Gardening can be a fulfilling passion, and even more so, when you relish the fruits (or vegetables!) of your hard labour. And, it always helps to have a good friend and guide along the way. New Vegetable Garden Techniques- essential skills and projects for taster healthier crops by Joyce Russell, published by White Lion Publishing, is a book written with the aim of guiding amateur gardeners, and tipping up information for experienced ones.
Learning Vegetable garden techniques from a book can be really easy and practical, if written in an accessible way. This is exactly where Russell’s book scores high. The best part here is the manner in which the information has been organised. There is a deep connect between the pictures and the text, and the many pictures really aid the reader immensely. Several boxed tips and pieces of information make this a very reader-friendly guide.
There are 25 DIY projects in the book. These are illustrated step-by-step. The book is very practical in nature. Each “project” is presented as a recipe, complete with the list of what you need and the method. Handy tips from experience have been boxed.
The range of skills and steps required for growing your own vegetable patch is wide. Right from preparing land (or choosing the right container), to getting the right soil, making compost, taking care of pests, tending to specific plant requirements and so on, there are a gamut of steps. A lot of comprehensive information is presented in a very accessible manner.
The book is also peppered with specific examples of specific plant requirements, again adding to the handiness aspect. I liked the DIY section on making your own basket and growing plants within. Not only can one enjoy the produce, but also have a spectacular design feature. I also found the tips of growing seedlings, micronutrients and so on quite helpful, how to improve your soil and add on to make richer soil,
There are a few really excellent diagrammatic representations which are very handy. For me, the one on soil nutrients was a great ready reckoner in giving me information about my garden soil.
Why not grow your own bucket garden? Plastic buckets make for wonderful containers and they can be moved around easily thanks to the handles. Grow your favourite veggies within! They are also a perfect solution for a children’s garden as they are light and easy to move around.
It is a good idea to use biodegradable containers to grow seedlings. Once the plants are ready to be replanted in larger containers or prepared beds, you could plant out the pots themselves, which in due course will decompose, leaving no waste behind.
This book opened my eyes to an untapped area- using fresh shoots for consuming. By germinating young seeds and using the fresh sprouts you can add immense variety and health to your diet. Microgreens are the way to go!
Keep adding to the soil to provide the right balance of nutrients and drainage that each new crop needs.
Leaves are a free valuable resource for most gardeners. Fallen leaves can be used as mulch, or compost. If you have a mower that powders them, use this to sprinkle the powder on your plants.
Planting different crops in different areas of the garden each year helps to prevent pests and diseases building up in the soil, resulting in healthier plants and harvests.
And if you’re interested in reading more about gardening, “Ground Rules” is a great book to refer to.
Snakes In The Meadows is Ayaz Kohli’s debut novel (published by Rupa Publications) and what a punch it packs! The title aptly summarizes how evil in the form of terrorists comes and destroys the peace of simple locals of a beautiful hilly village who only want to live a decent life. When all is lost they rise up like the proverbial phoenix to obliterate the enemy!
Snakes In the Meadows is a gut-wrenching story of how the locals of a hilly village, Pathri Aali, in India occupied Kashmir are brought to their knees by the mujahideen. As if it is not enough that they are having difficulties surviving in a harsh environment, most of the males of the village have travelled to the Middle East for jobs and the women and children are left to fend for themselves. The mujahideen prey on them mercilessly as if the locals are not humans at all. Some of the scenes where youngsters are assaulted brings tears to one’s eyes.
The men working abroad were kept in the dark lest they return and are killed by the mujahideen. The straw that breaks the camel’s back is an unspeakable crime committed against a child which forces the protagonist, Ashwar, to write a scathing letter to the men asking them to return and fight.
Thus begins the plan to annihilate the mujahideen from the valley. The villagers run from pillar to post to get help in this endeavour. The ignorance and outright refusal to help from certain Government quarters is disheartening. The peripheral characters though help to draw a contrast between the frog-in-the-well outlook of the ongoing activities in Pathri Aali to what is happening in the rest of the country. Also, the personalities and experiences of the other characters enhance the story – be it through their villainous roles, shades of grey or humanity and sacrifices.
Haven’t we all heard about that thing called the inner voice? But, as we traverse through life, it is worth asking ourselves the question – have we suppressed this inner voice? The Code: Awaken the Hidden Wisdom of your Heart is a book that aims to bring back to life this dying flame. The credentials of the writer, Mukta Mahajani, add authenticity and perspective to this book. Published by Jaico Books, this is the book you must read if you want to embark on a journey of introspection. As you navigate the book, you will realise that the answers to your questions are within your heart, and within the intense introspective journey that you will undertake.
What makes The Code a book that is impactful in what it promises to deliver? I think it’s a mix of several factors. The book is divided into seven key sections that talk about seven negative attributes that we need to conquer, such as Ego, Over-Competitiveness, Jealousy, Over expectations, Over ambition, Anger and Procrastination. Within each section there are several stories and examples that drive home the point the author is trying to make. The text is also peppered with quotes from various personalities and thinkers. The key point itself, that is, ‘the code’ is boxed and presented in a very accessible manner.
However, for me the short list of contemplative questions that accompany each point are the mainstay of this book. Each sub-section has a dedicated list of contemplative questions. These are sure to get the reader in introspection mode. A book or a text is useful if one actually manages to internalise the points that are made. By using these questions as an integral part of the narrative, Mahajani is actually encouraging the reader to pause and think before jumping on to the next section. You may just find that a few questions particularly may touch a nerve, and that’s exactly the purpose!
If the purpose of a book is to make the reader think and reflect, this is what these questions set out to do. It is this process that will open you up to your inner voice. Though the book is easy to read and simple, I would recommend taking time and savouring the points and questions before moving on, in order to get full benefit from reading it!
Through a bank of several stories and incidents, the book illustrates how negative attributes work in practice. It also looks at each negative attribute in a multidimensional manner.
At the end of each section there is also a handy checklist, similar to a little test that will objectively tell you where you stand in terms of a specific quality such as ego, tendencies of over expectations and so on.
Mukta’s background has given this book a unique attribute. With an author who speaks on Alternate Dispute Resolution methods, one can expect nothing less! Moreover, she has degrees in psychology, anthropology and Law. Couple this with over two decades of experience, and you have a person who has a really deep and nuanced understanding of human behaviour in all its complexity! This understanding comes across beautifully in The Code, in simple language with great clarity and lucidity. A must-read if you are looking at getting in touch with your core! The Code is all set to guide you!
“Until lions have their own historians, histories of the hunt will glorify the hunter,” goes a popular adage. Yes, history does sing the victor’s song. But thankfully, there are many authors and thinkers who often wonder, what if the story was different if told by another character. There are a few good retellings and reimagining of the Mahabharata. Would the Mahabharata narrative have been any different if Duryodhana narrated the story? I, Duryodhana by Pradeep Govind (published by Om Books International) explores this fascinating angle.
There have been several fictional retellings of the Mahabharata, through different perspectives. What made you choose Duryodhana as your protagonist?
I am of the conviction that history generally tends to favor the victors over time. When you read or listen to the Mahabharata with an unbiased mind that is open to the possibility of the epic being a fantasized narration of real historical events rather than just a creative work of fiction, you will find several areas where you are tempted to raise questions in favour of Duryodhana. Besides, as a character, he is perhaps the only one in the epic who had clarity as to the stand he took. Just about everyone else, be it Radheya, Bheeshma or even Vaasudeva, had their feet in two boats at the same time at some point or the other. The story of the Mahabharata could still have happened without any of the other central characters…but not without Duryodhana.
Take us through the kind of research you undertook in order to write this book.
There was not much conscious, objective research so to speak save for some trivia. Unfortunately, there is no authentic original manuscript available for reference…the one supposedly written down by Lord Ganesha. The Mahabharata has always been a fascinating subject for me and I’ve been exposed to so many versions of the stories and sub plots in it in various formats right from comics, books, translations, online articles and so on and of course not to forget the mega TV serial. They have all been helpful in my work. I’ve also listened to many fascinating discourses and talks on the Mahabharata. There was one particular early morning daily talk show in Malayalam called “Bharatadarshanam” that I was particularly hooked on to. It was conducted by the late Professor Thuravur Vishwambaran and ran for 10 years and over 3000 episodes on Amrita TV.
Do you think the Mahabharata is relevant today? And if yes, how?
The Mahabharata has all time relevance but it depends on how one comprehends the subtle messages embedded in the epic in just about every canto and chapter. It may never be relevant if we read it like we read a magazine on a lazy Sunday afternoon. The reading should be given due gravitas and the words subject to reflection and analysis.
Following from the earlier question, how do you think that the retellings of the Mahabharata from varied points of view are relevant today? Your book is also a part of this highly current upcoming genre of mythological retellings.
This depends on the objective of the retelling. If it is being used to showcase the creative imagination of the author, then its relevance should stay in the literary world. On the other hand, if it is to also evoke some genuine empathy for the character and, thereby bring in a better understanding of the human mind under different circumstances, then that understanding would come to define our responses to people and situations in everyday life and make things better and more acceptable.
The irony of the language and the sharp satire is not lost on the reader! Was this something you were consciously trying to attain?
Was I? Not sure about this…. maybe at some level. But if you’ve noticed it, then it’s satisfying.
Shakuni is a character much loathed and the story makes his role prominent in steering the direction that Duryodhana veers towards. There is a school of thought portraying the war as one between two masterminds- Vasudeva and Shakuni. Do you subscribe to that view?
There are many schools of thought when it comes to the Mahabharata and each convincing in its own right. That is the beauty of this monster of an epic which will throw something new at you every time you read it. Coming to the question on Vasudeva and Shakuni, as much as one could think on those lines about the war, in the 10th chapter of the Gita, Vaasudeva reveals to Arjuna that among the deceitful practices, is the ‘gambling’. So now where does that leave us with respect to his equation with Shakuni?
You have stuck to the details and facts passed on across generations. However, there are occasions when you have given a different version of facts. For example, in the book Duryodhana does not know about the burning of the wax palace. I am curious to know about the strategy you employed. Did you think things through from the point of view of Duryodhana and then kind of imagined what could have occurred?
That’s a very pertinent question and I’m so glad you’ve noticed. I have taken care not to deviate from the traditional narrations unless it appeals to logic. So, the first thing I did was to not consider the Mahabharata as Vyasa’s creation but as his narration of historical incidents. That makes him vulnerable to distorting truth to favour the victors as well. How else could you describe Duryodhana’s braying at the time of his birth and the wise men of court counselling the king to put him to death? When you look at it that way, it gives you the courage and license to question the genuineness of a lot of things narrated. For example, I felt that the accidental burning of a woman and five men in the house of wax and them being mistaken for Kunti and her sons seemed too contrived and convenient a narration to believe. In the march of time, many such things get distorted or brushed under the carpet to suit the victor’s narrative. That is why Duryodhana held on to his life to make sure that he died in the favourable arms of history. (Though eventually that was not the case.)
What do you want your readers to take away from this book?
The Flower Fix- Modern arrangements for a daily dose of nature by Anna Potter (published by White Lion Publishing) is a book with a very clear purpose- to give the reader his or her daily flower fix! I think this is a book that is more about the journey and less about perfection. There is a freedom that makes creating something beautiful a pleasure, and Potter encourages all of us to adopt that free spirit and let nature and its imperfections lead you to create beautiful floral arrangements.
Picasso has famously quoted, “Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist”. I think that this is the general spirit that pervades The Flower Fix. Potter offers guidelines on what would make good floral arrangements, and then urges the reader to break these rules!
There are 26 floral-oriented projects in the book, ranging from small simple designs to larger installation projects. There is one thing that is particularly different and striking about the manner in which these floral decor projects are presented in the book. Each project is a ‘recipe’. There is a list of ‘ingredients’, that is, the exact number of flowers and other materials she has used. However, each floral arrangement tells a different story. Some evoke playfulness, curiosity and serenity while others let you go wild!
Each chapter also explains the sources of inspiration that Anna took in order to create the arrangements that she did. As she describes the various arrangements in detail, step by step, she gently weaves in some really practical tips. For example, how can one create a sense of depth in a shallow container? (The answer- using the larger blossoms at the back). A lot of basic skills required to make a floral arrangement are diagrammatically expressed in the latter part of the book.
Any book on floral arrangements must have great pictures. The Flower Fix is also packed with beautiful “Instagramable” images, that are sure to inspire you, as well as lines and quotes that will echo in your mind long after you have read it.
Have fun with flowers and let the intrinsic nature of the flower be your guide.
Think about what emotion you want the arrangement to evoke…or what story you want it to tell.
Let your creativity flow, and let the happy accidents happen!
A large-scale installation with one variety of flower or foliage will create drama.
Don’t underestimate the power of weeds in creating a floral wilderness!
Bright colours often ‘pop’ the best against dark backgrounds. Hence, optimise the corners of the home which have dark backgrounds, with some really bright arrangements.
We all know that Chanakya was a kingmaker, a shrewd strategist and a master at the game of politics and power. What we often fail to grasp is how we can apply his time-tested principles to our lives in the modern times. It is also no secret that his masterpiece, the Arthashastra, contains the most poignant wisdom for leaders. But how can the gems contained therein be applied to our struggles in this time and age? Radhakrishnan Pillai, rightly known to be the man who has brought Chanakya’s wisdom to the modern times, has penned Chanakya and the Art of War for this sole purpose. In fact, he is the author of several books on Chanakya, including one where he presents the teachings of Chanakya to children, and another where he talks presents these evergreen principles in very simple language for the masses, in easy-to-read knowledge capsules.
Wars can be of different types. Today, it can play out in the boardroom, between nations, within complex social structures and even in your own mind!
Chanakya and the Art of War is written in a simple and lucid manner, that is accessible to all readers. First, there are stories and then there are lessons you derive from them. This book starts off with famous stories about Chanakya and the battles he won. The manner in which he contained the undefeatable Alexander The Great is perhaps one of his most famous victories. The book describes and narrates instances from Chanakya’s life to illustrate his principles.
There are references to other great strategists of ancient India such as Lord Krishna, Shivaji, events from the Ramayana, other teachers and of course, the greatest war epic, Mahabharata.
While military warfare is discussed in the book, what i found particularly appealing is the discussion of use of psychology in strategic decision making. The use of psychological principles in war warrants attention. Chanakya also devised the four-fold strategy of war, chronicling the four ways by which wars could be won. There are discussions about games and activities that Chanakya insisted rulers pursue so that their minds were constantly under training. Understandably there is a chapter devoted to Chess, the master game of strategy.
It is also interesting to note Chanakya’s descriptions of different types of conquerors. The discussion of Dharma in this book brings out the fact that while the desire for expanding and conquering is indeed positive, it has to be done keeping ethics at the core. I feel this has great implications for modern businesses and politics as well.
War strategies find application in business and politics quite directly. The reader who really wants to get the most of this book will chew on the thoughts and distill the wisdom in a manner that will be applicable to him.
However, Dr. Radhakrishnan makes decoding the strategies presented in the book even easier through the last chapter that discusses ten principles of Chanakya and how they would help people today in their daily ‘battles ‘! Of course, today, things have changed. The way wars take place are drastically different. Yet, the spirit of strategy remains forever relevant.
It is said that words, when used as decor within your home or office have a certain resonance. It was during a slightly stressful period in life that I first read this simple line with a mere five words- Keep Calm And Carry On. Soothe they did…and these became a kind of mantra. I started looking into the origins of this simple phrase.
As I discovered later, this famous little phrase has an interesting history behind it. It was way back in the year 1939, that the British Government officially introduced motivational posters to boost public morale in the wake of the soon-to-come World War II. However, it seems that the poster with this particular phrase, Keep Calm and Carry On, was not really displayed publicly. The reason for that was that it was to be issued only upon the invasion of Britain by Germany. This never happened, and hence the poster was never officially seen by the public! These posters were also destroyed in large numbers later (they were reduced to pulp for that purpose). But, no one would have ever imagined that it would become a design rage, and a truly iconic image of the 21st century.
It had some unique features- a bold type face, the Tudor crown, and a very clear message. The bold red background provided a perfect canvas for the white text. It was all bold and clear! Though this perfect message was not used at all for the purpose intended…it has fulfilled many a purpose for many others.
The “trend” of displaying this caught on way later in the year 2000, when a bookseller from Barter Books found a copy hidden amongst a pile of dusty old books bought from an auction. The poster was displayed in the store and immediately sparked a lot of interest. The rest, as they say is history. The original designer many never have imagined the craze that this simple poster would evoke!
Keep Calm and Carry On was just one of the three designs commissioned by the government. The other two were in fact used widely. “Freedom Is in Peril. Defend it with all your might” was one. The other was: “Your Courage, Your Cheerfulness, Your Resolution Will Bring Us Victory”. These two posters were also stylistically similar to the Keep Calm and Carry On poster.
The creative spin that Keep Calm posters have generated is just amazing. Right from posters to T-shirts, mugs, mobile covers and what not, one finds the keep calm expression everywhere. People have their own spin on this.
When an idea pervades popular culture, it could lead to some really interesting products. The trademark « Keep Calm And… » has been interpreted and reinterpreted in many lifestyle accessories. Mobile covers, bags, T-shirts are just the tip of the iceberg. The list is endless and various designers and individuals have experimented with the “Keep Calm” expression. The mass appeal continues.
Keep Calm and Carry On…a simple message that the British government hoped would reassure the public in dark times. But, as chance would have it the appeal of these four simple words have taken the world by storm. Despite it not having been used for the world War, the original purpose is, in my opinion still fulfilled. Whatever challenges you may face in your life, I am sure this warm hearted and simple message- Keep Calm and Carry On will surely see you through, offering comfort in difficult times!
“I have been writing a journal for some time, chiefly notes to myself, with no pretensions to style or scholarship, but as explorations, passages from one thought or feeling to another. I needed these notes to clear my seeing, settle my roving thoughts, curiously, restlessly, without regard to any discipline (In both senses of the word). I needed them even to form my thoughts, and to see what I was looking at, to listen to what I was hearing. I am publishing them now, making them public, so that the private may find a place in a larger discussion, just as the larger discussions entered my private journal”- A.K. Ramanujan
What would a poet’s diary look like? Behind all those poems that have enthralled the world, what did he think or know that informed his work? What did he feel? For a literature lover, it is almost voyeuristic to peek into the diary of literary figures. No wonder that publications of the personal journals of literary stalwarts have often been big projects and well-received ones at that!
One such treasure trove of materials lay in the Special Collections Research Centre at the University of Chicago. This material is now beautifully represented in Journeys – A Poet’s Diary published by Penguin. Edited by Krishna Ramanujan and Guillermo Rodriguez, the book takes the reader through the inner world of A.K. Ramanujan. The delightful variety of materials included in this book include unpublished prose (diaries, journals, dreams, short stories, notes, letters), unpublished poetry (drafts as well as polished pieces) and his published work. One can only imagine the herculean task of choosing what to include and giving it a coherent shape! However, the richness that we can find in such miscellaneous stuff is hard to ignore, and rightly so. In addition to reading the diary notes, the Editors Notes at the beginning of each section are quite useful in filling in some important background and context details.
If there are rough sketches and notes in this book, there are also drafts of poems and final published versions. The gamut of material in essence provides a peek into the unique craft of Ramanujan. These were the experiences and nuggets that chronicled his life, and in a way, made his poetry happen.
There are statements of self-doubt; lines from other poets and writers he admired ; snippets of conversations with people he met along his travels; records of interactions with varied intellectuals, poets and artists; records of encounters with everyday people; detailed descriptions of dreams and much more. One of the interesting records in the diaries has to do with his one-time experience of a hallucinogen mescalin.
Also included here are notes he wrote on a journey by sea from Bombay to New York. Both in actuality and metaphorically it was a journey that opened his mind and exposed him to a world beyond the familiar. Our travels define us and as one browses through his sea-notes it provides a reflection not only of his innermost thoughts, but also gives fleeting glimpses of the times he lived in, when the world was not hyper connected as it is today.
I also feel that the journey somehow evoked the poet in him to write poetry in prose, as illustrated by these lines: “Afloat. With almost no past, and no near future but the sea, just afloat in the decks of the present”
As readers we know Ramanujan as a successful poet. But there was a huge part of him riddled in self-doubt and that comes across, almost offering a peek into his mind. What also amazes me is his capacity for introspection. I think this is the defining factor that shows how well he could understand the human mind. For example, while writing in his diary about the fact that he did not get a job for a position he applied for, he muses, “The necessity of avoiding disappointment is greater for my mind than the necessity of a better job”.
He analysed and introspected a lot, as can be gauged by postscripts or notes. For example, he writes, “My five fruitful years at Belgaum taught me how much can be done in a day if one lived in the Present Discontinuous and plucked every moment”.
For me, the best sections of the book were ones in which he becomes his best “introspective self” and analyses all his actions, his behaviours and above all, his work. For instance, he talks about how he has honed his craft only by imitation, and has preferred imitation rather than initiating things. However, his imitation is also of a different kind. “I’ve perhaps always looked at myself looking at things. This offers a curious detachment, but enfeebles experience”. He is aware of this tendency of his to analyse his own self, as he admits, “I exhausted myself in self-analysis, lived in a kind of maudlin modesty, filled diaries with the subtleties of my innermost self”.
In the entries curated in the book, the reader also gets a sense of how Ramanujan reread old entries and used this experience to take a critical look at how his journey had been. Two decades before he passed away, the diary entries become shorter but purposeful. As a reader it is interesting to observe these subtle and gradual evolutions of a diarist.
A lot of entries naturally deal with musings on his work- the technicalities of writing, the fear of not being able to say anything new, the nuances of language, poetry and its ideocracies, rewriting and so on. His tryst with training in psychoanalysis reflects in the many dreams he has chronicled in the diary as well, especially in the later years.
Reading through this tome will help the reader “experience the full magic of his poetic art”. And, as Krishna Ramanujan puts it in the introduction, “If immortality exists- as John Keats and William Shakespeare have claimed- it can be found in the words the dead leave behind.” Journeys – A Poet’s Diary will appeal to literature students, readers who love the genre of memoirs and diary writing, as well as those with a keen interest in the poetry of A.K. Ramanujan.
“Writers build places. Sometimes they conjure make-believe realms, unfettered by rules of sense or science. But sometimes they evoke real ones-destinations you can find on a map. And sometimes they manage to make those real places feel more real than any photo ever could”.
If you are a book lover then you must know and will have surely experienced the delight on travelling on the armchair, or wherever you sit to read. Writers can take us to the farthest places of the world in any time period they like and give us a sense of being in that place. The concept of literary places is indeed appealing to readers.
Literary Places by Sarah Baxter takes readers on a literary tour across the world. Good literature can help you traverse not only physical locations but also travel across time. The format of the book makes it accessible. Each chapter begins with a different place. There is a little snippet right at the beginning which tells the reader about which novel has evoked the place, as well as a little bit about the place itself.
In the book, we travel across time in Paris, during the era of the setting of Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables. The book paints a picture of what part of ‘that’ Paris is lost today and what still remains.
There were some places that I could immediately recognize because I had been there, such as Florence. But, I instantly wanted to reexperience the memories of this wonderful city through the book “A Room with A View” by EM Foster, thanks to this book. Being familiar with London, I could understand when the author spoke about seeing the city through “Oliver Twist”. The remark that “many a corner still conjures up the past” seems true of London even today, as does Dickens’ entire description of horrors on the lives of the margin.
And then there were places I had not visited and books that spoke of those, that I had not read. But, the descriptions made me want to undertake the literary and the physical journey. For instance, I desired to devour Cairo’s labyrinth of mosques, souks and secret, and also relive them by reading Palace Walk by Naguib Mahfouz.
And then, there were places I had read about in other books, and I longed to see how still other books of fiction would do justice to these. I have not read Burger’s Daughter by Nadine Gordimer. But, it talks about Soweto, and I have read another book on the struggle in this township. I have read Arushi Raina’s, When Morning Comes, and the Soweto therein, makes me feel familiar with the Soweto described in Literary Places.
Think of “Literary Places” as a literary tour guide. You can hold it in your hand (or kindle!) and actually trace the paths of the authors and characters of yesteryears. You can see for yourself what has remained and what has changed. You can feel the pulse of the place beating in the book or can sense if the passage of time has dimmed the flavours. Let it become a journey of sorts- a journey within as much as it is a journey without.
Literary Places by Sarah Baxter takes the reader on a journey to 25 different places through 25 different novels. To add to the experience, there are some truly breath-taking illustrations.
Title: Literary Places
Author: Sarah Baxter
Illustrator: Amy Grimes
Publisher: White Lion Publishing
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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