Saturday, July 27, 2013

Baker's Dozen - A Review

I will begin this review with a quote, which has got nothing to do with the book. It is by one of my favourite writers, whose writing style is something I have always tried to learn from.

"People ask me why my style is so simple. It is, in fact, deceptively simple, for no two sentences are alike. It is clarity I am trying to attain, not simplicity. Of course, some people want literature to be difficult and there are writers who like to make their readers toil and sweat. They hope to be taken more seriously that way. I have always tried to achieve prose that is easy and conversational. And those who think its simple should try it for themselves." - Ruskin Bond

In my entire journey with Baker's Dozen, this fond quotation was ringing in my head. Not because I wasn't enjoying what I was reading, but because I was applying a lot of my brains into understanding thoughts which I would much rather flow with. Writing in a fashion which is complicated and extravagant is perhaps the order of the day, and it carries with it streaks of brilliance too, but it is not something which gives you the comfort of book you may snuggle in the bed with. This, I am saying despite having enjoyed the ELLE Tranquebar book of short stories thoroughly.

Baker's Dozen is the kind of book which enchants you from the time you receive it in your hand. The minimal art-work on the cover, and the thought behind the title are the first things you marvel at, and the ride promises to get better. Contrary to what one might expect, it is not a collection of 12 tales, rather, it has 13 hand-picked short stories - the 13th thrown in for good luck, just like bakers traditionally would do with a loaf of bread. The stories come divided into two sections - one by ELLE and the other by Tranquebar - and both sections have stories which are gem-like in their sparkle. I remember being a little harried with the plot of the first story, only to become a big fan of the author, Sharanya Manivannan later. Her story, Greed and the Gandhi Quartet is nothing like what you might have ever read in the name of short fiction, ever. Her narrative is in the form of a conversation, leading to a richer storyline at the backdrop of it all. Something to learn, something to simply be impressed by, something also to connect with.

The story which falls second on the list of my favourites from this book is The Howling Waves of Tranquebar by Madhulika Liddle. It is a story whose end did not surprise - but the craftiness and imagination of the author deserve a full score. Set in an eerie locale, this story takes the reader from shivers to amusement - and it one of the most amazing examples of good and effective story telling.

Baani and Salted Cashews, by Payal Mukherjee and Divya Sreedharan respectively, take up compelling social issues and create a hard-hitting narrative about them. Salted Cashews tells you about the kind of perversion which exists in our society at a subterranean level, capable of and successful in robbing of the innocence and gaiety of childhood. Baani takes one to the world of refugees, their struggles with life on a daily basis. You will find other stories in this anthology throwing light on various facets of existence, including love, including sexual advances at workplaces, including dreams and desires, and so much more.

To state in a single sentence - this is a thoroughly enjoyable book, a collectible, where no two stories are alike, where you need breathing space while hopping from one tale to the next and where, you will end up being enamoured by the kind of writing talent which exists in India. My only problem with the book is its often cryptic, high-flown language. I will admit, I tried hard but could not complete Mridula Koshy's stories at the end. I am the kind who stubbornly pursues even a very boring novel just for the satisfaction of having finished it. And these were short stories I abandoned. They might be stylistically brilliant, but they do little to prove that good literature is the one which needs to be embellished with incomprehensible narration. Literature is supposed to reach out, to touch, to perhaps also reform - a little simplicity in telling a tale in what I would earnestly hope for in future stories which come my way.

It could've easily been a 4+ star book for me, but just for the amount it made me toil, I think I would settle with 3.5 on 5 stars.

Book Details -
Author - Various authors
Publisher - Tranquebar/Westland
Published - 2013
Book Source - Review Copy
Genre - Short-fiction/Anthology 
Price - Rs. 250
Pages -  192

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Despair of Life

This, I can feel.
The dented love, eyes with steel
Parched lips, unable to speak
It will take sometime to heal

This, I admit
It ate you up, bit by bit
So long, so true, so pure, so mad
It now seems gross, a tad unfit.

I know, how you felt
Your smoky eyes, your skin velvet
The gentleness which you gently yearned
Your flaring nose when I’d forget.

I know you really tried
Held my arm despite the fright
First to notice signs of cracks
You pushed, you prayed night after night

Not you, I gave up first
I lowered myself to the settling dust
Purposeless, unhinged, unseen
Now consumed by love’s undying thirst

You see, I realized
Sans your presence, each moment despised
Searching love in darkened corners
Not my eyes, but my soul cried

I know, I made you sad
Pulled you down, drove you mad
With each fight your trust bled
You wondered, was it despair you wed.

But now, I am honest
I don’t seek the pain in your chest
I pain, I pine, I feel lost too
Can we overcome dejection’s tests?

You’re broken, and so am I
Let’s hold our hearts before they fly
Don’t you feel united in angst?
Won’t you, like me, without it, die?

Trust me, I will strive
To resuscitate, to make you alive
Through crazy fights and lonely nights
I learnt lessons powerful and concise
There can be no love as wise,
Nurtured without despair of life. 

Photo credits: Madhurjya Saikia, one of the finest photographers I have the fortune of knowing

The above poem was inspired by a friend, and his experiences with love. I have no idea where life will take him, but for now, he is hanging on. He is choosing to believe in love. He is waking up to the fact that essentially, love is all that there is. He is fighting for love - but the deal is, no one can win with love. One could only feel love after having lost everything to it, after having submitted to it. For this feeling and for him, I have the nicest wishes in my heart. 

May you all triumph in life
May you all lose to love. 

Thursday, July 18, 2013

What Young India Wants by Chetan Bhagat - A Review

"What Young India Wants? Its money back!"

So went a joke on twitter, sent my way by good friend and active tweeter, @tarique_anwer. Essentially, the young India, which had been eagerly waiting for Chetan Bhagat's first non-fiction publication was so disappointed in this flimsy attempt that, instead of these trivial essays, they wanted the ₹140 they spent on this book back. Which young India was awaiting the release of this book, you ask? Well, the one to which I belong was. Rather enthusiastically. There may be several reasons for that - the basic being, I loved Chetan Bhagat from his first through to his last novel. What I definitely did not take into account was the fact that I had never been exposed to his kind of political or social writing, which, defined at best, is average.

There are many things wrong and disappointing about this book. However, since I am a firm believer in silver linings, let me tell you what I loved about it. I loved the thought behind his words. Not the words, just the thoughts and the apparent drive which made him, rather bravely, attempt essays on fields as diverse as social networking, politics, education, gender issues, market economics, psychology and much else. All this vast expanse of topics was, unfortunately, ruthlessly compressed to fit a rather small space. However, before delving into negatives with full force, I would like to point out another thing which I found good - in fact, the only place where I felt any connect with the book. It was the short autobiographical essay which Bhagat has written about himself, recounting his struggles and achievements unabashedly and with minimum pretension. I have a proclivity towards such people, so much so, that Bhagat was almost successful in establishing his credibility as a social-economic-political commentator.

Naive fallacy of a hapless fan. The back-cover extols the book as a collection of Bhagat's 'widely read' columns across newspapers. I don't doubt that his article contributions to leading national dailies had a stable audience, but that is not because he is an expert or an insightful man. That is because he is popular and easy to read. He writes like I might. He connects with the youth (like he claims) because of his passionate discourses, which are rich on emotions, but devoid of substance. I am not being too harsh on the author - because I know I genuinely admire him for the kind of readership revolution he has brought out in urban India. I also relate and associate with the passion he holds for the country that is India - infectious and easily understood. However, when you delve into the finer (or even shallower) points he makes, you will realise he is not saying anything which is innovative, or which may work as an epiphany. Now, writers, especially columnists should mandatorily be of a stature where they stir the brains of readers. What I mean is, that writing should be capable of producing a change.

Nothing changed in me after I read this very gloriously titled book. Except for the fact that I will be wary of Bhagat's books in future. His effort at covering those many topics is commendable, but that is exactly what also works against him. When he takes up issues of such importance, and then wraps them up even before they can grow on you, it seems a nonsensical endeavour. Too little of too much packed together - thats what this book is.

Replete with personal anecdotes, Bhagat does strive to establish a cord, but fails in the larger picture. Another element which is totally frivolous and which harms the credibility of the author to the maximum are the two pieces of short fiction printed after the mini-essays. The stories, if I am too generous, I would say, are okay. The first one still better, but the second one aimlessly searching for reasons to be included in the book. Fiction is Bhagat's domain, and I know for a writer of his calibre, it would not be difficult to create a fictional narrative on an issue of social relevance. In fact, he takes up social issues routinely in his novels. In this book, however, he again disappoints in the area which is known to be his stronghold.

Summary - 2 star on five. There are much better books in the market which deal in a more in-depth and specialised and even interesting manner with the issues Bhagat picks up here. Hunt for those and skip this one.

Book Details -
Author - Chetan Bhagat
Publisher - Rupa
Published - 2012
Book Source - Review Copy
Genre - Non-fiction/Current Affairs/Essays 
Price - Rs. 140
Pages -  181

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Pach, Pach, PACH!

There was an author. There was a tv anchor. There was a graphic designer. There was an amateur cook. There was an aspiring civil servant (two, actually). There was a teacher, who likes to call himself a software person.

And then there was poetry.
Humorous, and serious poetry.
Polished and amateur poetry.
Hindi, English and even Urdu poetry.
Biographical and narrative poetry.
Original and quoted poetry.
Observant and reflective poetry.
Mesmerizing and impactful poetry.
Our first poster-invite

In CCD Lounge, Connaught Place, collected on Sunday a bunch of diverse people who were also poets in their private world, and they were brought together by a recently (hastily?) formed group called 'PACH'. PACH expands into 'Poetry and Cheap Humour', and while 'dirt cheap' poems were what a cosy group of poets were anticipating on their way to the event, what greeted them was a myriad of sentiments encapsulated in beautiful words. Beautiful, sure, but at times absolutely crass words too.

In fact, at crass it began. And then journeyed through various topographies. Amid a cacophony of laughter, issues of social relevance were raised, and experiences shared. Adjoining tables were initially perturbed, but ended up lending us their most dedicated ears - first laughing at us, later with us. The superboss was happy, I think, because his idea was to draw closet poets out from behind closed doors and award them few claps of encouragement. Worked like a charm for me! A nasty comment here, and serious dialogue there - no one in that group of nine (all set to expand to twelve at the next gathering) could have imagined the nascent concept could be so perfect an experience.

The group also made space for people who merely wanted to come and listen. All three members of this species are now furiously scribbling away words with rhymes, and no rhymes, and have made a glad promise to not just be at the receiving end of poetry next time. Effectively, I was not the only person encouraged - and that should make the superboss happier. A burst of fresh, and even surprising ideas is taking the shape of most priceless words with the aid of young pens in the world out of there. Part of such words were lavished on us at the first PACH gathering, and for the first time, I could understand what a gulf of difference exists between reading and listening to poetry.

With some old and some new faces, we are all set for our second meeting, details of which can be procured by leaving a comment here. Or sending across a mail to or, to yours truly

Cheap humour, yes, but poetry it is, primarily.

All of us, in service of poetry 

Friday, July 5, 2013

The Sin of Wastage

(The following post was written for Scroll 360 on the occasion of World Environment Day, celebrated each year on June 5th. I wanted to share it with the readers of my blog here because of the issues it raises and the awareness it attempts to create)

Ouch! That much of waste is sure to hurt. It does. No, it does not hurt you. It did not hurt me till sometime back, but now, each time I see a morsel of food being fed to the bin, my heart screams out in protest. Do you know whom all that perfectly-eatable-passed-of-as-trash food hurt? Those significant millions languishing in Asia, Sub-Sahara Africa, and even in otherwise prosperous nations, whose skin is just clinging desperately to the bones as a last ditch attempt to stay alive. They have nothing called flesh on their body. All they have is an ignominious stripping off of basic human rights of living. Even as someone begins broaching the topic of food scarcity and food security, it is impossible to not recall to mind the simple words of the Mahatma – Nature has enough for everyone’s need, but not for everyone’s greed.  

            I am a foodie – a big one, mind you! There is a favourite anecdote my mother often relates in front of family gatherings, much to my absolute mortification. As a child, a really small one, I had once gone for a wedding where I was too short to be able to reach the extravagant culinary displays. What was in my reach, was however, a bin, where people were dumping their food-laden plates. Next thing my parents discover, I am not just eating out of it, but relishing the food too! I was rescued, mildly rebuked for a minute, and then I found myself amid loud guffaws. What was amusing, however, for a gathering with no crease of remorse on their faces for wasting criminal quantities of food is actually a way of life for an unreal number of people out there in the world. We all have that one moment where we see a significant change in the way we perceive the world, that makes us look within, that moment when something breaks inside us only to give way to something better. My moment came while reading an old case study, where acute food scarcity in southern India had driven a man to consume his own faeces. Try as hard as I might, I can never shake off that image – and I would love to impose it on the minds of those who throw away eatables as a routine.

            Why is today a good day to talk about food wastage and the need to put curbs on it? Well, that is because today is the World Environment Day, as declared and observed by United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). The WED was conceptualized in 1970s. Besides carrying the intrinsic message of saving the environment, it also observes distinct themes each year to address agendas of pressing concern. This year, UNEP has declared ‘Think. Eat. Save.’ as the theme to be followed for WED across the globe. Ian Somerhalder, the hot and irresistible Damon Salvatore of Vampire Diaries fame, is the celebrity face of the ‘Think. Eat. Save’ campaign. He also runs a foundation the aims of which, as he puts it, are as diverse as the plants, humans and creatures of earth face. In a UNEP release, Somerhalder quotes, “It is absolutely nuts that 30 per cent of all food is thrown away. That translates into $48.3 billion. Can you imagine what we could do with $48 billion. Can you imagine the decrease in pesticides, water and land use if we no longer needed to produce that 30 per cent that is just ending up in the bin?

            Now, do not take these statistics lightly. What is being implied above is that almost one third of the food production of the world goes waste. Waste! And in measures big and small, we all contribute to it. Now, try reading the last few lines of the second paragraph of this article all over again, and think how criminal it is to be a party to something which is avoidable by little, conscious efforts on our part. Especially being inhabitants of India, that instance could not have dwindled in our memory where large-scale rotting of grains in India was reported against a backdrop of repeated dismal performances on indices of child health, nutrition and mortality.

Blame it all on the government if you please, but check the next time you head out to splurge money on junk, part of which contributes to unhealthy fats in your body, and the other part of which contributes to overflowing trash cans. Go out to buy fresh veggies every once in a few days – make sure you buy only as much as you can guarantee will not rot in your latest refrigerators. You could also call up your mother or grandmother for interesting recipes on how to use leftover food from fridge to make interesting delicacies. I was glad to see an entire episode of MasterChef India dedicated to reusing leftover food in unimaginable ways, a method even Sanjeev Kapoor endorses in the many recipes he prescribes for his followers. If there is no one else to guide you, contact me. My mother, recently, churned up yummy masala fritters made with nothing more than boiled rice and vegetables which were left from a day earlier. Interestingly, there is a day observed by my grandmother, called ‘Basoda’, where she eats only food from a day before. I might not know the myth, but the thought behind observing the day is both, cool and rational.          

In my understanding, even waste is not waste. What is the most common image of waste in our heads is the best source of nutrients for soil when used as manure. I hope everyone understands that technically, you cannot throw waste ‘out’, because there is no ‘out’, unless you know some technique of launching it in space, that too, not without consequences. Using kitchen waste to make compost is an age-old technique – only we’re too busy to follow it. May I ask why? Is it because you are sure that a cataclysm will skip your generation and strike the next, from which you snap all ties of kinship?

This is what UNEP website says – ‘According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), every year 1.3 billion tonnes of food is wasted. This is equivalent to the same amount produced in the whole of sub-Saharan Africa. At the same time, 1 in every 7 people in the world go to bed hungry and more than 20,000 children under the age of 5 die daily from hunger.

I wish you all a very happy World Environment Day, and exhort you all to take some decisions which is retrospect, you are all very proud of. Days like this remind us that time to act cannot be postponed indefinitely. Perhaps time to act is now.