The Circle of Karma Is a Moving Depiction of Individuality and Self Reflection From Bhutan

Kunzang Choden’s The Circle of Karma was the first English novel to be published in Bhutan by a woman.

Set in approximately, 1950s and 1960s Bhutan, the novel is written in a chronological order and narrated from a third person point of view. The protagonist in The Circle of Karma is Tsomo. The novel portrays the various events and experiences that Tsomo goes through in her life right from being a child in Tang Valley in Bumthang District in Bhutan to her old age in Thimphu, Bhutan’s capital city. The central theme of Tsomo’s journey and her self-development shows the importance of individuality and self-reflection as a way to always improve oneself.

The novel moves from giving a general glimpse of Bhutan’s cultural and social aspects from a child’s (Tsomo’s) perspective at the beginning to the more specific events of Tsomo’s life and journey.

Through her family, Tsomo learns several gender roles (doing household chores, gardening, and weaving, to name a few) and gender myths namely that of female suffering and endurance. From her father, she learns the cruel truth that girls, because of their gender, are not supposed to get educated and learn to read and write.

Tsomo suffers a terrible loss during her childhood and consequently, she runs away from her home to free herself from the restrictions of belonging and relationships. Her bold decision is a major turning point of the novel. It puts her on a bumpy path of severe trials and tribulations. However, those very trials also give her the independence to grow and stand on her own two feet. To sustain herself during her days of struggle, Tsomo becomes a road construction worker. The reconstruction of the Thimphu Dzong and the construction of the roads provide a sense of the setting, which is around the time when Bhutan had chosen to modernize and open up to the world, slowly but surely.

Tsomo meets many women sharing the same dreams and struggles. She finds a new sister in another fellow worker, Dechen Choki. She also embarks on many pilgrimages which broaden her way of thinking by giving her exposure to several other cultures and peoples. At the same time, these travels also force her to face a pressing conflict that has consumed her since she ran away: whether to have a ‘normal’ life (with a husband and children) and be a good wife and a good woman as her parents had taught her or to pursue a life of religion.

The next set of events takes her away from her religious desires at the end of which she learns how the patriarchal society has taught women to always have hatred and suspicion towards each other and not to hold the men accountable. She realizes that she must relearn everything that society has taught her about gender roles. This is the other major turning point that portrays an epiphany and self-realization on Tsomo’s part.

By tracing Tsomo’s growth from childhood to adulthood and finally old age, The Circle of Karma, can be called a female bildungsroman as it depicts both Tsomo’s physical and psychological journey. The story highlights girls’ experiences of the world and how from an early age itself, both boys and girls internalize gender roles and expectations. In making Tsomo, someone who has chosen to not be defined by relationships that burden a women’s identity, the author has deftly questioned those gender roles. She has depicted the conflict that Tsomo faces in wanting to fit in to society’s expectations from a woman, yet at the same time trying to carve her own identity.

The novel showcases female friendships and solidarity and how women can support each other in times of need and deed which is the exact opposite of the internalization of the predominant idea about women being enemies to each other.  

The other important themes are religion and the idea of karma. The latter permeates the story and is reflected in the title of the novel. The idea of karma is present in everyone’s thoughts. This religious concept is used to rationalize one’s fortunes or misfortunes, but karma as a journey is what stands out as Tsomo’s life comes to full circle at the end of the novel.

The Circle of Karma employs several nuanced interpretations of travel as a motif – be it in Tsomo’s actual physical journey, or her spiritual and mental growth, or in the abstract concept of karma itself which travels and walks together with you in the present and in the afterlife.

You can buy the book here.

Urvashi Bahuguna’s Terrarium Touches Upon the Momentary Motions of Everyday Life

Terrarium by Urvashi Bahuguna is her debut poetry collection published by The Great Indian Poetry Collective. Her verses possess a singular and almost unnerving style of unraveling the magical from within the everyday. Terrarium’s poems touch upon the momentary motions of everyday life. Those motions may seem ephemeral but leave an immeasurable mark on all of us. For instance, the first part of the collection portrays how Bahuguna’s childhood experiences especially of moving to and living in Goa, shaped her perspectives.

In doing so, Bahuguna, vividly depicts her surroundings such that they come alive and remain etched in our minds. In The Heart of a Mango, she conjures up a much followed and cherished summer tradition in many parts of India: of devouring mangoes of all kinds. She evokes the feeling of richness a mango brought to her family particularly to her father.

In Last Ride before the Monsoon, she forges a primordial connection with water and how a part of us is lost to its infiniteness:

Listening to the weeping on the water,
some piece of us is lost too.
And for being unknown it slips
silvertailed below the still boat.

The complete primitive and hence pristine aura of the poems is possible because she weaves in imagery of nature as we never imagined it before. She has an eye for the minutest detail and recreates it in extraordinarily surreal metaphors. This is best exemplified in the poem Waiting for Movement. It begins with a strikingly colourful description:

The laburnum is late
with its lightening yolk.
An abundance of mulberries
stains bowls.

Thereafter, the tiniest movements that paradoxically encapsulate stillness, are described. Through this, she creates an apprehension that something is about to happen, only to end it with an anti climactic shattering of that tense stillness with a much-needed breeze.

Bahuguna’s attention to the physical uniqueness and elements of the environment around her possibly comes from Miss Fatima’s Geography class where, as she says in her poem, Ms. Fatima she learnt, “to love this bruised and bumpy earth.” It was there in class she traced the country’s physical features and “know the map of India like people supposed we knew the cuts and flat moles on our hands.”

The second part of the collection talks of love, growing apart, and trying to come to terms with the end of a relationship.  Here too, metaphors of geography seep in along with her beautiful skill of turning anything mundane into magic. For example, sleeping next to her lover like a child drooling is described as:

My mouth leaves a trail of moon drool,
tooth whisked, quiet as sugar melting off the tongue.

Such ordinariness and profundity of her verses create an intimacy between the reader and the writer. The rest of the book also captures the author’s various viewpoints and experiences. Terrarium can be called a slant autobiography. However, it is also one that speaks as much about the author as about the world around us from the societal fears a girl is taught to the greater environmental problems haunting the world that are blithely ignored.

It absorbs so much of the invisible things we miss out because of how we dismiss it as ordinary. Yet, they are a pulsating world of their own. Perhaps this is why the collection is titled Terrarium. A terrarium is a miniature garden enclosed in a glass container. It is minuscule but nurtures so much. Similarly, it is the quotidian living of our lives and experiencing the beating of our emotions that nurtures us and leaves such a deep impact on who we are. The theme of Identity is explored, not overtly, but subtly in the poems by mingling the little invisible influences of people, places, news and societal mores.

Terrarium is the perfect cosy read on a rainy day. It allows you to lose yourself to the leafy monsoon foliage of the verses. The lines leave you contemplating your role, connection, and identity with yourself and the world around you.

You can buy the book here.

Abdullah Khan’s Debut Novel Patna Blues Is More Than Just a Political Statement

In India, we attach a plethora of stereotypes to one’s identity. Judging the person by his/her name, religion and home-state is a common practice. Some words like Bihari, Momdan, Chinky, Madrasi among others are used loosely and are often meant to be derogatory. Abdullah Khan in his debut novel Patna Blues traces the life of one such identity which is both a Bihari and a Muslim. The book talks about the desire, dreams, and destiny of a young boy Arif Khan based in Patna. Arif khan in his early 20s preparing to be an Indian Administration Officer, falls in love with a married Hindu woman much older than him. With so much to handle in a large family of three younger sisters and a brother, his miseries increase with this sweet distraction. He consistently finds himself at the crossroads- struggling to choose between his dreams and desire.

The book is a page turner with a lot of drama unfolding with each chapter, line by line. It is set up in early 80s spanning over 20 years against the backdrop of political events of the time. The political events are so intricately woven and meticulously placed in the story that for a moment you forget that it was a reality of a time- The times of VCR, PCOs, Mandal commission, fall of Babri Masjid, 1993 Mumbai attacks, Bihar’s Chara Ghotala, and many more.

The book does not sympathize with the struggles the identity brings him rather makes a strong point on what is and what ought to be. It smoothly ventures into the life of his family members and their aspirations. Many a time, it cuts open the wounds to show bare the prejudices of a majority of society towards a few. Arif’s father, a police officer in Patna is not handed over confidential documents just because of his religion despite his clean records. Younger brother, an aspiring actor faces mockery and rejection owing to his accent despite being talented. The family has to deal with the pressure of ill practices and beliefs of society like arranging dowry for his sisters. However, the author does not delve much into the lives of sisters and they are just to add more ‘blues’ to their life and story. Their portrayal is typical- with suppressed dreams and forced acceptance for their destiny- with everything culminating into marriage.

The book is not at all about making a political statement but shows the effort of a Muslim family to live a comfortable and respectful life despite all odds. Intermittently, the story line is showered with Urdu shayari and old Bollywood song lines which make it refreshing. The story written in simple words is entertaining. It also captures the popular places of Patna like Gandhi Maidan, Dak bunglow Square making it vivid and close to reality. This story of love, aspiration, failure, and grief travels places from Patna to the interiors of Bihar, to some of the metro cities and captures the sentiments of society about one’s identity.

Pick the book for a journey back in time, for a journey from expectations to reality, dreams to destiny, and above all from grief to hope. You can buy the book here.

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Tahmima Anam’s The Bones of Grace is a Haunting Tale of Incompleteness of Our Being

The Bones of Grace by Tahmima Anam carries a deeply profound sadness that is difficult to escape. It speaks of such absolute raw and bare emotions that it is hard to keep yourself distanced from it. The second person point of view used in the novel adds to this devastating feeling of the inescapable. The narrative pulls the reader deeper, forcing to confront some of the inevitable realities of human life.

One such reality that shapes the novel as well as human relationships is a sense that we are incomplete and we will not be able to overcome it. We just have to live with it.

As Elijah Strong says at the very start of the novel, “Loneliness is just part of being a person. We long for togetherness, for connection, and yet we’re trapped in our own bodies. We want to know the other fully, but we can’t. We can only stretch out our hands and reach.” This crushing truth permeates The Bones of Grace from the very beginning. Each character is endowed with different shades of incompleteness or a loneliness that haunts all human existence.

Elijah Strong is the character to whom the entire novel is addressed. Zubaida Haque is the narrator. She is from Bangladesh and is a paleontologist studying at Harvard University. Zubaida met Elijah because of a serendipitous coincidence at a concert at Sanders Theatre. Their conversation started on an odd note that is perhaps possible only among complete strangers. Zubaida, submerged in Shostakovich’s Symphony 5, recalls a vivid childhood memory she had suppressed and reveals to Elijah, the complete stranger, about her being adopted. This strange introduction led to the two getting to slowly know and understand each other.

Zubaida has a seemingly well planned life. She has supportive roommates in America. She is selected to go to Dera Bugti in Pakistan to dig out the fossils of the walking whale, Ambulocetus natans. She is betrothed to her childhood friend and sweetheart, Rashid. However, her world collapses when her dig comes to an abrupt end and she returns to Dhaka. She is tormented with the nagging thought that she has lost an opportunity to make a dent in the world.

Moreover, meeting Elijah makes her imagine infinite possibilities beyond the ones set for her in Dhaka. Despite her sense of unease with the world, Zubaida lets the events unfold as they were expected to in Dhaka.

The one dent Zubaida makes is when she volunteers to help a British researcher, Gabriela, record the precarious lives of the ship breakers at the ironically named, Prosperity Ship Breaking, in Chittagong.

The scenes at the ship breaking company further the total desolateness of the novel. It is this setting or point where all the strands of the novel come together: her life with Rashid, her love for Elijah and her need to know her true origins.

Beautifully interwoven is the metaphor of the walking whale and its ambivalent nature. The walking whale was a mammal living eons ago on land but turned to the sea, unlike all others who were beginning to migrate from sea to the land.

Zubaida associates herself with this ambivalence because she has also been thrown against the tide of the world. Just like she wants to unearth the mysteries of the walking whale, she wants to find the mysteries of her origins too. She wants to give her otherwise fragmented self a sense of tangible, unshakeable identity.

The Bones of Grace is a deeply moving novel that leaves you distraught because it makes you think about your own tenuous link with the past and the wider universe. It makes you feel small, but also provides courage to face an intransigent dichotomy of human life: of being connected to others through myriad identities yet being truly connected only to your own self and body.

Even though this book is the final installment of Tahmima Anam’s Bengal Trilogy, the novel can be read as a standalone. Characters from the previous two novels do come in but are on the margins. The story also portrays cities of Bangladesh, Dhaka and Chittagong, giving the reader a glimpse into the life of the privileged in this country.

If the movie, Lion, moved you with its raw treatment of fated identities, The Bones of Grace will make you similarly introspective and emotional.

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

Buy the book here.

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.

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.

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.

 

AazadiMeraBrand Book Cover

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cover Image - A writer writing on her laptop with books beside her.

How to Write a Book Review – Take Your First Steps

Some reviewers end up writing a book report while writing a book review. Some even don’t read the book before writing a book review (yes, it’s a scam!). Some write it to prove that they are Shakespeare incarnate and just one book away from churning out bestsellers like Stephen King.

Well, some reviewers just miss the point of reviewing a book. So, we are releasing a few-pointer guideline to write a book review that is nothing else but a Book Review. Let’s dig in.

There are two stages of writing a book review. One is written in your head while you are reading it and the second is written when you pick your pen or the writing device to actually write it down. So, we have divided our guide into two sections –

  • The Reading Part
  • The Writing Part

The Reading Part

  • Read the book. Yes, that’s the most essential part. If you review a book without reading or after partial reading of the book, you are being dishonest. If there were licenses for book reviewers, yours would be revoked in no time.
  • Make notes, create highlights, and mark quoteworthy parts. This will help you avoid a re-reading of the book while writing the review.
  • Check for difficulty or ease of reading. Define a benchmark according to your journey as a reader. What books have you found to be good and easy to read, bad and easy to read, good and difficult to read, bad and difficult to read? Place your current book in the permutations appropriately.
  • Determine if the book is a pageturner – 10% rule. Read atleast 10% of the book to decide if it is pageturner. Remember to mention your finding to your readers.
  • Determine if the beginning and the end are done well. They are important for all kinds of writing, including your review.
  • Understand who does the book relate to. Are you able to relate to the book? If not, who is the right reader for the book?
  • Take note of the editing quality. Editors can be lazy and because they have the power to spoil a book, they sometimes do it. Make sure you take note of the editor’s performance.
  • Don’t mind the author’s reputation. It is not your job to please or displease the author. Remember you are not judging the author, you are judging the book. A few touchy authors don’t understand the difference and that’s okay.
  • Most importantly, be honest to your feelings.

THE Writing PART

  • Start with a bait, something that intrigues your readers. This bait should make your readers dive right into your review. For example – “Fans of Paulo Coelho will find The Spy unlike his more prosaic narratives such as The Alchemist.” Also, a bait doesn’t have to be a lie.
  • Introduce the book, author, theme, and publisher.
  • Give a short introduction of the plot without spoilers. Again, no spoilers.
  • Discuss the parts that appealed to you the most. Use the quoteworthy parts you noted while reading. Discuss other findings from your reading such as ‘if it’s a pageturner’, ‘how difficult or easy was the read’ etc.
  • Discuss things that are unique about the book. If you don’t find anything unique, we are sorry that you’ve to review this book.
  • Discuss the parts you didn’t like but do not act mean. Book writing is hard work and even if you are reviewing the most boring book of the world, the effort alone deserves a round of applause.
  • Whether you are recommending a read or suggesting abstinence, provide reasons. Use stars if you use stars for rating.
  • Most importantly, be honest to your feelings.

Also, remember George Orwell’s Six Rules for Writing

  1. Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
  2. Never use a long word where a short one will do.
  3. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
  4. Never use the passive where you can use the active.
  5. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
  6. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.

Image by expresswriters from Pixabay

Agni Sreedhar’s The Gangster’s Gita Evokes a Whirlwind of Emotions


The first time I heard the name Agni Sreedhar I was sitting in one of the conference rooms of the Hotel Lalit Ashok, Bengaluru, editing a blog for the Bangalore Literature Festival. Mr. Sreedhar was one of the guest speakers for the festival and was in conversation with renowned Kannada writer Prathibha Nandakumar about his new book The Gangster’s Gita (published by Eka). Like many others before me, I too was intrigued reading about his life and one of our team members filled me in with more details about this so-called gangster turned writer, which only piqued me further. His story has been so unlike the usual that it wasn’t too difficult for me to register his name in the memory amidst the long list of speakers who came to the festival. From then till today, there had been many occasions when I had serendipitously crossed paths with Gangster’s Gita. As lame as it may sound, I have always believed that a good book will always find you when the time is just right.

 

Last night I was window shopping on Kindle and once again found The Gangster’s Gita sitting there asking to be read. I instinctively downloaded it but it was almost midnight. I told myself I will have a look at the ‘Translator’s Note’ and read the rest of the book the next morning. The translation is done by Prathibha Nandakumar and the original title in Kannada is Edegarike. In her note, she talks about the author and his love of literature. She also talks about how translating his book hasn’t been an easier task given Sreedhar’s distinct style of writing along with the need to retain the nuances of the original narration in Kannada. However, all the hard work and the multiple drafts of translation seems to have paid off, because I couldn’t just stop with the translator’s note. Before I knew it, I was already reading the last lines of the book and I must credit the translator as much as the author for the scintillating read. Personally for me, one of the best things that happened to the book is Prathibha’s translation along with her note.

 

The publisher’s note claims that this is a work of fiction and the usual that follows. However, the book begins with words of Erik Erikson – ‘A novel is not necessarily a work of fiction’. The narrator is our very Sreedhar Anna who entered the criminal world under the strangest of circumstances. However, the real protagonist of this stirring story seems to be Sona. Sona belonged with the mafia of the Mumbai underworld and was sent to Bangalore on an assignment that involved Sreedhar Anna and his boss. The sudden turn of events leads to Sreedhar Anna meeting Sona. The duo is then compelled by circumstances to leave Bangalore to Sakleshpur along with Sreedhar Anna’s boss and some of their boys. During their adventurous trip and their stay in Sakleshpur, Sreedhar Anna and Sona get acquainted with each other.

 

The book follows the life of Sona through conversations with Sreedhar Anna. Sona, who is barely thirty years old, intrigues Sreedhar Anna with his calm and poise. Their conversations and Sona’s demeanour unleash a storm within Sreedhar Anna and stirs up the readers too without fail. In her note earlier, Prathibha talked about how they arrived at the title of the book and it can’t be any more apt than this. The book stands on the shoulders of two men who have killed and questions the concepts of strength and weakness, heroism and cowardice. It wretches open the seemingly cold-hearts of these men and drench you in the blood of warmth that flows inside them. The choices that they made, the choices that are made for them, their regrets, their gracefulness demolishes all pre-established ideas of good- bad and right-wrong.

 

Orwell says “Good prose should be transparent, like a windowpane.”, and that is exactly how our author writes. He forgoes the decorative language and sticks with straight yet evocative narration. It is a thin book with only 103 pages yet with its powerful, thought-provoking narration it invoked a whirlwind of emotions within me that I could barely fall asleep. It has been one of the very fulfilling reads for this year and I am grateful for all the happenstances that led me to the discovery of this book.