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.

Hassan’s State of Affairs by Mirza Athar Baig

Originally written in Urdu by Mirza Athar Baig and titled Hassan Ki Surat-e-Haal , Hassan’s State of Affairs has been translated by Haider Shahbaz. At the onset, the writer and translator should both be commended for delving into one of the most non-linear and non-chronologic novels of modern times with diverse, non-stereotypic patterns of storytelling. The story begins with a Senior Accountant Hassan, who loves his ride to his workplace and engages in a series of ‘displaced sightseeing’. On one such journey he chances upon a junkyard and the story begins then on. The junkyard is the property of an ambitious collector whose sole purpose in life is to make it to the Guinness Book of World Records. One day the collector is spotted by a writer of a surrealist film- This Film That Cannot be Made. Here on the narrative takes various twists and turns and delves deep into the lives of Hassan and the film-crew who is making the film based on the junkyard and the Guinness-obsessed collector. It is interesting to note how the story takes a pace of its own and how by luck Hassan and the film-crew meet each other.

Hassan’s State of Affairs, brings into the forefront various philosophies and theories of life, the way one visualises the world and films. The human mind is truly the most awe-inspiring object on the world. The way it functions is sometimes beyond the understanding of humans themselves. Four distinct ways in which the mind functions have been cleverly incorporated as narrating patterns to take the story forward.

Hassan’s perpetual habit of ‘displaced sightseeing’ coupled with scenario-formulating makes for a very unique narrative. Often when we pass random objects on our way, we tend to ignore it. This ‘displaced sightseeing’-scenario formulating style has given birth to various possibilities and probabilities of situations, and how one can react to them. This formulation of probabilities leads to fluctuating thoughts, to combat which, the kinetic consciousness of mankind constantly needs to ‘scribble’ down each possibility. This has been cleverly named as ‘non-interventionist intervention’, a trait clearly visible in the surrealist film-writer.

If so far these concepts seem new, the writer has made sure of giving a lesson to the readers by ‘walking with Hassan’ and confusing vital realities. Reality, Alternate Reality, Sub-Altern Reality- Unrealism – are all kneaded together to create this crisp tale. The element of surrealism which is an undistinguishable veil to the realm of reality and unreality has been flawlessly captured thought the writings of Baig and translations of Shahbaz. Surrealism is a philosophy most attractive to film-makers and students of film. I remember learning it years ago in film classes, and the beauty with which a film-making technique has been blended into a novel is praiseworthy. Surrealism also often confuses the mind and makes one careful while speaking out their thoughts, especially among peers. Amplifying this message, the inside-outside format of dialogues has been cleverly devised where readers get to simultaneously read about what a character thinks vis-a-vis what the character says aloud.

Apart from the above methods which play with the mind, a fifth seemingly unrelated process of storytelling that has been used is object biography. When we see an object or make use of it, we never necessarily give a moment to think about the inception of the object. But is it necessary that we do ponder about it?  All five narrating styles are equally provocative to contemplate various philosophies. The use of such strong storytelling patterns are quite new and refreshing to read.

Hassan’s State of Affairs continues in two parallel plots and each plot poses some thoughtful questions, the first of which being the idea of making a surrealist film and the significance of the genre in contemporary times. Surrealism once brought about a revolution in film-making. But do the contemporary audience desire more of surrealism or straight forward movies today? Are the intellectual minds hungry for surrealism applauded, or has intellect been swallowed by the capitalist wave of commercialised cinema?  This process of film-making also throws light on the capitalist segment of the production. Do all businessmen enter the world of films for personal joy and money squandering? Do they understand the emotions and enthusiasm running at the backend or are only concerned with the fulfilment of their needs?

While reading Hassan’s State of Affairs, it will definitely strike the readers how very few female characters take centre stage and the light in which they have been introduced- a cigarette-smoking bold actor-screenplay writer to a stuntwoman cum man-expert to theatre actors who are often seen upon as ‘sluts’ by the world. This shows the immediate need of inducing gender equality and affirming a secure base to the women of the community. Women can be different from what is expected of them by the community in the unwritten book of conduct and with progressive time, it should be accepted and respected. The women in Hassan’s State of Affairs can be perceived as bold and strong; or of loose morals by the orthodox conservative schools. It is completely up to the readers to perceive them.

Coming back to Hassan, his visual perception of ‘displaced sightseeing’ is the reflection of an unconscious perception of every individual. But how often do we pause moments from our life to ponder about the situations happening in front of us? More often than not, never, if they do not concern us at all. But Baig makes the readers think about whether these situations are truly situations that do not concern the viewer? Does viewing the situation not make them a (silent) character/ participant in the situation itself?

Post posing several questions, the novel leaves the reader to use their power of displaced sightseeing, object biography, non-interventionist intervention and inside-outside dialogues to come up with suitable answers for themselves. It is a pure play of perceptions and no particular answer can be judged correct or incorrect. Such is the beauty of Hassan’s State of Affairs.

It will be futile to have the discussion about the content but not acknowledge how beautifully it has been transformed into the book cover by designer Rashmi Gupta. The motifs of the mind, eye and camera – all three instruments of perception have been simplistically yet effectively placed within one another to give a long-lasting impression of the symbolism within the novel through its book cover.

Hassan’s State of Affairs is a mesmerizing story told from several viewpoints. It is the story of various colourful characters and their obsessions, ambitions, relationships, influences, uncertainties and desires which often conflict with one another. But what makes the overall novel special is its unique narrative styles and how seemingly insignificant occurrences come back to us in the most unimaginable ways. As the narrator of the novel says that, there is high probability that what is uncommon might not occur but the possibility of its occurrence cannot be ruled out either.

No. of Pages: 604

Publisher: Harper Collins

Author: Mirza Athar Baig

Translator: Haider Shahbaz

Available on: Amazon

Rating: 4/5

5 Reasons to read Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line

Written by Deepa Anappara, this sensational debut has already caught the eyes of the audience and literary prize organisations. Having been shortlisted for the JCB Prize 2020 and on the Longlist for the Atta Galatta Prize, Bangalore Literature Festival, Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line is definitely going places with its simple yet powerful narrative. Going by the several rave reviews the book has received I decided to read it myself (while I was staying at home during Pujo) and really liked the story. Here is why I think Djinn Patrol… is definitely worth a read.

Straight out of a Crime Series: Just like the protagonist Jai intently gazes and notices the working of the Police officers and detectives on Crime shows; the audience is mesmerized at the usage of the same techniques (to whatever possible extent) by three young children (by young I mean around 8 – 10 years) . Visualising the scenes while reading a book is a habit most readers have automatically imbibed by now and while reading this book, I am sure you would feel like you are watching another episode of a Crime Series. Being a fan of such series myself, this way of structuring the narrative struck a chord with me on the first go.

Gripping narrative: Generally books are narrated by protagonists who are post teens or older; but here it is narrated by children. Several children, their family conditions and relationships, drive forward the storyline. What is intriguing is the validity of the situations. Children, we are aware are immature, hasty, emotional, indecisive and definitely need guidance in their formative years. But the three young protagonist- Jai, Pari and Faiz seem to be taking the role of leaders and guiding the search patrol for finding their missing friends. However with child-like traits in them, sometime they too get distracted towards objects and activities of their choice which makes their focus waver. This only pushes the audience towards a much-needed reality taking into consideration that distraction is part of Nature and such occurrences happen oh-so-often than is actually portrayed.

A tale of the hypocritical society: Anappara talks of the ground realities and nuances existing in our liberal, democratic, and progressive society. While at one end we usually see children with their parents, friends, family enjoying in the eye-glistening lights of modern urbanscape; the same urbanscape in its darker side devours children, men, women and even voiceless animals mercilessly. This brutally honest depiction compels the readers to rethink about the society they live in, the people with their double faces that one interacts with daily, and if there is any way in which the world can be made a better place through individual contribution. When the saviours of the people turn into demons through false power and arrogance of money, it is up to the common people to come together and fight for what is rightfully theirs.

Social Evils at its peak: Talk about rape, kidnapping, murder, trafficking, prostitution, beggary (which has now become one of the biggest social racket), hooliganism, bribery, communalism, gender disparity -each one of them has been touched upon in Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line. It is indeed commendable that while each of the problems has their own space and page limits, they smoothly transition and complement the story taking it forward. Nowhere will the reader Sigh upon the inclusion of so many individual social evils. What is interesting is that most of the wrong-doings are discovered by the children throughout the course of their investigation. The ability to discover the wrongs in the society and contemplate about them forming one’s own opinion gives Anappara leverage as a writer where the readers also read about its effect on the minds of the children and their response to it. 

Depiction of Child Psychology: One of the major themes for the year 2020 is mental health. Keeping in mind the claustrophobic nature and spatial limitations due to COVID-19, discussing about mental health is an absolute must and no shame attached! A substantial part of mental health constitutes child psychology as they are the most vulnerable. From the very beginning Jai, Pari and Faiz have an up and running conscience. They analyse everything as per the crime scene that they watch but more in order to find their friend than becoming a hero. Faiz, having lost his father decides to help his brother by working shifts to earn for the household. Even though this is voluntarily done, this depicts the positive side of the roots of responsibility and discipline instilled in him; but on the flip side also amounts to the much criticised child labour. What is notable about Faiz’s character in particular is that though very young, he understands the idea of communalism very clearly and tries to adjust himself to avoid confrontations. This only portrays how the evil in the society has not spared children as well.

It is hard to believe that Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line is a debut novel because of the simplicity of the concepts and finesse of the storyline. The juxtaposition of the past and the present told and retold from the point of view of children makes the novel stand out and connect with the readers. Hope to read more from the author in future.

No. of Pages: 320

Publisher: Penguin

Available: Amazon / Flipkart / Snapdeal / Audible

7 Life Lessons from Yayaati’s Experiments with the Truth

Yayaati by Mahesh Vaze takes you on a journey of the high-on-demand corporate to entrepreneur boom. It traces the life of the protagonist, Yayaati and his endless search for wanting to achieve something better in life and thereafter a peaceful mind. The novel is a reflection of the actualities of being a corporate employee and an entrepreneur. Its realistic approach makes it quite relatable to anyone who works or has worked in similar sectors. The best part of reading Yayaati for me was its takeaway lessons which I have highlighted below.

Don’t Judge a Person by their marks: The world has become such that digits, percentages and percentiles on the performance report of a student matters more than their abilities and grasp over their field of interest and talents. Yayaati, in his days at the IIM appears to be one of the mediocre students who takes interest in various subjects and also prepares himself by being aware of  ‘out-of-syllabus’ subjects. This is seen as a tomfoolery within the precincts of the institution but in the long run gives him the power of knowledge and understanding of a wide knowledge base. His ability to prove himself and excel in his work as an analyst also earns him All India Rankings which would probably have been unthinkable by his peers in the institution. Thus it is important to contemplate if digits on the report card really matter in professional life?

Personal Transformation Becomes Mandatory: An importantaspect of being a corporate employeeis to pay attention to one’s personal presentation. Yes, it does matter if you are wearing Armani suits or a relatively cheaper tie picked up from the bazaars of Mumbai, Delhi or Kolkata. Personal branding is as important as leveraging the brand of the company you work for. One might have all the knowledge in the world, but as long as they are not ‘looking rich and important and worth-your-time’ companies usually tend not to grant them any appointment or take them seriously. Yayaati too transformed himself from the simple small town boy to the gourmet loving ‘Us Mumbaikars’ in no time to live up to the expectations of his clients and his personal reputation of being one of the Top 3 analysts.

Stay Away from the 9 Sins of Corporatism: It is said that ‘ with power comes great responsibility’ but it is also true that power is accompanied by the 9 sins of the corporate world- insecurity, inferiority complex, becoming an opportunist, jealousy, extreme work pressure, stress, ego, fear of failure and thirst to become an overachiever.All these nine inevitable notions collectively symbolised as office politics, exert immense negativity in the minds of the people, degrading the work atmosphere. It is not unheard of that these are the significant reasons as to why several deserving individuals are removed from their positions or fighting off them often leads to developing psychological challenges which results in frequenting a counsellor.  

Sometimes you need a BREAK: Yayaati has always been a think- ahead kind of a person who knows when to let go of the situation and when to hold fort. Many times, he goes on long holidays to clear his mind off the volatility of his job market. This is true for all employees working in a corporate. Freshening up of the mind is an absolute necessity else one suffers from breakdown or mental block. It also accounts for inspiration that might help in recovering work and giving it a new direction.

Embark on an Entrepreneurial Journey: As everyone has a passion to do something, midway their jobs, they also develop a passion to being their own boss- My Life My Rules. After having three successful stints in the stock market Yayaati decides to become the master of his own passion. He along with his wife, Vasu, sets up a luxury eco-lodge catering to the minds and pockets of the upper middle class, elites, tourists, and business class. Venturing in to the hospitality empire from scratch was definitely full of hurdles but Yayaati’s understanding of the world and its ways (which were out-of syllabus) helps him prove his prowess at running the eco-lodge successfully.

Rekindle Emotional Bonds: Family is a bond that one cannot live without. But in contemporary society, families are evolving and their closeness is fading. Yayaati too distances himself from his parents, especially his father. But as life progresses and one learns , unlearns and picks up the pieces of life , there comes a time when he / she tries to get back to the warmth of having a family with close bonds. Yayaati tries to do the same. In fact, his visit to his hometown years later, invokes all his childhood memories and curiosity about the places and its people.

Embark on a Lifelong Quest to find Yourself: Life is a journey of finding oneself and this is the biggest truth Yayaati finds out. Achievements in life are just milestones of inching closer to discovering oneself, but it is never the full attainment of one’s goal. It is this journey which must be lived, respected and constantly adapted to that would polish the morale and character of a person. This journey is also about understanding that change is the inevitable constant and one needs to know when to let go and embrace the change.

Yayaati’s journey from being a mediocre student to one of the top rated equity analysts and then on to being an entrepreneur is truly inspiring; and makes up for a lesson in understanding change and adaptations in life. It is definitely worth a read.

No. of Pages: 352

Publisher: Notion Press

Available on: Flipkart / Amazon

*Disclaimer: I would like to Thank Author Mahesh Vaze, Publisher, Notion Press and Blogger, Siddhi Palande for giving me the opportunity to review this book.

The Phoenix: Bilal Siddiqi

The Phoenix by Bilal Siddiqi is a fast-paced modern thriller narrating the story of an Indian intelligence officer stuck in adverse situations. The story which starts with an encounter in Southall London in the year 2013 has a triggering effect, progressing through time, continents, and cities while only aggravating the seriousness of the scenario. Aryaman Khanna, an erstwhile intelligence officer is sent to the Lakshadweep high security prisons for breaching protocols during the encounter in 2013. An encounter which not only made him lose his friends and mentor,  but also saw him stripped of duty.

Fast forward to seven years Aryaman is still efficiently armed with his knowledge of service, but is unaware of the doom which lurks towards his family. He also reflects on his only child with whom he shares a restrained relationship. On release he has a feeling of self-doubt reminiscing if there ‘was any part of his old self still there . . . . .to recognize?’ but is determined to go back to his wife and son and reconcile for the lost years.

But trouble starts when a seemingly hit-and-run case claims his wife, Jyoti’s life – except that she is a successful journalist who was working on a top –secret story, powerful enough to get goons after her and to shake the secure foundations of a Nation serving millions of people. Here begins Aryaman’s journey back into the world of intelligence and espionage with the help of his ex-colleague and friend Randheer. Now it is up to him to not only avenge his wife’s death and protect his family but also to serve the Nation that had once refused to believe in him.

From the bazaars of Turkey to the luxury of Thailand, from the aridness of Pakistan to the serenity of London – a vortex of revenge so spun against the people of India, it is hard to imagine that it can ever be done. Siddiqi needs to be commended for merging the pieces of the puzzle so smoothly that they weave into a compact story. The Phoenix has several central themes,  starting from the working of the Indian intelligentsia to the psyche of the families of those working as intelligence officers.  Relationships – friendship, love, parent- children, forms an essential part of the storyline and almost gives it the right push to take it forward.

What The Phoenix accentuates through the narration is a weapon of mass destruction lurking over millions of people in India. This makes it very relatable to the contemporary condition of the country and the world which is almost in a state of Biological warfare with the Corona Virus; the only difference is that Siddiqi’s antagonist tries to make use of the same for personal revenge.

The Phoenix resonates how Dumbledore introduced one to Harry and-is personified by Aryaman. Having had a very fruitful career he is sent into the flames of high prison but resurrects seven years later to heal himself and the world due to the emotional blow that he receives. Aryaman may appear tough but is equally understanding, caring, and loyal. His loyalty towards his friend Randheer, or his continuous effort to try and mend his relation with his son, depicts that he is one of the fewer remaining officers who have true emotions left in him, but do not allow these emotions to take the better of him. He is still as prompt in planning, quick in understanding the enemy’s motives, and daring yet careful in his stances. His repeated mention of his mentor reveals how grateful he is of his late mentor.

It is interesting to note the way Siddiqi has used the role of the digital sphere. With the pandemic, the world is going through a digital revolution, at the same time he has exposed the darker side of this platform. How everything is digital and yet hidden, messages are bare yet coded, top secret missions are planned in broad daylight sitting in different parts of the world , yet difficult to crack by the cyber surveillance.

A gripping tale with ensemble characters and one truth- No One can be trusted, The Phoenix is successful in capturing the attention of the people. Definitely recommended, should you have a taste for contemporary thrillers.

No. of Pages: 228

Publisher:  Penguin India

Available at: Flipkart/ snapdeal/ Amazon

Rating: 3.5/5

Queeristan: The Roadmap to an Inclusive India

Queeristan is a one-stop book of inclusiveness in Corporate Culture! Parmesh Shahani’s second book is a treasure trove of knowledge and a reservoir of go-to materials when it comes to LGBTQ concerns. What makes it stand out are the possible solutions to the rising issues through the techniques of ‘cultural acupuncture’ and ‘jugaad resistance’. By these pioneering methods not only has the founder of Godrej Culture Lab normalised the presence of the community within Godrej but Shahani’s strong presence as a leader, speaker and media icon has helped in voicing the ideologies far and wide across the country and overseas, leading many to follow similar paths.

‘In our country [India] where the home itself is a space of identity erasure, the negotiation starts at workplace’. Queeristan beautifully portrays the two sides of the emotion called home – one where an individual is comfortably accepted, and the other, where the polarity of gender is coerced on them. For the former, a safe and continuous space with the same respect and freedom is provided by the workplace and for the latter; the workplace becomes the home, the family that every individual craves to live freely in. Thus, the workplace, where one spends almost eight to nine hours, probably more; 5-6 days a week needs to reinvent itself to be inclusive with amenities for the community. This includes recognition, comfort, support, exposure or anonymity, legal and medical provisions and awareness / leadership campaigns for the overall growth of the individual and the company.  ‘Ramkrishna Sinha from Pride Circle, a D&I Consultancy, put it… Generally, all benefits which are gendered, we need to look at un-gendering them.’

Loaded with surveys, statistics, citations, referral work and of course, Parmesh’s personal experiences, Queeristan gives the feeling of Parmesh speaking directly to the readers. It takes the form of a fluid narrative which cites the inception of the community (or to what it can be traced); to e over-the –years legal fight with the court for recognition; coupled with the concerns raised by the community with respect to equal opportunities at work; and most importantly to tentative solutions and techniques that can make the workplace,  a holistic environment for all.  Parmesh’s contemporary anecdotes and up-to –date methodologies make Queeristan really interesting, intriguing and definitely a guide which can be followed for building an experimental ground in the corporate sector. Of course, in the process of experimenting maybe newer policies and programs can be designed to enhance the cause being championed for.

Beginning with the company HR policies and specific parameters for the LGBTQ employees, to actively recruiting more LGBTQ employees, opens the minds of the employer towards the community. In this regard Godrej’s LOUD –Live Out Ur Dream Initiative is the best example of attracting newer talents to the company by giving them opportunities to showcase their talent, excel in it, be mentored with financial assistance and of course retain them long-term for the company. This apart, taking active part in job fairs helps in broadening the network and meeting probable recruits. This is also a remarkable platform to see how other corporates are engaging with the new pool of job-seekers as well as see with the growing number of companies taking part every time. Post recruitment, the company needs to make sure that the individuals are treated equally and any instance of discrimination is to be handled strictly by the management. Provision of policies; restrooms; psychological, medical and financial assistance are some of the ways to create an inclusive corporate culture. Regular events and briefings for the employees broaden their perspectives and helps in welcoming the community wholly to the company.  Trans-employees need to be given extra support in any which way they need it and the company should provide as much support as it can. The LGBTQ cause in the ergonomic culture would remain unfulfilled if not spoken about in public forums and media. Thus, the need of taking the cause to any lectures, workshops, conferences and festivals, grows stronger by the day.

Queeristan is incomplete without the mention of inspirational leaders from the community- Hoshang Merchant, Pawan Dhall, Sushant Divgikar a.k.a Rani koHEnur, Grace Banu, Dhiren Borisa, Radhika Piramal, Keshav Suri, Akhil Katyal, to name a few who have used their field of expertise- literature, academics, business, social activism, to spread awareness  for an inclusive society. With extensive research in this domain, Shahani has also listed down the various organisations working for the cause throughout India. It is an excellent repository of information and should you like to explore your association or volunteer with them, you can get in touch.

Parmesh Shahani , through Queeristan, writes an open letter to the HR, Business Heads, and higher management of companies to envision an inclusive and healthy workplace with equal benefits for all employees, devoid of discrimination. The LGBTQ community is a reservoir of talent and it needs to be incorporated within corporates for better productivity of the company as well as the growth of the individual. Queeristan is a role-model and a stepping stone for newer companies to broaden their visions and join hands in making the society a safe and inclusive place for all.

No. of Pages: 328

Publisher: Westland Business

Available on : Amazon / Flipkart / Audible

White Rose, Black Forest by Eoin Dempsey

1943, Germany during World War II and the era of the führer. . .

Nestled near the border of the Black Forest and surrounded by the heavy winter snow lies a secluded summer cabin inhabited by Franka Gerber.  As she walks around the barren forest with thoughts of life and death, she chances upon an injured soldier, unconscious and freezing. Humanity, a rare attribute then,  awakens in her and she brings him back to the lonely cabin. Being a nurse by profession, it isn’t a big deal for her to apply first aid, except that she is low on resources and may be hiding an enemy of the State, for which she can be liable to execution by the Gestapo. In a Germany that knows no liberal thinking and free speech, where friends and family report trivial cases to the Gestapo in order to feature in their good books, and a land which has almost forgotten the meaning of humanity will Franka be able to help the man survive or will she succumb to the ideals of Nazi Germany? White Rose, Black Forest is a story of human strength, loyalty and yearning for freedom.

The readers get a glimpse of the lives of Franka and the injured soldier, who identifies himself as Werner Graff, through the non-linear narration of the novel interspersed with frequent flashbacks. Both Franka and Werner are constantly suspicious of each other and their real intentions. While she suspects that he is not revealing his true self, she decides to play along till he divulges his motives on his own.

Soon enough patience breaks, and they both narrate their true lives to each other.  Franka loses her mother to cancer, her father to an air raid, and her younger brother to the Gestapo’s. She herself has just been released from the prison for going against the ideals of the führer and offering her services to the group White Rose.  After careful contemplation, she is on a verge of committing suicide when she finds Werner Graff. Graff, of course is a soldier having an important role in shaping the future of the War. Coming from an affluent business family, he chooses to serve his nation and joins the armed forces.  He is on a mission to Germany, but as luck would have it, ends up with two broken legs in the middle of the Black Forest!

What is his mission? Is he able to fulfil it? Will Franka be unknowingly drawn towards his mission? What role does his mission play in shaping the war?  Will the Gestapo get a wind of their activities?  White Rose, Black Forest answers these and much more throughout the story which brings together two different individuals and binds them emotionally onto the path of humanity.  A tale told with minimal characters and yet complete,  rich in emotions, love, loyalty, betrayal, guilt, loss and devotion. It shows two distinct sides of patriotism and how one works for the good of the people while the other works for building an air of superiority devoid of the welfare of  the people.  

Dempsey’s remarkable symbolism through the title and the book cover says a great deal about his conceptualisation. There indeed is a world beyond the White and the Black with the existence of the Grey. White rose and black forest also stand for the distinct feminine and masculine projection of the two protagonists. White is seen as a symbol of peace and Dempsey quite subtly plays with the imagery to name a group which tries to usher in peace amidst violent philosophy. A highly recommended read if you are interested in the history of World War II , how it affected the various strata of the German society, and how sometimes individual  actions seem smaller in front of the goodwill of the mass.

Publisher: Lake Union Publishing

No. of Pages: 266

Available on Amazon / Flipkart

A Night in the Hills by Manav Kaul

Remember the song ‘Ban Ja Tu Meri Rani, Tenu Mahal Bana Doonga?’  Writer and Actor, Manav Kaul definitely knows how to build castles by triggering the reader’s imagination through visual imagery, and what best than stories from the serene hills to take the readers on a tour of words. A Night in the Hills is an anthology of eight short stories, each better than the other, depicting the rawness of life, love, friendship, infatuation, and desire. Kaul’s portrayal of human nature is apt to the point and illustriously depicts the fallacies of mankind. His anthology makes space for every age and emotion, making it relatable to a wide audience base. It is best to let the readers pick their favorite ones from an anthology where each story has its own charm and aura.

A Bunch of Old Letters: ‘Sandeshe Aate Hain , Humein Tarpate Hain. . .’ becomes the theme song for teenagers who are on the verge of experiencing first love. . .  by exchanging letters. Salim, Raju, and Sunil are best friends and share everything with each other. Trouble begins when Salim’s girlfriend proposes that her friend would like to write letters to Salim’s friend.  A game of writing proxy letters, elaborate white lies and sacrifice begins among the three of them. But would such short-lived love and comical tragedy win over the eternal bond of friendship that the three share?

Kaul’s positioning of the characters is quite unique. While Salim, Sunil and Raju are best of friends one cannot deny the class and religious differences between them. What is more astonishing is the fact when Salim’s girlfriend, Meenakshi talks about the existence of communal difference between them. This reveals how youngsters are sensitized towards communalism.  A Bunch of Old Letters defines friendship in its various aspects- being a true friend, being jealous of seeing a friend excel, imagining the feelings of the otherwise denied first love, going too far for a friend and the likes.  Like all relations, friendship has ups and downs but it is on the shoulders of the friends to resolve differences or not.

Itti and Uday: is the story of a mature yet complicated relationship. While Uday is married and has a child, Itti longs for true companionship and a productive relationship with Uday.  Would Itti remain a mistress to Uday? Will he be able to give her the space that she rightfully needs? Will Itti even want to continue a relationship so claustrophobic and hush-hushed?  The story of Itti is reflective of several liberal feminists who act according to their will. Mistakes are made by all, but very few have the strength to correct it over time.

The Copy Artist: Revealing the artistic mind of a copy artist, Kaul portrays the brilliance that is supressed in the visuals and hands of a copy artist. The mundane copying of emotionless images and objects makes a person mechanical and artistically cripple. But should one not acknowledge that a copy artist too is primarily an artist? Is this a feeling that gets supressed while working as a copier? Will the narrator be able to find his true call for art or succumb to the pressures of being a dull copier?

The Swallow:  Oftentimes, relationships hit stagnancy. Love is laidback and there is no trace of excitement. In fact, individuals often start suspecting each other of not giving enough space or time or even of infidelity. Companionship seems to fade and a long silence makes the relationship choked. What happens when a lady blames her partner of being ignorant about her presence and feelings, in a slipped moment of deviation during intimacy? Can anyone be really blamed if the thoughts travel to far and wide spaces like the swallow? Would someone innocent swallow such blames or try to explain the rationale behind the actions?

A Night in the Hills:  The titular story in the anthology is bound to give you chills; especially if you happen to love some thrills. When a tourist has to return to his guest house by walking through the dense dark forest, with a man who refuses to talk; strange thoughts start entering his mind. At times, he wants to run away from the man; while at other times he is sure the man would transform into a vampire and that would be his end.   At last, hope is rekindled when he sees lights in a faraway direction but then, the man disappears.  Did the man really turn into some creature of the night; or is it more than it meets the eye?

Five Grains of sugar: For Raju urf Rajkumar life has always been okay, okay?  A self-rated mediocre person who has very little to look forward to from life, except living with his mother; listening to Pundalik, the poet; talking to Radhey, the eccentrically imaginative sweeper; and scribbling messages on truck backs. But what is special about Raju is his self-invented game with the ants, through which he has the supreme control over them. When he is put in a false position of being a poet and asked to play with words rather than keeping quiet which he is good at; would any of his dearest ones come to his rescue? Kaul highlights the worth of underestimation through this tale and it is indeed a reminder for the readers that every individual, object, or phenomenon has its own significance in the world and should be given its due when the right time arrives.

Words and Their Picture: A narrative solely driven by visual imagery re-counts the poignant tale of a man who pursues his lost love with true dedication. Would he succeed in gaining the lost trust? The story portrays how the protagonist like many others, falls prey to the decisions of society and ‘simply lived out, with honesty, what was decided for me’. Words and Their Picture describe the emotion of distancing from a relationship that cannot be saved and yet hesitating to start a new one, in case it meets the same fate.

Tragedy: Divided into three parts, the story follows the life of Inder who is hospitalised at present due to ill health. He meets a beautiful girl in the adjoining room who is recuperating from jaundice. He wants to call her Parul till he comes to know that her name is Roshni.  The narrative shifts to the past where a young Inder falls in love with his singer-classmate Parul. Would economic and class differences unite the two souls? Was Inder experiencing the fantasy of teenage infatuation, or was it true love? Does Parul reciprocate his feelings? Most importantly, would Inder’s ‘good boy’ image allow him to take revolutionizing decisions about his life? The storyline yet again shifts to the present where Roshni and Inder make the better of each other’s company while at the hospital and recollects the horrors of Roshni’s past and her abusive step-father. Her personal experiences coupled with the absence of a father in her life, makes her fall for men beyond her reach. Is it a way of taking revenge or is it a way to compensate the lack of a father-figure in her life? Tragedy talks about some of the most complicated existing relationships in modern society along with the rationale behind them.

Manav’s brilliance as a writer is expressed through his works, especially through the use of modern sentiments, relationship vacuums, and vivid imagery to portray and supplement human feelings. A Night in the Hills is an absolute must-read if you love reading about human emotions, short stories, or love to see the world through the eyes of the writer.

No. of Pages: 224

Publisher: Westland

Available on : Flipkart / Amazon