Tag: #reading #UAEReads

Tissue Paper ~Neha Soi

 

I write in borrowed ink.

Borrowed from those

Who have abandoned it somewhere inadvertently

or lost it absent-mindedly.

 

~Tissue paper, Neha Soi

“Tissue Paper” is a slim anthology of Poems by Neha Soi. Covering different facets of life these poems are about finding the words to express the mundane or routine. Even though I was surprised by the title “Tissue Paper”, as I read through I realised how apt the title was for the book. The topics on the surface are mundane, ones that would randomly pop into your head walking down the street. And yet, the poet has framed those topics into words, giving them a life much more than ordinary. The poet is not untouched by the happenings of the world around but rather than pointing directly she writes words which you interpret with your thoughts.

The book is divided into nine sections like divine, alive, parenting etc. The poems in each section do not have a specific title, you can read them as one flowing into another (as the topic holds them together) or you can randomly read each poem on its own. The poems are about the world around us, the one which we try to ignore as it doesn’t concern us directly. The words used are simple day to day words, words which you will not have to look up in the dictionary. These words are beaded together by the poet to make verses which stay with you and make you think about their power. There is an underlying sarcasm in a few of the poems.  My personal favourite poem in the anthology is in the divine section which is about God and of reducing god to a marketing gimmick as a decoration.

The school trained us to read and understand poetry as part of the board curriculum. We were exposed to traditional poetry with rhyming words, poetic devices, interpretation of the verses given by the teacher. After school, I did read some poetry for pleasure but realised I am more of a traditionalist who prefers Keats and Frost to the new age poets. To read a book then, filled with verses which didn’t have a rhyming scheme seemed like an uphill task. I, however, was pleasantly surprised when I did climb that hill. Poetry, at its heart, is about metaphors. The book “Tissue Paper” is an anthology filled with metaphors.

Poetry is languidness of words, softer than stories, poetry meanders and yet leaves an imprint on you. Poetry is an art of speaking, using minimum words, not directly and yet the words convey the meaning. The anthology “Tissue Paper” succeeds in conveying the meaning.

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?

Being Hindu

~A Review of “Being Hindu, Old Faith, New World and You”~ by Hindol Sengupta

Hinduism is one of the oldest religions in the world. A religion which has 33 million gods and which has somehow become synonymous with cows, snakes, female infanticide, and lingams. Books about Hinduism usually depict a Sadhu with rudraksha about his neck who may or may not be naked, if the sadhu is smoking chillum then so much the better. So is Hinduism only about all this or is it something more, something deeper? Hindol Sengupta in his book Being Hindu has tried to answer some questions and delves deeper into a religion which has survived and even thrived for the past three thousand years.

This book attempts to look at Hinduism in a rational way from its roots to the relevance of Hinduism in this digital age. It starts with a  prologue in which the author narrates the reason why he undertook to write about Hinduism. In essence, this book is about his own spiritual path and his own journey in understanding our faith. The chapters of the book are divided into questions starting with the most obvious  “How to write about Hindus?”. He then tackles questions likes “Who is a Hindu?”, “What makes you a Hindu?”,”Who is the One True God?” , “Is God afraid of Science?”, “How do books portray Gods?”, “Does being Hindu mean you are vegetarian?” “What do we know about History?”, “The Internet Hindu- How does Hinduism fit in Digital Age?”, “ A Start-Up for the Soul: Why should we re-examine the Hindu Way?”

As you can make out the author covers basically all the pertinent topics, from the origin, the impact of the Hinduism in science, the ills of Hinduism, its dietary requirements, the relevance of Hinduism and of course the changes/reforms that need to be done at the way we look/follow Hinduism. You can make out the author has researched the topic well and gives extensive sources, Indian as well as Western, to back up his arguments.

This is the first book where I have actually marked out the passages which struck a chord with me. The book spoke to me on so many levels. When I read the prologue it brought back memories of the convent school where we learned the God’s prayer without even understanding it. I was, in fact, so used to saying “Amen”, that I would say it even after reciting the “Gayatri Mantra”!! (I still do it sometimes, when I am not concentrating on prayers and just reciting by rote). While we sang hymns, celebrated Christmas and went to the school chapel before exams, we sang aartis and celebrated Dusshera and Diwali at home.  After marriage, I dutifully followed the religious rituals, went to some pilgrimage sites, attended the religious events I was invited to. I discovered peace in following the age-old rituals and traditions but as I grew older I realized that there was something lacking in just following the rituals. A casual conversation with a relative brought up the point that we are becoming more ritualistic than religious. My confusion about my religion grew. While I am a steadfast Hindu, I refuse to accept the view that chanting mantras will lead me to moksha, nor do I believe that keeping a fast will lead me to salvation. Though reading “Sri Ramcharitmanas”  brings me peace, the feminist in me sees the misogyny in the book.  I was, as you can see, very very confused.

This confusion led me to read books dealing with religion, its myths and stories. There were a few books which popped out in my search, namely, The Gita for Children by Roopa Pai and Devdutt Pattanaik’s My Gita.  This book differs from the other two as Being Hindu deals with the basic underlying philosophy of Hinduism, stripped of all its symbolic rituals. The author specifically mentions that it is “his journey” about discovering Hinduism. He is not saying that it is the only way to understand Hinduism and that is the charm of this book. The author has tried to peel back the layers, tried to find the identity of Hinduism and its association with science and digital age.

My favourite chapter of the book was the chapter “A Start-Up for the soul: Why we should re-examine the Hindu Way?”. While the book deals with the inter-relation of the religion with science, its impact on history and the literary sources, this chapter looks ahead. It talks about how Hinduism needs to reform itself away from the ritualistic jargon that has entrapped it, to a form which shows its true essence. It points out how we have forgotten that the real meaning of Hinduism is to look inwards and quotes Mahatma Gandhi when he said he would not accept any Shastra as an infallible guide if it opposes the maxims of morality. This basically drives home the point which the author is making in the book.

I was also re-acquainted with the Nasadiya Sukta”, the hymn of creation in the Rig Veda. I had heard the hymn for the first time on television when the Hindi version of the hymn used to be the title track of a series called “Bharat Ek Khoj”. Even though at that time I was unaware that it was the Nasadiya Sukta”, I was mesmerized by the words of the track. Reading the words of the hymn in English not only brought back memories but also made me realize how little I know about this religion that I believe in. The author has compared this hymn with the chapter of Genesis in the Bible and you will be surprised at the marked difference in the theory of the creation of both the religions.

The author also raised some very relevant points like vegetarianism in Hinduism (not mandatory as per me and the author) and the point about scientific inquiry and Hinduism. Another point raised by him which I totally agree upon is the concept of messiah in Hinduism, which the Hindus have used as a crutch for centuries.

The chapter “What do we do about History?” is in my eyes one of the weaker links in this book. This chapter deals with the three main issues in Hinduism namely gay and third gender rights, caste discrimination and Islamic invasions of India. While Gay and Third gender rights have been argued well, caste discrimination seems to be from a very urban point of view. Though the author talks about statistics and the economics of caste discrimination we all know it still exists especially in the rural heartlands. Even the issue of  Islamic invasions seems to be skimmed over though he does lay across a very valid point that History should be seen in its entirety and should not be distorted by the political lens (something which seems unavoidable as long as politicians decide our History).

India is a Hindu majority nation with 80 percent of the population following a religion to which they are born in and is deeply ingrained in their day to day lives. However, as the author has pointed out if you ask the same people their thoughts about religion and its philosophy they will not be able to define it. Being a Hindu is also not very easy in today’s India. On one hand, you have the BJP’s firebrand Hinduism in which nationalism and religion are mixed into a deadly cocktail. On the other, you have the opposition’s peculiar brand of secularism, which to most people, seems to be anti-Hindu.  Where does this scenario leave us, the educated, rational thinking Hindu, how do we define our identity as a Hindu?

I would recommend this book as a stepping stone to understanding Hinduism. It does not claim, nor is it, a treatise on Hinduism. If, however, you were like me, floundering and wondering about your faith then this is a thought-provoking read. The arguments are lucid and most of the time you will be nodding your head while you are reading. The book has definitely opened my eyes to the myriad ways I can interpret Hinduism and still be correct.

 

Keep Calm And Read A Book (or two)

You might wonder why suddenly I am fixated on reading for children, the answer to this is quite simple. Reading opens up a world of magic and imagination; the fact that comprehension, vocabulary, sentence structure, spellings are also helped is icing on the cake. This post is about my perspective as a parent as to what books, will entertain children as well as instill in them a love of reading.My only qualification for writing this post is that I have been in love with books all my life. So in order to get some credibility, I decided to take some help and advice from Ms.Richa Prakash, an academician. She gladly recommended some books and also shared her viewpoints to solve some of my doubts.

So here goes……

Tinkle/Amar Chitra Katha (Ages 5 onwards): Tinkle was one of the first names Ms.Richa recommended. Tinkle is something which almost all of us have grown up with. The characters are endearing (Shikari Shambu anyone??), there is humour and they teach us good morals as well. Amar Chitra Katha or ACK is one of the easiest ways to introduce children to Indian mythology and Indian heroes. The fact that Kush has rated Great Freedom Fighters as one of his top ten books and Rishabh is reading Paramvir Chakra drives home the universal appeal of these books. As both of them are comic books they are colourful and easy to read. (Trivia: For Bahubali fans, even the director was inspired by ACK in designing his city)

Abridged Classics (Ages 7 onwards): Abridged classics are highly recommended by Ms.Richa and I agree. Abridged classics are a great way to introduce great works in an easier format to the children.  I had specifically asked Ms.Richa why these books are important and her answer was pretty clear, good vocabulary and great stories. Even in this day and age, when English has become the main language for communication, these books help in showing children the beauty of the written language as well as in making them more confident readers. Some of my favourite abridged classics include Tom Sawyer, Treasure Island and Oliver Twist (we bought a lovely abridged one for Kush last year making it easier for him to read).

I will add a note of caution here, there are too many cheap imitations of the abridged classics in the market you even get them in the dollar stores, so do go through it once before handing it over to the child, else you might do more harm than good. Another point to take care is that the print is easy for the child to read plus please do not rush the child, if the child is not understanding the book or finding it a difficult read, let the child give up and come back to it later.

Harry Potter (Ages 10 upwards): To quote Stephen King “Books are a uniquely portable magic”. No other series comes even closer to Harry Potter books in opening up a world of magic for children. According to Ms.Richa, this book opens up a world of imagination as well teaches them about empathy and acceptance of something which is not the norm. J.K.Rowling has created a believable, alternate magical world, which co-exists with our world. Her descriptions of Hogwarts/Quidditch are so enthralling that the child actually wants to attend Hogwarts, even though the child might be a muggle!

You must be wondering why I have kept the age group for this book as ten upwards. My reasoning for this is that once a child reads the first book in the series, the child wants to keep reading the series. While there is nothing wrong in that, with Harry Potter each progressive book is darker, making books 6 and 7, in my opinion, unsuitable for children younger than 12.

Geronimo Stilton (Ages 6 upwards): Another series highly recommended by Ms.Richa is  Geronimo/Thea Stilton which is quite popular with children. The main reason for recommending is that these books introduce the children to the world as well as entertain them.

Indian Authors (Ages 8 onwards):  As an expat parent one of the worries I face is how my children will learn more about Indian history and culture( and love India the way I do). Thankfully there are excellent books written by Indian writers which bring India alive for children.  Authors like Sudha Murthy, Ruskin Bond and R.K.Narayan bring alive the small villages and towns of India for children. Another favourite Subhadra Sen Gupta’s “Let’s Go Time Travelling” is one of the best books I have come across about Indian History written in a very breezy manner. Some more books on my favourite list include Fun In Devlok- Devdutt Pattanaik(about Indian Mythology);We, The People of India -Leila Seth ( about the constitution of  India); A Flag , A Song and A Pinch Of Salt – Subhadra Sen Gupta ( About the freedom heroes of India);The Gita For Children – Roopa Pai ( highly recommended to introduce The Gita to children,click on the link for my review  https://undecidedindubai.wordpress.com/2015/10/24/the-conversation/)

Enid Blyton (Ages 5 upwards): One might think that the simple stories of Enid Blyton might be obsolete in this day and age of digital media, however, I beg to differ. The stories have a timeless appeal and teach children imagination (Enchanted Woods), teamwork (Five Find-Outers) as well as getting along in whatever the circumstances (Mallory Towers, St.Clares).

David Walliams/Andy Griffiths (Ages 7 onwards): These books resonate with children as they have loads of humour and are illustrated making the books more approachable. In Andy Griffith’s books, the boys build and keep expanding the tree house, opening up a world of imagination for children. David Walliams, on the other hand, introduces seemingly mundane topics, like a boring granny, but there is the wisdom of life in his books. The children get exposed to the facts of life, for example in Billionaire Boy, children in a subtle way realise that money can buy you everything but a friend.

Roald Dahl (Ages 7 upwards): BFG anyone?? Roald Dahl is one of the most endearing children’s author and my personal favourite as well. His books like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, BFG, Fantastic Mr.Fox have all been made into a movie, which does not mean that the child should watch the movie instead of reading the book. Better do both, read the book and watch the movie, and then compare! The characters introduced by Mr.Dahl are timeless, Oompa Loompa’s, Willy Wonka, BFG are all oddballs who enthrall the children. The stories have a timeless appeal, BFG’s story of being a misfit who overcomes the odds with Sophie’s help can be in any year or any place.

Dr.Suess (Ages 4 upwards): You cannot write a blog post about children’s authors and not write about Dr.Suess. When my younger one was not interested in books, it was “There’s a Wocket in my pocket” which came to the rescue. If you read any of his books on the thing which stands out is the ridiculous rhyming of words that he uses. So there is jertain rhyming with curtain, wocket with pocket …..This is what the children, especially the beginner readers love.  In this particular book if you want to go to a deeper level you would realise it is celebrating the imagination of a child, what all creatures the child thinks are hidden around the house.

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These are just suggestions based on my personal preferences, what the child finally reads depends on the child’s taste and reading capability.  This list also does not include series like Percy Jackson /Lord Of the Rings/ Narnia/Lemony Snickets etc, the reason being I have tried to keep the list for years ten and younger. I would like to, however, emphasize the point to take the children to a bookstore/library.  When children handle and pick out books for themselves they are much more likely to read the book.

I would like to express my gratitude to Ms.Richa Prakash for taking out time and recommending books to me and for clarifying my doubts. It is always gratifying when your choices as a mother are validated by someone with so many years of experience in the educational field.

On World Book Day 2017, Khaled Hosseini wrote: “ Books always have been and always will be our most effective devices of empathy- a virtue urgently needed nowadays”.

Let’s make our children more empathetic.

 

For The Love Of Reading

It is not a state secret that I love to read books. It is a wonderful solitary pursuit which gives immense satisfaction to me. Recently, however, parents have been asking me to recommend books for their children. While one reads according to personal interests when you ask the same person to recommend a book you are laying a huge responsibility on the person’s shoulder, even more so when you have to recommend a book for a child. The book that you suggest should be interesting enough for the child to finish reading and not scare the child away from reading for a lifetime. Ideally, it should also be informative enough to keep the parents happy. The good part about people asking me to recommend books for their children (apart from me puffing up with pride) was that it gave me the idea for this blog post.

I am planning to write two parts to this post. I decided to do find out as to what the children really liked reading nowadays (we are just not up to date as to what is “in” these days). For the second part of the blog post, I will be writing more from a parent’s point of view. My helpers were my two adorable boys and I decided to take their viewpoint as to what they really liked to read and why ( I am a homemaker, don’t have time to ask too many children, I have loads of laundry to do!!!).

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My first subject was my younger son, Rishabh, who is a few months shy of his eighth birthday. Contrary to fifty-percent of his genetic makeup, he does not like to read. Still on being asked he did come up with a list of ten books that he had read plus he liked them a lot. Since some of the books were part of the series so I decided to cull them down to five.

So here are top five favorite books of Rishabh.

Dinosaurs (Miles Kelley):

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Well no surprises here, the boy has been fascinated by dinosaurs ever since he was a baby. According to Rishabh, there are lots of interesting facts about dinosaurs in the book and his favorite chapter in the book is all about T-Rex.

Tree House Series (Andy Griffith):

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For a boy who doesn’t like to read Rishabh has finished all the five books in the series and is now waiting for the next one to be published. I guess that is recommendation enough.

Knowledge Bank:

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Again a book read cover to cover by my boy. According to Rishabh, it gives loads of cool facts about a variety of topics, the chapter on the universe being his favorite.

Geronimo Stilton(Elisabetta Dami):

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He had included The Haunted Castle, Giant Diamond Robbery and The Gold Medal Mystery in his top ten books. The series are his favorite as the books are funny, the characters have great adventures around the world plus solve mysteries. In all, a very interesting read.

Sheikhchilli:

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We have to give the boy’s father credit for introducing this character in the boy’s literary world. Rishabh finds all the stories very funny and his favorite one is “Painting The Town Red”.

Currently, Rishabh is reading ParamVir Chakra (Amar Chitra Katha).

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Kush is my elder son, just about ten and has taken after me, which in other words means he is an avid reader. For him to pick out ten of his favorite books was a slightly tougher task but he did manage to whittle them down.

So here are top ten favorite books of  Kush.

Harry Potter(J.K.Rowling):

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Well, no surprises there right? I was pretty strict about him not reading them till he turned ten and luckily he received the first two as gifts just a month shy of his birthday. Kush likes the character of Harry best, even more than Ron, as Harry has glasses (just like Kush!). Hagrid is another favorite character as he loves Harry unconditionally.

Gangsta Granny(David Williams):

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Kush likes this book about a boy who discovers new things about his grandmother. It is a funny book but also sad as the granny has cancer!

Geronimo Stilton(Elisabetta Dami):

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So this series seems like a winner as it pops up on the list of both the boys. Kush was more forthcoming about what he really likes about these series. Again the common point with both of them being lots of solving mysteries in these books.

Wimpy Kid(Jeff Kinney):

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Ok, confession time, I used to absolutely dislike the sight of Kush reading these books. He, however, has read almost all of them, so I guess I was wrong somewhere. Kush’s reason for liking these books is the relatability with the character. So the wimpy kid likes video games, sleeping in late etc…..all the stuff that Kush loves too!

Treehouse Series (Andy Griffiths):

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Another series which pops up in both the lists. Kush’s reasons for liking these series is Andy and Terry’s imagination in building the tree house. They also get to meet new people and have adventures…..plus the books are really funny.

Great Freedom Fighters (Amar Chitra Katha):

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This ACK tells about five freedom fighters from India: Lokmanya Tilak, Mahatma Gandhi, Veer Savarkar, Subhash Chandra Bose and Bhagat Singh. Bhagat Singh’s story was the most inspiring for Kush.

Charlie And The Chocolate Factory (Roald Dahl):

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This story is about a young poor boy Charlie who gets lucky on his birthday. He then manages to win over Mr.Wonka with his honesty and compassion.

Mystery Of The Strange Messages (Enid Blyton):

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Well, Enid Blyton had to come in the list somewhere. The five find outers seem to have a lot of fun in solving mysteries and finding clues. Fatty seems to be most intelligent of the lot according to Kush.

Rusty And The Misty Mountains(Ruskin Bond):

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As a Ruskin Bond fan myself, I was very happy to find one of his books on my son’s list too. He likes the story as it is about the adventures of a boy who climbs up the mountain.

Grandma’s Bag Of Stories(Sudha Murthy):

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This is a book of stories narrated by a grandmother when the children visit their grandparents in holidays (brings back memories doesn’t it?). Kush likes this book as the stories are simple to understand and teach good morals too.

Currently, Kush is reading Chamber of Secrets by J.K.Rowling.

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Now as you can see the lists are varied and different, suiting to each of the boy’s personality. In my next post, I will give you my take on their choices as well as some book recommendations which I think the children would like, plus keep their parents happy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Legend Of Lakshmi Prasad

Twinkle Khanna started her literary career as a weekly celebrity blogger for Time of India. Her first book Mrs.Funnybones raced to the bestseller list in no time and this is her second book. With rather a simple cover page consisting of mangoes and a girl reaching out to them, it hides the complexity of the book.This book is a collection of four short stories, simple on the surface, but with deeper depths, if you look for them.

The first story is about Lakshmi Prasad, a young village girl surrounded by the despondencies of everyday rural life. The simple farmer, his poverty and the need to provide dowries for his daughters. The stark ugly truth about India, of why the girl child is so unwanted for and the Lakshmi Prasad’s revolt against this. The story drives home the need for the empowerment of girls so that we can rise above the ills of dowry system and girl infanticide. The lesson is simple to learn, empower the girl to change the society.

The second story is Salaam, Noni Appa. Noni Appa is a simple soul, who has led an exemplary life. She likes the respect with which people on the street would say to her “Salaam, Noni Appa”. Her relationship with her sister Binni can only be understood by someone who has siblings.The pushing, prodding, teasing, commenting and the underlying layer of love and affection for each other. The incident where Noni, matter-of-factly tells Binni to eat Kayam Churan as Binni had eaten mutton patties underlines their relationship so well.  There is, however, a loneliness in Noni’s life. Her dressing up for her departed husband on what would have been their forty-eighth wedding anniversary had a subliminal poignancy; you could feel Noni’s sadness and love for her husband. Anandji, on the other hand, is as alone as Noni, even though his wife is alive and kicking ( or screaming in this case).  Both of them finding companionship and affection for each other comes as no surprise. There is courage needed to understand and accept the fact that you have limited days on this planet (even less if you are on the wrong side of sixty) and to take a conscious decision to spend those days with the person making you happy.  Anandji and Noni had that courage to accept that they were happier together and this is what made it such an endearing love story.

“If The Weather Permits” is the darkest story amongst the four, where the weather on the wedding day is the barometer of whether Elisa Thomas’s wedding will last or not. Elisa Thomas’s story is about a young woman who refuses to be boxed in and thus baffles her Malayali Christian parents. Her parents have one and only goal of seeing her married off to a good Christian boy of their community. In the words of her father “Deaf and dumb, but a man is a man is a man”. Therein lies the problem, the urge of Indian parents to marry their daughters to a man whom they, the parents, rather than the girl, think is suitable. Failing to get a man from their community they are ready for any man, but the girl needs to be married. Even a girl as free spirited and independent as Elisa succumbs to marry Chacko if only to get her parents off her back for some time. Of course that she repented it almost instantaneously comes as no surprise. The story challenges the conventional mindset of the need for marriage for women to make them complete.

The best story is of course saved for last “The Sanitary Man from a Sacred Land”.  The story is of Bablu Kewat’s crusade to provide low-cost sanitary napkins to the women of India especially in the rural areas. Bablu’s journey started with his need to provide his wife with safe, hygienic and low-cost sanitary napkins which soon developed into a crusade. He was however abandoned by the very people for whom he had sacrificed everything. His invention ultimately becomes a tool for social change and female upliftment. Inspired by a true story Bablu Kewat’s story is inspiring as he kept bouncing back whenever life knocked him down. And always comes back up with a smile. He shows exemplary values and courage in returning to the same village from where he was kicked out off. The irony of the villagers who once vilified him, welcoming him back with open arms after he becomes famous is not lost.

The author takes you through her descriptions to rural Bihar, Ismaili Bombay, Christian Kerela and semi-urban Madhya Pradesh. The descriptions are vivid, you can almost see Noni Appa clinking her glass with the one of her husband’s in her pearls and chiffon sari. The author’s writing is not defined by her metaphors or extensive vocabulary.One might even say that her writing is too simplistic. I will agree, the book cannot be classified as a classic but a vacation read. However to dismiss her out of hand would be unfair to her and her stories. The beauty of her writing I think is simplicity. The stories are straightforward, true, but if you look closely they are all about women and the need for them to be in charge of their own destinies. The characters strong and identifiable. What is exceptional about her writing is the way she infuses humour in the most common occurrences but still, manages to raise pertinent issues.

That is where Ms.Khanna has scored, she has turned the “Aam Admi” and made him/her the HERO!

The Written Word (Part II)

There are two questions which I get asked a lot as soon as people hear that I love reading, the first is when do I get the time to read and the second , what types of books do I read (I think the second question is asked to whosoever says that they love reading ).

When do I get the time to read is simple to answer, I read even if I get five minutes free, like waiting for my children’s bus and if I start reading around my bedtime then I usually say good bye to my sleep.

What type of books I read is more complex to answer as there is no particular genre or author that I stick too. I am not a literary snob and do try and read different things( though I doubt I will be reading a  Chetan Bhagat or Ravinder Singh soon). I find sticking to a particular genre very restrictive, though there is usually a pattern in what I pick up to read.  I have been fond of reading from a very young age and this fondness has not diminished over time, though the favorite genres and author keep changing (I am hoping with my maturity level).

There are however a few authors and genres who are evergreen for me and I can read and re-read them umpteen number of times (in fact have done so too). I have made a combined list with both the authors and genres as there a few authors who stand alone like Olympus and even if they write/wrote in any other genres I would still read the book. (Plus to keep the list to a manageable length!)

So here goes my list of my favorite authors/genres. This list in no particular order though Jane Austen will have the top rank in any list made by me.

  • Jane Austen: I think she would be on the list of any convent educated girl from India. There is something about Jane Austen books that are still so relevant today about two hundred years after she wrote them. Maybe it is the simplicity or the universal theme of love in her books. All her books are my favorites (indeed a cherished gift was when I received the hard bound set of all six of her books). Pride and Prejudice has been read so many times that I have actually lost count , although I do remember that the first time I read it, I was in seventh grade.( and yes Colin Firth  is the incarnation of Mr.Darcy ).

 

  • Chitra Banerjee: The first book written by her that I read was “Mistress of Spices” and I can credit her for introducing me to the wonderful world of Indian authors. Up until that point I was more into thrillers and romances, and only after reading her I realized how deep, rich and vibrant Indian writing is. Her “Palace of Illusions” is a stand out book as it forays into the mythological fiction realm but is also strongly feminist.

 

  • Nora Roberts: There was a time when I would devour three to four books written by her in a week! Though they are inherently romance books, her books have humor, magic, family, a full masala book in Bollywood parlance.

 

  • Indian mythological fiction/thriller: This is a genre which has become quite popular recently specially after author Amish burst on the scene with his “Immortals of Meluha”. These books are familiar as their characters are the god and goddesses whom we have grown up revering and suddenly they are much accessible and relocatable in a book. Amish Tripathi and Ashwin Sanghi stand out from the crowd, many of whom who just seem to be riding the wave.

 

  • Devdutt Pattanaik/Sanjeev Sanyal: These two authors actually write two very different genres. Devdutt writes about mythology, predominantly Indian, and his interpretation of it (by putting such a disclaimer he also keeps himself safe from the Hindu hardliners!) . He tries to simplify the complex Hindu religious thought so that a layman can understand. Sanjeev Sanyal is an amateur historian who has somehow managed to capture my  imagination. There is an interesting mix of history, geography and humor ( yes its there) in his books. The reason why I clubbed them together is that if I see a book written by either of them I will buy it without hesitation .

 

  • Biographies: Now usually I do not read non-fiction as I find it too dry but have recently started reading biographies. These are usually not the biographies of very well known people, in fact when I start reading about them I usually never finish it (I was never able to finish reading the biography of Jinnah or Benazir Bhutto). I like reading about those people who may not be very well known but have still left their mark on the world. My favorite books in this genre include Fatima Bhutto’s Song of Blood and Sword ( a Biography of her father Mir Murtaza)   , and Ismat Chugtai’s Life in Words.

 

  • Authors from Indian sub-continent: This is a very interesting group as this includes authors from Pakistan ,Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. Again, I was unaware that the writing from the sub-continent could be so rich and diverse without following the stereotypes. Somehow the stature of Indian authors hides the gems from the rest of the region. My favorites in this include Kamila Shamsi and Hanif Qureshi.

 

  • Historical fiction: I love history, that was my favorite subject in school and even now anything to do with history is immediately attractive to me. It is not limited to India’s history only, but of the whole wide world. The logic behind including this genre is same as with Mythological fiction, the familiar characters are suddenly more accessible.

 

  • Elif Shafak : A brilliant , brilliant authoress. Even though “Forty Rules of Love” is her most famous book, my personal favorite is “Honor”. There is a Middle Eastern flavor in her writings along with a streak of feminism which strikes a chord.

 

  • Regency Romances: Ah well, don’t we all women secretly love the regency romances. There is something about the description of a waltz that makes you swoon! Georgette Heyer leads the genre with her gentle tongue in cheek humor (remember the devil’s cub?) And Julia Quinn’s Lady Whistledown is an unforgettable character.

 

I had promised myself I would write only ten on the list so had to pick and choose, there are of course many, many more who actually should be on the list like P.G.Woodehouse( stiff upper lip humor), James Herriot ( the travails of a poor country vet), Ruskin Bond ( I am from the hills, he HAS to be on my list) , Ken Follet (story teller extraordinaire) , Anuja Chauhan (goddess of desi chick-lit) ,  Amitav Ghosh and Rohinton Mistry. I would however need another list to include all of them!

 

If you have any favorites among these or would like to add some more from your side then please do comment.

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.