Himanjali Sankar’s Talking of Muskaan is a must read for parents

The recent events around the death of a young actor have brought to the limelight the stigma around mental health. It is important to start conversations around this to understand each other’s well-being. It is also imperative to acknowledge how society’s own rigid ideas around class, caste, gender and success can mar an individual’s mental state. To begin a conversation, we should also work toward creating equal spaces for everyone.

June is Pride Month and mental health issues around the LGBTQIA+ community must also be heard and voiced. Talking of Muskaan is an insightful YA novel that explores the issue of bullying and homosexuality in high school. In doing so, it also speaks about class, an entitlement that comes with class, the need for better support systems for students to understand and gauge their identities.

The novel begins with Muskaan’s best friends Aaliya, Rashika, Srinjini, Divya and Subhojoy being summoned by their school Principal. They are informed that Muskaan had attempted suicide and was hospitalized. The Principal tries to understand through them, about what could have been troubling Muskaan.

The story then reels back to five months earlier to flesh out the characters of Aaliya, Subhojoy and Prateek, along with unfolding the events that led to Muskaan’s suicide attempt. The rest of the novel is only seen through these three characters. The reader does not hear Muskaan’s viewpoint. The reader only hears about Muskaan and her thoughts through these characters. Aaliya and Muskaan are good friends. Prateek is a rich kid with a rich father who liked Muskaan but she rejected him. Prateek later gets put off by her quiet nature.

Subhojoy is on the opposite end of the class spectrum. He lives in a congested place and knows that studying hard is the only way to make his dreams come true. He wants to come out first in his studies but somehow Muskaan beats him to it by a few marks. They then become friends hoping to learn from each other.  This also helps them to know each other’s circumstances better: Muskaan not being attracted to the opposite gender or Subhojoy feeling out of place because of his class.

Muskaan is mocked at for being friends with Subhojoy simply because he does not come from a well to do family. She is ridiculed for having rejected Prateek, who is wealthy and considered cool in the school. Word slowly gets around about possible rumours about her sexuality.

As we know, teenagers and kids can be vicious to each other when they do not conform. Being in love only equals to heterosexuality is the only thing peddled as being normal, which instantly makes everyone label Muskaan a ‘weirdo’ for liking girls instead of boys.

School can be tough and a hell-hole for those who are misfits, who do not seem to follow the normal.

Talking of Muskaan is a sensitive story that showcases the pitfalls of majority thinking where only one kind of behaviour is deemed correct. The novel also portrays how school children themselves are directly and indirectly taught gender and sexuality norms whether it is through the depiction of the girls shaving their body hair and making a ritual out of that or Prateek’s very Bollywood like thinking that a girl’s ‘no’ can be turned into a ‘yes.’

Through the juxtaposition of Subhojoy and Prateek, Sankar has also shown ideas of privilege prevalent in India. Subhojoy believes in the middle-class dream of working hard to become successful, whereas Prateek uses his wealth as a means to success which he thinks is his birthright.

Though Talking of Muskaan is a YA novel, it is one to be read by both parents and teenagers. Parents can reflect on how their own prejudices and attitudes can creep into a child’s point of view. For example, Prateek’s father’s entitled views seep into Prateek in the novel. It is an excellent way for parents to learn to be sensitive to the workings of a child’s mind. Lastly, the novel paves the way for sensitizing adults and children towards issues of homosexuality and its decriminalization in India. It is only when we engage in conversations, can we hope to create equal spaces where people are not burdened by the thought of being ostracized for who they like and are not mocked or bullied so much so that they contemplate or even attempt suicide.

Buy the book.

Here is a list of other books you can read this Pride Month

Here is another YA book recommendation for you.

Video: BookSpeak Series by Jeevanayagi – Teresa’s Man and Other Stories from Goa (Konkani Literature)

Sahitya Akademi-awardee Damodar Mauzo is one of the most prominent figures in contemporary Konkani literature. We discuss his book Teresa’s Man and Other Stories from Goa in this episode of BookSpeak. For more such videos on Indian literature and books, subscribe to our YouTube channel and our website.

TheSeer’s BookSpeak

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Ishqiyapa-To-Hell-with-Love-TheSeer-Book-Review

Pankaj Dubey’s ‘Ishqiyapa – To Hell with Love’ Succeeds from Cover to Cover as a Commercial Fiction

The story pulls you in with a make-out-gone-wrong scene between two lovers. Then, it cuts to flashback to set the context of the opening scene. This context with all its characters of different shades, political rivalry, an underdog boy, a privileged but unhappy girl, and a faithful henchman creates a story of love and deceit interchanging places throughout the book Ishqiyapa -To Hell with Love. The book has been published by Penguin Metro Reads.

The premise is familiar and to a certain extent cliched. The kingpin of Bihar converts to a politician and has a few secrets under his belly. His daughter, Sweety is a free soul who wants to go out and explore the world. The protective father is not ready to let go of his daughter. Enters Lallan, an ambitious young man in love with Philip Kotler who aspires to become a successful entrepreneur in the mould of Ambani after completing his MBA course. Lallan is the variable who changes the trajectory of every character in the story and soon we find ourselves in the world of uncertainties. The thrill of this uncertainty reaches a crescendo towards the end of the book.

The author through his characters also displays his passion for the Hindi film industry. This becomes a double-edged sword for the book as you will be able to recall many moments from various movies while reading this book. Whether it works for the book or not, is for the readers to decide. If you are a reader who enjoys such references, you are going to enjoy this breezy read filled with typical Bollywood twists and turns.

Whether it is the caste rigidity in marriages or the notoriety of criminal politicians, Pankaj gets clear and clever references in the book. There are interesting episodes which tell you more about the time when kidnapping had become an industry in the state with the involvement of top politicians and mafia. Irrespective of these plot-crutches, the author has been successful in not turning it into a depressing tale of criminals and their crimes. Love stands as the backbone of the story and everything else happens to be accentuating the spirit of love. The author surprises you occasionally with his attention to details. What he chooses to tell and what he leaves to imagination give you hints aplenty that this book was written with the motion-picture adaptation in mind.

In retrospect, I believe this book lost an opportunity to dig deeper into Bihar and bring out the sides that are otherwise left unexplored in the hunt for a pop-fiction. Readers and movie-goers are already jaded with all the stereotyping and negativity around Bihar. So, when an author belonging to the state comes out to tell us a story from there, it is only fair to expect a little more than what the lazy Bollywood has done enough of, thanks to its prejudices and ignorance about the region and its people.

The genre this books falls in is known as Commercial Fiction. Books in this genre are high on mass appeal and are targeted at the average reader who is looking for a light read to spend a few hours in books that are easy on language and high on entertainment. On that front, Ishqiyapa – To Hell with Love succeeds, from cover to cover. Pankaj Dubey weaves a fast paced tale with no room for the ‘boring’ literary stuff the average reader runs away from.

Buy the book here.

Beat the Noise of Negativity, Plug Into These Happy Books to Stay Motivated

“Your book is dispatched and would be delivered soon. Happy Reading!” would read an automated mail from the E-commerce company when you order a book. “Happy Reading” says the cashier at the book store, the librarian, even the book marks. You pick up the book; you are intrigued, puzzled, sad, angry or frustrated but happy. When I say happy, I mean the story takes you into a free, lighter world, away from the vicissitudes of life for a while, leaving a smile at the end of it. How about a few reads that to pick before going to bed that calm your mind and take you away from the constant blue light of your mobile/laptop screen while you are gorging on the latest comedy clips on YouTube in a constant effort to keep away the day’s blues? Here are a few recommendations to keep you happy and motivated.

Ruskin Bond-The Room on the Roof
The Room on the Roof | Ruskin Bond

ROOM ON THE ROOF | RUSKIN BOND

The novel takes you in the world of four adolescent friends and their adventures. Set up in a hilly Indian town, the story is all about friendship, love, and longing. Written in simple language, it’s an apt read for young adults; but it would do no harm to grownups if they read it. It would certainly make you nostalgic and chuckle up at times. Just a note: Ruskin Bond’s most of the books have mountains as the backdrop and human emotions as the front runner effortlessly weaved in words. You can pick up any of his books with a blend of nature, friends, kids, adventure and I bet you won’t be disappointed.

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ZEN PENCILS- DREAM THE IMPOSSIBLE DREAM | GAVIN AUNG THAN
ZEN PENCILS- DREAM THE IMPOSSIBLE DREAM | GAVIN AUNG THAN

Zen pencils – Dream the impossible Dream | Gavin Aung Than

Pick it up for the gush of sunshine and motivation. It has inspirational quotes from popular personalities beautifully illustrated in the form of stories. The graphics stay with you even when you tend to forget the words. This book is second part of Zen Pencil blog series. If you finish the book too quickly and demand for more, visit the blog www.zenpencils.com to dive more into the world of graphical stories.

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THREE THOUSAND STITCHES | SUDHA MURTHY
THREE THOUSAND STITCHES | SUDHA MURTHY


THREE THOUSAND STITCHES | SUDHA MURTHY

As the tag line of the book says, “Ordinary People and Extraordinary Lives”, the book is a collection of author’s personal experience around people she comes across and how they inspire her to be happy and contended in what life has to offer while we all are working to make it better every day. The stories are diversified from her experience of being the only girl in the engineering college, travelling to various countries to wondering about the fruits and vegetables grown in kitchen garden and their origin. The stories inspire, surprise, teach, and leave you with many experiences.

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GOODNIGHT STORIES FOR REBEL GIRLS | ELENA FAVILLI & FRANCESCA CAVELLO
GOODNIGHT STORIES FOR REBEL GIRLS | ELENA FAVILLI & FRANCESCA CAVELLO

Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls | Elena Favilli & Francesca Cavello

The book has 100 motivational stories about the women around the globe who made a significant impact in society fighting against all the odds- the stories of girls who wanted to be swimmer, scientist, or social activists when the society had defined boundaries for them. The title though says that the stories are for rebel girls but I would say it should be read by all irrespective of gender to break out from anything that stops them, as the first page of the book reads- “Dream bigger, Aim higher, Fight harder And when in doubt, remember you are right.” Not just the stories but you would also be taken by the colorful picture illustration of the women in stories.

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LOOKING FOR MISS SARGAM | SHUBHA MUDGAL
LOOKING FOR MISS SARGAM | SHUBHA MUDGAL

Looking for Miss Sargam | Shubha Mudgal

Shubha Mudgal, a renowned singer turns first time writer with this book which she calls is a collection of stories of music and misadventure. The book is a general read for anyone, does not necessarily have to be from music background. It introduces you to the music world without being too technical. The stories are full of fun and frolic halting occasionally to speak about the hypocrisy, rivalries, and eccentricities of the music world. Overall, the book is a pleasant read. 

Buy the book.

Cover Image: Jill Wellington

TheSeer-LGBTQ-BookList_indian-Authors

Video: Five LGBTQ Books to Read by Indian Authors This Pride Month

June is celebrated as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer Pride Month to honor the 1969 Stonewall Uprising Movement. We bring to a suggestion list of five books around and about LGBTQ lives to read by Indian authors. For more such videos, please subscribe to the YouTube channel.

To show your support, you can also take part in the #21DaysAllyChallenge being run by Pride Circle.

Music: Bleach
Musician: anatu
URL: https://icons8.com/music/

Christopher Hitchens, Photograph by John Dempsie, c. 1978

Hitch 22, Christopher Hitchens, and the Art of Exhausting the Limits of the Possible

The ability to change opinions in the face of new facts is a dying skill. I do not know many people who would readily examine a fact or development and let it affect their stance on the matter at hand or political predilections they have been holding sacrosanct so far. In most cases, the opposite is true! The hardened ideological preferences are used to explain changing circumstances and the boat of life remains anchored on the banks of safe hypocrisy. In fact, this is how ideological fanaticism survives and breeds. When it is fed with the potion of power, it metamorphoses into the monster of totalitarianism. When the other boats that sailed to challenge themselves in thoughts and through actions return, there is no place left for them in the depraved lands.

If you want to visualize this more lucidly, imagine the ideologue or the intellectual you adore and follow as the head of your community, captain of your sports team, or the executive head of your country. Now, from their existing body of work, try to deduce what these people would allow and disallow once they are in such positions. This will define the limits of your liberty under them.

If you want an example, please refer to the recently released 7 point guideline from the “leading economists, intellectuals, and activists.” 7.1 gives ample sense of what such groups are capable of doing if they are given executive powers. Although, after a severe backlash from the netizens, the group had to completely replace the point but not before getting their lack of seriousness about the issue entirely exposed.

 

 

In the foreword to his book, Hitch 22, Christopher Hitchens quotes Pindar Pythion III – “Do not aspire to immortal life but exhaust the limits of the possible.” By the time he wrote down the foreword, Hitchens had already been diagnosed with oesophageal cancer. So in retrospect, when you look at his work after the diagnosis, you realize how earnestly he took to that utterance. Till the last days of his life, even though he seemed to have lost much of his muscles, he did not part with his astuteness and sense of humour that run through the chapters of his memoir – Hitch 22. Hitchens stood true to Pindar’s tenet and in many ways exhausted more than the limits of the possible.

Hitch 22 begins with a heartfelt chapter on Yvonne – Hitchens’ mother. This and the chapter on his father – Commander, are two of my favourite chapters in the book. In describing his childhood years, the role of his mother in his life, and the personality sketch of his father, he triumphs as a writer who has taken upon himself the daunting task of writing about his parents. He does not judge either of his parents and gives us a glimpse rife with emotions and delectable prose into his formative years. The fact that he never published any fiction, will remain a lamentable loss for the genre.

Hitchens was a brilliant storyteller and the book contains stories from around the world – the jocular ones as well as the grave tales of human suffering. He takes the reader on a ride through some of the major political developments of his time across the globe. The Vietnam war, Salazar’s regime in Portugal, expedition to Cuba as a young leftist a few months after Guevara’s demise, the Gulf wars, the 9/11 attack, Saddam Hussein’s fall, American war in Afghanistan, and the question of Anti-Semitism – Hitchens speaks about all of them, never hiding his opinions or the side he took.

In many of these narrations, even though he identifies himself as a Trotskyist, he keeps noticing the doublespeak of the Left or the waning of the ideology itself.

As 1968 began to ebb into 1969, however, and as “anticlimax” began to become a real word in my lexicon, another term began to obtrude itself. People began to intone the words “The Personal Is Political.” At the instant I first heard this deadly expression, I knew as one does from the utterance of any sinister bullshit that it was – cliche is arguably forgivable here – very bad news. From now on, it would be enough to be a member of a sex or gender, or epidermal subdivision, or even erotic “preference,” to qualify as a revolutionary. In order to begin a speech or to ask a question from the floor, all that would be necessary by way of preface would be the words: “Speaking as a . . .” Then could follow any self-loving description. I will have to say this much for the old “hard” Left: we earned our claim to speak and intervene by right of experience and sacrifice and work. It would never have done for any of us to stand up and say that our sex or sexuality or pigmentation or disability were qualifications in themselves. There are many ways of dating the moment when the Left lost or – I would prefer to say – discarded its moral advantage, but this was the first time that I was to see the sellout conducted so cheaply.”

Hitch-22: A Memoir, Christopher Hitchens

 

In the chapter ‘Mesopotamia from Both Sides’, Hitchens gives a detailed account of events that turned him into an Iraq war supporter from his previous anti-war stands. This was also the time when most of the Left was positing against the war and naturally attacked Hitchens for his views. The chapter ends with an affecting account of a young man named Mark Jennings Daily who was inspired by the writings of Christopher Hitchens on the moral cause for the Iraq war and had signed up as a soldier for the war. All these are towards the end of the book, including his fallout with Noam Chomsky whom he found to be on the opposite side about the American response to the September 11 terrorist attacks.

So much of our life is lived beyond the commonly used crutches of left-wing and the right-wing that an honestly-lived life will have to fly without any wings many times. Individual honesty offends the group-think and Hitchens’ life is a true testimony before us. His was the boat that was not meant to anchor on fanaticism in the garb of unflinching loyalty to the ideology. Christopher Hitchens greatly admired George Orwell and you will read Orwell finding a place in the book at several instances. It is not surprising then to see Hitchens questioning his own opinions and re-examining them many times over in his one lifetime. Quite naturally, Hitch-22 stands as an intellectually honest work that must feature in the ‘Read’ list of any serious reader of world politics.

You can purchase the book here.

 

The House That Spoke by Zuni Chopra Is Different From Your Usual YA Fantasy Novel


Imagine living in a house as old as time, with a living and breathing library at your disposal, an ornate fireplace, and an armchair to sit back for hours and read. No, I am not talking about the library from Beauty and the Beast. But yes, this could easily be a dream for all book lovers, especially when cooped up indoors during the pandemic. Who would not want a beautiful house where you could while away hours on an end, as time passes slowly by?

Soon to turn 15, Zoon Razdan, luckily has exactly that in Zuni Chopra’s YA novel, The House That Spoke. She lives with her mother, Shanti, in Srinagar in their ancestral house. Her grandma lives close by, down the street. Zoon loves her home. Her favourite place in the house is the library where she loves spending her mornings and having some noon chai. Thus, when one day Zoon finds a realtor, Mr. Qureishi in her house, all hell breaks loose and strains her relationship with her mother. Zoon then embarks on an adventure to stop her mother from selling the house. To help out, she has a bunch of curious and unlikely friends along with her shy and newly found friend, Altaf. Altaf is Shanti’s friend, Lameeya’s son.

The House That Spoke is suffused with a fairy tale atmosphere that is a cross between Beauty and the Beast and the Chronicles of Narnia because her own historic house is a portal to both adventure and danger. Despite this magical element, Zoon’s adventures and life are tangled with the dangers that anyone living in Srinagar might face from acts of terrorism to government and army excesses. Chopra portrays the ‘normal’ in Kashmir through Zoon’s eyes: from stray shooting to a bomb blast. The fact that even a 15 year old knows how to navigate through this terror and thinks of it every time she crosses the street to see her grandma, her tathi, manifests the way in which the state has been paralysed with violence and how successive governments have failed it. Hence, the magic evoked in The House That Spoke is fraught with the realities of everyday life, of the darkness that engulfs the state and how Zoon, in trying to save her house, must also save her home from this inexplicable darkness.

This makes The House That Spoke different from your usual YA fantasy novel. It is one that allows teenagers to not just read a fast paced, fun adventure tale but also learn about the different facets of Kashmir: from its syncretic culture to its beauty of passing seasons. The fact that a 15 year old girl is the protagonist makes the story even more delightful. For a change, it is not a male protagonist venturing out to save the world.

Zuni Chopra’s prose is rich and evocative, perfectly mirroring Zoon’s opulent house and her surreal natural surroundings. Each sentence is laden with beautiful and layered descriptions that bring Zoon’s house and Kashmir alive in the minds of the readers. Zuni’s writing makes the novel superbly visual and lets our imagination paint vivid pictures from her words.

The House That Spoke is a great novel to get the kids to read after the usual TV and internet simulations reach a saturation point. The novel can also pave the way to start conversations with youngsters about Kashmir and its condition, particularly given that it is always in the news. Also, you get to support some homegrown YA genre novels that are only now getting the praise and support they need. Cheers to that, always!

You can buy this book here.

Young Reviewer Contest for Children Runner-Up Review-The Racketeer

The Racketeer by John Grisham – Winner for the Young Reviewer Contest for Children

Published in October of 2012, The Racketeer was one of the best-selling books of that year. It was written by John Grisham who is best known for his popular legal thrillers.

The Racketeer is my first John Grisham novel and I choose to review this book because I have always been a fan of the genre crime fiction and one day plan to be a lawyer, John Grisham seemed like a good choice because he brought them both together. The Racketeer is said to be one of his best books.

The story is about a 43 year old small town lawyer Malcolm Bannister who is serving a ten-year sentence in prison. Everyone including his father and ex-wife believe he is guilty but he claims to have been set up by the FBI as the fall guy because he handled land deals for an anonymous client who was caught laundering money. Malcolm insists that he was an innocent bystander who got caught up in this scheme and was wrongfully implicated and imprisoned. He loses all hope of being released, up until the time a Judge named Raymond Fawcett is murdered.

The FBI is tasked with investigating the murder but find themselves confounded and have no leads. Due to pressure from the media and government to apprehend the murderer they decide to hear Malcolm out who claims to know who killed the Federal judge and why. He proceeds to use this as his ticket to freedom and to get back at the FBI for putting him in jail in the first place. The rest of the book is about how Malcolm embarks on a journey of revenge.

I enjoyed the book because of the various plot twists that get thrown your way. Towards the end, the book takes an unexpected turn and surprises you which makes the middle of the book much more bearable. Had you asked me if I liked the book halfway in, I would have said no, mainly because unlike other books of its kind, here the killer is revealed midway and it leaves you wondering what the rest of the book is about. However, as the story progresses you understand that murder is not the central theme of the book and there are many ulterior motives and hidden agendas.

Another reason I enjoyed the book was because the details you consider insignificant, actually play an important role in developing the story. Connections between characters that initially slip your mind come alive later in the book.

As far as characters go, Malcolm Bannister is the lead and the whole story is narrated from his point of view. Initially you feel sympathetic towards him for being wrongfully convicted and think of him as a simple, sincere man who ended up behind bars due to his bad luck. As the story advances you realise there is more to him than meets the eye. You realise he is clever, disingenuous and deceitful. But in spite of all this you end up rooting for him.

Other characters in the book are just incidental to the story and are mere contributors Malcolm’s role. I say this because supporting characters like Malcolm’s girlfriend and partner in crime, quite literally have no distinct personalities.

The book is a roller-coaster of various scenarios and thoughts. The first half of the book you read with interest. The second half with confusion as to where the story is going and how the current plot is relevant to the story and the final half with amazement as to how trivial facts at the beginning of the book leave you astonished. I think this is what makes John Grisham the celebrated author that he is.

About the Reviewer: Aanchal Megan is a bubbling 14 year old studying in Vyasa International School, Bangalore. An avid reader, Aanchal also loves baking and art. When she isn’t sketching or reading, she loves spending time with her lazy hamster Chase.

Young Reviewer Contest for Children Runner-Up Review-The Little Prince

The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry – Runner-Up for the Young Reviewer Contest for Children

My 12-year-old mind often wages a silent war against scores of questions that relentlessly keep knocking on my heart. All the more now, when India is in the throes of a migrant exigency, infamously hailed as one of the nation’s biggest humanitarian crises. The magnitude of the migrants’ plight has been such that sometimes I have felt my heart cave in. Why does social inequality exist, why are the migrants undertaking the arduous journey of getting back to their roots even at the cost of their lives? The adults around me had no real answers. I was left wondering if children and their inquiries are burdensome for adults or if they fail to recollect that similar capricious ideas had once confounded them?

I found the answers where I was least expecting them to be – French author Antoine de Saint-Exupery’s memoir, ‘The Little Prince’, penned way back in 1943 during World War 2. The times then must have been as uncertain and bleak as now. Perhaps that is what makes it a timeless tale.

Interestingly, the book also tells us that grown-ups can certainly be strange! Right at the onset, the author implies that grown-ups fail to see the true meaning; they look at the surface and forget to probe further.

It begins when a technical snag forces an aviator to be marooned on the barren Sahara sands. To his astonishment, he meets a wee little boy. No one ordinary but the prince of another planet! The narrative unfolds as the little prince shares several encounters he has had over the course of his interplanetary journey – meeting a king who yearns for discipline but has no subjects; a conceited individual who seeks nothing but flattery; a drunkard who drinks to forget how ashamed he is of drinking; a businessman obsessed with meaningless numbers et al.

Their newfangled conduct both amuses and perturbs the little prince but what depresses him most is a rose garden. It reminds him of the enchanting, coquettish flower on his planet who had endlessly tormented him with her “demanding vanity” while claiming to be unique. Simultaneously vain and naïve, she confesses her love for the prince too late to persuade him to abandon his travel plans. Throughout the story, she occupies the prince’s thoughts. He then meets a fox who teaches him that “one can only see clearly with the heart, what is essential is invisible to the eye.” He asks him to look at the rose garden again. For, this time he will witness something new. He tells, “an ordinary passerby would think that my rose looked just like you….But in herself alone she is more important than all the hundreds of you other roses: because it is she that I have watered;…because it is she that I have listened to when she grumbled, or boasted, or even sometimes when she said nothing. Because she is my rose.” It is immensely gratifying to view how the prince “learns to love” as he realizes what makes the rose unique is not her physical appearance but what they have together. Perhaps the book conveys that we may detest several things in life but we must learn to love them.

In my opinion, the sole purpose of the narrative is to represent the various stages of human life. It acts as an allegory. Each word signifies something, carries power and meaning. One must pause to probe what the author endeavored to convey indirectly. For instance, in one of the intriguing statements, he says, “What makes the desert beautiful is that it might contain a well.” The way I perceive it, the author attempted to show that happiness can never be bereft of pain.

The book is remarkably poetic, every page like a verse, captivating the reader to observe bits that they would have otherwise missed. The ending albeit is slightly abrupt. The prince, yearning to return home, is bitten by a snake. He falls and his body vanishes —whether in death or on his way home we will never know. The prince and the narrator return to their respective planets, muddled in ambivalent feelings – wondering, loving, reminiscing.

The book is indisputably a page-turner. What makes the book unique is the fact that it offers innumerable perspectives. Each reader may view it contrastingly and perhaps the same reader may have a completely different take-away on re-reading the book. The least it does is bring out the child in each one of us and teach us the art of believing.

About the Reviewer: Asmi Ghosh is 12, was born in the US, but feels more at home in Hyderabad . Thanks to her mother, she started reading and writing while still in her diapers – and considers Agatha Christie, Newberry and Satyajit Ray amongst her favorites. Outside of reading and trying her hand at occasional writing, she loves sports, music, and Netflix, though not necessarily in that order.

சுரேஷ் பரதனின் ‘ஊர் நடுவே ஒரு வனதேவதை’ கவிதை தொகுப்பு – நூல் அறிமுகம்

நெடுஞ்சாலை எங்கும் நிறைந்திருக்கும் புங்கை மரம் போல்,  இந்த கவிதை தொகுப்பெங்கும் நிறைந்திருப்பது காதலே! நீங்கள் ஒரு நதிக்கரையினில் (ஒரு ஆறோடும் ஊரில்) வளர்ந்திருந்தாலோ  அல்லது ஒரு காதல் செய்திருந்தாலோ இந்த புத்தகம் ஒரு காலபுறாவாக மாறி உங்கள்  கடந்த காலத்தைப் பறித்து வந்து  உங்கள் உள்ளங்கையில் போட்டுவிட்டுப் போகும்.

மரவெட்டி ஒருவனைக் காதல் மணம்புரிந்து ஊருக்குள் குடியேறும் வனதேவதை ஒருத்தியின் காடு குறித்த நினைவுகளையும், அவள் காதல்கணவ‌னால் வெட்டப்படும் மரங்கள் நினைத்து அவள் கொள்ளும் பெருந்துயரத்தையும் ஒருங்கே பேசும் ஊர் ந‌டுவே ஒரு வனதேவதை‘ என்னும் கவிதை ந‌ம் சிந்தனைகளை அழப்படுத்தும். வாழ்வின் முரண்களுக்குள் சிக்குண்டு பரிதவிக்கும் உயிர்களின் மௌன கதறலை நம் செவி அடையச் செய்யும்.

பூவரச மரத்தோடு சேர்ந்தே வளரும் அவளுக்கும், அம்மரத்துக்கும் இடையிலான சிநேகம் பேசும் ‘அவளும் பூவரசும்‘ கவிதை, எனக்கு என் ஊஞ்சல் நாட்களை கண்முன் கொண்டு வந்தது.  ‘டெடி பியர்’ பொம்மை, ‘மைக்ரோ டிப்’ பென்சில் என எந்த பொருள் கேட்டு பிடிவாதம் பிடிப்பதானாலும் சரி ஊஞ்சலில் தான் படுத்துக்கொண்டு அழுவேன். ஊஞ்சல் மேல் ஏறி நின்று கொண்டு அதன் கம்பிகளை பிடித்தபடியே “தஞ்சாவூர்,  திருச்சி, மதுரை” என கூவியபடி, நான் நடத்துனராகும் போது அது பேருந்து ஆக உருமாறி எங்களோடு குதூகலிக்கும்.  துயில் நெருங்காத நீள் இரவுகளை நாங்கள் ஆடியே தீர்த்திருக்கிறோம். கம்பிகளிலிருந்து வரும் க்ரீச் ஒலியும், காற்றின் வேகமெழுப்பும்  ‘ஸ்’ ஒலியும் தான் எங்கள் பரிபாஷை. பலமுறை என் கண்ணீர் உலர்த்தி,  ஒரு தகப்பனை போல அயராது என்னை நெஞ்சில் சுமந்திருக்கிறது. திருமணத்திற்கு முந்திய ஒரு மழை நாளில் “சிநேகிதனே” பாடல் செவி நிரப்ப‌ அதி வேகமாக வெகு நேரம் ஆடிக்கொண்டிருந்தேன் அது தான் எங்கள் இருவருக்குமான கடைசி அன்பு பகிர்தல். அதன் பின் பல்வேறு காரணங்களுக்காகப் பரண் ஏற்றப்பட்ட ஊஞ்சல் இன்றுவரை  இறக்கப்படவில்லை.

ஒரே வெய்யில் தான், அது மனிதர்களுக்கு மனிதர், அவர்கள் செய்யும் பணிகளுக்கேற்ப, கையிருப்புக்கு தகுந்தாற் போல் எப்படி வண்ணமாகிறது என்பதை இயல் மனிதர்கள் மூலம் பேசும்  ‘வெய்யிலின் ருசி‘ என்னும் இக்கவிதை நடைமுறை தாகத்தைச் சொல்கிறது.

எனக்கு மிகப் பிடித்த கவிதைகளில் ஒன்று, ‘ஒரு பின் மதியத் தெரு‘. இந்த பின் மதியப்பொழுதுகள், வெயிலையும் நிசப்தங்களையும் கொண்டு தொடுக்கப்பட்டவை.  அதன் நிதானத்தை, சலனமற்ற மனங்களால் மின் விசிறியின் ஒலிக்கொண்டு அளக்க முடியும். அந்த மதிய பொழுதை யதார்த்தம் மாறாமல் கச்சிதமாய் கவிதைப்படுத்தியதோடு அதனுள்  சமூக சுரண்டலையும்  சேர்த்து முடித்தவிதம் அற்புதம்.

கிணறு இருந்திருந்த வீட்டில் வாழும் அல்லது வாழ்ந்த‌‌ மனிதர்களின் ஞாபகச்சாவி,  ‘தோட்டத்து கிணறு‘ என்னும் கவிதை. எங்கள் வீட்டின் பின்கட்டில் ஒரு கிணறு இருந்தது. ‘கிணற்றடி ஞாபகங்கள்’ என்று ஒரு கதையே எழுதும் அளவுக்கு அத்தனை நினைவுகள் உண்டு. சின்ன வயதில் கிணற்றுக்குள் எட்டிப் பார்த்து, தெரியும் முகங்களில் எது நம்முடையது என அசைந்து பார்த்து ஊர்ஜிதப்படுத்திக்கொள்வது எங்களுக்குப் பிடித்த விளையாட்டு. “நல்லா பாரு.. நீ அப்படியா இருக்க? அது உன் நிழல் இல்லை. பிசாசு. ராத்திரி தான் வெளிய வரும். ராத்திரி வெளியே வந்து கிணத்துமேட்டில் உட்கார்ந்துக்கும். இந்த பக்கம் யாராவது வந்தா பிடிச்சு தின்னுடும்”  என்று கதைகட்டிய லட்சுமி அக்காவின் குரல் இன்னும் காதுக்குள் ஒலிக்கிறது. அந்த கதையை நம்பி கிணற்றடியில் மறந்த‌, என் மரப்பாச்சியைத் திரும்ப எடுத்து வரப் பயந்துகொண்டு அப்படியே விட்டதோடு இல்லாமல் என் மரப்பாச்சியைப் பிசாசு தின்றுவிடும் என்று நினைத்து  இரவெல்லாம் அழுதிருக்கிறேன். நாம் இழந்த அற்புதமான விஷயங்களில் ஒன்று கிணறு. வீட்டில் மற்றுமொரு நபராய் இருந்த கிணற்றுக்கும் நமக்குமான நெருக்கத்தை, அதன் இழப்பை இதயம் கனக்கச் சொல்லிச் செல்கிறது இக்கவிதை.

என்றோ ஒரு நாள் நதிக்கரையில் தான் தொலைத்த‌ காதலை நினைத்து இன்றும் அந்நதியோடு மருகும்  மனதின் தேடல் சொல்லும் ‘நதிக் கரையில் தொலைத்த காதல்‘ என்னும் கவிதை காதலின் ஆழம் பேசும்.

ஓராயிரம் காலத்துத் தனிமை பெருந்துயரை, காதலின் சில நொடி மௌனம் உணர்த்திவிடும். அந்த மௌன பேரலையில் தத்தளிக்கும் மனப்படகின் கையறுநிலை சொல்கிறது ‘மௌனத்தின் இருண்மை‘ கவிதை.

காதல் தான் மையக்கரு என்றாலும் அதன் வெவ்வேறு வலிகளை, நெஞ்சில் நிரம்பி  வழியும் நினைவுகளை, நறுமணமாக மாற்றி நம் அறை நிரப்பும் அந்த யுக்தியில் உணரமுடியும் சுரேஷ் பரதனின் கவித்திறமையை.  யுகம்யுகமாய் சலனமற்று வீற்றிருக்கும் மலைகளைக் கூட ரசிக்கத் தூண்டும் வார்த்தை வல்லமை இவருடையது.

காதல் தாண்டி அரசியலை, பெண்களின் வலிகளை, சக மனிதர்களின் நிலையாமையைப் பேசும் யதார்த்த கவிதைகள், மகரந்தம் தேடும் வண்டு போல் நம் மனதோடு ரீங்காரமிடும். குறிப்பாக வாழ்வியல் நிதர்சனம் பேசும் ‘ப்ரைவசி‘ கவிதை நம் மனசாட்சியைப் பிரதிபலிக்கும். இந்த புத்தகத்தை நீங்கள் வாசிக்கும் போது இரண்டு விஷயம் நிச்சயம் நிகழும். ஒன்று, இந்த புத்தகத்தின், முதல் கவிதையின், இரண்டாவது வரியை வாசிக்கத் தொடங்கும் போதே, வாசிக்க உகந்த ஒரு இடம் தேடி உட்கார்ந்துகொள்வீர்கள். இரண்டு, இந்த புத்தகத்தை வாசித்து முடித்தவுடன் பெருமூச்சுடன் கூடிய ஓர் குறுநகை வந்து முகத்தோடு ஒட்டிக்கொள்ளும்.

 

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.

Hari Ghaas Ki Chappar Wali Jhopdi Aur Bauna Pahad – The Magic Realism of Vinod Kumar Shukla

We all have to face these uncertain times in differing degrees. Considering that the COVID-19 pandemic appears endless, we would all want to escape it at some point. Fantasy books are the surest way to escape the real and enter a completely new world. Magic realism is another genre that presents a unique blend where you are in the real world, yet experience the impossible or the magical.

To escape the uncertainty and anxiety, Vinod Kumar Shukla’s recent Hindi novel, Hari Ghaas Ki Chappar Wali Jhopdi Aur Bauna Pahad (published two years ago) is a must read. It takes the reader through a dreamlike ride of fun and adventure of the school children in a small village. Shukla weaves in fantasy to the realistic setting of a village in India, most possibly from his home state of Chhattisgarh.

This is why this novel can be considered as a shining example of fantasy and even magic realism.  The beginnings of magic realism are attributed to several Latin and South American writers such as Jorge Louis Borges, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Isabel Allende and Laura Esquival among others. It is a genre popular across the globe from Murakami to Toni Morrison. However, Indian writing has not fully embraced this genre with a few exceptions, notably that of Salman Rushdie.

Thus, when I bought this book because of its title and when I read it, I expected it to be a fun children’s novel. It was exactly that but the surprise was how subtly the author has mixed seemingly impossible things to the real life adventures of the three protagonists, Bolu, Bhaira, and Kuna. The school they go to is itself an example. It does not have the usual benches but instead the children sit on gunnysacks on the floor and the school’s thick walls have shelves or cubbyholes which are occupied by pigeons if not by the children’s bags and books. Eventually, even kids begin sitting in these shelves, first during their free time and later even during class. Imagine, trying to take your seat by climbing up ladders!

The titular green grass roofed hut is one of the centers of all their adventures. The hut’s origins itself seem mythic as no one has seen it being built and seems to have existed since times immemorial with an equally old couple inhabiting it. The moon rising behind it appears as if the hut itself births it, making the kids believe that from the top of the hut they could catch the moon and the rainbow. The titular mountain next to the hut is easy to climb and has a deep crater at the top, whose depths nobody can fathom.

The most impossible of all things is perhaps the teacher telling the students one fine day that the lesson of the day was no lesson and that to learn this lesson they have to spend a holiday! This is when the great adventure to find out the mysteries of the crater in the mountain begins. The kids plan to spend their holiday well by zipping down the large crater to explore it. This adventure also shows the quintessential childlike nature to get to the bottom of things (quite literally in this case) and their wonder about everything around them.

Enmeshed with this childlike wonder is the natural world from a variety of birds that even have the power to disappear to animals drinking from a pond near the temple. The adventures that the children have are linked to their natural surroundings. It creates a bond with the surrounding, evoking curiosity and excitement among the children of the story.

Shukla’s language is simple, yet creates beautiful vivid metaphors about the environment. The prose is mixed with poems and songs which again suffuse the story with feel of a bygone era. It is as if the entire novel was one big folktale. Shukla has created an outlandish world full of curiosities in this novel. It is a delight for both adults and children. Adults will be taken back to their childhood and perhaps be able to rekindle that same curiosity. Children will be taken away from their computer screens to the living, breathing, and the mesmerizing world of nature through this story.

If you loved Alice in Wonderland, then this novel is a must read. Shukla writes from his own deep connection to his surroundings and his strong belief that fantasy is a way of thinking common to all of us. If reading in Hindi is not your cup of tea, then the novel has also been translated in English by Satti Khanna. In English it is titled, Moonrise from the Green Grass Roof.

 

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.