Saturday, July 21, 2018

Book Review : A Man Called Ove

A good book comes like a gentle breeze and leaves behind a waft of fresh and sweet fragrance. 
This book -  A Man called Ove does just that.

I have never rated any book in my head out of 5 or 10 stars, blame it on my inability to translate an overall impression into numbers. But here is a book, that gets a neat 5 on 5 without an iota of doubt.


1. Relatability  - this is what I adored the most while reading this book. I could relate to what was written in it, there's a little of Ove in my dad and little more of him in my husband. The RQ or the relatability quotient made me grin, smile sheepishly and secretly nod in approval, quite often. 

2. Perfectly paced - never, not once do you feel the author could have saved a few pages or elaborated little more to enable better understanding.

3. The Story Unfolds in Layers - chapters in this book move from the present to few weeks back in time, and to many years back in time but never is one lost in time and space. Also, each chapter is a short story in itself, catering well to my love for short story format.

4. Detailing of the Protagonist - our understanding of Ove grows through the book, gradually. The author doesn't play it defensive on why is Ove the way he is, never. He evokes different emotions in us towards Ove, never once justifying all he does or demanding pity. 

5. Beautifully translated - most of us fumble for the right words that connect our thoughts,  something does get lost in the process of translation, at times. But this book translated into English from Swedish, leaves one wondering if the author and translator are twins, conjoint in their head and heart.

6. Only a few characters - for a person who has still not gotten over post partum forgetfulness, having just a few characters in the book makes the job of reading and remembering easier.

Reading happens pretty erratically, after finishing all household chores, that are sometimes lined up in an unending queue. My reading time is from 12 to 1 am, where I sink into the sofa, heave a sigh of relief that the day has gone by well and get into the reading mode. 

I am happy that I came across this book, and happier that this book came to me at the most important juncture - when I have gotten serious about getting back to my good, old habit of reading. 

Friday, July 13, 2018

A Story a Day Keeps Stress Away

I have forgotten the way to my blog, I feel. Even as I sit down to write this post, I am taking more time than usual to gather my thoughts and put them down here; household chores - one, two, three are lined up in my head. Shunning that little distraction, I start off with the review of the book that I finished reading a week back - Raavi Paar and Other Stories by Gulzar

For anyone who has followed Hindi movies and songs for a considerably long time, Gulzar will be a favorite. So the author of the book needs no introduction. A compilation of twenty five short stories in this book, translated by either Alok Bhalla or Masooma Ali, each story replete with human emotions  and perceptions deals with ordinary characters striving for peace and calm even in the most difficult circumstances.  

The stories, really short in length, deliver quite an impact ; most have a cinematic quality about them. Ironic twists are a mainstay in most. Of the 25 stories in here, only 5 lack a definitive punch, so the book is a good read overall. And it is admissibly great if you are like me, trying hard to cling to the habit of reading, one who feels that some reading during the day will yield a good nights' sleep. 

Now getting down to the review, for a person born in Deena, Pakistan, who moved to India post independence and witnessed riots during partition times in his early teens, writing about it is almost inevitable. Therefore, this subject takes the center stage in three stories Raavi Paar, Batwara, Jamun Ka Per, the first of these has the most brilliant content. Khauf and Dhuan use Hindu-Muslim riots/conflicts as the backdrop. Sunset Boulevard, Dhuan, Dalia, Haath Peeley Kar Do, Hisab Khitab, Guddo and Seema give prominence to the female protagonists in them. Of these, Guddo is a shortened version of Gulzar's movie Guddi starring Jaya Bachchan. 

Stories Fasal, Kiski Kahani, Mard, Zindagi, Addha, Satranga, Kagaz Ki Topi offer great read, the powerful characters in here are males, they set the reader on a journey of human emotions in offbeat ways. 

Mard, Michelangelo, Bimal Da, Habu Ki Aag are stories I will love to read again, some impeccable story telling and excellent work by translators. Lekin and Das Paise aur Dadi leave an eerie unease and Najoom quite lightly tickles a funny bone. Junglenama reminded me of The Elephant and the Trangopan by Vikram Seth.

To weave tales in such compact space, with such proficiency, using ordinary characters and their routine activities is an art at which very few excel, those who have watched/heard this living legend's works will without an iota of doubt accept that Gulzar is a master at this job.

Reading gives us some place to go when we have to stay where we are says Mason Cooley ; with Gulzar's book in hand, you get a place to go, a life to peek into, every time, with every story.

The Book

This .. such a beautiful expression.


Friday, March 23, 2018

Simple and Stunning Account of Familial Turmoil

My trysts with my blog have become few and far in between but I never thought I would leave a gap of more than an year in writing down something here. Also the bibliophile in me has taken a different avatar; I have started collecting titles for my 5 year old and buried myself in his stories.

Ghachar Ghochar has brought me back to my blog and also redefined my scope of reading. This book popped out and grabbed my attention from an Instagram account, good reviews it garnered and the mention that it is about 120 pages long made it an apt pick. 
Smaller books meant sustainable attention and a better promise of on-time completion.

Ghachar Ghochar by Vivek Shanbagh (translated from Kannada by Srinath Perur) is a skilfully written account of familial turmoil that arises in wake of newly acquired wealth. Never through the length of the book does the reader feel that there are too many subtleties discussed or too many details omitted. Rightly paced, correctly dense, the narrative cannot get more concise and intriguing. The translation by Perur is elegant without hiccups thereby throwing open this impressive work in Indian fiction to many like me.

The book is divided into seven chapters and starts with the narrator sitting at a Coffee House - an airy, spacious, high ceilinged bar and restaurant mulling over many things. This place serves as a retreat for the him when his head has a thousand wheels spinning in it from what transpires at his home daily. An oracular waiter working here, Vincent, is not just the narrator's confidante but his well wisher and soothsayer too.

In the chapters to follow, the author maintains immaculate precision in introducing members of the narrator's family in order of their importance linked to their financial status.
Chikkappa or Venkatachala, the narrator's father's younger brother steers the family from a life of modest means, cramped but dignified existence to abundant riches by founding and successfully running a business in spices called Sona Masala. Seemingly, he is a messiah who raised the family onto a higher socio-economic pedestal but inevitably is the harbinger of utter chaos into which the family is gradually pulled in. 

The narrator's father is scrupulous man, a salesman by profession, his income though minimal meets the family needs. The narrator states "we did not desire what we could not afford , when you have no choice, you have no discontent either." The episodes before they became affluent - a description of the house they lived in, their wars with endless columns of ants in there, their daily activities are described in right depth. 

It is when the narrator talks of his elder sister as a pile of gunpowder waiting to go off, we infer the damages improved finances bring along apart from many lavish benefits.You cannot agree more when he says - It is true what they say,its not we who control money, its money that controls us. When there's little, it behaves meekly; when it grows , it becomes brash and has its way with us.  

The narrator speaks about himself and his wife Anita only towards the end, their marriage and finding love is described sans obscenity in crisp prose. Post marriage, he has trouble dealing with the real right stuff and purportedly right stuff which is essential for peace and unity in family. Anita's brutally forthright nature stirs up dirty waters and raises a lot of muck. Does the narrator deal with these issues, if so how, and what binds this family together despite lack of moral principles? 

One might dismiss this book based on a subject featured round the clock on television as dull and unnecessary. But what is noteworthy is that even on such a banal topic, the author weaves intricacy, packs thrill, leaves things unsaid, gives reader ample scope to interpret and conclude; this makes him outstanding and his work an excellent piece of fiction. 

Don't turn your back on this book Ghachar Ghochar since it deals with familial problems, but read it to know how well balanced a work of fiction can actually be. Words after all are nothing by themselves , they burst into meaning only in the minds they have entered, the author says in one of the chapters, asserting the importance of perception and interpretation, and that rests with the us who read this work. 

Friday, March 10, 2017

The Mother of All Debates

For a long time now, I have refrained from writing on this topic.. Finally, I had to write on it after reading many articles on this topic over the last few days, seeing people fight tooth and nail on this subject and literally snarl at each other on social media

This raging topic carries a lot more impetus than many constructive political, socio-economic and humanitarian topics. And the rage builds up exponentially when special occasions like Womens' Day and Mothers' Day draw closer and in its immediate aftermath. 

By now, most would have got close to the subject in discussion, no prizes for guessing - Stay at Home Mother vs Working Mother , who makes a better mom? I must admit that starting from Womens' day till today, I have read a huge line up of  articles from various news platforms and personal blogs. 

Why do we have this question at all in the first place? 

A mother decides to stay at home full time to take care of her little one or go to work and do her mommy duties alongside based on a core set of circumstances. In addition to these circumstances that define her environment post delivery, she has an innate nature and some priorities in head, right from the time she plans to start a family. This set of factors, unique to each lady, makes her decide on her way of parenting. She is free to go back on her decision any time she finds gaps in estimate v/s reality. But the whole subject is not as simple as it sounds because we have a million people around the woman in question judging her for every activity and decision. 

I can tell you without batting an eye that for the last four years, after my son was born and after which I decided to call it quits from the semiconductor/hardware industry in which I had a job for 7 years, every friend and every acquaintance has asked me why I took this decision, how I could so suddenly turn my back on my job, dreams, career and ambition. Fair enough, a little curiosity is always essential to make life interesting and informative!

The problem starts when these questions do not stop and the session gets more intriguing for these unknowns or barely known people in a park/mall/supermarket that you happen to visit with your kid figure out where you last worked, what was your job profile there, what salary you drew, which college you graduated from, which school you studied at and even your percentage score in 10th grade and 12th grade. Yes, some have the audacity to elicit these finest details. By now, an impression is formed by the interviewer and his/her (its mostly 'her') reaction can vary anywhere from one of pity to one of absolute disgust.

When people get judgmental, then comes out the basic trait of defense to our rescue. As we answer questions, it appears we strive hard to defend our decisions. And if the interviewer chooses to differ, we try hard to remain polite but when the pressure builds up after repeated Q and A sessions, we go out to malign "the differently thinking group" and question their intent. It is this sequence of actions that has sparked off the super debate of Stay at Home Mum v/s Working Mum , who is better?. We fail to understand that no Omniscient God will come down to earth and crown us with a tiara or adorn us with a beautiful cape for the role we choose/chose. 

The stay at home mum does not choose to leave her career (if she had one before) or remain full time at home because she is lazy to do work, is unambitious, is complacent, is not good at multi tasking. It is not only because she has a husband who mints money in crores that she takes up the luxury of staying indoors. It is not always a luxury, it is a conscious decision. 

Similarly, the working mother manages to do as much as possible for her little one in the time she has at home, delegating remaining work to others of help in her absence and toils at workplace. She goes to work for many reasons, not always because she is a victim of huge financial crunch and is fated to toil. It is her conscious decision to do so, for many reasons best known to her and her partner.

Women are hands-down winners when it comes to judging other women around them, on all topics under the sun. If a woman churns out yummy looking delectable dishes in the kitchen for her family everyday, many are quick to dismiss her as a dull headed lady who has resigned to her masala dabba. If a woman heads out to work and comes back late, leaving her kitchen chores to other people at home, then her very purpose or existence is questioned. 
It is not required that we plant an extra pair of horns and provide an exalted status to a woman who is a super cook at home for her excellent culinary skills or dismiss her as a boring, routine monger. We all earn so that we can have good, healthy food at the end of the day, let's just stop at that. Let's not over define cooking as an art, hobby, necessity, stress buster and classify/characterize people who do it and don't do it under different heads. Likewise, your child needs you for sure, how you choose to handle this need of your little one without taking too much stress on yourself is left to you and your partner, not for the world to judge and pass opinion on. 

A Women's day will be best celebrated under an ideal situation when women stop judging other women, when women stop asking other women questions like "When are you getting married?" , "When are you going the family way?" , "Why aren't you thinking of a second child?" and scare them with the cons of delay in making up their mind. Just to relax from that overly Utopian like situation - ask questions if you share required level of comfort with the person in question, but don't make it the very conversation in entirety causing agony and irritability and push it to an extent that the subject leaves a bitter after taste and becomes fodder for debate. And the day when women manage this sincerely, at least half of her daily problems will be solved. 

And how ironic it is to have the mother of all debates deal with "mothers"?

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Money often costs too much

The Big Bang ...

The scenario in my country for the last one week has left me mulling over a few questions and thus brings me to writing this post on my blog. I could not find a better title for it than a quote by noted American poet Ralph Emerson - "Money often costs too much".

Indians turned their heads a little away from internal affairs for a brief period to keep tab on who was winning the race to become the next American President when a big bang was announced by their own Prime Minister Mr. Narendra Modi, just hours before the day - Nov 8, 2016 came to a close. Indian currency with value 500 and 1000 were no longer legal tender starting from midnight that day. Rules were tabulated for the citizen on what they could do with old 500s and 1000s at hand. New 500 Rs notes and a new denomination - Rs 2000 were set to replace them soon in market.

Prima facie, it appearedthat the government had a sharp agenda and a firm plan in place to root out corruption, eliminate black money and fake currency notes; thereby crack the whip on all wrong doers, from tax defaulters to terrorists. 

Why no new 500 Rs notes?

What started as a "wow" feeling about the demonetization announced slowly downgraded to a "Hmm .. I don't understand" when new 2000 Rs notes came into circulation but new 500 Rs notes were amiss. Even as I write this post, new 500 notes are not in circulation. This gargantuan gap from Rs 100 (the highest valid denomination from old currencies) to Rs 2000 (newly announced) could not be bridged by a simple leap of faith. In a country, where providing change for Rs 500 after a purchase from market/small shops invites complaints from vendors and leaves them scowling, introduction of even higher denomination 2000 made many mad. And its introduction into market before its less valued but more often used partner Rs 500 made matters worse. The "something is better than nothing" formula does not work for cash in hand all the time. 

             A cartoon by a friend depicting the fall out of demonetization - "Cash crunch or Compassion crunch"

Physical re calibration of ATM machines, could this have been avoided?

The whole operation of demonetization soon landed up in bitter taste when realization struck that new notes, now smaller in size were not compatible for ATM dispensation and trays in machines had to be physically replaced by workers for process correction. Any sane citizen can gauge the mammoth effort and plentiful time required for this task completion. ATM s remain shut LARGELY, even as I write this post. Citizens have no choice but to stand in serpentine queues outside banks for withdrawal of money needed for their daily chores. If ATM s were equipped to handle withdrawals with minimal delay, at least in urban and sub urban areas for many possess cards here, stress on banks and its officials would have largely reduced. This , along with timely release of new 500 s could have improved the efficacy of demonetization implementation and made the PM's brainchild a noteworthy success.

Why I fail to find sense in what the Finance Minister says?

If P Chidambaram in the role of Union Finance Minister during previous UPA regime irked me thoroughly with his rigmarole like answers interspersed with many pauses and a composed "I can never go wrong" attitude, the current Union Finance Minister, Arun Jaitley too seems no less. He foresees a cashless way of economic life unfolding soon but could do plainly nothing to put existing set up of ATM s to optimal use to ease unrest among card holding public. A commoner residing in India knows that to bring everyone from a local tea seller to ones who run small road-side eateries to use digital wallet and replace use of small value currency notes with it is a Herculean task and highly preposterous.And what makes one think that hi-tech digital stuff is the answer to all worldly problem and being error free. How can one eliminate human error when these technological inventions and innovations are created by man himself? Not to forget, a few weeks back, about 3 million debit cards were hit by a massive hack and a plethora of faulty transactions created alert . 

Everything is not digital logic 

From recent conversations with friends and acquaintances in person or over social media, I have understood it is all either black or white, no, I am not talking about currency here. 

If I raised questions on implementation of demonetization, I was quickly dismissed as a fan of a buffoon named Rahul Gandhi, an admirer of All time Anarchy Party (AAP) leader Kejriwal or a victim of media foul play and its exaggerated negative projection.

There is no middle path. I am one among those who voted Narendra Modi (or better said his party, BJP) to power and I look up to him as an able leader, a great orator and a smart administrator. His announcement on 500/1000 note ban instilled in me confidence that my decision, my vote was purposeful. But watching his plan unfold into action gives me credible doubts. Unquestionable, blind faith in an elected leader is not an essential quality of being a nationalist. 

Demonetization has created a huge wave of change in buyer-seller relations in my observation. To me, I have temporarily shifted my loyalty from local, small time vendors to supermarkets where I can swipe my debit card and imposed a restraint in buying stuff that needs me to part with small value notes, I possess few of them and for now see they are difficult to procure. 

People; most importantly, the bank officials are highly patient and extending full support to the government's move of demonetization. The commoner will begin to shed his/her skepticism and feel positive about this change only when some of his immediate discomfort is minimized at the earliest possible. A clear reflection of this change , its promise for a better future will be visible only when murky waters on the surface give way. The government can rest assured that sensible citizens of the nation meantime will neither be swayed by Rahul Gandhi standing in queue for currency exchange nor emotionally moved by Prime Minister's old mother doing the same. 

Note: The cartoon that features in this post is by my friend, posted here after due permission.