Butterflies and Barbed Wires

butterflies and barbed wires

Status: Read from Nov 15 to Nov 18, 2017
Format: Paperback
Pages: 268
My rating:  5star/5
Author: Vanaja Banagiri

Synopsis:

A many-layered story that explores the conflicts of butterflies caught in barbed wires, of women who are strangers in their own homes. Beautiful and strong, they handle the dramas that life unfolds in the best way they can. For Shehzaadi and Maya, mother and daughter tragically separated during the ’78 riots in Hyderabad, it is a question of forgetting and trying to remember an elusive past. For Maya, who moves back to the city from Bangalore where she has grown up, it is a painful quest for her identity. For Shehzaadi it is a struggle to deal with old memories and the loss of her entire world.

Varsha, Maya’s best friend, attempts to tackle a separation from an indifferent husband, determined to leave love out of the picture and take hold of life in fast-paced Mumbai. Amita and Zeba, Shehzaadi’s friends live with their own ghosts; a broken marriage and a loveless one, a daughter grown up away from her mother, the importance of holding up a facade of being happy. Butterflies and Barbed Wires tells of women from two different generations grappling with a life and a society that is rapidly changing.

Review:

“What are human beings if not butterflies and their complexes, if not barbed wires.”

This is story of women protagonists, their lives and their struggle to get a grip of it and understand it. After reading the blurb and seeing that the story revolving around five women and takes place in the city Hyderabad (which I am still exploring), I got interested in the book. This book has two dimensions: first the women protagonist, who navigate their life based on their past experiences, and the second is the beauty of the Hyderabad city.

The story flash backs to the 1978 Hyderabad riots. 5th August 1978, the day that went down in history as the goriest communal carnage in the twin cities of Hyderabad and Secunderabad, wiping out more than half of the old city. Shehzaadi became a widow and her two year old toddler Sameera went missing in the riots.

Twenty two years later, Shehzaadi is married to Anwar and has a 22 year old son who is studying in London. She is staying in a sprawling Jubliee Hills bungaow, and spends most of her time with her two best friends Zeba and Amita. Shehzaadi lives a fairy tale life, which seems so complete with a doting husband and sensible young son. But was Shehzaadi ever able to forgive herself, for being the only one to survive the 1978 blasts? She missed her first husband and daughter. At one moment she was very cheerful and thankful to God for such a lovely family, at other moment she was in deep despair, wandering about her daughter, suffering from chronic depression. Amita and Zeba were her only friends to whom she can turn to and have a jolly time during such periods, pub-hopping and getting sozzled.

Amita and Zeba had their own difficulties in life. Zeba, 40 years old, was an architect, married to Hamid, a doctor, who treated her as a prized trophy. Zeba was a self made woman, with her hard work and talent. Her success in career catapulted her into Hyderabad high society. But she was lonely inside with husband like Hamid, who gave her a chance to belong to a world she has always yearned for, but not the love and no family to turn to. Amita was  a fashion designer, owing a boutique in the heart of Banjara Hills surrounded by five star hotels and the city’s elite residential area, a divorcee who had a teenage daughter. Amita had transformed from a wife into an incorrigible flirt. She had no respect for marriage or commitment. She entranced men and left them pining for more. For her “Borrowed husbands are better than owned husbands because all the harshness is reserved for their wives.”

Maya knows that she was adopted by her Amma and Appa, when she was just 2-years old. But she doesn’t remember anything about her biological parents. Grown up in Bangalore, after her Amma and Appa dies in accident, she moves to Hyderabad and takes up a job in Osmania University. She gives herself a year in Hyderabad in a hope to find her roots here. Her best friend Varsha, loathed Ranga Rao, her father. Her mother, a dynamic MP was indifferent towards her husband. Varsha never understood the meaning of such marriage: man and woman staying below the same roof but having no emotional attachment. When she found love in Som, she was quick to get married and have a loving family, unlike her own parents. But she ended up into a married life no different from her parents, as the communication and love vanished from Varsha and Som’s relationship. For her, what man and woman did to each other in the name of marriage was nothing short of lunacy.

The story goes deep into each of the five women, their experiences in life and how they fight their own demons while figuring out what they seek from life. The book also highlights some social stigma about how the ego gives way to misunderstanding in a relationship, how people make a notion about a person if he/she is not married for long, how people continue to live a life they are not happy with, but are afraid of change. The book shows us picture of people who always puts on a mask to show off to people their sunny side, but are lonely deep inside. It also shows people who pretend to be broad minded yet are petty and judgmental.

“Why on earth, she wondered, did people have to speculate about sexual orientation when somebody preferred to stay single? As though marriage was the ultimate goal in life.”

“They are so much fun to be with. And cheerful. That’s probably why they were called ‘gay’ in the first place. She liked men who were in touch with their feminine side. She felt it made them more sensitive than so-called ‘straight’ men.”

The beauty of the book also lies in the beautiful description of rich and cultural history of hyderabad and the hyderabadi cusines, which are very informative. This book takes us to places, starting from the history of the Qutb Shahi rulers, to the quaint Moazamjahi Market, Golconda, Charminar, Salar Jung museum, Falaknuma Palace, Himayat Sagar lake, Lad Bazaar, Pather Gatti, Banjara Hills, Jubliee Hills. The mouth watering Hyderabadi cuisines are also mentioned in various places deliberately, to let the readers know that there is more to the Hyderabadi Biryani:  Tamatar-ka-khat, kaddu-ka-dalcha, dum-ka-murgh, kheema fry with sheemal, baghara khana, double-ka-meetha, sahi tukda, qubani-ka-meetha, kacche-gosht-ki-biryani, mirch-ka-salan.

The book is beautifully written, flowing smoothly from life of one women to another and how their lives are linked to each other. An insightful read, with mix of fun and intense relationships.  At places, I felt little confused with so much happing in lives of these women, but I feel, this was because I was reading the book between breaks. Its written so amazingly, peeping into the mind of a woman, and how they think. This is a must read for women and also for men who always wonder about how to understand a woman.

About the Author:

vanaja banagiri

Vanaja Banagiri is the former editor of Hyderabad Times, the Times of India’s city edition. She has been associated with Savvy, Society, Femina, Filmfare, Health & Nutrition and the Economic Times in various editorial capacities. She has also written for the Sunday Observer, Cosmopolitan, Elle, Me and New Woman. She has won many awards for excellence during her journalistic career for her path breaking stories. At forty, she quit active journalism to pursue her long cherished dream of writing a book. Her debut novel Butterflies and Barbed Wires Published by Rupa & Co was released in 2006. She has also authored Hyderabad Hazir Hai and The Placebo Effect. She also writes poetry. She lives in Hyderabad.

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One Part Woman

one part woman

Status: Read from Oct 31 to Nov 02, 2017
Format: Paperback
Pages: 256
My rating:  5star/5
Author: Perumal Murugan, translated by Aniruddhan Vasudevan

Controversy around the Book:

The book One Part Women was published in Tamil with title Mathorubhagan. Though the book was first published in 2010, it was only at the end of 2014 the trouble started. The local caste groups protested against this book alleging that Mr. Murugan had hurt community sentiments, defamed women, and outraged religious feelings. In response to these allegations, the author signed an “unconditional apology” and agreed to withdraw all unsold copies of the novel. A case was charged in Madras High Court along with criminal complaints against the author on the grounds of obscenity, spreading disharmony between communities, blasphemy, and defamation. Petitions were also filed asking the Court to ban One Part Woman.

The Madras High Court, however, gave complete victory to Mr. Murugan, dismissing the criminal complaints against the author, and dismissed the petition seeking a ban on the book. The Court arrived on the conclusion that One Part Women did not break any laws. The court relied upon three arguments: first, that the book has won many prizes, and has gained critical acclaim; second, that Indian culture had always celebrated sexuality until the Victorian British suppressed it; and third, that read as a whole, the book is not intended to titillate or eroticise, but instead, to make a broader point about how social pressures can impact individual lives.

For more details on the controversy on this book visit the link here.

Synopsis:

Kali and Ponna’s efforts to conceive a child have been in vain. Hounded by the taunts and insinuations of others, all their hopes come to converge on the chariot festival in the temple of Maadhorubaagan, the half-female god. Everything hinges on the one night when rules are relaxed and consensual union between any man and woman is sanctioned. This night could end the couple’s suffering and humiliation. But it will also put their marriage to the ultimate test.

Review:

“There is no female without the male, and no male without the female. The world goes on only when they come together.”

One of the most poignant stories I read in recent times. This is story about Ponna and Kali, who fail to have a child even after 12 years of their married life. This book provides the clear picture of how couples are subjected to criticism and humiliation in Indian society if they fail to conceive a child. The woman is called barren and the man is called impotent. Though the story takes place in Karattur, a small village of Salem district in Tamil Nadu, this social stigma can be seen in all places in India even in today’s date. The author has written in a way which is very reflective of how the common people speak of such things in day to day life.

“Though they might have a million things wrong with their own lives, people found great pleasure in poking and prodding other people’s miseries. Couldn’t they even remember they were in a public place? What kind of pride comes from knowing that the other person does not have what one has? Does everyone have everything? Isn’t there always something lacking?”

The author’s writing is incredible, as the story bring the picturesque view of the tamil farmer’s life, with very detailed narration of the farmyards, the cattle, the activities in fields, and the wait for water during the monsoon. With all these, the author didn’t fail to bring out the misery of the unfortunate couple who fail to have their own child. Kali and Ponna, did everything possible in their bounds, visiting and praying every deity and following every ritual, to get the blessings of the lord to conceive a child. Here the author reflects the superstitions of the villagers, that are followed blindly to fulfill the worldly desires to hold their heads high in front of the villagers. Many people say that such portal of story creates superstition in readers. But I feel that author has put these beliefs as they exist in the Tamil society (which are also followed across India).

Ponna and Kali doesn’t leave a stone unturned to have their own child. But in their failure, they have become a talk of the village, hounded by evils taunts. Kali’s acquaintances suggest him to go for a second marriage. The most suffered here is Ponna, who gets to listen taunts of being a barren woman, during all social gatherings. It has become so difficult for her to go out, without hearing a bad thing about her fate for not being able to give birth to a child.

But both Ponna and Kali are very passionately in love with each other. Even being not able to have their own child, their love for each other doesn’t lessen by any means. Kali never agrees for a second marriage even after constant pressure from his mother or relatives and friends in village. He thinks about Ponna and how difficult her life will become, if he does that. He is even afraid of the thought that, if he fails to bear a child from second woman as well, he will be teased in the village for being impotent. The story also highlights the dilemma of the couple where they try to find happiness in each other’s company, stating that they don’t need a child, they can stay happy with each other. And at other times, thinking of adopting a child, stating that God has made sure that everyone lacks something, but has given a way to fulfill it.

The character of Ponna is presented very well as a woman, who is very bold with all her flaws. She faces all the insulting remarks from the villagers but knows how to answer them back, making them shut their mouths, showing a brave attitude. Whereas Kali is a loyal husband, who does not blame her wife for not being able to give birth to a child, like the other villagers. He loves Ponna, but he always tries to stop the mouth to mouth arguments from becoming worse. Kali also knows how to brighten up Ponna’s foul mood with his light humor.

Finally, the couple find a solution to their despair and grief in the form of the annual chariot festival of goddess, Ardhanareeswara, in the temple of Maadhorubaagan, the half female God. On this one night the rules are relaxed and consensual union between any man and woman is sanctioned. This night can put an end to all the humiliation and constant grief. But this also might put a big question mark on the sustenance of their marriage. The story is left open ended for the readers to draw their own conclusions.

I have read few reviews on this book before picking it and read that its mentioned that it contains many obscene statements. I feel the author has tried to put the words in same natural way, as it would had been used in normal communication, which are very harsh and raw. True that, this book is not recommended for teenagers.

Aniruddhan Vasudevan has kept the essence of the Tamil literature alive, while translating the book. Many tamil words are used as such, without translation, which I feel will be a challenge to people not familiar with tamil, or any of the south-indian languages. I feel, a glossary of these words would had been very helpful. The name of the temples and deity mentioned in the book are true and exists in real.

About the Author:

perumalmurugan

Perumal Murugan is the star of contemporary Tamil literature, having garnered both critical acclaim and commercial success for his work. An award-winning writer, poet and scholar, he has written six novels, four short-story collections, four poetry anthologies and works of non-fiction. Some of his novels have been translated into English to immense acclaim, including Seasons of the Palm, which was shortlisted for the Kiriyama Award in 2005, and One Part Woman, his best-known work, which was shortlisted for the Crossword Award and won the prestigious ILF Samanvay Bhasha Samman in 2015. Murugan has also received awards from the Tamil Nadu government as well as from Katha Books.

Aniruddhan Vasudevan is a performer, writer and translator. He documents various public health projects and art projects, and is involved in LGBT advocacy work. He is currently a PhD student in anthropology at the University of Texas, Austin, and is also working on his first novel.

Our Moon Has Blood Clots: A Memoir of a Lost Home in Kashmir

Our-Moon-Has-Blood-Clots

Status: Read from Oct 08 to Oct 14, 2017
Format: Paperback
Pages: 258
My rating:  5star/5
Author: Rahul Pandita

Synopsis:

Rahul Pandia was fourteen years old when he was forced to leave his home in Srinagar along with his family, who were Kashmiri Pandits – the Hindu minority within a Muslim majority Kashmir that was by 1990 becoming increasingly  agitated with the cries of ‘Azaadi’ from India.

The heartbreaking story of Kashmir has so far been told mainly through the prism of the brutality of the Indian security forces, the pro-independence demands of Muslim separatists, or India and Pakistan’s political rivalry. But there is another part of Kashmir’s history that has remained unrecorded and buried.

Our Moon Has Blood Clots is the untold chapter in the story of Kashmir, in which hundreds of thousands of Kashmiri Pandits were tortured, killed and forced to leave their homes by Islamist militants, and to spend the rest of their lives in exile in their own country. Rahul Pandita has written a deeply personal, powerful and unforgettable story of history, home and loss.

Review:

“…and an earlier time when the flowers were not stained with blood, the moon with blood clots!”      – Pablo Neruda, ‘Oh, My Lost City’

Our Moon Has Blood Clots is very insightful and gives a firsthand account of experience of the author himself, who was among the exodus of Kashmir during 1990, at an age of 14. During 1990, there was mass movement of Kashmiri Pandits from Kashmir to Delhi, Lucknow, Lahore and Allahabad, leaving their ancestral home, their history and culture behind. The plight of Kashmiri Pandits is now an forgotten story. Our generation will never understand or will try to find out, what made approx. 3.5 lacs Kashmiri Pandits to pack their bags and leave the valley, never to return back and stay as refugees in their own country.

After reading this book, I read Curfewed Night by Basharat Peer. Both these books are set during the same period and tells the story of Kashmir with different approach. Both the books help us to understand that not only Kashmiri Pandits had a tragic life, but also the Muslims had to suffer the brutality of both the militants and Indian Army. The brutal killings, fleeing away from home, setting up a home in a place much different in culture, language in refugee camps in Jammu, these realities are narrated with much pain.

“Our home in Kashmir had twenty-two rooms”, my mother used to say this thing to every person she met.

This narrates the experience of a mother, who was in exile, who lost her home and her pride, staying in refugee camps, in tents, sharing the tent with one other family.

The memories through a 14 year old teenager paints a vivid images. Women cramped in lorries travelling towards Jammu, a man raising his fist and telling them that, “you will die”, overhearing a conversation of a group of boys, discussing distribution of Pandit’s houses which will be empty soon.

“At least go inside and piss; like a dog, you need to mark your territory,” one of the boys tells his mate. “It’s over,” Pandit’s father, a government worker, says, “we cannot live here anymore.”

Rahul Pandita mentions in the book that he kept a record of each and every Pandit killed in the Valley during the exodus, because he wanted people to know the story of each and every Pandit killed. The government and the media completely neglected the plight of Kashmiri Pandits. In 2008, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh announced a Rs. 1,618 crore package to facilitate the return of the Kashmiri Pandits in the Valley. Six thousand jobs were also announced for the Pandit youth in the Valley. Most of the jobs were never filled, due to the fear of being targeted by militants. The settlements provided to Kashmiri Pandits are cheap single-bedroom structures, with no drinking water facility. The real problem is harassment at work from their Muslim colleagues. Many Pandit employees don’t receive their salaries on time.

This is an excellent book, full of true tragic stories, acquainting with Hindu-Muslim brotherhood, struggles of Kashmiri Pandits that forced them to flee to Jammu.

For those, who wants to know what happened in Kashmir during 1990s, and not just Kashmiri Pandits, I will suggest to read Curfewed Night by Basharat Peer. It gives an insight on the suffering of the Kashmiri Muslims during this period, how the Indian Army as well as the militants created problems for innocent Muslims. Kashmiri Muslims lives a threatened life in Kashmir because of both the Militants and the Indian Army and are tagged as militant where ever they go for being Kashmiri Muslim. It also gives an insight about how the Kashmiri youth are misguided by the Militants to cross the border and to go to Pakistan to get trained as an militant.

A brief history of Kashmir:

Rahul Pandita has given a brief history of Kashmir, which we will never get to learn about. Kashmir was blessed with great scholar in each century. In tenth century, the great Kashmiri Pandit scholar Abhinavagupta wrote Tantraloka, a treatise on Kashmiri Shaivism, and Abhinavabharti, a splendid commentary on the Natyasastra, the seed of the Indian performing arts. The eleventh century Kashmiri Pandit poet Kshemendra wrote Brhatkathamanjari, a collection of stories representing the lost tradition of brhatkatha. The twelfth century Kashmiri Pandit scholar, Kalhana, penned the magnum opus, Rajatarangini ( River of Kings), which is counted among the world’s most extraordinary works. Kashmiri scholars made immense contributions to Buddhism, which came to Kashmir with the emperor Asoka around 250BC. It was in Kashmir that Buddhist scriptures were written in Sanskrit for the first time. Buddhism spread from Kashmir to Ceylon, Java and China. It was in 5th century in Tibet that a Pandit scholar was given the honorary title of Bhatta – which means someone who is learned.

The golden phases in Kashmir’s history were during the reigns of Lalitaditya and Avantivarman. Lalitaditya was considered a great administrator and ruled Kashmir for about four decades in the early eighth century AD. The Sun temple at Martand in south Kashmir was build during his reign. It stands even today in spite of being ravaged by invaders, and is considered one of the most important archaeological sites in India. Avantivarman ruled Kashmir for about three decades form 855 AD. He built magnificent temples and Buddhist monasteries. Kashmir prospered in his reign.

From fourteenth century onwards, Kashmir was invaded by Muslim invaders. Sultan Sikandar took over the reins of Kashmir and let loose a reign of terror and brutality against his Hindu subjects. This was followed by the reign of Mughals. During Aurangzeb’s rule, which lasted for forty-nine years from 1658 onwards, Pandits were persecuted. From 1752, the valley slipped into the hands of Afghans for seven decades. During this period there were mass conversions. The Afgan rulers would surround a group of Pandits with naked swords and ask them to convert. Those who did not comply would be put to death immediately. For the rest, a calf would be slaughtered, and they would be fed its meat and their sacred thread would be snapped. Such troubles forced the Pandits to migrate. India’s first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru was from one such family.

Following the period of Afgan rule, the valley passed into the hands of Sikh rulers in 1819, and then to the Dogra dynasty, who bought it from the British colonialists for seventy five lakh rupees, one horse, twelve goats and three cashmere shawls.

In 1947, the last Dogra Maharaj, Hari Singh, was reluctant to join India or Pakistan. He wanted to remain independent. In October 1947, when Pakistan tried invading Kashmir by sending tribal invaders from the Northwest Frontier Province, Maharaja Hari Singh signed the instrument of accession and Kashmir became a part of India.

About the Author:

RAHUL_pandita

Rahul Pandita is an Indian author and journalist. Pandita has worked as a war correspondent, and is known for his ample news reporting from the war hit countries like Iraq and Sri Lanka. However, in the recent years, his focal point has been the Maoist movement in India’s red corridor. He has also reported from North-Eastern India. He has worked with The Hindu, Open Magazine among other media organizations. He is a 2015 Yale World Fellow. He was awarded the International Red Cross award for delivering news from war zones, in 2010.

Rahul Pandit is the author of the bestselling Hello Bastar: The Untold Story of India’s Maoist Movements (2011), Our Moon Has Blood Clots: A Memoir of a Lost Home in Kashmir (2013),  and co-authored the critically acclaimed The Absent State: Insurgency as an Excuse for Misgoverance with Neelesh Misra.

Lachhama

lachhama2

Status: Read from Oct 04 to Oct 07, 2017
Format: Paperback
Pages: 118
My rating:  5star/5
Author: Fakir Mohan Senapati; translated from Odia by Chandan Das

Synopsis:

This is the first-ever English translation of Fakir Mohan Senapati’s historical novel Lachhama. Written in Rajput heroic legend style, Lachhama is stylistically different from the social realism of Senapati’s other novels. The experiment with a more ornate and dramatic form does not detract, however, from Senapati’s passionate engagement with Odia nationalism, the emancipation of women, and the day-to-day concerns of Odia people.

The overarching theme in Lachhama is Odia nationalism in the backdrop of Senapati’s efforts to preserve Odia against hegemonic attempts to subsume it within the fold of Bengali. Equally, Lachhama champions the cause of women, an enduring motif of Senapati’s work. With its liberal useage of sati, sadhba, and patibrata terminology, this may seem surprising. However, it must be evaluated in the context of the time in which it was written (between 1901 and 1903) when the spaces offered by a paternalistic society for independent women were extremely limited.

Chandan Das’s translation smoothly and skillfully retains the poetry and atypical cadence of the original.

Review:

Lachhama is first ever English translation of Fakir Mohan Senapati’s book. This book narrates the historical romance of Rajput lady Lachhama and her husband Badal Singh, in the back drop of the political disturbances between the Mughals and Marathas to gain supremacy in Odisha. The story is set in a period of early advent of the British in India during which Nawab Alibardi Khan was Governor of Bengal. The depiction of love, honor, courage and revenge of the woman protagonist Lachhama is significant. The political, economic and social anarchy in Odisha is very vividly presented. The protagonist Lachhama is shown as equal of her husband in valour. The book also emphasizes the Hindu philosophy of  Karma, dharma, kartavya, pitrusraddha etc. The brutality of Marathas and the misery of common man is presented elaborately. Quotations and allusions form religious texts are very generously used. The story gives a strong message of human optimism which can triumph against all odds. The best thing about the book is presenting the woman protagonist as a very strong optimistic individual during a time when the freedom provided to women were very limited.

The translation is very smooth and retains the poetic cadence of the original story.

The drawbacks:

1) Even being a odia i have to re-read few statements to understand. The use of few odia words may confuse the non-odia readers.

2) The narration of political drama was very elaborate that in some instances i completely forgot that the book was about the love story of Lachhama and her husband Badal Singh.

About the Author:

Fakir_Mohan_Senapati

Social critic and reformer, poet, novelist, short story writer, translator, publisher, teacher, and administrator, Fakir Mohan Senapati (1843-1918) is widely regarded as having inaugurated and age of modern Odia prose. Senapati gave Odia literature its first major novels – Chha Mana Atha Guntha, Mamu, Lachhama, and Prayaschitta – short stories, and poems. His autobiography Atma Jibana Charita chronicles the life of his times. He is called the father of Odia nationalism and modern Odia literature. He is considered a pioneer in the field of Odia fiction. His “Rebati” published in 1898 in the first modern Odia short story. Much before social realism became the dominant mode in other literatures of the country; he had shown the way in the portrayal of life in the villages. His Chha Mana Atha Guntha is acclaimed as a modern classic.

Chandan Das teaches English at S.B.Women’s College in Cuttak, Odisha. He completed his PhD in translation studies in 2008 from Utkal University. His poems, translations, and short stories have been published in national and international journals.

Remnants of a Separation: A History of the Partition Through Material Memory

Remnants of a separation

Status: Read from Aug 30 to Sept 11, 2017
Format: Hardcover
Pages: 386
Author: Aanchal Malhotra

Synopsis:

Seventy years have passed since the partition, and a momentous event now recedes in memory. Generations have grown up outside the shadow of the communal killings and mass displacement that shaped the contemporary history of the subcontinent.

Despite being born into a family affected by the Divide, artist and oral historian Aanchal Malhotra too had thought little about the Partition – until she encountered objects that had once belonged to her ancestors in an Undivided India. A gaz, a ghara, a maang-tikka, a pocketknife, a peacock-shaped bracelet, and a set of kitchen utensils: these were what accompanied her great-grandparents as they fled their homes, and through them she learnt of their migration and life before the Divide. This led her to search for the belongings of other migrants to discover the stories hidden in them.

Remnants of a Separation is a unique attempt to revisit the Partition through sub objects carried across the border. These objects absorbed the memory of a time and place, remaining latent and undisturbed for generations. They now speak of their owners’ pasts and emerge as testaments to the struggle, sacrifice, pain and belonging an unparalleled moment in history.

A string of pearls gifted by a maharaja, carried from Dalhousie to Lahore, reveals the grandeur of a life that once was. A notebook of poems, brought from Lahore to Kalyan, shows one woman’s determination to pursue the written word despite the turmoil around her. A refugee certificate crated in Calcutta evokes in a daughter the feelings of displacement her father has experienced on leaving Mymemsingh, now in Bangaladesh.

Written as a crossover between history and anthropology, Remnants of a Separation tells stories from both sides of the border and is the product of years of painstaking and passionate research. It pieces together an alternative history of the Partition – the first and only one told through material memory that makes the event tangible even seven decades later, lest we forget.

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Review:

First I would like to thank the publisher HarperCollins Publishers India for sending me this book to read. I love to read historical fiction and non-fiction books. This book is a treasure of memories from the Undivided India.

Today we live in a free India, Pakistanis and Bangladeshis each stay in their own free country. But we never thought what is the price our ancestors had to pay for this. We don’t know what they had to go through during the partition. Who had ever dreamt of an Divided India. Yes, talks were going on, but who ever thought that this will become a reality.  For them it never mattered, if they were Hindu, Muslim or Sikh. All these people following different religion stayed in harmony. The cruel decision of dividing India happened quickly and hastily. Even the British was not ready for it. When the line was drawn on the Undivided India, it was not just geographically, but also a line was drawn in the lives of people dividing into pre and post independence phase. Neither Viceroy Mountbatten nor the leaders involved foresaw a mass movement of population across the borders following the geographical division. Families who had lived in a place for decades, who had ancestral property, suddenly after partition found themselves at the wrong side of the border. Suddenly they become a stranger to their very own birthplace.

This was the most horrible phase of Indian history. People were not just physically displaced, they were uprooted from their own homes. They had to leave in hurry, leaving everything behind and go to a new place as a refugee. Few families took this just as a mere vacation to go to a new place across border and come back after the riots died. But got stuck at the other side, never to able to return to their homeland. Their empty houses being claimed by the refugees at both sides.

This book is collection of 19 memories of those such families (which includes the authors grandparents as well), who stood witness to the Undivided India being partitioned, their mental trauma, the up rootedness, the heart wrenching horrible moments, which were locked away and never talked about. This book make us live those moments with the help of material memory. These materials or objects, few precious and few mundane, that survived the partition, were carried across the border hidden in the folds of the clothes or inside boxes in the hope to help them in the new land to start everything from scratch. These objects that were passed from one generation to other, makes those decade old memories tangible.  We are the last generation to have lived with people who witnessed the crumbling of India in the name of partition. The memories shared in this book are not just any story or history, it is an insight to the lives, the culture, the dialects of people in Undivided India. And how these things are getting erased. The objects carried across border act as a link, holding the memories of Undivided India, to past life and the present. This book with the help of objects, carried across the border, tries to keep those memories safely archived.

I have not rated this book because memories and emotions are not for rating. They are for remembering and feeling.

This book I would highly recommend to all the Indians, Pakistanis and Bangladeshi readers to understand the trauma of partition. And also because, it not only contain memories of families that moved to India after partition but also of families that moved to Pakistan and Bangladesh.

About the Author:

Aanchal malhotra

Aanchal Malhotra is an artist and oral historian working with memory and material culture. She received a BFA in Traditional Printmaking and Art History from the Ontario College of Art and Design, Toronto, and an MFA in Studio Art from Concordia University, Montreal. Her work has been exhibited in Canada, the US, the UK and India.

She is the co-founder of the ‘Museum of Material Memory’, a digital repository of material culture from the Indian subcontinent, tracing family histories and social ethnography through heirlooms, collectibles and objects of antiquity.

She lives in New Delhi. You can visit her work at http://thehiatusproject.tumblr.com/ or instagram page.

Malavikagnimitram: The Dancer and the King

malavikagnimitram

Status: Read from Sep 04 to Sep 07, 2017
Format: Paperback
Pages: 165
My rating:  5star/5
Author: Kalidasa

Synopsis:

Believed to be Kalidasa’s first work, Malavikagnimitram is the love story of King Agnimitra and the dancer Malavika. The tale unfolds through humorous palace interludes, vivid descriptions of fine arts and the cunning machinations of court players. Even in this early work, Kalidasa’s characteristic penchant for romance, art and natural beauty is evident at every delightful turn of the plot. He transforms a simple tale of forbidden love into an engrossing courtly drama filled with beauty, humour and wit.

Srinivas Reddy’s engaging translation captures to perfection the joyous vigour of the young dramatist’s voice.

Review:

Malavikagnimitram is Kalidasa’s first sanskrit play narrating the love of king Agnimitra, the Shunga Emperor at Vidisha, for for the beautiful hand-maiden of his chief queen, and dancer Malavika. When the queen discovers her husband’s passion for this girl, she becomes infuriated and has Mālavikā imprisoned, but as fate would have it, in the end she is discovered to be of royal birth and is accepted as one of his queens.

The ways devised by Agnimitra’s brahmin friend Gautama, so that the king can get a chance to meet Malavika are very hilarious. The translation is very poetic and there is use of so many metaphors used to describe fine arts, romance and nature’s beauty which are fun to read. It’s a light and quick read.

A newly enthroned enemy, not yet popular with his subjects, is easily rooted out, like a freshly planted sapling.

A king only completes a challenging task with the help of a friend, for even a man with perfect vision needs light to see in the dark.

A fire burns ever more brilliant by absorbing the sun while the moon glows bright when embraced by the night.

When two mad elephants want to fight each other, peace comes only when one of them is defeated.

Even with a bad student, a good teacher’s intellect shines through.

About the Author:

kalidas

Kālidāsa (Devanāgarī: कालिदास  “servant of Kali”) was a 5th century (end of 4th century) renowned Classical Sanskrit writer, widely regarded as the greatest poet and dramatist in the Sanskrit language.

Nothing apart from his works is known with certainty about the life of Kālidāsa, such as where he lived or the dates of his birth and death. He composed seven major works: three plays: Mālavikāgnimitram , Abhijñānaśākuntalam, Vikramōrvaśīyam , two epic poems: Raghuvaṃśa , Kumārasambhava, and two lyrical poems (khandakavyas): Ṛtusaṃhāra, Meghadūta.  According to legend, he was known for his beauty, which brought him to the attention of Princess Vidyottama and she married him. However, as legend has it, Kālidāsa had grown up without much education, and the princess was ashamed of his ignorance and coarseness. A devoted worshipper of Kali (by other accounts of Saraswati), Kālidāsa is said to have called upon his goddess for help when he was going to commit suicide in a well after he was humiliated by his wife, and was rewarded with a sudden and extraordinary gift of wit. He is then said to have become the most brilliant of the “nine gems” at the court of the king Vikramaditya of Ujjain. Legend also has it that he was murdered by a courtesan in Sri Lanka during the reign of Kumaradasa.

Unboxing “The Bookling’s Crate’: Aug Subscription

Bookling’s Crate is a monthly book subscription box that delivers a top notch Young Adult Fantasy Book (new release) along with some quirky bookish goodies every month with a specific theme at your doorstep.

The theme for August is “Love is in the Air”. Here are the list of contents:

  1. A handcrafted bookmark from @uniqueorn.express
  2. A tiny macron storage box
  3. Game of Thrones keychain
  4. A bethboss bookish pin
  5. A chocolate friendship band
  6. Metal antique mermaid bookmark
  7. A leafy jewellery piece
  8. A handcrafted crocheted owl by @lil_elfy
  9. Book of the Month: with a letter from the author
  10. Love is in the Air card

Bookings are open for the October Subscription box. The theme for october is “Wizard & Warriors”. The book included for this box is a fantasy magical book and bookish goodies will be based on Wizards and Warriors theme.

You can book your box by visiting their site at https://booklingscrate.com/ . While booking, mention my name (Deepti) with my insta handle @beautywithbooks to get a surprise Bonus Product in your box.

 

 

Karma’s Ukulele

karmas_ukulele

Status: Read from Aug 23 to Aug 24, 2017
Format: Paperback
Pages: 212
My rating:  5star/5
Author: Lekshmi Gopinathan

Synopsis:

She is not your regular hero!

What do you do when life splits you open, cracks your soul and leaves you beyond repair?

Twenty six, she travels armed with her ukulele and dragger. This is her escapade.

A tale of pain, hope, strength and resilience spanning three years and weaving through Pokhara, Jaffna, Srinagar, Hyderabad, Bangalore, New Delhi, Gorkha, Varanasi and Mcleodganj. A medley of relationships, memories and heartening music.

A legendary nomad, an Aghori, a young boatman, a war refugee, a poet, a yogini, a Rastafarian, a camel rider, an actor and an entrepreneur come together in a heart wrenching adventure.

This is not your regular story.

Review:

Karma’s Ukulele: Don’t you think this title is very vague? Vague and catchy. But you will understate it only after you read this book.

This is story of a vagabond who is fierce and rude, for whom travel is an escape. From what she wants to escape, that’s reveled somewhere at the middle of the book ( but this was quite predictable ). She travels across ten cities, meets ten strangers. And every character in the book are as interesting as the protagonist.

The story is narrated in an random order, woven intricately in past and present moving forward beautifully. The protagonist’s name is not revealed till the end of the book. She goes by different names in different places – Sita, Parvatee, Bani, Durga, Arya, Naina, each becoming part of her journey. Though this book is work of fiction, it does have description of real events that affected the place and left the place shattered ( just like our protagonist).  It’s said, travelling new places and meeting different type of people add to your experience and makes you more mature not to judge or be opinionated towards strangers. Every person has a reason, a story that make them remain indifferent towards others. Pain does not always shatters you, but in turn makes you more stronger. You meet various gypsies and artists on your way, with a polite smile but carrying a broken soul inside just like you. And in the process you are healing them and healing yourself without your own knowledge. Not only that, you connect to people, you touch their lives and make memories.  This is what is emphasized in this book.

There are few repetitive statements ( for instance: Did I tell you, I hate all men?) and in the beginning the story feels like being stretched. But with the swing of narration between past and present and involvement of new characters make the plot quite interesting. There are parts, which are little depressive narrating self harm and negativity, which i feel in needed to show that even one feels empty and lost everything in life, there is still hope and a reason to keep moving.  The language is very expressive and filled with thought provoking quotes here and there. The book also highlights the past events and natural disasters in certain places that makes life difficult for the local people ( the Kashmir valley effected by regular terrorist attacks, Jaffana in Sri Lanka affected by the civil war between the govt. and LTTE, Gorkha in Nepal severely hit by earthquake).

All in all, it is a journey of making peace with inner self with the flaws and  accepting oneself, because even with the emotional scars, there are people who make this life worth living.

About the Author:

lekshmi gopinathan

Lekshmi Gopinathan is a social entrepreneur and run an art project called Project Kalayatra, where she document indigenous art forms and artisan communities in India. It’s a not for profit, its gives a platform where travelers get to meet the local artists and live with them.

Lekshmi is a trained journalist, having produced documentaries for NDTV and also done undercover sting operations for environmental conservation. She has worked closely with publications like The Better India to spread awareness about the local dying art forms.

She quit her full time job a year ago to become a full time nomad. She travelled to four countries and thirty three cities last year. Karma’s Ukulele is inspired by her own life and stories she heard from the nomads she met as she travelled. Karma is an amalgamation of many people and yet is one single identity.

The One Who Swam With The Fishes

the one who swam with fishes

Status: Read from Aug 18 to Aug 19, 2017
Format: Paperback
Pages: 150
My rating:  5star/5
Author: Meenakshi Reddy Madhavan

Synopsis:

Who is Satyavait? Truth-teller. Daughter of water. Child of apsara and king. Cursed from birth. Fish-smell girl.

Growing up as a girl in the Vedic age is anything but easy – and even harder for the future Queen of Hastinapur, the kingdom of all kingdoms. She must contend with magic islands, difficult sages, calculating foster parents, sexual awakening and loneliness. Even when she is at the threshold of the capital, King Shantanu, smitted though he is with her, already has a crown prince from his marriage with a goddess. Young Satyavati must walk on thorns to reach her destiny in a world ruled by men.

One of young India’s most feisty voices, Meenakshi Reddy Madhavan coaxes the lesser-known girls of the Mahabharata out of the shadows. Now watch them flare up and take on their worlds.

Review:

When we speak about the epic Mahabharata, what comes to our mind? The Kauravas, the Pandavas, the gruesome epic war at Kurukshetra. Yes, in Mahabharata all attention is on these two battling sides, the plotting and cunning Kauravas and the followers of dharma, Pandavas. It will not be wrong, if we say Mahabharat is a male dominated story. What about the women involved in this epic? They have always remained as less imported in this great epic, with the exception of Draupadi ( and perhaps Kunti). But these women are the heart of everything that happens in Mahabharata. Meenakshi Reddy’s new series “Girls of the Mahabharata” is an remarkable work to focus on the women involved and their contributions in giving shape to the greatest ever epic of India, as we know it today.

This book “The One Who Swam With The Fishes” focuses on young Satyavati, who took her future in her own hands, was courageous  to speak her mind out to create her own destiny which she rightly deserved.  The story is narrated by Satyavati, swinging between her past and present in the successive chapters. The story beings with young little Satyavati, then named as Matsyaganda ( the girl with smell of fish ), being scorned by her adaptive mother. But her father, the king of fishermen, knew her true origin and always encouraged her and prepared her for her destiny which are rightfully hers. The turn of events, leading her to move out of house and discover her gurus, to evolve her as an attractive, brave lady to accomplish the task, to become a queen as she is destined to do.  With her charms and bold straightforward answers even the King Shantanu is not left with any other option but to agree to her cruel demands. The story also justifies her actions towards her determined demand to Shantanu and Prince Devavrata, later known as Bheesma, takes the vow to never marry and bear children.

Fate is a funny thing, my dear. It leads you by the hand and takes you where  it wants you to go, and you have no more control over it than a blindfolded child.

Mythology has always been one of my favorite genre. But with all the narration to give the feel of mythology, the books are quite lengthy and requires focused reading.  But this book was just like reading some fairy tale story of a poor girl with a stern step mother, who finds her way out and makes her own destiny. The story is quick and light read, and very engaging. For someone who wants to try a mythology for very first time, this book is highly recommended.

About the Author:

Meenakshi reddy madahavan

Meenakshi Reddy Madhavan was born in Hyderabad, but grew up in New Delhi, where she currently lives with her Partner and their three cats. Formerly a journalist, Madhavan’s first book ‘You Are Here’ was commissioned in 2007 on the basis of her hugely popular blog Compulsive Confessions.  Since then, Madhavan has written three more novels – two for young adults – and a collection of short stories, as well as contributed a several anthologies. She also writes essays and columns for a variety of publications. ‘The One Who Swam With the Fishes’ is her sixth book and her first foray into mythology-inspired writing.

Unboxing “The Last Leaf” Box: Aug Subscription

Before I talk about the unboxing, let me tell you a bit about The Last Leaf Box.  It is a monthly subscription box for the booklovers. But this box is uniquely working towards bringing into limelight the various diverse and regional books by various authors, who are incredible writers, but are lost in all the glamour and hype of the fantasy and contemporary books and writers. No other country has so much diversity in literature. They even customize the boxes with books in regional languages, if requested.

I was selected as rep for the August subscription box. So, here are the contents of this box:

  1. An art print card
  2. An artwork of clay on board
  3. A wooden handcrafted peacock statue
  4. Two book marks
  5. A file holder bag
  6. A picture story book with Madhubani artwork:  Following My Paint Brush
  7. A photography book: The Flag
  8. Book: Twilight in Delhi by Ahmed Ali
  9. Book: Written in Tears by Arupa Patangia Kalita translated from Assamese by Ranjita Biswas

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Let me speak about few of things in this subscription box:

The art print card:

IMG_9772

The painting on the card is called “The Sacred Seed” by Bhajju Shyam which is part of “The Creation Card Box” published by Tara Books. It’s a Gond tribal art style special art style of gondi people from central India. This is silkscreen printed on recycled paper.

Wooden Peacock statue:

IMG_9799

This peacock statue is made from wood, carefully handcrafted using single piece of wood and is hand painted. It’s 3″ inches long and very artistic.

Artwork of clay:

IMG_9804

The above art work is done using clay, then dried and painted. The base is wooden and the frame is also wooden. This art is appropriate to hang on wall as well as to keep on table. The tribal clay modeling structure is beautiful.

Book: Following my Paintbrush:

IMG_9807

This picture book published by tara books is about Dulari Devi. Dulari Devi is a domestic helper, from a community of fisherfolk. The story depicts the journey of Dulari Devi, who discovered creativity  while working as a cleaning woman in a artist’s house and went on to become an artist herself in Mithila style of folk art (Madhubani Painting ). Here are few pictures from the book:

 

Book: The Flag:

This is a photography book published by tara books featuring 30 photographers from across India showing Indian tricolor in all it’s human moments of glory and poignancy. Our tricolor shares the moment of we Indian’s – they are both grand and humble, carnivalesque and riotous, joyfully enabling and indescribably sad. Press photographers from different parts bring an unselfconscious and entirely refreshing vision to the story. Here are few captures from the book:

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Book: Twilight in Delhi:

Twilight in Delhi, published by Rupa publication and written by Ahmed Ali, is set in 19th century India between two revolutionary moments of change, depicts most movingly the loss of an entire culture and way of life.

Ahmed Ali (1910 in New Delhi – 14 January 1994 in Karachi) was a pakistani (later Pakistani) novelist, poet, critic, translator, diplomat and scholar.

Book: Written in Tears:

Written in Tears, written by Arupa Patangia Kalita and translated from Assamese by Ranjita Biswas, brings together some of her best novellas and stories set against a surreally beautiful landscape torn and scarred by conflict. This is a mighty chronicle of the disturbing and searing history of aggression and hate that has plagued Assam for decades.