Tuesday, 12 June 2018

All the Lives we never lived by Anuradha Roy- How it left me with questions unanswered.

The anxiety and happiness of reading a new author is an expression beyond words. And when it comes down to reading Indian authors I always have my third eye open, analysing it more like a critique than a reader. The reason is quite simple. Indian literature and books are out there in abundance, while some authors are underrated, some are overtly overrated which disappoints me, that as a reader are we doing enough to really look out and vouch for the ones who are really deserving? It was my first book from the author- Anuradha Roy and she leaved no stone unturned to impress, yet I was looking for some answers which I didn’t find.

The book is framed in the times of pre-independent India. It is primarily a story of a young boy Myshkin and his mother Gayatri Rozario. They reside in a small town called Muntazir with Nek, Myshkin’s father and dada, his grandfather who is a doctor. Being set in a backdrop of pre-independence a lot of activities appear to be conservative and staunch. For instance, the women were not given the pass of free will to pursue their wishes. The leaders being shoved to jail for talking independence, every foreigner being looked with a questioning eye and an era where art and music were given subdued importance. Gayatri often felt trapped in her own home because her passion towards painting was looked down upon by her own husband. She felt as if she wasn’t even allowed to reveal her imaginations to herself. Their never ending arguments, Nek’s and Gay’s, on right and wrong filled their dinner table and Myshkin’s head with ideas they didn’t even realise they were directing towards him. While Nek always tried to impart wisdom regarding the importance of freedom for the country and his due participation in the same, Gay always opposed him over the same. One day, Gayatri befriends Walter Spies and beryl who come looking for her in their small town. She feels happy to share her thoughts about both of them on art, culture, dance and music. It is as if being with like-minded people. Nek opposes her meets with them saying neighbours have started pointing fingers because of these low activities going on in the house. Unable to bear the burden of always being judged she escapes her responsibilities and leaves her son for a life which is waiting for her in Bali. What follows ahead are the repercussions of the movement and war which took place before India was declared independent, and how Myshkin’s and the family’s life moves on in the absence of Gayatri Rozario.

I loved the fact that how efficiently the plot and the characters gel up. It is like even if one character was amiss the story would have fallen apart. The distinct characters not only provide a firm base for the story to move on but also gives a different angle to the plot with every character holding a prime position in the book. The story covers all aspects of the family members with different opinions narrated in Myshkin’s voice. It is woven around the relationship of a mother and a son, but not missing out on the fact that Gayatri is also a woman of dreams. The sync between Myshkin’s thoughts and how the story moves on has been very well defined. Also commendable is the way in which Gayatri’s imaginations have been put forth once she dives in her world of paintings. I could really connect to them having been a painter once myself.

There were some things which bothered me too. When Gayatri Rozario decides to step out of the house is the time when the readers mind is full of questions. The answers are gradually answered in her letters which she writes to Liz describing her day, her work, her challenges and the beauty of the place where she now stays also mentioning her love for her son and how desperately she misses him and wants to bring him to her. While, Gayatri’s side was clearing up through her letters I was really more interested to read Myskin’s thoughts which felt too little considering a small boy whose mother left him and ran away. What would be his plight? There are certain places where his anger shows up but momentarily, the next day he is dreaming about being where his mother is. And, even after the years pass and he finally reads the letters where a lot is revealed about Gayatri’s identity and life unknown to anyone, he is found putting up an understanding approach; which somehow didn’t appeal to me. After most of the second half, Gayatri’s letters look dragging and I was more interested in knowing Myshkin’s front because I felt like a lot of my questions were still hanging dry, unanswered.

The writing is pretence free, sensitive and thoughtful elaborating the environment outside Myshkin’s house and inside as well. The book has been put together considering characters, plot and theme. But what it leaves behind is giving the reader a satisfied feeling at the end, which is very important for a good book to do. I would recommend this book because Anuradha Roy is one of those Indian authors whose work mustn’t be ignored.

I read this book as a part of a read along in the reader community on Instagram. It was interesting to know varied comments on the book, also resonating on some similar points. The experience was a really good one. Discussions and read along’s like these give more insight towards a book, because as they say more pair of eyes are better than a single.

Monday, 11 June 2018

A Place for Us by Fatima Farheen Mirza - A review, more from my heart than my mind

My reasons to read this book were primarily two. Firstly, it was the first coming from Sarah Jessica Parker’s publication house partnering with Hogarth (SJPforHOGARTH). And secondly, when I read the synopsis I felt this was something new and fresh un-addressed before in such a subtle way. A Big Thank you to Crown Publishing for sending me a review copy.

To be honest, by the time I had started reading the book, it had already got a thumbs up from a couple of book bloggers and my anticipation and expectation both had risen up quite high. With a hyped book, there’s a fear of you not liking the book enough, which might affect the afterthoughts of reading it. But, thankfully I didn’t have much to worry about here because I really loved it. You will soon know why!

Have you ever felt that you do not belong to a place, community or belief? Questioning yourself repeatedly about it, trying hard enough to fit in but not feeling right about it? This book is everything about this and more. It is a story of a family of five residing in California, The Unites states and dealing with everything each day that a normal family deals with. Rafiq brings Layla to US after their marriage and slowly they start setting up their house and their family. Their two daughters Hadia and Huda and their son Amar are just like any other siblings in the world; fretting and fighting over small things and loving each other just the same. They have extremely varied temperaments and grow up with a different approach towards life. Amar is rather close to Hadia than Huda and looks up to her for any help or support in the family. The small instances which happen in our childhood do affect us growing up, in our behaviour. For e.g.: the father supporting the other sibling for something and denying the same to the other. Many such small incidents in the book were relatable. And, when Hadia and Amar grow up their personalities are a reflection of their childhood. In the interim of day to day activities certain saddening events take place and the story takes a grave turn; which actually kicks off the major part of the plot. Death of a dear friend and a close family member, a lost sibling, a case of young love lost, hurt and suffering is everything the book goes through. The family raises a bout of emotions when you hear each part and everyone’s perspective on some of the same circumstances. The book is about the love for your family and questioning your belonging.

For a short stint of time, roughly two years we were in California, US. And most of the times it would always weigh upon us the way we felt in a different country, not that the people weren’t warm enough or we didn’t meet enough Indians, we did and the people there are lovely and friendly but it is our heart that constantly pokes us and says-  But, is this where you belong? And the answer to it always comes in a small voice- No, I don’t. It is all about fitting in and yet not believing in the fact that it’s ‘home’ for us. Having felt the same at one point of time I could relate to this family which called this place their home and still at times had to struggle to feel at home and imbibe in their children the sacred culture of their community. I raised a question to myself when I read about Amar struggling with his understanding of faith, the prayers, the belief in his parent’s God, his community and the atmosphere he was growing up in. We challenge our parent’s belief sometimes and question them but is this required of us to believe in the same. No, it isn’t. It is the belief which could take a new turn, but the love and our acts out of love for the family shouldn’t wither an ounce. And this family touches every nerve to convey the same.

I do not want to dwell on what the plot is like because from far end it will just look like a story of a family residing out of India and parents overcoming the challenges of the kids growing up. But, from inside it is much more than that. It makes you ponder over the behaviour and acts of each family member, their personalities, and their thought process, how different they are from one another and yet so bonded. And, because it is a Muslim family, not only do you get an insight of their culture and religious beliefs but you also feel for them when a sensitive topic of 9/11 is mentioned; and the fear and repercussions of the same.

I love a book more if I like a writing that is non-pretentious, sensitive, simple and yet conveying strongly what it intends to. For me, that is nothing less than an immaculate writing. The book has been put together very skilfully with not just beautiful writing but astounding presentation as well. You will see the same incident’s being explained in the book by more than one family member which I feel was really important and well-thought of, because that’s what shifts a readers perspective and you find yourself looking at that character suddenly in a different way. The characters are strong, with diverse personalities and equal importance given to all of them throughout the book. They kept me hooked and dwelled in my mind far too longer, even when I was done reading for the day. Through out the book, Rafiq comes across as an obstinate staunch father with minimal thoughts and actions put upfront . It is only in the end when you hear his perspective, and see everything through his eyes, you understand him in full light. The bond that he always wanted to form with Amar has been put in sublime words creating a pang in your heart.  I couldn’t choose a favourite but I developed a soft corner for Hadia and it remained the same until the end.

Why one must read it?

To explore a different pious culture, to relate with certain principles which we often question ourselves for, to find yourself in the story and share the feelings the characters in the book feel, to know what it means to belong, to find a similar love in a way you love your own family and finally to experience a wave of emotions which will leave you satisfied when you finish reading it and you will adore the book a little more. It will tug at your heart hitting the right chords. 

It is a MUST, MUST read! Absolutely beautiful. Being a debut novel from a young writer, Fatima Farheen Mirza has understood readers immensely well in crafting something so touching.

Goa- A new revelation. All credits to this dainty place- Literati Bookshop Café   The ceiling-high bookshelves I was in Goa last m...