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.

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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.

A Candid Chat with Lopamudra Banerjee

Lopamudra Banerjee, is a Writer, Poet, and Translator, currently based in Dallas, USA. Her prolific writings include a range of books to her credits. She is the co-editor of two anthologies, ‘Defiant Dreams: Tales of Everyday Divas’, published by Readomania in collaboration with Incredible Women of India and ‘Darkness There But Something More’, a collection of 30 ghost stories published by Blue Pencil, where she is a resident editor now. Thwarted Escape, her debut narrative non-fiction work, has received Honorary Mention at the Los Angeles Book Festival 2017 and has also been First Place Category Winner at the Journey Awards 2014 hosted by Chanticleer Reviews and Media LLC, USA. Her recently released books, ‘Let the Night Sing’, a poetry collection and ‘The Broken Home and Other Stories‘ have already received much critical acclaim. She has received the International Reuel Award 2016 for her English translation of Rabindranath Tagore’s novella ‘Nastanirh’ (‘The Broken Home’) instituted by The Significant League, a renowned literature group on Facebook and she is also the recipient of the International Reuel Award for poetry 2017. Apart from books, Lopamudra has got many of her works published in numerous literary journals.

It was my privilege to be able to take her interview, when we got connected on her recent trip to Kolkata, India. This interview was electronically conducted via mail.

1.What draws you towards poetry?

Poetry has been my home and my shelter and my refuge from the banalities of the outside world ever since I can remember. Blame it on my mother who had first sown in me the seeds of reading and appreciating Rabindranath Tagore or my English classes during my college days and beyond which introduced me to a vast and magnanimous world of the English romantic, Victorian and modern poets, I have woken up, drenched in their sweat, their rhythm and their cadence. Later when I started writing poems myself in various life situations and when that gained momentum gradually, I also realised that poetry can be the ultimate form of attaining my own personal catharsis. It can be the lens through which I not only perceive the world around, but also dissent about its vast periphery of subjects, unabashedly, without any inhibitions. So, in a word, poetry is the essence of my heart which I cannot escape, and also the weapon with which I try to fight in my own small way against indiscrimination or atrocities or discrepancies of any kind which I see around me, and poetry makes me accomplish small but significant wins in a way no other literary form will probably make me accomplish.

 2. Which poets, authors or books have fortified you as a writer?

That is really a difficult question as there are a huge gamut of poets, authors, books and even songs and their lyrics which keep inspiring me, fortifying me, strengthening me in their own inexplicable ways from time to time. While some days I might gain inner strength as a writer from Maya Angelou’s “I Know When The Caged Bird Sings”, some days it is the intricacies of the mythological narrative of “Palace of Illusions” by Chitra B. Divakaruni which makes me put on my thinking caps. Some days, a song of Bob Dylan or Tagore or “Leaves of Grass” by Walt Whitman might make me delve into my quintessential inward journey; some days, short stories by Maupassant or O Henry or even essays by E. B. White or Annie Dillard might nurture me with their haunting, long-lasting and emotionally impactful narratives. It is such a vast, boundless ocean out there and a lifetime is not enough to explore it. What I have mentioned here and also, what I have explored till now might be just a mug of water from that boundless ocean. I would always remain thirsty for more.

 3. How has writing changed your life?

Oh yes, in countless and inexplicable ways! Writing poetry, creative nonfiction and fiction has, first and foremost, taught me to respect solitude and to celebrate the little, minute nuances of human life in words, embedded in those blissful moments of solitude. Writing poetry, especially, has endowed me with rhythmic compositions that are born out of sweet nothings; out of raw, naked emotions while embracing the language of longing. As writers and artists, we might be thousand times poorer than other professionals, but on the other hand, thousand times richer when it comes to the manifestation of our longings, our expression of feelings that we give birth to, in the garb of an aesthetically refined literary form. It is equally true for all artistes—writers, painters, musicians, singers et al.

Lopamudra with Let the Night Sing
Photo Courtesy: Lopamudra Banerjee

4. Tell us something about your latest book. What are some of the themes you have touched upon?

In 2017, I have come up with two books of mine as of now, launched almost back to back. My debut poetry collection ‘Let The Night Sing’ (Global Fraternity of Poets, India) is a collection of 70 poems, most of them born as lunar musings in the wee hours of the night. The poems are the manifestations of a restless child woman and also a restless sojourner who celebrates the splinters and shards, the broken pieces of life in its continuum in this meticulous assortment of musings. Divided into five short volumes, through the poems I have attempted to trace my various trajectories starting from my girlhood and puberty to being a woman and grasping my own inner world as well as the world outside which has been a vital part of my womanly being and consciousness.

The second book of mine, ‘The Broken Home And Other Stories’ (Authorspress, India), released in Delhi Litexperia in August 2017, is my English translation of eight selected works of fiction by Bengal’s illustrious Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore, including two novellas, ‘The Broken Home’ and ‘Laboratory’ and six short stories where women are the nucleus of the fictional narratives. All these eight works of fiction by Tagore are deep, enthralling sagas where women have been scripted in an inimitable, powerful aura. As a translator, I have tried my best to portray the essence of their complex emotional world, originally depicted by Tagore. In this context, let me add that I have received the International Reuel prize (category: translation) for ‘The Broken Home’ in summer 2016, when it had made its first appearance in Amazon Kindle, a year before its appearance in paperback.

Apart from that, I have co-edited with Dr. Santosh Bakaya an anthology of 30 spellbinding ghost stories, ‘Darkness There but Something More’, which also has a story of mine in the collection. It has been released in July and evoking very good response from the readers. The dark and esoteric has always fascinated me to no ends and thus, this book has been a dream project for me ever since its inception. Let us see where all these diverse books lead me to, but for me, the journey is more important than the destination, if any.

5. How do you deal with criticisms?

I have always welcomed constructive criticism in any form whatsoever, regarding my writing. As writers and creative artists, we keep evolving in our craft and it is the critics who value and appreciate our craft as well as see through our loopholes to help us evolve into better, more consummate writers. So their comments, if made in good sense and with due respect to our craft, is always much sought after. On the other hand, each negative criticism I have endured in my life till now has stoked the fire in me deeper and more vigorously, so I am thankful to all of them in a way. More than a decade back, when I went to Delhi to learn about the publishing industry and make a place there, I had been told by a cousin brother that I do not have the makings of a writer at all. Today, after so many years, I AM a part of the publishing world in my own small way and my literary journey has gained momentum in the most unthinkable of ways. Had I not faced criticism and rejection during those days, I do not think I would have striven to push my boundaries and emerge stronger as I have done in all these years. So I am thankful to the criticisms and the bouts of rejections too, which has made me what I am today.

6. Do the reviews that you get from your audience, affect your writing in any way?

No, I wouldn’t say that the reviews I get from my audience/readers distract me, or affect my writing in any way, because as a writer, I feel it is my job or responsibility to pour my thoughts and feelings on paper and serve the cause of literature in my own humble way, no matter what the reviews/feedback might be. Having said that, I must also say that there have been many detailed, insightful reviews of my books, ‘Thwarted Escape’ (my memoir, published by Authorspress, 2016), and ‘Let The Night Sing’, my debut poetry collection praising my poetic craft and my narrative style which has brought a wide smile on my face and filled me with inspiration and gratitude. On the other hand, if I come across a negative review of any of my books ever, I will try to grasp the essence of the reviewer’s words as much as I can and see if working on those would help me in becoming a better writer.

7. How would you describe the market for poetry in India? Do you think it is suffering a setback considering the sheer number of fictions being released in comparison to poetry books?

Let me tell you here that no matter how many works of fiction are released and read all over the world, poetry as a superior art form will always have its niche readers. Had it not been true, there would be no Wordsworth, Keats, Shelley or Byron, or no Maya Angelou, Sylvia Plath, Kamala Das, or no Walt Whitman or Pablo Neruda. Poets in all ages and eras, for that matter, have survived and even thrived in their own peripheries amid the ruling estate of fiction and the best ones among them have carved names for themselves and are read and remembered even after ages. So poetry will always have a long shelf life and sustain itself as an art form as long as there are readers who swear by the sheer artistry and captivating nuances of languages expressed in the genre.

Lopamudra with Thwarted Escape
Photo Courtesy: Lopamudra Banerjee

8. In the age of Social Media, how would you see it connecting you with your readers?

In today’s age of Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn, the world at large is a small village and every miniscule voice is being given a platform and sharing words, pictures and creative outpourings in a pace that was unthinkable some years back. When I started writing poetry as a mere teenager, I wrote in complete isolation, with no media to express. It was like that for many years before the virtual world and the Internet came in my way and changed the way I look at things forever. Now due to the internet, there is a surge of creative energy, and voices dispersed all over the globe are converging and coalescing. There is a greater virtual-turned-real community, where vibrant Poetry groups all over India are doing substantial work. In Mumbai, I know of a woman empowerment group which employs poetry, as a vehicle of protest. In Dallas, Texas, which is my home now in USA, there are various poetry groups with diverse demographics which are both physical platforms to share poetry and dissent in big public spaces and also strong virtual spaces in Facebook and Instagram where poets from all over the state and the nation share their works. So the possibility of connecting with more readers with the passage of time is immense and will continue to expand our horizons as more forums open up in the days to come.

9. If you had a chance to talk to a dead poet, who would it be and what would you tell him/her?

It has to be Sylvia Plath, the mad and melancholy poetess because I see so much of myself in her, sometimes. I would like to ask her why she went away so soon and let her know how much she invades my mental space. I would definitely read out a couple of poems from my poetry collection ‘Let The Night Sing’ to let her know how much I was influenced by her raw vulnerability as well as the surreal, alliterative rhymes in her poetry.

 10. When can we expect your next book?

As I am writing the answers to this interview, I am also checking the final PDF version of an anthology of women poets: ‘Cloudburst: The Womanly Deluge’ to be published very soon by The Poetry Society of India, which I am co-editing with Dr. Santosh Bakaya, another prolific author, academician and poet. It will be an assortment of verses penned by 28 women poets of the Indian origin, including myself.

As for my own book of fiction, I am working on my upcoming book ‘Of Frailties And Old Flames’, which will be a collection of short stories on love, betrayal, promises, old ties and all the virtues and vices of human relationships, with women at the core of the narratives. I am taking some time to finish and fine-tune the manuscript and will then submit for publication.

11. Any message for your readers. . . . . .

Be yourself and express yourself freely, without any inhibitions in your art. That is the only single factor that will let you push your boundaries and justify your work at the end of the day, no matter what others have to say about what you create. If it comes from your heart, it will touch other hearts too.

Lopamudra’s book are available in paperback . They can be purchased online through the following links:

Defiant Dream: Snapdeal, Flipkart , Amazon 

Thwarted Escape: Flipkart, Amazon 

Darkness There, But Something More: Flipkart, Amazon ,

The Broken Home: Amazon

I would soon be back with  the reviews of some of her books in subsequent posts.

Cantilevered Tales: A Review

A power -hungry politico; and a quest to save a home with several unique people and their adventures. This is the best way I could sum up Cantilevered Tales by Jayant Kripalani.

According to the Oxford Dictionary, a cantilever bridge is defined as a ‘bridge made of two cantilevers projecting from piers and joined by girders.’ Had I not come across the book and seen the beautiful cover, at a city bookstore, I would not have bothered myself about the Howrah Bridge and its make. For me, it has always remained and will remain as an ideal symbol for the City of Joy. It is the humongous and majestic structure which has been a silent witness to everything that Calcutta and Kolkata has been through, since its inception. Just like the ebb and flow of the Ganges which flows beneath it, it has seen the change of power and authority, liberalism slowly making its way in to the minds of the people, the natural destruction to the city and the beautiful celebrations of every festival. It is the epitome of romance for lovebirds who manage to steal a few intimate moments away from the eyes of the self -proclaimed sentinels of  society.

Just as the bridge is witness to numerous stories daily; similarly, the protagonist of Cantilevered Tales, Khokhon Lahiri, stands witness to numerous tales of people surrounding him- people whose intentions, motives, interests and love are joined by the ever charming cantilever bridge. The book consists of twenty-six chapters that are unique narrations on their own and are yet connected to each other through a broader storyline.

The characters written about in the Cantilevered Tales make sure that they are relatable to someone who has been a child of this city for long. The protagonist is surrounded by lovable, witty and strong characters; each having an exceptional upbringing or background story. As the story progresses their life, habits, relation with the narrator and personalities are unveiled to the readers.

The story has some interesting themes. Two such themes which really caught my attention are the importance of upbringing and the need to fight for one’s right. Upbringing is an important part of every person’s life. Being deprived of a proper upbringing can lead to various psychological issues in a human being which can later turn against the individual making him/her a social outcast. Often in such situations you do not understand whether to pity them or hate them. Further, the need to fight for one’s rights is very important. One should never leave the path of justice and truth. There are times when the future might look bleak and the road might seem to have come to a dead end; but that is when your faith on justice and truth needs to be strengthened even further to guide you through the darkest days. The characters also display a certain comic sense. This often reminds us that we are usually always surrounded by one or two such ‘specimens’. But, most of the time, they are the ones we turn to in times of need and they always stay by our side.

So, if you are in for some light reading this season, with comic moments, and an want to venture on to an unthinkable path to save what is yours; then grab your coffee/tea , get a comfy setting and dig deep into Cantilevered Tales. It is available in most bookstores near you and can be ordered online through Amazon. Happy Reading!

Let the Night Sing: A Whirlpool of Art and Emotions

Should I walk through this maze of reluctance?
Should I paint my hands and feet in mud,
Learning to fall in bones, sphincter and grace?
The water whispers seductively.
Between us, a zebra-crossing of blood and blossoming,
Of sacrilege and promiscuity.

– Lopamudra Banerjee

Poetry is both an art and science of expressing oneself. Poetry is like the gentle breeze which blows past your face; making you experience moments of relief, on a hot summer’s noon. Poetry is the like the beautiful calm on the sea or the light ripples that are formed when that calmness is disturbed. Poetry is that one overarching form of expression, which has the power to express anything in this world. Hence, US-based Poet, Writer, Translator and Editor, Lopamudra Banerjee uses Poetry to express herself in her latest book of poems – Let the Night Sing which was launched at The Doodle Room, Kolkata last month.

The book launch was organised and initiated by PR, Events Manager ,Poet and Artist, Sufia Khatoon. The book launch saw an amalgamation of art forms and literature throughout the evening. The event opened with the inauguration of a painting and poetry exhibition based on the theme Let the Night Sing which was followed by a panel discussion, the panellists to which were welcomed by Lopamudra.

‘Womanhood and its exploration in Contemporary Indian English Poetry’ was the theme for the panel discussion. The eminent panellists were Dr Sanjukta Dasgupta, (Professor, Department of English, University of Calcutta), Dr Santosh Bakaya, (Academician, Poet and Author of ‘Ballad of Bapu’ and ‘Flights from My Terrace’) and Lopamudra Banerjee. The topic was initiated and moderated by Sufia. The panellists briefed the audience on the effect of poetry in contemporary life- the influence it has on the choices that we make.

After finally unveiling the book, it was impossible that in a poetic atmosphere, there would be no reading from the book. Thus, Lopamudra, Sufia and Dr Bakaya read out from the newly launched book which was synchronised with beautiful melodies by the musicians.

A Musical Performance in Progress
Photo Courtesy: Sufia Khatoon

The evening then progressed onto an art and poetry exhibition presented by the Rhythms Divine Poetry Group. Musicians Pavlu Banerjee, Kolkata Music Dairy band, Akash DasGupta and Sahil Sarkar enthralled the audience with their mesmerizing music and made sure that everyone joined in. This was followed by a performance poetry which was presented by poets Sufia Khatoon, Amit Shankar Saha, Anindita Bose, Subhajit Sanyal, Aiman Abdullah, Arjun, Tanya Sengupta, and Aparajita Dutta on the theme Let the Night Sing.

Lopamudra Banerjee
Photo Courtesy: Sufia Khatoon

Let the Night Sing is a collection of 70 poems which highlights on the theme – a journey to womanhood. Its stunning book cover has been designed by Sufia Khatoon. The poems are in a continuous linkage with each other; each one taking the poet one step closer to experiencing womanhood. It is a unique blend of experiences celebrating sometimes a child woman and at times a woman trying to put her life back together from its broken pieces. These myriad hues of life put together in a few pages evoke an emotional journey in the reader’s mind- a journey that every reader willingly undertakes through the poets thoughts and verses.

The evening was a memorable one with a blend of poetry, discussions, music, performances and art. The event saw not only the launching of Let the Night Sing but the evening actually sang and progressed into a beautiful night. One that would be etched in everyone’s memories for a long time. Whenever one would pick up a copy of the book, one would praise it for being the whirlpool of artistic influences at the same place, on one July evening in Kolkata.

 

Getting Candid with Vaijayantee Bhattacharya

Last Sunday (23rd July), I was lucky enough to have been invited to the press meet and book launch of Mosaic Vision , a beautiful anthology of poems written by Vaijayantee Bhattacharya, at the Oxford Bookstore Kolkata. Vaijayantee is a Poet, Editor and Journalist by profession.  A true Calcuttan by heart, she has been living away from the City of Joy for the last fourteen years- in Delhi and in Bahrain. Thus, it was a magical moment for her to be able to launch her maiden book in the city she grew up in and is so attached to, amidst well known dignitaries and friends and family.

The Press Meet was organised by PR Sufia Khatoon wherein almost twenty media houses came in to interact with Vaijayantee. Her book was launched , following the press meet by chief Guest Shri Jawhar Sircar. This was proceeded by a panel discussion by Dr Sanjukta Dasgupta (Professor, Department of English, University of Calcutta), Mr Shahenshah Mirza (descendant of Nawab Wajid Ali Shah), Ms Saira Shah Halim (Educator, Activist and poet) , Ms Saheli Mitra (Journalist, Author, Poet, columnist) and Vaijayantee herself. The topic for the evening was ‘ Is poetry a reflection of emotions recollected in tranquillity or disturbance? What is its relevance in today’s morbid world of prosaic reality? ‘

I am humbled that Vaijayantee gave me some time from her busy schedule to answer my questions. She answered an array of questions posed by me . Here are the excerpts.

Tell us something about the first ever poem that you had written.

The first ever poem that I had written was in a train to Chennai when I was probably 8 or 9 years old. I was quite taken by the scenic beauty of world outside. That’s when I composed a poem out of the sheer delight of visualising something so beautiful.

How does a poem begin for you- an idea, a form or an image?

 It is either of these and sometimes it can even be a sound, a sight, a news byte or a piece of music. For me, poetry or writing is triggered by anything that emotionally moves me.

 Do you have a particular time when you sit down to write your poems or do they come to you spontaneously?

They mostly come to me spontaneously unless of course there is a subject that I have been invited to write on like a few other anthologies in Bahrain with a specific theme.

 Do you think at times people find it difficult to connect with poems as it has several layers of meaning to it ?

Poetry unlike prose usually is succinct and precise and to attain this precision it often rides on cryptic phrases or imagery like metaphors, alliteration and so on. While poetry is not written in any coded language that a reader needs to decode or crack, sometimes people do find it difficult to appreciate a poem in its entirety not knowing it’s significance.

Vaijayantee reading a few lines from Mosaic visions
Photo: Abhizit Dutta

What does’ being creative ‘ mean to you?

‘Being creative’ to me means being able to create something new and aesthetically pleasing. The new thing created could be a poem, a write up, a painting, a handicraft, a song, or anything that aesthetically pleases the soul.

Has the publication of your first book and its reception affected your writing style?

No, not really. I remain quintessentially the soul that I have always been, changing, growing and evolving only in response to time. My first publication is a matter of great joy to me but I can’t say it has or can change my writing in any way.

Which, out of the two , do you think is a better medium of reaching out to your audience- through the screen or through paper?

I am essentially a scribe or a writer and poet. If by screen you mean the electronic media, then certainly that’s not going to be my platform aptly. But by screen if you mean the Kindle or the online media then I would say my writings/poems could be savoured well on both media, depending on the comfort level of the reader with his preferred medium of reading.

How do you measure your success as a poet?

Success of a poet to me is not in the number of poem he writes or the number of books he publishes. If at the end of the day, even a single poem of his can emotionally touch a reader’s soul and can resonate similar feelings and sentiments that is where the poet’s success lies. In this context may I mention the great Nobel Laureate and poet Rabindranath Tagore. His poems and songs are the source of succour or sustenance of innumerable people who remember his immortal words of creation in some song or poem at every possible state of emotional upsurge.

If you could communicate with one dead poet, who would it be ; why and what would you tell him/her?

If I could communicate with just one poet, it would perhaps be William Wordsworth and I would tell him that like him I derive absolute joy, love and peace from Nature.

A message you would like to give to your readers . . . .

If you want to savour the taste of different facets of life, through small and big incidents, experiences and observations of a perceptive soul through poetry, then Mosaic Vision is perhaps the book you should pick up. I can’t promise you great moral or material upliftment through my poetry but I can assure you of a more inclusive perspective where you savour the delight of living, loving, longing and appreciating the different nuances of through our daily existence.

Mosiac Vision is not only a book of poems but also a collection of thoughts spanning over eight years . With varied subjects, experiences and emotions intertwined in a few pages, it is bound to bring the reader closer to the poet and also reflect on her take of the world. A review of the book would be published shortly. You can purchase it from your nearest bookstores soon or order a paperback or kindle version through Amazon. Keep Reading !

 

The Last Song of Dusk: A Review

The Last Song of Dusk by Siddharth Dhanvant Shanghvi is an exuberant tale of life and love. What might seem as a personification of the word melancholy through the novel; actually teaches us the harshest truth of life- that it is not always like the cherry on the cake.  The novel is an amalgamation of the various shades of human personalities- from the grey shades of mankind to those of love, lust, bold, innocence, loss and grief- everything finds a space in this novel.

Each character in The Last Song of Dusk is as important as the other. From Anuradha who is the ideal wife, daughter-in-law and mother ; to Vardhamaan who is the best example of a devoted husband. Nandini on the other hand is the mirror that reflects the horrific side of the society- a reality which many consciously choose to ignore, many include in their daily gossips and some find it to be outright loathsome. Even strange as it may sound, Dariya Mahal, the beautiful House by the Sea too has a character and feelings of its own. This made me wonder if my house too has feelings, understands everything but can do nothing apart from silently gazing at my plight.

As you go deeper in the pages of the novel, you would realize how the superficial faces of the people start peeling away. It reveals their lonely, melancholic, broken -yet-living souls. In fact, for me it draws parallel to a time I spent on foreign lands. True to the world, I was smiling but by the evening twilight I had discovered the silence reigning deep down in the hearts of every person.

The Last Song of Dusk is also a beautiful painting, painted on a lonely canvas. It depicts the loss of a dear one; the estranged relationship between a once loving couple; the beautiful friendship between the living and the withering souls. It defines beyond boundaries, a mother’s love for her child. It brings to us the struggles of a vagabond, rejected by the society and yet claiming to fight back until she is remembered by all. It strongly portrays the societal pressures faced by those who go against the norms of the society. But, above all the novel redefines the word ‘love’ for its readers through the eyes of its characters. Love is not only an emotion which draws people closer. At times, it escalates distances between couples; it touches one’s heart for a brief moment only to part again. Love is eternal, glorious, painful, persistent but it does touch everyone in this lifetime; no matter for how brief a period. The language used by the author creates a  vivid artistic imagery in the minds of the readers, one that would be etched on for a long time.

The Last Song of Dusk is available in all major bookstores or you can purchase it from Flipkart, Amazon or Snapdeal. I would highly recommend this book to all my readers. To end this post, I will leave you all with a quote.

Although I know little about art, my instincts suggest that perhaps all art is love in some avatar. It longing and rejection. Its first flower and its finale. – The Last Song of Dusk, Chapter 37,  Page 236.

 

 

Books, Monsoon and Chai: The Booklovers Gathering

Books, Monsoon and Chai was a unique concept devised by Pradipta Mandal and Aniesha Brahma to get together all book lovers under the same roof. Held at The Chaiwala on the 2nd of July, this event was truly special for me. A small gathering of a few bookworms and a healthy discussion regarding their favourite books was an enchanting way to start the event.

After a brief introduction Aniesha Di, reiterated her love for the young adult genre. In fact, she even pointed out the reference many of them have to fairy tales. For me, fairy tales have been a part of my childhood like any other,  however, I had never given much thought to them after reading them once or twice. The idea of stirring a plot with reference to the fairy tales for the youth has already gained my attention.

Having worked in the field of art education , books on child psychology interests Pradipta Di to a great extent. I believe that child psychology books are of immense help to not only children but also to their parents. Books are a reflection of life and they show us how to deal with certain situations better. She spoke about John Holt, an author she enjoys reading.

Moments from Books, Monsoon and Chai

Subhro Da, gave me many new insights to the world of children’s books and their relevance in contemporary times. He spoke about his interest in the words of Roald Dahl and Sukumar Ray– both evergreen authors of their own time. He quoted from The BFG. – a quote so childishly written and yet so powerful in its versus that it connects with the fate of human beings in contemporary times. With Sukumar Ray, the world of gibberish has been fascinating to the young and the old. It has drawn readers to itself with nonsense-syllables only to emerge them completely into the pages of great classics like Abol Tabol.

Madhubanti Di , escalated the conversation from the different genres and our favourite books; to the emotional and imaginary level. She pointed out how they (the books) have always remained our constant companion in each of our moods. There is always a book to read when we are happy, sad, anxious, angry, disturbed and the like. These books have the strength to calm us down, a strength missing in the real world at that moment. She continued how books are a doorway to understand, relate and form different perspectives and interpretations of the common and uncommon situations. In fact, Madhubanti Di focussed on the fact that while reading a book, we often tend to consciously or unconsciously become a character in it. This is something that I personally believe in. After reading a lot of books throughout the years, I still contemplate at times, how I became the rejected Karna in the Mahabharat ; Mukesh from The Mother I Never Knew (Sudha Murthy) who journeyed to far lands in search of his mother; or Seema from The Teak Almirah (Jael Siliman) who saw the world change around her , a community disintegrate around her and yet held the fort refusing to part with the city she was born and brought up in , waiting only for a lost love.

Pradipta Di and Aniesha Di

The conversation then took an interesting turn with two varied but much debated topic. Everyone was more or less agreeing to the fact that the new authors in the horizon must be given a chance for their creative talent. In fact, it is always good to be updated with the current authors, for their writings are fast- paced, thrilling, action- oriented, bordering more on fantasy than real life; but definitely worth a read. Another interesting topic of discussion was how books were made into movies; and whether one prefers to read the book first and watch the movie later or vice –versa.

Paroma Di , discussed how Pride and Prejudice formed an inevitable part of her life . This timeless classic has always been her constant companion when it came to packing her travel bags. Having read and re-read the novel so many times, it has definitely left a profound impact on her. The second novel which had touched her and many other readers was The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini. Personally, it is one of those books which I can never forget myself.

During my turn, I spoke about the fact that I preferred to enter into the field of world literature and hence have recently taken a liking towards translations. Having read the entire treasure trove of Bengali literature in translations, I had shifted the territory to Indonesia and Kabul for the moment. Though there are many who do not prefer to read translations but in the original language the book was written; it is not realistically achievable as one cannot know all the languages of the world. Hence, reading the translations would at least provide a gist of the story and I firmly believe that reading the gist would also help to understand the crux of a beautiful novel; rather than missing it out completely.

My biggest takeaway from the event was meeting like- minded people. Often there are many who love to read books but cannot write about their impressions of the book or articulate the impact the book left on them. But this discussion was definitely a high for me where everyone came together to share their love for literature. In fact, Subhro Da also informed me about the short stories by Edgar Karat and Peter Bexel from Germany, books that I have already added to my wish list.

I would like to thank Aniesha Di and Pradipta Di for arranging such an event and inviting me as well. It was a fruitful discussion and gave a platform for book lovers to gather around and interact with each other. I am certain that such events would continue and people would take part in it, in large numbers.

Another event for the bookworms is being planned on the 13th of August. If you love books, and want to be associated with this event or just join in for some fun , do come for the event (details will follow soon) and you know whom to contact as well!

P.S Cover Image Courtesy: Books, Monsoon and Chai

 

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.






The Mother I Never Knew: Sudha Murthy

What started off with an unlikely event of finding Venkatesh’s lookalike; lead to the revelation of a life time for two brothers distanced from each other by birth and fate under a harsh society. “My mother says that everyone in this world has six lookalikes. I believe that mine are in other countries, because I haven’t met anybody here who looks like me. Maybe your lookalike is right here in this district.- Page 37” .Similarly, after losing his father, Mukesh stumbles upon a photograph which opened a whole new world for him; and he embarks on a quest to find his true identity. The Mother I Never Knew by Sudha Murthy encompasses two novellas spread across different states, class, caste, situations and yet bound together by an invisible thread of social taboos, social evils and social consciousness inflicted upon the characters.

Murthy beautifully captures the essence of motherhood – the love of a mother for her son amidst the limitations of the social conflicts. Motherhood is an experience that needs to be felt and understood. The chord between a mother and a son is a very special one which cannot be seen and understood by anyone save them. Often, a mother might be misunderstood for her actions, but the steps taken are always for the betterment of the child. The Mother I Never Knew  portrays an important lesson- to never judge the actions of the mother. Onlookers never really know the situation that the mother had to go through and hence take harsh steps.

A frequently asked question under the circumstances outlined in the book is that of loyalty. Does it lie with the mother who gives birth; or the mother who raises the child; often drawing parallels towards the eternal relationship savoured between Devki, Krishna and Yashoda in the Mahabharat. There is no fixed answer to this question as both mothers are part of the same scale to balance the life of the child. Neither is greater than the other. Nevertheless, the scale maybe slightly bent towards the mother who raises the child. Murthy too hints towards this in the following lines, “Giving birth is simply a biological event but parents must move mountains to raise a child to be a good human being. I salute the mother who made you what you are. – Page 202”

Thus, The Mother I Never Knew is an extremely emotional novella which portrays how the search of two men for their identity uncovers the truth from the clutches of the stereotypical patriarchal society. I would highly recommend this book to everyone. It is available in your nearest bookstores or can be ordered online through Flipkart, Amazon and Snapdeal.

The Teak Almirah : Jael Silliman

Empty and waiting The Teak Almirah stood witness to lonliness, longing, and pain. Secrets, fears and hopes for the future were stuffed inside its locked doors. We all make space for those we love and too often keep our dreams locked away until we find whatever it is we have been seeking.“

What does Calcutta / Kolkata mean to you- friends, family, community, lifestyle, nostalgia, happiness and many more. Kolkata is not a place regarding which feelings can be described. It is an emotion in itself which needs to be experienced. The Teak Almirah beautifully paints a picture of the various feelings regarding this place through the eyes of four Jews.

The Jews of Calcutta had come down from Baghdad. They were a prosperous community having built mane estates, bakeries, restaurants and synagogues throughout their stay in the city. In fact, Nahoums still remains as one of the best bakeries in the city. The story line narrates the life and personalities of four modern day Jews who have a strong bond with the city, their lost community and nostalgia of a time when the community flourished in Calcutta.

While most Jews decided to migrate to different countries especially to Australia, Seema decided to stay back in the city. She had emptied her Teak Almirah for the special person in her life. “He’s the only man I’ve ever loved.” Seema said, “Shall I betray him now? “. Seema , through her years of happiness and sorrows had seen the city change drastically. Tamara, on the other hand is a dancer from London. Her father was one of the very few who migrated to the United Kingdom. Having lost him at a very young age, she had always wanted to discover her father’s hometown- Calcutta. Her joy knew no bounds when she finally got the opportunity. But in time she would also discover that her identity might not be very welcome in the conservative Indian society, and thus decide to hide it. Mordy returns to Calcutta from Australia after a good sixty years to pay respects to his late parents. Unfortunately, he is greeted by shock when he sees a place and a society changed from its core. He feels like a stranger and loner in the city that he grew up in and loved much once. In fact, he starts despising the new Calcutta till he meets friends from his own community who gives him a new perspective to the city and the changes that it has harbored. Firozah, who lives in Bombay faces a new storm in her life when she discovers her long hidden past with the Jewish community of Calcutta.

The Teak Almirah  is an amalgamation of nostalgia and changing times; it is a reflection of cherishing your individual identity and yet moving ahead with the progressing time. It depicts the beauty of a vanishing community and the struggles to keep it alive so that it is not wiped out completely from the memories of the people. The once flourishing Jewish community is today etched in the memories of the old. The author, Jael Silliman being one of the last members of the community in the city, is trying to archive the community memories in her website www.jewishcalcutta.in .

The Teak Almirah is available in major bookstores and can also be purchased online via Amazon.