Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Book Review : Bijoy and the Big River

Title : Bijoy and the Big River
Author : Praba Ram and Meera Sriram
Publisher : Tulika
ISBN : 93-5046-326-1

Since primeval ages rivers have given birth to many civilizations near their banks and ever since rivers have hidden innumerable stories in their dancing waves. Almost every crest and trough of these life wires of a nation witness and chronicle myriad incidents, episodes, happenings and life stories. One such story is that of Bijoy presented beautifully by Praba and Meera.

As the big river Brahmaputra (Burha Luit in Assamese) rocks, bends, winds, coils, curls, rolls, twirls, swings and sways from Himalayas on China side, to enter the Indian borders in Arunachal Pradesh, it cascades down the plains and forests of Assam and there it enters the lives of Bijoy and his people. The story takes us through Bijoy's first ferry ride on the river as he accompanies his father to the silk village of Sualkuchi. Bijoy's father raises eri silkworms in their backyard. Eri culture is the most eco-friendly and non-violent method of obtaining silk and hence the silk is also known as 'Peace Silk'.

As Bijoy's day's routine unfolds, a slice of Assam gets revealed page after page through various photographs, relevant art by Koel Basu along with nuggets of factual information on various aspects of lifestyle, culture, flora and fauna of that part of our country. Tall bamboos and coconuts, one-horned rhino in Kaziranga National Park, endangered Gangetic river dolphin Xihu, people celebrating Bihu and the fine golden silk Muga - the book offers a peak into myriad of things. The young readers are sure to get enriched with information about eri, the biodiversity and the ecosystem sustaining in the natural environs of Assam and much more. It is amazing to notice that people living so close to nature know exactly how to acknowledge and bow down in front of the various moods and forms of nature. Bijoy and the Big River is a tribute to the river as well as to the people and other creatures who have their lives entwined with the endless flow of water.

Tulika books under the 'Where I Live' section are committed to bring traditions and lifestyles from various parts of India for the young readers. 'Bijoy and the Big River' makes this category proud by its presence there.

I feel really proud to mention that I am part of Saffron Tree, the seeds of which were sown by Praba and which has now matured into a blooming tree guiding many parents to pick age appropriate gems for their little ones.

I conducted a brief e-interview with Praba and Meera and I am pleased to share it with the readers of Literary Sojourn here.

1. How do you pick a topic?

Broadly speaking, environmental and cultural themes appeal to our combined curiosities. Even simple things that we see or use everyday can set us thinking about a certain idea. Sometimes, questions or reactions from our own children spark off a train of thought. In general, we find ourselves often inclining toward stories that have not been explored before, in both fiction and non-fiction.  

2.  What all research goes in creating a fine book?

The narratives in both the books we have written so far for Tulika are a mix of fiction-non-fiction. For those, we do first decide on a certain topic and try to create a story around it. In Dinaben and the  Lions of Gir, we wanted to tell the story of ghee. Reading about different dairy-farming communities in India gave us a clearer idea about what exactly we wanted in our narrative. And after weeks of research, the story of Asiatic lions in that region and the Maldhari community seemed even more compelling than a simple ghee story. We chose the forests as the backdrop and decided to showcase their harmonious co-existence in Gir.

In Bijoy and the Big River, we thought it would be exciting for kids to read about silk and silk weaving. It was clear to us it had to be about the silk varieties of Assam. Our research led us straight to the Brahmaputra. The big river and its background had so many beautiful tales to tell. Plugging in them together had its own set of challenges. But they did eventually blend well. And yet again, we were amazed how seamlessly they came together for what started as a simple silk story. 

3.     What all led you to the life of Bijoy?

With Bijoy, we knew we wanted to keep the focus on Assam.  So we were trying to bring out several cultural and regional details through our Assamese boy growing up near the river.  And through Bijoy, we decided to weave a quiet narrative capturing the non-violent eri silkworms, the Gangetic dolphins and in general, the lives of people and the bio-diversity around the big river. It was a fascinating journey writing Bijoy!

4. From the forests of Gir (Dinaben and Lions of Gir) to bustling waves of Brahmaputra (Bijoy and the Big River), where do you see your creative flight taking you next?

We have some more ideas in the pipe for Tulika. Another book from Mango Books, D.C. is out for print. It’s a piece of non-fiction about animals that are endangered in India

5. What ambition do you nurture in terms of writing books for children?

We feel the need and desire to continue sharing stories that involve nature, wildlife, people and communities.   And we often feel the desire to tell stories that capture the diverse world we live in, in a way that children can enjoy.  But now and then, we find ourselves toying with totally off-beat, goofy, crazy stories!  It’s probably safe to say we don’t quite know where our next story will take us to

6.  How has the journey of being authors been so far? What is the biggest joy of being one? 

It is always a joy to reach out to children and see their responses first-hand to our books. Their interactive questions during read-alouds are heart-warming and are also tremendous fun to answer.  Both our families are definitely the first audience for our stories, and we look forward to their first feedback. Our children have been incredible in their enthusiasm around every new book and we are grateful for the multiple readings they have sat through. Also, our research connects us to people who are also deeply passionate about some of the things we write about – like nature conservationists, wildlife photographers and people who love to travel. Overall, we are very pleased with what we’ve chosen to do and the experience has been very gratifying for us.

This will be a five-day-long blog tour - with five different perspectives. Here are the dates and places where our readers can find Bijoy and the Big River.

March 18th - Saffron Tree. Sandhya Renukamba.
March 19th - Literary Sojourn. Vibha Sharma.
March 20th - The not-so artful dodger. Artnavy.
March 21st - Mamma of Twins. Itchingtowrite.
March 22nd - The Mad Momma. Lavanya D / Prateek.

Do visit!

Monday, March 18, 2013

Book Review : Let's Talk Money

Title : Let's Talk Money : Road to Riches Made Easy
Author : Akhil Khanna
Publisher : Times Group Books
ISBN : 978-93-80942-88-9

If financial terms overwhelm you and if you are looking for a primer course in order to understand the fundamentals of financial jargon then this is the book for you. It is with this objective that Akhil Khanna has written this book, to enable and empower the people from non-financial background so that they are able to take informed decisions related to money matters. Money is one topic which is feared the most by many but pervades every single sphere of our life. Then instead of running away from discussing this topic, the best option is to face it by understanding it and using it for your benefit because knowledge begets power.

The content is divided into chapters and each chapter introduces a topic first followed by detailed explanation and concludes by reiterating the lessons taught. Very useful nuggets of wisdom are presented at the end of each chapter in the from of points to ponder. In all, the author does try very hard to bring home the point through elaborating upon every point that he is making with various simple yet relatable examples and recapitulating it many times over.
The stage is first set by introducing money and how it changes hands, the factors which impact the price of any commodity, how the demand and supply equation impacts pricing of the services/commodities and what makes a nation's economy. Once the fundamentals are established then he proceeds on to discuss topics ranging from personal investment options to global scenario. The information is appropriately presented in a very simplistic manner so that it capacitates a beginner to handle the financial matters. At the least this handbook would not let an individual feel handicapped in managing one's own money. The book sufficiently warns readers against the risks of some investments and how to be wary of the same. It is very wise of Akhil Khanna to have included chapters on Global Environment and World Financial Crisis. Former becomes extremely significant in the wake of shrinking world through wired reality of current times and the lecture on latter is a kind of analysis of the factors that led to the fall of big names in the crisis and lessons learnt from those mistakes. The chapter on 'Invest in Happiness' deserves special mention and it should form the fundamental baseline of an individual's life.

However the narrative is not free of grammatical mistakes altogether. The author makes it very clear what the book is aimed for and manages to achieve the objective wonderfully.  It is amazing that he has touched all the topics of concern to a layman yet staying clear of the rigmarole of this field. So my compliments to the author for having offered this kind of a light introductory course to novices in financial world. 

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

a palanquin stitched...

After savoring the art work of Indu Harikumar in Palanquin Bearers and after getting more inspiration from
here, I could not take the image of palanquin out of my mind and had to try stitching it myself.

Though it is not as brilliant as Indu's work, I am happy to satisfy the urge...

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Interview : Himanjali Sankar

It was a pleasure interviewing Himanjali Sankar, the author of quirky and humorous 'The Stupendous Timetelling Superdog' (reviewed here).

I am glad to be sharing this interview here with the readers of Literary Sojourn.

1.     How did you get the idea of the time telling dog? How has been its response?

I wish I could say that a lot of deep thought went into the idea but, honestly, it was a fairly random decision! I wrote about a time telling dog as a writing exercise in a workshop and then decided to expand on the idea. I have been for a few book reading sessions in the last month and the children that I read to seemed to love the idea of a timetelling dog.

2.     How has been your journey with Duckbill publishers?

I love working with Duckbill. This is my first full-length novel and I was tentative and uncertain about being up to the task. The feedback that I received from them and the editorial suggestions were invaluable. Working on the promotion and publicity aspects has also been great as their ideas are creative and fun.

3.     Which kind of children's literature do you enjoy reading the most?

I like children’s literature that is outrageous, quirky and layered. I enjoy Cornelia Funke – her stuff for younger children, like Princess Knight and The Pirate Girl. I love Roddy Doyle, too, especially the way he sometimes writes the most ridiculously funny stuff.  I love Dr Seuss and Shel Silverstein as far as poetry goes. I think simple, straightforward, rhythmic poetry is so tough to do and so fabulous to read when the poet gets it just right.

4.     Which children's books author is your role model?

I don’t think I have a role model. However, the authors that I like most (some of them mentioned above) would be influencing my writing, directly and indirectly. In India, I like Anushka Ravishankar and Asha Nehemiah’s writing very much and I have worked with both of them and have possibly been influenced by their writing.

5.     What are the most important things to keep in mind while writing books for children?

What I personally found the toughest to do was keeping the language simple and straightforward. I essentially like to write long convoluted sentences which do not make as much sense as they should! However, children are hard to please and difficult to impress. As far as thoughts and ideas go, I think you can pack in as much as you want as long as you keep the language clean and direct.

6.     How are tastes and preferences of young readers changing over time?

Trends and fashions in literature will keep changing but that is at a surface level. At a deeper level, I don’t think it is easy to gauge such changes. With technology and globalization children are exposed to much more from a younger age which would cause their preferences to change but beyond that, I don’t think I can confidently predict the direction in which this is moving.

7.     Do you think books are competing with technological gadgets these days and reading habit is adversely getting impacted?

To a certain extent, yes. There is too much out there, competing with books. However, I am optimistic that the reading habit is not going to go away anytime soon. I have met so many children who really love books that I think it would be unfair on my part to say that children are reading less these days. To a certain extent, especially with younger children, reading has always been a conscious decision on the part of parents. And once you establish the habit it does not go away easily.

8.     How do you see Indian Children's books in comparison with the foreign children literature?

In India, apart from the folktales and oral literature that has always been an important part of growing up, I don’t think children’s literature has still come of age. Of course, when I say that, I am talking about English literature for children. In Bangla, for instance, there is a huge plethora of wonderful children’s books out there. I am not qualified to talk about children’s literatures in other languages in India but I am sure there is a lot of stuff which perhaps does not get the exposure or bandwidth that it should.

9.     Why are Indian children's books focused more on teaching and preaching than on sheer joy of reading a good story? Is it changing now?

Traditionally, our stories have usually taught a lesson but often in a fun way, like with Birbal, Gopal Bhand, Tenali Raman and such folk heroes. Literature, like other subjects, was possibly expected to serve a purpose. And I would like to think there has always been a parallel range of joyful literature which was considered too frivolous to be canonized. I don’t know if things are changing but there is a conscious effort to bridge this gap which is surely a good thing.
10.  Kidlit has a long way to cover to be at the same level as the foreign literature. What is your opinion in this?

Kidlit is unfortunately not taken very seriously in our country. In many foreign countries it is a segment of the publishing industry that is seen to be very important. The authors and illustrators of children’s books, the quality of production are all viewed very differently and given the sort of recognition and importance, through awards, sponsorships and visibility, that is not done here. Of course, things are changing and we can hope for good things to come. 

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Book Review : Palanquin Bearers by Sarojini Naidu

Title : Palanquin Bearers
Author : Sarojini Naidu
Art By : Indu Harikumar

Very understandably words fail when the creations like these are to be reviewed. How can one review a gem like this and more so when such pieces are embellished by beautiful and spirited illustrations as are done by Indu Harikumar.

Sarojini Naidu - the nightingale of India needs no introduction. Many of us have read Sarojini Naidu in school coursework and this time Katha has brought one of her brilliant poems - Palanquin Bearers, in a new avatar. The drawings by Indu Harikumar have aptly filled beautiful colours in the lyrical verse.

Palanquin also known as palki, a humble means of transportation was used in olden days but here the one that is being talked about is the one carrying a bride. The new bride is transitioning from one phase of her life to another and umpteen thoughts cross her mind as she is securely seated inside the palanquin. She has tears in her eyes for leaving her loved ones while at the same time she has twinkling stars in her eyes awaiting beginning of a new life full of hope and fervor. 

The bearers who are carrying the palanquin on their shoulders are conscientious about their duty. They are bearing the palanquin gently and carefully, joyfully and happily, smoothly and lightly while singing songs as they make progress towards their destination. 

It is a sheer pleasure to read Naidu's poetry luxuriously brimming with metaphors which make the readers float with the words.

The illustrations by Indu are the vibrant scenes actually sewn on pieces of fabric. Every page is a visual treat for the eyes, however a drawing of a full palanquin would have been a cherry on the top and would have been easier for children to imagine what a palanquin actually looked like.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Book Review : 17 Cents and a Dream

Title : 17 Cents and a Dream

Author : Daniel Milstein

'17 Cents and a Dream' is an inspiring tale of an individual who fled the then USSR to chase a dream whose seeds were sown by his grandfather. It was a dream to be in the land where dreams do come true - to be an American and make it big there. The saga begins from the year 1986 when the world witnessed its one of the most deadliest nuclear disasters at Chernobyl. At that time, ten years old Daniel was oblivious to what was in store for him and his family in a home in Kiev, Ukraine, just 78 miles from the nuclear plant. The poisonous radiations that spread in the environment killed more than 100,000 people including Daniel's beloved grandfather. The personal loss left him with a resolve that he would do all that his grandfather ever dreamt for his grandchild. Struggling against meager financial means, anti-Semitic fervour and Government oppression, secretly fleeing from the city seemed like the only option for the Daniel's family. 'With a lot of effort and drive and a little miracle, they escaped their dire situation in USSR, armed only with the hope of finding a better life in America'.

The struggle of this Ukrainian family which began with learning a 26 letters alphabet based language from a 33 letters one, did not end with this. Daniel fought with persistent hunger, bullying classmates and colleagues while working relentlessly under the shadow of golden arch at McDonald's. Mopping floors and cleaning toilets for two shifts in a day could do nothing to dampen his spirits. "To this day I see how important it is to be proud of the work you do, no matter if it’s scrubbing toilets or making multimillion dollar sales. I gave my all to everything I did." He grabbed the very first opportunity that came his way to rise higher and never looked back thereafter. His perseverance, ability to work harder than anybody else, determination and fire to achieve, made him a successful founder, president and CEO of Gold Star Mortgage Financial Group. He led his company to be among the Inc 500 list and to be one of the fastest growing companies in the United States.

'17 Cents and a Dream' is indeed a motivational manual for everybody and makes one introspect on one's own personal life and impediments. Daniel's story should make everyone question oneself  - am I making the best use of my situation and how determined I am in surmounting the hurdles that come my way.

Thought it is a memoir yet it falls short on addressing the personal front. It is strange how the author has just skipped talking about the mother of his daughter completely. The personal touch that is supposed to be a mandatory aspect of any autobiography or a memoir is sorely missed in the narrative. After having read the book it felt like I just finished reading a long resume of an inspiring person who made it really big on the basis of his sheer determination and hard work. True to the title of the book, the author does talk about his American Dream only. But this half baked serving would surely leave many readers disappointed. Moreover being in the financial sector and precisely the arena where a lot has happened over these years, he does not talk about how the rough road impacted his line of business over this period.
Also, some un-addressed typographical errors have entered the narrative at a few places. 
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