Her life can be seen through two lenses- Pre and Post partition. The life of Ra’ana Liaquat Ali Khan, wife of the first Prime Minister of Pakistan, began in Pre-Independence India. A participant in the freedom movement, her achievements and dedicated work for the causes she supported, continued with vigour when she became the first lady.
A remarkable life. Two narratives woven together to create a tapestry of the life and times of one exceptional woman. The first narrative is born in India, and the other, in Pakistan. These two strings make the story of her life in the The Begum – A portrait of Ra’ana Liaquat Ali Khan, Pakistan’s Pioneering First Lady by Deepa Agarwal and Tahmina Aziz Ayub
Deepa Agarwal, based in India accesses some family documents and background material to paint a portrait of Irene who later converted into Islam and became Begum Ra’ana Liaquat Ali Khan. Agarwal does not present a biography. She presents a story, and that is what makes it so interesting. While the story of the Begum is always at the core, there are many interesting background tales that add flavour. I found the story of her grandfather’s conversion to Christianity in the orthodox Kumaon, quite fascinating. In a sense, through Ra’ana’s story, we get a painted picture of pre-partition India.
Begum Ra’ana Liaquat Khan was born Irene Ruth Margaret Pant in 1905. She had a Brahmin lineage and was a practicing Christian till 1933, when she converted to Islam after her marriage. she was fiercely independent and extremely devoted to the cause of welfare in Pakistan, that rightly earned her the title of “Mother of Pakistan”.
Her fascinating life could be seen from two different perspectives, and this is exactly what the book sets out to do. Deepa Agarwal goes into deep anecdotal research that illuminates the personality of this extraordinary woman, till she left India and settled forever in Pakistan, while co-writer Tahmina Aziz Ayub writes about Ra’ana Liaquat Ali Khan as a great humanitarian and activist in Pakistan. This collaborative work converges into one book. Together, it brings alive this alluring personality.
The first part of The Begum established what a prolific person Ra’ana was. However, the readers’ admiration for the fiery First Lady will only go on to increase in the second part of the book. It beautifully chronicles how she picked up pieces of her life together after the terrible event of her husband’s assassination. Her activities towards betterment of the women of Pakistan continued relentlessly. She took up diplomatic assignments abroad and worked for her country even when she was living abroad. She proved to be a great example of an emancipated woman, who continues to be a role model even today.
Once in Pakistan, she continued her activities especially in the realms of women and social welfare. She was known to be far-sighted and very devoted to the cause of women empowerment. The culmination of these efforts saw the creation and rise of the All Pakistan Women’s Association (APWA) that continues its activities till date. Ayub continues the narrative from the other side of the border.
« Within days of their arrival in Karachi, Liaquat Ali was asked by Jinnah to take over as Prime Minister of the new State of Pakistan. Since Ra’ana had already been his full-time political partner during their early struggles, she was fully equipped to step into the shoes of the first lady of the country »
Ayub paints a poignant picture of Ra’ana’s resilience and continued devotion to Pakistan even after her husband’s death. The book chronicles the manner by which she worked relentlessly and mobilised the support for the causes she so much believed in. Ra’ana’s contribution towards the emancipation of Pakistani women will be remembered as a lasting and irreplaceable legacy.
In the background…
For me, one of the unexpected delights of this book was knowing about the background of the times she was born in. Deepa Agarwal evokes the ethos of the the times through her authentic research presented almost like a story. I think the idea of this background sketching, and a detailed one at that, is to show how she was a product of her life experiences and her family situation.
It also places in context her gradual involvement with the independence movement, moving on to support for the two-nation theory, meeting her husband and ultimately moving to Pakistan as the First Lady.
The Begum is a very inspiring book in that it tells the story of a truly wonderful woman who braved all odds and set an example of dedication and service to her country and also for for women in her country and beyond.
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a tree! Adapted from the Poem by Klara Kottner-Benigni and published as an exquisitely illustrated picture book by Katha Books, seems to accomplish a two-fold purpose. On one level, it is a simple story with a deep message- that of saving a tree. The message is for young children, and hence written in a direct and appealing manner that will immediately resonate with children.
At another level, it serves to showcase the brilliance of Indian tribal art. The motif of the tree is sacred to all our indigenous tribes. After all, who could be more rooted to nature that these groups? The tree is portrayed in different expressions. Madhubani, Warli, Kurumba, Bhil and Gond art forms present their own unique takes on the tree.The book is also available in Hindi…
What remains constant however, is the reverence towards the tree. As one turns over the pages of the book one gets a sense of the kind of abundant life a tree supports in its bosom. But alas, there is a cry for survival. Fortunately, there is a lot that even a young child can do to save trees. In the final part of the book, simple steps show the child how little steps can lead on to something big.
In a sense, the book presents two big ideas to little children. The first is the idea of conservation, afforestation, and the dangers of cutting down trees. The second idea pertains to the richness of our indigenous art forms.
As the child turns the page, not only will she be delighted in the intricate and minute detailing of each image, but will also learn about some key features of particular styles of painting. Of course, the simple and highly readable text gives the message of conservation quite aptly.
Read the book through the first time with the child, so she gets the basic theme. Consequently, focus on the paintings that have been produced on each page. At the end of the book, there is information on the varied schools of art that these paintings adhere to. Share a nugget or two with the child, and make the experience of reading the book more meaningful!
a tree! by Klara Kottner-Benigni provides a gentle nudge to young readers, opening their minds and hearts, just like a good book should do!
Title: a tree!
Author: by Klara Kottner-Benigni
Publisher: Katha Books
Genre: Picture Books
Age group: 3-7
You may also like another series by Katha, that talks about exile: https://www.bookedforlife.in/books-and-ideas/portraits-of-exile-by-aaniya-asrani/
I have recently become a die-hard Paul Auster fan and wanted to read more of his books. The Music of Chance has a parable-like edge to it, with a bit of existentialism and Greek references, not to mention Paul Auster’s top favourite things which you will always find in his books-
The book reads like a fairy tale but with a cutting edge to it that makes one sit back and think over the words, the narration, et al. Paul Auster uses the power of the third-person narrative to tell his stories, which sound like he’s going to spook you, but it’s just his way of framing a sentence – EVERY SENTENCE— to make you stand up and take notice. This third-person narrative is also present in this tiny book of his – ‘The Music of Chance’.
This is the story of Jim Nashe who has responsibilities but who leaves it all for the life on the road. He travels in his red car with a few essentials which later on we realize are some of his music sheets which he used while playing the piano. One day, he picks up a bruised young man called Jack Pozzi who claims he is a poker genius. Jim is out of cash and he needs some money badly. So, he takes Jack for his word and gets into a poker game with the most bizarre set of millionaires, Flower and Stone.
Jack compares Flower and Stone to the immortal comedy duo of Oliver Hardy and Sam Laurel. I’ve seen that Paul Auster in many of his books refers to this duo at some point or the other in his narratives, thus I infer the author is infatuated with them.
Flower is similar to Hardy while Stone to Laurel. They have, unlike the original comedy duo as portrayed in their comedies, won a great sum of money on a lottery ticket and now are millionaires. Resourceful Flower who is an accountant has doubled their money through judicious investment of their winnings in stocks and bonds, and so they are now multi-millionaires. Stone is quiet, lets Flower do most of the talking, just like the Laurel of the comedy duo, interrupting only to speak frankly without ‘flowery language’ and to fill in the gaps ‘with a stone like voice.’
With these people Jack decides to play poker, expecting to win. But he doesn’t, and Jack has no more money to play or pay. They therefore sign an agreement to build a certain wall with the stones of an Irish castle brought down by the millionaires. Jim and Jack would have to build the wall alone to pay back their dues for losing at poker.
Let me focus your attention on the wall and the stones required to build the wall.
According to me, the stones are the jobs we do every day while at work: doing the same thing over and over again. We do it thinking that we will be remembered in some way for our efforts. But we are wrong, for the wall is more important than the people putting it together. The wall or our means of eking out a livelihood will be the only thing remembered; that’s it. We get actually next to nothing for our work, both blue- or white-collar workers. There are references in the book, as Jack and Jim carry the stones to build the wall, which show us that it’s all about the job and not about the individual:
And so many other hidden messages about how at last money has started to rule us, and the sociology of understanding work is deeper than we think.
But the story began with poker.
Jack Pozzi was an ace poker player and was sure that he would win against the millionaires. This had nothing to do about ‘chance.’ Jack was absolutely certain that Flower and Stone were going to lose. But alas! Jack lost ‘by chance’ and ended up having to build the wall along with Jim.
When Jack Pozzi assured Jim Nashe that he could win a game of poker, those words to Jim were indeed ‘the music of chance’ – the chance that he would earn money and head back to his daughter. It was by chance that he met Jack Pozzi. It was by chance that Pozzi failed. It was all by chance, destiny, luck, providence, God’s almighty hand – whatever you call it.
The book has a simple plot, but written with penmanship near perfection. I’ve seen that Paul Auster has a power over you as he writes in the third-person narrative style. He wants to pack a punch with a thrill in every sentence, and he does too. Every line and every word are digested by the reader. ‘The Music of Chance’ is a work of a master; you’ve just got to read this book by Paul Auster.
I highly recommend this book to all literary fiction lovers. If you like books with hidden parables in it then you should read this book. If you like books with few characters but with a strong gripping plot with a lot of intellectual matter to chew on then this is the book for you. If you want to read a smart literary fiction book which is easy to read and interesting enough to make you sit at the edge of your seat then you should read ‘The Music of Chance’ by Paul Auster.
I cried when Paul Auster describes the rigors of our regular working lives. We do so much, and at the end of the day we earn less than little. We spend most of our one life just at our jobs; when will we start living? When will we start ‘living’ the reason why we are working for in the first place?! These and many other questions will pop up in you head when you read this literary masterpiece ‘The Music of Chance.’
I look forward to reading more of Paul Auster’s books this summer and you should too!
This review first appeared on www.insaneowl.com
One of the best loved modern authors, his simple stories and prolific work transcends age. His first novel was “The Room On the Roof”, was published when he was 21 and is partly based on the experiences at Dehra in his small rented room on the roof.
Love for the mountain towns and descriptions of beautiful hills and landscapes of north India are a characteristic feature of his works. The beauty of Bond’s stories lies in their simplicity. He talks about simple people who one encounters in day to day life. His language is simple and highly readable. But the best feature in my opinion is probably his sense of humor. He describes even sad events with a tinge of humour.
On reading his works, one gets a feeling that he has a deep understanding of the human mind and heart, especially of children. He is an Anglo-Indian, but yet, writes about India from an Indian perspective. If one reads his “autobiographies”, which are like leaves from his journals, they are very similar to his stories. He writes about what he experiences. Indeed, he is a master storyteller.
Books about books
He has written “The Puffin Good Reading Guide for Children” which has a selection of classical and contemporary books for children aged 4-16. The selections are from all over the world. You may use this as a guide if you’re not sure which book to read to your child, or if you’re in need for more rounded advice!
He also talks about the books that he has loved in a couple of titles- Love Among the Bookshelves and Confessions of a Book Lover . These books about books are very delightful and give an insight into the books that have made him what he is today. They also have passages from the books he recommends and so it’s like a taster for what you could go on to read.
Nature is the predominant theme of Ruskin bond’s stories. The recently released A Little Book of Flowers is a book dedicated to poetic descriptions of his favourite flowers, packed with facts and nuggets about these beauties! Rain in the Mountains: Notes from the Himalayas brings alive the natural bounty of the Himalayas. My Favourite Nature Stories chronicles more interactions with nature.
Journal all the way
Bond has come out with a hauntingly beautiful journal, where you can relish some amazing illustrations, some inspiring lines from his works, and a whole lot of space to write down your thoughts. It’s called Words from the Hills, and you can read a detailed review here.
Thoughts on life
In a life rich with experiences, both sorrowful and happy, and in a life lived in close proximity to nature, bond has some beautiful and heartfelt words of advice and comfort to share with his readers. All his books contain expressions of his life-philosophies which are very honest and simple and will really resonate deeply with the reader. My favourite is The Book of Simple Things. Other suggestions include A Little Book of Happiness, The Little Book of Comfort, A Little book of Courage and A Little Book of Life. A Box of Happiness, that comprises of 3 Books is also a good series to read for thoughts on happiness and serenity.
You cannot live amongst the hills and not meet a ghost or two! Face in the Dark and Other Hauntings: Collected Stories of the Supernatural is apt for young adults. A Face in the Dark and Other Hauntings is another spooky book filled with supernatural encounters as is Whispers in the Dark: A Book of Spooks
Bond has edited a book called “Ghost Stories from the Raj” that look at encounters of British officers with the paranormal.
A lot of his work is autobiographical. However, his latest autobiography, Lone Fox Dancing is a tome that very comprehensively leads the reader through his eventful life, in the lap of nature. Looking for the Rainbow also chronicles his life, and has been written with a young readership in mind. This the first of a trio of books that talk about his life, the other two being,
One of the best ways to inspire children to reach and perform at their optimum best, is to narrate stories of individuals who are recognised as achievers. No wonder, biographies and autobiographies that are written for children and young adults are quite popular! Wonder Kids- 100 Children who grew up to be champions of change is an impactful read. Written by Anu Kumar, and published by Hachette India, the book has short and compact stories that provide a window to view the childhood of icons from different walks of lives. The essence that one takes away is that greatness and spectacular achievements often have roots in childhood.
A great mix of personalities both alive and dead, men and women, Indian and foreign, young and old find their way onto these pages. Arranged in alphabetical order according to the names of the famous personalities, each chapter briefly narrates the life story of the individual. A short introduction provides a snippet of what he or she has accomplished. The chapter then illustrates their story. I love the way the focus of the narrative is always on the role of childhood events and the childhood experiences of that personality.
I think this element really works wonders for the young readers. For example, when they read how Bill Gates, at thirteen, made his first acquaintance with computers, they would be able to see his success in context. After all, the seeds of that success were sown at that tender age!
The inclusion of key figures who may be less known but still have made remarkable achievements is another factor that works for this book. The story of Janaki Ammal, one of the first women scientists in India for instance, is very inspirational as is the story of computer visionary Ada Lovelace.
The illustrations by Mohit Suneja work in tandem with the text. In each chapter a speech bubble highlights a key fact or quote from the personality, adding to the fun of reading it.
There are some popular current icons such as Sachin Tendulkar, JK Rowling, Mark Zuckerberg, Malala or icons from the past such as Rabindranath Tagore and Anne Frank. Some of the personalities go way back in history, such as Akbar and Mozart! There is a good balance between the male and female personalities chosen, and I think that makes the book quite well-rounded.
Wonder Kids- 100 Children who grew up to be champions of change by Anu Kumar is a book one must buy to dip into from time to time, to read, and then reread. It will resonate with children from age 9 up, as well as with young adults. In addition to the inspirational angle, I think this book is a captivating way to introduce information about different people from varied walks of life, with the point of view of enhancing general knowledge.
In life’s long journey one experiences millions of moments, some big, some small, some insignificant, some life changing. In these entire moments one can’t help but wonder- Do we make the moments in our lives or do the moments make us? Exploring this unique quandary is Tanaz Bhathena’s The Beauty of the Moment, published by Penguin.
A sweet, innocent teenage romance is portrayed with an undercurrent of depth and angst making this a perfect young adult novel. While the story is the usual cliché of boy meets girl, boy loses girl and boy wins girl back- it is the elements of cheating parents, moving cities and teenage angst that sets the book apart from the rest.
Susan Thomas has recently moved to Canada to pursue her education along with her mother while her father continues to remain in Saudi Arabia. Susan finds it difficult to adjust to her new surrounding and is portrayed standoffish and introverted. However, when she meets Malcolm Vakil, things take a tumultuous turn and we are left with a classic teen crush. Susan’s reluctance to mix with her peers and her uninterested demeanour is superbly expressed through various scenes. Malcolm’s tense relationship with his family and uninspired approach is something every teen might have experienced.
Bhathena takes her time to set the stage for her story and adopts a leisurely pace while exploring her characters. Alternating between Susan and Malcolm point of view, the book gives equal weightage to both the central characters giving the reader varying perspectives. The innocence of their courtship, slow burn of desire and inevitable pain of your first break up will bring back bittersweet memories of your first love. Although the characters are teens, they show a remarkable amount of maturity and girt in the face of adversity.
The Beauty of the Moment is a delightful read for young adults and teenagers who are looking for a light romance.
Title: The Beauty of the Moment
Author: Tanaz Bhathena
Mehboob Murderer, which is journalist Nupur Anand’s debut novel, revolves around a mass shooting in a cafe. Who killed the six people in a Parsi café? Why is the murderer still roaming free? Pressure mounts on recently promoted officer Abbas to solve this mystery. On one hand there is pressure from the media. On the other, there is political pressure. In midst of this is a tale that reveals and reflects the struggles of the people living in Mumbai.
Mehboob Murderer slices open the underbelly of the so called ‘City of Dreams’. The story captures the flavour of Mumbai perfectly and even draws inspiration from actual events that rocked the city – be it firing in cafes or murders in an isolated factory compound. The way the life of policemen is portrayed, makes the reader want to offer comfort and support to them! It drives home the point that they live, breathe and exist around their jobs. One can almost smell and taste the cliché of ‘feeling alone in a crowd’!
Any good book captures a wide repertoire of emotions. The struggle, loneliness and feeling of being overwhelmed by circumstances come across strongly. What I would have loved to feel with these is also the sense of exhilaration and contentment. Another thing that would have elevated the book is the entire ‘sleuthing’ process. A lot the clue hunting is coincidental or not clearly driven home. Mehboob Murderer focuses so much on the individuals that it slows down what could have been a racy, nail-biting plot. It nevertheless touches the soul of Mumbai city – No matter what problem befalls or disaster strikes, life goes on! in that sense, this is a novel that beautifully captures the spirit of the city.
Mehboob Murderer has benefitted from the extensive journalistic experience of Nupur Anand. The story is based in the heart of Mumbai and captures the truth of the ‘Golden City’ where everyone is fighting their own battles and demons.
Unlucky Chumki by Lesley D Biswas is a hOle book by Duckbill, that takes a peek into the life of Chumki- a bright fun-loving little girl who lives in an Indian village. She loves going to school and is brimming with life and enthusiasm. But, there is a little problem. Chumki is considered unlucky. Everyone says that she can make things go wrong with her “magic”. Why is this so? How can she get over this obstacle that makes her feel terrible every single day!
As the story cruises Chumki’s life the reader gets many undertones of the gender stereotyping and the prevalence of superstitions in our country and society. The reason why Chumki is perceived as unlucky is rooted in superstition and lack of knowledge. However, this is brought out quite beautifully in a very fun filled story, that is also loaded with humour.
Luckily, Chumki is a spirited girl, and does not allow anything to dampen her spirits, lest of all tradition and superstition. Turning a supposed disadvantage to an advantage is the sign of a winner, is it not? As luck would have it, her brother Aki hatches a plan, and she is a part of it, but on her own terms. The story follows the children as they execute the plan. Will she now get friends? Will she be happier? Does her luck finally turn around? The illustrations by Anupama Ajinkya Apte add to the spunk of the story!
The ‘hOle books’by Duckbill experiment slightly with the book form. As the name suggests, these books with a ‘hOle’, add a fun element to the book. There is a hole at the top right end of each book, which somehow younger children find very fascinating!
On the surface, Ba’az of the Bengal Lancers has all the elements of a great novel- a rich historical backdrop, a hidden treasure, a tough and determined lead character and a gripping mystery. However, there is nothing clichéd about this book. The writing style, scenes and dialogues ensure that the Ba’az of the Bengal Lancers is unlike anything you’ve read before.
Written by first time author Uttiyo Bhattacharya, Ba’az of the Bengal Lancers is set during the Sepoy Mutiny of 1857. Following the death of the last Mughal emperor, Bahadur Shah Zafur, Bayaz-ud-din Waris Ali Khan becomes the sole guardian of a priceless treasure. Unsure of what to do with this treasure, Ba’az leaves behind traces and clues for those brave enough to find it.
After several years go by, a young architect stumbles upon this dark secret. He decides to chase history thereby discovering the lost treasure. The story follows his quest for this timeless treasure and uncovers some disturbing secrets along the way.
One of the best parts of the Ba’az of the Bengal Lancers is the sharp and concise way in which it is written. It gives abundance of information without deviating from the main story. The detailed way in which pre-independent India has been described is a delight to read as it gives an interesting account of the state of affairs of the bygone era. The author has ensured that each historical reference is fact checked and accurate.
The characters are well written and compelling in their personalities and one cannot help but feel invested in the main character Ba’az. His razor-sharp mind combined with his thirst for knowledge is well defined throughout the story. The supporting characters add to the drama of the narrative and enrich this historical saga.
Ba’az of the Bengal Lancers is an exciting read as it keeps the reader hooked onto the story until the last page. A classic case of will he find the treasure or not helps maintain the attention of the reader. Those looking for a little bit of history along with some mystery will find this book the perfect read.
Title: Ba’az of the Bengal Lancers
Author: Uttiyo Bhattacharya
The book, as the title suggests is about flowers. Each flower gets a chapter of its own, where he poetically describes its character and personality. There are some lovely illustrations that bring the flower to life and snippets of poetry as well. There is a small quote to finish off each chapter, followed by lined pages where readers can jot down observations.
What you will realize as well is how Bond succeeds in bringing out the unique personality of each flower. As I read the book, I realized that each flower is much more than a mere snippet of beauty. Personification at its best? I surely think so!
The book is a treat for nature lovers. It also makes for a great gift, especially to someone who is fond of nature. I can well imagine this book be an integral part of a garden hamper! You may combine it with another colourful illustrated journal by Ruskin Bond, titled Words from the Hills, which also evokes the beauty of nature and has a lot of free space to write down thoughts. A Little Book of Flowers is a very quick read, and a short book, but it is something that you may want to turn to again and again.
More books by Ruskin Bond: