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Book Review: Gaysia: Adventures in the Queer East by Benjamin Law

Gaysia by Benjamin Law Title: Gaysia: Adventures in the Queer East
Author: Benjamin Law
Publisher: Random House India
ISBN: 9788184004779
Genre: Non-Fiction, Travelogue, Humour
Pages: 336
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

It is funny how in the wake of Section 377 and LGBT rights, I finished reading, “Gaysia: Adventures in the Queer East” by Benjamin Law – a book on gays in the East and more importantly on their culture and lifestyle. The reason I find it funny is that I find the judgment quite a farce and love how Law speaks of gay men and women (sometimes) in an account that is hilarious, emotional and mostly a travelogue in search of identity across Thailand, Indonesia, Japan, Burma, China, Malaysia and India, each with its own peculiarities and quirks.

The book as you delve further in is not really a travelogue; it is more of an insight to a troubled world. It is a world where two men cannot love each other – though the rules of lust are very different. There is humour and a lot of angst to the people and stories that Law documents. The social patterns from where he comes, which is Australia are very different in Asia. The world when it comes to rights of men and women is not the same. The Eastern world when it comes to same sex love or lust as Benjamin sees it is quite an eye-opener and it is for this, I would urge people to read, “Gaysia”.

It is funny how things are in different countries. For instance, in China, there are self-flagellation techniques, when a “bad” or “homosexual” thought occurs. Of how in China again, lesbians fake marry just to keep their parents happy. In Malaysia, people – Christian and Muslim fundamentalists, whom the author encounters, thinks homosexuality can be cured. In India, a certain yogi (should not be too hard to guess who this one is) thinks that it stems from bad thoughts and that it can also be cured.

“Gaysia” was released in our country without raising any eyebrows. I think it did so also because the so-called law holders, could not care less about a book – may be they would not understand this type of non-fiction or any book for that matter. The writing is sharp and humorous (the trans-gendered beauty pageant in Thailand, pride parades in these countries) in parts and in some, Law reflects on his sexuality and his relationship with his boyfriend. To me, including something personal in a book speaks a lot about the writer. It somehow makes him more accessible to readers, which is most needed in a book of this nature.

“Gaysia” is an eye-opener – for most people out there. I think it is written with a lot of eloquence and at the same time, Benjamin does not shy away from writing what he witnessed. The writing is honest and that is hands down one of the strongest features of the book. I want to gift this book to every friend of mine – straight or gay, just to understand if nothing else, about orientation and the fact that people are different and entitled to living their lives, the way they want to. Free love does not come with a section or with a judgment. It is just there, for all.

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Gaysia: Adventures in the Queer East

Online Launch of “Hitched” by Nandini Krishna with Ashwin Sanghi

Arranged Marriage and all that it entails for a Woman. One doesn’t seem to think a lot about it and taken into account of what a woman feels towards it, more so the modern woman.

Nandini Krishna goes all out in her debut book, “Hitched: The Modern Woman and Arranged Marriage” exploring the concept through real-life incidents and snippets which make for some humorous and insightful reading.

With this in mind, Flipkart in association with Random House India launches the book online on the 6th of August 2013, at 3 pm.

Hitched

For more details: https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10151729967863559&set=a.397237208558.175559.102988293558&type=1

To buy the book: http://www.flipkart.com/hitched-modern-women-arranged-marriage/p/itmdmsbgdznte5bc?pid=9788184003734&otracker=from-search&srno=t_1&query=hitched&ref=65ee6c2b-f03f-4a73-b7fd-6c75e152bcce

Book Review: Our Moon Has Blood Clots: The Exodus of the Kashmiri Pandits by Rahul Pandita

Our Moon Has Blood Clots by Rahul  Pandita Title: Our Moon Has Blood Clots: The Exodus of the Kashmiri Pandits
Author: Rahul Pandita
Publisher: Random House India
ISBN: 9788184000870
Genre: Non-Fiction
Pages: 272
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

Being displaced from your roots is the worst event ever that could happen to anyone. It happens all the time in our country, right from Partition. I remember my grandmother telling us stories of her life in Pakistan and how the partition affected their lives. The lives they had to leave behind and start anew in a strange country where acceptance and people looked at our clan or community very suspiciously. After all, our ways were different. The way we thought and the way we behaved. Today, of course things are better for Sindhis in the country, however the same cannot be said for the Kashmiri Pandits and this review is about them and for them, given the book, “Our Moon Has Blood Clots: The Exodus of the Kashmiri Pandits” by Rahul Pandita.

I wanted to read this book from a human angle and that is exactly what I did. To me, the politics did not matter. What mattered most were the stories chronicled in this book, from what Rahul has experienced firsthand (being a Kashmiri Pandit himself) to the stories as told to him by the others. Sometimes you have to take what it does to read a book of this nature – where there are no happy endings and no rosy scenes, where everything is the way it is in life – raw and unrelenting. Where people are thrown into circumstances that they do not want to be a part of and yet are, tolerating some atrocities and only praying that it all goes away for the others. That is the power of living through it all. Rahul Pandita talks about the Kashmiri Pandit exodus that occurred as a result of the so-called ethnic cleansing (violent in nature but obviously) backed by the Islamist militants. This continues to take place even today. Kashmiri Pandits, the Hindu minority amidst the Muslim majority Kashmir, did not stand a chance. On one hand it was this and on the other it was the demand for a separate Kashmir and so-called independence that led to their state of misery and alienation.

Home cannot be defined by any other word. Home remains home and does not change. Rahul Pandita later in the book talks of what identity means, what is “home” and how nothing in the world can change his idea of place and belonging. The story of Kashmiri Pandits has almost been forgotten by now. No one seems to talk about it, so that is when a book like this makes a lot of sense. The writing is as is – there are no frills and nothing is sugar coated. It is almost investigative journalistic writing and at the same time it is deeply embedded in emotions and sentiments. At some point, the book does make for difficult reading. The conditions the refugees lived in is heart wrenching, however like I said, that is how it is.

There is so much that the book delves on and at the same time, Pandita also talks of the way the valley was before the exodus. To some extent he makes it sound so perfect, that one would want to believe that it was that way, however we all know better than that. What I liked the most about the book was that there were no sides taken and one cannot given the nature and content of the book, and at the same time, I could not help but feel opinionated or biased towards the events and the way it all turned out for the Kashmiri Pandits. The title also was so striking and fit beautifully to the rest of the book. I will recommend this book only if you can stomach the truth or else this read is not for you.

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Book Review: Dozakhnama: Conversations in Hell by Rabisankar Bal (Translated by Arunava Sinha)

Dozakhnama by Rabisankar Bal Title: Dozakhnama: Conversations in Hell
Author: Rabisankar Bal
Translator: Arunava Sinha
Publisher: Random House India
ISBN: 9788184003086
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 544
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

Translations are needed – to let us readers know what we have missed out on and what we cannot anymore. I am a champion of translations, only because I wish I could read some works in the language they were written in, but if I cannot do that, then well, a translation suffices any given day. With a book that is translated, there is so much at stake. Are all the emotions translated as well? Are words used the way they are supposed to? Is every phrase and every thought in its place? Maybe so, is punctuation to convey the correct idea? Translation is not easy business. It takes a lot from the translator – it is almost a bond needs to be there between the writer and the translator for sure. With this, I begin my review of, “Dozakhnama: Conversations in Hell” – written by Rabisankar Bal and beautifully translated by Arunava Sinha.

“Dozakhnama” proved to be is a very special read. I read it cover to cover and could not stop reading it. I managed to finish it today and here I am talking about it. The book is about two of my favourite writers conversing beyond the graves – Mirza Ghalib and Sadaat Hasan Manto. Their lives are entwined in shared dreams. The book has all elements – love, anger, hate, jealousy, magic realism (a lot of it and maybe that is one of the reasons I enjoyed the book the way I did), and covers all ground – right from Bandra to Ashok Kumar. This is what I love the most about the book – Bal doesn’t hesitate to imagine and Arunava doesn’t hesitate to work towards getting the emotion right for the reader in English.

The writing had me gripped from the first page and I couldn’t put it down, though it was heavy in most places. While reading the book, I often wondered, how it would sound in the language it was written in. The nuances of Bengali may not have come across totally in English; however I must say the translation was packed with power and to the hilt, as it was supposed to. I will not give away the meaning behind the title, because I want other readers to explore what is there to it. At the same time, what I loved most was the couplets and quotes that kept appearing in the book since but obviously it is about two great writers.

I have yet to come across a translation as good as this one. Arunava as always does a brilliant job of translating works. Dozakhnama is a read that I will not forget for a very long time to come. In fact, if I have the time to reread it, I will do that as well. I cannot stop raving about it and with good reason.

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Book Review: The Blind Man’s Garden by Nadeem Aslam

The Blind Man's Garden by Nadeem Aslam Title: The Blind Man’s Garden
Author: Nadeem Aslam
Publisher: Random House India
ISBN: 978-81-8400-109-9
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 416
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

When you read a Nadeem Aslam novel, you mull over it. You take in his words and breathe what he has to say. You are aware of the political undertones in his books. At times, you also may not like what you read. You might also detest some parts. You will yell in happiness when something good happens to one of his characters. You want to keep the book aside and you will not be able to, because that is the power of his books. You will ignore everything else and read on, because Aslam has a story to tell and his characters will talk to you. They will make you believe and sometimes make you cry and live as well.

“The Blind Man’s Garden” according to me is one of the best books that Aslam has written. I have read all his books and while all his books have the much needed political angle; this one to me is most emotional and heart-wrenching in a lot of places. I interviewed Nadeem Aslam at the Jaipur Literature Festival this year (which will be a different post) and he was so passionate about the book and the way he spoke with me. The book almost came alive through him. All his characters and the situations he put them through almost seemed surreal and believable. For me that is the craft of a great storyteller. “The Blind Man’s Garden” makes you feel and think about humans and what does war do to them. He gets into the heart of his characters and makes them speak for themselves. He makes them tell their stories, their lives spread across the canvas of his landscape, of time unknown and sometimes time is of great essence. This is precisely why I cannot help myself but mark almost every other line on every other page of an Aslam novel.

Jeo and his foster-brother Mikal leave their home in a small Pakistani city not to fight with the Taliban but to help care for the wounded victims. The Western Armies have invaded Afghanistan and the brothers only want to help the wounded, whether Afghani or the Americans. They only want to help and yet they get embroiled deep into the war as its unwilling soldiers. At the same time left behind is Jeo’s wife and her superstitious mother, and their father Rohan, who is slowly but surely turning blind. The war is seen through from all perspectives and that is the crux of the story.

For me everything worked in the book. The writing is sharp and hits in places that you would not expect it to. The past and the present situations merge beautifully throughout the entire narrative. In fact, what I loved the most about the book was the way the structure was built and at the same time the prose seemed very fluid, as though it was waiting to flow through the reader’s mind and heart. The heart of the book is about everything surrounding the war – lost children, grieving parents, hopeful wives and children who are left behind wondering when their fathers will return. Despite all this, what strings the book together is hope, which is unending and everlasting.

There are a lot of sub-elements and plots to the book (which I will not spoil for you) that add to the beauty of this wonderfully written novel. There is beauty and at the same time there is this sharp ache and a prayer that all should go well for the characters that you have come to known while reading the book. As a reader, I found myself hoping that all went well. Such is the power of this magnificent read. It is for sure one of the best I will read this year.

Here are some quotes from the book:

“History is a third parent.”

“The logic is that there are no innocent people in a guilty nation.”

“No,” he said, “but before they lose, they harm the good people. That is what I am afraid of.”

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