In life’s long journey one experiences millions of moments, some big, some small, some insignificant, some life changing. In these entire moments one can’t help but wonder- Do we make the moments in our lives or do the moments make us? Exploring this unique quandary is Tanaz Bhathena’s The Beauty of the Moment, published by Penguin.
A sweet, innocent teenage romance is portrayed with an undercurrent of depth and angst making this a perfect young adult novel. While the story is the usual cliché of boy meets girl, boy loses girl and boy wins girl back- it is the elements of cheating parents, moving cities and teenage angst that sets the book apart from the rest.
Susan Thomas has recently moved to Canada to pursue her education along with her mother while her father continues to remain in Saudi Arabia. Susan finds it difficult to adjust to her new surrounding and is portrayed standoffish and introverted. However, when she meets Malcolm Vakil, things take a tumultuous turn and we are left with a classic teen crush. Susan’s reluctance to mix with her peers and her uninterested demeanour is superbly expressed through various scenes. Malcolm’s tense relationship with his family and uninspired approach is something every teen might have experienced.
Bhathena takes her time to set the stage for her story and adopts a leisurely pace while exploring her characters. Alternating between Susan and Malcolm point of view, the book gives equal weightage to both the central characters giving the reader varying perspectives. The innocence of their courtship, slow burn of desire and inevitable pain of your first break up will bring back bittersweet memories of your first love. Although the characters are teens, they show a remarkable amount of maturity and girt in the face of adversity.
The Beauty of the Moment is a delightful read for young adults and teenagers who are looking for a light romance.
Title: The Beauty of the Moment
Author: Tanaz Bhathena
Mehboob Murderer, which is journalist Nupur Anand’s debut novel, revolves around a mass shooting in a cafe. Who killed the six people in a Parsi café? Why is the murderer still roaming free? Pressure mounts on recently promoted officer Abbas to solve this mystery. On one hand there is pressure from the media. On the other, there is political pressure. In midst of this is a tale that reveals and reflects the struggles of the people living in Mumbai.
Mehboob Murderer slices open the underbelly of the so called ‘City of Dreams’. The story captures the flavour of Mumbai perfectly and even draws inspiration from actual events that rocked the city – be it firing in cafes or murders in an isolated factory compound. The way the life of policemen is portrayed, makes the reader want to offer comfort and support to them! It drives home the point that they live, breathe and exist around their jobs. One can almost smell and taste the cliché of ‘feeling alone in a crowd’!
Any good book captures a wide repertoire of emotions. The struggle, loneliness and feeling of being overwhelmed by circumstances come across strongly. What I would have loved to feel with these is also the sense of exhilaration and contentment. Another thing that would have elevated the book is the entire ‘sleuthing’ process. A lot the clue hunting is coincidental or not clearly driven home. Mehboob Murderer focuses so much on the individuals that it slows down what could have been a racy, nail-biting plot. It nevertheless touches the soul of Mumbai city – No matter what problem befalls or disaster strikes, life goes on! in that sense, this is a novel that beautifully captures the spirit of the city.
Mehboob Murderer has benefitted from the extensive journalistic experience of Nupur Anand. The story is based in the heart of Mumbai and captures the truth of the ‘Golden City’ where everyone is fighting their own battles and demons.
Unlucky Chumki by Lesley D Biswas is a hOle book by Duckbill, that takes a peek into the life of Chumki- a bright fun-loving little girl who lives in an Indian village. She loves going to school and is brimming with life and enthusiasm. But, there is a little problem. Chumki is considered unlucky. Everyone says that she can make things go wrong with her “magic”. Why is this so? How can she get over this obstacle that makes her feel terrible every single day!
As the story cruises Chumki’s life the reader gets many undertones of the gender stereotyping and the prevalence of superstitions in our country and society. The reason why Chumki is perceived as unlucky is rooted in superstition and lack of knowledge. However, this is brought out quite beautifully in a very fun filled story, that is also loaded with humour.
Luckily, Chumki is a spirited girl, and does not allow anything to dampen her spirits, lest of all tradition and superstition. Turning a supposed disadvantage to an advantage is the sign of a winner, is it not? As luck would have it, her brother Aki hatches a plan, and she is a part of it, but on her own terms. The story follows the children as they execute the plan. Will she now get friends? Will she be happier? Does her luck finally turn around? The illustrations by Anupama Ajinkya Apte add to the spunk of the story!
The ‘hOle books’by Duckbill experiment slightly with the book form. As the name suggests, these books with a ‘hOle’, add a fun element to the book. There is a hole at the top right end of each book, which somehow younger children find very fascinating!
On the surface, Ba’az of the Bengal Lancers has all the elements of a great novel- a rich historical backdrop, a hidden treasure, a tough and determined lead character and a gripping mystery. However, there is nothing clichéd about this book. The writing style, scenes and dialogues ensure that the Ba’az of the Bengal Lancers is unlike anything you’ve read before.
Written by first time author Uttiyo Bhattacharya, Ba’az of the Bengal Lancers is set during the Sepoy Mutiny of 1857. Following the death of the last Mughal emperor, Bahadur Shah Zafur, Bayaz-ud-din Waris Ali Khan becomes the sole guardian of a priceless treasure. Unsure of what to do with this treasure, Ba’az leaves behind traces and clues for those brave enough to find it.
After several years go by, a young architect stumbles upon this dark secret. He decides to chase history thereby discovering the lost treasure. The story follows his quest for this timeless treasure and uncovers some disturbing secrets along the way.
One of the best parts of the Ba’az of the Bengal Lancers is the sharp and concise way in which it is written. It gives abundance of information without deviating from the main story. The detailed way in which pre-independent India has been described is a delight to read as it gives an interesting account of the state of affairs of the bygone era. The author has ensured that each historical reference is fact checked and accurate.
The characters are well written and compelling in their personalities and one cannot help but feel invested in the main character Ba’az. His razor-sharp mind combined with his thirst for knowledge is well defined throughout the story. The supporting characters add to the drama of the narrative and enrich this historical saga.
Ba’az of the Bengal Lancers is an exciting read as it keeps the reader hooked onto the story until the last page. A classic case of will he find the treasure or not helps maintain the attention of the reader. Those looking for a little bit of history along with some mystery will find this book the perfect read.
Title: Ba’az of the Bengal Lancers
Author: Uttiyo Bhattacharya
The book, as the title suggests is about flowers. Each flower gets a chapter of its own, where he poetically describes its character and personality. There are some lovely illustrations that bring the flower to life and snippets of poetry as well. There is a small quote to finish off each chapter, followed by lined pages where readers can jot down observations.
What you will realize as well is how Bond succeeds in bringing out the unique personality of each flower. As I read the book, I realized that each flower is much more than a mere snippet of beauty. Personification at its best? I surely think so!
The book is a treat for nature lovers. It also makes for a great gift, especially to someone who is fond of nature. I can well imagine this book be an integral part of a garden hamper! You may combine it with another colourful illustrated journal by Ruskin Bond, titled Words from the Hills, which also evokes the beauty of nature and has a lot of free space to write down thoughts. A Little Book of Flowers is a very quick read, and a short book, but it is something that you may want to turn to again and again.
More books by Ruskin Bond:
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.
Art as a subject is not something that we as parents may be entirely comfortable with, or knowledgeable about. When it comes to teaching our kids about great Indian artists, we may find that we lack information ourselves. However, it is essential that we expose children to the very rich and diverse world of Indian art and artists.
Why should our children know about Indian artists? The popularity of Indian artists is not restricted to India alone. Indian art has been revered over the world for centuries, and continues to be so even today. Children must know of the modern masters that their country has created! It makes them aware of their heritage and culture. This is not something they will find in a history book, but it is something that is still very much a part of their culture.
An experience in art in form of looking at the life and works of an artist is a way of opening up the mind to creative thought. Art education and appreciation helps to understand human experience, emotions and thoughts.
What was the genesis of Raza’s obsession with the Bindu? How did a simple dot become a defining factor? This book takes us through the childhood of one of the most famous painters of our times. It introduces children not only to his life story but also the themes of his works. The book is interactive and contains several fold out pages that enable the child to become more ‘hands-on’ with the book as he or she delves into the world of Raza!
This is a set of four books that talk about Indian artists. However, these books introduce the masters in form of a story, where a young protagonist encounters the artist and interacts with him or her. Fact and biography meet fiction and the delightfully woven tale makes the child feel as if he has met an artist friend! The books feature interesting illustrations as well as reproductions of the paintings by the artists.
In Barefoot Hussain, the young Jai offers to help the artist find his shoes when he loses them. The fun story follows the duo as the reader learns of vignettes and stories and works of the master’s life.
In A Trail of Paint, Biswajit is dragged unwillingly on a culture trip, to an exhibition of Jamini Roy’s paintings. Once there, however, an encounter with an old man leads him to an intriguing discovery of fakes and forgers, down Kolkata’s by lanes!
In My Name is Amrita, the dairy narrative is used. The book reads like Amrita Sher-Gil’s diary, and is interspersed with photographs and paintings.
In Ravi Varma: The Veena Player, a young girl, Valsa is helping her aunt restore a painting when she befriends the subject of the painting- the Veena player. Through this uncanny friendship she learns about the artist Ravi Varma!
This book beautifully chronicles the life of a multifaceted artist, who unfortunately died young. She was an artist, a dreamer and a rebel! Who exactly was Amrita Sher-Gil? She was a little bit of all these things, really. Her roots touched Hungary, as well as colonial Shimla. This book is relatively detailed and is filled with many images, sketches and photographs, all complementing the text so beautifully and literally bringing the artist alive on the pages. Divided into chapters, the book brings out how her childhood experiences and travels shaped her personality and work.
Amrita Sher-Gil: Rebel with a Paintbrush looks at her work in the context of the times she lived in, including many key world events. The book is organised well. The text gives information on Amrita and her life, while boxes of related information such as political and artistic movements of the times is also woven around. Many of the photographs have been taken by her father, who was one of the finest photographers in India. Her beautiful paintings are spread throughout the book. This one is for keeps, and also makes a great gifting option to a child who is fond of art.
Anyone dealing with children knows that when information is presented in the form of a story or in an interactive way, children are extremely receptive and enthusiastic. These books present the lives and works of renowned Indian artists in an extremely simple, interesting and accessible way. Do indulge in these books introducing Indian artists to children!
How does it feel to have to move away from home? How does it feel when the beautiful landscapes of childhood homes become just memories? The issue of exile is real, and it is sad. Being displaced from familiar surroundings and loved ones is something that no one chooses, but it is often forced on entire populations due to political and other disturbances. These portraits of exile now find a voice and expression that brings these concerns to children and adults alike. Three books – Homecoming, Homebound and Homeland talk about the stories of Tibetan refugees living in Bylakuppe, Karnataka.
Homeland is a story of a boy who came to India to become a monk. His idea of home is his mother. He says, “Home for me, is wherever my mother is. Once she passes away I will no longer know where that home is”. Homebound tells the story of a little girl who came from Tibet, and has matured into a young adult, nurturing dreams of writing. Homecoming is the story of an old woman who came to India as a young girl.
Poignant and heart-stirring, these are human stories that need to be told. They strike a chord in your heart, but are not depressing or sad at all. Herein lies the beauty of the words and the illustrations which evoke a happy tone in the three books. The gorgeous illustrations in all the three books, brings the breathtaking scenes of the Tibetan homeland alive on the pages. The exquisite nature of these illustrations truly mark a very high standard! Another helpful feature is that meanings of some of the longer or more challenging words used in the text are given on that page itself.
The series is a great started point to understand the life of refugees, and how beauty can be found in other lands as well. Yet, their struggles and pain need a voice, which comes out beautifully. The books are apt for children above 7 years and older kids will also appreciate these. The series is a must-have addition to school libraries as well.