Saturday, December 26, 2015

Book Review - Tomichan Matheikal's The Nomad Learns Morality

Indian Bloggers

Literature does something funny to you. It makes you see meanings underneath meanings. It makes you probe a little more, question a little more. It agitates you, adds to your disquiet, makes you less dogmatic and more poetic. It also gives you a tool, a potent and compelling tool, the pen. It fires your thoughts, kindles your imagination, and intensifies your narratives with an integrity that is rebelliously coordinated. Tomichan Matheikal's The Nomad Learns Morailty  to put it in brief is good literature, with all the features mentioned above and much more than that. 

The book is a collection of 33 stories that deal with topics ranging from mythology to religion, history and politics. The themes are vivid - faith, doubt, human fallacy, God's devise, divinity, morality, sin, facticity, fantasy, truth,  illusion and deception. The collection begins with tales from mythology. When I asked Mr. Matheikal what he meant with mythology and religion, he came up with an answer that set me thinking. According to him, 

"Myths are literary expressions of human aspirations.  They acquire spiritual connotations eventually.  Gods and Devils are part of those aspirations as well as attempts to give meaning to life.  Add some rituals to spirituality and you get religions."

Much before civilization came myths. Myths were flexible, less deterministic than religion. They did not aim to take everyone in their 'fold'. With time however, societies grew sophisticated. Culture became more defined and rituals more pronounced. And myths acquired the status of religion. Human consciousness has been predetermined, shaped to a large extent by these forces. The author succinctly sets out to explore the narratives that he has encountered in his life. There are anecdotes from history, legends from mythology, and yarns from everyday life.

Let me start with something I requested from the author himself. I was curious as to why he had not added any preface or introduction to his book. Instead of an introductory note, he said he wanted to make a 'request'. This is his reply:

"When writers like Salman Rushdie write books like Satanic Verses, they are not ridiculing any religion or God.  They are probing their own inner conflicts.  It is their way of trying to make sense of the religion, its deities and also the fellow human beings who may appear absurd and baffling.  It is their way of making sense of life.  When I probe characters and events from religious books or other existing sources, I am doing the same: trying to make sense of them and life.  I also expect that my attempt at making sense of life can be of help to the readers.  Unless the reader understands this, the work will be a failure."  

The collection begins with a 'chaste' and 'wronged' woman Ahalya and ends with the deceptive Queen of Spades. In between the two lies a whole panorama of life. The author dons the garb of the narrator in many places, trying to locate meaning in meaninglessness, and sense amidst absurdity. He attempts to be an interpreter and not a judge, for he himself is a reader. He is venturing through his texts to read through time and consciousness to find the many faces of truths and falsehoods. 

I present before you in brief, the strand of each story. I have asked some questions in some places.

In the stories Ahalya, Sarayu's Sorrow, and Snakes and Ladders, are the gods in their human incarnation existential' beings searching for answers that are almost impossible to find? The mistakes they commit, are they an 'authentication' of their life on this Earth? When Ahalya was given freedom from her 'stony' existence, was it an acceptance of her fault, a peep into her consciousness, or a recognition of 'desire' she had nurtured? Was it the delusion of 'chastity'? If everything was a matter of perception and choice, where did God Ram falter? At the altar of humanity itself? 

Autumn of the Patriarch

Is the 'greatness' of a figure of prominence like Bhishma a 'construct' that 'cages' him? Is it something that forces upon him the decisions he 'thinks' he has made willingly. Isn't the 'selfless partiarch' an oxymoron, an impossiblity, a contradiction? Draupadi's question sets Bhishma thinking. He wonders whether a 'woman' can understand the complexity of something as subtle, as complex as 'dharma'. Is 'Truth' something that needs to be even told? Will a 'woman' understand the meaning of it? And there stands Draupadi at the other end, asking a pertinent question - Can he not see the 'adharma' of it all?

Original Sin

We have heard it all. The story of our fall. But was that so simple? Is innocence the bliss that one should aspire for? What was the original sin? Where did Eve err? What if there was an even more sinister plan, something as mundane as simple boredom? What if God was in cahoots with Satan? What if?....

Children of Lust 

What was Lot's fault? Did he 'sin' against 'God' or was his fault something most of the protagonists in this collection are found making? Also, was his fault an outcome of something that God 'let' happen in the 'Original Sin'?

First Christmas - The greed for 'knowledge' has larger context here - the persona of the narrator seems to intervene - his greed is for a deeper knowledge, something that will encompass religion, myths, magic, Creation, sin, will and even time.

Achilles' story brings us back to 'The Autumn of the Patriarch' which asks similar questions. The question of the 'identity' and 'will' of woman are crucial thoughts running through both the stories. History, if re-written from the perspective of a woman, would probably include lot of unanswered questions, and would perhaps also compel us to understand the whole concept of 'dharma' and adharma'. And one would ask again if everything is fair in 'War' and 'Love' after all?

Barrel Life

The 'teacher' is a 'madman' and does a 'slave' work.  Sanity' and 'madness' are relative to each other and also a matter of perception. There is bias. There is interrogation and rebellion too. The conversation between the 'teacher' and the 'king' is something that will haunt you with an insight you might not have had before. The trappings of civilization, the conquests of kings, the minimalist living, the never-ending 'quest',  and then, the ending leaves you with another question mark. The strand is carried in the next story And Quiet Flowed the Beas which witnesses the downfall of the king and the crumbling of the conquest. Roxana, like many other women in history, stands at the periphery of history but her presence reiterates the questions of Draupadi, Ahalya and Sita from the earlier stories.

'Worship' has a different connotation in this story that is short and still makes you wonder at Nebamun who has 'authenticated' his life in a certain sense. It is ironical that that validation comes at a huge price.

Scholar, Priest and Politician is another excellent story which by way of history proves its contemporary relevance. Times change, beliefs are put to test through experiments and hypothesis. Heresy seems close by. These interrogations are a threat to 'power' and 'power-holders' and ought to be nipped in the bud. Meanings need to be twisted and spoken words misquoted to uphold the status quo. Intelligence and power wrestle and new-fangled ideas are conveniently brushed aside. Galileo's Truth extends the theme further. What is heresy? A pertinent question would be, who is being 'harmed' by the 'heretical' claims? Can 'thoughts' possibly be caged? Can 'tongues' be imprisoned? No, and yet the intelligent suffer as scriptures are stripped of their 'poetry' and read literally. 

'Heresy' finds a new meaning in the next story Caliph of Two Worlds. The most important line perhaps in this story, which has a lot of relevance even today is this
"The line between politics and religion is an illusion that can be shifted in any direction as required by the occasion." The usurping of the king can be viewed as a sin against God, but what if God's representative ordains it. Meanings change, are perverted and subverted, only to be reinstated in obedience to the God-man. 

Saga of a Warrior  - The title tells it all. It is the 'story' of a warrior, a figure from history. Whether it is accurate, or otherwise, is a matter for historians, who are themselves prone to errors. So while I leave that strand there, I want to emphasize the fact that the story of Khusru, as narrated from the view-point of his wife, has deeper meanings and throws light on how histories can be constructed differently and how every story can have elements of 'truth' and 'fabrication'. History written by 'sycophants' as the writer correctly puts it, is full of 'blunders'. Approaching them with caution is advised. History etched on the walls and erected as mausoleums also hides skeletons inside. Who is a hero and who is weak, who is hailed as a true warrior and who is stigmatized as a coward and a traitor should be objects of continuous interrogation. 

Aurangzeb too dies, but with some regrets and many questions. Will his son ever get to understand those questions? Will he try to seek answers to those questions? Perhaps yes. Like his father, when he lies dying. For now, he is busy. He needs to 'conquer' others' gods.  

Under the Peepal is a story I started with a little unease. Reason - Buddha. But that unease settled soon as the story's ironical rendering of 'nirvana' lays bare the mechanisms of present day life. The humorous positioning of Siddhartha, the son of an estate owner, with all modern day entrapments, with the cheeky narrator, I suspect, it is the writer himself, who audaciously enters anybody's life (how dare he..?!!!) heightens the drama minus the melodramatics. Who knew a Russian 'Idiot' would be of some help?

Maya significantly becomes the reason for renunciation and escape to scriptures. Illusion, or the breaking of it, is the cause of the fate she suffers. What will the narrator or the reader learn from it? Will he find a meaning, a resolution in the end? Destiny asks questions that pertain to the way things happen, and decisions are made or thrust upon us. Lennon's quote with which the story ends has relevance not just to this story. Are we 'meant' to be where we are? Why? Who decides this? Who plans it all? The story I assume has a personal reference for the writer who himself has been a teacher and has experienced the whims of the 'rich'. Lennon's quote becomes even more engaging when read in conjunction with the next story, The Devil has a Religion. Philip's fate hangs in the hands of Father Joseph whose absence only seems to offer an illusion of peace. The self-ordained God-man leads the 'chosen' one to 'damnation'. A Ghost and a Secret have the elements fit for a light thrilling read. The conversation between the 'ghost' and the narrator are reminiscent of the conversation between Alexander and Diogenes in Barrel Life. The narrator's failure to keep up his promise is a failure of human beings in general. The quest remains unfulfilled since the object of quest is something that is lost on the way to the destination itself.

Mayank Passes deals not just with matters of blind faith, faulty parenting, and duplicitous Babas. The entire education system is open for interrogation here. 'Phenomenananda' Baba is an excellent dig on the phenomenon of the God-men which has become so common these days. Michael and the Witch engages the reader by an apparent simplicity underneath which all lie some questions that need urgent answers. The narrator is walking to the 'edge' of the forest. The disappearance of woods is symbolic of a disappearance of good literature, taste, and sensitivity too. The narrator tries to bring 'change' through a 'kiss', which I read as an attempt the writer is making to bring about a questioning of dogmas, and prejudices through his pen. Will he fail or succeed? Even the witch does not know. Sacrifice is a heart-breaking tale. The word 'sacrifice' can have different meanings, and is here used both ironically and literally. Coma discusses the vagaries of employment and fate yet again. The protagonist Tony reminds one of Philip from The Devil has a Religion. The Lights below Darkness is an engrossing read. While the narrative hinges on who is going to be the Head of the English Department this year, other strands come in too - the way we perceive others, the assumptions and judgments made upon people around us, 'opinions' we hold, selfish interests that we harbor. The trope of 'wires' and the life that is entangled between them for in Twinkle Twinkle Little Star makes for another appealing read that leaves with you with some questions. Is the decision Rohan makes towards the end worth it? The short and piquant BMW of desires gives many a sleepless night. Anna, I Miss You narrates the dance of life and death and everything in between and ends with Yeats's beautiful words. It can serve as a metaphor for the writer's attempt at making sense out of life, and his wish to see what the world makes of it. The Queen of Spades is a brilliant adaptation of Pushkin's story by the same name. The writer's distaste for the 'rich' is seen in the characterization and his choice of words. Deception and illusion are key themes in the story and prove a worthy end to the entire collection.

Now for the title and the story with the same title:

The Nomad Learns Morality is a self-contradictory title. Who is a nomad? One who has no boundary. One who is a wanderer. What is morality? It is the qualification of conduct as good and bad. It happens in a 'society/ Morality of one society can differ from another. Morality of a certain time period can be in opposition to the morality of the other time. A nomad 'learning' morality is a nomad dispossessing his essence, his very being. The story is subtle and complex. It serves as a parable of life that we live today when attempts are being made from all directions to conquer gods, to trample faiths, to crush diversities. The terror of religious dogma is something that is scattered all over in Matheikal's writings. His blog articles time and again have dealt with the issue. The story takes it one step further. Read it together with Life's Journey which tells you that ''the distance between life and death is just a moment' and mocks at the absurdity of it all. Read alongside it Pearls....and Bullies which proves in a certain sense that the 'soft' ones are bound to suffer. It is in their fate. And yet, if they choose to just sit there and not act, it can get pretty 'boring'. There are tears, yes. There is pain, yes. But then, there are pearls too. 

I personally feel that Mr. Matheikal should include a bibliography for further reading for his readers. He should also add in brief a bit of a background for the mythological and historical stories for those who are unfamiliar with the same. This will ensure a better reading, understanding and analysis of his own narratives.

I have tried to deal with each story as it has affected me. I have asked questions in brief in some places because those questions are my responses to his text. There are many things that are untouched in this review. I could not incorporate everything here. I urge, with a strong conviction, that if you have not read the book, please grab a copy and read it. Who knows, you might find the answers to questions the author himself is seeking. 

To buy the book, click here
To reach Mr. Matheikal's blog, click here

Friday, December 18, 2015

It's Still Okay...!

Indian Bloggers

He remembered the time he had proposed to her. She had blushed. He had hugged her. Their love story had been perfect. Their marriage blissful. There were no complaints. She had asked him to love her unconditionally. He had promised. She had said," Promise me you will always love me. When I am angry, when I am happy, when I am sad, when I am upset...Even when I grow old and stoop and wrinkle, you will always love me." And he had promised. He had asked her to promise something too...'Never leave me". She had said 'Yes!'

It was five years ago. An accident had changed things now. A severe head injury had made her lose her memory. She did not remember anything now. Her name, his name, their love, their promises. 

He reminded her everyday. He told her stories about their past. He declared his love to her an umpteen number of times, a declaration that only evoked a response of confusion. 

One day, after he had told her that he loved her, she asked, "Why?"

"I had promised to love you. You are my life."

He told her about the promise they had made to each other five years ago.

"I am not old, but I am not yours either. I don't remember anything. I have broken my promise. Even then you love me?" A look of bewilderment passed on her face.

"Yes, I still love you. You have not broken your promise. You survived the accident, even though the doctors had given up. There was something that stopped you from going. I want to think that it was our love."

Tears trickled on her cheeks like rain drops. He wiped them off. 

"You don't mind when I look away? You don't feel heart-broken when I shrug off your touch? Is it still okay?"

He held her hands with a warmth that she felt, perhaps for the first time, in so many months. 

"Yes, it's still okay."


Her palpitations had increased. Her speech was incoherent. She had hardly slept. She could not sit. Her eyes seemed to be popping out of her head. Medicines were not helping. Friends reached out to her to tell her to try relaxation techniques. Stop the pill, they told her. She could not hear them. She had faith, faith in her husband that he would cure her. 

He had faith too - faith in the medicine. 

He sat there. He was working on his computer. He had promised to be with her. 

The chest pain suffocated her. She gasped for fresh air. 

She had not slept for days. She had lost count.

The phone rang. She did not pick. She could hardly talk. He answered.

"Yes, she is fine......She has the pain, still......No, no the medicine will help her.......No....she did not sleep......"

".....the palpitations are there.....No, she could not sleep.....Don't worry.....It's still okay...."

Written for IndiSpire Edition 96 

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Book Review - Lei : A Wreath for Your Soul by Somali Chakrabarti

Image Source here

I am an ardent lover of good poetry. Whenever I am feeling low, poetry provides hope and strength to my soul. So, when Somali Charabarti, who blogs on Scribble and Scrawl came out with her book on poetry, I jumped with joy. I have known her through her writings and have found her to be deeply introspective and intelligent. I was eager to see how much more wisdom she had brought to this world. So, very keenly, I got hold her book. She was kind enough to tell me when it was available on Amazon and I promptly grabbed a copy of it. 

Image Source here

As I started reading the book, which is a collection of poetry written in the format of Japanese haiku and tanka, I realized how astute an observer she is. While sticking to the technical style of writing the format demanded, she was able to bring in her own insight into topics related to Life, Nature, Illusion, and Inspiration. These are the four subjects under which her poems are classified. All four sections are related to each other. Without Nature, Life is impossible. With Life come Illusions, and to break away from them, Inspiration comes in handy. 


Nature contains snippets of insight which if comprehended, can make life worth living. The section, interestingly, begins with "waking up". The period of torpor is brushed aside as the bright sun bathes the nature with its radiance. The dullness is done away with and with the sunshine comes a promise of life. The light of the 'Moon' fights all shades of darkness. The immensity of Nature in the form of 'Everest' challenges the human spirit and makes us ask a question - Is the human spirit brave enough to defy the unrelenting enormity of Nature? In Nature, one also finds unpretentious modesty. The colors of nature in the 'Valley of Flowers' vie not with each other, rather co-exist adding to the harmony of a beautiful life. There is promise of love as the swans sail together and there is promise of birth and new life as the "pollinator" bee searches for nectar. With the alluring beauty of Nature also come its spoils. The blundering plunder by human greed is tersely conveyed in 'Tusker. The section ends with 'Fractals in Nature' which focuses on fractal patterns in Nature which convey its beauty in perhaps its most precise form.


This section touches various aspects of life - love, friendship, luck, memories, devotion, hatred, ambition, history and death. It aptly begins with 'Lei' which as the writer in the beginning of the book notes is a sign of welcome in the Hawaain tradition. It is a garland to be worn as a symbol of affection. The intricacy of relationships, of love and trust, of belonging, of possessing and letting go are nicely dealt with the subsequent poems. Imagery from nature is used again to depict the force of emotions and memories on one's state of being. My personal favorite in this section is 'Thoughts'. In a few words, the writer compares the volatility of thoughts with that of an erupting volcano. They can be perilous and precarious, they can be heretical, divisive, rebellious. There state of being great or otherwise makes them both dreadful and endearing. Faith and prayers unite as the Divine Being is welcomed in 'Mahalaya' and experienced in 'Whirling Dervishes'. 


The tanka 'Illusions of Life' with which this section ends sums it up all. The life that we live is a myriad of impressions received and lived at the tangible level. The way up is the way within. And the way within is the way not easily discovered, actually rarely discovered by anyone. We live at the physical level, like 'Flickering Shadows', putting on a show by wearing 'Masks'. 'Dormant Desires' explode, bringing us closer to our doom. The sham appearances that seem to enchant the senses in reality hide a "vast vacuum" inside them which we fail to perceive. 'Between the Rocks' highlights the precariousness of life. In attempting to balance it out, what if we fail? Can our consciousness be our savior when it itself  hangs delicately on a rocky bed of desires? The irony of a 'Sublime' view is well juxtaposed with the doomed fate of the enduring mortals.


To break away from the deceptive failures that illusory desires bring, Inspiration becomes vital. Once again, the writer draws comparisons from Nature. A 'Mountain Goat', a solitary tree, weather-beaten but unbroken rocks, birds and a lone flower blooming in frigid cold - they all seem to say one thing. Don't give up. Life brings forth challenges and a spirit that sustains against all odds is the spirit that wins. Inspiration comes not from physical strength but firmness of mind and toughness of spirit. Steadfastness of purposeful living brings order to an otherwise chaotic life. The spirit of the writer perhaps finds the best expression in the 'Bliss of Creation' wherein the creator and the created find unity and peace. The being of the creator finds solace as the boundaries between the real and the 'created' meet, overlap, mingle and become one.


The writer at the end of the book tells why she "must" write. It is not a vocation for her. It is something that adds value to her life. It is means of exploration as well as enlightenment. It is a tool that helps her connect, and it also helps her liberate her soul. A close reading of the poem clearly depicts the meaningfulness attached to writing and also exhibits the sensitivity that the writer brings to her works.

I have dwelt on the book in great detail simply because I felt I needed to do full justice to the beauty of this book. Again, poetry speaks to me in ways I cannot describe. I hope that those who take the time to read my review before and after reading the book will understand why I have spent so much time and words on this gem. 

I want to sincerely thank Somali Chakrabarti for sharing this book with me. I feel so enriched by her wisdom and I urge my friends and whoever reads this post, to pick up a copy and read. It is definitely worth it.

Monday, December 7, 2015

'The World opened to me when I learned to read' - Mary Mcleod Bethune

Indian Bloggers

Writing blog posts in response to prompts is a common practice in the blogging community. Prompts help channelize creativity in a direction the blogger might not have thought of. Ever since I started my blogging journey, I have been writing posts whenever a prompt attracted me. Indiblogger and Blogadda have been great tools in this regard. Weekly prompts have helped bring a regularity to blogging, not just for me, but for many others as well. It was a surprise this time when the current prompt on Indiblogger did not get many entries. I wondered. When I was looking at the prompt suggestions last week, my 'blogger' sense had told me that many people would vote for the 'blog review' in the hope that they would be featured by some other fellow blogger. It was a bigger surprise however when the prompt was selected but hardly got any response.

I had personally refrained from voting for the prompt for two reasons. One, I knew I was going to be busy on the weekend and would not be able to write on it. Two, I thought that writing a blog review is a difficult task and would require lot of time and focus on the specific blog I would pick. Then, when the responses came, one from Sir Tomichan himself, who had suggested the prompt, I wondered if others too had felt what I felt and yet had voted under the spell of what Sir Tomichan correctly points out, "subconscious longing for adulation from others". (Read the post here if you haven't already.)

As writers, we expect our posts to be read. We hope to be praised. We also wish that we are liked. But writing is a skill that affects different people differently. Some might have a natural liking for poetry, and others might hate it. Some might drool over a satirical or a humorous post and others might fail to understand it. In keeping with the taste of the reader, a writing gets appreciated or disregarded. And this makes reviewing a complex task. A reader may love one post of the blogger and dislike some other post by the same blogger. Sometimes, the way a post is structured, or the layout of a blog might evoke certain likes or dislikes. For all these reasons, I felt that I cannot review a blog. 

Having said that I have certainly appreciated and learned a lot from the blogging fraternity. There are some really really good bloggers who have inspired and added value to my life. They have made me think. They have made me interrogate myself. They have also made me google up a lot of stuff I was unaware of. Then, there are some who by the magic of their camera have captured a world that I have not been to. Those images have sometimes given wings to my imagination. And lately, there have been some sensitive minds whose acute observations in their fictive and non-fictive posts have brought out the glaring harshness of the present day terrors. 

I am going to share link here of some of the posts that have touched me deeply. These posts will give you a peek in their writer's mind. It might not be a defining post of the blogger's style and skill but it is something with which I have been able to connect deeply. It is something that has made me revere the writer and made me wish I had a mind like theirs, a skill like them.

#UnitedWeStand by Saru Singhal (Read all her HashTag Stories. She excels in it, seriously. Food for thought in a few words.)

Śāntam {peace} – Navras 9 by Shweta Dave (Read all her posts on Navras.)

बूँदें : RainDrops by Kokila Gupta (Read all her Hindi poems....They are delightful like a child and they always make me love life.She had been absent for sometime but has made a comeback. I wish her lots of luck.)

Merciless Beauty by Sir Tomichan Matheikal (It is very difficult to pick one from Sir Tomichan. Read as much of him as you can.)

Camouflage by Archana Kapoor (Read all her Haiku-poems. She is an expert on this.)

The Smartphone Revolution by Alok Singhal (Laugh your way through the post. Read some of his personal posts and travelogues too.)

Micro-tales by Maniparna Sengupta Majumdar (It is difficult to pinpoint one style of writing that she excels at for the simple reason that she excels in everything she writes!)

Treasure of Nature by Purba Chakraborty (A poetess - What more should I say!)

Wordless Wednesdays by Indrani Ghose (I am getting addicted to these posts which feature a picture and caption responses by her readers. Her travel articles are good too.)

पसंदिदा तीन शब्द by Jyoti Dehliwal (Very well written posts in Hindi. Do read to get a sense of the writer's sensitivity.)

#Haiku इंतज़ार by Manisha Sharma (Short poems in Hindi. Thought-provoking, they touch your heart.)

सिलसिला by Amit Agarwal (Like Manisha, he too writes short poetry in Hindi. It is sure to leave an impression behind.)

Lei - A Wreath for your Soul by Somali Chakrabarti (This is the title of her book. Her posts are well-written, informational, introspective and engrossing.)

Lighting up the Special Light by Sreedhar Sir (His posts speak from experience.)

Twinkling Eyes  by Joshi Daniel (His snapshots say it all!)

35 Best Sites For Free Images by Prasanna Dasari (I have started following this blog lately. Prasanna comes up with good information and interesting insights in his posts.)

This list is by no means exhaustive. I might have missed out on a lot of good writings. This is a purely subjective choice and as I said, it is not a review. 

Image Source here

I want to urge all the bloggers out there to share something that has added value to their lives. 

Written for IndiSpire Edition 94

Sunday, November 29, 2015

I survived, but a dream died....#OrangeDay

It is said that books take you to places you cannot go. These places are not just the ones that are physically remote. These are places hidden deep within our consciousness - places where lurk darker thoughts, sinister emotions, hidden pains, feelings of anguish, secret desires, ambitions crushed, goals to be achieved, undisclosed loves, words unsaid but often thought of consciously as well as unconsciously. Authors, sometimes omniscient like God, tell everything about the characters, and at other times, they leave it to the reader to draw conclusions. Narratives, by way of perspective, become powerful means of interrogation and understanding. Who we are, what we think, whom do we identify with, where are we in the timeline of history, what limitations do we possess which we are unaware of, and many more questions like these are answered through the books we read.

I came across some really good books recently which I would recommend everyone to read. They are inspirational, and tell us how one can achieve a goal despite financial or other hindrances. These books tell us how small we are, enveloped in petty thoughts and confining mind-sets. They tell us that greatness is achieved by serving humanity. They tell us that nothing is greater than serving others. 

Promise of a Pencil by Adam Braun

Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortensen
Things a Little Bird told Me by Biz Stone (Twitter co-founder)

The first two books tell us how a common person, without a lot of money, but with a deep desire can surmount all hurdles to keep a promise. Both the books also deal with the issue of education, and its relevance, its undeniable importance for all. They also give a peek in other cultures, especially, Greg Mortensen's book. The tile of Greg's book itself is window to the culture of the people living in Baltistan. A thing as simple as a cup of tea is all it takes to bridge the gap of hearts, or as they say, to break ice. Biz Stone's book is the confessions of a self-made successful businessman. Biz talks about creativity, about dreams, about ego, about risk-taking, about failure, about success, about the desire and steadiness of trying, and not quitting. 

I now want to dwell a little on a book that has kept me awake recently. A book that has made me cry, that has made me wince in pain as the characters in the book became part of me or, should I say, I became one with them.

This book is Khaled Hossieni's A Thousand Splendid Suns

Image Source here

This book is a splendid historical chronicle of Afghanistan from the Soviet occupation through to the time the Taliban take over. History affects all. It is told keeping in mind the closeted life of Mariam and Laila, the two protagonists of the novel. But it is so much more than that. It is the story of Mariam who dotes on a father who fails her. It is the story of Laila who has never seen her brothers as they have been out in the war-zone, and yet, strangely, her life is overshadowed by their absence. It is the story of Mamy who pines for her sons and stubbornly refuses to leave the war-torn country as she wants to see her sons' dream come true - the expulsion of communists from their territory. It is the story of a woman whose womb is barren and who endures the wrath of her husband who just wants a son. This woman is Mariam and her husband is Rasheed. It is the story of the one-legged Tariq who cherishes the friendship with Laila, and will, despite his handicap, fight for her honor without hesitation. It is the story of the two friends who part, love that is forsaken, friendship that is formed in the most unexpected corner of life. It is also the story of a little child Aziza who is scared at the sound of bomb-shelling and seeks assurance from her mother by simply hugging her. And the mother in return keeps her safe from all save the brutal father. 

Hosseini has crafted a flawless narrative that brutally shakes you to the core. The violence out there in the streets is told only as a matter of fact. It is what the protagonists cannot witness. Their life indoors, is more violent and affects them in a way the larger historical events do not. It is the abuse they face in their own home, at the hands of their own family, that forms the master narrative. History stands right outside the door. 

I wish to quote a few lines that have amazed me and left me speechless. 

"A man's heart is a wretched, wretched thing Mariam. It isn't like a mother's womb. It won't bleed, it won't stretch to make room for you."

"....each snowflake was a sigh heaved by an aggrieved woman somewhere in the world. That all the sighs drifted up the sky, gathered into the clouds, then broke into tiny pieces that fell silently on the people below."

"Careful where you step," Babi said. His voice made a loud echo. "The ground is treacherous."

"....there was a scrambling, a bare-handed frenzy of digging, of pulling from the debris, what remained of a sister, a brother, a grandchild."

"But when it came to fathers, Mariam had no assurances to give."

"Aziza shrieked at the thumping of mortars. To distract her, Mariam arranged grains of rice on the floor, in the shape of a house or a rooster or a star, and let Aziza scatter them..."

"And the past held only this wisdom: that love was a damaging mistake, and its accomplice, hope, a treacherous illusion."

Hosseini writes in the Postscript to the novel that he wanted to explore "the inner lives of these two fictional women and look for the very ordinary humanity beneath their veils." And he has done that brilliantly. It is this very denial of 'ordinary humanity' from the male fraternity, from the power-holders (be they in the house or outside), that provokes a response of restlessness as we read the book. 

The UN this year has launched Orange the World campaign to increase awareness against the violence women meet in their day-to-day lives.

A few lines by me here... 

Born unwanted, raised
raised sitting at the periphery....
Married, sometimes sold off....
I survived but a dream died....

Sometimes looted, sometimes uprooted

prodded, traded,
squashed, crushed
trampled upon
I survived but a dream died....

Sometimes fertile, sometimes barren

Scoffed, rebuked
Used, misused, abused
I survived but a dream died......

Branded, disgraced,

veiled, exposed,
strangulated by masculine stares
choked up, touched, maligned,
innocent yet tarnished....
I survived but a dream died.....

Image Source here

Written for Indiblogger IndiSpire Edition 93.
Also liinking to Poets United Midweek Motif ~ Survival

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Few Words on Words I Like.....


What would we do without words? What, I wonder! Yes, eyes speak too. But we all are so used to them. Can we go without speaking for even a single day? Perhaps not. Words help articulate our inner depths of consciousness. Words help us unburden our pains. Words help us express our joins. They give rein to our love, as well as our hatred. They are tools of communication, devices of influence. They can be like a balm that soothes, or like a sword that pierces. As I thought reflecting on the words that I just love, I realized that it was so difficult to choose just three out of the many that I loved. I loved the sound of certain words, and the symbolism of others. I liked a word because it evoked a strong memory and I liked a word because it had an association that made my heart flutter with excitement.

I thought and thought and thought and finally, here are my thoughts....!


Those who know me won't be surprised. Tell me there is a book fair, a book sale, a library around the corner, and the greedy bookworm inside me wiggles and wriggles to break free and rush to where the books are. The affair with books started at a young age, when my mom gave me one of her Enid Blyton books. Then, Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys, Agatha Christie happened. What followed was a long association with books - poetry as well as prose, fiction as well as non-fiction. There also came a time when I could not pick a book anymore. Reader's block, I guess. I would fret as to why I could read no more. I would buy books, borrow books from the library and then, they would just stay there on the shelf, untouched. But gradually, as if it was a miracle, things began to change and I could read again. I have gone a bit slow but books have been with me. Come to my house and see books in every room -  many now are for children. My kids are growing up and they need to uncover the treasure too. 

There are many of my friends who fail to understand my craze for book. I always have felt that a good book can change your life. You don't need to read all that is out there in the world. But one good bok, and your life's perspective widens, you become more sensitive and wise. There is a world of emotions that goes untapped because we live a superficial life. It is book that questions, that prods, that asks us to dig deeper. For those who like books, and those who don't, I have something to say -

कभी अकेले हो तो कोई किताब उठा के देखना 
उस किताब के पन्नो को दोस्त बना के देखना 
उन पन्नो में लिखे शब्दों को परख के देखना 
उन  शब्दों में छिपी भावनाओं को जी के देखना 
उन भावनाओं में निहित कुछ सबक भी होंगे 
जो जीवन के अभिप्राय का आइना होंगे 
उस आईने में खुद को देखना 
तुम्हारी कहानी वहां से झलक जाएगी 
तुम भी किसी कहानी का पात्र ही तो हो 
किसने रची कौन जाने 
तुम बस अपनी भूमिका के प्रति सच्चे रहना 
उस सच्चाई को कोई तो पढ़ ही लेगा 
तुम्हारी कहानी को कोई हमसफ़र भी मिलेगा 
सच्चे साथी होंगे तो कहानी भी और रोचक बनेगी 
किताब के पन्नों में और जीवन भरेगी 
सच मानो मेरी बात 
कभी अकेले हो तो कोई किताब उठा के देखना। … 

Image Source here


A word that sounds beautiful to the ear, and that evokes so many images - lullaby or लोरी in Hindi. A baby cuddled in the mother's arms, all attentive to the sweet melodies she sings, as she weaves a dream about her child's future, or a baby in her father's secure arms, listening to his bass voice, as he struggles to find the right words of the lullaby while trying to put his little bundle of joy to sleep - aren't these images beautiful. A lullaby evokes images of sleepless nights, anxious but proud parents, a little seed sprouting to life, a chick sitting cozy in its nest, comfortable yet restless since it pines for more. It speaks of a future taking shape, some dreams being imagined. It tells about a beginning - a new life of not just a child but of the couple who have become parents now. It is symbolic of new responsibilities, of new ambitions, of new plans. It speaks of nurture, of care, of an unbreakable bond. A lullaby.....

Hear these wonderful lullabies...Sleep, baby Sleep and Hush Little Baby....

Even though I am a mother now, I still like to hear my mom singing. She sings for her grandchildren and it soothes me too!


Doesn't it sound good to you? Have you ever felt the season's first snowflake touch your cheeks? Have you ever seen it descend slowly towards you? Have you noticed the magical serenity with which it floats? Isn't it truly, purely blissful? 

Yes, it melts me too. It is cold but the moment it touches me, the moments it dissipates, it undoes me. It dispels every hard thought. It scatters a softness with its delicate fragility. Its transience speaks of a life lived fully. It is an exquisite example of nature's symmetry. They say that each snowflake is unique and the possibility of finding the same symmetrical pattern in a snowflake is rare. I don't know about that. All I know is that it is a special gift of cold winter months. It is what makes winters beautiful. Its white purity speaks of something unblemished, un-scarred. It is like a poem, falling word by word from the sky, touching us here and there, melting the frigidity away as it vanishes. 

There is something worth sharing here with all of you. It is from Khaled Hosseini's A Thousand Splendid Suns. It is a coincidence that I came across these lines just when I was thinking about writing this post. 

"She remembered Nana saying that each snowflake was a sigh heaved by an aggrieved woman somewhere in the world. That all sighs drifted up the sky, gathered into clods, then broke into tiny pieces that fell silently on the people below."

With those lines, I stop. Over to you, my friends...!

Image Source here

This post is a part of Write Over the Weekend, an initiative for Indian Bloggers by BlogAdda.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Poems heal, Poems Probe....Poems teach us to be Humans again...!

Indian Bloggers

The first sound that a baby hears, apart from her mom's words, is a lullaby. It soothes her when she is distressed. It calms her mind. It is the music in it that she can relate to. The words are yet to form some meaning because she doesn't understand language yet. As she grows, she begins to understand the words too and the connection with words begins. Kids at an early age develop an affinity toward poems. Poems attract them because they are lyrical and they are easy to remember. Poems tell stories and generate knowledge in an easy manner for them. Thus, early learning teachers stress on alliterative and rhyming poetry. Poetry that is repetitive, that plays on words in essentially every child's favorite. I would like to share a very fascinating poem here which I read recently. It comes from an anthology of poems (The Bill Martin Jr. Big Book of Poetry) my son's teacher had suggested for him to read. It is simple, and playful. It creates an imagery for the child's mind and by its repetitive use of words makes it a hit among them. Children relate to it on a different level too. Like, when they tasted a food for the first time and found its taste funny. They also find it hilarious because it is like a tongue twister. They say the words wrong and then they say it right and the fun continues...

Rabbit by Ann Hobermann

A rabbit Bit 
A little bit
An itty-bitty Little bit of beet 
Then bit 
By bit 
He bit 
Because he liked the taste of it
But when he bit
a wee bit more
It was more bitter than before
"This beet is bitter",
Rabbit cried
"I feel a bit unwell inside!"
But when he bit 
another bite, that bit of beet
Seemed quite all right.
When all is said and done
Better bitter beet
Than none.

As we grow up, poetry speaks to us in more soulful ways. It reflects our deep thoughts and touches an inner chord of heightened sensitivity. It speaks in a way that feels blissful. It questions our fallacies by the honesty with which it creates meaning. Good poetry is like good music. It makes us cry, it melts our biases, it cleanses us of our deceptions, it purges us of our pain. It delves way deeper than any other medium and because of its unique style, interrogates in a way nothing else can.

Poetry has various forms too. It can be lyrical, like the songs or lullabies we hear. It can be an epic narrative, like Homers' Illiad and Odyssey. It can be a short poem like a haiku or tanka. It can be a fourteen line sonnet. It can be an ode, a ballad or a free verse. There are umpteen number of ways a poem is written. A good poem, irrespective of its length, moves its readers. See for example, this short piece by Ryokan, a poet from ancient Japan:

The thief failed to take it - 
The moon shining
At the window. 

Image Source here

Inspirational poems are like lighthouses that help us see when everything else has become murky and miserable. Most of us are familiar with Harivansh Rai Bachchan's है अँधेरी रात पर दीवा जलाना कब मना है . I will quote a few lines from that poem here

क्या हवाएँ थीं कि उजड़ा प्यार का वह आशियाना
कुछ न आया काम तेरा शोर करना, गुल मचाना

नाश की उन शक्तियों के साथ चलता ज़ोर किसका

किंतु ऐ निर्माण के प्रतिनिधि, तुझे होगा बताना
जो बसे हैं वे उजड़ते हैं प्रकृति के जड़ नियम से
पर किसी उजड़े हुए को फिर बसाना कब मना है
है अँधेरी रात पर दीवा जलाना कब मना है 

(Source here)

The sordid human condition that prevails in a decadent, spiritually lost world, is well depicted by one of my favorite poets T. S. Eliot. The Hollow Men is a strong, sharp commentary on the utter desolation of  humanity. The hollow men are barren of emotions, they are devoid of the very essence of humanity.

We are the hollow men
We are the stuffed men

Leaning together

Headpiece filled with straw. Alas!
Our dried voices, when
We whisper together
Are quiet and meaningless
As wind in dry grass
Or rats' feet over broken glass
In our dry cellar

Shape without form, shade without colour,
Paralysed force, gesture without motion;......

or the lines

The eyes are not here
There are no eyes here

In this valley of dying stars

In this hollow valley
This broken jaw of our lost kingdoms

(Source here)

In contrast to this is a very sweet poem written by W. B. Yeats. It speaks beautifully of love. The lines are so simple, the feelings coming straight from the heart, they make each and every word of the poem sublime. Read the poem to see if you can feel what I felt after reading it. 

The Cloths of Heaven

Had I the heaven's embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,

The blue and the dim and the dark cloths 

Of night and light and the half-light;
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.
(Source here)

The great thing about poetry is precisely this - it touches on a myriad of subjects with equal efficiency. Each theme that a poet picks becomes intensely probing. Poems shake away our deafness, our blindness, our indifference. They are weapons of change, they are balms of calmness, they appease, they unsettle. They are poems.

Written for Indiblogger IndiSpire #91