Saturday, 12 September 2015

BOOK REVIEW : SNOW FLOWER AND THE SECRET FAN by LISA SEE



CHINA... A country with the highest population( at one point of time), the country with the fastest moving economy( till recently), a country which cannot claim to be best friends  with India, a country which is zinxed for Niraj( he fell sick both the times he went there...:)) ..So atleast my family has no plans ever to visit China... Not that not being able to go to China ever bothered me... But now after reading The Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See, I want to go there once and visit the places See talks about in her story and meet the natives who would share with me their experiences and their long lost stories about those forgotten times....
See has written a beautifully poignant story of a young girl and how her life moves ahead with the changing times and situations....
Lily is a third child born into a family of farmers... She is an unwanted child as girls were considered worthless during that time by the Chinese.. It was only boys who were desired and were supposed to seal a woman's fate in her husband's house and life. She craves for her mother's love and attention... This was the age of the acutely painful Foot Binding ( statistics claim that one out of every 10 girls died as a result of this inhuman practice) and Lily happily jumped into it, hoping to win her mother's love!! But it was not to be so as her mother was driven by her own demons and had her own motives and reasons for being the way she was!!!
She gets married and goes to live with her husband and his parents. Here, she learns how the other better half live and she quickly learns all the tricks and manners of the rich and soon becomes famous and admired and looked upon as Lady Lee.. The mistress of the Lee household. But between her marriage and the fame and modesty and maturity she acquires is a journey full of doubts, jealousy, love, insecurity, ego, pain, suffering and regrets...
Lily and her laotong Snow Flower...laotong  mCHINA... A country with the highest population( at one point of time), the country with the fastest moving economy( till recently), a country which cannot claim to be best friends  with India, a country which is zinxed for Niraj( he fell sick both the times he went there...:)) ..So atleast my family has no plans ever to visit China... Not that not being able to go to China ever bothered me... But now after reading The Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See, I want to go there once and visit the places See talks about in her story and meet the natives who would share with me their experiences and their long lost stories about those forgotten times....
See has written a beautifully poignant story of a young girl and how her life moves ahead with the changing times and situations....
Lily is a third child born into a family of farmers... She is an unwanted child as girls were considered worthless during that time by the Chinese.. It was only boys who were desired and were supposed to seal a woman's fate in her husband's house and life. She craves for her mother's love and attention... This was the age of the acutely painful Foot Binding ( statistics claim that one out of every 10 girls died as a result of this inhuman practice) and Lily happily jumped into it, hoping to win her mother's love!! But it was not to be so as her mother was driven by her own demons and had her own motives and reasons for being the way she was!!!
She gets married and goes to live with her husband and his parents. Here, she learns how the other better half live and she quickly learns all the tricks and manners of the rich and soon becomes famous and admired and looked upon as Lady Lee.. The mistress of the Lee household. But between her marriage and the fame and modesty and maturity she acquires is a journey full of doubts, jealousy, love, insecurity, ego, pain, suffering and regrets...
Lily and her laotong Snow flower...LAOTONG  meaning soul mates.. Friends for life.. One who is always there for the other.. In deeds, in actions, in prayers, in laughter, in joy!!! And the secret women's language NU SHU... A language meant only for women..an interesting method through which Chinese women shared their thoughts amongst themselves away from the prying eyes of men...
How interesting... I wish we had something like this too... We do have friends - some casual, some really close - our besties.. Though we share everything with our besties but its nothing like the LAOTONG of that era. And imagine a secret language which only we women could understand and use.. I am sure it would lead to a major revolution and an overhaul of power between men and women.. What say.. Atta girls!!!!
Another thing which really attracted me and I found very different are the terms See uses to describe the various chapters in Lilly's life...like the Daughter Days which talks about Lily's childhood,Hair -Pinning Days which talk about her betrothal and her marriage, Rice and Salt Days to talk about Lily becoming a mother and her mommy days and finally Sitting Quietly which talks about Lily in her last years when she has nothing but to look back into her life and remember all that took place in her life shaping it the way it is now...
I loved the story and could relate to certain incidents so well that I literally got tears in my eyes.....
I would say yes to this book because it gave me a beautiful chance to have a rare glimpse into a life so far fetched from ours, yet so similar in many ways...
Awesome!!!



Saturday, 5 September 2015

BOOK REVIEW : THE HUSBAND'S SECRET by LIANE MORIARTY



What if" - Is this not one of our favourite expressions??? Don't we always wonder how our lives would have changed had a few "what if's" come true???
The Husband's Secret by Liane Moriarty is loosely based on this commonly used phrase "WHAT IF"..  My dear friend Sri recommended this book to me and I needed this one after the intense book, Bridges of Constantine.. I have written about Sri in one of my earlier posts too.. She is my confidant and a true book lover ( which makes me incline towards her all the more..:)))
This story is about three women and how their seemingly perfect ordinary lives change overnight, changing the very equation of relationships!!!
Cecilia Fitzpatrick - a superwoman( seriously!!) mother of three daughters, a Tupperware consultant and an excellent homemaker comes across a letter written by her husband addressed to her, with an instruction , "To be opened after my death"... Will she open it ( while her husband is away on a business trip) or will she be able to control her curiosity and leave it unopened.. And what happens if and when she reads that letter???
Cecilia's situation is just like that of Pandora who opened the box of secrets, unknowingly opening up a can of problems for mankind.. In her defence all Pandora could say was, "No one ever warned me not to open it".. Poor Pandora, how was she supposed to know???
Then we have Tess, short for Teresa,  who is happily married to a wonderful person Will and has a young son named Liam.. Felicity (Tess's cousin), Will and Tess run an advertising firm together.. Tess thinks she is in a very happy zone but reality knocks her badly when Will and Felicity break news about their affair to her. Now how Tess reacts and what happens to her happy family is to be read....
The third female protagonist is Rachel, a mom who lost her daughter when she was murdered at a young age of 20 and the worst part is that murderer has still not been caught!! She was heartbroken and started looking forward to life only after the birth of her grandson who is now 2+. But her life is again set to crumble as her son and daughter-in-law plan to shift base to America taking her grandson along!!
Cecilia, Tess and Rachel, three distinct individuals, who are mere acquaintances but destiny has their lives entwined in such a manner that one person' s action has manifold ripple like effect in the others' lives...
Its a light read, not something which will make you think deep or make you uncomfortable about certain long held beliefs.. But it is definitely a page turner and it keeps you hooked till the very last page. This very feature says a lot about the capability and sheer brilliance of a good storyteller, which Moriarty undoubtedly is!!!
As a woman, mother and wife I could really relate to the story especially Cecilia's as I too started imagining what would I do IF I  ever find a similar letter written by Niraj!!
Interesting thought right...
The part which I thoroughly enjoyed in the book was the Epilogue... Here Moriarty writes about many What If incidents that would have changed the lives of the three central characters a full 360 degree , giving the readers a delightful visual imagining the variety of ways in which the story could have shaped and this interesting book would have ended!!!
Another reason for enjoying this book is that I am a true follower of this expression, WHAT IF... I can spend hours imagining and visualising different scenarios of my life by permutation and combination of various WHAT IF's...My favourite one is " what if I had not taken up commerce in class 11 and had taken up English literature and then would have pursued writing as my career.. Ahhhhh!! Just talking about this makes me smile... Am truly senile!!
But life is not made up of what if's nor does it wait for us to leisurely think of such inane scenarios... So here I am in my mid 30's trying my best to carve a niche with my writing!!!
Enough about me...
You all carry on with your lives and enjoy reading this book and imagining your "what if" situations.....
An excellent way to spend an idle Sunday...Bliss

Monday, 31 August 2015

BOOK REVIEW : BRIDGES OF CONSTANTINE by AHLEM MOSTEGHANEMI





"There are countries we live in and there are countries that live in us"
         This is the basis of the novel "The Bridges of Constantine" by author Ahlem Mosteghanemi. She is an author, who I can rightly say, is fairly new to the western world of book lovers as her first book, "The Bridges of Constantine" got published only in the year 2013..but the fact is, she is the most popular and successful and loved and followed female author  in the Arab literary world. She is infact the first female Algerian author who writes in the Arabic language. She is a poet first and then an author. In her own words, " When we lose a love, one writes a poem, when we lose our homeland, one writes a novel". Algeria is never far from her mind. Her father was a militant political activist who was forced to go into exile during the Algerian Revolution.
I was so impressed by Mosteghanemi that after finishing this book I read almost all the articles on the internet on her.
The story is about an Algerian revolutionary who fought during Algeria's war of liberation and is currently in a self imposed exile since the past two decades in Paris. Khaled, a man of strong principles, is a victim of post war disillusionment, wherein the ideals held dear during the struggle are now replaced by greed and money and worst of all, an all pervading feeling of "self before nation"!!!! He finds this attitude unpalatable and hence refuses to go back to Algeria, his motherland who once filled the vaccum in his life at the sudden death of his mother.
A famous painter now, he shuns fame and recognition!!! The irony of life is such that it was freedom of his country from the French government that made him loose his one arm in the revolution and now he is taking shelter in that same France to get away from the corrupt Algeria!!
Khaled's life turns 360 degrees when Hayat, daughter of his long dead commander Si Taher comes into his life in Paris. Hayat makes Khaled remember all his long forgotten /buried memories of Constantine and once again makes his wounds raw!! He is completely besotted by her and starts visualising their future together....His obsession with Hayat reaches such a state that he starts thinking of her and Constantine in the same breath..as in they both begin symbolising the same meaning to him...his one true love who is difficult to attain but impossible to leave/ forget....but  again life as we know is never simple nor does it move in  our desired lane. Khaled and Hayat part ways and all he is left alone with, is his broken heart and shattered dreams!!!
A beautiful heart rending story of unrequited love..
The story is from a man's perspective.
 A 50 something year old man - his dreams, his love, his lust, his frustration, his helplessness, his anger- its all written so convincingly that one can almost imagine the author to be a male..  And this has in fact happened with Ahlem when she first published this book in Arabic in the mid 70's. It took her three years and five lawyers to prove that this was her creation, written  from a male's point of view. Wow, isn't it!!!!!
Frankly speaking before this book, I did not know where in the world is Algeria located and had zilch knowledge about its turbulent past. So I was unable to completely relate to the story. But what I really enjoyed was the style of writing and reading about the culture and social setup of Algerian society!!! 

Thursday, 20 August 2015

BOOK REVIEW : NOON by AATISH TASEER


NOON is that time of the day when the sun is at its zenith... We can even say it is at its highest peak.. Around 12'o clock...
A weird and out of context beginning of a post.... Right???
Wrong!!! I am not talking random ( though I usually am a pro in randomness).. The word NOON is very significant here..
Reason being simple.... we have an author here, the title of whose book is NOON, which (to me) sounds very intriguing..... for this one word is full of numerous interpretations as per the reader' s discretion...
Aatish Taseer, a man with four books to his credit...
A man not unknown to controversy, conspiracies, chaos and confusion...
And he brings it all in his writing as he sees it - as he feels it - as he experiences it!!!!!
Taseer's first book "Stranger to History : A Son's Journey Through Islamic Lands (2009) is a part memoir part travelogue.
This book NOON is a loose adaptation of his memoir with the same star cast : a strong Sikh mother, a famous Muslim father, a childhood in Delhi during the 80's, a journey to Pakistan to meet his elusive father and the extended family, the impact on one's emotional DNA as a result of craving for an absentee father!!!!
The story starts with a train journey undertaken by Rehan Tabassum ( the main protagonist) to Pakistan to meet his estranged father and family for the first time. Here he meets a young boy from Kashmir who talks about the recent horrific earthquake which had devastating effects. An interesting beginning!!
The story then moves to Delhi ,during the 80's when a young Rehan comes from England with his mother to live at his maternal grandmother's house. Taseer then moves the story ahead to the mid 90's when Rehan, now studying in the U.K returns to Delhi during his summer break. He is staying in the family farm house to concentrate on his writing , when suddenly the calm and tranquillity is shattered by a burglary.
Taseer spends a good portion of his story time in this incident, trying to highlight the deep rooted caste system of our Indian society which refuses to fade away in the face of all globalisation, modernisation!! It is a staunch reminder of the harsh reality of our society which the new age/ gen x/ urban India wants to forget and move on!!
Though this incident seems to be an important part of the story and I presumed that it was going to take the story further, Taseer ends it abruptly by showing Rehan going back to the U.K unable to handle the situation what with the police hounding his seemingly innocent staff!!!
A typical attitude.. Run away from what you cannot face or handle!!
The story now comes to its final chapters when Rehan goes back to Pakistan to spend some quality time with his step brother and experiences first hand the life under a dominating father, an uncle who is very loyal to his father ( loyalty which crosses the healthy limit), an older step brother who like Rehan has always craved for an absentee father' s attention and the young Kashmiri who tries to fit in there by claiming allegiance to one party while getting cozy with the other.
Taseer tries his best to highlight the hypocrisy and an inherent sense of confusion which plagues the Pakistani society but somewhere he fails to get the empathy of his readers.
I for one felt shortchanged after reading this book. Aatish Taseer has been touted as the next big thing in the world of literature, but this book has been a disapointment. Its seems like Taseer wanted to write about two three topics and instead of writing a short story on them, he pieced it together in the form of a novel. But the stitching has been very haphazard and has many visible gaping holes which left me with a feeling of being cheated out!!!
As this is his only book which I have read, I cannot comment about his writing skills per se, but have to say this , "what a let down!!"
Just have to say this before ending the post, just because people say that one has an interesting life, one need not write a story on it.. A story should always be written with the most basic equipment...A GOOD SUBJECT and an INTERESTING STORYLINE!!!

Friday, 24 July 2015

BOOK REVIEW : THE AMERICAN GODS by NEIL GAIMAN


Hello people... Let's start this post with an interesting insight ( atleast from my point of view )....... Here's the thing: How important are the looks of the author while choosing a book to read??? Weird question huh!!! I disagree!!!
Looks of an author are as important as the storyline, the content, the characterisation, the flow of the story.. Trust me!!! Its a serious thought process and nothing to laugh about!!!!
I , for one, have been known in the past to choose a particular book because  the concerned author was good looking.. And I stand guilty for doing it even today......
Authors like John Grisham, Khaled Hosseini are such excellent storytellers and their good looks is just like the "cherry on the icing!!"....
And girls, you seriously can't deny this fact...
The recent addition to this club is Neil Gaiman - my favoured author of the season !!!! You have to check out his pictures to believe me.. He is NICE!!
And honestly this was the only reason I choose this book. I had never heard of this guy before and I downloaded this book on a whim.
I was in for a shock, when kindle shows me that this book "The American Gods" is of 10,000+ pages. I decided then and there that I am  going to skip through half the story and finish it in record time and that too only for Giaman's face...
Otherwise , me and read another big fat book after the Pamuk disaster..
 No Way!!!
The reality was way different from what I had presumed... I enjoyed this book so much that I did not want it to finish.. Instead of hurrying through the story I was taking it real slow, savouring its unique storyline but alas it all got over real fast!!!
Now that I have piqued your interest, let me tell you about its story....
Tell me something... Whether we are overly religious or not, we always carry our faith, our Gods with us to distant lands,  right... We carry them with us across the seas and oceans to protect us , to guide us in a new strange land with stranger customs amongst total strangers... With the passage of time, we become familiar and comfortable in the new land, till we start treating it like our own and eventually become one with those strangers and their customs, even accepting the new Gods...Now what happens to the Old Gods who had come with us, with our ancestors in this faraway land??? Do they continue living here, long forgotten by us or do they go back to their origin or do they perish in this new land uncared and unloved?
This is the premise of Neil Gaiman's book The American Gods.. It is a story about Gods and their survival.. Are they as human as we are??? Do they too need love, dedication, care and faith?? Or are they above it all??
It is a story of trust, betrayal, cunningness, love, faith and most importantly of a person who is good and has a pure heart...
Here in Gaiman's world, you have old Gods and new Gods. The old Gods are long forgotten by their believers and are living an almost non-existent life at the periphery. Some of them have accepted this cruel twist of time whereas there are some who are not willing to fade away without a good fight. Standing facing the old regime are the new Gods.. Gods of plastic money and bank and real estate and the media who are riding the high  wave!! As is the rule of nature there is a big gap between the 'have nots' and the 'haves' which leads to discontent and the beginning of a war: War of Gods!!
I am in love with Gaiman's imagination and am more than game to read his other books just to see how far he stretches the imagination of his readers!!!! 

Monday, 6 July 2015

BOOK REVIEW : SCION OF IKSHVAKU by AMISH



RAMAYANA : a tale by Valmiki which depicts the responsibilities, conduct and duties of an ideal person, living an ideal life in an ideal society.
Uffff.....So many "ideals" in one sentence itself!!
Seems like an impossible task to me...And moreover who defines IDEAL?? Everyone has their own definition of Idealism and as for society.. Frankly, most people care two hoots about what the society is up to!!!!
Coming back to the Ramayana, we all know its story and have read books on it and seen it being adapted into movies and drama series and even animated ones for children...
My first brush with Ramayana was on Doordarshan, in 1980's when Ram Gopal Sagar had made a drama series based on Valmiki's story...
And what a hit the series was.. You would not find anyone on the streets on Sunday mornings as people would be glued to their television sets watching Arun Govil playing Ram and Deepika playing Sita!!!!
As a result, funnily, till date the first image that comes to my mind when I think of Shri Ram is of Arun Govil, with his raised right arm, palms facing out, as in giving "aashirwaad", with a serene smile on his face!!!!!
Scion Of Ikshvaku is the latest book by Amish on the life and deeds of Shri Ram..
To be honest, I was not too enthused about this series as I, in all the arrogance of a so-called "seasoned reader", rationalised that there cannot be anything new to add to this well known story and that it will fall short of expectations!!!
But I was in for a surprise!!
This is the first book in the trilogy and it starts with the birth of Shri Ram upto the famous "Sita haran" scene or the kidnapping of Sita by Raavan.
It is a very interestingly written story which offers its readers a completely new take on many important incidents in the life of Shri Ram...
Starting with the birth of Ram, the reason behind the intense hatred between Ram and Raavan, Ram's formative years and his relation with his father, king Dashrath, the reason behind Ram's 14year exile, the story of Jatayu are all written from a completely new perspective, which is a delight and cliched though it sounds, makes one exclaim, " Its different!!"
I especially enjoyed the way Amish took care to explore Ram and Sita's relationship, right from their unconventional first meeting to their wedding and their conversations were Just Right!!
Amish has also made Sita to be a lady with spunk, wits, intelligence and a strong constitution. She is not just a sweet faced docile wife... But then this was expected as Amish always makes the female protagonists to be strong and a companion to their husbands, in every true sense...
King Dashrath is best known as the king of Ayodhya and the father of Shri Ram who dies alone without any of his sons around.. A very one dimensional character who has never been given much importance in any of the Ramayana adaptations....
But the surprise element (at least for me) was the way Amish has sketched the character of king Dashrath. He is shown here as a man who attacks his enemy without any prior planning but only to satisfy his hurt ego and pride. A man who ignores his son during his formative years blaming him for all his failures but turns a full 180° when he realises that his name will become immortal as the father of the next Vishnu throughout history.... A truly selfish man, as Queen Kaykeyi once accused him to be!!!!
There are those who strongly criticise Amish and his storytelling and the subjects which he chooses...
Yes I do agree that he does use a certain style in crafting his stories, which initially seems brilliant but after three books, it does have a " I know what is going to happen" feel but at no point does it make the book boring.
I for one enjoyed the story very much and thanks to Amish have started to respect and admire the principles which Ram stood for and sincerely hope for the other books in the trilogy to be equally entertaining..
Jai Shri Ram!!!

Sunday, 14 June 2015

BOOK REVIEW : THE HANDMAID'S TALE by MARGARET ATWOOD



Imagine a world where women are  meant to perform only one job and that is to give birth.... She is considered worthwhile only till she is  fertile and able to produce babies!!!! She is to have no identity, no independence, no financial security, no choice!!!
No choice as to what she wears, what she eats, not even with whom she has a sexual relationship with!!!!
She is just a vessel for carrying babies!!!!
And the worst part....  Even after enduring all this, she has no right over her newborn child!!!
It is the male, the man who holds all the power and has the right to make or break your world as per his convenience!!!!
Horrific isn't it???
 Its like a walking talking nightmare for every woman.
 Margaret Atwood's novel "The Handmaid's Tale" portrays a terrifying but very real and possible dystopia.
At first, it's difficult to tell what exactly is going on in the handmaid's world, although her spare narration is filled with a deep sense of fear and danger. It's challenging but exciting to try to make sense of all the frightening details that she describes, and that's one of the things that made this such a compelling read for me.
Atwood had written this science fiction way back in 1986 but one can so clearly see parts of this fictional story coming true in our society today in 2015, just after some 30 odd year gap!!!!!!
Isn't blaming the rape victim, causing her to bear the burden of unwarranted shame and social stigma a very common and familiar occurrence in our society today??
Have we not witnessed the fate of women who are led to their untimely deaths by inhumane laws still unwilling to acknowledge the importance of the life of a mother over her yet unborn child?
Are there not materially prosperous nations governed by archaic laws wherein the women had to fight for their right to drive???
There are many who have hated this work of fiction and have ridiculed it calling it absurd, far fetched, full of feminist talk, extremist outlook, lacking in logic and very superficial!!!!
I am not about to start a dialogue here extolling the greatness of this story but one thing which I want to do write is that are not the women belonging to our modern civilization experiencing the same nightmare as Offred( the central character in this story). The shackles which bind us today are invisible as we are used to them since the dawn of time and are not able to differentiate between willful and conditioned submission!!!
Just like we humans are an imperfect blend of black and white, so is this story... Along with it being scary and depressing, it does have some uplifting moments.
For me, it was those scenes where Offred reflecting on some images from her past, mostly small little daily incidents of life ,thinks, "And we didn't even know we were happy then."
 Atwood does a marvelous job in highlighting the fragility and importance of our little moments of happiness which we usually forget or take them for granted!!!
The story has an open ending which leaves the readers to imagine the end based on their personal reaction to the story. As for me I am confused.. I am not sure whether it terrified me or was there a tiny yet hopeful story building up slowly but surely besides the terror giving my reasoning wings to imagine a HAPPY ENDING!!!!!

Wednesday, 6 May 2015

INTRODUCTUON TO THE WORLD OF POETRY

Prose vs Poetry
This is an argument, I am sure has been around since time immemorial.
I have always been inclined towards prose.... And always frowned upon poetry saying its not my cup of tea..
While growing up I was surrounded by cousins who were avid Ghazal listeners, who would spout poetry or rather I should say ghazals at the drop of a hat and were very familiar with the names of various Urdu poets... But me, I was miles away from all things poetry as  I never had the patience to understand the words or its depth...
Since the past year, Ketan has been trying to push me into ghazals...his logic being to try out everything under the sun and only then judge!! So after lots of deliberation and pestering and nagging and arguments, finally,  I ventured into the vast ocean of ghazals or perhaps the better term would be "sher-o-shayari"..... As usual I assumed it would be a piece of cake, so I started my lyrical journey with Ghalib... But I fell flat on my face for all my arrogance as Ghalib is not for first timers like me.....One needs a developed taste for reading poems by someone as great as him.
Ketan being Ketan, he refused to give up and for my next attempt gave me TARKASH by Jawed Akhtar. I enjoyed reading it and that gave me confidence to read more..And the site which helped me get addicted to the awesome world of poetry was "ekfankaar"...
Now I am familiar with many great poets who were way ahead of their time in terms of their writing, way of thinking and outlook...
I want to share some of my favourite shers here..
A few samples:

har ek baat pe kahate ho tum ki tuu kyaa hai
tumhiin kaho ke ye andaaz-e-guftaguu kyaa hai

ragon mein dauDate phirane ke ham nahiin qaayal
jab aankh hii se na Tapakaa to phir lahuu kyaa hai

jalaa hai jism jahaan dil bhii jal gayaa hogaa
kuredte ho jo ab raakh justajuu kyaa hai

kar rahaa thaa Gham-e-jahaan kaa hisaab
aaj tum yaad behisaab aaye

nahiin nigaah mein manzil to justajuu hii sahii
nahiin visaal mayassar to aarazuu hii sahii

Are you not moved by these priceless shers?? I had just one word when I read them... It was WOW!!!!! What made them all the more interesting to me was its simplicity... I mean a layman like me could understand them.. What more need be said about the greatness of these poets who could express such complex emotions in such simple words!!!
Poetry especially Urdu poetry makes you look at the world from a completely different perspective making you exclaim, " Oh yeah!! Why did I never think in this manner" or even " Yes, this is exactly what I think  but could never articulate!!!"
Having said all this I have to admit that I have not changed sides or have turned over my loyalties to poetry.
Poetry is my new craze and I am thoroughly enjoying this new addiction ..... Its like a new kick!!! But Prose has been and will always remain my true passion.
I have an idea which I would like to share with you all.... How about I write a weekly post on a couple of shers by a particular shayar with the meanings and what that sher meant to me.. Then you all can let me know of your connection with the Sher making it interactive...
What say???
 Shall we????

Wednesday, 29 April 2015

BOOK REVIEW : OPEN by ANDRE AGASSI





Hello.....
Lets start this post by talking about a simple yet interesting game which I am sure we are all very familiar with... It starts with one person saying a word and the others have to tell the first thing that comes to their mind, associating with that word!!!
"Lawn Tennis".. Steffi Graff and Andre Agassi, these are the two names that pop in my mind whenever "lawn tennis" is mentioned!!! My big big dream is to watch these two living legends playing tennis in the centre court , during the Wimbeldon ( be it a friendly match or whatever)while I relish strawberries and cream... Ahhhhh!! How I wish this dream of mine comes true... And I would love to take Papa along, a true sports fanatic...
When it comes to sports and the Jain( my maiden surname) family, its like the Jains can never have their fill of sports!!! As far as I can remember I have always seen Babaji ( paternal grandfather) Papa and Chacha ( paternal uncle) watching one or the other sporting event on television. In this respect I am the black sheep of the family who runs miles away from anything to do with sports!!!
Lawn Tennis is the only exception and that too because of Agassi and Steffi..
OPEN, an autobiography by Andre Agassi , caught my eye in a book shop and was brought instantly. For the record this is the first autobiography read by me and what makes it all the more special is Agassi himself.. He was my first "sportsman crush" and it was HUGE!!
Watching tennis matches on television I used to go all "wow", finding it all very stylish and glamorous.. Beautiful people playing the game, awesome prize money and the glitzy after event parties!!!
But on reading 'Open' the first thing that struck me was the deep connection of pain with tennis.. The excruciating pain in the back or the wrist or the arm or the cramps in the calf muscles or stomach!! The way Agassi writes about pain being his constant companion  and spending many a night sleeping on the floor, as its better for his back makes me look beyond the glamour and really really respect sportsmen and the rigorous hard work put in by them to reach the top...
Another thing that struck me was the deep hatred which Agassi had for tennis. This revelation took me by surprise and what's even more surprising was to know that even Graff was never in love with tennis... But again I guess its only natural.. Agassi's father was a real taskmaster and he would make Agassi practice all day long without letting him relax and would always find fault with his son's palying technique. He was never satisfied with Agassi's achievments. Infact during Agassi's childhood, his father would encourage him to miss school.. His logic being "no school meaning more hours of tennis practice!!!!"
The book is a heart touching story about Agassi's journey through the big bad ugly yet beautiful mesmerising addictive land of Lawn Tennis.. Its heart touching as Agassi has written from his heart and he writes it as it was.. Meaning neither does he glorify any win nor does he downplay any loss.. He writes it without mincing the words.. Straight from his heart!!
He talks about his hatred for the sport yet he feels the pull and is unable to give it all up right till the very end... He only quit the game when he thought it to be the correct time and not when others wanted him to!!!
The autobiography makes for an interesting read with Agassi writing about his rebellious days, his struggles, his love-hate relation with his father, his love life, equation with his peers. I respect this guy all the more ever since he admitted taking recreational drugs in the year 1997 in this book. By disclosing this, he was putting everything at stake - his career, his ranking, his wins, his fan base, all that he had worked so hard for!!! But I really appreciate his honesty.. A true man!!!!
The best part of this autobiography besides Agassi and Graff's romantic story is the part where he writes about his dream project of building a school in Vegas and how he got his dream fulfilled.. It gives me a warm feeling to read about this awesome side of Agassi, who despite of being a school dropout could visualise such a unique concept of a school.. I would love to visit this school whenever I visit Vegas.. Another item on my "to do list"!!!
See, I agree I am biased when it comes to Agassi, so naturally I will find no fault in this autobiography. But,seriously people , it is a very engaging and thrilling book which you will not feel like putting down till you reach the very end:))

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

BOOK REVIEW : THE GLASS PALACE by AMITAV GHOSH


" Mere piya gaye Rangoon
  Kiya hai wahan se teliphoon "
This was my introduction to Rangoon, present day Yangon, the capital city of Myanmar. 
The name Rangoon has always fascinated me and this was the prime reason for choosing this book, not that I did not care about the author. On the contrary I had been wanting to read a Ghosh book ever since Gopa, a dear friend of mine had highly recommended his books. But as is usually the case with me, I just was not interested then. This book though was different. After reading the synopsis, I was compelled to get hold of it!!!!!
Hmmmm.. I have to admit that this is not one of Ghosh's finest compositions and as per some reliable bookworms not the best book of his to begin with. But can't do much about it now and it will be sometime before I hold another Amitav Ghosh in my hand.. That's for sure!!!
For starters its a very long story which starts in a very interesting manner but soon looses steam even before its halftime. He is a superb writer and he has done his homework really well and does a brilliant job in writing a masterpiece when it comes to mixing fiction with historical events. But funnily enough, he is like that studious student who will write a full page answer for a 2 marks question, just because he has mugged up the whole chapter. Such is the case with Ghosh. He just does not know when to stop. 
He starts with the royal family of Burma and their forced exile to India. Then the story goes into a different track talking about the money minting timber trade of Burma which was the prime reason for the Britishers to show any interest in Burma. From the timber trade Ghosh takes us back to India highlighting the plight of the royal family in Ratnagiri. He then tells us about the Indians employed by the Britishers as collectors and the privileges enjoyed by them, who look down upon their own countrymen, thinking themselves to be at par with the Gora Sahib. Then again Ghosh jumps to the mutiny days by the Indians sepoys against their masters and all that it stands for. Here he does an admirable job in bringing to light the inner conflict in the minds and hearts of the Indians who were an integral part of the British army and were forced to go to God forsaken places to fight against armies much superior to them, in terms of arms and facilities, just in the name of the Queen during the world war. Not only this, the Indian sepoys had to stand against their own people, the freedom fighters, which was taking a bad toll on their psyche and it was baffling for the loyal sepoys to understand what prompted others to stand against the British army. 
But as said earlier the story does not end here... Ghosh takes us through another heart wrenching episode of history and that is the 1000+kms walk by the Indians who fled Burma during the second world war. I was at my lowest emotionally just reading about the hardships faced by those people who were forced to give up everything that mattered to them to go to a country which was their homeland in name only as it was Burma  where their souls were. Ghosh then takes us through India's fight for independence and then he jumps to the early 1990's and takes us to the present Ratnagiri and then finally to Myanmar where he even mentions Aung San Suu Kyi.
Phewww.. If you are confused and tired after reading this, imagine poor me.. Struggling through the story and its jumps and leaps and sudden twists and abrupt endings after every chapter( more or less)..
There are parts which I really enjoyed reading and that was the highlight of this experience.. The first 150 pages of the book which revolves around the life of the royal family in Mandalay and then in India and the initial years in the life of Rajkumar, an orphan living in Mandalay and how he becomes a successful timber merchant makes for an interesting read. Then the part where Ghosh talks about the inner turmoils of the Indian soldiers fighting against their own countrymen for the Queen is just too
good and of course the part which describes the hazardous walk taken by the fleeing Indians through the dense jungles for days at a stretch was just superb!!
As for the rest, the lesser spoken the better... Too many characters in the story, too many incidents, too many places.....here I have to admit that I am bad in geography, even in the basic directions.. Right/left/ north/south...don't ask how bad!!!
So I was all the more confused and lost with it!!
At the end, have to say that its a good story and would have been a truly excellent one with a few edits and cuts..
As the famous phrase goes, "If Only....."

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

BOOK REVIEW : DISGRACE by J.M.COETZEE

DECEPTIVE :(a) intended to make         someone believe something that is not true
                     :(b) likely to make someone believe something that is not true
This word has a negative flavour but I somehow really like this word and love to use it in my vocabulary. Though whether I am deceptive or not is another topic completely :))
I was introduced to this word at the age of 13-14. The story behind this introduction goes something like this:
I had just turned a teen when the oldest of my cousins (from my maternal side) got married. When this didi (elder sister) of mine had come to Guwahati for the first time after her marriage, we would not leave her alone at all. We would follow her around all the time and keep asking her about her life in Delhi in a new household. It was all so fascinating for us, especially any mention of her husband, our first Jijaji( brother in law)!!! Everyone would tease her that she's very lucky to have found such a simple guy as her soulmate. Her answer for some reason is etched in my memory and is my first brush with the word "deceptive".. Didi had answered that Jijaji was as simple as a bamboo which though seems straight, is full of knots from the inside. She further added that looks are deceptive and we should not go by looks alone!!!
This word and especially this phrase caught my fancy and till date I enjoy using it!!!
I am sure all of you are at your wits end wondering why this off the track story and its relation to my post..
Hmmmmm.. No mystery here.. Please bear with me for some more lines...
After my debacle with The Museum of Innocence by Orhan Pamuk , I was determined to only read books whose page limit does not go beyond 300-350. While checking online, this book Disgrace by J.M.Coetzee  fitted the requirement to the T. It is a thin book of a total 220 pages. OK, now people, I am not that weird that I would just buy a book based on its length. The author the esteemed J.M.Coetzee, is the winner of the 1999 Booker Prize and the winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature 2003, which was another convincing reason to go for this book.
Now this story is what I would truly call a deceptive one. The story seems to be a very simple one with a straightforward storyline. The book begins by introducing the readers to David Lurie, professor of English who teaches romantic literature in a technical college in Cape Town. He is twice divorced and is very dissatisfied with his work. He is 'disgraced' when he forcibly seduces a young student of his, Melanie. When he refuses to honestly and truthfully accept his mistake, he is forced to resign from his teaching post. After being dismissed from the teaching job he goes off to live with his daughter Lucy, who lives on a farm in the countryside. Though the father and daughter are not close to each other, the initial few days are spent smoothly and peacefully. But this camaraderie does not last long as David and Lucy become victims of a hideous crime wherein not only are they looted, physically assaulted, Lucy is even raped by the assailants, which she considers as a 'disgrace'.
This sudden twist and the subsequent handling of the story and the reaction of the main characters left me both surprised and shocked. Surprised at the simplicity of narrative which resulted in a powerful fiction and shocked at the impact it had on my psyche. I was not able to shake off the heavy feeling which lay over me for days after I finished the story. I was just not able to come in terms with the way Lucy behaves post the brutal rape. Its like she has chosen the role of a martyr. It is the role she has adopted for herself, the price she has decided she has to pay for being a white woman living in the South African countryside.
This is an extremely complex book, with a lot going on. At its core, it's about gender politics, treatment of animals at the hands of humans and race, specifically about race relations in modern-day South Africa. So what is the disgrace that the title refers to??? David's disgrace at the beginning of the book, being caught in an affair with a student? The disgrace Lucy feels from the rape? The disgraceful behavior of the rapists and of Petrus, who is protecting them and may possibly have instigated the whole incident in the first place?
Wow.. This was some real heavy stuff... This was why I wrote at the begining, of this story being a deceptive one. I was totally taken for a ride in believing that its going to be a easy read of 200+pages. Boy!! Was I in for a surprise... You have to give it to Coetzee to write so magnificently and highlight the grave issues relevant in an apartheid post South Africa.  He writes a  tight story which does not let you escape from the uneasiness on being faced with our own internal prejudices and personal demons. Very uncomfortable and literally shook me to the core. No wonder I was soo low since the past one week.
Lastly awesome book to read but only if you have a strong stomach!!!!

Tuesday, 3 February 2015

BOOK REVIEW : Sunlight On A Broken Column by Attia Hosain

"Pre- independent unified India and the struggle for independence" , are topics on which innumerable stories have been written and that too from all possible perspectives. This book " Sunlight On A Broken Column" by Attia Hosain is also set during the Raj days, prior to our independence. So, now the inevitable, " What's so special about this one??  What sets it apart from other innumerable fiction stories in the backdrop of India's struggle for independence??"  The answer is clich├ęd but true and simple : ITS DIFFERENT!!!
Attia Hosain weaves a beautiful, intricate story about an influential Muslim family with characters having an uneven blend of black, white and grey shades in their temperament, their personalities making them very real and easy to identify with. While reading this book I found myself on a roller coaster ride experiencing a myriad of emotions ranging from a claustrophobic feeling of restriction, indecisiveness, rebellion, the feeling of excitement and goose bumps-on-your-skin on meeting "the right one" , of anger, of resentment, of helplessness. But the predominant feeling which lasted even after I was done with the book was a deep deep sense of longing for the years gone by, for the hometown left behind, for the friends who were once my lifeline but are no more there with me because of varied reasons: change of place, change of interests, change in mindset, change in priorities, a melancholy loss for those dear ones who left half way in this journey called life for heavenly abode. This book, especially the last few pages in the story made me ache  for my roots, for my childhood, for the moments left behind, for the time so so lost from my hands forever that I had  almost started crying.. And not the ladylike soft sobs but those huge loud cries with hiccups and running nose, all combined together..
I actually told Niraj after finishing this book, " How I wish I could go back in time, if, only for a day!!" , and the look he gave me were a thousand answers in itself!!
Laila, the main protagonist is the orphaned daughter of a distinguished Muslim family of Talukdars. Keeping her father's last wishes in mind, Laila is given western education but she observes purdah like her aunts and cousins at home. She is being brought up in an ultra conservative setup but all this changes when BabaJan, her grandfather passes away and she goes to live with her uncle Hamid who though claims to be liberal, is infact very dominating and controlling. Laila gets exposed to the outer world through her new friends when she starts going to university.  Here she comes across young men and women who are anti- government (British government) and are actively involved in the Independence movement which is slowly gaining momentum. But Laila, herself is not able to commit herself either as pro British or anti- British as she finds herself continually fighting ( within herself)  for her own independence against societal rules and dogmas. She is finally able to break the shackles of tradition and honour and duty when she goes against her family to marry Ameer, who though a Muslim is not a part of their social strata. Laila imagines a life of " happily ever after" with Ameer but life, as we know loves to shock us and put us in unusual situations when we least expect any change! And so it happens with Laila. Her life as she had always known takes a complete turn in the height of India's fight for freedom, partition of India into Pakistan and India and the need to ascertain one's rightful place whether as a Muslim in India or uprooting oneself and going to Pakistan to build a new life and a new nation.
This is a story which is almost like a memoir based on Hosain's personal experiences, growing up in an influential albeit a conservative muslim household prior to independence.
The story tends to be a bit depressing at times and it is also a tad bit slow in some portions but overall its worth a read. Reading this book takes you back to a time which our grandparents talk fondly about, it talks about customs and traditions which are rarely seen today and talks of love which was , is and always will be the feeling which makes us strong emotionally and mentally and gives us wings to fly to our rightful abode!!!