It is often said that a dancer embodies the true spirit of the universe as it involves no caste, colour, religion or gender. It is an artistic form of self-expression that sometimes transcends space and time as well. Author Anmol Arora explores themes of identity, love and ambition through dance in a compelling debut novel, The Last Dance, published by Speaking Tiger Publishing that carries the reader along with it till the end.
At the peak of the Kurdish-Turkey conflict in 1991, 11-year-old Ayla and her family find themselves embroiled in controversy. Her father has been accused of anti-national activities which forces them to flee their homeland and take refuge in Delhi. An offhand prediction by a fortune teller convinces Ayla’s mother that her daughter was born for the world of dance. She enrols Ayla in a Pratistha, a dance school run by Guru Chandrashekhar. Ayla develops a fascination for Bharatnatyam, and sets her sights on fame and success as a dancer.
Ayla is keen to perform her arangetram, a dancer’s first solo performance, but Chandrashekhar, traditional in his ways, refuses to let her do so until he is sure she is ready. Ayla’s frustration leads to an abrupt and unceremonious falling out and she joins Studio Anubhooti, a rival dance school run by Guru Ranmohan.
Ranmohan promises Ayla an arangetram, but what follows is a tragedy. Traumatized and disillusioned, Ayla gives up on her dreams. Destiny reunites her with Chandrashekhar years later. The ensuing journey transforms them both in fundamental ways. They begin to question their beliefs, their life-choices and assumptions, and in turn discover new possibilities. Finally, Ayla performs her arangetram—in a way she could never have imagined.
The Last Dance is written in a simple and clear manner. However, there is an underlying message of ending and beginnings and a life that always comes full circle.
Time Management gurus have time and again reinforced basic concepts and principles that help us manage our time better. Yet, as we move into the future, with more time organising devices than ever, many of us wonder how hours and days slip by unnoticed. This is the issue that The Productivity Revolution seeks to address.
Before I started reading this book, it did occur to me for a moment, that most books on time management are about things that we already know, aren’t they? Well yes, says the author Marc Reklau. As he rightly puts it in The Productivity Revolution (Rupa Publications), “common sense is not common action! “So, the book promises an action-packed journey, after which you will hopefully have much more time on your hands!
Here’s what I liked about this book…and do scroll right down to know about some (of the several) takeaways that resonated with me….
How you can get the most out of this book? Well, here are some quick takeaways that I found useful…and I’m sure you will find many more applicable to you!
Suhas Inamdar’s latest novel, My Friend Genie is the story of a simple middle-class man and how a magic ring changes his life forever. At the very inception, the book establishes the uneventful and predictable life of Arun Deshpande and his family. They are living a sober and almost mundane existence. However, destiny has something else in store for them, which is sure to change their lives forever. By a twist of fate, Arun ends up buying a ring though which he has access to a Genie who is capable of fulfilling all his wishes.
Now, wouldn’t this be the most ideal situation to be in? The novel attempts to answer this question. Fiction is often a psychological study in itself. The author has brought out the emotions, feelings and challenges that Arun encounters when he actually has all the power a person can wish for! Can the ability to know the future and resolve all problems with an almost divine intervention ever be harmful to a person? What is the fine line between taking help that you need and yet not giving in to greed? Arun is essentially a good hearted person. The novel follows Arun through the entire process of discovering the Genie and his magic. Arun uses the ‘power’ for good, and never lets it corrupt him. But, even with all the good intentions, is it advisable to interfere with destiny?
The twists and turns that occur in the plot increase in the latter half of the book, pacing the action forward, leading towards a very apt climax! Inamdar beautifully fleshes out the simple middle-class mentality and vibes through the characters he has crafted. Of course, Arun takes away a chunk of the novel as the protagonist, but one can really connect with his wife Anita, and the other ancillary characters as well, especiailly Dhananjay Naik from the Police force.
As the events in the story unfold, the book illustrates how sometimes having power can still render you powerless! But it also shows how not having any outside power, does not mean you are powerless! Power to change your destiny has to come from within!
My Friend Genie is Suhas Inamdar’s seventh work of fiction. True to his philosophy of writing books that make a difference to the reader’s life, this one, like all his other books, has a lot that the reader can takeaway. The elements of fantasy that are a very integral part of the narrative, just add to the pleasure of reading My Friend Genie.
In Bullet Proof – A journalist’s notebook on reporting conflict by Teresa Rehman, the journalist lays bare her own vulnerability as a reporter focusing on conflict areas.
The book recounts her experiences as a reporter working in a conflict zone in North East India. It highlights the human side of conflicts, going beyond mere facts and delving into emotional impact of conflicts.
She also chronicles the deep and far reaching impact of conflicts on common people, especially women and children. Very often, in desensitized TV reportages we fail to see a whole picture, and we definitely fail to see the human picture!
Bookedforlife in conversation with author Teresa Rehman……
You have very honestly talked about the emotional and psychological impact that your work has had on you, and you have been open about seeking professional help. What is your advice to reporters (and other professionals) who often unknowingly internalize emotional impact caused due to their professions?
Yes, this book is also a story about my evolution as a journalist covering conflict. Reporting from a conflict zone has a fear factor that is real. In order to report from a conflict-zone, we journalists tend to become ‘bulletproof’ ourselves — internalizing emotional trauma without realizing its impact on our psyche. And the physical risks are not to be discounted. And, reporting from one of the most under-reported regions of the world i.e. Northeast India, with practically no support system for journalists is like walking on a tightrope. We journalists never seem to talk about our vulnerabilities and apprehensions. I had to muster courage to visit a psychiatrist for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
But it took me years to openly talk and write about it. It was much later that I came to know of courses like Hostile Environment and First Aid Training (HEFAT) organised by organisations like the International Women’s Media Foundation (IWMF) that trains journalists from various backgrounds, mediums, and levels of experience. A decade ago, I was ignorant of the fact that I could get some training in areas like emergency first aid, digital security, civil unrest/demonstrations, situational awareness, reaction under gunfire etc.
As a reporter you spent days on the ground and in the interiors of conflict-ridden areas, in the midst of danger. At the same time, you are a mother of two girls, often taking them on assignments with you! How did you balance these two vastly different facets of your life?
I was juggling too many roles. Not just being a mother to two daughters, I was also taking care of my terminally ill mother. There were occasions when I took my daughters with me on my assignments. I made them sit near me. They were part of my accessories along with my notepad and pen! And I was also working full-time when I was expecting my second child. I never thought motherhood was a burden. Being the first journalist in the family, I had nobody to guide me either. Since, I was passionate about my work, I tried to multi-task. Many a times I worked on the kitchen table while cooking dinner for the family. And my children learnt to cope with their busy, hardworking and absent-minded mother!
You talk about the rehabilitation of women in conflict areas, and of economic empowerment that is brought about by certain organisations working with them. How important are these measures to make positive changes in the scenario?
I always believed in going beyond mere statistics and the very masculine reportage of conflict, about arms, artillery and dead bodies. For me the real stories were the stories beyond the conflict – of women and children. In any kind of conflict situation, they are the most marginalised and the worst affected. And any kind of rehabilitation measures for them is like a silver lining. I feel good reporting about such subtle changes that bring about happiness in people who have seen decades of violent conflict. For me, reporting this kind of positive stories is like a catharsis and a hope for peace.
You have written about the hospitality that you received on your visits to militant camps. At the same time, you have also chronicled the heart wrenching impact of conflicts on common people. On the other hand, they are viewed differently by the government. From your experience, what role can media play in this scenario?
The publicity wing of any militant organisation is one of their most important wings. They understand the power of the media and probably that is why they had been hospitable to me. And being a journalist in a conflict zone is like walking on a tightrope as a journalist can incur the wrath of both the state and the non-state actors. It is the job of a journalist to maintain a precarious balance and report objectively and if possible, look beyond the mere statistics and press releases. The job of a journalist is to get the real stories of men, women and children trapped in such a situation.
How do you remain non-judgemental in this field of work, where what is right and wrong is often so complex to decide for yourself!
I have learnt to understand the nuances of the social milieu and the conditions that perpetuate the conflict. I avoid being judgmental and just report and state facts. I don’t think it is the journalist’s job to decide what is right or what is wrong. It is the journalist’s job to sensitively and sensibly tell the human stories in a very complex situation.
It is a strange coincidence that as we write about your book, the issue of the inadequacies of the NRC list has flamed many segments of people. What is your take on this?
What do you want readers to take away from Bulletproof?
Bulletproof is the story of a ‘female’ journalist reporting from a conflict zone. It is not just my story. It is the story of many journalists like me who are constantly flirting with danger and reporting from regions that are out of the radar of the so-called ‘national’ media and considered inaccessible, unsafe and unimportant.
Bullet Proof – A journalist’s notebook on reporting conflict is indeed not only very interesting to read, but highly inspirational! It is a great guide for reporters, but on a deeper level I believe it is inspirational for working women, for journalists working in conflict situations as well as mothers across society! It really talks to all these diverse groups at the same time! There are two aspects to the book- first, there is a reporter’s diary, which provides behind-the-scenes look at a reporter reporting for a zone of conflict. Being a woman, and a mother adds another unique dimension to this. The other aspect is the personal emotional journey of a human being, who happens to be a woman and a mother, who tries to look at her work with new eyes.
Interested in reading books written by Indian women journalists? Click here.
“‘You have to sacrifice something to gain something else’ my father had told me. This was a piece of fatherly advice I never took seriously. I want everything in life, not one thing at the cost of another. In my opinion, compromising on something to get something in return is not good management,” says Binod Chaudhary, one of Asia’s most prominent businessmen and the President of the Chaudhary Group, in his memoir, Making it Big.
Published by Penguin, this autobiography is as much a manual to success as it is the story of Binod’s journey. Today, the Chaudhary Group based in Nepal is a big business conglomerate. But, it’s very humble origins and the ethos behind its success is what the book talks about.
After an impactful introduction that talks about a near death experience after an earthquake, Binod Chaudhary leads the reader right into the core of the story of his life. It is fascinating to read about the stories of his struggle, and that of his predecessors. Though based in Nepal, the family has origins in India and the book starts off with this background. His brave grandfather left Rajasthan and set shop in Nepal on the invitation of the king of Nepal. The savvy Marwari spirit shines through as he continues the story of the growth of this family business.
Chaudhary was not born with a silver spoon, but his early experiences honed his business skills. In an amusing anecdote he narrates an entrepreneurial venture he did at school. “I do not see any real difference between the business I do these days and the business I did back then at school. Only the scale is different,” he writes.
The book is quite detailed and has a lot of information packed into it. He talks not only about himself and his business, but also the world around him. He talks about his interests in films, music and cars. The books also describes in detail his interactions with numerous personalities from all walks of life. I found these instances quite interesting, especially when he talked about his interactions with various Bollywood personalities. His tryst with politics and politicians gets good mention as well. For me, reading about his experiences with Narendra Modi was really insightful.
The manner by which the book weaves in political and social scenarios in Nepal with his own personal familial and business situation, makes the book quite broad in outlook.
What can a reader take away from Making it Big? I think that a reader, especially someone who is an entrepreneur looking at growing big, can take a lot from the instances and the lessons described herein. Binod has shared specific case studies of professional battles, chronicled the challenges in transforming the business and talked about how he navigated varied obstacles on the path.
The last part of the book, where he outlines his mantras for success is also quite revelatory. Of course, after having read about the specific challenges he has faced, one is able to relate better to the last chapter. He has been quite honest and also included a chapter on self-assessment where he talks about areas that he can improve on. He has thus been very self-reflective, and evaluated his weakness.
Making it Big – The inspiring story of Nepal’s first billionaire in his own words is a thick and detailed tome. However, Binod Chaudhary’s simple language, honest and forthright approach makes it a great read for entrepreneurs at different stages in their journeys!
“KNOW THAT FATE HAS A WAY TO MAKE YOU BEND TO ITS WILL“…. This hard- hitting dialogue from Sohan S Koonar’s novel, Paper Lions, published by Speaking Tiger Publications, is the perfect manifestation of this book. The story, spanning four decades in Punjab from pre to post Independent India, covers every twist that fate can possibly throw at the characters be it familial, casteism, political, modernization or even personal agony.
This saga is based on two main families – a Zaildar family which comes from old wealth and upholds its responsibility to the people and one which rises to political heights from nothing due to a reluctantly corrupt son in the army. Apart from Zaildar Ajit Singh and Minister Bikram Singh, the third character from whose point of view the book is presented is Bajigarni Basanti. Bajigars are colourful nomads who gradually settle down in the region. The phrase ‘paper lion’ means a person who appears to have power but is really ineffectual. Paper Lions is about the journey and personalities of the characters who are all paper lions before fate.
Good and bad characters might be strong but ‘grey’ characters are real! All of them have gone through their personal struggles, have faults or secrets and atone for their errors and fight their personal demons. Karma brings everyone to their knees. People live on but not without internal scars and heartache.
Does this mean that the book is depressing or sad? Not at all! There are happy moments and dreams but what resonates with the reader is that we are all paper lions in the end. We feel that we have power and control over our lives and others but it is just an illusion. We could all be Ajit Singh, Bikram Singh or Basanti – bowing down before family pressure, overcome by circumstances or giving in to temptation.
Paper Lions reflects the ingenuity of the author. It sinks its hooks into the reader from the first page and does not let go till the end. The vivid description that form a part of the narrative, help one mentally visualize and feel the being of the people instead of only reading about them. They feel like acquaintances and not strangers. We rejoice with them and feel their pain.
What is most invigorating about this book though is that you can change the era or setting but if the essence of the human personalities like greed, corruption, learning to live with what fate has doled out, relations based on love and not blood, sacrifice, heartache and overcoming odds is kept intact, it will be still be an exhilarating read with any background!
Read it and find out which character you most identify with…. don’t be surprised if it is more than one! That’s Paper Lions for you!
Perhaps the greatest legacy of Lord Krishna is the Bhagavad Gita, often called upon as the epitome of the perfect guide to life. Through the story of the Mahabharata, we also know a little about the story of Krishna. But a lot remains untold, and Supercop of Aryavrat by Mithilesh Kumar takes on the massive challenge of narrating the events that spanned Krishna’s life.
Our rich Indian mythological heritage is replete with literary gems both from the ancient times to modern texts, interpretations and translations. Mithilesh Kumar has dipped into this treasure trove of information and facts to flesh out stories of the man who handled the greatest wars with panache. We hear the story of the master strategist whose lessons still hold true centuries later.
The novel begins with Krishna musing over the past, with a tinge of regret. Cautionary words from his brother Balrama flash across his mind- Do you think you are the SuperCop of Aryavrat? This supposed jibe opens up the floodgates of the past and the reader is led into the story of Krishna. Through narrations and flashbacks Krishna views his life, right from the events surrounding his birth and the imprisonment of his parents by Kansa, his maternal uncle, to the happenings of the war of Kurukshetra, through his involvement in the various historical events that occurred. The narrative is a mix of the first-person narrative by Krishna himself, and the third person narrator, who fills in the background information. Together, both these narratives take the story forward.
What I appreciate about this book is the point of view. Most of us know about the story of the Mahabharata. However, hearing the tale from the point of view of Krishna gives another perspective.
We live in a world where we have started to look for voices that represent multiple truths and different perspectives. So far, mythological stories have fed us with a one dimensional viewpoint that has coloured our perceptions. It is heartening to note that writers are trying to seek out how the same story would have been told from another person’s point of view. Being an ardent fan of the genre, I have read other books that talk about the Mahabharata from different perspectives. However, this is the first time that we are shown events from Krishna’s point of view.
If you are familiar with the story, the book will really tease you into opening up your mind to different possibilities. Was Yudhishthira really the gem he was made out to be? Was Pootana the demoness that we are told she is? All the ‘magical’ explanations given for some events, could there have been alternative explanations for the same? Could Krishna have avoided the war? How did his strategy work in determining the events that preceded the war of Kurukshetra?
The author has been true to the storyline in terms of the actual events that occurred and the chronology of the same. But the change comes in the reasoning behind the same. What actually happens to cause these events may not necessarily coincide with our version of things! For example, when Arjun wins Draupadi’s hand in marriage and the Pandavas fool Kunti by telling her they have got bhiksha, she asks the brothers to divide it amongst themselves. Hence the sharing of Draupadi between the Pandavas. However, was there an ulterior motive of Yudhishthira behind this? This is just one example but the book is filled with numerous instances where explanations behind events are completely turned over.
Krishna is portrayed as a master strategist which is true! His thinking and planning and his creative strategizing add another element of interest to the book.
An additional feature that really comes across very strongly in the book is what I would call, painting the picture of Krishna as a wonderful human being and not a divine god. This is a key achievement of the book. We see Krishna as a thinking breathing soul who uses his sharp mind to maneuver through life.
For those who do not have any background knowledge on the Mahabharata, this book will still be interesting to read. The author has a firm grip on the narrative and the story flows smoothly and crisply into a saga filled with all the elements of an interesting novel.
The book ends with the Great War of Kurukshetra of course. However, the focus is on the life of Krishna and the actual war (including the parts that constitute the Bhagavad Gita) is but a mere chapter. This is a refreshing take on the life of Krishna and a powerful novel that puts its own spin on of the most popular epics in the world! SuperCop of Aryavrat by Mithilesh Kumar dips into ancient tales to flesh out a saga that is relevant in the contemporary context!
If you wish to read this book on kindle, please click here.
Many a time we use the terms, ‘Freedom, Homeland, Identity’, freely and take them for granted. However, in Tibet with my Eyes Closed, a book by Madhu Gurung, published by Speaking Tiger, we find that the peace-loving Tibetans have been waiting and yearning for autonomy from Chinese occupation rule for the last 60 years. In the spirit of the thought that ‘Everyone has a story to tell!’, the book highlights voices from Tibet.
Madhu Gurung in ‘Tibet with my Eyes Closed’, has written eleven well-researched pieces. Part-fiction part-reality, there is a kaleidoscope of heart-warming stories. They bring forth the internal strife that the common Tibetans face every other day. On one side we have the older generation who are living in the Indian settlements holding on to their traditional beliefs and yearning to return to their Tibet. On the other, we have the younger lot adopting Indian culture and lifestyle to maintain a balance. Poignant and emotional each story leaves a mark. These stories of ordinary Tibetans are of loss, pain, separation, emptiness and coming together. There’s a hope in the hearts of young and old Tibetans that one day their homeland will be free from persecution of Chinese Communist rule.
In 1949, the People’s Liberation Army of China entered the Amdo, Kham and U-Tsang (seat of the Dalai Lama’s power) region of Tibet. Slowly and steadily they started attacking and oppressing the locals. His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama who is the Tibetan political and spiritual leader, with his family and closest aides had to escape the Norbulingla Palace in 1959 with the Chushi Gangdruk Warriors, a guerrilla group and take refuge in India. Around 80,000 Tibetans were also forced to flee Tibet in a mass exodus and live in 14 different settlements all over India as refugees. To escape rule by Chinese occupation which could result in death or persecution they chose to do so.
Each of the 11 stories in the book epitomizes one core element of the Tibetan prayer flag -space, wind, water, fire and earth. The flag of 5 different colours are synonymous with Buddhism and the belief is that the flags promote peace, compassion, strength and wisdom. Each colour represents 5 elements. Blue symbolizes the sky and space. White symbolizes the air and wind. Red symbolizes fire. Green symbolizes water and Yellow symbolizes the water. Each of these 11 stories have elements of that colour woven in their background.
Glimpses from the book….
BLUE-SKY: Sangey lives in Darjeeling with his father, wife and children but he keeps on having a recurring dream again and again since the age of 5 of escaping his village of Zinda in Tibet from Chinese oppression with his father, aunt and uncle Penda Rinpoche but leaving behind his mother, young brother and grandparents. Darjeeling is home now and they live the Indian life but the spark in his father’s eyes is gone and empty. The search is always on for a word from his Aamo (mother) who they fear is dead in Tibet. Until one day….
In Jampaling we have Yangkyi, an 88-year-old inmate who lives with 153 other elderly at the Jampaling Elders home in McLeod Ganj, Himachal Pradesh. She leads a simple routine at the home with other old, frail inmates and yearns for a word from her son who she has not met for nearly fifty years. And when one day she receives a call from him a floodgate of tears roll out and we get to know about the life that they have left behind.
WHITE –AIR: Mariko is the poignant story of young Tenzin Ugen from McLeod Ganj, who first spends a few years training to be a monk but later on transforms himself to become the first Tibetan transgender and becomes a dancer, role model and style icon for Tibetan youngsters who are afraid to come out of the closet .
RED-FIRE: In The Medal, we have 10 year old Tsering all excited to discover his Popa-La (grandfather), Jayang Chhering, who was in the army where he and other comrades trained to become the first airborne Tibetan force of the 22 Establishment. But they got to fight their first war against Pakistan for India in 1971 and being a covert force, they could not be publicly recognized. For a child a medal is a shiny object seen in awe but for soldier it is a gift of a different kind.
Madhu Gurung has worked as a journalist and her first book, The Keeper of Memories, is a historical book about Gorkhas which was shortlisted for the Shakti Bhat First Book Award.
I loved reading ‘Tibet with My Eyes Closed’ by Gurung because I got to know about the gentle peace-loving believers of Buddhism. I love reading about people and their cultures and the book touched me emotionally. Each story has substance and a strong theme of want of an identity and homeland. While reading I could feel their pain, a search for their roots and a hope that they are not forgotten by the world. I would have liked the author to include a geographical map of Tibet for easy understanding of the region. However, somewhere, somehow, these voices from Tibet have made a place in my heart!
If you are keen on stories from Tibet, here is some additional reading. Read about BookWorm – A tiny but famous Mcleod Ganj Bookshop. For introducing this topic to children, you may refer to Portraits of Exile by Aaniya Asrani, that explores the stories of Tibetan refugees through picture books.
Title :Tibet With My Eyes Closed
Author :Madhu Gurung Sketches : Vikram Singh Verma Publisher :Speaking Tiger, 2019 Genre : Fiction Social Ages :YA and Adults
Democracy in Peril by journalist Alan Friedman examines some crucial and important questions about America as we know it today, quite different from the America we thought we knew. How did it all come to this? The true mouthpiece of any democracy are its people, and this is exactly where Friedman delves into. Through exhaustive travels within America he presents a picture of what has led to the current state of illiberal democracies.
He is also vocal about parallels between Trump and Narendra Modi, which he examines in an introduction in the book. Published by Om Books International, this is a book that provides a unique perspective that may talk about America, but has takeaways for other democracies.
Excerpts from an email interaction with Mr. Friedman about “Democracy in Peril”
You talk about political populism and fringe politics becoming mainstream. You look in detail at the historical context that points to the genesis of the ‘wrongs’ that have given rise to this situation in America. Do you feel that at the heart of this issue lies delusional politicians themselves?
All politicians are to a greater or lesser extent the tellers of lies. But the Big Lie strategy of populist-nationalist Far Right extremists is different; witness Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin. Fringe politics becomes mainstream usually in times of economic or social distress, after a crisis, after a war, after a long period of suffering. The fringe extremist uses the language of hatred and fear to get elected, and then once in office tends to diminish the independence of the judiciary or the free press. This is what I mean to communicate here. At the same time the mediocrity of the center-left, as was seen in the case of Hillary Clinton, can give way to complacency, and this means that the fashionable set in Washington, or if you wish, the fashionable Delhi set of intellectuals and civil servants who supported the Gandhi family lived too much in a bubble and at a certain point were no longer in touch with the electorate. This paved the way for the rise of populist nationalists, who used the politics of racial division to win.
It is interesting to note the exhaustive research that you have put in the book, especially in terms of interacting with common people on the ground who experience the effects of government policies first-hand. How has this journey been for you personally?
I am glad that you asked this question, because as an American who has lived for the past thirty years outside of the United States, in London, Paris, Milan, Rome and Mumbai, this was in some ways a traumatic voyage. To spend months travelling through 16 states, through the poverty of Mississippi, South Carolina, Alabama, Louisiana in particular, one sees deep poverty that is equal to what I have seen in village India. Actually, no, in village India at least the populace has access to fresh fruits and vegetables! In the food deserts of Mississippi, that’s not the case. Talking to workers and coal miners, to preachers and supermarket workers, to the lowest rungs of American society, was a revelation. Most startling is how they support Trump, despite the fact that he is cutting away their welfare, their social safety net, their food stamps, their help for single mothers. They do not care, because instead of looking up toward the billionaire class with resentment they look down at those even more unfortunate, the immigrants and foreigners, and minorities. This is not the America I grew up in, and it was quite a sad business seeing how my country has changed.
We have grown to believe in the power of the common man or voter in a democracy., to choose a government that will work towards his good! Do you still think this holds true?
I believe in democracy of course, but I would also recall what Winston Churchill had to say: “Democracy is the worst system in the world, except for all the others.” The paradox of democracy is that it was originally through elections that Hitler came to power in Germany, and Mussolin in Italy, and Trump in the United States, and Erdogan in Turkey, and Putin in Russia, and Orban in Hungary, and Duterte in the Phillipines. It was only after their election that they began to chip away at the institutions of democracy, the checks and balances of democracy.
Are illiberal democracies here to stay? As a journalist who has observed these developments from close quarters and various perspectives, what would you advise be for the common man who stands confused in midst of information overload and the unfortunate dilution of the fourth estate?
I would advise everyone to stay informed, to not believe any single website or single newspaper or TV news, to always seek at least 3 or 4 different perspectives. I would advise every person to remember that democracy and human rights and the equal treatment of different ethnic groups and races is the key to our society staying together and prospering. In India, like in America, the nation’s strength has traditionally come from its rich cultural diversity. My advice is to reject any politician who promises an easy solution to the economy, or a demonetization. Reject any politician who preaches the politics of anger and fear. And remember that democracy is fragile, worth defending. It takes a long time to build, but it can be destroyed rather quickly.
You write in the book, “Those who do not learn from history are usually doomed to repeat it”. What do you want the book to accomplish. How do you think the message will filter to people?
My goal in this book is to chronicle a dark period in world history, to reveal the inequalities of American society, to explain how and why evil people can come to power and to warn against the damage they can do to our freedoms. This book is intended as a wake-up call for every thinking person. And in the same spirit I would like to close this interview with a book recommendation: The book is “It Can’t Happen Here” and it was written by Sinclair Lewis in 1935. It can happen in America, and it can happen in India too.
Books are the best tools for escaping the normal and the mundane! No wonder, the fantasy fiction genre is a much-loved one! In the Realm of Demons by Imran Kureshi enters the realm of jinns and demons and nagins through the story of Mehran, a young Rajput aristocrat, whose quest for his beautiful cousin Koyel forms the crux of the plot. Published by Juggernaut, the backdrop of the novel is set around the late 1940’s, in India and Pakistan.
This is your first novel, though you have written a collection of short stories earlier. As a writer, how was the novel writing process vis a vis the short story writing process different for you? What is your preferred genre?
I just love writing, whether it’s a novel or short story. A novel gives more scope to develop the characters in it. Moreover, a novel has more leeway to build its own background and quasi-mythology, whereas usually a short story has to unfold its action in a recognizable social idiom that the reader can relate to. I think I prefer writing novels.
There are many myths and magical instances that have been woven into this book. What was the inspiration behind that?
Earlier, as a child my ‘ayah’ used to tell me stories: Raja Risalo, etc., which fired my imagination. Later I often used to tell stories from my imagination, to my younger brothers and sisters and after that also to my children. They enjoyed listening to them and I enjoyed relating them. So, I think my love for magic, fantasy and adventure came from there. My inspiration lay in the stories my ‘ayah’ Zainab told me. I do wish to comment that nowadays children have their noses stuck in pads and iphones from the age of one and a half years and thus a magical world is fading away.
A further corollary to this sad loss to our lebensraum is an attitude I find in most adults. They seem to read mainly political commentary and topical subjects — things that matter and are important!! I once heard a big shot boast, ‘I never read fiction.’ Frankly I find a lot of literature on ‘important stuff’ is pure fiction and not even enjoyable. Reading is one of the pleasures of life; and worthwhile in itself. In my long years I have found that what I learnt from the classics and other novels (about human nature and behavior and how to tackle life) has proved more useful to me than anything the many subsequent business courses I attended have taught me.
Take us through the genesis of the book……
I love writing ghost stories. I found there was hardly any market at all for fantasy literature in my country. So, I decided to try to write a fantasy novel that would hold the reader’s attention from page one. I wanted it have an indigenous setting based on local (South Asian) folklore and take full advantage of a hybrid idiom.
I liked a ‘ghazal’ by Faraz very much, and this influenced the tone of the book.
Translated to the best of my ability, it reads…
“If now we separate, perhaps only in dreams may we meet again,
Like we find dried up flowers in the pages of old books,”
I feel that any piece of writing should appeal in more than one way to the reader; that the thrill of the fantasy and adventure should be supplemented by aesthetic beauty and realistic characterization. So, this ‘ghazal’ with its theme of separation and pathos echoes several times in the novel, as do some other lines of poetry. The narrative starts from a realistic environment where innocent love gets severed, leading to a seemingly plausible transition to a realm of magic, demons and adventure that the hero enters on his quest to find his beloved.
Are you fond of reading fantasy fiction? Which are your favourite authors and books in the genre?
My favourite authors in horror/fantasy are of course Lewis Carol (whom I’ve read more of than you can believe), H.P. Lovecraft and Tolkien. I am very grateful to J.K. Rowling for getting children more interested in reading once more. I’ve always liked Kenneth Grahame and T.H. White’s books and I must mention Roald Dahl.
Regarding my modest effort, I feel I have an advantage. South Asian mythology has a wealth of wondrous fantasy creatures and colourful folklore that is completely untapped. I have summoned up demons, jinns, ro-langs, dhakanas, nagas, nagins, etc., in my novel and this is only the tip of the iceberg. On the other hand, the vampire and werewolf themes are now getting somewhat played out. Just look at Tibet. That one small country has so many mysteries: the yeti, Shangrila, Shamans, rainbow lamas, the Bon religion, etc.
In closing I’ll give you a very short ghost story that I have written…
THE MODERN PYGMALION
There was a sculptor who decided he would make a statue in the old Greek tradition that would be more beautiful than any of those created before it; after all he had a lot of new tools and modern technology that Praxiteles et al didn’t have. So, night and day he worked hard on his sculpture and created a masterpiece. The statue was a veritable goddess. It was so beautiful that he fell in love with it immediately.
He put the statue in the garden of his studio and would gaze in rapture at the figure’s perfect form, beautiful face and everything that he had carved in the purest white marble.
However, faced with such an epitome of female loveliness he became discontent with the blemishes and imperfections of his wife and began to neglect her, spending nights in his studio. He wished more than anything that somehow his statue would become a real live woman with a smooth, sentient and warm body and she would come to him while he slept in his studio.
This desire grew stronger and stronger in him. He felt that just by dint of longing and willing it he could bring his statue to life. Since he was her creator naturally he would have power over her and they would live together for the rest of their lives.
One night he dreamt that his prayers had been answered.
The next morning, he disappeared. His wife came to his studio and searched for him but couldn’t find hide nor hair of him. Nobody knew where he had got to and all his clothes, toiletries and the tools of his craft were still there. His poor wife wondered what had happened. She was puzzled by another thing, previously there had only been one statue in the garden, now there were two.
Well, this is but a teaser of what you can expect from Imran Kureshi! In the Realm of Demons makes a delightful read for those who love the fantasy-horror genre.