10 December 2014

Ajaya Book 1: Roll of the Dice, by Anand Neelakantan

When I got Book 1 of Ajaya from Leadstart for the review (thank you for that!), I thought it would take me forever to sit through the book. But no, I finished it one fine Saturday.

I am not too keen usually about books laced with religion, songs and pages of praise as dialogues. Especially most of them on Ramayana or Mahabharatha. I'm also not keen about books that change the storylines of epics to present alternate points of view.

This book is none of that. This one is different.

Anand Neelakantan manages to take all the superhuman, illogical & divine elements out of the storyline without affecting the storyline much, leaving us with the crux of the story. In Mahabharatha's case, that includes the strategic moves and dreams of the various players in the kingdom, and what they do about it.

The first book focuses more on the the Caste system of the time than anything else - and naturally, the main players in the scene are Duryodhana (Suyodhana, the author calls him - and there's a line of research that claims it was his actual name), Arjuna, Parashurama, Krishna, Shakuni, Vidhura, Bhishma, Jara and the Nagas, apart from two of the most inspirational stories from the epic - that of Ekalavya the talented and Karna, the King of Anga.

The storyline for Book:1 extends from the time the Kuru princes are children up until Shakuni's fateful dice game that more or less confirms the great war. The basic storyline doesn't really require any reviews, least of all from me. It's an epic that has stood the test of time, with its characters idolised in temples and pagodas across South & East Asia. That includes Duryodhana and Anand's work tries to explain the good in him and how even the best of men can err.

For he truly was, as has been my stand for quite some time now - despite his flaws. History has always belonged to the winners and the losers are demonized, deservedly or otherwise. What the Mahabharatha explains to the world is that conflicts are rarely between good and evil. They are always between two sides who wholeheartedly believe that they are on the right side. What the Mahabharatha has managed to spin off as a result is the endless number of interpretations of the various events in the story.

Anand presents the case of Duryodhana, his main character, and goes on to make him the 'hero'. As one cannot become the hero without there being a villain, the Pandavas and their supporters bear the brunt of being casteist. Book 2 and so on could present their side too, though I find it improbable that it is going to happen through the eyes of Duryodhana. The primary antagonist of the Mahabharatha is the hero who believes in righteousness, dislikes discrimination and fights for equality with whatever power he gains. To make him relate-able, the author has made him one of us, reacting to events rather than causing any of them. For example, Bhishma sends the Pandavas to Vanavrata here, not Duryodhana. Shakuni controls Purochana's building of the House of Lac here with no involvement of any Kauravas, because that would make them look bad.

I see how these are necessary deviations if the character needs to be portrayed as a hero, but did he have to be such a complete hero? I guess not. Readers can still relate to & root for someone less than a faultless hero. Only Karna has deserved that status across all interpretations of the epic, I think.

Anand has managed to win hearts with this interpretation, if the reviews I see are anything to go by. I believe he's done a fantastic job with this book overall, and he's managed to make Ajaya a better hero than Arjuna without deviating much from the original storyline, which is the major achievement for me.

And he's done this without pissing anyone off (surprising, given the portrayal of Krishna). That's quite something too.

Have you read it yet? I'm off to rate this on Goodreads now.

22 September 2014

Reviving #3

It's been a very long time since I wrote anything here. So yea, Hi. How have you been?

Ever since I started working on the Immortal Game series, I stopped writing elsewhere - on football, music or anything else.

This is just an update-type-post, really.

I'm kinda done with the first book of the series now. Does it matter if I send it out to Publishers or not? I am personally not too happy with the output, so I might end up burying the book instead of getting shot down. I have sent a crude version out to a couple of them though.

Whatever, I am going to start writing normal stuff again. Here, that is.

Thinking of (re)starting with "#TheLaymanMusicReview", talking about AR Rahman's recent albums. Or maybe I will write about my experiences with quitting my last job, picking up my new one or the incredibly stress free hours I spent writing. Or maybe about the stress and the worries and the pizzas and the reducing account balance that dominated my non-writing hours.

If you want to figure out if you're a good writer, you should write a book. Articles and fun posts can only tell you so much about yourself.

Haven't told anyone yet, but I just started working on another (possibly) short story today - and no, it's not about either humour or madness. It's mostly a tribute of sorts to two of my favourite authors, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Dame Agatha Christie. Will probably publish it here if it doesn't get much bigger than a short story.

I have started rambling about mobile games as well. I'll post on twitter when my first post gets published.

One pain point is that there is no money in any of this. #Sucks #SourceOfAllStress

In the short term, I'll probably listen to 'I' this week and talk about it here. Do you want to do this together? Let me know.

What do I do for work, you ask? That could be another post, but all you seven readers already know about it, don't you?

27 March 2014

Stop Acid Attacks.

This friend of mine, Ganapathy Premkumar is riding his bicycle down from Bombay to Bangalore to raise awareness about the everyday issues of acid attack survivors. He's also trying to raise some funds for the NGOs working for them.

How bad is an acid attack, really?

Till I was 20 or so (despite clearing chemistry papers at school), I used to think that acid just damages someone's skin. That's the part of a survivor that is visible to us. I thought that the aim of an acid attack is to damage a person's looks because that's all it affects. It was something spurned ex-es and rejected villains did in the movies.

In reality though, skin damage is the least of the person's problems. It marks them permanently and possibly destroys the self confidence in weaker individuals, yes, but there are worse consequences. Acid attacks bore through the skin and affect the internal systems (respiratory, visual, auditory, digestive etc) based on what part of the person the acid was thrown at. The acid doesn't vanish once it damages the skin. It eats right through the person based on the strength / quantity.

So many women have died after short and long battles to survive an attack. So many others are fighting for their lives everyday. Homes have been uprooted and lives have been destroyed - and why? Domestic violence and spurned love are still the top reasons men resort to an attack. Read extensive details about the current scenario in our country at StopAcidAttacks and Chhanv.

I'd like to believe that not all the kids and the youth who go to this place where they think an acid attack is necessary to prove a point are psychopaths. I think some of them don't realise that they're ending someone's life. Awareness of the consequences of their actions is so essential to stopping the madness out there but is sadly not getting the push it deserves - and this is not just among the illiterate masses.

Before going any further, check out what StopAcidAttacks has to say about what can improve the situation in India.

The best thing you could do is donate to the above NGOs, through the link or through their sites. I'm not exactly sure how riding a bicycle helps, but it has certainly given me (and his other friends) this push to write about it or talk about it - and for this, I thank Ganapathy.

The next best thing you could do is to spread the news of the FB page & the donation link among your friends. The absolutely terrible odds & demons that the survivors / fighters face in life on a daily basis are overwhelming. The least we could do is make everyone aware of all the consequences of such an attack.

I don't know about you but I can never be as strong as these survivors. True fighters. I salute them all.

21 January 2014

Have you heard this before?

So, I recently saw this video and felt it must be shared as much as possible. Some genius at work, this.

When I share this, instead of looking at what can be done with the relics of Technology, people start wondering if the Imperial March is 'really that simple'.

For you lot, I present this.

Didn't listen to it on Headphones? Tsk Tsk.

05 January 2014

Charles Bukowski on writing

As I am fretting over why I don't seem to be writing all the time, I was looking up how actual writers write. Accidentally, I chanced upon someone sharing a note on Charles Bukowski where I saw this.

I never type in the morning. I don’t get up in the morning. I drink at night. I try to stay in bed until twelve o’clock, that’s noon. Usually, if I have to get up earlier, I don’t feel good all day. I look, if it says twelve, then I get up and my day begins. I eat something, and then I usually run right up to the race track after I wake up. I bet the horses, then I come back and Linda cooks something and we talk awhile, we eat, and we have a few drinks, and then I go upstairs with a couple of bottles and I type — starting around nine-thirty and going until one-thirty, to, two-thirty at night. And that’s it.
- Charles Bukowski

I feel better already, though it's Chocolate or Chips instead of bottles and Candy Crush and Clash of Clans instead of horse races.

I also landed on this awesome work.

don’t be like so many writers,
don’t be like so many thousands of
people who call themselves writers,
don’t be dull and boring and
pretentious, don’t be consumed with self-
the libraries of the world have
yawned themselves to
over your kind.
don’t add to that.
don’t do it.
unless it comes out of
your soul like a rocket,
unless being still would
drive you to madness or
suicide or murder,
don’t do it.
unless the sun inside you is
burning your gut,
don’t do it.
when it is truly time,
and if you have been chosen,
it will do it by
itself and it will keep on doing it
until you die or it dies in you.
there is no other way.
and there never was."
- Charles Bukowski, From "So you want to be a writer".

True Story.