Vani's Blog - Posts Tagged "book-review"

'The Recession Groom' is an interesting and entertaining commentary on the morales of both the Western and Indian societies: The New Indian Express

By Meera Bhardwaj Published: 14th April 2015

BENGALURU: Vani’s debut novel The Recession Groom vividly depicts and describes the grim realities of the Indian marriage market. Further, it is an interesting and entertaining commentary on the morales of both the Western and Indian societies.

The author’s upbringing in Chandigarh, the most modern city of India, followed by her education and her inability to get a job with the start of the global recession is reflected in this book. Many aspects of the Indian society have been highlighted : like the marriage institution, the involvement and interference of the family and close relatives, the desperate hunt for a bride or a groom, the importance given to materialistic pursuits, the Indian family’s close-knit structure which is a bane as well as a boon. Some incidents and anectodes in this novel represent the modern Indian family with their traditional values and traditions which one is familiar with.

The story of an eligible bachelor whose life takes a U-turn with the global recession has been beautifully rendered in this book where the characters of his American aunt and uncle, his sister and some of his American colleagues and friends have been so well etched that one can get an entire picture of the prevailing norms in a particular society. Like most Indians, his family too is eager to get him married off to any eligible girl who is on the scene.

The story line is very simple and straightforward with not many twists and turns. But it is interesting and hilarious too with many characters adding elements of fun, spice and variety. The book is informative as it manages to bring out the lifestyle of IT professionals, their insecurities, their inadequacies and their attitude to life.

This is the story of a well-educated Indian Brahmin who works in Canada. Parshuraman Joshi, is just 27 years old, handsome, an IT Professional and earns a multiple-figure salary. When you look at his credentials, it is no wonder that this young man is hot property on the Indian wedding market. Therefore, Parshuraman's family is flooded with matrimonial proposals from every corner — be it the North Indian Gulati family, the South Indian Iyer household, or the hi-fi Patels. Even his colleague is attracted to him.

However, all attempts to tag him with a suitable bride seem to go kaput for some reason. Parshuraman has bigger issues vexing him such as Jennifer, his aggressive and attractive colleague, and their attempts and efforts to save Project Infinite, a very important assignment given to them by their bosses. In the midst of this, the recession strikes and grips the global economy in its clutches and thus the secure world Parshuraman has created for himself begins to fall apart.

Three characters — Parshu's sister Ragini, Aunt Parvati and his grandmother stand out in this book as they are well rounded and closely linked to our protagonist.

Many of the characters are familiar and the book is both simple as well as written in a very lucid style.

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Published on April 14, 2015 06:03 Tags: book-review, the-recession-groom, the-recession-groom-vani, vani, vani-author, vani-kaushal

Declining fortunes of a groom-- The Hindu (Book Review of 'The Recession Groom')

Vani’s debut novel deals with recession in a fun way.

Finding inspiration in the real world, Vani chose recession as the subject for her debut novel “The Recession Groom” launched recently. The former business journalist had witnessed first-hand the effect of this economic phenomenon in 2008 while pursuing masters in business administration inLondon. “I would hear and read stories everyday about redundancy but at that time it never occurred to me that there was a story in it. After completing MBA, my friends and me, contrary to our expectations of getting hired in big companies on huge salaries, struggled and had to make compromises. It struck me what if I write of a young person, who is very capable and has attributes much sought after in the employment market, facing the change in his fortunes due to recession,” explains the author.

The Leadstart publication revolves around Parshuraman, a 27-year-old IT professional settled in Canada making him hot on the Indian wedding market and how his world falls apart when confronted with global credit crisis and how he copes with it. Besides it also zooms in on his search for a perfect partner. To her credit the writer avoided infusing the story with details and jargon about recession and stuck to neat characterization and simple language. “I wanted to write an exciting and entertaining story aimed at a wide spectrum of audience. Recession is a dry subject and I did not want to portray it in a very complicated manner. The intention was to enable common people to relate to the small world of Parshuraman affected by the macro world.”

As a sizeable portion of the narrative is located in Canada there are several characters of foreign origin in it including the main female lead. Why so? Vani says, “I was trying to pitch my novel to publishers around the world and wanted it to have an international flavour and cast which blended with the Indian ones. It also helped in creating confusion and complications in the male protagonist’s life besides depicting the differences in the cultural values of the West and India. The feedback from foreign readers and authors suggests that they were able to connect and relate to the story due to honest and relevant depiction of characters.”

What is sure shot to interest all readers is the vivid description of many aspects of Indian society like portrayal of arranged marriages, family support systems etc. “Our marriage system being unique was bound to be stirring and compelling for readers specially non-Indians besides informing them about a slice of our life. Similarly, differing perceptions about janitoring and bartending bring out the contrast in the two societies,” comments Vani. In tune with this, it also shows how close-knit Indian families support their kith and kin akin to their western counterparts albeit with a difference. “They respect personal space and do not encroach upon it allowing you to make your decisions.All this is not a commentary on what is good or bad but just outlining what is true in a subtle way,” explains the writer.

Vani gives a surprising twist at the end of the book. Terming it “uncharacteristic” she reveals, “It was to keep enough turmoil in my male protagonist’s life going to enable writing about him in two or three more books and also force my reader to think about.”

Be assured she is already working on the sequel to the book.

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India's top book blog, The Readers Cosmos, reviewed my first book

Recently a lot of stories in books and movies have been focused on delivering a message subtly with the ingredient of comedy, flavoured such that you savour it with pleasure and it touches the heart leaving a lasting impression and is imbibed by the senses for a long time. One such work of writing in this direction addressing the issues of “arranged marriage” - a norm in India is this book The Recession Groom by Vani.

This is the story of Parshuraman an IT professional settled in Toronto, Canada. He is tall, dark, handsome and most importantly an NRI; the perfect dream Indian groom as per Indian parents. Having lost parents early in childhood he is brought up by his grandmother and elder sister, and later on sent to the states and educated with the support of his aunt. He therefore falls into the mould of the traditional Indian guy with values, respect for family and is indebted to their support. His dreams are shaped by years of engraving of thoughts and wishes of his family members, carved on his innocent mind, approved by their morals transforming into a marrying a “perfect Indian bride” of their choice. He lovingly accepts the idea as his own without much thought. The writer draws the lead character sketch clear and crisp by opening the book with a circumstance where Parshuraman is seduced by his colleague – Jennifer, a white girl, half naked in his house. He however refuses to accept the advancement making it clear that he would marry the Indian girl his family chooses.

As Parshuraman then sets off on a journey to find his soul-mate in an arranged setting, which is predominantly the Indian norm even today; we are set off on a journey that only lightly but surely undresses the hidden reality of the process. It being a trade where the lead character is sized up not so much on his abilities except for one, ‘the earning potential’, the only parameter on the score card that matters, for that is the sole measurement of the bride to be’s security and happiness. His looks, abilities, struggle and hardwork are shadowed by the digits entering his bank balance each month. He manages to score “a good catch” on the Indian score card and is noticed by everyone with daughters of a marriageable age. The neighborhood girls clinging to their windows, each time he moves out, having made a time-table of his movements, approved by their otherwise posing to be cultured parents is one of the few examples of the hilarious, light tone this book adapts to underline a greater darker truth of our society. The confusions of everyday life, the two different teams on mission bride hunt, his sister Ragini and grandmother in India on one and his high on adrenaline aunt Parvati in the U.S on the other; each trying to tie him up with the woman of their dreams keep the tone of the book cheerful.

While in India he faces specimens of women from the lingering on his moves neighborhood girls to the totally stranger girls ready to marry him just because their parents scored him well. On the other side as he begins to find his dream girl in the rich business class of Indians in the U.S, sought by his aunt, he is labeled less ambitious for settling down in Canada by the wealthy prospective father-in-law. He thus measured each time, feels like a commodity and gets tired of the process. On the other hand Jennifer after trying to make him realize her love for him, standing by him in his low times, etc. fails to move him and ultimately begins dating their common friend Bill, who is madly in love with her.

In the middle of all confusion, some settlements and a lot of judging hits recession and the inevitable strikes, people are removed from their jobs for no reason and a dark man in a foreign land is a second priority compared to their own citizens. Parshuraman therefore loses his job. The scorecard now bears the ugly red sign and the digits in the bank balance do not get added to at the end of the month. Aunt Parvati’s never say die attitude, visiting all sorts of witchcraft people and doing what traditional Indian aunts do best – worry and talk, keep the tone cheerful.

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Published on January 02, 2016 03:32 Tags: book-review, the-readers-cosmos, the-recession-groom, vani, vani-author, vani-kaushal

Book Review of Parsi Bol 2: A Wicked Wit Sums Up the Parsis (And This Book About Them)

A couple of days ago when I started working on my third book, I asked a friend in Mumbai to help me straighten up a Parsi character. Having spent a good part of my life in Chandigarh, I had no idea about the Parsi community, except the bits I had gleaned from watching Bollywood movies and reading novels by acclaimed writers like Rohinton Mistry and Cyrus Mistry.

“It should not be too difficult,” my friend answered without a second thought. “Make your character swear as much as possible and you have your typical Parsi guy right there.”
This assertion was followed by an aphorism: “mummo chuchcho vugur seerpa nahi” (which means, “if you don’t swear you are not a Parsi!”).

My friend’s description of a ‘typical Parsi guy’ piqued my curiosity and led me to pick up a book, titled: Parsi Bol 2 by acclaimed screenwriter of Salaam Bombay fame, Padma Shri Sooni Taraporevala, and noted journalist, Meher Marfatia.

A first of its kind effort, the book compiles 1,058 insults, endearments and Parsi Gujarati phrases from 308 contributors across 200 pages. These phrases have further been grouped into several categories depending on what they relate to. What’s more, just as Punjabis are not all about balle balle, Parsis – or dhunsakias, as they are also called – are not all about mummo chuchho (BC/MC; swear words).

Here is my review of their wonderful book:

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Beyond the Mahabharata You Know: Iyengar Imagines a Life, After

It was my grandmother who first introduced me to the story of Ashwatthama, the son of Guru Dronacharya in Mahabharata. “He had a gift of immortality and might still be alive after all these many years,” she would often say, making my imagination go wild.

As I grew up, I was surprised to see that there isn’t much written about Ashwatthama in the texts, leaving much room for speculation. Among the many stories that still abound, including those about haunted temples and forts where people have sighted his apparition, there is one that is going to leave you enthralled.

Coming from the pen of Aditya Iyengar, Palace of Assassins, is a tale of revenge, passion and redemption that recasts the events in the aftermath of the great war of Mahabharata and presents one of its most misunderstood characters, Ashwatthama, in a whole new light.

“The battle of Kurukshetra has come to its catastrophic end after eighteen days,” says the blurb. “As Ashwatthama, the lone survivor of the Kaurava camp, regains consciousness, he realises, to his horror, that he has been condemned to a life of immortality and leprosy by Krishna.”

Leprosy?!— why that, one would ask, and here is the answer. After the death of Duryodhana in the war, Ashwatthama mercilessly slaughtered five sons of the Pandavas and three other warriors in their sleep. A cowardly act, no doubt! and coming from one of the best warriors of Bharatvarsha, it angered Lord Krishna so much as to place a deadly curse on him…

“…and since there isn’t much written on Ashwatthama after this, I thought it’d be interesting to see how he dealt with his guilt of killing the Pandavas’ children, and living with the effects of the curse,” Iyengar says of his book, adding how he had to imagine most of Ashwatthama’s life after the war. “Except the characters from the Mahabharata like Ashwatthama, Kripa, Krishna, etc. every other character and every incident in the book is fictional,” he says.

Iyengar’s prose is strong and his narrative flows effortlessly across two hundred pages as he describes the journey of Ashwatthama from the moment he awoke in the middle of a desert to the time he finally found a cure for his leprosy. Now whether he was redeemed of his sins in his lifetime or had to wait several thousands of years is something the reader will find out only after he has finished reading the book. “The novel is set up to a larger series I’m writing that brings together many mythologies from around the world with Ashwatthama as one of the main characters,” says the author.

Iyengar, whose other noted work, The Thirteenth Day, is a retelling of the life of Abhimanyu, writes with great panache, especially as he describes the innermost thoughts of Ashwatthama. I quote here from the book: “…he (Ashwatthama) mused as he often did, during sleepless nights, about life. Its impermanence defined its nature. People broke their lives down into small boxes of time to allow themselves the opportunity to do as many things as possible. Now, faced with an endless length of time to live through, there was no need for him to impose the harness of discipline on his life. Every possible structure he could make for his life seemed artificial and meaningless…”

…and the only person who lends some “meaning” and a semblance of normalcy to his life is Kasturi, a woman he dearly loves. She is the one who guides him to a merchant caravan of Samsaptakas (the oath sworn), who were all a part of the Kaurava camp during the war. It is with their aid then that Ashwatthama hatches a conspiracy to kill all the Pandavas, including the last of their bloodline, a small boy called Parikshit. A part of the plan also includes reclaiming the Syamantaka gemstone from Pandavas that will not only restore his mortality but also cure his leprosy. And while he is determined to go to any length to implement the plan, at the very last moment, he finds himself facing an impossible choice, for his quest could result in the death of the woman he loves.

So, even as I love the structure and the pace of the novel, I am questioning myself why the author chose this particular category of fiction which is so crowded these days. Noticed how so many authors are offering their own demythologised version of Ramayana or Mahabharata from the perspective of a lesser known character? “True, there are a lot of authors writing novels in this category, but I always believe that more perspectives broaden a reader’s vision. It’s good that there are so many interesting perspectives out there,” he says, adding a word about the epic of Mahabharata and how there is always something new to discover in it! True that, I would say!

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Book Review: Kanwal Sibal’s Poems are Slices of Creative Genius

Vani via Quint

Two weeks ago when my editor suggested that I review a book of poetry, my answer was a vehement “No”.
“Poetry is not for me,” I told her without mincing words.
“But the writer has penned his poems around his experiences and you’d enjoy it,” she said.
With much reluctance, I agreed for her to send me the book, and to cut the long story short: from the moment I took it in my hands, I haven’t been able to put it down.

In his first anthology, Snowflakes of Time, Memories and Musings (published by Bloomsbury), Kanwal Sibal, one of India’s best known diplomats, brings together a collection of hundred poems written over a period of fifty years. “Writing poetry was a personal affair,” he mentions ​at ​the introduction of the book, and adds how he never intended to publish it; “but…a stage came when I felt I could take the plunge to socially communicate what I’d written over the years.”

A career diplomat with forty one years of experience, Sibal is at his best when he writes about bilateral relationships, foreign policy issues and international politics, all of which he says provides him with “an inspiration to write”. All at once, I am reminded of a quote by the Roman satirist, Horace: “Wisdom is not wisdom when it is derived from books alone.” True that! And much in the style of a Horatian satirist, Sibal’s humour is witty, playful and light-hearted. He takes a dig at his chosen subjects, but in his own words, “all of his pieces are written without malice”. Take for example these lines from one of his poems which poke fun at India’s “confused policy” with Pakistan:

…asking our neighbour not to strike
With terror at us is quite like
Telling a gunman he shouldn’t shoot,
A raider that he should not loot,
A predator that it mustn’t prowl
Or a jackal it should not howl…

…by helplessness that we display,
Our morale sags day after day.
No policy can simply be:
Keep talking to the enemy!
The fear is real that the long rope
We give to Pakistan in hope
Of its reform could well be used
To hang an India all confused.
— from 'Kneeling for Diplomatic Slaughter'

Sibal, who reached the pinnacle of the Indian Foreign Service on becoming the Foreign Secretary in 2002, credits many of his satirical pieces to his knowledge and extensive experience of dealing with these themes as a diplomat. In fact, many of his poems, such as, 'Oh! Sonia Dear', 'The Houdini Act', 'Washed Out Session', 'Double Standards', seem to reiterate chatter overheard inside diplomatic corridors. It is no wonder then that most of these poems had not been heard outside of “congenial company” up until they got published. As to what triggers him to write about a subject, he does not know, but, “when the mood is on, words, thoughts and images flow with ease,” he says. However, it is not just external affairs and politics that Sibal writes about. His themes are diverse, so are his moods. On the one hand if he is reminiscing about his stay in Russia, on the other he comes up with poignant pieces on the the passage of time, for instance:

Like echoes of time that recall
Those moments in the past interred,
Memories like moving shadows fall
On mental paths that are wayward.

Like an impression of the past
Upon the canvas of today,
The sky of present overcast
With passing clouds of yesterday…
— from 'Echoes of Time'

And that’s not all! There are some poems that he has dedicated to his children with themes they can easily relate to, and some others where a particular form reflects a theme, for instance, reflections on champagne taking the form of a champagne cup, or a poem in the shape of a perfume bottle— “this required hard work as the content had to be meaningful, yet arranged in a shape that is not normal to poetry,” he says.

But, no matter what he writes, his words are evocative, his imagery vivid and his poems have a lyrical quality about them. “For me the structure of poetry is important,” he says. “I have always liked rhyme in poetry. Rhyme imposes a discipline, of syllables, feet and metre. The writing becomes more chiselled.”
I’d end this review by a few lines from one of his poems that implore a person to never stop, much in the way as Robert Frost would say—

miles to go before I sleep:
…he sensed the final
bell would ring
While he had still
some work to do,
And to unfinished sheets
he’ll cling
Waiting, waiting
to start anew.
— from 'Unfinished Sheets'

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Published on March 31, 2017 21:25 Tags: bloomsbury, book-review, diplomat, kanwal-sibal, poetry, snowflakes-of-time

‘Dushman’ Director Tanuja Chandra’s ‘Bijnis Woman’ is Delightful

Vani via Quint

It’s been 22 years that I heard the story of Lallan bhaiya from my nani in Bareilly, but I still remember every word of it. Lallan bhaiya was a distant cousin of mine— tall, moustachioed, and good for nothing, until he joined the army as a jawan. He was visiting Bareilly during his annual leave when his parents got him married to a “beautiful” girl that they themselves had seen only once. On his marital bed, Lallan bhaiya— quite to his horror— discovered that the girl was bald. In the by lanes of Gangapur where Lallan bhaiya now lives with his second wife, you might still hear whispers of how he was once married to a “Shakaal” (that being a reference to the bald villain of eponymous name in the eighties movie, Shaan).

Incredulous, right? – But many such stories abound in Uttar Pradesh, a land where “anything is possible”, and that is what prompted renowned director and screenwriter, Tanuja Chandra, to come up with her collection of fourteen short stories, titled, Bijnis Woman— stories of Uttar Pradesh told by my mausis, buas, chachas. For one who co-wrote screenplays and dialogues for Bollywood movies like Zakhm, Tamanna, Dil toh Pagal Hai and directed blockbusters like Dushman and Sangharsh, Chandra told me over an email how she felt that this was the “right first book” for her because she had “loved these stories for so long”.

Just like me, she had grown up hearing these “odd tales” from members of her family and felt that it was important to record them before they were lost forever. “These stories record the lives of ordinary, flawed people and how they lived through their own unique times and circumstances,” she said, and added how she had always felt deep affection for even the most selfish and annoying of these characters. Then whether it be the burly young man nicknamed ‘lambi haanku’ for weaving yarns about his military exploits; or the boy who stole a Bhrigu Samhita from a Pandit to fulfil his own lofty ambitions; let it be the bartanwaali with an uncanny sense of business; or someone as mean and pernickety as this and I quote her here:

“If all the grumpiness in Uttar Pradesh, of which there is a substantial amount, could be distilled and poured into the mould of a single man, it would result in Pilkhuwa waale. That’s what he was called.”

Excerpted from Pilkhuwa Waale

In the introduction of the book, Chandra writes about how Uttar Pradesh is filled with such stories of great ambition and greater failure, stories bursting at the seams with urgent longings and intense desires, alongside an abject inability to fulfil them— and having heard similar stories myself, I couldn’t agree more with her.

However, while I was reading the book, I did pause to wonder if writing this book was any easier than writing for films and pat came the reply: “It frightened me.” Chandra follows a linear narrative style for her stories throughout the book but, according to her, it wasn’t easy to get it right. “To put one ‘correct’ word after another, to string sentences upon sentences together— it was too, damn intimidating. In scripts there are plots and characters as well, but the dialogues are the only ‘written’ part one has to worry about, here it’s the entire thing, beginning to end!” As for her language, I found it deeply rooted to the soil of Hathras, Lucknow, Allahabad, Badaun, Sapnawat, Pilibhit, and other such places she describes and I quote from one of my favourite stories in the book about a court clerk who loved nothing better than to eat chaat and romance:

“Bhooray chacha was a small man with a formidable reputation. It was famously said about him that he was the only Sessions Court peon in Badaun who earned seventeen rupees per month but ate chaat worth twenty. His chatorapan had in fact brought him hushed admiration in a town known for its fondness for jalebi, imarti, kachori and kabab, for there were few so committed to this pleasure. Bhooray chacha also loved romance. He was the first man in possibly all of UP to have a live-in partner.”

Excerpted from The Final Insult

And whilst she continues to work on her films— her latest one being based on a story by her mother, Kamna, who herself is a screenwriter— Chandra is already on to her second novel now. “Films, TV, the internet, are all conveyors of stories,” she told me, emphasising on the relevance of each medium in recording the history of human emotions. However— “books have more latitude,” she said. “They can contain more, they are sturdier, can stand the test of time for centuries, they are less inhibited or conservative than films.”

For one who has delved successfully into many mediums of storytelling, I wondered what she would want her audience to take away from this book. “If these stories make the reader laugh every now and then, and touch them, if the reader is taken to places he or she’s never been to, and comes away feeling affection for the extremely daunting uphill climb that life is, I would feel blessed!” she said and with that I ended my interview.

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Published on June 10, 2017 02:50 Tags: bijnis-woman, book-review, quint, tanuja-chandra, vani, vani-author, vani-kaushal

Review: 17-Year-Old’s First Book is a Brave Takedown of Privilege

Vani via Quint

Review of Seventeen Takes

Try wandering up the teen section of a bookstore, and all you are going to find is romance, thriller, fantasy or any combination of these fiction categories thereof! And before you draw any conclusion about the reading preferences of teens, I would recommend you talk to someone in that age group. Most teens go through the same emotional roller coaster of heartbreaks, euphoria, angst, fear, frustration, as we adults do. However, and quite surprisingly, most of these themes continue to remain “under-represented” in popular works of literature, feels seventeen year old newbie author, Naima Kalra Gupta.

In her first book, Seventeen Takes, which is a collection of stories and memoirs, Gupta writes about ideas that matter to teenagers of the 21st century. “An important thing I’ve learnt is that growing up is not easy, and one underlying emotion behind all of it is frustration. You don’t understand anything,” she says, and adds how writing gives some coherence to her thoughts. Through the protagonist of her stories called Izra, Gupta goes on to reveal aspects of her own journey in as far as how she still struggles to figure out what to do with her life, how she laments the loss of childhood, how she comes to terms with changing beliefs and develops new ideas with respect to her city, country and God.

When I started reading Seventeen Takes, I was hoping for it to be a coming-of-age book which it is not and that is as much as the author mentions at the very beginning. Gupta’s writing is ruminative, especially as she tries to come to terms with her true self. To quote her: “Identifying yourself, trying to find your own voice, getting to know yourself and finally coming to terms with who you are, are some of the toughest challenges anyone faces. It’s a constantly evolving realization, which springs up on you at the most unexpected times. The façade we struggle to keep up, the desperation behind the efforts we make, the smoke of the lies we tell, and the stench of the pretence that evolves us, how do we learn to see beyond it?”

As I turn the pages of the book, I find her tone getting more explorative as if she is trying to figure out why she is the way she is, and among other things, she recognizes the role that her beloved city has played into sculpting her very being. “Every aspect of city life cultivates…vanity…and an inherent sense of entitlement,” she says, and goes on to describe an incident when she met a seemingly unpretentious girl from a village at a summer camp that, for once, made her set the “I, Me, Myself” attitude aside. “Meeting her (Sahana) was a reality check, a look into my inner self. It was time to get off the high horse I was’s funny how people like me have such strong political and social opinions when we live such sheltered lives,” she says, and adds, “I realized I definitely had pretentious and narrow worldviews and I wasn’t even at Harvard or Yale yet.”

At this point, I am tempted to ask her if she thinks that most teenagers growing up in big cities are like that. “A sheltered life by definition means narrow simply because we haven’t seen enough of the world. And all that we have seen has been from a pedestal of privilege,” she replies. “Privilege can’t be removed and I don’t wish to remove mine either. It’s sort of a Catch-22 actually. I believe adversity builds character but why would I wish adversity on anyone? I know that I definitely do not understand the realities of life and maybe I never will. I acknowledge the bubble I live in and I have to admit it’s easier to live in it most of the times. But maybe it is our moral responsibility to be more empathetic to others,” she says. True that!

Compared to most people her age, Gupta’s prose is more elegant and she credits it to her reading. “From when I was a kid, I always used to read a lot. From Nancy Drew to Harry Potter to War and Peace, I have been across the entire spectrum of fiction.” And as she says that I begin to wonder if this book was a conscious effort. “I actually never planned on writing the book, it sort of just happened. I returned from a summer camp and my parents told me that they had sent my work to Rupa and that they were interested. I wrote some more things, tried to fine tune my work and somehow it happened,” she says.

What differentiates her work from other books populating teen fiction at bookstores is that Gupta did not write for a particular audience. “Some aspects of the book will definitely resonate more with younger people but the purpose of fiction isn’t to relate with the character. So it’s for anyone who likes my writing,” she says. And I am sure there would be many takers for her refreshingly new voice!

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Published on June 23, 2017 04:28 Tags: book-review, quint, seventeen-takes, vani, vani-author, vani-kaushal

Book Review: The Gift of Anger by Arun Gandhi

Vani via Quint

Year 2011, I was working as a lecturer in London when I found myself face-to-face with the most challenging situations in my life. Bent on turning things around, I started reading stories of world leaders and how they faced personal and professional dilemmas to rise above the rest. Reading so, I came across a quote by Mahatma Gandhi: “Be the change that you wish to see in the world.” To this day I cannot forget how I quickly scribbled it down on a drawing sheet and stuck it on the wall of my room. My life has never been the same again, and even now – while I am in India and pursuing my passion of writing novels – if I find myself stuck, ever, all I have to do is to revisit that quote and it changes my entire perspective on things.

Interestingly, Mahatma Gandhi’s principles are as relevant to life’s puniest problems as they are to solving global issues of hatred and violence. And shedding new light on how these can – and must – be applied to today’s concerns is a book by his grandson, Arun Gandhi, titled, The Gift of Anger. Living in an apartheid-ridden South Africa of the early 90’s, young Arun often faced flak from whites – for not being white enough, and from blacks – for not being black enough. These encounters left him mentally bruised making him aggressive and angry all the time, until his parents left him with his grandfather at his iconic ashram in Wardha.

“The two years that I lived with Bapuji were an important time for both of us,” Arun writes of his stay at Sevagram. “As he (Bapuji) made changes on the world stage, I learned to make changes in myself, overcoming my own, often unwieldy emotions and discovering how to fulfil my potential and see the world through new eyes.” The book crystallises ten spiritual lessons that young Arun learnt from his grandfather – and though, “none of his philosophy made sense (to me) at the time. It was wisdom with age,” he reveals to me in an email.

As I start reading the book, I realise that much in the style of his grandfather, Arun does not use clever wordplay and complicated numbers to drive his message home. His language is simple and his ability to elucidate each life lesson with interesting (often delightful!) anecdotes makes the book as relevant for politicians wanting to have an impact on the world as for a house wife – and perhaps, that’s the whole point of it! “Sometimes it is tempting to think, ‘I am just one of the 7 billion people. What difference can I make?’” he asks, and reiterating one of his grandfather’s quotes: Be the change you wish to see in the world – exhorts people to take a stand in case they don’t approve of something. “From the smallest act to the largest, what we do in our own lives becomes a mirror for what the greater world will look like,” he says.

Gandhiji’s philosophies were a product of his time – a time when there were no cell phones and social media – and as I read the book, I do stop to wonder if he would have used these mediums to influence public opinion. “I know my grandfather would have used Twitter and Facebook…just as he used radio broadcasts to communicate his message in his day. But we can’t change the world by hitting ‘like’ on a post. Social media is useful only if it arouses people to real action,” Arun says, adding that social media gives us friends and followers, yet our connections are often flimsier than we realise. “We can’t turn for comfort or help to the ‘friends’ we know only as a Facebook photo, and it is unlikely we will convince people about an important issue like discrimination or tolerance if we make our case in a tweet. Scattered relationships don’t add up to a cohesive society.” True that, we say!

The Gift of Anger is as stimulating as it is thought-provoking, and all through the book, Arun implores his readers to find out what matters to them and stand up for it. “Bapuji didn’t care about party politics or always needing to be right. He…tested new ideas every day and constantly questioned those he held dear,” Arun says in the book, chastising people who ‘like’ and ‘follow’ each other without a thought – especially politicians. “Many politicians now follow opinion polls before taking a stand on issues and speak out only when it will serve their own interests,” he says and his assertion prompts me to ask him my next question​.
Is it possible to build a political system that is based on the Gandhian principles
​ of Truth and honesty?

It is not impossible, but not too easy, either – or that is what I gather from his response and I quote him here. “Gandhiji said materialism and morality have an inverse relationship. The more materialism thrives the less morality is practiced. We see this today. For money we will all do whatever is asked. If we lack moral compass in society, it is reflected in politics and other public affairs. Politicians are not aliens, they are from society and reflect the decay in it.”

To some, the book ​may sound overly simplistic in its approach, for how could nonviolence, kindness, love, truth, compassion and peace be a solution to complicated problems of terrorism and ISIS, for instance. However – Arun’s answer remains an emphatic Yes. “Just as you cannot combat hate with hate, you cannot put down violence with more violence,” he says to me. “ISIS is the result of hate, exploitation, anger and frustration. It is not the work of crazy Muslims out to destroy the world. Nonviolence seeks to create better relationships between people of different races and religions so that senseless violence does not take place.” Thought-provoking, like I said!

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Jayaraman’s ‘Who Me, Poor?’ Tells The Stories of the Broke Millennial

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A couple of days ago, a friend of mine suggested that we go out for lunch to Barbeque Nation – not the first time she asked me that, and once again, my answer was the same as it’s been for the past four years: NO. Being a full-time novelist and one who has yet to experience breakout success, I’ve thus far been able to wiggle myself out of anything that requires spending a lot of money (shopping at glitzy malls, eating at top end restaurants, catching Olas and Ubers for meetings being a strict no-no for me). “There’ll be a time for that,” I often remind myself. Many of us, however, are not that lucky – not even that savvy, I guess.

Meet the urban poor.

“…relative to a vast majority of Indians, they aren’t ‘poor’ at all. But they’re certainly hungry and broke a lot. These are the metro-dwelling twentysomethings who’ve internalised the pressures surrounding them, and spend a majority of their salaries on keeping up the lifestyles and appearances that they believe are essential to earning those salaries,” says journalist Gayatri Jayaraman in an article on BuzzFeed, titled: “The Urban Poor You Haven’t Noticed: Millennials Who’re Broke, Hungry, But On Trend.” The article which went viral last year led Jayaraman to write her first non-fiction book, “Who Me, Poor?”, in which she takes a closer look at “urban poverty”, asking some really tough questions, making insightful observations, and reminding us of one of the most hard-hitting debates of our times:

Can you be poor if you own a smartphone?

The answer to that is an unequivocal YES, even though the society may not think so.

“A primary reason for this is that while our indicators of poverty have not changed since poverty was first defined, our indicators of wealth have. So we tick off the TV, the laptop, the two wheeler or car, as signs that the person in possession of them is doing well enough…(However), a man with those wealth indicators may still struggle to make his ends meet, irrespective of class and income,” Jayaraman says in the book.

True that! – and we need just look around us to see how a lot of people who are otherwise so capable of putting up pretences on their social media accounts, may actually be struggling to pay their bills on time.

The book is replete with personal stories of millennials, many of whom have had a rude awakening to a new idea of success, one that has nothing to do with their educational degrees or the sort of work they do in those swanky offices.

“The idea of success in our heads – what it ought to look like and its signifiers – are largely peer-ordained,” Jayaraman observes in the book and corroborating her claim are models, techies, BPO employees, marketing executives, fashion assistants, entrepreneurs, financial consultants, even Bollywood stars, for that matter. Excerpts:

“If you don’t socialise, you’re the small town girl from Assam,” says Soma Bhattacharjee, Associate Creative Director of a start-up advertising agency in Bengaluru.

“I traded sex till I bought my iPhone,” says Shruti Sharma of Mumbai.

“We lived on glucose biscuits for a few months,” says Aakarsh Prasad, a graduate of BITS Pilani.

“We are all leading a certain lifestyle so we fit in,” says Lisa D’Souza, a PR professional from Kochi and Ahmedabad.


“You realise that no matter how hard you work, you will never fit in,” says Neeti Sharma, who is from Lucknow and works at a tech start-up in Mumbai

For one who has had a close brush with “urban poverty” and has seen far too many young, suave looking professionals struggle with massive amounts of debt, Jayaraman’s book is a biting commentary on this particular brand of poverty, the reasons for which are not hard to find.

“There are several systemic pressures outlined in the book, from modes of migration, lack of urban planning, affordability of housing, public transportation, basic infrastructure and facilities, employer work ethic and rewards systems that need to change,” she tells me in an email. “(And), I do blame these for the pressures laid on young people.”

Is financial literacy an answer to this problem, I wonder? “I think financial literacy is only a part of it,” she replies back. “(We need to) fix the system, force it to have vision and inclusion, and then what’s left can be fixed by financial literacy. Else it’s like filling a bucket with a hole in it.”

In as much as the book shows a mirror to the policymakers, it exhorts its readers to identify what success means for them. “It sounds clichéd,” she says in the book, “but being yourself is seriously the best thing you can do for your personality projection and your bank balance” – and we cannot not agree with that.

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Published on October 24, 2017 22:30 Tags: book, book-review, gayatri-jayaraman, millennials, poor, poverty, urban-poverty, vani, vani-author, vani-kaushal

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