Saturday, February 28, 2015

Jason's Duty - Alisha Guenzel


Review by Deepti Menon

The McGregor ranch seems the perfect place for romance, though Jason, “a dark handsome cowboy”, the eldest son of the family, has no time or inclination to fall in love. When Jonas, his father, falls ill with a congestive heart problem, much of the responsibility of taking care of the horses, and the running of the ranch, fall on Jason. His brother, Jude, is still young. His other brother, Jesse “didn’t have the ‘crazy’ gene of taming horses.”
The story opens with Jonas receiving a phone call informing him about the death of his good friend, Edward Sheridan, in a car accident. His widow, Lindsey, is also a good friend of Jason’s mother, Anna, as the two “families families lived on the same country roads” years ago. Lindsey and her daughter, Haley, come down to the ranch for a change.
The first few meetings between Jason and Haley are stormy, as the girl is still getting over the tragedy of her father’s death. Anna’s maternal intuition fathoms that Jason and Haley need each other as both are loners. She tries to throw them together as much as she can, asking Jason to ‘babysit’ Haley, which he does rather unwillingly.
Haley, with her “crystal blue eyes and wavy blonde hair” is a mystery to Jason. He finds her “an ice queen” with “an attitude problem”. Haley too finds Jason difficult to deal with initially, but they slowly come closer while doing chores together and grooming the horses.
However, the spectre of Haley’s fiancĂ©, Andrew Manchester, who belongs to a “big corporate family that owns their very own advertising agency”, looms large over their lives. When the Mc Gregor boys got off to auction their horses, leaving Haley behind at the ranch, both Jason and Haley struggle to put their relationship into focus. Andrew, however, wants her back in Los Angeles.
Haley finds herself hemmed in between the two men. Jonas and Anna feel that she is perfect for their Jason. However, Andrew lands up on a surprise visit to figure out what is keeping Haley at the ranch, and away from him.
There are some beautiful moments in the book. Anna tells Jason to be patient as “God works HIS best miracles when we are not looking”. Jason hangs on to his hopes, as he hopes to woo Haley who has “waltzed into his life like a tornado”. The underlying motto of the book is mentioned often. “Each situation has a reason for happening.”
Romance is a genre that touches the heart and this love story tugs at the heartstrings as it is simple and tender. When Haley falls off a horse, and is unconscious for a week, the readers wait to see who she will choose in the end – Jason, the rugged cowboy or Andrew, the city slicker.
Alisha Guenzel tells a tale that flows with ease, the language is uncomplicated and the narrative effortless. She leaves a few strands of the tale untold, confident that there will be sequels to be told in the future. This is a feel-good story that will bring cheer to the reader even on a cloudy day!


Friday, February 20, 2015

A Beautiful Mind!


She was a teacher, one loved by all, for she gave of herself unstintingly. She gamboled with the young ones, playing games that they giggled over. She made her little students learn to hold a pencil, and draw lines till they were perfect. She would walk into a senior class and take a class on Shakespeare, enacting the roles of the three witches in Macbeth, while the students would sit, wide eyed and inspired, not moving a muscle till the last sinister chuckle. A big heart she had that could encompass the whole world, for she saw good in everyone and everything! Children loved her for what she taught them, parents adored her for what she meant to their children. She could be firm and inspire awe, but the firmness would disappear the moment her lessons were imbibed.
In Kerala, the Pulluva ladies are known for their songs sung to the accompaniment of little lute like instruments. These women come to houses and sing of blessings and little joys. They accept little tokens of money from the owners, who request them to sing of blessings to their loved ones.
It was on one such occasion that I watched as my beloved teacher stood outside her house, waiting for her turn. There were a number of women, including a lady sage, all of whom watched the little ceremony.

The voices were soft, each mentioning the names of the people they wanted blessed. Most spoke for their sons and daughters, a few for their grandchildren, yet others for their nephews and nieces. The lady sage also asked for special blessings to be bestowed upon her children and grandchildren. The singing continued, the musical instrument played on.
Finally came the turn of the teacher, who had been standing patiently, with a smile on her beautiful face. She was the last in the line and the women looked at her expectantly, waiting for the names that she would utter. She offered them some money, folded her hands and said in soft tones, but clearly, "Bless all the children in the world, bless the child of every mother and every father, for they are all precious!"


Tears came, unbidden, as I heard that lovely voice, and the compassion that shone from the face of that wonderful teacher. They were tears of joy, for I was also included in that list of children, as were all the children in the world. They were also tears of joy because I was so proud of that beloved teacher, who loved, and still loves the poem, Abou Ben Adhem, because it symbolizes all that she believes in. But what I was proudest of was the fact that this teacher who had taught thousands of children how to live life with joy and compassion, and still does so, is none other than my own mother. And in the words of Abou Ben Adhem, "May her tribe increase".

 Dedicated to my mother, Mrs. Nalini Chandran

Sunday, February 15, 2015

As a Beginning For a Beginner - Neelam Saxena Chandra

Book Review - Deepti Menon

It is heartening to see a book dedicated to all the budding authors of the world, a book that is the brainchild of the prolific author, Neelam Saxena Chandra herself. The stories were chosen through a nationwide contest for writers aged between 11 and 20, and this anthology is a culmination of the best examples of writing from the entries.

True Sport - Aravind Sampath

The saga of former boxing champion, Arthur Gordon, who loses a bout against reigning champion, Arnold Fischer, but is determined to leave his mark in the world by training a new champ in the form of Aaron Sam, a puny young man, 'toned' yet 'petite', as quick as lightning. The young man, whose 'feral senses were commendable' goes through defeat. However, does he triumph in 'the final sermon'?  Aravind Sampath delivers a knockout tale in true boxing parlance, blending emotion deftly with action, to create a story par excellence.

The Customers - Utkrishti Katheriya

The city of Lucknow "is a remarkably dusty book, full of stories, that are yet to unfold", seen though the eyes of a taxi driver, "within that white metal body on those four wheels', which encompasses his world. He ferries a young woman on her way to a divorce to the airport, but tips a motor cycle, whose rider is a 25 year old man, "with a sardonic but friendly smile", who is also about to get a divorce. The story ends, leaving the readers in a sense of shock, as the taxi driver throws out mementos handed over to him by his passengers into the Gomti river. A narrative that flows as gently as the river itself, written with maturity by a young writer.

Roll, Camera, Action - Chinar

A young girl dreams of meeting her favourite super star in this story that is short enough to keep the interest of the reader.

Twist of Fate - Vanshika Vikas

Robin Thompson goes through a life threatening ordeal only to find himself in a worse predicament than he had anticipated. The story, modern in its narration, speeds towards a crescendo as Robin realized that the truth can be very different and that life can be filled with deception. A well crafted tale with a twist in its tale.

A Reunion Surprise - Radhika

Six childhood friends, known as the 'Scandalous Six' in their school days, decide to have a reunion after twelve years in which they have not seen one another. "Time clotted and finally healed all the bruises caused by severance". The meeting is a joyous one at the Taj on 16th August, 2014, but the surprise at the end leaves the reader with a sense of bewilderment and loss. Radhika's writing has a lustre that shines on in the heart of the reader.

The Eventful Life of Athens - Divyashri Mishra

Athen looks up to his father, but is derided by him, and his wife's family, all his life. The reader sympathizes with "the ugly life Athen lived every day, the frustrating atmosphere he breathed every moment". How Athen finally finds his niche in society and turns his life around forms the crux of a story which is perfectly edited, and expressed by Divyashri!

The First Meeting - Nidhi

This is a tender story of a pair of jilted lovers, Rahul and Ayushi, desperate to pick up the pieces of their lives and move on. Their diaries play a significant role, bringing strangers closer. Nidhi writes maturely for her age, and uses the flashback angle to reel in  her readers. 

The Deluge - Anshika Jejani

Anshika Jejani reveals a breezy joyous style of writing, as apt descriptions of the rainy season dot the pages of her story. Despite her catchy tongue-in-cheek style, she manages to put across a message about the responsibilities of citizens, emphasizing on how social networking sites could be used responsibly to avert potential tragedies.

The Saviour - Lalima Yadav

The beginning intrigues, with a monologue by the protagonist, Antriksh, that reveals the troubled workings of his psyche. He is "an imperfectly perfect dude", a man with a golden heart who wants to extricate his mother from her job as a maid. He chivalrously saves a girl from a potential molester, only to find his troubles have miraculously disappeared. Here is a positive story, almost on the lines of an O Henry story, written with an ease that makes it a pleasure to read. Lalima ends it with a moral - "One is rich if he/she has a big kind heart not a heavy bank balance", but the lightness of the telling takes away any semblance of a moralistic tone.

The Gift - Shreyansh Jain

Alan Smith gets a special gift on his 13th birthday, after he flounces out, disappointed with his gifts. He excitedly realizes that he suddenly has super powers. Will these powers be able to combat and defeat the super villain, Anarchy, all set to destroy the world? This story stands out in that it is very different from all the other stories in the anthology, a story written by a young writer with a highly imaginative bent of mind.

The Solitary Rag Picker - Shagun Shrivastava
This is one of the most beautiful and well crafted stories in the book, and Shagun Shrivastava reveals a masterly style of writing, descriptive and reminiscent of Gray's Elegy. "And even slower trudged the life of the ancient rag picker." The reader remains awe struck at the ease with which beautiful images are interspersed with stylish language to create a magnificent tapestry.

One Night @ Party!!! Aviral Sood

Rukmani helps her parents to celebrate her two year old brother, Manav's birthday. A frisson of dissatisfaction disturbs her as she feels like a cartoon sidekick bustling around to get things in place. Mrs. Sen, a guest, is dressed to the hilt in a red gown and a necklace worth four lakhs. The significance of the necklace emerges as the lights go off and it disappears. Inspector Sharma is summoned, and the Nightmare party turns into the best day of Rukmani's life. How does she solve the case? Where is the necklace hidden? These and other questions are put to rest as the mystery unravels in a manner calculated to pique the curiosity of the readers.

Ticket to Life - Ashi Mittal

Sahayta and Sihag are total strangers who share a common seat on a train to Mumbai, even as they chat, bicker and keep each other company. Ashi Mittal proves that she is a talented young writer with a flair for the dramatic, as she deftly nudges the narrative towards a twist that transforms the very tenor of the story. 

'Okay' - The Life Changer - Niranjan Navalgund

Can the word 'Okay' be a life changer? Niranjan Navalgund impresses with a philosophical story that showcases how people need to take responsibility for their own lives. There is a beautiful reference to Narendra Goidani's article on Kintsukuroi, a Japanese term meaning "to repair with gold". The story itself is simply expressed, but its message of filling cracks with gold stays on in the mind of the reader. As is the case with Niranjan's writing, once again he offers a story that defies pigeon holing as it goes beyond mere story telling.

The Girl on my Bench - Ayesha Adhikari

Ayesha Adhikari is an intuitive writer who weaves a tale of love, longing, disappointment and fulfillment, the tale of Aryan and Riya, of sweet embraces and ugly misunderstandings. "Sometimes, we have to wait; wait till the dawn breaks and brings with it the warm shine of love, happiness and joy." This story is a simple paean of the love of a star crossed couple, yet one that ends in hope. 
The Black Secret - Ishika Kumar

'The Black Secret' is an intriguing story written in the first person by Susan Black, the daughter of Professor Richard Black, a prominent scientist, who suddenly disappears when he was working on a top secret project. Susan is determined to delve into the mystery of her beloved father's disappearance. Ishika Kumar uses the unusual technique of writing in the present tense, taking the story forward in a precise and convincing manner, creating a well edited narrative that does not falter. "There is a wider world" is the oft used quote that exemplifies the theme of the story.

The Magical Stone - Aradhya Gupta
This tender little story is the stuff fairy tales are made up of, as it describes "fresh dew drops from the new born leaves, playing with the young rabbits." Angelina finds a magical stone, "a precious and gifted stone", a gift from the angels. Written in a style reminiscent of popular bedtime stories, Aradhya Gupta obviously believes that the world is a beautiful place, and it is to be hoped that she continues to have stars in her eyes, always.

Blue Jean - Viola Rastogi

Raven and Corbin find themselves adrift on an island named Hispanulas, on their voyage back from South America to the United States. They dodge bullets, and come across the inhabitants of the island led by a beautiful lady with "smooth olive skin, bewitching eyes and delicate features", all of whom are obsessed by the Americans. Raven discovers the reason why, and it is up to her to make the right choice. A story that plays on the nerves of the reader, suspenseful and intriguing!

Into the Garbled - Srishtika Prakash 
This appears to be the shortest story in the anthology. It narrates the story of Hans Hellmesberg, an erudite young man well versed in the works of Freidrich Nietzsche, as he makes a journey into the realms of his own psyche. Action packed, the story seems to end too quickly, leaving the reader a trifle off balance.

Can I Go To School? Nilakshi Pathak
Nilakshi Pathak wrenches the heart with a theme all too common in our country. Pinky, the daughter of a daily labourer, is proud of her brother who goes to school. She meets Sabi, who offers her a ray of hope, as she looks forward to being able to go to school herself, thrilled to have made a friend for a lifetime. She returns home where a heartbreaking verdict awaits. Nilakshi tells the story in a matter of fact, yet effective, tone, swaying the reader with her impeccable writing which hints at emotions that simmer under the veneer.

This is a laudable effort, bringing out the talents of young writers all of whom obviously love the written word. The one flaw that takes away from this effort is the large number of punctuation errors, peppered liberally across the anthology, which point fingers at the editing team.


  ‘Tales that Entail’ by Jaseena Backer is an anthology of stories that are hard-hitting and realistic. Right from the first story, the auth...