Padmavati by Sutapa Basu

padmavati I finally got around to reading Sutapa Basu’s : Padmavati, a book that was on my reading list for a long time. Historical fiction is a genre I enjoy for it gives a human face to an otherwise tiresome set of people, dates, and territories. When I read History in school there were numerous Kings and their triumphs to memorise, and far too few women worth anything in the annals of time. We can blame this on the Patriarchal nature of primogeniture, or territorial expansion as a measure of greatness. Fortuitously in the last decade or so many authors have attempted to bring the women of eras bygone out from the ignominy of disregard.

The legend of Rani Padmini, whether true or not, is well-known. A Queen desired by the boorish Turk, embraced the flames with hundreds of other women to save the honour of her clan as the brave Mewaris lost the battle to save Chittorgarh from the forces of Allaudin Khilji.

Basu brings to life the story of Padmavati creating an identifiable protagonist: a young girl with hopes, dreams, vulnerabilities and a quiet strength that is staggering. When one heard the mention of Padmavati there was always a misogynist ownership to it — it was a virtuous woman’s dharma to destroy herself than fall into the hands of the enemies of her state or religion. The novel explores a legend and makes it believable as it exposes the guilt of the young girl in love with her husband and country, whose only fault was that she was so beautiful that her looks led to the downfall of her people. Makes one reflect on the hundreds of Padmavatis who have lived and died as objects of desire and things of honour for a world of covetous predators and protectors.

A quick read, in Sutapa Basu’s Padmavati, the language flows easily and references to real places make the narrative interesting.

Author(s): Sutapa Basu
Publisher: Readomania
Release: December 2017
Genre: Fiction/Historical
Buy from Amazon

Should I Add More Details ?

descriptive-writing

As an Educator I feel a real high when an experiment works. A little while back, I was struggling with getting my 13 and 14 year old students to accomplish the finesse required for Descriptive Writing. Despite the many examples I shared with them, or the standard teaching tools I tried, every piece they would write would turn into a Narrative. When I spoke to them to evoke the senses, the sense of sight overwhelmed their writing. They would describe what they saw so well, however, miss the point completely with the other senses. I would ask them to add details and they would look flummoxed. There was something seriously amiss and I was wondering where I was going wrong.

It was right about this time my husband came back from work one day and shared an experience he had in office. There was a lunch arranged for him and his colleagues to expose them to the challenges of the visually impaired. They were blind folded during the entire process from finding their own seats to eating the entire meal by just touch and feel. He told me how it felt as if the tastes took on a new meaning and how overcome he was by the entire experience.

It struck me to try a similar experiment with my students. I prepared my materials for the evening class with great care: some scarves and some everyday objects. When my enthusiastic bunch trooped in I shared with them what I had planned and they were very excited. After blindfolding them I handed in each of their hands a different object. The rules were simple, they were to feel, smell, taste, listen for a few minutes in complete silence. I told them I would take the objects away before they opened their eyes and hide them in a bag. They were then to write whatever they wanted to about their object. It could be a short paragraph, an essay, a story, anything. I gave them complete creative freedom. Once they finished they could read out their piece and only then could they view their object. I was hopeful of the outcome of this activity, but the results astounded me. Without much ado, I will share some and let the evidence speak for itself. There are many more. I will add them later as I am still waiting for my kids to share the soft copies with me.

 

The Holy Object

Pragya Singhal (Age 14 Grade X)

As I held the average sized object in my hand a number of ideas floated through my mind. I started from the top which felt grainy and uneven. I moved my hands further down which felt smoother and suddenly there was a huge bump which was hollow from inside. As my hand caressed the part under the bump I felt a pointed nose protruding put and further down smooth lips with a partition in between. I moved my fingers sideways and a curved and smooth ear was coming out on either side of the face. Then I knew that it was a small sculpture of Buddha and a sense of spirituality rushed through my body.

 

Lemon & Honey

Aditi Inamdar (Age 14 Grade X)

As I grabbed the object, my hands felt lubricated and the smooth texture of wax did not make me want to leave it. It smelt like lemon with a drop of honey. It seemed to have lightened up my mood and made me feel extremely calm. The rush of all these feelings inside me made me realize that it was a candle. I slowly moved my hand further up and felt that the wick was hard and short. It was rough and felt like the string of a badminton racket. Around it, was a small depression which seemed to be a perfect, symmetrical small circle. The candle was about the size of my palm. The edges of the cylindrical object were slightly curved. On the whole, the candle perfectly fit in my hands and the fresh scent refreshed my mind, leaving behind a soothing effect.

 

A Common Household Object

Vidush Gupta (Age 13 Grade IX)

The rectangular object pressed into my hand instantly brought rich chocolate bars to my mind’s eye. The crackle of plastic tempted me with the crunchy, creamy chocolate that I thought that it contained. This fantastical illusion was broken by the satisfying click of a button. That sensation and the familiar, comforting shape was reminiscent of the very symbol of control – the remote. The subsequent clicks of multiple, closely packed buttons revealed to me the truth- that I was holding the most revered of common household objects, the source of many wars, crusades and quests, the doorway to the bane of boredom itself… I was holding the elusive, immensely valuable television remote. Legend has it that in the time before time, when flip phones used to be a thing, the television remote was equivalent to Thor’s hammer. Only the worthy and powerful could hold it.

 

The Mysterious Object

Navya (Age 14 Grade IX)

The mysterious object, possibly a paper weight, felt extremely unique in my hands. I had never in the past felt something like it, something so tiny, yet heavy, as if it contained numerous stories and memories. Its upper metal portion seemed as though it was a carving of a pattern or a figure. It felt cool under the comfortable temperature as I slid my fingers about it. The metallic part however, was

attached to a rather coarse base, circular in shape. Textured like sand paper, it was nothing similar to the smooth upper portion of its body. The object somehow seemed as though it was an important and cherished part of someone’s life, gone through years of handling. A thing that I could easily wrap my fingers around, an item so smooth, yet rough, it just reminded me of life. Each one of us faces struggles, endures pain and travels through hardships, yet we bear them and find a solution, a solution that guides us through to emerge as a strong, beautiful and unique being. Our polished exterior is a result of all the rough times and experiences that we have been through. It is this strong base that makes us who we are, gives us support and helps us face challenges. This mysterious object too, possibly a treasured belonging, had a smooth top simply held by a rough base.

 

A Pyramix

Grisham Bhatia (Age 14 Grade X)

The Pyramix felt as light as a feather in my hands. Its smooth surface reminded me of silk cloths. Its numerous and flexible pieces moved as gently as they could. A slight push was all that was needed to move its pieces and give the Pyramix a new shape and structure, a structure which felt as rough as sand paper. The ease with which it changed its entire nature familiarized me with the dark thoughts that people can also change themselves in a moment’s notice. On the other hand, the Pyramix also took me back to my cherished childhood days. Holding it in my hands, I remembered the good old days when I used to play with blocks as small as my fingers, and innovate things which are yet to be discovered or created.

 

The Object That Was Barred From My Sight

Aditya UK (Age 13 Grade IX)

The unknown object which was barred from eyesight felt very prickly, it kind of reminded me of the thorns of the rose but just a lot more in number and less sharp, after observing it for more longer my definite conclusion was that the prickly structures were mini bristles. After feeling the object for a little more time, it seemed to be cylindrical in shape with open endings in both the sides. The object was very light and had these small line-like protruding structures which were fixed in the inside of the hollow cylinder. It had a smell but it was unrecognizable. I thought the object I was holding was a hair roller as it felt a lot like one that my sister uses at home or it might be a mini-pencil stand too.

Needless to say the quality of their writing has improved as they now understand they must not let their sense of sight overwhelm their other senses.

 

No Room For Small Dreams- Shimon Peres

20180311_160150431403436.jpgWhen a Book has these many markers sticking out from it, it is evidence enough of having been a more than satisfying read.

There is something about Israel that has always caught my fancy. It all began with the movie Raid on Entebbe (1977 ‧ Television film/Docudrama), my parents true blue cinephiles had the VHS tape among others in their collection. I was all of 8 when I saw the movie, later Dairy of Anne Frank primarily and hundreds of other books on the Holocaust cemented my curiosity of the Jews and the land of Israel. So, it was due to providence itself that into my hands fell the autobiography by Shimone Peres, one of the founding fathers of Israel. The number of autobiographical books I have read and enjoyed I can count on one hand, Open by Andre Agassi had reigned numero uno for quiet some time until now when No Room For Small Dreams usurped it.

From the title itself I found myself mesmerized by the book. I read the title again and again, I wondered at its meaningful depth – haven’t the most questionable of dreams resulted in the most amazing of creations. Israel had been an almost implausible dream and its creation an almost impossible task. No Room For Small Dreams is the condensed version of its creation in the words of one of its architects, Nobel laureate – Shimone Peres. Born in Vishneva, Poland in 1923, his family had lived in the area for several generations, they called the village ‘shtetl’ yet it was never home for the many Jews who lived there ‘They saw it more as a way station, one of the many stops over thousands of years along the road back to our homeland. The land of Israel was not just the dream of my parents; it was the animating purpose of so many people we knew.’ In 1934 Shimone Peres with his parents and brother immigrated to Mandatory Palestine, the land that would be Israel. In this autobiography he reveals how an uneducated yet literate son of a librarian and lumber merchant became twice Prime Minister and President of a nation that would defy all its detractors to transform from a hopeless desert of permanent poverty to a technological miracle and a hub of scientific enterprise.

I have been inspired by the words of the man himself, and share some with you. The heads under which I have categorized the sagacity in his words are not necessarily the way he has done so in the book. These are derived out of my own need and my own understanding of them.

Overcoming the impossible:

We felt as though our mission was greater than securing a homeland, it was our job to imagine a new society…It gave us a family larger than any we had known and a purpose greater than ourselves. the hardness wasn’t an inconvenience; it was the reason we were there.

On Leadership:

I was assigned a job that would give me my first experience as a leader – not of men, but of sheep. Yet there was striking similarities: shepherd, for example, may have authority over his flock, but that alone does not mean he can control it… It took time and patience to master the skill. We had to find a common language, a common understanding. I had to know their fears as if they were my own, so i could understand where they could not be led – or at least, when I’d have to move with more deliberateness. I had to be both empathetic and insistent in stating my intentions – a figure they would follow, even reluctantly, if only out of trust.

On one of his biggest lessons learned from Ben-Gurion:

I had seen something else, too, something that would strongly influence my thinking about leadership: when he had been most frustrated, most intent on walking away, he had remained open to the arguments made by two young men with a mere fraction of his experience. He had nearly given up on the larger debate, but he had not given up his belief in debate.

On Chutzpah :

 In almost every meeting, we found the same set of circumstances – a courteous but firm dismissiveness… And yet I knew that we never achieve great things if we let austerity become an obstacle to audacity. To build a stronger, more prosperous state, we had to set our gaze higher than our temporary limitations.

The lesson on Cynicism is by far my favorite in the entire book:

Experience has taught me three things about cynicism: First, its a powerful force with the ability to trample the aspirations of an entire people. Second, it is universal, fundamentally part of human nature, a disease that is ubiquitous and global. Third, it is the single greatest threat to the next generation of leadership. In a world of so many grave challenges, what could be more dangerous than discouraging ideas and ambition?

 

Classification : History
Genre: Autobiography
Pub Date : Sep 14, 2017
Page Extent : 336
ISBN : 9781474604208
Price : Paperback – Rs 449 Kindle – Rs 338

Too Close To Home by Linwood Barclay

After reading a few intense books I like to settle down to read something light or a thriller. This time I picked up Too Close To Home by Linwood Barclay. Never having read him before my interest was piqued by the blurb of the book. What’s more frightening than your next-door neighbours being murdered? Finding out the killers went to the wrong house… The next line clinched it for me – For the Cutter family, the idea that they may have been the intended target seems crazy.

For a murder mystery to thrill one always judges it rather unfairly by the standard of wonderment felt during the youthful dalliance with Christie. A quick read this one, and contrary to my expectations a well-handled plot. Barclay’s writing delivers as he manages to give the reader numerous suspects and peels back the layers of their compunctions slowly and surely. With likable characters he reveals their back-stories and has the reader connect to the Cutter family (Jim, Ellen and Derek) on both the emotional and intellectual level. A hardworking people they have pulled themselves up, on stairs made of the sands of lost dreams and human frailty. With the police foolishly making incorrect assumptions and pinning their sights on Derek, the teenage Cutter, it falls on his father Jim Cutter to unravel the plot for them. While the reader is engaged in figuring out how a 10 year old secret hidden in a salvaged computer is raison d’etre for the murder, multiple scenarios line up for Jim to wade through: What does a best selling author and professor fearful of ? What is Ellen hiding from Jim? Is Derek’s trauma at his friend’s murder obscuring something more? How does a forgotten boy’s suicide suddenly need to be looked into now? A corrupt politician and his rotten chauffeur, a girl who was rescued by Jim, a gay teacher and his paramour, Jim’s new employee – the list is endless for Jim to sort through. Jim’s own biases towards most of the characters conflict his judgement pushing the motley of narratives together and throwing them apart equally swiftly.

A vein of dullness runs through the story-line, the characters and the setting are nothing glamorous and the author makes it a point to express the wanness of the town ironically called Promise Falls, and the sallowness of its inhabitants. As the story progressed I was impressed by how cleverly Barclay built up the story towards an expected outcome, walked away from it completely and finally circled back uniting it at the end with what can only be called poetic justice. By the time the book moves closer to the end and before the murderer and their reasons are revealed, one can guess the end. However, the tension continues to the end as the interweaving plots converge. An author whose other books I would certainly want to read.

Originally published: 25 September 2007
Genre: Thriller

Just Another Day by Piyusha Vir

Just another day

Just Another Day by Piyusha Vir, is a set of 3 stories to delight sting in the tail enthusiasts. All written from the first person point of view each story progresses in a chronological manner – back and forth. Within the scope of limited words Vir manages to create relatable characters in a breezy style.

In the first story, Writer’s Circle, an author closeted in a room with other murder suspects only wants to get back to her writing, was perhaps the one I related to the most. Come hell or high water when there is a thought brewing in the mind, nothing, nothing takes precedence for a writer. As the story progresses the cold blooded opinions of Anuradha have one engaged right to the denouement, when the murderer and their motive is subtly revealed.

The second story is innocuously titled – Happy birthday, Saisha. Technically in this story Vir displays a deft hand at foreshadowing, which is both mature and surprising from an author with so few stories under her belt. An author to watch out for sure. But back to the story, one would have read somewhere in the news about an incident similar to what Saisha experiences on her birthday. However, one would not have read the thoughts of a girl who goes through such a birthday. Vir’s handling of the story has you gripping the edge of your seat in an innervation that rises slowly from the pit of your stomach leaving you with the metallic zing of disquiet.

The last story in this triad is Elevator Tales, a smile found itself to my lips as nostalgia hit me unawares. Everyone will relate to this story. All women would have memories of crushes on a handsome dude. If he lived next door that certainly would be the icing on the cake, wouldn’t it? For men too, I’m sure the feelings are the same. Vir’s characters rush of hormones have been experienced by all of us. Sighing and building sandcastles of a future together, embarrassing incidents and certainly being at our undignified best in front of the object of our affections might have been suffered by many of us. Yet, the fondness of those memories is what this story evokes ending with a slight twist to romance.

Just Another Day by Piyusha Vir on the face of it looks like a collection of quick shots at a day where life changing events occur for three individuals, but the depth of thoughts are more than what one would bargain for. Published by Readomania, this collection is available only on kindle @Rs 49 for now. Click here to buy.

Bonds Over Books

Whats-a-book-beyond-the-words
Picture Source

A friend reminded me, after my last post how she had been a part of my reading escapades in school. I took a long trip back into childhood and had an epiphany – that my closest friendships have always been with readers.

As I let nostalgia take me on a ride down to my early years of pre-primary and primary in Port Harcourt, Nigeria. I gazed with wonder at Enid Blyton, Nancy Drew, Trixie Beldon, Huckleberry Finn, Dicken’s and a dozen others scattered over my bed. With it came the memory of my first ‘bosom’ friend, Nanda D Gurbani she was to me what Diana was to Anne of Green Gables. Petit and pretty and oh so perfect. Malory Towers and St Claire’s made us Sigh for boarding school and our exasperated parents complied. She was packed off to MGD in Jaipur and I equally unceremoniously waved off to Welhams, Dehradun. With impressive promises and fervent oaths we hoped to keep in touch and then faced with the vagaries of the postal system lost touch forever. I name her here since I do hope there is someone reading it here who will put me in touch with her again.

My first night at boarding school is when I met a minx with a ropes of curls, who I will forever address with her surname and never with her given one. She and I bonded over thousands of pages of adventure and misadventure, classics and non-classics. Both of us would be placed together in dorm after dorm till we parted after the 10th grade. We would exchange books and read them by torchlight, sweating under the covers of our uninspiring counterpanes. After a hiatus of college, marriage and kids we were united by Facebook many years later to my delight.

During the Welham years, there were two more with whom I forged bonds over books that last till today. With one I was her partner in crime. We hid the books we wanted to read from others behind obscure titles in the school library. We borrowed for ourselves and shared with each other, breaking rules of asking the owners before further sharing their books. But, then loyalty was always towards each other and no one else. We coerced relatives and friends with well-worded letters about the horrible loneliness of boarding school, and how the mentioned title would relieve us of it somewhat. Some of our letters were heeded and some sadly went to unsympathetic postees. The one or two books that did trickle in managed to find their senders places of fondness in our hearts till they too turned unsympathetic and were relegated to the dark recesses of a hurt child’s psyche, never to trust such adults again. We read and read, then discussed each book to shreds – dismayed at a character’s sorrows and jubliant at their fortunes.

Then there was the other friend, a delightful cuddle on whose lap I put my head and we read the great romances – Gone With The Wind, Far Pavilions, Thorn Birds; the sagas of Sheldon, Archer, Segal, Steele. A quirk she had which I never understood – reading the end of the book first!! Sacrilege, if there was any term for it! The anticipation of the end is always the most exciting part of the read, I debated. With the coolness that to her was second nature she bothered not to respond. I still have never ever tried to read an end before the rest of a story. The magic would be lost and I still wonder at her. The eternal romantic she found treasures we read, my head on her lap – one book in her hand and another in mine.

School ended and college began. Another girl became my concomitant to the bookstores in the neighbourhood. We shared the same name in addition to a quirkiness of the mind. We bonded over the stories we read and defied the seriousness of the world, laughter rang out and continues to over the love for books and the ridiculousness of the world. She is the one who brings out the ‘stupid’ in me and makes me realise that solemnity is actually a vice. To her I owe in friendship more, in madness even more.

There came a long period of lull, in which I read rather alone. Then came along a group so Drunk-on-books, sobriety suits them not. We read the woes of the world, dissect each aspect of writing and debate loudly on the author’s voice. We eat and drink with the passion we reserve only for the venerated written word. We each bring into the discussion a viewpoint that another has not thought of, a perspective brought on from another way of life. Each book we read and discuss enriches the experience of looking at it through multifarious lenses. The women in this group are erudite warriors whose reading choices make me break out of my comfort zone to read books I would never have picked up otherwise. They are also my biggest support system and champions.

Another group that enriches my reading experiences is one of women who live around me. Rocking grandmothers who redefine the maxims of age and women of my age who rewrite the expectations of stereotypes make up this sapient group. Again the discussions are designed well and structured to be deep and meaningful. A different experience which releases wisdom from the written words of so many authors stimulates my intellect. With laughter and encouragement the group grows, with love and companionship we support.

Quoting PG Wodehouse to end this post, “There is no surer foundation for a beautiful friendship than a mutual taste in literature.” And I have beautiful friends to share not only literature with, but my life with, too.

Exodus by Leon Uris

exodus

It was way, way back somewhere in my teens when I read Exodus for the first time. When I asked to borrow it from the school library on the recommendation of a friend, I remember the librarian asking me if I should be reading such a thick book just as the exams were approaching. Then she said in a resigned manner, “Knowing you you’ll make short work of it.” And she was right for I devoured it, so to say. As a teenager Exodus by Leon Uris was an eyeopener but then as the young are wont to be idealistic and fired about one issue till the next one comes along, so was I. I forgot the book.
Last year, I read Mossad by Israeli journalists, Michael Bar-Zohar and Nissim Mishal, and therein awoke an itch to read Exodus again. I was looking for a copy of the book on kindle with little luck and bookstores around me surprisingly did not have one. So, when a friend said she had an ageing copy left to her by her Grandma, I jumped at the chance and requisitioned it. After these many years I remembered the story vaguely, but knew that it had made an impact. In my teens I had read Exodus in 2 days, in my 40s it took me longer. If you are a lifelong student of English Literature and a voracious reader like me you would have read numerous books on the Holocaust seen from various perspectives. You would have researched various references to the Bible, especially the Old Testament, you would have some inkling of the rich history of the Jews. But, you would not necessarily have read how the modern State of Israel came into being, Leon Uris in Exodus gives this triumphant carving of an oasis by the Jews, within a text of 600 pages.

The fictional story begins in Cyprus where Jews fleeing from Europe are held in prison-like camps by the British and the reader is introduced to Ari Ben Canaan. A dashing mountain of a man, he is a member of Mossad Aliyah Bet. A man principled and committed to the land he is born to protect, he plans the escape of 300 children aboard the ship named Exodus, leaving the British shame faced in front of the entire world. He is aided by his Palmach team on the ground, a Cypriot sympathiser, an American journalist – Mark Parker and a reluctant American nurse – Kitty Fremont, in his audacious plan. For the plan to succeed there are two more characters essential: Karen Hansen Clement and Dov Landau. Two orphans of the holocaust, one saved by the Danes with all the faith of her people and the other condemned by the Poles filled with all the hate inflicted upon his. From there the story progresses to Palestine, controlled by the British, here more characters are introduced such as Barak Be Canaan and Avika, Ari’s father and uncle respectively. We meet Sarah who against all odds and torture by the British does not crack and Ruth who is representative of all the woman who rebelled at stereotypical roles and worked alongside the men in ditches and mud and emerged better at Dairy farming, these are Ari’s mother and Aunt. Johana, Ari’s sister, and Dafna, Ari’s love, both soldiers and members of the Haganah, the Jewish defence force redefine valour. Through the fictional back stories of the characters Uris reveals the historical truth of reclaiming of farmland from marshes and swamps by the sheer grit of the Jewish pioneers (Third Aliyah) and forming the various kibbutz (agricultural collective communities) and how each generation contributed to fighting for the dream of a homeland.

When I read the book as a teen I was fascinated by the story yet being from the generation that scoured libraries for information, I did not have enough resources to research much. Now I Googled almost every detail as I read, and came across fascinating information, which makes Exodus a compelling read.

I was further enthralled to discover the manner in which Hebrew became the spoken language of a nation. The state languages of Israel are Hebrew and Modern Arabic. Hebrew is the holy language of Judaism, the Jews across the world spoke Yiddish along with the language of the country they inhabited. There is no precedent to this revival of a language without any native speakers becoming a spoken language by several million as is with Hebrew. But then, the whole story of the revival of the State of Israel is a remarkable one rooted deep in Judaism.

Judaism is almost 3,000 years old, the first of the Abrahamic religions its texts, values and traditions influenced later Abrahamic religions including Christianity, Islam and the Baha’I Faith. The history of mankind is littered with story after story of man’s brutal greed, the Children of Israel too had to defend their lands from the Egyptians, Romans, Greeks, Ottomans, Crusaders and an endless list of muraders who wanted to gobble them up, resulting in creating the largest diaspora in the middle ages. The Jews scattered to save themselves and their faith from the yoke of tyranny, but did the world provide them with a safe heaven? Sadly not. What followed was racial prejudice, ghettos, pogroms, The Jewish Pale of Settlement and the Holocaust. From East to West for two thousand years the Jews wandered looking for dignity and freedom. They struggled, they strived, they adapted and were loyal to the nations they adopted. Very few accorded them the dignity and freedom they searched for whereas most gifted them with persecution and legal restrictions. The Jewish Question” is a very interesting term that I came across in Exodus and was appalled to understand the implications of it. Under the covers of this innocent sounding term is millennia of Anti-Semitism. But what is both terrifying and wonderous at once, is the faith of Judaism. That refused to die. Despite the foot of prejudice attempting to choke out the very breath from their windpipes, the Jews dug deeper hugging their faith close to their emancipated bodies. To fathom how after 2000 years of savage abuse, abysmal degradation and searing inhumanity, the Jewish people still kept their faith. Their belief that they were the chosen ones and the Messiah would one day lead them to their land of milk and honey, is nothing short of wonderous.

So, how did they keep their faith? In the folds of the book you will discern many reasons for this, but none resonated with me as much as this one about the pursuit of wisdom, Uris writes: Community life pivoted around the Holy Laws, the synagogue, and the rabbi, who was at once teacher, spiritual leader, judge and administrator of the community. The rabbis of the Pale were all great scholars. Their wisdom was far-reaching and rarely questioned… Indeed the community moved as one for the existence of all…The poor donated to the poorer. The poorer – to the poorer yet. Charity was the eleventh, the unwritten commandment. Leading scholars and religious leaders had to be cared for. Nothing was allowed to interfere with the pursuit of wisdom.

There were two aspects that disturbed me in the book. The first was the way the Arabs were portrayed by Uris. He describes them with a bias that is unsettling. In Uris’ words: The air was foul with the mixed aroma of thick coffee, tobacco, hashish smoke and the vile odors of the rest of the village; Nazareth stank. The streets were littered with dung and blind beggars… filthy children were underfoot. Flies were everywhere. How pathetic the dirty little Arab children were beside the robust youngsters of Gan Dafna. How futile their lives seemed in contrast to the spirit of the Youth Aliya village. There seemed to be no laughter or songs or games or purpose among the Arab children. This could be attributed in some part to the policy of the British. On November 2, Foreign Secretary Arthur James Balfour sent his letter to Lord Rothschild, a prominent Zionist and a friend of Chaim Weizmann, stating that: “His Majesty’s Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people.” The Balfour Declaration of 1917, gave Britain the administration of Palestine, with the understanding that it would work on behalf of both its Jewish and Arab inhabitants. As an Indian, I was not surprised and this became the second disturbing aspect in the book – how the British played Jews against Arabs. It is summed up neatly by Uris’ fictional character General Sir Clarence Trevor-Brown: The only kingdom that runs on righteousness is the kingdom of heaven. The kingdoms of the earth run on oil. The Arabs have oil. It is evident from the telling of the story that Uris holds a baised opinion about Arabs and the British.

I am told by a dear friend that The Haj by Leon Uris gives the Arab side of the story. I am now searching for it. Readers who own any Leon Uris books do hold on to your yellowing pages, these books are not easy to procure.

To just Leon Uris was an American Jew who as a war correspondent covered the Arab–Israeli fighting in 1956. His experiences and discoveries led to writing the Exodus which was first published in 1958 by Doubleday. Exodus went on to become an international publishing phenomenon, the biggest bestseller in the United States since Gone with the Wind (1936). It remained number 1, on the New York Times bestseller list for 19 weeks after its release. It initiated a new sympathy for the newly established State of Israel and fed the American minds with a twisted view of the Arab people. Celebrated by many it has also been denigrated equally, “As a literary work, it isn’t much. But as a piece of propaganda, it’s the greatest thing ever written about Israel,” said Israel’s first Prime Minister David Ben Gurion.

The reason I liked the book immensely is stated in Uris’s dedication message : all those good folk who spend their chapters hating themselves, the world, and all their aunt’s and uncles…all those steeped in self-pity…all those golden riders of the psychoanalysis coach…I have shown the other side of the coin, and written about my people who, against a lethargic world and with little less than courage, conquered unconquerable odds.

Genre: Historical Fiction