Friday, 27 July 2018

#BookReview ; The Ballad of Ayesha by Anisul Hoque

Dhaka. 2 October 1977. A military coup is thwarted, but the exact sequence of events is shrouded in mystery. Soon after, Ayesha Begum, recovering from the birth of her second child, receives a letter from the air force stating that her husband Joynal Abedin has been sentenced to death, convicted of insurgency. But has the verdict been carried out? If it was, when and where was he executed? If he was indeed hanged, what has happened to his body? Trying to find answers to these questions, Ayesha embarks on a long and arduous quest to search for her husband, reminiscent of Behula's epic journey in her effort to resurrect her dead husband Lakhinder in the Bengali folktale Manashamangal. Set against the backdrop of a raging famine, political assassinations and coups that took Bangladesh by storm right after its independence in 1971, Anisul Hoque's The Ballad of Ayesha is as much a story of the newly created nation as it is the story of its people.

The Ballad of Ayesha is a fictional story set in Bangladesh written in Bengali by Anisul Hoque, translated into English by Inam Ahmed & published under Harper Perennial, an imprint of Harper Collins Publishers. The author is one of the most prominent contemporary writers in Bangladesh. He is the author of over 60 books & has won many awards, including the Bangla Academy Award for Literature. His works have been translated into several languages. The translator is an eminent journalist, working for the Daily Star, the number one English daily in Bangladesh.

The story revolves around the life of Ayesha Begum & how the rapidly changing situations in Bangladesh molded her life. Her father was a headmaster at a school & was determined for her daughter’s education, she was quite good at it too. She knew the Quran well enough & even when her father fell ill for a brief period of time she didn’t left her studies & kept going to the school on her own until a stranger fell in love with her & started harassing her. Fearing her safety her father marries young Ayesha to a Air Force personnel Joynal Abedin who fell madly in love with her. They had children together & were leading a happy life until the political situations in the country fluctuated & one evening Joynal didn’t came back. Broken, she had to move to the village with her in-laws where she receives a letter that her husband has been sentenced to death. But her hardships didn’t end there. Get this book here to get a wholesome political history of Bangladesh & how its uncertainty affected the lives of the people especially our protagonist,
Bangladesh might be a small country but it has gone through a lot, with no stability whatsoever the citizens had to suffer a lot. The author gave us a brief idea about it through the story of Ayesha. Her journey of trying to fight for her husband just like Behula did for her husband in the Bengali folktale Manashamangal. The story is heart wrenching & will surely move you, it also depicts the development of Ayesha as a tomboyish girl to a strong willed woman. The title is apt & language used is easy while the cover is beautiful. A tragic yet beautiful read.

Wednesday, 25 July 2018

#BookReview ; Jasmine Days by Benyamin

Sameera Parvin moves to an unnamed Middle Eastern city to live with her father and her relatives. She thrives in her job as a radio jockey and at home she is the darling of the family. But her happy world starts to fall apart when revolution blooms in the country. As the people's agitation gathers strength, Sameera finds herself and her family embroiled in the politics of their adopted land. She is forced to choose between family and friends, loyalty and love, life and death.
Jasmine Days is the heart-rending story of a young woman in a city where the promise of revolution turns into destruction and division.

Jasmine Days is a story of a RJ living in a Middle Eastern city on the brink of revolution to overthrow it’s monarch, it has been written by Benyamin & translated by Shahnaz Habib. The author is a novelist & short story writer, his novel Goat Days (Aadujeevitham) was a huge success that has been reprinted more than a hundred times & has sold over 2 lakh copies. It won him the Kerala Sahitya Akademi Award & has been translated into many languages. The translator teaches writing at The New School & Bay Path University & consults for the UN.

The story revolves around a Pakistani girl Sameera Parvin who comes to an unnamed Middle Eastern city to work & live with her father who has been working there for many years. She lived at her eldest uncle’s house with other relative who helped her father as well as other relatives get jobs & settle down. The uncle was a high ranking police official & got her father a job at the police only. He also got her a job as a radio jockey. Things were going smoothly in her life & she got quite good at her job but things started to crumble as the city got engulfed in revolution. She finds herself at a crossroad as she is forced to support the monarch as an immigrant worker but in her heart she supports the protesters. As she experiences loss & violence, she is shook to the core. Get this book here to follow Sameera’s heartfelt journey to realization of sorrows of the other side,
I had heard good things about Goat Days & I was quite excited to read this book, the blurb intrigued me & I am glad that I picked this book up. I always desperately look for books which will move me to the core & this book indeed did that, the desperateness for justice & the helplessness against the oppression will hit you hard in the heart. The journey of Sameera is inspiring, there are several subplots which will either make you smile or make you think about the lives of several people living in conflicted areas. The ending is abrupt but makes sense. The cover is beautiful, the title & language used is appropriate. This is surely one of my favorite books of this year.

Monday, 23 July 2018

#Spotlight ; A Morsel of Different Shades by S. K. Sanyal

S.K. Sanyal


Sumitra Ghosal came all the way from Bankura in West Bengal to join the education service in the recently formed Bundeli State. During the period from 1956 to 1990, spanning more than three decades, she got shunted around small towns and semi-rural areas. The book is woven around her experiences on women teachers lives. She found for some teachers, cruel circumstances charting out the unknown trajectory, while for the others, the evil streak already present manifested itself rather blatantly during their teaching careers.

Ranging from the weird to the quirky, scheming to whimsical, there were all kinds of women for Sumitra to experience and continuously learn from. Bearing a religious bent of mind, Sumitra, a spinster by choice, didn’t fail to take cognizance of the bizarre instances of marital co-existences in the couples she met throught the story.

Read an excerpt

Sumitra Ghosal had stepped into the thirties. Young and hopeful, bubbling over with the excitement of yet another transfer, she arrived at Domod, a district town. The three successive postings at Putlinagar, Bajera and Sagar in the sprawling Uttar Madhya Desh (UMD) had done little to exhaust her. UMD had its capital at Lakshminagar. As distinct from other States, it had predominantly Government schools, private schools not many in number. This State was created according to the prevailing trend of creating smaller states out of larger ones. Rashtriya Daridrya Mochan Party (RDMP) was in power, their manifesto focusing on widespread measures for promoting education for women in remote corners. Sumitra, though, found the efforts not coming entirely from the depths of a sincerely dedicated state. It seemed to be RDMP’s propagandist move to gain more votes.
Sumitra found travelling in ramshackle buses and waiting at railway platforms for the few trains available at odd hours, quite an ordeal. Hers was the fate to move around insignificant remote corners in the heartland of India, where commuting was not easy; semi-rural people formed the stock of commuters. Sumitra, however, didn’t rue her fate; she enjoyed, for she was an optimist drawn by the hidden charm of the unknown places. And what a taste of independence in not marrying – she wasn’t anybody’s property. Her decisions were squarely her own. She had her own conduct or the way to what people say, religiosity; none could teach her the way to realise God. If, as a woman, she worshipped the deity of Hanumanji, let people laugh at her fasting or bratas on Tuesdays and Saturdays. That she got the strength of character by observing the rituals of her making was what mattered. That she wrote with her fingers, without making any impression, the names of Gods and Goddesses on her pillow before sleeping was her unique way to ward off any trouble.
She had a personality built up over long years of getting over the inferiority complex she had developed in her formative years. Neglected and over-ruled, she wasn’t permitted to go for higher education, as her parents wanted their nubile daughter to be tied in a nuptial knot. But Sumitra went on rejecting proposals one after the other until her parents got tired. She was finally allowed to go for higher education. She had a late start, but this belated take-off made her even more determined to be independent, even to take a curious, brave and adventurous decision to take up lectureship in the newly created state of UMD when her native place was in Santhal Parganas in the east.
The fourth and the youngest daughter of a businessman, she had had occasions to go to shikar and witness ruthless killings of sambars, tigers and other small animals or birds. In those times, there was no ban on shikaris engaged in indiscriminate decimating of wild animals. One day, she was seated in the jeep with her legs on the warm and still throbbing body of a fallen sambar. Touched, she took a vow not to have meat ever again. Thus, she was the only vegetarian amongst her non-vegetarian sisters. Alas, she had no brother, and that is why she equated the male visitors of her generation to her parental house as brothers and bestowed them with sisterly affection.
It was the month of April when nature attired herself in a new garb with little smooth green leaves sprouting on some trees, while the others had not yet shed completely their brownish yellow leaves. A mixture of dusty yellow fallen lifeless leaves under the massive trees and the seasonal flowers past their full bloom presented a spectacle of life and death. One had to step over the crispy fragile remains of what once was a prized greenery to get near the rows of pansies, zinnias, lilies and other flowers to see the minute tapestry of the multicoloured spectacle amidst the crackling dead leaves. The winter’s ruthlessness had made way for the pleasant breeze, dusty at times, that replaced the cold winds of February. It was a pleasant, beautiful, sombre and placid morning in a strange land when Sumitra joined the school at Domod as a lecturer. It could have been the month of July with blackish-grey clouds suppressing the bright onset of the dawn or the torrential rains drenching her on her first day of school; it could have been the month of December with its biting cold necessitating the full stock of woollen clothes. Nevertheless, out of all the random eccentricities of the transferring authority, she was slated to join the school during the best period of the year, and it sure augured well. A placid look came over her face when she saw the red cap over a green body, the gulmohar, topping the fresh green leaves of the massive tree at the end of the road leading to the school. The April bliss.
She got the first shock when she found the distance cut short abruptly. The school happened to be in full view, even as she was jostling through the crowd, manoeuvring the sharp cuts and turns of the street; an expectation of an ideal location of the school belied. Why this proximity? A school in a bazaar? How nauseating and depressing?

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About the author

A member of the Indian Statistical Service, S.K. Sanyal retired as Director, Central Statistical Organisation, Delhi, after having served as a statistician at Indian Statistical Institute, Kolkata, and as a Professor of Statistics at All India Institute of Hygiene and Public Health, Kolkata.

After retirement,he served from time to time as a consultant with the National Institute of Public Finance and Policy, Delhi. As a UNDP consultant, he had short-term assignments at UN Statistical Office at New York, Malawi University, Malawi, and Central Statistics Office, Sierra Leone. Prior to those, as a sampling expert, he delivered lectures on Sampling at Fiji and Nepal on behalf of Statistical Institute for Asia and Pacific, Tokyo, and ESCAP, Bangkok. At NIPFP, he was deputed for poverty studies at Sikkim on behalf of the Asian Development Bank.

Besides numerous technical papers and articles, he has also published a novel, ‘Shifting Silhouettes’, and a real-life story, ‘Memories Unlimited’. He resides in New Delhi.

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Friday, 20 July 2018

#BookReview ; Shyam: An Illustrated Retelling of the Bhagavata by Devdutt Pattanaik

In the forest of insecurities, is it possible to discover humanity through pleasure? Can we stop seeing each other as predator, prey, rival or mate, and rediscover ourselves as lovers? Does the divine reside in sensual delight, in emotional intimacy and in aesthetic experience?
Yes, yes, yes. That is the promise of the Bhagavata. The Bhagavata is the story of Krishna, known as Shyam to those who find beauty, wisdom and love in his dark complexion. It is the third great Hindu epic after the Mahabharata and the Ramayana. However, this narration was composed in fragments over thousands of years, first as the Harivamsa, then as the Bhagavata Purana, and finally as the passionate songs of poet-sages in various regional languages.
This book seamlessly weaves the story from Krishna's birth to his death, or rather from his descent to the butter-smeared world of happy women to his ascent from the blood-soaked world of angry men.

Shyam An Illustrated Retelling Of The Bhagavata is the latest book by Devdutt Pattanaik which is published by Penguin India. The author writes, illustrates & lectures on the relevance of mythology in modern times. He has, since 1996, written over 30 books & 600 columns on how stories, symbols & rituals construct the subjective truth of ancient & modern cultures around the world. To know more, visit

The book starts with King Vajranabhi, great grandson of Krishna trying to trace people who can actually describe a clear picture of how magnificent he looked as the king had heard a lot about his ancestor’s beauty but they all varied from each other. In his quest he meets Uttari, Abhimanyu’s widow who gave a beautiful description according to which we come to know different variations of Krishna’s image. In the next chapter we meet Shuka, unborn son of Vyasa who planned to not live on Earth as he believed it is just full of miseries. Since he had attained full knowledge of Vedas while being in the womb, he had no intentions of living on Earth anymore but as he was leaving towards the sky Vyasa stopped him. Using Shyam’s adventurous stories he entices the unborn child to stay & experience the earthly life too. Get this book here to relish the stories of the Purna-Purush,  
Devdutt Pattanaik is a legend himself when it comes to narrating mythology. He focuses on the big picture than pinpointing & hence captures the soul of the stories. Shyam is called a purna purush for the precise reason as he accepts his feminine side along with masculine, but as we’re fed with toxic masculinity since birth we won’t find these stories being told to us. For this exact reason books by Devdutt are quite necessary for the modern Hindu population. Apart from his writing his illustrations are breathtaking too. I would surely recommend it to everyone, especially the “Viraat Hindus” who are quite keen to propagate homogeneity of Hinduism.

Saturday, 14 July 2018

#BookReview ; The Last Color by Vikas Khanna

It's Holi, 2012, the Hindu festival of spring, and back in Varanasi after twenty years, a young advocate is celebrating a nation-wide Supreme Court order against an age-old tradition of social injustice meted out to the destitute widows of India - to whom even the simple joys of color were denied.

It was in this city that, twenty years ago, Choti, a sassy, tight-rope walker befriends an old widow, Noor. As a member of the ashram, she lives a life of complete abstinence, but her young friend's innocent exuberance and joy of life fills her with renewed hope.
The two form an unlikely bond, with Noor looking out for Choti, inspiring her to 'fly high' by seeking an education and fighting for her rights with dignity. Choti listens enraptured by the memories her friend shares: of playing Holi dressed as Radha, the consort of Lord Krishna, and flinging great bursts of her favorite pink-colored gulal into the sky. Choti promises her that they will play the next Holi together.
But then, one night, another friend of Choti's, Anarkali, is murdered by the heinous police chief and his goons. Being the only witness to her murder, Choti is imprisoned on the eve of Holi. Everything falls apart in the ensuing chaos.
Will Choti be able to keep her promise of playing Holi with Noor?
Pitting the smoke rising from the funeral pyres of Manikarnika Ghat, against the joyous color-bursts of Holi celebrations, Vikas Khanna's marvellously layered story of the survival of a delicate friendship, is brilliantly told and poignantly life-affirming.

The Last Color is a debut fiction book which is soon to be released as a feature film, written by Michelin Star Chef & James Beard Award nominee Vikas Khanna & published by Bloomsbury India. He is the host of MasterChef India, Twist of Taste & Mega Kitchens on National Geographic. He is the creator of the Holy Kitchens documentary series & Kitchens of Gratitude which have been screened at The White House & several film festivals & universities around the world.

The story is set in Varanasi & revolves around Choti, a girl who was abandoned in garbage as a baby & saved by a woman in yellow saree. She grew up together with other orphans in the “Nameless House with Pink Walls” where all most of them begged on the streets wearing costumes & make up to resemble different gods. But Choti always wanted to fly & performed her tight rope routine while her friend Chintu gathered money from the crowd. As the story moves forward we meet two friends of Choti, Anarkali, a Hijra who also begs for survival & Noor a white saree clad widow who is forced to live a life devoid of any color. The antagonist of the story is Raja, a corrupt police inspector who gets sadistic pleasure in torturing all the beggars in his area & also extorted money from them. Then one night Choti witnessed her friend Anarkali being murdered by the police inspector & his henchmen. One thing leads to another and she gets beaten up & imprisoned on the eve of Holi for reporting the crime. Will she ever escape from the clutches of the evil inspector & bring justice to her friend, also would she be able to play Holi with her friend Noor as promised? Would she ever fly? Get the book here to immerse yourself into the City of the Dead & a story which will stay with you forever,

To start with, I’ll have to confess that I used to have a huge crush on the author & hence naturally I was quite excited to read this book. The blurb already intrigued me & the story didn’t let me down either. From the starting itself the story kept me with it & the pace was perfect too. The story has diverse, believable characters & it spoke about poverty but didn’t romanticize it and that’s what I loved about it, also it mentioned other social evils too. The language is easy, the title & especially the cover is to die for. A must read!