Saturday, July 29, 2017

Book Review: Sita- Warrior of Mithila


The story of a trained warrior, Sita, who also is the Princess-Prime Minister of Mithila and chosen to be the next Vishnu- the transformer- who chooses opts to partner with another Vishnu candidate Ram by marrying him but is abducted before is able to put any plans into practice.


Review

The world is going crazy reading and reviewing the books shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize and I have just finished reading Amish' Sita- Warrior of Mithila. I had seen it being talked about on social media in the feminist circles but did not have much desire to read it. But the truth of the matter is that I did get down to it. I think the cover clinched it for me. So back to the Warrior (I like the omission of the word princess) Sita.

The book Sita is as well know a fictionalised account of the leading lady of Valmiki's Ramayan. In this world of Amish's, there are no Gods or unknown powers. He has managed to humanise everyone. From the trio of Brahma, Vishnu, Mahesh to Devi. He gives them the human body and characteristics and if you have read the Shiva trilogy then you know that he also lends them conflicts that you and I face.

It goes to his credit that he pays utmost respect to the natural boundaries, regions and writes almost lovingly about various physical aspects of our country. I know a bit more about my country's past and present heritage, thanks to him. He tries to weave in more action in Sita's story than there was in his previous trilogy and you almost feel as if you are watching scene from an action thriller as characters run, hide, attack, defend and run.

Sita is found by Queen Sunaina and King Janaka of Mithila as they return from meeting Kanyakumari (a person and not place)with respect to  a water problem that their kingdom is facing. A vulture dies protecting the baby from wolves in the jungle from where she is then taken to the palace. She grows up, is sent to study, meets and makes friends with other characters like Jatayu, 'Hanu' bhaiya via his cousin Radhika and in course of time chosen by the plotting Vishwamitra to be the next Vishnu. Sita runs the Mithila as the Prime Minister after her mother's death. A swayamvar  is organised at the right time by her own insistence where she wants Ram to come and be chosen as her husband. Like in a Hindi movie the bad guy Ravana also turns up, (we are only given hints how) and all hell breaks loose leading in a way to the 14 year vanvaas and then Sita's abduction from Panchvati.

Amish lures you to read his next with two threads: the enmity between ex friends Vashishtha (who is the Guru of Ayodhya princes and wants either Ram or Bharat to be chosen as the Vishnu) and  Vishwamitra as well as Sita's birth.

Some of it is entertaining but then it gets repetitive and both these facts for which I just praised writer make you (made me) skip a few pages to get on with the story. It could be attributed to the fact that he has not much to do and say in his this book. We all know the story of the queen and there probably is a limit to which it can be fictionalised.

This is the feeling that I had got in the last part of the Shiva trilogy (The Oath of the Vayuputras) which after the glorious The Immortals of Meluha (which was brilliant in terms of imagination, imagery and story) and The Secret of Nagas also sounded repetitive and dragged endlessly.

Anyway the two major answers that hopefully he will reveal in the next should be good reasons to but it, a worthy set of reason though I am not sure.

Title: Sita- Warrior of Mithila
Author: Amish
Genre: Myth
Pages: 376
Price: 350
Publisher: Westland
Language: English
Rating: 2.5/5


Friday, July 21, 2017

Book Review: The Sacred Sword by Hindol Sengupta


A book that will leave your palms sweaty, fill you with fear and rage but which will then, also soothe you down and offer some answers via the word of the warrior Guru, on whose life and legend this is based upon.


Review
A nine year old boy is brought the severed head of his father.

Guru Gobind Rai ascended the throne after his father Guru Tegh Bahadur was beheaded on the orders of the Mughal king Aurangzeb. The tenth Sikh Guru transformed the land of Punjab and through his touch the common men of the villages of modern day Northern plains became lions, Singhs.  

The book, The Sacred Sword, follows the life and legend of Guru Gobind Singh. This fictional account of Guru’s life takes us from Chandni Chowk in Delhi, where the beheading of his father took place, to Nanded, where the warrior Guru breathed his last. In between we witness how he transforms into a great leader training his people for a war that was thrust on him, a gallant fighter who was an ace marksman and a visionary teaching his people to be fearless and equal.

The betrayal of the local kings of the hill states, Guru’s mystical side as he pens poetry and the treachery of the Mughal king Aurangzeb, which cost him his four sons, two as young as six and nine years old- have also been woven into the saga.

The Sacred Sword balances various aspects from the life of the Guru. I could almost see the Guru dressed in blue, with the plume of the blue heron in his turban, riding his blue steed majestically, a hawk perched on his shoulder. I could hear him recite the famous lines
Chidiyaan naal main baaz ladawaan
Geedadan to main sher banawaan
Sawa laakh se ek ladawaan
Tabe Gobind Singh naam kehlaawaan’

As I belong to one of the northern states and have keenly studied geography and history with I could visualise the areas the setting very well. Mr Sengupta does a fabulous job of recreating the ambience of the Hola Mohalla in his book as well as the gathering that must have taken place at Anandpur Sahib, on the day the Khalsa Panth was born.

He does manage to bring some fighting scenes alive with his words too but I can’t claim they were among my favourites.

All in all, The Sacred Sword touches important aspects of Guru Gobind Singh’s life, and the important people in it- from Mata Gujri to Banda Bahadur. At 219 pages, it is a very comfortable read and in my humble opinion does not drag, limp or stagger anywhere.

I would recommend The Sacred Sword highly if you are looking for a weekend read and history or legends are your genre.



Title: The Sacred Sword
Author: Hindol Sengupta
Publisher: Penguin Random House India
Language: English
Pages: 219
Rating: 4/5


Disclaimer: The book is due to release tomorrow and I was given the copy of the book by Penguin Random House India for a review. Opinion here is all mine.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Wo

Wo mujhe kuch to samajhta hai
Kya aur kitna, nahi maaloom
Na kabhi maine poocha
Na usne kabhi kaha.
Kyun? Kya maaloom.

Wo mera naam to leta hai
Baar baar
Likh kar
Kyun? Kya maaloom.

Wo kareeb aana to chahe
Par durr se hi dekhe
Waqt ka jaana
Kyun? Kya maaloom.

Guzrate huye saalon main
Hum roo b roo huye itne
Ki bas
Haal chaal poocha
Na gale mile, na roye.
Kyun? Kya maaloom.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Shikha's birthday

Today is Shkha's birthay. June 23rd. The date arrives every year after June 22, a date that has changed my family's narrative on many levels. Has it affected me? I can't say I guess. But I am the one who probably is farthest from the bitterness that this day and others around it create. Grief is bitter. Something that you have to come to terms with without being able to do anything about it. I mean you can't even laugh it off. My family huddles together in and around June 22.

All of them who were rendered old by time in one powerful blow, come together to sip tea, eat food, talk mundane things and protect each other from the invisible enemy. My sister is courageous enough maybe to call up someone in the family and talk to them about something unrelated which helps them as well as her to wade through the endless pool of time (like the infinity pools in expensive hotels) that June 22 seems like.

I don't have that strength. I feel like breaking down every five minutes and if I am busy with the kids I do not even understand why is it happening to me till the date strikes me. If by any chance anyone from the family calls me up all I do is ho humm. How would I help someone wade when I am drowning? So, I reach out to Shikha. I call her a day in advance to wish her happy birthday. She knows about it maybe.

I called her yesterday. She called me baby. I liked it. She knows the power these few days have over me. I think she doesn't mind that invariably for the last four years I have called her up a day earlier to wish her birthday. She offers me a virtual hug which I take gratefully. Does she know that I call her up because I need a distraction, not the impassive type like a book or some program on TV, but something more solid? Something or someone that knows about the incident. I doubt it. I too discovered this just yesterday after she told me I was calling her a day early. As usual. She did not evade the topic of  June 22. After tackling it we spoke about schools and how children are growing up fast. We spoke about her party, summer holidays, how much Abir talks and our parents.

Today I messaged her with all my love. Today was her birthday.


Monday, June 19, 2017

When your life is going nowhere

This is what I asked Google. What could have I been thinking before putting such words out in the world? Yahi na, that some gyaan ganga will open up for me. I will be directed to some great suggestions by people who are now past this feeling and have a rocking life writing and making money out of blogs which are read by people like me whose life is going nowhere. Or maybe some Youtube videos by new age babajis who have answer to anything, from objective to subjective.

My life has been stuck or should I say I have been stuck at this question since Saturday night. Why, asks George Clooney's voice in my head from a movie I can't recall. Shouldn't this be my own voice, I try to reason and then realise I don't care because as I write here I am dreaming of some great person happening to my lame blog and realising my great potential and taking me under their wing.

Now the Clooney is replaced by Sridevi but the question remains. I can't focus on the question because it is the Sri voice from the song O meri Chandni and you have to know the song to know how  annoying she sounded in that.

All in all what Clooney and Sridevi have done is made me lose the context of why my life is stuck and what to do about it. I am really keen on doing  something about it if only these voices in my head would stop.

My brain just gave me a Guru Dutt-esque stare. Like lifting his eyes to meet mine without a smile on those thin lips, looking for an answer which isn't there.

Instead i go back to a stale packet of matarphalis. Some anmol vichaar page is blinking on my screen. Maybe I should go check it and whoknows I might find a few answers there.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

A heart tugging tale: A Dog's Purpose

Ah! what a lovely book it is. A Dog's Purpose is the story of a dog who keeps taking birth again and again and is unable to understand that even after being around a boy through his growing up years and after being a police dog who helped find and save lives, why is he born over and over again. What could be the purpose of his existence? While he grapples with the question, the dog, over a few lives learns various skills which help him actually realise his purpose.

He goes through a range of emotions, meets nice people, is born in the home of an indifferent  Colnoel and bumps into some not-so-nice people. The book is written in first person and that makes it an all the more interesting read. His life isn't monotonous at all, especially as the police dog and the author communicates all this very well via the dog. He can do all the things that dogs are known to do but if you are not much of a dog person then this is an eye opener into how much the dogs as animals can perceive. No doubt they have been known as man's best friends.

The ending had me in tears while all through the book I went through a gamut of emotions and I found the book hard to put down, so the book is a definite recommendation from me.

Book: A Dog's Purpose

Author: W. Bruce Cameron

Publisher: Pan Macmillan

Pages: 319

Price: rs. 399

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Float or wade: Review of Ashwini Sanghi's Chanakya's Chant

The book had been borrowed after I finished reading The Krishna Key. Something or the other kept coming up and I could not settle down with the book. But then I decided to take my life in my own hands and managed to wade through this massive book (441 pages plus some more, bibliography etc). 

Now you might wonder why am I using this particular verb- wade. If you are anything like me and have a thing for pace or a mother of two with limited access to 'me time' which you spend on reading rather than getting your eyebrows shaped then that is what I suggest you do, if the book is on your to-read list.

The book has interesting portions and some information that any history lover would love but other than the author makes you work hard for the money you have spent on it. The story follows two tracks; one in present day India, where a girl child Chandini, from a Kanpur slum is polished to become the PM of the country, by her mentor who had found (dug out literally) an inscription with a powerful chant inscribed on it. The chant is attributed to Chnakya and that is the second and far more interesting track in the book. This track talks about Alexander's invasion, Dhananand's atrocities and Chandragupta's rise to power through all the scheming and plotting done by Chanakya.

The other track about Chandini is similar to one of the many Hindi movies of the 90s where corruption is shown having a field day and how a common but very intelligent man (the kingmaker) is able to manipulate the system to fulfill his motive of installing his chosen one on to the highest office. The portion is tedious. It reads less like a story and more like a short course on the working of Indian Administrative Services.

Though the author manages to sprinkle some interesting characters in both the tracks of the story, a major put off for me was what came out of their mouths inside "" marks. 

If you have read Reader's Digest of the yore, when it still belonged to De Wallace's original idea then you would understand my pain of seeing famous quotes attributed to the characters like Chanakya ang Gangasagar (the kingmaker) and some others in the novel. To the author's credit, he takes no credit for them and writes 'In the story some key quotes have been attributed to various characters..have been inspired from other sources'. (As far as I am concerned they have been simply lifted and used rather than inspiring the author. So do we have a case of ends justifying the means?)

Dive into the novel at your own peril and choose to wade or float.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

The Case of the Missing Servant- A Review



This is the first book in the Vish Puri series and I unfortunately read it after I had read The Case of the Love Commandos. Had I read it before I would have been even more favourably inclined towards the author. To cut a long story short, this is a much more lovable book then the previous one and something gives me a feeling that all the other ones after this, as wel.. So without much ado, here is what I thought of the plot, characters and the writing in the book, "The Case of the Missing Servant".

A servant goes amiss and the employer- an upright lawyer in Rajasthan- is charged with her murder. When our hero, 'the' Vish Puri of Most Private Investigators starts on the job, he has nothing to go on with. The lawyer's wife and others in the household can't help him beyond the missing servant's name. They did not know where she came from and of course where had she mysteriously disappeared to. The only thing he finds in the servant quarter that she occupied are some stones. The rest of the book, as you can well imagine, is devoted to how he manages to get the lawyer off the hook.

But..but..but...there are other interesting things happening in the story and that is what impressed me. While Vish Puri is engaged in this case, he is fired upon. His mother (less annoying in this book) solves this bit. He is also hired by an Army officer of old who wants him to run a check on his grand daughter's fiancee and give him something to call off the wedding. While doing this we are given a better and a more rounded picture of who and why Vish Puri is what and how he is. His family- wife and daughters- also are introduced.

We meet the characters that form his core team- Handbreak, Doorstop, FaceCream and his secretary Madam Rani- with their back stories which are very interesting and also show the author's understanding of the Indian milieu.

All in all a great read, especially if you like all the questions answered.

The Case of the Love Commandos: A Review

Umm.....The book makes for a light reading. If you are an Indian reading this book, chances are you will be supremely impressed by Mr. Hall's knowledge (or research) on Indian towns and how things work here. I may add here that he is a British journalist living now in India with his wife. That said, I found the book enjoyable to a great extent but also found some bits and parts quite irritating. 


The most enjoyable things first. The caste of characters and their names. Consider these- Facecream, Flush and Tubelight. The plot is thick and quite absorbing. You do want to find out what is going on with the characters and do want to get to the bottom of things. The plot takes you from Khan Market in New Delhi to a pilgrimage to Vaishno Devi to the villages of UP. The author is very particular about the details of the gulleys and the lanes that he mentions in the story and I felt as if he might have visited each one of them standing there thinking about how to further the plot.



The sub-plot which takes place in Jammu, of which Puri's mother Mummy ji takes charge of, is what I found annoying. There too, no complaints from how the things unravel but the jargon, after a certain point, began to get on my nerves. The passive sentences that she uses and the Hindi of those translated into English language- reading that taxed my eyes and my brain at the same time.



In all the detective and his team are a lovable lot and an attention to detail is what makes it a winner for me.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

In hope of a random power cut

When I was growing up in a small town in Himachal Pradesh in the 80s, there were no fans and really not much electricity around. A power cut instead of being a threat to mental peace was a delightful exit into a world of fantasy and rhythm. Here is a peek into my childhood
“Oh when I look back now
That summer seemed to last forever
And if I had the choice
Ya - I'd always wanna be there
Those were the best days of my life”
When I see my 8 year old daughter with her nose deep down in an electric gadget I can’t do more than sigh. It is so difficult to persuade kids these days to step outside of the four walls giving up the comfort of an air conditioned room and the plush mattress under their derriere. Maybe it has been forever like that. Maybe even my parents had to face some sort of resistance when they would ask me to take my nose out of a book and go skip, hop and jump. Maybe and just maybe I am being paid back in kind!!
Growing up in the 80s in a small town in Himachal Pradesh came with a lot of pros and some cons, which continue till date, like the mandatory power cuts on Monday. Even now the electricity will disappear at 9.00 am and not be heard of till about 5.00 PM. Now there is an urgency to charge phones and laptops to last you through the next day but when I was growing up, those times when there was no electricity were fun, way more than any offered by tv and video games on phones and tablets.
The power cuts of which I just now spoke were of an errant nature then and you could be sure of a cut if the clouds thundered and roared in the skies. I, born with an easy nature, not inclined to the rigors of life, looked forward to these unexpected gifts from heaven with delight and gratitude. Many a times I was saved from doing my homework, preparing from some test to-be-held-in-near-future or any other sort of mental exertion that could be taxing to a child of 8-9 years.
Now you might wonder what i did when there was no electricity. And if you are a kid of the 2000s then the whole thing might seem to you quite fantabulous because the things that I might speak to you of now must never ever have passed your consciousness. I don’t blame you either. Let’s put that on the times.
So on to some major revelations eh?
When there was no electricity I willingly hopped out of doors (Ya, that was the only time I would go out of doors willingly!). There was a small, vertical patch of grass growing right out of our beautiful, wooden, maroon gate and it was my own piece of heaven on earth. It was marked by maroon bricks placed in a slanting manner and sort of standing shoulder to shoulder together. My father, a hard working man, made sure that this little patch of grass was well manicured at all times. And so whenever there was that heaven sent gift of a power cut and our mohalla and even my house reverberated with disappointed sighs of many important tasks stalled mid way I would go out there and lie down to stare at the skies. I would count the stars, try and recognise the constellations of which I might have seen a picture of in some random book or just weave a fantastical tale. The cool summer breeze....ah... i can still feel it brush against my cheeks and ruffle my hair as it carried the sweet scent of deodars and pines. In the rare absence of that breeze or a fan even as meagre as a hand fan, can you hazard a guess, what we used to cool ourselves? No I didn’t think you would be able to. We would use the flaps of our notebooks.
As time progressed and if there was still no sight or sound of the electricity and it began to get a little hot inside the homes, people would start pouring out into the common space at the centre of the mohalla. Ours had a broad, raised pedestal, which on sides led to stairs further leading to some houses and gradually the whole space was filled with kids bickering, aunts chattering, elders gossiping and men coming out folding the sleeves of their white kurtas. The air then would ring with laughter and plans for a dinner together. What a treat it would turn out to be!
Or if it were the rains then the thundering orchestra from the skies with the melody playing on the tin roof tops of the houses there was mesmerising.  You could put everything on halt and sit enthralled as nature poured to its heart’s content.
The advantage of no electricity and no such gadgets as are present today was probably that one could fully, whole-heartedly, I must say, devote oneself to these pursuits.
 In summers when ones need for some cool air was taken care of by a hand fan, I clearly recall the absence of any piece of electronic machinery servicing our need and I and my mates would rush out unhindered to play in the white summer heat without giving a hoot about the its glaring intensity.
I don’t think my mother was ever bothered by the fact that I was getting tanned or resembled the underside of an iron griddle.
With the passage of time we shifted out of that lovely little house in an area called Mission Compound to our own house in a village. By that time, with global warming the climate had changed and become more pronounced even in my valley. Summers began to make themselves felt and first a pedestal fan and then ceiling fans gained entry into the household. Even then the power cuts offered a welcome break. Though now they would now make me break into sweat, they still offered a lovely opportunity to look at the clouds, discerning shapes of creatures of all sorts.
Sadly enough the fans are no longer providing much relief there and air conditioners have started to become visible here and there, yet whenever I go back, I do hope for a random power cut.
“And now the times are changin'
Look at everything that's come and gone
Sometimes when I play that old six-string
Think about you wonder what went wrong”

(This article first appeared, with edits, in the FAN special edition of The Indian Trumpet magazine.)


Shoes that squeak

Imagine this scenario.  You are working on your laptop or in your kitchen on perfecting a recipe. You are a picture of concentration and focus. There is Zen like atmosphere around you. You are calmly forging ahead on your path. But then the very silence that was helping you work dedicatedly gives you shivers. You remember that for the last five minutes maybe seven, you haven’t heard your baby. Yes, you have also come out from Zen-o-sphere and remembered that you are a parent. If you actually have baby/ babies you will  know where I am getting, but for the uninitiated, let me tell you that no sound from an active, awake baby for more than a couple of minutes is a sure sign of trouble.
In times like this, I think, mothers from all over the world are grateful to the fellow who invented the squeaky shoes. The ones that go chooon choooon and chooooon. These are the shoes that look so pretty and are lightweight but have real ammo- the sound, the alarm bell.

Those shoes, my friend, are real life savers in babydom. With time you learn to distinguish the sounds they emit when they are dry (read baby is safe) or wet (you forgot to close the door to the washroom). You can gauze what room is the baby in, by estimating from how loud or low is the ‘chooon’.

I have a feeling that they were basically invented to pique the kids’ interest so that they would get off the floor after having crawled and scooted; and graduate to the next level that is learning to walk. I don’t know if the said inventor then realised what boon it is for the parents who tune themselves to the sound of those shoes and carry on with their day’s activities. They come in particularly handy in a nuclear family set up where it’s just the mom (and once in a blue moon, the dad), who has more than a couple of chores to look after.

The sound at times can get to you if the baby in question doesn’t want to take her shoes off even after calling it a day or has learnt the pressure point to just make the shoe squeak. My very own cherub would repeatedly beat it on the floor to hear ‘that’ sound.


But like I said, though you may find it annoying, its usefulness can win the day!

(This articled appeared first, with edits, in The Indian Trumpet magazine in its SHOE special edition.)

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Lessons from the dance class

My daughter goes to learn Kathak. I wasn't very enthusiastic about the classes at the beginning. No, don't get me wrong. I am all for arts. I love dance and music myself and I always have wanted that my children should learn to do something amazing with their bodies and I think dance makes for a great starting point.

Neither am I one of the few who would scoff at the cultural heritage of the country or someone who preferred the western ways more. I am a mother of two, aged 9 and 2 and when she announced she wanted to learn kathak, I just did not have it in me to take her for a weekly class, some 5 kms away from my house.

My reluctance also arose from the fact that previous such endeavours (I started her on Bharatnatyam when she was 4/5). The weekly class had become a thorn in my side. She would not want to go to that class which was happening almost next door. She would cry and cry till the time I threw my hands in despair and gave up. It must have been some 8 classes spread over the time period of two months. But I still shudder to think of the torture those were. To both of us.

So, very reluctantly I started to take her to these Kathak classes, fearing every time that this would be her last class. Yesterday she completed 12 months aka 1 year of those classes and my heart swelled with pride at this achievement. My take back from this extensive (I can call it that, right?)exercise is this:

1. Time: Children need time. We need time.

Everyone takes time.

The child needs to figure out what she likes. It is very unfair to make her do what you like/d but did not get a chance to pursue. Of course, that does become a starting point. I belong to a village and now live in a cosmopolitan city. I never had the opportunities that kids have these days. So I yearn and hope that they make the most of it. Learning to dance has always been on my agenda err for my kids but I had to give her time to figure out what she likes. Yesterday this bunch of girls in the kathak class did taals, bols and a very fast routine which took my breath away and I was teary eyed just to see my child come this long way. All this took the aforementioned Bharatnatyam class, a lot of heartache, a year (probably) with a western music teacher and some random dance shows in the apartment complex every year on the Durga Puja.

I should have taken time to choose a class for her. As parents we rarely stop and analyse what we are doing, the decisions we make. The Bharatnatyam class used to take place in a dimly lit room on the top floor of an old house. There were a lot of girls and the youngest ones were made to stand at the back in the last row. I never gave consideration to these things while dragging my daughter to that class. When I very reluctantly entered this Kathak class, my eyes opened up. Literally. There were many girls here as well but somehow it was better managed. Two well-functioning tube lights made a lot of difference I think.

2. Its a wonderful feeling to belong: Group activities are a great way to meet people. They are also a great way to get a sense of belonging. Netra loves her group of girls she meets once a week at the Kathak class. A few months back, in preparation of the annual concert of the dance school, they were doing this one routine, in which she kept forgetting a certain step. Then one girl from her group signalled her to follow her lead and Netra could eventually do her part well. This happened in a matter of seconds. The kids exchanged a glance or two and all was sorted. This kind of camaraderie happens when you become involved with some thing to a large extent. The girls developed their own language and an understanding; and its a wonderful thing. This sense of belonging to someone or with someone is something people keep looking forever. This is an important sense to gather in the growing years. I think it gives us roots as well as wings.

3.Learn an amazing thing or two about yourself: This might have happened with Netra or might not have. If it hasn't I am sure it will or maybe at a subconscious level this has helped her learn something about herself, of what she is made of. When I was seeing these girls, between the age of 6 to 14, I spinning fast to the dance sir's count, I was thinking someone will just give up. Someone will just sit down, tired and exhausted. No one did. Not the youngest joinee, not the girl who had been coughing on and off during the class, neither did my daughter who is not too big on physical strength. They might not have grasped how amazing they were yesterday but I am sure this will be some sort of firm ground from where their better moves will take off someday. And I think this will be more than just about their physical strength.


I just hope I haven't spoken (written in my case) too early.