Monday, July 24, 2017

Yudhisthira -The Unfallen Hero

A short extract from Yudhisthira - The Unfallen Hero by Mallar Chatterjee

The Unfallen Pandava

By Mallar Chatterjee

The forest was eerily silent. Only my voice was audible. Each time I shouted for Vidura, flocks of birds were taking off from treetops creating a flutter that immediately subsided back into silence.

Suddenly, I heard a strange sound. It sounded as if someone was rushing through the jungle bushes. The sound was moving away from me. Curious, I chased the sound. I was so desperate that no fear of danger could cross my mind at that time.

I saw a strange being—obviously a human—run away. The man was shockingly thin. His bones were sharply jutting out from beneath his skin. He was completely naked. His long, unkempt, dirty hair-strands formed natural braids dangling from his head. His emaciated face was almost fully covered with anarchic beards, most of which was whitish. The whole body of the strange man was covered with scums and dirt. His hips were covered with faeces, evidently excreted from his own body.

He was not a good runner. Or, he did not have anything left in him to run a good distance. I was catching up with him even running with half-speed. He was panting and coughing. I recognised the coughing sound—I had heard it many times!

That ghost of a man was none other than our Uncle Vidura—the wisest Kaurava ever born!

‘Uncle Vidura, why are you running away from me? Can’t you recognise me? I am your Yudhisthira. I have come to see you.’

He stopped. He had no other option though as he had run out of breath. He tottered towards a big banyan tree and leaned against it to rest. I looked at him carefully. What my venerable uncle had reduced himself to! He too was staring at me. His complete transformation could not change his eyes—to my pleasure. But was he struggling to
recognise me? Had he forgotten his Yudhisthira? Or, had he reached a different spiritual echelon that blurred his worldly memories?

Though his expression did not change, I noticed a momentary flicker in his eyes. Vidura recognized me! Would he say something to me?

I waited, holding my breath. I knew if he would say something in this condition, it would be very very special. But nothing came from him. In order to make him talk, I said again, ‘I am Yudhisthira. . . Yudhisthira. . . don’t you remember me?’

Almost immediately I remembered what Dhritarashtra had said—Vidura had stopped
speaking or eating, as a part of an extremely punitive meditative exercise he was following. It dampened my spirits to some extent. If he would not talk to me, what was the use of meeting him?

Dejected, I cast my glances to him for one last time before turning my back.

The light had already started to fade away. The dense forest looked dusky, mysterious. A deathly silence was reigning in the place. It seemed that the place was far away from the usually boisterous planet we were familiar with.

But I could not turn back. Vidura’s eyes made me motionless. They were shining like two brilliant sapphires as if all his vigour, wrenched out from his skinny frame, found last refuge in his two eyes only.

Did he mean to convey any message through his eyes only? I felt so captivated that even my eyes forgot to bat lids.

Suddenly, I felt quaked by a stir. It came from an unknown depth of my body. It was like a gentle commotion that briefly shook my limbs, my ego, my senses, my intellect and my belief. The feeling subsided quickly.

To my great surprise, I found my eyesight strikingly improved! Even in that dim light of that surreal twilight, I was almost seeing through that impregnable jungle. I could even see the mole on a squirrel’s back that was climbing down a mahogany tree at some distance.

Perhaps due to my much improved vision, I noticed another thing that sent a chill down my spine. A very thin smoke-like mist was spiraling out of Vidura’s skeletal body and disappearing into mine—as if something was being transferred from Vidura to me! With an ordinary eyesight, I could not have witnessed the bizarre phenomenon for sure.

I was hearing much better too. I could even hear a spider alight on a leaf from a tree branch! I felt much stronger and fitter also. I sensed that my knowledge, wisdom and physical abilities were suddenly increased manifold by some strange magic.

That curious mist stopped emitting from Vidura’s body. He was still standing aslant, leaning against the tree with lips slightly gaping. His eyes were not shining anymore; rather they now assumed a dull, stony look.

I rushed towards him and shook him with my arms. His lifeless frame fell on my chest with two frail arms dangling over my shoulders. He died after having passed on to me his legacy in a manifest manner. What an unbelievable gift that was for me!

I had heard Vyasadeva often say that Vidura too was an incarnation of Lord Dharma—just as I am believed to be one. Was that why he had always had special interest in me? On our first entry to Hastinapura, Kunti introduced me to Vidura. Then she went on introducing my other brothers to him. But Vidura’s stare curiously did not leave my face;
neither did mine from his. His smile was miserly, as usual, but his happiness was too copious to miss. We got along almost immediately as if we had known each other for long. He always made me feel special in his company. He was to me the closest thing to
a father.

Why was he always so desperately in support of me? I did not know what he had found in me. Was he impressed with the popular belief that I too carry a special relationship with Lord Dharma like him? Or, keeping any divine reference out of
consideration, was it just mutual love between two ordinary mortals—a virtue not yet extinct from this troubled planet?

Vidura had always been a curious chapter in my life, but with his final gift to me, he became literally inseparable from me.

Book Blurb
Though the Kuru family survived on Vyasadeva’s seeds, he never belonged to the house. Moreover, being an ascetic, he was even exempted from obligations of the complicated dynamics of human relationships. This armed him with a ruthless dispassion and he could go on telling his stories with stoical detachment, free from any bias and uncontaminated by quintessential human dilemmas.

But had any of his characters given his own account of the story, would not that have lent a different dimension to the events seducing ordinary mortals like us to identify, if not compare, our private crises with those of our much celebrated heroes?
The Unfallen Pandava is an imaginary autobiography of Yudhisthira, attempting to follow the well-known story of the Mahabharata through his eyes. In the process of narrating the story, he examines his extremely complicated marriage and relationship with brothers turned co-husbands, tries to understand the mysterious personality of his mother in a slightly mother-fixated way, conducts manic and depressive evaluation of his own self and reveals his secret darkness and philosophical confusions with an innate urge to submit to a supreme soul. His own story lacks the material of an epic, rather it becomes like confession of a partisan who, prevailing over other more swashbuckling characters, finally discovers his latent greatness and establishes himself as the symbolic protagonist.

About the Author
Born in a suburban town in North 24 Parganas in West Bengal, in a family of academicians, Mallar Chatterjee’s childhood flame was mythology, especially the Mahabharat. The Unfallen Pandava is his debut novel. Mallar is a central government employee, presently posted in Delhi.

Yudhisthira - The Unfallen Pandava is available online at Amazon.

The Homing Pigeons

The littlest one of us all was coming home to spend her summer break with Mom. (We were three sisters, till Mom adopted our oldest sister and made her part of our hearts and hearth.) So the two of us booked our tickets as well, albeit in by different modes of transport, and landed up on Mom’s doorstep, like the proverbial homing pigeons.

Being home is like being thrown into the midst of the Kumbh Mela, for Mom’s doors are always open, literally and metaphorically. We had grown up with the notion that we would have to share her with the world, and its denizens. Hence, it does not faze us when we come down in the morning, a trifle bleary-eyed, and find an old student and his parents sitting in the drawing room at seven thirty in the morning. Before our first cup of tea is downed, the dining table is often all full, with a friendly barrage of dosas flying their way across onto people’s plates, replete with coconut chutney, three varieties of gunpowder and as many cups of coffee that can be made with the day’s quota of milk. (It is after this that our garrulous maid runs around in circles pulling her hair, trying to procure more packets of milk. After all, the day has just begun!”

The doorbell is pretty worn out with the number of times it is rung in a day. However, after the first fifty times, the three of us are all set to go to our respective husbands’ homes. Yes, we have all married boys whose families have settled down in our home town, and so, off we go with plastic covers, filled with the miscellaneous chores which need to be slipped in as well. These include trips to Bobby Tailors every single time for no one stitches clothes at the drop of a hat like he does, a sojourn to one of the bakeries/ grocery shops/ supermarkets around, a visit to Mom’s school which has been growing by leaps and bounds every year. (Just like the three of us, I suppose!) For every time we make an appearance, we have folks popping out from behind bushes  just to remark in loud, honeyed tones, “You have put on weight, haven’t you?/ You look so healthy now!/ Always chubby, now chubbier?”

Visits to the houses of friends and relatives are always, I repeat, always done in the eleventh hour. For example, this time, my husband and I had exactly four days, and on day three, there I was, spinning about like a top, trying to fit in as many as I could.

However, over the decades, the number of visits has dropped drastically, firstly because many loved souls have gone to their heavenly abode, and secondly, because we have grown older, if not exactly wiser, and find not that many people older than us. I still recall a time when I was just married, and Mom took us for a round of visits to people who are not even on our visiting lists today. At one place, the lady of the house clasped my hand with fervour, saying how delighted she was to see me married. Then she promptly went and brought out three steaming cups... of Bournvita! If there are two things I detest, they are milk mixtures of any sort, and Roohafza. To cut a long story short, by the time we came back from all those visits, our insides were sloshing with generous quantities of both.

Coming back to the present day, the days fill themselves up as though they have forty-eight hours to spare, instead of the usual twenty-four. By evening, we are back home. Mom is engrossed in her daily soaps, my husband buries himself in his laptop, our nieces, big and little do their own things. And then, we let our hair down, rush upstairs and plonk ourselves on the bed, wanting to talk, laugh, recollect the past, gossip and just be together. These are the moments that we cherish, when past antics roll in, hand in hand, with the present; when we search for the names of friends, acquaintances and ‘frenemies’ and give them a good rub-down in our minds. In between, we all look at pictures and videos of my little granddaughter. We discuss a million topics under the sun, jumping from one to the other with alacrity. 

Often, a person listening on has no idea of how seamlessly we dive from one topic to another. Around ten calls come from downstairs for dinner and we troop downstairs, to eat and make merry.

The dining table has always had a special place in our hearts. When our beloved Parvathy Amma was alive, she would magically rustle up delicious meals in a jiffy. We never knew how she did everything. Today, we have three maids to do what she did single-handedly, and in this one case at least, three heads are not better than one. For all three have a habit of poking their three noses into one another’s affairs, and often, there is a no-man’s land of household chores that get missed out on the way.

Tradition had it that the entire family dined together. Often, our uncles and aunts would come over, with our cousins. Our grandparents would sit at the table and all the adults would follow suit. The children would follow a hierarchy of seating... the oldest ones would be allowed to sit with the adults, while the younger ones would sit on the staircase, with their plates on their knees. That tradition continues still.

Getting back to the present, after the usual courses of dinner, followed by delicious mangoes, cake and ice cream, provided by kindly friends who know we are around, we get back to our nattering. This time, Mom also joins us, and regales us with her quota of the day’s events and the number of ‘interesting/ eccentric’ folks who have brightened her day. We sit around her as she slowly drifts off to sleep, and then continue our conversation in whispers.

One night, we sit downstairs and talk till three in the morning, after the whole household has dozed off. At three, just as we are about to call it a night, down comes Mom, rubbing her eyes. She sits down to remonstrate with us, but gets caught up in the excitement. Finally when we decide to break off, it is five in the morning. Luckily, the next day is a Sunday.

The break comes to an end all too soon. It is time for me to leave, and I do so with the mock-warning, “Don’t have fun without me!” In two days, our middle sister will also leave. But these are some of the wonderful moments that get crystallized in our hearts; the hearty guffaws, the punny ‘jokelies’ that hit rock bottom, the little gossip sessions that hurt no one, the serious discussions that enrich our minds, giving a piece of our minds to the errant maids, and the warmth that surrounds us all because of the presence of Mom, who has always been a beacon in our lives. She it is who has kept us together, she it is who has pulled the strings that hold us in tandem, and she it is who has made home a word that draws us back, again and again.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Better to Wink at Life by Kamran Ahmad

The title gives you a hint of what this light-hearted book is all about. 'Better to Wink at Life’ is a compilation of Kamran Ahmad’s thoughts, experiences and memories, all held together with the glue of good humour and irony. As one wades into the narrative, one is bombarded with amusing situations peppered with snappy comebacks and quirky lines. The quote, “Of all the things I have lost, I miss my mind the most,” sets the tone for the writing, and prepares the reader to expect many more such witty missiles.

That the author has a well-entrenched funny bone is obvious, but what is even more so is the fact that he has an equally witty better half, “a lady endowed with a wonderful sense of humour” as he himself acknowledges. He refers to her as “a duchess of drama and a bundle of conflicts” but it is apparent that she is the one who makes his life fun and exciting. Her observations about him are often nonchalant and acerbic, causing him to mock-lament, 
“It was hard now to stuff the genie of responsibility and cares which marriage let out, back into the bottle.”

Life is imbued with light moments, be it a reference to college flings, with “beguiling flirtations, juicy gossip and some love affairs”, sowing one’s wild oats, “Alas, the charade of our decency fell apart like a house of cards before the tempest of our animal impulses”, or casting a glad eye around only to find “she looked like thistledown wafting in a world of dreams”. Hen parties are also a fertile hunting ground for his gentle wisecracks.

 Kamran Ahmed lets go of no opportunity to gently poke fun at people around him. For example, “A bachelor is a thing of beauty and a boy forever.” This is how he describes a rich, happy-go-lucky friend of his. About a young relative, he remarks, “His appearance during (his) waking hours should be described as ‘from bed to worse’ and he is as unsociable as a bear.” Whether it is a description of his “horizontally well-endowed brother” or his bewildered colleague, ‘Anwar Khan’, who could be dubbed ‘Unaware Khan’, the author has perfected the art of witticisms.

However, there is a deep-rooted philosophy that peeps from behind the good humour. The writer, “a combat-weary sailor in search of calmer waters” goes on to remark that “in a sophisticated world of false appearances, double dealings and camouflaged intentions, I was a misfit and craved escape”. He wonders, “Why have we chosen to become prisoners in the windowless dome of our egos? A different world, it could be argued, cannot be built by indifferent people.”

Thus, this is a book that is written with “a disarming forthrightness coupled with a self-effacing humour” as the author strives to make sense of the foibles of daily life. Maybe, that is why he exclaims, “Ah! Our life is but a speck and our stay on earth but insignificant moments in the infinite design of cosmic mystery,” even as he waxes eloquent on “fireflies blinking and twinkling through the trees under a gibbous moon.”

As they say, “People with a good sense of humour have a better sense of life.”

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Grow up Messy by Paromita Goswami

A Hilarious Coming of Age Series Book 1

How is it possible not to fall in love with a five-year old named Misry, who ends up being called Messy because she is anything but tidy? Her many endearing traits make her adorable, but she has her moments of mischief that get her into trouble often. Befriending children who are older than herself, asking crazy questions and craving the company of children apart from her cousin, Raju, Messy has a mind of her own which makes her do exactly what she wants to do. She is fearless, and does not shrink from waging war with Bheeru and the other village kids.

However, there is another side of Messy as well, her fear of ghosts which prevents her from sleeping during the day. She enjoys listening to her father, Anurag, who regales her with bedtime stories of the BSF and others filled with adventure. Her mother, Madhavi, takes over this task when her father is not around, which is often.

 Misry misses her father when he is away, patrolling the borders. But at a young age, she understands that he has to go away in order to keep her, and children like her, safe.

Amusing incidents abound in this delightful book. The appearance of the baby gibbon, Hoolock, addicted to fruits, the excitement of meeting the handsome ‘Raja’, the bungled attempt to pilfer ripe mangoes and litchis and leading a blind-folded Bheeru into a pile of slushy cow dung, all make for a perfect background for the high-spirited little girl, loved by all.

Paromita Goswami paints a picture of life in the Border Security Force, where major festivals like Durga Puja are celebrated with great gusto. Messy’s love for animals, especially goats, comes across, especially in the Meru episode. Her love for lungar (the cookhouse) food and the warmth she experiences from the jawans who love her because they miss their own children, is truly heart-warming.

Messy’s innocence comes through when she believes that God gave mothers superpowers so that they could take care of their children from the Oogly Boogly. Her school days are also amusing, as her friends and teachers try to discipline the spirited young girl. When she finally gets her Talking Doll, her excitement knows no bounds.

Her relationship with her grandfather (Dadu), her rivalry with her twin cousins who look like divas, and the ceremonies surrounding her aunt, Pallavi’s wedding, bring out further nuances of the little girl’s stellar personality. 

The pun in the title adds on to the playfulness of the book. Paromita has a style of writing that is effortless and breezy, so vital in a book which has a tiny, pint-sized heroine so full of life.

At the end of the book, the reader is left with only one plea. “Please don’t grow up, Messy.”

Friday, July 7, 2017

Hey, You need to Behave like a Grandma Now!

Ah, well, I was wondering when the above comment was going to hit me like a ton of bricks! Nor was I disappointed, for, even when my little granddaughter was not even a twinkle in the eye of her parents, (the actual moment was when my daughter was standing with her brand new husband on stage for her reception!), I heard a sonorous voice behind me rumble. “Ah, well! You will soon need to behave like a grandma!”

“Huh?” I was flummoxed for the moment, and tongue-tied. How on earth do you respond to comments like that? By the time I had thought up a suitable rejoinder, the sonorous voice was busy giving free, fatal advice elsewhere.

Let me tell you at the start, I have always been happy with the person I am. Maybe a trifle crazy (blame my family and friends for that!), sometimes a bit blunt (a Saggi trait) and always ready for a lark, followed by a laugh. After all, even the Bard got it right when he said,

 "We are such stuff/ 
As dreams are made on; and our little life/ Is rounded with a sleep."

Who are we, mere mortals to disagree with that? So I have taken it upon myself to live it up till my life is rounded with a sleep. However, nothing in life does go the way you expect it to. So there come the thunderbolts, followed by the tempests which drizzle away into light showers, and those beautiful sunny days when God is in His Heaven. 

Coming back to the grandma remark, I marvel at the tenacity of the human race, where certain members with the hides of a rhinoceros (I have no idea what the plural of the animal is), come up to me with the familiarity of having taken my baby version in their laps and having named me themselves. (OK, that is a quaint idiom in Kerala which sounds better in Malayalam, I grant!) 

When my sisters were born, one after the other, a tall spindly aunt came up to me. "Ah, well, now you will have to behave like an elder sister." Words well calculated to bring out the green-eyed monster lurking within. 

After I metamorphosed from Army brat to Army wife, it was like shifting home to home. One evening, I wore my favourite blue jeans and a smart top to visit a senior officer and his wife. They looked me up and down, and as the evening progressed, I was aware of a cold vibe that quite baffled me. Later my exuberant young husband was hauled up. "Ah, well, your wife needs to behave like a lady wife."

Two years later, we had a visit from the stork, and life could not be more idyllic. When our pretty daughter was born, loads of "Ah, well" comments came whizzing by. 

"Ah, well, better luck next time! You need a son to complete your family." 

And "Ah, well, isn't it time you planned your next? There should be a minimum gap of three years between the two." Sound practical advice from a lady who had six daughters, whose oldest one was just four years younger than me. 
We didn't really think it necessary to tell her that our family was as complete as it could be. There was nothing she could do about it, in any case. 

As my daughter grew, I got back to wearing my jeans again, especially now that we were at a safe distance from the aforesaid senior officer. Now the comments were less barbed, more like compliments even. "Ah, well, when will you start looking like a mom?" I would usually smile and reply, "When my mom starts looking like a grandmom." A statement that often elicited a smile and a nod from those who knew my mother.

Then came the age of burgundy, when my hair began to act temperamental, and send up strands of grey, like truant blades of grass in a manicured garden. One lady, who had no sense of personal space, peered at my grey, and muttered, "Gosh, you look older than your mother." 

"Time to dye!" I exclaimed to the horrified lady and I rushed to a salon, trying to push my way towards the various hair products that stood in a tantalizing line. Obviously, the whole world, and its wife, had the same idea. I finally emerged, my hair shining in burgundy hues, almost purple in the sunshine, elated with the transformation. 

That evening, I bumped into an acquaintance, who looked through me. "Hi!" I ventured warily, wondering what on earth I had done wrong. "Hi," she replied, vaguely casting a glance at me. Suddenly her expression turned animated, and I was trumped. "What have you done to yourself? You look like a carrot top!"

 "Uhh, burgundy top, actually," I muttered. It was a matter of wounded pride, after all.

"Ah, well, when will you start behaving like the mother of a teenager?" she answered crossly, casting a furtive look at her own halo of grey. Probably never, I said to myself, but I wasn't going to upset her further.

 Of course, it doesn't all stop there. Today, I have an adorable granddaughter who keeps us young with all the joy she has brought us. God bless her!

Maybe I have grown up over the decades. I still walk around in my jeans, sport burgundy hair and funky glasses doing things that make people's brows go up. I post silly updates, take part in all those inane, feel-good Facebook quizzes, crack up at jokes that would make a hyena laugh, and have a jolly good time with my friends and family. 

No longer does it daunt me when someone asks, "Ah, well, when are you going to behave like a grandma?" For tomorrow, when I am on my death bed, I am quite sure that another inquisitive soul will stand right over me (no sense of personal space even then) and say in a stage whisper, "Ah, well, when will she finally stop dyeing?"

Still in blue jeans... sorry, grey ones! :)

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Rice Plate - 16 Flavours of Life by Kshitiz Sudhakar

Rice Plate - 16 Flavours of Life (StoryMirror)

A rice plate is a melange of food items, set off by colours that make each dish unique. The palate gets to taste a mind-boggling variety, as the salty, the sweet, the sour and the bitter come together in a wholesome blend. This is probably what story teller, Kshitiz Sudhakar, tries to convey in his anthology ‘Rice Plate – 16 Flavours of Life’. The idea is a wonderful one, but how far does the young man go to achieve this?
Dishes: As far as the variety goes, the reader is not disappointed. From an over-ambitious writer-turned-actor who can do anything for an audition (The Stolen Opportunity), to an atheist who discusses the process of life with the gods (Four Gods and an Atheist), from an interesting dialogue between comic creator, Andy and his creation (Andy and the Andyman) to a philosophical conversation between three dogs who met in Heaven (Jhonny, Sherru and Kevin), the themes are varied.
Flavours: What gives life to food are the flavours that entice and regale. In this book, the flavours are myriad. There is the milk of kindness in ‘The Lost Old Man’ and ‘The Second Life’, the latter a story which could have taken a totally different form. For the writer does not shy away from the erotic in ‘The Erotic Death’.
‘Sweet Antipathy’ goes up the path of revenge, but stops short, just in time, unlike the bitter ‘Revengeful Sin’ where the mystery unravels, ending with a twist in the tale. ‘Weed-ster’ tells the tale of a man who falls, and is punished for his weakness, proving that one reaps what he sows.
Two stories that reveal a sense of candour are ‘The Chicken and Mutton Story’ and ‘Confessions of a Child Household Worker’ where facts are conveyed, in a non-emotional manner.
However, there are two stories that stand out because they are steeped in poignancy. ‘A Ten Rupee Note’ is one of the sweetest stories in the book, told with a kind of innocence that wrings the heart of the reader. The other ‘Guilty or Not’ leaves the reader with a sense of deep sorrow, ending as it does on a note of regret.
The writer travels into a different world in his two stories ‘Asswatthama’s Salvation’ and ‘Shiva’s Escape’, maybe to delve into the modern-day fascination with mythology.
The Aftermath: What remains at the end of a meal is the way the person who has savoured it feels.
The book is an unusual one, with a theme that is intriguing. However, it does abound with punctuation glitches and grammatical woes that should have been cleaned up during its editing. The language, which is otherwise good, tends to turn a wee bit casual in some of the stories, which takes away from its content. Also, a cover that reflected the idea of a rice plate would have been a treat for the eyes.
Verdict: A book that deserves to be read, one story at a time, to taste the individual flavours!

Friday, June 30, 2017

Onaatah – of the earth - Paulami DuttaGupta

A girl muses over her own reflection on a highly polished table, an image which stays with you while you read her story. After the book is read, you continue to see the image, even as its poignancy hits you. For Onaatah – of the earth, portrayed through the sensitive pen of Paulami DuttaGupta is a narrative dedicated to the daughters of the earth, many of whom go through the throes of suffering, and emerge, phoenix-like, stronger than ever. The process is difficult, the path thorny, but often, their own strength, and the strength of those around, aid them to regain their faith in humanity.

So it is with Onaatah, an overworked nurse, with a non-existent social life, who remarks that good old Shillong “is the most peaceful city I could think of”.  She has everything to look forward to... a satisfying career, Peter, her fiancĂ©, who appears to dote on her and a hazy idea of overturning the tradition of having her husband live in her house after marriage. They decide to live in a cosy little flat, much to the horror of Peter’s mother who laments that this young generation is hell-bent on changing customs.

One evening, Onaatah is returning home after administering an injection to her friend, Sarah’s, mother. Unable to find a taxi, she decides to walk home. “Onaatah had always found stories in these roads. The shadows of old pine trees, the old houses and new buildings, the lampposts... all of them had stories, experiences of years. Who knew Shillong more than them?”

Amidst these pleasant thoughts, in a split-second, her life turns around, as brutality and violence reign supreme. In that one moment, all her dreams come crashing to the ground, as she herself does.

Many vital questions are asked in the book, many by men themselves. Mr. Kharpuri, Onaatah’s grief-stricken father, asks the men who have saved his daughter’s life, “Every time I see a woman going through sexual violence, I wonder why are we men not revolting? Why do we let men get away?” How often have we heard the very same words repeated by men who have undergone similar tragedies?

Onaatah comes across as a strong-willed girl who relives the nightmare often, but shows the courage to fight for justice, not just for herself, but for the sisterhood as well. Her family stands by her, trying to keep up a brave front, but Peter and his mother react predictably enough. Peter tries to make her “see sense”.
“See, Onaatah, in our society a murderer or a terror suspect is accepted but... not a rape victim. People will tear you apart.” He is just a symbol of a patriarchal society that puts the blame, as well as the shame, on women.

Unable to accept the sympathy in people’s eyes, or douse the screams within her mind, she waits till the perpetrators are booked. However, everyday something breaks within her, and she tells herself, “I cannot live with a version of myself that I can’t relate to.”

Luckily she has a place to seek refuge in, as she takes a trip to her Uncle Khrawbor’s village, a home that she has always loved, where her Uncle and her Aunt have always treated her like their own, bubbling over with positivity.

It is in this tiny village, where her Uncle is the headman, that Onaatah’s process of healing begins, as she slips into a simpler lifestyle. Many interesting characters come into her life; the resourceful Duh with his passion for music, his practical grandmother who is always ready with sound advice, Charming, the bubble-headed young man who meanders his way towards responsibility, his lady-love, the charming Dariti, and the enigmatic yet optimistic Dondor, who teaches Onaatah the essence of life through his way of living it. Dondor comes across as one of the most interesting characters here.

It is also here that she realizes that problems are universal, and the dilemmas of family honour, marrying out of community and fixed mindsets are as acute, even in tiny villages.  However, as she lives amongst folks who accept her for what she is, she discovers a silent power within herself. She forges new relationships and finds a whole new family in the village.

Many harsh truths are enunciated in the book. “Rape is a part of our culture. Rape jokes, rape analogies and raped bodies – we have silently accepted all of it,” Onaatah says to Destina, a family friend and lawyer. An even sadder thought arises in her mind. “A rape victim is already dead for the society.”

However, Onaatah climbs gradually from despair and frustration, to a state of mind in which she accepts that she needs to move on. She regains her faith, aware that life is too short to bear grudges. When she finally crosses the dark tunnel, and emerges bathed in light, a survivor and not a victim, she becomes an inspiration for myriads. And that is the true triumph of the novel, and its creator.

Onaatah is the book adaptation of a National Award winning film in Khasi. The trailer of the movie is picturesque and heartwarming.


Paulami DuttaGupta 

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Charismatic as Ever - Jayant Kripalani

CANTILEVERED TALES  (From the Readomania stable)

When Jayant Kripalani agreed to answer a few questions of mine, I was elated for two main reasons. In our salad days, my friends and I would watch him avidly in TV serials like Khandaan and Mr ya Mrs, and swoon over his clipped accent and charm. We even enjoyed his ‘gale mein kich kich’ Vicks advertisement! J

Secondly, I was quite sure that his responses to my questions would be far from run-of-the-mill, and I was not disappointed. He still retains the witty humour he was so well known for. If you feel that I have a smile on my face when I say this, do go ahead and enjoy his tongue-in-cheek answers. A certain TV host might not smile, though! J

And so, off we go...

1. Theatre, advertisements, films, books, corporate training... you have done it all! Which one of these did you enjoy the most?

Hard to tell! One got so completely involved in whatever one was doing;  some uncertainty creeps in at the thought of putting a percentage on enjoyment. They were all, as my son used to say as a child, ‘blaady fun’.

       2.  How did ‘Cantilevered Tales’ come about? Why did you finally choose this name and what significance does it have as far as your book is concerned?

I was on my way back from somewhere by train, and at Howrah Station, a group of taxi drivers tried to extort a higher fare from me.  This was before the time of pre-paid taxi booths. So rather than shell out five times the fare, I thought I’d take a bus. It was peak hour in the morning and though I did get a seat since the bus started from there, I hadn’t calculated the length of time I’d be sitting in the bus on the bridge.

Forty-five minutes of inching along later, I heard a voice behind me say, with a mixture of disgust and boredom, “Aita ki Haora Bridge na Laora Bridge?” I knew exactly what he meant. (I’ve told this story so many times I’ve got it memorized. I wish I could remember my lines as an actor with such ease.)

I knew then that I had the beginning for a story. I became friends with the man, got him to talk about himself and the tedium of his life. It might have been tedious for him. For me, the lives of ordinary, seemingly boring people are far more interesting than the lives of politicians and or film stars.

And that was how Cantilevered Tales began. In fact, the bus ride was the journey from which I took off on a tangent. And many tangents later, here we are!
The working title of the book was “Aita ki Haora Bridge na Laora Bridge” but better sense prevailed.

Why 'Cantilevered Tales? I guess because the book had its genesis on a bridge. A cantilevered one, as Howrah is partially a cantilevered bridge. But also, a cantilever is a projecting beam or girder supported only at one end. So are most of the characters  and their stories. They are all firmly rooted, but only at one end. There is something rather flaky and 'floaty', if I may use the word, about them. And in their own ways, their characters have been inspired by some very 'cantilevered characters' I've met in this city in the last three or four years.

        3.  In both, ‘New Market Tales’ and ‘Cantilevered Tales’, how did you pin-point your characters? Do you write about real people or do you pepper your descriptions with fiction to make them more interesting?

To quote from a song by Kris Kristofferson –
“He is a walking contradiction
Partly truth and partly fiction…”
I might see a character trait in someone that can trigger a whole history, and usually does, as in the case of Banshi Mama in CT. I met this man whose prime function in life was ‘sewaor service, and Banshi Mama was born. Giving him a believable story was partly research and largely imagination. To rephrase Kristofferson, ‘partly truth and mostly fiction’ would be better.

4.   Do you have the seeds of an idea for your next book?

Of course! And no, I’m not going to share the idea with you!

5.  Have we lost our sense of fun, considering that everyone around has corns to be trodden on? Are we too serious about everything in life? When was the last time you did something purely for fun? 

Oh, yes! We have become a grim species, but I don't believe we've become serious about life. I just think we take ourselves too seriously. And therefore, we sometimes forget to laugh at ourselves.
I do everything for fun, so I don't really feel competent to answer the second part of your question. Besides, having fun is a serious business, don't you think? :) 

6.  It has been said that he is no fool that plays the part. How tough is it to bring comedy into what you do, be it acting, directing or writing? Do great artistes have to have seeds of eccentricity within them to create great art?

Not being a great artiste, I wouldn’t know how to answer that question. But, comedy? It’s easy to bring comedy into any work. Why do you think there is a plethora of stand-up comics around? Because everything is so bloody hilarious!

 7. Today the most entertaining channels are the news channels... they have everything that TV series had in the past. Any comment?

Of course, The Repubic (I was going to correct the typo but decided to let it be) channel takes the cake!

8.   An original Jayant Kripalani quote?

“If you stub a cigarette out in a teacup, life will serve up your tea in an ashtray.”
(This is a filthy habit I had as a bachelor. My wife, bless her, didn’t say a thing, but the next morning I did get my tea served up in an ashtray, and voila, an original Jayant Kripalani quote was born.)

And as I sign off, it is with a sense of delight, for when the larger-than-life image and the real man overlap in a blend of harmony, the star emerges, unscathed by the slings and arrows of life!

To buy 'Cantilevered Tales' from Amazon: