Thursday, 30 October 2014

Book Review of "Cafe Latte" by Amit Shankar

It was at the book launch of "Cafe Latte" by the Ahmedabad Book Club that I first had the pleasure of meeting "writer" (no "author", pls!) Amit Shankar. His modesty (he forbade us from using the "a" word!!) and down-to-earth attitude were quite refreshing. Over casual chit-chat, I discovered that we had a lot in common. We had both attended prestigious colleges at Delhi University. We both had MBA degrees from some of the top B-schools of India. We both had begun our careers in advertising and marketing........and of course, we both had a love of the written word.

During the book launch, I volunteered to read the first story. The title "Cafe Latte" was enticing enough to want to start the book as soon as I had a copy in hand. The reading of the "The Black Widow", which I did, was quite an experience for me. Reading a thriller, trying to use my brains and figure out the end, while reading aloud the story to an unfamiliar audience, and feeling the goose bumps.....unforgettable! I finished reading the entire book in one night, which is quite a paradox, a paradox which the book itself is. It is interesting to the point of being un-put-down-able, while at the same time, the web, which each story spins around the reader, takes a while to come out of before one can move on to the next story. 

"Cafe Latte" is a collection of 18 short stories. The language used by the writer is simple to read, but quite deep when it comes to understanding the context and concept being described by him. Some stories are as short as 4 pages like "A Rose for Her" while some others, like "Code of Honor" and "The Lion, The Leopard and The Hyena" are around 12-15 pages each. Each story has what is called a "twist in the tale" (like Jeffery Archer's book of the same name). In most of the stories, the writer has left the climax a bit open-ended......something for the reader to understand, imagine or simply spin-a-yarn for himself/herself. Some stories are sweet, like a drop of hazelnut in the latte. "The Guardian Angel"  is one such story. Some sad, some scary, some inspiring, some psychological thrillers and some "points-to-ponder".

While reading "Cafe Latte", I could clearly pick out two aspects that I found most appealing. One is that Amit Shankar is also a passionate musician and that passion comes out in stories like "Temple of The King", "The Jazz Player" and "The Guardian Angel".  The other is his respect for all human emotions, and his acceptance of them, without any moral lessons, as reflected in the stories. What at first read is a simple story, on a deeper level, is a solid tapestry woven from the threads of human psychology and philosophy. Like the "Slice of Life" ads, which apparently just want you to buy a soap or cream, but are actually hitting at some aspirational target deep within your psyche. Questions are thrown up, answers to which require a very profound understanding of the human mind and the ways in which it works,.......or doesn't. Of course when the writer is an ad man, that's no surprise!

As for me, my favourite stories from the collection are "The Black Widow" and "Every Mouse Ain't A Mickey Mouse". Why? Well, if I start taking a class of literature on "Cafe Latte", whose going to enjoy the caffeine kick? 

So, go get your own copy and enjoy a nice Sunday afternoon with cafe latte and ........"Cafe Latte" !!

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