Category Archives: Zubaan

Squiggle takes a Walk : All about Punctuation by Natasha Sharma

Squiggle Takes a Walk by Natasha Sharma Title: Squiggle Takes a Walk : All about Punctuation
Author: Natasha Sharma
Publisher: Penguin Books, Zubaan Books
ISBN: 9789383074013
Genre: Children’s Book, Knowledge and Learning
Pages: 70
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5/5

Squiggle wants to belong. Squiggle does not know where she fits in. She is confused. So she decides to find herself in the pages of a notebook and discovers the world of punctuation, until she finds someone her own kind. That is the plot of “Squiggle Takes a Walk” by Natasha Sharma – a delightful tale of Squiggle and her introduction to punctuation.

Squiggle Takes a Walk  - Image 2

I wish we had such books while we were growing up. A book that would talk to us about punctuation and the English language without being a bore like those Wren and Martin books. Natasha Sharma makes punctuation fun through the story of Squiggle and also the easy to understand concepts for children, not to forget the activities at the end of the book. The format of the book is delightful, as it is in the form of a notebook, which will only generate more excitement among kids.

Squiggle Takes a Walk  - Image 1

“Squiggle Takes a Walk” is the kind of book that can be read by children in less than half an hour but stays in the memory and the punctuation uses and points stick. Natasha Sharma has also with this book reached out to an adult who always had a problem with punctuation and still does. I plan to change that soon enough. Read it and so will you.

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Shikhandi and Other Tales they Don’t Tell You by Devdutt Pattanaik

Shikhandi and Other Tales They Don't Tell You by Devdutt Pattanaik Title: Shikhandi and Other Tales They Don’t Tell You
Author: Devdutt Pattanaik
Publisher: Zubaan and Penguin Books
ISBN: 9789383074846
Genre: Mythology
Pages: 176
Source: Pubisher
Rating: 5/5

There is so much to Indian Mythology that remains hidden. There is so much which no one speaks of. Of hidden desires (maybe), of stories that somehow do not surface, because we are too civilized for our own good. We are full of shackles and intimidation and fear and to top it all ego, which do not let us realize our true selves. Somewhere down the line, perhaps, we have also been too apologetic of our traditions and culture – first to the British and Europeans and then to ourselves. The stories need to be told to change perspectives. The answers need to be out there with the questions, so people can decide for themselves without being brainwashed. “Shikhandi and Other Tales they don’t Tell you” by Devdutt Pattanaik is one such attempt.

“Shikhandi” is a book of stories. Stories that have been forgotten – mostly intentionally I would think. Stories that celebrate the queer, the ones that do not differentiate between the masculine and the feminine, where form does not matter as much, where it is about fluidity and not rigidity of gender and where clearly it is about celebrating life. Devdutt tries to uncover stories in mythology about men and women, about gender bender, about situations where roles were reversed for good reason and sometimes for no reason at all.

To me, “Shikhandi and Other Tales they don’t tell you” is all about liberation. While reading it, I felt liberated and maybe that is the purpose of this book. From Narada who forgot that he was a man, to Indra who took the form of a Brahmin to make love to his wife when he was away, to Krishna who cross-dresses in time of war and peace for various reasons to more Gods and Demons and Kings and Queens who are not rigid about sexuality and gender, “Shikhandi” is a work that transcends orientation and gender.

The writing is precise and concise. The stories can be read in a day and yet how can one understand Queerness for all that it is, in a day or a week or even a fortnight? To then connect it to mythology is another matter altogether. To then not be judgmental about it is far beyond another issue. Devdutt’s stories are not about intrigue. They are not about provoking for the sake of it. They are provocative because it is time we drop the blinders and look at the world different, away from our myopic vision and conditioning of what is wrong and what is right. The illustrations and foot-notes are trademark Pattanaik and work wonderfully in this book.

“Shikhandi” is a paean to the marginalized, to the differences (seemingly so), to the unseen and the not spoken about tales. After interviewing him for Jaya and after reading Jaya, I thought there was nothing like that book. I was wrong. In my opinion, it is “Shikhandi and Other Tales they don’t tell you” which is his best work. Go broaden your thinking. Read this book for sure.

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Book Review: Suki by Suniti Namjoshi

Suki by Suniti Namjoshi Title: Suki
Author: Suniti Namjoshi
Publisher: Zubaan/Penguin Viking
ISBN: 9789383074105
Genre: Non-Fiction, Memoir
Pages: 132
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

A new year should always ring in with a new book – read and cherished and thought after for a very long time. Books that start the year on a great note are the ones that are fondly remembered as the year ends. For me, the year began with Suniti Namjoshi’s latest book, “Suki”.

Suki was the name of Suniti’s beloved cat and this is what the book is about – her memories with her cat – dear ones and sometimes the irritable ones, but memories nonetheless. The book is about Suki’s 4803 days and how each one mattered to Suniti. The book is structured in the form of conversations that Suniti has with Suki – on love, life, meditation, their relationship, other animals, morals, philosophy and a varied range of topics. The character sketch of Suki is so strong that at times, while reading the book, I actually wished she were a talking cat. To also be fair, maybe she did speak with Suniti in her own manner.

Why did the book interest me and why did I like it?

To begin with, the way the book is written. There is no linear narrative and that I loved. I mean, for how long should one read the same old style of writing? Something new is always welcome. The way Namjoshi speaks of her life in England and integrates with that of her cat’s is quite charming. The book then veered to the loss of Suki and how the writer came to cope with the loss of a loved one, through meditation.

“Suki” in my opinion celebrates life and its moments. It is not soppy. It is not preachy. It is not even sentimental. It is just an honest book – full of tenderness, of energy, of biting dialogues and more than anything else of relationships of every kind and nature.

Next Up: The Library at Night by Alberto Manguel

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Book Review: Eating Women, Telling Tales : Stories about Food by Bulbul Sharma

Eating Women, Telling Tales by Bulbul Sharma
Title: Eating Women, Telling Tales: Stories About Food
Author: Bulbul Sharma
Publisher: Zubaan Books
Genre: Literary Fiction, Short Stories, Women’s Literature
ISBN: 9789381017890
Pages: 115
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

You come across fiction all the time. You also tend to pick up a lot of which is highly recommended and then sometimes as a reader you are disappointed and do not know what to do with the person who recommended a book to you. Should you be honest enough in letting the person know that you did not like the read? Or do you not talk about the book or the author ever again to that person? But there are also times when people ask you to read a specific book and you love that book beyond anything that you might have read recently. This happened to me after I finished reading, “Eating Women, Telling Tales” by Bulbul Sharma.

“Eating Women, Telling Tales” was first published by Zubaan in 2009 and now to mark their 10th anniversary, they have reprinted this classic with a new cover. There are 9 such titles as well to the collection. Now to talk about the book. The book is beautifully and poignantly written. There are about seven women who come together to cook a meal for guests on the occasion of their male relative’s death anniversary. They cook and while they cook, each of them tells a story. These stories are either of themselves or of women they know and somehow food is integral to each and every story.

The vignettes are beautifully written – from tragic to funny to sometimes a satisfying turn at the end, each story is about food and women. Bulbul’s writing is clear, sparse and illuminates almost every aspect of life and what it takes sometimes to be away from home or to try too hard to be loved. Her women are traditional, grappling with the modern, trying to fit in and at the same time do not understand the new. They rather be embraced with their thoughts and mindsets, which but of course the only way it should happen. Even though in one story, a man takes the center stage, it is but the wife who is the strongest in it. Bulbul’s writing is playful and also mostly shows the mirror to the society and its inhabitants, who formulate such rituals which ultimately have no meaning and it is human life which is of most importance. A read to be reveled in and cherished for a long time to come.

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Book Review: The Missing Queen by Samitha Arni

The Missing Queen by Samitha Arni Title: The Missing Queen
Author: Samitha Arni
Publisher: Penguin Viking/Zubaan Books
ISBN: 9789381017647
Genre: Mythology, Fiction
Pages: 192
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

I have always wondered and thought that the Ramayana has nothing to offer in terms of shades of grey. I thought that it was a plain vanilla story, with nothing of value, though at the back of mind I was aware of Sita and her predicaments, I somehow did not give it too much thought. I was more focused on reading more of the Mahabharata, with its vast number of characters and intricate plot, there was no way any other mythological text could hold a candle to it. This was my opinion till I started reading, “The Missing Queen” by Samhita Arni.

I had read Samhita’s graphic novel, “Sita’s Ramayana” sometime ago, however that did not impact me much as this one has. Once in a while, I read a mythological piece of work that compels me to recommend it to whosoever I meet, and this time it is “The Missing Queen”. I cannot stop raving about. Most of it has got to do with the writing; however most of it has also got to with the plot and the new angle or twist so to say to the epic.

“The Missing Queen” is set in modern-day Ayodhya, ten years after Ram won the war and Sita disappeared basis the hearsay from the Washerman and other speculation by Ayodhya’s citizens on her chastity. Things have changed a lot since then. Ayodhya is indirectly a totalitarian state kept under strict vigilance by the Washerman and his people. Ram, but of course is the shining hero and king who looms large and makes decisions, however not without consulting some people. This Ayodhya is of television and media, of Cadillacs and malls, of consumerism and a complete dry state with bootleggers reining at night-time in shoddy basements. It is also on its way of becoming a democracy, which in a way is scary and at the same time liberating for some. Amidst all of this, a young journalist begins asking questions about Sita: What happened to her? Why did she disappear? She wants answers and does not even stop at asking Ram during an interview about Sita and her whereabouts.

She must not be asking such questions. The Washerman and his fleet chase her out of the city and she goes to Lanka in search of answers, which further takes her to Mithila. For me this was the best part in the book. Samhita has brought out different perspectives through this short book – of Surpanakha, of Vibhishana and his daughter, of Urmila and others who have been a part of the epic. While reading this book one also gets the feeling of the “other” part of the story. The question posed by the journalist seep into the readers’ head and that to me is great writing as demonstrated by Arni. There were so many places in the book where my heart just went out to Sita and also to the Lankans. That is primarily because of the writing and the world that Samhita conjures given her imagination and what happened after the war. There are so many questions in the book and also so many issues. For instance, the one line that struck me the most in the book was the one said by Surpanakha: “Do women need circles drawn in sand to protect them?” I think this is so relevant even today. Some men take it upon themselves to protect women, without wondering what they want. There are parts like these in the book that shake you up and make you question everything around you.

At times while reading the book, I felt that Sita and Ram and the Washerman were merely metaphors for who we are and our beliefs (if any) and that made me think a lot more of the plot of the book. I will of course not give away the ending. However at the end of it all, what I can say is that you have to read “The Missing Queen” to experience a different kind of tale and storytelling when it comes to mythology and more so to the Ramayana. A must read for February.

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