Book Review: Witch at the Pond by Sheshagiri Hegde

Witch at the Pond is a collection of short stories - with each story being based on real life incidents. After reading the book, you would be surprised to know that it has been written by a first-time author.

What I absolutely loved about the book is that each story attempts to convey a message, but it does so very subtly. So subtle, in fact, that each reader might perceive it in a different way. This, I believe was intentional and I know for a fact that it is extremely difficult to achieve.

Then there are the descriptions! Few of the stories are set in a village where I hail from. While reading the descriptions of the places, festivals, countryside, temples, houses, I could almost see them in front of my eyes. The author transported me right to my village. The surprising part is that even for a person who might never have visited the place, the descriptions hold an equal amount of interest. The author sort of immerses you in all that attention to detail.

This is not to say that the book is only limited to rural life. Nope. There are stories from the corporate world, board meetings, bus journeys, business schools and everything in between. The point, here, is that each incident reflects a different aspect of the author's life and experience.

I particularly enjoyed the humor in some of the stories. I found myself grinning like an idiot while reading the book in a bus, eliciting strange stares from co-passengers.

All in all, Witch at the Pond reminded me of my favorite short stories book - Wise and Otherwise by Sudha Murthy. Now that is saying a lot!

At the price point that it sells, this book is absolutely a steal. Witch at the Pond is a must-read.

And Then, We Expect ...

"Naah. Voting is such a headache. Not only is the process of enrolling myself such a pain, deciding who to vote for is a bigger hassle. I'd rather not vote."

"Oh come on now. If I don't bend a few traffic rules now and then, I'll spend my entire life on the road."

"Of course - I simply had to ride on the footpath that time. Everyone else was doing so."

"Yep - I bribed that policeman once; and this other time I bribed a Govt official. How else does one get any work done?"

"They're getting ahead of us? No, we shouldn't allow that to happen. We must pull them down somehow"


So, basically we don't want to vote, we don't want to maintain integrity in our daily lives, we are okay if we bribe our way through, we don't want to set aside petty differences and unite for the larger good; but we somehow expect the "whomsoever it may concern" to just magically put an end to this terror nonsense?

Wow! My hypocrisy meter just burnt and reduced to ashes.

We're Proud

I found this post among my Blogger drafts. It was supposed to have been published right after the London Olympics 2012. It is now six months too late. Still, the emotions in this post are not out-dated. If anything, posting this now proves a point or two! Which is why, I have decided to go ahead and publish it nevertheless.


This post is addressed to each and every person who represented India at the Olympics. To those that won medals. To those that didn't. To those that came tantalisingly close. To those that didn't. To their coaches. Families. Support staff.

We Are Proud.

You carried on your shoulders, the expectations of a billion-plus people. Sometimes reasonable, but mostly unreasonable. For that, we're proud.

You probably knew that you would be under intense media scrutiny. That you would be hailed a hero one moment; and labelled a nothing the very next. Yet, you competed. For that we're proud.

Many of you were aware that the country had never heard of you before the Olympics; and that they'd probably forget you soon after. Yet, you gave your best. For that, we're proud.

Many of you trained under appalling circumstances. Several of you didn't have any support staff to speak of. Few of you didn't even have enough money to buy equipment. Yet, you gave the country a shot at a medal. For that, we're proud.

You didn't excel because of the system, you did in spite of the system. For that, we're proud.

We Are Proud.

In the Thriver's Seat

Is innovation is overrated? I mean, come on now - why waste time innovating when one can run a thriving business without any of it? Just think about it. Innovation sure is a strong selling point - but its a lot of work and the audience is really a niche. The vast majority couldn't care less.

If you really want your business to thrive, you should be exploiting the following aspects of human behaviour:

  • Fear
  • Ego
  • Stupidity
  • Insecurity

Come to think of it - the businesses which bank on these are the more successful ones. Consider this sampling:


This is a business which makes its living based on fear and insecurity of others. "If you don't do this you are gonna die". Take fear out of the equation and insurance industry ceases to exist.

Beauty Industry:

Again - this industry survives on insecurity and ego. "If I am not fair-skinned, I will remain single forever." OR "Why is everyone looking at her and not at me? ".

Of course, they do have dumbness as a side-dish every now and then. Need I elaborate?


Education has now grown into a multi-gazillion rupee industry in India mainly fuelled by parents' ego. The line between "I want to give my kids the best" and "I want to show others that I have given my kids the best" has blurred. In fact, the entire definition of a "good education" rests on the amount one spends for providing that education. It doesn't matter if the kid has no exposure to real life beyond the school compound. What matters is the parent spent lakhs for the donation - therefore it is the exclusive, high quality variety.


Most daily soaps, many reality shows, quite a lot of the movies, even a sizeable chunk of news - all feed on acute stupidity of viewers. Try coming up with an entertainment program that, to get anywhere, counts on the intelligence of the viewer. Then see what degree of success this program meets with.

Note: Intelligence, here, does not refer to Q&A reality shows which have mind-numbingly difficult questions like "How many eyes does a normal human being have?"

This is just a sampling of course. There are several more (including medicine, law ... ) which exploit one or more of the above factors. So, which one are you going to pick in order to flourish?

What? You haven't picked any? Didn't I tell you that this is essential for the very existence of your business? If you don't adopt a strategy to exploit one of these points, then you will not be able to survive. Your business will die a slow, horrifying death and you will left to fend for yourself. So, please get back to the drawing board and include one of these in your next exploitation plan.

(See what I did there? :D)

55er: Missed Opportunities

This summer's first raindrops appeared on the windscreen when I was half-way home.
Much as I longed to get wet, soak it up; I rolled up the windows, planning to enjoy it all after reaching home. Sadly, by then it stopped raining.


The opportunities we miss in life; letting go when we have the chance!


Dear Parliament of the Union of Suparlia,

If you don't mind, may I ask you a question? Wouldn't it do the nation and the people of Suparlia a whole lot of good if you concentrated on making laws (for instance, discussing and debating the provisions of a recently agreed-upon bill) rather than wasting time bringing in privilege motions against some poor souls who just vented their frustration?

OOPS … Oh no … Uh oh .. wait .. I'm extremely sorry. I profusely apologize for insulting your holy institution – the Parliament, by asking this question. I am so very very really really SORRY. I shouldn't have uttered these words .. they are blasphemous. How dare I, an ordinary citizen, ask such a question of you, the very reigning deities of our great country?

This is equivalent to insulting Suparlia herself. In fact, this act is more shameful than insulting the Suparlia flag, insulting the Suparlia national anthem, and looting, plundering and raping the entire nation – all put together. I once again repeat – I tender an unconditional apology for bringing your virtuous shrine to disrepute.

To prove just how deep my remorse is regarding my outburst against you, I shall:
  • Start a campaign to educate the people of the country about the sanctity of the Parliament and Parliamentarians.
  • Call for the entire monsoon session of Parliament to only look for cases across the country where the righteousness of the Parliament has been brought into question, and to act on each of them in turn.
  • Lobby for bringing in a bill that makes it mandatory for the Parliament to set aside an hour every day to bask in its own glory.
  • Mobilise the public to such an extent that they demand setting aside 5% of the annual Union Budget just to bring to book, anyone who dares to challenge the supremacy of the Parliament.

Whatever you do, please please pretty please spare me. I beg you to not bring a privilege motion against me. I am just an ordinary citizen and I did not mean whatever I said. I should never have asked that question. I withdraw my question in word and spirit. I consider it my privilege to prostrate myself in front of the supra-consecrated Parliament of Suparlia.

Yours Sincerely,
A meek, unprivileged Citizen of Suparlia.

Book Review: "Annexed" by Sharon Dogar

So, we've all heard and read about Anne Frank, who is arguably the most famous victim of the Nazi-perpetrated WW II holocaust. Anne Frank has been made immortal through her diary "Kitty", which is now a book "Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl". We have read about what went through the early teenager's mind, body and life as she was holed up in a warehouse somewhere in Amsterdam trying to escape arrest by the Nazis; for two years. We have also all read about her crush on Peter van-Daan, the boy two years older than her, whose family was also in hiding along with the Franks in the same house.

Now, can you imagine the entire incident from Peter's point of view? Had he maintained a diary too, what might he have written in it? Would he see it differently from Anne? Anne was a proud Jew and she wanted to get back to her roots once the war was over. Peter, on the other hand, just wanted to be him – Peter van-Pels (in Anne's diary he is mentioned as van-Daan) – without any racial or religious tags. Are these two opinions really as mutually exclusive as they seem?

Sharon Dogar, in her book "Annexed" writes up an imaginary diary – one that Peter might have penned. Anne's diary abruptly stops at the date when the 2 families were finally arrested and sent out on the last train to Auschwitz camp. However, in "Annexed", Sharon goes beyond the arrest and into the concentration camps, the gas chambers, the lives which are worse than death, the death marches.

What struck me about this book is the depth of Sharon's imagination. She has gone deep into Peter's soul and understood his character in mind-boggling detail. You would be forgiven for thinking that this actually is Peter's diary!

The other aspect of "Annexed" is how it makes you feel for the residents of the hide-out, for Peter, for Anne, for the victims of the holocaust. It reminds you that the simple things in life that you take for granted – are not really so. Peter keeps talking about "outside" in his diary. Can you imagine being indoors for 2 years straight, without ever stepping out, and yearning with all your being just to be outside for a few minutes?

The closing chapters describe the conditions in the concentration camps in detail – and leave you horrified. How is it possible for one human to nurse so much hatred against other? How can Anne's father Otto Frank stay focused and advocate against "an eye for an eye" even in the face of such impending doom?

All in all, I would highly recommend "Annexed". If you have read The Diary of Anne Frank, then this book is a great read to make you appreciate the sometimes contradicting, sometimes agreeing views from Peter's point of view. Even if you haven't read Anne Frank, "Annexed" is still a recommended read (although I also suggest you read Anne Frank first!).

55er: Child Next Door

This child in the slum next door? Her constant smile puzzles the observer.
Her drunkard father beats her.
Mornings she's a maid at a dozen households.
School occupies her afternoons.
Evening she cooks and cleans.

Such turmoil at this tender age, yet she manages that perennial smile?
Is there something to be learnt from her?

An Open Letter to Mainstream Media

Dear Indian Mainstream Media,

So, the cat is out of the bag. David Headley has reaffirmed what we already knew. But YOU heard it straight from the demon's mouth. LeT did make use of YOUR live coverage of 26/11 to guide the attackers, alter instructions and make the attack more effective.

What strikes me about this matter is the way YOU played right into LeT's hands. LeT knew YOUR greed in such matters, and knew that YOU would even pimp yourself for a chance to get those exclusive visuals. I guess that using the live coverage as a tool to adapt the attacks – that was a key part of the plan. They knew YOU would cover it live. In short, the LeT used YOU in a manipulative way, without YOU even realizing it (although practically everyone else did!). Even LeT deserves credit for this shrewdness.

So, can YOU finally come round and issue a collective acknowledgement that YOU were wrong? That YOU were irresponsible in YOUR coverage that day? An apology, and a commitment that YOU will be more responsible in the future? Just so that We The People are reassured that there is at least an iota of ethics retained in YOUR highly esteemed self?

Or, do I ask for too much?

Yours Truly,
Just one Among “We, the People”.

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Book Review: Worth Every Gasp

What's it About?

Image source: Flipkart page for this book.

Meet Anamika Mukherjee. While on a trek in Markha Valley in Ladakh with her husband and friends, she suffered from pulmonary oedema, and had to abort the trek mid-way. She returned to Leh for rest and recuperation.

Ok, that's just he beginning of the story. What happened after that is the real thing. While her husband returned home having completed the trek, Anamika stayed back. And, after she had recovered enough, set her sights on completing the trek that she had left unfinished!

This journey is what the book “Worth Every Gasp – A Lone Woman's Journey In the Himalayas” is all about. Anamika was joined by an acquaintance Ballu, who had in the past accompanied them as a guide on a few treks in Uttaranchal. Yes – you read that right. A lone woman, trekking in the Himalayas with a man who is not her husband!

Anamika spent a few months trekking in the Himalayas. She started in and around the “lower altitude” (ya, right!) Manali . This was to get a feel for her readiness for the higher altitude treks in Ladakh. Once she was reasonably sure she could pull through, she got back to Ladakh, where she completed, among others, the Markha valley trek which had been her nemesis last time round. That accomplished, she also spent a few weeks back in Himachal Pradesh, rounding off her adventures with the trek to Chandertaal, and then one final visit to the Valley of Flowers in Uttaranchal.

Salient points?
For one, the adventure itself is extraordinary. I mean, can you even begin to imagine the adventure quotient of this trip? In addition, the writing style is so endearing and alluring, I almost packed my bags and left for Ladakh while reading this book.

The language, the wit and humor. You would be pleasantly surprised at the number of philosophical questions that are put forth in the book, disguised as anecdotes.

Then, the writing is also very candid. It is full of matters which we all think about but never say out loud.
  • “What? A married woman sleeping in the same tent as a guide?”
  • How does one cope with toilet issues on journeys like these?
  • How does a woman cope with unwanted attention, especially if she's a solitary traveler?

But, most of all, the thing that made me absolutely riveted to the book is the author's description of the places. Believe me when I say that describing natural beauty is a gift. And the author is gifted. I found myself repeatedly doing a Google image search for the places she mentions, and quite often finding that the image she drew for me very closely matches the image on screen.

All in all, if you are a travel enthusiast, a trekker, a nature lover or a Ladakh-addict, then this book is for you. I guarantee you – you will not be disappointed.

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