If Nur Jahan were alive today, she would be what one would call, ‘a superwoman ‘. The Queen of Queens or Maharani, the 17th wife of the Mughal Emperor Jahangir, was a feisty and dynamic woman. In Empress- The Astonishing Reign of Nur Jahan, author and feminist historian Ruby Lal brings to the limelight the many accomplishments of the Mughal queen.
As a historian, Lal seeks out an objective and accurate account of Nur’s life. She analyses histories of what is known about the queen- both oral accounts and recorded ones, and then unravels what is hidden behind the more popular constructs of her beauty.
Yes, she was beautiful. But, she was also an accomplished politician, a poet, a culturally inclined person, an excellent hunter and master strategist. She won the respect and admiration of Jahangir. He made her his ‘co-sovereign’, something that was unprecedented in the empire. She has coins that bore her seal and royal orders issued in her name. However, the conservative patriarchal society of the times could not acknowledge “that she could be both womanly and a sovereign”.
Through intense research, often with unusual sources, Lal explains the reasons behind the rise of Nur Jahan due to a plethora of factors, rather than only see her as a beautiful woman who lured her husband with feminine charms. We get a nuanced story of a queen who was much ahead of her times; A queen who was a feminist, though no such concept existed back then!
The narrative style is quite interesting since Lal tells the story of Nur Jahan almost like a fiction tale. She recreates and brings to life the times in which the queen was born and her life in the royal household complete with the sights, smells, culture and mannerisms of the eon, including insightful descriptions of the harem and the Mughal court. This places her story in context.
In these realistic recreations of the childhood, youth and the life of Nur Jahan, she weaves in the story of the times. One gets a sense of how Nur came to be the person she was.
The Queen steals the show
As a feminist historian, the book highlights the gender politics of the age. What is interesting to search in the narrative, and what Lal also attempts to find out is how did Nur Jahan achieve what she did in the age and environment she lived in? What about her made Jahangir see her with a different eye? How did she navigate the complex world of patriarchy and harem politics to a more visible kind of power?
Nur Jahan was cognizant of the fact that history often overlooked the achievements of women. She ensures in her way, that such a fate should not befall her. While she handled the politics of power in a commendable way, her downfall was also inevitable. History is eventually a point of view. When Shah Jahan, Nur’s step son, ascended the throne, many victories and accomplishments of Nur were effaced from public records and memory. Even though they had once shared cordial relations, their relationship had soured.
“In the absence of a man in whose name she could fight, and with no nobles or family members supporting or celebrating her imperial service, Nur could take no further action to retain her position as co-sovereign. Her rise to power had been relatively swift. Her fall was even swifter,” writes Lal.
Empress is a bold attempt to take a relook at history from a different point of view. Time and patriarchy may not have done due justice to Nur’s legacy, but, as the author writes, “Some people will themselves into history”. Nur Jahan was definitely one of them!
Author: Ruby Lal
We’ve all heard the adage that beauty is skin deep. But then, why do many of us still look out for solutions only in external cosmetic products and treatments? If you want better skin and hair, the first place you should go to is your kitchen! Glow by Vasudha Rai dives into indigenous wisdom and emerges with some easy-to-follow and tried-and-tested ‘manna’ for great skin, hair and health!
Excerpts from our conversation with Rai…
You have been involved in writing about the beauty industry for a long time. What are your observations about the change in attitudes towards natural authentic beauty treatments and products over the course of all these years?
I think the treatments are broadly the same, but what has really changed is the attitude towards beauty. There is a lot more acceptance now of the way we look. Beauty is also more diverse, which means that a lot more of us are considered beautiful, instead of just that typical ‘gori-chitti’ aesthetic. In terms of products, there is a slew of natural beauty brands that have entered the market. It’s like a green revolution of sorts. However, in the next few years the brands will be filtered down. Only the ones that are scientifically formulated and are extremely effective will remain.
You have divided the book into the four pillars of beauty—vitality, clarity, radiance and peace, and then put different natural foods under each of these heads. This is indeed a new and original way to look at beauty. What inspired this approach?
I was a bit tired of the upside-down approach that we had for beauty. Skincare, makeup and facials are all great. However, true beauty begins from within – with good health and a great mindset. Writing on beauty for more than 15 years I have seen that outer care is a temporary fix. We have to be cognizant not just of the food we eat physically but the thoughts that we feed into our minds. Vitality stands for energy and strength: When we eat and live to be healthy, great skin and hair are just a side effect. Clarity is a real need these days – especially because adult acne is a reality, because of stress, poor diets, pollution etc. Radiance is the main tenet of beauty and I have chosen brightly coloured fruit, leaves, flowers and seeds for this section. But, for me the ultimate pillar of beauty is peace. Without peace, looking good is just superficial. When we are calm and peaceful there is an inner radiance that is magnetizing and there is no cream or facial that can replicate that sort of glow.
Can you talk about the research process that you undertook for this book? I understand that there were trials you undertook as well!
I wrote the book in four drafts (before I submitted it to Penguin). First, I wrote what I knew from experience. Then I looked at scientific studies to find new data and support my claims. The third layer was the precious knowledge that my experts generously shared with me. And finally came the recipes and recipe testing. My neighbours are now used to seeing me in weird face masks just walking around! Some of them know that I’ve written a book, while others think I’m a bit crazy!
One of the points that the book brings out is that many traditional fruits and vegetables which many of us may have enjoyed in our childhood are just disappearing from the scene. This surely points to something simmering that we are not aware of. How can one bring back and preserve, or rather reclaim what is authentically ours?
One way to do that would be to create a demand for our local fruits and vegetables. We must reduce the consumption of imported berries and other stuff because firstly they are unnecessarily expensive, and secondly, they spoil easily because they have been stored for too long. Lastly, God knows what they have been injected with to stay fresh for so long! Also, instead of shopping at the supermarket, go to your mandi, shop with the local subziwallah, support local businesses. It all begins with one person – just ask for local over imported and slowly, the demand will increase. Educate your friends and family to do the same.
Just as a quick takeaway for our readers… Which natural product would you use for the following?
Many people do want to go back to the ‘roots’ and our rich heritage of remedies for health and beauty. However, within the spectrum of ‘natural’ beauty products we are flooded with options in the market. What advice would you give consumers for distinguishing between what is authentic and what is not?
I would always say do a lot of research and see if the ingredients have been extracted using the best methods, and then formulated by a scientist. People don’t understand that natural ingredients can be very volatile and need to be balanced by someone with a degree in cosmetology. I believe in balance – I love eating clean, applying home-made hair oils and masks, but equally I love a good face serum or a dermatologist-office treatment. We can preserve our heritage and yet take advantage of the products that are modern and effective. We don’t have to choose between one or another.
It’s time to begin the journey to good skin and hair. Are you ready to bring on the inner glow?
Author: Vasudha Rai
There are three things you can’t get back once you have lost it- trust is the first, innocence is the second and childhood, the third. Some people are lucky to have a prolonged childhood that continues well into adulthood, while some have their childhood stolen from them even though they are still children. Early memories play a vital role in the shaping of human personalities and provide a skeleton for the kind of adults we will be.
Manoj V Jain’s Dystopia is the story of five school friends who reconnect after decades and attempt to resolve why a dear friend killed herself at eighteen. The book is set in the cosmopolitan city of Mumbai and is centred on a single night at one of the friends’ house. Regular flashbacks take you to different points in time giving the narrative some perspective. While there are five characters in the book, the central character of the book remains the guiding spirit of Dystopia. The spirit has a strong voice that adds depth to the story and gives the reader an insight into the minds of each character.
Jain has divided the story into two parts- Shambala, the idealistic and dreamy world of adolescence and Dystopia, the dark and angst ridden reality. Dystopia is described as an alter ego of Shambala where every dark facet of one’s personality is brought to the fore front and given the freedom to express itself. However, sometimes the voice of dystopia is extremely jarring and one begins to hope for better editing of the story. There are too many sudden sputters to the narrative thus obstructing the flow.
As with any murder plot, the end is a shocker and takes you by surprise. The reason for Anandita’s death is the final piece of the puzzle, but yet the story somehow feels unsatisfying. Dystopia is a good read for those grappling with childhood pains, growing up, teenage angst, role identities and parenting but one should be careful that the book does not end up being a trigger to past problems.
Author: Manoj V Jain
Publisher: The Write Place
“Sometimes I am caught between poetry and prose, like two lovers I can’t decide between. Prose says to me, ‘Let’s build something long and lasting’. Poetry takes my hand, and whispers, ‘Come with me, let’s get lost for a while’.”
Akanksha Mittal’s debut collection of poems perfectly embodies this delicate task of poetry. The Sound of Silence will take you on the meandering journey of a beleaguered heart, exploring love, loss, longing and melancholy that leaves you tingling with emotions. The poems attempt to portray an honest look at relationships and all the highs and lows that come with it.
Mittal’s collection spans the full spectrum of emotions from a sweet teenage crush to the unbearable pain of your first heartbreak, from the irresistible pull of desire to the cruel torture of unrequited love.
Her deep love for nature is apparent in the monochrome sketches accompanying some of the poems. While most verses speak of romantic connections, Mittal beautifully weaves webs of connectivity with the entire universe which is the centre of all creation. Elements of nature such as fire, wind, earth seamlessly combine with celestial elements like stars, constellations, the sun and moon. These elements are beautifully illustrated and immerse the reader into Mittal’s world.
‘Like God had to create the sky after crafting the ground,
Once He had crafted the lips, He had to invent sound.
And when He formed the clouds, He had to make it rain too,
I too had to be crafted because He had already created you.’
Although there is a central theme running through the book, it might have been better if the author had divided the book into parts so that the reader is aware when the tone changes. While the language used in the book is simple and easy to understand, the themes explored are quite mature and are apt for those who have been through the complex tussle of love.
The Sound of Silence subtly evokes deep buried emotions. Mittal’s poems illustrate that in love and relationships, a lot remains unsaid and undefined. What can’t find its way into words, will find a way to flow out. Let it!
“A sandcastle I sure was,
Hopelessly in love with the wave,
But the end was worth it,
For I had the entire ocean as my grave”
Title: The Sound of Silence
Author: Akanksha G Mittal
Publisher: Om Books International
Age Group: 16+
Though the RSS was established in 1925, it had its share of ups and downs, particularly after independence when the organisation began to be looked at like a pariah. Well, Nathuram Godse, who assassinated Mahatma Gandhi, was a former member. Other developments also led to the RSS being looked upon as a threat by the then dominant political party. However, like the proverbial phoenix, the RSS has not only risen in the past two decades, but evolved considerably. And, it is this evolution which is the focus of The RSS: A View to the Inside.
It is natural for people to be interested in the activities of the RSS today. After all, the ruling party, the BJP is a political affiliate. Indeed, one of the major concerns of the book is also to explore the relationship between the RSS and the BJP, in the context of changing times. The authors are not new to the RSS. Their first book, The Brotherhood In Saffron: The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh And Hindu Revivalism, published in 1987 also explored the Sangh. Now, they build on that information and present the bigger picture, thirty years hence.
The authors focus on how RSS is placed in the context of today. As they put it, “The India of the twenty-first century is radically different from the India of the past and that has had an impact on the RSS, on both its membership and its policy orientation”. Hence the book seeks to explore this evolution against the backdrop of a changing India.
The book consequently discusses “the willingness of some senior figures to reshape the Sangh, ideologically and organisationally, to win mass appeal in a changing India”
The book provides a glimpse into how the decision making of the RSS takes place in view of the fact that it has many affiliates often with opposing ideologies. Indeed, this is a strand that appears all through the book in the varied chapters, each of which focuses on a specific area. The treatment of conflicting views within the parivar has been described in an interesting and lucid manner. For example, the path of FDI liberalisation is a contentious issue, with the government clearly supporting it and the BMS, an RSS affiliate labour group as well as the SJM (a national lobby advocating economic self-sufficiency, again set up with the help of the RSS), opposing it.
It explores the reasons why, despite policy differences, the RSS and its affiliates have displayed remarkable cohesiveness. What are the specific systems and values in place that ensures this? The authors take a detailed look at the growing affiliates of the RSS. Today, they reflect a growing diversity and thereby also a conflicting interest within the RSS. Understandably, this presents new challenges to the RSS as well. While it has avoided destructive factionalism within its affiliates, there is a well-run machinery behind it that ensures the same. The book discusses briefly how the sangh manages this and how this could continue given the constantly changing social and political scenario in the country.
There are many aspects of the RSS and the through different chapters the book attempts to present a holistic chapter. While the affiliates and the interrelationships of the different affiliates with the RSS features strongly in the content, the book also studies the emergence and current status of the RSS on other issues. It gleans over the role of the group overseas. The chapter on “Indianising Education” talks about the foray of the RSS into education through affiliate Vidya Bharati. It discusses the links with the Muslim Rashtriya Manch which is an experiment in including Muslims within the RSS fold, the issue of Jammu and Kashmir, the stand of RSS on China (and how it sees BJPs approach to Indo-China relations), the contentious ideology of ghar wapsi and cow protection and the dilemma of Ayodhya. Through select case studies the authors analyse the change in the sangh and its evolution. The book also attempts to address some vital questions such as the meaning of hindutva according to the RSS.
This book would be of interest to those interested in knowing inside stories of what really makes huge social and political groups survive, thrive and grow. The academic orientation of the book and the fact that it is steeped in research adds to the authenticity. It is also a book that has a wealth of information on the RSS itself, including many important nuggets that may not necessarily be common knowledge.
The book, in my opinion presents a picture of the RSS as a huge family with several branches and affiliates, where, intra-parivar coordination committees “serve as a forum where the participants can sort out differences behind closed doors and work out compromises rather than take their disagreements to the press and to the streets”.
The RSS: A View to the Inside is an academic account supported by references and written after a scientific scrutiny. It is also peppered with personal observations, independent research and case studies to support what the authors purport.
It relies on several references and case studies and draws from recent news events (such as post 2014 general elections where BJP emerged as the winning party). For example, the chapter describing the increased involvement of the RSS in policy making analyses minutely the speech made by Bhagwat on Vijayadashami for clues about the RSS views on crucial policy matters. Or, it discusses the involvement of the RSS in education by talking about steps taken by the HRD ministry for the revamping of the Indian education system so that the essentials of Indian culture are reflected in curriculum of schools across the country.
The RSS: A View to the Inside presents the RSS as an agile organisation that has moved with the times and increased its reach within the Indian society through a well-managed system of affiliates. It presents a comprehensive story of the evolution of the RSS since inception in the context of key issues that matter to our country.
The authors play more of a descriptive role, occasionally casting a critical eye on the issues they discuss. The RSS: A View to the Inside, will introduce interested readers to the inner workings of an organisation that is growing in size and reach.
Authors: Walter K Andersen and Shridhar D Damle
She ruled the golden age of Hindi Cinema and in her short life, left a deep impact on the world of filmmaking. We know her as Meena Kumari- the Actress, the Diva, the Idol, the Tragedy Queen, the Legend. But, we have not yet seen her avatar as Meena Kumari the Poet. Not many know that she had a way with words, and she used the power of the pen to express her innermost thoughts and feelings. Meena Kumari’s poetry has been overshadowed by her role as an actress…so far that is.
In Meena Kumari: The Poet, A Life Beyond Cinema (Published by Roli Books), Noorul Hasan brings to the limelight this unseen side of the actress’s personality. What had been hidden from the public eye, or rather, overshadowed by her cinematic achievements, now comes to the forefront. Hasan’s translations of Meena Kumari’s poetry presents her in a new light.
Meena Kumari’s poetry has a very distinct voice. The actress comes across as a versatile and sensitive woman who used words to voice her despair and to come to terms with life- and with herself.
The book has her original poems in Urdu as well as the English translations side-by-side. Reading both together magically transforms and enhances the appreciation of her poetry. This also illuminates the beauty and precision of the English translations. Translation, by its very nature, is a herculean task. One can translate words from one language to another. But, what about the feeling and imagery? This makes translation of poetry all the more challenging. And, if the poetess happens to be a legend of sorts the pressure only increases! But, Hasan has surpassed these challenges and brought forth an honest depiction of Meena Kumari’s poetry.
Her poetry reflects her inner turmoil. There is a sense of pain, and a sense of antagonism against society. It seems as if she found catharsis in this act of writing.
My hands are empty, I’ve nothing at all
Except a bitter taste in the mouth of my heart.
I had an impressive array of dreams
But found nothing save grief and despair
Even that hope began to breathe its last
Without which all was lost.
The poems are very rich in metaphor and imagery. It is almost as if the reader can visualise what she is talking about. In that sense her words evoke vivid images in the mind of the reader.
The buds of memories
Like coy new brides
Keep their faces hidden
And in the night’s unfathomable dark
Slowly draw the veil from their faces
Love is also a recurrent theme in her poems. She rejoices in the feeling of being in love when it is fresh and new. But she does not shy of exploring love that fades away…love that hurts and love that betrays. She also talks about the despair of separation and the yearning to meet again.
I feel it bursting
From each pore of my being
Like flowers in spring
Her poems also turn philosophical at times, exploring the many questions that life poses, and deliberating on existential questions.
In all creation
Only man can bring himself
To commit suicide
These chirping birds
(unmindful of their ephemeral life)
are not so despondent
as to kill themselves
The book has a few hauntingly beautiful images of Meena Kumari as well. In addition to the poems, which form the crux of the book, there are a few other features which highlight the life of the actress. Philip Bounds and Daisy Hasan’s discussion of “Meena Kumari as a critic of popular culture” provide a new lens through which one can view Meena Kumari’s poetry. It also features couple of interesting journalistic pieces from a very old book about the actress. These pieces comprise of a fitting tribute to the actress by Naushad Ali, the reflections of a journalist on multiple meetings with the actress and a surprising piece penned by Meena Kumari herself.
The book will be of interest to those with a love for poetry as well as fans of the actress. The poems hold strong by themselves. But, in view of the fact that they were written by a legend one can’t help but relate it to her life and the broader context of the Hindi cinematic industry of the times.
That Meena Kumari was typecast as the tragedy queen is well-known. But, I think her poetry elevated her above all that. As one nears the end of the book, one is left with the feeling that for her, “Love was a dream” (to put it in the words of one of the titles in the collection). One is left with the sensuality of her words and the richness of the images her poetry evokes. Maybe, the best way to conclude is with these lines from her poems, which somehow crystalize the essence of her poetry and her life…
Smile on the lips is no deterrent to tears in the eyes
Life is a scattered tale of grief
And my story is nearing its end.
Long after Meena Kumari has gone, she still remains an enigma- much loved, and still ruling the hearts of people. In the same manner, long after you have read Meena Kumari’s poetry, it’s sensuality, flair and delicacy will continue to woo you!
Translated by Noorul Hasan
Publisher: Roli Books
Genre: Poetry/ Biographical Essays
The Sellout Nation by Vikram Bhatti takes a wicked, irreverent and tongue-in-cheek look at India’s tryst with Globalisation. The novel is a humorous fictionalized account of the Republic of Bharatpur, which is infamous for its poverty and potholes, and is home to a billion locals.
Well, the collapse of the USSYAAR whacks the citizens of the Republic of Bharatpur from their comfort zone. A new superpower is now about to pay them a visit, and make them an offer they cannot refuse. The generosity of two international visitors, Mr. George W. Push and Miss Pamela Lewinsky, the President and the First Lady Secretary of the global superpower USK starts the ball rolling.
So, on one bright afternoon, with an impoverished countryside for a backdrop and scores of happy faces dreaming dollar dreams in the foreground, the ‘Open Your Door’ policy comes into being, and the fate of the nation is sealed forever. However, how this policy will play out is an epic tale yet to unfold. With Prophet Profit in charge, Gullibalisation, renamed Globalisation is a tool of choice in order to wage product wars to win the coffers of the world. It is just a matter of time before Bharatpur gets tangled in this web.
You’ll meet an interesting slew of characters…right from Rahul Bhaiya, the politician, Mr. Garbachop, the politician from Moscow, to minister Mohan Singh and a host of other people such as Aam Prasad, a commoner and the wise Ped Prabhu, who is a tree and provides much needed wisdom.
How did the idea for this book emerge?
My book, The Sellout Nation, is my wicked take on the Globalisation of India and how it has impacted our nation over the last three decades. I believe it is not fair for any nation to be guided by financial interests of other nations, even if it means occasional GDP jumps and availability of Chinese made western products in the domestic market. I see Globalisation as an economic invasion, much like the invasions our civilisation has witnessed in the past. However, what really urged me to write this book was how despite undertaking a monumental freedom struggle that was strictly fought on the principals of Swadeshi, in just four decades of attaining Independence, we conveniently swapped it for its exact opposite – Gol-bol-lie-sation. Doesn’t it tell something about us?
What sounds effortlessly humorous actually requires a lot of hard work! The book had me in splits! Right from the language and names of characters to actual descriptions of situations, every page brims with humour. Can you talk about using humour as your primary writing tool?
I am humorist at heart and I love satires. In fact, I work hard towards adapting my stories into these genres. When it came to writing ‘The Sellout Nation’ I was clear from the start that it was going to be a fun read, with twisted phraseology, spoof characters, silly jokes and cheap digs. I had some of the characters and events worked out beforehand, but most of it flowed in organically. Moreover, Globalisation falls under Economics, which is not of much interest to many. My challenge was to turn this drab and seemingly research-based subject into popular fiction, something that a larger reader base could easily comprehend and enjoy.
The characters of the book also show that very often people themselves are also to blame for whatever happens to them! Aam Prasad represents everything that is wrong with the common man! What are your views on this?
A dialogue from my book reads, “How can you blame a smart-ass for fooling a fool?” Yes, people have to accept the blame for whatever happens to them, because people make choices and choices have consequences. I think the real problem with the ‘common man’, which Aam Prasad represents, is that he is way too gullible, hence prone to committing the same mistake over and over again. Perhaps, being a traditional society, we still go by the face value. But, here, we are dealing with the West, which is never known to hold its word. In fact, they constantly change the goalpost to suit their requirement and it takes us decades before we catch their con. For this reason, my book refers to Globalisation as ‘Gulliblisation’ – the art of globalising the gullible.
One of the characters I found fascinating is Ped Prabhu, the centuries old Banyan tree, who has a very different perspective on the entire history of Bharatpur thanks to age. Tell us a bit more about what you wanted to bring out through this character…
I love Ped Pradhu myself, the 500-year old Banyan tree that has been around since the coming of the Mughals. He loves to sleep long hours and is forever irritated with the Locals for disturbing his sleep whenever they are in trouble. Although, in the book, Ped Prabhu is portrayed as the oldest and the wisest character of the village, he is, in a way, their sleeping conscience to which the Locals return to from time to time for guidance. He provides the objective view.
The entire concept of westernizing the younger generation to set a long term market for globalization seems to come across in the book. It also seems critical about many ‘developments’ which have come forth in the country. I understand a lot of these is tongue-in-cheek, but, what is the one takeaway for readers of the book? Something that as a writer, you would want the end reader to recognise?
Apart from all the jokes, spoofs and gags that fill the surface, my book really springs from the philosophic difference between East and West. While Eastern philosophy stresses on sustaining with nature, the Western philosophy is openly capitalistic and abusive, both to nature and nations it extracts profit from. Concepts such as ‘Internationalism’, ‘Aspiration Value’, and ‘Progress’ have been contrived by the West only to push consumerism. Moreover, the younger generations must recognise that Capitalism has already reached its zenith with Globalisation, there’s not much room for it to progress any further. It’s best that we stop going gaga over Globalisation and internationalism, and instead root for Localisation as the way forward. Don’t be a sellout!
The Sellout Nation will have the reader in guffaws, and even though you may not exactly agree with everything the author purports, the reader will appreciate the idea of localization and Swadeshi.
Title: The Sellout Nation
Author: Vikram Bhatti (http://www.vikrambhatti.com)
Publisher: Notion Press
Genre: Fiction, Humour
Bollywood is a world in itself. There is the Bollywood that we see on screen. There is the Bollywood that we get a sense of as we witness stars of today carve out their well-polished public images.
But this is a story of Bollywood before the well oiled PR machinery of today came into being. It is the story that comes from a silent observer, and an active participant. These are his recollections of a time when Bollywood was different from what it is today.
The writer, Raaj Grover, has an almost fifty-year association with the film industry. Half a century is long enough time to create and reflect on a storehouse of memories and events.
Point of view
The author was very closely associated with the Dutt family, and this thread runs through the entire book. Each chapter in the book is about one personality from the industry, with whom he had interactions and associations. But, thankfully, it does not read like an autobiography of the personalities! He starts off with an incident pertaining to them and jumps on to something else, incorporating a heady mix of stories, incidents, trivia and poetry. It is this treatment of the narrative which sets this book apart.
What he narrates about that personality is born out of his experience with the person. This provides a different lens through which we see the personality. Moreover, the book does not cover the entire biography of the Bollywood persona that Grover talks about. Rather, it narrates a specific incidence or episode from times where their journeys coincided. Hence, in the chapter on Amitabh Bachchan we get a glimpse into his very early struggles of when he came to Mumbai for the first time to try his luck in the Industry. The chapter on Dilip Kumar has interesting nuggets of the star’s life in Peshawar and how he came to be the actor that he is today.
Due to his deep bond with the Dutt family, the chapters on Nargis, Sanjay and Sunil Dutt seem to be the most personal. I found the narrative on Nargis most interesting. He recounts many little but relevant instances that brings out Nargis, the human being behind the actress completely alive on the pages of the book.
The book reads like a friendly conversation or casual banter with a person who has been an integral part of the lives of these film personalities. It has some pictures that have not been seen before in popular media.
As you read the book you are sure to encounter some really interesting little incidents and nuggets. For example, his description of Dimple Kapadia cycling away merrily after a meeting with him at Bandra brings a smile to the face. The stories of intense struggles of stalwarts like Amitabh Bachchan or Rajendra Kumar are inspirational.
There are some elusive film personalities as well, who leave the world wondering what’s there behind the enigma. Rakhee is one of them. Grover’s chapter on Rakhee Gulzar reveals a different side to the actress. I particularly enjoyed the chapter on Vinod Khanna, his talents besides acting (he was one of the best cooks!) and how his constant kindness helped Grover.
Grover is a poet himself and the book is peppered with some of his couplets. He also includes some beautiful poetry that has resonated with him. This is wonderful reading in itself!
Besides tales of Bollywood there is another subtle thread that runs through The Legends of Bollywood. Grover has roots in Peshawar, as did many key personalities of the film industry such as Prithviraj Kapoor and Dilip Kumar. One can understandably sense the displacement and sadness that pervades those rooted there, in the context of our country’s relationship with Pakistan. The last chapter, Two Neighbours- The Love-Hate Relationship takes a look at the fact that India and Pakistan are both rooted in strong common customs. He discusses the strong relationships between Hindus and Muslims that have existed in Bollywood, and continues to flourish even today. In fact, one of the most successful bhajans dedicated to Krishna, from the film Baiju Bawra, has an interesting trivia associated with it. The lyrics were written by Shakeel, the music director was Naushad and the singer Mohammad Rafi were all Muslims. The chapter shows how art can indeed build bridges.
Well, Grover was a young lad of eighteen when he joined the industry and now, he’s over seventy years old! As he talks about these stories from Bollywood the passage of years brings with it a deep reflection. Interspersed with the stories about film stars are also reflections and musings on life. They are not obvious, but quietly pervade the story that he tells us.
This book will be of interest to all those who are keen fans and observers of Bollywood and who want a little peek behind the scenes through the unique viewpoint of an insider. It has some minute details about well loved legends of Bollywood. The ethos of this book could be summed up in the author’s own words, “Just like a mother carries her child in her womb, I have been nurturing some precious memories in my mind for many years, dredging up varied experiences that I have had in my eventful life. The Legends of Bollywood is a humble attempt to share the same with you!”
The Legends of Bollywood tells us some fascinating stories and brings forth interesting snippets from the lives of stars whom we have loved over the years. Grover adds to these nuggets with some philosophical musings and heartfelt poetry imbued in the narrative.
Title: The Legends of Bollywood
Author: Raaj Grover (translated by Suchitra Iyer)
Publisher: Jaico Books
All of us have experienced the healing power of nature. Sadly, we have all also seen how we are pulled away from co-existing with nature, thanks to our increasingly urban lifestyles. A new book, Creating Sanctuary: Sacred Garden Spaces, Plant-Based Medicine, and Daily Practices to Achieve Happiness and Well-Being by Jessi Bloom, addresses how we can find and create our own personal sanctuary, where we can allow nature to heal us.
The book starts off with exploring the concept of sacred space and personal sanctuary. It is important to tune in with the spirit of the land and be clear about our intentions for the space as a first step. It then gleans through the entire process of actually setting up our sanctuary. Creating Sanctuary takes you through common elements that must be a part of your own sanctuary. The section on how gardens and sanctuaries can be used for healing is also especially useful. For example, the simple use of labyrinths can add just so much beauty to a place!
The heart of the entire process lies in the chapter “Five Steps to Creating Your Sanctuary Garden” which outlines in detail five practical ways of going about creating sanctuary. Another practical resource is the descriptive and detailed list of fifty plants that could inhabit your sacred space. The book also goes on to describe how and which plants could be used for medicinal purposes. It provides tips on not only growing medicinal plants, but also using them, as in, making your own apothecary. The book is packed and replete with a number of recipes that one can try out with the medicinal plants in our gardens- both for application and consumption.
Varied photographs add to and aid the understanding of the concepts explained. The book also features real-life spaces where people have created and willingly shared their own sacred sanctuaries. This is quite inspirational as well.
Takeaways for me…
This is a practical and inspirational book on creating sanctuaries right where you are. I would also use the term spiritual gardening to describe the philosophies expressed in the book. Yes, it is also a highly practical book which is almost like a storehouse of ideas on the varied aspects of creating your very own personal sanctuary. But above all, it is all about being at one with your natural core. As Rumi said, “The entrance door to the sanctuary is inside you,”!
Author: Jessi Bloom
Photographer: Shawn Linehan
Publisher: Timber Press
Genre: Gardening, Spiritual Gardening
Sarang Mahajan’s fantasy world, Inkredia has all the elements of a truly alluring and magical land. The first book in a series set in this mythical world, Luwan of Brida, introduces us to the protagonist Luwan, a young and brave lad. The story follows this simple village boy and his sister Meg, as they embark on a dangerous journey towards a destination that is unknown. What makes them run away from their simple but fulfilling lives in their village? What secrets does the magical book given to Luwan by his mother hold? Why are the inhuman Ghork-riders, the terrifying creatures of death, behind him? What is it about the medallion around his neck that draws danger towards him?
As Luwan and Meg make their way away from their village they encounter dangers at every step. The reader meets a set of fictional fantasy creatures each with their own unique characteristics- spirits that live within walls, demons of death, magicians, monfrits and many more. If you like the fantasy fiction genre, this book is the right one for you. There is a sense of mystery that pervades the entire book, and makes the reader want to continue till the very end. Are all the questions answered? It suffices to say, that while many questions are answered indeed, many new questions are raised which makes the reader wait in bated breath for the next book in the series!
The Fantasy fiction genre is a crowded one. It is heartening to note that many Indian writers are exploring this genre as well. What do you think makes the Inkredia concept stand out?
Yes, the genre is crowded if you are speaking globally, but in India it is still quite new. The fantasy that we see in India is mostly Indian mythological fiction. Inkredia, on the other hand, has an entirely original fictional universe. This factor not only makes Inkredia stand out among Indian fantasy books but also sets it apart from the western fantasies like Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings, because Inkredia does not borrow fantasy creatures such as dragons, unicorns or centaurs or the races such as dwarves or elves.
In addition, the Inkredia Universe has its own concept of magic, a detailed and original map, original names of people and places and so on. Even some of the magical objects mentioned in Inkredia serve unique purposes and don’t exist in any other fantasy literature. I believe these are the factors that make Inkredia stand out and it has been pointed out by many readers so far.
You have been actively involved in writing for television. It is not surprising then, that while reading Luwan of Brida, one can actually visualize the entire sequence of events! Do you plan to introduce it as a television series as well?
I began as a writer with the novel format and I still consider myself a novelist. When I write, I love to withdraw from the real world and enter the fantasy world I am creating, so that I can enjoy the process. I believe that’s why many readers feel that my narration has a visual quality to it. Television happened later. I was approached to write a fantasy show for Star because of the success of Luwan of Brida. Since then, I have done four shows in all. But I still love the novel format most. Indian television is totally different from the novels that I write. So far I have had people expressing interest in turning Inkredia into a video game or a film, though I do believe that if ever it’s adapted for the screen, it will best fit a TV show format because of the length and structure of the story.
What was the inspiration behind the conceptualization of the entire Inkredia universe? It is a pretty detailed outline, and Luwan of Brida seems to have just touched the tip!
Yes. The first book is just the tip of the iceberg. The sequel, The Castle of Tashkrum will give a better insight into the Inkredia Universe and the novels after that will keep revealing more and more. The inspiration was my love for the fantasy genre. When I began to write a book of my own, I almost instantly decided that I am not going to use existing elements from the Greek, European, Egyptian, Arabic or Indian mythologies. I thought it would be way more exciting to create new stuff. This was the phase when I had not even thought of having a book published. I just wanted to enjoy the process. As I started developing the map and later started writing the book, I realized that I would have to come up with a lot of things other than places and creatures such as festivals, currencies, a political structure; in other words, an entire culture. Since I loved doing all of this, the universe kept expanding.
While the book solves many mysteries it also leaves the readers with several questions about what is going to happen next! As a writer, how challenging was it to balance this sense of suspense with a sense of revealing some aspects of the story, to satisfy the reader’s curiosity?
Well, I never looked at the first book in isolation. Whenever I have thought of the story, it has always been about the entire series, which is about the evolution of Luwan’s character that’s going to go through some tough challenges, personally and mentally, over the course of the series. As I worked on it, the first logical episode in this character journey turned out to be a big one and would have been impossible to fit in one book, but I let it evolve as it did. It was only when the story was completely ready that I considered the practical aspects. I knew I could not write a 1200-page first book. I had to cut the first episode in two parts and it was challenging.
After I cut the first episode in two books, initially, the first draft of Book one had a story that ended abruptly and I knew I could not leave it like that. So, I borrowed as many revelations from the second book as I could without harming the next part and put them in the first one. I also increased the insight into the fictional universe. I was later surprised to see that I had actually managed to arrive at some logical conclusion for the first book, because in the next book, Luwan is not going to go through similar challenges. I believe I have succeeded to a great extent in achieving the balance that you speak of, judging from the reactions so far. All the unanswered questions are going to make the second book thrilling and entertaining and you will realize that there was no way I could have answered those questions without telling the next story. But that’s what a book series is about, isn’t it?
Luwan of Brida is the first book in the series and is soon to be followed by The Castle of Tashkrum. How many books do you plan in total?
I have made a lot of progress on the second book and plan on finishing the first draft soon. I also have a detailed outline of the third and the fourth book. The story, as I see it now, ends in the fourth book. But I want to keep an open mind and see how it goes.
Are you fond of reading fantasy fiction? Which are your favourite authors and books in the genre?
I have been a huge fan of this genre ever since I started reading. I remember being absolutely fascinated by Aladdin and the Magic Lamp when I first read that story. I do love adventures as well. Stories like Gulliver’s Travels and Sindbad used to fascinate me as a kid, so did Robinson Crusoe and Treasure Island. What I really love though is a fantasy combined with an exhilarating adventure and a touch of mystery. I love the genre so much that I find it hard to read any other genre even today. Due to an utter lack of books like these in India, I eventually ran out of the stuff when I was in high school. I did not read for several years. It was Harry Potter that drew me back to books and I am deeply grateful to JK Rowling for that. But the work that really made me want to write a book of my own was the one that I got to next, The Lord of the Rings. I have been in awe of JRR Tolkien since then. Thankfully, the Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan came to my help and filled up the massive void left by LOTR. I devoured all ten books in the series that had been published by then in one go. These are the books and authors that remain my favorite to date. I wish to read the works of Brandon Sanderson and George RR Martin but haven’t been able to do so yet.
Title: Luwan of Brida
Author: Sarang Mahajan
Genre: Fantasy Fiction