Neelesh Misra dons many hats- lyricist, radio storyteller, journalist and writer. He is also the founder of Content Project, home to many writers, collectively called ‘Mandali’. Storywallah, a collection of short stories presents some of these voices to readers. Khila Bisht has translated these stories from Hindi to English.
Many of the stories that form a part of the collection belong to provincial India. Indeed, this is far removed from urban areas of the country. Voices from the diverse townships and villages of our diverse country are always interesting to hear. But, human emotions transcend geography and other man made barriers. The stories in the collection all represent the varied and rich hues of human feelings.
In Wildflower, a daughter grows to understand her mother as a woman first, a mother later. The story shows the depth of true love. Yellow Roses revisits the theme of evolution of love. Friends, lovers, spouses…most of us go through these relationships in stages. Does crossing one mean that the other ceases to exist? This story explores just that!
In Letters, the protagonist revisits a lost love, aided by his wife! Our People shows humanity in the aftermath of a riot and how the love of common people can truly heal wounds. My favourite story though, is Satrangi, a supernatural love story. Equally touching is Overcoat, a love story that depicts the development of a romantic relationship in the senior years.
The voices are distinct and each storyteller evokes a different India. Bustling cities, vibrant marketplaces, rural vibes, urban decay, an Indian heart on foreign shores…the stories run across the length and breadth.
The common thread of nostalgia also binds these tales together. The stories are mostly about revisiting the past and reflecting on it with a new insight. Most of the stories in Storywallah have a certain sense of longing attached.
In all, the stories that form Storywallah touch upon raw human emotions, especially the sense of love and loss and strike a chord in the heart!
There comes a time in the history of mankind when a cleansing of humanity is called for. Vineet Bajpai’s novel Pralay-The Great Deluge, the sequel to the first novel Harappa- the Curse of the blood River, tells the story of a chain of events that led to the destruction of mankind in a great deluge as well as an opportunity to redeem the human race.
In the prequel Harappa, the mighty and godly king of the ancient civilisation, Vivasvan Pujari, is betrayed by a dear friend. In the ensuing events he loses his beloved wife, he believes that he has lost his son Manu, and he faces severe humiliation in front of his own people. Yet, there are those who would do anything for their devta. He is rescued but these events have left him a changed man with a changed heart.
In his desire for revenge he unleashes a chain of events that threaten to destroy Harappa, and his future lineage as well. It is up to his son Manu to redeem mankind.
The story of Harappa has a strong link to the story of Pralay- The Great Deluge. In the latter, the young and dashing Vidyut Shashtri is set to take over the mantle from his grandfather, Dwarka Shashtri, the powerful Brahmin. The year is 2017, but events that occur at this time have deep links to the past. Vidyut has to fulfil his destiny not only by freeing his lineage from a terrible curse, but also by saving the whole of mankind.
Pralay- The Great Deluge, just like its predecessor, swings between historical periods. The story unravels across time. Love, power, violence, betrayal- this story has all the elements of an epic saga.
Events that happened simultaneously at two different locations in 1700 BCE at Harappa, are intricately connected with a story that unfolds in 2017 in Banaras. Yet, there is something that takes form in 325 AD, in a place that is modern Turkey, that also changes the course of events.
In a sense this sweeping canvas of eons allows the story to play out in epic proportions. As a reader of fantasy fiction, I love interconnections that span the length and breadth of time. This also makes the reading smoother and propels the book faster, since the reader is constantly kept interested in this switchover between different eras.
Realms of fantasy
Pralay- The Great Deluge also represents a kind of intersection and interaction of Western and Eastern worlds. The onset of pralay where Manu builds an arc to save mankind from a flooded disaster, echoes the legend of Noah’s Ark. There are references to exorcism and how the sadhus of Benares and the practitioners in the West somewhere and somehow converge.
Some human emotions and tendencies remain constant across ages. The intoxicating desire for power, the greed for supremacy and the inherent violence that is a part of human nature is seen across all of time. It is this aspect of humanity that leads to sin and pain. Whether it was the sins committed in Harappa that led to a drastic turn of events, or emperor Constantine’s vision which actually proved counterintuitive or a new world order that caused much destruction in modern times, three parallel stories tell the tale of humanity at its worst.
And yet, our ancient texts dictate that even mere mortals can rise to the ranks of devtas or the gods. Whether it was Manu who played saviour to the continuation of life after the great deluge, or Vidyut’s ancestor who cautioned Constantine against his crazy notions or the last devta Vidyut who is destined to be the saviour of the world against dark forces, the book reiterates that the redemption of mankind lies in the hands of man himself!
What I loved the most is the fact that three stories set in different eras in time unfolded with their parallel plot lines and reached a scene that leaves us longing for more! “What happens next?’is what the reader really wants to know as the book takes you at a fast pace towards the end, though there is no conclusion yet.
Reading the first book, Harappa, will surely make the reader appreciate the intricacies of the second book, Pralay- The Great Deluge, in a better matter. However, Pralay- The Great Deluge has a detailed introduction to the first book as well, so the reader will not be lost if he has not read Harappa .
The soon-to-come third book, sequel to Pralay- The Great Deluge, titled Kashi, The Secret of the Black Temple will provide the readers with the end of the story. Or, maybe not. Because as the book says: “The wheel of time was always turning, presenting human souls with the same trials. Kaalchakra was ceaseless”!
This book review is a part of “The Readers Comsos Book Review Program and Blog Tours. For details log on to thereaderscosmos.blogspot.in
Title: Pralay- The Great Deluge
Author: Vineet Bajpai
Publisher: VB Performance LLP
There are many books that dissect success. What makes Master Opportunity and Make it Big different? For one, this is a book that primarily focuses on the concept of opportunities. As we all know, success is intrinsically linked to choosing the right opportunities and recognising the opportunities that we should be grabbing.
Rothman, an American settled in India, sees the country as a land of opportunities. He runs a consultancy, OpenMind, which is an Opportunity Consultancy. Through his extensive experience as a consultant, he wishes to debunk many myths that we assume about opportunities.
Rothman believes that success and opportunities are linked in a very strong way. After having interacted with Managing Directors from various companies all over India, Rothman identified a gap in the existing school of thought. While most people believed that opportunities were crucial to success, very few actually had a systemized plan to recognise the correct opportunities and to grab them and convert them into tangible results.
Let’s talk opportunity
As one reads the book, little lessons on opportunities pop up. For instance, the idea that safety nets blind people to opportunities is recurrent. As Vijay Mansukhani, Co-Founder of Onida puts it, “If you have a lot of money and a lot of education, why would you take chances? You’d say they’re too risky, but that’s an illusion. If you have nothing, opportunities become your most important leverage. Sometimes, your only leverage.”
Another aspect discussed in Master Opportunity and Make it Big pertains to recognition of opportunities in a climate of intense change. The OpenMind process created by Rothman seeks to articulate in clear terms the manner in which a person can seek opportunities for sustained growth. The book outlines this process at various stages.
Case studies have been a crucial and insightful manner to learn from the success of others. After all, who would know more about success and profitable growth than those who have tasted success themselves?
The first part of the book presents success secrets of India’s opportunity masters. It chronicles the stories of the struggles and ensuing success of eighteen of India’s successful business people.
Each story is inspirational in its own right. However, the author has fleshed out one key lesson that the reader can take away from each story.
I found the narrative style quite easy to read and apprehend. To make things interesting he tells the story of the struggle of each individual. However, the lessons that the reader needs to remember are all fleshed out and presented in point form. This makes the experience of navigating the book a smoother one for the readers. So, while they still enjoy a good story, they are aware of the key points that they can learn and practically apply in their work lives. Each chapter ends with a short summary of the golden rules of success based on Rothman’s gleaning.
So, here are just a few of the things you would learn from these case studies: How did Subhash Chandra become a media baron when he started off his career with less than 50 rupees in his pocket? What lessons does Harsh Mariwala have for you in the realm of branding? How did Dr. Yusuf Hamied create an economically beneficial pharma venture and still focused on social benefit and philanthropy with equal gusto? What lessons does the story of Dr. Mukesh Batra hold for those who want to excel in a niche category? Neeraj Roy’s story teaches you how to ride the wave of technological disruption. How can you harvest change for ever increasing opportunities? What does Aditya Puri, who created HDFC bank have to tell you about the role of strong values? Rafique Malik’s story of his journey with Metro Shoes holds lessons on identifying opportunities as the company evolves at every stage. How did Nirmal Jain, a shopkeeper’s son, create IIFL, one of India’s largest financial conglomerates? These and many more questions are answered in the book.
The specificity of the lessons that these entrepreneurs share, is one of the positives of the book.
Sutras to follow
The second part of the book contains forty-four opportunity sutras. These are basically short mantras and tips that have been derived through these extensive interviews as well as from the OpenMind Process in general.
These sutras include opportunity accelerators which are basically traits and habits that work to accelerate the individual’s ability to capture opportunities. They also include opportunity activators which are factors that individuals could focus on in order to find and perceive breakthrough opportunities. Then, it contains opportunity evaluators, which are criteria to evaluate the potential of opportunities that one comes across. Lastly, the book highlights opportunity expediters that go on to speedup the process of implementation.
An easy to read and practical guide on how one can recognise opportunities, grab them and convert them into tangible success. A mix of storytelling and practical advice though interviews with successful people who started off very small, makes this book inspirational. The opportunity sutras in the second half of the book distill the learnings of the successful entrepreneurs into doable tips. I would have loved to see examples of successful women entrepreneurs though!
However, in all, as the name suggests, this is an apt book to learn about how to master opportunities and make it big!
Author: Richard M Rothman
Publisher: Jaico books
Genre: Self-Help, Business
K. M. Munshi’s fiction continues to run to reprints and translations even years after publication. The Patan Trilogy is one of his best known works. It comprises of three acclaimed novels in the realm of historical fiction. The first, The Glory of Patan, introduces the significant characters to the reader. Munjal Mehta, the shrewd but patriotic politician, Minaldevi, the Queen of Patan, her son Jaysinh and a host of other characters. The second book in the series, The Lord and Master of Gujarat, continues the historical saga. The third book, which is yet to be translated into English, is called Rajadhiraj, or The King of Kings.
The events of this story occur four years after the events of The Glory of Patan. The kingdom of Patan is under attack from the army of Avanti. Refugees flank the city. Amidst this arrives a brave warrior -Kaak. A series of events unfold…and they will change Gujarat forever!
A novel that has politics at its heart always scores very high. Politics intrigues the common man. The famed protagonist of this trilogy, Munjal Mehta, a politician from Gujarat is renowned for his able administration and long vision. His ideological honesty and integrity is deep founded. In a sense, he is the politician people would love to have!
Munshi’s deep involvement in politics gives his political fiction an authentic spin. After all, he occupied several prestigious positions in the administration and he was a close associate of Mahatma Gandhi and also a member of the Indian National Congress.
Munshi gets into the head of the shrewdest statesman- Munjal Mehta, whose sole aim is the consolidation of Gujarat under Siddhraj Jaysinh. The characterisation of Munjal is probably the best. If there is a thing as an ideal politician – Munjal is the one! In an earlier interview to this portal, the translators Ritu and Abhijit Kothari said about Munjal, “He combines in his statecraft methods of the mind and the battle; adapting and changing policies as he sees fit, and leaves his enemies surprised each time,”. No wonder, the character of Munjal remains relevant even today.
Most of the events that Munshi writes about are documented historical facts. However, he does take creative liberties with the same. Hence, one could say that he has weaved in a beautifully imagined story against an authentic historical background.
The romance between Kaak and Manjari is an integral part of this book. Readers of The Glory of Patan, the first book of the trilogy already know about the unfulfilled love between Munjal and Queen Minaldevi. Their mutual respect, deep bond and affection continues with greater force in this novel, and one cannot but be awed by their unique relationship.
Politics and romance at the core of the themes. However, many other themes get intertwined in this story and they remain pertinent to today’s times. “The debates on nation and religion; insider and outsider continue to be relevant today, more so in fact. The role of Jainism in matters of statecraft in Gujarat, the desire to forge a Hindu nation; the beckoning of Aryavrat – all these themes strike a chord,” explain the translators, as they discuss Munshi, the writer in the context of modern times. The Lord and Master of Gujarat also touches upon these themes.
One of the most endearing things about Munshi’s style of writing is that it is very simple. He does not get into long and detailed descriptions. Though this book spans 485 pages, never does the reader feel that it is stretched. He uses dialogue quite effectively to get the story moving. At any moment in the narrative the reader would be moving fast with the story.
I personally enjoyed the philosophical bits woven into the narrative. Either through the voice of the narrator or through dialogues, Munshi also talks about his views on power, politics and love. For example, the following lines talk about Munjal’s ultimate loneliness…
Great men who chart their own paths become inhabitants of lonely places, distanced from those around them. It is true that they reach great heights, but this height becomes their prison.
Munjal’s and Minaldevi’s conversations with Siddhraj Jaysinh, the king of Patan, are also quite illuminating as they guide the young king towards his rise.
Regional literature has much to offer. Great works of fiction form an integral part of our cultural heritage. We live in times where many of these nuanced stories are getting lost. By taking on the task of translating The Patan Trilogy into English, Ritu Kothari and Abhijit Kothari have enabled an English reading audience to get access to a veritable literary gem from Gujarat!
Even as readers relish The Lord and Master of Gujarat, the second book in the Patan Trilogy, we wait for the third and final book which completes a small part of the greater aim of the discovery of rich Gujarati literature that remains relevant for a modern audience!
Author: K. M. Munshi, Translated by Ritu Kothari and Abhijit Kothari.
Genre: Historical fiction
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
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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