Monday, April 23, 2012

Book Review: The Lost Story by Amit Goyal and Sudhanshu Gupta

When I received this book from a budding Indian author, another MBA at that, I was skeptical and had almost labeled it a la Chetan Bhagatesque book packaged differently. However, I was in for a pleasant surprise when I found this collection of short stories bound in a longer story quite well written, entertaining and with a great recall value.

The Plot
The story begins as a budding author Sandy gets an offer from his favorite and revered booker-winning author Saleem to write a short-story book with him. One starts the story and the other finishes it in his own distinctive style. Likewise, two separate people have written the book.  As the stories unfold, Sandy tries to understand Saleem’s past and the secret behind a locked room in his house.

The Stories
The stories were an eclectic mix of a sinister ghost story, a gay super hero to an office romance. I particularly liked the story of the ill omened brothers named as Rahu and Ketu, the ordinary guy who did not fight the terrorist but had to live up to being a hero and the touching story of the Old Man who everyone ignored in the cafe. The book could probably have done without the romantic stories which did sound, forgive the term, more MBAesque and less Booker-writeresque as had been delineated. The end of the book was rather esoteric and I had to reread it to truly understand what the author wanted to convey. But then again, the end fitted well into the scheme of things.

Writing Style
Considering the fact that two different authors had written each of the stories, I was not really able to distinguish two separate styles, which would have been a major concern in maintaining the continuity in the book. The language used was descriptive, and visually stimulating. Fortunately, the parlance did not venture into the territory of mixing in Hindi as is the current trend or and the use of invectives was controlled much to my relief.

The Verdict
I will go with 4 stars for this book for originality and interesting stories. 

Monday, April 02, 2012

Ground Reality

Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar has scored a hundred tons. This prodigy is much hailed and not without reason. He attributes much of his success to his coach of his initial years Ramakant Achrekar who groomed him on the famous Shivaji Park.  But I am not going to write more on this brilliant man. Enough experts have already done that. 

Shivaji park, the now hallowed park held sacred by Sachin-worshippers is a lovely chunk of open space in Dadar West where kids can still play cricket and aspire to be another Sachin Tendulkar. It is a space where kids learn gymnastics, get coached in cricket, football, athletics and a haven for the health conscious to jog and an open place for adults, senior citizens and kids to hang out.

Shivaji Park Ground - Picture from Wikipedia

In a city of more than 20 million people, I wonder why it is that there is just one ground that is famous for producing prodigies?  A Sachin-worshipper might argue a player like Sachin comes only once in a century, but a person with even half of Sachin’s talent (50 centuries in a lifetime) is awesomely creditable too and the way Indian cricket team is playing, it wouldn’t mind that either! I find the answer almost too easily. It is because there are so few grounds where sports can actually be played and conditions are conducive to learning.

I stay in one of the central suburbs in Mumbai – Chembur.   There is a ground/ Maidan known as Gandhi Maidan close to my house where kids still manage to learn basketball, volleyball and skating at the YMCA. There are several teams playing cricket on one side of the ground and football on the other side. A fairly good walking track also exists on the periphery of the ground.  Being a less of a gym-person, when I shifted to this area, I was thrilled initially to find such a lovely ground nearby. Alas!, my happiness was short lived when the ground reality hit me. It is ironic that the very ground that I visited for health conscious reasons was a huge health hazard for all the adults and kids who came there for lack of options for miles around.

The ground ensures that my olfactory and visual senses are subjected to the maximum torture there can be.  All four corners are used as urinals for loiterers and disgusting men. Along all sides of the ground sit groups of men of various ages- teenagers and old men who believe that this play ground is a smoking lounge for cigarettes (and other things) and for ogling at women who walk on the track.  It is so sad to see young boys in their teens wasting their lives puffing away when they should be either studying or playing actively on the ground.  Even sadder is that these kids with jelled hair and fancy hairdos think smoking is very cool. On another side of this ground sit ominous men drink away merrily and gamble with playing cards. A dead rat or pigeon lies on the third side while garbage burns on the fourth side.   On the outside of the fenced ground at its periphery, stand a few men outside their BMWs puffing away and sipping alcohol in soft drink bottles.  

If my olfactory nerves and lungs can withstand all this, then my eyes are treated to visual pollution of litter all over the ground. Littered newspapers, plates, glasses, alcohol bottles, empty cigarette packets, plastic bags are callously dumped everywhere even though there are dustbins at a few designated spots.  Random graffiti paints the unpainted walls on one side.

On requesting the smoking sociopaths to move somewhere else and smoke has resulted in fights and abuses hurled at the women who pleaded with them.  As a woman, I would not even feel safe if it were not for the fact that I walk with a pack between such filth and malignant men. The YMCA and the ground authorities refused to help when concerned parents raised these issues.  The lone watchman and caretaker of the ground fled since he could not alone counter the many iniquitous activities the ground was used for. A lone rag picker is the only one who does any good when he picks up what is of use to him.

When builders are not gobbling up our open spaces and politicians are not using it for their political rallies, it is the citizens of this very country who pretend to be educated who are making these playgrounds unusable.  If smoking in public areas is an offence why indeed is it so difficult to have any action taken against these miscreants?  Why do most people still believe everywhere outside the realms of their house is a dustbin? Quite honestly, citizens are scared to be the ones to report these nefarious activities and I don’t blame them. For who would want to take the brunt of complaining and the backlash?  Policemen have far too many things on their mind, and are indifferent.  Elections are over now, and there is little hope that the local politicians are likely to do anything to better things anymore.

I wish I could change so many things around here on this ground and the other open spaces in our city which I trust are no different unless they are in the poshest of places in town with a fair amount of security.  First and foremost, I heartily wish I could smack the smoking rascals right out of the vicinity of the ground out of sight of the impressionable kids so everyone can breathe normally. Those urinating and littering should be reprimanded and penalized heavily.  I wish I could walk where no men ogled and where I felt secure.

A few lights more on the ground would go miles in helping women feel more secure. A well maintained kids area will encourage more parents to use it. A patrolling policeman in the evenings would ward off miscreants. Perhaps privatization/private management of our grounds is the key. Even if they charge a few rupees to go on the ground, a huge chunk of the anti-social elements would disappear. After all probably they can use the entry fees for just one more cigarette.  For those who really want to play could take an annual pass which is not prohibitively expensive.

I hope parents take up notice and check if their teenage kids were smoking or doping and advise them against it. I wish some officials took up notice and stopped the blatant misuse of the few remaining grounds we have, and people stopped littering and learnt to respect the space that belongs to all.  Change from authorities and people is the need of the hour! Only then, will we have more Sachin Tendulkars in this country full of aspiring and passionate cricketers.

I would love to hear suggestions from you – the Gandhian way, to change things and hope to do continue and try and change things for the better.