Book Review – Vodka, God and Them by Dr. Ashish Sharma

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First of all, I would like to express my immense gratitude to the author for not only inviting me to his book launch as one of the chief guests (a great honor which
I’ll never forget) but also providing me with a free copy of both of his books. For your information, he has already written one book – ‘The Gentleman with a Torn
Shoe’ which sold well and got good appreciation. However, I have not read it yet.

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Pic from Book Launch on July 5th 2016: Me second from right.

I completed reading his second book today, but before writing a review, I was overcome by a wave of hesitancy. I thought twice before writing a honest review. I
contacted the author to dilute my dilemma, and he sportingly told me to express whatever I felt. I must laud the author for that. I apologize to him in advance for my
upcoming rants.

Now, back to the review. After reading the first few pages and countering the following phrase, I got the impression of what was to come.

“Only a hand full of boys were playing with Prakash and Sudip.”

This is just one of the innumerable grammatical and spelling mistakes I found in the book. The book was certainly not edited well. But I can’t just fault the editor,
the author is to blame in equal measure. The language leaves a lot to be desired. I’ll come back to other aspects of the language later.

The story is interesting, without a shadow of doubt. It lures you like a magnet and makes you empathize with the protagonist and the problems he encounters in life.
The author has definitely narrated a touching story (although none of the scenes succeeded in moving me to tears but some scenes were a bit emotional). The characters
are defined in a decent manner, and the usage of dialogues instead of narration makes the reader feel for the characters more, a good example of the show-don’t-tell
philosophy. Initially, the budding love between the protagonist and Ananya is described well. The protagonist’s skirmishes with different types of saints, tantriks,
and his uncertainties regarding the validity of some religious beliefs is also described well and makes you feel for him. Ananya is shown to be a strong girl with
modern beliefs which is admirable.

But the problems start towards the middle of the book. The love triangle between the protagonists and his two girlfriends is difficult to digest, especially the sleazy
portions. It seems, like most Indian commercial authors, the author has simply added those portions to attract the reader. They have no use in the story whatsoever.
The way the protagonist flirts with the two girls dilutes the empathy triggered by the other unfortunate events in his life and paints a very sorry picture of his
personality. I couldn’t find any traces of true love. It seems as if merely infatuation and physical intimacy were attracting him to the them.

The other problem that irked me was the writing style. There is no proper demarcation of events. The protagonist rushes here and there, sometimes ends up in three or
four places (thus three or four events) in a single page. The language is lackluster to say the least, nothing better than our casual everyday conversations. There is
no beauty in the language except for maybe four or five sentences in the entire book (which is not an impressive percentage). There is almost no setting in any of the
events, so that the reader can imagine himself/herself in the scene, no descriptions of ambiance. Most events starts with a dialogue and a cursory telling of where the
people are or what is happening in the protagonist’s life. Only in two instances, I found a somewhat acceptable description – The Shivkunj temple and Kedarnath. There
is an overuse of exclamations marks, unnecessary capitalization, and excessive use of adverbs. In short, the writing is immature. And maybe even careless, as if he
merely wanted to get the point across somehow, regardless of the language.

However, the backbone of the story is good. There is inspiration to be found, especially towards the end. The confusion of the protagonist and his friends concerning
superstitions prevalent in our society, especially in Hindu culture is portrayed wonderfully throughout the book. Any lower middle class boy can relate to the
monetary, education related, and other problems the protagonist faces, and how he battles against them. But he is shown to be human, too, and gives up at several
points. The way his friends help him overcome his fears and encourage him to move on is written well. The author has a unique way of touching your heart and luring the
reader till he completes the story. He is a very good storyteller, and the twists and turns he gives at regular intervals is satisfactory. The author must be
appreciated for presenting a simple, beautiful story to the readers.

One more small thing is noticed was, despite the author basing his characters in Gangtok, it is difficult to believe they were Nepali. He calls his father Pitaji and
his mother Maa. Most people refer to him as Bhaiya, so I feel the author missed an opportunity to infuse a Nepali flavor in the characters. Aama, Baba, and Daju would
have been preferable alternatives. It seems as if he is describing a Bihari/Marwari family dwelling in Gangtok. But there are sparse mentions of unexplored cultures in
the book, especially the different kinds of Nepali tantriks. He must have done some research for it, so the author deserves a thumbs up for that.

There is an overdose of dialogues in the book, so some of them seem unnecessary. But some of them are written well, and the author’s wit shines in several places. But
in some places the jokes do seem a bit forced. Ananya turns out to be difficult to like, and so does the protagonist at most times. So I personally didn’t feel like
rooting for the protagonist, especially after the second half. But still I went with the flow, and the story did turn out to grow better towards the end. But again, I
didn’t like the last chapter. Too many things happened all at once, and it was difficult to keep track of, bringing a bitter taste to my mouth.

I think that if the author learns from his mistakes and starts reading good books, he will improve and come up with a better book next time. He has the storytelling
talent. It just has to nurtured with care to create a more polished piece of fiction.

Overall, I think this book is a good read for people who have just started reading books. Youngsters will definitely be able to relate to it, and it does gives good
explanations of the blind faith we Hindus have in saints. It is a must read for fans of movies like ‘Oh My God’ and ‘PK’. However, you have to bear the below average
language and writing skills which might evoke smirks at unintended places. So it’s an absolute no-no for avid readers.

3 stars from my side (4 for story 2 for writing style). All the best to Dr. Ashish. I hope he keeps the flame of writing alive within him, improves upon his deficiencies, and comes up with a better book next time.

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