Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Truly, Madly, Deeply by Faraaz Kazi

Truly, Madly, Deeply is a book about first loves and obsessions.

In his debut novel, Faraaz Kazi, whom I interviewed here, tells a beautiful story about two teenage lovers: Rahul, and Seema, and their touching and tragic love story. From the onset, I thought this was one of your typical love stories where a girl and guy fall in love in school and end up together forever in the island of dreams because everyone is too perfect (which was reinforced by the fact that both main characters were described as very beautiful and intelligent and with beauty that just refuses to fade away no matter how beaten-down they get) but I was happy to be proved wrong. Yes, this is your teenage romance novel. But no, this is definitely not your cliched 'love is a cure-all' novel that looks oddly like a bollywood film story. The story is quite refreshing in its story-line and particularly in its conclusion, which I really enjoyed. 

The story it tells is in a sense very easy to identify with, especially as a high school student, and though both the cases of the main characters might seem slightly over-the-top, I personally find it a very likely and plausible story. The characters are eventually quite well-written, especially Rahul, who tells this story and is as a consequence much more human and likeable compared to Seema, whom we mostly see from the point-of-view of someone who adores her and thus comes across as slightly insufferable. I like how the house struggles and personal rivalries come in the middle of their relationship, with two such strong personalities as the author shows. I also loved the minor characters, from Jai to Sahil, most of whom were nicely shown and portrayed, and thus added depth to the story. 

The writing style was crisp and direct, I liked the use of non-linear structure and different point-of-views to tell the story, it added some spice to a book that might otherwise have been slightly bland. The use of poetry abundantly in the narrative was probably uncharacteristic but really helped break the monotony of having one character mostly narrate his story. I like how the story gives you a sense of wanting to know more, which is exactly how most teenage relationships end. Its particularly well-written in the sense that it can be understood and yet has depth, which is probably really ideal for its target audience. 

Final thoughts: A beautiful, layered story of a teenage love turning into an obsession. Worth a read if you like the concept.

Click here to get an author-signed copy of the book. 

Other thoughts: This christmas I hope to remove my backlog, which means 4-5 reviews are waiting. I hope you all are having a very beautiful holiday season, filled with reading! :) 

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Interview: Shivani Singh

Today, I've got on my blog Shivani Singh, the author of Discover Your Dharma, a book on discovering your life's purpose through effective journalling techniques, which I've reviewed here. Welcome, Shivani.

1. I'd like to begin this interview by asking you what kind of books are there on your bookshelf? What books are you reading right now? Which genre of books do you generally read? Which books do you re-read again and again? 

Hi Sakhi – thanks for interviewing me. I love reading your blog! I have all kinds of books on my bookshelf – from art and design to science, history, the classics, and spirituality. I still have books on my bookshelf that I had as a kid – the entire Dr. Seuss Collection, Calvin and Hobbes, Richard Scarry, and Anne of Green Gables. I think I have almost every motivational/new-age bestseller published – from the Celestine Prophecy to Eckart Tolle, the Magic of Thinking BIG, Napoleon Hill, and the Instant Millionnaire. Now, I read a lot of business books, inspiring biographies, and spiritual books – Autobiography of A Yogi by Paramahansa Yogananda is a book I enjoy re-reading again and again. I like to read anything that has new innovative ideas, inspires me to be a better person, or that could teach me something useful – like cooking in 5 minutes!

2. Tell us something about your work before "Discover Your Dharma"? 

I had always dreamed of being an astronaut, and by the time I was 17, I had the great fortune to work alongside some of the most brilliant minds on the planet and Nobel Prize Laureates. But somehow, over time, I had become a downtrodden, invisible robot... going day in and day out, without any end in sight! I kept thinking, "There's gotta be something more!" So, instead of going to outer space, I got on a plane, and traveled from the U.S to India! For a couple months, I traveled to many ashrams, meditated under banyan trees, and went to the holiest places. I served food to leper colonies, and visited temples, slums, and bathing ghats, from Calcutta to Delhi. After a LOT of traveling on the trains across India I began to journal about my ideas, experiences, feelings, thoughts, and desires. In the process, I came to realize the power of using various styles of journaling to know what to do next with my life. Over the past decade, I’ve developed and shared these journaling techniques with thousands all over the world – from college students to entrepreneurs, and I’ve created easy-to-follow templates for anybody to discover their dharma now!

3. Did you always want to be a writer? How did you get into writing? What inspired you to write "Discover Your Dharma"? 

Yes! I’ve always loved writing, and everything to do with books, writing, paper, pens… the whole works. Writing is an art – an expression of a million things all at once – dreams, thoughts, ideas, fears, fantasy, opinions, reflections, inspirations, and it is share-able across time and space. But to me, I think what got me into writing is this revolutionary concept that I share in Discover Your Dharma – what you write isn’t nearly as powerful as the process of writing. When I first got into university, I was declared as a ‘Graphic Arts and Writing Major.’ After my first semester, before I got a chance to take an art or a writing class, I decided to do physics and Spanish literature instead. I didn’t want anybody telling me that I had to write or create for a grade! And so, that’s how I ended up pursuing another passion of mine - physics at NASA, instead of a writing degree. When I left NASA, not knowing what to do next with my life, I knew there was a book in me. I just didn’t know what I was meant to write at the time. After my own research of amazing people like Gandhi, Picasso, Disney, and Mother Teresa – I realized they all used journaling to figure out their dharma. Through the process, not only did I figure out my own dharma, but also the system that anybody else could too! That’s how I got inspired to write Discover Your Dharma.

4. What kind of people do you think this book will reach out to?

Discover Your Dharma is for savvy urbanites who know they could be successful at anything they are passionate about – if only they know what it is! It’s for the modern dharma seekers between 21 and 51 who are amazing and talented, who have a vision, a fire in their belly, and a deep sense of urgency to figure out what to do next with their lives.

5. What is your favourite thing about books and reading? How have books made an impact on your life?

My favorite thing about books and reading is the opportunity to expose yourself to new ideas, to find new ways to think about the same old things, or to learn new beliefs that could make you expand your own impact as a human being. But perhaps the most influential books in my life – from Dickens to J.K.Rowling – are those that strip you to the bare essentials, that whisk you away out of your own little world, that show you an alternative way of being, and when you’re done reading, you never quite see the world – or your Self – the same way again.

6. Quick take. Answer the following with the first words/phrase that comes to your mind, in five words or less: 
- Dharma – right action to do now
- Life – what you choose to share and experience
- Fate – pre-determined outcomes by choice
- Purpose – action with intention
- Books – world of ideas and knowledge

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Discover Your Dharma by Shivani Singh

Discover Your Dharma is not your average self-help book.

Discover Your Dharma

In fact, when I first saw this book, I was slightly skeptical. I don't believe a book will be able to help me become who I am. I think just reading is far too passive for that, and that discovering your life's purpose (which the book aims at helping you do) requires a lot more effort on your part. But that's just the thing. In this book, Shivani Singh does not give you a checklist to success. She gives you a basic framework to build your life upon, which might strike many as basic common sense but just as common sense is not so common, we often lead "lives of quiet desperation" even when the path to discovering your life's purpose is not so far away. 

In this book, Shivani Singh details her method of using effective journaling techniques to discover your life's purpose. While these range from the regular (like free-writing to clear your mind of junk) to the radical (writing with a different hand, writing outside the box), they are all quite different and worth a try at the very least. Shivani backs this up with her own music to help you write, her own experiences written, and with loads of examples and illustrations that leave you without much doubt. The book is written in a very simple, straightforward way, and you are immediately clear of the instructions as well as how the step is important in your life. She also details other tips to help you do better at this, including lighting incense or candles to build the atmosphere and embarking on the mission with a new diary. All this is done is a light, friendly, conversational style that holds your attention and does not bore you or impose on you. 

I'm sure there will be people who will find this technique radically impressive, and others for whom it will not work at all (after all, no technique can work for EVERYBODY) but I personally believe that this is at least worth a try by everyone, young or old. As Shivani herself points out in the book, it is never too late (or too early) to discover the purpose of your life. I like the use of journaling as a power technique because of my belief in writing, and though I have not finished every part of this book yet, I definitely find it interesting enough to continue.  This book is backed up by  a great deal of merchandise (from the indispensable music to a lot of other things ranging from Dharma Wheels to workshops, all of which may seem excessive to some people but certainly aids fans to perfecting their experience with this book. 

Final thoughts: An interesting, well-written book on how to know the purpose of your life (your dharma) through journaling your thoughts. Worth a go. 

Other thoughts: I am quite behind on my reviewing schedule, and have finished nearly four book since my last review: A Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, A Suitable Boy, Emma and I am almost finished with Truly, Madly, Deeply. Expect a lot of reviews, and Shivani's interview on Tuesday. Until then, keep reading! :)

(Financial disclosure: Book source was the author.) 

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Interview: Faraaz Kazi

Its been a long break due to a vacation and some internet troubles, but I'm back with a bang as I bring you my interview with Faraaz Kazi, whose debut novel, "Truly, Madly, Deeply" released December 5th and that I'm currently perusing and will be reviewing in the not-so-distant future. Welcome, Faraaz.

I'd like to begin this interview by asking you what kind of books are there on your bookshelf? What books are you reading right now? Which genre of books do you generally read? Which books do you re-read again and again?

I have been a ‘book worm’ all my life. Just the fragrance of paper-new or the yellowed rusty one (doesn’t matter) - smells like perfume to my nostrils. I read everything I can lay my hands on, mostly fiction though. As a writer, romance is my usual genre but I also do lay hands on fantasy and crime fiction. I stopped counting the books in my house-earlier on I used to take a monthly stock, though I was the only ‘member’ of my ‘house library’- after the count reached an unimaginable amount. My bookshelf is too small to contain all the books in my house and we had to stuff cartons of books and stock them in the attic. A large chunk of them also went into the old cupboards at my other home.

Having so many books and so little time, as I usually multi-task, I don’t often get the time to read each book twice (though I’d love to) because the goal is to read all the books I can lay my hands on. And trust me one life doesn't suffice. I usually make a list of all the books I want to read in a month. It’s pretty much like a forecast, keeping in mind my schedule and health. Currently, I’m reading the second novel of one my favourite authors, Anuja Chauhan. It is titled ‘Battle for Bittora’ and it appears to be even better than her earlier work. Once this is done, I guess I will pick up ‘In Arabian nights’ by Tahir Shah and after that Steig Larsson’s second book in the millennium

2. Tell us something about your work before "Truly, Madly, Deeply"?

‘Truly, Madly, Deeply’ is my debut novel. I had to struggle a lot like most first time authors so that it could see the light of publication. Though I have had a decent fan following as a blogger, writing on branding and marketing from an analytical point of view but it was a completely different experience as a novelist. I have written articles for a couple of media houses but nothing more than that. I guess it all changes after your first novel and more so, if it’s a success.

3. Did you always want to be a writer? How did you get into writing? What inspired you to write "Truly, Madly, Deeply"?

I guess as kids we all conjure up dreams- I want to be this, I want to be that when I grow up. I seriously don’t remember whether I wanted to be an author (I remember acting, medicine and cricket in my list of career choices though) but I did start writing at the age of seven. It was a silly adventurous novel about six friends who somehow reach a forest full of cannibals and dangerous animals. I remember it was a novel and not a short-story as most people would expect, because I filled an entire diary scribbling about it. Next, there were a few more fantasy fiction type novels, stemming from watching too many movies and reading too much of young adult fiction. It was not until two years back, when I had taken a break from academics and had time on my hands, so I decided to enrol for a creative writing course. It opened a dormant side within me and I realised somewhere I always wanted to be a writer (not quite a full-time one though. You don’t make much of a living that way unless you end up writing about someone’s points and spending nights in call centres and then make three mistakes in a couple of states) as I found my romantic short-stories to be applauded by the other 30 odd students around me. And then, that was motivation enough to try my hands on a novel. Luckily, for me I had a readymade plot.

‘Truly, Madly, Deeply’ stems from a short-story I had written for a national-level story writing competition in 2003’. It surely had the potential as it won the fourth prize at that level. That time it was fully autobiographical, now of course it is a mixture of fact and fiction. All I had to do was expand the story, keeping the plot in mind. Of course, there were some major changes made. And I actually could notice, the difference in my writing (seven years is a lonnnnng time!) I guess it’s a healthy experience curve after all.

4. What kind of people do you think this book will reach out to?

Being a marketer, I define my target as Sec A to Sec E, age group 16-40, reading fiction, MHI> (doesn’t really matter). From a writer’s POV, I can say that the book will appeal to each and every one, who’s passed through the funny stage of ‘adolescence’ and experienced the high of first love. But yes, in general, the book tends to deal with the extremes as it handles a fragile topic at its base, of infatuation turning into an obsession. So, I do expect some criticism and people talking about how it is unrealistic in certain parts. But then no one can separate fact from fiction.

The ultimate trust is between the author and the reader and I’m sure the reader will be able to identify with parts of the story, a similar journey he or she may have experienced in some part of her life, similar decisions which could have backfired and then they would have had to embrace regret. And my thoughts are echoed by none other than Mr. Tuhin Sinha, best-selling author of ‘Of love and Politics’ and two other popular books. This is what he has to say about ‘Truly, Madly, Deeply’:

"A fascinating, roller-coaster tale of teenage love, Kazi’s book depicts the emotion in its raw, confusing form- just the way you’d have experienced it the first time you fell in love with someone. Kazi’s penchant for detail is impressive and makes the book an alluring journey for all die-hard romantics."

5. What is your favourite thing about books and reading? How have books made an impact on your life?

The best thing about books is that they take us to an almost illusion-like world, far away from the happenings of life. Mostly, when I’m in the doldrums, you’ll find me with a copy in hand, lying on the bed and soaking in the words. There’s no feeling in this world which can replace the joy of reading a good book on a rainy evening with some hot pakoras for company. Books have elevated me to an altogether different level. I have gained a lot of insight into human psychology through some extremely fine characters. My practical approach to real-life marketing also stems from reading Kotler, Levitt, Ogilvy, Seth Godin and so many other gurus. I appear knowledgeable to some, an unworthy show-off to some, a freak to the rest. But it doesn’t affect me anymore as my best friends (read ‘books’) aren’t complaining.

6. Quick take. Answer the following with the first words/phrase that comes to your mind, in five words or less:

- Love – Separates humans from the rest.

- Life – An illusion.

- The teenage years – Time machine, anyone?

- Innocence – Fake after a point of time.

- Books – Nirvana.

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