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.

 

 

Nithyananda is Inevitable and His Kailasha Solves a Real Problem

The Dalai Lama and HDH Nithyananda Paramashivam are incontrovertibly two of the most powerful spiritual figures of the present times. Both are outspoken, against the tyranny of the establishment and are working towards a new world order – one where divisions disappear and people live in peace, powerfulness and prosperity. Both are exiled from their homes and have hence become citizens of the world. Both are ancient beings who have re-incarnated to bring back order into the chaos that the world has become today. (Source – kailaasa.org)

 

Apparently, cancelling someone’s passport in India ensures that the person will be found tweeting from a different country the next day. If you appear stupid enough to be deemed harmless to the government, the government will let you continue with your stupidity for as long as you want. However, if the party in power has over-promised to its people and you suddenly start doing less stupid things like ‘inspiring terrorist groups’ as in the case of Zakir Naik (who otherwise kept parroting scriptures with exact coordinates of verses) or ‘kidnapping’ and ‘employing child labour’, in Nithyananda’s case, you start to become an eyesore. The government then, cancels your passport.

 

So, who is a citizen of the world? Trash all your pretentious concepts of cosmopolitanism and culture-assimilation myths. The first thing you would need to do is escape (not exactly escape, just book with an airline and fly, nobody is chasing you) from India to start your journey of attainment. Expand your operations to other countries. You keep spreading your deeply spiritual operations of radicalization, kidnapping, extortion, and sex carnivals. Only when you become the most-desired in most of these countries, you have a shot at becoming the most-wanted. Of course, when you are wanted everywhere, you have attained world-citizenship. Since, he can’t be everywhere till such time that he seriously, and not ‘casually‘, tests his teleporting and cloning machines, Nithyananda has created a new nation. The exact location of this new country is not ascertained yet but let’s trust Mr. Vijay Mallya to mark the place on google maps once he arrives. Mr. Mallya must have realized that buying an island and creating a nation out of it are two different things, much like how Mr. Fadnavis realized that having the largest number of MLAs and forming a government in Indian politics are not the same.

 

Nithyananda means business. He is a thought-leader, a spiritual giant of his time who discusses ideas and world problems with his fellow thought-leaders like the former CFO of Infosys – TV Mohandas Pai. In the past, he has also discussed the future of science with Mr. Rajiv Malhotra. The stakes get higher if you look at the website of Kailaasa (his new Hindu nation). It gives you a point by point comparison between Dalai Lama and Nithyananda. Having some experience as his audience on youtube, I was able to separate the chaff from the wheat, chaff being the parts written by some freelance content writer (the boring stupid parts) and wheat being the parts blessed by His Divine Holiness. By the end of these impeccable comparisons, it was obvious that Dalai Lama and Nithyananda are the same person. Dalai Lama is the Bruce Wayne. Nithyananda, the Batman! The only difference is – Nithyananda, the arch-nemesis of Einstein, knows more physics than Batman can ever know. (Refer E=MC2 ≠ E=MC2).

 

Nithyananda’s country – Kailaasa or ShriKailasha serves an important purpose. While the BJP is concerned about persecuted minorities from only our neighbouring countries, it has given no thought to the Hindus persecuted within the country. Thanks to Nithyananda, persecuted Hindus of India too have a home now. Now, when the courts ban crackers right before the next Diwali, the persecuted Hindus of India can #ChaloKailaasa.

The price of onions in our country is sufficient evidence to prove that in any case, all Indians, are a persecuted lot and a lot of non-Hindus will also try to sneak into Kailaasa for the free-food Nithyananda is offering. If he wants to prevent this illegal immigration, he must direct his department of health to reach out to Nirmala Sitharaman for her onion-free recipes and to make her their brand-ambassador! We will console ourselves with radish instead and suffer in our own country.

Conflictorium- A Museum of Conflicts

Conflicts are much more than mere news

A society faces a plethora of obscured events that create and recreate a place, and thus, the culture. We usually evolve through the times, and sometimes adapt, but we must archive whatever has gone by and what still remains. While most museums house objects, memos, diaries, and other items of history, a precise documentation of the core reasons that led to the conflicts are hardly archived.

Trying to understand the disputes that we still face, the divergences, which are so in-built that perhaps their resolution might just need or create another revolution in the history?

Rare is to find the curation of such ‘conflicts’ which would raise the much required awareness. Aided by the media that manipulates news that hardly pertains to the issues and seldom tries to identify the layers, the conflicts that remain unheard and perhaps go unnoticed by us in our daily lives must come to surface. While museums file the details and minutes of the history, they much rarely let you interact with it.

 

Museum of Conflicts

Conflictorium, in Ahmedabad is a museum, as the name suggests a Museum of Conflicts. It is a multi-sensory interactive museum, wherein through medium of sound, touch and visuals, the spaces evoke in you the varying thoughts and perspectives on issues like casteism, labour exploitation, marginalised communities, the brutality of the lucked-out privileged, and the gender biases prevalent yet not talked about, the violent actions on animals and other voracious matters.

The Museum is housed in an architecturally beautiful house, the one which belonged to the first hair dresser of the city, Bachuben. On entering, the first interaction is with the brutal history of Gujarat, the riots, and the henceforth demise of the communities and the effects that the state faced afterwards.

The other spaces, tell the visitor the stories of all the said issues, through voicing opinions that have been on-record collected through generations via films, television series, radio, and other communication mediums. They intricately present the sensitivity of the issues and leaves one with contemplation.

 

 

Anne Frank House

The first floor is a flexible space, which incubates different exhibitions from time to time, and provides a platform to different artists and events in history that have occurred across the world. During my most recent visit to the museum, it encompassed the most known story of the Holocaust, the story of Anne Frank. Many artists were involved in creating the closest replica of the Anne Frank House, the annex where she and her family faced a continuous battle, to hide from the price they had to pay for being Jews. The depiction and the storytelling of the house were incredibly touching and precisely done.

img_20191127_1857107303840843991158582.jpg

 

As one climbs down the steps, there in the small corner right next to steps, there is a mirror, asking you to listen to the story of the lady who resided in the house, and how the place has been a place of transformation for many and how Bachuben lived, this puts you in a position to literally act, and see the change in yourself.

The museum holistically provides you a challenge to the perception, where it questions your notions about everything around you.

 

John D. Batten illustrator

12 Folktale Collections to Read from India!

For thousands of years, folktales have been a medium for communities to narrate their stories and preserve their wisdom, their culture, values and traditions. We must have all heard of random stories and folk tales from our elders. If not heard, then definitely read tales and fables popular in India.

A.K. Ramanujan’s Folktales of India was a definitive collection of 110 folktales collected from all corners of the country and translated from different languages by an Indian. But if you are the one who wants to explore more folktales, the list below will come in handy!

The Seer presents 12 folktale collections to read from all across India. These collections will take you travelling from deep seas to the jungles of Central India and from the majestic peaks of the Himalayas to the dense forests of the North East.

 

Greatest Folk Tales of Bihar by Nalin Verma

Published this year in October, this collection of stories brings together intriguing animal and human characters that narrate the age old wisdom of the villages of Bihar. Buy the book here.

 

Seven blind men and an elephant is a parable found in Indian traditions. It is particularly used in Jainism to explain the doctrine of multi-sidedness (anekantavada) of Ultimate Reality, Absolute Truth. It is also called the theory of non-onesidedness, non-absolutism, manifoldness, many pointedness by scholars.
Romana Klee | Seven blind men and an elephant is a parable found in Indian traditions. It is particularly used in Jainism to explain the doctrine of multi-sidedness (anekantavada) of Ultimate Reality, Absolute Truth. It is also called the theory of non-onesidedness, non-absolutism, manifoldness, many pointedness by scholars.

 


Folk Tales from the Nilgiri Hills
compiled and edited by Madhavi Ravindranath

Folk Tales from the Nilgiri Hills came about as a result of All India Radio’s Ooty’s program head, Madhavi Ravindranath’s labour of love to collect folktales from the various tribes residing in the Nilgiris. They were first recorded and then broadcast as part of the radio show, ‘Malai Makkal Maanaadu’ (Gathering of the hill people). The book was published by Tamil Nadu’s Hill Area Development Programme.

 


First there was Woman and Other Stories: Folktales of the Dungri Garasiya Bhils
retold by Marija Sres

Dungri Garasiya Bhils live in northern Gujarat, southern Rajasthan and some parts of Madhya Pradesh as well. Marija Sres (originally from former Yugoslavia) came to India in 1974 and studied Gujarati in Ahmedabad, eventually completing her B.A. in Gujarati. This collection, published by Zubaan Books, presents folktales she has collected and translated over the years. The titular creation myth is a unique narrative of how the woman was created first by Kudrat (or Nature). The other stories also similarly capture the values and customs intrinsic to the Dungri Garasiya way of life. Get your copy here!

 


Around the Hearth: Khasi Legends by Kynpham Sing Nongkyrih

For centuries, Khasis have preserved their language by telling stories and passing them onto their younger generations. In this book, Nongkyrih brings alive the legends and tales that are part of the ethos of Khasi contemporary life till today. Buy the copy here.

 


Tales from the Kathasaritsagara
by Somdeva, translated from Sanskrit by Arshia Sattar

Originally written in Sanskrit, Kathasaritsagara was compiled by the Kashmiri Shaivite Brahmin, Somdev, in about 1070 C.E. Kathasaritsagara means “Ocean of a Stream of Stories.” Katha means stories, sarit means river or stream and sagara means the ocean. The frame story of King Naravahanadatta forms the outer narrative while including several stories within stories much like The Arabian Nights and Panchtantra. Yet, unlike many ancient fables, these stories do not preach moral lessons. Rather they portray lives lived through pleasure and experience.

Get your copy here or read an online version of a different translation here.

A literary tidbit: This style of using a frame narrative is often used by contemporary fabulists and writers too! For example, Salman Rushdie in his book, Haroun and the Sea of Stories, not only pays tribute to the title of Kathasaritsagara but also creates a whole new magical realist world that gives insights into the creation of stories and their purpose!

 


Konkani Folktales
retold by Olivinho J.E. Gomes

Konkani is one of the languages included in the 8th Schedule of the Indian Constitution. In 1992, with the 71st Amendment, three languages, Konkani, Manipuri and Nepali were included. Published by National Book Trust of India, Konkani Folktales is a rollicking collection of stories that depicts peculiar habits of Konkani speaking communities from their food to clothing to dances. Buy your copy here.

 


Speaking to an Elephant and Other Tales from the Kadars
by Manish Chandi

This is a must read for its interweaving of gorgeous illustrations and line drawings with the forest stories of the Kadars. Kadars are an indigenous people living in different parts of South India namely Tamil Nadu and Kerala. The stories in this collection narrate their utmost reverence to the forests they call home and emphasize their belief systems that revolve around forests and the spirits that reside therein. Grab this beautiful copy here.

 

The woman and the mongoose Panchatantra fable is engraved in many historic Hindu temples such as at the 8th-century Virupaksha temple at Pattadakal (the middle panel).
Ms_Sarah_Welch | The woman and the mongoose Panchatantra fable is engraved in many historic Hindu temples such as at the 8th-century Virupaksha temple at Pattadakal (the middle panel).

 


Where Gods Dwell
by Kusum Budhwar

From forests of the south, let us now move to the valleys of Kumaon. Kusum Budhwar brings together the folk stories that dwell in the mountains of Kumaon and Garwhal regions. Where Gods Dwell is divided into different sections based on varied themes. One unique aspect of this book is its inclusion of folk songs and romantic ballads of the region. This puts the spotlight on the role of folk music and songs in preserving our values and culture. Each story is also accompanied by detailed explanations given by the author. This helps us readers to know more about the context of each story. Buy your copy here.

 


A Girl Swallowed by a Tree: Lotha Naga Tales Retold
by Nzanmongi Jasmine Patton

Beginning with an insightful introduction to the Lotha Naga way of life, this is a collection of 30 folk tales that tell myriad folk tales from those that explain certain phenomena occurring around us to those that explain the origins of their world. All in all these stories mirror a society and its beliefs. This book is published by Adivaani, a publication house that publishes indigenous literature from all different parts of the country. Know more about their books here.

Get your copy of A Girl Swallowed by a Tree: Lotha Naga Tales Retold here.

Read an extract of the book here.

 

page1-695px-Puran_Bhagat_-_Qadir_Yar.pdf
Puran Bhagat is a Punjabi folktale by Qadir Yar.


Shehzadi Mircha: Folktales from the Punjab (Ruskin Bond Selection)
by Flora Annie Steel

This is an old colonial collection of folktales reminiscent of bygone North Indian cultures and customs, particularly Punjab. Beautifully illustrated by John Lockwood Kipling, the stories were collected in the 19th century by Flora Annie Steel. Read a charming extract here and then if you feel like it, buy it here.

 


Folktales of Odisha
collected by Mahendra Kumar Mishra

Published by National Book Trust of India, Folktales of Odisha comprises of 51 stories that form an integral part of the numerous communities of Odisha be it rural or coastal. All the stories impart useful lessons and morals on conducting one’s behavior and are a celebration of the state’s diversity and cultures. Get your copy here.

 

Illustration in Folk-tales of Bengal by w:Lal Behari Dey
w:Warwick Goble [Public domain] | Illustration in Folk-tales of Bengal by w:Lal Behari Dey


One Hundred and One Folktales from India
by Eunice De Souza

Curiously titled after Arabian Nights: One Thousand and One Nights, this folktale collection is vast and varied and like A.K. Ramanujan’s work, has stories from all across the country. Minimally illustrated, this book forms a comprehensive and magical introduction to the world of folklore. Buy your copy here.

 

Find More Online:

But what if you are not in the mood to spend now, what with the expensive festive season ending or you do not want to unnecessarily add to your ever increasing TBR pile? Yet you are still interested to know more folklore?

Worry not! Because there are several resources online where you could read these short folk tales any time and entertain yourself and along the way, learn a thing or two!

Talking Myths is an online repository of folktales from different states of India. Easy to navigate and the stories are published in big, readable fonts. You can navigate the page through the different categories of folktales or through location too! What’s more is that if you have a folk tale you want to contribute, you can do so by clicking here.

Storyweaver is a wonderful open source platform for stories and is created by Pratham Books. Primarily for children, this site hosts stories in different languages. A fun, interactive way to read and create stories of all kinds!

If you cannot get your hands on his other works, Ramanujan’s , A Flowering Tree and Other Oral Tales from India, is available online here. This collection boasts of beautiful Kannada folktales which were collected as a result of Ramanujan’s tireless work over a period of about 30 years from the 1950s to the 1970s.

 

References:

Albert Camus

Albert Camus was Born this Month!

Albert Camus was born on 7th November 1913 in Algeria. To mention the unnecessary, he would have been 106 years old this year! While he died young, at the age of 46 in 1960, his ideas surrounding the absurd have made him supremely relevant even today. So, in his birth month, let us revisit some of his ideas and question their importance today. 

Contrary to popular belief or rather popular misunderstanding, his works do not celebrate absurdity or worse, nihilism but rather provide meaningful answers to overcome the meaninglessness of life. His two most famous novels, The Stranger or The Outsider and The Plague look at the hopelessness of the situation the protagonists are in but also portray their rebellion against that utter lack of hope. 

In 1942, he published his essay, The Myth of Sisyphus. In this essay, Camus used the Greek mythological figure of Sisyphus as a metaphor for absurdity.

 

So who is this mythical Sisyphus? 

Sisyphus was the King of Corinth who tricked Death twice but could not do so the third time. 

The first time he was sentenced to death was when Sisyphus helped Aesophus, a river god, find his daughter, Aegina. Zeus had abducted Aegina. Aesophus promised Sisyphus that if he helped him find his daughter, he would create an eternal water spring in Corinth. Sisyphus thus told him about Zeus’ abduction of Aegina. This betrayal enraged Zeus and he banished Sisyphus to the Underworld. Once there, however, he was able to trick Thanatos by pretending to be unaware of how chains would chain him. Thanatos thus chained himself in an attempt to demonstrate to Sisyphus how chains functioned. Sisyphus was thus able to escape while Thanatos remained chained. While the latter was imprisoned, there was utter chaos in the world as no one died. Eventually, Ares, the God of War, found Sisyphus and freed Thanatos.

 

However, this time as well Sisyphus had a trick up his sleeve and before entering the realm of the dead he asked his wife, Merope, to not carry out any funeral rituals and to not give him the coin needed to pay the ferryman, Charon, to cross the river Styx. Using that as an excuse, he pleaded to Hades and Persephone that he be allowed to return to the world of living for three days to ensure that all the rites are carried out properly and then he would return. His wish was granted but he had no plans of returning ever.

 

Zeus was now thoroughly maddened by Sisyphus’ sheer insolence as he had cheated death twice. Eventually, Zeus banished him to Tartarus, the lowest region of the Underworld and punished him to repeatedly roll up a boulder to the top of a hill. Forever. Eternally. No escape. Zeus had finally managed to outwit the trickster with this punishment. Nobody would want to be stuck in such a never ending cycle. It is absurd and that is why it is such a cruel fate for Sisyphus who was always tricking others. Now he would have no time to fool anyone.

 

Sisyphus
Sisyphus | Credit – akrockefeller.com

Camus used this apt image, this myth to highlight Sisyphus’ constant rebellion against the world. He called him an absurd hero: “You have already grasped that Sisyphus is the absurd hero. He is, as much through his passions as through his torture. His scorn of the gods, his hatred of death, and his passion for life won him that unspeakable penalty in which the whole being is exerted toward accomplishing nothing. This is the price that must be paid for the passions of this earth.”

 

But what is so heroic about Sisyphus’ eternal struggle? 

For Camus, it was Sisyphus’ scorn to be overcome by this struggle. He explains how Sisyphus’ walk downhill to push the stone up again is his “breathing space… hour of consciousness.” It is in those moments that he receives a respite, albeit short, from his arduous task. It is also in those moments that he is very much aware of that very task, yet he still moves towards it.

 

For Camus, being conscious of your own absurd condition helps you to contemplate about it and thus aids in surmounting it at the end. It may be tragic as well but Camus believes that it is better to know the full extent of your actions rather than being disillusioned by false hope. Sisyphus for him symbolises that strength to be aware and be willing to be able to overcome the nothingness of the situation by your own thoughts. Because Sisyphus refused to be bowed down by the task and instead chose to revel in his routine, Camus believed him to be “superior to his fate… stronger than his rock.”

 

The myth had become a well-known metaphor for futility, for nothingness in our lives. Yet Camus subverts this very myth and lets us know that you can overcome the absurdity present in your lives, we can each surmount our own boulders and routines: “The workman of today works every day in his life at the same tasks, and this fate is no less absurd. But it is tragic only at the rare moments when it becomes conscious. Sisyphus, proletarian of the gods, powerless and rebellious, knows the whole extent of his wretched condition: it is what he thinks of during his descent. The lucidity that was to constitute his torture at the same time crowns his victory. There is no fate that cannot be surmounted by scorn.”

 

Camus does admit later that we are all at times overwhelmed by melancholy, grief and absurdity; when our boulders become too much to bear. Yet acknowledging that grief or the truth of the absurdity is the first step in acknowledging that there is meaning in life and that we can master the futility in our lives: “the absurd man, when he contemplates his torment, silences all the idols.”

 

At the end of the essay, Camus imagines Sisyphus to be happy.  And why not? Because, we all have our burdens to bear, yet not succumbing to them is surely a means to be happy, a means to infuse meaning in our lives. Let us all, therefore, not be overcome by our routines or the mundaneness of life but rather know that we all, each one of us, can do something constructive about it! 

You can read the essay here

Check out this School of Life video to know more about Camus’s life and philosophies. 

Here is a great conceptualisation of the Greek myth of Sisyphus by TedEd

 

 

References:

 

 

The Perseverance of Dream Catchers

Veena Baruah
Veena Baruah

The golden years… When life has become a blurry montage of experiences, often tempered by patience in the face of obstacles and compromise in the midst of complexities, a different breed of senior citizens decides that it’s time to chase unfulfilled dreams. Veena Baruah’s retirement from her teaching job at Juhu’s Maneckji Cooper School got her thinking, “What is my unfulfilled dream, what can I do, what will give me satisfaction?” For many, retiring after decades of working years brings about a lifestyle change combined with elderly ailments. The routine likely maintained daily for decades of professional life suddenly requires re-scheduling.

Surjit Kaur
Surjit Kaur

Surjit Kaur joined Terence Lewis Dance Academy’s senior citizen classes, “I really wanted to learn dancing, you know, properly.” Among her proudest moments among various public performances is an appearance in Shah Rukh Khan’s Happy New Year promotional TV show. Since retiring, Surjit has begun participating in marathons such as Mumbai-Pune marathon, and in talent shows such as Umang.

 

 

 

Sailesh Mishra
Sailesh Mishra

The Silver Innings foundation and its annual talent festival for senior citizens, Umang, has helped many to shirk their inhibitions and perform in front of a cheering audience. Silver Innings founder Sailesh Mishra says, “Since 2008, we found many seniors who have left their careers, or lived their lives for their families, their society or nation… But they did not get a chance to explore their talents, their skills, their hobbies. That’s why we started Umang.”

Sailesh’s “social keeda” prompted him to leave behind 17 years as a corporate marketing executive and volunteer for the Dignity Foundation. As he realised the paucity of social welfare organisations “working for seniors”, Sailesh founded Silver Innings for elderly support and services. Silver Innings’ Umang, the Senior Citizens Stage Talent Show, has “people from 60 to 92 years participating.” Among participants, Navanita Parmar (78) has moved on to professional choreography for other senior citizens and children with disabilities.

 

Vaishali Joshi
Vaishali Joshi

For someone like Vaishali Joshi, dreams re-surface before retirement. A classical singer and an ex-Senior Accounts Officer with the Central Government, Vaishali, “passed Visharad in Hindustani Classical Music in 2004, when I was working only.” With retirement, personal goals emerge out of the shadows, put aside earlier for the hum-drum of monotonous work routines. Vaishali, who joined organisations such as “Senior Sobati and bhajan classes” post-retirement, found that senior citizen forums also provide the opportunity to explore hidden talents and unfulfilled interests. And the silver lining appears…Time to finally focus on personal goals and dreams, without the baggage of family or children.

 

 

 

Shibani Bagchi
Shibani Bagchi

 

For Shibani Bagchi, it means having the time to pursue her Masters in Social Welfare towards her PhD dream: “I want to work for children and women from the disadvantaged communities, and try to contribute towards bettering their lives in whichever way I can.”

Those who are not yet ready to part ways with their careers often search for job opportunities with service providers such as HUM Communities and NotRetired.in. Familial pressure, which extends to being the family’s primary care giver, often drives life choices for many, and retirement offers the perfect spark to re-ignite unfulfilled dreams. As Veena reminisced about her youthful desire to act, she was reminded that “my parents, my father especially, wouldn’t allow it.” When she finally decided to send a few photographs to a model coordinator, it took nearly 6-8 months to receive a callback, and the offers began pouring in. Of course, she hasn’t looked back since.

According to the United Nations Population Fund’s “India Ageing Report” (2017), the global elderly population will be approximately 2 billion, accounting for 20% of India’s population. While organisations such as the Dignity Foundation have been working for elderly care since the 1990s, a recent spurt of senior citizen forums include community-driven platforms like Parikrama and Silver Surfers. With the support of social welfare professionals, retirees such as Ramgopal Cancherla (69) find new avenues to spend their time. The former Head Sales & Marketing at Sanofi-Aventis, Ramgopal, has become a laughter coach.

 

Hira Mehta
Hira Mehta

Spare time in post-work years trigger unexplored hobbies. Since retirement, podcaster and former Corporate Communications manager at ICICI Bank, Hira Mehta has already authored “Twisted Tales and More…” in her 50s, made short films like The Selfless Soldier, and even pursued her acting dream in short films including The Blue Helmet.

Sailesh says, “Life doesn’t end at 60! After 60, you just get retired from your job, not your life.” Many dream catchers will agree.

Takeaways from Tata Literature Live-2019

TATA Literature Live!: The Mumbai LitFest, 2019 concluded its 10th edition on 17th November 2019 (Sunday). It took place across in 3 locations across the city: Title Waves bookstore and the St. Paul’s Media Institute, Prithvi Theatre, and NCPA (National Centre for Performing Arts).

The literary festival began on 14th November and concluded with the presentation of Tata Literature Live! 2019 Awards on 17th evening at the NCPA, with the Lifetime Achievement Award being presented to Shanta Gokhale. TATA Literature Live! Book of The Year Award-Fiction was given to Raj Kamal Jha for his novel, The City and the Sea whereas TATA Literature Live! Book of The Year Award-Non Fiction was awarded to Early Indians: The Story of Our Ancestors and Where We Came From by Tony Joseph.
This year’s literary event hosted numerous sessions that were grouped by subject matter from literary discussions to history, from current affairs to environment and much more. We present them here under three broad themes –

Comics and Graphic Novels

A History of Women and Gender in Comics

The talk was jointly presented by Aarthi Parthasarthy and Arun Prasad. Aarthi is the creator of the web comic, Royal Existentials and is also part of the South Asian feminist collective, Kadak that creates graphic stories. Arun is a comic book archivist who began his career as a journalist but now is involved in collecting Indian comics and has created an unparalleled comics archive.

This informative talk began with Aarthi presenting the history of comics by women in the Western world, beginning from how women used comics during the Suffrage Movement. She ended with chronicling of Indian comic artists, their work and contribution. Arun talked about how he collected comics from all over India and also spoke widely about the varied and rare comics in his vast collection.

Their research which looks at the history of comics in India is based on this archive. As part of the research, they are going through the archive to find connections between the content of the comics and socio-political context of the country. It was indeed a knowledgeable session that also highlighted the need to uncover female comic artists in India as well.

The Graphic Novelist as a Satirist

The speakers for this talk were Appupen, David McKean and Aarthi Parthasarthy. Each spoke about the need to satirise through their work and emphasised on the role of satire as a critique of the powers that be. It was truly a visual feast as the speakers gave a glimpse into their work as well.

Both the talks were held at Title Waves which was absolutely perfect as the bookshop boasts of having a good collection of comics, graphic novels and manga.

 

Language and Writing

Double Speak

Double Speak was a panel discussion chaired by Annie Zaidi and on the panel were Shanta Gokhale and Andrey Kurkov. The discussion revolved around writing in more than one language and what it feels like to be able to think, read, and produce literary works in many different languages. The session was quite lively as both the speakers regaled the audience with entertaining anecdotes about their work. Kurkov speaks six languages and he emphasised how the tone of his writing is dependent on the language he uses. Shanta Gokhale, on the other hand, spoke of how she received encouragement from Nissim Ezekiel, no less, to write in Marathi and to pursue prose rather than poetry! Several such engaging tidbits had the audience in splits while also throwing light on their writing bilingual and multi lingual works.

 

Miscellaneous

The Little Festival

For the first time, Tata Literature Live! introduced something special for the kids called The Little Festival. Its aim was to inculcate the habit of reading among children and included several workshops conducted on various interesting topics such as creating cartoons, writing poems, writing mysterious characters etc. The Little Festival also hosted retelling of Shakespeare’s Macbeth for children.


You Cheeky Devil

Who says literature and reading has to be an individual pursuit alone? Banishing the notion of reading as being boring, the festival also had a literary quiz to bring out the literary nerd in all of us!

You Cheeky Devil was hosted by 94.3 RadioOne host, Hrishi K. The participants were an eclectic mix: famed Sanskrit scholar, Arshia Sattar; the quirky Historian, Manu S. Pillai; Journalist, Peter Griffin and Senior Commissioning Editor at Penguin Random House India, Manasi Subramaniam. The four participants fought each other over literary quotes, literary dumb charades and even a bout of Pictionary!

 

We also attended this year’s Bangalore Literature Festival. Take a look here – BLF2019. If you want to jump to specific sessions, we have picked 3 for you to start- 

Wanjiru Koinange from Kenya, on her book The Havoc of Choice‘ .
Prasanna on his book Moola Ramayana.
Lisa Ray talks about her literary journey in Close to the Bone.

 

 

Interview: Artist Heena Shaikh

Heena Shaikh is an artist hailing from the western region of the country, pursuing the art of painting abstracts on her canvas. Having met her personally and seeing her works, I noticed a discreet charm and passion in her voice, which makes her and her journey astounding to listen, and hopefully for you to read. 

 

Tell me about your journey, how and when you began? 

As a kid, I and my family used to stay in a community where we used to celebrate all the festivals. These festivals had the circulation of images of gods and goddesses in the form of calendars or posters, this was fascinating to me and I used to copy-paint these images. And this is how I started, and while I have tried other forms of art, I have always been most invested in paintings. 

I studied fine arts from Bharti Vidyapeeth, Pune and filled my form for the college through the 300 rupees that I won in a Mehendi (Henna plant) competition during the Ganesh Utsav festival in our locality. My parents were never supportive of my choice of arts as a career. They believed that God or Allah is the biggest creator and artist, and we humans hold no right to create or profess art, and thus, being an artist is considered shameful and wrong by them. But, I wanted to be an artist and could do it because of the bunch of supportive teachers that I always had, and I am grateful to them. Whether it was during school or college, it was because of their faith in me, that I could develop the confidence to follow my dream of becoming an artist. 

 

You started as a realist artist, then how did you reach to now painting abstract?

Because I started painting at a very young age, so I had sort of mastered the realist and copy painting, and then later I shifted to landscapes, understating and painting the nature around me. This helped me master the two dimensional and three dimensional methods of painting. And to learn more and gain more knowledge, I would spend most of my time with older people or with people, who could guide me, help me improve and provide more knowledge for my growth. And during my trial and error of external learnings, somebody asked me a question ‘Who are you? Your name has been given to you by your parents, but as a person and as someone who is experiencing world through a varying lens, Who Are You?’ and that stuck with me throughout. And then when I started to create my own self or my experiences it came out as abstraction and thus, began my journey as an abstract painter. 

 

What are the challenges that you have faced and still face in the profession?

My gender and my faith have been the source of the challenges that I have faced, and this is very unfortunate. I have never been taught to discriminate, but that doesn’t mean that I haven’t been discriminated against. A lot of people have asked me wrong favours because I am a woman and that does affect my approaches and even the numbers of offers I am made. I haven’t sold any painting yet, but I have done many commercial works like murals or portraits, etc.  Currently, the market itself is in an all time low, and it is tough out there.

Right now I am pursuing Masters in Fine Arts in Mumbai University, and am also working. This does get tough. The life here is too fast and is still trying to cope up with the pace. And in the past month I had to get a surgery done for my elder brother and his son who were both suffering from brain haemorrhage and nerve damage. Since my time was distributed everywhere, I couldn’t gather enough money through my work so I even had to ask from strangers for money in the form of donation.  

Things are better now and I hope the conditions will improve. 

 

Have you tried selling your art online?

No, not yet. I do not trust the marketers online and neither am I aware much. So, I haven’t tried that platform.

 

Tell me about any of your work.

When I first moved to Mumbai, it was the peak of monsoon and I was stranded in heavy rains. During the time, all I could notice was the kai (algae) on the tall buildings of the city. They had accumulated, over perhaps years or months at various buildings and that was astonishing to me. And that was my first painting that I made when I first got to Mumbai. The kai gave me a weird sense of the place, and that is what I put on my canvas, in abstraction. 

 

Which Artist has been your inspiration? 

While studying, I have been fascinated by the story and growth of Artist M.F Husain. I think a bit of his influence has been a part of my journey as a student. But I personally believe that one must know about the others, but never follow them. As artists or as creators we must know ourselves and move as and how we want to.

 

Where do you see yourself heading, in the future?

I want to find myself, have varying experiences and bring them out on the canvas. I have this innate desire to create my own identity as an artist. Post my Masters, I would like to represent my beliefs and my good and bad days on the paper and hopefully everyone will appreciate how far I have come. 

 

 

 

Book Review – Abraham Eraly’s Gem in the Lotus

Abraham Eraly, noted author and historian, first began his history of the Indian subcontinent in 2000. The first book, Gem in the Lotus, begins in pre-Vedic India and ends with the Mauryan Empire. By all accounts, Gem in the Lotus is your typical history book. A plethora of information bundled together from fragments of Proto-Indo-History and a mix of reliable sources from later time; the book is a hefty tome, to say the least.

An Unusual Poetic History of Ancient India

The history of the Indian subcontinent is a puzzling, muddled affair. A quagmire of half-understood facts largely interpreted through the eyes of the many foreigners who have visited it through millennia. Even now, the country’s history is pursued further and further into the past with conclusive evidence stretching back at least six thousand years. But despite being contemporaneous with the Egyptians, the Mesopotamians, even the Greeks, knowledge of Indian history is only partially complete. Since written history is largely missing from Ancient India, the works of foreigners who visited Ancient India like Megasthenes, Scylax, and Fa Hsien (Faxian) are important to our understanding of our past.

Efforts to map and catalogue the history of India has been a constant endeavour. Partly successful, largely unsuccessful, this effort has nevertheless created a somewhat loose picture of our past. It is fragmented in many places, but quite focused in others. This fragmentation is a huge problem when it comes to history. People lose interest in such a history. But efforts have been made over the last few decades to reconstruct a history of India that is coherent and can be understood.

Gem in the Lotus is one such reconstruction. Here, Abraham Eraly has taken the help of the various travelers who had visited and written about the country and compiled their stories into one veritable whole thus presenting a very respectable, and largely complete ancient history of the subcontinent. Where the book shines is in its accessibility. There are no footnotes. All the information (or history) that the reader will enjoy, or seek, is placed in the text itself. There is a substantial bibliography that will help academic folk or readers who want to inquire further.

Following its somewhat biblical opening line, Eraly plunges deep into India’s geological history, rushing hurriedly through the glacial movement of the tectonic plates, establishing India’s geography while also referring to the origins of the island of Mauritius. Eraly also talks about the imaginative cosmographies of Ancient Indians (where Mount Meru is shown to be the Earth’s Axis) and then moves on to use scientific data to present the modern depiction of India’s geography more accurately. Here, the narrative focuses on early man and his rise towards civilization. Methodical in his approach, Eraly sometimes deviates in such instances from a straightforward telling of history to a more speculative, almost lyrical, storytelling of history.

Now, that the narrative is firmly established in the book, and India has been fully formed, Eraly takes on each aspect of the subcontinent’s history that was available to him and depicts their story. He doesn’t shy away from criticizing those who did not show regard for history, even commenting on Indians who (even now) didn’t care enough about their own history to preserve it, or even attempt it.

Eraly uses the Rig-Veda as an important argumentative tool to talk about the Aryan colonization of North India. But even in the Rig-Veda, the past is a forgotten memory because not even the Aryans remember what happened. The rise of Jainism and Buddhism proves such a challenge that even the most powerful gods of the Aryans, like Indra and Agni, later become lower entities against more powerful successors like Shiva and Vishnu.

Without a doubt, the most interesting section for the reader will be about Emperor Ashoka. Aptly named “The Forgotten Emperor,” it covers brilliantly the career of one of India’s most renowned Kings. Although well-known, Ashoka’s reign isn’t as exciting to read about now, after so much of his life has been unearthed. But Eraly is largely unapologetic and dedicated in his depiction of the Emperor, never swaying or becoming emotional even when stating that Ashoka “killed ninety-nine of his brother, sparing only Vitasoka, who later retired to a religious life, perhaps as the best way to save his head,” though he does maintain that, in all fairness, this information may have been a fanciful exaggeration presented in Buddhist texts. Unlike mythical accounts of Ashoka’s conversion to Buddhism following the Kalinga War, Eraly presents a more relatable Ashoka who converted to another religion to find answers to the questions within. The Kalinga War did impact Ashoka, but he was already a Buddhist when the war happened; the War simply instilled in him the resolve to never wage any more wars.

On the subject of Greek Travelers who wrote about India, Eraly is largely appreciative of their efforts. Greek travelers like Megasthenes are revered for their contributions to our understanding of Indian history, but equally teased for their fanciful picturization of the land as seen through their eyes. Eraly doesn’t rely solely on the work of historians to create a picture of India. He even takes the help of varied literature from the hymns of Rig-Veda to the plays of Vishakhadatta. The book is littered with the poetry and songs of such works.

One of the highlights of the book is the Incidental Data. At the end of the book, there is a small section of “incidental” information that the author came across during research, and was not made part of the book due to its anecdotal nature. Among these incidental facts, the reader will find many tidbits of information like the fact that the word ‘Om!’ may have been originally nothing more than a spoken word that meant approval; or that the Buddha believed that birth does not make a brahmin, effort does, self-restraint does, and so does temperament.

The book does suffer occasionally due to Eraly’s extensive use of vocabulary. Leisurely readers will definitely find the 600-page tome daunting, even more so considering that it only covers Indian history till the Mauryan Empire. Eraly writes fluidly, never losing the reader’s attention, but some passages, where his fluidity is strained, require a second read. Thankfully, in the overall scheme of things, it is a minor inconvenience. Gem in the Lotus has stood the test of time so far. It is still an excellent book with which one can introduce oneself to the larger nuances of Indian history with ease.