Tongue-In-Cheek: The Funny Side Of Life ~ Khyrunnisa.A

The past few months were spent in reading heavy non-fiction reads. To get me into a better frame of mind, I decided to take a break from the tomes and read something fun. My search for light read led me to Prime reading where I discovered “Tongue-in-Cheek:The Funny Side Of Life” by Khyrunissa.A.

The author used to write humour columns for Metro Plus which were later compiled to form this book. The book is categorised into sub-topics like Gastronomical Glitches, Wedding Vows, Just What The Doctor Ordered, etc. They deal with your routine, mundane life through the lens of absurd. The author touches on misadventures in the kitchen, looking for parking at a wedding venue, the art of tackling delivery people, the hurt you feel when someone calls you auntyji, the struggle( a very real struggle) with autocorrect and gives all these incidents a humorous twist.

Reading the book draws a chuckle, a smile and a grin from the reader. Khyrunissa has taken ordinary interactions of our lives and made them extraordinary in this book. Most of the incidents when you read have you nodding your head, your brain goes “OMG! this is what happened to me too!!” You have felt and thought the same things which the author has verbalized beautifully. The short chapters/musings keep you engaged and turning page after page. There are no deep meanings or metaphors in the book, it is all about seeing the humour in your mundane interactions. What more do you need in these days of doom and gloom, than a spot of reading which makes you laugh?

And even better and the moment it is free on Prime Reading.

Remnants Of A Separation: A History Of The Partition Through Material Objects~ Aanchal Malhotra

Aanchal Malhotra’s “Remnants Of A Separation” looks at the partition of the Indian Sub-continent through the lens of material objects; Objects, who along with their owners, changed their homeland during the partition or “batwara“. You have exotic items like a Khasdaan vying attention with a mundane pair of Meerut scissors. There are items like the pearls of Basra which are kept safe in the locker, versus a ghara which is used regularly in a kitchen. Yet, all the objects, irrespective of their monetary value, are priceless, their value comes from the memories attached to them. The book narrates experiences of people who lost everything save the clothes on their back, and also of those people who, though on the surface appear to have escaped unscathed, the mental trauma of leaving their homeland following them throughout their life. All of them had to rebuild their lives, in a new country, away from all that was familiar. And these objects, which had travelled with them, kept within them the memories of their past lives.

The author is both the listener and the narrator in this book. She tries to be non-judgemental while listening to the experiences even though she doesn’t hesitate in expressing her thoughts and feelings while listening to the experiences. Her personal interactions with the people she is interviewing are as much a part of the book as the objects. The book is not about proving right or wrong but is about feelings and emotions. When you read this book you realise how memories and emotions are intertwined with certain objects. There are stories of people who were pro-Pakistan, and yet, even after they migrated, they could not (or would not) forget the “mitti” of their childhood. The stories though the objects have a longing and nostalgia for the lives left behind. They are also lessons in courage, of how to to build new fruitful, successful lives with almost nothing in your hands.

You can critique the writing or the layout of a book but how do you critique a book which speaks to your heart? Each narration is full of emotions. The stories narrated touching the hidden places of your heart. Between This Side and That: The Sword Of Ajit Kaur Kapoor“, shook me to the core by the sheer violence the family had to face. The strength of people in the face of such adversity made me marvel at their courage to keep fighting against the odds and not give up. The other story which made me ponder was the story of Nazmuddin Khan, “This Bird Of Gold, My Land“. This story made me question as to what exactly is patriotism. In today’s India when most of us are guilty of equating patriotism with religion this story acts as a beacon of hope. It makes you realise that for some people the nation comes first, no matter what.

The book made me nostalgic, when I read about “kadewala glass”  or about Meerut scissors (“Madan Kainchi”), I was transported back to my childhood when these items were a part of our household. It made me give thanksgiving to God that our family was on the right side of the Radcliffe Line in Punjab. It made me shudder on reading the horrors that people went through. I was startled when I read Mukerian in the footnotes, my paternal grandmother was from there and till now I had no clue that partition riots happened there as well. It made me regret that in the arrogance of my youth I never talked to my grandparents about their experiences of Partition. It made me regret that even though I knew my grandfather had graduated from Lahore, I was not curious enough to ask him more about his life and experiences. Reading the book made me realise the finiteness of time, that the people and places that we love, don’t say the same forever. Sometimes, like in the instance of partition, the change can be sudden and visceral.

This book is about partition, of loss, of leaving your homeland and a piece of your heart behind. The people faced a multitude of horrors, physical and mental, with most of the horrors seen hidden in their hearts. Yet, they refused to poison their hearts and minds with hate. They took the challenge and created new lives for themselves. And thus, this book is about hope.

Needle and Thread

I met Mrs.Prakash when I was in fourth grade. Mrs.Prakash was a diminutive woman, barely five feet tall, with a stern wrinkled face and a tongue that could make your ears burn after a lashing from her. She taught us needlework, an art which was fast losing its relevance in a rapidly changing world. She not only managed to teach the girls basic embroidery stitches but by the thwacks of her wooden ruler, she made sure that they stuck to their projects and had finished pieces by the end of the academic year. My project was a fish-shaped pouch with chain-stitch embroidery and I think, my mom still has it somewhere.

It has now been more than thirty years since I first started that pouch, and since that time, never have I ever not had an embroidery project in the works. I have made cushion covers, table covers, napkins, bedsheets etc. I would use any scrap of cloth and start embroidering. It might be that I was genetically pre-disposed (my mother and both my grandmothers were amazing embroiderers ) or it may be the fact that I finally found something artistic at which I was more than passably good. Whatever be the reason, I had fallen in love with embroidery from the first time I pulled the needle through the cloth in Mrs.Prakash’s class.

I always remember Mrs.Prakash when I start a new project. Despite her palm thwacking personality, she not only taught me the basics of embroidery, but she also instilled in me a respect for the project, (she used to make us wash hands before we touched our cloths to protect it from grubby hands). She taught me to create something beautiful with my hands, something which had my efforts and my thoughts in it. She taught me the value of hard work when someone complimented me on the finished product.

I have been told I have too much free time on my hands if I can spend time embroidering bedsheets. Since I am professionally qualified, I was expected to be gainfully employed and earn money, not just sit and do embroidery (which in most opinions was a waste of time).  I was told with less time and effort I could purchase machine-made embroidery available in the market. It has also been pointed out that hand embroidery is a dying art and me doing embroidery is an anachronism. All the criticism though fades when someone compliments me on my work. My heart swells with pride when I create a piece cherished by someone. And thus, I refuse to give up embroidery.

Needlework satisfies the creative corner of my heart. There is something therapeutic about doing needlework. The needle pulling the thread making intricate patterns and designs on the cloth mesmerises you. Once a pattern is picked and threads organised, you settle in for the long haul. You know you will spend hours bent over your work, pulling the needle, you might get pinpricks on your index finger, the threads might get entangled making you start all over again. But you won’t give up, you know at the end of all the time and effort there will a product that you will cherish for a long time. A piece of hand-embroidered cloth becomes the visual representations of your feelings and thoughts.

Our Tryst With Bond, Ruskin Bond

“This time when we go to Dehradun,  we will drive up to Mussorie on a Saturday. I heard Ruskin Bond comes to a bookstore there every Saturday!!”. As my sister excitedly prattled on I gave a non-committal grunt in response. Driving up to Mussorie on a Saturday before a long weekend involved getting stuck in a traffic jam all the way up the mountain road. The road would be choked with cars filled with people from the plains wanting to spend the long weekend in the hills, and I had no desire to be caught up in the mess, despite the allure of meeting Ruskin Bond. I underestimated my sister’s tenacity, she organised all of us like a general and had five adults, three young boys out of the door and on the way to Mussoorie by 10 am, long before the crowds would have even crossed Modinagar. While we waited for the scheduled time, we walked up and down the mall road, talking about books, trying to identify the trees and plants growing by the road and looking out at Doon valley spread below. The sunny morning gave way to a cold, damp afternoon which saw three excited ladies, two amused gentlemen and three young boys (who alternated between complaining about being tired and demanding ice cream), under a drizzling sky in a queue outside a bookstore, waiting for the author to arrive. Soon a car drove up, a portly old gentleman, wearing a florid yellow sweater vest climbed out and shuffled his way into in the bookstore. As our turn came, he listened patiently to our gushing praises for his books. The youngest brat, when asked his name for the book signing by the author, spelt it out for the author, earning a chuckle from the author who thanked him for letting the author know the spelling of his name! As we walked out of the bookstore, clutching our precious autographed books it seemed as if we were floating on a cloud. The irritation of an early start, the tiredness of the wait and the crankiness of the boys melted as we couldn’t believe that we had met and talked to Ruskin Bond. I couldn’t help but be thankful for my sister’s determination to make sure that we could meet our favourite author, the books autographed by him taking pride of place in our bookshelves.

On the quiet drive back I went over each and every moment of that all too brief meeting. The quiet, elderly gentleman who was listening to everybody with his full attention, all the time sipping his chai from a disposable cup, was the author whom I had loved and admired for a long time. On first glance, he looked like someone’s cuddly teddy bearish granduncle, but his pen holds magic. His books are simple and yet they touch places in the heart that you don’t know. A story like “Eyes Have It” shows you don’t have to write a complicated story to drive your point, you can be ironical and yet become unforgettable in less than five-hundred words. His books brought Dehradun, Mussorie and the hills alive, nature seemed to stand still in his books. Yet, he has also written books like “The Sensualist” (deeply disturbing) and “A Flight Of Pigeons”( one of the most poignant love stories I have read). “The Blue Umbrella” showcased the simplicity of village life and yet gave a lesson against covetousness. “Fun Times With Uncle Ken” brought out the humour and the absurdness in normal day-to-day lives. “Room On the Roof” brought alive my hometown of Dehradun. After reading it I went around trying to identify the landmarks mentioned in the books, though most had vanished Dhelaram bazaar was still there, (though I couldn’t find the municipal tap) as was the Allahabad Bank building, its stateliness marred by the hawkers on the pavement outside. His description of the tikki-wallah in the book as “the fleshy God of tikki’s” has stuck with me all these years and I hear myself repeating it mentally whenever I go to any tikkiwallah in Dehradun.

Some might wonder why he, as an author stands out, especially to people from Dehradun. Why we spent more than seven hours in Mussoorie, planned the whole visit like a battle just for a five-minute book signing with him. It might be because he is one of ours, a local boy who left and yet, came back as he couldn’t survive without the mountains. He, like us, felt that the hills were his home, how much ever progress might degrade them, the hills still had our beating hearts. His books and stories evoke a time gone by when Dehra was still green and unpolluted when life was simple enough that you could just sit and watch the nature blooming around you. There is a quiet symbiosis of man and nature in his books.

And I think that’s the reason why we were so excited to see him, he is familiar to us, through his books he brings back the Dehra we had all once loved!

Raseedi Ticket ~ Amrita Pritam

Amrita Pritam was once told by Khushwant Singh that her life was so inconsequential that her life’s story could be written at the back of a revenue stamp (रसीदी  टिकट ). The remark, apparently said in a joke, became a reality when Amrita Pritam decided to write her autobiography and named it “Raseedi Ticket”. I came across this anecdote in the Netflix movie, Soni and it piqued my interest. Until that time my only knowledge of Amrita Pritam was that she was the author on whose story the movie “Pinjar” was based. I was unfamiliar with Amrita Pritam, the author and her literary works. The movie’s anecdote made me want to know more about this author, I realised she was a trailblazer in Punjabi/Hindi and Urdu literature. Intrigued I decided to read “Raseedi Ticket” to know more about the person behind the author.

“Raseedi Ticket” tells the story of Amrita Pritam in her words. Even though it is her autobiography do not anticipate a blow-by-blow account of her life in detail. This book delves deep into Amrita, an author, a daughter, a lover, and a human. “Raseedi Ticket” follows Amrita Pritam’s life journey from Gujranwala to Delhi. She also includes a few of her travel diaries to erstwhile USSR and Europe. She writes that when an author writes an autobiography, then it is a personal invitation by the author to the reader. Any attempt by the author to lie in their autobiography is not only an insult to the reader but also to the author. Thus, in the book, she doesn’t try and sugarcoat her relationships or her thoughts when they turned bleak. She also writes in detail about her writing process and her thoughts while writing some of her most popular works. She talks about चेतन (conscious) and अचेतन (unconscious) mind which influenced her writing which I found fascinating.

This blog’s writer is no one to critique the writing style or language of a stalwart like Amrita Pritam. This post is mainly to express my thoughts and reactions to reading this book. I read this book in Hindi which, even though is my mother tongue, is not a language I am used to reading in, my reading language is predominantly English (before this book, I had read only two books written in Hindi). Thus, initially, I found the book a bit difficult to read as I had to concentrate more. However, her words, which flew like poetry, drew me in. There was a sense of familiarity while I was reading it. I felt as if she was sitting next to me narrating her life story just like a great-aunt would.

Reading this book made me realise that even though I have read countless books, I am not fully formed as a reader since I am totally unaware of vernacular literature. Like many of my convent educated generation, we were/are more used to reading in English. Hindi was our mother tongue and a subject to be struggled with until 10th grade. We never realised the beauty of the language in school, it was a mug-fest which had to be done. While we could quote Shakespeare or Wordsworth or Keats, we were unaware of  Hindi authors and poets. It also didn’t help the cause that there were hardly any books in Hindi easily available. I read most of the Hindi literature as translations in English. What I realised after reading Raseedi Ticket is how much is lost in transition. I now realise that I have missed out on a huge collection of literature just because it is in Hindi or any of the other native Indian languages. I became aware of how restricted I am as a reader since I can read only in English and Hindi, there is a plethora of riveting literature in Urdu, Punjabi, Tamil, Malayalam and other languages which make up the tapestry of India.

After reading this book, I have decided that the next time I visit a bookstore in India, I won’t be skipping the Hindi section!

Murder In The Chowdhury Palace ~ Sharmishtha Shenoy

Sharmishtha Shenoy, the author of the Vikram Rana series is back with her new book, Murder in the Chowdhury Mansion. The book is Durga’s story. Durga, a young orphan, has faced hardships in her growing up years making her realise the power of money and position. She has managed to come up in the world by her hard work and determination. In college, she meets and falls in love with Debnarayan Chowdhary, the heir to a wealthy family from Kakdihi. Unfortunately, Durga is widowed within a month of the wedding under mysterious circumstances. The family believes Debnarayan died due to the family curse, but Durga is not so sure. Matters become worse when Durga and her unborn child’s life is at risk as she escapes attempts to murder her.

A good mystery needs to keep the threads tight with the reader engrossed till the very end and author Sharmishtha has succeeded in doing both. She succeeds in creating an atmosphere of distrust and unease by her descriptions. When you are reading the descriptions of Chowdhury mansion or the old haunted haveli, you can feel the atmosphere. The characters are well-etched, with all the emotions we humans have, jealousy, lust, pride, and greed. The main character Durga is not a damsel in distress, she is a strong woman who has fought for her place in the world and refuses to give it all up, even though it ultimately risks her life.

Confession time, I read this book in three hours! The book kept me engrossed and I was on tenterhooks to get to the bottom of the mystery of the curse. It is a quick read for the days when you just want to read a good book with an engaging plot.

Idiosyncrasies Of A Bookworm

There are two types of people, there are people who like to read and then there are bookworms. Bookworms are full of quirks and idiosyncrasies; We follow authors on social media; We are on cloud nine if an author interacts with us; We love discussing books, usually to the exclusion of any other conversation topic; Most of our life is spent thinking/talking/reading books. Bookworm is a tag we are proud to wear.

Our lives revolve around books and it is difficult for us to come out of our bookish worlds. A few of our idiosyncrasies are:

  • Our biggest nightmare is running out of books to read. I have about fifteen unread books along with a Kindle,  and yet, at the start of the COVID-19 lockdown, my first thought was run to the bookstore to “Stock-up”! (My hands are still  itching to order some books online).
  • We usually despise movie/TV adaptations of books, especially those which take cinematic liberties and diverge from the book. We can also be very annoying viewing companions as we will keep pointing out the differences and muttering “the book was better” under our breath in a threatening tone.
  • We land up buying/borrowing books which we have already read. This usually happens to me with fiction books. I forget I have read a book until I pick it up again to read and realise my folly. Even worse is when you land up buying a duplicate copy on Kindle when you can’t “find” your hard copy.
  • We are extremely annoying conservationists. We prefer talking about books, about authors, about different issues read in books. If by any chance someone does start a non-book topic we are quite capable of single-handedly turning the conversation back to books. Basically, according to us, all topics have to have a bookish view-point.
  • Travelling and carrying books for vacations is another issue we have to face. How do we carry only one book for vacation? What if we don’t like it or finish it before the vacation gets over or we are in the mood for a different genre? Most people also fail to understand why we need to carry books for family excursions. Hello!! we never know when we can get a moment free and would want to read!
  • Bookstores are our favourite places to hang out, we can spend hours surrounded by their magic. It is, of course, annoying to our companions as even while travelling we would want to check out the local bookstores.
  • Social Media is our boon and bane. We love joining online book clubs which help us in getting many recommendations for books. We discover new genres and new authors widening our reading world. However, it can also lead to a corresponding increase in our TBR pile leading to reading anxiety!
  • We lack time-management skills. We promise ourselves that we will read only one chapter and then manage to read the full book through the night. Even while doing regular chores (and resenting them), our mind will be counting the minutes till we can sit down with the book. We are also, quite capable of reading through the night.

Do you share any of the above quirks/idiosyncrasies? Do let me know!

Book Review: Wideacre (Philippa Gregory)

Philippa Gregory is a master storyteller, a trendsetter in historical fiction with her pen she brings to life history, making it feel as if events are unfolding in front of you. Wideacre was her debut novel, setting her on the path for literary greatness.

Wideacre is set in the latter part of eighteenth-century on a country estate of the same name. Beatrice Lacey is the daughter of the house. Deeply attached to her father, the Squire and the Lacey estate, she is shattered when she realises that as a daughter she has no rights and the estate will be inherited by her brother, who doesn’t understand and love the land or the people on it the way Beatrice does. The book traces Beatrice’s journey to own control over the land which she thinks rightfully belongs to her.

Like all Philippa Gregory novels, Wideacre is a window looking into the eighteenth century. She brings alive Wideacre Hall, the land, the people. Since the book, like all Philippa Gregory novels, is written in the first person, Beatrice becomes a breathing, tangible character. You can feel her love for the land, her desire for power, her anger against towards the unfairness of entail and the superiority of the male heir. She rails against her pre-written destiny of marriage and kids and wants to get what is due to her. The author triumphs as she has created a character who is not moral, some of the things Beatrice does can shake you, and yet, you cannot but understand why she behaves the way she does. You actually sympathise with her.

Late eighteenth-century Britain was a society in turmoil. The book offers insights into the prevailing class distinctions, the absolute power of the landed gentry over the tenants and the land, the narrow world of the women of high society, the unfairness of the male entail, the enclosures of public spaces and the corn riots. History is suddenly alive in the pages of the book.

The characters of the book are not very likeable, but they are human and in some cases, you can understand their viewpoint. The book can get a very disturbing read in certain instances, yet at no time do you lose your fascination for the book or stop reading. The book has topics which might make quite a few people uncomfortable, the author doesn’t sugarcoat the evil within humans. Do not pick up this book if you want a sanitised account, this is disturbing, yet thought-provoking read.