Eleanor Oliphant is completely fine by Gail Honeyman

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Books like this one make it easy to fulfil my promise of writing reviews. A much recommended book by two discerning reader friends (Devna & Kiranjeet: Thanks from the bottom of my bibliophilic heart), I downloaded it onto my kindle.

The story is rather straightforward. It revolves around the main protagonist, most obviously, Eleanor Oliphant and her dealings with the world. Ms Oliphant, as she would appreciate my addressing her, is not your run-in-the-mill kinda girl, she’s got issues. And her issues are not minor skirmishes with the world we all face, for she is a girl who looks at the world with different lenses from yours and mine. If you’ve read the Rosie Project or seen The Big Bang Theory, you would recognise in Eleanor similar oddly charming and socially challenging characteristics as Don Tillman and Sheldon Cooper. But, where the difference lies is that there lurks a sinister shadow in Eleanor’s life which the writer peels away layer by layer.

Eleanor Oliphant is 30 years old and a weird creature of habits. She needs her days to run just so. She has her meals in a certain way and at certain timings. She has worked at her first job for 9 years and has not ever thought of making any changes. One day Eleanor is thrown out of her comfort zone of her regulated schedules by two incidents: the first is when she sees the man she decides is the one she must marry and the second when she is drawn into helping an old man who has collapsed on the street. Both these incidents compel her to begin making serious changes in the way she lives. While the romantic interlude is planned by her in meticulous detail of self-improvement. The other results in throwing her life into a kilter. Where Gail Honeyman walks away my five star rating is how she makes Eleanor slowly creep into my heart as living, breathing relatable character.

Eleanor’s is a story about loneliness so intense it took my breathe away. She is 30 years old and asks: I do exist, don’t I? It often feels as if I’m not here, that I’m a figment of my own imagination. She has not a single friend in the world, there are days when she is lightly connected to the earth that the threads that tether her to the planet are gossamer thin, spun sugar. She has worked in the same firm for 9 years and the threads tighten slightly from Monday to Friday, but no one knows anything about her. Besides a social worker no one has ever walked over the threshold of her home. This is where the story begins. Honeyman points out a facet of modern day society which is alarmingly true: These days, loneliness is the new cancer – a shameful, embarrassing thing, brought upon yourself in some obscure way. A fearful incurable thing, so horrifying that you dare not mention it; other people don’t want to hear the word spoken aloud for fear that they might too be afflicted, or that it might tempt fate into visiting a similar horror upon them.

This also a heart-warming tale of friendship, of finding there are people who care, if we let them. Eleanor finds in Raymond a friend with whom she finds the gentle heat of something opening, the way some flowers spread out in the morning at the sight of the sun. I knew what was happening. It was the unscarred piece of my heart. It was big enough to let in a bit of affection. There was still a tiny bit of room.

But, for Eleanor Oliphant to be completely fine till she faces the sinister demons lurking on every page of her life. She needs to acknowledge the ghosts of her childhood in order to overcome the scars on her heart, just as thick and disfiguring as those on her face. Despite her self-imposed loneliness hope lingers in her heart, as she confesses in her own words, I hope some undamaged tissue remains, a patch through which love can come in and flow out. I hope.

Reading up till now you might consider the book to be a sad and heavy story to be picked up with care. On the contrary Honeyman has incorporated delightful moments with Eleanor navigating the perplexing world. Eleanor’s self-improvement endeavours are hilarious, her observations on bikini waxes, manicures and high heels and why Starbucks needs to write her name on a cup had me in splits. She is shamelessly judgemental and delightfully perfect in her assessments of the human foibles. Her tactless comments are so refreshing, and to be honest we all think the same stuff as her, but just don’t utter it out aloud.

Some books leave you dissatisfied with the way they end. Some may feel the same for this one, however, I was not. Gail Honeyman has, with the end of the book done what is rarely done by authors: she has acted with a mature restraint. Would love to know if you agree. Read the book and do let me know.

The Wonder by Emma Donoghue

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The Wonder by Emma Donoghue

The Wonder By Emma Donoghue, begins with a gloomy portrayal of a beautiful country, Ireland. Having visited the vibrant island a few months back, I was disconcerted to read Donoghue’s lacklustre words. What a contrast I thought to myself. Was the author, I speculated, giving credence to the main character Lib, by reflecting a British nurse’s prejudices towards the Irish? As I read further it struck me, that Emma Donoghue was employing the Gothic style of writing. The term Gothic in itself is intriguing, isn’t it? Gothic Literature refers to the style of writing that employs elements of fear, horror, gloom, death as well as romantic elements, such as nature, individuality, and very high emotion. These emotions can include fear and suspense. Set just a few years after the an Gorta Mór, The Irish Potato Famine (1845 – 1849) a period of mass starvation and disease, the famine remains a formidable character in the background of the story.

With hunger a dominant theme in the book, the story revolves around 11 year-old Anna O’ Donnell who has refused to eat for four months and still survives. The devout believe this is a miracle and flock to the O’ Donnell’s cabin to kiss the hems of this living saint. The cynical believe it is a hoax. So how is the dilemma to be resolved? A committee is formed comprising the influential of the village: a landlord, a doctor who believes Anna is his greatest scientific discovery, a priest who wishes to protect his church at all costs and a tavern owner. Each one has their own vested interest in proving the child is indeed a miracle. Anna needs to be observed and a period of two weeks is decided upon where the girl will be watched every waking and sleeping moment. But who would do the watching? Two nurses are hired – one from England, a pupil  of Florence Nightingale, the other a Sister of Mercy,  who has devoted her entire life in service to the sick. One nurse is an Irish Catholic nun and the other a British woman of science. What could be a more impartial watch.

I know a book is good when I read and get sucked into it. When I can see the characters as if they were walking parallelly with me. As I read The Wonder, I could feel the coldness of the rain and roughness of Lib’s tweed nursing uniform. The starched rustle of Sister Michael’s habit sent a my nerves jangling. I fell for the handsome William Byrne, so jaded by his profession who recognised the truth of Anna’s condition quicker than the trained nurse, Lib. I recoiled from the squalor of the O’Donnell’s cabin just like Lib and wanted to straighten out the sheets of Anna’s bed with her. I could taste the peat in the oatcakes served to Lib and identify with the guilt of eating in front of a child who had not eaten for months. While I could understand the love of a father in Malachy O’Donnell, yet like Lib not reconcile to his dumb acceptance. As a mother I could not even begin to comprehend the character of Rosaleen O’ Donnell.  I felt sorry for the slavey, Kitty who collapsed every night onto the hearth. But most of all I could relate to Lib’s scepticism, her determined pursuit to expose the fraud and then her horror at the unimagined truth she uncovers. The revelations at the end are not really surprising, yet had me gasping in horror.

This book reveals the power of religion over a devout child misguided by the adults who should have been protecting her. Zealotry is not something I understand. Not overtly devout, I found Anna’s faith difficult to connect to. With all kinds of deafening religious debate blocking out all sounds of sensible discourse these days, I found in this book the dangers of being ‘God fearing’. When the tenets of religion provoke only a sense of fear in the minds of children, there is something very wrong with what is being preached. Saying that, I cannot help but admire the power of religion over individuals. Or is it the power of the so-called upholders of religion – the preachers screaming from the pulpits? This is not a comment on one, but on religion at large. Today we see a world where children are used as suicide bombers, where in the name of saving cows they are lynched, and mobs attack a bus full of school children in the name of upholding the honour of a fictitious historical character. Which leads me to ask that one question which I’m sure all of us ask: When will they, the preachers, realise that they have an obligation to the people for whom they have made their bond of reverence?

I am part of three Bookclubs, I read The Wonder with one of them. A question asked there had me stumped: Who was or what was The Wonder in this book? I cannot find the answer, as I debate with myself: Was is Anna, the girl who did not eat? Was it Rosaleen O’Donnell’s style of mothering? Was it Lib’s commitment to her patient? Was it a priest’s need to protect his church at all costs? Was it a Doctor’s need to leave a legacy? Was it the acrid aftertaste left by the author’s skill that made me reluctant to write this review? What was it that overwhelmed me, I do not know. I hope, dear reader, you can answer this one for me.

To read more of my Book Reviews please click on:

https://vasudhachandnagulati.wordpress.com/2018/01/18/the-truth-about-the-harry-quebert-affair/

https://vasudhachandnagulati.wordpress.com/2018/01/16/book-review-before-we-were-yours/

https://vasudhachandnagulati.wordpress.com/2017/03/31/book-review-a-window-to-her-dreams/

https://vasudhachandnagulati.wordpress.com/2016/09/16/in-the-light-of-darkness-book-review/

 

 

 

The Truth About The Harry Quebert Affair

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As I mentioned in my last post, I made a Godawful promise to myself and as a result spent 10 bookless days. Since January is too soon to give up on a New Year resolution and I must stick to it till February at least, I had to write the review and fast. This time I was smart, I wrote the review as I read along.

When I got my hands on this 615 pages long innocently titled The Truth About The Harry Quebert Affair by Joël Dicker, to be honest I wasn’t very thrilled. Would you be with a title that long and cover page revealing an empty town? However, once I began I couldn’t stop. Hastily prepared meals, ignored emails and exercise regimes, and  feigned ignorance towards the needs of the spouse and kids, I finished the book in two days flat. Well…two days and one all-nighter.

By now I must have piqued your interest, so without further ado, let me share the many reasons why you must read The Truth About The Harry Quebert Affair by Joël Dicker

For a good juicy Mystery

If there is one thing I absolutely abhor is the Rubix Cube. I am convinced Erno Rubix invented the damn thing to flummox the likes of me. I manage to solve one colourful (generally blue, since that’s my favourite colour) side and then the all the other sides resemble a punk’s dream come true. In school and college my friends gave up and now my kids have given up on trying to explain the ‘simple’ funda (as they call fundamentals) behind solving it. My daughter when she was 11 shared a YouTube video too hoping I would get it, but NADA. And then the Piramix, astride my Whizkid son’s palm, walked into our home. Let me not even get started on my battles with this Rubik’s cousin from hell. You may be wondering why I’m lamenting on my incapability to handle this ‘simple’ puzzle when the post is about a book deceptively named The Truth About The Harry Quebert Affair.  The reason is rather simple (please, detect sarcasm here).

Fanny Blake of the Daily Mail describes the book as ‘An expertly realised, addictive Russian doll of a whodunnit’, I cannot find a better expression than hers. Having read whodunnit’s from an early age, there is not much that comes as a surprise in books anymore, and even though I had guessed who had ‘dunnit’ early into the read, Dicker made it tough to say: Aha! I knew it, at the very end. Every turn of the page became interesting as new information was revealed and confused the hell out of me on who would be the inglorious murderer. Joël Dicker can probably solve the Rubik’s cube and the Piramix with a few twists like my progeny, but I’m convinced he also can break it down to its spare parts and join them together without breaking a sweat. For he sure broke the plot of this book down, scattered the pieces, let his pet or offspring run riot over it and then put the pieces back together in the most ingenious novel within a novel. If that isn’t reason enough for you to pick up the book here’s the next.

You should read it for the protagonist, Marcus’s Mom

The most fun conversations happen between Marcus and his Mom. To the son’s frustration he just has to say something and the mother twists it into something else entirely, these conversations brought out many a chuckle of delight as I read on. She is the quintessential mother, always questioning all her son’s actions and choices resulting in hilarious conversations with her bewildered  child, who needed to get on with investigating a murder, exonerating his mentor and writing a book all at the same time. If I were Marcus, I wouldn’t have lasted, I would marry the first woman I came across just to shut her up. Sarcastic Moms have always been my favourite characters in books and Mrs Goldman lives up to the expectation and more. Need more reasons to read the book? Well, here’s the next.

If you are a budding writer

Read it for the dollops of writing advice dished out by Harry Qubert to his protégé Marcus. The many doubts I constantly deal with, are answered in this book with equanimity.  Here’s one to whet your appetite: “A new book, Marcus, is the start of a new life. It’s also an act of great generosity: You are offering, to whoever wishes to discover it, a part of yourself. Some will love it, some will hate it. Some will worship you, others will despise you. Some will be jealous, others will be curious. But, you’re not writing it for them. You’re writing it for all those who, in their daily lives, will enjoy a sweet moment because of Marcus Goldman. You may say that doesn’t sound like much, but its actually quite something. Some writers want to change the world. But who can really change the world?” 

You still need more reasons, right? Phew! Demanding, aren’t we.

Well here’s the last one. Every book should leave you with having something you would like to go back to again and here’s one from this one I wanted to share for all those who spend most of their life worrying about reaching the top of the mountain.

Harry:   “So you felt like you’d won?”

Marcus: “Yes, I did. Even if technically, I lost the match, I felt as if I had won.”

Harry:   “Well, there’s your answer: It doesn’t matter if you win or lose. What matters is how you fight between the first bell and the last one. The result of the match is just a piece of news for the public. Who can say you lost if you feel like you’ve won? Life is like a foot race, Marcus: There will always be people who are faster than you, and there will always be those who are slower than you. What matters, in the end, is how you ran the race.”

Amazing, right? So simple, yet a resounding message about what life should really be about.

I now gleefully reach out for my next read The Wonder by Emma Donoghue. Watch this space or rather my blog for the review.

 

 

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.

Should I Add More Details ?

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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.

 

Book Review: A Window To Her Dreams

Author : Harshali Singh

Publisher : Readomania

Courage in traditional literature was a word reserved for the battlefield and predominantly for a few men of valour, the others and women were considered too weak to walk the arena that courage inhabited. Modern and contemporary writing has (thank heavens) redefined the word taking it out of the bivouacs permitting lesser mortals to lay claim to its attributes. Singh’s debut novel ‘A Window To Her Dreams’ is all about courage, this elusive quality of mind that enables a person to face challenges that in the strife of life is faced by many. The story grows with the spirit of her protagonist, Aruna, who fights demons of her past with fear at first and then with the confidence that love brings to her, eventually overcoming the wounds inflicted on her soul.

This book is a realistic take on a contemporary marriage that requires the equal participation of a man as well as a woman to make it work. It is also about the sensitivity of men often overlooked with the need to portray them as either invincible heroes or formidable villains in stories that aspire to showcase the strength of a woman. Here Singh deviates from the norm and creates Bhuvan, a sensitive male who has the quiet inner strength that is found in the many contemporary men who make their marriages work. Singh’s, Bhuvan is a giant with a heart of gold, he is complex and at the same time so simple that he wins the reader’s heart from the get go and holds it firmly in his hands to the very end. Aruna’s anguish and the dark clouds of her past influencing her present comes out so strong that despite having never experienced her pain the reader not only identifies with her, but roots for her to the very end.

The book like western audiences would expect is not just about the two protagonists and a marriage. In India, marriage is just not a union between two, it is a balancing act of infinite proportions between families and here Singh manages like a Maestro to bring on a symphony of complex characters. A distanced father dealing with his own insecurities, one estranged sister, another a clairvoyant, a set of triplet sisters with blossoming personalities and a brother who is struggling with the expectations of family and his own ambitions. Strength there is in all the characters that builds up a family that is both flawed and remarkable in their ability to hurt at the same time heal with each other. Then you have Uma, Aruna’s mother the anchor that holds her large imperfect family together with tenacity, not that surprising as it is reflective of many Indian families. The narrator surprisingly is an old ‘Haveli’ that surely has the character to speak about the family it has sheltered through various storms within and without. An inanimate whose existence is inextricably linked with the people it houses. Some questions that Singh leaves unanswered niggle at you long after you’ve put the book down. The mysterious figure of uncle Suresh, what are his feelings for Uma? And what does the Haveli hide that is known only to Uma?

More often than not writers build up their protagonist to make them larger than life inspirational, I was glad to notice that Singh does not do that. Sometimes stories should be just that about commonness and embracing it. Where the book falters is in its editing and proof reading which is sloppy and jarring but once you get past that the story within ‘A Window To Her Dreams’ by Harshali Singh establishes her as a writer worth reckoning.

The book ‘A Window To Her Dreams’ by Harshali Singh published by Readomania is available at http://books.readomania.com/book_detail.php?id=31 and http://www.amazon.in/Window-Her-Dreams-Harshali-Singh/dp/9385854283

 

 

 

 

 

Ripples That Create Awareness

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The first time I came across a person with Down’s Syndrome, I don’t remember exactly how old I was at the time but know it was the tween years as it was at that time in life when being under my Maa’s constant reproving glare, I had lost my precocious disregard for keeping my tongue still and had not yet stepped into my obnoxious teen years when I overcame that glare again. What I do remember of that occasion is a deep sense of shame and an overwhelming guilt. The reason for this is that I completely screwed up.

How? The individual was my mother’s cousin visiting my maternal grandmother’s house with his parents. Well I looked at him with great discomfort and then throughout their visit just ignored his presence. Naturally a curious person though, I kept stealing surreptitious glances at him. I watched how he ate, drank his tea and how he sat calmly between his parents not participating in the conversation and how the adults in the room did not address him in any manner at all. He smiled when the others laughed, his eyes darted around taking in everyone, everything. He caught me a few times in my act of furtive curiosity beaming at me every time. In my clumsy tween ignorance, I gave a half smile averting my gaze yet again. But, what I will never forget of that face was his eyes. Completely guileless. Completely innocent. Completely honest. Seeking nothing.

Now why did I not behave better?

Was it because I was not taught to?

Or was it because these conversations were uncomfortable?

Or was it because when we turn a blind eye to something it ceases to exist for us?

Or was it because the sense of inclusion was meant only for the supposedly ‘normal’?

That brings me to my next question. What is normal?

To answer this I looked up the dictionary first to ensure that I did not make any errors. What I found led me to some very interesting ideas. Let me share these with the various meanings that Dictionary.com threw up.

Meaning No 1 for normal: conforming to the standard or the common type; usual; not abnormal; regular; natural. Well since, I do not consider ever conforming to the standard or the common type I am not normal. I detest the usual, the regular as too humdrum so I am certifiably abnormal. As for the natural! Well with coloured hair (some of it even ombre) certainly not qualifying for normal.

Meaning No 2 for normal: serving to establish a standard. How interesting!  If I were to go by the behaviour of the other grownups in the room to the said relative as serving to establish a standard, it’s a pretty miserable one. I do not want to serve to establish any such standard.

Meaning No 3 for normal: Psychology, says the Dic, normal is approximately average in any psychological trait, as intelligence, personality, or emotional adjustment. Now how many of us are going to accept that we are approximately average in any way, so are we all then as the venerable Dic, further explains not free from any mental disorder; therefore sane?

Meaning No 4 for normal: In Biological, Medicinal/Medical terms normal is free from any infection or other form of disease or malformation, or from experimental therapy or manipulation. Hello! With a twist to the wise Prophet of Nazareth’s words “let the first stone be thrown by the normal person.” How many of us can then with certainty claim to be untarred by the brush of fallibility?

So hence my conclusion, Normal does not apply to me. Maybe you feel the same. Maybe you don’t.

There are other meanings for the word ‘normal’ that relate to Mathematics and Chemistry but are hardly relevant to the discussion at hand so I shall not delve there. Also, I feel I have made my point (at least I hope I have) that ‘normal’ ain’t all that special.

So how did I learn to behave better?

That evening I asked my mother, when her relatives had left, what was ‘wrong’ with the uncle. She has always been a woman of gumption and did not sweep my inquisitiveness under the rug as an uncomfortable topic that if not talked about would be soon forgotten. She explained the problem to me in her usual scientific way with a huge smattering of pity in her tone. Pity. As parents, we find ourselves often transferring our biases to our children to protect them from the difficult questions of life. That day my mother transferred pity to mine. Pity. This was a feeling that would repeatedly walk with me as I grew up, crossing paths with more people who were what society terms as different. I honestly think that I got off lucky, pity was an easy bias to overcome. What if she had felt revulsion, disgust or repugnance?  So, let us be careful which bias we are passing on to our children. Once I had rejected the idea of pity my next thought was: Why should we consider them and their caregivers with pity? Isn’t that how we create victims and martyrs. Is that the aim? Over the years having interacted with several people with disabilities and their families there is one thing that I have learned, that ‘pity’ is abhorrent to them.

Then what is it that they want from us?

When I was in school we did not have any child with any kind of developmental disability. There was never any mention of it. It was as if these things did not exist. Nobody at home spoke about it as there was no need for such a discussion. What we didn’t know we did not ask. I do not offer this as an excuse for my behavior in fact on the contrary my reactions on that day were and remain inexcusable. What I offer is a contrast. My kids have had the privilege of studying in schools where inclusion of the differently abled is essential. Thus, I have two beautiful souls who are full of compassion and have never behaved in a manner that would embarrass them later in life as a result resort to writing blogs such as this. My children talk of the wondrous capabilities of their friends and I share their wonder for their friends truly are amazing. What I find most heartening is that my kids talk about these friends with deep affection. Respect and affection that is created by accepting diversity is the beauty of inclusive classroom. Special education professional Gretchen Walsh M.S. Ed., who runs the Academic Support Center at Notre Dame College, gives a concise synopsis when she says “Inclusion is important because through our diversity we certainly add to our creativity. If you don’t have a diverse classroom or a diverse world, you don’t have the same creative levels and I think our strength lies in our diversity.”

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Friendship, love, respect, dignity is that too much to ask? Aren’t these basic human rights? A civilized society is one which is morally and intellectually advanced; that is humane and ethical. Diversity is finding acceptance in the classrooms, our children are moving towards a far better civilization, let us join them walking proudly shoulder to shoulder with them.

What can we do?

Down Syndrome

Solidarity is the union or fellowship arising from common responsibilities and interests, that is what the world needs today in all spheres but especially here. When individuals come together to celebrate the rights of the few with Disruptive Abilities heartening stories are born. On the 21st of March the world celebrates World Down Syndrome Awareness Day, it is a day simply for creating awareness. This year in India under National Trust and  IN:For the Cause there were many beautiful stories born. Blue and yellow symbolizing the colors of this very special day emblazoned vistas.17362013_10101577993744884_358703351333889271_n

Names like Google, Microsoft, Nokia,  MED-EL,Harley Davidson, ITC Maurya, Lemon Tree, Forever Mark Diamond Pvt. Ltd., TATA CliQ, We Media Works, Chill Bey, C’est La Vie, Styling Scissors, Madison & Pike, The Social Street, Hotel Red Fox and even a filling station  BP came forward in support blazing the way for their people to pick up the torch to carry the dream into the hearts of hundreds. School children from  Scottish High International School, and from  The Close South, a condominium in Gurgaon, fashioned masterpieces with the two colors winning the joys of many. College students stepped up through the Blue Pencil Blog creating a platform to better understand the chromosomally enhanced who enhance the lives of each one they touch with their beautiful hearts that abound with pure happiness.

Siblings shared journeys of their lives with their very best brothers and sisters.  Parents smiled at their progeny who were successful in every way that society deemed them incapable of. Organisations like MUSKAAN that provide opportunities to the differently abled shared their immense capabilities.   Numerous empathetic individuals also stepped up, ripples are spreading far and wide. Hope has been created. The horizon of many found expansion and the diligent efforts of the organizers were realized.

The busy organizers now work even harder for the next date 2nd of April for World Autism Day. So how about it, will you also join in the efforts to create a better tomorrow?