Wednesday, February 28, 2018

A Beautiful Life Laid Waste!

“If only... the saddest words in the English language.”
 Kristan Higgins

Over the past three days, the whole country has been avidly following the news at the accidental drowning of one of the most charismatic stars we have ever seen.

If only the beautiful lady, the heartthrob of millions, the only superstar of India, had survived...

If only she had realised that something was wrong when she went in to have a bath...

If only certain people on social media had shown more restraint, instead of commenting on her lifestyle, and all that she should not have done with her body...

If only some news channels had not jumped to their own conclusions and rushed in where angels fear to tread...

If only mindless speculations had been left unspoken, and trenchant voices been silenced...

If only the word ‘karma’ had been left out, instead of being bandied about like a dry leaf in the wind...

If only cameras and obtrusive journalists had not dogged the funeral cortege, waiting to pounce on every expression of agonised loss on the faces of the mourners...

If only we, as her fans, had reacted with true shock and sorrow, and stopped right there...

If only abrasive tongues had thought of her grieving family; her husband and her young daughters, before putting out tweets that hurt and posts that wound...

If only terribly sad photographs had not been circulated from the Dubai morgue, pictures that robbed her of her dignity in her final hours...

If only we had remembered that a shining star, a celebrity in her own right, warrants as much respect and dignity in death as anyone else...

Maybe, just maybe, we would deserve to be called humane!

Sridevi, may you shine on in the celestial world forever! You will never be forgotten in this one, ever!

Friday, February 23, 2018

Little Maryam by Hamid Baig

“Not every man with a heart is understanding, not every man with ears is a listener, and not every man with eyes is able to see.” Imam Ali

Saadiq Haider, renowned gene therapist, comes across as a brusque, impatient man, as he shares his life story with Anne Miller, an intrepid journalist with ‘The Daily’ who is eager to interview him after his nomination for the Nobel Prize. Not for nothing is he known as the bad boy of bioengineering and cancer research, even as the world acknowledges him as a genius who had featured on the cover of Time magazine.

Luckily, Anne and he are on the same flight, and as the ride turns turbulent, Dr. Haider decides to unveil the grand canvas of his life story on the enthusiastic journalist. As he says to her, “The beginning is Maryam.”

Saadiq and Maryam share a magical relationship from the moment he meets her. Her father, the Colonel, owns the garden on which Saadiq’s father, Haji, works.  Saadiq turns into her protector, but it is not until much later that they both realise the depth of their feelings for each other. Kalpavriksha, the huge banyan tree, plays a significant role in their lives, right till the very end.

The reader understands the intensity of Saadiq’s love for Maryam when he reveals it to his father. “Have you ever felt so empty, so devoid of hope, that death would be a welcomed reprieve? That would be my life, without Maryam in it.”

Saadiq has an uncanny intelligence and the death of his mother lights a fire within him, even as he vows to become a doctor and find a cure for the cancer that had taken her life. He graduates from senior secondary school with top honours, but makes a powerful enemy of the corrupt politician, Aashish Bhiduri. He shares a stormy relationship with the latter’s son, Ritesh, which lands him in trouble later on in life.

The only thing certain about life is its uncertainty, as Saadiq discovers. Years after he and Maryam have been separated, each living their own lives, he receives a phone call that makes him rush to her side. He is now a world-renowned Nobel laureate. From then on, they live for each other, till Maryam discovers a shocking truth about her life.

Hamid Baig is a storyteller with a heart. His book moves on at its own momentum, pulling the reader in, and its ending is so unexpected that it leaves one with an ache in the heart. Journalist Anne Miller is the one person who knows the story from Saadiq’s angle and from Maryam’s, and she takes it upon herself to tell the story of her unlikely friend, the “sarcastic, quick-witted, amazingly intelligent, perpetually trenchant, handsome, and acerbically honest” Saadiq Haider, and his beautiful Maryam, a story that stays in one’s heart long after it has been read.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Just Another day by Piyusha Vir

Marcus Cicero once said that “Brevity is a great charm of eloquence.” Piyusha Vir certainly seems to believe in the adage, as all three of her short stories, in her debut book titled ‘Just Another Day’, are eloquently brief, each one striking in its denouement.

‘Writer’s Circle’ revolves around a murder that takes place before a crime thriller book meet. The language is conversational, almost like a Christie piece, as the police check out the facts, and the murderer stays in the shadows, determined to stay there. Ms. Vir reveals a turn of phrase that is easy on the ear, and the twist in the tail/tale appears all the more startling.

‘Happy Birthday, Saisha’ talks about a young girl who tries hard to fit into the patriarchal scenario that refuses to treat women as equals. This story is mired in the world of today and leaves the reader with a tear in the eye and an ache in the heart.

‘Elevator Tales’ is a tale that ends on such a note that one needs to go back and read it all over again just to see if one has missed any clues along the way. Subtle humour and an informal style make this an easy read.

Piyusha Vir’s grasp over the narration of her stories is masterly, and each one is uniquely different from the others. The tone changes according to the theme, and one is left breathless as she changes gears with the ease of a seasoned driver.

‘Just Another Day’ is certainly not just another book! It needs to be read and savoured.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Destiny's Girl

 “You are Destiny’s girl, born for fame!” smiled Maya’s mother, looking at her perfect little bundle of joy. As Maya grew up, she excelled at everything – academics, sports and the arts. Her parents were proud of her, and spared no expense on her education.

When Maya started winning prizes in various singing contests, her parents hired the best music teacher in the country. She had the voice of an angel, and when she sang, it was as if the world itself paused to hear her sing. Her teacher taught her all she knew, her heart swelling with pride when she heard Maya sing. Each note was perfect, the melody unbroken!

It was when Maya was in college that she got a scholarship to one of the most prestigious universities in America to further study music. It was a dream come true for her and her parents.

“Ma, I will miss you and Papa so much!” she sighed. There was just a week left for her to leave and her heart was torn in two directions. She was looking forward to her new life, and all the wonderful music that awaited her there. However, she knew she would miss her family, her friends, and most of all, Krish, who had just come into her life around six months ago. He had been in the first row when she was singing at a contest, and she had been aware of the slim, handsome boy who had not taken his eyes off her from the moment she had begun to sing.

They had become friends right away. Krish would tease her unmercifully about her parents’ pride in her.

 “Destiny’s girl! Of course, you are! Only child and all that!” Maya’s parents were also fond of him, and he had become a regular visitor at their home.

In his own way, he was also proud of her. It showed in the way he took care of her when they were together, and in his possessiveness when any other man looked at her with admiration. Soon their feelings for each other grew stronger and as the day for her departure came closer, their hearts broke at the thought of being away for months at a time.

Krish walked into the drawing room where Maya’s parents sat watching television. Maya had left a week ago, and he knew how much they missed her.

Two Years Later:

Krish walked into the drawing room where Maya’s parents sat watching television.  He knew how much they missed her. Two years had gone by since Maya had first gone to America. He remembered the day he had walked in and watched television with the older couple, so that they would not miss her too much. He shuddered as the scene came back to him... the shooting at Maya’s university, the lone gunman who had emptied bullets into a defenceless crowd who had gathered to watch a concert.

 Maya’s garlanded portrait smiled down at him from the wall.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

The Earthen Bowl by Bhuvaneshwari Shankar

When one delves into the poetic offerings of Bhuvaneshwari Shankar, it is akin to dipping in a cornucopia of life itself, in all its myriad glories. As one reads through her poems, one is likely to find, as she herself suggests, a mirror to one’s feelings.

In ‘Beginnings’, one is reminded of Wordsworth’s “Child is Father of the Man”, especially in ‘Hold My Hand My Love’ where the mother and the daughter shift roles “as we walk together through life, /No, not all of the Seven Ages,/Just, till you think you are no more a child.” This ends on a poignant note as the daughter replies, “I will walk beside you mother,/I will hold your hand in mine /Not for you that clawing grasp, mother/ More a gentle but firm grasp.../ Until you cross the Seven Ages, /Until it’s Time to let go.”

Bhuvaneshwari writes of the world gone by, and of relationships that have strengthened over the years. She also reminisces about the loss of those times when “making origami boats... was magic” and of “baby mangoes in the wind”. In her poems, the world is not always a safe place as neighbours, trusted friends, “turn odiously brutal”. Her love and reverence for her father come through in the poem ‘Father – My Mentor’, to whom she dedicates her little success.

‘Don’t Glide into the Night, Gentle Knight’ has a lyrical, almost literary mood to it, reminiscent of Dylan Thomas’ ‘Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night’.

 ‘Creations’ is devoted to the poet’s “brushes with the divine” even as she waxes eloquent about ‘tinsel showers’ that hold “their place in skewered lines, rows of tiny pearl necklaces” and peacock feathers locked inside books by children. The poem ‘Bird Song’ glows in its literary luminescence, its queries echoing those in William Blake’s ‘The Tiger’. Bhuvaneshwari is quite the artist with words as she describes the divine process of creation by a cosmic botanist in ‘April’.
“Did he with his bare hands mould/Working with pipettes and burettes of gold/Dabbing, dripping, mixing, freeing/A drop, a tinge, a splash, a spray/Unleashing a springtime sight so gay?”

It is apparent that the rains are loved.
“The fragrance speaks its own language /It tells you it’s time to dance/ Time for paper boats/Time for holidays/Time for a joyful contagion.”

The poet treats Love with the dignity it deserves in the next section of the book, as she describes it as “a wraith/ fanning away at your bedewed forehead/a gentle breeze in a windowless room.”

‘After All the Goodbyes Have Been Said’ is a symphony of two hearts that “fear waking/to find that it was only a dream’. It strikes a balance between a minstrel song of the distant past and a casual conversation, where, “If he lags she pitches in, with a bad joke, even a miscue.” There is a melancholic beauty in ‘Sometimes as I Pass the Day’ as a lover muses over what his love is up to across the day. 

The poet creates various forms of the poem such as the roseate sonnet in ‘Ras Leela’, pleasing Haikus, cinquains, quatrains and ghazals to add to her impressive repertoire.

‘For Women’ deals with the fortitude of women in different circumstances, as they strive to find their little moments of happiness, as “the spirit within hungers for action.” The poet talks of her yearning for “the flashes of creativity/That last for all of a second/Like a drop of rain that falls from above/ Only to be lost in the murk” even as “The pen dips once more/Into dark inky depths/Casts about for a pearl/To birth.”

‘A Bit of Fun’ reveals the mischievous side of the poet, as she talks of imbeciles becoming wise, the world’s obsession with size zero and bugs in one’s bed. ‘Mobile Phone’ shows the dangerous trend as family members live on, “each an island linked by a mobile phone”.

The final section, ‘Introspection’ finds the poet in a thoughtful mood as she muses over a vacant world, a vast wasteland, where love, “the spirit of the universe/ Withers, thaws and dies”. She herself is “an insignificant speck/In that vast void/Yet I dance, I scream, /My eyes rimmed/By the never ending waves”.

Bhuvaneshwari touches all aspects of life and love in her well-rounded collection of poems. Her earthen bowl is replete with offerings that reflect her core beliefs. As I sign off, the words of William Blake come to mind.

“To see a World in a Grain of Sand
                                               And a Heaven in a Wild Flower
          Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
                                                And Eternity in an hour.”

Monday, February 5, 2018

The Woman Who Saw the Future by Amit Sharma

“Sometimes people carry to such perfection the mask they have assumed that in due course, they actually become the person they seem.”
                                                                          The Moon and Sixpence – Somerset Maugham

Nostradamus could not have done it better than Sapna Vaid, the protagonist of Amit Sharma’s ‘The Woman Who Saw the Future’, a timid young girl who despises cornflakes, adores Greek mythology and has healthy spats with her mother. Her parents, Prakash and Kalpana, have built their future together at Dilshad Garden, “piece by piece. Togetherness for us was creating this small world for ourselves... filling it with things we loved.”

Vikrant, Sapna’s brother, is the anchor that Sapna clings on to, as she writes letters to him, her way of communicating with him. She confides in him all her fears, her insecurities and her ups and downs, even after she meets a boy in college, Saahil, who soon becomes part of the family. Her fears overwhelm her. “What if I am a harbinger? What if the deaths happen in reality because of my presence in the dreams? What if I am not a witness but a bad omen?”

It is in 2002 that Kabir comes into Sapna’s life, with grandiose ideas of turning Sapna’s gift of prophesying the future into a TV programme, ‘Lucky People’ meant to save as many people as possible, a platform to use her powers effectively. Mehak, a brilliant sketch artist, and Anupama, a fearless star reporter, are roped in to ensure that the show catches eyeballs with its authenticity.

Soon, the whole world is watching!

Sapna turns into a star, but slowly, things get complicated as she is trapped in a life slowly spiraling out of control.

Will Sapna be able to hold her head above water, and manage her relationships at the same time? Will the baggage weigh her down as she continues to make her predictions? Can she survive on the thousands of prayers that come her way, even as she strives to make sense of a life, turned chaotic? These and many other questions are answered as the novel moves on at breakneck speed, till it culminates in a consummation that shocks, throwing the reader off balance.

Amit Sharma uses an unusual technique of propelling his tale ahead, that of diary writing. Sapna’s innermost hopes, fears and desires are conveyed to the readers through her diary entries to Vikrant. It finally takes an act of atonement to bring peace to her life and to the lives of those who love her.

This is a wonderfully readable book that brings the myth of Narcissus to life in many ways, maybe a tribute to the author’s obvious fascination with Greek mythology.

Saturday, February 3, 2018

Elixir by Sinjini Sengupta

“All that we see or seem/ Is but a dream within a dream.”
Edgar Allen Poe

A brown unlabelled bottle hidden away behind a rack of books is what brings Manisha alive, Manisha who is married to Amit who has mastered “the art of throwing his weight around, of keeping tight control.” While people around her seem normal, never having been “confused or angry or even conflicted at points of decisions”, Manisha, who has given up a high-paying job, is not ready to be a trophy wife.

Her childhood is punctuated by stories narrated by her Amma, from the Mahabharata and the sacrifice of Devavrata who could choose the time of his death. One truth must have stayed in her mind. “What does it matter what others say, Moni? You know your truth the best, you always do.”

 Thus, when it comes to the moment of truth, Monisha knows exactly what she is meant to do with her life. She walks into a newly opened coffee shop, done up with clay and terracotta, where an old man with bright eyes, deep with wisdom, offers her a glass of water. Suddenly across the room, at the other corner, she sees another man. In an instant, she realizes that maybe it is time to “spill the water and jump out of her goldfish bowl.”

The dream catchers on the evocative cover of the book creep into the minds of the readers, swaying from side to side like pendulums. They make a tinkling sound against each other, pregnant with dreams, dreams in which they have timed Manisha in. The descriptions are soothing and poetic. “He looks so alive, and yet he is so ancient, as if he has always been, always. It seems they have known each other for a long time. Through ages, through time and back. Across river banks and temple staircases, across branches of wood on the mountain slopes, through solar eclipses and the stars.”

Manisha knows that she has a choice, either weave back her safety net or the free fall, her life between the two of them; a choice between a life of duty and one of utter freedom and happiness.  She is aware of her other reality, almost in a sense, a parallel existence. “She is now beginning to understand that another world lies beneath her pillow, in the depths of nights.”

Does Manisha finally find her true home, the place where she truly belongs? The rain is a continuing motif in all the significant moments in her life. As her tears finally wash her down, bathing her clean of her prejudices, can she carry on living in parts, in half lives? Does she have a bond with the universe as she explores her possibilities, uncovers her myths?

These and many questions are answered at the end of Sinjini Sengupta’s starkly poignant book, even as Manisha tries to unravel her unusual life. Ms. Sengupta uses language that falls on the soul as gently as snowflakes, leaving a caress in its wake. There is a delicious languor in her storytelling that carries the reader along with Manisha right till the end.

The question one wants to ask has already been asked early in the book.
“Listen – are you breathing just a little, and calling it a life?”

                                                                                            Mary Oliver


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