Book Review: Dance Dance Dance by Haruki Murakami

I just finished this book today morning. I just took a couple of hours to synthesize it all. Below is the review as I wrote on Goodreads.

Dance Dance Dance (The Rat, #4)Dance Dance Dance by Haruki Murakami

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I am forcing myself to write this. To wrap my head around what I read. This was the 10th book by Murakami that I am reading. He has an ordinariness in his writing that comes through even in his English translations. Mixed with some fantastical elements that I have witnessed in Kurt Vonnegut’s writings that I have read like Cat’s Cradle. His stories have for a fact that everyone is unique. That fact is then laced with emotions of loneliness and sometimes, helplessness.

The Wikipedia page for Murakami tells me that this is one of his earlier work as a writer. To me, this book made more sense, perhaps because I read some of his later works. I don’t know. It also makes his some of his latest works like 1Q84 make more sense too. I am almost a fan now.

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Book Review: The Sceptical Patriot by Sidin Vadukut

(Posted here from Goodreads. Just in case. Although it seems more likely that the review will stay on Goodreads and vanish from here than vice versa. For posterity, perhaps. I also need to get much better at writing book reviews. I’m working on it!)

The Sceptical Patriot: Exploring the Truths Behind the Zero and Other Indian GloriesThe Sceptical Patriot: Exploring the Truths Behind the Zero and Other Indian Glories by Sidin Vadukut

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’ve read Sidin Vadukut’s Dork books and his column in Mint, the newspaper. I don’t think he writes there and more or less jokes around. Those are fun to read. With The Sceptical Patriot, I think Sidin’s writing reaches the narrative style that shines through in some of his blog posts. The versatility of that narration has never ceased to amaze me.

I think this book of myth busting comes around at the right time. After a decade where India was lauded for many things – its achievements, people are slowly sobering up to the fact that India is just another country with its share of issues and strengths. It is during the previous decade that people suddenly started sharing wild assertions of the greatness of India. Some true. Some false.

Sidin does a good job of picking up a few of these assertions and applying rational thinking, researching on the Internet and reading from libraries (I love this!) and illustrating how one could apply the same technique to other facts that one reads everyday on Facebook and Whatsapp (notice how this is absent on Twitter?) if only one spent a little time. Skepticism is what India needs a little more of.

I don’t think Sidin was trying to or reaches the superb awesomeness of Mythbusters or Phil Plait or even Bill Bryson. I hope he doesn’t. I wish he’d go off a bit and explore more genres and doesn’t stick to one. I like this wandering interest that he shows in his work.

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My favourite quote from the book?

(It is truly remarkable how NASA has become the ‘India fact’certifying agency of choice.)

This was said in reference to a 1985 paper written by a Rick Briggs who considered Sanskrit to be one of the few languages worth considering for use in computer programming. He was working with a company that worked as a contractor with NASA. This probably was the start of Indians looking at NASA for bolstering various ‘India facts’.

Book Review: Revolution Highway by Dilip Simeon

Note: I wrote this on my earlier blog hosted as I recovered the text from the WayBack Machine. This post appeared on June 25, 2013 as per the permalink. I’m trying to collect here again all my old writings spread on various blogs.

Some time back, I had acquired the habit of writing down reviews of the book that I had recently read. The practice lost steam as I got caught up in the desire to read more. Writing a review gives pause for consideration for a book that has passed through one’s life. It is with these thoughts that I pick up the practice again.

A membership with the British Library in Mumbai gave me access to this book called Revolution Highway. It is written by labour historian Dilip Simeon. The book is a work of fiction that considers the 1960s and the 1970s India and the rush of ideas and idealism that flowed through India at the time. The time witnessed the sprouting of the Naxalite movement in the extreme left of the political spectrum and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh in the extreme right of the political spectrum. The book concentrates on the revolution that the Naxalite movement bred, the brief belief in the Revolution followed by disillusionment.

I read the book in a unique juncture in my life as well. It was a moment when I heard of the left movement within Bombay in the early 1960s and 1970s. I too went through a phase of disillusionment and have now emerged with a more balanced viewpoint of politics than what I had earlier.

Given this back drop, I found the book a fascinating read. It gives one an insightful reading of the history of the Indian Left given the world situation. It provides and reveals aspects of India’s own revolutionaries and how they get intertwined with the Revolutionaries who struggled in the pre-Independence era. Other than the world histories it has several asides that seem to stand alone and do not fully integrate with the story line. They seem like stand alone pieces of non-fiction inserted into a work of fiction. It provides some very insightful critique of the Left struggle. I especially enjoyed the criticisms leveled at the Left by Rathin, a character in the book. The interspersed bits of world history might have served as a better back drop if they were briefer.


Chanakya’s Chant

Just last October, I purchased and reviewed Ashwin Sanghi’s first book, The Rozabal Line. When his latest book came out, I wanted to purchase his book but had a huge back log of books to read. Hence, I held off. In the meanwhile, I signed up for BlogAdda’s Book Review Programme as well. Sanghi’s book Chanakya’s Chant came up whilst I was in the last few pages of How Starbucks Saved My Life.

I really enjoyed reading Sanghi’s latest offering. The book has a nice balance of historical facts and fiction. It weaves these in magnificent ways to bring out the political realities of today and the life of Chanakya, 2300 years ago. The repetition of Chanakya’s chant throughout the book gets a bit weary as one reaches in the middle, but after all it is the title of the book, and one learns to skip that part when it comes. Keeping the explanation of the chant towards the end of the book was a nice touch. Overall, I really enjoyed reading the book and I have already recommended it to someone who is reading the book now. 🙂

As I have said before, the book is an inter-weaving story between the present and a time 2300 years ago. The storyline follows the rise of Chandini Gupta to the position of power in New Delhi and Chandragupta Maurya to the position of power in Pataliputra in Magadha in an India 2300 years ago. Their rise is backed by the two ‘godfathers’, Pandit Gangasagar Mishra for Chandini and Chanakya for Chandragupta.

It is towards the middle of the book that the link between how the story was progressing in the present and 2300 years ago becomes clearer. Both proteges almost have similar names – Chandini Gupta and Chandra Gupta. The story moves slowly to the centers of power, New Delhi in modern India and Pataliputra in the India from 2300 years ago. The involvement of Pakistanand China for political gains within India parallels the help taken from the fictional kingdoms of Gandhar and Kaikey which share the geographical location by Chanakya. There was nice symmetry in the stories as well. Having a man achieve power in India 2300 years ago and a woman do the same in modern India.

The storyline is filled with political tactics employed by the godfather of the protege. I am not sure many of the tactics would work in the modern world. I am also not sure if many of the suggestions suggested or used to solve modern problems are practical. It was a nice instrument to offer suggestions in governance. The book also points to the idea of being okay with a little corruption for political gains while ensuring the work gets done mindset that several people in India have. I was a little uncomfortable with that suggestion. I understand that the idea was not to portray a clean Prime Minister but rather paint a more realistic picture of the position of Prime Minister.

I think the book is well timed, fast and inspiring read. At the back cover, the book asks a question, does Chanakya’s chant succeed in modern day India? I think that is for every reader to answer for himself.

How Starbucks Saved My Life

It was one of mum’s friends who recommended that she buy this book. I am not really sure about the reason. For this reason, I was not exactly looking forward to reading this book.

I really like the way that Michael Gates Gill writes. He writes very informally. However, I do not particularly like the narrative he uses for himself. He is self-depreciating beyond limit. His story lacks anything like a continuous narrative where he leaves several loose ends. He does not finish the narrative – anyone of the various story lines he develops. Perhaps, a way to look at it is that life itself is still developing with him. I might perhaps miss a better understanding because I do not know or have not experienced the Starbucks culture.

I do think that he does have a pretty good writing style. Like people talking over a hot cup of coffee on a rainy afternoon. He also puts things pretty clearly and is deliberate with his descriptions. However, he misses on developing his plots as a result of this. It is more like a what is happening now narrative.

This book, How Starbucks Saved My Life is something that falls into a very small but popularly growing category of books of modern failure in conventional jobs and people taking up very unprofessional professions to make a living. Opportunities are everywhere.

Book Review: Known Turf by Annie Zaidi

Note: I wrote this on my earlier blog hosted as I recovered the text from the WayBack Machine. This post appeared on December 10, 2010 as per the time stamp. I’m trying to collect here again all my old writings spread on various blogs.

I finished reading this book way back in August but did not get around to writing a review for it. I bought this book after seeing Joseph Thomas’ note. By the time he reviewed it his opinion had changed a bit. Just shows you how long ago that was.

I have read Annie Zaidi’s articles when she was in Frontline but not her blog. The book, though is mostly about her first foray into journalism and her beat visiting goondas in Northern India and the strange aura that surrounded them. She moves from understanding what moves these people from goondaism to what generally is lacking in provisions provided by the Government and moves towards human interest stories.

One of my favourite parts is where she talks about an Indian’s love for tea. I share this love but have started limiting my consumption of this liquid slowly. It is very difficult. She then moves to her blogging life and her work with the Blank Noise project.

Sadly, after this I have started going more towards music. Exams in between meant that this transitition was not as smooth as it could have been.

What’s in a name?

Note: I wrote this on my earlier blog, The Tranquil Eye for which I do not remember the domain name. I recovered the text from my email. This post appeared on March 2, 2007 as per the time stamp on my email. I’m trying to collect here again all my old writings spread on various blogs.

The name, “The Tranquil Eye” comes from Aubrey Menen’s book, The Space Within the Heart. Here’s what the necessary paragraph says:

I was there. I. Not the person weighing 72 kilograms and whom my mother and father named Aubrey Clarence: not the writer of this book: not the person whose life, when he is dead, will be displayed in a glass case one day by Mr. Gottlieb (or so he promises me). Another person.

I gave it a name. I called it the Tranquil Eye. The play on words amused me, and it was near the truth. I found I could retreat into the space within the heart whenever I wished. For a time, I needed the quiet and loneliness of my room to do it. Later, when I gave up my room and returned to normal life, I found that I could retreat into the space anywhere, even in company, for the sheer of pleasure of doing it. The Tranquil Eye had seen an unforgettable sight. It had seen the whole of my life lying around it: and it was comical. For it saw that my life had been the laborious construct of other people, some well-intentioned, some malign, some just interfering.