Saturday, February 25, 2012

Shit happens: Desi Boy in America

Shit happens: Desi Boy in America

By Karan Puri

Looks like I am on a winning spree. I won this book on GoodReads.

In this book: Shit happens, Desi Boy in America. Anurag the main character is the typical geeky Delhi boy, with a typical Indian family. He is the underdog, bullied by all, given unwanted advice by pesky relatives and to top it all he has to deal with his parents - a father who loves to down pegs and a mother who has a propensity to break into sobs at the drop of the hat. He leads a boring, safe, invisible existence. You get the picture?

But then, American beckons.He gets a scholarship to the University of Rochester. Overnight, the underdog,become a family hero. Geeky suddenly becomes cool. It is a dream come true. He was preparing for this since ages. This study trip to the USA was a goal, a goal to get even or more than even with the school cricket captain and his girl friend. They and many others who sniggered at him during school would fade into oblivion, whereas he would emerge a hero in a brave new world. He had earned straight A's all his life, now was the time to let the world know he had arrived.

But was Anurag prepared for America? His first drink was on his flight to New York. His first brush with two white women, was on this very same flight. He will probably never forget the washroom at Frankfurt airport - which was a stopover, where he found himself without the familiar lotta (mug)but fortunately lots of toilet paper, and he used it all up. And his real adventure began the moment he stepped into New York.

He finds Lizzy. On reaching the University he also finds the man she loves - who becomes his room-mate. They help him settle in USA and teach him the ropes, perhaps in the initial days all he teaches them is that it is chicken-tikki that they eat and not chicken-tattis (tattis is the Indian slang for shit!). Later he proves that America, with their help thrown in for good measure, had transformed a geeky, shy, introvert into a mature individual who walks the talk.

I was expecting the book to be more on campus life, than on the personal life of the 'Desi boy', but I was not disappointed. The book is a breeze to read and the chapters manage to describe quite well,how a Desi boy learns to fit in USA.

Anurag's first cheeky response was at the immigration counter on arrival in New York. He had said, he had come to study and had counter questioned the custom officer on whether that fell in the category of business or pleasure. Pleasure if you return back to your own country, was the reply. After all, no one wanted their job taken by a 'Desi boy'. But, I shall not provide a spoiler. To know whether or not Anurag came back to India or stayed on, or whether he and Lizzy lived happily ever after, pick up this book.

It is a light read and will provide you many a chuckle.

The Inscrutable Americans, penned by Anurag Mathur in the 1990s was adopted into a film. It would be interested to see if this book is also developed into a movie.

Note: I got this book as a giveaway on GoodReads.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Down the Road

Down the Road, Edited by Ahmed Faiyaz with Rohini Kejriwal.

I recall an advertisement by Maggi sauces, which had the tag line: It's different I would apply the same tag line to this book.

This book is good for a quick light read, while caught up in Mumbai's traffic or when travelling by the local train. It will take you back to your college campus, that is for sure. At a special offer price on most portals of around Rs. 150 bucks, you may say: paisa vasool. Greyoaks's website (i.e: the publisher's website) has helpfully provided links of where you can buy the book online at special rates.

The cover says it all: 28 campus tales by 16 authors. Indian publishing has sprouted new shoots and how! There are many more new voices that can be heard, each of which provide a different perspective and a different flavour, the short stories contained in this book amplify this emerging trend in Indian publishing.

The sheer diversity of topics dealt with in this book make for an interesting read. It is not just about a boy-meets-girl story, so typical of many stories set in campus settings, even though a few stories in this book do relate to relationships, heartbreaks and even happy endings. The book also deals with issues that are so important to collegians, such as trying to fit in, dealing with student politics, campus placements...Stories of reunions, of meeting former colleagues are also captured in this book and some of them have an interesting twist.

Sahil Khan in his 'Foreword' has wisely mentioned that: The transition from school to college would have been a cultural shock for many, mostly because we would have moved away from the closed environments of our homes for the first time. Our experiences from school and back home were the factors affecting our choices unconsciously. And it is those choices that made us who we are today -- in how we choose our friends, our career path, our life partner.

The short stories in this book are classified into five sections.

The first section ' Attendance is compulsory', largely deals with the first few steps in a new environment, the first crush, the first dose of ragging.

The second section 'Festivals, Elections and Placements' consists of campus stories once the settling in stage has been dealt with. This is followed by the next two sections, viz: 'Lights Out' and 'Looking Back'. The books ends with the last section 'Essays' that encapsulate how books and movies have captured campus life over time.

An interesting aspect is that even the same issue is dealt with so differently in various short stories. Let us take the instance of reunions or meeting up with former classmates. 'Down the Road' by Ahmed Faiyaz, promises hope of getting back together and beginning life anew. Kanika and Tubby, will meet once again, after many many years at the snack bar where they had first met.

Pingy and his American wife play host to a stranded classmate. They do have a nice time re-living old memories, when once, the only conversation, if any, between them was just a hi and a bye. 'Strangers in strange places' by Abhijit Bhaduri made for interesting reading.

On the issue of reunions, my favourite story was 'Remember Me?' by Ahmed Faiyaz. The former cricket and football team member, now a podgy vice president at a bank, is devastated that a girl who had a crush on him, no longer remembers him. Is this true? I will not spill the beans, but leave you to find out. I chuckled out loud on reading this story.

'Sororicide' by Paritosh Uttam is a gem of a story. It shows why the 'Skipper' was propelled to behave in a certain manner towards a new timid teacher, even as his heart was crying out in sympathy towards her. It was all about not wanting to lose his title, he did not want Junior to be the class leader. Human nature is truly complex. Another story which brought this out and also brought tears to my eyes was 'Learning and Unlearning' by Rohini Kejriwal. I thought this would be a light cheery read, as it began with a Maggi Noodle feast (now everyone who has been to boarding school or a hostel has indulged in such a feast, with Maggi being cooked from water from the geyser or solar heaters!). Yet, it was heart wrenching to learn that the 'tough' girl in the class had built a wall around herself as she could not bring herself to trust anyone, having being molested by her Uncle. Sneh Thakur's story aptly titled 'Fresher' was a refreshing read, quite different from the routine tales on ragging.

I just enrolled as a member of BlogAdda and was delighted to get this book for review. I enjoyed reading it.

This review is a part of the Book Reviews Program at Participate now to get free books!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Unusual people do things differently

Unusual people do things differently by T.G. C. Prasad

The author has recounted his experiences and wisdom gained through his interactions with a wide spectrum of people from all walks of life. These range from his kid's school founder, to an encounter with Mother Teresa, while he was a school kid, to a chartered accountant, to a person selling ad space in the classified section of the newspaper, to a tree lover who by setting up an innovative non-profit project is helping bring back the much needed oxygen on Planet Earth... the list goes on and on.

Prasad rightly points out that people are aligned to one of the six broad themes, viz: (i) Strategic and focused on value creation; (ii)Perspective and derive creative solutions; (iii) Driven by business excellence; (iv) Deploy professional skills to win; (v) Passionate and lead from the front (vi) Sensitive to people and are customer centric.

Even as it was difficult to zoom down to my favourite chapter, if I were to select I would say, I have two favourite chapters.

The brief encounter which the author had with Mother Teresa showed him that she has a large heart and is able to appreciate kindness. This story is captured in the chapter: Giving is important, not how much. Prasad was then in the second grade and he gallantly parted with half his money, which was given to him to buy candy, of just 50 paise. Mother Teresa did not laugh at him, but she embraced his gesture. At times many of us say, "Oh, what is the use of donating anything. There is too much poverty and whatever I do will not make a difference.". Actually it does make a difference. Giving is important and this chapter is truly a gem.

"Keeping Happy" is another favourite chapter of mine. Prasad's friend, an HR director in Microsoft learns how to be happy. The hazards of a spending society are clearly elucidated here. The key message is: Cut the strings that pull you down and then you can automatically soar.

I learnt a lot from this book and some key lessons that I learnt are:

1) In negotiation we must aim for a win-win story. A victory where the other party stands to lose is no victory at all.
2)If you have hesitated to mentor someone, just go ahead and do it. You can learn a lot from a mentee. Mentoring is bidirectional and an enriching learning experience for both.
3) Service is all about meeting commitments. Transparency is the key to healthy relationships with customers/clients.
4) Leadership is not about charisma or great speeches or designations. It is all about taking initiative and doing the right thing.

Unusual people do things differently, is a good read and I would recommend it. There is always something that we can learn from others. In fact, after reading this book, I've observed how much I have learnt from my parents, my family, my teachers, my friends, my bosses, my colleagues and all those whom I have come in contact with.