Read Kyung Sook Shin’s ‘Please Look After Mom’ Before You Celebrate the Next Mother’s Day

We celebrated another Mother’s Day earlier this month. Mothers are celebrated grandly across the world on this day.  Motherhood is idealized as something pure and blissful.  It might be that, but hardly does one get to see a different side of this ideal. This is the case in almost all societies. 

Patriarchy’s continuing firm grip on our lives is manifested when we only acknowledge her existence to celebrate; never acknowledge her existence to help or understand the role of a mother thrust upon many women. There lies the danger in hollow celebrations: it does not bring about any change in the rut or routine and daily hardships of countless mothers.  

To help you understand this analogy, think about the recent hailing of doctors and nurses as heroes in the COVID 19 pandemic.  No doubt, it is important to boost their morale and confidence and to show moral support. However, if this celebration of our heroes does not extend to anything concrete such as better protective gear for them or increase in their remunerations, it becomes empty and superficial. 

Similar is the praise heaped on mothers. If one praises her but does nothing to help out, she continues to be a sacrificial goat for the entire family. Unfortunately, then, the celebration comes to naught. 

The 2011 Man Asian Literary Prize winner, Please Look After Mon, by Kyung-Sook Shin looks at this dichotomy in the importance and negligence of our mothers. 

The novel begins with the most straightforward sentence: 

“It’s been one week since Mom went missing.”

It is a factual statement that hits you hard. Slowly the story unravels the emotional ramifications of this one incident through the different perspectives of a daughter, son and husband. 

Sixty-nine-year old Park So-nyo goes missing in the crowds of the Seoul Subway Station. Only when she goes missing, do the various family members of the house begin to search both their recent and deepest memories of her to feel her presence once again. 

So-nyo’s youngest daughter, Chihon, reconstructs her memories of her mother, piecing her life for the reader. Chihon revisits the memories of that fateful day as well when So-nyo went missing- assailed by the usual idea that ‘what if I had not done this, this would not have happened.’

Through Chihon’s perspective we see her Mom’s various interconnections with her and her family and how she spent her whole life making amends and being resourceful to earn enough money for the family’s well being. 

Chihon’s conversations with her sister also reveal how her sister has now become a mother but still cannot resign to a life where she is always giving up herself for others like her own mother, So-nyo had done. 

From relearning her mother’s actual year of birth, to realizing how her mom could not read or how she needed to take a secluded walk just to take a break from the drudgery, Chihon comprehends the various facets of her mother’s being rather than only viewing her as a role. 

Similarly, So-nyo’s husband’s relationship with his wife also throws up facets of her life and her thoughts that he never bothered trying to understand or gauge. The use of the second person point of view makes the husband’s position even more damning, as if listing out things that the husband failed to do – paying attention to her increasing headaches or her recent tendency to forget things. Despite So-nyo’s age and failing health, it was she who was there for him and not the other way around. Now that she has gone missing, her husband feels the ache of the empty house. 

So-nyo’s eldest son, Hyong chul also reminisces about his mother and contemplates how he could have become an even better son for his mother. 

Closer to the end, we hear So-nyo’s voice and her true emotions and thoughts about herself and her children. 

Finding their missing mother is the task that brings back all these emotions and memories among the family members. In their search they keep hearing about her being sighted. But these are only whiffs of her presence, never her in complete actuality, as if she has now become a ghost. 

But in a way, she was always a ghost. She took the weight of the entire family, of her world, on her shoulders, like Atlas had, without the family even seeing that burden. 

Reading Please Look After Mom is deeply emotional and it will make anyone introspect their own relationship dynamics with their mothers. 

The invisibility of So-nyo is glaring and through the novel, is ironically there for all to see. Though the narrative is set in contemporary South Korea, it is relevant even in India. Here too, we similarly place our entire worlds on one person, without acknowledging that burden. Women themselves are conditioned to sacrifice for their children, for their family as they are told that only motherhood can give them complete happiness. This is seen even in So-nyo’s plain acceptance of her responsibilities without ever questioning them. 

Yet for all mothers, like for So-nyo as well, this idea of complete happiness can itself be a strain, where to break out of it seems impossible with little or no options. The mental agony and disconnect between the reality and the ideal that it creates goes largely unseen in India till today. 

We need to as societies, not just clap our hands for our mothers or make her a breakfast for Mother’s Day but really help out and understand the various intersectional forces at play that restrict her to a role of never ending responsible emotional and physical labour that is infinitely tiresome. 

Inside the Mughal Zenana With Ira Mukhoty

In the art of storytelling, be it the bedtime stories for children or the written records of history, women have existed but behind the veils, as the shadows of their male counterparts. Often it’s the king who comes before the queen; there have been superheroes and not superheroines. In the Indian context, of both the Hindu and the Muslim rulers, it was not considered dignified and at times even rude, to write or talk about the royal women who kept a decorous distance from the outer world, thus leaving us with the obscure account of their identities.

 

However, the book ‘Daughters of the Sun’ by Ira Mukhoty takes an exceptional path to look beyond the fine Muslin pardahs of the great Mughal Empire and rediscover its women – ‘Haramam’ or ‘Zenana’. The book takes us through a 200 years long journey dating back to the times of Babur in 1500 till the reign of Aurangzeb, uniquely focusing on the lives of the mothers, wives and daughters of the dynasty and their influence.

 

We are more familiar with the valor, ferocity and prudence of the Mughal kings but the book introduces us to the immense respect they had for their women not just for the sake of it but they were indeed worthy enough to be treated at par. They were as empowered as the kings themselves.

 

All the emperors looked up to them and sought their advices in the matters of diplomacy and administration. Khanzada Begum, Babar’s elder sister readily sacrificed herself to marry their rival to pacify the wrath befallen on the kingdom. Jahanara Begum, Shah Jahan’s daughter was designated as the Padshah Begum of Hindostan (the highest position for a woman at that time) at the age of 17 after the death of her mother. She dedicated her entire life to build the empire like never before. Not only did she assist her father in the administration but built a new capital known as Shahjahanabad, now part of the present day capital of India. Though the city bears the name of the king, but it was the princess or Sahiba as she was fondly called who took initiative to build the famous Red Fort, Chandni Chowk and many more monuments under her supervision.

 

When we think of monuments, many in the present day India can be credited to their diligent effort to leave the mark of their opulence, authority and love. Humayun’s first wife Bega Begum built a magnificent mausoleum in his remembrance, known as the Humayun’s Tomb to all of us. Noor Jahan regarded as the most wealthy woman in her times, built I’timād-ud-Daulah tomb in honour of her father who was a respectable courtier in Jahangir’s court. This piece of art turned out to be the inspiration for Shah Jahan to build the world renowned, Taj Mahal. The women were not just spending to build these extraordinary architecture but were also very active in trade. Most of them had ships in their names and the English and the Portuguese had to take permission from these powerful women to trade in India. Noor Jahan even had a seal of her name on the coins. Involvement of women in trade and decision portrays their ability to share power equally to run a huge kingdom.

 

The Mughal daughters since their childhood were well schooled and taught in different languages like Persian, Turki and later on Hindostani; thus producing erudite daughters like Gulbadan, Jahanara who grew up to write the memoirs of their empire. Not just the blood relations, but the milk mothers nurturing the royal kids were given special importance in the Zenana, sometimes even treated above the mothers themselves.

 

The Mughals since their inception have always been peripatetic. It was the women of the clan who always kept the Timurid culture alive in the foreign lands. They were home to these warriors. The women have also travelled alone without their husbands crossing oceans and taking the arduous journey to Mecca, hence creating an undeterred identity for themselves. They were beyond the boundaries separating men and women.

 

The book filled with such remarkable stories also elegantly takes care of the preceding circumstances, so the reader gets acquainted of the environment that the women were living and thus, is able to better understand their decision making. In other words, reading it would be no less than sitting in a Mughal tent full of timurid shahzadis and listening to the stories of their opulent and peripatetic lives – their role in shaping the Mughal era-of what they won, lost and brought to this land to make it the great Hindostan.

 

About the Author: Bhumika Soni is a literature enthusiast working in the field of data analytics, she has always found words more charming and powerful than numbers. Still searching for The Enchanted Tree created by Enid Blyton to travel to various magical worlds. She loves spy thrillers and Ruskin Bond stories.

 

 

Heidi in the Alps

Wanderlust: Lockdown Hiking in the Alps With Heidi

The lockdown has apparently crippled many people’s social lives. I am not one for going out every week, so I am not someone who sorely misses dining out or partying. But once in a while, yes, I do miss doing the simple things: reading a newspaper or taking a walk in the park or simply having my favourite street food one fine evening.

Instead for me, this searing summer heat is far more crippling. I cannot escape it, except in the mind. Therefore, often in the past few days, I have vaguely dreamt of being back in the mountains.  No, I am not one who feels an inner calling to the mountains or anything of the sort that seems to be afflicting a lot of people. But yes, whenever someone asks me where I prefer to travel: beaches or mountains? I promptly answer: mountains.

So, off late, I have been thinking about why this promptness and why I have this deep love for the mountains. It is not like I am the best of hikers that I can go climbing up any mountain. After a bit of introspection I found my answer: it was because of a lovely book I read when I was 10 years old: Heidi by Johanna Spyri.

It was also the first complete novel I ever read! Before that I used to read short stories, Champak, Tinkle, Amar Chitra Katha, and the abridged versions of full length novels. One fine day, however, I think I realized that I need to ‘grow up,’ (how innocent that thought was then!) by reading a complete novel and not these shortened versions!

I was thrilled to have come across a copy of Heidi at a book fair. I still have that copy with me. I found it when reorganizing my book cupboard last year.

What has also stayed with me till today is Heidi’s rollicking fun in the mountains and the insurmountable problems she faces. I feel a close connection to her to the extent that whenever I reread the book, I feel I am reading about a friend. While for many children, Alice from Alice in Wonderland was the gateway to more reading, for me it was Heidi’s adventures that created an insatiable appetite for reading.

The novel starts with Heidi, an orphan, being sent by her aunt, Dete to live with her paternal grandfather in the Swiss mountains. Her aunt had got a new job in Frankfurt and was unable to take Heidi with her. Heidi’s grandfather lived away from the nearest village in a small house among the tall mountains. He was known for being tough and gruff. Most villagers were afraid of him and did not understand how he would live with a 5-year-old child.

Slowly, Heidi’s cheerfulness and innocence melted his heart. She soon also became friends with Peter, the goatherd, who lived nearby with his blind grandmother. Heidi began to cherish her new surroundings, rejoicing in her bed of hay in the hay loft that gave her a beautiful view of the valley; the fresh goat’s milk her grandfather gave her every morning or her leisurely trips to the pastures with Peter.

The simple meals she had of bread, cheese, and milk are so vividly etched in my mind that my mouth still waters when thinking or reading about it.

The descriptions of Heidi’s simple yet full life created an idyllic image of the Swiss Alps in my mind. It was not a Bollywood movie of the 90s that made me long to go to Switzerland, but rather this five-year-old child’s daily life with her grandfather.

Another personal connection to the novel was also developed because I could see my own maternal grandfather in Heidi’s. While mine did not live in the mountains, he was stern and strict yet loving and caring in his own little ways.

I also tried to inculcate the same wonder that Heidi had for nature. I did not grow up in the mountains but I always used to, and still do, marvel at small delights found in nature whether it is the red blooms of the gulmohar, the smell of the mango blossoms, eating jamun from the tree or birds chirping in the morning or taking a dip in the water dish. I love taking pleasure from the minutest of nature’s wonders.

The writer, Johanna Spyri, captured the spirit and soul of a child in Heidi. We may think that children have nothing to worry about or nothing that they truly understand but Heidi was able to discern the human in her grandfather much better than all the villagers who shied away from him. Her sheer delight and appreciation for all the birds and plants around her make her a far better observer than any adult.

Heidi’s deep love for the mountains and the attachment to her grandfather was what she sorely missed when she was taken to Frankfurt to be a companion for the invalid child, Clara. Heidi’s change in behavior because of being away from the mountains is described in great detail such that it lends to a good psychological understanding of the effects of a cruel separation on a child.

Thus, as we find ourselves slowly unraveling from the lockdown, knowing still that travelling and hiking the mountains will remain a distant dream for some time, I think we could all pick up Heidi and take a visual and literary trip to the fresh, invigorating environs of the Swiss Alps and also learn a thing or two about appreciating nature’s beauty.

Do not dismiss it as a children’s novel, but view it as one where you can take two trips: one to the mountains and one back to your own childhood when things were much simpler and easier.

The book is easily available in different formats on Project Gutenberg!

Happy reading! Happy Wanderlusting through books!

 

A makeshift shop destroyed by the sea waves at Bakkhali due to the landing of Cyclone Amphan, near Sunderbans area in South 24 Parganas district of West Bengal (Photo Credit: PTI)

#PrayForBengal Is Not Enough to Recover From Amphan, We Need a #DoForBengal

West Bengal, Odisha, and Bangladesh have been mercilessly ravaged. The casualty mark in West Bengal is just short of 100 so far. This figure is excluding animals and all the mighty trees the cyclone has managed to fell. When COVID-19 has been already battering the state, the present crisis has deepened the wounds. Life has encountered an exclamation mark while the comma of Coronavirus continues to linger. This further attests to the fact that Mother Nature is not quite motherly after all. Much of the human history before man made enemies of themselves has been a story of struggling against the forces of nature. As much as we like to love nature and worship her, part of the awe rises from our fear that has travelled through our past generations of men and women who lost everything at the hands of not so benign avatar of nature. We have coexisted but not without our constant struggles through millennia.

A picture tells a thousand tales. However, the images of one of the first modern cities of India, Calcutta or Kolkata in the aftermath of Amphan cyclone, no matter how heart rending, are quite tragically hiding a thousand tales. Even as the images of the devastation are trickling through, there are many areas which haven’t yet received their power supply, have not regained access to telecom network, and are fighting shortage of drinking water, food supplies etc.. There are many images yet to come. The exact measure of the destruction will be felt away from the shallow attention spans of the social media platforms, part of it immediately and part slowly.

Even before the cyclone struck, the Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) had a fair idea of the damage that was about to come. As a result, the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) had carried out massive evacuation. Bangladesh too had carried out such evacuations to minimize the loss of lives. If the death toll doesn’t rise any higher, we should still be thankful to the people on the field carrying out these exercises with all the handicaps of our Indian bureaucratic machinery. Electricity will be restored, the mobile network will come back, and the urban life will be back on its toes soon, or so we hope.

However, if we keep talking just about Kolkata, then we are making the same mistake that the self-proclaimed ‘National’ media makes – assuming New Delhi to be the sun with other states being in constant motion around this sun, the same mistake a lot of pure urban generations of Kolkata or Mumbai make – assuming Kolkata or Mumbai to be the centre of the universe with rest of the state thrown to the fringes. Let us shift the focus to the region which took the direct hitting of the cyclone. Nature can be swift but it also knows how to kill slowly. Mud embankments of the Sundarbans have been breached and sea water has entered the agrarian lands. This means doom for the farmers of the region as they are completely dependent on rice cultivation throughout the year. According to some reports, about 17,800 hectares of agricultural lands may have been damaged thus. In West Bengal alone, initial estimates tell that more than 1 lakh farmers have been affected. In Odisha, the losses are being calculated in the excess of $129 million. These farmers will need as much help as possible from the state machinery, central government, media, and citizens from other parts of the country.

West Bengal’s Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has a huge task at her hand and she did the right thing by calling on the Prime Minister to survey the affected areas. She will need all the help our country has at its disposal – money, minds, and hands. The PM has announced an advance package of 1000 crore for the state. I believe the state is going to need much more than that even if the funds are utilized judiciously. These are the hottest months in the state of West Bengal, more so in Kolkata and adjoining areas, another reason to fast-track the road to recovery. Additional NDRF teams have been sent, Odisha has extended help, Army is on the ground to ensure road and tree clearance in different parts of the city (Tollygunge, Ballygunge, Rajarhat, Diamond Harbour, and Behala). In the coming days and months, the country will need much more resilience and the willingness to recover than ever before – thanks to COVID-19 and now the cyclones.

All this is praiseworthy but what if another cyclone comes next year or 3 years later? People from deluged parts of Sundarbans will migrate to other places now but slowly come back in the next few years. Cyclone is nature’s dialect and there is no stopping it, so it will come again causing similar destruction all over again. This happens because the retreat is not strategic and permanent in nature. An article on the issue of minimising damage in the Sundarbans has been published here. The article in its conclusion says, “Strategic and Managed Retreat instead of repeated disruption and ad hoc temporary resettlement, though expensive, is known to outweigh the upfront costs in most cases. Globally, this is an accepted mode of adaptation! An increase in the frequency of extreme events is symptomatic of the fact that tropical depression forming in the Bay of Bengal has a high probability to reach to severe cyclone stage. Hence, the administration and the people of the Indian Sundarbans have little choice but to consider voluntary relocation to safer locations, but in a participatory manner so as to minimise possibilities of conflicts.”

The article also quotes the former Mayor of Chicago, Rahm Emanuel: “You never want a serious crisis to go to waste”. Considering the number of crises our country faces year after year in different parts of its geography, it appears we let each one of them go to waste.

Consider Bihar. 76 percent of Bihar lives under constant threat of floods. This means when a flood comes in Bihar, about 76 pc of the region is immediately impacted. Now for the uninitiated, Bihar gets its due share of floods almost every year. Loss of human lives, cattle, crops, homes occur annually. Patna and surrounding areas were flooded as recently as last year where even the deputy Chief Minister of the state was seen vacating his house.

study on the flood risk of Kosi basin says, “…It (flood) is the very mechanics of river formation which demands that highest discharges would not be confined within the channel and overbank flooding will occur. The risk from flooding becomes greater because of the increase in population pressure as more and more floodplain is occupied thereby necessitating the efforts to reduce the flood risk to be stepped up. However, it is very rarely possible to provide complete protection against floods, and therefore, all flood management programmes have to be designed in such a way that it does not give a false sense of security to the people living in the region, as is normally the case in India…”

It follows that the areas which should be under constant strategic upgrades and adaptation in the face of natural disasters are left to themselves for the rest of the year. High risk areas which should not be colonized by humans because floods and cyclones are the ways of nature and no amount of preparations can ensure zero destruction to lives and properties are being stressed with overpopulation. The affected survivors are now habituated to see helicopters flying up above them where a politician surveys the affected areas and announces a relief package, only to repeat the exercise every year. Our forefathers died crying over the deaths in floods and cyclones, we will do the same. Particularly in Bihar, flood has become a way of life and inevitably, also a way of death.

I am bringing Bihar into this discussion for one more purpose. Right from the time Amphan made its landfall, the ‘Antifact Slacktivist Internet Bengali’ also made his presence felt like a netquake. This Antifact Slacktivist group exists for other states too. These rebels without a cause, (or if you want me to be more respectful, rebels with a meaningless cause), obsessed with a self-serving obligation to express their racial superiority to the rest of India is the closest to a Nazi Indian you will meet, of course with all the Che Guevara sugarcoating. They keep themselves busy alienating the rest of India from Bengal by raking up fake movements over ‘we eat meat during Durga Puja, so we are better than you’, ‘we don’t worship Ram, so we’re better than you’, ‘we have given you National Anthem, so we’re better than you’, ‘we threaten the airport staff for speaking in Hindi, so we’re better than you’ all their life. Not surprisingly, their first response to the cyclone was to curse the rest of India for not trending #PrayForBengal on facebook. This lot is fast appropriating the whole of Bengal on the internet and is whitewashing the diversities that have existed in West Bengal for centuries. Most of these people have a very tinted understanding of Bengal’s own history and culture, leave alone that of the country.

Each of such crises and the following outrage is an opportunity to propagate their politics and ideology. If every single reaction or its absence is to be put as a test of nationalism, then the first people to fail this test will be this kind of Internet Bengalis. At least, I don’t remember to have seen any trending #PrayForBihar (not that I care) response from them when Bihar – a close neighbour having its capital city at a distance of about 500 KM from Kolkata – floods every year. When the farmers and the poor of the state who happen to be the worst affected of all and need all the support coming their way from all across the country, this self-posturing is a fraud being committed on the people who have no stake in the ideological battles and who would really welcome help from any part of the country with both arms wide open right now.

Having said that, it is important for us to differentiate between the ideological warriors and the victims of an ecological disaster. These victims cannot fill their bellies with our national anthem, cannot get their crops back by winning the Hindi-Bengali debate, and cannot have their cattle back with the victory of Kali over Ram. Keep the self-serving warriors aside and please come out to help Bengal. It will serve us well to keep in our mind the words of a great teacher from Bengal who embodied an enormity of heart and incisiveness of intellect that made him the true heir to the legacy of both Gautam Buddha, who attained enlightenment in Bodh Gaya of Bihar and Adi Shankara who travelled from Kerala to the length and width of the country for the spiritual unification of India.

“You merge yourselves in the void and disappear, and let new India arise in your place. Let her arise – out of the peasants’ cottage, grasping the plough; out of the huts of the fisherman. Let her spring from the grocer’s shop, from beside the oven of the fritterseller. Let her emanate from the factory, from marts, and from markets. Let her emerge from groves and forests, from hills and mountains.” – Swami Vivekananda

Please donate generously and help the ones who really need your help by visiting this link and send whatever amount you can – https://donations.belurmath.org/appeal-amphan-cyclone-relief-services-98376.

Cover Image: A makeshift shop destroyed by the sea waves at Bakkhali due to the landing of Cyclone Amphan, near Sunderbans area in South 24 Parganas district of West Bengal (Photo Credit: PTI)

 

In Aparna Upadhyaya Sanyal’s Circus Folk and Village Freaks, Imperfection is the New Perfection

The idea of perfection or of being perfect engulfs us all in its suffocating grip. Our bodies, our work, our dress, our hair, and our everything must be somehow perfect in this deeply flawed society. Such are the contradictory expectations that society foists on us all, egged on particularly by the mass media and mass popular culture. Protagonists in movies, pop culture idols, and even politicians are projected as embodying the perfect. The ideal to achieve, then, is only perfection in all spheres of life.

Ancient Greek playwrights were perhaps one of the first to talk about characters with a deep flaw through the concept of hamartia which means ‘to err.’ Shakespeare’s tragic plays feature protagonists that are wholly defined by flaws such as Hamlet and his indecisiveness, Othello with his jealousy, or Macbeth and his greed. Even popular culture has slowly embraced imperfection, often treating its characters through a more nuanced lens rather than just the dichotomous notion of perfect versus imperfect.

Aparna Upadhyaya Sanyal in her prose poetry novel, Circus Folk and Village Freaks, wholly rejects these superficial notions of the perfect ideal and instead portrays 18 different tales of characters who are misunderstood and rejected by society as being out of the ordinary, who we would also label ignorantly as ‘freaks.’

When society rejects these freaks in the novel, they all find solace and space in a village circus, whose circus master is more than happy to accommodate and make a spectacle out of them.

From Siva, the Snake Man who finds an affinity to reptiles rather than humans, to Miss Rita with her chin full of hair because of hirsutism, from the Siamese twins, Sita and Gita to Miss Luxmi whose passion was throwing darts; all kinds of people could make it big and feel accepted among the peculiar circus folk.

These are the two threads that bind the story together. All of the characters are portrayed as being different from the so called normal. All face some kind of rejection from family and then society until they stumble upon the all embracing arms of the circus shows where their talents are showcased and appreciated.

Gabriel Garcia Marquez in his short story, A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings, depicted a man with wings who mysteriously dropped from the sky into the house of a couple. The couple uses this man to make more money by displaying him for the townsfolk to gleefully stare and poke at. Much like how we would behave unethically in a zoo. While Marquez clearly makes a comment on the spectators’ rude behavior, that is not the case in Sanyal’s tales. The spectator is missing. Only the spectacle is there. So we as readers are left to speculate on the former.

Do the characters become a mere curiosity when they perform in front of the spectators? Undoubtedly, the circus crowds cheer them, are thrilled by their acts but do they understand what the characters go through? Or is it merely something novel and delightful to their eyes for one night, only to be forgotten the next morning? How much agency does the circus actually give to these so called freaks?

Apart from these questions, Sanyal’s 18 tales also mirror the ills of our own society whether it is the complete hatred toward same sex love in our society as depicted in ‘The Sad Tale of Vishu, The Village Exterminatory,’ or the deep rooted patriarchal scorn for the girl child as shown in ‘The Tale of the Organ Sisters.’

Yet, ironically, it is this very flawed society that fails to accept people who are different and will leave no stone unturned to see that such ‘specials’ are objectified for entertainment. This contrast comes through in Sanyal’s verses as well which are written in a unique style of the rhyming couplet.

“In a country where a trunk is revered with a smile,
Lived a man with a trunk, universally reviled.”

Thus begins the tale of Jeeva, The Elephant Man who is born with an elephant’s head. Using the idea of how the majority worships the elephant, Sanyal juxtaposes the irony in Jeeva’s life. Despite the odds though, Jeeva manages to triumph and love himself in the face of society’s revulsion. His character shows the meaning of self-love.

All in all, Circus Folk and Village Freaks is an engaging, quick, and thoughtful read. It will make any reader retrospect on ideas of how we view difference and otherness in people through prejudiced eyes. All the tales also have a folksy quality to them which is heightened by the skillful use of rhymes. Reading each of the 18 tales feels like sitting for a story telling session, where a lively tale of human dreams and depravity is being animatedly narrated and sung.

You can buy the book here.

Policemen force two men to do sit ups for flouting the lockdown rules, at Dharampura Bazar in Patiala on 24 March 2020 | PTI

COVID-19, Lockdowns, and Our ‘Typical Indian Problems’

We have now crossed the 100,000 mark. Every new day is beating the previous record of one day spike in the number of COVID-19 cases. The numbers refuse to budge. Lockdowns have gotten feebler every passing phase. The state leaderships which were collecting adulatory coins till now on social media from film stars, seem to be giving up in a very trumpesque manner. One look at different state governments tells you what they are keeping busy with. Fighting litigations to open Tasmac shops, fudging the numbers on coronavirus, choosing to deliberately get oblivious of the violations of social distancing and lockdown norms by the high and mighty, and cancelling emergency trains because the builders can decide the rights of a poor Indian in a closed door meeting with the Chief Minister, we have seen everything.

Considering the difficulty of our time, the socio-economic diversity of our country, and of course our population, the chinks we are developing are inevitable. In spite of these misdemeanours, the government and bureaucracy have been toiling to contain the pandemic. The pressure to do better than other affected countries is palpable on the face of our leaders. The inconsistencies that we have seen in our political class and bureaucracy is a reminder for us to notice similar patterns in citizens too. While many have cooperated with the law enforcement agencies and the local administration, a huge number for some reason, is determined to dilute all the efforts and our national discipline, assuming it exists.

Back in my hometown, I remember something distinctly from my childhood. I would watch these individuals boarding a bus and on being asked for the ticket charge, they would just utter the word ‘staff’. That was the magic word. Some conductors did not dig deeper than this. A few would ask for an identity card. This would invariably turn into some sort of argument. The word – staff, was just one word from the freeloader (tu jaanta nahi main kaun hoon) vocabulary. This is still common in many parts of our country. I am sure you have seen words like ‘Army’, ‘Police’ on motorbikes and cars. Those are declarations of authority. Even when these vehicles are not being driven by the original owners, these signs have the same power. The point is, once we are made aware of this sort of vocabulary, we use these words whenever we are bending the system for our benefit. In effect, most of the people on the streets are either powerful in some way or are pretending to be. Ask any dhaabawala how many policemen pay their bills.

Last week, I ventured out after about 10 days to get some vegetables and while I was picking my veggies, a woman appeared out from a car without a mask towards the shop. When I asked her about her mask, she went back reluctantly towards the car but came back empowered with the male company who was on the wheels. On being asked again, they went into an argument overkill to defend their choice – “you don’t tell me, who are you?”. All that did not surprise me. In fact, when I answered with – “I am a citizen of this country, and I have a right to point it out if you are doing something so wrong for public health”, she dug into her freeloader vocabulary and retorted – “I’m a doctor. So I know. You don’t tell me!” If only irony were an academic discipline, this lady would win a Nobel.

Delhi customs has confiscated illegal export consignment of PPE kits. Karnataka government has already received requests for opening up mosques for prayers from MLC C.M. Ibrahim. People are coming out in large numbers for religious congregations, Maharashtra is doing everything that could be seen as opposite of a lockdown. It is almost as if people are volunteering for herd immunity by infection. All my visits to the bazaar have brought me face to face with people who don’t care about following social distancing norms or wearing a mask. Closer home, a house had some religious ceremony and entertained guests over a period of 3 days. A neighbour has carried out a complete makeover of his house using around 5-7 workers every day of the lockdown. These workers took the masks from their pockets only when I happened to request them. At all other times, they stayed inside the pockets. Interestingly, the homeowners used masks for themselves. After initial prohibitions from the governments on spitting in public places, I had hoped for some change. I didn’t realise spitting is something that completes our Indianness.

I’m sure you must have come across such situations in your own outings during these lockdowns. Of course, I am assuming you are not the one violating these norms in the first place. Now that the governments have given up on the lockdown restrictions and we are on our own, it is perhaps time to look into our behaviour as individuals during the last couple of months. Our attitude, both at the beginning and now, can finally explain the ‘typical Indian’ problems. I list a few of them here –

  1. Why do we indulge in rash driving and honk like we are composing some Bollywood ‘item number’?
  2. Why does our saliva keep asking for ‘aazadi’ from us every time we come out in public spaces?
  3. Why do our public hospitals spread more diseases than they cure? 
  4. Why does corruption fit so well under ‘essential services’ for us? 
  5. Why have our ponds, lakes, and rivers shapeshifted into exaggerated drains?
  6. Why do we smoke, pee everywhere apart from the places designated for them?  
  7. Why queues are synonymous with waterboarding for Indians?
  8. Why do Indian women get the definition of women-empowerment wrong so often? 
  9. Why do Indian men deny the existence of condoms?

When I met these defaulters during my lockdown outings, most of the responses betrayed a sense of invincibility, like ‘it’s nothing, it won’t happen to me’. Another response tried to tell me that since I was safe by following the rules, I should keep shut and not bother others. It is not innocence. It is not any sort of self-sacrifice. It is just a refusal to fall in line, a refusal of responsibility. We do not care. We are great at throwing the blame on someone else. It’s not that we don’t care at all, we do. In fact, as Manu Joseph puts it, we have ‘immense stamina for useless issues’. For example, we care enough to slap a film-maker because his film hurts our group-pride. However, no amount of gutkha spitting hurts our group pride because we haven’t yet identified with any group that takes offence for gutkha spitting. Of course, Maharana Pratap didn’t sacrifice his life fighting the gutkha spewers, how can we take offence for that then?

 

The group that is still largely unrealized and unknown in our land is called ‘enlightened citizenry’, a concept discussed in detail by Swami Ranganathananda in his lecture and now book on Enlightened Citizenship and our Democracy. An individual’s awareness of his social responsibility is at the centre of such a citizenship. Since we have not yet understood this difference between an ordinary ‘adult citizenship’ and an ‘enlightened’ one, our other group associations dominate enlightened citizenry for much of our lifetime. It is up to us then to step back every time our pride is wounded and identify the group we are associating with to inflict this wound upon ourselves. If we find that this group is anything other than ‘enlightened citizenry’, we have our answer to most of the problems that begin with ‘a typical Indian..’.

 

Cover Image: Policemen force two men to do sit ups for flouting the lockdown rules, at Dharampura Bazar in Patiala on 24 March 2020 | PTI

 

Ruskin Bond Photo

On Ruskin Bond’s Birthday, Revisiting His Writings and Their Impact

Ruskin Bond’s writing has always been a constant in my life since reading his stories in my English school textbooks. While the world only recently is going gaga over cherry blossoms, I still vividly remember reading in school about the quiet innocence and perseverance of Rakesh from the short story, The Cherry Tree, and how he planted the seed and despite all odds, was rewarded with the pink blossoms.

The depiction of the utmost simplicity in the characters’ actions and the vastness and joy that nature provides them has made Ruskin Bond’s writing endearing and lovable.

Most of his novels are set in the hills. The stories profess the writer’s close bond with the mountains and its people. His stories will always have characters that also, like the author, share a close bond with the nature that surrounds them. The closer they are to nature, the fuller and better their lives are. These characters will cherish the tiniest of miracles that nature offers to them like Rakesh’s delight at seeing the cherry tree blossom. These innocent delights, bereft of any greed, make Bond’s characters memorable. They enable the reader to take a break from the rat race and appreciate the simple pleasures of nature.

Ruskin Bond was born on this day in Kasauli in 1934 and after living in different cities in India and outside, he decided to make Mussoorie his home. He continues to live there in the Ivy cottage and regularly haunts the bookshops of the famous hill station.

Bond blithely intertwines his own experiences in his stories too so that on reading them, one  might feel one knows the author better and along the way, can also take a trip down memory lane of how things used to be before in the towns and hills. Several of his stories therefore are coloured with an autobiographical tint, revealing the tidbits of the author’s many journeys in life.

The other literal journey that Bond often depicts in his stories is the railway journey. Trains are an indispensable mode of transport even today, despite the boom in the airline industry. Back then, when Bond was younger, trains were perhaps the only affordable means of travelling across the country. Railway journeys with all its delights and discomforts are another portrayal of India in his stories. These portrayals will make one feel nostalgic about one’s own past journeys on the train.  The Night Train At Deoli and Time Stops at Shamli are two such short stories that feature a rail journey and the autobiographical element. Both are stories that I fondly remember. Who can forget the little girl selling baskets at the station at Deoli that mesmerized the author protagonist in the former story? The latter story is about the adventures that lay for the author when he got off at Shamli station on an impulse, instead of going to his destination, Dehradun.

Delhi Is Not Far is one of Bond’s rare novels that are not set in the mountains. Instead, it takes place in the fictional small town, Pipalnagar, in the plains. All the characters have small jobs and dream of moving to the big city, Delhi. It is only the narrator, Arun, an aspiring Urdu writer of detective novels, who takes the leap and boards a train for Delhi. What makes the novel special is the portrayal of the idea of Delhi or the big city as well as the lucidity of each character’s aspirations and the empathy the writing evokes in the reader for them. At a time when migrants have become homeless in their own country, this novel remains relevant for its moving portrait of the common man.

The Kitemaker is another short story set in a city, possibly Delhi again but that is not mentioned outright. What the story projects clearly instead is the inevitability of change and how the relentless march of time has transformed the city and the profession of the kite maker, Mehmood. He reminisces fondly the days when he was well-known for his majestic kites throughout the city, when children and men alike had time enough to fly them and how his masterpiece, Dragon Kite, had created a stir and attracted crowds. The story not only describes briefly the kite maker’s life but also allows the reader to pause and understand the ephemeral nature of time and the disappearance of the joys in the simple things, ‘like kites and daydreams.’

Thus, in an increasingly busy world, where we are caught up with our own races and demons, we must reread and revisit Ruskin Bond’s writing. His writing is an indulgence that allows us to stop, reminisce, and remember the simpler and older ways of life that gave everyone moments to rest, reflect, and appreciate the little things and people around us.

Cover Image by Jim Ankan Deka – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0

Amar Gautam-Image interview with TheSeer

What, Why, and How CEOs Read – Amar Gautam

Amar Gautam is the CEO of HyperLinq Inc. HyperLinq brings institutional-grade software with superior technology for cryptocurrencies traders. Their desktop app, HyperTrader, makes price discovery, technical analysis, trade, arbitrage, and portfolio management easy. Their mobile app, HyperFolio, is a simplified portfolio manager for cryptocurrencies and digital assets.

We spoke with Amar with questions on his reading lists, favourite books and more.

What’s the book you’re reading at present? Tell us what the book is all about.

I just finished reading Tribe of Mentors by Tim Ferriss. Tim has done an excellent job of creating a collection of interviews of very successful people in their respective fields. These interviews are very insightful and give you an inside look into the lives of these leaders. The answers to straightforward questions Tim asks each of these personalities give you tons of life tips.

 
Physical books, Kindle or just your mobile device – where do you spend most of your reading time?

I like physical books, perhaps because that is how it was when I was a kid. Reading on Kindle or Mobile devices is very uncomfortable for me. But in the interest of saving trees, I am now inclined to start reading books on Kindle. I am currently reading a few books on my wife’s Kindle, and it looks like I might get used to.

 
How many books do you read in a year on an average?

It is hard to estimate as it depends on a lot of things. I used to read at least 2 books a month, but now my time is split between family and the company. it becomes increasingly difficult to grab a book and sit down. I still read but in parts. So given that, I read about 12-15 books a year or so.

 
Who are your favourite authors?

I have many. Not in any particular order – Ruskin Bond, J. K. Rowling, Tim Ferris, Malcolm Gladwell, Jhumpa Lahiri, Leo Tolstoy, Mark Twain, Munshi Premchand, Emily Dickinson, R K Narayan, Rabindranath Tagore, Ramdhari Singh Dinkar, Amish Tripathi.

 
A book you wish you had written.

First of all, I am not much of a writer, so it is out of the question that I would ever write a book. But hypothetically considering I had written a book, I wish to have written Coincidence by David Ambrose. I read this book back in 2001. I say this because it is an intriguing book that has a twisted plot but an abysmal ending. I would have had a very different closing if I had written this book. Regardless, it is a good read.

 
How does reading help you?

Not many people realize that I am an introvert. It is hard for me to start a conversation, and so most of the time, I am just by myself. I had very few friends when I was a kid. When I started reading, my father gifted me with a book and wrote on the cover – “Books are your best friend”. Since then, I read books, and I feel like being part of a conversation and exchange of ideas which I do not have in the physical world. I feel like myself, and it gives me a lot of peace.

 
From all the literary characters you have read, whom do you relate to most and why?

It is hard to say, as I do not read too many fictions or biographies. But if I still have to answer this question anyway, it would be Harry Potter. I am very much like how he thinks and some aspects of his personality match mine.

 
Are you waiting for any book to be made into a movie? Any favourite film adaptation from the past?

I personally do not like books turned into movies because in most cases, it does not do any justice. But there are some books made into beautiful films such as Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, and A Beautiful Mind.

I do not read much fiction or biography; there is nothing in my mind as of now, which I would like to see as a movie.

 
What’s your favourite time of the day for reading?

Very early morning, like 4 am. I am an early morning person. I like reading books when it is quiet and peaceful.

 
Suggest a book that every business leader should read.

Design a Better Business: New Tools, Skills, and Mindset for Strategy and Innovation by Patrick Van Der Pijl, Justin Lokitz, Lisa Kay Solomon, Erik van der Pluijm, Maarten van Lieshout.

பாகிஸ்தான் சிறுகதைகள் (Short Stories from Pakistan) – நூல் அறிமுகம்

இந்த உலகின் மிக விசித்திரமான, அதி சூட்சமமான படைப்பு மனம். ஹரப்பா நாகரீகத்தின் பழமையில் லயித்தவண்ணம் யமுனை நதிக்கரையில் நடைபோடும். மறுகணமே பாண்டிபஜாரின் கரும்புசாறு விற்பனையாளனோடு கலந்துரையாடும். அடுத்தகணம் நாளைய ப்ரொஜக்ட் டெட்லைன் சிந்தனைக்குள் மூழ்கிவிடும். சூடுபடும்போதெல்லாம் சுருண்டு கொள்ள, பழகிய வாசனை கொண்ட போர்வை தேடும். பரிதவிக்கும்போதெல்லாம் ஓளிந்து கொள்ள மனம் தேடும். அகங்காரத்தின் உற்சவத்தில், வெறுமையின் வெயிலில், நோய்மையின் பெரும்சுமையில், பயத்தின் கொடுங்கோல் ஆட்சியில் இந்த மனம் எப்படியெல்லாம் சிந்திக்கும், தன்னை சுத்தியிருக்கும் மனிதர்களிடம் எதை தேடும், நிகழ்வுகளுக்கு பின்னிக்கிடக்கும் உணர்வுகளை எப்படி  கையாளும் என்பதை வெவ்வேறு சூழலில் வாழும் வெவ்வேறு மனிதர்களைக் கொண்டு 32 கதைகளாக இங்கே கொடுத்திருக்கிறார்கள். இந்த புத்தகத்தை வாசித்துமுடித்தபின் நீங்களும் பால்வெளியின் கடைசி நட்சத்திரத்திலோ அல்லது பாலைவனத்தின் ஈச்சமர நிழலில் நிற்கக்கூடும்.

இந்த 32  கதைகளும் வெவ்வேறு சூழலில், வெவ்வேறு காலத்தில் வாழும் மனிதர்களின் மனப்போராட்டங்களை, சக மனிதர்களோடும் சமுதாய மரபுகளோடும் அவர்களுக்கு ஏற்படும் உணர்வுசிக்கல்களை அதன் இயல்பு மாறாமல் பேசுகிறது. குறிப்பாக தால் பாலைவனம் ,  அறியா பருவம், கழுவாய், பூனைக்குட்டி, ஓர் அன்மாவின் அவலம், சைபீரியா, நெற்றிக்கண், அரிப்பு, கெளவரம், அப்பா ஆகிய கதைகள் என்றும் நம் மனதோடு நிற்கும்.

தால் பாலைவனம்

தால் பாலைவனத்தில், ரயில் பாதை அமைக்கப்பட்டபோது ஏற்பட்ட இடையூறுகளும் அதன் பின்னே இருக்கும் கதைகளும் நிச்சயம் சுவாரஸ்மானவை. இது நம் நீலி கதை போல் தலை தலைமுறையாக முன்னோர்களால் சொல்லப்பட்ட ஒன்றாகவும், திரிக்கப்பட்ட ஆயினும் அவசியப்பட்ட ஒன்றாகவும் இருந்திருக்கும் என்றே தோன்றுகிறது.

ரயில் பாதை அமைக்கப்பட்ட‌ போது  ஏற்பட்ட சிக்கலுகளுக்கும், ரயில் பாதை தொடங்கிய பின் நடந்த உயிரிழப்புகளுக்கும் ஹஜரத் பீர் அவர்களின் கோபம் தான் காரணம் என்றெண்ணிய மக்கள். ரயிலில் செல்லும் போதெல்லாம் தாயத்துடனே சென்றிருக்கிறார்கள். அந்த கதைகளையும் அந்த இழப்புகளையும் சிறு வயதிலிருந்த பார்த்து வந்த மிஸ்ரிக்கு ரயிலே ஒரு பிசாசு தான். வாழ்க்கை முழுவதும் அந்த பிசாசை அவர் எப்படி தவிர்த்தார்.  பயம் கடந்து அவர் தேடிப்போனபோது அந்த பிசாசு அவரை எப்படி துரத்தியது என்பதே இந்த கதையின் சுவாரஸ்யம். ரயில் பாதை அமைப்பதில் ஏற்படும் சிக்கல்களை வாசிக்கும்போது, நாமே அங்கு இருப்பது போல் ஒரு பிரமை இராமலிங்கம் ஏற்படுத்திவிடுகிறார். இந்த கதையை படித்தபின் அந்த ரயிலில் ஒரு முறையாவது பயணித்துவிட வேண்டும் என்ற எண்ணம் எனக்குள் மேலோங்கிவிட்டது (நிச்சயமாக தாயத்துடன் தான்).

அறியா பருவம்

ஒரு இளம் பெண் மருத்துவர், தற்காலிக பணத் தேவைகாக தூர கிராமத்தில் வசிக்கும் நிலச்சுவான்தாரின் மனைவிக்கு பிரசவம் பார்க்க செல்கிறாள். குடும்ப கலாச்சாரம் என்ற பெயரில் பிற்போக்குதனத்தில் மூழ்கியிருக்கும் மக்களின் அறியாமை தாளமுடியாமல் திணறிப்போகிறாள்.. பிரசவத்தின் வலி புரியாமல் சிக்கல்கள் உணராமல் அவர்கள் நடத்தும் சடங்குகளும் கொண்டாட்டங்களும் அவளை திக்குமுக்காட செய்கிறது. பிரசவம் என்பது மறுபிறவி எனில் அது மரணம் வரை அந்த பெண்ணை இழுத்துசென்று விடுவித்திருக்கிறது என்று தானே அர்த்தம். அவள் வலியை அவள் அந்தரங்க நேரத்தை எப்படி இவர்களால் இப்படி அலெட்சியபடுத்தமுடிகிறது. கொண்டாட்டம் என்பது ஏன் எப்பவும் அநீதிகளுக்கான ஆரம்பமாக அமைந்துவிடுகிறது. இப்படியெல்லாம் ஒரு கொண்டாட்டம் தேவைதானா? எண்ணற்ற கேள்விகளையும் எனக்குள் விதைத்து சென்றது இக்கதை.

பூனைக்குட்டி

கய்யூம் என்னும் ஏழை சிறுவனுக்கு பூனை வளர்க்க வேண்டும் என்று கொள்ளை ஆசை. பற்பல போராட்டத்திற்குப்பின்னர், அவனை வந்தடையும் பூனைக்குட்டியும் அவன் உயிரும் எப்படி அதிகாரவர்க்கத்தால் சூரையாடப்படுகிறது என்பதே இக்கதை. கய்யூமின் பூனையாகவோ அல்லது அந்த பூனையை அவனுக்கு மீட்டுக்கொடுக்கும் போராளியாகவோ என்னை மாற்றிவிட்டது இக்கதை.

ஓர் ஆன்மாவின் அவலம்

பிழைக்கத்தெரியாத அல்லது கையாலாகாத அல்லது தன்னை தொலைத்த அப்பாக்களின் ஒரே ஆயுதம் மெளனம். அப்படிப்பட்ட அப்பாக்களுடன்  காதல், சிநேகம், கோபம், வெறுப்பு, விரக்தி, இயலாமை, காழ்புணர்ச்சி என தன் அத்தனை உணர்வுகளாலும் போராடி பின் புலம்பலும் கண்ணீருமே வாழ்கையாய் மாறிப்போகும் அம்மாக்களை நாம் நிறைய பார்த்திருக்கிறோம், வாசித்திருக்கிறோம். ஆனால் இது அப்படிப்பட்ட அம்மா அப்பாக்களின் கதையல்ல அவர்கள் மகளின் கதை. அம்மாவின் புலம்பலும் அப்பாவின் மெளனமும் அவளை வெறுப்படையச் செய்கிறது. சுவாரஸ்யமற்று, உரையாடலற்று  வெறுமை மட்டுமே குடியிருக்கும் வாழ்ககையில் அவள்  எதையோ தேட தொடங்குகிறாள். அவளின் தேடலை, தனிமையை, வெறுமையை அவள் உடலை இவ்வுலகம் பயன்படுத்திக்கொள்கிறது. அதை எவ்விதமறுப்பின்றி அவள் அனுமதிக்கிறாள். தீராத வலியை உண்டு செரிக்க அவளுக்கு அது தேவைப்படுகிறது.  வாழ்க்கை முழுவதும், வெவ்வேறு வகையில் அவள் பிறரால் பயன்படுத்திக்கொள்ளப்படுகிறாள். அவளை பிரிந்து சென்ற, அவளை துரத்தியடித்த, அவளுக்காக வரிந்துக் கட்டிக்கொண்டு வக்காலத்து வாங்காத யார் மீதும் அவளுக்கு கோபமோ வருத்தமோ இல்லை. அவளுக்கு யார் மீதும் நம்பிக்கையோ காதலோ இருந்ததேயில்லை. அவள் யாரையும் காட்டிக்கொடுத்ததுமில்லை. புருவம் உயர்த்தி நாம் முகம்சுழித்த எத்தனை மனிதர்களுக்குபின் இப்படி ஒரு கதை இருக்ககூடும். எத்தனை மனிதர்கள் இப்படி வெறுமைக்கும் வலிக்கும் பலியாகிக் கிடப்பார்கள்.  அந்த வெறுமைப்பெருங்காட்டில் வாழ்வதே பெரிதல்லவா? அவர்களை நாம் ஏன் ஆராய்ந்து பார்க்க வேண்டும்? சலனமற்ற முகங்களுக்குள் இன்னும் எத்தனை எத்தனை வலியோ?

பாகிஸ்தான் மக்கள் இடையே ஒரு வழக்கம் இருந்திருக்கிறது (இப்போது இல்லாமல் போயிருக்கலாம்). “ஒரு உயிர்பலிக்கு அல்லது இழப்புக்கு பதிலாக, தங்கள் மகளை அந்த வீட்டு ஆண்களுக்கு (வயது வித்தியாசமில்லாமல்) திருமணம் செய்துக்கொடுக்க வேண்டும்.” இது ஒரு தீர்ப்பு ஆக சொல்லப்பட்டுவந்திருக்கிறது. நம் ஊரில் வன்புணர்வு செய்தவனுக்கே பெண்ணை கல்யாணம் செய்து வைப்பது போல். பெரும்பாலும் இப்படி திருமணம் செய்துக்கொண்டு எதிரி வீட்டுக்கு செல்லும் பெண்கள் தீராத பாலியல் துன்புறுத்தலுக்கும் வன்முறைக்கும் உள்ளாகி மரணித்துவிடுகிறார்கள் அல்லது சுயபிரக்ஞையற்றவர்களாக மாறிவிடுகிறார்கள். அப்பா, பகவான்தாஸ் மேஸ்திரி மற்றும் கெளரவம் போன்ற கதைகள்  இந்த வழக்கத்தால் பாதிக்கப்பட்ட பெண்களை மையமாக கொண்டு நகர்கிறது.

இதுவரையில் நான் தமிழ் இலக்கியத்தில் வாசித்திராத ஒரு தளம் உளவியல் ரீதியான கதைகள். ஒருவரின் மனப்போக்கை இப்படி வார்ததைகளாக கொண்டு வந்துவிட முடியும் என்று நான் நினைத்துக்கூட பார்த்ததில்லை. சைபீரியா, மரவட்டை, கழுவாய், அரிப்பு – இந்த கதைகள் அனைத்தும் ஒருவரின் மனப்போக்கை அப்படியே பதிவு செய்கிறது.. உதாரணத்திற்கு அரிப்பு என்னும் கதையில் ஒரு அரிப்பு நோயின் ஆரம்பக்கட்டத்தில் இருக்கும் ஒருவன், ஊனமானவர்களைத் தேடித்தேடி பார்க்கிறான். அவர்களுக்கு ஓடி ஓடி உதவிசெய்கிறான் தன் நோயோடு அவர்களை ஒப்பீட்டு பார்க்கிறான். எங்கு சென்றாலும் அவன் ஊனமானவர்களையே தேடுகிறான்.  எல்லோரிடமும் ஏதோ ஒரு ஊனம் இருக்கிறது அது அவன் கண்ணுக்கு சுலபமாக புலப்படுகிறது. இப்படியாக‌ நகர்க்கிறது அந்த கதை.

இந்த புத்தகத்தில் நான் தேடிய எல்லாம் இருந்தது. என்னால் தேடப்பட வேண்டியவையும் இருந்தது. ஆயினும் காதல் மட்டும் இல்லை. ஒரு அழகான காதல் கதை இருந்திருக்கலாம். மனதின் சூட்சமங்களை, மனிதர்களின் உணர்வுகளோடு அது நடத்தும் கண்ணாமூச்சி ஆட்டத்தை அதன் இயல்பு மாறாமல் சுகிக்கவிரும்புவருக்கும், பிற மரபுகளை அறிய விரும்பவர்க்கும் இந்த புத்தகம் நிச்சயம் பிடிக்கும்.

நூல் பற்றிய குறிப்பு:

இந்திஜார் ஹுசேன் & ஆஸிப் ஃபரூக்கி ஆகிய இருவரால் உருதுவில் தொகுக்கப்பட்டு எம். அஸதுத்தீன் அவர்களால் ஆங்கிலத்தில் மொழிபெயர்க்க பெற்ற இந்நூலை மா. இராமலிங்கம் எழில்முதல்வன் அவர்கள் ஆங்கிலத்தில் இருந்து தமிழில் மொழியாக்கம் செய்திருக்கிறார். சாஹித்திய அகாடமி வெளியீடான இப்புத்தகம் பின்வரும் தளங்களில் கிடைக்கப்பெறுகின்றது.

https://www.exoticindiaart.com/book/details/pakistan-chirukathaigal-in-tamil-short-stories-MZG405/

http://www.indiaclub.com/Pakistan-Chirukathaigal-TAMIL_p_391294.html

https://amzn.to/2WFmAlW

 

நூல் மதிப்பீட்டாளர் பற்றிய குறிப்பு:

சத்யா, வார்த்தைகளினால் வலிகளை வழியனுப்பி வைக்கும் கூட்டுப் பறவை. எந்த உதடுகளாலும் மொழியப்படாத மனித உணர்வுகளை புத்தகங்களில் தேடுபவள். சங்கீத பிரியை. இயற்கையின் சங்கேத மொழி அறிய முயற்சிபவள்

Love Curry Cover Image

Love Curry is the Perfect Antidote to Pain in this Perky Love Story by Pankaj Dubey

There are not many books that talk about the stories of Indians who leave motherland for various reasons and settle down in foreign countries. The stories of these individuals and their families are each potential best-sellers. There are so many suppressed emotions and buried plots waiting to be unearthed and unleashed to the world. That way, Pankaj Dubey’s ‘Love Curry‘ published by Penguin Random House India is a very interesting addition to this not so long list. It isn’t merely the story of an Indian, we also have a Pakistani and a Bangladeshi who bring in additional flavours to this book.

Away from homelands and out of their protective nets, you will always find the subcontinental borders melting away and a natural brotherhood flourishing amidst citizens of these sister nations. That is precisely the premise of this book, but then there is more. Loaded with their versions of pain, misery, aspiration, and compulsion, Rishi from India, Shehzad from Bangladesh and Ali from Pakistan land in London and end up being flatmates. But a new storm awaits them there in the form of Zeenat, who is very much the human version of Bollywood.

The book opens with a very passionate chapter that can slap you awake and drag you into the story. But don’t be surprised if you find yourself smiling or grinning or laughing out loud in the middle of a seemingly romantic chapter. That is thanks to Pankaj’s wit and humour that is strewn all over. And I assure you, that you will experience the same phenomenon throughout the book, even as the plot thickens and that makes the read quite enjoyable. Then comes the personal cross that each of our characters carries with them.

Not just the trio, but also the story of Zeenat and her father Mullah, are a short yet intriguing peek into the disturbing lives of the men and women who are constantly at war while trying to make a fresh start in a faraway land. It is very interesting to see the author use a thread from their pasts to establish their present-day existence. I especially loved the part where he explains how it was a natural evolution for Shehzad to become a tattoo artist and Mullah naming his daughter Zeenat. I couldn’t help but smile when I realized why the book was titled ‘Love Curry’ and how that is a thread that moves the second part of this tale.

An unfortunate catastrophe brings about a series of events some of which eventually take our characters to the home they dearly want and deserve. Before they get there, they must endure a few more seismic attacks including racial discrimination and wrongful detention. However, as always the sense of brotherhood prevails and help arrives just in time.

While the book is essentially a story of love and friendship, it is knit into an engaging tale by putting together the many elements that define the connections between the three countries that our Romeos hail from. I am no longer surprised how cricket is an indispensable character in all stories that involve these countries. So, I did manage to keep a straight face when Ali and Rishi fought over an Indo-Pakistan cricket match, however, the discussions that happened around the could-bes and would-bes if only our countries decide to tear down the differences and redraw the borderlines once and for all were quite exciting. As wishful as they might sound, the ray of hope that was glistening through those discussions is too hard to miss.

Finally comes the most important of our connections and the one that warms our heart to the greatest extent- our Curries. The mutual love that we share for the biryanis, kebabs, and the endless list of flavourful curries is that one weapon which can probably destroy the elements of hate and bring about harmony. Need I mention how it is only right that it be honoured with the place in the title of the book?

The perky narration and the lively dialogues, makes the book sound like a half-done Bollywood screenplay. Don’t tell us that we didn’t warn you, when Love Curry hits the big screen, especially because Pankaj is also a filmmaker. I have only one suggestion for whoever makes a movie out of this – please skip the political conversations that happen among the trio in the second part. It is a little too stretched and unbelievable that these misfits would discuss subcontinental politics with their head in the guillotine. Otherwise, I would say go for it. It is an easy and engaging read and just the right kind of book you need to calm those nerves during these times of uncertainty.

Down With COVID-19, the Hospitality Industry Remains Hospitalised With No Vaccine in Sight

“Hello sir, I want to cancel my booking for the month of May. Can you please process the refund? Here are my account details,” read a whatsapp message from Mr. Sinha, our guest to be in our latest Sikkim property. I thought of requesting him to change his mind and accept our offer for extension instead of cancellation but resisted the temptation. It was futile though. Almost everyone before him had turned down the offer. Almost every advance booking had been cancelled by now. Transferring the refunds was a big challenge. Once you receive a payment, it does not stay in the bank account. Either it gets invested or spent in various other business activities. No one ever thought of a cent percent cancellation rate and we cannot blame anyone for this. The current COVID-19 crisis has left everyone vulnerable.

Most of the hotels across India work on the lease system. Instead of buying a property from the owner or building it from scratch, it is always beneficial to opt for a lease. This way, one has an option of winding up the business, lest it fails to click. This is the segment the recent COVID-19 crisis has hit the most. Most of the business owners rely on the summer months to cover up the lease value. The school break, peak wedding season and an intolerable heat wave across the country make the summer months an ideal time for family vacations.

People plan their trips well in advance. The advance bookings start right from the winter season. Now that the turn over for this quarter will be a big ZERO, there are now question marks on even recovering the lease amount, let alone the profits. Summer season has always provided meaty profits to the hospitality industry. The outcomes are swollen bank accounts and a hope of a profitable season. These are high motivating factors as hotel industry is cost intensive. Property and staff maintenance require hefty sums. A little negligence on any front can lead to a below par rating across web portals leading to negative publicity and drop in sales. No one in the hotel industry can afford this.

 

Despite the revenue dropping down, staff salaries need to be paid. Staves who have been with the owners through thick and thin also have families to feed. While discussing their hardships I should mention the case of Mr. Pratap, our head chef. Once the situation worsened and we stopped operations, naturally, he desired to leave for his native place in Bengal. However, he was stopped at the Sikkim Bengal border. The Sikkim government had sealed the borders the same morning. Poor chap has been staying in a small lodge near the border and paying for his rent and food, away from family and work.

Some of the hotels have been converted into quarantine centres while some are hosting the stranded tourists. The hoteliers still receive regular electricity and utility bills at commercial rates. The tour operators who form the backbone of tourism are also under immense pressure. The fleet of vehicles need regular maintenance and timely overhaul. Owing to lockdown extensions, the machines will face degradation. Most of the transport services thrive on bank loans. In these turbulent times the EMIs pose a serious challenge. Till now, nothing concrete has been said or done in this regard. Several places where tourism serves as the sole source of income for the people have been the worst affected. List of people affected the most include hotel and lodge owners, drivers, travel agents, tour guides, owners of small restaurants and eateries, and regional craftsmen and artistes.

The government has been mostly proactive in dealing with the pandemic. The nationwide lockdown and economic package for the poor bear a testimony to this. The Prime minister in his latest declaration has announced a substantial chunk of GDP as a relief package for medium and small enterprises. It is still unclear how much of that is aimed for revival of hospitality industryan industry that contributes close to 10 percent of the GDP and employs over 8 percent of the labour force. One can just hope of a generous share out of the package. It may just be the panacea for an industry whose death is imminent. State governments also need to lend a supporting hand. Lowering electricity and other utilities rates, suspension of various local taxes and easing other regulations may also reduce the burden. Waiver of the bills for the next few months will be a welcome measure.

Across the country we have SEZs, why can’t centres of tourism come under the ambit of SEZs? Such centres may be provided with some additional perks like tax relief, subsidised rates for hotel supplies, subsidised fuel etc. Since the goods producing industries will now operate with a much lower labour force, the cost of production will also increase. Add to it the mandatory sanitization protocols, the prices of general use items may shoot up by 25 to 30 percent. All this will trickle down to the customers, the tourists, in this case. This will also act as a deterrent to tourism. Exempting tourism from GST might just pull down the rise in cost. The tourism industry is thus at the mercy of the government.

 

Once the lock down is lifted, other economic activities will resume, albeit slowly. Agriculture will restart, markets will reopen and production of essentials and even non-essentials will commence. Now that people focus on bare essentials, planning a vacation will be the last thing on their mind. Various modes of travel are suspended. Even if the services resume, people will hesitate in stepping out. The future is bleak and there are no signs of recovery for the future. The hospitality industry is looking into a dark tunnel with no ray of hope.  

One solitary positive aspect of the COVID-19 has been the restoration of nature. Mother nature has been at her prime in the past few weeks. Pollution levels have dropped and air and water quality have improved significantly. A deep breath of the mountain air or a gulp of the clear river water is sufficient to rejuvenate the gloomy minds. Hope sustains life! So one can be just hopeful of a COVID vaccine sometime soon. It is the only development that can restore faith in people’s minds. People will travel to new places, meet new people, make new friends without hesitation. Well, all this needs to be seen in the future, but till then the heart can only pray for the well-being of all.

“सर्वे  सन्तु  निरामयाः”

About the Author: An engineering graduate from MIT, Manipal, Nitin Tibrewal, ventured into tourism with his hotel start-up in Sikkim. His company Shree Kunj organises tours and holidays to the north east. Also, as a dedicated teacher, he runs a coaching institute – Mathemagic thereby fulfilling his passion for teaching. You can find more about his venture at here.

Cover Image by K. Kliche from Pixabay

AazadiMeraBrand Book Cover

For Indian Women, ‘to be allowed to be, or not allowed to be’ is the Question

The history of travel-writing in Hindi is short. Rahul Sankrityayan being the most prominent name in this genre followed by a very few. However, what is both surprising and disappointing is that one cannot spot even a single woman writer marking such journeys. Anuradha Beniwal breaks this unimposed pattern and writes about her journey of solo travelling in Europe in her first book Azaadi Mera Brand.

Inspired by an Italian friend from her college days, she sheds all the stereotypical brands attached to an Indian girl and discovers Azaadi – Freedom to be her favorite brand. She starts her journey not from any city but from her home by questioning what stops a girl, a woman in travelling solo- is it a self inhibition or the judgments of being a good or bad girl by the society? She quotes Shakespeare- “to be, or not to be: that is the question” and is quick to answer herself that the question changes in reference to India. In India, the question (especially for girls) is “to be allowed to be, or not allowed to be.” She also mentions that a huge amount of savings is not a precondition for being a vagabond and shares hilarious instances of how she raised the money all by herself for the trip. Answering many such questions, this free spirit sets on a solo journey for Europe starting from London (where she currently resides) travelling to the cities of Paris, Amsterdam, Berlin, Prague among other which I leave unnamed here as the way she discovers them without following a strict itinerary because the thrill of travelling without knowing what is next is unmatchable.

She begins with Paris. Roaming around the lanes learning a few French words to interact with the people, she says – “the best way to explore a city is by walking, you not only interact with people but the art and architecture of the place too.” She vividly paints the pictures of her adventures of meeting new people, going through various museums, trying quirky cuisines and partying with random people. She also shares interesting anecdotes of Indians she came across living in those cities.

She hitchhikes from one city to another sharing cabs and wonders would it be ever so safe and possible in her own country? While she holds your hands and takes you along to Europe with her words, she is candid about the cultural contrasts with respect to the Indian mindset. On her entire journey, Anuradha does not book a hotel but lodges in the home-stays. All the stays have peculiar stories from staying alone in a room without lock to staying with two young boys who have a little message for the guest “Come the way as you are”- hung upside down on the door. Though, not all the stays were as welcoming. Well, there comes no travelling without hurdles. You lose your camera, your mobile discharges when you need it the most, taking the wrong lane and the horrific out of all, you miss the scheduled bus by a few seconds.

Anuradha, a former National Indian chess player, now settled in London is outspoken of all that is going in her mind throughout the journey which makes the book even more authentic. It is not just a diary of wanderlust but of courage of letting oneself free and vulnerable. Coming from a small village of Haryana, Anuradha describes her book as the travel memoir of a wanderer ‘Haryanvi Chori’. In the last chapter of the book, she addresses to all the girls of her country to shed all the inhibitions and shackles they think they are bound by and set out on the journey they want to take.

Published in 2016 by Rajkamal Prakashan, the book is first in the series of ‘Yayavari-Aawargi’ (Vagabondage). The book attracted a lot of appreciation and earned author the ‘Srijnatmak Gadya Samman’. Anuradha is the youngest writer to win the award. Available on Amazon Kindle, this travelogue is the perfect read for all the Hindi lovers to shoo away the monotonicity in the time of lockdown and wander freely in the lanes of Europe.

About the Author: Bhumika Soni is a literature enthusiast working in the field of data analytics, she has always found words more charming and powerful than numbers. Still searching for The Enchanted Tree created by Enid Blyton to travel to various magical worlds. She loves spy thrillers and Ruskin Bond stories.