Gift Wrapping Our Way Out of Existence

‘Your delivery is scheduled to arrive today’, says the message on your phone. There was a time when you would have been excited after reading this but now it doesn’t matter. Ting Tong, the doorbell rings. The delivery guy brings your order in a white plastic bubble wrap envelope. Congratulations you have a new toy and a complimentary I-will-still-stick-around-way-beyond your-extinction envelope that lands straight in your dustbin, without even a goodbye.

Packaging products, right from bubble wrap envelopes to water bottles, form a major part of the solid waste – their quantity was estimated to be about 77.9 million tons in 2015. (29.7 percent of total generation)

 

But hey how is this your fault? It’s just the way it is, right?

 

The envelope is trashed and what you hold in your hand is probably a book. You can tell even if it’s wrapped in an average looking gift paper. It’s wrapped because it’s supposed to be your birthday gift. You tear it apart and find the exact book you had asked your friends to get. Surprise. Surprise. A temporary smile lands on your face. The book lands on your shelf. Gift paper lands in the dustbin. Again without even a goodbye.

 

Rude, a tree died for this bro!

 

Why do gifts even need to be wrapped? I wonder. Although the practice of gift wrapping can be traced back to 2nd century BCE China, modern gift wrapping practice only became mainstream after it was popularized by Hallmark back in 1917. It was an accident. They ran out of traditional tissues so they started selling colourful envelope liners from France instead. It was a hit. America loved it and eventually, it made it to the rest of the world too.

The psychology behind Gift wrapping says that it influences the recipient to rate their gifts more positively. The short-lived suspense of not knowing what exactly is your gift somehow seems to excite you. As you unwrap the gift, you wonder what’s inside. This curiosity feels good. But is it really worth it? Just a few seconds of our unnecessary pleasure sits on the planet for hundreds of years, asphyxiating anything that comes in its way.

 

Sure avoiding plastic packaging and switching to paper may be a good start but paper isn’t as environment-friendly as you would believe it to be. The problem begins where the paper begins. Wood. Deforestation. Loss of habitat. Loss of biodiversity. Soil erosion. Reduced water quality. And this is just the beginning.

We move on to manufacturing. Here come the chemicals, which seep into our water bodies through a poor waste disposal system. Chlorine, mercury, halogens, nitrates, ammonia, phosphorus, caustic soda – each of these chemicals used in making paper, damages the environment differently. And next is the disposal. Tonnes of paper make it to landfills every day and when they decompose, they release methane – one of the major greenhouse gases.

Paper manufacturing is also water and energy-intensive process. In India, the national norm of water consumption per tonne of paper is 200-250 kiloliter in large paper sectors.

 

That’s equivalent to a lifetime water supply for a family of four!

 

As water shortage becomes more commonplace, it’s going to get harder to manufacture paper. A technology upgrade is necessary. It is possible to make the paper-making process more eco-friendly. The technology is available to reduce water consumption, at least to half. The question is – how important is it? And do the decision-makers realise that?

So we can’t use plastic. We can’t use paper. What can we use?

 

The Three Rs.

 

1. Reduce

Our consumption is a major burden on the planet. And our demand is only growing. We don’t have any other habitable planet known to us. Even if we did, we have no technology to shift 7.7 billion people to a faraway planet. We talk about our end but our civilization has actually only begun. There are so many things that we haven’t discovered yet. There are so many things that we haven’t even seen. And we are already losing our only home?

We must act. We must act now. Big or small doesn’t matter. If it takes a gift wrapper, gift wrapper it is. Ask yourself – do you need it? Do you really need it? If the answer is no then you know what to do.

Okay, so if we are not buying new stuff, what are we replacing it with?

Stuff we already have!
Welcome to the second R –

2. Reuse

Newspapers. Brown bags. Shoe boxes. Pieces of clothes, our options are endless. Are you willing to be creative enough to use them? The Internet can always help.

Our last R brings us to –

3. Recycle

Fact is that we are drowning in our own trash. Fact is also that we are importing more and more waste paper from western countries. Special thanks to China for closing its gate, now all the western garbage comes our way.

We are not in any shortage of waste paper. India produces 62 million tonnes of waste every year. Paper makes a huge part of it. What we are in shortage of is an efficient collection and segregation system. We need better waste management and recycling facilities.

Although paper is one of the easiest things to recycle, there is a limit to that too. After repeated processing, the fibres become too short to produce new paper. In that case, virgin fibres have to be used. Ultimately, even with recycling, there’s no escaping cutting more trees, polluting our rivers and trashing our land.

 

Unless, and until, we start caring.

 

The gifting season is almost gone, gift wrappers have already been used, but when it returns which it inevitably will, I hope you choose to care.

No plastic gift wrappers and reduce, reuse, recycle as much as you can. And when it comes to online shopping, avoid it until sustainable packaging becomes their priority. They may not hear your voice alone, but they can’t avoid us if we all start speaking. Our planet, our only home, is worth it.

 

 

 

References:

repository.upenn.edu/
fespa.com/en/news-media/
icontrolpollution.com/articles
downtoearth.org.in/interviews
intechopen.com/books/
indiatoday.in/india/story/
bbc.com/news/
mapsofindia.com/my-india/
wiki/Paper_recycling
bustle.com/articles/
wikipedia.org/wiki/Gift_wrapping
wikipedia.org/wiki/Packaging_waste

http://www.personal.psu.edu/bfr3/blogs/asp/media-spoonfeeding-cartoon.jpg

Read Your Friends Close And Your Enemies Closer

While he was still a student, Swami Vivekananda had already read Herbert Spencer, John Richard Green, Immanuel Kant, Schopenhauer, John Stuart Mill, August Comte, Aristotle, Wordsworth, David Hume, Percy Shelley, and Charles Dickens among other writers. Dr. Ambedkar, during his lifetime, had collected more than 50,000 books at Rajgruha (his house in Mumbai). On being asked to furnish a list of books that influenced him, Leo Tolstoy sent an age-wise list of 50 books that influenced him through his lifetime. We can make a list of the most original thinkers and leaders in the world and barring a few exceptions, we will invariably find that they were and are the most avid readers you can find. They never shied away from reading ideas that challenged their own perceptions of the world. Now, in a world where our habits are defined by the ways of the internet, thanks to the algorithms that track our preferences and reading history, we keep reading what we keep reading. As a result, forget the ideas we do not like, we don’t even understand the ideas we actually like.

 

Reading is a different space in the mind, a battleground where ideas meet. Some ideas mingle and sign treaties while some meet only to fight and decimate each other. Now, if this open field keeps hosting only one particular kind of idea and never lets other ideas anywhere near the battleground, the mind becomes a complacent place. It forgets how treaties are signed, it forgets how battles are fought and won, and most importantly, it forgets how a battle of ideas is lost. It is therefore, the duty of a reader to keep the battlefield alive and bloody, so that the ideas may sweat more during peace and bleed less during the war. If that duty is not taken care of, a stronger idea keeps coming at you until you are annihilated and you surrender without putting up a fight! It is at this point that you make a choice between – getting co-opted by the stronger force or remain exiled till you prepare for the battle anew. Sadly, most of us get co-opted.

 

Apart from their personal struggle, a lot many change-makers of this planet took their own sweet time to understand their own self better. They read ideas from different corners of human development. They examined them first hand and reached their own conclusions. They sieved out things and kept what they needed. They strengthened their ideas by putting them to rigorous tests and only then, came out to talk about them to people. These people had minds of their own. It was impossible to co-opt them. It was impossible to overshadow them. It was impossible to disagree with them in totality. This happened because they were sincere in their efforts and they all found one or more element of truth for themselves. An easy identifier to mark such people is that you will find otherwise completely divergent groups trying to appropriate their ideas after they are gone. That happens because of several reasons. One, these men and women were not afraid of revising their ideas from time to time, so one group cites from one phase of their lives and another from another without understanding the context. Two, these people have already done the hard work of reading and filtering of ideas, so the appropriating groups have it easier if they just accept them as their Heroes and follow whatever they like in their repertoire.

 

Now, things would have been still better if people just did not want to read about ideas they disagreed with. However, we have people who do not even want to read ideas they like, ideas that appeal to them, and people they adore otherwise. This is partly their own laziness and partly peer pressure.

 

“Ambedkar was a great man”
“…yes, Ambedkar was a great man”
“why?”
“because he drafted the constitution?”
“ok, so have you read the constitution?”
“What? No! How can one read the constitution?”

 

This population bifurcates at the point ‘action’ comes into the picture. Case in point, a protest march in the name of Ambedkar. One set will stay at home and the other will join the march with all their zeal. The ones staying at home are more or less a harmless set. The one on the street is capable of burning buses and hurling stones at trains in peer pressure or on the command of the leader who has studied Ambedkar but knows what to conceal and what to reveal to effect a nihilistic vandalism. That’s why I wonder why people are so surprised to find protestors in Anti-CAA and Pro-CAA marches not knowing what CAA even stands for. The lot that doesn’t want to read but is eager to burn is the injurious one and the growth of such set should be a cause for worry for all of us. People who have read 2 more books or a few more wiki links than these gullible people are able to preach to them and drive them according to their own fancy. The gullible warrior is too lazy to do his own background work and hence, walks behind people who do it or at least pretend to do it.

 

This is one reason for the widespread reach of fake news. Any influencer puts out a piece of news that might be fake (intended or otherwise) and his followers start sharing the piece without a care for its authenticity or consequences. The followers do not like the idea of reading, they do not like the idea of fact-finding, they do not like the idea of getting corrected – what they like is – does that shared statement help them ascertain their own beliefs? If it does, click retweet. If not, hurl insults. The reading and the contemplative population remain a minority. It is  common to see someone who has not read Ambedkar swearing in his name, someone who has not read Gandhi speak about Satyagraha all the time, someone who doesn’t know Sanskrit talk of protecting it with all their might, someone who has never read Karl Marx dismiss him nonchalantly or fight for him tooth and nail.

 

If you have read this piece till here and if you know you belong to this set, there is nothing to be ashamed about. The systems of our world make it easier for you to fall prey to a bigger fish and get co-opted. We like people who agree with us. Online bookstores suggest you books on the basis of your reading history, streaming channels show you show suggestions based on your viewing history, news aggregators show you news according to what you have clicked before on their site, and friends gift you books according to your taste. It is a difficult arrangement. The battleground of mind is a difficult place by itself and that space should not be up for co-option by anyone anywhere. Start making the change today. Dust your armoury, sharpen your swords, and if you want to bring about a revolution of ideas outside, bring it inside your head first. To begin with, read. Then, come out of your ideological silos and read some more.

 

Of Toy Trains and Tunnels – Kalka To Shimla

Growing up in pre-millennial era, train travel was an inescapable part of holidaying. Almost every holiday started at the station. The bags were stuffed under the berths. Dad and uncles haggled with the coolies and we kids squabbled over the top berths. Finally, after a whistle and one lurch back and one lurch forward, the train rolled out. I loved that backward-forward motion and always exaggerated it a bit, it was the signal to the start of the holiday.

 

Were the trains less dirty in those days? Were the seats unstained with who-knows-what? Were my olfactory organs under-performing and I could use the loos without gagging? Perhaps my childlike senses had yet to develop to the hyper discerning level they are at now. Perhaps, I just didn’t care. In the last twenty years, train travel has not figured in my holiday plans. Air travel has become affordable. It is faster – every moment counts when there are only that many days you can take off work. But that’s not it. In all honesty, I’d rather change my destination than board a long-distance train. Snooty? Guilty as charged.

 

So, I surprise myself more than anyone else when I opt to take the train from Kalka to Shimla, popularly known as the toy train. Besides the rave reviews – most scenic train journey in India, exceptional panoramic views, and the likes – I am also wary of going by road for two reasons. One, I am not sure I have the stomach for the curvy mountainous road. And two, I have visions of the car tumbling down the hillside, splattering my bones and brains on the pine trees. Yes, I am morbid like that. 

 

Kalka to Shimla
Kalka to Shimla

 

All pros and cons weighed, I find myself at the Kalka station pre-sunrise. It’s a brrrry cold morning and I am layered up such that I have more clothes on me than in my suitcase. The station, almost gleaming clean, is a pleasant surprise and takes the edge off the cold. The train brings me shivering back to reality. Positives – the floral artwork on the bogey is cute, wood-panelled interiors are nice-ish and the pendulum-like seat backs can be slid to change direction. Negative – stained seats (why have we not yet discovered a solution for this?) and the characteristic grimy-ness associated with Indian trains. And the loo? I don’t intend to find out. The bowels and bladder have been emptied and I intend to keep them that way till I reach my hotel in Shimla. 

 

The first hour and a half passes in darkness interrupted by the occasional cluster of lights indicating human settlement. Not much to see outside, I Netflix and chill. It’s an hour and a half later that the first rays of the sun light up the vista that the Shivalik Express has been chugging through. And, all the accolades I had read on blogs in the weeks preceding this journey race through my head like a ticker tape. The sky is the perfect blend of dawn colours. The tree trunks are hanging on to the sloping hills at near precise angles. The route has many sharp curves and since I am in the middle bogey, there are times when I can see both the head and the tail of my train. The narrow gauge line that connects Kalka to Shimla was laid in 1903. It passes through 103 tunnels and crosses over 900+ bridges in the five hours it takes to cover a distance of 96 kilometre and ascend 1400 metre in altitude. 

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A little over two hours after it started from Kalka, the Shivalik Deluxe goes through the longest of the 103 tunnels. The Barog tunnel is a little over a kilometre long and takes 2.5 minutes to cross. At the other end of the Barog tunnel is Barog station. A row of squat buildings make up the station. The walls of all the buildings are whitewashed, the gables, accents and door-window shades are painted a cornflower blue and the rooftops are post-box red. Picture perfect. The train halts for 15 minutes for the attendants to load the bogeys with packed breakfasts, the standard Rajdhani fare of bread-cutlet or bread-omelette. The passengers stream out to stretch their legs and click the obligatory selfies. 

 

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The next leg of the journey all the way to Shimla is without any unscheduled stops. Many stations pass us by and the colour scheme of blue, white and red roofs is consistent. Some are adorned with quaint blue benches, others with pots of geraniums. At one station, a branch laden with bright pink flowers is angled across a wall with such precision that it is difficult to believe coincidence of nature could have achieved it without human intervention. Both, the parry that came up with this colour palette and the one that ensured its application need to be eulogized. 

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Unfortunately, it does not seem that they were allowed to apply their exceptional taste and influence on the towns that dot the hills. The houses are stacked like a toddler would stack his first set of Lego bricks without thought to colour, design, or symmetry, the kind that would only win applause from doting parents. Hoardings advertising lodges, products and services add to the cacophony of colours. The hillside along the rail-track which for the first leg had only been covered in vegetation is now speckled with wrappers, plastic bottles, discarded garments, and other ugly odds and ends. I suspect as man runs out of space and expands over the rest of the hills he will leave more of these breadcrumbs to mark his trail. 

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At 10:35 a.m., the train begins to slow to a crawl, its destination is around the corner. I am expecting Shimla station to repeat the blue and white. It does not entirely. I guess, sitting at the top of the pile, it needed to be set apart from its lowly subjects. But, the woodwork is artistic and the stone floor is gleaming. My breath does not catch like it did at the sight of Shoghi, Jutoh and others but it is easy on the eyes. I smile at the attendant and skip out of the bogey like I would have 20-25 years ago. The five hours had flown by. Netflix had been turned off after the first hour and I had turned not more than ten pages of my book. Mostly I had been engrossed in the images unfolding outside the window. In times, when it is usually about how fast can we get there, it had been a nice change of pace to take my time.

 

 

Note:
Photos & Doodle Courtesy – Himali Kothari.

 

The Seer Reading List for 2020

1 Book A Week For 2020 – The Seer Reading List

Congratulations to the readers who were able to meet their target of 1 book a week for the year 2019. Now, if you haven’t been able to do that or if you are planning to do it again in the year 2020, The Seer has come up with a list of books, one for each week, to help you select your books without breaking your heads. These books have figured in our list because we believe that they have something excellent to offer to their readers. This list is also a product of a personal need for the team as we have seen it first hand that the resolution to read 52 or 53 books a year hits a dead end when we have to handpick each book ourselves. A friend you can trust on this road, is a great help and that is what we have tried to do – be of some help in your reading journey for the year 2020. Please let us know of your To-Be-Read lists in the comment section so that we can add more books to our personal lists.

We have to thank one of the most prolific members of our team – Aakanksha Singh, who helped us in building up this list. If you wish to read her writings, please follow the link – https://theseer.in/author/aakankshatheseer/ . You may also write to us at contact@theseer.in for any feedback, suggestions, new ideas. We wish you and your family a literature laden 2020.

Happy New Year

53 Books To Read in 2020

Week 1

Sprout is a hen who dreamed she could fly and become free. You should read The Hen who Dreamed She Could Fly for that strong dose of inspiration to help you sail across your new year blues.

Buy it here.

Week 2

The winters are creeping up! Cosy up in the cold with a cup of coffee and a heartwarming read, Before the Coffee Gets Cold by Toshikazu Kawguchi.

Buy it here.

Week 3

Swami Vivekananda built a bridge between India’s past and its future. While he adored the India of the past, he also understood its limitations and took a modern approach to solve the country’s problems. Mr. Hindol Sengupta explores The Modern Monk in his book and brings to you many facets of his life that are not commonly known.

Buy it here.

Week 4

It’s the Republic Day week and who better to read than the maker of the Indian constitution – Dr. B.R. Ambedkar. Federaton Versus Freedom is a lecture he delivered on 29th January, 1939 at the annual function of the Gokhale Institute of Politics and Economics held in the Gohale Hall, Poona (now Pune) where he talks about federal form of government and India’s future with it.

Buy it here.

Week 5

The International Holocaust Remembrance Day falls on 27th January. To commemorate and to remember, read Elie Wiesel’s Night where he narrates his own experiences in the Auschwitz Concentration Camp in Nazi Germany.

Buy it here.

Week 6

4th February 2020 marks Agha Shahid Ali’s 71st birth anniversary. He wrote about his home, Kashmir, extensively to capture the state’s suffering. We recommend you read his haunting poetry book, A Country Without a Post Office.

Buy it here.

Week 7

Even though we are perhaps living through some of the most productive and peaceful decades of recent human history, the variables of internet, social media, insta-gratification, post modern constructs, absence of purpose, and extreme politics have rendered our lives chaotic. It is from this chaos that the author tries to get us out through his 12 Rules For Life. Each chapter comes with a lot of research and examples from Dr. Peterson’s practice in clinical psychology.

Buy it here.

Week 8

Japan and its love for cats is absolutely adorable. The country celebrates National Cat Day on 22nd Feb each year. The Seer recommends reading the heartwarming The Traveling Cat Chronicles by Hiro Arikawa. Check out The Seer’s other favourite novels featuring cats from Japan.

Buy it here.

Week 9

Read the book before you watch the movie! A movie adaptation of  Little Women released in December 2019! If you haven’t watched the movie yet, WAIT a little bit more. Go on first and read the book. We promise it will be delightful! Little Women is a feminist classic that transports you to beautiful homes and a very British countryside.

Buy it here.

Week 10

 If you have read Maus by Art Spiegelman and connected with the graphic novel’s use of anthropomorphism, then Munnu: A Boy from Kashmir by Malik Sajad would make for a thoughtful read too. The graphic novel narrates the story of the titular Munnu amidst the political and military strife in Kashmir. The Kashmiris in this story are depicted as deer. 

Buy it here.

Week 11

What can be better than reading a book about books? One such beautiful novel, Paper Moon, by Rehana Munir, was released last year. The story revolves around the protagonist, Fiza, who sets up a bookshop in Bandra, Mumbai.

Buy it here.

Week 12

21st March is UN World Poetry Day.  Sumana Roy’s, Out of Syllabus, would make for a perfect companion this week to rekindle your love for poetry and to revel in the joys of myriad relationships that are etched in her poems.

Buy it here.

Week 13

12th March is World Theatre Day. My Story and My Life as an Actress is a translation of the autobiography of Binodini Dasi who started acting at the age of 12 in 19th century Calcutta. It was a time when theatre had not yet got the Bhadralok approval and women actors were chiefly hired from red light districts of the city. Her struggle, rise to fame, and yet the presence of unending sorrow in her life, makes her autobiography a heartfelt read.

Read it here.

Week 14

We recommend the stunning debut, Girl in White Cotton by Avni Doshi. It is a searing and caustic tale about a mother and daughter relationship. The story is remarkable for its depiction of a mother who defies any prescriptive conventions associated with being a mother. However, that has repercussions on her own daughter who has felt unloved and now has to take care of her mother.

Buy it here.

Week 15

Rilke in his letters has dug deep inside the human mind and heart and has come out with gems of wisdom that come only through experience and the love for your craft. Letters to a Young Poet is a must keep for every bibliophile. Also, since The Seer began with a short review of this book, we harbour a special attachment and recommend it strongly.

Buy it here.

Week 16

Urvashi Bahuguna’s Terrarium is an absolute delight. The winner of 2019 The (Great) Indian Poetry Collective, this collection beautifully portrays the small wonders of the natural and everyday world.

Buy it here.

Week 17

Eating God: A Book of Bhakti Poetry by Arundhathi Subramaniam who has edited the book is a collection of about 200 poems of Bhakti poets of the golden Bhakti period of India. Bhakti poems appealed to every stratum of the society because of lucid language employed without compromising on the deeper ethos of India’s tradition in spiritual devotion.

Buy it here.

Week 18

Kamala Das or ‘Madhavi Kutty’ as she is remembered fondly by some, has carved a special place in Indian literature. Grab her book Selected Poems that explores female sexuality, love, and life.

Buy it here.

Week 19

We think once in a while it is alright to judge a book by its cover! Appreciate the beautiful book cover and also the book within with The Stationery Shop by Marjan Kamali that tells the tale of love found and lost between Roya and Baman in the Iran of pre and post 1979 Revolution.

Buy it here.

Week 20

Memoirs made it big in 2019! The success of Becoming by Michelle Obama set the trend perhaps. If you still haven’t jumped on the memoir bandwagon, read Shanta Gokhale’s memoir, One Foot on the Ground. She was awarded the Tata Literature Live! Lifetime Achievement Award in 2019.

Buy it here.

Week 21

Beat the sweltering heat by diving into the cool depths of Ruskin Bond’s Roads to Mussoorie where he pays homage to the lovely town of Mussoorie. Celebrate his birthday on the 19th of May as the lovable author turns 87!

Buy it here.

Week 22

Gabriel Garcia Marquez is celebrated worldwide for his surreal landscapes and story narratives. But we think, one should also read some other lesser known magical realist authors. Laura Esquivel’s Like Water for Chocolate is a delicious novel portraying the fabulist through the protagonist’s Tita’s love for cooking.

Buy it here.

Week 23

Having a midyear crisis? Tide over it by reading Camus’ essay The Myth of Sisyphus and learning how to embrace the banal!

Buy it here.

Week 24

June is celebrated as Pride Month the world over! Talking of Muskaan by Himanjali Sarkar is an imaginative and sensitive YA novel that brings out the reality of homosexuality and bullying in schools.

Buy it here.

Week 25

20th June is UN World Refugee Day.  Reading always enables individuals to see the humane side of any crisis rather than through the prism of hard and cold statistics often bombarded on us. Learn more about the Rohingya refugee crisis by reading First They Erased our Name: A Rohingya Speaks by Habiburahman, Sophie Ansel.

Buy it here.

Week 26

Homage to Catalonia is George Orwell’s personal account of his experiences and observations fighting for the Republican army during the Spanish Civil War. It make for an extremely interesting read and takes you into details of how a war from a foot soldier’s perspective is entirely different from the politician’s view.

Buy it here.

Week 27

Bohemian Rhapsody might have enthralled you with its brilliant portrayal of Freddie Mercury himself thanks to the sheer effort and power of Rami Malek’s acting, but if you are still hungering for more Queen related books, Goodbye Freddie Mercury by Nadia Akbar is the book for you! One of the characters, Bugsy, worships the iconic singer and all Queen Fans will relate!

Buy it here.


Week 28

Read engaging stories in verse, Circus Folks and Village Freaks by Aparna Upadhyaya Sanyal. There are 18 twisted tales of very peculiar characters that are sure to keep you reading all night! 

Buy it here.

Week 29

Pick up a light, breezy folklore collection, Greatest Folktales from Bihar. Interested in folk literature? Read The Seer’s 12 Folktale Collection Recommendations from India.

Buy it here.

Week 30

Stuck home because of constant flooding and pouring rain? Shaya Tales by Bulbul Sharma will transport you to a tiny hamlet in the Himalayas and into a tiny cottage in the mountains away from the grey of the monsoon blues!

Buy it here.

Week 31

Compare the Book and the Movie with the touching story of Wonder by R.J. Palacio. It is the story of August, who has a facial difference and only wants to be treated as a normal kid. The book was made into a movie in 2017. Let us know which is better? 

Buy it here.

Week 32

August is Women in Translation Month! Female writing is slowly getting its due, but translations not so much. Ah, we can change that too one month at a time. 


Khadija Mastur’s portrayal of an inquisitive and questioning protagonist Aliya in her novel, The Women’s Courtyard is laudable, making it one of our favourite books in recent times. It is translated from Urdu by Daisy Rockwell.

Buy it here.

Week 33

India’s Independence Day cannot be viewed insularly, without taking into account the horrifying after-effects of the Partition. One must therefore read and learn more before falling for raging rhetorical arguments. Qurratlain Hyder’s River of Fire or Aag Ka Darya in Urdu is a novel of epic proportions which portrays the seemingly impossible task of showing three countries’ history to the point of the Partition’s chaos.

Buy it here.

Week 34

The Roof Beneath Their Feet by Geetanjali Shree has been translated into English from Hindi by Rahul Soni. The novel beautifully chronicles the friendship and more between Chacho and Lalna who live in a cluster of houses that share a common roof. The roof becomes their escape. 

Buy it here.

Week 35

Hangwoman by K.R. Meera was shortlisted for the DSC Prize for South Asian Literature in 2016. It is written in Malayalam and translated into English by J. Devika. The novel centers on Chetna Grddha Mullick who is appointed as the first female executioner in India. 

Buy it here.

Week 36

Celebrate Teacher’s Day on 5th September by reading the Freedom Writers’ Diary by the Freedom Writers and Erin Gruwell to see how an inspiring teacher can bring out change in students by encouraging them to write.

Buy it here.

Week 37

6th September is the day that 2 years ago in 2018, the SC ruled on Section 377 and decriminalised homosexuality. Read Amruta Patil’s graphic novel, Kari, to experience both Bombay and Kari and Ruth’s relationship.

Buy it here.

Week 38

13th September is Roald Dahl’s birthday. It is called the Roald Dahl Day. We would suggest to read Matilda. Matilda has a great understanding teacher who also appreciates her love for books!

Buy it here.

Week 39

The last week of September in the literary world is called Banned Books Week. Perumal Murugan’s One Part Woman or Madhorubhagan in Malayalam was banned after a petition was filed against it alleging that the novel hurt sentiments of a community and of women. The Madras High Court dismissed the petition in 2016.

Buy it here.

Week 40

Immigration is usually in the news for all the wrong reasons. Immigrants become an easy “other” for politicians to blame for the woes of a country that they refuse to solve. Nonetheless, in this globalised world, immigrants form an essential part of many countries’ cultures. Read a beautiful diaspora work, Americanah by Nigerian author Chimamanda Adichie. The novel traverses three countries, Nigeria, the UK and the US.

Buy it here.

Week 41

Agatha Christie published her first Hercule Poirot novel, Mysterious Affairs at the Styles in October 1920! Celebrate a hundred years by revisiting this classic whodunnit!

Buy it here.

Week 42

16th October is World Food Day, celebrated by Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) of the UN. Revel in an epicurean delight and read Andaleeb Wajid’s More than Just Biryani. Perhaps the novel will lead you to introspect your lovely memories with food and family too!

Buy it here.


Week 43

Enjoy the growing chill and the changing seasons by indulging in a children’s classic, Heidi. The story is perfect when you want to vicariously visit the mountains while being tucked inside the depths of a warm quilt.

Buy it here.

Week 44

October is also LGBTQ History Month in the US and Canada (while in the UK it is celebrated in February). So why not also think about LGBTQ history from an Indian perspective this month? We recommend reading Same-Sex Love in India: A Literary History edited by Ruth Vanita and Saleem Kidwai which analyses at length the literary representations of same-sex love in Indian writing since ancient times. 

Buy it here.


Week 45

On 2nd November 2019, the JCB Prize for literature for 2019 went to Madhuri Vijay’s The Far Field. If you haven’t picked it up yet, you must, as it is a powerful, emotive read about Shalini, based in Bangalore, who sets out to uncover her connections to Kashmir by finding out about how a Kasmiri salesman, Bashir Ahmed, is linked with her mother. So, immerse in this previous year’s winner while you wait for the 2020 JCB winner to be announced.

Buy it here.

Week 46

26th Session of Conference of Parties (COP) to the UNFCC will take place in Glasgow in 2020 from 9th to 19th November: Climate change is undeniably a major threat to our very existence on Planet Earth. We are already seeing its effects as is evident by the freak weather incidents and the climatic changes all across India. Yet it is also the one threat that we all conveniently ignore. In one of his few non fiction works, The Great Derangement by Amitav Ghosh takes this threat and hauntingly makes it real by looking at the consequences that will befall us because of our present ‘derangement’ in denying this climate crisis.

Buy it here.

Week 47

India’s Most Fearless by Shiv Aroor and Rahul Singh chronicles 14 stories of modern military Heroes of India. This book is a great addition to the military literature of India and makes for a gripping read.

Buy it here.

Week 48

The Seer celebrated 100 years of Amrita Pritam last year in 2019.  Celebrate the love between her and her longtime companion, Imroz through the touching collection of letters collated in In The Time Of Love And Longing by Amrita Pritam And Imroz. Read a detailed review here.

Buy it here.

Week 49

December is the Read a New Book Month. The idea behind this is to encourage readers to read something new they wouldn’t otherwise.

If you haven’t already started reading more LGBTQ stories, we suggest you pick up the coming of age, The Carpet Weaver, by Nemat Sadat. It portrays a gay relationship amidst the political upheavals in Afghanistan.

Buy it here.

Week 50

As the year draws towards the end, if you are wondering about your exaggerated optimism while making your 2020 resolution list, stop and pick up Manu Joseph’s Illicit Happiness of Other People to drown yourself in some dark humour.

Buy it here.

Week 51

Haroun and the Sea of Stories by Salman Rushdie is an absolute gem for all ages. Though it is stylised as a children’s fable with the protagonist, Haroun, going on several adventures to the places in the novel’s universe, Haroun and the Sea of Stories also comments on the power of stories and criticises the clampdown on freedom of expression and its censoring. Read a detailed review here.

Buy it here.

Week 52

While you fortify your resolution to join the swankiest of the gyms in your neighbourhood, don’t forget the food part of it. The Indian Pantry: The Very Best of Rude Food by Vir Sanghvi takes you on an amusing journey of the Indian pantry and leaves you much more informed about the food you eat.

Buy it here.

Week 53

The Testaments by Margaret Atwood is the sequel to her previously acclaimed novel, The Handmaid’s Tale. The novel takes place 15 years after the events in The Handmaid’s Tale and has three prominent narratives: of Aunt Lydia and two women who are the first generations of the dystopian country, Gilead.

Buy it here.

GadgetWise – Smartphone Apps That Will Make You Smarter in 2020!

5 million apps! That’s how many options are available in the leading app stores worldwide in 2019. With Google Play Store and App Store listing more than 2 million apps, the consumer is not only spoiled for choice but uncertainty as well. As you wade through the multitude of choices in this digital maze, worrying about having enough space on your memory card (or maybe not), the criticism of ‘too much time spent on the phone” might not consider the positive aspects that smartphones provide in terms of productivity and personal well-being.

From educational apps to productivity enhancers, from apps which track your health or exercise/diet to options for daily motivational quotes or regular happiness assessments; the multi-million dollar apps industry provides customisation that might come at a premium but is often available for free. If you’re looking for the best, these are the most popular apps among those downloaded:

 

Educational Apps

Dragonbox Algebra
Dragonbox Algebra

For students grappling with grueling school schedules which are increasingly competitive, mobile apps can provide an edge in academic preparation. While content libraries such as Epic and Khan Academy offer a range of educational material including audio-books and videos, games like Dragonbox Algebra 5+ and 12+ ensure math-haters have a fun way to learn the dreaded subject. 300 million language enthusiasts love Duolingo for its Candy-Crush approach to learning nearly 35 languages.

 

 

 

Wolfram Alpha
Wolfram Alpha

Available schedulers include iStudiez Pro and myHomework Student Planner, and knowledge wizards such as Socratic and Wolfram Alpha provide problem-solving ranging from a simple history factoid to bewildering questions in categories such as mathematics, science and technology as well as society and culture. Last-minute exam preparation is easy with Quizlet which allows you to create flashcards for note-taking or speed-testing your memory along with the option of downloading from among 335,784,000 existing study sets. Desmos Graphing Calculator is even being incorporated into school assessments and testing such as the California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress by state organisations. While apps such as Tynker: Coding for Kids and SoloLearn offer free lessons in computer programming, online learning platforms such as Meritnation, Toppr, Gradeup, and Coursera have apps for mobile learning. So, even if your kid seems to be wasting time on their phone, they could just be self-starters engrossed in an educational app.

Medical/Health Apps

BlueStarHealth management has been made easier with apps like BlueStar and mySugr for patients with Diabetes, along with options to manage your medication with Dosecast and CareZone. While Medimetry, Doctor Insta, and Lybrate provide online consultation services; Portea and Zoctr assist with home healthcare services. Along with facilitating diagnostic tests, Docprime, Practo, and Credihealth also make booking appointments with doctors easier.

Even as doctor consultations anytime-anywhere is the recent healthcare trend, advances in mobile technology have ensured portable medical testing such as ultrasounds by Lumify and skin cancer screening by SkinVision. Updated information about clinical trials worldwide is also available from Guideline Central and Clinical Trials Mobile for those seeking to participate. In case of emergencies, there are apps such as VMEDO and Medulance which you can rely on for booking ambulances and finding registered blood donors near you.

Exercise/Diet Apps

In 2019, more than 800 million people use fitness apps worldwide for calorie counting, workout companions, or barcode scanning for nutritional information. As the digital fitness industry grows exponentially, verifiable data is important for diet plans to work. Among the leading weight loss apps, Lose It! offers a personalised analysis based on your daily diet log (including ‘Snap It’ for tracking portion sizes) to provide a projected date for achieving your desired weight. With curated nutritional information about ‘7 million+ foods, restaurant items and brands from around the world’ and integration with fitness wearables, Lose It! is among the most user-friendly apps.

Lose It!
Lose It!

Similar weight-loss apps include MyFitnessPal which has the additional feature of a barcode scanner and FatSecret which includes community support. While Fooducate grades food items based on scanned nutritional information, HealthyOut scans nearby restaurants for healthy options. Leading workout apps include Map My Fitness, Nike Run Club, Strava, Freeletics and Yoga Studio. On-demand workout streaming is also available from NEOU. If the motivation Diet Coach (Android/ iOS) offers isn’t enough, you can sign up for Sweatcoin (in select countries) and collect sweatcoins for outdoor walking/running. The sweatcoin is a digital currency which can be exchanged for goods from its 300+ partners.

Productivity Apps

Trello
Trello

From organisers that remind you about your schedule to integrated task automation, apps for productivity depend on personal requirements. While Evernote helps with note-taking including “meeting notes, web pages, projects, to-do lists”, IFTTT (Android, iOS) is ideal for automating tasks based on an an “If This, Then That” structure. Organising to-do lists are made easy with apps such as TickTick which includes shareable tasks, with Trello and ToDoist extending to project management features. Trello’s upgrades (Power-Ups) provide enhanced workflow integration with third-party services such as InVision, Jira, Salesforce and Slack. Of course, Dropbox remains one of the most popular integrations for online storage and sharing.

Self-Care Apps

SuperBetter
SuperBetter

According to the Institute for Health Metrics Evaluation (IHME), depressive disorders are among the top three causes for disability globally. Considering nearly 500 million people suffer from mental disorders worldwide, it is not surprising that self-care market is generating more than USD 10 billion in annual revenue. Apps to enhance well-being include gaming solutions from SuperBetter and Happify, meditative techniques from Calm and Headspace, and CBT mood trackers based on cognitive behaviour therapy such as MoodKit and Sanvello. While Breathe2Relax (Android/iOS) offers tips on diaphragmatic breathing for stress management, MindShift provides strategies for coping with anxiety. When all you need is a calming soundscape, Relax Melodies includes “100 soothing sounds and music” that can be combined for a meditative playlist. For that gentle reminder to ‘Rest, Hydrate, Fuel, Breathe, Move’, Aloe Bud is around to make sure you take care of yourself.

While the jury is still out about the accuracy of nutritional/healthcare information available on many apps, research suggests that apps which promote physical activity have been found to be generally effective. Considering consumer well-being in the digital economy extends beyond financial measures, the expanding app landscape can be harnessed to bring positive changes to your life. Whether tapping into a knowledge database or finding the fitness app that works for you, sometimes even a gentle reminder could be sufficient for self-improvement. 

List of apps mentioned in the report for your easy reference –

Please take the following survey to help us understand how our readers use their smart phones and apps.

 

Once you have taken the survey, please click here to view the responses.

 

 

Amrita Pritam

100 Years of Amrita Pritam and Her Feminism

As the year 2019 draws to a close, we at The Seer would like to pay a small tribute to Amrita Pritam’s stories in the hundredth year of her birth anniversary. Amrita Pritam was born on 31st August in 1919 in Gujranwala, Punjab (which is in present day Pakistan). Earlier in August, Google commemorated her 100th birth anniversary with a beautiful doodle

She wrote several poems, short stories and novels in her lifetime. Amrita is most famous for her melancholic poem, Ajj Aakhaan Waris Shah Nu (Today I Invoke Waris Shah). The poem addresses the 18th century Sufi poet, Waris Shah, to look at Punjab that was bleeding due to Partition. 

Her other works include Pinjar, which was her first novel. The story portrays Partition’s aftermath. Her autobiography, Raseedi Ticket (1976) recounts her experiences of the Partition and also her relationship with poet, Sudhir Ludhianvi, among other things.  In the Times of Love and Longing is a collection of soulful love letters exchanged between Amrita Pritam and Imroz. One of her other famous poems is Main Tenun Phir Milangi (I Will Meet You Again), a beautiful love letter to Imroz. 

A rare photograph of Amrita Pritam and her partner, Imroz, in 1969.(Photo by Ravinder Ravi )
A rare photograph of Amrita Pritam and her partner, Imroz, in 1969.(Photo by Ravinder Ravi )

 

Female desire and thoughts are integral to Amrita’s works. She was unabashedly a rebellious writer and was unafraid of writing on taboo topics. Her short stories show women’s perspectives on love and art as well as their plight in a constraining society. She also did not shy away from writing about masculinity and its constructions in an age when ideas around toxic masculinity had not yet gained traction. 

Amrita-Pritam (1)

The Stench of Kerosene or Bu in Hindi is striking in its symbolism that haunts Guleri’s husband, Manek. Guleri is a carefree girl but one who is unable to bear any children. Children have and continue to be a goal that a married Indian woman is expected to achieve. Because Guleri is unable to do so, her mother-in-law pushes Manek to have a second marriage. Manek seems reluctant to do that. Later, he becomes numb after hearing about Guleri’s death. Guleri sets herself on fire with kerosene when she heard about Manek’s second wedding. The story ends with a son being born but the sight of his son ironically reminds Manek of the kerosene’s stench. Through this story, Pritam does not implicate anyone directly but brings together various ways of thinking that create boundaries for a woman and even lead to her death. Manek is trapped between his love for Guleri and his mother and the obedience to social norms. Guleri’s mother-in-law is blinded by the idea of the necessity of children in a marriage. 

Five Sisters or Paanch Behene in Hindi describes different experiences of women. The story reads like an allegory or a fable. It is as if she is depicting the problems of all women, creating an everywoman. Two characters Life and Wind visit the five sisters of the 20th century. The first one is trapped within the walls of the house and so are all her fellow women. The second sister belongs to a subaltern section and has consequently faced many hardships. The third is compared to a statue and her marriage has forced her into undergoing an operation that turns her heart into a rock. The metaphor of an operation is apt to describe how marriages steal women’s identity. The fourth one cries out that she has lost hope in life because of her rape during the Partition. The last sister that Life visits seems to be a young singer and writer. Although she seems successful and talented, she is not spared from gendered criticisms. One could also interpret the last sister as a reflection of Amrita Pritam herself when the society was quick to criticise her unorthodox choices. 

 

Amrita Pritam, 1970
Amrita Pritam, 1970

The Wild Flower or Jangli Booti in Hindi speaks of Angoori’s conversations with the narrator. Angoori is the wife of one of the servants in the narrator’s neighbour’s neighbour’s house. Angoori is a simple, innocent girl who believes that falling in love is a sin and that those girls who eat a kind of wild herb are the ones who fall in love. Like many of her other short stories, The Wild Flower emphasises on how women’s right to love and have a desire are controlled by moral and righteous forces which deny them any voice.  The story can be read online in English on The Little Magazine website

 

 

References:

 

Mumbai

Independent Bookstores in Mumbai

Given all the loud voices and rhetorical shouting that goes on in India these days, be it in Parliament, on Whatsapp and even worse, on TV news channels, there are hardly any spaces left that allow one to be heard calmly and even fewer that allow one to have a chance to be well informed about topical matters. 

Independent bookstores in the city are some of the few places that can provide people with such spaces. They are akin to the heroes that we need today. They symbolize a piece of hope against the burgeoning franchise economies in any sphere whether it is bookstores or restaurants. These stores go against this one grave fallout of globalisation that haunts each country. 

Mumbai has always been home to several independent bookstores such as the Strand Book Stall (which unfortunately had to shut down), Sterling Book House (which is any student’s savior when it comes to textbooks), the erstwhile Granth Bookstore and Horizon Book Shop in the suburbs. 

Each of these older bookstores has had to contend with the growth of retail bookstore chains most prominently, Crossword and even Landmark to some extent. A few have not survived the ordeal. Most of the bookstores that were my childhood haunts have disappeared. Who wouldn’t miss the enviable Strand Book Stall’s brilliant sales? 

However, independent bookstores in this decade have slowly and surely made a steady comeback, making waves and establishing a place in the city’s literary heart. 

The Seer presents the top 5 independent bookstores in Mumbai:

 

The Trilogy Library and Bookstore

The Trilogy Bookstore
The Trilogy Bookstore

Though it is located in one of the best known localities in Mumbai – close to Jogger’s Park in Bandra, you would easily miss the board of Trilogy Bookstore if you were not looking closely. Tucked away in a lane that also houses a caterer, this two storied bookshop is a paradise. They have an eclectic collection of books on the ground floor from a well curated children’s section to a brilliant section just for poetry. One highlight is the separate sections devoted to indie publishers and also feminist writing. If the high price of the books deters you, they also run a library upstairs which also boasts of an extensive collection from bestsellers to niche titles. Trilogy also hosts several events on its cosy premises such as the dramatic reading of the Paper Moon by Rehana Munir. You can enjoy these events over some cookies while also savouring the wafting smell of books intermingling with a biryani that is slow cooking outside. Look up the details about their library membership here.

 

Kitab Khana

Kitaab Khana
Kitaab Khana

The moment you step into this bookshop that is hidden behind several street vendors you know you have entered a haven. The shelves are choc a bloc with a variety of books. Cute little post-its with staff recommendations scribbled on them adorn the shelves. A café is another plus of the store. The bookshop’s old world charm encourages one to just plomp down on its many cosily placed seats and chairs and read through the books (they do allow customers to sit and read on for hours or until the store closes). The books here are also not limited to only English authors. They have a large collection of Hindi, Marathi and Gujarati novels, short stories and poetry. Two unique things about Kitab Khana are that it houses myriad religious and spiritual texts and poetry selections from several indie publications in India. The staff is also quite helpful and prompt in assisting you to get the book you desire!


Title Waves

Titlewaves Bookstore
Title Waves Bookstore

Title Waves has been making waves ever since it was launched thanks to its marketing and also the many engaging events and book launches it is always part of. Title Waves was also one of the partner bookstores and venues for TATA Literature Live Festival in 2019. A selection of handpicked novels greets one as you enter the store. But venture further to find other great sections of books particularly its graphic novels and manga section which is one of the best in the city. They have Indian graphic novels sitting side by side the most popular Japanese manga. If browsing through books and sipping on coffee is your poison, then a visit to Title Waves is a must.

 


Wayword and Wise

Wayword & Wise
Wayword & Wise

Wayword and Wise believes in doing things differently. Very differently. The books it houses inside its front columned facade store are not easily available in the city. The titles are very vast, varied, and niche. They have authors from Yuko Tawada (The Memory Police) to Hisham Matar, from Jennifer Zeynab Joukhadar to Hiromi Kawakami. Their sections are also equally varied ranging from literary essays and criticism (no independent bookstore in the city possibly has this as a separate section!) to poetry, science fiction, and graphic novels. Their eclectic fiction shelves run along the huge wall parallel to the other sections of the store. The poetry and graphic novels section stand out for having excellent titles that are otherwise extremely hard to find!

 


Granth Bookstore

Granth
Granth

The recently renovated Granth Bookstore has quirky décor that would light up your soul, jazz music to keep you company, and loads of natural lighting that would keep you feeling fresh. If you are close to the Juhu beach, this is a great bookstore to drop by in. You can read a book and gaze at the beach while also drinking your cappuccino. The store has two floors. The first floor is dedicated to children’s books and cookbooks. Apart from the neat sections and doodles, the bookstore also has a range of coffee table books that are a dying genre in itself. 

 

Have you visited any of the bookstores above? Do you know of other bookstores in Mumbai that are your absolute favourites? Let us know in the comments below. 

 

 

CAB Protests and Our Grammar of Anarchy

The first thing in my judgement we must do is to hold fast to constitutional methods of achieving our social and economic objectives. It means we must abandon the bloody methods of revolution. It means that we must abandon the method of civil disobedience, non-cooperation and satyagraha. When there was no way left for constitutional methods for achieving economic and social objectives, there was a great deal of justification for unconstitutional methods. But where constitutional methods are open, there can be no justification for these unconstitutional methods. These methods are nothing but the Grammar of Anarchy and the sooner they are abandoned, the better for us.

 

When we do not use the constitutional devices made available to us and begin to disrupt our own society to get what we want, in my opinion, there can be arguably two chief driving forces – first, we have lost all faith in our judiciary. After all, just a few days back, a lot amongst us wanted the men accused in Hyderabad rape case to be lynched in a public spectacle and a large part of the country celebrated when they were killed in a police encounter. The defenders of the law are still having a hard time explaining what was wrong in such an act by the police. When you hear Nirbhaya’s mother speaking about her wait for justice for the last 7 years with one ‘juvenile’ already walking free, there is not much left to defend about the systems that were designed for justice but have almost become impediments to the same. Like any other pillar of democracy, our judiciary has become a prisoner of its own laws.

 

However, a large majority still fights with its self-doubts and conflicts with the system to rush to the court when needed. There is a reason that we have more than 3 crores cases pending in our courts. In absence of faith, most of these citizens involved in litigation would have become vigilantes themselves. This brings us to the second force – a lot amongst us do not believe in the institutions of the country, including the judiciary. So, when we are not busy fortifying our beliefs or absence thereof, we take to the streets to bring theory into practice. This set holds the constitution holy in public and burns it with the other hand in private and when provided with an opportunity to be their private self in public, they burn the constitution in public too. They are the ones who have carried out the so called ‘hijacking’ of the Citizenship Amendment Bill/Citizenship Amendment Act protests.

 

Hijacking of protests is not a new phenomenon. When you venture out to protest on the streets through your voice or your pen, you must begin with the assumption that there will be attempts to hijack your movement. If you don’t start with this understanding, your movement will be corrupted in no time. Now, if you do have that understanding, it is also incumbent upon you to prevent it from happening. However, if you consciously want your protests to be hijacked so that it becomes viral and you can extract a career out of it, you are not solving any problem. You are the problem.

 

 

The Question of Group Identification

A lot of people, including most of the media agencies, have betrayed their ignorance in the last week. There are individuals who have claimed that India does not share a border with Afghanistan, many have claimed that they live in India and not Bharat (ignorant about the adoption of the name Bharat in our constitution). There are individuals who have confidently tried to fact-check people who have been using the term ‘CAA’ instead of CAB after the bill was passed in the parliament. Then, there were people who took a week to understand that they cannot support the anti-immigration protests of Assam and the inclusion of Muslims in the Citizenship Amendment Act at the same time. Such people ranged from a few lazy but opinionated people, a few celebrities and their followers, a few small-time opinion makers on social media to some high and mighty so called intellectuals of the country and abroad. That such ignorance could be displayed with such confidence without even a reluctant look at our country’s history, geography, official documents, and most importantly our constitution, has amply proved that Indians don’t like details, we hate to read, we hate to understand our surroundings, and we absolutely abhor being questioned. Ignorance is not the greatest sin, believing that ignorance-is-bliss is.

Between being ignorant and believing that ignorance-is-bliss, lies a greater folly – the desire to play ignorant for the optics. This happens when you know what you are saying is wrong but it sounds politically correct and you can get claps for it, so, you go on to say it anyway. 

When presented with a question – If you had the option to take liberties with some facts and crack a really funny joke or being accurate with the facts and risk dishing out a bland one or no joke at all, which one would you choose? A populist choice makes you dishonest. An honest choice makes you less popular or even unpopular. Many intellectuals in our country however, choose the first option and divide the society into groups that carry one chief value that they decide to label them with. So, if a woman slanders you and you slander her back, they will come at you saying things like ‘how could you talk to a woman like that’ because even when they know that the woman in question is an individual first and the response to her was in her individual capacity irrespective of her gender; for these people, using the gender crutch helps them project themselves as feminists and also perhaps agreeable to a lot of people. 

 

One such oversimplified group in question in the ongoing protests is ‘students’. You will be hearing a plethora of generalizations flying across from both the warring sides – “these students are anti-national”, “a student doesn’t burn buses”, “JNU students are enemies of the nation”, “students like to study”. The absurdity of the arguments have reached such incredible heights that it appears that students are aliens whom most of us do not know and a few of us know too well. A student can be anything – nationalist, anti-national, sub-nationalist, ethno-linguistic fanatic, fascist, communist, sexist, homophobe, islamophobe, xenophobe, or even a terrorist. When the BHU protests happened over the appointment of a Muslim scholar and professor to teach Sanskrit Vidya Dharma Vigyan, students were called out as bigots. A student can burn buses, another can douse the fire. A student may not want to study, a student may only want to study and do no politics. Being a student is not a qualification for righteousness. Depending on their life choices, it might prove to be the path to it. So, it would be a pragmatic thing to stop enjoying and promoting such oversimplifications.

While group identification is necessary for administrative purposes, our society (including the government and law enforcement agencies) will do itself a great good to stop assigning moralistic and ethical values to these groups. They can only be assigned to individuals irrespective of the group he or the government thinks he belongs to. 

 

 

The Question of CAA

The major protest to the bill came from Assam where certain groups want all illegal immigrants identified and sent back. Other groups in other parts of the country took the cue but changed the message and objective. They successfully carried out the pejoration of the Assam protests and went public with all their prejudices and politics. The issue was quickly turned into a Hindu-Muslim question and concerns were raised about the exclusion of Muslims. In that sense, this was the complete opposite of what the indigenous Assamese wanted. If you change a few variables like the party in power or the state in question (say, Maharashtra), the same set of people would have attacked the agitators for ‘complete exclusion’ for being xenophobic and fascists. So, instead of doing any good, the political protests across the country (more specifically Bengal) have in effect diluted the protests in Assam and when there should have been a rigorous debate over the process of identification, implementation, and impact on the Assam demographics, we got brute-braked on the usual Hindu-Muslim speed-breaker.

The group in favour of the Citizenship Amendment Act is happy with its current form and a few among them also want Sri Lankan Tamils, Atheists, and Apostates to be included. If India were to be morally one, then, only one of these sets is right and everyone else is wrong. But that is not true. Every region has its own problem and a state like Assam has a lot more than those which do not share a porous border internationally. So, the moral question changes with our vantage point. Kashmir has a different moral question than New Delhi and hence the same moral compass can’t be applied to the entire country. Then come the existential questions. Can we allow the migration to take place to an extent that the very purpose of migration is lost? That’s the question Assam is battling right now. On the technical aspect, everyone seems to be having a strong case, hence, I will be keenly following the court proceedings to be held in January 2020. The questions I will be looking for answers to are – 

 

  1. The Act does not mention the term ‘Religious Persecution’ but only minority religions in Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan. These two terms do not mean the same thing. So, what exactly is the basis of the amendment – ‘minority-status’ or ‘religious persecution’?
  2. If the basis is ‘minority-status’, then why have Jews, Atheists, and Apostates not been included?
  3. If the basis is ‘religious-persecution’, how will the government ensure that all Pakistani Hindus in India claiming citizenship have been persecuted on religious grounds?
  4. Mr. Amit Shah has mentioned in his Rajya Sabha speech that the bill will bring relief to lakhs (sometimes crores) of people. According to our Intelligence Bureau, “a total of 31,313 persons belonging to minority communities, including “25,447 Hindu, 5,807 Sikhs, 55 Christians, 2 Buddhists and 2 Parsis” will be immediate beneficiaries of the amended Citizenship Act”. Which number is correct?
  5. Will CAA be used to grant citizenship to people who have not found their names on the NRC list? If no, then how will the act bring relief to lakhs of people? If yes, then how will religious persecution be determined?
  6. Since, the persecution clause itself is not mentioned in the act, will it not become just an optional check for the government?
  7. One of the points supporting the amended act says that Muslims can still apply for citizenship using the preexisting channels. However, that is true for other minorities too. So, why the new amendment?
  8. How will the government prevent the evergreen bureaucratic lethargy and corruption of our country playing a role in this exercise and implementation?
  9. What is government’s defence for the Kargil veteran not finding his name on the NRC? How will such cases be avoided in the future?  

 

 

The Question of Our Neighbours

What is the reason that a secular state like India is surrounded by theocratic states that prioritise one religion over others? If we are hopeful of solving all our domestic problems while they remain theocratic, we are set on a fool’s errand. Of all the geopolitical realities of South Asia, this is perhaps our biggest failing. When a Hindu nation (Nepal) can become a secular state and the world can welcome it, what is inspiring our neighbours to remain Islamic in nature? Why are the secular forces in these countries not able to effect a constitutional change or escalate their agenda into a mass movement? Perhaps, mass movement is not the answer. When the government swears by a particular religion, raising a voice in protest becomes blasphemy. So, either the leaders of South Asia can sit down and have a conversation on the subject or we would have to wait for a popular government that sees secularism as an aspirational value to adopt. Even though Indian constitution valued secularism without declaring India a secular state, the process of officially becoming a secular state was a top-down action when the Indira Gandhi government brought the forty-second amendment. Do our neighbours have the necessary political will to effect such a thing?

 

 

The Moral Question

On the moral dilemma, what is more humanitarian, to shelter a few (minority who have been persecuted consistently according to reports from reputed organisations) or shelter none? Who is to be given a safe home, the persecuted or the persecutor? Should the act then be seen as a great humanitarian step that not many nations are ready to take? It is interesting to note that the act includes Christians too. The BJP has been accused of being against the Christians in the past and will be accused again even if a bird poops on any church in this country. But then, while religious persecution is a reality in our neighbouring countries, can groups alone define who is persecuted and who is not? Could there be only one Muslim who would have escaped and entered India because of his sectarian differences or apostatic persecution? Will it be moral to send that one person back? What details must this person furnish to prove religious persecution? What are the safeguards our government has put for such people? These are relevant questions, so I would suggest you to keep away from people who are straitjacketing this issue into Hindu versus Muslims battle. While people are throwing up on social media because they are habituated to, very few have seriously considered all aspects and tried to find answers. Fewer have even gone on to read the bill in detail to understand what it is and what it isn’t. Lazy citizens do not bring revolution. They just bring misinformation and a resultant bloody violence, upon others and in the end, upon themselves.

 

 

Three Warnings of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar

In Indian newsrooms and public discourse, there are people who use Mahatma Gandhi’s name whenever they can’t make their own point. “Gandhi said this, how can you go against our Bapu”, is the favourite catchphrase of such lazy intellectuals. Since, they swear by Gandhiji’s name, I am sure they know why the Non-Cooperation movement was withdrawn. Using their favourite rhetoric, I can confidently say that Gandhi would have withdrawn from the so called anti-CAB movement at the first sign of violence. Invoking Gandhi is a hogwash most of the times – just a thorn to take out the existing thorn. Once, the existing thorn is removed, the Gandhi thorn will be thrown away without a care.

On the other side, if one is to believe that the BJP and our Prime Minister have nothing to gain from the Hindu-Muslim polarisation, it would be repeating the mistake. Mr. Modi lost the moral battle the day he referred to the clothes of the protestors during one of his speeches in Jharkhand. So, now we have one side referring to saffron colour to identify the criminal and other side referring to skullcaps and kurtas to know the criminal. In doing so and not able to see the problem, we have already ignored the 2nd warning of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar (another utility thorn of our lazy intellectuals, always discarded once the point has been made)-

The second thing we must do is to observe the caution which John Stuart Mill has given to all who are interested in the maintenance of democracy, namely, not “to lay their liberties at the feet of even a great man, or to trust him with power which enable him to subvert their institutions”. There is nothing wrong in being grateful to great men who have rendered life-long services to the country. But there are limits to gratefulness. As has been well said by the Irish Patriot Daniel O’Connel, no man can be grateful at the cost of his honour, no woman can be grateful at the cost of her chastity and no nation can be grateful at the cost of its liberty. This caution is far more necessary in the case of India than in the case of any other country. For in India, Bhakti or what may be called the path of devotion or hero-worship, plays a part in its politics unequalled in magnitude by the part it plays in the politics of any other country in the world. Bhakti in religion may be a road to the salvation of the soul. But in politics, Bhakti or hero-worship is a sure road to degradation and to eventual dictatorship.

 

The focal points of power must be checked. Government, political parties, media, academia must be asked questions when they want to remain unquestioned and unaccountable. Anarchy is not the answer. Anarchy is nothing but dictatorship at the level of an individual. Soon enough, power centres more devious than what we set out to demolish will rise again. Democracy is still the best solution we have in our hands and a strong democracy needs an opposition with a spine. That is partly our misfortune and partly our own doing. The present opposition doesn’t inspire confidence. The arsonists can never make a good opposition. 

 

I should put out a disclosure here. The first paragraph in this article is the first warning of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar. Please read it again if you did not pay enough attention for the first time. As the Nirbhaya rape convicts have their review petition rejected, Kuldip Sengar stands convicted of rape, CBI gets yet another thrashing by the court, and the court decides to hear petitions regarding the CAA in January 2020, I would still like to believe that our judiciary keeps showing signs of life every now and then. In the absence of an intelligent opposition, the judiciary of our country has been holding better and much more informed debates on matters important to us and just by doing that, it gains the right to become our first resort to justice, of course, only if we believe in our democracy and our ability to plug the existing holes. Otherwise, individual and group dictatorships are already exhibiting their designs on the streets. Decide.

 

Roquiah Sakhawat

Rokeya Sakhawat Hossain’s Enduring Legacy

Rokeya Sakhawat Hossain was a leading feminist writer who wrote from Bengal in the early half of the 20th century. Her works were almost exclusively on the identity and crisis based on social issues that plagued women during her time. She is remembered for her efforts to describe the plight of women and their issues in her works. Among her most important works is Sultana’s Dream.

Rokeya was born in an upper-class Muslim family and she was not allowed to attend school or learn Bengali because her family did not want her thoughts to be “contaminated” by non-Muslim ideas. Instead, at her family’s insistence, she learned Arabic and Urdu and various other texts written to enhance a woman’s understanding of what she was meant to do in the family household; what her duties were. Indeed, witnessing the role of women in society and their limitations first-hand inspired her views and these views are visible in her writings. In fact, in 1926, at the Bengal Women’s Education Conference, Rokeya went so far as to strongly condemn men for withholding education from women in the name of religion. As she addressed the conference, she said,

“The opponents of the female education say that women will be unruly … fie! They call themselves Muslims and yet go against the basic tenet of Islam which gives equal right to education. If men are not led astray once educated, why should women?”

She studied from her home in secret where her brother taught her English. She had by then, already begun to write in Urdu and Bengali and was a published poet. In 1905, she wrote her seminal work, Sultana’s Dream. Her husband urged her to publish it and she sent it to the English Language periodical, The Indian Ladies Magazine. The story, about a feminist utopia where the women of a country have taken over the reins of governance from the martial, patriarchal regime of men, was well-received.

The story is unusually simplistic in its time and place. There is no sense of grandeur to it but rather a comical touch to it. The cruel but hilarious portrayal of men in the story is a matter to think about as it directly approaches the attitude towards women that it is built upon.

 

Written about a land where there is no semblance of weather, it serves as a metaphor for the emotions of both men and women. Men being temperate and uncontrollable as the weather while women being in control of themselves and therefore being able to control the weather. This delineation of the roles of women in society is a marked departure from previous writings about women and a major motif of Rokeya’s writings.

There is also an element of role reversal in the story which deals with the depiction of men in “mardanas” as opposed to the usual practice of women in their zenanas. Indeed, the idea of a zenana is frowned upon quite clearly in the story with the Queen of Ladyland stating that “no trade was possible with countries where the women were kept in the zenanas and so unable to come and trade with us.” (Hossain, 11)

Thus, sultana’s dream not only represents the ideal for women, but also exhibits a place of hope and seclusion if not inclusion, a place where women are free and finally, come into their own.

 

Just like the story, Rokeya’s vision was no less idealistic. Her impact was powerful back then; it is even more impactful today. Her argument, that a society swimming in patriarchy truly needs the liberating hands of empowered women, will find many takers today.

In a century of women’s liberation movements, her achievements stand out in brick and mortar, in the form of a girl’s school in Calcutta (now Kolkata). Rokeya’s husband was enthusiastic about his wife’s work and was particularly pleased with her desire to educate girls and to empower them. In order to facilitate this, he left Rokeya Rs 10,000 to set up a school for girls after his death. She soon started the school in 1909 in Bhagalpur in the memory of her husband. That school was short-lived. Due to some family problems, she had to move to Calcutta, where she re-opened the Sakhawat Memorial Girls’ School in 1910. This institution expanded slowly, but surely. In fact, by the time she died in 1932, the school had evolved to such an extent that it was a fully-realized high school offering education upto matriculation and even taught courses in English and Bengali. Today, this same school is a thriving government-funded institution.

Many believe that Rokeya’s influence is more prevalent in Bangladesh. “Although Calcutta was the centre of [Rokeya’s] literary, educational and political activism, she is regarded as an iconic figure in what is now Bangladesh, where she is best recognised and indisputably exerts a posthumous public influence. All subsequent feminist writers and literary practitioners of the country owe an enormous debt to her relentless and pioneering intellectual work and leadership.” (Hasan 179)

 

Despite this, it is easy to argue that Rokeya, like her vision, did not belong to one sphere of life but had succeeded in reaching a broad spectrum of cultural spaces. Rokeya’s life has been an astonishing one in many ways. She was a Muslim woman, raised to toe the lines of patriarchy, to acclimatise to the norm, and yet, she ventured forth and tread her own path. Not just that, she even managed to bring other people into the fold with her.

 

 

References:

E-Waste Scrapyard in China | Source: Greenpeace

The Modern Junkyard – Electronic Waste and the Right to Repair

44.7 million metric tonnes of e-waste in the modern junkyard and 8 million tonnes of plastic dumped in the oceans ANNUALLY! That’s a lot of waste management each year.

Mapping out E-waste | Source: World Economic Forum

Mapping out E-waste | Source: World Economic Forum

With the global economy expected to be flush with 25- 50 billion electrical goods by 2020, it’s not surprising that policymakers worldwide are focused on waste management solutions. Considering that even solar energy’s photo-voltaic (PV) modules are likely to leave behind 90 million metric tons of waste by 2050 each year, the hazardous impact to environment and health is, as yet, not adequately discernible.

 

Woman Washing Clothes in Chinese River | Source: Greenpeace
Woman Washing Clothes in Chinese River | Source: Greenpeace

The concomitant environmental degradation is subject to measurable scrutiny, but nearly 80% of e-waste presently remains unaccounted for. Meanwhile, millions of tonnes are being shipped off to developing countries in Asia and Africa in a centre-periphery model that has existed for centuries. The Agbogbloshie dump near Ghana’s capital, Accra and Guiyu in China’s Guangdong Province are among the largest e-waste dumps in the world, with the Giuyu waste junkyard spanning 52 sq. km and more than 5000 family-run recycling workshops. In India, northern Delhi’s Seelampur is locked in a battle of noxious fumes in a city with the highest air pollution in the world.

 

Harmful Effects of e-Waste Dumping | Source: Greenpeace
Harmful Effects of e-Waste Dumping | Source: Greenpeace

Although “67 countries have enacted legislation to deal with the e-waste they generate” including India’s E-Waste (Management) Rules, 2016, an increasingly developed world is characterized by new gadgets that are cheaper to purchase than repair. According to leading Right to Repair activist, Gay Gordon-Byrne, the trend is going to continue –  “Because the cost of manufacturing will drive those changes. People are competing on price at the retail level. So, you know, speaker A is a hundred dollars and speaker B is $200, and you can fix speaker B, but not A, Well, if you’re like everybody else, you could buy the cheaper one, right? Which is probably assembled with a lot more glue and a lot less mechanical fasteners, just because of the cost of manufacturing.”

 

With annual e-waste “equivalent to almost 4,500 Eiffel Towers,” the burgeoning Right to Repair movement is offering an alternative. While modern consumer culture engenders product disposability, 1,653 Repair Café groups held nearly 20000 meetings in 2018, repairing “more than 350,000 products” while preventing “around 350,000 kilograms of waste.” In India, the first Repair Café was organised in September 2015 by Purna Sarkar and Antara Mukherjee at Rangoli Metro Art Centre on MG Road, Bengaluru. According to graphic designer, Antara, “It’s a hands-on approach. Volunteers will help you with the repair, will tell you what could go wrong. Basically, get people interested… A direct way to apply your intellect.”

While the Indian Repair Café has not yet ventured into high-end electronic repair such as cameras, printers, and mobile phones, their 39 workshops have a 90% repair rate, with a landfill diversion of nearly 4300 kg. Most of the 1010 items at the Bengaluru workshops include kitchen equipment such as “mixies, grinders, hand blenders” and household items including “radios, cordless landline phones, and mosquito rackets.”

The Right to Repair Movement | Source: Great Lakes Electronic Corporation

The Right to Repair Movement | Source: Great Lakes Electronic Corporation

 

India is ranked as the 5th highest generator worldwide for its yearly e-waste of 2 million tonnes which is expected to grow at a rate of 30% annually. Despite 178 registered e-waste recyclers in India, the informal sector forms an unorganized industry within this circular economy in clusters such as Shastri park, Seelampur, Mustafabad in Delhi, and Moradabad in UP. Open burning and acid stripping are involved in e-waste recycling of electrical and electronic equipment (EEE) such as PCBs (Printed Circuit Board).

 

 

As part of India’s e-waste strategy, “the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology has developed indigenous technology at C-MET and Central Institute of Plastics Engineering & Technology (CIPET) for recovery of precious metals and plastics from e-waste respectively,” and implemented an awareness programme involving “more than 3 lakh participants during 600 workshops and activities.”

 

E-Waste Dismantling in Sangrampur | Source: Sean Gallagher
E-Waste Dismantling in Sangrampur | Source: Sean Gallagher

 

E-waste As a Resource | Source: Umicore
E-waste As a Resource | Source: Umicore

 

“More than 100 million computers are thrown away annually in the United States, with China discarding 160 million electronic devices a year,” according to The Energy and Resources Institute. Despite the Basel Ban Amendment for banning export of hazardous wastes becoming international law, countries that have not yet ratified the amendment include “Canada, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, South Korea, Russia, India, Brazil, Mexico, and the global leader in waste per-capita, the United States.” Simultaneously, the European Union recently passed legislation requiring manufacturers to adhere to ‘Right to Repair’ standards based on its ‘Energy efficiency first’ principle, while activists battle for similar legislation in the United States. For Gay Gordon-Byrne, “Legislation just takes a long time. That’s the number one challenge.”

 

While the Right to Repair movement gathers momentum worldwide, it is crucial that effective implementation of waste management legislation is as integrated as the global digital economy, very least, if there is to be any hope of reversing global environmental degradation and the resultant climate change tide!

 

Dramatic Reading of Paper Moon by Rehana Munir


The best way to unwind on a Sunday evening is to be part of a cosy gathering in an even cosier bookstore involved in reading and conversations that revolve around books!

 

Trilogy is a beautiful bookstore tucked away in one of the lanes in Bandra, a neighbourhood in Mumbai. On Sunday, 9th December, it hosted a dramatic reading from Rehana Munir’s Paper Moon that was launched at the Tata Literature Live! this year in Title Waves bookstore in Mumbai. After the reading, the author and the owners of Trilogy engaged in an eye opening conversation about the nitty-gritty of running an independent bookstore.

Rehana Munir had also run a bookstore in Santacruz, The Reader’s Shop, in the mid 2000s. She was also part of the small yet rich bookshop, Paperback@Prithvi. Her debut novel is similarly based on opening and managing of a bookstore. The protagonist, Fiza, receives an inheritance to open a bookshop in Bandra which she christens as Paper Moon.

 

The dramatic reading was done by actors Mukul Chadda and Sheena Khalid. They read beautiful excerpts from the novel and brought the setting and characters to life. The excerpts that were read included the ones that describe why Fiza chose the name Paper Moon for the bookstore, about her relationship with the suave literary Iqbal who drops by her shop often and about Fiza’s own practical struggles with setting up a bookstore such as being overwhelmed in a book warehouse.

After the wonderful reading session, the owners of Trilogy, Ahalya and Meethil, were in conversation with Rehana about the trials and tribulations of running independent bookstores. They spoke about the practical matters of searching through thousands of books and catalogues to buy them for the store, of getting the right space and furniture, and of maintaining the space as well.

The big elephant in the room was of course the big franchise stores and e-commerce sites that provide a different kind of book buying experience. Ahalya was clear about putting the idea that of course an independent bookstore is also a business but one which is deeply involved with bringing personal experiences to the reader. She mentioned about how she loves to recommend books to people who drop by and how she has to step into the shoes of an FBI profiler to figure out what books to recommend. She also was quick to point out that appearances do not mean a thing when it comes to recommending a book to a customer. People surprise her and that’s one of the things that make her realise why she is in this profession. I guess, just like books, we cannot judge someone by the cover!

While it was a “meta moment” for Rehana, as she put it, to have written a book about a bookstore and to be discussing the same book in an independent bookstore itself, both Ahalya and Rehana also cautioned against thinking of opening a bookstore with a romanticised spirit. It definitely has its own challenges but has its own satisfying moments too. Readers fill them with those satisfying moments.

Additionally, you do get to read a lot as well and to broaden your reading habits because when it comes to stocking the shelves with books, you also have to think about a variety of books that different kinds of readers might enjoy!

And the thoughtfulness, detail, and variety on display on Trilogy’s bookshelves are a proof of the investment and time lovingly put into the store.

 

Follow Rehana Munir on Twitter!

Read the book excerpt here.

Buy the book here.

Follow Trilogy on Facebook for their latest events!

 

Haroun and The Sea of Stories

Book Review – Salman Rushdie’s Haroun and The Sea of Stories

Salman Rushdie’s reputation as a writer is popularly defined by two books – The Midnight’s Children and The Satanic Verses. The Midnight’s Children fetched him the Booker Prize in the year of its release and later, the Booker of Bookers and the Best of the Booker. The Satanic Verses, apart from accolades and awards, fetched him a fatwa calling for his assassination. This brought him fame that extended far beyond the literary circles. For an evolved reader, a Rushdie novel features as a must-read. The fainthearted reader is likely to be overwhelmed by his literary reputation and move on to a less daunting author on the bookshelf. Haroun and the Sea of Stories is the bait to reel in that hesitant reader.

 

Twelve-year old Haroun is leading a pretty nondescript existence in his hometown with his mother and his storyteller father Rashid. When his mother is seduced by the neighbour and leaves them, his father loses his gift of the gab. A storyteller who can say nothing more than ark, ark, ark is a storyteller without a job. An unexpected turn of events leads father and son to the Sea of Stories. Khattam-Shud, the evil ruler of the Kingdom of Chup is planning to plug the Story Source at the bottom of the Sea of Stories. If he succeeds, the sea will be silenced forever. Haroun and his new friends Iff, Mali – the gardener of stories, Butt the Hoopoe, and others must find a way to foil his evil plot. On the other hand, the neighbouring Kingdom of Gup is preparing to declare war against Chup to recapture Princess Batcheat, the betrothed of Prince Bolo of Gup. Haroun and his friends join forces with the Gup army led by General Kitab and storm the fortress of Chup. Will Haroun be able to help his friends in this mystical land? And what about his own life? Will he return home and have a happy end to his story?

 

While the story has a dark undertone the author uses a comic vibe to make his point. Rushdie is at his witty best with the dialogue. He liberally layers the said with the unsaid forcing the reader to stop, wonder, discover, and chuckle at the discovery. It is evident that the writer spent considerate amount of time and thought on selecting the names of all his characters. They are not merely names, they are loaded with the intent they carry to the writer. Also, they are a clever play on words. Set under the theme of good vs. evil, the names of the ‘good’ characters are all things speech (Chattergy, Gup, Bolo, Kitab) whereas their nemesis represent oppressed silence (Khattam-shud, Chup).

The premise of good vs. evil and a seemingly simplistic plot may fool a Rushdie fan into relegating Haroun… to the bottom of his reading list. It would be a grave mistake. Like all of Rushdie’s works, it is replete with symbols that draw attention to societal issues. The philosophical commentary and puns are subtle and demand a pause if they are to be truly savoured. With Haroun and the Sea of Stories, the author manages to present a story that works on two levels. One, a simple adventurous tale of a young boy in a fantastical land and two, an allegory on the power of stories. It is upon the reader to determine which one to read.

 

Haroun and the Sea of Stories was published in 1990, two years after Satanic Verses, a book which forced him to retreat into silence for a short while. This book appears to have been born out of that forced silence. In the story, when Haroun finally confronts Khattam-shud, he asks, “But why do you hate stories so much? Stories are fun.” A question which must have surely plagued the author himself when he was threatened with death. Perhaps, the book is a ploy by the author to convey his angst over the extreme reactions for the story he wrote. If so, it was a clever ploy for the author to write it in an accessible form, a form which would appeal to a far larger audience than his previous books. And, his appeal to the reader – don’t hate stories – gets through to the reader in this whimsical garb.