Tag: reading

Life With A Pinch Of Salt ~ Asfiya Rehman

“Life With a Pinch of Salt” is a collection of short stories and micro-fiction by Asfiya Rehman. What ties these twelve stories together is life. Our messy, unpredictable, full of surprises and yet, beautiful life.

It was the cover and the title of the book that first intrigued me. But later, it was the stories inside that engrossed me. A short read, one can finish the book in about half an hour, “Life With A Pinch Of Salt”, is a mix of short stories and micro-fiction. Few of the stories have tongue-in-cheek humour, like “Fear” and “Bhai and NRI”. “Death Lurks In Every Corner” is a great attempt at humour, with a twist in the tale. “Wedding Vows or Woes” is the quintessential Indian wedding mishap story. I think most of us, who have attended Indian weddings, would remember an anecdote about some issue that had the potential to derail the whole wedding. This story shows a similar incident in a humorous way. “The Best Mistake of My Life” showed the author’s way with words. The reader is kept guessing about the protagonist’s character. “Devi”, on the other hand, was poignant. A micro-fiction tale, it succeeds in touching the reader’s heart.

The best story, in my opinion, was, “Is It Kinder To Give or Receive”. This simple tale shows the innocence and purity of childhood. Saifi is an adorable character whose nuances the author has captured very well. In fact, the story reminded me of the short films made by TVF. It shows the same simplicity of life and humorous coincidences.

If I had to find the flaws in the book, since this is a review, then for me, it would be that the length of the book is too short. A few more stories might have satisfied the bookworm in me.

I have always believed that our routine, mundane lives have stories hidden in them. Asfiya Rehman has succeeded in bringing out these stories on paper. These stories are simple, slice-of-life stories. They do not ruffle any feathers or raise any issues plaguing our society. Nor do they pontificate or show the moral double grounds of society. Rather, “Life With A Pinch Of Salt” shows the vagaries of life and the beauty in the mundane.

To paraphrase the authors, “Life isn’t meant to be perfect, it is meant to be lived“.

“Life With A Pinch Of Salt” has been released as part of BlogchatterEBook Carnival and can be downloaded by clicking here.

My Ebook, “A Potpourri of Drabble” has also been released as part of Blogchatter’s Ebook Carnival. It can be downloaded for free for a limited time from here.

Psst. My book “Xanadu: Three Souls Searching For Their Paradise” is now available on Amazon, do check it out!

One Girl Many Lives (Anthology) ~ Jimpify Publishing

One Girl Many Lives is an anthology of five stories published by Jimpify Publishing. The muse for the stories is a picture of a girl running on the beach. The first two stories, The Lone Flight and Black July are about the loss of an innocent, carefree world. Set in two different times and regions ( Partition in India and Civil War in Sri Lanka), the two stories are about the violent disruption of a familiar world, when the trauma of the past becomes a constant in life. In the story LoveY2K the protagonist looks at the painting of the young girl running on the beach and it makes her re-think priorities of her life. She longs to be as carefree as the girl in the painting. Runaway Princess is a fast-paced thriller with secrets, betrayal, romance and murder. Spaces, set in the year 2135, is about picking up the pieces after the loss of a loved one. It is about love, but more importantly, this story is about hope. It is about daring to dream and having the courage to achieve the dream.

The stories on the surface seem totally dissimilar, and yet the girl running on the beach is the common thread with all the five stories.

When we think of an anthology we think of short stories written by individual authors. One Girl Many Lives, however, is a unique anthology. When you read the preface you will realise the fact that each story is a collaborative work of five authors, all the five stories are written by the five authors one after the other. There is, however, no disconnect in the stories with the writing merging seamlessly to create a single story. A word of appreciation for the authors Ajit, Anshu, Priya, Sona and Jithin as well as the editor Abitha, for achieving a cohesive anthology.

For a book review though, we need to look beyond the peculiarity of five authors of the story and look at the content. This anthology has stories set in different regions, time frames, cultures, etc. The stories travel from India to Sri Lanka to New York to Paris to Arctic Greenland. Their time entwines with history as it jumps from Partition to 1980s to 2000 to the year 2135. The authors have done a good job in creating a book which on the surface seems higgledy-piggledy, but is cohesive underneath. Except for in LoveY2K, there is underlying violence in all the stories. Yet, the stories are also about hope, about making a new life and finding closure. The stories can be read per se or you can consciously keep the inspiration of the girl in mind while reading them.

Out of the five stories, my favourite story was the “The Lone Flight”. Set in the days of partition of India, the story is of Jassi’s escape from Lahore to India. The story starts by describing the idyllic childhood of Jassi which abruptly came crashing down when winds of hatred started flowing during partition. The story is about losing you family and your innocence. Of trying to make sense in a world filled with cruelty and violence. It is also a story of forgiveness and redemption. The story shows us the frailty of humans, of how ordinary people are capable of extreme violence and yet extreme kindness.

 While you are reading the book, you can see flashes of the young girl running. She seems to be running through the book, seeing how she is being treated by the authors and the readers. She becomes not only the muse for the authors but also the reader’s companion.

You can buy the book on Amazon by clicking here  : https://www.amazon.in/dp/B08BBZSLPL

Hidden Gems Of Prime Reading

Access to Prime Day sale, free shipping, great content to watch on television etc. are some of the benefits of buying Amazon Prime membership. What many people are unaware of is that your Prime membership also gives you access to Prime Reading. Prime Reading, like Kindle Unlimited, works as a digital library where you can “borrow” and “return” kindle books. Ten books can be borrowed at a time, same as in Kindle Unlimited. Kindle Unlimited( or KU) differs from Prime Reading as you have to pay an annual subscription for Kindle Unlimited membership. KU also has a larger catalogue of books as compared to Prime Reading. Prime Reading has a catalogue covering almost all genres, though you might have to separate the wheat from the chaff to get the book that you want.

Another misconception that the readers usually have is that for Kindle ebooks you need to have a Kindle to download the books. What you actually need is the Kindle App which can be downloaded on any digital device, whether Android or Apple. Once you have the app you can easily download Kindle books on your device.

In this blog post, I wanted to share with you, the readers, a few of the books which I came across in Prime Reading.

Poonachi-Or The Story Of The Black Goat (Perumal Murugan). This translated classic had been on my radar for quite some time and I was surprised to see it in Prime Reading. The story told from the perspective of the black goat Poonachi, is a mirror to our society and its ills.

Bombay Balchao(Jane Borges)The Goan Catholic heart of Bombay comes alive in this novel. Set in a fictional locality of Cavel, this novel travels through several timelines with the main protagonist Michael Coutinho. There are idiosyncratic characters, love stories, the vagaries of life all thrown into a delightful mix, exactly like Balchao. It’s a book which draws you in with its piquancy.

Tongue-in-cheek(Khyrunissa.A) A delightfully funny book which shows our routine life with all its absurdness. A short read which will leave you chuckling and put you in a good mood.

Roads To Mussorie (Ruskin Bond) Consisting of short essays by Ruskin Bond this book contains his musings on breakfast, travelling, ghosts, cold beer and life in general. Written in his inimitable simple style and wry humour this book makes you pause. It makes you observe your surrounding and give a sigh for the simple pleasures of life.

Fisher Queen’s Dynasty (Kavita Kane) Told from the point of view of Satyavati, the fisher girl who became the queen of Hastinapur by making Devarutt take a terrible vow, this book is for those who are interested in mythological fiction. It is a different viewpoint as the book deals with a character whose actions set off events which eventually led to the Mahabharata.



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.

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!