships, romantic and otherwise, some harsh truths about life, and about growing up and letting go. You will also find yourself quietly smiling at the end of some of the stories because you will catch a glimpse of yourself in those words. There will be some very familiar situations that life throws at all of us, and you will find it heartening to know how each protagonist takes charge of his or her individual narrative.

Largely set in hometowns and popular hill stations, Storywallahreacquainted me with simpler times. To perhaps when I was less cynical and more willing to believe in the magic of time and its power to heal. To be willing to give people, and life itself, another chance. To be willing to embrace the chance encounter and relish the numerous possibilities the moment holds. Like the movie Tamasha says, each one of us has the freedom to choose how our stories will unfold.

One story that stayed with me in particular was A Bird in Flightby Snehvir Gosain. “Akhilesh’s childhood had been left behind, and Shivshankar’s was returning.” Shivshankar is struggling to accept that his childhood is to be sold. How does one put a price to a lifetime of memories? But Akhilesh has little time for such sentimentalities. Do the father and son arrive at middle ground to resolve it?

This collection started out as radio stories in Hindi for Yaadon Ka Idiotbox, Misra’s popular radio show. In Storywallah, they appear as English translations for the first time. However, the translations, owing to some inconsistences, don’t do justice to the entire gamut of emotions portrayed in each of the plots, as is often the challenge for translated works. In this collection, the timelines in some of the stories, in particular, are unclear, while some sentences are a literal translation. But some sentences on the other hand are an absolute delight to read. For example, in Wildflower, I read, “There are some flowers that don’t want to grow in gardens, so sensitive that if you don’t touch them with tenderness they will scatter. But if you let them be, they will bloom even among rocks.”

It is easy to see why these plots worked beautifully in a radio story format. There is heavy emphasis on detailed visual descriptions and pregnant pauses (and the words that rush to fill those). And when these are narrated across airwaves on lonely nights, one almost feels the presence of kindred spirits. The book falls slightly short on this account.

But it’s still a good start to have these stories in print to reach a wider audience. And I hope to see sequels to this collection.