Category Archives: Books

30 Indian Books One Should Read Before 30

Given the fact that I am a voracious reader and try and read almost anything and everything I can get my hands on, I often encounter a question from fellow readers “Suggest some good books to read”. When you have read so much it’s both difficult and easy to dole out suggestions extempore, easy because you can easily list out books which are worth reading as a suggestion and difficult because no matter what, you tend to miss an awesome recommendation.

So I decided to compile a list of some of the best reads which have an Indian connection i.e. the author is an Indian or the book is written on India. These are the books I have read over the years, have cherished the writing, the content and have recommended to people around me at one point or the other. The blurbs are not the reviews of the said books but just a broad indication on the subject of the book.

As with all lists, the disclaimer: This list is entirely based on personal judgment and preference and is not indicative of any other merit or demerit. There might be some very good books which I might have missed because I haven’t read them yet or for some other reasons. Also the Indian in the title is very loosely used term, the books or the authors would have some Indian connection. If you feel that a book that should have been a part of the list please feel free to add it in the comments section.

So here is the list of books-

1- A Suitable Boy By Vikram Seth – One of the most voluminous fiction novels I have ever read. A Story of four families in the post 1947 India, with the plot revolving around a mother searching a suitable boy for her daughter.

2- City of Djinns By William Dalrymple– One of the best books ever written on the city of Delhi, A book that will make you fall in love with the city and its history.

3- English, August: An Indian Story By Upamanyu Chatterjee – A fictional story of a civil servant which spans across his training and first posting in a small town.

4- Everybody Loves a Good Drought By P Sainath – A collection or reports from tour of author is some of the most poor parts of India. The author portrays a real picture of poverty and backwardness in the interior India.

5- Five Point Someone: What Not to Do at IIT By Chetan Bhagat – A fast paced read about the youngsters studying at one of the most prestigious institute. One of the books which hooked the India’s new generation back to reading.

6- Gitanjali By Pt. Rabindranath Tagore – A collection of poem by the Nobel Laureate must read.

7- In Spite of Gods By Edward Luce – A picture of the modern India through the eyes of a foreign journalist travelling all across.

8- India Unbound By Gurcharan Das – A book on the changes in India during the era of 1991 and the pre and post liberalization of policy of India.

9- Indian Controversies: Essays in Religion & Politics By Arun Shourie – A deep insight on the religion in India and politics played over it. The book covers a deep insight on the mistakes done during the time of Babri Masjid demolition and the political aspects of it.

10- Inheritance of Loss By Kiran Desai – The book is a fictional story of the retired Judge who is living alone in North East close to the Nepal border. The story progresses when his grand-daughter comes to live with him. The story covers how their life is intertwined between insurgencies, immigration and a lot more.

11- Interpreter of Maladies By Jhumpa Lahiri – A collection of nine short stories by the Indian American author. The stories are linked through a common thread of the immigration and tryst to protect the culture, religion and the identity.

12- Malgudi Days By R K Narayan – The book of tales from the fictional town of Malgudi, beautifully created and crafted by the author. Every story and character reflects a tale which would keep Malgudi in reader’s heart forever.

13- Maximum City: Bombay, Lost and Found By Suketu Mehta – One of the best, apt and most engaging account of the wonders of Mumbai. Suketu Mehta almost charts the moving portrait of the city of Bombay.

14- Midnight’s Children By Salman Rushdie – A brilliant tale set up in India around the time of independence and partition. The story is about the protagonist who has special powers because he was born right at the midnight hour and unites all other children born at midnight who are blessed with special power too.

15- My Experiments with Truth By Mahatma Gandhi – The autobiography of the father of the Nation.

16- Prince of Ayodhya By Ashok K Banker – This is the first part of the six book series where he depicts the tale of Ramayana. A modern version of the epic in which the tales of Rama, Laxman and Sita were told as a more humane characters, highlighting their emotional sides too.

17- Q & A By Vikas Swarup – A brilliant tale of a waiter winning the top prize in the general knowledge quiz show, the story of how he wins the show and finds love in his life.

18- Sea of Poppies By Amitav Ghosh – A fictional tale based in the era of Opium trade; and the opium wars on the banks of river ganges.

19- Shantaram By David Gregory Roberts – An account of the journey of an Australian prisoner who arrives in Mumbai. Gets involved with underworld, the war in Afghanistan and a lot more goes in the entire adventure.

20- Spouse: The Truth About Marriage By Shobha De – The Indian version of the Men are from Mars and Woman are from Venus. A very good book to read for some practical and insightful advice on how to sustain an Indian marriage.

21- Such a Long Journey By Rohinton Mistry – A novel set in Bombay of 1971 where the protagonist is a government clerk. Struggling against the poverty, and the hope diminishes when the eldest son of the family refuses to join the prestigious IIT.

22- Tales of the Open Road By Ruskin Bond – A travelogue of India by Ruskin Bond covering which has not been covered by any author.

23- The Argumentative Indian By Amartya Sen – A series of essays by the Nobel Laureate which depicts the rise of the contemporary India as a tradition and history of the argumentative aspect of our culture.

24- The Great Indian Novel By Shashi Tharoor – A satirical and fictional take on the Independence movement of India and the couple decades following it, casting the shadow of The Mahabharata.

25- The High Performance Entrepreneur By Subroto Bagchi – Tenets from a successful entrepreneur for identifying and developing the entrepreneur in oneself.

26- The Japanese Wife By Kunal Basu – A collection of Short stories of varying themes and interests but a treat to read

27- The Palace of Illusions By Chitra Banerjee Divakurni – A book setup in the backdrop of Mahabharata bringing out the feminine point of view.

28- Train To Pakistan By Khushwant Singh – An account of the horror and torture that was inflicted on the common man during the partition.

29- We The People By Nani A Palkhivala – A back to reality read touching the realms of what has happened in India and how the people and constitution have contributed to it

30- The White Tiger By Arvind Adiga – A satirical novel based on a theme which provides a contrast between the contemporary India rising as a global economic superpower and a harsh reality working class struggling with poverty.

Book Review: The Difficulty of Being Good – The Subtle Art of Dharma

Author: Gurucharan Das
Publisher: Penguin
Price: 699/-

The Difficulty of Being Good

The Difficulty of Being Good

Having deep respect for Gurucharan Das after reading India Unbound and his columns in TOI, I had to pick when his latest book was released. The charm of the book increased manifold when I read the introduction and came to know, it’s based on Mahabharata, which is my favorite story, book, postulates of living life of all times.

The book basically talks about the dharma and its relevance & application in the modern world. Gurucharan Das has invested a lot of time and effort in reading, understanding and interpreting of Mahabharata. I was absolutely in love with the book, because I found my personal interpretation of the Mahabharata very close to the one done by him.

The book is very well written, with great depths and insights on the epic. The chapters are very well defined, with loads of wisdom and content to chew upon on every page. The book tries to answer the age old questions “What is Dharma?” “How should one lead ones life in accordance with Dharma?”.

To answer these question Gurucharan Das finds solace in the character of Yudhishtira who was son of Dharma god himself and he traces his behavior, adaption to newer views and actions, his call for duty, his decision to wage war and then finally the remorse after war. The book continuously follows the character of Yudhishtira trying to help the reader to draw parallels between the epic and the modern world, enabling him to answer the mega question “What is my Dharma?”

The book also features multiple emotions and reactions of different character and their impact in the light of Dharma. He has portrayed Bhishma’s selflessness, Droupadi’s courage, Arjuna’s despair, Ashwathama’s revenge and their impact on the course of the story and the relevance of dharma with Yudhishtira’s behavior. Though I don’t totally agree with his portrayal of Karna’s character and his behavior, I feel dinkar’s Rashmirathi has done a lot better portrayal and justice to his character.

The book is well written for all audience but a major drawback with the book is the sequence of incidents in out of order for the real Mahabharata story. For Indian readers who know a lot of Mahabharata stories as folklore & mythology are able to relate to the chapters which are placed individually, but for the foreign audience who are not aware of the story might find it difficult to relate to the correct order of the incidents.

Summary:
A very good book, a must read for non-fiction lovers. Not an fast read, this is a book which demands time and concentration while you read to actually catch the essence of the epic and the answers being derived from it.

Rating: 4.5/5

Being a Panelist

Love Life & All That Jazz

Love Life & All That Jazz


I would be on a panel for a book reading event of Love Life and All That Jazz. The event is being organized at the Landmark Book Store at Forum Mall in Koramangla, Bangalore on May 12, 2010 6:30 PM. I would like invite you for attending the event for interesting discussions and more insight on the books & the world around us. If you happen to be around or planning to visit the event, I would love to meet you in person.

Book Review: Love Life & All That Jazz

Author: Ahmed Faiyaz
Publisher: Sanbun Publishers
Price: 150/-

Love Life & All That Jazz (LLATJ) is another book by the new age Indian writers, and to join this club this time is Ahmed Faiyaz. LLATJ is a book which focuses on life of a group of friends and their transition from college kids to professional. Based in the landscape of Mumbai, Ahmed has picked up a tale which a lot of people would relate to of their college days, their close group of friends. It’s a story of strong friendships surviving and flourishing despite the turmoil in life.

The book starts the set-up with Tanveer, Sameer, Vicky, Tania, Naina and Tanaz as characters set up in the crossover from college to professional life. Ahmed has distinctively chosen all characters from a different religious, economical, social and professional backgrounds which actually makes the story of all six different and yet closely intertwined.

The book moves around as these characters progress in life as they move on in life to pursue their professional goals and in search for love, their personal equations with each other and their group dynamic goes for a toss. The plot is bound together on the solid foundation of trust and friendship between Sameer, Tanveer and Vicky.

The book is an easy and fast paced read, the story moves at speed where the reader remains interested as the plot keeps shifting between the lives of all the characters. Though Ahmed has not emphasized on the backdrops and landscapes much but one thing which he has managed surely well is despite his story is written as Tanveer being the central character, he has managed to maintain equal focus and interest in the other characters. The reader is engaged with all the characters and associates with the group of friends instead of a single character, which I believe is the winning point of this book.

Over all this is a simple breezy bollywood style story which ends on a positive note of happy ending or all is well. Characters find their calling in life, both professional and personal, ensures that reader leaves the book on a good and a happy note. This is a first book by Ahmed and seems promising compared to a lot of other new age Indian writers coming off the block. The book doesn’t try and accomplish some great literary feat but leaves you with a gooey warm feeling leaving you remembering your old friends and groups, might even tempt you to make a call to an old friend and relive those old days.

Summary- A nice breezy read which one can finish quickly, while enjoying the portrayal of the fabric of friendship and relationships in the modern Indian context.

Rating- 3.25 / 5

Book Review: May I Hebb Your Attention Pliss

Author: Arnab Ray (Greatbong)
Publisher: Harper Collins
Price: 199/-

MIHYAP

MIHYAP

Its recently a barrage of blooger turned authors, and one of the most prominent bloggers who came up with the a book is Great Bong. I was aware of his blog and was very skeptical about a book from him specially, knowing that I did not connect with his blog very well.

May I Hebb Your Attention Pliss, an odd title for a book by Arnab Ray, is a well researched, thought and worked book. It has been one of the best ones coming from the young generation of Indian authors. The book is more like a collection of essays facets on life of the generation which grew up in eighties and nineties in India. The book is a satirical reflection is what our so called contemporary YUPPIES have grown from. The realities of the world wrapped in satire.

The book takes any person who has lived that era in myriad of laughter and head nodding in agreement to the points made by Arnab. As an author, he has maintained a brilliant mix of humor and a focus on the issues faced/being faced by the contemporary society. His tongue in cheek style of humor goes a tad too well with the ironies of the Indian society.

The book at times, felt too much of a rant, especially if one tries to read it in a single sitting. Overall, what Arnab has done is identified the problems and posed them in humorous and sarcastic way to our own society. He doesn’t intends to give any solutions or his point of view through the book, but just illustrates how ironic and stupid is the world that we live in. And the best part of the books is you would be laughing and agreeing with him while reading the irony and the stupidity knowing well you were a part of it.

Summary: A must read for anyone who enjoys tongue in cheek humor.

Rating: 4.25 / 5

Book Review: Dork By Sidin Vadukut

Author: Sidin Vadukut
Publisher: Penguin Books India
Price: 199/-

Dork

Dork


Dork, basically is a book written taking a jibe on the consulting industry. It at a very primitive level showcases the disillusionment of the management graduates wrapped in the humor. It is the first book from the famous blogger and online editor of WSJ-LiveMint.

The book is primarily a tone of humor which is characteristically of Sidin, as in his blog. The read as an entire book and the plot is average, though the breezy humor in parts keeps you interested.

The setting of the book starts from the campus interview and moves to the world of consulting industry very soon. The main feature of the book, no doubt is the humor which at instances would keep you in splits. However, the book looses out majorly in connecting the protagonist with the audience. In an attempt to make it humorous Sidin has led the character of Robert Einstein Verghese so distant from the reality that as a reader you would not believe he can be for real.

This loss of connect, actually results in lack of engagement from the reader. You don’t tend to love the protagonist, or hate him (despite his stupidity). At most he leaves you irritated by his stupidity.

Though the book does depict shades of reality for the management graduates in the consulting industry, the exaggeration of the industry and the characters have been far away from reality. But one thing which stood out was absolutely fabulous promotion banner (Shared below) and the hilarious back cover and the words of praise on it. Typical Sidin humor at its best.
Dork Banner

Summary- Pick it up only for a breezy read during travel.

Rating- 2.5 /5

Book Review: More Salt Than Pepper by Karan Thapar

More Salt than Pepper - Karan Thapar
Author: Karan Thapar
Publisher: Harper Collins
Price: 399/-

I have subscribed to Times of India, The Hindu, Indian Express, and The Economic Times at different points in my life. Somehow The Hindustan Times never got any kind of favor from me, have to actually admit that I have almost never picked up HT ever in my life even casually. The options were always exercised for no apparent or conscious reason. The one thing this book did, was make me regret why I didn’t picked up HT on Sundays for past 12 years of my life.
The book is a compilation of selected articles by Karan Thapar written for the HT column called Sunday Sentiments. Not based on any theme or having an objective behind them, they just take you through a long journey through eyes of a journalist. His take on everything under the sun, starting from his early days as a journalist and sometimes as a student, to the recent times when he was an established TV anchor.
This is the kind of book which is a light and an enjoyable but still a serious read, as casual as a Sunday newspaper and as serious as a newspaper editorial. The articles, most of them are carefully selected to not only leave a good taste of thoughts in your mind, but also to make a chewy and thinkable read along with that. Individual articles are very enjoyable and engaging though the book doesn’t have a story, but Karan Thapar has organized his articles in the manner that they not only seem connected but also maintains a flow in the readers’ mind.
Karan Thapar, has had an elite and intellectual life, born in a diplomatic family and getting educated at Doon along with the India’s De-Facto first family’s children proceeding to further education has Cambridge. He also has contacts and experience with the bigwigs of politics and diplomacy and there have been multiple articles which report the experience and his views on things around him, giving a rich insight of his experiences.
Another interesting thing about the book is the articles written long time back, which one can judge how apt or appropriate his insights, analysis were at that time. With the benefit of hindsight a lot can be judged and one can simply laugh it over how big an issue was at a certain time and on the other hand sometime can learn how some assumptions are the biggest mistakes.
All in all, the entire book is a brilliant read, and also a collectable which one should make a part of their collection. The book captures the essence of India in a wide sense through very narrow collection of articles. Something you would like to pass on to children saying “Humara zamana kuch aisa tha”.

Summary: If you haven’t subscribed to HT and have not followed the Sunday Sentiments column this book is a must read.
Rating: 4.5/5

Book Review: The Professional by Subroto Bagchi

The Professional By Subroto Bagchi

The Professional By Subroto Bagchi


Author: Subroto Bagchi
Publisher: Penguin Portfolio
Price: 399/-

I generated a lot of respect for Subrto Bagchi, when I read High performance Entrepreneur as a writer in the realm of business and management. My respect for him increased manifolds after reading his story in Go, Kiss The World. Finally when I finished reading The Professional by him, he joined the place up there with the people I idolize, I aspire one day I can be in the same league as them. All this not because of what he has achieved, but the way he has achieved, it is more about the journey and the destination.
I would concentrate on “The Professional” here, the book is the percepts of how to be a perfect working professional. It is what, if I may call a bible for all working professionals people who would like to be professional in their conduct. Subroto Bagchi, has painstakingly illustrated the behavior, conduct and ethics of a professional.
In this world of falling moralities and flimsy loyalties, with likes of Satyam and Lehman rising from the dust and ending there itself, the conduct of a professional can be a grey area. What Bagchi illustrates is the mastering the art of being correct in spirit, not only in legalities. He writes the prescription for a strong and a moral work ethic still providing flexibilities to change organizations and switch loyalty. The examples he has quoted are relevant, inspiring and real life, motivating the professional on how he can follow the ethics and still be successful.
Though I am not sure how mature, the recruitment teams and the HR in the organizations are to value the kind of attitude Bagchi proposes in a professional. More difficult would be judging the professionals who actually live the attitude than mere glib who would try and speak their way to glory without actions. Bagchi, presents a correct and moral world pictures and also claims about the lengths he has gone to make sure these traits are identified and rewarded in his organization, but I have sincere doubts that these kind of model conduct would practically work in Non-Export areas, like government contractors, Builders, and many more agencies which thrive around the corruption in the government.
But still nevertheless, I would say it’s a brilliant book and a must read for all professionals. I would recommend it as a must read especially for the students of professional courses too, to understand the value and relevance of the perfect code of conduct for a professional.
Summary: A great read, very easy and free flowing in the content and message. Relevant, inspiring and still a light read. A must read for everyone.
Rating: 4.5 /5

Book Review: Zero Percentile Missed IIT Kissed Russia, Neeraj Chhibba

Zero percentile

Zero percentile



Author: Neeraj Chhibba
Publisher: Rupa
Price: 95/-

I happened to read the book Zero Percentile by Neeraj Chhiba, which is his first book as an author. The book is a part of flurry of Indian authors who have written about their experiences in Engineering, Medical, Journalism, and MBA. However, Zero Percentile belongs to the different league though belonging to the same genre.
Neeraj has told the tale of a guy who was destined to get into IIT, but eventually for some unfortunate reason couldn’t make it. The protagonist, Pankaj, then proceeds to find the answer to his education in an engineering course in Russia. The distinctiveness of the book lies in the longest part which was placed in Russia. The story is divided in three parts, first being the early phases of Pankaj’s life. Followed by the second, his engineering times in Russia, and the third and the final part being his love story in the foreign land.
The first part which is set up in Delhi features the initial story of the protagonist from his birth to development of a young JEE aspirant and his struggle to make it to the IIT and eventually not getting it. This part was my favorite part of the entire book, I read it like a breeze a probable reason for that might be that this one was very similar to my own experiences and I could relate to it far more than Russia or the love story in the last part. The way Neeraj, has portrayed the rise of JEE aspirant in a middle class Indian family is simply commendable and very realistic.
The second part of the book is also very well done and, for the author’s credit, is very well researched for someone writing a book for the first time. The description of life and struggle in Russia is very picturesque and detailed. The way of life and the variation in lifestyles from the communism to the capitalism and its impacts are very well covered through the eyes of a foreigner student, makes for a compelling read.
The final part was the one where Pankaj, finds the love of his life who is his Russian teacher and his dilemma to work it out in the last phases of his stay in Russia. The part primarily focuses on the love life and moves towards a happy ending where everyone is happy leaving a feel good feeling around.
The book is a typical masala read having all the elements of a bollywood movie. I would not be too surprised if Neeraj joins the ranks of Chetan Bhagat, who pioneered the masala reads around college life in India, by selling this one as a bollywood movie. The book is fairly well paced and doesn’t become a drag while reading. The story moves quickly omitting the unnecessary details and making sure to connect the character with the reader. One drawback of the book I felt was, that the climax was wrapped up too soon. The love story, going back to India, setting everything right and a place to close story deserved more attention and detail for the story that was being told.
Summary: For a first time writer, a very good attempt to a book and every bit worthy of the praise. I would recommend this to anyone willing to pick up a light read, and more to anyone who has struggled hard and would relate to the pains of going through the JEE exam.
Rating: 3.5/5

The author is also a seasoned blogger and you can read more about the author here.

Book Review: The Sculptor And The Sandman By Sandeep Gautam

The Sculptor & The Sandman

The Sculptor & The Sandman

Author: Sandeep Gautam
Publisher: Lulu
Price: $10.80 for Print, $2.5 for downloads.
Can be directly ordered through Sandeep @ Rs. 300/-

One of my favorite genre of books is philosophical fiction, and the latest in the genre I read “The Sculptor and The Sandman” by Sandeep Gautam.
The book was a different experience all together; it was a mixture of different components that formed the backbone of the book. The strong and relevant philosophy is loosely intertwined with a story set on the Dwarka beach between a coconut vendor, a sculptor and a sandman. The best thing about the book is that it opens up a multiple stream of thought and gives you enough space for imagination to ponder over.
I focused on three philosophical thought lines pursued by the author, first being the contrasting economics with the blind passion of an artist. The age old battle between the creativity and the economics of it with the stark contrast of the two, done beautifully by the author with Sculptor and his economics and market dynamics vis-à-vis sandman struggling hard to find sanity amidst his Roark like talent.
The Second line being the politics & vested interests that the author highlights by creating a closed net amidst the characters with mutual benefits, self interest leaving the passionate Sandman out. The guilt associated with the pursuing the material benefits subduing the greater principles and ethics, has been also accounted and portrayed to root the philosophy with the real world.
The third line subtly touches that how destiny makes it equal and fair in a long run. Though not in the way one would have expected to it, the justice from the destiny is rather highlighted in a way which is more like on your face approach towards writing making the reader realize the irony caste by the destiny and how fate is a key factor determining the results of life’s contests.
Though the strands of philosophy are beautifully mixed, the book leaves the reader incomplete in two areas. The characters in the story fail to connect with the reader, like may be the seagull does. The reader fails to understand the motives which are driving the philosophy.
Secondly the though the author has picked up some areas which touch the chord with the reader philosophically but still the lack of emphasis on outlining the details to the reader and connecting the story to the real world situations. The overall relevance of a real world dynamics omnipresent in the first half of the book, but somehow as the philosophical angle begins to delve deeper, the connect between the eludes the reader.
Summary- A very decent book to read if you enjoy reading the Philosophy & fiction genre. Not a long drawn time consuming marathon read, but a quickie philosophical bite with some good insights. Given this being the first from the author the book has fresh and a different perspective but lacks the finesse of the seasoned writers of the genre. The one drawback of the book or publisher I felt is the book is very steeply priced especially in the light that the bestsellers in the same genre like Bach’s Jonathan Living Stone Seagull are priced way lower.

Rating: 2.25/5 (Pick if you like the Genre)

Ps. Sandeep Gautam, the author for this book is also an avid blogger on cognitive and developmental psychology. You can read his insights here.