Weedflower by Cynthia Kadohata

‘But, Bull, is it just because we’re Japanese?’ Twelve-year-old Sumiko is still not aware of the true consequence of her being Japanese when she asks her older brother Bull this question. The happy-go-lucky girl-next-door, Sumiko lives with her grandfather, uncle, and his family and her own little brother. Sumiko’s family is into farming flowers and she finds extreme solace in learning the tips and tricks of flower farming. Not only she helps in the farm post-school but also dreams of owning a flower shop of her own. . . . till the Pearl Harbor incident!

With the news of the bombings, starts coming news of Japanese arrests in America. Those born in America but of Japanese nationality seemed to be fleeing away from the land towards safety. Sumiko’s dreams are crushed under the weight of nationality and war and she is taken out of school, her books are burnt, her family photo with her late parents are burnt too, to remove the trace of her Japanese identity.

The Japanese community starts feeling like caged individuals after losing their identity. The fear of oppression by the Government is always on their minds which leads them to lead frightening sleepless nights. Japanese were being tracked and removed from the social milieu. It isn’t much later that her grandfather and uncle are arrested as well and Sumiko is only left with her elder cousins as the men of the house, to look after her and her little brother. With the man of the house gone, Sumiko could only look towards an unknown future. They started selling off their possessions including their much-loved horse, Baba at peanuts. In due course of time, they are shifted to Poston, a refugee camp in the desert of Arizona.

It is only in the camp where Sumiko’s real struggle starts- a struggle which is most internal than external. With no school and work, boredom starts creeping in her mind. The restlessness of getting news of her beloved grandfather and uncle also makes her uneasy at times. This affects her psyche and she starts reminiscing her life at the farm amongst flowers, family, and friends. Most days she sits daydreaming about a life that is light years away from her. She escapes reality in those moments to live a life elsewhere in peaceful bliss before the shards of reality strike her again.

Amidst all this, the Government provides no aid by further censoring the news. With no one getting the full picture of the war, the anxiety and anticipation grow harder and impatience finds its way, resulting in people taking drastic measures for themselves. News of proper facilities that the Government would be starting in the camps remain as an illusion for the longest time and what was permanent was a claustrophobic space suitable for half-a-person with an overhead shelter where families of four of five live cloistered along with their scaly companions like scorpions, cockroaches, and rats!

But Sumiko is a girl made of hard mettle. Even in dire circumstances as a flower grows, she starts showing off her skills as a gardener and starts helping their neighbor grow a small flower garden of his own. This becomes her world and she enjoys gardening and accumulating things that would help in a better yield in the harshest of the weather conditions. This gives her a purpose to look forward to each day and count the days until she can be living life as a free citizen.

In the wake of all these, Sumiko also makes a special friend- a young American Indian boy. Geographically the refugee camp is placed on (American) Indian Land which signifies the dispute between the American Indians and the unlawful usurpation of their native land by the Government. Boys from the nearby homes often enter the camps to bully the children out of the angst of having lost their lands. Sumiko’s friendship blossoms with one such American boy. Will such a friendship last forever? With Sumiko coming of age, will friendship mature into a permanent relation? It is interesting to see. . . . .

Kadohata tactfully shows the consequences of war and ethnic discrimination through the eyes of a child and takes the readers on a journey of friendship, betrayal, loss, illusionary promises, bullying, and of course mental health. The novel lays bare to the readers the other side of war where the casualty is not often physical but that of mental betrayal.

Also, one needs to talk about the beauty of the one-word name of the book- Weedflower. One of the most neglected and often mistaken flowers of great use is the weed flower, similarly, hundreds like Sumiko- Japanese American – were treated like weed flowers- useful but neglected, respectable but made to survive in the harshest conditions; who despite lack of opportunities or infrastructure keep their respect and beauty. Weedflower truly sums up the conditions of hundreds like Sumiko who bears the wrath of war for no direct fault of their own.

Weedflower plucks a chord in the hearts of its readers and even though it was first published in 2006, it still resonates with many, fourteen years later. I would clearly request you to grab your copy or read it online as an e-book or audiobook, it is surely worth it!

No. of Pages: 260

Publishers: Atheneum, Simon & Schuster

Available on: Amazon / Flipkart / Storytel

Lovelocked? 8 Short Stories of Love by Debeshi Gooptu

Contemporary love is a maze of puzzles.  Life isn’t as simple as the boy-meets-girl – girl-meets-boy scenarios of the past. Today, adjectives before girls and boys have made life complicated or maybe, with the spread of liberalism, made life easy. But all in all, emotions have definitely become more complex. While browsing through the Juggernaut App for some short stories, I stumbled upon this collection of shorts by Debeshi Gooptu. Each of her short stories explores a different angle of love. From college sweethearts to office romance to love post marriage- all themes are dealt with in her stories. In this post I speak about 8 short stories of first love, each highlighting a theme of friendship, infatuation, betrayal, loss, and much more.

magazine seller

The Magazine Seller:  Ever since I didn’t get a job after my graduation’ Ujwal has been selling magazines in the local train. It is there that he spots Ananya, a professor commuting via the Kalyani local to her University every day. Both are drawn towards the other despite their uneven economic backgrounds. Gooptu has beautifully brought in the current economic crisis in the country as a parallel to the love story. Hundreds of qualified youth roam jobless in the streets of Kolkata and other cities or defeated, take to menial jobs to support their families. On the other hand, there are several who choose to serve the people, even though they come from the crème de la crème of the society. Would Ujwal and Ananya’s growing friendship culminate in a relationship?  One has to read The Magazine Seller to know.

Read here

FDFL

First Day First Love: It is love at first sight for Durga when she enters her new office. Deep, a well-known journalist with the news company Durga lands an internship with; as well as her boss becomes the apple of her eyes at first sight. But does all that meets the eye is as is? What happens when the bubble of myth breaks? Does it leads to a new beginning or endures heartbreak? Infatuation is extremely common among teenagers and post-teens. It is such that it blinds a person and reduces their ability to rationalize the situation. However, more often than not, a person cannot be determined, understood, or judged by their appearance.

Read here

NOC

No Ordinary Crush: Sonali has always been very close to Anil Uncle, her father’s friend. What happens when years later she sees him in a different light? Is her attraction baseless or does it find reciprocation too? The author explores two significant themes in this story.  When a close relation suddenly finds a new meaning, individuals like Sonali are at a loss trying to find an explanation to the situation. They find themselves cornered and claustrophobic for the mere reason that they cannot speak to anyone about it for the fear of being judged by others. Furthermore, is love truly bound by the shackles of age? Can an individual not fall in love with an older man or woman and yet live a peaceful and loving life with his/her partner? No Ordinary Crush leaves the readers to ponder about the norm of relations and whether truly they can be broken by lovers.

Read here

letters

The Letters: Shefali, Rajat, and Sanjukta have been childhood friends. While Shefali and Rajat leave for the US to pursue higher studies, Sanjukta stays back. The three of them are in touch for over four years through letters. However, their last letters to each other turn out to be confessions of sorts, where the readers come face to face with each friend having something to reveal about themselves. These revelations do turn their relationship complex, but to what degree is a matter of time. Gooptu touches upon a theme so relevant and yet debatably accepted in society.  Every individual has a right to choose the person they love; and love is not bound by age, caste, sex, religion, and the likes.

Read here

connection

A Strange Connection: Akshay gets smitten by Swati from the moment his eyes fall on her during a late-night metro home. He starts finishing off his work quickly so that he can catch the same metro with her. However, Swati seems a reserved, quiet, shy, and quite a complex person; which is unnatural for a young college-goer who is often so full of life. Would Akshay be able to find out about the mysterious Swati? Would he ever be able to confess his liking towards her? An average college goer’s life is beautifully explored beyond the focal theme of the story. Today’s college students have a hundred things in mind besides studies- examination, results, competitions, achievements, parental pressure, peer pressure, early marriage, relationships, etc. These often form a heavy cloud of thoughts in their mind; which sometimes need immediate sorting out. At times, failure to do so might lead to disastrous consequences.

Read here

piano

Don’t Stand So Close to Me: A college romance where the odd has turned against Anuradha, a middle-aged professor who is deeply drawn towards her student Sachin. Strangely it is music that binds them together and in one such musical soiree both comes face to face with a lot to say to each other. Gooptu raises a very pertinent question in this story about middle-aged single women and their needs. Every individual has a right to love and be loved. But it takes humungous battles with the self, the psyche, and the society to overcome the taboos and stand up for oneself in such situations.

Read here

opposite attract

Opposites Attract: Can love and competition co-exist? Anjali and Rajbir are journalists who started their careers at the same time in the same news company. While Rajbir started developing feelings for Anjali, she started developing feelings for an ambitious career. Would these two opposites ever feel the attraction? Would love win over ambitiousness? Opposites Attract highlights the beauty of modern-day corporates and their ability to magically push an individual into the web of ambition. This transition is so subtle that one fails to realize when he/she distances from the loved ones and enters a world of lies where every action is measured in an equivalent pound of reaction. But do such growths really add value to an individual’s life, or it takes them away from themselves?

Read here

maths

An Imperfect Equation: Abha, a young college-goer gets smitten by her professor from the first day of college. All she can talk about to her friends his him, to the extent that she even thinks that this is how love feels. Would she ever muster the courage to tell her professor? Would her professor acknowledge and reciprocate the same? Developing a crush or an infatuation towards school/ college professors are very common in today’s society. While some relations do mature, some result in heartbreaks and yet others realize their foolishness and move forward. It is interesting to read how Abha’s story progresses.

Read here

Debeshi’s stories need to be seen as beyond love stories to understand the background and the society of the protagonists which hugely influences their actions. If you love short stories, then enjoy some nice love stories this monsoon and I will be back with few more recommendations soon.

7 Books to add to your Father’s Day TBR

“Sometimes I think my papa is an accordion. When he looks at me and smiles and breathes, I hear the notes.”- The Book Thief, Markus Zusak

Do you not think at times, that fatherhood is often neglected as compared to motherhood? The presence of a father in a child’s life is seen as a figure who leads the household, although this notion is gradually changing. His absence from the daily life of a child often brings in a distance between him and the child. But, the little values, discussions, debates, morals- consciously or unconsciously -instilled into the child by him, remains forever. This is beautifully reflected through literature which has seen some amazing father figures- whether it be the idealist from To Kill a Mocking Bird to the classic relation in The Book Thief or just memories of a father in the Harry Potter Series, one gets to see the different shades of fathers through literature. Ahead of Father’s Day, I type-down some of my all-time favorites which you might want to add to your TBR lists.

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Finding Chika by Mitch Albom: A heart-touching memoir of Albom’s adopted daughter Chika. Albom pens down his journey as a father and how his daughter completes the vacuum in his family. He writes about how the presence of Chika changes him and gives birth to the father in him who is able to accept the new responsibilities which develop while embracing fatherhood. Their journey over the days and the lessons learned from each other makes it worth a Father’s Day Read!

Read the full review here

Publisher: Sphere, Hachette

Purchase: Amazon / Flipkart

man

The Man with Many Hats by Jael Silliman: Every individual has shades to his/ her personality and so does Morris. He is exuberant, illustrious, and tempestuous in nature. The Man with Many Hats marks the debut of Jael Silliman who beautifully explores the father-daughter relationship within the constraints of the disappearing Jewish community from the Kolkata society.

Purchase: Amazon 

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Tape by Steven Camden: Tapes are extinct! Isn’t that what comes to your mind when you hear about Tapes? But what happens when voices, especially of those no longer around, speak to you from Tapes. A story of love and loss, surpassing the time vortex, engage the readers in this novel by Camden. The narration fluctuates between the present and the past and instills knowledge and morals of the past to the present linking it through a Tape.

Read the full review here

Publisher: Harper Collins

Purchase: Amazon / Flipkart

letters

Letters from a Father to his Daughter by Jawaharlal Nehru: For once, alienate politics from the life of the Nehrus and look at them as a father and a daughter. A series of letters written to Indira by her father took the form of an illustrated book years later- a book, which most children love to read. Nehru had always been compassionate towards children and thus, his writings are simple yet knowledgeable for every child and not only for his daughter alone. He traces the history, geography, coming of Neanderthals, race, and language, and more through his letters.

Publisher: Puffin, Penguin Random House

Purchase: Amazon / Flipkart

time

How to Stop Time by Matt Haig:  An unthinkable story of a man who lives on for centuries in search of his only child, who is genetically similar to him. His search takes him to the streets of Elizabethan England, to the Jazz –age Paris, from New York to Australia- he sees it all. Does he ever find his child? Is it worth living with the burden of centuries? How does it feel to change identities and lose dear ones every few years – only so that you can survive the world? This book answers it all!

Publisher: Canon Gate, Penguin Random House

Purchase: Amazon / Flipkart

hotel

Hotel Vendome by Danielle Steel: I had picked up Hotel Vendome years ago after I had freshly recovered from the emotional jolt (in a good way) Sankar’s Chowringhee had left in me. Steel’s novel is so much similar to the latter’s novel. Growing up in a hotel, understanding its nuances, seeing the myriad hues of guests seeking accommodation, is a world on its own. It is interesting to see how Steel marks the development of a family inspired by and within the four walls of Hotel Vendome, their permanent home.

Publisher: Corgi, Penguin Random House

Purchase: Amazon / Flipkart

anne Continue reading “7 Books to add to your Father’s Day TBR”

Girl Made of Gold by Gitanjali Kolanad

The debut novel of Bharatnatyam dancer, Gitanjali Kolanad is one of the most gripping thrillers I have read lately. The story starts off with a hunter finding a dead corpse near the jungle overlooking a holy village-temple. This is where the unputdownable story of a young Devadasi girl- Kanak starts unfolding.  Kolanad’s expertise in dance widens the scope of descriptive storytelling throughout the book where the narrators at length describe the temple and the village, their facets, the hidden symbolism, and of course their life. The story progresses through the narration of its main characters and traces the cause of the disappearance of young Kanak coupled with the mysterious appearance of a golden statue that looks exactly like her. Girl Made of Gold highlights the Devadasi culture at its peak; and how young girls are betrothed to God and lead a life pleasing men.  But sometimes, some things go wrong. . . . . . or right!

The story progresses as each character connected to Kanak mulls over her disappearance.  Subbu, the young nephew of the village priest is set to find his lost friend; the village priest tries to leverage the situation by turning it into a tourist attraction; Vallabendran, the seat of the aristocracy of the village, is believed to have been after Kanak and win her as his latest possession, shows indifference; and Ratna, Kanak’s elder sister with whom her relations are sour is engulfed in her own world to care any less for her.  A spectrum of characters has been introduced by Kolanad throughout the course of the novel and they have something to hide, which might contribute to her disappearance.

The novel brings to the forefront the ritual of Devadasi which has been traced predominantly in the Temple states of Southern India where a girl is married off to a God and is expected to lead a life of celibacy attending to the temple rituals and excelling in performing arts. However, with time, the ritual has seen many transformations and in some parts, it is being misused as a form of sex-slavery under the garb of a ritual. It is admirable that even in the 21st century, people take to such rituals whole-heartedly or forcibly and make the decisions for young girls. Of late, various criminal activities have also gotten intertwined with the practice of forced Devadasi bringing it under the radar of Human Rights. It makes the readers wonder if a girl really wants to live the life of a celibate?  Does she really want to be seen as the wife of a God? And what about pleasing men as it is considered that every man is a part of God and in doing so; she pleases her husband-God? With the ritual being the central plot of the story, the author compels the readers to think closely about it and yet does not define the moral grounds for the same.

Girl Made of Gold beautifully portrays female characters- their strengths, desires, and follies. It also highlights the way society looks at women. Kanak, talented, and attractive has only desired true love. But the world sees her as nothing more than a Devadasi, one who is meant to serve the Gods and men. Ratna lives the life of the ‘other woman’ as she is given away to Vallabendran, despite him being married. Devyani, the wife of Vallabendran is a dutiful wife and daughter-in-law, who knows of her husband’s illustrious nature and yet keeps quiet all through, serving him. Nagaveni, the matriarch of the Devadasi household holds true to the tradition without understanding how cruel she is to her girls. However, if she has been pushed towards this deep endless well of satisfying others from a young age; she finds it nothing wrong in choosing the same path for her girls.

Kolanad further talks about the innate nature of men and women.  The deepest desire of a man or a woman’s heart is to desire human company. To turn it into friendship, love, care, or lust is the decision of the individual. Kanak, in her life experienced friendship and care from her friend, love from her admirer, and lust from the greedy vultures in the society. Only Kanak’s choice and to some extent her fate makes the decision for her. But the most important point put forward here is that all individuals- men or women- have a choice; it is only a matter of time, their values, and their feelings that lead them to choose one or the other.

The inherent idea of superstition which is most prevalent in the rural communities takes shape firmly in the story. The sudden presence of a golden statue where the village folks were expecting Kanak to be, elevates her status; similar to real-life reportage of idols drinking milk in India which had surfaced a few years ago. Faith and belief are gifts to humanity, but there also exists a fine line between them and superstitions and irrationality. While many would instill faith in irrationality, others may pounce on the opportune moment to take advantage of it, just like the village priest did to lift his position and that of the village, ensuring enough donations from the arriving tourists.

Kolanad has brilliantly depicted the rural life, its nuances, and most importantly the depths of human relations through Girl Made of Gold. It is indeed a page-turner and every page comes with new revelations that are bound to leave the readers wanting for more. The complex web of relationship, intertwined within the members of the Devadasi community, the villagers and the aristocratic household has been kept intact, all the while progressing with the mystery of Kanak’s disappearance.

Girl Made of Gold is definitely a recommendation if you are searching for a good book to read, explore, or love the thriller genre and Indian writing. And I’ m sure you would finish the book and take time to contemplate its brilliance for a while. Indeed a thriller such as this is rare to find and one must not miss the opportunity to grab it FREE from the Juggernaut App. I personally hope that it hits the bookstores soon as paper/ hardback too.

No. of Pages: 256

Publisher: Juggernaut Books 

Available: Juggernaut App

Rating: 4/5

Some Perumal Murugan Shorts Please!

With the stay-at-home routine becoming the new norm one has a whole new array of activities- work from home, household chores, reading new books, learning a new course, trying out a new hobby and spending time with family and pets that have been shelved off for too long, do add to the list if you have more activities in mind. For me, it has been mostly been catching up on my reading habits and with Juggernaut making its entire catalog freely accessible, I didn’t have to look too far, so I #ReadInstead. Being a fan of short stories, my first preference was to download a few by Perumal Murugan, one of my favorite authors. Having previously read his novels like One Part Woman, Poonachi, and others; I was keen to read his shorts. In this post, I talk about five of his short stories which I read and liked, you can find more in the short stories compilation called The Goat Thief.

The Well  – Who could have thought that something as simple as a well can give so much joy to people- the young and the old. When three children invite a man to take a swim with them in the nearby well, it does not strike him that the experience will be unforgettable. One just needs to be courageous enough to take the leap of faith. Once that is accomplished, the vast expanse of the well is their playground. The cold water caresses the body providing relief from the scorching sun complemented by the occasional cool breeze. The isolation of the well from the rest of the world gives the much-needed seclusion that one longs for. BUT, sometimes a well has a mind of its own. ‘In fact, it is the well’s trickery. Its invitation to step in. If a man visits once, the well casts a spell that goads him to return again and again.’ (translated from Neer Vilayattu by N. Kalyan Raman)

Ask for the Moon- When an otherwise quiet and content child starts wailing one night, it brings thick lines of worry on the faces of the family. Is it a bad dream? Is the child thirsty or hungry? Has the child been possessed by some evil spirit? Does the child need medical attention? But when two gibberish words come out from the mouth amidst the loud wailings, the family leaves no stones unturned to identify and present the child with what it was looking for. A very relatable story which shows that parents are willing to go to any extent in order to fulfill wishes and to see that their child is having a comfortable life. It is only a matter of time to see whether such an attitude spoils the child or makes him/ her understand the worth of parents and respect them even more. (translated from Peridhinum Peridhu)

Sanctuary- It is said that a child inside an individual never dies no matter how old he/she grows. When a middle-aged man returns to his native village and finds his old friends are either entwined in the shackles of marriage or have become intellectual beings, he tries to find solace in locating a group of children playing in the well and befriending them. His ‘primary motive must have been to win back my childhood’ but transcending the age barrier especially when it means to join those who are younger is no less a challenge in itself. What is physically possible by children in terms of fluidity and flexibility is impossible by the physique of a grown-up man which leads to the existence of a divide- mentally and physically. Moreover, children often prefer to be more attached to those within the same age –group. Will they accept an older man among them? Will the knots of worldliness be undone?  Will childhood overtake the persona of the man? Sanctuary is a story of letting go of the inner fear, shame, stigma, and prejudice to be able to complete ones transgression through age. (translated from Pugalidam by N.Kalyan Raman)

The Man Who Could Not Sleep- Muthu Pattar is a man famous for his sleep patterns. Going straight to sleep after a hard day’s work and waking up exactly when he wants to is his forte. But what happens when he suddenly starts showing signs of sleeplessness? Is it the village demon who has taken hold of him? Is he diagnosed with terrible insomnia? Is something in his unconscious mind worrying him that he has had to let go of his peaceful sleep? A simple story of how one man’s anxieties take hold of him and those around showing beautifully that sometimes problems are not only of those who are facing them but also for their dear ones. (translated from Kombai Chuvar by N. Kalyan Raman)

The Unexpected Visitor- The elders usually find a daily routine for themselves in the peacefulness of the village. They garner respect but are also victims of banters from the local men and women folk. Such is the daily life of Paati, till her granddaughter leaves her son Kunju with her. This changes the way she has been living alone for years and makes her adapt to all the changes that would ensure Kunju to have a comfortable life in the village. She starts making new dishes for him, worrying if he gets late while playing with his newfound friends, and tries to give him everything that he wants that makes him happy. It is almost as if she has a new objective in life. But with old age comes an enormous amount of self –doubt especially when it comes to taking the responsibility of a child. Will Paati ultimately be able to manage this responsibility or will self-doubt take the better of her? (translated from Veppenei Kalayam)

Murugan’s short stories reflect the simple village life but if you read between the lines of the instances, they are not –so –simple. Each story is bound to take you on a contemplating spree about life and the way we choose to live it. There are several other short stories by Murugan and you can read them in the compilation available on Flipkart, Amazon, and Juggernaut App.

So, Keep Reading until next time!

little grey lies by Hédi Kaddour

little grey lies by Hédi Kaddour bares the lies in which an individual entangles oneself in order to please the society. The storyline is simplistic. Max, a journalist meets Lena, his singer friend (read ex-beloved) in London, gets intrigued by the Battle of Mons and its veteran Colonel Strether, and starts regularly meeting him for an interesting story. Kaddour must be credited for having kept the narration simple and yet filling it in with layers of intellect and self-reflection within the lines. At times, it compels the readers to keep wondering how many lies they really come face to face with each day.

The story distinctly talks about finding one’s identity in the world. One tends to build an identity devoid of happiness and contentment for showing to the world. Lena is prone to daydreaming about a happy blissful life with her partner, which otherwise is not so happy. She tries to raise her voice in an attempt to make her opinions matter but soon tends to lose most arguments and agrees to what her partner says in order to keep him happy while lying to herself all along. Max on the other hands frequently meets Lena trying to gauge if she still has any feelings left for him. He hopes that one day they might see the world together.

Through Lena, the author shows how women are made to compromise quite so often for society and in the name of it. She understands very well that the relationship will neither last long nor have any future, but still holds onto her bondage. It is mostly because she creates a shell of false protection and hierarchy amongst her peers through her relationship. One slight mistake and her entire image will crumble down. It is not that she does not try to break free, but what stops her is the fact that it is easier to think of breaking away but difficult to accept it once done. This questions the rationality of binding oneself despite knowing the ultimate outcome. However, if she succeeds, not only will she have a happier life but also imbibe the truth that women are capable of living without support.

The era in which the story is set in plays a crucial part in shaping the mindset of the characters. London in the 1930s is completely in the garbs of patriarchy and male monotony in society. Women are not allowed to leave their homes or linger around post evening unless they are in the company of men. Forgetting the existing pay difference in the daily wages, women holding important positions in the office are ordered to vacate their seats for the war-returned heroes. They are also subjected to mental torture living with their husbands/ sons/ partners who often develop PTSD. These are clear indications that women are not allowed to have a voice of their own. That is why even Lena is almost always seen in the company of either Max or her partner. It reflects the kind of world where women’s individuality is a complete lie. But the twist in this tale comes when Max and Lena meet a stranger who is courageous enough to defy these patriarchal rules and carve out a path of existence. In a society that swears by the strict rules of conduct for women, someone dares to defy them and mingle with the society bluffing them every single time. It is actually quite shameful to see that individuals need to take such drastic steps to carve an identity for themselves.

To be honest, though the book talks of the 1930s, readers can openly relate to the scenario today and still find that nothing has majorly changed. Individuals still fight for their choices, their existence, their right to live the way they want to, and for society to accept their truth. But what has changed is that people are more accommodating towards accepting facts rather than building castles of lies around them like yesteryears. Even if they do build alternate identities for themselves, it is remarkable to see how true they appear to be and how slowly they become the truth for the individual and for the society. Hence, they become ‘grey lies’ – neither the truth and nor a complete bluff.

The novel speaks of the on-going struggles within oneself and with the society to establish an individual’s identity. Many succeed in the long-drawn and emotionally draining fight. Many succumb and continue living far from the truth in a life of little grey lies.

No of pages: 176

Publisher: Seagull Books

Available on: Amazon/ Flipkart/ Seagull Bookstore

Yours Truly has also recently been featured as one of the Top 100 Indian Book Review Blogs and Websites by Feedspot. You can check out the article here.

Sesher Kobita: Rabindranath Tagore

One banked on her sacrifice, and the other wanted her love!

My first exposure to Tagore’s Sesher Kobita was during a discussion by veteran actor Soumitra Chatterjee. But picking up bits and pieces of the story did not really help much, given that I have been hearing it’s a great narration. It was only last week that I finally completed reading the book and what would be a better time than on the occasion of Rabindra Jayanti to put forward my views of it.

Sesher Kobita literally translates to The Last Poem and definitely, the story has a loud poetic touch to it while circling around the lives of Labanyalata and Amit. Amit is the quintessential bhodrolok of Calcutta, apparently enmeshed in literature and poetry; so much so, that the readers often get glimpses of his alter ego- Nibaran Chakraborty. Labanya, on the other hand, is practical, ambitious, and even competitive on several levels, though working as a Governess has mellowed her.  She has always shunned the existence of love in her life and even shoos away the one man who has dearly loved her. Nevertheless, a sudden car collision on the slopes of Shillong introduces Amit and Labanya to each other where the former gets smitten by the latter and even musters up the courage to propose to her a few months later.

It is this proposal from whence the actual story starts.  The practical nature of Labanya poses questions to Amit which are both deeply intellectual and highly relevant. For a person like Amit who is always riding on the clouds with his thoughts, it will be sooner than later that Labanya’s mind and actions will fall short; and he will leave her far behind with his intellectual superiority.  One can question here, whether she is really being practical or hiding her insecurities in the garb of Amit’s colorful nature. Going a step ahead and metaphorically using history to continue her point, she relates that ‘To realize his [Shah Jahan] dream, her [ Mumtaz] death was necessary’; or else why will Shah Jahan take pride in a mausoleum of his lover’s death and become internationally famous? This reflects a stark understanding and hatred towards patriarchy and gender inequality through Labanya’s eyes.

Creativity and Preservation have been cleverly merged into the narration of Sesher Kobita. While Amit is creative and does not lose a chance to display the same; Labanya is quiet, conservative, and preserves moments, memories, and life. An interesting explanation given by Tagore here is that Creativity and Preservation cannot complement each other because of their functional nature. To Create is to destroy, rebuild, and renew what is preserved; and to Preserve one needs to stop creatively building upon what exists. So it can well mean that to unite, both Amit and Labanya or at least one of them has to give up their individuality. But is it worth it?

Trust forms the basis of any relationship and even if an iota of doubt creeps in; it is powerful enough to break the relation. Much that Amit loves Labanya, but her recitation of her ex-lover’s words definitely leaves a cringe in Amit’s mind. It leads him to doubt the relationship that he is aiming for. He too starts thinking practically that it is very easy to please one’s partner through mellifluous words and creative imagery during courtship, but once a union stands true both the individuals have to come together as a whole by sacrificing parts of their individuality to accept the other.

Much that we say that marriage is a union of two souls, one cannot disperse the fact blatantly that family has an important role in it. Amit belongs to the so-called elite class of Calcutta whose life is engulfed by the literary circles and social gatherings, while Labanya belongs to the scholarly middle class. Her meeting with Amit’s family renews the latent self-doubts about the unison that she has borne within herself. This along with a letter from her ex-lover gives the storyline an interesting direction.

Will Labanya re-establish connections with her ex-lover? Will she accept her relationship with Amit devoid of doubts? Will Amit’s family approve of Labanya whom they look down upon as a mere-Governess? Reading this poetic narration will give you your answers. Looking closely at the story you will find that Labanya in her quiet demeanor is the perfect rebel to the societal standards of yesteryears, quite similar to Tagore’s other leading ladies. Her questioning the unquestioned and taken-for-granted norms of patriarchy raises pertinent questions in the minds of the readers as to what will be the definition of a perfect union and how can it be achieved whole-heartedly.

I would suggest if you can read Bangla please read the original text.  Should you want to read translations like I did, the details are mentioned below.

No. of Pages: 211

Publisher: Rupa

Available on: Amazon

Translated from: Sesher Kobita by Rabindranath Tagore

Translated by Anindita Mukhopadhyay

 

Barff- Saurabh Shukla

Set amidst a scenic yet deserted village in the valleys of Kashmir, Barff is a story of one extraordinary night where a doctor, Dr. Kaul, is requested and fetched from the city to look into the health problems of Gulam Rasul’s son, Jigra. Gulam lives in this secluded village with his wife, Nafisa, and their only son. As it is difficult to get any amenities where they live, the Doctor was indeed a God-sent miracle.

Rasul from the very beginning is portrayed as a mysterious man. His words at times hold no meaning to an educated and practical country-doctor. But then will words like (translated to English) ‘no one else lives in the village’ or ‘ Nafisa and I light the lamps of all the houses of the village so that it seems it is inhabited’ make any sense to anybody? As the mystery builds up, the Doctor and Rasul make it to the latter’s house and meets his wife Nafisa and son- Jigra. What transpires next is impossible to comprehend or understand by practical minds.

Barff, originally written and performed as a play has been recently given the form of a book. This play by the renowned actor Saurabh Shukla is a cult thriller in the Hindi language. Thriller, it is believed is a very tricky genre. It takes a lot of hard-work in penning down a perfect thriller to appease the audience.  Furthermore, this is a genre definitely less explored in Hindi language or literature, especially in contemporary times. What is most interesting is that the author does not kill anyone to build up the atmosphere. Rather it has been very subtly done through the dialogues and conjuring up an apt atmosphere.

Rasul and his wife, Nafisa share a bickering yet loving bond as husband and wife. Rasul’s love for his wife is quite visible through his actions as often he ends up doing things which he knows at heart are wrong.  He gives Nafisa the independence to think and believe in what she wants to. The freedom of thought is indeed quite overpowering as one can feel as the story progresses.

Shukla touches on the themes of mental health and alternate reality through the play. The effect of mental health is portrayed not as much as on the person suffering through trauma but mostly on those surrounding them.  Post-reading the entire play what remains with me is the line (translated to English) – Reality is based on beliefs without which reality alone has no meaning. This definitely is food for thought. The idea of what is the reality in its truest sense has been beautifully explained in the story. Is reality always perceived literally in what is in front of a person; but then do people not have the right to choose what they want to literally see and therefore make their own world out of it? Further, he goes on to explore who decides the ultimate truth for a person – that individual or the onlookers; and if it is indeed the onlookers then who gives them the right to decide on someone else’s reality.

Barff connects with the readers on various intellectual levels. A simple mysterious atmosphere and a story of just one night elaborate some pertinent and yet unasked questions of life. What remains with the readers are not the characters, but the simplicity with which these complicated situations have been portrayed.  It also compels one to contemplate as to what is the way of life that one has been leading so far. In the literal sense, Barff translates to ice. Cold and freezing ice sets shivers up your spine once you touch it, just like the atmosphere of the story. Ice is used to heal hurt minds and bodies, just like the way the past of the characters soothe each other’s hurt minds. Moreover, when the ice melts it becomes water, a colorless and odorless shape-shifting liquid much like the way our thoughts never stay at one place and our ideas keep changing rapidly, molding itself with the situation in hand.

It is not every day that one reads a thriller, so aptly put, which explores the cultural milieu of Kashmir, gives food for thought, breaks the monotony with its perfect comic timing, and also highlights the effects of a war-torn state on its residents.  Although the book is in Hindi, it is worth a read. Shukla’s brilliance in the industry for decades has culminated into this wonderful script which definitely leaves a mark on the readers and compels them to visualize the world through renewed energy, understanding, and knowledge.

No. of Pages: 94

Publisher:  Rajkamal Prakashan

Available on: Flipkart/ Amazon

Rating: 4/5

There’s Gunpowder in the Air: Manoranjan Byapari translated by Arunava Sinha

‘Dripping from Rajat’s bullet-riddled chest the blood took on the shape of India’s map as it flowed down the wall’

Set against the backdrop of  Bengal’s Naxalite movement in the ’70s, There’s Gunpowder in the Air is a daunting description of the activities within the four walls of a correctional home.  What laymen understand to be a place for robbers, murderers, rapists, kidnappers, and those who have gone against the law; the jails, are a world on their own. The daily happenings within the precincts are elaborately described in the novel.

It all begins with the imprisonment of five Naxal revolutionaries. Young educated men, who stay away from regular jail gossips but definitely have a philosophy and determination of their own to fight against the injustices brought upon them by feudalism. When a petty thief Bhagoban is sent in as a spy by the jailor to be amongst them, and to take note of their vicious plans, does the story pick up pace. However, what happens when Bhagoban starts having a change of heart upon meeting the young comrades?

The novel is complete with all the small nuances of prison life. The story of a bandaged ghost called Bandiswala keeps everyone on their feet, especially on full moon nights. In fact, the poor ghost was found easier to blame for anything that went awry rather than suspecting living men. His story has often been reiterated and discussed along with the lack of ritualistic initiatives to cordon off the evil spirit. If a wicked ghost wasn’t enough, stories of pilferages with the common rations and smuggling substances of abuse were not far behind. Gossips always pointed a finger towards ‘abc’ or ‘xyz’ including both jail guards and prisoners.  But hardly could anyone ever be caught in the act; and even if one was, there were ways to move out of trouble.

Amidst all the comic and witty turns, what Byapari explores the best throughout the novel is human emotions.  Hunger and poverty were always common reasons leading to one becoming a petty thief or a rogue. Outside the disciplined walls, each had their own families. Though they were allowed to meet them, many were disowned and many were shameful of their children being called ‘children of the criminal’. These pent up emotions along with severe ideological affiliations often led them to act on chance. Sometimes leading to their success and at other times, brutally crippling their will, for the rest of their lives or worse, curbing their lives itself.

There’s Gunpowder in the Air is just not the name of the novel, but holds much significance as a symbol of revolt, freedom, loyalty, guilt, betrayal, sacrifice and duty. Gunpowder is usually used for rifles, guns and the likes which are used for various illegal purposes upfront; but to me, it signifies rebellion – an act put together by many. Every individual taking part in the rebellion or its trial suffers from extreme emotional upheaval but their decision to take part in it or not; and to live up to the expectations of other comrades is their decision alone. Freedom, loyalty, guilt, betrayal, sacrifice; and duty are the results of the actions that one performs during a rebellion. Each individual holds great significance and their contributions can never be compared to one another.

Byapari weaves a lucid tale of Naxal prisoners in erstwhile Bengal fighting for their Rights and Motherland by radical means. But Rebellions owe as much to Fate as to the individuals who take part in it; and their success or failures are divided between both. Only time will tell the story of the Naxal prisoners and their Fate during their imprisonment.

Definitely a must-read whether in Bangla- Batashe Baruder Gandha-or in English to understand the psyche of the perceived rebels. The book is bound to raise questions about the pre-conceived notions about the Naxalities and make you revisit the era and re-interpret the ideologies in a new light.

No. of pages: 162

Publisher: Eka, Westland

Available on:Amazon/ Flipkart

Translated from: (Bengali) Batashe Baruder Gandha

The Sinners by Sourabh Mukherjee

If you are looking for a mirror that shows the real face of corporate giants with hidden agendas, thirst for power, frenemies and ruthless market competition; the sinners is just the book for you. A fast-paced unputdownable thriller, yet again, by Sourabh Mukherjee, will keep you glued to the pages of the book.

Rewinding and unwinding

The story is narrated as a flashback and is presented as a series of mysteriously related events which ultimately ends with the climax. Mukherjee, from the very beginning, lays bare the signs of sins in the personality traits of all the major characters. What is interesting is that these characters are very relatable and almost always around us. One just needs to unmask the worldly masks to find the Sinners. The novel presents an array of intriguing characters from the biggest tech giant of the day-NexGen- a company that is the perfect example of the journey of a start-up to a corporate. Every character is nothing but a pawn in the hands of the mastermind. But truly, they are nothing by slaves of their own sins, their own weaknesses – traits that are terrible and compel them to turn into silent observers as their fate comes crashing down in front of them.

Unmasking the Sins

Whether it be a woman who has lost her love, or a man fighting to rise up in the corporate ladder, a jealous ex, a miffed wife, an over-confident player, an underestimated techie, a beautiful slayer; Mukherjee makes it a point to incorporate all. What is interesting is that not a single character is pure black or white. Every personality has traits of grey so much so that some exhibit multiple sins. In fact, it was as if, the author had personified the seven sins- Pride, Greed, Lust, Envy, Gluttony, Wrath, and Sloth- through the illustrious characters of the book.  This is what makes the book special as no person is devoid of sin and gives way to their basic instincts, as every human being tends to do.

The Game called Corporate

Another very interesting aspect that Mukherjee puts across through his writings is the corporate environment. With the big businesses having almost reached their saturation point, it is the era of the start-up revolution. Nowadays, start-ups are a favorite with the media; and when they become successful and get praised by the society, not only the brand but also its top employees get trapped under the radar of media. As is said that a company is made by the employees, hence the higher the position the lonelier and competitive it gets among the subordinates and peers. One can trust absolutely no one. Even friends become enemies, not mentioning the actual enemies that one creates along the way. One is often forced to resort to ways that might otherwise seem ‘immoral’ and ‘betraying’, but these form part of the survival tactics. This corporate scenario is beautifully penned down in the pages of the book. A closer look at the storyline will surely make the reader understand how the foundation of the entire narration is formed keeping in mind the competitive corporate structure coupled with the complex basic human instincts and relationships.

Set against a highly relatable, realistic and practical backdrop, the sinners is a highly recommended book for anyone who likes to read contemporary thrillers!

No. of Pages: 191

Publisher: Srishti Publishers

Rating: 3.95/5

Available at: Amazon/ Flipkart