Saturday, December 31, 2011
Tuesday, December 20, 2011
In this book Charles Dickens weaves a beautiful story about a boy named Pip. The challenges faced by Pip in his narrative like poverty, cold and contemptuous treatment of him by Estella, the girl he loved and wanted to marry and the irony of his good fortune. The author has taken great care to distinguish between imploring the voice of Pip, the narrator with perspective and maturity while also imparting on how Pip, the character feels about his life as it actually happens.
Sunday, December 18, 2011
Saturday, December 17, 2011
Wednesday, December 14, 2011
QUESTIONS/ QUERIES/ COMMENTS: e-mail Vaishali Sethi or email Vibha Sharma
The to work on stuff:
Friday, December 9, 2011
Thursday, December 8, 2011
Title : City of Djinns
Author : William Dalrymple
Publisher : Penguin Books India
ISBN : 978-0-143-03106-2
William Dalrymple is an accomplished historian and a great narrator. City of Djinns traces back the history of a fascinating city- Dilli or Delhi, which has innumerable stories buried deep in the folds of centuries that it stood witness to. The bygone eras are beautifully brought to light in this book taking the readers to a retro journey to find the roots of the city which was believed to be first established as Indraprastha (the original name) by the Pandava borthers, post Kurukshetra battle. Since that time, the city has been through a lot, has witnessed a lot, has endured a lot, has lost a lot and has transformed a lot. This is one city which has displayed unmatched resilience as beautifully worded by the author here , "Though it had been burned by the invaders time and time again, millennium after millennium, still the city was rebuilt, each time it rose like a phoenix from the fire. "
During his one year stay in Delhi, William actually travelled centuries back trying to delve deep in the past of the city which makes it what it is today. He introduces the readers to the two worlds of the same city as they now exist - Old Delhi and New Delhi. Old Delhi which was once an epitome of prosperity, sophistication, culture and magnificence is nothing more than a graveyard of Mughal era now. What is visible now is just the sad reminder of the past, and the ugly face of poverty and ruin at every nook and crevice of the place. This is the same place which bore testimony to the zenith and nadir of great dynasties.
In contrast, New Delhi is what urban India represents - which initially became the shelter for people who poured in from the partitioned Pakistan during 1947 and later from Punjab during 1984 riots. These people, predominantly Punjabis are the business class elite and there is mutual despise between the citizens belonging to these two different worlds. Dalrymple points out that these two diverse worlds meet briefly at the traffic lights as outstretched palms are thrust through the open car windows. The plight of Old Delhi is evident from this excerpt - "Today Old Delhi is a dustbin. Those who can afford have houses outside the walled city. Only the poor man who has no shelter comes to live here. Today there are no longer any educated men in the old city. All the learning, all the manners have gone. Everything is crude now."
Not many places can claim to have been a witness to such extremes as - the affluence and prosperity of Mughal reign versus Persian Massacres in 1739, aestheticism at its best during the reign of emperors like Shah Jahan versus the plunder by British post 1857 mutiny, magnificent architectural genius which have withstood the harshest tests of times versus the indifference towards the same and letting these monuments crumble with time, safe haven for physically and emotionally bleeding people who migrated from Pakistan during partition versus new wounds that were opened in 1984 riots, and much more.
Where does the city stand today? Is there no one left to even remember the likes of Mir, Zauk, Ghalib, Dagh? Is there no patron of chaste Urdu any more? Has the city become a carcass without its soul?
City of Djinnns is a very well researched piece of writing and the mention of dates, eras and the sources of information bring in the authenticity of the same.
Dalrymple takes the readers along to various places, sights and experiences in his venture to dig deeper into the enigmatic city that is Delhi. He joins in the celebration of various Indian religious festivals and vividly presents the experiences. He spends time in the society of eunuchs who earlier were entrusted the task of guarding the Mughal harems but are now literally shunned by the society to fend for themselves by performing at weddings and births. He visits Sufi enclaves which have a huge following by people of all religions and beliefs. He also interviews many Anglo Indians who are completely disowned by both - the country of their birth (India) and the country with which they have blood ties. He meets those who are trying to defy change of times by taking pleasure in continuing the tradition of partridge fights and pigeon collection.
However, I found two irritants in the narration - on a couple of occasions the author delves deep into too many intricate details about a particular person or incident which takes the focus off the mainline narrative. Such places in the book prove to be big diversions in the otherwise well connected and understandable commentary on history.
Secondly, the mention of same old (ab)normal Indian stuff that has been poked fun at by many other Western authors. I guess my expectations run much higher from an author of William Dalrymple's stature and sensibilities, who has experienced Indian slice of life very closely for many years.
Wednesday, December 7, 2011
Title : The Age of Kali
Author : William Dalrymple
Publisher : Penguin India
ISBN : 978-0-143-03109-3
Kaliyug or the Period of Kali is the last of the four Hindu periods contained in mahayuga - the great age of the world. The age of Kali is when the imperfections are so overpowering that the doomsday is not far behind and a new cycle begins.
After having read 'The Age of Kali' by William Dalrymple, I just wondered, perhaps defining India means, getting the feeling of 'Neti Neti' (its neither this, nor that). Such unbelievable diversity in every aspect of human existence - from religion, culture, dressing habits, eating habits, faiths, beliefs, notions, values, to of course financial levels. As is said about Mahabharata, if it is not in this big epic, it is nowhere in the world. I think the same can be said about India to a certain extent.
William Dalrymple brings to us the glimpses of such huge multifariousness in the Indian subcontinent through the essays which chronicle a nation's struggle to rise above the ancient and modern forces which are trying to pull it in opposite directions.
He has brought out the coexistence of stark contrast by introducing the readers to the land of kamasutra, the land where shivalinga is one of the most sacred symbols in the temples, the land celebrating the beauty in the form of Khajuraho figurines and the same land where 'Sati mata' is still revered in some parts, where a woman (Sathin) is severely penalized for having attempted to stop a child marriage and where widows are left to begging in the streets of Vrindavan. But this is not all. He also opens a small window to peek inside the glitterati of Bollywood - the film industry of India and where women like Shobha De cater to the needs of people looking for spicy gossips and erotic writings.
Then there are some essays on the places like Lucknow, which bloomed culturally under the reigns of Mughal emperors and Nawabs who were 'liberal and civilized figures' - the great connoisseurs of poetry, dances, books and plethora of art forms. But such places are now completely bankrupt after having endured the plunder by Britishers, and by corrupt politicians, government officials and drug tycoons, post independence. In states like Bihar and Uttar Pradesh anarchy is rampant, especially in political arenas where elections are won by power, money and force rather than fair play. On the other hand there is Bangalore which has been unofficially christened as 'Silicon Valley of India' and offers hope of a better tomorrow for the whole country.
The author then talks about the financial and economic revolution by reporting about how the middle class families struggled in the seventies to buy their first fridge or a black and white television but quite suddenly there seemed to be a lot of money post 1989 economic deregulations and free market reforms. And subsequent deluge of TV channels brought the cultural invasion in the country.
There are some observations that he has very rightly made - India is struggling to shake away from the age old beliefs and caste system which seem to hold their fangs tight on the people very rigidly and refuse to die down. The unfortunate nexus between the religion and politics pushes the nation many times at the brink of volatile situations. The sluggish public sector is one major impediment in the growth of the nation, if not the sole one.
While reading the first half of the book, I was wondering - do such books sensationalize the events and issues more than they actually are but then the counter argument is, can anything non-existent be sensationalized?
But these essays do suffer from a few pitfalls - William Dalrymple has reported the actual events after interviewing many people but the actual flavor of India is lost somewhere especially of modern India which is committed to march ahead despite innumerable hurdles and push-pull forces from all conceivable quarters. The chapters are dedicated to the most depressing incidents in the life of the country in the last two to three decades which offer just one side of the picture. Moreover, I feel the analysis part got overshadowed by verbatim reporting of the people on many incidents and cases. From an author of William Dalrymple stature, I was expecting more deeper and broader scrutiny of the same which unfortunately came only in bits and pieces.
Found this quote from the book worth mentioning here "The eye of faith can often see much that is hidden from the vision of the non-believer". How true and sums up the belief system in one simple sentence.
I like William Dalrymple's writing style but would like to add 'India is not just this'.
Monday, December 5, 2011
Author : Nikhil Mahajan
Thursday, December 1, 2011
Title : Manual For Living Connection Book2 [A user's guide to the meaning of life]
Author : Seth David Chernoff
Publisher : Spirit Scope
Connection is, as the book says, a manual for living. The book explores the theme of connection from various angles through a series of questions. The author tries to explain the meaning and relevance of the term in our lives. What are the obstacles that come in the way of connectivity -problems in communicating , judgement, anger, disagreement and how we can overcome them to live a meaningful and mindful life by claiming the power that is within. Its a guide to responsible living by a man who has gone through his own problems and triumphed.
The author in Socratic fashion tries to seek answers to the complexity of life by questioning it. The questions he asks are simple but he reaches deep down to answer them.
The chapters are short but packed with wisdom so the book is a slow read. Its not a book to be read at one time, it slowly grows on you. The subject matter does get heavy. Its still a relevant subject for the times we live in where we struggle to make connections. It is insightful and inspiring even though what it says has been said before. It is still worth reading and if you can take even one insight and apply it in your life it is worth your time and money.
Sunday, November 27, 2011
Title : The Magic Raindrop
Author : Geeta Dharmarajan
Illustrator : Bindia Thapar
Publisher : Katha
The Magic Raindrop by Geeta Dharmarajan takes the wee readers into adventurous little world of Kittu and his didi Seetu. It so happens that the raindrop which accidentally falls on Seetu's orange and green kite is no ordinary raindrop. This particular raindrop is possessed with some magical powers and soon enough Seetu watches her kite growing bigger and bigger as it soars higher and higher in the wide expanse of sky. But amazingly the kite still follows Seetu's commands obediently with Seetu holding just a make believe thread to maneuver the kite. The whole day it happily displays various tricks in front of all the village folks and cuts almost all the other kites.
But now the hues on the sky begin to change colours, pinkish sky is fast getting transformed into a grey blanket, the parrots and crows are heading home and the fruit bats are coming out flapping their wings. What would Kittu and Seetu do about the kite now? They need to bring it down but where would they keep this huge kite? Would the kite return to its original size ? Would the kite be as happy as it was when it soared freely in the sky? Would the kite want to stay big forever?
You will get answers to all these questions as you read along this interesting story. Lovely artwork by Bindia Thapar brilliantly brings the story to life. The extra information on Kites about - the origin of kites, kite festivals, beliefs and rituals of different cultures using kites, some facts around kites - is a lovely treat.
Saturday, November 26, 2011
Title : The Gijjigadus and the Fireflies
Author : Gopini Karunakar
Illustrator : Atanu Roy
Publisher : Katha
After reading this book I had great appreciation for the lovely imagination of the author. The story begins with Gijjigudas , the golden sparrows, flying to the Kingdom of Gods with a very genuine request. Their nests are dark, they do not have light and in the absence of anything lit in their nests, their children are scared at night. They also need light, which is so easily available to so many living creatures and they support their argument by showing the Gods - the light in the homes of humans, the light emitting gems of cobras and the shining eyes of owls, all of which are adequate to ward off darkness from their respective lives. The God- Devuda and the gijjigudas brainstorm together to find the solution to this unique problem.
Are they able to find any solution? Will gijjigudas ever get any light in their dark nests? Who will help them light their nests ?
A beautiful subtle lesson on - how friendly and symbiotic this whole nature is - so self sustaining and so selfless.
An interesting activity on helpful bugs at the end is an added bonus. It is a huge book, each page brings a treat for the eyes in the form of detailed art work by Atanu Roy. The beautiful and liberal usage of almost all sections of the colour palette make this whole book a visual treat and a delightful reading experience which you would not want to miss.