Category Archives: readings

Sponge

This is one of the best business reads i have come across in a long time. Ambi Parameswaran has captured his years of experience at top notch advertising firms like Rediffusion, FCB Ulka to give us a masterpiece.

And he has said in a story form. Various stories culled from his vast experience in a beautifully written simple format. Every story is dovetailed into a theme with lessons garnered from that theme and plus he gives us book recommendations relating to that theme, so i have a long list of “to read” books, which i am going to delve into. The story headings are also very apt for each story like “The Chaiwala Test”, “Biases, Biases, Biases” etc.

Most of the stories have positive endings but a few of them not so good, but there are lessons to be learnt from them as well. So all in all, its an excellent book, the narrative is quite good and not at all heavy like many business/ management books. Goodreads 5/5

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Butter Chicken in Ludhiana

The tagline read “travels in small town India” yet this is most untravel travel book that i have ever read – “Butter Chicken in Ludhiana” by Pankaj Mishra.

This book is less of a travel book and more of the author’s observations of people in few small towns of India. The towns he visited is not even a representative sample as he randomly went across from one place to another without any plan or strategy. He does not talk about the cultures of a place, its monuments, gardens, food, style, like a typical travel book. Mostly observatory and partly imaginative, he writes of a new and emerging India that has been recently liberalised in 1991 (the book got published in 1995, so his writing must have been around that time after 1991).

His travels takes him to small towns where the aspirations of people were beginning to rise, they were getting more ambitious with a swagger of confidence coming by. But he invariably saw a lot of filth & garbage everywhere he went in the railway stations, hotels, roads, alleys so in a way this book is like a scathing indictment of new India.

What saves the book is the writing, Mishra has written beautifully, his narrative is flowing with his travels and his thoughts on various subjects. It is a very beautifully written book but not a travel book. Goodreads 2/5

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I am the Clay

Agonising story of an old couple in Korea fleeing the war as a refugee as Chinese and North Korean forces attack the South.

The old couple are on the road with their meagre belongings in a cart when they come across a boy lying in a ditch, wounded and barely alive. The woman suddenly feels compassion towards the boy and starts the nurse him whereas the old grumpy man wants to move along. They pick up the boy and lay him on the cart and the woman nurses him day and night.

The reach a refugee camp by which time, the boy has restored his strength a little and starts being useful to the old couple, though bewildered he is. On the way to the camp, they are forced to stay a few days and nights in an old abandoned cave, where the old woman thinks both the old man and the boy would die. But that does not happen and she feels the boy has bought them good luck. The boy fishes in a nearby frozen pond and brings back fish for them to eat.

They reach back to their own village and find it miraculously intact. By now even the old man is convinced that the boy has some magical powers so he urges him to stay on. But the boy has to go to his own village to find his people there.

Its a beautiful moving story of love, hope, courage, redemption, in a war torn country. Goodreads 3/5

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The Devil’s Feather

SPOILER ALERT: This is one incoherent rambling by the narrator who is a war correspondent with Reuters and suspects serial killings by a British contractor MacKenzie on women in Sierra Leone. She encounters the same person with another name in Baghdad and there were a couple or more of such killings of women in Iraq.

Connie Burns digs deep into this man’s antecedents and lands in trouble, she is abducted and held captive for 3 days but we are told about it in bits and pieces. Connie then retreats back to England, does not give the mandatory press conference, goes into hiding using her mother’s name and rents a house somewhere in rural England.

There she encounters like a crazy neighbour hood with Jess Derbyshire and a doctor and there is like a very complex web of stories around them. It goes back to three generations involving the landlord of the house, her daughter Madeleine, her painter husband. The narrative is terrible, it just goes on and on at odds and ends, half of which the reader does not understand.

The Baghdad / Sierra Leone serial killer comes back to her rural England house and again holds all three of them captive, he gets injured in the ensuing fight and disappears. Then the police keeps on questioning Connie on the whereabouts of MacKenzie suspecting her to have killed him and buried his body somewhere. Finally the misery ends. My first one by Minnette Walters and i am deeply disappointed. Goodreads 1/5

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Hornett Flight

Outstanding fast paced world war II espionage/ spy thriller from Ken Follett.

Eighteen year old Harald Olufson a bright kid with a lot of potential and likes to tinker with machines and engines. One day while returning home he does a short cut through an army camp of Nazis in the island of Sande to find some unusual kind of disc like equipment.

Meanwhile there is an underground Danish resistance movement against the Nazis a secret group called Nighwatchmen involving a group of Danish men and women. The British were losing a lot of their fighters due to German technical air superiority and a radar system which the British did not have at that time. Hermia Mount is the British officer directly involved in this espionage activity. She has a Danish boyfriend and speaks Danish language well, having lived there for many years.

Their main goal is to take photograph of the radar system of the Germans so that British can work on it to prevent their losses. Paul Kirke is the Danish air force commander who gives Harald his first flying lesson in a Tiger Moth airplane. Karen Duchwitz is a ballet student and her parents are Jewish and own a property in Sande, which includes an old disused Hornet Moth.

How Harald and Karen risk their lives to fly the photographs across 600 miles into Britain against some unrelenting Nazi fire is the rest of the story. Goodreads 5/5

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Tell No One

A fast paced suspense thriller from Harlan Coben “Tell No One”

Dr. David Beck, a pediatrician who is mourning his wife Elizabeth who was murdered 8 years ago. He starts getting mysterious e-mails with coded messages, suggesting his wife is still alive.

Apparently, his house and phones are all bugged by somebody who is interested in Elizabeth coming back. There is a background and a motive to it. Meanwhile his wife’s close friend Rebecca Shayles a famous fashion photographer in New York is killed at close range. Dr. Beck goes on the run against the police and assaults a police officer.

Dr. Beck is helped by his client Tyrese who is from the underworld and knows a thing or two. The plot swings like a yo-yo from one end to another. Its a convoluted story with lots of twists and turns and lots of suspense to it. The rich Scope family is somehow involved in all these things.

There is mystery to Dr. Beck’s father’s death 12 years ago and even his father in law a retired cop has a few aces up his sleeve. Everybody has a story to tell. Goodreads 4/5

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Under the Sweetwater Rim

Another bustling fast moving Western from the master of the Western genre Louis L’Amour.

A wagon train carrying passengers including women, children and senior people and gold for the payroll is attacked by renegades and the wagons runs off the track and falls into a gorge, killing all the people on board. But one coach carrying the money, ambulance and two women were not among the wreckages.

One of the women is the daughter of Major Mark Devereaux, Mary Devereaux and her companion Belle Renick, wife of a captain. They are out in the wild with Lieutenant Tenadore Brian a fine officer as can be with rich international experience as well as cunning of the frontier west, where he grew up. Mary and Brian have something going on between themselves, which her father is not happy about.

So they have the women and the gold and Major Devereaux is on their trail with his contingent of officers and bad man Reuben Kelsey also on his back for the gold. Kelsey is Brian’s good friend from his younger days gone rogue and eyeing money and women now.

Louis L’Amour has presented a beautiful picture of the rugged frontier west with its mountains, caves, hills, slopes, hard country and kept an absorbing narrative to the end. Plenty of action throughout the book. Goodreads 5/5

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Whispering Wind

An unusual tale from the master story teller Frederick Forsyth, this time from frontier west from Cheyenne territory.

The story begins in or around 1876, when Ben Craig, who is a frontier scout is recruited by the army to locate Indians scattered in and around the territory in order to evacuate them from their lands. Ben Craig himself is a Cheyenne Indian and knows more about their ways than the badly equipped army. He saves a girl Whispering Wind from the bad intentions of the army folks of doing rape and murder of the girl by allowing her to escape on a horse.

Upon coming to know of his misdeeds, the army General Custer orders his hanging the next day after a summary trial. In the meanwhile the Army is routed by the Indians and Ben Craig escapes with his horse and takes refuge in a cave to escape the blinding cold.

Indians take him into their fold and he starts loving Whispering Wind. But the traditions of Indians will not allow them to be together so they escape again. They are pursued by the Indians and also the army folks who are seeking revenge for what he did to their troops. Whispering Wind leaves him to take approval of her folks and return to him.

Fast forward to another hundred years when the cave is a kind of retreat for city folks to come and experience how the frontiersperson used to live hundreds of years ago. Whispering Wind comes back as Linda Pickett a school teacher with her wards to visit the cave. Ben Craig is still unaware of the time travel and falls in love once.

Forsyth has seamlessly merged centuries in this beautiful story of love, danger, bravery, all told in his inimitable style of writing. Goodreads 5/5

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Let Sleeping Vets Lie

Another one of the delectable stories from James Herriot, the vet surgeon from Darrowby in the Yorkshire Dales.

He jumps from one animal rescue story to another with poise and elegance with dollops of humour thrown in. Whether be it serious cases which sometimes the best of vets cannot solve to the irascible pet owners, James regales all with this trademark style of writing which is simple and beautiful.

Funny anecdotes interspersed with stories of his boss and his attempt to woo his girlfriend Helen through his father – all there in this lovely, magnificent book. Goodreads 5/5

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Last of the Breed

Louis L’Amour is my favorite author and this one does not disappoint. Brilliant story of a US air force pilot and a red Indian shot down and captured by Russians for information. Major Joe Mack is a Red Indian, a Sioux and knowing all the survival skills of his forefathers. He escapes prison by pole vaulting above the prison walls and then, in freezing temperatures, sprints across the cold, frozen Russian land and has to use all the skills of his ancestors to survive and be on the run for days, months and years. He meets a family of hunters and trappers, stays with them for a while, hunting meat for them and falling silently in love with the daughter Natalya. He is faced with with the guile of an Yakut, a Russian who has similar intelligence as him to trace him out of his hidings, Alekhin. He fears only Alekhin and has to constantly place secret snares and traps for his followers to fall to death. The deadly game of cat and mouse goes on for a couple of seasons with the KGB after his blood. Brilliant narrative as usual from Louis L’Amour – a pulsating, throbbing novel bought to life by the master. Goodreads 5/5

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Dogs of War

Brilliant book by Frederick Forsyth “Dogs of War” set in the murky world of mercenaries being used to topple governments where mineral stakes are high, very high.

Zangaro, a fictional African country is in the middle of it, some platinum reserves having been discovered there, with a corrupt president at the helm, ethnic clashes, broken down army, no economy to speak of. In comes Sir James Mansion a wealthy mining businessman smelling riches aplenty and his two handpicked assistants, Endean and Thorpe to do the dirty job for him. Endean tasked with finding mercenaries who will carry arms to the country, do an ambush and kill the president and ransack the place to tithers.

Forsyth does a detailed narrative of the reconnaissance part of the operation from recruiting friends to the mission, to procuring the necessary arms, equipment, boats, arranging everything legally, well almost all of them. Most of the narrative is dwelt on the preparation part of the operation.

And when you expect the operation will run to plan, Forsyth springs a surprise at the end. Cat Shannon, the English mercenary is in the thick of the things, does a meticulous job of planning the operation down to the last hour, minute with precision. This one is cult classic for the ages.

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The Day of the Jackal

Re-read “The Day of the Jackal” the brilliant cult classic book by Frederick Forsyth. I had read this way back in college days, and re-reading it bought back memories.

Jackal aka Chacal aka Charles Calthrop was a professional assassin hired by OAS to kill Charles de Gaulle, the then French President. This had Forsyth brilliance written all over it. Jackal is a thorough professional in all the preparations he makes and the back up plans he has in hand and his quickness and ruthlessness in executing a job were all brilliant. Claude Lebel the detective on the French side charged with the task of bringing Jackal to boot while there was a leak in his ministries.

Forsyth has not mentioned what happened to Jacqueline the mistress of one of the French government officials after her leak was discovered. Nor of the three OAS men who brought Jackal into the picture. So in the end nobody knows, not even the British establishment what was the real identity of Jackal. Goodreads 5/5

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A Taste for Death

An Adam Dalgliesh thriller, P.D. James has given ample time to this narrative about the murder of an ex-Minister and a tramp in a church vestry. Apparently it looked like a murder cum suicide but Adam finds tell tale signs at the scene of the crime, which makes him believe it is likely a double murder. He has Paul Massingham and Kate Miskin in his team, first time that he has a female detective in his team. Adam is up against the minister’s mother Lady Ursula, a colourful personality in her younger days, but now crippled and Barbara Berowne the widow of the minister, a sinister and devilish kind of person. There are multiple sub plots with the minister himself having a dubious past, Barbara’s brother comes repeatedly into the house, the house itself is about to be sold off, whole lot of characters involved, any one of whom could be the murderer.

James takes a lot of time detailing every experience from the architecture of the place, to the background of the character, their past, the clothes they wear, their facial features etc. in each she dwells long paragraphs on it. Ultimately Adam gets around to a possible train of events that takes place on the day of the murder, but they get lucky when they find the coat button in the church money box. It is only when they finally land on that physical evidence that things start moving fast to a thrilling but unfortunate climax. Goodreads 4/5

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Liar’s Poker

Brutal biography of one of the premier investment banks to work with in the 1980s, the Saloman Brothers. Michael Lewis joined the firm fresh out of London School of Economics and spent the next three years from a downright rookie to a bond salesman raking in millions for the firm and while at the same time enriching himself with bonuses from the firm. Its an inside look at the frenzy of an investment bank, the cutthroat business where deception is the name of the game, and ethics is kept in the waste basket. Michael has shredded Saloman Brothers like no one has done before to any firm in which he was first employed. Mortgage bond market was created by Saloman Brothers themselves out of nothing. Housing loans were bundled into attractive lots and sold as bonds in the market. Equity, government bonds, municipal bonds etc. were frowned upon, whereas bond traders were the stars. Corporate equity markets i.e. the stock markets were considered as anathema in Saloman Brothers because bond markets is where the monies lie and where you can play the game of deception better. Michael has dwelt a lot on junk bonds created by Micheal Milken of the Drexel Burnham Lambert fame while giving passing reference to Ivan Boesky of the insider trading shame. People don’t stay in investment banks for long time if the firm does not pay them enough, so there’s no loyalty involved and there are enough raiders for your talent ready to pay unheard of amounts and promised bonuses. Quite a devastating look at the insides of a greedy enterprise. I guess if someone were to write about the other investment banks of that era, they would have come up with a similar effort. Goodreads 5/5

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The Rainmaker

The legal thriller by John Grisham, made famous by the 1997 movie of the same name, starring Matt Damon, Danny de Vito among others. Early John Grisham books were quite brilliant – books like The Firm, The Chamber were well written and in true Grisham form. Here Rudy Baylor is just getting out of law college when he gets a couple of assignments on his social project helping senior citizens. One of which is a insurance claim where an insurance company is refusing to pay hospital expenses for a bone marrow treatment for one their one policy holders Donny Ray who has leukemia and is dying from it, if the bone marrow cannot be gone. Baylor digs deep and finds lot of dirt. In the meanwhile he loses his job offer from a couple of law firms, gets inside a seedy law firm but has to urgently extricate himself when it is found that his boss has been involved in some shady dealings and has to quit town under cover of darkness. Baylor has company of Deck Shifflet, (played by Danny de Vito in the movie) who has not managed to pass the bar exam despite his six attempts and does not believe in playing the ethical rules of the game. Meanwhile the court room fight with the insurance company Great Benefit gets murkier by the day. Grisham has gone into a lot of depth in covering the pre-trial, depositions, jury selection and the trial itself. Female element has to be there, so while Rudy Baylor is preparing for his bar exams by studying in the hospital canteen, he comes across a young girl Kelly (played by Claire Danes in the movie) who is badly beaten and bruised by her husband. I have already watched the movie before reading the book, yet found the book to be pulsating and throbbing in typical Grisham style. Goodreads 5/5

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