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Book Review: Mirror Image by Rama Gupta

By Dr Usha Bande

Mirror Image

 

Title: Mirror Image.
Author: Rama Gupta
Publisher: Prabhat Prakashan, 2017
Pages: 238
Price: Rs. 500/-

 

Rama Gupta’s Mirror Image is a collection of 17 stories written in a simple narrative style, depicting realistic and actual scenarios and experiences that most of us past middle age go through (or have gone through). As the title indicates, the stories are a reflection of life; they focus on the spontaneous response of the main characters as they encounter small quirks of fate that have great implications in their lives. These are stories of men and women, mostly from urban upper middle-class but some represent different age groups and class like ‘Sumangali’ and ‘Bye-Bye, Blackbird’. The point of view is primarily that of the female narrators; the narratives delve into the psyche of men, women and children and as such, the portrayal revolves round how the principal characters respond to the attitudes and events in their lives.

Rama Gupta started writing these stories after her retirement, a time when many would close the logbook of an active academic life. Not Rama! She has always had dogged determination and ambition to do something new. In that sense, this is a big wish come true.

Of the seventeen stories, two stories fall neatly into the rapidly growing diasporic experience. The experiences of immigrants in a multicultural country like Australia are outlined in ‘Bye-Bye Blackbird’ and ‘Darkness under the Blazing Sun.’ One more story that is set partly in India and partly in Australia is ‘The Love of a Good Daughter.’ The average reader can easily feel the wistful, quiet sadness of the overall situation, and a reader familiar with the immigrant experience knows the truth behind the emotion of a parent who sees his/her child withdrawing into a shell; a well-settled man suddenly feeling lonely and helpless during a calamity, or a daughter settled in Australia being callously negligent of her mother who has come to help her with her new-born. Aannant gains his composure when the floods recede. Seeing river Brisbane flowing in its usual smooth rhythm, Aannant, after days of uncertainties, understands the significance of connectedness as he decides to help people to fight the aftermath of the devastating floods.
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Book review: Vegetarians Only by Skybaaba

By Mitali Chakravarty

Vegetarians Only

Title: Vegetarians Only: Stories of Telugu Muslims
Author: Skybaaba (Editors: A. Suneetha and Uma Bhrugubandha
Publisher: Orient Black swan
Pages: 140
Price: ₹ 325/-
ISBN: 9788125060741

Vegetarians Only is a collection of short stories by Skybaaba, the pen name of Shaik Yousuf Baba, translated by a team of translators, edited by A. Suneetha and Uma Maheshwari Bhrugubandha.

The narratives reflect the lives of Telugu Muslims, their joys, their sorrows, their poverty, lack of education and the dreams that they have dared to dream despite their bleak socio-economic circumstances.

What is striking about the stories is the love and compassion with which the characters and their concerns are portrayed. Perhaps, having grown up in the midst of these people, Skybaaba’s empathy paints the stories with a vividness that transports us into a world peopled by his creations.

In his foreword, the author states that his creations are drawn from real life.One wonders if his title story, Vegetarians Only, is part autobiographical as the author is also a socially conscious journalist like the character he creates. The story is about a young couple looking for rented accommodation in a city where they have just arrived. The protagonist is a journalist and his wife, a student. The issues and marginalization faced by the twosome in the story would be reality for any young couple starting out with limited funds anywhere in the world. However, in the course of the story, the protagonist views his circumstances from the perspective of a social reformer. His experiences make him conclude that ‘With the exception of the dalits, and the madigas in particular, all other castes are in fact untouchable.’ According to the book’s glossary, Madigas are listed as a ‘formerly untouchable caste’ in Telugu.

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Review of I Am the Beggar of the World by Eliza Griswold

How to endure the unendurable? Perhaps it comes down to wit—keen intelligence cutting to the heart of things. Truth-telling wit may bestow power—however briefly—to the powerless. Think of the rawest blues song, the bawdiest limerick, Shakespeare’s Fool, the anthropomorphic mouse in the old poster, middle finger raised at the bomb looming over his head.

With the help of native speakers of Pashtun, and Afghan scholars of the tradition, Eliza Griswold has compiled and translated a book of landays — a two-line form of folk poetry perhaps five thousand years old — from Afghanistan. Her piercing, matter-of-fact commentary on the poems and their historical and cultural contexts, coupled with Sean Murphy’s stark and beautiful photojournalism, adds a new chapter to the ancient story of human indomitability.

Landays are typically sung, and in all but rare cases sung by women without prompting or occasion. Traditionally, they embody sexual longing or delight, and some of the most affecting of Griswold’s collection do so without explicit acknowledgement of war or oppression, mention of which would undercut the ironic humor of the landays. “Your eyes aren’t eyes,” begins one, setting up the immediate payoff: “They’re bees.” The second line concludes, “I can find no cure for their sting.”

In her commentary, Griswold situates the landay within a rigidly patriarchal culture. In this context, the landay is inherently subversive—dangerous and hidden in plain sight, yet elusive. Consider the poem that opens the book’s introduction:

I call. You’re stone.


One day you’ll look and find I’m gone.


A dozen one-syllable words, three full stops. By means of strong stresses (“call” and “stone”), the first line makes us feel the power of the poet’s need and her lover’s implacable response. The second line plays on “look” and “find,” embodying a hope whose futility the speaker can’t quite admit. Likewise, the permanence of “stone” rhymes with the finality of “gone.” “One day” issues a threat the speaker of the poem wills herself to carry out, but not yet.

A young woman who “called herself Rahila Muska” phoned this landay to an Afghan radio program. Unlike most of the “twenty million Pashtun women who span the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan,” Griswold explains, Muska had some formal schooling, but “poetry, which she learned from women and on the radio, became her only continuing education at home.” Because in Afghan culture “women singers are seen as prostitutes,” they sing in secret. After finding out Muska wrote poems, her brothers beat her. In protest, she committed suicide by self-immolation.

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Book Review: The Perennial Journey by Mamta Sehgal

By Dr Usha Bande

The Perennial Journey

 

Title: The Perennial Journey
Author: Mamta Sehgal
Publisher: Rubric Publishers (in association with Blackspine and Times Group), 2017
Pages: 165
Price: Rs. 325/-
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Mamta Sehgal’s The Perennial Journey is a collection of short write-ups. These pieces purport to demonstrate that you do not need to be defeated by anything; that you can have peace of mind and a never-ceasing flow of energy if you place your trust in God. Though the blurb on the book claims to take the readers on a spiritual journey, the author does not define or theorize spirituality. Written in a direct and straightforward style, these simple pieces guide the readers on the path of everyday life by invoking Krishna Consciousness. Mamta Sehgal knows that spirituality is not simply the opposite of materialism and also that no single definition of the spiritual way of life could suffice to convey its deep meaning. Spirituality is an active process and its objective is growth and transcendence. We, who are standing at the crossroads of material and spiritual realities, need to make a choice, to focus on our capacities to know, to love, and to trust justice, truth and peace. If we are able to do that, we have chosen a spiritual way of life. With narratives, stories and anecdotes from mythology and quotes from the Gita, the author tries to channelize our thought process. Each tiny piece that runs into a page and a half reflects on life, soul, spirit and the journey towards self-realization. Each page is a quest for Truth and the journey is ever-lasting — that is the ‘perennial journey’ of the title.

The book is divided in four sections: God, Soul, Life and Introspection. The sections are not mutually exclusive and together they create the conceptual reality of Krishna Consciousness where fear, expectations, greed, domination, violence and other aberrations of the phenomenal world vanish. Krishna Consciousness becomes the tool to help you carry on with your difficult journey. Consciousness refers to a state of being in which the mind is functioning in its clear, rational and inquisitive state. Consciousness begets change.

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Book Review: Boy of Fire and Earth by Sami Shah

By Dibyajyoti Sarmah

Boy of Fire and Earth

 

Name: Boy of Fire and Earth
Author: Sami Shah
Publisher: Pan Macmillan
Pages: 360
Price 499

Could you ever imagine a full-blown fantasy novel set in the murky underbelly of modern-day Karachi? A fantasy novel rooted in Islamic concept of heaven and hell? A fantasy novel where the archetype of evil itself, Iblis (The Devil of The Bible) makes an appearance as a lovable rogue? Perhaps not, especially in the context of today’s polarising attitude to the religion itself. This is one of the reasons that makes Sami Shah’s incredible Boy of Fire and Earth such a joy to read. It takes you back to the days of Arabian Nights and Dastan-e-Amir Hamza, via of course, the western import of video games, comic books and the all-encompassing influence of Neil Gaiman.

For a while, modern South Asian writing is flirting with creating its own brand of fantasy fiction mixing local fantasy elements with established western tropes, as Ashok Banker did recently in Awaken. However, this concoction never felt as original as it does in this book. This is perhaps because Shah prepares you by setting up the rules before he unveils his big adventure.

So we meet our intrepid hero Wahid, a sickly but smart middle school teenager with just two close friends who share his love for science fiction and video games. He falls in love with a classmate and his friends begin experimenting with drinks, as occasional gun fires and bomb blasts continue to rock parts of Karachi. It’s the real deal and life is good, until Wahid meets with a car accident, sees his friend die and witnesses his would-be girlfriend’s soul being sucked away from her body by a shadowy figure.

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Book Review: She Wore Red Trainers by Na’ima B. Roberts

By Mitali Chakravarty

She Wore Red Trainers

 

Title: She Wore Red Trainers
Author: Na’ima B. Roberts
Publisher: Kube Publishing Children’s Books
Published in 2014
Total number of pages: 261
Price: US$ 12.95
ISBN 978-1-84774-065-6

 

 

Published in 2014, She Wore Red Trainers by Na’ima B. Roberts is a young adult novel set in South London. The arena is a Muslim community that is closely knit and believes Islam to be the saving grace in a world devoid of morality, where only married love is ‘halal’ and therefore acceptable and 18-year-olds are encouraged to succumb to their ‘emotional’ needs and tie the knot. As one of the characters, Auntie Azra, contends,

‘…if a young person feels that they are physically and emotionally ready to be in a relationship, Islam encourages them to do it the right way, with honour. Why do we see nothing wrong with 13-year-olds having sex — which they do — but have such a problem with the idea of an 18 or 19 year old getting married?’

Perhaps, this is a valid concern in a society where dating is the norm from early teens.

The hero Ali and the heroine Amirah are 18 and live by Islamic precepts. They are different from others in their community at the start of the novel as they have dreams of doing something beyond marriage. Amirah feels, ‘If there is one thing I’ve learnt in my short time on earth, it is you don’t have to look, behave or think like everyone else to achieve. Just be sincere, work hard…’ Through the course of the novel the youngsters, in the tradition of Young Adult fiction, journey to a discovery – in this case, ‘halal’ (or accepted) practices of Islam suit them the most.

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Book Review: Wet Radio and other poems by Goirick Brahmachari

By Bhaswati Ghosh

Wet Radio and Other Poems

Title: Wet Radio and other poems
Author: Goirick Brahmachari
Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform (August 18, 2017)
Pages: 148
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If rain is the central motif seeping through Goirick B’s Wet Radio, the poems live up to their task of carrying wetness and drenching the reader with soaking endurance. Like his poems, the poet carries a lot, too – the weight of nostalgia and nonconformity, strains of relationships and a disquiet that refuses to be quelled. In all the different themes Wet Radio explores, the poet’s visceral engagement keeps one hooked to his words.

This very act – of carrying impressions from location to location, both physical and psychical – makes Goirick almost a modern-day itinerant poet/songwriter. His sense of place, especially of Northeast India, is acute; at the same time, his is a poetic spirit that defies the idea of rooting in any one place. This impulse to move, even run, lends his poetry both breadth and passage.

There is gasping pain and seething anger, life-saving love and cynical disillusionment in the poems. The poet often travels back in memory to the Northeast, and in doing so confronts the impossibility of defining identity on the basis of the usual markers of region, religion and language. Consider these lines from ‘Rumour’: “The cave is like any other/only sometimes a Naga would enter/and come out as a Manipuri/Sometimes a Khasi would turn into/a Mizo or, a Bengali, a Bodo,/usually, after every 32 tunnels.”

Goirick plays with the question of identity even more adventurously in ‘Worshipping the Blue Mad Man’, a poem on Charak Puja held in eastern India to worship Shiva. In the poem, he employs a bi-lingual structure, which for those who read both English and Bengali, create a unique sensory and rhythmic experience. The Bengali words occur where they are evidently impossible to render in translation except as approximations, which is how they are presented in the final stanza.

Pain and its many contours has been a favoured subject for poets. Goirick touches the slippery pulse of pain, both physical and invisible, in a number of his poems. He speaks of sadness that’s “not of this earth but born out of the void above,” alluding to a hollowness that could be hard to frame within the conventional context of sanity. In ‘Ache’ he maps the journey of pain and the way it afflicts the mind as “it travels through the body earth./From the head onto the shoulders/From maps to borders/Down to the viscera,/nails Flowing like a stream.”

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Book Review: When Wings Expand by Mehded Maryam Sinclair

By Mitali Chakravarty

When Wings Expand

Author: Mehded Maryam Sinclair
Publisher: The Islamic Foundation
Total number of pages: 217
Price: US$ 9.95
ISBN 978-0-86037-499-2

When Wings Expand is a novel in the epistolary technique that highlights a young girl’s battle to accept losing her mother to cancer, conquering her fears and anxieties with love and deep-rooted faith. Though the author, Mehded Maryam Sinclair, intended this to be a book that would be ‘about how fully and conscientiously practicing Muslims see and deal with their losses’ (http://productivemuslim.com/interview-with-maryam-sinclair/), her narrative has transcended the boundaries of a single faith to reach out to the hearts of all mankind.

The protagonist, as in Young Adult fiction, is a young teenager called Nur (‘sacred light’). Located in Canada, she is battling her sense of loss as her mother succumbs to cancer. With the legacy of her mother’s love and faith, Nur discovers that ‘what makes a person different is how they choose to deal with the pain’. She learns to build on her strengths, travels back to her mother’s home in Turkey and finds courage in the love that surrounds her and her family. After she returns to her home in Canada, she slowly learns to help her younger brother as well as other young cancer-afflicted patients and their families come to terms with their pain. Her journey towards recovery helps her conclude that ‘It seems life has gotten bigger, like more things are possible — it’s like pain is a smaller thing inside a much larger me.’ She exudes a sense of light and joy to sufferers around her, proving to them that after a loss wings can still expand, as does that of the butterfly coming out of a chrysalis.

The image of the chrysalis runs through the book. The body of the butterfly shrinks and the wings expand after it emerges from the pupa so that it can fly. Nur feels this is what love and faith does to sufferers. Love and faith shrinks the body of their grief so that the sufferers can grow wings and fly towards a better future.

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Master of the lean poem

Seven poetry collections over a span of 35 years might not seem too many, but what elicits surprise, no matter how mild, is that four of them were published in the past seven years. A readerly intimacy with the poems in Manohar Shetty’s Full Disclosure: New and Collected Poems is bound to assure you that the poet not only does not mind mildness, but revels –even excels – in it. After his third book of poems, Domestic Creatures (1994), he took a literary pause that lasted 16 years, during which time he “never slept, / Only passed out and woke up”, while never cringing “From that same old taunt: / ‘Yeh sala Manu ban gaya bewda’”. Addiction and poetry do not necessarily make great sleeping partners, yet their occasional camaraderie might lead to interesting outcomes in the arena of creativity. If alcohol did any damage to Shetty’s poetry, it doesn’t show. In fact, his post-hiatus fecundity confirms that the poet not only emerged whole and hale from the deep dark pit notorious for ending the careers of scores of artists, but also preserved the integrity, purity and vigour essential for writing elegant poems,

Those unsigned hard won
Stanzas in longhand given
Away as keepsakes,
As prayers, bookmarks,
Or anniversary cards;
A bequest with no return
Address—a piece of paper
Folded close to the heart.

Those in possession of his words would do well to copy some down on a sheet of paper, fold it and slip it into their shirt pockets, for the pull of a Shetty poem is such that it demands many celebratory re-readings. On the other hand, he doesn’t mind if his precious missives to the world, smugly lost in its collective distractions, go missing. No matter what happens, “He would be game to the last”, exhorting the interested reader/listener to “not be taken in by the rows / Of books touching the ceiling”, but to “Listen instead / To the scratch of words / On the page, any page, white / Or ochre with age”. In India, the relationship between ochre and age goes back to ancient times. The colour is still sacred to many, although in the past two decades or so, it has acquired connotations that are far from savoury. It seems unlikely that Shetty had this sense of the word in mind, but then, what’s poetry without its share of accidental implications?

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Asia Reborn: A Continent Rises from the Ravages of Colonialism and War to a New Dynamism by Prasenjit K. Basu

By P.N. Balji

Asia Reborn

 

Title: Asia Reborn
Author: Prasenjit K. Basu
Publisher: Aleph Book Company
Pages: 708
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Asia reborn… but what next?

He is a keen watcher of Asia, having spent the last 25 years putting the economies of this wonder continent under his microscope. Economist Prasenjit K Basu is eminently qualified to write this weighty tome, which runs into 680 pages. His research is painstakingly done with the notes and references alone going into 41 pages.

At first flush, Asia Reborn is intimidating. The title doesn’t seem to tell anything new and the voluminous nature of the book might put off many potential readers who want information on the go. Still, those interested in a deeper perspective of Asia and why some countries succeeded and others failed will find it worthwhile to plumb through its pages.

The author’s style is engaging; he makes sure that his research findings don’t interfere with his prose. He adds spice to his narrative with anecdotes that will keep the subject matter alive. For example, he brings to life one about Lee Kuan Yew. The former PM was among other students at Raffles College when they heard an explosion at the Causeway. The Allied forces had blown a hole in the Causeway to stop the Japanese army from moving into Singapore during the Second World War in 1942. The principal asked the students what the explosion was about. LKY’s reply: ‘That is the end of the British Empire.’

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