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Sunday, 6 October 2019

Naked Beneath the Midnight Sun by Kamalini Natesan: A Review

This novel can be called a garden of the five senses. It reads at a languorous pace, taking the reader into sylvan surroundings, a pastoral paean as it were. We can "see" the scenes, so visual are the descriptions.

The novel is set in India and Norway, around the mid eighties. Suchareeta, or Suchu for short is a young adult straining to break away from parental bonds to find her feet in a foreign land . She gets the opportunity to study in Norway for a year and jumps at it, aided by her parents in their own ways.
In discovering Norway she also discovers herself. How it all comes about forms the rest of the story. 

The relationship between Suchu's parents is delineated delicately. The author's grasp of human relationships is admirable. For example, attention is subtly drawn  to secrets shared separately with each parent. 
The author has her finger on the pulse of characters across countries and generations. She has got every character's accent or dialect down pat. The finely nuanced differences in cultures are highlighted by juxtaposition. 

The story illustrates how distance can sometimes bring you closer. Letters can express emotions which cannot be shown face to face. The letters exchanged between Suchu and her parents, showcase the feelings of both generations. Suchu's need to prove herself deserving of independence in a letter to her mother, stands out beautifully, and is topical. Maybe parents whose children are straining at the leash, can get some perspective with this. In another instance,Bhuvan's letter is just right, mistakes and all!

The writing is peppered with unobtrusive homilies ("I dont fight, I simply resist the need to be right"; "The balm needed was in the listening of the tale")and unusual metaphors (" The wooden staircase accompanied her every step in the night, that went by unnoticed in the day.")

This is not a quick read, but one to be ruminated over. It is to be enjoyed like a symphony or an epicurean dish. The vocabulary is a delightful deviation from the usual frenetic, clipped, snappy, staccato reads, yet does not send the reader running to the dictionary. Rather, the reading is like meeting old, nearly forgotten yet dear friends.

I would like to have a little more insight into the secrets of Suchu's parents; here's hoping for a standalone book on their life too!

A few typos have crept in but nothing a round of editing cannot fix.

All in all an unusual, lyrical read. 



Tuesday, 25 December 2018

Review of "From An-Other Land" by Tanushree Ghosh


Friends!
I am not addressing you, the readers, but remembering the iconic sitcom from where many of us got our images of life in the USA. This and other TV shows and books, of course, have been our window to the American way of life. “From An-Other Land” by Tanushree Ghosh brings to us a view from another window---- through the eyes of Indian immigrants to the Land of Oppportunity.
Laced with understated humour, this book of short stories throws up the complex dynamics of relationships, between people and between people and the country they have chosen as their own.
The story of Tarun and Michelle slowly and poignantly unravels, as the complicated emotions of Michelle lead us to wonder about Tarun, “Will he, won’t he?” Then there is the unusual tale of a woman who marries her brother-in-law for a green card, not only for herself but for her husband as well!
The author puts a lot of thought into the naming of her characters. For example, the sisters Asti and Tiyash are named like inverses of each other, and their personalities are opposite too. The characters are introspective. Tanushree showcases the dichotomy that immigrants must deal with---- their Indian heritage and their American sensibilities. A perfectly harmless question in India may be construed as an intrusion in America.
A couple of stories also bring up the other point of view--- that of American citizens who feel insecure about Indians taking away their jobs. Yet, through this insecurity, an empathy prevails, with both sides realising that the other is human too.
The development of each story and the delineation of the characters bring to mind an iceberg: there is a lot more beneath the surface, than what is seen at first glance. The author hints at many layers of emotions. She also employs quirky turns of phrase. In the tale about the Biswas family, she says of the forgetful mother, “--- some names had fallen into oblivion through the cracks in her sixty-five year old memory.”
In many of the stories, the underlying theme is loneliness, yet the human spirit also shines through.
Instead of plunging straightaway into the stories, the author has cleverly introduced her characters in the first story, as people in line for Immigration. As we go through the book, we are compelled to turn back to the first story, just to see where each character comes from, in terms of their mental state, and their aspirations.
The author is an observer and she gently brings to life the myriad characters that people this book.


Wednesday, 12 December 2018

Gurgaon Moms Book Club Meet: From An-Other Land





An event attended for GurgaonMoms  .www.gurgaonmoms.com 

#MomSureCan


On a sunny winter morning, many of us from Gurgaon Moms Book Club got together at the GreenR cafe, located in the 32nd Milestone Complex. The cafe was sunlit and spacious, just right for an animated discussion.  The philosophy behind GreenR is to provide healthy and delicious alternatives to the regular fare available at other cafes. Not only that, they are strong believers in the plant protein revolution, which provides nutritious and sustainable alternatives to meat, for both vegetarians and non- vegetarians.

 We were to meet two authors:  Rinku Paul, who has written “Daughters of Legacy” and Tanushree Ghosh, author of “From An-Other Land”.
Tanushree is a multifaceted personality. She is an alumnus of the Presidency College, Kolkata and IIT Kanpur. She holds a Doctorate in Chemistry from Cornell University and works for the Intel Corporation in the USA. Tanushree is also a social activist, working with the India Chapters of ASHA and AID in the USA and is connected to many women’s and civic engagement organisations.
For many of us, our window to life in the USA has been American TV shows, films and books. “From An-Other Land” brings to us a view from another window --- through the eyes of Indian immigrants to the Land of Opportunity. Laced with understated humour, Tanushree’s book throws up the complex dynamics of relationships between people, and those between a person and the country they have chosen as their own. For Tanu, her writing is linked to her social activism as well, as can be seen by the dedication at the beginning of the book. Instead of straightaway plunging into the stories, the author has cleverly introduced the characters in the first story, as people in line for Immigration.
 As for Rinku Paul, the present book, Daughters of Legacy ( about heiresses to business houses) is the third she has written, the other two being “Dare to Be” (about women who gave up corporate careers to follow their passion) and “Millionaire Housewives” ( about housewives who started their own businesses and emerged successful)
I asked Tanushree Ghosh, if the Great American Dream is also still the Great Indian Dream. She feels that this is true to a large extent. It is not just the economy and infrastructure, which are conducive to development; the work culture itself encourages excellence. At University, the quality of research is something else, as it attracts the crème de la crème of brains.
A recurrent theme in her stories is loneliness. Asked about this, Tanu said that as a society, the USA is a private one. So immigrants can feel alone in a crowd.
In a free ranging conversation with Upasana, both Tanu and Rinku gave us insights into the fields of their interests.  When asked about what was common to the protagonists in their stories, Tanu  felt that it is a feeling of the identity suffering a blow. The country defines your identity as well as makes you lose it.
Rinku felt that all the women she had spoken to, had a secret formula: to outshout the naysayers. As women, we are prone to second-guessing ourselves. This feeling of inadequacy is called the Imposter syndrome. We have to overcome that, since there is no right time to start ---one just has to take the plunge. We never negotiate for ourselves ---- for this, an effective trick is to think one is negotiating for one’s child!
Another discussion dealt with what changes when one becomes a Mom. There is Mom guilt. This can be overcome by really spending quality time, where the mother is totally with the child with no distractions whatsoever. She also needs to accept herself as an individual and do something nice for herself. The mother can prepare the child for the road, and not try to prepare the road for the child.

Asked about the stories she wrote, Tanushree said that most of them are based on true stories. She does not want to tell people what to do, but just present life as it is. Thus her book is a mirror to society, and is her way of reaching out, and turning the lens on to social problems.
Rinku was asked why she chose to write only about women; specifically why only those women. She feels that with the prevailing patriarchy inherent in the system, women have had to face a different set of challenges all together.
Each statement sparked a further discussion, until the sunshine outside was reflected in the brightness of the conversation within this cosy cafe! 

Tuesday, 7 August 2018

The Oak


What can the oak tree lean on?
What does the oak tree lean on?
Buffeted by winds on all sides
Standing firm, but shaken too
Stirred from within
A rustle through the leaves,
Then silence.

What can the oak tree lean on?
 Does it remember: it was an acorn?
It came from an oak tree too
That tree, now gnarled
Knotted, withered
Yet standing.

Roots entrenched deep,
Earth its anchor,
A little bent maybe
Still steadfast.

Our oak stands up straighter,
Digs deep into its reserves
Squares its branches
A ripple shakes the leaves
The oak straightens up,
Ready for the storm.

Tuesday, 14 November 2017

Grace



Anita was late. Despite having got up earlier than usual, she had not been able to get out at the time she had aimed at. She had only herself to blame, of course. Because she had got up earlier, she had blithely taken up an extra chore: neatening up her cupboard, if you please! How was that for ambition? Of course that task could not be completed and of course, she had to listen to Harish’s smug pronouncement on her “disorganised way of working”! It did not help that she had had to stuff the rest of the clothes back into the cupboard, unsorted. It seemed like she was proving him right.
Calming herself down and rushing through the rest of her chores, she finally left for work. The high speed lift of their building seemed rather slow today, with people getting in and out at almost every floor. She finally reached the ground floor. Before she could step out when the doors slid apart, a group of twenty-somethings started entering the lift, laughing and talking. Something snapped in the usually cool and collected Anita.
“Excuse me,” she said in a cold, steely voice, “Can you let me exit please, before you get in?”
“Sorry Ma’am!”
“Sorry Auntie!”
At least the youngsters had the grace to look abashed. She had half a mind to lecture them on lift etiquette but let it go. Enough of a skirmish, already. As it was, she thought she saw a smirk and an eye-roll bounce around the group, as if saying, “Irritable! So early in the morning!”
She was miffed at being called Auntie, but realised that in her early forties this was what she should expect to be called by people twenty years younger than her.
“I guess I should be glad that one or two of them called me ma’am!” she sighed to herself.
The office day went by in a blur. The frenetic pace was not new to her; she was used to taking multiple challenges in her stride. However, she was like the proverbial swan:  though she appeared to be gliding serenely on the water, underneath the surface, she was swimming like mad! But a blip did come up towards the evening ---- Harish had messaged, asking her to please, please, pleeeease pick up a gift for his colleague’s housewarming party.
“Done! But you’ll have to get home in time to drop Ankur to coaching class!” she messaged in reply.
“Sure!” came the text from Harish.
Anita managed to leave a little early, promising her team that she would come online just as soon as she reached home. She then headed to the nearest mall, mentally running through gift options. Half her mind was on the office task she would have to resume from home. Preoccupied, Anita was just entering the doorway of a store when a tart voice arrested her.
“May I?” the voice said.
Anita brought back her eyes to focus on who had spoken. It was a lady of sixty five or so, who was exiting the shop just then. Had Anita gone through the doorway, she would have collided with the lady or at the very least, brushed past her. The elderly lady had stepped back so as to avoid this, and added, “Excuse me!”
                 Anita caught a mocking look in the older woman’s bespectacled eyes. She could almost read the thought running through that lady’s mind---“Hmph! Look at the younger lot today----no manners!”
Mortified, Anita was about to protest----did the other lady really assume that she was so boorish as to brush past a frail old woman on purpose? Then a picture rose in front of her eyes---- the scene at the lift in the morning. It was the same thing, except that this time, she, Anita had been the unthinking one. And the younger one.
“I am sorry Ma’am! I wasn’t looking where I was going! After you!” she said pacifically, and stepped well aside. The other lady, who had seemed ready to judge Anita, was instantly mollified.
Smiling at each other, they both went their ways.

*******************

Tuesday, 2 May 2017

A-Z Survivor!



I did it! Somehow I managed, through a holiday in a resort with iffy wifi, through hectic preparations for my volunteer work, and towards the end of April,  the ill health of a parent. 

I learnt to prioritise a little, to let go a little, and if I seemed a little preoccupied to others, what of it?
It was a challenge and a stimulating experience. Ideas sometimes are reluctant to manifest themselves under pressure, but I clutched at them before they could get away. Some posts are dearer to me than others and I know I would like to expand some of them into more detailed, deeper articles.

I'm glad I took the challenge!

Sunday, 30 April 2017



#AtoZChallenge 4-30-2017 - Letter Z



Z for Zodiac


Firebrand, the Ram; Honest and frank
Stubborn, the Bull: Stoic and practical
The Twins mercurial; Chatty and versatile
Sensitive crab laughing well; crazy, nutty in its shell
Commanding, the Lion so stately; leading others proudly
Graceful, the Virgin restless and vain; All charm and perfection
The Scales going up and down; creative, pleasant, honest, wholesome
Composed, the Scorpion, totally fearless; The sting so brutally honest
Goofy, the Archer with bright eyes; warm and generous
Serious, the Goat but surefooted; Intelligent yet camouflaged
Tranquil, the Water bearer so kind; unexpected and non-conformist
Artistic, the Fish and so timid; Satirical and intuitive.

Light years away, hot balls of gas; Nuclear powerhouses
Can they dictate, are they sure; Of Man’s destiny and nature?