How to clear CA – Final Paper 7: Direct Tax Laws

Exams are always around the corner for aspiring Chartered Accountants, aren’t they? That’s why I thought I would share this post, tell you what I learnt through my journey and maybe help you find a way through the awful month of May / November.

 

A little heads up before we begin – I became a Chartered Accountant after clearing the May 2016 exams so though I’m still fairly new and I know the most up-to-date system, this article is for the students who are attempting their examinations under the old scheme.  Also, I opted to self-study for this subject, which I think helped me a lot in being able to write this article.

 

So, without further ado, let’s get into the plan, shall we?

 

How to clear your Direct Tax Laws paper:

 

Let’s divide this into three parts so that it’s clear and I can cover everything without confusing you. The first part is the REFERENCE MATERIAL, the second part is the TIME MANAGEMENT and the third part is the PAPER PRESENTATION. I believe that it is the combined implementation of these three that helps a student write the exam successfully.

 

REFERENCE MATERIAL:

 

Logically, it makes sense to me that since the suggested answers / answer key is coming from the institute, naturally so should the material you study from. This is what I tell everyone who ever asks me for advice about clearing not only this subject, but any subject. However, for DTL, it is difficult to refer to the study material because of how complex it is. Please note that I am not going to depend the basis of my plan on whether you went for coaching or not. Regardless of that, here are my suggestions:

 

  • Guides (More details below)
  • Practice Manual
  • The most recent two RTPs
  • Last four to six Mock Papers (Conducted by ICAI)

It is pretty straight-forward. All you have to do is study from these books.

Now that you know what to refer to, let me briefly tell you how to sort it all out. This is the order in which I recommend you study.

1) Guides: This is the book that is going to give you the complete understanding about the subject. You will need to read theory, practice sums and memorize case laws from this book. So choose wisely. Some famous options are Vinod Gupta and TN Manoharan. I opted for the latter, simply because I found the structure better in the sense that there was more clarity within the content bifurcation. Other than these two, there is a third book ‘RCC for CA Final Direct Taxes’ by CA Ravi Chhawchharia that is really picking up these days. So you can use any of these three for your attempt.

2) Practice Manual: For DTL, the PM is very useful because of how in-depth and detailed this subject is. This book will help you focus more on the important questions and chapters once you are done reading the guide above. Don’t think that studying just the practice manual will get you through for sure. This book is ONLY for revision.

3) Revision Test Papers: I would suggest getting at least two RTPs and using these as exams to test how good you are at the subject. Naturally you will be solving this a week or two before the exams. But make sure that you put in equal effort in correcting your own answers and learning from your mistakes because otherwise this is a pointless exercise.

4) Mocks: I used to solve many mock papers when I studied. I never went to the institute to write them but downloaded them from the website, printed them out to get a real examination kind of feeling, set the alarm to three hours and write the papers as though they were my final exam. I suggest you to do the same. Before correcting your own paper, give a half an hour gap between writing and correction. Also, be stingy with marks. As stingy as possible. This will help you prepare for the worst.

TIME MANAGEMENT

It is easy to understand what you are supposed to study from but very difficult to plan how to cover everything in 3 months, especially when there are other subjects to cover as well. I’m going to help you do just that. But please note that this period of three months should not involve coaching for this subject but rather should be the plan after the initial coaching period. I’m only guiding the self study portion. DTL is one of the larger and more time consuming subjects. Here is how you can try your best to cover as much as possible:

Let us have an aim of studying for a minimum of 10 – 12 hours per day. Even if you do wake up between 5 – 6 AM and start studying, ten hours is easily achievable and a definite must if you want to cover all subjects.  So, I am going to try and split it up for you into two parts. Major and Minor.

The ‘Major’ part under DTL covers ‘PGBP’, ‘Capital Gains’, ‘Assessment Procedures’, ‘Collection and Recovery of taxes’ and ‘Company Assessment’ while the ‘Minor’ part covers the rest of the chapters. Please note that these are falling into the ‘Minor’ portion not because of lack of importance but because they are fairly less time consuming to study.

My strategy was to create short notes as I was studying each chapter. The way I did this was to read a certain page or two, create a table, flowchart or even write in words the important part and then use it later just before the examination. The key here is to condense 50 pages of a chapter to 5 pages of short notes. Alternatively, buy a highlighter and highlight the keywords within the book itself.

Try to do the ‘Major’ part at the time of the day where your brain is completely awake! For me it’s early morning. Find your peak time and try to finish as many pages / concepts as possible for every chapter. Don’t leave a chapter midway. That will not ensure efficiency. Start a chapter only when you know you have the time to complete it.

Your target is to complete the Guide in 15 to 18 days. This is achievable even while studying for other subjects. But if you prefer to study only one subject at a time, and you want to allot 10 – 12 hours per day only for this subject, then give yourself a target of 8 – 10 days only. It is easily achievable, so don’t worry. Take a grace day or two if required.

RTPs (2) and Mocks (4) – Together this will take a total of 4 – 5 days. Ideally it is a last minute check on your performance to evaluate how ready you are and what chapters you will need to quickly brush up on. Again, correcting your paper is a must. I can’t reiterate enough how vital this is. There is no use to solving a mock paper or an RTP if you don’t take the time to correct your papers.

PRESENTATION

Now comes the most important part. This is one that most students neglect or don’t really take all that seriously.  A lot of you believe that as long as the answers are correct and that your effort goes into the preparation, how your answer looks on the final paper doesn’t really matter. Here are some dos and don’ts you need to follow to be able to successfully complete your paper.

1) DTL has both practical and theoretical components to it. Underline the sub-headings in every answer.

2) Use bullet points and split lengthy answers into paragraphs as much as is possible

3) Definitions are very scoring but also tricky to answer if you don’t remember keywords. Present those well.

4) Provide appropriate conclusions, workings and calculations within your answer sheet.

And finally, it is absolutely alright if you haven’t been able to clear in the first shot. I mentored a lot of students so far and one beautiful thing I’ve noticed is how they are able to put in more focus and effort by following these steps. Most of you only require a sense of direction and that is what I wanted to help provide. You know what hard work means, you know what Chartered Accountancy is about. All you are unsure of is how to approach it.

Change isn’t something that comes instantly. It’s a gradual process. But once you reach the top, there is no looking back. Give it time, be patient and just give the exams your best shot. I am not going to say ‘All the Best’. Instead, I am going to say, just do your best.

So, that’s all I have for you today.
Coming up next is my tips for INDIRECT TAXATION.
I hope you have a wonderful day.

IKEA Hyderabad: An Experience Beyond Imagination

IKEA opened its first store in India at Hyderabad on August 9th. *Lame Proud Moment*

Needless to say, I was one among the THOUSANDS that was awaiting this moment with bated breath. Okay, perhaps I went slightly beyond just the anticipation. When IKEA decided to postpone their initial launch from the 20th July, I was devastated. I locked myself in my room and added another 20 days to the calendar, feeling heartbroken. Imagine Samara from ‘The Ring’. That was me.

But life moves on, and eventually the days actually passed by pretty quickly as I immersed myself in the routine.

9th August, 2018

Then came the opening day. Sadly for me, it was a Thursday which meant I could not go. Because I am a grown up with responsibilities. *Sigh* That was a big blow to my happiness, to be honest. But I waited, trying not to listen to the numerous stories about IKEA that everyone had to tell me. That night, as I sat in a 3 hour long traffic jam to go home, I decided it was time to take matter into my own hands. I applied for leave (I hope my manager isn’t reading this!) and set the clock to 7 AM the next morning. It was settled. I HAD to go.

10th August, 2018

I started off at 9 AM after spending the entire morning chasing my mother and sister outside the house. We wanted to be there early so we didn’t drown in the humongous crowds. Well, thankfully, our plan worked and we were among the first hundred people waiting at the gates for the ‘shopping palace’ to open at 10 AM.

The anticipation was unbearable. As the clock struck 10:05, I was about to break into a sweat when I noticed they were finally letting us enter. Gulping down happy tears, we then made our way into what can only be termed as the LONGEST maze of our lives. After walking through the zig-zagged barricades for eternity and then feasting our eyes on the ‘actual’ entrance, we were overjoyed. From this step on, here is how the whole journey went.

Time: 1 Hour

Showroom Section

We were led to the first floor which is the area that has the showroom containing readily set-up furniture and decor. After collecting our cloth bags, pencils and notepads / direction guides, we entered the gorgeous segments. The best part was how these settings were structured. You have 11 sections in total, such as Living Room, Dining Room, Bedroom and so on. For example, the living room contains around 4 – 5 different settings of how your living room could look – with book cases, couches, etc.

So, the whole concept is divided into four steps.

  1. Walk into each setting and look around at all the decor
  2. If you like something you see, search for the price tag attached to it
  3. Take images of the tag on your phone
  4. Pick them up from the marketplace / self-service section on the ground floor (explained later in this article)

Be warned that this will take you a few hours to complete as you go from one segment to another, taking images, talking to various staff, gaining more perspective and discussing potential objects with whoever has accompanied you. At any point, if you get exhausted, you can always go back out towards the restaurant (explained below) that is on the same floor.

Time: 3 Hours
Recommendation: Bedroom Section

Restaurant

The IKEA restaurant is beautiful. It is the first time I’ve seen this ‘supermarket’ style concept for a restaurant in Hyderabad. The idea here is that you need to pick up your trays, your food and you glasses (for beverages – hot and cold) and then make your payment at cash counters. After this, you take your empty glasses, go over to the fountain drinks section and enjoy the unlimited refills. There are vegetarian and non-vegetarian options as well as continental food that will surely not disappoint.

Time: 1 Hour
Recommendation: Coffee, Bread Varieties

Marketplace

Now it’s time to get back on your feet!

You will need to take the MASSIVE lifts and go down to the ground floor. Then, exchange your cloth bags for trolleys and then you will be led into partitions 13 through 27. You may think you don’t need a trolley. Well, think again. This marketplace is where you will be able to pick up every item (excepting furniture) that you saw on the first floor within the showroom. Once again, this is structured into segments such as ‘Home Organization’, ‘Decoration’, ‘Lighting’, ‘Fabrics’ and so on. You’ll find a lot more variety, colours and options as you go through each of these sections. At 23, the marketplace ends and if you look down at your trolley, you will find a heap of items that you never intended on buying!

Time: 2 – 3 Hours
Recommendation: Lighting, Outdoor Furniture

Self-Serve

Finally, the furniture. Everything is flat-packed in cardboard boxes in aisles and racks. If searching for your items seems difficult to you, just walk over to the computers set up at the centre of each room and type in the codes. From here, you can add the products to cart, take a print of the items you want and have someone assist you with finding these items. Alternatively, you can also walk over to the information desk, give them your printout and ask for the products to be delivered to you. At a cost, of course. But worth it, in my opinion!

Time: 1 Hour
Recommendation: The Online Purchase Option!

Billing Counter and Beyond!

There are multiple billing counters with IKEA paper bags too. Just get your products billed, make the payment and push the trolley out. But wait! There’s more. You can also check out the IKEA Cafe and get yourself some really economic treats while you rest your aching feet.

Recommendation: Yogurt Ice Cream

You also have additional services like refund counters – with a 60 day refund policy, delivery counters and collection counters – for self serve items.

To Sum Up

IKEA will take you on a wonderful experience and convert ‘shopping’ into a complete day’s event. The staff is very helpful, friendly and will guide you through any issues you may have. The entire store is extremely spacious and even with weekend crowds, it doesn’t feel suffocating. There are easily accessible and well-maintained washrooms that you can use whenever you need to. Plus, there is also a play area for children too! Also, parking is spacious.

I absolutely LOVED visiting IKEA and despite blowing nearly half my month’s salary there, I don’t regret a single minute or rupee. Definitely do go visit, for the experience, if not for anything else.

Final recommendation: Go around 9:30 AM and do NOT go after lunch, at least for the next couple of weeks. The enjoyment will be lost in such heavy crowds.

Product Review: Lousfa Shea Butter

I have always loved the idea of shea butter because of how natural it is. Made from the seeds that come from the Karite tree, it is not only rich in vitamins (A, E and F) but also provides UV protection for the skin.

It has so many fascinating uses, right from moisturizing skin to protecting hair and even repairing damaged nails. But I was always apprehensive about buying shea butter because I wasn’t sure how I could guarantee that the brand I chose was actually selling me the purest form of it.

So naturally, when Lousfa (Kothari Productions) came out with this 100% pure and raw shea butter, I was intrigued. Despite my initial dilemma, I decided that I would take the plunge and make the purchase from Amazon.

Packaging and Delivery

I got the product three days after placing the order, which I feel is quite prompt. It was delivered on the day that I was promised so no complaints there. Further, the packaging was quite sturdy too. The shea butter bottle came in a cardboard box and inside, it was wrapped tightly with a plastic film. Overall, sturdy packaging and quick delivery, so brownie points to the seller for that!

Usage

Just to be cautious, I started using the product on my fingertips and hands. When I opened the lid, I was pleasantly surprised to see a firm and thick substance with a buttery feeling to it. Instantly, I understood why shea butter was known for its moisturizing effects. It was soft and smooth against the skin but the best part was how long lasting it really was. For nearly 10 hours after I had applied it on my nails, my fingertips were feeling freshly cared for.

Over the course of the next few days, I found many other uses for it:

  1. To reduce the redness and burning from sunburn
  2. For massaging into the skin, especially on dry areas
  3. On chapped lips as a balm
  4. For inflammation arising from bruises or weather changes
  5. As a general moisturizer
  6. As a hair mask along with aloe vera gel and honey

Final Verdict

All in all, I found the product quite useful for regular skin and hair care. It really does feel 100% organic. Lousfa shea butter is a definite recommendation from my end.

Score: 4.5 / 5

 

If you would like to have your product reviewed, please do write to me at inkspression.shravyagunipudi@gmail.com

 

The Age of Azmoq (Book 1: The Valantian Imperium) by Rajamayyoor Sharma

“The man raised his hands and jumped with such grace, it seemed he was going for a swim and not jumping in to end his life.” – Rajamayyoor Sharma

Ola, readers! Yes, it’s been ages since I’ve read a book or done a review, but you know how life is, right? It’s awfully busy sometimes and then some other times, it gives you time to breathe, a.k.a, read. This time, I read, *Drum Roll*  The Age of Azmoq (The Valantian Imperium) by Rajamayyoor Sharma

Let us get into the review, shall we?

Blurb:

 

Azmoq is the rarest and most coveted metal on the planet. It’s the ultimate source and symbol of real power, and the Valantian Imperium controls it all.

Or so they thought…

For the first time in generations, the Valantian Imperium, masters of the Valantian continent glimpse the first tremors of fear. There are rumors abound. Rumors of legends. Legends of both ancient Azmoqian weapons and men of godly powers, long thought to be myths.

As these rumors grow, a small group of people, from various walks of life, some commoners, some within the mighty Valantian Imperium itself, by pure coincidence, have set in motion a chain of events. The legends, if true, along with these set of events, might reignite the flames of a revolution. A revolution the Imperium had long suppressed. A revolution that might alter the balance of power in the continent, and eventually the entire world…

Title:

First of all, there is an aura surrounding the title that gives it a rich, vibrant vibe of fantasy. It is deep, thought-provoking and definitely induces curiosity among readers.

When I read the title and saw the words ‘Book 1: The Valantian Imperium’, I knew for a fact that I was on an amazing journey to a series that would most definitely be some of the greatest that I would read.

Title Rating – 5 / 5

Cover:

“I didn’t really care if he slept on a mat. Or what he did with the mat.” – Rajamayyoor Sharma

Upon first glance, the most striking attribute of the cover is how the colours blend together. The colour choices are bright but not domineering the title, they blend but also stick out wonderfully and all in all, I was quite impressed.

Further, the sync between the title and the cover is complimentary to the entire theme.

Fabulous.

Cover Rating – 4.5 / 5

Plot:

“The hills itself looked like a part of the blue sky, as if sent to our world by the heavens to cover the world with a part of its beauty.” – Rajamayyoor Sharma

Without a doubt, this read is one of my most engaging and engrossing. Right from the start it pulls you into another dimension till you start believing that you are with the characters. This is the highlight of the novel.

One of the other standout points is the conversational style that carries through the narration. For a fantasy theme that is so intricately woven, the elements of conversations really do add so much of enchantment to the story. Another really cool feature of the book is the illustrations which help us visualize the story with a more clear sense, almost like virtual reality.

“I felt sadness. I had never been this afraid in my life, but I had experienced grief.” –  Rajamayyoor Sharma

The author’s sense of language is evidence that he is meant to write. That, and the way the author chose to make most of his sentences complex, add a very strong grip to the story. One of the most important elements of writing  a novel is the language – the grammar, the punctuation and the sentence construction. Rajamayyoor has nailed this.

“I knew I was still young, but when someone that old implied that I should have done something by then, it made me feel I hadn’t done enough in my life.”  – Rajamayyoor Sharma

One of my most favourite characters is Grim. The portrayal of this character was done flawlessly and lingers long after you read the book. Further, though the genre is that of Fantasy, the book is packed with values, morals and elements of life that we can all easily relate to.

Overall, it is a highly engaging and an enjoyable read.

Plot Rating – 5 / 5

I loved…

  1. The writing style
  2. The complex sentences

I wanted…

  1. More one-liners
  2. More Illustrations

Overall Rating: 4.75 / 5

Verdict: Definitely Worth Every Penny!

 

Order your copy from any of the links below:

Amazon India

Amazon (US)

If you are interested in getting your book reviewed or would like me to take an author interview, feel free to reach out to me at shravya.gunipudi@gmail.com

 

A Bruised Smile – My Bullying Experience

This is the story of a little girl with big, bright eyes and a genuine smile. I once caught this little girl in the washroom, sitting on an overturned bucket inside a cubicle. Her uniform clung to her knees as she wept silently for hours, trying not to be heard. But as the last school bell rang, she jumped up and wiped away her tears. In her eyes, there wasn’t just happiness to be going home. There was relief. That little girl brings tears to my eyes even today. Because, that little girl was me.

It is the victim’s silence that fuels the perpetrator.

For all these years, I kept a secret confined to the deepest part of my soul. I was bullied. So, why am I speaking up now? Because I can finally accept that this happened to me. Because, though I may never be able to move away from it, I can hopefully move on. Because I realized that it is the victim’s silence that fuels the perpetrator.

It first started when I was five years old. My being left-handed provoked my teachers enough to beat me up. I remember being terrified to use my own hand, trying hard to pretend that I was ambidextrous and this memory still has the power to send chills down my spine. I was damaged at that age despite my mother’s constant support. I tried so desperately to believe her when she told me that I was perfect just the way I was. But the trauma could not be erased.

Fast forward by three years. On my first day in a new school, when I was walking towards my classroom, I saw a few books and a lot of stationery strewn across the corridor. In a corner, a lunch box lay open with the food inside it emptied. With horror in my eyes, I instantly realized that these things belonged to me. As I quickly knelt to pick it all up, my cheeks flushed with embarrassment, I heard laughter. There were two things I learnt that day. One, I was the perfect target. Two, this would keep happening.

Over the course of the next couple of months, I retreated further and further into my shell. The bullies found innovative ways to make me feel worthless. My nicknames started with ‘ugly’, ‘dark’ and ‘transgender’, gradually progressing to ’Ms. 20,000 kilograms’ and ‘Ms. Elephant’. Nearly every single night, my tear soaked pillows reminded me of my misery. I would spend hours in the dark staring at the ceiling, unable to fall asleep for the fear of choking in my own nightmares. I contemplated suicide repeatedly but the worst part was not knowing what I did to deserve such hatred. At the age of nine, I could not understand that this was not my fault.

Just when I felt like I had reached my threshold, with the name calling and the damage of my  personal belongings, the abuse turned physical. Once, I was invited to play with the ‘popular’ kids during recess and that day, I fell in the sand, scraping my knees. I brushed it off as clumsiness when my worried mother asked me how it happened. The next day, I fell again and this time, bled from my elbows. A dangerous pattern started, where I got bruised repeatedly, multiple times per week. But I didn’t care because all those nights, my pillow remained dry. That had to mean I was happy, right? A little blood couldn’t stop me from happiness, could it?

I realized that in my eagerness to feel accepted, I had let myself be used.

But this euphoria was short lived. Because, one day, it dawned upon me that I wasn’t falling. I was being pushed. It happened again, and this time, I heard the children laughing as I lay face front on the sand. They were laughing all those other times too, but in my blind hope, I hadn’t heard them. I realized that in my eagerness to feel accepted, I had let myself be used.

As the weeks advanced, they would find new ways to torment me. Inquisitive eyes measured my developing body and lewd comments were passed to my face. Bets were placed on the colour of my intimate clothing and my skirt was pulled up to decide the winner. Though I was very young, the humiliation I faced was unimaginable. However, I never once let them see my tears.

But one day, when a fellow classmate put his hand up my skirt, I just mentally collapsed. I fell into severe depression and blamed myself for everything that happened to me. I struggled with insomnia, suffered with poor eating habits and withdrew from everyone. This was when I turned to writing for solace because I was unable to express my emotions verbally. I would weave stories of friendship, love and companionship, but mostly, my stories centered the one thing I craved the most. Acceptance.

For others to accept me, I had to accept myself first.

Still, despite all the self-hatred I possessed, I managed to survive and because I did, somewhere along the way, a miracle happened. I call this miracle ‘self-realization’. I finally understood that for others to accept me, I had to accept myself first. I needed to come out of my shell and conquer my insecurities. Thus began my transformation and my healing process. But trust me when I say that it was possibly the hardest thing I have ever done till today. I took to writing seriously, focused on my academics and started making friends. I pushed myself to test my limits. There came a day when I finally wasn’t just accepted, but was looked up to. It gave me a sense of achievement, but more than that, it made me gain my own perspective. You see, if I had succumbed to that pressure back then, I wouldn’t be here today. There is always light at the end of the tunnel. I can finally see that light now and my euphoria today is only intensified by my bitter experiences yesterday.

I may be damaged, but I will never be broken.

I know now that happiness needs to come from within. I know now that nobody has the power to decide for me excepting for myself. I know now that I am not worthless, that I am not weak and that I am not incapable. But when I was a child, I didn’t. I’m choosing my battles, conquering my fears and taking steps – one at a time. But some scars last forever, and I am okay with that.

Bullying can cause lasting damage. I still have extreme trust issues, I still can’t express my feelings and I still struggle to sleep peacefully at night. I may be damaged, but I will never be broken.

A lot of people see my success. But I see the years of pain it took to get to where I am today. Given a choice, I would have preferred to have my childhood instead of it being ripped away from me through the years. When people exclaim that my maturity spans beyond my age, their compliment causes me pain. Because that wasn’t a choice I got to make. But I made it through and if I can, then you can too.

To those of you who can relate, know that you have nothing to be ashamed of. You have no reason to hide. Loving yourself is the primary solution. But seek betterment only because you want to. I battled with severe inferiority complex which came from foolish comparisons and now I know that there is no such thing as ‘inferior’ or ‘superior’. There is just you. And you are perfect exactly the way you are.

To those who have hurt others in the past…verbally, emotionally, physically or sexually…I have only one question for you. How does it make your life better? Try walking in your victim’s shoes and you will see how damaging it is to suffer for no fault of your own. Your happiness should come from another’s smile, not tears. Your sense of power should come from protection, not destruction. Your popularity should come from respect, not fear. But mostly, a solution to your insecurities should come from within yourself and not from feeding off of another’s sense of inferiority.

There is nothing wrong with being different.

Lastly, to the parents and the teachers. Behind every happy child, there is you. Please pay attention to early signs of your child’s distress or aggression. Silence speaks louder than words. Counsel your child to find out if he is bullying or is being bullied. But most importantly, do not discriminate. Be it two children in your house or forty children in your classroom, demonstrate equality. Let them all know that they are unique and that there is nothing wrong with being different. My mother, who was, is and will always be my support system, is the reason I am standing proud today. Love and guidance can do wonders. Be that person who changes another’s life.

It wasn’t easy for me to relive those memories that I kept repressed for so many years. But I hope that something good comes out of it. Because you took the time to read my story, I ask only one thing of you. If you feel that this message could be of use to someone, then please help it reach that person…

And as always, I am here for you.

Book Review: Bombay Swastika by Braham Singh

“Their two banshee wails came together to wax before dying off into the distance.” – Braham Singh

Hey there, readers! I know it’s been long, but I’m back now and this week I was able to get my hands on Bombay Swastika by Braham Singh. 

Let us get into the review, shall we?

 

Blurb:

Bombay Swastika swings from a Nazi Berlin gearing up for its Final Solution, to 1964 Bombay, where Ernst Steiger, a German Jew, accidentally finds himself caught up in the murder of a young tribal, killed amidst allegations of something being stolen from a secure American compound. With the monsoons laying siege on the city, the reader accompanies Ernst past Bombay’s refugee camps and haunted whorehouses; food shortages, textbook mafias, communist protests against American PL 480 Food Aid, and peculiar happenings at India’s nuclear facility; where Dr. Homi J. Bhabha, the nation’s atomic mastermind, gets drawn into a conspiracy hatched in his absence.

This one-of-a-kind thriller unfolds through the eyes of a motley cast-Salim Ali, the South Indian, Muslim engineer and committed Marxist; Bhairavi, the enigmatic and sensual refugee girl; Sethji, the dowry messiah; Tsering Tufan-Homi Bhabha’s Smiling Buddha-dying from radiation exposure; and Andhi Ma, the blind mendicant who sees what we can’t.

Bombay Swastika is an exploration of the dark world of absolute truths.

Title:

The word ‘Swastika’, a symbol of spirituality, was twisted into a symbol of hatred by the Nazis as they used it to inculcate widespread rallies across Germany. The author here, used the titled to represent the connection of the Black Swastika in the form of Ernst, a Jew, who lands up in Bombay.

Besides the literal meaning, what is amazing about the title is how sophisticated and catchy it sounds while also managing to remain relevant to the plot of the book.

Title Rating – 5 / 5

Cover:

 

Upon first glance, the cover is nearly ordinary. However, it is only on looking closer that it becomes evident how striking the imagery really is. A woman wrapped in a red cloth, with a swastika locket dangling  behind her down to her back. To me, it depicted strangulation by a weirdly contorted symbol of well-being.

Fabulous.

Cover Rating – 4.5 / 5

Plot:

“Truth be told, he still didn’t know what to make of his father’s life or his mother’s death..” – Braham Singh

There is no doubt that this book is an outright thriller right from the start.  Without having the elements of an action, the adventurous approach to the plot made it seem all the more fast-paced while realistically setting us towards a gripping experience. It isn’t just a story, it’s a movie in words. Bombay has been portrayed in very high detail though set around the 1960s and this provides an insight into India from the past.

“As with most buildings, bulbs were optional and the corridors cast long shadows.” –  Braham Singh

The author has a very strong sense of language and it was nearly impossible to find any errors within the book. That being said, the diction and the vocabulary seemed a little too overpowering at times, making it a little difficult to stick to the scene. In some places, however, this seemed necessary. The author did a fantastic job in connecting loose ends and finishing off the story on a sweet note.

“A beauty of sorts crept into the night and a feeble moon looked down at India.”  – Braham Singh

There is such keen characterization in the novel that one almost misses to focus of the story. Each character has been etched with such depth and glory that it easily dominates the plot. This, in fact, is a good thing because it ensures that the novel sticks with you for long afterward the reading is done.

Overall, it is a highly engaging and an enjoyable read.

Plot Rating – 4 / 5

I loved…

  1. The writing style
  2. The Characters
  3. The plot

I wanted…

  1. A more realistic ending
  2. Less profanity

Overall Rating: 4.5 / 5

Verdict: Definitely Worth Every Penny!

Order your copy from any of the links below:

Amazon India

Amazon (US)

 

 

Book Review: The Elephant Chaser’s Daughter by Shilpa Raj

“No matter what, love doesn’t die with death.” – Shilpa Raj

This week I was able to get my hands on The Elephant Chaser’s Daughter by Shilpa Raj  which is a memoir of this young woman’s experiences as she and her family was forced to face the wrath of society’s disease called ‘untouchability’ and fate’s destiny called ‘poverty’.

Let us get into the review, shall we?

 

Blurb:

Saved by her grandmother from being killed at birth for having been born a female, Shilpa’s life took many unexpected turns and twists through her early years. She faced abandonment by her mother, the formidable constraints placed on her by her family, and the barbs of village elders bound by hundreds of years of oppressive practices and customs that subjugate women. Shilpa is torn between the contrasting lives she leads: one of servitude and injustice experienced by her family; the other of opportunity and empowerment offered by a good education in a school started by a philanthropist.

Just when all seems settled, an unforeseen death under mysterious circumstances shatters whatever stability remains in her life. Pulled in opposite directions, and torn between despair and dreams, Shilpa finally makes a choice for her future. Is she strong enough to stand up to the people she loves, and pursue what she wants?

At its heart The Elephant Chaser’s Daughter is about hope, when all seems lost. Written with raw honesty and grit, this is a deeply moving memoir of a young girl confronting her ‘untouchable’ status in a caste-based society, and her aspirations for modernity.

 

Title:

The title is beautiful and it aptly describes what the memoir is about. Shilpa’s narrative is shown to readers through her eyes but the title has a sweet connection to her roots. I found it beautiful for her to fearlessly tag herself as an Elephant Chaser’s Daughter and proudly show her history to the world.

Title Rating – 4.5 / 5

Cover:

The cover of the memoir is that of a young girl amidst a village background. Her face is unseen from the sun’s rays. The cover is serene, picturesque and has a melancholic feel to it. I love the way it fills me with peace but also how it gives a peek into what the narrative is all about. It’s apt with regards to the title and to the storyline. I loved it.

Cover Rating – 5 / 5

Plot:

“As years passed, I often found myself feeling guilt-stricken at how I came to have so much compared to my family.” – Shilpa Raj

As I read through the pages of the memoir, I found myself getting increasingly absorbed into Shilpa’s tale. She tells her story beautifully through the first person narrative and that adds to the connection that the reader builds with her. The tale talks about her entire family, the troubles they went through and the hardships they had to face to get to the stage they are at today.

“The word ‘plane’ made everything seem so distant…” – Shilpa Raj

The language is fluent and simple to understand. It has a wonderful flow to it which makes it all the more appealing. I love the way the paragraphs are split as that helps the story flit from past to present which is how it is written. My favourite part was that about her sister which was told beautifully.

“I was anxious to see my mother, and nothing else could be more important.” – Shilpa Raj

There isn’t a systematic flow to the tale which is very engaging and, for me, one of the highlights of the novel. I feel like the entire story became double the times more interesting because of the timelines interchanging and Shilpa’s history mingling with her present. What makes it even better is that there is no confusion despite the form of this narrative which shows the author’s skill of story telling.

Plot Rating – 5 / 5

I loved…

  1. The fluency in the writing
  2. The diverse timelines the tale travels through
  3. The author’s ability to tell her story without creating confusion in the reader’s mind

I wanted…

More conversations! That is my only suggestion / critical aspect about the book.

Overall Rating: 5 / 5
Verdict: Worth Every Penny!

Order your copy from the link below:

Amazon India

 

 

Author Interview: Rajiv Mittal

This week, I had the opportunity to interview an amazing author. He is packed with wit, humour and seems to be an extremely straight-forward person. Introducing to you all… Rajiv Mittal!

About the Author and the Book:

In this first section, we covered the basic questions and asked the obvious. Of course, for you to understand the future goals of Rajiv Mittal, you need to know a bit about Rajiv Mittal first, right? Let’s get right into it!

Q1: What does the world need to know about you?

I am a cynical realist who always assumes the worst of people and situations and is therefore sometimes pleasantly surprised but never disappointed.

Q2: Tell us a little bit about  what inspired you to pen ‘Brahmahatya’.

I would visit my father in his retirement home during his final days. Seeing all the residents, I would wonder – what are their stories? And are they all really who they say they are.

The ‘What’ section:

This part of the interview contained the questions starting with ‘What’ that caught my inquisitive mind. These questions center around Rajiv Mittal’s interests and delve slightly deep. Let’s see what he had to say…

Q1: What is it about writing that inspires you?

The fact that while I am writing, unlike in real life, I am in complete control of my imagined world.

Q2: What is your favourite genre to read and why?

Humor of the cynical variety. Why? Because despite all this fear of Artificial Intelligence enslaving humans, I do not believe it can happen until the time A.I. develops an ability to cynically laugh at itself. That requires real intelligence.

The ‘Who’ and ‘When’ section:

This is where it started getting a bit tricky. In this section, I mostly covered a few personal aspects of the author, trying to figure out how it all began…

Q1: Who motivated you throughout your writing journey?

God.

Q2: When did you decide that writing was your passion?

When I realized that however horrible I might feel when I wrote something, it was always a pleasure reading it back.

The ‘How’ section:

Here, I mainly focused my questions around the present and the future, in my attempt to try and understand what we can hope to expect moving forward. I must say, I was surprised.

Q1: How do you envision your future?

Very bleak. Real life is beginning to scare me and I am reduced to browsing the internet particularly social media to be amazed.

Q2: How different would your life be if it didn’t involve writing?

I might have become grumpier as a person. Writing gives me the luxury to constructively spend a great deal of my time and it is cathartic.

 

Conclusion:

As we decided to call it a day, I asked Rajiv if he had anything  in specific he wanted to say. Here is his extract.

Thank you, Rajiv, for such an interesting interview.

You can order ‘Brahmatya’ from Amazon today.

 

If you would like to have your interview taken, then head over HERE for further details on how you can make this happen!

Book Review: Brahmahatya by Rajiv Mittal

“Sleep alone could bring the peace he sought.” – Rajiv Mittal

Hey there, readers! I know it’s been long, but I’m back now and this week I was able to get my hands on Brahmahatya by Rajiv Mittal which stands for ‘the act of killing a Brahmin’ in Sanskrit.

Let us get into the review, shall we?

Blurb:

A story of revenge and redemption and deeds shaped by forces that humans believe they have defined through mythology and scriptures but still struggle to understand.
A woman employee of a retirement home is shocked to discover that a new resident is in fact the son impersonating his father. The son is seeking revenge. She, by her past actions, is unwittingly complicit in his being there and now tries to thwart his peculiar plans. A senile woman-resident and an enigmatic founder offer him sage advice. The samudra manthan (a major episode in Hindu mythology), a slightly dim secretary and a sinister boss play their part in ensuring justice is finally served but in an unexpected manner.

The novel quotes frequently from the ancient Hindu scriptures and stories that the protagonists use to justify their actions. The treatment of the elderly in society is a major theme.

 

Title:

The most appealing thing about the title is the Sanskrit meaning to it. I found the depth of the word and the possible circumstances surrounding it to be quite fascinating. It has the two elements I search for in any title. The attraction factor and the arousal of curiosity.

Title Rating – 5 / 5

Cover:

The cover has a holy feeling to it and makes it seem as though the book has a very religiously philosophical approach to it – both of which are fabulous as it sets a record with the readers before they start reading the book. However, my only comment is that I wish it was more catchy as the current cover is a bit bland and dull.

Cover Rating – 4.5 / 5

Plot:

“The sound of its siren was now strident, continuous and very frightening in its urgency..” – Rajiv Mittal

At the start of this book, I was wondering how a heavy topic could be portrayed in a fictional  and light-hearted manner. But as I read through the pages, I realized that the author did a fantastic job in deducing a wonderful flow among the situations and the characters. What specifically stood apart for me was the character ‘Bhavna’ who connected to me instantly due to the strength of perseverance.

“His father’s bed seemed to be waiting for him to return.” –  Rajiv Mittal

The language is fluent and simple to understand. It has a wonderful flow to it which makes it all the more appealing. There is a third person narration which I found quite apt though a singular narration from a specific point of view would have also suited the story immaculately. That being said, this is probably one of the more descriptive pieces of writing I have read so far which makes it appealing to me.

“The two men remained silent visitors of the night.”  – Rajiv Mittal

It is a highly engaging and an enjoyable read. The author did a fantastic job in connecting loose ends and finishing off the story on a gentle note.

Plot Rating – 5 / 5

I loved…

  1. The writing style
  2. The conversational aspects
  3. The author’s clarity of thought
  4. The plot

I wanted…

  1. An element of mystery
  2. Less confusion among a couple of dialogues

Overall Rating: 4.5 / 5

Verdict: Worth A Read!

Order your copy from any of the links below:

Amazon India

Amazon (US)

 

 

Biryani Review – Behrouz Biryani (Multiple Outlets, Hyderabad)

Today, I am reviewing a a biryani ‘PALACE’ I’ve heard about quite often in the past but never really got around to trying…. Behrouz!

Every Hyderabadi knows that if there is one thing that we cannot resist, it is Biryani. We are known for making it, for eating it and for discussing it everywhere we go. So, naturally, I have to do justice to my local heritage. Here it goes!

As usual, we have three major parameters that we are going to judge this by:

  1. Delivery / Service
  2. Packaging
  3. Food

Delivery / Service:

I am particularly pleased to say that their service was amazing. Due to personal constraints, I placed an order four days in advance and I then forgot about it. But they did not. They came on the scheduled date, at the scheduled time and delivered my food promptly. Definitely not disappointed.

I give the service 5/5.

Packaging:

This was the part which I was enthralled about. The packaging was GORGEOUS. I did not know that the biryani box could look better than the biryani itself! Okay, enough gushing. See for yourselves…

I give the packaging 5/5.

Food:

The biryani box came with a generous portion of biryani, a tiny portion of raitha and two gulab jamuns. This satiated my craving for biryani as well as my insatiable sweet tooth. There also was a tiny sachet of cardamom powder which was so delightful.

Starting with the biryani, one thing I noticed first was the delicious spread of dry fruits. The vegetables were scrumptiously fried to the right extent and the tandoori paneer was perfect – crispy on the outside and juicy on the inside. One thing I didn’t like, however, and this is my own personal opinion – is that there was far too much dry spice to it. That, I am sure, will be a definite treat for those who relish that kind of food.

Coming to the gulab jamun… what can I say? They were filling, juicy and such a wonderful touch to the end of a lovely meal.

I give the food 4/5.

Overall:

An experience I don’t regret. Good food, great taste and lives up to the Hyderabadi vibe!

Final rating: 4/5
Verdict: Go for it!

Behrouz Biryani Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato