Archive for March, 2019

Hamlet‘ is the most popular Shakespeare play in my home. My mother used to tell Hamlet’s story to me and my sister when we were young. I used to ask her to tell us this story again and again. I don’t know how my mother discovered the story of Hamlet and where she first heard it or read it. Maybe she studied it in school. I don’t think my mother knew about the Laurence Olivier film adaptation of ‘Hamlet‘, because when I discovered it years later after growing up, I got the DVD and watched it with her. It is interesting though, that the story that my mother told was closer to the Laurence Olivier version and the ending in both the stories is the same. In the actual play, there are more events which happen in the end.

You probably know Hamlet’s story, but if you don’t, here is a brief summary. Hamlet is the Prince of Denmark. His father, who is also called Hamlet (it used to be a famous quiz question – What is the name of Hamlet’s father?), has recently passed and his mother marries his uncle, his father’s brother Claudius, and Claudius is now king. Hamlet is uncomfortable with the whole situation and is very unhappy with the haste with which his mother married his uncle. Hamlet’s friend Horatio and some of the guards in the castle spot an apparition in the middle of the night. It looks like the dead king. They alert Hamlet to it. Hamlet joins them the next night. The apparition appears again. It asks Hamlet alone to follow in its footsteps. When they move to a private part of the castle, the ghost tells Hamlet that it is the dead king’s spirit. It also tells Hamlet that the king didn’t die of natural causes but his brother Claudius killed him. The ghost asks Hamlet to take revenge. What happens after this? Does Hamlet take revenge? Are his plans foiled by his uncle, the new king? What happens to his mother? The answers to these questions form the rest of the story.

The first thing I loved about ‘Hamlet‘ is Shakespeare’s prose. It sizzles in every page! It is beautiful, poetic, gorgeous, lush. It is pure pleasure to read. We don’t want to rush through the pages, but we want to savour every sentence, every word, and sometimes read a particular sentence or passage again and again. There was a time when I used to get intimidated by Shakespeare’s prose. I could understand specific lines, phrases and passages, but if I tried reading a few pages, together, it was hard to understand. It was written in Elizabethan, after all. But all that has changed now. I can understand better now and follow Elizabethan English as if it is spoken in my own time. As it is said in Ecclesiastes 3 : 1–8 :

“To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven”

I think this is my time to read Shakespeare properly, from the beginning to the end, and enjoy the Bard’s prose and appreciate its beauty.

It is also delightful and lots of fun to spot all the famous lines and quotes, and the words Shakespeare invented, as they leap out of the page – words and phrases like ‘Neither a borrower nor a lender be‘, ‘Murder most foul‘, ‘There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy‘, ‘Brevity is the soul of wit‘, ‘The lady doth protest too much, methinks‘, and the famous ‘method to his madness‘ phrase, ‘Though this be madness, yet there is method in’t‘. There is, of course, that most famous line of all, probably the most famous Shakespearean line ever, which starts as ‘To be or not to be, that is the question‘. The monologue that follows that is as stirring and as inspiring as it was when I read it the first time. It is one of the greatest monologues ever written and spoken. It still gives me goosebumps.

I read recently in another book (if you are curious, it is in ‘On Cricket’ by Mike Brearley), this passage about Mozart –

“I read recently of Mozart’s support for democracy, not in politics itself, but in the music of his operas. How so? Mozart gave his minor parts complex characters, with complex music. They are not just pawns, either in the plot (content) or in the music they are given to sing (their form). He shifted music away from a hierarchical tradition. Rather than there being a totally dominant top line, with others in unison beneath it, supplementing, harmonizing, fitting in, in short, serving the dominant tune, Mozart gave each instrument and voice a unique line of its own.”

This holds true for Shakespeare too. He is quite democratic too because he gives beautiful lines to all characters, lines which are unique to their personalities. He doesn’t differentiate between them – whether they are major or minor, young or old, good or bad. One of my favourite passages was spoken by Polonius, the father of Ophelia and Laertes, when he gives advice to his son who is leaving for a distant land, to work and live there. It is so beautiful and inspiring. It goes like this.

“There – my blessing with thee!
And these few precepts in thy memory
See thou character. Give thy thoughts no tongue,
Nor any unproportioned thought his act.
Be thou familiar, but by no means vulgar.
Those friends thou hast, and their adoption tried,
Grapple them to thy soul with hoops of steel;
But do not dull thy palm with entertainment
Of each new-hatch’d, unfledged comrade. Beware
Of entrance to a quarrel, but being in,
Bear’t that the opposed may beware of thee.
Give every man thy ear, but few thy voice;
Take each man’s censure, but reserve thy judgment.
Costly thy habit as thy purse can buy,
But not express’d in fancy; rich, not gaudy;
For the apparel oft proclaims the man,
And they in France of the best rank and station
Are of a most select and generous chief in that.
Neither a borrower nor a lender be;
For loan oft loses both itself and friend,
And borrowing dulls the edge of husbandry.
This above all: to thine ownself be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.
Farewell: my blessing season this in thee!”

I used to hate Polonius because I felt that he was trying to breakup Hamlet and Ophelia, but after reading these lines, and other things he says (he also speaks the ‘method to his madness‘ line and also says ‘Brevity is the soul of wit‘), I realize there is more to him than meets the eye.

Even more interesting are the lines that the villain of the story, Claudius, speaks. He speaks one of my favourite Shakespearean lines ever –

“When sorrows come, they come not single spies,
But in battalions.”

I first heard this line when my English professor from college quoted it and it moved me so much that it has been seared in my memory. I have quoted it to so many friends since. I always thought that it was a line from ‘King Lear‘. I was very surprised to discover that it was from ‘Hamlet’. And surprise, surprise, it is spoken by Claudius! Queen Gertrude, Hamlet’s mother follows this up later with lines which express a similar sentiment –

“One woe doth tread upon another’s heel,
So fast they follow.”

Claudius’ insightful lines don’t end here. In another place he shares his thoughts on justice and the law. It goes like this –

“In the corrupted currents of this world
Offense’s gilded hand may shove by justice,
And oft ’tis seen the wicked prize itself
Buys out the law.”

It made me remember one of my favourite lines on justice and law from a book called ‘A Frolic of His Own‘ by William Gaddis

“Justice? – You get justice in the next world, in this world you have the law.”

It is one of the most incredibly powerful first lines in literature, and I wonder whether Gaddis was inspired by Shakespeare.

There is lots of stuff in Shakespeare’s play which is new to me, because they were not there in my mother’s version nor in Laurence Olivier’s version. For example, there are two characters called Rosencrantz and Guildenstern who come in many scenes. I don’t remember them at all. In the end, one of the characters says “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are dead.” There is a play and a movie with this exact same title. I want to watch them and find out how they are connected to Shakespeare’s play. Also, in the play, there is a scene where Hamlet is going by ship to England and the ship is attacked by pirates and many things happen after that. We don’t view these scenes first hand, but they are narrated In a letter written by Hamlet. I can’t remember any of this. Also, in the story I am familiar with, Hamlet dies in the end and the play is over. In Shakespeare’s original version, there are more things happening after that. In the essays which are included in the edition of the play I read, the editors talk about the different versions of ‘Hamlet’ and how some scenes in one version are not there in another version, and how some of the film adaptations have eliminated scenes involving some of the minor characters, and how the ‘complete’ version of the play as presented in this book was never enacted during Shakespeare’s times. It was very fascinating to read.

One of my favourite parts of the book is the scene in which Hamlet gives advice to the actors who are enacting a play in Elsinore castle. I was so inspired by this scene, that once I even wrote a story based on it. Those lines go like this –

“Speak the speech, I pray you, as I pronounced it to
you, trippingly on the tongue: but if you mouth it,
as many of your players do, I had as lief the
town-crier spoke my lines. Nor do not saw the air
too much with your hand, thus, but use all gently;
for in the very torrent, tempest, and, as I may say,
the whirlwind of passion, you must acquire and beget
a temperance that may give it smoothness.”

A little while later, Hamlet’s advice continues like this –

“Be not too tame neither, but let your own discretion
be your tutor: suit the action to the word, the
word to the action; with this special o’erstep not
the modesty of nature: for any thing so overdone is
from the purpose of playing, whose end, both at the
first and now, was and is, to hold, as ’twere, the
mirror up to nature; to show virtue her own feature,
scorn her own image, and the very age and body of
the time his form and pressure.”

For a tragic story, there are many cool, stylish and humorous dialogues with Shakespearean puns in the play. For example, this one :

Polonius : “What do you read, my lord?”
Hamlet : “Words, words, words.”
Polonius : “What is the matter, my lord?”
Hamlet : “Between who?”
Polonius : “I mean, the matter that you read, my lord.”

And this one :

Polonius : “My honorable lord, I will most humbly take my leave of you.”
Hamlet : “You cannot, sir, take from me anything that I will more willingly part withal…”

And this one :

Guildenstern : “Good my lord, vouchsafe me a word with you.”
Hamlet : “Sir, a whole history.”

And this one :

Rosencrantz : “What have you done, my lord, with the dead body?”
Hamlet : “Compounded it with dust, whereto ’tis kin.”

And a page later :

Rosencrantz : “My lord, you must tell us where the body is and go with us to the King.”
Hamlet : “The body is with the King, but the King is not with the body. The King is a thing –”
Guildenstern : “A thing, my lord?”
Hamlet : “Of nothing.”

Towards the end of the play, Horatio speaks these legendary, moving lines –

“Good night, sweet prince,
And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.”

Those lines always make me cry. They made me cry this time too.

The edition of the book I read has a beautiful, insightful introduction (I read it in the end, because it was an analysis of the play), two essays on how ‘Hamlet’ has been performed on the stage and adapted for the screen, the various text versions of ‘Hamlet’ and the differences between them, and an essay on the sources from which Shakespeare borrowed the story of his play. There is an excerpt from one of the sources and it was very fascinating and interesting to read. Shakespeare’s version is, of course, better. As the editor says in the essay :

“From the extensive similarities between ‘Hamlet’ and this German play, we can see that Shakespeare inherited his narrative material almost intact, though in a jumble and so pitifully mangled that the modern reader can only laugh at the contrast. No source study in Shakespeare reveals so clearly the extent of Shakespeare’s wholesale borrowing of plot, and the incredible transformation he achieved in reordering his materials.”

There are many film adaptations of ‘Hamlet‘. I have seen only one, the 1948 version, directed by Laurence Olivier. It is beautiful and brilliant and though it cuts out some of the minor characters and the scenes in which they appear, it is mostly faithful to Shakespeare’s original. It was the first Shakespeare film adaptation to win an Oscar and for a long time it was the only one. Here is the link to the ‘To be or not to be‘ monologue from the film, enacted by the peerless Laurence Olivier.

One of my friends, who majored in film studies, tells me that there is a Russian film adaptation of ‘Hamlet‘, in which the script was translated to Russian by Boris Pasternak and the film was directed by Grigori Kozintsev, and this version is even better than the Laurence Olivier version. It is hard for me to be believe that there is a film adaptation of ‘Hamlet‘ which is better than Laurence Olivier’s. But I trust my friend and hope to watch Grigori Kozintsev’s version sometime.

There is a contemporary novel version of ‘Hamlet‘. It is called ‘The Story of Edgar Sawtelle‘. It is the debut novel of David Wroblewski. It is beautiful and it is one of my favourites. If you like a reimagining of Shakespeare’s plays set in the contemporary era, this is a great book to read.

So, that’s it. That’s the end of my long rambling on Shakespeare’s ‘Hamlet‘ ☺️ Hope you liked it.

Have you read ‘Hamlet‘? Have you watched it enacted on the stage? Which is your favourite film adaptation of this play?

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When I was wondering which book to read next, James Gleick’s biography of Isaac Newton leapt at me. At less than 200 pages, it wasn’t too long, and so I read it in a couple of days.

This book covers all the important events in Isaac Newton’s life, starting from his birth in a farm, when his father was no more, how he ended up in school, how he went to Cambridge University, how his career progressed from there, how he discovered the law of gravitation and the three laws of motion, how he invented Calculus, his spats with famous scientists of his time including Robert Hooke and Gottfried Leibniz, how he became the Lucasian Professor of Mathematics and later became a member of the Royal Society, how he later got the King’s patronage and headed the Mint, and what happened after that.

James Gleick’s style is natural and breezy and the book moves at an easy pace. It is very accessible to readers who find books on science challenging or who avoid such books. If I remember right, there is not a single equation in the book. I loved the depiction of the intellectual fights that Isaac Newton had with Robert Hooke and Gottfried Leibniz. My teenage self hated Robert Hooke and backed Newton in the first fight. But my teenage self also backed Leibniz against Newton in the second fight 😁 (Mostly because Leibniz’ system of Calculus is what we use now, because it is far superior to Newton’s system, which is cumbersome.) After reading this book now, I find my older and more mature self backing Newton in both the disputes. I don’t know whether it is because Newton was the aggrieved party in both the disputes, or whether it is because the book is biased and leans towards Newton. I need to read more on this. The book also doesn’t shy away from some of the darker sides of Newton, like when he becomes the head of the Royal Society, and he runs it like an autocrat.

An interesting thing in the book which I couldn’t stop thinking about was Newton’s relationship with his mother. When Newton was born his father was no more and his mother was a widow. When he was three years old, his mother married a rich man. This rich man wanted a wife, but didn’t want an add-on kid. So according to the arrangements made, Newton was left with his grandmother who brought him up, while his mother went to live with her new husband. Years later, when Newton was ten years old, the rich man died, and Newton’s mother returned back. She was wealthy now as she had inherited her husband’s money. The first thing she did after coming back was send Newton to school which was in a nearby town. Newton ended up boarding with the apothecary in that town and worked part-time there, while in school. When Newton was sixteen, his mother summoned him back home, and asked him to get started on his work as a farmer. Newton hated farm-related work and did badly. Then his mother’s brother stepped in and helped Newton get into Cambridge. Even there, Newton’s mother refused to sponsor Newton’s education properly – he joined as a student in the lowest category. The students in this category “earned their keep by menial service to other students, running errands, waiting on them at meals, and eating their leftovers”. Later, it appears that Newton and his mother kept up a correspondence which was polite and familial, and when his mother suffered from a serious illness, Newton left his work and came back home, and stayed with her till the end. It is a very interesting story of a family. Newton’s mother doesn’t come through with flying colours at all, in that story, because she avoided taking care of him when he was a child, but tried to make him take up responsibility and become a farmer when he became a teenager. This probably led to Newton being introverted, solitary and reclusive all his life – he was never attracted to women, he never married, and he never had close friends, except maybe one or two people in his later life. But his mother also sent him to school and later sent him to Cambridge. If she hadn’t done that, Newton would have stayed in the farm and would have been a careless, below-average farmer. One of the greatest scientists of all time would have been lost in the depths of an English farm. So was Newton’s mother a good parent or a bad parent? What do you think?

One of the amazing things that we discover through the book is that Isaac Newton was an ordinary person with respect to socio-economic circumstances. His father was an illiterate farmer. He was expected to become a farmer too. He didn’t have access to books the way we do. Even when he joined Cambridge, he had one notebook. In those days, paper was valuable, because it was probably handmade, and it was a luxury, if you had one notebook. This was the world that the young Isaac Newton lived in. Living in this world, Newton discovered gravity and invented the beautiful, complex field of Calculus. Calculus was so far ahead of its time that most people didn’t understand it. It is a challenging subject even today, nearly 350 years later – I struggled with Calculus when I first encountered it. As James Gleick describes at the beginning of the book – “I don’t know what I may seem to the world, ” Newton said before he died, “but, as to myself, I seem to have been only like a boy playing on the sea-shore, and diverting myself in now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me.” An evocative simile, much quoted in the centuries that followed, but Newton never played in the seashore, boy or man. Born in a remote country village, the son of an illiterate farmer, he lived in an island nation and explained how the moon and the sun tug at the seas to create tides, but he probably never set eyes on the ocean. He understood the sea by abstraction and computation.” It is amazing how someone who had so little could accomplish so much. It is so inspiring. It offers hope for the rest of us – that we don’t need so much. We need just one or two fresh notebooks, some pens and pencils, some textbooks, some solitude and quiet, lots of intellectual curiosity and passion, and an inclination to work hard. If we have this, we can accomplish one or two things. I get goosebumps just thinking about this.

I loved James Gleick’s biography of Isaac Newton. It is written in spare and breezy prose, the technical content is not too challenging, and the book is very accessible for a general reader.

Have you read this book? What do you think about it?

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I discovered Cathy Rentzenbrink’sA Manual of Heartache‘ through Caroline’s (from ‘Beauty is a Sleeping Cat’) favourite books post. I read it yesterday in one breath.

Cathy Rentzenbrink lost her brother when she was a teenager and she grieved for years and was depressed too. When she came out of it, she wrote her memoir about her experience called ‘The Last Act of Love‘. When people asked her whether they could give her memoir to loved ones who were grieving or who were depressed and whether it would help them cope with their grief and depression (or whether it would sink them more into a deeper spiral of grief and depression), Cathy Rentzenbrink decided to write a second book which offered readers advice on how to help loved ones who are grieving and how to cope with grief and depression and tough situations themselves. This is that book.

Cathy Rentzenbrink describes her book, beautifully, like this –

“I think of this book as a verbal cuddle, or a loving message in a bottle – tossed into the sea to wash up at the feet of someone in need…This is my far from perfect guide on how to be alive in this cruel but beautiful world.”

Cathy Rentzenbrink starts the book by describing what kind of unpleasant situations can happen in one’s life, leading to heartbreak and heartache and grief and depression. She differentiates between heartbreak and heartache thus :

“Perhaps heartbreak is what happens on impact, and heartache is what we are left with as time passes, once the dust settles, when we are able to look up and around us but are still shrouded in sadness.”

She describes such heartbreak inducing events, as grenades which explode in our lives. She describes what happens after the grenade explodes :

“That’s what the grenade moment does. It separates the old life from the new and there will forever be a divide. The blade has come down. Life as we knew it has been detached, truncated. What lies on the other side is both unknowable and unthinkable.”

But, she also offers a glimpse into the future, for those of us who have walked into a grenade explosion.

“There is a world on the other side of the guillotine. It’s not the one you know and the undamaged version of you is lost in time. But there is a life to explore and a new version of you is waiting to walk into it.”

In the initial chapters Cathy Rentzenbrink describes how we can help our loved ones who have had a heartbreak. One of the things she says, which I loved, was that we should avoid saying stuff like ‘Everything happens for a reason‘, or ‘Time is a great healer‘, or ‘What doesn’t kill you will make you stronger‘, or ‘God doesn’t give you more than you can handle.‘ (She expands a little more on ‘Time being a great healer‘ – “I’ve never understood the notion of time being a great healer, because all I ever tried to do was grit my teeth and wait for time to pass or try to distract myself from it, but I missed the point. Time itself doesn’t have magic properties; it’s what you do with the time that matters.“) Because listening to these things doesn’t improve the emotional condition of the person who is grieving. She says that a better way of making loved ones feel better is to just be present for them, offer them unlimited kindness, and listen to them when they talk. I think this is one of the most beautiful pieces of advice given in the book and this is one of my favourite parts of the book.

In the rest of the book Cathy Rentzenbrink describes what we can do when we are grieving or are depressed ourselves. She describes how we can accept grief, how we can cope with it and feel better, how we can chase away depressive thoughts and invite happy thoughts, how we can keep a gratitude journal to make us feel better, how small acts of love and kindness help us in small but significant ways, how we can change unhappy thoughts to happy ones, how to cope with the fear of dying, how reading and writing can make us happier and help us cope with emotionally tough situations.

The advice that Cathy Rentzenbrink offers is practical and easy to follow, and if we put some thought, we can figure it out ourselves. But it is nice to see all of this insightful advice, together, inside in this slim book.

I have seen posts by friends and readers asking for book recommendations which will help a loved one cope with grief, loss, and depression. I was always at a loss when I saw those posts. Now, I think I have found the perfect book which might help them. This is that book.

Have you read Cathy Rentzenbrink’sA Manual for Heartache‘? What do you think about it?

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Selina is in her final year in high school. Her final exams are soon approaching. She is hoping to go to college soon. Her dad passed the previous year and things have been rocky at home since them. Her mother is grieving and Selina misses her dad very much. Her grades at school have also dipped since then. One of their family friends, who teaches at the university, offers to help Selina by giving her lessons in Economics, a subject which she finds the most challenging. The initial lessons go well, but one particular day when his wife is away, the family friend rapes her. He then threatens her, saying that if she tells anyone, he will ruin her life. Selina goes home and keeps quiet and doesn’t tell her mother or anyone else what happened. Meanwhile, for sometime, her mother has been trying to get Selina married. Her mother feels that an unmarried daughter at home is a burden. Selina refuses to agree to that till now, because she wants to go to university and study law and become a human rights lawyer. After this horrible thing happens to her, Selina tries locking away the memories of the incident in the deepest part of her heart and she hopes it stays there. But, unfortunately, it rears its head, surprisingly, a few weeks later, when Selina discovers that she is pregnant. She doesn’t know what to do, because she hasn’t told anyone what happened. She is afraid what would happen if her mother or other people discover that she is pregnant. To tide over this crisis, she tells her mother that she is ready to get married. Does Selina get married? Does her new husband discover her secret? Does she meet again the man who perpetrated this violence on her? Does she get justice? Is Selina able to survive all this and live a happy life? The answers to these questions form the rest of the book.

Stained‘ is a gripping book. It grabs the reader’s attention from the first page and refuses to let go till the last page. The story takes the reader on a roller coaster ride as we don’t know what is going to happen next, and we hope and pray that Selina survives the ordeal. Abda Khan’s prose is spare and it makes the story flow smoothly like a river. Abda Khan is a human rights lawyer herself and her writings and talks are focused on themes related to her work, especially the rights that women have and how they can take the help of the legal system to protect their rights. The parts of the story which talk about that are beautifully written. There are also beautiful descriptions of Pakistani culture in the book – the description of a Pakistani wedding is beautiful and is a pleasure to read, and it is almost like watching the Bollywood movie ‘Hum Aapke Hain Kaun‘; the description of food makes us almost smell the fragrant aroma wafting from the kitchen and makes us yearn for those delicious dishes. The book is very Pakistani / South Asian in some ways. For example, a Western reader might wonder why Selina didn’t go to the police and file a complaint, when she was raped. A South Asian reader will understand why she didn’t – going to the police would mean revealing something very private to the world and people will avoid doing it at all costs. A Western reader will believe that the police is out there to help the common person. A South Asian reader will regard the police with suspicion – in some places, entering a police station itself would be regarded as something which results in the loss of dignity for the family and the individual concerned. Hopefully readers who read the story with a Western sensibility will be able to get the subtleties of culture depicted in it.

I loved ‘Stained‘. I have wanted to read it for a while, and I am glad I finally read it. It is a moving story of the struggles faced by a young woman who suffers violence at the hands of a perpetrator and what she does to survive the ordeal. It is also a story about family, friendship and love. Abda Khan’s new novel ‘Razia‘ is coming out in July and I can’t wait to read it.

I will leave you with two of my favourite passages from the book.

“I breathed the scent of home deep into my lungs. I smelt a homey fragrance that exudes an underlying security you find nowhere else. I breathed in a calm serenity that only your home can give you. I inhaled the delicate scent of inner peace; if you search for it, you will surely find it here, I concluded. Home was not the place. I knew that now. Home was the people. My people. My family. I had missed them all so much.”

“I missed my mum’s home cooking. No amount of fine dining could ever compare to her dishes, which tasted of that unique combination of years of heritage and experience infused with the love that only a mother can impart into the food she prepares for her children.”

Have you read Abda Khan’sStained‘? What do you think about it?

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The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly‘ by Sun-Mi Hwang was highly recommended to me by Claire from Word by Word and another friend. I borrowed it from this other friend and read it in one breath today.

Sprout is a hen who lives in a farm. She is reared for the eggs she lays. Her dream is to get out of the enclosure she is in, go and walk around the yard outside, lay eggs and watch chicks hatch out of them, and bring up her little ones. But the humans who keep her, take away her eggs, as soon as she lays them. One day she stops laying eggs. The humans feel that her time is up and throw her and other hens, who have stopped laying eggs, into a pit. There a weasel is eyeing her as a potential next meal. But a mallard duck called Straggler helps her out and takes her to his barn and provides her temporary accommodation. But the other birds and animals in the barn compel her to leave the next day. Sprout leaves the security of the barn, goes outside finds her own food and lives a freespirited life – a life which is unusual for hens. One day she discovers an egg. It appears to be freshly laid. Deep feelings gush our of her and she decides to sit on the egg to make it hatch. At some point her friend Straggler finds her there and he helps her with food. When the incubation period is over, the egg hatches. A small bird comes out of it. Sprout thinks that it is a strange-looking chicken. She loves her baby very much. What happens after that is amazing.

I can continue telling the story till the end, but I will stop here. I will let you read it for yourself and experience the pleasure and the joy it has to offer.

I loved ‘The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly‘. It is a beautiful book about a mother and her baby, about the joys and challenges of parenting, about how the only way to parent our kids is to unconditionally love them, nurture them, help them see their true selves and realize their potential, not hold them back but help them to fly high, and if they come back enjoy their homecoming, and if they don’t, be satisfied that one has done a good job. Parenting is the most difficult job in the world, and the most selfless, but also the most beautiful and the most rewarding. Sprout shows how she is an awesome mom and though her baby is very different from her, she helps him see his true self and realize his potential. There is atleast one surprise in store for the reader towards the end, and when I reached the last page, I cried, because all beautiful things have to come to an end. But as Ellie Harp says in ‘One Tree Hill‘ – “Every song has a coda, a final movement. Whether it fades out or crashes away, every song ends. Is that any reason not to enjoy the music?” I enjoyed this particular music composed so beautifully by Sun-Mi Hwang, singing the glories of the beautiful life of the awesome mom Sprout and her beloved baby.

The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly‘ is a beautiful book which will uplift your spirits when you are down, and if you are feeling uplifted already, it will make your spirits soar high. Go read it ☺️

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I discovered Reema Zaman’s memoir, ‘I Am Yours‘, recently and I was excited to read it.

In the book, Reema Zaman tells the story of her life, by narrating it to her imaginary friend from childhood. She describes how her parents got married, how her mother was a talented, literary person before she got married while still a student, about her own birth, about how her father first moved to Hawaii and then to Thailand on work, taking his family with him, how Reema Zaman grew up there as a child and then as a pre-teen and then as a teen, how she moved to America for college, how she tried becoming an actress and an artist, how she fell in love and got married and what happened after that and how she ended up writing this book. During the course of this journey Zaman also describes her relationship with her parents and her siblings, the relationship between her parents, how she was bullied in school and how the people who bullied her found her attractive and tried to get close to her when she became a teenager, how her teachers inspired her, how one of her best friends assaulted her, how hard it was to be an aspiring actress when work was hard to come by, how children showed her the power of love.

I found many things fascinating in the book. For example, the description of her Bangladeshi family was quite interesting – how her mother made all the sacrifices but was mostly treated badly by her father, and how when she complained sometimes, he told her that she can leave the house if didn’t like it there. This is the typical, cruel line that patriarchal husbands, especially of the South Asian kind, tell their wives, to hurt them, and to make them realize on which side the power lay in the household. I have heard this line spoken so many times and it was interesting to see it described in this book too. Zaman’s mother threatens to leave her husband many times, but is not able to, because of the stigma attached to it. But at some point when she does it – the unthinkable, in Bangladeshi culture – we cheer for her. And when she flowers as a human being after she frees herself from the clutches of the patriarchy and finds happiness and joy and love, we all delight in it. There is, of course, a popular opinion, that if one moves out of South Asia (or a similar kind of region) and migrates to the West, life is hunky-dory and all dreams come true. Zaman contrasts this popular opinion with her own life. She falls in love and gets married to an American and after the initial honeymoon is over, we discover that her new husband inflicts pain on her in different ways, different from the way her father inflicts on her mother, but it is pain nevertheless. It just shows that patriarchy is alive everywhere, and if there is a kind of inequality among two partners and the power is on the man’s side, he might use that situation and inflict pain on his wife. There is a scene towards the ending of a movie called ‘Snake Eyes‘. A young woman and a cop expose corruption in a deal between an arms manufacturer and the Navy. The young woman then tells the cop that everything is going to change for the better. To which, our cop, who is a wise man, replies – “You know, they say back years ago… pirates put phoney lighthouses right out by those big rocks, right out there. Ships would set a course by the lights, crash on the rocks, then everybody’d go out and rob ’em blind. Only one thing’s changed since then – Iights are brighter.” I remembered this when I read the book. Marriages sometimes seem to be similar to this. It doesn’t matter which country one belongs to, where one lives in, the lights might be brighter, but the marriage is the same. It is the same age-old thing with the patriarchy inflicting pain and undermining a woman who is married. I don’t know why some married people continue to inflict pain on each other when a better option is available. What can be gained by inflicting pain? Atleast the pirates are getting some loot. What is the purpose of inflicting pain, especially the kind husbands inflict on wives? What can be gained from this? It never ceases to amaze me and puzzle me and anger me. Reema Zaman’s book offers a very perceptive commentary on the state of the marriage by exploring marriages of different kinds. To balance things out, she also depicts a happy marriage, when her mother falls in love and marries again and her new husband is gentle and kind and loving, and how Zaman and her siblings fall in love with him – it is so beautiful to read. When Reema Zaman tells her new stepdad during Christmas – “For my present, may I call you ‘Dad’?” – her new dad cries and so do we.

Another thing I loved about the book is the narrator’s voice – how it is a child’s voice initially, and how it gets transformed into a pre-teen’s voice, a teenager’s voice and then a young woman’s voice. It is beautiful to see this transformation across the book. Two of my favourite passages are narrated by the child, Reema Zaman, and they go like this :

“I am 3. I know some things, but I don’t know many. I know crayons don’t taste like their names. A name is a word, and a word is different from a promise. I know I don’t like loud. At home it is happy and quiet and then loud. Loud makes my head hurt. It is happy, quiet, loud, and then quiet again. Sometimes it is so quiet, it is loud. That hurts too.”

“Momma is crying again. She is trying to hide, but I am too good at seeing. I am small so I can see from everywhere. There are many places to hug her because I always fit. There are many ways to love Momma. Hugs, drawings, staying asleep until 7 a.m. and going to bed at 7 p.m. There are many ways to love me because I still need help with things like tying shoelaces and making the slanted leg on the letter R. Momma takes care of all that to let me know she sees me. I ask Momma who God is. She says, “The one who made all things and takes care of all of us.” This makes me laugh. I don’t know why Momma has two names. God and her real name, Momma. How silly.”

Reema Zaman’s prose is beautiful, soft, gentle, lyrical. Though the book deals with some heavy themes, the prose and tone are gentle and serene, and they soften the blow, and they calm the heart.

One more fascinating about the book is that Reema Zaman follows ‘The Transporter’s’ Rule #2 – “No Names”. None of the characters who appear in the book have names – or rather the author doesn’t reveal their names. This is another minimalistic way of writing, like Cormac McCarthy not using punctuation marks. It is really interesting because we may not really notice this while reading the book, and even if we do, it doesn’t really bother us. Though sometimes we wonder who Reema Zaman’s father’s cousin was, who was the Bangladeshi Prime Minister, and who was the tennis legend whose kids Reema Zaman babysat. It just shows that characters don’t need to have names in a story and people don’t need to have names in a memoir, and we can still understand the story, differentiate between the characters, and appreciate the book. It is a fascinating thing to ponder about.

Towards the end of the book, Zaman depicts the power of love through the eyes of children, and it is so beautiful to read. There is one passage, which made me smile. It goes like this :

“Although they’re exhausting, I love my toddlers. They care not a whit about my intelligence, attractiveness, talent, possibilities, or lack thereof. They desire only that I be present. That I give them authentic hugs and closeness, eye contact, and affection. Walking home one night, I realize why I’m so happy and fulfilled these days: giving is synonymous with my truth. With the children, with this book, I’m living as my complete self. Cheryl Strayed writes that her mother would say, to heal, grow, and nurture joy, “Put yourself in the way of beauty.” I like to think that includes service—another manifestation of beauty.”

I loved ‘I Am Yours‘. It is a beautiful book about life, love, family, growing up, pursuing one’s dreams, heartbreak, healing and everything else in-between which is a part of life. It explores some important, intense themes, but it does that in a beautiful, gentle language, which is a pleasure to read. It shows the importance of speaking in one’s voice and depicts the power of love.

I will leave you with some of my favourite passages from the book.

“The idiom everything happens for a reason has never sat well with me. One cannot blurt “everything happens for a reason” to a person who has just lost a loved one, been raped, or been diagnosed with cancer. “Everything happens for a reason” sounds passive, as though all the power in one’s narrative has been surrendered into the hands of others, or, to life’s harsh whims and winds, to decide one’s path, destiny, identity, and sense of self. The truth I prefer is only I assign my experiences their reasons.”

“The foremost and simplest reason we chose the heart as our symbol for love is that our mother’s heartbeat is our original song. Our first inkling that someone is here, with me, and I belong to her. Our mother is our first person in the dark. Perhaps it is off that sublime sensation and memory that we then search for a similar bond, with a future, special person. To be separate yet together, entwined while individual, hearts slipping into sync.”

“I have learned all individuals are beautiful on their own but certain combinations can be catastrophic. Like books and water. Both are vital and life-renewing, but together, they promise tragedy.”

“We tend to think deaths and events are all that require grieving, but selves, choices, habits, and relationships we’ve known, they need loving rituals of healing as well. The speed at which life demands we run, simply to make it to the next day, makes it difficult to see them through. Wounds tally. Addictions anesthetize the pain. We try to stitch while moving. But life’s racing pace continually tears open old scars and mangles the new ones. Mending-while-enduring is well meant but ultimately futile, the sutures never tight enough to hold.”

“Oregon boasts all kinds of rain. There is drizzle, so light it sounds like gentle static. It settles on your skin like the shyest kiss. There is lush rain made of fat droplets, so rotund you see them clearly. There is hail in the winter, chilling and aloof, paying me no regard as I run, delivering winds that lift me off the ground. Finally there are summer storms brought by clouds that pass and return swiftly, growing loud then soft with lusty arrogance, making the earth and me swoon, loving every second. The rain is right: if you are to do something, do it well and do it boldly.”

“Language births art, literature, dance, theater, and bedtime stories. Language, science has proven, shapes the way we formulate thoughts. Language sculpts the fables we mine for morals, the idioms that guide us, the jokes we tell to lift the rains. The speeches and anthems that teach us values, inspire our courage, and charge our souls. The lullabies we sing to our children to soothe their fears and make them kind. The poetry we weave around a lover. Words shape thoughts, thoughts breed action, actions create identity, identity directs legacy. We are our words.”

Have you read Reema Zaman’sI Am Yours‘? What do you think about it?

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Waiting for Jazz and other stories‘ is a collection of thirteen stories by Amishi Batha.

The first story in the collection, ‘Friendship‘, is about two friends. One of them is in the hospital emergency room in a coma and the second one is watching over him with both their families. This second friend narrates the story and takes us back to the past and describes how these two met and became friends and how their friendship evolved and how they ended up in the hospital in this state. It looked like a straightforward story of friendship, but when the last passage arrived – Wow! What is that? The twist that Amishi Batha throws at us is stunning and we don’t see it coming! It would have made O’Henry and Roald Dahl proud.

When I started reading the second story ‘Waiting for Jazz‘, I kept a close eye on the story. I wanted to catch the surprise in advance, this time. Because as they say, “If you fool me once, shame on you, but if you fool me twice, shame on me.” ‘Waiting for Jazz‘ is about a grandfather who is sitting in the courtyard of a cafe, sipping tea and having pie and chatting with the café owner Betty, and telling us about his granddaughter Jazz, while he is waiting for her. We learn about their relationship which is beautiful, and we also learn about the friendship between the grandpa and the café owners. And the story reaches the last page. I thought – “Okay. Nothing much can happen now. This story is beautiful. That’s it.” But then, Bam! We don’t even know when the revelation hits us! It is so amazing!

The third story ‘Story for Grandma‘ starts in an unassuming way. The narrator is trying to get some sleep. She just had a fight with her grandmother and left the dinner table in a huff. Her grandmother comes to her room to make up. Her grandmother tries to tell her an old story, which our narrator used to enjoy during her childhood. After listening for a little while, our narrator tells her grandma that she will tell a new story today. So our narrator picks a book with pictures and starts telling a story. So far so good. I was, of course, keeping a close watch over the events, expecting Amishi Batha to slip up so that I can catch the clues and catch the revelations before they come. But this story was pretty straightforward about two people who had a fight and who were trying to make up. Or so I thought. But when I told myself, “Okay, this is it. It is a beautiful story“, the surprising revelation arrived, and it was so beautiful that it made me cry. This was probably my most favourite story in the book and I would recommend that you read it with your family, your partner, your parents, your children. It is so beautiful.

I want to write about every one of the rest of the stories – it is so tempting! – but I will stop here. I want you to read the stories for yourself and experience the pleasure they have to offer. As you can guess now, most of the stories have a twist in the end, which we don’t see coming, which surprises us in the end. Many of them look like normal slice-of-life stories and that is why the twist is so brilliant. There are stories on family, love, loss, friendship, marriage, nature, crossword puzzles. There are one or two stories, which depart from the norm and have a straightforward narrative but these are exceptions and make us lower our guard and the story with the surprising revelation arrives soon.

I loved ‘Waiting for Jazz and other stories‘. The stories are beautiful and the revelations are stunning and brilliant. This is Amishi Batha’s first book, which is very hard to believe, because going by the evidence of the stories, she looks like an accomplished writer. The book is slim at 58 pages – before we know, it is over, while our heart is still chiming ‘Dil Mange More‘. It is a beautiful book to read, sitting in your garden during spring or summer, sipping a cup of hot spicy tea, taking a bite of chocolate cake, while following the lives of the beautiful characters that Amishi Batha has created.

Have you read ‘Waiting for Jazz and other stories‘ by Amishi Batha? What do you think about it?

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I was excited when I discovered this anthology of short stories, ‘She Speaks‘. I read it in one breath yesterday.

She Speaks‘ has twenty stories, all written by Indian women writers, many of them first time writers. The first three stories are stories which are set in India and they describe the life of a woman married into a traditional family and what happens when a girl child is born. The next seventeen stories are written by writers who live abroad and they mostly address themes of immigration, cultural integration, the wonder of the new country and the yearning for the homeland, how in some cases the umbilical cord stretches from the homeland and holds back a young woman and refuses to let go. There is also a science fiction story in this part. The last three stories in the book are reinterpretations of mythological stories set in contemporary settings. There is something in the anthology for every kind of reader.

I am giving below a brief description of the stories in the book without revealing any spoilers.

(1) Padma by Kamalika Ray – A woman waits on the steps of the ghat. The man who she is waiting for finally arrives. They behave like strangers, like they don’t know each other, but first she leaves and then he follows. For the reader, the implication is obvious – they are having an affair. But there is more to it than meets the eye. And as we read the story, we find out more. The ending leaves a Schrödinger’s Cat kind of feeling – is the cat alive or dead? Or is it in both states at the same time? I want to ask the author or any other reader who has read this, and find out. This was one of my favourite stories from the book. This was the first story in the book, and as you can see, the book starts with a bang.

(2) The Inner Voice by Ashwathy Menon – Ayesha gives birth to her baby. It is a girl. She should be happy. But she is not. As we see the world through Ayesha’s eyes, we are taken into her past, and we see what happened, for her to feel the way she does now. As the dark secrets from her past come tumbling out, how will Ayesha deal with them while taking care of her newly-born and showering her baby with love? You have to read the story to find out.

(3) The Survivor by Shweta Dasgupta – Kamla is coming back home when she discovers an newborn baby on a garbage heap. It is a girl. It looks like the parents of the girl have abandoned her. Kamla takes the baby home. Her inquisitive neighbours stop by. They ask her whose baby it is. When Kamla tells them the truth, they ask her to put it back on the garbage heap. Kamla’s husband is supportive of her. As the baby is unwanted to her biological parents, Kamla and her husband decide to bring her up as their second child. But the conservative villagers turn against Kamla and her husband and their children. And bad things start happening. Does Kamla survive this? What happens to the baby? You have to read to find out. This was one of my favourite stories from the book. The story feels very realistic and the tension rises, as the pages move and we root for Kamla and her new baby.

(4) Shades of Amara by Sindhuja Manohar – This story describes the life of Amara as she goes through different phases in life. As a student she loves a fellow student, but he is from a different community, and is scared of introducing her to his parents. Then she falls in love with a second person, but this time it is Amara who blinks, because she is scared of introducing him to her parents, because he is from a different ethnicity. Then Amara gets married to a third guy. Does she find happiness? You have to read to find out. This is a very Indian story, and the events are very realistically portrayed. Because of this, it is sometimes very frustrating to read. Not because the story is not good, but because it is too close to comfort. Young Indians’ lack of courage to defy their parents and elders is legendary. It is hard to read that in this story.

(5) Khushi by Tania Basu – A woman boards a plane. She stows her luggage and settles down, when someone taps on her shoulder. She turns back to discover that two of her old friends are sitting behind her. They are going home to Kolkata to celebrate their daughter’s first birthday with family and relatives and friends. They invite her to come. Before long we discover that our main character is Australian. And through the rest of the story, we see India depicted through an outsider’s eyes, which is quite fascinating.

(6) Languages : An Expat’s Confession by Ekta Sharma Khandelwal – This story describes the life of Ira, who gets married and moves to Tokyo, and how languages play an important part in her life – Japanese which is spoken in her present city which she calls home, Punjabi which is her mother tongue, which moves her the most, Hindi which she is most fluent in, English which she is also most fluent in. We see Ira’s life through these different languages which inhabit them. This story had one of my favourite lines – “As has been quoted from the famous musician, Frank Ocean, ‘when you’re happy, you enjoy the music. But, when you’re sad, you understand the lyrics’.

(7) Gari by Poppy Choudhury – It is early morning when Sheen wakes up and she has a panic attack. As she manages to survive it and gets to the other side, the story takes us to her past to her childhood and we get to see her life through her eyes and the story reveals how something that happened in her past manifests itself as panic attacks now.

(8) Paksh (For) and Vipaksh (Against) by Munmun Gupta – We see the themes of immigration and cultural integration explored through the eyes of Maya, who joins the university as a debate teacher.

(9) A Journey to Remember by Sumona Ghosh Das – Jhilik is newly married and moves to Chicago to live with her husband. The new experiences she goes through, the new people who touch her life and how the new place and culture transforms her as a person is told in the rest of the story.

(10) Sour Apples and Hot Peppers by Suparna Basu – Megha receives sad news from home and her mind goes back to her childhood and later adulthood when she moved to a new country and we see how her parents, her family, her new country and the work she does, all shape her as an individual.

(11) Solitude by Sujatha Ramanathan – It explores the relationship between two sisters across time and space.

(12) The Remains of Goodbye by Agomoni Ganguli-Mitra – Describes the story of a woman who leaves her husband and how things evolved for her to get here. Very realistically portrayed from a cultural perspective.

(13) Five Half-Lives by Abhilasha Kumar – A woman goes on a bicycle ride to meet her lover. Before long, we discover that she is married to someone else and has children. How her complex story unravels is told in the rest of the story. One of my favourite stories from the book.

(14) The Half Ticket by Ipsita Barua – Anika moves countries when her husband get transferred to a new office. How her life changes and whether she gets used to the new place and the new culture, where she doesn’t know the language, forms the rest of the story.

(15) Ageless by Jyoti Kapoor – J uses a time machine and travels to the future. She expects to see some amazing things and she does, but things are also not what they appear to be, and there is more to the future than meets the eye. You need to read the story to find out what J discovers.

(16) The Forgotten by Rejina Sadhu – Lavanya hears the news that her childhood friend Vinay is no more. Her heart goes back to her childhood when she and Vinay were best friends and the rest of the story describes how their friendship evolved across the years and enriched both their lives.

(17) The Goddess is Missing by Nayana Chakrabarti – This story describes the lives of Dolly, her husband Arjun, and Arjun’s mother Shukla, and how their intertwined lives evolve across the years. Parts of the story were heartbreaking to read. While most of the expat stories in the book describe how it is great to migrate and how the main character’s life changes for the better, this one shows how sometimes the pull of culture is strong and there is no escape, and how the umbilical cord still pulls the main character back.

(18) Radha and Govind by Ridia Chauhan – The narrator wakes up in a hospital. She wonders how she got there. She looks back and narrates her story. A reimagining of the Radha-Krishna legend, this story was fast-paced and gripping with a surprising ending, and it was one of my favourite stories from the book.

(19) Durga’s New Dawn by Pallabi Roy-Chakraborty – A reimagining of the Goddess Durga story set in contemporary times, this story is cool and stylish and humorous. One of my favourites.

(20) Sita’s Vacation by Brindarica Bose – A reimagining of the Sita-Rama story set in contemporary times, we will see Sita with new eyes after reading this story. One of my favourite stories from the book.

I enjoyed reading ‘She Speaks‘. It was fascinating to read stories by Indian women writers from across the world, straddling different, interesting themes.

Have you read ‘She Speaks‘? What do you think about it?

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I was excited when I discovered that Sara Naveed’s new book ‘All of My Heart‘ had come out. It took me a while to get started but I finally started reading it yesterday and finished reading it today.

Rehaan is a photographic artist who is based out of London. In his spare time he drives for Uber because it makes him relaxed and happy. One day when he is driving, he gets a new customer. But when he sees her, he realizes that he knows her – her name is Zynah. Rehaan’s thoughts go back to a time eleven years ago when he was living in Lahore with his parents and he was in school. He describes how he met Zynah in school and how it was love at first sight. But Rehaan and Zynah being from different parts of the social spectrum, they didn’t talk much but there was an arms-length warmth that they exhibited towards each other. How this changed across time and how they became close friends and and how their relationship evolved, how they lost touch with each other and how they found each other again in London is described in the story. Then the book takes the story forward and describes what happens after Rehaan and Zynah meet again. At one point the narrative shifts from Rehaan’s point of view to Zynah’s and we get to see the events of the story through both their viewpoints.

I think the whole book can be divided into two parts. The first part which describes the events which happen in Lahore, and the second part which describes the story which happens in London. I loved both the parts. The first part is a beautiful story of friendship and love and the main characters go through emotional highs and lows and upheavals, which readers of romance fiction love. In the second part, the story kicks to a higher gear and it is amazing to read. It asks some very important questions on life, love, family which is very relevant in the South Asian context today, when society is in flux, with modernity trying to pull young people into the future and tradition trying to hold them back. This book depicts beautifully what happens when this emotional struggle takes place inside the hearts of a few individuals and within a few families. There is a huge surprise which is revealed in the second part, which is the core of this struggle, but I can’t and I won’t tell you anything, not even a whiff – you have to read the story and find it out for yourself.

I loved most of the major characters in the story, especially Rehaan and Zynah. Their characters are beautifully sculpted – beautiful and imperfect and passionate and human. Sara Naveed continues her love affair with the letter ‘Z’, by naming her heroine Zynah – in her first novel ‘Undying Affinity‘, her heroine is called Zarish. I loved some of the minor characters too. There is one scene in which Rehaan is in bad shape emotionally, and he comes downstairs and his roommate’s girlfriend Avantika asks him if he wants some coffee, and then sits with him while they talk and he pours out his heart and she shares her insights on life and love. It is one of the most beautiful scenes in the book and though Avantika comes only in a few scenes, she is one of my favourite characters.

So what do I think about ‘All of My Heart‘ when compared to Sara Naveed’s earlier two books, ‘Undying Affinity‘ and ‘Our Story Ends Here‘? I loved all three in different ways, because they are different kinds of love stories. I will always have a soft corner for ‘Our Story Ends Here‘ because it was the first Sara Naveed book I read. But I loved ‘All of My Heart’ too. It is a beautiful love story and the second part is so amazing because it makes us contemplate and introspect on the nature of love. There are also beautiful descriptions of London in the book, and it is almost like a guided tour covering the popular and less familiar parts, and they transport the reader to this beautiful city. And the book’s cover – isn’t that breathtakingly beautiful?

Sara Naveed has sometimes been called the Queen of Pakistani romance fiction and this book shows why. I read the book in one breath and now I can’t wait to read her next book.

Have you read ‘All of My Heart‘ by Sara Naveed? What do you think about it?

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