Book Review: Family Matters

Rohinton MistryThe interesting novel by Rohinton Mistry weaves around the life of Nariman Vakeel in his last days. It delicately shows the past actions of the family members and how these actions and decisions contributed to the family antagonism and sympathies in the present day. The author cleverly manages to provide several angles to each character so that it prevents the reader from judging anyone or taking sides.

A sensitive novel with a good story.

What I enjoyed most in the book is the portrayal of each character: Nariman Vakeel, a retired english professor, regretting the wrong decision he made in his marriage due to parental pressure resulting in disastrous consequences in his life and his final days spent in contemplation of his happier days; the sensitivity of his grandson Jehangir Chenoy; the outwardly rebellious but inwardly gentle grandson Murad; his favourite daughter Roxanna who takes care of him in his bedridden state as only a loved family member could and would do; his angry stepdaughter, Coomy Contractor, who has not forgiven him for the sadness he brought into their lives and takes desperate and sad measures to take revenge finally in his last days resulting in sad results for herself; Jal Contractor, his peace loving stepson who wants to forget the past and move on but cannot do so with his stronger sister dictating his every action.

Each character that is introduced in the book does not vanish away but have themselves given definite form, feelings and thoughts.

An enjoyable book and look forward to reading Rohinton Mistry’s second novel ‘A fine balance’ next.

Book details:

Title: Family Matters
Author: Rohinton Mistry
Publisher: Vintage books (1st edition: 2002, reprint: 2003)
ISBN-13: 978-0375703423
Paperback: 448 pages

I am sharing this book review at The Novice Gardener’s Fiesta Friday. Happy birthday, Angie!

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Shaman Stone Soup

A couple of months ago, I came across Shaman Elizabeth Herrera‘s book ‘Shaman Stone Soup’ in an Amazon Kindle store promotion. Something drew me to download the book but I did not get around to reading it until a few weeks ago.

Shaman Stone soupThe book is a self-published collection of twenty personal stories by the author on her shamanic healing experiences and each story concludes with a lovely spirit message. I began reading the stories, one at a time, during a time when I was feeling quite depressed. As I concluded each story, I felt myself open to moving out of my negative frame of mind. It provided me the space to re-open my mind to spiritual reading and I was able to watch the documentary on the life of Buddha.

I wish to share in this post two of the messages in the book that drew me the most:

“We all have our own road to follow. We do not want to be led or pushed. Rather, we want to find the truth at our own pace. He comes with an open mind that has not yet been ready to accept the things you say. So be it. Each lifetime is filled with the lessons we need to learn. Nothing more, nothing less.” – Spirit message in the first healing story in the book, Different perspectives.

“Pain exists only in the mind. Whether an event is real or not doesn’t matter, only that the mind believes it is. Suffering can be suspended by achieving new beliefs and perspectives. We see what we want to see, and feel what we want to feel. Never doubt that the life you lead is the life you want.” – Spirit message in the healing story, Karmic Ties.

Whether or not one believes in a spiritual force, the healing stories in this book each have a message that reach out to the reader.

Book details:

  • Title – Shaman Stone Soup
  • Author – Shaman Elizabeth Herrera
  • Published by CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform (2010)
  • Paperback 148 pages
  • ISBN-13: 978-1456360368

 

A Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life

A couple of months ago, a friend gifted me this book – A Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life. While I was interested, it had been some years since I had made a conscious decision not to read any spiritual texts. It was not that I had lost faith simply that I was not ready to resume any spiritually inclined reading. After watching the documentary on Buddha’s life, something shifted within me and I have slightly re-opened the window.

51j40nv1iHLIn a better frame of mind, I have been reading the book over this past week. This translated version by Stephen Batchelor is easy to read and contemplate over.

Chap5. Guarding alertness:
48
Whenever there is attachment in my mind
And whenever there is the desire to be angry,
I should not do anything,
But remain like a piece of wood.
49
Whenever I have distracted thoughts, the wish to verbally belittle others,
Feelings of self-importance or self-satisfaction;
When I have the intention to describe the faults of others,
Pretension and the thought to deceive other;
50
Whenever I am eager for praise
Or have the desire to blame others;
Whenever I have the wish to speak harshly and cause disputes;
At (all) such times I should remain like a piece of wood.

The book is a translation of a work by an 8th century Buddhist monk called Shantideva who wrote and published two books sharing his views and understanding of how a seeker of spiritual knowledge should comport himself. I say ‘himself’ and not ‘herself or himself’ as Shantideva seems to have had a very strong view that women were lesser beings incapable of understanding the dharma (Chap 5. Guarding alertness: 89 – “Nor to a woman unaccompanied by a man. The vast and profound should not be taught to lesser beings,”). I was initially annoyed with this verse before I recollected that the writer lived in the 8th century where women were probably considered lesser beings.

Apart from that verse and other verses with similar sentiments, I found the book for most parts encouraging a lot of contemplation. The book is divided into 10 parts that invite reflection: The benefits of the awakening mind, Disclosure of wrongdoing, Full acceptance of the awakening mind, Conscientiousness, Guarding alertness, Patience, Enthusiasm, Meditation, Wisdom and Dedication.

For those interested in one of the perspectives into Buddhist philosophy, this translated version of Shantideva’s writings is recommended reading. I wrap up this post with another excerpt from the book.

Chap 2: Disclosure of wrongdoing
35
My foes will become nothing.
My friends will become nothing.
I, too, will become nothing.
Likewise, all will become nothing.
36
Just like a dream experience,
Whatever things I enjoy
Will become a memory.
Whatever has passed will not be seen again.

Book details:

  • Title – A Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life
  • Author: Shantideva
  • Translator: Stephen Batchelor
  • Published by Library of Tibetan Works and Archives, Dharamsala
  • Published 1979
  • ISBN 10: 81-85102-59-7

Book Review: Contemporary Short Stories of the SAARC Region 2012

Last week, I finally received my copy of the book from the SAARC cultural center, nearly seven months after its launch during the Colombo international book fair in September 2013.

SAARC bookThe SAARC Cultural Centre initiated the publication of an annual anthology in 2011. The second volume (2012) is a compilation of 44 short stories from the eight South Asian countries. I consider it an honour to have had one of my published short stories from Waves included in this anthology and thank the editor for the Sri Lankan collection, Piyal Kariyawasam, for having included my work.

Over the week, I have been enjoying my journey through the South Asian mosaic woven by the story-tellers and relishing the glimpses into life thus offered.

The collection starts with four short stories from Afghanistan, which I found very interesting. The first three stories were on the themes of transgender, honour killing and infertility. I particularly liked the fourth story – a satirical piece by Rashid Khattak “The End” – about a labourer from a remote village getting caught up unwittingly in matters beyond his scope. All four translations were well done and I did not feel that I lost out on not reading the stories in its original language.

The Bangladeshi short stories were translations of works by famous Bangladeshi short story writers born prior to the country’s independence. Three of the four stories therefore have a focus on the language policy and the riots and turbulence that ensued to ensure that Bengali was made the official language. While appreciating an awareness created on a historical moment of Bangladesh through the stories, my preference was for the short story that focused on a much simpler theme of a man contemplating a second marriage – “Turban” by Syed Walliullah. I did feel that some of the nuances or flow of the stories might have been lost in the process of translation from lyrical Bengali to practical English.

Bhutan, the country that I have long wanted to visit and would have relocated to this year if one of my recent  job interviews had been successful, also had four short stories. Unlike the previous stories, the Bhutanese selection was written in English language. The first was a folk story and the second a story about the fine line between Buddhist values and animist practices particularly in relation to killing of animals for food. I liked the remaining two stories better. “Potatoes” and “The Call of Nature”, both written by Ngawang Phuntsho, were humorous vignettes with a touch of the absurd.

I was actually looking forward to the Indian section the most as some of my favourite writers are from India. However, I was somewhat disappointed. Perhaps the translation into the English language did not do justice to the stories. Among the eight short stories, I preferred Oriya writer Paramita Satpathy’s “The Wild Jasmine,” a touching story about a tribal woman. The atmosphere of the village has been nicely captured by the writer and I could feel the dryness and heat of the place while reading the story. Two other stories that I quite liked and which I felt could have been improved with some editing were Assamese writer Anuradha Sarma Pujari’s “No Man’s Land” and Tamil writer Dilip Kumar’s “The Clerk.”

The four stories from Maldives were by Ibrahim Waheed Ogaru and written originally in the English language. Three of the stories captured moments of  a meeting – with a supernatural creature, a brief interaction between a tourist and a local waitress, an elderly poet finding a young protege to pass on the traditional poetry skills. The story I liked better was “I love a rainy night,” a lyrical piece of writing that becomes poignant with the last two sentences.

I enjoyed the stories of Nepal and found them to be an interesting surprise similar to that of the collection from Afghanistan. While I did feel the flow of the stories to be abrupt at times which I think was due to the translation, the essence of the stories came out clearly. The four stories by prominent Nepali writers explored the pysche of the protagonists in relation to society and were thought provoking. Bhawani Bhikshu’s “Maiya Saheb” explored the perception of the two central characters on love. Bishweshwar Prasad Koirala’s “Pabitra” tugged at the heart as the story unfolded from the perspective of Pabitra, a cook with some physical afflictions, who forms a deep emotional attachment to her employer. Vijaya Malla’s “The Pigeon and the Prisoner” explores the mental state of a prisoner and Parijat’s “The Son that I Didn’t Give Birth To” was a disturbing trip through the mind of a woman who had distanced herself from the rest of the society.

Pakistan shared 11 stories in this anthology. While all the stories were quite interesting, the stories that captured my attention were five stories that were translated well. M.Hameed Shahid’s “How Grief Perishes” is a story about a man overwhelmed with the care of his bedridden mother. Musarrat Kalanchvi’s “The Poison of Loneliness” is about baby Jugnoo’s pain and brief life. The other three stories that touched me centered around the theme of abuse of women and the girl child and were disturbing – Nur-ul-Huda Shah’s “The Bane of Life,” Parveen Malik’s “The Magic Flower” and Zaitoon Bano’s “Dilshada.”

The anthology ends with five stories from Sri Lanka. I liked Piyal Kariyawasam’s “Seed Paddy,” a story of a family struggling to survive  as seen through the eyes of the child. The scenes of the remote village in the jungle was nicely captured by the writer. I also liked Dayasena Gunasinghe’s “The Captain’s Sons.”

The anthology is currently available at Vijitha Yapa online bookstore. I hope it will soon be available on Amazon as I noticed that the 2011 anthology is already available there.

Book Review: Kalki

Note: I posted this review originally on my other blog on 2008/01/09. I find this book provides a good social commentary on Tamil society in India in the early twentieth century and so, under the inspirational theme of this blog, decided to transfer the post here.

Kalki: Selected Stories

KalkiWhen I saw that there was a translated book of Kalki’s short stories on the Penguin website, I had immediately decided to get hold of that book.

Kalki, for those who don’t know him, is a Tamil writer who took the world of Tamil writing by storm in the 20th century. I remember that my mother said she had read his works avidly during her school days. I had not read any of his writing and one look at the humungous novel ‘Ponniyin Selvan’ threw me off reading it in Tamil. So, it was a pleasure to be finally introduced to the work of a prominent writer in Tamil literature.

This particular book, is a selection of his short stories from the 129 short stories that he had written in his lifetime (1899 – 1954) and translated by his granddaughter Gowri Ramnarayan. Gowri Ramnarayan states in her introduction to the book that she had started translating some of the short stories into English so that her children could experience the writing of their great-grandfather and as they had found reading his Tamil difficult. She also gives a nice sketch of her grandfather’s life and how the pseudonym ‘Kalki’ (கல்கி) was derived from the first two Tamil letters of his writing mentor Kalyanasundara Mudaliyar (கல்) and the first letter from his own name Krishnamoorthy (கி).

A thinker and writer living in the immediate pre and post independence era of India would have been greatly influenced by the prevalent reformist thoughts of the time and most of the selected short stories seem to have a social message pertaining to the social evils of that period: from the need for education for all women (The letter), to the abolishment of the caste system (The poison cure), in support of the freedom struggle movement (The big swelling seaMadatevan’s spring) and against suicide attempts by young lovers (The ruined fort).

Throughout his stories, there seems to run a light playfulness. Even in the above short stories written with a social message in mind. In The Letter, Annapurani Devi, the founder principal of Devi Vidyalaya – a school for women, confides in her younger colleague the reason behind why she embarked on her path of studies and felt that all women had to learn to read first. The reason, that she had been unable to read a missive given her by her lover and as a result losing out on the relationship, seems to be so pathetic and trivial that I felt the writer was at once laughing and yet sad about the state of affairs.

He also embarks on light satire in the Governor’s visit, Rural fantasy and The tiger king.

I guess the reader of today would find the messages in the story obsolete and simplistic but for the reader who would be interested in learning more about the prevalent social issues of Tamil Nadu and Tamil writing during that period would be rewarded.

Book details:

  • Title – Kalki: Selected stories
  • Translator: Gowri Ramnarayan
  • Published by Penguin
  • Published 1999
  • ISBN 13: 9780140290431

Book Review: Delhi

An absorbing historical novel by Khushwant Singh on the history of the city from the Moghul invasions to 1984. The past and the present are linked nicely and gives the reader a good view of both at the same time. I couldn’t put down the book once I had started it and read through the day till I came to the end.

I loved the way that the guide would take some of his clients to a site and tell the summary of the story behind the ruins and the next chapter would take the reader back to the time when the ruins were flourishing living areas. I also loved the thoughtfulness that the writer had put into introducing characters at different levels of society, from kings and queens to labourers and sweepers, at each point when the past is brought to life, thus bringing the reader awareness of how the society as a whole existed, rather than focus on only one section of the society.

It was interesting to read the character of Aurangzeb treated favourably in the novel, while Shah Jahan and his eldest son Dara’s character not so favourably treated, in contrast to popular fictive takes on idolizing Shah Jahan and vindicating the son who became the successor to the throne. The writer choses to do this by showing that ruling families will always be fraught with survival of the fittest which they do so by eliminating potential competition, their own siblings. In light of this, he suggests that when Aurangzeb came to the throne by killing his two brothers and imprisoning the third, Murad, for life and confining his old father to the confines of the Agra fort, along with his eldest and youngest sisters for the remainder of their life, he was doing what his line of ancestors had been doing so, including his own father, and thus he could not be looked upon as a tyrant king. He also further goes to highlight the fact that he was the first and only ruler who choose not to live the royal life the royal way but lived meagerly on his own earnings from the sale of the religious books he copied in his own hand, while treating state wealth as being in his custody for the state and not for his own pleasures. Neither did he maintain a harem as was the trend of the Mughals. It was an interesting perspective of a character who has been blackened in history and provides an angle which seeks to show the personal traits which governed his actions. Even the demolition of places of worship other than those of Islam was explained by his devout Islamic upbringing and his concern that his father and brothers were deviating from a life that should be inherent for a good Muslim and he felt that as a ruler he had to show all his subjects that Islam was the only religion of God.

What is special about the book is that while the writer has clear feelings about the characters he brings to life through his writing, he justifies the actions of each in their lives by recreating their upbringing, their personal paths in lives which brings them to a particular place and action in time, thereby inviting the reader to not judge but simply observe the historical passing moments.

The book also manages to link the actions in the past with results in the future. The killing of a Sikh Guru in the past resulting in a movement centuries down the line, vowing revenge and the actions of later day leader of India, Indira Gandhi to quench this rising with violence leading to her own assassination, which in turn results in the state supported killings of Sikhs living in Delhi.

The story also highlighted the toils and labours and petty vanity that human beings put into their brief existence on this earth and that it is meaningless in the passing of time and yet, history continues repeating its horrors and power struggles and power hungry individuals bring up some historical incident to justify their actions to the rest of the world, while it is pure greed or sadly mistaken logic that drives them on to destruction. Yet, life goes on and these human made destruction a drop in the continuing violence in the existence of human beings. Will the earth continue tolerating these violations on her?

A word of caution though – some might find parts of the novel squeamish, mostly the parts which involve the guide who tends to focus on his sexual experiences. Thus, ‘erotic’ is one of the labels that some reviewers and the publisher have used to describe the novel. I see a story very well handled by the writer and the language flawlessly flowing to create visions of the past.

I now look forward to getting hold of Khushwant’s Singh more famous book ‘A train to Pakistan.’

Book details:

  • Title – Delhi: A Novel
  • Author – Khushwant Singh
  • Published by Penguin Books India
  • Published 14 Oct 2000
  • ISBN13 9780140126198
  • Category – Fiction, Literary Fiction

Note: I have transferred this review from my first blog, View from my Desk, when I deleted that blog so that I could focus on Perspectives Quilt. 

Book Review: The Ancient Tea Horse Road

A cold evening in Shangrila, huddled in a room on the upper floor of a wooden cottage, a group of us were treated by Jeff Fuchs to a visual of his trek along the ancient tea horse road that had culminated in the writing and publishing of a book. The images were powerful and the story-teller interesting.

That evening made me want to read the book and after several months, I settled down to reading the book over days and over cups of pu’er tea.The ancient tea horse road is a narrative that takes us along the ancient route and offers us glimpses into the vista, the conditions that the traders and employees would have faced travelling along this route, little insights into the people and their ancestors that would have been engaged in the trade and most importantly, the types of tea that is so revered by the people along this route. Jeff brings an element of the personal self into the narrative by his accounts of the people he trekked with and the friendships formed along this route, which makes it all the more of an interesting read.

While I enjoyed the book and have much of a deeper respect and appreciation of pu’er tea now, I do wish that the personal stories of the elderly muleteers, the last of their kind, could have been dwelt with more in the book.
Book details:
  • Title: The Ancient Tea Horse Road
  • Author: Jeff Fuchs
  • Hardcover: 231 pages
  • Publisher: Renouf Pub Co Ltd (June 30, 2008)
  • Published: June 30, 2008
  • ISBN-13: 978-0670066117