Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Book Review: One Indian Girl

It is a typical Chetan Bhagat novel – from the viewpoint of a female protagonist. I frankly never understood why people hate Bhagat so much. I felt this book was a light read with a few 'feminist' concepts discussed – career-oriented women, career vs. motherhood, etc. It takes you through NYC, Hong Kong & London with a fair bit of Goa thrown in. It does seem like a movie script but I still felt it is better than most movies these days. This book apparently broke all pre-booking records on Amazon thus reaffirming Bhagat's popularity!

The book's blurb states, “Hi, I am Radhika Mehta and I am getting married this week. I work at Goldman Sachs, an investment bank. Thank you for reading my story. However, let me warn you. You may not like me too much. One, I make a lot of money. Two, I have an opinion on everything. Three, I have had a boyfriend before. Okay, maybe two. Now if I was a guy, you would be okay with all of this. But since I am a girl, these three things don't really make me too likeable, do they?”

It's a story about Radhika and her professional & personal life. She's an ambitious woman who will not stop anything to advance in her career and she's also willing to commit herself to somebody & give the relationship her all. The book is a fast-paced, breezy read with quite a few interesting food for thought. Sample this: Radhika's character thinks to herself, “Why do we need our men to praise and validate us in order for us to feel accomplished?” That's quite true, right? By the way, Radhika keeps talking to herself in her mind throughout the book [I guess so do most of us].

Some thoughts that stuck with me while reading the book – she says sorry to a guy for 'snapping' at him – I wonder how many men would say sorry to a woman for 'snapping'? That's an intrinsically feminine thing, I guess. The book also deals with women's insecurities and asks if women can take compliments. It also talks about a world that has been designed by men where women cannot even rejig office timings, as they want to fly while also have a nest at the same time.

Bhagat also highlights how men mostly seem to have the upper hand in a relationship; when a woman exerts authority/control, she's made to feel guilty & bad about it. Bhagat is qualified to write about women's careers considering he gave up a full-time job more than 10 years ago and is a proud house-husband taking care of his twin sons while his wife works full-time.

There are a whole lot of restaurants that feature in the book including in NYC Harry's Cafe & Steak, Nerai, Whiskey Blue and Dishoom in London.

I am rating this book 3 out of 5 – it's not one of Bhagat's better books (like Five Point Someone or Two States) but it's definitely not as bad as his critics are making it out to be.

I was given a review copy of this book by Rupa Publications in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: My Gita

I have been a big fan of Devdutt Pattanaik's writing and so when My Gita was published, I naturally had to read it. However, the book kind of disappointed me.

The book's blurb states, “In My Gita, acclaimed mythologist Devdutt Pattanaik demystifies the Bhagavad Gita for the contemporary reader. His unique approach – thematic rather than verse-by-verse – makes the ancient treatise eminently accessible, combined as it is with his trademark illustrations and simple diagrams. In a world that seems spellbound by argument over dialogue, vi-vaad over sam-vaad, Devdutt highlights how Krishna nudges Arjuna to understand rather than judge his relationships. This becomes relevant today when we are increasingly indulging and isolating the self (self-improvement, self-actualization, self-realization – even selfies!) We forget that we live in an ecosystem of others, where we can nourish each other with food, love and meaning, even when we fight. So let My Gita inform your Gita.” [The highlight is my emphasis].

The book is divided into 18 chapters with a brief history and introduction of The Gita. I enjoyed reading the introduction more than I did the actual chapters. This talks about the approaches to Hindu history through eight phases – Indus, Vedic, Upanishadic, Buddhist, Puranic, Bhakti, Orientalist and Modern. After this, it mentions the various readings and interpretations of The Gita wherein the first wave involved Sanskrit bhasyas by Vedanta scholars. The second wave involved retellings in regional languages – Devdutt mentions the Gyaneshwara here (which was in the 13th century) as also Dasopant Digambara and Tukaram (in the 17th century). The third wave was translations by Europeans, the fourth wave involved retranslations by Indian nationalists. This was followed by the fifth wave which involved reframing following the end of the two World Wars.

I loved the bits about Karna (I have been besotted with him since The Palace Of Illusions). Karna's circumstances made him an outsider though technically he was an insider. While narrating Karna's story about previous lives, Devdutt chooses to remind us that our story is part of a grand jigsaw puzzle, we are part of a larger narrative.

Throughout each of the chapters, there are several verses mentioned in a paraphrased form which are then elaborated upon by the author. Some of them make interesting reading, some, I felt, were too stretched and made no sense to the theme of the book. Each chapter ends with a small gist. There are, of course, several illustrations throughout the book which seek to take the explanation forward.

The book ends with yet another discourse by Krishna after the conclusion of the Bhagavad Gita. Devdutt says that the yearning for perfection stems from the desire to control and organize the world to our taste, to create a cocoon where everything makes sense to us. The Gita does not aspire for perfection.

To sum up, the book does give an insight into Krishna's discourse to Arjuna before the war. But it also digresses a bit into unrelated topics. I did not enjoy it as much as I enjoyed Jaya (a retelling of the Mahabharata). I am rating it 3 out of 5.

I was given a review copy of this book by Rupa Publications in exchange for an honest review.