Wednesday, May 28, 2014

In A Moment...

 This story is written based on Women's Web's May's muse of the month writing cue, “What does the brain matter compared with the heart” (from Mrs. Dalloway, Virginia Woolf). The prompt required a word limit of 800, since as always I had already missed the deadline, I decided to ignore it :-)

Wading into the Hawaiian Sunset (Maui, Hawaii)

“Aloha! Ladies and Gentleman, welcome to Kahului airport. Local time is 4:30 PM and the temperature outside is 80F. For your safety and comfort please remain seated with your seat belt fastened until the-“

Missy was no longer listening. The view outside the window had her enthralled. Out of nowhere a rainbow had begun playing hide and seek with fluffy white clouds sailing across the deep blue sky. After months and months of late evenings in office with only the walls for company, this was a magical sight for her. Lost playing peek-a-boo with the strokes that adorned the sky, she was shaken out of her revelry by a sudden jolt.

“On behalf of American Airlines and the entire crew, I’d like to thank you for joining us on this trip and we are looking forward to seeing you on board again soon. Have a nice stay!”

She was finally there! The vacation she had long awaited, to get away from her demanding job, work that kept her in the confines of her cabin for the better part of her day and evening, from Chicago, once the city of her dreams. Once. There was nobody to blame but herself, she thought angrily. She was good at her work, darn good at it. She had been in love with it. Truly, deeply, madly in love. The pay was good, it still was. She knew her colleagues turned a shade of green each time she passed by. Becoming the youngest VP in an advertising firm was no mean feat. But with her more than pea sized brains; it had been child’s play for her. Oh the attention she soaked herself in! Even now the thought of it made smugness capture her face in entirety. She had a beautiful pad downtown, a stone’s throw from ‘The Magnificent Mile’, with a mesmerizing view of Lake Michigan. Come summer, the silhouette of Navy Pier would adorn the river right in front of her bedroom window. It was a house to come to; it was her dream come true. Yes, Chicago had been the city of her dreams.

A sigh escaped Missy as she tugged her weekend bag from the overhead bin and waited for her turn to get off the tiny plane. Her thoughts returned to Chicago. All through her growing years she had loved playing with words but life had dictated its own terms and she had ended up graduating from Harvard with an MBA degree. But she wasn’t complaining, the longing for her pen had soon been replaced by storyboards and sketches. Before she knew it, she had immersed herself into the field and slowly yet steadily fallen in love with it. She had her brains to thank, she was all aware of that. Her ability to adapt to any field, to any industry had helped make her the successfully businesswoman that she was today. Life had been perfect she thought. She had everything she could dream off, yet the glamour of it all had seemed to fade off quickly.Of what use was a house that stayed empty all the time…of what use were those views for which she hardly had any time.Missy deliberately tried pushing those nagging thoughts out of her mind.

She slowly walked down the aisle, down the tiny steps and onto the tarmac. Kahului was a small airport and the walk towards the terminal was but a few seconds long. But the balminess that engulfed her in those few moments was enough to make her drive out all thoughts and resolve to enjoy the four precious days she had managed getting off from work.


Maui was beautiful. No, it was surreal. No, it was paradise. She just couldn't decide. All she knew was, she had been floored since the day she had arrived. Her resort, Kamaole Sands was just what she had hoped for. She was glad she had not booked herself into a Hilton or a Westin. She had wanted to get away from the world she was accustomed to. Staying in a place her circle did not frequent was the first step she had taken. And boy was she glad. She had spent the first three days of her stay exploring the island. Visiting the Maui Ocean Center and watching the sea come to life all around her had been more thrilling than making all those presentations in the boardroom. Wandering around the streets of Lahaina and taking the cruise into the Pacific had been so serene, unlike the silence that kept her company when she worked late. The 'Road to Hana' had brought out the adventurer in her, as she drove along the twists and turns and yelled greetings to all cars that passed by. She had been surprised by her own behaviour, wondered where this Missy had been hidden all these years. And finally she had done what she had heard so much about. She had visited Haleakala, the dormant volcano crater to view the sunrise. As she saw the purple hues of the horizon take birth and the morning star steal across the sky, she had heard the sunrise chant reverberate throughout, just as the Sun graced Earth with its presence. She had felt calm like she never had before.

Today she was at a Luau, watching the locals dance across the crowds as soulful Hawaiian music filled the air. She sat at a distance, watching the Sun she had seen rise just the day before, now melt down into the ocean. Not once had she thought of work these four days she reminisced, a smile slowing forming on her now glowing face. Yes, Maui had done wonders to her. She looked towards the Ocean, the smile broadening as she did something she had never done before. She ran into the ocean, wading into the molten orange waters, jumping around with tinkling laughter each time a tiny crab playfully gave her a nudge. It was as if tiny puppies were nipping at her feet, she thought and for the first time in years, words made way into her mind, awakening that dormant urge for her pen, one she had thought she had put to rest forever.

Warmth flooded through her body and suddenly she knew what happiness truly felt like. All these years she realized, she had survived and never lived. She had been successful but not happy. Grinning from ear to ear she made her way back to her room and for the first time since she had landed, she logged into her email. Her inbox was overflowing with thousands of mails, many requiring her urgent attention. But she ignored them all. It was an evening of firsts for her in more than one way. Eagerly she opened a new mail and typed a message to her boss. Imagining his reaction of horror when he saw her note, she smiled, clicking on the ‘send’ button, knowing that she had done what she should have years ago.

She danced down the steps and asked the front desk to extend her stay for a few days; till she found a place she could call her home. No, there would be no magnificent mile, nor any Navy pier. But there would be her pen and the magic it brought into her life. She had finally decided to follow her heart and not her brain; lose herself to her first love, her writing. After all, “What does the brain matter compared with the heart?” She had finally been able to understand what Virginia Woolf had meant.

Missy knew, she was now at peace with herself.

**Special thanks to Sid Balachandran, the famous Fiction Writer for proof reading the draft and his brainwave for the title of this post :-)

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Wednesday, May 21, 2014

The Bigger Picture

The new academic year was round the corner. But the school Suresh went to was to start a day earlier than the others. After years of bad maintenance, the management had finally fired the principal Mr.Verma and appointed Mathur Sir to the post. Mathur Sir was known for his strict and unorthodox attitude and was probably the only choice the committee had to salvage what was left of the school’s reputation.

While Suresh was not overly fond of Mathur Sir, he and the rest of the 10th std. class knew there was no other teacher who could take up the big job. If anything they would ruin it more than Verma Sir had in the last few years. Sheela Maam was quite good but she had just joined the school as a junior teacher, she was yet to learn the ropes of the game. He was looking forward to the change which would begin that day, the day before schools reopened, the day a felicitation ceremony was being held to bid Verma Sir a farewell and to hand over the reins to Mathur Sir.

But his Mother Sukanya was anything but happy. Parents had been invited for the function but she had been reluctant to go. Her mood hadn't changed much at the School either. She sat there with a frown etching countless lines on her forehead listening to Mathur Sir’s speech.

“Look at Mr. Mathur getting all emotional! For all the aggression he shows otherwise, this is how he behaves when he gets what he has been greedy for all these years!” She was not able to control herself anymore.

“Ma, he has been with this school for over two decades, he loves it here. And now he has been given the opportunity to head the institution. Isn't that a big deal? Wouldn't you cry too?” Suresh had found the gesture to be perfectly normal.

“But look at how aggressive he used to be? Do you remember, he instigated those kids to mass bunk a few years ago? Imagine that! Bunking in school? Whoever heard of that?” Sukanya was just not ready to give up.

“I know Ma. But Verma sir also used to fight with the other teachers. He used to scold and beat us so much! Was that right? Don’t you always tell me that everyone should be treated equally and all guilty should be punished?... Why only Mathur Sir then?I feel Mathur sir is not that bad. Even Peon Uncle was saying Mathur Sir will do a lot of good for the school.” Suresh was now bewildered, he thought this was just common sense.

“But still, why does he have to shed tears? This is not one of my Saas Bahu serials now is it? Oh! Had this not been the only school close to our home and had you not been answering your boards this year, I would have moved you out!” Sukanya was now close to tears herself.

“But I love this school Ma! And why shouldn't a Headmaster cry Ma? You and Papa do when I score good Marks or win a trophy. If he can help our school it will be good right? You give me another chance so many times, then why not him?”  Suresh had now begun to lose his patience.

“But how can he? I mean-“

“Listen Ma, in all our talking we missed what he had to say about the new ideas the school has this year to make it better. You tell me not to disturb when someone is talking, now that’s exactly what we are doing! And Ma, you said there was a Parents Teachers Association survey done to decide whom to select. He was appointed based on that no?”


“Ma you always tell me not to jump to conclusions, but isn't that what you are doing now? Now I don’t understand what is right and what is not”said Suresh with a confused look on his face.

Why did Adults behave like this he wondered? Couldn't they just take things as they are just like they asked him to?

From the corner of his eye he peered at his Ma and let out a sigh and walked away. He had more important things to worry about. Would Mathur Sir be developing the cricket ground or maybe the badminton court?

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Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Book Review: Business Doctors By Sameer Kamat

Imagine being a business consultant for the Mafia. If that is not enough, imagine analyzing gambling, drugs and porn for the business processes they follow and providing an approach for re-engineering them. Sounds crazy right? It did to the Consultant in me when I first read the blurb on Sameer Kamat’s latest book “Business Doctors”. How could it be I wondered, stepping away from the regular corporate world and applying those very management fundas to the underworld? Wild.  Exactly how the Author defines it to be.

Mafia Boss Stephen Woody, owner of WFB a 'family business' is grappling with the losses when his trophy wife Angie suggests he hire professional help to rectify his problem and correct his losses. With no other plausible solution at hand, Woody hires an Ivy League educated management consultant Michael Schneider to analyze his businesses that spread across gambling, killings, drug and porn to figure out what is causing their steady decline. High on muscle but relatively weak when it comes to managing businesses, Woody and his team think of Michael and Martin his associate as Business Doctors – folks who will set everything right for their ailing company.

I was looking forward to the ride, wondering how the Author would bring together the two worlds of Consulting and Mafia. Expecting a straight dive into the bellies of the underworld, I was quite taken aback when the book began with the escape of a convict Chang. The start caught me unaware and intrigued me on what was in store next. Keeping the suspense going with that string hanging in mid air, the story then moved on to Woody and Michael, from there began the tale of how management consulting goes on a wild, hair raising ride. As the ‘Business Doctors’ go about analyzing the trade and brain storming over ‘MECE’ principles and Issue Trees, the Author ties the prison escapes, the mafia and the consulting jargon all together to weave a meaningful story and flow.

While the book does not keep you glued to your couch, it sure is an entertaining experience. Especially for readers like me who hail from Consulting, the Author ensures we have our fair share of sniggers and guffaws as Michael puts together MECE principles and the 'discovery' and 'solutioning' phases for the mafia world.  The way Michael goes about gathering background information of the ‘Industry’ WFB operates in and the ‘deck’ they put together on their logos and understanding of the business will esp. make readers from a consulting background break into smiles. Be it the industry research  they start on as soon as they get the WFB lead or the shock that Martin gets when he realizes that their precious ‘decks’ are looked down upon in the ‘Dungeon’ (WFB’s ‘conference’ room), the Author has defined a delightful side to the way things are dealt with in Consulting.

The Management Consulting lingo is spread in generous doses across the book and reflects the experience the Author brings from his professional background. What he does show with this piece is that Management Consulting can work with just about any business using the same concepts, the same jargon and the same gyan. The extent of knowledge he brings in of the western underworld, the processes involved in video production, gambling and drugs suffices for the book and the lighter tone that the story line has throughout. His ability to show how power and money triumphs be it in consulting or mafia with implicit messages reflects clearly through the book.

While I found the play of consulting jargon fun and entertaining, I also realized that it could get a tad bit boring for those who do not come from the background. Also, on one hand the story develops at a quick pace but on the other it leaves behind a few grey areas which you feel could have been dealt better with. Here are a few examples-
  •  The readiness with which Michael agrees to take on Woody’s assignment is not clearly explained. While the slow down in his business is apparent, the shift from the shock on knowing what Woody’s business truly is to taking up the project is extremely quick without any room given for reasoning out the long term implications of working on such an assignment.
  •  The sudden absence of Martin once the initial study phase ends stands out like a sore thumb. Right from the start Martin works with Michael on the assignment and is also involved in the initial phase when Woody approaches them with follow on work. However without any rhyme or reason he suddenly disappears from the scene, leaving a small gaping hole in the characterization of the plot
  •  While a good job is done of tying the prison escapes to the main story, the pace the Author had managed so well through the story, slows down drastically with the ‘boot camps’ that the escaped convicts go through.

From a publishing standpoint, the text formatting could have been more optimized with appropriate breaks and paragraphs being injected, this does put you off track but the font size and conversational tone of the book makes it easier on the eye.

Overall, humour that flows easily from the Author’s pen at the right places and an easy to read writing style is what works in this book and makes it worth a read. I would recommend this book for an enjoyable read on a lazy Sunday afternoon esp. for all those Consultants out there who mutter curses under their breath and roll their eyes each time they hear the words ‘deck’, ‘value stream mapping’, ‘value chain’ and the likes. This is a book that will make you appreciate your field in a lighter vein.

Author Bio: Sameer Kamat is the founder of MBA Crystal Ball and Booksoarus. His first book, Beyond The MBA Hypepublished by HarperCollins, is currently in the third reprint. Business Doctors -Management Consulting Gone Wild is his second book.

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Thursday, May 15, 2014

The Fallen Krishna

The deafening sound of a shot ringing through the air woke Rinku from his deep slumber. For a dazed second he wasn't sure where he was. Vigorously rubbing his eyes, he groped around for his spectacles, almost dropping the water jug off the side table. Swearing under his breath, he found the pair and quickly slipped them on. He then reached out to the cell phone he knew was placed next to the glasses and checked the time.

2 A.M. 

He looked around only to find darkness enveloping him from all sides. Peeping out of the window next to his bed, he saw it furthering its cause all across the street. The streetlights hadn't been switched on that night. He fumbled around for the water jug; too nervous to switch on the bed side lamp. What had that sound been, he wondered? Feeling the cold liquid wet his parched throat, he waited with an ear out for any sound that might seem out of the ordinary. After a few minutes of deathly silence, he decided it was but a dream and tucked himself back into bed. Just as he had drawn the sheet over his face, a blood curdling scream filled the air. 

Rinku sat up with a start. Despite the silent whir of the ceiling fan, beads of sweat were now forming on his forehead. This time, he knew where the sound had come from. Slowly he shifted his gaze towards the ceiling, clutching tightly onto the side of his bed as if to brace himself from the terror that seemed to have unleashed above. A sudden thud and the sound of disappearing footsteps made him gather all his might and step out of the bed. 

“What could have happened? Is it Sinha Aunty who lives above…. Has anything happened to her? Or is it Isha?” 
Rinku’s heart did a sudden flip at the thought of Isha; Sinha Aunty’s niece who was staying with her for the summer holidays. Ever since he had seen Isha, he had harboured a secret crush on her. She was the kind of girl he and his classmates dreamt of every night. He had never managed to muster the guts to speak to her and now this… a shudder ran through Rinku as he broke out of his thoughts. 

“Oh God, what if it is Isha? I haven’t even told her how I feel about her! “

With a sudden surge of courage, Rinku swiftly moved out of his room and felt his way to the main door. Years of quietly moving around the house to satisfy his midnight hunger pangs were coming of use today. He opened the main door and quickly looked around.
“Mom and Dad seem to be fast asleep. Its good that they are sound sleepers…” he thought, carefully closing the door behind him. 

Taking two steps at a time he reached Sinha Aunty’s house within no time. He gulped when he saw the main door ajar and the living room covered in darkness. Stepping in, he almost tripped over what seemed like a human body. Stifling the scream that almost left his mouth, he took a step back, his body shaking as he bent down to check who he had stumbled over. With trembling hands he reached out feeling cold brass on first touch. Relief spread through his body as he realized he had fallen over the Krishna Idol Sinha Aunty had so lovingly placed right at the entrance of her apartment just last week.

“But what was it doing down there? It weighed over 20 kilos. Surely that couldn't have come toppling down by a simple accident...” thought Rinku realizing that something had gone terribly wrong in the house.

“Should I go back and get Daddy? Or at least a flashlight..?” he wondered, feeling rather foolish that he had dared to come all alone in the middle of the night without even a light to see what he was doing . 

“What if there has been a murder? And if the killer is still lurking around?... my fingerprints are on the idol now ... Oh my god” Rinku’s trail of thoughts had now started to make his teeth clatter and his hands tremble. 

“I have come till here, I need to carry on and check whats going on. I might be able to help Sinha Aunty and Isha!”. Once again the thought of Isha made his sixteen year old mind firm up and continue.

Without any hurdle in the way, he had now reached the dining hall. Sinha Aunty’s flat being a replica of his; he knew the scream had originated from the second bedroom. He could see a faint glimmer of a light in the room and the door slightly open. Stealthily he made his way towards the room; as he neared the door, he felt his feet touch something wet on the floor. Bending down, he touched the liquid and smelt it. The familiar smell of blood hit his nostrils, making him feel faint. Weak in the knees, he turned towards the room just as the door opened and a pair of hands grabbed him. Before he knew it, a second scream rang through the night. This time it was his. As he sank lower and lower, a cold shower of water hit his face making his eyes open wide.

 “For heaven’s sake Rinku! I was just waking you up! You don’t need to scream so loud for that!” His mom gave an exasperated look and continued “Sinha Aunty and Isha will be joining us for breakfast, they had a short circuit around 2 AM last night. Get ready quickly”

Shaking his head in disbelief, Rinku turned around feeling a rustling sound as he moved his blanket away. The book he was reading the previous night lay open on his bed, at a page with an image of a fallen Krishna idol

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Monday, May 12, 2014

Aisa Desh Hai Mera...

Already dueling with the hot sweltering heat, I let out a cry when a rough hand caught my arm and pushed me to the side. As the freshly dug scratches turned a darker shade of red, I looked up angrily to watch a plump lady dressed in black proudly beckoning her kin to the front of the line. To the spot she had now claimed to be hers in the unruly 'queue' that had formed, waiting for the gates to open.

Cursing under my breath, I glared at the woman from behind my sun glasses but to no avail. She had long forgotten me. There was not much to expect from a woman who wore all black on a hot summer day, I told myself, shifting my gaze to the rusty lock that adorned the still shut gate.

As I watched the Jawan fiddle with the key, I found myself moving forward, pushed and jostled towards the gate even before it had opened. I braced myself, waiting for the inevitable crash into the wrought iron that stood tall in front of me, but the heavens took mercy and the gates flew open just as the crowd started to topple over.

They were running all around as if the world had been set on fire. Maybe it had, I might have failed to see. So I joined the maddening crowd, letting out a triumphant glee each time I overtook and got nearer to the security check kiosk. A frivolous check and a few more huffs and puffs later, we were seated in the gallery, glad to have found almost 'front row' seats to watch the ceremony. 

Happy and elated I sat there, perched on my step, eagerly looking forward to what would be store next. The imagery had already started to form in my mind; the crisp and smart looking Jawans steadily marching towards the border holding their heads up with our national flag soaring high. The feeling of patriotism was overflowing in my mind and heart, wetting the eye every now and then.

The lady who stamped my hand and stood in my face
As I reveled in the moment, I felt a knee sharply jab into my back and that of my niece’s almost pushing us off our painfully attained seats. I turned around to find young girls perching on their knees in the middle of those seated, doing their best to knee us out. The unruliness could have been ignored had it not been aimed at an innocent seven year old.

Politely, I asked them to stop only to be told “ladka to nahi hoon na jo tumhe chhed raha hai, chup chaap aage dekho” (I am not a boy molesting you, keep quiet and look ahead). With sheer disbelief we stared at the young girl who seemed to be a part of a college group. She glared at us and the little one before clawing her way through to the front to demonstrate her pelvic calisthenics on the patriotic songs that were playing. For us the songs were an expression of patriotism, for her and many like her, it was a mean to gyrate their bodies to. Disgusted, we did our best to ignore the pushes and the shoves and waited impatiently for the ceremony to start.

It finally did, but with it, the animal behaviour we had already got a glimpse of dipped to another low. Women of all age, heights and weights, descended upon those seated and roughed their way forward. A perfectly sensible looking lady stamped over my hand before positioning herself right in my face to enjoy her view of the ceremony. That she had hijacked someone else’s was a matter that didn't matter. She was not alone, despite multiple requests to maintain decorum, each and everyone ignored. They had all grown paws and claws within minutes.

Frustrated, we tried out best to peek through the sticky arms and backs that seemed plastered to our faces and bodies. Despite being that close, we were way too far. Taking our minds off the brutishness we saw in front of us, we sat down amidst the sea of legs that seemed to think stamping every soul was their given birthright.

The 'On-Demand' Toilet
This was the end, I told myself. It would soon be over and we would be headed out; away from the brashness of this crowd. I had just about begun to believe myself when I had a trickling sound right in front of me. A young boy stood inches ahead on the step below us, relieving himself amid all the rowdiness that surrounded him. With my mouth wide open, I looked beyond him to see his mother smiling away, encouraging him to create his own on-demand toilet. Instantly I looked down at my niece, not knowing how to react at the stunned yet confused look she had plastered all over her face. Hearing a squashing sound I turned around but couldn't locate where it had come from. Was it a bottle or was it a piece of that little girl’s innocence I wondered.

The bugles had stopped and the flags had been lowered. The ‘ladies’ were finally settling down. Some on the surface that had been wetted just minutes before. I started to stop them but then thought the better off it. Probably a bit of them had rubbed on to me.

Finally the retreating ceremony came to an end. Once in a life time experience it was, just as everyone had said it would be. I had gone there hoping to celebrate patriotism but instead saw its entire paradigm being shattered right in front of my eyes. While on one hand I was filled with pride watching women Jawans who protect our borders, on the other I had seen my own kind squelching that very feeling with their terrifying mindsets and mindless encouragement to children to do the wrong thing.

That evening we drowned the voice across the border with our show of 'patriotism'. We must have seemed to stand united in our neighbour’s eyes, only we know how intolerant we were among ourselves.

This post is a narration of my experience of the retreating ceremony at the Wagah border in April 2014.

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Monday, May 05, 2014

Book Review: The Kite Flyers By Sharad P Paul

In today’s times, reading an Indian Author usually translates into “North Indian boy meets South Indian girl” stories or “IIT/IIM boy makes it big in the big bad world” tales. So when you come across a plot of three friends from a remote village in Tamil Nadu who separate and reunite against a political backdrop you pick it up just for the refreshing change the book brings from the pink and rosy world of MBA and romance.

Kumar, Raman and Lakshmi are three friends from the village of KKP in Tamil Nadu. Flying Kites is a passion both Kumar and Raman share and one which they teach Lakshmi to enjoy. Learning practical life lessons from Kadallikaran, the groundnut vendor from their village, they look forward to an exciting childhood together but it all comes to a stand still when Kumar and Raman’s schooling comes to an abrupt end. Raman picks his life from there and decides to move to Madras to earn his living as a tailor while Lakshmi plunges into the Kaveri when her parents decide to marry her off to her Uncle. The three friends drift apart. But the tragedy of their lives doesn't end there. Against the political backdrop of MGR’s growing influence in Tamil Nadu and the general unrest of the Tamilians against Hindi as the national language, the three friends undergo changes that change the course of the lives forever. How they break apart and eventually get together is what The Kite Flyers is all about.

Sharad Paul begins this book with the narrator who wonders about the Kite framed on the wall of Cool Cuts, the salon where he goes for his haircut. He wants to question Kumar, his barber but does not get an opportunity. From there on begins the flashback of the lives of three friends and the circumstances that bring them back to the present. While he does not get into the details of their childhood and solely focuses on a few moments of their friendship and kite flying, he depicts the lives of Eunuchs when they get intertwined with those of the protagonists extremely well. What also stands out for me is the knowledge he brings out about the political situation in Tamil Nadu during the 1970’s along with the intense hatred for Hindi as the national language. The possessiveness for Tamil and everything that is Tamil is evident even today but the intensity from those times is cleverly represented by Paul.

The fine job done in setting up the political backdrop however does not seem to extend to the narrative as much. The transition from present to the past seems abrupt with no premise being set for the change. The absence of the narrator through the story and the sudden appearance towards the end also makes you question the necessity of the character. While the story concludes well, the focus on Gowrie the village school teacher in the Epilogue seems forced esp. since the character was not really introduced in the main story.  an editing standpoint is the usage of abusive words in English which take away the authenticity from the dialogue of a village boy.

Despite a few loose ends here and there, The Kite Flyers makes a fine read esp. because it is a story of what the southern parts of India truly were like in those times. Not too many Indian Fiction Authors venture into the realist world of Indian culture and history, Sharad Paul is an exception whose efforts must be appreciated.
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