You cannot have all the answers by Deepa Agarwal is a collection of fifteen short stories that attempt to answer questions or rather, question established answers about some conflicting situations.
The stories in the book are very layered. There are undertones that simmer beneath. It takes sensitivity on the part of the reader to understand and appreciate these nuances. The first story, ‘Cradle Song’, is about a family of seven sisters and a one brother who crossed the border during partition and fled to Bombay to rebuild their lives. Two sisters go back to revisit their childhood home and are faced with an old cradle that holds memories. Behind this apparently nostalgic account is a smoldering tale of deprivation and of a feeling of neglect in childhood.
In this collection the author has experimented with modes of storytelling as well. The story ‘You cannot have all the answers’ from which the book takes its name contains a kind of magical realism. In ‘Closure’, it’s really tough not to admire the protagonist, Amma, and her fiery bravado. However, what’s more interesting is that the story conveys a poignant message even without reaching a conclusion. ‘The Path’ takes on the futility of war and its impact on common people just by describing a journey taken by a runaway soldier.
The story titled Karma was very touching, illuminating the inner life and mental state of a young girl married to her brother in law to take care of her ailing sister.
There is definitely a philosophical angle to the tales. Some of the themes they address are sexuality, youth, war, old age, obsessions and so on. The protagonists of the short stories are mostly women. Their tales carry their unique point of view, and their struggles.
The stories also illuminate a deep understanding of human psychology- without being judgmental. Why do people behave the way they do? What are the underlying thoughts and motivations that propel people to act in certain ways? What makes things different for women in the context of the society they are in? How does society cripple us? These are some of the questions that the stories indirectly seek to explore.
It is said that in life the journey is important and not the destination. In a sense, these stories chronicle fragments of such journeys. Each story does not necessarily have a conclusion or climax. Each event is not neatly tied up. Rather, the stories throw questions. Questions, which will make the reader think and ponder. Questions which may not really have answers, but still need to be deliberated upon. Because, in life, ultimately, You cannot have all the answers!
Author: Deepa Agarwal
Publisher: Niyogi Books
Genre: Short Stories/ Fiction
“As I heard my name being called on stage again for the Lifetime Achievement Award, my mind returned to the present and I slowly climbed the steps leading up to the stage. Each step was a reminder of the journey that has lasted over forty years. It was a journey filled with rejections, negative comments and disapprovals, along with appreciation, a lot of love and affection. I hope that I have somehow been the voice for people who remain shy, hidden and unknown and yearn for an outlet of expression,” writes Sudha Murty, in her latest book, Here, There and Everywhere. This also happens to be her 200th title. Murty has authored a plethora of books- fiction and non-fiction, for adults and children, as well as travelogues and technical books.
Here, There and Everywhere contains Murty’s experiences that have been published earlier on and handpicked for this edition. It also contains two new stories that illuminate two different areas that have been an interesting part of her life: her literary journey and her views on philanthropic activities.
I particularly enjoyed the chapter on her literary journey, and the role played by her mother in encouraging these literary pursuits. Having studied in Kannada and only written in that language to becoming one of the popular authors in the country today, has been a long and eventful journey. From her early days of struggle to purchase books due to lack of money, to her gradual success as a writer, this chapter covers it all with candid humour. What remains poignant in the story is the fact that Murty realised early on that her writings touched people and made a difference to their lives. Armed with this knowledge she has used her tool- that of the pen, to continue making a difference to people’s lives.
The works of Sudha Murty have a very inspirational quality about them. In addition, the sheer simplicity of language and ideas make it accessible to all readers. She writes about this book: “I wanted to keep my style distinctive and portray it exactly the way I am,” Hence, the book is devoid of any flowery or ‘elitist’ language. It is more of a conversation that Murty wants to have with her readers.
Each short story in this book is actually a real life experience that Sudha Murty has woven into the narrative. Each instance is heartwarming and exemplifies how people can touch each other’s lives in a deep and meaningful manner.
The story, “May you be the mother of a hundred children” describes a sweet and subtle twist to this old blessing! “How to beat the boys” chronicles her experience of being the only girl along with 149 boys in an engineering college. She handled the ragging with gusto, facing mental trauma in a sense, but never gave up her academic goals. Inconveniences like absence of toilets for girls led her to later take up the task of construction of toilets for women. She broke gender barriers by always topping the classes and passing with flying colours. This story is inspirational for all and just shows what grit and determination can do. Her account of her work with devadasis is also heart wrenching! “The meaning of philanthropy” contains her views on philanthropy. One associates the name of Sudha Murty with some of the best philanthropic activities in the country.
Despite all the wealth and high social status that Sudha Murty is associated with, this is a book that shows how one person can change many lives. The stories show the true meaning of philanthropy, and an example of a life well lived.
Not all stories in this book are about her philanthropic activities. In her numerous travels she has encountered interesting personalities and somewhere or the other all these find a way into the stories.
Perhaps the best summary of the book is outlined in Murty’s own words, “this book contains some of my most cherished experiences that are like beautiful flowers to me and have been put together here as if to complete a garland.” Here, There and Everywhere by Sudha Murty is a timeless book that infuses the reader with a spirit of warmth and humanity!
OTHER BOOKS BY SUDHA MURTY
Products from Amazon.in
Author: Sudha Murty
The Kama Sutra is an ancient collection of erotic texts by Vatsyayana, a sage from the third century who compiled one of the best known texts on sexuality. Today, various scholars have interpreted the Kama Sutra and it makes a mark on the rich heritage of ancient texts of India.
However, while the Kama Sutra itself has elicited great interest worldwide, how many people have ever wondered about Vatsyayana himself? Who was he? What compelled him to write this treatise?
Jaya Misra, Writer, Director and Producer, takes us into the life and times of Vatsyayana, in her debut novel Kama. This is a fictionalized account of the tale of Vatsyayana.
It is the year 273 AD. There is trouble and unrest as the grip of the ancient Vedic texts loosens. An uncontrolled sense of freedom has led to chaos in a society that seems to be spiralling to moral destruction. It is against this backdrop, that the writer imagines Vatsyayana writing the great treatise.
Kama explores the motivation behind Vatsyayana’s task of compiling the Kama Sutra. Not much is known about this scholar which makes it possible to imagine the trajectory of his life. This is exactly what Misra does, building a background to the story behind the Kama Sutra. As she wittingly puts it, “like everything in our lives, this story too could be a version of the truth’
Bookedforlife chats with the author to unveil the story behind the Kama Sutra.
At first, it was curiosity, about the mind that wrote this book. When I first read the English translation, I was stunned to find out that Vatsyayana had compiled seven erotic books into one! Being a fiction writer, I began to wonder what his life must have been like. I was sure he was no celibate. For even though Kama Sutra is written rather pedantically, there is underlying wit, there is a deep insight. So, a picture of this intriguing deep philosophical sexy man began to form. I was sure from the moment I wrote the first word, that underneath the 2000-year-old Kamasutra, was the real story of the writer, that we will never know! That thought consumed me and I decided to write my version of what his life could have been like!
There is not much known about Vatsyayana historically, except that he wrote this book and at one point lived in Varanasi. He pays no homage to any King, therefore it’s even more difficult to pin him down. He reveals nothing of himself in the Kama Sutra. His date of birth is also under a 300-year discrepancy! To create a believable story, I decided to place him in an era that is hardly written about by historians, between the Mauryas and the Guptas. So, my book is entirely fiction. Each character, event and journey is fictional. The date is fictitious, as are his life and times. Only Kamasutra or any reference to it is real.
I read a lot about the Guptas and I took a lot of inspiration from Kalidasa’s plays, I travelled to ancient heritage sights, temples, spoke to a lot of professors of ancient history, to imagine a background. But then once I began to write all research sort of melted into one pot and a story rolled out! Professor Agarwal’s The Unknown Kama Sutra and A.N.D Haksar’s Kama Sutra were my favourite go-to research books. Haksar has possibly written the finest translation of the Kama Sutra. The Unknown Kama Sutra by Professor Agarwal is an undiscovered GEM! It is an anthology of ancient love aphorisms.
In my preface, I have stated that this was a time where learned men refused to believe that women could even orgasm. What could not be ejaculated did not exist. Therefore, in those days, women were not even allowed to study scriptures. Vatsyayana, in his initial chapters of the Kama Sutra, has very politically correctly and diplomatically, dealt with this, stating that women too are affected by Kama. Its only when they get to study it, they can learn how to practice it. Then, he goes ahead to write an entire book for men, about how to pleasure women! For me this was a bold stand taken by a man 2000 years ago for women to have equal rights in pleasure! Book 7 in Kamasutra is entirely about the rights of courtesans!
I am overwhelmed with the feedback flowing in from the readers. I feared that the erotica would be labelled porn. But most readers, old women, young men, middle aged readers, have written back that the sexual descriptions are very natural and sensual. I wrote this book with all my heart and soul! I’m just happy it has made an impact and people have related to the characters. All readers are hankering for a sequel. That’s a good sign, I suppose!
Honestly, being a screenwriter, I see things very visually in my head. Television writing has taught me the science of keeping the viewer gripped. The narrative was not something I had decided on, it just flowed out as I wrote the story. It was very natural for me to play with the past and present up to a point and then jump into the future. I think engaging tales come from the universe, with their own energy, to the story teller.
Author: Jaya Misra
Publisher: Om Books International
Investing in stocks- this is something very dear to many people. Most of us invest in the stock market. Look around you and you will realize that a lot of conversation revolves around the best ‘tip’ for the best stock at the ‘perfect time’. The Autobiography of a Stock by Manoj Arora is aimed at novice investors to empower them to make an informed decision about investing in stocks.
The tool of storytelling is a powerful one. This book also uses it to capture the interest of the reader. The book tells us the story of Govind, a young man who wants to start investing in stocks. He approaches none other than Mr. Stock himself! Narrated in the first person by Mr. Stock the book is hilarious, heart-warming and of course very informative!
83 lessons form the crux of the book. Each lesson is neatly boxed and worded as a comprehensive two or three liners. These lessons follow a more detailed explanation of the topic in question. They cover the entire gamut of stock investing tips and fundamentals.
Through the conversations between Mr. Stock and Govind, one can get a sense of the emotional roller coaster that any journey of stock investing entails. The author rightly says that “Those with better emotional intelligence are more likely to make more money from the market, when all other factors remain the same”. The book shows a deep understanding of the psyche of the common investor.
The book first establishes that stock investing is indeed a very powerful way to make your wealth work for you. It is the volatility of the stock market which gives stellar returns. Unfortunately, it could lead to losses as well if not leveraged in an informed manner. The book goes on to describe the techniques that one needs to be aware of in order to invest wisely and also the factors that one needs to be wary about.
There are plenty of practical examples and formulas interspersed with these principles which makes it convenient for the reader to apply his knowledge.
Apart from the simple language that demystifies the entire concept of investing in stocks, it is the background of the author himself that really strikes a chord. He does not come from a finance background. He does not use complicated jargon that makes investing in stocks look like a skill from another planet! His background coupled with his confidence in the ability of a common man to invest in stocks, makes this book relevant.
The Autobiography of a Stock is in essence a common man’s guide to stock investment. A great read for those who love to get into the nitty-gritties of investing in stocks. Read it first at one go, and then actively use and apply the principles described in the book.
Title: The Autobiography of a Stock
Author: Manoj Arora
Publisher: Jaico Books
Genre: Finance, Business
V. Raghunathan’s first novel, Return to Jammu, is the story of Balan- the son of a junior army officer. In a friendly conversational tone, the author takes us through Balan’s life, weaving in a nostalgic story of love and loss.
Return to Jammu starts off, almost chronologically, with Balan’s background and childhood days. As one reads through the minutiae one gets a glimpse of the India of the 1950s. The plot is not entirely evident in the first few chapters. But, before the reader dismisses this building up as trivial, he or she is completely taken in by V. Raghunathan’s great sense of humour. The author’s trademark sarcasm laces the entire story. Each page brings a smile to the face…or a hearty chuckle!
Consider the following lines where he talks about birthday celebrations:
Besides, not having celebrated Urmila’s first birthday with any fanfare, my mother was loathe to make any song and dance about my first birthday just because I was an only boy. She had, after all, made no song and dance for Urmila, the only girl. But try telling that to good Punjabis; they may make the warmest of friends and neighbours but do not easily take no for an answer, especially in matters of sons and feasts.
Off to Jammu…
Balan arrives at Pathankot, and the family travels to Jammu where his father is to be based. The ensuing descriptions of seven years in the area throw up many interesting themes. One gets an idea of the landscape of Jammu in the 1950s-the brown canals with iced water, the local flora and fauna that were an integral part of the childhood described by the author.
The author’s descriptions also evoke the feel of an era past, where people lived so differently. For instance, simple things like the use of aluminum casted heating coil to heat bathing water in a tub, and how sub canals doubled up as refrigerators is quite far from the scenario today. The simple childhood he evokes, the schooling of those years, unrestricted time with siblings and the close knit neighborhood will surely take the reader down the memory lane.
Interspersed with the relatively isolated life in Jammu, he talks about world events that also occurred during that time, such as the launch of Sputnik by Russia and so on. Indian political events such as the leadership of Nehru and wars with China and Pakistan form a part of the narrative. But, these major events do not change life drastically for the young Balan.
In a sense it paints a vivid picture of India of that time through the eyes of a child- the humdrum of daily life, a father who’d rather avoid the responsibility of a good husband and dad, growing up with two sisters in an India vastly different from today, a mother who managed the house with strain and dedication…..these are all elements that form the early part of the narration.
However, as Balan grows he turns out to be dedicated, hardworking and confident. Life takes him to the Indian Institute of Management-Ahmedabad. He meets a girl named Jasmine who he recounts as a childhood friend, Jeevan Asha. They had spent many memorable years in Jammu. However, she does not acknowledge this. This is when the reader’s curiosity peaks.
The book then moves fast, amidst this heightened ‘suspense’. Balan makes a trip to Jammu to find out the truth about Jeevan Asha. Will the journey reveal if the girl he has met is indeed his childhood friend? Will the visit reveal a changed city torn from the idyllic Jammu of his past?
Jammu has changed indeed. When Balan returns he sees a different land from the one he grew up in. This comes across poignantly in the descriptions of the canals of his childhood:
If my first sight of the same canal has astonished me in 1959 for the beautiful view it held, now, in 1983, it’s condition shocked me. What had been a beautiful, flowing and clean canal was now a shallow slush, full of garbage, with an abundance of polythene bags, a couple of street curs and a few crows, one of them even pecking at a dead frog.
The end is touching and equally poignant. It may describe an event in the life of one individual, but the reader will see that human emotions and situations are common across all. In that sense, love and loss, and how we deal with them, will always remain common concerns.
V. Raghunathan is an academic and has written vastly in the nonfiction genre. This is his first fiction book. The instances in the novel and probably bits of the character of Balan himself seem to be inspired by his own life.
Filled with nostalgia this is also a story about growing up, leaving the innocence of childhood and dealing with pain and loss as one navigates through life. A great sense of humour pervades Return to Jammu, which makes it a heady mix of humour fueled nostalgia!
Title: Return to Jammu
Author: V. Raghunathan
OTHER BOOKS BY V. RAGHUNATHAN
The Legend of Virinara by Usha Alexander seems to be a parable of modern times in its concerns and themes though it is set in an ancient world where the monarch, Raja Vijay rules the mighty state Virinara. The powerful king expands his kingdom, eating into the surrounding forests. However, the forest dwellers are not ones to be subdued. They respond with an act of terror. The kingdom, that has been peaceful so far, is shaken.
Peace and compromise is the only way out. Raja Vijay’s beloved sister Shanti ventures deep into the forest alone to seek a solution. But stories of power and politics are never so simple. She falls in love with the forest warrior Narun. A peacemaker between the two rivals, she seeks a nonviolent path to resolving the conflict. Does she succeed in establishing peace or are humans ever destined for war and the havoc that ensues?
The story is narrated by Shanti, in a flashback. Her half sibling who has renounced worldly life to become a monk writes the story as she narrates it. The narrative moves back and forth from the present to past thus adding interesting layers to the tale.
The fast paced story moves towards its conclusion with twists and turns that keep the reader anticipating what the next turn of events would be. The politics of the royalty, the basic difference between the lives of the modern settled folk and the nomads, the hierarchical nature of society, the corrupting nature of power, putting individual animosities above common good- all these are the factors that come in the way of ‘diplomatic conversations’ and peaceful solutions to the problem.
We are in a world filled with conflicts of all kinds. There is an internal conflict between who we wish to be and who we believe we have to become for the sake of duty. The characters undergo these complex internal conflicts. And then, there is an external conflict that we are all familiar with. The conflict between the forest dwellers and the town dwellers who seek to expand into the forest forms an important theme as well. The conflicting interests between groups, the role of diplomacy, tact and violence in this saga makes it a story that is so relevant to our times despite being set in the past.
The Legend of Virinara is set in times when the role and status of women was relegated to childbearing and running the household. Against this background, the women of the Royal household who are integral to the story are strong and they try and rise above the ‘status’ accorded to them by society. Eelar-amma, the kings step mother, is a wise and just woman who uses her influence for the good of all. The protagonist Shanti, is a brave woman who steers the course of her own life despite trying factors around her.
The Legend of Virinara clearly has a deep philosophical message about life and the times we live in. It also shows the importance of forming your own philosophies rather than being brainwashed by prevailing thoughts. As Shanti says in the book of her knowledge and growth, “I sampled them all: Mahavira, Carvaka, other teachers from distant lands- even obscure cults and unsung teachers, whose names have long since dropped from our discourses. I devoted myself finally to none of them. I found each of them incomplete. I walk my own way. And that’s what I encourage in the youths who come to learn from me,”
In that sense the book portrays that “There are different ways of understanding and knowing and not every story is true in the same way,”
It also illuminates how individual equations interfere with larger scheme of things. As Shanti encapsulates her life in words, her discussions with the monk reveal deep philosophies that seek to find a solution to the problems that mankind has always faced- problems of conflict and violence.
Perhaps the best way to describe The Legend of Virinara is in these words- “It’s your story and it is our story. A true story of our world. Perhaps someone will find a reflection of themselves and their times in your words,”.
Title: The Legend of Virinara
Author: Usha Alexander
Publisher: Penguin Books
Sonia Shah’s book, The Fever, an account of the journey of one of the most pervasive and deadliest diseases on earth- Malaria, could not have been better timed. Even as the book seeks to uncover the mystery of malaria, there are movements world over to grapple with this disease. As the recently held Malaria Summit London 2018 showed, we have reached a stage where global political will has to be directed towards the eradication of this disease that has plagued mankind for years, and continues to do so. The summit provided backing to this cause and called upon the Commonwealth nations to show bold political action against what is clearly the world’s deadliest disease.
Man and mosquito…the relationship spans centuries. Investigative journalist Sonia Shah looks into the complex struggle of mankind to eradicate and overpower the dreadful disease malaria.
“Humans have suffered the disease for more than 500,000 years. And not only does it still plague us, but it has also become even more lethal. That’s quite a feat for a disease that we’ve known to prevent and cure for more than a hundred years”, writes Shah, thereby setting the context for the book.
Why does malaria tax us so?
Despite knowing how to avoid it, and what causes it, we’ve still not managed to overpower malaria. Why?
The Fever discusses various reasons as to why malaria continues to be a ferocious and pervasive killer. Based on research and interactions with experts Shah outlines several factors that lead to this scenario. The intrinsic parasitical nature of the pathogen, conquests and colonization that exposed those who had no inherent immunity to the germ and many other factors have contributed to this.
Human factors also augment the problem. Rapid Construction and urbanisation, stagnant water, changes in local ecology, building dams and digging trenches for wars are only some of these reasons. In fact, the book even describes how malaria is one of the problems associated with climate change.
Right from the early ages when tribes hacked forests to grow plants thus unknowingly creating great conditions for mosquitoes to breed and thrive in, to modern unbridled urbanization which again gives creates favourable environs, the human-mosquito connections have been going on for years.
As Shah puts it, “Our mining, logging and farming projects continue to disrupt environmental conditions in ways that create and spread malaria to this day,”.
She also quotes many examples of how seemingly progressive developmental measures set off a fertile ground for mosquitoes to attack once more. For example, the agricultural and mineral extraction projects of the Brazilian government disrupted the Amazon jungle environment. The resultant case load of malaria infected patients is anyone’s guess. Closer home, the building boom in Mumbai has been linked to a sharp rise in cases of malaria as well.
Unsurprisingly, she says, “Part of the problem is that some of the most desirable natural resources rest under prime malaria stomping grounds,”.
An expert opinion
It takes but a glance at the bibliography behind the book to gauge the exhaustive referencing done for the purpose of this book.
Well, it’s not all bookish stuff though! The references in the book notwithstanding, Shah has travelled across the world to meet experts in the realm in a host of places including South America, Africa and India to unravel this mystery of malaria. Her acute and sharp observations coupled with inputs from experts also makes up a good portion of the book.
What I found particularly interesting is the history of development of the mosquito as a parasite- how the germ developed into a parasite as a part of its evolution. There is also a detailed explanation of how exactly the malarial parasite works- a kind of look into its operations if you please!
Talking of evolution, there are many interesting descriptions in the book that bring out how three different evolutions have resulted in the situation we find ourselves in today: first, the evolution of mosquitoes. Second, the evolution of the plasmodium that the mosquito carries. Lastly, the evolution of human response to this.
Shah neatly ties together these three aspects.
In between the more scientific explanations of the spread of malaria, there are some interesting historical nuggets that the reader will enjoy. What role did malaria play in the loss of independence of Scotland? How did it intensify racial bias against Africans, due to different immune responses? Did the Roman penchant for fountains lead to a relatively quicker spread? These are truly the stories that make the book interesting.
Human beings have always been armed with drugs that counter the disease. The earliest known cure from plant extracts such as quinine from the cinchona tree has an interesting history behind it, which is outlined in detail in the book. Who knew that the world wars would lead to the loss of this divine remedy when Japan seized control of the production? However, this led to the development of other drugs in medical labs.
The book traces the development of medical interventions for malaria, in the West as well as the East. For example, artemisinin from China was extracted by referring to ancient Chinese methods. The book chronicles the struggle for the ‘right’ drug at accessible prices against the backdrop of power struggles and unregulated production of drugs, sometimes unfortified with another combination drug (like in case of artemisinin) that caused the parasite to develop resistance against the medicine. Fake drugs and drug monopoly are also issues that plague the efforts of malaria eradication, and she discusses these as well. It is fascinating to read how malaria has defanged drugs designed to obliterate it.
While the book outlines the dismal health care facilities in countries like Africa, the pathetic conditions that force people to rely on traditional cures rather than modern medicines, it is chronicles the beauty of the relentless work that health experts world over are doing to eradicate this disease.
Shah establishes that since malaria is altered by local conditions, a one size fits all approach can’t be used here.
She takes a critical look at different aspects of malaria treatment research such as vaccine research, role of DDT, the neglect of developed nations in making an effort to eradicate malaria, treated nets and so on.
The reader may just also catch hints of irony and sarcasm as she mentions the gap between the highly funded NGOs that take on the disease eradication efforts and the ground realities- showing that sadly, things are more complex than what they seem.
The light touches of humour that mark the book make it quite accessible to non-experts as well. Shah mentions in the book, “It is as if scientists had to come up with a whole new language to talk about Malaria,”. Thankfully however, her own language is quite simple, readable and laced with humour.
But, there are some poignant and sad moments as well. Researchers may talk about malaria and related deaths in a purely scientific way. However, Shah gently brings in the human aspect when she discusses case studies of how the deadly parasite has been fatal for many. In touching descriptions, the text reveals how sometimes despite all the efforts to fight the parasite, a sense of hopelessness sometimes reigns.
The book will be of interest to practitioners involved in malaria treatments, students, those who have keen interest in studying the development and treatment of diseases, people from the pharmaceutical industry as well as those who seek to enhance their knowledge on this topic that has great implications for human health. It also holds important lessons for those involved in policy making and health care.
The Fever by Sonia Shah is a well-researched and robust attempt to solve the mystery of malaria.
Author: Sonia Shah
Publisher: Penguin Books
OTHER BOOKS BY SONIA SHAH
It was not long ago when it seemed that the appreciation of poetry was dying. But, the millennial generation is a surprising one. Today, youngsters have de-mystified poetry and many people enjoy the form. It flashes everywhere on social media and the accessibility of the genre has widened considerably. It is at this time that Safran, Aishwarya Nir’s debut collection of poetry, brings in a fresh perspective on simple everyday things.
The name ‘Safran’ reminds one of Saffron with its pure fragrance. “Safran is an anglicised pronunciation of the word Saffron. I felt the experiences mentioned in the book are as fragile, rare and overpowering like the threads of saffron. I also liked how this word encapsulated the Urdu word ‘Safar’ implying journey,” explains Nir.
The book is divided into three sections- Live, Love and Imagine. The poems in each of these sections broadly adhere to these themes.
The poetry has been penned by a millennial herself and hence it reflects the unique thought process and desires of this generation. “The way I see it Safran resonates with the young because it stands for limitlessness, it stands for no structures and it stands for brief yet beautiful,” explains Nir.
Indeed, some of the themes that come forth mirror a millennial thought process:
An extract from ‘To A Happy Start’ talks about freedom to discover oneself on the journey of life…
I want to travel
With the path, and not to the destination,
Knowing a part of me
I’ve not known before.
Another extract from ‘Fear Holds Me Together And Becomes My Anchor’ shows how fear makes us conform…
I have neatly pinned
my boundaries and seams,
like an outline of my own,
I dare not go.
‘Labels’ is a take on relationships…
No! I don’t want you
to give a name to it.
The world can define
what is between us.
talk. Sleep in peace.
While we will lay awake
In each other’s dreams;
what it truly is.
I particularly enjoyed some short poems which were quite profound. While the initial draft of the book had really long verses, Nir took months to edit and craft them into small ones.
For instance, the poem ‘Let It Go. Even If It Comes Back, It Was Never Yours. We Are All On Our Own’ is compact and to the point.
I stood on the seashore
and observed the waves.
Life keeps throwing things
and taking them away.
Illustrations by Aanchal Kejriwal accompany the poems and beautifully highlight the key themes of the poems. Nir and Kejriwal conceptualised the illustrations together and the latter brought them to life.
Safran is a refreshing collection of poems that exudes many new thoughts and infuses fresh vibrancy in poems for millennials.
Author: Aishwarya Nir
Publisher: Virgin Leaf books, Leadstart Publishing Pvt Ltd.
“Just read the story, turn the pages, believing that it must be happening somewhere” writes VP Kale in his collection of short stories, Karmachari. That ‘somewhere’ could actually be anywhere considering the vast and common appeal that his works have.
Vasant Purushottam Kale (1932-2001) was a very prolific writer who wrote in Marathi. He was popularly known as “VaPu”. He also started the trend of reading his stories to live audiences. His stories are known for their insightful characterization. Karmachari, a collection of his short stories translated into English by Vikrant Pande, now brings this vibrant universe to a new generation of readers.
The characters you encounter in the book are ordinary people. But, it takes the pen of a genius to draw us into their deepest emotions, secrets and their surprising strengths.
These short stories will introduce you to a host of characters who will surprise you. A portly man on a train with an overbearing wife turns out surprisingly intelligent and mature. A rich upper class fellow travels by local train to “help” people in his unique style. A middle class contractor’s feelings of fear and guilt on taking his first bribe. A man who can’t let go of grudges till death. A middle aged man feeling attracted to a past lover. A married couple trying to understand each other. An anxious father who loses a beloved son, and many more memorable characters.
The reader will notice that the names of chapters are names of characters in the story. This underscores the importance of the character as central to the story rather than any plot or storyline. Furthermore, each story is in the first person. The narrator is speaking directly to the reader. He also builds up the story through conversation. So yes, you can forget about long drawn descriptions! The stories move fast towards their conclusion, using conversation as rungs.
Karmachari is set in the suburban Mumbai of the 1970s, predominantly in a middle class locale. However, this does not mean that these are restricted to a particular group alone.
V.P.Kale’s insight into human psychology is truly profound. Hence, despite the seeming boundary of the ‘setting’ his stories truly rise up to apply to a general human condition.
One of his characters in the short stories says:
I enjoy the diversity of human beings. Everyone has their own traits, whims and characteristics. And getting to know someone new is exciting because it opens new avenues for such discoveries.
In ‘Satwalekar’ a new office clerk changes things around much to the irritation of a senior. While gossiping about the reaction of this senior with his confidant in office he says:
“He has all the traits of anger, greed, jealousy, etc. That’s why I say he is a complete human being. I know how to guard myself against such people”
A little later the conversation continues…
“I still believe Tambe isn’t at fault. It’s easy to win over such people. I can win him over any day by ordering a special tea for him”
“Don’t tell me that’s all it takes to win people over”
“Of course! Their expectations are as small as their jealousies”
All these instances, and many more in the book, go on to show that the stories are not really confined to a particular group, but have a human universal appeal.
These short stories were originally written in Marathi. In the English translation, the language is simple and lucid, much like it was in the original works.
Humour that is intrinsic to language is something that is challenging and often lost in translation. But, Vikrant Pande has successfully translated a lot of the wry humour from the original text in Marathi to the English.
For instance, the story ‘Khambette’ mentions:
The trains were running late. There was nothing surprising about that, though. The surprise lay elsewhere: we never knew on what day it would happen.
The translation is so seamless that unless someone points it out, the reader would not know that this is a translation!
There is a philosopher in every man- no matter how ‘common’ he is. Each of the characters who are a part of the stories in Karmachari, add to it by taking on their own philosophical angle to the situation.
In the last story, titled Vandana Samant VP Kale appears in the story as a writer character himself. It is here that he finally cements his belief as the writer being an observer of society and people, and a chronicler of sorts.
Another poignant aspect of the stories, despite their philosophical bent, is that Kale refuses to moralise. In that sense he is sympathetic to the inner worlds of all his characters irrespective of whether they are perceived as positive or negative by general society mores.
VP Kale’s Karmachari is a collection of stories that rises above boundaries and lines and transcends to universal appeal.
Author: Vasant Purushottam Kale
Translated by: Vikrant Pande
Publisher: Harper Perennial, an imprint of HarperCollins
The Mermaid and Mrs. Hancock by Imogen Hermes Gowar is a spellbinding debut that draws the reader into an enchanting world of myth and legend.
Jonah Hancock, a merchant who is eagerly awaiting his ship to return would never have thought that a mermaid would change his life. The captain of his ship has sold the ship for a mermaid. This rarity spirals him to fame and fortune. Everyone is eager to see the surreal creature. It opens the doors of high society, and other worlds unknown, to him. His encounter with accomplished courtesan Angelica Neal changes the course of his life forever. The mermaid plays a central role in the story. But, as we all know, mermaids are rumored to bring ill-will and bad-luck. Will his story have a happy ending?
The author tells the story in alternating points-of-view between two worlds: one of the merchant Mr. Hancock and the other of the courtesan Angelica Neal. If one chapter talks about the former, the other builds the world of the latter. Finally, the two protagonists meet.
From then on the story paces gently towards the end, but not without keeping the reader completely engrossed and wondering as to what would the next turn of events be. After all, mermaids are said to possess destructive powers. Does the myth of the mermaid hold true? Gowar holds the narrative strands of the story well, leading the reader through the intriguing tale.
‘‘Tis the way to tell a story
This is one of those novels where the language adds to the pleasure of reading the story as much as the plot and tension that takes the tale forward.The language is beautiful, sensual and lyrical. The author has a skill in conjuring up worlds! For example, the luscious descriptions of the courtesans house evoke a kind of sensuality. The barrenness of Mr. Hancock’s life is echoed in the descriptions of his home and daily routines. The scenes that describe the melancholy associated with the mermaid, actually weigh the reader down.
Between the lines
One of the very subtle underlying themes is the class and gender inequality that is evident in the Georgian society and almost accepted as normal. These clear distinctions of what men and women are ‘allowed’ were commonplace for the times. For a modern reader, the blatant pigeonholing of gender roles seems surprising.
For example, Mr. Hancock, the merchant, is going to be visiting the whorehouse where his mermaid will be on display. His niece who takes care of his house (since he is a widower) demands to know where he is going. He replies:
‘You are prying’ he says. “Tis not seemly. And what use would the knowledge be to you? My place is out there- he waves his arms across to the window, the dockyard beyond- ‘and yours is in here. I go out, you stay in. I do my duty, you so yours; then tis all harmonious. Do you understand?’.
The delicate situation of women, and how they navigate their roles despite challenging circumstances is also something that comes out in the novel. On one hand, Angelica Neal is the most beautiful courtesan. On the other, her utter financial dependency on her ‘keepers’ seems appalling.
One of the most powerful lines that glaringly shows this situation comes when Angelica is talking to her friend, Bel, who is giving up prostitution and is getting married. Angelica wonders how Bel agreed to marriage.
“I have tried all other kinds of prostitution, why not this? ‘Tis simply the best contract I ever saw drawn up, and it’s terms are for life.’
The novel is set in Georgian England and the author has fleshed out the intricacies of the societal mores of the time quite realistically. With the mermaid in the picture, magical realism also imbues the tale.
The Mermaid and Mrs. Hancock is a story that will keep you guessing till the end, narrated in beautiful lyrical language. Set in Georgian England, it is a realistic portrayal of the era.
Title: The Mermaid and Mrs. Hancock
Author: Imogen Hermes Gowar
Publisher: Penguin Random house, UK