Book Review — Small Acts of Freedom by Gurmehar Kaur

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“I don’t fear this place that people go to and never come back. I fear this place where people have to survive each and every day on memories of two and half years, holding on to them for the rest of their lives, however long they live.”

Small Acts of Freedom is a testament to the strength that binds families together. Three generations of women who’ve had to fight their own battles resiliently display the very qualities in their roots and upbringing that makes them so. Dating back to 1947, Gurmehar recounts stories about her family, as they wade through the loss that follows war, Partition and the uncertainty of their future. This nonfiction narrative beautifully captures pain and the innocent musings of a child who is yet to come to terms with the reality of our world.

In the introduction to this novel, the author briefs us about the violent clashes that took place between students of Ramjas College, Delhi and an All-India student organization, ABVP. It is the sheer courage, the need for change that resonates in her writing that had me glued to the book from the start; it also provides context to this book. I don’t read a lot of nonfiction, but if they are anything like this one, sign me up! The timeline of the stories shuffles back and forth over the course of many years. A majority of the chapters are from the perspective of a three year old Gurmehar, so the writing style is very crisp, coloured by the curiosity and innocence of a child. Once you begin reading those chapters, you simply can’t look away because of the stark honesty and sometimes, astonishing clarity you’d find there. Some of the thoughts that take shape throughout this book are so raw that they pierce your heart.

This is in no way a depressing book. The reason why I found myself tearing up quite a bit was because of the pain and loneliness that permeates the writing. And it’s so much more impactful coming from the voices of little children. It addresses very important themes like communal animosity, war and freedom. It builds a story around these themes, urging you to reflect at the state of our world and not stay silent in the face of adversity. This had been one of my most anticipated reads of 2018 and I loved it so much! It spoke to my heart. I would recommend Small Acts of Freedom to everyone! It releases on Amazon India on 15th February, 2018, so keep an eye out for it.

If you’ve read it, let me know what you thought? 🙂

Ratings – 5 out of 5 stars

What do you get out of it? A heart wrenching story about how families shape us and give us the very essence of life to keep persisting.

Thank you Penguin India for sending me this book in exchange for an honest review. 

Book Review – – – Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen

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Austen’s writings always have a touch of romantic intrigue, positing atleast one character in an unstable relationship. Sense and Sensibility is no different in that regard, but it allows us a glimpse of harsh familial realities when wealth is in question. Mrs. Dashwood and her three daughters, Elinor, Marianne and Margaret, are forced to leave their home in Sussex and move to Barton for reasons best described as unfortunate and estranging. It is here that Elinor must cope with being separated from Edward Ferrars and Marianne finds a handsome beau in Mr. Willoughby to lessen her sorrow of being distant from her childhood home. Many social calls and acquaintances later, the two sisters come to realize just how many double standards govern the society.

I love Jane Austen’s books, but Sense and Sensibility was a little too overwhelming. Reading the unabridged version felt like reading a book in slow motion. Every scene is described in such detail that you feel like even though nothing much is going on in terms of action, you’re still unable to move past it. Don’t get me wrong, I’m in awe of her writing style! As you’d probably know, her books tend to be very wordy, with long drawn out sentences and unusual word usage. That style of writing is allegorical of her times and enables her to narrate the story of each character with a precision that’s unknown today. And I admire that! It’s just that it took me forever to finish this book… The plot has many similarities with her other works. But somehow it never gets old. I really like how the novel doesn’t aim for a HEA for all the characters and just leaves some of them dealing with the broth they’ve cooked. The reason why Mrs. Dashwood and her daughters were forced to leave the place they’ve called home all their lives is quite disheartening.

As for the characters, once again, I only liked a couple of the main ones – Marianne, Elinor and their mother. Every other character, although not villainous, has some role to play in the mob psychology that heavily influences the happenings of the novel. Mr. Willoughby is a spineless fool and I couldn’t bring myself to pardon him. The third sister, Margaret, doesn’t really make much of an appearance. At times, you may wonder why Elinor chose to stay silent about her sufferings, but it says a whole lot about the strength of her character. There are some cliches at play in the book, like jilted lovers, condescending mother-in-laws, pedestaling beauty and wealth. Overall, it’s a draggy yet moderately enjoyable read. If you’re looking to try classics, I’d recommend Pride & Prejudice and Persuasion by Jane Austen. On the other hand, if you don’t mind a slow paced book, you could pick this one. Let me know what you think about it, if you have read Sense and Sensibility. 

Ratings – 3 out of 5 stars

What do you get out of it? A slow decent into Victorian society that highlights the errs in judgment and injustices people were accustomed to. Also, this book places great importance on collective living, social life etc.

Book Review — Murder in a Minute by Shouvik Bhattacharya

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The Aroras are an esteemed family in Palampur, Himachal Pradesh. When the eldest daughter and head of the company, Esha Arora is found murdered in their house, the very foundation of trust in one another starts crumbling as many of them had an ax to grind with the deceased. Shouvik Bhattacharya’s debut novel, Murder in a Minute reflects the extremely sensitive nature of the human psyche and how even the smallest of actions can have unfortunate consequences.

I haven’t come across any murder-mystery or thriller written by an Indian author that has bowled me over with the sheer brilliance of its plot like this one did. For almost two-thirds of this novel, the pace, albeit fast, is very placid; like the calm before the storm. The last handful of chapters are going to make you INSANE with anticipation. I was anxious and excited all at the same time. I must commend the author for crafting the suspense in such a way that nothing is predictable, which is an essential determinant of whether a suspense novel is going to keep its readers on edge or not. That said, I channeled the psychology student within me and from the very beginning, had stinking suspicion as to who the culprit might be. AND I WAS RIGHT! Taking apart the thought process and actions of all the characters made the reading experience so much more fun. It was an absolute delight!

The writing style of the author is punchy, interspersed with analogies and philosophical musings. The plot, much like other murder-mysteries, is the usual as someone of great power is killed off and also, the blame falls on immediate relations. What I found to be interesting is that the so many people in Esha’s surroundings are portrayed sketchily, thereby heightening your doubt as to the identity of the murderer. Moreover, the chapters give you a glimpse of the past. In doing so, it adds more dimension to the story, because you come to glean the equation that Esha had with different people. As far as the characters are concerned, there are some very disagreeable people in the novel. I didn’t really like them or care for them. But being a suspense novel, this book isn’t about character arcs and that’s totally understandable. I’m not sure exactly why, but I found some of the mannerisms of the main inspector to be funny.  Few of the themes mirrored by this book are true to the Indian society, like the pressure of following a specific educational field or being intolerant of deviance. Overall, I enjoyed reading this book a great deal and would definitely recommend it to everyone who is into this genre of writing. READ IT, PEOPLE! It’s a rather quick read and I finished most of it in one sitting.

Ratings – 4 out of 5 stars

What do you get out of it? A thriller with tons of suspects and a maddeningly good unraveling of the mystery

Thank you Bloomsbury India for sending me a copy of this book in exchange for a review. 

It’s Not Your Fault

A friend of mine once said, “Being close to somebody is about how they make you feel.” This couldn’t be more true. We cling to the people who make us feel strong, special and worthy of good things. We gravitate towards those who can give us what we’re looking for from life – be it fame, money or just a social circle to fall back on. But what happens when, as time passes, they’re no longer the person you used to identify with? Maybe you feel the need to justify their changed behavior and you are wont to accepting them nevertheless. But there’s also a fair chance that you just can’t “go with the flow”. And that’s okay.

Like me, you may be standing at that point in life where your only human interactions are with your family (if you’re an adult living with your folks, that is) and/or select friends via social media. You may be wondering what happened to all those hour long conversations with your bestfriend(s) from school or college. You may be seeing them in a new light. In between all that, you may also be questioning yourself as to “What went wrong?” The answer is nothing. It’s not up to you or me to prevent someone from being who they wish to be. Neither are we obliged to deal with a relation that has grown toxic.

All of my experiences has taught me one important thing, amongst others. If you appreciate or value somebody, make sure they know it. Cause there will come a time when engaging in small talk with said person would be a strain. We’re all caught in the throes of keeping up with today. And so it’s only likely that we would grow and flourish in the way we know how to. It’s only likely that people will grow apart for a hundred different reasons. A shuffle in priorities, conflict of interests, distance and on goes the list. But you can’t possibly hold it against them for choosing to walk away or yourself. In a world of no-strings-attached, guarded conversations and rising number of online “followers”, you ought to consider yourself lucky for having enjoyed something meaningful, even if for a short while.

Sometimes, bestfriends become strangers and families get estranged. That’s how it is.

This is something I should have understood a long time back. Perhaps, it’s something you’d like to hear now.

Anyhow, the festive season is here and I truly wish y’all a fantastic end to this year!

xx

Book Review — How May I Help You? by Deepak Singh

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How May I Help You? is a memoir that traces Deepak Singh’s experiences in America, as a well educated individual who is compelled to work a minimum wage job. Through chapters that unravel his descent into American society, we are also pulled into the lives of his colleagues and acquaintances who are themselves struggling to get by in a world that is foreshadowed by apathy and fallacy. Spanning across two years and some, this book brings to light the strong culture shock that Deepak deals with, when confronted by an America quite unlike the picture painted by the big screen. What this autobiography succeeds in doing commendably is emphasizing that people may be separated by oceans and borders but we all couldn’t be more alike due to our shared sufferings and encounters.

As someone who has aspired to live abroad, the synopsis of this book was very intriguing to me. At the same time, I don’t really read autobiographies. That said, How May I Help You? is a very smooth read, captivating because of its simplistic depiction of a foreign society and earnest in its portrayal of a profession that isn’t held in high esteem. The author’s writing style is very straightforward which I appreciate when it comes to non-fiction; I found myself wanting to finish the book in one sitting. The story is endearing to say the least. I’m sure we’ve all felt lost at some point in time and so Deepak’s sentiments resonate with us. To be stranded in a foreign land, unable to form genuine connections with people there, can be a heartrending experience. I really liked how diverse lifestyles were reflected in addition to Deepak’s. All of which help us get a better understanding of the non-glitzy aspect of living in America.

It also draws comparisons to the low income group in India, trying to find a togetherness in the struggles of people across the world. The voice of immigrants and diasporic communities is always a refreshing one and this book is no different. We come to learn just how ignorant people can be about other cultures, misled by popular representations. Kudos to the author for having aptly delineated themes of poverty, loneliness, camaraderie and personal growth. Don’t be intimidated by the harsh realities that are mirrored here; it is one that we should acknowledge. All in all, I really liked this book and it has encouraged me to pick up other memoirs. I would definitely recommend it to everyone; whether you read autobiographies or not, DON’T MISS OUT ON THIS!

Ratings – 4 out of 5 stars

What do you get out of it? An honest glimpse of what it means to be working abroad, devoid of any sugar coating. And a taste of culturally diverse mindsets.

Thank you Penguin India for sending me this book in exchange for a review. 

Older and Dearer

There are none like you –
Maddeningly selfless and
Unconditionally supportive.
Everything that comes your way,
Good or bad, is somehow absorbed
By the magnanimity of your kind, kind soul.
Never asking for anything in return,
You’ve only learnt to give.
The glint in your eyes,
Had they not missed,
They wouldn’t dare awake
A sleeping goddess.
A mother is a nurturer,
A forgiver of uncounted errs.
I should know,
I’ve seen you brush aside
The most roiling of behaviors.
But she is also a warrior,
With strength, even the most trained
Ones can’t fathom.
Mother, you remind me what it is
To be persistent and genuine.
It is my turn to give.
So accept all my consideration and love,
Do all that your heart desires.
Live, like you would, a women
Carefree and young.
Even though you grow older,
You’ll continue to be
The most beautiful woman I know.

Happy Birthday, Omma.