Book Review: Six and a Third Acres by Fakir Mohan Senapati

“…as the great pundit Benjamin Franklin said, ‘paper may be cheap, but it’s hard to use it well'”

For the little time we spend reading Six and a Third Acres, it’s yield is fruitful & as worthy, for he uses his paper well. In less than 200 pages, he not only impresses us with his firm grip on the understanding of human condition, in all its forms & imperfections; but also recreates a genuine society & legitimate characters. The authenticity of the plot, the accuracy of the narration, the sublime humor: all perfect.

The voice of the book is charmingly witty. I won’t tell whose it is, but I can tell you it’s the voice of the Powerless, revealing the tactics of the Powerful. An intentionally helpless, innocently insincere voice justifies the virtues of vice & ends up exposing exploiters & the loopholes they use to shield themselves & fool others: from (mis)quoting Shastras conveniently but convincingly, to justifying their cunningness. Proving true what usually is the case with glory & the glorified: shadows find them & truths uncover eventually.

Even in its exaggeration, the book is practical & the story, easily true. Despite its comical voice, the poignancy of the book is unignorable. The way Senapati has grabbed the pulse of the Indian zamindari system & its players is commendable. The satirical essence, embedded in its every page. Every word, strained with purpose. The flow, irrevocable.

Humor is essential to Senapati’s writing, as much as the social message he sends. My only setback was the consistent humor, for the thing with humor is that it’s more enjoyable when discovered in intervals. As it turns out, satire is best used as a subtext & not the text itself. I enjoyed Senapati’s wit but snarky comment after snarky comment made it lose its thrill. The surprise element faded away & soon worn out, as the reader became used to the narrative style. But nonetheless, the topic it raises & how, is done exceptionally well.

It’s one of those movies that would make a great Priyadarshan film, especially when you understand the science of human nature as well as Senapati does.

Also important to point out is the beauty of translation that we take for granted. Having read a few pages from the Penguin edition of the same classic, I instantly regretted it. The translation by Leelawati Mohapatra feels more alive. The same with her translation of Senapati’s ‘Ananta, The Widow’s Son’ from a collection of Odia stories. I couldn’t resist reading this & another story: ‘Patent Medicine’ (translated by Senapati himself) for the April Prompt of #longandshortofit

Do you read different translations of the same book?

Ps- the lovely Madhubani bookmark is from @popbaani! Use my code CBS020 for a 20% off!

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Book Review: On a Journey of Life by Kajal Rai and Nivedita Karmaran

On a Journey of Life is a collection of two stories sharing themes, themes that we don’t often talk about. Young women, impressionable childhoods, death of a parent, flawed relationships, impaired marriages, imperfect parenthood, agency in life, and many more interesting themes worth mentioning. While discovering the bumpy road to life and life in a society, the two authors open us to a flawed world and have us share emotions with Saanchi, the first protagonist, who relives her mother’s life for her, walking a mile in her shoes and travel, where she did, and how she did; and Rashi, the second protagonist, who walks back in time and answers the questions she had as a teenager, who once struggled to understand the rules of friendship and had to learn how to rewrite definitions of love, that were not-so-perfect anymore.

While the idea that book stands for is significant, I find something missing. Continuing, page after page, I missed layers that could have been there. The narration, while it did move across linearity in a conventional sense and brought time and age and past and present into the picture, the stories still felt linear. Midway through each, they become predictable, for these are stories we know and might even have lived. And while that relatability extends its reach to readers, it also becomes a basic flaw. The absence of a surprise element, or perhaps a stronger surprise element, makes the reading experience incomplete.

Nonetheless, it was pleasant to see two young voices taking the initiative to talk about broken families, and how they impact young minds and hence, their whole lives. It was also pleasant to see the image of perfect parenthood and many other perfect social standards that we set for ourselves, being shattered and a more real image coming out in the open.

I appreciate the rawness and the realness of these stories and wait, expectantly, for more and better stories.

Book Review: The Battle of Belonging by Shashi Tharoor

The first time I read a Shashi Tharoor book, it was the courtesy of a school event, a gift, an award, a copy of The India Shastra. I read it as a novice, new to the world, finally opening myself to the practicality of history & politics & everything we had only read about in textbooks till then. The next time was more engaging, our wordsmith had wrapped politics in mythology & I followed him, doubtless, enchanted. Tharoor’s The Great Indian Novel was perhaps the first retelling of the great epic I’d read. He made it a living thing, a story that was to become a personal favourite in the coming years. The next time was trickier, his words were more cultural now & with Why Am I A Hindu & The Hindu Way, Tharoor feeded me the politics of religion. I was sure of the author now & my liking towards him. Articles, talks & interviews sealed the deal.

Now, The Battle of Belonging brought another opportunity for me to continue on my journey.

Highly relevant, anecdotal & convincing, like all his books, it moves along with the present wave & finds its way to the common man. Here, Dr Tharoor reinstates the fact that to fully understand & appreciate a concept, at the core of any idea shall lie thorough analysis. He debates on this line throughout the book, in varied forms.

As practical as it’s theoretical- spoken both in thought & in action, it makes complete use of a rich experience & skillful articulation & expression. Drawn from a long line of history & culture, where the past is blended with the present, smoothened into one reality, with only a few chunks floating around, this book extends on one thought- the existence of Nationalism & the contextual expression of the said idea of Nationalism, bringing together many resources in a meaningful, very insightful manner. With an extensive reading list, it gives us a chance to explore more, even if we stand at the lower bottom of sociopolitical awareness.

Finally, it awakens us to contemporary issues & challenges, but offers little relief. With relevant criticism, you find a place missing for alternatives & suggestions. Maybe the solutions are ours to find, as citizens, as a collective.

Here is a picture from the day of the book launch:

Book Review: A Life of My Own by Rupangi Sharma

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.

Book Review: Love is Not a Word by Debotri Dhar

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”

Book Review: 21 Fantastic Failures by Sonali Misra

“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”
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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”

Book Review: Kids and Cubs by Olga Perovskaya

“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!

Book Review: Ahalya by Koral Dasgupta

“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!

Book Review: Boons and Curses by Yugal Joshi

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!

Indic Quotient by Kaninika Mishra: Book Review

*the right kind of monday blues*

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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