Throwback to AKLF18

The Apeejay Kolkata Literary Festival (AKLF) is one of the largest Literary Festivals to be held in the City of Joy each year. Spanning 5 days, with more than 180 speakers, the AKLF is eagerly awaited by many in Kolkata, especially bibliophiles. AKLF18 which was held from the 11th to 15th January saw the coming together of some of the brilliant minds in the spheres of journalism, literature, environment, and education. It was also ruled by famous Bollywood personalities who turned recent authors. The best part of the event was the chance to personally interact with one’s inspirations and well, get your books signed! Notably, there have been numerous sessions but I would highlight some of my favorite ones through this blog post.

Day 1: The Oxford Junior Literature Festival (OJLF) was inaugurated by Usha Uthup and Nandana Sen. Her lovely song ‘Kolkata Kolkata Don’t Worry Kolkata’ still reverberates in the atmosphere. It was followed by a dramatized presentation of a very interesting story by ace writer Nabaneeta Dev Sen. Nandana Sen presented her new book to the children- ‘Talky Tumble at Jumble Farm’. She even asked the children from the audience to join her during her act. Anita Agnihotri’s performance of the very famous story of the Monkey and the Crocodile and other stories was a pleasure to watch. The fluidity in her movements defined the epitome of performing arts and was an inspiration for people to earn how storytelling can be adapted into dance forms. Bookwise was a Quiz organized for the children of the various schools who had come for the event. It was followed by Metajingle- a multidisciplinary theatrical event. The OJLF is one of the few literary festivals which cater to the young minds. The habit of reading, thinking, analyzing and performing needs to be inculcated in the children from their school lives. Thus, the OJLF is just the right platform to give them the ‘food for thought’ and the right exposure to activating their grey cells.

 

Usha Uthup singing at the inauguration of the OJLF
Anita Agnihotri’s wonderful performance

The highlight event of the first day was that of acclaimed director, Mira Nair in conversation with Chandrahas Choudhury. Nair who has completed over thirty years in International Cinema spoke about her experiences in filmmaking and answered a variety of questions from the audience. Her much-loved movie Monsoon Wedding was also discussed. The dark wintry evening with a packed audience under the shamiana seemed to her like the perfect setting for the Monsoon Wedding.

Day 2: Seventeen sessions were held on the 12th of January across two main venues- St Paul’s Cathedral Church and The Tollygunge Golf Club. The highlights of the day were:

  1. Akla Chalo Re: this performance theatre answered a very crucial question- what can Tagore’s women teach today’s women? Tagore, in his writings, have often portrayed very strong female characters. His farsightedness had actually laid the foundations of what we define as women empowerment in contemporary times. It was conceptualized by Isheeta Ganguly.
  2. Joy Bangla, which explored Sudeep Chakraverti’s new book The Bengalis: A Portrait of a Community, had an outstanding panel comprising- Kalyan Ray, Mr. Ashis Nandy, Sudeep Chakravarti and Sudeep Sen. A fruitful conversation followed regarding the Bengali Community and their existence in the modern world. The concept of Probashi Bangali (NRI) was also touched upon.

    (From left) Sudeep Sen, Kalyan Ray, Ashis Nandy, Sudeep Chakraverti
  3. Out of the Woods? Last Girl First was performed by Tishani Doshi. Based on her poem was followed a conversation with Ruchira Gupta, Paromita Chakravarti, and Juhi Khatoon. The conversation highlighted the need of the hour which is to fight for women’s rights and withdraw- legally, aggressively, socially- from the clutches of the malpractices against women.

    (From Left) Paromita Chakraverti, Ruchira Gupta, Juhi Khatoon
  4. Crossing the Line: This was one of the two most revered sessions of the day. With an ace panel consisting of Vishal Bharadwaj, Aparna Sen, Mira Nair, Ratna Pathak Shah, Nandana Sen and moderated by Modhurima Sinha, the session highlighted the portrayal of women on the Big Screen. Each of the panelists had a firm view of the projection of women and how it had evolved over the ages. The perspectives and experiences were many and each of them shared it with the audience with much glee.

    (From Left) Nandana Sen, Aparna Sen, Mira Nair, Modhurima Sinha, Ratna Pathak Shah, Vishal Bharadwaj
  5. India @ 70: Held at Tollygunge Club, the session had eminent speakers like Sir Mark Tully, Bittu Sahgal, Salil Tripathi, Mira Nair and Advaita Kala. Some prominent questions regarding the Indian Democracy and the principles on which it stands today were discussed. An essential statement made by Sir Mark during the session echoed in the minds of the audience for long. They were,

‘Your belief is your belief,

My belief is my belief.

You let me believe my belief;

And I let you believe in your belief. ‘

Day 3: This day had three of the most sought-after sessions.

  1. The Big Brother Syndrome: With the ongoing files against Padmavaati/ Padmavaat, it is only understandable that the need of the hour is to openly talk about Censorship. Pertinent questions like is it necessary? To what extent should there be censorship in writing; were asked and answered by the panelists. Censorship has in fact made writers so vulnerable that statements like Censorship are the suicide of a good writer has also been made public.
  2. Nude: Vishal Bharadwaj in conversation with Pushpesh Pant while unveiling his latest book of poems. His movies have been creating magic on-screen for years and this time, he has created magic through his words.
  3. Moderately Famous? Actor and recently turned author Soha Ali Khan made her debut in the field of literature through ‘The Perils of Being Moderately Famous’. In it, she pens down her life as the daughter of Pataudi and Sharmila; the sister of Saif; and the sister-in-law of Kareena. She was in conversation with Jayant Kripalani, who has numerous movies and books to his credits. She even obliged the listeners with a few lines in fluent Bengali.

    (From Left) Soha Ali Khan, Jayant Kripalani

Day 4: 14th of January was a packed day with several sessions running simultaneously at the Max Mueller Bhavan, St Pauls Cathedral and the concluding event at the Indian Museum. The highlights of the day were:

  1. Nature Nurture: The degrading environment is very much a concern for our contemporary society. This session put forward the theory that one need not join long walks or give a lecture about the environment to instill the perception of saving the environment in people. It can be very subtle yet effectively done with the help of words.
  2. Sports and Governance: The Way Forward was an enriching session by Boria Majumdar, Justice Mukul Mudgal and Mr. Ashis Nandy. Sport is a field which cannot ever be looked beyond. Various sports-related essays, books, biopics have been written and thus it is inevitable that a session o Sports would not find a space at the AKLF.

    (From Left) Boria Majumdar, Justice Mukul Mudgal, Mr. Asish Nandy
  3. India @ 70: Towards Peace: a panel containing Mr. Ashis Nandy, Nayantara Sahgal, Kishwar Desai and Meghnad Desai; and moderated by Mr. Sanjeev Chopra marked the perfect conclusion to this much-awaited event. Held at the Indian Museum, it was the perfect setting to discuss India- its culture, heritage, peace resolutions, and policies. The concluding session began with an inspiring performance by Usha Uthup. This was followed by the panel and ended with a classical music performance.

AKLF18 was the perfect blend of environment, sports, theatre, social issues, and politics with literature. The literary world has a variety of genre, each pertaining to a specific audience or trying to convey its own thoughts. As they say, Pen is mightier than the Sword; the world of literature has the ability to shape minds and nurture the minds of the young. This is exactly what was upheld by the Apeejay Kolkata Literary Festival.

The fifth and the final day of the event pertained to the young minds who wanted to enter the field of entrepreneurship, journalism or event management. A series of enriching workshops organized at The Lalit Great Eastern Hotel was a boon for the young minds who are yet undecided about their careers. I will go into details about the workshops in my next post. For more details about the Festival, you can check out the official website here.

The Sensualist by Ruskin Bond

Ruskin Bond is a household name. Ever since I was a child, I had been reading his books, as have many of you. The myriad descriptions of the hills and valleys appealed to the senses for the readers. The Sensualist, however, appeals to the basic instincts of human nature. Deviating from his usual literature for the children, Bond addresses those youngsters on the verge of puberty and adolescence with The Sensualist.

The human nature is one of the mysteries of the Universe which would take an eternity to solve. Their psyche desires company and yet are afraid of the unnatural powers possessed by the mind. The working of the mind is strange.Though one’s own, it has the ability to bend the desires of others if trained thoroughly. The mind can make a person hungry to soothe their base instincts and also so weary of their needs that the individual is compelled to give up every aspect of pleasure.

The Sensualist is narrated by a recluse who in his heydays was a man in pursuit of sexual and sensual advances. He had trained himself to make others desire him. His baser acts appealed to his senses of touch, smell, seeing, taste and hearing. Every sense organ worked together in appeasing or displeasing him. Whether it be how one looked or what one wore; what perfume did one emit or what one spoke; all worked in the favor of his acts.

Going by unconventional likings and an array of women to choose from, the protagonist derived pleasure in the most unthinkable ways. Throughout the book, four major incidents of his life, regarding his relationships have been highlighted; although he hints at the presence of several others. It is interesting to note that none of his relationships were serious commitments, they were only physical relationships derived out of mutual consent. While he being a man, always considered it in his power to be in control of the situation but only once in his life did he feel that he was the one controlled by the other half. this too initiated a different experience on its own.

But one is yet to see what happens when too much of something happens? does it continue forever? Does Nature extract revenge? Does it put a full-stop as otherwise there would be no end to desires? It is interesting to follow the protagonist’s story and contemplate on the various stages of his journey and take cues from its conclusion regarding one’s own life.

For me, The Sensualist is a book that must definitely be read but by those in their later teens so that the essence of the story is understood and not misinterpreted. A basic ethical and moral perception remains throughout, but again who decides what is ethical and moral. every individual has the right to set their own moral standards without being judged. Moreover, the answer to this philosophy has been given by Bond himself in the book when the protagonist says, ” I can give you a hundred answers to your question, and all of them would be right, and yet none of them would be right. For there is not one answer, but many.

Ruskin Bond has displayed his unmatched versatility by penning down The Sensualist which deals in human nature and the human psyche. It is a  definite recommendation from my end. The Sensualist is available on Flipkart, Snapdeal, and Amazon.

Here I would also like to add that the book was gifted to me by my friend and fellow book lover Radhika, as part of our Book Club’s 2017 Secret Santa.

A Home for Urvashi by Sanchali Bhattacharya

A Home for Urvashi is a delicately woven novel which revolves around various relationships in a lifetime and the afterlife. Sanchali Bhattacharya has come up with strong protagonists and passionate antagonists who are ready to take the extra leap to satisfy their emotions and live up to their relations. Ujjwala, the protagonist is an ambitious lady with a bugging past trying to balance motherhood and climb up the corporate ladder. Her husband Yash is a chef at a cruise liner and stays away most of the time. Trouble begins when Rituraj, a haunting from Ujjwala’s mysterious past takes over as her boss. Unrequited love in the heart of a new recruit Sooraj also creates enough trouble for the two. To top it all, is Dulari, Ujjwala’s twin sister who is a silent observer of her life for the past twenty-nine years, as a not-so-earthly being.

Bhattacharya, in A Home for Urvashi, deals with numerous valuable themes. Ujjwala’s undying love towards her husband broke all barriers of societal norms and led to an unusual union. Sooraj being well aware of her marital status falls for her knowing that these are dangerous paths he was treading on. Dulari’s love for her sister is seen as the sacred bond of sisterhood which remains intact even in the afterworld while Rituraj could never distinguish between true love and lust for his beloved.

The author has hinted on loneliness being a major reason for driving people in taking questionable actions. Yash due to his job lived on the seas for months and years, and this made Ujjwala lonely. For a long time, the readers would be speculating whether her loneliness would drive her to start off an extramarital affair due to her unfulfilled desires; or her love for Yash would defeat all negative feelings. With love, hatred, sarcasm, and jealousy are bound to follow. These are traits that are expressed without hesitation by Rituraj. His kind of love can be best described as a stage of lust driven madness which portrays itself through the most horrific acts of all times.

A Home for Urvashi has a social cause to the story. Ujjwala, apart from work and home front also cared a lot for social causes. She makes donations towards children homes and centers. This shows that she has a very pure soul who could feel ones emptiness and needs without one having to narrate it to her. Her own traumatic childhood had led her to become a compassionate young woman.

Bhattacharya deeply deals in relationship throughout the book. The bonds between a mother and a daughter, or between two sisters, or between a husband and a wife have been beautifully portrayed through practical situations and effective imagery. Nothing has been exaggerated and real life incidents and relations have been reflected in the novel. In fact, the life of many women who work in the corporate field would find resemblance with Ujjwala’s lifestyle. It becomes very difficult for a mother to balance both her child’s upbringing and the work front. This, at times leads a woman to choose one over the other or arrange for alternatives. Ujjwala, hires a trusted nanny for her son but she could still feel the desire that a son would have for a mother, given that his father too was absent for long intervals of time.

If the description of my city from this book had to be presented in the form of a documentary film, it would have scored really high on my mark scale. The vivid descriptions of Kolkata, Darjeeling and Puri , with the right choice of words and imageries appeal to the readers senses. From tourist spots, to market places; from flyovers to traffic congestions; from serene sunrises to the romantic seaside’s, the author is bound to unleash the traveller in you when you read about the places.

Dulari, the friendly ghost and Ujjwala’s twin sister lives on in the ghost world with one unfulfilled desire- to be reborn again and stay close to Ujjwala. But this is not an easy decision. Keeping in mind the advances in Ujjwala’s life, Dulari must make a decision that would reflect her relation towards her sister to the audience. One just need to wait and read on to find out what would be her ultimate decision- Giving up her dream forever to save her sister or to proceed with her dreams of being reborn.

And last but not the least, the name of the novel itself. It is a symbolic summation of Urvashi’s story. Urvashi was one of the most beautiful apsara’s in the court of Lord Indra. But her desire was to live among the mortals and to find a home for herself on Earth. Urvashi’s desires can be reflected through both Ujjwala and Dulari. Dulari because she wanted  to break free from the ghost world and reside beside her sister in the mortal world. Ujjwala, because she wanted to find herself a home in the mortal world where no one would chase her and question her of her past decisions. She wanted to be left at peace with her husband and family for the rest of her life.

A thorough read of the book took me around four days and it is a book that I would recommend all my friends to read. However, I would point out that the last hundred or so pages were very quick. A lot of actions took place too quickly in those pages which could have been evenly spaced out throughout the book .Apart from one or two editing glitches, the book is written with complete simplicity and is very easy to comprehend. The concept of it being narrated by a ghost is very unique. But on second thoughts, it might also be a little creepy if I had a ghost spy around me all the time. Nevertheless, it is a brilliant read and reflects how complicated human relations and life can be and how emotions, at the end, make or mar a person.

A Home for Urvashi is available in your nearest bookstores or can be purchased from Amazon, Flipkart and Snapdeal.

Disclaimer: I was sent a review copy by @WritersMelon in exchange for an honest review.

Three Thousand Stitches by Sudha Murty

Sudha Murty, through her latest, Three Thousand Stitches has put forward beautiful short stories which revolve around human nature, ambitions, wishes, desires, and a lot more. An anthology of eleven stories, Three Thousand Stitches tells its readers about the ordinary people with extraordinary lives. Here are mini reviews for six of my favorite stories from the book.

As usual Murty’s stories have a hint of social issues. a narration of her academic days, in an engineering institute; where the subject was said to be a ‘man’s domain’ reveals how she fought the stereotypical gender dichotomy to become a successful engineer. ‘How to Beat the Boys‘ reminds every girl or woman that nothing is impossible for them. If any provision does not exist in the society for women; they can always be the one to start a new trend.

Three Handfuls of Water‘ revolves around the Holy City of Kashi or Varanasi. This is the story with which I could relate to the most. Kashi is not a city- it is an emotion, a sentiment which cannot be expressed in words. It needs to be felt through your heart and soul. Only the people who Kashi wants to embrace gets the golden opportunity to visit this Holy Land. At times, several lifetimes pass and one cannot make a trip to this city.  Earlier, when transport was not so well-organized, even if one person made a trip to the city, the entire neighborhood or village used to gather around and hear stories about the trip. The traveler used to host a grand celebration upon arriving back home from Kashi and distributed the Holy Water of the Ganges to the neighborhood. Today, this journey can be completed within a matter of a day or a few hours.

A Life Unwritten‘ depicts the story of a good deed done by a doctor which is repaid to him years later. When a young doctor is made to forcefully deliver a baby girl; he gives the most valuable advice that anyone can give to a young mother who delivered a child out-of-wedlock. The biggest lesson learned from this story is that the world does not end when one commits a mistake. One should not be too disheartened to see the numerous opportunities in front of them. Of course, the struggle comes as a part of life, but the opportunities do give good returns in the long run.

No Place Like Home‘ is a heart-wrenching story of young girls and middle-aged women who were cheated and brought away from home to work like slaves.They were often forced to marry, raped, abused; and yet continued to serve their masters for they were made to believe that their service yielded good monetary returns for their family back home.  further, they could not even run away from the situation as they had no means of going back home. Most of them were illegal immigrants and avoided the legal procedures.

A Powerful Ambassador‘ is a unique story in Three Thousand Stitches. It depicts how in foreign lands, the Indian Film Industry has made an indelible mark. Even though one is not familiar with the local language; one can be comfortable in striking a conversation with the locals regarding Shah Rukh Khan or Amitabh Bachchan or a certain peppy musical. The fact that the film industry was seen as an ambassador of Indian culture and traditions, was a fresh perspective for me.

Rasleela and the Swimming Pool‘ is the funniest modern dramatization of an episode from an Indian epic that I have ever read. The modification brought about by children who re-narrated the story had modern improvisations which are bound to leave the reader amazed.

Three Thousand Stitches is an absolute recommendation from my end. The simplicity of the language and the uncomplicated depiction of emotions and situations are the unique qualities that make this book stand apart. I read it as a part of a mini-December Readathon and I am sure this is a book that would be a great travel companion or your best friend on a lazy winter afternoon.

It is available in all major bookstores or can be purchased via Flipkart, Amazon, and Snapdeal. If you have read the book, I would love to hear your opinion on it. Happy Reading!

 

The Dev Anand Story by Dr Govind Sharma

Abhi Naa Jao chodkar, Ke Dil Abhi Bhara Nahi.” – (Hum Dono, 1961) is the apt song for describing the charisma and aura which reflects from Dev Anand. The Dev Anand Story is a recollection of his rise to stardom and the years after. He was a man who lived for the Indian Film industry and gave back immensely through his expertise in this field. Dr. Govind Sharma has written the book after meticulous research and that is evident from the chapters itself.

Dev Anand worked as a regular employee and struggled in Bombay to make a mark for himself. But after his first break, he never looked back. He did not believe in attaching himself to his works and that is why the success or failure of his movies could not deeply bother him.

Interestingly, as society does with all the actors, he too was not spared of comparison- either with other actors of his time or with his own works. After the phenomenal success of Guide; Dev Anand not only became a household name but also set a benchmark for himself in the world of Indian Cinema, that no other actor or his own work could break. As an actor, he has had his fair share of rumors to deal with but has always been successful in keeping them at bay and impressing his audience with his work.

The Dev Anand Story immortalizes the ma himself through the writings of the author. The principles that he followed all his life, are indeed lessons of life for others. His friendship with Guru Dutt can never be forgotten. While they were both starting out, they each made a promise to the other, which they eventually fulfilled. He was also a true lover although destiny had other plans for him. His relationships with his co-stars – contemporaries or younger- had always been a two-way learning process. He was an experimental man and thus each movie made under his home banner- Navketan Films- had a different theme. However, ironically whenever he signed movies outside his banner he portrayed the stereotypical lover-boy.

Until his death at the age of eighty-eight Dev Anand did not rest. He experimented, acted, directed, produced, and suggested changes for scripts. He especially liked to work with new people as it gave him a newer perspective on situations and life. These traits of his personality truly made him an evergreen hero of the Indian Film Industry. His contributions were immense and his death deeply saddened his fans that spanned over at least three generations.

To conclude I would say that The Dev Anand Story is a great resource for researchers, film students, and anyone who would like to delve deeper into the ideologies of the man himself. His philosophies, struggles, personal life, friendships, experiments, trivia’s, rumors, love life, and a lot more are discussed in details. Nevertheless, one drawback of the book would be its editing. A crisper editing and deletion of repeated points would make the book a perfect read.

The Dev Anand Story is available on Flipkart and Amazon.

Disclaimer: I would like to Thank NotionPress for sending over a review copy in exchange for an honest review.

A Night with a Black Spider by Ambai

Dr. C.S. Lakshmi, who writes under the pseudonym Ambai, in Tamil has woven magic through her stories. Translated from Tamil to English by Aniruddhan Vasudevan, A Night with a Black Spider is an anthology of short stories covering a wide range of topics. The stories steal a contemplative moment in time or depict a mythological sequence. They are realistic, relatable, practical, and philosophical. Her writings take you across the length and breadth of India as well as abroad. Though all seventeen stories written in A Night with a Black Spider are commendable; a few have a left an indelible mark on my memory. I would go on to discuss those in further details.

What seems like a simple trip made by a father and a daughter to the tailor in Journey 11, ends up reminiscing about one’s peers. As old age strikes many of the contemporaries are lost or taken away from us. The only respite then is living with their fond memories. Further, as one is bombarded with the news of their loved ones passing away, they are also drawn into a contemplative mood regarding their own time on this planet.

The titular story- A Night with a Black Spider- in this collection recounts the life of a middle-aged lady. Her life is full of struggles – a broken home, a lonely life and even lonelier nights. In the absence of having anyone to share her thoughts with, the protagonist starts narrating her life’s tale to a black spider. Loneliness is as exhausting as it sometimes is to have a number of people around. But it is for the readers to opine on which one surpasses the other.

Burdensome Days reflects how seemingly perfect made-in-heaven matches can ultimately meet claustrophobic and disastrous ends. The protagonist, for twenty-five years of her marriage, went on compromising her desires and ambitions. She was looked down upon by her in-laws and later her children; and was restricted within the confines of her home, politics, and office. This continued until she freed herself from the burdened cage and took a flight to lead her life her way. The message of women empowerment comes across very strongly through this story.

“Sankar, these are not things. These are what we are.” These lines from When Things Die perfectly sum up the story. Every little object in our possession is a reflection of our tastes, habits, personalities, and memories.  The stories attached to these objects are often too many to let go of, in this lifetime. The attachment to objects can be seen as an individual’s reluctance to let go of worldly ties. Thus it can practically be interpreted as objects survive only as long as their owner does with their memories and experiences. The moment the owner is claimed by death, the significance of these objects withers away.

A Moon to Devour shows the story of many young girls who are betrayed and abandoned by their lovers after having been taken into confidence by them. But what sets this story apart is the single letter written to the protagonist be her lover’s mother which is in favor of a woman. The old adage that a woman is a woman’s worst enemy is shattered by this story.

A Night with a Black Spider also has social-centric stories. While Journey 17 deals in eve- teasing and how difficult is freedom for young girls in Delhi; Journey 14 talks about the prevailing caste system which forbids a staunch believer to even accept water from an individual from a lower class. Though Ambai has beautifully penned down these stories, however at times, the narration is confusing. At times, the protagonist is only referred to as ‘him’ or ‘her’ without a definite identity. Further, the opening story of the collection is a mythological chapter between Mahisasur and Durga. This story, however good it is, is a misfit with the rest of the stories of this collection, in my opinion. Having said that, A Night with a Black Spider is a delightful read, which I completed in a single sitting. The title attracted me most due to its uniqueness.

Here, I would mention Vishal especially, who gifted me this book for Christmas. A Night with a Black Spider is available in your nearest bookstores or can be purchased online through Flipkart, Amazon, and Snapdeal.

A Gift of Goddess Lakshmi by Manobi Bandyopadhyay

Why did he constantly feel like he was a girl even though he had male parts? Why was he attracted to boys in a way that girls usually are? What could he do to stop feeling so incomplete? “ His arrival in the Bandyopadhyay family turned the stars for the family. It was labeled that he was A Gift of Goddess Lakshmi. Little did anyone fathom that he was a reflection of the Goddess herself. Today, as we know her Manobi Bandyopadhyay, was not always Manobi. She was Somnath Bandyopadhyay, but from a very young age knew that her destiny would lead her to become Manobi someday.

Her life is full of struggles, for to be different from the usual norms and be accepted in the society is not an easy proposition. The world portrays a façade of liberalism and open-mindedness; but at its heart, it is still conservative, orthodox, and non-accepting in nature. This is what I found while reading Manobi’s struggle. For her, the tussles and the battle to be accepted began in the comforts of her own house. For years, her father remained in denial towards Somnath’s true calling. Her mother quietly accepted the truth and supported her, but her meek nature dissuaded her to openly supporting her child. To top it all, the chirpings of the neighbors and society who would leave no stones unturned to taunt her and her family, continued for a long time.

It would not be wrong to say that her mother’s background and thoroughness with Bengali Literature inspired her in pursuing a career in academics. What interested me the most was that she wrote for newspapers and magazines during her college days. She even got an assignment to interview Shabana Azmi. Being a journalist myself, this has already formed an imaginary bond between us.

A Gift of Goddess Lakshmi explains Manobi’s life lessons and experiences for the readers to take a cue from and to learn a little more about the human nature and psyche in this world. Right from her school days, she was attractive and the boys eyed her. In fact, many fought amongst themselves only to grab her eyeballs. As the years progressed there were other men in her life, but unfortunately they resulted in heartbreaks, betrayals, disloyalty, and infidelity. But throughout her life, Manobi has held her foot firmly and shown to the world that a woman can survive alone despite all odds and do quite well in life. Her biography shows her relations with her friends from and outside the community. Their lives, occupations and their decisions in life have also been highlighted in the book. A few special pages show some beautiful photographs which clearly portrays how Somnath transformed into the elegant beauty Manobi.

I would take the liberty to end this post on a personal not. I was fortunate enough to sit through her session during the Kolkata Literature Festival 2017.Her’s is a story that would be etched in my mind for a long time. The mental strength that Manobi has, and the ability to face the world with confidence is an inspiration. Her oddity had never been an issue and she has accepted it from the very beginning, and after a long-drawn battle, made the world accept her as she is. The biggest lesson from her life is to realize that it is all right to be different; one must accept, realize and make the world accept it and respect one for what they are.

Manobi, today is the first transgender principle of Krishnagar Women’s College. she took on her duties on 7 June 2015. She currently resides with her adopted son. A Gift of Goddess Lakshmi is available at your nearest bookstores or can be purchased online through Amazon, Flipkart, and Snapdeal.

Austenistan: Edited by Laaleen Sukhera

What happens when Jane Austen meets modern Pakistan- the realm of Austenistan is created! An anthology of seven short stories compiled and edited by Laaleen Sukhera, Austentistan is a one-of-a-kind book. Classic lovers would be well aware of Pride and Prejudice or Emma, two of Austen’s most famous work. They would also be aware of the time she used to pen down her stories, a time when women were not given much independence and freedom. They were known to be the prettier shadows of their better half, lest assured become an independent writer. But Austen broke all societal barriers and penned down some brilliant characters that still find resemblance in contemporary society. Laaleen Sukhera is the founder of the Jane Austen Society of Pakistan. She along with six other writers penned down some amazing stories based on contemporary Pakistani society which finds resemblance vis-à-vis some of Austen’s famous literary characters.

Each story in Austenistan is based on a statement or a theme from Jane Auten’s novels. The quotes at the beginning of the stories, define the storyline. But inside the chapters, the authors carefully elaborate on the various forms of womanhood. It would be appropriate to say that Austenistan celebrates shades of contemporary womanhood. More than defining a woman to be ‘good’ or ‘bad’; it defines the woman according to the ‘greyer’ shades as result of their actions taken in certain situations. Austenistan is bound to touch an emotional chord with the readers.

It is visible in the ‘Fabulous Banker Boys’ by Mahlia S Lone that for a long time, the role of women has been defined strictly within the house limits. Is the duty of a woman only to bear children and look after her husband and in-laws? The arrival of children, it is seen, brings about a lot of visible physical changes in a woman. Does a woman lose the right to appear pretty and beautiful and be showered with some words of love when she has children to look after?  Are girls sent to school as a commodity of competition in the elite society to reach a higher status? Are they only educated so that they would find an eligible match and take over his household with her home science skills? Even today, the academics of a girl child are often compromised compared to their male counterparts. But should this inequality prevail in a contemporary society which boasts of embracing equality?

‘Begum Saira Returns’ by Nida Elley touches upon an important aspect of womanhood. What might appear as a negative shade in women is actually one of the most basic necessities in the life of a woman. Is a young woman, who is all alone, not worthy of love, respect and fulfilling her physical needs? If adorning the apparel of morality, one pushes hard on its negativity; then one would be living a façade; because honestly at times a companion is preferred to lonely and silent nights. Saira’s story also resonates how good looking girls in the elitist society are groomed from an early age to look their part and behave, even if it means embracing people with fake smiles. This strengthens their societal hold. It makes one wonder if having a firm ground in society is all that one could wish for. It is also highlighted how the social status of a woman decreases when her husband dies. For ages, widows have been treated as untouchables often ostracized by the society. Is this sort of treatment really necessary?

The third story of Austenistan, ‘Emaan Ever After’ by Mishayl Naek , echoes the time old adage that Friendship is the first step of love. The comfort that one feels with his/her best friend; the closeness shared; the love-hate relationship portrayed towards one another; is the perfect foundation of love.

A wounded ego is much more dangerous than a wounded heart’. A very true statement from ‘The Mughal Empire’ by Saniyya Gauhar. It traces the life of a heartbroken woman, who masks her jealousy and pride; only to find that solace lies in letting go and looking towards other opportunities.

A woman goes through many changes after she is married. Even her partner does not remain the same as he was before marriage. His ways of expressing emotions are subtle and soft. It is almost as if, he showers his love in tender ways without making a show of it to the world. But does a woman always want that? Does she not want her man to show her some love in front of the world? This becomes further complicated if the couple is blessed with a child. The arrival of a child makes both halves more disciplined and mature. Clouded by new responsibilities they cannot live the care-free life they used to. And in this process, it is usually seen that the woman ends up making the maximum sacrifice. ‘The Autumn Ball’ by Gayathri Warnasuriya is a story based on such husband-wife relationships.

Sonya Rehman’s ‘Only The Deepest Love’ talks of various crucial social issues that are prevalent in contemporary times. From domestic violence to covering up a gay marriage by getting a man married to a woman and partially destroying her life, these are some of the themes touched upon in this story.

On The Verge’ by Laleen Sukhera shows how the elitist society works when it comes to creating gossips and fixing a marriage. Parties, Balls, and Marriages are the best places to make headlines in. While some people leave no stones unturned to deliberately appear in the front pages of the newspaper; for some a comical twist of fate are responsible for the same.

Thus, the seven protagonists of Austentistan show us the real nature of contemporary society. You need to read the stories for yourself and feel the emotions portrayed by the characters to appreciate the beauty of this book. Austentistan is available online through Flipkart, Snapdeal, and Amazon; or can be purchased directly from Bloomsbury.

*Disclaimer: I was given a review copy by Bloomsbury in exchange for an honest review.

Hell! No Saints in Paradise by A.K. Asif

Do you often smirk at the existence of Hell and Heaven? Do you completely disregard the existence of other worlds? Then you are not too different from the protagonist of Asif’s latest novel, Hell! No Saints in Paradise. Ismael, a young lad pursuing higher academics, is all set to write his thesis- a paper highlighting the concepts of Heaven and Hell. Ironically, he does not believe in the existence of any of the two worlds. It was at this juncture of life that he meets a beautiful lady at a café who guides him to sign up for an Ayahuasca- a session conducted to know one’s inner self. Little did Ismael know that this session and what happens after would change his way towards life and push him on a rollercoaster journey of a (few) lifetime.

Ismael is seen to be in a constant fight with himself, to prove his theories right. What is noticed is that his stubbornness of having an opinion on something as crucial and sensitive as religion does not leave him space to consider other possibilities. Moreover, the fact that his father was a staunch follower of his religion and he had a strained relationship with his father; also pointed towards his need to prove himself correct over his father’s belief.

The father-son relationship is explored well through the novel. It is often said that the way parents behave in front of their children affects their beliefs and personalities to a great extent. But it is seen, that Ismael hardly shares a bond with his father who is portrayed as a Casanova having taken more than one wife. In fact, his father’s seventh wife was his lover at one point in time. This further strained their relationship, to an extent that Ismael left home for the US and had never been back for a good twelve years. His father too had been very callous about Ismael as a young motherless boy who needed to be guided and often displayed him as an object. Ismael, being the strong boy that he was refused to be thus and ran away from the shackles of this bondage. However, a strange turn of events makes him go back to his homeland to clear up and ‘unwanted’ and ‘unknown’ mess.

Ismael finds himself entering an almost unknown country when he visits his homeland after a sabbatical of twelve years. With strange rules and stranger beliefs, Ismael finds himself baffled as the people blindly follow irrational principles or superstitions just because they have been made a rule, by the Khalifa. However, by trying to uniform the behavior of all the citizens in a similar pattern, the Khalifa is brewing something even more sinister up his sleeves. And as Divine Intervention has it, it is for Ismael to prevent this world from going any further down to the dogs, (well maybe cats here!).

Hell! No Saints in Paradise gives its readers a tour of Hell and Heaven and it is definitely not what one might have had in mind. From mythical creatures like Ababeels, Nakir and Munkar to beautiful palaces and ponds all draw a pen picture of Hell and Heaven. It holds special significance for Ismael to be brought to both the dimensions so as to restore his faith in his religion. His experience in both the places reminds the readers of the old adage- No Pain no Gain. In order to reach one’s destination, one has to endure a lot of struggles and emerge victoriously. Interestingly, it is pointed out, that failing in a given task is acceptable but what is required is the emotion of self-acceptance and the desire to better oneself then onwards. This is often referred to as the idea of Purification. But only a few know that real purification of the soul happens on Earth itself. One need not go mad with the desire of having a son or going to Heaven to be blessed with a pure soul.

Throughout his journey between the different realms, Ismael rediscovers himself. In fact, it is almost seen that he starts to understand his father. Unable to control his baser instincts, Ismael succumbed to several vices. It is then that he realized how low a pawn his father was to his baser instincts that he was not able to control himself. Ismael, after understanding that he had almost trodden on the same path as his father, reduced his hardness for him. Though still distanced from each other, Father and Son were seen bonding once or twice.

A.K. Asif adds to his vibrant portrayal of Hell and Heaven, his charmingly witty anecdotes through the comments made by Ismael. Some of the customs and traditions that were ridiculed by him find his mocking comments through moments of sarcasm and wit. Hell! No Saints in Paradise is definitely a book that I recommend- no matter you are an atheist or a believer- just for the sheer brilliance with which it has been penned down and its immense audience attracting power.

The book is available at your nearest bookstores or can be purchased online through Flipkart, Snapdeal, and Amazon.

*Disclaimer: I was given a Review Copy of the Book by @Writersmelon in exchange for an honest review.

Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward

Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward deserves the National Award that it proudly holds. Written in the backdrop of a colored family living in the United States, it is narrated by Jojo/ Joseph, a thirteen-year-old child; Leonie, his mother, and Richie a former prison inmate whom Jojo’s maternal grandfather befriended.

This novel raises some serious question on the attitude of the Whites against the Blacks. The theme of racism is portrayed through major and minor incidents- like when a shopkeeper moves further off from Jojo while he is making a purchase; or during his grandfather’s stay at The Parchman, the official prison. It is seen that the Blacks are subjected to not only racism but also have to face brutalities like getting beaten up or getting raped- men and women alike- by the Whites. This raises some very pertinent questions-Should people be discriminated only because of their color?  Is this path humane enough for contemporary educated individuals to follow?  Where are the activists who propagate social equality, when it is needed the most? Does society not alienate a group of people, maybe even ostracize and turn them hostile through racial discrimination?

Interestingly, amidst all this, Leonie marries Michael in an inter-racial marriage. This, however, brings a storm in both the houses. Leonie is colored and Michael, the son of a proud, yet racist White Man; the marriage ends in distancing both individuals from their families. While Michael’s does not even bother to keep in touch and check on their grandchildren; Leonie’s family, on the other hand, accepted the marriage and took them and the grandchildren in. Nevertheless, the relationships were always strained between Michael and his in-laws.

Reading time at the lake.

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Leonie is shown as a woman who is too full of herself. All she can think of is her needs and her life with Michael, which makes her ignore her children- Jojo and Kayla. In fact, she even resorts to substance abuse to distance herself from the harsh and strenuous realities. However, her behavior deeply hurts the children and to such an extent that they have stopped caring about her and do not try to build any parental relationship with her or Michael. She often neglects her children, especially Jojo and does not hesitate to resort to corporate punishment, when she thinks it is necessary. Hence, Leonie comes off as a mother who does not deserve to have children. Her attitude questions the ethics of parenting. It is her father and mother, referred to as Pop and Mam respectively who sympathize with the children and try their best to bring them up providing them all the facilities and love. In fact, with the absence of parents, Jojo steps up to be the parent Kayla would never have. He is more of a mother and a father to Kayla than their own parents. Further, Leonie, at times does want Kayla to come to her, to love her and spend time with her. But the fact that she values her needs more than that of her children, have already distanced them from her; and thus, she is also jealous of  Jojo for getting the love from Kayla that she sometimes wants herself.

Sing, Unburied, Sing holds a cloud of mystery around each of its characters. It is as if they all have a dark past and an enthralling tale to tell. However, they are restricted in narrating their tales due to various external factors. Leonie could see her older brother every time she experiences a high from her substance abuse; Jojo could see Richie, a young inmate of Parchman who knew his grandfather; Pop would narrate stories of his time at the Parchman but never had the courage to end Richie’s story; Richie, on the other hand, seemed to be held captive in an undead dimension knowing he might be released if he gets answers to his questions from Pop.

The novel also resonates the Idea of Home. Leonie and Michael wanted to settle down in a home of their own instead of living at Leonie’s place. But neither had the means nor the finance to do so, having gone wayward a long time ago. For Jojo and Kayla, the home was never a happy place. Jojo,  burdened with the duties and responsibilities of a parent to Kayla, could never live a liberated life like other children of his age. Pop, at his ripe old age, spent his days looking after the house, his sick wife and bringing up the children.  He too was burdened with the sadness of losing his son and seeing his daughter go full rouge in front of him. Often the sense of belonging is attached to the idea of home. But looking at the situation and circumstances of this family, any onlooker can comment on the authenticity of their belonging to where they were and whether they were satisfied with it.

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One of the most important themes that Sing, Unburied, Sing explores is the theme of being trapped and liberated. It is seen that external forces have trapped each of the characters in their own realm. Though they live together, they are burdened by their own thoughts, misdeeds, questions, answers, and expectations. This traps them in their own world making it less possible to understand the other and sympathize with them.

However, the way Jesmyn Ward weaves the personalities of the various characters, it is impossible to not sympathize with even one of them. They all have their own shades of grey and those are quite justified in their own positions. Ward has built an imagery of intellectual montage throughout her novel which kept unfolding past and present sequences along with esoteric notions.

I would definitely recommend my friends to read this book. It is a contemplative book on various thought-provoking issues that must be paid attention to. Sing, Unburied, Sing is available on Flipkart, Amazon, and Snapdeal.

*Disclaimer: I was sent a copy of the book by Bloomsbury in exchange for an honest review.