Tag Archives: living

The Legend of Lakshmi Prasad by Twinkle Khanna

the-legend-of-lakshmi-prasad-by-twinkle-khanna Title: The Legend of Lakshmi Prasad
Author: Twinkle Khanna
Publisher: Juggernaut Books
ISBN: 978-9386228055
Genre: Short Stories, Novella
Pages: 256
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

I remember reading “Mrs Funnybones” last year and loving it to bits. I was floored by Twinkle Khanna’s writing and just couldn’t stop turning the pages. In fact, I finished the book in a couple of hours and the same happened while I was reading her second book “The Legend of Lakshmi Prasad” – a collection of three stories and a novella. It is fiction – some of it is inspired by real life as well, but the gravitas in these short stories is something else. They are not screaming for attention from the rooftop. They are subtle and graceful and extremely affable.

This collection of stories could take place anywhere. You could meet their characters while walking on the road. They are common people and some extraordinary things happen to them. This is one of the reasons I love fiction. Big things happen to so-called small people and Twinkle does a fantastic job of bringing it to life in the pages of her book. At the same time, before picking up this book, I was very skeptical of how she would be at writing fiction and lo behold, she surprised me. I was wrong to even be a bit cynical. The book is fantastic and I am not just saying this because I have loved “Mrs Funnybones” or because I think she is extremely hilarious.

My favourite story in the book of course is the one modelled after the sanitary man Arunachalam Muruganantham- the man who was solely driven to not only generating awareness about menstruation in rural India but also ensuring that the women there use sanitary pads that are hygienic and low-cost as well. I am stunned by what he has done, by what people like him do. I didn’t know of him earlier, I shall admit but after reading the short story I had to know more about him. He is a Padma Shri award winner for spreading awareness against traditional myths and practices around menstruation. Now this is the kind of action we need in the country.

At the same time, while reading this story, I firmly believe that all of us must talk of issues that people shirk from – in this case menstruation. Why don’t we talk of women’s health more often? Why don’t we have conversations around it? Feminism is not just meant for online discussions, I suppose and a lot of ground has to be covered and from that perspective, this collection sure does bring to light strong women, their way of life and the issues surrounding them.

While I absolutely loved, “The Sanitary Man from a Sacred Land” (which might I add was written with a very irreverent and at the same time controlled tone), I absolutely loved the story of the two sisters – Noni Appa and Binni. It is about finding love at any time and at any age. It is simple, sweet and will leave you with a wonderful aftertaste of belonging to someone. The fact that you are the master of your own life and can make choices, despite initial hiccups, being a woman in her late 60s amazed me. I felt for Noni Appa and I wish my mother would have remarried when she had the chance. We all need companions and nothing is truer than that.

I also enjoyed the other two in this collection. The titular tale is of a girl almost saving girls of a village and in the process saving a village and ends up a hero of her own life. Twinkle Khanna’s writing is breezy, profound and most interesting. This book is full of impact, grace, tenderness and relevant issues of our times. I would highly recommend it to one and all. Do go out there, read The Legend of Lakshmi Prasad, talk about it, and gift it to people you know and love.

Academy Street by Mary Costello

Academy Street by Mary Costello Title: Academy Street
Author: Mary Costello
Publisher: Canongate Books
ISBN: 978-1782114185
Genre: Literary Fiction, Novella
Pages: 180
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

Very few times you come across a book that makes you feel and takes you beyond that, almost in another realm of consciousness. “Academy Street” by Mary Costello was one such book that did it for me this year (and the year has not even begun properly, so to say). If you are the sort of reader that only reads a book a month, then I will almost force you to read, “Academy Street”. It is a book which every reader (no matter what level of reader) should read at least once in his or her lifetime and I am not kidding about this.

“Academy Street” came to me at a time when I needed it the most. Yes, I do believe that books find you when they have to. Till then, no matter how hard you try, you cannot immerse yourself in the book. The book’s permission is needed. “Academy Street” is a novella of one woman and her journey from being a girl to an old woman and life as she sees it through those decades and years gone by. This is perhaps me simply putting it. The book is so much more and the layers to it are just phenomenal.

I had not heard of Costello before picking up this one but I am only too glad that I have now. Tess is not just a character. She is perhaps somewhere there in all of us in various forms or maybe just one. The book charts Tess’s story so to say from childhood till she is an old woman – all her happiness, her anxieties, her loves, her transitions, the loss of her mother (which is stated at the very beginning of the book) to her migration from Ireland to America, a new land with new possibilities, new hopes and new losses. How can one remain untouched by this novella? This was my only thought when I finished this gem of a book.

I am quite sure that other writers might have explored this theme in other books, but what makes this one different is of course the writing. Costello does not confuse the reader. The facts are laid out. The story-line is simple. The writing is simpler. The characters are not so many. So what makes me say that this book is astounding? It is all in the words and the sentences used by the writer.

At the core of the book, there is empathy, loneliness and sheer need to be accepted which intensified chapter after chapter. You get to know Tess like a close friend and there were times I just wanted to keep the book down, so there would be more reading time with it. The book is about her siblings, her friends, but above it all, it was to me, just a brief and simple testimony to life and the living. Tess is constantly finding herself. She is constantly seeking, trying to become that someone, and that will ring true for anyone who picks up this book. There is grace, devastation, eye for detail, elegance and above all empathy to Costello’s writing. I suggest you go and start reading this right now. Savour and cherish it, as books such as these are meant to.

Here are some of my favourite lines from the book. There are obviously more, but for now these will do.

In her life, ever, there were only a few people who had been a fit, with whom she had felt understood.

Ease her terrible ache for human touch, human love. The room was flooded with light and she was blinded, mesmerised.

And how all things change or end or disappear, and this would too, this day, this moment. She looked around. And you too, you will all disappear.

Oh honey, when it comes to the heart, it ain’t about men or women, but people.

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Academy Street

Dear Me: A Letter To My Sixteen Year Old Self : Edited by Joseph Galliano

Dear Me - Edited by Joseph Galliano Title: Dear Me: A Letter to My Sixteen-Year-Old Self
Author: Edited by Joseph Galliano
Publisher: Simon and Schuster Limited
ISBN: 9781847377661
Genre: Non-Fiction, Letters
Pages: 128
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 4/5

“If you wrote a letter to your sixteen-year-old self, what would it say?”

That is the premise of the book, “Dear Me” – Edited by Joseph Galliano. What would you tell your sixteen year old self anyway? What would you stop him or her from doing, which you know will be futile anyway, because he or she will not listen to the older you? The book is of famous people – of celebrities writing to their younger self, dispensing advice, providing nuggets of wisdom and trying to go back in time and perhaps contemplate on how life was.

The book is a revelation of sorts and at other times, I was tempted enough to pick up the notepad and write a letter to my sixteen-year-old self. There were letters that stood out – the ones by Elton John, Emma Thompson, James Woods, Jodi Picoult, and so many more. There are 75 letters in all, written by celebrities from various fields – from actors to comedians to novelists, they all are written depicting youth and what is called growing-up.

These letters touch on issues that are still prevalent – from gay rights to racism to being felt left out – the letters provide a sense of warmth and at the same time you empathize with at least a few of them, because you have gone through the same.

“Dear Me” is a bitter-sweet journey through life, sometimes scarily a reflection of your own. It is a book of letters, of contemplation, of thoughts and ideas. Joseph Galliano has done a wonderful job of editing this book and somehow compels you to write a letter to your sixteen-year-old self, sharing your fears and maybe consoling him or her – to let them know that it will all be alright, after all.

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An Interview with Arjun Shekhar

Hi everyone. Here is the interview with Arjun Shekhar I had the opportunity to conduct via mail. You can also read my review of “A Flawed God” here as well

1. Why the topic of Corporate Politics and The Share Market?

I feel that the Share Market is shrouded in a mist and though it affects everybody viscerally, people know nothing about it. I wanted to demystify the fog, let people know how the share market affects them directly and why they should know about it. As I said to another interviewer, the audience I had in my mind was my mom. She is an enlightened housewife who is wedded to an ex-government servant and has no clue about the corporate world whatsoever. But what she understands is Ownership – something she has displayed beautifully in keeping our home together and happy. So when I take this theme as the central topic for my novel rather than corporate shenanigans, I immediately connect to her and other such audiences. She was in for a surprise when she read my book – she found ownership also happens to be the primal force in the corporate sector and the share market exemplifies this. The shareholders are the first among equals of all the stakeholders and thus call the shots in strategic and financial decision making in a firm. So the theme of the book is ownership and the share market is only a stage to bring this out.

I suspect it is ownership that makes everything flow – it moves the world (the King of Bhutan took ownership to deliver democracy to the people) or the lack of it makes the world rot (as in when we don’t take ownership of common spaces).

2. The titled, “A Flawed God” says much and yet doesn’t. How did the title come to you and why?

Slowly and inexorably, the world is getting corporatized. Its coming now to India but many countries in the west are more or less run like and by corporations. In India too its becoming obvious that corporates are getting increasingly involved in our lives, if not taking them over entirely. At the individual level the coporates decide how we live, what choices we make, what we consume, and thus what values we hold, what motivates us and who we relate to. At the societal level, corporates increasingly determine macro economic policies, media policy and programming, environmental health, and even cultural mores. Politicians, bearaucrats, educators, dev sector activists, bollywood folks, sports fraternity and even the religious fraternity are genuflecting to the new high priests. And whose the new God on the block? The Share Market of course which is the temple of all corporate activity and intrigue.

Now to take up the second part: why do i call this God flawed? On two counts. First, it has created a breed of owners who have no ownership. Shareholders are mostly punters, or to be more politically correct, investors who will never set foot in the company they own. Like absentee landlords, they are interested in returns from the land and not in nurturing it. Now if that isn’t a flawed algorithm what is. They also have limited liability which means they can make the company bankrupt, pollute the environment, mess up the lives of many and face no consequences for it personally. Imagine that – you do what you want but no one can harm you as an individual. Sounds draconian to me and against the natural principles bequeathed to the human race by evolution.

Second flaw is that, as you know price is a key signal, which is supposed to give the buyer and the seller clear signals for action but in the case of the share market the way price is fixed itself is a joke. The prices go up and down like a yo yo on the flimsiest of triggers. Only a tenuous link with the company’s performance exists. The macro intangibles and internal intangibles of a company shroud the price determination in this market. For outsiders, mostly decisions to buy or sell are a gamble and for the insiders – I won’t go into that, there’s too much already been said about insider trading scams.

3. A lot of people can almost relate to Sancho’s character. Why do you think that is happening? Did you write the book
with that intent?

Sancho is a kind of anti hero and I suppose I created a character like him because there are more of us anti heroes around. Actually if you take a systemic viewpoint, there are too many elements in a system to allow any one person to emerge as a super hero in reality who can impact and control every element. That’s why super heroes only happen in stories and folklore. After they pass on they are turned into legends. In his own lifetime Gandhi was at most a legend in progress.

Some people have asked whether Sancho is autobiographical. My reply has been that since he is a character constructed in my head, he would naturally have been born out of the experiences I store in my head and so there are autobiographical elements to him. But at the same time I also identify with Pause his lover, since she too was born of the same soil.

4. Arjun the reader…

I am a voracious reader of course but also being involved in many real world ventures, I end up having a wish list longer than my read list at times, like many others I presume. I took to fiction early in my college life and in those days devoured everything by Milan Kundera, Franz Kafka, Doestovsky, Marquez. Now i have taken an added liking to Canadian authors like Alice Monroe, Robertson Davies. Of the Indian subcontinent authors i love Amitava Ghosh, Arundhati Roy, Mohsin Ahmed. Non fiction has been an acquired love that came late. Books in that genre that have affected me have been about linguistics and the co-evolution of language and the brain – authors like Terence Deacon, Frijtof Capra, Russel Martin etc.. Finally, I must mention that my highest brow reading providing me with the greatest insights has been Calvin and Hobbes, Asterix, and my daughter’s essays.

Regrettably my read list doesn’t include too many non english writers (except Kabir and Pash who i have read avidly) but for that I blame the context I grew up in. I have been trying to correct the imbalance of late…

5. Arjun the writer…

To be honest, it would be a stretch to call me a writer. I am more of a collector of moments – in fact, like other people collect photographs of their children – I have two diaries full of anecdotes of my 10 year old daughter Saanjh. Writing a book just happened to me. It seemed the best way to reflect and gain insights into my experiences in the corporate sector after i had withdrawn from it somewhat.

6. A Flawed God almost seems idyllic in its approach and content. Do you think we will ever get there from a corporate perspective and its workings?

Stories, I believe, are supposed to be idyllic. The flaws lie in the experience. The real world is messy and words have been given to us to sort it out in our heads in an idyllic way and so be able to cope with the seeming chaos out there. Now the thing with the corporate juggernaut is that it seems to be telling us that there is only one way. I don’t believe in single narratives, that’s why I decided to write about an alternative reality that doesn’t stretch the imagination too much and can easily be believed that it could be true. I wanted to offer an alternative. I wanted to remind the juggernaut of its origins. I wanted to make the juggernaut aware of itself. I wanted the juggernaut to reflect. And once it begins to reflect, it will not remain the juggernaut it is today.

But will we ever get there? To be honest, I discovered later that Charles Handy, the famous thinker and corporate guru, had already uttered my moderately heretical hypothesis way back in 1990. Let me quote from his book Beyond Uncertainty.

1. Profits are a necessary but not sufficient condition of success…
2. Owner with limited liability will never be owners, so don’t expect too much from them…
3. Owning people is wrong. Companies are collections of people these days, they are communities not property.
4. The law does not recognize this, it should.

Did anything change by his utterances? Well no, but look what has happened to the West. Reports about the decay are serious and anybody who is not listening to them are being ostriches – something like when we all believed the Marlboro man was the epitome of manhood and puffed away without a care till he died of lung cancer in the late 90’s. Of course, so many don’t quit but that’s because now they are addicted. In a similar way the world is full of addicts of the corporate way of life. Even so its becoming clear that this way has taken its toll on society when you look at it holistically. Just like smoking does to us. On the face of it we still look healthy…right uptill the time we take to the bed irrevocably.

I’m sorry for these dire warnings and people will blame me for spoiling the party. But i’m kind of addicted to reality myself and I report what I see as real. Yet my book is a happy book – the alternative is clearly spelt out – it isn’t just about berating the corporate sector, it’s about reform in it.

I feel if we instill ownership into the employees for the organization and its outputs, into citizens for common spaces, and into government for the people then the party will really start. From a regime of limited liability, I hope we move to a regime of full viability of the community.

7. Arjun’s next venture…

I presume you refer to a writing venture here. Well, I want to clarify that i am not a professional writer and never will be. Though, I won’t deny that I the hat fits as of now and I am enjoying wearing it. What I would prefer to do is let my experiences tease out words from me. So maybe my writing/ interpreting life will be sporadic, interspersed with bouts of living. But since I came to writing books late, meanwhile i had already accumulated enough experiences to tease out two more full length novels. While going through the long rigamarole of getting A Flawed God published, I wrote them down. So in a sense A Flawed God is really practise for the next one – End of Story. This one is set in the electronic media world. I use their own device – the story – to “expose” the real world of these word merchants that are shaping our consciousness these days. Instead of representing reality to us, i find their words are manufacturing our experiences…of course the messaging and the ‘exposing’ is merely a subtle sub text. The story is a racy, humorous, even more suspenseful thriller than A Flawed God.

8. I was fascinated by Pause Daniels’ character and the role she played in the book. Did you sketch the character from someone you know in real-life?

There is a colleague and friend from my early days in the corporate sector who was my muse for this character and I have told him so. Yes, it was a man. In fact, he was the first to read an early draft of this book and encouraged me to get it published. He was…is, a super high performer and a beautiful human being rolled into one. A super hero you might ask? I wouldn’t say so and Vinod Kala himself would laugh at the idea. I would just call him a sincere person who takes ownership of spaces like i have never seen anyone do before or since.

9. How did writing happen to you?

I think I answered that before. As humans we all hoard stuff, we are the ultimate magpies storing away for a rainy day. People collect money, fame, power, stamps and photos. I gather moments. I felt that capturing an experience with all its context is not possible in a camera. I was forced to take up the pen by the collector in me.

Ah I forgot, another inspiration was Pravah, an NGO i founded with my wife and a friend, since 1993, that builds social responsibility and leadership in young people. It was actually, those early funding proposals that brought out the writer in me. While on the topic of Pravah let me come back to your earlier question about my next venture. Another book being cooked up by a small group of authors within Pravah is called Ocean in a Drop, a kind of proposal to society to change the lens with which they have been viewing young people. Most likely, Sage will be publishing it and it should be out by early next year.

The Summer Without Men by Siri Hustvedt

I whooped with joy when I received an Advanced Review Copy of “The Summer without Men”. There was nothing better I wanted to do at that time than just stretch myself on my bed and read the book. To devour it, to read it word by word and not miss out on anything. I loved “What I Loved” and was waiting to read something else by Ms. Hustvedt right after and yes I read this one.

What happens when out of the blue, your husband of thirty years asks you for a pause in your marriage? Yes literally calling it that – a pause. What do you do? How do you react? Mia Fredricksen, renowned poet and writer gets asked that by her husband and cracks up to begin with, and then decides to take the summer off and hibernate to the prairie town of her childhood. She rages, she fumes, she bemoans, she suffers silently to begin with and slowly and steadily she gets roped into the lives around her. From her aged mother and her friends to the young neighbor with her disastrous husband and kids to the puberty-hit girls in her poetry class.

Mia then begins to see things differently (Surprise! Surprise!) and while doing that she comes across problems bigger than her own. She learns to see people differently and also corresponds online with the anonymous and sometimes abusive Mr. Nobody. Though initially trapped in a cerebral solitude Mia opens up and in doing so, she lets in some much needed air in her life.

This is not a chick-lit book. This is pure writing and thankfully it does not take pages to describe what the characters are going through. I loved The Summer without Men because it is not pretentious nor does it claim to be a feminist-central book. The prose is crisp and hits home all the time while you are reading it. Chuckle! Laugh! Grin! Read this book and all these emotions will for sure come alive.

Summer without Men, The; Hustvedt, Siri; Picador; $14.00 – Releasing in March 2011