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Wednesday, 28 October 2015

A fistful of love - wisdom and humour from a monk’s bowl - Book Review

After reading a few banal motivational books in succession, I was reluctant to read any book which offered any inspirational lesson or words of wisdom. That was the reason why didn’t have much hopes from But A fistful of love wisdom and humour from a monk’s bowl. But it pleasantly surprised me. I simply loved the book.

The book with the long name A fistful of love wisdom and humour from a monk’s bowl, is a collection of writings by the yogi Om Swami. These writings deal with variety of topics like relationships, peace of mind, love, money, purpose of human life, sex and spirituality. They contain anecdotes, some of which, rather many of which we have heard before.

Then too what makes the book interesting is the approach of the writer towards these issues. Neither does he condemn anything nor does he give heavy doses of morality. Whatever he speaks is direct and pragmatic. The sincerity in his voice is palpable.

He doesn’t say that by reading this book you will get a direct ticket to heaven. He says, “It’s impossible to only have agreeable conversations with your loved ones. It’s a given that there are going to be times when you or the other person will commit mistakes or you won’t be able to understand each other. It doesn’t mean that the relationship is not workable or that there is no compatibility between you two.

Borrowed quotes like “Put your mind in gear before you move your mouth. Never make a decision when you are angry and never make a promise when you are happy.” and cheeky lines like “The saddest part of a closed heart is that you only realize it was closed when it opens up. Attachment says you are mine and love says I am yours. Life is no fairy tale, but it’s not a horror story either. It’s neither comedy, nor tragedy, it’s just life. When someone hates you they only hate what they do not understand about you. The world is looking at you and trying to copy you thinking you have it all figured out nad you are doing the same looking at them,” make the book enjoyable.

That doesn’t meant that the book is free of any flaws. On page 139 of the book, in the famous story of the father, son and the donkey, at one place the donkey by an editorial miracle transforms into a monkey. Now as this book is a collection of write ups published earlier and comes from a prestigious publication, this mistake is unpardonable.

The author seems to have a strong influence of writings of Osho. His style is similar to that of the controversial, misunderstood Guru. But he is a milder version of Osho. I liked the way he differentiated between successful and successfool. I enjoyed this book and I am sure you will like it too.

Friday, 23 October 2015

The Gita for children - book review

Like any child born in India I have been hearing about the Gita and its greatness, since I was a child. I already had a Gita at home. I bought five others and received two more as gifts. I even bought an audio cd of Gita. The reason I bought Gita was that I was inquisitive about it. I had heard it touches all aspects of life and serves as a handbook. I wanted to gain the ageold wisdom contained in it.

But I was unable to complete any of the eight Gitas which I had. If I attempted to read it, I would lose interest in the midway and never complete it. Even hearing the audio cd completely was not possible for me for the simple reason that I wasn’t able to connect with it. I was convinced that the Gita was simply not for me.

That’s when I lay my hands on the Gita for children by Roopa Pai. I had always tried to woo the wisdom in the Gita, but she had turned down my advances. But this time I was able to complete the commentary on it. May be because the Gita for children does not contain all the stanzas. But it does pass on the essence of Gita in a very effective manner.

The book starts with an interesting quiz on Gita. Even I discovered many new things about the holy book through this quiz. Then starts the story of the great war. Yes I say story because it is written in the style of the story to keep it simple for the naïve readers of the Gita. Amidst the story come pages, in different font and different formatting which tell the important shlokas, again in the form of narrative. Then come the boxes which contain the commentary on the verses.

The commentary is interesting. It tells us about the ancient warfare. The weapons, armoury, how the armies where grouped and who were termed as rathis and maharathis. It tells us about the ten avatars of Lord Vishnu. It passes on the wisdom of Gita in words as simple as “If you don’t do your job, you are lazy, irresponsible and selfish.”

While speaking of self control, the author says that self control is not finishing the entire packet of potato chips at one go. When talking of discipline, she says discipline is about reciting your tables daily. She says success is not about whether you are nice or mean. It is about perseverance. Issues faced by adolescents like bullying, teacher’s pet and teacher’s reporters also find a mention in the book. She cites the lives of Rudyard Kipling, Madam Curie, J K Rowling, Mother Teresa as illustrations.

Each chapter has a number in the Devanagari script. The author encourages the young readers to read at least one shloka at the end aloud that too in its original language Sanskrit.

I liked the book for it introduces the new generation to the most revered book in our culture. At the same time, confining the book only to children would be wrong. Reader of every age has something to gain out of the book. Some concepts like that of death, reincarnation, dropping of desires, thinking of God all the time, are hard for the children to understand. The information and illustrations in the commentary and the boxes are interesting and would serve as a great reference material. Unfortunately they do not bear any page numbers. Still the book is highly recommended.

Thursday, 22 October 2015

Real togetherness

Nature is our Mother, isn’t it? We all are her children sitting on her laps. She loves us all equally and provides all the blessings of life for our nourishment. She gives us clean air to drink. She gives us the food to eat. She gives us pristine waters to quench our thirsts. It is she who loves us all equally.

When the man was yet to discover the art of making houses, she provided him the caves which served as houses and protected him from wild animals. Mother nature has always cared for us. No wonders the breasts fill up with milk, even before the child is born. Even if man at times transgresses the rules of the nature, she never gets angry at him. If humans fall ill as a result of not following the rules of nature – eating fresh foods and moderate exercise, she fills his surroundings with herbs which have medicinal properties. Such is her unconditional love.

What does mother nature want. She wants her children to sit together and enjoy her blessings. That is what real togetherness is all about. You must have spent hundreds of hours browsing the internet or playing on your smart phone. But have you ever visited a farm with your friends and family? If you have you will agree with me that the joy which you get on such trips cannot be compared to the pleasures which a couch potato enjoys.

Plucking fresh fruits from the farm, while pulling each other’s legs brings the relations closer. The juice of the fresh fruits will trickle down your elbows and all of you will have a good laughter. Laughter has become rare this days, hasn’t it? By laughter I mean real loud laughter in a group and not smilies on the computer screen. As you walk amidst the fields, you may require someone’s support. Even the friend or relative who is no longer that close may instantaneously stretch out his hand and help you out. You reciprocate with a smile. The misunderstandings whither away and the relation becomes healthy.

You will sing songs without caring if you have struck the right note. You will watch the beautiful birds as they coon. You will stretch out your hands and fill your lungs with fresh air. Though your legs may be tired you will not wish to return home. You will not wish to deprived of the company of real humans which you have enjoyed after a very long time. Digitalization has its own advantages. But the reality is that while bringing people together it increases the distance between them. Getting all your friends together, sharing a good laughter over good nutritious food is what life is all about. So when are you inviting your friends at your house?

Thursday, 15 October 2015

Awakening Shakti - Book Review

The path of tantra is an esoteric path. Its practitioners seldom write about their techniques. If ever something is written, the most vital part is deliberately omitted. It is not the path for all. The Master passes the techniques to his worthy disciples only through his word of mouth or through intuitions but never in writing.

Sally Kempton is a tantra practitioner with a real living Guru. In Awakening Shakti she has demystified the tantric deities, to be more specific – The Hindu female deities. Not only does she tell about the deities and the stories associated with them, but also shares the techniques which can be used to channelize the powers of various Goddesses into our lives. It is these Goddesses or Shaktis who are govern every aspect of our lives – from material possessions to our thought patterns.

So when we are enraged we have the Kali energy channelizing through us. When we wait for our beloved, Radha is dancing through our systems. Young radiant women have Laxmi smiling on them. When we let go, it is Dhumavati who is guiding us. According to the author this applies to both men and women. In other words these energies are present in everyone irrespective of your sex. When she discusses the Goddesses who are married women like Parvati, Sita, she says that their energies and qualities play in same sex couples as well.

The tales which she has culled from various sources are interesting as well. Many of them are unheard before. One tale is about how Brahma divorced his wife none other than the Goddess of learning Saraswati as she was spending most of her time in learning and not discharging her duties as a wife.

When a devotee performs his penance, the Goddess appears before him in the form in which he had imagined her. That image remains in the ether and whoever prays to that image will also be able to see the Goddess in that form.

The writer has understood our Goddesses more than we Indians have. See what she has to say about Lakshmi “ Lakshmi is famous for giving material boons, but her deeper gift is subtle ability to experience innate perfection and beauty. Love of beauty is an expression of goddess. It’s true that when we pursue greedily, we end up chasing an ever-receding prize. But when we deny it or are denied it, our hearts wither.

The book is an excellent piece of work. The meditations are bound to grant you if not everything than at least peace of mind for sure. Indian religious texts are not easy to discern. Most of them are not straight forward. They are cryptic and viable to multiple interpretations. There are various versions of the same story. But the author has learnt them all. Indeed she has impressed me with her knowledge – not just of the religious texts but also deeper understanding of Tantra.

The language of the book is simple and easy to comprehend. Each chapter in the book states the name of the Goddesses, their qualities, the places where they are found, their beej mantras and her other names. The book will also help you identify which energy is dominant in you. The book also tells us about the shadows of the Goddesses. The writer gives us illustrations in the forms of well known women and characters from the western movies. In the very words of the author “The book’s intention is to help you open the layers of your soul that are related to these particular energies and the practices that invoke them. That way, you can better receive their gifts. You can recognize and own their shadowy aspects. You can access their power to awaken and transform you. Above all you can dance with their energies.”

If you are interested in yoga, tantra or Indian Goddesses, this is the book you will treasure. It will reintroduce you to your beloved Goddesses. It will establish your relationship with them. It will give you discernment which will peel the cover of superstitions and blind beliefs. It will bring you closer to Her. This is the book which couldn’t have been written without divine intervention.

Thursday, 8 October 2015

Innocence Lost Crumpled voices 2 - Book Review

Innocence Lost Crumpled Voices 2 is an anthology of stories relating to child abuse. It opens with a poem by Naisargi Bhat. Pang of history a story by Pramit Sarkar is about the pressure to study imposed by the parents on their wards. The flash back which comes in periods mentioned like One hundred and fifty-nine days ago, comes as an obstruction and simply doesn’t work. Moreover parents asking their children to study can by no stretch of imagination be called child abuse.

The lost and found self-respect, a story by Aditi Sahu is about a mother who has been a victim of child abuse. As a result of her abuse, she is overprotective about her daughter. The lines like “And that is why you should be not be kept away from even the worst aspects of my life” are grammatically incorrect. Also the use of & is a grammatical mistake.

The White Lilly is a nicely articulated story by Supriya Parulekar. It is about an orphan girl - Melody, who is brought up by her aunt. The way she incorporates another victim Kali in her story is absolutely brilliant. At one place the writer says that James had a gap in his teeth. Which means he had teeth. At another place she says he sported a toothless grin. Where did his teeth disappear Supriya?

I doubt if A Cry – Help Me by Sunanda Bhadra can be called a story at all. Lines like “The main occupation of the people in our village is agriculture as two groups of people live there – the land owners who are the farmers, and the land labourers.” make the so called cryptic story unreadable.

The Lost Dreams by Swathi Shenoy depicts the plight of girls from rural, orthodox families who want to pursue sports. Live like a fairy by Nikita Nepali is a piece which depicts the writer’s poor knowledge of English language. Here are few of the lines from her story. “She must have told you about what happened. She was not the one who would cry after someone who actually did wrong with her. It is better all this happened now. How will I face myself if something wrong will be done by him? She was brave and honest and may be that was the reason why she couldn’t handle dishonesty in Rihaan and the relationship. He talked with Radhika in personal. She was mature but her age was not.”
The shadow by Dr. Sunil Kaushal is a predictable story where a woman who was abused as a child takes her revenge when the culprit tries to repeat the act with her daughter. The story the Guinea Pig by Piyush Kaviraj is about experiments carried out on children.

The Unheard Cry by Brinda Tailor is about parents forcing their children to take up engineering. Again errors like “I brought thee blade closer to my hips,” mar the narrative. The Loud Silence by Shreya Ganguly is about a girl who climbs up the prostitution ladder to become an escort. The story is about her plight after she turns 19. So that doesn’t qualify for the theme of child abuse.

Tales from a pit deep down by Vaisakh E Hari is incomprehensible in most of its parts. A Tryst with Naaz is a story written by Leena Ratti who is described as “She also like to listen to songs of Kishor Da and Lata ji.’

I felt lucky while reading Just a lucky day ..or not? by Shikha Kaul for it is a nice story with a good twist in this otherwise banal compilation. Lesson learned by Dr. Lopamudra Maitra is about a girl who is eighteen, so not about child abuse.

Left to be Enstranged by Ummul Fazal Fatima Khan has its share of errors too. Phrases like “little kids” lines like “What did you heard?”, “Children exceeds the limits where they couldn’t cope with it.” and “She is a human child.” make reading the story a punishment.

That shade of vermillion... by Tanya Shrivastava has complex lines with mistakes like “No, we were no kings but the ancestors of the biggest “zamindars”(landlords) in the entire town. What I inherited from my forefathers were – the right to consider ourselves as the sarkaar (government) of the town – we used to make and break the laws; right to possess whatever you want to – living or dead, both; the right to possess whatever you want to – living or dead, both; the right to possess the poor and the needy so that they could never raise their head against you; the right to extreme patriarchy where women were considered not more than means to an end and the right to practice all the social evils.”

To conclude, Crumpled Voices 2 stands true to its name. It has stories which are crumpled with errors of grammar, punctuation and spelling.

Wednesday, 7 October 2015

100 Desi Stories to Inspire You - Book Review

The markets are inundated with self-help books. 100 Desi Stories to Inspire You by Madhur Zakir Hallengua is an addition to the same. The stories are classified under the heads creativity, innovation, teamwork, leadership, love, courage, maturity, confidence and human emotions. 
The reasoning behind the acts of the characters in the stories is kept under the wraps and the reader is first asked to guess about the same. Then follows the explanations called answers for their behaviour. The writing is simple without the use of any jargons. The stories are too short often not more than a page or two. They are narrated plainly and are predictable. I liked the stories The Little Pricks of Life and The Adopted Child from the book.

Though the author claims to have written all these stories, the fact remains that we have already heard or read these stories somewhere or the other. So they aren’t original. Again, I feel that books will have to rated considering the audience for whom they are written. If 100 Desi Stories to Inspire You was written for children, I would have still called it a good book. For an adult audience it is preachy and insipid. The stories though loaded with moral lessons are banal.

The book claims to contain inspirational stories. In the story Let Me Die Instead of Him, a grandmother prays to God to take her life instead of her sick grandson’s. When God comes to take her instead of her grandson, she tells God to spare her life and take her sick grandson’s life. Now what kind of inspiration does this story provide?

Writing self-help or inspirational book is not an easy task. As I always say self-help books work for two reasons. One they promise magical results. Two they establish strong emotional connect with the readers. They should strike a chord with the reader and preach without a preachy tone. 100 Desi Stories to Inspire You fails this test. Still it may be an ideal gift for a school going kid, but not for adults for sure.

Sunday, 4 October 2015

Author interview - Kirthi Jayakumar


1. Hearty congratulations for the great reviews which the Dove’s lament is receiving. How does it feel?
Absolutely amazing! I didn’t anticipate the great reviews, and I didn’t think I’d find such a wide audience – my understanding was that it was too heavy a book, but I am glad that more and more people are reading these stories and adopting the fact that they should be inquisitive of the truth, and to take action on that truth.

2. Tell us why the book is named the Dove’s lament?
The abject lack of peace is as good as eroding the very sanctity of what the dove stands for. The idea was to convey how the dove is lamenting the lack of peace in the world today.

3. Please tell us how did the concept of the Dove’s lament come to you?
The concept came after the stories were written. I wrote these short stories at different points of time over 2013-2014, and by the end of it, I had about 25 stories. My publisher, Dipankar Mukherjee of Readomania, and I, sat together to pull out 12 of the stories that we wanted to share. This then culminated in The Dove’s Lament.

4. The book has stories weaved around all the conflict prone areas of the world. What kind of research did you undertake for the book ?
The research came easily because I’ve worked with organsiations on all these issues. I’ve been involved (and continue to do so) with many non-profits that looked and continue to look at these issues and addresses the humanitarian need that results from these issues. In the process of hands on involvement, one learns a lot from their interactions and activities, and that culminated in the book. 
5. Please tell us something about your childhood.
I had a beautiful childhood with a loving family and lots of reading. Of course, what one goes through as a child forms one’s thought processes, and as a child, there were some instances of bullying, racism, abuse and a few run ins with harshness with external elements – but I’ve learned to move on beyond them, and to use my understanding of the pain and the emotion to create a sense of empathy within.

6. What kind of books do you read? Who are your favourite authors?
I am very intrigued by cause centric literature, history, politics and conflict/peace themes. I have many, many favourite authors, but I’ll go with Susan Abulhawa, Jodi Picoult, Noam Chomsky, Lloyd Jones, John Boyne, Jean Sasson, Khaled Hosseini, Siba Shaqib, Ashay Abbhi, Deepti Menon and Judy Balan.

7. How much time do you devote for writing? Give us some tips as to how working professionals should take out time for writing?
I never set aside time. I allow my desire to write to rear its head when it wants to, and I fully allow it to disrupt whatever I am doing. As professionals who work and seek to take out time for writing, I see that my pattern is perhaps the worst piece of advice since professional commitments can take a beating – but I’ve been blessed with the ability to be scatterbrained enough to multi-task, so I have had a fortunate stint so far.

8. What would be your advice to budding writers?
Stay true to yourself. It’s not going to help you if you look externally – look within. Write because you love to write, not because someone else is a writer or because it’s in fashion these days!

9. How was your experience of finding a publisher?
Easy! Readomania is GOLD!

10. These are the days of aggressive book marketing. Books have to be promoted. Your take on this?
True. With a book coming out ever so frequently, you really need to stand out. Marketing is your only way – but even in that, you’ve got to be creative!

11. Do you think printed books are going to disappear soon and it is all going to be about e-books?
No. A lot of traditional readers continue to read out of books, purely for the feel of a book in their hands. I guess it’s also vital to keep in mind that electronic content has its own limitations!

12. Tell us about your future projects.
I’m working on two books now, one fiction and one non-fiction, although when I say I’m working on them, I’m actually just looking up at my ceiling and toying with the idea, with a sense of vague cluelessness about how things will take shape. BUT, it’s the direction I want to be thinking in! I’m also working on editing two independent volumes that centre around non-fiction themes. 
13. Tell us something about your NGOs and the kind of work you do.
The Red Elephant Foundation is a civilian peace-building initiative that is built on the foundation of storytelling. We work by looking at individual drivers of peace – gender, culture, religion and nationality, to begin with. We then address it through cultural diplomacy, culinary diplomacy, dialogue diplomacy and advocacy.