Author: Harshita

A Reader, A Writer and a Castle in the Air Builder

The Written Word

Recently I cleared out my bookcase. By clearing out I mean I sorted them and made a pile of books without which I hope I can live (let me tell you a very difficult task). I took a picture of few books and sent them to a couple of WhatsApp groups. Immediately got response from quite a few of my friends (almost all of them wanted Jeffrey Archer proving that he still rules!!) My friend’s asked me for the prices I was selling them for and I replied that all that my books need is a good home.

This concept was not understood by quite a few people in my life, their argument being that since you have spent so much money on them you might as well get some money back. How do I explain to them books for me have a much higher value. They are my passion and I take away so much from them. How do I price the books which have given me so much of pleasure, whose words and stories still linger on in my mind? While I understand that many people don’t have an emotional attachment to books, I kind of do. And it is this emotional attachment which made me hesitant to put a price on them when giving them to my friends…let them also take pleasure like I did when I read them.

I don’t remember when exactly I read my first book, but I do remember sitting on the settee in our dressing room in Doon, the afternoon sun slanting in through the mango tree branches and reading “Stories for You” by Enid Blyton (I still have that book in our bookcase in Doon). It was the first book that I ever owned and if I am not mistaken it was a gift from my father from one of his overseas trip.

While there was a culture of reading in our family it was more on the academic side, studies always came first, and rest could follow later. So where did this interest come from and how did it reach to such a level that I have to read something every day??

I think the seeds of this were sown by our neighbors, the Manchandas. Mrs.Manchanda was British and I remember when we moved to Dehradun I would go over to their house every day after bath and she would read out a story to me. Now I would have been around three and a half years and she was a pukka British memsahib (we even used to call her mem!). I hardly knew any English and she knew only English. God only knows what I understood, but I went without fail. And maybe that was how I was introduced to the magic of books.

The magic was slow but was deep rooted. I used to long to grow up quickly so that I could read Mallory Towers and St.Claires which my elder sister (another avid reader) used to discuss with Tarani, the mem’s granddaughter. Now, Tarani was a wonderful friend of ours and a partner in crime. However sometimes I used to feel very jealous as she had lots and lots of books, shiny and clean. We had a few books (Nancy drew hardy boys and such) but she had loads of Enid Blyton’s which were my favorite (still are, coming to think of it). Another high point used to be our annual day when we used to get books as prize. That used to be my main aim, to get the book!!!

When I reached middle school I came in close contact with Mrs.Bajaj , the school librarian and she , along with my sister , is the one who encouraged me to read. Mrs.Bajaj never reprimanded me for reading too fast or not reading proper books, but conversations with her guided me;she would point out the books she had liked and I would try and read them. My sister had by that time reached almost the end of her school days but she liked to discuss books and these discussions made me want to read more. You could say that it made me thirsty for more books.

It was around this time that I was introduced to the world of Jane Austen and that love has stood the test of time. Regency period remains my favorite to read about , Mr. Darcy and Eliza Bennet became my all-time favorite characters and no book can even come close to Pride and Prejudice. I was 12 when I first read it and last month was my most recent re-reading of this classic. And do you know the good part; I discovered new things to laugh about and to fall in love with it all over again!

As I grew older, my fondness for reading increased and my appetite for books became voracious. I used to read in every spare minute I had, I used to sneak books in bed and read when everyone was supposed to be having afternoon siesta ….and then I started reading mindlessly. I read Thomas Hardy’s “Far From the Madding Crowd” when I was around thirteen and I hated it. Why shouldn’t I? I had read it for the sake of reading and for finishing a book. It had nothing to do with the love or understanding of the book or its meaning. Then in ninth grade I read “”Yes Minister” and wondered why I didn’t find it funny at all. This was when my sister gave me the advice that enabled me to really enjoy the book. She told me to read between the lines aka savor the book and not be in a mindless hurry to finish it. I still remained a voracious reader, but now I started taking my time with them. I still didn’t look up the words I didn’t know in the dictionary but at least now I tried to make out the meaning before rushing ahead. And so the love grew and bloomed.

Reading became my passion. I will not try and be snobbish and say that I read only good authors or good books but yes the topic has to hold my interest. I have gone through a whole lot of phases in my reading life. I have read Mills and Boons, Harlequin romances, Nora Roberts, Regency romances (my all-time favorites), Harry Potter (but of course), Mark Tully, Historical fiction, Indian authors and so much more. Almost all the books have given me pleasure; some have taught me something, told me about a particular place or an incident, in some books the writing would be beautiful and in others the wit would be hilarious. Reading has given me knowledge and facts about so many different things. Books are a treasure trove; we just have to open them

Sometimes people ask me why do you read so much and I do not know how to explain to them that reading is who I am. Even if it’s just a newspaper, I have to read it! When people tell me how lucky I am that I can still read with kids they don’t know that I can survive on less than four hours of sleep but I cannot survive without reading. I cannot and will not sacrifice my books. I remember when the children were babies I used to be feeding them and in one hand I used to have a book. I have once even read through the night and gone to sleep at 5 in the morning (what to say, the book was really interesting). I have read to my kids when they were babies and actually bought one book of nursery rhymes when I was pregnant with my elder one and read it out aloud!

Now maybe my speed of reading is getting slower or maybe I am becoming more discerning ,  but yes I still do savor them.

 

Auld Lang Syne

Another year is gone. People all over the world are making elaborate plans to usher in the New Year, to-do lists and resolutions are ready. People are going on a binge as they can easily say “Next year, pukka!” Facebook news feed is full of friend’s review of the year, their smiling faces showing how much fun they had in 2015.

Recently I had gone for a Hindi cultural festival in my son’s school. One of the parent’s had spoken a poem about the joy with which we welcome the New Year and how eager we are to discard the old year behind. The poem made me ponder.

How true it is!

When we welcome the New Year we forget to give thanks for the old one for making us wiser, for making us stronger. When we see someone’s year in review we just see their smiling, happy faces. We don’t see the difficulties they faced in the year, what challenges they overcame. We just see the smile and not the emotion behind. We forget the happiness and the sorrows and the challenges that the old year brought made us beautiful memories. Memories that we cherish and polish that make us remember the places and people. Memories which make us who we really are.

**********************************************************

Millions of dirhams are going to be spent in Dubai (and rest of the world) to bring in the New Year, all for a few hours of dinner and to have a ring side view of the world famous fireworks. Even a small café is asking for astronomical sums if it can offer a glimpse of the fireworks. And people are paying for it. And do you know why? It’s all because of bragging rights!!!! You are going to brag on Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, snapchat and in your office that “I WAS THERE”!!!

Though of course when finally after a few hours wait when the fireworks do happen you will be too busy recording them rather than enjoying their wonder. Quite understandably since you spent so much of time and money to see/record the fireworks and the only proof of that will be the video that you will shoot and circulate immediately rather than wishing the person or the wait staff happy new year.

Resolutions and inspirational quotes will be shared for the first few weeks and soon forgotten when life goes back to its humdrum routine.

**********************************************************

Why is it? Why do we do it over and over again, year after year? I remember the times when 31st was supposed to be spent sitting huddled in the razai and watching whatever program doordarshan had decided to put up for us non-metro people (I am a small town girl, what else were we supposed to do?). It’s only significance in my life at that time was that I could stay up late to watch television, 1st January was life as usual. Now not having a “happening” plan is a taboo! If I want to stay at home in my pj’s and watch Television the whole night people will ask me if I am ok. The whole point seems to be about going out, even though you would rather be at home and read a book instead.

**********************************************************

Maybe I am just getting old, or maybe I am just getting wiser. The New Year is going to be just like the old year. It is going to have its set of challenges and ups and down and next year on the same day you are again going to be planning what to do for the New Year.

Oh well….here’s wishing you all a very Happy New Year! be productive and and happy in the coming year.

IMG_6014
A REVIEW

 

This is the story of Yoginder Sikand travelling through Pakistan over a period of one month as an individual. There is also a postscript about his second visit after a few years  for a conference where the circumstances of his stay were absolutely different.

I had bought this book during the Sharjah Book Fair. Its cover and back page had attracted me. To be honest I had bought the book thinking that it will about the author’s discovery and search for the part of the family in Pakistan (though the back cover does not mention anything about that, so my bad). It was a tossup between this one and the other which was about a Pakistani in India!

The book starts with the background of the author’s family who were originally from Pakistan. They had escaped the horror of the massacre of partition but the scars and the longing for homeland remained. It travels with the author for his quest for a Pakistan visa (no easy task) and journeys from Lahore to Gujranwala to Hyderabad to Uderolal and Mohenjo-Daro.

It tries to portray Pakistan though the eyes of the author and his interactions with the people he comes in contact with. It tries to be an honest book and the author does try and write the way things are rather than sugar coat it.

The story starts with the young Mr.Sikand being told tales about Pakistan from his maternal grandmother who was born and brought up there but escaped the horrors of the partition as she was already married and living in Ooty by that time. The grandmother had escaped but it had affected her and even though she missed her birthplace the partition had filled her with intense dislike against Pakistan and Pakistanis. It was this dislike which she tried to fill her young grandson’s mind with. The said grandson however grew up to be a socialist and questioned his grandmother’s beliefs and wanted to find the truth himself.

For a north Indian Punjabi Pakistani side of Punjab has held a great allure for me to. Like the author I too feel that the people of the subcontinent are inexplicably tied to each other. The children in India are ingrained and educated to dislike and mistrust Pakistan (and vice versa too I am sure). And that is what this book is about. The author rebels against this mindset. Even though he and his friends have this idealistic view of visa free travel between the countries of subcontinent I do believe that is time both the countries moved on. Jingoistic words to drum up patriotic fervor have not done either of the countries any favour and they both need to focus more on their development.

The author is a socialist who has written a lot about religious conflict and communalism. Even though the book is portrayed as look into common Pakistanis the emphasis seems to be more on the poorest of the poor and also on the untouchables of Sindh. That story seems to be the same on both sides of the border (even though India has “reservations” the people who really need it are still languishing).

It is a beautifully descriptive book, the people and the places are described so wonderfully that you feel like you are a by-stander rather than just a reader. The conversations he has with random people, their stories, their aspirations move you, sometimes even too tears. Here I will make a special mention of the story of Khurshid Khan Kaim Khani, which proved humanity is still alive in this cruel world. The thread of longing for homeland runs through the book and strikes a chord.His descriptions of the shrines of Shahbaz Qalandar and the tomb of Jhooley Lal are so eloquent that you feel that you are there.  You can almost hear the qawalis and feel the fervor of the people thronging it.

When he writes about the lack of sanitation in the cities you can almost smell the stench (read the passage about his train journey from Lahore to Hyderabad). You give a chuckle when you read his interview with the high commission officer for visa (same bureaucracy like in India). You feel his gratitude when Maulana’s family welcomes him and makes sure that he gets home-cooked vegetarian food throughout his stay in Gujranwala.

And the best part about the book it is not at all judgmental.  It doesn’t sugarcoat the facts true but neither does it point fingers.

If I have to point out inadequacies in the book I would say that I would have loved t if he had tried to find out more or made more effort to contact the family members left behind. Also the end is a bit filmy and whimsical for my taste.

However one lesson I did learn from this book and that is to look ahead. History (my passion) is great but we need to learn from it, take lessons from it so that we don’t repeat the mistakes and look ahead.

 

If music be the food of love, play on

 

This is most cliched, oft repeated sentence that can hear/read about music. It however is  absolutely true.

Music plays at important role in my life, you can call it passion even. I cannot imagine a day without listening to music. Whenever I am irritated,stressed, depressed or bored I just need to pick a book ,switch on music and all will be right in my world again. You can even know the time of the day with the type of music being played in my house. If its something religious then its early morning, radio means its not yet 10 a.m. , Adele means I am trying to get through some chores which I detest doing, old Hindi songs means its late night and I am unwinding.

To ask me to pick “a” song that means a lot to me seems like looking for a needle in a haystack. I have about three thousand songs in my iPod, more keep releasing everyday and the app “Savn” is always there for  something new.  I have songs ranging from NoorJehan to Rahul Sharma to Lana Del Ray.

All songs have a special meaning , a special feeling attached to them.

Some evoke memories of days gone by, simpler times when I used to listen to the songs played by our next door neighbor. The feeling of nostalgia when I listen to “ankhon hi ankhon main” . I feel I am transported back to our verendah in doon, the summer afternoon, the fragrance of  the garden in bloom ,the song being played by colonel uncle and me being taught by my grand father how to read. I remember the long forgotten memories of my baby sister trying to hum the song along and my grandfather and me sharing a chuckle over it. Memories of colonel uncle, a gentle soul and his lovely grand daughter , a very dear friend in those times. The regret of not holding on to a friendship , a friendship lost to distances when she moved to USA.

The song sung by my cousin so sweetly for my grandfather that I too wanted to learn it. Whenever I hear that song  the image comes to mind of her sitting on the sofa, singing , my grandfather nodding his head in appreciation and the pin drop silence in the room. I did learn the song , the tune and the lyrics but never had the courage to sing in front of everybody.

Some songs are my father’s favorites and his voice  sings along in my mind  whenever they play. They remind me of a time when he would sing along the radio while getting ready to go to work. Whenever I play those songs the distance between India and UAE seems less and I can almost feel him beside me.

There are some which are special to us , as a couple. The first song we danced on, the song which both of us love, the song which he sang for me. The compilation cassette which he made for me, the iPod (which by the way is more precious to me than all my jewelry)  which he gave me as a gift, understanding my love for music. They all hold a very special place in my heart. They bring back memories of young love, of special dinners, the joy of being in love and being happy like there was no tomorrow.

So how do you pick? Do you pick the one that inspires you or the one whose melody haunts you for a long time or the one that makes you want to get up and dance or the one that reminds of some one or some place dear?

So what will be on my list? Will it be “Take My Breath Away” for the meaning it has for both of us? Or will it be “Seasons in the Sun” for it lyrics? Will it be “I have a dream” as that was the first song I taught to my son for a competition?

No music means no karaoke nights to break the ice and having fun. No music would mean no more fights between my sons and me about what to play in the car. No music means no rush of  memories when a favorite song plays. All I know is that if there were no music  our lives would be empty and colorless.

 

Pen and Paper

Today after weeks of inactivity and indecisiveness I decided to publish my post. To my frustration I found out that though I could type in the heading for the note on facebook, I just couldn’t type in my note. After struggling with it for sometime and even publishing my post twice without any body , I decided on giving up the idea. I decided I will now become a professional and publish it as a blog……..easier said than done!

I went to wordpress.com and made my login. I thought that was it but soon realised that it was the first step on the long and winding staircase to your own personal blog.

It first objected to my password for being too simple…… smart, smart wordpress.com and no, I am not revealing my password here. Anyhow then came the realization that I could  create my own website and publish my post there.

Then came the major decision as to what to call my page. It should sound cool, a bit pretentious and should project my image as a literary giant. Sadly all the names I could come up with were already taken (not much of a literary then huh!). So the name was actually my state of mind at that point of time.(Its only now when I am writing this I realise that its very ,very similar to  the name of a book I have read!). Oh well! what else to do but soldier on!!!

And soldier on we did and how!

I wish someone had told me its easier to write than to  post it. After I zeroed in on the name , I then had to pick a style for the site out of god knows how many. After seeing the demo for 2 to 3 styles and actually not really understanding much about the feature of each , just  decided to go with the one which I found visually most appealing. And then began the fun, I could now “CUSTOMIZE” it! The cover image, the font , the header, the footer, the display image …..all in all my head started spinning.

I closed the laptop and rushed back to my trusty notebook and pen. There i could just concentrate on writing and not bother about the font size or where the button for subscribing to the blog should be (hint! hint!).

My post is ready, now I just have to figure out how it get it on my site now so that it can reach readers like you (again hint!hint! subscribe button!) ……and yes Rahul Sharma makes my pen fly!!!

The Conversation

~~~~Book review of The Gita (for Children) by Roopa Pai

I am not a trained writer nor a reviewer of books but I do read a lot and love recommending them to friends and family. I had been planning to review a book for my blog for quite sometime now and this was one book that insisted that I pick up my pen.This  review is an attempt to put across my feelings and thoughts about this book.

Gita by itself is a vast huge topic, to write about it in 260 odd pages and to be able to get the message across loud and clear is a huge achievement. Ms.Roopa Pai take a bow! You have taken a complex concept (yes, I would like to call it a concept ), one which is the most valuable part of our Hindu,nay, Indian culture and present it in a simple, easy way that even a teenager would love to read this book.

A good book is one which keeps the reader engrossed,it compels the reader to keep turning the pages and never close the book before it’s over. This book is one those books. It’s not a thriller or an adventure book, its is about a religious scripture but never does it becoming boring or preachy and keeps you involved. It is written in an engaging manner almost as if the author was talk to you. The target audience (as the tittle suggests) are children, more specifically ages ten onwards and the author given such examples which they can understand and relate too.

Ms.Pai  has started off the book by writing why Gita is still relevant and important in today’s day and age. She has gone to give a gist of the story of Mahabharata so that even if the child is unfamiliar with the story , they can have a little heads up.The  illustrations by Sayan Mukherjee add spice to the book and help keep the kids involved in such a serious topic. The facts given along with everything keep the mixture interesting,specially look out for the fact about number 18!

The author then moves on to “The Conversation” as she calls the dialogue between Krishna and Arjuna.The one fact that really stood out for me is that how she related all that Krishna said to Arjuna  to modern times, we even have Batman in the book!! All this I think makes it very relatable ,  bringing the message of Gita closer to children and to us too. However you should not think that this book just has some some funky examples ,each chapter does have at least one “shloka” in Sanskrit with its meaning in english, keeping it all in perspective. So not only are you reading a readable(!!) version of Gita but also reading a few shlokas of the mahakavya.

The charm of the book is that it is wonderful and engrossing read for the adults too. Admit it if original Bhagwad Gita was given to us most of us would struggle to read it , let alone understand it. Even the various versions  that I have come across are heavy tomes requiring seriousness and total dedication to understanding it. This book does the work of igniting our interest , it makes us want to know more , explore more about the truth. It shows us the path and asks us to choose, whether to follow it or not.

I would recommend this book to everyone as it shows us the beauty of truth. It shows us what God really wanted us to learn and how. This shows us the true beauty of our religion and our country.

reminiscing

reminisce (verb) : indulge in enjoyable recollection of past events

It’s Diwali round the corner, the Hindu festival of lights, spring cleaning is in full swing ( don’t ask me why I am calling it spring cleaning when its almost autumn in Dubai, but that’s the word that has popped into my head). Spring cleaning is almost mandatory for Diwali, the goddess Lakshmi will not step into the house which is dirty and who doesn’t want the goddess of wealth in their house ergo spring cleaning.

So while spring cleaning I come across pictures, lots and lots of them , from the time when digital cameras weren’t around and we posed and just as the person clicking clicked…..we blinked! So I have quite a few of those photos where either my eyes are closed or my tongue is out or I am looking some other place or if by any chance I am looking lovely in the picture, my partner is either looking down,or up or where ever.

But I am not going to throw away even a single of those snaps, you know why?

Because all of them have some or the other story behind them. It could be funny or ordinary or even sad  but its still a story and I do love a story.

There is a picture with two people sleeping on a bed. One of them I am sure is my better half’s cousin, the other I am not so sure. The reason one of them is lying away from the camera and the other one has the face covered by blanket. Now you might be wondering why I am saving this picture ( or even why I am telling you this story).

The answer is pretty simple, the photograph reminds me of a time when I was a young bride in a new country, it reminds me of setting up a house together with the person whom I loved very much(still do actually). The fun we had with our cousin, who stayed with us a couple of months, who looked up to me as a domestic diva though I was still learning and struggling ( like I still do). The bond that I formed with her that will remain with me always.

And that my friend is the power of reminiscing. It brings a smile to our face and it takes us to that happier place, the place when all was fine with the world and the sun was shining. When we see our old albums or the ones clogging up our hard disks and we decide to get some printed even now all we want to do is to hold on to that moment. To take it out again and again to savor it , or to polish it like a precious gem.

Because that’s what they are…..Gems!

My school trip

I had learnt cycling quite young and could be frequently seen cycling like a maniac to the grocery store 2 crossings away to get stuff for my mom. To my dismay though I had to wait till I was in 6th grade to start going to school on cycle, I had to manage in the auto with the auto uncle (frankly I detested going to school in an auto, too many children and not enough space to even sit properly, not to mention the hierarchy of the grades!).

Finally the day dawned lovely and clear, it was my first day of 6th grade and I was going to school on cycle all by myself!!(Of course the fact that the cycle in question was my cousin’s hand me down and already getting a little small for me was not even registered by me!!).Off I went zooming on the road, my legs pumping the pedals were full of energy and soon I could see the gates our hallowed school. Suddenly the front wheel went off the road onto the side and I tried to get back on the road.
I found myself flat on the road, I had actually maybe for the first time ever fallen from my cycle! So thus ended my first day of going to school on a cycle by visiting the infirmary and getting the dressing done.
This was by no means the last day though, I continued to go to school on cycle (even in a city like Chennai and on the main roads there). I had many more adventures, I used to go alone and sometimes with my group of friends, all of us girls chattering like magpies and cycling along. I don’t think that it is possible any more to cycle in groups of five or more and occupy the full road. In fact I don’t think it is anyway possible to cycle to school anymore, all the students now have scootys. I wonder though if they get the same thrill that I used to get when I used to cycle back home and time myself ( I have actually done it in 7 minutes!) or the sense of camaderie when one of girl’s cycle chain needed fixed and all of us would get our hands greasy and dirty(not to mention the scolding from mother for getting grease on the white uniform). The soaking in rain during monsoon when the downpour used to make raincoats redundant and there would be water in the shoes too! The wait for other people to come and pick up their cycles as they have fallen in stack and yours is of course the one at the bottom. The burn in the legs when you are pedaling furiously as you are running late for school and of course the power of scheduling when 5 girls could meet at a pre-decided time at a pre- appointed place and no mobile phones to coordinate the whole thing!

Ah the power of reminiscing, I can still feel the wind whistle in my ears as I pedal down the roads of Dalanwala!

p.s. in all my years of cycling to school my most detestable days were when I had to go with my sisters…..they were never ,ever on time!

How Green Was My Valley.

” Dehra  was a green and leafy place. The houses were separated by hedges not walls and the residential areas were crisscrossed by little lanes bordered by hibiscus or oleander bushes”.

                                                                                                             Ruskin Bond

( Friends from small places)

This was the Dehra my father grew up in. This was the Dehra I was familiar with though some walls had come up between the houses and the leafy places were getting fewer.

This is not the description of Dehra anymore. All I see around me are houses , tall palatial buildings  with their gardens hidden behind tall walls. I see cars parked on lanes because the people while building their palatial houses forgot to build garages. I see old canal on E.C. road covered to widen the road, but still no place for the people to walk.

In the Dehra I grew up in I could see the mountain from the rooftop of our modest one storey high house. I could see whether it had snowed in Mussorie or not. I saw spectacular sunsets in which hues of orange,yellow ,blue ,gray all blended together. Now from my rooftop I am lucky if I catch a glimpse of the mountains, sunset…..have yet to see one.

People say it is the march of time, the town has to progress , infrastructure needs to be provided to people. Seems to me that progress has somehow become synonymous with cutting down trees to build luxury apartments affordable to a select few (beware if you are planning to invest in any,Dehra is in high seismic zone) . Progress seems to mean more vehicles on the road so that you are barely able to walk ( or cycle!). Progress seems to mean garbage all over the city , even in the river beds, choking them. Why cant progress go side by side with nature? Why if some trees are cut down for a road and equal or a greater number of trees planted to compensate for that? Why cant affordable ecofriendly houses be built which blend in rather than stick out like sore thumbs.

While I was writing this a bird perched on the wire high above our house started warbling. It’s lilting music made me realize that maybe all is not lost still. There is still some hope as long as the birds sing.

If only the people would stop and listen to their music