Author Archives: avid reader

About avid reader

Words do not describe a person. I am many things and yet nothing. I am an avid reader, reading her way through the pages of life. Some stories warm the heart and yet others have let me dry. I am a result of my life, and yet my life is part a result of me. Don't try to figure me.

Out of my mind: Sharon Draper

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I had just finished R.J Palacio’s Wonder,and was looking for my next read. There were a lot of titles but this book cover drew me towards it. But I kept putting it down for some reason or the other. And when I finally managed to read, I was filled with mixed reactions. On one hand, I enjoyed and was wiping tears at the end, and on the other hand I was furious with Sharon for having given a very poor and despicable picture of educators. Maybe she had a a bad experience, but a collective let down of the community was not at all acceptable.

At some points the story has a lot of power and magnitude but the author fails to maintain the same towards the end.

Plot: Melody is a fifth-grade girl who was born with cerebral palsy. Her body is crippled and there is very little she can manage to do by herself. She can’t even talk. She can, however, think,  and she does it better than anyone else, thanks to her photographic memory. She is a hidden genius who is lost in the milieu of words swirling within the confines of her mind. Melody looks helpless to the people who’ve not known her well, but if value is measured in terms of mental capacity for future learning and retention, then Melody outshines virtually everyone she meets. She is, without exaggerating to say, a wonder.

But life is not easy or simple for a person with the challenges that cripple the otherwise happy life of Melody every single day. Other kids cannot really understand Melody or comprehend her level of intelligence. Since they see her as vulnerable and incapable of meeting even her own basic needs they fail to acknowledge that she can be as smart and even better than them. Their unwillingness or rather lack of awareness about her condition blinds them to how smart and how good Melody is in the ways that matter. Ultimately, its Melody who bears the brunt of this ignorance  by not having friends. So, Melody understands “unfair”. She knows “unfair” more intimately than most of us ever will.

The plot of this book rocks back and forth, giving glimpses of hope for Melody’s future and then extinguishing them. There are moments to laugh and then it’s followed by scenes that will move almost any reader to tears, both of happiness and grief. There isn’t a single paragraph of Melody’s story that doesn’t jump up from the page with life and vigor, filled with intense relevance to our own lives. Melody happens to sink in within us and we start to care about her without our own knowledge and we wishfully think about a happy ending which in her story is … impossible.

Now for the parts that had me seething in anger. The characters are uni dimensional and seem like cliches. You can almost predict what their next action would be. The girls in the book seem to be ones suffering from disabilities as they can’t look beyond their own nose. Their lives are centered around them, and anyone who is different is a misfit. They are openly mean and use words like retard, which in today’s scenario would land one in principals office. So is the author stuck in 80’s time warp or does she forget that she is writing in his century where most schools have inclusive education and children are more compassionate towards the special children. The educators are not trained to be with children with special abilities and get into awkward silences when they are around them. The teachers appointed to the group with special abilities seems fit for kindergarten and not them, since all they did was play audio books that they had been listening for quite some time. It irks that a writer in 21st century would give you such a picture. There is no mention of occupational therapist or special needs counselor.

The book for me was like opening a box of my favorite sweet Gems, where I find chocolates in every color coating, but then chocolates are naturally brown. Which is to say, that every reader will find something to carry in their hearts and yet be angry about her the story that could have been uplifting loses its tangent by ignoring facts of recent advances and changes in education sector.

 

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Mrs. Doubtfire: Anne Fine

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“There are all sorts of different families, Katie. Some families have one mommy, some families have one daddy, or two families. And some children live with their uncle or aunt. Some live with their grandparents, and some children live with foster parents. And some live in separate homes, in separate neighborhoods, in different areas of the country – and they may not see each other for days, or weeks, months… even years at a time. But if there’s love, dear… those are the ties that bind, and you’ll have a family in your heart, forever.” 
― Anne Fine, Madame Doubtfire

These lines are just as deceptive as is the book. Its not a bad book but very misleading. It promises to be humorous and a fun read but that’s a far cry. Having the watched the movie by the same name, featuring Robin Williams, I half expected the book to be as enjoyable as the movie. But I was in for a rude shock. Anne Fine’s book lacks the charm that we witness in the movie.

The book  is incredibly sad and callous, as the children in the story are thrown around through their parents’ messy divorce. And like me if you’ve ever seen the Robin Williams film version, this book will be a big disappointment.

The story of Miranda and Daniel is one that many children face today. More so because children have to deal with the divorce of their parents. The only thing that made the book endurable was the realistic writing. You come across real arguments between the parents that would flare up ugly in front of the children, just like in real life. The children were forced to find coping mechanisms to handle the stress and trauma. The movie story line and book story line do cross at certain points and use certain lines in the book in the movie.

Daniel and Miranda Hilliard are recently divorced, and pretty much hate each others guts. Instead of allowing Daniel to spend time with the children after school, Miranda places an ad looking for a housekeeper/babysitter. Daniel changes a number on the ad and poses as an old lady to take up the position.

In the movie, Robin Williams brings warmth and charm to Mrs. Doubtfire. But the book is devoid of sentiments. The parents constantly argue in front of the children, Daniel repeatedly talks about how he’d love to murder Miranda. Miranda on the other hand, slates him and mocks him. And the result of all this you may ask: the children cry and cower together because they’re so sick of their parents fighting. In the book, the kids know that Mrs. Doubtfire is Daniel straight away (probably because his disguise consists of a turban, wellingtons and some foundation). Daniel is horrible as he calls Christopher a “little bastard” and “a little worm”. Miranda is equally rotten – telling the children awful age-inappropriate stories about how many times Daniel has messed up. She and Daniel play the children like pawns on a chessboard.

Fine was aiming for realism by writing about a sadly common occurring family issue. But it pales now in comparison to the film, and the humour fell flat. It seems to be written for the parents rather than children. Which perhaps explains the adult humour in the book.

Matilda Turns 30!!!!!

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Matilda as a world traveller in the new edition.

Photograph: Penguin Random House

Roald Dahl was one of my favorite authors whenever I stepped into a library or bookshop as a child. And I still find myself swerve towards shelves that showcase his books. Thus, when I read that to mark the 30th anniversary of the first publication of the book Matilda, three sketches drawn by original illustrator and old friend of Roald Dahl, Quentin Blake, will appear next month on the covers of special collectors’ editions, showing Matilda, a 30 year old woman as an astrophysicist, a world traveler and as chief executive of the British Library. The collection will be released by Penguin on October 4, 2018.

Matilda was first published on October 1st 1988. It was the last major book published in Roald Dahl’s lifetime is one of his bestselling stories around the world – with 17 million copies in circulation.

Matilda was the prototypical young rebel, a girl ahead of her times. She broke all rules about how little girls should be in children’s literature. When girls were shown as dimpled, rosy cheeked with golden curls, she stood out as a modern spirited girl. She stood up to bullies twice her size without fear. She was tackled prejudices and discrimination, no matter what the consequences. She stood up to her nemesis, the horrible headmistress  Miss Trunchbull who made the grave mistake of underestimating her prowess. In turn she empowers and instills strength not only in her friends but also her timid and shy teacher Miss Honey.

Matilda’s story reveals the need to stand up for what you believe is right. It does not matter what size or strength you possess, its the courage to stand up to big bullies that matters. And when you do that you can change your circumstances and steer the course of your life as you want, and even rewrite your story as you desire. But for that you too need to stand up and face your bullies- it can be a fear, a situation or even a person.

From the article:

In his foreword to the new editions, Blake, 85, reveals he enjoyed imagining what Matilda might be doing now she has grown up. “Since, as a small child, Matilda was gifted in several ways, it wasn’t very difficult. I imagined that for each version of our grown-up Matilda one of her extraordinary talents and achievements would have come to the fore and shown her a role in life,” he writes.

“I am sure that someone who had read so many books when she was small could easily have become chief executive of the British Library, or someone exceptionally gifted at mental arithmetic would be perfectly at home in astrophysics. And if you have been to so many countries in books, what could be more natural than to go and see them yourself?”

Blake describes illustrating Matilda as a wonderful experience. “It has been very special to revisit her all these years later and marvel at the woman she would have become.”

Matilda at the British Library, as drawn by Quentin Blake
 Matilda at the British Library, as drawn by Quentin Blake.

Given the sales of Matilda as compared to other books by Roald Dahl, is higher, the question surfaces what is it that draws readers of all ages and gender to enjoy it irrespective that the main character is a girl. If we delve into children’s literature we will not find many strong female characters that have been equally enjoyed by boys as well. Be it Carolyn Keene’s Nancy Drew Series, The Babysitter’s Club, Amelia Jane series and so on. These had few takers and were solely popular among girls. Children’s fiction is still vastly classified as for boys and girls. We have some brilliant fantasy series like Inkheart by Cornelia Funke  or Molly Moon series by Georgia Byng, but since the main protagonist is a girl I do not find boys reading then with as much interest as the girls. But magic of Matilda draws both boys and girls.

Children’s literature still makes erroneous decisions in publishing books which continue to have boys/ males as lead because publishers wrongly think boys don’t like to read books about heroines. This faulty ideology makes Matilda appear all the more appealing and relevant. Matilda catches us by surprise when even boys seem to enjoy and laugh with her because its a rare sight to see. But we shouldn’t be because times haven’t quite changed even tough we pretend to think and behave so.

From the article:

Carmen McCullough, Roald Dahl editor at Matilda’s publisher, Puffin, believes this reflects a wider trend in children’s fiction: “We’ve seen a real movement towards more feminist publishing recently. Parents are more keen than ever to present aspirational female characters to their young children – boys and girls – and that is what’s helping Matilda stand out, because she’s a wonderful example. She has such belief in herself and is every bit as relevant and inspirational to children and adults today as she was 30 years ago.”

Children’s laureate Lauren Child agrees part of Matilda’s enduring universal appeal is that Dahl chose to write about a spirited little girl. “Like Jo in Little Women and Pippi Longstocking, Matilda is an incredibly modern character. You can relate to her. She’s not a sap, she’s not a goody two-shoes, she doesn’t take everything sitting down, she fights back. She’s for justice.”

Matilda the Astrophysicist.
 Matilda the Astrophysicist. Illustration: Quentin Blake

Child, the author and illustrator of the Charlie and Lola picture books, believes Matilda would have become an inventor. “I think she would be a very creative person at 30. The way she thinks is interesting. She thinks in a sideways way, a way that’s out of a box. She’s not confined. But the thing that you feel most about her is that she could be anything. I think that’s the message of the book: You can’t beat someone down if they’re interested in the world and they have a good heart.”

Matilda is the epitome of the modern day woman. With her brains and abilities she can be whoever she wishes to be. She is not restricted in her achievement and is not dogged down by the expectations of the society. She is her own person and follows only her own dictates. She stands for qualities that we should encourage and teach our little girls to embody rather than preening and grooming themselves to be later carried around by their husbands as trophies. Girls at a young age should be taught to aim high and to believe in their strength to open their wings and conquer all horizons. They should not waiting in the wings for their opportunities rather create one for themselves.

Never on the sidelines, but always on your own path.

Sea Prayer by Khaled Hosseini

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Khaled Hosseini is a name that reckons stories with a delicate yet intense voice that speaks volumes on the impact of war, riots and displacement, especially in the Islamic countries. All those who have read his books must have had shed tears in silence as you flipped pages and poured over the lives of Hassan and Mariam. His writing has pulled our hearts to see Hassan’s emancipation and have been company in Mariam’s journey.

But let me warn all Khaled Hosseini fans that you might be disappointed if you come looking for a full fledged novel. Hossieni was impelled to write Sea Prayer when the image of a 3-year old Syrian child, Alan Kurdi, washed ashore in Turkey in 2015, splashed across the media. He didn’t make it. The image is vividly set even in my mind since I had many sleepless nights after I saw the image in the newspaper. When I held my own little one in my arms, rocking her to sleep, I was in tears as Alan’s image kept coming back to me. A life, just a bud, lost due to the monstrosity that humans inflicted on each other. This book is a tribute or rather a vent out for the anguish and ache Hosseini experienced. In this poignant account, he  tries to highlight the predicament of parents under such cataclysmic environs. The book, is a reflection of life like Kurdi’s, that has been fractured and forced to flee from home by war and persecution.

Sea Prayer is a letter, from a father to his son, on the eve of their journey that shall take them away from their homeland. Watching over his sleeping son, the father recollects how their land Homs, used to be before the wars and siege. It is also a vivid portrait of their life in Syria, before the war, and of the swift transformation of a home into a deadly war zone.

Khaled Hosseini transports you to war-torn Syria and manages to rip your heart as he depicts how much the country has changed. It is told from a father’s point of view, telling his son how beautiful their country used to be. The father with a heavy heart says that his son would not remember his beautiful land and will only remember about hiding, praying and looking for shelter. Under the dark ominous clouds of the night, the father casts a nostalgic eye on the glorious days gone by at Homs. Through his words he seems to evoke hope in his young son’s heart, and perhaps within himself, despite their given circumstances. The father is uncertain of whether they will make it across or not. Hence the name Sea prayer, he prays the sea will not hurt his son.

This has been a difficult book to review simply because it gives rise to a whole gamut of emotions. The intensity of the letter grows manifold when read alongside the marvelous illustrations by Dan Williams. The water-colors capture the spirit of the story .They start with beautiful, rich vibrant colours that detail a breathtaking landscape, the souk and the land in all its beauty. As the book progresses they become more grey, dark, morbid and ominous. There is a stark contrast in the hues which once was a riot of colours is reduced to monochrome, justly so to highlight that the lives of the refugees too has lost its buoyancy.  This book is a perfect partnership between author and illustrator.

Do not expect the magic of his novels here, and yet you will have the strings of your heart being tugged and your soul scorched by the harshness of their reality.

Certain lines that really touched me:

” These are the things you know. You know a bomb crater ca be made into a swimming hole. You have learned dark blood is better news than bright. You have learned that mothers and sisters and classmates can be found in narrow gaps between concrete, bricks, and exposed beams, little patches of sunlit skin shining in the dark.”  

” I look at your profile in the glow of this three-quarter moon, my boy,your eyelashes like calligraphy, closed in guileless sleep. I said to you, ‘Hold my hand. Nothing bad will happen’.”


” These are only words. A father’s tricks. It slays your father, your faith in him. Because all I can think tonight is how deep the sea, and how vast, how indifferent. How powerless I am to protect you from it…….

Because you, you are the most precious cargo, Marwan, the most precious there ever was. I pray the sea knows this. Inshallah. How I pray the sea knows this.” 

 

International Dot Day: 15th September

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As much as I had wanted to celebrate International Dot Day in my school I couldn’t since everyone is knees deep in studies. With exam just round the corner there was no way I could celebrate this fun day. But as a parent of a young child I feel that this day holds lot of scope and learning opportunities. 

For the uninitiated, the International Dot Day, is a global celebration of creativity, courage and collaboration. It began when teacher Terry Shay introduced his classroom to Peter H. Reynolds’ book The Dot on September 15, 2009.

The Dot is the story of a caring teacher who challenges a hesitant and reluctant student , Vashti to trust in her own abilities by being brave enough to “make her mark”. The teacher encourages her to begin with a small dot on a piece of paper. But the dot becomes the catalyst in developing confidence and courage in the child. It ignites a journey of self-discovery and sharing, which has gone on to inspire countless children and adults around the globe.

The book may seem a flimsy 32 page , but it contains within its pages a story that  has transformed teaching and learning around the world as people of all ages re-discover the power and potential of creativity in all they do. The story leaves an impression on people of all ages. You don’t need to be a child to appreciate and be motivated by the simple story. When Vashti goes from being a gloomy and an irate child, with no confidence, to someone who has the maturity and ability to help someone else to believe in themselves. She helps others to gain confidence and search within themselves for strength.

On reading the book you question why are the other children not written about in the book. The story doesn’t speak about the other children in Vashti’s art class since it is about her personal journey. The story accentuates the fact that she is not comparing herself to others but challenging herself to do better. It is a typical human trait to constantly compare ourselves to others. We happen to judge our progress by comparing ourselves with others, rather than creating our own yardsticks. This often gets in the way of our own personal progression. When we begin to focus on our own individual milestones it becomes much easier to get on with moving forward, rather than wasting energy on worrying about what everyone else is doing. When we do not pay attention towards what others are achieving or planning, we can focus and concentrate our energy on enhancing and honing in our own innate talents.

What this book teaches is not just restricted to individual experience. We have all faced a roadblock, where we felt stuck and unable to move forward.  We have all come face to face with the fear of expressing ourselves. This fear arises out the trepidation of what people would think, and the fear of ridiculed or being jibed. This fear has led to shut down a long-held dream, wilting of long passions and the chance to truly succeed.

As a teacher- librarian what drew my attention was the role of the Art teacher. She didn’t make Vashti feel small for not being able to draw. But what she did is what we lack in the teachers nowadays. I know my comment here will not be welcomed but that’s how it is. Each child/ person has talents which are hidden and are needed to be discovered, which often than not has to be a teacher. But most fail to do so. Teachers expect children to have a set of skills and the one not having the is labelled a loser. But that is far from the truth. More often than not, it is this black sheep that surges ahead of the crowd and shines.

We need to celebrate differences and accept that each person is unique, and fit together as pieces in a big jigsaw puzzle. Each person has creativity and originality, but the acceptance for the same needs to be in place for a person to showcase it. So whenever in doubt about yourself and your potential, never let it come in way of your self-expression. Just like Vashti, make a small dot, start small, and then you will see can make a mark.

International Literacy Day: 8th September

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                       Courtesy: karadionline.blogspot.com

Communication skills are the most important skills for the development of a society. It is needed to converse and engage with a fellow human being and to facilitate understanding. Nearly every individual learns to communicate verbally by observing their family and surrounding. But it is rather unfortunate that  not many get a chance for formal education. Thus with the call for eradicating illiteracy and bringing people together to help impart education the idea of celebrating an International Literacy Day was first discussed on September 8 to 19, 1965, during the World Conference of Ministers of Education in Tehran, Iran. On October 26, 1966, the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) gathered for the 14th general conference and proclaimed that September 8 will be celebrated as International Literacy Day.

This year, the 52nd International Literacy Day was celebrated on the theme ‘Literacy and skills development’. For ILD 2018, “skills” means knowledge, skills and competencies required for employment, careers and livelihoods, particularly technical and vocational skills, along with transferable and digital skills.

The main aim of the International Literacy Day is to draw attention towards and highlight the importance of literacy to individuals, communities and societies. Literacy and level of education are basic indicators of the level of development achieved by a society.

In India, the literacy rate may have gone up over the decades, but the gap between literacy in urban and rural areas is still wide. There is also a gap between the male  and female literacy rate across India. The overall literacy rate works out to be 64.8 %, the male literacy rate is 75.3% and that for females is 53.7%, showing a gap of 21.6 percentage points between the sexes at the national level.

One of the main factors contributing to this relatively low literacy rate is the usefulness of education and availability of schools in the vicinity in rural areas. According to a survey, there is a shortage of classrooms to accommodate all the students. The rural areas suffer with respect to providing a space where a school can function properly. Children are more often just seeing as helping in bringing more money to the otherwise burgeoning family. Thus education does not come across as a necessity or even of use in improving their quality of life. For them hours in school are loss of time that could earn them more. Thus they need to be first educated about the usefulness of education and how an educated child can raise the standard of the family.

Another deterrent towards complete literacy is lack of access to quality education.The Gross Enrolment Ratio is a yardstick used in the education sector to determine the number of students enrolled in schools at different levels. It is the ratio of the number of students who live in that country to those who qualify for a particular grade. The GER numbers for primary, upper primary and elementary levels of education is significant as it is close to 90%. But, there is one catch in this, studies show that many children, especially in the rural areas, of class 8 cannot read a class 2-level text. This clearly shows the gap to access to quality education. A lot is written on paper and a whole lot of policies and plans are made for opening of new schools. Crores are spent on the project but the question here is does it actually get translated into ‘well-educated and literate society’? We have many institutions at school and college levels. But often, these institutions don’t deliver what they are supposed to. It has been observed that the GER consistently drops with the increase in grades, dropping to a low 24.3%. This means that only 24.3% of the total number of students eligible to study in colleges are actually attending college. Now one may ask why is it so? There are many answers as well as questions to it.

Is the curriculum followed by the schools not practicable, or is it not followed effectively. Does the government have any checks in place to monitor the quality and standards of the teachers? Are there regular checks and inspection in the government run schools to ensure that the funds allocated are properly utilized? Are teachers inspected for their education and verified? Is the curriculum preparing the students for life outside or is it just imparting facts? Is vocational training and skill enhancement a part of regular curriculum?

From my point of view, all these questions together form the larger problem. A regular check of what students are taught in schools does not happen in many cases. The syllabus is not updated regularly to keep up with the new advances. The books only impart information which many a times is hardly relevant to developing skills. There are many instances reported where the teachers are not qualified enough to teach students, and yet continue to be part of the teaching fraternity. The problem of teacher absenteeism has also beleaguered the Indian education system for long. Studies suggest that improving school infrastructure, allocating sufficient funds, increasing the frequency of inspections, providing daily incentives to work and conducting frequent parent-teacher association meetings are the best ways to get teachers to attend schools regularly. There should be regular training programs for teachers to keep them updated about latest research and findings in the field of education. So, rather than focus just on improving literacy rate, which is, of course, important, the real focus should be on providing quality education. And education should mean downloading facts and information into young minds. But to create a generation that can read and write and is also adept at handling life situations competently by imparting skills and knowledge for the same.

After all, access to quality education, is the birthright of every child.

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S’s Secret: Shobhaa De

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The name Shobhaa De on the book cover was what caught my attention. I love her style of writing: crisp, witty and truly revealing. But this book was a disappointment because she did not manage to do what she set out for. An attempt at writing about teenagers falls flat mainly because the teenagers do not talk their age and more likely seem like teenage version “Friends” series.

The Plot: The story revolves around 14 year old Sandhya, and takes us all through her daily life. She has an annoying kid sister who is always ready to carry tales of her older siblings, a bossy older brother who is forever sermonizing her to get off the phone, and loving but strict parents who lay down way too many rules. Its a typical Indian family but that’s where the idea goes wrong. The way the children behave is not how kids behave at homes. It seems to have been inspired by the western soaps.

Sandhya has a massive crush on Akshay, the handsome cricket captain of the school next door. And is trying her best to get his attention. She is engrossed and always in conversation with her best friend Asavari for the school social. And amidst all this Sandhya has to decide whether to reveal something she has been hiding from everyone-a secret that will change her life forever. But truthfully, Shobhaa De could have done better here in writing up a secret. The hype and build up from the start makes you think what could a teenager probably hide that can devastate her.

Yet there are a few moments that ‘S’s Secret’ draws you into a teenager’s whirlwind world of emotions. The familiar heartbreaks and joys of growing up – the endless bickering with siblings, the eternal urge to rebel against rules, the sweetness of friendship, the yearning for peer approval, and above all, the encompassing warmth of family love. These moments will make you smile with indulgence and annoyance.

This is Shobhaa Dé’s first book for teens and has all the exuberance that we associate with her writing. But it falls short of expectations when compared to real life. Her books are known to be hard hitting reflections of life, but here it seems a cheap imitation of some disney soap for teenagers.

The Heart Has Its Reason: Krishna Sobti

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Having read a few of Sobti’s book, it was no surprise that I was yet again drawn towards her writing. This time I picked up The Heart Has Its Reasons.  An unusual title, I was drawn by the image of the woman on the cover. To me it seemed like a mughal era painting of a princess/ queen. But when I got down to reading I discovered that there is more to the picture.

The Heart Has Its Reasons,  was originally published as Dill-O-Danish. The book was released in 1992. It is a love triangle woven beautifully in streets of Delhi of 20’s. Mehak The novel is spun around the lives of Bano, Kutumb and Kripanarayan. The vortex of the story is Bano and Kripanarayan’s love story. It threatens to rupture and pull apart at the seams of the family. Meanwhile Kutumb, the wife gropes to save her marriage. The novel has all the flavors that come together to make a reading complete with emotions, drama, romance and leads you gently by the hands into their lives. You feel like an audience to the inner working of the lives of the characters.

Kripanarayan was Bano’s mother’s lawyer who happens to fall in a tumultuous passionate relationship with Bano. They have two kids. This becomes the sore eye for Kutumb who leaves no leaves unturned to express her anger and hatred toward Bano and her kids. She even infects her children with vile and hatred and towards Badru and Masooma, their half siblings. The start of the story sees Bano as a docile and submissive woman who has accepted the fate as meted out to her by Kripanarayan. Yet in between she does display grit and determination. As the other woman, Bano makes no demands on Kripanarayan and is happy and content in her simple lodgings. In contrast, Kutumb has all the riches and also social standing as the legally wedded wife, yet she is dissatisfied and always cantankerous. But the very lives Bano nurtured, that of her children also seem to drifting away she comes into her true character. From a quiet flame she turns into a raging fire, with the power to consume any that comes her way. She refuses to cow down before social diktats and embraces her role in the life of Kripanarayan, that of the other woman. She comes out boldly into the open from behind her purdah as the mother of Badru and Masooma and not hide behind in the background. Even when she is expected to be absent from the events of her children’s lives she step in to make her presence evident. Thus the woman in the cover is an enigma and perfectly resembles Bano. She is the quiet flame who has the storm within to become a blazing fire.

The story was inspired by Begum Samru ki Kothi, an old mansion that used to be one of the grandest houses in Old Delhi but is today the location of an electrical goods market. It is a rich masterpiece, a magnificent tapestry of characters, times, contexts, and raw emotions.

Mahashweta: Sudha Murthy

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I was looking for a book to read with not more than 150 page or so. Mahashweta fit the bill. But I was not prepared for what was to come. Today when I put the book down I feel that I have lost a friend. So attached did I get to the protagonist that, I feel she is still with me. Anupama will stay with me for long for she has taught me some very valuable lessons.

The plot: This book is a moving tale of a female protagonist, who gets ostracized by all and sundry, including the man who marries after despite opposition , for the only reason that she has started developing white patches on her skin( leukoderma).

The novel starts off with the fairy tale like romance between Anupama and Anand. Anupama is your classic Indian heroine, a beauty beyond parallel with brains to match. The only defect about her is her poverty. The hero, Anand , is a charming, brilliant, but abundantly rich hero, who falls in love at the first sight with the heroine. Not all is hunky dory in this fairy tale. There is the typical mother-in-law who is always flaunting the social status, and an arrogant sister, who happens to get away with her mistakes just because she is rich (What a cliche!!!). And to match the mother-in-law we have the equally typical incapable father of Anupama, who is poor and a sorry figure, as is typical in Indian setup. Anand marries Anupama despite obvious confrontations and dispapproval of his mother.

He later flies to England for his higher studies leaving Anupama behind. She is convinces that he will be by her side always. Anand tells her to join him later, meanwhile Anupama is diagnosed with leukoderma/ Vitiligo. This releases a barrage of curses and taunts from the mother-in-law and sister-in-law. Anupama is all alone without any care or support , she turns to Anand for emotional support and soothing words. Being a doctor himself she has full faith in him. But she realizes that her faith was ill placed. For all she gets in return is his aloofness, uncaring and heartless. As as person obsessesed with beauty and perfection, Anand in a way highlights the stereotypical male mindset in India. All men want fair, slim, beautiful brides. This is only in keeping with the idea of having a trophy wife who can be showcased to friends and relatives, and then put away within the cages of marital home.

Anupama’s faith is tested in every step from there on. She is not allowed to live peacefully in her in-laws place nor in her parents’. Having suffered immensely, she decides to take the reins of her life into her own hands. She decides to live independently without any inhibitions and succeeds in the end.  In the course she meets people whom she not only inspires but also forges bonds that are thicker than blood.

For me its a book that I will definitely re-read. Not because it is something untold, rather for the very reason it is written. Through the novel Sudha Murthy has touched upon some very sensitive topics. These are understated and woven expertly throughout the book. Take for eg: the expectation of grooms to have a beautiful bride and also satatite their greed in terms of dowry. And if the bride is poor all hell is let loose. Similarly poverty is a curse for a girl if she is unemployed and dependent on her parents. Thus, self reliance and self independence is of utmost importance for every girl. Mnay incidents are criticized as cliches, but ironically they are very much the truth of our Indian society. Had Anupama brought dowry she would have been treated differently and not suffered. The society at large sees a woman who is separated/divorcee as an easy target and often perpetrate her privacy.

Though the ending is not your ‘happily-ever-after’ but nevertheless it is inspiring and uplifting enough for me to pick the book up for a read again.

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Her Father’s Daughter: Shekhar Mehra

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The blurb at the back of the book completely belies what lies inside 215 pages novel. I was taken unaware when I finished the book, waiting to let it all sink in. the blurb reads:

” When a girl child is born into the zamindar family of a village called Veerganj, she brings no cheer to anyone around. She is only just accepted by her family. But little Gayatri has set her rules early: she is not content with mere acceptance . She has taken after her father and demands attention,which she manages to get, and in ample measure. But when the same attention is denied to her as a woman- as a beautiful woman-what does she do? Just about anything. It’s her life after all.”

My first reaction was that it’s a book that must speak of woman’s liberation or a girl’s fight for self. But I was not prepared for what I read between the pages.

No matter how much we try and ignore or try to push it behind curtains or under the carpet, the truth is that the obsolete customs of caste biases, untouchability and the want for male child is very much in existence. It did not quite come to an end, it’s best to say it has been marginalized and forced to retreat from the face of urban India. But they can still be found in remote, far-off villages that are rigid and unbending in religious and social traditions. The Britishers may have left our land centuries ago, but we as a society are yet to fully wake up. In these remote interior villages there are millions of peoples labelled outcastes or untouchables, the lesser human beings. They are subjected to every conceivable form of discrimination. The high castes grade cows and snakes higher than their own fellow beings.

In urban areas it happens under cover of money. The higher castes who would never dream of touching them, are willing to work with them and under them, given the prospect of earning profit, read money. Though abolished by the constitution and the practice punishable by law, it still continues to play havoc with innocent lives.

These people suffered long and are still suffering. They did not raise their voice for the fear of retribution. Their counterparts in cities have survived and some of them are thriving as well. But those in the village never raised their eyes to look up, being employed as labour and menial hands, they feared loss of job and means of sustenance.

The government has set up panchayats for them where they can go for help and address their problems. But little did they know that the same enforcement agencies which should deliver justice have been bought and pockets warmed with money. These agencies cater to the interest of the high castes and are also manned by them. The Utopian dream did not deliver on ground. Poverty, illiteracy, caste system, political interference, factionalism, money and muscle power all grazed the dream flat.

It is under this premise that Gayatri’s story unfolds. She is born into a zamindar family. As a girl child she is unwanted and only just accepted. But she soon wraps herself around her father’s heart displaying the very same traits as her father. She is bold, fierce, independent and assertive. As a child her whims and fancies are brushed aside. Reality of dawns upon her when she grows up into a beautiful woman. Her movements are restricted and it slowly sinks into her what caste biases are. As a girl she has no say in how her life unfolds. Her father is a well known face in the village of Veerganj. To raise his position a bar higher in the society he decided to get Gayatri married to the son of a famous politician with a hold in state capital. The father completely disregards his daughter choice in the matter. Even when Gayatri hurts herself, she is asked to maintain composure and see that she will financially well settled. It did not matter if she like the boy or not. Matters escalate and go out of hand when she seeks help from Ghanshyam, an untouchable. She lets loose a can of worms and opens up Pandora’s box of troubles. Her father’s fury meets no match in deciding her future. Things turn ugly leaving the family disoriented and fractured.

The characters are well rounded and life like. There are no caricatures, rather genuine creation. All the characters have a progression as the book climaxes, no one character remains stolid.

The book is absolutely transparent with respect to how society functions in the villages. The untouchables are cornered towards the borders of the villages. The dark side of the Indian villages is exposed and so is the farce in the name of legislation and justice, namely Panchayats. There is no savior for these people and they are trampled by those with money and power. Shekhar Mehra has given a scathing account of how these people suffer, the tortures, the punishment and the suffering. The author has been true to the village life in depicting the  crude pleasure the muscle power enjoyed while exercising their strength on womenfolk.  Stripping the of their dignity, leaving them stark naked to all eyes, one can easily feel the humiliation and dejection of the people. The simplicity and candour with which Shekahr has written the novel, one would feel as if it’s recounting of a real incident.

If you have faint heart and gory scenes of violence and bloodshed make you queasy then do not pick this book. There are many scenes which recount extreme violence, savagery, brutishness and sadism.