Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Book Review : Conversation Between God and Man

Title : Conversation Between God and Man
Author : G.Venkataraman
Publisher : Media Division, Sri Sathya Sai Sadhana Trust
Crossposted at : Saffron Tree

There comes a time when strongest of the strong anchors give way, leaving the yet inexperienced boats and ships that are tethered to it, bobbing in the open waters. The sheltered life comes to a halt abruptly and the unsettled boats are thrown exposed to the meddling of winds and waves. Human life is no different and one inevitably finds oneself in a situation where the most trusted of the relationships reveal their transient nature. That is the situation when one is left confounded and robbed off - of enthusiasm and even the will to move forward. What for? Why? How? - questions pose a big threat to the natural flow of life on those junctures. One gets acquainted with the feelings which know no language or expression. An amateur human mind may interpret it as insatiable hunger, unquenchable thirst, inadequate sleep, untreatable pain or irreparable broken pieces of heart. But it is far beyond that, it is an absolute vacuum, a bottomless abyss and deep dark tunnel with no light in sight. Where does one go? How does one progress? Even if one starts moving, is it progressing or retrogressing? Who will hold the hand at that time?

While being in that abysmal state for a few months, I often wondered, how a human could equip him/herself to maintain sanity and equanimity during such phases. And as  a parent what can we do to help our children tide over such situations as and when they happen to confront them. After searching unsuccessfully for answers everywhere, one realises that perhaps there's only one way to seek the peaceful state - embarking on the journey towards one's inner self - where the seat of the soul actually is. It may be termed as almighty, omnipresent, all pervasive or by any name that one feels comfortable with. The connect with the supreme authority or one's own true self can be the only permanent anchor and support.

When we so painstakingly pick the best schools, hobby classes, books, besides the regular things of basic needs for our children, shouldn't we be conscious of the fact that they would need a big store of their inner strength as well for all crests and troughs in their lives. Contrarily, who are we to teach them because the spiritual age of an individual may not have any connection with the worldly years that one keeps piling on. Nevertheless, we can do our bit by encouraging them to read in order to build that store house.

'Conversation Between God and Man' is one of those books which can/should be read along with children or to them starting from the primary section itself. It is a simplified version of the conversation that happened between Lord Krishna and Arjuna on the battlefield of Kurukshetra - the essence of Bhagvat Gita. After seeing his family and friends in the rival camp, Arjuna lost all interest to fight the battle and the feeling of futility of the whole bloodshed overpowered him. He was ready to accept defeat over triumph because the victory would come by killing his own kith and kin. Lord Krishna then taught him the mystery of reincarnation and the philosophy behind being a true action-oriented (Karma yogi) person. A karma yogi is the person who can stay in the moment without letting the past or future interfere and that is how one can hope to dedicate oneself to that moment entirely. Reincarnation which is often compared to change of clothes by the soul reinforces the cause and effect theory - as one sows so one reaps. As a soul continues its journey from one life to another, it learns, it enriches and purifies itself to eventually merge with the supreme power.

Dedicated chapters on happiness, conscience, awareness, rebirth, surrender to God and purpose of life convey the timeless teachings of Bhagvat Gita - the voice of Lord Krishna. The connection that it establishes between mind, soul and body brings a lot of clarity and peace. Special emphasis is laid on the importance of one's duty and submission of all that one does to the supreme authority.

It is absolutely important to live life with the awareness that, what we send comes back to us - positive or negative. Hence think good, do good and be good while staying immersed in the designated duties that one needs to dispense. I would highly recommend repeat readings of this book to fully understand its message and to keep it fresh in the mind always. While reading the book, it feels as if the questions that Arjuna pose are exactly the ones that often come to our minds. The dialogue between Krishna and Arjuna inspire the readers to look for happiness at the right place and with right awareness rather than to make the transient things as focus of our lives. 

'The Gita is not, as is commonly imagined, merely about Krishna giving advice to Arjuna to shed his doubts and get on with the fight. Nor is it specific to any particular religion or school of Spiritual philosophy, as many seem to believe. Rather, it is all about a LIFE BOAT, which, if availed of, can save individuals, entire communities and indeed the whole of humanity, from being drowned by the innumerable difficulties that plague today's society at the macro as well as the micro level.'

I am sure there is sufficient reading material available in all sects and religions and comparing them or picking one over others is not the objective here. The aim is to study enough and to understand enough in order to enjoy the peaceful blissful state - which is the true nature of an individual. I would like to pick many books written by enlightened souls across various religions to read myself and to read to the children so as to see which path makes the understanding easier and lays long lasting impression on the minds.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Book Review : The Moon Wants to be Spotless White

Title : The Moon Wants To Be Spotless White
Author : Priya Narayanan
Illustrator : Suhita Mitra
Publisher : LeadStart
ISBN : 9789381576342 

'Daag achche hain' (Stains are good) if they happen to be the price for joy, happiness and love - this is the premise of Priya Narayanan's 'The Moon Wants to be Spotless White'.  Moon who is otherwise quite vain and is drunk on his own beauty, gets the shock of his life when he overhears a bunch of stars talking about his dirty spots. He finds a patient ear in a little girl Mitu who enjoys looking at the moon from the window of her room and always admires his grace and beauty. Moon comes up with a plan that he needs to get himself scrubbed clean in order to get back his pristine white looks. Mitu feels very happy to help the moon by letting Dhobi Kaka into the little secret. Dhobi kaka is kind enough to use his special secret formula on Moon so that the moon regains his spotless whiteness back.

The trio get together at the dead of the night to work in this rare kind of mission but by the time they are done with washing and scrubbing, it is time for the day break. Now the moon will have to wait for the night fall to go back to the sky. What happens when the moon finally meets his heavenly friends in the sky? How does he narrate his adventure of previous night when he took a trip to the dhobhi ghat? Can he boast of his spotless white looks in front of them? Is he really as spotless as he wanted himself to be? Does his vanity win or the love of his friends? Head on to this rare adventure along with the moon who is ready to take all the trouble to satisfy his pride of being the most handsome in the sky.

A great way to reiterate and reinforce the life value that life is just not about the external appearance, it is much beyond that. And this the moon realises at the end of the story when he observes that his friends are glad, just to be with him - with or without spots.

It is a simple, feel-good story which would appeal to all little children, however, the length of this story goes against its appeal to the age group that it is targeting. It is hard to finish complete reading of the story in one sitting. Moreover, stories adhering to commonly observed practicalities, always make more impact. In 'The Moon Wants to be Spotless White', Mitu's mother sending Mitu with Dhobi Kaka at night, feels a little unreal and impractical. Barring these two irritants, it is quite an interesting read for young readers (Age : 6-10 years)

Interview : Ruchir Gupta

Ruchir Gupta is a graduate in Medicine and is a practicing doctor in USA. He has authored various books that deal with the topic of anesthesiology. His interests include reading, traveling, learning history and blogging. His book 'Mistress of the Throne' is the story of Mughal queen Jahanara (reviewed here). It is pleasure to present his views here for the readers of Literary Sojourn. 

  1. Dr. Ruchir Gupta or writer Ruchir Gupta, which role gives you more pleasure and satisfaction?

Both roles provide a different method of satisfaction.  Medicine is a very gratifying field but one that doesn't allow much creativity. As a writer, I have the chance to create new worlds and give life to different characters.  It is this act of creativity that I feel keeps me young.

  1. What motivated you to write 'Mistress of the Throne'? What is so mystical about the Mughal period in your opinion?

The Mughal period has often been thought of as India's golden age.  Unfortunately, current communal conflicts have caused many of us to view Mughal culture as foreign, even though it was a blend of muslim and hindu traditions.  At the height of the mughal empire, 1/4 of humanity lived in its dominion and its economy was 50 times greater than that of Great Britain.  Thus, the mughal empire has always fascinated me for its ability to unite people and build an entire civilization.

  1. Why do you think, historical fiction genre is attracting more and more readers these days?

I think people are now reflecting more on their past.  As Indians, we were often given a distorted view of our history for the purposes of furthering British propaganda.  I think people are now realizing how advanced and admirable our history was and in that past lie some of the answers for the present time.

  1. Which authors do you admire and like to read the most, who have written historical fiction, focusing more on Mughal period? How would you compare the works of Dalrymple, Eraly, Alex Rutherford, Indu Sundaresan?

With the exception of Eraly, I have read all of the aforementioned authors.  Dalyrymple writes nonfiction so my book is of an entirely different genre.  I rely on his work for much of the facts for my mughal projects.  I have emailed him a few times and I am a great admirer of his.  Both Rutherford and Sundarasen deserve a geat deal of credit for launching bestsellers in this genre and thus bringing the Mughal story to the masses.  I, personally, like Sundarasen's style a little more than Rutherford's, but this is just my opinion.  Sundarasen spends a great deal of time describing the imagery of the scene so that one feels as though they are in the Mughal palace itself.  She also writes often from the female perspective.  Rutherford, by contrast, spends more time on describing action and battle scenes.  His books have been from the male perspective.  My book differs from theirs in that I think I delve more into character development and creating an emotional dimension for my characters.  Again, all of these books are great, but the writing style is different.

  1. Do you have a dream story that you would like to work on? 

My focus right now is on my series, The Mughal Intrigues, of which Mistress of the Throne is the first book.  I am working on a sequel and have not yet decided if this series would be a trilogy or have 4 different books.

  1. Why do you think Mughal period is becoming the focus of more writings compared to other periods in Indian history?

Mughals are royalty and are the premier royal family for India.  The 1857 rebellion had the aging Mughal Emperor as the standard bearer for the cause; the flag is raised every August 15 from the Red Fort of Delhi.  Thus, the Mughals have been intricately tied to India and its opulence.  Additionally, the Mughals are inherently Indian.  Most Mughal Kings married Hindu princesses.  At a time when a marriage between a hindu and a muslim is considered taboo, it is sobering to realize that centuries ago, this was common amongst the royalty.  In fact, Shah Jahan was 3/4 Hindu, though he followed Islam.  Even Aurengzeb, who is known for his fanaticism and his destruction of Hindu temples, married a Hindu princess.  Thus, it's this plurality that has attracted the attention of the masses.

  1. In your opinion, which is the safest and surest way to the hearts of the readers?
Character development.  Readers wish to connect with the characters and be able to share in their trials and tribulations.   Thus, good character development is a great way to engage the reader.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Book Review : Mistress Of The Throne

Title : Mistress of the Throne
Author : Ruchir Gupta
Publisher : Srishti Publishers and Distributors
ISBN : 9789382665076

Mughal period is one of the periods that keeps beckoning authors of almost every generation to come back to it to unravel the mystique behind the opulence that this era was known for. Though the royal emperors - Akbar, Jahangir, Shah Jahan, Aurangzeb have long been resting in the annals of history, yet their styles, their sensibilities for art and culture, their harems, food, generosity, ruthless machinations and brutal lust for power - entreat many to dig deeper. Many books written by contemporary authors like William Dalrymple and Indu Sundaresan have already been reviewed here on Literary Sojourn.

'Mistress of the Throne' picks a small timeline starting from the year 1631. This was the year when the beloved queen Mumtaz Mahal, of emperor Shah Jahan breathed her last during one of the childbirths. Going against the tradition of passing the title of Queen to one of his other wives, Shah Jahan chose to anoint her eldest daughter Jahanara with this royal honour. The new seventeen year old queen found herself shouldering responsibilities on personal, familial and public fronts. She dedicated herself to keeping the family united but her efforts fell short in front of towering egos, jealousies and scuffles for supremacy and power. The power tussle between the extremist Aurangzeb and the mild tempered Dara was apparent right from the very beginning of their getting together. Though Dara Shikoh was the favoured son of emperor Shah Jahan and was the heir apparent, he lost his life in a bitter battle with Aurangzeb for the imperial throne.

Mistress of the Throne is the first person account of Jahanara through which readers are given a peak into the functioning of Mughal empire and the political games that were played on either sides of the veils. Author Ruchir Gupta sensitively brings out the inner turmoil that the young queen went  through when she understood the implications of the harsh reality of living life alone. Though she very closely witnessed the love between her parents which Shah Jahan tried to immortalize in the form of Taj Mahal, she knew she would never be able to experience that emotion all her life. Her only fault was that she was a Mughal emperor's daughter.

Ruchir Gupta has done a commendable job in bringing back the bygone era intricately in the book. The scene setting is done in such a way that one becomes a part of the fast paced and engaging narrative. Language is simple to follow and flows lucidly. The characters are built slowly but with utmost care, especially that of Aurangzeb. The ruthlessness and fundamentalist attitude of Aurangzeb is very well documented in course books and other texts but this is the first time that one gets see and understand his personal side as well. Spending his childhood in a hostile exile, away from the love and warmth of his benevolent mother scarred his soul. Unfortunately he did not get much time with Mumtaz Mahal to savour the essence of unconditional affection and love. His insecurities, vulnerabilities and yearning to be the good son and good brother touch the chords at various places as the story progresses.

As far as the character building of Jahanara is concerned, Indu Sundaresan's adaptation wins over Ruchir Gupta's. Had I not read any of the books written by Indu, I would have enjoyed reading 'Mistress of the Throne' without any comparison in mind. But the images of Mughal queens that Sundaresan creates in her Taj trilogy remain firmly etched in the readers' minds and any other replacement will run the risk of appearing wane in comparison. They are just a tad short of flesh and blood otherwise she has done all to breathe life in the characters. Well, there is a difference in portraying a woman and being one.

The book was sent to me by

Related Posts with Thumbnails
Related Posts with Thumbnails