"Almost always, I have chosen heroes and greatness, in life and literature"

Friday, September 10, 2010: Fallon Johns Interviews Journalist and Author Sriram Karri about living and the struggles in his homeland India by Million Dollar Book Reviews (MDBR)

Fallon Johns: I am very humbled and honored that you have chosen to interview with Million Dollar Book Reviews… I appreciate the opportunity.
Sriram Karri: I am hoping this opportunity – a privilege indeed for me – will make me as famous as MDBR, besides adding as many dollars to my bank balance.
FJ: We appreciate the compliment we take major pride in all that we do here at MDBR and all that we accomplish… Sriram you are most definitely going to be a house hold name because you are a great writer and an awesome person. (Smile) Sriram tell our audience members who are not too familiar with you and your work a little about yourself.
SK: I was born in small town in central India during its socialist seventies… no, this won’t do. It is too much like the David Copperfield thing and all… and much as I love Dickens, we must afford to take an approach la Catcher in the Rye. I was born in a mentally retarded country (the first line of my novel). I have always wanted to write, ever since I started reading story books and realized some people actually wrote this stuff. It gave me a sense of wonderment, a feel of power, to be able to script events in a way one wanted. Being part of a huge joint family, rather poor, albeit at times when India was a poor nation too… books was all there was; to read Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn, with a hope to be able to write that way, some day, soon… almost everything else in life was a consequence of this desire to be such a great writer.

I can definitely relate in a way, books were a great escape for me at times growing up because life in my household was very tough at times. I grew up in a poor neighborhood and my mother didn’t allow me to play outside because of the danger so books were my salvation. I can feel the passion in your words and can imagine what it was like growing up in a “mentally retarded country”.
Throughout your 14 year career you have experienced a lot of fantastic positions, you have been a journalist, technical writer, corporate communications and branding professional, technology and social entrepreneur, corporate trainer, orator(eloquent skilled public speaker) and now an author… Where does your great work ethic and drive come from?
SK: There were spiders in my crib when I was a baby. This gave me the creeps and I have been moving quickly and keeping my eyes open ever since.
Seriously, understand the source of inspiration came from the bedside stories my mother narrated and read to me as a kid. These would often be improvisations of Ramayana and Mahabharata, the two great epics of Hindu mythology, besides great tales of historic and mythological heroes, which molded my sense of heroic in life. The embers of a fire such planted into your soul don’t die easy.
Almost always, I have chosen heroes and greatness, in life and literature. Since I was into the business of writing for life, yet aware the writing break will take time, I tried various things in life.
After school, I made it to the Indian National Defense Academy (Air Force), but was medically rejected. After college, I worked for two leading Indian newspapers, and then moved to corporate branding with large software corporations. The core of everything I did revolved around the twin passions, and skills, of being able to speak and write well. And a larger zeal to ensure yet another life does not go without making the inner gifts worthwhile.

FJ: Sriram you have an amazing way of looking at things, very positive! Your mother sounds like a very inspirational woman who helped to mold you into a great man. Positive heroic stories give people a sense of hope, especially children. Making the inner gifts worthwhile is where our legacies will come from… Sriram that was very well said (smile). I noticed that you are an atheist. Can you explain your reasons for disbelieving in the existence of a higher being?
SR: About India, you would know there are a few millions of gods to be shared amongst a billion people. It has occurred to some of us who are the reason everyone thinks all Indians are very smart that to worship any one of these gods would create divine jealousies among the rest of them. So we feel safer to die and go nowhere in particular, rather than picking the wrong god. Our system may seem strange to Westerners who have always each one invented a particular version of a ‘One True God’, who may forgive a few million misconceptions about him in exchange of permanent residence in your Western skies.
Actually, my Indian roots are terribly religious, ritualistic and often, given bad governance, god is often the only hope in life for millions of people. Even in the socialistic sixties and seventies, while the politics of communism found favor, its atheism was never in popular acceptance. I have never liked the idea of a “god” governing my life too strongly; and we have lived reasonably autonomously since.

Wow! That’s a very interesting story and also some interesting facts about religion in India… I believe everyone has the right to choose if they believe in a higher being or not. We are all taught in different ways. I respect that you choose not to pick a religion and definitely understand your reasons why.
Sriram, you reside in India; for all of us who have not been there, take us on a journey and explain to us what its like to live there.
SR: Fallon, we now have jeans, T-shirts, sneakers and call centers. Oh, yes, and also, very cheap music. Throw in some elephants and palm trees; the rest would tax the patience of all but the sleepiest scholars. Conveniently, however, I have written a little piece in my novel called “India in 90 seconds,” which will cover a few thousand years for those accustomed to sound bytes and PowerPoint presentations.
Like most Asian developing nations, India is a fascinating balance of the modern and the ancient, the rich and poor, the intelligent and stupid, all thrown in together in a slushy, chaotic, blender; which keeps churning fascinating spectacles, kaleidoscopic and phantasmagorical. It contains contradictions, hope and despair co-exist, and the overall sense of impact is heart-churning and mind-boggling. And yes, makes a great canvas to paint a large-scape literary masterpiece.

I love the way you explain things… so intelligent with a hint of humor (smile). India sounds like an interesting place and is definitely on my list of places to visit.
Are there things going on in your country that you would like to bring attention to or change?
SK: You must be psychic in asking me about it. I have written a whole novel about this, besides having devoted my columns in The Guardian (Comment is Free) and The New Indian Express (Sedition and Perdition) about it. It is the challenges of managing the extremes: of reason, of fairness, of wealth and power, of opportunity and hope – there are those who have so much of it, the world seems too small; and then are those, who have nothing. We have nuclear weapons and are headed for the moon. Somehow this path will sound vaguely familiar. But with luck, we may stumble into even more useful pursuits. We have loads of cars, little space to drive them; we have mobile phones and nothing much, or time, to talk to; we have television and no entertainment; maybe, amidst our new wealth creating phase, my country will realize its soul is missing, and maybe even search for it, outside the Google god, and perhaps even find it.

FJ: That’s really deep Sriram, I have read a few pieces you have written and I love your writing because you know exactly how to appeal to the reader. When reading your work I actually feel like I’m there experiencing all that you write about. You are giving your country a voice and I know that will make a huge difference in the long run, Change always starts with one person who has a heart of gold and exceptional mind power and you are that person. Are you an active member of your community?
SK: I do not understand this question. Do you mean, do we have Homeowner’s Associations and do I go around to each yard making sure that the clothes lines are exactly three inches below visibility over the resident’s fences?
Today in India, community as an idea itself is changing. We used to have a good well connected social living a few decades ago, in smaller towns. Bigger cities have more organized societies of common interest, but little sense of belonging. That is the one thing I see about say America, where people are linked through activity to others. So we do go and participate in Organizations for Cleaner Cities, or Save the Snakes, but have no idea who our next-door neighbor is.
There are of course less petty ways of being helpful to my community. I like to think that I am constantly involved, in an unorganized, absolutely-individualistic way, an intellectual battle to make my country more introspective and a bit less unfair and oppressive.

FJ: It is a lot like that here as well, people don’t take the time anymore to know who there neighbors are and in my opinion that’s kind of sad. I know growing up as a child everyone in my neighborhood knew each other, a sense of “family” in a way. Things have most definitely changed.
Tell our audience about your first book “Spiritual Supermarket”. What sparked you to write this book?
SK: The book is about a supermarket, where only four companies are allowed to sell their wares since time immemorial. These four companies are: Religion, Politics, Reason and Violence.
Hence, when Religion launches ‘God’ as a product, Politics responds with its competing ‘Nation’. Violence creates joint ventures with both God and Nation to create Crusades and War; while all along Reason suffers, with low acceptance for its products.
Their competition, collaboration, joint ventures, and major products, shape entire stretch of human history… demonstrating that the same forces which poisoned Socrates were responsible for 9/11.
As to how the idea happened… a little studying of the matter, which gave me a small case of insanity and a lot of humor, which helped return it. I mustn’t say too much though. Nothing is more boring than reading about an author’s process of writing a book, which hasn’t made a billion dollars or been converted into a major Hollywood movie.
FJ: Sounds like a great book and I know that all of our readers today will be looking forward to reading it!
You have a novel making its debut next year called “Autobiography of a Mad Nation” can you give us a snippet of what it’s about?
SK: It is like a ‘My India and Me’ story; only the me in this story is very angry. It is like your relationship with your mother; you love her and at times of irritation with her, wished she was dead, or maybe had never born.
A story of a generation of people who have witnessed the most significant events of the nation, seen its own impact on their lives… and decide to impact the nation in return.
A story, at another level, also of will you betray your friend for your country, or rather sell of your country for your best friend?
It is about a young man who confesses to a murder he did not commit; because that is the only way he can draw attention to an international terrorist ring. A series of questions, thrown to the country by the accused, and a saga unfolds… I hope I have intrigued you enough to read it when it is out.
One of my favorite lines is, for instance, when young Vikrant Vaidya sends his queer mercy petition to the President, he writes… Mr. President, I hope you have read Catcher in the Rye. Else, what is the point in being a president of a country but not having read Salinger?
FJ: Your book sounds really amazing! I am very intrigued and I can not wait to read it! MDBR family here is another fantastic book for you all to look out for. Sriram were can you books be purchased and how can you be contacted?
SK: I blog and post my writings at oratorgreat.blogspot.com. I write columns for The Guardian (Comment is Free) and a column named, Sedition and Perdition, for The New Indian Express. I can me emailed at oratorgreat@gmail.com. My book, The Spiritual Supermarket is available online in all Indian online stores.

Before we end can you leave our audience with some inspirational words that keep you inspired and motivated?
SK:Be careful of spiders! They are not to be trifled with, mentally OR physically! And on a more serious note, to all those who write, never, never give up. It will surely happen one day. Your brilliant words will find the people who will enjoy it. Till then, just write, and write more… and wait till someone like Fallon at MDBR happens to email you.

FJ: I couldn’t have said it better myself (smile)
Thank you again Sriram for this amazing experience I wish you the best of success.
SR: Thanks to you for the opportunity to look within and look back, hope to be able to report back on various successes in times to come, and of course, to read your interviews with various fascinating voices from across the globe. I think you are doing an awesome job, and count me in as a fan of yours.

FJ:Your kind words warm my heart and I thank you so much for this amazing opportunity. You are truly an awesome person who we all will be seeing a lot of in the near future. You have without a doubt gained a new fan (ME) and interviewing you has been such a pleasure… And again welcome to the MDBR family!

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The Lost and Found Bookshop by Susan Wiggs

I’m pretty sure I haven’t ever read a Susan Wiggs novel before this one. I was pleasantly surprised. Of course, this novel had me at bookshop (as they all do!) and even though I’ve had an ARC of this book for months, I finally decided to finish it today, after stopping and starting a few times a few months ago. 

I’ll confess I was cruising along with my books, and suddenly this past week I hit a wall again. Just couldn’t get through anything. So I am glad I picked this back up again, because I hit that magical place in the book that had me focusing in and forgetting about anything for awhile. Even though I didn’t do anything for July 4th but stay home and cook out, I was still feeling a bit of a holiday hangover today. After watering my flowers outside and getting laundry started, I was happy to just stay inside and read. 

This novel really is a nod to booklovers everywhere. Natalie Harper grew up in a bookstore; her mother Blythe operates a family bookshop in a building that has been in the Harper family for 100 years-a coveted building in fashionable San Francisco. After a horrible tragedy, Natalie returns to San Francisco and the bookshop, to take stock of its future, and to take care of Grandy, her grandfather. He’d recently fallen and broken his hip and was now showing signs of early dementia. Natalie had been successful at a wine brokerage firm and while she didn’t love her job, she was good at it. But it wasn’t hard to leave and return, if only to help her Grandy take care of next steps. 

Those next steps aren’t as easy as Natalie expects, when she finds out her Grandy owns the building and the bookstore, and will not sell, even after Natalie realizes they are deep in debt and behind on taxes. What’s a bookstore manager to do, but try and build up the business with a huge author event that could help pay bills and give the store much needed advertising?

Natalie also meets Peach Gallagher, a local “hammer guy” who specializes in fixing old buildings. Her mother had arranged for Peach to fix a few things in the building, and Peach is one good looking man. He’s also a really decent man, with an adorable daughter who frequents the bookstore. His friendly and calm attitude helps Natalie as she struggles between grief, understanding her grandfather’s failing health, and the tough decisions she has to make. 

So we’ve got a few things running through this story: the struggle to save the bookstore, an ailing grandfather, a potential romance, and a story that’s been handed down over the generations about a treasure that’s hidden somewhere in the building, left by Grandy’s grandmother, who died in the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. Is it just a fanciful story, or is there treasure lurking somewhere-treasure that could save the business?

I read this novel pretty quickly, and enjoyed it very much. No surprises, just a gentle unfolding of the story. I loved all the book references, and the peeks into what it takes to run a bookstore. Definitely a good vacation book!

This book is out in the U.S. on July 7th in hardcover, ebook, and audio. 

Rating: 4/6 for an enjoyable novel about life when it makes a few sharp turns, the importance of family, and of course, the life changing magic of books. Some parts made me a little teary-eyed, so you may need a tissue! 

Snowpiercer – Film Review

South Korean science fiction film. Probably not a common export from the small country living in somewhat fear from their communist other half, but yet here it is.

Don’t let its origin scare you though, because although it is technically a foreign language film, roughly 80% of the dialogue is English, while the remainder is cleverly placed language barriers.

Staying clear of spoilers, Snowpiercer is essentially a post-apocalyptic story set in the future where a failed experiment to stop global warming has resulted in an ice age which nearly eradicates all life on the planet.

Our story centers on the last remnants of humanity, currently existing only within a train, which happens to be the namesake of the film. This train is fitted with a perpetual motion engine and has been running for seventeen years.

If this is new to you, it’s pretty self-explanatory, but it’s quite interesting and you can read more about it here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Perpetual-motion

(And if you’re Simpsons fans you may already be familiar with this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pwXuVvqUz4g)

Now, this plot itself is already crazy interesting, however, what makes it such a fantastic watch is how the last of mankind developed this really dystopian living within this train. Several castes has sprung up, where the elites live at the front of the train, while the quality of living goes further and further down all the way to the tail of the train.

And our protagonists happen to be living at the back of this train, that is, until a revolt. A revolt where they fight their suppressors and make their way to the front of the train. As they have never left the tail of the train, watching them make their way through each section is almost like going through several Terry Gilliam movies. It’s really cool and bizarre to watch.

It features an excellent ensemble cast of very different actors, all bringing their A game. Chris Evans (Sunshine, Captain America) plays the lead and gives what is without a doubt his best performance. He is joined by Jamie Bell (Billy Elliot, Tintin), Tilda Swinton (We Need to Talk about Kevin, Narnia), Ewen Bremner (Trainspotting) as well as the amazing Ed Harris (The Truman Show, The Abyss) and John Hurt (The Elephant Man, 1984) who has been proclaimed, and rightly so, as one of the best actors of all time.

As I said, the film also features Korean dialogue, which comes in the form of another two actors who round out the cast. In fact, I realized after watching this that I had seen them both before, in the only previous film I had seen of the director. That was the 2006 monster movie The Host which became a big hit.

Within the train, tensions are through the roof, and outside the icy landscape create a beautiful image of wonderful desolation. While the climax is perhaps a bit lackluster, the ending can be conceived as quite brilliant as we realize that the human race might not be at the center of things.

Originally released in South Korea in late 2013, Snowpiercer was released in the US in summer 2014 to critical acclaim. If this sounds interesting at all, then it’s definitely worth checking out. It’s out on Blu-Ray and DVD, and will apparently be arriving on Netflix this November.

Keep in mind, Snowpiercer is rated R.