Tag: #Kindle #ebook

The Vedas And The Upanishads ~Roopa Pai

Hinduism is difficult to understand. Most of us, who call ourselves Hindus do so because we were born in a Hindu household. We follow customs and rituals thinking that it is the way it is supposed to be done, confusing the rituals with religion. Each person has his/her own definition of what Hinduism is, some call it religion, some call it idol worship, some call it a way of life, some, have even confused it with nationalism. It is one of the most complex and yet the simplest concept/religion/philosophy (pick what suits you best). Despite all the variations and plurality in Hinduism, there is however a constant, none can deny that, the Vedas form the bedrock of Hinduism.

Roopa Pai is one of my favorite authors for children, especially those ten years or older. She has written books on Economics, science, and Krishna Deva Raya for the young ones, making complex concepts easy for them. She wrote the brilliant “The Gita, for children” ( read my review here https://undecidedindubai.wordpress.com/2015/10/24/the-conversation/). She has now followed it up with the book “The Vedas and The Upanishads”.Running at almost four hundred pages, this book skims the basic core of Hinduism. It has the Vedas, their introduction, the layers, the meters used for chanting the Vedas, the important Gods mentioned in the Vedas and a few of the important hymns, including my favorite the “Nasadiya Sukta”. The Upanishad section deals with the need and the history of Upanishads, a brief about Adi Shankaracharya and the ten principal Upanishads. Each of the ten Upanishads has been given its own chapter, its Shanti mantra(in English), the back story, the gist, explanation and an after story. The after-story is usually in the form of an example so that the children can relate more easily. Since each Upanishad has its own chapter, if you want to revisit and read only a particular Upanishad, you can pick that.

By the author’s own admission this is not an exhaustive work. It, however, is a great way to introduce children (and even adults) to the complexities of one of the world’s oldest religion. The book introduces the basic concepts in an easy way so that children can understand it. Written in an easy narrative style you can almost imagine the author talking to you while you read. What saves the book from becoming too preachy or “Satsangi” is the language and the references to the current world. She gives examples to illustrate the main points, the examples are such that the children can identify with. She has tried (maybe sometimes too hard) to sound appropriately “teenagery”, making the book more relatable.

There is lots of fun trivia amidst the heavy duty concepts. Do look out for the connection with T.S.Eliot, the topic, “How West Was Won” ( which in it’s sub-context, also points out to the syncretism in India) and the ultimately cool one, about the movie Matrix! Such trivia and popular fiction references make the book more unique. The book does not stand aloof and isolated but co-relates to issues being faced in the world today, like fake news for instance.

One of the drawbacks of this book (in fact, it is true for almost all recent books I have read on Hinduism) is the fact that the Sanskrit shlokas are in English. Sanskrit is hard enough, to read a shloka in English is even more difficult. The shlokas might be in English to make the books more approachable to people who cannot read Sanskrit and thus have a more global reach. However, I would prefer if the shlokas were printed in Devanagari script as well as in English. It will make it easier for people like us who can read Sanskrit and I do think it will add a musical cadence in reading the book. To be fair to the author she has translated the shlokas in English and given their meanings. In some instances, she has even given the pronunciation of the word.

Would I recommend this book? My answer will be an emphatic yes!!

This book is not a definitive guide, but it makes an excellent starting point, for both children and adults. The book doesn’t try to influence or enforce any belief. Even though it is the author’s interpretation the readers are free to make up their mind about the concepts introduced in the book. Do be aware that the concepts, even though told through stories, are quite complex. If in your enthusiasm you are handing the book to a ten-year-old, the child might not understand or may not want to read it as they might find the book heavy going. In fact, even as an adult, you need to be in an open frame of mind to understand and absorb the words.I, myself, took frequent breaks while reading so as to appreciate what the author had written. I would recommend the book for ages thirteen upwards (though good luck with convincing them to read what you recommended!).

On My Bookshelf

My last post, India For Kids, was about books which introduced the wonders of India to our children. That post, however, lead to requests by friends for recommendations of non-fiction books for them as adults. Non-fiction as a genre includes self-help books, biographies, travelogues, religion and many more as sub-categories.  Non-fiction is not something that can be breezed through and requires some effort in terms of time and concentration, so it is not everyone’s cup of tea. I personally avoid self-help books but enjoy reading books on religion and history. Thus it is all about your personal preference in choosing a book. Quite a few times people do want to read but are daunted by the actual task of picking out a book. Book lists like this one just give them a nudge in picking out a book. 

  • Sapiens (Yuval Harari). A bestseller, which it certainly deserves to be so, this book deals with the history of humankind. On paper the premise sounds boring, the author, however, has written the book with such engaging anecdotes and examples that it keeps you hooked. My favourite part of the book is when he writes about religion.
  • India In Slow Motion ( Mark Tully). One of the most famous faces of BBC in India, Mark Tully has not only distinguished himself as a credible journalist but has also authored several books on India. This book ranges on topics like Ayodhya, corruption and Kashmir from a very humane perspective. You cannot help but see how the book has been written as an impartial observer and yet it retains the essence of India’s heartland.
  • Why I am A Hindu ( Shashi Tharoor). I know its surprising to pick this book over “An Era of Darkness”. While the latter dealt with the pillage of India during the two hundred years of British rule, I found this one more engrossing. In today’s age of socialism, agnosticism and nationalistic Hinduism, a liberal Hindu is somehow lost. This book found me nodding my head quite a few times at the author’s words.
  • Our Moon Has Blood Clots (Rahul Pandita). Kashmir valley has been a troubled spot for many years now. A lot has been spoken and thought off, for the separatists of the Kashmir valley. However, the Kashmiri Pandits, the ones who bore the brunt of the happenings in the Kashmir Valley were a forgotten lot. Journalist Rahul Pandita has written a first-hand account of leaving the valley. He has included the accounts of those who left their homes and became refugees in their own country. It is a moving heart-tugging tale of displacement and then overcoming the odds to shine again.
  • An Utterly Impartial History of Britain (John O’Farrell). I know history is not enjoyed by everyone and that too, the history of a country which ruled you for two hundred years. This book is, however, a laughter riot with tongue-in-cheek humour eliciting chuckles at a steady rate. A totally delightful way to learn the history of a country who either directly or indirectly shaped the world we live in today.
  • James Herriot. I have mentioned the name of the author instead of the books as I loved reading all his books written under this pen name ( The author’s actual name is James Alfred Wight). James Herriot wrote about his travails as a country vet in the moors of Yorkshire. Written with classic, subtle British humour, his books showed his love for the animals and made for an engrossing read.
  • The Gita, for children (Roopa Pai). This list has been made keeping the adults in mind, however, I knew I had to add this book as well, even though it is classified in thirteen plus age-group. Most of us are aware of “The Gita” but are unaware of its nuances and depth. This book is an excellent starting point to discover the magic of  Gita and the philosophy of life. (I have written a detailed blog post reviewing this book which you can read here: The Conversation.)
  • Three Cups of Tea (Greg Mortensen). An autobiographical account of Greg Mortensen who has been instrumental in building schools and spreading education in Pakistan and Afganistan. He writes about the challenges faced and his acceptance of the social norms in his fight for the right of education. The book shows how an ordinary man can bring about change.
  • In An Antique Land(Amitav Ghosh). Described as narrative, travelogue, historical account and even autobiographical, this book follows two parallel narratives. The first one is an account of Amitav Ghosh’s stay in a village in Nile Delta, Egypt during the eighties. His interactions and observation with the natives form the backbone. The other is the historical account of an Egyptian merchant and his slaves in India. Amitav Ghosh has tied the two narratives beautifully which stays with you long after you have finished the book. 
  • Begums, Thugs and Englishmen (Fanny Parkes/ William Dalrymple)Long time ago an English Memsahib, Fanny Parkes, came to India as the wife of a moffusil district collector. She was neither totally “native”, nor was she one of the aloof memsahibs who refused to mingle with the people of the country and thus she had a very colourful time in India. Edited from her personal journals this is an interesting read, especially the part about Thugee and the establishment of Landour ( of particular interest to me since I am from Dehradun).

 

This list has been made in keeping with my interests, there are however scores of other books on many more topics which might be more appealing to you. Do not hesitate to experiment, as only then you realise what you are actually interested in.

If you have read (or are planning to read)any of the above books, I would love to hear your views. 

 

To Book or E-book

Being a bookworm has a lot of perks, people ask for your opinion and recommendation for books, author or genres. The hidden perk of being asked for recommendations is, of course, making you feel very important. One fine day, however, I was asked by a friend about my Kindle which led to a discussion on whether to buy a Kindle or not. This post had always been on the back burner but the discussion of the pros and cons acted like a catalyst for finally putting pen to paper. This post might also be helpful for those friends of mine who are wavering and as yet undecided on whether to go ahead and buy Kindle or not. My trusted Kindle Paperwhite is my only point of reference and I do not read on any other digital platform, though I did install Kobo on iPad at some point in time. I have tried to compare Kindle and physical books on the points which I think matter the most while reading. Again, at the risk of sounding politically correct, the views expressed in this post are my own.

  • Size. One of the biggest selling points of Kindle is its size. It is small, sleek and easy to carry which means your one month worth of holiday reading and more can be carried around in your handbag. I, in fact, even carry my kindle to the salon, better to read a novel than a filmy rag. Books, on the other hand, can be heavy and cumbersome, think Tolstoy’s War and Peace, more than a thousand pages long weighing more than one kg in paperback format. You might need a separate suitcase to carry it if you want to read it during the holidays!
  • Space. A slim kindle can hold many books without any corresponding increase in its size. You can keep buying books on Kindle without needing to buy more bookshelves. With physical books, the main issue for a bibliophile becomes the place to keep books. I have a bookcase filled with books; the boys have their book cupboard, again full; books kept in all the rooms; I think you get the drift. Having a Kindle means you can easily download books without having to worry which bookshelf can you adjust the book in.
  • Money. Kindle books are on the whole cheaper than physical books (as compared on Amazon Prime, India).  Quite a few books, especially the older classics, are available for free download. Amazon Prime reading also has books free for downloading though searching for a specific book in it might take some time. Subscription based service like Kindle Unlimited can also save you bags of money.
  • Battery Life. I had received a joke in which a Kindle and a book are talking to each other, Kindle is bragging about its advantages and the book just leans over and switches it off. This, in my opinion, is the biggest drawback of Kindle. Being a digital device Kindle needs charging and an internet connection for downloading books. If you are like me who keeps forgetting to charge their Kindle, well then, believe me, Kindle is liable to go dark at the most inopportune moment.
  • Eye Strain. Kindle has the option of adjusting the font size of the book you are reading. It also has a light adjustment, whether you want the background lighter or darker depending on your environment. It allows you to adjust everything according to your convenience and to the environment around you, making for an easier reading experience. In physical books, the main drawback is the print size. Books with a very fine print can be very difficult to read, and as the years are passing by, print size has become a factor in picking up books.
  • In-depth reading. Physical books, for me, give an immersive experience. I register the words more, can rifle through the pages, go back to the pages/passages I like and sometimes even sneak and read the ending first. Even though you can highlight passages/bookmark pages in Kindle, rifling through the pages is pretty hard!
  • NotesI have a confession to make, recently I have gotten this habit of making notes in the margin of non-fiction books. Of course, the purists will be horrified at defacing of the book. It, however, feels more intuitive to me. When something strikes a chord or I have a thought while reading, I  write it in the margin. I sometimes even underline lines/phrases. This also makes my life simpler if I am planning to write a book review later on. Note feature is available on Kindle as well but it somehow doesn’t feel as personal as scribbling on the margin.
  • MemoriesPhysical books are a treasure trove of memories, you remember if you bought the book or if it was gifted. Bought books remind of when/where/how/why you selected the books. If you got the books signed then they get the pride of place, like a couple of my Ruskin Bond’s. Gifted books remind you of the person who gifted it to you whenever you pick them up. Forgotten Bookmarks and postcards in books take you back to the times and places that have gone by. Pressed flowers (especially roses)  in books bring back memories of dates and make you reminisce the days of the past. Somehow there is nothing more romantic than a pressed rose falling out of a book.

So which one do you think comes out on top? Kindle or Physical book? As I said, it is a personal preference. I read non-fiction and more serious books as physical books while saving fiction for my Kindle. If I want to read in-depth then I always pick a physical book as I think then the words register more for me.  There is a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction when I close a book after reading it. Somehow giving the rating of a book on Goodreads immediately after reading, like in Kindle, doesn’t cut it for me.

Buying books on Kindle is very easy, you can sit on your sofa, browse through the online website, enter your card details and lo behold, the book is on your Kindle in a few minutes. Of course, you do need a wi-fi connection to buy the book, but once it is on your Kindle you can read it anywhere/anytime.  For buying a physical book you need to go to the bookstore. There you will browse the shelves, pick up the books whose covers catch your eyes, read the blurbs and see if any intrigues you, maybe read the starting few lines of the book.  While picking up a book you rifle through the book, inhale the new book smell, somehow it all gives a sensory element to buying a book, making reading more personal. This is where for me physical books edge out Kindle, the pleasure of holding a book, feel of the texture of pages on the fingers, inhaling its smell is not found when holding a Kindle and looking at words on its screen.

At the end of the day remember whether you pick a book or a Kindle you are still reading and I guess that is the whole point, isn’t it?