Tag: #india

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.

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!

My Favourite Indian Women Authors

On this Women’s Day, I wanted to celebrate women authors who have given me innumerable hours of reading pleasure. While Enid Blyton was a staple while growing, my first classic, “Pride and Prejudice” was written by the incomparable Jane Austen. To list all the women authors that I have read and loved would be a huge list and thus I decided to have a cut-off of five authors. I decided to make my life a little easier and decided to stick to Indian authors, thus narrowing down the field a little more. However, whitling down to five Indian women authors was also not an easy task. Indian authors from the days of Ismat Chugtai and Amrita Shergill have been prolific, identifiable and trailblazers due to their strong writing. They have rebelled against the norm and created characters which resonate with the reader.

And yet, I  persevered and here’s my list of five favourite Indian Women Authors.

  • Manreet Sodhi Someshwar: An IIM alumnus turned writer, Manreet Sodhi’s books are as enchanting as her smile. While the Taj Conspiracy is still on my TBR list, her “Long Walk Home” and “The Radiance Of a Thousand Splendid Suns”, were page-turners with a strong feminist core. “The Radiance of A Thousand Splendid Suns” is not only one of my favourite books, but it has strong characters like Jyot and Nooran who teach us so much about living life with dignity and on our own terms.
  • Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni: An author par excellence her books are always on my favourite list. Whether it be “Arranged Marriage”, “Sister of my Heart”, “Palace Of Illusions” or her most recent “The Forest of Enchantments”, the core of her books is a strong woman. My favourite book written by her is the first one of her’s which I read, “Mistress Of Spices”.
  • Anuja Chauhan: The master of Indian chick-lit, author Anuja Chauhan’s books are an easy-breezy read. Sexy, intelligent and sassy are the boxes ticked by her feminine characters. Zoya, Jinni, Dabbu, Bonu Or Tehmina, all were women who knew their mind. They didn’t mince words or hold back their opinion. These characters were like your friends, the ones who made their own path on their own terms.
  • Andaleeb Wajid: Prolific is an understatement for this author. With more than fourteen novels published, author Andaleeb is a master storyteller. What sets her apart from most of the other novelists is the fact that her protagonists are forward-thinking Muslim characters. She is single-handedly breaking the stereotypes about Muslim culture and identity, creating characters who are Muslim, female and independent. “My Brother’s Wedding” is one of my favourite books written by her.
  • Sudha Murthy: Engineer, philanthropist and a prolific writer in Kannada and English, Sudha Murthy needs no introduction. Her books, like herself, are simple, down-to-earth and yet they make a deep impact. Her books are profound, teaching us about life and how to live life gracefully and humbly. The books never get preachy, and yet they fill you with such positivity, that you feel wonderful after reading a Sudha Murthy book.

Have you read any of the above authors? I would love to hear your opinions as well any recommendation that you might have about authors for me to read!

Happy Reading!