The Portrait of a Mother- Amma by Perumal Murugan

How often do we take our Ma, Mumma, Mummy, Mom, Aai, Amma, Ammi, and the numerous names that we call her, for granted? It is only during her absence that we recall her true worth. Perumal Murugan’s biographic novel about his mother, Amma, is an homage to motherhood. The story of a vibrant lady whose values are deeply rooted in the rustic, rural traditions, Amma stands as a metaphor of the saying Old is Gold in a constantly evolving world.

Remember Khushwant Singh’s Portrait of a Lady, Amma is today’s Portrait of a Mother. A village simpleton who excels in farming, household chores, natural remedies, and has a solution to every problem. She stands between Murugan and his father who share a strained relationship often butting in between to stop their fights and quarrels. Murugan’s mother is a pillar of strength and defines his relationship with the other family members.

Amma deals with a serious issue which most housewives in the village’s do- alcoholism. With Murugan’s father being addicted to alcohol it leads to a strain on the household finances. Amma takes to working doubly hard to make sure both her sons can continue their education, she can run the house sustainably, and most importantly she can cope up with the ever-growing medical bills of her husband. This leads to regular fights, abuses, cracks in the husband-wife relation but, Amma never lets such negativity come in the way of her family and destroy it. No matter how hard the situation is she fights with a smile and looks for ways to overcome it effortlessly without letting them influence the minds of her young sons adversely. But alcoholism is an addiction which corrodes the body and mind slowly and steadily, till it withers away. It claims Murugan’s father when he is only twenty years old and transforms his mother to join the white sari-clad women of the village.

Widowhood does not come easy to anyone especially those belonging to the generation gone by and from rural life. ‘If they dreamt about a woman clad in a white sari, they thought of her as Goddess Mariamman and rejoiced; but they didn’t approve of a woman in white appearing before them in person’. Such is the irony of being a widowed woman. The hypocritical society would only respect a woman till she is clad in red but the moment her husband dies, numerous traditions and rituals are forced on them. They are often isolated from the daily village norms and made to live a life following social distancing, embracing loneliness and away from the merry-making of the village life.

Through Amma’s eyes, Murugan describes the beauty of the rural community. A community constituting of farmers, the primary unit of food-givers for the Indian society; and yet how neglected they are as a community. The worse living conditions, lack of proper farming facilities and infrastructure, social and caste-based underestimation and bullying, ever-growing prices of food in the market and not to mention the several levied taxes often drive these innocent souls to claim their own lives to escape the burden of living. Yet, when the fields are nourished and nurtured by these very hands and grows beautiful yields many take to penning down their joy and emotions that they feel by looking at them. This is another situation in a polarised world where men find joy in the simple lifestyle and yet turn a blind eye when it comes to its preservation and upliftment in the society.

With time Amma grows older and gets used to living alone. She takes to loving her plants, utensils, house, and regularly works for their upkeep. She is fiercely independent and strong-willed. However, it is a universal truth that old age takes away the ability to perform various tasks and reduces the capability of working as before. But Amma having worked all her life endlessly finds it difficult to not work at all. She cannot and almost refuses to adjust to the newer surroundings where life has been made easier with the introduction of machines. She rejects any aid from anyone including Murugan as it becomes symbolic to her inactiveness and reflects her inability in certain cases. It also makes her overtly emotional with heightened sensitivity remembering her younger days. Elders are emotional and it is the duty of the younger ones to take care of their sensitivity and emotions.

Amma’s life has been that of a bittersweet fruit with its own moments of ups and downs. Her relations have taken different turns with each member of her family and yet she stands as a rock protecting them till all her life. Her ever smiling and ever young spirit needs to be commended by the readers. Murugan pens down about his mother but in doing so he has stirred the emotions of every reader and their relationship with their mother’s. Amma is quite capable of arousing buried emotions and sentiments for one’s mother through the journey of only a few pages. Sometimes, relations should not be taken for granted and Murugan beautifully reminds the readers of the same. Amma has been translated by Nandini Murali and Kavitha Muralidharan and without them, this beautiful story of a wonderful woman would not have reached hundreds of people.

No. of Pages: 191

Publisher: Eka, Westland

Available on Flipkart / Amazon

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.

IMG_20200401_180207

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 

IMG_20191206_192850

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”

Being Reshma: Reshma Qureshi with Tania Singh

‘I have later wondered if I should have slept in for those five extra minutes, worn my new burqa, stayed back with my mother, turned around for my cell phone, stopped and bought those shoes, or haggled over an apple.’

It is said that each second counts, and so it did for Reshma. But when you overcome tragedy, depression, self-consciousness, and make progress in the world that is the true win for an individual and a slap-on-the-face for the culprits.

Being Reshma is the story of the transformation of the girl-next-door to an International Icon, full of inspiration, courage, and emotion. The story begins on an uneventful day while Reshma is going to school. A long pent up angst and vengeance of her oldest brother-in-law along with his comrades burns the course of her normal life by throwing acid on her face.  From then on it is an arduous journey to which at times there seems to be no silver lining. Hospitals, surgeons, medical practitioners, operations, and therapies swallow the life of a young girl. But it is her will to survive and determination to get back even stronger so that she can make a statement in the society holds her through the depressing times. She understands the loyalty of people surrounding her in times of need and thus apart from her family which stands as a rock behind her, Ria Sharma enters her life as a savior. The Founder of Make Love Not Scars not only helps crowdfund for her treatments and get the best surgeon to operate on her but also makes her the face of her start-up and their friendship grows stronger by the day.

Coming from a community that is conservative and strictly demarcates between the sons and daughters of the family, Reshma has seen her elder sister Gulshan, dropping out of school to take care of the family during her mother’s critical illness. Soon after, she is married off to a family that tortures and overburdens her with chores and into a relationship that chokes her of independence and happiness. Tired of domestic violence and mental torture, Gulshan’s decision to come out of a disastrous marriage and live with her parents is a bold one. But the anger and will to avenge such a strong decision taken by a woman, who is considered lowly in the community, lead to the tragedy thereafter. It is not sure if the acid is really meant for Reshma but it surely makes the impact that satisfies the avengers.

Being Reshma is a reflection of the good and bad aspects of power and humanity on many levels. It is a fact that people choose to openly ignore dire situations and walk past. Such social ignorance is widespread in this country and it pains to see that it wins over humanity in most cases. The lackadaisical behavior of the state civil force (at times) leads to wastage of time and leads to more damage, in this case, to life than is thinkable. Politics is synonymous with power and sometimes it helps those in need to get work done quickly overruling institutional protocols after all a human life cannot be above protocols! And at times, renowned and powerful medical practitioners take advantage of their ‘cases’ to gain visibility and fame. Even though doctors are held in high esteem, such spineless doctors need to be called out for playing with the lives and sensitiveness of their patients. The book gives a glimpse of all the above factors which take Reshma’s journey forward through ups and downs.

For a young girl who dreams of a certain future to be suffering for factors beyond her control strikes a chord with the readers. The auto-biography openly talks about the emotional impact of an acid-attack survivor. The primary feeling is of anger on fate and on the people for having destroyed an innocent life. The pent up anguish, anxiety, and blame come up to the lips once in a while. Apart from this, she deals with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder which leads her to contemplate and attempt suicide. But the most important part of the emotional journey is to accept the ‘new you’.  Though terrified at first Reshma eventually learns to accept herself and carries herself with confidence and poise. Unfortunately, society is definitely such that stigma remains and it cannot be completely undone. But acceptance helps in reducing the impact of this stigma on an individual.

While part of Reshma’s journey is about recovering from her past, a  turning point in her life is also her friendship and involvement with Ria Sharma and her start-up Make Love Not Scars. Ria can best be described as Reshma’s friend, philosopher, and guide who relentlessly helps her heal and ultimately transform into an Indian model and vlogger and an International Anti Acid-Sale Activist. The journey starts from crowdfunding for her operations and medical treatments to become the face of the NGO through a Youtube #EndAcidSale campaign and ultimately being the only Acid – Attack survivor to walk the ramp with International Celebrities in The New York Fashion Week. Her endeavor to help other acid attack survivors are still going strong and has helped many other victims overcome the tragedy by having someone beside them who understand the pain that they are going through.

Make Love Not Scars is an NGO whose ‘mission is to provide dignity and independence to acid attack survivors through medical, legal, educational, vocational, and psychological rehabilitation.’ If you want to make a difference to another life then you should definitely visit the website and see how best you can contribute to the cause.

Being Reshma should definitely feature on your reading list if you have not yet read it; simply to know about the courageous journey of two young girls -Reshma and Ria, who went on to inspire thousands around the world.

No. of Pages: 258

Publisher: Pan Macmillan

Available on:Amazon/ Flipkart / Snapdeal

The Bookseller of Kabul by Asne Seierstad

Asne Seierstad, observes the day to day progress in the life of Sultan Khan – a bookseller in Kabul- and pens the nuances in The Bookseller of Kabul. Sultan, a dignified and righteous man owns a bookshop and fights to keep it running amidst a country torn by wars and political coups. His dream is to make resources available to every individual in the country-, especially for school-going children. What is appalling is the contrast of liberalism of sharing knowledge and the rules of staunch patriarchy displayed by Sultan. Through Sultan’s family, relations and their life, Seierstad puts forward the daily life of an Afghani individual, be it a man or a woman.

With Sultan being the strict disciplinarian and the perfect personification of the family patriarch, his family members follow his orders not by choice but by fear. His eldest son Mansur is forced to run his bookshop and other errands but wants to break free and complete his education. While his second son Eqbal, also dreams of going to school one day, his youngest, Aimul hasn’t even seen what a school looks like. It is indeed a paradox that a man who dreams of providing education to all children removes his own from schools prematurely. His sister’s marriage is a hurried giving away of an ‘object’ stored for too long at home. His mother is an institution of contemplation, living more in the past, than in the present. His youngest sister, Leila is a hard-working, unmarried, young girl who dreams of breaking the shackles of bondage and escaping someday for her own good. The narrative builds on these characters and takes the story forward.

The Bookseller of Kabul is a portal to a culture torn by politics and ruled over by men, almost untouched by modernity and equality in any form. Sultan, having been married for years and fathering three children with his first wife, goes out in search of his second wife. Every eligible daughter’s parents only want to give in to his demand and marry off their young girl despite a difference of several years because they want to gain a higher footing in the Afghan society by marrying off their daughter to a respected man. Sultan’s second wife ‘was petrified, paralysed by fear. She did not want the man but she knew she had to obey her parents. As Sultan’s wife her standing in Afghan society would go up considerably. The bride money would solve many of her family’s problems. The money would help her parents buy good wives for their sons.’  It is interesting to notice how brides are ‘bought’ almost as if buying clothes in the market- if one is worn out after a couple of years, get a new one! Love is a taboo with dire consequences like forced marriages, honour-killing, and even suicide. These pent up feelings of women which they are unable to put forth in the society often find their way into poems –‘Give me your hand, my loved one and we will hide in the meadow, To love or fall down beneath the knife stabs’.

The footing of a woman in  Afghan society is as good as being absent. In the male-heavy atmosphere, the voice of a lowly woman often gets lost. Such is the situation with Sultan’s youngest sister- Leila- who ‘often repeats herself, because she thinks she is not being heard’.  Following the storyline, it is quite obvious that the men of the family were applauded for the little things that they do and ‘the Khan family is not in the habit of celebrating women’.  Leila’s existence reflects the condition of thousands of women in a country where there exists no female individuality. They are only known to the society and the world as a shadow of ‘their men’.

While women have no voice of their own, men on the other hand, have both voice and domination that start from a very young age. Sultan’s eldest Mansur had been witness to his friend’s temptations at his own shop. Filled with guilt, he decides to make the arduous journey to Mazhar-e-Sharif to pray and beg for forgiveness. The description of the journey gives a respite to the readers as they can imagine the serene mountains and terrains of the country and not wonder at the ruthlessness of the people living in it. A shrine for contemplation, self-assessment, and pilgrimage becomes so beautiful a place to travel to, that Mansur gets engrossed in its pleasure and awe; and forgets the primary motive that brought him there. What gives him sleepless nights at first, gradually disappears from his mind altogether and a sin remains unacknowledged.

Sins and crimes are committed very often in Afghanistan. The socio-political condition, the rising poverty level, and an economy which will take years to recover, often lead men from poverty-stricken backgrounds to commit crimes such as theft, murder, or suicide. If caught, the penalty is also massive! But one needs to ponder as to who is to be blamed for the situation. And when someone tries to steal from Sultan, the consequences are disastrous for the criminal and his innocent family!

Hard-hitting, eye-opening and full of nuances of the Afghani culture, The Bookseller of Kabul is a picture of paradoxes between liberalism and patriarchy shown through the relation that Sultan shares with his family. A portrait of dominance over women, relationship, and poor; and of temptations over ethics, this book is a good read.

No. of Pages: 276

Publisher: Virago Press, Hachette UK

Availability: Amazon/ Flipkart

Rating: 3.5/5

3 Steps to Darkness by Deepta Roy Chakraverti

With book fair being one of my favorite hauntings in the city, I was quite happy to know that Deepta’s new book would be available there. It has been almost three years since her last book Cursed at Kedarnath was released.  Even though I missed her book signing at the Book Fair I made it a point to not miss picking up the book and added it to my book haul from Book Fair 2020.  Incidentally, the name of the book ‘3 Steps . . . . . ‘ became quite relevant because it t was only in my third attempt in visiting the stall,  that the book was finally in my hands.

3 Steps to Darkness is a portal to ancient practices that coexist with modernity through reality or the undead.  Three short stories talking of witches, fairies and dolls which are often resorted to, to satisfy one’s own desires, make up the contents of the book. What is interesting to note is that the three objects of power are synonymous with women, making the readers interpret the power of women in light or darkness.

Armed with strong characters and even stronger desires, 3 Steps to Darkness makes it for a fine read to understand the darkness within ourselves more than outside. Power, desire, jealousy, unfulfilled wishes, denial, lust, greed and more are all within and once we succumb to any of them, it is only a matter of time till evil engulfs us.

The author takes the reader through a back and forth journey, separated by decades or centuries through her writing. The detailed description of the places and people would remind you of reading a Ruskin Bond, only with a different form of depth to it. While reading you would never feel the distance between today and the era gone by. The narrative flow gives power to your imagination and creativity to visualize it in front of you.

With three different stories, of three eras and locations; it was very hard to choose my favorite.  Thus, giving you a gist of all three.

Witches Never Forget

Set in Vienna today and in the 16th Century, it tells the story of Elsa and Anna; and how innocent women were subjected to witch-hunts by powerful oppressors. I have often wondered how women being hunted as a practitioner of dark arts have always been more than men. Or is it the patriarchal way of eliminating those they thought were weak? It is also interesting how those the mass looks up to and idolizes often mislead them for the benefit of strengthening their own position in society. The unimaginable torture, forget the term human rights, often lead to the formation of vengeful spirits who keep alive in their memories the injustice done to them and tell their stories in whispers, to those who can listen.

The Curse of Fairy Hill

I remember visiting Mussoorie with my parents for a vacation almost a decade ago. Even then I had felt that the cold winds and scenic beauty had much more than what met the eye! Set during the Raj, The Curse of Fairy Hill tells the story of an illustrious King and the Queen. The Queen overlooks the matters of the Kingdom winning the hearts of the people; after the King suffered an accident. The only wish she ever had was to have a loving and loyal husband; and to fulfill her desire, she wished at the Pari Tibba or the Fairy Hill. But it is often seen that what is granted to us is what we might need rather than want. And when a tweak in wish-fulfillment is met with denial of the same a boon might turn into a curse.

Darling Child

Like all married couples, Arun and Lila wanted a child. But to their utter dismay,  all natural and medical procedures betrayed them.  During a trip to Bangkok they met an old woman and found their Darling Child – Sunaina. But what happens when Lila gets pregnant and delivers a second child? This story highlights very contemporary situations and how a dark art is often fused in as a solution; only, is it a solution?  The family pressure of bearing a child; becoming blind in the desire of children so as to go to any lengths; the effect the arrival of a new child has on the elder one; the sadness of losing children – are all depicted in the story. But it is also intertwined with how dark arts has a feeling of its own and manifests its power by manipulating feelings and situations.

If you are into spine chilling stories then 3 Steps to Darkness is definitely the book to look forward to. You may not find ghosts and draculas here but who said subtlety cannot leave you frozen and speechless!

No. of Pages: 106

Publisher: Crossed Arrows, Doshor Publication

Available on: Amazon

Finding Chika by Mitch Albom

Very rarely are times when you read a book and really do not know how to put your feelings on paper, and Finding Chika is one such book. Years after reading Tuesdays with Morrie, Mitch Albom‘s Finding Chika rendered me speechless and in tears.  This review is my tribute to young Chika, who, though a young girl was a fierce fighter – and a fighter with gigantic hope and smiles. That is how she should be remembered and celebrated for those who would come to know her story through the book.

Born in Haiti and having survived the devastating earthquake, Chika was brought to the Have Faith Haiti Mission & Orphanage run by Albom and his wife Janine. Friendly and enthusiastic as was her nature, there was never a dull moment with her around. But the diagnosis of a terminal disease compelled her to relocate to America for treatment, and this is where the journey of a family began.

Just as hope is said to be the brightest star in dark times; Chika became the brightest star that ended the dark days of many people’s lives. She was the happiness that Mitch and Janine lacked in their lives, for she gave them the gift of parenthood. She was the hope; strength and resolution that made Mitch and Janine become doting parents and shoulder the responsibility of a child they loved dearly. Chika was a daughter, a friend, a family through relations; but in reality, she was the personification of hope, strength, resolution, dreams, happiness, and care. She was also the face of a young patient diagnosed with the fatal DIPG (Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Glioma) or brain tumor in layman’s words; a patient full of life and energy to live each day as if there is no tomorrow.

While reading Finding Chika it felt as if Albom was having a conversation with Chika and listing down all the lessons that she taught him. She was fiercely attached and protective of Mitch and Janine which evoked the same feeling in them. The couple tried their very best in terms of giving hope, staying by her side day and night, getting in touch with the best doctors in the field and even traveling across continents for their little one.

Body Contentment:

For Chika, it was a journey of transformation- psychological and physical. But she was adaptive to both. Like every young girl, she fancied make-up and accessories and tried to blend them onto her appearances. She was happy with the way she looked! This is a lesson taught to the world where society often resorts to body shaming tactics. Many individuals, as a result, grow excessively conscious of the way they look which takes a toll on their mental and physical health. What we need to learn is to accept our identity and be content with it.

Spending Quality Time with people:

Chika found happiness in smaller things- beautiful dresses, hairclips, a visit to Disneyland, talking to people, spending time with people, visiting her friends, etc. Today, most people spend their time in the digital space without acknowledging the physical presence of the person beside. Today, people Whatsapp each other despite being in the same room! But Chika believed in spending time with her loved ones- endless stories, laughter and a little bit of being naughty- were the perfect features of Being Chika.

Redefining strength:

Children are often gullible and vulnerable, but Chika was not. She was the epitome of strength keeping in mind the terminal disease she was diagnosed with and the medicines, treatments and its side effects that she had to deal with at such a young age. She was tough and through her little way of coexisting with her disease, made it known to everyone that toughness is not always heroic sometimes it is silence with a smile.

Right to Choose:

With Chika being born to Haitian parents and later taken in by Mitch and Janine, her pure love for the latter made it very clear that children often choose whom to love. This goes beyond the biological norms of society. Some relations are born out of love, respect, and care and not out of one’s womb.

The Feeling of completeness

Just as a woman holds the family together with care, Chika held the couple together and turned their happy married life into happy parenthood. She completed the duo and made them a family. She made them more responsible for the needs of a child and taught them to keep the concerns of the child before their commitments.

Defining Legacy:

‘What we carry defines who we are

And the effort we make is our legacy’.

The last life lesson that Chika exemplified would always remain with the readers. It is how she carried herself and the effort she gave internally to show it. She created her own legacy through fighting hardships with smiles and spreading joy in the lives of all she knew.

Immortalized through the pages of the book Chika’s journey truly exemplified how she fought against time along with Mitch and Janine . . . . for one more day . . . .