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Book Review : Capturing Wildlife Moments In India

Published May 15, 2015 by vishalvkale

“Capturing Wildlife Moments In India” : The title, for this once, doesn’t say it all; in fact, it doesn’t suit the book. Reading just the title, one would think that the book is a set of photographs, a set of images to be leaved through…nothing could be farther from the truth, for in your hands is an experience, a lifestyle and a trigger for your desires and your imagination… welcome to one of the most captivating and invigoratingly refreshing reads I have encountered in a long time; welcome to the lanes of my memory, my unfulfilled desires and my views on this one of a kind book!
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THE AUTHOR {From the book}
Ashok Mahindra is a Chartered Accountant who qualified from England and Wales and from India. He retired as Co-Chairman of Deloitte, Haskins & Sells, and as Senior Partner of A.F. Ferguson & Co. in 2008, after a career of 39 years. Ashok Mahindra is now a wildlife photographer. Through his 120 photographs in this book he has shown the rich heritage and range of wildlife and its habitats in India. In addition, the book indicates the continuing threat to wildlife in India and sets out how it could be more effectively preserved.
THE REVIEW
The book sets out to, in the words of the author in the preface, create a greater awareness of the danger to the wildlife in India, and to promote the preservation of that wildlife. Its highlights are, as the marketing of the book claims very aptly, the images, which are a treat; but there is more, much, much more – from the practical to the experiential and from the mundane to the esoteric;  “Capturing Wildlife Moments in India” contains 120 photographs of animals and birds of India, photographed from visits to over 30 parks,sanctuaries and other locations…


The book acts as a quick guide and a quick chronicle on places to visit in India – places where you can relax, and enjoy being one with nature, places where you can experience the full beauty of nature; places which are both famous, and not quite so famous. It isn’t a guide on what you can find in each place – this is not a tourist guide; it is more of a travelogue, an experiential and highly engaging travelogue on the wildlife circuit of India.
This is a book you can get lost in, and forget about everything; this is a book which you can just dissolve into; this is a book you can read again and again and then again; and each reading is bound to transport you into a differing reality, an engaging memory, an unfulfilled desire or a raging ambition. This is a book to make you pause in wonder at Mother Nature, and sigh in deep and heartfelt melancholy regret at the ugliness of the modern concrete jungle!
It states as an objective the conservation of wildlife, which it achieves in  a very different and indirect fashion; it kindles in you a desire to experience these sights yourselves, and a keenly felt regret at the meaninglessness of our metro lives and concrete jungles; that, to my mind, is a far better way of going about Wildlife Conservation – getting people interested in the wonders that Mother Nature has to offer us! It also acts as a to-visit list of the top wildlife  hotspots in India, places to visit, and introduces you to an aspect of India you would not have thought too much about
This is a book that hits you hard in the gut, and makes you face the futility of modern life, the meaninglessness of the corporate race and the pull of Mother Nature… as I said, this is an experience to be lived, so that your inner dormant desires are kindled, and a new joy can be experienced. This is a book that, given its wandering travelogue style and lack of focus on one area or theme,  takes you back to Mother Nature, and introduces you to its myriad wonders from Animals to Insects to Birds to Scenery, and from colours to joy all in one short sharp read! The fabulous interleaving of themes, with a Tiger on one page, then a Neelgai, or a mound of termites, or a mangrove picture, achieves the objective of keeping your attention riveted, making for a unputdownable book…
THE IMAGES


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This is the frontispiece, the piece-de-resistance, as it were : the images are simply mind-blowing; they will take your breath away. The clarity, detail and framing of the pictures is one thing, which everyone will note; my request to everyone is try and merge & blend into the image and the captured moment, and experience it to understand… the patience, effort and planning that went into each image taken, the beauty of the moment and the sheer power of Mother Nature!
Here you will find the entire life cycle of the Large Cats, here you will find the life of the Tigers – how they live, their territorial habits in short and sharp comments on the images; you will find, for the first time, these large cats in their old age, as well as their resplendent youth; you get to understand the meaning of the immortal line by Kavi Neeraj : Umra Ke Chadhaav Kaa Utaar Dekhte Rahe in the lives of the tigers covered!
Here you will find the lovely and unbelievably scenic images that you will want to savour, and wish you had a copy for your desktop, laptop or mobile screensavers – a veritable cacophony of colours blending to create stunning beauty; like the Cormorants on Page 54, or the House Sparrow on Page 61, or especially the Blue Jay on Page 104, or the Red Junglefowl on Page 111…
But most of all, the stunning beauty of two mind-blowing images has the power to transport you into the book, into the location – one at the start, and one at the end : a stunning set of images of the Jungle… images of transcendental beauty, that kindle the joys and memories of your own visits {Pench, in my case} to the Jungle, and the memories of of the location of that wonderful number in Kabhi Kabhi – Kabhi Kabhi Mere Dil Mein, Khayaal Aataa Hai, such is the power of these images! The captivating beauty of these two images takes you into the forest, enables you to forget the world and blend into the magic of these images caught by this extremely talented photographer!

Just one request : the book is priced at Rs. 1450/-, which is a tag towards the higher side, and is targeted at a different segment; there is a market at lower price-points as well, people like me who love Books, who love the beauty of nature, and would buy these books at a more affordable price point. If the publisher or the Author is reading this, please make a note of this feedback…



It is being published by Oxford University Press(OUP) & Bombay Natural History Society(BNHS).The book will be available at most of the major retail outlets across India and also through online retail sites like Amazon, Flipkart etc.It will also be available for sale through the BNHS website and is priced at Rs.1450. 

This post is a part of the book review program of at Saevus Wildlife India in association with The Hemchand Mahindra Wildlife Foundation for the book Capturing Wildlife Moments in India 
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Book Review : The Indian Media Business {3rd Ed.}

Published May 9, 2015 by vishalvkale


BOOK REVIEW : THE INDIAN MEDIA BUSINESS

BY : VANITA KOHLI-KHANDEKAR






Image result for the indian media business vanita kohli 3rd edition


ABOUT THE AUTHOR : 
Vanita Kohli-Khandekar is a media specialist and writer. She has been tracking the Indian media and entertainment business for over a decade. Currently she is a columnist and writer for Business Standard and Mid-Day. Her earlier stints include one at Businessworld and Ernst & Young. A Cambridge University fellow (2000), Vanita teaches at some of the top communication schools in India.
THE BOOK
The book is, in simple terms, a reference book on the entire Media Landscape of India; at the same time, it is also a book that teaches you the basics of the game, and then proceeds to take you into the inner working and nut&bolts of this industry and all its constituent sectors. It traces the development of each sector right from its beginnings, right from the start, and develops right upto the present time. It furthermore  also covers regulatory and legal aspects of the business, making it a one-step guide to this industry, and a must read for anyone even remotely connected with Indian Business in any function; more so for Sales and Marketing Professionals, for whom this should be required reading. 
It devotes one chapter on each sector of the Media Business – Print, Television, Film, Music, Radio, Telecommunications, Internet, Out-of-Home, and Events. Within these chapters, the book uses a standard layout for all chapters: introducing the industry, a brief but powerfully hitting strategic summary, then tracing the entire industry from its origins to the modern day {till 2009, when the book was penned}; as well as its operational realities & how the business works, topping it off with a reasonably thorough look at the regulatory history as well as current landscape of each sector. After this data supported {extensively data supported, may I add} portion, we are treated to Case Studies from India and the World, which are very relevant and pertinent. All in all, a complete reference guide for the Indian Media Business!
THE REVIEW
First of all, the content is a bit dated – there is an updated version now available, which is recommended for purchase.  {I shall be reviewing that as well on my website}. But that apart, there is almost nothing that is bad, or even debatable, or even far-fetched. This is a superb book that is factual, data supported and full of  pertinent information for the interested reader.
1.  Print Media : “The Indian Print Business Is In The Best Years Of Its Evolution” The book starts with the Print Media, and packs a surprise right on the first page for the uninitiated – India is one of the fastest growing newspaper markets in the world. I liked 2 things in this chapter : one, content quality and corruption / issues and challenges – which she has taken head-on in no uncertain terms; and the other the short and succinct analysis of why Print is not likely to fade in India
2.   Television : “The Market Will Remain About Broadcasting For Very Long” This is a rather detailed chapter, which could have been better, in my opinion – but the author was constrained by having to cover all points as per the chapter layout planned for each sector. My main take-away – the rise of the Regional Channels in the industry, as well as the advertising section. The rise of regional channels leaves you wanting to know more, which is only a tantalizing glimpse in the book!
3.  Films : “There Has Never Been A Better Time To Be In The Movie Business” Most of us know zilch about this sector and how it operates. Well, you’ve got the right book for understanding this segment; the piece de resistance of the book for me – along with the Out-Of-Home segment. Here again we run into the rise of the regional cinema, in a short tantalizing look; confirming that there is a case for the Author to devote more space to the regional language media, whose rise does feature, but gets drowned in the other stuff. That apart, this chapter offers a complete understanding of the business of Movies from content to distribution, attendant risks, challenges and issues – which will not be found anywhere else as far as I am aware.
4.  Music : “The Music Industry Is Finally Enjoying The Growth Possibilities Created By New Media” This is the one single chapter I look forward to reading in the new edition… that should sum it up. No further comments here!
5.  Radio :  “The Radio Business Needs To Move On To The Next Stage” The second take-away from the book; the unsung Medium in the Indian Media story, which is normally dominated by Television and Print in the Media. This chapter has the Author in her element, as she goes about tracing the challenges and pluses, which are reasonably well covered. Again, in the opening strategy section, we get a glimpse of deep insight as the author notes with pain the absence of true localization in the content – leaving the reader with a sigh of dissatisfaction, at the prospect of having a more analytical look into this Medium… let us see if the next edition is upto the mark in this
6.  Telecommunications : “Telecom’s Ability To Master The Media Business Will Depend On Its Flexibility” So much has changed, that it would be futile to go into this here. Suffice it to say that the chapter gives you a hold on this industry {unfortunately my industry L }, its basics and its history. And yes, its regulatory mess.
7.  The Internet : “The Coming Years Will Be Tough For The Internet As A Medium” Written in 2009, current 2015, look above in point no 6. Repeat most part here. Enough said; will look in the review of the current edition!
8.  Out Of Home : “The Similarities Between Out Of Home and Cable TV Are Startling” This is the chapter, this is the sole reason you should read the book… the least understood and most brutal area of Media. And one of the most ubiquitous in terms of customer interaction points. The chapter takes you deep into this business, into its growth, its unregulated and fragmented mess, its potential as well as engaging case studies of how a growing economy of the 90s onwards created both a mess as well as space and opportunities.  
9.  Events : “Everything is an Event” – again, an updated edition is sure to have more masala as events have now grown quite a bit into various streams and industries, so passing up any comment here. Repeat points 5 and 6 here, in short – understand the basics of the business!
SUMMARY
In short, I can say truthfully that this is a primer book; one that gives the reader a thorough and painstaking look at the constituent factors and operational realities, challenges, regulations and history of each Media segment. The sad part is that it could have done all that, and gone into greater detail on some strategic aspects, which I shall cover after reading the updated edition – perhaps they will find justice in the new edition! All in all, a vital and important contribution to the literature on Indian Media!

The Screen As A Strategy : Understanding The Internet

Published April 29, 2015 by vishalvkale

I closed the previous article {found here : Understanding The Internet : Reaching Into The Gut Of Existing Systems} with a statement that few organizations truly understand how to use the 5-21” space of the screen;  this article looks at this aspect in a little more detail. A great many companies use the customer-facing aspects of the internet as merely another tool to communicate and connect, completely ignoring the full power of the internet ecosystem.
The Screen, first of all, is mistakenly defined as just a mere device that displays, or acts as a window, disseminating information to your prospects and customers, and the general audience. The screen is more of a doorway, a portal that transports – or has the ability to – transport your customer into a world of constantly interacting stakeholders in your product, your company and your addressable market segment. If that doesn’t scare you as a Brand Manager, as a Marketer, and as a Sales Professional, high time it did.
Before the internet ecosystem evolved, the touchpoints a customer had for interfacing with your products were limited – The Shop, Company Offices, Other Customers who were limited to those who were met personally, Media, Competitors and a few more. But cut to today and that has undergone a sea-change, with the potential ability of the customer connect having increased to almost infinity, with the feasibility of getting exposed to and influenced by a much larger array of touchpoints, viewpoints, opinions – as well as both positive and negative customer feedback and experiences
It stands to reason that in the changed environment of freer flow of information & increased touchpoints, the customer communication has to change from a one-sided monologue to more of an engagement with the customer. The reason is straightforward – a greater number of touchpoints mean larger information volume and interactions, contrarian opinions, noise and greater scope for replaceable products to engage with prospective customers, as well as greater potential of the medium to enhance audience experiences.
Thus far, we are on established management jargon, which is spouted by a good number of companies. Only a select few organizations manage to actually convert the monologue with an active engagement; very very few, in fact. For, a large majority of the sites I visit, at least in India, still adhere to the old style of communication; little effort is made to enhance the customer experience, and make it more rewarding and meaningful. In some cases, the customer experience is actually negative in many ways. The reason this is not showing in sales is either due to the price differential; products are cheaper on the Ecommerce sites, or due to other attendant disadvantages.
Let me illustrate with 2 examples : one B2C and one B2B. The internet is so vast, that it is not feasible for me to cover more in a blog post; neither is it advisable. In B2C, let us take books. Why does a customer buy a book online? There are two reasons : Price, and Convenience, which has lead to galloping sales at online book stores. But halt a moment, and analyse in depth. And, instead of asking what does the internet give you, ask what does a book stall give you? Reverse your viewpoint for a minute!
In a book store, you can get a feel of the book, you can flip its pages – which is pretty damned important if you are reading a new author, or a serious topic; you can easily compare similar books or two options on the same subject. Furthermore, you can far more easily spot new books; the interface is much bigger than a small screen; in a store, you are exposed to 4 walls crammed with books, which  make for easy discovery.
To compete with this, you have the price-offs and the convenience factor of the small screen; till date there has been on attempt at going beyond this. Reviews do not count in the age of the convergence of technology; it is simple enough a task to look a book’s reviews on your smartphone and purchase offline! The offline stores are also now becoming more nimble, willingly offering discounts to regular customers, and other small facilities, like getting selected books for them. They are now allowing customers to sit on sofas in comfort, and browse books to their heart’s content – in other words, they have added several value-additions to the customer interface, making for a much more rewarding experience
And that is where the digital players are not doing anything : trying to make the customer interface more rewarding. Sure, this will be expensive, time-consuming and demanding; but it will have to be done sooner or later. Currently, you are not facing the pain as the market is untapped, and there is a scorching growth pace, that is hiding the underbelly. All are advised to study Telecom, and how its ARPU fell, and draw parallels and extrapolate to the future, with penetration at higher levels. That is a reality every industry has to face.
In our example, a moments’ thought and you can spot any number of ways that the customer experience can be made more rewarding. You can facilitate browsing titles – and the usage of technology can ensure that the browsing experience in online stores will be leagues ahead of the offline experience, as you can offer targeted searches in the book’s content. Author-searches, cross-selling opportunities, specific searches of interest – all of which can make the customer experience exceptionally powerful.
You cannot match the dexterity and ease of new book discovery in offline stores; but you can work around this issue by offering other advantages. You can offer first 1o pages downloads free, as an example. You can look at facilitating direct interactions with the author, fan pages, discussion forums; you can facilitate book searches and book discovery in a much wider database, and can give options for time of delivery if book not in stock {beyond the current We Will Get In Touch When In Stock} and so on and so forth.
All this can be achieved at the touch of a button for the customer, which cannot be matched by the offline store. The current model of price-driven sales online is already driving a deep schism into offline models, leading to a massive backlash by offline models, who are competing with extraordinary tenacity and dexterity, and are in the process not only maintaining relevance, but actually winning back lost ground.
And all because the online people aren’t using the full power of the medium; and that is because the pain isn’t showing in the numbers, as the high growth rate is ensuring the new customers are greater than Churn. As I said, learn from Telecom : there will come a time when Churn will exceed new customers. And no one can say how far away that time is, given the stunningly scorching growth rates in this industry.
In the next article, I shall take a look at the B2B marketplace, as well as some interesting entirely avoidable mistakes made by the best of them in this trade in both the B2B and B2C Space. 

Book Review : India, Uninc. By Prof. Vaidyanathan

Published April 8, 2015 by vishalvkale

Book Review : INDIA, UNINC

By Prof. Vaidyanathan

About The Author : R. Vaidyanathan is Professor of Finance and Control and UTI Chair Professor in the area of Capital Markets. His areas of interest are Corporate Finance, Investments, Portfolio Management, Risk Management and Pensions. He is the Chairperson for the Centre for Capital Market and Risk Management [CCMR] at IIMB. He is a National Fellow of ICSSR. A graduate of the Loyola College, Madras and a Masters from the Indian Statistical Institute, Calcutta he obtained his Fellow in Management (Doctorate) from the Indian Institute of Management Calcutta where he also taught for four years… Read his full and very impressive Biodata and achievements Here


ABOUT THE BOOK

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The book is about the unsung and discounted sector of the Indian Business Environment and Economy in the first part; it goes where no book has gone before, at least not in my readings. This is a book that looks at the Small and Medium Enterprises, or more specifically, the unincorporated sector and its contribution to the Indian Economy in exhaustive and nevertheless entertaining detail

The second half is where the real fun and games begin, as the author takes you into deep insights and truths about the Indian Business Environment, in a roller coaster journey that will leave you breathless. These are not words that can normally be used to describe a business book, but fit the bill nonetheless. The Author has skillfully managed to connect culture with business, in a fashion that makes eminent and practical sense. How? Read on! 

This is a book that should be compulsory reading in each and every Business School and in each and every organisation. Why? Read on!

THE REVIEW

The first part of the book is a treat in numbers, and more numbers – and when you get tired, you get treated to even more numbers. Then, you get exhausted. And, as a welcome relief, you get an even greater variety of numbers. The beauty lies in the presentation – an easy to understand tabular presentation that drives home the point the author makes. Then, the long and uninterrupted series of numbers are never boring, because each is cogently explained by the text, as well as concern a variety of areas and sectors, keeping the reader riveted. 

This is a point that needs to be underscored, as the Author has presented a theory that shakes many a concept in our minds – making it vital that the theory be supported by data. What is even more important, the author has relied on authentic and irrefutable data from official sources, and has also presented a multitude of perspectives and data sources from various data-collection and presentation sources, ranging the entire gamut of available data. 

The Unincorporated Sector
The book looks at several aspects – contribution of the Unincorporated Sector in GDP, Income, National Savings, Employment. The data is conclusive; the unincorporated sector is the major contributor to the Indian Economy, whereas the corporate sector contributes only 18%. If you add Unorganised Agriculture, the contribution of the Unincorporated Sector comes to a humongous 60%+, which is a shocker, and a wake-up call, as the data forces you to rethink quite a number of concepts. {I shall go into details in further articles, as this is a book that can spawn several lines of thought and analysis}

Factors of Business
It looks at the important factors of business – especially credit offtake from banks and support mechanisms, the role of Social Support Groups, Chit Funds, NBFCs, Taxation coverage, Bribery as well as the challenges faced by this sector bringing you face to face with a rather uncomfortable reality of the problems faced by these organisations. The most important is the data-supported contention that Bank Credit is not easily available to this sector – which contributes the most to our Economy. 

Service Sector
The book takes on a life of its own in two segments – the Service Sector, and the social aspects of business. The data and logic presented in the entire section on the Service Sector is superfluous, as the argument presented is completely logical and intuitively sensible; you end up wondering why didnt you see or think of this, as you see it around you every single day! 

We think of the service sector as the or in terms of the IT industry, in our uninformed or prejudiced urban metro MBA-schooled viewpoints; here is data – irrefutable data – that proves that IT isnt even a drop in the ocean as on date; it brings you face to face with the intuitively logical reasoning that IT is only and only an enabler, and that the real service sectors’ contribution far outweighs not only IT but a good many other sub-sectors; we are referring to {“we” as I fully agree with the Author here} the innumerable retail kiranas, travel shops, restaurants, transport, real estate, construction services etc. 

And in this sector, the unincorporated sector has a 75% contribution, dwarfing the other corporate contribution. I find it hard to refute the statement that conversely, it is the corporate sector that is garnering the lion’s share of the focus of everyone in India, whereas the data shows that reverse should be the case. We should actually be celebrating the innate ability of the small Indian Entrepreneur to succeed, given the environment and the chance. 


The Social Aspects of Business
This is the frontispiece of the book, the piece de resistance. In 4 or 5 short chapters, the author has presented what can be called the real Indian way of doing business, and this is something that needs no data proofs – it is obvious to anyone who has been in business in India, and has seen and observed keenly. The way Indian Entrepreneurs leverage social contacts and social structures to create a business, open markets, gain access to working capital, employment is evident in the cornering of various verticals by various groups in India – numerous examples can be quoted, and have been extensively quoted in the book. 


The Role of The Stock Markets
The book contains all this and more; it looks at the inflated role of the stock markets, and the obvious conclusion that they arent representative of the Economy {we intuitively knew that in the recent past, comparing the stock indices which is diametrically opposed to the fundamentals of the economy; it was an amazing sight : disturbed and shaky fundamentals,and yet a robust stock market!}; here you find the data to back that intuitive logic. 
If corporate India contributes 18%, and Unincorporated 45%, Agriculture {unorganised} 17%, if 34%-41% of manufacturing is by the unorganised sector, if 70% of national savings are by households and unorganised sector, then by no stretch of imagination can an index representing 30 or 100 or even 500 stocks be called representative. Period. End of argument as far as I am concerned. And yet, the focus is all on Corporate India. 


Summary and Criticism…
I am purposely summing them in one, after expostulating the many positives of the book; the reason is that this book is a must read despite its weaknesses. The book draws a contention that the unincorporated sector succeeded despite the corporate sector and the government, and draws a clean line of separation. That cannot be strictly true – only partly true; as the role of the corporate sector and the government in creating opportunities that could be exploited by small units, travel shops, restaurants, hotels, construction etc cannot be denied.
Having said that, it is equally true that, given the paucity of Bank Credit, and an attendant lack of focus, the achievements of this unsung and real-cum-most-important sector  of the Indian Economy are truly fantastic in the past 2- years. That cannot be doubted. It is equally evident that this is a feat that required commendable ingenuity, planning, strategising, courage as well as superb execution skills to achieve. That is a given. 
The other weakness is the rather critical tone that is taken on many aspects, and the sometimes flippant attitude; but this is not a major concern anywhere in the book. Yes, it does stray significantly in one conclusion – FDI in retail, where I dont agree with the contention that FDI and organised retail will destroy Indian retail. The book itself is the greatest proof-  the small entrepreneur has succeeded because of self-driven passion, and without much support; hus, the contention that organised retail will inconvenience them in any way seems fanciful at worst, and premature at best, to be honest. 


Summary…
This is a book that brings to face to face with the real India, the real Indian Economy – not the one extolled by the Pink Papers, or other Media Outlets and Business Pundits. This is a book that brings you face to face with your business prejudices, and raises several deep and penetrating questions in your mind, its shortcomings notwithstanding. This is a book that presents a fact-based, extensively data-supported and nearly irrefutable chronicle of all that is wrong in our approach individually and severally, and that India is different to The Great West in just about every way from Religion to Culture, and from Economics to Trade. 

This is a book that introduces you, possibly for the first time in your business career, to the Real Indian Business, The Real Indian Economy, and the real way forward. But that is another story, to be told in another blog post; for now, suffice it to state that this book stands as one of the most powerful, entertaining and educating books I have ever encountered in my entire life…

Book Review : The Rise Of The Grey Prince

Published March 10, 2015 by vishalvkale

THE SAGA OF AGNI

THE RISE OF THE GREY PRINCE

By Arka Chakrabarti : You can read more about the author on this link :  Interview


If you have read the first part :  4 stars. If you have not read it, 2.5 stars. That should tell the reader of this review all he or she needs to know.

Image result for the rise of the grey princeThe first time I picked it up I just could not make any sense out of it. It was all Greek and Latin to me; nothing made sense, and nothing connected to anything. The land portrayed was alien, the people were completely alien, the narrative connected to events of which I had no knowledge. I found myself constantly leaving through pages, going back and forth to make some sense out of it. And then, I almost gave up. And then, I re-read the most critical page – The Story So Far. 

It was a slow and tedious build-up, as the names and characters were totally unfamiliar; and the layout alien. But the concept- that was the puller; that was the attraction. The concept of a fantasy novel always has attraction – and if it is one that is well executed, and real and practically written – then it is a very attractive package…


THE PLOT
Had I read the first part, I could have enjoyed it fully. There is a link back in the book, with a short précis on what happened in the first part; but it does not suffice. It is badly penned and presented; there should have been attention to this vital aspect of the book. “The Story So Far” is the most critical section of the book, and needs urgent and immediate refurbishment. It only connected up slowly as I read the book; only then did things make sense. The learning is : have patience; this is a good book. It will connect up. 

The book is about a fictional land called Gaya, divided into two continents – The Land Of The Rising Sun, and The Land Of The Setting Sun. It focusses on the main protagonist : Prince Agni, his guru Sidak and his friend Vrish; alongside Prince Yani, in whose father’s care Agni grew up. 

The story revolves around The Abode Of Seven, a sort of oligopolistic dictatorship over The Land Of The Setting Sun. A seer has prophesied that a prince will take this down, which is what leads to all Princes being targeted. Agni’s father takes on  The Seven, and smuggles him out; Agni grows up in The Rising Sun, unaware of the reality. 

This is the backdrop of the story of the current book. This 2nd part focusses on Agni, Yani, Sidak and Vrish, as their lives intertwine as a result of the past, and through them the author tells the story of Agni returning to the Land of the Setting Sun, the place where it all began,, where Agni returns – to hunt for his mother; and to hunt for answers to the many questions in his mind. 

THE ANALYSIS
First, the “The Story So Far” section needs to be properly organised. Second, the start of the book should ideally give a list of characters and the basics of those characters, which is vital given the length of the story, and its complexity and number of characters. This is what some other authors have done; this helps in furthering the absorption of the material.

Charectarisation is not upto the mark; the characters have not been properly filled out in this book at least. This could of course be due to the fact that the character development happened in a previous book; in which case a small short but effective summary of each character on re-introduction becomes vital. As things stand, as the characters are not fleshed out and are in addition completely alien as well as in an alien or fantasy setting, they just do not register or impress. You do not make a connect with any character. 

The story is fast-paced, develops rapidly, and is enthralling once you get into the story, and begin to make a connect with it. This part has been properly handled, and this is what tells me that the story is worth reading. The key is getting clarity as to what happened in the book, as I clarified above. 

All in all, this is a very promising concept, and could be a top-notch fantasy thriller, if the points highlighted above are taken care of. The narrative is fast and interesting, the story has been handled well, and the concept is fascinating. All it requires is attention to detail, proper presentation, and properly fleshing out the story so that late comers can also connect; this will work in two ways. 

First, it will heighten enjoyment for readers of the entire series, as they will like as not have forgotten the contents of the previous book/s – and will thus serve as a reminder to them. Second, for newcomers, it will ensure that they understand the concept properly and will cut down negative reviews of the book. The current presentation does not meet the mark; that apart – all else is great. Should you buy into the series? If you are into fiction, then no reason why you shouldn’t; the concept is fascinating. 

Book Review : Ramayan – The Game Of Life {Shattered Dreams}

Published February 12, 2015 by vishalvkale

||Shri||


RAMAYAN

THE GAME OF LIFE : SHATTERED DREAMS

Book 2

The Ramayan Retold by : Shubh Vilas


THE AUTHOR
Shubh Vilas is a spiritual seeker and a motivational speaker, with a degree in Engineering and Law, specialised in Patent Law. Prominent among his teachers are H.D.G. A.C. Bhaktivedant Swami Srila Prabhuda {Founder Hare Krshna Movement} and H.H. Radhanath Swami
THE GAME OF LIFE

Words fail me… I had never known the true power of The Ramayan, or the real reason why we Sanaatan Dharm followers {Hindus} honour Prabhu Ramchandra above all… I have, of course, known the full story through TV serials, movies, abridged Amar Chitra Katha comics and abriged stories… but reading the full story is an entirely different issue. The full force of the character of Prabhu Ram hits you hard, really hard – I actually cried on a couple of paragraphs – as you realise that this person just  cannot be a human… what is in embodied Prabhu Ramchandra  is beyond description – simple, soft, and yet so totally beyond even the wildest conceptualisation of our limited minds in the modern word… amazing that there once walked on this earth a man like Prabhu Ramchandra… truly, Maryada Purushottam! And even better : you come face-to-face with the full power of The Lady Sita, whose simple, unassuming and yet tough, rock-hard countenance is a revelation to small minds like mine… 


On reading it, I can only say that I can now begin to understand why Prabhu Ram is given a place of honour… shameful of me to read it at age 40+! The translation specifically is really good; a knowledgeable person vetted it just by hearing the name of the Guru of the author, stating if that is so, then I must read it… this is a lovely translation, beautifully written, completely true to the  Ramayan in Sanskrut so far as I can tell, written with true devotion and love, and yet in a reasonable, practical and yet respectful tone. This is a book for people like me, who havent actually read The Ramayan. I am captivated by the beauty of this epic, lovely and fascinating story from our Ancient History…
This is the 2nd book of the series, and deals with the plan to place Prabhu Ram on the seat at Ayodhya, the vicious plans of Manthara and the turning of Kaikeyi’s mind, going on to how Prabhu Ram takes this in his stride. The book focuses in detail on this phase, making for stirring reading, especially in the scene the Lord breaks the news to Devi Sita, and  Lakshman. The book focusses on the beginning of the Vanvaas, their initial experiences, thoughts and journeys in the latter half

The main aspect of the book is the revelation in the scenes between the various players, with the recreation of the scenes between Prabhi Shri Ram, Devi Sita; Shri Ram – Lakshman, Shri Ram – Kaushalya etc. This is so wonderfully retold, that the scene unfolds in front of your eyes, and invariably bringing a tear to your eyes! Such is the tremendous power of the words in the book : I do not know if this is the power of The Ramayan, the skill of the Author, or both…

For those of you who havent actually read The Ramayan, be prepared for a roller-coaster ride and a highly emotional experience. I can now understand just how important The Ramayan is to us, as well as Shri Ram-Devi Sita; the emotions you experience as you read it cannot be described; at least I do not have the skill to describe them. This is also due in some small measure to the focus being not just on telling the story so much as recreating the story in front of your eyes, and in your mind. 

The entire period of The Ramayan rises in front of your eyes. I can only say that it is tragic that I cannot read Sanskrut, if a translation can be so beautiful, I wonder how unimaginably fascinating the original must be, and how transcendentally beautiful! This is an epic, lovely and fascinating translation, and has been told with respect, devotion and great love; and it shows. 

The key value addition by The Transalator is the end-notes; first, they underscore the role of the author : he is our mentor and our guide on this journey of rediscovering the Ramayan, a Guru. And the Guru has littered the book with lovely, deep and pointed end-notes as explanations of the behaviour of each character {thereby ensuring the story remains free of intrepreter bias}. This takes you deep into the story and the minds of the various players in the story, giving you a deep understanding. 

What this also does is it also brings you face-to-face with yourself, your morality, your behaviours, your views and your life, giving you a deep learning and a fascinating maturing and learning experience. And then you begin to realise the sheer power of The Ramayan and its ability to bring you to face yourself, and introspect. You also realise through these stupendous end-notes that this is a story that can be read again, and again, and again… each time, with each reading, it will give a new flavour, a new learning…

In closing, let me state that despite knowing the entire story, this book has made me appreciate Prabhu Shri Ram – Maryaadaa Purushottam, his clarity of mind, his sincerity of purpose, his simplicity of thought, his honesty and integrity, his devotion and his love for everyone. It has also made me appreciate the sheer force and incredible power of Devi Sita, her incredible toughness, her dedication and sacrifice, and her love for Prabhu Shri Ram. And let us not forget the others – Shri Lakshman, Urmila and their equations, Bharat and his incredible nature… 

Incredible that such people once walked the face of this earth, and incredible that Mother India was once blessed with the presence of The Lord Himself! 

Jai Shri Ram!

{If any errors have happened, please accept my apologies….}


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Book Review : The Winner’s Curse

Published February 5, 2015 by vishalvkale

   The Winner’s Curse

By Dee Walker


Dee Walker is an alumnus of IIT Delhi, and is a businessman in the field of startup ventures, specifically into providing guidance to international companies wanting to invest in India. He also works closely in Pro Poor Policy and Programme Development, Monitoring and Evaluation.

THE CHARACTERS
Harsh Mittal : Dont judge him. Repeat : DONT judge this guy
Kamal Pandey: I like him, period. Nice guy, tough and a fighter
Babuji : A Politician. Need I say more? 
Roabesh De Mello : The Resident Sycophant
Raghav Badhwar : The quintessential I-Me-Myself man
Rajan Khosla : Corporate Hot Shot…
Savita Bhambi : The Ferret
A. R. Mani : Tech Wiz. He starts with tech, and stays with tech till the end. Right till the end. 
Aravind Pandey : He started it all… without him, there is no story to speak of… for nothing would have happened…


THE PLOT
The plot seems deceptively simple; trust me, it isnt. It is anything but simple; and is a beautifully crafted set of two intertwined plots, based on politics. The first revolves around Harsh, & Babuji. Babuji has thought up a simple plan centred around the Unique Identification Number project, involving connecting each citizen digitally and ensuring proper deliverance of services through e-governance. Tacked onto this is a surveillance and intelligence project. Babuji calls his mentee Harsh, and top businessman and an IITian to boot. 

Enter plot no 2: corruption. Some nice, decent and honest gentlemen are involved in a nice sweet and cosy mining set up, involving ferreting out some ore to China, alongwith the mandatory lining of the wrong kind in the right kind of pockets. Well, these nice people run into a most disagreeable and troublesome character who exposes them, or tries to at the very least. 

The rest of the story revolves around these two (apparently) totally unconnected plots, as the story gyrates back and forth with effortless ease. What is the connection? What happens next to our set of grey characters- for save a couple, all are etched in tones of gray to some degree? Will they manage to fight the temptations of the trappings of power, and the hypnotic pull of corruption? And how is this material the basis for a cliff-hanger? Read the book to find out!


THE ANALYSIS
The Winner’s Curse is a fiction book in the political thriller genre; and stays true to its genre in totality. It is based on politics, current events, and is an out-and-out thriller. Not only is the book a thriller, it is also a thriller that does not have any violence at all; and yet manages to keep the adrenalin flowing high in the reader till the last page. It will take an effort just to keep yourself from turning and skipping the pages to see what happens next

The part I personally liked best about the book is its practicality, and the way the plot has not shown a crusader as the central character. If anything, the central character is almost on the verge of being an anti-hero, which is most out of character for a book based on political corruption. Not just the central character – every character of the book is well filled out, and etched with realistic and deep tones, making for a completely believable story, one that almost seems real…

From start to finish, the story and the plot seem stunningly real and completely believable. At no point does it feel like fiction, which is a stupendous achievement for the chosen genre and topic. The narrative is flawless, and devoid of any vulgarity. In fact, the control on the language is truly laudable, with not a word out of place. The couple of expletives that do occur are natural in the situation portrayed; that apart, the book is squeaky clean. 

The book sets a frenetic pace right from the first page, and carries the plot effortlessly forward. This is a page turner, and you will constantly want to push ahead to see what happens next. A word of advice: this is not a book that you can read in stages or in fits and starts; once you start it, you will have to finish it – that is the quality of the writing. I rate it 5 stars… a class book that is a quick and fast read, and enjoyable as well. And the icing on the cake : a lesson to boot, with the ten commandments {What are they? Read the book!} , and the hard-hitting punch in the end, as the title and its meaning strikes home hard, in a stunning climax…