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.
This article presents a unique point of view about Japan. A country can mean different things to different people but there are some common things that encompass what it means to be Japanese. Indeed, there are various philosophies that are indigenous to the Japanese way of thinking. Maybe we can learn a thing or two about the good life- the Japanese way!
Ikigai refers to your sense of purpose, or meaning in life. It is the reason for being. Ikigai: The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life by Hector Garcia and Francesc Miralles break down the ten rules that can help anyone find their own ikigai. The authors interviewed more than a hundred villagers from the Japanese island of Okinawa, the place that has made ikigai quite popular. It hosts the largest population of centenarians in the world. well, read this one to uncover how to find your sense of purpose, and thereby, live healthier and better!
Well, this may not really be a traditional Japanese philosophy per se, but Marie Kondo has taken the world by storm with the KonMari method of decluttering. The philosophy of ‘Spark Joy’, also the title of her first book has changed lives. Read more about what we can glean from Kondo here. It basically is an organising method where you keep things that spark joy for you, and discard the rest. There are rituals surrounding the ‘discarding’ by ‘thanking’ the ‘things’ for having played a role in your life.
Wabi-Sabi is an ancient Japanese philosophy focused on accepting the imperfect and transient nature of life. The concept has its roots in the traditional Japanese tea ceremony. The aesthetic of wabi-sabi pervades art, architecture, fashion and many areas of life.
The very term itself brings forth rushes of images of being literary bathed in nature’s bounty! Shinrin-yoku is the Japanese term that means “taking in the forest atmosphere” or “forest bathing.” Developed in Japan during the 1980s, it has found application in many therapies. There is also a huge body of scientific research that supports this school of thought. Even merely visiting a place where nature is paramount and relaxing or walking about there, can lead to several restorative benefits.
An inherent Japanese philosophy of life pervades the most basic of things. There are many beautiful Japanese concepts that can teach us a thing or two about life and living. Some books in fact, talk about a general “Japanese” way of live. For example, the book, Japonisme: Ikigai, Forest Bathing, Wabi-Sabi and more by Erin Longhurst talks about all these concepts together. Another book, part-memoir, part exploration of life in Japan, is the recently released “Autumn Light” by Pico Iyer. In this book, he explores the season of Autumn, and the beauty thereof of endings…read the review of this beautifully written book here. While it takes you down through the memoir path, the Japanese way of life is a running theme throughout.
Even a short visit to Japan can show you these philosophies in practice. If not, you could always pick a book or two from this list!
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.
My Big Book of Girls comprises of stories, poems and short write-ups that highlight how girls over India are empowering themselves. The book seeks to provide inspiration to other children, especially girls, that they can make a difference to their own lives and the lives of others around them.
Here is a peek into some of the stories that find their way into this delightful book: Two teenage girls from Bengaluru started a “Why Waste” campaign that aims to sensitise people to the issue of water conservation; a short snippet about Malala, the young Nobel prize winner; the story of a village girl who gets to go to school and a few more.
There is a mix of real-life instances and stories that showcase the bravado of the female protagonist.
Towards the end there is a little section with questions and food for thought that young children can easily understand in order to fully assimilate the point that the book is trying to make.
While the stories are about girls, it is also a book that I feel boys should read!
Who should read this book…
Katha Publishers give a voice to the stories of girls who have braved little or big challenges. My Big Book of Girls edited by Geeta Dharmarajan is a short but inspiring picture book!
Skills that Build by Gayatri Kalra Sehgal (published by Rupa Publications) comprises of a series of three books. There is a subtle difference between learning something and between honing practical skill sets. Skills that Build sets out to do the latter. While a traditional education system and curriculum focusses on learning facts and reproducing them, real life calls for skills that are absolutely different.
This is the gap that Kalra’s books seek to fill. As an accomplished artist on one hand, and a person involved in Early Childhood education on the other, she somehow has a foot set in each of these distinct worlds. And these books bridge the gap.
The series is rightly called “Skills That Build”. The focus here is on building skills that involves thinking and creative expression.
Readers are plentiful…..Thinkers are rare! In the humdrum of school and education, very often, we realise that while children learn to read and write, they often miss essential thinking skills. The activities presented in this book targets different aspects of thinking- memory, assoication, synthesizing, reformulating, analysing, inferring, problem solving and so on.
My favourite thing about this book is that it involves a lot of talking and discussion with the child. For most of the sub-skills to be targeted, there are proposed situations. The author then provides leading questions which help the parents, teachers or adults to talk to the child. This leads to an open conversation, where the child actually articulates his or her thinking.
Besides actually working on thinking skills, which these activities most certainly do, I also see these activities as a great bonding exercise.
Children are born creative. If nurtured, creativity may well continue into adulthood. This book is filled with ideas and suggestions on how parents and teachers can nurture and hone creativity within children (and probably rekindle it within themselves as well!).
The detailed introduction provides a glimpse into the nature of the creative process, which will help the adults reading the book understand the context and background to creative thinking and the creative process.
The activities are divided into different categories: curiosity, attention, observation, association, perception and skill development. All these are established qualities that further creative thinking and development. Hence, the activities specifically target these qualities.
Have you ever thought about open ended mathematical conversations with your child? Fear not…math can be a fun part of life! The activities in this book are based on one crucial belief, and for me, that’s really the crux of being a good mathematician- the premise here is that math encompasses much more than mere numbers. It is related to our day to day life and various other academic areas as well.
The activities given in this book cater to different learning styles. All the activities work on specific math concepts. However, they are more like games which makes it fun. There are activities that involve the child physically (measuring things, drawing, making parts and so on). Some encompass an auditory learning mode (using verbal instructions, musical games and so on). Then there is the verbal learning style involving another set of games and activities. Finally, there is the solitary learning style.
There are plenty of variations for all the activities and further suggestions for parents.
They target skills that are not taught in schools, but will be vital to the future.
2. Books are ready-reckoners for parents
3. They consider Indian scenarios and experiences specific to those living here.
4. Each activity has been presented as a recipe of sorts, in point format…just choose and pick and implement!
5. An excellent way for building a bond with your child….think of it as a resource to dip into at all times!
Skills that Build, the life-skill series by Gayatri Kalra Sehgal is a treasure-trove of activities that parents and children can do together. Building life-skills in different areas is the wonderful side-effect of these timeless editions!
Ranjit Lal knows how to grip the attention of readers. When I began to read 10 Indian Animals you may never see again in the wild, I thought it would be an interesting informative book. That it is…but way more! This book is like a joy safari ride into the jungles of India filled with information and humour- both in truckloads! Published by Duckbill, it is a part of a series of much-anticipated non-fiction books.
Humour is definitely a major part of the ‘game’ here! “Whatever you do, please, please do not call the Asiatic or Indian lion, the ‘loin’. The noble animal will be grossly affronted- and may take matters into his own hands” he writes in the beginning of the chapter on Lions. He goes on to describe an incident at the zoo where insensitive people were well taught a scary lesson by a lion!
Humour, which definitely strikes a chord with readers makes you smirk and guffaw as you go through the curated information about Indian animals on the verge of extinction.
“Deer are perpetually on the verge of having panic attacks” or an imagined conversation between vultures in a vulture restaurant!
So far, the books on conservation that I have come across are filled with facts and figures. However, navigating through this essential information in 10 Indian Animals you may never see again in the wild makes you feel like you’re reading a well-crafted story.
The titles of the chapters are quite whacky too…like “Susu in the river” a chapter on river dolphins.
Yes, there are facts and informative nuggets on the endangered animals. But, Ranjit Lal also paints the current scenario and often conflicting situations that spell doom for wildlife. He fairly points out the actions and indeed the inaction as well, on part of the government to address the issue of wildlife conservation in India.
I think there is great value addition in terms of different facts coming together. For instance, the chapter on vultures (I do see a few of them in South Mumbai where they encircle the Parsi Tower of Silence, and even to my untrained eye it’s clear that their numbers have dwindled over the years). He brings forth the point that they were threatened by illnesses due to the use of diclofenac, that used to be given to cattle to increase milk yield, and entered the system of vultures when they fed on the carcasses of these, only to cause havoc to them! Such facts pepper the book and make for interesting reading.
More than anytime else I think that this book shows how everything is interrelated. Our modern lives and interests cross paths with nature and wildlife. Very often there are no clear solutions to the man-nature conflict (sad that we are now compelled to use these terms!). But, as a generation that is more and more affected and impacted by this issue, awareness is indeed the first step.
10 Indian Animals you may never see again in the wild by Ranjit Lal opens our eyes to the living treasures that we choose not to acknowledge. It is a humorously written book, but extremely hard-hitting as well, as it makes you aware of known and lesser known native animals that are in danger of extinction. I do wish there were some pictures and illustrations though!
Do pay heed to this basic advice by the author- “Visit national parks and wildlife sanctuaries (and other wilderness areas) as often as possible: with your family, or with your school. Then you’ll see what’s actually happening on the ground and will be able to ask the authorities some really embarrassing questions. Remember this country belongs to you- and not to those who are intent to rip it off by making the excuse that we have to ‘develop’. Any ‘development’ that destroys natural habitats is not development at all, just sheer destruction “. And yes, don’t forget to take a copy of this book with you! Trust me, it will make all the difference!
Read the book free of cost on kindle unlimited.
The events that followed the partition of India and Pakistan are perhaps one of the saddest and terrible tragedies that have afflicted both the nations. Even today, a stubbing numbing pain remains in the hearts of those who experienced it.
The Partition Museum at Amritsar is located just a few minutes away from the Golden Temple. The striking red-brick Town Hall building hosts the most poignantly articulated memories of an event that deeply shaped the collective consciousness of citizens of India and Pakistan. The Partition Museum was inaugurated in 2017. The heart of Amritsar seems just the right place for this structure of living memories.
In the book, Remnants of a Separation: A History of the Partition through Material Memory, author Aanchal Malhotra, looks tenderly at how people experienced partition by viewing what refugees carried with them across the border. Material things can tell powerful stories. These objects speak of how their owners experienced the partition- emotionally. You can sense that feeling when you walk through the Partition Museum.
The Partition Museum echoes a moment in history through the eyes of the people who experienced it. It is rightly established as a People’s Museum. One of the most meaningful and touching aspects of the displays here, are the artefacts and collections that are so generously donated by partition survivors and their families. These objects are very precious- they are the symbols of a life before the event that tore many lives apart. Some of these are practical things and some are sentimental. These include utensils, trunks and clothes, wedding sari, a jewellery box and a tin box.
As one moves into the museum and through the sections, there is a sombre silence, despite the place often being quite crowded. There are comprehensive displays of objects and information on the walls and around the rooms. Whenever possible, there are art displays as well as screens and headphones to see and hear detailed commentaries. Right from the time before partition, the independence movement, the early demands for separate countries, and ultimately the actual event of the Partition followed by the painful consequences, all have been etched in the museum.
The partition and women’s experiences of it is also a background to many novels. The Women’s Courtyard by Khadija Mastur (This is a translation by Daisy Rockwell. Mastur’s novel was first published in Urdu in 1962, titled Aangan) and tells the tale of four generations of women living in the family, against the background of partition. A Gujarat here, A Gujarat there by Krishna Sobti, also has the partition looming over the events that take place in the novel.
Out of pain, art is often born. Partition led to numbing terrible pain for common people. The visitors also get to see the horrors of partition expressed through art and literature in the museum. Artists painted horrors of the time, while writers wrote about the same. Train to Pakistan by Kushwant Singh has become a classic of sorts in this realm.
Another book, The Begum, also alludes in detail to this event. This is a biography of Ra’ana Liaquat Ali Khan, Pakistan’s Pioneering First Lady. She was intensely involved in the cause of a separate nation for Muslims. The book talks about her life, but due to her deep involvement in the struggle for freedom, one gets in-depth information about the events that preceded partition, and what happened thereafter. One also gets a background perspective of the genesis of the Two-nation theory even before India got independence. What comes through in this book is the fact that no one realised the extent of bloodshed and the agonising events that the partition would lead to.
And while we think of the partition, there is another body of voices that have been largely unheard. There are many Indians, in Britain, who have also experienced the painful event. In Partition Voices by Kavita Puri we read about stories of South Asians who were once subjects of the British Raj, and are now British citizens. The genesis of this book is personal as the author’s father revealed to her the horrors of partition. He was but twelve when he along with millions of other Sikhs, Hindus and Muslims was caught up in the aftermath. However, he supressed the pain. There were many like him. These voices are now being heard.
I think about these books that are so relevant even so many years after the hastily drawn border created horrors in the lives of the people, and still continues to impact the collective consciousness of the next generation.
The museum offers a multi-media experience across fourteen galleries. In addition to the objects, the archive includes oral histories, documents, and footage. One cannot even imagine the unspeakable horrors that people may have experienced during those times. Their website is extremely informative as well.
History is a funny thing. When we read history we often take it as absolute truth, forgetting sometimes that it is but a point of view. More often than not, it is the point of view of the victor or the person in power! It is quite heartening then, to observe voices of women from history being heard strongly through a variety of books thanks to the painstaking efforts of some writers. One of the fascinating voices from the past belongs to an admired queen- Nur Jahan, known as the co-sovereign of the Mughal emperor Jehangir. In a bold and highly creative attempt, Deepa Agarwal imagines the teenage diary of Nur Jahan, in a book that goes by the same name. This piece of historical fiction is especially targeted for the YA readership, and has been published by Speaking Tiger Publishing.
Nur Jahan is a name that evokes awe and respect. She is one of the rare queens known as a co-sovereign. Yes, her beauty captivated the king, but her intellect, skills and power have firmly stamped her name on the pages of history. She may have been Jehangir’s twentieth wife, but had a great influence over him and the state. She was the de-facto ruler and the most powerful Mughal empress.
Reading The Teenage Diary of Nur Jahan gives a fascinating glimpse into the inner mind and world of such a multifaceted persona. Agreed, this is an imagined inner world, but Agarwal has been faithful to existing records about the empress’s life and deftly constructed the diary around it.
The diary of a young teenage girl who nurses the wish to marry the crown prince, is sure to be fascinating! How did she develop the grit and confidence that marks her rise? How did she navigate her way through the gender stereotyping and the veiled and sometimes forthright discrimination against girls that sadly marked those times?
However, Nur Jahan was no ordinary girl. Her desire to be the queen and uses her power was present right from the start. Her dreams to serve her people and add beauty and happiness to the world around her were strong and resolute. And, the imagined teenage diary of Nur Jahan gives the perfect glimpse into the mind of this fascinating historical character, as seen from the extract…
“What would I do if I were the governor of this province? The very thought makes me breathless. To be enthroned in a splendid court- even if it is behind a veil- with supplicants bowing to the ground before me. To issue commands that men rush to obey. To be responsible for the fate of thousands. To possess power over the life and death of any human being in this territory…”
In the foreground is the story of a young girl coming of age. But the background is peppered with tales from the emperor’s harem, life in the time of Emperor Akbar, the social scenario that accompanied those times and such other details that add their own flavour to the story. The beautiful sights of Kabul, where Nur Jahan’s father was posted for a few years accompanies the major chunk of the book. The family then returns to the Mughal courts where her dreams have a chance of turning into reality.
The diary pertains to Nur Jahan’s teenage years. I was delighted by the colourful slices of life presented here. Equally interesting are the psychological insights that Agarwal deftly weaves in. Of course, the personal diary as a genre in itself is appealing since it gives a deep insight into the innermost thoughts of the writer!
The Teenage Diary of Nur Jahan by Deepa Agarwal will delight young adults and adults who devour the genre of historical fiction!
If you’re interested in the life of Nur Jahan you may also want to read Empress- The Astonishing Reign of Nur Jahan by Ruby Lal
If you find fictional diaries of historical personalities interesting, here’s another pick up this interesting fictional diary- The Mozart Girl by Barbara Nickel, which talks about the sister of musical genius Mozart.
The youth have an important role to play in shaping the future of a nation. There is something refreshing about the young. The perspective that they get on the table, the eyes with which they view the world are different. the young are not weighed down by experience and the ‘lessons’ it offers. And yes, restless they are. One may dismiss relentless as a youthful abandon, but it has its positives. It is time then to pay attention to the young and the restless….
Amidst the recently published books examining politics and politicians, comes a new voice. The author of The Young and the Restless, Gurmehar Kaur, is no stranger to fame and attention. The fiery student is also no stranger to writing. Her first book, Small Acts of Freedom spiralled her into the public eye.
In The Young and The Restless, she interviews young politicians of India. The book was published before the general elections of 2019, that is, before the Modi government came to power. Post that, several developments have occurred which make it all the more interesting to read the book.
Kaur’s own experiences gently mingle with the thoughts and statements from the politicians that she interviews. This makes the interviews uniquely her own. This feat is the most apparent in the interview with Omar Abdullah. Perhaps this was due to the fact that Kaur is connected to Kashmir as well. We get a sense of the Kashmir that he grew up in, and of course, we contrast it with the Kashmir that it is today. Again, in retrospect, following the declaration of Jammu and Kashmir as a Union Territory and Ladkah as a Union Territory as well, reading this specific interview will have a different perspective to offer.
She also has ways of somehow finding uncanny similarities between her background and the politicians she interviews. With Omar Abdullah there is Kashmir, the land they both have roots in; Sachin Pilot is a fauji-child, just like she is. With others there is a link via activism and so on. I like the fact that Kaur looks into little details about the lives of the politicians she interviews that place them in a non-political scenario. Sachin Pilot’s childhood reminiscences; Omar Abdullah’s school days in a Kashmir that was different than what it is today; Soumya Reddy’s experiences that led to her environmental activism; Aditya Thackeray and how he views his legacy…all find expression here.
Another striking aspect of The Young and the Restless is how Kaur puts in so much of her own self into the narrative. In the chapter on Sowmya Reddy for instance, she starts off with talking about her own anxiety and then connects it to the narrative. She touches on a childhood incident of learning about the caste system from her insensitive school teacher, and devoted a good bit of space to that in the chapter on Jignesh Mevani, connecting this to his experience of the Dalit identity. While this is different from what one normally expects to read in a book of interviews with politicians, it also occurs to me, isn’t this difference the point of it all?
Amongst the young group she interviews, some are more known publicly while some are not. She does admit that the word politician has negative connotations. But how does that play out with young politicians?
“We as a nation, for decades, have witnessed the most arrogant, corrupt, apathetic people in positions of power and public service- now we just expect it to be the norm. I’m happy to announce none of the politicians in this book ate that way. It would be easier to say and accept that it’s because they are young and have just started out, and that the reality of it hasn’t hit them yet, but as I speak to each one of them, their conviction to change the lives of those around them by using their position is so strong that it finally begins to feel like maybe with them things will change for the better. And honestly, that’s the hope, right?”
She acknowledges the difficulties that her interviewees are subject to. For instance, she says, “One can have their heart in the right place and have ideas in their head that can’t be executed without the influence that a position in the parliament can get you, but with an electorate whose wants and needs are complex and whose trust has been gained and betrayed year after year, it becomes a challenge to convince them of your abilities and intentions”.
Given her very obvious criticism of BJP, I was keen to read interviews with Madhukeshwar Desai, from BJP as well as Aditya Thackeray, from the Shiv Sena, but allied with the BJP despite public disagreements between the parties. Both these interviews are quite interesting, especially the one with Desai. We often slot people as belonging to one group or the other, but this interview shows that two individuals can agree to disagree and yet respect each other!
In all, this is a book with a refreshing perspective, trying to inject the point of view of the youth in the political narrative. As she says, “These eight young leaders all belong to different parties, different ideologies and different backgrounds of politics and activism, but what concerns them is their love for the people of this country, and in the end, that is all that matters”! Do read The Young and The Restless for a fresh point of view.
2 self- designated teen detectives, Neha and Johan are the best of buddies, 13.75 years old and solving cases and mysterious happenings however big or small at their school in Delhi is their number 1 passion. Experienced and dedicated they are and the best part is that Johan, psst…. has a secret weapon up his sleeve.
There was a theft at school and excitement was buzzing in the air. The Sadanand Trophy for Extramural Excellence, which was a rolling award had been stolen from the principal, Mr Jamaal’s office and Ramji the peon had been blamed for it. Neha and Johan smelt something fishy and knew they had a case on their hands and got to work to prove Ramji’s innocence.
Neha thought logically and believed that solving cases is about observation. And Johan, an intelligent nerd, teacher’s pet and Mr know-all smelt things differently. His secret weapon was his long nose that had a mind of its own (yes, you read it right!). His secret ability is his nose. His nose is able to smells clues….it snorts, sniffles, scrunches and also makes sounds of different tones, shrill squeaks and sub human whines whenever excitedly close to solving a case.
Using their skills and ideas after watching many episodes of CSI AND Criminal Mind they follow clues left behind by the culprit and are successful in catching the real thief. Now, whenever the two are on a case prowl, they usually do it unofficially but since they were successful in solving the case of the rolling trophy they manage to win the trust of Mr Jamaal and for some time are treated as mini celebrities by students who have either bullied them in the past or many who have paid them no attention.
One day after the summer vacations Mrs. Menon, the warden of the girl’s hostel is attacked and left unconscious in her room with the room in complete disarray and the police have been called for investigation. At the same time mysterious strange goings- on in the girls’ hostel are noticed which are stranger than ‘Stranger Things’ the Netflix serial. The principal calls the two to investigate. Amid rising tensions Neha and Johan go to the hostel to have a look and Neha channels her inner Katniss Everdeen from the Hunger Games and goes into strategizing mode with the Nose sniffing away.
Meanwhile beautiful solitaire earrings go missing from Sarika’s room who is the undisputed queen bee of the school and most of the boys at school have a crush on her including the Nose whose nose goes quivering, hormones and all when she passes by. Amidst all the excitement and tensions, edge of the seat moments, Neha and the Nose try to find if there is a connection between all the happenings and catching the culprits in time. How, Why, What, When, Where are the answers to the questions that Neha and the Nose have to solve before the police do.
Read this captivating and gripping book by Ruchika Chanana who is a writer, editor and theatre practitioner. She has written short stories, non- fiction books and is a content writer for many websites.
Buy the book and go on an enthralling reading ride with Neha and the Nose!