Tuesday, July 30, 2013

The betrayal

Dr. D. K. Bose leaned back on his seat, closed his eyes and took a deep breath. He was tired! He had been seeing patients non-stop for the past five hours. At forty five years of age he had achieved everything he had wanted when he was sixteen. Or had he, he wondered? The definition of success varies at different ages. What did he want when he was sixteen? He wanted to be a Doctor which he was. He was a specialist pediatrician which was something he had not thought of or known about at that age. He just knew that he wanted name, fame, money, a huge house and a big car. Well, he had that all and more. So why was he so dissatisfied and unhappy? The problem was that all his life he had simply chased material success and had never thought of anything else. And now his heart yearned for more.
He found his thoughts wandering back to things and people he had left behind in this single minded pursuit of materialistic success. His thoughts went to the small rented house he had grown up in with his four siblings. It was small and cramped and he had hated it then. Why did his thoughts go back to that house now? Why did it now appear that his childhood had been happier than his present? Why did he often think of his parents whom he had drifted away from, after his marriage? Why did his brothers and sisters who he had not seen for years appear uninvited in his thoughts? After all he had turned his back to his middle class siblings and their drab lives out of his own choice. Maybe his unhappy marriage was responsible for this dissatisfaction with his present. He thought of his wife who he had married for the sake of money. After if he had not married her who would have given him the capital to build such a big Nursing Home in this prestigious colony of Delhi. He would have been just a small time Doctor in some non-descript city or would have been posted in some Primary Health Center.
            This thought was not his own. This was something his wife reminded him of on almost daily basis during their regular arguments. Maybe if we had kids, things would have been better. But the same fate which had blessed him with money and success had been parsimonious in this aspect. And it was too late anyway. He had developed diabetes, hypertension, put on oodles of weight and lost all his hair. He looked fifty five instead of the age he was. Even if I adopt a child now I will be old or dead before he grows up, he thought. He tried to fill the emptiness in his heart by working even harder, seeing even more patients and putting his heart and soul in his work. Yet he grew more and more disgruntled with life. This is your punishment for leaving the only girl you loved in your life, he told himself as his thoughts drifted back the magical days he had shared with Sarika.
It was back in his days as a Resident Doctor that he had met Sarika. He still remembered their first meeting vividly. He was posted in casualty. Patients were few and far between and after instructing the intern to tackle whatever came his way, DK was immersed in his books preparing for a forthcoming seminar. Suddenly a commotion disturbed his concentration. He looked up to see a gaggle of girls from the nearby university arguing with the intern. On interceding, he found out that one of the girls had a minor medical problem and all her friends had accompanied her to the hospital. The poor intern was unable to cope up with them. He prescribed the requisite medications and sent the girls off after pacifying them. He was particularly struck by the vivacious and talkative friend of the patient but he brushed her thoughts off his mind and went back to his books. He ran into her again in the market after a few days and was offered a dazzling smile of recognition but no more. After a few chance meetings he found himself thinking about the girl increasingly. Discreet enquires revealed that she was an undergraduate student in the University and lived in the hostel. He also found out that her name was Sarika Sinha and that she was from a nearby town. Soon he was losing sleep and unable to concentrate on his studies as he became increasingly infatuated with the girl.
Unable to bear the misery of one –sided love any longer, he screwed his courage up and planned a visit to the girl’s hostel of the university with the forlorn hope of meet her. He sent in the slip with Dr. D .K. Bose written on it and waited with a palpitating heart. He still remembered every moment of their first meeting in the common room. After a few meetings he found out that his feelings were reciprocated by Sarika. They spent hours together talking about everything and sometimes nothing. They discovered their mutual liking for things as diverse as Jagjeet Singh’s ghazals and books by Richard Bach. The next two years passed by magically. It was perhaps the happiest time of his life. He worked hard in the wards, on his books and his thesis. She had her studies and exams which were nowhere as demanding as his and they managed to meet almost every day. He was young enough to have ideals and together they created a magic world of their own.  There were no mobiles and few telephones those days. He owned a second hand scooter which he had managed to buy saving a substantial part of his meager residents’ salary. They went on long drives to the nearby hills on the weekends and were oblivious to the world around them.
He had never been that close to his family. All his life he had hated his lower middle class upbringing. He had loathed his rented house in which there was hardly any personal space. He disliked his small time shopkeeper father, his meek mother and his good for nothing siblings. God has gifted him with a brilliant mind and early on in his life he had realized that the only way to escape from this middle class drudgery was through education. He was always at the top of his class and never had any problems keeping up with his studies even in the cramped confines of his house. It had surprised nobody when he cleared his medical entrance exams with flying colors in the first go. His father grudgingly provided his tuition fees and in Medical College he found the escape he had been looking for since his childhood. And in Sarika he found the intellectually stimulating partner he had longed for, all his life. That and the first flush of youthful love resulted in that period being the most memorable of his life. He clearly remembered all the dreams they had dreamt together, the plans they had made and the future they had envisaged for themselves.
He remembered the fateful day his M.D. result has been declared. He wanted to rush to Girls Hostel of the University to share the glad tidings with Sarika. And then Fate had intervened in form of urgent summons from his Professor. The said Professor was one person he had respected the most in his life and he had responded immediately. The Professor had welcomed him warmly and introduced him to the person sitting with him. They had a proposal for him, he had said. The person was an old friend of his Professor and was a rich businessman from Delhi. He had a daughter of marriageable age and was looking for a groom for her. As she was the only daughter he wanted his future son in law to stay with him in Delhi. If DK was amenable to this alliance he would set up a ‘state of art’ Nursing Home for him at Delhi and use his contacts to help him start his practice. Since his daughter was his only offspring she would eventually inherit all his property anyway.
DK was stunned. All that he had wanted in his life was his for the taking. All he had to do was say yes and he would be rid of the small town middle class existence forever. Then, he remembered Sarika and their mutual dreams. He asked his Professor if he could think about the proposal, excused himself and shut himself up in his Hostel room. For two days he agonised over the decision, going over to the mess only for his meals. He did not contact Sarika or consult his parents. He was desperate not to let go of this almost miraculous offer. Only his love for Sarika held him back. In the end avarice won the day. He went to his Professor and said that he was interested. Then he went home and told his family about the offer and his decision. They were stunned as well. His father as usual did not offer an opinion and told him to do whatever he wanted. His mother made some feeble objections and his siblings were green with envy. As for Sarika had he pushed her thoughts the back of his mind, going to the extent of never meeting her and not visiting his College or the city of Chandigarh again.
Within a month he was married to Rekha Dasgupta and installed in his new home in Green Park, Delhi.  His marriage was a grand affair and he remembered how faded and out of place his family had looked in middle of all that opulence. He had been slightly disappointed by the plain looking Rekha as she was nothing as compared to Sarika but had not shown his disappointment. She looks okay with her makeup and designer jewelry and expensive Saris, he had reasoned with himself. Right from the beginning his marriage had not been a happy one. Rekha was spoilt, stubborn and headstrong.  She was used to getting her way all the time being the only child of super rich parents. To her, he was a mere social appendage or a useful toy in bed when she was in the mood. He always thought of Sarika when he was with her. Maybe, she sensed the presence of the ghost of a third person between them. That is why the marriage was never smooth or happy. Anyhow, he adjusted to all this without complaining. Soon, he was immersed in his practice, patients and hospital.
Time flew and Sarika faded from his memories and consciousness. Only recently, he had started feeling a sense of disquiet, an ill defined feeling of being short-changed and a longing for what might have been. He had been having pangs of guilt about his betrayal of Sarika. He often wondered where she was and what happened to her? Maybe I should have met her and explained everything to her, he thought. She would have understood; she would have killed me; she would have kicked some sense into me and stopped me from selling myself to the first bidder I came across. Today he was missing Sarika terribly. He wished that he could escape from this self created golden cage of his. He wanted life to give him a second chance. Maybe I can still find true happiness, he thought…….
Dr. Bose was brought back to the present by the insistent ringing of the telephone. It was his receptionist.
“Sir, last two patients are left.”
He was irritated, “I can’t see any more patients. I am already late”.
 “Sir, the lady is insisting that it is very important. They are going abroad and she has to get her children immunized.”
Dr. Bose sighed in resignation and said, “Okay! Send them in but no more patients after this.”
As he busied himself in tidying his desk he heard a voice say, “Good evening, Doctor.”
Something familiar about the voice made him look up sharply. He was stunned. It was Sarika! She looked almost the same as she had when he had seen her last. No, she looked even better. The last twenty years had been kind to her. Her complexion was the same milk and honey he dreamed about every night; the eyes sparkled with the same mixture of mischief and amusement; and she was dressed smartly in Jeans and a figure hugging top, a far cry from her salwar kameez days. She was accompanied by a smartly dressed European. Two children, a boy and a girl were with them.
DK started stuttering, “Sa...Sa...Sarika.” He blurted out. She looked at him quizzically and said, ´Do we know each other, Doc?”
“I am Dinesh. You have not recognized me, Sarika.”
It was now Sarika’s turn to look stunned. “Oh Dinesh! What have you done to yourself? I just would not have known it is you. Dinesh ……….…. Dr. D. K. Bose. I just did not make the association. And you have changed dramatically. For the worse, I’m afraid.”
Without missing a beat she turned to the man at her side and said, “This is my husband, Robert. We met in Punjab University when I was teaching in the Dep’t. Of English after finishing my Ph.D. Robert is from Harvard and was in Chandigarh on a research project for the past four years. Robert, this is Dinesh, a friend of mine from college days. He is apparently a big shot Doctor now. We were close at one time but kind of lost touch with each other.”

 Later, she explained that Robert was going back to Harvard and she was going with him. She had been offered a Post Doctoral Fellowship in Yale and she planned to settle down in U.S.A with her family. They had to catch a flight the next day and needed to get their twins immunized urgently before leaving. It was by sheer coincidence that they had landed in his Hospital. Not once did during the entire interaction did she display any awkwardness or mention anything about his betrayal. It was DK who was tongue tied and could not speak much. He was simply overwhelmed by the cool, confident and sophisticated Sarika. Of all the times he had thought about Sarika in the last few years, this was one scenario he had not even imagined. And then with a wave from Sarika and a cool handshake from Robert they were gone. Dr. D. K. Bose, big shot Doctor, and a successful man in his own eyes till a few minutes ago, was left contemplating the quirks of fate and his own betrayal.

Monday, July 22, 2013

The Guardian Angels by Rohit Gore- Book Review

The blurb says:
The Guardian Angels is the epic and tumultuous story of two star-crossed lovers who weren’t just soul-mates but were also each other’s protectors.

The fates of Adi Mehta and Radha Deodhar are deeply entwined when within days of their first rendezvous they save each other’s lives.

Despite their vast sociopolitical differences, they are drawn to an uncertain future fraught with contrasting ambitions, personas and ideologies.

. . . he is the son of a billionaire, she is the daughter of a socialist.

. . . he is quiet and unassuming, she is a firebrand and spirited.

However, the unexplained phenomena ties them forever – whenever they are in peril, they are each other’s only saviors.

Over the following two decades Adi and Radha live through hope and despair, joy and sadness, and try to decipher their relationship. As the truth of their bond is revealed, they must confront the true nature of love, and ultimately, their destinies.

Rohit Gore was kind enough to send me the book for review and I had a lot of expectations from the book. I am happy to report that they were fulfilled. This is a book with a heart. You get immersed in the story and share the joys, anxieties and the pain of the protagonists as you read on. Rohit Gore writes with the ease of a veteran and succeeds in holding your attention throughout the lengthy tale of two completely dissimilar persons tied through bonds of friendship, empathy, love and twists of destiny that lead to both repeatedly helping and protecting each other. The story begins when they meet as young kids and follows their lives as they grow up passing through tumultuous times. This tale of star-crossed lovers is well conceived, well narrated and written with amazing verve and spirit. The language is crisp and pithy and many lines are worth quoting.
Though a fan of Indian writing in English, I often chaff at the superficiality of many books I come across. The Guardian Angels shows surprising depth and maturity and tends to stay in your mind long after finishing the book.  
As for the shortcomings, I could not find too many. For one, I did not like the cover. The last Grapevine book I read, Shades of Love had a far more attractive cover. (Incidentally, both I and Rohit Gore contributed a story each to that book) Secondly, a little more editing could have made the book crisper. (It tends to wander a bit occasionally)
Overall, The Guardian Angels is a wonderful tale which will keep you involved, entertained and leave you with a nice warm feeling in your heart. I would rate it at 3.5/5 and recommend  it as worth reading.

For online link to order the book click here

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

The city never sleeps

As the daylight faded in the cold and foggy December evening, most of the working girls hurried home. Some had families to go back to while others went back to their respective working women hostels or PG accommodations.However, for the girl with sad eyes, excessive make-up and cheap perfume, the day was just beginning! She sat in her dingy room at Sonagachi, the infamous red light area of Kolkata and shuddered at the prospect of the long night stretching endlessly ahead of her. She had woken up with a headache that evening. She hated this life, the miserable existence which compelled her to walk the streets every night and peddle her body. Yes, the earnings were more than she could have ever hoped to earn with her impoverished background and minimal education. But the cost was enormous as well. Something in her had died a long time back. And that was hope, the will to live and enjoy life. A dark fear raised its hood in her heart, like the cobras she had seen in her childhood.
 She remembered the time when her father would take her and her brother to the annual fair near their village. She would peep at the snake charmers and their deadly wares from behind the reassuring bulk of her father, clutching her brother’s hand tightly all the time. She felt a pang when she remembered the cholera epidemic which had wiped away her entire family in one go, leaving her forlorn and vulnerable. Life had become a series of travails which had culminated in this lonely existence in her squalid room at Sonagachi.
 She wondered why she was feeling so apprehensive, so defenseless and so vulnerable that day. Then she
remembered. The ice-pick murderer! There was a psychopath out there in the city who had killed three persons over the last one month. No one knew who he was and why was he killing people? But it was a fact that a killer was lose in the streets of Kolkata and the police had no clue about his identity. The newspapers and the local TV channels were screaming themselves hoarse, all kinds of rumors were floating around in the city and the ice-pick killer had acquired a larger than life image. She had a bad feeling about tonight, a kind of hollow feeling in the pit of her stomach. She was afraid to go out and walk the streets. The rational part of her mind scoffed at her vague undefined fears. She had been working the streets for over five years and had seen it all. From policemen to pimps, from drunkards to drug-addicts, from petty criminals to educated professionals; she had dealt with all and slept with most.
What did she have to fear?
 “Come on girl, move. You have a living to make.” She told herself and forced herself to stir. She looked at herself. She was dressed in a red short top and jeans, her working clothes. She picked up her large red handbag, an essential part of her ensemble and moved out of her room. Most of the women who lived in Sonagachi plied their trade within the area but she found the area with its garish multi-storied brothels too suffocating. She preferred to move out of the confines of the infamous locality to walk the streets in the up-market areas of the city. Her beat extended from Esplanade to Sealdah railway station. Occasionally, she would move further down south to Park Street or the secluded Maidan near it. She has a good working relation with a large number of seedy hotels where she would take her clients. She did not like to venture beyond this known universe of hers and rarely took up offers where clients would insist on taking her to their place.
 It was already dark by the time she ventured out of her room. The lights were twinkling and beckoning in the various by-lanes of Sonagachi. The streets were comparatively empty with only a few pimps, prostitutes and people walking around. The action would pick up later and go on till the wee hours of the morning. She looked at the unfolding vista in distaste. She particularly hated the sight of overtly made up sari clad women looking out of barred windows and balconies, a sad commentary on their caged existence.   She made her way to the small restaurant next door for her dinner.
 “Always eat before venturing out in the streets. You never know what the night has in store for you and when do you get your next meal.” A veteran whore had given her the counsel years back and over time she had come to realize the value of the advice.
 “What should I get you, didimoni?” The thirteen year old waiter was a favorite of hers and nearest to a kin in her lonely existence.
“Get me a Muglai paratha and a Pepsi.” She was still feeling uneasy and decided to give herself a treat in the forlorn hope that it would make her feel better. A particularly repulsive man sidled up to her and said. “I see that you are about to move. I don’t know why a beautiful girl like you has to work so hard. Give me a chance. I will line up clients at your door. You won’t have to move a bit and I will also get something to feed my family with.” She was used to the wheedling of the pimps and ignored him completely, munching her meal in silence. The rebuffed man walked away, murmuring expletives under his breath. “Bloody whore. She thinks that she is a princess or something!” Years in the environment had given her a thick skin and she ignored him and his jibes.
 She finished her meal and retouched her lipstick using a small mirror she fished out of the red bag. She walked to Mahatma Gandhi metro station and caught the tube railway to Esplanade. She checked the dainty little wrist watch she was wearing as she walked out of the station. There was a hint of chill in the air and she shivered in her light top.
 “I should have worn a sweater!” She thought as she crossed the busy road at the zebra crossing. She decided to hang around for a little while near the traffic lights and wait for someone to approach her. “A bit like casting a line and waiting for a fish to bite!” She thought to herself.
Her mind went back to her child-hood days when she and he brother would fish at the village pond with makeshift fishing rods. Sometimes, they would return home empty handed while at times a two hour stint would result in few palm-size fish which they would happily carry back home for their mother to cook. 
 But today the fish did not seem to be biting. The busy metropolis buzzed with activity. Cars and bikes zipped across the road at breakneck speeds. The pedestrians wove their way amidst the constant traffic with impunity and the area throbbed and pulsed with life. She got a lot of curious stares and an occasional wolf-whistle but the only one to approach her and give her a smile was the familiar beat constable.

She got tired of waiting and decided to move to a less crowded locality. She started walking toward Sealdah station. The character of the surroundings changed and became a bit seedier as she approached the flyover. A man who was riding past on a bike slowed down and gave her an interested stare. He then stopped, turned around and rode towards her. She smiled as he approached her. “The fish has taken the bait”, she thought. The man gave her a long look of appraisal and decided that she was available. “How much?” He asked. “One thousand for me and four hundred for hotel room. Or would you prefer to take me home?” “No, no! Hotel is okay.” The man was immediately defensive and she smiled inwards and thought, “He surely does not want to take me home to his wife."

Read the rest of the story in Shades of Sin, an anthology of Short stories about presence of evil in human heart published by APK Publishers, Pune.


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Sunday, April 14, 2013


        One should love all of God’s creatures, especially thy neighbor’s wife. And I do. No, I do not mean my neighbour’s wife but all of God’s creatures. Why, I even love the Snake Eyed Skink. In case you don’t know what is it, allow me to tell you that it is a slimy kind of a lizard which does not have eyelids. If you do not believe me see the photograph I posted on my Facebook Wall. (You will be astounded by the number of likes and comments the little chap attracted) Believe it or not, I even love the dung eating Beetle. And there was this chap who made the country fall in love with a Housefly. (See the movie Makkhi to get the drift). But then God has made some creatures who one just can’t love. The prime examples are mosquitoes and insurance agents. Talking of insurance agents, I wonder if there is lower being in the totem pole of existence. And if the insurance agent is a five foot nothing runt with an oily smile and high pitched voice he takes the cake, pastry and the entire Bakery. One such snake in human form infested my neighbourhood. I always gave him a wide berth but one fateful day the guy managed to corner me. He gave me a non-stop spiel on how I did not love my family enough to make some provision for them once I was over the great beyond. I told him that he was wrong and I was insured for a princely sum. “Two lakhs.” The little runt curled his lips in contempt. “It is too less. You are a high net worth individual. You should be insured for at least one crore.”   “One crore insurance, are you crazy.” I shouted. “People are murdered for a fraction of that amount. Why tempt fate, or in this case, my immediate family. And what gives you the impression that I am worth anything? Nobody even buys my books!” But the guy was persistent. He went to work on me with a bulldog like tenacity and eventually wore down my resistance. He left my office with a huge grin, a fat cheque and left me clutching an appointment slip for my medical examination the following Monday.
          The first bomb came on Sunday. A sweet feminine voice called me on my cell. “Sir! This is Priya from City Hospital. This is a reminder call for your medical examination tomorrow morning. Please reach at 10.30 sharp. And yes, come fasting.”  “Wait a minute,” I stammered, “I need my breakfast at 7.30. I can’t wait till 10.30.I’ll waste away by 10.30.” ” “Sorry sir, this is mandatory! We have to take your fasting blood and urine samples.”  “ Then call me to the Hospital at 7.00 AM.” I wheedled. A slivery laugh tinkled down the airwaves. “Sir, even the janitors don’t come in that early. It is you who has to get insured. And remember, this comprehensive medical checkup will be free for you as the insurance company is paying for it.” Free! That clinched it.  Once I consented, she added a few other unmentionable things which I am not going to write about. I cursed the runt while I made a mental note of her instructions. “And Sir, please remember to shave your chest before coming.”  “Shave my chest, what the heck! I am not appearing for Miss Universe or something like that. I will not do it.” I screamed. “Sorry sir! This is again mandatory. You have to undergo a Treadmill test and electrodes don’t stick on hairy chest.”
          I was grumbling about all that when my bitter half intervened. “Tell me something. How does that girl know that you have a hairy chest? Been playing around, have you? I will not cook for you from today.” “Come on sweetheart, you know I have eyes only for you.” I stammered but the lady did not relent. I groveled and genuflected some more, but to no avail. Desperate, I played my last card. “Darling, I am getting this insurance thing only for your benefit.” This pacified her some and I got my dinner.

            Monday morning dawned bright and clear. The anxiety of the impending medical examination was gnawing away at my innards like a persistent rodent. What if I have an undetected medical condition…What if I have diabetes, or brain tumor, or even AIDS? “Come on”, I chided myself as I rode my scooter down to City Hospital.
            Anyway, I entered the hospital feeling a bit like a schoolboy appearing for his exams. Ah, at least I‘ll get to meet Priya with the silvery laugh, I consoled myself. Yes, I did get to meet her and contrary to my mental image of her, she looked more like a female bouncer in one of Bangkok’s notorious strip bars. You may ask me how do I know what female bouncer in Bangkok’s notorious strip bars look like? But did I promise to answer? So you may keep guessing! She pounced on me with a swiftness which would put a Cheetah to shame and handed me over to a ward-boy.  “Take case number 113 to the Doctor.” She instructed him with what I construed to be a wicked gleam in her eyes. So I was just a case, I thought. I was taken in and put through the grind. I will not elaborate on the indignities the Doctor unleashed on me. Sufficient to say that I was poked and prodded, every crevice in my body was looked into and every protuberance felt up. My chest was auscultated, I was made to take off my shirt (and my vest) , lot if wires were taped on to me and made to run on a treadmill to the point of exhaustion. Then they drew some blood and collected my urine and my poo. Thankfully, they did not demand a sperm sample. Anyway, an hour later, I was allowed to go home, leaving behind the tattered pieces of my dignity.

          A week later, I received this letter from the insurance firm.
Congratulations! We are happy to inform you that your Medical reports are perfectly normal.
However, we are sorry to inform you that you do not qualify for One crore insurance cover as you are not a High net worth individual. Our agent made a mistake in the calculation. We apologize for any inconvenience it may have caused you.
 May we offer you a rupee two lakh policy instead?

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Shades of Sin is now available

"Shades of Sin" is now available on APK website. Here is the link:

We have priced the book at Rs.195/- but it is available for Rs.150/- on the website.

If this is the only book that buyers buy, then they will have to pay Rs.30/- for shipping, since they do that if the order value is less than Rs.200/-. (For flipkart and other online book stores, the threshold is Rs.500/-.) That brings the price of 1 copy of Shades of Sin to Rs.180/-.

So, in order to sweeten the deal for buyers, APK has created 2 combo packs:
Combo 1: Shades of Sin + Cocktail (MRP Rs.150/-, their bestselling short story collection)

Combo2: Shades of Sin + Stories from the Heart of a Dreamer (MRP Rs.175/-, short story collection by Armaan Farid - a 21-year-old Hyderabad based writer who started writing the book when he was only 18 years old - which was appreciated by all and did very well)

APK has priced both the combos at Rs.250/-. So for an additional Rs.70/-, buyers will get another book. ( No courier charge as well)

Note: APK supplies books abroad as well. The price remains the same but there is an additional Postage charge ( as per actual charges) So all my friends living abroad may order it.

For those who do not believe in / are uncomfortable with online transactions, there is a simple solution. Please send a Multi-city cheque/ Demand Draft of the required amount made to 'APK Publishers' payable at Pune, at the following address along-with your order.

APK Publishers
5/301, Ved Vihar, Chandni Chowk
Paud Road, Pune-411038

For Die-hard Flipkart fans, here is the flipkart link

In case you are a kindle fan and prefer eBooks 

click here for the Amazon link

Please  forward this post to your family/friends/acquaintances. Once about a million copies have sold, I can sit on my backside and not work for the rest of my life  :-))

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Book review of MICE IN MEN

An unabashed fan of the short story format, I like nothing better than a good collection of short stories. When I started reading Mice in Men by Anirban Bose, I was expecting a good book. But I was pleasantly surprised as it turned out to be a great book. The stories are fresh, innovative and insightful. Anirban writes well with a rare command over the language and a flair for the written word. The language and flow is far superior to his debut novel, Bombay rains, Bombay girls.  What lifts this collection far above average is the warm feeling that these stories leave in your heart.
The fist story of the collection, A new job, is an excellent study of human nature with a twist in the end.
The magic of medicine, a tale of a doctor struggling with a challenging case, touches the heart. Being a doctor, I identified strongly with the storyline and the situation.
Mice in men, the story of a ordinary non-descript person discovering the hero within, is probably the weakest story of the collection.
Neologisms, the story of a man rising above the circumstances of his birth, finding great success, yet faltering at a critical juncture is profound.
The ballonwala is reminiscent of The Gift of Magi.
The temptation of fate, again the story of a non entity finding the hero within, is well written.
Stockholm Syndrome, a psychological thriller, is the pick of the lot. It can easily hold its own against international writing anywhere in the world.
The right way to eat a mango is very sentimental.
The faithfulness of traits, a study of human ego and weakness, weaves a spell.
The last story, The world’s greatest oiban, leaves you feeling nice and warm.
I will rate the book at 8/10 and suggest that it is a must read for short story fans.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Labyrinth- a book review

I ordered the book while browsing books on Flipkart as I was intrigued by its cover. It arrived within three days with the usual clinical efficiency of  Flipkart. And I read it in one sitting. I am a fan of short stories and a big supporter of free independent writing. The book did not disappoint me in any manner. An eclectic collection of short stories from a diverse group of relatively unknown names, the book comes as a whiff of fresh air. The tales are short and snappy, and they straddle a vast canvas from mythology to virtual reality. Some are so extra-ordinary that they leave you spellbound. Some are average but then, that is true for every anthology ( It is impossible to maintain a uniform standard / level of readability.)
The best of the lot? I am hard pressed to choose between Sym-World ( Aditi Chincholi), a stunning tale of virtual reality and The Martyr ( Mainak Dhar), the story of a teenage soldier set in war ravaged Afghanistan.  Farming on Facebook( Sushant Dharwadkar) and The night of the Wokambee ( Rishabh Chaturvedi) are  remarkable for the twists in the tail. Puppet Show( Aditi Chincholi), I’ll be back (Shawn Pereira), Mortified ( Jeevan Varma)Mists of Time ( Niharika Puri) and Travel Through the Night( Rishabh Chaturvedi) are other stories that I found intriguing.
Bagheera Log Huts did not make much sense to me. (Maybe I missed something there!)
But all said and done, this is a marvelous effort and a must read for all short story fans.
My rating  - 7/10
Recommendation - Go for it!
To order it online, click here.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Public sentiment vs Medical profession- the Satyamev Jayate effect

The recent episode of Satyamev Jayate which targeted corruption in the Medical Profession in our country has already generated much heat. From the understandably angry reaction from doctors, outpouring of outrage (aimed at medical profession) from general public to acerbic articles in the mainstream press, the episode has stimulated a lot of debate. This in itself is not a bad thing. Being a part of Medical Profession for the last 30 years, the entire episode affected me deeply. Not because it talked of corruption in my profession. (After all, which sphere of life in modern India is untainted by corruption?) But what disturbed me was the realization that the profession of healing, previously looked upon as a Noble profession, is now regarded with deep suspicion by the common citizen of our country. 
While accepting the fact that all is not well with the Medical profession in our country, I would like all commentators (including Amir Khan) to refrain from bad-mouthing all doctors indiscriminately as the number of good and ethical Doctors in India far exceeds those indulging in questionable practices and such generalizations just go on to drive a wedge of suspicion and destroy the Doctor-patient relationship.  This, in the long run, will simply harm the interest of the patients.  
There is no denying the fact that advanced medical care in India is prohibitively expensive. I know many instances where even members of Medical profession were unable to afford the treatment of conditions requiring Intensive care or cancer chemotherapy. But are Doctors responsible for this state of affairs? Health is a State subject but both the Central and State governments have proven to be woefully inadequate to the challenge of providing even basic healthcare to the citizens of our country, so the question of providing advance health care gets left far behind. In this scenario, the only option left for most citizens is go in for private healthcare. Treatment in multi-specialty corporate hospitals is expensive. And the feeling that needless investigations, unnecessary procedure/operations and costly drugs have been used persists in the minds of many of the patients. Unfortunately, there is hardly any provision made for illness/hospitalization in the monthly budgets of most Indian family. Health insurance is often absent and even if present, usually meager. Thus any expense pertaining to illness/hospitalization is unplanned and unwelcome. This results in a simmering resentment in the minds of most people and in the end this ire gets directed at the healthcare in general and Doctors in particular. So every time an Amir Khan targets the medical profession, it finds a resonance across the nation.
While many commentators have compared the Indian Healthcare system with that of USA/ European countries and rightly pointed out some deficiencies, they would be well advised to compare the cost of health care services in those countries with that in India. They will be surprised to see that Healthcare costs in India are a fraction of that in USA/ Europe.
So where is the solution? I believe that opening more Government Medical Colleges  in semi-urban and rural areas will go a long way in improving the health infrastructure of our country and take advance health care to places where it is most needed. This will also help improve the woeful Doctor-patient ratio of the country.
Health insurance is a sector that needs a lot of work. And the state run agencies like LIC should provide low cost health insurance to the needy sections of the society.
The pharmaceutical industry should be regulated and the price of essential / life-saving drugs should be capped to make them more affordable. This will help in doing away with the huge profit margins and also discourage malpractices like use of expensive drugs unnecessarily.
The Medical Council of India should be strengthened and be manned by professionals with unimpeachable credentials.
Practices like 'Continuing Medical Education' and 'Prescription audits' for Doctors be encouraged and made a norm.
Another aspect which generally escapes the attention of general public are the increasing episodes of violence aimed at Doctors/ paramedical staff and clinical establishments. Doctors should be provided with adequate security and legal right to practice their profession without any fear. Some states like Andhra Pradesh, Punjab and Delhi have already passed ordinances about ‘Prevention of violence against Clinical establishments and Medical personnel.’ Other states need to take cognizance and follow suit.  
Another important lacuna in the health delivery systems of our country is the presence of huge number of Quacks/ unqualified persons masquerading as doctors in our country. And don't think that it is a problem seen only in rural or semi-urban areas. Even in cities like Delhi and Lucknow, the quacks outnumber the qualified doctors by a huge percentage. And the regulatory authorities seem to be least bothered about this menace. 
And lastly, public health be accorded the highest priority and budgetary provisions be made for it by the Central and State governments.
Only then can we hope to achieve a healthcare system which confirms to the expectations of all our citizens.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

English language- massacred

Okay, if you were under the impression that only we Indians used English incorrectly, here are a few examples of  unintended bloopers from round the world.
 Airline  ticket office,  Copenhagen :

In a  Bangkok  temple  :

Cocktail   lounge ,  Norway  :

Doctors   office, Rome :

Dry   cleaners, Bangkok :

In a  Nairobi    restaurant :

On the  main  road to Mombassa, leaving Nairobi   :

On a  poster  at Kencom :

In a  City  restaurant :

In  a  cemetery :

Tokyo   hotel's rules and regulations :

On the  menu  of a Swiss restaurant :

In a  Tokyo    bar :

Hotel  ,  Yugoslavia  :

Hotel ,   Japan :

In the  lobby  of a Moscow hotel across from a Russian  Orthodox  monastery :
A  sign  posted in Germany 's Black  Forest   :
Hotel,   Zurich  :
Advertisement  for donkey rides,  Thailand :

A laundry  in  Rome :

Sunday, April 1, 2012


Addiction! The word had negative social connotations. If you tell the average person that YOU ARE AN ADDICT, he or she will protest vehemently and do his/her best to make you feel that you have indulged in the character assassination of the worst kind. Yet it is true! Each one of you who is reading this is an addict. So am I. So are my wife and my kids. My parents, thankfully, are spared of this malady. Yes, we are all internet addicts! And then there are further sub-types of this addiction. Facebook addiction, Twitter addiction, Blog addiction, Youtube addiction; the list is endless. And then some of us are addicted to salacious photographs of Poonam Pandey and Sunny Leon, but that is understandable, is it not!
The internet service interrupted for a few hours sends us all into a tizzy. We repeatedly check our modems, the telephone line and the sundry paraphernalia associated with out laptops. We yearn for our daily fix of internet browsing, become anxious, irritable, apprehensive and show the classic withdrawal symptoms. If the broadband is still out we’ll use our phones or consider visiting the neighboring cybercaf√©; in fact anything to get our daily fix of social networks.  We almost behave like our lives and livelihoods are dependent on the likes and comment our inane status updates or useless photographs we paste on Twitter, Face book and other sundry networks attract.
Are we all mentally sick? Do we seriously need to turn towards THE REAL WORLD and GET A LIFE? Food for thought! *

*Then there is mobile addiction and TV addiction, but we’ll talk about them some other day. Right now, I need to check how many like and comments my last STATUS UPDATE  has garnered. 

Monday, March 19, 2012


Sanjana’s Diary.
28th September,2008
I still remember the day we decided to shift to USA. Ritesh came back from his office all excited and cock-a-hoop. He told us that he had this offer to relocate to USA for a project lasting five years. Our daughter Nalini was in class XII and was due to appear for her boards.
“She can always appear in SAT and complete her education in some university of USA. The state of California has more than 20 odd universities.” Ritesh had reasoned. “Getting such a tempting offer in the days of recession is very fortunate. I really do not want to let it go. After all, such an opportunity will not come knocking again.”
What had remained unsaid was that I would have to give up my teaching job at St. Anne’s High School to shift to USA. But I did not think much about it in the excitement of shifting to a new country. It would be good for the careers of my husband and daughter, I had thought. And like most Indians, we were completely besotted by the American dream. Was it a mistake? I don’t really know the answer to this one. Ritesh is happy enough with his professional life. The work culture here is much better than the one back home, he says. As for my daughter, she has taken to the American way of life like a fish to water. And that is a source of discomfort for me. As for me, life is very monotonous. Used as we are to the Indian way of living, life in USA can be very lonely. No relatives around, very few friends. Even the desis I see on the street or in the malls tend to look through me. Even though I do not have a maid, housework does not take much time as half the things we eat from Chapatis to Parathas to Chicken are precooked and there is hardly any dust or dirt around. I miss my job in the school. I miss my students, my colleagues and my friends. Why, I even miss our grouchy Principal Mrs. Dias. I miss Delhi and its heat, dust, grime and the teeming crowds. When I lived there I hated Delhi for all these things but now I yearn for them. The only solace is the internet. I watch a lot of Hindi movies on the net. Most of the time I end up watching the latest release much earlier than my sister back there in India. I can talk to her and some of my friends on Skype but the 14 hour time difference is a pain. And it has been just three months since we shifted. We live in Morgan Hill, a small town in the suburbs of Silicon Valley. Ritesh drives to work and it takes him about thirty minutes to reach his office in downtown St. Jose. He reaches back home around seven pm. He does his best to give me company but the only times he is really free are the weekends. He is talking about exploring the nearby places on the weekends so that both of us can spend some quality time together. Sounds pretty American, doesn’t it! Nalini has been accepted in California State University, Long Beach some two hundred miles away and lives in a dorm on the campus. I want her to come home every weekend but in past one month she has made it to home only once. Already the way she dresses and talks has changed and she has picked up a marked American accent. The only person who does not have much to do is me. I really feel like an outcast in this new life we have found for ourselves. God, I am so far away from home. I really need to get a grip on my life. I need to get out of this rut. Maybe joining the Santa Clara County Library is the answer. Maybe it is time I start considering what career options are available to me in USA.

Blog of an unknown Indian
30.9.2008 , 11.00 PM
Today is exactly three months since I landed in USA. I have decided to write this blog as a kind of online diary if my experiences here. I don’t know how frequently I will be able to update my experiences as I find barely enough time to give some company to my poor wife who languishes at home all the time. I have resolved to at least make an honest attempt to chronicle my experiences. I am software professional who works for Wipro. I was working in Gurgaon and lived in Delhi when I got this offer. To relocate to a new country at this juncture of my life was a tough call but two factors tilted the balance. First was the unprecedented advancement in my career and the monetary benefits that went with it. Second was a chance for my daughter Nalini to get an American education.
After three months I can confidently say that the decision was right.
I have made more progress professionally in these three months than I would have done in three years in Gurgaon. I have to say this about Americans that they have a different approach to work altogether. If you know your job and are sincere your co-workers will go out of their way to help you. It is a refreshing change to work in a competitive environment sans any office politics and intrigue. And they respect ability. And of course USA is far ahead of us as far as creature comforts are concerned. We have rented a beautiful house in Morgan Hill, a picturesque little town in the Santa Clara valley, flanked by the Santa Cruz Mountains in the west and the Diablo range in the east. Once Sanjana starts working we may as well buy it. After all, what are hire purchase and mortgages for? And I drive a Honda Civic to work, something I could only dream about back home. And driving on the freeway! It is something that has to be experienced and people used to the chaotic Delhi-Gurgaon road cannot even imagine the pleasure of driving on an American freeway. On my way to work I see magnificent sights. The ‘Incredible India‘ dudes should see this country. I see the grand El Toro which stands guard over the town; the freeway sweeping through the verdant Santa Clara valley; and the changing colors of foliage. My colleagues tell me that America is at its best during the fall.
Nalini has joined the California State University and as far as I can tell she is pretty happy. University education is expensive in USA but with my enhanced financial muscle I can afford it.
The only cause for concern is Sanjana. She is finding it very difficult to adjust to this new life. She looks utterly bored and wears a permanently wan expression. She says that sitting at home the whole day doing nothing is grating on her nerves. And she has put on so much of weight! I strongly suspect that she is fast turning into an Internet addict. I really do not know what to do for her as I hardly have any time on week days. I keep pestering her to be more outgoing and make a serious attempt to adjust to this new life but to no avail. I keep telling her that the only way to survive in a new country is to adjust and adapt and eventually get assimilated. After all, isn’t America a huge melting pot of different races and cultures and most of its citizen’s are descendents of immigrants. And who are the original residents of this country? The Native Americans who are hardly seen around nowadays! So why consider ourselves as outcasts? And as for loneliness, it has to be faced squarely. Sitting at home and moping will not solve anything. I think I must take Sanjana on drives around the state during the weekends and explore the surroundings. We need to check out the lake and the aquatic centre and the beach is not all that far. Maybe that will put some color into her cheeks and cheer her up. And she would not feel so ‘away from home’.

Nalini’s email.
Dear Sapna,
Hi! It’s been exactly after three months since we left Delhi. It is not that I had not thought about mailing you but with so many things happening in these three months I just did not find time to email you. Now let me tell you all about our American adventures. Well, we came here and initially stayed in a guest house for around a fortnight. Then we shifted to this beautiful rented house in the suburbs. You might remember that I scored 82% in my boards. Good thing that we shifted or I would not have got admission in a decent college in Delhi. My SAT score were good enough for me to have secured admission in California State University, Long Beach. Now this is some place. I am told that the total number of students is around 45,000. Kind of boggles the mind, doesn’t it? By the way Karen and Richard Carpenter are ex-students of this University.
I am staying in a dorm in the University. Things are very different out here. One thing is that everyone from the Dean to the teachers to your classmates treats you as an adult. And none of the students wonder what their parents would think before doing anything. And they dress so differently. You know, my trendy jeans, kurtis and tee shirts looked positively dowdy here as all girls dress in minis and shorts (very short shorts). There is not much pressure of studies in the beginning as the Dean has told us to take our time before deciding on our majors. So I will decide my major next semester. Here, everyone goes out on dates and does everything in them. The boys here say I am exotic and sexy and they keep asking me out. I have gone out with a couple of guys but made them stop before they went too far. I have even sipped beer (Ugh) but I liked the cocktails. My mom wants me home every weekend but I am trying to find my feet in this milieu and we do have so many things to do on weekends. Anyway dad is cool and he says he wants me to do well academically. Do mail me and let me know how you are finding Ramjas College and Delhi Univ.
P.S. Nobody except mom and dad calls me Nalini anymore.

Sanjana’s diary
27th December 2009
I am making an entry in the diary after more than a year. So much has happened over the year. My life has changed and I have become so busy that I have hardly had time to myself. Nowadays, I am free as Christmas holidays are going on. It has been snowing for the past three days and now I know what a ‘White Christmas’ means. My daughter Nell is home for her Christmas break. Ritesh is also free and my little family is together after a long time. We had planned to visit Florida this time but Nell was more interested in snow than sand. Besides, she wanted to stay at home and eat Indian food. Although she dresses and talks like a typical American it is good to know that inside she is still Indian. And anyway, with the advent of winter all her short dresses have disappeared. Ritesh was also swamped with work and this break has come at an opportune time for him. All he has done since the beginning of this holiday is drink beer and watch sports on TV. He has not been helping me with house-work as he claims he is on a holiday. Not that I mind. With my job in the library, my workout regimen and my commitment to community work, I hardly have had time for my household and kitchen and am enjoying rustling up long forgotten Indian dishes. But I am jumbling things up. Let me pen down the events in a chronological order. I see that I had written in my earlier entry that I had nothing to do. I was sitting at home getting terribly bored, putting on weight and feeling like an outcast.
Once the cultural shock of being in a new country wore off, I decided to put my life back on rails. And it all began with the gym. I joined the neighborhood gym and started working out. Initially, it felt terrible as I was out of shape and lacked the stamina to work out for more than five minutes at a stretch. The other members appeared to have great bodies and their skimpy clothes embarrassed me. But I did not give up and within a month I was looking and feeling better. Gradually I got to know the members who were regulars and even struck up a friendship with some of them. Susan was one of them. She is a teacher in a school. We became close when she learnt that I was also a teacher back home in India. Susan helped me to understand and adjust to the American way of life. She told me to apply for the post of Assistant Librarian in her school. After getting the job I joined a correspondence course in Library Science. I am doing fairly well in my job as well as studies and hope to be promoted to the post of librarian once I complete my diploma. She also made me realize the importance of community service in the American way of life. We are regular members of ‘Save the earth’ initiative and go over to the local ‘Retirement Home’ which is basically a home for the elderly. The inmates are all successful people on their own. It is not like the ‘Old age homes’ in India where the unwanted elderly are dumped by callous relatives. This is a proper retirement home with all amenities and the inmates usually come here out of choice. The only problem is most of them are very lonely and they look forward to our visits. Sometimes I feel that they are the real outcasts of American society. I feel very good to be there and it feels like being a part of a large extended family. I do not feel like an outsider in a strange country anymore. But it is difficult to do so many things at the same time and as a result I have been spending very less time in the kitchen and in house work. We have been eating precooked food. (The range and variety of Indian precooked food available in the Super mart is amazing and the microwave does the rest) But I have learnt many things from my American odyssey. I have learnt that it is never too late to make a fresh beginning in life; I have learnt that we should always realize ones self worth and that true happiness comes from helping others. Yes, I do miss my country and my people but I think that the move to USA has helped me discover myself. And this is Home now.

Blog of an Unknown Indian
29.12.2009 11.30.AM
So I am living my American dream. Am I happy? Yes and no. I have no complaints about my work. The work culture here is definitely better than that of India. Yet after working here for almost a year and a half I find that I have no friends. I have colleagues, contacts and acquaintances but no friends. I work like a dog for five days a week and weekends go in a blur of activities like mowing the lawn, cleaning the house and stocking up the fridge. And now I have an additional chore of shoveling the snow off the drive. Boy, do I hate snow. It is everywhere from my lawn to the roads. It is impossible to drive to the Super mart without putting snow chains on the tires. And if I don’t shovel my drive the neighbors complain. Bloody crazy Americans! What the heck does it matter if there is snow on my drive-way? They are neither my friends nor ever visit my home anyway! But they complain. A snow covered house detracts from the value of the neighborhood, they say. Yeah, sure! Now I know what the outcasts in middle ages felt like.
I am earning well, though. Maybe I’ll go back home after this project is over. But Jenny and Nell (that is what America has done to Sanjana and Nalini) are not willing to even discuss this option. Nell is completely integrated with the American way of life and says she cannot imagine going back. Her aim is to major in Classical Greek Literature. Greek, for Christ’s sake! j Jenny, I mean Sanjana says she has discovered her calling in life and the purpose of existence. All I know that she gives less time to me and more to those old fogies of Retirement Home. Still, it’s her life and I dragged her to America and she does everything possible for the family so I should not complain.

Nell’s email
Hi Sapna,
It’s been a long time since I mailed you. Actually with Twitter and Face-book around who needs emails anymore? The only reason I am writing this mail is that I am in the middle of a lazy holiday at home and we are snowed in. With time hanging heavy on my hands I thought I should tell you all about the direction my life has taken. You will be shocked to know that I am majoring in Classical Greek Literature. I have discovered that I have a flair for languages and that Greek is far from a dead language. In fact it is a living, breathing and vibrant language and learning it opened vistas for me I neither knew nor imagined existed. I am able to follow Greek classics in the language they were originally written in. Believe me, each day brings with it new joys and discoveries. I am very glad that we shifted to USA when we did otherwise I would never have discovered my true calling in life. Now my ambition is to major in Classical Greek, go on to do my Doctorate and eventually land a teaching job. I must say this for the American system of education. It certainly allows you to chart your own path and sets you free from the preconceived notions. I am sure you would like to know about my social and personal life. Not much to tell. Initially when I landed here I was thrilled by the permissive lifestyle and unlimited personal freedom. But after a few months I realized the superficiality of all that. The boys here are simply interested in sex, beer and baseball (and in that order of preference) and rarely think beyond that. I have been there and find life has much more to offer. I am sure with time I’ll also find my soul mate. Till then I prefer Greek texts to these aimless parties and dumb dates. Yes, there are a couple of handsome Greek Professors but they are married and don’t seem to be interested. The only problem with life here is the frantic pace of life. Both Mom and Dad are very busy and I have been able to spend some quality family time after along long time. That is about all. How are you doing? Good, I hope! I know that you have found a boyfriend and his name is Arjun. (It is a small world, dear.) Do let me know all the juicy details.
Love and do keep in touch.
P.S. Even Mom and Dad call me Nell now.