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Saturday, May 29, 2010

The good books from new wave of Indian authors

When I wrote last time about the new Indian authors not setting high standards for themselves when setting out to write, I felt that I was only saying one side of the story. There is the other side of the coin - one where authors produce a good story, where they use good grammar and employ sound research on any facts/situations they might be writing about. So, which books were those?

Top of my list:

  • Both "If God was a Banker" & "Devil in Pinstripes" from Ravi Subramanian.
  • "Keep the Change" by Nirupama Subramanian (I don't think she is related to Ravi in anyway)
  • "A Romance with Chaos" by Nishant Kaushik
Both of Ravi's books are written in a racy style with well carved out characters etched in the world of banking. I was so often so immersed in the stories that I found myself wishing to be a lifer with New York International Bank (NYIB), the setting for both the books. Both were unputdownable. Ravi concentrates more on the stories and how they evolve. Places and emotions are described less, but the context of every scene was well laid out. I enjoyed both of them.

"Keep the Change", is this hilarious book about, presumably, a Tam Brahm lady from Chennai transforming herself into a career woman in Bombay trying to find love on the way. If you happen to be a Tam Brahm, the comedy presented in the story is just amazing. There were more than one occasion when the other commuters in the train, where I have my date with books, could hear a loud laugh or watch a wide grin. A must read for a Tam Brahm or those who are in relationship with one. A compelling read for others too.

Nishant Kaushik has taken simple settings of a standard software company, adding in characters of all hues, each trying to achieve their own goals. The characters are all well built up and complemented each other. The turns in the story were quite unpredictable and my best attempts to guess what might be coming were thwarted by Nishant's imaginative sequences. The philosophical dilemma, under which the protagonist is lost, as well as the possible outcomes were well presented, without it being dumbed down, nor making it too complex that the reader had to flex his brain muscles too much.

All in all, these reads were definitely worth the money I spent on them.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Circle line and confusion at Paya Lebar station

Its been almost a month since the Circle Line of the Singapore train system was opened connecting Marymount to Dhoby Ghaut and more importantly connecting Nicoll Highway, Suntec City and the Esplanade areas to the rest of the island through trains. Previously, you had to walk anywhere between 10-20 mins to get to City Hall/Bugis stations to catch a train. More importantly, with a twisted set of one way paths, bus support and frequency was also nothing to talk home about. So, in all, huge win for these localities. (Yahoo's office is in Suntec city and hence I was overjoyed to have the link, though we are relocating to a traditionally connected part of the city very soon.)

However, what has baffled me has been the design of the Paya Lebar station on the circle line. They have 4 platforms serving three lines. Two of them being the standard up and down links, but a third line to connect Marymount to Paya Lebar. I caught up with the staff at the station and they explained that the purpose was to increase the frequency of that section during peak hours.

I don't get it. Seriously. I don't get it at all. Not one bit. Here are the problems I see with it:

  • Why should a higher frequency service be limited only to that section of the line? Why not extend it all the way? Every single day, during the peak hours, I have to wait 5-6 minutes to catch the train at one of the most important business centers of the city (Suntec City). 
  • It creates confusion at the Paya Lebar station itself. On one aisle, board any train and you head the same direction, and stand on the second aisle and the chances of you missing the next train for your destination (towards Marymount) is very high since the next train could be from the other aisle.
  • Boarding and alighting a train is generally one of the tasks needing minimum flexing of your brain muscles. But if you are coming from Marymount and heading to Suntec, not only do you need to worry about which train to take (terminating at Paya Lebar or Dhoby Ghaut) but also about changing the train though all you are doing is extending your journey on the same path. (If I have guests from outside of Singapore, I tell them to take the train since there is no confusion involved, but I will reserve the judgment when it comes to connecting them to the Circle Line).
  • All this confusion also means that SMRT has to place staff at the aisles all the time, which is a permanent drain on the company's resources. Add to it the constant announcements they make to indicate "the train on the middle platform terminates it's service at Marymount" making it the noisiest and busiest stations in the city, pretty much for no reason.
Personally, I believe it is one of those cases where a simple and elegant solution (higher frequency for the entire route) would have been orders of magnitude better than a more complicated solution. 

Monday, May 10, 2010

Thoughts about wave of new Indian fiction writers

I have spent the last few months reading a lot of new Indian authors - all product of the "post-Chetan Bhagat era", which instilled a confidence in professionals of various hues that they can all narrate interesting stories and that there was an audience waiting for them. And I am talking about Anuja Chauhan, Tushar Raheja, Abhijit Bhaduri, Nishant Kaushik, Neeraj Chibba and the likes. And this post is a few initial thoughts about such books.

Firstly, the good thing is that most of the authors are drawing upon stories from their own life experiences or their knowledge of their industry or profession and it is a welcome peek into fields and backgrounds that would have otherwise been difficult to grasp. (Would you get to know about living and studying in Russia? Would you happen to be an Advertising executive?) Its akin to peeking into the American Law field through the prism of John Grisham novels. The other good thing is that some of these stories, though spiced with drama obviously demanded by a wide audience fiction publication, is a reflection of what a lot of us have gone through in our lives - struggles with education, jobs, relationship, money and so on, and not at a superficial level, but at a level that I can easily appreciate.

That said, I feel there is a lot that this generation of authors need to learn. One of which is that writing clear English with proper grammar is a must. You can let a character talk SMS-speak, but you can't write a novel in a that lingo. Thats just pathetic, for lack of a diplomatic word to express my frustration. I read one novel which was full of "...". Every single page had 2-3 of these. To believe that a professional editor let this be published without demanding that it be corrected speaks very poorly of the quality of editors we have. (That novel is successful enough to boast of being a "National Bestseller" and has a "Special Anniversary Edition")

I know that we live in an era where the newspaper with most circulation, Times of India, is so full of spelling mistakes and grammatical errors, starting from the first page, on every single day's publication, that it is clear that values such as proper English is too much to ask for, but to believe that the nation, which so thrives on it being a good English speaking populace for its global interactions, can get away with filling up popular fiction genre with pure junk is completely unacceptable. We shall pay for this when the next generation of our workforce comes with no understanding of what a proper english sentence is, while other countries, who aren't there now, will undoubtedly get better than us.

The more frustrating attribute for me is the lack of basic research by any of these authors. You can't blame some of the newbies when a hugely successful Chetan Bhagat can get away from wide gaps in his  research. I read another book where the Indian cricket team suffered an upset defeat in the third round of a knock-out tournament by Bermuda. What wasn't explained was how Bermuda got to the third round.
I know that fiction is about exercising creative freedom, and that creative freedom as exhibited in Bollywood, our primary source of expression, is taken to extremes, but an intelligent set of readers, as I believe our readers are, would be better served by a set of authors who take their research and their fiction seriously enough for it to be gripping stories of coincidences and extraordinary events, all of which shall be explained nevertheless.

Or am I asking for too much?

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