Book Review by Namrata

(Book sourced by Kitaab Bangladesh Editor-at-Large, Farah Ghuznavi)

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Title: In Search of Heer 

Author: Manjul Bajaj

Publisher: Tranquebar Press, 2019

Manjul Bajaj’s In Search of Heer is a retelling of the historical tale of Heer Syal and Deedho Ranjha, the star-crossed lovers from Punjab. In his poignant narration, Bajaj manages to highlight some unknown aspects of the centuries old epic love story and leaves a reader content after reading what is otherwise, a sad story.

Before becoming a writer, Manjul Bajaj worked in the field of environment and rural development. Both her previous works, Before Evening Falls and Another Man’s Wife were shortlisted for Hindu Literary Prize. She has also written two books for children.

We are in the year 2020 and yet the sheer number of cases of honour killing, especially in South Asian countries is horrifying. While the debate of who is to be blamed for this remains, the end result barely has altered since centuries. Taking the case of Heer Syal from the epic love story of Heer-Ranjha — she was supposedly killed by her own brothers for having fallen in love with Ranjha after both of them had decided to elope due to opposition from their families. Unbeknownst to them, death followed them to the end. Eventually they were united in death. Sadly, if you were to look at any of the honour killing cases since time immemorial, the story doesn’t differ at all. The fate of the lovers from different backgrounds remains the same to date. Centuries later today, when we are redefining love in various ways, one wonders how long will it take for such killings to stop.

Suralakshmi Villa

Title: Suralakshmi Villa

Author: Aruna Chakravarti

Publisher: Macmillan

Year of publication: 2020

Pages : 313pages

Price : Rs 650

Links : Amazon

About: Suralakshmi Choudhury, a gynaecologist based in Delhi, falls in love at the age of thirty-one, marries and has a son. Suddenly, five years after his birth, she abandons everything including the house gifted to her by her father and her flourishing medical career, to travel to an obscure village in Bengal and open a free clinic for women and children. She leaves her son behind but takes along a poor Muslim girl, she has adopted. What makes her take this strange decision? Suralakshmi’s actions confound her relatives and it is from their accounts of the incidents, letters, memoirs, and flashbacks – from a more distant past – that the story comes together and the layers and nuances in the enigmatic character of Suralakshmi are brought to light.

In Suralakshmi Villa, Aruna Chakravarti blends the narrative of the novel with history, legend, music, religion, folklore, rituals and culinary practices of both Hindus and Muslims, and creates a fascinating tapestry which reveals the syncretic nature of Bengal and her people.

 

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Title: Calling Elvis: Conversations with Some of Music’s Greatest: A Personal History

Author: Shantanu Datta

Publisher: Speaking Tiger

Year of publication: 2020

Pages: 230

Price: INR 399

Links: Speaking Tiger 

About: Shantanu Datta’s career as a journalist placed him at the forefront of music reportage in India for much of the past three decades, and therefore gave him unprecedented access to the greatest performers from around the world who played in the South Asian subcontinent. This book compiles, for the first time, the detailed interviews he conducted with seminal artistes like Roger Waters (Pink Floyd), Ian Anderson and Martin Barre (Jethro Tull), Mark Knopfler (Dire Straits) and many others including Dr L. Subramaniam, John McLaughlin, Sting, Jean-Luc Ponty, Carlos Santana and Amyt Datta. His candid, informed conversations with these enduring legends provide a rare glimpse into the minds of those trailblazers who influenced entire generations with their music. Datta’s own life too emerges in vignettes throughout the book, as he deftly weaves together his professional life with the personal through shared threads of melody and song.

Written with an exceptional depth of knowledge, Calling Elvis is an absolute treat for musicians and music-lovers everywhere.

Book review by Debraj Mookerjee

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Title: The Hindu Way – An Introduction to Hinduism
Author: Shashi Tharoor
Publisher: Aleph; 2019

​At sixty-four (though he does not look his age), the last thing you wish to remind readers about Shashi Tharoor, diplomat, litterateur and now politician, is that he was once a prodigy. But indeed, he was. An outstanding achiever in college, he graduated with history in 1975 from St Stephen’s College, Delhi, where he was elected president of the student union, and also helped found the Quiz Club. By 1976, he had an MA in International Relations from The Fletcher School at Tufts University in the US. In 1977, he earned a master’s in law and Diplomacy, and in 1978, at age 22, he was awarded a Ph.D. at Tufts. After a three-decade old career with the United Nations, Tharoor decided it was time he tried his hand in politics. At the UN he has played referee; it was time to actually start playing the game by taking to the field. Sought by all political parties, he decided to join the Indian National Congress. He has since won two consecutive terms to the Indian Parliament from his parent state of Kerala.

The Hindu Way, his twenty-first publication, embodies a bit of everything that represents him. It reveals the extent of his scholarship and knowledge, especially on a subject that is difficult and complex and diverse (Hindu philosophy presents deep challenges even to lifelong scholars). It marks out the territory he wishes to reach by way of an international readership that might be interested in discovering the tenets of Hindu thought. And most significantly, it foregrounds Tharoor the politician. More on the third and final assertion later, for that is almost the real story within this story. And nothing​, ​ please​, ​ on the numerous controversies that have underlined his journey through public affairs; this is a book review, not a vanity piece.

Among his numerous nonfictional works, perhaps the most interesting and widely regarded ​is​ the 2016 book that emerged from the 5 million YouTube views his Oxford debate participation of 2015 earned, wherein he tore into the colonial exploitation of India with panache, marshalling facts and subtle arguments to disrobe all pretence that British rule in India might have donned.  An Era of Darkness (2016) published in the UK as Inglorious Empire (2017) solidified an opinion held by many – Tharoor’s years spent with the UN were not wasted; he brings great nuance and arguments into the public sphere with linguistic elegance that is matched by few. In 2018, he published Why I am a Hindu. The Wikipedia entry on the work is spot on, “Tharoor intended the book to be a repudiation of Hindu nationalism, and its rise in Indian society, which relied upon an interpretation of the religion which was markedly different from the one with which he had grown up, and was familiar with. In seeking to address this concern, he wanted to position the debate as one within the Hindu faith, and therefore wrote about his own personal identification with the religion.”

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Title: Calling Elvis: Conversations with Some of Music’s Greatest: A Personal History

Author: Shantanu Datta

Publisher: Speaking Tiger, 2020

Links: Speaking Tiger 

 

 

 

Englishman in India

The story goes that the first time Sting was in Bombay as the frontman of The Police, sometime in the early ’80s, he took on the cops. After a few men in uniform started to hassle a young crowd, trying to pin down those who were exhaling a particularly strong hue into the breezy night, Sting screamed into the microphone: ‘This is The Police telling the Bombay Police to f*** off.’

If the authenticity of that quote couldn’t be verified, blame it on the air that night. But any band that could fuse reggae, rock and standout bass riffs and come up with an album titled Zenyatta Mondatta was capable of anything.

Much later, in 1988, yoga and ‘causes’ got to him and he was in New Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium with the likes of Peter Gabriel, Bruce Springsteen and Tracy Chapman, singing Bob Marley’s Get Up, Stand Up for Amnesty International. I was there, having scaled the 10-feet steel mesh wall to get on the ground from our seats in the stands (Rs 300) to be closer to the mammoth stage that had been erected. The JN stadium gig was one of twenty concerts held across the world over six weeks to raise awareness about the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on its 40th anniversary and the work of Amnesty. It was sponsored in part by Reebok Foundation and presented in India by The Times of India. And with a line-up such as that, who could resist a trip to Delhi.

Peter Gabriel sang Biko, his eulogy to anti-apartheid activist Steve who died in police custody, and Games Without Frontiers, a critique about belligerent nationalism, with stage lights on cranes that seemed to follow him obsessively. Bruce ‘The Boss’ Springsteen played everything, from Dancing in the Dark, The River, I’m On Fire and of course Born in the USA, his set running into more than two hours and bringing the curtains down at 3 a.m. on what was the largest-ever conglomeration of rock stars on a single night in India.

‘It’s nice to be back in India,’ screamed Sting and over 50,000 of us screamed back. Springsteen joined him in his rendition of Every Breath You Take that he once described as a ‘cool, seductive song about the ill-effects of being possessed by someone you love.’ He opened his set with If You Love Somebody, the antithesis of Every Breath… celebrating the very essence of love, which is, as the song goes, Free, free, set them free. If you love somebody set them free.

The Best Asian Speculative Fiction

They said the fog was made of the tears of the old soldiers, those who left the town to make long journeys to god-knew-where. The soldiers grieved, those who stayed back said, for the homes they had left behind, and for the memories that were forced to linger. After all, if you left the fog behind you, there was nothing left of your past. You left your memories at the brink of the cliff, and started anew.

The fog covered the town in its entirety. There were days the thumb-shaped hill across the river would disappear in the mist, then there were days when the fog sneaked into bedrooms. It had a peculiar taste which everybody said was the taste of longing—a taste of the tears of the men who had left.

Husbands and wives had learnt to use their other senses than their sight. The children would play with the mist, sometimes twirling it around their fingers as they did with fireflies that ventured into the town, drawing shapes as one would on a fogged-out glass pane. Or they would play hide and seek in the fog, even though everybody warned them not to trust it as they would their dogs, or their cows, or the goats. The fog was not a pet, the women whose faces had wrinkles of sadness said, it had been here since forever, even before they settled in this bowl near the river.

Malcolm

Malcolm Carvalho writes poetry and fiction when he is not occupied with his daytime job of a software engineer. His work has been featured in Bengaluru Review, 365 Tomorrows, Narrow Road, Spark, Reading Hour, Literary Yard, Muse India and in Urban Shots, an anthology of stories with urban settings. He has attended the Bangalore Writers Workshop and is a regular at weekly poetry meet-ups at Lahe Lahe in Bengaluru. You can read more of his work at www.grainsofthought.wordpress.com.

by Padmini Krishnan

 

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I felt an intense pain at the pit of my stomach as if someone had stabbed me. It moved up my intestine, making me giddy and incoherent. I struggled to keep my hands on the handle-bar, trying to get past St. Paul’s boys’ hostel. However, I staggered and my scooter toppled over. I fell but was able to collect myself almost immediately.

I dragged myself to the neem tree and stood in the shades, trying to catch my breath.

The tree branches cast their shadow on the streets and so did the bridge above. Why did the bridge look old? Had it not been built recently? I felt incoherent thoughts surfacing once again and sat down under the tree.

How did I recall the appearance of the newly-built bridge? You see, I am new to the city. I had just joined St. Mary’s college a couple of days ago. To reach my college, I had to pass St. Paul’s College. There were no shortcuts. I shared a service apartment with three girls, a few kilometres away. I had been cocooned as a child and this was the first time I was away from home. My mom did not want me to leave my hometown, but dad and I persisted. After all, St. Mary’s was one of the few institutions offering the Shell Borne Scholarships.

By now, I was feeling better. I stood up and my leg bumped into something solid. It was a black box. I examined it and found out that it was a camera, a very old one. The kind of camera I had seen in movies made 20-25 years ago. I did not know what made me do it, but I put it in my bag and drove to college, now feeling fine.

I sat nervously at the photo studio while the photographer developed the film. He looked at me strangely when I showed him the camera. I knew that I should have turned in the old camera or left it where it was. But, it was connected to me. I was sure it was.

I did not open the photos until I reached home. There was nobody home and I was glad. The first photo showed four men in their graduation robes.

I felt giddy, the pain in my stomach back.

 

I was the one in the corner. The one next to me was Sid, my roommate and best friend, the one who had stabbed me fatally. It had happened after our graduation ceremony. I was on a high; he was down and depressed. I remember feeling scornful as I made fun of his misfortune.

Now, I fell down with pain as I remembered him stabbing me multiple times.

Rituparna Mahapatra in conversation with Arundhathi Subramaniam in the Emirates Airlines Festival of Literature

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The brochure at the prestigious Emirates Airlines Festival of Literature held in Dubai from 4th -9th february described Arundhathi Subramaniam as one of the finest poets writing in India today. She was one amongst many internationally acclaimed authors invited to the festival such as Mitch Albom, Jo Nesbo, Markus Zusak, Jokha Alharthi (Man International Booker winner 2019).

Widely translated and anthologized, Subramaniam’s collection When God is a traveller was shortlisted for the T.S Eliot Prize. Popularly known as the biographer of the mystic Sadhguru, her book on him,  Sadhguru: More than a life, went on to be a bestseller. Her other bestselling books include The Book of Buddha and Adiyogi: The Source of Yoga (co-authored with Sadhguru).

She recently edited the acclaimed Penguin anthology of sacred poetry, Eating God. Recipient of many awards and fellowships, she has donned many creative roles as poet, critic, editor, and curator.

In an exclusive interview, the very eloquent Subramaniam spoke about her personal spiritual quest, her passion for literature around the sacred; her love for poetry, performing arts, God and what does Bhakti* poetry explore.

 

You are one of India’s finest poets. When did you start writing poetry?

I have been writing poetry if we may call it that, from a very young age, maybe since I was six or seven years. As a child, I loved the music, the rhythm in poetry. My earliest encounters being nursery rhymes and I got hooked to it. I grew up in Bombay where I did my BA in English Literature at St Xavier’s college, and subsequently my MA at the University of Mumbai. Those years were important learning years for me since I learnt about the craft from gifted teachers. After that came my years of association with the Poetry Circle of Bombay, which gave me an opportunity to be with people who were equally smitten with poetry and learn from them. It was there I understood that writing poetry as a craft required rigorous discipline. It was here that I met fellow poets like Menka Shivdasani, Jerry Pinto, Ranjit Hoskote and many others, who kept my inquisitiveness alive and nurtured it. The first poem which may be called a poem was titled ‘Amoeba’, which I wrote when I was around 19. It went into my first book, On Cleaning Bookshelves (2001).

51WNPe-6mpL._SX324_BO1,204,203,200_Though poetry is your forte, it’s your prose, the book on Sadhguru, More than a Life, published by Penguin, which was widely acclaimed, and it went on to be a bestseller. Jerry Pinto said of that book, “Nothing less than a thriller. After the first page, I couldn’t put it down“. Tell us, what made you choose to write this book? How did it happen, Did it come naturally to you or was it a conscious effort?

Thank you for asking this question. It was in 2004 May, that I first heard Sadhguru speak in a Mumbai auditorium. I had gone there with many misgivings. I had many years of active spiritual quest and one part of me was actively seeking guidance and another part of me was resisting it, all the time. I have a kind of love-hate relationship with the notion of a ‘Guide’, I have a problem with hierarchies. So, I went to it with curiosity and resistance, but the talk itself was the turning point.

Step Up

 

Title: Step Up: Women’s Journey to Identity, Success and Power

Author: Sailaja Manacha

Publisher: SAGE India (SAGE Response), 2019

Links: Sage 

 

 

 

Our humaneness is the sensitive side of business and often the hidden side too.

We forget about what is happening inside ourselves—our bodies and our minds. We forget that we have to understand ourselves, look within, so that we can begin to change in order to lead ourselves.

Paying attention to our way of ‘being’ allows us to better understand our external behaviours and inner drives. Way of ‘being’ can be understood as our ‘inner self’ and this shapes our ‘outer self’ or our behaviours.

Our Personal History Shapes Us

What is the meaning of this experience for this leader I shared about? Every time he stood in front of a large group, suddenly his personal history appeared along with the memory of feeling stuck and frozen on stage. It was all happening unconsciously. It showed up in ways that choked him, blocked him and he would lose his voice each time. In that moment he would forget the successful leader that he is because he was in a different place and time, inside himself.