Hindi-India Bhai-Bhai

There is a peculiar thing about Rashmi Bansal’s book “Take Me Home” that introduces twenty small town entrepreneurs in India who made it big. Though the book is in English, she plugs in Hindi quite often with English translations in brackets. Sometimes long sentences and some times short words, like “sewa (service)”. Not just that it breaks the flow of reading for non-Hindi readers but adds an extra effort in reading. Mind you, this does not happen in chapters were she talks about entrepreneurs from other states, say like Kerala. Not a single word of Malayalam and it’s translation given.

A couple of days ago I watched an interview with a rather new politician who promised to be different. You know, the one who wears the muffler. This was on a national English TV channel, the questions were being asked in English, and the man is capable of speaking English, yet every answer he gave was in Hindi. You gotta give it to Rashmi Bansal here for she at least gave the English translation along, but here there were no subtitles.

I wonder what it is that makes people like this writer and politician plug in a language that is not spoken or read by a large chunk of people in India. Whom are they addressing, really? Or who, they think, is worthy of their address?

“If It’s Monday, It Must Be Madhurai”

Finished reading Srinath Perur’s book “If It’s Monday, It Must Be Madhurai – a conducted tour of India” (what a perfect title for a book on conducted tours!). Its not just a mere travelogue but a study of the Indian landscapes – both geographic and characteristic.

Though the writer is critical on his subjects of study most of the times, he keeps himself at a safe distance – like a teacher’s pet trying to prove himself to the class teacher that he is a good boy, different from the naughty lot; here the teacher being the reader. Even though he isn’t asked to prove himself, this is evident from some chapters, like the one on Uzbek tour.

The general lack of enthusiasm of the writer (Perur seems to be approaching the trips as a subject study) in the first few chapters paves way to a more involved writing and excitement when it comes to the North East trip organized by Journeys with Meaning.

The book is a good read still. It explores the nuances of the conducted tours in India, some of which you didn’t know existed. I read it in a couple of weekend train trips to back home which made it more entertaining.

Motivationals or Biographies?

The truth is that I am not much in favor of motivational books or how-to books anymore. Not completely shut myself to them, but. I used to like them because I thought that it could really help. Because the root cause of the problems that they laid out were what I could identify with and the solutions seemed plausible. It is mostly about ‘pushing the limits’ in the direction that the author has set in but at most of the times, in a general case, there is a limit to the limit that one can push (or so we hardly believe). Obviously the author can’t identify this borderline because he knows only his own and asks us to push, push, push. ‘You will succeed if you push further like I say’, they would tell you. So we read the book, happy that the author rightly identified the problems, assured that we would succeed if we followed as he/she had said, close the book and comment “what a great, useful book” and get on with our lives without using any of the techniques that the author explained about. In the end, it becomes useless, though it ‘inspires’ you, or you think it’s great and practical.

I would rather go for biographies. They draw a different problem in each of them. Sometimes, the same problem but different solutions that fit each individual towards working out that same problem. How ordinary people got into it and came out as extra-ordinary people. How they pushed their limits within their limits. The examples that other ordinary people could follow.

Book review: Bantaism

BantaismI have a friend who used to text me (and other friends in our local friends group) Sardar jokes. He took great pleasure in sending those texts and we enjoyed reading them. When we met, he always had a few sardar jokes to share. He enjoyed telling each of these sardar jokes and if not us, he had always laughed out aloud on those jokes himself. Rest of us even began to carefully choose other topics to talk about, so we can save ourselves from the sardar jokes. 🙂 But Sardar jokes are just too good to skip. I think what makes them popular is that it has certain amount of innocence to it. Or furthermore, it has a bit of us or our daily life in it. Something that we can relate to. It is this side of Sardar jokes that Niranjan Ramakrishnan is exploring with his book titled, “Bantaism: Philosophy of sardar jokes“.

The book is a collection of sardar jokes with comments from the author on every single joke. Apart from the interesting and funny titles for each story (which are coined by the author himself), I found most of the ‘philosophical’ comments uninteresting and sometimes boring. The reason is obvious. You wouldn’t look for philosophy in time-pass jokes such as sardar jokes. But not all comments are boring and a couple of them does give you some philosophical insights. For example, look at the joke where one sardar in a lion’s costume meets another sardar in a tiger costume. The author draws a parallel to the BPO, call center jobs with this story which makes a lot of sense. Or the lesson on irreversibility with the story of ‘chicken vending machine’. And another one about the sardar who throws himself off the balcony thinking that his wife cheated on him. But considering the whole book, these are very few. Still, you could read the jokes alone if you wanted to skip the comments. If you are fond of sardar jokes and wanted to collect some in printed format, this one is just for you.

In a way, sardar jokes have reflected badly on Sikh community. The jokes have made us, the rest of the Indians, believe that all sardars are idiots or it is easy to trick sardars. But it also sheds some positive light that (though as a variant of idiocy) sardars are pure-hearted, innocent people. Our movies, especially Hindi movies, have always featured them on a positive light. The righteous, happy, pure and open group of people. The author in his introduction to the book treads on the same lines. Little does he mention (perhaps he didn’t want to ruin the mood-setting for the book) about the ‘other’ side of ‘sardarsphere’ that is totally in contrast to the image created by sardar jokes and Hindi movies. Prevalent practices of bonded labour, caste-ism etc in Punjab that Annie Zaidi had explored in her book, Known Turf.

One of the biggest advantage of sardar jokes is that it is crowd-sourced humor. You can tout one of your personal jokes as a sardar joke, just that you would change the main character to a sardar. The scope of sardar jokes is thus limitless. Most recent example of this would be Tintu Mon jokes from Kerala (the difference is that Tintu Mon makes fun of others whereas a sardar is made fool of himself).

Final word is that if you like sardar jokes, you would like this one because it has many popular sardar jokes in collection. But if you were curious to see what philosophy sardar jokes have to offer, well.. there isn’t much. Just enjoy the jokes and keep the book closed.


Title: Bantaism: The Philosophy Of Sardar Jokes
Author: Niranjan Ramakrishnan
Publisher: Rupa Publications
Price: Rs. 129

You are covered!

Title: You’re Hired! How to get that job and keep it too!
Author: Nasha Fitter
Publisher: Penguin
Price: 199

To begin with, my English is self-taught. I learned how to read, write and speak English through various media. TV, books, blogs (when it became popular), and movies to start with. I owe so much of it to movies, sub-titled DVDs in particular, for helping me get used to some phrases, different dialects and a bit of a pop-culture from the West. I had my dictionary (and later Internet) in hand to learn more. But I always lacked an authentic book or person to refer to whenever I had doubts about the language or it’s usage. Many people whom I thought would be helpful were not so. Main reason is the basic human ego. Not everyone knows everything but people most of the times are not ready to admit their mistakes. And worse, they would pass on their mistakes to others pretending that they were right even when they were unsure. So it was high time that I found one useful reference.

Then came Pai, my ex-colleague and friend. He knew where I came from because we had some parallels between us. One fine day, Pai told me about a book he had read. He said it would help even people who thought they spoke/wrote good English. Written by Nasha Fitter, the book is titled “You’re Hired! How to get that job and keep it too” and I must say for a guy like me, it was the most useful book I read in the recent times.

The book in one word is – amazing! It is specifically written for people of India, particularly for youngsters who are looking for jobs (I would say the target includes people who are already working their jobs) in the IT and ITES field who make a lot of common (in India) errors when they speak or write English. Nasha Fitter’s several years of experience in training people in India lead to this book. It has several excercises at the end of every chapter (with an answer key section) which makes it fun to learn. And thankfully, the grammar is explained very simply and there is no shakespear quotes. Examples included only the daily conversations. I wish our school textbooks on English had the same simple format; it would have made grammar lessons look less scary.

I have to shamefully admit that before I read this book, I thought the plural of mouse is “mouses” instead of mice. I never understood why there are two words like “foot” and “feet”, or “tooth” and “teeth”. I never knew “do the needful”, “concerned person”, “will intimate you” are all wrong usages and “living” and “staying” have different meaning. The book even has a chapter that explains “Indianisms” which includes common errors we make. It also has tips to help you prepare for interviews.

I found this book extremely useful and I’m sure everybody like me would feel the same when they read this book. I’m going to re-read this in regular intervals to keep me learning. Priced at Rs. 199, this is a perfect buy.  The target audience of this book  is not people who don’t speak/write English but people who think they know enough English to speak or write and that includes me. 🙂

An Unknown Turf

The first thing I do after buying a book is smelling it. Every single book has a different smell. Some reminds me of the textbooks from school, some of the old notebooks or newspapers. The journalist blogger Annie Zaidi‘s book titled “Known Turf” smelled good too, except that afterward it was a tough journey to an unknown turf. As I skipped through the first chapter, I initially found it dragging and was beginning to wonder how writers like Sainath recommended this book as “a beautifully written book“. I was quite bored of her continued references to the Bollywood movie “Dushman” and her story of Tea. But it could be me and little did I know that I was in for surprises.

The first chapter has the title “Please do not carry loaded guns in the bus” and I was surprised to read that it was not a sign in the United States, but in Madhya Pradesh (in India where we blame Americans for their gun culture). I did not know that the people who have a BPL card are entitled to a health card that assures free medical treatment upto Rs. 20000 and just like me, most of the villagers who have a BPL card haven’t heard of this facility.  At every single instance, we are ashamed and angry about people who portray India as a poor country but I read stories of famine in this book with not so much shock. I read that in Madhya Pradesh, 72% of children of Sahariya tribe under six are malnourished and within the first year of birth all that those babies are eating is dry roti. Even before they have grown teeth to chew.

I read stories of pregnant women chew bits of gum plucked off gum trees trying to kill hunger pangs. In Annie’s own words, “about women who have not eaten for three days giving birth alone in dark hovels, knowing their breasts are dry. About the dismissive assistant in the nutritional rehabilitation center who said that Sahariya women hardly deserve the state’s help because they smoke beedis.” Then the cover-ups of hunger index.

I also read the inside story of Punjab, which we thought of as the most prosperous states in India. Where the minimum wage is Rs. 96 per day. Where most people get between Rs. 40 and 80. I was thinking about all those urban friends of mine who blame Kerala for the state which we are in. Those friends of mine who sweats out themselves in Bangalore IT sector and always put blame on the state. Here, the minimum wage that a mason gets, compared to the minimum wage of the state of Punjab which is celebrated as a prosperous state in India, is Rs. 300-350 per day. And they call us an undeveloped, Communist state. I read stories of how Punjab’s Dalits are tortured. Of the Zamindars who formed a committee and announced a boycott of all laborers who wanted higher wages. How the Zamindari and Dalit politics constructs Punjab’s social fabric. I realized that Punjab ain’t those beautiful wheat fields that some Hindi movies show case.

Annie also writes about Sufism and her affinity to it. But from what I read about the Sufi practices I don’t understand how it is different from the core principles of other religions or religious sects because Sufism also promotes the Master-Slave concept. Why the heck is God always seen as a Master and never a friend?? She puts one thing right here though – that “whenever there’s a wider economic crunch, or when there’s personal frustration and insecurity, either there’s revolution or people turn to spiritualism.”

Annie’s book gives an in-depth analysis and real life stories of power, crime, poverty, caste-politics, corrupt bureaucracy, religion, labor bondage and feminism – be it the stories of dacoits from Chambal or the poor weavers of Uttar Pradesh. These are not the kind of stories you would find in your daily newspapers. These are the stories which would shake you for good and make you think about all the shining glory that we boast upon about India and some of it’s states. It give you a pointer to the unknown turf that lie buried in India’s underbelly.

If you care about it, I would recommend you read this book.

Title: Known Turf
Annie Zaidi
Price: Rs. 250

Friday dose: Books and Music

One of the good things that the weekend train journeys in the evenings has given me is the opportunity to read books. Even though restarting the old habit of reading books was in some of my new year resolutions, it never worked (resolutions are made to be broken, you know! 🙂 ). But this time, it gives a lot of time to hear music and read books. So this year I have read the most number of books, compared to the recent past.

Title: Super Freakonomics
Publisher: Harper Collins
Price: Rs. 299 (in Flipkart)

Super Freakonomics

I usually would get turned off by anything that has the word “economics” in it. But sometimes back a couple of friends at work had told me that there is this super book called Freakonomics and it presents the fun side of economics and statistics. They did quote some stories from the book and it was so interesting. So when I got a chance last month, I bought this second version “Super Freakonomics” and I absolutely loved it! I never knew that economics could be fun and it could be used to draw some stunning statistics of life and we would be left wiser towards the end. Some of the chapter titles itself would add to your curiosity – “Why should suicide bombers buy life insurance?“, “What Do Al Gore and Mount Pinatubo Have in Common?“, “Fix is in – and it’s Cheap and Simple” etc. The most interesting chapters are the ones about Global Warming and the study on our apathy and altruism. And there are other things that gives us some insight, like how TV (yeah, that thing we call idiot box) has made what the numerous plans and incentives by Government of India couldn’t make happen – Family planning! And there is a blow to the pride of Indian men too – that the reason that condoms do not work best here in India is that it was made as per WHO standards – in other words, it means, Indian men have smaller dicks compared to international standards. 🙂  The book, as the authors claim, is not written based on the emotions and sentiments but rather on data and statistics. You could argue that there are “Lies, Damned lies and Statistics“, but you cannot ignore the data they present at least from a learning perspective.

Album: Fitoor
Singer: Mohit Chauhan
Label: Universal Music

Mohit Chauhan - FitoorYou know what? I love this man’s voice, right from the days of Silk Route. And while I was mourning the absence of Silk Route came his voice in the movies. There is something magical and so soothing in his voice. I am talking about none other than Mohit Chauhan. Now comes his single debut album called Fitoor. And its totally rocking!

The team who worked behind the album consists of the former Silk Route drummer Kenny and the Parikrama guitarist Saurabh. The first track, Fitoor,  itself will take you completely on to it. The rock flavor of the song works out really well. The song Sajna has kind of a folk-rock feel. You would feel like you just gotten back to the good old days of Silk Route when you hear this song. Next one, Musafir, is a love ballad but I feel that music is over done in the background (it sounds so crowded). Would have been better with a less crowded arrangement. You cannot resist Mohit’s voice in this one anyways. Uff Yeh Nazara is a nice song particularly for the lead and bass guitars it used. Perhaps the most simple and soothing track of the album is Meri Tarah and with that mouth organ and accoustic guitar tones, it reminds you of the good old days of Silk Route. Mai Ni Meriye is a folk song with the Silk Route mark on it. Sway your heads along as you listen to this one. Or just fall asleep listening to this as this song is so soothing. Jeene De starts with that oh-so-you-wanted to hear voice of Mohit. He doesn’t cease to amaze you how he uses his voice to get you mesmerized.

To summarize, this album is very much worth of your money. Go ahead and buy it and if you loved Mohit’s voice in the films or if you have loved the band Silk Route, this album is a must have.

And here is the title track from the album:

The Incredible Dork-ness

Dork - Sidin Vadukut

Dork – The Incredible Adventures of Robin Einstein Varghese
By Sidin Vadukut
Published by Penguin
239 pages | Rs. 199

Though I have become skeptical of reading the debut books by bloggers, I couldn’t skip this one as it was ordered already. I haven’t read such a hilarious book which all of you who have worked in an IT or consulting business could relate to. Oh and many things personally too. 🙂 Like the immediate passing out after the first couple of pegs and not remembering anything the next day, for example. 😉 The story has everything that a classic comedy movie needs. If Steve Martin read it, he would make this to a movie and play the lead role himself.

And those who aren’t working in  multi-nationals would still be able to enjoy this book. The book is a page-turner, brilliantly put together in the form of diary notes with absolute suspense moments that would make you turn the pages faster (you know that thirst we all have for gossip and to get a peek into others lives). There is never a boring line, except for the TV interview script towards the end. It was becoming “err…” with the excessive amount of Dork-ness in that portion, but then the story ended there, so you’re saved (and I did skip those couple of pages for the overdo of the author).

But buy it, read it, except for that TV show transcript and boys, you might find a bit of your own dork-ness in Robin Varghese and girls, there you have an adorable silly young man. What you won’t stop doing through out the read is smiling. A great start for blogger Sidin Vadukut with a debut novel.

Roadrunner – An Amerindian Story

RoadrunnerThe image of America that I had in my teenage was that of a heaven. The stories I heard were plenty – that, in America, even beggars travel in Mercedes Benz, there is no poverty, you get a 1 ltr pet bottle of Coca Cola for Rs. 1 (yeah, in Rupees not in Dollars) etc. But not all stories gave such rosy pictures. Another set of stories told me that despite of being so rich, America has no family values or culture and their men and women are sex machines who are ready to have sex with everyone.

Watching the Hollywood movies and reading more about America in the late teenage gave another set of pictures. Drug peddling, racism, teenage pregnancy, school shootouts and so on. But it also threw out some old stereo types of the sex hungry females and culture-less families. And when I looked at it, I could draw a lot of parallels between my country and America. On both the good and bad sides. Then I realized that there isn’t much that I should be proud of or feel inferior of my country in comparison with America.

When I finished reading the book “Roadrunner – An Indian Quest in America” by blogger-writer Dilip D’Souza, I felt the same way again. Dilip draws parallels between India and America, oh and perhaps it’s not just about these two countries, but what the human kind everywhere in this world shares in common. It is a travelogue that takes you along with the writer while you go through the pages. Instead of going through the prominent tourist spots and presenting the boring details of such journeys, Dilip chooses to take the paths less traveled by travel writers. He talks to ordinary people, takes us through the extra-ordinarily ordinary places and gets you glued to the pages. He also observes both countries in terms of patriotism and liberalism and gives us a food for thought on the subject. And one story he has kept for us in one of the final chapters, based on a personal account, would shake us cold.

In Roadrunner, you won’t see a blind admiration or an outright contempt for America, both of which could be prominently seen in the books about America. The book is more than 300 pages long and I did skip a couple of chapters that seemed boring to me. I wish Dilip could have skipped some of the detailing in those chapters. I think in the web 2.0 era, writers have to learn how to engage readers in striking, but shorter lines. Dilip does that in his blog though.

Nevertheless, Roadrunner is a good read and as a person who has never visited America, I enjoyed reading it because it gave me a feeling of going on a trip along those long windy roads with the author.

Oh and about the package – it was a refreshing change that the back cover of the book did not have any newspaper quotes, or celebrity quotes saying “Great book! Thumbs up!! I would strongly recommend it to everyone” and such gimmicks. I like that. 🙂

Order the book in Flipkart here

Title: Roadrunner – An Indian Quest in America
Author: Dilip D’Souza
Publisher: Harper Collins
Price: Rs. 399

“My Friend Sancho” by Amit Varma

Being a regular reader of India Uncut, I didn’t hesitate to order my copy of blogger Amit Varma’s debut novel, “My Friend Sancho“. Even though Amit is the author of a popular blog that has a massive fan following, he never hesitated to put in his honest thoughts on topics that he wrote about. And he had taken a funnily sharp dig at many issues which I enjoyed by reading his blog. So when I heard Amit was coming up with a novel, I expected it to be unique on it’s own. The plot also, a tabloid journalist writing about an encounter killing, made it all the more interesting. But “My Friend Sancho” ended up as a huge disappointment.

The story can be summarized in a couple of sentences. A young journo goes to report a gangster-cop shootout and ends up witnessing an encounter killing. Then he is assigned to write about the victim, meets the dead man’s daughter and falls in love. Apparently, the hero is a Hindu and heroine, a Muslim (Yummy plot, right?). Story ends there. But even though Varma had a terrific plot to develop, he chooses to narrate yet another love story (yawn…) with a bit of humor (which eventually gets a bit irritating as we turn the pages) in a Bollywood-ish way. Well, I am unsure if Varma is eying an offer from Bollywood as his predecessor of such genre of fiction writing, Chetan Bhagat, who had one of his novels made into a Bollywood movie and the other ‘inspired’ a massive box office hit. The funny thing is, and I must say this, Amit Varma ends up writing a Chetan Bhagat book.

Amit Varma follows Chetan Bhagat not just in writing a Bollywoodish story, but he also tries to run off from cliches yet sadly end up falling in a new set of cliches. Look at the often-occurring sentences like this. “I exaggerate frequently, as in the last sentence” or, “okay, I made that last one up myself“. Regular readers of India Uncut would find Varma banking upon his own set of cliches in this book. The book starts off very well, like I said with a terrific plot to develop. The tabloid, the young journo’s professional life, the ethics of journalism, cops, encounter killing and most of all the cop – Mr. Thombre, meeting with the dead man’s daughter etc. It all goes very well, but sadly ends in the first few pages. As the hero meets the heroine, its just a ‘written-for-bollywood‘ story.

I just don’t understand the whole package of the book too. The lizard that makes to the book cover doesn’t have much to do with the book. It just pops up in a couple of times in the book, at odd places, with Amit desperately trying to make it funny.

As for the positives, the only character that would hang around after reading this book would be Thombre, the cop. And if this book is ever made into a movie, I cannot think of anyone but Saurabh Shukla for portraying this role. I also liked the way the novel ended, with a conversation just beginning with a “Hello“. That is a welcoming change than the hero chasing the heroine’s car, stopping it in the traffic, kissing and all that mushy stuff like in the other Bhagat’s novel. errr… I meant the original Bhagat’s novel. The book is an easy read that you wouldn’t need to carry a dictionary along, again like the other Bhagat’s novels. I read the entire book in a train journey from Trivandrum to Thrissur.

The problem with the new generation, pop-fiction authors like Chatan Bhagat or Amit Varma is like I said above, they end up making a new set of cliches while trying to write-off the old ones. Those who like Chetan Bhagat’s books will definitely like this book. And those who have read India Uncut, go for this one without much expectation and treat this as a commute book.

PS: I just bought a copy of blogger Sidin Vadukut‘s debut “Dork“. I don’t know why, but after reading MFS, I am less enthused to read bloggers in print. 😐