January Book Report.Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine. By Gail Honeyman

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Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine.
By Gail Honeyman

I picked up this book the favourite way I like to explore and buy books. I regularly walk into bookstores and browse many volumes. Linger over blurbs and jackets and flip through the pages. And then buy some because they make me want to spend more time with them than just the moments or hours possible in bookstores.
Anyway, coming to the book. I picked it up because of the catchy curious title. And something about the way the blurb was framed. I could sense this was a story with an emotional load I was going to savour. And I was right.
This debut novel set in modern day Glasgow is so refined and polished and subtle that I wonder how long the author held the story in her mind before it actually got published. And what a story it is. A gut wrenching tale of loneliness, soul damage, social anomie and being saved, of being on the outside and wanting to fit in while being clueless; at the same time a story filled with gentleness and warmth and finally, hope. And keeps a genuinely light funny attitude to things without sounding clever or over sophisticated.
Eleanor is the narrator who is an odd one who leads a lonely life of fixed routine and simple habits. We realise soon enough that this is her safe holding phase after a traumatic childhood and an unsettled youth. She wants to be left alone and yet she longs for love and can get pretty delusional about it too.
The story starts with Eleanor attempting to make a change. And then relentlessly keeps bringing change and novelty to Eleanor, and with ever so natural nudges the house of cards that holds memories and emotions in check comes tumbling down.
Eleanor is by chance pulled in to help save a stranger’s life, and then into befriending his family. In all this, she also becomes friends with her office colleague Raymond. All the while, she also has an almost delusional crush on a no good musician. From a recluse and office robot Eleanor starts shifting into someone who meets people, goes out and starts to dress well and groom herself more stylishly. She cries without warning. She takes risks. She is ready to be different, she thinks. She wants her life to be different, to mean something, to be fine. She is desperate for something to change, for the ‘correct’ love to rescue her somehow. But of course life is not a simple wish list. Eleanor’s delusions come crashing to the ground as soon as she tries to make them real. But while she breaks down along with her dreams, she is finally able to come to grips with the truth about herself, and reach out for help offered by her new friend, and to overcome a lifetime of fear and fabrication.
The author shows immense control over a suspenseful narrative while threading a plot through past and present. I don’t want to say more about the story as that would be giving away too much, but I can talk about the intelligence with which the narrative unfolds. It is a lesson in crafting a gripping drama in the first person. The voice is intimate yet never lazily familiar, and helps each of the characters become real people we know and care for and cry for and hate and feel scared of. I love how the book remains light and nimble and conversational while it goes at difficult themes and macabre minds. In the end it feels like a simple good versus bad kind of story that leaves the reader full of hope for the characters, and with a paisa wasool feeling for themselves.
A recommended read if you want an old fashioned drama with innocents and villains and good samaritans and a few twists, and a redemptive closure, laced with wit, intelligence and lots of warmth and grace.

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The lives and love of pets

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At six years of age I had my first intimations of a future me as an adult. I imagined myself walking along in a place of adult power and importance- maybe an office or a school, dressed in a sari in some moments and in pants in some others. I was no longer a child who was clueless and had to be cared for. I was the one in control, in the know. Things ran the way I wanted them to.

This was soon after my first ever hospitalisation due to a complicated brush with chicken pox. I had been quarantined in a sprawling military hospital in Devlali and had seen only professional adult people for some days. People who seemed to have the power to get me through a terrible illness. I felt confident because they were so confident. I wasn’t lonely even though it was the longest I had been away alone without my sibling or my parents.

A few years later at age ten loneliness was a lingering backdrop to all I did. I was a paradox of introversion and strong opinions. Soft spoken of voice but cutting in my critical views. Socialising felt fraught and yet was essential to an army brat who so often shifted school and homes. I wanted to go away to a boarding school to have some constancy. To feel more in control. No doubt I was unduly influenced by all the Enid Blyton I devoured those days. My parents wrote to a few schools. The prospectus arrived in post from Simla. My brother protested when he heard what I had asked for. Said he wouldn’t ever go. My parents said okay then she cannot go either. I was so mad at him, at them. I can go alone, I said. They said no, That Inhad no idea how tough that would be. That when one was young one always needed someone known and familiar to be with us in new places, in times of change. And that they could only ever consider sending us away together else not at all. I didn’t say much but now I wonder if that must have been the beginning of something. I started stepping out more as my own person. I made a friend who was all mine away from the common group we had played in so far. I started going out on my own at playtime. I started reading books separate from him. I started wanting a dog for a pet. I picked up a puppy from a neighbor’s pet’s litter and walked home naming and renaming him all the way. Mummy made me take it back without even letting me step into the house. I told Suman didi no matter, I would get a pup first thing when I had my own house as a grown up.

I got my wish a few months after my marriage. It was almost an after thought by my non dog/pet fancying husband. A sort of peace offering, from the new litter in our building ka parking lot that I was taking care of with some neighbouring teenagers. It was a surprise to see her brought home, and I was confused about keeping her. I felt her fragile life in my arms and was equal parts terrified and smitten. Baby Doll was the four year old boss of our home when we welcomed our first born. When she passed away at fourteen years, after progressive organ failure, I promised myself I would never bring a pet into my home again. But I had not been a good reader of my own heart, a second time over. The kids (now there was Keya too) were insistent in their demands. I read something about how pets help shy and introverted people. How they can make a special needs child more confident. I longed for the loving playfulness that thrived between Baby Doll and the kids and all of us. The fabric of home had a dog sized tear that only seemed to sunder more with time. I stayed firm and made sure we did lots of things together. Outdoor games. Indoor games. Picnics. Cooking. Movies. Books. Holidays. Studies. Painting. I told myself I needed to get out more. I volunteered at school. Acted in a play. Rejoined yoga class. Attended a Stock Trading class. And the trainer said she was also doing a Bach Flower course next, would I like to join? It was for emotional healing and didn’t include much psychobabble, and it would not do any harm. Why not try it? Why not, I said.

In the class a participant passed around the picture of a new Spaniel pup who seems to miss its mother and cried often. The course teacher suggested flower remedies for the pup. I asked where had the pup come from. The new master said there were still two left in the litter and I might want to go see them. So some days later we had Truffle and Siberioo with us. Siberioo was Keya’s pet, supposedly, and Ken claimed Truffle. In a couple of days we realised they were both not quite well. They had the dreaded Parvo virus and within a week of their coming home to us, golden furred Siberioo was no more. His tortured tiny form lay still in my palm as the sun’s first rays slanted through the glass window. Truffle survived, recovering from the brink but he has never been quite fully well since. The vet and other people suggested that getting him a companion quickly would be good idea. I looked at five year old Keya and how kind and brave she had been with the sick pups. With Baby Doll she had always been somewhat hesitant, intimidated both by the bigness of her size and the loudness of her bark. And being the smallest and latest arrival in the family Keya could not quite yet do much for Baby Doll. Taking her for a walk was beyond her, as was handling her feeding. She would watch her older and bigger sibling do all that and wonder at her own smallness and Baby Doll’s power. l asked the vet to look for a pup. A month later we welcomed Oreo to our home. He was the opposite of Truffle in every way. A carefree singing dog that could beg for food the whole day long, and was genial and kind to everyone except other building dogs he met in the lift. Averse to being picked up or brushed. But very fond of climbing on every sofa chair carpet and bed and cuddling up on cushions and pillows to sleep. Truffle is much more particular and aloof, but will happily snuggle onto your shoulder if you lift him, and likes to be the Raja. After the initial bossing around, Truffle accepted Oreo in the home but never let him forget he had come in here before him.

With these two tiny pups, Keya too came into her own in many ways. She could feed the pups, and handle them in other ways. They were tiny and manageable for her. She gained confidence as she started taking them for walks. She learnt about discipline as she trained them. My years of no-dogs-on beds rule was done away with by the children.Truffle and Oreo started sleeping on my son’s bed. When he went away to college they went back to their own little beds for a while till Keya allowed them to cuddle up with her. It is now almost ten years since we got these two home.

End of last year Oreo was detected with a malignant carcinoma. It was removed surgically. The day of the surgery as Oreo recovered from anaesthesia and the pain, Truffle was by his side, at times just snuggled up to Oreo’s flank and at times licking him in what I can only assume was a gesture of care. As is my habit when the pets or kids are not well, I let him rest on my bed. I let him treat my quilt like his own little cave and refuge and am getting used to his one sided don’t touch me please kind of wish to be near us. I remember how being helped to the bathroom by Dad had brought me incredible relief and strength after my own first caesarean. Being physically held makes love real. Being held is what we can always do first for another being who suffers, and it what we can still do when we can do little else. Even when it is the kind of holding Oreo seeks- our being near him but not really catch him tight or squeeze close.bMore like letting him plonk himself where he likes, while we squeeze and adjust around him.

Touchwood the rest of the tests done on Oreo have been clear so far and he seems to be fine in every way. The vet and others we have shown his reports to say he is so old and really there is not much to do medically that would change anything. We tell ourselves he has lived well and we can only love him all the more for however much longer he is with us. So there will be no stopping Oreo from continuing to make himself at home on my bed. Never mind that now Truffle too has followed him there. Things do feel a bit like a crowded railway platform late at night though. Guess this is the grown up life. And I am not in control.

 

December Reading Report.   Pathways of Possibility. By Saikat Majumdar

26142356_10154916335312364_847508788_oIt has been twelve months of my monthly book report project. Twelve months of doing something which I never imagined I was going to do, which nothing in my education and professional experience or training specifically covered.

 

It is fitting then that the last book I review this year is also about breaking education out of its confines of arts versus science, general versus specialised, and liberal humanist versus vocational. College – Pathways to Possibilty is a book that is a thoughtful, studied reflection on the past, present and future nature of education and careers.

 

This is a book that is calling out to be read, discussed and debated. Young people in school, parents, policy makers, college students and teachers, sociologists, college counselors, educational consultants, researchers, professionals and anyone with an interest in theories of knowledge and the future of work and education would enjoy the many nuances and tangents of thought in this slim yet substantive book. It is a book which could, and which should lead to much more work in this area. I hope it is the spark that lights many more.

 

It is a call for change, a manifesto of new pathways to doing things differently, and an idealist hope for the future of college education. For many in our country today, a college degree in the arts or sciences is a dead weight of no particular practical application or use in the evolving market place, or in terms of life skills. On the other hand, the narrow deep dive into specialisation of professional/vocational courses leaves out a world of general learning from its scope, and is not usually any better in imparting lifeskills like critical thinking, analytical ability or creative ideation. Too much fragmentation. Too little integration. Silos that do not talk to each other. And there is history and sociology and ways of engaging with the world behind all of this.

 

“The liberal arts are sometimes imagined to be in opposition to STEM – Science, Technology, Engineering and Medicine. But this opposition is a confused one, as the foundational S of STEM, science, occupies a pride of place in the liberal arts. The “liberal arts” are not synonymous with the arts and humanities; the archaic term is the surviving legacy of a time when the sciences were arts too.In fact, it is perhaps not generally remembered today that the word “scientist” was coined on the analogy of the word “artist”. This happened, as the cultural critic Marjorie Garber reminds us, in the 1830s, when the members of the British Association for the Advancement of Science felt the acute absence of a term to describe the practitioner of science: “Philosophers was felt to be too wide and too lofty…savans was rather assuming…; some ingenious gentleman proposed that, by analogy with artist, they might form scientist*=.”

Written by a novelist, critic and scholar who is currently a professor at India’s first liberal arts University, this book is many things – it is the author’s professional stock taking exercise, a thoughtful reflection on the state of post secondary education, and a manifesto for change of mindsets and systems .

 

Saikat Majumdar’s pitch is for a broad humanist college education that is not straightjacketed into narrow walls of cramming and regurgitation, consumption and reinforcement of the status quo. And he makes the pitch in a mix of serious scholarship, anecdotal vignettes and flights of literary fancy. This is a book that talks to the reader about the souls of different disciplines, when talking of their epistemology. It argues in favor of the souls over the bodies, i.e, the content of the syllabus. It is book that is inspired and takes off from a lot of educational and psychological theory I have been long familiar with but hadn’t found put together in context of college education in the Indian setting. It is a book that has made me think about my own educational and career journey, and my children’s education and career plans. It has made me more determined to follow through with certain ideas I have in the realm of preparing high school students for college and beyond, back in the rural communities I am involved with.

 

A strongly idealistic vision and deep philosophical and historical enquiry mark the writing across eight chapters and 111 pages. From how different models of modern college education arose across the Western world, and then travelled to India, and where we are now at. Saikat juxtaposes his own experience with his college education in a premiere college and leading University in India with his experience in the American university system as both a student and a teacher.

 

The familiar story (it is what most of us have gone through, after all) of contrast between a narrow, body of content led coverage model of the former with the broader, more general epistemic approach of the latter is explained in novel frames.

 

Most interesting is how the author then moves into the exploration of the nature of intelligence itself, with a strong focus on Howard Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences. Linking types of intelligences to different professions and the skills suited best to them, he makes an emphatic case for an education that acknowledges and nurtures the broad, humanistic learning potential of human minds without the restrictions of vocational exclusiveness too early in the college years.

 

“…it is intriguing how often disciplines are curricularised and taught in ways that are incompatible with a liberal artscience education. It is especially ironic with subjects that are considered to be at the heart of the liberal arts. If the economics major in the US university system begins to feel the suffocation of relentless research training, a very different story has been scripted for humanistic fields under the colonial university system in India. Let me pause here at my own discipline, English literature.

The whir in my head started when I received an email last year from my then six year old daughter. With a sunburst of smileys and emoticons impossible to replicate, it asked:

 

“Papa, have you written any future-fiction stories? Stories, which are now fiction but can become true later? Take lizards, which are teenage dinosaurs. If you live too long you will be in the future where they will be dinosaurs again. Please die on time!”

…..that the idea of literature as fiction, as made up, untrue stories emerged at a certain historical moment was something that I never received during my college education in English literature. These are questions that embody what Gardner calls disciplinary ways of thinking: the fundamental spirit and methodology of disciplines that lie deep inside the maze of facts and information that make up their bodies.”

 

All through the book, with progressively linked argument and examples and references, a case is made for a generally accessible, liberal artscience education – education that is both deeply immersed in one specific discipline while also covering a broad range of general education topic, along with a focus on skills of critical thinking, analysis and creative originality, as the base of all post school education.

 

While I enjoyed the book, and am definitely going to go back to its pages and my notes on it many times in the future, I found it a little rushed or curtailed overall, like a project that stopped short of becoming all that it could have been. And I wish the title did not quite highlight the College part so strongly, since it is much more than a college admissions guide book. The heavy duty theories could have been illuminated with more examples, more real life stories, more personal anecdote. Nevertheless, in every way this is an important and timely work.

 

November Book Reading Report

The Whole Shebang – Sticky Bits Of Being A Woman

By Lalit Iyer

Despite the somewhat misleading title, the book is really not about women in general, or even some women. It is a series of personal opinion pieces sorted into seventeen chapters on varied aspects of being Lalita Iyer, the woman. The author herself is at pains to point this out in the Prologue, which I would recommend as necessary first reading on picking up the book. Above all, it is a book for anyone interested in how a particular woman thinks of her life and herself.

This slim 142-page compendium based on earlier columns and writings, connects, soothes, provokes and preaches, and manages to feel mostly likeable and a just a little unsettling. There are the usual suspects- bitchy schoolgirls, teenage angst, breast longings, and infatuations based on nothing but a look…and then there are unconventional storylines playing tug of war with the standard issue memo on being a woman. There is frankness, wit, courage, confusion, confession and hope. And listicles in some chapters, with authorly gyaan and tips.

Claiming to be still figuring out “How to be a woman’, Lalita lays down her belief that “being a woman is a serious amount of admin.” And talks of the sense of things “left undone” and “checklists crawling beneath our epidermis, reminding us” of this. The rest of the book then unravels the author’s sense of being a work in progress through puberty to middle age, to be an independent person, in delightfully devilish detail.

Being pre-millennial, her recollections of childhood and youth bring to life times and images we have almost archived into non-existence, like the compulsory chemise worn under the white school uniform, wax-coated paper packed Parle-G, mixed tapes as courtship, and Ovaltine. A serial job changer, a science-y working as a journalist and writer, a woman who married later than most, and became a mother at almost forty, and is now at forty nine a single mother to her son, Lalita’s stories bring an unusual lens to the common and uncommon issues of her and every woman’s life.

I for one could not see the merit of so many pages devoted to getting one’s period, the travails with ill-fitting bras and the cruelty of thongs. But some of these, along with body size and image are topics I see many women of all ages obsess about almost forever. In Lalita’s blunt and vivid telling of these issues lies a comment on the tyranny of conflicting forces acting on women, and the cinch women are in, ironically, all at once, of seductive fashion, modesty dictats and a deeply conditioned desire for approval.

“Every once in a while, I muster the courage to walk into a Mango or a Zara or a Promod and try on clothes which fit one part of my body but don’t fit another and I tell myself – I am totally out of proportion. What I don’t tell myself is that these clothes were made to squash me into someone else’s shape.”

In the personal stories and stern guidelines of sorts, many readers will recognize how they don’t take themselves seriously as a person; beyond the relationship they have to significant others in their life. And how ambivalent they are about owning their careers and especially about money matters. And how they lose themselves even in the role that is supposedly their identity- that of a mother, or a wife.

“Mother love was not enough for me to feel me. I needed more, and I went after it. That was the only way I could retain my selfhood. That’s the only way I want Re to remember me when I am gone. Not someone who lost herself in him.”

The Whole Shebang has a bold, specific and contemporary tonality to its slice of life writing. There is vulnerability and openness of voice and individuality of details that draws the reader in. With confessions and intelligent wit it also exudes hope and sisterhood, and give wings to the reader’s imagination. The reader is likely to be comforted with a realization that she is not alone in all that confuses and confounds her. Someone else has been there too, and lived to tell the tale.

The most enjoyable bits of reading this book for me were the chapters on love, marriage, money, friends, the in-laws and the future. It is here I felt the writing acquired the most natural, most nuanced richness and depth. With engrossing self-deprecation and eyes open wide practicality Lalita reflects on the changes in her own thinking and the changing ways of the dating game. The affliction of imagining love stories is examined threadbare. The Idea of self-love is embraced.

“We are constantly examining our imaginary love stories in our heads – constructing and deconstructing scenarios – decoding what he said to reveal what he really meant, looking for signs, seeing signs while none exist: in text messages, whatsapps, Facebook, Instagram, and in all avatars in which it is humanly possible for one person to exist.”

I also specially liked the fact that topics like money, work, and motherhood are covered in a matter of fact way, without getting heavy handed or frivolous. Like in these lines from “Planning for retirement’.

“You need to have a nest egg both as assets and savings for retirement irrespective of a spouse or lack thereof or whether your parents are going to leave you a nice inheritance. … You will be surprised how few women factor this in. I have already budgeted for a halfway house with my friends when I am sixty. I don’t believe children should be treated as old-age insurance.”

Given the book’s chapters covers a wide span of time in a woman’s life it can grow along with the reader’s experience, and be a sounding board for the long haul, as well a companion for a brief fling. Rather like a combination shampoo-conditioner, unlike the dichotomous category of men someone put across to the author – that of being either a shampoo or a conditioner. (The shampoo is meant to leave, the conditioner meant to stay….read the book to know moreJ)

“When relationships are depleting, it’s friendships we turn to for replenishment, connection, a shared sensibility and laughs. Our women friends help us raise the bar; we look up to our friends more often and in more ways than we think. … How many times have you told a female friend, “You know, I should have so married you!”

The Whole Shebang is just one such friend every woman could commune with at least once.

 

The October Book Report

It isn’t really about the books this time.   IMG_7372.JPGI 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.

My Daughters’ Mum : By Natasha Badhwar. My Book Report for September

https://www.amazon.in/My-Daughters-Mum-Natasha-Badhwar/dp/9386797003/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1506913196&sr=8-1&keywords=my+daughters+mum

“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

Nothing Social About It.

My piece about the chawl themed new branch of the cafe and bar and co-working hub, Social, atCyber hub , Gurgaon. About design and its inspiration. About imitation and appropriation. About a mockery of others.

http://www.dailyo.in/voices/chawl-gurgaon-cyber-hub-social-mumbai-history-bombay/story/1/19563.html

Cyber Hub is a multi-outlet development in Gurgaon, with offices, bakeries, pubs, fine dining and shops spread surrounding a central avenue, along some very spacious spokes that lead like tentacles from the main hub. On the rare breezy day of monsoon and the more pleasant days of winter, it is a pleasure to be among the crowds in this postmodern version of a Milanese piazza. The cross-pollination of art, music, food, politics, thought, architecture and more has always been a sign of cosmopolitan urbanism, but the corporate globalisation of Gurgaon has little time for such organic development. It is a market of flash and newness, with establishments and ideas emerging every day, powering the “happening” factor and keeping the transplanted citizens proud and smug, and fairly insular.

Walking down the cemented promenade at Cyber Hub, my friends and I recently came across the bright façade of the newest outlet of the popular cafe and bar, Social. I had seen it on an earlier visit, and been bemused by its kitschy attempt to appropriate the film-poster-and-truck-painting idiom.

This time, upon closer inspection, it became clear that the design team had decided to be inspired by the idea of a Mumbai chawl as the icon for “Social” bonhomie. I suppose the intention was to be droll and edgy. To many of my friends and I, however, it looked like a poor case of misappropriation. The symbolic misplacement of bits of a city’s built history without any understanding of the context. Chawls are an icon of Mumbai’s past and present, and not for salutary reasons alone. None of that nuance or meaning is even remotely acknowledged or explained in the sanitised re-rendering at Social. Instead, we have a rootless hothouse romanticisation of the chawl as a symbol of socialising and community. A chawl is about so much more than being social.

We stared at the façade for a bit, and then brought ourselves to go inside. We were uncomfortably curious to see more. The design had achieved one of its key objectives – footfall. Once inside, the theme continued to make us feel conflicted. A board listed tenant resident names in Hindi. A cement-plastered wall was covered with a collection of old-style electric meters nailed haphazardly with trailing wires.

The wall paint peeled delicately on the exterior, but there were no riverine cracks on the interior walls. The lighting was dim but tastefully planned, and the flooring patchwork didn’t make us trip. The air-conditioning was perfect, unlike anything I have ever experienced inside a chawl. As was the silence, and the air-freshener suffused a scent of affluence. Of course, there was no damp.

Nation in a chawl?

In a nation that grapples with overcrowded poor quality housing in its cities, is this the best creative manifestation of the “social” that trained design professionals could come up with? How ironic that chawls – the built form that arose as a reluctant solution to the despair of homeless mill workers – a design that the renowned urban planner Patrick Geddes called “not housing but warehousing of humans” is the theme for a place dedicated to leisure, to the recreation of moneyed urban professionals?

Is the design meant to be an urban satire? Is the joke on us? Or were the designers and their client just plain ignorant, if not intentionally disdainful?

Besides being an eatery and a bar, Social serves that latest trend in the gig economy – co-working spaces. Small rooms with chawl-style barred windows and flaky doors lined the passage – like the gala of a chawl, leading out from the lobby.

These co-working spaces can be rented by the hour, by office-less workers. So this is what the chawl idea was all about, we concluded. Except, again the symbolism is false. There was a modish, edgy charm to those little cocoons of private solitude and focus. The type of privacy and solitude, and facilities with worktables and food and drink on call that no chawl in history could ever offer. Not even the fairy tale version of the chawl in the Sai Paranjape film Katha, where there is no messy laundry hanging in corridors and the paint and varnish is all perfect.

And certainly never in the more realistic ones, as seen in other movies and books. If only Jaya Bhaduri’s character in the ’70s Barjatya superhit Piya Ka Ghar had found these cute cubicles of Social – with their shut doors and silencer walls – she could have saved her marriage some serious turmoil. But I guess all this referencing of history, books and movies is not the brief designers who work on projects in Gurgaon get. Nor do their clients presumably care.

Sitting inside the Chawl-themed Social

We moved to the area beyond the co-working space and the chawl theme suddenly dropped out in favour of the blast-from-the-past English-Parsi hybrid home décor. In the actual social arena of the dining and bar area, we were out of chawl territory and into the genteel sensibilities of another sort. The dance floor did have a festive bunting spangled courtyard look to it, which I found perfectly fitting for a common celebratory space. And there is nothing typically chawl about that. It is something the chawls too borrowed from the wider repertoire of celebratory symbols.

We came out and sat across from the establishment, on the lush grass-covered open amphitheatre of sorts – the sort of place a chawl resident would crave and not find across a real chawl courtyard.

While we waited for the clouds to make up their mind about raining, my friends and I examined our response to what we had just walked out of.

One of my friends was visiting from Canada, and has never been to Mumbai or anywhere near a real chawl. The other friend is from Maharashtra and familiar with the original model, which supposedly inspired the design team at Social.

I have lived long years in Mumbai, visited chawls and studied them too. We all agreed that we felt disturbed at the sort of disconnected insensitivity this design theme signalled to us. Kitsch does not offend my friends or me, though we may not be fans.

One of them is a clothes designer and sources handloom and crafts from all over the country to mix and match them in her creations. Borrowing idioms is, like I said, what makes for cultural cosmopolitanism. But Social’s channelling of the chawl theme is another level of blindness. Chawls seem to be treated by Social as something alien, and out of the realm of understanding and connection. And thus, an easy fit for misappropriation. They are another world, inhabited by others – in much the same way Hindi cinema depicted tribal women in ’70s Eastman colour films, like we joke about the “others” who we deign to be so different from us, who are hardly granted courtesy or dignity of respect. These others are so different that we cannot imagine any relation except of a voyeur and a taker with them.

My friend wondered how a real chawl resident would feel when faced with this Social. She felt offended. We know people who live in chawls or have family there, or those who once lived in chawls. Would they agree that Social had appropriately conveyed a sense of community and connectedness?

Or would they feel uncomfortable? In exoticising the chawl, we felt, the designers had robbed real life and real people of the dignity their homes deserve despite the despair, disrepair and dilapidation they cave under.

We asked ourselves, would we bring the chawl’s (as shown above) appearance or its way of managing limited space, its majboori ka jugaad, into our far more spacious homes?

Given a choice even a chawl resident would want to upgrade to a one-bedroom-hall-kitchen set-up at least. Even when he is not keen on shifting from the convenient location, he is all for the repair and betterment or redevelopment of the chawl into a block of modern flats with more privacy and status, while being attached to the community features and social benefits.

Nostalgia or living space?

Is the chawl a piece of nostalgia for a majority of those who left it or for anyone else? What comprises that nostalgia, if at all it exists? Memories of the people who lived there, of the interactions and the bonds formed? Certainly so, as is also true for all neighbourhoods, and all social networks that help us belong – those that support us.

Is there also an element of charm and beauty in its built form itself? Going by personal experience, scholarly research and documentation and films on the chawls of Mumbai, I think not. The chawl was by necessity a crowded housing solution for teeming middle and lower middle class workers and traders who needed to be housed near the markets or mills they powered with their hard work.

It was a functional response to a logistics problem, and while there are definite social benefits for residents, they are not symbolised by the clothes hanging outside or the lack of maintenance of the buildings themselves. Nor would there be any nostalgia for the rats, the roaches, the community toilets and the lines at the community water tap.

Remember the 1984 art house film Mohan Joshi Hazir Ho about hapless chawl tenants, their internal politics, the games of rapacious promoters, landlords and lawyers? In chawls then and now, community living and conviviality happened as much because of the form as a function of other factors, like a shared place of origin, caste, workplaces, shared commercial interests and links forged as neighbours bound by similar circumstances.

And much like the rest of community life, social conviviality and “we are one big family” ideas are under stress everywhere, including in chawls, due to wider social, cultural, technological, political and economic forces coming from beyond the chawl. When one built form is being used as a theme to “inspire” another built form, one cannot stop at transplanting just the idea of social solidarity (forced, at that) as the only or the primary association with a chawl.

When dhabas and Warhol can be chic, why not chawls?

I emphasise on nostalgia and the quality of material culture because one might wonder if I doth protest too much. What about adorning our homes with mirror work from Kutch?

What about truck art inspired décor and navaar ka manji-s at Punjabi dhaba-themed restaurants? What about hanging phulkari duppatta as curtains in my plush duplex apartment?

What about Andy Warhol and the Campbell Soup posters?

And there lies the pointer to our ignorance, insularity and insensitiveness and false equivalence. There is a difference between cultural diffusion that happens naturally, and deliberately designed misappropriation, even when it is only an attempt at inspired imitation.

A phulkari duppatta is a textile craft artifact that has always been that, and using it as a curtain rather than as a duppatta is hardly an act of disruptive or disingenuous appropriation.

A dhaba is a robust part of the road transport network economy in the countryside, and most of us English magazine readers do not have any qualms about stopping and eating at a dhaba. Most of us also have rural homes of grandparents or of uncles and extended family where manji-s are a way of life.

It is a way of life that may have been left behind or was only occasionally encountered, but it is not something that was a mark of our majboori. Havelis and peasant homes all had manji-s, though the haveli would also have additional hardwood takhats. A dhaba is associated with a certain earthy purity because of the way it began and operates even today.

Just like Andy Warhol’s posters of Campbell Soup tap into the feelings of home and nurturance, and also call out consumerism and mass marketing, dhaba food spells the taste of the countryside, and also signals the travel-light quality of truckers’ lives.

Similarly, the manji-s we sprawl on are relics of a more leisurely time, of afternoons spent chucking mangoes under the courtyard tree and of things made by hand, by local artisans. The staple of all dhaba food, the ubiquitous ma ki daal – also found in all gurudwara-s, Punjabi homes and the five-stars and every north Indian eatery across the world – is something that has travelled well outside its home because it offers much to meet many real needs and serves practical functions.

What similar features can we say we aspire to or are happy to adopt from chawls – those chawl residents themselves would like to hawk to the world outside? Nothing that is distinctly chawl, I am afraid.

The equivalence of chawl living with the ultimate in social interaction is also lost on me. The chawl style of living was an adaptation to adversity. Are visitors to Social celebrating that? Or, to take a long flight of fancy, is it perhaps about je suis chawlwala? I just don’t know!

When a girl from a chawl topped the CA exam in recent years, it was big enough news for India Today to carry a photo feature. Nowhere was it anybody’s contention that she achieved this because she lived in a chawl. Rather it was noted that she achieved this in spite of being a chawl dweller. Do we hear of chawls being recommended as the ultimate aspirational residential product on the market because of her achievement? Is it anybody’s claim that Social is celebrating and acknowledging in its new theme the lives of its patrons who actually come from chawl kind of homes? That would indeed be about inclusive design and being an inclusive community that acknowledged all forms of social solidarity, as created by different built forms. But of course that is not how things are.

A chawl as home is loved, as every home is, by its residents. All homes deserve respect in real time, not a caricature like Social, Gurgaon. How many of us can honestly admit that anything remotely connected to a chawl is an aspiration or a tradition for most of us who visit places like Social?

If you had a colleague who lived in a chawl and he called you home for a drink, would you go? What then is the imagery and nostalgia and material culture of a chawl that the Social design team has tried to imitate? Is it anybody’s contention that clothes hanging out to dry overhead as you sip expensive imported wine on a cast iron chair in the balcony at Social is a new aesthetic turn?

What is the point of the names board? Is it not a mockery then to use the chawl theme to denote community and the spirit of convivial socialising?

Andy Warhol wanted to make the public go with that “Mmm Mmm Good” feeling on seeing his Campbell Soup posters. What feeling is Social wanting to evoke? If it really was inspiration and admiration or even nostalgia – why only the façade and entrance area are done in that way? Why is the main eating and socialising area all done up with crystal decanters in teak-and-glass cupboard and off-white lampshades diffusing pools of yellow light, and plush sofas and soft curtains?

Never seen those in a chawl, have you? Oh, but then I forget, you have in all likelihood never been inside one. Borrowing existing elements and reappropriating them in new forms is a part of art, and human existence.

This how we retell old truths as new stories. But not all borrowings are beautiful or meaningful. Some are horrendous abominations, and to me the new Social design theme is one such miscegenation.

 

 

 

 

 

Gloom and doom everywhere

Life and Times in Bangalore

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…

View original post 683 more words

To Stand and Stare

Don’t Listen To Those Who Say Travelling With Kids Is Stressful – Mindful Travelling

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|   Sep 07, 2017
Don't Listen To Those Who Say Travelling With Kids Is Stressful - Mindful Travelling
The Unhotel

Unhotel Guest Blogger Kiran Chaturvedi is a trained sociologist and worked as a market research professional with the WPP Group for many years. She now organizes creative writing workshops and runs a mountain home-stay in Garhwal . She writes on social and cultural topics, places, as well as occasional fiction and poetry. She is a nature enthusiast and is active in initiatives for sustainable, holistic and greener living. In this blog piece, she affirms the need for Mindful Travelling for Kids. 

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Time was, that travel was undertaken mainly as a necessity, fortunate or unfortunate.A lot of family travel for most of us now is a lifestyle choice. Children know the names of distant and once exotic locations as holiday destinations of their last or forthcoming vacation. Fridge magnets, maps and globe models have no charm when all the world is a click or a plane ticket away.

Our children have hundreds of pictures and loads of shopping to prove how thoroughly we ‘did’ a destination. But at the end of all these wanderings, do our kids feel a sense of connection and belonging, of being at home anywhere in the world? Do they feel they have grown as explorers of their interior self and of what is around them? Mindless rushing around, ticking places off a list and clocking miles to keep up with the Joneses is one way of travel. The other way is the path of mindful travel, and staying awake to a sense of wonder.

It starts with us – the parents

Mindful travel for children starts with the parents, of course. We set the example, at every step by how we plan, and how we act. Mindful travel is about fully feeling the journey and the destination, as a series of one complete moment after another. Being fully present to what arises, we drop a load of expectations and agendas. We hold space for experiences to arrive and settle into us, and for us to have the receptivity to absorb what each new moment brings. When we watch snow peaks dazzle before us, we do not rattle off figures of height and distance, but let the awe of the moment settle on us and into us. We let arise what comes as a natural expression of our sense of that encounter, and not rush in to impose given frames of reference. We listen to new stories and refrain from counter arguments and rebuttals and showing off our ‘superior’ knowledge gleaned from other sources. We focus on experience.

Be Present to Connect

We keep the phone out of it as much as we can. We look at each other, and around us, and within us, rather than at the screen and at through the viewfinder all the time. At Hongkong harbour on a New Year’s eve when no one wished each other a happy new year nor exchanged any smiles is when I had my own mindfulness epiphany about travel. I seek connection when I travel, and not of the virtual kind. Else why move out of my couch in my own home and city? We can work out the rules of social media time before we travel, and stick to them. We of course need to lead by example, as always.

Soak up the Local

When we travel mindfully, less is more. No rushing through six countries in six days, please. At least we cut down on the number of things to do each day in each place. Stop by the wayside of something looks interesting. Don’t be fixated on rigid plans. Pay attention to the journey, not being only intent on arriving at a point in the shortest time possible. It can lead to some interesting results.We stopped by to watch jaggery making at a sugarcane farm once,and my children decided they would  never again eat gud ( jaggery), seeing how many bees fell into the boiling sugarcane juice ☺ and then when the sugar factory stink hit their noses later, they changed their mind deciding that anything which smelt so bad being made had to be worse than bee contaminated gud. We also discovered the church of Lady Sumro, and got to eat fresh tart ambis from mango orchards.  Keep extra time in hand. Do not run a tight ship with every minute dictated by the clock.

Involve the kids

Involve the children in the planning. If we are going to Paris, and have two days in hand, give one day fully to their choice and cover it slowly. If it is Disneyland, can we do lesser number of rides and maybe repeat a favorite ride and fully enjoy that rather than rush through ten rides with a FOMO dread lying heavy over the day? Years later, what our children will remember is the quality of the experience and not the number of rides they had. If your daughter wants to pose with Disney cartoon characters, can we let her linger with her favorite for as long as she can, rather than rushing her to pose with all the cartoons she can spot? Ask the kids how the ride makes them feel, and why they pick some as their favorites. Let it be their own story rather than the one sold to the world in brochures and films. Take the rides the kid want, even if they are not the most popular or your own favorites. Let them talk freely without interruption about what they felt. Be mindful towards them. I recall standing in the humongous line to get up to Eiffel Tower right after landing in Paris, and losing my temper over my son’s constant ‘are we there yet’. Did we really need to rush to do the most iconic (and most underwhelming) feature? Certainly not! We could have also just as well lounged on the wonderful grounds at the base of the monument and watched the crowds and had a picnic.

Ideate and choose destinations with the kids

We can start picking places off the tourist grid to travel, at least for some holidays. Ask the children about the kind of experiences they dream of, not about destinations or specific places. Then start to ideate on where to go, what to see, basis what they wish to experience. Keep it open ended and free wheeling, with the flexibility to change. Every place has stories to give us, memories to imprint. We just have to have an open heart. Go for agenda less walk in the neighborhood of your vacation stay. Talk to the locals. Get invited to a local home and listen rather than ask all the questions. Let impromptu plans develop. Accept meal invitations from strangers. Be the source of the curiosity rather than casting a surveyor’s eye on all.

Get more, go slow

Travel also can turn more mindful when we go slow. See if you can break the journey. Can you drive rather than fly to places, and walk instead of taking the car once at your destination? Once arrived at a place, can you linger? Can you make time to stand and stare? Once, we had camped overnight at Devariyatal Lake after trekking up to it in the afternoon. The next morning we were to move to the meadows at Chopta and attempt climbing up to Tunganath. The morning had broken clearer than pure crystal. The peaks of Chaukhamba and Gangotri Glacier were vanilla scoops waiting for us to dig into them. Some of us were eager to reach Chopta and catch the views from the higher altitude there. Some others refused to budge. The previous evening had been cloudy and cold, and this sun soaked morning was a thing of utter bliss. It would be a shame to walk away. On the other hand, we would not be able to claim we ‘covered’ the trek to Tunganath we had all set our eyes on. Finally we all stayed back. The moment was here and now. Rushing off to catch the same view from another location or to count one more climb on a list would only make us lose what we already had and give us a very short window of time with the new location. We caught every change of light over the snow, and every changing shade of water in the mirror lake. We had an impromptu yoga session, and an extended round of breakfast and tea. Endless stories were shared at one and only dhaba wala in the vicinity. We caught shepherds going up the meadow and local women gathering grass. We lazed around and rolled down the grassy slopes. We dropped our agenda and stayed mindfully aligned to what was present, instead of chasing a list. We slowed down and soaked up so much more.

Watch that breath

Then there are the micro practices of mindfulness that are such a boon to help us and the children find a calm centre during travel. Have you noticed how clenched and tight our bodies are, at any given time? On your holiday, let go the habit of holding our breath. Sit on a bench and focus on your breath. Slowly watch the air flow in from the nostrils and then leave after replenishing our bodies. Children love this sense of connection to their bodies. Cultivate the practice of mindful immersion in experiences. Encourage children to pay attention to the local flavors. How about picking produce at the local markets? Let children touch, smell, feel the fruits and vegetables and local produce. Let them try cooking a local recipe. Let them get familiar with the aroma, and develop their own understanding of the local flora and fauna. Encourage a mindful practice when you are away from the rush of your daily routine, and it will travel back home with you.

Engage, Involve and Immerse with the kids

Children will pick up the art of mindful observation and mindful immersion when they see you practice it. Encourage your children to see, hear, think, with complete immersion. This is the natural way a child engages with the world, but our discipline and structured school education eats away at this childlike ability to connect with the moment. Help your children find themselves again, away from the influence of school syllabus and rigid daily routine. This means not engaging in judgements, labelling or sorting and ordering their experience. Do not be eager to feed them with the facts about a place at one go, or to constantly evaluate what is being seen and ‘learnt’. Rather, let them engage with where they are and what is going on, and their curiosity will bring up questions. Allow them to explore the answers. What they learn and conclude will surprise you. A thirteen year old I know came up with the idea of breast milk banks in hospitals watching farm animals feeding calves that were not their own. She asked a few questions to the local farmhands and arrived at her own solution for human babies lacking access to mother’s breast milk. A young boy watched miles of farms in arid Madhya Pradesh being tended to by aerial application of crop protection. Months later, that sight inspired him to come up with a model of a quick landing-short runway air taxi service for urban areas. When the clamor of learnt ways of looking at the world can be silenced, a path opens up for fresh creative perspective to emerge. For something new to rise up, the mind needs to be a blank slate. We can provide the time and slow pace for children to do this, by putting aside our own preconceived ways of looking at things.

At its heart, mindful travel is about how you see rather than how much. It asks you to slow down. To absorb. To create connection rather than consume pre-packaged experience. Childhood is a great time to get introduced to the practice of mindfulness, and travel is a great opportunity for its practice.

*All pictures are personal pictures of Kira

 

 

Reader Report: Driven to Distraction. By Edward M. Hallowell & John J. Ratey.

“I felt a Cleaving in my Mind –
As if my Brain had split –
I tried to match it – Seam by Seam –
But could not make them fit
The thought behind, I strove to join
Unto the thought before –
But Sequence ravelled out of Sound –
Like Balls – upon a Floor.”
Emily Dickinson
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This time I report on a non fiction book about the little understood neuro biological condition of ADHD. This report is two days overdue by the deadline I set myself. The only good thing I can say about missing the end of month to post this is that such behaviour is perfectly in synch with the book I am reporting on.
ADHD, or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (earlier known as ADD) is a controversial and complex issue about which doctors, psychologists, educators, counselors, neuroscientists and researchers are still figuring out the finer points of origin, causes, treatment and control. Not just that, even the existence of this, the validity of a diagnosis with ADHD and the various current modalities of coping are subject to conflicting views and support or the lack of it. I recently met a noted cardiologist friend and shared with him my son’s diagnosis and the casual way he told me not pay attention to it was astoundingly shocking, coming as it did from the medical profession.
Needless to say, the attitude towards the often common sounding traits of ADHD complicates the situation for those thus diagnosed or unable to access a diagnosis and those who live with ADD in their family or in close relationships. In this simple to read and easy to understand book two doctors give a very detailed overview of the basket of traits and behaviours that show up in ADD, through sharing a series of extremely detailed case stories, explanations and decades of clinical experience.
They describe and define, and explain the diagnostic criteria and the treatment methods. They delve into the different manifestations of ADHD in children and adults, and how it impacts other aspects of one’s life and relationships and performance and self worth. All of this is done with graphic, vivid, engaging write ups of cases, of correspondence from patients and their families, and the authors’ own life.
Through compelling and compassionate accounts of diagnosis and progress of treatment of their patients, the authors make a convincing and comprehensive case for the need for early diagnosis and consistent multi-pronged interventions.
The authors have extensive experience in working and researching ADD/ ADHD and also personally live with the condition, so everything in the book comes from close experience of their cases and personal life. The case studies used are wide ranging, and each case is unique yet typical in its specificities. The three key components of ADHD- impulsivity, distractibility and hyperactivity are displayed in minute detail and all shades of manifestation. The distinction between various similar seeming psychiatric and behavioural conditions is explained and made clear.
There are checklists and guidelines, making the book a helpful practical manual besides a great introduction to ADHD. There are references to other researches and books that cover the history and latest findings in the field throughout the text, for those who want to explore the topic further. In that sense this is also a great reference resource.
In their approach to ADD the authors are categorical in approaching it as a neurological, biological phenomenon but they also stress the need for a comprehensive treatment plan that goes beyond mere medication, and at times need not include medication at all. To quote, they stress ”how important a comprehensive treatment plan is, a plan that incorporates education, understanding, empathy, structure, coaching, a plan for success and physical exercise as well as medication. …how important human connection is every step of the way…see the human connection as the single most powerful therapeutic force in the treatment of ADHD….Human connection is indispensable..the other Vitamin C, Vitamin Connect. “
What worked for me particularly in this book was the straightforward and detailed descriptions of the many ways the ADHD presents in the lives of people, and the numerous helpful checklists and resources included. It is a highly empathetic work of professionals, aimed at making the general public and those directly affected by the condition approach the idea of ADHD with open minds and and hopeful hearts. The authors seek to go beyond merely identifying something as a pathology, to acknowledging the issue as a composite of its problems and strengths. Instead of fear and stigma and misunderstanding, they advocate for acceptance and action.

Jaanta nahin mein kaun Hoon? Or. Intimations of Adult Lawlessness in Childhood.

 

(All resemblance to anyone living and to any place you may be familiar with is completely coincidental).

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A group of boys were playing football on a cordoned off lawn, where new extra top soil has been laid and fresh grass planted. Huge potted plants were spread over the place to prevent the space being walked over and being used as a playground. In addition, there was the fencing with wooden stakes and rope. The boys had felled the stakes and walked over the rope. They had toppled some pots out of the way and were busy kicking the ball and running up and down across the field.

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In our country it is common for the law to be ignored, bypassed, subverted. not just by the overtly and obviously lawless outlaws. Seemingly/ self-styled law-abiding folks can be seen sidestepping the law smoothly, with a lightness of easy entitlement ever so often. We all know this, we have lived it and pass on that habit in our families. The rich and poor can all suddenly turn into a mobs of different shades and shapes, but all with the intent to impose their demands and wills over and in contravention of the stated rules and laws. Like when their leader- political or religious or cultural icon is ‘insulted’/ mis-represented/jailed/ convicted of a crime/killed/ dead. When their religion is the butt of a joke or a satire or scholarly study seems contrary to their opinion. When disagreements over parking space are settled by gunshots rather than by negotiations or by working at solving the parking space crunch through systemic change using the institution of community local self government or neighbourly co-operation. When gated enclaves on government land seek to cordon off themselves from the neighborhood problems by erecting iron fences and locking up public roads from all but a few.

 

Our country is a democracy, with a written constitution and an an alive and active (often also activist) judiciary. And yet, a sense of constitutional citizenship is sadly a low priority for most Indians across the economic spectrum, in my personal experience. Why is that most of us seems to have not bought into the idea of an equal citizenship, or given up on its early promise at a some point?

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To go back to the evening of the football trespass. I happened to arrive at the scene a little after the footballers. I asked the security staff stationed nearby why the boys were on the field at all, when clearly the cordon and the placing of guards and the huge pots meant they were not allowed there. Additionally, there were also placards hung on the cordon that said ‘Kindly Keep Off The Grass”. The guards said the children refused to listen to them, and got abusive and aggressive if the guards insisted on applying the restrictions on ball play.

 

Ours is one of the nicest and better managed apartments I know of in this town. I have been a part of the RWA of the colony in the past. I also volunteer on various committees that help run the affairs of our little community. I started the composting project here long before Swachh Bharat became a PR business opportunity. I have seen very closely the abysmal level of resident participation in running the affairs of the colony, and the oppositional attitude many completely tuned out residents often have towards rules of community living.

 

The lawn usage issue has been contentious for the past couple of years. One the one hand are a minority of parents and children who insist on having a dedicated area for serious football practice. On the other side is the majority of residents who want a diverse land use policy for the open green space in the centre of the colony. To arrive at some sort of balance of claims, a resolution was passed in an AGM last year restricting ball play on the common greens- certain hours on certain days, subject to use of certain gear only. The rules have not been followed fully or even substantially. The common greens have become degraded and are unsafe for the general janta. Overstepping and subverting the rules seems to be the de facto way for them. I wonder what makes them behave so? Local self government in small communities like the RWAs is supposedly meant to be the training ground for democratic citizenship. What can we hope for, seeing how a simple matter of sharing open public space can turn so contentious, and children learn to flout community agreements thus.

 

Can we stop being cruel to kids?

Can we stop being cruel to kids?

Can we admit we have been guilty, without giving an excuse, and decide to never do it again? Can we please apologise unconditionally? Because it ends with us, if we decide to stop. With every child no more subjected to parental violence, with every parental cruelty accepted and apologised for, we make space for more grace and love, and allow something better in the world.
Can we also talk about this to our family and friends and at a public forum like this? Can we help someone shift out from being trapped in a cycle of cruelty?
This post is triggered by a Fb thread about that horrible whatsapp of the little girl pleading with folded hands to be taught ‘pyaar se’, while being scolded, shouted at and hit on the face for mixing up her number recognition, 1 to 5. She complains of a headache, she weeps and yet the teacher/parent is relentless in testing her and unforgiving for any slip ups.
A lot of us have been somewhere similar. As kids maybe. As parents, sadly , too. I also know many who really have been saved from this unfortunate misery.
I have slapped my kids, I have ranted at them violently. It does not matter how often, or for what reason. They were small, powerless and depended on me. Despite any frustration or lack of coping skills, I did have far greater power than them. With that great power should have come greater responsibility for self awareness and self-management. Sometimes, that did not happen. I have had to work hard at learning to cope, to skill myself to be the kind of parent I wish to be. It did not come automatically.
If you have also raised your voice or hand on your child, I guess you know what it is like. For the child, and for you. I know you want it to b different. You want to be different.
I’d like you to be able to stop. I’d like to say to you, it is possible to change the script. It does not, need not be this way. Acknowledging the deed is half of it. Do not try to make excuses for what happened. Just let it be a fact. It need not become all of who you are. Accept that you did hurt those you love. Apologise unconditionally, without any ‘but’ or ‘however it must be said’.
Let us be the change we want to see in this world. I am assuming we want to see a less hurting world.

 

Making of friends as making of self

I mostly made acquaintances and not friends in my 20s and 30s. On the matter of friends I was settled for life, I thought. I didn’t need new friends. Not the real, know you inside out type, at least. Deep intense friendships from high school and college were enough. Who had ever heard of grown ups making new friends anyway, back then? With the old friends we had wondered at the world and its puzzling, often scary ways. We had shared dreams and fears. We had been vulnerable and strong together. Now was the time to make something of ourselves in the grown up world. 

Most of my friends were not geographically close anymore, and I missed their constant unplanned presence in my life outside campus. I had moved homes and jobs. That made it harder to not miss my circle of close buddies. I did hang out with new people. There was the office gang, and a fun boss with whom I discovered so much of Delhi’s cultural heritage. There were the old college friends and new colleagues I went travelling impromptu with.

But something was shifting. The new connections had an adult formality to them. I made friends in the new neighborhood too. They were girls who had nothing in common with me in background or education. But we liked each other. With them it was all about learning to fit in and not stand out. It was nice to not be always alone but it was not fulfilling at all.

I call it the year of my anomie. It was horrible.

was buried deep in books, preparing for the civil services exam. And commuting hours daily in a chartered bus across New Delhi to another new job. I remember sharing my sense of missing the constancy of close friends with my best buddy from university. She had also been my co-worker at our first job. Now we worked in different places. She told me it was childish of me to hanker after old friends. I should focus more on making a career and not yearn for friends, she said, with some irritated puzzlement. In today’s parlance I guess she meant I had a lot of adulting to do. She herself was busy with a new job, an old boyfriend and an impending marriage and had no time for reflections on the lost rhythm of old friendships.

On a visit to an out of town college friend I met her new circle of colleagues and friends. Finally, after two years, here was the atmosphere I craved. The collegiate camaraderie. The company of people like us. The sense of home-coming was strong and seductive. And of course, delusional. But I had fallen in love. Suddenly it didn’t matter that all my friends were far away. Romance has that way of filling you up. The web of your connectedness feels expansive like the ever-stretching universe, complete with its own black-holes of no return. A misunderstanding around the new developments pulled a common friend down the vortex of non-friendship. New constellations were formed. Possibilities loomed.

I married and moved to another town after a tumultuous year of courtship. The only friends there were his work colleagues and their collective (mostly new) friends. The work of adopting them as my/ our friends began. From a very individualistic, one on one friend maker I tried to become good at being a part of a gang. Letters and then email and then mobile phone calls became a lifeline back to the ‘real’ friendships of a simpler more innocent time. For the first time I started holding back from sharing with my old friends, even while staying in touch. I guess I was hiding from myself in a way. A wifely loyalty and mother’s guilt fought to censor friendship’s candour.

Over time, across the world, I kept making up and and breaking up with more new friends. The ones who knew me only in the avatar of wife, mother, home-maker and corporate worker. For years, through my 30s I honed the art of making and keeping ‘situational’ friends. One of those bonds has lasted for over twenty years. But most served to fit in a specific sphere and time of my life.

In my 40s I reconnected with a lot of old college and high school friends. I found it was like we had not moved away at all. The years in between and all the highs and lows of life we had faced seem to make us like each other more. The acceptance seems to have turned more authentic, the trust stronger, the wish to stand by and for each other even more spontaneous. Even black-holes yield to the pull of friendships formed in one’s youth. After more than twenty years, friendship has triumphed over misunderstandings, strongly rejecting lies and meanness. Censorship has been put aside. Candour rules. You don’t fake it and you don’t make time or space for the fake-ness of others. 

In my late 40s I have come full circle about friendship. I have begun to make new friends just like I did in my high school and college days. By being just me, sans roles, sans reserve, sans censor. The most active churning of friends in my life is happening now. I am also finally my own best friend, which makes it so much more fun to be friends with others.

 

The Fine Art and Science of the apology. My Review of “Why Won’t You Apologize?’ By Harriet Lerner

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Written by a psychologist who has worked for many years as a therapist and teacher, this is a self help manual in the best tradition of that genre.
A vexing topic that plagues almost everyone at some point of time is the how, why and when of apology. We are taught good manners and so saying sorry for mistakes and transgressions becomes almost a reflex in mundane day to day interactions. And yet it is also the most difficult thing in certain circumstances to be genuinely able to apologise.
Offering apologies that are meaningful and apt and not self-sabotaging can be hard for many people. Typically, these are circumstances that can poison relationships deeply and for long. The hurt of not being heard and not being given due redressal after being wronged calls for a healing touch. Oftentimes the parties on either end of the equation are ill equipped to do what is required.
So the hurts linger. The pain festers.
That is where a book like this plays a role. In making us understand what goes on in the minds of those who cannot and will not apologise. How it is the result of not taking responsibility and dodging accountability. How do some people get to be this way and how can one overcome such behaviour. All of these topics are dealt with In a straightforward way with examples and sans jargon or theorising. The tone remains anecdotal and engaging and light while the intensity of the phenomenon and its impact is fully examined from different perspectives.
“The need for apologies and repair is a singularly human one – both on giving and receiving ends. We are hardwired to seek justice and fairness )however we see it), so the need to receive a sincere apology that’s due is deeply felt. We are also imperfect human beings and prone to error and defensiveness, so the challenge of offering a heartfelt apology permeates almost every relationship.”
Reading this book is an act of healing and validation and being understood. Read it to know yourself better. You may be able to apologise where you need to. You may be able to also drop the expectations of apology from some people. Most importantly you will also be able to see why it is not always necessary or effective to forgive those who wronged us.
If ever you have felt an apology is pending to you, you must read this book NOW. If you have wondered how could you say sorry for what you did wrong, here is all that you need to know.

Missing the point: Period Leave Canard

The kerfuffle about the Period Leave announcement by Culture Machine Media Ltd. makes me wonder if we are even clear on WHAT is being offered and if there is anything to clap about?

If we are to be anything more than pawns in a marketing communication led consumerist world, we had better learn due diligence.

A little information is always a dangerous thing.

What are the rules of the new Period Leave policy? No one is saying. I tried getting this out of them and all I have since a day is a blank.

In the video on Blush Channel (run by Culture Machine) the women employees of the company are asked about how awful it is when they have to work with their period. It is a visible relief to them be able to say publicly that periods suck.

I get that. Such conversation is welcome. It helps make taboos dissolve.It also help build up the brand as such a friend of women. And why not. All very legit and fine.

Then there is a grand revelation. The Period Leave Announcement.Of course the women on camera are incredulously joyous.Win win, isn’t it?Or is it, when the claims being made for PL are not quite honest?

The PL remains a vague and unformed notion in the video. We never get to really see or know its full contours. Yet, in gushing declarations it is made into a grand and great gesture that the women swoon over. Without knowing what it is. Blind Tinder?

Why launch the PL idea in such vague terms and make it sound like more of a benefit than it is? Because maybe only a conversation and a fit to facts announcement does not quite have so much eye ball catching viral trending push to make the brand stick with the target women audience. Other brands are also doing ‘conversation’. You need to do more. You need to create a stir with something novel and out of the box. Tra-la…then, launch the Period Leave policy while never saying just what it is!

So while Culture Machine stays silent on my queries, here is what a deep dive with google pulled up. PL/ ML is all about making honest talking-truth-to-power employees out of us scheming lying workers, it would seem.

Honesty at the work place is laudable, any which way you look at it. Particualrly from the employees. The employers though can fudge their words and claim it is employee welfare? Like in these examples?

  1. About the PL at Co Exist, Bristol , a UK company. Turns out ito be not quite the real deal. ( Not that I want the ‘real’ deal!) :

“Right now, these women try to work through their symptoms, and as Baxter said, suffer in silence. ….they’ll lie about stomach pains, food poisoning or flu. All that official period leave will do is ensure these women can tell their employers the truth.”

(http://www.telegraph.co.uk/women/life/period-policies-for-female-staff-arent-sexist—can-we-all-just/)

  1. Another clarification from another employer in UK :

“Employees would be expected to make up time taken off for period pain, but they could stay at home while they were suffering without having to produce a sick note. ”

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/business/news/menstrual-leave-period-pain-womens-rights-a6907261.html

  1. And this how a Hyderabad based strategic consultancy puts it across:

“… “ML Request” …need to inform when they shall be compensating the leaves in the ‘succeeding consecutive weekends to complete the pending work. If the MLs are not compensated within the fortnight, they will be considered as paid or unpaid leave depending on the leave balance of the employee.’

(http://www.news18.com/news/buzz/indian-company-implements-menstrual-leave-policy-sets-the-ball-rolling-for-others-1284920.html

As for the unsubstantiated urban legend. Nike includes this type of leave in their code of conduct worldwide, since 2007, making it the only major company to do so.” , there is no mention of periods on the Nike website or their Code of Conduct. All it says under the heading of “Health” in the Code of Conduct is :

“…The contractor provides a safe, hygienic and healthy workplace setting and takes necessary steps to prevent accidents and injury arising out of, linked with or occurring in the course of work or as a result of the operation of contractor’s facilities. The contractor has systems to detect, avoid and respond to potential risks to the safety and health of all employees”

http://s3.amazonaws.com/nikeinc/assets/48557/Nike_Code_of_Conduct.pdf?1445396121

A leave that is not really an additional benefit is being pitched to us as though it is some grand revolution. And we are gulping down the grand distortion. Without a pause to question the intentions.

Click Bait was never looked so enticingly benevolent.

By all means, let us hope for and demand workplaces and employer policies to be equitable, fair and just to the interests of all workers. Let us also hope for and demand better coping tools for the pain and drain of periods, which might include justifiably a real change in HR policies, and not mere tokenism. And let us not be fooled by gimmicks that have their own agenda. They are not always harmless, and have side effects we can well do without.

 

Book Review: The Ministry of Utmost Happiness

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.

nilanjana s roy

The Ministry of Utmost Happiness

Arundhati Roy

Penguin Random House

464 pages

(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…

View original post 1,919 more words

In Hot Blood. By Bachi Karkaria. A Review.

Bachi

I have not watched a single one of the Nanavati murder trial and ménage-e-trios inspired movies, not have I ever been remotely curios about this so-called national sensation. Yet, after this book came out last month my book club decided to go for it. That compulsion, rather than the topic made me read it. And it turned out to be more than worth the time and effort. An enjoyable, educative and thought provoking read, in so many ways this turned out to be.

 

Bachi Karkaria has gone through exhaustive and extensive research to make the story richly detailed, in-depth, and almost a full sociological treatise on the times (1950-60) of the events, their background, context and aftermath on various aspects of the nation’s judicial systems and particularly Bombay’s socio-cultural life. From interviews with those who were around in those times, and those who can tell us something new as well as retell the old facts, she presents a fresh look at one of the most talked about murder cases in the history of modern India. Not a simple task, this, which Bachi carries off with élan.

 

The facts are supposedly known to everyone, but I will recap. Kawas Nanavati is being cheated on by his wife, Sylvia. She confesses to the husband, and tells him to be careful – she fears for his life as her lover, Prem Ahuja has a gun. The shattered husband is a naval commander. He too can get a gun. Which he does. And he then goes to confront the lover- to ask him what his intentions are, and if he plans to do the honorable thing by marrying Sylvia and taking care of the children. Kawas is seen going to Prem Ahuja’s room. There is no witness to what happens inside. Three shots ring out from behind closed doors. Nanavati walks out, his white dress unblemished and surrenders himself to the naval police for having shot a man. Ahuja is found dead with gun shot wounds.

 

In court, Kawas pleads not guilty. On purely circumstantial evidence the jury too calls him not guilty. Throughout the trail, Nanavati is the hero of the masses and the media. The jury system earns its nail in the coffin with this case and is never used again in India. Nanavati is found guilty on appeal, but again pardoned by the state governor.

 

These are the facts. But behind them lies a fascinating maze of coincidences, manipulations, prejudices, class and community networks of allegiance and privilege. Partisan media uses its power of mass opinion making, and forgets journalistic neutrality. The Blitz goes all out to defend Nanavati and runs petitions for him. How did all this actually play out? What factors could have worked behind the scenes to move which levers? Why was murder not seen as murder but a point of honor? What made Nanavati the hero he seemed to be viewed as? What made Sylvia not a vamp but an object of sympathy or even indifference? What made Ahuja a villain who no one shed tears for?

 

All this and more is the focus of Bachi Karkaria’s elaborate delving into this old story. Her recreation of the Bombay of the late 50s is picture perfect, in all details. The courts, the Navy areas, the localities of posh Malabar Hill, the cinemas, the markets, the streets all come alive as if a movie runs in real time. The dialogues, the imagery, the aura and ethos of the communities that play the main roles are all vividly and precisely depicted.

 

The writing does get over the top at just a very few places, in typical Bachi style, which I (in a case of absolutely subjective aesthetic preference) found a tad out of place in reading a serious book of investigative/reconstructive journalism, but I can’t say it took away much from the book. For a case as sensational as this, hyperbole and drama is part of the territory in the retelling. Bachi manages to keep the drama alive while she remains almost clinically detached in the retelling. Nothing is assumed or taken at face value, and the alternate possibility is considered and the alternate voice is given a legitimate place. Through it all if the author tends to lean towards anything, then it is to constitutional values and the spirit of constitutional law, and a sense of fairness and open minded questioning.

 

It can tend to feel repetitive and maybe slow reading for those looking for the more juicy kind of sleaze and gossip, but that is not the author’s intention, though she does not shy from presenting all of those facts too.

 

After all the points of law and constitutional propriety and Naval and Parsi privilege are debated and understood, the book still leaves me with the biggest mystery unsolved. How does a couple pick up the shot to hell pieces of their relationship after a man is killed in hot blood, over the matter of the wife’s infidelity, and go on to build a new life? The author does reveal a lot of factual details of the Nanavati’s life after their move to Canada, but those chapters lack the insights and depth of the proceedings of the trial, or of the context around it.

 

How did these people later forgive each other, if not totally forget the tragedy? I guess that will remain for us to guess and for them to know. Or food for another book.

 

 

 

It Ends With Us – A novel by Colleen Hoover. A Review.

My April Review. Kind of late, but still within my target of the month. Triggered by some things read recently about the abused wife of an Indian-born Techie CEO in USA.
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“Why did she not leave him?”

“Why do you stay on?”

“If you take it, you deserve it.”

We have seen statements like those above. In the media. We have heard them from friends and in the family. We may have made them ourselves.

Judgments. Opinions. Rarely based on personal experience or insight. Rarely made with any degree of compassion. Often, a one up-manship. Or, a satisfied smugness, born of a safe place. Or, a resentment, born of denial.

Colleen Hoover is a New York Times best selling author who writes entertaining, contemporary novels about a certain kind of people in a certain milieu. ‘It Ends With Us’ though, is a very different kind of book from her; a work of fiction that derives directly from her own life. It has a message and a life lesson woven into the plot. With this book her avowed goal is to help people see things in a different light, and possibly find a way out.

This was not a book I had particularly wanted to read. It happened to be the selection of my book club group for March, and then they changed their mind. I already had a copy, and had started reading it when the change happened. So I carried it with me on my solo holiday to Kerala, not really intending to read it, but to give it away to a friend I would be meeting there.

And then, one night while it was raining and a rough high tide rolled up on the beach across my room window, I picked it up with a vague idea of studying the author’s plotting technique. I had a notebook and pencil ready.

I ended up reading the book over the next few days, carrying it with me to a fisherman’s home, to a beachside diner and around the hotel grounds. While Colleen Hoover plots smoothly and writes in a breezy, witty, chatty, easy to read style, those are not the reasons I kept reading this book. To me, the book is worth reading and worth reviewing for the compelling story it tells about the pernicious cocktail of love and abuse. And it is told with sensitivity, insight and honesty, coming from the author having lived that life, and her generous and kind decision to come out in public with it.

In her twenties, Lily bloom is trying to find her place in the word as an independent professional adult. She has come a long way from a childhood spent watching her mother being abused at home. The story starts right after the funeral of her father, whom she hated. She has refused to say anything in his praise at the funeral. It pains her that her mother never had strength to leave her abusive husband. She has her own past sorrows, and a journal where she has recorded her teenage turmoil in letters (never sent) to TV host Ellen. She is sure her life will be different from her mother’s.

Lily comes to live in Boston, works hard, falls in love, dreams of marriage. She is a girl with spunk, and a sensitive and kind heart. She is a girl who once sheltered and fed and fell in love with a homeless teenage squatter. She sticks to her ideals and values herself and is a loyal friend. Life seems to be finally offering her all her wishes on a platter- her dream of owning a florist shop comes true, the handsome, rich and brilliant neurosurgeon Ryle Kincaid agrees to ditch his aversion of a committed relationship to get engaged to her. She can start to put her difficult childhood behind her.

Typical to a bestseller’s arch, and maybe real life, this is all too good to be true. There are horrible things that start to happen. Shadows emerge. Past secrets get exposed. Trust is broken and fears have to be faced. The present seems to resemble a forgotten nightmare. Love is put to cruel tests. There is a price to be paid, sacrifices to be made. What will you stay true to – to the one you love, though they hurt you, and let the cycle of abuse and indignity continue? Who has to take responsibility to heal themselves? Does being in love mean giving up responsibility for your own integrity? Does being in love also allow for boundaries? When do you know it is time to back out? How do you deal with the fear of losing all you craved for and have found?

The author takes you through the tortured back and forth of a relationship that stumbles from extremes of passion and commitment to jealous rage, mistrust, violence and regret. Lily starts to find a new understanding of her mother, once she finds herself in the same shoes. She can relate to what, as a child had seemed sheer cowardice and a shameful lack of spine. She can understand why her mother had stayed on. And she has to ask herself- can she be the person who will be different? Can she muster what it will take?

The author does a commendable job of presenting both sides of the picture, when it comes to the perpetrators and victims of abuse in loving relationships. There are no pure black as sin villains, no pure white as driven snow victims. Just real people with real problems, real hopes, real personalities, who are making the best they can of the cards dealt to them. People who decide they have a choice, to change the way they play those cards. Or not. And we are made to feel like we can see why each of them does what they do.

Lily comes into her own finally with her brave choice. And for that, she is willing to pay the biggest price. Because, somethings cannot be allowed to continue, no matter how much you love what they bring to you, and how much it pains to let them go. Therefore, the title, It Ends With Us.

Colleen’s skill is in making a story about the most painful choices in life seems like a feel good read. There is no shying away from the gore, and yet, there is a happy ending. The only issue I have with the way the book is the way the story ends. Lily’s bravery and her difficult choice seems less of a stand-alone act of strength with the twist at the end. In the novel the author has clearly tried to make things seem easier and rosier for her fictional characters than it was in the real life inspiration for this book. Most people in such difficult situations stay on because they fear the unknown outside the walls of the known hell. They keep hoping the better moments will prevail more often. They cling to every kind word, every positive thing that happens. They cannot imagine being on the other side, which looks like an even darker void. I wish the author had not gone for a neat tying up of all lose ends, and left Lily unclear about the shape of her future, yet firm and clear about the choice she made for the present.

Except for this one cop out at the end, I still think It Ends With Us makes a very important point. That we are the only ones who can chose to break legacies of abuse – as the ones who heap it on others, or as the ones who are its targets. It is never our job to be another’s punching bag, or to keep hoping against hope that their ‘better nature’ will prevail in the face of all proof to the contrary. And while making this point about taking responsibility for one’s choices and actions, the book also shows us why so many of us caught in situations of abuse in intimate relationships are helpless to break out of the cycle of enmeshment. It shows how difficult it is to gather back a sense of self, when enmeshed in toxic love. It lays bare in beautiful excruciating detail the guts and self-discipline required to honor one’s own dignity, the fears to be dealt with on the way. It brings a lot of insight and wisdom and empathy of a survivor to a topic laden with much judgment and prejudice. By sharing her own life story as the starting point for this novel, Colleen Hoover offers redemptive hope for all who dream of a better tomorrow in their intimate relationships.

I hope this book makes many more people feel brave enough to decide that It Ends With Us. It must.