Friday, 29 April 2016

Celebrating the joy and the pain (Book Review - Sunita Saldhana's Who Shall I be Today?)


Title: Who Shall I be Today?
Author: Sunita Saldhana
Genre: Poetry
Publisher: Patridge India

Sunita Saldhana's Who Shall I be Today is a collection of poems which explores the many roles of being a woman. 
I was a little apprehensive about reading this book because I did not want to read self-righteous poems about the superiority of doing a lot. 
Not that I don't have my moments of feeling a little larger-than-life, when I am multi-tasking, but more often than not, I would rather take things in my stride and enjoy what I have.

My apprehensions were unnecessary, though.

The first poem in this collection is titled 'Words'. I fell hook line and sinker with that one itself.

A few lines from that poem -

"Words,
Adding magic to my world,
Breathing life into feelings,
Helping me fly."

It just got better as I read along.

The poems in Who Shall I be Today explore varied emotions.

Independence,

"I love you but
I am happy when I am alone too."

Companionship,

"My world is fun
And vibrant too,
And so much more beautiful
When I share it with you!"

Fighting depression,

"I want to laugh
Coz I've reached rock bottom.
And it's exhilarating
To feel that firm nothingness."

Pain,

"Smile and laugh to hide the pain.
I'll do my crying in the rain."

Nostalgia,

"Sometimes, just sometimes.....
I wish I could stop being responsible.
I wish that I could dance in the rain,
And chase after rainbows."

Love, Death, Motherhood, Work, Writing and more.

It is a celebration of the many roles that a woman plays.

"So tell me Mirror
Who shall I be?
Of the many faces of mine
Today, what will I let people see?"

I have a couple of favourites.

One is titled 'Kaleidoscope'. This poem compares the changing patterns of relationships and emotions in life to a kaleidoscope.

Then there is 'Painting over memories'. I don't think I will think of re-painting the walls of my home the same way every again. The way the poetess lingers over each memory is a visual treat.

Another one of my favourites is a poem that made me smile - 'My first day in school'. From a teacher's point of view...
"Who wanted their mamma more, I wondered,
Was it the little kids or was it me?"

I have loved each of Sunita Saldhana's poems... each one different. Some abstract, some describing particular experiences. Some full of joy, some fighting pain. 
But each one delightfully written.

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The italicised, colored text in quotation marks are excerpts from the book.

Thans to the author and WriteTribe for a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.



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BLURB

A woman can never be "just a woman. She is a million people in one person. "Who shall I be today?" is a collection of poems that delves into what makes up a woman. It talks of a mother's love and fears; a woman's search for herself; the yearnings of the heart for that someone special. It tells of the hurt and pain that love brings, and the courage to pick up the pieces and start over again. You will find tears and smiles, pain and pride. You will find fear and courage, nostalgia and anticipation. You will find woman in all her avatars.
"Who shall I be today?" by Sunita Saldhana is something written from the heart. It is a celebration of womanhood. It is guaranteed to touch the soul of every woman who reads it.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR


Sunita Saldhana is a 51 year old writer and life coach who absolutely loves being a woman with all of its myriad facets. She believes in finding joy in the small things in everyday life. She has been writing since the age of 13 and is a she calls herself, "a retired mom", with both her kids having flown the nest. She says this finally gives her the time to be a full time writer.

You can find more of her writings on her blog sunitasaldhana.com.
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Friday, 22 April 2016

Politics Decoded (Book Review - The Dormant State by Dibya Satpathy)


The Dormant State
Author: Dibya Satpathy
Publisher: Patridge
Genre: Fiction/Politics
Pages: 184


Aniruddh Mishra is a misfit in a society in which there is a fixed path that the young are expected to follow in their life. He is clear about the unconventional choices he wants to make that would lead him to the world of politics.

Circumstances help him in paving this path.
He has friends who stand by him, he people who support and mentor him. 

Aniruddh is an idealist, yes. But he is a realist too. He understands the truth about the shallow relationships in politics very quickly... actually a little too quickly.

As the story of The Dormant State proceeds, I was reminded of the famous quote -
'Be Careful of what you wish for because you just might get it.'

The Dormant State is the story of politics in the volatile state of Odisha, and in the age of fleeting associations of coalition government.

Politics is complicated. Things are not as they seem.

The beginning of The Dormant State is something that I can expect to hear in a rather 'intellectual' discussion on Indian Politics. And I love it -
"If Darwin was to live today, this great country of ours could have given him eternal pleasure. There could be no other place in the whole world that would justify the theories of survival."

Emotion takes a back seat in The Dormant State, as the harshness of politics rules. Much as the personal lives of Aniruddh and others play an important part in taking the story forward, they never dominate the scene.

Aniruddh Mishra was born in a middle-class family in mid 1980s. A time when, in author's words, India was just recovering out of the image of a country of 'snake charmers'.
Dibya Satpathy has a knack for describing things to the tee in a few words. I enjoyed reading his description of the India of 1980s.

The Dormant State is almost as much a story of India as it is of Aniruddh Mishra. From when Aniruddh is born in mid-1980s on, the author chronicles the changing scenario of Indian society and thinking.

The narrative of The Dormant State is chronological, moving from one event to another, at times almost clinically. 

My one angst while reading The Dormant State is some sweeping statements made by the author while explaining certain situations. I have issues with generalised statements as a rule. So read it as an opinion, not a fact; read it as if you would read an editorial or listen to a discussion on TV, and it is fine. It is a viewpoint, not a matter-of-fact truth.

"Being rude and disconnected was the secret of his survival - the more inaccessible you are, the more they want to approach you. The more you behave like a king, the more servitude they owe you. Yes, such has been the effect of two hundred years of Imperial rule.
We love to be ruled. Period."

"Displacement of the tribal population and environment concerns over the proposed chromium mining made the west go weak in the knees. It was considered gauche to be insensible to such issues. Out here, in our part of the world, nobody gave a damn. The west could afford such idealistic luxuries and flaunt their social fecundity. Not us."

The Dormant State reads as much like a political commentary and a societal history of its times, as a work of fiction about the life of Aniruddh Mishra.
Reading The Dormant State is like watching a behind-the-scenes of the drama of politics that we see being enacted that impacts the life of millions.

In the documentary We Steal Secrets about Wikileaks and Julian Assange, there is a mention of 'noble cause corruption'. It is explained as "essentially, you do things which if anyone else did you would recognise aren't ok, aren't right, but because you know you're a good guy, it's different for you."

"It is not very difficult to be famous in a land that has so many shades of confusing characteristics. Nobody is a hero or a villain here, it is circumstances and social equations that make or break your character here."

Is that what the 'murky world of politics' does to the good? Do they have to stoop to the level of those they are fighting to correct the wrongs? Is there really no way out?
These are the questions asked and explored in The Dormant State.

The author has described this book perfectly in the prologue -
"It is a story about few young men who enter this wilderness and shun their true characters gradually, before becoming masters of the same system they once despised. It captures a series of events that shape the ambitions of a young man who sets out with noble dreams and revolutionary ideas of changing the system."

*  *  *
The italicized text in quotation marks are quotes from the book.

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.


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BLURB

Aniruddh is a non-conforming, spirited, unorthodox young man, bound by the shackles of tradition. Brought up in one of India’s poorer states – he experiences first-hand, through his middle-class upbringing, the gruesome realities of governance in the country. His youthful exuberance and provocative circumstances leave him with no option but to take on the system. On entering the murky world of politics, he is forced to confront with evils, which he hadn’t bargained for. The events in his life leave his relationships at peril as he lurches along the forlorn lanes of insecurity. His transformation from an honest novice mutineer to a guile political leader brings out the layers in his character. Amidst strained relations, friendships that turn ugly and back-stabbing foes, Aniruddh has to govern a dormant state and win over the masses. 
The climax is a gripping tale of sinister moves and counter moves that end up bringing out the devil in him in a moment of self adjudication.

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Monday, 18 April 2016

Book Review - An Autograph for Anjali by Sundari Venkatraman


AN AUTOGRAPH FOR ANJALI
Author: Sundari Venkatraman
Published by: Flaming Sun

An Autograph For Anjali starts with a murder. A rather unexpected start for a romance. 
The mystery, of not just the murder but also of the relationships of the people in question, is heightened by the the many allusions in the narrative.

Anjali, an intelligent woman, has spent years of her life being a housewife. A wife to a man who has always treated her like 'a dumb woman, a doormat'.

"Anjali felt like a bird with clipped wings. Her husband trimmed them regularly, ensuring that she never was free to do things on her own."

The husband in question, Jayant Mathur is a selfish being, incapable of sensitivity. Much as I felt angry at him as I read An Autograph For Anjali, I pitied him more. He could have had such a good life, had it not been for his foolish behavious and beliefs.
If his wife is upset, he feels she is being unreasonable. When she starts keeping a distance from him, he assumes the worst. 'It never struck him to simply ask her' what she needs.

Their son, Arjun sees Anjali the way she is -
"You think modern; you're broad-minded, creative and a go-getter."

Parth is the quintessential hero - good-looking, chivalrous, understanding, and successful.

Jayant Mathur's murder is where the story starts. As the past is unveiled, I got absorbed in it. I would have to remind myself during reading the book that this story is leading up to a murder. The events of Anjali's life make for an emotive story that one gets caught in it.

An Autograph For Anjali is a sensitive book. The story is does not rely on any abrupt twists to carry it forward. Rather it is the minute details that make for its' moving narrative. The emotions, that can so easily come across as shallow clichés, have been written with delicacy and perceptiveness by the author.

I love the cover of An Autograph For Anjali. It includes a lot of hints about the book, but in a subtle way. Red and white hues surround the two hands with coffee cups. The waves make, what seem like, fleeting images. The two bullets stand out in contrast to the rest of the soothing image making the required impact as the mystery element of this romance.

Parts of An Autograph For Anjali are too good to be true, but that is how I like my romances, so no complaints from me at all.
Anjali has the support of two perfect guys - her son, Arjun and Parth... both the perfect heroes for a romance novel.
Will we get to read the story of Arjun's relationship with Jane soon? I wonder...

An Autograph For Anjali is a romance with a little mystery spicing it up. For me, though, it is primarily the story of a woman coming into her own. 
Having lived in the shadow of her husband, feeling 'stripped of her self-respect', she grows into a confident person, who accepts and loves herself.

An Autograph For Anjali is my introduction to the world of Sundari Venkatraman and I will surely come back for more.

*  *  *
The italicized text in quotation marks are quotes from the book.

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.



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Blurb

Jayant Mathur is found murdered in his bed, shot at point-blank range with his own revolver. Though she’s extremely disturbed by his death, Jayant’s wife Anjali is way more upset about something else. Who stands to gain by killing the multi-millionaire businessman?

Parth Bhardwaj is a friend and neighbour of the Mathurs. Parth is an author who goes by a pseudonym. He appears more than a friend to Anjali; while he’s also on good terms with her son Arjun who lives and studies in the UK. What role does he play in Anjali’s life? Jayant’s relatives are curious to know.

Jayant’s brother-in-law Rana is convinced that Parth and Anjali are the murderers. But Inspector Phadke has his own doubts about this theory. In comes Samrat, the private detective who appears as quiet as a mouse. Will he be able to find the murderer?

Will Anjali find happiness and peace?


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ABOUT THE AUTHOR


In 2014, Sundari self-published The Malhotra Bride (2nd Edition); Meghna; The Runaway Bridegroom; Flaming Sun Collection 1: Happily Ever Afters From India (Box Set) and Matches Made In Heaven (a collection of romantic short stories).

2015 brought yet another opportunity. Readomania came forward to traditionally publish this book - The Madras Affair - a mature romance set in Madras.

An Autograph for Anjali, a romance with a touch of suspense, is also a self-published novel. Going a step further, the author has published the paperback version through Notion Press.

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Thursday, 14 April 2016

Politics of feelings... Surpanakha by Hariharan Iyer - Book Review


Title: Surpanakah
Author: Hariharan Iyer
Publisher: Notion Press 
Pages: 296

Sesha, the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, is not a typical politician. He's educated with experience of a corporate job. He is in politics because of his capabilities, and not connections or family.

The book starts in a courtroom where Sesha is being tried for being the mastermind behind the gruesome murder of 73 Kannadigas. An accusation which puts a blight on all that the Chief Minister has accomplished.

Surpanakha is a very fast moving story - a maze actually. There seem to be twists at every corner.
Each chapter tells the story from the perspective of one of the characters. And boy, does the very essence of the story change depending on whose point of view you are looking at it from...
Each chapter of Surpanakha focuses on a certain character. And it is so easy to change ones' opinion depending on whose perspective one is seeing the events from.

Perception... so important at how we look at people who live in the glare of media. How quickly we change our opinion about a person. The same happens in this book. I'd think one thing about a character and a couple of pages later, my views would change. Soon enough I was engrossed in this story of political, social and emotional turmoil trying to figure out who's right and who's wrong.

Most characters of Surpankha leave a lasting impact. 
There's Hebbar, a man with an impressive rags-to-riches story, who has lost his wife and son in the attack of which Sesha is accused.
Sesha's wife, Mythili, a woman devoted to her husband. That is not all that defines her. She's brave and has a mind of her own.
And many others.

Surpanakha is a page-turner from the very beginning. It is an interesting story and the interest is retained as little details about background that the author keeps telling. These details changes the truth as one sees it.
True for the politics, or rather life itself, in real life too. We believe things on basis of what little is known or revealed to us.
Surpanakha is a story which tells us how confused and volatile public perception can be.

The story of Surpanakha is thrilling and it retains the attention of the reader. 
The story of the politics of Tamil Nadu blends fact with fiction. 
The story of Surpanakha could so easily be true... I wonder if it is true. And if in real life things ended the way they ended in this book.

The title of this book creates a mystery of its own. Surpanakha was Ravan's sister. She was insulted by Lakshman, Lord Ram's brother. Ravan abducted Sita, Lord Ram's wife. And Ravan's effigies are burnt every Dusshera till date.
Trying to figure out, who the implied 'Surpanakha' has you trying to read between the lines throughout. Is the explanation a bit anti-climatic? I am not sure...

It is a cruel world out there, crueller still for those who don't fit into the set moulds of expectations. With grim realities of the politics of our times, characters that are multi-faceted, and relationships that stand the test of time, Surpanakha is a book I enjoyed reading.

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I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.



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About the Book:

Educated, young, no-nonsense bearing, able administrator—these are the qualities that won Sesha the loyalties of the people after three years of rule as the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu. An allegation that he was the mastermind behind the murder of 73 Kannadigas threatens to bring him down but he is miraculously saved in the 11th hour.
Even before he can relish his victory, Sesha is slapped with the charge of sexually offending a young nurse. This time round, the case is strong and his supporters are uncertain. Worse, his teenage daughter calls him 'vile' and walks out of the house. While Mythili, his wife promises her full support, her secretive activities—undertaken with the help of a retired cop—is a cause of concern for Sesha.
Will Zarina, the human-rights activist, succeed in bringing him down? What about the insinuations of a celebrity lawyer that he is casteist and anti-minorities? When the young nurse is found dead, the case becomes even more complex. Who is innocent? Who is guilty? And who is the mastermind?
Links for downloading e-books: Amazon India | Amazon US | Amazon UK
Links for ordering paperbacks: Amazon India | Flipkart

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About the Author:


Hariharan Iyer is a finance professional based in Dar es Salaam. Not content with just a rewarding corporate job, he took to writing a couple of years back. He blogged on media and current affairs for a year at valadyviews.blogspot.com before hitting on the idea for this novel. An idea so powerful that it convinced the accountant in him that he could put together not just a balance sheet but an intriguing political thriller as well. He has definite views on politics, NGOs and media ethics and has tried to package them in the form of an interesting novel.

Hariharan lives with his wife in Dar es Salaam while his two sons are pursuing their ambitions in India.

Contact Hariharan:

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Excerpt
Sesha was getting conscious of Mythili’s intense gaze. He knew he would not be able to avoid her for long, but he could not afford a conversation either. He took out his cell phone and started tweeting—his best possible excuse for the moment. The case had gone against him, irreversibly perhaps. A possible adverse verdict was staring at him, and only a miracle could save him from that eventuality. Sesha was offered an adjacent room for privacy—a privilege he could enjoy as along as he was the Chief Minister of the state. As long as? Or was it as short as? If the media’s prediction was right, the judgement would be adverse. In that case, he would be arrested immediately. So, if he had to enjoy the perquisites of officialdom, he had only a few more hours left. Still, he declined the offer of the court staff. Sitting in the courtroom meant enduring the prying eyes of media men, but shutting himself up in a room would be worse. His anxiety would kill him. He was never a darling of the media. In fact, the media had not taken his entry into politics lightly. For the journalists, he was an outsider. Not just an outsider, he was someone who did not even make an attempt to befriend them. He did not throw lavish late night parties nor did he shower state courtesies on them. He was very different from the Dravidian politicians the media had been used to. He was too young compared to all his predecessors; he wore smart casuals instead of the typical white full-sleeved shirt and dhoti that were the trademark of Tamil Nadu politicians; he was not an atheist with a particular dislike only for Hindu Gods as had become fashionable among Dravidian politicians. As a result, the more charitable among the journalists felt he was indifferent while others concluded that he was downright arrogant. “Coffee?” he asked Mythili without lifting his head from the phone. He knew Mythili very well, rather too well, to guess what was going on in her mind. Was he really cool? Or was he faking it for her sake? “Sesha, are you not worried about the verdict?” She had asked, finally, the question he had been dreading. He turned his face away from her. She would not let him off so easily. She grabbed his chin with her left hand and turned his face towards her. It was clear he could not avoid her anymore. He would have to talk to her. He grabbed her hand and took her to the corridor. They reached the far end where it turned right. Those standing near the courtroom would not notice them unless they made an effort. He leaned on the railing and circling his hands around her waist, pulled her closer to him. “What’s bothering you, Sesha?” She took out a small folded paper packet from her handbag and opened it. Prasadam from the Anantha Padmanabhaswamy temple. She applied a tilak on his forehead and kept the tulsi on his ears. “Sesha…” She wrapped her hands around his waist and buried her face in his chest. “Please say something. Your silence is killing me.” Her tears drenched his shirt. He lifted her face and planted a kiss on her forehead. “I’m innocent. All that…” His voice trailed off as they were greeted by ecstatic slogans of support from the crowd outside. “Thalaiva! We’re with you.” While his visual sweep had covered the people in the corridor, in his hurry to explain his position to her, Sesha had not seen the crowd of supporters and media teams waiting in the square around the Karikalan statue. Realising that they were getting emotional, the crowd must have allowed them their private moment. But when she hugged him and cried on his chest, the crowd felt compelled to express its support. “Don’t worry thalaiva, we know you’re innocent.” It was a deafening chorus of support. Sesha and Mythili discreetly separated from each other. He waved hesitantly at the crowd.

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Wednesday, 13 April 2016

Reengineer self and seek... (Book Review - The Reengineers by Indu Muralidharan)


Title: The Reengineers
Author: Indu Muralidharan
Publisher: Harper Element 
                                       (An Imprint of HarperCollins Publishers)
Pages: 252


Chinmay, Anu and Sabi are three friends who have no other friends. Except for books, that is.
The three friends are misfits in the society, even among their own family members.

"We are ugly ducklings of the same feather..."

Chinmay Narayan is the protaganist of The Reengineers.
On the first page itself, he tells that he had two goals - to top the class ten board exams, and to kill himself after the exams. In the very next sentence, he clarifies that by the next afternoon, his life and plans had changed.
A sensible, oversensitive boy with the insensible thought of suicide in him. He believes he doesn't fit in.
As readers, we now have a notion of where this story would go, and probably end. It is the 'how' that keeps you hooked.

Despite the knowledge and reminders of the upcoming suicide, there is a relaxed, serene feel to the book.

The author plays with words to describe common emotions with an elan.
"...I waited, aching to find a sentence that would draw me in, that would free me from my mind for at least a while."

The protagonist talks about Chennai. I have never been to Chennai, but even though I can't relate to the reminiscences of the city per se, what radiates through the words is a warmth and pride for the city that surpasses time and changes. A feeling that is not limited to one city. It is the expression of 'home'.
"The feeling of home still pervades my city, despite the impersonal the impersonal flyovers that now criss-cross above the old familiar roads, the acres of shining skyscrapers that buzz with the sounds of the software cities teeming within them, and the gleaming malls that may soon outnumber the tiny Ganesha shrines on each street..."

The three kids with their innocent, yet profound philosophical discussions are smarter than the rest, yet trying to fit in. Your heart breaks for them.

The protagonist is looking back at that time of life and has no qualms about writing about his own shortcomings. 'I was too full of myself' - one of the things he remembers.

It is a coming of age book. It starts at a time when Chinmay did what his parents desired. He did not know he could choose different. Not while living anyway. So he had decided to end his life.
When the book ends, the life and its' choices have changed drastically.

The moment of epiphany when he realised that he is a 'seeker'.

The language of The Reengineers is rather poetic, dreamlike quality at times. You feel your sense being enveloped by the emotions of the characters whose life is about to be reengineered.

"Fourteen is the age when time first starts to make its presence felt. Time took on such a variety of hues in those days that even my frozen mind sometimes reflected the colours of the world around me, and I could feel my thoughts fluttering in the humid, salty breeze."

The feelings of teenage infatuation...

"O for those days when these tired metaphors were teenagers too, when it was still possible to recite 'Daffodils' and feel thrilled as you gazed at the golden laburnum in bloom. Recognising clichés is a sign of aging. Sweet as the past may be, it best remains pressed within the pages of memory, savoured for a moment or two on quiet Sunday afternoons."

Suddenly the vibe changes. There is mystery, tension, and danger in the air.
The world they enter seems to be a parallel to the world they live in.

As Chinmay learns and discovers, a lot of life lessons are find a pace in The Reengineers.
"It is curious how the weak-minded among us are wired like that, the way we turn subdued and silent when confronting real bullies and yet stand up almost aggressively to those who are genuinely kind to us."

For me, the one major epiphanic moment is when he realises that he's not a misfit. He is a seeker.
So true for so many of us, who go through life dissatisfied, not realising that to want to search for more does not make them abnormal. Irrespective of what others say.

"Everything has a reason, though it cannot always be deduced for we cannot see the full picture of a life at any point in time."

The story of The Reengineers doesn't rush from one event to the other. It relishes the emotions.

We know from the beginning that Chinmay wants to commit suicide and that he won't do so. The how keeps you hooked. And it is to the author's credit that she doesn't disappoint in the process. 
The path the story takes is not predictable.

I have lent this book to my nephew now, who is studying... well, engineering. I am going to insist that the rest of the kids (who are still in school) in the family read The Reengineers too. Nothing can explain what I feel about this book better than this fact.
I feel that it is a relevant book for everyone - students, corporate employees, spiritual aspirants... actually anyone who is looking for a more contented, confident life.

* * *

The italicized text in quotation marks are quotes from the book.

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.



The Reengineers
by 
Indu Muralidharan
A HarperCollins Publication (Harper Element)

Blurb 

Chinmay Narayan is plotting to kill himself. He is a misfit at school, his parents are about to divorce and the love of his life doesn’t know he exists. It seems pointless to go on with such a dysfunctional life. But before he gets anywhere with that plan, Chinmay and his friends, Anu and Sabi, stumble into the eerie world of Conchpore through a portal in Uncle RK’s library.

They find themselves in The Seeker’s School, where you can buy spiritual courses that will bring you enlightenment. While the seekers seem unaware that there is anything amiss, Chinmay and his friends stumble upon a strange and sinister plot that the teachers and students are caught up in. The three youngsters suddenly find themselves in danger, and their only hope is the charismatic Siddharth, an old student of the school who has come to visit. Chinmay discovers that Siddharth is seeking catharsis from his dark past by writing a book—a book with Chinmay as the protagonist. He realizes that his own story is a mirror image of Siddharth’s, which leads to a moment of reckoning for him: can he become the author of his own life?

Set in Madras in the early nineties, The Reengineers dispels the boundaries between fiction and reality to tell a tale that is as much a coming-of-age story as it is an inspiring narrative of self-empowerment and spiritual growth. 




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ABOUT THE AUTHOR 

I am a writer from Chennai, India. To me, reading and writing are means by which I try to comprehend the meaning of life and reality. My first novel The Reengineers (HarperCollins, 2015) is a metafictional exploration of the meaning of the self, examined through the relationship between an author and the character of his novel. I am working on two other novels at the moment, both centred around the healing power of fiction and its significance in 'real' life.

I live in London, balancing a full time day job with writing and studying a part-time Master's Course in Creative Writing at The University of Oxford.

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