After years of heartbreaking struggle with infertility, Shweta finds herself pregnant. But the joy is shortlived for uncertainty takes over, bringing along fear and anxiety. The same fear and doubt a woman faces, first in the womb and later as a mother-to-be. Living in a household where your in-laws stamp their preferences and your husband confirms it, is a fix for a woman, a wife and soon to be a mother. And the child? The unborn child? The unborn girl child waits for the unwelcoming world. And in her waiting, she finds strength in a voice that comes to her, of God. And a story follows. It follows the making of a woman’s world, with pain and love, with varying definitions of love, family and friendship! For someone like me who haven’t been reading well for the past few weeks and who’s started to read as slow as a snail, being able to read this book in one sitting was a welcoming surprise. The issues raised – real life problems with fertility, experience of a married woman, who’s a daughter in law before she’s a wife or a mother, and of course, the issue of carrying and the question of raising a girl child – are all very important. The issues of womanhood, wifehood and motherhood are explored subtly and could have been articulated better. And the way they’re brought together, sometimes through inner dialogue, sometimes through dreams and other forms of subconscious thought and specially through the perspective of the unborn child, in conversation with the creator of the world, the one who built humans and didn’t worry about their gender – is also quite a fresh take on the topic. I would also like to take out a minute to mention and appreciate the fact that the book also hints at various misogynistic loopholes in our society and what it means to be a woman today, how it’s a constant puzzle, and how, in life of a woman, the agency often lies in the hands of a man. An agency Shweta fights to win over for herself to keep, and for her daughter to inherit. As a story, with writing potential, it could have been woven with more complexity, but the fact that it’s simple- both in thought and in expression, is probably an advantage. The more simpler a difficult topic is expressed in, the wider its reach becomes. And today, even today, a lot of people need to reach this level of awareness. And finally, coming to the title, it highlights both the key words- a life and one’s own. And I liked that.
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Love is Not a Word is a collection of essays on Love & its varied experience & expression.
Engaging, well-researched & well-articulated, it’s also a literary source, balanced with intellect & entertainment, thought & emotion, & a touch of personal & universal.
There are two reasons for why it’s a special book: one, that in defining love it doesn’t confine it, it expands the various multitudes it contains, breaks it open with perspectives, all possibilities in one & yet the essence remains; & two, that in making the content contextual & relevant, these essays also lay a comparison of ideologies- East with West, religion with politics, history with mythology. In doing so, it brings together literature, culture, art & other social constructs such as Love Jihad, Feminism, Self Love & homosexuality, making you feel, wonder, reflect & question at the same time. In speaking of & to the Indian consciousness, they also explore the universality of love & its many shades. It’s a treat that’s been assorted for us.
This space is too little to share all the excerpts I’ve extensively highlighted, so I’ll leave with you with my other favourites: Love, Longing & Desire, How to Write a Love Letter to a Tree & Swipe Me Left, I’m Dalit, who’s titles I love too, along with the ‘Gender of Waiting’ Dhar talks about. That’s another thing to fall for in this book: the titles & how they come along.
As long as we’re talking about favourites, I spent the longest reading & rereading the Urdu poetry these essays quote, the words of Mir, Ghalib, Khusro, Faiz taking me from one emotion to another.
This book has left me wanting to read more. Not just more of what the writers have written but more of all the literature it quotes, all the movies it mentions & all the poetry it shares. A book that leaves you with recommendations of more to read & watch & recite, is the kind of book we all should be looking for.
In a sense, this book has compensated for all that I expected & more from ‘A History of Desire’. Recommended to the young who seek love, to those who found it; to the old who’ve lived through different shades of love, watching it change every season, every generation; to a reader who wishes to lose himself/herself in a book & to the scholar who aspires to explore.
Until next time, I’ll leave you with a commonly known but as loved a couplet on Love, as also mentioned in one of the essays:
“Ishq ne Ghalib nikamma kar diya
Warna hum bhi aadmi the kaam ke”
“I know my stuff looks like it was all rattled off in 28 seconds, but every word is a struggle & every sentence is like the pangs of birth”
I begin from this Dr Seuss quote because it speaks to me. I’ve started to confess that even though I’ve only started to trying to write, I already feel that it’s only matter of days that someone will come up & call it basic, effortless, regular. I fear even calling myself a writer. Not that I fear feedback or criticism, no. I welcome it. Friends have helped me better what little I’ve written & I’m ever so grateful. But the fear stays put.
I do not know if it’s a cultural learning or perhaps an internal flaw, but I do know that we’re taught not to be too proud of our achievements, reminding us failure in an effort to keep us grounded. While that might work positively, I cannot help but think that this approach will not only devoid us of the joy of success but instill a fear of failure, for they’re remembered much longer than our achievements are.
Most of us are victims to generalised thinking: success earns your respect, failure earns you nothing more than a few glances. Time & again, we forget the person & define them by their achievements or flaws. We forget that success is not trying & winning the very first time, it’s trying despite of losing the first time or even the second. Success, then, is our response to failures, without either, our personalities & lives are incomplete.
This is what this book talks about, with real life stories of people we know & admire & often mistake for extraordinary people. In ‘humanising those lost behind myths & brands (& controversies)’, this book breaks down the blind glorious image we create & helps us bridge the gap. Encouraging us to draw inspiration from these 21 personalities & their hard work & determination. From Steve Jobs to Amitabh Bachchan, Edison to Oprah, Nelson Mandela to Dr Seuss, Ratan Tata to Walt Disney, Einstein to Beatles. They teach us life skills, lessons we’re supposed to learn and absorb as humans but hardly do. Lessons on perseverance, patience, hard work, consistency, adaptability & most importantly- struggle.
These livened up brief biographies share life stories of ‘successful’ people & their milestones (both high & low), that brought them to the turning points in their lives- the turning point not being the crucial event but the direction/path they chose to pursue standing at the crossroads of their life. It teaches us that no person, no personality has it smooth & effortless in life, that there is no life without struggles & that we become who we are by the choices we make. This book proves that failures are universal: across time, across geographies.
In normalising humanness, it busts myths, specially the ones that make us set unrealistically high standards for ourselves while looking up to who we think are superheroes & flawless. It brings reality out in the front & surprisingly not pessimistically, which is quite a skill. The tone throughout remains motivational & never cynical, which is an appreciable skill of the writer.
As a young person, with the rest of her life waiting for her, this book is a motivation like no other. But I would not define & selflessly restrict the need for motivation with age, & hence request everyone to read it.
I will leave you from an excerpt from my favourite chapter in the book: Julia Child: Do Not Fear Failure:
“Once we stop placing the notion of our ideal selves on a pedestal and see what we truly are- human beings with flaws- we will learn to accept our losses better… Not to say we shouldn’t hold ourselves accountable for our mishaps, but we shouldn’t beat ourselves up. It’s great to strive for perfection, but it will only prove harmful if we never accept anything less… Success is impossible for someone who doesn’t make an attempt”
“Mamma, can we eat the present?No, it’s alive”
Childhood shapes our life, the experiences, the people, the places, make us the person we become. Childhood reading too, therefore, becomes an important influence. To read & smile, to read & cry, to read & feel deeply as a child is when we decide what/who we like & what/who we don’t. It defines us. Which is why whoever reads Olga Perovskaya’s Kids and Cubs will form a bond, first with the animals in the stories & then with Olga & her sisters, for they’ll relate to & dream of their little adventures & think of them as their own, coming alive on paper.
This might be a simple book, with simple stories of a family & their children & the many animals they loved & sheltered, even if temporarily. But it also sows in our hearts a seed of warmth, towards nature, love, co-existence & of course, towards our four legged friends- Dianka & Tomchik, the Wolves; Mishka, the Deer; Vaska, the Tiger; Frantik, the Fox; and Chubary, the Horse. Each with their peculiar habits, each as amusing to the sisters as the other & each as beloved, & their loss, equally heartbreaking. Kids and Cubs not only makes us smile wide at their antics or makes us shut our eyes at their loss, but also teaches us simple things about the inherent nature of these animals, little takeaways we otherwise wouldn’t haven’t known, something as simple as a baby deer spreading his legs while feeding to make more room for his stomach.
A child would read it & find some life lessons- on friendship, love, compassion, responsibility & most importantly, a lesson on life & death & how unpredictable yet inevitable they are. But reading it as an adult, I choose its simplicity to soothe me on rough days. Being biased, I feel I am not capable of commenting on the prose or the literariness of the book. I can only ask you to not judge & to experience it instead. Let Olga’s childhood speak to the child in you, set the vocabulary aside & let it make you feel instead of making you think. For it’ll end soon, the quick read that it is & after a day, you’ll find yourself thinking about Vaska & miss him!
I liked the book not for the writing or for the events, but for one simple fact, that animals warm my heart, any animal, baby or not, seeing them, touching them, just being around them, even watching them on screens makes my day and I long for a four legged companion. My favourite part from the whole book is one tiny, silly thing- Mishka liking cigarette butts- made me smile the widest!
“Women are born creative. Create in him the one you have always desired”.
We know Ahalya as the silent woman, a victim of her fate but Dasgupta’s Ahalya is more than that. She’s still a woman defined by men- first by her father, the creator, Brahma, born not out of love, but crafted skillfully, inch by inch; then by her un-induldging caretaker turned husband, a man she follows down to the Earth through the rough paths that hinted at a life to follow, ready for the worldly pain & pleasures (& their consequences); then by Indra, the God of Gods, of what Ahalya calls the king of ‘Indriya’ (the senses), but a man as worldly as a man could be; & finally, by Ram, the one who saves her, brings her back to life. She’s still a woman standing at the centre of social conflict but now she speaks of her own story.
Ahalya, not bound by Karma of previous births & sins now finds herself wrapped in the pressing cruelties of social order. Once a soul, innocent, curious, is now a woman ‘expected’ to be the ideal woman/wife, her body confining her to a fate.
Poetically dreamy & dreamily poetic, the writing is effortless, like a song taking us from one melody to another. Dasgupta’s retelling takes a fresh take on events, giving Ahalya a voice, sharing how she understands life & the rules governing it. She leaves you asking questions without asking many herself, around womanhood, wifehood, motherhood, marriage, fidelity & more. In retelling her story, Dasgupta has defined her beyond vulnerabilities. This Ahalya has conviction, one that comes with the very sustainability of life. ‘The unploughed, unaffected, untouched’, is touched, affected & ploughed towards the end & yet emerges stronger than ever, rising above her battles. In observing the fleeting nature of beauty, she teaches us the temporariness of true happiness, the meaning of life.
What I admire about mythology is the space it gives its readers & writers alike, to explore more & beyond what is, to what can be. This space has been intelligently observed by Dasgupta, restoring the narrative but transforming the narration, carefully flipping the coin, bringing a female voice to the male led & male bred side of the story. There is a unique satisfaction to say the unsaid & an even rarer to hear it being said & that’s exactly what this book is about.
A must, must read book!
I keep saying how I’m a big fan of Mythology, when in reality I’m a huge fan of Mahabharata. While I like adding shades & layers to the stories that were & the stories that could have been, I haven’t read many versions of any other as much as I’ve read of the Great Indian Epic. Why? Because I feel it’s the most human, most worldly story ever, exposing extremes that a man is capable of, baring open harsh realities. While many might not look at it beyond a traditional story, I believe that the more human a story is, the more we get to learn about the society & how to be in one. It teaches you what a man can be, it reveals the possibilities that lie within you & gives you the power to choose for yourself, to make the better decision. Allowing wide open space for interpretation, but to be pursued responsibly, cautiously, specially by those writing about it.
Which is why, this book got me the most excited. Adding to my shelf & my mind, another layer, another one of the very many perspectives it carries. The second reason the book struck me was the idea of ‘Tales from Mythological Mothers’. So you see, the title left me with no choice!
In Boons and Curses, Kunti stumbles upon a disturbing insight, one that makes her question herself, her fate & the fate of her sons & family that she feels responsible for. Lost, she takes refuge under Krishna’s guidance & hereon follows the tales, anecdotes of the legendary women who faced & fought fate.
While the idea of this book was so perfect that my expectations touched the sky, the narration & writing, I am sad to announce, did not hold up to their potential. A gap exists between the bright content & its lukewarm portrayal. The tales target raw emotions- resolve, exploits, revenge, sacrifice, affection- but fail to breathe life into them, wriggling under the surface instead of splurging outside the pages that share them. And it hurts more when it all seemed so promising.
Nonetheless, I’ll cherish the idea & hope for a more refined execution the next time. Till then, we wait!
*the right kind of monday blues*
Indic Quotient speaks with enthusiasm and conviction, of not only the Indian-ness of products of daily use but them being the World’s window in. A right balance of facts, opportunities, coated with emotional, patriotic reasoning. Of our tradition that needs expanding. Of our cultural systems that need to be promoted and how! Yoga, Ayurveda, Handlooms, Sanskrit, Cosmetics and so much more that stands to lose its relevance has been discussed- its promotion and sustainability explored, both theoretically and practically. Apart from its wide inclusion of the Indian element, this book also stands to motivate us with stories of those who economically initiate, produce and promote tradition.
‘Reclaiming Heritage through Cultural Enterprise’ holds my attention. Heritage and Culture with Enterprise is a combination that is not only intriguing, but so relevant that one keeps wondering how they missed it.
What I liked was the author bringing together these concepts not only in notion but in practice- backed by Indian ventures pursuing the Indian traditional market. Startups, independent sales, community ventures holding a responsible position. This book is a perfect example of ‘Vocal for Local’ that our nation today stands for.
I also liked how, despite its static content, it is engaging and encouraging of its readers. I am a strong believer of our old, traditional hacks for body, mind, food, clothes, medicine; and this book has given a strong voice to all of things Indian, values, beliefs and their applications. It is a statement in itself, the idea of this book.
I recommend it to those who wish to start with light but informative non-fiction. Also recommended to those who are keen on knowing the modern day approach towards traditional and cultural values we hold as a society.
#nonfiction #india #sky #bluesky #skies #indianhistory #culture
There are books that you read but do not find yourself remotely capable of reviewing, ones that you know you’ll have to revisit with the purpose of learning more & better.
Rights of the Girl Child in India is one such book. Thorough, holistic, well structured & well executed, it is more than just a book. It is a reality you hold in hands, it’s not a story yet it is one. From defining the Girl Child, both legally & conceptually, to addressing struggles that follow with this identity (both individual & collective), to looking at the matter from all centres- historical, social, political, cultural, traditional, psychological; what might be confused for an academic text, this book is a deeply practical account of all the concerns surrounding safety, health, education, amongst other sociopolitical, psychological, traditional concerns/restrains that an average girl child in the world & India struggles with. The book also raises a hint of an intersectional disadvantage, which can also be called as a double disadvantage, faced by an already vulnerable group- a combination of belonging to a disadvantaged sex as well as a disadvantaged age.
Even though the book vocalises the ‘existence, struggles & well being of women in general & girl child in particular’ from a holistic view, it also centres its concerns at the grassroot level- addressing a global issue with localised appeal. Hence, not only extensively sharing the problem, its sources, origins & the challenges it brings together, but also the solutions already in motion & other possible ones for the future. All this, while commenting & suggesting on the national status of rights & protection of the group. It speaks of how India as a country that started well, with its equalized rights & powers, a righteous/idealistic method of politics, has still significantly failed its society.
What impresses me the most is the depth of thought that the author has brought forward- missing out on no fundamental, giving a pragmatic summary of the present day reality, emphasizing, & rightly so, that change is not the responsibility of one. A strong collaborative measure from all directions is what we need.
Dear Indian Authors, Indian Books, Indian Folklore, I have confessions to make..
Long before I understood the universality of words and the wide, wide nature of stories, I let myself believe that Indigenous was a special word for local but strictly Indian. I know, silly me. But what could I do? I had grown up reading your rich literature, lost in your cultural prowess, lost in the land of traditions that you are, that I forgot to check upon the meaning. Assumed. Believed.
Even if I’ve grown up today, and even though I know the right meanings from wrong, you, Everything Indian, stands strong in my life. What a dynamic life you’ve lived – mythology to motivation, society to satire, politics to passion, love to loss, pain to pride, magic to mundane. You have shades and shades of colors, from everywhere in the sky, assorted, put into emotions, words, dialects, dipped deep in essence. And flavour? Well, you are known for your flavours, aren’t you? I cannot contain your veristatily in this little space. What I can do is express my appreciation, cherish and promote your values and continue, on your path.
To see you neglected, disregarded by the very society you speak of, the very people you represent, the very stories that you bleed of, saddens me to the core. They do not know what they’re missing, but I will tell them. I will try.
My favourite one, my dearest one, here you are, some of you spread on the table like trophies. You’ve enlightened me, let me into windows and doors full of awaiting escapades, that I would have been too unfortunate in real life to ever discover. You’ve unknowingly instilled a sense of collective conscience in me, an obligation and warmth I feel towards my fellows. You, my love, have brought me closer to my native soil, my country, my identity. If I take a deep breath, I’ll still run out of breath praising you. You’ve made me who I am, much before other books have. Shaped me, sometimes graciously, sometimes with an elderly warmth and at other times, with a strictness of a mother. In all ways and all kinds.
So a thank you will never be enough. My gratitude is an utter waste of the praise I contain for you. My obligation, I hope, will compensate for it.
~ Your faithful reader
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We have Mandu (the ancient city Mandavgad) and we have love and warmth booming within its boundaries. But we also have resistance, persistence, courage, fate, and the responsibilities of making history, and I think all of it in this order!
Mandu, like many historical fictions, brings in a fresh angle into the picture. Mostly, it is the emotions, the dialogue that livens up the history, brings us closer to prospects of what was and could have been and the odd flavour of love and romance, that works its charms. Mandu has all three stitched together in a beautiful narrative. In the backdrop, we have historical tensions, sociopolitical decisions and important questions at stake. It is the background that colors our love story, moves it at different paces and makes it go through ups and downs, but Mandu doesn’t lose focus ever from the enchanting Roopmati and the young Baz Bahadur and their love, first for music and then for each other.
What I felt the best thing about the expression of love that this story talks about is that it was extremely real and human, and not as glorified as history usually is. It’s not perfect and that’s what makes it beautiful.
Another thing that I liked apart from the refreshing storyline was the narration and descriptions of scenic beauty around. The words felt as if the reader is transported to 16th Century and can live through it all. The writing not only feels free flowing, but has a rhythm to it, a soothing one.
Yet another thing that I loved was the portrayal Roopmati’s personality and strength of character despite her simplicity, as opposed to helpless, distressed heroins who need saving. Roopmati is complete in herself, mind and body, and that’s what makes the love story even more stimulating. Infact, the character of Hiba Rahima Sultana, the queen of Mandu – her flaws, her jealousy, need for power – too makes it an instigating narrative.
#history #historicalfiction #historyofindia #lovestory #review #bookreview #readdreamrepeat #blogger #bookblogger