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.

Buy the book.

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.

Buy the book.

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.

Buy the book.

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.

Buy the book.

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

Five Wonderful Collections of Famous Folktales from Around the World

When you are growing up, you’re misguided into thinking that fairy tales, or folktales, are for children. Only after you’ve grown up and sought these tales again in your adulthood that you realise what you’ve been missing. 

As you delve deeper into the folklore of India, you’ll start to see connections, narrative patterns, even themes. You’ll enjoy finding connections between stories from different ends of India. Our country is not as vast and multitudinous as we think it is. 

Such is the nature of stories. They evolve and spread in ways that defy thought and understanding. Only by broadening our thinking and theory can we find the answers to our past in these stories. When you read folktales from different cultures across the world, much like the stories from India, you’ll begin to notice patterns, repetitions, and cultural exchanges that will tell you how culturally bonded our ancestors used to be. Stories, folktales travel all over the world before they arrived in the form they are today. Here are 5 collections of world folktales that will make you long for simpler times.

The World’s Great Folktales, Retold by James R. Foster.

Over 170 folktales from all over the world are retold in this book with a special focus on the humorous tales that spring up in and around different cultures. Many of these tales have been translated into English for the very first time. These tales are entertaining and witty, funny, fantastical, and highly imaginative. Taken from a variety of sources, chiefly European but also Asian and African, these tales bridge the gap between lore and art. They are meant to be entertaining as well as instructive at all times.

Best-Loved Folktales of the World, Selected by Joanna Cole

Living up to the name it has given itself, this collection gathers famous classics that we are all familiar with. Classics such as “Snow White” and “Sleeping Beauty” are presented here with their counterparts in various cultures. The stories in this collection are arranged by geographical region and present tales of magic, mischief, adventure, humour involving a whole host of characters from damsels, witches, tricksters to grandmothers, fools, and evil stepmothers in all their glory. A must-read for anyone wishing to brush up on the stories they may have already enjoyed in their childhood.

A Harvest of World Folk Tales, Compiled by Milton Rugoff

This compilation strays between myth and folklore and; and simultaneously, between academic and accessible. There are several folktales from various parts of the world, but the book also includes trusted narratives from the epic world. While the fully grown academic might balk at the text, amateur folklorists will consider it to be a delightful stepping stone for field work. Since the focus is on readability and accessibility, the stories in this book can also be read out loud during gatherings or when putting children to bed. Illustrations by Joseph Low are a welcome addition to the book.(This book is now published under the title the Penguin Book of World Folk Tales)

Favorite Folktales from Around the World, Edited by Jane Yolen

When they put the word “Favorite” in the world, they mean it. Jane Yolen’s collection doesn’t include typical stories like “Hansel and Gretel” or other popular folktales that have entered the imagination of children, but these tales are enjoyable and meant for children and adults alike. The printing is definitely something worth talking about; it is designed with flair keeping in mind that the book’s purpose is to be attractive to children. Yolen has also added brief notes for each story at the end of the volume for anyone interested in the scholarly pursuits. (This book is part of the Pantheon Fairy Tale & Folklore Library book series, and includes famous folk and fairy tales from the other books in the collection.)

Folktales Told Around the World, Edited by Richard M. Dorson

Here at last we arrive at the peak collection in our list, the must-have book for anyone who wishes to get as close to the original lore and tales as possible with an English translation. In choosing the folktales for this collection, Dorson had one worry: how to represent the geographical areas and cultures of the globe in a single volume? To his credit, he may have largely succeeded. The beauty of the Oral tales present in this collection is that they aren’t your everyday fairy tales or folklore. Instead, they are actual narrations taken down on recorders and transcribed verbatim by folklorist, who are then handed the improbable task of translating the stories without losing their cultural ethos. It is a pleasure to read these stories as they are told by a storyteller, even if the language sometimes feels jaded in places. Along with the stories, there is a wealth of information present at the end of the book that deals with themes, motifs, and tale types of the folktales. A thorough classification of the tale is also included.(The book is part of the Folktales of the World series published by the University of Chicago Press)

Whether you want to read bedtime stories to your kids or study folklore in college or even just read folktales for your own enjoyment, the stories in the collections above have something for everyone.

Read about Indian folktales collections here .

Cover Image: S. Hermann & F. Richter

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/

Amphan-Kolkata-Trees-Uprooted

Super-Cyclone Amphan’s Trail of Destruction: Despatch from Kolkata

Our housing society was a battlefield that day. Our beloved Hercules was up against the fire-breathing Cacus. As per the legend Hercules was supposed to emerge victorious. He had stood the test of time; had been there since our birth, deeply rooted. Every morning his residents would sing beautiful songs to wake us up. He was our saviour, our friend, someone who never asked anything in return for his services. He was our hero in every sense!

Suddenly, the window panes crashed against something hard. Shattered glass was all over the floor. One branch of our beloved ‘Neem gaach’ (Neem tree) had smashed into our living room window. It was an ominous sign. To our horror, the giant tree lay uprooted. Cacus had won this time. Only that it was called – AMPHAN! Imagine an old family member, someone whom you have seen every day of your life since your birth passes away one day, all of a sudden, due to a fatal accident. We felt the same when our beloved Hercules lay felled as good (or bad) as dead!

Amphan unleashed its terror in the City of Joy that ill-fated afternoon. The city was already reeling under the pressure of rising COVID-19 cases, Amphan added to the ordeal. The super cyclone was slated to arrive in the afternoon and it did with precision. Thundering winds with rising speeds multiplied the uneasiness, every passing second. We were constantly checking our phones for live updates on the wind speed. The winds soon crossed the century mark, and another half century in a jiffy. By five in the evening the cyclone was at its harshest, taking away anything and everything that blocked its path. One could only hear (didn’t have the audacity to slide the windows and see) glass panes smashing here and there, trees being wrecked and temporary roofs flying like gigantic kites. Let alone a person like me in his early thirties, it was something unseen even by the older generations. Those few hours felt like a live terror attack with guns and explosives blazing outside and we, the common people hiding in our shelters praying for all of it to end.

There is an age-old tradition in Bengal where people blow conches and recite verses praising Goddess Kali in times of deep trouble. There is a strong belief that the Divine Mother will protect her children. That evening was no different. A series of conches blew and Women from every household produced the sacred ‘Ululudhvani’ as if asking the Goddess for mercy. Call it the power of prayer, the Super cyclone diminished into a thunderstorm by eight in the evening and into a nagging drizzle late into the night. We thought it was the end of the battle. However, it was just the beginning, there was more to come!

At around 10pm the power went off. We switched on our mobile phone lights to find the mobile network gone as well. So, we were there disconnected from the rest of the world plunged into darkness. That night we could sleep quite peacefully; the weather was cool and the wind had turned into a breeze. When the power did not restore in the morning, was when the real trouble started. With no power overnight, the water tank was empty. Rest need not be explained! Carrying heavy buckets of water from a community tube-well to the fourth floor of the building with no lift was a pain. Even more annoying was to stand in the long queues there maintaining social distancing. A few people made a business out of this as well. They filled the 20 litres mineral water jars with the underground water and started selling them at Rs. 100 (yes you read it right!) apiece. The days after a cyclone are generally hot and humid and this one was no different. It was a penance to sit in the hot tandoor that our apartment had become by the afternoon. With no retrieve in sight people were cursing their stars! The troubles compounded in the night. People shifted their base to the terrace for some respite and it did work. The mosquitoes had a feast that night; gallons of human blood at their disposal!  

The story went on for almost a week. There was hardly any cash left. The entire contingency cash usually kept aside by every family for such times was about to finish. There was no network for online payments and the cash machines (ATMs) were all out of order. However there was no problem in managing essentials as the local shop owners and vegetable vendors were co-operative. I realised the futility of online shopping and delivery apps that day. In times of trouble, the local shopkeeper and sabjiwallah comes to your rescue. The system was exposed like never before. It seemed the government did not care for its citizens or perhaps it cared but was just not capable enough to deal with the crisis. The electric supply company stopped responding to calls after giving umpteen false hopes. Every morning someone would say the power would be restored by the evening and in the evening, the next evening! Amidst all this we were unaware of the situation outside our housing society. Firstly, there was no Power so all modes of communication were long gone. Secondly, the lockdown; one could not look beyond the boundaries of one’s own home! Finally, after the combined effort of the people the power was restored on the ninth day. We breathed easy. The mobile network was still elusive, but the thought of running water in taps itself was a reliever!

After another two days the mobile and Television were buzzing again. It was then, that we realized the actual impact of Amphan. The plight of the Sunderbans dwarfed our troubles. The videos and images of people dying of hunger and diseases pricked our hearts. The number of destitute rose day by day. We learnt that The Honourable Prime Minister had visited Bengal and promised a hefty relief package as well. Many social organisations are working with the government to help the affected. Here I want to mention my friend Dr. Deb. He along with his team of volunteers visited coastal villages and areas around Sunderbans. They organised many relief camps distributing food, medicines and other essentials to the people. He is not alone in this venture. Many NGOs and other philanthropists have come forward in this time of calamity. The government is also working on rehabilitating the homeless and providing the relief. The pace is slow, given the pandemic engulfing the entire world right now!

Now after almost three weeks life is limping back to normal. However, Amphan has shown us some harsh realities of life, which we often tend to ignore. The only certainty about life is that it is uncertain. One moment you are building castles of happiness; the next moment a wave grief sweeps away all the sand. In the era of technology and automation, one should not forget the humane touch. We should remember technology is secondary, humanity is supreme!

Cover Image – A tree uprooted during heavy rain infront Tipu Sultan Masjid after the landfall of super cyclone ‘Amphan’, in Kolkata (Photo Credit: PTI)

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.

 

Fernando Pessoa-TheSeer

“I Have More Souls Than One” – On Portuguese Poet Fernando Pessoa’s Birthday

The Portuguese modernist poet, Fernando Pessoa, had not published many poetry collections during his lifetime (1888-1934). Though he wrote prolifically and was involved in literary ventures, several of his poems only came to light with the publication of The Book of Disquiet that brought together all his unpublished writings in one place. You might have seen the book crop up frequently in Amazon India recommendations as well. It has become quite popular in India too, similar to the fame that writers like Murakami and Marquez seem to enjoy among Indian readers.

Tiny and pastel green Penguin Moderns brought out a collection of Pessoa’s 29 poems, I Have More Souls Than One. For those daunted by the size of The Book of Disquiet, this mini collection is a good way to introduce yourself to Pessoa’s style of writing.

It is indeed his unique writing style that sheds light on his musings and philosophies of life. Pessoa wrote poetry not only under his own name but also under names of other personalities he created. Each personality appears to have a distinct style and personal history. The paths of different personalities even crisscross each other in Pessoa’s oeuvre. It then feels like an ultimate crossover of the many selves that Pessoa wrote about. This creation of various literary selves is known as heteronyms. Pessoa created almost close to 70 such heteronyms!

Heteronyms are not the same as a nom de plume or pseudonym. The latter is simply a name one adopts but a heteronym is adopting not just a name but a creating a completely separate personality.

I Have More Souls Than One focuses on three such heteronyms: Alberto Caeiro, Alvaro de Campos and Richard Reis. At the end of the collection, Pessoa speaks as himself. Caeiro’s poems are interlinked with nature and his existence and thoughts are inseparable from it. Whether it is describing his life’s impermanence as a bubble or the evenings as perpetually a brooding and melancholic time, Caeiro proclaims himself as ‘the only Nature poet.’

Richard Reis has a more Classical bent of mind, recalling in his poems Greek and Roman Gods to drive a metaphor. Alvaro de Campos, on the other hand, seems to be filled with the need to be everything yet nothing. He is more contradictory in his ideas and thoughts. Scholars have also noted the influence of Walt Whitman on Campos’ poetic style.

Campos’ most famous poem, Tobacconist’s begins with:

I am nothing.
Never shall be anything.
Cannot will to be anything.
This apart, I have in me all the dreams of the world.

These lines manifest the curious contradiction that Pessoa embodied in his work. His poetry asserts this idea that existence is nothingness or that there is nothing other than the self. Yet, this idea is opposite to how Pessoa expressed himself: through myriad personas or heteronyms.

As Adam Kirsch states, for all of Pessoa’s heteronyms “nullity was a muse.” This is not to say that Pessoa reveled in the nihilistic erasure of self. Instead, if one reads his work, they speak of nourishment of the self, of the need to care for it. For example, in Beyond the Bend in the Road, Pessoa exhorts us to think about only where we are, rather than chasing or worrying about what comes next.

The title of this Penguin Modern collection is derived from, ‘Legion Live in Us.‘ The poem contradicts the opening of Tobacconist’s as instead of being nothing, here the persona shows,

I have more souls than one.
There are more I’s than myself.
And still I exist

Indifferent to all.
I silence them: I speak.

In Legion Live in Us, Pessoa, through the persona of Reis, speaks of nothingness and also of multitudes existing side by side, “where thinking or feeling is.”

In the poems presented under Pessoa’s name in the Penguin Modern Collections, the poet speaks at length about an idealized love. This is again opposite to his actual life, where he only had one fleeting relationship. It is also a prevalent European subject among male poets since times immemorial. Pessoa’s other personalities speak of much more diverse viewpoints. Pessoa seeks to escape his usual, conditioned self through them. He plays with the idea that in multiplication can one find and understand oneself.

Perhaps for Pessoa, his self meant nothing other than the norm of multitudes. Self was not one, but many; or perhaps, it was his imagination or dreams as he puts it in Tobacconist’s that constituted his entire self. And through dreams, we can find one’s self. We can continue to ponder over such paradoxical prepositions. In doing so, we must also immerse and elicit our own understanding of our complicated self or selves.

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.

Video: TheSeer Interviews Anuradha Beniwal

Anuradha Beniwal is a prolific traveller. She has been travelling in India and has also covered a lot of European countries. In 2016, she authored her first book about her solo travel experiences in Europe. The book Aazadi Mera Brand, published by Rajkamal Prakashan was well received. She has been a national Chess champion and currently works as a chess coach in London. Bhumika Soni from TheSeer, spoke with her about books, travels, and life at large.

You can read the review of her book Aazadi Mera Brand here: https://theseer.in/for-indian-women-t… You can buy her book here: https://amzn.to/3dG5MBn

Music: Early Hours Musician: @iksonmusic

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.

Swami Narasimhananda

“The journal does not focus on circulation. It is perseverant in maintaining high quality,” Editor, Prabuddha Bharata

A monk of Ramakrishna Math and Ramakrishna Mission, Swami Narasimhananda is currently the editor of Prabuddha Bharata, an English monthly journal of the social sciences and the humanities, started in 1896 by Swami Vivekananda. He is a visiting faculty in the Department of Sociology at the Jadavpur University, Kolkata. He regularly speaks at institutes of national importance like the IITs and interacts with the youth in various fora. He works in the fields of philosophy, religious studies, Vedanta, and Ramakrishna-Vivekananda Studies. He has edited a volume of Swami Vivekananda’s teachings titled Vivekananda Reader. He writes in Sanskrit, English, Hindi, Bengali, Tamil, and Malayalam.

Prabuddha Bharata or Awakened India, was started in July, 1896 by Swami Vivekananda’s Chennai admirers. The journal has been serving as a meeting ground for science, spirituality, and philosophy since then. Read more about the journal here. As the journal enters its 125th year of publication, we had the pleasure of speaking with the editor.

 

We are stepping into the 125th year of Prabuddha Bharata in publication. How do you look at the journey so far and in what ways has the journal changed over the years?

Prabuddha Bharata has been mirroring the cultural, philosophical, and historical aspects of India keeping the spirit of the name Swami Vivekananda gave to the journal, Prabuddha Bharata or Awakened India. The most important thought currents of the country and their influence on the world have been analysed through the pages of this journal. The journal has kept pace with technology both in the final output and in how the editorial team works. The language has been always current and social issues have been commented upon. The core values of the journal remain the same as they were at the time of its inception.

Prabuddha Bharata March 1897 Front Cover
Prabuddha Bharata March 1897 Front Cover

Has there been any impact of the COVID-19 and lockdowns on the circulation or subscription for the journal? Since Advaita Ashrama already had the journal online, has it helped the publication avoid such hiccups?

The printing and the despatch of some numbers of the journal have been delayed. However, all issues have been uploaded to the Advaita Ashrama website on time. After the lockdown is over the pending issues will be printed and despatched.



The journal has had articles from some of the greatest thinkers of their time, including Swami Vivekananda himself, Sister Nivedita, Carl Jung, Romain Rolland, Sir Jadunath Sarkar, Dr. S. Radhakrishnan and others. Such names must have helped the journal create a benchmark for itself in the initial years. Do you see it that way?

Prabuddha Bharata has always carried great thinkers on its pages. This was not just in the initial years. We remember only the old thinkers because they are taught in history books! Even the current thinkers are published in the journal. The journal did not create a benchmark by publishing great thinkers in the initial years. The journal only publishes insights that are great. Many of the great thinkers became well known much after they were published in the journal.



The journal was in circulation for about 50-51 years of the British rule in India before we got our freedom. I have seen articles ranging from the spiritual development of individuals to economic development of Indian villages in the issues of those times. As such, one cannot help but wonder how the journal became a constant source of inspiration and strength for Indians. We have heard of Gandhiji being a regular subscriber and reader. 

Prabuddha Bharata has always been a platform for voicing innovative ideas and reflecting on ancient Indian heritage. This is done by engaging with the current global thought. Many ideas of social development were printed in the journal during the pre-1947 decades. The journal was never hesitant to question difficult issues of the country.

 

The journal starts with an invocation, a hymn from our scriptures with translation. That seems to have been a conscious design choice from the very beginning. Are there other elements in the journal that have been kept as they were envisaged by the founding editors and Swamiji himself? What parts have remained constant and what have changed?

Focusing on current issues of the country, engaging with various philosophical currents, critiquing various perspectives, presenting Vedantic ideas in a more accessible manner, presenting path-breaking scientific discoveries that intersect with spirituality are some of the themes that have remained constant. The layout of the journal and the language keep on changing with times.

Prabuddha Bharata March 1897 Back Cover
Prabuddha Bharata March 1897 Back Cover

 

Prabuddha Bharata has maintained the highest standards year after year. How do you balance the equation of circulation versus quality? Has the demand for such content diminished or has it only gone up?

The journal does not focus on circulation. It is perseverant in maintaining high quality. There are insightful readers and the online version has seen more and more readers.

 

How difficult it is to be the Editor of a journal that is revered as the gold standard in its domain around the world? What’s your work like? Please take us through a bit of your day as the Editor of Prabuddha Editor.

Unfortunately, the journal is not considered as the gold standard by some groups, who have an agenda to denigrate everything Indian. In spite of this, the journal has been considered an unavoidable read, even by such groups, right from its inception. My work as the editor of Prabuddha Bharata involves identifying writers and publications that are of high quality around the world. Rejecting substandard work by many highly-placed writers, many of whom plagiarise, is almost daily routine! Most of the articles are solicited. Asking publishers for books for review to be sent is another work. And much time goes in reading the latest in culture, philosophy, religion, history, and psychology.

 

What are you reading presently? Who are some of your favourite writers?

I am reading several books now. The life and teachings of Swami Shankarananda in Bengali, the work by Vedanta Desikan titled Paduka Sahasram in Sanskrit, Karman by Giorgio Agamben in English, Budhini by Sara Joseph in Malayalam, Kaval Kottam by S Venkatesan in Tamil, and the plays of Jaishankar Prasad in Hindi. My favourite writers are of course Swami Vivekananda, Sister Nivedita, Swami Ranganathananda, Swami Ashokananda, Fyodor Dostoevsky, James Joyce, Charles Dickens, Humayun Ahmed, Saratchandra Chattopadhyay, M T Vasudevan Nair, Anisuzzaman, Narendra Kohli, Kalki Krishnamurthy, and Kalidasa.

 

What advice would you give to writers who aspire to get published in Prabuddha Bharata?

Focus on an area of expertise and develop your knowledge and insights in that area, and write regularly. Post all your writings on the web and if you are really good, Prabuddha Bharata will reach you even before you send your writing to the journal!

 

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