Thursday, 31 August 2017

Listening for Well-Being - Book Review


How would you feel if you entered the cinema hall seeing the poster of a Salman Khan film and instead of a blockbuster masala film, an insipid government documentary was dished out on your face. You may say this contingency is not likely to occur. Well something on the similar lines happened when I picked up Listening for Well-Being Conversations with People Not Like Us.

The catchy title had increased my expectations. I wanted to learn to how to listen to people who are not like me. That is exactly what the title promised right. After skimming through the initial few pages, I thought that perhaps the style of the writer was different from other self-help books. But after reading further, I realized that I was wrong.

The author simply seems to have forgotten that a book is meant for the readers. Absorbed and lost in his own days of planning commission, he simply misses to forge any sort of connect with his readers.

This book is neither a self-help book nor is it an interesting memoir. Enter it at your own risk, is all that I can say.

Wednesday, 30 August 2017

The Greatest Urdu Stories Ever Told

The Greatest Urdu Stories Ever Told is undoubtedly a gathering of the finest stories I have ever read. There are twenty five stories in this collection. The introduction to the book by the translator is also worth being treasured. It offers hereto unknown insights about Urdu stories. I knew Munshi Premchand as one of the greatest writers in Hindi. The introduction told me that he is the first professional short story writer in Urdu. Now, this completely shattered the image of the man who portrayed poverty in most of his poignant works.

The story which I liked the most is Beyond the Fog by Qurratulain Hyder. Until now for me short stories were good only if they had a very strong emotional content. I don’t mean to say that the aforesaid story lacks it. But this story of rags to riches of a sweeper woman’s daughter is packed with entertainment quotient. I could not control the mirth which aroused after reading this story. This story for me is a course in story telling itself. Purists may prune it aside saying this story tells and doesn’t show. But as a reader I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Toba Tek Singh another story in the collection by Saddat Hasan Manto narrates the plight of lunatics in an asylum in pre-partition India. On partition the Hindu lunatics will be swapped for the Muslim lunatics in India. This story is quest of a lunatic to know on which side of the border his town Toba Tek lies. Premchand’s The Shroud is different from the rest of his work that I have read. This story if of two lazy men, a father and son. They strangulate the humanity by feasting upon the funeral expenses of the wife of the son. Obscure Domains of Fear and Desire by Naiyer Masud demonstrates how the mind both desires and undesires the desires. In Rajinder Singh Bedi’s Laajwanti the wife who has returned from her captor says. ‘He never hurt me. And yet I was afraid of him. You used to beat me, but I never felt scared of you.’

Banished is another jewel in this collection by Jamila Hashmi. In this story set amidst the turbulent times of partition, Sitaji accepts the life with Ravan. Anandi by Ghulam Abbas shows how remote areas turn into magnificent suburbs. The Saga of Jaanki Raman Pandey is another masterpiece in this collection. This is a tale of Muslim junior wife of a Hindu and the walls that stand between them, the walls which are not pulled down even after his death.

A startling fact about this collection is that the stories sound very contemporary, even after years of their publication. In the Fable of a Severed Head by Sajid Rashid, a family is left with a tough choice, whether to admit that the head is of a family member, who the police say was a terrorist. The Vultures of Parsi Cemetery by Ali Imam Naqvi reflects how humanity is dying on the streets. The Tree by Tassaduq Sohail is about a tree which thinks there is nothing after death. I really liked this story for its treatment.

Ismat Chughtai’s Of Fists and Rubs is a hard hitting tale about botched up abortions carried out at home. Poignancy, disgust, anger, disbelief all this welled up inside my chest while reading this story.

Yes some of the stories are too prosaic and difficult to comprehend, yet they are outnumbered by stories which are literary marvels. I knew Urdu literature was rich. But this book told me that it is prosperous beyond my imagination. This book is surely not to be missed.

Tuesday, 29 August 2017

On India - Book Review

On India is a collection of writings by Khuswant Singh. It is edited by his daughter Mala Dayal. According to the editor though Khuswant Singh had said that he was not proud to be an Indian, his heart was clearly in India, specially in Delhi, which he gave seven reasons for loving. These seven reasons are featured in this collection. He has also written about the other three metros. His description of Mumbai made me throw up. He describes it as a filthy city and with almost no greenery. Yes, Delhi is greener but when it comes to squalor it is at par with Mumbai. Speaking of the change of name to Mumbai, he says no educated Indian calls it anything other than Bombay. Now this is a partisan view not supported by any research. I hail from a highly educated Maharashtrian family and all my relatives have always called it Mumbai. Not because of regional pride, but because it was simply Mumbai for them.

His write up about Madras is delightful, but his writing about Calcutta is cryptic. It shows his utter lack of interest in the city of joy. He is silent on change of name of these two cities for reasons best known to him.

His renditions of Guru Nanak’s Barah Mah are simply a delight. He takes digs at the VIP culture and the celebrity preachers who have cropped up in every religion.

Wounds of partition are evident in Khuswant Singh’s writings. He narrates in a poignant manner how Christians and Parsis painted their outer walls declaring their religion and Hindus and Sikhs were uprooted from their own homes. He speaks of Royalties who had a European as a junior wife. But she did not hail from any royal family. She was either a nurse, stenographer or a bar dancer. He writes how difficult it was for them to adjust to their newly exalted status.

His Sikh pride and allegiance towards the congress party is evident from his writings. He says ‘We have lost in Gujarat, we may lose in some other states and the fundoos may rule us while paying lip service to secularism – or not even that. But I still hope that revulsion against them will build up and they will eventually be thrown into the garbage can of history, where they belong. It is the duty of every sane Indian to put them there.

He writes about Hindu God men and yoga masters and writes about their internal rivalry.

He steps into the territory which caused lot of trouble to the celebrated author Perumal Murugan. He says : ‘Some Hindu communities preserve strange customs. The men among the Bishnois, a small group inhabiting a desert track west of Delhi, choose the fittest young man in the community and make him Gama Shah ka Sand – the stud bull of Gama Shah – their legendary hero. The stud bull’s main function is to impregnate wives of impotent or sterile Bishnois. When the men are at work in the fields, the stud visits the homes of the needy. His ornate pair of slippers left conspicuously on the threshold indicates that the housewife is busy.’

In spite of all the eccentricities and flaws this book is highly readable. The old Sardar never disappoints.

Monday, 28 August 2017

The Story of My Second Marriage


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Extraordinary Indians - Book Review


Extraordinary Indians is a collection of Khuswant Singh’s earlier published pieces. They have been culled out from his estate, after his death. So this book comes with a disclaimer that it is difficult to accurately source the name of the publication in which the pieces first appeared. That doesn’t make the book any less interesting.

The personalities in this book range from Gurunanak to Indira Gandhi and from Kabir to Protima Bedi. The book is divided into six sections – Politicians, Spiritual Leaders, Writers/Artists, Family and Friends and Others. Lal Krishna Advani and Sanjay Gandhi are listed under the section And Two Who Flattered To Deceive. Whether this heading is the handiwork of the author or the editor, we will perhaps never know.

The old Sardar was a living storm and even after his death he continues to ruffle a few feathers. The same is evident from the way he describes the cold, dry and detached attitude of Mother Teresa while tending to the sick. Speaking of Abdul Kalam he says, ‘However one hopes that like Atal Behari Vajpayee Kalam too will stop his little attempts at versification after he takes over as President of India.

Figures of history like Gurunanak, Kabir appear an oddity in this collection. But yet Khuswant Singh enlightens us on little known faucets of these gems. Speaking of fasting Roza he tells us that Ghalib wrote ‘I observe fasts, but keep my fasts well-humoured with occasional sips of water, and a few puffs of the hookah. Now and then I eat a few morsels of bread also. People here have a strange sense of things and a strange disposition. I am just whiling away the fast, but they accuse me of non-observance of this holy ritual. They should understand that skipping the fasts is one thing, and whiling them away is quite another.’ In the post on Mir Taqi Mir he tells us that at one time Urdu novelists and chroniclers used to have appendices to their works in which they included their favourite jokes which had nothing whatsoever to do with the themes of their books.

Speaking of Maulana Azad he says that about Samad he said, ‘He stood on the minaret of love from which the walls of kaba and the temple appeared of equal height.’ He tells how Mr. Azad was against the partition of the country. Rather he had sensed it was of the opinion that Muslims should never be at the forefront of the freedom movement. He tells us that though there were translations of the Holy Quran in numerous languages, Mr. Azad felt that it had complicated the otherwise simple word of the God and hence undertook the task of translation.

Khuswant’s Singh writing as usual is piquant and engaging. Whether you are fan of Khuswant Singh or not, you will immensely enjoy this book.

Thursday, 24 August 2017

The Story of My Second Marriage

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Unlawful Justice - Book Review

Vish Dhamija’s Unlawful Justice is divided into three parts. Vansh Diwan and his wife are advocates. Mahinder has a chequered background. Vansh deals all his cases and major chunk of his income is derived from Mahinder’s litigations. In part one Mahinder’s son Maheep rapes Vansh’s maid’s daughter and leaves her in a vegetative state. In part two Maheep is killed and the killer is unknown. Mahinder accuses Vansh’s help Gayatri as in an emotional outburst, she had vowed to kill Maheep. The third part is the criminal trial.

I really liked the twist in the second part. I was wondering where the novel will head when the rapist is revealed in the first few chapters. But with Maheep’s killing the author strikes a master stroke. You are riveted to your seats and read with great expectations. As a seasoned reader you know Gayatri hasn’t murdered Maheep. But then who is the culprit?

Unfortunately to know that you have undergo a few hiccups under the name of legal trial. And here the novel falters. The trial is unrealistic and mundane. For crimes like rape and murder no arrest warrant is required. Anticipatory bails are not granted by Magistrates and accused doesn’t have to prove anything in criminal trials. Unfortunately the author has got all these things wrong. For someone who claims to be master of legal crime and courtroom drama in India, these mistakes are unpardonable.

Speaking of the writing, the writer is verbose but not boring. He has spends too much ink to convey an idea which could be told in just a sentence. Yet, his writing kept me glued. This is his success as an author.

There are some books which you wont repent reading and wont repent not reading either. Unlawful Justice falls into that category. That sums up it all.

Saturday, 19 August 2017

The Story of My Second Marriage


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Pathshala Funwala


He sat amidst the squalor. His house, with asbestos sheets as its walls didn’t have any window. But the windows of his heart were always open. He wanted to learn and his mother encouraged him to do so. His house though small was no less than a museum. Drums of various sizes were properly arranged at the entrance. The plastic bottles were kept in a big net. The newspapers and magazines were the only things which were allowed inside the house not because they were special but they were likely to be damaged by rains or the dogs that fought for no reason in the night.

This is how his romance with the letters in the print started. He had been to a primary school where he learnt to read and write in Marathi. So he would pick up Marathi newspaper and magazine and read out the stories in it. His mother would stand akimbo and listen to him. He read about the Taj Mahal and the Marina beach and they visited both these places sitting on the words of print and using some imagination. Shankar’s reading had opened a new world to Gangubai. She had never heard these stories from anyone. The only stories she heard living in that ghetto were of women who were abused by their husbands and men who were drenched in liquor. His reading gave them a new purpose of life to both of them. They laughed together and tears voluntarily rolled down their eyes when they read a poignant tale.

Aai what if I could read those English magazines?’ Shankar asked one day. The English magazines always stood apart from their Marathi counterparts. Their pages were glossy and the men and women that featured in them appeared from another planet. Plus it contained pictures of foreign locations. ‘Wow, it would be indeed a great experience. I am all ears to hear those stories from English magazines. But will you please translate those stories for me in Marathi. You know I don’t know English.’ Gangubai told Shankar.
Aai where I know English?’ Shankar said and the dejected duo didn’t feel like reading anything that day.

Then one day Shankar’s eyes fell upon an advertisement in the newspaper. Just give a missed call on 8055667788 and learn English it said. Shankar borrowed his mother’s mobile phone. She worked as a domestic help and her employer had given her his old mobile phone so that he could contact her. Shankar called the number and life changed for good for both him and his mother. They never thought learning English was so easy. The first lesson they learnt over the phone from Shanti didi was when you meet you say Hi in English and when you leave you say Bye to each other. That day Shankar just stepped in and out of the house. The moment he entered he would say Gangubai Hi and before going out he would say Bye. Even Gangubai started exchanging Hi and Bye with him. Shanti didi kept on teaching them English over the phone. Shanti didi had turned English learning into a fun activity. Never before was learning English so easy for them. One step a day, they made considerable progress over a couple of months. Soon both of them began to read the English newspapers and magazines which they always wanted to read. Their joy knew no bounds. Who says only schools and colleges offer good education?

So if you have anyone around who wants to learn English please share this number 8055667788 and open the gateways to their learning.
I am blogging about Pathshala Funwala by Nihar Shanti Amla Oil in association with BlogAdda

Wednesday, 2 August 2017

Half Pants Full Pants - Book Review


With half pants full pants, Anand Supi transports us into the world of 1980s. He makes us revisit our childhood in small towns, when there were no gazettes and where time stretched endlessly like today’s TV serials. This isn’t a novel. But it is a collection of childhood memories. Slightly distorted, slightly incoherent, yet immensely enjoyable.

Today’s generation, which is born into abundance and where new things pour into the house at the click of the mouse, would never understand what a joy it was to buy a new mixer or TV set in the 1980s. It was a sort of celebration, for which the entire lane and all the family and friends gate crashed and the hosts happily absorbed them into their festivities like a sponge. Half pants full pants may help them imagine that world, which if not a global village, was a village family for sure.

The ten paise coins battered under the trains, the pee breaks, the rubber lizards, the early crude versions of reward points, Anand Supi gets everything right and gives the book some verisimilitude. If you are a child who grew in this time period read the book for it is nostalgic, if you are a child born in today’s digital world, read the book to know how was the childhood of your parents.