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.

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.

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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.

 

Blowfish by Siddharth Tripathi

Blowfish in the literal meaning of the term has two connotations -one from the technological field and the other from the Animalia kingdom. It is a symmetric key block cipher designed in 1993. It is used to provide a good encryption rate in software’s by keeping in mind various parameters involved. Similarly, the protagonist Mukund in Siddharth Tripathi’s Blowfish is a complex encryption of various parameters. Some parameters are in his hands while others are hopelessly out of his control. A re-arrangement of these factors would have pushed him towards attaining a peaceful and enlightened life; but his life is far from being so. Blowfish also refers to a fish, commonly eaten as an exotic delicacy in Japan. A blowfish usually bloats itself by inhaling excess air or gulping down excess water, when it feels threatened. Mukund can be visualised as a blowfish but instead of bloating himself as a defence mechanism his adventures tend to bloat his problems as an offence mechanism to the people surrounding him.

Tripathi’s characters are very relatable in contemporary society. Mukund , though a calm and composed fellow finds himself in the middle of not-s0-calm-and-composed situations ever so often. Having come from a broken family his relationship is strained vis-à-vis his father. He takes a courageous decision in order to pursue his dream of making a mark in the world. Chaddha, Mukund’s flatmate, is an overtly happy-go-lucky guy. One cannot expect a moment’s peace with him being around. He is an erratic decision maker, moody; and suffers from a strange condition of being desperate-to-fall-in-love-with –women-with-big-boobs. Mukund’s friend Sampu whose wife is expecting is an undecided, unprepared yet helpfully loyal fellow who is stuck in between his wife’s mood swings during pregnancy and his friends turmoil filled adventurous lives.

Blowfish also has a parallel track of BumBum, the trusted house help of Mukund and Chaddha. He falls in love with a married woman whose husband had deserted her. This love-struck, honest, caring and liberal lovebirds finds himself in various unwanted situations for he had dared to love beyond the set societal norms. Suman , a bright girl working in Hong Kong is equally confused with the way her life is proceeding and in the heat of the moment comes back to her parents in Gurgaon. She befriends Mukund and they become ‘good friends’. Harpal, the society secretary where Mukund and Chaddha reside, is in a constant tug of war with the boys. However, it is only after realising the layers of sadness underneath the stern-faced man, that one can decipher his actions and justify them.

Certain relevant themes have been brought out by Tripathi through the book. Today, the life of a corporate employee has become very programmed. It seems that they have a set time –table without any respite from their daily chores. In fact, it can often be visualized as a claustrophobic environment from where employees like Mukund are dying to break free and invest their time in something new. An underlying theme which recurs quite a few times, but its repercussions are prominently felt many times in the novel is that of desertion during old age. Harpal the secretary of Mukund’s society behaves rather rashly with him because he sees in him a reflection of his only son who had settled in another country and hardly ever had time for his father. Mukund’s narration of his strained relationship with his father worries Harpal and he decides to teach the young lad a lesson. In fact, today with most of the youth moving out of their hometown, their old parents are actually leading a secluded and lonely life all by themselves.

Thus Tripathi’s contemporary storytelling methods used in Blowfish is definitely a treat to read. Especially with his witty and comical use of the language which almost makes the reader visualise the scenes in front of them. The best part of the novel is that the characters are very relatable and so are their decisions, well maybe Chaddha can be unpredictable sometimes, but that is the essence of his character!

The book would be soon available at your nearest bookstores or can be purchased online through Bloomsbury. Happy Reading!