My Book Review of ‘Rising: 30 Women Who Changed India’

Rising – 30 women who changed India – a non-fiction title by Kiran Manral and published by Rupa covers the inspiring journeys of 30 Indian women from various fields who blazed a trail for others to follow. Manral has allocated a chapter for each achiever, and she has meticulously listed all her references from secondary research at the end of each chapter. A few of the achievers have been interviewed as well.

In the Introduction, Manral says, “The aim of this book is not to eulogize these powerful women or to put them on a pedestal. They probably wouldn’t care for something as pedestrian as pedestals anyway; they shine wherever they are, regardless of spotlights. The aim rather is to tell their stories, through what we know of them, from information available in the public domain or from first-hand accounts given by those who were gracious enough to spare some time to tell us about their journey.”

Book Cover

The women featured include Sushma Swaraj, Sheila Dikshit, M. Fathima Beevi, Mahasweta Devi, Amrita Sher-Gil, Amrita Pritam, Sonal Mansingh, Lata Mangeshkar, Anita Desai, M.S.Subbulakshmi, Harita Kaur Deol, Madhuri Dixit, Bachendri Pal, Rekha, Chhavi Rajawat, Karnam Malleswari, Shailaja Teacher, Hima Das, Naina Lal Kidwai, Shakuntala Devi, P.T.Usha, P.V.Sindhu, Ekta Kapoor, Kiran Bedi, Mary Kom, Menaka Guruswamy, Tessy Thomas, Aparna Sen, Kiran-Mazumdar Shaw and Maharani Gayatri Devi.

The first woman to be featured in the book was Sushma Swaraj – the former minister of External Affairs in the Narendra Modi-led government. She was also the former CM of Delhi and former Lok Sabha Speaker.

I was particularly inspired by the chapters on Mahasweta Devi, Amrita Pritam and Anita Desai, literary luminaries who have won major national and international awards for their pathbreaking work.  Of Mahasweta Devi at the Jaipur Literary Festival, Manral says, “The speaker was Mahasweta Devi – author, iconoclast, social activist; the labels didn’t really matter.”

Of Amrita Pritam, Manral writes, “In her writings and her life, she leaves behind a legacy for women writers in India which urges them to defy social constructs and constraints, challenge them and to live and write as she did – unfettered.”

About Anita Desai, Manral writes, “With her immense body of work, she remains firmly one of the most powerful voices in post-colonial Indian writing in English.”

“Every story is replete with takeaways, lessons to be learnt, not just professionally but otherwise, too. These women have lived life on their own terms, becoming a beacon of hope to many others, women and men alike. If after learning about these inspirational women, a young girl, anywhere in the country thinks to herself, ‘That could be me! If she can do it, so can I, this book would have served its purpose,” says Manral towards the end of her Introduction.  

I recommend this book to young women who aspire to follow the pathbreaking women before them who have earned a place in India’s history in the fields of politics, sports, acting, art, writing, painting etc.  

You can buy the book here.

This review is powered by the Blogchatter Book Review Program.

Four Books I Read Recently

  • The Comfort Book by Matt Haig – This book is like a warm hug. The author shares with readers a list of his favourite movies, recipes and books in addition to his musings on life. In short, he writes about all the things that bring him comfort in the hope that they could help the reader, too. Matt Haig has always been open about his mental health struggles and I’ve loved his other books like The Midnight Library and Reasons to Stay Alive. What I loved about this book is that unlike some other books that discuss mental health, this one is least likely to be triggering for the reader.
  • The Full Platter by Abha Iyengar- I loved this collection of flash fiction by Abha Iyengar. Each story is different and with 40-odd stories, the reading experience is pleasant and enjoyable.
  • The Secret Life of Debbie G by Vibha Batra and Kalyani Ganapathy – This graphic novel is a coming-of-age tale about a sixteen-year-old girl named Soundarya, who likes to be called Arya. In the book, we enter Soundarya’s world and discover that her mother is a divorcee, who is looking to remarry and has a suitor in mind. How Soundarya deals with this new development, considering she might soon have a half-brother and half-sister forms the crux of the book. Add to it teenage drama involving becoming the talk of her school due to social media and how it changes the relationships in her life and you have a rather spicy graphic novel for the modern reader. It addresses issues such as fat-shaming, sexuality, gender, outing, bullying etc and is suitable for the internet generation.
  • Arrivederci by Amrita Valan – I read this collection of fifty poems by Amrita Valan. There is no underlying theme to the book. It is a collection of her fifty best poems. Some of the poems are rather long. I liked the last poem in the book titled ‘The Last Poem’ the best. I also liked ‘Life Lessons of a Poet’.  Her poems deal with themes of love, longing, loss and death.

The Teachings of Bhagavad Gita by Richa Tilokani

With the pandemic raging worldwide, everyone is returning to their roots to find solace and seek comfort. Richa Tilokani’s ‘The teachings of Bhagavad Gita’  – Timeless wisdom for the modern age- comes at the right time to offer wisdom to those who seek it. I thank Richa for the review copy. This 226-page book, which promises to contain the essence of the Bhagavad Gita, should invite readers who are daunted by the perceived complexity of the original text.

Richa in the preface says “I was taught the Bhagavat Gita – which is a part of the epic Mahabharata written by the sage Vyasa- by my grandfather Pandit Vishnukant Shastri who was a revered scholar and a true devotee of Lord Rama.”

Distilling the essence of 700 verses, which are considered to contain Brahm Gyan or supreme knowledge, is no mean feat and Richa has attempted to simplify the text and adapt it to modern times.

Book Cover

Richa has laid out the book in 18 chapters, starting with an introduction or Vishad Yoga, moving on to an introductory summary of the Gita or Sankhya Yoga, and then covering the art of work or Karma Yoga, the transcendental knowledge or gyan karma sansaya yoga and other aspects until the eighteenth chapter, The art of renunciation or Moksha Sanyasa Yoga.

“The Bhagavad Gita says that Arjuna is full of sorrow, at a time when he should have been fighting the war. He represents the common man who is full of unhappiness, dilemmas and worries at most times. Arjuna faces many difficult questions on the battlefield and these are similar to the problems people face on the battlefield called life,” says Richa.

The book has nuggets like “With knowledge and devotion, one can become free from the illusions of the world.”

The real cause of sorrow according to Lord Krishna is ignorance, and only true wisdom can give one freedom from it. I recommend this book to the spiritually inclined, who want to glean knowledge, gain wisdom and rise above their sorrows.

To read Richa’s interview about her writing journey, favourite books and more,  check out my earlier post. You can buy The Teachings of the Bhagavad Gita on Amazon.

My book reviews of ‘Chasing Sunsets’ by Vaibhav Dange and ‘Death is my only beloved’ by Laudeep Singh

I read ‘Chasing Sunsets: Poems and prose’ by Vaibhav Dange as a part of the HBB Book Review Programme. It is the author’s third book of poems, but the first one that I sampled. After reading ‘Chasing Sunsets’, I’m eager to read the poet’s other two books of poetry: ‘Letters from a stranger’ and ‘A walk on a burning bridge.’

The poet has dedicated ‘Chasing Sunsets’ “to every person who is torn apart in love and is grateful for it.” In the acknowledgements section, he has thanked the people who stayed and also the people who left.  The book cover is designed by Dhriti Chakraborty.

Book Cover of Chasing Sunsets

The poems are divided into four sections or “chapters” as the poet calls them: Cyclic emotions, Denial, Breaking Point and Acceptance. The poems are written in free verse.

‘Chasing Sunsets’ has poems on depression, grief, fear, love, loss, inertia and even one poem on the pandemic.  One of the poems mentions wormholes and the space-time continuum. Another poem carries “a message from the moon.”

The poems are deeply emotional and reflect sensitivity. They cover a range of emotions and these poems would appeal to anyone who has ever been in love and felt its joy and pain. I recommend this book to all lovers of poetry and to introverts and highly sensitive people. 

Better editing would have led to a more pleasurable reading experience.

I recently read ‘Death is my only beloved’ by Laudeep Singh as a part of the HBB book review programme. The book has been published by Invincible Publishers. It is dedicated to “everyone who has a heart that bleeds and eyes that weep.” The cover design and the beautiful illustrations in the book are by the poet’s sister Shruti Singh.

The poet ends his acknowledgements section with “ I want to thank all my former girlfriends for stabbing me in the heart.” There is also a preface and a section where he quotes famous poets.

Book Cover of ‘Death is my only beloved’

The opening poem “Conked out” is almost macabre, with the poet comparing broken dreams to underfed malnourished babies. A few poems later, there is “Purgatory,” which is more like the poet’s musings on the demise of a loved one. Some of the poems seem like ramblings. The poet also touches upon smoking and drinking in one of his poems, outlining his dependence on them. The poet also comes up with some strange musings “ If I ever tie the knot and if I ever have children, I want them to abhor me for two reasons. First, because hate is purer than love. Second, because if my children happen to love me, then they will never be able to live their own lives as they will always mourn thinking about all that their father had been through in his life, long after I perish from Earth’. The poet, in another poem, talks about teachers who picked on him in school. The poems are in free verse.

I was a bit underwhelmed by this book. The illustrations and cover art are, however, fantastic. Have you read either of these books?

Book Review of ‘Misters Kuru: A Return to Mahabharata’

‘Ms Draupadi Kuru: After the Pandavas’ by Trisha Das was released on 22 August 2016. I now received ‘Misters Kuru: A Return to Mahabharata’ by the same author through the Blogchatter book review program. The book is published by Harper Collins India.

Trisha Das is also the author of ‘Kama’s Last Sutra’, ‘The Mahabharata Re-imagined’, ‘The Art of the Television Interview’ and the internationally acclaimed ‘How to Write a Documentary Script’. She has written and directed over forty documentaries in her filmmaking career. Trisha has also won an Indian National Film Award (2005) and was UGA’s ‘International Artist of the year’ (2003). She has also written columns and short stories for ‘Magical Women’ and several publications.

Book Cover

The book opens with Arjuna making love to a nymph and contemplating his own relationships with his fourth wife Subhadra and his first wife, Draupadi. Later, Subhadra informs Arjuna that Draupadi and Kunti have been reborn on earth. When Arjuna brings this up with his brothers, they decide to follow the two women to earth to bring them back to heaven.

Meanwhile, on earth, Amba seems to be experiencing post-partum depression. Draupadi has joined NPTV and become a talk show host. She even has a stalker! Kunti has become the warden of a home for orphaned children. The Bhartiya Youth Mata Centre from Ayodhya has made a large donation to the orphanage.
Kunti says that aeons ago, she had announced the marriage of her five sons to one woman: Draupadi. But now, she grants Draupadi her “freedom.”

The author places Yudhisthira in a position where he is challenged for his life choices by the public and Yudhishthira explains his stance, marking a stark contrast between then and now. Arjuna chances upon cricket being played and finds out he has a knack for the sport. Narada Muni helps out in the kitchen of the orphanage where Kunti volunteers. Bhima comes face to face with Karan, the reincarnation of his former half-brother, Karna in the orphanage. They start a food business together!

The modern-day setting of Delhi serves for a retelling of the age-old epic that is as colourful as the book’s cover. Some readers would be shocked that Arjuna finds a dildo in Draupadi’s bedroom. Parts of the book are more ‘Veere de wedding” and less Mahabharata, but then this is not a mythological retelling, but a creative retelling of the story using the original characters and setting them in present-day Delhi. Whether it’s Arjuna, Nakula and Sahadeva going shopping for slim-fit jeans and Nakula saying, “They must have balls of brass these days” or Arjuna feeling itchy “down there” one wouldn’t imagine the heroes of the Mahabharata in such situations.

The author has taken absolute creative license with reimagining the Mahabharata. Humorous situations are aplenty and the author lets her imagination run riot with the cast of characters from India’s oldest epic. Some may not take to this book as they might feel it trivialises the heroes of our epic. One needs to have a whacky sense of humour to enjoy the twists and turns this story takes. The book will appeal to millennials and the less sedate crowd.

Here’s the link to the book on Amazon India. This review is powered by Blogchatter Book Review Program.

My Book Review of ‘Yesterday’s Ghosts’ By Nikhil Pradhan

On Halloween, I’d taken part in a Twitter chat with Blogchatter and was sent this review copy of ‘Yesterday’s Ghosts’ by Nikhil Pradhan when I’d expressed interest in reviewing it.

The book has been brought out by Harper Black, an imprint of Harper Collins Publishers. It is categorized as fiction/thriller.

The title ‘Yesterday’s Ghosts’ really caught my eye ‘coz I’m a sucker for anything to do with themes of fragmented memories, PTSD, making sense of the past, etc.

The book is about a band of men who are now in their fifties and sixties who share a secret from their time spent together thirty years ago when they were part of ‘The Black Team’. It is about military intelligence and secret agents.

I liked the format in which the story is told. The story is revealed through a Q&A (dialogue) format between the characters. Instead of simply using third-person narrative or first-person narrative ( which are both done to death), the author has experimented with this way of telling the story, which at first glance looks like a screenplay. Of course, the entire book is not in Q & A format. Some of it is indeed third-person narrative ‘coz an entire book of Q & A might have been tedious. I felt it was well-balanced and worked for me. I feel that in this format, there is more scope for use of dialogue, which can help with “Show, don’t tell.”

The characters were well-etched and interesting.

I liked one bit on page 23, where the author says “ He had a friend once, a copywriter in an advertising firm, who used to go on and on about ‘insights’, about how once you knew, no, understood what people were going through, you could sell them anything- from a needle to a refrigerator’. As someone who has worked in advertising, I can say that this is bang on! Since the author, too, has worked in advertising, in fact, in the same advertising agency as I have( although we didn’t know each other there), it is clear he is drawing from experience.

On the whole, an interesting read.

My Book Review of ‘Anxiety: Overcome it and Live Without Fear’ by Sonali Gupta

I’d bought the kindle version of ‘Anxiety’ by Sonali Gupta earlier this year and posted a brief review across social media. I truly felt it was a book that was timed well. 2020 is a year like no other what with the pandemic upending our lives. And anxiety levels are on the rise.

I opted for the paperback of this book when Blogchatter offered me a choice of books to review for their Book Review Program. I wanted to re-read the physical copy of this book.

Sonali Gupta, the author, is a Mumbai-based clinical psychologist with sixteen years of experience in the field of mental health. She writes a weekly column for Mumbai Mirror titled ‘Terms of Engagement’. She currently runs a private practice in Khar and South Bombay.

Jerry Pinto has penned a beautiful foreword to the book. He says there is a lot to be anxious about, so one is not alone in feeling anxious. He says in today’s world of social media, we curate our world and decide what’s instafriendly just as much as the other person does. What’s on our feed may be giving anxiety to the person viewing it in the same way that someone else’s feed gives us anxiety.

“This book will help you make a good servant out of an emotion that was built into us so that we might survive. For when it takes over, say in the middle of the night, when it’s often at its worst, you can ask yourself in a stern voice: “What have you got to be anxious about.”

He goes on to say “I believe that if you use this book, rather than just reading it, if you make it your own, it will help resolve some of the questions you’ve been asking yourself, the most disturbing of which often is ‘Is this normal or am I going nuts.’

Sonali, in her introduction, says, ‘I have begun to realise that while we all are so different as people, at the core, we are similar and possibly connected to one another through our shared vulnerabilities. Maybe we are all together in this collective anxiety.’ She adds, ‘The idea of writing this book is for people to have an emotional toolkit that can help them take care of themselves.’ She adds, ‘I suggest that as you read this book, keep a diary and pen next to you so that you can do the activities mentioned in the book and use them to introspect and become aware of your patterns.’

The book is divided into three parts and 20 chapters. The first part is ‘ Understanding Anxiety.’  In the first chapter, ‘Age of Anxiety,’ the author explains anxiety, details how it manifests itself and talks about triggers.

She lists some common triggers of anxiety:

  • Getting engaged/planning a wedding/marriage
  • Death in the family
  • Ending a relationship or a divorce
  • Hospitalisation
  • Moving/Renovating a house
  • Changing a job or a promotion
  • Moving cities or countries
  • Planning a holiday
  • Birthdays
  • Retirement
  • Paperwork and finances

She also dispels some common myths around anxiety.

Myth 1: Some people never experience anxiety.

Myth 2: Anxiety is a negative emotion, and we need to rid ourselves of it.

Myth 3: Happy events don’t lead to anxiety.

Myth 4: Development milestones are a fact of life. We don’t need to reach out to qualified mental health professionals even if we feel overwhelmed by them.

In the second chapter, ‘What’s Normal Anxiety and What’s Not,’ the author gives us a checklist to help us determine the level of anxiety we face. She essentially says that it is best to understand anxiety in the context of a spectrum. She also says some people are highly sensitive and touches upon the work of American psychotherapist Dr Elaine Aaron, whose book ‘The Highly Sensitive Person’ was first published in 1996. The author also differentiates between anxiety, fear, depression and stress.

In the third chapter, ‘High-functioning Anxiety,’ the author talks about clients who are doing very well, but if you scratch beneath the surface, you hear stories of psychosomatic illnesses and anxiety. The author also touches upon ‘Productivity Guilt’ and ‘Imposter Syndrome’.

In her fourth chapter, ‘Anxiety and the Brain,’ the author talks about a movie called ‘Inside Out’ from Pixar Animation Studios. I’d watched this movie a couple of years back. She discusses the fight-flight-freeze response and explains how anxiety affects the brain. She also describes how anxiety medication works. She gives us a checklist to see if we would be at risk for anxiety.

In Chapter five, ‘Thinking Anxious Thoughts,’ she explains cognitive or mental manifestations of anxiety. She also touches upon rumination and overthinking. She then explains six common cognitive distortions like catastrophising, minimisation, over generalisation, all-or-nothing thinking, jumping to conclusions, and labelling and mislabelling. She draws upon the work of Dr Aaron T Beck and his book ‘Feeling good: The new mood therapy.’ Dr Burns pioneered Cognitive Behavioural Therapy or CBT.

In Chapter six, ‘Investigating irrational beliefs’, the author touches upon the work of Dr Martin Seligman, the American psychologist who is considered the father of the Positive Psychology movement. She quotes from his book ‘Learned Optimism: How to Change your Mind and your Life.’

Part Two of the book is called ‘When Anxiety Strikes’. Chapter seven, ‘Am I Having a Panic Attack’ describes what a panic attack is, how it may manifest, how to overcome it and deal with it.

Chapter eight or ‘Work, Work, Work’ is about workplace anxiety and how to cope with it. The author quotes from Brene Brown’s book ‘Daring greatly: How the Courage to be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent and Lead.’ Sonali Gupta writes about coping with anxiety at work.

Chapter nine is about ‘Taking a Mental health Sabbatical’. She talks about how to plan a mental health sabbatical when one experiences a burnout.

Chapter 10 ‘Too Wired and Too Tired’ talks about social media and setting digital boundaries. In Chapter 11, she talks about how social media is fuelling our anxiety. It is much-needed in today’s world when the boundaries between personal and professional lives keep blurring, and everyone is online 24/7.

In Chapter 12, she talks more about productivity guilt and ‘perfectionism, procrastination and anxiety’ She also explains imposter syndrome and errand paralysis. 

In Chapter 13, she talks about ‘Anxiety in Love.’ She talks about behaviour like ‘ghosting’, ‘orbiting’, ‘stashing’ and ‘breadcrumbing’ that result in anxiety for the parties involved.

In Chapter 14, ‘Connected Yet Disconnected,’ the author explains how in some cases, anxiety leads to loneliness and in others, loneliness leads to anxiety. She also talks about binge behaviour and offers a test to readers to check their binge behaviour.

In Chapter 15, ‘Social Anxiety is Real’, the author touches upon clinical psychologist Dr Ellen Hendriksen’s ‘How to be yourself: Quiet your Inner Critic and Rise Above Social Anxiety.’ She explains the difference between social anxiety, introversion and shyness. She talks about the factors that increase the risk of social anxiety and explains social anxiety disorder and how to get help for it.

Part three of her book (Chapters 16 to 20) is about Managing Anxiety. Chapter 16 touches upon soothing rituals and how to use the five senses as a grounding ritual. She talks about behaviours that aggravate anxiety.

 In Chapter 17 or Pause Rituals, the author talks about the power of pause, journaling, reading, exercise, focused breathing and mindful meditation.

In Chapter 18, ‘How Therapy for Anxiety Works,’ she discusses anxiety from a therapist’s lens. She also talks about neuroplasticity, why it’s important, cognitive restructuring and cognitive techniques.

In Chapter 19, ‘Befriending your inner critic’, the author talks about tools to help us build self-compassion in our life. She quotes from Stanford-based psychologist Carol Dweck’s ‘Mindset: The new psychology of success.’

In her final chapter, Sonali Gupta writes about how to help others with their anxiety. This book is an important read, especially in the wake of the pandemic and all of us leading digital lives. It is set in an Indian context and serves as a go-to manual for anxious Indians, especially Gen Z and millennials.

Eats Shoots and Leaves: Book Review

If there is one book on punctuation I’d recommend to everyone, it’s “Eats shoots and leaves” by Lynne Truss. In this book, Lynne Truss has dealt with all matters related to punctuation in a humorous and engaging fashion. This not only removes the “boring” tag associated with the subject of punctuation, but also gets people involved in punctuating well.

 

The very title of the book is derived from a famous joke, which has done its rounds all over the world. In case you haven’t heard it, here goes… 

 

A panda walks into a café. He orders a sandwich, eats it, then draws a gun and fires two shots in the air. 

 

“Why?” asks the confused waiter as the panda leaves the café. The panda produces a badly punctuated wildlife manual and tosses it over his shoulder. 

 

“I’m a panda,” he says, at the door. “Look it up”. 

 

The waiter turns to the relevant entry and, sure enough, finds an explanation. 

 

“Panda: Large black-and-white bear-like mammal, native to China. Eats, shoots and leaves.” 

 

In case you are still wondering what that meant…the trick is in the comma placed after “Eats” in “Eats, shoots and leaves.” This comma implies that someone eats something, shoots, and then leaves the scene. The correct entry, of course, would be “Eats shoots and leaves” minus the comma after “Eats” to imply eating shoots ( as in bamboo shoots) and leaves( of plants and trees). 

 

Now that I have killed the punchline and demystified the joke completely, wouldn’t you agree that a misplaced comma can totally change the meaning of a sentence or a phrase? 

 

By giving real-life examples from badly written street signs (Come inside for CD’s, VIDEO’s, DVD’s, and BOOK’s) to improperly punctuated movie titles( Two weeks notice), this book is a ready reckoner for people with a sense of humor. She covers apostrophes, commas, dashes, hyphens, and even emoticons (keeping in mind the Instant Messaging era).  

 

I just noticed one glaring (at least to an ex-editor) error, though. The title page of the book says “The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation”. If she had read her own chapter on hyphens, that should have been “The Zero-Tolerance Approach to Punctuation”. 

 

That shouldn’t stop you from reading the book, though 🙂 

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