Tag Archives: Family

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.

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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 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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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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                                                                                                                                                                           The slideshow contains pictures of passages that left a mark with me. Hope you enjoy them as much as I did. Happy reading.

Witness the night: Kishwar Desai

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Witness-the-night

Female Infanticide is problem that troubles India since many years. It has deepened roots to such an extent that even education and literacy cannot mar the effects of this crime. Though secluded to some states now, it still poses a serious threat resulting in an imbalanced male-female sex ratio. Girls are killed right in the womb without a second thought. And the hands that perform this dreadful act is not necessarily male, females who themselves have wombs are party to this crime in the name of taking forwarding the lineage. I was drawn to this book because of the cover, which shows a girl half cowering with deep eyes that see to bore through you. So I immediately read the blurb as to see what it holds for me. I was captivated from the start: Durga. A fourteen-year-old girl, found all alone in a sprawling house in Punjab. Silent, terrified, and the sole suspect in the mass murder of thirteen members of her family.  Though hard to digest I was hooked to the story line to know what can drive someone to commit such a horrifying act.

Set in small town Jullundur (Jalandhar) in Punjab, the story is about a 14 year old girl Durga caught in a nightmare, accused of having murdered thirteen family members, and a 45-year-old social worker Simran who is working hard to find out the truth. The story opens with the diary entry of the girl that feels unvarnished, though a confused confession to a crime in which she was involved. The details of the crime are unclear and distorted, but it appears that the girl might have staged her own rape in order to make it look like “someone had tried to hurt me”.

Simran, a fiercely independent and outspoken social worker is given the task to speak with Durga and find out the truth from her. In course of time, Simran realizes that the incident is not as straight forward as it seems. Durga looks like a scared child but she keeps silent  about the incident and seems unemotional about the whole incident. It is up-to Simran to find out the truth on her own. As she tries to uncover the truth, she finds that the relationship of Durga with her family has sinister undertones to it. There are many skeletons in the closet which would be hard to unearth.

The narrative shifts between Durga’s diary entry and Simran. Durga, is sent to a remand home, as she is charged with the murder of 13 members of her family in one night. All of the victims had been poisoned, some had been stabbed and others burnt. Hard as it seems to comprehend how such a task can be done by a teenager, when the coils unwind you do understand the working of a tortured, unwanted and neglected girl child. Despite the lack of fingerprints and no evidence to suggest an outsider was involved, Simran is convinced there is more to the story than meets the eye. She wonders if a man was involved or whether Durga acted in self-defence. She feels that the only reason the case has attracted a blaze of publicity is because of the large inheritance involved. There are many instances of her having to pilot around the police to reach the actual conclusion. Its in many ways depiction of the law and order system that goes silent when blinded by money.

What follows is Simran’s painstaking investigation in which she immerses herself in the corrupted and vile Indian legal and judicial system in an attempt to unearth the truth. What she finds out along the way is often eye-opening. But it’s not until she is forced to confront an entire clan intent on eliminating unwanted females, often before they are born, that she begins to understand Durga’s dilemma.

The book is written from 2 viewpoints, Durga’s and Simran’s. While Durga’s writing is serious and dark , Simran’s is sarcastic and funny at times. Durga’s writing is reflective of the conservative, cloistered and shackled life she has led for 14 years. While Simran’s life shows the contrast in city life where even though a woman she leads life on her own terms and is fearless about it. By juxtaposing these two females, Desai shows the contrast in the existence of the two.

Though an easy read there were many issues I faced while reading. Firstly, I could not fathom the idea of a 14 year old girl murdering her family to avenge her unborn sisters and herself. Such a thought seems unrealistic no matter how many justifications are presented. Secondly the novel is riddled with continual exposition. Almost every chapter has something important to say about the plight of women, the trauma of having achild killed, ways foeticide is done, and so on. The author’s attempts to mould them into the plot is unsuccessful. They seem more like preachy monologues by the narrator than part of the narration. I do truly care about female infanticide, but would have preferred to discover the issues and decided what to think about them for myself rather than have them shoved down my throat, choking me, gasping for breath. I had almost put the book down if the desire to know the reason for the murder had not driven me on.

The opening chapter was shocking and held the promise of an intense mystery and drama, but the intensity evaporates by the climax. Motivations often seemed weak, and there were very few moments that pulled me out of my seat. The book marvels in parts where Desai describes how the girls where killed in earthen pots filled with milk(a cleanser in Hindu rites) or drugged to death, or worse buried alive in the fields behind the house. The incident with servant girls being bought as objects of pleasure to keep the boys tied to the house and not stray out. These give a depth to an otherwise rushed and hurried writing. The ending seems highly unacceptable after all that happens in the book. It seems that Desai after burning herself out of ideas haphazardly gave the ending . The book could have achieved greater heights if the writing and treatment to the sensitive topic was better handled.

Sharing some powerful quotes:

“Most of them I knew were just waiting for a chance to avenge themselves on the world that had robbed them of the one thingy they would never enjoy again, their childhood.”

“The midwives used to take away newborn girls from their mothers, seal them in earthen pots and roll the pot around till the baby stopped crying. Or they would simply suffocate them. Or give them opium and then bury them. For a largely farming community, girls were a burden. A woman confessed to having had seven abortions in the hope of a boy.”

“Tired of the sound of the baby crying, she took some poisonous juice from the oleander flower, mixed it with castor oil, and forced it down the child’s throat. Eventually the crying stopped. The crying had bothered her more than the act of killing.”

” Carefully, Sharda took out a paper envelope from which she drew out a tiny white skeletal hand…This hand was buried in the vegetable plot….Cradling that hand still in my hand, like a precious flower, I gazed out at the innocent-looking field behind our house which…., I  imagined the claws tearing away the flesh from tiny bodies which never had a chance to cry out or draw their first breath……

 

 

Dog Boy: Eva Hornung

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This was unlike any book I have ever read. After my first reading I was left aghast, as to how a child could be left to fend on his own. It took me a while to re read this one since the imagery had left such an impact, that the moment I held the book in my hands I had such an eerie feeling of deja vu that I had to push myself to re read. It is thought provoking, fascinating, gripping, sad, heart wrenching and at times so graphic that it feels your guts are being pulled out.

Imagine that you are a 4-year-old boy, abandoned in Moscow in the bitter winter cold?  What would you do? How would you fend for yourself in the biting winter? Would you wander off and join a pack of feral dogs and, over time, assimilate to the point of becoming one of them? Ludicrous? But these are the premises of Dog Boy”. Hornung’s work is inspired by the true account of a Russian boy named Ivan Mishukov, who lived with a pack of dogs for a period of two years before being discovered at age of 6. Ivan had run away from a home where adults had ill treated and abused him. In choosing to write about such a child, her dog-boy, Romochka, is not Ivan Mishukov, though he seems to share many characteristics with him. Eva Hornung opens up a Pandora’s box, full of questions about our humanity, our dealings with other creatures, our sense of family, and our sense of what is normal.

The plot: Romochka is four years old when his mother and uncle never return home (reason not known) to their small apartment building in an outer suburb of Moscow, leaving the little boy to fend for himself. While his mother had always told him not to leave the apartment or the building, when his food supply runs out, Romochka ventures out to explore.  All he has with him are some clothes and his blanket.

Outside, he ventures farther from his building than he’s ever been before, and starts to follow a beautiful stray dog down the alleys. The dog, a female clan leader, takes the small boy to her den . There he lives in the nest with her four puppies, and begins his life as a dog. There are seven dogs when he first arrives: the mother and leader, Mamochka (a Russian nickname meaning tender or sweet Mother); her two older offspring, Black Dog and Golden Bitch; and the four puppies: White Sister, Black Sister, Grey Brother and Brown Brother. Romochka becomes a member of their clan, sleeping and eating with them, hunting for food . He thinks more like a dog than a human, but since he was four when he came to them, he retains a mixture of confusing and complicated desires and human instincts. As the years go by, Romochka loses “normal human behaviour” and becomes wild. For an eight-year-old, he is feared, infamous in the poverty-stricken area that the clan considers its territory. Set in communist Russia there is  the militzia who are a constant threat, as are the gangs of kids who hang out in abandoned buildings before returning to their real homes and families. Romochka develops a bit of a reputation among both groups. There are increasingly military sweeps in an effort to round up homeless children to be locked into state run ‘homes’. The condition of these homes is hardly better than the life they are supposedly saved from. The fate of the thousands of dogs is at risk, if they are fortunate they’ll be spared, but most are mercilessly shot as menaces to humans. The possibility of discovering a real, genuine “dog boy” is tantalising to the psychiatrists who work with orphans. These people see such examples as research projects without understanding the impact and outcome of their intrusion. Thus, Romochka is hunted down like a prey by humans, even as the dogs try hard to protect him. The clan loses members but such is the loyalty and bonding that the sacrifice is hardly any task for them. The struggles of an eight year old, as he is pulled between his twin identities as a dog and as a boy is emotional and traumatic.

I had a very hard time getting through some parts of the book, as the writer doesn’t hold anything back. She goes into explicit and gory detail of their survival techniques; the constant licking of pus and blood from their wounds, the hunting and what they were eating.  Like for eg: the boy eats raw rats, pees on frozen food in order to eat it, plays with the bones from carcasses, and the most graphic and bone chilling is when he puts his hands into a bird carcass and pulls out the heart to eat it.

” Dog Boy” , gives rise to myriad of emotions and also kicks up a storm of questions in one’s mind. The story is like no other story that is told from the perspective of animals, or near enough. It is certainly no Charlotte’s Web or any other children’s book told from the point of view of an animal which leaves a soft fuzzy feeling inside. In fact, it would be no exaggeration to say that this is no children’s book at all. It is dense, descriptive, questioning, wondering and brutally honest. Beneath it all lies layers of philosophical thoughts and questions-the riddle of human nature, and a jab at what separates us from other animals, or at what we think separates us. I cannot do justice to the book while writing the review because there is so much to talk and question.

The book is a perfect platform to debate humanity and if humans really rise above the animals. A peek into Romochka’s life with the dogs reveals how they look after each other despite danger to own life. Quite unlike the humans who leave a small child alone in a big city, at such a tender age. It forces you to think, ponder, question, analyse, reflect and revisit the human aspect of life , and see for yourself are we human enough !!

Dahan: Suchitra Bhattacharya, Debjani Sengupta (Editor), Mahua Mitra (Translator)

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As a literature student I have been exposed to many books that speak of atrocities against women. But few have struck a chord when it comes to Indian  writing. On a vacation I happened to read the much acclaimed novel Dahan by Suchitra Bhattacharya. Being a fan of Bengali literature I picked up this book while surfing for a read at Amazon. To say the least, I was not disappointed, but the end was disheartening as I felt there was more scope of happening rather than succumbing to the situation. The ending seemed ambiguous leaving behind a trail of unanswered questions.

Dahan is a simple and yet hard hitting retelling of an incident that happened way back in 90’s when Bengal was suffering under the grips of Naxalites. This was a time when virtues and integrity had taken a back seat and the goons ruled the roost. Thus making the whole societal setup unfriendly and hostile for women and middle class. The novel seems inspired by a real-life incident in Calcutta, in which a journalist rushed to the rescue of a woman who was being sexually assaulted by a group of men near the Tollygunj Metro station. Bhattacharya claims that all the characters are fictional . But when one reads the fine lines it seems that she is  trying to make a crossover from reality to fiction while retaining the authenticity the horror of the incident. No where does she happen to dilute the details or lessen the impact of the gory episode.

Dahan revolves around the incident of  molestation of a housewife near a Metro station. She is rescued by a young school teacher who tries to bring the molesters to the book. The young men are arrested on the basis of an FIR filed at the initiative of Jhinuk, the teacher. But they get off the hook due to lack of evidence and the reluctance on the part of the assaulted woman Romita, the housewife to identify her aggressors. She gets little or no support from her conservative in-laws to fight the case, who are more concerned about waggling tongues rather than her self respect. Her husband Palash, who is unsupportive and passive  throughout, implies that Romita had asked for it with her beauty and dressing style, and takes out is aggression on Romita through marital rape. Eventually, the defense lawyer turns the table around for Jhinuk, by casting aspersions on her morality and motives in rushing to the aid of Romita. Her intentions are belittled as asking for five seconds of fame, since no one present at the time of incident comes forward. It highlights the prejudices in the urban, middle-class Bengali society through the tribulations faced by the two protagonists, Jhinuk and Romita. Romita belongs to an affluent family and hence is asked to mask the episode so that family name is not tarnished. On the other hand is Jhinuk, coming from middle class where ideals are still alive, but family pressures makes one bend. But the character that stays with you till the end is the taciturn, idealistic Thammi, Jhinuk’s fiercely independent septuagenarian grandmother.

Dahan literally translates as burning and in a normal scenario indicate a story about Sati pratha, but it is not so. The burning here is of the female soul . She burns in every strata of society and is not immune to oppression. There is burning when she is sexually molested in the middle of a street, she burns when she attempts to help her and is driven to personal horrors, woman burns when her own husband with whom she rests her trust rapes her to avenge himself and his ego. Dahan does not make for feel-good reading. It is an utterly unflattering portrait of the society by large. The novel on reading brings forth a web of thoughts. It is very tempting to cast away the books as another example of a male dominated society. But that would be belittling the work apart from a judgement which is biased and incorrect. Because a society that is male dominated does not easily tolerate a violation of a woman by strangers. Such a toleration goes to  shows a lack of virility of males and the social setting women belong to. This holds mirror to the idea that a woman is a possession, not a person in her own right, where a man claims his masculinity in sexual exploitation of woman.

Thus when a society tolerates this and fails to protect or even avenge the woman, it makes for modern society where people are immune to others’ pain and suffering and are in fact alienated and selfish. They would rather not risk their own security and fail even to seek justice for fear of safety, it creates a society paralyzed by fear of those in power and the internal terrorist elements within the society. When terror begins to reign at street level, and acid along with other weapons are easily available at disposal, the wise keep their own counsel until better times prevail. But then again, someone has to come forward and strike a determined blow at the terror or it would never go away. It is high time the dark curtain of terror and being passive/mute audiences is cast away and we become proactive. We should not need a Nirbhaya to remind us that society together needs to make living safe for women.

 

 

 

 

Three Women: Rabindranath Tagore (translated by Arunava Sinha)

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Having tasted the sweet nectar of Tagore’s writing, I am lately drawn towards his writings. My last read was ” Three Women”, a collection of three short novels . They are aptly titled that summarizes the whole complex setup within a word. The novellas, Nashtaneer( Broken nest), Dui Bon( Two sisters) and Malancha( The gardener). I would be only reiterating what the translator feels, that Tagore was a feminist before his time. Men often remark that women folk are beyond their comprehension. And yet here is a writer who not only understands women but each and every nuances of their heart.

The novels draw light upon the status of women in the Indian society across three decades. It highlights the complexities and the never ending maze created by love, romance and sexual desires. Add to this, the couples in the three stories are childless which seems a conscious effort on Tagore’s part to question the duplicity of marriage as a bond. The woman are barren which unconsciously is shown as a reason for the women to oscillate between the roles of a mother and lover with their husbands. As Tagore himself has written beautifully, ” There are two kinds of women, or so I’ve head some pundits say. one is mostly maternal. the other is the lover.” 

The first novel weaves the story of a lonely , love deprived wife and how she finds solace in a companion out of her marriage. She is sexually and emotionally deprived of  her husband’s presence in the married life. The 3rd story is about a sick and bed ridden women who is engulfed with despair at the thought of leaving her happy household very soon owing to her prolonged illness, which is further marred by jealousy and revenge.

The writing and the characters are all life like and completely relatable. Be it Charulata in Nashtaneer, who comes as a child bride and blossoms young womanhood unnoticed by her husband.  This is true for women married to men who pay more attention to their work than their spouses. Little do they realize that the first spring goes away taking with it many more seasons. Urmila and Sharmila in Dui Bon  are sisters whom we can find reflected in a family around us where when elder sister falls ill, the younger one fills the space. And sometimes that extension becomes a solid bond between brother-in-law and sister-in-law, resulting in an unhappy marriage to silence rumors. Though few such instances do happen. And in Niraja is every wife who lays claim on her husband as a property owned and not a person in question.

In all the stories, the characters fail to understand each other as well as themselves. They are so full of themselves that their own potentialities cries in the shadows while they unnecessarily deride themselves for others. The women characters have more gall than the male characters, but are rendered helpless due to societal setup. Be it Charu living virtually in two corridors without a common meeting point. Though Amal is himself a writer, he fails to comprehend the proficient and natural literary style of Charu. It can also be seen as reflection of the male ego being hurt. On one hand, Charu is misunderstood by Amal, and on the other hand she suffers under the lack of communication and understanding from her husband, Bhupati.She leads a double life oscillating between the two. Similarly, In Dui Bon, Sharmila and Urmila play dual roles of lovers and wives. Sharmila and Shashanka though married are not united, and the wedge between them though blurred is evident. Sharmila longs for the consummation as a lover, but she readily surrenders to the role of the stereotypical women  who hides behind the shadow of her husband. She is happy in the background. While her sister Urmila is impulsive, passionate and quite the opposite. She becomes the lover for Shashanka, while remaining faithful as a wife to Nirad. Then again in Malancha, Niraja discovers the essential biological drives in married life coming upon her with all colors of sensuousness. But in her current lifeless form she is helpless and this drives her insane making her feel hollow and barren. So she holds on possessively as a wife what she fails to get as a lover in marriage.

The men in Tagore’s story fail their counterpart with respect to emotional gratification and vigor because they are pampered and spoiled by the society at large into emotional immaturity and crudeness. They do not share or understand the female realm to be real participants. This leaves the womenfolk at the core, lonely, depressed, traumatized and bereft. Tagore gives them their own realm to venture forth, reflect and come to terms with the situations in their lives. All three resign to the situation in their life, be it good or bad. Nevertheless, they are shown as strong and relentless despite hardships.

Lines that are hauntingly beautiful:

” Neither of them noticed that he period in which husband and wife rediscover each other in the exquisite first light of love had slipped into the past. Even before savoring the new, they had become old, familiar and accustomed to each other.” : Nashtaneer

 

” She had been banished from the very garden that had claimed her heart, the heart of the childless mother. It was such a cruel separation.” : Malancha