The Assassinations: A Novel of 1984 by Vikram Kapur

The 1980’s were turbulent times in the history of India. After the Hindu-Muslim the country had not quite recovered from the Partition around three decades ago when the 1980’s saw fresh communal uprisings between Hindus and Sikhs. Under the Prime Ministership of Mrs. Indira Gandhi, Operation Blue Star had taken place. This included the army marching into the Golden Temple, one of the most religious places of worship for the Sikhs community. To top it all, Mrs. Gandhi was assassinated by her own bodyguards who were Sikhs, a few years after the Operation. The Assassinations is set against this communal disharmony.

Vikram Kapur takes immense care of not making the book preachy in a History Book format. Instead, he cleverly weaves in a love story -an inter-religious love story- between a Hindu girl and a Sikh boy to narrate the consequences of this National political scenario in the lives of innocent people. It tells the tale of an engaged couple and their families, who face the wrath of the communal adversities. At times, society influences people to change and this change affects the ones close to the individual in many different ways. This is exactly what happened in the life of Deepa and Prem, the protagonists of the novel.

The Assassinations is a very symbolic title. Not only were innocent people assassinated during Operation Blue Star; but also Mrs. Gandhi a few years after. But a lot more was slain apart from the people. Friendship, love, trust, faith, belief, innocence and above all humanity were assassinated. The entire Sikh community was abandoned, insulted and vigorously put to death in the most inhuman ways. The vivid imageries of these atrocities portrayed by worded descriptions are enough to make one’s bile churn.

Religion and Community are deep-rooted virtues in the life of an individual. One may seem to be an atheist, but come a calamity and one’s true allegiance is displayed. Taking advantage of this vulnerable aspect, especially among the hot-blooded youths, the militants started recruiting young men by playing with their beliefs. The fragility of the situation is often not grasped by these unaware youth and they find themselves trapped in dire situations, from whence there is no return.

The Assassinations revive the ground realities of communal imbalance due to political developments. Though the disturbance is a phase and with time, it disappears, only to be retold as tales or written in history books; but the shadows of suffering, injustice, loss, and death linger long after. The horrors, if experienced up front are too fresh to be ever forgotten, though its impact may lessen with time.

This is a novel that I would recommend all to read. History interspersed with a love story, in a crisp, well-structured and easy to understand language; is what sets this book apart from any other. The Assassinations is available at your nearest bookstores or can be purchased online via Flipkart, Amazon, and Snapdeal.

*Disclaimer: I was sent a review copy of The Assassinations by Writersmelon in exchange for an honest review.

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.

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.

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!

 

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.

Bhilar: The Centre for India’s First Book Tourism

Much has been written about travel and tourism in India and abroad. But how much are Indian citizens aware of the phenomenon of Book Tourism? The Pustakanch Gaav in the village of Bhilar, near Mahabaleshwar , has turned itself into a unique destination for Book Tourism. The concept of the village is very interesting and it’s an epitome of our cultural philosophy, ‘Atithi Devo Bhava’. There isn’t any central library in the village. These books are placed in 25 houses and the local temple, where residents have opened doors to total strangers for their common love of books.

There are about 15,000 titles which are organized in 25 distinct genres. A few genres are very unique; for instance, the Diwali Ank (this is a collection of Diwali edition of magazines in Marathi language) and The History of Shivaji Era (this is a collection of books on Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj). Genres such as Humor, History, Poetry, Science, Feminism, Culture, Hagiography, Children Literature, Travel, Biography, Short Stories, Novels, Award Winning Literature, Exhibitions and Newspapers are also present. While the book village houses a few books in English language, the vast majority are in Marathi language. The walls of the houses are adorned by colourful paintings. It is interesting to know that the paintings outside a house reflect on the genre of books that are available inside. According to the Education Minister Vinod Tawde, “Seventy-Five artists have creatively designed the 25 locations with support from Asian Paints Ltd.” The tourists are given a catalogue to browse through upon their arrival in the village. This helps them to understand where different genres of books are housed. The readers are given access to a vast treasure trove of book free of cost, although a minimum amount might be asked for contribution towards the maintenance of these mini-libraries.

Paintings outside houses which have opened mini-libraries

The Origin of India’s First Book Village:

The idea of a book village is the brainchild of the Maharashtra Education Minister, Mr Vinod Tawde. Inspired from Britain’s Book Village situated in Hay-on-Wye near Wales, he set on to build a similar book village in Maharashtra, India.  This project was inaugurated in May 2017 by Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis. The Times of India reports that according to Mr Tawde, “Around 15,000 books (in Marathi) would be made available in the village premises.  Also, the state has provided several facilities such as chairs, tables, decorated umbrellas, and glass cupboards to local villagers to help them enhance the reading experience of literary connoisseurs visiting there.

Resident Involvement:

The volunteers have expressed that the project and the resident’s involvement in it are completely not-for-profit in nature. Residents are simply supporting the Government initiative and there aren’t any monetary gains in return. The key driving forces of this project are passion for literature, appetite for knowledge consumption and enthusiasm for promotion of culture. The total population of around 3000 people has collectively turned Bhilar into a Sanctuary of Knowledge promoting not only dissemination of knowledge but also a unique concept of book tourism. In contemporary times, given the rising level of security concerns, it is not easy to open one’s doors for complete strangers. But the passion and enthusiasm the people of this village feel towards this project and towards sharing the habit of reading, has made them forget security concerns and welcome guests like one of their own; connected to them by the invisible thread of love towards books.  The residents have also started contributing towards the infrastructure which would sustain this project. Some have built additional staircases to separate the library from the main house; many also provide meals upon prior request.

Bhilar itself is undergoing a change. With the residents being aware of the large volumes of tourists coming to visit the village, they have started keeping a vigilant eye on the beautification and cleanliness of the village. The residents have become more responsible and disciplined in their approach towards life.

Tourist Accommodation:

Coming to travel, accommodation and food; Pustakanch Gaav is very strategically located in Bhilar. Good connectivity by road makes travel easy.  There are hotels and home stays. A few home stays charge just about Rs. 500/- per night if the sole purpose of the visit is reading. Other accommodation options range from Rs. 1,200/- to Rs. 1,800/-. Authentic Maharashtrian cuisine is something that you’ll cherish. Although, the weather in Bhilar is pleasant, it can get a bit chilly in the winters and monsoons.

Responses from the Tourists:

Pustakanch Gaav is getting positive responses from the travellers and guests. Being situated close to Mahabaleshwar, which is a tourist hotspot, many have started including a visit to Bhilar on their holiday itinerary promoting the concept of book tourism. Most tourist come with their families or alone to spend some quiet time browsing through books. They are in awe of the concept, as it is very new in the state and India as a whole.  This has benefited the youth population in a larger way. Instead of going out of the boundaries of their village in search for books on competitive examinations, they are now made available to them in the comforts and precincts of their own village through this project. The elders of the village are now quite relaxed seeing their children slowly imbibing in the habit of reading while staying away from electronic distractions for at least a few hours a day.

Tourists enjoying the books from the vast collection housed in Bhilar

The Future of Pustakanch Gaav

According to Mr Fadnavis,“With this concept, the residents of Bhilar have carved a niche for themselves in the country’s social scene. Henceforth, Bhilar will be the definitive destination for bibliophiles and I urge litterateurs and publishers to freely host events here for the promotion and preservation of literature and literary ideas.” Currently the mini-libraries of Bhilar houses only Marathi and a few English titles. But there are plans of expanding the project in the future by adding volumes by Munshi Premchand, Barsanelal Chaturvedi, Harishankar Parsai. There are plans of stocking up the libraries with books of other languages like Gujarati and Tamil. Apart from this, events like book meets, poetry readings and the like would also be organised in the near future.

The Fifth Mountain by Paulo Coelho

The Fifth Mountain is one of Paulo Coelho’s finest works that I have read so far. It traces the journey of a young prophet who is forced to flee from his homeland and take refuge in another country. Coelho has dealt with several philosophical themes throughout the novel. Further, if you find an uncanny resemblance with the life and times of Ben Hur and Mozes; then you would probably be absorbing the book the same way as I have.

Conflict is recurring theme. It is seen how conflict plays a major part in deciding on the destiny of Elijah- the protagonist. It was a conflict that drove him away from his homeland. It was a conflict that forbade people to listen to him, ultimately ushering in a disaster. It was his inner conflict that made him choose between people and the Lord whom he served. Coelho, through his choice of words and creation of situations explains the various types of conflicts man faces and how he deals with them.

The Fifth Mountain also portrays how pure love can be- Beautiful, Serene, Selfless, Rational and most importantly Pure. It is not through physical proximity that love can be attained. It is also through the sharing of similar intellects that one can redefine love. It need not be the union of bodies, instead it may well be the union of the mind, soul and heart; which leaves a greater impact on the minds of the readers and those of the characters involved.

A very important facet of life is depicted through the story- that destruction is always followed by the zeal of constructing something mightier and re-establishing equilibrium. Destruction and Re-construction is a continuous vicious cycle which has to go on in this world. Both are like the two sides of the same coin.

Fear plays a tragic role in our lives. Fear has somehow become the basis of making decisions for humans in contemporary times. In fact, this has also carved ways for parents to exert pressure on their children, based on their fear values. Elijah, as a young boy faces a similar situation in his life when is parents in fear of societal ostracization pushes him towards a career in carpentry which engulfs him in a curtain of self-doubt.

The Fifth Mountain due to its contemplative nature can often be misinterpreted as a slow, boring or non-relatable novel. However, I believe it just takes the correct frame of mind and a correct age and wisdom to understand the depth and complexity of the situation. The density of inner conflicts and its actionable consequences have been dealt with very maturely in the two hundred and fifty pages of this novel, by master storyteller Coelho. Otherwise, the theme being such, it could have well become a well-researched history book instead of a well-researched fictional novel. Hence, The Fifth Mountain definitely needs a certain level of maturity from the readers to understand the crux of the matter. I would suggest if you had read it earlier and did not like it, you might want to try reading it once more after one or two years. Maybe you would find a fresh perspective to the storyline- one which you had missed out on earlier.

The Fifth Mountain is available in all leading bookstores and can also be ordered online through Amazon and Snapdeal. If you like my reviews then please do subscribe. You can also catch me on  Twitter and Instagram. If you liked this review or opine otherwise, I would love to hear about it, so please leave your valuable comments below. Happy Diwali and Happy Reading!

Can a Girl and a Boy Be Just Friends?

Can a Girl and a Boy Be Just Friends? By Sumrit Shahi is set in a modern background highlighting the truths and troubles existing in the life of two best friends, who are from the opposite sex. It is said that destiny is the biggest teacher in one’s life. That is probably why Tanie and Aaryan met in a foreign land , exchanged their stories and found out about the valuable bond that they had each scraped out of their lives not so long ago.

Aaryan, the casual flirt falls in love with a girl during a MUN. What follows is a hilarious and not-so-hilarious ‘ walk to remember’ in trying to woo the lady of his life. But somewhere down the line, this virtual and one-sided relationship takes a toll on the bond he shared with his best friend, Boza. Tanie, on the other hand shares everything with his best friend, Sumer. They lived next door, knew each other’s friends, covered up each other’s faults and lived a happy life until Tanie had to choose between the love for her boyfriend Rehan and her loyalty and friendship for Sumer.

Can a Girl and a Boy Be Just Friends is very relevantly titled. It is a general misconception that girls and boys cannot be ‘only’ friends. It is taken for granted that they share special bonds. However, the society does not understand the beauty of a bond created by friendship between a girl and boy. Remember Rahul and Anjali from Kuch Kuch Hota Hai? Was that not a bond of purity, friendship, companionship and most importantly trust? Keeping the Cannot-Be-Just-Friends attitude in mind, society often mistakes infatuation as love. In fact, in most cases, the best friends are unaware of this deep, pious bond between them which actually qualifies as love as opposed to the general predicament of love being the jaw dropping mesmerising beauty and handsomeness in front. This is often due to their opinions being shaped by the society around them.

Sumrit Shahi has picked up two different stories from the lives of teenagers and presented it to the youth. Girls and boys today find themselves tangled between the webs of insecurities that they face vis a vis their best friends and their girlfriends or boyfriends. Every individual reacts differently to these situations. But often it is found that friendship is the most compromised relationship of the two. Although, in reality it is the most beautiful, secure, independent and lively relationship. There is no holding back, no careful selection of words being spoken, fights end up just as fast as they had erupted and above all both sides of the coin are utmost comfortable with each other to make this friendship last- things which are often not found in a relationship termed as love.

Sumrit has written the book in a very informal way which often reflects as if the protagonists are conversing with the reader. This makes the reader feel almost like a silent character in the book. It was a great read and is definitely one of those books which can be read on a lazy day or a rainy relaxing day sipping a cup of freshly brewed coffee. However, a crisper editing would have done wonders to the book. What I liked best was that Shahi, brilliantly makes an open ended conclusion for the readers to make their own decisions about the fact that Can a Girl and a Boy Be Just Friends?

This book is available on Amazon, Flipkart and Snapdeal. You can also read my Goodreads review on this book.

Cover Image Courtesy: Google Images

Disclaimer: I received a copy from Writersmelon in exchange for an honest and unbiased review.

Darkness There But Something More

What had I just experienced? Was it a mere hallucination? An illusion or just a figment of my fertile imagination? – Page 133, Darkness There But Something More. . . An individual is groomed to be self-sufficient and confident from a very young age. But there are times, when the bridges of confidence rustle under the burden of the unknown and an individual is surrounded by the clouds of self-doubt.  The esoteric is a mysterious realm, that is ever researched on and always spoken about; but only those who have felt it closely can be one step closer to the truth of this omnipresent enigma.

Darkness There But Something More, is an anthology of thirty stories written by thirty different authors and co-edited by Lopamudra Banerjee and Dr Santosh Bakaya. It deals with the territory of the unknown and the unseen through thirty short stories. Being a collection of stories, I would of course have my favourites to choose from. Hence, I would list down my favourite stories.

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The White Man’s Bungalow by Dr Sunil Sharma

The undead often make old houses and garden their home. This in turn earns the place the commonly used epithet, haunted house. This story speaks about one such house engulfed in stories and rumours from every perspective possible. It is only when a Journalist enters the house in the pretext of researching it for a story, do the readers find out the ultimate truth.

Two things attracted me the most towards this story- the description of the ‘haunted house’ and the fact that a Journalist uncovers the truth. Being a trained journalist myself, I do wonder at times, if some story somewhere would give me an opportunity for an otherworldly encounter, as well. Sadly, I don’t see that happening too soon!

The Last Trick by Shabir Ahmed Mir

A magician wants to practice a newly configured trick. However, he faces one issue. Thus, he wakes up his next room neighbour in the hotel and rehearses for his latest show. Looks pretty normal right? It is only the story that you have to read to find out what went wrong and where.

The story begins with a beautiful quotation by Christopher Priest from The Prestige. Apart from the story itself, that quote won my heart. Also, this short story had been awarded the First Prize at the Ghost Story Contest hosted by Learning and Creativity E-zine.

The Peepal Tree by Ramendra Kumar

A group of young girls are celebrating a friend’s birthday party. Things go wrong when animosities between girls are expressed through dire consequences.

The Peepal Tree deals with an important social subject- bullying. No one can fathom when and how can pent-up anger within the victim, transform into such deadly vengeance. Supernatural or not supernatural, bullying is definitely a subject that one needs to pay attention to and seek professional help if need be. I would also mention that this story had earned a Special Mention in the Ghost Story Contest by the Learning and Creativity E-zine.

All Out and Over by Cathy Sydlo Wilkes

All Out and Over is a story which is narrated by a marmoset depicting the plight of many circus animals and their afterlife.

What I liked the most was that, not every ghost story needs to be scary with visions of blood dripping fanged vampires and crooked nosed witches. Some can be heart-warming as well. This is one such story, where trapped creatures narrate their story and cross over to their ultimate destination.

The Reunion by Sarmita Dey (Ghosh)  

A tale of love lost so suddenly; and yet patiently awaiting a chance to meet the lost love in some other realm, in some other life, is rarely written by an author.

Not all love stories end well. But the most important lesson of life is to let go. There are things beyond our control, and in those times, one should submit to His will.

But for a crisper editing, the book would have been devoid of flaws. Nevertheless, Darkness There But Something More is a read that I would recommend if you like to read about the esoteric. It is definitely the kind of light reads that you would want to carry with yourself to your vacations. It is available for online purchase through Flipkart and Amazon.