A Sum of Our Choices – Chaitanya Salvi

Remember the story of The Midas Touch– The man who touched anything and turned it to gold? Can one be born with The Midas Touch effect in today’s world? A Sum of Our Choices by Chaitanya Salvi tells the story of a young business magnate who has been considered to be a lucky boy. For Ashutosh Paranjpe, nothing is impossible! Coming across as a man who means business and considers time as money, Ashutosh is yet to imbibe the value of emotions and relations – reminding readers a little of Arjun Saluja from Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara ! Things turn topsy-turvy when his workaholic nature leads to a break in his relationship with his long-term girlfriend; followed by his arrest on the grounds that his company cheated people of their money. At this point ones gets to understand Ashutosh closely from when he was a child to where he stands today – his life, principles, actions and thoughts.  

“While living life, we fail to understand what does living a life mean. We tend to ignore the meaningful stuff and end up running behind unworthy and trivial things.’’ The Ashutosh one reads about has no time for inconsequential things in life. His blinding ambitions make him ignore relationships. This makes the reader stop and wonder if earning money is everything or relationships, emotions and even personal feel-good factor come before them. Would one not want to take some time off and spend walking along their favorite part of the city? No mobile phones, No annoying clients, No emergency planning – Just the quaint Nature and One’s Thoughts! Would one not experience joy by taking one’s partner / spouse on a holiday, a movie show or a candle light dinner date? Sometimes ambitions come in the way of making these precious memories alone or with our loved ones and in the course of time the way life is meant to be lived is forgotten. Instead one is busy chasing the unending cycle of fame and money like animals chasing their tails!

A Sum of Our Choices follows a simple storyline and yet touches upon the essence of life and actions – Destiny and Karma. “Destiny is a situation presented to you. You can choose how to react to it. And your reaction, to the situation presented by destiny, is your karma.’’ It takes years to understand the meaning of this never-ending cycle of action and reaction according to the philosophy of life. But Salvi has put it quite simply for the readers to grasp the sum of these terms. What is important to contemplate is how a person reacts to the situation. It is said a person isn’t born good or bad, their actions make them what they are. Similarly, a person has the freedom to choose what their reactions will be in a certain circumstance. Their decisions are always based on their needs, values, morals, and prejudices. In this quick span of decision- making an individual might take the right path or end up being wrong- but whatever the action, one has to bear the subsequent reactions in life.

Salvi has poignantly portrayed the protagonist of his novel as a lucky man. But how can one define luck? Is it possible for someone to be repeatedly lucky throughout their lives? Is luck the driving force behind a person’s life and actions? The relation between luck, karma and destiny is quite a twisted one. To simplify it, Destiny throws a situation and Karma is the action; but Luck is the consequences of Karma. Putting it straight, Luck is a myth to cover up the reactions of Karma. Or, Luck and Karma can be simultaneously used to denote the same actions. Even then it makes the readers wonder about each of the terms and their inter-relations.

Ashutosh in his journey, meets many who devote themselves to the service of their community. This selfless approach to life makes him retrace his decisions and imbibe newer principles through his experience. He chooses to pay it forward by doing well to someone just as somebody had helped him in life. It is an important takeaway for the readers that one must visualize help as selfless service without expecting anything in return. What best they can do to compensate is to help another when in dire need. Service to the community helps in making a person humble devoid of ego or arrogance which are the source of all troubles.

The crux of this novel will be incomplete if one does not discuss about Life. It is indeed A Sum of Our Choice.  Life is that circle in which Destiny and Karma rotate together throwing challenges at a person to make them travel through this spiritual journey. Life is a chapter in itself and cannot be discussed in a paragraph. It is the essence of action and reaction. Whether one leads a good, bad, humble or arrogant life depends completely on how one chooses to live it.

A Sum of Our Choice is a beautiful explanation of man as a spiritual being through fictional characters. The philosophical layers explaining the meaning of life unfolds one by one within the pages of the book.  A straight forward story rich in philosophy, it makes up for a good read.

No .of Pages: 300

Publisher: Flipping Pages

Available at: Amazon

Rating: 3.75/5

*Disclaimer: I would like to Thank Siddhi Palande for sending a review copy of the book.

Klara and the Sun – Kazuo Ishiguro

When the master storyteller returns with a new novel post his Nobel victory, it cannot be missed! The futuristic Klara and the Sun depicts a society where humanoids and mankind co-exist. However, with the society becoming mechanized and the life of people becoming mechanical, will emotions be overtaken completely by artificial intelligence? A story of the bond shared by Josie and her Artificial Friend (AF) Klara, the novel is a take on the thoughts of a humanoid and how they perceive the world, their responsibilities and emotions. In a world which selects AF’s just the way age old customs select bride as a companion, is there any leeway for true friendship? Klara and the Sun raises questions mirroring a society based on tomorrow. In the long run it will be interesting to see if the world takes a turn along the words of Ishiguro.

Klara is chosen by Josie’s Mother as a companion for her ailing daughter. But with Josie in her teens and wanting her own space and time is Klara really able to provide companionship or is a burden? Ironically one gets to notice that even though Klara has been brought for accompaniment, all the characters exemplify loneliness in some form or the other. The Mother is drowning in her sorrows of loss; Josie wants to have her own space and is actually alone most of the time; with nothing to do in a completely new place Klara too is fighting loneliness in her own way. This drives the readers to ask a vital question- are humans pushing away company and embracing loneliness? It has been observed that in a room full of people, majority would be working on their mobile phones rather than emphasizing on the people present in the same room. Are humans so heavily dependent on gadgets that they have started living in a virtual world, devoid of physical human presence? How healthy or unhealthy is the same for the mental health of the people?  

With time Klara meets Rick, Josie’s neighbor and childhood friend. The two already have A Plan to lead a life together. This fills Klara with joy but also leads her to think of her existence once the Plan is executed. Josie and Rick’s relation is as any teenage romance-full of care, fights, love, friendship but also retaining each one’s personality and self-esteem. This relation is also hope that in the future, love will not completely die and one will be prone to falling in love or experimenting and finding Mr. Right for themselves.

Mother is overburdened with the sorrows of having lost a daughter and losing Josie to illness now. In order to get out of this condition she wants to substitute her daughter with an AF. The Mother’s psyche is on the extreme and raises questions of ethics and morality about her actions. Moreover it asks a reflecting question to the readers- can humans be truly substituted with machines? Can their existence be that easily wiped out with mechanics? What about the relations that they share; would they not miss the life in the personality they know? Or would they embrace the coded humanoids with artificial intelligence which is nearly too perfect?

Ishiguro cleverly focuses on the environment by making the Sun as the prime source of energy for all AF’s and mankind. However, disturbance in this equilibrium through pollution, environmental degradation and irresponsibility will lead to disastrous effect on the planet and those living in it. The careful integration of the idea – Save the Earth- is much needed to make people aware of the consequences of their carelessness and what it can lead to. Klara in her mind thinks that the Sun being the source of all energy can cure Josie of her sickness. Will her faith hold true? Will the Sun be able to cure Josie? To what extent will Klara go to help Josie?

Klara and the Sun will change the meaning of love and emotion for the readers. Love need not only be the stereotypical relationships one hears or sees. It can also manifest itself in care, selflessness, guidance, friendship and companionship. With some or all of the above retaining their space in a man-machine relation, one can be assured, that emotion cannot be completely overtaken by screws and hinges, even in an advanced future. A book that is far ahead of its time, centering on the generations yet to come and their lifestyles, harping on the man-humanoid relationship, and transgressing the idea of emotion in several layers, Klara and the Sun is bound to win all hearts.

Postscript: The idea of humanoids in literature is not new. Going back a few decades, Satyajit Ray’s brilliant mind also conceptualized Professor Shonkhu. His in-depth ideologies in science and science –fiction literature cannot be overlooked while talking about a futuristic society. I would also like to mention that this very fact was brought out brilliantly by Aritra Basu in his paper which can be read here. Completing a century of his existence, Ray is immortal. His thought process and symbolism would go on living through his works- art, music, movies and  literature, baffling generations to come.

No of Pages: 307

Publisher: Faber and Faber / Penguin

Available on: Flipkart / Amazon / Audible

Rating: 4/5

The Silent Patient – Alex Michaelides

The Silent Patient has been doing the rounds of major newspapers, lifestyle columns and even in the blogger circuits. Thus when I got the chance to get the book at a super price from Delight Bookstore and read it for myself, I did not lose the opportunity. Prima facie it begins as the story of Alicia, a culprit who is found as the only suspect to her husband’s cold-blooded murder. She never speaks about the night when her husband died. Subsequently she is admitted to a psychiatric welfare centre. Enters Theo, an experienced psychiatrist who insists that he is the only one who can make Alicia speak. It is only a matter of time when the readers come to know whose resolution wins- lifelong silence or grit and determination to make The Silent Patient speak!

The novel follows two distinct timelines, that of Alicia and Theo, before and after they cross paths with each other. Alicia, an artist is living a happy and content life with her husband and her works of art. Theo, a psychiatrist loves his wife dearly, but is shocked to see signs of infidelity entering their relationship. This plants a seed of suspicion within him. Coupled with his own traumatic past, when this suspicion of losing his love exemplifies itself to engulf his life and mind, the consequences are disastrous.

Alicia and Theo’s journey together raises pertinent questions about the thought-process of an individual and how it ultimately influences one’s actions. Written in an unputdownable thriller format Michaelides has truly worded a gripping novel, arranged in layers of timeline, switching from flashbacks to present, and unfolding a story one never could have imagined. The climax is where the past, present and future intermixes in the subconscious and leads to an unthinkable action.

From a behavioral point of view the readers understand how important the formative years are to an individual. If not rightly managed and controlled, then the bruises inflicted remain lifelong on a subconscious level and emerge at the most unexpected times. Identity crisis and childhood abuse are two of the most common forms of mental torture a child can be subjected to. With society hell bent on having sons than daughters, this mentality crushes the confidence of an individual and pushes a child to existential crisis, inferiority complex and under confidence at a very young age. Since behavioral manifestations work differently for different individuals, it remains an unknown fact how this trauma will be demonstrated later in life. However, even within the understanding of behavioral science one needs to realize that an individual will only act as he/she wants to. Psychological factors are constantly at war with the consciousness in order to bring out a desired action from the individual.

While reading The Silent Patient readers need to take a mental note of the society in which it is set. The Western society is even today far ahead and open when it comes to discussing psychological issues. Almost every school, college, workplace, and institution has an attached counsellor to deliberate on an individual’s mental health. Even counsellors can choose to refer themselves to other counsellors. With an open acceptance in the society, it becomes easy to discuss, deliberate, and recover from any signs of psychological agitation.

This is vastly different from the Indian society where the importance of mental health has gained momentum only in the last 2-3 years. While a lot is indeed debated on paper, sufficient steps to put in place an actionable and strict system to monitor mental health of the individuals have not been achieved. The foremost reason of this backwardness is the age old idea of ‘Log Kya Kahenge?’ and the mental pressure inflicted by the peers and ‘nosy aunties’. These so-called well-wishers have been successful in infiltrating within the household through parents and relatives, barring an individual to talk openly about their mental peace. If the society actually casts away the shame and stigma it would do much good to it and make individuals prosper as wholesome beings.

The Silent Patient is a wonderful take on the importance of mental health, which is a necessity in today’s world. With lockdown / curfew/ isolation/ quarantine being words spoken at the drop of a hat, an individual needs to be equipped enough to channel their thoughts into words or something constructive. Isolation can either shrink the intelligence or if given the right direction, push it for the betterment of the society and individual. Thus it is important to talk about and take necessary steps in keeping oneself fit in a holistic manner not only for oneself but also for people around.

Going beyond the pertinent psychology of the book, however well worded the novel is, for me, the climax failed to work out. At times the narration was slow and disjointed leaving one confused of what the narrator wants to say. Even with the presence of two very powerful characters and their resolutions, the ending failed to strike a chord. Nevertheless, I would still recommend all to read The Silent Patient once to determine what works for you as the storyline is notable and does manage to leave an impression on the reader.

No. of Pages: 339

Publisher: Hachette

Available on: Amazon / Flipkart

Rating: 3/5

Finding your Way by Drake Taylor

The challenges that 2020 had thrown in the path of every individual gave them a chance to contemplate on their personal growth. Closely associated with self-growth is also its repercussions on mental health. While thousands around the world spent a life from their homes and are still doing so, staying in an overtly familiar environment 24*7 can induce mental claustrophobia in many. This adversely affects the behavior and psyche of the individual. When during Corona and lockdown , limited mobility, stress and work pressure is on the rise, comes Finding Your Way by Drake Taylor, a perfect self-help book that helps one to relax their senses and lead a healthy life – physically and mentally.

Drawing from the author’s strained relation with his wife, he puts forth how his life was affected with depression and isolation, so much so that even suicide crossed his mind. Living in the shadows of one’s actions only accelerates the hurt than mending the circumstances. The author’s personal journey of well-being and a sound life offers guidance to many, to lead better lives for themselves.

The stepping stone for healing oneself is self-acceptance. The sooner one identifies the problem and the need for help, the faster one recuperates from the situation. To fill in the gaps of mental anxiety one definitely requires to continue working with a positive attitude devoid of a growing list of excuses. Excuses and negativity only makes a person inactive and slows down the process of recovery. It is thus important for one to be optimistic with every challenge that is thrown by life and tackle it with confidence. Positivity also helps in harboring newer mindsets which accelerates a change in perception through newer avenues to explore and avoidance of self-pity.  

Perception plays a crucial role in the shaping up of a personality. There is a constant war between ‘what you think you are’ v/s ‘what others think you are’ v/s ‘what you think others think about you’. Most of the times, all their perceptions are formulated by the individual in their mind with influences from mindset, environment, prejudice etc. This game of perception changes partially or wholly the meaning of self and self-portrayal. More often than not ‘what you think other think about you’ is the most dangerous perception as it is the space between ‘what you are’ and ‘what you want to be perceived as’. This realm becomes unrealistic and helps in harboring egos which can lead to self-destruction. Hence, perceptions should be open minded and definitely based on visual implications rather than hearsay. 

At the heart of acceptance, perception, mindset lies stress which can further aggravate depression and isolation. Be it work pressure, peer pressure, self-induced pressure; the rise in stress levels adversely affect the well-being of an individual, mentally and physically. Many a times individuals give in to stress. But with a growing awareness of ways to overcome it, many opt for counselling and therapy and eventually lead a controlled or stress-free life. Counselling today has become an acknowledged path in the society. Earlier whenever people ‘needed help’ or ‘needed to talk to someone’ it was looked down upon and mostly understood as signs of madness. But today, counselling is an accepted form of bettering mental health and can be resorted to at any point in life. Many educational institutions, workplaces, corporates etc. schedule regular counselling sessions for the well-being of their students and employees. If an individual is content and happy, they are also able to keep their surroundings positive and progressive.

The author goes on addressing mental breakdowns which is an accumulation of negative thoughts, high stress, isolation, mental claustrophobia. All the parameters of a breakdown are triggered when one has a highly complex goal in life. Thus it is mostly advised to have an achievable and practical goal with a realistic deadline, which might require struggle to achieve but would not be detrimental to the individual’s health in its course. To lead a meaningful life, one must first have meaning to their own life. This is achievable when all odds are forgiven or forgotten and one is filled with a positive attitude towards life to strive for a better tomorrow.

The author proposes a few steps to lead a better life which is important and with conscious hard work extremely achievable. Leading a disciplined and routine life makes it easier for a person to win half the battle. Discipline induces wisdom, sense, emotional control and a sharp eye to details helping in welcoming newer mindsets. Decluttering and accumulating ones thoughts helps in leading an organized life with more focus and less confusion. As society tends to change with time, changing ones mindset by drawing inspiration from ones surroundings is equally important. And last but not the least, should need be one should aim to go under mentorship which would result into receiving proper guidance in formulating ones roadmap of life.

Filled with exciting self-evaluating exercises and activities, Finding Your Way , is bound to open ones senses to contemplate how one leads their life and what changes can be introduced to make it better for themselves and the people around. It is just the reading necessity when the world faces one of the most challenging times in the history of mankind.

No. of Pages: 98

Available on: Amazon Kindle

Rating: 3.5/5

  • I would like to Thank vinfluencers for giving me this review opportunity.

Murder at the Mushaira by Raza Mir

Raza Mir’s latest book – Murder at the Mushaira is a unique juxtaposition of duty, morality, love and patriotism. By making the renowned poet Mirza Ghalib, the detective protagonist of the tale, Mir captures the attention of the readers from the very beginning.  With the unfolding of the story, several characters are introduced, each having more layers of complexities than the other. When a murder takes place at Nawab Iftikhar’s Mushaira, various theories depicting the reason behind it begins to appear. It is surprising how a man has several reasons to be killed and yet most lead to a dead end. But this whirlwind journey of investigation leads Ghalib from the palaces of the elite to the alleyways of Old Delhi; from the house of the entertainers to the walls of the Fortress. Mir also retains the flavour of Ghalib’s poetry throughout by beginning each chapter with a couplet of his works, which sets the tune for the chapter without giving away any twists and turns.

To understand Murder at the Mushaira, it is necessary to revisit the Delhi of the 1850’s when the last Mughal Emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar is towards the end of his ruling days. Seeking this opportunity the British East Indian company is planning to take over Delhi, the crux of Hindusthan.  It is vigorously getting into pacts and treaties with other Indian Nawab’s and rulers and even stationing its armies across crucial barracks and checkpoints. Amidst this, grows the concern among a section of the society to preserve Hindusthan’s security and prevent it from falling in the hands of the notorious white men. This is further aggravated with one-off mutinies in various barracks, most famous of them all that of Mangal Pandey in Barrackpore. This being the broader scenario one cannot ignore the inter-personal relations between the Nawab’s themselves which are often shadowed by wealth, affairs, marriage etc. Moreover, several Nawabs had befriended the Englishmen in greed and become spies for the society. Amidst all this the male –female divide of the traditional society was prevalent along with class, caste and professionalism. Set in this backdrop Murder at the Mushaira explores all the above aspects through descriptions and actions to transport the reader to another era.

When Ghalib is summoned by the Kotwal to co-investigate the murder of Sukhan Khairabadi at the Mushaira he agrees to come on board. With the help of his friend, a scientist from Delhi University he quickly performs a routine scrutiny of the murder spot and the dead body- synonymous to modern day forensics and autopsy. This helps him chalk out a list of suspects from the men who attended the Mushaira and narrow down his investigation. When he chances upon unusual activities in the Zenana during one of his interrogation sessions, he starts taking a different approach to the case, one that leads to unimaginable secrets unfold in front of him, ultimately revealing the murderer.  Ghalib is joined by an array of characters with vibrant personalities who all seem to have a truth to hide- Nawab Iftikhar, his wife Roshan Ara Begum and daughter Zainab with her friends Hyderi Begum and Ishrat, the haveli help; his friend and scientist Ramakrishna ; his acquaintance Ratna Bai and the mysterious Sarfaraz Laskar.

It is interesting to note that how a Mushaira, an artistic reverie can be transformed into a den of political activities. In the disguise of a poetic gathering, political and state information exchange hands through an innovative courier system. In fact, not only the Mushaira, the entire knowledge of art has been used as a political weapon to fight for Hindusthan. Humanities and Art has been seen as a weaker subject of the society. But only a few understand its real strength and symbolism and that has been acutely harnessed by the author to weave a complex web of actions and reactions throughout the novel. The story also compels the readers to think about the power bestowed within the Arts having the capability to make or mar civilizations, which has been underestimated by the community for decades.  The novel speaks volumes about feminism in a conservative patriarchal and political society as some of the major characters are women. It is their actions that ultimately remove the veil from the mystery.

Murder at the Mushaira is not only a gripping tale of a complex murder but is also laden with emotions. It is a treat to visualise all the characters, their actions and their part in the novel. To see Ghalib in action as a sleuth is the real twist in the tale; of course he does have a side –kick as well, like all detectives. With a high dose of patriotism, nationalism, thrill, emotion, anguish, jealousy, Murder at the Mushaira is a liberating story of an era gone by with values that one can still hold on to today.

No. of Pages: 338

Publications: Aleph

Available on: Flipkart / Amazon

Rating: 3.75/ 5

Life Unknown: A Passage through India by Kartikeya Ladha

Do you love to travel and if so, why? Is it for experiencing the warm sun brushing against your skin while sitting in the hills and valleys? Would you prefer to see the orange hues of the sunset beside a beach? Does lazying under the starry skies and speaking your heart out to friends or fellow travelers catch your fancy? Or is delving deeper into a life unknown to search and discover the meaning and potential of your life, the true reason for your travels? Kartikeya Ladha’s recent book Life Unknown points out to discovering life’s little pleasures, far beyond the materialistic ones achieved through a mechanized lifestyle. While Ladha’s journey in the book begins in the scenic deserted beauty of Leh and Ladakh, his journey in life began way earlier when he quit his 9-5 job in the United States and went on an adventure to Peru.  From the lap of nature in Leh to the holy city of Rishikesh to walking along the Western Coast, Ladha’s life has been anything but ordinary.

What is remarkable about the book is that society- its positives and fallacies are explored through the eyes of a discovering traveler. The lack of exaggeration and to-the-point description of places, journeys, emotions, and most importantly society’s interference in an individual’s personal life, makes this book relatable in every aspect.

 Ladha points out a few crucial loopholes in the society that as a community one must immediately make amends to. Primary of which is the increased mechanized lifestyle that one leads. Ever since a child is born they are earmarked into certain ‘acceptable professions’ and pressurized to achieve the utmost specialization in it. The community never stops comparing one’s child with the clichéd ‘Sharma Ji ka beta’ and thereby pushes the child away from oneself as well as away from his/her self. It is easier to say Live and Let live but difficult to follow the same. This is followed by nosy aunties and neighbors who form an important part of any community. These gossip mongers of the society are the earliest ‘influencers’ in the world who have the power of words to make or break anything. Ladha’s strong will makes him break away from the clutches of a stereotypical society and lose himself in the country, discovering life through experiences.

Throughout Kartikeya’s travels, he brings out pertinent observations. While he makes friends with another traveler Shira, he talks about the differences faced by men and women when traveling. With women, safety is a prime issue. During his stay in South India, he feels someone trying to break into his room and questions the issue of security more sternly. Health forms a major factor while traveling and he carefully recounts his failing health on various occasions. This makes one understand that physique is an important aspect of traveling and Ladha’s truth in its description makes the readers live his story through his words.

When he is traveling through the West Coast of India, he comes across pristine clear beaches to extremely polluted ones. This makes one wonder about the actions of the people where they pollute and abuse nature to its fullest. On his halts in one of the Ashrams in the South, he experiences a clear case of racism where International and National Guests have different rules of accommodation.

Another case in point put forward by Ladha which has a profound impact on the readers is the definition of development. All countries big or small define development through their financial strength but what about the development of the people of the country? Should holistic development not feature in this definition? The number of suicidal deaths is on a rise. Mental health is slowly entering into mainstream illness and the focus on it is growing, to provide a healthy mind and the body to all.

Life Unknown gives a beautiful description of travels where one lets go of all inhibitions and imbibes lessons and experiences from Nature to lead a better life. Apart from the scenic beauty, Nature is the best teacher of unparalleled wisdom which no classrooms can impart to the children. It lets a wanderer discover life at ease. It shows that no job is big or small and that the innate survival instincts would make a man go far enough to do anything for survival. Travel is a reflection of ourselves and how small an individual is vis-a-vis Nature. It destroys the egoist demon within each one of us and instills the values of patience, perseverance, and service to enhance the values of our lives.  It shows us how to connect by being disconnected from the gadgets that rule our lives nowadays.

How many times have you grown tired of your scheduled life and wanted to take a break – in the seaside or the mountains?  Next time such a thought arises, do action your plans. It might do you good. Traveling the world broadens the mind to a potpourri of culture, art, and people, something that one should not miss at all! Highly recommended, Life Unknown is that book which you can carry on your travels across the country or the world; read while sitting in your cozy reading space, or enjoy quietly in a café while also absorbing the surroundings and making new friends.

No. of Pages: 397

Publication: Wild Ambro

Available on: Amazon

Rating: 4/5

*I would like to Thank fellow book reviewer Siddhi Palande (aka Book Gobbler) for allowing me to review this book.

Ratno Dholi: The Best Stories of Dhumketu by Jenny Bhatt

The very name Dhumketu transports me back to my school. Amidst long summer days when the sun was boiling over our heads, I used to sit near the window (gazing at the world outside) trying to create a visual imagery of the lines being read by my teacher. These lines from the mind of Dhumketu stuck with me then and have come back to me now- only in a different language. Ratno Dholi– a translation of some of the finest works of Dhumketu by Jenny Bhatt opens the door to this wonderful regional literature, which meanders its way to the hearts of thousands of people worldwide.

Ratno Dholi is an anthology of twenty-six stories which give the readers a glimpse of the society in which Dhumketu resided and wrote for. Each of the stories binds the readers’ interest through emotion, wit, dreams, and desires. Interestingly these urban and rural sentiments and actions are no different from what it is today. Dhumketu’s far-sightedness while writing the stories re-establish the fact that even though over the years, the mode of expression or reaction to situations may have changed, the primitive desires and feelings of mankind remain the same.

While all the stories resonated with me, discussing five of my absolute favourites from the book.

  • The Post Office: The very first story from the book happens to be the one straight out of my Hindi book from school. But with years elapsed between then and now the ideation behind the story becomes clearer. It is said ‘when a man puts aside his own perceptions and looks through another’s viewpoint, then half the world will be at rest.’ When an old man visits the post office everyday awaiting a letter from his daughter, he becomes the butt of all jokes. But when those joking about him experience a similar situation, would things change for the better? The Post Office makes us realise the meaning of parental love. It also throws light on how children treat their parents when they get busy in their own lives. It compels the readers to contemplate about parent-children relationship and it’s ageing with time.
  • On the Banks of the Sarayu: Do you remember listening to stories told by your parents and grandparents? But what happens when a story is started off by the parents and never goes beyond its first line- On the Banks of the Sarayu? Days, weeks and months pass by but the story is stuck at its first line! Dhumketu yet again explores the idea of parenting in modern society. Do parents really have the time to fulfil their children’s wishes? Are parents neglecting their children and giving precedence to their work over relationships? And what about the children, do they feel alienated from their family members?  It is thought provoking that an incomplete story gives rise to various complete perception of the situation.
  • Kailas: The story of a struggle which started off years ago and continues in full force today – the cause of the farmers;  Kailas is all about trying to attain peace of mind amidst chaos. Through Kailas’ back story one gets a vision of how farmers are treated and disrespected and how this mental and physical agony escalates in unthinkable ways. While we talk of living in a society which is diverse, it is questionable how much of this ‘diversity’ are we accepting at heart.
  • My Homes: A very interesting take on the stories of the various homes that the narrator has lived in. We tend to live in a few homes through our lifetimes which might include hostels or rentals and how the stay affects us in return is exciting to note. The story progresses through memories of the inanimate object and its residents and is a clear form of compelling narrative.
  • Prisoner of Andaman: When a man returns home after serving twenty years at the Kala Pani how does his relatives and well-wishers acknowledge him? Is he accepted in his village or does he make the Andamans his forever home? Prisoner of Andaman makes the readers think about the way one treats those who have served sentences. Does society not give them a chance to become a part of it once they commit a crime and serve their due for it? Does negligence shatter the individual o much that they tend to move onto the wrong path yet again? The psyche of a prisoner is very well described in the story along with those around him.

What is interesting to note is the patriarchal society in which Dhumketu lived in. Out of the twenty six stories, majority revolve around men and their lives. Those that do talk about women either portray them as mere instruments of building political relations or as burdens in the society. His take on the caste system and untouchables are also thought-provoking viewpoints of his time. Jenny Bhatt has done a phenomenal translation of his writings keeping the nascent emotions alive and yet rewriting the stories in a language that reaches the global readers. Reading Ratno Dholi also makes us realise the treasure trove of literature that resides in regional language and how their translation is the need of the hour. Definitely a must read!

No. of Pages: 315

Publisher: Harper Collins

Available on: Amazon

Rating: 4/5

*Disclaimer: I would like to Thank Harper Collins for the review copy

The Binding by Bridget Collins

My foray into young adult fiction has been with The Binding by Bridget Collins, one of the most acclaimed books of 2019, which has appeared on several bestseller lists and won the hearts of many worldwide with its unique themes. Emmett, a young lad is sent to serve as Seredith, a book binder’s apprentice. Ironically, his parents keep him away from books for his entire life but suddenly compel him to embrace this forbidden world without any proper justification. He starts living with Seredith in an old, lonely and quiet house; picking up basic skills and slowly growing fond of her. All goes well till he chances upon Seredith’s client Lucian Darnay, the reality of the work of binding, and a book named after him.

The storyline shifts to the past with a flashback sequence of Emmett living with his family – parents and sister, Alta – and managing their farm. When Alta is saved from a freak accident by the nephew of a nearby farm lord, she befriends him and they become inseparable friends. Alta starts developing feelings for her saviour. Things progress smoothly until a fateful day when relationships turn upside down. The book intersperses the past and the present smoothly to give the readers the entire scenario. The answers to questions that haunt the minds of the readers – Who is Lucian Darnay? What is his relationship with Emmett? Why is Emmett sent into the world of books that his parents despised much? Why are books objects of hatred? – starts unravelling themselves.

The Binding is an unforgettably magical story about relationships, friendship, love and the fight to reunite with ones love against all odds. It shows how the world works on pretence and sometimes how hypocritical it becomes to endure this falsehood. It explores the abusive nature of individuals – physical or mental- towards family or the weak. It throws light on the psyche of the one who is defeated and gives up on the world. It talks about the innate strength that one gets to fight for those one dearly loves. With multiple themes that one can relate to and that fits so perfectly within the storyline, Collins brings closer the world of pages and reality.

With a parallel focus on the existence and constituents of books, the novel expresses to the readers the various aspects of books- the reasons for creating a book, the rationale behind it, the morality of its existence, and the diversification of the profession through trading of books.The art of ‘binding’ seems simple and yet is a task full of responsibilities. Elements of the purpose and experience of reading a book have been incorporated in the process of ‘binding’ books and its consequences in the lives of the people. It creates a parallel universe, introduces new characters, generates curiosity and controls or manipulates the mind with limited knowledge. Seen from the point-of-view of the readers the process of ‘binding’ creates various interpretations to a person’s life, giving them the liberty to perceive the situations as per their interests. The Binding also highlights the community perceptions towards binders and books in general. While some find both necessary and respect them; many spread rumours and legends of binders being witches or wizards and books as evil spirits.

The Binding refers to the binding of a book, keeping which in focus; Collins weaves a spellbinding charm by merging fantasy and reality. One reads books on a day to day basis, but the most significant question being raised here is -What is actually being read? Thoughts? Memories? Desires? Secrets? This novel makes the readers contemplate on what makes up a book and why does it become so popular. From making books seem to be a very personal object to introducing trade books and immoral selling for making quick profit, The Binding explores the idea of book binding and the business of books in details. The processes and ideologies explained here are in simple terms, but the actualities of these nomenclatures are far deeper than what meets the eye and have severe impacts on the book industry.

Filled with innovative themes and realistic character plots, The Binding is a must –read book for all ages. It subtly and beautifully touches a chord with the readers and brings to the forefront, books in a new light.

No. of pages: 438

Publisher:  Borough Press , Harper Collins

Available:  Flipkart / Amazon / Storytel

Rating: 4/5

Nothing to Lose by Manbeena Sandhu – Stories of Black, White and Orange from Bhagwan Land

Manbeena Sandhu’s first non-fiction venture- Nothing to Lose, the authorized biography of Bhagwan Rajneesh’s right hand Ma Anand Sheela unlocks the secrets behind the kingdom of Rajneeshpuram through the eyes of Sheela.  The story begins in the scenic beauty of the German Black Forest where Sheela is arrested post her resignation as Bhagwan’s secretary. Then on, it is a retrospect of her life unfurling before the readers. It is interesting to note how remarkably intertwined it is with that of Bhagwan’s, who becomes her beloved and forever master.

A teenage Sheela is smitten by the calm demeanour of Bhagwan Rajneesh in 1965. His discourses start attracting her attention. Post attaining her degree and marriage, she returns to her one true calling- Bhagwan. This time she is accompanied by her husband and is ready to leave her life and embrace the orange hues of his beloved’s world. With time, she settles down in his ashram in Poona and even traverses International boundaries to gift her Master the city of Rajneeshpuram in Oregon, USA. But as they say that relationships hang from a fine thread; and once that thread is pulled hard, it is inevitable that the relationship will break. With time, their diverse mindset causes a strain in their relationship resulting ultimately in Sheela’s resignation from her post and starting afresh. In her new world, she faces several allegations which she graciously handles till she finds the freedom and peace in spirit that she has been pursuing all along.

Sheela’s life trajectory is full of ups and downs but she comes out of all upheavals, much like a rebellious warrior who keeps the reigns of her life in her hands. It is pertinent to acknowledge her supportive parents and family who are progressively ahead of their times. That is why a daughter coming from a well-to-do family in the 1970’s Surat, who marries an American, could walk on the path of spirituality, unobstructed.

Bhagwan’s Ashram in Poona starts off like a Gurukul where thousands of neo-sannyasins gather to hear his discourse. But over time ‘Sex-Drugs- Rock and Roll’ set in as the motto, given his principles of free sexual spirituality. Though considered to be the ‘Messiah of the New Morality’, his ideals start enraging the elite and the powerful.  This leads the readers to question the idea of progressiveness and its acceptance. Further when spirituality and faith starts turning into commercialism it explores the pitfalls of such practices. By the time Rajneeshpuram is set up , Bhagwan is a changed man who basks in the glory of his Rolls Royce’s and Diamond Watches transferring his vigilant guardian duties to Sheela. It is not long before his growing demands takes a toll on the management, finance, political and social sustenance and ultimately on Sheela who breaks free of the chains of bondage.

Nothing to Lose is the story of Sheela and her relation with her beloved Bhagwan. It depicts her many personalities – as a symbol of strength, a passionate lover, a dutiful disciple, a rebel, a self- respecting individual and much more. The biggest turning point in her life is the betrayal she faces when Bhagwan becomes a changed man. He is no longer the man who shows ways to the lost, instead, he becomes the man who loves to traverse on diamond paths. Sheela maintains an elegance and dignity in her behaviour by trying to prove her point, but never resorting to mudslinging in the name of her Bhagwan. The respect and position that she gives to her Bhagwan is for lifelong even though her beloved loses his path in the course of their relation.

Sheela also turns out to be an extremely innovative and creative resource throughout her contribution to the Ashram and Rajneeshpuram. Her hands-on understanding of the situation, taking back –up measures, excellent marketing skills and maintaining a well-researched legal and media teams made her reach out for the moon in terms of expansion and empire-building. However sometimes it is clearly visible that many of her actions are not her own. They are the words of the Bhagwan which she resonates as a helpless puppet. This can be perceived in two different lights. First, the true and pure faith that Sheela has for her Bhagwan made her comply with him and progress on a path of wrong –doings; Second, Sheela’s thirst to continuously prove herself and win her Bhagwan’s love makes her trudge on a path of unending misery. Sheela’s actions are open to individual perception. But even then, her consciousness and rationale behind it all makes her come clean as a victim rather than a Mastermind.   

Nothing to Lose is an apt title to  Ma Anand Sheela’s biography because the one who has surrendered it all has nothing to lose in life. She first surrendered herself to Bhagwan and then her spirit, skills, words and actions towards taking care of the disciples at Rajneeshpuram. But when she loses the trust with which she had surrendered her life, it makes her strong enough to hold her fort and battle it out with the world to start the second innings of her life. Today, Ma Anand Sheela is an icon of strength and a symbol of patience and perseverance. Her life has been one of service to the community and she continues to do so by serving others. Sheela’s life is full of trials and tribulations and it finally seems she has arrived at a stage of spiritual peace. Her journey is full of lessons – the white, the black and the orange – that is part of life . One can only hope to read the biography and pick up from these lessons, improvise on them and give back to the society through service.

Sandhu has done a commendable job of researching and presenting an era gone by through her narrative skills and detailed descriptions. Nothing to Lose highlights Bhagwan Rajneesh’s views which later became immortalised under the Osho Movement. It did take the world by storm in the 1970s-80s ; but in 2020 one cannot really act as the moral police here and judge / comment on his teachings. Time and mindset have indeed come a long way since the movement was at its height and today it might be visualised in a completely new light.

No. of Pages: 319

Publisher: Harper Collins

Available on: Amazon / Flipkart

Rating: 4/5

*I would like to Thank WritersMelon and Harper Collins for providing me with a review copy of the book.

Daughters of Char Chinar by Almas Hussain

‘Slaughtering a woman in Char Chinar is commonplace occurrence but killing a man is something else. Masculine lives matter.’ The very foundation of Daughters of Char Chinar is steeped in the legacy of patriarchy and how the women of the community rise against it to triumph over wrong, once and for all.  Hussain’s latest novel follows the trials and tribulations of the twins – Meher and Nafisa- who stand up against the forced patriarchy of Char Chinar.

Motherless and abandoned at birth, Meher and Nafisa are brought up by a cook at their father’s mansion. On coming of age, they are relocated to their maternal house, as it becomes no longer safe for two beautiful young girls to remain in the vicinity of lecherous men. The two discover friendship, love, loss, fear and hidden secrets of the family through their unforgettable journey in their maternal house.  

Daughters of Char Chinar directs the reader’s attention to certain pertinent observations about the very existence of women in society. Their treatment as mere objects of pleasure and barter by men, withhold their deserved Rights from them.  Any resistance towards the same leads to death or abandonment- not to mention ruining their honour. It is almost as if their existence is shrouded by the veil of subordination, leaving no space for them to have a voice and opinions of their own. The twin’s mother, Shabnam, fell prey to the clutches of the same mentality which resulted in her death. But her dreams and aspirations of seeing a free community for women lived on through her daughters.

The reference to the temporary Jirga courts highlighting one of the very many social evils in tribal communities, portray that even though the world has supposedly moved on in freedom and liberty, many regions are still as backward as they were centuries ago. The tradition of offering an unmarried daughter or the closest female relative as compensation to sins committed by men; so that the payment can be made by ravaging her, represents the sheer pettiness existing in the minds of men.

The very actuality of the Jirga courts, however temporary in form, brings the readers to wonder about the law and order system which permits the execution of such systems. This also leads one to question their existential safety where the law enforcers are consumed by greed and lust and submit their honour and position to be moulded by an oligarchic community. It makes one wonder whom to approach for justice or should the word even exist in the community?

With repeated instances of women being harassed and presented to the Jirga courts for ages without a silver lining; fear stations itself permanently in the hearts of the people, especially women. This fear triggers Meher and Nafisa’s grandmother, to weave a web of lies to safeguard the children, from the disastrous fate young girls are usually subjected to. Her plan of protecting the twins, though innovative, also makes the readers’ question the extent to which common people are willing to go to defend their children from fellow human –beings.

The above discussion sums up in a nutshell what Meher and Nafisa are up against to survive within the boundaries of Char Chinar as independent girls, without having to worry about their cruel destinies. What both the girls do realise is that a problem can only be combatted when one is educated about the same and have enough resources to fight against it. It brings us to the significance of education especially among women to stand up against the wrong.  It is needful to mention that Hussain also highlights the actions of the ‘Sons’ of Char Chinar- who help in bringing revolutionary change in the community.  This only proves that not all men are alike and restores faith in humanity.

Daughters of Char Chinar, though a fiction, tells the brutal truth of the 21st century society. No matter how much we harp on a progressive society, certain stances are definitely regressive and need to be uprooted the soonest. Meher and Nafisa are backed up by many other daughters of Char Chinar who have suffered similar fates. Armed with their dreams and aspirations, their support- physically or in spirit, and far sightedness; coupled with the instrument of education and strong-willed acumen – the land of Char Chinar could see better days for their children. At the end of it all, the greatest message that the novel gives is that love has powers that patriarchal backwardness, male egoism and domination cannot even fathom. The power of this four-letter word is enough to turn the tables and deliver justice denied to women for decades.

Hussain beautifully pens down the book giving space and time for the growth of each character. Their emotions and actions are justified and realistic. With twists and turns, the storyline is gripping and the readers are left with the want to find out more after reading each page. There are various sub-plots in the story but each of them merges effortlessly with the main storyline avoiding any narrative confusion. What is also interesting about the book is its call-to-action. It makes the readers aware of the atrocities still existing in the society and if we, as individuals can do our part in resisting it, we have the capability of making the world a better place. The first step has been taken by Hussain where she pens down this book to open our eyes and ears to the real world. The next step needs to be taken by us as conscious citizens of the community. Daughters of Char Chinar is also slated to be a major motion picture and it is thoroughly awaited.

Definitely a highly recommended book and one of my best reads for 2020!

No. of Pages: 338

Publisher: Pirates Books

Available at: Amazon

*Disclaimer: I would like to thank Falguni Jain and Pirates Books for giving me the opportunity to review the book.