Sunday, April 22, 2018

I Was the Wind Last Night (Book Review)

I Was the Wind Last Night

Find the review here too:
Name of the book: I Was the Wind Last Night: New and Collected Poems
Author: Ruskin Bond
Publisher: Speaking Tiger
Price: Rs. 399
Category: Poetry

‘Out of the city and over the hill,
Into the spaces where Time stands still’

Be rest assured that in no time, the lyricism in his verses will transport the reader from all her woes in connection with the vagaries of the weather, the umpteen troubles that grip her in everyday life into a world of Ruskin’s making where ‘peach and pear are still the sweetest of fruits.’

It is a timeless collection of more than a hundred of his poems written over the years grouped under ‘A Peepul Tree I Knew’, ‘Remember the Old Road’, ‘Friends, Far and Near’, ‘We Must Keep Loving, All Our Days’, ‘I’ll Take the Road Alone’, ‘If Mice Could Roar’, ‘Odds and Ends’ and ‘And As We Part’. As Ruskin Bond’s reader base might know by now, his poems are always understated and yet they exude a charm very rarely found.

As the poet confesses, he did not write much poetry until he came to live in the hills. Some of the poems in the book were written in Mussoorie in the 1960s and 70s and others, at Landour in Uttarakhand, from 1980 to present. His poems are a perfect example of what staying in touch with nature can do to one. It cleanses the mind and takes the complications out of life by giving one an entirely different and perhaps, a new perspective.

In ‘A Peepul Tree I Knew’, he amazingly speaks about the wonders of nature and how we humans are trespassers. ‘The trees start whispering among themselves when dusk slips over the mountains’ and the poet bows his head before their arms and asks for benediction. The night, the cherry tree, the ferns, the flowers, the snail, the frog, the small red ant – all begin to come gloriously alive in front of the reader as she turns the pages. The miraculous beauty of rebirth in every spring offers the reader lessons to remember and examples to emulate.

The poet transports the reader into a world where even the silence beckons and the night wind, the summer grass, time, dawn dew, moon climbing the sky – all make a distinct sound that only the reader can experience.

‘So, piper on the lonely hill,
Play no sad songs for me;
The day has gone, sweet night comes on,
Its darkness helps me see.’

There is something about this stanza and many more like this that makes the reader mull over the joy in solitude; the sense of beauty immensely touching. And such is the magic of his words that they float on the reader’s mind and then settle in as subtly as it first managed to make an impact. The impact, however, is a lasting one.

His use of imagery to create a lyrical emotion in the reader is notable. Also, his choice of words makes it easy for readers to grasp easily. It’s no wonder that The Indian Council for Child Education has recognised his role in the growth of children’s literature in India. This book can be read by children too, especially the section ‘If Mice Could Roar’ (which is a must read). It can help youngsters develop their writing skills without making it look like a daunting task.

Considering his popularity among children and the aged, it is little surprise that the book would appeal to all age groups. The range of themes brought together in the book is diverse – love, nostalgia, humour, family and friends, spending time with nature and the sense of joy in solitude – all bound together by a thin string called acceptance, an acceptance of life in all its happy and sad elements.

The book can also be called a reflection of his life where the reader gets glimpses of certain stages. It is a collection worth preserving by the Padma Shri and Padma Bhushan awardee.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

A boost for aspiring writers?

All those who crave to write but do not know where the "inspiration" or the "words" come from, probably this is your chance to get a hang of it.

A creative writing course by Preeti Shenoy, bestselling author, keynote speaker and artist -- here is more from the author's own blog. Click here.

She was “just a mother of two” (her blog’s name) when she started her blog in 2006 shortly after losing her dad all of a sudden. And in 2008 came her first book. There has been no looking back since then for PREETI SHENOY. features among the top five bestselling authors in India and finds a place on the Forbes list of the most influential celebrities in the country.
Here, she opens up about her latest book, growing as an author, bridging the generation gap and of course about blogging to me. Down to earth, pleasant and downright honest, here’s Preeti at her candid best. We share the tidbits of the interview here:

Sunday, January 21, 2018

New Delhi Love Songs (Book Review)


My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Name of the book: New Delhi Love Songs
Name of the Author: Michael Creighton
Name of the publisher: Speaking Tiger
Price: Rs. 299
Pages: 122
ISBN: 978-93-86702-78-4
e- book available

The review can also be found here:

A quaint piece of art that subtly dances in the reader’s mind and makes a place in her heart, refusing to let the charms of Delhi, the gentle scent of loss, the gust of summer wind, the sense of longing and so much more fade, for a long time.

A middle school teacher and library movement activist in New Delhi, this is Michael Creighton’s first book. As a reader, it looked to the reviewer like an evolving poet’s work. There were some poems that left the reviewer aghast. But so addictive were some others that it did not let the reviewer put the book down. Little surprise then that the book was savoured in a single day, with the aftertaste remaining for a long time.

Around 75 poems are grouped under different sections namely New Delhi Love Songs, On the Badarpur Border, Circle, Intoxicated and Garhwal. The cover page is a premonition of things to come in the pages that follow. There is a gentleness in it. A gentle breeze rustling the leaves, flowers that look like sea horses swaying along or are they ready to take flight? It displays possibilities that are beyond the imagination of the mortal beings. And yet, these possibilities are rooted – probably meaning that nothing is impossible if we give a chance to the refreshing breeze that blows even over a ground where a funeral pyre has lost the last of the amber glow and turned to grey ash.

The facile descriptions are worth experiencing. For example, in Bend, the poet not just paints a picture of Indian Railways but also makes the reader live it.

‘By the bend at Bina junction,
We are twelve in a space
Meant for eight’

The sounds, sights and smells drift in and lull the reader into a deeper sense of being. The whiff of ‘gentle scent of loss in every gust of summer wind’ might have gone unnoticed if not for the poet’s charming poem Scent. An event as gory as the Gujarat riots has been spoken of in a few words and yet they leave so much more to be thought about –

‘The squirrel my son raised
with a dropper and soft fruit
walks away in the mouth of a cat.’

The immense sense of change – of lives being shattered – have been described so gently and yet so powerful has been the impact.

Hinge gave the reviewer an entirely new perspective. It tugs at the heart strings and makes one think about moments that are fulcrums on which ‘a whole world swings.’

In Brother, there was a line that caught the reviewer’s breath,

‘You asked me: how would longing feel,
Without a word to hold it?

100 feet down and dry has a line – ‘high walls wreathed in sharp wire’. That’s what readers need to be wary about. As we turn into robots with a schedule to follow, a routine that we fall into and a head that at times tries to process more than we actually want it to, this book is a calming tonic. It soothes the marks left by sharp wires on our beings.

These and many more such gems await the reader in New Delhi Love Songs. However, some poems have left the reader baffled. It made her wonder whether those poems too were composed by the same poet who rolled out some gems in the book. Probably it is the reader’s block trying to knock on her door. She might open it but not before she re-reads the ones that baffled her. And probably then, the poems would make more sense. If not, there already is a collection to treasure for a long time.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Giving youngsters their time under the sun, with a bit of sunscreen (Interview with Preeti Shenoy)

Preeti Shenoy
She was “just a mother of two” (her blog’s name) when she started her blog in 2006 shortly after losing her dad all of a sudden. And in 2008 came her first book. There has been no looking back since then for PREETI SHENOY. She features among the top five bestselling authors in India and finds a place on the Forbes list of the most influential celebrities in the country.

Here, she opens up about her latest book, growing as an author, bridging the generation gap and of course about blogging to DIVYA NAMBIAR. Down to earth, pleasant and downright honest, here’s Preeti at her candid best. We share the tidbits of the interview here:

 A Hundred Little Flames (AHLF) seems to have generated brightness and cheer, yet again. With it topping charts and the signing spree over, how are you spending your time now?
Thanks so much. Haha—I am writing my next book!

9 books since 2008. You are unstoppable, aren’t you?  Tell us how you would define ‘writing’.
For me, writing is life itself. It is as natural to me as breathing. I was writing even when I was unknown and nobody was reading me. I continue to write, even when thousands of people are reading me.

 In one line, explain your journey as an author.
I write, I grow.

Preeti – the author and Preeti – ‘author’-kept-aside. Does it ever happen? Or are you constantly on the lookout for something that serves as fodder for your next book?
I think it is only when others look at me, they look at me as ‘an author’. I don’t define myself that way, nor am I constantly ‘looking for material.’ My mind is a busy place. Ideas are always running through my head. That’s how it has always been. If something has happened to me, which has left an impression, it might find its way into my writing. (Or it may not too)

Cover of A Hundred Little Flames
How much, according to you, does the cover page impact the sales of a book? With that said, are you satisfied with the cover of AHLF?
It is important for the cover to catch the eye of the reader. With AHLF, we wanted to send a clear message that it was very different from my other work; it was my first foray into literary fiction. The illustration on the cover was a commissioned piece of art, and was a deliberate choice. Yes, I am satisfied. It was launched at Birmingham, UK, at Birmingham Literature Festival. The cover itself speaks volumes.

Author, painter, motivator, relationship expert – you don many hats at a time. Is there an untapped potential you look forward to cultivate in the near future?
Yes, Yoga teacher and organic vegetable farmer, also a tutor to underprivileged children.

Your writing career took off thanks to a blog that you actively maintained (and still do). Any tips for new bloggers?
Do be very regular with your content. Be honest, and do not invent an online persona. Most of all, have fun!

Paperback and kindle. Pick one and tell us why.
Paperback. I am old fashioned that way. Also, I love beautiful bookmarks, also the touch and feel of a ‘real book’. Curling up under the blanket with a kindle isn’t the same as curling up with a paperback.

AHLF very minutely traces the journey of a human being and his troubles as he approaches the evening of his life. How does the other side of 50 look like, to you?
I know a lot of people in their sixties, seventies and eighties who lead such inspiring lives. I think it is wonderful if you have managed to keep yourself healthy and fit.

Loneliness is real for many elderly people today and so is their struggle with technology. How can youngsters make things a bit easier for them?
By spending time with them, helping them understand technology and communication with them, sincerely and genuinely.
       You speak about casual love in today’s time and love during the olden times that could survive without even a sense of touch in AHLF. Love as it looked in the olden times now looks dreamlike and seemingly dead. But can we totally deny today’s youngsters their time under the sun? (i.e.  Have we trivialized present love stories in the process of appreciating the past?)
I don’t think we have trivialized love stories of present nor have I denied youngsters their ‘time under the sun’. I have only pointed out that wearing sunscreen helps.

Platonic relationships do very much exist these days. It is indeed possible for a man and a woman to be friends, and to love each other, without jumping into bed. The debate of whether a man and a woman can be ‘just friends’ is very old and eternal. Movies like When Harry Met Sally and our own Bollywood films have explored this theme over and over.

I see so many guys and girls who are good friends, and nothing more. I do not see it as ‘rare’.

   Name one of the recent books you’ve read and liked.
I have read 40 books this year. The ones I loved were Benyamin’s Goat Days, Paul Kalanithi’s When Breath becomes Air and Marjane Satrapi’s Perspolis are a few that immediately come to my mind.

You have been an author for about a decade now. How would you describe the reading habits of today’s teenagers? (Is it rising or declining? Is there a pattern you’ve observed?)
I guess I would have an observational bias, as I am surrounded by teens who read. Two days back, when I was doing my Christmas shopping (at a bookstore of course) a group of girls from a local school, ran into me. After they clicked photos (and I signed books for them) they asked me for book recommendations. I was delighted to give them a list.

What is next on your to-do list?
To write my next book!

Describe Preeti Shenoy as an author, wife, mother, an artist and an individual.
Have no clue. People can describe me however they see fit. I don’t think so much about myself. I would rather think about my characters!

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Rumi Tales to Live By (Book Review)

Rumi: Tales to Live By

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Name of the book: RUMI Tales to Live By
Name of the author: Kamla K. Kapur
Publisher: Jaico Publishing House
ISBN Number: 978-93-86348-93-7
Genre: Self-help
Price: Rs. 299
Pages: 221

The review can also be found here:

"How long," Rumi cries to the reader and himself, "will you play at loving the shape of the jug? Leave the shape of the jug, go, go seek the water." Words like these always brought me closer to Rumi and his thoughts.

And to see ‘Rumi’ emblazoned on the cover page of this book only pulled me closer to it. The image welcomes the reader into a journey that is more or less to be taken by oneself. It is a journey that takes one closer to one’s soul.

As human beings, we easily tend to blame others for the way they are without sparing one thought about how we might be, from their points of view. We often find beauty in what might be deceptive, solace in what might not last forever and fragrance in what might only be a piece of scented garbage!

For a so-called ‘modern’ world, this book brings forth wisdom of the 13th century Sufi poet Rumi, interpreted by the author with examples and explanations from her own life. Kamla K. Kapur—a poet, author and playwright – has taught courses in play writing, poetry, creative nonfiction, fiction, mythology, Shakespeare, and women’s literature at Grossmont College, California for eighteen years. It is probably this talent that has helped shape this book into a spiritual experience for the reader.

Each of the twelve stories, sourced from the 'Mathnawi of Jalalu'din Rumi', edited and translated by Reynold A. Nicholson (Cambridge, England, 1982), is followed by a commentary by the author. This commentary forms the link between the new and the old. It provides a bridge to connect us with our roots, to realise our "way". It helps the reader to answer his/her spiritual calling.

The preface gripped me. As described in it, the book is categorised under three headings for simplicity's sake, i.e. Embrace suffering, Pray, Surrender to the Cosmic Will. What also was worth noting down was this line: ‘Suffering is an impetus for the transformation, or rather, a series of unfolding transformations that fuel our journey to healing and wholeness.’ This and many more such lines are a soothing balm to a reader. It can be a great healer and help a reader in finding strength, thanks to the author’s personal experiences.

The problem however seemed to start with the commentary following each story. While it is no doubt a spiritual journey enriched with the teachings of Sikh gurus as well, the author seems to go a bit off track in each essay. While the connection to the present that has been established by the author deserves applause, as a reader, I found myself turning back the pages to recollect Rumi's story that preceded the commentary. And this can be a hindrance to a good book-reading experience.

The author has been open to privy details of her life and has laid bare her own tribulations to make the reader understand some concepts. And that takes a huge amount of strength.
While the book can be useful in doling out spiritual techniques to succeed on ‘The Way’, for a layman this book might seem to be a bit overbearing.

Laced with teachings of many learned persons, this book is worth a read, albeit some parts of the commentary. It teaches the power of 'ultimate surrender', values like faith, trust, devotion, justice and the like to a generation that has either forgotten it or refuses to approve or acknowledge virtuous behaviour.

Those who cannot tolerate words like 'The Way', 'Spiritual Path', 'Cosmic Will', 'God' are requested to kindly stay away from the book. And for those whose eyes lit up at the mere mention of these words, grab a copy soon!

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Chikankari: A Lucknawi Tradition (Book Review)

Chikankari: A Lucknawi Tradition

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

White-on-white embroidery made more beautiful

Name of the book: Chikankari: A Lucknawi Tradition
Author: Paola Manfredi
Publisher: Niyogi Books
ISBN: 978-93-85285-53-0
Price: Rs.2495
Pages: 252

The review can also be found here :

In the words of Amita Walia, “The magic of Chikankari or the white-on-white embroidery of Lucknow reflects the splendor of Indian craft as pure moonlight resplendent in all its beauty.”
Spread over 252 pages, this illustrated book exquisitely presents a detailed view and well-researched analysis of chikan embroidery – the most artistic and most delicate form of what may be called the purely indigenous needlework of India, as per George Watt (1903).

It delves into the nitty-gritty of the chikan embroidery – the mysterious origins of the craft that developed towards the end of the Nawabi era – which is often taken to epitomize the best and ultimate refinement of Nawabi and Lucknawi culture.

Chikan embroidery in Lucknow is a prosperous industry that connects a complex social fabric. Popular all over the world for the rich designs made on fine muslin cloth, it has today diversified into various materials keeping in mind popular tastes and fashion trends. However, how much of what is available in market today is genuine chikankari? How much do we, as Indians, know about our popular arts and crafts? Have we ever bothered to understand the different designs, the history behind those and the very lives of those who toil to present such pieces of art for us? Sometimes embroidered to pass time productively and at others as a means of increasing the family income, each piece of chikankari work carries with it a story worth reflection. The time-honoured elaborate production process detailed in the book will make the reader respect chikankari more than ever before. In the age of machine made goods being popular and cheaper, this work is worth knowing deeper about.

Lucknawi chikankari defines Lucknow’s identity and its celebrated magnificent past, despite an admittedly much less glorious present, in the words of the author. How did we reach this stage? The book traces the journey of the embroidery, from the much acknowledged as well as the little known perspective.

The living conditions, for example, of the workers are not much different from their past counterparts. It has also described how inferior quality of present day embroidery productions have found an effective marketing strategy in the evocative association of chikankari with “royalty” (read Nur Jehan).

Gender narratives in relation to this art make for interesting reading. Also worth observing was the indispensable role of middlemen. They may seem to be a roadblock when it comes to the growth of the artisans. But without them, will it be possible to completely justify the artisans’ and the traders’ needs and demands?

Decoding the chikan industry with a factual description of the entire process, step by step, helps the reader understand the complex process involved in bringing out the delicate beauties. Details right down to the fastening— kas, lappets, tie-strings or tukuma and ghundi (loop and cloth-cased buttons in various styles) are explained with pictures alongside – making otherwise mundane sounding details seem eye-catching.

Also interesting were the symbolism and meaning of certain chikan motifs—the paan and the fish motifs in particular.

It is hoped that reading this book will make the reader appreciate better the beauty of a traditional art and would somehow make ‘fair wages’ a reality for the chikan craftsmen and women who in 2012, were paid between 35 to 50 rupees a day for 4-6 hours of daily work for ‘standard’ quality commercial work (as mentioned in the book). What seems like a good statistic is the fact that over the last twenty years or so, with many designers placing this art on the haute couture ramp (the first contemporary Indian being Ritu Kumar in the late 1980s), today the number of chikan embroiderers are now assessed at over 2,50,000, most of them home-based workers from an estimated 40,000 in Lucknow and neighbouring districts in the mid-80s. The entire cycle of hand embroidered production is now estimated to sustain over a million people.

The fine photographs in the book by Najeeb Aziz (Lucknow), Jonas Spinoy (Jaipur), Bish Mohitra (Delhi), Jaspal Kalra (Delhi) and Tommaso Manfredi, as acknowledged by the author in the acknowledgement section, deserve kudos. The amazing details are worth appreciation. The pictures bring to life a book that may otherwise not have been able to bring clarity about various types of stitches, fastenings and the subdued yet striking beauty of chikankari.

Paola Manfredi (born in Italy) lived and worked in India for over 30 years. Her passion for textiles and the history of textile exchanges between East and West is reflected well in the book. The designs that Indians take for granted, like the paan and keiri for example, are described in such a way that the reader begins to see it in a different light thereafter. She has indeed combined scholarly approach and design interactions and facilitated a well researched book for the reader. It is a collector’s item as it is richly endowed with pieces from history museums and personal collections.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Everybody's Son (Book Review)

Everybody's Son

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Coloured woes, in black and white

Name of the book: Everybody’s Son
Name of the author: Thrity Umrigar
Publisher: HarperCollins
ISBN: 9780062442246
Pages: 352
Price: 26.99 USD

The book review can also be found here:

Thrity Umrigar, an Indian- American journalist and the winner of the Nieman Fellowship to Harvard and a 2006 finalist for the PEN/ Beyond Margins Award, who relocated to the US at the age of 21 from India, has deftly explored in this book how racism can exist without one even realizing about it. Everybody’s Son is an example of powerful and uncomplicated writing which pushes your borders and leaves you at the edge of a mountain top. The only option you have is to jump. And jump you will, into Anton’s world – the main character in the novel.

There is not much suspense in waiting. The story has been told in the dust jacket itself. And yet what’s surprising is how the reader is dying to know what happens next or rather, how Anton’s life unfurls with Harvard-educated son of a U.S. senator, Judge David Coleman (a scion of north-eastern white privilege) and his wife Delores having replaced his birth mom Juanita, thanks to a terrible heat wave in 1991 that led to nine-year old Anton having to break free from the apartment he used to live in with his mom.

He was covered in blood when the police found him. Juanita was found in a crack house less than three blocks away, nearly unconscious and half-naked. When she does regain consciousness, she repeatedly asks for her ‘baby boy’, which tells the reader about the mother’s concern for her child and the bond she shared with Anton. And yet, Anton is placed in child services and Juanita goes to jail.

Judge David Coleman, still coping with the tragic death of his teenage son, is desperate to have a child in the house again. With his power and connections, he manages to keep his foster son with him and his wife. Or does he? Will his decision have ‘devastating’ consequences in the years to come? Or will everything fall in place, like stories usually do?

The best thing I found in this book as a reader is the description of the turmoil faced by each character. It churns your insides at times, and at others, it makes you want to simply sit and enjoy the countryside with Anton and reflect on life in all its sugar-dripping sweetness and utterly bitter glory.

The debate on racism and the nuances of it has been dealt with in a surprisingly mature and intellectual manner that invites the reader for a twirl and does not let her stop the dance midway. You will be taught new steps and then you have the world as your stage – for you to set it on fire. An interesting part is the meeting between Catherine (Anton’s college sweetheart) and Pappy (David Coleman’s father). Their conversation is worth reading. And strangely, that is when the difference between the so- called whites and blacks is put forth in black and white, complete with the grey areas.

The balance struck between the feelings and actions of Juanita and Anton’s foster parents is something that makes it difficult for the reader to take sides. Reading this book makes human relations seem amazingly bittersweet and worth every trouble and pain.

There is Juanita—a mother who can go to any lengths to makes sure that he is safe and brought up in comfort and luxury that she might never be able to provide for her son if she were to bring him up on her own. And yet, would life have been better for Anton if he had grown up with her – away from the motley group of friends and family that he could call his ‘own’ because of an affluent family that decided to give Anton a new and seemingly better life?

How would life have turned out for a coloured child of a woman whose whereabouts were often dangerous for a growing up child? But what about her love for her son then? Isn't love enough?
These and many more questions await you – to make you smile, make you tear up and also to soothe you with that wonderful thing called ‘a tale that lasts’.

Thrity Umrigar is definitely an author to watch out for. With The Space Between Us, The World We Found, The Weight of Heaven and The Story Hour in her kitty as an author, Everybody’s Son has what essentially makes us burn with rage and fuels news headlines – class, race and politics. And Everybody’s Son ‘who belongs to no one’, in the words of his creator, is a powerful character fit to open many eyes in the 21st century.