Tag Archives: Life

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.

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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.

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 !!

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

 

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

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.

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