Books

Indian Love Stories edited by Sudhir Kakar

Indian Love Stories edited by Sudhir Kakar

Reviewed by Shwetha H S

Title: Indian Love Stories
Editor: Sudhir Kakar
Imprint: Roli Books
ISBN: 9788174362797
Genre: Fiction, Romance

Sudhir Kakar is a distinguished psychoanalyst and writer. Winner of numerous honours including the Goethe Medal, his books have been translated into several languages. I hadn’t heard of him before reading this book. So, all of that in the first sentence of this paragraph is from the back of this book I am reviewing.

I had read Indian Love Stories about seven years ago and had completely forgotten about it. Probably because this didn’t mean much back then. Now that I have grown older, I can understand what each story is actually talking about between the lines.

The Empty Chest written by Indira Goswami in Assamese/Asamiya and translated to English by Pradipta Borgohain: talks about clinging on to past love until realizing that the other person has moved on. Indira has used cruel metaphors to convey the meaning of her story.

The House Combustible written by Subodh Ghosh in Bengali/Bangla and translated to English by Dipen Mitra: talks about why it is better for everyone to not rake the dried layers of past relationships and move on, even if you cross paths again, by not saying out loud what is going on in your mind to avoid embarrassment and retain self-respect.

Stains written by Manjula Padmanabhan: is not only a suffocating love story but is also about feminism, culture contrast, superiority-inferiority complex, taboo, standing up for self, and patriarchy. I had never come across any piece of writing that addressed all these topics at one go. My favourite quote from the short story is “The bleeding woman is penalized for being in that ‘state’: the correct condition, of course, is to be pregnant or nursing.” To me, this quote not only talks about women facing untouchability during periods in certain cultures, but also about situation of rape victims.

A New Triangle written by Ratanlal Shant in Kashmiri and translated to English by Neerja Mattoo: is a short story about a toxic marital relationship between two individuals. Towards the end of the story, it feels like they didn’t want to get married, but wanted to just live together and hadn’t realized it sooner. There is a mention of Harmukh peak, which apparently, has been attempted by only one non-Indian so far and hasn’t returned from his expedition. I had been on a trek on which I could see Harmukh peak from far and seeing its mention in this story brought back the memories. It also gave an authenticity to the story, a nod to the nativity.

Chastity Belt written by Damodar Mauzo in Konkani and translated by Xavier Cota: is not a love story but is a crap-load of male chauvinism and patriarchy’s whims and fancies made to look like love. This story just made me want to spit on it.

The Game of Chess written by Kamala Das in Malayalam and translated to English by Vasanthi Sankaranarayanan: is about the dilemma of mental infidelity and unrequited love. Each emotion-led action and each action-led emotion is beautifully described in this short story. So much so that reading it begins to give a feeling of you undergoing each of those emotions and actions. Isn’t that the purpose of good narration?

The Bed of Arrows written by Gopinath Mohanty in Oriya and translated to English by Sitakant Mahapatra: is a pain to read. The protagonist of the story is in pain and is on death bed and reading about her emotions and day-to-day ordeal inflicts pain on the readers.

Housewife written by Ismat Chughtai in Urdu and translated to English by Fatima Ahmad: is an erstwhile version of a rom-com; is a total laughter riot. However, it subtly yet heavily hints at patriarchy.

Weekend written by Nirmal Verma in Hindi and translated to English by Kuldip Singh: is either an aimless story or a bad translation. I neither liked it when I read it first nor now. Even if I try to make sense of this short story, at the maximum, I could say it is about insecurities. But, I still cannot make much sense of it.

The Weed written by Amrita Pritam in Punjabi and translated to English by Raj Gill: talks about the cock and bull stories people tell innocent girls about what love is and how it happens or what it looks like. It is also about experienced lives and their inexperienced sides.

Indian Love Stories is a book that offers something for everyone. But it all depends on you how you interpret the emotions evoked by each short story. Read at your own risk.

I Wonder by Jane Altman, Illustrations by Joan Chiverton

I Wonder by Jane Altman, Illustrations by Joan Chiverton

Review by Shwetha H S

Title: I Wonder
Author: Jane Altman
Illustrations: Joan Chiverton
ISBN: 9781478765820
Imprint: Outskirts Press
Genre: Children’s Book, Picture Book

I like the “attempt” at creating modern rhymes by Jane Altman, but not the rhymes themselves. But cutting short the word alligator and using the words like mater, I don’t think small kids would be able to understand. Being a grown-up, I don’t know what agog is. I had to look it up. In order to have rhyming words, the author has used some difficult words. Beaver is shown as a weaver, but in reality is more of a builder. Again, in search of rhyming words. Scion also is a difficult word for small children. However, the whole rhyme about the lions sounds a bit messed up. Suffused is another difficult word. The glow-stones story is somewhat about going back to our roots and if we are completely devoid of our roots, we will not fulfill our purpose. Why this notion? In the poem For Parents and Other Grownups, I wonder whether the author is laughing at the grown-ups or just writing to make it lengthy! But it made me laugh! Worked for the grown-up in me! I found the poem Mowers and Blowers extremely lame. And there is a story about what I think is on bra! Life of a Bra. No, that’s not the title. Title is T’Aint Fittin.’ In a children’s book.But I like the way the author has a poem to a child reader and a page where the child can paste its photograph.

As the author writes in the book, this book is for children, parents and other grown-ups. Although the book doesn’t have any adult content to be warned about, read the book to the small children while skipping the sorrowful parts about death and loss. Joan’s illustrations are supportive.

2035 by Shruti Jain and Nilutpal Gohain

2035 by Shruti Jain and Nilutpal Gohain

Review by Shwetha H S

Title: 2035
Author: Shruti Jain and Nilutpal Gohain
ISBN: 9781661616434
Imprint: Half Baked Beans
Genre: Fiction, Dystopia, Young Adult, Sci-Fi, Thriller

2035 is the first full-fledged novel by Shruti Jain and Nilutpal Gohain, who went on to write distinctive individual works.

2035 is a science fiction, dystopian novel, very near to reality even now. It is fast-paced. No dragging narration anywhere. One can find many personally relatable points. To me, Rhea binging on Kaju Katli is extremely relatable as it is my favourite! Her need for half an hour to reboot after waking up in the morning reminds me of my friend, but she needs almost an hour. There is an Alexa of the future – Alie, Slurpp for Zomato, Nile for Amazon, Toggle for Google, TPay for GPay, and Slambook for Facebook. I love the idea of how Nile forces us to buy something, at least to exit the shop. The whole story is very gripping, an edge-of-the-seat dystopian thriller with good covering of any loopholes that can occur until the climax. But the ending seemed out of place. Since it is an AI, still in progress, maybe just the instructions were enough to put the doomsday on hold. What I could not comprehend is why would the AI accept instructions from a newborn baby, Ayang, whose Toggle id Siddhanth was using. Maybe by then Toggle Id had understood that Ayang is not a newborn, as Jaydeb had informed. But if Toggle’s AI was so invasive that it could understand Siddhanth was not a newborn that he was posing to be, and constant data transmission was happening from Siddhanth to the AI to create VR for him, then the AI would also have seen his past. It could have easily judged that Siddhanth was declared dead years ago.

2035 is a good sci-fi read. One of the few good ones written in this genre.

We Of The Forsaken World by Kiran Bhat

We Of The Forsaken World by Kiran Bhat

Review by Shwetha H S

Title: We Of The Forsaken World
Author: Kiran Bhat
ISBN: 9781771803663
Imprint: Iguana Books
Genre: Fiction, Adult

I have never read any of Kiran Bhat’s works. This is the first one I have read from his list of works.

There are multiple stories within We Of The Forsaken World. Illustrations in between the narration are good. Homemade chocolates mentioned in the book remind me of Ooty. Usage of the terms North and South remind me of India. People not learning their mother tongue are so relatable nowadays. But none of the characters or places have names so that the readers from everywhere can relate to them. However, the character Milker reminds me of Mohana Swamy by Vasudhendra. Silencer is the only sensible character in the whole book. One of the characters is similar to Sylvia Plath too. But this is where all the good things about the book end. Trying to depict the emotions, the author has made the narration tedious. Author has vented out his frustration of North Indians in South India. The stories sound more like sexual fantasies rather than anything else; nothing related to the blurb. The author should have named this book We Of The Forsaken World Of Sex. This book is more of a practice of polishing the language than having any story in there, in any of them. The only way the author describes females in the stories is that they are either ugly and bald or too sexy; so vain. The gooseberry cookies described are better whereas gooseberries are sour to taste. The description cannot even be imagined or makes me wonder if the author knows what he is writing. I have read convoluted things, but some sentences in the narration are so perverse like this one: “I heard that her father molested her, tried to drink the milk from her nipples and called her his cow.”

The only take away, something I already believed in, from this book is that education and living in a city doesn’t make one civilized. But in the acknowledgement, the author says the book didn’t make much sense when he began writing it. It doesn’t make much sense now either.

If You Were Me and Lived In Colonial America by Carole P Roman, Illustrated by Sarah Wright

If You Were Me and Lived In Colonial America by Carole P Roman, Illustrated by Sarah Wright

Review by Shwetha H S

Title: If You Were Me And Lived In Colonial America
Author: Carole P Roman
Illustrator: Sarah Wright
ISBN: 9781523234073
Imprint: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform
Genre: Children’s Book, Picture Book

Carole P Roman is a children’s book author. You would have read my reviews of many of her books. She writes simple books on complex yet important topics that children need to know while growing up. Her books are illustrated by Sarah Wright.

The book starts with why Protestant churches came into the Americas and how that led to people migrating from England, also about Separatists and Puritans. It tells about the struggle there, by building everything from the scratch, It also tells the meaning of Thanksgiving, Breeches, etc. At the end of the book, there is an introduction to a lot of people who contributed to colonial America. After that, there is the usual glossary that gives meaning to a list of words and their pronunciations.

Apart from Carole’s writing, there are Sarah Wright’s illustrations. These are not too at all blurry, neutral coloured, to keep the attention of a young child.

If You Were Me And Lived On Mars by Carole P Roman, Illustrated by Mateya Arkova

If You Were Me And Lived On Mars by Carole P Roman, Illustrated by Mateya Arkova

Review by Shwetha H S

Title: If You Were Me And Lived On Mars
Author: Carole P Roman
Illustrator: Mateya Arkova
ISBN: 9781530361847
Imprint: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform
Genre: Children’s Book, Picture Book

Carole P Roman is a children’s book author. You would have read my reviews of many of her books. She writes simple books on complex yet important topics that children need to know while growing up. Her books are illustrated by Mateya Arkova.

Like the other books in the series “If You Were Me and Lived…,” this book too has all the details that a child of 3-6 years of age can understand and only as much as it needs; details like how many years are required to reach Mars from Earth, how you may have to live there, the characteristics of the planet and its moons, what you will do there, etc, are covered. As usual, this book too has a list of words with their meanings and pronunciations.

Apart from Carole’s writing, there are Mateya’s illustrations. These are not too blurry, coloured bright, to keep the attention of a young child.

Can A Princess Be A Firefighter? by Carole P Roman and Illustrated by Mateya Arkova

Can A Princess Be A Firefighter? by Carole P Roman and Illustrated by Mateya Arkova

Review by Shwetha H S

Title: Can A Princess Be A Firefighter?
Author: Carole P Roman
Illustrator: Mateya Arkova
ISBN: 9781530361847
Imprint: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform
Genre: Children’s Book, Picture Book

Carole P Roman is a children’s book author. You would have read my reviews of many of her books. She writes simple books on complex yet important topics that children need to know while growing up. Can A Princess Be A Firefighter? is one such book, but is different too.

All girls are princesses to their parents. If not in adult life, at least while growing up. Parents tend to be more careful with their daughters than with their sons. So much so that parents also try to influence their daughters’ career choices, telling them to choose safer and easier options. In this book, Carole tells the girls that they can be anything, even choose a career as a firefighter, which is considered to be one of the dangerous jobs.

The book is in a semi-poetical form. It is a conversation between a parent and two daughters, about how girls don’t have to play princesses, but can play whatever profession they want from their imagination. The conversation goes beyond play. When the daughters ask whether they have to stop being or playing princesses to be something else, the parent takes the opportunity to tell them they can be whatever they want, they can even change their mind later and it is totally okay to do that. The parent also tells them that whatever they choose to be, they will always be the princesses in their hearts and the parents’ too.

Although the content is great, the illustrations are not the usual Carole-Mateya combo. The illustrations do not live up to the expectations, especially for someone like me, who has already fed so much on their other books. Nevertheless, this is a great book to build self-confidence in young girls. Don’t miss it.

The Foretelling by Alice Hoffman

The Foretelling by Alice Hoffman

Review by Shwetha H S

Title: The Foretelling
Author: Alice Hoffman
Imprint: The Little, Brown and Company, an imprint of Hachette Book Group, Inc
ISBN: 978-0-316-05577-2
Genre: Fiction, Drama, Feminism

Alice Hoffman is not a household name. But where she is known, she is held in high esteem. Although seemingly only a young adult and children’s book author, the touch of feminism in her writing makes her works more than just for children.

Rain is the only daughter of the queen of Amazons, the clan of warrior women, who fight against men trying to take advantage of them. Rain is a result of her mother’s rape. The queen hardly acknowledges her daughter. She names her child Rain symbolizing the depths of sorrow of her origin. Rain has recurring nightmares of running alongside a black horse, which is considered a bad omen because Amazons only ride mares. The clan’s shaman too foresees something bad making way towards them. What does this bad omen mean? What does it have to do with Rain? Is it really a bad omen or is it just their perception?

What I mentally went through while reading and after reading The Foretelling cannot be put into words. A turmoil is an understatement. A change in the thought process? Possibly. But to describe it precisely? Impossible. Probably it hits each differently at different phases of life, especially according to age. But, every woman needs to read The Foretelling by Alice Hoffman.

Jungle Nama by Amitav Ghosh

Jungle Nama by Amitav Ghosh and Illustrated by Salman Toor

Review by Shwetha H S

Title: Jungle Nama
Author: Amitav Ghosh
Imprint: Fourth Estate, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers
ISBN: 9789353379128
Genre: Mythology, Illustrated, Children, YA, Adults

If you are into reading books, then you would have probably heard of Amitav Ghosh. He is a prominent name in the Indian literary circles and is also a recipient of Jnanpith Award. I always stayed away from mainstream books. Amitav Ghosh’s books seemed so mainstream, I never thought of reading his works. But while browsing through a bookshop in Leh, Ladakh, a book cover caught my attention. It was Amitav Ghosh’s Jungle Nama. As you must have guessed, I bought that book to enter the world of one of the greatest Indian literary celebrities.

Jungle Nama is based on one of the chapters of The Legend of Bon Bibi. It is written in the form of poetry. This is a story of morals with a link to local mythology, anchored in reality, for both kids and adults alike. Particularly this story talks about greed – how a wealthy merchant makes a pact with a regional deity or a demigod, Dokkhin Rai, who often shape-shifts into a Royal Bengal Tiger and is restricted to the areas of Sunderbans, to leave his relative as food in exchange for honey and wax, but are punished by Bon Bibi and her twin brother Shah Jongoli.

I found it good to read Jungle Nama aloud. There are quite a few Bengali/Bangla words, so it is better to read in the same accent, for fun as well as it gives a sense of relevance. There are a few moderately difficult words used in the book, which make a good addition to the readers’ English vocabulary. Most of all, the Afterword of this book is as precious as the story. The last time I was so mesmerised by someone’s writing was while reading Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights by Salman Rushdie. There was no need for a bookmark while reading Jungle Nama as I finished reading it in one go! I thoroughly enjoyed the book and am no longer skeptical about reading a mainstream Amitav Ghosh’s book. While the writing is great, the illustrations aren’t so. Although the last few pages of the book praise the illustrations by Salman Toor, I thought they could have helped glorify the story better, especially because this is based on mythology. Nevertheless, I definitely recommend reading Jungle Nama.

The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams

The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams

Review by Shwetha H S

Title: The Velveteen Rabbit
Author: Margery Williams
Imprint: Doubleday, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books
ISBN: 9780593382103
Genre: Children, Illustrated

I heard of The Velveteen Rabbit, for the first time, from Chandler Bing while watching him on the TV series F.R.I.E.N.D.S. It had stuck in my mind since then. When I found an edition of The Velveteen Rabbit in Goa, while looking for something else, I had to buy it. I had to read it.

A rabbit made of velvet cloth and sawdust stuffing feels insecure among other modern toys of a child, but another old toy tells it that a toy is not noticed by how it looks or what it can do, but by how much it is loved. The child eventually loves the velveteen toy so much that the two cannot be parted, making the rabbit look rather worn out yet making it feel like a real rabbit. But, when the child falls sick, all the old toys are discarded, including the velveteen rabbit. Does that mean the velveteen rabbit’s life has come to an end? What happens to the velveteen rabbit?

As I read The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams, it taught me a good life lesson: sometimes, we are moulded/made by others, but our life does not end with what they do to us or how they see us, or when they pass away. This book is a precious one, written especially for children, but adults can learn from it too. I was so moved by this book that I don’t see this as a children’s book. Not to forget the beautiful illustrations by Erin Stead. She brings the decades old story to life.