Sunday, December 21, 2014

Book Review : Hic!copotamus

Title : Hic!copotamus
Author : Geeta Dharmarajan
Illustrator : Atanu Roy
Publisher : Katha
ISBN : 978-93-82454-24-3

One lazy afternoon the inmates of Gulmohar Jungle are in for a surprise as a gigantic thing falls into the White Lily Pond. Some of the animals get really scared and run for their lives and in their confusion do not see the enormous thing walking out of the pond. Muyal the Rabbit is the first one who spots him and he is none other than a baby hic!opotamus (hippopotamus) - Hawasi.

He narrates his story to all attentively listening animals. He was blissfully sitting in a jungle in Africa, when a strong hiccup blew him away and brought him straight to the Lily Pond. He wails and wails and wants to go back to his mother now. His new friends are very compassionate and want to help him go back to his home. They all brainstorm to make him hiccup strong enough so that he is again blown over back to his home jungle. Does Hawasi find a way home?

Little readers will have a blast reading this short story. It is undoubtedly one of those fun stories to tell in story telling sessions with little children. Animal stories always fascinate young readers and if they are a little quirky, the fun quotient gets higher manifolds. Interesting facts, quizzes and trivia add extra flavour to the proceedings. The artist Atanu Roy infuses life and blood in the story with his colourful illustrations. Whenever Katha, Geeta Dharmarajan and Atanu Roy come together, the result is outstanding. 

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Book Review : आँधी

शीर्षक - आँधी
लेखिका - गीता धर्मराजन
चित्रकार - अतनु रॉय
प्रकाशक - कथा

गीता धर्मराजन द्वारा शब्दबद्ध और अतनु रॉय द्वारा चित्रित आँधी नन्हे पाठकों के लिए कथा की एक  नयी भेंट है. कविता रूप में रचित यह रंगों से भरी किताब एक रोचक यात्रा पर ले चलने को तैयार है.

एक धूल भरी आँधी अनेक सूखे पत्तों को ले कर बह निकली है और उसका बहाव इतना तेज़ है कि वह अपने साथ एक नन्ही बच्ची को भी आसमान की सैर पर उड़ा ले चली है. वहाँ अनेक रंग-बिरंगे व खुशिओं भरे नज़ारे आतुर हैं उस बच्ची के साथ खेलने के लिए. जो-जो इच्छाएँ एक नन्हे बच्चे की होती हैं और जो-जो सपने वह देखता है, मानो इस आसमान की सैर में वे सब पूरे हो रहे हैं. बादलों पर जाना, तितली बन उड़ना, इन्द्रधनुष से बातें करना, पंख पसार हवा से बातें करना तथा हवा में तैरते रंग-बिरंगे गुब्बारों पर फिसलना. कौन नहीं जाना चाहता इस अद्भुत सपनों की दुनिया की सैर पर. तो देर किस बात की है? उठाइये यह किताब और भरिये अपने सपनों में सुन्दर सजीले रंग.

लय में बँधे शब्द हवा के बहाव के किल्कुल अनुरूप जान पड़ते हैं और विचारों को अनोखी उड़ान देते हैं. छोटे बच्चों में हिंदी भाषा के प्रति लगाव जगाने के लिए ऐसी कविताएँ अमूल्य साधन का काम करती हैं.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Book Review : The Case of the Secretive Sister

Title : The Case of the Secretive Sister
Author : Nilanjan P. Choudhury
No. of Pages : 162
ISBN : 978-9383098552

Mr. Chatterjee is a middle aged man whose long experience in claims settlement for an insurance company has made him a confident candidate to open his own detective agency. His investigation skills do not get tested appropriately as the cases that he gets to work on range from lost documents, missing pets or runaway drivers. Not just that, the number of clients requiring his services have been 'as elusive as Dr. Manmohan Singh in a chatty mood'.

One fine day, Mr. Chatterjee gets a new client in an over-zealous mother, Mrs. Pammi Chaddha who does not want to give up after her four year old daughter Aisharadhya aka Pinky Chaddha (her 'home' name) has been denied admission in one of the most sought-after schools of Bangalore. She wants Mr. Chatterjee to make this daunting task of securing admission for Pinky in the same school, possible.

Though Mr. Chatterjee does not see any hope of succeeding in this case, he wants to give it a fair try. In order to do that he would have to confront the no-nonsense Sister D'Souza who is at the helm of her school as the headmistress. He devices his plans methodically which his smart secretary interprets as his approach to rectify his piles problem. What follow are, action packed pages high on cat and mouse, stalking, drama, comedy and much more. Well, what is a detective novel without any of these elements?

'The Case of the Secretive Sister' is the second book by the author Nilanjan Choudhury but he comes across as a seasoned author especially when it comes to the tautness of the narrative and the finesse in the language. Once the narrative takes a fast-paced turn, at no moment does the tempo slacken. His choice of characters is commendable, whether it is Mr. Chatterjee's secretary Ms. Jolly or Inspector Gowda. From the accented voices of characters, one can actually hear their respective 'native' (place) speaking. A true Kannadiga and Bangalorean, Inspector Gowda takes it personally upon himself to sanitize his beloved city of all - Chatterjees, Choudhurys, Chaddhas and Chaturvedis. 

When we are witnessing almost a dearth of true-to-genre books in the market, this book comes as a whiff of fresh air where intelligent comedy is served in its full glory. We are fast becoming a society where we seek maximum value for money which is exactly the case with books as well. We are being offered medley - comprising of various elements all together - comedy, romance, adventure, et al. 'The Case of the Secretive Sister' reminds one of the humour of the order that is penned by Bill Cosby, Bill Bryson and P.G.Wodehouse. It is a pleasant change from the comedies that have inundated the mainstream television and movies these days. If you are looking for a small, light and a hilarious read, don't miss this one. 

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Article : When Play Becomes Work (published in Spectrum, The Tribune : 16-11-2014)

ADULTS of today are a part of perhaps the last fortunate generation that can relate to the feeling of ‘playing with abandon’. When they talk about their childhood play days, a lot is laden with the feelings of freedom, the touch of verdant grass, the feel of mud, the rustling sound of dry leaves under bare feet, the feel of first rain on the face and much more. It was the combination of these that made the childhood play, a pleasure and a complete experience which the new generation may never get to experience.

‘Simplicity’ and ‘relaxed’ are two terms which have become extinct when it comes to the pace and nature of life now. Seeing the children of these days, it feels as if they are constantly on a treadmill running to meet some deadlines. Their schedules are much tighter than that of a person who is working full-time in a highly demanding job. A dance class on Monday, tennis classes on Tuesday and Thursday, art-and-craft class on Wednesday, music class on Friday, swimming class on Saturday, plus the regular tuition classes on all days or alternate days — yes, this could be a typical after-school schedule of a child these days. Whatever limited free hours are there, these get spent in front of one screen or the other.

We, as parents, are a generation who want value for everything — whether it is time, money or resources. We do want children to enjoy various activities for an all-round personality development but then the unstructured play has fewer takers now. Since the benefits of free-form play cannot really be quantified as such, so it gets side stepped easily in favour of scheduled times for everything, even play.

Innumerable stadiums, clubs and sports complexes are haven for people who, earlier, could not find any place to hone their skills in any sport but these same centres are now seeing beelines of parents with their children in tow right from the toddling stage. In the hope to see their wards grow up to become another Sachin Tendular, Saina Nehwal or Abhinav Bindra, parents want to start early. There may be some child prodigies who could get benefit at some level by early coaching and training but such children form only a small percentage of the whole lot. For the rest it is testing, judging, evaluating, appraising, comparing and training all the way with no foreseeable respite.

Playtime that should have been easygoing and carefree is losing its charm under regimented version of the same that rests on strict time schedules and evaluation-based promotion. Hobby/after-school classes is one of the most discussed topic among parents soon after they are out of discussing the sleeping-and-eating patterns of their infants. Number of classes that a child goes to and his/her performance in these become a sort of status symbol among many parents. Unaware of this, the tender minds of children get overwhelmed by trying to meet innumerable expectations at countless fronts.

With nuclear family system and surplus income on the rise, hobby classes have become a good way to keep the children positively engaged. This apparently solves security concern of many parents as well, who are more comfortable sending or carting their wards for guided playing than unguarded and unsupervised street play.

It is a proven fact that play nourishes every aspect of a child’s development from physical, emotional, social, intellectual to creative. Child psychologists believe that playing in the absence of any adult supervision is the best environment in which children learn to interact with each other on their own. They gradually figure out the nuances of social skills rather than being taught every step of the way in the fast-evolving ‘play-dates’ settings and instructions-driven coaching classes. By interpreting and trying to fill the gaps between children’s interaction, they are not being helped in anyway, rather their natural ability to understand and make sense of the world, get snubbed, overshadowed and overpowered.

We as parents are going overboard on various accounts — over protective, over indulgent, over paranoid…. Since children do not have anything else to compare their situation with, they take it as the norm of this world. They will not ask for their space and time but we as responsible and compassionate parents need to realise this basic requirement, which is a fundamental right of every human.

Sadly, the children of today when grow up will never be able to reminisce thus — Woh kaagaz ki kashti woh baarish ka paani... (that paper boat...and that rain water...)

Article published here.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Article : Schooling at Home (published in Spectrum, The Tribune : 2-11-2014

Homeschooling : Parent led, home based education 

"What children need is not new and better curricula but access to more and more of the real world." - John Holt

Schooling routine begins early for children these days, almost as soon as they are out of their cradles. Queues for the admissions outside the prestigious schools of the city keep getting longer every year. Anxious parents find the succour only when they pay a handsome amount as school fees to the school where their children as young as 2 years, are ensured admission. Expectations of parents from schools soar sky high when their ward(s) secure the coveted seat in pre-primary. In the race and competition to provide more, better and early education to the new generation, parents as caregivers do not leave any stone unturned when it comes to preparation, application and payment of fees. Post admission, the education of the child becomes a shared responsibility of teachers as well as parents. Endless routine of rushed mornings, time-bound periods of teaching-studying, homework, assignments, evaluations and much more, ensues. Besides these, many other things come along with schooling - some good while some not that positive. While getting acquainted with a mini-world in a regulated environment of school, a child learns basic nuances of social interaction with peers, elders and the ones who are younger to him/her. The benefits of the same cannot be ignored, however there are parents who are opting out of the grind of the school system. They are passionate enough to take up the challenge of schooling their own children, allowing them to learn as they explore the world themselves.

Self Learning - Swashikshan

Homeschooling is a parallel methodology of imparting education to children. Parents choose to educate their children at home instead of sending them to a traditional public or private school. 'Families may choose to homeschool for a variety of reasons, including dissatisfaction with the educational options available, different religious beliefs or educational philosophies and the belief that children progress better when they learn at the pace that they set for themselves rather than being dictated by external impetus.' The homeschooling movement began in the 1970s when some authors and researchers such as John Holt and Dorothy and Raymond Moore started writing about educational reforms. Homeschooling as an alternative educational option was being suggested by these educational reformists. In Raymond S. Moore's words, "[Homeschooling]…recipe for genius : More of family and less of school, more of parents and less of peers, more creative freedom and less formal lessons." The trend of homeschooling is on the rise all over the world and in India, the Association of Homeschoolers is known by the name Swashikshan. It was formally launched in July, 2012 and is a community which takes pride in celebrating learning and growing without school. While minds of most of us are attuned to only one style of education - the traditional system, there are many other educational philosophies as well. Waldorf, Montessori, Charlotte Mason, classical, interest-led learning, unit study, leadership education - are just a few. Homeschoolers have the flexibility to pick and choose the mix that best suit their children's needs.

Praba Ram along with her husband began homeschooling her two children when they decided to break free from the limiting school experience. They are contented that they 'are able to provide an environment free from teacher triggered pressure and other unnecessary negativities. We also believe family values can be better incorporated and a child's natural learning methods can be nurtured and not squelched.'

When it comes to giving structure to education at home, parents use a good mix of unstructured studies and structured curriculum that follows either NCERT, CBSE or IGSCE. Institutes like National Institute of Open School (NIOS) offer plenty of flexible options to suit the requirements of learners of different streams.

Learning the art to learn
Homeschoolers at home adopt different strategies, some parents choose to give preference to only those subjects in which the child shows more interest while some introduce all subjects regularly encouraging the child to freely make his/her own curriculum. However there are some who do not adhere to any structure whatsoever.  Praba says, 'We determine a schedule around our needs and priorities, set the pace according to the child's unique interest, giving a balance of curricular and non-curricular activities with adequate time outside for them to interact with children in their age-group.' A homeschooling parent Sangeetha when asked - don’t you feel incapable of being the sole education provider, answered - 'I don't teach my children, I teach them to learn themselves. I provide material and expose them to different ways of learning, it is up to them to pick the one that suits them.' After having homeschooled her three children, she is one satisfied parent.

As the community of homeschooling families is growing rapidly, there is plethora of resources, curricula and social networks that are accessible to the desirables. The key objective of adopting the parallel means of education is to personalize and customize the education as per the individual talent and capability of the child and to let the students discover their passion and desire to learn in a conducive environment.  A parent-teacher gets the luxury to make it a reality which is unimaginable in formal school system with class strength of 40 to 60 students. Often homeschoolers say and believe that when you homeschool, all in the family learn rather than one teaching another.

When talking about this alternative form of education, lack of socialization is often mentioned as one major downside of homeschooling. But Dr. Mary Kay Clark, Director of Seton Home Study School for 25 years has an answer for this, 'don't worry about socialization. Wherever people congregate, there is going to be interaction, socialization. Where is it written that it needs to be in schools? ' Nonetheless, homeschoolers make sure that field trips, travel to see the places that one reads about, experiment based learning, play-dates, hobby classes, group outings and many other activities are included in this parent-directed education process.

Customized learning solution
When every individual is unique in so many ways, it is hard to find one method suiting all. If one goes by this logic then homeschooling is a great way which can be tailor made keeping in mind the needs and preferences of the learner. It may seem like an overwhelming proposition for the parents but then 'the only prerequisite of homeschooling is the desire to do so, along with a dedication to the educational process.' The idea of freedom from deadlines and strict time schedules sound very liberating. Moreover, the number of variables which can limit or interfere with the child's desired learning process can be reduced significantly. One gets the freedom from peer pressure, hobbies do not get ignored, family values are not compromised and as parents one can completely take control of the child's education.
 In Mahatma Gandhi's words, 'There is no school equal to a decent home and no teacher equal to a virtuous parent.'

Complete article here

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Article : The Blog Sphere (published in Trends : 25-10-2014)

Blogosphere : The Fifth Sphere of Earth!!

थोड़ी सी ज़मीन, थोड़ा आसमान... तिनकों का बस इक आशियाँ (a small piece of land, a handful of sky…a humble abode)
Lives are spent just fulfilling these simple wishes and desires. However, in current times when we are witnessing the many boons of internet in our lives, blogging is just a way to ensure that one can indeed get a little cyber space if nothing else. Yes, this has become the  fifth sphere of Earth beyond the well studied four - Geo, Litho, Hydro and Bio.

Blogging (which is actually the combination of two words - web and logging) is a method of journaling online. This four letter word is precise and accurate self description of the word - it is a log of writings posted publicly on the World Wide Web. Any blog has almost the similar format as that of a traditional diary and the entries (posts) are arranged in calendar format with the most recent post appearing first. Blogs may contain general observations, experiences, commentary on various issues, wishes and anything that a writer thinks about. Images, audio and videos can be a part of the posts. Blogs are like mini-websites but the best part is that they are free. Besides helping chronicle one's views in the manner that one likes, it gives immense opportunity to connect with people with similar interests, preferences and likings. It gives one a presence on the net, a presence which enables one to nurture relationships and build a reputation. Based on the areas on which bloggers write, virtual communities are getting formed whether it is of the zealot readers, travel enthusiasts, creative people, food connoisseurs, mommies, computer geeks - you name it and you will find a companion sharing  similar interests. So this is another area where boundaries of any sort from physical, religion, ethnic  to cultural, cannot put any hurdles.

Colours of Creativity

Rang décor is not just any blog, it is an epitome of colours, festivities, beauty, grace, exuberance and creativity. Just the header picture of the blog has the potential to light up one's day. Having been bestowed with a unique talent of capturing beauty in the most mundane things of everyday life through her camera, Archana Srinivas is a well known Indian blogger. She began blogging in the year 2007 as she 'needed a space exclusively for archiving and sharing interior design ideas from India.' She finds blogging as an outlet for keeping her creative instincts alive. Besides Rang Décor, she has a personal blog - Rang : The colours of life where she shares her various interests like photography, food, travel, art and everyday musings.


If one is in the mommy's blogosphere, it is hard to miss one of the most articulate bloggers gracing this arena - the madmomma. She began blogging in 2006 soon after she had her first child. She used to read American mommy bloggers and had a notion that there couldn't be too many Indian moms blogging. She began to blog as a way to record her thoughts. A while back, she was interviewed by blogadda and when she was asked 'what does she find the most gratifying aspect of blogging', she said, "I find the community it builds to be the best part of blogging. I don't believe in ethnic and religious communities. I believe in communities built on shared interests - they are stronger and are more stable."

Another mommy blogger artnavy ( says, "my blog is a journal of and for my kids. It serves a ready reckoner when memory fails". For her blogging is a passion and a discipline.

Travel Bugs 

Sankara Subramanianm is the founder of a well recognised and well respected travel blog - 'Be On The Road'.  He is of the opinion that blogging makes one a mini celebrity as more people connect with you. "It is a powerful medium which has given me appreciation in mainstream media, tourism boards, travel companies and much more. Moreover, through blogging I have met people with similar interests and today, many of them are my friends. "
Sankara's blog is his career, hobby and passion. This is his space where he gives expression to his creative juices and contributes his two cents to the world of online content. He says, 'Be On The Road is my platform to showcase my interests and my talent. In simple words, it is my brand and it represents me and my style of travel.'

Foodie's World

For the food blogger Aliena Verghese blogging began as a way to ward off the boredom of being confined to household chores. She started blogging in order to record the recipes online. 'I thought whatever I cook for my family and whatever they like, whatever can be easily accessed should be put into my own space.' She soon figured out that there were food enthusiasts who keep looking for recipes to try out and who became regular visitors of her blog. For her 'the joy of blogging is not in the statistics or in how many comments that I receive, but the joy lies behind in knowing that my recipes are being tried by someone else out there and how it turned out for them, the joy behind getting the dish right…that's where my happiness lies. Aliena is not the one to get complacent, so when she felt that blogging recipes was turning monotonous, she started getting invited to review restaurants, menu launches and product review. She feels that this has added an extra dimension to blogging.

Ranjani blogs about her musings, thoughts, experiences, children and life in general. She is not worried about how many people read it but she feels good writing about something which she strongly feels about. She says, "Blogging for me is also very cathartic, when I write during low and depressing times. It is almost like a monologue with a good friend, who just listens without saying anything. However, since the blog is open to all, I do draw a line with what I want to go public about."

Besides these handful of blogs, there is a huge blogging space where immensely talented people are adding their content online. The blogging trend is fast catching up with the younger generation as well. More and more children are going online to share with the world their opinions on everything from politics to fashion, books to bones. Yes there are bloggers as young as 8-9 years old who want to share their own findings, experiences and observations. Joanne Mallon has started a Kids Blog Club, a website that acts as a hub and support center for child bloggers and concerned parents. She has observed that the number of young bloggers is increasing every year.

Besides helping the bloggers have an online identity, it is observed that giving expression to feelings and thoughts has various other advantages too. In one of the studies conducted by Scientific American the therapeutic benefits of blogging were discussed. It was mentioned, "besides serving as a stress-coping mechanism, expressive writing produces many psychological benefits. Research shows that it improves memory and sleep, boosts immune cell activity and reduces viral load in AIDS patients and even speeds healing after surgery. A study of the Oncologist reports that cancer patients who engaged in expressive writing just before the treatment felt markedly better, mentally and physically, as compared to the patients who did not." Some hospitals have taken it as a helpful cue in the treatment of their patients and have started hosting patient-authored blogs on their Web sites. Nancy Morgan lead author of the Oncologist says, "Individuals are connecting to one another and witnessing each other's expressions - the basis of forming a community".

While sharing one's feelings, thoughts and opinions is fine, one must always keep in mind that with every word that one puts online, a digital footprint gets created. So one must be aware of the security issues and as such, blogging allows the authors to exercise full control of when to share, how much to share and with whom to share. Happy Blogging!!!

Published in The Tribune (Trends).

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.

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