Tuesday, 15 October 2019

Review of Sanskarnama Nabina Das

Review of Sanskarnama:
Book: Sanskarnama: Poetry for our times
Writer:  Nabina Das
Publisher:  Red River, 2018
Price: 300 INR
Pages: 73
Dystopia is here, dark, dismal and dreary, and is cheeky enough to masquerade as ache din, where time is wasted  in discussing the etymology of the word ‘lynching’, heads crane and look into kitchens to see what is being cooked, innocence is bashed every day, and sedition clamped at the drop of a hat .   According to a newspaper report, a question recently asked in a self- financed school in Gujarat was, ‘How did Gandhi commit suicide?’ Well!

 This nightmare will be unending, and will stay on with impunity, if genuine, rebellious voices do not speak up.  Nabina Das is one such voice which lashes out at the panjandrums frothing at the mouth with jingoistic fervor and a dismally skewed rhetoric of misplaced patriotism.

Her pen scribbles, doodles, writes, writhes , does a tandava, thumping in angry bursts, sometimes so indignant, that it appears that the paper that she writes on, will suffer a fiery annihilation with the tongues of fire leaping forth from her pen.   She says ,
My pen is downright anti national now
it follows the rebel ink trails and writes elegies’
[hymn of the anti- national p 16]  
She calls this book, ‘a joint statement in art and protest’- a collaborative venture with her sensitive poet- publisher, Dibyajyoti Sarma, whose exquisite art -work embellishes this  immensely beautifully done , sleek book.
She is indeed a ‘serious political poet of our times’, as another intrepid and immensely powerful poet, Manglesh Dabral, says so eloquently in the cover blurb.
 If obeisance is the norm, if slavery is the rule, if gender oppression is the tenet- Sanskarnama is my protest and faith both.”  Thus writes Das in ‘A few words of Sanskar’, and I must concede, these few words pack a punch.

Prayer for Gorakhpur babies’, [p 39] is so heart- wrenching a poem that it left me with a lump in my throat, and tear- streaked cheeks.[ In August - September 2017, there had been a huge number of child deaths due to medical negligence in  supposedly one of the biggest  government hospitals , BRD Medical College in Gorakhpur , UP . The oxygen supply in the hospital pipes ran out.]

Little fingers, little toes, smell of damp swabs
silent clutter of inert soft chests
some bit of lyrical anxiety in the air
 the gurgling inside out throats halted

and babies like yesterday’s flowers

I found ‘Apologies for our times ‘[p 13] a visceral punch:  

But I’m sorry for all the songs that I had composed, for imagining
children will live and the oxygenated world would be better one day  

With Saaqi she wails,

“If Saaqi were to pick up the ruddy cup
she’d only wail today sans ecstasy: O mere rabb!
Where are all the flowers gone in this poison clime,
what pellets do you hurl at us, what hex do you rub?” [rubaiyat for Kashmir p 64]

Full of  incisive satire,  ‘my neighbour is a gau rakshak’, ‘hymn of the anti- national’ ,   and heart wrenching ones  on Gauri Lankesh  and Junaid which  make the reader reel under their assault, they are searing indictments of the present day political scenario, juxtaposed with soft poetic caresses .  A book to jerk comatose consciences out of their slumber . 

Thursday, 26 September 2019

SPIRIT OF NATURE: Santosh Bakaya

SPIRIT OF NATURE: Santosh Bakaya: The Midas Touch The painter in the east was in a fiery mood today. Splashing fire – red and yellow, sprinkling the Zabarwan...

Tuesday, 17 September 2019

Just Five Questions

In this column  , I plan to ask FIVE QUESTIONS to  a writer about  her \ his latest book .
The purpose is twofold.  Get an insight into an author's new book and secondly , help the youngsters to get an idea about the agony and the ecstasy of writing , the challenges ,the highs and lows and learn from the experiences of the writers interviewed .
Today , we have  Kamalini Natesan  talk about her latest  book ,
 Naked Beneath the Midnight Sun. I am sure these answers are going to help not just other writers , but the diffident people out there ,  who are hugging a story close to their hearts , and agonising  and burdening their hearts with untold stories . As Kamalini Natesan so righty puts it , 'There is a place for every kind of writer-voice under the sun- so never compare. Find your voice, and hone its timbre, polish its cadence. ' 
As Maya Angelou so eloquently said , 'There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you ." So , get those stories out - the bits and pieces that are lurking in small crevices of the heart and mind and  the chunks which need to come out in a gushing cascade . Persistence pays . Don't let that story suffocate inside you . As Louis L' Amour puts it ,"Start writing , no matter what . The water does not flow until the faucet is turned on." So, turn that creative faucet on , and who knows a masterpiece may gush forth ?

 I have been conducting  creative writing workshops off and on and mentoring youngsters  for a pretty long time . During this interaction, I have come across two types of students . First , the over confident , smug ones , who want to finish writing a novel in a month or two , and don't need any validation , advice or creative outputs from anyone .
  Second the diffident ones , who have the creative spark in them , but prefer to keep it well- hidden.  I feel that these conversations will help some of those bashful ones, and also the over- confident ones .
 Maya Angelou  also said, 'we need to remember that we are all created creative and can invent new scenarios  as frequently as they are needed . " So, those of us who want to do it - THEY DEFINITELY CAN !
Come on, let us get to know Kamalini Natesan better .


Kamalini Natesan is a teacher of French. She is a trained singer and jams with a group of musicians on a monthly basis. She has been blogging regularly since 2013.

Travelogues, book reviews and poetry are her favorite genres. Her short stories and articles have been published in magazines such as Parenting and New Woman. Recently, an essay about her son, entitled ‘Probing the Dermis,’ was published in a book – Twilight’s Children, Chronicles of Uncommon Lives (Readomania).

A book review and an essay on Odisha, one of India’s rich eastern states (https://cafedissensusblog.com/2018/12/14/odisha-a-pictorial-dedication-to-one-of-indias-most-beautiful-regions/), was published in online magazines-
Café Dissensus, and a short story, The Sister, in ColdNoon, an online literary journal (https://coldnoon.com/magazine/dialogues/fiction/the-sister/)

More recently, two short stories- A Debt, Unpaid, and ‘Flowers in my Broth’  
have been published in The Curious Reader, another online literary magazine.


Some of her poems have also been published, one recently called  ‘Allow me’ in https://oddballmagazine.com/poem-by-kamalini-natesan/

Naked Beneath the Midnight Sun (Olympia, UK)  is her debut novel.

She enjoys dancing/singing, and travelling. Cooking for friends and family is her passion.
She resides with her family in Bangkok since early 2019.

So , here we go Kamalini!
Q 1  I happened to read an excerpt from your latest book Naked beneath the Midnight Sun ,
and, I must say , I  was quite intrigued by it . Tell us more.

Ans : I'd be happy to share more, yet I would rather the book emerge with its own unravelling, and everything you need to know about Suchareeta's foray into a foreign land, as far flung as Norway back in the day (1985). All i'd say is that she's an eager beaver, who wishes to refurbish her life, and she does, in her own way, learning and unlearning as she discovers a whole, new world. 
The yearlong maiden voyage of Suchu, meanders along, with a few peaks and lows, but mostly nothing hugely dramatic. I hope i have managed to pace it right.  

Q 2) I have been writing ever since I remember, [may be that is the only thing I am convinced ,  I can do] , what about you ?
 Is writing  for you just a hobby or a passion which drives you everyday?  

Similarly to your writer life, I've been writing since I was 8 years old- journaling is more like it. It was a means of expression that I found irresistible. My journal was my closest confidant and I still have a number of them with me. I laugh when i read them now, because it is replete with inane details- loves won and lost, friendships and entanglements that mean nothing to me today. So writing was natural, as much as reading, sleeping, enjoying good food.  
Becoming a more prolific writer is a spontaneous outcome of those 'scribblings'. I enjoy many activities, but writing (because it connects me to my deeper self) is not something I can live without. It's a high like none other. 
Conversations that I have with my screen- an extension of myself, are my lifeline. My life would be an abject failure without its unfailing companionship.

Q 3. My family is very embarrassed by the way I am perennially  trying to eavesdrop into people's conversations , in order  to give  those realistic touches  to my stories .  Unless the dialogues  are riveting ,readers' interest tends to  slacken , how do you go about generating that interest  ? By   eavesdropping  into people's talks, or by letting your imagination do your bidding ?

A .I don't eavesdrop deliberately,  I suppose; I listen, I watch and I absorb (in this order). So when i sit down to write, stuff comes pouring out on paper. If something moves me- it finds a space within me, one that I can then reach into later. It's something that developed on its own- like a photographer with a keen eye. 

 Q4 How is this latest creative endeavour of yours different from the earlier ones ? Did you suffer any writer's block while writing this book?  

Ans : This has been in the making for 3 years, with many changes in the narrative. It is different in the sense of being longterm and far more laborious a project than i would've wished it to be. For the rest, my short stories and poems, they are faster, and come gushing out of me. 

Q 5  Your advice to newcomers , who are in a haste to get their books published . Is this haste right ? 

Ans : Writing is a  pleasure and let nothing come in the way of that. Getting published is a different game altogether and not the most pleasurable  one. Patience and hard work - both are crucial in order to get published. I was never in a hurry- i just kept writing and kept sending out bits and pieces here and there. I was a very naive person- and it worked in my favor. With very low
 expectations, I would send stuff out and forget about it. When I received a 'we'd like to  publish you!' I'd be elated, because I'd have forgotten about it. 
Believe in your craft but never stop learning- reading and writing are the only two tools that in fact, are far more precious than one gives them credit for. 
There is a place for every kind of writer-voice under the sun- so never compare. Find your voice, and hone its timbre, polish its cadence.

Santosh :  It was a pleasure talking to you, here is wishing you all the best for all your literary ventures .  

Friday, 30 August 2019

Review of Blue Rose [ Jagari Mukherjee ]

Blue Rose 
Jagari Mukherjee
PP 64
Bhashalipi  , 2017,
Price  100 INR


Dedicated to her grandfather , this book is not just a delight to behold , but a delight to read , hold and savour each tenderly written verse . The cover has been exquisitely designed by  Sanjib Chowdhury, and each  poem is  a literary delight.  Written during different phases of her life ,  the poems , however , do not follow any chronological pattern .
  'From the netted Window' , is a  poem ,  written when the poet was just an eighteen year old and it had the power to  immediately transport me  to the spot where she sits weaving this delicate verse , enriched by stunning imagery .   

'The cattle return at twilight
 And the white tents
are abuzz with conversation;
 .......A delicate fragrance
Comes in through my netted window .
Thoughts of you cluster in my heart .'

'Living free of you' p [36]  happens to be her latest one , where we glimpse  a slightly 'changed person'  and the last stanza of the poem stayed with me , long after I had put the book on my book shelf, within easy reach , so that I could stretch my hand and dip into it , whenever the heart desired .
'There is no place
For poison in my soul ,
I will strive to suffuse
My being  with the nectar of hope ...
and some wisdom , and
 Live free of you .
I don't choose the dark ."

 I found the hope inherent in the poem  quite soothing and edifying . 
A  book  rich with poems on love , loss and  reclamation,  a book which dances on feet wearing anklets of hope. A book , despite a lingering hue of loss , is so colourful , that you find every imaginable colour splashed in the poems ,  so much so that , like the poet ,  not being 'a lithe dancer' , you want to dance away , sublimating the pain that crushes your ribs , and are happy dancing carelessly , watched by  roses.

"My dress  so blue
that it hurts the eyes of the beholders....
.My mind so blue and cold' [p 54, A Dance]
It was  with a happy glow , that I closed the book , as all the blue hues in her poems[' touch away my blues to sweeter greens' [Raid p 12]  'roses that turned blue'  [Blue Rose , p 11] 'Blue thistles ,   scarlet roses and green'  [Traitor, p 31] , 'blue wine air'[ The Night passed 37  ]  and yes, there is  a 'Blue Sweater' too! [p 39]
"There's  a dry blue rose in the closet
All pressed and crumbling .
Your blue sweater is stained
With the colour of its petals ."

Hats off to this poet whose heartfelt , delicate verses  beautifully managed to lift me from my blues .
What a treasure of a book !  A book to be possessed by every lover of good poetry .

Thursday, 29 August 2019

Review of More Magic at Ferns and Blooms [ Elvira Fernandez ]

More Magic at Ferns and Blooms
Elvira Fernandez
Publisher : Notion Press , [2019 ]

What a spectacular  book 'More magic at Ferns and Blooms' is ! Every page is so effortlessly written , every paragraph so  delectable, enriched by some vibrantly beautiful illustrations by Poornima Kapoor , who happens to be the writer's student .

 Hats off to the editor , Dr .Achal Deep Dubey who has done a wonderful job , with immaculate and crisp editing , which one rarely comes across .
There is fun in the classroom and there is fun in the lap of nature , there is fun and more fun. There are elves and pixies and fairies and magic , snow and Snowie, the Cat - and then there are earrings which the fairy queen had 'fashioned  from the raindrops falling on a full moon night." [Yes , therein hangs a mystery !]

For all the foodies out there , there is no dearth of food items mentioned .  At times I found myself counting the food items on my fingers -koftas and tangy tomato sauce , mint chutney ,chola paneer with golden brown purees ,  stuffed roast chicken,  steamed vegetables, , bread pudding with caramel  and what not !
Hang on there , there is  food not just for the stomach, but  for every literary palate too . There is magic , there are thrills , there is excitement and some wonderful dialogues to gorge on .
Peopled with some absolutely unforgettable characters , which one grows to love with every page , the writer has a very keen sense of observation , and a meticulous pen , which has very deftly captured the quirks and idiosyncrasies of the characters .
 Ram Kaka , the roly poly milkman , is a hilarious character , reminding me of a character I myself had created in one of my stories.
."Oh ...sho  you have the cheek to giggle! Wait and watch Misshy madam and Baba Shahib . I will leave my bi...ii ..g-g-g black buf...fa...lo to attack you ..." I was in splits reading the words of the indignant milkman , who was hopping in his dhoti , trying to balance himself on one leg .

 Fernandez has a wonderful sense of humour , a great command over the language ,  and her words flow smoothly , at times dancing on paper .
 This is a book which every child is going to love , and every adult is going to enjoy thoroughly . I can imagine every adult reading out the story to kids , next to a crackling hearth , as the book has  lots of snowflakes  and lots of snow . This is a book highly recommended for every bibliophile- for every youngster and for every adult , young at heart.  A book which can be a great birthday gift for young ones .  Yes ,I am now going to read the first book of the trilogy ,  Magic at Ferns at Blooms, which looks equally tanatalsing , and the third part of the series  will be launched soon . 
Elvira Fernandez is our very own indigenous Enid Blyton , and we hope to read more and more books from this talented author .

Monday, 26 August 2019

Review of My Sir

Book:  My Sir
 Writer: Shefali Martins
Self- published ,  India, 2018
 Price 250 INR
ISBN 978- 93- 5291- 492- 0

 “Always leave the world better than you find it”, emphasized the man, Gilroys Martins, who was father to the author, ‘papa’ at home, and ‘My Sir ‘in the school, St.  Stephens ,which he lovingly established after quitting a job as lecturer in a government college, to follow his childhood dream, and in which she was the first student.
 This book is a labor of love of a loving daughter, who used to be called ‘My dool’ by her beloved father, because, as a toddler, when asked by her father to say, ‘Shefali is papa’s little doll, she could not pronounce the word ‘doll’ properly, and hence  became her papa’s ‘dool’.

Ms. Shefali Martins, a journalist and writer with more than ten years of experience with the country’ leading dailies, has done full justice to the book, which is edited crisply and researched thoroughly.
After the initial hiccups and teething troubles of buying land, the threats that he received and the financial problems; with the support of his friends and well- wishers, he eventually succeeded in laying the foundation stone of St. Stephens and gradually, the school became a formidable institute, spearheaded by a strict but amazingly proficient man, whose impeccable English, wit and humor were exemplary, and commitment to education revered.
Embellished with some heart- warming nuggets about the father – daughter relationship, the warm relations between her parents and between the students and her father, the book is a delight to read .After I finished reading the book, some incidents remained etched in my mind and heart. The way he clung to the bars of the train to reach Dausa from Ajmer, so that he would not be late for the morning class, one cold October day and how, his intercaste marriage to Deepa, who hailed from a Kumaon Brahmin family and won her new Roman Catholic family with her warmth, and how ‘the acts of respective faiths began to coexist beautifully in a household deeply rooted in religious customs.”
An L. K. G student, due to a special physical requirement, used to be carried to and from school [p 252]. At the end of school, Gilroy would affectionately shake hands with him.  After Martins’ sudden death in the year 2005, the tiny boy felt lost, and his eyes kept searching for his beloved Sir.
“Why can’t I shake hands with Sir? Is Sir angry with me? Why doesn’t he meet me now?” On seeing the author’s brother, Anupam, working in his office, the tiny boy was pretty impressed and shook hands with him too.
“This is the new Sir? He is nice. But, where is our sir?”  He asked the maintenance staff member who was carrying him. This part in the book left me with a tingling sensation in the eyes, and I kept going back to it.

The book is suffused with a daughter’s love for the perfectionist, idealistic, principled, compassionate man, whose students loved him unconditionally and the very affectionate father who could go to any length to see his children happy.  A father, who promised to be a doting mother to his children, when his wife expired suddenly.  It is a poignant story, which has the power to resonate with every daughter of a doting parent. When I closed the book, I was left with a lingering yearning. If only I had met this unique man!

 In a world steeped in selfishness, this man’s story can prove to be a beacon, inspiring us on the path of compassionate and empathetic altruism. When one closes the book, one finds that it has left you with a lump in the throat and a blurred vision. But even through this blurred vision, you can see it very clearly that if this topsy turvy world with skewed priorities were peopled with more people, like  the amazing Gilroy Martins, the world would be less suffocating and more worthy of living .    This man ‘believed in doing small things right, in the best possible way’, which he did, till the last moments of his life, leaving behind a huge legacy in the form of St. Stephens, which has now become  a hugely respected landmark in Ajmer.  Hats off to the fond daughter, who, as a writer, has brought alive the remarkable man for the world.
A book to be cherished.

Thursday, 15 August 2019

review of Birds Like us

 PP 128

This book, with 90 eclectic poems spread across 128 pages, is indeed truly representative of the zeitgeist, the chaotic spirit of our times as the poet himself says in the preface. Marked by thematic plurality, it focuses on themes such as ‘erosion of values, generation gap, social segregation, ostracism, inner conflict’. There are poems on nostalgia, natural calamities, Fate, Nightmare, Graffiti, Prayer, Infatuation and many more.
 ‘On reading Marquez’s No one writes to the Colonel’- 1 and 2, [pp 56- 57] took me back to my reading of Marquez, and once again, I became a part of the old colonel’s existential angst, the unending wait for his pension and unending hope symbolized by the rooster.  My heart once again became heavy with the struggle for survival of the simple folk.

Writing with an exemplary dexterity, there is a certain intensity and depth in his poems, which is the hallmark of a sensitive poet. His words have the power
to saunter and scamper their way into the readers’ hearts and minds. The poems are multi- nuanced, having myriad symbolic dimensions and connotations. They appear to change hues with every turn of page ;   some are satirical punches which almost make the reader reel  under their impact, some have elements of Metaphysics, and in some poems it appears as though the poet has drifted into a brown study , indulging in a little loud thinking .
Very sensitively written, ‘Perhaps in a different way ‘[pp 7- 8] is a poem which continues to nestle close to my heart, making my eyes tingle. It is about a girl who said she could read the wind like letters, see the shadows of reeds, and hear voices coming from the moon; the world called her ‘possessed’, ‘mad’, and that ‘the Devil had overpowered her nerves ‘but the poet insists that he believed ‘she could  be true , perhaps in a different way.’
Some drops of empathy
blurred my vision,
And I realized with a heavy heart
How she had dared to differ from a world
Not used to understanding anything beyond itself

 This is so true of many mindsets, if we do not think like them, we are given convenient labels, convenient brands- convenient to them, of course, dove- tailing very conveniently with their preconceived notions. Yes, all of us can be true in a different way, only if the others realize it.  A very sensitive and apt poem, indeed.

Anomie [p 9p 73 ] is another poem which appealed to me greatly with its skillful use of words, like ‘boisterous anonymity ‘, ‘corrosive void , ‘colorless gestures’ etc.

‘Sneakily, I try moving on to
Reach the other side of darkness

Pocketing a bunch of soliloquies,
Remembering the smiles
You’ve gone away with
The sighs and
Silhouettes that tied some pasts together

I was surprised to see that the book also has a poem about Shah Faesal ,[ the young man  from  Jammu and Kashmir , who topped the IAS in 2009 , and later quit   in protest against atrocities in Kashmir and formed his own party . Alas, he is in a makeshift detention Centre now. Hence the poem appears very timely. ]
 Getting into Faesal’s shoes when he was posted as Director, School Education, lamenting the fact that children have not come for months to school   , he pours his anguish thus :
“Have they all lost their way ?
All of them?’
Stomping about
 Like a restless ghoul,
 I ask the motionless chairs,
 The dusty desks,
The screeching stairs……..”
“Corridors corrugated ,
Empty, deserted
Often seen to be narrowing in ,
As I glance through
The  window glasses
Counting the leaves falling
From the trees and
 Tiny petals wrested
From their floral habitat by
The blows of inclement wind”  [
Shah Faisal , p 73]


The title poem ‘Birds like us’ [p 128] was the poem which resonated with me in a big way, And I felt like adding my voice to the poet’s and saying, yes, we will neither ‘let our squeaks sink in the flurry of their blind diktats’, nor will we surrender the sharpness of our beaks or the strength of our talons, to the tyranny of the vultures and the eagles.
Armed with a sensitive pen, a compassionate heart and a vibrant vocabulary, the poet deftly traverses a wide range of experience and emotions. This is indeed an anthology which will definitely appeal to all lovers of poetry.  Not at all expensively priced, the book is highly recommended for all poetry lovers.