Saturday, August 30, 2014

Book Review : Hunt for the Horseman

Title : Hunt for the Horseman
Author : Gita Reddy

Amrita Mahal is a dream palace which got constructed more than a century ago under the supervision of the then queen. Surrounded by lush green hills, overlooking a scenic lake, the vista made for a perfect location for the royalty to set their abode at. Though the family was no longer a royalty, post India's status as a republic, yet the palace remained the family home for the extended branches of the lineage.

The queen wanted the palace to be unparalleled and to achieve that, she got many secret compartments made in the palace for sheer delight and fascination. The secretly hidden compartments were at all imaginable or unimaginable places, and the same continued to mesmerize generations after generations. No one generation could claim to have explored the whole palace. This belief got accentuated by the fact that some hundred and twenty five years ago, prince Surya Bhanu had hidden a toy - a horseman, from his brother, somewhere in one of these compartments in the palace. Since then no one had succeeded in finding it. Over the years, this search had turned into the elusive treasure hunt game which had been played by every generation of the royal family.

This year it is a special royal family gathering at the palace, with more than hundred and fifty family members gathered in the Amrita Mahal. Twelve year old Sandy, who lives in US is a little apprehensive about meeting such an extended family and being in a palace, she would rather be in US where she belongs. But all her misgivings just frizzled out the moment she got a warm and loving welcome from the inmates of the palace. They all are made aware of the fact that this could be the last family gathering at the palace as the palace was soon to go from the holds of the family to the land mafia. The family is trying hard to fight the battle in court but they are missing one document which is supposedly the main document that could prove the ownership of the palace.

Though the clouds of uncertainty and sadness loom large on the palace and the family, yet the members are not ready to give in to the gloominess. They want to make this last stay in the palace a memorable one and to continue the tradition of the treasure hunt, the children want to hunt for the horseman. This time their search is much more organised, thanks to a computer pro kid who has designed a software to implement the search in the most systematic and methodical manner. The search has all elements of entertainment - thrill, mystery, adventure, mishaps, euphoric moments and much more. Are the children able to find the horseman? What happens to Amrita Mahal? Is everyone safe there when mafia has put the palace in their radar list?

Found this book a great read for pre-teens and young adults. When the bookshelves are getting deluged with books with more and more adult topics creeping in this genre, such books come as a whiff of fresh air. With engaging narrative and tight editing, the adventurous plot takes the readers on the roller coaster ride. The plot grows beautifully right from the first page. Number of characters do make the narrative a little overwhelming but then one gets more interested in the proceedings of the story. Though the end is a little predictable but the whole build-up which leads to that end is pretty enjoyable.

Personally I have kept this as a special treat for my own children for the last day of their term exams. 

Monday, August 25, 2014

Book Review : A Search in Secret India

Title : A Search in Secret India
Author : Paul Brunton
Publisher : Ebury Pr
ISBN : 9781844130436

Paul Brunton is one of the greatest explorers of the nineteenth century. Many of his writings address spiritual beliefs and traditions of the Eastern world. A Search in Secret India, his first book, is chronicling of his journey in the enigmatic land of India where he spent time with mystics,  yogis and holy men trying to unravel the mysteries of faith and spirituality.  Though he is open minded, he approaches things with scepticism and with a mindset of an intellect. He tries to evaluate things on his scientific and philosophical scale. He embarks on a quest to find the real Yogi but wants to proceed logically. In 'A Search in Secret India', Paul Brunton gives detailed accounts of meetings with various Yogis walking the path of spiritual growth, he also meets many who practise the art of magic and egotism. But then his sojourn eventually leads him to his destination when he finally meets the great sage Sri Ramana Maharishi. The last quarter of the book is dedicated to the time he spent in Ramana Maharishi's ashram in Tamil Nadu. Author feels that his experience at the ashram changed him completely.

As it is, tracking the origin of faith and spirituality in India is nothing less than an enigma. This book offers a great approach to begin to learn about the true changing facets of spirituality in India - critical and logical. With inumerable spiritual  branches and sub-branches sprouting from every possible corner, and materialism making the path to self realisation even harder, it is important to understand and experience spirituality in its truest form.

Paul Brunton's writings are very readable and easy to connect to. The pace of the narrative is a little slow in the first half but then one starts enjoying the tranquil and relaxed pace of the same. The book is set in 1930s and the narrative gives an idea of the supremacy that Britishers enjoyed in India at that time. It is wonderful to read how his journey culminates and that chapter is the highlight of the book. After reading it, one is at least able to get a small glimpse of the higher spirituality which stirs the inner yearning to seek the same.

"But it is not till the second hour of the uncommon scene that I become aware of a silent, resistless change which is taking place within my mind.  One by one, the questions which I have prepared in the train with such meticulous accuracy drop away.  For it does not now seem to matter whether they are asked or not, and it does not seem to matter whether I solve the problems which have hitherto troubled me.  I know only that a steady river of quietness seems to be flowing near me, that a great peace is penetrating the inner reaches of my being, and that my thought-tortured brain is beginning to arrive at some rest.  I surrender myself to the steadily deepening sense of restfulness until two hours have passed... I begin to wonder whether, by some radioactivity of the soul, some unknown telepathic process, the stillness which invades the troubled waters of my own soul really comes from him."

This book was sent to me by MySmartPrice for review. 

Monday, August 11, 2014

Book Review : मशहूर मुस्कान

शीर्षक - मशहूर मुस्कान
लेखिका - गीता धर्मराजन
चित्रकार - राशिन खैरियेह
प्रकाशक - कथा

'मशहूर मुस्कान', 'कथा' द्वारा प्रकाशित किताब है जिसमें एक महत्त्वपूर्ण सन्देश बहुत ही सहज रूप में व्यक्त किया गया है. यह एक प्रमाणित सत्य है कि बच्चों के कोमल ह्रदय को जानवरों की कहानियाँ बहुत लुभाती हैं. अगर कोई भी बात समझाने का माध्यम कोई चार पैरों वाला प्राणी बन जाए तो नन्हे बच्चे उसे खूब चाव से सुनते और समझते हैं. पशुओं के प्रति इस प्राकृतिक आकर्षण को अनेक कहानीकारों ने बखूभी इस्तेमाल किया है. मशहूर मुस्कान कहानी भी इसी का एक उदाहरण है. इस कहानी के माध्यम से दन्त सुरक्षा और दन्त शोभा का सन्देश बच्चों तक पहुंचाया गया है.

इस कहानी में अगर मगर एक ऐसा मगरमच्छ है जो अपने दाँतो के प्रति ख़ास सजग है. वह मेहनत  से और पूरी लगन से नीम की पतली शाखाओं से रोज़ अपने दाँतो को साफ़ करता है. फिर एक मधुर मुस्कान अपने चेहरे पर सजा कर वह नदी किनारे इस उम्मीद में बैठ जाता है कि जो भी उस तरफ से गुज़रेगा, वह उसके दाँतो की चमक से प्रभावित हुए बिना न रह पायेगा. उसके दांत हैं ही इतने खूबसूरत और दूध की तरह सफ़ेद कि अगर-मगर का उन पर गर्व करना बहुत ही स्वाभाविक है.

वह कुछ छोटी मछलियों से मिलता है और उन्हें हंस कर अपने पास बुलाने कि कोशिश करता है. पर मछलियों को अपनी जान प्यारी है. कौन तेज़ धार दांतों वाले मगरमच्छ के पास जा कर उस से दोस्ती करना चाहेगा? वे सब जान बचा कर वहाँ से भाग निकलती हैं . इसके बाद अगर मगर जंगल के अन्य जानवरों से भी मिलता है  - पर बन्दर हों चाहे बाघ, कोई भी अगर मगर के दांतों पर ध्यान नहीं देता. थोड़ी सी प्रशंसा के लोभ में अगर मगर यहां से वहाँ घूमता रहता है. कहाँ मिलेगा उसे उसके दांतों का सही प्रशंसक जो यह समझ पाये कि उसके पास दांतों के रूप में कितनी बड़ी निधि है? बस उन कुछ तारीफ़ भरे शब्दों की तलाश में है अगर मगर. क्या उसकी यह तलाश कभी पूरी हो पाएगी? क्या उसके दांतों को वह सम्मान मिल पायेगा जिसके वे हक़दार हैं? पढ़िए और पता लगाइये कि अगर मगर अपने चमकीले दाँतो के साथ मशहूर हो पाया या नहीं.

यह कहानी एक उच्च स्तरीय ख़ूबसूरत कल्पना को दर्शाती है. यह कथाकार की कल्पना ही तो है कि  कठोर चमड़ी वाले मगरमच्छ को इतने प्यारे अवतार में प्रस्तुत किया गया है. एक छोटे बच्चे की तरह अगर मगर सबका ध्यान आकर्षित करने में अपना पूरा समय व शक्ति लगा देता है. उसे इंतज़ार है तो बस इस बात का कि कोई उसके दांतों को देखे और उन से प्रभावित हो. वह अपनी मेहनत को मान्यता प्राप्त करवाना चाहता है. उसकी इस लगन को छोटे पाठक बहुत चाव से पढ़ेंगे व समझेंगे.

कथाकार गीता धर्मराजन एक ऐसी लेखिका हैं जो कोमल हृदयी पाठकों को खूब पहचानती हैं और उनकी कलम से निकली यह कहानी इसीका प्रमाण है. रशिनं के द्वारा बनाये चित्र कहानी में जान डाल  रहे हैं और चित्रों के साथ कहानी को पढ़ने का मज़ा चौगुना हो जाता है. 

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Book Review : Mimi's Dream

Title : Mimi's Dream
Author : Kuei Ling Hsu
Publisher : Katha
ISBN : 978-81-89934-92-7
Age : 3-6yrs

Mimi is a little princess of the dreamland inhabited by her dear companions and friends. They fly with Mimi to far off places riding on the waves of their dreams. The colourful dreamland comes to life when ladybugs, rabbits, lions, leaves of the trees and the wind wake up to greet the morning sun. They help others come out of their slumber too. Clouds float and make trees whisper about the sleeping little kite which is happily dreaming about the cotton candy clouds and much more.

We all have seen sliver of sunrays sparkling the fine threads of an otherwise invisible web entangling the branches of the trees. Some mystery spider seems to be weaving these webs which help many creatures on an adventurous ride to their respective dreamlands.

Mimi is joined by her friends, and together they climb the mystery webs, visit places inhabited by huge whales, enjoy the raindrops falling from the pregnant clouds, dance with the wind, watch the little shoots appearing from the moist soil and finally get ready to welcome the shimmering stars on the firmament. After a complete day's adventurous ride, Mimi and her friends resign to the inviting arms of sleep.

'Mimi's Dream' is a spectacular extravaganza of colours with text very sparse. The book offers a wonderful way to steer the imagination of young readers to different locales. The author has beautifully captured the chain of thoughts of little children when one thing captures their attention for a short period of time and soon enough something quite different and far removed from the first takes the center stage in their minds. Similarly the narrative, endearingly moves from lions and ladybugs to clouds and raindrops to whales making swishing music with their tails.

In the short description about the author, it is mentioned that 'Kuei Ling Hsu has been amazed by this colourful world every since she was a child' and sure enough the readers will get to see a small slice of her fascination for the colours of the world through her book Mimi's Dream.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Interview : Priya Narayanan

An avid traveller, a voracious reader, a passionate designer, and a doting mother of two - Priya Narayanan believes that there are stories lurking around every corner, waiting to be captured and revealed to the world. Although she has long been a writer of short stories and poetry, it was just recently that she took up the challenge of writing for children. Her book 'The Moon Wants to be Spotless White' (reviewed here) has been well received by the young readers.

How did you pick the topic for your book - 'The Moon Wants to be Spotless White' and what all preparation did you do for penning down this story?

I’ve been in love with the moon from ever since I can remember. I love staring at it and thinking of all the different things it could possibly be, apart from the droning fact that it is a satellite. And I guess at some point in time or the other, every child is fascinated with that white dot on the night sky. So when I thought about writing for children, it didn’t surprise me that the Moon played an important part in my story.

It all started when I had to explain the dark spot on the moon to my tot. I was quite amused by her questions and decided to give her some amusing answers in return, doing away with stereotypes such as the old man or rabbit on the moon. Why couldn’t the spot be something as commonplace as a dirt patch splattered across the moon? That thought sowed the seeds from which the story eventually sprouted. My challenge was to take that very ordinary explanation and turn it around into something extraordinary.

Frankly, I did not prepare much before putting my thoughts on paper. The moment the story took shape in my mind, I ran for pen and paper and wrote it all down at one go, lest I’d forget some part! Of course, by ‘wrote it all down’ I mean the basic idea, which served as both the outline and the spine of the story. Then came the crucial part of developing each scene and character to appeal to the target audience - after all, there is a great difference between conjuring a story for your child at bed-time and writing a story that could be read and enjoyed by children all over the world.

In 'The Moon Wants to be Spotless White', there are three main characters – the Moon, Mitu and Dhobi kaka. I found it immensely enjoyable to personify the Moon and add little nuances to his character that children could find amusing. I particularly enjoyed writing the part where he is folded and waiting in Dhobi kaka’s jhola – all eager to spring out and get a good scrub.

Similarly, I have tried to work out every little detail about the other two characters, be it Dhobi kaka’s looks and background or the nuances of Mitu’s dreamy character. I was also very clear at the outset that I wanted to set the story in a village or small town. I guess it has to do with my own fascination with the flavor of life in small towns – the landscape as well as the community where everyone knows everyone else and even small incidences are blown out of proportion, sometimes to comic effect.

How has been the response to your book? Are you satisfied with it?

The response to the book has been very encouraging. Complete strangers have picked up the book and have sent me mails saying how much they loved it. That is the wonder that the internet is!

What caught me by surprise was that adults too enjoyed the book as much as their kids did. They have also loved the beautiful sync between the story and illustrations. So yes, I’m quite satisfied. It is altogether another matter of course, that this being my debut book, I still have to learn the ropes of promoting the book better to ensure a wider reach.

Are there any sections that you'd want to change in 'The Moon Wants to be Spotless White'? Why?

While life is all hunky dory when you write just for yourself – like I do with my poetry - one has to keep an open mind and accept criticism when you write to be read by others. The answer to whether I want to change any portion of the book would be both Yes and No.

Yes, because when a reader points out a problem area, it would be too pompous on my part to ignore it. I place a great deal of value on constructive criticism. No, because this was the story I set out to tell and changing it would mean not staying true to the seed idea. It is a double-edged sword and a tough call to take at the moment. But there’s one thing I know for certain - I’ll incorporate all the feedback I have received from this book into my upcoming one and ensure that I’ll be in less of a dilemma the next time over.

What ambition do you nurture in terms of writing books for children?

Quite frankly, I did not set out to be a children’s author. It just so happened that my first published work is a book for children. I have been writing poetry ever since I remember and somewhere along the way, I also branched into writing short stories. I have a good collection of poems that I hope to compile into a book of verse some day.

That said, my interactions with children who have read ‘The Moon wants to be Spotless White’ have given me the urge to write more for them. My own children have also been a great source of inspiration – whenever I spin a new tale for them, they ask me in all innocence if I’d be getting that story published too. I wish it were as simple as that!

But yes, I guess I can safely say that I will not stop writing for children. In fact, I already have another book in the pipeline for 5-8 year olds and the first drafts for a couple of short stories for tweens. I wouldn’t call it an ambition; just plain old love. I find children to be non-judgmental and writing for them is very gratifying.

How do you find the kidlit scene in India as compared to its foreign counterpart? Which all changes would you want to see in this sphere?

Growing up, there really was no kidlit scene in India. Or rather, the kidlit market was all about imported titles. However, now,  publishing houses are waking up to the vastly untapped readership for books by Indian authors and the result is a slew of children’s books written in English as well as various Indian languages that bring in a veritable mix of stories, allowing children to explore our country and its diverse cultures. But a lot remains to be done.

Even today, when I walk into a Crosswords store, I can see a pile of foreign titles on highlighted display stands, whereas books by Indian authors – even Ruskin Bond for that matter, are relegated to the quieter racks at the rear. This rather saddens me. While I’m not averse to foreign titles, I feel that there is a need to promote vernacular stories that afford children a context that they can immediately relate to. I would also like to see a more proactive role of publishers and bookstores in promoting Indian kidlit because just publishing a good book is not enough– the book ultimately has to have visibility and reach the hands of as many readers as possible to make it a meaningful venture for all involved.

Another question that one needs to look into is how much is the penetration of kidlit in small-town and rural India today? I would love to see more and more foreign as well as Indian titles in English being translated into regional languages and being made available in every small town in our country.

In which way and in what sense would you want to make a difference in the children's literature?

That’s a googly, really! I don’t know if the stories I write will make a difference in children’s literature – and I’m quite sure no author sets out to write a book with the purpose of changing the literary landscape. What I really aspire is to write stories that nobody has heard of before, write stories that will elicit a chuckle from a child or bring a smile to his/her face.

How has been the journey of being an authoress so far? What is the biggest joy of being one?

I have enjoyed the entire process that saw me grow from being someone who wrote solely for self-consumption to being a widely read author. What started with a whole load of anticipation has culminated into a feeling of exuberance and contentment. Also, the appreciation that has come my way has encouraged me to take more risks with my writing.

The biggest joy of being a writer, of course, is being able to communicate with readers from across the world through the medium of stories. After all, stories are the simplest way to get your message across to another person, aren’t they? Another plus is that I get to do what I love to do most, i.e. writing, minus the guilt trips.

What is your dream story? Do you have any in the pipeline?

I guess my dream story is yet to be dreamt! But really, I have not given this a thought. I am a very impulsive writer. Be it my poems or stories, I do not decide that I have to write about such and such a topic and go about it in a disciplined fashion. I am a keen observer of things, events and people around me and as I said before, I run around looking for pen and paper whenever an idea strikes me. These days, the Evernote app on my phone comes in handy.

I do have another book in the pipeline. This one is also an illustrated story for 5-8 year olds. It deals with the topic of death in the family and I have tried to approach the subject with a lot of sensitivity. I hope readers will receive it with as much enthusiasm and love as they have given my debut book – The Moon wants to be Spotless White.

Which kind of books do you enjoy reading yourself? Who are your favourite authors?

I hope you don’t regret asking me this question, ‘coz it has given me a license to rattle off big names.

While I read almost every kind of book, both fiction and non-fiction, I enjoy reading the classics the most. During my school and college days, I’ve also enjoyed courtroom dramas and crime thrillers to a point of saturation – today, I’d rather see an investigative serial on TV rather than read a book about it. One genre that I don’t find myself drawn to is that of Romance. It’s not that I don’t like romance per say. I’d rather enjoy it as subtle part of a bigger picture than romance taking over every page of a book and choking me with all the mush!

My favourite author has constantly changed to keep up with my growing years. However, during and after graduation, I came across and read a slew of authors – many of whom have made a deep impact in my world-view as well as belief systems. Bertrand Russell, Kafka, Hemmingway, Joseph Conrad, Joyce, Herman Hesse, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Irving Stone, Nobokov, Graham Greene, Orhan Pamuk . . . I can’t even begin to list them here!

It is indeed a task to choose one favourite, but given my love for the classics, I’ll pick Fyodor Dostoevsky. I have loved all of his work without exception – I even like the way he tackles romance. Amongst Indian authors, I love the short stories by Kushwant Singh and Ismat Chughtai as well as Ruskin Bond’s books for both children and adults. Finally, Walt Whitman wins hands-down amongst poets, with Ogden Nash coming a close second.

 Any tips that you'd want to pass on to the new authors?

I guess I am too new an entrant in this space to be advising others, but yes there are a few things that I’ve picked up along the way, which I’d like to share.

  • Don’t get entangled in the web of everyday routine and push your literary pursuits to another day – if you love writing, just find the time to write by hook or crook.
  • Don’t write to get published, write because you love to do so – the publishing aspect will surely follow.
  • Keep honing your skills as a writer – never make the mistake of thinking you know it all

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Interview : Junaid Asad

Junaid Asad is a design professional with Oracle working in the area of Human Machine Interaction. His first book, 'And We Remained' got published recently.
In the 1990s, India was going through tremendous socio-economic changes. Set in this era, it is a coming of age story of five engineering friendsSahir, Sandeep, Gopal, Anand and Davidand the women in their lives, especially the beautiful Wardha. Their intertwined story is told by these friends through first person accounts of events in their engineering college contrasted in alternate chapters with their lives a few years later when they keep in touch, narrate events in their lives and share their experiences in India and abroad through emails. 
And We Remained takes you on their entertaining journey through college, love, heartbreak, prison, politics, drunken binges, strip clubs, US and Europe as they hang on to sanity and their identities in a fast changing society and a nation in flux.

How did you pick the topic for your book - 'And We Remained'?

I was catching up on some of the bestsellers by Indian authors a few years back. I then realized that I had a story to tell which was much more interesting and entertaining than a lot of novels that were out there.

How has been the response to your book? Are you satisfied with it?

As a first time author, I am happy with the kind of response I am getting so far. People are appreciating the unique narration style and the story. People are also pointing out what did not work in the book and for them, I am all ears. All in all, I am happy with how the book has been received.

Are there any sections that you'd want to change in the book and why?

The book has been constantly evolving since the time I got my first draft done – which was almost four years ago. It is definitely in a much better state in terms of narration, structure and story than it was when I finished the first draft.
I have been open to feedback (ever since the first draft) and my readers and reviewers have been kind enough to provide me with some valuable insights to make it better.
I’ve tried to get the first print run to reach the maximum audience and I have got some awesome feedback. Though there will be no major changes to the story or the structure, there will be some minor tweaks in the second print run to make the narration and the eventual resolution of the story better.

How has been the journey of authoring a book while being actively involved in corporate world?

It’s been interesting so far. It does take a lot of discipline to not start thinking about the story during work and not to start thinking about work when one is trying to progress on the story. That way, writing fiction is a great way to take one’s mind off work and everything else that is going on. All in all, I admit that writing while holding on to a full time day job is a difficult process, but in the end, a hugely fulfilling one.

What are the biggest joys of being an author?

The joy of telling a story. The joy of reaching out to someone hundreds and thousands of miles away from you and to be able to make that connect with them. The joy of creation. The joy of holding the power to evoke an emotion out of another individual. If a writer can’t find happiness and satisfcation in these, then he is perhaps writing for the wrong reasons.

What is your dream story? Do you have any in the pipeline?

As a first time writer, I have written the story that I so desperately wanted to tell. It has given me immense satisfaction to see it in the form of a book.
Everytime I see script driven Indian movies like ‘Drohkaal’, ‘Deewar’ or a ‘Vicky Donor’ or even Hollywood movies like ‘The Departed’, ‘The Usual Suspects’ or ‘L.A. Confidential’,I turn to my wife and tell her, “I want to tell such a story….” Nothing on paper yet, but hoping that I at least make a decent attempt at it someday.

Which kind of books do you enjoy reading yourself? Who are your favorite authors - Indian and foreign?

I am a die-hard romantic. I feel that if romance dies within a person, then there is nothing to look forward to. I must have read Eric Segal’s Love Story close to two dozen times already, but I still pick it up and enjoy reading it.
I have also loved Nobokov’s Lolita, Winston Groom’s Forrest Gump, Puzo’sGodfather,Husseini’s Kite Runner, Douglas Adam’s H2G2, Pirsig’s ZAMM and Lila, and most of what Jeffrey Archer, Sidney Sheldon and John Grisham have written.
Among Indian writers, for my book, I read and re-read ChethanBhagat and RK Narayan multiple times to understand what it was that enabled them to connect to a large section of readers in India. I have enjoyed works of AshwinSanghi, SidinVadukut,Karan Bajaj, ParitoshUttam, Ravinder Singh and Anjum Hasan, among others.

Any tips that you'd want to pass on to the new authors?

A new writer will have to first find a story that he/she really wants to tell. That has to be the underlying motivation. That is the only thing which will enable the new writer to start and even complete a novel when all the glamour associated with writing goes away and he is staring at this sheet with white space which he has to fill with black letters.

How do you compare Indian literary scene with its foreign counterpart?

One thing noticeably different is the delivery mechanism. Kindle is very popular in the US where as in India, a majority still seem to prefer a physical copy of the book to snuggle up to.
The role that a book agent plays in India is very minimal compared to their counterparts abroad.

There is a huge boom in Indian writing. There are a lot of people writing books in India without finding the need to adhere to a ‘Strunk and White’ to tell a story. There is a huge audience they seem to be catering to. This audience just wants to read a good story without the need to carry a dictionary around to understand what the writer is intending to tell. The new writers in India are catering to this specific need and have a great chance of finding success.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Book Review : Conversation Between God and Man

Title : Conversation Between God and Man
Author : G.Venkataraman
Publisher : Media Division, Sri Sathya Sai Sadhana Trust
Crossposted at : Saffron Tree

There comes a time when strongest of the strong anchors give way, leaving the yet inexperienced boats and ships that are tethered to it, bobbing in the open waters. The sheltered life comes to a halt abruptly and the unsettled boats are thrown exposed to the meddling of winds and waves. Human life is no different and one inevitably finds oneself in a situation where the most trusted of the relationships reveal their transient nature. That is the situation when one is left confounded and robbed off - of enthusiasm and even the will to move forward. What for? Why? How? - questions pose a big threat to the natural flow of life on those junctures. One gets acquainted with the feelings which know no language or expression. An amateur human mind may interpret it as insatiable hunger, unquenchable thirst, inadequate sleep, untreatable pain or irreparable broken pieces of heart. But it is far beyond that, it is an absolute vacuum, a bottomless abyss and deep dark tunnel with no light in sight. Where does one go? How does one progress? Even if one starts moving, is it progressing or retrogressing? Who will hold the hand at that time?

While being in that abysmal state for a few months, I often wondered, how a human could equip him/herself to maintain sanity and equanimity during such phases. And as  a parent what can we do to help our children tide over such situations as and when they happen to confront them. After searching unsuccessfully for answers everywhere, one realises that perhaps there's only one way to seek the peaceful state - embarking on the journey towards one's inner self - where the seat of the soul actually is. It may be termed as almighty, omnipresent, all pervasive or by any name that one feels comfortable with. The connect with the supreme authority or one's own true self can be the only permanent anchor and support.

When we so painstakingly pick the best schools, hobby classes, books, besides the regular things of basic needs for our children, shouldn't we be conscious of the fact that they would need a big store of their inner strength as well for all crests and troughs in their lives. Contrarily, who are we to teach them because the spiritual age of an individual may not have any connection with the worldly years that one keeps piling on. Nevertheless, we can do our bit by encouraging them to read in order to build that store house.

'Conversation Between God and Man' is one of those books which can/should be read along with children or to them starting from the primary section itself. It is a simplified version of the conversation that happened between Lord Krishna and Arjuna on the battlefield of Kurukshetra - the essence of Bhagvat Gita. After seeing his family and friends in the rival camp, Arjuna lost all interest to fight the battle and the feeling of futility of the whole bloodshed overpowered him. He was ready to accept defeat over triumph because the victory would come by killing his own kith and kin. Lord Krishna then taught him the mystery of reincarnation and the philosophy behind being a true action-oriented (Karma yogi) person. A karma yogi is the person who can stay in the moment without letting the past or future interfere and that is how one can hope to dedicate oneself to that moment entirely. Reincarnation which is often compared to change of clothes by the soul reinforces the cause and effect theory - as one sows so one reaps. As a soul continues its journey from one life to another, it learns, it enriches and purifies itself to eventually merge with the supreme power.

Dedicated chapters on happiness, conscience, awareness, rebirth, surrender to God and purpose of life convey the timeless teachings of Bhagvat Gita - the voice of Lord Krishna. The connection that it establishes between mind, soul and body brings a lot of clarity and peace. Special emphasis is laid on the importance of one's duty and submission of all that one does to the supreme authority.

It is absolutely important to live life with the awareness that, what we send comes back to us - positive or negative. Hence think good, do good and be good while staying immersed in the designated duties that one needs to dispense. I would highly recommend repeat readings of this book to fully understand its message and to keep it fresh in the mind always. While reading the book, it feels as if the questions that Arjuna pose are exactly the ones that often come to our minds. The dialogue between Krishna and Arjuna inspire the readers to look for happiness at the right place and with right awareness rather than to make the transient things as focus of our lives. 

'The Gita is not, as is commonly imagined, merely about Krishna giving advice to Arjuna to shed his doubts and get on with the fight. Nor is it specific to any particular religion or school of Spiritual philosophy, as many seem to believe. Rather, it is all about a LIFE BOAT, which, if availed of, can save individuals, entire communities and indeed the whole of humanity, from being drowned by the innumerable difficulties that plague today's society at the macro as well as the micro level.'

I am sure there is sufficient reading material available in all sects and religions and comparing them or picking one over others is not the objective here. The aim is to study enough and to understand enough in order to enjoy the peaceful blissful state - which is the true nature of an individual. I would like to pick many books written by enlightened souls across various religions to read myself and to read to the children so as to see which path makes the understanding easier and lays long lasting impression on the minds.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Book Review : The Moon Wants to be Spotless White

Title : The Moon Wants To Be Spotless White
Author : Priya Narayanan
Illustrator : Suhita Mitra
Publisher : LeadStart
ISBN : 9789381576342 

'Daag achche hain' (Stains are good) if they happen to be the price for joy, happiness and love - this is the premise of Priya Narayanan's 'The Moon Wants to be Spotless White'.  Moon who is otherwise quite vain and is drunk on his own beauty, gets the shock of his life when he overhears a bunch of stars talking about his dirty spots. He finds a patient ear in a little girl Mitu who enjoys looking at the moon from the window of her room and always admires his grace and beauty. Moon comes up with a plan that he needs to get himself scrubbed clean in order to get back his pristine white looks. Mitu feels very happy to help the moon by letting Dhobi Kaka into the little secret. Dhobi kaka is kind enough to use his special secret formula on Moon so that the moon regains his spotless whiteness back.

The trio get together at the dead of the night to work in this rare kind of mission but by the time they are done with washing and scrubbing, it is time for the day break. Now the moon will have to wait for the night fall to go back to the sky. What happens when the moon finally meets his heavenly friends in the sky? How does he narrate his adventure of previous night when he took a trip to the dhobhi ghat? Can he boast of his spotless white looks in front of them? Is he really as spotless as he wanted himself to be? Does his vanity win or the love of his friends? Head on to this rare adventure along with the moon who is ready to take all the trouble to satisfy his pride of being the most handsome in the sky.

A great way to reiterate and reinforce the life value that life is just not about the external appearance, it is much beyond that. And this the moon realises at the end of the story when he observes that his friends are glad, just to be with him - with or without spots.

It is a simple, feel-good story which would appeal to all little children, however, the length of this story goes against its appeal to the age group that it is targeting. It is hard to finish complete reading of the story in one sitting. Moreover, stories adhering to commonly observed practicalities, always make more impact. In 'The Moon Wants to be Spotless White', Mitu's mother sending Mitu with Dhobi Kaka at night, feels a little unreal and impractical. Barring these two irritants, it is quite an interesting read for young readers (Age : 6-10 years)

Interview : Ruchir Gupta

Ruchir Gupta is a graduate in Medicine and is a practicing doctor in USA. He has authored various books that deal with the topic of anesthesiology. His interests include reading, traveling, learning history and blogging. His book 'Mistress of the Throne' is the story of Mughal queen Jahanara (reviewed here). It is pleasure to present his views here for the readers of Literary Sojourn. 

  1. Dr. Ruchir Gupta or writer Ruchir Gupta, which role gives you more pleasure and satisfaction?

Both roles provide a different method of satisfaction.  Medicine is a very gratifying field but one that doesn't allow much creativity. As a writer, I have the chance to create new worlds and give life to different characters.  It is this act of creativity that I feel keeps me young.

  1. What motivated you to write 'Mistress of the Throne'? What is so mystical about the Mughal period in your opinion?

The Mughal period has often been thought of as India's golden age.  Unfortunately, current communal conflicts have caused many of us to view Mughal culture as foreign, even though it was a blend of muslim and hindu traditions.  At the height of the mughal empire, 1/4 of humanity lived in its dominion and its economy was 50 times greater than that of Great Britain.  Thus, the mughal empire has always fascinated me for its ability to unite people and build an entire civilization.

  1. Why do you think, historical fiction genre is attracting more and more readers these days?

I think people are now reflecting more on their past.  As Indians, we were often given a distorted view of our history for the purposes of furthering British propaganda.  I think people are now realizing how advanced and admirable our history was and in that past lie some of the answers for the present time.

  1. Which authors do you admire and like to read the most, who have written historical fiction, focusing more on Mughal period? How would you compare the works of Dalrymple, Eraly, Alex Rutherford, Indu Sundaresan?

With the exception of Eraly, I have read all of the aforementioned authors.  Dalyrymple writes nonfiction so my book is of an entirely different genre.  I rely on his work for much of the facts for my mughal projects.  I have emailed him a few times and I am a great admirer of his.  Both Rutherford and Sundarasen deserve a geat deal of credit for launching bestsellers in this genre and thus bringing the Mughal story to the masses.  I, personally, like Sundarasen's style a little more than Rutherford's, but this is just my opinion.  Sundarasen spends a great deal of time describing the imagery of the scene so that one feels as though they are in the Mughal palace itself.  She also writes often from the female perspective.  Rutherford, by contrast, spends more time on describing action and battle scenes.  His books have been from the male perspective.  My book differs from theirs in that I think I delve more into character development and creating an emotional dimension for my characters.  Again, all of these books are great, but the writing style is different.

  1. Do you have a dream story that you would like to work on? 

My focus right now is on my series, The Mughal Intrigues, of which Mistress of the Throne is the first book.  I am working on a sequel and have not yet decided if this series would be a trilogy or have 4 different books.

  1. Why do you think Mughal period is becoming the focus of more writings compared to other periods in Indian history?

Mughals are royalty and are the premier royal family for India.  The 1857 rebellion had the aging Mughal Emperor as the standard bearer for the cause; the flag is raised every August 15 from the Red Fort of Delhi.  Thus, the Mughals have been intricately tied to India and its opulence.  Additionally, the Mughals are inherently Indian.  Most Mughal Kings married Hindu princesses.  At a time when a marriage between a hindu and a muslim is considered taboo, it is sobering to realize that centuries ago, this was common amongst the royalty.  In fact, Shah Jahan was 3/4 Hindu, though he followed Islam.  Even Aurengzeb, who is known for his fanaticism and his destruction of Hindu temples, married a Hindu princess.  Thus, it's this plurality that has attracted the attention of the masses.

  1. In your opinion, which is the safest and surest way to the hearts of the readers?
Character development.  Readers wish to connect with the characters and be able to share in their trials and tribulations.   Thus, good character development is a great way to engage the reader.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Book Review : Mistress Of The Throne

Title : Mistress of the Throne
Author : Ruchir Gupta
Publisher : Srishti Publishers and Distributors
ISBN : 9789382665076

Mughal period is one of the periods that keeps beckoning authors of almost every generation to come back to it to unravel the mystique behind the opulence that this era was known for. Though the royal emperors - Akbar, Jahangir, Shah Jahan, Aurangzeb have long been resting in the annals of history, yet their styles, their sensibilities for art and culture, their harems, food, generosity, ruthless machinations and brutal lust for power - entreat many to dig deeper. Many books written by contemporary authors like William Dalrymple and Indu Sundaresan have already been reviewed here on Literary Sojourn.

'Mistress of the Throne' picks a small timeline starting from the year 1631. This was the year when the beloved queen Mumtaz Mahal, of emperor Shah Jahan breathed her last during one of the childbirths. Going against the tradition of passing the title of Queen to one of his other wives, Shah Jahan chose to anoint her eldest daughter Jahanara with this royal honour. The new seventeen year old queen found herself shouldering responsibilities on personal, familial and public fronts. She dedicated herself to keeping the family united but her efforts fell short in front of towering egos, jealousies and scuffles for supremacy and power. The power tussle between the extremist Aurangzeb and the mild tempered Dara was apparent right from the very beginning of their getting together. Though Dara Shikoh was the favoured son of emperor Shah Jahan and was the heir apparent, he lost his life in a bitter battle with Aurangzeb for the imperial throne.

Mistress of the Throne is the first person account of Jahanara through which readers are given a peak into the functioning of Mughal empire and the political games that were played on either sides of the veils. Author Ruchir Gupta sensitively brings out the inner turmoil that the young queen went  through when she understood the implications of the harsh reality of living life alone. Though she very closely witnessed the love between her parents which Shah Jahan tried to immortalize in the form of Taj Mahal, she knew she would never be able to experience that emotion all her life. Her only fault was that she was a Mughal emperor's daughter.

Ruchir Gupta has done a commendable job in bringing back the bygone era intricately in the book. The scene setting is done in such a way that one becomes a part of the fast paced and engaging narrative. Language is simple to follow and flows lucidly. The characters are built slowly but with utmost care, especially that of Aurangzeb. The ruthlessness and fundamentalist attitude of Aurangzeb is very well documented in course books and other texts but this is the first time that one gets see and understand his personal side as well. Spending his childhood in a hostile exile, away from the love and warmth of his benevolent mother scarred his soul. Unfortunately he did not get much time with Mumtaz Mahal to savour the essence of unconditional affection and love. His insecurities, vulnerabilities and yearning to be the good son and good brother touch the chords at various places as the story progresses.

As far as the character building of Jahanara is concerned, Indu Sundaresan's adaptation wins over Ruchir Gupta's. Had I not read any of the books written by Indu, I would have enjoyed reading 'Mistress of the Throne' without any comparison in mind. But the images of Mughal queens that Sundaresan creates in her Taj trilogy remain firmly etched in the readers' minds and any other replacement will run the risk of appearing wane in comparison. They are just a tad short of flesh and blood otherwise she has done all to breathe life in the characters. Well, there is a difference in portraying a woman and being one.

The book was sent to me by

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