Friday, December 23, 2011

My Journey with Amit Shankar from ‘Flight of Hilsa’ to ‘Chapter 11’.

It is really strange how some people come into your life, lay dormant for a while and then one fine day they decide to spring back, zoom straight into thick of things and become an active part of your life. Amit and I go back a couple of years. My first book was just released then. So, I guess it was around end of 2009 when he sent me a friend request. I accepted it as we shared few common friends. And as it always happens on FB, promptly forgot all about it. However, he did not. We kept interacting in spurts. He would throw volley of questions about book publishing and the like. I tried to answer him to the best of my knowledge as being a first time author myself, I understood his concerns. His first book was released soon after – Flight of Hilsa. I came to know through our common friends (and him) that the book was doing extremely well. And within few month of its release, it was already in the national best sellers list. To admit frankly, I thought he was boasting. However, slowly I noticed his book was indeed quite visible in all the major stores. People were talking about it. Now, I was curious and wanted to find out for myself. What is in the book that made it a national bestseller within few months of its release? The figures he quoted me were triple of the sales figures for my own book which was doing quite well for itself too. And so as soon as I got an opportunity I bought his book, promptly kept it on my overflowing bookshelf and again forgot all about it.

After few months, Amit again got in touch and this time he sent me an invitation to attend the release of his second book. I was really zapped. Within 9 months or so he was out with his second book. I asked him the title and he said – ‘Chapter 11.’ Strange title, I thought. (Of course, I did not know what Chapter 11 meant or was about. Neither did I inquire).  However, I went for his book release function. Heard him. And somehow found myself believing him and his words. He spoke about importance of Moral values. Importance of being honest, forthright and being humane. The next day I took out ‘Flight of Hilsa’ finished it in few days. Next, it was ‘Chapter 11’ and again I finished it in a couple of days or so.

And friends, I must admit both the books were quite enjoyable and engrossing. Here is why -

Flight of Hilsa –
 I personally feel, is a must read book for all  the women,. It narrates the tale of a young woman, Avantika, a talented artist who has a vision and determination to fulfill her aims. She wants to be a great Painter. She struggles, loses out but does not give up. Her boyfriend is rich and can give her the world. But she refuses his help. She wants to make it on her own. After much struggle and a chance interaction with a boatman she achieves more than she ever wanted. But from here on her attitude towards people and life changes. She sacrifices her beliefs, ethics and even loses her original self in giving interviews, attending parties and interacting with the ‘who’s who’ of the Glitterati circle. But then as fate would have it, she receives a huge blow when her close friend dies followed by another shock when she learns that the man who had awarded her all her prestigious projects had withdrawn the contract just because she was no longer with his son. The son whom she found she did not respect or love. What happens after this is best left unsaid. All you girls out there pick up the book and find out! J

The book touches upon issues like true love, changing beliefs and values, meaning of success and other such relevant topics sensitively. As a woman reader, I enjoyed it completely. Although at places, I found it a tad too long with some quite technical terms that distracted me a bit from the main story line. However, the thing that kept me wondering throughout the novel was, how did Amit manage to project a woman’s character and emotions so well? If I had not known better, I would have thought that the book was written by a woman author. In my opinion, on the whole, he did a fabulous job.

 Chapter 11 –
By now I had warmed up to Amit. and saw him in a new light. In fact, I was in admiration of his writings. A regular reading of his blog made me aware that he had a candid style of writing and wrote on different topics which were interesting and appealing. So when I started Chapter 11, I was already expecting it to be equally good as ‘Flight of Hilsa.’and his blog topics. But he proved me wrong. It turned out to be even better. Except the technical terms that he used throughout (and quite liberally) played spoilt sport for a layman like me. Also there were too many characters so I got mixed up. Those are the only negative remarks as a reader I have for his otherwise quite an appealing and different story line.

This time round the story was about a young handsome man from Udaipur called Virendra Vikram Singh. The thing that I like about Amit’s characterization is that all his characters appear very real. No hero or villain. All have dark shades and are equally vulnerable to temptations. In fact, Virendra Vikram Singh or VVS, though the main protagonist is projected more as a villain in the beginning. He is a Rajput from Udaipur, dreams of working in an MNC, has a simple and beautiful wife but does not mind flirting outrageously with his female colleague in his small town office and later having a steady live- in girlfriend when he shifts to Delhi, he does anything and everything his boss Sandy, who himself has very little values or morals asks him to do, just to stay in his favour and save his own skin. He even hacks another agency’s software in order to extend a favour to a friend. Though for doing this he gets into massive trouble. Other such small and big happening bring out the fact that VVS is not a very refined fellow. He does what he feels like doing. It has nothing to do with the Society’s norm or general sense of right or wrong.He is also very clever.
Anyway, throughout all his misadventures and wrong dealings readers are presented with the base story of a corporate house that has declared bankruptcy and filed for Chapter 11. VVS joins the company the same day it declares bankruptcy. The engrossing story narrates and highlights how the top management tries to fill its own pocket. How each see to their own individual benefits at the cost of the lower level employees and the company. Corruption, Back biting, Scheming, Money laundering, Wasteful expenditures on mindless official parties all are permitted by the so called top bosses with just one aim in mind to ‘make hay while the Sun shines’. Ineffective leadership and irresponsible behavior results in the company making losses after losses. It’s a poignant tale of what people go through when a company is not run efficiently and when it is declared bankrupt. What happens when a Corporate and its top management forget that companies are made up of people.

In the name of downsizing the company, its senior management gets rid of people at the bottom level. People who would not last if their earnings are taken away, have no options and choices and would feel the impact of job loss 10 times more than the people at the top. As readers we feel disgusted by the unjust behavior of the corporate honchos.And while we are seething with anger at the sad situation and feel bad for the regular employees of CommTech, the bankrupt company, VVS steps in the picture as our hero, openly taking the real villains to task, naming all the top people who were gloating with the fact that they had managed their exit from the scene well and bringing them to book in front of the entire company. 

Of course, his passionate speech and exposing the real culprits does not help the company or its employees in going bankrupt. The story end in a sad note. (I know it sounds very idealistic but I sure do hope that real life stories end in a better way). The strongest message that comes out from the story is that we as a Society must be honest and compassionate towards each other. I will strongly suggest everyone (including of course, those from the corporate world), to read this book. As for Amit Shankar, I look forward to some more interesting tales from you. And this time round I won’t be nonchalant about them. J

Tuesday, December 20, 2011


The heart must be really happy! After all isn’t it the favourite topic amongst the current generation of writers? And aren’t they all selling like hot cakes at the cost of annoying the intellectuals and lovers of high literature? Literature has the responsibility of increasing knowledge. Or so, is the general belief. Now, how is this strange fetish for ‘matters of the heart’ brought out, written and read in such direct and straightforward manner, helping us in gaining any substantial knowledge? What is it that attracts writer and readers to this vital human organ that does more than just pumping blood?  

 I kept mulling over all the above questions for several days but  could not come up with any satisfactory answers. Then one fine morning, a relatively lesser known FB friend, a young  budding writer, Sapatarshi Basu approached me with his second Novel –“Autumn in my heart. ” “Please read it and share your views.” He requested. I promptly agreed.

And so friends, I believe, Nature gave me an opportunity to read one such book and at least try finding out for myself, the answers, to my questions as posed above.  (Incidentally, the subject matter of Saptarshi’s first book was again…no prizes for guessing …. “The heart” The title was “Love, Logic and the God’s Algorithm”). Very unusual title. I know. But I guess it did well. That is why we have another one on the same subject by the very- youthful- looking author. I use the words ‘youthful looking’ coz I am really not sure of his age. Could be mid twenties or early thirties?  But he does look good. J. You do Saptarishi! And that is part of the whole charm of picking up your book. I bet girls (especially in Kolkata), looked at the title, saw your boyish picture smiling back at them and said – “Let’s buy this one… he kind of looks cute!” Oh well….it’s a compliment. Don’t take it otherwise

Let me get down to sharing my thoughts on the book now…before I get you all mixed up as to what exactly I am trying to convey -

“Autumn in my heart” is a simple tale set in contemporary times. Boy meets girl, girl breaks boy’s heart, and promptly moves on. (Girls! it seems like you all are becoming experts in breaking hearts?) Boy stays true to his first girl friend's memories. Decides never to fall in love again, but promises are meant to be broken, and so another girl (this time a no nonsense girl, who is ambitious and has big dreams), comes his way, tugs at his heartstrings till he forgets his promise he made to himself and follows his love stuck heart. But this time round it is true love and is completely reciprocated!  Happy Ending. So, what is so extraordinary about the whole story? You may ask.

Well, there are several things. To begin with - the simple style of narration. Now people may debate this but in my own opinion, nowadays youngsters prefer direct and straight to the point, style of writing. CB started it. Others followed. And why not? Why should flowery, difficult to understand, long winding sentences become a hindrance for readers in reading or connecting with an otherwise great story.

I also found that Saptarshi picked up and tried exploring two important and relevant topics in his story. One, can internet love blossom into true love and a lifelong relationship? Many love stories are blossoming on the net. Young hearts get attracted to each other virtually first before physically meeting each other. So, what is the fate of such love stories? Are they for real? The second issue his story highlighted and dealt with was that of Gay or Homo sexuals and their feelings, desires and frustrations for being ostracized and ignored by the Society at large.

Also, the story kept moving between past and present, and attempted to keep the readers intrigued and guessing. To an extent he did succeed in achieving the necessary result through his writing style. However, as a reader my only observation not in his favour is that he needs to brush up his grammar. J Also, work on the language a bit more. And I am sure with the right attitude, hard work and lots of good reads he will soon be coming out with some more extremely interesting and heart rendering work in future. My best wishes to him.

As far as the questions that I posed to myself in the beginning of this write up are concerned, let me share...they still remain un answered? Why….the obsession with the Heart? Anyone out there who can answer my question? May be people are tired of staying mechanically occupied with worldly matters. Maybe they look for something that would make them smile, feel happy, touched or rejuvenated. Maybe they feel they will get answers to their own problems related to matters of the heart by reading such stories. (After all even fiction is partially based on or inspired by reality), Or maybe they just want to read a good love story and keep their own hopes alive for a real - life love story. Whatever it might be….one thing is for sure that  the human heart will continue to dominate the human mind….at least in the stories.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

To censor or not to

This whole business of the Union telecom minister Mr Kapil Sibal, restricting Social media networks from posting freely expressed Individual views on their websites, has managed to catch my “generally politically aloof” and wandering mind pause and wonder as to what exactly constitutes “freedom of expression”
In this article, I try to understand, analyze and come to a logical conclusion for my own sake and for the sake of all those who care to express their views frankly and clearly even at the cost of appearing unappealing by certain sections/individuals or groups.

Let’s see what the constitution says -
The Constitution of India contains the right to freedom, given in articles 19, 20, 21 and 22, with the view of guaranteeing individual rights that were considered vital by the framers of the constitution. Right to freedom in article 19 thus also guarantees the right to freedom of speech and expression. It has been also held by the supreme court in one of its landmark judgment that freedom of speech and expression has no geographical limitations and carries with it the right of a citizen to gather information and to exchange thought with others not only in India but abroad also. (This clearly points out that a well heeled and traveled Indian can hold and express a completely different world view then a regular Indian. And also he/she has a complete right to do so. Even at the cost of appearing westernized).

What are the Restrictions -
With the same token Clause (2) of Article 19 of the Indian constitution enables the legislature to impose reasonable restrictions on free speech under following heads:
  • I. security of the State,
  • II. friendly relations with foreign States,
  • III. public order,
  • IV. decency and morality,
  • V. contempt of court,
  • VI. defamation,
  • VII. incitement to an offence, and
  • VIII. Sovereignty and integrity of India.
However, the important thing to note is that reasonable restrictions on the above grounds can be imposed only by a duly enacted law and not by executive action.

My take -
In my humble opinion (and knowledge),what Mr. Sibal is worried about lies mostly under the purview of point vi and vii, not exactly the high priority areas as far as the welfare of the nation is concerned. So, are we more worried about the ill -kept skeletons that are displayed in the open without mercy? Is it because we are tired of being called names every day? Have we lost our patience? Are we anxious about keeping faces then taking corrective measures to improve the lot of the country? If the answer to any one of the above is a “Yes” then instead of curbing the social media networks we first need to curb certain freedoms that many of our esteemed ministers in the Government take too much for granted like – “The freedom to misuse public money openly,” “The freedom to nonsensical actions,” “The freedom to say one thing and do another”, “The freedom to misuse power and curb others’ freedom in the name of welfare of nation” “the freedom to only keep one’s own benefit in mind,” et al. all such freedoms must be curbed and minimized.
What Mr. Sibal is trying to say or do is best known to him and his team. His guided “code of conduct” seems to certainly rub the wrong way with the masses especially the Indian youth who are more aware, connected with world happenings and vocal with their thoughts. However, I would still give him the benefit of doubt and agree that Indian sensibilities must be kept in mind to an extent while posting thoughts and views. At the same time it is also equally important that under the garb of protecting Indian sensibilities, freedom of speech and expression must not be trampled upon just to protect the interests of a few. After all, we carry the responsibility of being the world’s largest democracy with a growing population of young and well informed minds who will find means to express their thoughts in their own ways come what may.

(Constitutional references from Wikipedia)