Saturday, July 15, 2017

Better to Wink at Life by Kamran Ahmad

The title gives you a hint of what this light-hearted book is all about. 'Better to Wink at Life’ is a compilation of Kamran Ahmad’s thoughts, experiences and memories, all held together with the glue of good humour and irony. As one wades into the narrative, one is bombarded with amusing situations peppered with snappy comebacks and quirky lines. The quote, “Of all the things I have lost, I miss my mind the most,” sets the tone for the writing, and prepares the reader to expect many more such witty missiles.

That the author has a well-entrenched funny bone is obvious, but what is even more so is the fact that he has an equally witty better half, “a lady endowed with a wonderful sense of humour” as he himself acknowledges. He refers to her as “a duchess of drama and a bundle of conflicts” but it is apparent that she is the one who makes his life fun and exciting. Her observations about him are often nonchalant and acerbic, causing him to mock-lament, 
“It was hard now to stuff the genie of responsibility and cares which marriage let out, back into the bottle.”

Life is imbued with light moments, be it a reference to college flings, with “beguiling flirtations, juicy gossip and some love affairs”, sowing one’s wild oats, “Alas, the charade of our decency fell apart like a house of cards before the tempest of our animal impulses”, or casting a glad eye around only to find “she looked like thistledown wafting in a world of dreams”. Hen parties are also a fertile hunting ground for his gentle wisecracks.

 Kamran Ahmed lets go of no opportunity to gently poke fun at people around him. For example, “A bachelor is a thing of beauty and a boy forever.” This is how he describes a rich, happy-go-lucky friend of his. About a young relative, he remarks, “His appearance during (his) waking hours should be described as ‘from bed to worse’ and he is as unsociable as a bear.” Whether it is a description of his “horizontally well-endowed brother” or his bewildered colleague, ‘Anwar Khan’, who could be dubbed ‘Unaware Khan’, the author has perfected the art of witticisms.

However, there is a deep-rooted philosophy that peeps from behind the good humour. The writer, “a combat-weary sailor in search of calmer waters” goes on to remark that “in a sophisticated world of false appearances, double dealings and camouflaged intentions, I was a misfit and craved escape”. He wonders, “Why have we chosen to become prisoners in the windowless dome of our egos? A different world, it could be argued, cannot be built by indifferent people.”

Thus, this is a book that is written with “a disarming forthrightness coupled with a self-effacing humour” as the author strives to make sense of the foibles of daily life. Maybe, that is why he exclaims, “Ah! Our life is but a speck and our stay on earth but insignificant moments in the infinite design of cosmic mystery,” even as he waxes eloquent on “fireflies blinking and twinkling through the trees under a gibbous moon.”

As they say, “People with a good sense of humour have a better sense of life.”

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Grow up Messy by Paromita Goswami

A Hilarious Coming of Age Series Book 1

How is it possible not to fall in love with a five-year old named Misry, who ends up being called Messy because she is anything but tidy? Her many endearing traits make her adorable, but she has her moments of mischief that get her into trouble often. Befriending children who are older than herself, asking crazy questions and craving the company of children apart from her cousin, Raju, Messy has a mind of her own which makes her do exactly what she wants to do. She is fearless, and does not shrink from waging war with Bheeru and the other village kids.

However, there is another side of Messy as well, her fear of ghosts which prevents her from sleeping during the day. She enjoys listening to her father, Anurag, who regales her with bedtime stories of the BSF and others filled with adventure. Her mother, Madhavi, takes over this task when her father is not around, which is often.

 Misry misses her father when he is away, patrolling the borders. But at a young age, she understands that he has to go away in order to keep her, and children like her, safe.

Amusing incidents abound in this delightful book. The appearance of the baby gibbon, Hoolock, addicted to fruits, the excitement of meeting the handsome ‘Raja’, the bungled attempt to pilfer ripe mangoes and litchis and leading a blind-folded Bheeru into a pile of slushy cow dung, all make for a perfect background for the high-spirited little girl, loved by all.

Paromita Goswami paints a picture of life in the Border Security Force, where major festivals like Durga Puja are celebrated with great gusto. Messy’s love for animals, especially goats, comes across, especially in the Meru episode. Her love for lungar (the cookhouse) food and the warmth she experiences from the jawans who love her because they miss their own children, is truly heart-warming.

Messy’s innocence comes through when she believes that God gave mothers superpowers so that they could take care of their children from the Oogly Boogly. Her school days are also amusing, as her friends and teachers try to discipline the spirited young girl. When she finally gets her Talking Doll, her excitement knows no bounds.

Her relationship with her grandfather (Dadu), her rivalry with her twin cousins who look like divas, and the ceremonies surrounding her aunt, Pallavi’s wedding, bring out further nuances of the little girl’s stellar personality. 

The pun in the title adds on to the playfulness of the book. Paromita has a style of writing that is effortless and breezy, so vital in a book which has a tiny, pint-sized heroine so full of life.

At the end of the book, the reader is left with only one plea. “Please don’t grow up, Messy.”

Friday, July 7, 2017

Hey, You need to Behave like a Grandma Now!

Ah, well, I was wondering when the above comment was going to hit me like a ton of bricks! Nor was I disappointed, for, even when my little granddaughter was not even a twinkle in the eye of her parents, (the actual moment was when my daughter was standing with her brand new husband on stage for her reception!), I heard a sonorous voice behind me rumble. “Ah, well! You will soon need to behave like a grandma!”

“Huh?” I was flummoxed for the moment, and tongue-tied. How on earth do you respond to comments like that? By the time I had thought up a suitable rejoinder, the sonorous voice was busy giving free, fatal advice elsewhere.

Let me tell you at the start, I have always been happy with the person I am. Maybe a trifle crazy (blame my family and friends for that!), sometimes a bit blunt (a Saggi trait) and always ready for a lark, followed by a laugh. After all, even the Bard got it right when he said,

 "We are such stuff/ 
As dreams are made on; and our little life/ Is rounded with a sleep."

Who are we, mere mortals to disagree with that? So I have taken it upon myself to live it up till my life is rounded with a sleep. However, nothing in life does go the way you expect it to. So there come the thunderbolts, followed by the tempests which drizzle away into light showers, and those beautiful sunny days when God is in His Heaven. 

Coming back to the grandma remark, I marvel at the tenacity of the human race, where certain members with the hides of a rhinoceros (I have no idea what the plural of the animal is), come up to me with the familiarity of having taken my baby version in their laps and having named me themselves. (OK, that is a quaint idiom in Kerala which sounds better in Malayalam, I grant!) 

When my sisters were born, one after the other, a tall spindly aunt came up to me. "Ah, well, now you will have to behave like an elder sister." Words well calculated to bring out the green-eyed monster lurking within. 

After I metamorphosed from Army brat to Army wife, it was like shifting home to home. One evening, I wore my favourite blue jeans and a smart top to visit a senior officer and his wife. They looked me up and down, and as the evening progressed, I was aware of a cold vibe that quite baffled me. Later my exuberant young husband was hauled up. "Ah, well, your wife needs to behave like a lady wife."

Two years later, we had a visit from the stork, and life could not be more idyllic. When our pretty daughter was born, loads of "Ah, well" comments came whizzing by. 

"Ah, well, better luck next time! You need a son to complete your family." 

And "Ah, well, isn't it time you planned your next? There should be a minimum gap of three years between the two." Sound practical advice from a lady who had six daughters, whose oldest one was just four years younger than me. 
We didn't really think it necessary to tell her that our family was as complete as it could be. There was nothing she could do about it, in any case. 

As my daughter grew, I got back to wearing my jeans again, especially now that we were at a safe distance from the aforesaid senior officer. Now the comments were less barbed, more like compliments even. "Ah, well, when will you start looking like a mom?" I would usually smile and reply, "When my mom starts looking like a grandmom." A statement that often elicited a smile and a nod from those who knew my mother.

Then came the age of burgundy, when my hair began to act temperamental, and send up strands of grey, like truant blades of grass in a manicured garden. One lady, who had no sense of personal space, peered at my grey, and muttered, "Gosh, you look older than your mother." 

"Time to dye!" I exclaimed to the horrified lady and I rushed to a salon, trying to push my way towards the various hair products that stood in a tantalizing line. Obviously, the whole world, and its wife, had the same idea. I finally emerged, my hair shining in burgundy hues, almost purple in the sunshine, elated with the transformation. 

That evening, I bumped into an acquaintance, who looked through me. "Hi!" I ventured warily, wondering what on earth I had done wrong. "Hi," she replied, vaguely casting a glance at me. Suddenly her expression turned animated, and I was trumped. "What have you done to yourself? You look like a carrot top!"

 "Uhh, burgundy top, actually," I muttered. It was a matter of wounded pride, after all.

"Ah, well, when will you start behaving like the mother of a teenager?" she answered crossly, casting a furtive look at her own halo of grey. Probably never, I said to myself, but I wasn't going to upset her further.

 Of course, it doesn't all stop there. Today, I have an adorable granddaughter who keeps us young with all the joy she has brought us. God bless her!

Maybe I have grown up over the decades. I still walk around in my jeans, sport burgundy hair and funky glasses doing things that make people's brows go up. I post silly updates, take part in all those inane, feel-good Facebook quizzes, crack up at jokes that would make a hyena laugh, and have a jolly good time with my friends and family. 

No longer does it daunt me when someone asks, "Ah, well, when are you going to behave like a grandma?" For tomorrow, when I am on my death bed, I am quite sure that another inquisitive soul will stand right over me (no sense of personal space even then) and say in a stage whisper, "Ah, well, when will she finally stop dyeing?"

Still in blue jeans... sorry, grey ones! :)

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Rice Plate - 16 Flavours of Life by Kshitiz Sudhakar

Rice Plate - 16 Flavours of Life (StoryMirror)

A rice plate is a melange of food items, set off by colours that make each dish unique. The palate gets to taste a mind-boggling variety, as the salty, the sweet, the sour and the bitter come together in a wholesome blend. This is probably what story teller, Kshitiz Sudhakar, tries to convey in his anthology ‘Rice Plate – 16 Flavours of Life’. The idea is a wonderful one, but how far does the young man go to achieve this?
Dishes: As far as the variety goes, the reader is not disappointed. From an over-ambitious writer-turned-actor who can do anything for an audition (The Stolen Opportunity), to an atheist who discusses the process of life with the gods (Four Gods and an Atheist), from an interesting dialogue between comic creator, Andy and his creation (Andy and the Andyman) to a philosophical conversation between three dogs who met in Heaven (Jhonny, Sherru and Kevin), the themes are varied.
Flavours: What gives life to food are the flavours that entice and regale. In this book, the flavours are myriad. There is the milk of kindness in ‘The Lost Old Man’ and ‘The Second Life’, the latter a story which could have taken a totally different form. For the writer does not shy away from the erotic in ‘The Erotic Death’.
‘Sweet Antipathy’ goes up the path of revenge, but stops short, just in time, unlike the bitter ‘Revengeful Sin’ where the mystery unravels, ending with a twist in the tale. ‘Weed-ster’ tells the tale of a man who falls, and is punished for his weakness, proving that one reaps what he sows.
Two stories that reveal a sense of candour are ‘The Chicken and Mutton Story’ and ‘Confessions of a Child Household Worker’ where facts are conveyed, in a non-emotional manner.
However, there are two stories that stand out because they are steeped in poignancy. ‘A Ten Rupee Note’ is one of the sweetest stories in the book, told with a kind of innocence that wrings the heart of the reader. The other ‘Guilty or Not’ leaves the reader with a sense of deep sorrow, ending as it does on a note of regret.
The writer travels into a different world in his two stories ‘Asswatthama’s Salvation’ and ‘Shiva’s Escape’, maybe to delve into the modern-day fascination with mythology.
The Aftermath: What remains at the end of a meal is the way the person who has savoured it feels.
The book is an unusual one, with a theme that is intriguing. However, it does abound with punctuation glitches and grammatical woes that should have been cleaned up during its editing. The language, which is otherwise good, tends to turn a wee bit casual in some of the stories, which takes away from its content. Also, a cover that reflected the idea of a rice plate would have been a treat for the eyes.
Verdict: A book that deserves to be read, one story at a time, to taste the individual flavours!