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Book review


Why are Erich Segal’s stories such classics when it comes to tugging at the heartstrings? We explore why you should check him up, with this review of Man, Woman and Child.  Man, Woman and Child was written by Erich Segal, the renowned author of Love Story, Doctors and The Class. The book was released in 1980, and since then, has been adapted into numerous films. The book revolves around Robert Beckwith and his wife, Sheila Beckwith, and how they manage to come out of the most difficult thing to cope with in a marriage: adultery. The book demonstrates in the crudest form how a couple so in love can become estranged because of a mistake committed as long as 10 years ago, which gave them an additional source of joy; another child. The so called ‘other woman’ is Dr. Nicole Guerrin, and her opinions on marriage, motherhood and single parenthood are progressive and in line with feminism. The child then comes to live with the couple after Nicole’s death, who treat him with the utmost care and tenderness, almost akin to parental love. Robert’s yearning for a male child depicts the very age this story is set in. Even though the couple has two daughters, the husband longs for a boy: a boy he didn’t want to fall in love with, but ultimately does. The child’s etiquettes and manners echo how well a woman (that too a doctor, always busy) can do the job of bringing up a child on her own. It is rather the daughters’ way of speaking to their father which appals the readers. They don’t talk like kids but assume the tone of spoilt adults. The end leaves the readers earnestly asking for more because it doesn’t seem like the usual Bollywood ending. It’s not all tulips and roses but teaches one that life isn’t always fair, and that one has to learn to deal with everything. In short, then, Man, Woman and Child is about finding your inner strength to deal with the obstacles life throws at you. Feature Image Credits: Amazon.in Prachi Mehra [email protected]]]>

This latest book by Mohsin Hamid, the author of Moth Smoke and The Reluctant Fundamentalist joins dreams, principles, identities and realities to create one of the best reads of this year. A story can tell you a tragic reality in two ways: It can be vivid and devastating to the extent of being a compendium of life and death, with a grim picturisation of the innocent lives and their utter helplessness.The reader so becomes entangled with the protagonist’s destiny that with every page he flips, he desperately implores every god he believes in to finally bestow the slightest hint of happiness in the character’s lives. The other kind of storytelling is one where the author, does not paint the expressions to be gloomy, but he rather celebrates hope, sacrifice and humanity in the face of pervasive misery. Full of wonderful moments of courage and relentless allusions to the happy bygone times, the tale keeps the readers smiling through the tears throughout the text. With ‘Exit West’, Mohsin Hamid employs the second option, having already established his expertise in the first in his debut novel ‘Moth Smoke’ and later in his Man Booker shortlisted novel ‘The Reluctant Fundamentalist”. Exit west is the story of a young man named Saeed, who met a young woman in a classroom, named Nadia, and did not speak to her. Gradually their love flourishes in the backdrop of a war torn city. Like many other intricacies across the novel which have been subtly referred to but never explicitly expressed, the city’s name is left unmentioned. Joining the dots, one eventually realizes that it is actually Aleppo. The storyline shifts as the war intensifies around the two lovers and they are forced to flee to safer places. At this point, Hamid employs magical realism as there are rumors of a door which teleports people across places. Saeed and Nadia migrate to Mykonos in Greece, then to London and finally to Marin, San Francisco as their lives and relationship stands the test of time. The storyline is simple yet transient. At times the narration flows like the Indian summer breeze and later it gains enthralling pace. The subtle realities of existence are the primary catalysts as Saeed and Nadia constantly are reminded of their past existence and identities. They hope against hopelessness for a future which would be a continuum of their abandoned past but everyone, including the reader, knows otherwise. Exit West is one of the few books which juggles between the personal and public themes with an ease in writing and a clarity of thought. The story ends with the reader’s mind and heart at a mutual debacle over the trajectory of Saeed and Nadia’ love story, but both clearly identifying that migration is the new reality of humankind and no one is completely immune to this reality.   Feature Image Credits: Parnassus Musing Nikhil Kumar [email protected]]]>

Harmless Hugs, though an anthology of queer tales told by amateur authors, deserves to be read in order to dispel the stereotypes regarding the LGBTQ community in India.  Harmless Hugs, an anthology, is a collaborative work of nine LGBTQ and ally writers hailing from different parts of India. There are nine nuanced stories in total, and each page reveals a tale of coming out, bullying, trans-lives, discrimination, asexuality, problems within the queer community, western as well as Indian views of homosexuality, and the closeted life of married people. The book was released on 11th December, 2016, at the Delhi International Queer Film Festival. The title, Harmless Hugs, is named after a Queer Collective of the same name. The compilation has been edited by Sahil Verma, who curated diverse perspectives from writers belonging to all spectrums of sexuality, which makes each story different than the other. Though more than half the stories in this anthology are sad and depressing, this book can still be seen as a celebration of the LGBTQ-normative world. Out of these stories is one titled ‘Dichotomy’, written by Yashraj Goswami, a Delhi based writer whose work has been published in Newslaundry and the Huffington Post. This hard-hitting tale is narrated by two personalities- one female and another male, of an unnamed queer boy who is struggling between his feminine soul, with which he identifies, and the socially accepted masculine demeanor which he is expected to cultivate. The conversations between the two sides sharply articulate the conflict of living a dual life- one inside the closet, the other outside it. Another remarkable story that stayed with me, long after I finished reading the book, was ‘The Pink Wallpaper’ authored by Kush Sengupta. The story speaks to the heterosexual members of society in a language that they seem to understand, by interchanging the social standing of straight and gender nonconforming people.  The imagery is vivid. ‘My Last Diwali as a Man’ by Avinash Matta talks about a very important, but hardly discussed issue of internalized transphobia, which lingers within the LGBTQ community. The fact that cis-gender homosexuals often mistreat intersex people, especially when they are in a romantic relationship, deserves attention. The cover page of a book is not in sync with the content. The three people donning the cover are white, which is not the best choice for India’s first queer anthology. All the pieces are written by amateur authors and it shows in the unnecessarily long sentences and overused adjectives. However, despite the mediocre writing, every story manages to leave a mark and deserves to be told. In India, there is clear insensitivity and ignorance towards gender nonconforming people. Attempts to educate people often suffer because of hard terminologies being added to the ever-increasing LGBTQI acronym. In this scenario, these simplistic stories convey the feelings and the functioning of the queer community with graceful ease. It is totally worth it to spend 155 rupees on this book.   Feature Image Credits: Notion Press Nihaika Dabral [email protected]]]>

st century because of its themes of dreams, aspirations and rebellion against the societal norms. Maggie’s need for love and acceptance makes her one of the most likeable characters in the novel as it becomes very easy to resonate with her. Though Tom’s character might seem unfavourable at lot of places, it does not become impossible to empathise with him.  It is a book which will leave a mark behind and will stay with you long after you have finished reading it.   Image Credits: E-Books Directory Anukriti Mishra ([email protected])]]>

“Our backs tell stories no books have the spine to carry.”

Rupi Kaur’s milk and honey has been a New York Times Bestseller for 52 consecutive weeks. One of her initial works, the book is a collection of poetry and prose. A 24-year-old Canadian writer of Indian descent, Kaur has housed her times of struggle in this piece of art. Her style of writing is based on the Gurmukhi script in which just one case and only periods are used. Hence, she writes in lowercase and makes use of only periods as a way of honoring her culture. Her books have been translated into about thirty other languages; which explains the increasing love for her poetry.

Rupi tackles various issues through her poetry, from growing up seeing broken families to love and heartbreak, or gender and race, before finishing with a healing full of wisdom and lessons learned. People consume poetry through lyrics on a daily basis without ever realising, and that’s what she manages to do with the simplicity and brutal honesty of her words. She fearlessly challenges taboos, and this brave form of expression inspires her readers. Her honest, authentic voice speaks to the young people who relate to her portrayal of pain and struggle at different points of life.

The emotional intensity of her message of self-empowerment and affirmation, combined with her passionate expression truly resonates in the book. With a firm belief, her relatable poetry, not clouded behind elaborate metaphor or archaic syntax, can heal and prevent convulsions. Kaur breaks her book into four parts; “the hurting”, “the loving”, “the breaking” and “the healing”. The poems open in a certain dark aura depicting her battles with sexual assault and familial issues. The next section, “the loving”, is a more  emotionally uplifting read, about building and realising a sweet and idealistic bond of love. “the breaking” brings aching poems penned during heartbreaks. The last section of this book is about empowering women to embrace themselves and to value who they are regardless of the turmoil they have endured. Kaur holds nothing back; there is no mystery in her poems, but each one captures a seemingly familiar thought or feeling with such an exquisitely satisfying and unique form of expression. The poems are illustrated with simple line drawings, to accompany or offer a new understanding to the words.

While reading the collection from its beginning to end, one can walk through her own journey, or can find herself in a poem or prose while letting the book fall open on a new page, and venture into that one poem, exploring that one expression to its full depth. Whether you’re a regular poetry reader, or someone who dives into verses from time to time, you can quench your thirst through these poems.

Feature Image credits:  Stella constellations

Radhika Boruah

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Described as “95 percent fact and 95 percent fiction”, Jerry Pinto’s novel Em and the Big Hoom deals with the trauma of bipolar disorder with honesty and humour.

We should never judge (and pick) a book by its cover, but Em and the Big Hoom is so beautifully designed that you can’t help but notice (and eventually buy it).  Its deep-set purple colour, glossy red flyleaf, and coloured text block are eye catching. That’s how it tempts you first and then you pick it up, only to discover that it is as interesting as its cover promised.

The novel's glossy red flyleaf and purple block text are eye-catching
The novel’s glossy red flyleaf and purple block text are eye-catching

Em and the Big Hoom is a Sahitya Akademi award-winning novel written by journalist and writer, Jerry Pinto.  It is the story of a boy growing up in a one-bedroom-hall-kitchen flat in Mahim, Mumbai, with his mentally unsound mother, Imelda (Em); father, Augustine (Big Hoom); and his elder sister, Susan. The story starts after Imelda suddenly falls into a deep-rooted bipolar disorder which ends with her death.

Imelda is an uncouth, tea sipping and beedi smoking lady (who doesn’t consider discussing sex with her children a taboo), but despite her crassness, you will end up liking her. However, it’s the stoic father who wins hearts. He is the one who holds things together; he pays the bills, cooks, and washes the metallic smelling blood off the floor each time Em is rushed to the hospital after her failed suicide attempt. While The Big Hoom is the comfort, Em is an adventure. The story is narrated by unnamed son who is endearing, vulnerable, and loves his mother with “a helpless corroded love”.  The characters feel so humane and real that it seems unfair to label Em and the Big Hoom as fiction instead of a memoir.

A major part of the story has references made to the letters and journal entries, from which Imelda and Augustine’s history is unearthed. Unlike Augustine, who seems like one of the “solid–as-a-rock men of the world who rarely give the impression that they have any past or a private life”, his letters offer insight into his romantic feelings for Imelda. Sample this letter he wrote from Paris: “You would like Paris, I think. There is a casual beauty about it, rather like yours.”

The 235 page long book is littered with ample of feminist-y snippets: like, the moment when Imelda asserts control over her salary, her reaction when she discovers a vacuum cleaner (“I cried when I saw my first vacuum cleaner, I felt it was kindness to women everywhere”), and when Augustine assures her before marriage that “Your body is yours to give or not”.

The most interesting aspect of the novel is that even though there are many books written about Mumbai, it is Jerry Pinto who paints Mumbai from the rare perspective of Goan Catholics against a rare backdrop of Mahim and city’s psychiatric wards.

You should read this masterpiece if you are looking for a story of vulnerability, tragedy and strength.


Feature Picture Credits: Amil Sayed

Niharika Dabral

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The classic novel, set in Delhi of 1911-1919 with the backdrop of colonial rule and Indian independence struggle, chronicles the rapidly changing socio-political happenings through the eyes of Mir Nihal, his family, and the denizens of beloved old Delhi.

Like a lot of people I got to hear about Twilight in Delhi through City of Djinns by William Dalrymple. In William Dalrymple’s own words ‘Twilight in Delhi is not only a very fine novel; it is also an irreplaceable record of the vanished life and culture of pre-war Delhi.” After reading the 275 pages of this 1940 classic, which was originally published in Britain on the behest of  E. M. Forester and Virginia Woolf, I can second every single world said in its praise.

Writer Ahmed Ali has succeeded in bringing the Delhi of the early twentieth-century alive. The story revolves around Mir Nihal, his family, and other inhabitants of the city. The story-telling is so vivid that one can actually feel, smell and sense the activities that are being described. One could hear the cries of fakirs and pigeon fliers, the buzz of Chandni Chowk, the renditions of poets, and smell the stink of sewers, the fragrance of jasmine and the medicated scent of hakims. The changing seasons of Delhi are illustrated so well that the stark oppressive heat, dampness of rainy July and chill of December could be eerily felt. The novel also encapsulates many historical moments, such as the coronation of the British King George V as the Emperor of India, the pillage of old city walls which was followed by the construction of Lutyens’ Delhi.

Even though there really is no plot to speak of, the story remains engaging. The characters are endearing and you will find yourself rooting for them at a crossway between their most joyful and most vulnerable moments. In one particular scene when Mir Nihal is left heartbroken after the death of his beloved pigeons, the sadness drips through the pages, but when he recovers from the loss one feels relieved.

What is most interesting is that the snippets of daily lives of characters give precious insights into the norms of that time. For instance, during a sandstorm, Begum Nihal tells her house help to place a broom under a leg of the cot as it was believed that doing this stops the sandstorms.

Another special feature is that couplets of Ghalib, Zauq, Zebun Nisa and Bahadur Shah Zafar are bestrewed liberally throughout. While the bland English translations rob the verses of their essence, the tone of the book remains very poetic. Sample this – “The night, with its awakening cold, was spreading her dark and star-bejeweled wings over the earth.”

For the love of poetry, family saga that delineates cruel restlessness of life, and Delhi – pick this book as your next read.

Image Credits: Andrew Amesbury

Niharika Dabral

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Foreign Policy formation of a country which is filled with infinite diversities is not a child’s play. The recent book by Shivshankar Menon, the former National Security Advisor and foreign secretary of India throws light on how complex and difficult it is for diplomats to form foreign policies for countries.

The book which is his personal account as a bureaucrat who had a part in major decisions of foreign policy of our country. Menon throws light on how conflicts and interests are negotiated for greater good and mutual benefits in diplomacy.

In the book he analyses the border peace agreement with China by the Narsimha Rao Government, the civil nuclear deal with United States and the decision of not going on a military offensive on Pakistan after 26/11 attacks by the Manmohan Singh Government. He also writes on how Sri Lanka eliminated LTTE, why India pledges no first use of Nuclear weapons and his final words on how the foreign policy has shaped and its future. The book analyses each of these events in details focusing on the background, history, politics, economical and international scenarios in those points of time.  

His accounts show how political leaders at the helm have a great influence in the decision making and how sometimes political parties disregard the long term benefitting foreign policy goals in order to secure their own political interests. His accounts of how using statecraft to counter terrorism by non-state actors is largely a less yielding sword especially when the terrorist are supported by another state, and his detailed narratives into the five most pivotal decisions in the recent history of India is a surely suggested reading for anyone who aspires to take up a career in foreign services in his future.

Amongst many other books like ‘Walking with Lions’, ‘Making of a Diplomat’ which are a must read for aspiring diplomats, this book draws a definite space in their bookshelves.

Srivedant Kar

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“The first casualty when a war comes, is truth”, this quote stares straight at times when people sit to discuss wars. History has been the best witness of how often truth has been molded by victors of wars. Across all the wars, it is the common people who bear the brunt of the conflicts.

This book, written by Nandini Sundar- an award winning sociologist at Delhi School of Economics is a firsthand account of facts, stories and happenings that shaped the war between the Indian State and the Maoists. The book largely deals with the lost lives, casualties and stories of large scale violence that was thrust upon the tribal villages in the name of anti-insurgency operations by the Indian State. Starting from her earlier days when she spent time in the area as a PhD student to her field visits and numerous other times spent in Bastar, the author collects shades from the time to tell the reader the tale of how things were, and how they have been made into what they are now.

She tries to bring to light the marginalized stories about large scale human rights violations, mass molestations and almost everything that has been obscured by the dominant narratives and state control. The book makes the reader express the same words that Supreme Court judgement also featured, ‘Its Horror! It’s Horror!’

If you believe that everything is in black and white in the anti-insurgency operations conducted by the security forces in the jungles, this book is a must read for you. The book throws light on one of the worst of state supported killings of civilians in the history of India as well the legal battles that were fought for justice.

War is not just about suffering and death, but also about the complex workings of bureaucracies, militaries, political groups and societies that form its scaffolding. This book is a must read for students to widen their horizon and discover that which is often concealed in the gaps and silences of the popularized or state sanctioned narratives.

It is imperative for us to know, ‘the Horror!’ that happened in our own country.

You can buy the book here: The Burning Forests
Srivedant Kar

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