Thursday, December 28, 2023

Questions You Always Wanted to Ask by Swami Mukundananda (Book Review: 4.25*/5) !!!


36th Book of 2023!


I always get excited whenever I get to know that a spiritual leader/personality has written a book because their perspective of seeing things is always very optimistic and calm than how we look at things. I wanted to finish my reading target of 36 books for the Year 2023 with one such book. Hence, I picked up recently released book written by Swami Mukundananda named “Questions you always wanted to ask”. The book is published by Rupa Publications in around 190 pages. One can easily finish the book within a single sitting itself but the kind of spiritual and insightful gems author keeps on sharing with us doesn’t allow us to read it in speed but give each chapter its own time and reflect upon the same.


As the title of the book says, it is about the questions we generally have in our mind about life which we wish to ask to a spiritual guru and learn from them on how to handle our issues. Author has cumulated all such basic questions and tried giving answers from his perspective unapologetically. Author doesn’t shy away from writing solutions which might sound quite biased in terms of spiritual process but he assures that he only responds back to a question with an answer as experienced by him rather than giving some random templated answer. The book starts with talking about faith on how can one classify between blind and true faith. This chapter itself gives a solid foundation to the book as it clarifies how people generally falls into the cycle of blind faith without understanding what devotion actually is.


Swamiji is very crisp in his responses to every question and doesn’t end up writing long generic pieces which we have already read in some newspaper articles or Facebook/WhatsApp post. He gives short answers but with a very effective tone. Even while reading the answers, you start feeling some positive changes in your mindset and attitude. It is understandable the kind of impact it would make to us if we start following those advises and suggestions. In one of the chapters, author clarifies how all of us have misunderstood the concept of visualization and we believe that just by visualizing some ideal situations, we would manifest it into truth. He throws upon the light on how equal amount of effort is also required from our end in order to make our visualizations turn into true events.


Author doesn’t confine the book in either – spiritual or practical world but tries providing modern solutions even to the old-school questions. His intention is evident in every word that he wants to help readers in receiving the answer they’re looking forward by investing their time in this book. He has written every page with responsibility and ensures that the reader gets the maximum benefit out of the book and mostly, he has been successful in his endeavour.


There are topics where author has provided insights on the subjects such as reincarnation, past lives, destiny, life’s purpose, spirituality, religion, meditation etc. On the other hand, author has widely discussed about modern topics such as work-life balance, finding time for devotion, searching for a spiritual guru, self-confidence, enthusiasm, family life etc. Similarly, author also speaks about practical implementations for several topics such as reading scriptures and from where to start it – why Ekadashi fasting is necessary and how should one initiate it – how can one perform daily sadhana and meditation and for how long – the benefits of providing Seva – adopting vegetarian lifestyle etc.


Reading this book is like sitting in a breeze and enjoying pleasant flow of wind. The tough conditions and situations of our lives are also being talked of so easily that we don’t feel uncomfortable while reading them. For anyone who has never read spiritual books or didn’t perform spiritual practices, this book will be a good start to enter into the world of spirituality. The topics are nicely divided into different chapters. Every topic is then beautifully segregated in terms of several questions which helps us understand the direction in which the answer is being drafted.


Talking about the drawbacks, I must say that the author has provided very basic answers in certain sections which people keep on hearing anyway in their life. People expect something extra when they pick up a book from a spiritual personality like Swami Mukundananda. Secondly, author has promoted his belief right in our face without realizing that this book could be picked by anyone – either an atheist or people belonging to other religions as well. It felt very immature from the author’s end. Thirdly, author regularly gives reference of his own initiative and markets it while giving few answers. I think it should have been avoided.


Overall, this is a good read and can be gifted to anyone falling above the age of 12. I give this book 4.25* out of 5.






Monday, December 25, 2023

Tara's Truce by Kavita Kane (Book Review: 4*/5) !!!


35th Book of 2023

Well, I am almost on the last leg of my reading target of this year 2023 and I am grateful to have picked Kavita Kane’s “Tara’s Truce” in the last week of December. As all of us know, Kavita is a great mythological author and she loves penning story from the point of view of women who aren’t given much significance in our ancient texts. She picks such characters and write descriptively on them which turns out to be an exciting read for us as we don’t know much about them and wish to learn more.


This 300-pages book published by Rupa Publications is based on Tara, who is married to King Vali of Kishkindha and serves as the queen of the kingdom. Some events happen and she has to unhappily marry Vali’s brother, Sugriv. The book talks about the kind of trauma she has to go through to survive the ego clashes between both the brothers. She is also shown as a wife who is regularly trying to control her aggressive husband’s behaviour throughout her life. The story speaks of all the pre-events that happens before the main event where Lord Ram kills Vali – something that all of us have heard. Kavita takes us deeply into the world of Kishkindha and basically, the Kishkindha palace and makes us understand the dynamics of how the Vanara leaders were caught in their own turmoil before joining Lord Ram’s force in search of Sita Mata.


Kavita Kane had a very complex task while writing this book which is clearly evident as she had to convey and handle the complexities and dynamics between a lot of characters as every individual had direct relationship with another and none of them were either white or black. The gray shade in the personality of both the brothers- Vali and Sugriv has been beautifully portrayed. Throughout the story, as a reader, one ends up being confused if either of the two brothers can be called righteous and supported against the another. Both had their flaws but their backstory makes you support each of them at different instances. Kavita has been able to play this game beautifully with words and series of events narrated powerfully to display the best and worst in both of them.


Talking about Tara’s character on whom the book is based, I, frankly, didn’t know anything about her even though I am someone who reads about my religion regularly. Thankfully, this book has made me understand the plight and power of Tara. Her role in managing the kingdom in tough situations tells us how women played equal and major role in not only managing the bureaucracy but also go through the tantrums their King husband starts showing out of their ego, power, money and what not. All the conversations where Tara stood up against Vali and make him realize about his wrongs were such courageous scenes to read as any other woman must have got scared of even putting her opinion. Every time she ended up failing in stopping Vali from going the wrong path, her reactions and responses are just too inspirational for us with respect to how to behave when we are at our most hopeless and helpless state.


Though the book is named after Tara, but it gives equal justice not only to Sugriv and Vali but also to Rumi, who is Sugriv’s wife. She is not as courageous as Tara but the way she keeps herself up emotionally against everything that happens around her without her approval or validation tells us about the inner strength of a lady. A conversation between herself and Tara where they discuss how both of them didn’t get an ideal husband is such a phenomenal piece to read. I was in awe while reading what even Rumi had to say about her expectations from Sugriv and how she has not received much love from him.


In the pre-climax, the interest level goes on another stage as finally, Ram enters the storyline and it’s just mesmerizing to read how he talks with Tara after killing Vali maintaining his Godliness and stability. His conduct with Tara even after she curses him teaches us so much about humility, acceptance and forgiveness. Tara’s character again sees an upsurge after she handles Lakshman’s anger against Sugriv for not being available for Ram in search for his wife despite promising the same. Even Lakshman gets confused how she could play so beautifully with words and assure him of support after being cheated for months by her husband. The epilogue comes as a surprise where Ram’s words are being kept by him even in his next birth as Krishna. Kavita Kane’s research and effort can be seen in every twists and turns that makes this story so interesting and powerful.


Now, talking about the drawbacks, I must say that Kavita ends up writing few things very descriptively which ends up lengthening the story. It becomes boring at many places where the story becomes stagnant and we read the same thing repeatedly. Even some conversations between the main characters seems similar multiple times and we wish if author could have shortened it by just mentioning what conversation they had in just 2-3 sentences. The book could have been easily short by 70-80 pages for sure. Other characters such as of Hanuman, Jamvant, Angad etc. should have been given a little more visibility as all of us know about them and wished to read how they were participant in Kishkindha’s work affairs.


Overall, this is a nice read as we get to know about one of the characters in Ramayan who has to offer so much. I give this book 4 stars out of 5. This is my 2nd book by Kavita Kane and I am looking forward to reading all her other works as well.






Wednesday, December 20, 2023

The Nigerian Mafia- Mumbai by Onyeka Nwelue (Book Review: 3.75*/5) !!!


34th Book of 2023


Living in Navi Mumbai and Mumbai, there has been multiple times I have spotted Nigerian citizens in local train and other public places. There’re always some assumptions about them and we don’t take a second to pass judgments against them. Secretly, everyone of us wish to know how they are in India and what do they exactly do to survive or live in our city. Thankfully, I got my hands upon this book named “The Nigerian Mafia- Mumbai” written by Onyeka Nwelue who is a Nigerian filmmaker, publisher, talk-show host, bookseller, author and an Academic Visitor and founder of the James Currey Society, at the African Studies Centre, University of Oxford.


As the author is himself from Nigeria, he has been able to provide us specific details on the life of a Nigerian who has left his home to be in a new country and start from zero amidst all the struggles and chaos he has to go through. Onyeka has used the character of Uche to describe why the protagonist left his country and how he is trying to survive in India in its most fancy city- Mumbai.


The book is written in a very easy language which can be understood even by the beginners. I was quite unsure about the language initially as the author belongs to a foreign land where English is not prominently spoken hence the citizens lack the fluency. Surprisingly, Onyeka does great justice to the primary language he chose to write his story. He has also tried to maintain the flavor of Nigerian accent by ensuring that the same is scribbled in the conversations where certain characters are involved. Initially, I found difficult reading and understanding it but once I understood the purpose, it became easy to read the same.


Nwelue’s has a great potential in narrating the story as he is able to convince us about multiple sub plots and the kind of situations the characters have to go through. We are able to comprehend the arc of the characters and their changing priorities with the passing time in a city like Bandra where they get the difficult opportunities to survive but on the risk of getting caught at any point of time. How a local actor moves to Mumbai for becoming a Bollywood actor but ends up becoming a drug dealer – even a pimp – and indulges in other criminal activities as well. While reading the whole scenario from the perspective of a Nigerian, a reader is able to empathize with them completely.


In the pre-climax, author brings a twist and reveals what exactly happened with Uche before leaving for India. I read that part twice. The convincing factor in the author’s writing makes you believe even those sections where the possibility of it seems very fictional. Obviously, the book is a fictional attempt but the way it’s written makes it sound like an autobiography. I liked how author has justified the rawness of all the locales he has based his story in such as Bandra, Mumbai, Nigerian cities etc. One can easily imagine the whole ambience of the place where the character is regularly on a run for survival.


The romantic angle in the story is given a small place which gives a different perspective of the character but the confusion and uncertainty of the same makes it a separate but integral part of the tale. The book also takes us through how even fellow Nigerians doesn’t support each other due to their own caste system where there’s a lot of superiority complex in the ones who belong to the higher community. It speaks of other aspects of Nigeria as well.


Overall, the book is a compelling read which makes you keep turning pages until you finish it. It tempts you in believing that there’s something more sensational about to happen in the next chapter. Author has made the reading experience very easy and interesting. I give the book 3.75* out of 5. I am looking forward to read more work from the author in future.






Sunday, December 3, 2023

The Protected Rakshasa: KAAL by Pranay Bhalerao (Book Review: 4.5*/5) !!!


33rd Book of 2023


I remember reading around 3-4 books written by Pranay last year in 2022 and I was surprised with his scale of imagination while creating a universe in which he weaves his stories. The latest book I read by him was the 1st part of a new trilogy (“Kavaach Trilogy”) he had introduced reading which I was amazed by the world he had created. The series became promising with the 1st book itself and I am glad that within a year, Pranay has managed to draft the 2nd book and released the same recently. This 362-pages book is named “Kaal: The Protected Rakshasa” which is typically based on one of the two prominent characters of the book – Kaal.


Even though the book is part of a series and the last book was read by me a year back, the way Pranay has given start to this book makes the reader comfortable without getting confused with the multiple groups and characters. Just as we read the life of Krishna separately apart from his massive involvement in Mahabharata, author has given almost the same touch to the story of Kaal where we get to read about his whole life right from his birth to a phase where he finally gets involved in the Kavaach saga. I am surprised with respect to how Pranay made it possible to make it an easy-read without even giving a brief of what happened in the 1st book as a recap or something. This tells about the writing prowess he holds.


Pranay has managed to give a great shape to the development of Kaal’s character where he is a very innocent boy in childhood – then gets into a training module where he starts analyzing about the extra-ordinary events happening with him – later, as a lover boy who starts getting involved in a relationship fearlessly – as an intellectual youth - and finally into a warrior who is ready to take on anyone. The story around all these events progresses smoothly making us enjoy each of the phases and rooting for Kaal – even at the instances where we know he is not completely right.


His chemistry with his parents in his childhood is very nicely projected which shapes up his future regarding how and why he turns so evil over a period of time. His life in ashram is portrayed along with other themes of nepotism, favoritism and the struggle one has to go through when one tries to push himself up in the status ladder created by the society. I liked how Pranay was able to describe the whole tantric and other mantra-level hawans etc. very clearly that as a reader, we can imagine how the whole ceremonies are being carried out. A book that belongs to a genre where the ancient Indian history or mythology is touched upon needs description of such processes widely so that readers are aware of all that goes into developing a culture which is so vast and popular. Pranay just utilizes this specialty well and doesn’t leave a chance anywhere of not making us go through such events deeply.


Like the 1st book, even here the story keeps moving to and fro in two different eras- the ancient 600 BC and the modern world. Yet again, author has been able to make the transition happen very organically without making it sound complex and difficult. He has been successful in implementing this form of story-telling where there is link between two different time-periods and how to shuffle between both of them in order to narrate the happenings. It generally sounds as if both the stories are happening parallelly which makes it exciting and mysterious for the reader to know about both the worlds and its respective characters at every point of time.


In the 1st book, I had felt that Pranay has narrated the story as if it’s a pitch for a screenplay adaptation rather than a novel. Thankfully, this time Pranay has drafted the story well where it gives the literary feeling in every sentence. Similarly, there weren’t much philosophical aspect in the 1st part whereas this time, he has been able to provide such insights in between wherever there was a scope to describe any response with the element of life.


Personally, talking about few scenes – I liked the chemistry between Kaal and Nandini a lot. I liked the whole relationship arc of Kaal and King Nandak. I liked the last confrontational scene between him, King and the secretary. All those moments where the dark figures keep returning back to Kaal are nicely planned in the story. It gives a great push to the story – the twists and turns just after that makes the book reach another level. The insecurity of Adhiram and Radha throughout the story regarding losing their son hits the emotional nerves every time they have a conversation between themselves.


Not taking anything away from the other characters, Rudra is given enough scenes in this book as well in the present timeline. What happens after all the devastation (mentioned in 1st book) is discussed and his chemistry with his folks and realization of his superpowers keeps up the excitement in the story. I am excited to know how Rudra is going to rule over the next parts of this series. Similarly, Shaurya, his group and his world are also discussed regularly to build the base for the clash that’ll happen in the present timeline – somewhere in the next book.


Overall, the book is a perfect page-turner. Pranay is a brilliant story-teller who knows how to keep you hooked. He is capable of converting a complex storyline into a smooth-read with his writing abilities. I gave the 1st book 4.25*; as this one is a notch better than it; I will give 4.5* to Kaal – the 2nd book in the series. And now I wait for the conclusion to be released as soon as possible.






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