An Evening with Shrabani Basu

Victoria and Abdul, written by Shrabani Basu has created a rage in the world of literature. Now a major motion picture, starring Judi Dench and Ali Fazal, the movie has won the hearts of the people; but more so it is the book which has attracted the many. Abdul was a young Indian servant, ‘gifted’ by the British jailor to the Queen as one of her Jubilee Presents.  Little did anyone fathom of the extraordinary relationship this mere servant would have with the Empress of India in the days to come.  You can read the full review of the book Victoria and Abdul, published by Bloomsbury here.

Two days ago when I received an e-mail from Bloomsbury that Shrabani Basu would be launching Victoria and Abdul in Kolkata, it did not take me a second to decide that I would be joining the event. So, there I was at Oxford Bookstores today, at 5 pm, watching the master story-teller unveil the book herself. The session started with a trailer of the movie and was followed by a short presentation by Basu, on the storyline and her research.  The session was moderated by Sujata Sen, CEO Future Hope and the Chief Guest for the evening was Mr. Bruce Bucknell, British Deputy High Commissioner in Kolkata.

From Left (Sharabani Basu, Bruce Bucknell, Sujata Sen)
Photo: @fict.scoop

Basu was not only the author of the book but had played the role of a consultant throughout the movie. The tremendous amount of research that she conducted to bring alive the story of an era gone by is indeed commendable. She went through the length and breadth of the UK and India to discover journals, memoirs, diaries, letters and anything that would help her in authenticating the novel. Given that Edward the Seventh had actually burnt down all letters exchanged between Victoria and Abdul, it was indeed tough to find authentic material to substantiate the research and put it to paper. In fact, the research alone took around four years.

Nevertheless, all the hard work has indeed paid off when the world has witnessed the story of a vibrant character like Abdul, who was completely wiped off from the map of the world. The story also highlights the character of the  Queen. She was opined to be strict, bossy, ruthless and ugly. But in fact, because of Shrabani Basu, the world now knows her as a lonely, broken woman behind the veil of utmost power who was tormented by loneliness, monarchial pressures, and a broken family. Having remained a widow for over four decades she found solace in her friendship with Abdul. The young servant, on the other hand, was proud, arrogant, and maybe a bit bossy but was equally humble and caring. In fact, he returned to India as a broken man after the Queen’s death and maintained a dignified silence on the whole issue till his own death.

The evening saw a holistic discussion of the book and the floor was open to the audience for a Q/A session. One question which stayed imprinted on my mind was asked by Sujata Sen, “At which moment did the book become a film?“. To which the author promptly replied, ” As soon as it was published.”  As always, an eventful session was followed by the book signing session and what better than getting the book signed by her!

For me, it was a wonderful evening.  I would like to thank Bloomsbury for inviting and giving me an opportunity to be a part of something so amazing. Further, such events taking place in Kolkata would be a great answer to those critics so often comment that ‘all good events take place in other cities‘. Moreover, the chance to meet my fellow bookstagrammers-  Aditi, Mridula, Aritri, Chandrima, Priya was something that I would thoroughly cherish.

Yours truly getting her book signed.
Photo: Asif

Journey Across The Street by Madhusudhan R

“We live among stories. Our past is the story we know and the future is the story that will be told to us. Our story is already written by the puppeteer above us, but it is we who choose its genre.” Journey Across the Street by Madhusudhan R. is a beautiful tale of two best friends, with poles apart attitude, who saw their friendship blossom into love.

The protagonist of the novel is Goutham Jain, a young final year engineering student, with a knack for film-making. His life is quite ordinary with his sets of friends who are also his film-making crew, regular parents, and family, constant complains about seemingly stupid have-to-dos in life and what not. Goutham is equally popular among girls and has a trail of girlfriends behind him. However, one name –Rhea Patel- often came to his mind; for she was his childhood friend, who lived across the street; and was out of talking terms for fourteen long years.

Rhea, on the other hand, is very different from most girls of her age. Apart from being smart and beautiful; she is caring and loves to meet new people and travel to unknown places by often notoriously vanishing from her house. She dared to live her life carefree and discover places no one knew of. She lived stories and memories of people she met.

However, her odd lifestyle often gave birth to rumors across her back regarding her character. Interestingly, after a hiatus of fourteen long years, Rhea crosses the street to meet Goutham one night. From then on, there is no looking back; as both fall deeply in love with each other.  What followed this was a terrible incident which was given birth due to unfulfilled desires, inequality, stigma, and non-acceptance in the society. The question that follows is will Rhea and Goutham be able to fight against all odds and spend their lives together?

Journey Across The Street is a very coming-of-age novel. But what I liked about it is that it explores a lot of social themes under its contemporary storyline; for instance, the importance of a mother. A mother is an important part of one’s life, no matter how much we fight with them. Even if we have a good father, there exists a void with the absence of a mother figure which cannot be easily filled. A mother’s love is irreplaceable. Thus to find similar love, people can take extreme actions. One can also notice that those with a single parent often feel neglected and ignored. This gives rise to various distractions like substance abuse or trying to find love in extreme conditions. One often feels lonely and it can make one rebellious in nature, just as Rhea had become. But she never lost her humane side. She was a regular visitor at an orphanage and was sensitive towards people and their needs from a very young age.

Madhusudhan has also dealt with an important aspect of social acceptance. Often those who belong to the lower rungs of the society are not equally accepted in it. The idea of class difference based on monetary assets still exists in contemporary worlds, no matter how much does one claim to be equal. More often than not, those who have been brought up by honest parents through hard times have come to accept the fact that this world does not respect those who are moralistic, hardworking and honest. In fact, it disregards them and their existence, often insulting them. A combination of these social factors can affect an individual’s psyche such that it can bring out the criminal instincts in them.

Journey Across the Street, as the title suggests, is a journey made by both Goutham and Rhea to find true love, to immerse in each other’s life; knowing well that they had distinct and opposite personalities. As they say, opposites attract, such was the case of these two lovebirds where two strong contrasting personalities came into each other’s lives only to nourish it, strengthen it and become each other’s support in difficult times.

The novel is well written, however as a reader I found two issues. The story starts with a narrative of a boy trying to woo a girl. After reading the entire sequence, one would figure out that it was actually a scene from a short film written and directed by the protagonists. This strategy works really well on-screen but in a book, it might be a little misleading and at times disappoint the audience. The second issue that I found was the lack of crisper editing.

Nevertheless, Journey Across The Street is the kind of book that would make for a great companion on long road trips or vacations or simply when you are looking for some me –time with a book and a cup of coffee.  The book is available on Amazon and Flipkart.

*Disclaimer: I was sent an e-book of Journey Across The Street by the Book Planet PR as part of their Author Highlights and Review Tour, in exchange for an honest review.

 

 

The Liberation of Sita by Volga

The mighty Indian epic- Ramayana recounts the bravery of Rama. However, the life of Sita is almost overshadowed in the epic. Her journey, emotions, lessons and the ultimate Liberation of Sita has been portrayed by Volga in her book.

Volga raises certain pertinent questions about the lives of women and womanhood, as such; most of which are still relevant. Women, from time immemorial, has been placed as objects of politics and entertainment in the society. Often political relations were established by giving off a princess in marriage to the allies or enemies; like in the instances of Gandhari from Mahabharat or Jodha to Mughal Sultan Akbar. But ‘Do women exist only by men to settle their scores?’ Ar their lives always engulfed by the clouds of politics? One such woman was Surpanakha, often seen as a villainous and lusty character in the epic. However, the only mistake committed by Ravana’s sister was to be bold enough to profess her love for Rama. Should women bold enough to accept their feelings, silenced with the same fate as Surpanakha? Or was this a political strategy played by Rama to invoke the wrath of his enemy, the Demon King? Surpanakha, on the other hand, suffered many hardships to realize ‘ that the meaning of success for a woman does not lie in her relationship with a man.’ A woman is capable to be a successful person on her own and at times more successful than men.

During her life at the Palace, Sita had heard of Ahalya and how men and women alike despised her, for no mistake of her own. Despite being warned to stay away from her, Sita befriends her; and Ahalya becomes her guide during some of the roughest phases of her life. She taught Sita the essence of trust in the relationship between a husband and wife. ‘What does conducting an enquiry mean, Sita? Distrust isn’t it? ‘ A man repeatedly puts his wife through tests definitely distrusts her and her actions. To this Ahalya takes the stand of self-authority. she tells all women to refuse to bow down to these tests and patriarchal subjugation. Nevertheless, Sita did bow down once when Rama asked her to walk on fire. But years later, upon her return from the forest, she refused to submit to any more conditions and embraced the touch of Mother Earth.

The Liberation of Sita narrates the tale of Renuka who was the mother of Parashuram and was instructed to be beheaded by her husband. Parashuram took the responsibility of doing so on himself. Sita was taught the lesson of sacrifice by Renuka. Renuka experienced that although women gave birth to the future of the Kingdoms, they had no control over the future heirs. the allegiance of a son lies wholly towards his father and not his mother. Thus, Sita at the end of her life’s journey decides to leave Luv Kush with Rama before departing from the world. The same can be seen in the Mahabharat when Ganga sacrifices her son Devrath and asks him to pay allegiance to his father, King Shantanu. It was believed that sons were given birth to, for the greater good of the Kingdom and the society; and thus it was best to let them perform their duties rather than be tied down by personal relations. The knowledge of ruling a Kingdom could only be passed down from one King to another, or from Father to Sons. Hence, the fathers had a greater hold on their sons as opposed to the birth-giver.

One of the most forgotten characters in the Ramayana is that of Urmila, the wife of Lakshmana. She went through the severe penance of separation from her husband during his exile for fourteen years. Any woman in her place would have been red with anger throwing tantrums against the injustice brought on her. But Urmila chooses to adopt a higher path of self-discovery, self-authority, self-contentment, and liberation. She realized that an individual is bound by no authority and relationships in life, but by self -authority. Maintaining self-authority through gaining knowledge and meditation is the ultimate stage of life that one can achieve. The idea of being unchained gives one the power to forgive and forget, and embrace any situation with practical understanding and an open heart.

As a reader when you pick up the book the name of the novel would quite literally mean the Liberation of  Sita, but the implied meaning also suggests the liberation of Rama. Sita, by learning the importance of the many facets of life from women of strong mettle liberates herself from the shackles of society and its so-called imposed ways of life. And by doing so, in fact, protects Rama. She forgives and forgets the wrongs done to her and frees Rama from the bondage of a relationship which he could not justify, as his duties demanded him to act otherwise. She even went on to sacrifice motherhood by leaving her sons behind with Rama.

The Liberation of Sita is an ultimate realization of women empowerment. The fact that a man is not necessary for the survival of a woman and that she alone has the ability to embrace peace, thus liberating herself and those around her, are the biggest takeaways from the book. The Liberation of Sita is written in Telugu by Popuri Lalitha Kumari (Volga) and translated into English by T. Vijay Kumar and C.Vijayasree. The book is available in all major bookstores and can be ordered online through Amazon and Snapdeal .

Happy Reading!

 

Superwomen: Inspiring Stories of 20 Women entrepreneurs by Prachi Garg

Prachi Garg’s Superwomen is a Pandora’s Box for aspiring women entrepreneurs. Often, business and its related facets are identified as  ‘man’s world’. But what in today’s world can a woman not do? Superwomen explore the fantastic journey of twenty women who dared to follow their hearts and leave behind their identity of a conventional 9-5 office worker. Of course, it would not have been an easy road for any of them. But the fact that these brave women rode on a path less traveled; overcame all hurdles and emerged as winners in their respective fields; speaks volumes about their hard-work and persistence.

It is interesting to note that not all the entrepreneurs began as experts in their fields. In fact, most of the experience was acquired on-the-job. There exists a huge discrepancy between the theory of business management and the survival in the field in real terms. These skills of leadership and expertise are acquired on the way after having made several mistakes. Some of the real-life challenges for any entrepreneur include the tactics of pitching their business; to build trust among clients; to build a sustainable reputation; acquire funding; to build a judicious working model; get working hands; overcome frauds and fight sexist attitudes of people on being a female entrepreneur. What I found common in these feisty women is their ability to place themselves as the customer first. Only if one visualizes the point-of-view of the clients, can one understand the vacuum between the demand and supply chain.

My lemon tea with @i_rajdip cappuchino and an amazing and inspiring book.

A post shared by Subhadrika Sen (@subhadrika007) on

Garg’s idea of covering women entrepreneurs is commendable as they are often less talked about. I also liked the fact that the highlights included their background, how they came into their field of business, their inspirations and challenges and future vision.  It is also satisfying to read customer feedback for many of the ventures. Client views often give the much-needed confidence to new users in trying out a product or service. This only increases the client’s faith in the business. The twenty women covered in the book and their ventures are:

  1. Medhavi Gandhi of Happy Hands, who believes in the potential of traditional art forms.
  2. Ria Sharma of Make Love Not Scars, that works for the upliftment and empowerment of acid attack victims.
  3. Richa Singh started Your D.O.S.T to offer virtual counseling aid.
  4. Masoom Minawala of Style Fiesta who believes in reinventing the style quotient in women.
  5. Rachana Nagranee of Pitaraa, a unique and trendy organization promoting accessories and much more.
  6. Richa Kar of Zivame who brought a revolution in the field of purchasing women’s lingerie.
  7. Sneha Raisoni of Tappu Ki Dukaan, a place with quirky curios and gift items to remember your special visit to Mumbai.
  8. Swati Maheshwari and Sunita Jaju of Rustic art, promote an organic way of living.
  9. Alicia Souza is a graphic freelancer.
  10. Anisha Singh of MyDala makes life easier for people by making online discount coupons available to them.
  11. Charnita Arora of Perfect Life Spot focusses on the overall development of every student.
  12. Falak Randerian of My Little Chatterbox aims to create a reading culture among children.
  13. Geetika Chadha of Imagenie provides image management consultancy
  14. Pankhuri Shrivastava of GrabHouse has made it easier for people to look up to real estate investment without having to go through brokers.
  15. Rashi Narang started a whole new range of pet accessories through Heads Up For Tails
  16. Saumya Vardhan of ShubhPuja has made it easier to find resources for any ceremonies and astrological consultancies.
  17. Sneh Sharma of Ittisa is a girls-only digital marketing agency
  18. Dr. Surbhi Mahajan’s Dermatocare makes it easier for people to get derma care from the comforts of their homes.
  19. Tina Garg of Pink Lemonade promotes brand strategies and communication.
  20. Vidula Kanikar Kothare of Think Creative AdSolutions provides end to end digital marketing solutions.

What amazes me is that these superwomen have found a way to balance personal and professional lives; for which I look up to them. Their stories are inspiring and future entrepreneurs should take a cue from them to follow their dreams and never back down. These superwomen had the guts and the mettle to become the change that they wanted to see in the society and transform their passion into their profession.

On a more personal front, I love admiring folk art and tradition, though I am not a very artistic person. Hence Happy Hands became one of my favorites soon after reading the book. Your D.O.S.T is a concept; I am completely in awe of. Today society has become such that an individual is often burdened by inflicted peer pressures and worries. They do need an outlet to talk about their issues, which in most communities is still a taboo. With Your D.O.S.T this is slowly materializing into a much-needed yet confidential help for the individuals.

I would like to conclude with some food for thought. The society today has risen above the conventional professions. The fact that new age entrepreneurs are emerging and finding success only points out how acceptable the society is becoming. Further, the fact that women are donning the hats of an entrepreneur is also likely to break the shackles of gender confines, that earlier existed. With the emergence of E-cells in colleges and Universities, pitching seminars, workshops, training, networking opportunities; the path of entrepreneurs in India and abroad have been made easily accessible to individuals having out-of-the-box ideas. And lastly, Superwomen has been penned down by a superwoman herself. Prachi Garg is an entrepreneur having co-founded Ghoomophiro.com and Anmoluphar.com. The book is available on Amazon, Flipkart, and Snapdeal to order online.

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

Animal Farm by George Orwell

Animal Farm by George Orwell has been described as the remains of “our great satire of the darker face of modern history” by Malcolm Bradbury. True to the name, the novel is about an animal farm run by humans. But before long, the animals, especially the pigs rebel against the former owner and managers and drive them away claiming all the land to themselves. They even erect the Seven Commandments or principles that all animals were to follow in a newfound ‘liberal’ farm. However, a note must be taken of the fact that a peaceful Animal Farm is a Utopian imagery. A Rebellion is always followed by counter-attacks. Hence, the defeated men tried to launch a counter-attack and reclaim their farm; but alas they were defeated once again! The belonging and emotion that the animals expressed towards their home even lead some of them to become martyrs while seriously injuring many others.

For a while, things are at peace and all animals are equal. They are noted to call each other as ‘Comrades’. However, it is soon seen that the animals started requiring a leader to lead them and give them their daily or weekly tasks because the management and control of the farm were beginning to go haywire. But what happens when the leaders fall prey to greed and changing values that manipulate the very principle of freedom and equality that once formed the foundations of the Animal Farm? At the beginning ribbons adorning a pony, human beds, tools, clothes etc. are seen as symbols of animal slavery and are boycotted as part of the Rebellion. Nevertheless, as the days passed, it appeared that the pigs, especially Napoleon, were appearing to be the new leaders of the group. A lot of facilities were being reserved only for the pigs. This included a healthy part of their weekly rations. Moreover, the leaders slowly started changing their perception in adaptation to the situation at hand. They started re-introducing man-made facilities in the Animal Farm as per their comfort, and all who tried to raise a voice were successfully brainwashed.

Napoleon started changing and that too drastically. From building a windmill to equivocally interpreting the founding principles of Animal Farm and even pronouncing radical measures for the supposed betrayers, makes the readers question the ideologies that formed Animal Farm. In fact, earlier where all traces of human beings were removed; now a human was the mode of communication between the farm and the world outside. Napoleon also started building trade relations with the owners of the neighboring farms. Orwell truly climaxed the novel with the Quote, “The creatures looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again: but already it was impossible to say which was which.” It would not be wrong to wonder if Napoleon took on the shoes of a Dictator with his powerful oratory and intelligence, and his faithful stooges by his side.

Animal Farm is a brilliant satire on the revolt of the working class against the ruling class; their internal struggles, brainwashing, crumbling philosophy and corrupt leaders are all beautifully portrayed through the animal characters of the novel. With the simple, yet elegant and powerful storyline, Orwell has indeed given birth to an iconic piece of work which would continue to earn appreciation for many generations to come. His tagline, “All animals are equal. But some animals are more equal than others.” fits perfectly in the socio-political scenario of many countries. His metaphoric criticism of the society reveals his deep understanding and sheer justice of an issue which would remain relevant time –immemorial.

Animal Farm is a must read from my end. The book is available in multiple editions in all major bookstores and can also be ordered online through Flipkart, Snapdeal, and Amazon.

Adventures in Farland by Moshank Relia

Ask a child what kind of stories do they want to hear and a chorus resonates throughout the surroundings with decipherable words like fairies, prince, princesses, magic and the like. Moshank Relia’s Adventures in Farland takes care of most of these characters and introduces more; thus becoming one of the perfect bed times stories for children. Farland is a fictional kingdom whose stories are told to children like Mira as folk tales and legends. But what happens when Mira and her childhood friends Bira and Vira, the clumsy twins get to experience the magic of Farland on their own? 

Starhead

Adventure in Farland traces the adventures Mira, Bira and Vira have when they are invited to Farland for a celebration. While the kingdom is immersed in happiness and celebrations, an evil witch is trying to wake up a legendary dragon to take over the kingdom. Slowly, she is imprisoning all the faithful defenders of the land by casting a spell over them. With fewer defenders in the kingdom and most people merry-making at the Party, Mira takes it upon herself to save the kingdom from the clutches of the evil witch and help in returning peace to the land. Mira is portrayed as the little girl full of virtues who one looks up to for idealistic inspiration. Her loyalty to her friends, kindness, bravery and great presence of mind that is required for taking quick decisions sets her apart as a child, who has the right sense of mind to act correctly even under pressure. 

Relia lives up to the expectation of the children by presenting characters like Bushy, a man with a bush on his head with ladybugs encircling around; or Starhead, an ace pilot who has a star as his head from which light glows all the time. Animal characters like Mastiff, the dog; Bony, the cat, a crow, and eagles are also incorporated in the story. These characters help in building the sense of imagination in a child. It gives them the freedom to visualize a character according to their own comfort. It also serves as a great source of teaching to the children. 

I found it interesting while reading that even though Adventures in Farland is a book for the children with fun characters; it is successful in disseminating some of the core values to a child. What I liked the most is that it is not preachy in direct verses about the good and the bad consequences of our actions; but rather show us examples to take a cue from and take the right decisions. 

The lovely illustrations following the stories not only break the monotonous black and white of the letters but also give a moment to absorb the storyline and the characters by the reader. Children especially rely on the visuals more than the letters and thus, illustrations form a special part of books meant for children. The language too comprise  nature imageries and metaphors which helps in building  imaginative skills in children. 

I would recommend all my friends who have children or younger brothers and sisters to read this out to them. Most are bound to be engrossed in the simple yet interesting twists and plots of this adventurous bed time story. 
*Disclaimer: I was sent an e-book of Adventures in Farland in exchange of an honest review. This was done as part of the BookPlanetPR’s book review tour . 

Borderline by Shabri Prasad Singh

Borderline by Shabri Prasad Singh is a beautifully crafted story of a vulnerable young girl, Amrita Srivastava and the idea of human psyche and self-identification. It traces the journey of Amrita through various cities and continents and uncovers psychologically relevant challenges that she faces in her life.

Amrita Srivastava, the protagonist of Borderline, is seen to be very attached to her father. In fact, she can be truly called ‘Daddy’s Little Girl’, though her love for her mother must not be overlooked as well. Things came crumbling down when her parents took an extreme decision in their lives; and with her father’s untimely death ,the  shock was too much to take in .

She started finding the same love and comfort that her father expressed towards her, in all the men she met. But each relationship ended up in a disaster crushing her inner strength a little more. The last straw to it all was when her friend in whom she confided her life’s struggles betrayed her in the worst possible way. This led her to the end of her endurance ability, ultimately leading her to being diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder. But Amrita was a strong girl and determined to not give up. Borderline focuses on her journey before and after being diagnosed and her actions and reactions to her condition and situations in life.

Borderline emphasizes on some of the very important contemporary issues which should be dealt with  seriousness and spoken about in the society without inhibitions. Parents are an essential aspect and part of every child’s life. Their influence is primordial during the growing years. But when parents tend to drift apart, the sense of loss, belonging and allegiance starts interfering with the normal functioning of the heart and mind of a child. This can give birth to passive psychological issues which can manifest themselves to a great extent when triggered by a memory or a situation. Another facet of today’ harsh reality is finding true love. Every girl desires to be loved and be able to love the man of her dreams. But what happens when the man is only in search of a female body and the girl crosses all limits in trying to make him fall in love? It is of terrible consequences! Thus young adults are often warned about the paths they embark upon and the people on whom they place their trust.

Shabri Prasad Singh has been very bold to point out the need of psychiatric welfare for an individual; especially among the young adults. Discussing a visit to the counsellor has often been seen as a taboo in the society. People hesitate to talk about it openly and many do not voluntarily opt for counselling sessions. But it is a necessity in today’s world that one need not be ashamed of. It is equally important to take care of one’s emotional and psychological well-being besides physical well-being. One should remember that in the end hope always wins. There can be dark days in a person’s life; but the silver lining always awaits. Hence, one must cling onto hope till the last breath.

I would recommend all my friends to read Borderline, as it deals with a relevant story arranged and presented in a way that is bound to leave its desired impact on the readers. In fact, it is also a must read for those who are connected to the field of psychology in any way. Some of the gravest concerns like love, self-acceptance, suicide, loss of belonging; self –hate and others are well addressed through this book. It is an eye-opener to the world regarding the victims of Borderline Personality Disorder as it highlights the truth through a first person narrative. It also makes the audience realise the importance of physical and psychological well-being and that through acceptance, love and understanding every problem in the world has a solution.

Borderline can be purchased online through Flipkart, Snapdeal and Amazon.

*Disclaimer: I was sent a Review Copy by Communications Inc in exchange of an honest review.

Boi Toi Khabar Dabar: An Initiative by Gulmohar Resources

Early November, Gulmohar Resources embarked on a unique initiative called: Boi Toi Khabar Dabar (BTKD) . Preparations for the event had begun sometime back. From conceptualizing the event by Paroma Sengupta, founder of Gulmohar Resources; to designing an interesting invitation graphic by Manasij Dutta all added to the flavour of hosting this unique event which culminated on the 5th of November.

About Gulmohar Resources:

Gulmohar is an initiative that works on creating locale specific educational material through the use of stories, poems, games and theatre.It also takes keen interest in trying to save the already dying environment by adopting eco-friendly methods in going about its resource developments. You can know more about Gulmohar through its blog  and Instagram Page .

About Boi Toi Khabar Dabar:

Books assembled for exchanging

BTKD was a one-of-its kind event curated by Gulmohar. It was an event where book lovers gathered together to exchange old books that they would no longer require, wrapped in newspapers; to maintain the level of surprise among the audience. The guests talked about books, literature, poetry, environment, social causes and anything that they wanted to talk about. Then there was a book exchange session where one could pick up a book or two. . .three. . .four and ultimately  the gathering concluded with lovely home-made vanilla cakes, pasta and the ever-present Bangali Cha! Participants who attended the event came from all walks of life- college-goers, IT professionals, bankers and social workers. The discussions began with an introduction of the participants and then moved straight onto books, poetry, favourite authors, poets, contemporary and classical literature and much more. Many present were associated with social causes and they spoke about their initiatives as well. The participants were given postcards, Gulmohar Resources Illustrated Books and bookmarks in brilliantly made paper bags by Anushka. A donation box was also conceptualized where the guests contributed and the proceeds of which would be used to purchase books for the children of All Bengal Women’s Union.

Stills from the event I *(From Left: Paroma Di, Altaf , Monishita)

The key takeaway from the event was to meet like-minded people and talk about the joy of reading. Every individual has a different reading habit or a different genre that they favour. It was wonderful to hear such people talk so passionately about their preferences in books and why were they so. In fact, apart from books, I am sure most left the venue making a mental note a long list of books that would add to their list of To-Be-Read soon.

Who Participated?

Being a small event and the first of its kind, we had around 15 participants- Paroma Di and her mother; Anushka (researcher at JU and a fellow Volunteer at Share Stories Open Minds); Prosenjit Da and Altaf; Monishita, Ravi, Priya (fellow Xavierians); Smita Di;  Nayani Aunty ; Debjani Ma’am; Neha; Sayan and Suman Da. (Not counting Yours Truly in the list)

The Feedback:

Gulmohar was overwhelmed with the responses and feedback it garnered through the event. Prosenjit Da commented, “It was wonderful to meet so many people who are passionate about books as well as social causes! Thanks to all who organised it. The Pasta was to die for, by the way!’’ Many who could not attend the event for various reasons had also extended their warm wishes and good luck for the event.

The organisers hope to be able to bring out a Second edition of BTKD soon. If you would like to know more about this initiative, you can stay connected to them through their blog and Instagram accounts. Here is a report of the event on their blog. Alternately, you can also stay connected to regular updates through my Instagram and Twitter Profiles.  Do leave a comment if you liked this initiative and would like to be invited for the next edition (NOTE: This is open to residents of Kolkata only)

Victoria and Abdul by Shrabani Basu : A Review

Victoria and Abdul sheds light on a forgotten historical Indian figure who rose on his own merits in the Court of the British Queen ; and was wiped out from the blackboard of history; only to be dug out decades later by Shrabani Basu.

The Queen was experiencing the flavours of the East like never before. She was, after all, Empress of India, Kaiser-e-Hind or Mallika -e- Hindustan. . . . . Her passage to India was only just beginning.

This historical novel describes the relationship between the Queen and Abdul Karim, her Indian confidante. Interestingly, the text books have always shown the British invasion in a negative light; while never once trying to discover the Queen’s strange relationship with her Indian servant, who later became her Munshi or teacher- a position of high repute and regard given to any Indian , in the Victorian era.

Victoria and Abdul is a story of friendship, respect, honour, defence, envy, humiliation and suspicion. Every shade of human emotions can be seen in this never-before-heard-of relationship of the Munshi with the Queen and other members of the Queen’s Household. When Abdul Karim, a young man of 23 was sent to England to be the Queen’s attendant, little did anyone know that he was destined to be her closest confidante instead.

The novel’s flow is based on research and facts. Never have I ever seen such beautiful writing emerging out of the re-arrangement and compilation of facts. Throughout the 266 pages, Basu, has made sure to appeal to the human emotions through her words and vivid imagery while portraying a true situation.

It is often said that the mighty and powerful positions are the most lonely ones. Such seems true for the elderly Queen who lost her beloved almost four decades ago and was disturbed by the nuances of her children and extended family. Thus she finds solace in befriending Abdul and consulting him in most matters and decisions. The Queen was also at a loss due to her inability to visit India and thus made Abdul, her doorway to the Orient. Bound by determination she even started learning Hindustaani/ Urdu and completed thirteen journals . she considered Abdul a.k.a. Munshi, almost like her son and her constant persistence gave him important positions in her Court, theatre tableaux, among the elites of the World, land grants in Agra and other prominent positions to his family back home; at times going against the wishes of her Household and family.

Original photographs of the Queen and her Munshi Courtesy: http://bit.ly/2ythV8l

However, a vast proportion of the novel also consists of the conspiracy theories the Queen’s Court and Household plotted against Abdul, so that he can be lowered in the eyes of the Queen.  In fact the whole Munshi business had become stressful and tiring to such an extent that people called it the ‘Munshimania’. Was it racism at play? Was it discrimination? Was it the inferiority complex regarding individual status in the Household via-a-vis the Munshi; that drove the Household to hate and conspire against him? Most members had their own opinion and from their point of view was not wholly incorrect.

What touched me the most was the disgraceful behaviour the Munshi was subjected to, after the Queen’s death and his family after his own demise. The Queens’s Household on orders from Prince Edward raided all the cottages and houses – in the UK and in India- and burnt all forms of correspondence that existed between the Queen and her beloved Munshi. In fact, with time, all evidences of this individual were buried deep and the man himself who strode among royalty lay in a five feet grave in an isolated and forgotten graveyard since the 1909- his popularity lost in the gravels of time only to be uncovered by Shrabani Basu years later.

A fact that struck me the most , was that the narration was majorly from the point of view of the Queen and her household. Compared to it, the Munshi’s own thoughts did not find a prominent space in the narration. But again, since the novel is based on facts a benefit of doubt can be given to the author for focusing on a point of view based on research and evidences. Though it seems very clear from the journal entries by the  Munshi regarding his relationship towards the Queen, but a little more opinion on the Household and his relations with the other Indian servants , through his eyes would have been great.

Nevertheless, I would recommend all to read this beautiful novel to discover a lost Indian pride and live  this wonderful relationship between the Queen and Abdul through its pages.

Victoria and Abdul : The Movie

Photo Courtesy: flickeringmyth.com

Today, Victoria and Abdul has been adopted into a major motion picture starring Judie Dench and Ali Fazal in the lead roles and directed by Stephen Frears. It was released on the 15th of September, 2017. Personally, the movie was good but it failed to establish the essence of the relationship between Victoria and Abdul. Due to time constraints, only incidents of the book could be adapted ; but that lead to an epidermal establishment of the relationship. The seriousness of the storyline was beautifully laced with comic situations providing the audience the much-needed respite. Both Dench and Fazal delivered remarkable performances. Though I do not rate movies but I would like to give Victoria and Abdul a 6.5-7/10 and would recommend you to watch it.

Image Courtesy: Google

*Disclaimer: I was provided a review copy of Victoria and Abdul from BloomsburyIndia in exchange of an honest review.

The Colours of Passion by Sourabh Mukherjee

Sourabh Mukherjee, in his book, The Colours of Passion has sported quite a unputdownable read with numerous plots and sub-plots taking you on a roller coaster ride. A high-profile rape and murder in Kolkata turns the eye-balls of the who’s who of the elite society to the headlines and also under suspicion. The City’s young and rich entrepreneur, Manav Chauhan, gets married to the diva of the film industry, Hiya Sen; and within days of this much awaited marriage Hiya is brutally raped and murdered. The question is WHY and WHO?

It is a known fact that the more famous one becomes, the more enemies one builds. But it is also difficult to gauge the intentions of the closest friends, who leave no stones unturned to hide in their snake skins and fake genuine concerns. An important and inevitable aspect of the celebrities is the deep and dark secrets which are often masked by evergreen smiles and hidden from the lime lights.

ACP Agni Mitra, known for his accurate abilities to deduce conclusions in high-profile cases, has been assigned to investigate the murder. A chain of events following Hiya’s murder and a string of suspects make him travel through slums and shanties to the posh city malls, talking and interrogating a long list of suspects, each of whom had a genuine reason and motive to remove Hiya out-of-the-way. Agni Mitra sure does stands out as the super cop of the novel. His eagle eyes pay great attention to details as minute as mannerisms and behavioural changes. His stern, to-the-point demeanour helps him solve his cases through intellectual deduction based on acquired evidences.

Mukherjee weaves in some very relatable characters into the novel. An actress engulfed by the horrors of her losing fame and age, an entrepreneur coming from a conservative family that relies on human bonding for expansion of business, a cop tormented by memories of his own horrors, a struggling alcoholic model trying to rise up the ladder of fame- each of these characters and their personalities are well perceived and described in the novel. It is interesting to see how the varying personalities meet and react to each other in the heated situation.

The Colours of Passion makes one realise that beyond the blinding flash lights, deafening fan screams and a façade of enthusiasm and smiles; every soul is lonely and fights an internal turmoil every day to find solace away from the demons of fame. Celebrities often work for days without breaks and try to run away from the crowd to find their ‘me-time’. It also makes us wonder if immense stardom makes the celebrities take on more burden on themselves than they can actually cope up with. This burden of expectations fills up their hearts and swells up their eyes – often resulting into drastic actions taken by them. The question that arises in this context is ‘How much is too much? ‘ .

Last but not the least; I would commend the author for drawing the attention of the readers to a very serious social issue. It is an issue which is  prevalent in contemporary times. Unfortunately, no matter how liberal we proclaim the world to be; at some point the mind-set is still that of an overtly conservative individual. Such restricted liberalism often chokes certain individuals who are seen as ‘unconventional’ in the society. But then my question is, what is conventional and who decides it?

If you like this review, then do let me know in the comments below or give a shout out on Twitter and Instagram .

*Disclaimer: I was given a review copy of the book by @Writersmelon in exchange of an honest review.