The Weight Loss Club: The Curious Experiments of Nancy Housing Cooperative

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Blurb: Set in a middle-class housing colony, this is the story of stay-at-home mum Monalisa, who cannot clean the kitchen counter enough times, Meera, who is bullied constantly by her traditional mother-in-law, college-going Abeer, who isn’t sure how to impress the glamorous Mandy, academic Aparajita, who has no takers on the marriage mart, philosopher Ananda, whom no one takes seriously and Treeza, a former school secretary now sunk in gloom. Into their midst arrives Oxford-returned Sandhya – half hippie, half saadhvi, full spiritual guru. Under her aegis is formed The Weight Loss Club, throwing the lives of our heroes and heroines into utter and delightful disarray. But while chemistry brews and equations change, one question remains who is Brahmacharini Sandhya and why on earth has she moved into Nancy Housing Cooperative?

About the author: Devapriya Roy has degrees in English literature and performance studies from Presidency College, Calcutta and Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, where she is pursuing a PhD on the Natyashastra (at least, that is what she says when asked what she does). Once upon a time, she was the Keo Karpin girl. Her first novel, The Vague Woman’s Handbook, was published in 2011. She is currently working on The Heat and Dust Project, the story of a quirky journey through India on an extreme budget, along with her husband, Saurav Jha.

Review: Devapriya Roy’s second novel, The Weight Loss Club like her debut novel The Vague Woman’s Handbook (of which I have read only the reviews and not the book yet) has impressed me a lot. It is a story of residents of Nancy Housing Cooperative. The title of the book is just to confuse the readers; it has nothing to do with actually losing your body weight but all about humanity that clubbed all the people together with the motto of “weight loss”, which is to find some comfort from the annoyances of the daily life. From Nandy to Nancy, from Mandakini to Mandy, the transitions of the characters in the housing complex are written in a simple format but are related with each other so well and form an integral combination. The story is set perfectly in Nancy Housing Cooperative. The 7 main characters of this story are

  1. Monalisa Das, a mom who is over obsessed with the education and scores of her sons.
  2. Meera Sahai, bullied by her Mother-in-law and a victim of Postpartum Depression.
  3. Aparajita Mukherjee: A PhD Student who opposes marriage and her mother searches for a perfect match for her.
  4. Abeer Mukherjee: Brother of Apu, a college student and a secret admirer of Mandakini Mandal.
  5. Treeza Mathew: Once a school secretary, now doomed in solitude.
  6. Ananda Bose: A secret admirer and helper.
  7. Sandhya: the therapeutic guru of all.

As the story is based in Kolkata the author has not left any  loop to  include  detailing the city, the Bengali cuisine, Durga Puja, the over casted clouds, Garia Haat, Universities, Romances, Bangla band and also actress Paoli Dam. There are other characters and their stories but not very interesting and I had to skip reading about them. I liked the female bonding which the author wrote very well and I could imagine myself to be a part of Nancy Housing Cooperative and all these women to be my neighbours. I enjoyed reading the book though it was boring in many parts. Narration was done well and definitely Devapriya Roy can be now counted as one of the good female Indian writers. I liked the characterization and description of the Kolkata.

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BHIMAYANA: Experiences of Untouchability

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Blurb: Bhimayana: Experiences Of Untouchability is the story of Bhim, a dalit boy and how he faces the ostracisation in the society. It is skilfully woven with illustrations that enhance the experience of reading it. Divided into three books, it deals with the experiences of Dr. Ambedkar as a child, as a young adult and as the leader of the dalit movement later on. The first book titled Water is set in the village where Bhim lived as a child. It describes his experiences growing up as he struggles to come to terms with his untouchable status, posing questions and mulling over answers which are not there. The second book titled Shelter, takes us into his young adulthood, where he is returning from Columbia University with an education in hand to Baroda. It encases the existence of the caste system still prevalent in the country leading to harrowing experiences which make him drop his plans. The third book titled Travels is about the time when Bhim establishes himself as a leader of the dalit movement. The trials and tribulations faced by him even as an established leader still struggling for equality is the flavour of this book. A truly poignant and hard hitting revelation of the malice of the caste system, this book with its unique and moving illustrations and narrations brings across the life and struggle of Bhimrao Ambedkar. It is being hailed as a must read for every conscientious Indian.

About The Authors: Durgabai Vyam is a Gond artist. She received the IGNCA Scholarship in 2006-07. She has presented her works in many art exhibitions in India. Subhash Vyam is also a Gond artist from Madhya Pradesh. He was given the Rajya Hastha Shilpa Puraskar in 2002. Srividya Natarajan is a dancer and novelist; she lives in London, Canada. S. Anand is the publisher of Navayana.

Review: The book “Bhimayana: Experiences of Untouchability” exemplified by Durgabai Vyam & Subhash Vyam and written by S Natarajan & S Anand, tells incidents in the life of B.R. Ambedkar. I would highly recommend this book to anyone who likes reading biographies of great leaders. This book has great Gond illustrations in comical form depicting untouchability as it was practiced in the twentieth century India during the colonial and even post-independence periods. This book showed that untouchability was widespread across social life during that era and access to basic needs of water, shelter and was limited to certain communities. Ambedkar fought for equitable rights to facilitate marginalized communities’ access to all the basic needs. Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar (1891–1956), is one of India’s leading revolutionaries, grew up untouchable. He gained multiple doctorates, campaigned against social discrimination and the caste system who went on drafting the Constitution of India. The bigotry experienced by Ambedkar continues to haunt 170 million dalits in India who are still basic dignities of life. In this book Pardhan-Gond artists Durgabai Vyam and Subhash Vyam intertwine historical proceedings with modern incidents, infusing fresh power into the lifelike idiom with their magical art. The explanatory end notes help you to understand the thinking. It is attempted in an amazing method. I hope we get to have books of these types more.

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You’re the Password to My Life

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Blurb: We all have that one person in our lives in whose absence our existence seems meaningless! Virat and Kavya are like chalk and cheese. While Virat is cautious and reserved, Kavya is outgoing and likes to lead a life full of reckless fun. In spite of their differences, they are thick friends and not even Mahek, the love of Virat’s life, can come in the way of that. But, as happens in every relationship, their friendship is put to the test when an unforeseen incident hits them all of a sudden. Can Aditya, along with his cousin, come to their rescue yet again? You’re the Password to My Life is a true story that shows you how friendship is the only ‘ship’ that does not sink.

About the Author: Sudeep Nagarkar is a popular contemporary Indian writer and has authored four bestselling novels—Few Things Left Unsaid (2011), That’s the Way We Met (2012), It Started With a Friend Request (2013), and Sorry, You’re Not My Type (2014). All his books continue to top the bestseller charts since their release. He is the recipient of the 2013 Youth Achievers’ Award. After completing his Engineering from Mumbai, he pursued management studies from Welingkar Institute of Management and now also writes for television. He has given guest lectures in various renowned institutes and organizations.

Review: Sudeep Nagarkar’s book reminded me of reading a Chetan Bhagat novel. I did hear about the author Sudeep but this book ““You are the Password to my Life” is my first run into with the writer’s work and it did not appeal to me at all. The story has love, friendship, and relationship – all in different aspects. The start of the book is terribly slow and it picks up pace only towards the middle and end. All the characters are written well, but somewhere I felt them to be repetitive, as if I have already known such characters before in some other story. They did not look much original. I liked a few of the romantic narration in the story. It is written in very easy language and is simple to read. The twists did not blow my mind. The story is about Virat, an orphan who is brought up by his uncle. Kavya is his best friend who helps him in his love Mahek. Though Virat loves Mahek, his friendship with Kavya stands unchanged but turns stronger. Than comes Rohan, Virat’s chat friend who breaks up with his girlfriend Zoya. Virat with the help of Rohan’s brother Aditya helps him to move on in life and accept Ridhima who loves Rohan. The story showed the worth of relationships- Virat and Kavya or Virat and Rohan or Rohan and Aditya. The story accentuated on friendships. I did not like the conversations by Virat and Rohan to impress their love it appeared too dramatic for me. The accident of Kavya was not expected in the second half of the story. The read from here turned gripping and a bit emotional. Without the climax, the story would have been a standard as it surpassed the embellished first half. I cannot call it a boring or an interesting read but I finished it in 4hours, wish it was a smaller read of around 2hours. Some chapters were stretched pointlessly. This is Sudeep Nagarkar’s fifth book and I don’t regret reading his earlier 4books which I believe are/were best sellers.

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The Middleman

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Blurb: 1970s Calcutta. The city is teeming with thousands of young men in search of work. Somnath Banerjee spends his days queuing up at the employment exchange. Unable to find a job despite his qualifications, Somnath decides to go into the order–supply business as a middleman. His ambition drives him to prostitute an innocent girl for a contract that will secure the future of Somnath Enterprises. As Somnath grows from an idealistic young man into a corrupt businessman, the novel becomes a terrifying portrait of the price the city extracts from its youth. Sankar’s The Middleman is the moving story of a man torn between who he is and what he wants to be. Stark and disquieting, the novel deftly exposes the decaying values and rampant corruption of a metropolis that is built on broken dreams and morbid reality. The evocative prose and vivid imagery in this first-ever translation successfully capture the textures of the Bengali original

About the Author: Sankar (Mani Sankar Mukherji) is the author of several Bengali best-sellers, both fiction and non-fiction. Two of his novels, Seemabaddha (Company Limited) and Jana Aranya (The Middleman), were turned into films by Satyajit Ray. Sankar also wears a corporate hat, as Chief Advisor (Corporate Relations) at RPG Enterprises. He lives and works in Kolkata. Arunava Sinha is an Internet professional by day and a translator of classic and contemporary Bengali fiction by night. His translation of Sankar’s Chowringhee won the 2007 Crossword – Vodafone award for Best Translation. His other translations include Buddhadeva Bose’s My Kind of Girl (2009). Born and brought up in Calcutta, he lives in New Delhi.

Review: The Middleman (originally Jana Aranya) written by Sankar & translated by Arunava Sinha, is a work of total intensity. Describing recession in Calcutta at in 1970s, the story has pointed out the loopholes of the entire system –education, jobs and government. To my surprise, I had not heard of him until I read The Middleman, which tells the story of Somnath Banerjee and his struggles to find a job. Somnath’s struggles take place in 1970s when job and marriage defined men and women in that order. Somnath’s elder brothers are well-educated, highly placed and married and fully “settled.” But a year of searching has not yielded any result for Somnath and his friend Sukumar in red-tape ridden Calcutta. Driven by communal prejudices and force, Somnath tries his hand at business and that is when he truly gets entwined in the web of bribery. For Somnath to be successful he needs to bribe and being innocent he gets sucked in deeper problems. He realizes with bitter penalty that the greed for money has no limits. Sankar brings out the baseness in the society, and paints a glowing scene of great hope and morose reality. Somnath is a wonderful character, portraying stark reality, shame and frustration with the peek into the equations within the family and his rise and fall as a human being. Sankar characterised men and women within the frames of a biased society with proclivities. Somnath undergoes a moment of emasculation when his father tries to marry him off to a girl who has a defective hand but is considered a good match for a boy who is unemployed. Of Somnath gets humiliated because marriage is the first priority for girls in this society and a man without a job is considered as onerous as a girl who is unmarried. This book has tense moments, some poignant ones, highlighted Somnath’s naiveté and some brilliant passages that etched the dark, rotten, uncompromising yet extremely pliable and lascivious side of the city. And Sankar’s epilogue in the end, which reveals that many of the incidents were based on experiences that he was a witness to or undergone himself, makes the book more fascinating.

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Amsterdam: A History of the World’s Most Liberal City

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Blurb: Amsterdam is not just any city. Despite its relative size it has stood alongside its larger cousins – Paris, London, Berlin – and has influenced the modern world to a degree that few other cities have. Sweeping across the city’s colourful thousand year history, Amsterdam will bring the place to life: its sights and smells; its politics and people. Concentrating on two significant periods – the late 1500s to the mid 1600s and then from the Second World War to the present, Russell Shorto’s masterful biography looks at Amsterdam’s central preoccupations. Just as fin-de-siecle Vienna was the birthplace of psychoanalysis, seventeenth century Amsterdam was the wellspring of liberalism, and today it is still a city that takes individual freedom very seriously. A wonderfully evocative book that takes Amsterdam’s dramatic past and present and populates it with a whole host of colourful characters, Amsterdam is the definitive book on this great city.

Book Description: This is the first ‘biography’ of the city of Amsterdam – in the same vein as Peter Ackroyd’s London. ‘The story of a great city that has shaped the soul of the world. Masterful reporting, vivid history – the past and present are equally alive in this book’ James Gleick, author of The Information: a History, a Theory, a Flood ‘Shorto’s fine portraits of individuals are in the Amsterdam tradition, and he has an Amsterdammer’s feel for this backwater town that remains the world’s laboratory of liberalism’ Financial Times. In this ever-surprising and effortlessly erudite portrait, Russell Shorto traces the idiosyncratic evolution of Amsterdam and examines its role as the font of liberalism. Weaving in his own experiences of his adopted home, he delivers a delightful and intellectually engaging story of the city from the building of the first canals in the 1300s through the brutal struggle for Dutch independence and its golden age as the capital of a vast empire, to its complex present in which its cherished ideals are being questioned anew. ‘An often brilliant – and always enjoyable – investigation of liberalism’s Dutch roots. Shorto is once again revealed as a passionate and persuasive historian of culture and ideas’ Joseph O’Neill, author of Netherland

About the author: Russell Shorto is an American author, historian and journalist, best known for his book on the Dutch origins of New York City, The Island at the  Center of the World.His most recent work, published in October 2013, is Amsterdam: A History of the World’s Most Liberal City, which tells the story of the city from its origins, through its Golden Age, to the present day. On September 8, 2009, Shorto received a Dutch knighthood in the Order of Orange-Nassau for strengthening the relationship between the Netherlands and the United States through his publications and as Director of the John Adams Institute.

Review: This book’s story of how Amsterdam became an ascendant port city leads naturally into accounts of the Dutch East India Company’s thriving global trade and the city’s development of an early stock exchange as an offshoot of its new wealth. There is a chronology of the Netherlands’ rulers and military commanders, such as William the Silent. There is the 80-year-war with Spain, and the burst of growth that followed. Throughout its history, Amsterdam has had to constantly fight off its more powerful neighbors. After the Spanish and Portuguese came the English and the French (in 1806 Napoleon installed his brother Louis as King of Holland) and, in the final occupation, the Nazis. Throughout Shorto’s account we see the Amsterdammers struggling with these invaders and arguing among themselves as to what might be the best way of dealing with them. In addition, they have to deal with the usual social, economic and political problems that everyone has. But as they struggle they steadfastly maintain and defend their notions of religious tolerance, liberal immigration (with 178 nationalities represented, the city was recently named the most ethnically diverse in the world) and intellectual exchange.  The liberal tradition continues unabated to the present. Amsterdam women were among the first to champion sexual freedom, e.g. the story of Aletta Jacobs leading the fight for birth-control devices and women’s suffrage; and Hirsi Ali, a Muslim immigrant from Somalia, who became a member of the Dutch parliament and has led the fight against the sexism of radical Islam. Shorto explains “She insisted that the commitment to reason and individual freedom that Amsterdam had fostered is more vital than ever as a weapon against religious superstition.” By the twentieth century, Shorto notes the rise of unions in Amsterdam. The culture of the city had devolved into a capitalist mecca, but its capitalism had also a “social path”: thus it was incumbent on those who had the means to provide a safety net to protect the less fortunate. In other words, the capitalists joined the commitment to social welfare, a commitment tied to the 17th century when the people who ran things (i.e. who were principals in the VOC) created orphanages, homes for the elderly, and neighborhoods in which rich and poor weren’t segregated. The battle with the sea, Shorto feels, caused people to feel that the land was their own, regardless of their financial achievements. That land was not owned by the church, or the king; it was theirs, by right of the picks and shovels and human labor that had been expended to claim it. Shorto ultimately concludes that Amsterdam, despite its spectacular history, is a relatively “poky” place in today’s era of global expansion. “It is small in population,” he writes. “In terms of geographic area you could tuck the whole of it into a corner of Shanghai or Karachi and it probably wouldn’t be noticed. It has no skyscrapers. But the advantage of a modest skyline is the seemingly limitless horizon.”

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The Woman who went to Bed for a Year

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Sue Townsend is Britain’s favourite comic author. Her hugely successful novels include eight Adrian Mole books, The Public Confessions of a Middle-Aged Woman (Aged 55 3/4 ), Number Ten, Ghost Children, The Queen and I and Queen Camilla, all of which are highly acclaimed bestsellers. She has also written numerous well-received plays. She lives in Leicester, where she was born and grew up. After writing in secret from the age of 14, Townsend first became known for her plays, her signature character first appearing in a radio drama, but her work soon expanded into other forms. She enjoyed great success in the 1980s, with her Adrian Mole books selling more copies than any other work of fiction in Britain during the decade. This series, which eventually encompassed nine books, takes the form of the character’s diaries. The earliest books recount the life of a teenage boy during the Thatcher years, but the sequence eventually depicts Adrian Mole in middle age. The Queen and I (1992), another popular work which was well received, was an outlet for her republican sentiments, although the Royal Family is still rendered with sympathy. Both the earliest Adrian Mole book and The Queen and I were adapted for the stage and enjoyed successful runs in London’s West End.

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The story is deeper and darker than comedy. The day her twins leave home, Eva climbs into bed and stays there. For seventeen years she’s wanted to yell at the world, ‘Stop! I want to get off’. Finally, this is her chance. Bestselling author Sue Townsend has been Britain’s favourite comic writer for over three decades; The Woman Who Went to Bed for a Year is her hilarious new novel. ‘She fills the pages with turmoil, anger, passion, love and big helpings of wit. It’s full of colour and glows with life’.

Review: With this book I complete 12 reading challenges by TSBC and I thank them for introducing me to new writers/new books which I have never ever heard about. Sue Townsend is one such author whom I first read with the present book. I liked her work, but I don’t know if her other works are on the same lines. It is fit written, easy to read and funny in places. The story is about Eva, a woman whose twin children go away to university and whose husband turns out to have been having an affair for years. Eva goes to bed for a year – withdrawal from all the things she hates about the world. What I liked the most is the author created a woman who spends a year in bed to think. There has been very less insight into what has driven her to her bed. She doesn’t seem particularly bothered about her husband’s affair.  As we get towards end, Townsend has the phenomenal challenge of raising Eva from her bed and giving us insight into what sent her there and why it’s now time to get up. There was a passing reference to the sort of tragedy and misfortune that every woman has to deal with at some point in her life. A few good chuckles though. It’s all quite amusing and the style carries you along nicely, but it didn’t seem to me to have much consistency nor much of the bite, insight and shrewd inspection which have made many of Sue Townsend’s books so good. It just rather peters out and although I think Eva’s eventual realisation is of a profound and important truth I couldn’t really see how the realisation stemmed from what had happened. The comedy in this book is patterned through with such unenviable strands of meanness that it is hard to like very much of it, no matter how sharply observed some aspects of the story may be. In addition, some of the author’s attempts at humour seem unusually like the forced the idiocy in her choice of characters’ names, the flow of the story stumbles. Many of the characters are deeply unpleasant.  Townsend attempts to shock with careless and frequent mentions in schoolgirl language of the professor’s affair with Titania, who turns up at night to sleep with him in his shed. This book is an easy, infrequently funny read. I didn’t like it much.

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