Monthly Archives: October 2013

‘The Tale of the Rose : The Love Story Behind The Little Prince’ by Consuelo De Saint-Exupe`ry

roseIf you have read the “The Little Prince‘ by Antoine de Saint-Exupery and felt sorry for the boy who pined for his Rose, you are in for a rude shock. As the title suggests, this is the story of ‘The Rose’ as told by her.

Twice widowed Consuelo meets the aviator Antoine in Buenos Aires and before she can even think of what is happening, gets caught up in the whirl wind world of romance and subsequent marriage to him. The story takes us through their tumultuous lives from  Paris to Casablanca, back to Paris , then to her home in El Salvador and finally to New York.

Antoine comes across as totally self centered and selfish, looking only at what he could get out of the relationship. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that but for Consuelo, most of his much acclaimed literary works may not have seen the light of the day or even been completed. One moment he treats her as though she is the biggest treasure that he has come across, the next as if her very presence would poison him. The callous nature in which he carries on his various affairs right front of her is shocking, to say the least. But, the very moment he gets even an inkling of her intention to leave him, the jealous serpent in him raises itself. By fair means and foul, he ensures that Consuelo doesn’t leave him.

Consuelo herself seem to be at a complete loss as far as her beloved Tonio is considered. She knows he is treating her worse than a doormat, but is ready to fly back to him at the slightest hint. She is literally  banished from his life several times, left stranded penniless and home less in strange towns and even goes through multiple nervous break downs. At the end of it all , she is back at his door step , trying to bring some order into his completely disarrayed life. Is it some sort of heroinism, I wonder, that she thinks she alone is capable to tame such a wild and gifted heart? The essence of their life together is brought out in her words,

“My God, being the wife of a pilot is a whole career, but being the wife of a writer is a religious vocation!”

What Antoine looks for in his wife is also clear as he leaves her before his final flight,

“I could almost thank heaven for giving me a treasure to leave behind: my house, my books, my dog. You will keep them for me.”

The book reinforces some questions that I have always had. Is promiscuity a pre-requisite for genius and an artistic bend of mind? There are so many instances of first wives supporting writers and artists while they are struggling and at the first sign of success they are relegated to the post of a shrewish woman. And the man is pitied and spoiled with pity, love, lust and whatnot.

Verdict – Would not recommend it…unless you are really curious to know about the sad reality  that the ‘Little Prince’ was.

3/5

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‘The Google Guys’ by Richard L. Brandt

googleNext to the air that we breathe, if we take anything for granted today, it has to be Google, at least to a lay person  like me. It has become the single destination for anything that we need, in fact, the name itself has become a verb. You want any information, just google it.

‘The Google Guys’ , originally published as ‘Inside Larry & Sergey’s Brain’ gives more than a glimpse into who the two brilliant young guys are and how they think. Written in a simple, straightforward style, it gives insights into how the organization came into being, what makes its founders tick, their people, their vision, the key people who support them and most importantly their vision  and the seemingly improbable things that you could expect from them in future .

The book starts with an analogy of the world’s first great library – the Great Library of Alexandria that was created by Ptolemy I, the childhood friend of Alexander the Great. The similarities are uncanny and aptly presented in the first few chapters. The author introduces you to a typical employee of Google and you no longer wonder why the organization seem to be at the forefront of any new age thought that you could think of. Alan Eustace, the senior VP of engineering and lead person on engineering hiring puts it very clearly,

“The key element we’re trying to find is smart people, productive people, people with a slight disdain for the impossible, people who have good leadership shills who we find interesting. We try to avoid people that have incredibly large egos that are inconsistent with their abilities or are not good at working in teams.”

In a world that was dominated by Yahoo and Microsoft, if one wonders how Google outsmarted them all, the answer is simple – to keep things simple for the end user – the most basic and important principle that organizations tend to forget as they grow. They are almost fanatical about simplicity , whether it is the look of the home page or the ads that run there. That brings us to another area where Google clearly scored over others. their own advertising spend.

“We’ve resisted the temptation to have big advertising campaigns,” Sergey said in 2000. “I’m not sure it is the right thing to do. I am concerned about long-term profitability.”

Instead, they knew their target audience, met them in person and showed them what they could do. The instinct sure did pay off in the long run. In further chapters, Brandt narrates the story of the infamous IPO where Larry and Sergey almost botched it up because of their apparent apathy towards the so called norms. The controversial entry into China that seemed to go against their much heralded policy on censoring is also dealt with in detail.

The chapter that I loved the most is ‘The Ruthless Librarians’ that talks at length about their attempt to digitize all the books that are available somewhere in the world today. The stories bring out the passion that the duo has towards preserving something that is so priceless.

The last three chapters takes you through Google’s plans for Cloud, Android and the like. Some of the information may seem outdated, but it is interesting, nevertheless. Reading through the last chapter you are left thinking whether there is nothing that these brilliant guys have not thought about. Their future plans include among others, renewable sources of power, eco friendly cars, a trip to Mars and the like.

The ever threatening question of privacy and the potential risk of one entity having this humongous information in their hands is referred to throughout the book. As the author says, most of the controversies are about what could happen and not what has happened.

The author says rightly,

There’s one thing that’s certain: they are going to be breaking rules, pissing people off, and trying to make the world a better place for decades to come. Love them or despise them, everyone must contend with them. They are having greater impacts on the business world and on people’s lifestyles than any other business executives in the world.

World’s information and energy controlled by a corporate behemoth, it sure is a scary prospect. Countries would lose significance, Google could easily be taking up the place of erstwhile United States , the Big Brother or even the Patriarch of the Universe. At the same time, the control wielded by the duo in practically all the decisions including even recruitment of key resources, leaves us with the billion dollar question , what after Larry and Sergey?

Almost serendipitous, this news came out yesterday as I finished reading the book

http://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/international-business/google-stock-hits-1000-cash-pile-at-56-billion-how-the-internet-giant-is-making-money/articleshow/24382807.cms

Verdict – An absolute must read for anyone who  Googles 🙂

5/5

‘The Secret Life of Bees’ by Sue Monk Kidd

beesCertain books have a way of coming to you when the moment is just right. There I was on a holiday, in a home stay where books were in plenty, many of them dog eared, the edges turning brown and some of them even crumbling. Finding the right book to read from this profusion was a true dilemma. Picked up and even tried reading a few, but then, my heart refused to be drawn into any of those. Browsing through yet another book shelf as the kids were running around the living room, I could almost hear the hum of bees as this book called out to me, the one that I’ve been searching for, for sometime.

Fourteen year old Lily Owens has grown up with a sense of terrible guilt and an insatiable longing for her dead mother. The only memory that she has of her mother is a beautiful lady urging her to hurry up, throwing clothes into a suitcase and  the sound of a gun shot. Rosaleen , the black lady  is the only mother figure that she has known as she grew up with her authoritative and abusive father. A racist incident finds Rosaleen in jail and Lily decides to break her free , finding freedom from her father along with that.

A picture of a ‘Black Mary’ with a note  ‘Tiburon, South Carolina‘ leads  her to the three  Boatwright sisters named after the months they were born in and their enchanting and somewhat eccentric world of bees, honey, Black Madonna and Daughters of Mary. Lily’s longing for the love of a mother, the tiniest hope for a sign that her father loves her in some way and moreover, her determination to break free from the shackles of a moralistic society that decides where a woman’s place should be, is what the story is all about. It is also about the coming of age of a teenage girl in an an obviously racist community and her bewilderment at how the color of your skin decides who you are and how you would be treated.

August Boatwright comes across as a mature paerson, who has learnt what life is at a young age and has decided to live life on her own terms. As for June, she is the stubborn mule and it takes a sad and shocking tragedy to make her come to her senses. May and her wailing wall tugs at your heart’s strings. Through these ladies, their mad cap sisterhood, the tough Rosaleen and the handsome Zach, Lily comes to terms with who her mother was and in the process finds herself and the courage to face her father.

This is as much a coming of age story of a young white girl as it is about life lessons. This is also about mothers and daughters and the beautiful truth that you need not give birth to a baby to be a mother.

I loved the allegories to the world of bees in each chapter.

“The world was really one big bee yard, and the same rules worked fine in both places. Don’t be afraid, as no life-loving bee wants to sting you. Still, don’t be an idiot; wear long sleeves and long pants. Don’t swat. Don’t even think about swatting. If you feel angry, whistle. Anger agitates, while whistling melts a bee’s temper. Act like you know what you are doing, even if you don’t. Above all, send the bees love. Every little being wants to be loved.”

Just what I needed to complete my  nostalgic holiday,

“Actually, you can be bad at something, Lily, but if you love doing it, that will be enough.”

Verdict : A simple story , told charmingly. Nothing earth shattering, but it sure does make you think and smile, what more do you need?

4/5

‘Leviathan’ by Paul Auster

aster“Six days ago, a man blew himself up by the side of a road in Wisconsin,”

thus starts the gripping tale of Benjamin Sachs. There are books that make you cry, ones that make you smile and sometimes laugh, some make you think and a few  that refuse to leave your mind. Then there are those rare ones that leave you with a haunting , disturbing feeling that is beyond any definition. And this is one of those rare ones.

As soon as  author Paul Aaron catches the news item in The New York Times, he is absolutely certain about the identity of the dead man. It is confirmed once the FBI reaches him after finding a piece of paper with his name and number from the explosion site. Paul denies any knowledge about who the man could be. He knows he is just buying some time, but for him , however small that time is, he has something important to do before the man’s identity is out in the open.

“It’s not that I want to defend what he did, but since he is no longer in a position to defend himself, the least I can do is explain who he was and give the true story of how he happened to be on that road in northern Wisconsin.”

What follows is a brilliant narration of Paul’s friendship with Sachs. From the moment they meet in a deserted bar, buying drinks for each other till both of them run out of money, there is an instant bond between the two writers. While Aaron is at the beginning of his literary career, Sachs already has a published novel to his credit, one that he wrote while in prison. He is also a well known author of regular articles in varied publications. The book takes you through the lives of both of them and their families. As Paul’s life and career becomes stable, we find Sachs’ life getting more and more troubled. He starts questioning his existence, he feels guilty about his wife’s love for him, in fact he even feels guilty about being alive. This leads him to an attempt on his own life. And this proves to be a crucial turning point of his life.

The three female characters that Auster introduces plays a pivotal role in Sach’s life – his wife Fanny of twenty years, the eccentric Maria Turner whom he considers his friend and the seductive Lillian Stern. It is as though they are destined to come into his  life and turn his life to a different direction at each juncture till it ends up in pieces on a cold morning by a roadside.

To call it a story would be sacrilege. It is the pouring out of a bleeding heart, a futile attempt to make some sense out of the hopelessness that Aaron feels when he thinks of his friend. The more you get engrossed in the life of Benjamin Sachs, the more difficult it is to believe that this is a work of fiction. The characters are  deeply etched with all the flaws and weaknesses that a normal or even a slightly abnormal human being could have. Aaron’s love for his friend seeps into you as well and you end up feeling as though you know Sachs as much as Aaron did. Some might find the narrative style too descriptive, but I felt that was the real strength of the book. This is one book that will really leave you shaken for some time and even question some of the things that you believe in.

Amit, I can’t thank you enough for this beautiful gift.

Verdict : If you are looking for the normal path a plot would take with a clever play of dialogues, please turn away immediately. But, if you are someone who loves a brilliant piece of narration and characters that are so strongly developed that you end up feeling like someone close to them, this is pure gold.

4./ 5 

Festival Snippets – Part II

Wanderlust at home

There was a mischievous twinkle in his eyes as the husband commented, “looks as though you are rushing for a university youth festival.” “Well, what do you expect when you have two sessions of Gulzar saab and Prasoon Joshi, one with Dalrymple , another one with Shobaa De, Shashi Deshpande and V.K.Karthika, then Ramachandra Guha and finally a concert by Pandit Chaurasia?” He decided not to retort, and wisely too, I should say 🙂

Daughter had decided to join me in all enthusiasm as she looked forward to the children’s story sessions. The instruction to her was clear and strict, “Keep absolutely quiet for the first one hour, then I will do whatever you want.” She nodded in all seriousness.

prasoonAlmost all the front seats and those in the shade were already occupied by the time we reached. “So what,” I muttered and went ahead and plonked myself on the…

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‘The Guardian Angels’ by Rohit Gore

guardian angelWhen this sweet girl asked me whether I would like to review a book, my first reaction was, “why not? anything for a free book.” To be honest, I did not expect much and the book blurb seemed like a typical boy meets girl, in true Bollywood style,

…..he is the son of a billionaire,

she is the daughter of a socialist.

….he is quiet and unassuming,

she is firebrand and spirited.

After the first two chapters, it was as if my skepticism had been proven right. Aditya Mehta, son of multi billionaire industrialist Ketan Mehta, who lives in a twenty storied building in South Bombay. His mother , Naina Mehta is an equal partner in the business and is even suspected to be the real power. And if that was not enough, the wealth was amassed by his grandfather  who started his life as an ordinary trader and rose to heights through apparently dubious means. Sounds very familiar, right?

This is when we meet Radha, like the quintessential breath of fresh air. The story is told through a flash back. Adi and Radha meet as 12 year olds, there is an instant connect and the bond is strengthened when Adi saves Radha’s life. The two share something special, it is as if however far they are physically, they seem to instantly know when one needs the other.

Life’s paths takes them through parallel roads, but the soul mates keep each other sane. Adi, who is shot back to crude reality after a dream that was shattered, joins his father’s business and as expected, shines brilliantly. Radha, with her haunting family ghost, goes into ‘activism’ and her revered Sudha-ji is obviously sketched after Medha Patkar. There is the resort that is being built by a goonda don by displacing tribals, there is the 500 km padayatra, and even a mention of fast unto death.

So what is so special about the book, isn’t it like a typical Bollywood masala flick, you ask? That is where this book differs from the dime a dozen chick-lit type best sellers that are being churned out these days. I loved the way each character was etched, the strength and weakness of each relationship was brought out beautifully by the author. It is as if you really know them, and you want to know what happens to them after each twist in the plot. I also liked the realistic manner in which the story was brought to end, no miracles , just the stark truth and an acceptance of what cannot be changed.

Whatever the story line maybe, even if you find it a little difficult to believe, if an author can make you reach back to the story after each time you put it down, that is when it becomes a success. You can clearly sense his passion for the protagonists and what they stand for. It is as if he know both of them personally and have lived their life with them.  The differences in the parent -children connect at two levels of society was also brilliantly brought out without being preachy.

I was truly surprised that I hadn’t heard of Rohit Gore before this. My only wish after completing the book was if only he hadn’t built his characters on some well known figures in society, the similarities are so blatant. That somehow made an otherwise lovey tale a bit hollow. As also, the very smooth way things seems to have been taken care of. There were some editing errors that could have been avoided. For instance, ‘of course’ being spelt as ‘off course’ in at least two pages.

Verdict : Loved the characters, specially the firebrand Radha. A light, but gripping read, in spite of the somewhat artificial feeling plot, at least in places. But I loved the way  his protagonists and their family relate to each other, that was realistic. Worth a read.

4/5

Festival Snippets – Part I

Wanderlust at home

blfSo, I’ve been on a high, literally. My team in office disowned me, for I chose a certain octogenarian instead of them. But then, when the choice is between an eclectic mix of people like Ramachandra Guha, William Dalrymple, K, Satchidanandan, Shoba De, Prasoon Joshi, Farhan Akhtar, and most importantly the said octogenarian – the great and my all time favorite Gulzar sab – and a weekend in Chikmaglur , is that even a choice, I ask. If I attempt to chronicle all that I saw and heard in those three days in a literary heaven, it would take me more than a few days. So, here are some bits of conversations, snippets from here and there , gathered from the three venues and in between.

Had a glimpse of Sri Sri Ravi Sankar who is called H.H – his holiness or his highness, I am not sure. His followers…

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‘Timepass : The Memoirs of Protima Bedi’

protimaYou can pen your thoughts on  why you think a story was well written, on the strength and weaknesses of its characters, how it ended or should have ended and why you liked or disliked a particular book.  But how do you review a life, that too one that was lived without any inhibitions?

Protima Bedi – mention the name and the adjective that comes to mind is controversial. Unconventional is a middle name that would have suited her to perfection, some might say. As you read her memoirs, however, you wonder whether it was her life that was removed from conventions or was it her brutal honesty that made her stand apart.

The book is said to be ‘derived from her unfinished autobiography, journals and her letters to family, friends and lovers’ and it does provide a peek into her childhood and the rather colorful life that she has led. The first part is mostly centered around her childhood – you get a glimpse of probably why she turned out to be the insecure person that she was – and her various relationships including her marriage to the gloriously good looking Kabir Bedi. The second half of the book is about ‘Nrityagram’ and how she was turning towards spirituality towards her end.

Called a ‘Kali’ for being dark and maybe ferocious like ‘Kaali-ma’, she grew up with a huge complex about her looks. Maybe it was this subconscious feeling that drew her to the several men in her life. As she herself admits, even her marriage seems to have been to prove a point , that she could get someone as good looking and as sought after as Bedi.

Most of what she has written about has been known to the public, I am sure. There are famous names, some called out as such and some with pet names. More than her story what struck me the most is the fact that, in spite of being called unorthodox or unconventional, how like any other woman she was. Yes, she did live life on her own terms, or at least seems to have done so. But, a feeling of guilt pervades her all through – whether she has done enough for a cheating husband, if she has given enough of herself for her children, how only she was responsible for bringing up the kids, how she felt solely responsible for her son’s untimely death and so on. The tendency that is stuck on to a woman as natural, the feeling that she is the one who is ultimately responsible for the well being of her family and kids seems to have been strongly ingrained in her, like any other ordinary Indian woman.

The second half shows us a totally different persona where she goes all out to achieve her dream of ‘Nrityagram’, how she created it almost from nothing. Yes , her name would have helped her in opening some doors, but nothing came easy to her. You get the essence of her self in one of the conversations with her daughter where she is accused of always ‘running away’ from things and people. She responds that she is actually running towards a different thing all the time. And I guess that is what made her the person of grit and determination that she was. I loved her for the whole hearted passion with which she approached everything in her life, it was either 100% or nothing.

And yes, the book has a copy of that grainy picture of her running nude, though not in Juhu, according to her.

Verdict : If you are averse to masala and would see only that, this is best avoided. However, if you are someone who is interested in the person and the ‘why’s instead of the ‘how’s and ‘who’s , you will enjoy it.

4/5 for the person that she was, 2/5 from a literary perspective