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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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The Novels of Anita Desai

One needs a lot of patience and time on hand to read Anita Desai’s books. Not because they are difficult reads, but because they make you ponder, mull, stop in between and reflect on your state of mind and heart, and just make you come back to the book/s in bits and parts.

I started reading Anita Desai while I was in college and the only thing that got me going with her books was the trailer of the movie, “In Custody”, which was based on her book. That was the first Anita Desai which I read and I haven’t looked back since. The movie was conceptualized by the duo Ismail-Merchant, which also led me to watching all their films and be in awe of their direction and production values.

Anita Desai writes with candour – the feelings are stark and need no explanation. Her characters are often cocooned, living in their own selves, comfortable in their skin and at times restless like any other character/s would be.

I have had various arguments with friends or acquaintances about her writing prowess and how she should be given more credit than that. Her novels are bleak but sometimes that is the truth about human nature – there is also the unknown kindness that makes itself visible in her works – from the relationship of the poet and his fan in “In Custody” to the delicate balance between a great–grandmother and her great-granddaughter in “Fire on the Mountain”, which gets maintained over the course of the book.

Desai’s characters are but human. They are awkward, shy, boisterous and often just want to live their lives cocooned without any interference from the world. Maybe that is the reason why her novels most of the time seem out of place in today’s times. That is the reason I read them. They somehow provide the necessary calm and quiet which is needed.

I remember reading, “Clear Light of Day” with great trepidation. The same applied to “Fasting Feasting”. That was due to the underlying themes of loneliness, despair and life not giving too many choices to the protagonists. Both the novels have the same undercurrents – of being there and yet wanting to have a life of their own. This is written without much sentiment, so though you feel sorry for the characters (to some extent), you do not feel the choke in the throat. For me that is the understated beauty of her books. They make you feel and that is more than enough.

My favourite Desai has to be, “In Custody” for sure. The subtlety of a poet’s last days and lost grandeur is depicted with such pathos, that even I could not help but cry in some parts (I am not being contradictory. Just stating the truth). The relationship between the poet and his long time admirer is so delicate and so factual, that one begins to wonder and introspect about all relationships in that manner.

“Fire on the Mountain” begins with an intrusion. Nanda Kaul is living her last years peacefully in the small town of Kasauli. Her great-granddaughter Raka is then dispatched to live with her. They think they are different from each other, till their similarities come to the surface along with the hurt, pain, kindness, only ending in tragedy.

The above-mentioned book is probably Desai’s most poetic work according to me. The descriptions and scenes are what are not present in her other books. The book has less dialogue and more beauty in the way the characters behave and silently ponder over the events unfolding around them. That is the true mark of Anita Desai’s books according to me – the slowness, the quiet and then suddenly a series of events occur that change the course of the characters’ lives.

Anita Desai’s books probably are set in different times and worlds, and yet they ring so true for present times. The pathos of “In Custody” to the grimness of life in “Fasting, Feasting”, her novels are not for the weak-hearted. Every book of hers is a gem to be cherished and kept and to go back to and admire as the years pass by. Anita Desai is truly one of India’s prolific and erudite writers. A must read for all literary lovers.

(Anita Desai’s 4 Titles Courtesy: Random House India)

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Book Review: Tea for Two and a Piece of Cake by Preeti Shenoy

Title: Tea for Two and a Piece of Cake
Author: Preeti Shenoy
Publisher: Random House India
ISBN: 978-81-8400-279-9
Genre: Indian Fiction
Pages: 265
Source: Publisher
Rating: 3/5

I think I have had my share of chick-lit reading for this year. I am glad that it ended with, “Tea for Two and a Piece of Cake” by Preeti Shenoy. Preeti Shenoy writes with urgency – almost like she has to catch the next bus and will miss it, but it is that urgency that gives the book its much needed tone and pace.

The plot is about starting again. Nisha’s life is not the perfect life one would want. She is plump (and well there is more than one reference to that in the book), plain-looking and but obviously single. She has had her heart broken once by being in an eight-year old relationship with the suave and charming Samir Sharma and being dumped at the altar. Enters a younger man Akash and the promise to start all over, knowing that it could or could not work out. Chances need to be taken and this time Nisha would have to take them all over again, though being guarded and apprehensive. The question is: Will she or won’t she?

The book has its secondary characters in the form of Nisha’s family, friends and colleagues, dispensing advice and sometimes just being there for her. For me, “Tea for Two and a Piece of Cake” worked in some places and some places it did not. The writing is very well executed. You can imagine the setting and it is more conversational, which worked for me.

What did not work for me was sometimes the entire premise – the end to be fulfilled only by having someone in your life and sadly it is true for the way we live now. The maddening need to find someone and for him or her to stay is the crux of the book, of course besides love, which is at the core.

Having said this, I enjoyed the writing. It isn’t in your face and at the same time it is not very guarded. I like how the concept of a live-in relationship was not made too much about in the book. It may not seem to be such an issue considering the times we live in, but it still is. Over all, I enjoyed the book barring certain parts which did not seem to work for me.

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