Book Review: Love, Peace & Happiness

In the busy times that we live in, we love to take short cuts. Everything, except the average height of people, seems to be getting shorter and quicker. From songs to films to T-Shirts and even skirts, everything seems to have faced the short-gun line of fire. Even so that short films are becoming a rage and people my age, would rather learn from short stories than to spend hours reading fat literatures. One such compilation is Rituraj Verma’s latest book Love, Peace and Happiness. A collection of nine short stories set in modern India, this book explores the waters of love, sex, happiness and peace, as the name suggests. What is truly remarkable about the book is that while the author has published nine stories, at the end of each story, he gives us links to alternate endings of the same stories. Also, he asks the user to submit his own version of the endings too on his blog. In a way, I feel, Love, Peace and Happiness is the most liberating book that I have come across. You may not like the ending, in print, of a particular story, but you may agree with another view presented in its alternate.

Inside LPH:
There are nine stories in the book:

Each story is a different take on different people stuck in gullible situations of love, mostly. Caught between the shackles of love, fidelity and responsibility, the author tastes tricky waters of broken relationships, one night stands and uneasy love. Unfortunately, the format of books with alternate endings is such that one cannot comment on the stories oneself, but as far the plot of the stories are concerned, some work, while some don’t, for me atleast.

The Verdict:
What I found best about the book was that it is easy to relate with some of the characters as they are borrowed from your daily life or you have met them somewhere or the other, while you are fascinated by the others. There are a couple of characters that I would have loved to meet. You may find it difficult to logically assess the situation that the main characters face, but in ways more than one, on a deeper scale you tend to disagree with the actions. While reading stories, happy endings are all that we wish to read, but that is not always the case. Similarly, the endings in print, here, are sad and abrupt but you usually see lingering ends of relationships around you, not the way this is.

As far as the writing is concerned, the dialogs are a bit forced. Thoughts are repeated and the print I have did not come typo-free too. Useless details are thrown at your faces through lines spoken by characters, though the same information could have been delivered in the form of a narrative. The writing is too simplistic and when there is a faint line of connection between two stories here and there, you suddenly expect all the stories to be different links of a giant jigsaw puzzle but alas, that never happens. As a book, it is just about okay when you got nothing better to do on a rainy day, but on that kind of a day, the puddles in the mud might interest you more.

My Rating: 2.5/5

Book Review: When the Snow Melts

Spy thrillers seem to be the flavour of the season. And this time, refreshingly enough, it’s not a James Bond film or a Jason Bourne espionage mission, but it’s here and now. Yes, I’m talking about a true blue desi spy story. The story of our very own, little known, Research and Analysis Wing of the Indian Government. Sound similar? Perhaps like the plot of Ek Tha Tiger? Well, no! With Agent Vinod and Ek Tha Tiger igniting fresh interest in Indian spies, When the Snow Melts is sure to impress you. I have never before read an Indian author delve so deep into the intricacies of the workings of International spy agencies such as RAW, Pakistan’s ISI and the antagonist Taliban. Written by Kerela born Vinod Joseph, When the Snow Melts is a story of ‘a man caught between love, duty and a gruesome death at the hands of his captors.’ Vinod Joseph is a Mumbai based lawyer and part time long distance runner. With this book, he explores an array that very few people have done yet and no matter what verdict it is in the markets, hats off to him for the effort.

The Plot:
When the Snow Melts is the story of an Indian RAW Agent, Ritwik Kumar, who works for the IAG (Intelligence Assessment Group) in London. After having lost large sums of his office money in his compulsive drinking and gambling habits, he defects to the pro-Taliban ISI group in order to avert the loan sharks and his boss, General West, both of whom, have given him a two week deadline to pay back his debts. The story begins with Ritwik leaving his house to meet his contact in the Talibani-ISI. He is led to a safe house, somewhere near the Mile End tube station and soon finds himself to be at the mercy of his handler, Ayub Afridi and Junaid, the al Quaida one-man-army and owner of the safe house. Soon Ritwik finds himself in muck as the ISI operatives don’t find his information valuable enough and suspect him of being a double-agent. As Ritwik is put through endless sessions of torture, he meets and falls in love with Junaid’s burkha clad, beautiful wife, Nilofar. Ritwik is forced to give some vital information that the Taliban is looking for, in order to bring down the righteous wing of the ISI working for the Pakistani Govt. Is Ritwik really a double-agent planted in the Taliban or is he just a defector looking to escape the people he owes money too and what happens when Ayub Afridi finds out that Nilofar had been cheating on Junaid with Ritwik, that I’d rather let the reader find out.

The Verdict:
When the Snow Melts is a refreshing change from the usual stuff we get to read from Indian authors. A spy story is something not many expect to read and the insights into the working of Intelligence agencies works really well with the reader. What strikes me most as odd is the fact that after a brilliantly written prologue, the author suddenly switches to give us a first person account of Ritwik’s experience. With the secretive life that a spy leads and the classified missions that he goes onto, it is peculiar to see a spy give details of his mission with no concrete explanation as to why he should tell this particular story. Also, the story begins to a flying start and expectations are raised very high, but unfortunately little activity happens once Ritwik is living in Junaid’s house. Unlike other spy thrillers, the action is mostly one sided, and indoor, and the adrenaline rush you get in the beginning suddenly dies an inside.

What I liked best about the book was that each character fitted perfectly in the role assigned to them and Joseph describes every person and situation very vividly. Having watched many FBI and crime related TV series, I never felt out of place reading the book. Another plus is that the book does not succumb to the clichés and the situations described are very believable. It’s quite natural that a layman cannot relate to a spy’s life but Joseph does a good job at not letting the reader lose his interest anywhere.

All in all a good read. Recommended mainly because of the freshness it brings to the Indian syle of writing. I would love to read the next one from Joseph too.

My Rating: 2.75/5

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