Posted in Books

Book Review: Beautiful Country, by Gunjan Veda and Syeda Hameed

About the authors:
Gunjan Veda is an Indian journalist and the cofounder of iRead Books Ltd, an online bookstore and library. This book is her first, a joint venture with Syeda Saiyidain Hameed, who is a prominent member of the Planning Commission of the Government of India. Syeda Hameed’s writing highlights various aspects of modern Indian history, women’s issues, Urdu poetry and South Asia.

My thoughts on the book:
I bought this book based purely on instinct. The cover called out to me and I didn’t even check the back blurb before I claimed a copy. It was only later, once I reached home, that I realized what I had acquired was a non-fiction book, the recollections and stories of real life in India brought out from the eyes of two people who had actually been there and felt that life moving, seen it and understood it. I’m the first to admit that I’m usually deterred by non-fiction books. They’re other people’s lives; you can’t always place yourself in their shoes and walk that life with your imagination. But this book somehow kept telling me not to stop reading. Lying back on a cushioned diwan, with the fan easing the heat, I might not know the toils and struggles that people in the other parts of the country are going through each day. And though at times I do wish to go to those places and capture that life and the beauty that that world holds, I realize that it’s not what I can do immediately.

Beautiful Country, authored by two prominent women of India, brings to me the images of life in different corners of the country. It not only brings those stories, but also the beauty of that part of the country. To be more specific, it brings out the authors’ experience from their travels to eighteen different parts of India.

Told with a poignant, touching yet direct voice, these stories are true stories. It intrigues, calls the reader in from the very first lines from a poem in the preface, which is written by Mohammed Iqbal: “Khol aankh, zamin dekh, falak dekh, fiza dekh, Mashriq mein ubhartey huey suraj ko zara dekh, Iss jalwa-e-be parda ko pardon mein chhupa dekh, Ayyam-e-judai ke sitam dekh, jafa dekh.” If not for the translation below it in the book, the poem would be lost on me, its beauty lost on me. If not for this book, I can say the beauty of India, and the pains and life of those in parts of my country would have been lost on me as well.

What I loved:
Well, what I love most about the book is the raw, direct facts about the country said as they are. You don’t see words being sugarcoated, or incidents downplayed. The starting of each chapter and each part of the country is with a nice piece of poetry (I think it is Urdu) and in between the book, there are some beautiful color photos. This is what India is, we might not choose to believe it, but it is there for all to see. The honesty in the book is what I feel makes it wonderful.

What I felt lacked:
I can’t say what lacks in such a non-fiction. They are after all, memories and thoughts. They might be as complete as the authors remember them. If I could suggest, maybe I’d say to put the pictures along with the chapters itself, rather than all together in the middle of the book. Also, many places are missing, like Karnataka, or Goa, or Orissa… I was hoping they’d be there too (but that’s of course still possible as a volume 2, so not exactly a lacking point maybe).

Closing thoughts:
If you aren’t sure what the real India is, this book would clear your mind. The narration is melancholic, but it’s not saddening, in fact, some things are absolutely inspiring. You can at times see the picture come to life (then again, that might be my imagination!) A non-fiction that will stay in my collection!

A rating of 8/10
A rating of 8/10

Book details:
Title: Beautiful Country: Stories from another India
Authors: Syeda Hameed, Gunjan Veda
ISBN: 9789350291306
Genre: Non-Fiction
Publishers: Harper Collins
Price: Rs. 399


The book is a personal copy. The opinions expressed in the review are my own, and remain unbiased and uninfluenced.

Shared with the First Reads challenge at b00k r3vi3ws and Indian Quills at Tales Pensieve.

(March 9th, 2013)

Posted in Books

Book Review: Uff Ye Emotions, anthology edited by Vinit K Bansal

About the editor:
Vinit K Bansal is the author of the book “I am heartless: A real confession” which is already among the bestseller charts in India. That book has already been translated to Hindi and released as “Who Chali Gayi”. He is a voracious reader, and continues to nurture the dream of writing.

The book in a nutshell:
“Uff ye Emotions” (meaning Oh! These Emotions) is an anthology of twelve love stories written by thirteen authors. It is the culmination of the contest in the same name held by the publication house and selected by the editor from many other entries vying to get into the collection.

The book brings out the different hues of emotions associated with love… adoration, affection, friendship, lust, desire etc. It blends into a time in the Indian writing scene when love stories are becoming the most sought genre.

Delving into the stories:
When the book has stories from different authors, a summary of the positives and negatives might not give an overall picture. Since the number of stories in the book is less, I give you my thoughts on each story quickly.

#1: Love @ Platform by Vinit Bansal: Quite frankly, I like the idea. Sacrifice and understanding are quite essential in love, and the story revolves around that. But I’ll be damned if I understand why the story ended the way it did. The gal sacrifices a lot for the guy she loves; she gets him a sponsorship for his biggest materialistic dream; that’s all peachy, but why not stay in his life? Or tell him she’s sure he’ll make it big and that she’ll wait for him? Sacrificing the relationship for the betterment of the guy felt odd to me. It’s an emotional scene, but at that point, it felt like I was being bribed to get the tears out rather than let the emotions spill it.

#2: Soulmate by Anjit Sharma: I found it creepy. Very “One Night @ Call Center”ish beginning, and a tad unbelievable, even for a fiction. I’m no relationship expert, but at late night hours, in a bus stand, I don’t think any gal would just jump into a conversation with a guy she’s never met before. Perhaps the twist that comes out later in the story was meant to justify that, but it felt odd to me. The reports of Zara’s rape brings the recent events of Nirbhaya and Delhi back to mind, and it does make it sad.

#3: A Date with the Fate by Abhilash Ruhela: I like this story a tad more than the previous two, mostly because of the flashback that is inserted into it. It got a change to the pattern, which felt refreshing. I’m assuming the title was meant to be “A Date with Fate” rather than what it is, and it got changed along with umpteen other reading errors I picked up in the story. Maybe even “A Date with Destiny” would sound better. The thing I don’t quite like in the story is there are some details that don’t quite matter to the destiny of the plot, like getting ready for the first day “gettogether” party and such. Overall, it’s a good attempt.

#4: Reminiscences by Priyanka Dey: It felt strangely familiar. Again, the sacrifice part comes out, but in this case, the sacrifice on the part of the heroine is quite needed for the guy to progress, move on. But once again, I’m not quite happy with how it ended. Like the first story, it felt like the ending twist was just for pushing the tears out, than getting the emotions to take over. It was abrupt, and from this authoress, I expected something more than that.

#5: A Path of Thorns by Suresh: One of the best in the book, in my opinion. The title grabs the attention of the reader, and justifies itself with the story. The reluctance of the heroine to delve deeper because of her past, the frustration of the hero, the flashback and the resolution, were all quite well done. If anything holds it back, I think the abrupt, on the spot dialogue of the characters at one time might have been better put.

#6: Love in the Times of Turbulence by Saurabh Arya: Good that people need support when they are just inches away from giving up on a dream, and that the person who loves them understands that. The story was slow to develop, but the ending once again undid the story.

#7: Love Undefined by Pankaj Mittal & Rachna Sheth: The simple, yet moving love story of a couple. I liked the direct dialogue that still showed the love and affection between the couple. The change factor came out all of a sudden. One moment all is fine, the next moment… BOOM. A bomb comes into the picture and their love is tested. The different definition of love afterward was a nice change to see though.

#8: Happily ever after by Sanhita Baruah: This was the second story in the anthology that held my attention throughout. The twist in the middle seemed to make sense, and I could anticipate it to a certain extent as well. The ending seemed a little hurried perhaps, but nothing that holds it back. To me, the best in the collection.

#9: The Intercity Express by Stephen Anthony: A good story, but it didn’t hold my attention. It felt more about the job of the protagonist than love. The dialogues at times were confusing.

#10: I love you too, I love you too by Himanshu Chhabra: A sweet love story, with some poems as well. The author writes a story from college, and he’s a student too. So it was expected. I’d have liked the girl to let the guy read the slam book, but like the author says, relationships don’t need tags.

#11: And then, I fell in love by Drishti Dasgupta: This was a nice story, one of the better ones in the book I feel. Nothing very detracting, except maybe for the Labradors part which was funny, but still… I think the ending was the right way to end not only the story, but also the book.

Closing thoughts:
Firstly, my congratulations to the cover designer Sunil Kaushik. I think this book has one of the nicest covers I’ve seen recently. Coming to the content, in an anthology, the stories must blend together in some way, yet be different too. I think they were mostly similar, in the aspect that quite a few of them had the protagonist on a train or a bus at one point in time. It makes me wonder if love can’t happen elsewhere you know? Why must it be so “vehicular”? Another thing that makes sort of sad is that some of the stories, the turning point, or the twist is so sudden. Yeah, life is sudden, but not THAT sudden. I like happy endings, but understand also that there are sad endings, but some in this book are incomplete endings. But what I found the most detracting throughout the book was the absence of editing, even in the contents page. I agree that a novel might have one or two mistakes in editing somewhehere, so many of them in each story of an anthology is to me a big no-no. The stories bring the sense of love and its emotions as promised, and there are 3 or 4 that make you smile as well. Overall, a decent read, but I expected much more than this.

Rated a 6/10
Rated a 6/10

Book details:
Book title: Uff Ye Emotions
Author: Multiple authors
Editor: Vinit K Bansal
ISBN: 9789350880388
Genre: Anthology / Love Stories
Publishers: Mahaveer
Price: INR 139

The book was borrowed for reading from the local library. This is not a paid review.
The opinions expressed in the review are my own, and remain unbiased and uninfluenced.

Shared with the First Reads challenge at b00k r3vi3ws and Indian Quills at Tales Pensieve.

(March 9th, 2013)