Sunday, 14 April 2019

It's Review Time!

The Assassination of Rajat Gandy 
Author : Anurag Anand
Publisher : Readomania

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Politics has always been a tricky knotty business and commenting on it even worse. The Assassination of Rajat Gandy is a quick read that takes you to the underbelly of the communal riots and the Hindu-Muslim divide that has been perpetually creating a chasm in the politics of the country, mixing religion and politics in an ugly mesh, causing loss of lives.
The book provides a peek into the minds and psyche of the people who run the show from up there in the government. The reader would find the usage of names very interesting. From Rajat Gandy, Madam (no prizes for guessing who that could be!), Ajit Seth, to Sachin Jaywardhan and my absolute favorite till now- Arunabh Gosain! It is a wonderful interplay on contemporary characters and their conduct in a fictional set up. Things are, of course, derived from the real world of politics but at the same time, have been contrived to reflect incidents and happenings that haven’t occurred and may or may not happen.
When Afsha Khan, a leading political correspondent gets kidnapped right after the communal riots that threaten to tear the secular fabric of the country just before elections, the environment begins to boil and the bigwigs start to take notice. Who has the upper hand in ordering the assassination of the prime ministerial candidate? What relation does that have to the biggest scam one has seen in the country till now? Troll attacks, communal uprisings, kidnapping and sudden accidents leading to the deaths of significant players in the game of political thrones make up this suspenseful potboiler.

Let’s have a chat with the author himself and find out what he has to say about his latest political thriller:  

Aashisha Chakraborty: A burning question that perhaps every reader will have after reading the title of this book- is there any basis for the biggest incident happening in the book? Is it inspired by some actual circumstance?
Anurag Anand: Well, the relationship between facts and fiction is a strange one. More often than not, the two are found jostling to mirror each other. This is exactly the relationship that my book, The Assassination of Rajat Gandy, shares with all that’s unfolding in the Indian political arena today.
However, the story of my book does draw partially from the prevailing political situation in the country. And this, when garnished with some degree of logic and common sense, makes for a plot that might appear inspired, or even a source of inspiration sometimes, for what we end up reading in the papers.  
AC: What made you give away the major plot of the book in the title itself?
AA: The title of the book does give away the central theme of the story, but it intends to keep the readers guessing on the why, who, how and what of it. The objective is to draw readers who are interested in mysteries and whodunnits in general and political thrillers in particular, and if the initial response to the book is anything to go by, it has been received well by the readers.  
AC: The pharma scam- how much truth is there to it?
AA: The pharma scam is entirely fictional, unless of course there is something transpiring behind closed doors that the investigating agencies and media are yet to get a whiff of. The thought, however, was triggered by the ensuing debate around the right of multinational companies to charge a premium for their patented drugs much in excess of the production costs. This is a tough one, for if their commercial prospects are curtailed, it acts as a deterrent for them to invest behind research, and if they are allowed a free reign the drugs remain beyond the reach of the masses.
AC: How difficult was it for you to keep from taking the side of a particular political party in the book?
AA: It wasn’t all that difficult, simply because I am personally not a big fan of unconditional alignment of ideologies with any political party or leader. In fact, the trend of hero worship that seems to be consuming political dialogues lately is toxic and unwarranted. We can witness this toxicity play out in debates on social media and other forums at an alarming regularity today. I believe that as informed citizens of the country, it is our duty to view every action of the government on its merit, irrespective of any biases we might harbor for or against the political entity in power.
As for the story of The Assassination of Rajat Gandy, you will find that I have donned the hat of a demanding and somewhat cynical Indian while writing it. So, if anything, both principal political parties – as and when they run short of pressing issues to focus their attention on – can come up with something or the other that doesn’t agree with them.
AC: Did you face any difficulty in getting this theme to publishers or getting the book out?
AA: Of course, I did. It’s a sad reality of the publishing industry that commerce takes precedence over everything else, even a good story. The decision makers are only too happy to keep away from anything having the remotest likelihood of stirring up a controversy. So, while I had obtained prior legal opinion on the manuscript of The Assassination of Rajat Gandy, two leading publication houses turned it down in the final stages of discussions. That’s where I would want to commend my current publisher, Readomania – a relatively new publication house, but passionate about bringing good and relevant stories to their readers – for taking up the project.
AC: Your bio states that you have dabbled in all genres. Did you intend that from the start? How has that experience been?
AA: Writing, to me, has always been very personal. It’s not a mere vocation or just a medium of expression for me, but a near-cathartic passion that makes me who I am. While I didn’t embark on this journey with a clear plan around whether I will write in one or multiple genres, I was certain that I didn’t want to restrain my writing. Thankfully, I have managed to keep it that way and write on subjects that I feel like writing about thus far. I can only pray that it remains so in the future.
There have been instances when I have been counselled by people more accomplished and informed than I am, about the need and importance of carving your own niche as an author. I respect their views and good intent, but as long as my readers are not complaining, I am happy to let things remain the way they are.   
AC: How did you start writing? How has the journey been up till now?
AA: I have been a voracious reader for as far back as I can remember. So, writing was a natural offshoot of my love for the written word. At a very early age, I would contribute articles to my school magazine and be elated to see my compositions in print. The euphoria I experienced then has not quite waned, and it is the need to experience it again and again that perhaps keeps me going.
My journey as an author has been a mixed bag, moments of exultations peppered by times of haplessness and despair, but I am not complaining. Each low that I have experienced has left me stronger, and I cherish them as much as I treasure my moments of glory.
AC: How much research did you have to put in for the book?
AA: A fair bit of research went behind the book, but not so much around politics and the machinations that make it. I have been fortunate enough to observe this world at close quarters and hence it didn’t prove much of a challenge to deal with. My research was primarily centered around technology and how it is likely to evolve in the future, making it a potent weapon in the hands of the nefarious and the ill-intentioned. This is a fear that we live with on an everyday basis, and to be able to weave it seamlessly into the plot of the book, I had to spend a fair bit of time perusing recent developments in this space.   
AC: Did your corporate job ever come in the way of writing or vice versa? How did you manage both the professions?
AA: It does become a challenge sometimes, as your personal passions have to take a back seat when pitted against the demands of the workplace. There are several abandoned manuscripts resting in my hard drive which stand testimony to this necessity of prioritization that a day job brings. However, if you happen to be working with an organization that supports individual creativity and colleagues who partake in your successes, the balance becomes much simpler to attain. I have been extremely fortunate so far in this regard.     
AC: Any messages for aspiring writers?
AA: I see aspiring authors often worrying about aspects like how their work will get published or how should they go about marketing it, even before they have set pen to paper. My sincere advice to them would be to focus on the one thing that an author is supposed to do – write and write well. A good manuscript will find its takers and churning out the best that we can needs to remain our primary agenda. 
Of course, another vital suggestion – read as much as you can, it helps you in more ways than you can imagine. And if you are looking for recommendations, you might want to get your hands on The Assassination of Rajat Gandy. 
AC: That was a wonderful exchange, I must say! I thoroughly enjoyed the conversation. I am sure the readers loved the extra bytes about the journey of the book. All the best for your current as well as further endeavors!

Thursday, 7 March 2019

Women and Shiz Like That

(Published on International Women's Day on Women's Web)

Pink streamers welcome me, red roses decorate my desk, I get ushered in like a princess. No, dear, it’s not my birthday. It’s Women’s Day and I belong to the lucky 1 percent of the female population that gets treated like a queen.
So, as a part of the Women’s Week, we had a session over tea with the CEO. There was a nice little pep talk, screening of some wonderfully inspirational videos and an urge to participate and make the whole discussion livelier. The event was proceeding fine, in the sense that no one knew what to say to most of the things. And some were trying to pitch in with their stories. I, of course, kept mum throughout because, well, I am always the life of the party, you know.
I mean, we all know what gender equality is about. The topic is now kind of stale, isn’t it? What else can you add to it?
And then when there was too much quiet and the CEO was like, it’s getting too uncomfy and I am the only one speaking, one of the women saved everyone else’s neck by dishing out some sort of platitude relating to multitasking women, the hard journey of balancing, blah blah blah. And then emerged a question - why don’t we see more women in higher positions despite there being so much brouhaha over women empowerment and shizz like that. (She might have worded the question differently, but this was primarily the essence.) Of course, the answer went like things are changing but the changes cannot be overnight; they will be gradual and happen over time. Und so weiter.  
Then, someone shared a story about a girl fresh out of college who opted to take up sales and told the zonal manager that she had no problem touring outlets with salesmen; she had a scooty and had no qualms about being surrounded by males and stuff like that. Everyone lauded the girl’s grit and the anecdote was heard in good cheer. Of course, me being me could only think of one thing.
Why does this story get attention? Why is the story of a woman raising her voice and charging into a male stronghold such a novel prospect even today? It should be passé by now, shouldn’t it? After all, it has been more than a decade since 8 March, 1917 when women first got enfranchisement in Russia and the International Women’s Day was born. But the struggle for recognition hasn’t ceased yet. It has only changed form and geography.  

Why does a girl need to be all rowdy and cut-throat to be able to storm into a male bastion? Why don’t we accept an ‘un’extraordinary woman in a male domain? Why does a woman have to be just the best to reach the levels that are otherwise crowded with hoity-toity but lazy unremarkable men?
And how come it doesn't work the other way round? We don’t have soft-spoken men staying away from scary jobs just because they are so. We still have words like ‘manned’ for patrolling and not ‘womanned’. We still have men expecting women to be fiery, as if women can be either fiery or dumb, as if those in between don’t deserve shit.
Men of all types will be accepted but women? Aah well, women need to move through fire and brimstone to deserve the respect of the ‘naturally-competent’ men. 
Why don't we talk about women who let go of emotionally manipulative men as brave? Why don't we talk about women who battle inferior treatment from other women as brave? Why do we attribute every bad-tempered woman as someone who must be PMSing?
Do you know the saddest thing about this whole thing?
It’s that the issues today are still seen as women-centric and not people-centric. The fact that women’s day still has to be celebrated to remind the world that there is a species they might have overlooked on 364 days of the year is probably a thought worth giving.

Thursday, 3 January 2019

Smart and Smarter

Received Special Mention on the #GetFitWithFlipkart Contest

#TheFitIndiaMovement #GettingFitWithFlipkart

"Alexa! How do I look?"
"Alexa! What do you think love is?"
"Alexa! Play 'Thunderclouds'..."
"Alexa! Paint me like one of your French girls..."

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I have started using my Amazon Echo voice as not just a virtual assistant, but also a companion who listens to me without any emotional investment. I know it sounds terribly lonely of me but I can assure you, it's not the 'Her' case. It is just…a whole lot of fun.
The other day, my mom kept complaining that she is not walking enough and how much she wants to be fit again and the entire story starting with- “I used to be stick-thin like you before I got married…”
And then it struck me what her new year gift could be. You see, flowers and cards are passe. She has gotten too many of them from too many people. And chocolates? Well, I had rather not, because they actually turn out to be pseudo gifts when I end up devouring them all. So, this time, I got my mom a fitness band. First-class. Such health-consciousness, much wow.
You know the best thing about smart devices? Well, they are smart. Duh.
But seriously, I like the way they give you prompts. It’s so familiar and kinda sweet.
A few months ago, my friends gifted me a beautiful silver-bracelet-watch. But when I turned up wearing it on my right hand the next day, they staggered.
"I have never seen you reach any place on time. And yet, you choose to wear two watches!"
Well, I couldn't possibly give up wearing my favorite MiBand 3, could I? And so, yes, strange and funny as it sounds, you will find both my wrists adorned with watches- one is the pretty silver showy one and the other is the ruddy practical one- my fitness band. It has almost become a habit to check how many hours of sleep I got the previous day because trust me, it is always a revelation. You might think you slept for eight hours because you went to bed at 12 and woke up at 8, but it is somehow never that. And I am not just talking about the variations of sleep- deep, not so deep and light; it's the actual number of hours that you don't realize you spend surfing your phone or just thinking and idly staring up into the ceiling before actually falling asleep. And let's be honest, don’t you get that thrill of accomplishment when you feel your smart watch vibrate and tell you that you have finished your quota of steps for the day? It even shows a cute badge of honor that I totally gush over.

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Smart devices have infiltrated our lives in ways some of us (who are not Luddites) really appreciate. Smart home, smartwearables, smart camera, smart lights, voice recognition, fingerprint locks, these are actually pretty cool. And the gadgets go beyond coolness now. They are handy, sophisticated and they make life simpler and infinitely more fun. For those of us who spend more time looking at some sort of screen or other, these fitness gadgets are more than blessings. They are the need of the day, hour and minute as they push us to improve our stiff postures, change our sedentary lifestyles and move our asses from the uber-comfy couches and do something worthwhile with our hands and feet.
What with all sorts of neoteric movements doing the rounds, I think the most important movement has escaped publicity that it deserved. Yes, I am talking about the Eat India Movement.
Lol, I am kidding, duh.
Of course, I meant the Fit India Movement.
A truckload of thanks to Flipkart for spearheading this frightfully important movement because this is one revolution that can actually unite people in ways unimaginable.
#GetFitWithFlipkart #SmartHomeRevolution

Monday, 31 December 2018

The Quest For Lassi


I don't think I will ever learn to lift my own bags. You may think 
it's kinda royal and high maintenance of me but trust me, the only thing it is, is downright annoying. Lugging my only suitcase up and down two flights of stairs to reach platform no.3 seemed to summon up all the strength I had gleaned from the lassi and dal makhani we had had from Kesar da Dhaba the previous night. And that reminds me of our quest. The quest for the best lassi in town. In all of Amritsar, to be honest. 

On our very first day to the foundation school where we were supposed to impart 'education' and do something for the kids, I learnt a few things about a few people. First of all, our cabbie. Our cabbie was called Lucky. (Guess he wasn't so lucky to have us, hee hee!). He looked like he had a couple of kine at his place, and had been fed on their fresh milk since boyhood.
And it turned out he did.
He also turned out to have an ambulance siren for a horn and a skull for a gear head.
Pretty badass, huh?
You wouldn't say so if you saw him. He was so unfailingly polite and incredibly sweet that we liked him at the very outset. Gentle giant was what occurred to me when I saw him.

Then we met the kids at the school and I realized what love and fandom looked like. Primarily love. The kids loved me like no boyfriend ever had. They listened open-mouthed to whatever I had to teach and irrespective of whether they understood much of it, they asked me if I would come the next day. During recess, they would stare at me and whisper among themselves, shake my hand and beam a full set of 28 teeth at me. I had never felt fuller, happier, more loved. Oh yeah, one even tried to take my autograph. Quite an ego boost, I know ;)

Let me now come to the group of three people who I was clubbed with.

One of them was my bestie and roommate. I am calling her N. You know, the BFF kinda person? The one who you think might have been a lost sister at a kumbh mela? Who we strike an immediate companionship with? Who give us the feeling, ‘excuse me, I think we rock’? You know, those quotes about not meeting often and yet being besties somehow, because you start off from wherever you left last time and it seems like you never left? Yep, that's her. From being the rock that absorbed my tears this entire year to being my official beauty expert, she is the elder sister I never had. Thank the HR for doing some things right ;)

The other one, P., was a bubbly perky ball of energy who looked like she was perpetually high. In all the good senses, you know. I knew her from before and I liked her. But there was something she said which touched me to the very core and told me that bro, you have struck gold in here. “Everyone deserves all the good things in life,” she told me on a shopping spree while we were buying Christmas gifts for the kids and I was like, bro, you are the perfect perfect Santa! And lo! She turned out to be THE SANTA. The most secretive Santa ever. Sending us cards and stuff through the hotel guys and we really DIDN’T EVEN KNOW. Till a few days later. Damn. Well, I guess I can safely use the word love for her.

The third member S., was a guy who looked like he would rather not have been clubbed with us because he hung out mostly with the mate from his alma mater and tried to vainly hide the annoyance on his face when I reached the reception a complete hour late on the very first day. Typical yours truly. But he won us over (or we won him over? Or it just seemed so?) with his droolworthy photography skills when he clicked brand new and very many display pictures of us without uttering a single complaint. Did I tell you that he shares with me the talent of falling asleep in the car at the drop of a hat? Well, he had me at SRK and sarsonkekhet when P. and I frolicked about among the mustard flowers and he let us play cliche and ultra-cheesy and mushy songs from DDLJ with nothing more than a smile on his face (which may have been a grimace of resignation but we will let that pass).

Not that it helped my timing much, because we made him wait almost everyday.
You see, time and I have never been on good terms. 
But music and I are. Only in the listening sense, you know. So, I somehow managed to convince my peers that my company was sufferable. I acted like the DJ and gave them a jukebox kinda feeling and suddenly all of us had songs we wanted to re-listen to. And share with each other. Share songs. That's one step already in the friendship department. 
Add taking group classes, soaking in whatever sunlight that filtered through the fog at noon, taking the kids' swings for ourselves, playing games we had last played, like, 12 years ago? and re-playing our school days; and soon we were thick enough to want to go out together. 

An unplanned walk in the night started us on the quest to find the best lassi in all of Amritsar. And Punjab. And the Punjab in Pakistan (as S. helpfully points out every time we stretch our itinerary to inhuman lengths). Of course, we sampled all the usual places like Brothers, Kesar, Qila Gobindgarh, and the rest of the places people recommend and even went to places that no one recommended. We asked Lucky, the cabbie, if he knew where we would find the best lassi. He mentioned the town hall and we took him to a dhaba just to ascertain which was better- the lassi at the town hall or at the dhaba we were at. Lucky ji though gave us a lovely reply. He had never had lassi outside his home. And well, what could compare with lassi from fresh milk from a cow in your backyard?

Well, I'm not sure if we discovered the best lassi in town, but we found something even better. We found each other and cheesy as it sounds, it is actually sweet. 
Because you see, memories with friends are different from memories with lovers. The latter may be too predictable, may hurt and cause pain, but the first ones are your bulwarks, your support systems and they tide you through the storms in your life.
Let the start of this year be given to friendship and all the good things that come with it!

Tuesday, 18 December 2018

Calypso’s Curse

He saw life looking at him with beady eyes and turned away. 
He knew that life wore a monocle and knew how to lock its target on him. 
He knew that it would take him by the horns and play with his deepest fears. 
He knew how judgmental it was and realized that he didn’t have an extraction plan. 
That this mission had been ordered by him and was being carried out by him and there just was no one to get him out if things got out of hand. 
And things were never pretty much in hand in the first place.

Because he was under a curse. 
The most terrible one of all. 
He was cursed with love. 
Not just falling in love. 
But drowning in it. 
Gasping, floundering, hurting in love. 
Like Calypso, who was destined to lose her lovers. 
Because love is genuinely the wretchedest curse of all.  

Sure, he had stories in him. 
A bag full of heavy-duty scary stories about himself. 
And even some good ones. 
The ones that may make some laugh. 
And some others weep.

Because most of those stories were about birthdays. 
Birthdays that were celebrated with love-shaped cakes. 
Love-shaped cakes of two kinds- the tastier one to be eaten and the creamier one to be smeared on the face. 
Because smeared faces reminded him of a handsomer visage and a sweeter time. 
When birthdays were never forgotten and didn’t have to be revived through Facebook reminders. 
When empty conversations and comfortable silences over countless cups of coffee felt richer and meant more than fancy wishes and elaborate presents sent through fedex.

He saw life looking at him with beady eyes and turned away. 
He knew that he was cursed. 
He was still very much in love. 
With what had been and what now could never be.    

Wednesday, 7 November 2018



She is not a round peg in a square hole. She is a shapeless mass looking for a fixture that would fit her or change as she does with each passing moment.
Her thoughts are bombs that can blast you out of your comfort zone.
Her words are poisoned barbs that can sting you with their truth and then stay in and infect your life.
Her love is a minefield. One wrong move and you may be destroyed.
Her love is a microscope searching for a spirit like hers among the parasites that hound her life.
Her love is a lie detector test. I fail at it everyday.
Her love is an active volcano situated right above my peak. The magic lies in her fire.
Her love is a balm that can soothe all my worries away.
Her love, you know, can take you places like the deep seas, the highest peaks, the hottest hells.
Her love is the light at the end of the tunnel, to reach which I can die a thousand deaths.

Wednesday, 3 October 2018

Black Magic

You love well.
Or as well as you have been taught by me.
But you don't know how to fix things.
Unloved things. Broken lives. Severed ties.
You don't have the duct tape to patch up fragmented souls and cracked consciences.
You only know how to love blindly.
You don't know how to take that love and apply it like an ointment on my scarred surfaces.
You don't know how to fall in love the way I don't know how to rise from it.
And it is important to rise from the battleground of crushed expectations because love left to rot in the dungeons of apathy turns bitter and becomes hate.
Because love is magic.
And hate is a part of love.
It is black magic.