Married to Mumbai


Review of Tikli and Laxmi Bomb – to Hell with Patriarchy; Aditya Kriplani; Rs 195; pp 165

– Shana Susan Ninan

Old Monk is a character as much as the two women, Putul and Laxmi. This book, which follows the two women’s lives and their trial at a sex workers’ system by/for/of the women, is a one-sitting read. Aditya has hit the mark, and his film script like writing keeps you turning the pages. Each time either of them hit the bottle before they go to bed or when they feel down in the dumps, the reader would definitely feel the liquid burning his or her throat. Aditya writes with such ferocity that you won’t even have a minute to wander off from the story.

This is his third book, and all three of them have strong women protagonists. In fact, he wishes for a world ruled by women. Yay to that! This particular story is set in Mumbai again, and follows Putul and Laxmi as they fight patriarchy within the sex workers’ community. The belong to a network run by men, pleasuring men and boys, living out their bodies and minds for them, and all the way, succumbing to atrocities meted out by the authorities themselves. Sex workers have no say in what happens to them; they’re mere puppets in the hands of the various men that control them at every stage.

Putul, a.k.a. Tikli, is a smart-alecky, wise-ass young girl, with fire in her heart and tongue. Though she’s thin and short, and all things cute, you don’t wanna mess with her. She hates the system she’s working from, and longs for one where women benefit. Laxmi is a 40-year-old veteran in this industry and practically lives by herself, is feared by even the local pimp Mhatre, and the cops, and is generally aloof.

They don’t back out even when faced with brutal physical violence from all sides. In fact, that spurs their movement – more young girls from all over the city join their group. With hard work and caution, they inch forward. And, much to the chagrin of Mhatre and his cronies, the women turn out to be a power to reckon with. Even a car full of goondas with sticks in hand couldn’t stop them.

Two poignant, and often deeply sad, motifs that run through the narrative are Laxmi’s escapades into the city in an auto, with her face in the wind, taking in the freedom and the fun, and the melancholic songs that she pens, and sometimes sings, in honour of the Mumba Devi. The city itself is a metaphor of an oft-abused woman, but one that stands up high in the midst of all the storms she’s gotta face.

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Rating: 8.6/10 (7 votes cast)

Surviving, and How!

when I fell in love with life

Review of When I Fell in Love with Life; Geetha Paniker; Partridge 2015; pp 214

– Shana Susan Ninan

The blurb said, an anthology of writings from a cancer survivor whose therapeutic writing will guide, inspire, and heal your soul. And, the author is absolutely right. The prose and poems are a delight – you’ll probably read it in one go. I did. And the journey has been great.

Only a truly positive person will be able to find the CAN in cancer, and Geetha Paniker’s, When I Fell In Love with Life is a testament of that. The light purple-grey colour scheme of the cover and the sea/crab-related photo is a reminder as well. Her doubts, her beliefs, her philosophies… all are covered in the book. And it’s poignantly titled, each part, each journey, and leads us right into the core of her works.

Trips to Yercaud and Mysore, and other places, visits to natural spots, and of course, radiation therapies and hospital stays. Some of the pieces are very clinically written while others are emotional and tugs at your heart strings. I’m sure most of us have at least one friend or family member who’s had cancer, and Geetha’s writings are applicable to all our lives. She’s someone who’s strong enough to call pain, ‘beautiful’. This book isn’t just for survivors of terminal illnesses, but for each one of us.

The only glitch that mars the reading is the initial piece of prose that accompanies poems. I feel poems printed on their own would have been more powerful. The text before it takes away some of the punch of poetry. The shortness of life is well-captured in the terse lines.

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Rating: 7.3/10 (4 votes cast)

A Sub-Collector’s Life

The View From Kollam

Review of The View From Kollam: A Day in the Life of a Sub-collector; C. Balagopal; Harper Collins; Rs 275; pp 176

– Shana Susan Ninan

The cover of Balagopal’s A View From Kollam: A Day in the Life of a Sub-collector is absolutely delightful. A water colour and pen rendering of the official building, most likely. It is light and inviting. The book itself, though, is another matter. It strongly worded and very, very straight-forward. It is written in succinct chapters, all relating to his days at work, his peers, subordinates and bosses, and life in a small town. He constantly compares and contrasts the positions he’s held in Kerala and Manipur, as well as how the two states differ in governance matters.

Is it coincidence or what that I know another Balagopal, who’s quite like this writer? The one I know is a Lecturer in a University, wears white dhoti and starched white shirt, frowns upon people who throw waste on the roadside, ones who are late to class and generally anyone flouting the rules.

Eighteen real-life anecdotes give readers a peek into the nitty-gritty of governance because the author believes that our favourite reads have powerful characters based on real people and plots grounded in reality. Balagopal writes about efficient government officers who cut through red tape and legalese to help people and also how it is people and not the system that can bring about positive changes.

Governance and politics rule the lives of a majority of people in Kerala, directly and indirectly. And Balagopal has given life to those stories in an interesting way. His own spiced anecdotes and stories of frustration at the slow-moving-Government-wheel adds to the tone of the tales.

He states that corrupt and apathetic administrators ruin the governmental process and cause roadblocks along the way. And not much has changed since.

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Rating: 7.5/10 (4 votes cast)

Lessons from an MBA Life

Book cover Google

Review of MayBe This OR mAybe That – 37 Things we didn’t learn in B – schools; Abhaidev; Pebbls Publishing House 2015; Rs 150; pp 96

– Shana Susan Ninan

The book came as a surprise for me – not just because it is in Q & A mode, but also for the simplicity of the language. It deals with the everyday questions that most college-educated youngsters would have, but it is dealt with very smoothly and in a manner that quells your curiosity about several themes. It’s so simple, it’s almost un-MBA like!

Why most guys feel that “MBA girls” are not good marriage material? Why every other MBA is turning into a candid photographer or a best-selling author? Apart from answering such quirky questions, Abhaidev has tried articulating what many MBA graduates have thought of but couldn’t. Worth read for those who have “been there, done that” and also for those who aspire to join the MBA brethren in the near future.

There are short stories, anecdotes, case studies and quirky tales… all weaved into the flow of the book. The author brings in stories and answers about planning, delegating, tactics, evaluation, GD’s, appraisals, mergers and other typical things that are part and parcel of an MBA’s cycle. I enjoyed the references to Indian idioms and phrases – very relatable.

I wonder why’s that it’s techies and managers who’ve left their IT and corporate jobs who publish so many books? What about those on the job? Do they feel the same way? Abhaidev is the pen name of Mayank Chandna, an MDI Gurgaon alumnus, who quit his boring investment banking career to venture into the ‘exciting’ world of writing, something he had always dreamt of as a child. Once working as a perfunctory 10 hour shift finance employee, he now loves his 24×7 job of being a writer and an entrepreneur.

Typos and the use of a sans serif font does slow down your reading a bit. But I must say, the author has successfully tried a new style of writing.

You can buy the book from:

Flipkart Link –   http://www.flipkart.com/maybe-that-37-things-didn-t-learn-b-schools-english/p/itmea6fgbnzytd6u?pid=9788193160206

Amazon Link – http://www.amazon.in/Maybe-This-That-things-B-Schools/dp/8193160207/

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Rating: 7.2/10 (10 votes cast)

The Wolf is Back

RotW final FINAL! smaller

Review of the Rise of the Wolf; Steven A. McKay 2015; pp 33

– Shana Susan Ninan

Balanced. That’s what the third book in the Forest Lord series is. Author Steven has masterly woven a blance between the youngblood, impulsive Robin Hood and the now more settle, fatherhood-absorbing Robin Hood. Giving prominence to Matilda, Robin’s wife, and Marjorie, his malnourished sister, this book takes on a different course than the previous two! The family life and the action sequences are well-balanced, too, in my view.

Steven has rightfully joined the league of historical fiction writers, who have given us famous classics with their twist. His reading and research is seen well in the narrative, one that never bores us. In fact, I read the Rise of the Wolf in three almost no-break sessions in one day. Especially considering the fact that I have a busy day job and a three-year-old to spend time with!

Sir Guy of Gisbourne is back with a vengeance, and this time Robin needs more hands to beat him. Who will be by his side? How does he outwit the forces against him? How will he ensure the safety of his family? He returns with a more vile intention – to ruin Robin and to regain Gisbourne’s name as the King’s bounty hunter.

Robin Hood is one of my favourite childhood heroes. It’s wonderful to read about him in a different context, years later! And I hear Steven may right another sequel to this… that is some good news.




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Rating: 8.7/10 (7 votes cast)

Finding Mr Right

Review of Or Forever Hold Your Peace; Donna Abraham; Authors UpFront 2014; Rs 150; pp 98

– Shana Susan Ninan

And you think that’s easy? The Mr right in your parents’ mind, the one you wish for, the one who finally lands on your lap… could all be different people. Luck, kismet, fate, whatever you call it, plays a big role in deciding who you partner with. And sometimes, more often than not, the journey to finding that Mr Right is tortuous – long-winded and patience-zapping.

Donna Abraham’s novella, Or Forever Hold Your Peace is a nice, light read that takes you through the life of a young Malayali girl in Delhi. Sundays began with mass at 7 in the morning. Mass would get over by 8 am and her dad would spend the next hour and a half reading the newspaper, which included circling suitable advertisements in the Catholic Section of the matrimonials. Weddings can be tricky business. They can be fun, emotional, exciting, frustrating, nerve-racking, downright stressful and very unpredictable…a bit like life itself.

Abraham’s lucid writing and short paragraphs are easy on the eye. I finished the book in one go – the story, too, keeps you wanting to know what happened, and how it happened. The only thing I thought would add more flavour was the presence of more dialogues. Long narrations at a stretch can be cumbersome to cross, at times.

The book cover and the title take you right to the centre of the plot. Weddings are great fun, lots of activities at home, rituals, home-cooked savouries and family get-togethers. The author keeps our spirits high all through the way. And being half a Malayali Christian and living in south India all my life, I can very well connect with the traditions and lifestyles mentioned in the book.

The links to buy the book are:






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Rating: 8.0/10 (5 votes cast)

Loneliness Squared

Review of Songs of a Solitary Tree: Graphical Verses of Sublime Snippets; Arun M. Sivakrishna, Partridge Publishing India 2014; pp 104
– Shana Susan Ninan

As the anthology’s name suggests, most of the poems in this book seems to stem from a solitary person. Words such as ‘lonely’, ‘alone’, ‘loneliness’ and ‘solitary’ abound on the pages. Even when we are surrounded by friends and family, are at work with a team, we tend to feel lonely. It’s a state of mind that we often find ourselves in, for varied reasons.

Sivakrishna’s words are evocative and are intense with Imagism. Symbols and metaphors are plenty – one I liked was ‘haunting memories are birds with clipped wings’. The first paragraph of ‘Shaken Skies’ reads:

It was a grizzly sky indeed
So dull and drab
The Kind, that reminds you of a
Middle aged mistress, deeply in despair
Puffing up a ballooned put.

Each poem is an unfinished feeling, a life that the poet still lives at times. There are a few photos that go with some poems. Some of the entries read like a part of a journal. ‘An eventful Day, Sometime Back’ starts off with:

Had marathon client meetings,
Productive, some not so great and
Towards the end of the day a reluctant
Revisit to a very difficult customer.

The strength of the poems is paused when a longish sentence creeps in, leaving the reader almost holding her breath, pondering over the meaning of the poet’s words. But, the clichéd symbolisms and general neglect of punctuation mars the reading. Not to mention skipping over typos. Unlike prose, poetry should flow, seamlessly almost.

Poet Arun M. Sivakrishna is a management professional, a cricket and motor sports enthusiast, who’s also interested in photography and travel. Based in Mangalore, his poems tell of severance, pain and agony. And he has done it well.


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Rating: 8.1/10 (8 votes cast)

House on the River

Review of The God of Small Things; Arundhati Roy; Penguin Books 1997; Rs 450; pp 350

– Shana Susan Ninan

Arundhati Roy’s 1997 Booker Prize winning debut novel is wonderfully endearing and emotionally intense. She has succeeded in rousing the readers’ innermost sentiments, and keeping them riding high until the last line of the book. Her skill in crafting a colourful first page is just awesome – who could think of:

May in Ayemenem is a hot, brooding month. The days are long and humid. The river shrinks and black crows gorge on bright mangoes in still, dustgreen trees. Red bananas ripen. Jackfruits burst… The wild overgrown garden was full of the whisper and scurry pf small lives. In the undergrowth a rat snake rubbed itself against a glistening stone. Hopeful yellow bullfrogs cruised the scummy pond for mates.

Rahel and Esthappen, a pair of two-egg twins, and their lives rule the plot. A post-colonial tension in the air, rise of the Communist party in central Kerala, workers’ rebellion and cracks in the feudal forts. Of course, Velutha steals the show. His otherwise impossible relationship with Ammu, the twins’ mother, is emphasised through small talks and nuanced narratives. It’s the small things that matter, and they make the bigger things relevant.

The God of Small Things offers a longish glimpse into the complex relationships between members of the Ipe family. Based on personal differences of opinions, Baby Kochamma even goes to the limit of her character by betraying her own family members. Uncle Chacko has a British wife and daughter, the two of whom have separated and visits him in his Ayemenem home after her second husband meets with an accident.

Roy has enlivened us by engaging all five sense with her careful choice of words and word pictures. Metaphors are rife, and there’s no dearth of alliterations. Themes of love, tragedy and betrayal find space in the story. Women characters are strong and come forward as assertive and often, extremely independent.  

The concepts of love and sexuality – almost on the same sides of a coin – are reiterated. Sex can be unifying as well as dividing. Societal norms, caste hierarchy and familial differences can often dictate who we bed with. Time is another important motif that recurs as the image of the moth.  

The author as captured almost all the facets of life in Ayemenem – weather, friendship, politics, post-colonialism, sibling rivalry, sexual abuse, class wars, marriage, fisher folk and feudal life.

Estha’s and Rahel’s separation and pain are healed when they unite, their souls finding peace amid the turmoil and noise around them. It’s as if the two were one person, all along.

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Rating: 7.8/10 (6 votes cast)

Autism: Know It, Know Them

Review of Autism: A Handbook of Diagnosis and Treatment of ASD; Sumita Bose; V&S Publishers 2015; Rs 395; pp 158

– Shana Susan Ninan

That Autistic kids in India aren’t welcome in most mainstream schools is a given. It’s a proven fact. But how does one “handle” an autistic child/ teen? In my teaching years, I’ve come across autistic children and their parents, and most received complaint is that people around aren’t accommodative. That given a choice and resources, they’d leave this country and live abroad with their differently abled child. Is it because of lack of awareness regarding this disorder? Are the various communities in society reluctant to accept such children?

The author, Sumita Bose handholds us readers into this life by introducing us to a personal anecdote of how she came to do Child Psychology and ASD related courses in the US. Autism isn’t the end of the road for a child or its family. It is but a different life – one that needs patient care and love. She gives us profiles of doctors and early medical practitioners who’ve pioneered in this field, and how India officially accepted the widespread existence of this disorder, in 1991.

There’s a lot of pressure from schools and extended family, and the general public, on these kids and their parents. An empathetic way of dealing will go a long way here. This is a good guide for parents, teachers, friends and public who come into contact with autistic persons. Bose gives a narrative-like feeling when she deals with issues from conception/ birth to education to adulthood. The details of schools and institutions meant for autistic kids is useful, although I personally feel that there are lot many more NGO’s and individual agencies that help, especially in Kerala.

Another thing I found missing is how an autistic child’s family and friends deal with the sexuality and orientation of autistic children. They are major components of a children. More so since autistic children aren’t able to express themselves as well as others. A page or two about the sexual needs, routines and characteristics of autistic children would have made it a little more wholesome.

Bose has been a teacher for more than two decades, and authored Science, Mathematics and puzzle books for children. She’d a member of Autism Society of America and designated Autism Ambassador in Melbourne, Florida.

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Rating: 9.8/10 (8 votes cast)

Culture Curry of the East

Review of Raconteurs From The Hills; Talilula , Vishu Rita Krocha, Agnes Tepa, Emisen Jamir, Imti Longchar, Lhutu Keyho; Pen Thrill Publishing 2014; Rs 199; pp 122

– Aditi Vinayakan

It happens almost instantly. One moment you might be in your room, the next you get a whiff of what Nagamese culture is all about, both good and the bad through the six authors that made Raconteurs from the hills.

Out of the 13 thirteen stories, my personal favorite would be ‘A Porcine tale’ by Talilula, a satire that most definitely manages to keep you reading further. After reading ‘Diary of two dog meat fanatics’ your face might either have a smile or leave you frowning for the sheer quirkiness of it.

I’ve never been to Nagaland, but reading this work has made me want to travel solo all the way to the Far East to discover the truth behind these stories. After all, creation of fiction does require some amount of factual data that leads to its very birth that makes us want to live right in it.

The cover of the book has a certain calmness to it that reminds me of mountains and the peace that comes with being amongst it. It’s one of those books that you might just enjoy cuddling up with on a lazy Sunday. Bring in some rain and a cup of hot coffee, and you’re all set to be taken to a place that you would never want to come back from.

One of the best things about the book is the fact that it not only is suitable for pleasure reading but it actually makes you think about your society and the society that you’ve come to know and realise through the words of another.

All in all Raconteurs From The Hills is definitely a good read and worth every penny.


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Rating: 9.1/10 (7 votes cast)