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a house for mr biswas

A House for Mr. Biswas- Book Review

Don’t you love reading books that you enjoy as you’re reading them page by page?

V.S Naipaul’s ‘A house for Mr. Biswas’ is one such gem based in Trinidad. This page-turner doesn’t take long to claw itself onto you. It’s immersive, overtly honest and fun to wade through the world created by Naipaul. Even at 623-pages, it doesn’t feel long, and as a reader, you find yourself craving for more.

Mr. Biswas’s everlasting quest for a house of his own, as he grapples with his ambition-ridden and unkind destiny, is interesting and humorous. It’s a peek into a life of a generation of immigrants of Indian origin in a world far removed and yet alike in forms. His mundane life laden with accidents, superstitions, irrational philosophies and a deep disdain for people is what the life of Mr. Biswas is.

In the evolving world of Race, Caste, Language, and Patriarchal systems, Mr. Biswas’s world continues to make absurd turns right till the very end.

The book doesn’t hold back on any surprises and treads along expected lines. Even sharing precursors of upcoming life events from his life much before they happen. And it doesn’t really need to build any suspense for the witty storytelling of Naipaul weaves its magic through it anyway.

The author journeys you through villages and plantations to new cities, hills, and beaches. And most closely, houses. I can’t recall a better description of old houses than what you read in this.

The story has a fantastic ensemble of distinctive characters with relatable quirks. I can close my eyes and imagine these conversations among individuals far after I’ve ended the book—intricate little worlds.

As the name suggests, the story is a sequential journey of Mr. Biswas from his birth, childhood traumas, growing up and getting married at an early age, and his reluctance to take responsibility for anything. Not even himself. As a character, he’s interesting because you want to see him win, but he just doesn’t. But, he grows on as the story progresses.

This book is a masterpiece and is easily heading to my favorite reads of all time. A worthy read from a Nobel Laureate- V.S Naipaul. I loved loved loved it!!

The sunset club by Khushwant Singh

The Sunset Club: Book Review

A group of three friends- A Sikh, a Hindu, and a Muslim- in their 80s meet every day in a Delhi park. Every day. This breeze of a read is a monthly journal of their meetings where they discuss their digestion, politics, and spicy details of their youth.

Show, don’t tell. Kushwant Singh’s The sunset club however does not follow the same line of thought. The book, even though written in a narrator’s voice, tries to run through the storyline by telling details that appear as if the book is talking more to outsiders who have no clue about India or its inhabitants. Needlessly pandering to an audience for whom a lot of it might sound as if the writer thinks pretty low of them.

Apart from this, I didn’t have any other gripe with the style of the book. This is a breezy 200-odd page short book that takes you through the life and times of three elderly gentlemen from Delhi. They are hard-coded north Indians who are reflective of the kind you’d come across if you were staying put in Delhi or around. The three characters are caricatured versions of a north Indian old man who are at the fag end of their lives and how most of their time is spent reminiscing about their younger selves, their secrets and life lived behind the curtains. They share the tiniest details about their day-to-day and yet show duality when meeting each other and their own families.

Even though the three characters are distinct with varied backgrounds, political and religious views, their old age draws the line of resemblance in their daily meetings at the Lodhi Gardens. This daily meeting helps them vent their frustrations out and gives them reasons to laugh, fight and get nostalgic. Their individual identities are a big factor in what they talk about, what they fight about, and what they steer clear from.

As a comparatively younger reader, it is fascinating to see the accounts of these gentlemen painting their glorious youth through this story. Spanning the 12 months of the year, each month brings with it a new topic alongside gradual changes in the weather and more nostalgia for each character. While a Boota Singh is a colorful portrayal of an outlandish Sardar who gravitates all conversation towards his sexual adventures, there is the more reserved Sharma who tries to bring forth the traditional Indian to the fore. In the midst is Baig who enjoys the fun conversation but always has his guards on.

The book is a reminder of how every journey has an end but a life filled with pleasant memories is what helps us to avoid gloom in old age. Kushwant Singh’s description of the changing Delhi weather is beautiful and you do get to bask in the winter sun of Delhi as much as feel the heat during summers through it all.

This is a great travel read that’s light, fun in parts, and easily digestible. I’d highly recommend this also as a read in between some heavy reading.

passage to india book review

A Passage to India: Book Review

A passage to India is a collected archive of the many Indias that birthed today’s republic. The culmination of sorts of the many that laid the foundations. E.M Forster’s book isn’t a bird’s eye view of a foreigner looking at India, even though that’s the impression I went in with. It’s like a house pet omnipresent in British, Muslim, and Hindu houses, narrating stories from its experiences in a country gripped in the shadows of an imperialistic Britain.

Forster weaves through the minds of natives of the land and the ruling class and navigates the reader through it. We have a section of frustrated Britishers who think they are doing good work and look down upon Indians. At the same time, we also have a few Britishers who want to understand the land. We also have the natives who either artificially aligned with the British for favors or jobs and those that outrightly despised them.

Interestingly, the author chooses not to build a background on what was happening politically in India and worldwide. So, with the absence of any context on India’s horrid affair with the British, one might’ve got a totally different take on the story. The story- focusses on the relationship between an Indian doctor (Aziz) and a high school principal (Fielding)- forms the book’s focal point. Two individuals try their best to mingle with another culture while holding their existing notions intact. There’s a separation of the race with the individual, and then misunderstandings that bring back the peculiar trust deficit changes it all.

The trust deficit among the cultures plays out throughout the book and isn’t limited to the central characters. One can even see it playing out among the natives between religious or caste groups. What Forster does well here is an honest portrayal of the feelings even when there’s a whole lot of hypocrisy visible for the rational eye. Characters don’t always abide by what they think, nor are there clear explanations for their actions. Drawing parallels from real life? Indeed.

On the British side, there are characters like Mrs. Moore, a widow who has come down to India to arrange the marriage of his son, who wants to understand the country and wishes to see the ‘real India.’ She is accompanied by Adela, who is supposed to get married to Moore’s son but isn’t so sure of ‘how much India has changed him.’ On the other hand, her son is a Magistrate who wants nothing to do with Indians except keep them ‘in line.’ There’s a club where Indians aren’t allowed, and those who frequent these clubs (Britishers) have terrible notions about Indians. And of course, there’s Mr. Fielding, who apparently ‘travels light’ as he’s still a bachelor, an atheist, and spends a lot of time with Indians like Aziz, much to the fellow club-going Britishers around.

On the Indians side, Aziz (a doctor) and his servants and friends take up a lot of his time. Whatever time he is left, he invests in poetry and usually tries to be a good host to the Britishers. There are characters like Dr. Panna Lal, Prof Godbole, and others who represent the other Indians in the fictitious town of Chandrapore in Central India.

Without giving any spoilers, an incident happens between Aziz and a Britisher that throws the fault lines among the two groups in the open as a trial ensues. While the story moves along this line, there’s definitely more to it than just this significant conflict.

Forster has attempted to paint an early 1900’s India without any emphasis on the politics of that time. He’s instead chosen the path of talking about Aziz and Fielding’s relationship and, through it, highlighting where the groups stood. Forster’s characters imitate life and go through their struggle to try to be humans instead of being saints.

However, towards the end of the book, there is a tone shift that throws you off. Instead of the flowy, fly-on-the-wall storytelling, the book hurries you up towards a climax. One can attribute it to the year gaps in the story, but perhaps they were written in two different periods themselves. Of course, this shift isn’t for long, and towards the end, you come back to the original tone of Forster’s Passage.

This is a good book for those with an existing understanding of India’s independence and relationship dynamics with the Britishers. Otherwise, this might come across as just a fictitious memoir of two friends to the uninitiated.

While reading, I could see the problematic caste and religious divide still prevalent in our country mirrors how it was way before the idea of ‘India’ was even there. At the same time, I could see individuals trying to adjust their own lifestyles to accommodate others by acknowledging these differences. This is something we’re slowly losing.

image of road with vehicles

Journey(s)

Journey(s)

Different. Distinct. Stops. Pauses. Jumps. Skip. Change course. Move. Forwards and backward. Short. Long. Ups and downs. Restart.

Journey(s).

Our journey in life continues to evolve in myriad ways. Changing characters as we traverse through the corners. Zigzag. Shifting gears as we speed up towards unknown goals that we’ve marked as milestones. ‘One more’ we say as we cross ’em on the right. Catching a glimpse in the rearview. Not even waiting for a victory lap as the chequered flag gets waved. Such is the rush.

Breathing. Feeling our breath as we slow things down. Fuel? Bad roads? Traffic?

Reasons galore as we halt our pace. ‘What happened?’ spelling out of our faces for them to see. A breakdown. Visibly shattered.

Slow down.

Change course.

Up.

And a little down.

Go back.

To come back faster.

Or, just take a new road.

Milestones change and so does our journey. All have their own tracks that take ’em somewhere. Somewhere they want to go and maybe not. But we all move. Not moving is also a journey. Getting stuck on repeat. Tiring. Confusing. Still our journey. Pushing hard to get out of the wreckage of life. Days and nights go past without an inch being moved. How is this even a journey?

To see it all move for others. ‘Objects in the mirror are closer than they appear’. Zooming past us as we look ahead.

The sun sets.

Dark.

Wait.
Pause.
Restart.

A push on repeat. It’s a new day after all. Move. Slow. Move. Stop. Move. Slow. But, move.

Another journey begins.

City through a bus window

City

Cities are personalities. The kind that influences yours too. Not just the outer you but the core of it. Repeatedly brushing it with faint strokes. For days. And then they leave you in colors you’d have not known to be there. Fathoming combinations that hitherto existed in a faraway reality. Stuff that they show in movies you rewatch and in books that take you places. The same brushes paint you silently.

The lack of resistance and the need to experience the aura of these cities, the vibe check and a stay that absorbs it all. Slow roasting the pot of your marinated soul. A city can do that.

The memory of the other city fades away like a different self you left behind in the bylanes. Photographed away, somewhere.

Over years of living in the shell of our ageing bodies, we realize that we are one of these cities. A vibe match that struck a deal with that same inner core.

The gloom of it, the sun of that or the ripples of water touching you or just the snow falling outside the window or just the cherry blossom paving your path back home on a Sunday afternoon post-lunch. Any of the above. One or maybe more. Calling you like an azaan. Asking you to come.

From windows of crowded buses as you eye the seat shifting to the air brushing past your ears as the tyres move away in the traffic, cities change. The noise remains, but the noises change. So does the silences.

Leaving one, or arriving at a new one, or returning after a decade is surreal when you stop to think and mundane if you continue walking. Imperfect interpretations of what it can mean change with a new brushstroke of the city.

The city changes your lehza. One lafz at a time.

The silence of the nights, staring at the ceiling or the silhouettes of passengers outside long windows ask questions on coping better with it all. Does a better way exist? In this city or that?

bed.

.
the chains of the morning bed,
clawing back the body of he

holding the self, snoozing away
the sounds of the chirps

of a little sun, of a little rain
of hopes that are so little

the uneventful swirl of the fan
and embrace of sheets that are cold

eyes that want some more time
to sleep in a body that’s tired still

the chains of the morning bed
pushing away the body of he.

Book_Review_No_Rules_Rules_Netflix

No Rules Rules- Netflix: Book Review

No Rules Rules- Netflix and the culture of Reinvention.

First, I love the fact as to how apt the title is to this book. Being a book that revolves around the concept of not having too many rules at a workplace, the title fits just right.

No Rules Rules, co-written by Netflix founder and CEO- Reed Hastings and author Erin Meyer, is an intriguing read about company culture. It focuses on highlighting the culture at Netflix and how Reed feels that it has been essential for the global growth that they’ve witnessed.

The culture at Netflix is about letting go of any form of control. It is about leading with context instead of control. The expectation, top-down, is about how you can let people make their own decisions and own up to any success or failure of it. Whether it’s the CEO or an associate, their decisions are their own.

Throughout the book, you get to read interesting incidents that highlight how Netflix has been able to build this culture. For instance, on the cusp of House of Cards’ new season releasing, Netflix had decided to partner up with Samsung to let viewers watch the show on 4K ultra high definition TV. To do this, they needed to get this experience to be reviewed by a Washington Post journalist   Geoffrey Fowler. Before sending the TV to the journalist, the day before the actual release, they tested the TV and went home. Now, for some reason, the TV was disposed of along with other old TVs in their office. So, instead of it going for the review, Nigel (Director responsible to get this done) was left incessantly calling nearby stores for the TV. But, he had no luck. He was panicking and felt like he’d failed. And then, a junior engineer Nick walks in and assures that the TV has been sent as required. This, because when Nick walked in the early morning he realized what had happened and immediately drove to a best buy and bought a TV worth 2.5k USD. He did that because he felt that was the right thing to do. He saved the day for his team by making a decision without waiting for an approval from his superiors. Netflix is known for similar instances of a no-approval-required policy. The concept of F&R (Freedom and responsibility) is what drives the culture at the company.

While the goal of Netflix has been to ‘Lead with Context and not with Control’, the book highlights the steps that have led them here.

As a reader, your mind immediately wanders to the question, ‘Can this be applied to ALL workplaces?’, ‘Is this specific to a US-centric work culture?’, ‘Not ALL workplaces can function without a degree of control, right?’. And the book tries its best to answer most of the questions.

The book is a good read if you are in a position where you assert a degree of control as a manager or supervisor. It brings a new perspective on possibly letting go of control. At the start, you’re on board with the concept, but as you read on, you realize not everything can be globally adopted. Not all cultures are the same and there would have to be an acceptance for contrasting culture/personality types to come to a middle path.

The book highlights how Netflix focussed on increasing its talent density and let go of anyone who wasn’t the best. ‘Adequate performance deserves a generous severance package’ is what Reed instilled as a practice. This meant anyone who wasn’t performing at their very best was fired. This came as a follow-up realization when they had to fire people at one time but the best-of-the-best who remained got the job done. At Netflix, everyone- the managers as well as the reports- has to take a Keeper’s Test. The test asks a manager how hard he’ll fight to keep an employee in the team. Individuals are also advised to ask their managers, this exact question to ascertain whether their managers are happy with them or not.

One of the other highlights of Netflix’s culture is actively seeking feedback. This applies and goes both ways. Employees are encouraged to provide feedback to their peers as well as managers. The feedback has to be actionable and should align with the concept of 4As. While giving feedback, Aim to assist and make it actionable and when you receive it, appreciate it and then make a decision whether you want to accept it or discard it. Later on, the book also talks about a 5th A- To Adapt.

A range of case studies, failures along the way to establish a culture, and learnings from a variety of people issues form the core of this book. It is definitely a page-turner and at no point do you feel like not reading what the people of Netflix have to say. It is, like the concept popularized by Netflix- binge-worthy!

Worth a read for those who’re trying to understand how cultures shape global organizations and the need to adapt.

Book Review: Memoirs of a Geisha

Book Review:  Memoirs of a Geisha

If I have to be honest, my instinctive reaction to think of ‘who a Geisha is’ was different before I picked up this book. It is easy to interpret definitions without putting an effort in understanding them.

This memoir changes that. Beautifully, by taking you on a journey of little Chiyo from a fishing village to the streets of Gion. In doing so, it not only brings forth the nuances of the Japanese art, culture and Life, but gives you a detailed view of the life of a Geisha.

Geisha. ‘Gei’ means Art. They are (were) trained professionals who are hired to entertain, dance and sing. The kimono wearing artists start training at a young age by devoting their lives to this.

With post-war influence in Japan of the Americans and English, the ‘geisha girl’ got associated with being prostitutes.

The memoir is an nuanced, poetic and transformative story of a famous Geisha recounting her life journey. Along with her memories, you get immersed in the sublime beauty of Japan. It takes you inside a world, we might not visit due to our pre-rendered inhibitions. From elaborating the training of a Geisha, to various initiation ceremonies and the competitiveness of the apprentices who are trying to better the other. It’s all poetically written.

There’s no doubt in my mind that this memoir does justice to the richness of Japanese culture and how nuanced it is.

And yes, maybe, there can be school of thoughts on just one aspect of a culture cannot encompass it all. And I’d completely agree to that. The book carves out its own place, the protagonist creates her own world and doesn’t let you venture out from it. The world-view is restricted to Gion and lives of Geishas. And believe me, you won’t complain.

Author Arthur Golden apparantly re-wrote it thrice after multiple interviews with prominent Geishas of the time. And the simplicity of the language, the philosophy makes you sit back and think of what you’ve just read. This happened with me quite a lot while reading this through.

This 500-odd page book is a page turner. A worthy read to the lives of a Geisha. Highly recommended.

Sunday Evening when it rains

The Sunday Evening Sleep

A sense of calm, bereft of mornings, overcomes my sense, as I got up today after a late afternoon nap. Nowhere to rush to, absolutely nothing to do but just a feeling of being in that very moment occupied my head.
On the bed, watching the blade of the fan swirling above my head and the fading sunlight of the evening peeping right through the window. With that, I led myself up at an instant, while realizing I did not have to drag myself as I do it in the morning. Aah! Don’t I hate it to get out of my bed every morning?

Opening the door to my balcony while placing a chair outside, ensuring the raindrops do not fall over, I sit there to look at the rain. It was not raining heavily and neither there was a drizzle. Just enough to hear the drops falling over the railings of my staircase-cum-balcony. My post-sleep blank self sits there with post-sleep mouth not wanting to do a chore.

Yet, I went back in to get the cup of coffee that I had just put before coming out here. I waited, counting the drops pouring down into the cup. No rush. There is no rush. I started at the cup much the same way I started at the stillness of the sky and the trees, with only the raindrops being allowed to make a sound, the moment is free of any ‘What’s next?’. The music of it all. Tip-tapping their way in the background like a song which just needed this still image. There is no video to accompany it. This image would do.

Sunday Evening when it rains

As the light fades out slowly, I stare at the endlessness of the sky. Edge to edge. The expanse and the reach of it, hitting. The droplets join to travel alongside the edge of the railings and the leaves moving ever so slightly to wave this evening a goodbye.

I stopped myself to think, ‘will there be more of this?’ and brought myself to just be in this very moment and not think of ‘What’s next?’. Let that remain the job of a post-morning me.

Book Review: A Flight of Pigeons

It’s a breezy weekend read of just 133-odd pages which feels half that. One of those types of achool-book stories which we’re all familiar with. Ruskin Bond’s stories are always simple, easy to digest and doesn’t take too much of your time. This book follows the same set.


The story takes place around the time of the 1857 Revolt. The same which we term as the ‘First war of Indian Independence’ and the British terms as a ‘sepoy mutiny’. This becomes the background of the protagonists’ story and doesn’t dwell at all into the intricacies of what, how and why of the revolt.


The story is told from the perspective of Ruth, daughter of a British Magistrate. The story is of the time when Mr.Labadoor, the clerk, gets killed in a massacre at a church by the revolting armies as a revenge against the ‘firangis’. From then on, it is about the survival of Ruth, her mother Mariam, their granny and a few others. Fleeing from one place to another. How this takes a turn when a Pathan, Javed Khan, decides to take them all under his roof as he particularly like Ruth and wanted to marry her.


The characters in the book are somewhat caricaturish of the time this book is based on. But this feeling is also due to how fast the story develops. However, it is apparantly based on real events. Even a movie, Junoon, was made by Shyam Benegal starring Shashi Kapoor in 1978 on this.
It’s a good book that delves into the other side of what the mutiny would’ve felt like for the ordinary working class firangis. It brings forth the irrational fears of people during war and also contrasting generosity of people even during such times.


Do give it a read. It’s short but rich in unsaid emotions.

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