In the seven decades since India was partitioned, more than 25 million refugees have crossed the new frontiers mapped out by Radcliffe. A holocaust that is still fresh in our memories, its wounds yet to heal, its repercussions irrevocable. The unbelievable human savagery that wrought the lives of millions of common men who had nothing to do with the decision, gave birth to many works of literature. Today, we call it ‘Partition literature’. Manto, Ismat Chugtai, Bhisam Sahni, Kushwant Singh are all names that came to the fore, in the wake of the biggest human holocaust that the Indian subcontinent witnessed. Dr. Shivani Salil’s stories written with the Indian Partition as the central theme takes one back to those harrowing days, which is today a history writ in our veins.
Salil has touched every single segment of the society in her stories and in doing so, has taken into account the minutest details. This goes on to show her tremendous efforts in research (geographical areas, local diction, food habits, clothing, etc.)
Through these 24 stories, Salil has created moments from the pages of history. A young Muslim lawyer who idolises Jinnah’s philosophy and hopes to see a new country for Muslims only to realise the falsehood of his utopia later, a sister who gets a postcard with a tattered picture of her brother after 60 years of the mayhem that took her away from her family, a young bride who loses her husband to the massacre and builds her life from scratch yet again, a mark etched on a Hindu house by mistake that saves the lives of its inhabitants (all unmarked houses were burnt down), a young mother who died out of hunger and sickness in a refugee camp with the guilt of not being able to give milk to her newborn, a Sikh father who killed his own daughter for saving the family honour at the hands of rioters…Salil touches these raw nerves of human emotions through her stories and creates spectacular moments that are both tenuous and distinct.
The author’s usage of Urdu/Hindustani words (with the English meaning of each word in the footer section) and mostly Urdu titles for the stories adds to the authenticity.
Tales that touches the inner chords, tales of falling asunder, tales of enormous hardship and tales of resurrecting life again, Dr. Shivani Salil’s ‘Hiraeth’ tells them all and how!
This book should is for all to read, especially our children, who need to know this significant event of our recent past that changed the course of life forever in the Indian subcontinent.
Kanha to Krishna is the debut book of Pranab Mullick who is otherwise practicing as an Advocate in the Supreme Court of India for the last 28 years. The book belongs to the now popular genre of mythological fiction. As the title suggests, this book is about the journey of Kanha the Gop to Krishna the Lord and it is only befitting that I finished reading it around Janmashtami, the day when Kanha was born!
Although the book is about Kanha/ Krishna, it’s not a paean to him and thankfully so. Most of us, in India at least, are quite aware of the mythological stories around Krishna so chronicling them wouldn’t really have made for an innovative book. The book does start with his birth and goes back and forth describing the various events surrounding it- Prince Kansa who deposes his father King Ugrasen to the imprisonment of Vasudev and Devaki to the growing years of Kanha in a cowherd and then landing in the city of Mathura that awaits its deliverance. It is the rich backdrop that however makes all the difference and which contributes to it being a compelling and may I add, an intriguing read.
The reader is introduced to the three Yadava clans—the Andhakas, Vrishnis and the Bhojas whose infighting helps Kansa stay in power. And then there is the triumvirate of Hastinapur, Magadh and Mathura who are forever involved in a power struggle and what it entails. The rich tapestry that is woven in the first few chapters may take a while to register considering the number of characters involved, but trust me it’s well worth your time.
I don’t like to give spoilers so I will not be divulging much on the plot. But as you turn the pages, you cannot help dwell on the insinuations made towards Bheeshma as being manipulative and one who tries to always be in control irrespective who the King is. This is a departure from the popular version where he’s hailed and revered as the noblest one and that makes you want to rethink. The passing reference to the politics in the royal household led by King Shantanu’s widow Satyawati offers you a glimpse of the unfortunate circumstances that Kunti and Gandhari were in. The book also delves in detail about an otherwise ignored character, Jarasandh. An attempt has been made to analyse him which again holds your attention.
Though the book is steeped in mythology there are two things that struck me. The first one being how Kanha (and later Krishna) has been described as human and the incidents around him (leelas as we call them) have been essentially ‘deglamorized’ to make them believable. This is a risk that could have backfired but the author has deftly dealt with it. The second thing that fascinated me is the way that the political scenario has been described. Chanur, a close aide of Kansa is a character I found intriguing. His plotting has shades of Chanakya’s kutneeti and at a lot of places you might end up drawing parallels with modern politics.
Meanwhile amidst all of this is Kanha who has to fulfill his destiny. A very believable saga follows describing how a humble cowherd does that. The price this greatness exacts on the personal front makes you feel sad for Kanha. Here again you are introduced to two characters- Akrur and Sandipani who play an important and a rather controversial role in Kanha’s journey to become Krishna.
Be it Chanur, Sandipani or Akrur, you are left with a lingering feeling that Kings may seem to have all the power but it’s the King makers who pull the strings. The book’s blurb very appropriately describes it as a unique retelling of Krishna’s story with an intensely realistic and political narrative. The language is flawless and so is the narrative, which for a grammar Nazi like me is a pleasure and a relief as well. As it joins the ranks in the ever-growing list of mythological fiction, I’d say it has the merit to stand out on its own with the right mix of politics, intrigue, love, treachery and power struggle.
A man who makes passionate love with naïve women and then kills them by giving away cyanide in the guise of contraceptive pills, a pimp who goes into a killing spree and burns alive women in the fit of rage, a woman who kills in a row by manipulating the minds of women in personal agony in the name of faith, an ex-army man who mindlessly kills children of migrants in a fit of revenge, a tender 8-year-old who kills his own sister and cousins ruthlessly. These are some of the unbelievably notorious serial killers, whose accounts one would find in Anirban Bhattacharya’s gripping non-fiction novel – The Deadly Dozen.
The author points outright in the beginning, ‘what is it that attracts us to the heinous crime committed by a serial killer?’ As a reader, I agree that it’s a mix of many factors that makes us inclined towards knowing about them. Each story in the book is narrated in great detail and is dramatically depicted, making it for a gripping read. The dedicated research that has gone into each of these accounts is noticeable. Bhattacharya being a co-creator and producer of ‘Savdhaan India’ a prime time TV show on the crime scene in India, has brought in all the necessary elements, data and backgrounds to the story.
In ‘Beer Man’, the author gives us an account of Ravindra or Abdul (after conversion to Islam) who seemed to be a killer of people who lived on the streets of Marine Lines. In a strange course of events, he would first inebriate his victims (mostly men) with beer, sexually assault them and then kill them. Beside every dead body, there would be found a can of beer, hence giving the serial killer the moniker of ‘beer man’. ‘Cyanide Mallika’ or K.D. Kempamma’s story is also equally chilling. Mallika would hunt for women who looked sad and depressed, talk to them kindly and promise them to solve their issues by offering a prayer to a very revered temple (with changed with every victim). She would take her victim to a different place, asked her to wear the best jewelry (to get the best results out of the ritual) and the end of the Puja instruct them to take the holy water. This holy water would be cyanide and the victim would perish minutes after consuming it. Her modus operandi gave her the moniker ‘Cyanide Mallika’.
Why would a person kill another human being like this? is the killer a human at all then? How come the society begets such beasts? Though each case is different, however they all seem to have an unthinkable taste for blood, violence and bestial pleasure.
Though all the cases are equally chilling, however, as a reader the account of the beastly killing capacity of an 8-year-old made me sit up from my sofa while reading his details and left me in utter disgust and a sort of fear. When inspector Shatrughan Kumar, officer in charge of Bhagalpur Police station sat opposite the 8-year-old, who had been arrested for the murder of three infants, Kumar’s head was wrapped in a fog of disbelief.
When Amardeep was 7 years old, his aunt came to their place and left her 6-month old baby with them, as she had to go to Patna for a job she got there, saying she would come back after 1 month and take her baby. When Parul, Amardeep’s mother went to the market, he went to the infant and started pinching it, the more the baby would cry, the more pleasure he would derive. He put his hands on the infant’s throat and throttled him. after killing the baby, Amardeep would go to the paddy field and bury him. 8 months after this horrid incident, Amardeep strangled his own sister (few months old) and quietly went and buried her as well. When asked by his wailing and shocked parents as to why he killed his sister, he said calmly, “just like that”.
Amardeep an 8-year-old child committed his 3rd crime by killing a girl (younger than him). when asked how he killed her, he said, “Khapda se mar mar ke suta deliyay” (I made her lie down in the grass and smashed her head with a stone). With dark, horrid and spine chilling accounts of serial killers, this book doesn’t give you any rosy picture of the world outside, it brings to the fore those cases that made even the most courageous police officer buckle under their knees with its ferocity.
Tight writing, superb editing and rich data make the book a complete page-turner. Absolutely gripping, we would recommend this book to all you readers out there who have been avid watchers of ‘Crime Patrol’ on Sony and have immersed into crime fiction novels. Go grab a copy of this riveting read!
The book, as its blurb describes it, is the story of a thirty-year-old ‘brand-spanking-new’ widow, Madhubala Ray who lives in Chennai with her seventy-year-old Mother in Law. Written as diary entries by the protagonist, the novel begins with her, wallowing in her husband’s loss. As she bares it all in her diary, you are introduced to her Tupperware-selling neighbour, an interesting bisexual best friend, her colleagues from work and some of her students whom she teaches Social Science.
As she seeks solace in wine and vodka, she’s drawn towards a colleague, a relationship that has been described in a detached, faraway manner. The author Chitrangada Mukherjee has spent quite a bit of time, and quite successfully I’d say, in creating a visual imagery of the protagonist’s surroundings.
If you are expecting a lone suffering lady swathed in white showing any overt signs of depression, you’d be disappointed. Instead there is an honest portrayal of a lady who has practical issues to worry about- like how to pay the rent and whether or not to hire an auto. Survival is high on her priority list. Can you really blame her for that?
The memories of a dead husband who’d loved her and who she had loved, are portrayed quite realistically. As she deals with the men in her life (there are three, including the BFF), you find yourself rooting for her instead of judging her and almost exhorting her to make the right choice. The protagonist’s parents have been described with a tenderness that one feels for one’s parents. Despite their foibles and follies, they are loved and looked up to.
The author has done quite some work on the details as she describes Chennai through the eyes of an outsider, a Bengali widow who doesn’t even know the language. The book is a very realistic and honest portrayal of her struggles and has its funny bits. It’s a light read and the pages are easy to turn. Towards the end, however, I felt that in an effort to tie the loose ends, there was a rush to set things right, especially the MIL who till then was silently cruising along, in the narrative. As everything suddenly falls in place, you still want to know whether or not she goes with your ‘choice’.
That felt a little jarring and I was let down. I was kind of hoping that the quirky odd ball widow would continue her unapologetic streak but I was denied that pleasure. Overall, I’d say this book can be a good companion in these rains, for those who want to snuggle in their favourite chair with a cup of steaming coffee and a book that doesn’t weigh one down.
I would rate it 3.5* out of 5
This book has been reviewed by a fellow Book Buzzer- Dr. Shivani Salil.
At the outset, the book intrigues you with its mind-blowing subtitle – ‘Not all that spins away is lost, not all that comes home is familiar’. These two lines, in nutshell, encapsulates the spirit of all the 13 stories in the book. Written by 13 women authors, all living in Delhi, ‘Escape Velocity’ is as much the story of their lives and experiences as it is of the city – Delhi, for in the pages of this book is painted various hues of the city that conjures up images in the readers’ mind, and their lies the success of these tales. The stories are real, aspirational and at the same time unapologetically self-indulgent. All of them have women protagonists or a central women character who mostly stick to their ‘comfort zone’ to better deal with the harsh reality of their lives. In the first story ‘For the love of Likes’ Anjali Gurmukhani Sharma takes us to a high profile Indian household and the gadget freak, facebook addicted Ramola, who puts in all efforts for getting those extra ‘comments’ and ‘shares’ on her posts, at the cost of ignoring her son’s basic requirements. Ramola’s husband wishes her happy birthday on facebook, with perfect pictures and an equally romantic write-up to complement it at sharp 12 am, but forgets to wish her personally while staying in the same house, as he had an important office call to attend. A workaholic, her has no time for either Ramola or their son. Ramola on the other hand finds refuge in this virtual world and in the end, when her son accuses her of ignoring him for her phone and says ‘go hug your phone mumma, you love it more than me’, though she temporarily feels pained, she regained her composure by watching the latest notifications on her phone. And, ‘hugging her smartphone, Ramola sat up straight and blinked through her tears to focus better in the screen.’
In the story, ‘Between Bookends’ Kasturi Patra Kasturi’s Viakat beautifully describes her escapades into the world of books ever since her childhood and how books became her soul companion and remained so throughout her various ups and downs.
Kavita Bhashyam Jain in ‘Slipping through my fingers’ brings out the pain of a mother after having to stay away from her child. A single mother, the chronicling of the protagonist’s relation with her daughter right from the moment of birthing her, is beautifully done. The relationship changed over a period of time though… “the pull and tug of time changed our relationship in new ways….least of all things like makeup and hairstyling”. The story takes us through the various stages in the ‘cycle of growth’ in a mother-daughter relationship.
Kiranjeet Chaturvedi‘s ‘Mauke Ki Nazaakat’ focuses on yet another interesting angle between two women. This time, mother-in-law (MIL) and daughter-in-law (DIL). This story is a tale of a daughter-in-law who shared a secret pact with her MIL – that of hatred. The son/husband had no inkling about this bitter relationship and neither did anyone else knew of it. The story takes us through the various events that took place in the protagonist’s life post marriage and how she dealt her mother-in-law’s illness tactfully (mauke ki nazakat) and took off for a delayed honeymoon later after her accidental death.
‘Seeta’s choice’ by Megha Consul is another gem of a story. Playing around the sensitive issue of ‘partial androgen insensitivity syndrome’, the story is a brilliant portrayal of how despite sexual disorientation, one can still make firm choices and lead a life of dignity. In this story, Dr. Shalini, a divorcee, finds a new direction in life in nurturing and caring for this boy, who had intersex disorder and was abandoned by his own parents. When he successfully portrays the role of Seeta on stage (in a different interpretation), Shalini shed tears of joy.
All the other stories of ‘Escape Velocity’ are special, as each writer has shared their stories of transformation. In Kiran Chaturvedi’s own words ‘even without a predefined theme or prompts we found a strong thematic connection between our stories. Each one had an underlying paradox, and a character or a situation wanting break out of the conventional.” The academically enriched foreword by Ashok University professor and author Saikat Majumdar, lends the book the right perspective. The story behind this collection of stories is also quite special. It was born when Kiran Chaturvedi, the curator of this collection, met the writer Kanchana Banerjee in 2014 and started discussing the idea of starting a writing workshop. With the support of Moitreyee Chatterjee, a senior publishing consultant, they set up Write & Beyond on Facebook within a week. “As we talked of writing, and wrote in each other’s company, it was like being around the proverbial hoary bonfire all over again,” writes Chaturvedi. “It was homecoming. It was validation, recognition, and permission to tell our stories, with the knowledge of being heard. We knew then, how our stories—real or imagined—while being personal in a particular way, were also universal.”
Soul Connection by Saurabh Turakhia is a single author anthology consisting of 30 stories. Though they are all stand-alone stories and can be read in any particular order, as I read each one of them, I detected a common thread running through all of them.
At the centre of most stories are quirky protagonists often with an artistic bent of mind. Their angst seeks an outlet that their art tries hard to provide. Most stories have a positive streak that shines through ending up as winners eventually. They are infused with hope and I am tempted to presume that it’s the writer’s optimism that’s clearly rubbing off on the stories. Often the story ends on a note that though seems impossible but something that the reader would hope for.
Without giving away too much, I’ll briefly tell you about some of the stories to give you an idea of what lies in store. There’s one titled ‘Stolen stories’ where a thief stumbles into an unknown artist’s stories and realises their potential. The stories go on to become popular but karma catches up with the thief.
‘Sketched in your mind’ is the story of an entrepreneur who reinvents himself into a self-taught artist. He wants people to appreciate art and that is what pushes him come out of his comfort zone.
‘Crossword’ is a murder mystery which has a puzzle as a crucial link to the murderer. As it unravels, it highlights the troubles that outsourcing is leaving in its wake. Quite similar to crossword is ‘The lost plot’ which is a revenge story with a twist.
While ‘Always your senior’ centres around the senior citizens who are left to fend for themselves, the story ‘Labour’ highlights the plight of labour who toil but can never enjoy its fruit.
The story ‘Meaning’ is about a writer who loses his all but all isn’t lost yet for him as adversity teaches him. ‘Drama’ is the story of a person whose penchant for looking for drama in the mundane disappears when life doles out drama. He adapts to emerge a winner nonetheless.
‘Tears to Giggles’ has an allegorical narration that tries to convey that comedy is serious business. Then there is ‘One day at a time’ which has a child who follows his heart and walks the road to happiness.
While ‘Reviving strained bonds’ is a story of chalk and cheese siblings trying to connect over a cup of tea and conversations, ‘Simple by choice’ is a story extolling the virtues of simplicity in times of plenty.
‘Game over’ talks about the menace of on-screen games and ‘Storyteller’s Soul’ has artificial intelligence taking over the ancient art of storytelling to give the listeners an immersive experience.
The stories are a pot pourri of various fragrances with some very interesting plot lines. The stories have huge potential in terms of the issues they are raking up. Having read them all, I felt that though the ideas were wonderful, there was a gap in the execution. They leave the reader wanting for more. The stories need to be projected in a more lucid manner, the flow doesn’t feel smooth and there is a dire need for edits.
An overall rating of 3/5 solely because of the varied topics it touches.
P.S.: Of late, I have been reading one too many single author anthologies and my advice is that read them one at a time. Allow each one to settle before you move to the next one.
Poignant, brutal and honest, the characters in ‘71 – A collection of short stories’ by Bangladeshi author and scholar Rashid Askari and published by Rubric Publishing, evokes emotions that tug a string in your hearts. The Liberation War in Bangladesh that saw mass blood bath, plunder and unthinkable human suffering in 1971, has been effectively captured in two of his stories in this collection – ‘Circumcision’ and ‘Virgin Whore’. When fiction is built over facts and real-time massacres, there is little space for imagination. With the author being a fellow Bangladeshi, the readers are aware that these characters might have just been real people of blood and flesh!
The author effectively paints vivid accounts of the horrific fate that innocent victims had to meet at the hands of the Occupation army, lending the story an emotional quotient that almost becomes palpable.
When the Muslim army man asks a petrified Haripada to recite Islamic Kalema to prove his religious identity, as readers our hearts skip a beat. When Haripada (despite being a Hindu) recites the kalema perfectly, we are relieved for a second and earnestly pray that he escapes this dreadful situation and escape death at the hands of these beasts. But then the horrific ‘final’ test doesn’t allow him that. As the ‘wolves’ pulled down his pants to ascertain his religion, death stared at him starkly.
Even though each tale in this collection of 12 short stories is placed within different socio-political framework of Bangladesh, the emotions ingrained in them are ‘Universal’. Their joys would make anyone happy, their doom would create a vacuum in the hearts of many.
In the story ‘Human Cow’, when the poor wife of a debt-ridden farmer is ultimately forced to plough the field herself to pay off the debts of her much older husband, as readers our hearts ache at the thought of this docile woman of rural Bengal who (in her struggle with utter poverty) had to pull the yoke along with her animal partner and become a ‘cow’ herself.
In the story ‘Co-wife’, a different form of narrative comes to the fore. Askari through his deft storyline makes a strong point against male patriarchy and how! When Protagonist Bilqis after years of marriage couldn’t yield a child to her husband, the quick fix was him going for another marriage. Though guilt-ridden, her husband Nuruzzaman slowly shifts his attention and gears his emotional and physical needs towards the much younger ‘new wife’. Bilqis is left deprived, dejected and shattered. The biggest blow came to her when she realised that though her husband was dutifully sleeping with her at intervals, he wasn’t so keen on ‘wasting his seeds in barren soil’, he was ‘reserving it for a piece of fertile land’.
Bilqis, who had a strong belief within her of not being infertile in the first place, avenged her years of anguish in her own way and ‘gave out the good news’ soon.
Rashid Askari, apart from taking issues from day to day life and its various aspects, has also touched base with a rather sensitive area that is more often than not, barred from exploring in mainstream literature – male impotency. In the story ‘A Slice of Life’, protagonist Selina, a very meritorious student receives her ‘Grade A+’ prize in school from chief guest Alamgir, young, handsome and influential politician. She gets overwhelmed and awed by his persona and when she learns that his wife left him even before a year of marriage, her heart goes out to this him. Alamgir too shows much interest in her and eventually proposes marriage her, which to an innocent and tender Selima seems like a ‘dream’.
She didn’t realise anything on her wedding night, but gradually the reality of his ‘barrenness’ started raising its ugly head. Even with a luxurious life, a flat in Dhaka city and servants all around her, Selina’s life becomes unbearable.
The realistic approach towards the entire issue and the treatment of both these characters, makes this story one of its kind. The insecurities of the man, his ways of dealing with it and Selina’s subsequent behavior is deftly dealt with. This story has to be one of the most unique ones, given the topic and it’s sensitive handling.
One thing that is very evident in all the stories in this collection is the righteousness that each of its protagonist showcase. Whether it is the neglected wife, the trained Jihadi, the Hindu man who dreams to see Bangladesh as a republic country for all and live there forever, or the prostitute, each character lives on certain principles and ideals that guide them to their actions.
In the story ‘Virgin Whore’, when the prostitute Bhasanti realised that the Occupation army (at the time of Liberation war, 1971) is attacking whore houses, she resolved to herself that she might sell her body to earn her living, but she wouldn’t lie with occupation squaddies for love or money.
When she was finally caught by the raiders in the steamer in her bid to escape the atrocity, and found herself gheraoed by 30 army men, Bashanti took the call. She threw herself into the deep waters. “She knew she was nearing the end of her life, but she felt happy to think that she was still a virgin.. She had not been defiled by alien beasts”.
A wonderful collection of touching tales and a runaway Bestseller in Bangladesh, gift yourself the amazing experience of reading this book. My rating 4.5*/5. Here’s the Amazon link to his book: https://amzn.to/2xp3QtI
About the Author:
Rashid Askari is a Bengali-English writer, fictionist, columnist, media personality and an academic in Bangladesh. Born on 1st June, 1965 in a sleepy little town of Rangpur, Bangladesh, he took an Honours and a Master’s in English from the University of Dhaka, Bangladesh and a PhD in Indian English literature from the University of Pune, India. He is currently the vice chancellor of Islamic University, Kushtia, Bangladesh. Askari emerged as a writer in the mid-1990s and has by now written half a dozen books and quite a large number of articles, essays, and newspaper columns in Bengali and English published at home and abroad. His two Bengali books: Indo-English Literature and Others (Dhaka-1996) and Postmodern Literary and Critical Theory (Dhaka-2002) and one English book The Wounded Land deserve special mention. He is one of the major present generation Bangladeshi writers in English with his own very personal style.
Honest, sublime and unputdownable, Sana Munir’s ‘Unfettered Wings’ speaks of many worlds and paints many hues with its own distinct colors in the mind’s firmament.
A girl caught in the midst of the Partition mayhem who after losing everyone dear to her finally marries a man twice her age for the sake of refuge, a woman who has legally battled her way out of a nefarious relationship and is now resurrecting her life from scratch, a girl who took bullets for her kindness towards a stranger, a woman who battled the trauma of childhood molestation all her life, a mother of 3 sons who realized the true significance of ‘motherhood’ only after giving birth to a girl child with Down Syndrome. These are some of the characters that pulls you like a magnet and leaves you overwhelmed with their incredible tales. These are the women residing the pages of ‘Unfettered Wings’ written by Sana Munir.
The book is a collection of 10 shorts that speaks about the ‘extra ordinary stories of ordinary women’ with each story having its own flavor and taking the reader on a literal journey through the various contours of Pakistan. It is most fascinating how the author has covered different parts of the country in her stories.
While reading the story ‘Maria’, I was literally transported to the quaintly beautiful Baluchistan, the land of the deserts, from where comes a merchant to the city of Lahore to sell his carpets. In his land, poetry is sung to the rhythm of ‘dutar’ that may not be a ‘’grand orchestra of sorts, but is so titillating that the vibrations reach from the eardrum to a place deep inside.” Simplistic Baseer lands in the city and falls in love with the beautiful Maria. Soon he loses his sleep over her and stands outside her mansion daily to get a glimpse of her. After days of waiting to see her in person, he finally makes it to her mansion one day, his naïve self gets exposed to the riches of her world. But he soon realised that for Maria ‘love’ has no meaning, its isn’t something she is seeking. Through her words, he understood where her ‘interest’ lies and could rationalize why so many men came in and went out of her huge mansion at different times of the day. With a broken heart, this rural lad left her mansion that day. He ‘stopped standing in front of Maria’s house, but she kept house in his heart….she stayed in his subconscious mind, when he made love to his wife, who bore him 4 children’.
Each story in this fantastic collection will tug a string in the reader’s heart, with its wonderful narration and immense impact.
In the story ‘Habiba’, the author takes us to the rugged terrains in the district of Nushki that’s surrounded by hills and rocks. Habiba’s father is a contract killer who takes ‘assignments’ of kidnapping high profile people. Habiba, the rebellious of the two sisters, with a heart of gold, falls for this ‘prisoner’ who was stationed at their place and eventually meets a fatal end for an act of kindness towards him, which was misunderstood for adultery. Girls like Habiba are the ones who follow strict purdah and hence are totally cut off from the outside world. The author describes, “at fifteen years of age, Habiba’s beauty has not been admired by a man’s eye. She always had every bit of her skin covered, except her eyes – they were like a poetic mix of blue and green, with specks of gold and black in them.’
The harsh reality of the patriarchal society in the rural parts of Pakistan and the vulnerability of the human heart is effectively brought through this touching tale. The effect of the last few lines of this story are tremendous and I for one, couldn’t move on to the next story before taking a few moments to let the heaviness subside.
In the story ‘Eeman’, the author takes us to a strange world, that of motherhood that emerges and evolves with the birth of a girl child. With three sons already borne out of her, it is only when Zainab gave birth to Eeman that she realized the true strength of a woman, a girl. The author writes, “every time a woman gives birth to another, she is possibly channeling another mother into the world, another source of God’s system to keep the world running. A female foetus develops ovaries and eggs in her body, even before she comes into the world. She is prepared to be a mother even before her own birth. That, and that alone is reason enough to welcome a girl child’. Powerful lines, it really moved the woman in me to the core.
The story ‘Meera’ again takes us to this urban world of Pakistan where the protagonist Meera is this college professor who at later stage of her life, ventures into a new world – that of writing and publishing her own works. Here, through Meera’s journey, we get a slight glimpse of the real challenges that an author writing in English language faces in Pakistan. Facing printing difficulties and other hurdles, Meera explores the internet and gets in touch with literary agents in Delhi, and subsequently gets published through an Indian publisher. Due to the political tensions between the two countries, vehement protests and abuses are hurled at her by many, but Meera remains undaunted by them all. She continues her writing journey and eventually gets recognized in her own country as well.
All these 10 women are known to us, we can all relate to them. As for me, after reading and breathing them for all these days, they have become a part of me now.
The protagonists in this collection are strong woman who face hardships, challenges and extreme circumstances with grace and elan. These are woman who lead simple lives, but their battle makes their lives special. They are the ones with undaunted spirits, they are the ones with Unfettered Wings.
Book : Twin Tales from Kutcch Author: Saeed Ibrahim.
Imagine walking through the sands of time in Gujarat and Mumbai during colonial times – a period well known for thriving businesses, flourishing European architectures, antique shipping and trade, traditional mouth watering cuisines, struggle and gradual transformation of lifestyle. Often, the past is forgotten in some corner of our memory. In this context, Saeed Ibrahim’s book “Twin Tales From Kutcch” provides one perfect recipe for us to revisit the gates of nostalgia.
The author has undergone a great deal of research while penning down this novel, and its evident enough in the first few pages (Needless to say, as we read further, the entire novel proves to be a testimony for the same). The detailing has been exemplary. Authors who are keen to begin their writing career with a flight, should surely check out the impeccable manner in which Saeed Ibrahim has worked on his debut with regards to research and detailing. The plot revolves around the lives of the two Aisha (s) i.e. Aisha Jan Mohammad and Aisha Usman. The story is built around how their lives are intertwined with each and further intriguing chain of events that unfold one by one. 10 on 10 for the plot!
The flow of the narrative not only manifests itself through its wonderful usage of lucid language but also takes the reader on a seamless, literary voyage and lets him absorb the essence in each of its chapters that reflects the times of late 19th and early 20th centuries. The writing keeps the reader hooked on. I must mention one thing here – though readers of fast paced novels such as thrillers, horror or science fiction might not find such books entertaining as it doesn’t cater to any spurt of adrenaline, the book is a perfect read for those readers who look to gain knowledge about places and people and other factual details. I would give 8 on 10 for the flow of narration.
The characters are a feast to the readers as they organically develop over the pages. While the author describes about the characters and their lifestyles, one can find themselves immersed while reading the details of their habits and occupations, almost in a sluggish, yet tranquil and inebriated manner.
The book is a little pedantic though and as mentioned earlier, such extensive detailing might overwhelm some readers. For example, in the very beginning one might find the sketch of Jan Mohammad (the father of the protagonist Aisha) dealing with common-folk barbers and their psychology in the yesteryear pretty informative. However, one might also root for the story to gain momentum and bypass the information overload.
Again, we also have a stream of characters which makes the novel interesting as it proceeds forward. Cameo characters (such as Mr Stevens) or supporting characters (such as Khattiboo) were an absolute delight. A full 10 for the author to bring such characters to life.
Dialogues in the story were few considering the grandiose detailing. However, there were a few situational lines which were enough to seal the deal as a definite pick for the history enthusiasts. The title of the novel is very apt. A full 5/5 for that.
The cover of the book is pretty ordinary. It has become a fashion amongst publishers to adopt similar themes – yellow, orange & red with certain fonts which are forcibly applied across all themes – from historical fiction to young adults. I believe the cover should have been a bit more interesting. The cover should have reflected aspects from the novel such as an old bazaar or an outline of the woman. Even a woman in a bazaar would have worked instead of two rural women in the desert with their face veiled up. Gone are the days when both authors and publishers felt that a veil signified mystery for the readers. Contrary to what is said (never judge a book by its cover), a book is certainly judged by its cover. This is because, a book has two kinds of readers: core readers and windfall readers. The latter would very well overlook this drab cover and go for a fashion magazine which defeats the purpose of such a stellar novel. First impression is always the best impression and hence, the cover gets a meager 1/5.
Overall, the ratings of this book clocks a decent 41/50 (4.1/5) and it makes a good read. I would recommend it to history lovers, especially those interested in the colonial era.
“Is it partition time again? Ma asked when I drove her to the station to put her on a train. Feeling her heart pounding against my chest, I patted her on the back and said, ‘Don’t be silly. Partitions do not happen every day.’
‘The unsafe asylum – Stories of Partition and madness’ is a collection of 13 interlinked stories with mental hospital and its patients (both in India and Pakistan) at the background, and brings out the various incidents that take place in the lives of these characters over a period of time. The stories begin from June 1947 and cover a span of 40 years ending in 1984.
Anirudh Kala, himself a noted psychiatrist narrates these fictional tales which must be inspired from his own encounters from countless seminars and visits in India and in Pakistan during his visits to the mental health institutions there. When a ‘line of partition’ was drawn by Radcliff, along millions of people who crossed the border in huge numbers, there were also Hindu and Muslim patients who needed to be shifted from mental hospitals of the both these countries. The book revolves around them and their heart-wrenching stories.
The story ‘No forgiveness necessary’ talks how in that summer of 1947, ‘when mental hospital was a safer place than the world outside’ hospital officials for the first time compiled names and addresses of patients from specific religions, so that they can be deported to their ‘own countries’. The story narrated the tale of two best friends Rulda Singh and Fattu (Fateh Khan) who find themselves separated through deportation. While Rulda who was from Rawalpindi, was sent to India, Fattu from Hoshiarpur was detained in Lahore. Even after their discharge, these two friends had imaginary conversations and kept hearing each other’s voices. When normal human beings (who crossed borders) couldn’t face the trauma of being in an unknown land, one can imagine the misery of these mental patients who were thrown into the darkness of the ‘unfamiliar’ post partition.
There is another story called ‘Sita’s bus’ that narrates the tale of a married Sikh woman who was left out during Partition in Sialkot, Pakistan and becomes Firdaus Cheema from Harpreet Cheema after marrying again a Muslim man. She eventually gets pregnant but then the two countries sign an agreement to repatriate each other’s woman. The agreement included ‘consent for abortion’ with a ‘special fund’ allocated for mass abortions from the government. While she was forcibly sent to India, at a refugee camp in Jalandhar, she realized that her baby with her Muslim husband has been aborted as her first husband Manjeet Cheema agreed to accept her, only if she aborted the Muslim man’s child. Harpreet never meets Manjeet, instead she chose to take a bus to Delhi from there and when the bus conductor asked her name, she replied ‘Harpreet’. He asked, ‘Harpreet? Agge pichhe kuch nahi?’ (nothing before or after?) She smiled and said, ‘Agge pichhe kuchh nahi.’
From abortions to mass displacement to hallucinations that affected generations, Kala being the best fit for writing such stories, gives facts and figures that goes on to speak volumes about how their lives were wronged at the hands of the fateful decision of partition. In the story ‘the mad prophesier’, the charecter of Dr. Prakash Kohli says, ‘about 300 people died in this hospital in 3 years while waiting for their transfer. That is, about half the patients that should have been transferred.’ Such was the violence that even mental patients who had no idea about the world outside where victims of communal violence.
The book gives us, who are far removed from the world where these people reside, an insight that can make one tremble at the sordidness of it all. In one such description, the author speaks about how Partition affected Fattu, ‘between curses and stark anatomical description, Fattu talked disjointedly about boys slaughtered in the snow, girls beings shot for singing mahiyas at weddings and a whole lot of cashews in school-children’s satchels being drenched in blood. It was a prolonged jumble of words and sobs after, and then he finally seemed to have exhausted himself. He lay down, spent and motionless.
Another story ‘A spy named Gopal Punjabi’ speaks of a man, who was an Indian spy but changed his loyalty thereafter to ISI just so that he can live and stay in the house he was once born. And as the author writes, in between ‘flag’ and ‘home’, he chose ‘home’. Known as Samiullah Ahmed Pash, minutes before his death, he revealed his real identity to his daughter-in-law Aalia.
Aalia after listening to him was devastated and dumbfounded.
How could a young man give up his country and his faith just to fulfill a childish wish to go back where he had once been happy? Just to be able to live in the house where he was born and where his parents were killed before his eyes? Just to be able to sit for long hours infront of the school he went as a child?
In an interview with the Indian Express author Anirudh Kala says, “Like Rulda and Fattu, there were many who were stuck in mental hospitals in Lahore, Hyderabad, and Peshawar in Pakistan and Agra, Bareilly and Ranchi in India. It was only three years after the Partition that both countries decided to get them back in 1950.”
All the 13 stories take up some issues that resulted due to the great divide and perhaps as a professional working closely with the victim, it was important for Kala to write these stories. “It made me realize that this partition of minds on communal lines can happen again, as it has so many times in the past,”.
Stark, sordid and real to the core, these stories pull out the effects of Partition from the deep recesses of the often ignored and unknown world of Mental hospitals. These characters are not the ones we meet everyday, however, their suffering was no less than ours in those horrid years, infact it was much more.
The Book Buzz strongly recommends the book & rates it 4 stars out 5!