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.
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:
Doab in Persian refers to a fertile tract of land lying between two confluent rivers. It is on such locations that civilizations take birth. Symbolically, this represents the confluence of text and art, from the mind of the writer. Doab Dil by Sarnath Banerjee is a beautifully illustrated book that takes on the task of presenting nuggets of thoughts derived from reading, literature, popular culture and simple observations of the world around us. Wonderfully executed artwork by Sudeep Chaudhuri marks the entire book, and rightly adds on substantially to the experience of ‘reading’ it.
All the books that we read take root somewhere in our minds, and this is exactly what happened to the writer. In a sense, this is a book from one reader to another. Each chapter is about one topic or theme. Then, the crystallized thoughts pertaining to that theme from a selection of books, philosophical sayings, poetry or popular culture is taken by Banerjee and woven into one piece, that may appear incoherent at times, but then that’s where the challenge for the reader lies! Arranged aesthetically around the words is a visual treat that complements the text. Some chapters explore hidden ways of seeing, others throw up food for thought and yet others delight with the wry humour.
Should I dare say this is a picture book for adults? But, don’t be fooled. As you read and savour the text you will notice wry humour hidden between the sparse lines and the detailed images. As I read the book the sense of irony is not lost on me. The book ends with verses from songs and poetry from a range of languages across the world.
What is missing, and intentionally so, is a cohesive theme that ties the entire narrative together. In fact, there is no over-arching narrative. But perhaps, this is exactly what the book tries to show- literature and art is all about connecting things that may seem to be incongruous or incompatible. The narrative instead seems like more of a stream-of-consciousness style of writing.
To me, Doab Dil also represents a picture of how the books that we have read over the years influence us and shape our world view. In a nutshell, Doab Dil makes me feel that maybe, art and literature should meet more often.
I never knew it was called life admin. Yes, those seemingly endless amounts of chores and tasks that magically propped up in my life as I juggled work, family, duties and a million other things. But then, I heard Elizabeth Emens speak on a podcast. Dr. Rangan Chatterjee, Author of the book The Stress Solution was in conversation with Emens in connection with her book, The Art of Life Admin.
It was then that it struck. « Every day, an unseen form of labour creeps into our lives, stealing precious moments of free time, placing a strain on our schedules and relationships, and earning neither appreciation nor compensation in return. Scheduling doctor’s appointments. Planning a party. Buying a present. Filling out paperwork. This labour is ‘life -admin’- the kind of secretarial and managerial work necessary to run a life and a household, » she writes.
I am sure all of us can connect to this. Don’t we all feel consumed and swamped with life-admin tasks? Emens took on an independent and original research on this topic by interviewing a number of people. Her book presents information on different admin personalities, the types of admin we get caught up in, how to reduce, redistribute and prevent admin and so on.
For me, the biggest positive from reading the book was to actually put a name to a problem that I felt I had, but could not name. It’s like a diagnosis which makes treatment easier! Here are some tips that I have gleaned from this very detailed and comprehensive book (almost like a research manual) on Life-admin:
As we move about life, sometimes there are chores that overtake us and have the potential to wreck complete havoc. Daily chores are definitely in this space but so are chores and admin related to life situations such as moving house, marriage, divorce, death and so on. The life admin involved in these situations is also consuming- mentally, emotionally and time-wise. The Art of Life Admin by Elizabeth Emens places this enormous giant time eater called Life Admin in the centre of things and tackles the issue of how to deal with this.
Life admin is important, because life is important. And so is our time!
What was the driving force that motivated two Indian women to walk to a lake and a mountain, situated at what we could call the roof of the world? What kept them going even when the only question they had in their minds was “Will we make it?”. Kavitha and her cousin Pallu decide to trek to Mount Kailash and Lake Manasarovar. Anyone familiar with the topography of these regions know that this is no cakewalk. The reader journeys with the two women as they take one step at a time. Walking in Clouds, a beautifully crafted travel memoir brings the vibrant landscape of the Himalayan ranges alive.
However, if travelling shows the beauty outside and around you, it also evokes something within. The only question that I had as a reader when I started the book was what led these women to take up this self-driven challenge? They were happily settled in their comfortable urban lives with their children and families. What motivated them to take on something so perilous?
The answer may lie in the complacency and comfort of modern life. The emptiness of having everything I suppose! “In our upper class bubble in Hyderabad, life is a set course of education, marriage, children, money to maintain a certain standard in society, and the retirement “writes Kavitha.
Motivation aside, once they decide to undertake this journey, the reader also takes it with them. The beautiful lyrical language used to describe the wondrous natural untouched beauty will really entice the reader.
But a mission of this magnitude is not easy. Kavitha’s gripping narrative ensures that the reader feels their difficulties and challenges as much as the beauty they witness. The fear of death as they fly in a small aircraft over perilous mountains, the sheer physical exhaustion of the trek that is unimaginable to the most avid hobby mountaineers; mountain dogs that have tasted human flesh; nomads all around- some friendly and some not so friendly; the vagaries of nature; a tryst with death; the saga of international disputes ; the grim reality of climate change ; – these are some of the themes woven intricately into this gripping memoir.
“My muscles plead with me to stop. Every now and then, I have to pause, catch my breath, and swallow my panic” writes the author. At another point she says, “The simple act of walking is a chore. Nevertheless, I keep putting one foot ahead of the other, stabbing my trekking pole into the ground, pushing onward until my steps take on a rhythm”. But there is hope as well.
“Our bodies deceive us: they can withstand much more than they would have us believe” she states, keeping the spark going strong even in the midst of the icy cold terrains. Yes, one does get a sense of the extreme physical and mental challenges that the trekkers have to overcome before they finally reach their goal.
The book also describes human friendships. Kavitha travels with her cousin, but the experience connects them in ways they may have never imagined before. They travel with an assorted group of foreigners. Seemingly different cultures and people, but all faced with the same challenges as they move towards towards the same goal albeit with different purposes. The bond created here and the friendship with strangers on the path that she describes in the book seems to be a microcosm of how an open well lived life would be if one moves out of one’s comfort zone.
Of course, between the verdant landscape around and the myriad of internal introspections, she also describes the legends and stories of the Lake Mansarovar and Mount Kailash. She riddles between faith and skepticism- was the mythical light they saw on the lake in the dead of the night, something heavenly? Or was it but an illusion of the mind? There are hints about the environmental damage that has been caused, and how politics pervades these areas as well. Kavitha’s lively descriptions of the China-Tibet conflicts through the varied perspectives of her international friends on that trip makes for great reading as well, as do the seemingly strange customs of the tribals up in the mountains (such as polyandry, air burials and so on). In the middle of these we are also given stories from mythology, such as the story of Shiva and Sati.
Who should read it and why…
It is a book that opens your mind, and it is a story well told. This is a tale not only of an actual journey but also of an internal victory. You may read it as a travelogue, and it will delight you with the beautiful descriptions and stories. You may read it as an inspirational book and the story of two women who set out to conquer their perceived limitations. You may read it as a tale filled with myths and stories and nuggets about Shiva, Mount Kailash and Lake Mansarowar.
But, I think more than anything else, it is a book that will inspire you to take your own journey- wherever that may be!
If you want to read another travel-based memoir that is equally inspirational, check out our review of The Shooting Star.
Sitayana by Amit Majmudar is a modern and thought-provoking rendition of the Ramayana. The title itself primes the reader to the direction and focus of the book.
What sets this novel apart from the numerous books on this same theme is that Sita’s character is the fundamental protagonist. Another unique facet that makes it a refreshing read is that though the book follows a chronological order, it does not bore the reader with one more detailed narrative of the events. Instead, the story moves ahead with individual characters verbalising their thoughts and feelings- be it the squirrel, Nila and Nala, the Sanjeevani or any of the main characters. Certain important events are highlighted in flashbacks.
Even though Sitayana is based on a traditional, mythological story, the language used is contemporarily relatable. There are no filters when thoughts are expressed. Self-doubts, jealousy, greed and other negative emotions are the same that people have felt since the beginning of civilization…be it a God or a mere mortal. The integrity and dignity with which Sita deals with unfavourable circumstances is something that we can all learn from. The loyalty and conviction with which a person stands by their partner, not misusing one’s strength, the grace with which one deals with hurt and mistrust and standing unflinchingly without bowing down in front of injustice are invaluable takeaways from this book for today’s youth!
“Less is more!”- This premise is evident in and proved to be true in Amit Majmudar’s Sitayana. Rather than rehashing the ‘Ramayana’, he has made it an enjoyable short read that a modern readership can appreciate, relate to and get inspired from! Well, we don’t expect any less from Majmudar, who in addition to being a medical doctor, is a renowned writer passionate about mythology!
Author: Amit Majmudar
Other Books by different authors about he Ramayana from Sita’s viewpoint…
Oxygen Manifesto is a work of fiction but it carries within it the call and cry of an entire population who seeks better lives and demands that from their democratically elected leaders.
“The trees, forests and streams were shrinking fast. There was barely any vegetation to hold the soil on hilly slopes. Fresh water became a scarcity. Other than crows, all other birds had flown off to greener habitations. Fields produced less and demanded more labour and inputs. The birds no longer sang. Instead of tall mighty trees, one could only see lantana and other weeds growing in the valley. There was no sound of cicadas in the evenings. Flowers stopped blooming and moneys and rabbits stood driven out. The sun came down hard and the rain clouds retracted away and afar. Moreh looked like a concrete jungle as the hillside was dotted with ugly electric poles, even uglier wires and serpentine tarred roads”
Isn’t this scene so familiar? Scenes of development often jostle for space with scenes of sustaining and protecting heritage, especially our natural heritage. On one hand there are the people, and on the other there is the government. We have seen often that governments can fail people. However, this book describes scenarios in which people decide not to fail themselves. Two common people rise up to a veritable challenge.
Oxygen Manifesto presents a story that is a confluence of three journeys. First, there is Thatha. Thatha is a nobody- an unknown citizen. But, he relentlessly works for a cause- of restoring the natural vegetation of his beloved Manipur. Then, there is Ravi, an IAS officer posted first at Manipur, and then elsewhere. And lastly, there is the narrator, who looks for the backstory between these two elusive individuals. What have Ravi and Thatha done that is so praiseworthy? And if they have done something great, why are they not in the limelight?
The narrative is simple and the book is easy to read. The story hops between the tale of Thatha and that of Ravi interspersed with the efforts of the narrator to bring the two stories together.
The reader gets an insight into the indigenous tribal culture and the diversity thereof in Manipur. We get a sense of all that is lost in name of development. It moves across the length and breath of India, pointing out that the place might be different but the story is the same. The book is an eye opener of sorts. You see it unfold before you. Social disharmony, insurgency. Ecological havoc…how all this can be caused by insensitivity at the top level. And yet, there is hope in form of people like Ravi and Thatha who work for a brighter future.
The book also weaves in the actual components of a manifesto that truly addresses the need of the hour rather than target numbers for vote banks. In the midst of the election season, here is a book that beholds a manifesto of another kind. It gives a window to the readers to understand and identify what they really need from political parties. It also gives hope that change can be made by individuals and it can have a ripple effect.
It is surprising that reading this book immediately reminds me of another non-fiction book that I read recently- Delusional Politics, which talks about how incorrect decisions by people in power have devastating ling term implications. To me, Oxygen Manifesto, albeit a work of fiction (with elements of non-fiction weaved in), shows a ray of hope!
Title: Oxygen Manifesto
Author: Atulya Misra
Publisher: Rupa Publications
Housed in a statement making turquoise-walled building, BARO, a striking home décor store is boldly decked in the spirit of an art gallery. The trio behind BARO, Mahesh Mathai, Srila Chatterjee and Siddharth Sirohi, have worked in the realm of film and advertising. However, going further from being a showcase of beautiful art and furniture, BARO has emerged as a cultural hub. Recently, the space bustled with a spirit of a different kind- Mantoness. The occasion was the screening of Manto, a biopic of the famous Urdu author Saadat Hasan Manto, written and directed by Nandita Das.
Manto is Das’s second film after Firaaq (2008). It stars Nawazuddin Siddiqui as the profound writer who had a very short but extremely eventful life. Manto translated novels, wrote short stories, essays and screenplays. His life in Bombay of the pre-partition days is a topic in itself! He immortalized his interactions with the film luminaries of the times in a book called “Stars from Another Sky”. His challenging life was fraught with issues. Charges of obscenity were often imposed on him. He migrated from Mumbai to Pakistan after Partition. He had a drinking issue which affected his liver. He died in 1955, at the age of 42. Das’s film captures the spirit and essence of Manto, by focusing on a specific period in his life.
Biopics have an unsaid burden of glorifying its protagonists, but I feel Manto would have liked me to portray him with all his warts and blemishes and not put him on a pedestal. For him, beauty and ugliness together make a reality. Manto, through his writings pushed our limits, our morals, our prejudices. In a way, I have tried to do the same through the film – to question our morality and righteousness, our empathy, our ability to be moved without being manipulated. Manto was not sentimental and I didn’t want the film to be either. I wanted to tell the story honestly and let each person take from it what they wanted to.
For me Mantoiyat (‘Mantoness’) is the desire to be honest, outspoken and courageous! I believe all of us have it, whether dormant or awakened. If we carry a bit of that Manto spirit with us after watching the film, I would consider it mission accomplished. The film hopes to make people uncomfortable in a way that they would want to do something about it. After all, we all want to be more truthful, courageous, and free-spirited. And Manto inspires us to be that.
If you make a film on Mozart, it would be incomplete without hearing his music. In the same way, I felt Manto’s life story cannot be told without giving a glimpse of his work. To understand the man, one needs to know how and what he wrote and to understand his writing, one needed to know the person behind it. Also the line between his fact and fiction are blurred, so right from the beginning I had thought of interweaving his stories in the main narrative, almost seamlessly. I felt this form would allow the audience to enter his state of mind, both as a person and a writer.
In the face of all the friction and disharmony surrounding us, and conversations becoming increasingly polarized, I thought I could take refuge in history and in Manto to respond to today. It allowed me to not be didactic and yet convey what I want to say as there is a deep resonance between Manto’s struggle to be himself and our own desires to find our true selves. The times are not too different either, even after 70 years. I think the greatest lessons the audience can take back are Manto’s convictions and his courage. When one’s truth is stronger than one’s fears, courage follows.
If they can read Urdu, then you have Manto’s world at your disposal. If you can read Devanagri, you have his vast collection in the 5 volumes of Dastavez. But if English translation is what you will need to rely on, as I did too in the beginning, then your choice currently is limited. Sadly, I don’t like most of the English translations this far. There is ‘Bitter Fruit’ edited by Khalid Hasan but maybe the better ones for stories is ‘Manto’s Selected Stories’ translated by Aatish Taseer and for his essays I recommend Aakar Patel’s ‘Why I Write‘. I believe some more are going to come out later this year. I am delighted that Manto books sales have gone up considerably, thanks to the films. That’s my two bits in spreading Manto and Mantoiyat.
MORE BOOKS BY MANTO