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Posts from the ‘Parents’ Category

Snake Gods and Migrants

I have been planning to write this review, literally for weeks. I had read the book more the a month back and these days, I only post a review if I really enjoyed the book or it exasperated me beyond my patience! This one for sure met that criterion and it’s just life as a always became to busy for me to find time and space to write about this book. After all of this, it is time to introduce the book I am referring to – Gun Island by Amitav Ghosh!

I have been a Ghosh fan well before his Commonwealth winning and withdrawing of The Glass Palace which also I loved. I was first blown away by his Shadowlands, a beautiful, lyrical story of Bengal, partition, riots and coming of age. Till date it remains, one of most sensitive pieces of prose I ever read and the end, still takes my breath away. The Glass Palace, though I feel falling short of the brilliant prose, was a wonderfully crafted story; the history resonating very closely to me (my great grandfather was a Teak Merchant, settled in Myanmar, and saw the history of the land unfold through his own eyes). However, The Hungry Tide put me off Ghosh; I could not relate to the characters, of people who fall in love without any communication, or even the vast range of issues that Ghosh seemed to try and tackle which did not truly integrate into the main plot. I was put off enough to skip the entire Ibis Trilogy and only to pick up Gun Merchant, when this came my way as a gift!

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Gun Island is narrated from a the perspective of Deen Dutta, a 50 something erudite, cultured and well traveled man and dealer in rare books, based in New York. A chance meeting with his extended Bengali family, during a vacation, gets him involved with the legend of the Gun Merchant, a Ulysses like character, who traveled along with his companion a ship captain, all over the world, in a bid to escape a curse of the Indian Snake Goddess, Mansa Devi. In his effort  to dig the truth about this myth and Deen comes across and interacts with a host of characters, all of whom are on their own journey of self discovery and have parallel stories of strife and success. There is Piya, a fellow Bengali American Professor, who sets this journey in motion, there is Rafi, the illiterate Muslim Fisherman, whose grandfather was the keeper of the temple of Mansa Devi in the Sunderbans and Cinta, his old friend and mentor, who helps him reach out to the unknown to find the truth.

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Hindu-Goddess Manasa,  in a hut made of mud in a village in the Sundarbans, West Bengal, India by Durga (Source – Wikipedia)

The premises of the book is excellent! India and especially Bengal is rich in myths and folklore all of which are somewhere grounded in a reality that happened in the past. The made up legend of the Gun Merchant, is actually a take off on the the legend of Chand Saudagar whose hide and seek games to escape the wrath of Mansa Devi is something most Bengali children can recite, handed down from generation to generation. It was interesting to go with Ghosh’s exploratory journey to understand the roots of this myth as well the rich travel history of Bengal, when it traded with Venice and many other European nations, especially as it took the readers into some wonderful description of Sunderbans, the now fast disappearing mangrove forests, east of India.  But this is where I guess my admiration ends. I am beyond sick of Ghosh’s polarization of Indian society – in his world lately,  there are only Americanized erudite but still holding on to Bengali roots figures or uneducated, impoverished characters. There is nothing in between, there are no small time shopkeepers, there are educated middle classes, there are not rich Indian industrialists, there are no artists, there is no one except these two extreme worlds. Even if I would allow for such polarized characters, I could not like them – i could not warm up to Piya in the Hungry Tide and when I saw her enter this book, I was ready to give it up. I cannot understand her hauteur or while I understand her reserve, I feel her to be totally and completely insensitive to other’s emotional needs. I did not like Deen – I felt he was too bumbling, too self doubting, too everything for a man of the world. The only character I could like was Cinta, who came across with depth, emotions and sensitivity and was the only rescue device of the novel. The plot while originally intriguing should have stuck to discovering the roots of the myth, instead of taking on world problems. I understand and am concerned about the environmental disaster that we seem to hurtling into. I am appalled at the intolerance of the world at large to the migrant’s issue; my grandparents were refugees, fleeing the violence of 1947, East Pakistan now Bangladesh, leaving behind homes, lives and security. I know the trauma of such displacement, which continued to haunt my grandfather till his death and was inherited by my father and my uncles to great extent. I cannot even begin to fathom the conditions if besides the trauma, my grandparents also were refused entry in what they considered a safe home, a newly independent India. But I do not think as plot devise adding the migrant issue along with environmental concerns into a novel tracing the history of a myth is a very good idea. We end biting more than we can chew and say nothing which has not been said and do not shed light on anything new. In fact, it smacks of borderline commercialization – a sort of piggy backing on the world wide uproar on the migrant issue by not only writing about it, but picking up the “boat incident” to a T. This was not well done and from somebody of great intellectual and sensitive abilities like Ghosh, it is definitely unacceptable! The language and even the division of the novel into section seems contrived and does not flow! All in all, by pass this book if you have toppling TBR; there are better books on Bengal and partition and migrants than this one, including Shadowland, by the same author!

 

10 Books from Childhood

I was planning to write a post on Indian authors writing in English; something to the effect of sticking to things people understand rather than venturing into uncharted territories and making a hash of thing and yada yada yada! But then I saw Cleo and Helen doing a very interesting post on their favorite childhood books and I realized, something I shared with Cleo, that children in Europe and Asia seemed to have read very different literature from their counterparts in Americas. And as I thought more about it, my own childhood reading was very different from standard English language centric affair because it was rooted in a lot of stories and books from my native language, Bengali, the lingua franca of the eastern state of Bengal in India and the national language of Bangladesh. I read and was read a lot of English books as well, but in those formative years, Bengali literature left an indelible mark on me. Therefore, it made sense to recount some of best books from my childhood days including local literature, rather than dwell on Indians writing in what is essentially not their native language! Without further ado then, I present to you the 10 of my most memorable books from my childhood –

Thakumar Jhuli by Dakshinaranjan Mitra Majumder – This collection of folk tales, which have thrilled generations after generations of Bengali children. Princes, Queens, Witches, Priests and Merchants all came together in these stories illustrating stories of courage, patience and faith. These stories as an adult I realize also depicted a colourful vibrant society of 17th-19th century Bengal, shedding interesting light on some of the more non tangible aspects of life like loyalty, spiritualism and the philosophy of kindness! Fun fact – I used to love this collection so much, that besides have two copies of the book, my dad had brought me an audio cassette version as well; well before the era of “audio books”. The dramatized audio versions were in a form of a musical and the songs are still some of my favorites!

Abol Tabol by Sukumar Roy – Abol Tabol literary means nonsense, and this set of nonsensical rhymes have brought joy not only to many children, but also several adults, including my own father. Pun ridden and satirical, they provided huge entertainment to me while growing up, only once again realizing as an adult, that among the nonsense and word play, there were subtle hidden commentary on the bigotry of early 20th century Bengal society. Continues to endure as an all-time favorite.

Feluda Series by Satyajit Ray – The son of Sukumar Roy and India’s premier film maker, was naturally also an accomplished story teller. The fact that he could write absolutely thrilling detective stories for children and young adults, however took his genius to a whole new level. The world had Nancy Drews and Hardy Boys and so did I; but I also had Feldua – the Bengali detective who along with his nephew Topshe and friend Jatyu, traversed the length and breath of India, cracking some of the most difficult cases using subtle mental analysis and knowledge from a wide range of reading! I cannot even begin to explain the hours of summer school break that were devoted to reading this series again and again!

Chader Pahar by Bhibuti Bhusan Bandopadhyay – Literally meaning the Mountain on the Moon, this timeless adventure remains a classic since it was originally published in 1937. This story of a young Bengali man’s tryst with Africa is an thriller, travelogue and deeply profound narrative on pushing the boundaries of nature, is a tale which I would think everyone must read once, including and especially all adults.

Enid Blyton Books – I know this is the broadest possible category ever, but then I cannot recollect not ever loving any book she wrote. She was the standard fare of in all schools in India, atleast in 1980s and since my parents also loved her writings, our house was filled with her works. I loved her Noddy series, I loved her Secret Seven/Famous Five, I loved her; I know there is a lot of controversy around her and her writings, but all I remember as a child was she gave me companions and think of adventures which no else seem to be able to and she made boiled eggs taste like a delicacy!

Children Reading

The Fairytale by Walter Firle (1859-1929)

Ann of Green Gables by L.M Montgomery – I love Anna. I was Anna; albeit with parents, but always bursting with energy, emotions and expressions. When I read Anna at the very impressionable age of 13, besides loving this moving story of Ann and her adoptive parents, I realized that it was ok to be the way I was, that it was even funny and someone somewhere nearly 100 years ago could and did believe in girls like me!

Winnie the Pooh by A.A. Milne – What is not there to like about this story of eternal friendship, romping adventures and some very basic truth about humanity and joy. Even as an adult, I continue to love this book and cannot wait to share my dog eared, battered copy with my god daughters!

Russian Fairy Tales – My father grew up in the swinging 60s and believed that a country like ours had much to learn from Socialist principles of equitable distribution of wealth. He himself read a lot of Russian authors, all of which would eventually he would bequeath to me, including Gorky, Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Chekhov etc. Naturally flowing from this, he brought me this big book of Russian Fairy Tales, which remain incomparable in my imagination, opening up the country and her people and inspiring a deep-rooted love for the country. The Firebird from this selection, remains one of my most favorites reads till date!

The Complete Adventures of Blinky Bill by Dorothy Wall – Again a book that came to via my father; for many years he worked and collaborated on several Indo-Australian projects related to immigration laws before it became the “it’ thing. One of his oldest friends, and one of the most erudite men I have had the pleasure of knowing gifted me this book, I believe when I was 6. The adventures of the Koala, Blinky introduced me to Australia, like no one. This book is quintessentially Australian and quintessentially one of the best books ever to be read to a child!

The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Graham – What is there for me to say that is not already been said about this classic? The adventures of Toad, Mole, Rat and Badger as they navigate Toad Hall in an effort to reclaim what is rightfully Toads is a moving story of friendship and kindness!

There are so many that are missing the list, but these are the 10 that come to my mind!

P.S. This is a an incredibly late Top Ten from dated July 02 2019, as part of the Top Ten Tuesday  series, hosted by Jana at That Artsy Reader Girl,

The End of February…..

The New Year is old and for me, time could not have flown fast enough! One of the most stressful months for me both professionally and personally, all I can say, good riddance! For the first time, I am glad to bid adieu to the winter, which brought more unpleasantness than acceptable and look forward to the new chapters of Summers; yes even hot Indian summers! As, always, I thank the powers that be for granting us books, that helped me tide over home-hospitals-sick dad-at-home-nurses-at-home-professional disappointments- home-job-doctor-job paradigm!

Thus, I bring you my February book wrap up, borrowing and combining from Helen’s monthly post of Commonplace Book post   and O’s ideas of  Wordless Wednesday  –

From The East of Eden by John Steinbeck –

But the Hebrew word, the word timshel—‘Thou mayest’— that gives a choice. It might be the most important word in the world. That says the way is open. That throws it right back on a man. For if ‘Thou mayest’—it is also true that ‘Thou mayest not.”

From A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf

“One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well! “

From Around the World in Eighty Days by Jules Verne

If to live in his style is to eccentric, it must be confessed, that this something good in eccentricity

From Harry Heathcote of Gangoil by Anthony Trollope

What does a man live for except to alter things? When a man clear the forest and sows corns, does he not alter things?

From The Dairy of a Nobody by George Grossmith

What’s the good of a home, if you are never in it?

That was my reading for the month of February. I am immensely glad that despite all the chaos, I was able to stick to my only Reading Challenge of the year – The Official 2018 TBR Pile Challenge  and complete A Room of One’s Own as planned for the month, though I still need to post the review. In fact, I need to blog way more! Here’s hoping March brings in that much needed relief to one and all……

 

About Moving on and Reading Ideas…

In the words of the ever-wise Jane Austen, I must say that “I must have employment and society” and though the circumstances under which Mr. Wickham made the statement and mine are wholly different, there cannot be any denying of the fact that I must either resume life as soon as possible in the best way, despite the recent events in my past,  or I will probably need professional therapy! I really dislike opening my posts on such a depressing note and therefore without much ado, I will plunge forward and share with you all my reading plans for September and October!!

Naturally, with Halloween around the corner, Carl has unveiled his RIP Challenge 2014. I have been looking forward to this event for some time and have even bought books in anticipation of the reading event!! The rules are as always simple, read or watch any of the following genres and participate in the Perils as per your interest and time. The event runs from September 01st to October 31st. The genres include –

  • Mystery
  • Suspense
  • Thriller
  • Dark Fantasy
  • Gothic
  • Horror
  • Supernatural

I, of course, peril my sanity by signing up for Peril The First which involves and I quote directly from the site – Read four books, any length, that you feel fit (the very broad definitions) of R.I.P. literature. It could be King or Conan Doyle, Penny or Poe, Chandler or Collins, Lovecraft or Leroux…or anyone in between

My reading list for this event goes as –

Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier – Clichéd I know, but I have not read this in couple of years and this is as good a time as any to revisit this old friend!!

Gothic Tales by Elizabeth Gaskell – As I have often declared, Gaskell is one of my favorite authors and I have held on to reading this book specifically to read it through this challenge.

Angelica by Arthur Philips – This is yet another book that I had held off on because I wanted to read it as part of this event. I had heard some great things about this one and I really look forward to reading it, with all the lights in the apartment blazing!!!!

The Sign of Four – How can I even think of participating in this event without homage to the master of mystery and thriller??? Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Last Year it was the Hounds of Baskerville and this year it’s yet another revisit with The Sign of Four.

This was my plan for the RIP event; but while scrolling through the other events at Carl’s post, I came across Peril of the Group Read. Again quoting directly from the Carl’s post, “For the third year in a row bloggers Andi and Heather of The Estella Society are hosting a readalong in conjunction with R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril. This year’s readalong runs from September 1st through October 1st, and the chosen book is Shirley Jackson’s classic, The Haunting of Hill House.The Haunting Hill House had been in my TBR for some time and this seemed like as good a chance as any to finish at least one book from my ever-growing list. I have already begun reading the book and I have not been able to sleep for two nights in a row with lights off….review to follow soon!!!

In other reading news, I still have to finish my Classic Spin read for the month, “Katherine” by Anya Seton; I had barely begun reading this book, when everything else took over and I had to exchange this book for some lighter reads until I was back in my gear again.

I also have the The True and Splendid History of the Harristown Sisters by Michelle Lovric to finish from last month and I have finally bought Penmarric by Susan Howatch and The Last Kabbalist of Lisbon by Richard Zimler in an unintended book buying spree on one of those stressful days of past weeks. I also bought The Complete Works of Christina Rossetti in a fitful remembrance of my mother!

Finally, I am also very much looking forward to the Margret Kennedy Week hosted by Jane between 6th to 12th October! I plan to read “The Feast”, another one lying in my TBR list for a while and the author’s nonfiction work, Jane Austen, if I can get my hands on it!!

That is my reading agenda for now. I am sure; I will edit and add some more books in this list, while others may be left behind for a better moment. But the idea as always is to read and read more and then to read some more….

A Sonnet…

I realize that I have been away from blogging for nearly a month and this has truly been my longest hiatus from the blogosphere since I started this blog more than 2 years ago. But life took a really crazy and unexpected turn since Aug 17th 2014 when I posted my last blog and I am still trying to come to terms with it. My mum was visiting me when she suddenly fell ill on 15th August, slipped into coma on 18th and passed away on 1st September. The suddenness of the whole thing is still sinking in; it somehow seems unacceptable that my mum who did have a congenial heart problem but was not ill in the sense of being really ill, should suddenly one day complain of low-grade fever and then lose consciousness and before a blink of an eye is, no more. I was not ready for any of this, but I realize since last year September, things have happened to me for which I am not ready and maybe that’s a good thing, because if I start to think on how my life has fallen apart over the 12 months, I will have to see a therapist. Nevertheless, it’s still difficult to really believe that she is truly no more and while our relationship was far more smooth and was in fact quite difficult, the fact that she is no more there to fight with, argue with, talk with and be with is heartbreaking!!

Thus in the memory of my Mum, I publish this poem written by Christina Rossetti, a poet whom both she and I loved….

Sonnets are full of love

Sonnets are full of love, and this my tome

Has many sonnets: so here now shall be

One sonnet more, a love sonnet, from me

To her whose heart is my heart’s quiet home,

To my first Love, my Mother, on whose knee I learnt love-lore that is not troublesome;

Whose service is my special dignity,

And she my loadstar while I go and come

And so because you love me, and because I love you, Mother, I have woven a wreath

Of rhymes wherewith to crown your honored name:

In you not fourscore years can dim the flame Of love, whose blessed glow transcends the laws

Of time and change and mortal life and death.

 

Take care Ma….be in peace wherever you are!!Love You!

Picture Story….

There are times when you read a book that takes your breath away…you sit for hours on end trying to internalize what you have just read…. trying to piece together the storm of emotions as your brain tries to re-direct itself to the more practical and realistic matters at hand, but for all its effort, neither the brain nor your heart can process the catharsis that you have gone through!! It’s an emotional trauma, not necessarily bad, but definitely something you cannot ignore nor can you afford to overlook, because you stay completely stunned and mesmerized by what you have just read.

As usual one may wonder exactly what am I blubbering about?

I am talking about “The People in the Photo” by Hélène Gestern (Translated by Emily Boyce and Ros Schwartz). Now on the face of it, it may not be a book I usually pick up – I mean its French (can’t abide by it!! I love France and its people and its food, but I somehow cannot make up my mind about their literature – I think the tragedies of Madame Bovary and Les Miserables hangs over me!!) its set in present day and as everyone knows I am most comfortable in 19th century and a brief synopsis looked suspiciously of a Kate Morton novel married to a romance chick lit. (I like Kate Morton and like all chicks I do dig into romance once in a while, but somehow put them together and it seems like a Rebecca wanna be!) But the cliché of never judging a book by its cover came absolutely true in this instance.

The book opens with a description of a picture and “the people’ in the picture and this unique start to the narrative is in itself a wonderful beginning. Hélène an archivist is looking for some answers – she wants to know who the two people are in the picture and if they had any information about her mother, the third person in the picture. Hélène’s mother Natasha died when she was very young and was brought up by her father and her step mother Sylvie. Now Sylvie is the last stage of Alzheimer disease and her father has already died couple of years ago. In an effort to understand her roots before it completely slips away, Hélène puts out an advertisement in the paper seeking more information about the other two people in the photograph. Stéphane, a Swiss biologist settled in England responds to the advertisement stating the two men in the picture are known to him – his father and his Godfather. However he has no idea how the two men knew Hélène’s mother! As they begin to communicate more often they delve into the past of Natasha and Pierre and Jean and Sylvia and how they all were connected and how each of their lives were shaped by the actions of the past!

It’s a beautiful work narrated through letters, emails and texts; the only descriptive chapters are the ones a photograph is explained. The details of these photographs are richly drawn and one can practically see those pictures in one’s mind, so vivid are the imagery of the words. The characters are rich and more importantly, they are all human – there is good, bad and ugly and the ability to repent and to forgive, the wide array of emotions that make a human, humane. Most importantly, what could have been a clichéd story, has been very cleverly crafted into a lovely heart searing sometimes tragic and sometimes optimistic tale. This novel is a testimony to the fact that while the stories of mankind are more or less the same, how you choose to tell those stories, proves your worth as a storyteller. Ms. Gestern has definitely proved she is worthy and so much more – an awesome debut!!

A last word of Thanks to Jane; it was her wonderful review of this book that prompted me to read it. Like her I am not particularly very modern in reading tastes, and this book smacked of it!! But her tastes in books are excellent and I have been introduced to many great authors thanks to her. So I plunged in and as always, it was a great experience!!

All About Gs

I know I have stated this many a times, but one of my biggest inspirations for blogging and reading is Stephanie. Like a younger sibling, looking up to her elder sister, I look up to Stephanie for all great books (including books I would have never read had it not been for her review), blogging discipline (though I am nowhere as diligent as her) and of course adventure (online courses and carrot soup to name a few!) Naturally when she posted this, I had to give it go, only I did not realize just how difficult the alphabet G was!!

The task and I quote verbatim from her post is –

Say your favorite book, author, song, film, and object beginning with a particular letter. And that letter will be randomly assigned to you by me, via random.org. If you’d like to join in, comment in the comment section and I’ll tell you your letter! (And then, of course, the chain can keep going on your blog.)

Here goes, my love affair with finding the right “G”s –

Favorite Book – I racked my brains and racked it all through the week before I concluded on this one. It’s off beat but perhaps one of the most sensitively written novels on racial discrimination, equality and traditions. It’s a novel by Rabindranath Tagore and it’s called “Gora” literally meaning someone who is white, i.e. of European descent. The story of “Gora” an orphan adopted by an orthodox Brahmin family and his journey of self-discovery set in the late 19th century Bengal, India, transcends borders, time and cultures to make one question the common understanding of religion, caste and patriotism

Favorite Author – I was not sure if “G” had to be the alphabet in the first name, middle name or last name; so like always, I choose three with “G” being placed in different places in the names:

  • Gaskell, Elizabeth – Well, what can one say about this brilliant and sensitive author from Victorian England. Whether it is her sensitive portrayal of the trails of the factory workers in “North and South” or her humorous take on the “genteel” lives of a small Victorian town in “Cranford” or her bone chilling “Gothic Tales”, she was a mistress of all that she wrote, infusing all her works with a succinct understanding of those with lesser fortunes and abilities
  • Gabriel Garcia Marquez – Nobel Prize winner, author extraordinaire and humanitarian. I cannot think of anyone who wrote with such imagination or depth of understanding of human feelings and relationships than this great man; the man who wrote about a beautiful love affair in the golden years of ones lives or decried the violence and mourned about the loss of freedom of his fellow countryman in the aftermath of the Columbian Civil War that affected so many lives
  • G.K. Chesterton – Humorous, contradictory and witticism personified, G.K. Chesterton was an author of wide ranges, whether he wrote about Father Brown stories or satires about modern materialistic lives like The Man who was Thursday, he was a modernist who understood traditions and mocked it, while capturing the gentleness of the lost era

Favorite Song – This was easy! My grandmother used to play this on the loop – Ella Fitzgerald was her favorite artist and the ever optimistic person that’s she was, this naturally appealed to her, though the religious aspects of the song she ignored, being one true blooded agnostic that ever was there ….(yes! Optimism and a love for Ella Fitzgerald run in the family and are DNA type of things, passes on from one generation to another!)

Favorite Film – Sigh!! I know this is clichéd and god knows, I am not really fond of the book, but I do love the movie – Clarke Gable, brilliant period costumes and sets, some lovely shots, awesome music and of course, did I mention Clarke Gable? Of course, I am talking about Gone with the Wind

Favorite Object – Dang!! Most of my favorite objects start with a B (Books) or F (Food and Friends), but finally, I came up with this one – God!! I know this one is not an object, and I have probably committed 989 blasphemy by quoting the Great one as an object, but here’s the thing – I am not particularly religious, (not with agnostic grandmother and father DNAs) and I am not at all into pious rituals or orthodoxy, but I do believe there is a greater force at play. Like I always say, I will never have the luck I want but I will always have the luck I need, and someone somewhere is taking care to make sure that I get the luck I need. It’s good to have someone to be thankful to and of course rant and rave and blame at when things do not go right and I think, selfish being that I am its more for the latter than the former, I keep “the great one” close to my heart!! The other “G” related object very close to my heart right after “God” would be my girlfriends – where would I be without their crazy adventures, disastrous love lives, existential crisis, all night gossips, ice cream binge sessions and shoulders to cry on – thank god for the crazy, lunatic, brilliant and lovable bunch of girls, I have the privilege to call friends, life is so much more worthy and wonderful, because I have them in my life!!

Phew! Finally all done; kind of exhausting but oodles of fun, especially vis-à-vis making those choices to select “the final one”…try it and do let me know if you need an alphabet to help you around!!

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