Friday, 27 March 2015

Shake off the definitions... (Book Review - MCV Egan's Defined by Others)

Defined by Others
Author: MCV Egan

MCV Egan's 'Defined by Others' is the story of Anne, a 47 year old woman who suddenly finds herself at crossroads in life, after an unexpected separation from her husband. She finds an ally in her school friend, Connie, who to Anne's surprise is in the same boat.

It is 2012 and the world is about to end. In a way, it seems to be a better option than the alternative.
'Defined by Others' starts with an inheritance by another of their friend, Amanda, who has died recently.

At a time in their life, when Anne and Connie are emotionally fragile, Amanda's bequeath tempts them with leverage to control others. 
In the small town, where they had all grown up, their lives and emotions seem to be intertwined with one another.

Growing up in the cozy neighbourhood has the downside that there seem to be no secrets. Or so it seems. 
Amanda's 'Game' that Anne and Connie continue after her death throws up many surprises.
These surprises seem to be part of light-hearted fun to Anne, till she realises she may be losing all control. Her belief of controlling others may have just been a paradox.

Anne has lived the life of quite a rebel when compared to the other women her age in her vicinity, what with her support for Democrats much to her parents' indignation, her travelling and her work.
Anne consciously decides on the exact word to describe her experiences. When she thinks -
"My word to define that moment: unsettling."
it has more impact than had she just said that she's feeling unsettled.
As a reader I felt defining each moment, each emotion with the exact word, and bringing my attention to it specifically, makes a strong impression.

There is an aura of raw throbbing ache even before the feelings are aggravated by Amanda's posthumous nudge - "Enemies always attend each other's funerals. I guess it is a way of knowing they won.."

Everyone's closet seems to be hiding a secret whichever generation they may belong to. 
Reading through 'Defined by Others', there is the dilemma of whether these secrets are power or weaknesses.

"...tapping into our respective inner bitch was the most healing and enjoyable way to deal with what life had dealt us."

There is so much manipulation all around us, but it seems to be inconsequential. Is it because it is not intelligently documented? Is manipulation like writing a script of a soap, impacting lives of the 'victims'?

The cover design has colourful shapes (which look like a kaleidoscope) arranged in a symmetrical circle. 
Five quotes - If you share a secret it will no longer be a secret, Keep your secrets safe, Do not share your secrets, It will destroy you, Secrets give power - circumambulate the kaleidoscope-like design.
I like that the background of the design is black as there is a certain darkness in the book. The colours and kaleidoscopic design has a beauty and thus, hope about it.
And there is a hint of mystery, even before one reads all the 'secret' incantations.
The cover of 'Defined by Others' is intriguing, just as the book is.

MCV Egan's 'Defined by Others' deftly scales the issues of death, middle-aged women, social media, parenting, homosexuality, and much more.

This book engaged me in the maze of lives of its characters. And it left me with much to think about... Do we ever mature from the insecure teenagers? Or do we just learn to mask our emotions better? Do we just get better at keeping secrets? Are we always troubled teenagers at heart? Does everyone lead, or wants to lead, a double life?
Social media has certainly made it easier to lead double lives...

"...There are all these anti-bully campaigns in schools, but what about the real world? What about when life slams into you like a brick wall and everything changes? Where are all the loving, forgiving, helpful adults?"

The feelings of women, afraid to age, on the threshold of major changes in their lives, physically and emotionally are movingly described by the author. The insecurity of living life depending on being 'defined by others' seems to be true for almost everyone, irrespective of what their life seems to be like.

"...any forty-seven-year old woman who does not realize she is struggling with both hormonal changes and a huge fear of aging is in denial."

*   *   *

About the Book:

A word, a single word defines a moment for Anne. She needs to find a new one when her spouse leaves her at the age of 47, coming out of the closet literally in a closet. She finds herself back in her hometown amongst her high school friends which she left behind in her past.

An inheritance from a friend leaves her with the means to meddle and spy on the lives of some of their mutual acquaintances. In an attempt to run from her reality Anne gets engrossed in a game of "fun" and "flirtation" with her friend and fellow sufferer Connie at her side. Anne however did not read all the files and what to her is fun games turns into a deadly reality. It is no longer a game.

Life, death and not even a defining word can stop the reality of manipulation.

Buy Links:

Character Sketches:

The characters in Defined by Others are predominantly women. They are all flawed and for the most part very superficial. Some of their flaws are surprising and others are logical. 
I chose women born in the year 1965, I did this to work with a play on Chinese Astrology.  I made them 47 years old as the book takes place in 2012, one of the characteristics of female snakes according to Chinese Astrology is that they are all very beautiful.

I wanted characters that were superficial and very worried about their physique and how others see them; thus being defined by the opinions of others.

The women have a connection as teens from growing up in the same affluent town in the American Northeast. The story is fueled by who they are at 47 and who they were at 17.

ANNE is one of the main characters and the story is told from her point of view, in her voice. She is fluent in many languages and loves words. She likes to define every moment with just one word. Her husband recently left her, and he left her broken and confused. Divorce is hard at any age, but divorce because the man you shared almost two decades with realizes he is gay must be brutal
Anne has a nice side, she is forgiving of her husband, she tries to get into his skin and appreciate that his confusion, she is still however so confused and vulnerable that when life presents her with a way to make other’s suffer as she has, she is pretty quick to grab it.
She has adolescent twins, she is however a very detached parent, as the story evolves she identifies that she continued the family pattern with which she was raised.
In the course of the story she has to make numerous life changing decisions. Anne is in a journey of self-discovery and she has likable and dark traits.

CONNIE is also a main character, she is curiously linked to Anne because her respective husbands have fallen for each other and left them. Connie has been carrying the pain and confusion longer than Anne. She is broken and lonely and in Anne she sees the possibility of a friend, ally or at the very least fellow sufferer.
Like Anne she does not blame the man who left her, and respects that as the father of her children, she needs to wish him nothing but the very best.
She loves to nurture and to cook. She goes completely against her nurturing nature as the story evolves, because she is so hurt, confused and unbalanced.
As much as Connie chooses to also manipulate those she sees as her foes, there is a very tender and likable side to Connie. She loves her children very deeply and is very lost when the main focus of her life changes; she was born to be the quintessential mom.

AMANDA is dead, during the entire story-line she manipulates with her legacy from the very grave. She was ravaged by an illness that magnified her negative traits, and if the other characters are to be believed there was nothing positive about Amanda.
As the story progresses I do give Amanda a background a reason to be so dark, I did so because otherwise the character would be too flat or cartoon like as an image of pure evil.
During her illness she devices away to be cruel and most involved with the women in her past and present. Upon her death (not a spoiler this is the opening of the book) she leaves her “game” to Anne, it is a game of manipulation and deceit through social media.

ALLISON is mean, she identified as Amanda’s mean girl side-kick but she too is a victim of the manipulation game. I have had readers contact me, and it is indeed Allison they seem to dislike the most, I did not feel a need to give her as much depth or an excuse for her nastiness, as she is a secondary character. I just wanted to show that although she is vulnerable, she is also a natural leader.
She is clever and assumes she is far cleverer than she really is. As I wrote Defined by Others I did want Allison to be a sort of live walking continuum to Amanda’s nasty side.

PETER is the only male in the story who is very present, the husbands are in the sidelines. Peter is a lawyer, he connects with Anne at the beginning of the book as Amanda’s lawyer. 
He is kind and understanding, he falls for Anne and he falls hard, he is also divorced and as such looking for a new way to fit in. He is not privy to Anne and Connie’s machinations, but he does suspect they are up to no good.
I wanted Peter to be a very easy man to love, intelligent, successful, and vulnerable. I had to make him vulnerable by having his ex drop him in a cruel and hurtful way. I made him Amanda’s reluctant lawyer so that he would be aware that Anne had inherited something odd and questionable from Amanda, I did not want to turn him into a detective, he needed some level of awareness to make him believable. 
I also had him fall in love with Anne, but fall in love with Connie’s cooking and thus forming a strong bond with both women.

MRS. G. (Anne’s mother) is a character that is as much represented by her dialogue and appearances throughout the story as she is by her “secret room”. Mrs. G. was a liberal adventuresome lady who is also defined by others, and as such she pretends to be as conservative as those who surround her world.

She has a special room, full of New Age Books and other secrets, she is as such very present throughout the story.

About the Author:

M.C.V. Egan is the pen name chosen by Maria Catalina Vergara Egan the author of The Bridge of Deaths and Defined by Others. Catalina is originally from Mexico City, Mexico. She has lived in France, Sweden and various parts of the U.S.A.
She has called South Florida her home for the last twenty-five years; she is a writer, a mother a wife and a pretty good cook.

Her first book The Bridge of Deaths is available in two different versions, her book Defined by Others is the first in a series Defining Ways exploring what makes us flawed and human.

Book two Climbing Up The Family Tree; Defined by Pedigree will be released in November 2015.

Contact the Author:

" rel="nofollow" data-raflid="491d1d8b147" data-theme="classic" data-template="" id="rcwidget_3g64cur3">a Rafflecopter giveaway

Thursday, 26 March 2015

A must read - Without a Doubt (Book Review - Arjun)

Book Title: Arjun - Without A Doubt

Author: Dr. Shinde Sweety
Genre: Fiction: Mythology / History / Epic
Published by: Frog Books
No. of pages: 281
Cover price: Rs. 195

'The heart can be dissected, the brain can be sliced open, but I love to unravel the mind and emotions.' - This is the first line in the 'About the Author' section in the beginning of the book.

I don't usually include the author's introduction in the book review, but this one quote describes this book to a T. 
Dr Shinde Sweety has made the characters of Mahabharata come alive with her words.
'Arjun - Without a Doubt' is an emotionally potent narration of a section of Mahabharata with Arjun and Draupadi as central characters.

The book starts with first person narration by Arjun on the day of Draupadi's swayamwar.
It continues with Draupadi's first person narration that is preceded by three asterisks (***).
The stirring tale of 'Arjun - Without a Doubt' is told from Arjun's and Draupadi's perspective.

Mahabharata, the epic saga is not just the story of the war of Kurukshetra, but it starts much before that. This epic has an amassment of strong individuals and striking characters. One may not agree with their choices, but one cannot help but be enraptured by their personalities.
Surrounded by such strong characters, it would be so easy to be lost in the crowd.

Dr. Shinde's 'Arjun - Without a Doubt' highlights the strength and emotions of Arjun and Draupadi. 
Despite their peculiar circumstances, and their unusual obstacles, their emotions are so normal and relatable that one aches for the pain they are going through. 
Dr. Shinde's Arjun and Draupadi are special people, who face the odds with such elan that one may mistake it for lack of any distress. It is not.

It just so happens that the book I read and reviewed before this was Ramayna by Shubha Vilas (Shubha Vilas' name does feature in the acknowledgements of this book).

'Arjun - Without a Doubt' is evidently written by one who believes, who has faith, and can thus explain and convince better.

The story of Mahabharata has so much depth and so many layers that one can get lost in it.
Dr. Shinde Sweety's 'Arjun - Without a Doubt' reads like an easy-to-read fiction. That is the beauty of this book's narration.

Arjun is skilled and gifted. But he is not arrogant.
"No person is great in isolation. It takes many hands to shape a life. Denial would mean conceit, and conceit is not the same as self-respect."
Arjun is the 'reluctant warrior', who made his expertise look 'effortless'. In Dr. Shinde's words he is a Hero because he humanizes heroism.

Draupadi is a strong woman who knows her mind, being taught to behave conventionally. She doesn't need a man to complete her. Reading about her is like hearing a modern rebel talking. A tawny tigress.
'Ahead of one's time' is one of the first phrases that came to my mind as I read about Draupadi. A woman struggling to balance her assertive personality with the mould that she is expected to fit into.

"Her mind. A mind that refused to be enslaved, a mind that refused to be a mere pawn, a mind that could argue with clarity and confidence..."

Both Arjun and Draupadi are special because they are the chosen ones by Krishn as friends. He also trusts them to shoulder the burdens which no mere mortal can tolerate, let alone with such grace and positivity.

Krishn and Arjun feel a connection with each other before they have met.
In Arjun's words from this book -
"Govind did not feel like a person, he felt like an event. My cousin... no, something far more - My Destiny. I knew my life would now forever be divided into two phases - before Govind and after Govind."

I knew of the story of Mahabharata (most of it from the televised version of it), but not in much detail. In what I did know of the events of Mahabharata, Draupadi and her relationship with her husbands is kept a little under the cloak, kind-of hurriedly referred to.
In 'Arjun - Without a Doubt', the emotions, insecurities, selfishness, selflessness, and most of all, destiny... behind this decision find a central place.

As I read about the life of Draupadi, I felt a both anger and helplessness at the plight of this strong woman... a woman with five special husbands aching for one.

" honor cannot stem from anyone else. My honor is not someone's perception of it, not is it an illusion. My honor originates from and ends in me." - Draupadi

"No matter how much History and Destiny tried to gag her opinions, smother her with traditions or devastate her with misfortunes, she still managed to break through the shackles." - Arjun's thoughts about Draupadi

This rendition of Mahabharata by Dr Shinde Sweety is not just about Draupadi and Arjun as a couple. It is about much more. Many other sensitive topics find a place and are dealt with very exquisitively.

A very important question before reading this book is if familiarity with Mahabharata important to enjoy this book.
It would help, yes. I don't think it's necessary though.
Soon into the book, reading about incidents from Arjun's and Draupadi's point of view, one gets a hang of the story. (I repeat, Draupadi's perspective starts with ***). 
A rare help of google may be needed if one wants to understand the back story of every single reference.

There are many layers to the story of Mahabharata, and thus to the story of 'Arjun - Without a Doubt' (though the latter covers just a part of the story of the former). Many of these facets of Mahabharata voice their emotions in the words of this book.

For me though, Dr. Shinde's 'Arjun - Without a Doubt' is primarily the story of star-crossed lovers, who end up being pawns in the bigger scheme of things. 
There is so much heart-ache that one wishes for them to be normal, to not be so 'special', just so they can be together.

My favourite quotes from 'Arjun - Without a Doubt' -
  • "Power does not justify sin. Power is not virtue. Virtue is that which lasts inspite of power."
  • "...war doesn't decide who is right - it just decides who is left."
  • "Skill without passion would have been drudgery. Passion without skill would have been torture."
  • "No person is completely wicked, just as no person is perfect. We are all grey."
  • "Absence of questions is not proof of answers."
  • "Heaven is boring."
I don't know whether the author meant for the last quote to be humorous. I was smiling when I read it though. And I am smiling now.

For me, 'Arjun - Without a Doubt' did not just make me rethink my perspective on Mahabharata, it moved me as only a very well-written emotional story can.
It is a thought-provoking, interesting read that I highly recommend.

The text in italics are quotes from the book.
Thanks to the author for sending a signed copy of the book in exchange for writing an honest review.

Tuesday, 10 March 2015

My First No... #StartANewLife

No... (Image Source)
It started during my college days. May be being away from home, in a hostel, brought out this particular side of my personality that was till then dormant.

At college and especially in my hostel, I was the go-to person for my friends. And proud of it.

Any problem anyone had, I would be called upon.
I helped do Isha’s laundry, because she had left finishing her essay till the last moment.
Smita kept me awake for many a night, either talking about how great her boyfriend was (when things were good between them) or how difficult life is (when the two of them had one of their many quarrels).
I would miss an India-Pak match to help Preeti do her Science Project (although I had done mine well in time).
I took Sneha’s mother’s call, and lied that she was sleeping, when she was out with her boyfriend. For this last one, I was strolling near the hostel phone for almost an hour, just to ensure that no one else received the call.

I can go on and on, but I think you get the drift.

I felt needed. I felt loved. And I was popular. Life was good. Or at least it seemed so.

As I joined my first job, I was popular once again (and felt needed). I was helping everyone left, right and centre. So what, if more often than not, I got no credit for all the hours I had put in. I worked on festivals, because some colleague came to me with puppy eyes, saying he needed to go home to be with family.

Did you notice that the word ‘friend’ had now been replaced by ‘colleague’? And I was popular and felt needed? The love was lost.

When I think back to these times, I realize that saying yes to any ‘favour’ anyone asked of me had become a way of life. ‘Favour’ doesn’t exactly describe my magnanimity though, as there was hardly even a sincere thanks in return.

I was over-worked. And I was being taken for granted too.

Then I got married. Into a Joint Family.

The same tendency continued at home. I would try to do it all. I would do my best to please everyone.

Obviously, there is not enough time ever to ‘do it all’. And foolish me… I was trying to be the consummate perfectionist.

It was ‘International Women’s Day’ and a psychologist had come to our office for a 'Motivational Self-Help Session'.

She had a list of questions. She said if we think the answer to any of them is ‘yes’ for us, we need to re-evaluate our priorities in life.

The first question was ‘Do you feel the need to be liked by one and all? Do you think if someone doesn’t like you, you are not good enough?’

She went on to elaborate on this, saying that it is important to be able to disappoint others, when needed. One cannot be happy without being a little selfish.
One has to be able to say NO. Unapologetically.

The colleague sitting said he had to go out with friends. He asked me to lie to the boss about the time he had left. I refused. I said no.

And I felt liberated.

Not that I don’t say yes at all, not that I don’t lend a helping hand to my colleagues and friends when needed, not that I don’t strive to be a perfectionist to the best of abilities… I do.

But I also say No, when I feel the need to. There is no compulsion to be liked by all.

I like myself more now...

Sunday, 8 March 2015


This post has been published by me as a part of the Blog-a-Ton 52; the fifty-second edition of the online marathon of Bloggers; where we decide and we write. In association with Metro Diaries by "" target="_blank"​Namrata". To be part of the next edition, visit and start following Blog-a-Ton

Image Source

Lost in the attic
Echoes of the past
Torn edges reminisce
Tender hands
Excited eyes
Real warmth lost in
Shining transient  smartness

The fellow Blog-a-Tonics who took part in this Blog-a-Ton and links to their respective posts can be checked here. To be part of the next edition, visit and start following Blog-a-Ton. Participation Count: 03

Thursday, 5 March 2015

Heal the world... the new way

'Papa ho ya mamma ho,
Ya Mamma ki amma ho,
sabko hum sikhayenge,
bijli hum bachayenge...'

I love this advertisement about children taking pledge to 'Save Electricity'. They are ready to take on their parents and grandparents and teach them, if need be, to stop wasteful consumption of electricity.
For me, this advertisement has humour and subtle disdain for the 'wisdom' of the the grown-ups. It is about the kids, as leaders, paving way for a 'brighter' future.

Every generation loves to be wistful about 'Good Old Days' and claim that the next generation is going downhill.

I attended Annual Day at my son's school recently.
There was dance and music (both classical and western) and there were skits about loving and hating the school. There was an impressive presentation on Saving Environment. And there was a sensitive and moving performance on rape.

There was fun and frolic, there was humour and satire... there was depth and maturity too.
We were told that it had mainly been the students who had conceptualized and executed the whole show.
When I look at these kids, it is awe-inspiring. They can shoulder the responsibility of the days to come.

It felt good to see the youngsters balancing the harsh realities of life with the fun of it. It is heartening to see their unapologetic, yet sensitive, portray of their beliefs.

It is funny, when it is not exasperating, to see the old generation think that the younger generation is going to the dogs.
Two brothers are in conflict and a wise voice claims, "These days ('Aaj Kal') there is no patience and family values in the new generation."

"O...kay", I say, "Remember Mahabharata...?"

'Good Old Days' - this phrase could be the reason behind the pessimistic view towards the future that some hold. We do choose to remember the 'good' of the old days, which is certainly better than to keep cribbing over the past. But looking at the future with a 'holier than thou' attitude because of this spoils the 'good' part of the sentiment.

We teach kids to take initiative, as we should. Sometimes, that 'initiative' backfires when they turn and question us too.
I think it is in this attitude of being open to question everything - new and old - that the foundation of a good future lies.

"Leadership is not about the next election, it's about the next generation"
These words by Simon Sinek is about believing in the times to come. And I find it reassuring.

Optimism is in seeing the youth questioning the ways of the world on stage and then off it to when they face the world.

Optimism is when they truly believe, without the cynicism of the old, that they can heal the world...