Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Book Review : The Parrot Who Wouldn't Talk


Title : The Parrot who wouldn't Talk
Author : Ruskin Bond
Publisher : Penguin India
ISBN : 978-0-14-333068-4

The more I read Ruskin Bond, the more I admire his writing style. I love how he feels the need to record the details which may seem insignificant but work wonderfully in painting the picture perfectly in front of readers' eyes. I guess this is the reason, readers just want to get transported to the lovely world of Ruskin the way R.K. Narayan invoked similar feelings for Malgudi. Who doesn't want to be a part of Swami's world where innocence and simplicity still rule? Ruskin Bond is not India's best-loved children's writer for nothing.

The Parrot Who Wouldn't Talk  is a collection of heart warming short stories weaved around some of his friends and relatives. As he says, "I think everyone has at least one eccentric aunt or uncle in the family. I had more than one. My boyhood days were enlivened by their presence. Strong, unforgettable characters, all of them. I hope you'll enjoy their antics - and mind too!"

He writes about his grandfather who had an uncanny faculty of studying the habits and characteristics of people around him and disguising himself as one of them. Thus he enjoyed getting the 'feel' of someone else's occupation and lifestyle, be it a street-vendor, a carpenter or even a beggar. Uncle Ken happens to be just the person who is sought after by trouble itself. It is interesting how he managed to put Ruskin(when he was nine or ten years old) on a wrong train all by himself. Ruskin goes on to share his experiences as a boy scout when he earned the cookery badge for himself and did end up creating an innovative delectable all-Indian sweet-and-sour jam-potato curry.
There are more stories around Mr. Ghosh, Aunt Ruby, Uncle Ken and Mr. Oliver with Ruskin's signature style beautifully adorned with humor making this book a permanent among the personal collection.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Rediscovering Hindu Mythology : A Literary Perspective


Belonging to a generation which is now parenting the new e-gen, we were fed the regular potions of stories from mythology as part of growing up. A righteous son,  brother, husband, prince and king, Lord Rama was portrayed as being  anukaraneeye (ought to be followed) whereas Lord Krishna became vandaneeye (ought to be prayed) as his trickeries, manipulations, friendship with big gang of gopies were definitely some of the actions which should just be revered as Lord's special tricks. During the schooling years the magna stories got adorned with regal illustrations, thanks to Ramananda Sagar and B.R.Chopra for bringing these grand epics to our homes.  Those slotted times over the weekends, the small screens, the places in the drawing rooms (yes, those were the times when idiot boxes embellished the beauty of most of the drawing rooms in the homes) assumed the significance of a shrine and the characters mouthing the dialogues of our Gods became real life Gods. 
Opulent mythology on screen became an in thing and many followed suit and still do but the charm of 'first' is always unique and can never be replicated.

The literary field followed a similar trend. Ramayana, Mahabharata, Bhaagwat and many more were supposed to be read and recited directly from the religious scriptures, the holy books, neatly wrapped in bright red cloth. However, C.Rajagopalachari was among the prominent names who brought the grand epics in easy to understand language making reading and understanding these scriptures more accessible for all. Such books became official retellings of the epics.

Generations changed, the new breed of authors took another big leap and made an attempt not only to understand but to analyse various towering personas of the epics from their individual perspectives. The first in this category which captured the attention of many and mine too was - 'The Palace of Illusions' by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni. She made the voice of Draupdi audible for the first time, a woman who does not feel shy of verbalizing her fantasies, desires, aspirations and more importantly her dislikes too.  With liberal fictional support throughout the narrative, it succeeded in bringing a very fresh perspective.

Gurcharan Das, a fine author, a public intellectual  and a well respected commentator on social, economic and political fabric of the country extrapolated the events and reactions of those existing in the era of Krishna to the situations today in his 'Difficulty of Being Good'. He introduced and taught the world the wisely worded definitions of sadharan-dharma and sva-dharma. Former being associated to caste/varna/society and the latter defines the innate nature of an individual and how the work of these two in unison or otherwise defines and dictates our actions.

Devdutt Pattanaik, has accumulated a great body of work in lore writing. His 'Jaya' is a fine version of Mahabharata originally called 'Jaya' only.  Devdutt works on the premise that since this ancient epic has been written, retold, translated and interpreted by many, there are many variations in the main story as well as the tertiary stream of stories that join the main saga. He has written books on Shiva, Kali, Ganesha, Rama and many more. He has penned some interesting short stories for children too with some contemporary twist.  

When we talk about the names to reckon with, in the genre of mythology, Ashok K. Banker's name is surely among the front runners. He has made an indelible mark on this literary space through his much acclaimed - Ramayana series, Krishna Coriolis and now ongoing series on Mahabharata. He has presented the heroes as ordinary humans going through similar vicissitudes in life as we do.

Not just of the abovementioned seasoned authors, mythology has caught the fancy of many new entrants on the literary firmament too. Nilanjan P. Chodhury (Bali and the Ocean of Milk) and Amish Tripathi (Immortals of Meluha) are a couple of names who have taken cues from legendary stories and have fabricated their own tales around them with a lot of fictional element in the narrative. They have showcased their wit and creativity in spinning a completely new yarn out of the raw material. It is impressive how they so seamlessly conjoin the historical and mythical facts with contemporary terminology so that their pieces of writing take modern look and feel.

For instance, Nilanjan integrates the setting of ocean churning with scientific facts like Big Bang while astutely incorporating political references and peppering the whole medley with some extant lingo - facebook, mobile phone cameras, animal rights violation, low fat milk and likes of these.
Highlights of Amish Tripathi's writing are - the introduction of duality of life and their coexistence, and the definition of Shiva(God and goodness). He mesmerised the readers with his belief when he writes thus - an ordinary man can become Mahadev and that is possible only when he fights for good. Har Har Mahadev - All of us are Mahadev.

A very recent entrant in the writing field, Ravi Venu retells the story of Ramayana - 'I, Rama' from the voice of the central character - Rama himself. The book has the potential of getting noticed and appreciated because of some unique points. 

There are some books written from Ravana's point of view too and I am sure time is not far when we would have these great tales presented from each and every characters' perspective.

But what is the need to retell or redefine the stories? As I understand it, there could be more than one possibilities.

"Yada Yada Hi Dharmasya, Glanirva Bhavathi Bharatha,
Abhyuthanam Adharmaysya, Tadatmanam Srijami Aham."

Which means - "Whenever there is decay, of righteousness O! Bharatha And a rise of unrighteousness, then I manifest Myself!" These words are believed to be uttered by the God himself in Bhagawat Gita. We grew up believing that we are in Kaliyug and we must await the arrival of the tenth incarnate of God who will bring semblance to the chaotic ways of life on Earth. Seeing all the research and analysis that is going on in order to understand and redefine time defying epics, I wonder, would some literary piece rise to reach the zenith to be an incarnate itself? Who knows, it might just happen this time. 

Or as the well acclaimed writer - Devdutt Pattanaik says - "In these modern times, we are eager to correct people, Rama (Gods) included, rather than understand them". So perhaps the critically analysing(rather fault finding) tendency of modern human is making us question our super heroes and eventually leading some of us to re-sketch them as per our tastes and sensibilities.

Or have we understood that the pearls of wisdom that get accumulated over the ages are the ones which can withstand any test of time? As a result a little bit of tweaking is done in order to package them as relevant and relatable for the contemporary generation.

Or is this because of the lack of any contemporary hero; because as Mc Henry says 'every generation needs its own heroes'. In the absence of any hero in our lives, we are trying to shuffle the pages of history and mythology to look for solutions to our current age problems.

I firmly believe that the way any story (epic or otherwise) is understood, analysed and presented has a lot to do with a myriad of factors - the time, and the prevailing mindset, customs and culture of that time. So when we experience almost complete metamorphosis of our society with time, perhaps redefining mythology is not wrong either. Some great endeavours have been made by comprehending minds and we must appreciate the same.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Book Revew : That Book About Harvard


Title : That Book About Harvard

Author : Eric Kester
Publisher : Sourcebooks
ISBN : 978-1-4022-6750-5


No matter who the person is and which educational institute it is, the first day of college always brings a multitude of emotions ranging from excitement, enthusiasm, anxiety, apprehensions to fears. As Eric Kester brings to light his own experience through that period, it feels reassuring that everyone goes through the same wave of emotions when through similar situations even if the college is Ivy League Harvard College.

It turns out to be one of the wackiest years at Harvard, and Eric Kester happens to get involved in a deluge of things spanning from cheating scheme to wooing a beauty. Attempting to adapt and fit in while trying to satisfy the expectations of football coach, making sense of professor's language while trying to keep a straight face, narrating his make believe fantasies to a child prodigy and getting the courses in calculus and other subjects out of his way, Kester stumbles through his first year in the college.

The book is every bit entertaining, full of laugh-out-loud moments and the freshness of narrative brings the much needed lightness in the otherwise tensed first day and first year in the premiere college of Harvard repute. Clearly Eric Kester has a wonderful way with words and has created a true page turner except for a couple of places when it felt like the author is trying too hard. I am sure this book will refresh the college memories of every reader.

Eric confessed in 'A Note From The Author' the beginning of the book that "he wrote this book to impress a girl. But I also wrote it to give you a candid view of a real guy trying to survive the real Harvard with a bunch of laughs along the way. And that's my primary goal here: to entertain". Not sure whether author succeeded in achieving his first objective but the latter one he did achieve and that too brilliantly. Simplicity of his language beautifully brings out the anxiety, humility and sincerity of the author. He does manage to demystify some of the aura that surrounds one of the world's most famous university.

It felt as if it is a sequel to Kaavya Vishwanathan's - How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild and Got a Life. The same tone of Kavvya's hilarity continues in the 'That Book About Harvard'. Kavvya's book ended with getting an admission to the Harvard School, while Eric takes this journey forward from the first day to first year in the institute.


Interview with B.L.Gautam


An ex-customs officer, a distinguished intelligence officer, a film producer ('Khosla ka Ghosla' and 'A Wednesday'), a novelist - all rolled in one. Yes, this is B.L.Gautam.  After having experimented with poetry in Hindi and Urdu, he came up with Andy Leelu (reviewed here). It is a pleasure having conducted an e-interview with him and I am glad to be sharing it here with the readers of Literary Sojourn.


1.      You seem to be having both sides of your brain extremely well developed. The logical and analytical left side, and thoughtful and intuitive right side. How do you handle both of them which I am sure must have contradicted on several occasions?

 Its  a compliment, but let me be a little candid here. I strongly believe that we humans are a huge pool of wasted talent. Everyone of us comes with an immense potential. We are chosen ones of the nature. Its the parentage, environment , and the education that makes most of us the foot-soldiers of creativity, for the mediocrity to thrive. In my  innocent belief I was a special child as most of us are, but truly speaking I was not. It was my fools promise to myself that has driven me through the thick and thin of life. You may call it the mantra of life that is engrained into ones thinking at very early age.  You cant break the promise you make to yourself.  The much revered true love is nothing but ones promise to oneself.

Brain has two side, no doubt, and most of us have one lesser developed. I was lucky to have some amount of both, but believe me I had neither to the level that makes one a genius. So  to say handle both of them will be vain, it was in fact a struggle.  The struggle I have now fallen in love with.

If you cant contradict yourself youre just a depository of others knowledge at the best. I was taught to be one in my school. I was considered exceptionally intelligent when I would read a page just once and narrate it verbatim. A time came I found such photographic memory completely useless. Now I hardly remember anything of what I read. My mind just takes the essence and moves on. Forgetting is what  has made me a thinker and a writer. My mind is a clean slate when I set to think about something. For example,  a minute back I had no clue what I am going to write in answer to your question.


2.      How has the experience been for you as well as for your family in the high risk job as customs officer ? Was moving on a calculated decision? Do you miss the thrill of that job?

Allow me to begin with the last part of your question. I miss it like a first love. It has, in fact , become a parallel life in my thoughts. Insuppressibly, I would write a radical article catalyzed by the disturbing events taking place on global as well as domestic front. There are times I wrote  strong letters to the power that would be fit to jolt up the system. I doubt somebody reads them. The portent at times was  so awfully close to the events to come, I am sure our agencies would have hounded  me had they read all that. For example, a piece I wrote on msn.com a couple of months before the serial train blast happened in Mumbai wouldnt have escaped the hawks eye, if we really have a  half  decent monitoring system; the title itself was a loud cry- Do you hear the tick Mr. Prime Minister? Surprisingly, the article was recently blocked. More recently when my curiosity got me to attend a disquieting dinner hosted  by  the masqueraded media to propel a  sitting General into public life,  I was flabbergasted. I wrote  a letter to the then Home minister which now reads like an augury. It was  cognitive intelligence, that came to me with years of experience. And I would say once gone to intelligence never comes back.

Exposure to risk in a preventive job comes with some rewards. More so, once you have taken the plunge theres no looking back.  Its by choice because these guys are hand-picked; unwilling and inefficient will either wriggle out or will be chucked out by the system. You have to know your lakshman rekha’  which has its flexibility and sanctity left up to you to decide since the system has imposed an unflinching trust in you. The risk is calculated or I would say mitigated to an extent, if you do your job with a high level of integrity. The world of smuggling thrives on the idea of quick money, and if they find someone who is infallible, and treats money as if it was nothing more than an evidence of crime; the person becomes a demi-god to the community of offenders. The second thing is the way you handle the power and respect that come with the package; if you get carried way you are doomed. We saw it happening with many of our officers of  Customs and Police. Their dishonoring stories  are in public now. It could see it coming.

In spite of the fact that you may put your best foot forward all the time, there is an invisible risk, always. You little know how the dices are being played on the other side of the fence. In my case, after years  of it had  stealthily  come and gone, I had the revelation that a frustrated smuggler and lynchpin named Irfan Goga had decided to knock me off. And it was another infamous don Anees Ibrahim in Dubai who was so enamored  of my honesty and simplicity that he threatened Goga of his life if he touched me. The spat went to sow the  seed of  permanent enmity between  the two sworn partners to the extent that one was finally eliminated by the other. I was stoned for a moment when I came to know of the full script. Isnt it spine-chilling? (laugh)

To not be perturbed of such eventualities every other day, I adopted a philosophy.  I started taking myself a man who was dead yet alive. And I believed I have nothing more to lose. Its easy to say it in words, but a very tough call when it comes to reality.


3.      Why cinema and media after a long service in customs? Is it to satisfy the urge to be in some form of spotlight all the time?

My decision was not impulsive nor it was triggered by one single factor. In spite of having  a hidden streak of rebellion I was always an obedient son, a loving husband and a zealously protective father, and would think many time before taking any career decision. I had  a creative person in me that would prompt me to dabble with theatre and literature,  but duty was always first and foremost. I would be lying if I say that I had no desire for recognition.  Recognition in my mind was always different than 15 second fame or a picture on page 3. I always dreamt to be famous in a world that would be here after I am gone. A Kabir fascinates me more than a  celebrity politician or a film star. After  more  than 500 years Kabir is a household name, and hes so relevant even today.

The thought that you get to live only once pushes me do so many things in one life. You will be amused to know that I have been making a serious attempt  for last thirty  five years to decipher the truth of universe. I have an adequate grasp on Quantum Mechanics and Classical Physics to keep my quest meaningfully on. I have added the dimensions of Vedic science to it. When a  new finding in theoretical physics  vindicates my postulates of Mest Theory, I feel reassured.

To put it straight I love cinema as a creative expression, but at the same time I hate the devious power of marketing. Media today abounds unethical practices. Lesser said the better.

4.      You are the producer of two critically acclaimed and thought provoking films - 'Khosla ka Ghonsla' and 'A Wednesday'. Do share your intuitive feeling that led you to get actively involved in these films?

Yes, it was pure intuition. The scripts caught me by my collar. It was worth risking my comfortable job, both the times. I was very confident of their commercial success, and thats what made me to stick my neck out in spite of a terrible resistance from the management. A few would know that I made Khosla Ka Ghosla when I was with Zee. Everyone around in the organization thought I should, and I would draw a flak.  Contrary to their expectation, the film shaped up well, and  behold, the top-brass decided to junk it, unceremoniously.  Corporate envy is Machiavellian, I realized. Those were painful days of my life. It set me to rethink whether my decision to come to media was right. I had to pass through an ordeal to see the film released. To the extent, that the savior, in an unsavory  way, wanted his name to appear as the producer. Imagine, it was after three years of the film was made. I had no inclination to put my name as  producer after I had dared to lock-horns with Zee on matters of ethics. But it was a nightmare convincing other stake holders for such an unreasonable demand. I had set my eyes only on the release of this film. That I did, and rest is history as they say.

As if it was not enough, fate had one more round of agony in store for me that came  with  A Wednesday. I had to recede from my declared position of Producer to Executive Producer, when my boss realized that it was a wonderful film. He had agreed to commission it with an obvious spite, to say the least.

To bring these two films to light, I not only lost my peace of years but a few friends too, if I still believe they were once my friends. In a struggle for success, nobodys nobodys friend. Media is a lesson in this. Cynical may it sound.

5.      How did Andy Leelu start taking shape in your mind and how long did it take to come out with the final product? Are you satisfied with your first book and readers' response to it?
       
The genesis of Andy Leelu lies in the cynicism, or solitude, I came by thanks to my new job. The choice was either I play the game and be at the helms of affairs or I hang up my boots, and sit in a corner. I was not ready  to accept either of the two. And I decided to prove my worth by doing something that would need no one as a partner or  an associate.  I wanted to go on a lone journey. Writing was the only option. As luck would  have it, my job  took to me to ( it was alienation to be frank)  Mauritius. The serenity of this island was a  right match to my melancholy. I had company, sarcasm unintended. I fathomed my life, and what came in revelation was a treasure of stories. It was overwhelming. I had written poems and articles, but never a novel. Writing a novel was intimidating. It was like cruising a vast  terrain with unknown contours. The invitation had a deadly yet alluring challenge.
I began with my wonder years. Not only the most vivid segment of my memory, it was a momentous period of our history. I got a hazy outline of the story in my mind. I said, here you go, buddy!
 I poured myself out. The experience was cathartic. In around 8 months I had the first draft in hand. Getting it published would be a mountainous hurdle, I had not realized by then. There were trepidations and travesties, but there was also determination to overcome. It took  4 years for Andy Leelu to hit the stands.

6.      What were the challenges that you faced in the literary field while entering in it as an amateur writer? Did your experience in other fields help you in any way?

The constituency in India is very small. Its very unfortunate that we are one of the biggest country in the world with a huge literary inheritance, yet we have a pint-sized publication industry. In comparison to the western world, its almost nothing.

I had to come to India via USA, a country I have never been to, nor have much love for.
We are greedily busy making money, and the culture is left to the vultures. Just imagine  when a person of my resources has to struggle so much for his book to get published where would a greenhorn go.

 On other hand if you look at what is being written here, its far from inspiring. Publishing and reading go hand in hand. We are happy aping China while US and Europe, and even Latin America is spending enormous resources to shape up  the  thoughts of the world. They will be the pioneers of the new era and we are happy to be the workforce.

7.      Out of all the roles that you have donned so far, which has given you the most pleasure?

Its difficult to come out with a straight, and for that matter, an honest reply. If have to, then I will choose  the role of an intelligence officer, of course, with a rider.  The rider is- only If I could have my way to deal with the situations. And if not so, then a writer, because here no one can stop me have my way. (laugh)

8.      You have written some verses in Hindi and Urdu as well. Are you planning to publish them too? After having written prose and poetry both, which form of writing do you feel is more gratifying?

I think I am a poet first. I started with Hindi poetry. Gazal caught my fancy after I read great shayars like Ghalib and Faiz, and of course Dushyant Kumar if I have to name one from Hindi side. I learnt basic Urdu when I was 35. And yes like Dushyant, I will publish just one collection of my Gazals. In shayari, if you write more you repeat yourself. I am now more of a story teller. I have found my last refuge there. (laugh)

9.      How do you want to be remembered as?

I take myself a part of this organic universe. To me, independent existence is a fallacy. So would like to be remembered as a person who lived and died for humanity. My pains and pleasures are universal in a sense.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Book Review : Burma - A Nation At The Crossroads


Title : Burma - A Nation at the Crossroads
Author : Benedict Rogers
Publisher : Random House
ISBN : 978-1-84-604346-8

Author Benedict Rogers gives detailed account of the trials and tribulations of a nation - Burma, based on his 12 years of persistent research and more than three dozen visits to Burma as well as to its neighboring countries.

A nation of approximately 55 million people, Burma is one of the most ethnically diverse in South East Asia. Besides the Burmans - the Burmese speaking majority, there are seven major ethnic groups - Karen, Karenni, Shan, Mon, Kachin, Chin, Arakan or Rakhine. The country which struggled to bring her name in the list of independent nations hasn't seen her woes ending even after the colonial rule of British ended in 1948. After a very short lived democracy of almost a decade, Burma has been ruled by succession of brutal military regimes for more than 50 years now. Some wrong policies and short-sightedness of the leaders during the ten year democratic stint worked as fuel to the fire and led Burma into the clutches of brutal military dictatorship. The combination of a brutal military dictatorship which ranks among the very worst in the world, and the apathy and inaction of co-inhabitants of the same Earth have reduced the country to a burning nation. Burma has witnessed the tragedy of being the potentially richest country of Asia to being the poorest, being the rice bowl to having to face rice shortage.

In 1990 Aung San Suu Kyi became the face of  Burma's democracy movement. She is the daughter of Aung San - the leader of Burma's independence movement who is regarded to this day as the father of the nation. The democratic movement supporters and the leaders of ethnic resistance want to build Burma of peace and equal rights whereas the military regime is working towards imposing Mayanmar on the natives through their dictatorial inhumanity and brutality.
After having endured 15 years of house arrest, Aung San Suu Kyi is leading the democratic movement.
In the course of past few months, the changes have been very positive which are bringing back the lost faith and hope in people. The path is not devoid of huge amount of challenges but as Chinese philosopher Lao-tzu said -  'A journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step'.

Aung San Suu Kyi is an able and wise stateswoman who has inherited political wisdom in her genes. With a lot of uncertainty in the minds of inhabitants of the country, the apprehensions and fears are looming large and staring on their faces. People are torn between either of these three states as Aung San Suu Kyi points out - first, euphoric and enthusiastic about the process of change, second, supporting her decision to engage with the regime and in the political process, but are cautious, skeptical and weighing the evidence, and third, not wanting to even try the process.'

Benedict Rogers skillfully makes readers understand the tumultuous past of the country as well as the complicated present where the nation stands today. The details do get a little too overwhelming in some chapters, however, I feel the same is required for complete understanding of the situation. Besides reporting the facts, Rogers assesses the situation logically and insightfully and that I consider is the commendable part of his writing.
Through this book the author does much more than what he was requested to do by a young Shan boy in Burma - 'Tell the world not to forget us.'

This book reminds me of the adversities of Tibetans as narrated by Dalai Lama in his autobiography  'Freedom in Exile'. The countries, cultures and beliefs may differ but the basic needs are the same all across the world. 

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Book Review : The Valmiki Syndrome


Title : The Valmiki Syndrome
Author : Ashok K. Banker
Publisher : Random House India
ISBN : 978-8-184-00141-9

'Work Life Balance' is indeed a tricky topic, almost like walking on a tightrope and more so in the current age when 'more' and 'higher' seem to be the mantras. There seems to be a maddening rush these days to earn more, purchase more, possess more, acquire more but Banker raises very apt questions - Is this desire for more, leading us to a cult of self-help? Is life only about self-help?

Ashok K. Banker who has made an indelible mark on Indian literary firmament through his Ramayana series, Krishna Coriolis and new Mahabharata series, draws parallels between the story of Ratnakaran (who later transformed into Maharishi Valmiki) and those of contemporary Suhasini and Sara in 'The Valmiki Syndrome'.

What is Valmiki Syndrome? Banker defines the Valmiki Syndrome as - "the struggle, the constant, never ending attempt to balance both sides of the scale and relentless pressure to keep them perfectly aligned."

He begins his narration by first penning down a disclaimer about his book through some very interesting analogies:
Just as The Bhagwat Gita is not a management textbook.
The Ramayana is not a misogynistic religious tract about Good versus Evil.
The Mahabharata is not a manual on the art of war.
Similarly 'Valmiki Syndrome' is not a self-help book, or a how-to book, or a manual, guide, textbook or codebook for anything.

Ratnakaran, the bandit earned his livelihood by looting and killing people but once, coaxing of Narada to get an answer to a very simple question from his family, led Ratnakaran to confront the Valimiki Syndrome. This incident metamorphosed him into a completely new individual - Maharishi Valmiki.
As Ratnakaran's journey of self-realization progresses in the book, the author weaves the modern age stories of Suhasini and Sara bringing to forefront, the dilemma - "the question whether one's primary dharma should be towards achieving one's goals, or fulfilling one's obligations to one's family." Suhasini, being the prime bread earner of the family began her journey with all the right reasons but while marching ahead on her career path with well deserved successes and accolades she failed to acknowledge that she had left her family far behind somewhere. Whereas Sara, the rebellious daughter of rigid Maharashtrian parents, listened to her heart and walked out of her parental home to carve a niche for herself but her heart kept beating at the right place.
Using the stories of Ratnakaran, Suhasini and Sara as conduits, Ashok Banker conveys the significance of introspection and some soul searching in order to get answers to these three basic questions :
Who Am I?
Who Do I Wish To Be?
How Do I Become That Person?

It is imperative to realize that none of us is an island leading a solitary existence. So while an individual gets sucked up in the demands of achieving one goal after another on the simple pretext that the same is being done for the loved ones, he/she runs short of time and energy to assess when the fine balance between the duties towards work and home starts getting compromised. For that elusive right balance, the growth has to be sustainable and only then it can be maintained.

So push the pause button of your life for a moment and check back once, do you have your loved ones in close proximity with you or have you lost them somewhere in your pursuit of building your career.

Reflecting transformation in the Indian society, the author has wisely chosen females as the  protagonists of his stories struggling to strike a balance between work and personal life rather than men donning the traditional role.
Ashok Banker is a brilliant writer whose words flow seamlessly through the three stories. Every  argument proposed is riveting, captivating and has the ability to motivate the readers to think, rethink, analyze and strive for that elusive balance. However,  having read his take on mythology through his earlier compositions, I do feel that he excels in that genre much more than he does in the garb of a modern day story teller. His forte is mythology, unquestionably.

The umpteen number of books trying to educate people on how to emotionally handle the personal front, assume that people are dedicatedly working towards furthering their career goals. However I feel, there is a small lacuna and Banker could have scored a brownie point here if he had talked about those cases where people make the work-life balance an excuse to not put their best in their work fields. This would have made his work a well rounded study of the topic.

Moreover, I can't help questioning the relevance of this book to Indian context because the truth is, there is just a very small fraction of our urban population which can actually relate to what the book talks about.
Having said that, with the deluge of self-help books that are available on the shelves, 'The Valmiki Syndrome' has the substance to stand tall amongst the crowd. The last chapter which actually deals with the syndrome is sure to stir the inner-self of every thinking individual and at least would initiate the exercise to evaluate how to prioritize and manage the life on personal as well as professional fronts. 

This review appeared in the newspaper : 'The Tribune' 
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