Book Review — A Girl, A Stolen Camera and A Borrowed Bike by Nikhil Singh Shaurya

Nikhil Singh Shaurya’s debut novella, A Girl, A Stolen Camera and A Borrowed Bike tells the story of Sonali who, upon stumbling across some photos captured by an unknown man, realizes that traveling is her true calling. She jumps at the chance to leave her mundane life behind, and dons the skin of a wanderer, moving from place to place without any planning in advance. As her journeys allow her to view life from renewed perspectives, she gets closer to learning about the man whose passion and creative output altered her life so drastically.

Image Courtesy – Goodreads

This book would’ve had so much more of an impact if it hadn’t been this short. With just around 80 pages, I felt that the potential of the theme was at a disadvantage. It was really interesting to read about Sonali’s sojourns, but I wished that the author had elaborated on the events to give us a satisfactory understanding of the story. There’s a section in one of the pages where Sonali lists out all the new experiences she’s had ever since she embarked on this journey – I would’ve LOVED to read about those in detail.

The writing style is simple and innately Indian. There aren’t a lot of complicated words used. However, the editing of this book wasn’t up to the mark and that, sort of disrupted my reading experience. I wasn’t a fan of any of the characters or their decision making capabilities. Sonali herself doesn’t make for a very reliable protagonist. We’re introduced to atleast 3-4 male characters, all of whom take on the role of being her love interests.  On the whole, it was an okay read. There were quite a few aspects of the book that I didn’t really like. If you’ve read it and enjoyed it, let me know your thoughts?

Rating – 2 out of 5 stars

What do you get out of it? A rushed, brief account of a woman who finds meaning in life through her extensive travels.

Thank you Nikhil Singh Shaurya for sending me a copy of your book in exchange of an honest review.

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Why I Would Move to Bangkok at a Moment’s Notice.

Recently, I had the good fortune of traveling to Thailand. It was a long due family trip and we tried to make the best of our 7 days in Thailand by visiting Bangkok and Phuket. Now, the two couldn’t be more different from the other. The former is a city paradise and the latter is a mountainous getaway island. Both, however, offer a great many things to do. I’m more of a city girl, enjoying the fast paced life. Brooklyn, Seoul and Bangkok are the places my dreams are made of. So, when we landed in Bangkok for our three-ish day sojourn, I was totally mesmerized. It’s seamless merging of the high and low life reminded you of what’s most important in life – experiences. You’d see some of the most expensive boutiques and restaurants interspersed on a lane that offers fantastic street food and light on the wallet shops.

A still of infrastructure on Thong Lor road in Bangkok. (c) 2017 Meera Nair

The crowd and cleanliness of a place is always in question when it comes to a metropolitan city. Bangkok is not as crowded as some other major cities, but at any given time, you will find a decent amount of people on the road and in the eateries. They may be leisurely strolling on the well maintained pavements or cruising the city on sleek/ worn out automobiles. You’ll find a good mixture of attractive two wheelers as well as cars. The locals are very polite and respectable. Some of them tend to get very chatty and it makes you feel like they are super welcoming towards foreigners. Bowing and joining hands in appreciation are finely ingrained into their culture. I’ve lived in a couple of different places during the course of my life so far, but I must say, Bangkok is spick and span! There’s no litter everywhere and the place definitely scores a lot of hygiene points.

Their clothing style is in keeping with trends, but also perfectly comfortable. You’ll see a lot of halters and dresses, in addition to elegant palazzos. Another thing I really like about Bangkok is that people enjoy the freedom to wear whatever outfit they want to; nobody really stares or makes you feel uncomfortable. I packed light and so most of my tops had spaghetti straps and a majority of the bottom wear were shorts – something I wouldn’t do in India very often. Bangkok has malls as well as sites of historic preservation. It’s culture shines through these temples and old ruins, wherein you’ll find information pertaining to the country’s past. If you do visit any such places of worship, make sure that your attire is respectful.

The Grand Palace in all its glory. (c) 2017 Meera Nair

Thai cuisine can be extremely spicy or even sweet sometimes. But most importantly, the aroma that wafts from Thai rice is simply irresistible. Rice and noodles are integral components of their diet. That being said, in every dish you’ll find an assortment of vegetables and meat (for those who enjoy non-vegetarian food). I found their portions to be much larger than what my appetite could handle, but that’s no problem. Tod Mun Goong is a Thai shrimp cake dish accompanied by a fantastic serving of palm sauce. I’m definitely going to try to recreate that sauce. Here’s a travel tip – Visit one of the department stores and pick up some different snacks. You’ll get to know what works in the city.

Pad Thai with prawns. (c) 2017 Meera Nair

Two of my only concerns about staying in Bangkok are language barrier and cost of living. Provisions and clothes aren’t expensive at all; you can buy good looking outfits and all the grocery you may ever need for very little Baht (Thai currency). But the real estate business is sky high. Buying or renting a place in Bangkok won’t be easy. Moreover, we encountered great difficulty in communicating our needs to some of the service providers like taxi drivers and hotel staff. It’s entirely too arrogant to expect that the people of a different country would speak English. English is not their language. So, the next time I go to Bangkok, I’ll be sure to learn the basics of their language beforehand. It also gives them (the locals) a sense of joy because you’re making an effort.

If you’re planning a trip there, don’t rush it. Enjoy a good week or so, because there’s plenty to do. I loved everything that the city had to offer and would be ecstatic to make it my home someday. But until then, my memories of the trip will hold me aloft.

Book Review — Colorful Notions by Mohit Goyal

Thank you Writers Melon for a copy of this book for review 🙂

Image courtesy – Goodreads

Mohit Goyal’s Colorful Notions brings together the essence of roadtrips, the cultural delights of India and the lives of three twenty year olds in this hearty novel. Abhay, Sashank and Unnati, hailing from Delhi, decide to embark on a sojourn that will test not only their physical and mental strengths, but also their perception of life. A meticulously planned trip unravels to show them how wonderfully surprising life can be, as they experience the greatest thrills, griefs and self-awareness that they have ever come to terms with. Each carry their own baggage, ready to learn something new from this drastic change of scene.

As intriguing as the synopsis is, the novel is in fact far more captivating. A roadtrip with India as the backdrop is something I’ve never read before and so I was pleasantly surprised how so many destinations could be covered in the matter of few pages, yet not diluting the experience for the reader. The characterization of the protagonist is so strong that after a point of time, you begin to get fully absorbed into the accounts. That being said, I didn’t like Abhay’s character very much. He is the quintessential antihero. Whereas Sashank and Unnati had decent character arcs, which involved a lot of bickering and patching up.

Much like many other novels, there were cliches in the plot. Like that of the rich brat, the duff, love triangle, stereotypical representations of a community etc. While I didn’t like these elements a lot, the key focus being the roadtrip was encapsulated well. The trip, here, qualifies as a harbinger of change. And I quite liked that analogy – of having them challenge their comforts only to get more attuned with themselves. One other thing that irked me a bit is how easily they were roped in by a production house. That part was not as believable as it could have been made. All in all, it is a fun book, definitely worth your time, for it also contributes factually to your knowledge about India. There were aspects that weren’t great, and some which were done well.

Ratings – 3.5 stars on 5

Meera

Whence we come, to it we shall return.

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Aapnu Amdavad

It is true. We create a thousand Horcruxes in a lifetime.

Bits of ourselves go to sleep in these Horcruxes, until we reach for them. Until we are ready to absorb them again. My trip to Ahmedabad was something of revisiting a Horcrux I had left there. Multiple Horcruxes, if you will. The strange and unsettling (even overwhelming) part of it is that I met all these lovely, homely people who seemed to remember versions of me I couldn’t bring to mind. And I wanted so much to be able to recall my time there. I wanted so much to be a part of that tight knit community again. I had moved on, changed indefinitely. But these people still hold onto age old antics of mine, like clouds clinging onto the hilltops.

The places that I’d once frequented were so unbelievably different that I couldn’t picture myself amidst them. But then a familiar board or a rundown building would appear to remind me of instances that were so integral to my childhood there. As I have been told countless times, the climate is stifling. Now, I don’t much prefer the heat. My favourite weather is anything but summer. And despite that, I found myself wanting to go back. To be the girl, who had left 15 years ago. To make a home of the place I’d been born in.

Going to Adalaj Ni Vav was like stepping into another world. Not only is the road leading to it so absolutely mesmerizing but the carvings in the step well are magical! The writer in me wished I had a notepad and pen, to sit and write of the wonders I beheld. Another highlight of the trip was reconnecting with family friends who are so genuinely welcoming. They spoke of times when my parents were young, of times when life’s simplicity offered the greatest joy. Sitting with them, immersed in all their smiles and recollections, I couldn’t have been more thankful to Ahmedabad.

Our meals comprised of all the delicacies I’d urge my mom to make often. To say nothing of the Thalis and Chaat outlets, would be to paint an incomplete portrait of the bustling city that is Ahmedabad. A city where folks have come to a mutual agreement to sort out their traffic troubles. A city where cliques of cows have as much a license to be on the road, as the rest of us. A city where the youth have taken to enjoying the night life their own way.

If there’s a place I’d want to call home, it is this. It is this.

– Meera

Book Review — Paper Towns by John Green

Thank you Bloomsbury India for sending me a copy of this book for review 🙂 

Paper Towns starts off as your typical high school story, complete with parties and prom, dating troubles and unrequited love. Quentin Jacobsen has always loved Margo Roth Spiegelman, his childhood friend who grew distant after high school politics got in the way. And so when she appears out of nowhere at Quentin’s window, demanding that he help her carry out an all night revenge plan, he complies. Unfortunately for Quentin, he gets his hopes up, beginning to wonder if they will finally become the friends they were meant to be. However, the next day presents a varied truth. Margo has not only gone missing, but she’s left behind clues with which to be found. As Quentin and his friends embark on a speedy road trip, they begin to wonder if they had ever really known Margo at all.

Image courtesy – Goodreads.

Having read a book by John Green before, I was certain I would enjoy this one. But I hadn’t expected to absolutely love it. Not even three-fourth into it, did I think it would be a book worth reading again. But here’s where John Green’s writing bolsters the story. The last few chapters become so much more than a high school story. The philosophy behind it all is sure to reach out to anyone, as we are all merely trying to find our place in this world. Interspersed with several Whitman quotes and references to other literary figures’ works (which I loved reading), Paper Towns shows us that paper (two dimensional) people and paper places have a life of their own. The moment something is put down on paper it is infused with some of the creator’s soul. The idea behind the paper towns reminded me of Wislawa Szymborska’s poem, The Joy of Writing – “Why does this written doe bound through these written woods?” In keeping with this idea, Margo becomes one with her writing. Her escapades enact her, rather than the other way around.

For a majority of time, I disliked the character of Margo Spiegelman. She appeared to be insensitive to Quentin’s feelings, was rather self centered and attention seeking. And throughout their road trip, I kept wondering why they didn’t turn around. Why were all these people incessantly looking for a person who didn’t want to be found? But you come to understand, as did Quentin, Margo’s perspective towards the end. While it isn’t ideal, it is understandable. While road trips are all fun and games, it does test your strengths. This scavenger hunt of sorts definitely increased the appeal of road trips for me. Quentin, Ben and Radar’s friendship was one of the highlights of the book. They are the kind of friends who would set aside even the most important of matters when the other needs them. I wished Margo could have better understood Lacey. They could have been fast friends too, after everything Lacey did for her. There’s enough humor in the book to crack you up occasionally. It was a splendid story, one that I will read again. I recommend it to all those who haven’t read it yet.

Ratings – 5 stars on 5.

Meera

Book Review — Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino

Italo Calvino enthralls his audience by spinning vivid descriptions of “invisible” cities. He uses the medium of culture, narration and imagination to convey the conversations between Marco Polo and Kublai Khan. Kublai Khan being the mighty emperor demands that Marco Polo account his journeys around the world. What transpires after, is a treat to one’s mind. For Marco Polo speaks of Cities & Desires, Hidden Cities, Cities of the Dead and various such notions, categorically emphasizing the key aspects of different cities he has been to.

I wanted to like this book so much so that I re-read the first few pages over again. Its beautifully written, no doubt. The various cities he names capture your attention and move you to think about the similarities they possess. Many of the cities were magical and several others had a dystopian feel to them. But what didn’t sit well with me is the direction of the narration. Clearly these cities he described were only in his imagination or seemingly gathered from the other places he had been to. Talking about such non-existent cities didn’t serve any obvious purpose. I think I tried too hard to find meaning where there was none or maybe my interpretations were all awry. But I just didn’t get this book. I got the cities, individually, understood what they represented. But were they just for holding Kublai Khan’s attention? Having read chapters of other fictional books, that had a clear cut beginning and end, I found it difficult to process this one. The writing style is different, the form of the book is unique. They are sectioned as Cities & Memory, Cities & Desire etc. The distinction is clear too but for what aim? Was he just pitting different ideas against each other to see how Khan would react? I had more questions than should be, towards the end of the book. Loose threads that didn’t get tied. Perhaps I ought to read up more on the context of this book before I give it another try. Which I am determined to do as almost everyone else has given this book a 5 star rating. I suggest you try it, because its very different from what is usually written.

Ratings – 2 stars on 5.

Meera

 

Book Review — Around The World in 80 Days by Jules Verne

Phileas Fogg is an extraordinary man. He is rarely daunted by the potholes in his way and equipped with a steadfast determination, attains what he so wishes. During a game of whist, a casual conversation turns to a challenge which sends Mr. Fogg on an adventure around the world within eighty days. Needless to say, his carefully planned trip doesn’t come to pass without trouble. A grave misunderstanding and treacherous weathers question the probability of him winning the wager. Around The World in Eighty Days is a quick, delightful read of Mr. Fogg and his companion’s experiences in changing regions and clime.

There appears to be many editions of this text, and I happened to pick a short abridged version. Usually I wouldn’t read abridged versions of classics but keeping in mind, the plot of this novel, I feel that the 120 paged edition was more appropriate and not draggy. It is fun enough that you are constantly wondering if Mr. Fogg’s overconfidence would cost him dearly. Afterall twenty thousand pounds for a bet is far too much. The protagonist is shown to be extremely stiff, lacking the expression of basic emotions which make us human. He seems not only detached from his surroundings but also very mechanical in his mien. Along the way, he makes certain acquaintances who stick with him till the end. Its a wonder how they dealt with his personality. His relationship with one such acquaintance, his counterpart to be precise, sounded flaky, perhaps because of the absence of any history or sound reason. Passepartout, his servant, is a fickle character, who only comes to his senses towards the end. There are a few cultural references (of India) that I found easier to understand. The end was fitting to some extent, not very apparent/obvious hence a good way to wrap up the text. The writing too was good, characteristic of classics. I enjoyed it but didn’t absolutely love it. Will definitely try something else by Jules Verne.

Ratings – 3 stars on 5.

Meera