Mothering A Muslim by Nazia Erum | Book Review

A quote credited as Anonymous says: ‘Every child is a different kind of flower, and all together, they make this world a beautiful garden.’ I couldn’t agree more, but at the same time I can’t help wonder, how does it speak for our society when these very flowers, beautiful and fragile as they are, start discriminating against each other on religious grounds – a subject they aren’t even equipped to comprehend?

If a mother has to start thinking whether the name she chooses for her child should establish their religious identity or not, it becomes a cause of great concern. Surely, every parent has a right to name their child without having to mentally run through its religious repercussions?

Unfortunately, in a country claiming to be secular, we as a nation are becoming increasingly divided over religion. While there is the strong political angle to it, Nazia Erum, the author of Mothering A Muslim, discovered the shocking reality of the religious segregation that has slowly, steadily, crept into the classrooms and playgrounds of India’s elite schools.

As she reached out to 145 families across twelve cities, over a period of one year, she realised naming her child was the least of her concerns.

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Erum has researched extensively on the subject of this book. To begin with, she consciously chose to speak with Muslim women living in mixed localities rather than those from all-Muslim neighbourhoods. She documented personal experiences of urban, educated Muslim women and their families. In the course of her interviews she also met many ‘authentic Muslim women’ who seem to be missing from our society but are more than just a symbol. As she found out, this authentic Muslim woman could be your neighbour, your doctor, or your child’s school teacher. She is everywhere, in all her hijabi feisty-ness, as long as you care enough to pay attention, and she too is struggling to prove her identity in a community that is constantly judging her for how she practices Islam.

All these women made a varied collection of subjects, each with their own stories that had one thread connecting them. They were all fearful for their children who had been targets of Islamophobia and nationalism in school.

The author has presented a subject considered taboo in our society with a brilliant sensitivity. She highlights how conversations from our drawing rooms are growing roots into the minds of children as young as six years old, which in turn are becoming the cause of trauma and rampant bullying in school yards and classrooms.

It may be a harmless seeming remark when a student decides to call his Muslim classmate ‘Paki’ or ‘Terrorist’. But as the author discovered, it has raised alarming questions in the mind of the child labelled so, regarding his identity. It was disturbing to read how a parent did not reprimand their child for one such insensitivity and instead replied that it was in response to being called ‘fat’. What more can one say? And this was only of the many stories revealed in this book.

The experiences narrated are horrifying and heartbreaking, to say the least. Yet, many parents let it slip by, choosing not to report them to the school authorities, because it is something that happens and one has to learn to live with. The statistics presented at the end of the book clearly speak for themselves – not enough is being done. However, as the author points out, schools need to create a policy and parents need to sit up and take notice.

Mothering A Muslim is not an argument over religion. It is a conversation on the values with which children are being raised today. Children perceive actions more than words and unknowingly imbibe the sentiments of the elders around them. This book is a call to parents and teachers on the role they have as nurturers and educationists. For they are the ones who must rise to fight for what is right in the hopes of creating a better future for all of us.

Title: Mothering A Muslim
Author: Nazia Erum
Publisher: Juggernaut Books
ISBN: 978-93-8622-853-6
Edition/Year: First Edition 2017
Format: Hardcover
Genre: Non-Fiction
Pages: 248
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5 Stars

Available on Amazon.

About the Author:  Nazia Erum runs a fashion start-up called The Luxury Label. She lives in Noida.
She is active on Twitter and Instagram.

Note: This blogpost is a top post on Indiblogger.in and has appeared on their homepage.Top post on IndiBlogger, the biggest community of Indian Bloggers

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Marital Advice to my Grandson, Joel by Peter Davidson | Book Review

With Valentine’s Day just around the corner, hearts, roses, and teddy bears have already hijacked our social media timelines. While those with a special someone in their lives can’t get enough of the season of love, there are others, like me, who once again struggle to resist rolling their eyes at those big red hearts. It is only apt then that I chose to read this book in the month of February. To understand why, read on.

Being a 30-something single woman, when I see the way romantic relationships, especially those committed in marriages, function today, I can’t help but agree with British writer Rosamunde Pilcher, OBE, who said: ‘People today expect too much from marriage. Getting married is really like taking on a big new job.’

I believe it was Leonardo da Vinci though, who described it best, saying: ‘Marriage is like putting your hand into a bag of snakes in the hope of pulling out an eel.’ As off-putting as that may sound, I do think it captures the true essence of the institution.

When American author Peter Davidson’s grandson, Joel, got engaged, he decided to jot down a few words of marital wisdom for him, based on his own experiences as a husband. Then he thought, why share this wisdom with only one person when he could share it with the whole world. So, he started a blog, listing new marital advice every week. As the popularity of the blog grew, people suggested that the material be turned into a book, and, well, he did turn it into one! A book that explained to the reader – How to be a husband your wife won’t throw out of the window in the middle of the night.

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We’ve all heard of marital advice being passed down generations. Every family has their own treasure trove of wisdom that they swear by. This grandad is no different. But you can be sure he knows exactly what he is talking about. Let me share an example or two.

The first piece of advice he received when he himself was getting married was that ‘It takes a lot of effort to make a marriage work.’ Sure, everyone knows that. Okay, almost everyone. But no one told you exactly how much effort you should expect to put in. Davidson, on the other hand, gets it spot on when he explains that this advice is like giving you a rowboat somewhere off the coast of California, pointing out into the ocean and saying, “If you paddle in that direction you’ll eventually reach Hawaii”.

Another well-meaning gentleman advised him: “Measure twice and saw once.” The purveyor of this fabulous wisdom was a carpenter, he says, but in marital terms it probably means you should think twice before you open your mouth. I think most people, married or not, would stand to gain by following this.

The author starts his book on marital advice from the very beginning. As soon as the ring finds its place on the finger, it already seems too late in getting started with wedding preparations. He explains exactly what the man’s role is in his own wedding – right from deciding the date (sports lovers: you might want to pay attention to what he has to share here) to planning every little detail that goes into putting together a wedding.

Once that is done, there is more valuable advice on settling into married life, understanding your wife and other myths about marriage, being the exemplary husband she wants you to be, and last but not the least, how to make sure you’re in it for the long haul. All of his advice has simple tips, easy to understand and follow, that are explained by way of examples.

However, the one particular piece of wisdom that made me laugh like none other was his observation on the measure of being a good husband. As he points out in his book, there are few things married woman enjoy more than getting together with their friends, mothers, and other wives, and having a full-blown bitching session about what a bunch of low-down, miserable, worthless, lazy, sloppy, gross, crude, barbaric idiots their husbands are.

There is one thing though, that they like even better. It centres around the magic word B.R.A.G.. As long as wives can brag about all the wonderful ways in which their husbands help around the house, the husbands can be sure they have hit the jackpot in their marriage. Rest assured, his advice includes steps, with examples, to win that elusive jackpot.

I wouldn’t deny that much of his advice is off-the-charts wacky. Nonetheless, it is a hilarious look at marriage. Davidson’s nuggets of wisdom are as entertaining as they are insightful which makes this book a priceless find. These are things you won’t find in a book on marital relations written by a psychiatrist, nor will you learn them in a session with a marriage counsellor. This is real advice, for real people, that just needs to be followed everyday.

Whether you are married, engaged, or single, this is one book you can all relate to. Women will have a good laugh while at the same time appreciate the message because, let’s face it, we are far more attentive to detail and all we need is for the men in our lives to understand that. This book might help in using some of the ideas to our own advantage.

Most importantly, this may be the one book that helps you decide how important marriage is to you. In the author’s words, it might convince some of you to take the plunge, or perhaps confirm your belief that being single is a blessing. If you’re still stuck deciding, I strongly recommend you pick this up. It is a quick read that is sure to brighten up your day, one way or the other.

Author: Peter Davidson
Publisher: Sweet Memories Publishing
ISBN: 978-0-692-99815-1
Edition/Year: First Edition 2018
Format: Kindle Edition
Genre: Non-Fiction
Pages: 152
Source: Author
Rating: 4 Stars

Available on Amazon.

About the Author: Peter Davidson is the author or co-author of twenty-nine books including fiction, non-fiction, college textbooks, and children’s picture books. His works have been published by McGraw-Hill Book Company, Perigee/Putnam Publishers, Sweet Memories Publishing, Haworth Press, and others.
Davidson is also a songwriter and one of his songs was used in a television series in the Netherlands. For more than two decades, Davidson was one of America’s most active writer’s seminar presenters, having presented over 625 one-day seminars. Davidson has been a professional recording studio owner, college professor, and retail store owner. Peter and his wife live in the Lake Okoboji resort area of Iowa in the summer and in their Arizona home in the winter.
Follow Peter on Twitter and Facebook to connect with him. You can also read his blog at www.maritaladvicetomygrandsonjoel.com, where the idea for this book began.

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The Perils of Being Moderately Famous by Soha Ali Khan | Book Review

What is it like to be known as Mansoor Ali Khan Pataudi’s daughter?
Or to have a mother as famous as Sharmila Tagore?
Or to be recognized as Saif Ali Khan’s sister?
Or as Kareena Kapoor’s sister-in-law?
And where does one stand among them?

Actor Soha Ali Khan’s debut book is at heart a brilliant collection of personal essays where she recounts with self-deprecating humour what it was like growing up in one of the most illustrious families of the country. With never before published photos from her family’s archives, The Perils of Being Moderately Famous takes us through some of the most poignant moments of Soha’s life – from growing up as a modern-day princess and her days at Balliol College, to life as a celebrity in the times of social media culture, and finding love in the most unlikely of places – all with refreshing candour and wit.

The blurb (as above) is quite convincing; to the point that the reader is compelled to pick up the book. I, on the other hand, bought this on the recommendation of a total stranger at the bookstore who, when she overhead me asking the store-owner his opinion on the book (his recommendations are always spot on), jumped into the conversation and insisted that I give it a read. I confess, at the risk of sounding judgemental, that I did peek at the selection of books she was buying to make sure her advice was dependable. I wasn’t disappointed – either with her shopping list, or this book.

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Once you move past the book’s title, which raises some very interesting questions by itself, and begin to start reading, you realise that Khan writes her story with an effortless poise. Her language is simple, yet extremely entertaining; her expression fun, with a quirky sense of humour.

She makes it explicitly clear at the beginning that she is not out to create a controversy, or scandal, or reveal family secrets, as most celebrity memoirs, lately, tend to do. This is simply her story of being born a princess, raised like any other girl born to famous parents before the advent of social media, and experimenting with life’s challenges before finding her true calling.

She begins by introducing both sides of her illustrious family and their rich cultural heritage. She describes her early years growing up in Delhi and then in London. Her affinity to the performing arts, or lack thereof, in favour of a strong academic foundation to begin a career in the corporate world so as to pave her way to settle down in London, makes for quite a story.

Most people see celebrities and their lifestyles as aspirational than anything else. But underneath all the glamour and fame are some regular people living very real lives.

How that came to be for Soha Ali Khan, what changed and why, makes her seem more girl-next-door than a star, which, incidentally is also what her name translates to.

The Perils of Being Moderately Famous is exactly as the title suggests. Hilarious, honest, warm and wise. As long as you don’t expect it to be a Bollywood flavoured gossip column, you will chuckle at the author’s wit and marvel at her courage and charm with which she has written this self deprecating memoir.

Title: The Perils of Being Moderately Famous
Author: Soha Ali Khan
Publisher: Penguin Random House India
ISBN: 978-0143439967
Edition/Year: First Edition 2017
Format: Paperback
Genre: Non-Fiction
Pages: 256
Source: Personal Copy

Rating: 5 Stars

Available on Amazon.

About the Author: Soha Ali Khan is an Indian film actor who has appeared in movies such as Rang De BasantiTum Mile and Go Goa Gone. She studied modern history at Balliol College, Oxford, and earned a Masters’ Degree in International Relations from the London School of Economics and Political Science. She is the youngest daughter of actor Sharmila Tagore and Mansoor Ali Khan Pataudi, the ninth nawab of Pataudi. Both her father and paternal grandfather, Iftikhar Ali Khan Pataudi, were former captains of the Indian cricket team. Her older brother is Saif Ali Khan and she’s married to actor Kunal Kemmu.
She is active on Facebook and Twitter.

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The Doodler of Dimashq by Kirthi Jayakumar | Book Review

How many times in a week do we crave for five magical minutes of peace amidst a particularly rough day at work? Just so we can take a step back, breathe, and jump back into action, reinvigorated.

Imagine the aching desire for those same moments of peace when you are in a nation torn apart by war. A war which brings your entire world crashing down around you. A war that consumes all that is material, all that is human, and destroys every little emotion inside of you, and reduces it to the devastating remains of blood and tears. Imagine how precious those rare moments of peace would be, if at all, and how hard would you be willing to fight to keep them close.

Caught in the cross hairs of a raging civil war in Syria, is Ameenah. Displaced unexpectedly as a child bride, she navigates out of the heart of Dimashq (Damascus), and plunges into the ancient city of Haleb (Alleppo). Her voyage of self discovery is a heady mix of the personal and the political, and the maddening noise of conflict weaves a fabric that entangles her with the lives of many around her. As missile after missile brings the city down into a hapless pile of rubble, Ameenah builds it back up with her simple act of resistance: doodling.

In The Doodler of Dimashq, Kirthi Jayakumar brings a heart wrenching tale of hope that rises from Syria’s rubble like a phoenix.

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There is a moment towards the end of the book, when Ameenah recalls a conversation with her husband. He tells her he doesn’t like the word homesick’ because it’s like saying you are sick of home. He offers an alternate instead from the Welsh language – Hiraeth – which means the bond you share with your home. It has everything, he says, nostalgia, memories, dreams, sights, smells, sounds. Everything that made home what it was for you.

Ameenah’s story does not choose to take sides between the government or the resistance. Her story is really about home and a sense of belonging. Belonging to a place, to its people. It is about finding a way to survive, to hold on to what little remains when all that is taken away from her.

As Ameenah travels through the cities on her journey, the author describes Syria in all its splendour as it once was. She unearths it from beneath the news stories we see today, to reveal a land of exceptional beauty that few are aware even existed. And then, as the cities fall to the ground brick by brick, she shows how Ameenah fights to share her strength by way of her art.

The author’s words are powerful. She captivates you with the stark contrasts between the good and bad, the past and the present, the happy and the sad, that she draws at every scene. The following lines are a brilliant example:

I was alone. Alone, as alone could be.
And then there was this girl. Alone, as alone could be.
Do two alones make a together? What is a together – a weak bond of alones held by loose filaments of fragile mortal promises that could be blatantly broken when life chose to arm wrestle with it?

Each chapter in the book is preceded by a doodle where the author picks up one simple pattern and translates it into a way of life. As Ameenah’s story progresses, the patterns become more complex, the lines taking shapes of petals and swirls, each describing their beauty in a doodle, as well as in life.

As a reader, I often found my heart in the grip of fear, beating wildly at the loneliness of a young girl’s perilious journey. I couldn’t help but shed a tear at her struggles, or refrain from rejoicing in her achievements.

In her Author’s Note, Jayakumar writes: I may not be Syrian; I may not have lived through the war. But I’m human. And I can feel. And so, I leave this peace of my heart at your doorstep and knock thrice, on your doors of empathy.

This achingly beautiful story of Ameenah will break even the strongest of hearts.

I read a quote that without peace, all other dreams vanish and are reduced to ashes. The Doodler of Dimashq may appear to be a quest for peace in a state of war. Yet, Ameenah’s story is so much more. It is an inspiration and carries in it an unbeatable strength. It is a reminder that all we need is a little hope to carry on. That when all is lost, it is hope that will take us closer to our dreams.

Title: The Doodler of Dimashq
Author: Kirthi Jayakumar
Publisher: Readomania
ISBN: 978-93-858544-4-6
Edition/Year: First Edition 2017
Format: Paperback
Genre: Fiction
Pages: 202
Source: Publisher

Rating: 5 Stars

Available on Amazon.

About the Author: Kirthi Jayakumar is an activist, artist and writer from Chennai, India. She founded and runs the Red Elephant Foundation, a civilian peacebuilding initiative that works for gender equality through storytelling, advocacy and digital interventions. She is a member of the Youth Working Group for Gender Equality under the UNIANYD. Kirthi is the recipient of the US Presidential Services Medal (2012) for her services as a volunteer to Delta Women NGO and the two-time recipient of the UN Online Volunteer of the Year Award (2012, 2013). “Stories of Hope” is Kirthi’s first solo book, comprising a collection of short stories. She also co-authored a book titled Love Me Mama: The Unfavoured Child, along with Elsie Ijorogu-Reed, the founder of Delta Women NGO. Her second book, The Dove’s Lament, published by Readomania, made it to the final shortlist for the Muse India Young Writers’ Literary Award. In addition, Kirthi has published a series of eBooks centered around Peace and Conflict. Kirthi was recently invited to the United State of Women Summit at the White House in Washington DC, as a nominated change maker. She is also a Zen Doodler and her works have been commissioned by corporate establishments, non-profits and art collectors world over. She runs an Instagram based project called “Femcyclopaedia” where she doodles portraits of inspiring women through the ages and from across the world and curates their stories under these portraits. The story of Femcyclopaedia won a Story Award from World Pulse in February 2017. Kirthi lives in Chennai.
She can be contacted on social media via Facebook and Twitter.

Note – I received this review copy from Readomania in exchange for an honest and unbiased review.

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House of Discord by Sadiqa Peerbhoy | Book Review

There is an anonymous saying that family problems come in all shapes and sizes; some are short-lived and easily managed, while others are more chronic and difficult to handle. Somewhere, between these two ends of the scale, is where the story of Barrot House begins.

The Deshmukhs, residing in this rambling house in the heart of Bombay, are barely surviving. An effete father who shrugs reality, a rebellious son who marries a Muslim girl, a spinster daughter depressed with her flawed life, a resident ghost who is known to forewarn impending danger, and family secrets buried for decades that are clawing to get out. All of whom are bound together in a taut hold by a tough matriarch.

Outside Barrot House the post Babri-Masjid Bombay of 1992 is a city wallowing in hate, and when violence comes knocking on the Deshmukhs’ door, they find themselves in the eye of the storm.

Will the famed spirit of Bombay eventually rediscover the healing magic of communal tolerance? Will the Deshmukh family be able to bring down the walls they have built around their hearts and find the love that will help them survive?

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House of Discord begins with quite the thrill when a young boy sneaks into his house in the dead of the night, and the resident family ghost chooses that moment to make her presence known. From thereon, members (living and otherwise) of the Deshmukh family are introduced one by one, along with snippets of their family history thrown in for good measure.

The author unravels, layer by delicate layer, every fabric fold of Barrot House’s present and past, such that the layers appear almost fluid in their movement. She weaves her characters seamlessly into the story, taking time to acquaint the reader with each one of them.

While we learn about the turmoil in each of their individual lives, there appears to be a storm brewing behind the action, slowly and gradually making its way to Barrot House. That, coupled with the tensions in the Deshmukhs’ lives breaking surface, the story takes on a momentum making your heart beat faster as it lodges itself in your throat.

The city of Bombay plays an important role in the narrative. Known for its tolerance, its resilience is tested in the wake of the riots arising from the communal violence and the Deshmukhs find themselves surrounded. The scenes from this part of the story are described in vivid detail and bring back memories as if it all happened only yesterday.

The author has invested deeply in her characters and it shows in the way the unfolding events bring out their humane side despite their rebellious or antagonistic nature. One can’t help but fall in love with them for the sometimes subtle and sometimes grand change of heart.

The prose is picturesque and expressive; the language fluent and metaphorical. The narrative moves at a leisurely pace, bubbling slowly to a point where it suddenly bursts, turning the entire plot on its axis. It is the kind of writing a reader would undoubtedly enjoy losing themself in.

House of Discord is not just a saga about a family breaking apart in a city that is burning. It is a story of bonds that run far deeper than blood. Bonds that build love and compassion. That unite us in the face of adversity. No wonder they say, problems are like washing machines. They twist us, spin us and knock us around but in the end we come out cleaner, brighter and better than before.

House of Discord is a heartwarming story of just how that is possible despite the harsh, cruel, and turbulent world we live in.

Title: House of Discord
Author: Sadiqa Peerbhoy
Publisher: Readomania
ISBN: 978-93-858544-6-0
Edition/Year: First Edition 2017
Format: Paperback
Genre: Fiction
Pages: 298
Source: Publisher

Rating: 5 Stars

Available on Amazon.

About the Author: Sadiqa Peerbhoy was born in Hyderabad, grew up in Mumbai and lives in Bangalore. She has been an advertising professional all her working life and is the creative force behind many Indian and international brands. She started writing a humorous topical column in the local papers to keep her sanity in a deadline-ridden career and wrote it for thirty years, collecting a huge fan following in Bangalore. She has also scripted serials for television, scripts for BBC, short stories for the weekend papers, has four published books and many creativity awards. She ran a British college, Wigan and Leigh, in Bangalore and has taught advertising, brand building, life skills and lateral thinking in corporates and colleges.
Sadiqa is married to advertising legend Bunty Peerbhoy, is the mother of two, and remains an ardent student of Hindustani music.
She can be contacted on social media via Facebook and Twitter.

Note – I received this review copy from Readomania in exchange for an honest and unbiased review.

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The Woman Who Saw the Future by Amit Sharma | Book Review

Dreams. The result of our subconscious thought. Generated from the blankness of our mind. Disintegrated into the vast nothingness of our lives. We hope for them to be a peak into our future. We see them as a window to our past. They are manifested into our intuitive power. A gut feeling, a sixth sense, a premonition.

Khalil Gibran said, Trust in dreams, for in them is hidden the gate to eternity. But can dreams tell us the truth? Can premonitions show us the future?

Amit Sharma, in his new book: The Woman Who Saw the Future, spins an intriguing story around the concept.

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Sapna Vaid, a timid, wide-eyed, college-going girl, has lived with a unique power for a decade; a power that has turned her into the most influential and powerful Goddess on Earth. Sapna can see the future by way of premonitions that haunt her at night, where death and blood await her in her dreams. She saves thousands of people around the world every year through her record-breaking, popular show ‘Lucky People’. The show has given Sapna’s life a meaning and gives her the courage to sleep every night.

Even though the world is at her feet, this power costs Sapna her personal life. Broken relationships and separation from her son bring her unbearable pain. Her parents and the thousands of prayers that come her way every year are her only solace, her only reason to live. When blinding hatred leads to a desperate act of revenge, a single misuse of her great power triggers a reversal of her fortunes. Now she must decide the path she has to take to preserve her unique gift and her fame, even if it turns her into a murderer on the brink of insanity.

To find out more about this unusual book, read my detailed review as published at Writersmelon.com.

Bonus: Checkout my interview with the Author, here.

Title: The Woman Who Saw the Future
Author: Amit Sharma
Publisher: Readomania
ISBN: 978-93-858545-5-2
Edition/Year: First Edition 2017
Format: Paperback
Genre: Fiction
Pages: 276
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 4 Stars

Available on Amazon.

About the Author: Amit Sharma is an IT slave (read professional) since the last twelve years. He lives with his family in NCR but his work does take him to foreign lands. His wife was a teacher till she gave it up because of sheer exhaustion of answering questions of their four-year-old daughter all day.
His first fiction book, False Ceilings, a family saga spanning one hundred and thirty years, was published by Lifi Publications in 2016. The book garnered many good reviews on Amazon and Goodreads, and critical acclaim.
Amit’s hobbies include reading, watching world cinema, travelling, digging into various cuisines, cooking, listening to music, painting, blogging, making his daughter laugh and helping his wife with her unnecessary and prolonged shopping.
To read more about him, visit http://amit-sharma.co.in/ or connect with him on social media via Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

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Elixir by Sinjini Sengupta | Book Review

It was at a creative writing workshop earlier this year, where I first met Sinjini Sengupta, the author of this novel. She had written a short story which her husband had picked up to make a short film. The film was travelling across the globe, being screened at various International Film Festivals at that time, and collecting accolades. Meanwhile, the author herself was busy working on its full length novel.

Since the moment I first heard about the idea behind Elixir, at that workshop, I had been curious to read it. I remember she had described the story in a way that sounded almost magical. Many months later, when the book’s cover was launched and I read the tag line below the title, my interest was piqued yet again:
A Dream of a Story
A Story of a Dream.

Manisha leads a normal life. She is celebrating her wedding anniversary with her husband of ten years and is achieving success in her career which is taking her to new heights.

On one such normal day, she wakes up from sleep and goes to work. On her way back home, she walks into a coffee shop. The cafe is empty but for an old man behind the counter, and another man at a corner table. Later in the night, this man comes back to her in her sleep, and then, every night thereafter. A new journey begins, and a transcendence.

Manisha is well on her way to building a whole new life. The kind that is made of dreams. For it is, truly, made in her dreams. A story weaves itself around a life unfulfilled, and a destiny, beautiful and fated. But… where does this journey lead her to? Will Manisha be able to find her way through these parallel worlds?

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When I started reading Elixir, what first caught my attention was the imagery Sengupta has created with words. It reads like poetry,  with a breathtaking visual impact. Her writing has a certain rhythm to it. It brings movement, such as in music – with high and low notes, with breathless continuation, with broken pauses, all of which evoke a range of emotions.

On the surface, Manisha is a woman who has all the pleasures and luxuries of life. But does she really? Why does she appear to consider herself unimportant, unwanted? Why does she feel wrong to want something, to expect it? It is in the way Sengupta builds the character sketch of the protagonist that the author displays her deep understanding of human emotion. She peels away the glossy, albeit weak and thin, layers shrouding the reality of our lives to deliver a relevant social message.

As Manisha balances herself between her dreams and wakefulness, the fine line between imagination and reality is blurred, lost in its own definition. The nuanced transition from one to the other is what sets a benchmark in writing literary fiction.

Elixir is a journey into a magical world, one that is beautiful, heartbreaking and deeply emotional. As the name implies, it is both magical and medicinal for the beat of your heart. So read it. Read it for the thrill and read it for the salve. You won’t be able to free yourself of its hold on you.

Title: Elixir
Author: Sinjini Sengupta
Publisher: Readomania
ISBN: 978-93-858545-4-5
Edition/Year: First Edition 2017
Format: Paperback
Genre: Fiction
Pages: 264
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 4 Stars

Available on Amazon.

About the Author: An alumnus of the Indian Statistical Institute, Sinjini spent several years of her working life as an Actuary, clearing difficult exams and designing, pricing and reserving for insurance policies, before she took a career break in 2015 to revive her long-dead passion for writing. Writing didn’t disappoint her, either.
Within just a year or two, Sinjini went on to win quite a few coveted national and international awards. As a poet, Sinjini won the National-level English poetry contest—Rhyme India—hosted by Times of India in 2016. Several of her poems got selected and published in the poetry anthology She—The Shakti. One of her short stories themed on Nature writing won the prestigious South Asia FON contest and is soon to be published in an international anthology.
The screenplay of Elixir won her the Best Screenplay award from among 550-plus films internationally. As a columnist, Sinjini was awarded the coveted Orange Flowers Awards 2016 (Runners-Up) for her social columns. She writes mainly on gender issues, social reforms and sensitive parenting in a plethora of publications, such as the Huffington Post, Youth Ki Awaaz, Anandabazaar Patrika, Readomania, Feministaa, Women’s Web, MyCity4Kids, SBCLTR, Bonobology and several other popular publications. Sinjini was conferred the ‘Iconic Woman’ award at the international Women Economic Forum in May, 2017. She serves as the Gurgaon Chairperson for Readers and Writers of All Ladies League. Sinjini was recently featured by ICICI Bank as one of the ‘Inspirational Women of India’ in the Fund Your Own Worth initiative.
Sinjini lives in Gurgaon with her husband Anirban Guha, a banker by day and a filmmaker by night, and Roopkatha, their six-year-old grandmother-cum-daughter cum-spiritual guru.
To read more about her, visit https://sinjinisengupta.blogspot.in/ or connect with her on social media via Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

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When I Hit You: Or, a Portrait of the Writer as a Young Wife by Meena Kandasamy | Book Review

One can beat around the bush as much as one wants, but the fact of the matter remains: Violence against the women and girls is considered to be one of the most prevalent human rights violations worldwide. The United Nations Population Fund, in a 2015 report, states that “one in three women will experience physical or sexual abuse in her lifetime”.

I have always been troubled as to why women suffer from domestic violence. Why do they need to stay in such a relationship? Why don’t they just walk out? What holds them back?

Meena Kandasamy, in her novel – When I Hit You: Or, A Portrait of the Writer as a Young Wife – writes a hard-hitting account of a writer’s marriage in an effort to lift the veil on the silence that surrounds domestic violence and marital rape in modern India.

She addresses compelling questions in her lyrical style of writing that is poetic and draws you into it’s prose. The incidents she describes play havoc with your mind, and they are not even a fraction of what the victim would have experienced.

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A fictional novel, When I Hit You is inspired by the author’s personal experience. Nonetheless, despite all that she has been through, the narrator does not lose her faith in love. She continues to believe in it, albeit brokenheartedly.

When I Hit You is a lesson to not let your loyalty become slavery. Any relationship, when becomes overbearing, needs to be terminated. One always needs to remember that one can always get out.

And when you have gotten out, then, as Rumi said: “You have escaped the cage. Your wings are stretched out. Now fly.”

To find out more about this book, read my detailed review as published at Writersmelon.com.

Title: When I Hit You: Or, a Portrait of the Writer as a Young Wife
Author: Meena Kandasamy
Publisher: Juggernaut Books
ISBN: 978-93-862283-0-7
Edition/Year: First Edition 2017
Format: Hardcover
Genre: Fiction
Pages: 272
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 4 Stars

Available on Amazon.

About the Author: Meena Kandasamy has actively sought to combine her love for the written word with the struggle for social justice through poetry, translation, fiction and essays for the last fifteen years. Her debut collection of poems, Touch, was themed around caste and untouchability, and her second, Ms Militancy, was an explosive, feminist retelling/reclaiming of Tamil and Hindu myths. Her critically acclaimed first (anti)novel, The Gypsy Goddess, smudged the line between powerful fiction and fearsome critique in narrating the 1968 massacre of forty-four landless untouchable men, women and children striking for higher wages in the village of Kilvenmani, Tanjore. When I Hit You: Or, a Portrait of the Writer as a Young Wife is her second novel.
She grew up in Chennai, India where she lived most of her life before moving to London in 2016.
She was a fellow of the International Writing Program (IWP) at the University of Iowa in 2009, and a British Council Charles Wallace India Trust Fellow at the University of Kent in 2011. She holds a PhD in sociolinguistics. Her work has appeared in eighteen languages.
To read more about her, visit https://www.kandasamy.co.uk/ or connect with her on social media via Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

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The Amazing Story of the Man who Cycled from India to Europe for Love by Per J Andersson | Book Review

The title screams it is a love story. Of one man fighting against all odds to travel seven thousand miles over land and be with the woman he loved.

In reality though, this book is far more.

This is the story of a man, Jagat Ananda Pradyumna Kumar Mahanandia, born in a remote village on the edge of a jungle in Orissa, who experienced crushing hardships during his childhood as an untouchable in the early years of Independance. Forced to sit outside the classroom, he would watch his classmates wash themselves if they came in contact with him. He was pelted with stones when he approached the village temple, for the priests said he dirtied everything pure and holy. But as PK later realised, his life would have turned out very differently had he not been an untouchable.

PK, as he was fondly addressed by his friends, was inclined towards the Arts, while his father wanted him to become an engineer – a career that promised bright prospects for his future. However, after a disastrous term struggling with Maths, Physics and Chemistry, PK applied to art school and was later accepted on a scholarship to continue studying in New Delhi.

It was here that he met Lotta, a young European woman of noble descent who had driven from Sweden, in a beat up VW bus, with a couple of friends. He had a chance encounter with her on a cold December evening, amidst a queue of people waiting for PK to sketch their portraits for a paltry sum of ten rupees, which was to change their lives irrevocably.

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Since this is a true story, it wouldn’t be fair to assess and review the author’s work as is done with most fiction and non-fiction writing. I rather see it as the passion in his endeavour to bring PK’s story out into the world in a way that is endearing, inspirational, and, most of all, authentic.

The story begins when PK was born and the village astrologer made the prophecy that he would “… marry a girl from far, far away, from outside the village, the district, the province, the state, and even the country”. He had looked straight into PK’s eyes and  whispered to him that he wouldn’t have to go looking for her, she would come to him. The prophecy, as scratched on a palm leaf with a sharpened stick continued that she would be musical, own a jungle and be born under the sign of Taurus. PK grew up believing his fate was written in the stars, as for all newborn children, and he carried these stories in his heart.

What follows is PK’s struggle to survive amidst poverty and hunger, without a roof over his head. It was when he decided to become a commercial artist and set up shop by the fountain in Connaught Place Park that his fortune began to take a turn for the better.

Andersson has written a memoir on PK’s life which shows how his experiences shaped him into the man he was to become. It was these experiences that would be his strength on the long journey he was to eventually take across continents and cultures.

About a third of the book describes the actual journey from India to Sweden, via Afghanistan, Iran, Turkey, Austria, Germany and Denmark.

PK had decided he would take a month to travel on a bicycle from India to Sweden, but it took him four months. He ran out of money for food and shelter fairly quickly and would earn his way by painting portraits. His charming personality ensured he made many friends on the way. He carried with him an address book of travellers on the hippie trail he had met in New Delhi and would look them up on the way. He soon realised this was the warmest community of people.

When he finally arrived in Sweden, he wasn’t sure if Lotta would still want him. Another man was already vying for her affections and one evening he came to Lotta’s home, upset that she was living with PK.

PK realised this man was the perfect match for Lotta and he was wasting his time here if there was no love. He needed a home, security, a place to build his life. He decided he would cycle back to New Delhi.

The following night, Lotta cried when PK refused to budge on his decision. She said to him, “…I don’t want you to buy a bicycle and leave. … I want to be with you, together in one big mess. For life.”

PK took a four month course in Swedish for immigrants and worked hard to fit into his new home country. He started teaching art at the local high school. Exactly two years after they were reunited in Sweden, PK and Lotta were married. The children, Emilie and Karl-Siddhartha arrived a few years later.

PK has since travelled back to his birth-place with his family and built a house between the mountains and the river where he grew up. From here he co-ordinates his charitable work – the water-wells, the school and the activity centre for women.

PK’s story is not about the pursuit of love. It is about his journey through life that unravels the psychological layers of the man who decided to rise by getting past the obstacles that lay on his path. It is a testament that nothing is impossible and that despite the flaws, there is love and beauty all around us. It is this narrative that makes his story truly amazing.

Title: The Amazing Story of the Man who Cycled from India to Europe for Love
Author: Per J Andersson
Publisher: One World Publications
ISBN: 978-1-78607-207-8
Edition/Year: First Edition 2017
Format: Paperback
Genre: Non-Fiction / Travel-Memoir
Pages: 304
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5 Stars

Available on Amazon.

About the Author: Per J Andersson is a writer and journalist. He is the co-founder of Sweden’s most well-known traveller’s magazine Vagabond, and has been visiting India for the last 30 years. He lives in Stockholm.

About the Translator: Anna Holmwood translates literature from Swedish and Chinese to English.

About PK and Lotta: PK and Lotta have been happily married since 1979. They have two children and live in Borås, Sweden. PK is an Art and Culture Adviser for the Swedish Government, and also the Oriya Cultural Ambassador to Sweden.

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Kissing The Demon by Amrita Kumar | Book Review

If you have decided to embark on a writing journey, either professionally or as a hobby, you will soon realise it is a feat akin to kissing the demon. Fortunately though, Amrita Kumar, with the repertoire of her experiences spanning four decades, lays out a simple and effective method to traverse this seemingly arduous path.

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She starts from the absolute beginning – why one should write, for that is the most important question a writer must be able to answer. Not to anyone else but to the self.

Once that is established, she goes on to explain the integral elements of creative writing: plot, characterization, narration, setting, dialogue, that help form a compelling story. She explains with examples which are relevant to the aspiring as well as the seasoned writer. Kumar draws parallels from notable films as well as award winning and popular books to drive the point.

What is most important, however, that sets this book apart from almost all others on the subject of writing, is that she dedicates an entire section to the publishing process, specifically tailored for the Indian writer.

Starting from when, how and where to look for a publisher and/or agent, pitching your manuscript, waiting for a response, negotiating a contract, understanding advances & royalties, to the actual editing, and finally publicity/marketing, she brings focus to an otherwise blurry image that few debut writers can claim to have fully understood.

Last but not the least, she also helps with tips and tricks to manage the complicated balance of dealing with everyday life, and staying fit while indulging in an altogether sedentary writing habit.

You may choose to read this book before you start writing, or after you have written a first draft, nonetheless it has a wealth of information on both creative writing and publishing that you would otherwise rarely come across. One you cannot afford to miss.

Title: Kissing The Demon
Author: Amrita Kumar
Publisher: Harper Collins Publishers India
ISBN: 978-93-5264-303-5
Edition/Year: First Edition 2017
Format: Paperback
Genre: Non-Fiction
Pages: 268
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5 Stars

Available on Amazon.

About the Author: Amrita Kumar is an anthologist, novelist, writing-mentor and creative writing teacher. She began her career in the godowns of Daryaganj to select books for a chain of bookshops, moving on as research writer for the Department of Culture, Government of India, then on to publishing as associate editor, Penguin India; editor-in-chief, Roli Books; managing editor, Encyclopedia Britannica; editor, Indian Design & Interiors magazine; and vice-president, Osian’s Literary Agency. In addition, she has freelanced for Rupa & Co., HarperCollins India and Oxford University Press.
She lives in New Delhi.

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