Category Archives: Book Reviews

The Giving Tree: Shel Silverstein


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I revisited the book as I was looking for a short read for my daughter. My search led back to this book I had read when I first joined a school as librarian. This was one of the first books I had read in a Read Aloud session . The story remained with me and has haunted  me or rather gathered roots in my mind. I am yet to read it to my daughter but now that I reread it I saw the book reach up to me in various shades which I had earlier skipped to notice back then. There can be several interpretations to seemingly short read of roughly 600+ words. I stopped myself several times when I happen to understand that it can be hated on many aspects just as it can be loved. I for once loved the book and still do. But what strikes me is that there are readers ho can be bitingly rude and give visceral reaction to the book because for them a positive and uplifting tale of giving without expecting anything in return is unaccepable.

Nowadays we are accustomed to reading a rather vaccinated version of tales that are meant to give lessons but without the bitter pill. But the, do they serve a purpose. These books might make a good read but often the lessons are lost in the trappings of he world. If we see famous children’s literature, it can be easily observed that the writers wrote with a clarity and skill that delivered the harshest of content but they did not compromise to spare the children the horrors of the world. Moreover, the morals were never explicit in content rather implied and gradually absorbed emotionally through the reading. Shel Silverstein under the garb of a gentle little children’s story has tried to pierce the fabric that makes humanity to unravel its numerous faults. ” Giving Tree” is a very disturbing book,  perhaps it’s because it’s intended to be so.

One of the most readily accepted interpretation is that of unconditional parental love. But then again it is a very sad and aching story, where the child never learns to  appreciate his parents and remains to be ever demanding even in his old days. This might ring true in today’s highly materialistic and monetary society, where parents try and suffice for lack of time with giving into demands the kids make. This only breeds a want that can never be satiated.

Yet  another is man’s greed as explained by environmentalist. It is seen as a reflection of man’s selfish exploitation of nature. Many women consider it a depiction of man’s subjugation, suppression and abuse of woman and woman’s shortcoming and cowardice to stand up for herself . The tree is referred to as “she”. An anonymous domain reflecting the same anonymity woman are forced to live with. It is also seen as

Many see this as an allegory for Christ’s sacrifice. This is because the tree, like Christ, gives herself entirely for the boy without questions and self thought. If seen as  a Christian allegory, it is a disturbing retelling of Christ’s terrible, painful, continuous rejection by man, and not the heart-warming tale of unconditional love and forgiveness we are taught. There is no repentance or remorse in “The Giving Tree,” and therefore no exoneration.

This book is a masterpiece and it would be a blunder if readers expect this book to draw morals we get from the Greek myths, the Bible stories and the old fairy tales, which were the staples of past generations. Today we expect books convey lessons where the characters  learns his/her lesson, a simplicity that is classic of today’s children’s literature. Children’s literature such as “The Giving Tree” plays a valuable role by helping children understand the ugly, beautiful, and complex truths of the world.

© Sigy George



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There could be no better timing than this to be writing the book review for a book by Krishna Sobti. The 2017 Gyanpith Award winner, also known as the grande dame of Hindi Literature.

The book I am reviewing here is To hell with you Mitro. This book caused an uproar upon its publication owing to its language which is sexually explicit. Krishna Sobti wrote at a time when desires of women were to be suppressed and she did not openly express her desires. In Indian patriarchy, women have been given stereotypical roles as a mother, wife, mistresses or sex-object which man uses to gratify sexual appetite.  Sobti compels us to rethink the status quo through her strong and vocal female characters. Articulating provocative issues in her novels, she yanks society out of its comfort zones.

To Hell with You Mitro (Mitro Marjani) is the story of Sumitravanti, nicknamed as Mitro, the unstoppable daughter-in-law of the Gurudas household. Her mother-in-law aptly describes Mitro’s character in few words, “When she’s good, she’s better than the best. When she’s bad, she’s worse than the worst. If in a good mood Mitro is your friend and all her belongings are at your feet. At other times, she becomes so estranged that she spits on her husband. ” Mitro thus is an expression of Sobti’s uninhibited portrayal of female sexuality. She is what can be called physicality incarnated. She defies the set norms by expressing unequivocally her sexual desires and pangs. Her struggle is against the patriarchal structure. The basic honesty of her nature allows her to face herself and all she has believed in as unflinchingly as she faces her husband’s thrashing and mother-in-laws awed remonstrations. What makes Mitro special is her indomitable spirit. Even though towards the end she realizes the hollowness of her mother’s existence outside family, she refuses to buckle down under the patriarchal setup.

One of the basic theme of To Hell with You Mitro is that any positive change in the position of women cannot be brought about without addressing their position within family. Apart from being a set of kinship relations and household structures, family needs to be viewed as a power structure, maintained by patriarchy, through which a particular set of household and gender relationships are given meaning. The women are shown as subservient and at best a mute spectator to the happenings around them.

Thus, Sobti has shown an ideological dimension of family. An ideology which  is primarily patriarchal in nature, according to which there are preordained roles of men and women in family and outside it. This ideology of family describes and creates separate spheres of work for men and women. The unequal gender relations are valued not only by male members of the family but females, conditioned in patriarchy also support these norms with full devotion.

It is with the character of Mitro that Sobti using the character as a mouthpiece to deconstruct patriarchal norms and conventions. Mitro’s resistance against the repressive forces of patriarchy manifests itself in her transgressions. When she feels dissatisfied with her husband, leaving behind the age old sentiments of the much adored Sati and  Savitri ,she fancies about her escapades with males other than her husband.

Unlike her mother-in-law and elder sister-in-law, Mitro is not of the type of women who
feels content in performing subservient roles to their husbands thinking that this is what they are meant for. Her thoughts, actions, behavior are not even least controlled by the male. And what is more attractive in this bold diva is that she is fully aware of her physical charms. She thinks that she can win over any man as long as she has a beautiful,
attractive body.  Whenever and wherever she feels suffocated, she raises her voice, but never felt pathetic about her being a woman. For her there is no difference being a man or woman. She views both as equal, no one subordinate to other or dominant over other.

Mitro was met with a lot of agitation by the society that ‘expects young women to safeguard their sexual reputation and avoid being labeled as sexually promiscuous, while young men had to demonstrate their sexual reputation in order to enhance their standing with their masculine peer group’. But Mitro is open about her sexual longings. Her indomitable spirit and frank, open expression of her insatiable sexual urge is something totally unbecoming of a middle class married woman. Because of her openness in speech, she becomes the target of criticism by the members of her family. Her husband also finds her ways wanton and wild.

The high point is towards the end when Mitro visits her mother’s place and arranges for
sexual escapades with one of her mother’s clients in the very presence of her husband in the same house. Mitro realizes the hollowness of her mother’s existence outside family when her mother reveals her that now no one visits her mother and thus she feels terribly lonely. Now the same husband she cursed day in and day out now appears to her as a treasure she cannot afford to lose. By making a character like Mitro understand the importance of family life, Sobti perhaps reaffirms her faith in the institutions of family and marriage which irrespective of their restrictions, seem to her important and therefore must be preserved.

In this way in To Hell with You Mitro, on one hand Krishna Sobti made the other daughter in laws and the sons as mouthpiece of patriarchal norms and convention while on the other hand with Mitro she has given an antidote to patriarchy. Mitro’s family members reiterate the codes of patriarchy and for Mitro it is her chief task to dismiss these codes. She never follows patriarchal standards, whether it is in her speech, act, thinking or behavior

Patriarchy even today demands women to be silent, submissive, unselfish, timid, conventional, and with no display of sexual desires; contrary to all this Mitro is loudmouthed, domineering, bold, frank, unconventional, and openly displays her sexual desires. Towards the end she comes to realize the worth of familial and social norms but for her these norms also have meaning after personal individuality only. She understands the value of being virtuous and chaste , but that is not even a slight hint that she will bow meekly to patriarchy. There is no change in her even towards the end. She remains as vocal and expressive even in the end as she was in the beginning. All that changes is that she accepts the significance of following societal norms which are essential for a morally upright society, but this is not at the cost of losing her own individuality.

Nothing much has changed since then. Till date the desires of women are repressed and if a woman openly speaks about her sexual exploits or even her desires, she is easily labeled as promiscuous. The tongues start wagging and she stripped off her dignity and respect, leaving her cold in the dark society. Even an attempt towards the same is thwarted. For eg: Lipstick under my burkha,  is a movie that speaks about how the desires and dreams of women are licensed by the menfolk. Women seem to have no say over their own bodies when rape in marriage is normal. Thus, Mitro is an apt read in today’s times, when women need not hide their sexuality under a burkha.


Memory’s Daughter by Krishna Sobti


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Reading this book both angered me and yet also made me feel heart broken at the plight of women in Indian society. Not much has changed from where she started. Women then and now are treated as mere cattle with value only for the womb that bears offspring, only to be pushed back into backdrop soon after. She has no identity for herself except daughter of, wife of , or even mother of. It is only in the 2oth century that women began to think for themselves and also carve a niche for themselves. But there is not much difference in the then and now. Atrocities at women still continue irrespective of where she comes from. The female species is still eyed upon as possession to be acquired as when desired by men. If she refuses then dominance and violence is used to overpower her submission.

Sobti’s Memory’s Daughter ( Daar se bichudi) is set in rural Punjab of the early 19th century. It is the story of a young woman named Pasho. It traces her life as she is sold and bought like cattle in a charged world of war among Afghan and the Anglo-Sikh of the 19th century Punjab. The female protagonist Pasho in the first few pages seems to be cast in the stereotypical mould of ideal Indian girl; and yet at times she rises to impresses with her strong will and courage. Despite being a victim of manifold oppression, physical abuse and violence, she handles the challenges of her life successfully and overcomes all difficulties.

In the novel, Pasho displays the tendency of every village girl, devoid of education, to accept the four walls of the household as her domain. She can be viewed as an out-and-out traditional woman who is completely ignorant of her rights as a human. She has no aspirations at all, other than bearing and rearing children for the family and feels content in performing the household chores. She rightly justifies the angel-in-the-house image of woman. As an orphan she is dependent on her maternal uncle for shelter. Thus her plight  from the traditional Indian mindset is that of finding a home. Without home, she is insecure, vulnerable and thus a cause of shame to the entire family. Therefore, once she has crossed the threshold of her maternal uncles’ house, circumstances keep on tossing her from one household to another and she has absolutely no clue as to what to do under the circumstances. Which only highlights the narrow minded societal set up where women are best kept inside the four walls of their homes.  And it is this insecurity that breeds within Pasho , binding her to the  threshold of her maternal uncles’ house, which she cannot cross, in spite of incessant abuses and thrashing. Finally, when she does that after sensing a potential danger to her life, she arrives at places which she considers her home, even though she is treated as a slave and at best a tool for deriving sexual pleasures. She does not run away from these places due to her fear of lack of shelter.

The journey of Pasho is the journey of every woman who fails to recognize her worth, and only measures herself with the capacity of her womb. In fact, she is no better than a female animal, a bhogya – a thing to be enjoyed and a toy to be played with by the male. Nevertheless, Pasho also displays a  “will to live”. This is a strong desire in her and this trait of her personality renders a touch of grit and liveliness to her personality. In spite of all hardships, she never loses heart or contemplates suicide. This physical beauty imparts a sense of arrogance to her character though outwardly she appears timid. This narcissism however becomes her greatest strength as she is able to get through all critical phases her life has in store for her amidst some happy moments. Had she not been in love with the self, she would not have been able to take so much suffering. Again a fact that needs to reiterated often to women to love themselves and to be in charge of their own lives. The protagonist emerges victorious even after being repeatedly sold and purchased like a cattle, played upon like a piano and treated like a servant.It is her desire to live even against heavy odds that becomes her forte.

So the reading of the book requires one to be ready to dive deep down into the rural India that existed before partition, and to see that women were marginalized and abused at free will of men. But Pasho can be seen as a strong, gritty character who despite her traditionalism, stands tall and she does display a sense of inner strength and personal courage. She may be seen in the women we meet on the streets who have no means of education and for whom living means to be totally dependent on their menfolk. They are at the mercy of the men they are married to or born to, to be used and disposed as and when they please.


Sunflowers of the Dark: Krishna Sobti: translated by Pamela Manasi


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Katha has always offered a wide array of literature through translated works. I recently finished reading Krishna Sobti’s ‘Memory’s Daughter’. And the after effects are that I am drawn to books by the author. So I managed to lay my hands on another masterpiece, “Sunflowers of the Dark”. The title of the book is enigmatic, and I was hooked on to it from the first page.

The content is highly relevant even today, and all women who have ever been a victim to sexual assault or abuse would find this book liberating. The words seem to have a life of their own that create images before your eyes even as you read. That is the magic of this book.

Plot: It is the story of Ratti, a woman who was sexually abused in her teens . Her spirit continues to be tormented by demons from her past. It raises its head like the hood of a snake to spit venom on her present. She fails to establish relationship with any male  as the past grips her in cold fear whenever she tries to be physically intimate. Yet has an indomitable spirit that refuses to kneel though it weeps. She has a fire, a spirit that does not allow her to succumb or mask herself for the sake of pleasing the ego of her male friends.

The book brings to fore front many issues that assailed women before Independence. But have a look around and not much has changed for women. Ratti is a strong girl, who faces every situation head on and does not shy away from them. She asserts herself boldly and does not bow down even as a teenager when confronted. What happened to her was beyond her control; so why should she carry her dead past over her shoulders always? But the incident does leave a scar on her mind and heart, rendering her helpless against the angst she feels. There is no respite for her and adding to her woes is the mindset of the society that holds her responsible for the accident and constantly reminds her of the misfortune in the form of her schoolmates who fabricate stories about her leaving her amidst the jungle of sexist comments.

Even after years, she is unable to let of go of the incident which hampers her  relationships with men and snubs any of her attempts to realize her womanhood. She tries to consummate with her male friends but the cold grip of her past sends her freezing. Little do they understand her agony and frustrated, they name her sexually perverted and “lacking in heat”. A remark which stayed with me was “…That you have no heat. Barring that of the clothes on your body.” Just because she refuses to give in to the demands of the males she is labeled as a cold wretch-less woman. 

Her saying is unacceptable to her male friends. She refuses to  submit herself to a male who like the unidentified rapist wants to overpower her using brute force.All her male friends let her down emotionally and she is unable to connect with any to let go of herself. Her guards are always up and she refuses to accept any contact where she is not an equal. 

Sobti chose to write against the conventional social fabric of the time and has presented a woman who is in control of her sexuality and refuses to bend to the dictates of society. Ratti can be viewed an an important milestone in the journey of Indian woman
towards self-actualization. She can be called a liberated woman with a modern clear ideas about womanhood and her rights. She is economically independent, courageous and does not allow her past to bend her down. She does not let the traumatic incident crush her personality and mind.Even in the absence of emotional support Ratti successfully maintains her equilibrium. Through Ratti, Sobti shows how a woman can assert herself rather than sit on the sidelines as a marginalized victim waiting to be rescued. She is her own savior. In this sense, she rejects the idealistic, utopian solutions and adopts a practical, down-to-earth take towards the real life problems.

A must read for all women to salute to the never die spirit of all women who struggle and yet smile through their tears.

Parineeta by Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay(Translated by Malobika Chaudhari)


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After having finished reading Munshi Premchand’s “Nirmala”, I found myself drawn to read literature that were set in India before independence. Yes we have read much in our History books, but the real depiction of the times can be best seen in the literature where writers were bound by that shackles of the society and yet tried to break them down at the same time.

So this time I picked up “Parineeta” written by Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay. Having seen the movie, I was keen to read the book. But at 112 pages it was a fast read. I have heard a lot about the book and was reading the book with lot of expectation. But at the risk of being rebuffed by fans of the author and the book, I have to say I was disappointed. So to all my 21st century women, if you happen to read the book, be warned that it would anger your spirits.

The storyline is nothing impressive, and I am thankful that I happened to watch the movie before the book(a rarity). If it was other way round then I would not have made it to the movie. Though one of the most revered book by Indians , I feel the popularity is a little misplaced. But then seeing that India is still in the grips of a male chauvinistic society, the book had to gain popularity.

Plot: It is the story of a 13-year-old orphan girl, Lalita, who lives under the care and shelter of her maternal uncle. She is deeply infatuated with the neighbor’s son, Shekhar who happens to be many years senior to her, around 24-25 years of age. Such is her adoration for Shekhar that she willingly succumbs to his every whim and fancy, making  herself choice-less.  Even if she desires to go for a movie with her friends , she stays back only to please Shekhar when he objects to her going out. It is a prank turned awry that is the main twist of the plot.Lalita garlands Shekhar on a certain day deemed auspicious, and she is considered betrothed to him. Being a child woman in the 1920s she begins to regard Shekhar as her husband. But Shekhar knows that his father would never accept his marriage to an orphan girl with no dowry, especially when her uncle had converted to Brahmo Samaj from Hinduisim. Here is another reflection of India which has not changed much even now. A girl without dowry is a burden upon her family since she is not considered worthy of marriage.  Lalita ‘s uncle too under pressure of having girls of marriageable age and not having economic means converts to Brahmo Samaj, to escape dowry.

The story progresses with entry of Girin, and the love triangle that ensues. Lalita grows up with the acceptance of being married to Shekhar, though he remains aloof and even proceeds to get married to another. What happens further is to be read, I would not ruin your reading. But the book left some burning thoughts in my heart and mind. Embers that refuse to be quenched.

Lalita was only 13 year old when she got married to Shekhar and which is a  common phenomenon even now in rural India. Child marriage was the norm of pre Independence India and still continues in certain parts. Thus for Lalita it came naturally to take Shekhar as a husband while playing Doll’s marriage. Lalita is not just a child but a young woman of marriageable age. The character is a representation of the ideal woman image that she and young girls were expected to emulate. So, her behavior, mannerisms, beliefs, display just the same.

But the main burning question is the gender dynamics in Parineeta, which is still in place in India even today.

Lalita, is not like a person but a piece of furniture, which is how women are still treated in India. The patriarchal set up is so strong that her uncle, Shekhar and all the other male characters in the novel mouth questions like: Where can she be put? What is to be done with her? Who will take charge of her? Who can she be married to? Which house can she be moved to next? An author of such stature to write such was a big disappointment. Females are treated as a non-entity – with no voice, opinions and choices. Her life is not hers to decide what to do with, it is decided by her father first, and then husband. She does not decide who she wants to be or not be, what she wants to do or not do, and where she wants to go or not go. She has no right over her life.

If you take a moment to look around you would see that this is the ideal form of womanhood which is placed on a pedestal. But this very image results in the killing of more than 50 million women in India – killed at every stage of life. They are looked upon as inanimate objects, depersonalized, usable, movable, and disposable objects like Sarat Chandra’s heroines.

Other questions that dig in my mind are is why girls and women adhere to this ideal woman image like it were a hypnotic conditioning? Why are females expected to be devoid of sense of self and individuality, and submit to the dictates of her male counterpart, her family, and society, serve them all diligently without questioning, and allowing them to do with her life whatever they please.The men believe that the world – including his family and the women are there to serve him and submit to his will. And this in a nutshell is Sarat Chandra’s idea of an ideal male-female relationship .

And the answer is found in what Shekhar said: Religion. In every religion in the world  the husband is put on par with god. Ancient revered scriptures teach women: they must worship their husbands like God and Master, even if he is a brute, is promiscuous, and has no redeemable qualities. He may beat you black and blue but you are expected to take it all without flinching.  So the question is:   Till when will the Indian woman bow down to their husband(human Gods) or would they have to courage to challenge their God?

All that could have been: Mahesh Bhatt, Suhrita Sengupta


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“All that could have Been” is a 142 page turner that leaves you asking for more.It does not beat round the bush and the tight plot makes it a delightful read. The book is about unrequited love. Yet at the same time it is about love that surpasses all odds and does not follow the injunctions of the world.

The book raises many questions for the discerning reader and forces you to question the norms and dictates that govern our society. He questions through the story that why women alone are tied down by traditions and customs. And the men are free from the shackles that otherwise suffocate the lives of women. It is in this very strain that the story unfolds. The novel questions the restrain society places on emotions and passions. And why passion is a taboo, a word which only creates dirty images and is treated only with sexual connotations. But for a mature person passion withholds in itself several layers of meaning and depends on the people.

Vasudha Prasad is a single mother though married she raises her son single handedly. . She keeps the memory of his father alive for him by writing notes to him and giving gifts in his name. The father in question, Hari Prasad is missing all this while. In the midst of her sheltered life enters Aarav Ruparel, a rich hotelier who has no fixed address. He has lived out of a suitcase and is amongst one of the richest men alive. Fate plays its cards, Vasudha and Aarav’s path cross and the rest that follows is not something they could predict or control.

This is a story of love and sacrifice. Its about all encompassing love that makes existence worthwhile even if lived short. Vasudha’s story tugs strongly at your heart, making you cry between your tears. The connection between Vasudha and Aarav will make you hold your breath and their love will make you feel light. A book that takes you on a ride of emotions, took a piece of me when I finished it. Left me asking for more.

Mahesh Bhatt is truly skilled in narration with never a dull moment. The story grips you from the start since you cannot predict the turn of events. Just when you think you know what will happen in the next page, your thoughts are overthrown by the author in his signature style.


Custody by Manju Kapur


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This is my first book by the author. And I must say that the book held me captive from the first page. She explores very emotional topics with much fervor.

In today’s society divorce and fight for child custody is a common scenario. Manju Kapur has been described as the great chronicler of the modern Indian family. Thus, her book Custody presents a riveting story of how a loving family falls apart at the seams and all that is left is an emotional and spite-filled battle between the parents for the hearts and souls of their children.
Story: Raman and Shagun have a perfect marriage in the eyes of the society.  He is a market executive at a global drinks company. She is extraordinarily beautiful. But the reality is far from what is shown by the couple. The two are blessed with a son and daughter – life is complete, so to speak. However, things change dramatically when Shagun is introduced to Ashok, Raman’s boss. The loving couple are reduced to spiteful and malicious enemies as they battle for custody of their children. As the children’s lives are thrown upside down, they are forced to negotiate and come to terms with their new circumstances with very little real support from the adults in their lives.Thrown into the puzzle is Ishita – a young woman who has been kicked out of the family she married into because she cannot bear children. Desperate for a husband and child, Ishita will do anything to achieve this. The novel – as it travels through the lives of its characters becomes murkier and also offers a brutal critique of the Indian judicial system that often left me feeling completely hopeless at the forces that come into play and almost whimsically decide the fate of two very innocent children.

What stands out particularly in this novel is Raman’s anguish and anger at the betrayal he experiences at the hands of his worldly wife. Kapur presents him to us with empathy and meticulous attention to detail.Her attention to male characters comes out of her desire to be as balanced as possible in her writing. It is a notable trait of all her work that despite their astute social and political commentary, Kapur avoids making moral judgments about what she is writing about.

Kapur’s writing makes you ponder on certain questions: What does it mean to be a mother? Is a mother a bad mother if she chooses to seek her own happiness? Can a mother be replaced by a mother figure? Is a mother entitled to her children’s love if she is physically separate from them? Though divorce is not uncommon in Asian society today, but in an Indian setting, seems more complicated by the roles of the extended family members- the in-laws with bitter recriminations, the doting grandparents who are denied their weekly feeding sessions, the cousins who seem to be perfectly happy, the lawyer-relative who is caught between legalities and emotional outbursts…..everyone has an opinion. All the adults seem to have forgotten about the child’s inner turmoil; and to me that was exactly what Kapur is trying to convey.

Kapur through her novel opens forth a panorama of the society’s attitudes towards several issues:  infertility is to cast out a wife if she is barren. The fixation with warranting a lady is married and settled, as a yardstick to measure her happiness which filters down to parental compulsion and feeling of low self-esteem. This recurring theme -of what will people say, what will people think is an inherent feature of Asian societies everywhere.

Custody is a novel filled with layers of social and personal commentary that never seeks to judge people’s choices but to illuminate how social values, personal character traits and the legal system can all influence people’s lives in certain ways.