Flat-track Bullies by Balaji Venkataramanan

February 28, 2014 § 1 Comment

Originally published at goodbooks, a website for  reviews, discussions and more on Indian Children’s books. 

Every once in a while, one ends up with a book which sounds promising, gets excited, only to be disappointed in the end. Madras, Chennai, if you want, is my home and it isn’t common to find a children’s book, set here.

The story as such is truthful- Balaji Venkatramanan takes us through the world of IIT classes, cricket coaching, spelling bees etc- the cold, planned summers which are built by zealous, domineering parents for their wards. The book is a journal of Ravi, the child who decides he is to have a few fun things as well, and, along the way learns a few invaluable lessons.

Where the book fails though, is the writing. Children’s books are about children. As such, the best writers for children are great story tellers- they bring to life a world of adventure, discovery and most of all, do not impose adult views of the world on to the story. The author has liberally sprinkled his take on everything under the sun as the view of the narrator. A few examples:

“Storytelling- it’s such a girly session. The less said the better. Only girls and the girl-type guys attend. I am too old and macho for that.”

“Sanaa, though thirteen, is wearing a six-year-old’s top and a five-year-old’s shorts. Seriously, where are they from- Delhi or Denmark? GRUMPY GRAPES I dare not think what they would wear if they went to US or elsewhere.”

“Mom thinks marbles is a game for those who use Indian-style toilets. What skewed logic! But that’s mom for you.”

“One thin AIDS-patient-like guy asked for Suresh’s cigarette to light up his own.”

“Every moron these days can play the keyboard or sing or dance with the exception of me…”

“I do really hate the retired types. The JACKFRUIT retired cases. I think they should keep a warning board in every apartment ‘beware of dogs and retired cases: one barks, the other bites, guess who?”

’Who won it? Was it the yellow-underwear girl or the black-underwear girl?’ Would you believe it? It was our tennis coach”

Not sure what exactly is the author’s intention here, but a plain reading of it, does come out as distasteful, sexist and utterly inappropriate, especially in a children’s book. Not merely the comments, but their position in the book- these could have been done away with entirely and don’t add much to the story. Wonder if the publishing house (Duckbill) holds similar views, considering they have kept it.

Ravi Venkatesan, a twelve year old boy, loves to swear. Of course, there isn’t actual swearing, just names of fruits, as he fears the journal might land up in the hands of his mother. Funny name calling should be fine, but page upon page, we are put through mangoes, grapes and watermelons- bigger the fruit, the more intense the emotion. It is almost tiring even, to imagine an adolescent with such a big gutter mouth. JACKFRUIT tiring.

The strength of the book is the plot. Ravi gives the slip to his parents to play with Durai, the son of his family’s ex-maid and Durai’s friends along with his best friend, Ramesh. The adventures are exciting and fun. We are even taken on a tour of the Mylapore street festival. As the boys lounge in a graveyard and Ravi ensures they win a few bet matches against rivals, the trouble comes when there is a “gang” fight- Ravi and his friends jump into a flat, where a car with broken glass gets them into trouble. The two worlds of Ravi meet, with an obvious ending.

Ravi is also obsessed with breaking coconuts for God, with him offering the tropical fruit for all sorts of favors. Nothing wrong with that, just might not be everyone’s cup of filter coffee, especially when the same thing is repeated over and over and over and over.

While the story as such is exciting, it wasn’t a fun read, as the author keeps tripping on his shoelaces, imposing his sordid views throughout. Overall, the book could have been made to work. Looking at the plot objective, there is nothing wrong with it, in fact the book presents a reality. If the author had kept out his prejudices and merely written the story, the book might have worked.


March 19, 2011 § 5 Comments


Threatens to takeoff but keeps taxing along.

“The Tale Of Techies” pronounces the book cover,the techies are there alright, but there isn’t enough about  them. A rather interesting starting and you are curious, but sadly, the book doesn’t turn into what might have been a really fun, gripping, entertaining and interesting story. The problem is while the story is good and the author is clever(what with Kamasutra cipher, Klondike etc) the book isn’t ‘tight’ enough, just when you except to be in awe and be captivated, it just fizzes out.

The story revolves around LoRD, a software which once finished will save SHIVAN computers from the hole it has gotten into(looks like Mr.Gorai has done research on the Satyam scandal) but a corporate espionage, with stops them from doing so or does it? A techie sees a conversation between a Hickory and a Dickory discussing this(er..I never got the shock part though) and then suddenly your beer sipping techie, turns into a Holmes.

The characters seem undecided. There are times when the lead character seems frail, especially with a name like 210, you just can’t think of him as a Techie and someone who would know all about Indian history and solve a case like Holmes. If you are moving away from stereotypes, it is necessary to build the characters and make them identifiable. While a mom who almost made it to the Kabbadi team for the ’82 Asian games is different, I was still stuck with a fat lady in my head, who towards the end out runs a couple of goons.

As said above, the book does threaten to excite you, but it lets you down, exactly at the moment you expect it to take off. As someone who has read a lot of mystery novels, it was just too easy to guess. On the positive side, there are many interesting elements and concepts which the author calls upon. If it had been better ‘packed’, it might have fulfilled its true potential.

There are a few glaring errors(Alphabets, really? ), which seems to suggest the editors haven’t really gone though the motions properly – probably another reason why the story leaves you wanting.

A pretty decent read, not boring or terrible, just not exciting and fun enough. I have to admit, I was looking forward to reading this book on “The Tale Of Techies”. Overall, it just lacks that bit more to get you excited. Writing paperbacks isn’t easy, specially when there are millions of them out there. Mr.Gorai has lots of potential as a writer, I am sure he will get it right in his next book.


P.S:- These are just my views. The book has also got a lot of positive feedbacks and reviews, you can find them at the author’s website.


July 28, 2009 § 14 Comments

Image from here.

The book takes us into the lives of three generations. The central character being Rajkumar . The book starts with the erstwhile Burmese empire being annexed into British India , where , as the rulers are on their way into exile Rajkumar (then about 11) falls in love with Dolly(about 10) one of their servants. Many years later , he goes to Ratnagiri(where the former ruler of Burma lives in exile) , finds Dolly and marries her. The story then evolves as it follows their children and then their grandchild.


The enchantress of florence-Salman Rushdie

July 21, 2008 § 14 Comments

Enchantress of Florence is a book about Qara Koz,the youngest sister of Babar,the grand father of Akbar the great,in whose time the book is set.The book is about men,women,courtesans,wars,beliefs,queens,princes,princesses ,art,architecture,magic,tales etc of the then Europe and Asia.without going too deep into the book(and thus making this review a spoiler) ,i will try to talk about the book as a whole.

“In the beginning there were three friends,Niccolo ‘il Machia’,Agostino Vespucci and Antonino Argalia.’ And Argalia the turk,takes the descendant of Timur the lame as a left over of war.She and her servant mirror(who is a reflection of her) are brought to Florence after he leaves the land of the Turks behind.Here the Enchantress as she comes to be known,changes the lives of the people of Florence with her magic,until one day the duke is killed.The witch hunter are brought in,but she escapes.Fast forward into the ‘present’ and “a tall yellow-haired young European traveller calling himself ‘Mogor dell’Amore’,the Mughal of love,arrives at the court of the Great Mughal,the emperor Akbar”(from the book).he claims himself to be a relative of Akbar and he tells the Shahnshah about his mother.the tale carries itself ,with the jewels,the role of women in guarding tales and the lust of men.

The book has a lot of history to it and links the various events across Europe and Asia.In the last part it also touches upon the “mundus novus”(America).The book is quite rich in description of the various thing in that era.It also ‘touches’ upon ‘fucking'(sorry i tried not to use the word,but then when the author uses it so many times,it has to come in the review somewhere) .If you have the patience to read a book,which frankly could be written in fewer words,then this is a nice read.it didn’t get boring though and in a few places I was rolling in laughter because of the absurdity in the way which a few things were described( and the author leads you to believe in them too).this is the first time i picked up a Rushdie and i was surprised by it.All in all,if you have the time give it a read.

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