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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

Bonds Over Books

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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.

Book Review: Before We Were Yours

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As a year-end promise to myself, I decided to write a review of every book I read in 2018. To ensure I fulfilled my intentions, I further restricted myself to not beginning another read, before I wrote the review. Phew! Did I set myself a tough one. Any voracious reader will understand how difficult restraint is. Reading is like a drug, I go from one fix to the next with scarcely a break.  And here I am like the lawyer in Anton Chekov’s The Bet stuck with my own capriciousness, I sure hope I  don’t end up disillusioned like him. The thing with promises we make to others is,- we can get out of them by breaking them with maybe self-righteous justification or disappointed begging-off . However, when one makes a promise to oneself you, or rather me, gets stuck with Launcelot’s ‘hard conscious.’  Now with multiple goodreads lining up my bedside table towards which my fingers repeatedly stretch out, till my promise smacks them away, you can surely understand the predicament I’ve stuck myself with.

So, here are my thoughts on the first of the many books I will read in 2018.

Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate

Based on a notorious adoption scandal involving Georgia Tann, a child trafficker who separated children from their birth parents under the cover of the Tennessee Children’s Home Society, an adoption agency in Memphis, Tennessee. From the 1920s to when the home was shut down in 1950, Tann perpetuated numerous adoption frauds. To the public Tann was the acclaimed ‘mother of modern adoptions’ consulted even by Eleanor Roosevelt and feted by the rich and influential. She owned a mansion, threw lavish parties and roamed around Memphis in a chauffeur driven Limousine. To the families whose children were taken away, Georgia Tann was their worst nightmare come true. For all who were taken by her were not unloved orphans, but infants taken away from unwed mothers who were told their children were born dead, kidnapped toddlers from their doorsteps or when they were on their way from school, snatched children from destitute people claiming they were unfit parents, and the list goes on. The children were then sold to wealthy families via advertisements in newspapers with catch lines like “Yours for the Asking” and “Perfect Christmas Presents”.  Over thirty years Tann got away with her despicable acts with the promise that the children “They are blank slates. They are born untainted, and if you adopt them at an early age and surround them with beauty and culture, they will become anything you wish them to be.” There is much more to the sordid story of Georgia Tann, but then the book is not about her, it is about the lost children of Tennessee.

Before We Were Yours is a fictional story straddling the past and the present. The past is of 90 year-old Rill and her siblings who were torn by Georgia Tann, from the loving arms of parents who were poor, yet the children were loved. The present is Avery Stafford who looks uncannily like Rill’s sister Fern. The story speaks of an old woman who due to Alzheimer’s is losing her memory and her sister who remembers too much. It is about a family which has too much to lose if the truth gets out and about women who do not want to disrupt the lives of those they cherish. Wingate’s novel is also about a young woman who has to make many choices about her life, her career and the man she should marry, and each choice, as often in life, is tough and will hurt those she cares for the most.

I love to read and often beyond a beautiful story I get mesmerised by an author’s skill at weaving words which pierce through my very soul. As I read a book I mark these to go back to and feel them again and again. Here are some by Lisa Wingate that will hold me in thrall for a long time to come.

“Worry scratches a setting spot inside me and takes up nesting.”

“I awaken from it like an early-day medical patient coming out of an ether sleep. My mind dawdles. My wits take a moment to line up properly and force me to look away.”

“I drop her in the cot and turn away and grab my hair and pull till it hurts. I want to pull all of it out. Every single piece. I want a pain I understand of the one I don’t. I want a pain that has a beginning and an end, not one that goes on forever and cuts all the way to the bone.”

“The argument ends where all arguments end − on the altar of compromise.”

“No matter how much we may love the melody of a bygone day or imagine the song of a future one, we must dance within the music of today, or we will always be out of step, stumbling around in something that doesn’t suit the moment.”

“A woman’s past need not predict her future. She can dance to new music if she chooses. Her own music. To hear the tune, she must only stop talking. To herself, I mean. We’re always trying to persuade ourselves of things.”

Beautiful are the words that “Before We Were Yours” is adorned with. Read the book for the story which is a heartbreaking tale of survival or for the words with which Lisa Wingate shares this poignant unravelling of the adoptees who never forgot.

And now since I have accomplished the first review, I’m going to pick up my next read – The Truth About The Harry Quebert Affair by Joel Dicker. Watch out for the review very soon.

A Caregivers Dilemma

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This is in continuation to yesterday’s post – Empty Platitudes https://vasudhachandnagulati.wordpress.com/2016/08/23/empty-platitudes/ you might want to go through that first to understand what I’m trying to communicate here. My friend who despite all her difficulties still manages to make me laugh responded to the post with, “Imagine I used to keep telling my son to write about Mom dealing with Dad’s Alzheimer and here you’ve gone and made me the subject of your post.”

As I begin this post there is a feeling of trepidation. My concern is not on where I stand about what I plan to write today, but on what you my reader, may make out of this. Nevertheless.

We talk about those who have been wondrously sacrificing in tones full of deep respect. Those who do not take on their responsibilities we judge in hushed whispers laced with condescension. Poets have expounded on the virtues of stepping up and our movies have made good money glorifying ‘the right thing to do’.  And we do, that is do, what is right, what is expected of us. But, that is not my purpose here, to sit in moral judgment or to glorify the vigor of the person who is living up to the expectations of honor.

My question to you, dear reader is, have you ever thought about what a caregiver to a sick child, parent, spouse or sibling is going through? Let me answer for myself. I had not.

Up until my earnest conversations with my vibrant friend began, I saw others in her situation as brave souls admiring them from afar. I imagined them to be so strong and selfless that their circumstances were immaterial to their happiness. What I now realize is that they are definitely strong and selfless. But happy?

So my friend sent me a text right now, “My great aunt just left, she’s advised me to feed Mom ‘kabooter meat’ apparently it helps counteract paralysis!!” I call her up, this cannot be discussed over a text, shaking with laughter, I ask her, cooked or raw? Then I tell her to stand on the balcony with a net and catch a fresh pigeon to feed her mom. On the speaker aunty laughs along with us as she says, “Bring on the pigeons I’ll soon spring up from my bed and strut like one gutergooing.” Now this may seem completely irreverent to some of you, but, that is one of the small harmless doses of laughter my friend will have in her day where she measures out medications, props up her parents into comfortable positions and where her conversations will be with doctors, nurses and physiotherapists.

As she goes about being the responsible child that she is we have a number of discussions about her day. She tells me of the various demands that her relatives place on her ‘by wanting to be helpful.’ The aunt who insists on making her special ‘biryani’ for the invalids and then hands her a long list of ingredients to be procured from the market.  The incessant calling of another for updates, who could not visit as her daughter had an allergy in her armpits! Another who decides to help by accompanying her to the hospital and takes up the doctor’s time by discussing her own problems with him. Such people who are a ‘disease’ themselves for which there is no cure, how do you tell them to keep away while trying not to ‘hurt’ their sentiments (that being of prime importance.)

She tells me with empathy about her mother who is going through the depression that comes with the loss of mobility. She tells me about how she does sweet little things to cheer up her mother, like painting her nails and cutting her hair into a bob.  And then we talk about the depression that she herself is going through. She says that she gets a lot of calls daily from friends and family asking her how her parents are. The strange thing she says is very rarely does anyone ask me how am I doing. How am I dealing with the anxiety? The sleepless nights! The endless pressures! The loneliness! This total change in my life, no one asks! Is a caregiver no longer a person? She tells me of an incident and I am taken aback at the callousness of people. When her mother was in the hospital and after a hectic day of rushing around she was very hungry, the first thing she found to eat were golgappas and she ate them. On returning to the hospital when she told someone they were aghast at her ‘enjoying golagappas’ while her mother lay in hospital. Excuse me!! Why is khichdi acceptable and golgappas not?

So those of you judging take a moment and reflect. She is a young person who by all rights should be out pursuing her interests or her career. She should be with her son who will leave for college next year and needs her support, her counsel critically. She should be sitting with a coffee in her hand as she gossips with her friends in a café. She should spend the nights dancing and being drunk on the headiness of life.  She should be on holiday with her spouse with whom she has spent the years of struggle as they climbed up the ladder of success. These are her prime years. Does she not deserve this and more that most of us take for granted?

Shouldn’t she be running with the wind on her face, not sitting looking out of the window of dismay, wondering what the next day will bring!

 

 

 

Empty Platitudes

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Recently a very dear friend suffered a huge setback. Her father had been confined to bed for many years, now her mother who had been the primary caregiver for her dad suffered a stroke. My friend, an only child, rushed to her hometown to be with her infirm parents. In her own home, many, many miles away, was a teenage son studying in the 12th Grade and a husband who has a job that necessitates a lot of travel.

There she was torn by love at both ends. Her parents, both confined to bed, on one and her husband and child on the other.  A supporting spouse and a mature child helped her cope with the situation, so she turned her attention to where it was needed most.  In the early days, I was unable to speak to her she was handling a lot and for obvious reasons needed to concentrate her energies on the constantly developing situation in front of her.

My friend is a vibrant person, whenever we spoke we have only laughed be it the mundane or the difficult she has always managed to look at things from a quirky point of view. My thoughts were with her constantly, worrying and wondering how she would cope.  Life had suddenly thrown her a curve ball the like of which I had never heard of. Caring for one ageing and infirm parent is tough enough; she had two to take care of at the same time.  I was in my teens when my ageing Grandmother had been confined to the bed for five years and I had seen what my parents went through in those tough times. So yes, I worried and wondered and worried some more for this friend whose spirit through thick and thin has always laughed and made me laugh along with her.

I worried when I thought of her taking decisions that would determine the course of her parents’ healthcare. Are any of us ever prepared to take such decisions? I worried about her support mechanism. Who was there standing besides her helping? From the outside everyone can advise, but she was the one ultimately who would live with the consequences.

I wondered if people were calling her telling her to be brave. To be resilient in the face of adversity. To take it one day at a time. Some would say you have the strength you just need to find it. Others would tell her that its karma and she has a part to play. Some old school folk, I knew would try to encourage by saying she was ‘blessed’ to be paying back the debt that is owed to parents. Telling her that this was the greatest duty and that she was noble soul for having undertaken it.  I put myself in her shoes and another thought started to trouble me, would I want to hear all this?

In a flash the answer came No!!

Why do we mouth such tired expressions to people going through difficult times. How do such phrases help anyone? Does it encourage them or are we assuaging our guilt for not being able to do more? These are questions to which I have no answers. But, what is very clear to me is the fact that a person dealing with a tough situation does not want to hear mere platitudes from me, they want me to just listen to them. Can I not do that thinking of their needs rather than my own?

A few days later after having got her life under control as it were, we finally spoke. The first thing she said to me was, “Babe, make me laugh!” That was what she needed and I did just that!

Later I also listened when she shared the pain that she was in, the conflicting emotions that she goes through every day. Watching her parents in that state. Her child and her husband far away in a home that she hasn’t been able to go back to since the fateful day that her mother collapsed.  Every day she wakes up to a choice that was not hers, but she made it. A lot has happened in these days and I will need another post to express the myriad emotions that she has shared and I have felt with her.

Empty Eyrie

Image Courtesy : http://www.stephenfisherphotography.com

I’m not a poet. Words give me the strength to cope with feelings that overwhelm. I write them down in my diary, in my blogs. This time they poured out in the form of a free verse. 

High on the crags,

she stood.

Majestic, proud.

Head held high,

neither a flicker;

nor a flick.

 

Her golden eye,

keen; sharp.

Surveying

from her high top,

how lay the land.

 

In the eyrie below

her eaglet crooned,

the last of the brood;

the rest fledged.

All too soon.

This one remained.

 

He loomed towards

the nest’s edge.

She waited,

breath bated.

He peeped; withdrew.

Zeus’ favored,

this, would not do.

 

Resolve made,

nerves steeled.

She swooped; pushed.

He plummeted!

He fumbled!

He sank!

He fell!

Doomed!

 

She watched.

Heart thumping!

Breath hitching!

Mind berating!

Was it too soon?

Was it an error?

What had she done?

 

Then he rose.

Majestic, proud.

Head headed high,

with not a backward glance;

towards the horizon

The sun his cohort.

The moon his guardian.

 

High in the eyrie,

She watched.

Majestic, proud.

Head held high,

neither a flicker;

nor a flick.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Damsel in Distress

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Yesterday, while seeking inspiration from friends on what to write for D, one of them suggested that I write a humorous piece titled Damsel in Distress. I was all geared up to do just that, with all sorts of clever ideas teaming in my head, I set off for my morning walk. Listening to TED talks while I walk my mandatory 5000 steps every morning is how I like to start my days. Today, I chose to listen to Jimmy Carter (Former President of the USA, 1977-81). As I listened to his talk at TEDWomen 2015, titled ‘Why I believe the mistreatment of women is the number one human rights abuse’ my clever and funny ideas lost their sheen. I have retained my original title for a very specific reason, however, the changed course of my thinking has produced this piece of writing.

The statistics that he spoke of chilled me to my bones. From his very compelling speech I learnt that even today there are 30 million people living in slavery or are victims of what it is now called, Human Trafficking. 80% of this number are women. In one country that he spoke of 60,000 people live in slavery and in a particular city of this country, 200-300 people are sold into slavery every month. Brothel owners buy brown or black skinned girls at as low a price as $1000 while the price of a white skinned girl is many times that number. Earnings per trade being in the tune of $35,000. You do the Math and the numbers are staggering. The entire state machinery like the Police and Government are well aware of what is going on yet turn a blind eye towards this flourishing trade. Yes, flourishing for the total sex trade exceeds the total drug trade in Atlanta, Georgia. Yes, this country is no other than the United States of America, the so called leader of the free world. We all associate human rights violations against women, afflictions of only the under-developed countries of the world, yet here were compelling numbers from the developed world. His other revelations about sexual assault in the military of 26,000 reported rapes that resulted in only 3,000 prosecutions. And that 1 out of every 4 girls who enter an American University will be sexually assaulted before she graduates left me numb.

So I came home and did a little more digging and what I found was even more alarming. Europe, I read is a destination for victims from the widest range of destinations including Asia. I then recalled a conversation I had last year with a cousin, who works as an academic counselor in one of our city’s leading schools. She shared with me that their school had been running a student exchange program for many years. Till the widely reported Nirbhaya case the school had run this program successfully, but now the numbers were dropping as parents from Europe were unwilling to send their children to India to study. This was not only for girls but the parents of boys too were reluctant. As a developing country we have our share of problems that are very similar to theirs, the only difference is that while we acknowledge our shames, they blow theirs under the carpet.

The Human rights abuse of women by the ISIS in the Middle East, female genital mutilation in Africa, honor killings in almost all of the Islamic world and even India, domestic violence, rape with impunity, acid attacks and human trafficking are truths that lurk somewhere beneath the surface for me. They are articles or stories I read and documentaries I watch. They, however, are living realities for billions of women who have done nothing wrong. In my faith we are taught from a young age that your past life’s karmas give you the life of a human, the highest in the pecking order of species. I wonder at this. If humans are the most evolved of beings why does a young child cry with agony as she gets brutally mutilated? How does the mother whose infant child is torn from her womb find the will to go through the pain of it again and again? Why does the father/brother/uncle murder their own flesh and blood for just following her heart? What the girl goes through whose innocence is snatched away by vicious lust? How the beautiful girl faces the mirror and looks at the ravages that she has been left with by a venomous perpetrator? Where does the woman who gets pummeled to an inch of her life find the strength to go on and serve the very man who subjugates her? Where in all this anguish is the evolved thought of a higher species.

Of the various reasons that President Carter gave for the abuse of women the last one struck me like bolt of lightning. He says, “In general men don’t give a damn. The average man that might say I’m against the abuse of women quietly accepts the privileged position that we occupy. The majority is of men that control the systems of the world, the educational systems, the government systems, the military and the great religions.”

A damsel in distress or persecuted maiden is a classic theme in world literature. She is usually a beautiful young woman placed in a dire predicament by a villain or monster and who requires a hero to achieve her rescue. – Wikipedia. Who is going to be that hero? Who is going to achieve that rescue? In today’s world where we women demand gender equality, we are the ones who need to stand up and unite to be that hero. We need to speak up and take the responsibility on ourselves that all those millions of women and girls do not stay Damsels in Distress.

How I am going to be a part of that change I do not know, yet. What I do know now is that I want to be part of the change that is required. As I will kiss my daughter goodnight and lay my head on my pillow, I will think of all the mothers and daughters who will not sleep tonight as their pain will be too much to bear.