I have been writing and reading a lot of women focused work the past two months. My essay on a related theme has been published in the WE Anthology Equiverse Space this month. I have been explaining a lot of stuff to my daughter about hidden bias and the erasing that women face in reporting on news and in documentation of our lives and times. This is also the time I have started work with a small group of women on exploring our deepest selves as beings, sans, societal roles and frameworks.
For all the familiarity with the term Depression, it is still shrouded in confusion. For all the exhortations for removing stigma and shame around those who suffer, there is still too little focus on context and systemic causes. Johann Harris is an award winning journalist and best selling writer who has suffered from depression since childhood. He has been taking medications since his teen years and believed that his condition was all about a chemical Imbalance that pills could put right. But his experience with drugs- while it provided some relief, specially early on, did not lead to lasting improvements. It led him to ask what wasn’t working and why.
What he found in the course of his wide ranging investigation is the story of this book.
The stories and data he investigates are surprising and shocking, as well as commonsensical and intuitive – sometimes all together. He looks at the nature of pharmaceutical research and trials and publishing of trial results. He looks at the nature of the experience of grief and other emotional and relational trauma. He looks at social context. He looks at man as part of the natural world. He talks to scientific and scholars and doctors and social workers.
He comes to see that Depression is a lot more than a chemical imbalance that pills can put right for ever. Some of his suggestions for course correction are utopian and because they point to the need for systemic changes, they may sound impractical; and yet there is a core idea in all of it that is possible for us to follow in our lives and interactions.
Given pervasive thoughts of stress and anxiety in our lives, this is a book for all of us, a book that takes a wide angle sweep and a close up into what all of us are now touched by directly or indirectly.
It isn’t really about the books this time. I had no plans to cover them in a review. More than books to read, they are a part of me, and echo some of what I experience in the wild mountain back of beyond-ness. They are about much more than hunting man-eating predators. They are rich nature and place writing. They are also excellent specimens of narrative and descriptive writing. And they offer a wonderfully detailed cultural history of the hills of Kumaon and Garhwal, of the government and social order prevalent then.
Heidi speaks to my love of mountains but its setting is alien and I am no longer a little girl. Innocent love of place and rootedness are common traits that attract me to Heidi and Ruskin Bond. Bond is a personal idol and a writer after my heart because he creates beautiful prose and eternal meaning out of nearly nothing, located mainly in the hills or other lost places and about lost people, evoking a nostalgia for gentler times and attitudes that are gone or fast fading away.
Bond’s is essentially an urbane sensibility-even when he writes about jungles or ghosts; gentle, mildly sardonic at times and always civilised and soothing. Whereas Jim Corbett is the essential loner of the wilderness, at home on the machan or marching on foot through the wilderness missing not a change in the wind or temperature, and noting his observations in meticulous methodical detail, courageous and unflinchingly honest with himself and others and with a rare capacity for seeing the bigger picture way ahead of his time. For all this, he too is a personal hero and an inspiration.
Today I realised I had reached the end of a month and had forgotten all about my monthly goal of a book report. I looked at my shelves for a book to report on, and saw these books. This is a personal account of my own and some others’ engagement with the matter of wilderness and Jim Corbett.
I first read Corbett as a school girl and was suitably impressed with the adventures and the romance of this invincible hunter. We lived in the forests of MP, in a pure Mowgli setting, and tales of wolves carrying off children were part of the legends we grew up with. My mother had lived this life before me in various raliway bunglows in places like Khurda Road, Umaria and Gondia. My father, an army officer had jungle survival as part of his professional training and had served in rathervwild places in Assam, and around the Chambal ravines in central India and had encountered nearly every kind of wildlife. So my childhood experiences in lonely army outposts on edges of jungles and always far removed from the urban sprawl were layered on the subsoil of my parents’ stories.
Encountering a cobra on way to school stopped sending shivers down the spine after one or two occasions. News arrived of tigers and bears being sighted during night patrols and we felt safe and snug inside our pucca homes with locks. Then a snake or a scorpio would be sighted slipping into the house and there’d be an hour or two of commotion to get it out. One day the Tandons found a cobra coiled over their breakfast and had a time chasing it out. That day Tandon Aunty had trouble concentrating on her teaching. She taught us Geography in the tin shed and tents collection of make do structures that served as our school. On a hike through the forest we were told how a bear had attacked a forest guard at the same forest inspection hut we were having our lunch at. We heard of hunters too.
So you see, Jim Corbett, Heidi and Ruskin Bond were what fit into my experience and imagination more easily than the glamorous and out of reach stuff occasional visitors from America, Bangalore or Delhi talked of. I had never owned or even seen shops that sold clothes like what they wore so casually, never imagined talking on topics they approached like experts. Books were practically my only window to the outside world, besides the summer holiday trip to a place of historical or geographical importance. Just once a movie came to town that made us feel our story was being told. The movie was Bahadur Bacche. Anyone recall the line ‘kitna maza Ballu? Maza hi maza”?
The ideas of conservation has not become common currency, so that aspect of Corbett remained beyond my ken. It came to me in high school via the Nature Club, when I moved to a metropolis. For the first time in my life I was far away from jungles or any kind of rusticity. At first I talked a lot about where I had come from, to my new city bred friends. They found me amusing, and were not impressed or interested at all in my rapturous recall of adventures from the middle of nowhere. Slowly I stopped talking of how much fun life was back in the wilderness. I got busy with all the preoccupations of an urban teen – clothes, fashion, crushes, gossip, music, movies, socialising, studying, clearing exams in school.
Then came college and getting a job.
There was an exciting detour back to the hills and jungles, after University. A hostel mate excitedly showed us an article in Inside Outside about the mountain home of an Uncle, Dr. Lal of Sitla, at the edge of the protected forest outside the IVRI at Mukteshwar. He ran an NGO Chirag in the mountain villages around, and Smitie Misra and I promptly wrote to him to let us intern at CHIRAG. Killing two birds with one stone we were. The long walks from our village rental
abode to the Post Office in Mukteshwar to encash our travellers cheques are etched in memory. The hoofbeat of the herd of racing deer, the never seen but always felt presence of leopards and the singular sighting of a fox in a field of golden wheat are still fresh without the help of any day to day fb records. For all my love for the life far from the chaos or the city, I was beset with doubts and the then unlabelled and unsaid FOMO when ime came to take up a regular job offer from Chirag. I came back to the rather predictable urban middle class trajectory of job, marriage, kids, slowly sidelining own career and dreams to family needs and husband’s priorities and so on. But the Chirag experience marked and taught me much for life.
Ages later, I started getting reacquainted with the wild in a more intimate way. Small hikes and overnight camping led to bigger steps. I hiked in the buffer zone of Corbett along trails made or followed by Corbett. I learnt of his hunts and his transition to a conservation advocate. I visited his home in Nainital and at the villages he helped settle around Choti Halwani, near Kaladunghi, and the canal network he initiated for agriculture. He is still fondly recalled as Carpet Saheb by the locals there.
On the Corbett trail from Kaladhungi to Powalgarh, the writing in his books came alive with every step. As it does every time I cross through Haridwar into Rishikesh and start climbing towards my home ahead of Rudraprayag.
I have come here nearly a century after Corbett did, chasing dreams snd goals very different from his, with abilities not a patch on his (to me) divine powers. Yet, reading his The ManEater of Rudraprayag is the best testimony to what I witness on my journey here.
I always assumed most people who come to these areas are somewhat familiar with Corbett and his work. Imagine my surprise when a recent group of travellers turned out to have no idea about who Jim Corbett was and why a national Park they visited before arriving here is named so. Another visitor claimed to be a wildlife fanatic. On a hike to a nearby temple he insisted on returning from almost near the summit because “leopards are crazy” and the sun would set soon and he knew all about the mad and cruel ways of wild animals from watching youtube. I wish Jim Corbett ‘s bhooth haunts that fellow till he learns the proper way to educate himself about wild things.
“I write for you and me and for a gentler, more just world.”
Catharsis is a word I avoid using in any context. Even when friends, well-wishers and experts offer it as an explanation for what they see happening with me. Or suggest it as a necessary step to deal with an issue. It is not because I don’t like the word or don’t believe in the process. Just the opposite, in fact. I treat catharsis as a sacred precious gift; the word carries so much value for me that I don’t want it made trite in the world of easy sound bytes and trending catch phrases.
So it is with a lot of thought that I call Natasha Badhwar’s debut book a cathartic read. My Daughters’ Mum is an extraordinary book in its candour. The author writes with such self-reflexive vulnerability that you forget you are reading another person’s writing. You feel your heart spill out on the page. Through tears and smiles, and heaving and sinking heart the book embraces the reader, cleansing many heartaches and allowing one to celebrate unspoken joys. You recognise memories you had dumped away, you reclaim parts you had been too ashamed to include in your narrative of self. You examine what you have known; you let yourself be drawn into speculating on the unknown.
The theme of coming home to a place in this world, and a place inside yourself is the big story of this marvellously loving collection of deeply personal essays. The theme holds together carefully curated sections from Natasha’s long running Mint Lounge column. As a regular reader, it makes me happy that the stories of the column, with their message of love, hope, inclusion and the vision of a different, kinder world now have another home with an even wider accessibility. The editor and writer have skilfully structured the collection in a way that feels like a seamless narration of an ongoing conversation.
Part memoir, part essay, part record of our times, there is nothing the book does not touch. Birth family, mothers and daughters, parents, nation, others, love, work, interfaith marriage, friends, grief, death, births, self-love, identity, nationality, changing times, family, in-laws, maids, working from home, road trips, childhood, college, siblings – it is all there, in Natasha’s warm and smart prose. No motherhoods preached, no rules that are claimed as fail proof. Just brave and honest sharing of personal experiences, insights and revelations.
Sample this, on parenting:
“I had never really felt so lonely. Clearly, I had spread myself too thin; the urban myth of the supermom had trapped me. I looked good, but I felt terrible.
All at once, parenting proved to be a test of loyalty. Was I willing to be loyal to myself? I didn’t have much practice in this area. It had always been much easier to be loyal to friends, trends and gadgets.
I had to come to terms with a few grand truths. For one, I would be able to raise our kids well only if I first raised myself well…I had also to learn to pamper the child in me – love her, appreciate her, make her happy.”
In the chapter titled A Technology Chowkidar At Home, Natasha takes head on the issue many young and not so young parents mention all too often as an obstacle to stay away from negative media.
“Despite my intense love for gadgets…I am the self-appointed watchman who moderates access to technology in family spaces. …We barely listen to each other. We are often way behind in keeping track of each other’s creative milestones…we all need some time to share our experiences with each other So we do things that may seem odd to other families. …I do not want us to be a family of Western-consumerist-culture-addicted-Anglophones. We do not want to find ourselves scavenging for comfort amid the clutter of shallow, raucous media content with limited shelf life. I want variety in our lives. Slowness. Pauses. Daydreaming and imaginary friends. I don’t want to prepare our children for the ‘real world’. I want us and them to have the confidence that we can create the world we want to live in. We don’t have to fit into pre-fabricated moulds. We are free to discover and relate to our inner and outer worlds at our own pace. We can pick and chose. This is real life.”
Natasha’s writing is always crisp, the chapters short and sentences light. Such nimble handling of weighty and gut wrenchingly loaded topics is a feat this slim book achieves with élan. I have a feeling that the author’s experience as a TV newsperson and filmmaker, and then coach has definitely helped her create the light as air feel for this warm as pashmina coziness of a book.
If like me, you are a dreamer who wants to persist on this path despite an often broken heart and habitually weary feet, go get yourself this dose of solidarity and encouragement. Keep the tissues on hand, and start reading. You will go on a journey of your life, I promise you. In Natasha’s words reflecting on the wreckage of a riot she watched as a young girl, “Our heart breaks and somehow we keep working. Lives are wrecked and people get back to building homes again. We lose hope and then we find a way to believe once more. We often despair that we are too cynical but we are all constantly creating, restoring, healing, trying to reassemble broken pieces. ” I like to believe she speaks for a lot of us
And what do we have to hold on to?
A journalist murdered, a child murdered in a school, rain havoc in Bangalore, climate change causing widespread natural devastation…everywhere one looks, it feels like things are breaking down. And then the politics of it and politicians step in and just do us all in. From mayor to minister to Chief Minister/Prime Minister…everyone is part of the same rot. Anyone speaks up, do away with them…attack them verbally, ideologically but with personal insults, plant evidence and use official power networks – they ALL do it, all parties, power seems to irreversibly corrupt people even as they continue to mouth platitudes and quote Mahatma Gandhi! Poor man, if only he could have seen the state of his country, something he laid his life down for in this state!
I can’t talk anymore of the negative stuff happening – every fiery speech blaming someone…
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The most thorough review of The Ministry Of Utmost happiness that I have found useful. Besides the one written by Jerry Pinto. One which is as compassionate in tone as the writer of the book.
“The challenge faced by the novelist who inhabits a clamorous country going through interesting times: how do you make up a world that can compete with the truth? One way is to lie outright, become a fabulist – but lies are now firmly the preserve of the fake-news expert, not the novelist.”
Till you can actually read the book, this is as good an introduction as any.
The Ministry of Utmost Happiness
Penguin Random House
(A shorter version of this review is published in the Business Standard.)
In the same week that I began reading Arundhati Roy’s second novel, The Ministry of Utmost Happiness, published twenty years after her first, I came across an old interview between Gabriel Garcia Marquez and The Paris Review.
He says, “It always amuses me that the biggest praise for my work comes for the imagination, while the truth is that there’s not a single line in all my work that does not have a basis in reality. The problem is that Caribbean reality resembles the wildest imagination.”
The challenge faced by the novelist who inhabits a clamorous country going through interesting times: how do you make up a world that can compete with the truth? One way is to lie outright, become a fabulist – but lies…
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This time we are having a reading workshop. Yes. One has to know how to read, in order to write well. To read not for entertainment, not for getting to know a story or a load of information. But to study the craft. The structure. To connect with the aesthetics of someone’s creation.
It takes some doing, and we are offering to get you started on this practice over a weekend. As always, a great time is promised, with lots of intense intimate interactions, learning, insights and reading and writing.
Register and book a spot soon. Thanks for being with us.
How beautifully and simply Pullman puts this need for art in life.
“It’s true that some people grow up never encountering art of any kind, and are perfectly happy and live good and valuable lives… Well, that’s fine. I know people like that. They are good neighbours and useful citizens.
But other people, at some stage in their childhood or their youth, or maybe even their old age, come across something of a kind they’ve never dreamed of before…Nothing prepared them for this. They suddenly realise that they’re filled with a hunger, though they had no idea of that just a minute ago; … it almost breaks their heart. … welcomed by this utterly new and strange experience …they needed this as a starving person needs food, and they never knew. They had no idea.
That is what it’s like for a child who does need music or pictures or poetry to come across it by chance. “
Children need art and stories and poems and music as much as they need love and food and fresh air and play. If you don’t give a child food, the damage quickly becomes visible. If you don’t let a child have fresh air and play, the damage is also visible, but not so quickly. If you don’t give a child love, the damage might not be seen for some years, but it’s permanent.
But if you don’t give a child art and stories and poems and music, the damage is not so easy to see. It’s there, though. Their bodies are healthy enough; they can run and jump and swim and eat hungrily and make lots of noise, as children have always done, but something is missing.
It’s true that some people grow up never encountering…
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New contest and event coming up.
This one says it simple and well, good.
I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t preoccupied with my own goodness .
Am I good?
Am I good?
But am I good enough?
Good is a word that children hear early and often. A child probably hears the phrase “be good” – as an exhortation, a command, a plead – several times a day from several different adults. They might hear it so often that they won’t really be sure what good means except to know that they categorically aren’t.
By the time I was in kindergarten I thought that goodness existed as part of a binary, in the sense that either you were or you weren’t. It didn’t take me long to figure out what side of the equation I fell on; no matter how hard I tried to keep my thoughts to myself, to stay at my desk, to model myself after the prim little girls who sat so still…
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From a very helpful and interesting blog I discovered about Writing! So, tell us, what inspires your writing?
Home, for Lori Rensink, will always be the farm she grew up on, where she spent her summers careree and barefoot. Fortunately, she never had to move during her childhood, so for all those years, turning onto that long, gravel driveway always meant one thing: she was almost home. But since the age of eighteen, this paralegal and possible future law school student has found herself moving twice a year. In fact, she says, she’s become quite the expert at packing and moving.
Not that that’s a bad thing?she’s just restless. And that restlessness has taken her far and wide. Whether she’s helping build houses in Mexico, attending a conference in Philadelphia, or just relaxing on a boat in Eufaula (Whofaula? It’s in Oklahoma), Lori obviously enjoys the company of the myriad people she meets along the way. And the time she spent working in a coffee…
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To find yourself sometimes you need to let a lot just go. Read how, from Elle.
I had my mid-life crisis during a sales meeting. Or more specifically, during one of those cliché icebreaker games in a room of a hundred real-estate agents, where we all stumbled around in designer knock-off pumps, wielding cheap logo-emblazoned ballpoint pens, sharing interesting tidbits about our lives in a mad race to fill up a bingo card so one of us could win a free lunch at some overpriced restaurant chain. “Tell me something interesting about you,” said a silver-haired man. “Quick. I’ve almost got bingo!”
The epiphany hit me with the force of 14 wasted years.
I was successful real estate agent at the top of my game, living in a six bedroom, two-story colonial on two acres in the Washington, D.C., suburbs. I had a home theater in my basement, a fireplace in my bedroom, two ovens in my granite kitchen, and enough square footage that I didn’t…
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A wonderfully talented, bright reviewer, beta reader, writer. To mentor us. Looking forward.
More about our writing mentors.
Something more about Write & Beyond workshop on 31st july. For the Love of Writing.
We will be announcing our first creative writing contest for the participants at the workshop, and the prize for 2 lucky workshop writers is a free entry to our first off site residential Retreat Workshop in early November.
These days I am really excited and involved in organising an overnite out of town meeting of old college and hostel mates. We were all in our late teens when we joined Miranda House in Delhi University, for various courses and took our place in the hostel, as we all came from different parts of the world and had no home in Delhi.
We were a young, bright, enthusiatic bunch, with a million hopes and dreams and nary a clue about the reality of growing up and making our way in life as adults. We learnt together, from each other, from our seniors and from our experiences, perhaps even a little bit from our books and teacher? Maybe….anyone knows….?
We learnt to get along, learnt to let go, learnt to take on new challenges, and learnt to move on. We learnt also the value of friendship, of being there for each other, of the pain of betrayal, of the loss of innocence, about becoming our own person, of standing up for ourself and for ideas, for others, and also experienced being let down. We developed some sense of ourselves and the world, and our place in the scheme of things. We developed clarity, confidence and the skill set to go out and reach for our dream courses, jobs, marriages, motherhood….the whole circle of life.
Its been over twenty years, nearly 25 in fact for some of us, since those days when we first met in the hostel corridoors, and bad mouthed a hostel warden some of us had not even set eyes on, over 2 decades since we were acutely self conscious and touchy about who looked like what, who said what, who came from where and was taking which course….I wonder what are we like now? I wonder what is it that still pulls us to each other, still makes us feel like its yesterday once more when we meet? We have all gone such diverse ways, lead such different lives, and been far apart in fact and in thoughts for a long long time. Yet, if anything, the bond seems stronger, the love seems purer. Do you feel the same way? Please share your thoughts, co-Mirandians in the loop for the re-union, and also those who are not yet in. Come join in and make this the best time of our college bonding.