Thursday, January 21, 2021

TALES THAT ENTAIL BY JASEENA BACKER

 


‘Tales that Entail’ by Jaseena Backer is an anthology of stories that are hard-hitting and realistic. Right from the first story, the author assures us that this is not going to be an easy read. The themes dealt with are weighty, revolving around domestic and marital violence, exploitation and molestation. Others border on possessiveness, neglect, low self-esteem stemming from an unhappy childhood.

However, in most of these stories, there is a tenuous thread hope that runs through them, as the protagonists suffer, claw themselves up, fight back and finally emerge into the light, triumphant. In the first story titled ‘My Life, My Choice’, it is retribution that plays a significant role. As the protagonist says, “When you craft your own life, you pick your own date.”

Another tale titled ‘The Arabian Nightmare’, which is “a medieval tale of exploitation, sexual abuse and polygamy”, the protagonist gathers strength to save herself and many others.

Often, the protagonists, who face humiliation and mistreatment, find saviours in their lives who lend them a helping hand, like in stories like ‘Blame Game’, ‘Lily’, ‘He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not’, ‘Khushi’ and ‘Paid in Full’.

Jaseena Backer does not believe in mincing her words. She makes her characters walk on thorns, and when they are just about to give up, she brings in hope and resilience into their lives. Does a family need a man to be happy? How important is respect in marriage? What completes a marriage? Can love, once lost, ever be reclaimed? These and many other soul-searching questions shine like beacons across the book, and the answers often appear in the stories themselves.

If I had to pick a few of my favourite stories, they would be ‘Paid in Full’, ‘Poetry on the Wall’, ‘Reclaiming Love’, ‘Kanyadaan’ and ‘Judge and Jury’, maybe because all of them reveal how life holds out a second chance, if only one realizes it.

‘Tales that Entail’ is a book that deserves to be read. Despite the printer’s devils that leapt out due to formatting issues, that is not the fault of the writer whose story telling skills are tremendous. Here’s to more power to Jaseena Backer’s pen!



 

Sunday, January 3, 2021

2020 - LITERALLY LITERARY! A NOTE OF GRATITUDE!

 


“It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.”

Charles Dickens could have been speaking of 2020 when he began ‘The Tale of Two Cities’, a book that remains one of his masterpieces.

It was, no doubt, the worst of times! The world watched, helpless and horrified, as a tiny virus sneaked into its timeline, and wreaked havoc globally. No country was spared, as the whole of humanity went through a series of emotions – bewilderment, disbelief, understanding and finally, the realization that this was the mother of all challenges. Lockdowns creaked into place, masks came into being, sanitizers sold like hot cakes and social distancing became the new mot juste of the times.

Countries closed their doors, flights were stopped, travel became a rarity. The moment a glimmer of hope was seen, it was quickly scotched by the eager beavers who believed that nothing could go wrong, behaving disgracefully till things actually went wrong under their very noses. Often, it was innocent bystanders, who were standing nowhere in the vicinity, who were dragged in, unwittingly. All in all, it was a glum scenario with no light at the end of the proverbial tunnel. For the virus, which mutated and rose in potency, could have been hiding in the very same tunnel.


Yet, in many ways, it could also be termed the best of times, or at least the best in these trying times. Education turned completely online, and students, teachers and parents scrambled on to the band wagon, trying to tune their systems to keep up with the times. While teething problems were galore, slowly new skills were learnt and across the globe, people started coping. The resilience of the human spirit came to the fore, as it adapted to a brand-new world of computers, online meetings, and a tech savvy scenario.

Life had turned turtle for us personally as well. We were all set to go abroad to meet our precious grandchildren when suddenly, all flights were cancelled, and a lockdown imprisoned us within the country. That was heartbreaking, and yet, there was nothing we could do about it. Millions were in the same position.

As a writer, however, this was a particularly fruitful period for me, and for several of my writer friends. Our creative juices bubbled in a cauldron of literary activity, and our publisher, Dipankar Mukherjee, and his talented editor, Indrani Ganguly, made sure that they added on their own potent elements to spur us on. Hence, Readomania brought out seven anthologies on myriad themes, and all of us, literary comrades-on-arms made sure that we burnt the midnight oil and wrote for most of them. I was thrilled to find my stories nestling within five.



2020 will always be the COVID year for all of us. However, it will also remain the landmark year for me personally when I was able to bring out two solo books as well. The first whetted my appetite for thrillers stories and was an anthology titled ‘Where Shadows Follow – Tales that Twist and Turn’. (Readomania)


The next series, again from Readomania, was an absolute turnabout and a book for children – 'Classic Tales from the Panchatantra’. These initially came out as four volumes of five stories each, and then as a compilation of twenty stories in one volume. I loved working on them and what was especially heartwarming was that my publisher gave me a chance to draw the illustrations for each of the stories, along with my daughter, Priyanka. There we were, going back in time, when we used to doodle on bits of paper and both of us enjoyed the experience thoroughly. My granddaughter, Zoya, inspired by her mother’s sketches, sat down and drew the cutest little lion ever, which went into the dedication of the books.



It was then that a dear friend, Sangeetha Shinde, called me up and asked me if I would be part of an anthology of gritty women’s stories, many of whom were survivors of abuse in one form or the other. God having been kind to me, I have never faced such a scenario, and instead, I wrote about my life as an Army wife, along with its joys and tribulations, all in verse form, for that was the format of the whole book. It was a powerfully moving book and celebrities like Kabir Bedi, Shreekumar Varma, Suhasini Maniratnam and many others were part of its nationwide launch.


A fitting finale for the year was working on ten stories adapted from Shakespeare’s plays for children. The stories were done by November and were sent out to various young beta-readers, who perused them and let me know what appealed to them, and what didn’t. A few more readings and hopefully, that will be another piece of my heart out there for public viewing.

As December, my birthday month came around, and Christmas after, it was time to make a gesture of gratitude. As a giveaway, I decided that I would gift copies of my earlier book, 'Shadow in the Mirror' to reader friends and acquaintances. 

As the New Year begins in earnest, it is only fit that I offer gratitude to all those who made the year that has gone by bearable.

So, thank you, to my incredible husband, my amazing daughter and son-in love, and my adorable grandchildren for fostering joy within me,

My two wonderful mothers, sisters, brothers-in-love and numerous nephews and nieces for having made me smile through the difficult times,

My intrepid publisher and his team who encouraged me and my never-tiring literary companions and writer friends who wrote and read along with me,

My colleagues at school and my students who constantly wrought magic by doing impossible things,

And, of course, all my friends, online and offline, who have always held my hand, encouraged me whenever I have posted anything, and helped me climb mountains…

Finally, to the Universe for having conspired to make things happen!

You know who you are, and you are all wonderful… thank you!





Saturday, January 2, 2021

A TICKET TO LOVE BY NITHYA RAJAGOPAL

 


‘The Red Notebook’ introduces the readers to the kind of stories that nestle within this slim volume. Ganapathy and Sheila, and their children, Arjun and Meera, arrive at Chennai from London to spend time with a recently bereaved Mallika, Ganapathy’s mother. Two worlds are juxtaposed here and the traditional and the modern overlap in the most unexpected ways, with the help of a fascinating red notebook. The final paragraph stays in the mind, poignant yet joyous.

Sibling rivalry is the theme of story number two titled ‘Jaipur, With Love’, in which Pandurangan, the unlikely hero with “an innocent goodness that made people dote on him,” travels from Kanyakumari to Jaipur. His quest is buoyed up with a burning vengeance within his heart. As he meets various people up North, the tale keeps the reader wondering if he will achieve his end, almost resembling a Malayalam movie with its numerous references.

In the third story, ‘Karuppasamy’s Secret’, a quaint little mystery is played out, whetting the readers’ appetites. Right from Karuppasamy, the protagonist, his “veteran employee”, Murugan and the mild-mannered Sarvesh who was “the punching bag between management and the staff” to the “devout traditional” Pankajam and the “charming and mysterious” Lathika, the characters play their roles with flair, right till the piquant end.

‘Arriving in Chennai’ reveals how archaic mindsets get dissolved when love takes over in a city that was never expected to be one’s own, as in the case of Amit who moves from UP to Chennai, and finds his life turning over.

Nithya Rajagopal’s panache in the writing craft is revealed in the seeming simplicity of her stories which handle the most complex of themes with ease. Prepare to receive a ticket to love when you muse over these four delightful stories along with a samosa and a hot cuppa!

 


 

 

 

 

 


Friday, December 25, 2020

CAST THE IRON SKILLET AWAY!

 


My husband looked at me, excitement on his face.

“Let’s buy a cast iron skillet. I believe dosas come out crisp and nice on them!”

One of his hobbies is browsing the Internet for all the latest gadgets and things which make life easier for the two of us. Like the time he found a slim plastic cabinet which could neatly slide into the narrowest nook and yet have space enough to keep all the masalas that make an Indian kitchen what it should be. Of course, he also picked up masalas from myriad cultures – West Indian, Arabic, Mediterranean… so that they could be displayed there.

My sister had already introduced us to authentic Christian meat and chicken masala from Kottayam made exclusively by one family.

Going back, my husband tries to cut the clutter in the house by buying various guaranteed products to cut clutter. However, he has finally realized, after three decades, that he is living with someone who must have been a magpie in her last birth. In fact, her entire family, her mother and her sisters, must have also come from the same stock in their previous births.

Dreamstime.com

So, now we have fridge separators, under the sink organizers, magnetic wall strips for knives, S shaped hooks for hanging mugs, ladles, graters, and enough storage space for three households.

“How can one person fill up space with so little effort?” is his constant refrain. No prizes for guessing whom he is referring to! Sadly, he doesn’t see the mammoth effort it does take to fill space up at regular intervals. The iron skillet was one such buy on his part. 

“Let us throw out all the other tawas we have,” he announced the moment the massive package arrived. I have always wondered why online shopping products come in such huge cardboard boxes. There is a process to process these packages, especially now that the virus could be lurking in or on it.

                                                                      IndiaMART

The package is deposited outside, then lifted gingerly and placed in a corner where there is no clutter! Once that corner is identified (with difficulty!), we give the box a couple of hours to air itself, and the virus, out.

Out come the scissors, and a half hour goes in peeling off all the tape, cutting through the cardboard, lifting out reams and reams of paper or bubble wrap, depending on the fragility of the product. At the end, right at the bottom of the massive box, nestles a tiny little packet that makes you feel triumphant, almost like the Seeker who captures the Golden Snitch in Harry Potter’s game of Quidditch and wins the match for his team.

Anyway, to cut a long story short, the cast iron skillet, and its long slim ladle, emerged in all their glory with instructions to season the former well before using it. This was supposed to be a skillet for all seasons! Pun intended!

My husband and I took it in turns to nurture the new baby, rubbing oil on it, keeping it clean and well moisturized, just about refraining from dousing it with Johnson’s talcum powder as well.

Voila! It was time to make our first dosa. There was a wooden contraption with a blob of cloth along with it to oil the surface. However, anticipating how dirty that would get in due course, we opted for half an oiled onion to wipe it with.

The skillet sat on the stove, heating up gently, as I rubbed the onion on it, the tantalizing aroma riding up my nose as the surface sizzled. I took a ladle full of batter and poured it, going round and round to make it as thin as possible. What a lovely sight it was, the dosa getting crisp and brown as the ghee bubbled on its circumference, lifting it up slightly. One quick whirl and there it lay, a perfect, crisp, brown specimen that made both our hearts sing.

“Such a wonderful buy!” I exclaimed to my delighted husband. “Now we will have the best dosas in town!”

Maybe there is a hidden power that listens to such exclamations and decides to cancel them out.

Even as the seasoning and the oiling routine continued, our baby started showing traces of having a mind of its own. The first dosa would be perfect, the second one just the opposite. I would pour the batter out in all its glory and add the ghee, holding my breath. And it would stick like a limpet to the surface, almost like chewing gum stuck to hair. I would scrape and swear, sliding the iron ladle under the now set batter, which held on for dear life. Often it turned into a tussle, as I scraped the surface noisily, trying to salvage the bits and pieces which we would eat off the skillet as fast as they crisped.

Needless to say, my patience gave way and I soon went back to my old faithful non- stick skillet, which promptly began working twice as well as before. Maybe it had sensed that it was in danger of superannuation. Meanwhile, the cast iron one stood against the wall, with patches of rust forming on its surface. 

However, my husband, never one to give up without a fight, went on to YouTube and looked at videos explaining how to maintain cast iron.

“Season it well. Wash it, and season it again!”

Once that was done, he dunked it into a large vessel with rice water (kanji), which was supposed to work miracles. For a day and a night, it lay there, undergoing a metamorphosis. When he finally took it out and washed it, it shone, almost as if it had been to a spa and back.

“Is it ready to use?” I queried my better half.

“Nope, now it needs another oiling!” was his sage answer. “Then tomorrow morning, you need to fry some onions on it, and then, it will be as good as new!”

I refrained from telling him that it was practically new! It certainly looked shinier and more user-friendly now. The onions were fried, the oil sizzled and...?

 This story should have a fairy tale ending, right? The tawa, my husband and I living happily ever after, and all that?

Humph!

The next day, I realized the all-blinding truth. Some things are best left alone. Amen!

 


 Images: Courtesy Deepti Menon

 

 

 

 


Sunday, December 13, 2020

THE (HE)ART OF IRONING!

                                                                                                                                                    declutterme.london

Humour me, folks! I could sing, “Aaj main upar, aasmaaan neecche!”  Loosely translated, that means "Today I am on top of the world, with the sky beneath!" Maybe, the world will scoff at me when I divulge the reason. 

I have finished sorting out my wardrobe, my linen cupboard and my kitchen drawers. I have decluttered… given away clothes that have miraculously grown smaller, chucked bedsheets that have blushed their colour away, and thrown away the condiments and masalas which have outlived their usefulness! I have ironed every item of clothing and every pillowcase I have! I am Marie Kondo today!

                                                                              Rakuten

I was introduced to Marie Kondo around ten years back, when every article she wrote was like the gospel truth. “Ready to spark joy in your life?” she exhorted. “Give away everything you don’t love!” Of course, this statement has nothing to do with all the break-ups  and divorces that followed soon after!

Anyway, there I was, handling every item at home with TLC, whispering to it, “I love you. I will hang on to you!” My husband rejoiced, hoping against hope that finally there would be some space for him at home. That I would declutter! That pigs would fly!

Thinking back, there must have been a magpie ancestor somewhere in my past whose blood ran in my veins, and whose voice echoed in my ears. “Keep it all. It might come in use one day.” How could I ignore a decisive voice like that?

So, every item would go right back, and Kondo would turn into ‘Can’t do!”

Today, however, I feel empowered. I gave away ten tops, all my husband’s T shirts (except the ones he clung on to in desperation!) and made enough space in my cupboard to fit in a hippopotamus. Not that I will ever need to, of course, but the feeling is euphoric. To make myself feel even better, I ironed everything I saw around me. I also discovered the truth of the quote, “You never know what you have until you clean your closet.”

Ironing has that calming effect on me. It is as though I am smoothening out the wrinkles in my life as well, one at a time. The smell of a freshly washed outfit when the steam hits it is uplifting. Rows of clothes in perfect harmony, T shirts rolled up (another Kondo technique!) and dupattas and scarves that cascade in perfect grace. “God’s in His heaven, and all’s right with the world.”

                                                                   
                                                                              Pinterest

When after all that activity, I sit down to write, my heart is full. It is as if I have ironed out a wrinkle in time, a crease that troubled me and a whole space fraught with conflict. The words flow onto my screen with ease. The space without has created an equally serene space within.

The next space that needs tackling is our library, and all my writing paraphernalia. Every time I determine to give away two books for every one book I buy, I make an effort. Cross my heart, I really do! I look through my shelves at all those beautiful books, each one more alluring than the last, each one singing a separate song that leaps straight into my heart. I shake my head and move on to my diaries and notebooks. It is no secret that the way straight to my heart, besides music, is stationery of any kind – colourful notebooks, pens of every hue, pads and cards, Post-its in blue and pink and yellow, tiny calendars, handmade paper and cards of every kind. I have cards from the seventies given to me by my family and friends. Cards and letters from students later on in life!  Some have turned yellow, others have got stuck with age, and the luckier ones are stuck down in an old drawing book. All I can say is that if I have survived to this ripe old age, so should they, and no argument about that!

‘Minimalistic’ seems to be the mantra today. I saw a video in which a lady said that she had seven set of clothes, one for each day of the week, a few accessories and little else. She mixed and matched so effectively that she could carry on life with the few choices she had. Another lady held out seven T shirts and three formal tops and trousers. In the short duration of the video, she made two piles of ‘keep’ and ‘trash’. Finally, she kept four T shirts and trashed three. According to me, that requires nerves of steel! Luckily, they both started their videos with the words, “Please do not try this at home!” OK, sorry, just joking!

                                                                          Light Transitions

Today, I will sleep well, dreaming of clean wardrobes and ironed clothes. However, all this is going to change in a couple of days for I celebrated a birthday last week, and new clothes are all set to come in and nestle within those spaces that I have joyfully created. And believe me, I had no ulterior motive when I created them! Amen!

                                         

                                                                  The Monday Campaigns

TALES THAT ENTAIL BY JASEENA BACKER

  ‘Tales that Entail’ by Jaseena Backer is an anthology of stories that are hard-hitting and realistic. Right from the first story, the auth...