Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The Secret Wishlist by Preeti Shenoy

Yet again, in ruthlessly cold winters, a book came my way to lend some calm and warmth. Such books become special. Months after you have read them, they will still bring an instant smile on your face when you spot them on your book shelf. Captivating, charming and engrossing - even before I begin, I can use these three words to characterize the book I am about to review.

The Secret Wish List, another great read by the best-selling author Preeti Shenoy is a book I am glad I read, the reasons for which I shall entail later. For now, a brief peek into the plot of the book. The story revolves around a central character - Diksha. She could be any one us. A single mistake by her, at the time when she was stepping on the threshold of womanhood condemns her to a life of pseudo-servility, masked under the dutiful role of a wife-cum-mother. She is married to an uncaring, insensitive and workaholic husband, who has no idea what transpires in the world beyond his office, newspaper and golf. Fifteen years into her loveless marriage, Diksha suddenly finds herself at crossroads when her first tender crush resurfaces in her life, and she realizes she is still very much in love with him. Prior to this realization, Diksha has another. She, albeit very late, but recognizes that her life within the domestic bounds has become the kind of monotony she can no longer survive in. In a moment of emotional rush and upon the insistence of her cousin, she makes a secret wishlist. This wishlist is not entirely extraordinary, which only goes onto reflect the basic elements of fun which Diksha had been deprived off in life, but perhaps, now, that could change.

I am head over heals in love with this book, as well as the author. It is a girl's story, told with sensitivity, drama, sensibility, and it manages to save itself from becoming a sob-story through and through. It is not a story about making mistakes. It is a story about making a life for yourself. It teaches you, in its own little way, how much it pricks if the life you live is not in accordance with your dreams and desires. It dwells on the emptiness which creeps into the hearts and minds of those homemakers whose life is confined to a thankless routine of caring for their husbands and children. The book focusses on 'life', on 'living', as distinguished on merely 'existing'. It touches your heart at many instances, especially when you realize that things that are taken for granted by you are actually a distant luxury for someone else. It makes you angry for the protagonist, whose character is well shaped and keeps developing during the course of the novel.

Told in an extremely lucid and simple narrative, The Secret Wish List is a book no girl out there should miss. I insist on girls reading it, because I know they will associate with it better. The book spreads itself over a span of 18 years in a non-linear narrative, but not once does it let the reader feel lost. It is a decently paced book and is engaging enough to make you want to turn pages faster. Rich with human emotions, you never know, if this story might hold a mirror to your life as well. If nothing, it will at least make you scribble your own wishlist, because, the first step towards getting what you want is knowing what you want.

Nothing less than 4 stars on 5 for this one.

Book Details - 
Author - Preeti Shenoy
Publisher - Westland
Published - 2012
Genre - Indian Fiction
Price - ₹ 175
Pages - 275
Rating- 4/5

Friday, January 18, 2013

A Month Down The Line

            In her brief tryst with the world, she acquired many sobriquets. Some called her Damini, some Amanat and others Nirbhaya. As was revealed by her grieving father, her name, actually, was Jyoti. Well, more apt. While receding into eternal darkness, while being embraced by death, she lit a flame which illuminated many.

            A month since the heinous incident, and it makes sense to ask where is it that we have arrived. Protesting multitudes have gone hoarse shouting slogans. The injuries incurred during an unwarranted state response have now been healed. Perpetrators have been nabbed and shunned not just by the public, but by their co-inmates. A deluge of insensitive comments by people in power have been issued to make a mockery of the composite, vibrant culture we show off to the world. Debates on death penalty and chemical castration have mellowed down, but not before they acquired a more nuanced character. Some parents have gone paranoid with safety concerns; others have opened themselves up more to the world and refused to bow down to fear. A committee has been constituted to suggest reforms for greater gender parity and safety. Fast track courts have been established. In the backdrop of all this, a family has been silently weeping for the loss of that brave child, who loved buying new clothes, and who was the promise of light in their life.

            A few days into the protest, a gentle female friend of mine left me a text. She had a concern. While she thought that the protests were okay, she wanted to convince me that it was, after all, the girl’s mistake that she was in that circumstance. It took me a nano second to take umbrage. Callous, barbaric, incredible, pathetic and downright preposterous comments about rape, adequately reflective of our incorrigible patriarchal mind-set, had been emanating from the mouths of almost all in whose face a microphone was thrust. These were the high and the mighty of our society. However, behind closed doors of humble, nondescript houses, in our very generation which has catalysed this movement against rape, there did exist similar ideologies. My friend was but one example. I wanted to shout at her. I was at pain to understand how does a woman not understand the pain, the agony, and the rights of another woman. A moment more, and I did realize, that all this is reflective of the very disease which has conditioned us. Women, before they challenge men to grant them equality, have to liberate themselves from their own subjugated psyches, their own complexes when pitted against the perceived superior males.
            This article was intended to evaluate how a month of protesting, debating and displaying our anger has altered our environment. The sceptics shall be quick to guffaw and dismiss this collective anger as frivolous, transitory and inconsequential. The believers shall offer a version in absolute contradiction. However, what happened in Delhi on that fateful night has not left anyone of us untouched. We have our takes on it, and it is important that we accommodate the perspectives of each other in a collective understanding of the incident and its aftermath. That is the only way we truly learn.

            So, have these protests stopped rapes? No. They did not. They couldn’t have; because, no matter how motivated a group of young protesters, it is still not sufficient to weed out what has been a part of our society since centuries. Yes, rape has been a part of our society. There have been Kings known for their penchant for ‘deflowering’ maidens. Why? Because a woman’s body has been seen as something to be conquered, controlled. So, when not fighting wars, these Maharajas would love sorting out virgins and violating their honour, and, interestingly, even keeping souvenirs from their conquests – which could be a stained bedsheet or a nose-ring (worn primarily by virgins). It is understood by most now, that there is nothing sexual about rape. It is more of a measure for ‘disciplining’ the weaker sex, of showing them their place. Yes, the rapes have not stopped, but this understanding has been put their in the open. A month down the line, we have grown up a little.

            The most instant response to this incident of rape were deafening cries of a quick and definitive death penalty for the convicts. Did that happen? No. It did not. I do not know if it will, and I don’t care if it does. The government, the media and the judiciary took note. Emotions and rationalities collided. And today, even though the debate rages on, it is perfectly understood that perhaps death penalty is not the solution to this problem. If anything, it will worsen the situation at hand. A rapist might be tempted to kill his prey, in an attempt to dispose off evidence and the conviction rate for rapes, which is an abysmal 26% now, might fall to as low as 2%.

            There is no clear cut solution to the problem at hand, but if any, our only chance lies in working at the very roots. The feeling of superiority is infused in the male since his early childhood, when he is treated preferentially over his deprived sister. He knows he can shout at his mother and get away. The same treatment, unfortunately, is carried forward to schools. Girls are singled out in schools to ‘behave’ themselves when seen in male company. The feeling of being exclusive of each other’s environment is inculcated at the step when a teacher attempts to segregate the sitting pattern to create a clear line between girls and boys. Sex education is still a far fetched dream in most educational set ups. The chapter on reproduction is taught like a forbidden secret – to be heard and forgotten – no questions asked. I do not know how can it be done, but boys and girls are not taught to be comfortable with their bodies at the very age when it is changing and is perhaps the single biggest source of anxiety for them. Many of you might have had parents who shed light on these topics, but trust me, most girls discover the meaning of word ‘periods’ in hauntingly embarrassing situations in schools.

            How is all this relevant to the rape talk? Well, if not this, then what is? When a passing car stopped by me, passed comments at me and wanted give me lift lest my ‘gora badan’ be tired of walking the distance at home, I knew I would not tell my parents about it. The reason is simple enough. It is ‘my’ freedom that would have been curtailed, while that car would have roamed free. ‘I’ would have been the person bearing the brunt of someone else’s perversion. These are ideas ingrained in us. A girl in class fourth was being inappropriately touched by her classmate, and she felt not anger, but guilt at his invasion. Why? Who taught her to be guilty? She suffered in silence till she fell sick. Why could she not talk to anyone about it? She knew something was wrong, but what, she had no clue. Perhaps if her teachers or parents had been better sensitized by counselling, or whatever means, it might not have been a dent for life on her psyche. Sensitization. Of parents, peers, police, judiciary, of everyone. It is a long term solution, but perhaps our only bet. What has to be weeded out lies deep within the mind like a tumour. A noose around the neck will just not do the trick.

            At the end, I cannot help but quote Dushyant Kumar in what seems like the most perfect context –

“Sirf hungama khada karna mera maqsad nahi
Meri koshish hai ke soorat badalni chahiye
Mere seene mein nahi toh tere seene mein sahi
Ho kaheen bhi aag lekin aag jalni chahiye.”

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Unfaithful Memories

The lonely moon, its tranquil beams,
Stealthily tapped on the door of my dreams
My gaze on moon, your gaze on me
Fingers twined, but spirits free
We smiled, perched high on love,
The vision, aah, a blessing from above
Confined to the canvass of closed eyes
The mornings make us dry and wise

My heart, the burden of these memories bore,
My dear, we make new memories no more.

Curling arms around my waist,
As I did morning chores in haste,
A peck, a blush, a perfect start,
From perfection, we now depart,
Love is a given, a mundane reality,
Not glorious phenomenon - naive fallacy!
I still peer at those hands in hope
I've always had strange ways to cope

The tapestry of romance, now old and worn
My dear, we make new memories no more

The flowers brought me an instant cheer!
Sweet nothings, I loved to hear.
Your voice so firm, and calm, and deep
Your tranquil lullaby to caress my sleep
Today, a shrill silence gnaws
Your gaze and mine hardly cross
Is this the fate of lovers strong?
Staying together without a song?

We promised our love would be a lore,
My dear, but, we make new memories no more. 

I nurtured, pampered, kept them close
A kiss, a murmur, a simple rose
Their mention now fills me with rage
Was love always this crystal cage?
It will grow with time, you said
My love, with time, your promises fled
Memories, I thought, would keep alive
The glowing flame which threatened to die

They torture now, leave my heart torn,
Why do we not, my dear, make memories anymore?

“Love is a temporary madness, it erupts like volcanoes and then subsides. And when it subsides, you have to make a decision. You have to work out whether your roots have so entwined together that it is inconceivable that you should ever part. Because this is what love is. Love is not breathlessness, it is not excitement, it is not the promulgation of promises of eternal passion, it is not the desire to mate every second minute of the day, it is not lying awake at night imagining that he is kissing every cranny of your body. No, don't blush, I am telling you some truths. That is just being "in love", which any fool can do. Love itself is what is left over when being in love has burned away, and this is both an art and a fortunate accident.” ― Louis de Bernières, Captain Corelli's Mandolin

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Once Upon The Tracks of Mumbai by Rishi Vohra - A Review

I closed this book with a hint of smile on my face, which even I was too late to notice. I do, however, know what was caused that smile. This was the smile of having travelled through a rather uncertain, unusual, tumultuous journey, and having arrived at something good.

Once Upon The Tracks of Mumbai is a fresh and original book. I have never read anything quite like it, due credit for which should be conferred on author Rishi Vohra. Whether we talk of the background of the book, the plot or the development of the storyline - nothing is your usual run of the mill stuff which you think you can guess your way through. The cover and the title would have you believe it is another of those love stories, which will give you some mushy moments, and then would get buried under the pile of redundant new age love sagas which many an aspiring authors have killed their careers with. Rishi Vohra, however, here is successful in weaving a story, which encompasses many human emotions - not just love - and touches upon those aspects of reality which we seldom stop to ponder upon. The masterstroke is that, Rishi dwells on reality by using the instrument of fantasy.

Balwant Srivastav, or Babloo, is not any ordinary neighbourhood guy. He is special, but misunderstood. With a family which dotes on his younger brother, Raghu, because he is bright and not an oddity like him, Babloo finds himself increasingly confined to the solitary world his schizophrenic mind weaves around him. His life runs parallel to the rail tracks, noise emanating from which is the only reliable constant in his life. He doesn't speak much, is slow to register what others tell him, but if there is one thing which furthers him in the struggle that life is, it is his love for Vandana. Vandana, who is the eye-candy of the entire Railway Colony, where Babloo's and Vandana's family reside, is of course oblivious to Babloo's desire for her, and is reluctantly engaged to his brother Raghu. However, these complications are only the beginning of the grander narrative in which Babloo begins his quest for identity. Upon his birth, an astrologer had predicted that he would one day do great things - and greatness is what Babloo hopes to achieve when he decides to do something out of the ordinary, when he decides to risk himself to become a real life hero!

Easy pace, comfortable language, and good weather. This book did warm up mind-numbing winter days. To be honest, this book did not appeal to me at all in the first few pages, but I persisted, and I am glad for that. This story begins to grow on you slowly, and it is not till the very end that you realize the impact it has left. This perhaps has got something to do with the element of fantastic, which transgresses the schizophrenic mind to embed itself in real world. The writer, however, does a commendable job of getting into the thoughts of a person cut-off from the world because of his perceived disabilities. Not just that, the story also throws light on the sleaze and dirt which accumulates in our society, in the form of characters like Sikander. All in all, if not a great, then a very satisfactory read, this one. I will give it 3 stars on five.

Book Details
Author - Rishi Vohra
Source - Review Request by the author
Publisher - Jaico
Published - 2012
Genre - Romantic fiction
Pages - 266
Rating - 3/5

Thursday, January 3, 2013

In Black and White by Rudyard Kipling - A Review

He was the youngest recipient of Nobel Prize in Literature, the first writer of English language to have that honour conferred on him. My inspiration in writing, Ruskin Bond, found inspiration in his writing. And if I had one regret emanating from the world of literature (which I know is vast and perhaps has no place for regrets), it was that I never got an opportunity to read any work of the great storyteller Rudyard Kipling. However, in a recent set of book Rupa Publications sent me for review, I got my chance to overcome that regret.

In Black and White is my first tryst with Rudyard Kipling, and what a grand, memorable meeting with the master-storyteller it has been. Kipling has been regarded as an innovator in the art of short story writing, and this book is only one of the many examples which lends credibility to that statement. In Black and White is a collection of some of Kipling's finest stories which shed light on the social, cultural and political fabric of India, as it was woven under colonial rule. The imperial conquest of power etched a firm, and almost cruel boundary between the ruler and the ruled - a reality which stories of this book bring out vividly. The language, I will have to admit, was not the easiest to understand. In fact, if anything, it was most abstract, but that is what gave space for philosophical ideas to run parallel to the main narrative of extremely engaging stories. A miner, a priest, a missionary, a betrayed and revenge seeking lover - each character has been drawn deep from within the womb of humble Indian terrain and represent in full the idiosyncrasies of Indians. The tales are endearing at times, witty at others, and scathingly ironical at certain places. Kipling presents both - the inherent innocence of Indians and the corruption which started taking roots under the reign of the Raj in these 8 short stories

The Whole Range of Kipling Special Books 
It is a small book, priced humbly, to invite readers to the enamouring, but critical world of Kipling. My favorite among all is a story called "Dray Wara Yow Dee". Don't ask me what that means. I just know I enjoyed this tale of a lover betrayed, seething with revenge. For the first time, it was not poetry, but prose in which I found an unmistakable lyrical quality.

Kipling has a controversial place in History. He is credited with a doctrine which not just justifies, but glorifies imperial conquests. Given his philosophy of 'A White Man's Burden', I have always wondered how is it that Kipling wrote of nothing but India and its people, so much so, that many literary connoisseurs bracket him in the Indian Writing in English category. A man, not wedded to the sensibilities of this magnificent land could not have possibly written literature which seems like our own. Perhaps this dichotomy in Kipling's writing is best understood in the words of one of my English teachers, who warns with affection - History often doesn't give us the chance to alter our opinions, we must learn to be careful with them.

Its a 3.5 on 5 star book for me.

Book Details - 
Author - Rudyard Kipling (With an introduction by Ruskin Bond)
Source - Review Copy
Genre - Literary Fiction/Short Fiction
Publisher - Rupa Publications
Price - ₹ 140
Pages - 118 (8 stories)
Rating - 3.5/5