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.

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!

 

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.

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.

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!

 

Amba: The Question of Red – Laksmi Pamuntjak

Amba : The Question of Red written by Laksmi Pamuntjak revolves around the modern-day retelling of the stories of the early Mahabharata. This Indonesian novel set against the backdrop of the political turbulence of the 1960’s explores the love and romance shared between the protagonists. Even though a modern-day retelling, Pamuntjak has tried to keep the story line as realistic and close to the original story line, as possible.

Salwa, who was chosen by Amba’s parents for her as the best suitor depicted an epitome of gentleness, calmness, satisfaction and care; and yet lacked to touch the chords of Amba’s heart. Amba , on the other hand , often considered herself to be lesser than her ever beautiful sisters- Ambika and Ambalika. She often thought to herself that she was not fit for being loved and should follow her parent’s instructions and be the good girl that they wanted her to be. Bhishma, a highly educated doctor who gives up his family inheritance and lavishness to serve the people enters the life of Amba , only to turn it upside down forever.

If you are to draw parallel with the original Mahabharata, then true to his character Salwa plays a restricted part in the story. Amba, whose life’s major intention was revenge is shown as a more toned down woman with the sole aim of finding his lost lover throughout the novel. Bhishma on the other hand resembles his character to quite an extent. Despite being handsome and talented, he was forced to live the life of a celibate almost all his life. Though he did love Amba, he was also destined to not have her forever. It is said that the original Princess Amba had cursed Bhisma that each of the sins that he would commit in his lifetime would turn to sharp arrows that would pierce his body when he would die. It is interesting to note how Bhisma would meet his end in Amba: the Question of Red.

Further, for those of you who are well versed with the Mahabharata would wonder about the existence of Shikhandi/Shikhandini the re-incarnation of Amba as Drupad’s daughter/son ; who was destined to exact revenge from Bhisma. The presence of Shikhandi is a question that arouses curiosity in the minds of the readers till the very last page and I would leave it at that for you to find out.

What is interesting in the novel is the theme of lost love. Every character – Salwa, Amba and Bhisma had loved in their lifetime and lost the person whom they loved dearly. Whether it be a conscious decision to leave a person due to incompatibility ; or a game of fate which makes two lovers separate; the recurring theme of lost love is a highlight in the entire novel. Another interesting theme is in the name of the novel itself- The Question of Red. Red is a symbol of love, danger, fate and happiness. When you progress deep into the novel, you would realise how Red is the colour of Fate- the fate which decided the destiny of two young lovers- Amba and Bhishma.

Amba : The Question of Red is a must read for those who love to read romance or would like to explore another take on this ancient epic; where amidst many other themes love is also a crucial one. Pamuntjak has beautifully sealed the fate of the two lovers across decades in this novel. I would certainly recommend my friends to read it. It is available in all leading bookstores near you or can be purchased through Amazon, Flipkart and Snapdeal.