On Smiles and Stock Exchange- Review of Alayne’s Smile


Call it a privilege or a sheer luck that I’m able read quite a few short stories written by Percy Wadiwala, it takes a refined taste to be able to truly appreciate the quality of the works. I’ll talk about a particular story in this post here, which is titled as Alayne’s Smile”.

The story is told by the author himself, who is also a character in the story. As always, the writing is subtle and humorous. The writer often makes fun of himself like:

“What do you think, Jormund?’ Kevan asked now, turning his attention to me. I had been trying to blend into the background, but evidently, I did not sufficiently resemble a tree bark to be able to pull it off.

This is a story about saving Alayne from being trapped in her bankrupt father’s cringeworthy marriage negotiation with a business tycoon’s wasted son. The saviors are her friends studying economics in North Midgard (Midgard is a fictional town where most of Wadiwala’s stories are set). The most ardent of them is Kevan who fell in love with the girl the moment he put his eyes on her. They all are quite well acquainted with the different facets of stock exchange.

The way new secrets about the lineage of the pivotal character are exposed is no less gripping than a detective mystery. The rise and fall in hopes among the characters (Alayne’s hope to be free, Kevan’s hope to marry her), are drawn in parallel with the similar nature of stock exchange. It as unpredictable as life itself. Also, on the mindset of people towards Persian community in Mumbai (yes, Midgard is based on Mumbai) , Wadiwala perfunctorily inserts:

“So if I’m following you a-right, Jayne, Alayne is a member of House Stone. Still, being descended from them through the female line won’t help her much. The family fortune must be devolving on some snotty pure-blood non-veg eating, bad-word using fire-worshipper. Her father isn’t one of them, and clearly it was a shotgun wedding if he got her knocked up. Alayne would have been turfed out of the line of succession even before she was born,” pointed out Fatty, who had rather biased views of Persian migrants.


This shows that there are far more significant issues underneath the story than it appears if one looks closely.
And amid all the interesting happenings in front, the author masterfully draws the map of the fictional town Midgard, like background score of a good piece of music. The dialogues, the setting are so lucid and well depicted that one wouldn’t realize when he is in the story too, living it though all his senses.

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More than anything, I loved the subtlety of characterization in this story. Alayne couldn’t escape from her liability to her father, Kevan couldn’t escape from the fact that his love for Alayne was doomed from the beginning. This inevitability of the events attributes to the melancholy tone of the story. Thus, Wadiwala’s deft handling of humor and helplessness make reading this story both compelling and necessary.

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Review: Neon Noon


Lately, I have not been able to read as much as I was reading earlier this year. Among the two books I read in last four weeks, this one is something that I’d read again. I have been following Tanuj Solanki’s stories online at many places and going by the quality of those, I had a high expectation from his debut. And this book delivered.

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As a writer, or better say as an aspiring writer ‘who knows he can’t write but still writes’ this book has resonated with me on many levels. So after reading it the first time, I went on to read it the second time.

This is a book about the making of a writer, his struggle to express what he feels, his attempts to come to terms with love and literature.

The book starts with a short story (a brilliant one at that) by another budding writer sent to the protagonist of the novel for beta-reading. The protagonist is introduced in his intermediate stage of being in a relation and going to PATTAYA (the place where most of the events happen) in this short story. In the book it is said somewhere that the beginning of a work should not be The Beginning or The End, but something that says nothing yet says a lot. This story acts as a perfect introduction to the novel. It is kind of stylish. I have not seen such introduction of characters. You may read ‘The Other Room’ online. I think it was published independently as a story.

Next, the book goes back to the love life of the protagonist. It is told in flashbacks. And it is done marvelously. The author never tries to draw an elaborate picture, but rather provides small details in fragments. This is how a person remembers his past; in fragments. His lover is from France. He tries to learn French so that the barrier of language can’t be there between them anymore. And in trying to learn it, we see the writer in him is slowly developing. The parallel description of past and artistic development is done so fluently that I wonder at the apparent lucidity of the book.

But this is a very complex book, written word by word, carefully.

After this comes part 2 of the book, titled as ‘The Bachelor’. This is my favourite part. This has small segments that step by step show the post-breakup emotional blockage and the Bachelor’s tryst to create literature. His attempt to find a way by which he can transform his pain into literature. He finally writes something near the end, a thought, a bitter truth. A realization. And he cries after writing that down. I’ll quote those lines:

“Interred deep within the labyrinth of my inner life is a masterpiece, though I shall require a talent as good as an oil rig to make it gush forth, and even then my broken imagination may prove to be that faulty little part, that worn-out-safety-valve, that allows everything to spill and burn, and then all we would have would be the silent ashes of my masterpiece, though that shouldn’t bother me much, for floating ashes are what all masterpieces end up as.”


At the end, the Bachelor writer says, “I’m such a compulsive archivist of myself.” I think it is said to show the pride and contentment of a young writer who realizes something important and ready to go forth writing, no matter how difficult it is.

The pivotal part of this novel is the 3rd chapter, Neon Noon. The protagonist goes to Pattaya, mainly in search of sex. By then, he has an idea of a novel where the protagonist would be a half-Indian half-French, his son, and a great poet. He will be caught up in finding his true identity, where he belongs, and will therefore shuttle from one continent to another. The son can be interpreted in many ways. One of them is that the son is actually the fruit of the protagonist’s artistic imagination, a work that would provide him all the answers he has been searching. The part about meeting Orhan in Pattaya confirms this. When he says, “In this city of pleasure, pain has suffered genocide”, it has a deep impact on the writer/protagonist. It reminded him that, just searching for sex or solace or pleasure would not provide him what he wants. It is the girl Noon who shows him that even after a heart-break one has the capability to love again. Note that the emphasis is on capability. This is an important point and builds the culmination point of the novel. Meeting Noon, and then realizing he has the ability to fall in love with her, and after falling for her, being able to come to terms with yet another heartbreak make him realise the difference between being in love and being able to love. The book ends with him tearing the photo of his ex-girlfriend and wanting Noon to see that. This shows that he has finally moved on, after accepting his version of life, literature and love.

Solanki’s style is new, but not showy. It has a certain air of confidence and you’d never feel the story is written by a debutante. I look forward to his future work with an ardent interest.

I would recommend this book for readers with an affinity to subtle and intelligent literature.

P.S. I have bought the hardcover version of the book and this is an unbiased review.

Confessions with Ayan Pal


I have been reading Ayan’s stories for a long time and recently met him personally and talked a lot about things. He has published his debut novel last month, about which we talked a lot before publication. Now that the book has been launched, I asked him to give me an interview for my blog. He happily agreed, and here is the result of that.

(This interview is arranged by e-mail and edited after getting all the transcripts.)

 

How are you doing?

I’m doing just fine! Provided being a combination of relieved (about the book being available), tensed (about the readers reactions), excited (about the endorsements that have come in so far), hopeful (that the bestseller ranks will keep getting better… the book has already entered the Top 30s on Amazon once), and thankful (to all my friends, family and fans who have come forward in support of this book), can be called fine!

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That’s so great! Congratulations! Can’t wait to talk about the book. But first, the usual: tell us something about you?

I am a Kolkata-based IT professional (I work in IBM) and author (I have been published 11 times so far). I have been lucky enough so far in having received several accolades for my work. These include the honour of my book being a record holder in the Limca Book of Records, the title of ‘Distinguished Toastmaster’ from Toastmasters International for demonstrating outstanding communication and leadership skills, and a ‘Brandon Hall Award’, considered as the ‘Academy Awards’ by Learning, Talent and Business Executives worldwide. I hold a Bachelor’s degree in Electronics and Communication Engineering from VTU, Karnataka and have completed a course in Education Technology from SDSU, California.

I am passionate about public speaking. I also love reading, creative writing, watching and reviewing films, listening to music, and binge watching my favourite TV shows. Confessions on an Island is my solo debut novel.

 

When did you decide to start writing?

I wanted to take up writing as a career after watching M. Night Shyamalan’s Signs. There were a few things in the film that made me introspect and the result was a decision to do whatever it takes to become an author. And thus maybe find a way to connect the dots in my life so far. Because I believe that there are no coincidences in life, much like the movie proclaimed. I also believe that this is my destiny and I will do whatever it takes to shape it to the best that I can.

What is your first story? You inspiration for it.

My first story was published in the Amazon bestseller 21 Tales to Tell. It was the result of a nationwide short story contest where I emerged as the 2nd best author, combining critics’ scores and readers’ votes. The story is titled ‘A choice between India, Pakistan and Bangladesh’. It’s inspired by a trip my mother and I took to Bangladesh and dedicated to my grandmother Attama.

The first story I read by you is ‘The Diary of Joseph Varughese’, published in Crossed and Knotted by Readomania. It has a very supernatural feel to it, though not shown in an obvious way. Do you like to introduce such supernatural-ism in your other works?

Of course! I think magic realism and supernatural elements complement a good plot perfectly.  I would definitely like to include them in more obvious ways in the future whenever presented with an opportunity for the same.

Your recently released novel has an intriguing title, ‘Confessions on an Island’. How was your experience on deciding the title for your debut book? I mean, how exactly did you come up with the title?

The naming of the novel was a combined effort by not just me, but also the publisher, beta readers, editor and my core family members. It was a daunting experience at first but once the name was finalized, everything kind of fell into place. And beautifully too!

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Confess something to us, how you met your love for the first time?

It’s funny really, but I met my wife Ankana when she came over to get 21 Tales to Tell autographed by me. She was a friend of a colleague and we had chatted for the first time on my mom’s birthday. And here’s the biggest confession – I proposed to her by writing a story that later went on to a feature in a bestselling book. I wrote the story first, and her acceptance made the ending come true later!

 

Wow! That’s nice. Well, I think I’ll leave it to the readers to guess the story. I read another story by you published in Chronicles of Urban Nomads. It was a confession of an inanimate object, a Benarasi saree. It was a sweet story. I see your novel is about confessions too. So, is the whole novel a confession?

Before I reveal anything about that, let me share a bit about my novel. Confessions on an Island is about a thrilling game akin to Russian Matryoshka Dolls that begins the moment a bestselling author trapped on an island attempts to narrate tales emerging from the stories that her intriguing abductor tells her, as a precondition for her freedom. The three narrators of the novel are a mysterious island, a bestselling author and an intriguing abductor. While the author and island narrate the odd chapters, the even chapters are standalone stories that the author and abductor share with each other. And everything that they say or do stems from or leads into a confession. In fact, several confessions. Some of them come back to haunt from the past, some shape the present, while a few are left to be explored in the future. So yes, the novel is about confessions!

 

Your prose has both clarity and beauty. Tell us about the authors who influenced your writing.

I have been influenced by several authors, sometimes maybe even unconsciously. But the ones who have had the most impact are JRR Tolkien, JK Rowling, Agatha Christie, Arundhati Roy, Khaled Hosseini, Satyajit Ray, Jhumpa Lahiri and Paulo Coelho.

 

What is the book that you read again and again? Why?

While growing up, I used to love reading the Barney Mystery series by Enid Blyton. Especially because they were a gift from my mom on my Birthday. Every read made me fall in love with the books even more – and I also play-imagined being them (the characters) during vacations! Apart from that, there was something about Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte that made it impossible to read it just once. And hence I did now stop myself from reading it multiple times, and no, it had nothing to do with the book being a part of my school curricula. As an adult however, mostly due to time constrains, I haven’t managed to read a lot of books multiple times. But the few times I have, it has been a wonderful exercise in rediscovery!

A case in point being the Harry Potter series by JK Rowling. I read the first three books in quick succession and then while waiting for the fourth to release, re-read them once again. The experience made me realize there was so much more to the books, and I decided to read them again and again before every new release in the series. And I loved that! Likewise for The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. Every read inspired me somehow. Hence whenever I feel a bit down, I simply re-read the book!

 

I hear this book is a part of a long series. Is it true?

I would like to believe that it is! It all depends of course on the success of the first one. Let’s see how it goes!

 

Tell us about the series.

I have a trilogy in mind – Trapped. Confessions on an Island is the first part of the Trapped trilogy. Some of the characters from the series will be playing major roles in a series of YA/Fantasy novels I have in mind for the future as well. More to be revealed in the future!

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You have a full-time corporate job. How do you manage to pursue such an ambitious project?

We have just one life, and I intend to make the most of it! I try and utilize whatever free time I have to write. This makes me write late nights, early morning, and over the weekends. I have to sacrifice socializing opportunities, my favourite TV shows, and sometimes reading too, which is the worst! But I do try and take breaks and do all of that too! My philosophy is simple really – do only one thing at a time. When I am at work, I do nothing else. When I am writing, none can make me do anything else. And I thank God for giving a wonderfully supporting wife and my biggest strength – my family. They ensure whatever they can, and at all times, to ensure I am able to balance my corporate and creative jobs. I wouldn’t be here without them!

 

What do you think about the role of anthologies in Indian publishing industry? What do you think about the TOI Write India controversy?

I feel multi-author anthologies that are thematically connected, like Defiant Dreams by Readomania for example, will continue to do well. Anthologies, at least for me, was a wonderful way of getting to know what works, and I can only hope the publishing industry realizes that it is a terrific tool to recognize potential within authors. As a business model however, single author anthologies by prominent authors can be a better bet. Take An Interpreter of Maladies and Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri for instance. Both have done wonderfully, so I don’t see any reason behind an Indian anthology not working, provided its put together with some careful planning!

To answer the second part of your question, I feel the TOI Write India controversy could have been easily avoided had people truly realized the power of the pen. But having said that, all’s well that ends well! And I respect Vinita Dawria Nangina for publicly posting a clarification, and for authors like Ravi Subramanian for taking the stand that they did.

 

Thanks for mentioning Defiant Dreams (winks). What are your advice to aspiring writers?

Read, write, edit and repeat. The best way to learn is by reading. The best way to practice is by writing, and finally, the best way to analyse is by editing. Once you learn how to continue the process, you will emerge as the kind of writer you want to be. All the best!

Thank you for letting me interview you. Any parting words to our readers?

Confessions on an Island is not just a thriller, but also a roller coaster ride of emotions. I can guarantee you this – you will not regret your decision of giving it a shot!

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