Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Guest Review: Scammed

Reviewed by: Shantanu Bhattacharya
The first question that struck me when I got Scammed in my hand was - why would the author be anonymous (yes, really!)? Was it some sort of an insider's expose of the Financial Consulting and Audit industry? Was it shocking and transgressive? Did it contain names of actual companies and people who could retaliate against the author?  The possibilities were all exciting, and so with anticipation I picked the book up to read to find my answer.

It was nothing like I hoped for.

The most charitable explanation I can hazard for the anonymity of the author is that the book she (and I use the generic, politically correct, 'she' here; the author is in all probability, a man, but I can't know for sure) wrote was so outrageously filmy, so derivative and melodramatic, that her friends, colleagues and family would treat it as a huge joke, making her a laughingstock for years, besides dealing a body blow to a fledgling writing career.

That, and/or the fact that she lacked imagination enough to think of a nice pseudonym.

The story itself is a straightforward morality play, just a little modernized. It's the one you have heard and seen multiple times before - from Shree 420 to Raju Ban Gaya Gentleman, and a hundred films in between. It is the same story of a small town protagonist who comes to the big city (in this case, Hyderabad) with big dreams, is frustrated by lack of opportunity,  gets into wrong company and habits to makes money, and becomes (very) financially successful. Till, of course the facade crumbles, and artifice is wiped away, the world crumbles around him, the scales fall from his eyes,  and the love of a good woman rescues him from the world of frivolity and superficiality, leading him to a new start.

Winced at the parade of cliches in the previous paragraph? That sort of gives you an idea of what I went through as I read page after page of this novel. The protagonist is a Gujju boy - Hitesh Shah - working for an international-sounding audit firm, Smith & Donald, whose working methods seem loosely modeled on Satyam's auditors, PWC. As the auditor designated for a wobbly, outdated, automobile company , Supreme Motors, he discovers layers upon layers of corruption in the company. Aided by a whistleblower who provides him evidence and exits the country, and the book, forever, Hitesh realizes that everyone and their uncle are involved in corruption - the owner, purchase manager, HR head - everyone seems to have been enriching themselves for years.

Hitesh, of course, gets sucked in to the morass of corruption himself - using his financial acumen to start a new (and very successful) fleet taxi venture using Supreme cars and low prices. He is bankrolled by industrialists and also secretly, by a major politician. At the same time his love life looks up as the college beauty, and now model, who never looked at him earlier is now more amenable to his advances, especially since he gets her a lucrative gig as the face of the new venture. Before that of course, there was his "assistant" from Smith & Donald who he sleeps with. Oh, and there is the mousy secretary who he never notices till she sympathizes with him when things go wrong... - no lack of traditionalist misogyny here. 

You see where this is going, right? So did I, from miles away.

Things happen, the shit hits the fan and things start to unravel pretty quickly. People get arrested. The politician gets embroiled. Model girlfriend ditches him for career and a tattooed Lokhandwala-biker-stud type when she gets better gigs in Bombay. The police get after him and he pulls a powder on them, accompanied by the, you guessed it, secretary whose smile is suddenly sweeter and figure, more sinuous. Love story blooms. The nice girl turns out to be the ideal mate - not the flashy model types. 

All this is resolved in a expectedly filmy manner when he comes out on top at the end. But then you knew that. I am not really providing any spoilers here. Not unless you have not watched any number of Hindi films in the last 50 years. If you haven't, I apologize for ruining a splendid surprise.

Look, I know what you are thinking. So what if the plot is old? After all it's a well known adage that there are only 7 plots in the Universe. What matters is presentation, and style, and structure. 

Okay then, let's talk about language for a minute, shall we? Or maybe not. Not at any great length anyway. Not after reading that someone "stood prostrate" - a massive feat of physical achievement. And that so many people keep looking at each other out of "the corner of (their) eye". In a couple of cases the usage of phrases is hilariously incorrect. In one case Hitesh says the a threat "left me cold" when, from the context, the author obviously means the opposite i.e. left him nervous and worried. Maybe he wanted to use "blood ran cold" instead? In another instance, someone is described as having a "perpetual baffled expression on his face" when the context indicates an "earnest expression." 

Is that enough? No? Okay, one more hilarious example - "Hitesh sat stoned". Given that there is no drug use described in the book, it's safe to say the author actually meant "turned to stone" or "shocked".

Add to this some basic editing errors, e.g. "Sahil" instead of "Hitesh" and you understand that this is a pretty shoddy effort overall.

In summation, all I can hope the next book by Anonymous (if there is a next book) will be better edited, better plotted, and better written. Of course, I get the feeling that would be three things too many to ask for.

About Shantanu: I work as Chief Learning Designer with Tata Interactive Systems. I hold a Masters in Literature and love reading and movies - though I have very little time for either nowadays. I am active on social networks like Facebook and Twitter (@shantanub) and am a complete news and current affairs junkie. Currently though, my most satisfying job is being father to a 5 and half year old girl.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Event Invite: The Reluctant Detective

The Book Lovers would like to invite you for Kiran Manral's book reading event at Bungalow 9, Bandra on 24th Feb from 4pm-6pm. Tisca Chopra would be reading from the book and author 
Parul Sharma will be in conversation with Kiran. Do email to us for invite. 


Guest Review: Hot Tea Across India

Reviewed by: Pinak Kapadia 

I love to read travelogues. They give you the freedom to travel across the world, and soak in experiences without leaving your armchair. People have been writing about travelling across India since before Christ was born. But good Indian travel writers are few. Rishad Saam Mehta promises to be one of them.

Once in a while, there comes a book that offers a completely new perspective about everything you take for granted, and changes the way you see things. To say that "Hot Tea across India" is such a book would be an exaggeration. But the book does offer a fresh perspective about one thing in India which we do so often that we almost do not notice ourselves doing it. That act is drinking tea. The book is about how this simple, but uniquely Indian act of drinking tea at road-side dhabas at different corners of the country, is linked to experiences that stay long in memory.

The author used to write for Autocar India about his travel experiences, and is a freelance journalist. Because of his habit of writing for magazines, this book has a racy feel to it, which is strangely refreshing. Each chapter deals with one separate incident from the author's travels. You have to admit, the man has travelled. From a car rally in an alto in Himalayas, to biking in the ghats, to hitch-hiking from Mumbai to Delhi in a truck, he has done it all.

When someone writes about travelling in India, generally there is always some mention about the bad traffic, the potholes, the corruption and the poor facilities for impromptu travelers. Rishad steers clear of all such incidents. When he mentions about a car or bike breakdown, or his encounter with cops, it is always in a lighter vein. Sleeping in a truck for a few nights can never be fun for most of us, but Rishad almost makes it seem desirable. And at the end of it all, it stays about people. People who serve refreshing tea in the middle of the night, people who go the extra mile to make your stay comfortable, people who save you from disaster. India is never short of such people. Next time, when you grab a cuppa, keep your eyes open for an interesting story from the person serving it.

Grab the book if: You like to read magazines or light reads, you are a travel buff, a tea lover or are looking for something fresh to read.
Avoid if: You like your books to have a deeper meaning, your idea of travel books is not Bill Bryson but "travels with herodotus".

Do read "Hot tea across India". It will make you grab the key to your car and take the long road.

"The road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began.....
And I must follow if I can" 

Rishad, we are waiting to read where the road takes you next.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Guest Review: My Father Baliah

Our blog is giving away books for review to people who are interested in reading and sharing their reviews. In case you would be interested in becoming a part of this Review Programme do write to us at bookwelove(at)gmail(dot)com 

Dr. Shivani Kapoor is the first reviewer in this programme! Welcome Dr. Kapoor look forward to many more reviews from you for our blog!

Author: Y.B.Satyanarayana
Reviewed by: Dr. Shivani Kapoor


‘My Father Baliah’ is a thought provoking book that takes us through a journey of four generations of a dalit family in Andhra Pradesh. Baliah’s strength of character is depicted as he fights social evils at his own level. Always uncompromising in his fights, Baliah teaches his children to live a life of self respect. The book is a detailed insight into the world of untouchables and their ways of living and most importantly how they are marginalized from the society. Through this simply told story, the author brings out the inhuman cruelty of the other caste towards the untouchables, the brutality of the caste system on the repressed and the poorer section and also the internalization of this condition among the untouchables themselves.

What is interesting here is how dalit education changes the views of not only the higher caste people towards the dalits but also of the untouchables themselves about their own status. Unlike other dalit autobiographies, we see an interesting play of education in changing the life and the thought process of dalits. I recommend this book to those who would like to understand and empathize with the untouchables and the intensity of their oppression . The author has written in a style that is both engrossing and racy. 

(Dr. Shivani Kapoor is a Ph.D in English Literature, B.Ed and MBA. She is a trainer for teachers and gives counseling on parenting)