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: http://freepressjournal.in/weekend/ru...

"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 : http://freepressjournal.in/weekend/ch...

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: http://freepressjournal.in/weekend/ev...

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.



Sunday, September 10, 2017

A Hundred Journeys (Book Review)

Of humour, Islam and hope

A Hundred Journeys

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Name of the book: A Hundred Journeys (Stories of My Fatherland)
Name of the author: Omar Zafarullah
Publisher: Rupa Publications
Price: Rs.295
Pages: 211
ISBN: 9788129147394

Also available as an e-book

The review can also be found here:http://freepressjournal.in/weekend/a-...

Two words that escaped my mouth after I completed reading the book, 'astonishingly pleased', summarise how I felt after reading A Hundred Journeys – Stories of my Fatherland. For me as an Indian, this book brought forth a fresh perspective.

Omar Zafarullah, a mechanical engineer with a degree from Yale University, USA and an executive in a Fortune 500 company, who belongs to Gojra and lives in Lahore, has written something that people all over the world must read to understand and learn to look at Pakistan in complete contrast to the popular notions of how and what Pakistan is.

The cover is designed in such a way that it looks as if it is inviting the reader along with a father and son to walk with them on a journey to a place that is bustling with shops, vehicles, people and energy. This book offers a sane commentary of Pakistan by being part memoir and part manual for living. It is intensely personal but deeply political too.

The homeliness and warmth exuded in certain chapters was a refreshing dose of Pakistan that I, as a reader exposed to popular news media and other entertainment channels, found to be effective in challenging what we have been bombarded with, over the years. Be it Taliban or the 9/11, or what has been described as 'obscuring history as it began to turn once again in its slow arc towards democracy' – the greatest welcoming put out by Lahore to Benazir Bhutto, this book has offered contrarian views deftly. It makes the reader keep aside the book and think. He has also touched upon some issues that are ingrained in our patriotism which he calls “artificial constructs” (in an interview about his book) that cannot sustain themselves against the forces of common sense; which he believes will eventually prevail.

Little tidbits like the iron market of Lahore being its real heart, a brick courtyard in Gojra training the author for life and connecting him and his near and dear ones in an unspoken bond called family warm the heart in the most unsophisticated way.

When the author tells his son to enter inside the house of a Rehmatullah not by knocking at the door but by kicking the door open and demanding loud and clear, "Chachi, roti!", be it in London or Paris, or New York, or Dubai, or Karachi, or Lahore, or Gojra, it subtly manages to make the reader revisit his or her own comfort zone and perhaps redefine the dimensions of what is popularly known as the "friend circle".

The tracing of history for his son, Hyder, to read when he grows up is probably the best thing the author could do as it managed to open the floodgates to many more stories of life and times in Pakistan, for an interested layman.

In his words, a time will come when we will transform—from the brand name of terror – to one happening 'qaum' (solidarity). It is the need of the hour for all nations of the world in order to live in peace.

While the book is filled with inspiring characters like Zafarullah's great-grandmother, Maaji, a woman with an iron will who challenged patriarchy while bringing the family out of the throes of poverty, I wonder why the author has addressed this book as a letter to his son Hyder and not to his daughter Maya. The book has been dedicated to Maya. But as his daughter, isn't it important for her too to understand the political undertones that have resulted in a world that she is a part of?

However, the best part is that the author is supremely optimistic that Pakistan will recover. And then transformation will happen. Thank you, Omar, for this side of the story.

'An ideology of Pakistan is not required to explain Pakistan. Nor can Islam, after the massacre of Bangladesh, any longer justify Pakistan. We are an accident of history like all other nations on this planet. Like Argentina, or Brazil, we do not need a reason to be. We just are.' It sums up pretty much everything. And also, it is enough.


Sunday, July 2, 2017

Women Warriors in Indian History (Book Review)


Women Warriors in Indian History

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Historically sound, yet refuses to be a page-turner

Name of the book: Women Warriors in Indian History
Name of the Author: Yugal Joshi
Publisher: Rupa Publications India Pvt. Ltd
ISBN: 978-81-291-4522-2
Price: Rs 195
Pages: 177

As soon as I closed the book after reading Rani Lakshmi Bai’s story (also the last one in the book), I looked around. I was in a ladies’ compartment of a Mumbai Local, on my way back home at a little over 9.45 pm. All around, I could see women – some engrossed in their mobile phones, some having dinner, some looking out of the windows, some laughing with their friends and yet some others worried about being late than usual to get back home. I wondered how these women managed to get there and that too at an hour when women were expected to be at home with cooked meals ready, serving their family members and propping their kids up to sleep.

And then a smile formed on my lips. I silently thanked the many women I had just read about, over the past few days – the valiant warriors, the brave ones, who stood up against a patriarchal society and fought their enemies even when they knew that death and darkness was looming large upon their lives and dreams of saving their kingdoms.

The author has explored the lives of ten such warriors including Razia Sultan, Rudramba, Durgavati, Chand Bibi, Abbakka, Chennamma of Keladi, Tara Bai, Chennamma of Kittur, Avantibai and Lakshmi Bai. Some remain famous even today while some names have stayed subdued in the pages of our history. It was good to revive those names from the annals of history. Nevertheless, they continue to inspire the women of today.

There is a story within a story in each of the chapters. There’s Marco Polo recounting the story of his contemporary Queen Rudramba, Emperor Jahangir narrating the tale of Durgavati to his future consort Nur Jahan and legendary Tatya Tope unfolding Avantibai’s heroics to young Manu (Lakshmi Bai).

It thus brings to life the different eras to the reader. Also, the chronological setting of events from the slave dynasty to the first war of Indian independence (famously known as the war that led to Mangal Pandey’s death i.e. the revolt of 1857) is a challenging one which has been ably presented. It is well-researched and describes well the qualities of the women warriors as they fought against gender, social, religious and political odds.

However, the reader might be baffled by the sheer number of characters whose names appear in the book. It can, at times, divert the reader from an intense plot. This could have been reduced while sticking to the names of the absolutely important characters only. The rest could have been avoided.
Also, the problems faced by the warriors and their fights begin to feel monotonous, trying to derail the storytelling. The horse riding and the warfare can lose the initial intensity it yielded towards the beginning.

In a bid to present a well-researched book, the author has in certain places deviated from the plot to be factually correct.

To those who take a keen interest in Indian history and those who would like to get a glimpse into the lives of the warriors mentioned above, this book could be a helpful tool. To general readers, the sheer number and names of characters in this book could prove to be a dampener. Those who are not too fond of history, can give this book a skip as the minute details could get taxing. Lovers of history have an opportunity to appreciate the gentle weaving of different time periods into the pages of the book in the form of different women warriors whoexisted in each of the different periods.

Readers can live through different time periods of Indian history through its women warriors. However, there was much scope in this book to delve into the kingdoms and the ‘praja’ of those eras.
Even though the book is historically sound, it lacks in being a page-turner.



Saturday, June 3, 2017

Why Won't You Apologize? Healing Big Betrayals and Everyday Hurts (Book Review)


Why Won't You Apologize? Healing Big Betrayals and Everyday Hurts


My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Art of apologizing done right

Name of the book: Why won’t you apologize?
Name of the author: Harriet Lerner
Genre: Self help/ Psychology
Publisher: Duckworth Overlook
Pages: 195
Price: Rs.499
Also available as an e-book
Apologising is an art. If done right, it can lead to a peaceful life. If otherwise, it can lead to a lifetime of uncomfortable silences with those who once were an important part of life.

In a fast-paced life, when people are involved in a cutthroat rat race, seldom do they slow down or pause to apologize to those who may have been hurt by them, intentionally or otherwise.

“Apologise? Why should I?” is a fairly common question. Why is apologizing so difficult? And, finally when one does manage to come up with an apology, what does the other party do? It dismisses the apology altogether without sparing a thought for the guts taken by the apologizer to own up to his/ her perceived mistake.

How does one learn this art? Also, isn’t an apology all about saying ‘I’m sorry’ and meaning it? Is there something more to it?

Well, that’s when internationally acclaimed relationship expert and author Dr. Harriet Lerner comes into the picture with this book offering a ringside view of parties involved in tendering and receiving an apology. It definitely is a sanity-saving guide to make things better. She has amazingly quoted real-life stories with impeccable humour and wit. She explains adequately the transformative power of even ‘attempting’ to make amends.

It is an eye-opener and must read for mere mortals as it provides clear answers to ambiguous thoughts and jumbled up queries running in our minds when we are in a tricky situation. To both the hurt party as well as the one who is responsible for causing the hurt, this book has tips to glide through the situation in a respectable manner – yes, with one’s head held high or at least with one’s sanity intact!

Spread over twelve chapters, it offers well-described, witty examples of the many faces of ‘I’m sorry’; of different ways to ruin an apology, tips to handle big-time criticism, how and whether to accept the olive branch, reconciliation failures and finding peace, amongst others.

A very important and often forgotten point that has been brought up in the book is that a sincere apology means we are fully accountable for the part we are responsible for, and for ONLY that. What is also appreciable is that the author has quoted examples from her own life – a distinct feature of a true teacher – to demonstrate how paradoxically, in our most enduring and important relationships we are least likely to be our most mature and thoughtful selves.

It is a fast read and even though it deals with some very important issues of one’s life, it is written in a manner where complexities are broken down so that amidst other complexities, some simplified intake and its assimilation is guaranteed.

Important insights into entrenched non-apologizers’ psychology is also provided. There are those who are too defensive, too covered in shame and can’t or won’t see themselves objectively. In such cases, the book can be considered as a helpful tool to help prevent oneself from increasing their defensiveness and establishing a peaceful situation.

However, there are small chunks in some chapters that could have been avoided. It needlessly lengthened certain areas under discussion. Crisper editing could have helped.

Renowned for her work on the psychology of women and family relationships, Lerner has 12 books published in 35 languages to her credit. She has also authored ‘The Dance of Anger’ (New York Times bestseller with more than 3m copies sold).

An important takeaway that the reviewer found in the book is: “The real question is not who started it, or who is to blame, but rather what each person can do to change his or her steps in the dance.”

Sunday, April 9, 2017


The Peacock Feather

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


Name of the book: The Peacock Feather

Authors: Sunil Kapoor and Sudhir Kapoor

Publisher: Rupa Publications India Pvt. Ltd 2017
ISBN 978-81-291-4459-1

Genre: Fiction

Also available as an e-book

Price: Rs. 395

Pages: 195

“I wanted a perfect ending. Now I’ve learned, the hard way, that some poems don’t rhyme, and some stories don’t have a clear beginning, middle, and end. Life is about not knowing, having to change, taking the moment and making the best of it, without knowing what’s going to happen next. Delicious Ambiguity.” ― Gilda Radner

Delicious ambiguity is what this book is about – a slice of life itself. With ten vivid short stories to grip the reader from the very first page, ‘The Peacock Feather’ has an interesting storyline. Written by a pair of monozygotic twins, their various interactions with people from all walks of life and working as chartered accountants and lawyers primarily formed the genesis of this book as per them.

The first thing however, that attracts the reader to this book is its artistic cover with the picture of a peacock flaunting its feathers. The beautiful texture and the merging of the white with yellow apart from the rich hue of blue is surely a piece of art for those with an eye for detail.

The stories are strikingly similar to the ones that we hear happening all around us. And yet, there is something about them – the way the authors have narrated the story, the plot and the setting—that make the stories seem fresh and subtly fragranced… the fragrance of an old world replete with friendships that stood the test of time during the tribulations of India’s partition; the charm of pre-digital romance; the determination of a Britisher to help Indians make their lives easier at the cost of his financial security and life and so much more. The stories range from bittersweet tales of love (‘The Peacock Feather’, ‘Deceitful Paramour’, ‘Nightmare in London’), rags-to-riches tale (‘The Gutka King’) to ‘A Misplaced Draft’ where the evils of the dowry system have been addressed. It depicts the true nature of human beings with all their flaws and nuances.

A book of short stories is at times not preferred by those who love reading novels. But with this book, those readers can veer into a world where they have a range of situations to delve into. With the authors’ simplicity and depth, as a result of their immense efforts, this book is a smooth-sailing journey despite the highs and lows that it offers.

After reading the book, I tried re-living the set-ups that I had found myself in while reading it. I couldn’t pinpoint one story that I liked most as all the ten of them have something to offer to the reader. Often, one tends to forget the story that the title holds as one looks at the index, even after relishing the entire book. However, here it was different. The titles took me back to the different worlds I had been to.

Often, we delve into worlds that are different from our own and wonder if it is even possible once we get back to the reality. However, here the authors have taken up real-life situations and built their tales around them. Fascinating as they are, they also render the reader speechless at the simplicity of the choice of words and the magnetic appeal they offer from the very first page of each new story.

This book can be read at leisure and be rest assured to traverse different eras in the comfort of your own book-reading nook.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Perhaps Tomorrow – The Memoir of a Sri Lankan Housemaid in the Middle East (Book Review)

Perhaps Tomorrow

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Name of the book: Perhaps Tomorrow – The Memoir of a Sri Lankan Housemaid in the Middle East
Name of Author: Pooranam Elayathamby with Richard Anderson
Publisher: First published by Wheatmark,USA 2014; IN India in paperback by Speaking Tiger 2017
ISBN: 978-81-933141-6-6
Genre: Non-fiction/ Memoir
Price: Rs 299
Pages: 244

Imagine carrying a thirty-kilo sack of rice on your back, even before puberty struck, and carrying it door-to-door to sell it. Add to it the scorching summer and a barefooted you; and adding further salt to the wound, your former classmates are off to school to do what you have always loved to do—study—while you slog knowing that there is no other option if you want your family of a widowed mother and five sisters to survive.

This was just a part of Sandy’s (born Pooranam Elayathamby) routine in her early years in the Eastern Province of Sri Lanka. Poverty was a perpetual visitor or rather like a family member—always tagging along with them. Married at sixteen, she had three children before she turned twenty-two and was widowed by age thirty.

Perhaps Tomorrow is her story and the story of many others who had no other option but to leave the surroundings they grew up in, their families – often consisting of kids who haven’t had enough of their mom’s presence in their lives – all in the hope that perhaps tomorrow, there would be a better roof upon their heads to protect them from the vagaries of nature and fellow human beings; there would be enough of clean water to drink and food to give them the energy to survive another day. The book provides a firsthand experience of surviving amidst a twenty-year-long civil war replete with day-to-day examples of how much the war had claimed and left people in the lurch. Constant security checks on the way to Colombo, the deserted airport area, a sudden swoop by police doubting her to be from the LTTE and her narrow escape from doom were only some of the problems faced on a regular basis.

The Tamils feared the Army, and the Sinhalese soldiers in turn feared them, suspecting that all were either LTTE regulars or supporters of their cause. Tamils were summarily arrested, taken from their homes, questioned and most often, removed to areas where they were beaten, tortured and incarcerated. Most villagers tried to remain neutral but found it difficult to do so. LTTE trucks occasionally made hurried runs to places near Kommathurai to seek out new recruits among the younger men and women. This was an added woe to Sandy who worked hard in the Middle East in people’s homes, did part-time work – all in a bid to earn a little more so that they, as a family, would have a better life, perhaps tomorrow.

The memoir also takes the reader along to experience Sandy’s life in the Middle East, who was at the mercy of those who hired her as a housemaid. It also sheds light on the work laws and the precarious living conditions of workers abroad. They risked – and continue to risk—being bullied, humiliated and often starved and beaten. There was only hope, a will to survive and a dream to give a better life to her family that guided her and made her trudge through every adversity she faced.
However, there were kind masters as well, with whom she shared her life story and who helped her find a footing in a place that she entered not out of will but out of sheer incapability to dream of something else. The kind ones were the real oases in the desert of her life. Her struggle over several decades to save her family, her home and herself from poverty, discrimination, violence and the horrors of a long civil war didn’t go in vain. Her story of courage, personal risk, faith and unwavering commitment towards ensuring a better life for her children saw a better day when she met Dick or Richard Anderson (the co-author), whom she later married.

As a reader, what I found surprising was the mechanical descriptions of Sandy’s war-inflicted neighbourhood, her first husband’s death and funeral and a perpetual lack of emotion in the storytelling style. This could be the book’s failure or its ultimate charm for it was devoid of any frills and undertook a direct approach to show how things were, through Sandy’s eyes. Was it a reflection of how Sandy’s life had shaped into a constant struggle to provide for her family with no time for emotions?

The book remains an essential read for anyone who wants to know firsthand about surviving a storm and emerging victorious. It also provides very minute information about Visa issues and immigration rules, divesting the reader of interest from the storyline at times.

- Divya Nambiar


Sunday, February 5, 2017

Jump by Steve Harvey (Book Review)


Jump: Take the Leap of Faith to Achieve Your Life of Abundance

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Name of the book: Jump

Author: Steve Harvey with Leah Lakins

Publisher: Amistad – An imprint of HarperCollins Publishers

ISBN 978-0-06-222035-6; e-book available

Price: USA $25.99/ Canada 431.99

Number of pages: 196
‘Take the leap of faith to achieve your life of abundance’ is written on the book’s jacket. Steve stands in his signature suit with his bald head, flashing one of his widest smiles. ‘Jump’ – the text is not screaming at the reader but there is something that makes the reader want to flip the pages.

As I was in the process of reading it, a family friend visited. On seeing the book, she asked me, “Isn’t he the same guy who goofed up on stage while announcing the name of the Miss Universe, sometime back?” It was then that it struck me too. I had totally forgotten that incident. I then started reading the book with renewed interest, wondering if he had to say anything about that incident in this book. We’ll come to that a little later.

Steve, in this inspirational book, urges the reader to jump from a spot that seems to stunt his growth, makes him unhappy and leads to a general sense of discontent within him. He does this by baring his own story in front of the reader. He speaks about the lows and highs of his life and how he jumped out of all his lows, guided by a hope that better things surely await. Right from practically living in his car to leading life paycheck to paycheck, to the riches he found on the way, he inspires the reader to take that ‘jump’. Now this jump does not necessarily have to be quitting a job abruptly, because it does not make one happy. It could be as simple as deciding that you will do something about it and then working towards it. Sometimes, not giving up hope when facing adversity is the best thing one can do to move ahead. However, he warns how just hoping about something and not doing anything about it would not help make things any better.

Coming from a person who knows well how it’s like to face seemingly overwhelming odds – failing in college, being fired from his job, being homeless and in debt – that can send any human being into a shell he is afraid of coming out from, Steve explains how it is all okay and how it is not the end but merely a place from where one needs to jump with the hope that he will be in a better place. Of course, it might not necessarily be better the moment one lands in a different place because one needs time to dress the scrapes, nurse the wounds and then look ahead and gear up for the journey ahead with a new vigour.

The concept of Jump was first introduced by him at the close of a taping of his syndicated hit show Family Feud. Talking to the studio audience as only he can, the Emmy Award- winning host spontaneously delivered passionate advice on the secret of his success. The video immediately went viral with 58 million viewers (and counting) worldwide. In this book, he builds on that invaluable advice.

Steve also speaks about juggling things and yes, he does elaborately explain how the major Miss Universe goof-up happened. When he takes the reader along his journey, the reader gets to know about the other side of the story – Steve’s side, the behind-the scenes mishap. He humanises the story and it makes sense why he admitted the mistake, took full responsibility and did not deprive the real Miss Universe her rightful moments of crowning glory.

He credits his wife Marjorie for being a driving force for him and how he is lucky that he found someone who could jump with him. We need people who can jump with us – no questions asked. And finding them, as per him, is what makes one truly blessed.

He encourages and teaches the reader to take a jump by laying out his core principles which include identifying the lessons and blessings in life; utilising the practice of stillness; putting past mistakes in the rear-view mirror for that’s where they belong and they should not hamper one’s journey ahead; trusting in God; and taking full responsibility, especially in difficult situations.

According to Steve, with every jump, we are elevating our lives and reaching closer to the great life that God has planned for us. There were instances where I felt there were repetitions which might have been used to emphasise what he wanted to tell the reader. Also, I wondered if it was his attempt to clear the air – a certain PR exercise? Be that as it may, I still consider it to be a confidence-building; morale-boosting book for those who believe and would appreciate the fact that something better is in store for them, no matter how gloomy or great life looks at the moment. Also, coming from a man who has seen a certain type of hell, lived and overcome it – it definitely remains a good read. For those who believe in taking risks and keep steering away from ‘playing it safe’, it will be a pat on the back and would further enlighten them about the paths they have decided to walk upon. To surge into your unique destiny by overriding your fears, Steve’s Jump will have your back.
This review can also be found at : http://www.freepressjournal.in/book-r...

-Divya Nambiar

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Gurus: Stories of India's Leading Babas (Book Review)


Gurus: Stories of India's Leading Babas

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Find the review here too : http://www.freepressjournal.in/book-r...
Name of the book: Gurus – Stories of India’s Leading Babas
Name of the author: Bhavdeep Kang
Publisher: Westland Limited
Genre: Non-Fiction
Price: Rs. 295
Number of pages: 240

Also available as an ebook

In the author’s own words: “This book is not a piece of investigative journalism; definitely not an exercise in PR. This book neither debunks nor celebrates the subjects. Also, it isn’t a collection of thumbnail biographies. Nor is it a work of scholarship. It is not, even remotely, a philosophical study, a sociological commentary or a psychological analysis. It is a peek at the men (and woman) behind the guru personas.” She has based their profiles on subjective impressions, interviews and research (a lot of it), viewing them from as many angles as possible. However, her reporter’s instincts couldn’t be sublimated at all times and she has analysed and even criticised the gurus’ statements or actions. In the entire process of scurrying in and out of ashrams and meeting devotees to cover varied angles, she found herself grouping them into three categories: the revelationists, the quondam skeptics and the seekers.

India is a land of diversity with almost equal weightage given to doctors, teachers, babas and yogis. While skeptics would question the importance given to certain babas who according to them are fooling around and minting money with their convoluted tips and advises to the needy, there’s no doubting the fact that they have an important place in our society. If it wasn’t so, these yogis wouldn’t have made a mark and considered worthy enough to write a book on – in all their established eccentricities.

A journalist with over 30 years of experience, it is no surprise that Bhavdeep managed to pull off a book on some of the gurus who have grabbed international headlines and who surprise people and make them wonder about their journeys from obscurity to fame, the clout they carry and the enigma surrounding them.

Her witty writing style made sure that this book remained a page-turner until the very end. If it weren’t for her writing, this could have been a very dry read.

Coming to the subjects, she has peeked into the lives of nine gurus (The reason for number nine has also been described in the Introduction). They are: Maharishi Mahesh Yogi (The Pop Guru), Dhirendra Brahmachari (Indira Gandhi’s Guru), Chandraswami (The Shaman-Shyster), Mata Amritanandamayi (The Divine Hug), Sri Sri Ravi Shankar (The Art of Selling Love), Morari Bapu (The Chronicler of Lord Rama), Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev (The Metaphysical Mystic), Baba Ramdev (The Virtual Guru), Bhaiyyuji Maharaj (The Metrosexual Seer).

India’s godmen are among its most colourful, cultural products and the cover page does justice to that fact. Attractive in red and yellow, with ‘Gurus’ emblazoned on an image of the sun, it sets the tone for the read. However, do not be mistaken by the spiritual, mystic appearance of the cover. It, in no way, professes a particular religion. So atheists and agnostics need not panic! In fact, it is a worthwhile read for all, irrespective of the religion they follow or the lack of it.

Also, there are certain habits that can amuse the reader and some values that can be imbibed from the lives of these godmen – some do not mind marketing themselves and their teachings (How else will people know where to find help?); some give lessons of following a simple lifestyle (no matter what their own realities are); some emphasise on love, brotherhood, charity and the need for empathy and compassion (heavy words for sure, but not without roots); one of them consumes food prepared with the water from the Ganges and drinks water too from there (even though I do not know how safe that is considering today’s scenario where pollution in the Ganges is topic for heated debates and discussion).

There are amazing tidbits too – of how a Godman loves science-fiction, how the Beatles inspired another – that let the reader know that even though some of them claim to have certain powers and moments of enlightenment, they are essentially human beings with considerably normal lives and interests.

There were dull moments at times when I thought why I was even reading about one of the godmen, and considering the time of reading (noon), I did skip his story, only to return and complete reading it again! I couldn’t miss out on that piece of information, after all. That’s the writer’s charm I guess.

Gurus remains an essential read for those who would not mind delving into the lives of those godmen who are sometimes simply considered to be maniacs. It covers their immense public lives and mysterious inner lives. A well-researched piece of non-fiction, it seeks to answer who these godmen are in real lives.

-Divya Nambiar

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Fatal Accidents of Birth (Book Review)


Fatal Accidents of BirthFatal Accidents of Birth by Harsh Mander
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Fatal Accidents of Birth (Stories of Suffering, Oppression and Resistance)
Author: Harsh Mander
Publisher: Speaking Tiger
Price: Rs. 499
Pages: 203

 The review also appeared in The Free Press Journal on January 1, 2017. Find the review here.

‘Our task is to change some conditions that appear to me as obviously against the beauty of being human’, said Paulo Freire. The quote greets the reader first. Little did I know that as I would turn the pages, I would learn so much about the inhuman intricacies woven into human lives, at times by circumstances and at other times simply because of one’s ignorance about the bigger picture while nitpicking over the supposedly misplaced tiny details.

The preface Other Lives, Other Worlds is hard-hitting and delivers the chills even before the human coldness starts storming in from the seventeen stories ahead.

Far from the hustles and bustles of rural India, where people swear by superstitions and certain beliefs and where caste still plays a dominant role, living in a city like Mumbai with its own cacophony of things ranging from one’s livelihood to his grand plan of existence, this book caught me off-hand. It is not only powerful but also offers riveting accounts of human lives caught in the glare of media at some point of time. While the tales of some characters ended abruptly just like their lives, some other characters’ tales found a better twist and hopefully will have a ‘proper ending’, if there would ever be one. But each of the seventeen stories is a slap on the face of the society that we are a part of. Each story has the potential to leave the reader aghast and rework the so-called rules of the ‘rigid society’ which according to many no longer exists. It very well does exist, probably just outside the confines of the place they call ‘home’ and sometimes inside it too, without their knowledge.

It also provides various angles to the Ishrat Jahan case (The Many Deaths of Ishrat Jahan) and leaves the threads of her tale open so that the reader can try to make some sense of it and make patterns of it in his mind as per his understanding.

It also chronicles the story of Rohith Vemula, doctoral scholar at the University of Hyderabad and a lover of people, who, he believed, are created of stardust, from the time of his mother’s birth. The story of ‘a man who could not rescue himself from what he described as the “fatal accident” of his birth, Rohith Vemula’s first and last letter to the world and the outrage that followed his death also find mention in this book [Mourning Rohith Vemula (1989-Forever)].

From the social stigma attached to HIV/AIDS, prostitution, bisexuality, begging and certain castes to the consequences and dangers of human trafficking, militancy, murder and riots – there is much insight to be gathered about all of these from this book. Some first-person accounts are dark and gory to the core which will make the reader pause and reflect over the lesser fortunate ones with whom he co-exists and yet is unaware of, or is rather silent when he should be voicing against the injustice meted out to them.

The human race is selfish. It will take kindness and a lot of empathizing to drill a sense of brotherhood and ‘-ity’ into ‘human’. Harsh Mander, maybe because he is a human rights worker and has seen in person and heard the tales of many of the people whose stories constitute this book, manages to bring to life a picture of the lives and tribulations of those hit by tragedy into mainstream conscience, deftly. It gives the reader a chance to step into the shoes of those whom one would generally not give a thought about, or rather whom one would look through, because caught as they are with the cobwebs of their own life, who would want to spare a second to possibly gather more cobwebs? Isn’t it? No. By doing so, we may actually be able to do something better to a lesser fortunate one. We could, even if we cannot clean their cobwebs, at least try to be a ray of hazy light for them to look past their cobwebs-filled existence.

Pick up the book if you think your life could have been better than it is right now. Chances are, you will be grateful for the life that you were granted while in the bylanes, a mother would pray for a son from the confines of a prison and another woman would wince as another hand would grope her unprotected body while in yet another roofless camp, heartfelt prayers would be sent to bring some solace for those with charred thoughts who would have to start learning once again how to live, clutching on to the vestiges of a dream that now lies shattered into a million pieces.

-Divya Nambiar
(http://www.freepressjournal.in/book-r...)

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